Archive for the 'Country and Western' Category

30
Aug
18

Mickey Newbury “Sweet Memories”

This is a 1985 LP put out by MCA Records of “previously released material”—there’s nothing wrong with that if the songs are good—but the presentation, the album cover, doesn’t feel like an artist’s album, but a record company product, which, again is okay, but I’m more interested in the LP as an art form that’s a direct extension of the artist from a certain time and place. This would be the ideal thing to find on cassette at a truck-stop during a nonstop cross country road-trip in a vintage automobile. This would be your 3am ’til dawn music. The back contains some concise liner notes written by Wesley H. Rose, president of Acuff-Rose Publications, and he calls Mickey Newbury one of the great songwriters of our time. You might not have heard of him, but if you were a Nashville old-timer, you certainly would have. I wonder what’s going to happen to Nashville. I’ve heard, repeatedly, lately, about how the population there is exploding. For whatever reason, it’s the place to move to. Which means, of course, that the people who are getting there now, or soon, are going to have a hard time finding a place to live, finding a job, making ends meet. I suppose many of those moving there are songwriters, trying to break into the songwriting, singing, playing, recording music business. Most won’t make it. Some will stay and work at the new microbrewery, or a call center, and some will go back to the town they came from, and some will try the next place. I wonder where the next place is, or going to be?

Anyway, this is a fine listening record, and maybe a good record to study a well-crafted Nashville style song, but I’m not going to focus on the songs right now because many of them are on other Mickey Newbury records I have and will write about later. This has the feeling of a post-career record (not the case) with a 7 inch single size portrait of him on the cover (with his great smile and hair) surrounded by an expanse of oppressive green background (a shade of green I’d call “basement rec-room”). I first heard Mickey Newbury just a few years ago during a WKCR NY radio country music marathon, and in particular, this one song (can’t remember what now) that struck me as being the kind of song I’d like to write. So then I got kind of obsessed, not recalling ever seeing his records—started looking for them and found them affordable, and before you know it, I have six of his LPs (from 1973 to 1979) plus this one. I’ll get around to writing about those records when they come up on my random review system. Let this be my introduction to Mickey Newbury and promise of more to come. In a quick perusal of his internet biography (which you never want to take as gospel) it sounds like he had great success as a songwriter at a relatively early age, but didn’t record until his late twenties (what some would consider “late”), but then put out a lot of records, until he suffered with health issues and died far too young. You can find quotes of the utmost respect for him by some great musicians and songwriters. I’ll look forward to really listening in depth to some of his records, here, in the near future.

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24
Jul
18

John Prine “Diamonds in the Rough”

This might be the first John Prine record I bought, many years ago, though I’m pretty sure I’d heard John Prine via some other source first, though I can’t remember now, when or where. Anyway, I had bought a thrift-store copy of this one, with a water-damaged cover, and I didn’t expect much, and by the time I got to the song “The Frying Pan” I was hooked and it became regular rotation listening, and I even learned to play some of the songs just because I liked them so much—or at least, “Yes I Guess They Oughta Name A Drink After You”—which has to be about the best simple tavern crowdpleaser I can imagine. There is some good stuff on this record, indeed diamonds—“Worth its weight in gold,” as Marilyn Monroe says in Some Like it Hot. The picture on the cover of, I guess, a fairly young John Prine, is during a live show bathed in that horrible red performance light, and he looks like someone else, though I’m not exactly sure who—another musician, an actor, or a friend, I can’t place it, but I’m glad I got this record when I did, even though it was probably about 30 years after it came out, because it’s made my life better.

20
Jun
18

Kinky Friedman “Kinky Friedman”

This is a true story. I went through a Kinky Friedman phase when I was living in New York. I read one of his mystery novels, and liked it a lot, and then read some articles about him, some interviews—maybe there was some particular thing I read or watched that I can’t remember now. Anyway, I didn’t go as far as seeing a live show or buying a bunch of old records, but I did find his website and order a kind of gift set of Kinky Friedman cigars, coffee, and coffee mug. He’s really into all that good stuff. So, one of the cigars was one of those big-ass killers, and I saved it for a particular evening, smoked it, and then had a horrible pain in my lower back, on one side, that lasted for like a year. I was too afraid to go to a doctor and admit I’d smoked a Kinky Friedman cigar and that’s what brought it on. Can you die from smoking one cigar (that isn’t an exploding assassination cigar, I mean)?

