One for the road

Their native Tampa's already hip to them, but Orlando needs to know Will Quinlan and the Diviners, because they are one of Florida's most complete and distinctive Americana voices.

To alt-country fans, the Diviners' sound will immediately feel tailor-made. It's bent with the right amount of twang, filigreed with pedal steel and mandolin and fueled by rock gusto. With the tonal quality of Jay Farrar (Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt) and the expressive elasticity of Richard Buckner, Quinlan's voice is the quintessence of longing and vulnerability, a supple foil to the contained muscle of the music. This is the kind of ruggedly noble folk that soulful ex-punks like Chuck Ragan and Ben Nichols would eat up.

Though the stylistic signposts are all there, the sharp songwriting is the undisputed core of this debut album, more than three years in the making. All else exists only to frame the crisp, pristine melodies. In fact, Navasota's most pronounced virtue is balance. Though plenty plaintive, it distills the heart inherent to country music without succumbing to its ever-looming melodramatics. The Diviners mostly keep things brisk and motoring, making Navasota an exceptionally listenable album.

Grab your best girl for "Hallowed Ground," a song whose spry picking and long, elegant country swerves are locked in a dulcet dance. Dust off an old photo book and a bottle of whiskey for the wistful "Plastic Rosary (Winter 1970)," which fares well in full or stripped-down reprise form. Pop in "Remember the Beatitudes" while you're behind the wheel and its sense of perpetual open-road motion will get you through the night. While you're on the highway, go ahead and let it roll right on into the brawny triumph of "South San Pedro."

Navasota is a work of grace and richness that resoundingly solidifies the Diviners' place in the region's alt-country canon.

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