The ’90s roots-rock revival has allowed some fine bands to gain a deserved foothold. Others have merely had the good fortune to be swept up in their wake: Georgia’s Dashboard Saviors are of the second variety. While the band was enough of an Athens favorite to be able to enlist Pete Buck, Mike Mills and Vic Chesnutt to play on Kitty, the songs don’t amount to much. Keeping good company is fine, but the Dashboard Saviors are at best a tuneful frat band, with forgettable lyrics and an uneventful style. “Dilettante’s Ball,” for example, shares a pot-smoking high-school memory amid Skynyrd-proud bar-rousing riffs.
With little reliance on the artistic tradition from which they supposedly draw, the quartet sprays out streams of beer-swill rock punctuated by frontman Todd McBride’s raspy vocals-which deliver neither the finality of John Prine nor the desperation of Townes Van Zandt nor even the humor of Todd Snider. Chesnutt sings a lick on Spinnin on Down, as does Marlee MacLeod (a labelmate who used Saviors bassist Rob Veal and drummer John Crist as the rhythm section on her 1995 album, Favorite Ball & Chain); Jack Logan co-wrote “Pawnbroker” with McBride. But for all their southern culture, the Saviors seem to have picked up little of the gothic storytelling tradition that marks their pals’ best work. “Not the Engineer” and “Rand McNally Blues” are the strongest tracks — the band should have stopped there and had itself a dandy single.
The Saviors attempt a sort of transfiguration on Love Sorrow Hatred Madness, including more effective acoustic numbers, but the band’s slow development is frustrating. (See “Watching You,” a painful attempt at mimicking Dylan.) Logan again offers assistance, contributing to “Out in the Back” and the bluesy “Training Wheels.”