Music Reviews
Close to Home

Chuck Mead Close to Home

(Plowboy Records) Rating - 7/10

“Did that sound drunk enough?”

If there’s one singularly underappreciated and unrecognized genre in American music, at least since the turn of the 21st century, it’s rockabilly. A fusion of sockhopped rock ‘n’ roll and barn-burning country western, rockabilly rose to prominence during the baby boomer years thanks to the visionary mind of producer Samuel Cornelius Phillips and trailblazing work of Carl Perkins, Link Wray, and Bill Flagg, among many others. It’s a genre that prides itself on having no frills, on sounding exactly what you expect it to sound like when someone describes it to you. In this sense, it was very much a precursor to garage rock and, more notably, punk rock-- both in its ideological attitudes and aesthetic appeal. Though the style itself hasn’t been deeply prevalent in our cultural soundscape since its revival in the late 70s and early 80s with acts like The Stray Cats and Robert Gordon, traces of its DNA can be felt in all modern guitar-driven music. The legacy of rockabilly, and older rock ‘n’ roll in general, is best understood as primordial; it is a genre so consequential, so innate to our idea of rock stardom, that it seems like it was there before the dawn of time.

BR5-49 (themselves a flag bearer for the country-rock of yesteryear) frontman Chuck Mead understands this better than most other contemporary country artists, and his mission is clear on Close to Home: keep rockabilly chugging along as a viable musical idea, all the way down to the tape echo. Every track here, in classic rockabilly fashion, gives you exactly what you came for, with a few surprises. Take track five, for example, Daddy Worked the Pole, a definite standout. It rips like Wray, grooves like Fats Domino, and twangs like Perkins, but Mead isn’t afraid to throw a little of his own jaded humor into its lyrics. The song details an amateur drummer who marries a truckstop stripper and becomes an electrical lineman, to work the pole “so she doesn’t have to.” But the song concludes with a role reversal, as he re-joins his band and she heads back to stripping so he doesn’t have to work it-- all while Mead’s band tears it up in the background. And I’d be neglectful not to highlight Big Bear, Home’s opening track. It’s a terrific start and should earn the attention of any fresh listener with its snappy, surfy, Rickenbacker-sounding riffs and slick drumming. Any song that can use a line like “a big bear in the skyyyy as the refrain and not have it come across as corny gets a bump from me.

On a song-by-song basis, this is a consistently solid album. Though on a personal level, I find that by the time I get towards the end of it (e.g., track ten, Shake), the rockabilly aesthetic that Mead so obviously thrives on begins to lose its flavor-- I’ve had my fill by that point. But if you’re someone who’s desperately pining for some new music that brings the Sun Records sound to the forefront and does it justice, and you somehow haven’t had this on your radar, it should absolutely be the next thing you listen to.