Another year, another excellent record from the storied and storytelling Ronny Elliott. We can't think of another Bay area songwriter who's so consistently delivered such good material for so long, and this year's wonderful installment of grit, twang and unique lyrical mastery, Hep, continues the tradition. Tampa is blessed with more than a few excellent purveyors of various insurgent country sounds, but Elliott and his more-than-capable backing band The Nationals toss off an exceptionally distinctive and timeless sound, sparse yet wide and drawling yet itching to move. It's all punctuated and given life by Elliott's Johnny-Cash-with-a-sense-of-humor voice and lyrical amalgam of satire and deceptively simple anecdotal recollection. If Nowhereville and Poets and Scientists don't inspire in you a desire for one melancholy last dance with a former lover at last call, then you're dead inside. And all of Hep is just that good, from the maudlin "Slim Harpo's Heartbeat" and "Jack's St. Pete Blues" through "Elvis Didn't Like Tampa" and "Gorgeous George;" it's one of those rare discs where you wish the guy in the car next to you would just shut the fuck up and listen, already. And that's something to which every developing songwriter, of any genre, should aspire.