Agrarian Goatrock

Roadhouse Standards (Nightmare)

By Bob Bahr

Godhead has a song on this, their first full-length CD, called "Cockrock." Ostensibly about the Louisville music scene, it paints a picture of crank-users, trashy cowgirls and raunchy bars -- and I suppose that it's less than a love letter to this town's hard rock scene. The irony is that Godhead actually succeeds at doing exactly what the cock rockers boast of doing. In short, Godhead plays rock-hard, ball-busting guitar rock. Forget the older guy who makes similar claims. He plays a mean marketing game, but pathetically retreaded early '80s guitar licks bust no one's balls. Godhead is the real deal.

The charms of Agrarian Goatrock Roadhouse Standards are many, including a strong life force, an almost DIY abandon, bluesman Jim Rosen's mean harp playing, and a sinister honesty that is palpable. But Standards succeeds first and foremost because it rocks hard. Guitarist Ed Kirchner provides the bulk of Godhead's sound, laying down a techno chainsaw attack with the rhythmic constancy of die-cut machinery. Drummer Andy Hatfield keeps it straight and simple too, with a few tempo shifts of vertigo-inducing proportions. But don't think of rigid heavy metal. Think white trash, tough-guy guitar gumbo, with a slightly funky lope to the groove, a gospel-passioned yelp to A. Scott Mertz's vocals and haunting layers of crunching guitars.

Strengths are weaknesses on this disc. Mertz, who is a heckuva frontman live, falls into repetitive patterns in his vocal lines. His lyrics approach stream-of-consciousness but stay grounded to dark, desperate images, and the approach grows old if you're reading the liner notes during the playback of this hour-long record. (So don't read the lyrics -- just bang your head.) And the production, which cutely drops in samples and other surprises, sounds thin on inexpensive sound systems. This can be remedied by playing Standards at a high volume, which is always recommended for this type of music.

As your reward, Godhead gives "Blood for X-Mas," which nearly hits punk music with Mertz's harried vocals, "Nashville Bust" and "Chickentrain," which uses Rosen's hot harmonica playing perfectly, and "Muleskinner," a well-structured song that could pop up on radio rather easily. This ain't cock rock, but it certainly has balls. It also has a greasy, low-down, countrified snort to it. Standards is the flush-faced rebel yell of an authentic band.