A web search of “Speedbuggy” invariably leads to links for the monumentally unfunny ’70s cartoon, but clicking on any reference to Speedbuggy USA reveals a treasure trove of Americana/roots rock/rockabilly/cowpunk brilliance in the form the longstanding Los Angeles band sharing that unfortunate name. The quintet’s latest album, “South of Bakersfield,” is further proof of their avowed devotion to the title city, as the ghost of Buck Owens and his infinitely gifted Buckaroos reside in Speedbuggy USA’s choice of instrumentation, song subjects and amped adrenaline level.
While the band rightly claims Owens, Merle Haggard and the long history of traditional country as influences, their high octane translation leans toward a more contemporary and electric perspective. The disc kicks off with the one-two punch of “Still Movin’ On” and “1000 Miles from Home,” both sounding like the Bottle Rockets if they’d been enveloped by the Owens/Dwight Yoakam/Bakersfield triangle, with a Henry Paul/Outlaws chaser. Frontman Timbo and the phenomenal Bunny West duet on the love-gone-south electric balladry of “Wrong Side,” while “Rusted Cars” swings and nods toward New Orleans as the band briefly revisits the theme of their 2006 album “The City That God Forgot,” a benefit for Hurricane Katrina victims.
It’s probably a crime to have an album related to Bakersfield that lacks a drinking song, so Speedbuggy USA offers the mule kick weep of “Set ‘Em Up,” a fine addition to the alcohol-fueled canon of country. “South of Bakersfield” finishes with the Woody Guthrie-tinted “Liars, Thieves and Ramblers,” the rollicking and all-too-brief Buckaroo-worthy instrumental “Get Your Wagon Rollin'” and the ostensible title track, “Bakersfield,” a quietly blazing end to a great set.
The album’s backstory makes “South of Bakersfield” even more impressive. After the 2009 release of the live “California Country Revival,” Timbo suffered what should have been a lethal brain aneurysm that blinded and incapacitated him for four months. “South of Bakersfield” is more than a new album. It’s an amazing testament to the resolve of a man to get back to making the music he loves. It gets no better than that.