From H.L. Mencken to the Coen Brothers, patronizing Yankees have always been quick to giggle at the rubes down South. Three decades ago -- after watching Harvard-educated Dick Cavett grill high school dropout and then-Georgia governor Lester Maddox on national TV -- Louisiana-born singer-songwriter Randy Newman decided he had seen enough and went to work on a scathing concept album that managed to pierce both the Southern man's self-loathing and the condescending hypocrisy that's so common north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Originally released in 1974, Good Old Boys was -- and, thanks to a new reissue, still is -- an ambitious and bold recording. It is an unapologetic, warts-and-all look at life in Dixieland that explains why dimwits such as Maddox and Huey Long could rise to the top in cracker country. But it also serves as a reminder that no corner of this country is free of racism or stupidity. Maybe Newman was expecting too much when he asked post-hippie music fans to reconsider their knee-jerk politics. Certainly his liberal use of the n-word didn't help. Either way, the album tanked. But now, the remastered version puts this overlooked gem in a new light. It makes clear that 30 years later, little has changed on either end of the compass needle.
"Rednecks" -- the opening cut -- still stings as it throws every Southern-fried cliché right back into the listener's lap. Better yet is the sublime "Louisiana, 1927" in which a deluge destroys nearly the entire state only to be met with Yankee indifference. Here, Newman -- who now is mostly associated with catchy Disney scores -- defied liberal orthodoxy to consider far deeper, uglier truths.
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