All Nessed Up

Mike Ness, leader of Social Distortion, is getting older and more willing to show his roots. On his solo debut, Cheating at Solitaire (Time Bomb), he sings a raspy duet with Bruce Springsteen, lets Brian Setzer play a little guitar and covers tunes by Bob Dylan and Hank Williams. Ness may be a little bit country, but he still thinks he can kick your ass (and in a fair fight, he probably could), what with his gritty, distorted, working-class blues and I-love-my-bad-attitude attitude. Ness is a liar, a cheater and a thief -- what junkie can't say that -- and, like Art Alexakis from Everclear, Ness has made his career by never letting you forget he was once a dope fiend. On Cheating, Ness, cleaned up for a decade, touches on his tribulation with titles such as "Dope Fiend Blues," "Crime Don't Pay," "Misery Loves Company" and "I'm In Love with My Car." (Okay, maybe not that one.) And the occasional countrified waltz tempo and pedal steel suits Ness's cliches. The grown-up, respectful-of-his-elders Ness is more musical, but less adventurous and aggressive than his former self. What a drag it is getting old.

-- David Simutis

Mike Ness performs Monday, June 28, at Fitzgerald's, 2706 White Oak. Tickets are $17.50 in advance, $20 day of show. Call (713)862-3838.

Shannon Wright -- This is what you do after being in an acclaimed underground rock band that splits with its indie label and eventually breaks up: Sell your stuff. Move to backcountry Alabama. Clear your head. Start sorting through your problems in songs. Record a few singles for tiny record labels. Decide to take the plunge again. Record solo debut for respected indie imprint. Do it mostly by yourself. Jump back in a van and go out on the road.

That's what Shannon Wright (ex-member of Crowsdell, a band loved by the British and mostly ignored here at home) teaches with Flightsafety (Quarterstick). With a bit of assistance from fellow travelers Joey Burns of Calexico and Eric Bachman of the Archers of Loaf, Wright has created an impressive, textured record. She extends metaphors with a barely-above-a-whisper voice and is accompanied by acoustic guitar, piano, drums and weird-sounding keyboards. Wright drags and drawls her words, which makes the music seem as if it's slowing down. Delivered with the kind of campfire-sing-along sincerity that Kristen Hersh has perfected, Flightsafety is spooky and moody, and it has a hazy obliqueness that adds mystery to the whole record. The energy level ebbs and flows, particularly during the sections of songs without drums. Wright has a lot to say, but she's not going to be too direct. Images of stunted movement and impotent ambition haunt her album (e.g., an unused ship harbor, a raft filled with sand) as Wright perhaps realizes that leaving problems only puts them in the past -- it doesn't solve them. Shannon Wright performs Thursday, June 27, at Rudyard's, 2010 Waugh. Call (713)521-0521. (David Simutis)

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