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A lit­tle South­ern dis­com­fort

Some folks dis­miss South­ern Cul­ture on the Skids as a nov­elty act. I’ve prob­a­bly done it a cou­ple of times my­self. Af­ter all, for more than 20 years, the mu­si­cians have cul­ti­vated a goofy faux-hill­billy im­age — wear­ing funny hats, cheap sun­glasses, back­woods/thrift-shop clothes — and singer/bassist Mary Huff sports a bee­hive that would frighten most bees. And they sing lots of funny songs about fried chicken, ba­nana pud­ding, strip­pers, stock cars, Lit­tle Deb­bie pas­tries, tacky tiki bars, moon­shine, and white-trash cul­tural af­fairs. I don’t know whether they still do this, but for a while, they were known for throw­ing pieces of fried chicken at their au­di­ence at live shows.

The only thing is, while they’re very funny, these North Carolini­ans are real mu­si­cians. As a trio (most of the time), SCOTS is a tight lit­tle out­fit, play­ing a dis­tinc­tive blend of coun­try, rock­a­billy, surf, swampy R & B, garage, oc­ca­sion­ally blue­grass, and ex­ot­ica. Huff has a voice as big as her hair (I al­ways hope for more songs where she sings lead), and Rick Miller is a fine rock ’ n’ roll gui­tarist. The only time I saw them live (at the late and lamented Para­mount in 2001), I re­al­ized that they were play­ing surf mu­sic bet­ter than a lot of so-called surf bands out there.

South­ern Cul­ture’s lat­est ef­fort, The Kudzu Ranch (named for the record­ing stu­dio where they make the magic), is some­thing of a re­turn to form for the band. Their pre­vi­ous al­bum,

Coun­try­poli­tan Fa­vorites, spot­lighted their coun­try side. (In fact, it was an homage to the Nashville sound of the late ’ 50s and early ’60s. Kudzu is far more var­ied.)

The opener, “Bone Dry Dirt,” is a pounding rocker with Miller play­ing Cree­dence-wor­thy gui­tar licks and drum­mer Dave Hart­man knock­ing the snot out of his trap kit. One of SCOTS’ best-known songs is “Too Much Pork for Just One Fork.” They re­turn to their own pri­vate hog heaven with the next song “Pig Pickin’,” a jumpy lit­tle rocker.

Huff sings it nice and pretty on “High­life,” which al­most sounds like a folk-rock tune. But her big moment on this record is “Bad Boys,” a lusty trib­ute to tat­tooed love boys who “need a good spank­ing.” Sings Huff, “I gotta get one of those!” It’s not quite as pow­er­ful as her sig­na­ture song, Joanna Neel’s “Daddy Was a Preacher, But Mama Was a Go-Go Girl,” but it’s pretty snazzy.

They get mys­te­rioso with a smoky lit­tle charmer called “Mon­tague’s Mys­tery Theme.” They do a full rol­lick­ing SCOTS treat­ment of Neil Young’s “Are You Ready for the Coun­try.” “Busy Road,” which con­cerns civ­i­liza­tion en­croach­ing on a back­woods home (“Lost two dogs about a month ago”), has an ir­re­sistible Bo Did­dley beat. And Miller breaks out the banjo for “My Neigh­bor Burns Trash” (“Says I got a pack of matches and a pile of leaves/Three bags of garbage and some gaso­line/Got a plas­tic jug and some cel­lo­phane/Burn any­thing that can’t run away”).

As al­ways, there are plenty of fas­ci­nat­ing in­stru­men­tals. “Slinky Spring Milt” sounds like a lost Duane Eddy twanger. “Jack’s Tune,” which closes the al­bum, is slow and wist­ful. But the one that SCOTS fans will love the most is a surfy medley of Nir­vana’s “Come as You Are” and an ob­scure Pink Floyd song called “Lu­cifer Sam.”

Is South­ern Cul­ture on the Skids a nov­elty act? If so, who cares? Life needs nov­elty. This is trash rock you won’t want to burn.

Visit www.scots.com. And while you’re there, check out the “Home Cook­ing” sec­tion for some de­li­cious recipes. Those tur­tle burg­ers look like a treat that city folks will never know.

Also rec­om­mended:

▼ Corn Money by The De­fibu­la­tors. Be­fore I start in on this fine de­but al­bum from this crazed coun­try band from New York City (New York City?), brace your­self, Brid­get, they’re com­ing to Santa Fe next week — to the Cow­girl BBQ on Wed­nes­day, Oct. 27, to be ex­act. Judg­ing by this al­bum and a cou­ple of videos I’ve seen, it should be a good evening.

Let me be straight. Though I’m a hill­billy fa­natic, most con­tem­po­rary alt-coun­try bands bore me to tears. But I knew af­ter hear­ing just a cou­ple of tracks on The De­fibs’ web­site that I was go­ing to love this band. In fact, Corn Money — which was ac­tu­ally re­leased last year — is the best alt-coun­try ef­fort I’ve heard in years. Come to think about it, I like it even bet­ter than the South­ern Cul­ture on the Skids al­bum re­viewed above.

The De­fibu­la­tors, a seven-mem­ber group, have fid­dles, ban­jos, gui­tars, drums, a jew’sharp, honk­ing har­mon­i­cas, an up­right bass, and a wash­board player named Me­tal­belly. Singer Erin Bru’s la­conic vo­cals, es­pe­cially on the song “Get What’s Com­ing,” re­mind me a lit­tle bit of Trailer Bride’s Melissa Swingle.

I hear a lot of var­i­ous in­flu­ences — or at least what I think might be in­flu­ences — here. There’s a lit­tle SCOTS in the song “Go-Go Truck” and some Le­gendary Shack Shak­ers mad­ness and a lit­tle Hank III rau­cous­ness on nearly ev­ery tune — maybe even some Reverend Pey­ton. The song “Xmas Or­na­ment,” which I don’t think has any­thing to do with Christ­mas, sounds like some Hand­some Fam­ily tune in­ter­preted by the Asy­lum Street Spankers.

Al­most ev­ery male-fe­male vo­cal duo in ev­ery third-rate alt-coun­try band in this land gets a Gram Par­sons-Em­my­lou Har­ris com­par­i­son at some point by lazy writ­ers and cheesy pub­li­cists. So I al­most hes­i­tate to use it here. But front­man Bug Jen­nings and Bru sound so purdy on “Your Hearty Laugh,” it re­minds me of “The New Soft Shoe” by none other than Gram & Em­my­lou.

Check out www. thede­fibu­la­tors.com. But even bet­ter, check them out at the Cow­girl, 319 S. Guadalupe St., at 9 p.m. on Wed­nes­day. The cover charge is an in­cred­i­ble $3. ◀

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