It kicks it off with a cocksure chuckle, the kind of sound a Hold ‘Em player no doubt hears in his head when he checks his hold cards and finds pocket Aces. And why wouldn’t it? Singer/Songwriter Jay Souza knows exactly what he’s got, and when BC Coulter’s guitar kicks in on the opening track “Perforated” with the swagger of a gunslinger, you will, too.
Longtime Los Angeles favorite 50 Cent Haircut has been around for roughly a decade, and their latest release, “Shadow of the Noose,” proves that they still have plenty of music to sling. A potent mixture of radio ready footstompers and late night whiskey ballads, “Shadow of the Noose” is an alt-country rocker that rides in like a nameless cowboy, full of attitude and living with ghosts.
One gets a taste for the musical diversity this band is capable of within the first two songs. Once the driving “Perforated” fades, the melancholy “Elliott Smith Blues” comes right on its heels. A perfect counterpoint to the opening tracks bravado, “Elliott Smith Blues” is a song of loss and the desperate attempt to maintain sanity afterwards that manages to echo the titular musician’s pre-suicide sound.
“Haywire” is among the many highlights, featuring a realization of unrequited love told with resolve and wit and an instantly memorable sing-a-long chorus. The following track, “Dead Man’s Lullaby,” is an outlaw country tune sung in a ghostly voice that would have The Man In Black grinning appreciatively. And to further illustrate the inner-outlaw comes “Pitchin’ A Tent For Jesus,” a politically incorrect, and hilarious, recounting of getting a hog-iron while attending a Catholic high school dance at the age of fifteen.
“Vessel of Ash” could be among the best tracks of Souza’s impressive career, featuring macabre humor (“There’s no feng shui in the cemetery”), a brilliant chorus (“You will hear Johnny Cash from your vessels of ash”), and an overall indictment of the hit-and-lifestyle, hip-hop driven world of Top 40 radio.
Souza teams up with singer/songwriter Annette Summersett for the incredible duet “Good Idea (Morphine Drip)”, and the pairing is outstanding. There is so much soul in their voices and so much chemistry between the two that their sad story of breaking up and killing the pain becomes undeniably poignant.
“Shadow of the Noose” is a record that is well grounded in its roots. The closing lyrics of “California Falls” briefly call to mind The Who’s “My Generation, while keen listeners will catch Souza singing the opening lyrics to The Rolling Stones’ “Faraway Eyes” in the background of the cover “Only You Can Break My Heart” by Buck Owens.
But while it tips its hat to the past, 50 Cent Haircut is a band looking out to the horizon, and all it has left to do.
When the album finally fades away after the appropriately titled “Quitting Time”, we have seen the full arsenal of a solid band that can raise your glass or break your heart. With Souza’s worldly lyrics coupled with Sheff’s lively slide guitar, Bryan Stone’s and Mark Bennington’s rocksteady pocket, and BC Coulter’s spotless rhythm and backing vocals, 50 Cent Haircut are perfect companions on the dusty trail. - KURT GODWIN