Originally published at The 9513 in March 2011, this single review celebrated the mainstream arrival of an exciting new band called The Dirt Drifters. Unfortunately, the quintet unceremoniously split just over a year later. Their major label album This Is My Blood is still available and worthwhile.
Is there still room on country radio for a great bar band?
The radio gods briefly smiled on a ragtag Georgia gang called Confederate Railroad in the early ’90s, but the leather-and-denim ensemble’s run of hits (highlighted by popular recurrent “Trashy Women”) lasted only about two years. By the time they released a fart joke as a single in 1998, few were around to hear it.
The Dirt Drifters might fare better. Having formed in Nashville and built a following in bars around town before eventually signing to Warner Music, they have the look of CMT stars, all designer jeans and standard-issue stubble. Mercifully, their debut single is more Delbert McClinton roadhouse boogie than Emerson Drive country-pop. In fact, you’d have to go back to the heyday of Danny Shirley and his Confederate brethren to find a mainstream country-rock band with quite as much swagger.
“Something Better” comes pounding out of the chute with a beat so heavy that it feels like flagellation — not needless noise, but an aggression precisely cued to imitate the beatings regularly dished out by life itself to a certain class of people, those “working, slaving, always aching, way too young for [their backs] to be breaking.” With guitars grinding and steel pealing away, the song slyly suggests the cure for its own ailment: When it all gets too much to bear, throw a boogie.
The success of “Something Better” lies not in the novelty of its solution — the working man blues, and means of escaping same, have been covered again and again — but in the extent to which it accomplishes what it sets out to do. Which is, basically, being a great cut-a-rug song. In this, it’s helped along considerably by a strong vocal from lead singer Matt Fleener, whose rugged baritone sounds like exactly the right vessel for such a blue collar appeal, pissed off and broken in all the right places.
With their debut single, the Dirt Drifters offer the greatest of rarities: a butt-wiggling scorcher exactly as fun and cathartic as it tries to be. Well done, gentlemen.