Archive for the ‘folk stacks guide’ Category

last call!

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

okaay this is as far as I got
hope you folks dug this on some level and it wasn’t entirely masturbatory (not that kwur has any problem with that kind of stuff, I know I know…)

for the whole thing, click here

TOM RUSSELL – THE LONG WAY AROUND
singersongwriter writes california country music
with a penchant for overwrought, literate, plain overwritten story-songs
(and of course I find this endearing, though you might not)
that’s what country music is all about!
Lots of juicy details, place names
some of his albums (all concept-albums, naturally) can be difficult to slog through and digest
for instance, his bukowski references, song suites, poorly pronounced spanish (there’s a song here about uh pancho villa and zapata uh I think maybe)
this sampler is great, though
almost all of these are duets, which disguises his limited vocal range
talent abounds: nanci griffith, iris dement, jimmie dale gilmore (and those second two are two of my favorite singers ever)
“mineral wells” is fucking brilliant – about a washed-up, homeless former celeb actress and an obese film critic who drive out to the texas desert in search of immortality
many other songs come close
at least look at the picture of him with andy warhol and george jones in the liner notes wtf

THE SKILLET LICKERS – OLD TIME FIDDLE TUNES AND SONGS FROM NORTH GEORGIA
the lickers played fiddle tunes when honestly most tunes were fiddle tunes
before “country music”
granted, their name was supposed to sound as exaggerated and redneck as it does (tapping into that hillbilly market, naturally), but these folks were the real deal as far as musicianship goes
when folks want to hear music that vibes on that “old-timey” stuff, up to their neck in npr-ready “o brother” knockoffs (remember that?), this is what they should seek out
these are catchy and funny – I would recommend the skillet lickers any day over, say, fiddlin’ john carson (the true first hillbilly hitmaker), whose recordings were perhaps more authentic, but also way longer and mostly very boring
“sal’s gone to the cider mill”
“hell broke loose in georgia”


HANK THOMPSON – SEVEN DECADES

by the time the year 2000 rolled around and hank thompson recorded this record, he definitely couldn’t croon as hot as he had in the 1960s height of his popularity, but oh boy he wouldn’t let that get to him
as he says himself—
“if there’s honey in that hive
there’s a sting in this old bee
I may not buzz as often
or as loud as I used to do
but I’d love a taste of that nectar
from a pretty little flower like you”
yeah exactly
like any hank thompson album, this record’s a nice mix of lightweight honkytonk and western swing, filled out with novelty songs (which become increasingly difficult to distinguish from the serious cuts)
he flirts with tejano on “condo in hondo” for instance
it’s always nice when aging stars don’t stoop to playing up their age in order to boost serious dynamic/gravitas (i.e. the rick rubin cash treatment)
hank’s voice was mostly intact, so why not use it for what it does best?

HANK WILLIAMS – ALONE WITH HIS GUITAR
of course ol’ hank’s the most famous country singer of them all
every Nash wannabe with a rhinestone-speckled guitar strap just hasta give him props or else…
first (not quite, okay. see: jimmie rodgers) legit POP honky-tonk/hillbilly hero/martyr (died in ’53 slumped over in his cadillac et cetera)
vocal stylings perfect marriage of Tubb’s throaty sneer and Acuff polite yelp (this amalgam is something he cultivated, admittedly)
a wowee zowee genuine singer-songwriter – no-frills, heartfelt stories
lots of heartbreak and doom, but he is unafraid of cheese and f-u-n (read lots of romance comics, from whence he derived many lyrics- true story!)
this collection is maybe a good intro for those of ya afraid of Country with a capital C – these are rawer and folkier than the famous full band cuts (sound quality varies, obv)
listen to this album, anyone & everyone!
(kaw-liga is the saddest song I’ve ever heard about people who are made out of wood and not actually people)

