Archive for the 'Country and Western' Category

23
Oct
20

Kitty Wells “The Kitty Wells Story”

I’m just not passionate about Kitty Wells the way I am about some other country singers, but I do appreciate her, and I’m glad to have this substantial double LP, which includes 24 of her hits. She certainly laid down the golden carpet for a lot of singers, particularity women country singers—seeing how her first hit, “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” was way back in 1952—and was about “cheatin’” and such. (It was written by veteran songwriter J.D.”Jay” Miller.) Kitty Wells was known as Queen of County Music—and I’m sure some would argue, but maybe not. (As far as who is the King of Country music, no one can rightly agree.) She had a lot of respect, and a long, serious career. I wonder if anyone’s made a movie about her, whether dramatic or documentary? I have not heard a lot of tragic, crazy, and depraved stories about her life, like you hear about a lot of successful country singers, or just singers, or just artists. I’m sure she had her share of heartbreak, though—everyone does—and she puts some in these songs.

05
Sep
20

John D. Loudermilk “Suburban Attitudes in Country Verse”

I’d heard of John D. Loudermilk, as a songwriter, though I don’t recall when or where, but that’s a good last name for remembering. He’s was roughly my parents’ age, and he recorded a few records in the Sixties. I don’t remember offhand where I got this album, but it’s got an intriguing cover. At first glance it looks like something the library might file under “educational.” But when you look more closely, besides the really nice guitar and ridiculously ornate music stand, you might notice a filtered cigarette burning down in a glass ashtray, a half glass of beer, and a bottle opener hanging by a string from the music stand. On back there’s some extensive liner note, written by John D. Loudermilk—he really went to town with the the old typewriter. He’s talking at length about living in Brentwood—I’m assuming the one in Tennessee—and how “country people” are “different”—it’s fun to read. Musically, this is the kind of folk music that doesn’t do much for me. It just kind of drifts by, and if I try to concentrate on it, I’ll soon find myself engaged in something else, like cleaning, or planning my escape. I’d be interested to hear his other records, though. Anyone who writes a song called “Bubble, Please Break” is okay with me.

15
Aug
20

Charley Collins “Charley Collins & Friends”

“What can you say about Charley Collins?” That’s what it says on the back of this 1974 LP on the Royal American label. It goes on to say he came to Nashville in 1967, and lists the people he played with, some big names in country music. The black and white cover has that flash-photo crime look, kind of harsh. I presume it’s Charley Collins—he’s wearing a suit and tie and is sitting on an iron bench, painted white—taken outdoors at night. He looks like he might be your pastor, or high school principal. I put it on, not expecting much, because I’m not a fan of bluegrass music, sorry to say—but by the second song, this record has won me over. Even though it’s jaunty and twangy, as bluegrass music is, it immediately gets to me—I guess there’s just a realness to it, and a soul, that I can hear right through my speakers. I guess what’s not so important is the kind of music you like, or your preconceived “standards”—what really matters is the music itself, and you might find yourself in love with any music, even that which you don’t understand.

I especially like the songs with singing, which is Charley, along with J.T. Grey, and “Oswald.” There are credits on the back, along with eight small photos of the musicians on this record, in the studio. As far as I can tell, they’re all first-rate. I notice there is a signature, in black pen, “Oswald”—under the photo of Pete “Oswald” Kirby. It’s signed, nice! So I looked this guy up—he was also known as “Bashful Brother Oswald” (born, Beecher Ray Kirby), a musician from Tennessee who popularized the use of resonator guitar and Dobro. He played with Roy Acuff (as did Charley Collins) and was a session musician. I got that from the, you know, internet. He did record a couple of solo records, apparently, so I’ll keep an eye out for them, as well as more by Charley Collins. I mean, I have no idea where I got this one, even. It’s like someone breaks into my apartment at night and puts them in with the other records, which, I suppose, is better than the other way around.

30
Jun
20

Glen Campbell “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”

I was not a fan of Glen Campbell as a kid, as he was all over the radio, and I’m sure I first heard the song “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” every morning on the kitchen AM radio while I choked down my Crunch Berries and dreaded the day ahead. So this great song, by one of my favorite songwriters, Jimmy Webb, had a real hill to climb. Grade school, 8 a.m., Crunch Berries, over-played county song. Now, of course, I love the early morning, am nostalgic for grade school and the kitchen radio, and somewhere along the line I became a fan of country music and Glen Campbell. Can’t eat the Berries. I suppose the first time I realized this was a great song was when I heard Nick Cave do it—a super over-the-top version. (There’s a song on this record called “Bad Seed”—I wonder if that influenced his band name?) Not long after that, I heard another fine version by The Mad Lads, on this huge Stax collection I had. And then I heard Isaac Hayes’ amazing 19 minute version, which might be my favorite at this point—but you know, I want to hear them all (there’s like a million).

