The Freelance Mentalists.
Monday, January 07, 2013
  Rank, Strangers! Pt. Dude: The Telling
Don Allred Presents
The  Library of Commentary On 2012 Country and Related Releases
And so it remains true, in country music especially, that the best or deepest or most fun listening experience does not always lead to  the best or most writing, and vice-versa.  Also, some of the Honorable Mentions would def be in a Top 12 (Kix Brooks, Todd Snider--the latter is here excluded for being a little bit too rock & roll, but really that's just a lifeboat excuse; The Drive-By Truckers, whose better stuff resembles most of Snider's Agnostic etc., were a little bit country enough for some previous Scene lists, def incl mine) Forgive us our lists, as we should forgive those who list against us (yeah, and if some of these make your own lists, and others so decidedly don't, I won't argue, big whoop).
Albums
God, 3 Pears is great. Grabbed me right away---on MySpace, but great sound (via Koss UR40 headphones). Dwight Yoakam assimilates the mid-60s back-and-forth of country, rock, some Latin in both, from the Southwestern US to UK and back: well, mostly assimilated, not too quote-y, though he does make good use of a certain Beatles chorus, Tommy James--mostly subliminal Orbison, Owens, Everlys (even multiple Dwights for a moment on one track), early Gram Parsons, and right from the latter to "Heart of Mine", the best southwest of Liverpool garage pop country that the young Sir Douglas Quintet never did. Circumspect flash, he is a character actor after all, knows not to wink and the audience, but when to whoop, and the wave of music the sorrowfully moralistic, left-behind hubby rides though "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke" has a faithful scream inside. Also like what I hoped the Mavericks' album would sound like in the wake of "Oh What A Crying Shame", but this is much more consistent. "Waterfall" sounds like a children song,more imaginative than sentimental, but the line about babies being born even in a war, is that something you'd tell a kid? Some kids would know, would be there to agree with you, no Pope Daddyio. Couple tracks toward the end I could live without, but it perks up again. If Tom T. Hall left Kentucky, and hung a left for Hollywood on his way back to Nashville or Murfreesboro, Yoakam might have a good dream about it, right before starting this album.

John Fullbright's From The Ground Up also has  me evangelistic 'bout it. Call this wide open spaces/ex-dustbowl/Oil Age southern gothic or just past that. First song is like Randy Newman's "God's Song" and then some: He gives us the stuff to party with here, then He (or whoever's representing) got a hangover cure, if you can hang with that (party again, way out of or in the core of bounds). "Jerico" (sic) finds him heading east to find his destination all fallen down, but bury him in the vines, he wants to rise and be the trumpet sound all around the walls (which have to rise and fall again for him to do so). Oh, but he's a badass by day who prays at night, when the world disappears and he has to confront his fears, has an unmarked car, wants to keep things unscarred (or looking that way), only flies so far. some things are nowhere to be found, but that's not nec. bad: he might want to be a rich man in a big house where he can't be found--rich or poor, no matter how loudly he testifies, is always ready to take off again. So many shadows, such appetite, eh "Fat Man" (caricature taking on a life of its own). Another for Miranda Lambert or LeAnn Rimes to consider, though the orig should be on the radio right now: "This is not reflection/Reflections are true/This is just me/Me wantin' you/Sweet silver mem'ries/Me wanting you", and the music starts another upward arc, then back to its perch, but as always (so far) with the talons to ride cows, whales, whatever you got. Strong, clean-cut voice; there's more to the boy next door than previously thought. Kid's got charisma, look out.

Chris Smither, Hundred Dollar Valentine: Probably eyed suspiciously by the Powers That Been, incl. city officials and established, jazzy buskers, Smither left New Orleans  for Mass and the Village in the 60s, knowing folkiedom was his to earn, which  he did. He's got a lot of country-compatible spirit too, with several well-worn  shades of blue in this musical valentine, but they're all still bright enough,  considering how long and deep the lay-away, among other plans. Smither's best known songs are the ones covered by Bonnie Raitt in her 70s prime, the title/key phrase-tweaked "Love Me Like A Man"  and "I Feel The Same," where she was  backed by Little Feat in their own early 70s prime (Esther Phillips also did a first-rate version). It's inescapably lucid and shadowy too, says a lot that his version here doesn't overshadow, just fits right in.  Also, "Try not to complain, nobody cares/Don't bother tryin' to find your place/It's everywhere" might be charming disarming bullshit if he weren't so good at finding a worthy perch damn near everywhere, amidst 60s folkie tropes that sure don't seem like cliches here, where he's a tour guide through illusions useful and otherwise, in his experience. Like the kind rewarded by good sex, a sensuous chord progression and a melodee descending and going back up somebody's down staircase. He's kinda world-weary, but always got another good line and lick, deftly off the denim cuff (where they're carefully noted, no doubt).

The Hobart Brothers & Lil Sis Hobart, At Least We Have Each Other:  Jon Dee Graham, Freedy Johnston,  and Susan Cowsill pool their songs about buildings, food, dirt, jobs, women, men, spare tires of several kinds, jobs, pavement, waking up, jobs, dreams (maybe), jobs, spare sounds, fuller ones too (I prefer the former here, for the coffee break vibe,  but both work), and jobs. Not really so many (or so remarkable) jobs, but more than we usually hear songs about;  songs that beat plain ol' complaints, anyway. Susan Cowsill was the youngest member of her brothers'/mother's/manager dad's group The Cowsills, real life basis of the Partridge Family. She does not sound waify here: fairly tough and flexible voice, something of a potentially upsetting, born-for/to-trouble spark. Freedy Johnston's reedy, and observant enough to bend with the ornery wind;  Graham's one gravelly, articulate Austin cracker.  Johnston, whose stoically idiosyncratic practicality has so far led to at least one great solo album, Can You Fly (not even a rhetorical question), sometimes breaks out a bit of power pop here. It's in the soda pop pulled from a rusty icebed by a gas station, probably in Texas and/or the Great Plains, while the sun keeps the beat---they keep enough shade, enough cool to try and work out "the difference between beaten and beat," also Beat.  This album is  rec'd to these individual artists' fans, ditto those who enjoy the community-minded best of James McMurtry, Warren Zevon, John Doe, Dave Alvin, Eliza Gilkyson, like that y'all.

