Jonny Two Bags: Salvation Town

JonnyTwoBags_SalvationTownA compelling country-rock voice emerges from a punk-rock guitarist

Despite a resume that includes Youth Brigade, U.S. Bombs, Cadillac Tramps and Social Distortion, guitarist Johnny Two Bags (nee Wickersham) turns out to have a few country bones to pick. His solo debut is full of twanging guitar rather than power chords, forlorn realizations instead of reactionary anger, and it’s all played in tempos that linger rather than thrash. The mood replaces his customary O.C. punk with a vibe that’s Los Angeles country rock, magnified by guest appearances from Jackson Browne, David Lindley and David Hidalgo, and a wonderfully versatile rhythm section anchored by Pete Thomas and Zander Schloss.

Two Bags’ vocal suggests Browne’s on “Forlorn Walls,” and Browne joins him to sing “Then You Stand Alone,” but it’s Lindley’s guitar that evokes the strongest memory. Greg Leisz provides his customarily fine pedal steel, and Joel Guzman’s accordion adds border accents. Two Bags’ voice is surprisingly sweet, but he sings of a life that’s not always been smooth. His songs are populated with loneliness, regret and, unlike a lot of Americana, physical danger. The productions are lived in but not overly polished, providing a feel of performance rather than studio craft. Producer David Kalish was spot-on in pushing Two Bags to write and record a solo project, and together they’ve realized a complete and completely unanticipated musical vision. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

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