If you stop and really think about it, you may be surprised at how few good drinking records you've bought since, say, you completed your conquest of the Doors' catalog in the early '90s. The Siderunners are out to change all that.
The Chicago quintet, comprised of reformed punkers who formerly did business as Sons of the Soil, purveys juke-joint country tunes about drinking gin, bearing crosses and leaving town, pretty much in that order. In the world of the Siderunners, pitfalls include crack-head girlfriends doing the chicken dance, and woe comes in the form of unfaithful lovers giving it away for free in the parking lot behind the bar. Still, every tune is offered up with a grin, because there are more drinks and good times to be had. So much booze is consumed by the parties memorialized on Ain't Inventin' the Wheel that it will make you really, really thirsty.
All the trappings of neon-signed country music are present here: acoustic, electric and pedal steel guitars, dynamite harmonies and honest storytelling. At the heart of the band's formidable talent is the ability to write no-frills house-rockers. What you get certainly doesn't sound original, but it's all tightly played and well written. The lyricist behind track two's "Kick in the Caboose" should be awarded a MacArthur genius grant for rhyming "black stretch pants" with "crack-head chicken dance". "Deep Enough" offers another impressive turn of phrase; the singer laments that he'll have to "sleep with the fishes and the worms playing pinochle down deep underground."
The album's highlight is the barnburner "Due South", in which one of the lead singers (there are two -- Sappy and Nate Van Allen -- and there's no way for newbies to tell them apart), who at his best sounds like Idaho's Jeff Martin (particularly on the album's closing ballad "Walkin' Papers"), tries to convince a stubborn friend to move on with his life. Almost equal in rockage is the dark stomper "Cook County Blue", a dirge written from the point of view of a man doomed to live out his days in that county's prison. Scratchy guitars, lonely piano and the singer's three-packs-a-day cry drive the tune home.
While a country album that smells of stale domestic beer might not necessarily be the next thing you thought you'd throw in the disc changer, the Siderunners make a strong argument here (especially if your disc changer is in a muddy pick-up). Besides, it's about time you bought some new drinking music.