LUCINDA WILLIAMS – CAR WHEELS ON A GRAVEL ROAD
once upon a time she was the next great hope for country music, songwriters, “honest music”
(alas, for those who’ve caught her recent rawk albums, esp. brand new “honey bee,” this has not proven to still be the case)
this is evidence of that early winning charm and talent
attention to detail!
her phlegmy snarl sounds so good
she works in rockabilly fake yodels, voice cracks (in track 5, for instance) and gets away with it where lesser talents have not
this album (to me) is all about the power of location-specific songwriting
with regards to that, dig track 6: “lake charles,” which maybe makes me want to cry a little bit every time I hear it (also, “jackson”)

at the end of the list there’s a postscript from when I ran out of time/gave up–
it says: DON’T FORGET – HANDSOME FAMILY
KOERNER, RAY AND GLOVER
WAYNE HANCOCK
GEORGE JONES
ELIZABETH COTTON
IRIS DEMENT

so here goes, sans commentary (phew)…




THIS IS THE BEST SONG EVER



ok seeya later

coupla more gems

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

TOM PAXTON
earnest folk revival folkie (white)
penned “bottle of wine” (included in albums of his in station)
–rightly famous, his loosest, catchiest tune to my knowledge
as far as subjects go, drinking has a tendency to bring out the best in stiff folkie folks
(curious listeners will also seek out the porter wagoner cover on porter’s “skidrow joe” concept album)
not a big tom paxton fan


PINE VALLEY COSMONAUTS – EXECUTIONER’S LAST SONGS, VOL. 1+2

curated by mr. jon langford of the mekons (those country-lovin’ brits), these compilations were all about ending the death penalty in illinois in the early 2000s blah blah blah and thus feature plenty of Chicago country stars singing songs about death
also: these were some of my first favorite country music albums
and though they were admittedly a weird entry point into the world I love so passionately these days, they are also v. v. good
murder ballads galore! both new and old
I cannot recommend these enough (esp. if you are afraid of lovey dovey country schmaltz – none of that here)
the back-up band is pretty standard rootsy but the wide variety of songs and singers let them stretch in interesting ways
healthy dose of 90′s cowpunk but also pretty, traditional


JIM & JENNIE & THE PINETOPS – ONE MORE IN THE CABIN

traditionalist bluegrass couple
they thankfully seem to lack the kinda common 2nd/3rd wave emphasis on virtuosity and technique
though of course these folks are no slouches when it comes to pickin and pluckin
requisite high lonesome singing style, but more tuneful in their case than it can sometimes seem
unafraid to incorporate specifically none-bluegrass traditional country into their repertoire
obv. on account of my bias I tend to prefer these (slower numbers, esp.), but they’re all good
other albums in the stacks of a similar, consistently good quality
“the light of day” is beautiful

this one is good

EDDIE PENNINGTON – WALKS THE STRINGS … AND EVEN SINGS
legendary picker shows off his skills!
mix of acoustic and electric numbers
eddie mostly sticks to merle travis-style thumb-picking
and some might say he out-travises merle (he may be the master of the style)
some cuts exhibit a distinct atkins slicker swingy style and a couple (esp. the bluesier ones he sings) lean toward piedmont blues thumbing
don’t worry if that all means nothing to you
he fills his measures to the brim – as thick as any fahey/kottke, any heavy metal shredder
but it’s also all about the fuckin melody!
these are virtuosic, show-offy studies that you can hum along to


PHRANC

she is a lesbian folk singer with a crewcut
who strums power chord political folk
we have lots of her albums
I met her when I was a little kid (name drop)
the review comments are better-written than her lyrics
but you might as well listen to a song or two

AUSTIN PITRE & HIS EVANGELINE BOYS– OPELOUSAS WALTZ
this album is wonderful, through and through
a live recording of some very distinctly hillbilly zydeco
evangeline boys got a real tight rhythm section and goddamnit if those twosteps and waltzes don’t make you wanna grab your sweetheart and swing
steel guitar on some tracks adds to distinct country flava
“jolie blonde” (his version of the standard) goes up there with the best versions of all time
listen to this album, seriously


