It’s a rough America out there, but good luck finding anyone playing Southern rock music more fraught than this. The Missouri foursome’s ferocious new album, “Land of the Free,” depicts red state desperation in hi-def technicolor — a place where blue-collar survivors are free to dream, free to worship early Skynyrd, free to hate the cops, free to hate themselves. Few country-rock songbooks are this brutally honest. And fewer are this flat-out brutal.
To state it simply, they don’t make ‘em like this one much anymore. Musically, it’s some of the best rock ‘n roll I’ve heard in quite some time and the heavy guitar licks wouldn’t sound too out of place on your local classic rock station alongside Molly Hatchet, Blackfoot, and the Outlaws. Lyrically, it has the gritty realism that is normally associated with great country troubadours like David Allan Coe, New South-era Bocephus, and (to name a more contemporary example) Roger Alan Wade. In other words, on this record the boys from Powder Mill have given us the very best of both worlds.
One of the best rock albums of 2010 came creeping out of the Ozarks stinking of meth and misery. Powder Mill, a grizzled Missouri quartet, felt like Southern rock’s answer to Dead Moon: a band of outsider survivalists who understood greatness and sounded like they had lived hard pursuing it.
Missouri band Powder Mill have managed to capture the sound of pure classic ’70s Southern rock and combine it with hard-luck tales of our modern society. In a way, their music is reminiscent of early Charlie Daniels: part kickass rock ‘n roll, part country music storytelling.
The Daredevils followed an opening set by Powder Mill, a group that does some arresting things with country, blues and Southern rock. It’s outlaw/hillbilly country with some Southern rock, but closer to Steve Earle’s take on it in the late 1980s than Waylon’s or Willie’s. Among their song titles: “Hillbilly Heroin” and “Meth Lab Blues.”
The tune follows in a great tradition of storytelling songs, offering up a heart-rending story of a family that fled New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and ended up in Memphis, where things didn’t get any better for them. The acoustic version puts the hopelessness and despair of the story on full display. The electric version puts a Southern rock groove behind it and gives it an angry edge.
A lot of contemporary country seems to be a celebration of binge drinking or a self-conscious argument for the superiority of rural values. Love of Carter County is at Powder Mill’s core, but they do not sugar-coat reality. In one song, the singer vows to quit huffing paint thinner behind the barn because, “it ain’t worth it if it makes you cry.” I don’t think you’ll be seeing the video on GAC any time soon.
With their third full-length Powder Mill cemented their place in the Southern Rock pantheon, joining recent inductees like the North Mississippi Allstars and the Drive-By Truckers. However, Powder Mill is more gloriously Southern, reveling in the mythology and daily culture of the region and using it as a sharp lens on a country in the throes of wild change and conflict, a place where the factories are shutting down and whole towns are left to wallow and self-medicate as the world moves on without them.
Hats off to Jesse Charles Hammock II for writng songs about hillbilly justice (Righteous Wrath), being labled because of your family name (Bed Of Roses), demons that haunt you (The Dog Bites), crooked preachers (Billy The Baptist), and the problems that are really in our backyards (Hillbilly Heroin). With Money, Marbles, & Chalk, Powder Mill continues to be a voice and soundtrack for the way we’re livin’ in our neck of the woods.
Money, Marbles, And Chalk is paycheck-to-paycheck mean, and tender as a longtime marriage finding quiet comfort silently holding hands at the end of another long-ass day of grinding it out. These are tales wrung from deep emotion but also a deep appreciation of good times and the reckless, ornery fun that can be had when one hawks one in the boss’ eye and jumps into their truck without worrying what tomorrow or even the next hour might bring. Sometimes you just gotta say “fuck it” and let your real feelings loose, and Powder Mill is just what should be playing when you do.
And since its birth, the Van Buren-based band has become a fixture on the local music scene and has become well-known for their gritty rock with just enough twang to both display and embrace their backwoods roots.
Do Not Go Gently jumps into your lap with a cold beer and a wicked grin and just keeps getting better as it wiggles the blue off your jeans. Different sections will hit you harder on different days, where the tough-minded opening section hits your sweet spot on pissed off, hating the boss days but the thoughtful, fiddle dappled simmer of “Wet Moons” or “Lonesome Mama” feed your wistful workingman’s soul in the wee-wee hours. Regardless of personal mood, the sheer togetherness and raw talent of this band is just a pure fuckin’ pleasure.