Archive for the 'Country and Western' Category

17
Sep
17

Skeeter Davis “Sings The End of the World”

This 1963 LP starts out with Skeeter Davis’ 1962 hit single, “The End of the World,” written by Arthur Kent and Sylvia Dee. The song was a huge hit, recorded by tons of people over the years (including the Carpenters), and used in countless movies and TV shows. You’ve probably heard it. I still like this version of it best (of those I’ve heard). The album, then, like most of her LPs, has six two to three minute country and pop songs per side. They’re all good. This is a solid Skeeter Davis record, through and through. If you were going to buy only one of her records, this could be the one.

There’s a picture of her on the back, in the studio with Chet Atkins, who produced a lot of her records. He looks like a bad-ass. The three B&W photos of Skeeter on the front and back of the album cover look like three different people—and two of them remind me strongly of other people. She had a lot of different looks over the years, and online now you can find about a million images of her; there must be other people out there as obsessed with Skeeter Davis as I am. The liner notes, by (it doesn’t say), start out talking about the thirteenth and sixth letters of the alphabet—M and F—and the significance of these letters, in standing both for “Many Fans” and “Mary Frances” (Skeeter’s given name). Those letters bring something else to my mind—yes, “My Friend”—which might be the best way to describe the way I feel when I listen to Skeeter Davis sing.

Had I read these liner notes in 1963 (and been a few years older), I might have been crushed to discover that SD was married to country music DJ, Ralph Emery (or maybe delighted to find out she had a Pekingese named Tinker)—and this may well have been the first time I put together the idea of equating the heartbreak of lost love with Armageddon. I appreciate, even now, the strength of the sentiment, but the years have only revealed the selfishness of this sentiment. You’re going to get over the heartbreak—no reason to upset the game-board for all of humanity. Though—only a year after this record—someone very close to me took this “all or nothing” crap very literally; not to get too personal, but it sickens me to this day. Not to end this review on such a grim note: my favorite songs (as well as the title song), here, are “Mine Is a Lonely Life,” “Why I’m Walkin’,” “Longing to Hold You Again,” and “(I Want to Go) Where Nobody Knows Me.” Yes, the sad ones—it’s always the sad ones for me.

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15
Sep
17

Phil McLean “Small Sad Sam / Chicken”

I guess this is considered a “novelty record”—it’s a humorous, story song, backed with music. It seems like if you just pick up 45’s at random, like at yard sales and thrift-stores, you’re as likely to get novelty records as anything (like with Christmas records, for LP’s). Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound good and is not funny enough for me to have even focused on the story. I’ll try again. Okay. It’s the boring tale of a small guy who didn’t do something heroic. The B-side is called “Chicken”—which would normally be more promising, but it’s corny music with an annoying harmonica, and just going on and on—sounding like a musical interlude in a redneck moonshine and smokey movie—and then it pauses and Phil McLean’s low voice says: “I say you’re chicken.” It’s not funny and not weird enough to be interesting. On the other hand, there are much worse novelty records out there. The internet says it’s from 1961, and Phil McLean was a DJ on WERE radio in Cleveland, and this was put out as a parody of Jimmy Dean’s “Big Bad John.” I suppose if you heard this on the radio when you were little, this might strike you as nostalgic—or it might just bring back annoying memories. If anyone wants this, I’ll fling it in your direction.

13
Sep
17

Randy Barlow “Twenty-Four Hours from Tulsa”

I bought this 45 due to the weakness I have for buying records by any artist with the first name “Randy”—which has actually done pretty well by me in the past—Randy is kind of a goofball name, not necessarily someone you’d want to spend your life with, but well-equipped for theatrics, unhealthy deep-fried rings of sweet dough, or odd-ball songs with questionable lyrics. In my fiction writing, I named a character (based on me) Randy, and another (based on me) Barlow—so naturally, the name Randy Barlow intrigued me. I’d never heard of him, but it turns out he was fairly successful in country music, from the Sixties into the Eighties. He’s still out there, maybe still playing. Originally from Detroit, he was born Randall Moore, but I suppose that sounds like a guy who is sipping tea and writing sonnets, so he changed it to Randy Barlow. He’s got a solid singing voice. The label is Gazelle Records, which has a really nice logo where there the two L’s make the horns on a simple drawing of the gazelle. This record came out in 1976.