I’m not crazy about this album, but it’s okay—some of is a bit country on the corny side for my taste. “Hey Little One” is a nice song, as is “My Baby’s Gone.” I can do without the Paul Simon. If you can’t find this record in a thrift store, you aren’t looking. I like the over, Glen with his guitar case on a bench in a bus station (on his way to Phoenix). In the picture on the back, he looks more ready for lunch than sad, as intended. But he’s got a wristwatch with one of those bands that are wider than the watch face—remember those? You might have to be 50 or older to remember that style, but that reminds me that I did have such a watch band—they kind of seem absurd now, but cool, as well. Of course, this was before watch faces got as big as dinner plates. I wonder if I could find one of those, though… Just shopped for 15 seconds—Etsy, $53. Okay! (Next time I see a dude around town with one, I’m gonna stop and talk.)

18
Apr
20

Dave Dudley “Dave Dudley Sings: ‘Listen Betty, I’m Singing Your Song’”

Dave Dudley specialized in country and western truck driving songs—I had another album by him, at one time, seemed to have lost it. This one’s got funny liner notes by Tom T. Hall, as well as a couple of songs by him (including, “Listen Betty…”). Half the songs are by Dave Dudley, and overall there’s a nice mix of drinking songs, sad songs, and driving songs. My favorite is “For the Good Times”—it’s a sad, romantic one by Kris Kristofferson—that guy’s a good songwriter. Though I do like some of the honky-tonk, truck-drivin’ numbers, as well. The album cover is one of the better ones I’ve ever seen, period—it’s just a nostalgic photo of the inside of a diner with a waitress in the foreground picking up dirty plates, Dave Dudley at the counter trying to get her attention, and a jukebox in the background. Dudley’s got a yellow mug of coffee in front of him. We see the waitress in profile, but her expression looks a lot more like, “Give it a rest, buddy,” than “Oh! You’ve got songs on the jukebox!” Though, in this photo, Dudley is presumably acting the part of truck driver. That waitress, though, she looks like a real waitress, and those dishes look like real dirty dishes, and that counter looks like a real diner counter. She’s holding a cleaning rag in her left hand. I wonder if anyone can name another album cover in history with a picture of a woman holding a cleaning rag?

10
Apr
20

Skeeter Davis “The Best of Skeeter Davis” (1978)

I’m not sure how many “Best of Skeeter Davis” records there are out there—I’m not even going to try to figure it out—some are re-releases of previous ones. If you see one in your price range, buy it—you can’t go wrong—it’s Skeeter Davis. This one from 1978 is on the cheapie Pickwick label, has a 98 cent cover—no picture of SD anywhere on the record! There are only nine songs on the record, which means the total playing time is around a half hour. The songs don’t have anything to do with each other, and the sound quality isn’t even consistent. For all those drawbacks, this is still a great record—in part because Skeeter Davis didn’t do anything but make great music. As far as I’m concerned she could have covered breaking glass and it’d be great. Anyway, this record has its share of cornball old-time love songs, like “Love Takes a Lot of My Time,” and one of those with a lot of speaking parts, “Set Him Free.” There’s a cover of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” which is song I’ve always found beautiful, even though I’ve heard it more times than my stomach growling—and even though there’s an out-of-control fiddler threatening to set a shit-fire, Skeeter Davis’ voice extinguishes it and saves us all. There are more pop songs, too, a King/Goffin, and John D. Loudermilk’s “Sunglasses,” which is dumb, but no more dumb than the beach, which is where I wish I was right now.

13
Mar
20

Mickey Newbury “The Sailor”

