Despite maintaining a close association with the LA punk scene throughout their astonishing 32-year career, the fact remains that Social Distortion are not a punk rock band. Broadly hewn from country rock, but also no stranger to a spot of the blues or even rockabilly, ‘Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes’ sounds like it could’ve appeared at any time over the last 50 years, with only frontman Mike Ness’ sharp, wonderfully rich production giving any hint as to its true vintage. In fact, if it were a movie star, this record would be Clint Eastwood hurtling through the desert in a 59 Chevy Impala: a timeless and unmistakable evocation of the America West. Effortless cool aside, however, ‘Hard Times…’ is an album which deals in songs. In the age-old songwriting tradition, Ness is a storyteller, not an ‘entertainer’, and whilst his lyrics do slip into cliché on occasion, it’s safe to say that this is not a man prone to empty sentiment. Then again, the real charm of ‘Hard Times…’ lies in its everyman nature. Instantly familiar, gorgeously warm in both tone and delivery, and imbued with the very essence of rock ‘n’ roll, this record manages the remarkable feat of balancing true integrity with universal appeal.