Drunk Horse

Tanning Salon/Biblical Proportions (Man's Ruin)

There's something about good Southern bands that fans the flames of rock 'n' roll like gasoline on a campfire. Think ZZ Top's "La Grange," think Lynyrd Skynyrd, think slow, bluesy jams followed by the hard snap of a guitar solo. Southern rock thinks from the hips, grabs you by the belt buckle, and makes you fantasize about gunning your motorcycle till you're alone with the tumbleweeds and the rattlesnakes.

Playing Southern rock isn't as easy as picking up a cowboy hat, a Coors shirt, and a pair of cop sunglasses. Just like the whiskey that goes so well with it, the genre invites both belly-warming firebrands and cheap, painful imitators. Bands like Nashville Pussy and Speedealer go for the quick thrills by mixing lines of cocaine and cock rock in a metal Molotov cocktail, while the Black Crowes and Buckcherry water down the sound, leaving arena rock for those suckers who don't mind playing $6 for a Budweiser. Then there's Drunk Horse, a band that dips the Southern flag in acid and flies it high.

Channeling the South from Oakland, Drunk Horse sounds like it's been raised on a steady diet of Thin Lizzy, thick-ribbed rock, and THC. Its latest release, Tanning Salon/Biblical Proportions, splits the foursome's 12 punk-fried numbers into two psychedelic extremes: consumer and biblical culture.

Steering clear of middle-class-cowboy-sings-the-white-trash-blues themes, the album begins with a smart-aleck look at bankrolled beauty. Drunk Horse covers the unusual here -- from the fake 'n' bakers who sizzle in "Tanning Salon" to the footwear that soothes on "AM/FM Shoes." The record's second half retools a few of the more visceral Bible stories, making like Cliffs Notes for headbangers. On "In the Beginning" the band tackles the tale of blood brothers Cain and Abel: "My brother was playing favorites and he got it right between the eyes."

Musically, Drunk Horse spreads thick instrumental layers over Eli Eckert's left-out-in-the-sun drawl. Eckert and second guitarist Cyrus Cominsky trade off between bluesy textures and metal riffs wrapped in skidding squeals, sometimes taking up half a song with their solos. Add bassist John Niles, drummer Cripe Jergensen, and elements of piano, cello, violin, French horn, and organ, and you've got a stoned Southern road trip -- without having to leave your own carport.

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