Friday, September 16, 2005


A version of this appeared in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Sepetember 16, 2005

Every time I hear classic Southern rock these days, I always recall a weird bit of trivia from an old Beavis & Butthead cartoon that makes me chuckle. Beavis, according to a passing reference from Butthead, was sired by a roadie for The Marshall Tucker Band.

I’m not sure why that struck me as so funny. But it always makes me wonder how many little Beavises were spawned around this great land of ours during the bluesy, boozy era when hairy hoards of Southern rock warriors -- Marshall Tucker, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Wet Willie, Grinderswitch and of course The Allman Brothers roamed the Earth.

No one is calling it a “movement,” but in recent years there have been several bands from the South that proudly play upon their Southern roots. Though these groups don’t really sound much alike -- and none of them consciously imitate their 1970s forefathers -- in all of them I hear a little bit of the spirit of Duane Allman and Ronnie Van Zandt. And a little bit of Beavis & Butthead too.

Here’s a look at some recent Southern rock CDs.

*Aha Shake Heartbreak by Kings of Leon This is one of the most interesting and most satisfying bands from any region to arise in the last few years.

Originally hailing from Oklahoma, (now settled for several years in Tennessee), the core of the Kings consists of three brothers, Caleb, Nathan and Fared Followill, whose father, Leon Followill was a traveling Pentecostal preacher with an earthly fondness for The Rolling Stones and Neil Young. With their guitar-playing cousin Matthew, the Kings play a melodic, though stripped-down, style of guitar rock with a Southern accent.

The Kings’ 2003 debut album Youth and Young Manhood appeared on many a critic’s Top 10 list that year -- including mine. That album was so refreshing I feared a sophomore slump, like what happened with The Strokes (a non-Southern band with which the Kings are frequently compared.)

Luckily that’s not the case with Aha Shake Heartbreak. While it doesn’t quite have the element of surprise like their first one did, there’s not a dud in this new batch of songs.

“Slow Night, So Long,” the first track on the album starts off with a frantic guitar punctuating a tawdry tale of a one night of sin with a 17-year-old girl. “So far so good, she’s absolutely wasted,” Caleb sings in his slurred drawl. “She’s opened up like she really knows me/I hate her face but enjoy her company …”

The guitars build up to a Who-like frenzy before slowing down to a jazzy, almost Latin groove, over which Caleb croons a harsh refrain: “Rise and shine all you gold-digging mothers/Are you too good to tango with the poor poor boys?”

Indeed, sex and sin, often with hints of revulsion though usually with a big grin.

And a fair amount of self effacement, or at least self-consciousness about rock-star pretensions.

“Honestly I can see/ the giggling virgin overlooking me,” Caleb sings in a slow, Kinks-like melody “Rembo.” On another song, he sings “Girls are gonna love the way I toss my hair/Boys are gonna hate the way I seem.” Yet, in a previous tune, “Milk” he realizes a woman has noticed his comb-over.

For the purest pop pleasure, this CD offers the pumped-up, break-neck workout “Velvet Snow,” which features some Beach Boys-style harmonies on the last verse. I’m not sure what they’re singing about here. I’m not even going to check the lyrics in the CD booklet. The music sounds so revelatory, I don’t care what the words are.

* Electric Blue Watermelon by North Mississippi All Stars. As the sons of famed Memphis producer and session player Jim Dickinson, Luther and Cody Dickinson -- along with band mate Chris Chew on bass -- are true to the musical traditions of their region.

They’ll bend it, they shape it, make love to it and stomp on it. They’ll add elements of hip hop, New Orleans brass, basic funk and even feint echoes of electronica. They’ll bring in guests like Lucinda Williams and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band Robert Randolph. They’ve got some contributions from the late Otha Turner, who, until his death in 2003 at the age of 94, championed an obscure tradition of Mississippi fife-and-drum music.

Basically, Electric Blue Watermelon is an upbeat joy from start to finish. There’s wild abandon in romps like “Mississippi Boll Weevil” and “Bang Bang Lulu,” while tunes like “Deep Blue Sea” and the 7-minute “Mean Ol’ Wind Died Down” have haunting, melancholy melodies. Meanwhile, you’ll hear references to The Allmans’ “Blue Sky” in the guitars of “Hurry Up Sunrise.” And Luther’s slide guitar will remind a listener of Ry Cooder on several tracks. (Daddy Jim played on and produced several Cooder albums.)

My only complaint about the record is that the lyrics of so many songs, (“No Mo” and “Moonshine,” especially), are so nostalgic, wistfully harking back to a happier time when you could drink cheap booze in Junior Kimbrough’s bar and party down in the country on a Sunday night. Come on guys, you’re way too young to get hung up on the good old days.

The North Mississippi All Stars are opening for Lucinda Williams Tuesday at the Lensic Theater.

*Get Some by Nashville Pussy. This band’s basic sound can be described as a lot of Nuge and a lot of Iggy Stooge. It’s wild, raunchy good-time metal with lyrics about sex, drinking and raising holy hell. Pretty dumb, but tight, relentless rock.

A look at the song titles probably tells you as much as you need to know about this album: “Pussy Time,” “Hate and Whiskey” “Lazy White Boy,” “Meaner Than My Mama” and my favorite, “Hell Ain’t What It Used to Be,” (a comical conversation with the Devil. Remember when all those pinheads used to be seriously concerned with “Satanic” metal?)

And to their credit, Pussy does a great cover of Ike & Tina Turner’s “Nutbush City Limits”

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