Wow…talk about paying your dues…Speedbuggy USA is a band that knows what paying dues really means. Let’s start off with a quote:
Speedbuggy USA is back! Accompanying them is their dedication , passion and love for the real heart and soul of country music. ‘The history of American music is an amazing journey from roots, blues, country, and rock,’ said [the band’s singer/guitarist Timbo, ‘There have always been great artists and there always will be. As the great Joe Strummer once said, ‘The future is unwritten.’ Speedbuggy USA is one band that doesn’t take it for granted.
Yeah, OK, any band can say something philosophical like that, and lots of bands do, but it doesn’t really mean much all the time. This time it does. Timbo’s story is nothing short of miraculous and when you know it, it gives South of Bakersfield a completely different spin of meaning.
This is making an undoubtedly much longer and more terrifying story almost insultingly short, but it’s an incredible tale. The band had been hard working and making quite a name for themselves, becoming “one of LA’s preeminent cowpunk bands.” One day Timbo didn’t feel so good so he took a nap. When he woke up, he felt worse. A trip to the hospital revealed an almost certainly fatal brain aneurysm. No one expected him to last the night, but he did. He couldn’t see or walk for four months. But somehow he could still play his guitar and he dove into the self therapy of studying scales. During his recovery, though he could barely see, he wrote two albums worth of material and continued to fight back until eventually he could record again and ultimately get back out on tour with the rest of the band (Seth Von Paulus, Brady Sloan, Christos Hansen, and Gregg McMullen) who’d supported him and stayed together through the ordeal. Timbo’s still fighting for recovery, but after a couple of years he’s back to a point where the band is quite active again.
Now, if you’re going to be a great country act, you’re gonna have to go through a few trials to earn your authenticity. Well, Timbo’s always been one to do it up big, but man, this was taking things a bit far, I’d say!
Anyway, all of that has gone into South of Bakersfield. This is a really fine country record that taps into the sounds of the Bakersfiled themes and other country influences. The one outlier is the tune “Rusted Cars” which conjures up themes of Louisiana and the effects of Hurricane Katrina on that beleaguered area, which is Timbo’s home state. The band donated the profits from their 2006 record The City That God Forgot to the victims of that disaster.
South of Bakersfield is a pretty rockin’ record which is really more roots rock than country, if you ask me, although if you’re looking for high-level general genre descriptions, you would indeed call it country. The Bakersfield influence here is undeniable.
The songs on this record are strongly written and do a great job of storytelling. They set their themes and then drive them home with the most appropriate mood for each. Timbo’s voice sounds great. Sometimes urgent, sometimes tortured, angry, resigned, desperate, at peace…whatever the song calls for. On “Wrong Side” he does a very nice duet with vocalist Bunny West who’s voice complements his quite nicely. It’s a pretty bleak song of heartbreak and love that didn’t quite work out, which of course is a perfect theme for country. “Wish you loved me more than you hate me…Shortcuts and dead ends, stumblin’ and crawlin’…there’s a hole in your heart, a break in the road.” Oh yeah…
There are other lyrics strung throughout the disc that hit you just as hard. “Liars, Thieves and Ramblers” holds one of the strongest punches, especially when you know Timbo’s personal story. It really means something when he sings, “It’s a hard life, it’s a cold life, it’ll knock you blind.” But, true to his real-life form of never giving up, he follows up with the question, “Would you stand with me anyway, would you still be mine?” and finally the invitation, “And these rails are bound for nowhere, jump on board if you care, jump on board if you dare.” And there’s lots more great songwriting like that peppered throughout this entire record.
This is a really good record. I guess I didn’t mention it explicitly, but you’ve probably gathered that it is not a rockabilly record in any sense other than the influences that partially inspired these sounds. Instead, this record is full of meaningful country/roots rock/cowpunk tunes with excellent songwriting, superb musicianship, heartfelt vocals, and wagon loads of atmosphere. And an incredible back story that makes the whole thing ever so much more meaningful and inspiring. I wish nothing but the best for Timbo as he continues his fight for recovery and have nothing but respect for his strength of will along with the dedication and love of his band mates who’ve stuck with him through all and come out the other side with a wonderful record.
My recommendation: If you like country slanted roots rock and that modern Bakersfield sound, you will be happy you picked this one up. And if you like to reward personal dedication and triumph over incredibly horrible odds, then you’ll feel great giving these guys the support they deserve!