Punk rock icons/godfathers Social Distortion are back with an all new album entitled Hard Times & Nursery Rhymes. After seven long years, Mike Ness and crew have released a self-produced album on Epitaph Records. This is the first time the band has taken production into their own hands in their 30+ year career.
Before I go any further, I have to confess that I have been a life long fan of Social D. Sure, I am sure there are a lot of us out there who can say that, it is almost hard not to admit that. I was introduced to Social D at a young age thanks to some cool kids and was hooked ever since. They were one of the bands that helped me identify the genre of music that I liked most – punk rock, however; they were the band that also got me into country and rockabilly. Over the years they were part of the soundtrack to my life and still are to this day. They will be one of those bands that stay with me for the rest of my existence.
So with that said and done, let’s talk about Hard Times & Nursery Rhymes. This is the band’s seventh release in their career and the first on the independent label Epitaph Records. The major difference in this release over all the others is that Mike Ness produced the album himself giving him the opportunity to do things his way for once.
Opening track “Road Zombie” was a two-minute instrumental piece of awesomeness. It was almost like a teaser to any listener who has been waiting seven years for Ness and crew.
A less gritty-sounding Ness sang on the following track entitled “California (Hustle and Flow)”. With female backup vocals that could have fit on any Springsteen track in the past, the track was more rock n roll sounding than I was expecting and honestly, I was impressed. The smooth and easy going track still had that Social D vibe I was hoping for including a certain ball and chain reference. Full of soul and a certain twangy feel made this song even more impressive to listen to.
“Gimmie The Sweet And Lowdown” brought back that sound I was looking for previously. With lyrics that begged to be memorized and a guitar riff that won’t be leaving my mind anytime soon. The gangster “Machine Gun Blues” was a stand-out track thanks to the old school feel with Ness just tearing up his Les Paul on this track towards the end.
“Bakersfield” really paid helm to the country and blues that Ness grew up on with a clear mention of Buck Owens. Whether or not the song was based upon a true story, the ending carried a certain hope of return. The track has been played live for a couple of years now by Ness during his solo tours and by Social D with good reason – it is amazing.
“Writing On The Wall” hinted heavily of Lynyrd Skynyrd (seriously, I was waiting for “Freebird” to interrupt the song), but once I got listening to it I could not help but identify with the heartfelt lyrics like “they say if you love someone you gotta let them go. and if they return to you that’s surely how you’ll know.”
“Can’t Take It With You” was another rock n roll track guaranteed to make you move. As if Ness’ singing was not good enough, throw in some more lively female vocals, barroom piano playing, and just some bad ass guitar jamming to make for one fun song.
Closing up the album was “Still Alive”, a track that almost defined the life of Mike Ness and all that is Social D. This was without a doubt my favorite track off the album. I loved the lyric “and I’m here to make my stand with a guitar in my hand.” Poetic justice at its finest.
Upon my first listen of Hard Times & Nursery Rhymes, I think I was a little too focused on looking for the Social D sound that I had become so accustomed to. I had concerns on how clean the album sounded and not once thought for a moment that maybe this is what Ness wanted to do now that he had full control. After a couple of listens though my opinion changed. Not only did I appreciate the collaboration of references throughout the rock n roll album, but I also dug the lyrics Ness put together; lyrics I intend to grow up with further in my life. The album is solid from start to finish and I doubt there will be many Social D fans out there who will disagree.