I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in the House

Nineteenth-century colonialists spoke patronizingly of the Noble Savage. Today we have the Enlightened Redneck: Mike Damron, singer/ guitarist of the Oregon quintet I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in the House. Scrapping the sad-sack sensitivity of the Gram Parsons/Townes Van Zandt school of country-rock, Damron and his boys rip out a bluesier, ballsier brand of wistful jangle and rustic twang. But don't let the alt country tag send you packing: Put Here to Bleed leaks buckets of smarts, distortion and pure punk soul. In the album's anti-gun hootenanny "Dear Mr. Heston," the morally senile NRA president is informed: "If you ever saw a twelve-year-old boy's brains/Splattered on a kitchen wall/Well you'd hang your head in shame/You rifle totin' whore/Cold-blooded, old-blooded, sick-ass man." The burly, bearded Damron comes across like Michael Moore fronting Lynyrd Skynyrd. And not unlike Moore, Damron is no ivory-tower liberal; he speaks of firsthand pain in first-person terms, a thinking man trapped in a body -- not to mention a whole culture -- of testosterone-pumped machismo. With plainspoken grace and a Texas drawl, he tenderly growls his way through lines like "I hate everything/Kings and being poor/Guns and burnin' crosses and evils knockin' at my door" and "I hope we're angels/Not just put on earth to bleed, not just a cancer/Not just disease, not just anger."

The music is tucked somewhere between Steve Earle and the Afghan Whigs, peppered with stubbly riffs and bleak, black heartbreak. In fact, "Things That Fail" steals the distinct drumbeat from the intro of the Whigs' anthem "Gentlemen," and the disc's opening cut "Twerp" could have been a hidden track at the end of Earle's Transcendental Blues. Other songs, like "American Fuck Machine" and "Sixsixfive," are meaty slabs of outrage and open-chord bashing, while "To be Good" is the album's mournful, gut-chilling ballad.

Most alt-country today is made by hipster dilettantes and fake-hick opportunists, but I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in the House sticks out like a rusty nail, pricking egos and deflating pretension. And, in Damron, the whole genre has acquired a new songwriter of conscience, intelligence and brusque -- even savage -- honesty.


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