Just like Bubba Sparxxx’s new one, the debut by this beefcake-baritoned Pennsylvania Steelers-fan steelworker’s son (no relation to Donald Duck or Mother Goose) has an Irish jig about mountains. And “Too Wet to Plow” (see: Johnny Shines, 1975) throbs with even more brazen Nashville entendres than Brooks and Dunn going down in memory town. Plus lotsa well-researched Midwest mid-class mid-life mid-management rejuvenilia, a rebellion anthem as dorky as Billy Joel riding his motorcycle in the rain, mawk about crippled kids who can’t play Little League, and a pandering pro-radio closer concluding with the guitarist’s snuck-in allusion to “Radio Radio.”
BIG AL DOWNING
One of a Kind
Talk about mawk. Born an Okie in 1940; raised on the Opry and Fats Domino gumbo; learned piano on a trash-dump find he rescued from becoming firewood for his dozen-sibling gospel-choir family; backed Wanda Jackson; 15 country hits 1979-1989—and two of the more memorable songs here are still called “Hometown America” and “Jesus It’s Only Me Johnny”! But squeaky-clean manners do as much to save this African American’s throwback honky-tonk from mere purity as do familiarity with red-clay soul, Saturday night fish-fry boogie-woogie, and, um, Tony Orlando calypso. Most of it moves with an easy roll, befitting Al’s girth.
HITMAN SAMMY SAM
The Step Daddy
He disses “collard-green-ass niggas” and calls Pastor Troy too country since Augusta ain’t Atlanta, but that doesn’t prevent this alleged vet of seven albums, five prison stints, and 15 gunshot wounds from letting his Smurf-in-space-synthed 22-chrome-thug call-and-response crunk from harking back through Bo Diddley to cottonfield chants. Or, in the case of the genius sociology-as-dancestep single “Step Daddy,” from uniting Frankie Smith, B-Rock & the Bizz, Sanford and Son, “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” and kid voices that make Fannypack sound like schooled pros. In the even funnier remix, their mama comes home.