James Hand's Mighty Lonesome Man tracks the fine print white line of life's little ups and downs with mighty fine timing--unafraid to venture beyond deft wordplay into details that could easily keep him orbiting in mental and emotional rituals eternally--but 12 items, 34 minutes, as Windows Media Player sums up, hand him off, pass him along in the alone-together jukebox of honky tonk pop (where he can be alone-together with Billy Joe Shaver, for instance). Good in the background or foreground; I'm tempted to say he'll be there when you get there--he's a stand-up guy--but whatcha say James? "Let's do it now, before they use a plow, 'cause then I won't be no earthly good to you."
 
Various Artists ---Kin: Songs By Mary Karr & Rodney Crowell  Haven't read Karr's books. An excerpt from Chinaberry Sidewalks, Crowell's memoir about funky canaltown Houston in the 50s, seemed a tad overloaded with (good!) pungent detail. The one song that comes closest to being too wordy, "Long Time Girl Gone By", does so appropriately: as Emmylou stealthily stirs the shit, and regret's ritual recital of risk strikes some sparks that may go past "my bridal veil of smoke" on  the next spin or so (maybe why she didn't take some chances missed is cos she took a bunch of others, among her allusive souvenirs). Whole collection's pretty lean, lilting, often like mid-60s country reflecting what Beatles got from country. But sometimes further back, like the most amazing track, just because I had no idea he could do it, is Vince Gill (!) on "Just Pleasing You", sounding like Doug Sahm might if he'd ever covered "Jolie Blonde", one of my all-time favorite songs. Lee Ann Womack remembers her and her sis zipping parental love's battlefield in "Momma's On A Roll", rec to Pistol Annies. Rosanne Cash does as well with "Sister Oh Sister": "You've been my seawall, you've been my flood, you're in my blood." Even Crowell's own turn with Kristofferson on "My Father's Advice" is springy and surprisingly painless. Oh yeah, and "Hungry For Home" is literal enough. "Frito pie and a grape Nehi"? I'm jealous!

Jamey Johnson---Living For A Song: A Tribute To Hank Cochran  I wanna do bad things with you. Very sensuous autumn flames in the veins, righteous wounds and guilt, old weird passive aggressive Casonova singing in his chains and cowpoke leather. Well, it's a reverie anyway, but the object of his repentant booty doesn't seem so far away tonight, and actual female duet partners take it t another level, which may be why not so many of them. The faster, funnier tracks are welcome too, a little fresh cold air, not too far from the dancefloor, at-least-mental boudoir, or bar (I once read that songs of this era were judged by the amount of drinks sold while they were played on the jukebox and radio; not a conspiracy, just corporate tie-ins). Maybe it is just one more elaborate act of JJ's writerly procrastination, but he def holds his own amid all the guests. Sounds kinda like Merle but younger. Very edutaining too; I never heard most of these.

Iris Dement, Sing The Delta: Don't want to say too much now, I need to listen more--it's really rich, deep, lots of turns in the syllables, imagery, piano--but gotta say something. First track reminds me of what I liked about Leon Russell: that rippling, bouncing/pouncing piano (thinking of his "Tightrope"), and what kept me at at armslength: those rippling, detouring syllables). But intriguing, and after that, more like Toussaint,Domino even, especially at her most country (reminds me, she played piano with Merle Haggard and the Strangers on tour; think she learned something from his sneakily flexible tightjaw, even though she can take such phrasing much further--usually I can follow her far enough, catch up with her often enough). And at least a couple, "The Night I Learned How Not To Pray" and "Mama Was Always Tellin' Her Truth" ("no back burners on her stove"), are like great lost Tom T. tracks. Would like to hear Lee Ann Womack, Miranda Lambert, Lucinda Williams cover some of these.

Giant Giant Sand, Tucson: It's not so uncommon to hear albums inviting comparisons to spaghetti western soundtracks, but few really 'ppreciate the possibilities of American and European give-and-take: Latin in the Southwestern and Transatlantic senses, small room jazz a la Weill, Ellington, Arizona highway lounge; steel guitars and twang bars with nothing left to prove, Giant Sand (many of whom have been Danish for some time), now momentarily expanding into Giant Giant Sand and offering Tucson---which is billed as a country rock opera,uh-huh--without ever being anythang that can't be hitched to s dustcloud drum kit, usually bouncing through stagecoach ruts. Sometimes swinging a little, though a droll drawl and and a tall tale (of love yall--it's all very romantic, in a worldly, wide open spacey way) "You're so much like the river/Beautiful, twisted and blue/You appear to be here forever/Passin' through." And baby, it's hot outside. (Think this was the Deluxe Edition--no remixes or filler; just lush enough to be approriate.)

