Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Don't Want to Be Nobody

Artist: Johnny Cash

Album: The Sound of Johnny Cash

Song: "Mr. Lonesome"

The forgotten outlaw, Tompall Glaser, penned this dark tunea sharpened dagger to the yearning soul. Songwriting this plainspoken is as timeless as the emotion it personifies. Add the heavy echo to Johnny Cash's iconic voice and behold an audible frown. You almost need to put your hands in jacket pockets to withstand the discernible cold.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

If the Band Keeps on Playin'

Artist: Little David Wilkins

Album: Little David Wilkins

Song: "Makin' Love in Waltz Time"

1-2-3, 1-2-3.

Of all the dance steps I learned during my brief time as Arthur Murray's 6' 5" tower of cash, the waltz proved to be my favorite.

1-2-3, 1-2-3.

That simple box step resonates with an almost-forgotten elegance. Man and woman locked arm in arm, a safe but tantalizing space between them.

1-2-3, 1-2-3.

I champion the modern-day grind, but that roots you to the floor. The waltz allows you to glide around the room, like a golden leaf carried upward and away by a cool fall wind.

1-2-3, 1-2-3.

Perhaps the attraction is sentimental. Even the older studentsretirees, widows, and widowersshied away from this old-fashioned step in favor of the hip-shaking and exciting cha-cha-cha and merengue.

1-2-3, 1-2-3.

Perhaps these interests met at a dance crossroad: the elders preferring steps with more vitality, while I enjoyed a chance to step back in time. When romance ruled over sex.

1-2-3, 1-2-3.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Rings on Her Fingers, Flowers in Her Hair

Artists: Ben Dover & Tennessee Tucker

Album: Carpetbaggers

Song: "Road to Norfolk"

An excerpt from Ed Buryn's Vagabonding in America:

Just as travel is a dramatization of life, so hitchhiking is a dramatization of travel. It breaks down even deeper norms and releases even more energy. Hitchhikers, like all adventurers, vibrate with this energy. It makes them sensitive and alive to their experiences, and attracts others to them. Of course, handling this energy is difficult: The more that things are random and unexpected, the more you need to improvise, the more you fully use all of yourself in the business of being. But then one day on the road, you suddenly realize that you're having the time of your life. You feel the energy of the universe flowing right thru you. It's the dream come true.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

There's Magic in the Air

Artists: Lindisfarne

Album: Dingly Dell

Song: "Dingly Dell"

This LP's cover kept me from giving up on the record: five scuzzy hippies camped out in a forest, two even slouching in a psychedelic hammock. There had to be some gem hiding among the political screeds. I was reaching for the tone arm when the album's final track began to shapeshift, devolving into a primal pagan chant. I began to imagine those same hippies circling a campfire, encircled by a wall of tall trees. Arms and smoke stretch into a starry night sky, and voices wobble in a crescendo of stark desperation.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Tried to Hide My Fear

Artist: Charlie Brown

Album: Up From Georgia

Song: "Ain't Gonna Stay"

Consider this galloping Charlie Brown rocker the soundtrack to a deleted scene from an early '70s Burt Reynolds movie. Something like White Lightning, where Gator McKlusky careens through dirt back roads in a souped-up sedan. Mason jars full of precious moonshine clink in wooden crates while plumes of dust burst in the air. The local fuzzdastards allfollow in hot pursuit, but ol' Gator can only look over his shoulder and grin, wiping the afternoon sweat from his tanned brow.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

What's Come Over Me?

Artists: 1910 Fruitgum Co.

Album: 1, 2, 3 Red Light

Song: "Blue Eyes & Orange Skies"

Somebody put acid in the bubblegum.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Our Souls Must Grow Light

Artists: Akshooyooliak & Lou Gossett

Movie: The White Dawn

Song: "Untitled Chant"

Netflix has been great for exploring the dustier corners of the Warren Oates filmography. After watching the engaging Arctic drama The White Dawn, with its engrossing exploration of Inuit culture, I took to the Internet in search of the Henry Mancini-composed soundtrack. Some quick research revealed that a complete LP was never issued, and only a few scraps from the poignant score have found their way to various Mancini releases. Yet the most affecting musical moment was provided not by Mancini but one of the actors, an old medicine lady named Akshooyooliak. Her song simmers with a spectrum of emotions: sadness, hope, desperation, and resolve.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

She Holds Her Lantern High

Artists: Patchwork

Album: Patchwork

Song: "Mountain Lady"

I've been finding most of the songs for Corduroy Mountain tucked away as deep cuts on forgotten (or never-known) 99¢ albums. There has been a specific quality to these songs that I hadn't been able to define until I read the new Bill Simmons NBA book. The Sports Guy is a master of developing homemade classifications and concepts such as "foxhole guys" and "stocks." In a moment of inspiration, I found the word that describes an excellent song stuck amongst lesser tunes: "stopability."

