The Von Ehrics
If you listen to any Dropkick Murphys album, you get a sense that Boston, their hometown, is largely made up of blue-collar punks who are as enamored with their union cards as they are of Guinness pints. There are plenty of Yankees of different stripes, but the Dropkick Murphys sell a pretty compelling image of Beantown, for better or worse.
Likewise, when you pop in The Whiskey Sessions, the latest l.p. from Dallas cowpunks The Von Ehrics, you get the same feeling — especially if you ain’t from ’round here. They take booze-soaked Texas mythology and turn it up to eleven. With their blend of breakneck two-step and pick-scraping punch, The Von Ehrics clearly worship at the altar of St. Johnny (Cash) and take their communion from Reverend Horton Heat, but they don’t trip over any psychobilly clichés. The band pounds out a punk hoedown distilled from equal parts Rancid and Chet Atkins. Six-string slinger and vocalist Robert Jason Vandygriff sums it up on “Highway Junkie”: “I rolled on down to Memphis / I got nothin’ left to lose / I wanted to hear some rock ‘n’ roll / but all they played was blues — I didn’t wanna hear no blues.” Which is funny because the track chugs along like a speed-fueled take on George Thorogood’s “Movin’ on Over.” (Maybe Vandygriff means “authentic” blues.)
From “Highway,” the platter rolls on down to “Salado,” where Vandygriff apparently plans to retire from raisin’ hell to raise cattle instead. “Desperate Man,” a trucker ballad hung on a futile pursuit of love, is another track sewn with semi-sentimentality, but these guys aren’t wimps, OK? No sleeve-borne hearts here; just odes to whiskey, hell raisin’, and dirt roads, with the occasional profundity to add some depth. What Whiskey Sessions lacks in emotional resonance is redeemed by tight musicianship and woozy fun. Taking a cue from Johnny Ramone, Vandygriff doesn’t waste time on solos or hot lixxx. Bassist Jeffrey Wayne Mosley attacks his walking, honky-tonk lines like Lemmy covering Willie, seamlessly locking into drummer Gabe Aguilar’s freight-train groove. The rhythm section is spot-on but has enough loose elbows to keep the joint from sounding too slick. The boys ain’t sloppy. They’re just having a good time.
There are familiar tropes here — the I-like-drankin’ trope, the I-like-drivin’ trope — but it all comes off as sincere. The Whiskey Sessions isn’t charting any new territory: Vandygriff and company have their influences, and they make their music. Treading on the same dirt as Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings is kind of the point. Turning up the crunch on the amps is what makes it fun. The Von Ehrics may be reinforcing a lot of Texan stereotypes, but who cares, right? The next time some Left-Coast dude asks you if you ride a horse or live in a trailer, give him a Von Ehrics disc and confirm his suspicions. He won’t bother you any more. — Steve Steward
Sat at Double Wide, 3510 Commerce St, Dallas. 214-887-6510.