Who knew AC/DC was so inspiring? Oft criticized for essentially making the same album over and over again since its inception, the Aussie rockers are getting more unexpected publicity from its recent unlikely offshoots than it is its latest offering. Better Than Ezra gives them a nod in its latest single “Extra Ordinary”, for one. There’s the Red House Painters’ Mark Kozelek who took it upon himself to record an acoustic album of 10 little-known AC/DC gems (this year’s What’s Next to the Moon), accomplishing the absurd and impossible simultaneously by making wistful ballads out of familiar rock anthems “Up To My Neck in You” and “If You Want Blood” among others. And, in the most obscure turn of events yet, in enters Hayseed Dixie (go ahead and say it out loud to catch the knee-slapper of a rhyming joke) to take the radio staples an entirely new direction altogether: bluegrass.
It wasn’t entirely their fault, either—it was fate that led the band to record this tribute if it was anything. Per the web site and liner notes, the quartet—Talcum and Enus Younger, Kletus Williams, and Barley Scotch—happened upon a man’s brand new muscle car on its way through—stay with me here—Deer Lick Holler, where they’re from, somewhere “deep in the heart of Appalachia”. Seems he crashed into a tree at Devil’s Elbow. And, while searching through his belongings for some kind of identification, they happened upon a large collection vinyl records. And, uh, it was nothing but AC/DC records—the entire collection, no less. With nothing but an old Edison Victrola that only played at 78 RPM to listen to their discovery, the boys all agreed it was “mighty fine country music” and set about to learn them in memory of the perished stranger.
For as convoluted as its beginnings appear, one might think the music would be at least as interesting as the apparent tall tale of an inception. Sticking to the most recognizable of the AC/DC song library, the songs detract little—if at all—from the originals. Sure, Scotch has a thick drawl of a singing voice, and the almost requisite honky-tonk backdrop behind him can be best described as Bluegrass Lite if it’s anything; Bela Fleck & The Flecktones they’re not. It’s a one-note joke that they have to try very hard to stretch across 10 songs. Stick “Hell’s Bells” on a morning radio show - switching the opening death knoll bells for a desk bell—and you’re bound to at least smirk over your bowl of raisin bran. Turning “Big Balls” into a square dance halfway through is laugh-out-loud funny, if somehow all the more appropriate when sung by the country rockers. And “T.N.T.”—complete with an oink-oink-oinking intro—breathes new life into the original, with the line “Watch me explode” taking on new flatulent proportions. Its moments aside, a bit more focus on the humor of it all—or even solely on the quality fiddle and banjo picking, which they can do fine—would do Hayseed Dixie’s debut wonders.
I suppose I wouldn’t be so critical if I hadn’t caught them doing their shtick live on the nationally syndicated Bob & Tom Show one morning not long ago. I laughed harder at the few minutes they were rapping with the disc jockeys than I did during three listens of A Hillbilly Tribute . For one, the band seemed to playing harder and faster—with more confidence than it did on the recording. Scotch announced that, as he tried to “stick to the traditional themes of drinkin’, cheatin’, killin’, and going to hell”, he and the boys had even found songs outside of AC/DC to squeeze into their repertoire. Moments later, they launched into The Cars’ “Best Friend’s Girl” and absolutely nailed it, if not making the message about 500 times more clear than Ric Ocasek ever did. Even a number Hayseed Dixie explained it’d written on the bus on its way over to the station—a she-left-me-and-thought-she’d-taken-everything-with-her-but-she-didn’t-check-everywhere song if there ever was one, “Saving Your Poop in a Jar”—was funny. Really, it was—despite its title and lines as laughably bad as, “How could I ever forget you’re just a piece of . . . poop”, Scotch scores points in his delivery. As one of the few originals the band can lay claim to, it bears mentioning that they should do it a bit more often. Perhaps outside the bathroom even.
Want street cred? Hayseed Dixie played at AC/DC bassist Cliff Williams’ summer home recently, even getting him to join them on stage for a bit. Perhaps a double-billed tour is in order? If so, one suggestion for the taking: the overalls can stay, but the pasted-on facial hair isn’t all that necessary. Focus on the music—ride the hell out of your 15 minutes of fame while the clock doesn’t seem to be ticking all that fast.