Bad Religion singer Greg Graffin gets old-timey on Cold as the Clay, an unplugged sophomore solo LP that mixes original songs with similar Deadwood-era tunes like the finger-pick murder-hoedown "Little Sadie." Graffin plays traditional music as convincingly as he handles punk. He's no Mike Ness, though the disc will probably enjoy the same reception as his band: If you're new to the genre, it'll sound great. If you've heard this kind of music before, you've probably heard it played better.
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Graffin and his trail pals competently re-create the standards but don't reinterpret or invigorate them. Produced by Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz and backed by postpunk compatriots the Weakerthans, the disc's chestnuts are rendered so faithfully that the album is unremarkable as anything but an archaeology project, lacking the spark and fresh arrangements that mark the similar work of Ralph Stanley, Kristin Hersh, and the Dropkick Murphys. As a troubadour, Graffin drops the big words and makes like a cowboy at a campfire. With a moving guitar solo, "Rebel's Goodbye" is the album's highlight, and the original ballad holds its own next to the classics. But the disc really is cold as damp dirt.