Big Shiny Cars is an intelligent, glossy update of classic country-rock. As on the 2002 major-label debut, Pinmonkey, the band splits the difference between country and something a bit more akin to the Americana of Los Lobos. Michael Reynolds's tenor vocals glide over songs like Dolly Parton's "Down," which sounds like Ricky Skaggs gone power-pop, and the title track is a heartfelt examination of stardom and its travails — something this group knows about, since its previous label dropped Pinmonkey in the middle of making its third record. True formalists, the bandmates don't always connect the dots between their mastery of virtually every country-rock convention and what they're actually singing about, as on the otherwise impeccable "Can't Have a Hand on Me." But they're incredibly skillful practitioners of a demanding art form, and they have a sense of history, reworking the traditional "Shady Grove" into something wonderful, contemporary, and strange.

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Edd Hurt