Terrell’s Tune-up: Skidding to Glory
A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
October 22, 2010
Some folks dismiss Southern Culture on the Skids as a novelty act. I’ve probably done it a couple of times myself.
After all, for more than 20 years, the musicians have cultivated a goofy faux-hillbilly image — wearing funny hats, cheap sunglasses, backwoods/thrift-shop clothes — and singer/bassist Mary Huff sports a beehive that would frighten most bees. And they sing lots of funny songs about fried chicken, banana pudding, strippers, stock cars, Little Debbie pastries, tacky tiki bars, moonshine, and white-trash cultural affairs. I don’t know whether they still do this, but for a while, they were known for throwing pieces of fried chicken at their audience at live shows.
The only thing is, while they’re very funny, these North Carolinians are real musicians. As a trio (most of the time), SCOTS is a tight little outfit, playing a distinctive blend of country, rockabilly, surf, swampy R & B, garage, occasionally bluegrass, and exotica.
Huff has a voice as big as her hair (I always hope for more songs where she sings lead), and Rick Miller is a fine rock ’n’ roll guitarist. The only time I saw them live (at the late and lamented Paramount in 2001), I realized that they were playing surf music better than a lot of so-called surf bands out there.
Southern Culture’s latest effort, The Kudzu Ranch (named for the recording studio where they make the magic), is something of a return to form for the band. Their previous album, Countrypolitan Favorites, spotlighted their country side. (In fact, it was an homage to the Nashville sound of the late ’50s and early ’60s. Kudzu is far more varied.)
The opener, “Bone Dry Dirt,” is a pounding rocker with Miller playing Creedence-worthy guitar licks and drummer Dave Hartman knocking the snot out of his trap kit. One of SCOTS’ best-known songs is “Too Much Pork for Just One Fork.” They return to their own private hog heaven with the next song “Pig Pickin’,” a jumpy little rocker.
Huff sings it nice and pretty on “Highlife,” which almost sounds like a folk-rock tune. But her big moment on this record is “Bad Boys,” a lusty tribute to tattooed love boys who “need a good spanking.” Sings Huff, “I gotta get one of those!” It’s not quite as powerful as her signature song, Joanna Neel’s “Daddy Was a Preacher, But Mama Was a Go-Go Girl,” but it’s pretty snazzy.
They get mysterioso with a smoky little charmer called “Montague’s Mystery Theme.” They do a full rollicking SCOTS treatment of Neil Young’s “Are You Ready for the Country.” “Busy Road,” which concerns civilization encroaching on a backwoods home (“Lost two dogs about a month ago”), has an irresistible Bo Diddley beat. And Miller breaks out the banjo for “My Neighbor Burns Trash” (“Says I got a pack of matches and a pile of leaves/Three bags of garbage and some gasoline/Got a plastic jug and some cellophane/Burn anything that can’t run away”).
As always, there are plenty of fascinating instrumentals. “Slinky Spring Milt” sounds like a lost Duane Eddy twanger. “Jack’s Tune,” which closes the album, is slow and wistful. But the one that SCOTS fans will love the most is a surfy medley of Nirvana’s “Come as You Are” and an obscure Pink Floyd song called “Lucifer Sam.”
Is Southern Culture on the Skids a novelty act? If so, who cares? Life needs novelty. This is trash rock you won’t want to burn.
When visiting SCOTS’ website, don’t miss the “Home Cooking” section for some delicious recipes. Those turtle burgers look like a treat that city folks will never know.
* Corn Money by The Defibulators. Before I start in on this fine debut album from this crazed country band from New York City (New York City?), brace yourself, Bridget, they’re coming to Santa Fe next week — to the Cowgirl BBQ on Wednesday, Oct. 27, to be exact. Judging by this album and a couple of videos I’ve seen, it should be a good evening.
Let me be straight. Though I’m a hillbilly fanatic, most contemporary alt-country bands bore me to tears. But I knew after hearing just a couple of tracks on The Defibs’ website that I was going to love this band.
In fact, Corn Money — which was actually released last year — is the best alt-country effort I’ve heard in years. Come to think about it, I like it even better than the Southern Culture on the Skids album reviewed above.
The Defibulators, a seven-member group, have fiddles, banjos, guitars, drums, a jew’s-harp, honking harmonicas, an upright bass, and a washboard player named Metalbelly.
Singer Erin Bru’s laconic vocals, especially on the song “Get What’s Coming,” remind me a little bit of Trailer Bride’s Melissa Swingle.
I hear a lot of various influences — or at least what I think might be influences — here. There’s a little SCOTS in the song “Go-Go Truck” and some Legendary Shack Shakers madness and a little Hank III raucousness on nearly every tune — maybe even some Reverend Peyton. The song “Xmas Ornament,” which I don’t think has anything to do with Christmas, sounds like some Handsome Family tune interpreted by the Asylum Street Spankers.
Almost every male-female vocal duo in every third-rate alt-country band in this land gets a Gram Parsons-Emmylou Harris comparison at some point by lazy writers and cheesy publicists. So I almost hesitate to use it here. But frontman Bug Jennings and Bru sound so purdy on “Your Hearty Laugh,” it reminds me of “The New Soft Shoe” by none other than Gram & Emmylou.
Check them out at the Cowgirl, 319 S. Guadalupe St., at 9 p.m. on Wednesday. The cover charge is an incredible $3.
I love this video.