Somewhere Between Heaven And Hell
REVIEW BY: Bruce Rusk
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/21/2005
If the term "punk rock" turns you off, don't shy away from Social Distortion. If you like American roots rock served up hard and fast, Somewhere Between Heaven And Hell is sure to satisfy.
Social Distortion emerged from the fertile SoCal punk scene in the late '70s. Founded and fronted by singer/guitarist Mike Ness, SD took the roots of rockabilly, country, and blues, and created a powerhouse that defies any simple label or genre. Like punk groundbreakers The Ramones, Ness' love of early rock and roll is key to the quality and the appeal of his work. Building on the foundation laid by greats like Elvis, Johnny Cash and Chuck Berry, he injects these influences with searing guitar work and hellfire rhythms without losing the original charm of early rock and roll. He deftly mixes his roots influences with a fresh hardcore sound that breathes new life into his classic covers, and raw power into his original songs.
SD's fourth album, Somewhere Between Heaven And Hell came after a hiatus involving two members leaving and Ness' recovery from heroin addiction. The timing was excellent as the mostly underground psycho-billy music scene was gathering speed across the country. This album stands today as their finest work, and a longstanding favorite that has transcended styles to appeal to a broad range of fans.
"Cold Feelings" opens the album, a turbo-charged blast that sounds like the bastard offspring of Chuck Berry and AD/DC. Next up is "Bad Luck," which has Ness playing his favorite role as the outcast loner, a role he plays to the limit on my favorite track, "99 To Life." This bluesy prison song shows Ness' deep affinity for the work of Johnny Cash in its bleak, regretful memoir of a murdered lover:
"I wish she could be here, Lord if she only could Instead she's layin' in a puddle of blood She was my baby, thought she'd be my wife I killed my baby, I killed her with my knife"
One of the highlights of SD's work is their excellent cover songs. On Somewhere, he rips the lid off the Kitty Wells country classic "Makin' Believe." There's little to be seen of the crooning, low-key original -- Ness' version starts off with him moaning the opening verse over a mass of guitar feedback, then takes off like a hayride to hell, careening along in a full-tilt psychotic frenzy.
Besides all the great songs on this disc, one of the highlights is the amazing guitar work of Dennis Danell, Ness' longtime collaborator. Danell would die at 38 from a brain aneurysm, and this album is a legacy of his extraordinary talent.