By Reed Fischer
By Anna Gulbrandsen
By Jeff Gage
By Stacy Schwartz
By Natalie Gallagher
By Erik Thompson
By Jeff Gage
By Loren Green
Under the Influences
Time Bomb Recordings
SALLY TIMMS AND Mike Ness share middle age and the distinction of singing with thoughtful, long-lived punk bands--she with the Mekons, he with Social Distortion. Each also has a new solo album foraying more directly into the country music that inspired both groups, though only Timms treats the tradition as more than a chance to look cute in chaps.
Under the Influences is the second set of country covers from Ness this year, following Cheating at Solitaire, and it's just as infatuated with the bad-boy country mythos hatched by Hank Williams and embodied by Johnny Cash. With his scouring-pad vocals and real-life rap sheet, Ness is made for the part, but it's still only acting. He sticks to obvious drinkin'-cheatin'-killin' standards such as Marty Robbins's "Big Iron," Marvin Rainwater's "Gamblin' Man," and the Hank Sr. classics "House of Gold" and "Six More Miles." It all feels straight out of a Cash fakebook, right down to that heavy boom-chicka beat, except that Ness replaces the Tennessee Two with what sounds like a Hell's Angel on guitar and an angry gorilla on bass.
Cowboy Sally contains Timms's own Cash tribute: a cover of the Man in Black's first single for Sun Records, "Cry Cry Cry." Rendered in a simple but luxuriously clear voice, her take on the original MIB myth cuts Ness's testosterone level by about 100 percent. But don't call Timms timid: Her country touchstone is "The Pill," not "Stand By Your Man." For all of Ness's muscle and fury, Timms's record takes more risks and yields more rewards. "Cry Cry Cry" is one of only two oldies she tackles; three are originals co-written with Mekons mate Jon Langford, and a handful of songs are penned by her Chicago scene peers. Whether running barefoot through the bluegrass of Robbie Fulks's "In Bristol Town One Bright Day" or mourning the Handsome Family's macabre "Sad Milkman," the chanteuse twists the detritus of roots tradition into something intriguing and new. Timms, unlike Ness, knows that country is no museum piece.
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