Music News

Cornpone Hipsters

Like looking at a middle-aged man's comb-over, sometimes we have to stare into another's mirrored shades to appreciate the ridiculousness of our pretensions. You can lie to others about it, but in your heart, you see the greasy, chicken-stained fingerprints of the truth. Southern Culture on the Skids recognizes the implicit hypocrisy of high/low culture, highlighting humorous humanity at its core.

For more than 20 years, they've mocked lowbrow taste — on albums such as Dirt Track Date, Plastic Seat Sweat, and Liquored Up and Lacquered Down — with lighthearted glee, buoyed by skintight musicianship. Being a band that made money on a major label by refusing tour support and keeping recording costs low, SCotS still does rigorous touring in a panel van, embodying the no-frills lifestyle of their characters.

Not that they aren't aspiring to something greater. Whether penning a paean to the "mullet of the muscle car world," the '69 El Camino, or happily hailing his alcoholic baby's big hair on "Liquored Up," singer/guitarist Rick Miller's gentle skewering of redneck-style upward mobility also operates as a swipe at cultural classism. What is fashion anyway, but an artificial way to separate savvy, Bravo-addicted trend-watchers from those who buy their clothes from Sears? And does that make them any better (other than in their own minds)?

Music's hardly immune from such shenanigans. A prime example is the countrypolitan movement of the '60s and early '70s, when Nashville producers dressed up country songs in plush arrangements with strings, backing vocals and crooning leads, abandoning its legacy (fiddles, steel guitars) in a bid for the mainstream pop charts. It's the inspiration for the SCotS' 15-song album of covers, Countrypolitan Favorites.

It's a mix of canny selections, such as the oddly progressive, partner-swapping Oney Wheeler song "Let's Invite Them Over," or the Kinks' "Muswell Hillbilly," about an English man who aligns himself with West Virginia (sight unseen), and vows to never let them "make me something that I'm not." Others, such as the twang-fueled cover of T. Rex's "Life's a Gas," or the surf-guitar take on the Byrds' "Have You Seen Her Face," are, in their way, about acceptance. In other words, those worried about status and propriety are the ones taking "a wide stance." The only people who care which side of the cultural divide you're on are those too embarrassed to admit the truth: We all love an eight-piece box. And for the vegetarians, there's always "Banana Pudding."

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Chris Parker
Contact: Chris Parker