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June Carter Cash steps out of the shadows

The Coach House, San Juan Capistrano, Ca. Nov. 5, 1999

By Dan MacIntosh

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, CA - As Mike Ness stood center-stage, he was flanked by a traditional stand-up bassist and pedal steel guitarist on his left, and a rip-roaring electric guitarist on his right. These two distinct sides represent the polar opposite extremes of Ness' muse.

On the one hand, this recovering punk rocker-from the popular Southern California band, Social Distortion, still loves to rock & roll, but on the other hand - as his "Under Their Influence" solo album implies - Ness' music has been undeniably impacted by traditional country and music.

The first thing one notices about a Ness performance is that his voice is much better suited to growling punk anthems, than it is for crooning country weepers. One immediately missed Johnny Cash's distinctive bellow when Ness broke into "Ring Of Fire," and Ness did nothing to make the listener forget Hank Williams or Carl Perkins when he chose cover songs by those two pioneers.

But where he fell short in vocal abilities, Ness more than made up for such deficiencies with enthusiasm. Except for a black cowboy hat, Ness doesn't dress the part of a country singer. But when he digs into a choice outlaw song, he is perfectly cast for the part. Like many rebels ostracized from Nashville, Ness has done his share of drug taking and jail time.

This night, though, the multi-tattooed one looked healthy and fit. And like many of his heroes, Ness is a survivor. So when he tore into his own composition, "Charmed Life," you knew right away he was speaking autobiographically. It was Ness' way of counting his many blessings, in song.

This is more than can be said for all the pretty boys and girls masquerading as country people. Ness may not have bragging rights for a Southern upbringing, but he has more than enough life experience to give his music credibility.

Unlike many other so-called country artists - who appear like actors trying on country duds in wardrobe - Mike Ness has lived the hard-luck stories he sings. I'll take his authenticity over style, any day of the week.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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