Breaking herd 

The unlikely career of Sawyer Brown

In 1983, an unknown band from Apopka, Fla., appeared on Star Search with no expectations beyond the hope of procuring a promotional video. To their surprise, and the surprise of fellow contestants who found the country act laughable, they won. Thus began the career of Sawyer Brown, fronted by Mark Miller and consisting of Jim Scholten, Joe Smyth, Gregg “Hobie” Hubbard and Shayne Hill—a lineup that has barely changed (with the exception of Hill) since then.

The truth is, Sawyer Brown’s music and attitude have almost never aligned with that of their contemporaries. For example: The band’s upcoming album, Keep Your Hands to Yourself, to be released in May, includes the tune “Mission Temple Fireworks Stand,” featuring Robert Randolph on lap steel. In a climate where mainstream country is almost indiscernible from pop, the tune is decidedly…gospel.

Make no mistake. Sawyer Brown has never been anything but innocuous. This is a band, after all, that changed the lyrics of David Dudley’s oft-covered trucker hit “Six Days on the Road” from “popping little white pills” to “passin’ little white lines.” Overproduction and safe lyrics sometimes lead to songs devoid of everything but good nature. The boys of Sawyer Brown are too happy for tear-in-your-beer twang, and oblivious to the cool-school neo-traditionalism of Randy Travis and Dwight Yoakam. Instead, Sawyer Brown sings about girls, farmers and Jesus as if channeling Huey Lewis. Their album covers—all neon and goofy grins—are the antithesis of classic country mystique.

But if mainstream country is mired in self-congratulatory patriotism a la Toby Keith and mundane songs about suburban life (and it is), “Mission Temple Fireworks Stand” is at least different. The song is about a man who forgoes mainstream religion for a roadside stand where he preaches and sells fireworks.

It remains to be seen whether “Mission Temple Fireworks Stand” is a temporary diversion from homogenous CMT fare or a harbinger of a more innovative approach by the band. Whichever, it’s a good bet Sawyer Brown will remain just slightly out of step with country’s expectations.

Sawyer Brown plays Sunday, March 13, at the Adams Center. Reserved seats cost $27. Call 544-8333 for info.

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