This incarnation of Palace, one of its more impressive, sees frontman Will Oldham turning out some of the strongest bleak country-rock in his career and taking the music in a few intriguing and even upbeat directions. With a great supporting cast that includes, among others, Sebadoh's Jason Loewenstein on drums and Oldham's brother Ned on bass, the group busts out laid-back twangy tunes that can really rock when the opportunity comes up. Most notably, tracks like "Work Hard/Play Hard" and the opening "More Brother Rides" are brimming with energy that may not overwhelm, but certainly provides a hefty backbone. Alternately, slower brooding tracks like the longing "New Partner" see the band proving their chops in a more refined setting. Oldham's cracking backcountry voice may be a bit of an acquired taste, but it's worth the time, as his inflections are capable of powerful feelings and certain honesty. The Palace team has put out many a record, but as far as accessible and slightly upbeat musical ruminations go, Viva Last Blues certainly sees the players near the top of their game. Things are a little thicker and dirtier than on the more laid-back acoustic records this prolific artist has put out, but the rock approach adds worlds to the delivery and creates a powerful palette for the equally important lyrics. Oldham is a truly underrated American talent, and this is among his best work, so take the time to find it.