Is there a more divisive genre today than country? In other parts of America, the honky tonk is as holy as Sunday morning. If your gal leaves the bar with another cowboy, go ahead and sob into that Bud Light. Family reunions are cordial affairs, even if that Jack bottle is tipped one too many times.

There was a time when this stuff ruled the land. Remember when Garth Brooks was selling like MJ? Then, at some point, the yuppies in the Northeast turned up their noses to what they perceived as simplistic lyrics and outdated traditions. An anger started a’percolatin’ in the Heartland, and bootclad giants like Kenny Chesney and Toby Keith took brash ownership of these hardened attitudes. To hell with them Yankees, they’ll never understand. In the heart of the culture war, enter a Mainer outta Houlton with a soul straight out of Nashville.

Travis James Humphrey doesn’t just have a fantastic record on his hands with his latest, “Dirty Beautiful World,” he’s also offering an olive branch between two alienated groups of Americans. That’s right, a Mainer made a record in Nashville with a T-Bone Burnett bounce, and an honest, pure sound that anybody’d call their own. It starts with Humphrey’s voice — a timbre you trust right away. He’s got a big enough gift, and enough confidence in his delivery that he never has to force. Check the back beat “New Day” to hear a singer in the cut.

Once you add producer Johnny Hiland’s spot-on guitar work (fireworks in “Back End of the Rainbow”), which is at once understated and virtuosic, and you have a record that reminds everyone why country ever appealed to them in the first place. It has fun first, there’s a smile on its face from beginning to end. And this coming from one of them yuppie Yankees.

At the end of the day, the crucial litmus test is “would you have fun at the show?” Damn it all, throw me that Stetson. I’m going to the rodeo.


Mike Olcott is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.


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