So there's a backhanded complement here. But as a record listener, that is what makes the hunt so exciting. The chance to discover greatness, to hear a song that requires you to stop reading a magazine or eating a chocolate donut and pay attention to the music. To go from multitasking to just taskinglistening to a song in rapture or disbelief. (Maybe you even swivel your noggin as the LP spins in an attempt to read the song title rather than checking the sleeve. Or is that just me?)

Stopability is a great and rare presence. "Mountain Lady" by Patchwork? That song has supreme stopability.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Wide-Open Spaces Are Closing in Quickly

Artist: Waylon Jennings

Album: This Time

Song: "Slow Movin' Outlaw"

The undulating hills and their skins of skyscraper-straight emerald grass hid the old farmhouse in its folds, away from the snaking road below. A path of stone fragments led into the building's simple courtyard. Above the home's entryway, carved into the white facade, was the singular word "Eldorado." The homeowner added slivers of wood to a well-used fire pit, and a vibrant flame began to illuminate the dark sky, its dancing shadows flickering like a silent movie projected on the nearby slope. Clouds filled the sky, but a strong wind would allow for periodic glimpses of the sparkling constellations. Music poured into the courtyard from magnificent stereo speakers. Warm American voicesCalvin Russell, Steve Young, Billy Joe Shaver, Waylon Jenningsfilled the chilly Burgenland night. Wrapped in a thick blanket, senses engaged, I realized that country is country, language be damned.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Turnin' Out Lights

Artists: Maggie & Terre Roche

Album: Seductive Reasoning

Song: "West Virginia"

Maggie Roche wrote a 99 dollar song that is hidden on a 99 cent album. "West Virginia" is so fragilepiano creaking, voice angelicthat it needs to be heard on a pair of headphones late at night. Such profound music resonates during these still hours. That's when distractions are few and thoughts, perhaps, more melancholic. Moments of doubt, discouragement, and despair can be alleviated by a few resonant songs, bringing reassurance to a distressed soul. That these particular musicians can distill beauty from tragedy, light from darkness is why I'll keep listening. I hope you will, too.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Astral Projection, Cosmos Connection

Artists: Aztec Two-Step

Album: Second Step

Song: "Cosmos Lady"

When Larry Dallas needed to seal the deal, he would drop the needle on this panties melter. Maybe he still does.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Spacemen Came and Took All the Children Away

Artist: Buddy Red Bow

Album: Buddy Red Bow

Song: "Fifth Dream"

Sometimes iTunes lies. Today, my play count for Buddy Red Bow's "Fifth Dream" stands at a respectable 16. But that number doesn't reflect numerous vinyl spins or the dozens of times I've skipped back to the song's beginning before the timer could reach 0:00. The reason for this compulsive listening is the weirdness that permeates the music.

Spaceships, rainbows, and hawk wings. Perhaps peyote fueled this incredible imagery, although Buddy's Lakota tribe is not typically associated with the ceremony. Does the title refer to hard alcohol, an impending stupor? American Indians have had hard battles with the bottle, and Buddy himself was subdued by such demons.

I have yet to understand whether the fifth dream is to be welcomed or dreaded. Not having that definitive answer will continue to make this song a fascinating experience.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Let the Son Come In

Artists: Our Generation

Album: Praise and Prayer

Song: "Praise"

What church had Our Generation as the house band? I might not have become a lapsed Catholic had this rock show erupted every Sunday morning. If the Devil stole the beat from the Lord, God must've borrowed a riff from ol' Beelzebub himself. Behold this caustic example of stigmata for the ears.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Success Is Survival

Artist: Michael Murphey

Album: Blue Sky Night Thunder

Song: "Goodbye Old Desert Rat"

The Reverend Joshua Duncan Sloane's eulogy at the end of The Ballad of Cable Hogue stands as the profound resolution to a forgotten western. I like his words enough to share them here.

We are gathered here in the sight of God and all His glory to lay to rest Cable Hogue.

