Penitentiary Blues

As the liners to this reissue of his 1970 debut note, David Allan Coe’s reputation as a roustabout continues to overshadow recognition for his music. Of course, at the same time that rep has always fed the man’s muse.

On Penitentiary Blues he lays out the brigandry, the hard time and the hard drugs, and what they do to a man’s soul. The music is a roughshod punch of boho Nashville country and jagged electric blues, with grooves serviceable enough to support Coe’s calloused, unblinking lyrics.

In "One Way Ticket to Nowhere" he’s unromantic about prison, but even less so about getting out. He makes the word "cocaine" scary again in the smoldering "Funeral Parlor Blues," and in "Death Row" asks for "the left hind-leg of a black giraffe cooked medium rare" as his last meal, with a shitheel’s sneer.

When Coe lets some soul seep into his vocal, you can tell he laments his life behind bars. But he’s mostly a cocky bastard, laughing mirthfully at the end of "Monkey David Wine" and full of callow pride on the barroom Dylan stomp of "Little David." Musician, bandit or bardic criminal? Whatever the verdict, honesty is the motor on Penitentiary Blues.

Johnny Loftus writes about music for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].

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