The idea of rockabilly or psychobilly has been around for quite some time, although there are only a few bands that seem to do it right. Southern Culture on the Skids, now pushing nearly 20 years after its inception, is still trying to get it perfected. The group is back down to a trio after losing keyboardist Chris Bess, so the core rockabilly or “crazybilly” idea should be in full force. “Triple Strength Packed With Superpower!” states the back of the album, and it gets off to a good start during “Smiley Yeah Yeah Yeah”. Drummer Dave Hartman starts things off with a train-rumbling backbeat as Rick Miller gives a slight hint at Duane Eddy’s “Rebel Rouser”. He also raps the way any good American yokel would as Mary Huff’s bass line comes to the fore. From there it heads into more of a country honky-tonk ditty as it hits halfway home. Later on this is perfected a bit more on “Swamp Fox” with its hip-swiveling melody.
The title track comes next but doesn’t come off as strong; more of a raunchy ‘50s guitar riff over a piano and some rather ordinary vocals. Thankfully, it starts to find its legs shortly thereafter, bringing to mind Marty Stuart if he was still in his heyday. “I got to get my baby back”, Miller sings before panting slightly and giving way to the great and twang-filled guitar solo. “Doublewide” is spacey ‘60s pop meets Link Wray ‘50s guitar, sort of like a combination of Elvis Costello and Eddie Cochran. It’s definitely one of the early toe-tapping highlights. This song could also give them the lead in becoming a possible house band for the Fox cartoon series “King of the Hill”. However, “I Want a Love” is a big letdown, a tune that never gets off the ground despite some rapid-fire ivory tickling. Miller sings and speaks the bridge before the guitar goes off on a rather likeable tangent.
Southern Culture on the Skids have rarely moved into different territory, and the car drivin’ “‘69 El Camino” has a creepy guitar arrangement that takes a while to get into. But when (or if) you do, it’s rather pleasing despite Miller’s brief wildcat wails. There are a couple of shining instrumentals among the baker’s dozen tunes, especially “The Wet Spot”. Although Miller tends to downplay his presence at times, he revs up for some intricate and catchy chops. It’s also the first song where no one instrument dominates, as the drum and bass are just as important in the mix. The first true clunker is “Soulful Garage”, which has Huff and Miller talking about partying and getting high. It’s a tune that slick Nashville bands like Trick Pony would be suited for, a rather bland, radio-friendly hand clapper that goes absolutely nowhere. Unfortunately, the Georgia Satellites’ quasi-hell-raiser “Biff Bang Pow” falls just as quickly off the rails.
What gets things back on track is a nice pop effort that toes the country line. “Where Is the Moon”, which is a duet between Miller and Huff, takes one back to the country duets of the ‘50s and early ‘60s. Once more, they also seem to lay off the rampant guitar riffs for basic licks and even a horn for a sweeter result. This doesn’t mean any sort of consistency from here on out, though, as a murky downer—“Fire of Love”—has Huff taking over lead vocals and sounding as if she’s the Mason-Dixon’s answer to Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick. Not a pretty thought, or song for that matter. If there’s one blessing, it’s the fact that it’s one of the shortest tunes here. A calypso attempt during “The Sweet Spot” is somewhat surprising simply because they seem to pull it off without any strings attached.
While there are a few potholes in the road on this record, it does have its moments.
// Notes from the Road
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