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More Bad Habits
Ronnie Dawson
Yep Roc Records

Ronnie Dawson always kept it simple: Just pile on the country, dip into the blues every now and then, pretend it's all rock and roll anyway, and play like hell till the lights go out. Man's never even recorded in stereo till now--what's the point of messing with the formula that's worked since 1954, give or take a few missing years here and there? Never bothered him anyway. Not a single record in his catalog--not the old ones he recorded when he was a child, not the newer ones made when he discovered he was getting better as he got older--ever suffered for Dawson's refusal to go kicking and screaming into tomorrow. He's doing just fine in yesterday, a place where child stars never grow old and rock and roll still has the power to change your night, if not the rest of your life. Everything this man touches is action-packed. He's forever young no matter his age, the Last of the Rockers.

And you thought Jerry Lee sold his soul. Ronnie D.'s got more devil in him than Lewis ever imagined. Listen to that voice--still as high as it ever was, filled in with age and experience, but no more worn than if it were brand-new. He hollers from his gut, smiles from his heart, sings from his soul. When he growls, "I'm growing old before my time" on "Toe Up From the Flo Up" this time around, he's gotta be kidding; he's grown younger long after so many of his contemporaries packed it in and stored it in the attic. His rock and roll still sounds as if it were made with trash-can tops and rubber bands, but the music bends, breaks, and bleeds all over the place. Even when Dawson opens the record by claiming he used to be "Good at Being Bad" but changed his ways when the gal of his dreams popped into his life, he still sounds like he's out tomcatting at 3 a.m. Nobody has this much fun making music anymore. Nobody.

Five records into a comeback that never ends, Dawson proves you can write about the basics (drinking and smoking, driving and crashing, whoring and repenting, eating everything he can get his hands on) and still make them seem brand-new. He bops with "Bobwire Betty" ("I dropped 20 dollars on the night we met, and I ain't even tasted her cookin' yet"); gives it to his "Chili Pepper Mama" and makes it sound like Mardi Gras; one-ups Nick Lowe when celebrating a "Bad Habit or Two"; and still manages to sound like a "Rockin' Country Cat" with an up-against-the-wall honky-tonk throwdown. That the last one features an underlying melody that floats like butterflies in the breeze makes it the most peaceful-easy rocker Dawson's ever recorded. But the closer's the kicker: "Party Slab" is nasty jungle rock, loads of chugga-chugga guitar drunk on Thunderbird and hoochie-coochie rhythms. Long live the Blond Bomber. As long as he has a guitar in his hands and a table to jump on, he'll outlive every one of us.

--Robert Wilonsky

 
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