Stacie Collins has been called, “a country fried version of Joan Jett.” While the latter may no doubt figure as an influence, blues harp player Collins’s gritty voice, distinctive phrasing, and relentless energy show her hometown that an ostensible “country” album, written and cut in contemporary Nashville, can have cojones.
If you’ve ever rocked to the Georgia Satellites (“Keep Your Hands to Yourself,” “Can’t Stand the Pain”), it’s no surprise that Satellites’ lead singer Dan Baird co-produced, with Collins, this shitkicking mix of honky-tonk, blues and hard southern rock. This is the pair’s second collaboration after The Lucky Spot, Collins’s third CD (2007).
All tunes were co-written by Collins and husband/band bassist Al Collins. Adding heat to this atypical Nashville conflagration is Warner Hodges, guitarist for the legendary punk/honky-tonk band Jason and the Scorchers.
What Hodges does on the Telecaster here begs the question why he’s been an underground legend for two decades. Hodges’s distinctive blues-rock guitar reverberates with surprising licks that span the blues-rock-country stylistic continuum with equal parts taste and drive.
Likewise, drummer Jimmy Lester is currently one of the hottest in the South, bearing comparison to stellar blues and rock beaters like Artimus Pyle (Lynyrd Skynyrd) or Butch Trucks (Allman Brothers). Lester teams with Al Collins on bass to lend the muscular and pliant rhythmic support you rarely find among today’s country or alt-country acts.
The opening track, “Hey Mister,” is a driving number that has somewhat more of a traditional “New Nashville” production feel that most of the other tunes. The lyrics belie the melody, however: This is Collins’s nose-thumb to Nashville’s label execs who, thus far, have failed to offer her a contract.
Stacie Collins puts a hard spin on another of the most Nashville-sounding tunes on the album, the competent though familiar-sounding beers-and-tears weeper, “It Hurts to Breathe.” On the other hand, “Cool,” the one other ballad, is significantly closer in sound and blues spirit to Memphis or Chicago. Like most of the other tunes, it claims all of Collins’s sensuous musical charms as singer, harpist, and songwriter.
Some may recall the heyday of “Outlaw Country,” represented by acts including Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson, as well as Tanya Tucker and Emmylou Harris. It began as a reaction in the 1960s to the over-produced, treacly music represented by the "Nashville Sound," pioneered by record producers Chet Atkins, Owen Bradley, and Bob Ferguson. It effectively neutralized the mountain and blues roots of classic country/old time music by replacing country fiddling, steel guitars, and "high lonesome" lead vocals with “easy listening” string sections, choral background vocals, and crooning lead vocals.
Collins plays firmly in the Outlaw tradition – only she rocks a little harder, and with a lot more attitude.
Originally published in Blues Revue, Jan 2011. Written by Michael Cala
Sometimes Ya Gotta…
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