“Twenty-Four Hours from Tulsa” is a Burt Bacharach/Hal David tune, but I don’t really like it—it sounds like something that would have been on the AM radio when I was in grade school, like “Knock Three Times,”—it’s not terrible, but I picked up this record entirely because of the intriguing title of the B-side: “The Bottle Took His Mother (And My Wife)”— which struck me as kind of insane sounding—a bit of a brain-twister trying to figure out what that means. Offhand, it makes you think it’s going to be a situation like in Chinatown (1974 movie) (“My sister, my daughter… she’s my sister and my daughter!”)—but then when you listen to it and realize the “he” in the title is the singer’s kid… it’s like, oh, okay, my kid’s mother and my wife, right. Kind of boring. Though the bottle still took her. The song pretty much spells it out: The guy took the kid and left his wife, because of her drinking. She didn’t die, though, so I don’t know… it seems like he’s more upset because her drinking is exceeding what he deems Christian-level drinking. In a way, it’s fairly reprehensible—I get the feeling it’s a little selfish. I know that it’s not easy to deal with an alcoholic, but it’s not like she started drinking after you married her. Essentially, this song should he called, “Because the Bottle took My Wife, I took our Kid (and now we’re making the lawyers rich in this extended custody battle).”

10
Sep
17

Porter Wagoner and Skeeter Davis “Sing Duets”

I have more records by Skeeter Davis than any other recording artist, but I don’t have even half of the albums she released in a long career. If I had to name a favorite singer (please don’t make me do that) I would not hesitate to say Skeeter Davis. For some reason I can’t explain, she has a special place in my heart. And that is just based on the recorded music of hers I’ve been lucky enough to hear. She is firmly based in country and western, but crossed over to pop, and always sounds to me like a little of both, so maybe that’s part of the appeal. But mostly I just love her voice. It always strikes me as having an underlying sadness to it, but also an outward expression of hope, joy, and happiness. But there also is just a quality of someone singing at home, maybe, just one person to another. Or maybe in church, or while working. Her voice always strikes me as the opposite of slick, professional, over-produced. I guess in some sense, there is the same essence of what is essential to me about punk music in her voice, and that is at the heart of the music I love—that quality of “I’m doing it my way”—even when the smoother road might have been strongly suggested as the easier path to success.

This record, from 1962, is one of her earliest albums, and it’s a duet record with Porter Wagoner, who is, of course, one of the giants of country music. I’ve always been aware of him, but never a big fan, which doesn’t mean I might not be someday, if I’d take the time to get to know his music through and through. It starts out with a song that—if this was the song I was to judge Skeeter Davis on, that’d be my loss—not my kind of song. If there was one word I’d use to describe a style of music (any music) I don’t like, it would be “jaunty”—and so much do I despise jaunty music, it makes me wonder about the sanity and even human quality of fans of the jaunty (as in, are they pod people, or Stepford wives?) After that alarming start, though, they settle into really beautifully sung versions of some classic country songs—sweet, introspective, and melancholy. My favorites here are: “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You,” “Heaven Help Me,” “Sorrow’s Tearing Down the House (That Happiness Built),” and “There’s Always One (Who Loves a Lot)”—but really, they’re all good.

This is on the RCA Victor label (with the dog looking down the Gramophone horn) and has a very old-fashioned, color drawing of the two singers on the cover, in a style that makes me think of a young adult romance series book. The blond woman in a blue dress doesn’t match that much any likeness to any Skeeter Davis photo I’ve seen. A sliver of photograph on back (of part of the recording studio control board) accompanies some extensive liner notes in typewriter font by Bill Porter (legendary Nashville recording engineer) where he goes on about how much he loves these songs, but also thinks highly of the artists. It’s very nice, really, but then he goes on about especially one song, which happens to be the jaunty song on here I don’t like (“Rock-A-Bye Boogie”). Oh, well, I guess it’s all a matter of taste, and that’s what makes the world interesting. As I continue to listen, it strikes me—as well as these two voices compliment each other, Porter Wagoner’s is so straight-up country, that—and especially on the kind of duet where he sings a verse, and then she does—you really hear a contrast in their voices—and the quality of her voice (that’s an ongoing obsession with me, trying to understand why I love it so much) it occurs to me that it sounds a little unhinged—if you know what I mean. You probably don’t, but I mean that in the best way.

17
Jun
16

Silver Jews “Bright Flight”

I know something about this band Silver Jews, that it’s mostly this guy David Berman, and there have been a lot of collaborators, including Stephen Malkmus (in the past, not here), and they put out a few records and then broke up, or stopped playing, or recording (though I suppose that a band or person can just record a record again at any time, if they are still alive, and want to, no matter how much they are retired, so what does that even mean). Six albums, I guess, between 1994 and 2008, and this one is somewhere in the middle, 2001. But I’m pretending I know nothing, like I just picked this up out of a pile of random records (which I did, essentially) not knowing anything (which I don’t, essentially). The first song, the initial impression, is that this is country and western music (steel guitar, country piano, Nashville references, George Strait cover, picture on back cover wearing a too small western shirt with embroidered scorpions), that’s what it is, but something that would be considered “alternative country” in that David Berman’s singing has that quality that some people would call bad singing, but I call great singing—the closer you listen the more complex the person behind the voice gets. It also helps that the lyrics are at worst impossibly catchy and at best life changing poetry.

