BY FRED MILLS
In 1993 North Carolina’s Southern Culture On The Skids recorded their fourth studio album, Ditch Diggin’, at Easley Studios in Memphis; it was subsequently released on the Safe House label and arguably became the platter that placed the Tarheel twangers firmly on the national radar. Two decades on, rather than simply do an expanded/remastered/tweaked 20th anniversary edition of what has long been a favorite among SCOTS fans, the band opted to hunker down in its own Kudzu Ranch studio and re-record the whole dang thing.
Well, most of it, at least. Absent are the original LP’s two lone covers, the Louvin Brothers’ oft-covered “Great Atomic Power” (which, to be fair, was a stronger concert staple for the band back in the day than its studio recording) and a blazing rave-up through Link Wray’s “Jack the Ripper, Parts 1 & 2” (still an occasional SCOTS setlist highlight). Also, for this fresh look at the Ditch Diggin’ material, aside from matters of sonic and stylistic nuances which won’t be all that obvious unless one is obsessive enough to do A-B tests between each of the remaining 13 songs, the track sequencing was significantly juggled, and to these ears that choice made for a slightly more powerful/effective album from guitarist Rick Miller, bassist Mary Huff and drummer Dave Hartman.
Both original and new versions begin with the twangy “Too Much Pork for Just One Fork” (which was also the title of the band’s second album, from 1990), but that’s the end of the similarities. V.2 quickly upshifts with “The Little Things,” a lonely ode boasting the kind of to-die-for riffs that Keith Richards used to come up with; the swamp-funk dance instructional title track chock-full of the kind of lascivious lyric metaphors that are Miller’s stock in trade (“gonna dig your ditch, baby”); and the first of several memorable instros that find the band shifting effortlessly between country-western and surf licks, like an all-star summit between Buck Owens and Dick Dale. Hold that last thought: track #7, “Rumors of Surf,” could’ve been, in an alternate universe, the signature tune plucked by Quentin Tarantino for his Pulp Fiction masterpiece.
The pleasures continue to roll forth over the course of this fun-fest, from the rock-billy boogie of “Chicken Shit Farmer” the honest-to-boogie “Wipe Out” pastiche titled, appropriately, “New Cooter Boogie,” which is sure to thrill turtle and tortoise aficionados across the globe. Psychedelic rave-up instro “Wig-Out” wraps things up in fine style, leaving listeners with a ringing in the ears and a warm glow in the tummy. That, friends, is the essence of the SCOTS experience in a nutshell. Who could ask for more?
Incidentally, the album (which is pressed on gorgeous green wax) and CD both come with a download card that will give you access to nine Ditch Diggin’ karaoke tracks, plus a PDF with lyrics. You can figure out the rest…. Nice touch, that.
DOWNLOAD: “Ditch Diggin’,” “Rumors of Surf,” “Mudbuggy,” “New Cooter Boogie,” “Wig Out”