Listen Up: Wednesday, January 30, 2003
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Willie Heath Neal & the Damned Old Opry

Unknown (Headhunter Records)

By Ken Shimamoto

This Georgia native, who opened a Wreck Room show for Eleven Hundred Springs last week, could be the real bastard son of Johnny Cash. And not just because he appropriates the Man in Black’s trademark boom-chicka-boom rhythm on a coupla tunes here, either.

Neal, a product of foster homes and the U.S. Navy, has played punk gigs in Hong Kong and Singapore and was an upright-bass-for-hire for various rockabilly/psychobilly outfits. But his heart and soul are pure country, filtered through contemporary throwbacks like Steve Earle and Wayne “The Train” Hancock.

Vocally, Neal occupies the same battered and bruised baritone range as Cash and Waylon Jennings (in fact, “The Damsel” is a dead ringer for Jennings’ outlaw classic “Good Hearted Woman”). As a songwriter, he pens lines like “Well, the water is rising, it’s up to my chin / If my heart wasn’t broken, I bet I could swim” (“Rocks In My Pocket”) and “There’s a hole in my shoe, a hole in my soul / A hole in my heart where our love used to grow” (“Fear & Loathing”). It’s quite a stretch for a fella who can sound convincing when testifying to hard living on “Whiskey Stains” to also essay the proud daddy’s anthem “Madelyn’s Song,” but somehow he pulls it off.

If you like tattoos, drink Pabst Blue Ribbon, and wear cowboy boots (and agree with Neal that “Jimmy Buffett fuckin’ sucks”), this one’s for you.


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