From Hank Williams to Toby Keith, country music hangs its Stetson on clever wordplay. Quirky turns of phrase like the Statler Brothers' "You Can't Have Your Kate and Edith Too" and Johnny Cash's "A Boy Named Sue" rendered heartache in such a way that listeners could swallow bitter pills while smirking into their pilsners. In this same vein, country music should be a natural fit to back the brainy, brooding verbiage of published poet David Berman, frontman for the Silver Jews. Unfortunately, with all Berman's observational enjambments — rendered in his wooden, keyless quaver — jamming up the musical gears, the results would never pass muster in a honky-tonk.
Silver Jews' sound is firmly rooted in lo-fi indie-pop, but Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea, the sixth album from Berman and cohorts, solidifies the band's Nashvillian sound first heard on 2005's Tanglewood Numbers. Produced by Lambchop's Mark Nevers, there's plenty of twang and drawl to be imbibed here, even as Berman upends clichéd tropes about family and the like: "Father drove a steamroller/Momma was a crossing guard," he drawls on "Party Barge." But the album, for all its wit and quirk (see "Candy Jail," with its "peppermint bars and peanut brittle bunk beds"), shoehorns too much cleverness into its cowboy boots, sacrificing deeper sentiment along the way. The disc sounds instead like Ween's cheeky 12 Golden Country Greats, making for an indie-country album full of smartass, not heartache.