Now most funeral orations, Lord, lie about a man. Compare him to the angels, whitewash him with a really wide brush. But you know, Lord, and I know that it just is not true. Now a man is made out of bad as well as good, all of them. Cable Hogue was born into this world nobody knows when or where. He came stumbling out of the wilderness like a prophet of old. Out of the barren wastes he carved himself a one-man kingdom.

Some said he was ruthless. But you could do worse, Lord, than to take to your bosom Cable Hogue. He wasn't really a good man, he wasn't a bad man. But, Lord, he was a man!

He charged too much. He was as stingy as they come. Yes, he might have cheated, but he was square about it. Rich or poor, he gouged them all the same. When Cable Hogue died, there wasn't an animal in the desert he didn't know. There wasn't a star in the firmament he hadn't named. There wasn't a man he was afraid of.

Now the sand he fought and loved so long has covered him at last. Now he has gone into the whole torrent of the years, of the souls that pass and never stop. In some ways he was your dim reflection, Lord; and right or wrong, I feel he is worth consideration. But if you feel he is not, you should know that Hogue lived and died here in the desert, and I'm sure Hell will never be too hot for him.

He never went to church. He didn't need to. The whole desert was his cathedral. Hogue loved the desert, loved it deeper than he'd ever say. He built his empire, but was man enough to give it up for love when the time came.

Lord, as the day draws toward evening, this life grows to an end for us all. We say, "adieu" to our friend. Take him, Lord. But knowing Cable, I suggest you do not take him lightly.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

His Head Is Full of Diesel Smoke

Artist: Lonnie Mack

Album: The Hills of Indiana

Song: "Asphalt Outlaw Hero"

Sometimes you need a song to suffocate any air of ambiguity, subtlety, or interpretation. "Asphalt Outlaw Hero" does just that. This clobbering performance puts the hammer down and begs to be cranked while screaming down a deserted highway in the black of night.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Been Five Years But It Seems Like Yesterday

Artist: John Braden

Album: John Braden

Song: "Baptist Funeral"

MTV's Singled Out flickered on the silent Zenith screen, and a CDOasis, Everclear, or Bone Thugs N Harmonywould permeate the dorm room. Amid discussions that bled from late night to early morning, a quote from my friend Gweedo has followed me through the subsequent years:

"Life is a series of distractions before you die."

I have struggled more often than not to remember this thought while drifting through my daze. Recognizing life's finite window seems to only occur at great moments of loss or upheaval. That fiery epiphany roars for a moment. Much like the characters in Akira Kurosawa's Ikiru, routine is quick to extinguish the oxygen of clarity. Should we not strive to make those distractionshow ever many we getas interesting as possible?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Ain't Nobody Say Amen

Artist: Larry Jon Wilson

Album: Let Me Sing My Song to You

Song: "Willoughby Grove"

A pile of dissected National Geographic magazines stands stacked in a crate on my closet floor. Dried glue remains stuck to the paper where I tore the perfect binding apart. Most of the issues I have collected were published between the late 1960s and late 1970s, the era where bellbottoms mingled with the boot cut. Perhaps inspired by the impending Bicentennial, most every month contained at least one article about the United States: a town, city, state, or region. There would be an economic analysis and an appreciation of the people. When I read these pieces and study the pictures, I am filled with conflicting fascination and ache. Fascination because the articles are inspirational for planning road trips; an ache for a time I can never visit. So I travel. To find any places time has left untouched, to discover what happened to Willoughby Grove.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

No Sound Returns to Me

Artist: Leo Kottke

Album: Greenhouse

Song: "Tiny Island"

Nowhere, Nevada. An ancient ring of jagged mountaintops pierces an afternoon sky so blue that even Crayola doesn't have the equivalent. Overhead, an orphaned puff of cumulus floats to nowhere. The Mojave's dry air lingers still, hot, and invigorating. Alluvial fans deposit their sediment on the desert floor. A streak of black highway slices through the hard land as it escapes to civilization. Jutting off this lifeline is a parasitic track that stretches into the expansive sea of Mormon Tea and sage. Far from the sight of passing motorists, secluded in this rural bastion of raw nature, is a lone cabin, its occupant finding nourishment in a crate of Merle Haggard LPs; a copy of Zen Flesh, Zen Bones; and the daily connection to a land of ceaseless revelations.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

You're Just Like a Chariot

Artists: Sutherland Brothers & Quiver

Album: Reach for the Sky

Song: "Love on the Moon"

