This is the tale of a record by a band with an eye-catching
name. The Bastard Sons Of Johnny Cash caused a bit of a stir
with their name. What most people didn’t realize is that they
had the complete blessing of the Man In Black himself. So,
that makes you think…if it’s good enough for the namesake
to approve the use of his name, then it’s gotta be one hell
of a record. Hey, Cash is no slouch when it comes to
taste. The early promo copies of this record sparked a few
writers to proclaim this band to be a band to watch—and the
album wasn’t even complete yet. It contained only nine of
the 12 tunes that appear on the final version, and it didn’t
sound quite as good. But the record drew people in slowly
and surely…including this writer. What I love about this job
is being pleasantly surprised by records I might not have
heard otherwise. The first few listens of the promo sparked
a bit of an interest in me, but then that self-titled release
was replaced by this updated gem, Walk Alone and I
was taken hook, line and sinker. I found myself being drawn
to its Bakersfield-esque sound and a heavy emphasis on good
ol’ solid country music. This ain’t no "Achy Breaky Heart"
styled country. This is a truck drivin’ record. It can be
a personal record at times and is also the best record I have
heard up ‘til this point in the year. There is much to say
about Walk Alone, so let’s cut the crap and get on
You’ve gotta be drawn into a record that opens with a rambling
country structure and the lines "Well I woke up I drank
a fifth today/Gonna chase my blues away and here’s why."
On "Texas Sun," lead vocalist/guitarist/songwriter
Mark Stuart proceeds to weave a tale of drinkin’, seein’ the
judge and, of course, women. Like many classic country tunes,
the familiar topic of self destruction invades "Texas
Sun" at times. And like most of those old tunes, the
destructive ideas get lost in the loping rhythm and interjected
harmonies. "Blade" showcases Stuart’s rich baritone
fully for the first time. His sorrowful reading of the lyrics
are augmented by subtle, and almost eerie steel guitar bits.
The standard, yet loping Bakersfield rhythm settles down and
provides the perfect amount of movement to emphasize the sorrowful
undertones. Stuart’s lyric writing continues to show depth
here, keeping the cliches to a minimum while covering the
common topic of lost love. There is almost a bit of Tex-Mex
in the guitar work of "Seven Steps." A little more
shuffle invades the rhythm track, while Alex Watts provides
a slightly Music For All Occasions-era Mavericks
sound. Scott Hall brings on a traditional sounding pedal steel
refrain that propels the song to new heights.
Where this record really excels is in the "truck-drivin’"
tunes that abound on this record. The key to a good truck
driving tune not only lies in the forward motion of the rhythm
track, but also in lyrical content. BSOJC have got both of
these ideas honed perfectly. The first of these tunes is "Interstate
Cannonball." From his opening observation of "I’m
drinkin’ black coffee with amphetamine, got a ten ton load
swinging on with me" coupled with a pedal to the metal
rhythm, you’ve got the perfect ingredients for a speeding
ticket. Stuart’s other observations of sleeping with waitresses,
listening to country music that actually drags him down, and
all the lonely towns and miles he logged are written quite
cleverly—he avoids cliches again and forges ahead with his
own thoughts. There’s plenty of burning pedal steel and guitar
here to do the title justice. Just to allow you to ease back
on the throttle, they break it down into a standard country
ballad structure for "Walk Alone." I urge every
woman to listen to the words to this tune if they’ve ever
thought that they were the only ones to really be effected
by fouled relationships. Stuart tells of hanging out at the
bars, listening to Sinatra, and being alone to help
ease the pain of a broken heart. This tale of lonesomeness
blends perfectly in between these truckin’ tunes, as loneliness
certainly is a part of the trucker’s life. The following "Truckstop
In La Grange" is a Dale Watson tune, and Watson
(who is the modern king of roadhouse truck driving music)
must be proud of the outcome. The groove is heady and does
justice to Watson’s signature blues influenced country sound.
Stuart’s voice also fits the lyrics perfectly…it could almost
be one of his own tunes if you didn’t know better. This ode
to a little Texas truckstop east of Austin is just marvelous.
If you’ve ever been road-trippin' and stopped at a good place
with a ton of semis parked outside, you will identify with
the "damn good cup of coffee and some mighty, mighty
fine kolache" and that pretty waitress behind the counter.
