Since the mid-'80s, Dash Rip Rock have always been about playing straight-up rock & roll with a healthy dose of twang, but on 2012's Black Liquor, the band seems to be messing with that formula a bit, easing back just a bit on their country accents and letting the leaner, more aggressive hard rock elements of their sound come forward. Not that the band is changing its tune thematically; founding guitarist and vocalist Bill Davis is clearly still obsessed with the sordid underbelly of Southern life, and he plays it for both laughs and for drama on Black Liquor, which finds the band pondering life along the river ("Tugboats" and "Meet Me at the River"), studying bad mojo ("Voodoo Doll"), obsessing on the emotional connection to the Southern soil ("Dirt"), and celebrating the pollutants produced by the paper plants that both sustain and kill (the title cut). There are plenty of frantic rave-ups on Black Liquor, but lyrically Davis and his co-writer Cheryl Wagner spend a bit more time in non-comic territory here, and the band's assault is leaner, meaner, and more focused than before. Davis, bassist Patrick Johnson, and drummer Kyle Melancon are in great form, sounding powerfully tight and pulling no punches, and the hard rock/metal accents in the music suit the themes of hard life and hard times, even as the musicians show they know how to put a little bit of boogie under it all. And "Anvil or Hammer" gives this album just the sort of finale fans would expect. Dash Rip Rock aren't radically reinventing themselves on Black Liquor, but they are making it clear they know how to change up their approach to suit the tenor of the songs, and nearly three decades into their career, it's nice to be reminded these guys are smarter and more flexible than many of their peers, while they still know how to rock your party.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming