Four-Piece Combo

Seven albums on, Southern Culture on the Skids waxes philosophical about hillbilly e-commerce, fried chicken and more

Hell, yes, says Miller adamantly. They actually had most of Liquored Up and Lacquered Down finished before they even signed their current two-album deal with TVT Records, which recently entered into a partnership with EMusic, a company that specializes in pro-quality music distribution on the Web. Through their connection with EMusic, SCOTS has been able to offer fans live videos, unreleased tracks, road stories and chats with the band. "I think it's a great thing. Now, not everybody has a computer, but more people do than I would've ever thought. And that really helps out smaller, hard-working bands if they can get their stuff up and online. It's still growing, of course, but it'll eventually be the best way, I think, to get your music out there. It might already be, in fact. Plus, you can maintain more control over it, which was always important for us."

SCOTS also maintained control by recording in Miller's home-built studio in Mebane, North Carolina, a process that went on throughout the writing of the album. "It was a great feel. It was like, write a song, build a wall, write a song, build a wall. . . . That's the way to do it, man, if you can. We didn't have a record label breathing down our necks, saying, 'Well, we don't hear a hit, and how about if you do this,' and all that. It was a great time."

That fervor comes through in spades on Liquored Up, you'll be happy to hear. Even if you're familiar with everything that came before, you're missing a special joy if you haven't heard it. Liquored Up's 44 minutes prove that SCOTS has not only grown eminently confident playing together, band members have stretched their musicianship to its very limits and held it together like journeymen. Miller's tales of moonshine runners and cheap motels on songs like "King of the Mountain" and . . . well, "Cheap Motels" are soulful rave-ups straight from the main vein, but the playing skill here is leaps and bounds ahead of the group's previous efforts, which weren't pedestrian by any stretch. Miller's fretboard had to have been smoking at the end of "The Corn Rocket"; the achingly pretty "Just How Lonely" revived this author's adolescent crush on Mary Huff's whiskey-smoke voice all over again; Chris Bess' stunning keyboard work is all over the aforementioned "I Learned to Dance in Mississippi" and "Pass the Hatchet"; and Dave Hartman's timekeeping is sharper than it ever was -- check out the two-four chugalug and snare-drum fills on "Over It," which comprise the hottest minute and 57 seconds you'll hear in a while. And if Merle Haggard doesn't cover "Drunk and Lonesome (Again)" on his next release, replete with its last-chorus key modulation, it'll only be due to the stupidity of his handlers. In all, it seems the perfect album to tour on.

Southern Culture on the Skids: From left, Chris Bess, Rick Miller, Mary Huff and Dave Hartman.
Ron Keith
Southern Culture on the Skids: From left, Chris Bess, Rick Miller, Mary Huff and Dave Hartman.

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Scheduled to perform on Friday, January 26, with the Amazing Crowns. Showtime is 9 p.m.
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"We're having a great time," says Miller of the band's road tripping. "We always do." Still and all, let's not lose our savvy: A conversation about corporate sponsorship, augmented by a fried-chicken digression, leads Miller to a philosophical moment.

"We got approached once, years back, by a sausage company who said they wanted to sponsor us. So in the course of discussing what they'd be able to give us in the way of payment, they said, 'Well, we can't pay you money, but we'll give you a lifetime's supply of sausage.' That's what you don't want, to be paid off in sausage. Of course, they probably figured we'd die early if we accepted it."

Though to be sure, Southern Culture on the Skids hasn't lost its legendary affinity for fried chicken, a topic Miller eases into with the surety of a culinarian.

"You ask me, pan fried is the best way to make chicken. Roll it in a little flour and fry it up. But there's so many ways to make it. You got your drumsticks, your wings, your breasts . . . we've tried chicken on the road all variety of different ways. Chicken with yogurt, all kinds of things. You don't get many people writing about pork or steak, but it seems like hundreds of people have written songs about chicken. The chicken's a versatile bird."

And speaking of versatile birds . . . but you know that already.

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