You might have even purchased the same "tape of Ray
Price Gold" referenced here. This tune itself acts
like that truckstop…causing you to feel rejuvenated and wanting
to speed down the highway even further. "Thank God for
that little-bitty truckstop in La Grange" indeed! Next
we get another Stuart driving tune. "440 Horses"
is one of his best uses of lyrical imagery. The rambling (you
don’t get to use that word enough) yet easy going country
groove is filled with subtle and effective melodic guitar
riffs. Another stellar ballad follows, yet doesn’t ruin the
momentum built by the previous tunes. "Lonesome Sky"
is again a standard ballad that showcases Stuart’s vocals.
There’s plenty of acoustic guitar and lilting melodies here.
Steel guitar weeps here and there in cahoots with somber guitar
lines. You can feel the sorrow all around here, from the instrumentation
to Stuart’s lament. One more truck driving tune follows with
"Train’s Gonna Roll." This time, the boys opt for
a bit more swinging rock influence---I don’t want to say Southern
Rock or Outlaw Country, but instead falling somewhere in between
vintage Tom Petty and The Backsliders. Although
there’s more rock in here, BSOJC integrate it with country
harmonies and a heady acoustic rhythm emphasizing the country
while using the rock judiciously and purely for coloring.
"Memphis Woman" is one of the prettiest tunes I’ve
heard in some time. The best term I can use to describe it
is haunting. If there really were such a thing as "ethereal
country" this would have to be the poster-tune. A quiet,
brushed drum pattern supports a restrained acoustic framework.
On top of this, Watt’s guitar licks color the whole landscape.
They ebb and flow as easily and as effortlessly as a deer
bounding across a pastoral meadow and never sound as if they’re
being forced. Again we are treated to another of Stuart’s
best vocals. His voice is really a powerful force here, and
the sparing use of double-tracked vocals adds to the mysterious
feel of the tune. On top of all this, it’s still hummable
enough to stick in your head for weeks…literally. As the tune
wanes and draws to a close, you can feel the tingles go up
your spine. This tune is indeed a work of art. How can you
follow up something like this? Well, the Bastards follow it
up with one of Merle Haggard’s best tunes, "Silver
Wings." They treat it with the utmost respect with a
fairly straightforward reading. Stuart’s vocals express the
emotion of The Hag without attempting to be a carbon copy.
Their colorings to the tune update it for today, but the heart
and soul remains. And, just for good measure, the boys leave
you wanting more with the closing "Cryin’ Over You."
This swing inspired country jump is a party waiting to happen.
Touches of rock-a-billy guitar up the ante and beg you to
grab yer gal and hit the dancefloor. And if you were to start
the record over again from here, it would lead you back into
"Texas Sun" without batting an eye.
I just recently relocated to North Carolina from Texas, and
this record spent a lot of time in the truck’s CD player over
the 24-hour drive. You can’t get much better driving music
than this record. It is easy to find yourself 20 over the
speed limit while listening to this record. It begs your involvement
and attention, and just pumps you up…urging you on down the
road. Walk Alone is one completely tight and perfectly
arranged record from beginning to end. Songs meld from one
to another despite the slight stylistic differences in each.
Even if you’ve lasted long enough to read this whole review,
I cannot do justice to this record. With the current state
of flux in country music (with an overwhelming proportion
of it that poor commercial country that’s just pop music with
a fiddle or steel) The Bastards may have a hard time getting
heard. Is it the name that’s keeping programmers from adding
this to their playlists? It is just too country for modern
country radio? Maybe somebody can answer this for me…but it
certainly would be a damn shame for these guys to get swept
under the carpet. And as I said before, if the year were to
end today, this would be top dog for me. It still stands a
very good chance of that happening as it will be hard for
anyone (no matter the genre) to put together such a consistent,
heartfelt, and enjoyable record to listen to as Walk Alone.
- Texas Sun
- Seven Steps
- Interstate Cannonball
- Walk Alone
- Truckstop In La Grange
- 440 Horses
- Lonesome Sky
- Train’s Gonna Roll
- Memphis Woman
- Silver Wings
- Cryin’ Over You
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