Billing himself as “the last of the full-grown men,” deep-voiced singer Webb Wilder — who could pass for Johnny Cash’s cousin — specializes in jokey yet groove-solid country rock. If the concepts sometimes threaten to overshadow the content (he also makes long-form videos), Wilder’s appealingly light touch and sense of fun invariably save the day. It’s hard to resist someone whose credo is “Work Hard… Rock Hard… Eat Hard… Sleep Hard… Grow Big… Wear Glasses If You Need ‘Em.”
Ruled by a breezy, who-cares vibe, It Came From Nashville features incisive versions of Steve Earle’s “The Devil’s Right Hand” and the Jerry Lee Lewis classic “Move on Down the Line,” along with such twangy new instrumentals as “Horror Hayride” and “Ruff Rider,” dedicated to tough-guy Broderick Crawford. Guitarist Donny “The Twangler” Roberts struts his stuff with hot licks.
Wilder turns in some commanding vocals on Hybrid Vigor, but producer R.S. Field (who’s worked on every Webb album to date, writes nearly all of the original material and guests on a variety of instruments, yet is never pictured — draw your own conclusions) goes for a heavier, arena-friendly sound that spoils the party. The drums are too loud and the Twangler’s overheated guitars often suggest a hellish metal-country experiment. (Hence the album’s title?)
Happily, all concerned got it right on the swell Doo Dad. Though the production remains emphatic for sure, a warmer vibe tempers any harshness, and Webb swaggers gloriously. The diverse menu includes the rousing boogie of “Tough It Out,” a heart-rending plea for forgiveness in the form of “Everyday (I Kick Myself),” a spiffy display by the Twangler on the instrumental “Sputnik” and, against all odds, an exciting version of the warhorse “Baby Please Don’t Go.” The spirited yet pointless cover of the Electric Prunes “I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)” is probably a warmup for the next album.
Town & Country, a wide-ranging collection of covers, works beautifully. Wilder’s at his authoritative best, doing expected stuff like Waylon Jennings’ “Nashville Bum” and Ray Smith’s rockabilly hit “Rockin’ Little Angel,” then sounding just as swell on the Flamin Groovies’ chilling junkie ode “Slow Death,” the Small Faces’ charming “My Mind’s Eye” and Mott the Hoople’s cornpone “The Original Mixed-Up Kid,” which completes the circle from Nashville to London and back again. All in all, good fun, first note to last.