This newest album by the resurgent ‘80s “punktry” group Social Distortion comes in two versions, regular and deluxe, the former containing 11 and the latter 14 songs.

Times and styles change, and bands themselves evolve. Frontman Mike Ness has forged a solo career, and this album reflects his delving heavily into what he calls “roots” music, mostly good ol’ country and western with an added element of blues.

A lightning-fast, two minute instrumental overture titled “Road Zombie” starts the set with twangy guitar showmanship followed by bluesy, auto-biographical “California (Hustle And Flow).”

“Gimme The Sweet And Low,” “Diamond In The Rough” and “Far Side Of Nowhere” are each in the melodious country-rock style into which Ness lately crosses over. “Machine Gun Blues” rises to a symphonic level, with retro-themed lyrics and a cinematic narrative. “Bakersfield” is a six-minute magnum opus in the form of a lament for a faraway gal containing a Johnny Cash-style, spoken-word confession of obsessive desire for her company.

“Alone And Forsaken” is a minor-key, dark Gothic poem in the “cemetery-and-western” mode that is just beneath the surface of much of Ness’ works.

“Can’t Take It With You,” a clichéd piece of pseudo-gospel nonsense, far below the musical standards of the group, should not have been included in this album. Otherwise the rest are great retrospective of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle—utterly sincere, with equal doses of regret, honesty and the personal tenacity characteristic of Ness’s late, auto-biographical works.

In A Phrase: True To Form

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