Long before 1996’s Dirt Track Date put Southern Culture on the Skids on the national map, with videos playing on MTV and everything, they were a road-tested regional band that put out records whenever the finances allowed. In fact, by the time Dirt Track Date came out, loyal fans recognized several of its songs not only from shows, but also from rougher versions on earlier discs.
One of those early efforts was 1994’s Ditch Diggin’, which offered all of the calling cards that still apply to Southern Culture on the Skids: Dave Hartman’s drumming swinging between tribal and surf rhythms, Mary Huff’s bouffant-fueled bass playing and vocals, and Rick Miller’s guitar playing that’s equal parts swamp boogie and vintage rock reverb. Miller is generally considered the face of the band, and with good reason. His guitar playing’s fun and sharp, and there’s probably not an act of eating or manual labor that he can’t turn into lyrical double-entendres. Some people complain about the band’s schtick, but when they roll into your town in the dead of winter, or in the summer when the air is filled with the scent of neighborhood BBQs, you often catch yourself buying a ticket with a band-approved attitude of “shit yeah, I’ve got to get me some of that.”
Fans of the Southern Culture on the Skids’ live show should be very happy with Dig This. On its surface, it seems a little strange for the band to go back in the studio to re-record and resequence an album from 20 years ago. On the other hand, this new recording makes the ears very glad, because it’s possibly the band’s best representation of their live sound outside of 2006’s actual live album Doublewide and Live. There was technically nothing wrong with the production on Ditch Diggin’, especially in comparison to some of the band’s more anemic-sounding earlier material, but Dig This bristles with a surprising amount of raw energy for a band with so many miles under its belt. The band’s playing shows the benefits of twenty extra years of playing, and even incorporates little touches that they’ve added over the years, such as the snippet of “Eight Miles High” that Miller adds to “Lordy, Lordy”.
As far as the re-sequencing goes, it really doesn’t help or hurt the album. It’s a shame to lose Ditch Diggin’‘s two covers — the Louvin Brothers’ “The Great Atomic Power” and Link Wray’s “Jack the Ripper” — but those cuts are still available on “Ditch Diggin'”. At least they didn’t get rid of live staples like “Too Much Pork for Just One Fork” or “Ditch Diggin'”. Longtime fans might prefer the “greasiness” of the original recordings, but Dig This stakes a claim as its own record; it certainly doesn’t half-ass its way through these older songs. There’s even a download for karaoke instrumental tracks and lyrics for the whole album, so there’s something for everyone.