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"That leads to people validating in their mind the attitude that something is no longer good if it's raucous or irreverent," Best continues. "That's the original attraction to that kind of music for me, the same kind of attraction you had to punk when you were a kid. It's irreverent. It's just that it's irreverent in a more underhanded way."
Slobberbone is as genuine as Whiskeytown is fake--partly, but not solely, as a result of geography. Best grew up in the sticks (Allen) with his daddy's country albums, went to the city to see punk bands play, and ended up somewhere in between (Denton). The music that resulted is a blend of guitar-heavy rock and roll and country themes (drinkin', cheatin', small-town desperation). It's not the music Best tries to write; it's just what comes out when he sits down with his guitar.
Lately, the band has been leaning more heavily on the rock side of country rock, spurred on by changes in its lineup. In an effort to streamline the band's live sound, fiddle player Scott Danbom was jettisoned, and guitarist Michael Hill later left the band as well.
"It kinda sucks," Best admits. "I still regret it, losing Scott. I don't now, because he's in Centro-matic, the best band in the world. Mike, our other guitar player, he just kind of...The band knew, and he knew. He wasn't much for touring."
These changes allowed the band to enter the studio as a tight trio (second guitarist Jess Barr joined after the album was completed) to record Barrel Chested, its follow-up to Crow Pot Pie (self-released in 1995, rereleased and rerecorded by Doolittle the following year). "Which is just what we needed," Best says. The sound of Barrel Chested adds several other instruments to the mix--dobro, pedal steel, violin--but it still manages to capture the band's sound better than the second version of Crow Pot Pie did.
Doolittle's Crow Pot Pie was a vastly different album from the one the band cut in 1994 with Brutal Juice bassist Sam McCall. The title and some songs remained the same, but the rerecorded version lacked the same back-of-the-bar rowdiness that made the first one so special. If the original Crow Pot Pie was like taking a ride through the backroads of East Texas in a beat-up pickup truck with only a handful of Merle Haggard and AC/DC cassettes, then the re-recorded version was like taking the same trip in a Volvo station wagon.
The reason for the second Crow Pot Pie, Best explains, was that the band had gone through several personnel changes since the original was recorded, leaving only himself and drummer Tony Harper as the remaining members from the McCall sessions. The label and the band wanted to make an album with the then-current lineup, but, Best admits, they went about it the wrong way.
"What I wish we would have done, in hindsight, is take those tracks from the original one and dump them onto a new tape, and recut individual tracks to build a new album," Best muses. "Anytime you rerecord anything, even if it's a song, it's a big second-guess fest. And you couple that with somebody [producer Jeff Cole] who really hasn't known you that long, who has their impression of the first disc and really loves it. They want to capture that same sort of thing, but they want to do it in a real studio with real gear and all that shit."
Barrel Chested is the album the second version of Crow Pot Pie should have been: a tight, ferocious album with punchy production; it's the real follow-up. Best's songs still come from that place somewhere between drinking your problems away and realizing your problem is drinking. Some are quiet and beautiful ("Drunk Little Fists"); others, loud and mean ("Haze of Drink").
Surprisingly, one of the best songs on the album has nothing to do with liquor, women, or blood-covered hands: "Engine Joe" is a bluegrass children's song Best wrote during an aborted attempt to write an entire album of kids' songs, and its inclusion here shows a newfound maturity in his songwriting. The album also includes a couple of the most radio-friendly songs the band has ever recorded, leading to airplay in some strange places.
"In Jackson, Mississippi, they [Doolittle] just noticed for some reason that we started selling all these records out there, and the next week it was more, and then it was like 200 albums a week," Best says. "We were like, 'What the fuck?' The station there put us in heavy rotation. We went out and did the show, and it was just huge. I was trying to figure out what it was. I hadn't realized until we got out there that the station that was playing us was a classic-rock station."
Increased airplay has also meant increased sales. To date, Barrel Chested has sold more than 10,000 copies, a respectable number for a band on an indie label. Added exposure has led to problems, including weirdly scheduled tours to accommodate radio stations and a whole slew of Johnboy-come-latelys who have been flocking to Slobberbone shows based on the band's affiliation with the No Depression set. All the attention has made Best and the band want to retreat into their shells a bit, weed out a few of the spurious fans, and get back on their original track.