Album Review – Hellbound Glory’s “Pure Scum”

He’s country, He’s scummy. He’s Leroy Virgil of Hellbound Glory. And if he can’t be famous in country music, then dammit, he’ll be famous in Reno, Nevada. Considered one of the best undiscovered songwriters in country music, Leroy never “made it,” unless you want to count opening for Kid Rock, and pretty much bombing out afterwards. All for the better though, because Leroy Virgil flush with cash is liable to wind up in the gutter or rehab, or worse.

Leroy’s adopted hometown of Reno has always been the unspoken setting or central character of most Hellbound Glory songs, aside from when Virgil toasted his real hometown of Aberdeen, WA—known for Kurt Cobain and a serial killer. But Leroy has never recorded a proper tribute to the “Biggest Little City in the World” that has inspired much of Hellbound Glory’s music, until now.

Pure Scum is like a seedy travelogue down the sticky streets of one of the armpits of America. Instead of trying to apologize or rehabilitate Reno’s poor reputation, Leroy Virgil embraces the stereotypical and derogatory notions of the town, and parades them around as a point of pride. With Hank3 remaining MIA, it’s up to ol’ Leroy to see how far he can take country music across the line of decency, and he’s more than happy to grab that torch and run with it.

What passes for a love song in the world of Hellbound Glory is a stabbing victim pleading with his lover (and the perpetrator) to dial 911 before he bleeds out. The women in Hellbound Glory songs aren’t exactly vessels of virtue. Somehow, they’re often just as unseemly and morally compromised as Leroy. And this is all proffered forward in Leroy’s signature cocksure attitude and bravado. His songwriting hero might be Hank, but his stage hero is Hank Jr. Nobody can command the audience of a 2nd rate casino lounge like Leroy. He is the ultimate dive bar hero.

But if all you focus on is a running tabulation of the misdemeanors and felonies rung up in the ten songs of Pure Scum, you’re missing the deeper message. Behind all the sordid tales is a poeticism for the institutionally lost and disaffected of society, struggling with drug abuse and lack of hope, and finding comfort in the arms of each other like in the song “Someone To Use.” This a slice of the real side of life most songwriters are too scared to sing about.

And this is country music. Leroy promised when the album was first announced it would be his most country yet, and his scummiest. There is no letdown on either of these points. As Leroy illustrates well in the song “Hank Williams Lifestyle,” really this is just a continuance of what the old Hillbilly Shakespeare sang about. Leroy just has the ability to spell it out in scandalous detail without all the allusion that was necessary in the 40’s and 50’s.

It’s true, some of Leroy’s writing doesn’t pop like it did earlier in his career, and Hellbound Glory probably hit their stride when it wasn’t just the songs, but the unique sound they brought to the table in the first two proper records Scumbag Country and Old Highs & New Lows. But there’s still most certainly glimmers of Leroy’s unique brilliance in the songs “Damned Angel,” “Renowhere,” or “Wild Orchid,” while producer Shooter Jennings with a pick up band (mostly Shooter’s touring musicians) do a fine job interpreting Leroy’s Reno tales in the studio setting.

Leroy Virgil is the kind of Outlaw every aspiring country music Outlaw tries to emulate, but they can’t write nearly as well, and are afraid to actually live out the stories past pen and paper. Leroy may never be world-renown, but he’s nothing short of a cult legend, in Reno and beyond. Pure Scum adds a few more marks to the rap sheet, and some more songs to the growing and worthy legacy of the King of Scumbag Country.

1 3/4 Guns Up

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