The Freelance Mentalists.
Friday, January 26, 2007
  Kisses Sweeter Than Pine
The field survey is upon us once more.
Don Allred
Top Ten Country Albums Of 2006:
1. Jessi Colter: Out Of The Ashes (Shout! Factory)
2. Chatham County Line: Speed Of The Whippoorwill (Yep Roc)
3. Chris Smither: Leave The Light On (Signature Sounds)
4. Lone Official: Tuckassee Take (Honest Jons)
5. Various Artists: Kid Pan Alley: Nashville (Compass)
6. Cyndi Boste: Foothill Dandy (SoundVault)
7. CFH: Rebel Meets Rebel (Big Vin)
8. Willie Nelson: You Don't Know Me: The Songs Of Cindy Walker (Lost Highway)
9. Willie Nelson: Songbird (Lost Highway)
10. Oakley Hall: Gypsum Strings (Brah)

Top Ten Country Singles Of 2006:
1. Big & Rich: "8th Of November"
2. Anne McCue: "Coming To You"
3. Brain Surgeons NYC: "1864"
4. Rosanne Cash: "House On The Lake"
5. Ashley Monroe: "Satisfied"
6. Lari White: "Stinky Socks"
7. Dixie Chicks: "Not Ready To Make Nice"
8. Toby Keith: "A Little Too Late"
9. New Heathens: "Kansas Romeo"
10. Brain Surgeons NYC: "Lonestar"

Top Five Country Reissues Of 2006:
1. John Lee Hooker: Hooker (Shout! Factory)
2. Steve Goodman: Live At The Earl Of Old Town (Oh Boy)
3. Various Artists: Heartworn Highways (Shout! Factory)
4. Black Sage: Jack's Corner (Carpet Cat)
5. Various Artists: Classic Country: Sweet Country Ballads (Time Life)

Country Music's Three Best Male Vocalists Of 2006:
1. Willie Nelson

Country Music's Three Best Female Vocalists Of 2006:
1. Jessi Colter
2. Emmylou Harris
3. Dolly Parton

Country Music's Three Best Live Acts Of 2006:
1. Willie Nelson
2. Dolly Parton
3. Solas

Country Country Music's Three Best Songwriters Of 2006:
1. Chris Smither
2. Jessi Colter
3. Willie Nelson

Country Music's Three Best Duos, Trios, Or Groups Of 2006:
1. Solas
2. Shooter Jennings & The 357s
3. Cowboys From Hell

Country Music's Three Best Instrumentalists Of 2006:
1. Winifred Horan, fiddle (Solas)
2. Jon Graboff, steel guitar (Ryan Adams & The Cardinals)
3. Willie Nelson, guitar

Country Music's Three Best New Acts Of 2006:
1. Ashley Monroe
2. Sunny Sweeney
3. Carrie Underwood

Country Music's Three Best Overall Acts Of 2006:
1. Jessi Colter
2. Willie Nelson
3. Lone Official