JOHN PRINE – IN SPITE OF OURSELVES

john prine writes some of the best songs ever but kwur’s selection of his records unfortunately does not represent this well
this album features only one original song, for instance
but it’s also really good, so that’s okay
a collection of classic country duets, some of the best-ever love and loss songs
straight-up close country harmonies featuring iris dement, lucinda williams, patty loveless, et al.
listen to “(we’re not) the jetset” (originally by george and tammy) if you’ve ever fallen in love on the open road
“there’s no riviera in festus, missouri” — it’s true!
the one original tune (title track) is classic prine:
(iris singin’:)
“he ain’t got laid in a month of Sundays
I caught him once sniffin’ my undies
he ain’t real sharp but he gets things done
he drinks his beer like it’s oxygen
he’s my baby
I’m his honey
I’m never gonna let him go”

JIMMIE RODGERS – FIRST SESSIONS
the father of country music and her first true star
aka the blue yodeler (not yet called country songs, he called them blue yodels because he played the blues and then ya know he yodels!)
these are from his discovery sessions in 1927 in Bristol, Tennessee (the same sessions that discovered the Carter Family, Country Music’s 1st Family, naturally)
many of his songs were adapted from tin pan alley pop or just written by vaudeville songsmiths
and that high drama yodel comes from vaudeville (used in lots of blackface routines, actually)
of course jimmie rodgers was an incredible singer, fucking tremendous yodeler
and whoever strung these folk strains into pop songs (sometimes it’s jimmie, sometimes a ghost writer or a credited songwriter) was a pop lyrical genius, a direct predecessor of the chuck berry school of humble, rabid-fire, allusive and specific details
he already had tuberculosis when these were recorded so he was a martyr before he died and his pr men totally milked this for implied gravitas btw
these songs are all classics so listen to them

until this gets annoying… folk stax contd

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

RAY WYLIE HUBBARD
he wrote “up against the wall redneck mother” woo!
and I fucking bet he never pictured the UT fratboy singalongs
back when he was a legit s. texas cosmic cowboy, one of jerry jeff walker’s lost gonzos
as far as his representation in the KWUR stacks goes, LOST TRAIN OF THOUGHT serves up some crisp (sterile?) neotonkabilly with mixed results
but by the 2000s we find mr. Hubbard has discovered The Blues (esp. evident in THE GROWL), replete with murky muddy swampy production, courtesy Gurf Morlix
dig for the hooks

here’s the famous one [embedding disabled]

DOYLE LAWSON & QUICKSILVER
theoretically these folks play gospel bluegrass (bluegrass gospel?) but the gospel tracks tend to not really sound very much like bluegrass
instead, this very traditional, straight gospel in the close-harmonied men’s group tradition
white gospel, sure, but not especially country-sounding gospel (as country as it is bluegrass—and both connotations only make sense in terms of the spare acoustic guitar accompaniment)
that said, these albums are very well-executed, nice primers for folks interested in digging into white gospel proper


THE MEAT PURVEYORS – ALL RELATIONSHIPS ARE DOOMED TO FAIL

the meat purveyors play their bluegrass fast and dirty
they don’t play loose with the style too much – pretty strictly quick flatt ‘n scruggs style romps
but they are undoubtedly one of the more mean-spirited, unsentimental bluegrass bands around
this album has some of their best knockout gems—quick daggers of songs
“hey little sister” is about suspected domestic abuse:
“I seen that bruise on the back of your arm
if I find that man’s been doing ya harm…
I’ll cut him down!”
the heartbreak numbers have an exquisite and almost psychotic despair to them
dig “circus clown” in that respect (“does this look like a painted on frown to you?”)

