Category Archives: Country

Townes Van Zandt: Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, Texas

Townes Van Zandt:  Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, Texas (1977)

Adam: Legend (by which I mean Wikipedia) has it that the Old Quarter could “Comfortably accommodate 60 patrons” and that “More than 100 jammed into the room” for this week of shows in July, 1973.  Now, being the middle of July in Houston, it was tremendously hot.  Early on the album, Townes mentions something about the air conditioning being off, and how it’s really hot.  Thus, this album is best experienced on a sweltering summer night with no air conditioning.  In addition to the music (which I’ll discuss in a minute) the ambiance on this recording is second-to-none.  During quiet moments in the performance, we often hear beer bottles clinking together, and at one point a telephone rings.  These ambient noises do not detract whatsoever from the performance; they aren’t that loud.  In my opinion, the extraneous noise adds to the performances, in part because it allows one to understand how quiet those hundred hot, thirsty people had to be to allow those faint sounds to be audible on the recording. Continue reading

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Filed under 1970s, Acoustic, Country, Folk, Live, Singer-Songwriter

“Sum bitch has always bored me”

465 Highway 15 Barstow-Lake Elsinore 2004-06-28

Guy Clark – “L.A. Freeway” from Old No. 1 (1975)

T’other day, Glenn mentioned that he was playing this song with his sometime band.  I first heard it a few years ago and found it to be one the best ramblin’ tunes I’d ever heard.  I still feel that way (I also dig the spare Wurlitzer piano).  This whole album is terrific and showcases some of the very best lyrics in the genre (see “Instant Coffee Blues” in particular).

Buy it here

Posted by Jordy

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Filed under 1970s, Country

“My eyes filled with tears, and I must have aged ten years”

Willie Nelson – “I Couldn’t Believe It Was True” from Red Headed Stranger (1975)

What a beautiful song. Deceptively simple — or is that deceptively complex?

Has anyone seen the Red Headed Stranger movie? According to IMDB, Levon Helm was slated to appear, but literally shot himself in the foot prior to filming.

Anyway, let me know if it’s worth the trek to Western Washington.

Buy Willie

Posted by Glenn

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Filed under 1970s, Country, Folk, Singer-Songwriter

“So much beauty and just enough time to figure out how to destroy it”

Jeff W., is that you?

Jeff W., is that you?

Drive-By Truckers – “The Opening Act” from Brighter Than Creation’s Dark (2008)

I’m a little late to hop on the Drive-By Truckers Mechanical Bull Ride, which is too bad, because they used to play down here in Greensboro on a fairly regular basis. While their latest album is not nearly perfect, this song is.

“The Opening Act” is a Tonight’s The Night-esque epic. The bit toward the end, where the narrator sees the sun “rising over a Technicolor horizon,” is a beautiful example of how good bands use color and variation in music to illustrate the dramatic weight of the lyrics. The song just seems to lift off right there.

Buy it here

Posted by Glenn

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Filed under 2000s, Country, Rock, Roots rock

“Turn around, summer’s almost over”


I didn’t even realize that we’d passed the solstice.  But that’s how Summer goes.

I don’t know why I haven’t made a Beau Brummels post yet.  Though not as prolific or flashy as their LA contemporaries the Byrds (in all candor, they even scooped the Byrds, having formed earlier in 1964), this band played a critical role in the development of countrified pop rock.  This tune is from their outstanding and mature Nashville session Bradley’s Barn.  I also include the Everly Brothers cover from their Roots record which was arranged in part by Brummels founder Ron Elliott.

The Beau Brummels – “Turn Around” from Bradley’s Barn (1968)

The Everly Brothers – “Turn Around” from Roots (1968)

Buy Beau Brummels’ Bradley’s Barn

Buy the Everly Brothers

Posted by Jordy

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Filed under 1960s, Country, Rock

Anthology of American Folk Music, pt. 1 of 3: Ballads

For the next three days I will be discussing the Anthology of American Folk Music, which I have recently acquired in a handsome-as-hell reissue package. These 6 CDs have been called “the holy grail of folk music,” but I prefer to think of them not as an impossible gleaming cup floating in a shaft of light in some far-flung castle, but as a chipped hand-thrown clay mug we mere mortals can drink from whenever we’d like, whether we are worthy like Parsifal or not (and we’re probably not).