This record from way back in the gold year of 1974 (it may be his first, given the title) is pretty straightforward, like here’s a guy with songs he wants you to hear. There’s a picture of him on the cover either relighting a cigar or looking at a text on his flip-phone; neither option makes much sense, as I don’t think he’s a guy likely to let a cigar go out, unless of course he going on about some subject he’s more passionate about than cigars, which, who knows? The back cover has him holding a cigarette. An unrepentant smoker, as of this writing Kinky Friedman is still alive (though there are still three days left in 2016, so I’m nervous saying that). (It’s now one day before Summer 2018, and if we’re to believe Internet, he’s still puffin’ away!) The songs feature some fine musicians, but I think the lyrics are the thing, so I’m going to have to listen closely. A couple are too jokey—this was before the time people had discovered that humor isn’t best underlined by goofy accompanying sounds.

14
Jun
18

Bob Dylan “Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits”

If you subscribe to the theory that BD died after Blonde on Blonde (1966) and was replaced with “Dylan 2,” then this record makes a lot more sense—the cover is a big, dark, head silhouette (which decades later would become a “thing”)—which makes you think of nothing so much as a statue, a monument to a legend, dead and gone, and the white lettering and song titles right over his head announce nothing so much as “this is a product.” The photo (BD in concert, blowing on that dreaded harmonica) looks oddly contemporary—even more so if you imagine he’s looking closely at a smartphone, which is how I’d suspect kids these days would interpret it.

This is possibly the most unlistenable Dylan record for me, as it starts with the dreaded “Rainy Day Women” and is pretty much made up of the songs that have been played to death—which I don’t even think are close to his best songs. About the only one here I can still stand to listen to is “Like a Rolling Stone,” and then only on Nostalgia Thursday, and then preferably with a frivolous drink. If I had the internet right now I’d look up how many times in articles over the years someone has said, “I wish at an early age someone had stuck that harmonica right up his ass,” or “He really puts the ‘harm’ in harmonica.” I suppose it’s supposed to sound like a train whistle, but personally, any time someone tries to make a rock song sound like a train, I’m yawning like the Grand Canyon, and even a mention of a train has me nodding off. And I love trains.

19
Dec
17

Vikki Carr “Nashville by Carr”

Vikki Carr has always been there, it seems like, but I realized I knew nothing about her. I was reasonably certain that Mr. and Mrs. Carr didn’t have a daughter and name her Vikki. Her story is kind of fascinating, and you too can read about her on the internet if you’re so inclined. I hoped for more from this record, the pun of the title kind of implying it’s her “country record,” but it’s not really very country, though she does do some great songs by some great songwriters, and it’s recorded in (you guessed it) and some heavy studio guys play, but overall, the arrangements strike me as flat as the photo collage on the back album cover. The problem is, the surface of this album cover is a very porous cardboard—actual textured surface, like something you do pastels on, but when you reproduce photos on it, especially smaller ones with a lot of detail, you get fuzzy, flat, sadly unimpressive images (and it doesn’t help that she has a Bride of Frankenstein hairstyle, like the guy singing with the James Gang in 1974—maybe he was influenced by Vikki Carr). The album opens up, revealing a 12 by 14 inch panoramic photo of Vikki Carr sitting on the white fence of a horse farm; the problem is, the art department was so obsessed with symmetry, they put Vikki right in the crease, making her look like a Mad Magazine inside back cover “fold-in.” It’s an appropriate album cover given the arrangements.