Catherine Irwin's new solo album, Little Heater, starts out with her as a maybe wayward but non-waify personal pilgrim, with some bruised resolution to walk on down the tracks. Then she becomes a tough-soled backwoods backstreet visionary, a nature-loving evangelist: "We must save the liars, we must save the liars! For there is much/Truth in them." Also, we must save the whores, the thieves, and "the pirates' hearts",  though not the rest of them apparently, which in hindsight may be a foretaste of gory glory divine, though only glimpsd in those "kerosene lights",  as she eventually (spoilers ahead) looks back: "Ah rose through those valleys unscathed, but Ah couldn't take the heights....when 'Do What Thou Wilt' was the whole of the law." (The ancient motto goes good with the tune and inflections---Appalachians are descendents of the Elizabethans, don't you know). Ends up eternally wistful, having killed the loved one who killed the dream, but not dead enough, on "Banks of the Ohio",  the only cover.
Sound unbearable? It doesn't *sound* unbearable, far from it. After all those steadily progressing quality-vs.- quantity Freakwater albums, plus one prev. solo set, she masterfully guides and trusts the scaled-down pre-bluegrass mountain sounds through isolation and stealthy company (a few strings like creek branches, a steel guitar here, banjo thar, harmonies finding their sea legs soon enough). Also finding her own way through syllables, chords and good ol' tunes in the moment, or so it surely seems. The only thing is, the seriously punk-to-roots humor of her deadpan ways is now pretty much reduced to "is she kidding with that?", and once or twice at most. Unless it can be heard in  the quiet audacity of the whole thing, which might be an allegory of what happens to all religion. Does also seem fully, personally inhabited though. Track by track, it mostly still works--so far, but the lack of humor makes me wonder. Will make my Nashville Scene Top Ten; probably Pazz & Jop too. At this point, Little Heater seems at least strong and scary as Dylan's new Tempest often means to be, and sometimes is. Dylan's Halloween-masked narrator (sounding old as heck, yet manipulatively so) crows, " I pay in blood, but not my own."  Irwin's vagabond sounds younger, but also like she's paid at a much higher exchange rate.
(PS: Little Heater "features a range of guests including Bonnie 'Prince' Billy on vocals, members of Ida on vocals and various instruments, and Marc Orleans on pedal steel", says press sheet).


Right Honorable Mentions
Meanwhile, Kelly Hogan's I Like to Keep Myself in Pain starts with the same Catherin Irwin song Irwin starts  Little Heater with, "Dusty Groove." Which may be what the protagonist feels like, and mebbe she's dusting the walls in the hall as she bumps off 'em, but she's got some concealed, wary agility down in the groove, and pushes herself out into some Loretta Lynn-worthy precision--"Sleeves rolled down/Even in an evening gown", resolutions crumpled in her fist--gliding into understated flamboyance, train of thinking out loud about seeing stars in the love wars or anyway the battered homefront. "Underneath the sweater/Ten fingers are red/Ah bequeath this gold map of the stars to the living dead." Still, the overall vibe of this set is like late 60s crossover bait, radio hits and shoulda-beens, from the age of Lynn and Bacharach and Jim Webb and Randy Newman, when Dusty Springfield was covering Ran' songs(if he wrote "Just One Kiss", or was it Nilsson--anyway, their neck of the woods and Vine). But  as we have seen ,Hogan wisely reserves the right to take it further than most reasonable radio-bait would have. The other great example (yes, there must be two): while "Daddy's Little Girl" reminds me that Newman sincerely offered "Lonely At The Top" to Frank Sinatra, it also sounds like one he would have written for himself (maybe Stephen Merritt wrote it, sounds more adept than recent Newman). Sung by Frank, or somebody who thinks he is, providing a grand, somewhat brain-leaky perspective, a tribute to himself. She does best when she's got something like this, tilting the Hoganpolitan shimmer and sheen, quickly training us to watch for the little psych-pop glints. Even the few merely retro tracks are spot-on. Rec'd to fans of recent Lambert, Pistol Annies, Chely Wright, Lee Ann Womack (thinking esp. of the way Womack did Mark Ribot's "Meds," on Buddy Miller's Majesty of the Silver Strings, where Womack didn't have to deal w the guitar noodles, unlike Patti Griffin and Emmylou on other tracks. (Miller's an effective accompanist, but when he gets between Ribot and Frisell, yow.)
Update: As press sheet points out, Hogan's own compact  studio combo incl. " R&B legends Booker T. Jones and James Gadson (Bill Withers, Beck) as well as talented young lions Gabe Roth (of Daptone Records, the Dap-Kings) and Scott Ligon." (I listening to her and Irwin's albums before reading the credits.) As for the writing, turns out "Daddy's Little Girl" is actually by M. Ward, of all people (no offense, just never heard anything by him nearly this awesome, to put it mildly. I'll have to further educate myself). The S.Merritt, or at any rate, Mag Fields contribution is the tamest thing here. The bravura "Pass On By", waving away the spotlight right on cue, is by Margaret Ann Rich, triumphantly standing by her tempestuous Charlie, the total cost for which included Lord knows what, but she surely paid some of it in most of his best material. The domestic science-times-rocket or slow train to stardom bit  is featured  in most if not all of the songs on this album, but it's good anyway.
Patterson Hood---Heat Lightning Rumbles In The Distance No distance as evasive action (or something) re some of the worst songs he shared with the Truckers, He aasures us these are autobiographical, though from two different phases in his life. Not as static as some of the worst songs he etc. Several snapshots, as usual, but the whole thing's so spare, crucial details of lyrics, arragements, even singing quickly stand out when they show up at all, which is fairly often. But autobiographically enough, we get several autumnal ruminations and songs about touring. But he accepts being "between anguish and acceptance" cause he could easily do worse, even if he had a choice:one of his buddies jumps. falls and/or is pushed out of the window, lands with the bong still in his hand and still smokin' But this reminds me that the whole thing is so *tastefully* spare, no yeehaw sendoff for his bud. (C'mon Patterson, it could be like dark humor, "Stagolee" as funeral parade). The first one seems like it's gonna be rehash of the prowling ex-cop on Go-Go Boots, but she lets him in the backdoor and between the sheets (or vice-versa), which makes it clear even to him that it really is over. Last track is another leaving song, but with some of the set's best music, guitar formations up-close and vivid, with a brief bridge suddenly opening as he tells his kid he'll send a picture from the plane but no way to convey how big the sky really is (the bridge gives some idea though, even more so when strings briefly lure through stereo sky at the album's end) 2009's Murdering Oscar (And Other Love Songs)seems much richer, with material reworked from earlier solo collections, new song and a cover of "Range War" (could be a Neil & Crazy Horse demo, actually it's a Rundgren song). But this has several (well, a few) which might fit my (personal-use-only) tweak-burn of Southern Rock Opera. Kelly Hogan was on that and this, ditto the strong drummer, and several other current Truckers (not Cooley, alas)

