The Real Thing(Rosetta Records)

It takes guts to name your debut album The Real Thing, but Rodney Hayden isn't exaggerating one bit -- from the sound of it, this native Texan is the genuine article.

Barely 22, Rodney strides through these 11 tracks with all the confidence of a veteran honky-tonker. His lived-in baritone fills each song with meaning and melody, while the album's vibrant sound is both pure-grain traditional and cutting-edge modern.

Rodney's original songs are exceptional, especially the moodily swinging "Mighty Lonesome Sound" and plaintive "December Rose." But the most pleasant surprise on The Real Thing is the inventive choice of cover songs, especially masterful renditions of underground rock icon Tom Waits' heartbreaking "I Hope That I Don't Fall In Love With You" and underground country icon Robbie Fulks' irresistible "Tears Only Run One Way."

Standin' so proudly and singin' so loudly, feels like I'm doin' it right, Rodney declares in his own "Heartaches And Highways." His feelings aren't fooling him -- Rodney Hayden is doing it right.

-- Chris Neal

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