Indiana scum-rock act John Wilkes Booze started its career with a set of EPs dedicated to "the five pillars of soul": Albert Ayler, Marc Bolan, Patty Hearst, Yoko Ono, and Melvin Van Peebles. Judging by that roll call, John Wilkes Booze is in thrall to mavericks and badasses. The sextet's own sound tilts toward the latter, though on Telescopic Eyes Glance The Future Sick, John Wilkes Booze expands its reach. Songs like "Cultural Hurricane" and "Bernadine" play to the band's constituency, with low-boogie riffs and Seth Mahern's non-sequitur yelps, but "Always Be There" diffuses the bluesy grind, via start-stop rhythms and discordant guitar. Mahern still sings about barroom outcasts in heat—in the same Jack White-like nasal whine—but the overt self-awareness either redeems the fake swagger or makes it sillier, depending on the listener's tolerance for boys playing dress-up.
Those who can't abide John Wilkes Booze's shenanigans may have a case, since pseudo-outlaws draw attention away from genuine rough boys. The recent reissue of David Allan Coe's 1969 debut album Penitentiary Blues offers a reminder of how a hard-knock life really sounds, with songs about drug addiction and dealing, jailhouse hooch, and death sentences. Written while Coe was in prison and recorded shortly after his release, Penitentiary Blues carries the mark of authenticity in every chiseled line. The music hews closer to roadhouse R&B and Blonde On Blonde-era Bob Dylan than the redneck country that made Coe's reputation in the '70s, but it's clearly the work of a man who respects Johnny Cash more than John Lennon. Tracks like "One Way Ticket To Nowhere" and "Oh Warden" draw on a tradition of songs by and about Southern folk who can't stay out of trouble. They're haunted by train whistles and bootleg runs.