These California cow-punks are less concerned with revering C&W icons than trashing them at a furious pace: Blood on the Saddle’s idea of country is Hank Williams OD-ing in the back of his car; their western, that of spaghetti flicks. On the quartet’s first album, ragged harmonies, yodelled vocals and the slap of stand-up bass lend authenticity, making the record a rodeo where even the horses are doing speed. One of the band’s three lead singers, ex-Bangle Annette Zilinskas, vocalizes on the best songs, including “Do You Want to Dance?” and “(I Wish I Was a) Single Girl (Again),” where she sounds like a real down-home country singer trying to stay straight while her band, out of control, beats her to the finish.
Poison Love refines the group’s stylistic balance, clarifying the energetic country-rock side while reducing the first album’s more wanton rock impulses. The resulting cross-breed is easygoing and colorful, a post-adolescent barn dance with enough electricity to make a deep impression and enough credible cultural resonance to survive the style-mongering. Zilinskas and guitarist/banjo-picker Greg Davis both bring more enthusiasm than skill to the microphone, but their delivery (better solo than their X-like harmonies) is perfectly adequate for kick-up-your-heels songs like “Police Siren,” “Steal You Away” and “Promise Your Heart to Me.” Slow numbers like “Johnny’s at the Fair” and speeders like “Colt 45,” however, elude the band’s grasp.
With one acoustic rest period, the band’s blood runs hotter on the third album, an uneven race with the devil that uses flat-out tempos on hard-rocking originals related to country music more by structural inspiration than content. (Indicative of the shifting personality, covers of “Rawhide” and “Folsom Prison Blues” are crazed but bland, hand-me-downs that no longer fit.) As a singer, Davis thrives in this exciting environment, but Zilinskas’ efforts to keep pace with the charging rhythms and skillet-licking solos strip the twangy character from her voice.