Monday, January 3, 2011
With original Social D frontman Mike Ness also filling the producer’s role on the SoCal punk veterans’ first studio album in seven years, Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes recaptures the musical direction lacking in some of their more recent efforts. For the avid Social Distortion listener, most of the tried-and-true elements are still there—gritty guitars through overdriven tube amps, Ness’ storytelling lyrics, and high-octane rhythms—but they’re more refined and polished. Welcome new elements in the band’s sound include the soulful, Merry Clayton-esque background vocals on “California (Hustle and Flow)”—which hearken to the raw emotion of the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”—and the more pronounced use of piano and keyboards to drive melodies like those in “Still Alive.” In all, there’s a great mix of hotrod rollers like “Can’t Take It with You” and “Machine Gun Blues,” as well as slower numbers like “Bakersfield” and “Writing on the Wall” where Ness showcases his ability to sing about heartbreak with rugged tenderness. Although the full-throttle cover of Hank Williams’ “Alone and Forsaken” is a definite high point, the album mostly takes Social D’s biggest influences—the Stones and Johnny Cash—and pays homage to them with an affectionate tip of the cap rather than full-on covers. It all sounds as fresh as it did in 1978, and it further solidifies Ness and company’s place as one of the leading cowpunk bands of all time.