Social Distortion’s Jonny Two Bags – Salvation Town (2014)

You might think you know Jonny Wickersham, if you’ve followed Social Distortion. Wickersham, better known as Jonny Two Bags, joined in 2000 after the passing of Dennis Danell, extending a notable DiY-rock resume built around several LA groups. Turns out Wickersham was writing his own stuff all along. And it couldn’t be further from Social Distortion’s brand of So-Cal punk.

From “Then You Stand Alone,” a rollicking reminescence featuring Jackson Browne, to the grimy Americana groove of “Wayward Cain,” with an assist from Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo, Salvation Town is as powerfully surprising as it is powerfully involving. There’s a conjunto gait to “Avenues,” which features Austin accordion great Joel Guzman and these slinky additional vocals courtesy of Terry Evans and Arnold McCuller, perhaps best known for their work with Ry Cooder.

And yet, Wickersham’s writerly, deeply personal narratives are never subsumed by these big-name contributions — a credit to his attention to detail.

Elsewhere, Wickersham’s Social Distortion bandmates Danny McGough and Brent Harding stop by, as does Zander Schloss of the Circle Jerks. Pete Thomas, who likewise shares a punky background with Wickersham as a long-time sideman with Elvis Costello, adds a snappy attitude to “One Foot in the Gutter,” too. In every case, though, the songs are more apt to display a shambolic, Stones-ish worldiness, rather than confrontational anger.

Additional guitars are provided by Greg Leisz (Eric Clapton, Lucinda Williams) as well as Browne’s 1970s-era collaborator David Lindley, while David Kalish — perhaps best known for his work with Rickie Lee Jones — worked as producer.

It was Kalish who put Wickersham in touch with Thomas, and Kalish who kept the Salvation Town project in motion when duty called Wickersham away to Social Distortion. And, finally, it was Kalish who helped Wickersham achieve his dream of recording in the no-bullshit fashion of punk rock, but with a roostier maturity. Wickersham did the rest, crafting a surprisingly confessional recording that stings with very real emotions.

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Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.