Album Review: Hellbound Glory — Damaged Goods
Hellbound Glory just keeps getting better. The Reno-based, self-professed purveyors of “scumbag country” have delivered an album that’s a little smoother around the edges than their previous two releases. Unlike debut release Scumbag Country and last year’s solid Old Highs and New Lows, there is little percussion on the ten song record, but the gravel-voiced frontman Leroy Virgil is in fine, ragged form throughout, snarling “Hey there, bouncer, hit me as hard as you want/This ain’t my first fight in a bar parking lot” on “’Til the Lights Go Out” and spinning stories of hard living and hard luck.
It’s not all bar fights and bastard children, though. Virgil shows off his witty side with “She Left Me in Modesto,” a likeable tale reminiscent of the story found on Clint Black’s 1998 single “Nothin’ but the Taillights,” but with one important twist: “She might have stole my beat-up truck/But I’ve got her credit card.” Though there are no references to dirt roads or any of the other “countrier than thou” signifiers that make up countless contemporary hits, with some slicked-up production and the easy charm of a radio darling like Brad Paisley behind the microphone, “Modesto” would zoom up the mainstream charts thanks to an arrangement tailor made for steering wheel drumming and the aforementioned “twist” ending cooked up by Virgil, who is arguably the most underrated songwriter in roots music these days. His ability to turn a phrase is far beyond his years, and when his words are paired with hook-heavy arrangements, it makes for a supremely enjoyable album. There isn’t a skippable song to be found on the too-short record (it clocks in at a shade over thirty minutes), but if there’s one that demands repeated listening, it’s tough-love tune “You Better Hope You Die Young,” which finds Virgil delivering harsh truths: “You can live your whole life just like there’s no tomorrow/But, baby, here’s a fact/That all them all-nighters are all just time you borrowed/Someday you’ll have to pay them back.”
Its readily apparent musical influences Johnny Paycheck and Merle Haggard will endear this album to fans of ’60s and ‘70s honky tonk, but it’s also raw enough for the alt-country and the Shooter Jennings-helmed XXX movements, and catchy enough for a large chunk of mainstream listeners, Damaged Goods should be the record that catapults Hellbound Glory, though probably not to the top of the charts, at least to the top of several year-end “best of” lists. Not bad for a bunch of so-called scumbags.
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