Black Music Matters Festival

Dirt Reynolds

Scalawag – 2020 (Self-released)

Reviewed by Jim Hynes

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CDs by Dirt Reynolds

One can't help but think that Louisianan Chris Watts changed his moniker to Dirt Reynolds as a kind of sarcastic jab at Burt Reynolds, the star of "Smokey and the Bandit." Whatever his motivation, Watts comes out firing relentlessly as he explores his southern identity in a contemporary context on "Scalawag."

The raw, visceral sound owes to the quintet of Watts on guitar, Joseph Lekkhas, who also mixed, on bass, Erin Nelson (drums), Mary Hull (keys) and CJ Colandrea (pedal steel). Growing up in a conservative household, later becoming a troublemaker who was stabbed in a bar, shot in the New Orleans SuperDome while on duty for the National Guard during Katrina, it's fair to say that Reynolds has seen and lived the polarities of the South first hand.

These songs speak to Watts' story, his observations and his current beliefs from a musician who relocated to Nashville in 2013 and honed his craft in the rough-edged honky-tonks of Lower Broadway. He is one heavy dose of outlaw country - if that term still has any legs. He opens with "Lee Country," a radio-friendly tune with infectious hooks that belie his commentary on small town life and dead-end dreams. He goes on to slam blind bigotry in "The Day David Duke Came to Destrehan" and the all-too-common and subject of moment racial prejudice in "The Boys Gotta Go," as a father tells his son that his black friend is not allowed in the home.

The white trash trailer park syndrome comes to a head in the most country sounding track, "Empty Beds, Empty Bottles," as alcohol takes its toll on a marriage. He pays tribute in rare sensitive fashion to his childhood friend who did not return from Iraq in another common southern theme in recent years with "Fireworks Over Buhlow." "God's Own Truth" is pointed squarely at POTUS 45. Yes, these are direct songs typified by the lament ('nothing has changed') "Homecoming Show." "Basin Lounge," his ode to rock n' roll, is punk country a la Jason & the Scorchers. Perhaps the most memorable tune is "I Know What It Means" about his experience as a Guardsman during Katrina. The tune is a take-off on Louis Armstrong's "Do You Know What It Means (To Miss New Orleans)."

Dirt Reynolds arrives with a bunch of great songs for this impressive debut.