Black background with words Hellroys with fire coming out of the word Hell and under that the words Dumb Country noise and remastered in parentheses

December turned out to be a rough month for me in terms of getting out to see some shows. I guess I just picked up the holiday laziness. So on Christmas Eve I found myself looking through the archives of albums that local acts have asked me to review to see if I had missed anything interesting. The pickings were slim -- a couple of mediocre punk albums, a jam band live recording (god help us), and a well-financed folk-country disc which had a nasty habit of referencing whippoorwills. There was also a pretty decent metal demo, but I worry that reviewing demos would make me seem desperate.

So I was all set to write up a lame “songs to retire in 2018” column when I came across Dumb Country Noise, a three or so year old recording by the absurdist rockabilly/country act the Hellroys. Oh hell, I thought, I remember this. I also remembered that I had told these guys I was going to review this three years ago and totally spaced on it. So with my apologies, here is the review three years too late. I sincerely hope you are still together (your website seems current) and that you haven’t released eight other albums in the meantime.

In order to adequately describe the Hellroys, I had to make up my own genre: “absurdist rockabilly/country” (“Ab-Roc” for short). Ab-Roc is achieved when a rockabilly/country band adopts for their persona an outrageously exaggerated stereotype of trailer park living. It’s a style which has been indulged in by the Drive By Truckers (“Bulldozers and Dirt”) and Todd Snyder (“Double Wide Blues”), and has constituted the entire career of Southern Culture on the Skids and Cleetus T. Judd. Modern Nashville country has also popped out a few ambiguous gems, which the listener can choose take seriously or not (see, e.g. Toby Keith’s “Trailerhood”).

Musically speaking, the Hellroys are half rockabilly rage and half insincere ballad, along with some tasty guitar leads. Lyrically…well, let’s just be upfront about it – they can be offensive beyond belief. The first song on the album is “Conjoined Siamese Twin,” a tune about dumping one conjoined Siamese twin in order to begin a relationship with the other one (“[t]his here doesn’t count as a threesome, this here thing is just a her and me-some”). And let’s say it gets a little, ummm, graphic. The first time I heard it I laughed so hard I spit out the beer I was drinking. I then immediately felt like a terrible human being for laughing.

Track 2, “Wedding at Walmart” is self-explanatory: “[b]aby I know a guy, he works in pet supplies, he’s a reverend of some sort; he gonna marry us in style in the kitty litter aisle, it won’t stand up in court”). These guys are fucking poets.

The third track, the magnificent “Outlaws Don’t Read,” is a middle finger to all the communists who insisted we gain literacy: “[i]f you’re reading books you might as well just wear a dress.” The narrator notes that Herman Melville is a sucker, and declares that he would get divorced before he would read his wife’s tattoo. He doesn’t care, he’s an outlaw baby. It brings to mind the old Mark Twain attribution that a person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read. Mark Twain would probably have enjoyed the Hellroys.

Track 4, “Cut off My Hand.” Oh where to start. Our friend cuts off his hand so he can sit at home and draw workers’ compensation, only to discover that his job requires the use of one hand. There is probably a lesson to be had here, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Next we come to “She Tweeted Herself,” an exploration of the existential funk of the jilted lover. In this case, however, the jilter has added insult to injury by posting intimate pictures of herself on the internet to celebrate her new freedom. Sometimes man, you just got to let her go.

Track 6, “Put the Hammer Down,” celebrates hardware store vigilantism. Our crusader springs into action when the liquor store cashier “gave me the wrong change man, she done it twice before.” Sadly his hammer heroics are cut short by Sheriff Brown, who shoots him. Again, there may be a lesson here somewhere.

The Hellroys are the musical equivalent of watching “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” – you laugh, you feel deep shame, and then you laugh again. The album contains just seven songs, but it somehow feels right. There isn’t any filler; it’s just full speed ahead dirty joke from start to finish. The last track is probably the weakest of the bunch, but it offers this coda: “[y]ou sold the car to get gas money; you don’t even understand why that’s funny.”

If you don’t understand why the Hellroys are funny, you probably never will. 

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