I'll admit it - I was worried about Split Lip Rayfield. I enjoyed the one and only Scroat Belly Album - it was dark and dirty; you could almost smell the music. SLR's self-titled debut was a refreshing step in the evolution - you could still smell it, but it felt cleaner. 1999's IN THE MUD, however, stood stagnant, and I really expected SLR to fade into the growing masses of "one-act" alt-country bands. Thank the gods, then, for NEVER MAKE IT HOME.
NEVER MAKE IT HOME is not necessarily a slower affair, but a definite maturity abounds. The entire album is marvelous - standouts include "Movin' to Virginia," "Used to Call Me Baby," and "Drink Lotsa Whiskey" (and check out the lightning-fast solos on "Kiss of Death"). Instead of the trademark (and increasingly tired) fast-and-loose style, SLR move to a fast-and-tight style on this record and approach the mood and expert musicianship exhibited by labelmates Devil in a Woodpile. Combine this with SLR's sly lyricism and you've got an emerging act that not only holds their own against Bloodshot's Meat Purveyors and the aforementioned Devils, but also approaches Waco Brothers territory. I can't wait to hear what's next.