Apr
25

Album Review – Hellbound Glory’s “Scumbag Country”

April 25, 2011 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  26 Comments

Leroy Virgil is one of the best songwriters in all of country music right now, and the 2010 album from his band Hellbound Glory called Old Highs and New Lows was good enough to get attention from mainstream news outlets, along with being named Saving Country Music’s 2010 Album of the Year.

Old Highs and Hellbound came into my music world at the same time, so attention for their first major release from 2008, Scumbag Country, got pushed aside for the more up-to-date project. But having recently seen the band at South by Southwest, and experiencing them Live From The Cracker Swamp, it spurned me to go back and really delve into the recorded versions of these songs they were kicking ass with in concert. And I dare say, as much as I’ve showered Old Highs with praise, Scumbag Country might even be better, or at least just as good, which still means it’s grade A, legendary material.

They say you have your whole life to write your first album. That must mean Leroy Virgil can write a lifetime’s worth of good songs in a year. A great album must have hits, and it must be solid throughout. It must be fun to listen to, but also hit you deep and be done with soul. It must have some spice: a degree of diversity to keep each song fresh to the ear and impactful to the mind. And to be a great album, not just good, it must be truly original, and when you dig deep in it, convey a theme. With Scumbag Country, it is check, check, check, check, and check!

Good picking and playing helps too of course, and this album has plenty of that evidenced in the first four high tempo songs that come at you like a bull out of the gate. If you’re going to write a theme song for your band dammit, it better be good, and that is exactly what the song “Hellbound Glory” is. Though Leroy Virgil and the boys might be best known for excellent songwriting conveyed with a Waylon-like approach to country, I hear a lot of Jerry Reed in Scumbag Country. Waylon made his hay in half time. Jerry did it in double. And with parallel double lead guitar lines like can be found in the very fun songs “Hello Five-O” and “Chico’s Train”, Leroy proves he’s studied country in all it’s forms, and he defies any pigeonholing.

And just when you you think this album is going to be all up-tempo, rowdy songs with screaming guitar licks, here comes possibly the best Hellbound Glory song ever, “The Ballad of Scumbag Country”, slowed down, deep fried, smothered and covered in soul. Great albums are smart in how they approach song order, and the way the first four songs set the table for this ballad is brilliant.

Songs like “Livin’ This Way”, “I’ll Be Your Rock (At Rock Bottom)” are superb in their own right, though naysayer might point out that they work in the very classic mold of “songwriter” country songs: taking a line and then folding it back in on itself for the appeal of irony. When it’s done right, it should always be enjoyed. When it’s all that a songwriter can do, it becomes exposed. Leroy Virgil, with a song like “The Ballad of Scumbag Country” proves he can work without a net, without a formula, and still give the song impact in the heart of the listener.

Scumbag Country‘s songs are always honest, never bombastic, even though they may hold a lot of bravado. That balance is not easy. I swear it seems like on every album, even the great ones, there’s one song I just can’t like, and “Get Your Shit And Go” is the one from this album. I guess this is why God created the fast forward button. Some purists might grumble at “Are You Sure Hank Done It Their Way”, but to the respect of Hellbound Glory, Waylon is given full credit for the song, and I think the intention of the song is pure.

Just like Old Highs, Scumbag Country is superbly recorded and produced, without the flubby, homespun feel that may hold other projects back in the eyes of the wider public. Once again Leroy Virgil proves he is a multi-dimensional artist by being able to play the producer’s role with his own songs better than anyone else could for him. I wouldn’t second guess any decision on this album, and fellow Hellbound members Chico Kortan (drums), Johnny Fingers (lead guitar), Frank Median (bass), and Adam Jaffe (pedal steel and banjo) do an excellent job fleshing out Leroy’s vision.

What else can I say except for that if you liked Old Highs and New Lows, then Scumbag Country is essential. And though the drug references are here, they are not as prevalent as in Old Highs, which in the end might even make this album more accessible.

Two guns way up!

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Preview Tracks and purchase Scumbag Country from Amazon

Scumbag Country on Vinyl (in limited quantities)

Scumbag Country can also be purchased directly from Hellbound Glory at hellboundglory.com

26 Comments to “Album Review – Hellbound Glory’s “Scumbag Country””

  • truly classic album, feel like i been listenin to it my whole life but its only been a coupla years. now i’m waitin on what comes next and wonderin where it might take them.

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  • I actually think this one is better over all. Leroy Virgil is the man! Wish I could get him to come to AZ.

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  • I do like this album better than Old Highs and New Lows. The Ballad of Scumbag Country,I’ll Be Your Rock (At Rock Bottom), and I Can’t Say I’ll Change are classics.

