Southern Culture’s new Halloween-themed release, Zombified
, is a look back as well as forward. That’s because eight tracks are remastered versions of a SCOTS 1998 Australian tour EP, Zombified
, joined by five new songs. Befitting the theme, SCOTS exchange their usual fascination with redneck living for a horror movie set dressed in vampires, witches, zombies, undertakers and even a “Swamp Thing.” The EP dates to keyboardist Chris Bess’ time in the band, and the presence of his Hammond organ is a striking reminder of those old days. Since becoming a trio prior to 2004’s Mojo Box
, they’ve (necessarily) pursued a more rock-oriented sound.
The keyboard’s effect is subtle—the low, tinkling piano rag in the corners of “She’s My Witch,” the haunting organ peals of the girl group goth-torch “Torture”—but it’s quite the welcome mood-setter. The latter is one of the disc’s highlights, showcasing bassist Mary Huff’s beautiful breathy alto. The slow-burn psychobilly of “Undertaker” is another gem; Miller’s reverb-laden surf/rockabilly guitar work shines particularly brightly here, thanks to some great snaking bluesy leads. Indeed, his playing throughout the entire album is stunning. Miller’s finest moment comes during the instrumental cover of Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Sinister Purpose.” His compact slashes of guitar distortion counterpoint Bess’ soul-soaked keyboards driving each other through the songs’ greasy grooves.
The new tracks match the tone and theme of the original EP, but they aren’t especially fetching. The performances are sharp, but the songs are lacking. Only the instrumental “The Creeper” really stands out. Much of SCOTS’ music’s been unjustly marginalized for the alleged gimmickry of its trailer-park satire, but this release truly is a novelty, suited mainly for its holiday conceit. But if not on par with their best, fans will still appreciate the terrific playing and smirking good humor.
Southern Culture on the Skids plays Motorco Music Hall tonight, Friday, Oct. 28. Their Halloween Hullaballoo features The Straight 8s, The Tremors, The Wiley Fosters and Ormon Grimsby's 3D movie. The 9 p.m. show costs $13—$15.