Thursday, February 6, 2020

Best of the 2010s, Part 3: Sturgill Simpson through Rob Zombie

And finally, we come to the final installment of my favorite records of the 2010s...

STURGILL SIMPSON – HIGH TOP MOUNTAIN (2013): I’m not sure there was a better traditional country album released in the past decade than High Top Mountain. With his later albums, Simpson became far more experimental. Some of that worked for me and some didn’t, but this is the place I’d like to see him get back to one day. The music is very much old-school country, with plenty of Waylon-style honky tonk and some shots of bluegrass, but there’s a definite rock ‘n’ roll attitude to songs like “You Can Have the Crown” or “Some Days.” Though I really like Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and Sound & Fury, this remains his shining moment to my ears.

JACKSON TAYLOR AND THE SINNERS – WHICH WAY IS UP (2016): This one was a tough call between Crazy Again and Which Way is Up, but ultimately, it was the title track of this record that gave it the edge. Its chorus refrain of “too much sense for the left, too much heart for the right, why don’t we all say to hell with it all and raise a cold beer tonight” is a perfect encapsulation of the place that America has found itself in for the last several years, with political squabbles and tensions rising ever higher. It’s both an indictment of the situation and a plea to find some common ground that a lot of people need to hear. Interestingly, this record found Taylor distancing himself a little from the loud and rowdy party anthems of his past (the cover of Cheap Trick’s “He’s a Whore” notwithstanding, of course) and toward more traditional sounds. But it works well for him, and I particularly like his cover of “Two More Bottles of Wine.”

TESTAMENT – DARK ROOTS OF EARTH (2012): Testament’s two releases of the decade were both absolute bangers, but I have to give the slight edge to Dark Roots of Earth because I think the hooks are just a little better. After experimenting a bit stylistically in the 1990s, Testament has settled in to be one of those bands that just do what they do. You know what you’re going to get, but you also know that it’s probably going to be pretty good.

TEXAS HIPPIE COALITION – PEACEMAKER (2012): I keep hoping with each new Texas Hippie Coalition album that they’ll return to the Southern-fried sound that made this record stand head and shoulders above their other work. There’s a groove and swagger to almost every track on Peacemaker that you only find here and there on their other releases, and it’s the perfect backing track to frontman Big Dad Ritch’s braggadocious presence. No self-esteem issues there. They’ve never quite found the peacock-like strut of “8 Seconds” or the driving power of “Wicked” again, but this record is exactly what you expect (and hope) that a metal band from Texas will sound like – raw, rocking redneck noise.

BOB WAYNE – TILL THE WHEELS FALL OFF (2012): Bob Wayne released several solid contenders this decade. Back to the Camper, his return to the DIY ethic after the experiment of signing with metal label Century Media, featured some of his best songwriting, and that only got better with the follow-up Bad Hombre. But when I look at all of those records, Till the Wheels Fall Off, his second and final record with Century Media, was the one that brought me the most fun. The rollicking title track never goes by without me cranking the volume, and the album as a whole offers a nice mix of his rowdy, gnarly side, his storytelling prowess and the more emotional songwriting that was to come on later projects.

WHISKEY MYERS – EARLY MORNING SHAKES (2014): As their career has gone on, Whiskey Myers has progressively moved more and more toward the rock side of the spectrum, with there being hardly any country/Southern rock sound to their latest and most successful eponymous outing in 2019. But it’s the sound of 2011’s Firewater and 2014’s Early Morning Shakes that hits the right notes for me. Raucous Southern rockers like personal favorite “Headstone” and the title track sit side-by-side with thoughtful and thought-provoking tunes like “Dogwood” and “Reckoning.” This album shows what Southern rock should be in modern times – compelling and meaningful songwriting that also hasn’t forgotten the genre’s wild-eyed, whiskey-drinking roots.

WHITE LIGHT CEMETERY – WHITE LIGHT CEMETERY (2013): Another one of those real shames on this list, White Light Cemetery broke up a few years ago after releasing two excellent albums. Fellow Louisiana natives, I discovered them a few years back when they opened for Jackson Taylor and the Sinners. It was a bit of an odd situation for a metal band to be opening for a country rocker, but they won the crowd over, and because of their performance, I left the bar that night with this album. They delivered a potent blend of stoner-rock riffs, doom atmosphere and Southern-fried grooves that could appeal to fans of Pantera and Lynyrd Skynyrd alike. In my mind, this debut album was the slightly stronger of the two (but only slightly), featuring stomping AC/DC-style rockers like “Bedroom Shaker,” groove-heavy slabs like “Dead & Bleeding” and brooding, contemplative numbers like “Rain Song.”

WHITE WIZZARD – OVER THE TOP (2010): I doubt any band had a more tumultuous decade than White Wizzard. A revolving door of musicians came and went around bassist/founder Jon Leon, and after a promising start to the band’s career, things stuttered and stalled. That led to Leon announcing the end of the band shortly after their most recent album Infernal Overdrive – which ironically, was one of their best. Not to worry, though, a year or so after that announcement, Leon walked it back, letting us know the band would return and started a Kickstarter. Drama aside, I slammed White Wizzard’s debut EP (which I have come to appreciate much more over the years) when it came out, so I went into Over the Top expecting the same. Instead, this album was everything I want in a metal record. It was packed with big riffs, gigantic hooks and all of the melodic traditional metal goodness that I was missing at the time. Songs like “40 Deuces,” “Iron Goddess of Vengeance” and “High Roller” still get my horns flying and my head banging 10 years later, even if their publicist at the time never delivered the T-shirt he promised me after my review said I’d proudly wear it – despite the band’s spelling of wizard, which sets my editor nerves on edge.

HANK WILLIAMS JR. – IT’S ABOUT TIME (2016): This is, admittedly, a sentimental pick. I grew up on Hank Jr. I was raised in northern Louisiana, where country music was king: So, naturally, I hated it, with very few exceptions. Hank was one of those. Unfortunately, over the years, he got more full of himself and the music suffered as a result. He began to inject politics into his songs more blatantly, and his albums became something of a soapbox for those beliefs. There would be a good song here or there, but you had to sort through the crap to find it, and I usually didn’t bother. This record really got back to what Bocephus always did best. There’s not an obnoxious soapbox song to be found, just a heaping helping of country rockers and even a more introspective (if still a bit conceited) side on “Just Call Me Hank.”

ROB ZOMBIE – THE ELECTRIC WARLOCK ACID WITCH SATANIC ORGY CELEBRATION DISPENSER (2016): This album came out of left field for me. I was a fan of White Zombie and Rob Zombie’s first few solo albums, but it had been years since he’d done anything that really caught my ear. I happened to click on a video of “Teenage Rock God,” and it connected with me immediately, putting me in mind of some of his earlier work. This album gave me just what I wanted from Zombie – catchy hooks, big riffs, weird samples and some psychedelic 1960s and ‘70s strangeness. It was a welcome comeback from an artist who I had written off.

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