Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash

Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash

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If there was a chutzpah fairy (and I’m thinking Joan Jett or Pinky Tuscadero or Misty M. from my high school), she’d still be kicking these guys’ asses for naming themselves Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash. I don’t care if the Man in Black himself signed off on it — there just ought to be a law about it.

But ultimately it’s not a bad call. Like John R. Cash, these guys love country music but don’t make it into some kind of holy church thing; this record shows them taking a page from the master’s book, and using the forms and chord progressions of c&w to try to make statements about the America they see. This America isn’t pretty: “I’m walkin’, just for walkin’ / And I’ve got nowhere left to go / I’m livin’ just for breathin’ / With this hole right through my soul” runs one pretty typical lyric (from “Burn Down This House”), and similar bleak views of the lives we lead can be found on “Hard Times” and “Beautiful Cage.” It’s not for nothing that the promo copy compares them to Nebraska-era Springsteen and Steve Earle and Patty Griffin. But when they want to kick it out, like on “Damage Is Done,” they can get that done too.

This is a much more ambient-sounding album than their debut, which suits Mark Stuart’s songs and his tough-sounding voice well. Whether they’re rooting down in the depths of romantic despair on “Last Goodbye,” making a weird atmospheric quirk into a universal statement in “Marfa Lights,” or just talking about a fast car in “1970 Monte Carlo,” the Bastard Sons are tight and mysterious without ever drifting too far from their country rootsy foundation. This is just a really good album for people who like good songs done well. I hope Tweedy and Farrar are checking their rear-view mirrors, because the BSoJC are right behind ’em…in a bitchin’ car with a huge engine.

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