The merger of country and punk has a long, irascible history, a plainspoken chronicle of everyday outsiders from the Knitters to Hank Williams III trying to find their place in a world that doesn’t deal well with surly bad girls (or boys) who speak their minds. Lydia Loveless, a 21-year-old Ohio singer-songwriter, joins that rowdy tradition on her second album and first for Chicago-based Bloodshot Records, “Indestructible Machine” (Bloodshot). She conveys toughness, tenderness and humor with off-handed conviction.
The signs all point in the right direction from the get-go, with a six-piece band falling into “Bad Way to Go,” sounding a bit disjointed at first, then cohering into a gallop. Loveless’ voice storms in without fussiness; she’s one of the band, not a diva making her grand entrance. She has a story to tell and there’s no need to over-sing. Instead she projects a no-nonsense command very much in line with someone who’s heard a few albums by Loretta Lynn or X’s Excene Cervenka.
Whether she’s being stalked by a local wanna-be (“Steve Earle”) or musing on the Son of God’s empathy for the common man (“Jesus was a Wino”), Loveless finds a way to put a wicked spin on her Midwestern tales. She doesn’t have all the answers; on the contrary, her narrators are sometimes just muddling through (“I grew up on whiskey and God so I’m a little bit confused”). But they have a fierce sense of just how far they’ll be pushed, and neither the music nor the singer backs off. As fiddle and banjo tangle with guitars that slam and twang over raucous drumming, Loveless digs her boots into the dirt on rabble-rousers such as “Can’t Change Me” and “More Like Them.” But what makes this album such a startlingly mature-beyond-its-years triumph is her openness. The vulnerability in “Crazy,” the heartache underlying the exasperation in “How Many Women” – these are songs that signal a major new voice blowing into the country-punk dives and honky-tonks.