Better Live Than in the Drunk Tank

Social! (Bug Dust Records)

Dallas Alice

By Kevin Gibson

I haven't seen Dallas Alice live yet, but I was only about three songs into this CD before I decided I wanted to. If a band that brags about, even seems to exist on, its shit-kicking live show can make a studio album this good - well, that's a band I gotta check out.

But first, for those of you who have not been introduced, Dallas Alice is a band about three years old made up of Sean Hopkins, Justin Hughes, Matt Nofsinger, Nick Reifsteck and Nate Thumas. Hell, I was watching Nate kick it with 100 Acre Wood ten years ago and I sat in awe as Reifsteck fronted One Red Romeo when I was barely old enough to get into Uncle Pleasant's without a fake ID. And here they are playing something I'd have to describe as country-fried roots-rock that's 15 minutes out of the drunk tank.

(If you've never spent the night in the drunk tank, rest assured they kick you to the curb with nothing but your keys, your wallet - empty - plus a miserable hangover, a handful of regret and one hell of a pissed-off attitude.)

What Dallas Alice has done on Social! is put a drunk tank hangover to music. It's got train tracks, coal mines, grandparents, cars, white trash and the Andy Griffith show all in one package.

Yes, here's a band that can rowdy your socks off with a whiskey-soaked rockabilly rant titled "Call Me Whitetrash" one minute - "If you call me white trash/I'll kick your skinny ass" - and deliver a touching story about a small-town mine disaster with "December 21st, 1951" the next ("It was a coal black Friday night/Broken by forgotten Christmas lights").

Dallas Alice can tell you about real life, such as in "200 Cars," or nudge you in the ribs about over-the-top, volatile relationships with gems like "Famous Last Words."

It's also important to note that the band's sincerity rises to the top at all times. When you first lay ears on "Whitetrash," for instance, it's easy to dismiss it as another song celebrating a caricature of a segment of American culture. But in fact, it's about all of us who grew up in the Midwest. It's cleverly ironic - what is the definition of "white trash" anyway? - and it's accessible to, well, pretty much anyone who grew up in and around Louisville, Kentucky. Or any Midwestern town, for that matter.

Hopkins in particular delivers his vocals with all the confidence of a Hank Williams Jr.-Bruce Springsteen hybrid. This guy could sing lead in a commercial country act touring the nation with Tim McGraw (or whoever is popular these days) and he could also stand in with Social Distortion and growl his way to a punk career. Hopkins knows the songs and the emotions behind them well, though, because he wrote them.

When he croons "I need you like I need the bottle that's not in my hand," you believe it. This is a song that would make a man who'd lost a woman to drinking sigh heavily, then sit down and cry. Then a few songs later comes "Boothead Debutante Blues," which takes us back to the shit-kicking and gives Reifsteck a nice stage to show off his blues guitar chops.

This is one hell of a good album and it deserves to be placed next to the best roots rock in the region and beyond. Hopkins and Thumas produced with deft restraint, all the pieces fit, the performances are spot-on - what else can I say? I'm going to hear this act live before they're playing all their gigs out of town.

(Oh and don't turn off the CD player until you listen to the bonus track. You won't be sorry.)

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