Posts Tagged ‘Nashville

25
May
19

Mickey Newbury “Heaven Help the Child”

This is a particularly intriguing album cover—it’s a rustic, matte surface, suggesting something real, with a larger than life, full face photo of Mickey Newbury on back, which, while artfully partially obscured in shadows, also exposes pores, divots, blemishes, and misplaced hairs—and remember, this is far before the days of hi-def, when many careers were ended voluntarily, while others just had to say, what the hell, here’s my zits. It immediately says that Mickey is going to open his heart for us. The front cover is trickier—it’s a 7 ½ x 5 ½ inch glossy photo of Mickey sitting on an old chair next to an old lamp in a room that could be a study, or could be a bedroom. This is essentially a cropped photograph, though, because as we remove the inner sleeve, we discover that this is actually a 12 x 12 inch photo that has been framed by the smaller, die-cut opening in the external cover. Now we see the larger room —which still could be a study, a bedroom, a living room, or a rec-room—or is it now too big for a bedroom? Now you can see the expanse of the old carpet, a stained glass window behind him, a couple of large photo albums on the floor, and that he’s wearing cowboy boots. When you remove the inner sleeve, which has lyrics on the other side, there is a smaller, more atmospheric, blurred version of the cover photograph behind—printed on the inside of album cover! You don’t see that too often. What does it all mean?

Mickey Newbury was a respected Nashville songwriter and recording artist who put out a couple dozen records. Even though his music is somber and his lyrics are dark, he’s good-looking in a way that probably appeals to in-laws and pets, as well as people his own age, and you feel like you could leave your kids with him, or would be comfortable in a car he’s driving. This record, from 1973, is not his first, and a company like Elektra doesn’t spring for the die-cut nonsense if they don’t think you’ll sell a few. There are only eight songs—two are three and half minutes, but the rest are long, quiet, pretty, and melancholy. I like them all, and pretty much everything I’ve heard by him, but I don’t know how passionate I’m going to get about the songs on this record—there is an overall flavor of the mainstream—even if it’s not what I’d imagine as “popular.” The other weird thing is there is a dedication scrawled on the large space at the bottom of the album cover in a red pen that matches the red frame around the die-cut hole, leading me to believe that this is part of the cover—yet when I look up images of this cover on the internet, it’s not there. It seems to say, “To a friend”—though I’m not entirely sure—and then a name—it could be Joe, or José, or Lori, or Josie, or even “you.” If you were giving this record as a present, that is not where you’d write a greeting—it’s so front and center—which leads me to believe this was written by the artist, himself. Mickey Newbury passed away, far too young, in 2002. You can find his records. I wonder what happened to the “friend” to whom he presented this record—which will likely outlive me, and find its way into another haunted record shop.

27
Feb
19

Sammi Smith “Mixed Emotions”

It might be hard to believe, but I had never heard of Sammi Smith (well, I probably had—after all, I used to listen to the radio and watch Hee Haw—but over the years a lot of brain cells have been eradicated, I’m afraid, and Sam Smith’s Oatmeal Stout had more prominently ghosted my radar, apparently), but I saw this older record of hers at the used bookstore (I haven’t written about it yet) and it had a very personality-rich cover, so I bought it, expecting it to be unlistenable, but it was great. Since then I’ve been on the lookout for Sammi Smith records. She was country and western singer who put out 17 or 18 albums in the Seventies, then moved on to other things. You can easily find a brief history on the internet if you’re interested. But I have a feeling that, just with my brief exposure to her, she was a fascinating person—maybe someone will write a biography about her.

The cover of this album (on Elektra records) is odd in that I would have guessed it was from the Eighties, just by the layout and graphics, the colors, the style. I admit I’m considerably more of a fan of things from the Seventies than the Eighties, in all forms of culture—including record albums and album covers. So I almost didn’t pick it up, but then I noticed it was Sammi Smith, and I looked at the back expecting to see a later date, and was kind of surprised that it was 1977. There is actually a really great photograph on the cover, but for some reason it is kind of weirdly cropped and vertical, with several inches of border on either side— why? A square version of this photo, blown up, would have been a much better cover.

