Album Review – Rattlesnake Milk (Self-Titled)

Take yourself on a little trip to the dark side of country—the underground as it’s sometimes called—where the ambition is low, any plan completely absent, but the music is powerful and invigorating, uninhibited by style or scene or trend, true to itself, and tremendously potent. This is the world of Austin, TX’s Rattlesnake Milk.

Mashing together influences from traditional country, underground punk, and old-school garage surf, Rattlesnake Milk is unrefined, purposely unpolished, poorly-presented, completely unfit for primetime, and a powerful force of underground roots music perfect for getting lost in and cranking up loud. Rattlesnake Milk is the kind of dangerous and cool that all those rich kids in Americana love to fancy themselves as, but don’t have the courage to pull off in this raw, unbridled form. This is the music of the cotton rows and concrete bunkers, festering in the shadows, and forced into the alleys for the select few willing to dig a little deeper to eventually find and take ownership in as an unearthed gem.

What or who is Rattlesnake Milk? There’s no real definitive answers, aside from the joint appears to have formed in Lubbock, TX about 2012 around a singer named Lou Lewis who made some crude demo recordings while farming cotton, eventually forming a band with fellow Lubbock residents Zach Davis, Andrew Chavez and Brad Ivy, playing shows randomly, sometimes uninvited, and often unannounced, taking on a form more akin to an apparition than an actual band.

Soon Rattlesnake Milk were semi cult famous smack dab in the middle of nowhere, and to underscore their headlong commitment to remaining completely anonymous outside of seedy bars in dusty West Texas, they released their first record Snake, Rattle, and Roll solely on cassette tape. Yep, you had to run down a Walkman if you wanted to listen … though eventually the record did end up on Bandcamp, and slowly made its way to other corners of the internet as well.

At some point, maybe around 2015, parts and pieces of Rattlesnake Milk ended up in Austin, and the band went through some personnel changes, adding drummer Corey “Chencho” Alvarez and bassist Erik Pawlak, playing one-off shows here and there, often promoted with posters much more akin to the street art of the punk world. Eventually the band partnered with producer Danny Reisch, and recorded this self-titled record, initially released on the vinyl-only label Feels So Good Records.

Normally you would pan a project for sounding this poor. And make no mistake, that’s been the regular practice here at Saving Country Music. But this Rattlesnake Milk record is the exception, not the rule. Sounding like it’s oozing out of a first-generation AM transistor radio in an oil-lit shack, the songs are harrowing tales of travel, treachery, thievery, sorrow, all squeezed through a straightforward four-piece setup mixed in mono, punctuated by primal howls and ripping guitar solos, all written to fit the Dust Bowl period.

This record is like a time portal. It’s early pre-punk garage rock meets Hank Williams, and both George Jones fans and devotees of The Cramps will find something they can crave over. But despite the scratchiness of the recordings, the melodies and songs are all structurally tight, and the writing is of remarkable quality when you really listen.

Rambunctious as punk-inspired rockabilly, but with the soul of the sincerest country songwriting, Rattlesnake Milk fills a unique space in country music you never knew existed, but now you want much more of.

1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)

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