• Famous
  • Light, Sweet Crude (Leading Brand) 2004 

Bridging the gap between classic country and punk rock is no longer a radical idea; X and Social Distortion long ago proved that both genres have more in common than purists of either style would care to admit. Formed in San Francisco in 2003 by vocalist-guitarist-percussionist Laurence Scott and guitarist-bassist Victor Barclay, the Famous (not to be confused with an East Coast rock band of the same name) successfully combine the transcendent roar of punk with the brutal honesty and black wit of traditional country on Light, Sweet Crude. The Famous dip their toes in the psychotic anguish of the Pixies and the lovelorn narratives of Hank Williams Senior without going overboard on either. The record is a surprisingly balanced fusion of the group’s influences; none of it feels contrived or sounds like a marketing gimmick. “Tear” and “Get You Back” are midnight confessions of heartache with such darkly humorous revelations as, “I’m so mad / I curse at the TV.” Driven by Scott’s penetrating growl and Barclay’s gritty riffs, “Get You Back” is either a song of vengeance or an optimistic view of reconciliation; it all depends on how much whiskey you’ve swallowed. For the most part, Scott’s vocals more closely resembles Michael Stipe’s than Johnny Cash’s, but there is no doubting the authenticity of his country affections, best exemplified on “Overtime,” the only track on the album without any modern-rock touches. The Famous aren’t afraid of expanding the boundaries of Americana — the serrated, metallic guitars of the opening rocker “Son of the Snake” and the spellbinding surf groove of “Midway” venture beyond the usual perimeter of roots-rock. Their deep-seated knowledge of what makes country and punk work as separate entities have given them a high level of confidence and skill to pull them together without force, enough to make their first record a knockout punch to the chin.

[Michael Sutton]