Saturday, February 22, 2014

Jonny Two Bags: “Salvation Town” (2014) CD Review

Jonny Two Bags is the guitarist with Social Distortion, and has also played with Youth Brigade, U.S. Bombs and Cadillac Tramps. Salvation Town is his debut full-length solo album. On some of these tracks Jonny delves into American roots music, with some  folk and country vibes, though most of these tracks are more in a rock vein. 

There are a lot of excellent tracks on this release, with some great guest musicians (including Jackson Browne) and some really good lyrics.

With the title Salvation Town, it might come as no surprise to find lots of religious imagery in these songs, including a mention of that giant glowing cross over the 101 freeway in Los Angeles (in “Then You Stand Alone,” a song that also mentions “the light of God”). “One Foot In The Gutter” mentions “devils and angels,” “heaven,” and “eternal bliss.” The lyrics of “Avenues” include references to “salvation” and “demons.” “Forlorn Walls” mentions “Saint Peter” and “the heavens.” And of course the very title of “Wayward Cain” is a religious reference.

Jonny Two Bags’ real name is Jonny Wickersham. The “Two Bags” bit reminds me of the Monty Python skit, “The Ministry Of Silly Walks,” where there is a character named Mrs. Two Lumps. Mrs. Two Lumps then refers to John Cleese as Mr. Tea Bag. Obviously, Jonny's nickname has nothing whatsoever to do with this comedy routine, but that’s where my brain goes every time I hear it.

“One Foot In The Gutter”

The first track, “One Foot In The Gutter,” opens with a good rock groove. It’s a song about a man taking a look at his life and his choices, particularly with regards to drugs. The main line of the tune is “I’ve got one foot in the gutter/And one foot kicking in the door to heaven.” I love that image, because it’s not a description of a man torn between good and evil, because even the good half includes a violent act. It seems almost more a division between despair and action rather than good and evil. But it’s also a great description of the drug world. And yet the song has kind of a sweet pop vibe.


“Avenues” kicks in with some nice work by Joel Guzman on accordion, an instrument I didn’t expect to hear on this album.  This song creates a vivid landscape and characters, and, like “One Foot In The Gutter,” is related to drugs, with lines like, “And business is on the boom/With a mouthful of balloons/Another kid jumps into the family trade.” This song also has a good beat, and a great second set of vocals by Gaby Moreno in one section.

“Then You Stand Alone”

The opening lines of “Then You Stand Alone” are “The electric cross above 101/A glowing beacon in the night/Fills the evil heart with fright/Can you feel the judgment coming down?” But again, the sound is a fairly bright rock sound. “In the place that you call home” is an interesting phrase, because it subtly implies that this place is not quite home. Mentioning home usually give a song a sort of nostalgic, even warm feel, but the phrase works directly against that feel, which I love.

“Then You Stand Alone” also features some excellent guest musicians, including David Hidalgo and David Lindley. Bent Harding, Social Distortion’s bassist, plays bass on this track. Jackson Browne joins Jonny on vocals.

“Clay Wheels”

“Clay Wheels” is more in the folk and country realm. The opening lines set the tone: “Sometimes I wonder/If this is as good as it gets/With each passing year it seems/I add a few more regrets.” Joel Guzman plays accordion on this track. There are some really nice backing vocals too, provided by Julie Miller and Gaby Moreno.


“Ghost” is also more in the folk realm, with a great, serious, desperate sound. And I love when it kicks in, with almost a march beat on the snare for a moment. This song has a quiet power that is quite moving. Some well-placed backing vocals by Gaby Moreno add to this song’s beauty as well as to its grip on the listener. There is also a wonderful instrumental section led by David Lindley on fiddle. Yeah, I just completely love this track; it’s my personal favorite on this album. The song’s closing lines are: “There’s nothing you can say or do/To make me feel whole/But I will keep on moving/Closer to the edge/And that’s where you can find me/When I take my final breath.”

“Alone Tonight”

“Alone Tonight” is another of the CD’s highlights. It’s a nice slow country tune, with Greg Leisz on pedal steel.  And then at one point, Steve Berlin comes in on saxophone. “I’ll stay true to you/‘Til I turn out the light.”

“The Way It Goes”

Salvation Town concludes with “The Way It Goes.” I love these lines: “Baby, baby, you’re the girl of my dreams/I’m gonna rip your life apart at the seams.” I love that there’s no pause between the joy of meeting and the knowledge that things will go horribly wrong. It’s such a depressing thought, and yet its expression comes across as humorous. Brent Harding plays bass on this track.

CD Track List

  1. One Foot In The Gutter
  2. Avenues
  3. Then You Stand Alone
  4. Clay Wheels
  5. Forlorn Walls
  6. Wayward Cain
  7. Ghosts
  8. Hope Dies Hard
  9. Alone Tonight
  10. The Way It Goes

Salvation Town is scheduled to be released on April 1, 2014 on Isotone Records through Thirty Tigers.

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