Alt country. Garage rock. Garage rock, alt country. Garage country. Dirt rock. Outlaw country. Roadhouse music.
I suppose this particular genre could go by multiple names, but I choose only one and one only:
Shit Kickin’ Rock.
Shit Kickin’ Rock: dirty, not polished, upbeat rock music with a country twinge, but not that new Nashville bullshit country, old school, whiskey-drinking country with bite to it. Possibly sounds like it was recorded in a garage with less than stellar recording equipment.
That is Shit Kickin’ Rock and I love me some Shit Kickin’ Rock. I love it when I’m driving fast down the highway, I love it when I’m out in the yard doing manly yard work things, I love it when I’m building something, I love it when I’m slogged at work and need a pick me up. Long story short- I love it a lot. I don’t like it a lot, I effin’ love it a lot.
Thinking about it, I would say my love affair with Shit Kickin’ Rock started sometime between 2002 and 2004 and it most likely started when I heard the band the Drunk Stuntmen. The Stuntmen, most likely still roaming the foothills of the Berkshires out in Western Mass, released the album, Iron Hip, in 2002. It sounded like a grimy version of Lynyrd Skynrd to me and I dug it- much more than I liked actual Skynrd. I liked the energy and the raw quality of it. Also, their drummer was my cousin- so that helped. But regardless, the Stuntmen was something new for me and it was something new that definitely got my attention. At the time I filed it in the back of my brain as something to keep tabs on as I graduated from the jam band-filled days of college to more reggae and more rock ‘n roll.
It was around this same time that My Morning Jacket was starting to make some noise and shortly after, Kings of Leon came around- the Kings of Leon with shaggy locks, creeper ‘staches and a breakneck, dirty rock sound. Both bands were instantly on my radar. I distinctly remember hearing MMJ for the first time- it was on a compilation of Bonnaroo performances from 2003, where there was a version of them playing “Dancefloors” with a horn section. I had long been a sucker for music that almost demands to be played loud and from what I could tell- My Morning Jacket was one of those bands. To this day “Dancefloors” remains one of my favorite songs, not just of theirs, but of all songs.
Yet I took a while to 100% warm up to MMJ. This wasn’t the case with Kings of Leon.
The two first Kings’ albums, Youth and Young Manhood and Aha Shake Heartbreak, were a perfect one, two punch and thanks to their tight length, almost acted as one album. The music had such a brazen attitude to it and seemed to forsake polish and precision for grit, grime and vigor. I would say that those two albums was the birth of my relationship with Shit Kickin’ Rock and became the template for a band playing that fantastical style of music. Listen to those two albums, listen to them loudly, listen to them preferably outside and tell me you don’t want to do some kickin’ o’ shit. You can’t. It’s impossible. One of the best things about music is that it creates and speaks to your instincts. It makes you feel without trying. That’s why I love Shit Kickin’ Rock so much- because it feels so natural and in doing so, syncs up so effortlessly with how I’m feeling or even better, how I want to feel. You get older and the idea of being care free slips and slides further and further away. Shit Kickin’ Rock is care free to me and I love that about it.
Kings of Leon back then were a markedly different band than the Kings of Leon today and it’s not just the hair styles. In subsequent albums their sound expanded and evolved, prompting cries and accusations of selling out. I discarded that idea because in my opinion, they were a band finding themselves and doing so in the public spotlight. They didn’t have two or three lesser known albums where they worked on their sound. They did that with significantly more attention than other bands and as a result, the view of Kings of Leon was one that was constantly evolving. I firmly believe Kings of Leon did not sell out and did not abandon their Shit Kickin’ Rock roots. They simply grew out of them. Nothing wrong with that. If you look at a lot of good Shit Kickin’ Rock bands, they don’t really stay Shit Kickin’ forever. My Morning Jacket has drifted, Ryan Adams dabbles, but never stays long. Legends like Creedence Clearwater Revival and the Allman Brothers Band had moments of Shit Kickin’, but not careers. I think it just comes with the territory. I don’t think it’s the kind of music that invites long-term residents. It’s more friendly to those in transit. Just watch- a new band doing the Shit Kickin’ Rock thing like J Roddy Walston and the Business will most likely spread it’s wings and expand it’s sound. Alabama Shakes seemed to already have, with the first two songs off of their upcoming album already sounding more grown up, less gritty than the tunes from their debut album.
The fact that Shit Kickin’ Rock is a moment in time for a lot of bands almost makes it more appealing. You’re catching a band during a specific moment in their career and that’s exciting. A lot of times it’s the moment right before they’re leaping towards another moment. Unfortunately for Shit Kickin’ Rock, with success comes polish and polish is a mortal enemy of Shit Kickin’ Rock. It’s why Band of Horses only have glimpses of this wonderful genre- they have always sounded more like 70’s desert rock than Shit Kickin’ Rock. Lucky for them, I love me some 70’s desert rock as well. And yes, I’m sure that matters to them.
As music fans, we’re lucky to be living during a time of such accessibility when it comes to different styles of music. Long gone are the days of just listening to Rock or Country or Rap or Reggae and so on. Genres have become married and combined, sub-genres have formed. I can like rock, but depending on my mood or situation, I can drill down and get down with some roots rock or alt rock or indie rock or 70’s desert rock or beach rock, etc. It’s because of this I can latch onto something like Shit Kickin’ Rock, something I may not always want to listen to, but can most definitely crank the shit out of when I want to. Just like I can with groove rock, garage neo-soul or boom bap hip hop. Genres are yesterday’s news. We are a generation of musical sub-genres and it’s a effin’ wonderful thing.
And Shit Kickin’ Rock- well, it is most definitely a effin’ wonderful thing.
Giddy Up America’s Favorite Shit Kickin’ Rock Tunes
“Four Kicks” Kings of Leon
“Timebomb” Old 97’s
“Travis County” Gary Clark Jr.
“Pretty Green” White Denim
“Easy Morning Rebels” My Morning Jacket
“Don’t Break the Needle” J Roddy Walston & the Business
“Let the Good Times Roll” J.D. McPherson
“Travelin’ Band” Creedence Clearwater Revival
“To Be Young…” Ryan Adams
“Hail, Hail” Shovels & Rope
“Backwoods Company” The Wild Feathers
“Low Down” The Mallet Brothers Band
“Chilly Water” Widespread Panic
“Always Alright” Alabama Shakes
“Casino (Bad Things)” Houndmouth
“Weed Party” Band of Horses
“Go It Alone” Jason Isbell
“Shit Shots Count” Drive By Truckers
“Bullet” Drunk Stuntmen
“Massive Nights” The Hold Steady
“The Way It Is” The Sheepdogs
“After Awhile” Patrick Sweaney
“The Way We Move” Langhorne Slim
“Whipping Post” The Allman Brothers Band