Vermilion Whiskey, “Spirit of Tradition” (10 South)

Now that hip hop, EDM and DJ culture rule the world, the question can be asked: Is rock ‘n’ roll dead, finally, after all this time? The answer: yes and no. It’s no longer driving the mainstream, but like blues and jazz and a lot of other music genres that New Orleans cares deeply about, rock will always exist as an option. In fact, for Louisianians of a certain skin tone and economic class, it’s become a legacy music, the sound of the heartland, a tradition that at this point starts somewhere around the advent of Southern rock in the early ’70s and reaches its peak in the Metairie metal scene of the ’90s.

So in a lot of ways, Vermilion Whiskey’s EP is a traditionalist album, and not just because of the third-hand blues elements present in the vocals of “TJ” Riordan. It comes off like cock rock at first, but a closer listen reveals that these six songs only begin there, taking the aforementioned path from Skynyrd into Priest into COC. It’s a synthesis too smart for hard rock, too nimble and rootsy to pass as straight metal, but also not self-conscious like stoner rock or pretentious like retro grunge. If anything, it’s a new style of biker rock, if only because TJ’s howl resonates so much like a modern exurban blues, a voice for the day-to-day struggles of poor semi-suburban white folks with no options but to live as hard as possible, just to feel like they’re finally part of something. He moves from growl to howl to wail easily, landing somewhere in between Rob Zombie and Chris Cornell, not just stylistically but emotionally—living and playing hard as a way of staring down the abyss. You hate to bring politics into an arena that’s too smart for it, but if 2017 is about the revenge of the underclass, then Vermilion Whiskey, in all their diamond-hard, burnout glory, are the soundtrack for people just starting to realize they’ve slipped nearer the bottom of the totem pole.