It still amazes me that in these terminally-bored-too-hip-to-care times any band would brandish that most maligned and unhip of genres; Southern rock. Broken hearts and barroom bloodstains on a plaid shirtsleeve, earnest stories of hard times begetting harder men backed by an accompaniment more akin to Black Oak Arkansas than the Black Keys. This music is not going to get you cred at your hoody-wearing hipster PBR bar (unless you’re being ironic.)
But like redneck culture (of which I count myself a member) Oregon’s Truckstop Darlin know they’re unrefined and take pride in stories well told, the hard beauty of sentimentality and the ragged craft of a well executed rock song. And they’re more n’ happy to shove your smirking peckerwood mug in it.
How a scene built around this halfbred genre is being forged in the rainy green climes of the Pacific Northwest is even more of a head-scratcher. Portland Oregan seems like the last place you’d hear amped-up twang of Truckstop Darlin’ and partners I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch In The House, Root Jack, the recently relocated Riviera as well as the literate roots-rock of Kasey Anderson For a place not marinated in the legacy of Dixie or the neo-brutal beauty of Cormac McCarthy this is fertile ground for great Southern rock.
Truckstop Darlin’s new, self-tiled album- mastered by Jon Burbank from I Can Lick Any SOB In The House - has all the ingredients for a classic Southern rock (or country for that matter) album – name-dropping Southern states (Kentucky, Alabama, South Carolina) musical legends (Merle Haggard) Saturday nights, hard times, copious whiskey, broken hearts – it’s there but done in ways that are both comfortable and draws from current rock music to inject a freshness.
The comparisons to early Drive By Truckers (back when they were full of piss, vinegar and Jack Daniels)and Uncle Tupelo are apparent, but there is a classic sound there as well. Tired Old Prom Queens is a Billy Joe Shaver-inspired song imagined for the Marshal Tucker Band.
Bluegrass State beings to mind early Southern-Gothic era REM and Anna Lee sound like it’s a lost B-side from The Band. King of the Highway’s lonesome asphalt-paved heartache that is as close to a straight-up country tune found here. Down snakes along with a epic Big Rock sleaze that mixes gunpowder and melancholy to great results.
Broken Valentine is a revved-up post-punk-county song that is one of my favorites. John Phelan’s gravel-throated delivery and stuttering buzz-saw guitar, the driving rhythm section of Eric Kotila’s drums and Nick Foltz’s bass and Michael Winter pedal steel cry.
Truckstop Darlin’ shows what old can be made new and vital and can, for damn sure, kick your ass all over again.