Jerrod Niemann – Free The Music: Crisp white sand Carribean country appeal, rec to fans of Sublime, Chesney Buffett, RIYL associations esp. relevant on the five tracks I so far don't particularly care about. But some of that same appeal on the seven I perk up for, "Guessing Games" being the most meta, like what will the arrangement do next, with suave switcheroos, "I could waste a day or two with my hippies out west/Cajuns on the bayou" ect., little bits "Southern Nights"-era Allan Toussaint and early Big Kenny solo turns flash before mah eyes,and I'm there for the horns, a bit "Kenny Lane" on the title track, though usually with a sly riverboat Dixieland tinge(as heard on riverboats near casinos and minor league ballparks in the modern South). When he disclaims being a "Rhodes scholar/rough edges, blue in the collar", is he maybe actually disavowing* all of that, so "Rhodes" could also be "roads" ("blue in the collar" could also imply "red in the face", he's not overselling or embarrassed, also not red in the neck) and he's not afraid to show musical evidence of being an unstudied combo of non-generic brains and beauty? Maybe does crossword puzzles, albeit with a pencil and eraser; only wears cologne on the right dates,if atall. Good to hear and think about, but things that make you go h'm-m-m: seven keepers, five so-whuts.
*Mind you, the disclaimer goes with a very nice trad country-friendly track, mellow baritones singing along;  Niemann should have supporting vocals more often, on slower songs)

Don Williams, And So It Goes:  Startling how good  the sound  is on some tracks, even though mine are mp3s---has to be this good to add sparkle to the modesty of "Infinity", for inst, and "I Just Come Here For The Music." Appeal of wistful thinking bobbing out on a tether to/from way things are on other tracks and in general, but I prefer more a sense of struggle or something in songs and/or singing which responds to less desirable situations the way the best music here does. Still, seems good for late night or midday consolation breaks.
Really like the strings pivoting around his trademark toetapping groove, and gets to the "Tulsa Time" groove at times in contexts quite diff from that song, yet appropriately so.

Toby Keith, Hope On The Rocks Deluxe Edition: The title song opens with troubled people hurtling into the bar and the chorus, which isn't quite up to the pressure. It's not a total let-down, and wouldn't want something grand, which would miss the point--the singing bartender's professionally observant, but he's just a bartender, and he knows that too. Just is a little too anti-climatic, beyond the call of realisn's duty. The uptempo yuk-yuk stuff could work (laff to keep from crine), but could use a guitar solo here, bigger beats there--thinking oof Montgomery Gentry, Terri Clark respectively--but Toby might riposte, "And where are they now?" Okay, but anyway I do enjoy "Get Got"--"Ask forgiveness, not permission." The one about the little gal who's just his size is kinda growiing on me, since the friend he's talling to back off is a big guy, which implies that Toby is fine with being little too (of course he's huge, so the buddy must be a monstah, but so be it). Immediately got spooked goosebumps via "Haven't Seen The Last of You" and "Missed You Just Right." Bonus tracks: good remix of "Red Solo Cup", which was already one of his funniest; nice mix of "Beers Ago" and live "Whiskey Girl" has some good beats too. Other extras are more disposable.

