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*** MIKE NESS "Cheating at Solitaire"; Time Bomb

April 11, 1999|NATALIE NICHOLS

While honoring such personal American-roots "outlaw" heroes as Hank Williams and Johnny Cash on his solo debut album (due Tuesday), the leader of seminal Orange County punk band Social Distortion continues to examine a favorite theme: What happens when you don't go out in a blaze of glory?

As Ness confesses in the Stonesy anthem "Charmed Life" and the bluesy rocker "Misery Loves Company" (featuring the voice and guitar of modern working-class hero Bruce Springsteen), you may find yourself painfully aware of your sorely neglected inner life, but not quite sure how to move on. His gruff vocal blustering makes these familiar, tough-but-wiser tales ring true, even if his raspy half-whisper on the ballads is an acquired taste.

Ness has outgrown punk posturing, but his songwriting still bears traces of youthful idealism, as in the downright sweet "If You Leave Before Me," a pretty country love song laden with strings and pedal-steel. Aided by Brian Setzer and members of Royal Crown Revue, Ness explores punk's kinship with country, rockabilly and folk, offering among his own rootsy numbers a rockabilly take on Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice" and a lugubrious turn at Williams' "You Win Again." His weathered singing doesn't even approximate Williams' pure high-lonesome, yet the track resonates with beery authenticity.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.

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