Comments: Jessi Colter, whose early songs are credited to Margaret
Eddy, from when she was married to Chuck's Uncle Duane, emerged for
me, a little bit in the lemon-scented penumbra of her first and
biggest Jessi hit, "I'm Not Lisa," and much moreso on the expanded
reissue of Wanted: The Outlaws, but was and is still a reserved
journeyman. An artist of poise and potential, a masterful student. Out
Of The Ashes is a startling breakthrough, yet she seems shadowy, not
furtive or coy, just driving her low, rumbling keyboard over high,
rocky desert roads. Just like a woman, or some of 'em, no matter how
much she tells you, there's a fair, if implied, warning, that there's
a lot more where that came from, and a lot of it may stay Over There.
For instance,there's a brief, vividly allusive, yet elusive critique
of a certain outlaw, but in passing, as he's passing. She seems wise
to have waited this long after Waylon's death to record again, to have
gained perspective, but she doesn't dwell on it, except insofar as her
home seems in motion: "His Eye Is On The Sparrow" and "Rainy Day
Women" aren't the best performances, but they both move along at their
and her own chosen speed, and they're both equally emblematic of her
sensibility (And His eye surely must have noticed how they stone ya,
counted by every one of Shooter's drumbeats on the collaboration
originally commissioned by M-M-Mel Gibson for the companion album to
The Passion Of The Christ, and must also have noticed that this
sweatlodge session abjures the exploitational aspects of the stone-Ya
in The Passion, or the similar sequence in On The Waterfront, while
being scarier than either, just because of such unblinking austerity).
Sorry to do this, but running out of time: for more on Jessi and
Shooter , see "Honey Don't Put The OO Back in Umlaut! Shooter Jennings
Makes Retro His Own Thing," archived at (Blogger's not big on exact
links, but an Advanced Google will do it quickly)
Chatham County Line's Speed Of The Whippoorwill is non-nasal metagrass
(if I move as quickly as they do, mebbe can survive retaliation for
such a phrase). Migratory, sometimes fugitive Southerners, chasing the
right job, running from the wrong one, or sometimes both, like the
miner who gets into show biz by steering the coat tails of his
prodigious (or at least well-disciplined) kids, but finally his fear
of their failure, and his own return to the mines, is too great, and
he takes their money and runs, pursued by CCL, with just the right,
well-aimed mixture of coldness and compassion, of justice. (Also
please see my feature on them, "Both Sides Of The Line," archived at what I wrote about Kid
Pan Alley: Nashville, and Lari White's "Stinky Socks," which you can
also hear, at )
Chris Smither, Leave The Light On: Smither, whose "Love Me Like A Man"
and "I Feel The Same" were right at home on two of Bonnie Raitt's (and
the '70s') best albums, Give It Up and Takin' My Time, reminds me that
Allen Ginsberg said "Beat" came from "Man, I'm beat," and from
"beatitude" also, and Smither's got his own sense of hard won grace.
Not that he talks about it that way, but he lives it in his music,
often enough. Def the folkier blues, though obsessive in a country
way; can well imagine him on the corner of Bleecker and MacDougal with
Fred Neil nigh on forty year ago(though his own route was basically
from New Orleans to Cambridge), but no time for mellow crinkles, he's
even more like Nick Nolte in North Dallas Forty, the old pro athlete
who's gotta get up every morning and pretty literally put himself back
together again. He does know how to do this, and the music is fluid,
pickin' like those critters and other objects swimming in the
floodwaters of O Brother, Where Art Thou? But the voice and the words
are unsettled, always sorting themselves out (as are the pickers, but
the other elements are always catching up)(although he's got good
company, swimming around down, there, like the backup voices of
Olabelle, at times: a serendipitous simulation of field recording
magic, overall.)(Although the waltz version of "Visions Of Johanna" is
hideous filigree.) "Father's Day" is one of the most lucidly scary
songs ever: he's enough of a father and of a son and an artist for
that. Also, "Johanna" aside, got covers that suit him well, from Peter
Case and Mississippi Fred McDowell. (Voice now is like Tom Waits' was
on Closing Time; well, kind of between that and Nolte's!)(If he can
remind me of Waits, without turning me off, he's really got some stage
Someone else who overcomes objections, in this case even when I don't
want him to, is Willie Nelson. Sounds like he may be reading the
words to half the songs on Songbird for the first time, even the ones
he wrote himself. But it works well enough,
considering the way his voice and his guitar cue the steel guitarist,
and the rest of The Cardinals, and even when he leadeth them to squash
"$1000 Wedding," he puts the nightmarish lyrics across like he's
umpiring a public atrocity, which he is, of course. "Stella Blue"
could be unbearably poignant when sung by its composer, Jerry Garcia;
Willie uses just enough time release of tiny pain pills to lure me in.
And he nails "Hallelujah," even better than L.Cohen, who sounds even
flatter than Willie, who really knows how to rhyme the title with
"What's it to ya?" Several other A tracks, but yes, basically it's a
rehash of material he's done before, and even his approach to"Amazing
Grace," tilting it into the tune of "House Of The Rising Son," has
already been done by The Blind Boys Of Alabama, though the arrangement
must be different, 'cos it's credited to Ryan Adams. But Songbird's
got the overall momentum that You Don't Know Me doesn't, quite. No way
is his version of the latter's title track not left in the dust by Ray
Charles, while the Songbird tracks that beg comparison also pass their
tests. Also: who cares? This stuff works! As a guilty pleasure,
And yeah, much more of a guilty pleasure than is Rebel Meets Rebel,
which is presided over by David Allan Coe, as to the country metal
manor born, and the Panterans have also found their true home, in
whatever bar or barn or skidmarks may adorn Cat Scratch Highway (the
country metal Brigadoon I want to swallow Montgomery Gentry's "Slow
Ride In The Fast Lane," helping to slim MG's new set to its better
half, and prove its title, Some People Change).
Lone Official is a one trick pony, but one that keeps finding new ways
to go from a suspended lope to rippling explosions: as country as
their race hoss muses.
Oakley Hall, bearing the same name as the Western novelist admired by
Thomas Pynchon, and the same name as the novelist's visionary