Almost as uneven, but w higher highs: Tim McGraw's Emotional Traffic opens and closes with dispatches from our correspondent in the field: reminders that the middle ground can be pretty costly to gain and then settle for--a place that has to "bleed out", in the opener, "Halo" ("Lay low under your halo"). But oh well, time to realize once again, "I'll always die by my owh hand"--title of closer, as the music man cues the guitar's xxth nervous breakdown, served on shaved ice of hairline fractures. In between, the cost of advancing mainstream country-as-pop-rock-nostalgia into a reasonably radio-aimed degree and angle of support for a mature overview of personal history as something still being made, for better, worse and breaking even--the cost, Ah say (aside from getting sued by your label, if that's why), is the risk of some expectations getting unreasonably raised. So, even though the overall effect is taut 'n' juicy, the songs aren't always up to the voice and instruments, or sometimes even vice versa. For inst, when "The One" calls on memories of early inspirations, and these are not sunsets and Eagles tapes, but "black leather, acid rock, cherry lipstick, 17", seems like the music should tilt (oh yeah, he says "tilt-a-whirl" too) and whirl reflections of some of these wild things, instead of just perk, perk, perkin' along, unless this is an ironic effect--old dude, kidding himself about the wild thing comeback! But if so, who cares. Except maybe the folks for whom the thought of being middle-aged is still a kick in itself. But at least the lyrics' references are nicer thoughts than those of "I Will Not Fall Down", the previous track, which is way too Jon Bon Jovi contributing to the soundtrack of a Tom Cruise movie about military romance. However, "Better Than I Used To Be" can be heard as a no-comment on rationalized reasonables: "Still got a few more dances with the Devil, but I'm cleanin' up my act a little. til I can stand the man in the mirror I see...I'm better than I used to be." Just keep hitting those Merit Lights, Miller's Lites, rub that stuff into yore sore tooth stead 'o' shootin' up. And yet there's no nudge-nudge to the vocal delivery, the guy in the song and the mirror really is hopefull. More boldly cautious is the speculative survey taken by "The One Who Got Away." A long shot success, now everybody wants some, incl everybody in the once chilly hometown, Cub Scout leaders included. "Now you tuck your scars up under your dress, like an American girl", oh hell yes. No gilt-edged guilt, self-pity, lashing out, peacemaking, "closure", just flying round in the big room. But in between these coups, "Touchdown Jesus" cheerleads for instant salvation! McGraw's idea of reasonable radio-bait, gateway for the uncut insights of the album-only cuts? Same kinda balance Niemann goes for--but "Felt Good On My Lips" is like one of Niemann's best, even harder rocking trade-offs with the Caribbean lilt. And the "Die By My Own Hand" guy's horizons have been permanently broadened by Sex In The City--on and off0screen too, probably, and always worthy of capitalization and Indian food, courtesy of the perhaps Indian-Indian, not "Indian Warpath" Indian gal whose "Indian Daddy" who admittedly was right, or is it "probably right", when said,?you were too good for me." But don't worry, he'll just always die by his own hand, while still thinking about you, no doubt. Just keep on keeping on, and "lay low under your halo." This way to the Egress!
I'm not familiar with Janis Martin's early stuff, but while Rosie Flores, producer of Martin's posthumously released The Blanco Sessions, contrasts her 50s " sparkling little hillbilly" voice to this, the tobacco that got her soon after doesn't impose any obvious wear and tear. If anything, the first couple tracks have her deeper tones kinda smoothly stolid, compared to the eager sounds boppin' at the hop all around her. But "Long White Cadillac" gives her some high lonesome notes to flex over a brisk-ish shuffle, that's the kind of combo really gets her going; "Oh Lonesome Me" turns into a party for wallflowers, chompin' at the bit, and Bill Monroe's "Walk Softly In this Heart of Mine" meets some "Honky Tonk Womne," pert near (Keef always did point out that the Stones trademark guitar sound was based on a banjo tuning). "Wild Child" has Flores providing that "sparkling little" etc, other tracks bring in the jump band, jitterbug bait of early rock, also rec to fans of Etta James' more downhome records, and Wynnnona's, for that matter. Not as glitzy as Wanda Jackson x Jack White, but good to go.

Rosie Flores' own new Working Girl's Guitar could use some of Martin's firm vocal heft, she sounds like a polite li'l sister, deferring to her guitar--but they're side by side in the mix. So sometimes it's like, "After you." "No, after you." Though I think "Surf Demon # 5" would be my favorite even if it weren't the only instrumental. Still, voice & guitar do pretty well with "Drugstore Rock 'n' Roll", "Too Much", and "If (I Could Only Be With You)", her strongest vocal. A few tracks kinda catch up with the 60s or early 70s. Title track's kinda Rockpile, but more in the writing than the performance, alas. "I'm Little But I'm Loud" mildly suggests "Bang A Gong", and "Yeah Yeah" is pretty good, reflecting Lennon's 70s reflections on/of the early 60s, looking to a moment "frozen in time" of living for today while praying for tomorrow--only thing, the steel guitar gets a bit toward Harrison's more wan/cloying slide. Though dang the actual "While My Guitar" 's descending melody gets steadied by a "Good Day Sunshine"-type bassline, with excess tears flushed, and she even brings out the zing of "you were inverted/No one aler,er,ted you"--nice roll, Rosie.

Kix Brooks' New To This Town brings that  well-known early 00s bluesy boogie, Southern Rock as mainstream country thang, plus weekends in Memphis, even "let's put some Otis Redding on" w Cropperesque licks on or leading into the steel guitar. "There's The Sun" is a pool party w the Hi Rhythm Gang (in effect).(Saturday soul sunshine in Kelly Clarkson and Vince Gill's hand-in-hand single, "Don't Rush"; if only their singing was as strong as the groove.) Brooks' title track is like why has no one ever done this before, although it might be risky on a mainstream country album, what will the Chamber of Commerce think of somebody who wishes he was new to this town, cos he's sick of this town, cos he knows it too well, and vice versa. of course because it is mainstream, has to be tied in with  a relationship, every street is where they used to walk happy together, and she's still around etc., but that's a good subject too ( could incl they still have the same friends, but that could lead to a sequel). Mostly songs about cutting loose, the other obligatory homefires songs usually fit in better than expected, and the closer, "She Knew I Was A Cowboy", is more affecting than 90 percent of all songs containing the word "cowboy", Ah believe. (no songs about kids, he doesn't push his luck that far). Lots of good video soundtracks here, re what I still think of as the early 00s-type marketing.

