Album Review – Speedbuggy USA’s ‘South of Bakersfield’

“We’re on a mission to put the ‘western’ back in country & western music.” That’s how lead singer Timbo describes his band Speedbuggy USA. The five piece band calls Los Angeles home, and draw inspiration from the likes of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, deeply rooting their music into the Bakersfield sound of country music. Speedbuggy USA is as authentic as you can get as a honky tonk band with twangy vocals and ringing steel guitars while keeping the guitars loud and audience on their feet. Joining Timbo is Seth Von Paulus (lead guitar), Brady Sloan (bass), Greg McMullen (pedal steel), and Christos Hansen (drums). South of Bakersfield is the band’s 8th studio record, and acts as a firm commitment to Speedbuggy USA’s Bakersfield sound.

Using the image of western horse buggies, I imagine the “speed buggy” as a synonym for a car. Combined with the album cover on South of Bakersfield, this album almost acts like a journey. A journey to temporarily leave Bakersfield to escape pain and return home. Or maybe the journey of band leaving home for a tour leg. The opening number, “Still Movin’ On,” sets the pulse pounding mood right away with the southern rock musical introduction. Timbo sings of jumping in his car and driving south of Bakersfield to move on from pain and escape sorrow. The driving song never lets off the pedal with the guitar notes rising through the solo until the final vocal note. The next song could work as a follow-up to the album opener. “1,000 Miles From Nowhere” finds the driver falling back into the habitual negative thinking. Tears are starting to come back, and the urge to drown sorrows at a bar returns. He tries not to lose his ground as he continues aimlessly driving. This song is more of a natural country song with the noticeable pedal steel making its way into the production.

Speedbuggy USA slow it down with “Wrong Side.” Joined by singer Bunny West, the song is a duet detailing the troubled relationship between the two. Continuing along the theme of a man on a journey, “Wrong Side” finds him struggling to maintain his relationship while spending time on the road and at the bars. The band slows it down for quiet, reflective verses and pick it up for the choruses where Timbo and Bunny West harmonize nicely. The band jumps into full-fledged country honky tonk with “Set ‘Em Up.” The steel guitar is ever-present and the production is undoubtedly Bakersfield. Timbo sings of spending too much time at the bar and drinking too much. As upbeat as the production is, a lyric like “happy hour ain’t happy no more” says it all.

The band’s re-recording of “Rusted Cars” comes next. The song was originally featured on their album Valle De La Muerte, a tribute album to the state of Louisiana (Timbo’s home state) and the victims of Hurricane Katrina. This re-recording has a more upbeat production with a fitting cajun influence. The song details a man who looks around at the flooding in the streets with water rising, cars rusting, and things floating in the street. The band slows it down again for “Liars, Thieves N’ Ramblers.” This country ballad deals with man who’s down on his luck. He compares himself to a train carrying hobos, wanting to know if the woman he loves is willing to get on board with him or walk out the door.

“Git Yer Wagon Rollin'” is a quick, exciting instrumental featuring electric guitars and banjos. It does a good job showcasing the skillful instrumentation of the band, but ends just a bit too soon at the one minute mark. The journey of South of Bakersfield comes to an end with the appropriately titled “Bakersfield.” While trying to return home after the last honky tonk, the truck breaks down much to the singer’s lament. The song balances between quieter verses and more upbeat, country two-stepping choruses. “Bakersfield” ends the album on a more solemn note, but keeps the beat and feel of the album going until the final note.

South of Bakersfield is a quick album with only 7 songs and 1 instrumental track, but it’s an effective album. Speedbuggy USA is committed to the honky tonk sounds of county and western music, and South of Bakersfield illustrates that commitment perfectly. The album flows nicely between the upbeat songs and more solemn ballads. The band grasps your attention and holds it from start to finish, but leave you wanting a song or two more. Speedbuggy USA’s instrumentation is spot on and the production of the songs are well-balanced. The melodies are present but not overbearing, and lead singer Timbo’s voice fits perfectly with the musical styles. Any fan of honky tonk country music and the Bakersfield sound will enjoy South of Bakerfield.

Grade: 8/10