Johnny Cash Would Be Proud

Blacktops and Blackouts (Pioneer)
Hell's Half Acre

By Kevin Gibson

Louisville's own Hell's Half Acre delivers its craft well. Somewhere between Unknown Hinson and the Stray Cats, with a touch of Beat Farmers thrown in for flavor, Hell's Half Acre is sort of an alternative alt-country - hillbilly punks alternating between sneers and snarls.

That said, it also bears noting that this is a shtick that has been done before. The aforementioned Unknown Hinson is probably the best at it and Hayseed Dixie is currently doing its own version of country parody by churning out bluegrass versions of classic rock songs. Numerous rock bands have recorded country parodies for comic effect. Even the Beatles recorded "Act Naturally" as a joke to fill out the soundtrack for "Help!." Imagine a full album of such material; that's Blacktops and Blackouts.

As I mentioned, however, HHA is good at what it does. These guys are capable musicians and they're clearly having fun. Glen Howerton from Satchel's Pawn Shop plays drums and Rankin Mapother of Cherub Scourge and Core of Resistance plays bass and contributes original songs. Vocalist Little John Louis and guitarist Steve McCabe, meanwhile, seem made for this kind of gig.

And the music holds its own. "Interstate" pokes fun at hippies, while "Rearview Mirror" is a good, solid country-fried ballad about the guy who won't settle down (as in, "Everything looks better in my rearview mirror"). "Copenhagen" is an ode to a redneck girl who likes to dip. "Not The Kinda Girl" gives a nod to the Cramps and "Why Don't Ya Love Me?" is a punked-up Hank Williams cover - plus, the latter two give the listener a better idea of where Hell's Half Acre is coming from, which helps. With those punk roots showing through, it makes it easy to chuckle along and enjoy the ride.

Basically, if the members of the Clash had grown up in Tennessee, my guess is they would have sounded something like Hell's Half Acre. And, yes, that's a compliment.