Todd Snider, Agnostic Hymns and Stoner Fables:  Known for his words, and yep music is setting for same, but I like 'em best when his voice unobtrusively and perfectly sets them down, teeth matched to gums, or upper and lower plates. Sharp enough, sometimes rounded, down in the gums or the plates and the meat of the matter, the details move into the overall effect. Better when he gets through the teaching moments and the passing suits, up above, down to the ground, where he might be a doorman, a cabbie, an ambulance driver, night court reporter--observing charred and certified White Trash and even a power couple (in "Brenda", which might be about Bill and Hilary, the renters of the lock just checked, and does incl their usual pursuits:"He's livin it up while she's workin, and that seems right/After all, Mick Jagger was born on Monday mornin'/Keith Richard on Saturday night")--when he's not "In Between Jobs" and back and forth from fear to distraction (like the primeval tribe in the first track), while 'llowing, "Ah may've been born yesterday, but I was up all night." His people are funny that way, incl when stubbornly creeping at their own chosen speed up and down tunnels and barrels they should be long gone from, given the means of course. That's the sound, which also usually includes a bluesy fiddle over a heavy flexible mobile rhythm section, which always includes a heavy etc. electric guitar (suggesting a door taken down and set on the kind of wheels that should be on an office chair, a door with a screen and bars too, a Southern thing). Rec to those jonesing for the next Truckers album, at least (if Cooley and Hood, in that order, were to merge, vocally and writing-wise, with Cooley's guitar central to and more prominent in the mix). What am I saying? Forget that, we got this. Imperfect, but it sure builds.

Dylan Hicks, Sings Bolling Greene: Checking the creek branch this morning: stream pouring out of the pipe, purling away round the bend, in between is impassive skin of leaves and stuff. That's the album too, an island of so-what static detailed futility of mopey little lives, with perky-to-obliging accompaniment, nerf vocals and tunettes, for the most part. But also pouring and purling are the pearls, or pearlettes: "West Texas Winds", "My Red Ideal" is  by far the best so far, in increasingly dutiful listening: "She said the grass was greener in the notebook she left back at" wherever, back in the detail pile). Very fresh; also like "The Nineteenth Hole", "Boarded Windows" (the music in this 'un actually grows, blooms before your ears). Wish he'd used the steel guitarist and oh lord other voices more  But if really want more low-rent ruminations, Craig Finn and his solo album crew do it better.
Here's my Finn preview, which indicates my main interest wasn't the specifically Catholic aspect of his compassionate conservatism/low-rent empathy, but worth noting the theological in this year's RC. anyway, a fun listen when it isn't too wordy::
"Dude with the long fingernails, I know he'll be good to you/I seen him shave up at the library/And sleep behind the caribou." On his solo debut, Clear Heart Full Eyes, The Hold Steady's Craig Finn temporarily trades THS's ornate neo-classic rock chariot for his Austin session group's trusty rusty cowbell groove, a bracing back room echo of THS tourmates Drive-By Truckers. Finn's currently touring combo of Austin stalwarts include the new album's incisive, evocative regular and steel guitarist, Ricky Ray Jackson; RRJ's Happen-Ins colleague, drummer Falcon Valdez; the well-named Moonlight Towers' guitarist, James Stevens; and attentive, sportive bassist Alex Livingstone, of Grand Champeen.

Also like these guys I previewed; go see 'em:
Shovels & Rope are Americana singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalists Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent, a committed couple who never settle down, or settle for less than true love and cheap thrills. 2012's O Be Joyful tracks risky ramblers teaming up, learning the mixing and measuring of pleasures. Thrills-wise, when Hearst later calls, "Come down here and make some sense of it all," she's affectionately addressing someone known as Wrecking Ball. Appropriately so: after all, Hearst sent "Hell's Bells" prowling through True Blood's third season, and S&R's sly, Southern Gothic beauty travels many a moonlit mile.

Willie Nelson, Heroes: "Random canon" was my brand on 2011's  Remember Me Vol. 1;  2010's Country Music was grandfathered into the same herd. .Heroes mixes several genres, subgenres and stylistic notions, but in a way that makes several kinds of sense. We get just a little too much of each approach, but he comes coming back for more, trying again, and the recurring shifts pay off. The cosmic country stoner ballads, featuring and often written or co-written by  Lukas Nelson (whose impassioned munchkin vocals and ace guitar are compatible with/distinguishable from the sounds of dad Willie) do keep stacking up, disconcertingly enough, but "No Place To Fly" gets braced by subtle irony: she's got no place to fly but in the reverie in his headbox,  a cage for them both, as he goes rolling  through the morning light, on a bus called Mary Jane (as with Wille's "A Horse Called Music", self-aggrandizement must balance on powerfully functional shifts in the music). And the greatest of these cosmic etc. is "The Sound of Your Memory": just at the end of a line, there's a little shift forward, into the unknown, or at least the future---well, could be the past revealing/remaking itself, or days of futures past, or--wow man, it's like Jimmy Webb at his best, though written by Lukas and one Elizabeth Rainey--remember that name. The  more traditional country memory rituals, "Every Time He Drinks He Thinks of Her", another by Lukas, and "Hero", by Who Cares, seem too schematic, ditto some of the western swing, but then there's "Home In San Antone." Oh, and on the somber side of  the street, trad ritualism comes  back for "This Cold War With You", which carefully makes the rounds, tends the homefires, 'cause baby, it's cold inside. Sensitive modern rock ballads-wise, Pearl Jam's "Just Breathe" seems perfectly suited for Willie's phrasing of the verses, though the cloying bridge leans in with a whiff of Eddie Vedder breath. Still, Coldplay(!) is the source of "The Scientist", a mighty wind bringing no formulas, just a brave romantic, leaning in and bearing down, heroically enough.
Which is the other way the recurring subsets work together, supporting/enabling/further developing romantic realism, even stoic hedonism ("Roll me up and smoke me when I die"--which might seem too glib, but we also get an outburst of sheer frustration, breaking the glaze, but just over the magic muffin top and ringing the gong, in "Come On Back Jesus." He's requested to bring John Wayne as well, to kick America's ass, for--insert fave atrocity  here, also insert both sides of the coin, and people get ready for the Good News/Bad News Bears, dagnabbit). "Come on Up To The House" is not an invitation/warning to get right with family values, nor  a deadpan hipster satire of such. Past  Tom Waits' blurry, growly original, Willie's deadpan cover makes it clear: you really should "come down off of the cross" (or Cross, perhaps) incl. of your own choices, perhaps, incl self-pity, perhaps, and "we can use the wood", certainly,  for aforementioned homefires--every room of every building everywhere, also outdoors, the Big Room. Day and night, sure is a lot of  cloud, a lot of fog, a lot of smoke, some light, some heat; can't split no hairs, so better pass it all along to the left and right. (But the real net, even for a die-hard fan: seven keepers out of 14 tracks?  Let's say the rest are fly-over states, for now)
Which brings to mynd one more show preview:
Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real
Wasted keeps Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real swaying on a tightrope of good times, good luck and good faith, so far. Likewise onstage: brushed by the rhythm section's percussive investigations, Nelson squeezes an occasional scream from his deep-toned, skybound, Allmanesque guitar, while parting the strata just enough to confide, "I can hear the wind/Whisper like a kid/'I treat you like I want to be treated.' "