Harry Smith, a beatnik and experimental filmmaker, spent years combing through commercially recorded music of the late 1920s and early 1930s to compile the Anthology. Smith wanted to put together a truly populist anthology of old-time music, which is why he used commercial recordings on gramophone disc rather than earlier wax cylinder recordings or the field recordings of Alan Lomax, Zora Neale Hurston, and the like. Smith’s assumption is an interesting prospect. Folk culture by definition is both populist and extremely localized, and quality commerical recordings are able to account for both strands of folk culture: popularity and particularity. As Smith put it, these recordings, many of which sold tens of thousands of copies when first released, made available “the rhythmically and verbally specialized musics of groups living in mutual social and cultural isolation.”

The anthology is divvied up into three sets: Ballads, Social Music, and Songs. Today I will focus on three of my favorites from the Ballads disc. By the way, narrowing twenty-seven ballads down to three is very, very difficult, so I have tried to include my favorites while also giving you faithful readers an accurate representation of what is included.

Clarence Ashley – “The House Carpenter” (1930)

Also known as “Tom,” Ashley was from the East Tennessee mountains, and his high lonesome voice and banjo picking sounds like the shadowed hollows and mysterious grassy balds. During the 1960s folk music revival, he began playing the college and festival circuit with the likes of Doc Watson. One of the odd pleasures of the Anthology is the goofy notes that Harry Smith wrote for each selection. For the songs on the “Ballads” discs, these notes take the form of lurid headlines: “Wife and Mother Follows Carpenter to Sea; Mourns Babe as Ship Goes Down.” It is absolutely chilling when the narrator of the song, after convincing the house carpenter’s wife to board his ship and set sail, says, casually, as she weeps for her lost child: “Well, we hadn’t been on ship but about two weeks. I’m sure that it was not three.” And, according to Wikipedia, this song is based on the Child ballad “The Daemon Lover.”

Charlie Poole & The North Carolina Ramblers – “White House Blues” (1926)

Many of the songs on the Ballads discs concern news items of previous years: boll weevils, Casey Jones, the Titantic, automated cobbling machines. There’s even a song supposedly written by Charles Giteau, James A. Garfield’s assassin. My favorite is this assassination lament sung by Charlie Poole, a hard-drinking moonshining textile worker from my area of the country, the NC Piedmont. “Roosevelt’s in the White House, he’s doing his best. McKinley’s in the graveyard, taking his rest.”

Mississippi John Hurt – “Frankie” (1928)

John Hurt’s name is one of the few I recognized when I first began listening to the Anthology. It’s clear that Bob Dylan modeled some of his early singing after Hurt’s low-pitched, buzzing voice. For me, Hurt’s vocal performance embodies the weird allure of the Anthology: the promise of a palpable past, more genius songs than even the 84 included here. Plus, John Fahey said this version of “Frankie & Johnny” featured some of the best guitar-playing ever, and who am I to disagree?

Coincidentally, music blog River’s Invitation is posting folk songs this week. Do check them out. Clarence Ashley’s “The Coo-Coo Bird” is absolutely essential.

UPDATE: Please check out The Old, Weird America for an in-depth analysis of the Harry Smith Anthology.

Buy the Anthology

Posted by Glenn

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Filed under 1920s, 1930s, Acoustic, Americana, Bluegrass, Country, Folk, Roots rock, Singer-Songwriter, Traditional

Shame

Bob Dylan – “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine” from John Wesley Harding [1968]

This is Dylan at his very best.  Three verses, no chorus (this seems the preferred format on the whole of JWH).

In the first-person, he describes witnessing the piety, passion, and wisdom of St. Augustine during a dream.  In the third and final verse, in all candor, he admits with horror that he, the dreamer, was complicit in condemning the saint to death.  Upon waking, he cannot escape the shame of the dream and breaks down.

I have sold out good people before.  I have ignored the suffering of others.  Shame is a constant reminder of how far we are from perfection.

This album (buy it here) is so beautifully crafted and performed (one of the best bands of all time, no lie).