The first song scared me because of its prominent use of a kazoo—never a good sign. Never judge an album by the first song, though. The next song is great—it’s called “Touch Me” and is a classic Nashville sounding song—I tried looking it up, to see who else did it—but do you know how many people have recorded songs called “Touch Me?” When I start writing songs again, the first thing I’m going to do is write a song with that title! Then a really nice, slow, old-fashioned sounding version of “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” the Don Gibson classic that I most associate with Ray Charles. Next is “De Grazia’s Song,” written by Sammi Smith—I don’t know who De Grazia is (a painter), but he/she wrote the brief, but glowing liner notes. The last song, then, is jaunty to the point that she refers to someone as “you little booger”—making this one of those famous, “skip first and last song records”—though that’s just the first side. What will the second side hold in store for us?

“I’ve Seen Better Days” is a good one—it’s written by Red Lane and Danny Morrison—I’m sure I’ve heard it, but I’m not sure where—a lot of big names in country music did it—but I’m going to say, hearing this version, if someone can show me a better version than this one, it might be my favorite all-time song. “Hallelujah for Beer” is a song that you probably get the idea from the title—a song that is probably playing right now on a jukebox in Milwaukee. “Days That End in ‘Y’” is another beautifully heartbreaking country song—but I’m getting tired of looking up who else did these songs. It’s another title I’m going to steal, but change it to: “The Days That End in Why” (if no one else has). “A Woman Left Lonely” is my favorite song on the record—it’s just undeniably a killer song, written by Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham—the most famous version, of course, being Janis Joplin’s. And I love Janis Joplin and her version of this song, but it’s an interesting comparison, her version and this one, because I’d argue that Sammi Smith’s is better, because it’s more about the song, while Janis Joplin’s is more about Janis. I don’t mean that critically, I love that about her—she could sing “Old MacDonald had a Farm” and break your heart. But I love how this version is also emotional, heartbreaking—but really, you love the song and the singer in equal parts. The last song, then, is the Tom Jans song, “Loving Arms,” and a beautiful, lovely way to end the record.

30
Oct
18

Bob Dylan “New Morning”

I’m not exactly sure where this record fits in the BD timeline—it seems to be one of his Nashville records, produced by Bob Johnston, there’s studio musicians, and David Bromberg plays on it, and Al Kooper, and there’s a lot of piano. This is a great record; I kind of wish it was the first Dylan record I ever heard and then based my whole BD experience on the foundation of that experience. Somehow I’ve never heard much of it—though “If Dogs Run Free” somewhere came to me in a weirdness care package. I think it’s pretty likely that this record was released well after BD’s replacement with the new Dylan, but some of the songs here are from the original Dylan vault. That said, the new one is pulling off some pretty good replication of the old one, to the extent that I don’t even feel confident offering my track by track guess on who is singing. Somehow I never heard the song “The Man in Me” until I heard it in the movie, The Big Lebowski—and it’s a great song, and really important to that movie.

23
Oct
18

Bob Dylan “Nashville Skyline”

There is the theory that there have been two Bob Dylan’s, the Robert Zimmerman who made the music up through Blonde on Blonde, and then the one who “became” Bob Dylan after he was killed in the motorcycle accident (likely no motorcycle accident, but a more mundane or sordid death, and the motorcycle accident was an invented story for the time away, to recover, but there was no recovery, just death). The second Dylan is a guy, probably a talented but unsuccessful Nashville musician (who sings a lot like Jim Nabors) who looked like Dylan (a guy who “fit the jacket”—as in the Greg Brady fitting the jacket Brady Bunch episode) and could play, and saw this as a weird gig he’d be able to step away from eventually with some cash—but later realized it was actually the Devil’s Opportunity of the Century, and there was no escape until the escape of death, ultimately.

Which is a long way around of saying this record sounds like nothing that Dylan had done before, while sounding exactly like what he had done before—which is of course, keeping in line with what he (both of him) has always done. (Actually, the multiple Dylans in Todd Haynes’ movie, I’m Not There (2007) is a much better conspiracy theory, kind of like the Shakespeare being-a-collective theory—and I realize that movie is not a theory, it’s an innovative and brilliant approach to Dylan—but often from art arises not just metaphorical but actual truth.) Anyway, I think I heard this way back when I was in high school and I didn’t like it—the Jim Nabors voice freaked me out, and I didn’t like country and western, yet, at that time—but now, this is one of my favorite BD records, and “Lay Lady Lay,” a song I once couldn’t stand, is one of my favorites, as well as “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You.”

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.

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.

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.




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