Professional wrestling explains all. When two boys are drifting south on the mid-card, or worsecurtain jerking, repackage the talent as a tag team and see if there's newfound chemistry. Such an arrangement worked for the Sutherland Brothers and Quiver. Talk about a patch job. The two factions didn't even christen the partnership with a new name. But that's OK. Their captivating balance of mellowness and groove is worthy of a Barry Horowitz pat on the back.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Houses of Whitened Wood

Artist: Steve Young

Album: Honky-Tonk Man

Song: "Traveling Kind"

Steve Young must've seen a parallel between "Ramblin' Man" by Hank Williams and his own song "Traveling Kind" when recording both for his 1975 album Honky-Tonk Man. "Ramblin' Man," of course, is iconic. With its frosty lyrics and loping gait, ol' Hiram crafted country's definitive drifter song. "Traveling Kind" doesn't reside in such historical airs, however. But what Young wrote feels like an examination of the ramblin' man's very soul. Perhaps there's motivation more compelling than just an endless stretch of road or rail. And underneath that cool exterior, maybe, his defiant heart beats aflutter.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Maybe an Aluminum Cat

Artists: Crack the Sky

Album: Crack the Sky

Song: "Robots for Ronnie"

A geeky outcast, school bullies, and overly concerned parents with advanced engineering degrees. Did Crack the Sky write a power ballad or the pitch for an ABC after-school special?

Friday, August 7, 2009

If He Outran the Wind Itself

Artist: Tom T. Hall

Album: One Hundred Children

Song: "Pinto the Wonder Horse Is Dead"

There is an inevitable conclusion to Bobby Bridger's ode to childhood heroes. Tom T. Hall's song is the epitome of Bob Dylan's poignant "broken mirror of innocence" image. Heroes die and nostalgia is born. But what of our unbridled dreams and youthful imagination? Have we made those thoughts come to fruition? Or have they been filed away like last year's tax return, something to trip over while rearranging the deck chairs? Hold on to your dream. Feed your imagination. Drag your feet as the Machine marches you to oblivion. Pinto the Wonder Horse may be dead, but I believe his essence lives on. Just grasp his reins and heel your spurs.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I Watched 'em and I Always Knew

Artist: Bobby Bridger

Album: And I Wanted to Sing for the People

Song: "Hopalong Cassidy and Gabby Hayes"

I had questions during the recent media coverage of the Apollo 11 anniversary. What defines a hero, great talent or great determination? Is the awe found in ability ("can do") or execution ("will do")? While I doubt a young Bobby Bridger had such thoughts while sitting in a dark movie theater, cowboys and outlaws flickering on the screen, he does capture the pure exuberance of childhood.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Heaven Must Be Near

Artists: Barefoot Jerry

Album: Southern Delight

Song: "Smokies"

Barefoot Jerry was an all-star band of Nashville session pros. Friday nights, when the studios closed, these friends would load Ford pickup beds with bags of groceries, instrument cases, and bottles of sour mash. Forty-eight hours of freedom awaited. Tucked in an Appalachian holler was a shotgun shack, its paint peeling from the elements. The men would wheel a piano onto the creaking wood porch, pull out guitars, pass the drink. And so they would play their music, not that of rote producers. Inspired by the living beauty and primal energy of the surroundings, the men wrote "Smokies." At least that's what I hope happened.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sittin' Here Walkin' the Floor

Artist: Gene Watson

Album: Between This Time & The Next Time

Song: "I'm Gonna Kill You"

Country music has never shied away from murder: cheating lovers, vengeful spouses, and grim endings for all involved. The air in these songs is heavy with uncontrollable grief, rage, and disillusionment. So straight-up honky tonker Gene Watson recording a murder song isn't out of the ordinary. Except this tune bops to its own beat. Never before has a cuckolded man sounded so damn remorseless. Pushed over the final edge, hear the true voice of insanity.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

You Can Fool Them All Right

Artists: Horslips

Album: The Tain

Song: "You Can't Fool the Beast"

When composing my first concept album, I need to remember the timeless lessons that Horslips made apparent. There must be thundering tribal drums and bursts of handclaps. Where there isn't a maniacal flute, a happy fiddle will play. Love will cause strife, and an immortal warrior shall do battle on an infinite plain. Of course the sleeve will be gatefold.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Lying Here in My Confusion

Artist: Brian Friel

Album: Brian Friel

Song: "Pisces Lady"

Prison doesn't have to be a cold cell and steel bars. That private jail can be spiritual, emotional, social, financial. Brian Friel is a prisoner, defeated and alone except for the whispering wind. But much like Andy Dufresne, the echo of a song can stir the resiliency of the soul. And soon those terrible walls are brought to rubble, one patient tap of the chisel after another.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Daydreams and Southern Pine

