“I talk so much shit I forget who I’m talking to,” Lydia Loveless spits out in the defiant “Can’t Change Me.” She’s pugnacious all right — through just about every track on her Bloodshot Records bow Indestructible Machine. The barely hootch-legal small-town Ohioan steps out with her chin jutting and her grudges clearly on display. There’s a raucous spirit in most of the songs here, and on some tracks the music and sentiment work invitingly well, but I frankly don’t buy much of what she’s offering. There’s a clichéd self-mythologizing going on here that is corny as hell. Youth + identity issues + booze = confusion and anger? Really? Only this time with an alluring twang . . .
“Bad Way To Go” pulls you in with mucky rhythm guitar and an urgent combo of frenetic banjo picking and a pressing, palpitating rhythm section. Loveless’ aggressively matter-of-fact delivery establishes her attitude for the next 38 minutes with lines like “Write me a love letter in the gravel with your piss/I will read it with an open mind.” “Can’t Change Me” introduces the more hackneyed elements: “I swear every hangover’s going to be my last”; “That’s gonna change how you feel about me Jesus but it won’t change me.” Yeah, yeah, yeah — I drink and don’t fuck with me. Jesus. We get it. But unfortunately Loveless relies too often on similarly stale conceits. “Can’t go anywhere without being three sheets/I guess I’ll always be this god damn unhappy,” she sings on the Byrds-like “Learn To Say No,” one of the more melodic tracks that features some graceful harmonies and one of Loveless’ most warm and dynamic vocal performances. Maybe the “Cocaine Blues”-inspired “Do Right” best captures the promise and passé of Indestructible Me. Out the gate at an amped-up chug that never relents, the wiry lead guitar of Todd May and sweet-pickin’ banjo of Rob Woodruff keeps “Do Right” galloping behind Loveless’ adroit and passionate delivery . . . of lines like “I grew up on whiskey and God/So I’m a little bit confused” and “I just can’t find a good reason to do right.”
Loveless’ vulnerable and oddly aged voice is one of the album’s finest features, and it may shine best on two disparate tracks. The jaunty and warped humor of the stalker song “Steve Earle” allows Loveless room to play as a singer, and when she belts out a great line like “He says the greatest country duos all start out like this/And I better call him back if I got his messages,” we hear her wit shine through unhampered by proclamations of how drunk and nasty she can be. “How Many Women,” the most traditionally country song on the album, is a showcase for Loveless’ sweet, ragged voice and her genuine questioning — “How many women does a man need?” — that reveal far more complexity than the piss and vinegar — sorry, whiskey, that defines too much of this album. (Appearing: Wednesday@Schubas with Tim Larson & The Owner/Operators.)
— Michael C. Harris