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Backyard Tire Fire: Good to Be (Kelsey Street) 

An all-too-common trap for Americana bands is to lay down an easy beat and dial in some twang. Bloomington, Ill., trio Backyard Tire Fire settles in miles away from that cookie-cutter approach, mixing barreling roadhouse rockers with lean, catchy, soulful tunes.

The band plays with a versatile authority, but it's the lyrics of Ed Anderson that set Backyard Tire Far apart. With a taut 11 songs, Good to Be is a meditation on life's everyday struggles and joys, with Anderson's carefully sketched details suggesting some profound depths lurking in the world's more routine truths.

Produced by Los Lobos' Steve Berlin, the record samples from different elements of the broad Americana sound spectrum. The band (singer-guitarist-keyboardist Anderson, his brother Matt on bass, and Tim Kramp on drums and percussion) is ambitious throughout, at turns bluesy, folky and poppy.

"Hell and Back" is steady and catchy, splitting the difference between jangly 1990s alt-rock and the ramshackle charm of alt-country bands.

With its big guitar chords, handclaps and a bright melody, "Good to Be" is a feel-good anthem for those honest enough to say that it's simply good to be alive. "A Thousand Gigs Ago" is the band's own story of life on the road, simultaneously weary and exhilarated, recalling the long gone days when "the old Ford still had legs."

Good to Be is a breakthrough record for a band that's not only paid its dues, but along the way discovered how to mold some well-worn sounds into a distinctive, new entity.

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