Review: Social Distortion 'Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes' (Epitaph)

Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes is the first Social D studio album in six years, and the first one ever that frontman Mike Ness has produced. Let’s hope fans of this legacy roots-punk band are still listening, because Ness seriously owns this record.
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Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes is the first Social D studio album in six years, and the first one ever that frontman Mike Ness has produced. Let’s hope fans of this legacy roots-punk band are still listening, because Ness seriously owns this record. Like all the best L.A. punk musicians, Ness builds his loud, thrash, gravel-throated rock ’n’ roll on strong musical bedrock; it’s the roots influence—blues piano, gospel choir backing vocals and strong melodies—that makes his songs more poignant and more tuneful than most punk tracks. And conversely, he’s fond of inflicting punk sensibilities on his folk/country idols with superb results. This album includes a hard-rocking take on Hank Williams’ “Alone and Forsaken” that sounds fantastic. Not too many punks would take a chance on singing about green pastures and blossoms unfolding, but Ness’ powerful voice is affecting at any volume. Not too many bands would take the chance of opening with an instrumental track either (“Road Zombie”), but Social Distortion still has such a great, singular sound, they’ve got your ears from the start. And here’s the bookend—Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes ends with the song “Still Alive”: “And the times have changed my friend/I’ll be here to the bitter end/And I’m here to make my stand/With a guitar in my hand.”

Must Play: "Alone and Forsaken"

Producer: Mike Ness. Recording engineer: Duane Baron. Mixed by Ness and Baron. Recording Studio: Ocean Studios (Burbank, Calif.). Mixing Studio: The Mix Room (Burank, Calif.). Mastering: Tom Baker/Precision Mastering (L.A.).