For a lot of critics, myself included, it’s lately been feeling like everybody wants to make southern music great again, whether it be by incorporating alternative-style frills to its framework or expanding on the genre’s imagery by adding elements of 21st-century prose into its classical style of storytelling. Despite this, I get the idea that Ralph Nix & the Guilt Birds have no interest in messing with an already perfect formula for making smart hybrid music – as is the southern tradition. For this Americana outfit, there’s nothing quite like playing to the patented persona that the genre has used to occupy our hearts for centuries, and that’s why I think that their new album Good Ingredients could be the most brooding and genuine record that fans of the style can turn to for hot harmonies this coming January.
Nix doesn’t hold anything back from us in Good Ingredients, and in “Retold” and “Stella,” we’re privy to some of his most sensuous singing ever committed to tape. “Whiskey Drink’n Women” is as unrestrained as “Marie” is, but not once does the band ever descend into rock-inspired recklessness. The mix employed in Good Ingredients has a lot more in common with rock n’ roll than it does country/western or southern folk music, and there’s a balance of both influences in the music here as well. “Cohay” feels like a slowed-down roots rock jam, and were it given a bit of grainy overdrive, I think that the exotic “Mercy Me” could be a real showstopper in an electric capacity if the band were interested in playing it that way. These songs have good bones, and that’s all that matters when a group like Ralph Nix & the Guilt Birds take the stage armed with their uncontrollable chemistry.
Addictive hooks in “Retold” and “Window Shopping” make both songs terrific radio fodder, and despite the progressive structure of the material, I don’t think that it would be too terrible a crime to cherry-pick from this set of songs with a shuffle button. Whether you’re listening to them in the order intended by the band or mixing them up and embracing the abrasiveness of this melting pot of music, the tracks in Good Ingredients tend to yield the same emotional connection with listeners by the time they’ve finished telling their mythical tale (in some form or another).
Ralph Nix & the Guilt Birds sound as tight as a band of talented players should here, and for those who would have the audacity to doubt that they could dish out the lyrical lightning that they did in this LP, Good Ingredients should suffice as incomparable evidence on the contrary. In these ten songs, we get a look at this group like none other we’ve been in hearing in the past few years of alternative country and blues, and if they can keep the kind of energy they used to make this record consistently pumping throughout 2023, I think they’re going to do very well on the road.