From my Nashville Scene Country Music Ballot:*(clarification/alibi added, even if you have read this on here before)*
The Year In Country started off great, racing chariots in Heaven with Gretchen Wilson. But somehow, my perspective only crystallized through a (nervously well-scrubbed)shotglass darkly, the everyday's-a-morning-after, Advil blues of Darryl Worley's November release, DARRYL WORLEY.
When the eponymous is their fourth release, you know it's serious. I expected the worst. No small expectation of the man who had already given us the tearjerking "I Miss My Friend" (driving videobabe/audience-ID-figure to well-mimed breakdown!). And then low-topped himself with the brainjerking "Have You Forgotten," which equated qualms about invading Iraq with forgetting about 9/11, and with "don't worry 'bout Bin Laden," AKA Saddam Hussein, o course.
But on DW, "Wake Up America" was the only really preachy number, and it busted men in uniform, cops who are "part of the infection" of drugs.(Could he even be thinking that The War On Drugs is itself part of the problem, as waged, anyway? He doesn't say he doesn't mean that. Allowing implications, associations in, and not at the push of a button, necessarily? Rather thah hitting us over the head with his latest "point"?)
Struggling with an "Awful Beautiful Life" was about as close as he came to the usual "Gosh! But on the other hand!" balancing act of most contemporary country. It's just about all unadorned as "I Love Her, She Hates Me"(ergo,"I drink": a guy's trying to talk some sense into his buddy, who shuts him up by spelling it out). "If Something Should Happen," "Work And Worry," yadda-yadda, yet the titles don't tell it all. The details of words and music keep looking around, stubborn and energetic as they are morose and lucid. Fatalistic, but antsy. You know, like maybe there's a war on or something. And the election's gonna turn out kinda weird too, no matter who wins.
So maybe I'm just projecting, or wistful-thinking ("*Now* you get it, my Red State homey!") Or maybe alienation is the craze. But I look around too, and dang if even the usually hovering mist-mother Alison Krauss isn't "Restless,"and just can't be satisfied, even with standing by Brad Paisley and watching the young widow drink herself to death, over the grave of her husband, in "Whiskey Lullaby." So: hotter than ever, that's the expected video-Allison, but also: wobbling down the sidewalk and into traffic? That's what she calls "Restless"? What George W. and Music Row mean by "off-message," I thought, but CMT's not exactly Aljazzheera All The Time, is it??
LeeAnn Womack's "I May Hate Myself In The Morning (But I'm Gonna Love You Tonight)" may seem, from a distance, like a *traditionally* fatalistic (obligatory self-torturing) cheatin' song. But really it's more of a fornicatin' twist on her inspirational "I Hope You Dance," more about what she hopes will happen, in the very near future, than about tomorrow's so-done deal.
And young Julie Roberts, despite those federally-mandated Chastity courses, well, kids still say the darndest things. She's already "picked up a stranger, found comfort in danger, and I thought about you, the whole time we were GITTINITONN." What a mouth! Speaking of which, "It tastes like yesterday." But mebbe just because she "fell asleep without brushing my teeth."
Yet however moody the brew, there's still a sense of accountability, and not just for your enemies (that's how you know we're not really in Bush Country, not quite yet). Mindy Smith's "Jesus Is Waiting" with a no-anesthetic slide guitar, and Josh Turner's way of (wayward others, especially females, not him) dealing with that "Long Black Train" is to stay on-track, and get beamed up into your own pre-Rapture. (Well, that's what happens in the video! Music videos are becoming like the Schofield Bible, in which the commentary is in the same font as the Word. Also, DVDs have been outselling CDs, dowh here in Country Country, anyway) Blaine Larsen's debut, "How Do You Get That Lonely," has us travelling in various, maybe *all* the cars, as if one wasn't bad enough, when you're going to the graveside of a teen suicide. Asked by an interviewer if he weren't scared to start out this way, he replied, "You got to step out on that ledge." So Alan Jackson does, singing "Monday Morning Church," from the scorched "I" of a guy whose wife has died. It's the deepest, riskiest (so vulnerable to tricks of the trade) track I've ever heard from him. Finally, he earns his humility.
But accountability can be fun, as Prince of Nostalgia Kenny Chesney proves, even while carpe per diem a la LeeAnn! Yeah, he's still lookin' fwd to lookin' back, but tonight "The Good Stuff" is you, darlin', as he positively scoffs at the notion that you're "Anything But Mine." Time to call due, cos he's been sensitive a long long time, and no time for this "I surrender to the future" moanin' like his beach friend, Jimmy Buffet Table.(Yeah, havin' your tax cuts made permanent's gone be hard, Jim. But suck it up and go.)JB will fight no more forever, but KC will beat off fiercely to this next re-collection forever ever. Memories are made of this too, turns out. Down there on St. John's, could he have been reading some Hemingway besides THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA? Na.
