The Stone Coyotes’ press release describes them as “AC/DC Meets Patsy Cline.” I get the AC/DC part—guitar solos and all—but I don’t think that lead singer Barbara Keith sounds all that much like Patsy. To my ears, Situation Out of Control sounds like the result of an unholy alliance between P.J. Harvey and Southern Culture on the Skids—and AC/DC, to be sure—which, you have to admit, sounds like a whole lot of fun. Through snarling guitars and Keith’s deadpan vocal delivery, the Coyotes seem intent on covering the flipside of Tom Wait’s nightmarish circus world of urban angst and hobo longing. This is the soundtrack to a mythic, bar-room brawling world of roadhouses, trailers and lost dirt roads where everyone is always driving but getting nowhere and where the devil is just around the corner ready to pounce on your soul. When Keith sings the words “Mama” and “‘kin,” and about “blood running down the street,” it’s as if we’re being shown something essential and irrefutable, a vision of a world just out of sight and chilling to behold, even momentarily.
The Stone Coyotes is a trio made up of Keith on vocals and electric guitar, husband Doug Tibbles on drums and stepson John Tibbles on bass. Keith and the elder Tibbles are entertainment-industry stalwarts. In his 20s, Tibbles was writing scripts for television shows like My Three Sons, Bewitched and The Munsters (which probably gives you some sense of his age: Doug is 59). As a solo artist in the ‘70s, Keith’s songs were recorded by everyone from Tanya Tucker to Barbara Streisand. It was only after Doug learned how to play the drums that husband and wife turned into bandmates. The Coyotes have been around in their current form since 1985, playing here and there, and recording some demos in their basement studio in Greenfield, Connecticut. Their big break came only recently: a chance encounter with the novelist Elmore Leonard in 1997 turned the real Coyotes into the fictional band Odessa in Leonard’s Be Cool, a novel in which Get Shorty‘s Chili Palmer re-emerges as a rock impresario. Leonard and the Coyotes even did a “Word and Music” tour together, where Leonard read while the Coyotes rocked.
Situation Out of Control is about as straight-ahead as rock can get while still staying interesting. It’s heavy-metal country, and as long as they stay in that vein, with Keith’s eerie doom-laden voice cruising along over fuzzy guitar riffs, the album is a joy to behold. Only two songs don’t really come off: the Coyotes’ cover of Donovan Leitch’s “Season of the Witch” and “I Want to Rock,” both of which come off a bit flat, especially in comparison to standouts like the murder-ballad “Where the Old Oak Grows,” the strange “When Parliament Convenes” and “Train to Nowhere”. It’s perhaps the disc’s last track that offers the best insight into what inspires the Coyotes’ genre-bending music. On “Saw You at the Hop,” recorded live at the Mercury Lounge in New York City, they come across as avant-garde hipsters who revisit the cheesiest rock music conventions (“I saw you at the hop / And I said to my friends / When you walked by / “Do you see that boy? / I think I’m gonna die”) to see what forgotten diamonds they can unearth in the slag piles of monster rock.
Situation Out of Control is available only through Amazon.com or Stonecoyotes.com. You can get a taste of their music at either site even without having to resort to Napster.