Social Distortion – Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes (Epitaph)

I don’t know about the nursery rhymes, but Social Distortion have certainly gone through some hard times since they formed in the late 1970s. Lead singer Mike Ness had to retire the band for a spell in the 80s while he shook off a nasty drug addiction, then after critical and (some) commercial success in the 90s, guitarist Dennis Danell died of a brain aneurysm in 2000. But having gone through countless drummers and bass players, the group persevered, anchored by new guitarist Jonny Wickersham, who was Danell’s tech.

            Since then, the band has released just one album, 2004’s Sex, Love & Rock & Roll. Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes has been in various states of production since 2005. The band finally got its act together last year, using session drummer Josh Freese, as the drum chair was still in a state of flux.

            Social Distortion began as a hardcore California punk band, but quickly added elements of rockabilly and country. That was the sound that helped make 90s albums such as Somewhere Between Heaven & Hell and Social Distortion so successful. Fortunately that sound remains intact.

            Mike Ness sounds a bit weary, a bit war-torn, but determined to keep on rocking. The album opens with the instrumental Road Zombie…its buzz saw guitars cutting through loud and clear. Next, California (Hustle & Flow) pays tribute to The Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main Street thanks to Wickersham’s Richards-like riffs and the soulful female backing vocals. Gimme The Sweet Lowdown roars in harder and punkier, but it’s the first single, Machine Gun Blues that really gets things going. Ness falls back on some good old fashioned country-style storytelling for Bakersfield and Far Side Of Nowhere. Another highlight is the revved-up version of Hank Williams’ Alone And Forsaken. The album winds down with the heartbroken Writing On The Wall before kicking up its heels one last time with Can’t Take It With You and the defiant Still Alive.

            Sure, Social Distortion sound a bit mellower than they did twenty years ago, but the fact that they’re still here, raising a ruckus, is good news for rockers everywhere.

Marty Duda