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PUNK ROCK

Social Distortion

Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes

By Scott McLennan
Globe Correspondent / January 18, 2011

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Misery has long loved Mike Ness, yet on Social Distortion’s first album in six years, a surprisingly sunny disposition pokes through on several songs. “Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes’’ is a solid reboot for Social D, with singer and songwriter Ness navigating the current lineup of the band through a churning confluence of Stones-y blues and country twang. Yet, the defiance and snottiness that landed the roots-leaning band in the punk camp in the early ’80s are exchanged for a romanticized sense of survival. Ness airs those feelings on “California (Hustle and Flow),’’ “Diamond in the Rough,’’ and “Still Alive,’’ songs that are biographical and hopeful, though sometimes maudlin and clumsy (“I was born with nothing to lose, but the black man taught me how to sing the blues’’). When Ness does go bad, it’s with the gangster fantasy “Machine Gun Blues,’’ a bit of vivid noir fiction. Ness is still best when aching, as is the case on the broken-hearted ballad “Bakersfield’’ and on a lean and amped cover of Hank Williams’s “Alone and Forsaken.’’ The biggest surprise is hearing Ness turn happy-go-lucky on “Far Side of Nowhere.’’ Social D is still rough and unadorned, just not so agitated. (Out today)

ESSENTIAL “Bakersfield’’