Country music has become one of the biggest selling genres on the planet in recent years – even if not all listeners admit to their penchant for it. This has led to established musicians from the rock world having a bash at recording their own whiskey-soaked efforts in increasing numbers. And with distinctly varying results. The latest to get in touch with a Nashville vibe is Greg Graffin, frontman of seminal punk act Bad Religion, with his new album ‘Millport’.
It’s immediately clear his efforts are a cut above most of the other chancers to have crossed this genre divide. Opener ’Backroads of my mind’ quickly establishes many of the hallmarks of traditional country rock, with immaculate slide guitars and twanging rustic riffs that ring deliciously. The whole thing is delivered with a conviction and authenticity that will easily get any listener with a passing country interest onside.
’Too Many Virtues’ makes the rustic tones even richer, introducing subtle banjos and bluegrass touches. It also introduces Graffin’s ability to spin a darker take on the down to earth narratives reminiscent of country greats Nelson and Rogers. This continues into the classic 60s rock stylings of ‘Lincoln’s Funeral Train’ with plenty of parallels to the likes of Credence Clearwater Revival. Reverberating guitar lines chug along backing tales of the civil war dripping with folklore.
As things progress we get tracks with a honky-tonk vibe, strings and banjos underpinning the warmth and gravel of the vocal tone. The keys-driven gospel hints of ‘Time Of Need’ craftily sees him conflict a blunt refrain of ‘no religion can help in this time of need’, highlighting a punk outlook at odds with usually bible-loving country stars.
Graffin gets soulful on ballad closer ’Wax Wings’ which harks back to another age. Piano, mandolin, big choral backing vocals and understated guitars all merge to draw the record to a sweeping close.
If you already know you hate country music, this was never likely to be a record for you. However for the open minded there’s a whole lot to love here. Greg Graffin has set the blueprint for rockers going country to follow with respect, integrity and, most importantly, authenticity and charm.
‘Millport’ by Greg Graffin is out now on ANTI-.
Words by Dane Wright (@MrDaneWright)