I probably mentioned this before—I heard a Mickey Newbury song on the radio, never had heard of him, so kind of got obsessed with him, then bought half a dozen records—none of which stood up to that song (or the memory of it). Still, he’s an interesting guy, a successful Nashville songwriter and recording artist, without being a big star. I suppose fans of his consider him a big star, but you know, not one of that handful everyone knows—and if you think about it, what’s this obsession we have (in this cultural time and place) with being known even by the people who don’t really care about your art? I guess it’s about money, then, right? This is a nice country record, low key, solid songs, straightforward, Nashville studio pros, I guess, the usual themes. Actually, I’m not listening all that close to the lyrics. “A Weed is a Weed”—yes it is. The cover cracks me up—kind of a half-assed nautical mishmash. It made me think of the one room in my parents’ house that was decked out in a kind nautical, “Polynesian” (influenced, no doubt, by a visit to Disney Polynesian Village), and Tiki bar (influenced by visits to the Kon-Tiki in Cleveland and the Kahiki in Columbus). The closest music they played to country was nothing; I had a Johnny Cash 45, “A Boy Named Sue”—but that was more of novelty record. I don’t remember when I started to really like country music—I believe it was with Merle Haggard. At a certain point I just became open to anything. I can listen to this record, but it doesn’t do much for me. It’s just not weird enough, on any level, to really comfort me in any way. And that subtle harmonica doesn’t help, it’s just so easy on the ears (in a bad way). It just occurred to me that the cover could be the background art for the menu of cheesy seafood restaurant—that made me laugh.

07
Dec
19

Skeeter Davis “The Best of Skeeter Davis”

There is a “Best of Skeeter Davis” record from 1983, and 1980, and 1973, and 1978, and 1965. There may be more, but I got tired of looking in the internet. For the most part, they are the same songs—I mean, the first one kept getting reissued—though I noticed some variations. Anyway, this one that I’m listening to right now is a fine vinyl copy from 1965, RCA Victor, mono, 12 songs, it sounds great. On the front cover there’s nice picture of Skeeter, kind of Olan Mills style, that’s in a squarish rectangle with rounded corners that resembles the screen of 1960s television. It says “The Best of Skeeter Davis” and lists the songs. The letters in her name is each a different color. People could get color TV in the early 60s, but 1965 is considered the year the damn burst. It was often advertised by making each letter a different color, such as with the “Color TV” signs at motels. There are brief, very introductory, uncredited liner notes on back, referring to her as a “vivacious blonde Kentuckian.” She was both young and old at this time (around 34) and was, of course, already a star, with half a dozen LPs, lots of singles, and some hit songs. A “best of” record already made sense.

Every song on this record is good, and I could write an article about each one, but I’m not going to even mention them, I mean, individually, at this point, since they’re all on other records that I’ve written about, or am going to write about. No… maybe should… I’m listening to this again. It’s such a great record… every song is good. It’s like the classic county record of all time. Twelve songs by 12 different people or songwriting teams (including one by Skeeter Davis and Carolyn Penick), but somehow, it’s like every song is a Skeeter Davis song, once she’s singing it. She’s like Sinatra in that way. I wonder if those two ever met. This record would be a great birthday or Christmas present for someone—someone who maybe isn’t already a big Skeeter Davis fan, and you want to introduce her to. If I ever see other copies of this for a reasonable price (or the reissued versions), I’m going to buy them and then give them away as presents. Instead of the guy who gives you books you don’t want to read, I’ll be the guy who gives Skeeter Davis records to people who don’t like country music and don’t have record players!

31
Oct
19

Skeeter Davis “My Heart’s in the Country”

This record has the best cover of all the Skeeter Davis records I own (which is a lot, but not nearly enough of them). It’s a full cover color photograph of Skeeter sitting in a barnyard wearing a red and white gingham dress, holding a baby pig. As cute as she is, the pig’s even cuter. The photo is weirdly cropped, as in it doesn’t look cropped—I’m guessing they took a few, but there weren’t a lot to chose from that had sufficient focus when blown up that large, because, I’m no expert, but I believe those little pigs are kind of squirmy. It’s a great cover. There’s also substantial liner notes on the back, by Skeeter Davis, which I’ll read in a bit. I was going to say this isn’t my favorite of her records, which it isn’t, but now that I’m listing to it a few times, while writing this, it’s growing on me. Skeeter Davis records will do that. The title song (by Larry Kingston and Felton Jarvis) is about a singer who has big city success, but nevertheless, she sings, “My heart’s in the country, on a farm in O-hi-o.” Which, of course, strikes a chord with me, as an Ohioan. She is from Kentucky, so this song is a character, but also her, and southern Ohio and Kentucky do have a border, but it’s not necessarily the one drawn up by The Man. Now that I think about it, maybe it’s the Ohioan in her (as well as the Kentuckian in me) that draws me to her so intensely. This song also has one of those spoken parts, which I’m sure some people find corny, but I love that, especially when Skeeter Davis does it.

