I remember liking Social Distortion alright back in the old days. Their early stuff wasn’t bad, but it all sounded just like off-the-shelf SoCal punk to my ears, neither good nor bad. It wasn’t ‘til they started indulging Mike Ness’ Johnny Cash fixations that I really got into the band, and then I was hooked; songs like “Born to Lose” and “Sick Boys” always seemed to me to go hand-in-hand with that old-school country stuff. And why not? Mr. Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Hank Williams and their ilk were the blueprints for pretty much every hard-living rocker that followed, regardless of musical genre. To top it all off, country (real country, that is) and punk rock share a lot of lyrical similarities—songs about The Man keeping the little guy down, songs about friends getting killed, songs about drinking, songs about heartbreak . . . trust me, Dwight Yoakam and Avail are a lot closer kin than you think, musically.
So why am I talking about Social Distortion when I’m supposed to reviewing Saving Grace, the first full-length from Richmond, Virginia punks Sixer (who, by the way, are all apparently ex-Ann Beretta/-LazyCain veterans)? Well, because the Sixer boys mine the same musical ground as their recently-rejuvenated California brethren (not to mention that of The Clash, Rancid, The Ramones, or Chicago’s Arrivals, among others). Saving Grace is 12 tracks of raw, basic, yelling-and-handclaps punk rock, spiced up with a heavy dose of country longing, and it’s a great formula. “Sink or Swim” is reminiscent of the Ramones, with its gang-chant chorus, while “Revenge” is a barn-burning rocker that would not have sounded out of place on Somewhere Between Heaven & Hell, and “Stranger” sounds like it’s even a knowing tip of the hat to the Social D. crew, with its rambling guitar melody and lyrics half-ripped out of that album’s “Sometimes I Do”. Then there’s the Rocket From The Crypt-style solidarity anthem “Time Flies”, “Fist City”, an ode to the rough streets of Richmond (I’m guessing?), and “Ground Zero”, which asks “what’s there to do when it falls on you, and the Devil’s knockin’ down your door?”
From the scratched-up whiskey vocals and dirty, country-tinged guitars to the leather jackets and drunken sneers, this is some damn good down-and-out rock, chock full of yell-along youth anthems that sound real good when you’re cruising into the sunset with the windows down.
// Notes from the Road
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