There was a time not so long ago that I was a big fan of classic rock, especially of the southern variety. In high school and in my early college years, while my musical palate stretched across multiple, ever-expanding genres, I probably would have told you that classic rock was my favorite. This was no doubt a reaction to the horrible 80’s pop that flooded my household on a daily basis while growing up due to having an older sister whose bedroom was literally wallpapered with shots of Duran Duran from Tiger Beat magazine and an older brother who owned albums by Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, and Poison. In time, I would come to appreciate bands like Duran Duran for their pop confections (not hair metal, though. Still hate it), but at the time, I was in hell. It was not until early high school that friends introduced me to the likes of Zeppelin, Hendrix, Floyd, the Stones, and other great artists of the late 60s/early 70s. I was immediately hooked, and I would blow many a hard-earned summer job dollar on what I considered to be “real rock ‘n’ roll.”
Sadly, I never owned a copy of Freedom Rock, but I did in fact purchase a similar product called Bell Bottom Rock during one session of late night dorm room drunk dialing (Infomercials + beer + credit card = questionable purchases). There were early morning sessions of blasting “Mississippi Queen” on the stereo, steering wheel drumming to “Ramblin’ Man,” and wigging out to “Magic Carpet Ride” after indulging in some illegal substances. And this was the late 90’s. I was so behind the times, in retrospect, that it was a bit sad, but I had a good time. At least I did not drive a Camaro or ever have a haircut anywhere near resembling a mullet. After time, hearing those old songs played over and over again began to wear on even an uber-fan like me, and many of those old Doors, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Allman Brothers records were filed away to collect dust. On the rare occasion that I put one on, I can never quite recapture any of the magic that I once felt when those songs first entered my consciousness. The emergence of Nirvana’s Nevermind during my eighth grade year also introduced me to to the world of alternative and (later) indie rock, and my obsessive two year absorption in that record began the slow erosion of my love affair with classic rock.
There have been many bands over the last several years that have tried to tap back into that classic southern rock sound, like the Black Crowes, Kings of Leon, Drive By Truckers, My Morning Jacket, and Blitzen Trapper, but most have fallen flat with me. Each of the aforementioned artists have released some great tracks, but never enough to make me a devoted fan. In 2008, however, a couple of bands released records that have started to pull me back into the world of southern rock, but they have used the genre as more of a jumping off point than trying to pay homage. The first is Mississippi band Colour Revolt‘s self-titled debut, and the second is Wrecking Ball by Georgia band Dead Confederate.
In terms of Dead Confederate’s influences, I could have just as easily taken a completely different direction with my first paragraph, replacing the words “classic rock” with “grunge” and replacing bands like the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd with Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Dead Confederate borrow even more from these bands than they do from their southern rock forebears, and they share this obsessive recreation of the early 90’s alternative sound with other such current bands as Blood On the Wall, the Subways, and Silversun Pickups. At times, it is eerie how much lead singer Hardy Morris’s raspy vocals recall those of Kurt Cobain. Album opener “Heavy Petting” showcases this vocal resemblance along with its up-tempo, rollicking three chord stomp, but the spookiest moment comes on “Start Me Laughing,” a track that could almost pass for a lost session from Nirvana’s Bleach. With the exception of these two tracks, however, Wrecking Ball is a considerably more downbeat affair, dominated by slow burning, reverb-drenched slide guitar and slow blues structures. The finest example of this style, and the album’s stand out track, is “The Rat,” in which a rodent admonishes the religious leanings of the human race. That sounds like an awful idea for a song, but the excellent instrumentation and Morris’s plaintive vocals serve to drive home and even intensify the meaning of an initially silly sounding lyric like “Stupid humans, shit for brains!” It shouldn’t work, but it does, and very well.
The first half of this record demonstrates an impressive gift for melody and hooky choruses surrounded by dark, southern gothic lyrics and a fuzzy, reverb haze reminiscent of early My Morning Jacket. However, the album is hopelessly front-loaded, and the slow tracks don’t have enough punch to sustain the album past the halfway point. This problem is further exacerbated by Dead Confederate’s lack of editing ability. The group existed in a previous incarnation as Redbelly, a southern jam band with songs that lasted up to thirty minutes. While they have pared those song lengths down considerably, only three of Wrecking Ball‘s ten tracks come in under the five minute mark, with one (“Flesh Colored Canvas”) even stretching out over twelve minutes. Slow tempos and long song lengths end up dragging the record down in its second half, with the only respite coming from the aforementioned “Start Me Laughing.”
In this era of uncertainty for the music business and rock ‘n’ roll in general, it’s interesting to see what areas and genres of the past will be mined next to inspire the upcoming generation of rockers. With bands like the Killers, Interpol, and Bloc Party having already exhausted the post-punk/new wave arenas, it seems only natural that other groups would begin looking to the burgeoning alternative movement of the late 80’s and early 90’s for inspiration. Dead Confederate have taken elements from this period and combined them with the classic and southern rock of their Georgia roots, and they have created an exciting fusion of the two, a new “southern grunge” genre. While Wrecking Ball could obviously benefit from some editing and some adjustments of song order to improve the pacing, it is still a very solid rock record that showcases what could be a promising career for Dead Confederate, and I would recommend checking them out at this year’s SXSW Festival in Austin. I only hope that no one will yell out “Free Bird!”
Dead Confederate – “The Rat”
Dead Confederate – “Start Me Laughing”