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