Michael Dean Damron has been raging against the dying of the light since the day he was born. You can tell just by listening to this latest entry from his longstanding band, a record that’s dedicated both to a passing way of life and the hope that even if you can’t beat the sons of bitches you can still put up one hell of fight.
Mayberry of course is a construction and as great an American myth as any, the gauzy vision that’s meant to stand for purity and truth before the dissolution of the family and the scourge of drugs. That’s at odds of course with the truth that Mayberry existed inside a nation that lynched black men and redlined Latinos and Jews. Indeed they don’t, as Damron sings, make men like Andy Griffith anymore but then they never really did, any more than they made men like John Wayne. Across this record Damron doesn’t entirely condemn people for their actions but he doesn’t condone the injustices they perpetrate.
As heavy as that all sounds––and the lyrical matter here is often heavy, man––there are moments of light, such as “From Bad to Worse”, wherein we’re advised against giving zombies guns (it won’t end well), a redneck a beer (David Allen Coe requests will fly), or slipping a hippie weed. Still, the final lines remind us of Wall Street corruption and corporate greed and a nation where some want to tax pensions at higher rates than CEO salaries. Yeah, the world ain’t fair but it doesn’t need to be so unjust, Damron seems to sing again and again across these 13 songs.
Musically, I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in the House is a bit like AC/DC at hoedown, the kind of thing that so many so-called insurgent bands have tried to capture but have so often failed at. There are quieter moments across Mayberry, evidence that Damron has listened to Waylon and Willie as much as Malcolm and Angus. Those quieter moments work rather well, too. “Galaxies Collide” proves a welcome oasis amid the fast firing sequence that opens the record; “Bones” is a beautifully executed meditation on mortality and faith; “When the Sleep Don’t Come” is a nearly perfect late night drinking song.
Not everything shines equally bright here. “My Guitar” is a nice reminiscence of the life of a rocker but never quite takes off and “Dead By Christmas Time” has the right idea but also fails to rise to the level of, say, “Break All Your Strings”, which could have slipped into the mundane and become just another road song is buoyed by a killer hook and killer vibe. (Even if, sorry guys, the harmonica is a little too loud.)
Taken beside Damron’s solo outing from the middle of last decade (Bad Days Ahead) and I Can Lick’s 2010 The Sound of Dying, Mayberry is evidence of a band that’s been too long overlooked. That said, there’s still hope that this group might find a wider audience and yet even if it doesn’t there’s great comfort in knowing that those who embrace this band are also embracing a stubborn and true spirit that embodies so much of what makes this country––and this world––great.