Break Up The Concrete

Chrissie Hynde may be breaking up the concrete metaphorically (possibly literally) but she isn’t out to break new ground musically. After living in London for several decades the snarling queen of rock has returned to her native Ohio to take up residence near her aging parents, open a vegan restaurant and, perhaps, to examine her roots. The result is lyrics that often look inward or backward, and a sampling of blues, alt-country and punk-a-billy songs.

After taking six years off since her last album Hynde recorded this one in a little over a week and the 11 songs on the album speed by in under 37 minutes. Although the album is recorded under the band name Pretenders only Hynde remains from the original group. The line-up this time is Brit guitarist James Walbourne, Eric Keywood on pedal steel, Nick Wilkinson on bass and the legendary drummer Jim Keltner kicks out the beat.

Hynde gets reflective on songs like “Love’s A Mystery,” an examination of lover’s commitment to each other. “The Last Ride” continues the soul searching mode as Hynde questions past choices and their consequences. “Almost Perfect” is a incongruently seductive tale that rides on a pretty, muted melody but features twisted lyrics. “You Didn’t Have To” is positively country in the vein of Lucinda Williams with its whining guitar, accordion, and simple delivery. You can practically hear the voice of Alejandro Escovedo on “Rosalee,” so strong is the influence.

Where Hyndes shines is on her harder rocking numbers. “Boots of Chinese Plastic” speeds by on crisp electric guitar chords, rhythmic acoustic guitar, ripping bass and Keltner’s chugging drum work. “Don’t Cut Your Hair” resurrects the staccato vocals that made Hynde a star. Still these songs are outnumbered by the roots-soaked ballads.

The title track is the disc’s most fun number. It’s a Bo Diddley riff driven number with chiming guitars, marching beat and Hynde tossing in a few dack-a-dack vocals. The song works as a follow-up to Hynde’s classic “My Town Was Gone.” But now she’s back and she’s ready to tear down the malls and parking lots. I guess if there is anything conclusive to take away from Break Up the Concrete it’s that you can take the punk out of Ohio but you’ll never take the Ohio out of the punk.

Rosemary Welsch