If one set out to create an uglier album cover than this one, just forget it, you’ve lost. It’s a flat, flash photograph of a nasty old couch with a tattered spiral bound notebook sitting on it, and there’s what looks like some colored stickers on the notebook creating an abstract design, and also what looks like the number “4” on the notebook. It occurs to me that it’s the 4th Silver Jews album and the cover photo and number 4 could be a reference to Led Zeppelin IV (if you squint, you can see a similarity between the two covers) (also, “Bright Flight”/”Stairway to Heaven”—get it?)—and now it occurs to me that IV is not just “4” it also means intravenous, and most likely “Stairway to Heaven” is about heroin. (If you ever find yourself on Jeopardy and the category is “popular song meanings”—just keep hitting the buzzer and saying, “What is heroin,” and you’ll probably come out ahead.) In fact, seeing how every other song on this record has a reference to horses, I have to assume either Berman is an avid equestrian or else it’s a lot about heroin.

All of my nonsense here is an attempt to not try and fail to express just how good these lyrics are, and how catchy these songs are, and how lovely it all is. I think this is my new favorite record of all time, no exaggeration. I think I just joined the club of nerdy, pathetic music fans who have “Silver Jews” tattooed on an important part of their brain. Now I know how people felt about JD Salinger. (Oh, wait, I was one of those people, too.) And it’s even worse with the internet. Look, I consider myself a songwriter, or former songwriter. I feel like there is no worse feeling in the world than to know you’ve come up with some kind of wonderful song, seemingly out of nowhere, and then not be able to do it again. It’s a wonder that any songwriter survives past the age of thirty. I guess the only thing to do, sometimes, is reinvent yourself. But then you probably already know all this. But if you don’t believe me, find a couple of these songs, like “Slow Education” or “I Remember Me” or “Tennessee”—and if they aren’t the best songs you’ve ever heard, go get yourself a new set of friends.

06
Dec
15

Della Joy “Crying Time”

It’s been awhile since I’ve written a review for this website, for no good reason, so that’s not worth talking about. There may be new reviews again regularly, the lord willing, so check back often, and next time bring something to eat. I’ve long since abandoned the alphabetical thing and am now pulling records out of the pile at random. This one by country and western chanteuse Della Joy is actually titled Della Joy sings “Crying Time” and she’s not kidding, as she fairly represents the Buck Owens classic, which you have no doubt heard immortalized by Mr. Owens, Ray Charles, Barbra Streisand, Connie Francis, Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, and many others including Wanda Jackson and Elvis Costello. Yours truly has even performed the song but never recorded it.

Nine other solid tracks fill out this LP, none of which are familiar to me, or credited to anyone. “Mama for a Day” is a little disturbing… how could it not be with that title. Ditto for “Mama Are You Gonna Help Me Hurt.” The style is straight up C&W with gospel overtones, full band including steel guitar and occasionally fiddle that will melt paint. There is no date anywhere on the record or the cover, so I really have no idea, though there are a couple of murky b&w photos of Della Joy on the back holding onto a tree, so maybe that style of posing for photos dates it, I don’t know, but I always thought that was weird.

The front cover shows Della Joy sitting in a park, sitting on a rock, looking pretty happy, wearing white cowboy boots. Brief liner notes mention she is 4 ft. 11 inches tall, and weighs 80 pounds. I don’t know, her hair looks bigger than that. She was born in Crab Orchard, Tennessee (near Crossville, y’all) and moved to Elyria, Ohio at the age of 16. You might recognize Elyria as the home of Les Miles, “The Hat,” coach of the LSU Tigers, and I like to imagine that they dated in high school. Della has performed at Stoney’s Rainbow Lounge in Elyria, Country Jail Lounge in Amherst, Friendly Corner in Norwalk (all in Ohio), and Rockytop in Crossville, TN.

The album is made from solid, indestructible vinyl and is on Ozark Records, though there is no address for the label. Research shows me there is or was an Ozark Records from Clyde, Ohio, but I can’t tell if it’s the same one. The back of the album cover indicates it’s produced by: Record Production Service, 728 16th Ave, So., Nashville, Tennessee, 37203, so there you go. They did a fine job. I could research all of this further but time is not permitting as press time is in five minutes. In conclusion, I think this record will bring you as much “Joy” as it has brought me, unless you hate country and western music, in which case you need an attitude adjustment.




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