Posts Tagged ‘Ohio

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.

26
Feb
19

Randy Newman “Sail Away”

I first heard Randy Newman’s song “Sail Away” on a Warner Special Products box set LP called Superstars of the 70’s that came out in 1973 and was sold on TV. I heard a lot of music for the first time via that thing, but they placed “Sail Away” directly after Seals & Crofts “Summer Breeze” and The Beach Boys “Surf’s Up” so I kind of dismissed it as “Yacht Rock” (which wasn’t invented, or at least named, yet) and didn’t bother to listen closely enough to the lyrics to realize it wasn’t about… “sailing.” I’m sure I understood irony at the time, but at 12 and 13 I was (like a lot of kids) kind of a raging maniac, and it wasn’t until my first year in high school—when my English teacher Mr. Kimble used a lot of popular songs in his class—that I started to listen to song lyrics a little differently. It’s interesting how kids kind of mature at different rates—I mean it’s both different for each individual and each person has different parts of them maturing—so it’s all out of whack. I think this is fascinating, and can also be scary. Pretty much everyone is born into the pain of a raging narcissist, and you can even keep that childhood part of you vital—I think it’s really built into what’s necessary for “success”—and it’s possible to find a mate who supports it. It might even really not be a problem until you become a parent, or a boss, or the President. Other people keep other child parts vital, which can both make you happy, and suffer (often both simultaneously). I pretty much go by feelings more than intellect, to a fault, and my music listening often reflects that. Like, on that Warner collection, “Tumbling Dice” was my favorite song, and still holds me under its spell, and I still have no idea what Mick Jagger or the backup singers are singing. What’s it about? Tumbling dice, I guess, but also an unspeakable desire.

Anyway, this record is great, I love it from beginning to end. I feel like these songs will work on your computer, or MP3 player, at home, or while walking, but it’s nice the album has the lyrics inside—I think it’s one where you can eventually get more out of reading along at some point. I don’t know about you, but I never like to read lyrics when I first hear a song—I’d rather really get to know a song before I ever go to the lyrics. But it does have some value, I think, reading lyrics, to appreciate songs on different levels. You can find this one in a thrift store, too, but you might overlook it because it has one of the murkiest album covers you’ll ever see, of Randy Newman looking a lot like Ian Hunter—and it’s one of those that annoyingly folds out sideways—so no one ever knows how to put it on a shelf or in a bin. Opened up, it’s like a super closeup photo of him sitting at a piano wearing sunglasses and corduroy jacket in extremely low light, as if the photo was taken surreptitiously with a telephoto lens through door opened only a few inches without his knowledge. In the act, no doubt, of writing a song. Or maybe thinking about writing a song, which, I guess, is the same thing.

This is a record I’m still only scratching the surface of, and it could easily accompany me to my grave (I mean in a good way). A few years back I discovered the Randy Newman song “Wedding in Cherokee County” (from a different LP) and it became my favorite song for about a year, and an example of what songwriting can, could, should (and maybe never, for me, would) be. The twelve songs on this album are sitting there like the complete works of some (pick your favorite) writer, heavy on the shelf, but nothing but wallpaper until you tackle them with all the parts of you working as best as you can aspire to (at this point). What’s kind of amazing is 1972 is getting near half a century ago, and this music feels contemporary (at least to me). Also, several of these songs are under two minutes long and only one is barely over three and a half. The richness can’t be taken in all at once—I mean it can, it’s enjoyable—but to really get at it. I’ve got to go in for just a little bit, and then come back for more later. The title song is a complete experience, it’s just so beautiful on the surface and so angry and caustic just underneath. Randy Newman is an LA guy, but spent a lot of time in the South, has a kind of accent, writes a lot about the South, but it’s interesting there are a couple of songs on this record referencing Ohio. For one thing, he probably understands that southern Ohio is the South, and maybe he even knows, like I do, that so is all of Ohio. His song “Burn On” sounds like it’s in the tradition of southern river songs, but it’s about the Cuyahoga River which famously caught on fire in Cleveland (even much younger people might know about that). It kind of caught people’s attention about pollution, at the time, and provided fuel for those annoying environmentalists. Of course, now we’ve got a genius in the White House, who, if the river was to catch on fire again, would tweet that the river didn’t catch on fire, it was FAKE NEWS, and his supporters would believe him—shit, dude’s got it figured out.




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