Southern Culture on the Skids | Record Review | Indy Week

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Southern Culture on the Skids

Countrypolitan Favorites
(Yep Roc Records)

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If we were to deconstruct Southern Culture on the Skids like an alarm clock, loosening the screws of their countrabilly chassis, we'd discover their genius isn't in the pieces. It's not in the well-designed twists of Dave Hartman's backbeat, the steadfast chops of Rick Miller's underrated guitar work, or the sultry vocals of Mary Huff's big-hair bass playing. Rather, it's in the irreverence of the whole design.

What some might have turned into a short-lived joke (see '90s horror-billy thrashers Elvis Hitler), SCOTS has elevated to an art form. Much as Ween exceeds the Dead Milkmen as the apotheosis of goofy, snowbound Midwesterners' bedroom predilections, these Southern iconoclasts have nailed the possum to the wall: Nobody captures the tragedy of upscale downward mobility better than Southern Culture on the Skids.

Their ethos might as well be "It's funny because it's true." Like a middle-aged man's comb-over, sometimes we have to stare into another's mirrored shades to appreciate the ridiculousness of our pretensions. You can lie to others about it, but in your heart you see the greasy, chicken-stained fingerprints of the truth. It's what makes the new SCOTS all-covers album, Countrypolitan Favorites, the band's upstanding answer to The Spaghetti Incident, where Axl and his Roses dedicated an album to the people who inspired them. Countrypolitan—from "Oh Lonesome Me" to "Happy Jack"—is evidence of the band's oddball dichotomy and strong flavor. It's the hidden blueprint for the loose-screw design.

Sometimes people mistake the self-mocking tone of SCOTS songs for satire, but nothing could be further from the truth: Do you know where Rick Miller lives? I wouldn't call it the sticks because that'd be offensive to the middle of nowhere. To paraphrase Miller's comments on the album, Countrypolitan is about trucker hats in Beverly Hills and pork-eating Merlot drinkers in Mebane. It's a whacky, charming paean to the mismatched polyglots of the 21st century.

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What can be more appropriate to that concept than The Kinks' "Muswell Hillbilly," in which a suburban-dweller who aligns himself with West Virginia (though he's never seen it) refuses to let them "make me something that I'm not." It's just this kind of frank self-examination that SCOTS welcomes and echoes in the lighthearted duet "Let's Invite Them Over," in which a married couple admit to each other that they're both more interested in their best friends. Or what speaks better to the SCOTS ethos than an oddball track or two: See Slim Harpo's "Te Ni Nee Ni Nu" and Claude King's "Wolverton Mountain," about wooing a mountain girl protected by bears and a shotgun-wielding father.

T. Rex's "Life's a Gas" gets shot up with twang and given a narcotic synth line, and the guitar jangle of The Byrds' "Have You Seen Her Face?" goes the way of Dick Dale, creating the entirely new flavor of surf-folk. The album's highlight, though, is a fairly straightforward take on Wanda Jackson's "Funnel of Love" that gives Huff a chance to showcase her sexy vocal strut. The steamy take is convincing enough to invite a plunge into the spiraling drain with her.

If there's a lesson in the SCOTS and their music, it's that high and low don't really exist. It's all relative and circumstantial, and the only people who care which side you're on are those too embarrassed to admit the truth: We all love an eight-piece box. And, even if you're one of them there vegetarians, there's always banana pudding for dessert.

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