Edward W Batchelder

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Southern Road Kill: Harley-Davidson Targets the Confederacy

Southern Road Songs
Various Artists

cover of Southern Road Songs

Break out the 8-track, Jethro! If you needed proof that Southern rock was the product of a time as much as a place, Harley-Davidson’s newest biker-tune anthology should settle the argument. Of the seventeen raucous, guitar-waving onslaughts, over half were cut before the end of the ’70s—the heyday of shaggy Southern rock—and only three date from after 1985. Yep, you just might think, listening to this CD, that no one south of the Mason-Dixon line has been out on a road trip for the last twenty years, or even out to the local road house to notice that musical tastes have evolved somewhat over the last few decades.

That said, they’ve assembled some classics of the genre. I’m amazed that, with four CDs in the Road series already, it took them this long to find a place for “Sweet Home Alabama,” the song that made the redneck world safe for extended improvisation (or was that the other way around?). The Allman Brothers (“One Way Out”) may have kicked open the doors to the Southern Rock Cafe, but it was Lynyrd Skynyrd who really made the good ol’ boys feel at home there. Marshall Tucker’s “Take the Highway” and the Outlaws “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky” are also bound to be on top of a lot of people’s lists of road anthems. And if, for some reason, you feel like you just have to put Black Oak Arkansas on a CD, well, there’s really nothing for it but to toss in their cover of LaVerne Baker’s “Jim Dandy.”

From there on, the selections get a bit weaker. The Fabulous Thunderbirds’ “She’s Tuff” substitutes for their even tougher “Tuff Enuff.” Little Feat’s easy-going “Oh, Atlanta” is pleasant, but lacks the surreal, propulsive power of the band at their best. George Thorogood screeches in with an acceptable “Gear Jammer,” and Molly Hatchett puts on a party with the rollicking “Take Miss Lucy Home,” which offers up a truly ’80s dilemma—how do you get rid of that punk girl you picked up for casual sex?

Of the recent cuts, the only truly contemporary band is the Nashville-based Jason and the Scorchers, who close out the CD with a hard-rocking cowpunk version of Hank Williams’ “Lost Highway.”

(Actually, the last sound on the CD is of a Harley being fired up and driven away, but I was a bit disappointed. It’s not nearly loud enough . . . I could actually hear myself think during it. What, are the folks in Milwaukee losing their nerve?)

Curiously, for all that “Southern Rock” is a dated concept, the songs that hold up best here are the ones with even older roots. Johnny Winter’s “Hard Town Blues” tears it up with a minute-and-a-half solo that sounds like two old men arguing with each other; Freddie King’s tachycardic “Going Down” is a yelp from just this side of drowning; and John Lee Hooker (backed by Canned Heat) comes across on “Let’s Make It” as the oldest, most sorrowful, and flat-out horniest man on earth.

But then, these last tunes aren’t exactly Southern Road Songs—they’re the songs that black people sang on the roads out of the South, which is an entirely different matter. However, being as how the blues lies as solidly under Southern music as layers of stratified rock lie under the lush fields outside of my home in Nashville, including them here is probably the best decision H-D made.

© Edward W Batchelder
(from CC Motorcycle News)

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