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Better Off Dead - Girls, Guns and Money

Gangland Records

28 tracks/78 minutes

At a time when many recordings struggle to have three or four memorable songs included, Better off Dead sets the bar high by proving that it is possible to write a batch of strong material. In fact, they give you the equivalent of two discs worth of songs on this exciting new release filled with humor, swinging rhythms and plenty of rockin’ guitar riffs.
Hailing from New Jersey, the band features V.D. King and Don Kenny on guitars and vocals, Mike Kenny on drums, Art Zo on bass and Tim Cassidy on harmonica. Additional musicians include Mike Lattrell and Dona Oxford on keyboards and Jim Davis on saxophone. King wrote all of the songs except for Lyle Lovett’s “God Will”.

The gatefold packaging on the disc does a great job of establishing the musical theme. It sports film noir-style drawings of femme fatales in scanty clothing, guns in hand and ready for trouble. From there, the band takes listeners down a trail of broken hearts, through betrayal and alcoholic haze, taking a hard look at the travails of the human heart.

The chugging rhythm of the opening cut, “Twister in a Trailer Park” finds King warning about the effects of “.. the funnel of love.” over Lattrell’s pumping piano. Next up is “Bad Credit”, a Tex-Mex tribute to the late Doug Sahm featuring an unaccredited accordion part. King it clear that women take a distant second to his cool ride, warning everyone not to mess with his “Yellow Cadillac”, punctuated by a taut guitar solo.

The band rocks hard on “Back to Memphis” before slipping into a slinky rockabilly mode for “Kitten”. On “Mind to Leave You”, King laments that he wants to run away but his woman’s body keeps making him stay. The track has a smoky, late-night feel and Davis wails away on his sax to really capture the mood. Cassidy blows a red-hot harp solo on “Porn Star”, a song dedicated to Candye Kane. The driving pulse of “If I Can Quit Drinkin’” finds King wondering why he can easily swear off alcohol but finds it so hard to give up on a bad woman.

The grinding pace of “When My Troubles Began” is the perfect backdrop for this tale of a cheating woman and the track features some fine slide guitar. Another highlight is the ballad “One More Time”, sporting some great harmony vocals and sounding remarkably like the J. Geils Band from their classic period. “Never Let You Down” is another cut that steadily builds the emotional impact over swirling organ chords and a soaring guitar solo. There are also country-tinged tracks, like the hard-driving trucker tune “500 Miles”. And many people will easily relate to the sentiments expressed on “I Ain’t Gonna Change”, where the singer states he is not some house that can be rearranged.

It is a remarkable achievement that King was able to pen such a large batch of songs in a variety of musical styles and somehow manages to make almost every one memorable in its own way. He does a great job of mixing his fatalistic view of life with his wry sense of humor. The band plays with skill and great enthusiasm throughout the entire recording. Plenty to enjoy on this one and you definitely get a lot of fine stuff for your entertainment dollars. Heartily recommended!!!

Reviewer Mark Thompson is president of the Crossroads Blues Society in Rockford. IL.

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