Justin Townes Earle, Nothin's Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now  The bruised checking in back w people he's already apologized to, for instance, and those past breakup but unresolved--or ongoing, might be a better way of saying it. "Agree to disagree" but nothing so formal still got eyes for each other and each other's numbers in more ways than one, but regrets, so much has happened, is gone, but still hangs in the air between them, plus calling his mother asks how he's been, they both know why, also how his father's been, ditto, one of those road log excerpts, Memphis and New York, but his own sound,  arranged with a Brooklyn Bridge lattice of responsive, supportive, non-comfort food horns: exquisite touch but never precious, Doc Pomus, Dion in the Village, other end like end of The Wanderers, movie anyway, Garland Jeffrys s/t solo debut, a country sensibility and spirit in the bruised white blues shadow shaped by whatever particular holes poked in the tin or and cracks in  the mirror, when he goes around those, time to shut up now--until the next one


A Few Singles Choices And One That Wishes It Was (others are mentioned in the Albums they're on)
LeAnn Rimes, "Borrowed": Just out in mid-late December, with conflicted, sharply-focused desire ("I don't wanna give you back!") suddenly bumrushing  the now comparatively dutiful rue of her recent "What Have I Done." These things go back and forth.
Kacey Musgraves, "Merry-Go-Round" : "If you don't have two kids by 21, you're done." The first line is the best, then conformity and distraction go down the hill, to fetch a point made over and over. (Good to have vs. cloying/pro forma salutes to hometown values, but see Hon. Mention album comments above: Tim McGraw's "The One That Got Away" is a much more potent antidote, and it's even a single too.)The small town in the video looks pretty good when it's gliding by, reminding me of my Granny's town, with an actual walk-in movie theater, where I used to sit through all-day Western fests. Don't remember a frame, but now the place is an arts center: walk by and hear kids strumming, warbling, to karaoke and Garageband beats. Getting ready for talent shows, reality shows maybe, and one of these days, some of them  just might want to be the next Kacey Musgraves. But if so, they're less likely to be fired up by this droning, heard-it-all, mostly we-meaning-yall "confessional", than,  for instance, whatever she may do with "Undermine," which is very fine, when serving as the creative breakthrough for TV's  young and restless Nashville pop-country starlet Juliette Barnes, AKA  Hayden Panettiere.
Lennon and Maisy Stella--"Telescope":  The off-the-rack bad girl version, by Nashville's frustrated Juliette Barnes, is just what she's is trying to escape, but the song itself  is all new and spooky-intriguing to the young daughters of Barnes' great rival, Rayna James.  As played by the Stella sisters, Rayna's gals show us how to hear it right, with confidential voices,  handclaps, and a few guitar sounds.  Video of the characters' talent show one-off is viral: de facto released, at least.

The dB's--"She Won't Drive In The Rain Anymore": Very good contemporary country jangle-ballad, one of the highlights on a very good reunion album (aren't many of those). The true story, as told by Holsapple to http://dbs-repercussion.blogspot.com
"It's about my wife evacuating New Orleans during Katrina. I was on the road with Hootie [and the Blowfish]; my wife had taken my daughter and my baby son and my daughter's best friend on a train to Birmingham to buy a vehicle up there. She knew the hurricane was coming, and she did all the things you're supposed to do. We didn't think too much about it — we certainly didn't realize it was going to be a 100-year storm. But when she got to Birmingham to get the car, it was very evident there was no turning back, so she drove literally across the storm path to get to her grandmother's in Little Rock."
Peter goes on to explain the reunion theme in the lyrics. He says his wife "took a day to re-group and then started driving back and she dropped my daughter's best friend off with her mom in Memphis. And then [my wife took] Miranda, my daughter with Susan Cowsill, to where Susan and her husband were living at the time. Then she made a beeline to where Hootie was playing next, which was Baltimore. She got there 15 minutes before we went on. It had been this incredible, tortuous time, unable to get in touch with anybody. Meanwhile, I'm in this sort of suspended state of touring because I need the money, and I can't really stop. Where am I gonna go, what am I gonna do? When I saw her, it was the first time in weeks, she and my son pulled up and I was overjoyed just to get to see her. We didn't really talk very much because we didn't really know what to say; it was all just so overwhelming."
Would really like to hear the Pistol Annies With Special Guest Lee Ann Womack cover, but the orig should be on the radio rat now.
Turns out Holsapple wrote it w Kristian Bush of Sugarland, so maybe they'll do it too (or does Sugarland work that way).
Reissues
The Flatlanders, The Odessa Tapes:   14 tracks (my Windows Media Player picks up sometimes distracting noise around the edges; boombox makes the audio sound perfect), recorded in Odessa TX, before the Nashville sessions, which were eventually released as More A Legend Than A Band, among other titles. The very useful booklet's author, Michael Ventura, thinks that these tapes (mostly same songs as More…) are better, because they don't the later set's "self-conscious Bob Willsian asides." Can't find my copy of that, so no comparative listening yet, but Ely, Hancock and/or Tony Pearson's occasional background harmonies always perk up the attention span here. Gilmore doesn't bend notes, syllables and keys with his nose yet, so there's a certain sameness and smoothness to the pudding-stirring sweetness. But sweetness and bouyancy--not too far above the ground, while they're discreetly extending some craft---and intimacy all are crucial ingredients here, as Ventura points out. The slightly lecture-y bits are never hectoring, the Flatlanders want to just to make love make sense to you, so it'll make sense to them, so the imagery times plain--for-serenades seek dialogue, seek truth in peeling and appealing veils, in balancing acts, even or especially those which might be seized on in sleight of hand---they want to understand, man. And woman, oh yes, and oh Lord too. They also know when to move on. Two previously unreleased songs by Gilmore, two by Hancock, all worth checking out; ditto a DVD interview with Gilmore, Hancock and Ely.

