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SCOTS discover "Countrypolitan Favorites"

By Jason MacNeil, February 2007

After issuing a live album in 2005, "Doublewide And Live!," that captured their concert vibe perfectly, Southern Culture On The Skids tossed around the idea of a covers album. The trio, led by singer and guitarist Rick Miller, had a big problem though – namely trying to pare down the choices to fit onto one album. While "Sentimental Favorites" was one album title the band toyed with, the end result is "Countrypolitan Favorites," (Yep Roc) a record that Miller is quite proud of.

"My dad had a lot of Roger Miller and Tammy Wynette and all that kind of stuff," Miller says. "I just remember the word ‘Countrypolitan.' I used to have some of those old Nashville Country Music Songbooks, and I found an old stack of used ones. I remember reading about the countrypolitan sound and how it was a polished up version of the Nashville sound, but geared towards crossing over into pop and the pop charts."

The group seems to have struck gold with this latest project, with quite a number of interesting covers to say the least. Whether it's The Kinks, The Who, T-Rex or Creedence Clearwater Revival, Southern Culture On The Skids have made each of these songs their own. It wasn't as easy as Miller initially thought a covers album would be.

"I won't say hard. It was fun, but it was hard to put our own spin on a lot of stuff," Miller says. "I thought it would be a really fast, quick project. I thought, ‘Well, this will be a lot of fun. My wife and I just had a baby. We couldn't do much like get on the road and stuff.' So, we started this project thinking it will be a quick little thing, and we'll have our record out."

"But it ended up…to really kind of make the songs our own or do them the way that we wanted to do them, it's a lot of trial and error actually. A lot of rehearsing and just figuring out what works with what and how we were going to approach a lot of these songs. So, it took a lot longer than I thought actually. It took about the same length of time as it would to do an album of originals."

Perhaps the hardest part of the process was picking what songs would end up on "Countrypolitan Favorites." "We had a bunch of songs," Miller recalls. "We were trying to figure out a theme on the whole thing. Our first one was if you got to go-go, then go country. We were going to do a bunch of country tunes kind of like a twist record, which we kind of ended up doing anyway. But when it came down to it, we didn't have enough that were exactly like that. So we decided countrypolitan. You could get away with more basically. You could say it was country. You could say it was blues because that's metropolitan, kind of urban. It just sounded good."

The album contains a number of songs that the group has performed during their live shows over the years, including "Muswell Hillbilly," "Fight Fire," Don Gibson's "Oh Lonesome Me" and Wanda Jackson's "Funnel Of Love." Miller says this album needed more of a raw, live or edgy feeling, something not found on the band's previous studio release. But the highlight of the album is saved for last, when the band churns out a rousing version of The Who's "Happy Jack."

"I always thought that would make a great bluegrass song," Miller says. "I just kept hearing that riff on a banjo, I just thought that that's hilarious. And it was really funny. My son's name is actually Jack, and he laughs on the track. So I thought that was a sentimental favorite. That was one of the first singles I ever bought. I bought it at a Quiky Mart in Henderson, N.C. when I was like 11 years old. I still have the single."

Another track the trio tackled was The Kinks' "Muswell Hillbilly," a song Miller says seemed appropriate for the group. "I just thought it was a great song," he says. "Just some of those lines like ‘A Muswell Hillbilly boy, you can move me, you can try to bend me and shake me, but you can't change me.' I just thought that could almost be the theme song for our band."

Fans of the group will also notice that Mary Huff has many tracks to shine on, taking lead vocal duties for quite a few tracks. "It was easier to get Mary to sing some songs because I write songs for her, but a lot of the time, she doesn't like them," Miller says. "So, it was easier to get Mary on board to sing some songs which I wanted to do for a long time. So, I could tempt her with ‘Rose Garden,' which she loves or ‘Funnel Of Love,' which she loves."

"And there are some surprises, like her singing lead vocal on ‘Tombstone Shadow' and double-tracking it," he adds. "Then we ended up with some bluegrass, close harmonies on parts of that song. I thought it was really cool. We're singing a lot of duets on this record. I think that's a big country influence, like on ‘Life's A Gas,' just the trading off of lines and then singing together on a lot of things."

As far as the business side or red tape of getting permission to record them, Miller says it wasn't too much of a hassle. "If you pay them money, you get their permission," Miller says with a laugh. "There were no issues, I didn't have to call Pete Townshend and say I want to cover ‘Happy Jack'. We basically just searched out the stuff on the web, actually Yep Roc had to do that. I got all the information for them, they had to cover that angle, but there were no problems."

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