What was the first thing you said to yourself after ex-Carcass vocalist/bassist Jeff Walker announced he has going to record and release a collection of country songs done metal style? If you’re like me, you probably rolled your eyes and imagined the disaster that it would be. But then I heard one of the early tracks, and you know what? It wasn’t bad. In fact, it was pretty damn cool. I always liked his vocals in the latter days of Carcass, but didn’t know how it would translate to the country style, or for that matter, how he would reinterpret the songs he selected. Still based on that one track, I eagerly awaited the release of Welcome to Carcass Cuntry – and I wasn’t disappointed in the least. It certainly reeks of something, and I think it’s whiskey.
Anyone who knows me or has read my work knows that I’m not your average metalhead. I have an affinity for classic country, and the debut disc from Rebel Meets Rebel is a strong candidate for my Album of the Year honors. Combine that with a love for Motorhead and pure rock n’ roll, and somehow, that makes me Jeff Walker’s target market. I’ve only heard a few of the tracks here in their original form, but I feel confident in saying that they have been translated faithfully both in structure and spirit.
Walker leads off with the modern-day Johnny Cash classic “The Man Comes Around”. Originally recorded with just acoustic guitars, hearing full band instrumentation is a little different but otherwise it’s a near flawless rendition, Walker’s gravelly growl an eerily good match for Cash’s own gravelly tone – and lo and behold, former Carcass drummer Ken Owen is on hand to provide the spoken word intro and outro. His take on Hank Williams’s “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love With You)” is a bit less successful, but does show off the tongue-in-cheek attitude that inspired this album in the first place, and reunites him with another former Carcass mate, guitarist Bill Steer, who also provides the harmonica bits. Next up is the one that got me excited in the first place, George Jones’s “You’re Still on My Mind”, which shows off the more rock n’ roll side of country, with a rollicking piano intro and a chugga-chugga main riff. The music belies the lamenting lyrics, so it’s a nice pick-me-up track.
I was surprised when a co-worker recognized “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down” as a Kris Kristofferson track. It’s another mellow number but Walker gets it right here, perfectly capturing the mood. “Mississippi” is a German-language track that I can’t find much information on, but it sounds like a good drinking song with its chanting choruses. Then there is a song we all know and love – “I Just Dropped In (to See What Condition My Condition Was In)”. Remember, from “The Big Lebowski”? It’s turned into a bit of a psychedelic dirge, even though it is cheery at moments. Another obscure track (although often covered), “Once a Day”, works on the same level as “You’re Still on My Mind” – it rocks despite it’s sad lyrics, but I’d rather sing this after a breakup than anything by Dashboard Confessional – plus we get bass by Napalm Death’s Shane Embury. Skeeter Davis’s “The End of the World” is next, and may be one of the most depressing songs I’ve ever heard, and yet again Walker nails it. I guess that growl translates easily from anger to sorrow. Such a thin line. Weirder than that, John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” gets a tongue-in-cheek remake here, in memory of Chuck Schuldiner of all people, with a little help from ex-Faith No More/Brujeria bassist Billy Gould. Finally we come to the end and a track that was never country to start with, “Keep On Rocking in the Free World” by Neil Young. I had a feeling this was coming though after a similarly titled track on Swansong. It rocks as hard as the original although it does come off a little flat, lacking the urgent call-to-arms vocal that Young used.
This barely brushes the tip of the iceberg as far as guest appearances go. Throughout this album, Walker also gets help from members of HIM, Paradise Lost, Anathema, Amorphis, Finntroll, Hellacopters, and To Separate the Flesh from the Bones, showing that these songs mean something to a lot of different people and that Walker has earned a whole lot of respect over the years. That’s one of the most predominant attributes that metal and country (or at least classic country) share – a sense of brotherhood amongst the bands and the fans.
I normally try to avoid track-by-track reviews, but there is just so much to offer here, I had to do it. Country, like metal, is much more than the one trick pony its detractors would have you believe it is, and as I talked about in my Rebel Meets Rebel review, the genres really do have a lot in common, although this is admittedly less the outlaw album that that one is, but it’s no less enjoyable. Think of them as symphonies of lovesickness. Now, belly up to the bar, order up a beer, and commence with the hootenanny!