Wilco & Billy Bragg (also two with Cory Harris)---Mermaid Avenue Vol III:  Good name for mapping, Mermaid Avenue: landlocked,but in an organized way? Led ashore, still cruising, or drifting by that faded street sign? All of the above, seems like with lonely, isolated romantic, trying not to heed the call of "Bugeye Jim" and another pie-eyed piper, both of whom may be himself. Ditto the needy trickster who will put "the mortgage in your hand", and also you should not heed "the singer man, he's the brokest one in the band." The present-day Woody means to be good, so reward him please. No whining though. Billy Bragg even brings an expansive Anglo-Arabic come-all-ye, but not from the last-call bartender or the muezzin, just a seasider's booty call in the sand. Rallying cries can be explicity political here or not (the need for community, and rallying itself, not G's more proprogandistic gambits, unless you count "The Jolly Banker". which is more about a dark vacation in serious comedy). But, as in prev Volumes, the music in his words summons robustly resourceful responses from Wilco, Bragg, and bluesman Corey Harris too. The music's  sinewy, shiney in the winter sun and underbrush. The late  Jay Bennett, who ended up attending more to a suit vs. Wilco (maybe mainly to get Tweedy's attention, judging by the vertite doc about the making of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot) than to his bad hip (he  very eventually acknowledged that trusting it to heal itself was a mistake) here provides an acerbic melody and vocal to a gospel testimonial, which sounds like no-nonsense truth-telling and a deadpan parody, simultaneously--or at least, he and Woody have made me a believer in hearing it both ways.
Not that Woody and his men (minus Natalie Merchant, from previously released sessions) are too hip, baby: "Union Prayer", with its fecund, corrosive fiddle, is ready for social justice, a fair, working  chance and "if that's what prayer can do, I'll pray myself black and blue." Though there's at least as much woo as woe, in an urban counrtry, Coney Island-London-Chicago way (steel guitar valentines and graffiti worth looking for).
Afterthought (from I Love Music's Rolling Country 2013 thread, responding to others' posts)
I couldn't bring myself to add a Most Pathetic category, as I've done some years, because, after reading descriptions on or linked from Rolling Country 2012, I wussed out on listening to 2012 albums by Big & Rich and Hank Jr. Not that I'm protective of prev Top Ten artists per se---no prob relegating Toby and Willie and Kelly Hogan and Pee Hood to Hon. Mentions this time---but B&R and Jr. just seemed like they would be Too Pathetic. Hey, maybe I'll make that a posthumously added category to the blogments, when I do listen (I feel like it now, what the hell). Another belated addition may be Most Promising: John Fullbright (whose third album debuted in my Top Ten, so he's not Best New by Himes' rules, apparently). And Jerrod, who (my Hon Mention comment in a nutshell) is excitingly distinctive when good, leaks grey (not even gray) pablum when bad: even for generic radio bait it's boring. Mind you, he's good mostly, but the bad tracks are just numerous and so-bland-they're-distasteful enough to keep it off my Top Ten. Still, he's a trip, and here's hoping he does some kind of electro-Caribbean duet with Miguel or they inspire each other a bit more anyway. Would also like to hear Gary LeVox's subliminal twang wending its high lonesome crossover way around Jennifer Nettles' upfront pungent country goodness---a little of them both (though certainly a bit more of her) goes a lone way with me, but... say 2 minutes, 20 seconds--yeah, might sound right! (also agree with Frank Kogan re musical redemption of Hayden P., and that's what her character Juliette is all about). Yeah, Todd Snider's Agnostic Hymns and Stoner Fables is a bit too consistently cranked for my Country Top Ten, as it is for Edd Hurt's, but listen anyway!
Another Afterthought (also from Rolling Country 2013: response to frustrated Jamey Johnson/Hank Cochran fans)
Well, the guests are good, JJ doesn't get in the way, the production is appropriately eerie---for the gently twisted themes, the touch of Miss Havisham and "A Rose For Emily", the candles still lit at the table, by the bed, in the museum of love and music---the songs, incl ones unheard even by xgau and certainly by me, are now at hand. I really should track down Jeanie Seely etc, but this works on its own. And I'm not nec. awed by Great Old Man stuuff: not by Nelson & Price's Run That By Me One More Time, Nelson Haggard & Price's Last of the Breed, or even From Willie To Lefty (should listen to that one again, prob all of 'em)(nah).
 


 
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