Something about "Born Bred Corn Fed," the kickoff song to The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band's new album The Wages, rubs me the wrong way.
In the promotional video for the album's first single, "Clap Your Hands," released a few weeks back, we see what must be the most diverse group of performers ever gathered in a single barn. On one side is the Big Damn Band itself, running through a catchy barn dance number, a country blues band in its native setting. On the other, framed just below the hayloft, belly dancers and burlesque girls, sideshow performers and break dancers, all of them audience members for the band as well as performers in their own right.
The video strikes a happy and not-oft-enough-seen mix between the metropolitan and rural without making a big deal about it, exemplifying the band's wide fan base.
The songs that make up The Wages show the Rev. in a slightly more provincial mode than in the video. "Born Bred Corn Fed" implicitly proclaims that there isn't all that much more than corn, homemade jelly, roadside stands and pie in Indiana.
And when the Rev's sentimentality for his Old Indiana home is unspecific — that is, when the Rev. and Co. celebrate broadly-sketched, "Okie from Muskogee"-esque rural values instead of, as on "Fort Wayne Zoo" and "In a Holler Over There," avoiding clichés by focusing on a particular place that's meaningful to them — the band feels like a caricature of rural culture. At those moments, one can imagine The Big Damn providing incidental music for Hee Haw. One can't imagine, though, seeing a break dancer in the world of "Born Bred Corn Fed."
That being said, it's all uphill from "Born Bred Corn Fed." Taken as a whole, The Wages is the band's most fully-realized album, including both simple, funny country blues as well as more sophisticated and fully-written singer-songwriter-style numbers.
Peyton's resonator guitar supplies, as usual, both bass and treble, as he picks out a simple bass line while simultaneously reaching up for curling, upper-register licks. Washboard Breezy and new drummer Aaron Persinger make up a primitive rhythm section, doing as much as possible with washboard and a stripped-down set.
If the Big Damn Band has a punk, DIY energy that makes them a good if unlikely fit for the kid-friendly roadshow Warped Fest, The Wages couldn't possibly be mistaken for country punk record. It's quiet and somewhat dry, and the low end, provided by the Rev. on guitar, isn't artificially filled out to sound as if a bass guitar was lurking in the other room during the recordings. Nor is his guitar made to sound like an electric.
Standouts include "Ft. Wayne Zoo," which rivals The Whole Fam Damnily's "Your Cousin's On Cops" in its unadorned absurdity: "My brother saw a chicken at the Fort Wayne Zoo / Fort Wayne Zoo's got chickens...Lot of crazy women living in Fort Wayne / Fort Wayne girls are crazy."
And of course, an album called The Wages is concerned with the current economic situation. "Everything's Raising" (but wages, hence the title) and "Just Getting By" attack, in a rewardingly cathartic way, just about anyone who's been responsible for screwing us over. They're not the most memorable numbers, but they are at least politically engaged.
One is left whistling several upbeat numbers that wouldn't have been out of place on past records — the shouter "Sure Feels Like Rain"; the slow-building "That Train Song," which probably plays a little better live, but shows just how ably the band can evoke a the sound of a train with their voluntarily limited resources; and "Two Bottles of Wine," a drinking song which gives the record a shot of energy towards the close, and which features the Band's old friend Jason Webley on the squeezebox.
Album closer "Miss Sarah" is recorded in lower fidelity and, with the Rev.'s guitar sounding eerily revenant, one is reminded just how much the Band has learned from its elders in the world of country blues.