playwright son, who seems to be steadily, amazingly recovering from fearsome
brain injury, over the course of thirty years, is now also a solid band of
pioneers, forcing themselves to plunge ever deeper into the poison
glow of the wilderness, flagellant poetry in motion, at least when
their guitars are in full cry. But they aren't always. They know how
to ease up sometimes. Which gives them more energy to get themselves
in even deeper, to "House Carpenter," where "those hills are murder."
My New Year's resolution is to find something interestingly bad to
write about (no, not interestingly bad to write, I got that covered).
Let's start early with Wayne Hancock's '06 release, Tulsa. His persona
here, even more than usual, is that of somebody who's made himself
come out of the wilderness (might be a descendant of Oakley Hall's
cousin, not quite a direct line). He's come to town, looking for some
fun. Not all fun, not big fun, and nothing too weird or wildernessy,
just the normal stuff that normal farmers and cowhands and townies
take for granted. His voice is marked by thirst and maybe strain, but
also it's naturally kinda high and thin; he's comfortable with that,
and used to turning over every rock bottom of depression to get where
he has to, or, in this case, wants to go, to see those bright lights
tonight. And he's arrived somewhere, but these lights are dimmer than
Hancock's willpower. This may well not be his band's fault. Judging by
No Depression's description of a session, for a track on an earlier,
equally frustrating (and perhaps frustrated) album. WH lambasted the
players, because the song is "starting to sound like Elvis, and I hate
Elvis!" So maybe the desert's in him too deep to shake, but still he
proves he has star power, by letting it trickle through the dust.
Oh yeah, the singles:
Brain Surgeons NYC sometimes do the urban country boogie, like they
worked extended temp in the Dallas Schoolbook Suppository, lookin' at
the world through a computer screen, like the rest of us, and, if Ross
The Boss's leads didn't seem quite so trite quite so often, and if Al
Bouchard gave up the mic more often to Deborah Frost, then Denial Of
Death might well have made my Rock Top Ten. But even so, on
"Lonestar," you get that Metal Brenda Lee is comin' on strong, and
Lemmy Lee too, pert' near (still meaning her, def not Al). But Al's the
Yankee boy proudly reporting for duty in "1864," and no less country
for that.
Big & Rich's "8th Of November" marches to a certain point in the
wilderness, then goes round and round and round, a lost patrol hanging
onto that fiddle like a helicopter. Will the last person out of Saigon
turn out the light at the end of the tunnel? (Sorry, that's just
something I saw written in the Men's Room at Maxwell AFB, a long time
But far from such a mossy cliché, is The New Heathens' "Kansas Romeo."
The New Heathens are very influenced by The Drive-By Truckers,
especially the way Patterson Hood's dry little cigarette voice
sometimes squeezes as many words as possible into a bar line, then
keeps on giving. But if I were assembling my own personal Deluxe
Edition of Southern Rock Opera, I'd slip "Kansas Romeo" in with the
best tracks from actual Truckers albums. Drawing on journalistic
sources, it carefully details the story of a kid from a low-income
family, pegged as borderline, in ethnic "mix" and I.Q., who ended up
in a prairie group home, fell in love, but "stopped as soon as he was
asked." Nevertheless, he's last seen in a prison cell, praying for
forgiveness. As the situation is described here, it seems likely that
he would have been charged with statutory rape, at most, if he hadn't
loved "another Romeo, instead of a Juliet." How many times has this
happened? Only once, in any song I've ever heard or heard of. It's not
much shelter, but I hope the guy in the song hears it someday,
sounding like one thing more than his own lonely voice.
Oops, the Reissues:
Certainly in terms of obsessiveness with the finer things in life ,and
with some other things as well, and of the resourcefulness, which is
part of the obsessiveness, John Lee Hooker is country, don't you
think? Maybe not twisted enough, judging by Hooker, the box set, but
close enough. Hooker prowls through all the one-man band sides he
recorded under various names; that's just one of its missions. And the
one-man-band consists of various effects of voice, guitar, and foot,
no cymbals or other fancy hookups required. Of all heavy friends on
the final disc (each of whom finds his own foothold, and his own
release), Robert Cray is the one who emulates and builds on the
inflections of Hooker's voice (and those other elements).Cray's
probably noticed that, by this point in the saga, The Hook's stutter,
for instance, has been demonstrated as a way to pick up women. (What
the heck, it sounds sounds as plausible as any other approach.)
Steve Goodman's Live At The Earl Of Old Town features Jethro Burns on
mandolin, appropriately enough, considering Goodman's twists on Homer
and Jethro's own smoothly skewed sensibility. Oh, everything's real
tuneful and chirpy, with covers of "Red, Red Robin," "Rockin' Robin,"
and "I'll Fly Away." But we also get the exultation of towing
"service" pirates of insatiable greed (based on a true Chicago
enterprise, a company named Lincoln, of course, set those pirates
free!). And ugly, funny, scary ditties by Shel Silverstein, and
Steve's own account of an H&Jesque innocent , checking out that there
NYC meat market, and even his also self-writ "City Of New Orleans"
sounds stained here, and overall, Goodman, who worked his way through
college penning jingles and singing at the folkie-legendary Earl,
while beginning to deal with the condition that tracked his 15-year
career, earns (and tips our way) the self-awarded halo of Cool Hand
Leuk, one more time. (Although I haven't heard SG's other live sets,
and Xgau told he gives this one an Honorable Mention, but he loves the
live disc of Goodman's No Big Surprise anthology, and if that really
is so much better than this, well so much the better indeed.)

Clay Eals left the following comment,incl. generous offer, which I took him up on; it was also generous with the contact info, so I've edited it to protect him from yall:

Good to see your post about Steve Goodman. He often doesn't get his
due. Thought you might be interested in an eight-year project of mine
that is coming to fruition -- a biography of Goodman that will be
published this spring. Please e-mail me at/// if you
would like me to e-mail you a background sheet on the book. Clay Eals
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