Weren't rock'n'rollers supposed to die before they got old at one time or some such malarkey? Clearly no-one bothered to tell the members of country-cowpunk-rock'n'roll trailblazers Jason & The Scorchers, for over two decades after they were scaring the living bejaysus outta the Grand Ole Opry purists down in Nashville and challenging the likes of Gram Parsons for elbow room in the roots crossover pantheon they seem to be busier than sodding ever.
Christ, just reading Scorchers' guitarist WARNER.E. HODGES' recent itinerary is enough to have this writer's head spinning. In the run up to this debut solo album he's done a solo acoustic tour, undertaken a short UK tour with the re-animated version of Jason & The Scorchers and followed that up with a more extensive UK tour with producer Dan Baird & Homemade Sin. Oh, and in case he's worried about the remote possibility of gathering moss some time in the next decade he's also taken on lead guitar duties with promising Nashville newcomer Stacie Collins. He is a living amalgam of Keith Richards and Bob Pollard and his energy makes this reviewer very envious indeed.
Actually, the Keef analogy's relevant enough, for Hodges is a man who knows how to bash the living shit out of the blunt end of a Fender Telecaster in the best possible way. Even without clapping eyes on him, it's plain that he's a living showman and that stepping into the centre stage spot previously reserved for Jason Ringenberg isn't gonna faze him one bit. His debut solo album 'Centerline' immediately finds him duelling with co-guitarist (and ex-Georgia Satellites mainstay) Dan Baird on the opening salvo of 'Gimme, Gimme' and 'Whole Lotta Fun', and it's soon clear we're in for a fun-packed ride of bitten-off, Keefchord-y riffing and ultra-immediate choruses: all topped off with liberal helpings of southern-fried boogie and Hodges' no-nonsense blue collar howl.
Much of what follows proves the prognosis to be true. Tunes like 'Hell To Pay' and the crunching ' Air That I Breathe' are thrusting, four-square rockers that proceed to spit volatile melody like bootleg firewater all over the shop; the niggly and tense 'How It's Gonna Be' ("I've been up all night/ didn't sleep for shit") grouches and grumps and finally delivers a full-on, nostril-flarin' chorus and while the Fabulous Thunderbirds' cover 'She's Tuff' may be about as PC as a Nuremburg rally it gives Hodges a chance to let loose several truly evil cackles and a supremely blazing guitar solo to take it home. Neither of which are bad things, believe me.
Of course it's not all lunkhead riffing and bar room brawlers, for a couple of the album's finest moments come when they ease off the throttle and let the vulnerability bleed a little. To this end, check the spangly, almost Byrds-y take of Merle Haggard's 'Branded Man' (where Warner duets with Stacie Collins) and the plangent, country-folk ballad 'Time Marches On' which is a soul-baring shuffle with Hodges and Baird showing off their finger picking skills and some warm and welcome organ leaking into the mix.
A southern gent to the end, Hodges closes the album by coming full circle and paying tribute to Jason Ringenberg with a beautifully poised and (sorry, but it's true) Stones-y cruise through Scorchers' standard 'Harvest Moon'. It is, naturally, dispatched with love and power to spare and serves notice that into his third professional decade, Warner E. Hodges is only now getting his creative second wind. Phew. Clearly, thinking about y'all fading away is not on his agenda for some years to come.