Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Sticking Their Necks Out

Oxford's Neckbones are just a rock-and-roll band.

By Mark Jordan

AUGUST 16, 1999:  You've got to feel sorry for the Neckbones.

Based largely out of Oxford, Mississippi (guitarist Tyler Keith lives in Memphis), it must be a lonely existence for the quartet. Oxford, after all, is not known for producing a lot of bands of any type, much less the kind of loud, guitar-driven punk rock the Neckbones crank out. The group can't even find camaraderie. Signed to Oxford-based Fat Possum (which is nationally distributed through Epitaph), the Neckbones are the lone rock band on a roster full of blues acts.

"Where we live, there's no other bands like us," Keith once told Billboard's Chris Morris. "You're not influenced [by anything]. There's no other rock-and-roll bands in Oxford, or even in Mississippi."

Though the comparisons are not readily evident, the Neckbones are kindred spirits with Fat Possum's stable of old black bluesmen. They share a love of grimy guitar and, occasionally, even dirtier lyrical content, the main difference being that the Neckbones do things a little faster and a little louder. Blues for the white, suburban set.

Drummer Forrest Hewes, bassist Robbie Alexander, and guitarist/organist David Boyer first came together in Oxford in 1992. The band released one CD, the obscure Paintings In The Trash, before hooking up with Keith. The band's second disc, 1997's brilliantly titled Souls On Fire, was their first on Fat Possum. The record was highly praised in the few corners it was heard (the band includes Japanese and Spanish-language reviews in its press kit). The online music mag Addicted To Noise wrote, "This is the kind of greasy, ballsy kind of rock-and-roll that most bands have either forgotten or abandoned."

This week the Neckbones release its much-anticipated follow-up to Souls On Fire. The Lights Are Getting Dim sticks to the beer-soaked punk rock that brought the boys this far. The proceedings are loud, fast, and thrashy. But the band has toned down the beer-and-babes themes (could this be maturity?) in favor of more introspective subject matter and have added some subtle instrumentation elements that are surprisingly effective. On the break-up-please-go-away classic "Good Bye Ramona" the tune is hammered home by some brutal rock-and-roll piano. Organ and saxophone give an R&B party atmosphere to "Nobody Gets Me Down," which sounds liked revved up ? and the Mysterians. That band's "96 Tears" is appropriated on "You're All Winners," the album's most pleasingly poppy track.

The Lights Are Getting Dim also seems to have brought the boys out of their bubble. Guest performers on the album include Memphis punk contemporary Jack Oblivian on organ, piano, and saxophone. Widespread Panic member and Oxford native JoJo Herman also contributes organ and piano parts, and Cary Hudson and Laurie Stiratt of Oxford roots rockers Blue Mountain also make an appearance.

A sticker on the cover of The Lights Are Getting Dim cites a review describing the Neckbones as a "cross between early Rolling Stones and the Dead Boys." The band's sound has also been called the product of what would have happened if the New York Dolls' tour bus had broken down in Mississippi. I might even throw the Kinks and Billy Lee Riley into the mix as well.

But the Neckbones reject all the labels, preferring to just be known as a rock-and-roll band.

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