The Kentucky Headhunters: (from left) Doug Phelps, Greg Martin, Fred Young, Richard Young. True southern rock from true sons of the south.
By David McGee
Red Dirt (Released November 2011)
Right now you’re wondering why no one ever sings anymore about the fiscally responsible, gustatory delights of Boone’s Farm wine. Especially the strawberry flavored kind. Wonder no more: the Kentucky Headhunters have never forgotten the small pleasures and cheap thrills that make life worth living, and so a mere one song into their terrific new album (the band’s 12th long player) they deliver a deeply informed “Boone’s Farm Boogie,” all churning guitars and croaking, hungover vocals. Like their Georgia counterparts the Black Crowes, the Headhunters don’t make headlines like they once did, but they make better music than ever—gritty, blues-infused hard country and southern rock with a snarling early ‘70s Stones twist: witness the familiar soulful groove and Richard Young’s gritty, preacher-like exhortations drawn from a tortured text detailing faded love in the irresistible “Tumblin’ Roses”; witness redoubtable lead guitarist Greg Martin’s clever insertion of Keef’s “Tumblin’ Dice” riff in setting up Doug Phelps’s plaintive country-blues lamentations in the thick-textured “Roll On Little Pretty.”
The Making of Dixie Lullabies
Dixie Lullabies has elicited decidedly mixed appraisals from Headhunters fans at sites such as Amazon, but the naysayers complaining of a lack of energy or songs sounding too much alike may well be listening to a different album. The band’s channeling of that muddy early ‘70s Stones sound as filtered through its own hard country sensibility is potent and electrifying, but that’s not all that’s going on here. With a churning rhythm, bluesy flourishes, a smidgen of mandolin (courtesy Richie Owens) and wailing slide guitar, the faithless love lamented in “Great Acoustics” sounds tailor-made for Lee Roy Parnell to hit out of the park, but is also reminiscent of the fine work vocalist Doug Phelps did with his brother Ricky Lee in Brother Phelps, formed in 1993 when the siblings broke off from the Headhunters before Doug returned to the fold two years later. Given the drift of mainstream country, “Great Acoustics” would not be a hit today as it would have been back when Brother Phelps was at it, but the boozy stomp of “Les Paul Standard”--about a gal who falls in love “with the swagger” of a guitarist’s “low-hung Les Paul Standard”--has the punch and attitude a couple of guys named Toby and Trace have been making hay with for a long time, which is another way of saying the Headhunters can pretty much play anything they want, and credibly so. But they’re not imitating anyone: the thick soundscape of the anthemic southern rocker “Just Another Night” resonates with Skynyrd touches in the strategic way Martin’s stinging guitar punctuates Phelps’s lead vocal and in the rich surge of Kevin McKendree’s organ on the bottom, but Phelps’s plaintive singing, so bluesy and so country all at once, is a sound signature all its own. With so much heat pouring forth throughout the album, signing off with a slow, sad blues ballad, “Recollection Blues,” featuring a weathered, affecting vocal by the inimitable Richard Young, with Martin’s tasty, fat-toned guitar crying eerily off in the distance, is, well, perfect in closing the proceedings on a reflective but resilient note--a true Dixie lullaby by true sons of the south, who, after more than 40 years on the boards, remain true to themselves and their distinctive brand of southern rock, presented here at its apex. It's even more delectable when accompanied by a swig or two of Boone’s Farm, any flavor.
The Kentucky Headhunters’ Dixie Lullabies is available at www.amazon.com