The Upshot: A summation of all that’s great about the Texas cowpunks, as well as a tribute to their late guitarist Davy Jones.
BY FRED MILLS
In October, Austin/San Antonio-based cowpunk legends the Hickoids ventured well outside their traditional Lone Star comfort zone with a string of dates on the East Coast, followed by a two-week European trek, promoting this new record, a six-song celebration of legendary Texas songwriters that loom large among their influences: for The Out of Towners, the philosophical and literary tenets of Willie Nelson, Rich Minus, Terry Allen, and Doug Sahm bump uglies with The Dicks and Roky Erickson, maverick spirits, all. Yet both the recording sessions and subsequent promotional tour had to have been more than just a little bittersweet; the former were overshadowed by the knowledge that longtime guitarist Davy Jones was battling Stage 4 cancer, while by the time the latter was undertaken, they’d lost Jones.
In rock ‘n’ roll, though, we derive strength from adversity, sometimes immortality, a notion that figures largely in the visceral oomph in these grooves. The record is the followup to 2013’s Hairy Chafin’ Ape Suit (itself a kind of eulogy for another fallen member of the Hickoids, bassist Richard Hays, who died in 2001), and as a summation of everything that’s always been great about the band, it positively shines. From the Erickson-penned opener, a rousing, horns-augmented “I Have Always Been Here Before,” through anthemic closing track “At the Crossroads,” a Sir Douglas Quintet gem bearing the prophetic lines “You can teach me lots of lessons/ You can bring me lot of gold/ But you just can’t live in Texas/ If you don’t have lot of soul,” one imagines Jones struggling with his illness but determined to put as much of himself into the material as possible. Indeed, twangy, boozy, bluesy ballad “I Just Left Myself Today” (by Allen) finds the band serving up a kind of sonic last call, vocalist Jeff Smith warbling like a man who’s crawled out onto a ledge. Contrast that with “Dead in a Motel Room” (by the Dicks; Jones had wound up joining the Dicks in 2005 after the Texas punks reunited), a pounding, slamming, git-tar heavy slab of aural viscosity.
As a summation, The Out of Towners may or may not be the last we hear from the Hickoids. Vocalist Smith continues to kick out da jamz via his Saustex label’s incendiary releases, and he’s always considered his band an outsider operation anyway, remarking during BLURT’s 2013 interview how, “we weren’t roots enough to be in the roots scene. When we first started out, those guys would smoke dope with us and snort coke with us and drink with us, but they didn’t consider us musicians. There was still that divide. Then on the other hand, because every song wasn’t 1-2, 1-2, 1-2, we didn’t really fit in on the punk circuit, either. And because we were so wasted, we were too artless for the art circuit.” But as a testament to Jones’ musical gifts—one which locates him firmly in the Lone Star pantheon—the record has a certain ramshackle elegance that’s wholly fitting.
Jones himself, in the aforementioned Hickoids profile, nicely characterized his rock ‘n’ roll viewpoint, saying, “It feels like we have to school [today’s generation of punks] on what our definition of punk rock is. Guess what? You’re allowed to do any fucking thing you want! You’re allowed to dress any way you want! It doesn’t have to be a Misfits T-shirt!”
Amen to that. R.I.P., Mr. Jones. Long live the Hickoids – see the band, get the T-shirt, rock your ass off.
Vinyl fans alert: It’s also available on 140-gm. vinyl, but in a pretty limited pressing of just 400 copies. What’s that saying? Oh yeah—move before you lose, kiddo.
DOWNLOAD: “I Just Left Myself Today,” “Dead in a Motel Room”