Patrick Sweany is one tough mofo. His latest record, That
Old Southern Drag, is a hard-nosed and robust paean to Ray
Charles, Lightnin' Hopkins, and Eddie Hinton. That
type of company is as brazen as it comes. And much like his blues
heroes, Sweany's swagger on this album adds up to a gritty and unheralded
Minted with a modern patina, the record is also a fitting cellmate
to the blues and soul revival of The Black Keys. That would
make sense, after all; given that Dan Auerbach is a longtime
collaborator/producer of Sweany's. Although Auerbach lets loose the
production reins this go-round, the groovy deluge remains. The opening
track, "Sleeping Bag", is a furious launching-pad for the
album. Carried by driving guitars, lush vocals, and a torrid delivery,
the song is a strident teaser for the rest of the album. But each
track holds its own with perfect resilience. "Corner Closer"
ups the ante, "Oh! Temptation" and "Same Thing"
follow any great 12-bar blues song formula, and "Rising Tide"
bleeds like an open wound. But the middle of the album is the real
solstice. "Leave Ohio" and "Heavy Problems" (the
standout tracks) are at once vulnerable, while at the same time full
of funny candor and desolation. Tucked in between, "The Edges"
is draped in the foggy ripple of the saxophone - which gives the album
a timely, swinging vigor. Credence Clearwater Revival used
this same wily playbook as a paragon for
success - and it seems to have worked out well for them.
Sweany's virtuosity throughout is also a blessed thing. Without it,
much of the album would be a dwarfed in a deep Blues free-for-all.
But thanks to his willingness to change speeds and hit the gas when
momentum is waning, Sweany's gifted adoration for straightforward
Rock-&-Roll never cheapens. Even on "More And More",
where the tempo and theme get mawkish, it's hard to argue with the
intrinsic mania in Sweany's deep wail.
Overall, Southern Drag is a high-octane nugget. It's all the
things that an acute listener wants in a memorable album - strong
hooks, slight sophistication, and mad skills. It also leaves the listener
itching for another potent fix. After all these years of working the
scene, maybe it's time for Sweany to garner the mainstream success
that narrowly eluded so many of his idols. But then again, maybe playing
the underdog isn't such a bad thing - especially when it births a
beast this hellishly good.
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