    Get Your Shit and Go is the ultimate “fuck you bitch” song in my book.

    Love Hellbound Glory and I can’t wait to see them this year sometime.

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  • I’m glad you decided to go ahead and do a review of this album Triggerman. Hellbound Glory is an amazing band, and while I do prefer the new album, it’s only by a little bit. I was just listening to this yesterday, and I was struck by how good “Can’t Say I’ll Change” is! That says to me that even after almost two years there’s still new surprises on this album. My vinyl of “Scumbag Country” should be arriving any day, and I can’t wait to drive my neighbors crazy crankin’ it! Great review man!

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  • Is feudin’ on this album trigg?

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    • No, Feudin’ is an as-of-yet unreleased track. A damn fine one at that.

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  • Oh thanks i have fell in love with that song its a badass song.

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  • One of the albums that got me into the underground country movement, such a classic. Is there any news as to whether or not HG will be releasing an album in 2011? Also, a bit off topic but what genre does Leroys eXcavators project fall under?

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    • I think the plan is to release a new album on Rusty Knuckles sometime this year. The EXcavators from what I understand is still country, but it is a little more stripped down, more singer/songwriter with a smaller band. We’ll have to just wait and see.

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      • The eXcavators opened for Hellbound in Cookeville and that is exactly how I would describe them Trigger. I really enjoyed it.

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  • Has anybody gotten the vinyl off of Amazon? I ordered it but I can’t get it in.

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    • I had to cancel my Vinyl order from amazon. I waited about two weeks and they still hadn’t shipped it. I got a copy from a site called aural elpoits for about $8 (includes a copy of scumbag on cd packed in) plus shipping. Vinyl looks nice too. Clear orange with black swirls.

      Just Checked, Looks like aural exploits is out (backordered).

      Did find four copies here

      http://www.oldies.com/product-view/16725V.html

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      • Thanks Nathan! Ordered one from Oldies.

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    • I had the exact same problem with amazon, and I ordered mine from that link, oldies.com. It hasn’t arrived yet, but it DID ship, so that’s nice.

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  • Yep, the Excavators is just more stripped down and acoustic. It’s Leroy on vocals and guitar, Frank on Bass and Erik on lap steel. Check out this video for one of their new songs:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ro6v_0cmxjA&feature=channel_video_title

    Just met up with the fellas in Reno the other night and we are going over the plans for the new album, tentatively slated for street date of late October to coincide with our big new music fests and their European tour.

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    • Right on! Sounds like there’s a lot to look forward to!

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  • I too prefer this album, but just by an ants pubic hair. They both are so awesome, it’s hard to imagine my musical rotation not including both regularly.

    Long live Leroy, the new king of country as far as I am concerned.

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  • Great review and as fair as ever. Been listening to both over the past few days and really can’t split them. Both right up their.

    Also good to hear that a European Tour is on the cards. Here’s hoping it includes the UK.

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  • The album is pretty solid, but it certainly doesn’t evade the formulaic trap that a lot of these “punk dudes who discover country” fall into.

    Honestly, I love the musicianship, but the lyrics and vocals are just too cliche and hard to swallow. Chances are if you call yourself a scumbag, you really aren’t one. Just sayin’

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    • Alot of artist fall into that trap. These guys are different though. (I’m guessing they arent scumbags, Thats a positive though.)

      I will disagree with trig a little. “Get Youre Shit and Go” is one of my favorite tracks from Hellbound Glory.

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    • Perhaps on first listen, but listen again. The topics are the same old same old in underground country today, but Leroy’s approach is very different. Having met the band, I can say they are definitely NOT scumbags. But Leroy DOES sing about what he knows.

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    • I don’t have Leroy Virgil’s biography right here in front of me, but from listening to interviews and hanging out with him numerous times, I do not get the impression he was ever in punk bands, ever listened to punk music more than the average American, or “discovered” country post punk. I may be wrong about that, but when you meet him, the man is very genuine, and very country. I think you have to be to write the kind of songs he does.

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      • Agreed. He plays Waylon, Jr., Cash, Paycheck, etc. covers. What song do you see a punk influence?

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        • I could see how someone who’s into the Waco Brothers could also be into these guys. I am. Doesn’t necessarily mean that Hellbound Glory’s roots are in punk music, like Waco Brother Jon Langford’s are. Then again, great punk rock is synonymous with great rock ‘n’ roll, IMO. And Hellbound Glory can definitely rock.

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      • He was in rock bands way back in Washington, but not punk.

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        • Leroy has plenty of country “street cred” (not really sure why that is important anyway). He grew up in rural Washington state, his dad was an oyster farmer and he was raised on real country music. No punk. Like Aran said, he was in a rock band in high school.

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