The Freelance Mentalists.
Monday, December 19, 2005
  Howdy, Ma'am

Howdy, Ma'am:
The Midnight Plowboy And Your Favorite Dessert, Reporting For Duty
By Don Allred

Two fresh new country albums, Hot Apple Pie's *Hot Apple Pie and Billy
Currington's Doin' Somethin' Right, each serve up one song in which
"hillbillies" are called for, and and one reserved for "rednecks." Fair's fair, but
actually, I like to think the hillbillies have won. Or at least are catching up.
'Bout time. To paraphrase Waylon Jennings (while using proper tongue-in-chic
dialect): "Don't yew thank this redneck thang has done got out 'o hand?" True,
the equation of "redneck" with "red white and blue" has about ridden its
sincere-to-opportunistic ('scuse me: patriotic-to-free-enterprise!) bandwagon into a
rut, along with the war and the economy. But the Ironic Appreciation of
Rednecks isn't faring that much better.
Of course, irony brings a nice tang to the New Earthiness of recent
country, which is a healthy counter-trend to the anxieties of life during wartime
(And now floodtime, and so on.). So, as current CMT video star Jason Aldean
brings the sight of "the neighbor's butt crack, as he's nailin' up the
shin-gles," to the New Earthy party in his "Hicktown," sure, I'll salute it. But the
music reminds me of driving a pickup truck over railroad ties and bad roads,
just for the heck and the habit of it, even on your day off. Which can be fun,
like the song, yet even before the price of gas went up so far, it was kinda
dumb, and obstinately so. ("Ah gotta do this for the Big Boss Man, so Ah'll do
it for me too!")
And that, whether the defensiveness involved is self-mocking or
self-righteous and/or surrogate-seeking and/or mostly commercial, is what representations
of redneckism come down to, most of the time: that 'necks are dumb and
Hillbillies are more likely to be crazy and sexy than dumb and obstinate.
These essential traits were "established" around the beginning of the 20th
Century, by what were later discovered to be bogus, pseudo-scientific presentations
of the bloodlines of two families, given the stage names of Jukes and
Kallikaks. Conclusion: you might look perfectly normal, but if you have a recessive
'billy gene in there somewhere, one of these days, you're just gonna jump out
the window and go whoopin' 'round the mountain with Bugs Bunny and Dolly Parton.
Which is just the appeal of Hot Apple Pie's shimmying "Hillbillies" and
Billy Currington's curly "I Wanna Be A Hillbilly." Yes, friends, in these
troubled times, what better way to send all your hopes and fears, especially about
yourself, especially if you're Southern, right on up the crick, than to jump
outta your rode-hard "Hicktown" pickup, kick off your shoes, and dance with and
to and on Billy and the Pie. Sing it, Pie! "Lay me down-n-n, in a bed of
gold, " they harmonize, full-throatedly. So they're not *too hillbilly, they don't
sing through their noses much, though they can pick the bluegrass, while
jumping into the chorus: "Hey! Hill-bill-ies!" Not unlike "Hey! Bo Didd-ley!" Fact
is, bluegrass and blues licks are catnip to Brady Seals and his merry men,
just as Bill Monroe was equally inspired by the fiddle tunes of his Uncle Pen
and the blues guitar of his neighbor Arnold Shultz, to go travelling, musically
and geographically, with his Bluegrass Boys.
The Pie is a true band, rarely adding any session players at all, and they
always leave their music plenty of room to breathe in and travel through,
stylistically and emotionally. "Easy Does It" is a guy telling a girl to control
herself. Which is quite a switch, but not wimpy: its chorus is like that of
the robustly suave Commodores' hit "Easy," with the added attraction of " I'm a
real-l-l, re-luc-tant, Romeo," a line which, though playing hard to get, is
*musically pretty close to Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On"! These resourceful
hillbillies also know how to adapt to the musical surprises of others. Willie
Nelson duets with Pie leader Brady Seals on "Slowin' Down The Fall," but
Willie seems to have a really bad cold, so Brady figures out how to match Willie's
timing, while working around the hoarseness, rather than trying for smooth
harmony, as he would with his own bandmates. Oh yeah, about their aforementioned
take on "redneck": "Redneck Revolution" isn't as yee-haw as you might think
from the title: it rocks steady (and reminds me of Bad Company's "Rock
Steady"), while its confidence grows, and gets more expansive: "We don't give a damn
what religion or race, we don't hate." So it's not really "redneck,"
stereotypically, but "Redneck Revolution" sounds like it might be the name of a pretty
good nightclub.
Billy Currington's "I Wish I Was A Hillbilly" ("prayin' fer rain!") flies
like the Pie's "Hillbillies," and he's as lanky and sexy as 'billies are
expected to be: limber enough to adapt to life's and love's craziness, with just a
touch of his own strange tushmagick. He knows, when a lady with "Hollywood" on
her license plates drives up and sees him "sellin' turnips on a flatbed
truck, crunchin' on a pork rind," she must be thinking, "This is where rednecks
come from." Don't say! But, even though he obediently gives her directions, the
lovely traveler still turns right around and comes back to him. He's grateful
for this, but doesn't sound very surprised. Nor should he be. As long as he
keeps his reassuring faith in womanly wisdom moving to a smooth, new-cut groove,
his modest crop of memorable melodies should make for a real nice diet of
midnight snacks. Going down even easier than Pie.

Saturday, December 03, 2005
  The complexities of name-calling
Not heard Finnissy's latest disc but i found the throwaway comment re: "new complexity" a bit interesting. When I started reading abt classical, new complexity was the first time I came across that sort scene building that is taken for granted over in the pop-world (check yer rock music weeklies). Scene names are designed to provoke exclusivity, signal a break with what has gone before, are quite exciting to the new reader (but not to the older reader nor to the artist a few years down the line), but lead to reactionary responses (in this case complexity being an incredibly loaded term) thus doing a triffic job in promoting but obv aren't that good as a descritpion as to what goes on (how can such scene names be? Wasn't it a laugh when Stanley Crouch uttered his 'free from what?' comment re: free jazz? And in this case Finnissy I don't feel has actually "moved on" from the term bcz really it doesn't exist, if you see what i mean)...and it felt right enough, catching the UK premier of Dillon's 'traumwerk III' for piano and violin that started with a slow, mournful-sounding tune, which is not what you'd expect after the violinist spends a minute laying out the glued music sheets across the support! And micro-melodies are what seemed to come in and out, throughout the however many sections the work seemed to contain. It was long, and at times quite frustrating, but in the best way possible.

Anyway, enough ramblin', more mentalism 4 Xmas!

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