BILL NEELY – TEXAS LAW AND JUSTICE
this is probably my favorite discovery from the cd stacks
listened to the album on repeat for days after
so, mr. neely tried real hard to make it as a songwriter in country music (nashville)
but no luck
these are his 1970s home-recorded demo takes
some of the best unknown country songs around – heartbreak and redemption songs both
as far as demos intended to sell songs go, the quality of these performances is really astounding
pitch-perfect and emotionally-resonant
the man’s got a lovely warm drawling voice and he sings these in a bluesy, pre-honky-tonk style
(I guess he was a couple decades too late)
in “on a blackland farm” he describes meeting Jimmie Rodgers and learning how to play from him and I certainly would believe it
his gospel songs, esp. – “satan’s burning hell” are fierce stuff (sit up there with louvins’ best)

listen here


WILLIE NELSON – OHBOY CLASSICS PRESENTS

willie nelson is the proud owner of the most affected/affecting singing style in this solar system – equally aggravating and endearing, obnoxious and moving
he plays guitar like if django reinhardt only had one finger (I am quoting somebody on that last bit)

this one’s great great

more of the same, folk stax contd

Friday, April 10th, 2009



FREAKWATER – FEELS LIKE THE THIRD TIME

freakwater is the best band to come out of that early 90′s alt.country cowpunk mess
(I don’t care how much the ghosts of kwur’s past love uncle tupelo)
also they are still around, which makes them one of the best country bands extant gee whiz
this 93 album is real good, but you honestly oughta play them all (or at least as many as we have here – 2?)
the sound at this point is acoustic, stripped-down, laid-bare, all that good stuff
but it’s clear from any track that these ladies are no revivalists, they just write honest-to-god wonderful country songs and sing them with the prettiest close harmonies around
dig “drunk friend,” “are you ready”
“dream girl” is almost always stuck in my head:
“I may not be the girl of your dreams
dreams aren’t always pretty, anyway
just like me they’ll be gone in the morning
they just don’t make sense in the light of the day
you are not the first love I’ve known
we both know that is right
darling, you might be the last love for me…
if I die tonight”
“you’ve never been this far before” is a conway[kanye] twitty cover – man oh man I love this band

JIMMIE DALE GILMORE – SPINNING AROUND THE SUN
jimmie’s got one of the best voices out there
though I confess it’s probably a love it/hate it kind of thing
very distinct, instantly recognizable pinched, warbly drawl
jimmie’s from lubbock (like his compadres joe ely + butch hancock)
and you can just about hear the huge sky and wide open spaces in his big spare songs and the dryness of his singing
AFTER AWHILE is the critical favorite and best showcase for his writing (we have this too)
but as far as introductions go, I think this album does a fairly good job, emphasizing his considerable skill as an interpreter
because of this, it is less far-out new agey than some of his albums but also maybe a bit too straight-laced (nit-picking now)
he can even get away with singing a standard like “I’m so lonesome, I could cry”
if you hear these songs and his voice hits you right, it will hit you hard and you will never forget it

MERLE HAGGARD – SAME TRAIN, A DIFFERENT TIME
if you are truly new to country music (which is okay, really)
then you might not be familiar with merle’s songs
everyone else should know at least a couple
over-sung in karaoke bars across the country
lyrics of pro-vietnam war anthems, for instance, making liberal kids across the country wince and cringe
merle’s a great craftsmen as far as writing goes – he’s written in just about every popular country style since the early 60′s (for instance, he just released a bluegrass album a couple years back)
suitably, he’s got a range of singing styles, with his catchy pop numbers calling for a different sort of articulation, as you might expect, than his slower ballads, bakersfield and traditionalist stuff
this album (1969) is merle’s ode to jimmie rodgers (see: jimmie rodgers), the first hero of country music
all of the songs on here were ones jimmie sang
and though he does not try to emulate jimmie’s style, he makes some nods in that direction
for instance, I think it would be hard to find many other instances when merle haggard yodels
the instrumentation nods more to jimmie’s final recordings than his famous solo acoustic 1927 ones
and as such feature lovely, hokum-y, dixieland arrangements, full of dobro and horn flourishes
wonderful versions of “jimmie’s texas blues,” and “peach picking time down in georgia” to get you started

HILLBILLY JAZZ
lovely, low-key affair, the debut release (way back in 1974) on the mighty flying fish label
western swing revival, featuring famous jazz fiddler vassar clements
tight group covers the bases with requisite bob wills, spade cooley, et cetera numbers
take a lot of liberties with the standard pop swing sound of, say, the aging 1970s texas playboys, working toward an honest, jazz-based expression using country songs as heads (basically)
an influential album, I recommend this to all sorts of dj’s


