I could have two or three,
But girls that just ain’t me
I don’t need that trouble in my life
Yeah, but the whiskey seems to always change my mind….
Those lines from the first track on I’m Bad For You serve as upfront notice that this is not your average modern “country” band. In fact, there’s a crystal clear line of demarcation between Eric Strickland and the B sides and the host of young’uns running wild these days going on about how much fun it is to get lit. Whole slew of folks out there in the independent world, revolting against the plastic façade of Music Row by latching onto what they term “scum country.” Can’t make this stuff up, kids. It’s the polar opposite of what they claim to hate, so they get points for separating themselves from the herd. But not points for much of anything else. There’s no glamour in the bottle’s amber glow. Coe and Paycheck and Stewart knew that, and told us as much. They danced with the demons so we wouldn’t have to.
If you miss that music, the stuff that spoke frankly and openly and sometimes even starkly about the prices owed for choices, then Strickland has something for you. He and his bandmates understand from way back what’s real, and have paid some of their own penalties for having traveled roads best left undisturbed. It’s fitting, then, that their second CD kicks off with a song about just how quickly the good choices can come undone and how easily one harmless exit off of life’s highway can put a body in harm’s way on the byways of bitter defeat.
We thought the world of the band’s debut record, Honky Tonk ‘Til I Die (http://www.outlawmagazine.tv/content/eric-strickland-the-b-sides-review-honky-tonk-till-i-die/). It resounded like a clarion call from the backwoods, and on the strength of that release Strickland and the B Sides have been busy building a name well outside their home in the Carolinas. In their home state, 2013 saw Eric win Male Artist of the Year at the Carolina Music Awards. In Texas the band has drawn crowds at Waylon’s birthday bash and in the DFW metroplex. They’re getting around and making waves, and they deserve to.
While I’m Bad For You skews to some different sounds than its predecessor, it remains unapologetically authentic and stone cold country to the bone. Time tested and worthy themes abound, yet nothing here is dated or stale. In fact, the vibrancy and power inherent in the first release is in places here amplified. “Angel Like You” is as beautiful a waltz as you’ll ever hear, and the heartfelt passion belies the standard issue title. Genuinely wonderful song.
Topics here are varied, cogent, and blisteringly well addressed. Politics and world affairs get skewered from the vantage point of the man at the gas pump. Drug culture and what it’ll do to a life get hammered in “Methamphetamines.” The driving tempo and arrangement simulate the cacophony a meth head lives with inside his skull, and the story gets brutally honest about what that particular drug can and will do. And then there’s the state of country music in this twisted and topical age we inhabit. But it’s not the typical “screw Nashville” screed that’s become clichéd and laughable. No, sir; these boys are a bit better than that. When they unleash “Unwanted,” it’s obvious there’s a legitimate anguish in their longing for music of value. There’s also a lesson for the listeners who feed the machine. Absent any blatant sense of the didactic, yet homed in like a guided missile on the heart of the matter, this tale of an overlooked singer strikes a chord with anyone who’s known a man or woman who chased the dream with their heart in the right place only to be tossed aside by fools with their heads in a dark place.
Unwanted, unneeded, washed up and depleted
Nobody needs him around or cares anymore
He’s been bent, he’s been broken, his heart and his soul’s been stolen
Unwanted, like he’d never been before
He’ll pass out and dream his dreams of better days than this
He don’t want to wake up ‘cause he knows they don’t exist
The pedal steel on this one will rip a gash in your soul. The sadness in Strickland’s voice will fill that gash with sorrow and angst. If you listen, really listen, you’ll know in your bones why the argument that country music has to evolve is so tragically flawed. Evolution, see, is not a path that leads from Hank to Jason Aldean. Devolution, maybe. But nothing has evolved along that particular arc. Nothing has grown, nothing has flourished, nothing of substance has taken root. Much as plastic Christmas trees have made holidays easier while robbing our homes of the very scent of the childhood memories we cherish, much as microwave ovens have denied a generation of the smell of baking bread, so has music robbed itself of the essence of its past. It’s powerful stuff to hear those things evoked in this manner, to stop humming along in the truck when you realize the truth of what’s just been sung. Yet to Strickland’s credit, it is also motivating. Like a grown man in an Xbox world finding an old Daisy rifle on eBay and remembering how the world outside works, how much more fun it is to play in the dirt than in some virtual lobby. Here, expertly rendered by the B Sides, is a reminder of just how impactful good music can be.
It’s tough to go wrong with an Eric Strickland record. His passion for what is true runs deep; his writing makes that clear. His vocal ability to convey what his spirit believes is exceptional. No other way to put it. And the band with him? They get it just as fully as he does, and every last one of them knows how to wield their instrument the way Eric wields his voice. Put together, it’s a backwoods symphony for souls that long to walk down old dirt roads and watch the birds against the sky. Heart healing stuff, that’s what this is.
Can’t put Strickland in the same bucket with the ‘outlaw’ bands running around making a name for themselves on the strength of how much they sound like Waylon Jennings, either. This band doesn’t sound like anybody else. There are of course some similarities, but this is a unique sound and a style all their own. They’re doing it their way, and they’re doing it extremely well. That’s the definition of ‘outlaw’ music, by the way. Nobody ever thought Tompall and Billy Joe sounded alike. But everybody recognized the common thread running through the music all of those guys put out.
That thread remains today, and is on ready display with Eric Strickland and the B Sides.
Genuinely good stuff here, and I have barely scratched the surface of what’s available to you on this record. Country as it comes, folks.
http://www.esandthebs.com/ for more info and to get yourself a copy. The band is also nominated in the Outlaw category for the inaugural Ameripolitan Music Awards, coming up in early 2014.
~ Dave Pilot
Dave Pilot lives in north Texas with his first good wife (don’t ask about the other one), seven horses, and five dogs. When his wife’s not looking, he tries to figure out ways to feed the 987 or so cats to the coyotes out behind the fenceline. When he’s not trying to raise his kids to turn out better than he did, he’s hitting historical sites on his way to honky-tonks from Denton to Port Aransas. Visit Dave Pilot on Facebook.
Outlaw Magazine. Country, Rock and Roll, Blues, Folk, Americana, Punk. As long as it is real, it is OUTLAW. Overproduced mediocrity need not apply.