Elliot Baker reviews Ron Pope’s Work and finds himself transported to a world of dive bars, stale beer and bloodshot eyes.

Upon first listening to Work, I was surprised that SoundCloud had assigned it with the genre tag: “Rock.”

I suppose the label makes sense – there are definite echoes of Springsteen and Mellencamp here. The music has a real edge… it cuts you like a switchblade, hits you like a steam train – and somehow, we’re happy for it.

And yet, I will insist on referring to Work as: “Country.”

While I understand that there is a significant overlap in the proverbial Venn Diagram between the two genres, there is one quality that falls distinctly on the “country” side.

It’s that I believe it.

In the same way I believe Bukowski, in the same way I believe Carver, I believe Ron Pope.

I believe in his cross-country drives.
I believe in his frat boy fights.
And I believe in his spent last dimes.

In this world which is motored by braggadocio, where our artists and heroes are making so much more than their fans, what we miss is someone who feels a bit like us.

Country artists, love them or loathe them, the lives they sing about don’t feel a million miles away.

There are many standout tracks on the album. Track one, Bad For Your Health is as good an introduction to an album as I’ve heard. The slow piano leading us through the melancholic yet quietly defiant Dancing Days will bring a wry smile to even the greatest cynic’s eyes. And, in a startling turn of events, Someday We’re All Gonna Die leaves us feeling as though everything is going to be all right in the end.

Is Work perfect? Not quite. Despite the first few tracks embodying the boisterous nature of the South, this is ultimately a slower-burning and introspective effort, which could arguably use a couple of mild jolts of energy towards the tail end.

Having said that – and here I will commandeer the words of a professional idol, Brett Elston:

At Miro we review art on a scale of 1 – 5.
We don’t award “halves”. I will either give you a “4”, or I will give you a “5”.
When it comes to Ron Pope and Work, a “4” is just too low.

★★★★★