And St.Toby's Christmas offering is a flat-out, no-moods(well, the woman involved has a bad moment, yknow how that goes, but), no-dues, post-cheatin',yet clearer-than-LeeAnn's--*adultery* song. Or is even that not whut whut? "There's things down here the Devil Himself wouldn't do,"TK cautions/advertises, but it all "Stays In Mexico." Stay! Good Devil! Another happy tale of furrin parts, like "The Angry American" and "The Taliban Song."(This 'un might've been inspired by psychologist Philip Zimbardo's TV interview, in which he referred to the "Carnival Effect" of perfect isolation at Abu Ghraib.) Shockin' Y'all indeed! Yet clearly still in country, or Country; that's what's really shockin'. Or anyway shocked. It's not just him, it's ever' thing.
Like Montgomery Gentry's album of hooraw rehab campfires, 'til back in the saddle with the title track, "You Do Your Thing," as in "You do your thing, I do my thing, and though they're not the same, it's beautiful," or whatever it said on that early 70s child's bedroom and/or halfway house poster. Now it's a very dark joke which seems to enclose an even darker jest in the gist: Here I go, no matter what you say, in fact, partly because of what you say, on another great screw-your-courage-to-the-sticking-point and quite possibly doom-your/my-thing (as even Toby's "American Soldier" video incl. Civil War, WWI, and more modern uniforms, with peace symbols on helmets like chalk on rust).
Doom's tapped and cut open, musical machines roll in and out of the Drive-By Truckers' DIRTY SOUTH. Cut out the mediocre median, and eerie ballads are very suddenly replaced by overdrive, but that's very Southern, and only DBT could get away with such an instigated-by-restless-pause-buttoned-meee, in extended parody of the 90s Altoonative slow-low-to-fast-loud shtick. They still need to write their story-songs about race (without editorializing, this time). And they need to get their sense of humor back. Especially if it helps in editing out some of the whiney crap before I have to.
Yet the Truckers, and all the above, are moment farmers, claiming and maiming all the non-nerf turf they can surf, rat now, or close enough. Like Eddie Hinton, Mississippi Sheiks, and Charlie Burnham and Blood Ulmer's 52nd St. Blues project. Not so much standin' on the verge of gettin' it on, but gettin' it on while standin' on the verge, just like Julie Roberts.(And old [but still alive, unlike Eddie and the Sheiks] George Strait, Darryl W.'s ideel, Ah bet.) Like Cyndi Boste, once captioned "cowgirl of the outback" for my "Alias In Wonderland" Voice roundup. On SCRAMBLED EGGS, she's still got those deep dark loamy tones, bare-bulb words, and now she's 'coompanied by clarion, fingerpicking mantras. Not too far from the extended, gentle gentile drrraaawwwwlllll of Big and Rich, who are themselves children of Richard and Linda Thompson's Anglo, 'ang on Sufi invocation, meditation, invitation, to "lose my mind and dance forever, lose my mind and dance forever, turn my world around." A steady circle dance, which, at its mirrored heart, is not too far from what wishful sinfuls before me called a "whirling dervish." Not too far. If the Lord's willin', and the creek don't rise too fast. (Despite dispensing blessings on self-pity and suicide*, vicariously cathartic [or anyway splashy!] self-gratification is Big times Rich's gift to the world, as the well-intentioned "Holy Water" sacrifices itself to prove. You can imagine what I think of Sawyer Brown and the supernaturally sacred steel guitar of Robert Randolph, at the "Mission Temple Fireworks Stand," handling rockets like they was snakes: "These things are made in China, so it's easy to see, how a man who worships Buddha ain't got no guarantee.")*Since I brought it up: In the climatic track, "Live This Life"("I'll live this life until this life won't let me live here anymore," goes the chorus), they venture downtown, and meet a man on the street who says his name is Jesus;"Thought he was crazy til I watched him heal a blind man." Later, they meet a boy on a bridge, who is "ready to go meet Jesus." They assure him, "He's a friend of mine, met him just last night, and it's alright, yeah." So empathy and the quest (incl. for drama) may take one or more too far, but they kinda mentioned that, on the previous "Real World," in which a desperately fantasizing kid keeps sinking back into the grubby daylight.(Like a considerably less exuberant version of Daniel Johnston's "Rock Star," with dubbed-in arena zombies cheering both ladverses on.) With or without a sense of humor, you may well need "uh prohh-zac, uh prohh-zac," or at least a pro. B&R are *two* pros, just in case! Posted by Don Allred