This is one of those records you hand to people when they ask “What’s good?” Tommy Womack, author of Cheese Chronicles, about his tenure at the helm of Government Cheese, has fashioned one of the best records I’ve heard in a long while. His songs are both funny and moving, each one painting a little picture in which you find someone you know, or maybe yourself. In “She Ain’t Speakin’ to Me,” his portrayal of the one that got away, with the lines “I knew her when/ Seventh heaven and eight kinds of hell/ I’d introduce her you see/ She ain’t speakin’ to me” has you going “I dated that chick!” Womack is as skillful at Southern wit as Dan Baird or Jason Ringenberg, with whom Womack co-wrote “Going Nowhere” on the Scorchers’ Clear Impetuous Morning album. His tongue is sharp, quick, and pointed most acidly at himself, such as in “Skinny and Small,” a reflection of that cruel age called “teen.”
Womack wears his musical favorites on his sleeve, leaning at times to a countryish mood of the Kinks’ Ray Davies, with weeping pedal steel and gut-bucket blue slide guitar. Other times he reminds you of Paul Westerberg, on cuts like the wistful title song, or the stumbling, rocking “I Drank Too Much Again.” In fact, you find yourself wishing Westerberg’s two solo records were as good as Positively Na Na.
Then, hidden away at the end of the disc is “I’ll Give You Needles.” This is as wrenching a song as you will (hopefully) ever hear, a conversation between a emergency room “mop jockey” and his junkie friend. I listen to this song and hope it’s not written from personal experience — the anger is too raw, the disappointment palatable. When it ends with “That day that you’re better/ I’ll beat you black and blue” you know that not only is this janitor a far finer person than his friend, he’s better than us. If you’ve ever bought a rock and roll record- buy this one next. Easily one of the years best. Checkered Past Records, 3940 N. Francisco, Chicago, IL 60618; http://www.checkeredpast.com