The consistency that Southern Culture on the Skids has shown throughout their quarter century run goes beyond admirable and runs headlong into nearly supernatural. Whether recording for an microscopic fringe indie label or a ridiculously large corporate conglomerate, SCOTS - comprised of vocalist/guitarist Rick Miller, bassist/vocalist Mary Huff and drummer Dave Hartman since 1988 - has maintained a steady course for the heart of the hillbilly sunrise with an almost pathological love of rockabilly, surf, country and a white trash sense of humor that has allowed them the latitude to pelt their audiences with greasy fried chicken and bowls of banana pudding. The best part of this odd continuity is that the Skids have never been swayed by external commercial forces or internal creative malaise to change their singular direction.
With their last Yep Roc album, "Countrypolitan Favorites," SCOTS took their love of left field covers and their offbeat musical approach to new levels, but it was hardly a hint of what the band had in mind for its first set of new material in almost seven years as well as their first self-released album.
"Kudzu Ranch" (also the name of the band's new label and Miller's North Carolina studio) is a blistering and relative smirk-free affair (well, there is Pig Pickin' and My Neighbor Burns Trash), with Miller throwing down a gauntlet of searing guitar riffage, particularly on the thundering twang of Bone Dry Dirt and the band's down home cover of Neil Young's Are You Ready For the Country. Just as surprising are Huff's moments at the mic, from the garage soul swagger of It's the Music That Makes Me and Bad Boys to the Neko Case-inflected '60s roots pop of Highlife, and the reverb shimmer of the instrumental version of Nirvana's Come As You Are, but the capper has to be the lounge lizard jazz/horror movie/spy soundtrack mash-up of Montague's Mystery Theme.
On "Kudzu Ranch," Southern Culture on the Skids largely sets aside the wonderfully camp caricature they've been crafting for 25 years and concentrates on the diverse yet subtly connected sounds they love in creating one of their best albums to date.