The first noticeable change for Hard Times, produced by Ness, is a warmer tone and clearer sound. Some fans were surprised, but don't mistake their concern as an all-out shift. Social Distortion still delivers the characteristic mix of punk rock, country, and Americana.
Social Distortion creates an album with a more consistent upbeat tempo.
California (Hustle and Flow) — with its blues/rock, melody-heavy sound, and female backing vocals — is probably getting the most play. The song owes more than a nod to Keith Richards and the Rolling Stones. Still, the track isn’t the album’s finest moment.
The best track honor belongs to Machine Gun Blues, a feedback-heavy homage to a 1930s gangster. Far Side of Nowhere, which finds Ness looking to break free from predictability and boredom, can also be said to make that claim.
Another notable is Bakersfield, which has been part of the band’s set list for years. It tells an emotional tale of love and forgiveness. Buck Owens and his Buckeroos would be pleased. Owens never received enough mainstream attention, even if he did earn 21 number one hits on the Billboard country music charts.
In addition to the musical shift, Social Distortion has adopted a more mature and polished look. The leather and loose jeans traded up for appearances on shows like Jimmy Kimmel. No harm. The gangster look fits Ness too.
Machine Gun Blues is indicative of the album. Most songs on Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes focus on the down and outer and the survivor, but this time expect a few clichés mixed in.
It might be because so much has changed since Social Distortion first pushed their way into the Los Angeles music scene in the early 1980s. Ness’s high school friend guitarist Dennis Danell died of an aneurysm in 2001, leaving Ness as the sole founding member.
His band mates — guitarist Jonny Wickersham, bassist Brent Harding and drummer David Hidalgo, Jr. — are all solid performers. Yet, it's clear that Ness is the man at the wheel. He has said “I see people bringing their kids to shows. And I see kids bringing their parents.” Of course, that is also another way of saying that the music is still good, but the audience is different.
Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes Hits A 5.7 On the Liquid Hip Richter Scale.
Some fan reviews of Hard Times have been less than kind (especially on Amazon and iTunes) and perhaps it's because some people just don't get it. Seven years is a long time between albums. It's only natural this would be reflected in the band's new album.
Social D still delivers high octane without the need to retread old ground. They are currently on tour in California and Washington (with a jaunt to Reno, Nevada) now through mid February, and then they’ll be heading down under to Australia, back home for a break, and then over to Europe in June. Find the full list on the Social D website or find SocialD1 on Twitter.
Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes has three bonus tracks on the Deluxe version. On Amazon, look for Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes with eleven tracks on the CD or as a Social Distortion MP3 download.