The Freelance Mentalists.
Saturday, February 02, 2008
 
Don Allred's Country 07 Comments Pt. 2
Ditto Billie Holiday's Rare & Live Recordings 1934-1959, clipped from
a thousand tapes, smokey and succinct, expressive and reticent,
brooding and shiny, romantic and austere, waiting for the right
connection, like the shadow of an old car, passing over whatever
condition the country road's in: however far the rest of the car may
or did make it, the shadow's still passing, still waiting. (And I'm
still listening: three discs in, several hours of my life, years of
hers, and she still doesn't sound mannered or wasted.)
But today I'm in the diner, finally getting what I'm always being
served, which is the nasality-as-gentle-astringency (previously
perceived as "an industrial-strength solvent"), the
everywhere-at-once, yet tastefully compressed hardshell hardsell: the
tirelessly, carefully flattened, signature hills of Sugarland. Today,
it's a little closer to home, like tabasco on a spud, which is home on
the range, the range of everyday, homely extremes. Can't remember the
name of the song, which is one of the ways I know I'm in Sugarland,
served up just right, by the shining morning face of Jennifer Nettles,
although that smiling busboy's hat has something to do with it too,
and today I'm glad to see them both.
Jason Isbell sounds to me like the offspring of Warren Zevon and
Eudora Welty, with both folks' appetite for words, beats, detail,
atmosphere, and hooks. But minus Warren's lapses into
"Carmelita"-style tearjerking, and plus a sense of justice for his
characters, of empathy, sympathy, distance (the last needed for
perspective, and for room to move on, to the next item on the docket,
and the menu). And nobody can find all that in his genes, or
anybody's.
Possibly doomed in part by heredity (cursed with tenacity, vitality
or at least endurance, under no matter how much stress), Bettye
LaVette's character on Scene of The Crime uses all the artist's own
post-nuclear cockroach tendencies (re improbable return to record bins
the past few years, and not even posthumously). She is one half of the
old school Thing That Will Not Die, one of those couples, probably
preserved in alcohol, who draw the world into their drama, for all the
world's the dark end of the street, and we are just players, so get
your helmet, for they're in LOVE. Except that she's not too
self-absorbed, or just enough, to be scared, when she sees what she's
about to do in another round of "Jealousy." Yet terror's just part of
another Happy Hour, like that laugh, that cough, that drunken listener
she's accosting, in "Old Talking Soldiers, " an Elton John song she
somewhat asymetrically transforms, typically enough. Ol' Doom making
the rounds, and the other shapes, stirring the pile: that's country;
creativity stirring the stirrer, that's country too (okay, art country
too, but tell it to John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands, and get another
bar breath nebula from Bettye, with Spooner Oldham on the pianoforte,
Drive-By Truckers picking up).(Pt. 3 follows)
 
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