Posted by Jordy

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Filed under 1960s, Country, Rock

“She made me feel unwanted”

Gram Parsons and the International Submarine Band – “Millers Cave” from Safe at Home [1968]

If you need proof that Gram Parsons invented country rock, look no further than this Cowboy Jack Clement cover from GP’s one and only LP with the ISB. Indeed, the whole album has a killer shuffle that never breaks down and, more importantly, never betrays its roots (love that twinkling piano). Special credit is due drummer Jon Corneal and future Parsons collaborator Chris Ethridge on bass.

While GP’s songwriting and vocal performances aren’t nearly as pained or expressive as later recordings with the Byrds, Burritos, and by himself, Safe at Home confirms that his winning streak began very early on.

Parsons lived only five years after the release of this album.  I have been thinking about how premature deaths in music (and art generally) add to the myth of greatness.  Is it truly “better to burn out than to fade away” as my man Neil Young puts it?  Please weigh in.

Stay Safe at Home

also, check out the excellent Parsons documentary

Posted by Jordy

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Filed under 1960s, Country, Rock

“There’s one in every crowd/for cryin’ out loud”

Waylon Jennings – “Honky Tonk Heroes” from Honky Tonk Heroes (1973)

The exploration of country music has been a recurring theme on this blog (as well as on some of our favorite brother-blogs such as Setting the Woods on Fire and The Rising Storm).  For me, this exploration has been largely defined by seeing past the stigmatization of the faux, good-ole-bro sentiment of modern country to a rich tradition of creativity and rebellion embodied in artists like Hank Williams, Townes Van Zandt, and Steve Earle.

During this time, I have particularly identified with Waylon Jennings’ Honky Tonk Heroes.  It is the ideal crossover album for country-curious rock and rollers.  But this is no mere cosmic American hybrid.  Billy Joe Shaver’s songs are braced firmly in the country genre while Waylon and the band plow through them with the ferocity of any contemporary rock band minus the extensive, wanker guitar solos of the era.

Good times.

Buy it here

Posted by Jordy

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Filed under 1970s, Country, Rock

Country Blues

Hank Williams – “Long Gone Lonesome Blues” (1950)
Hank Williams – “Weary Blues From Waitin’” (recorded ca. 1951)

Weary. Lonesome. Long Gone. This is the sound of stately anguish. Like all the greats, Hank Williams creates a world with his music, a world that intersects with this one but also takes you a million miles away; a world that, for a few minutes at a time, renders other music unthinkable.

Paul over at Setting The Woods On Fire knows way, way more about Hank than we ever could. Check out his excellent blog for more.

Buy Hank here

Posted by Glenn

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Filed under 1950s, Acoustic, Country

Favorite Song to Play, Part II

Emmylou Harris – “Goin’ Back to Harlan” from Wrecking Ball [1995]

Wrecking Ball is a perfect album.  There is no other to compare it to.  Combine the production of Lanois with the additional production sensibilities of like-minded Malcolm Burn (one of my favorite producers), bring them to Emmylou Harris and you get a genre-bending masterpiece.

This song was penned by Anna McGarrigle, whose debut album I have yet to obtain, although I plan to sometime in the very near future.  I like to play this song most often on an electric guitar and a Shure SM-57, looping some vocal beats and finger-picking the rest out.  It’s a damn good time, and spooky as sin.

I go crazy in the head when I hear this song.

Tabs for those who need them

I can’t believe you don’t own this album.  Honestly.  Buy it yesterday.

Posted by Phil

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Filed under 1990s, Americana, Country

“They dug for their coal ’til the land was forsaken/then they wrote it all down as the progress of man”

John Prine – “Paradise” from John Prine (1971)

I’ve had the great fortune to spend a lot of time this summer with my brothers, both of whom live states away. When we get together, we start playing guitars; when we play guitars, we eventually get to this song. “Paradise” packs in a lovely evocation of childhood idylls and uses that as a basis for a stirring indictment of environmental destruction.

Prine’s debut is a masterpiece, by the way. A few of the protest songs sound quaint, but others could have been written in our own day of ill-advised war and jingoism-for-show; cf. “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore.”

