Mike Stinson’s Hell & Half of Georgia is a hell of an Americana rock record. It’s got some Stonesy barroom stomps, some honkytonk, a couple of slow oldschool C&W ballads, and a little ferocious garage rock. The band is fantastic, soaring pedal steel trading off with edgy, biting lead guitar over a tight rhythm section. Stinson’s songwriting draws as much on vintage country as it does Dylanesque, lyrically driven rock; the most upbeat, hardest-rocking stuff reminds of the Bottle Rockets. One thing you should know about this album: Stinson likes lists, and lyrical riffs that he can do over and over again, switching in a new word every time around and stretching it out as far as it’ll go for laughs. The shtick works; he can be a very funny guy.
Stinsons’s surreal, dark sense of humor pervades a lot of these songs. Late for My Funeral, a snarling, sort of dark garage rock song, could be Dire Straits with more balls. The poor guy in the song just can’t get anywhere on time: too late for demerol, he ends up being too late for Geritol too, unable to get away from the scene of the crime by the time the cops come, and it just gets worse for the poor guy. The sardonic rockabilly shuffle May Have to Do It does double duty as sly, aphoristic workingman’s anthem and political commentary. Box I Take to Work, a catalog of things both real and abstact, will resonate with anybody who’s ever spent any time on the road playing music.
This Year works a Stonesy two-chord vamp: “I will be your lover but I don’t want to be a sucker this year…if we can recover this year,” Stinson muses. Likewise, Broken Record works a backbeat bar-rock tune with some of the album’s funniest lyrics and musical jokes too:
My mama was a cylinder born in 1933
My daddy dropped the needle down and then created me
My golden age of vinyl, that’s as good as it gets
My nephew is an eight-track, my kids are both cassettes
Stinson gives away his generational roots here: maybe his grandkids will be WAVs?
An oldschool Texas shuffle, Died and Gone to Houston sends a shout-out to Stinson’s hometown: “If you see me stumbling about, around the way, just drop me off in Houston, I’ll be ok,” he explains. Another slow ballad, Walking Home in the Rain is a lot more serious and understatedly sad. Stinson picks it up with droll chickenscratch guitar on Got a Thing For You, which reminds of the Yayhoos. The best song on the album might be Lost Side of Town, a nonchalantly Dylanesque midtempo tune which manages to be funny but really bleak at the same time:
It took a lot of climbing to get out here on this limb
Took some bad timing and some chances that were slim
And it took a lot of acting like I really had it down
I was only heading for the lost side of town
The album ends with the sarcastic The Kind of Trouble I Need, a searing, Kasey Anderson-ish riff-rock song where Stinson starts out comedic and then finally lets loose with a murderous menace: “That’s the kind of trouble I need,” yeah, right. Stinson plays Hill Country on October 3 at 8:30.