ROSCOE HOLCOMB – AN UNTAMED SENSE OF CONTROL

it is really difficult to describe this man’s music, even for far more articulate folk than myself
these songs are really weird
and also really intense in a way that is easier heard than described (cop out?)
the year he learne d to play banjo, he learned 400 tunes and considered it a gift from god
he moans, accompanying himself with banjo, harmonica and a guitar he would fret with a knife
a lot of the songs are standards, but many of them do not sound standard when he sings them

and here’s some more: folk stax contd

Monday, April 6th, 2009

HAYES CARLL – TROUBLE IN MIND
newish (08) album from songwriter fella from TEXAS who wants you to know it
actively places himself within tradition of guy clark, townes can zandt, steve earle, et cetera
some have criticized his over-reliance on texas country cliches and his perhaps affected, intense texas drawl
his cute songs are maybe too cute and his angsty songs are absolutely too angsty but I think I prefer both of these to his middle of the road, low-key ballads
this is his polished label debut and the slick production give him a big boost as far as hooks go
“drunken poet’s dream” (as overblown as it sounds) was cowritten by ray wylie hubbard and is the best song on the album
also: “she left me for jesus”


SLIM CESSNA’S AUTO CLUB – S/T

greasy, smoky country gospel coming out of mid/late 90′s cowpunk alt bullshit, but clearly steeped in tradition
reverent, where any irony would have clouded their sometimes devotional bent
eery, riled-up yodely yelps can grate but definitely serve the spooky accordion/organ shuffle waltzes that fill the album
murder ballads
“I threw her in the river!”
surf/rockabilly licks and real simple dobro
I figure fans of that loud strummy acoustic guitar w/drum sound that’s so popular these days will dig this
and so do I


SPADE COOLEY & THE WESTERN SWING DANCE GANG – SHAME ON YOU

okay, spade cooley killed his wife in a very groteque way and there was a pretty famous subsequent celebrity trial
look it up if you want the juicy details (they include theme parks and gay sex cults)
as far as the music goes: spade dubbed himself the king of western swing at the height of that music’s popularity (although history has fortunately awarded mr. wills that title)
spade’s swing (as opposed to harder texas stuff like wills’) is a slick, schmaltzy hollywood swing
his swing band swelled into a near orchestra, with a full-time orchestral harp player swinging with the rest of them
the production might strike a lot of you folk as too syrupy, but I really love it for what it is
meticulously crafted dancey pop in the c&w mode
the title track (great fodder for cute news headlines, no doubt) is a good start and a standout


STEVE EARLE

80′s debut GUITAR TOWN rode the neo-traditionalist wave (think dwight yoakam, with whom he was often categorized at the time) into the charts
though he’s since been often grouped with fellow statemen guy clark, townes van zandt, et al. – that texas, earthy songWriter vibe
GT is all up in that big 80′s reverb with fwooshy hard rock deep snare hits w/heart-on-sleeve sentiments, rockabilly/Bakersfield clonky leads
whereas his most recent WASHINGTON SQUARE SERENADE finds earle, decades later, embracing self-consciously eclectic textured production and artsy, inventive arrangements, literate and socially conscious (ah, politics) lyrics
apparently a paean to his new adopted town of nyc + ode to its folk era greenwich village scene


CHARLIE FEATHERS – S/T

charlie is original sun gold
he shoulda coulda woulda been as big as elvis, big as cash, big as carl perkins at least
instead here (1990) on this wow exciting comeback album we find mr. Feathers vital and mean as ever, still raring to go
rockabilly before it needed that silly -billy distinction
charlie can growl in his resonant, bassy snarl one minute
and yelp or even squeeze out a convincing hoarse croon the next minute
this album is full of delicious, sloppy acoustic guitars and slap back delay effects
and clickety clack rimshots