“Jake leg” is a condition that results from drinking bad bootleg whiskey. It causes the user to walk with a strange, twisted gait. This album takes a sometimes brutally honest look at what it’s like to try to make it through a world that is often strange and twisted, too.
Steed Kettles and Jeff Eno are from the Atlanta area and recorded this album at the Meaner Studio in Smyrna, GA, just a few miles from this reviewer’s home in Marietta. The production and sound quality at these local studios is excellent, and that is the case with this release.
Lyrics are paramount on these songs. Not that the music is not stellar; some of the best local musicians play on here, including Jim Lavendar of the seminal roots group, Cigar Store Indians. Guitar man Mike Duckworth, from Kettle’s and Eno’s former group Liberty Jones, also helps give the songs an edge, while Dave James from Boy Howdy provides keyboard or Hammond B-3 when needed. David Smith shows himself a versatile man by providing drums, bass, and guitar as required.
But it is the words that set this album apart. No matter whether the tone is more country, as in “Poor White Trash,” more pop as in “I Think Too Much,” or the Southern rock of “American Fool,” it’s the stories the band is telling that matter. Except for Eno’s excellent “American Fool” and the cover of Gram Parson’s “A Song For You,” all of those words came from Steed Kettles.
The songs resonate with the experience of growing up in the South in the ’60s and ’70s. The Atlanta metro area plays prominently in songs like “Poor White Trash” and “Blood Brothers” and the whole album is soaked in Southern culture.
“Poor White Trash” is overwhelmingly honest. It happens to be set in Cabbagetown, which has in the past been a poor area of Atlanta. It could be any part of any city where the desperately needy people can be found. This is not the story of the “deserving poor.” This is the really down-and-out, dead broke people who are holding on to pride with an iron grip because it’s all they have left. The lyrics rip into your soul.
Other songs on the CD that tap into that dark side of life are “I’m Coming Home,” about trying and failing to stay out of jail, and the heartbreaking “Blood Brothers,” about friendship, racism, failure, and the hope of forgiveness.
But not all of the songs are grim. There’s “American Fool,” all about how “Jack and Diane” triggers a rollicking trip into teenage life in the ’60s. “The Rest is History” is the humorous tale of a guy who has really bad taste in women. The one cover song, Parson’s “A Song For You,” is sweet, with Karin Johnson providing the vocal that Emmylou Harris did in the original and giving it a bit more soulful sound than the original country rock. And everything ends on a hopeful note with the soul-searching “We Believe.”
I admit, I had to listen to this one twice before writing the review because the first time was just too intense to process it all. But on the second listen, I realized: this is a great album. And it’s one of those that will just get better with repeated listening.
Images courtesy of Jill Kettles[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00O5LQEFK]