Overall, this record strikes me as so uninspiring that I’m listening to it over and over, thinking there must be buried treasure there somewhere, because I expect more from 1970. I keep listening, but no. I guess the one thing that’s good is I can play this record and not get annoyed by it—but is that what you’re shooting for, as a musical artist?—to not annoy people? Okay, here is one interesting thing—she does Kris Kristofferson’s pretty great and fairly over-the-top song, “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.” Now, this isn’t a gender-specific song, but there is something about the imagery that you just really picture it being a man singing, there, in first person. Is that sexist of me to say that? I don’t mean that I disapprove—in fact, this is the world that I want: women wandering alone through the park, half drunk, watching a father with his son, smelling bacon cooking somewhere, and longing for something from the near or distant past. I guess if I was a DJ, like in public, what I’d aspire to do is play songs that blew people’s minds—just a little bit. So I could see playing this one. It’s a really vivid song—and I have no idea if Vikki Carr was a drinker or not—but it’s kind of hard for me to imagine her chugging beer for breakfast.

18
Dec
17

Bob Dylan “Self Portrait”

This is a double album that—in the tradition of double albums—announces the celebration of an explosion of creativity that is unable to be contained on the traditional single LP format. Or maybe it’s something else entirely, seeing how it’s Bob Dylan, and who ever knows what he’s thinking? There is a self-portrait painting of him on the cover with no words or frame. The album opens and there’s a list of the songs, on four sides, and also a list of 50 names; on further inspection, this appears not to be a random list from the phonebook, but likely a list of musical collaborators. Quickly glancing through the alphabetical list I see: Charlie Daniels, Al Kooper, David Bromberg, all the members of “The Band,” and many more names I recognize, and many more that I don’t.

I never heard this one before. It sounds like a Bob Dylan record, kind of, or maybe a parody of one, which you arguably could say about any Bob Dylan record. It’s kind of amazing, I’ve been listening to this dude for 50 years and I keep hearing stuff I never heard—kind of like the original Star Trek broadcast. There’s a few covers on this record, including: “I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know,” credited to a C.A. Null, who I don’t know, but I know the song as sung by Skeeter Davis, one of my favorites (she has an album by that title). The lyric goes: “I forgot more than you’ll ever know about him.” Which is a woman singing to another woman, a rival, about a man, I believe, and when you change the gender it doesn’t quite work for some reason—but I also like to think of it as a general proclamation, to anyone, about anything.

It’s interesting—I must have been aware of this record—not when it came out when I was ten—but in later years when I started listening to Dylan records—it would have been in the record store bins, maybe even in cut-out bins like Planet Waves always seemed to be—but I avoided this one like a perennial golden turd in the sun. But listening to it now, on my third or fourth time through, I realize I’ve never heard a lot of this stuff and it’s some of the best Bob Dylan I’ve ever heard. It’s kind of like BD’s “Covers Record”—though a lot of the songs he covers are Dylan songs. (Idea: BD should do an entire record of Cat Power songs.) Here lies the best versions of both “Let It Be Me” and “Blue Moon” I’ve ever heard. A lot of this is BD singing in his “Jim Nabors” voice, which I’ve grown to love. Of course, this is the post-death-Dylan, or “second” Dylan, as the theory goes, and the future (1970 thru 2016) looks bright.

16
Dec
17

Bob Dylan “Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid”

This is apparently the soundtrack record for the movie Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973) which was directed by Sam Peckinpah and written by Rudy Wurlitzer—a movie I’m sure I’ve seen, but don’t remember too well (like, I didn’t even remember that James Coburn was in it, but there are credits on the back album cover. I love James Coburn). There is a scene I remember from a movie—and I’m not sure if it is this one—so maybe someone can help me out. A guy gets shot, and before he dies, his last words are something like, “I wish… wish…” Not sure if those are the words, or this is the movie, but it’s something that made a huge impression on me, that scene, and I hope to clear this up someday.

A lot of this is the usual kind of wanky western soundtrack stuff I can do without, with fiddles and “traditional instruments”—there is even something that sounds like the dreaded “pan-flute.” The first song, “Main Title Theme (Billy)” is the kind of music that sounds like it’s celebrating the grandeur and mythology of “The West”—which just strikes me as so much bullshit. I guess I’m not much of a fan of the western genre, as the lies jump out like all political lies, and I don’t believe there was anything good about the old west, just a lot of slaughter, rape, and pillaging, bullies and blowhards, and disgusting behavior all around. I’m guessing Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man gets about halfway closer than any other western. Anyway, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” is a great, great song, and there’s a couple more here with Dylan singing (“Billy 4” and “Billy 7”) that make this record almost worthwhile.




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