Red Sammy channels bad seeds and misdeeds, music legends, and the ghost of Flannery O’Connor.
Imagine if Steve Earle were to hit the road from Tennessee and the ghost of Lou Reed were to drive down from New York—and the two cross paths in Baltimore—then Red Sammy’s haunting alt-Americana album Creeps and Cheaters has arrived. Also haunting this album is Lynyrd Skynyrd. And Flannery O’Connor.
The band, which takes its name from the seemingly unsophisticated soothsayer Red Sammy Butts in O’Connor’s, “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” was formed by singer-songwriter Adam Trice in 2007. Influenced by O’Connor’s Southern gothic themes, Trice’s songs tell stories about the everyday damaged and damned among us. His guttural voice mines for diamonds in the mud his characters wade in, delivering lyrics with equal resolve and acceptance to uncovering nothing more shimmering than the jagged-rock truth. Trice doesn’t knuckle under the Big Top tent of bloated tales of honkytonks and whiskey-drowned sorrow in Creeps and Cheaters. Instead, he’s written from the front porch with a bird dog’s sense of human nature. And though down and out, they are not desperate.
In “Dirty Water” Trice drives the repetition of “I lick the water, heal my wounds…I’m the dog that roams the streets…With dirty water dripping, with dirty water dripping down” to a growl through the bluesy torment of Bruce Elliott’s electric guitar progressions. In the somber ballad “Sometimes You Forget What’s Real,” Elliott’s aching guitar riffs echo the mood expressed in the lyrics, “On the cold concrete, there go your teeth, and time is falling down, the hospital sheets, the shadows fall where they will, your faith in pretty pills, like anything you want, sometimes you forget what’s real.”
Like any storyteller worth his salt, Trice keeps his sense of humor. Songwriters risk putting the corny in candy corn with tongue-in-cheek songs. However, with John Decker on resonator, “Hangin’ With Uncle Elvis On Christmas” affirms that The King is not dead. Trice’s lyric, “Everything you own packed in your car trunk” harkens to the adage, “You have to know where you come from to know where you’re going.” Like family, music and song writing has a lineage. In her essay, “The Fiction Writer & His Country,” Flannery O’Connor said, “At least, of late, Southern writers have had the opportunity of pointing out that none of us invented Elvis Presley and that that youth is himself probably less an occasion for concern than his popularity, which is not restricted to the Southern part of the country.” While Creeps and Cheaters delves into the American songbook of Southern rock and New York grit, it emerges with a unique voice that has no fences. That’s simply stamped, Red Sammy. Rounding out this ensemble is Greg Humphreys on bass and Ryan Bowen and Eric Evitts on drums.
Creeps and Cheaters ignites the smoldering embers of Red Sammy’s previous album, These Poems with Kerosene. Red Sammy has dug down into the belly of the fire pit. The result is a nuanced album layered with silty vocals and fatback guitar licks.