For all the critical consensus building around the swarm of Brooklyn bands today, one important development that’s been less well covered is the rise of lone-wolf rock weirdos building up in the rest of the country. The South, with acts like Jandek, Vic Chestnutt, and Jay Reatard, has a particularly proud tradition on this front, and on his third commercially available album, Alabama’s Dan Sartain has officially entered the limelight as one of the premier regional indie oddballs, working where his tragically recently deceased counterparts left off.
Dan Sartain released one of better, weirder, unheralded garage punk albums of the past decade with 2003’s Dan Sartain vs the Serpientes, while 2006’s Join Dan Sartain secured opening gigs for the Hives and White Stripes circa Icky Thump. On Dan Sartain Lives, Sartain leans slightly more in the pop direction, but in a manner no less tongue-in-cheek than the Intelligence did on Fake Surfers last year.
If Lives sacrifices the unity of its predecessors, it makes up for it in the best way possible: with a collection of fantastic songs that don’t sacrifice Sartain’s voice for accessibility. The sequel to his three-part “Walk Among The Cobras” trilogy from Dan Sartain vs. The Serpientes works just as well out of context, a highlight of an album full of particularly strong songs. “Bohemian Groove,” originally released on Jack White’s Third Man Records, has the swagger inherent in blues rock that most indie acts would kill for. “Voo Doo” sounds like what would happen if Tunde Adebimpe and Stevie Ray Vaughn collaborated on a pop single. Meanwhile “Atheist Funeral” arguably the best song Sartain’s ever written, combines the best parts of southern music — distinctly outlandish blues licks, a loving soul, sense of tradition, and loyalty to friends and lovers — while maintaining the kind of quasi-political defiance that causes people to leave the South for hipster barrios from generation to generation.
There’s nothing particularly revolutionary to be found on Dan Sartain Lives, musically or culturally. But for those who like there underground rock stars weird, their guitar rock crafty, and their authenticity untainted, Sartain is something of a godsend, whether or not you believe such things exist anymore.