Devil in the Details
As much as I generally prefer music that bears the stamp of the town that births it, there's something to be said for a band that becomes so obsessed with another region's music that they transform themselves, to the point they mimic it perfectly. The Love Me Nots, widely regarded as one of Phoenix's best bands, are a great example: The four-piece '60s-styled retro outfit wears their silver go-go boots and skinny ties so well that their record, Detroit, sounds like it might have actually emerged from the Motor City's celebrated garage rock scene. By that standard, Hogjaw's Devil in the Details is a huge success.
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If you didn't know any better, popping in the disc, you'd swear you were listening to gen-u-ine Southern Swamprock. Pretty good Swamprock, actually. Devil is full of Tabasco-tinged licks and vivid libretto set above a steady churn of greasy bass lines and endearingly efficient drumming. From the cover of their record (a steer's skull painted with half an Arizona flag and half a Rebel flag) to their MySpace (pictures of them hunting, fishing and shooting stuff, while wearing bushy beards and camo hats) the band has the image down.
Lead man Jonboat Jones has a gruff drawl, cultivated living in the "swampy woods of South Georgia, the gravel pits of west Tennessee" and here in Arizona. As the band's press materials say, he was "raised on dry rub BBQ, bream on the cainpole and Skynyrd band on the radio." Ain't nothin' wrong with that, of course. Mostly, he sings about the tried and true topics of trucker music: driving trucks, driving el Caminos, defending the right to keep and bear arms, and both "This Whiskey" and "Cheap Whiskey." Yes, two songs about whiskey - separated only by a song about leaving the Whiskey Row with/for something called a Junga.
Both Whiskey songs are bluesy, the former thanks to downhome banjo-picking and a sing-along chorus and the latter with a scorching guitar solo that transitions nicely in to a foot-stomping breakdown before soaring again as it nears the seven-minute mark. A bluegrassy cover of the ridiculously catchy "East Bound and Down," the theme-song from Smokey and the Bandit that's been reborn as the title of an HBO sitcom, is a highlight as is the aggressive "Before Monday Come," though I imagine the lyrics might make a few people cringe. "Damn old woman sold that truck to some landscape Mexicans," sings Jones. "Didn't come this far to be outdone and I gave her a piece of my mind, Until that policeman would say 'Let's take a little ride.'"
Offensive? Yes, certainly, a little. But, when you're making authentic Swamprock dropping a little subtle racism and a reference to domestic violence is part of the gig, since the days of Skynyrd. If Hogjaw were any lesser purveyors of the craft it'd be exponentially more offensive but, as it is, I take it as a loyally hewn tribute to the music of the South.