Wild Ways, the new album from Uncle Leon and the Alibis, kicks off with the rousing “Hold On,” a jangly road trip song if ever there was.
The band doesn’t slow down from there, veering wildly from honky tonk rockers (“Don’t Blame This Guitar”) to classic county laments (“Cold Dark Night,” “Loving A Cowboy”) to subversive odes for malcontents and misanthropes (“All My Crazy Friends Got Old and Lame,” “Fuck The World”).
This isn’t so much an album as a dog-eared, dusty map spanning the entire soundscape that defines Americana music and distinguishes it (thankfully) from pop-oriented new country.
It’s also an album I might totally have overlooked if not for the playful song titles that piqued my curiosity.
The first song I actually listened to isn’t necessarily the best of the bunch (that honor likely falls to “Cold Dark Night”), but it’s an instant anthem that I foresee being played for years to sweaty drunk fans happily singing along.
The song is “Whiskey and Weed and Big-Titted Women,” which begins with the following, amazing verse:
Hookers and blow may be fun for awhile/but they’ll both cost you dearly, my friend/The smack and the speed may seem just what you need/but they’ll both let you down in the end/And the hospital pills may kill all your will/but they don’t do a thing for the pain/Whiskey and weed and big-titted women/made me the man I am today
For many artists, “Whiskey…” might have been a joke, a one-off, a B-side that garnered little to no attention but Uncle Leon and the Alibis pour themselves into the song. Delivering it with just the right somber smirk, slowly building to a bellowing chorus that would shake the rafters in the church of the sodden and maligned and call even the most depraved soul into the light.
It’s their “Elvis is Everywhere” moment, their “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” that iconic song that few artists are lucky to write that becomes a signature favorite.
That’s not meant to denigrate.
Uncle Leon and the Alibis aren’t a novelty band. I don’t see them going the route of Jimmy Buffett, who basically stopped making meaningful music with 1981’s Coconut Telegraph and became content to travel every year just playing his greatest hits from the 1970s.
“Whiskey and Weed and Big-Titted Women” is just fun. It sticks in your brain immediately and you’re singing along before your first listen is done.
But there’s so much good music to discover on Wild Ways.
The cowboy laments are authentic and piercing, and the shout-along songs, particularly “All My Crazy Friends Got Old and Lame,” provide the perfect soundtrack for that backyard barbecue that slowly devolves into a drunken, naked mess.
I definitely consider this Essential Listening.