At what point does a joke get tired? More importantly, what happens when the joke in question gets serious?
Hayseed Dixie started off as the country-lovin’ cover band that did nothing but AC/DC songs (as if the band name wasn’t enough of a giveaway). Yet, the group scored some solid sales with their 2001 debut and — against all odds — riff-rocking fans truly embraced them as a novelty act worth checking out. No doubt excited by these developments, the band soon expanded their sound, covering the likes of Kiss for an entire album before dropping the artist-an-album rule and covering whatever they felt like. Yet, the market for finger-pickin’ cover albums is a bit more crowded then it was in 2001: Vitamin Records now releases bluegrass “tributes” to artists right alongside their popular string-quartet homage albums, and like-minded country-comedy duo Hard N’ Phirm slowly began building up a grassroots following around the country — largely scouring Dixie’s main demographic. Suddenly, Hayseed Dixie are in the odd position of having to prove themselves.
So how does a comedy cover band prove themselves? By writing original songs. As Weapons of Grass Destruction proves, this can be a gift, but it’s mostly a curse. “She Was Skinny When I Met Her” is essentially an extended remake of that song that Stewie sang on Family Guy: “My Big Fat Baby Loves to Eat”. Except it’s not as funny … and it’s longer. “The Rider Song” is a satirical jab at bands with ridiculous tour riders, except the punch lines contain absolutely zero zing. Plus, when that song is buried right at the back of the track sequence, it loses any potential it has to be a standout. This is only exacerbated by a simple problem that has plagued Hayseed’s albums for a while: a lack of melodic diversity. When the band was focused on covering on particular artist (like, say, AC/DC), the sheer diversity of the artist’s back catalog automatically instituted diversity on Hayseed’s front. However, when the group sprawls around with their own choices of covers, they lose focus on the tempo front. Thus, we are left with an album that runs out of new melodic ideas before we even hit the half-way point.
Furthermore, a lot of frustration also stems from some major missed opportunities. “Paint It Black” is toned way down, and had these guitars been electric at all, it would’ve sounded like a cheesy lounge cover version (which isn’t too hard to envision, unfortunately). “Strawberry Fields Forever” is played with no particularly special finesse. The Sex Pistols’ “Holidays in the Sun” proves to be a decent cover but a fairly unremarkable opening track. If one were to judge the album on these songs alone, it would seem that Hayseed Dixie may still be a group of talented musicians, but they’ve settled into a pretty comfortable, yet unremarkable, groove.
There are, however, some moments of ridiculous fun to be had. Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law” is given a fiery Charlie Daniels-styled treatment that works remarkably well; Marty Robins’ “Devil Woman” has never sounded better; and even Alice Cooper’s “Poison” is given a good fiddle/banjo makeover. Yet, the hands-down highlight is Hayseed’s take on the Scissor Sisters’ “I Don’t Feel Like Dancing”. Removed of its post-disco studio sheen, it works remarkably well as a country song, and — crazily enough — it doesn’t sound like too much of a melodic stretch as a comedy cover. If comedy albums have G-spots, then “Dancing” is it.
Yet one great moment of acoustic reverie does not make a great album, and when the same sounds and styles get repeated over and over (with both the covers and originals), it’s hard to keep on caring. If Hayseed Dixie wants to remain a standout in an ever-crowded market, they’re going to have to try something new and daring (and they’ll have to try it soon).