It’s a little known fact that Reno resident and Hellbound Glory main man Leroy Vergil has singlehandedly invented an Outlaw Country sub-genre he affectionately calls ‘Scumbag Country’. His stories from the seedy underbelly of the place he calls home in sunny Nevada are full of character observations and introspection, set to a soundtrack of countrified Americana.
Hellbound Glory have been around for 12 years in one form or another, even surviving the main man killing the band off and going on a 2 year bender of the Nevada city bars. Coaxed back from the verge of self-destruction by friend and fan Shooter Jennings, he recorded the masterful ‘Pinball’ in 2017 with Shooter and his band backing him the whole way. Inspired by his 2 year bender, he released one of the most real and true Outlaw Country albums around. Now Hellbound Glory returns with the follow up.
‘Pure Scum’ is the most straight out Country album Leroy has made, but don’t let that put you off. Leroy’s lyrics are still fuelled by drink, drugs and partying. Lyrically, it’s still as gritty as ‘Pinball’, there still feels like there’s an element of danger, but musically it’s more of a tribute to Country music’s roots.
Recorded mostly live over a 2 day period in LA, again with Shooter Jennings producing, it’s a love letter to his hometown Reno, the world’s biggest little city. With live, one take vocals and cool cats such as Ted Russell Kamp on bass, Aubrey Richmond on fiddle and steel guitar from John Schreffler, it emanates quality from start to finish.
You can’t help but get the feeling the Leroy lifestyle and the Reno lifestyles are one in the same thing. “It’s a scumbag life for me” proclaims the singer in album opener ‘Ragged But Alright’, “I ain’t much to look at but I shine in the dark” he says in the autobiographical ‘Neon Leon’, before warning us in album closer ‘DUIORDIE’ to “not try this at home”.
Bar-room boogies such as album opener ‘Ragged but Alright’ and ‘Loose Slots’ tell the tale of a degenerate gambler over chicken-picked guitar solos and frantic bursts of fiddle. The players on this album are Shooter’s own live band, hardened veterans of the live country music scene, and he has succeeded in capturing the energy of this tight live unit, taking them from the bars and dives straight onto tape and into your living room.
Shooter believes Leroy to be one of, if not the best, songwriters of his generation and you can see why. On the surface this is just another Country album, but dig deeper with repeated listens the stories of reckless abandon and the heartbreak of lost love shine through.
The tale of loving someone who ain’t no good for you is a tried and tested road we have all travelled, but Leroy manages to bring some new sentiment to an age old story on the likes of ‘Someone To Use’ and the sublime single ‘Damned Angel’. His raspy vocals, on the verge of breaking, as he recounts the tale of a girl who broke his heart in two. It’s an overly familiar melody you will swear you’ve heard before, but that the trick to good songwriting ladies and gents.
Raucous closer ‘DUIORDIE’ sees our man drowning his sorrows after his baby left him. A drinking song about a man partying hard and not giving a single, flying fuck! It’s a high energy shuffle, delivered at breakneck speed. “Whisky, cocaine and evil, evil women…what can I say, I’m having a good time” drawls the man before the whole song breaks down with a ramshackle crescendo. It sounds live, it sounds raw and it sounds real.
‘Pure Scum’ pays tribute to Country music’s past but it has a modern edginess to it. While the likes of Sturgill Simpson and Tyler Childers get the headlines as the new breed of Outlaw Country, its Leroy Virgil’s Hellbound Glory who are the real deal in my eyes (or should that be ears?). ‘Pure Scum’ is a tale of hard living and partying hard like there’s no tomorrow, which seems quite a sound way to live your life in these uncertain times.
I would say that ‘Pure Scum’ is ‘Pinball’ part 2 and certainly a worthy follow up. Shooter Jennings is not backing Leroy for the fun of it and maybe it’s time the world also took notice.
Buy ‘Pure Scum’ Here
Author: Ben Hughes