There perhaps wasn’t a more distinct guitar sound in American punk than the jagged jangle of Dennis Danell of Social Distortion.
Though the Orange County, California punk institution has seen more than 20 men run through its ranks, the only constants in the band were he and frontman Mike Ness. When Danell died unexpectedly in 2000 as the result of a brain aneurysm, that should have marked the end of Social D because that signature tone made songs like “Mommy’s Little Monster,” “Ball and Chain,” and “Bad Luck” the cowpunk anthems they remain right up until this very day.
But instead of going all Led Zeppelin on us, Social Distortion persevered through the tragedy of losing its literal rock when Danell’s longtime guitar tech and great friend, Jonny “2 Bags” Wickersham, stepped in to honor his buddy and the legacy he helped create in 2004, resulting in two of the best D albums yet in 2004’s “Sex, Love and Rock ‘n’ Roll” and 2011’s “Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes.”
Now Wickersham, who had played in such ‘90s SoCal punk acts as the Cadillac Tramps, Youth Brigade, and U.S. Bombs before joining Social D, is doing what Danell never did in his life, and that’s joining Ness in the solo game with the release of his excellent artist debut “Salvation Town.” Working alongside renowned West Coast rock producer David Kalish (Rickie Lee Jones, Syd Straw), Jonny Two Bags assembles a mind-blowing ensemble of friends, including Jackson Browne guitar wizard David Lindley, David Hidalgo of Los Lobos (whose son David Jr. plays drums in Social D, by the way), former Weirdos/Circle Jerks/Thelonious Monster bassist Zander Schloss, and Pete Thomas of Elvis Costello’s Attractions and Imposters on drums, among others, to assist on this 10-song set. And as key cuts like “One Foot in the Gutter,” “Forlorn Walls,” and “Hope Dies Hard” signify, his tandem affinities for street punk edge and canyon country cool mine a perfect middle ground for those of us too old for the all-ages show circuit in 2014.
It would be mighty wild to see how much of “Salvation Town’s” DIY MOR style filters into the next Social Distortion record. I’m personally hoping for a full-blown country album myself.
Jonny Two Bags ‘Salvation Town’ Rating: W W W W