One thing that’s interesting about Skeeter Davis is that she had success with both pop and country audiences, which is something she talks about in the liner notes, maintaining that her roots are in the country (and this country music). I’m personally not partial to either the pop music or the country music she’s recorded—I must say, I like both equally—and sometimes you can’t really hear a line between them (but sometimes you can). As I’ve said before, above all, I’m song oriented, so it matters little, the genre or style—I’ll like a song, or not so much. The biggest generalization I make when I’m categorizing music I like or don’t like is the degree of jauntiness—and I’m sure people are tired of me using that word, but it best expresses the thing that often turns me off. (Of course, I’m sure there’s a jaunty song out there that I do like, but I can’t think of one right now.) Naturally, both country and pop songs can be jaunty. On this record, which is all hardcore country songs, we have the jaunty and the not jaunty. The not jaunty ones tend to be sad and melancholy—those are my favorites. A few of my favorites here are “Put It Off Until Tomorrow” (by Dolly Parton and Bill Owens), “I’m Living in Two Worlds” (J. Crutchfield) (not about the two worlds of pop and country—it’s a relationship song—and a sad one). And “Before I’m Over You” by Betty Sue Perry, another in the tradition of losing one’s mind (going crazy, insane, etc.) over a love gone wrong. Of course, there are songs that are kind of in between sad and jaunty, the clever country songs—one here I like a lot is “Guess My Eyes Were Bigger Than My Heart,” by Liz Anderson (I always liked that expression, about eating, and there’s nothing I like better than the tradition of inserting “heart” in every expression imaginable).

These liner notes are Skeeter answering the question, “What’s the country like?” She goes on and on with nostalgic descriptions of the things she remembers and loves about country life—sure, it’s sugary and sweet, but really kind of touching, too—at least to me. My favorite part of it is where she’s talking about mothers and fathers, now gone, their particular smells, and she says, “And they were smells you’d like to smell again, but can’t.” I guess that reminds me of what I like about Skeeter Davis—there is this simplicity, clarity, a kind of innocence, but never without an underlying melancholy and world weariness. It also reminds me that I have this autobiography she wrote, called Bus Fare to Kentucky, which I still haven’t read—I’ve got to read it sometime.

04
Sep
19

Michael Dinner “The Great Pretender”

I bought this record, used, because I had never heard of it, or him, Michael Dinner, nor could I recall any person, living or dead, having the name of “Dinner” (or Supper, Breakfast, or Lunch, for that matter). When I looked him up on the internet I found who I thought was another Michael Dinner, a successful director and screenwriter, still working—but it turns out it’s the same Michael Dinner! I guess he put out a couple of records in the mid-Seventies (this one is 1974) and then no more. Without further biographical information, I don’t know if his recording career died and then he went into pictures (looks like mostly TV), or if he went into pictures, found success, and was too busy to continue his recording career. We’ll have to ask him to clear that up. (Though, of course, sometimes, that kind of stuff is not very clear, even for the person involved.) You also might wonder why he ended up behind the camera, because if this album cover is any indication, he was pretty hot.

He’s what you’d call, I guess, a singer-songwriter, and the music is, I suppose you could call it, LA country, or California country—it was recorded in LA, and the list of musicians is impressive, lots of familiar names (I’m not going to list them, but it includes Linda Ronstadt). The songs are good, and I have the feeling that they will grow on me after a few more listens. Now it’s a week later—that’s the way things go here at the unpaid, under-appreciated, overly-emotional HQ and Center for Misfit Culture. We don’t care much what you think, but we love you anyway. Anyway, this is definitely a record in which repeat listenings are rewarded, and aren’t those the best kind? “Sunday Morning Fool” is a standout. Dinner has a pretty interesting voice, I mean subtly interesting… he’s a good singer, but more than that, there’s something there that reminds me of Willie Nelson—maybe I’m imagining that, it’s not really pronounced—but I hear that.

Another interesting thing, to me—I feel like I can divide the songs up between the sad and the jaunty (okay, this goes for everyone) and I just really like the ones that are a little more melancholy. I often wonder if the jauntiness is not sometimes coke-fueled, and remember, the years I seem to often focus on—early Seventies—is when the coke flowed like bad puns on grandpa-time. Or so they say. Another interesting observation, Dinner’s two albums were called The Great Pretender (this one) and Tom Thumb the Dreamer. One wonders if he never felt quite at home in this world—and that had something to do with him moving into pictures. But really, this record is pretty good (I’m curious about the other one, now) and you have to wonder about him walking away from a career—if this felt like a career to him, anyway. Also, you have to admire his restraint with respect to not naming this or any other record something like: “Dinner Time,” or “What’s for Dinner,” or “(Call me anything you want, just don’t call me) Late for Dinner.” It probably took great resolve to resit that temptation, and who among us can honestly say they’d have done the same.




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