CD Review of Hee Haw Hell by Dash Rip Rock

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Hee Haw Hell
starstarstarhalf starno star Label: Alternative Tentacles
Released: 2007
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Dash Rip Rock’s been bumming around as a band since 1984, providing a blend of Southern roots-rock and old-school rockabilly that puts them right next to Southern Culture on the Skids in the category of Bands Most Likely To Provide You With a Hootin’ and Hollerin’ Good Concert Experience. Unfortunately, despite continuing to release new studio albums every few years, the band has never really risen above a cult profile, an issue that hasn’t exactly been aided by the fact that each of its last five releases has come out on a different label. With Hee Haw Hell, not only has Dash Rip Rock managed to settle in for a second album with Virus/Alternative Tentacles, but they’ve also delivered…wait for it…a country-punk concept album. And it’s not just any old concept, either: it’s based on a rather high-falutin’ literary work, taking its inspiration from the “Inferno” portion of Dante’s The Divine Comedy.

You can’t blame Dash Rip Rock for giving a concept album a try. You can easily envision a scene where the boys in the band spend a Saturday night sitting around their practice space, drinking beer and listening to the Drive By Truckers’ Southern Rock Opera, then throwing their empties at the stereo, yelling, “Motherfuckers, we invented Southern alt-rock!” The next logical step (after another couple of six-packs) would be for the band to scrawl out a drunken plan to top the Truckers – and when you hear “Southern Rain,” you’ll be impressed at how well they’ve succeeded.

Fans of the band will immediately discover that Hee Haw Hell is another no-holds-barred, highly un-PC extravaganza. “MOAF” takes a familiar acronym from the “American Pie” flicks and takes it to the next level (“She’s got a real fine ass / She’s a hell of a fucker / As a matter of fact / She’s the mother of all fuckers”), and while there are probably already enough songs entitled “If You See Kay” (the Poster Children did one, as did April Wine and R. Stevie Moore), but Dash Rip Rock’s entry is a damned catchy one. In fact, most of the songs stick with you for the long haul; in particular, “Friendly Fire” is a good approximation of how the Connells would sound if they’d only try to rock a little harder. If there’s anything on the album that sounds like a blatant bid for airplay, it’s the cover of “Man of Constant Sorrow,” but it certainly can’t be argued that the band’s subdued their sound any on their version.

Unfortunately, while the good news is that the songs themselves kick ass far more often than not, the bad news is that the sequences which string the album together – spoken word segments that ostensibly aid in the maintaining of the concept – are the sort of tracks that your CD player’s program button – or, for our more tech-savvy readers, selective downloading – were designed for. Given that Dash Rip Rock has brought in special guest stars to perform portions of the narration – including Bill Lloyd and Mojo Nixon, as well as the owner of their label (a.k.a. one J. Biafra) – this is a real shame, but the segments prove to be nothing but an annoying distraction from the tunes. It’s, like, dudes, you are totally killing the flow here! For what it’s worth, of those guest stars, the only one with more than a line or two is Nixon, who, in his guise of Beezelbubba, offers a rambling, obscene diatribe over a Southern-fried version of Vangelis’ “Chariots of Fire” (renamed “Chariots of Hellfire” for the occasion). It’s probably supposed to be funny, but it gradually grows so graphic that you’re soon praying for it to end.

Buried within Hee Haw Hell is a collection of songs that, had they been presented consecutively, would’ve verged on hitting the lofty and rarely achieved five-star rating. It might seem harsh to dock an album’s rating so dramatically when its duff bits only account for about eight minutes of its 37-minute run time, but when you consider that we’re declaring half the tracks on the album to be unnecessary, perhaps it’ll seem a bit more fair.

~Will Harris