Call it what you will -- "punkabilly" or "thrashabilly" are label-sponsored terms -- but the first CD compilation put out by James Richard Oliver's Georgia-based Illbilly Records is one wild, south-of-the-Mason-&-Dixon drag race full of tobacco-chawin', whiskey-guzzlin', heartbroken tunes that find the nexus between backroom rockabilly, backwoods honky-tonk, and all-night-diner chic.
Some of this stuff is attitudinal redneckery at its most rambunctious, vocal-shredding intensity. Band names like JUNK TRAIN, MAD TRUCKER GONE MAD, AGRICULTURE CLUB (which gives "Boy" George an entirely new twist), LANCASTER COUNTY PRISON, and the DITCHDIGGERS not only advertise in garish neon lights their Southern-rocking spirit (if not necessarily lineage), but the songs themselves exemplify the most fast-driving, hard-living component of the hillbilly experience. Music for arm wrasslin' or truck driving, steer-rustling and bar fighting. AMERICAN DEATH, on the other hand, sounds like Nirvana transplanted in Alabama -- mighty good, that is, and minus that pesky urban angst.
Surprisingly, though, punk & Western makes up the minority of Dropped on the Head. It more often turns out a variety of traditional country styles, albeit with equally wonderful and idiosyncratic results. Songs as diverse and peculiar as RICH HARPER's breezy and uneasy "Stumble Inn," the moonshine-juiced Byrdsisms of the WOODBOX GANG'S "Better Place to Die," and KEN BURKE's "Dead Cat Song" - a portent out of Revelations, as sung by Johnny Cash's baby brother - certainly aren't likely to hit the radio dial or be covered by Faith Hill, but definitely do capture country at its most tongue-in-cheek fun. Just as superb are GARY PIG GOLD's creaky-boned "Under the Table" (initially recorded by his great rhythm & bluegrass unit, the Ghost Rockets), a song Hank Williams should have penned, and MISS XANNA DON'T, whose "Damaged Goods" plays like the Chrissie Hynde covering Patsy Cline for Hee Haw and injects some much needed estrogen. Best of all, though, is the hayseed crooning of REDNECK GREECE DE-LUX -- if the group doesn't wear matching baby-blue suits, Grand Ol' Opry style, they should.
As such, Dropped on the Head not only offers the perfect introduction to Illbilly but also serves as a great encapsulation of the wild world of the forgotten country underground, which has been stashed away in the attic by the prim, upstanding country mainstream for far too long.
(All Music Guide)