Get halfway to heaven, with Paradise waiting

Posted by Glenn

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Filed under 1970s, Acoustic, Country, Folk, Singer-Songwriter

“Come to my house/I got whisky and chairs”

16 Horsepower – “Horse Head” from Hoarse [2001]

Whenever I speak with fellow aficionados of 16 Horsepower, we can all agree on the importance of the crazed, drunken preacher with hellfire in his eyes coming out of frontman David Eugene Edwards, just as we can agree that this band has rekindled the fear of the Lord in our souls. But I never hear about the importance and soul-crushing weight of Pascal Humbert’s low end: on Secret South‘s opener “Clogger,” the whole album starts with a massive, speaker-rattling bowed contrabass. It’s got some physical weight to it, which is a nice counterbalance to Edwards’ hysterical yelping.

This track is particularly ominous, primarily because the low end acts as the song’s pallbearer; jerky guitar interpositions, hair-raising fiddle, and gawky yells into an old ribbon microphone act as the clouds, rain, and crows flying over the funeral procession.

This is one of the scariest songs I’ve ever heard. It’s a drunken man in a torn shirt, hurriedly staggering towards the instigator of a crop fire, pistol in one hand and a bottle of gin in the other.

Put the fear of the Lord in ya

Posted by Phil

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Filed under 2000s, Country

“The sun is gonna burn into a cinder/before we ever pass this way again”

Cat Power – “Silver Stallion” from Jukebox [2008]
The Highwaymen – “Silver Stallion” from Highwayman 2 [1990]
Lee Clayton – “Silver Stallion” from Border Affair [1978]

Here we have three versions of the same song by three different artists. The three versions of the song are all very different and as such, elicit very different moods. Clayton’s electric guitar-drenched original sounds almost triumphant, while The Highwaymen do a pretty straightforward country rendition. My personal favorite is the most recent version, sung by the nonpareil Cat Power (real name Chan Marshall). Ms. Power’s version evokes the sadness of the classic ramblin’ song. Her voice sounds as if she’s spent a few too many late nights drinking whiskey and smoking cigarettes, and she woke up early one morning singing this song with a sleepy, hungover resolve to make a change in her life.

I have a thing for female singers with smoky voices, and Ms. Power is my current favorite. I discovered her just recently, after seeing her eccentric, mesmerizing performance on Letterman. Shortly after watching that performance several times over (thanks to TiVo) I picked up her Jukebox album, which is a curious collection of covers ranging from “Silver Stallion” to Kander and Ebb’s “New York, New York” to Dylan’s “I Believe in You” along with a few of Ms. Power’s own songs, including a great re-working of “Metal Heart” from her 1998 album Moon Pix.

Ms. Power has a penchant for doing a lot of odd covers and making them all her own. Jukebox is her second covers album, the first being 2000’s aptly titled The Covers Record. In addition to having a terribly sexy voice, Ms. Power has a pretty interesting story as well. This 2006 New York Times article (in addition to this blog post, of course) offers a nice introduction to the world of Cat Power.

Despite a cleverly deceptive opening paragraph, this post is really about how great Cat Power is.

Posted By Adam

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Filed under 1970s, 1990s, 2000s, Country

“If I’m buried ‘neath the sod/but the angels won’t receive me”

The Pogues – “If I Should Fall From Grace With God” from If I Should Fall From Grace With God (1987)

Irish folk-punk is a pretty perplexing genre. Bands like the Dropkick Murphys or the Tossers are incredible for two songs, sort of funny for the next five or six, and then incredibly irritating after that. (Case in point: listen to that “Shipping Out to Boston” song from The Departed ten times in a row, like I have, and you will understand the shift from all-out love to sheer annoyance that comes part and parcel of this genre.)

But the Pogues ain’t like that. They write complicated melodies that have an emotional power that’s kind of unexpected, and their ensemble playing is loose in the best way. Shane MacGowan’s evocative lyrics and tooth-free delivery doesn’t hurt either. In short, the Pogues rule.

I’m putting the country tag on this post, because, well…it sounds like country. Replace MacGowan with a dude with a drawl/twang and you’d have a great country song. Steve Earle knew that; that’s why he played (and continues to, I believe) with the Pogues.

Plus: look at that blind Irish guy, fourth from left. Betcha didn’t know he was a Pogue. The ineluctable modality of the visible, indeed!

Usurper.

Fall from grace here

Posted by Glenn

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Filed under 1980s, Acoustic, Country, Folk, Punk