From fuzzed-out hillbilly drone to mutant surf-pop to greasy-fatback country-soul, the past 15 years have seen an amazing transformation for Southern Culture on the Skids. Some of the changes have been obvious, as when guitarist Rick Miller, bassist Mary Huff, and drummer Dave Hartman added keyboardist Chris Bess two years ago. Other changes have been more subtle, as when Miller departed from his standard Danelectros for guitars not made from pressed cardboard. Even the band's two major-label offerings (Dirt Track Date and Plastic Seat Sweat on Geffen) were fascinating additions to its catalog, without a hint of compromise or label interference.
With Liquored Up and Lacquered Down, SCOTS' first post-Geffen album (a joint online/bricks-and-mortar deal with EMusic and TVT Records), Miller and his backwoods cohorts have concocted a studio still that's full of sonic squeezin's. The album references nearly every genre the band has touched in the last decade and a half, with a couple of extras thrown in for good measure. Miller proves he's got cred to shred on geetar rave-ups like "The Corn Rocket" and "Pass the Hatchet," and chooglin' beauties like "Cheap Motels" and "Corn Liquor," either leading the charge with blood-curdling runs or supporting the rhythm with a frantic restraint. The blues blow up real good on "Damaged Goods" and the incendiary "I Learned to Dance in Mississippi," while horn-enhanced Tex-Mex gets the SCOTS treatment on the title cut. One of the unexpected surprises comes when the band tightens every loose bolt as Huff cuts loose like Dusty Springfield on her two powerful showcases, the Memphis soul of "Hittin' on Nothing" and the gorgeous "Just How Lonely."
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With Liquored Up and Lacquered Down, Southern Culture on the Skids just smiles, cracks open a bucket of greasy chicken to fling at the audience, and gets it absolutely right. They won't get rich, but with this kind of back-porch authenticity, SCOTS has honor to burn.