Hard-luck stories

Call it "rockabilly" or "honky-tonk," just don’t call it "alt-country." Social Distortion’s Mike Ness has been digging into his working-class musical heritage since SD’s punk days. Yet, it was on his solo debut last year, Cheating at Solitaire, that he came out of the roots-rock closet, paying homage to both Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash along the way, with genuine respect and a lack of ‘90s omnipresent irony.

On Under the Influence, he tips the hat and dips in the well again, covering 13 unlucky tales of beers, tears, bad women and worse poker hands. Knee-deep in tradition and playing straight as whiskey – complete with steel guitar and fiddle – Ness does standards by such legends as Carl Perkins and Hank Williams, but the real strength here is in the mostly forgotten gems from his record collection.

In all, it’s an earnest tribute that would make his heroes proud. Only his take on Bobby Fuller’s "I Fought the Law" falls flat against the original. But Ness makes good with a honky-tonk cover of Social Distortion’s own "Ball and Chain," completing a record as appealing to punks as it is to purists.

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