Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ at Willie’s Locally Known: Over 30 years after it roared out of Atlanta, leaning more to alternative and punk aesthetics than the pervading Southern rock climate of the day, Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ drove through Lexington to round out the first official week of operations at the new Southland Drive incarnation of Willie’s Locally Known
While guitarist, frontman and vocalist Kevn Kinney, bassist Tim Nielsen and drummer Dave V. Johnson (all longstanding DNC members) played with obvious vitality, the catalyst for the music was the band’s special guest. Commandeering the lion’s share of the guitar duties was Warner Hodges, longtime lieutenant in Jason and the Scorchers, the band that essentially wrote the book on cowpunk before DNC even formed.
The magic Hodges brought to the show was considerable. His solos were all full of rock star confidence, yet the broad smiles he flashed after them revealed a still-honest love of performing. But it was equally fun watching Hodges play rhythm under Kinney’s breaks, adding a chunky precision through killer riffs on warhorse favorites like Fly Me Courageous, Build a Fire and Scarred But Smarter. When Kinney switched to acoustic guitar during the second half of the performance, the dynamics within Hodges’ playing really bloomed. What resulted was a sometimes boozy rhythmic strut that would do Keith Richards proud along with rich, fluid guitar lines that brought Southern stylists like Dickey Betts to mind.
While hardly an outward rock ’n’ roll showman, Kinney obviously reveled in the band chemistry. Sure, the DNC lineup on hand often played with thunderous precision, but there were also tunes loose enough for Kinney to honor his influences. The wistful Let’s Go Dancing toughed up enough for the singer to veer off into a snippet of The Beatles’ I’ve Got a Feeling while With the People oozed in and out of a verse from R.E.M.’s King of Birds.
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The party ended with Kinney in the middle of the club floor singing Blues on Top of Blues, happily involved with a delightfully ragged guitar solo of his own. Playing from a very different front line, his sense of performance solace was solemn but also unassumingly childlike.