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Sticking Their Necks Out

Oxford's Neckbones are just a rock-and-roll band.

by MARK JORDAN

ou've got to feel sorry for the Neckbones.

Based largely out of Oxford, Mississippi (guitarist Tyler Keith lives in Memphis), it must be a lonely existence for the quartet. Oxford, after all, is not known for producing a lot of bands of any type, much less the kind of loud, guitar-driven punk rock the Neckbones crank out. The group can't even find camaraderie. Signed to Oxford-based Fat Possum (which is nationally distributed through Epitaph), the Neckbones are the lone rock band on a roster full of blues acts.

"Where we live, there's no other bands like us," Keith once told Billboard's Chris Morris. "You're not influenced [by anything]. There's no other rock-and-roll bands in Oxford, or even in Mississippi."

Though the comparisons are not readily evident, the Neckbones are kindred spirits with Fat Possum's stable of old black bluesmen. They share a love of grimy guitar and, occasionally, even dirtier lyrical content, the main difference being that the Neckbones do things a little faster and a little louder. Blues for the white, suburban set.

Drummer Forrest Hewes, bassist Robbie Alexander, and guitarist/organist David Boyer first came together in Oxford in 1992. The band released one CD, the obscure Paintings In The Trash, before hooking up with Keith. The band's second disc, 1997's brilliantly titled Souls On Fire, was their first on Fat Possum. The record was highly praised in the few corners it was heard (the band includes Japanese and Spanish-language reviews in its press kit). The online music mag Addicted To Noise wrote, "This is the kind of greasy, ballsy kind of rock-and-roll that most bands have either forgotten or abandoned."

This week the Neckbones release its much-anticipated follow-up to Souls On Fire. The Lights Are Getting Dim sticks to the beer-soaked punk rock that brought the boys this far. The proceedings are loud, fast, and thrashy. But the band has toned down the beer-and-babes themes (could this be maturity?) in favor of more introspective subject matter and have added some subtle instrumentation elements that are surprisingly effective. On the break-up-please-go-away classic "Good Bye Ramona" the tune is hammered home by some brutal rock-and-roll piano. Organ and saxophone give an R&B party atmosphere to "Nobody Gets Me Down," which sounds liked revved up ? and the Mysterians. That band's "96 Tears" is appropriated on "You're All Winners," the album's most pleasingly poppy track.

The Lights Are Getting Dim also seems to have brought the boys out of their bubble. Guest performers on the album include Memphis punk contemporary Jack Oblivian on organ, piano, and saxophone. Widespread Panic member and Oxford native JoJo Herman also contributes organ and piano parts, and Cary Hudson and Laurie Stiratt of Oxford roots rockers Blue Mountain also make an appearance.

A sticker on the cover of The Lights Are Getting Dim cites a review describing the Neckbones as a "cross between early Rolling Stones and the Dead Boys." The band's sound has also been called the product of what would have happened if the New York Dolls' tour bus had broken down in Mississippi. I might even throw the Kinks and Billy Lee Riley into the mix as well.

But the Neckbones reject all the labels, preferring to just be known as a rock-and-roll band.


Music Notes

Special Occasions

A year ago, Loverly Records released a group of 7-inches by four local bands: Megan Reilly (a.k.a. Lucynell Crater), the Satyrs, Pisshorse, and Jetty Webb. All young, by Loverly standards, the releases were collectively billed as the label's "youth movement." And this week is a busy week for three of them.

Reilly, sorry to say, is getting ready to pack up her guitar and lonesome holler and move into the shadow of the Big Apple early next month. Fans should note that they only have two more chances to catch her live, this Thursday at the Map Room and later this month, on a date to be decided, when she'll share the South End Saloon's stage with Lucero.

The Satyrs and Jetty Webb, meanwhile, will be sharing a stage and a single, both of which will be available for perusal Friday at the Hi-Tone. The self-released 7-inch features the previously circulated but unreleased Satyrs track "We Are One" b/w Jetty Webb's "Stays the Same." Five dollars gets you in and an extra $2 gets you something to take home.

New Stuff In The Bins

In its dozen years or so of existence, FreeWorld has gone through more roster changes than guitar strings. But while the faces have changed, the band has still managed to consistently improve, something that is especially evident on their recordings. FreeWorld's latest, Diversity, is the best of the three discs the band has cut so far.

The version of FreeWorld heard here features Steve Dolan on vocals, trumpet, flugelhorn, musette, and shaker; Brian Overstreet on guitars and vocals; and Prentice Wulff-Woesten on vocals and trombone. And as always, there is Richard Cushing on bass, guitars, and vocals, and David Skypeck on drums and percussion. Another original FreeWorlder and the band's mentor Herman Green -- identified on the album's liner notes as "the Man" -- is also featured prominently.

For a band that has made its reputation on its relentless live playing schedule, FreeWorld have at times been inexplicably stiff on disc. That seems to be a thing of the past with Diversity -- thanks, I'm sure, to Ross Rice's increasingly sure touch as producer. With lots of guest appearances and between song count-outs and banter preserved on disc, Diversity has the feel of a party but without sacrificing any of the band's trademark tightness.

FreeWorld, in case you didn't know, trade in white funk. You know the genre -- lots of scratchy guitar, syncopated drum beats, punchy horns, and plenty of jams. Bands such as Galactic and Gran Torino have made the sound popular with college kids, but FreeWorld was there first. And Diversity shows off the band's best songs yet, with the catchy "D-Up" being a particular favorite. As for the jams, instead of focusing on noodling that is best appreciated live, this time out the band thankfully reined it to make room for the 15 quality compositions.

Though they play every week, FreeWorld will unveil Diversity with a Saturday night show at Newby's and at their regular Sunday gig at Blues City Cafe.

Also new in record stores this week:

Asleep at the Wheel Ride with Bob (DreamWorks) -- A tribute to Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys featuring Lyle Lovett, the Dixie Chicks, Vince Gill, Dwight Yoakam, Shawn Colvin, and more.

Bardo Pond Set and Setting (Matador)

The Bottle Rockets Brand New Year (Mercury)

Candy Dulfer What Does It Take (N-Coded Music)

Hiroshima Between Black and White (Windham Hill)

Jim Lauderdale Onward Through It All (RCA)

Lynyrd Skynyrd Edge of Forever (CMC)


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