Hearts From Above

It’s hard to call it a surprise when a band that’s been cranking out really good music for years manages to do themselves and their fans one better and put out a record one could fairly call great. But in a Texas country-rock scene where even the best artists run the risk of being mistaken for one another to the untrained ear, it’s heartening to see a semi-veteran band grab that extra gear and make an album without a skippable track or false-ringing line to be found. Check out the near-cinematic swoop of the title track to Hearts From Above if you ever wondered how to profess true love without getting your boots stuck in sap. It’s a trick that Micky & the Motorcars pull off again in “My Girl Now” and “Once in a Lifetime Girl,” breezier but no less sincere. There’s always been a bit of biker-bar edge to the Motorcars, but unlike too many artists in various modern genres, there’s also a respect for the women that populate their songs; a three-dimensional love interest has a way of turning a solid tune into an immensely relatable one, especially in the hands of a writer who’s coming into his own as well as Micky Braun. Even the ones that did him or brother Gary Braun wrong (“Hurt Again,” “You Led Me the Wrong Way”) and the propositions turned down (“Southbound Street”) still get at least a gentlemanly nod on the way out of the door — and a hell of a tune to be remembered by. There’s even some adept stabs at anthems both melancholy (“From Where the Sun No Longer Stands”) and uplifting (the indelibly building, Springsteenesque “Tonight We Ride”) that aim for something beyond the travails of one’s personal life and attain it. Gary brings the texture, as reliably as always, on harmonies, mandolin, harmonica etc., and new bandmates Joe Fladger, Bobby Paugh, and Dustin Schaefer never let on that they haven’t been in on this sound all along. If you weren’t already sold on Micky & the Motorcars by now, this would be a great time to get in on it, too. — MiKE ETHAN MESSICK