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Making It Or Breaking It On the Third Record: Low Cut Connie's Brilliant Hi Honey (Contender Records)

05/06/2015 03:17 pm ET | Updated May 05, 2016

Radiohead's third album was OK Computer. Green Day's was Dookie. For their third act, The Clash unleashed a sprawling, double-wide revolution entitled London Calling.

For some bands, the third album is a make-or-break endeavor, the moment when you justify your continued existence on this earth or accept your inevitable place on the slag-heap of burnouts, blow-ups, and also-rans.

For some bands, the third album is the star-maker, the point at which all eyes are on you. You've got everybody's attention and it's time to make good on it.

For Low Cut Connie, Hi Honey is both.

Low Cut Connie is the buzziest rock and roll band that isn't the Alabama Shakes. On its first two records, the self-released Get Out the Lotion (2011) and Call Me Sylvia (2012), Low Cut Connie established itself as America's premier dive bar boogie band. To wit, if you have not seen these guys live, make it a priority. There really is nothing out there to match their raw intensity, oddball charisma, or cathartic power.

The band's credibility has been assured by the likes of Rolling Stone's David Fricke, who heaped praise on their showcase performance at this year's SXSW, Dave Marsh, who called them "one of the most important American bands to come around in many years," and the Dean himself, Robert Christgau, who awarded an honorable A- to each of the above-mentioned releases.

So yeah, they've pretty much run the table on reputable endorsements. But on their third album, Connie is kicking and stomping its way onto a bigger stage.

Frenetic frontman Adam Weiner is well aware of the implications, even if he'd rather not contemplate them too closely.

"Well it ain't good for me to think too hard about the make-or-break third record thing right when I'm putting ours out...cuz if I did I might give myself rashes," says Weiner. "But if you forced me to discuss it, I'd probably say it's a very true association."

Rashes aside, Low Cut Connie stands in a place not unlike that of Bruce Springsteen as he released his third record. On his freshman and sophomore outings, Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ (1973) and The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle (1973), Springsteen earned the fawning attention of every critic in the world and landed simultaneously on the covers of Time and Newsweek. Music geeks and the media loved him, but he still didn't have a hit record.

Springsteen shuffled his lineup, reconfigured his management team, and labored in the studio for more than a year in order to produce Born to Run (1975). After that, he no longer belonged to the critics or even to New Jersey. He belonged to everybody.

Of course, the difference between then and now cannot be overlooked. Rock and roll was king in 1975. Los Angeles was handing satchels of cocaine and money to any asshole with a guitar and a pair of leather pants back then. No offense Sammy Hagar Peter Frampton Ted Nugent.

Oh how times have changed. Hip hop, country music, and tween-pop dominate radio playlists, album sales, and downloads. They have for nearly 20 years now. Excepting the occasional White Stripes or Black Keys, rock and roll is a niche genre. Not only that, but it is a niche genre in an industry that is exponentially smaller than it was when progressive rock and metal bands roamed the earth.

This makes the gambit on Low Cut Connie's third record a ballsy one. Hi Honey is a bid for commercial appeal with a set of songs that breathe defiant life into the corpse of rock and roll. The record is a veritable collage of our shared heritage: Motown bass lines, Stax rhythms, Bourbon Street brass, and garageland Farfisas, all punctuated by streetwise lyrical precision.

At center stage is Adam Weiner, a piano-pounding Philadelphian with a Jerry Lee Lewis fixation and a songbook populated by lovable lowlifes, hustlers, and malcontents. Connie's other principal is Dan Finnemore (drums, guitar, vocals), native of Birmingham, England and author of some of the most infectious mod-candy this side of Blur. A fiery pair of young Delawareans (James Everhart, guitar; Will Donnelly, bass) complete the quartet.

On their first two records, Connie played the part of drunken louts with a gift for barstool poetry. They nailed the role so well you could almost miss just how much ambition pulsated beneath their beautiful-loser posturing.

You can't miss it on Hi Honey.

This band has achieved critical mass and they know it. Weiner acknowledges that "Our fanbase is small and extremely passionate, and they have sustained us to this point, whatever this point is...but I wanna bring more people into the tent with this one and shake people up a little more."

Their third record will do exactly that.

Hi Honey brims with something more than just the wounded abandon that distinguished previous recordings. That's all here. But there's a powerful sense of purpose too, an encompassing celebration of rock and roll that betrays the band's inscrutable musical literacy. For a bar band, these guys are suspiciously well-aware of the controlled chaos at their fingertips. The presence of producer Thomas Brenneck (Sharon Jones, Charles Bradley, Budos Band) no doubt played a part in the album's satisfying cohesiveness.

Hi Honey is a statement record that plays at once like a full-length platter and a stack of 45s. From the gymnasium boogie of "Back In School" to the Texican-on-the-Thames menace of "Diane" to the massive E Street revivalism of "Both My Knees, Hi Honey borrows furiously and confidently from history to deliver an immediate blast of booty-shaking brilliance.

Perhaps most addictive is the gender-bendy lead single "Shake It Little Tina," which tributes the titular Turner on top of a Faces riff. Do yourself a huge favor and a take a minute to watch the insane video featuring Instagram Dance King Adam Carpenter.

Did you spot the cameo from Academy Award-winning actor Jamie Foxx? Go back. I'll wait.

Speaking of cameos, Hi Honey features a boatload, including Tune-Yards front-woman Merrill Garbus on the slow-burning "Little Queen of New Orleans," Dean Ween on the barnstorming Lead Belly cover "Dickie's Bringing Me Down," and Reigning Sound's Greg Cartwright on the psychotic reaction that is "Dumb Boy."

Actor Vincent Pastore, best known for portraying Big Pussy on The Sopranos, absolutely kills it on "Danny's Outta Money," an autobiographical epic that feels like a 2nd cousin to Springsteen's "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out."

Here and throughout the album, various Dap-Kings and Dapettes (of Sharon Jones fame) lend their horns and voices to the affair. Enveloped warmly by applause and featuring no shortage of the band's trademark incendiary looseness, Hi Honey feels live.

And in the tradition of many a classic third record, it feels necessary. It feels like something we all need to hear. It reminds you of exactly why you need rock and roll in your life.

Nothing captures this sentiment with greater precision than "Me N Annie," a bittersweet alt-country exile on main street where Weiner declares "you're talking about money / you're talking about success / I'm talking about happiness."

Here's hoping the band's third record shows them the way to all three.