Chris Scruggs – Honky Tonkin’ Lifestyle
Rockabilly revivalism, a tribute to a vogue and a dinner theater of the damned, has not produced much compelling music. Among the herd of amiable necrophiliacs attracted to the subculture, there is little fresh thinking, and few good players. But every ten years or so, something startling pops from the crypt, a Brian Setzer or a Wayne Hancock.
Chris Scruggs, who’s 21, is the grandson of Earl, and son of the banjoist’s oldest son Gary and pop-country diva Gail Davies. That’s a heavy chain, but with Honky Tonkin’ Lifestyle, his blandly titled debut, Chris shrugs it off and gets down to furious business.
The result is the rockingest hillbilly record since Thunderstorms And Neon Signs. Restricting himself to vocal, electric guitar, mandolin, and non-pedal steel (the little devil is a natural on anything with strings), Chris and his sterling rhythm section of Dave Roe and Chris Dettloff slam through the set — nine originals and a terrific cover of Onie Wheeler’s “Hold My Baby” — like they’re trying to bust out of a madhouse.
Not that skillful finesse is wanting; the solos are conceived with care and logic, and the band’s time is Secret-Service tight. But the stronger impression is of wantonness (the hammering atonality of the first eight bars of the guitar break in “Alibi”), room noise, and a weird sort of impatience. The conceit of “Ain’t Got Time” expresses it, as does the way Scruggs rushes to the ends of lines to suck in breath and barge on.
If he wants to continue writing his repertoire — if his songs are not to be upstaged by his solos — his lyrics could use more of the inspired risk-taking that electrifies his playing. But this kind of music doesn’t live or die on the point of a pen, and a talent so multifarious has the luxury of choosing any one of several paths. Right now he’s on the road with BR549. I hope he can help them record something that grabs the ear and demolishes the ass as much as this $1500 self-release does.