Artist: Marlin Greene

Album: Tiptoe Past the Dragon

Song: "Fields of Clover"

Should I ever find myself floating across a blue summer sky like an untethered balloon, picking wisps of clouds as if they were sticky cotton candy, I would need this Marlin Greene opus and its inherent pedal-steel breeze as my lazy-day soundtrack.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Revolution's Gone Way Beyond Me

Artist: Gary P. Nunn

Album: Nobody But Me

Song: "Tennessee Road"

Even a King is but a mother's son. Eliza Gilykson's "Tennessee Road" does not celebrate Elvis Presley. It pities him. The grandeur of incredible fame isolates, confuses, and grinds. Perhaps it is only fitting that his downfall serves as the tragic precursor for Michael Jackson. Well, that and Lisa Marie too. 

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Barrelhousin' 'til the Moon Is Low

Artists: Bob Seger System

Album: Mongrel

Song: "Lucifer"

If you're turned off to Bob Seger's late-1970s arena rockers and radio ballads, be aware he has a prefame universe of albums that stomp with diesel-powered grooves. "Lucifer" is a Nuggetsesque blast of urban swagger, bloodshot blue-eyed soul, and a foghorn organ. This is strut rock of the highest degree.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

You Knew I'd Take What You Were Giving

Artist: Rusty Wier

Album: Stacked Deck

Song: "Good, Good Lovin'"

The orange heat of the BBQ coals fades into silent oblivion. Crickets chirp in the tall grass that surround the old farmhouse clearing. Clusters of friends laugh and shout as they wipe sweat from their brows using icy beer bottles and cowboy hat brims. And if I ever find myself here, slow dancing with a pretty cowgirl under the light of a full summer moon, I want this song playing.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

People Are Known to Fall in Love Anyway

Artists: Rupert Hine and David MacIver

Album: Pick Up a Bone

Song: "More Than One, Less Than Five"

Imagine that Cat Stevens at the last minute pulled his songs from the Harold and Maude soundtrack. With little time to score the movie and even less money to record new material, Hal Ashby is somehow put in touch with Bill Fay, who happens to be recording his debut album. Upon hearing the movie's premise, Fay agrees to write a song and record it during his sessions. Such circumstantial alchemy would have borne "More Than One, Less Than Five."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Nothing Less Than Love Complete

Artist: Donnie Fritts

Album: Prone to Lean

Song: "Winner Take All"

Donnie Fritts got knocked in the 1979 The Rolling Stone Record Guide for "not [being] a lead singer, or any kind of vocalist at all." I want to offer a decades-late rebuttal to that accusation. Whether you hear fierce pride or sweet ignorance in his wounded voice, Fritts sounds like Cool Hand Luke picking himself off the dirt in his yard fight against Dragline. Tired but determined. Could a big, slick Nashville voice have infused these lyrics with that semblance of weary authenticity?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Pine Wood Box and It's Got You Inside

Artists: Frummox

Album: Here to There

Song: "There You Go"

My friend Jeremy once asked if there was such a niche as psychedelic country. Stuck following the epic (and perhaps tiring) "Texas Trilogy" on Frummox's debut album, "There You Go" is a prime example of a cheating song getting lost in Topanga Canyon. The cuckolding wife and the self-loathing husband are forever bound together by a haunting guitar lick and piercing fiddle. This is a lysergic murder ballad.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Wheels Gotta Roll Again

Artists: Rock Killough & Dan Eckley

Album: Killough & Eckley

Song: "Back on the Road Again"

The early morning sky begins to fill with a vivid spectrum of violets, reds, yellows, and oranges. A ribbon of darkness snakes into the distance. This world is at rest when two glowing eyes break over the still horizon. Few trucker songs seem to capture the speed and momentum of the chugging rig the way "Back on the Road Again" does. The mandolin leans into the curves, the bass shifts gears, and that flatpicked guitar puts the hammer down.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Beyond the Stars and Flaming Sun

Artist: Dennis Linde

Album: Dennis Linde

Song: "DR-31"

"DR-31" unfolds like a feverish hallucination. Every image in the song is fantastic and each becomes more incredible as events unfold. The year: "9005." The immense size of the "best spaceship man had ever built." A "zillion" people screaming. Then the DR-31 launches. And, well, I'm not sure if Dennis Linde made up what happens next, but I'd recommend looking to the night sky to see if his words come to pass.