I don't write very many reviews, and that is a shame. If I had written a few hundred reviews already for Hickory Wind, y'all might know me better, understand me better. Hell, some few might even like me a little bit, in which case I'd hit you up for money or show up drunk at your house at 3am, the way I treat the rest of my friends.
But I've kept my output minimal. That isn't to say that I haven't heard a boatload of new music over the past few years. I just don't like writing a whole lot of reviews. It intrudes on my private search for the last great bourbons of America, those of 90 proof or better.
I found me some 100 proof here.
Over the past three years a fascinating musical brew has been cooking up in Sioux City, Iowa, with Mathew DeRiso at the helm of a hell-for-leather band called The Profane Saints.
Do you crave edgy lyrics, screaming twang, drop-dead lightning guitar licks and explosive vocals?
If you do, and you have not heard "Dirt Town City Limits", then stop yer grinnin and drop yer linen, because you're about to meet some of the best new talent to come rattlin' down the wrong side of the tracks since who flung the chunk.
The No Depression blog has recently mentioned Mat D in the same breath as Haggard and Cash, and I'm not averse to the comparison. I knew there was something special about this music when I first started hearing it come together, and one of my first reviews on this site was of Mat D's "Small Town Burning", released back in 2006. That was a fine piece of work, some production issues but overall worthy of my Top Four list for that year on the strength of spirit and material alone.
This is different. Something incredible has happened. This is now a seriously gifted batch, a perfect storm that occurs maybe once in a generation. Mat D and the Profane Saints are ready for prime time now, they are as good or better than anyone out there, and I include the greats.
These crusty road warriors could rock the same stage as The Reverend Horton Heat, Wayne the Train Hancock -- or Elvis in his prime. They are now the opening act on my personal Dream Concert ticket, along with Johnny Cash in his early 30s, Waylon and Willie during the Outlaw Years, in a show closed by Emmylou Harris singing Amazing Grace a capella, floating upward through a cloud of hundred-dollar bills released as confetti.
They are the opening act now, but that isn't to say that they couldn't nudge into a headliner spot if they keep putting out music like this.
I put "Dirt Town City Limits" on the stereo for a few friends. One of them, Steve Richards, used to hang out and jam with Joe Satriani in his formative years, back when Joe was teaching guitar lessons in a Bay Area music store. Steve loves the rock-jazz fusion classics, but could NOT get enough of this brand of Americana Rockabilly. I had to hunt him down and tear the disc out of his hands a day later! I have listened to this disc all the way through more than a dozen times, looking for some flaw in it to throttle back my enthusiasm. I couldn't find it. Kurt Mullins and Jeff Deignan have produced and engineered this project brilliantly. Mathew DeRiso's incredible vocals and intricate songwriting skills have at last received the attentions of serious master craftsmen in the studio. Hats off to you all on this one.
The cd opens with "The Ghost of Huddie Ledbetter". I got my first whiff of the stripped-down acoustic version of this song last year, and thought "WOW". When I heard the way it has been amped up, ramped up, rearranged and turned all growly and nasty on this new release, I thought "HOT DAMN". Jeff Deignan comes in on percussion like a wrathful Old Testament Jehovah, and the effortless way that Mat DeRiso's vocals, Kurt Mullins' guitar, and Bob Birch's bass work this great song into a frenzy is something that every twang fan MUST hear.
Is this my favorite cut on the cd? HELL no. I love them all. I'm going to write about only eight more of the FOURTEEN great tunes on this disc because it is late, I'm lazy, and writing is not my religion.
"B Movie Queen" slams in next, with lyrics naughty enough to tagline a review. Every word and every lick is just perfect for the feel. The lyrics are original, sexy, fast-paced, and played like an additional instrument in the band, the way it should be. Kurt Mullins' guitar licks on this cut blew me away, just incredible instincts on when to pick like hell and when to back off.
"Out of State Cash" bounces up on bald tires like the depraved tattooed boyfriend every father fears, with a back pocket full of condoms he does NOT intend to use if he can get away with it. "I got a bullet in my windshield, whiskey for my baby, and the incomplete collection of a country legend buried down in Nashville"...aside from a snappy mullet, what boy needs more?
The title track, "Dirt Town City Limits" is a fun, crazy rocker. Phrases like "Its motor oil for dinner, just like mercy for a sinner - gonna drink a shot of diesel, just as long as it ain't lethal" are stirred into a funky driving rhythm that will jerk the fattest butt out onto the dance floor, scattering skinny chicks like bowling pins.
"Dead in New Orleans" begins "Darling I'm gonna kiss this half-assed romance good-bye...hitch a ride on down the road and find a brand new place to die"...prophetic words regarding a doomed lover who winds up "rolled up like a trucker's cigarette out on the road." Eerie guitar work from Mullins morphs into a screaming power ballad lead riff that loses no grit for its polish. A fine ode to a drifter's life - friends die, lovers die, and not very many people give much of a damn when they do.
"Spark Plug Rain" has a classic sound -- something Robert Johnson might have played just before he drank that fatal moonshine. "Sister put the poison in the pine tar soap, drug her down the highway with a hangman's rope". Banjo, slide guitar, bass and harmonies work so well in this cut that it is hard to tell when one ends and the other begins. It feels like it would deliver just as well solo acoustic as it does in full production, because the poetry draws you in and stiff-arms you at the same time.
"Motel City Limits" is an acoustic ballad presented without frills or flourishes, lest we forget Mat's roots as a solo performing songwriter, holding a barroom like Sweet Fanny's Pub in thrall with just a beat-up guitar, strong vocals, and lyrics that are either a gift from on high or a curse from down below. "Twenty years spent on the run from "I love you" " really zips up the body bag of a dead romance, don't it?
"Buffalo Hill"..."from a pitchfork town in the state of South Dakota, up the Deadwood Road all the way to Minnesota.." a trucker's own personal Odyssey, complete with Sirens and other assorted lethal temptations. Corn-fed girls in tight skirts hanging out around jukeboxes with extra quarters, time on their hands, and problems with low self-esteem...
"Sin City Skyline" closes out the disc with a toe-tapping set of riffs from the entire band. The cryptic lyrics lead me to suspect that there is a trailer-load of fine music still on the way from Mat D and the Profane Saints. Here's hoping that the brake pads don't burn out and the hydraulics hold until it can get here!
This disc goes into my Essentials collection, right up there with what Jack White did producing Johnny Cash's final project.If more music of this caliber was on the radio, it would not be the whitebread basket case it is today.
If you love Americana Music, here it is. Honest-to-God honky-tonk fire that burns away the bull sh** of American life to reveal muscle and bone. Turn "Dirt Town City Limits" into a weekend. Get yourself a full tank of gas, a suitcase of cold beer, and blow the dust outta your CD deck. Plug in this music. Grind it ALL the way up and take it for a spin.
Let the Devil ride shotgun.