This blog has never really been about California, so it was to my great satisfaction that my recent call for new contributors turned up a hot lead in the United Kingdom – namely, longtime reader/commenter David Jones. David will be helping me make more of a dent in the review workload around here, so please enjoy his first piece (don’t miss the free download at the bottom!) and give him a warm welcome.
Southern rock has always seemed like country music’s reckless cousin – by definition, more likely to attract the attention of Drive By Truckers or Lynyrd Skynyrd fans than listeners of George Jones or Randy Travis. But every once in a while we get a gang of incorrigible rockers trying to cross genres and set up camp on the country side of the fence: Flynnville Train, Halfway to Hazard, Van Zant and The Lost Trailers are all dyed-in-the-wool Southern rock acts who have obliquely turned to country music for wider exposure.
Of course, it’s easy to be cynical and say their decision had more to do with dwindling record sales in other genres (dwindling here, too, just not to the same extent) than any real desire to emulate noted country stalwarts. However, with its eponymous debut album, Dixie Whiskey delivers a collection that’s more country than half of the songs currently getting played on country radio.
Stylistically, the most consistent musical touchstone is 1970s Californian folk/rock, and if the harmonies were more textured than the rather thin two-way vocals featured here, we could be hearing a Crosby, Still and Nash record, or at the very least, a One Flew South record. “Wheels On the Wind,” “Odelay” and “Some Days It Takes All Night” (a duet with Dean Dillon, who cowrote the track) all contribute to the record’s late-night acoustic feel. This continues right up to the closing “Steady Hand of the Tiller,” which serves as a poignant finale despite being built on a rather clumsy nautical metaphor.
Jamey Johnson may not be an influence, but his example is certainly followed here, as is Bob Dylan’s, with a hearty dose of The Rolling Stones and ZZ Top thrown in for the rocking numbers – and there are a few.
Although the meandering “Steeldrivin’ Woman” is a fair mid-tempo opener, it is unfortunately dogged by slippery lyrics (“She’s a steeldrivin’ woman/She’ll steal your poor heart and drive you insane”) and a bland chorus. Luckily, the band is immediately redeemed with the Brooks & Dunn style “Sold My Soul (to the Honky Tonk)” which sounds like it could have fit nicely on the lamented duo’s Hillbilly Deluxe album. “When Caged Birds Sing” rocks harder than Gary Allan on a good day, and “Ride With the Devil” must be great live, even if it does sound like it could be on found on any rock album this decade, with no country flourishes in sight.
As is consistent with the outlaw feel of the disc, the ten-track collection doesn’t pander to mainstream expectations by delivering a record full of love songs. Instead, many of the songs are rather weary and exhaustively bedraggled when it comes to the opposite gender, with songs like “Steeldrivin’ Woman” and “When Caged Birds Sing” painting women in a less-than-positive light. We might not be flooded with love songs on this disc, but we do get the obligatory old-man-talking-to-the-youngun: While “Welcome Home Kentucky” doesn’t aim straight for the jugular in the way “Don’t Blink” and “Waitin’ On a Woman” did, it does include the tried-and-tested three-verse/repeated chorus structure which Nashville tunesmiths have favored for the last fifteen years or so.
One of the album’s highlights is “This Barstool Is My Tombstone,” a traditional two-stepper with an achingly strident fiddle intro. It’s in the mold of George Strait’s “If the Whole World Was a Honky Tonk” or any of Mark Chesnutt’s honky tonk shuffles.
Although more uptempo numbers would have been welcome, and less of the pessimism and alcohol-fueled remorse which tends to drag it down in places, the showcase does throw up a few decent songs. Regrettably, though, the overall quality isn’t very consistent and the few good songs here don’t elevate the album as a whole to anything more than a passable endeavor.
Grab a free download of the album from Dixie Whiskey’s page on BandCamp.