After a hiatus of more than six years, L.A.’s Social Distortion returns another incarnation of their signature twangy-but-ever-magnanimous rock ’n’ roll to patiently waiting fans. Instrumental opener “Road Zombie” rings of the familiar gritty tones that sparked our love affair with Social D in the first place. Like past work, this album is reflective, but the first handful of tracks are more temperate than expected. Bluesy “California (Hustle and Flow)” reveals the group’s playful side, but the gospelly lady backup singers were a surprise (we’re still not sure about the idea). “Gimme the Sweet and Lowdown” and “Diamond in the Rough” tiptoe back to the no-bullshit demeanor of their past work, but still seem just a tad too clean — the guitars feel pushed further back and the vocals sanded down. They did justice to Hank Williams’ “Alone and Forsaken,” fortunately, but ultimately the album comes off as over-sanitized. For the Social D fan, it’s a nice reminder that the boys are doing all right, but if you’re wading into their discography for the first time, start from the beginning.
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