All those bits and pieces

There’s still a day left to enter and win a copy of Willie Nelson’s Naked Willie. Contest ends at midnight tomorrow, so finish up your taxes and go over and enter!

The new podcast is also up. It’s a good listen for a grey spring day. Even if you aren’t in Nashville where the weather isn’t cooperating with the season you should still go download it and listen.

And now that I’ve got your reminders out of the way, I need to clean up some of tabs I’ve had open in my browser for weeks. Here’s some things I’ve been meaning to share with you: Continue reading

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We had a bad break up but baby I loved you the most

You read HCT regularly, you’ve been an alt-country fan for years, you have all the Wilco, Jayhawks and Whiskeytown CDs already and you still listen to them. The double-disc re-release of Whiskeytown’s Strangers Almanac seems like a non-event to you. Or is it? Clearly, what you want to know is whether it’s worth it to buy this album for all the previously unreleased live tracks, alternate versions, b-sides, and demos.

But first let’s talk about Strangers Almanac itself.

I’ve been listening to “Houses on the Hill” on repeat for like a half hour. This song is the musical equivalent of running into an ex you had a protracted, atrocious break up with and then having a drink with the guy because you’re bored. He’s witty, charming, and sexy and suddenly you remember why you fell for the douchebag in the first place. He really was awesome; you’ve just forgotten the awesome part because he was also really a dickhead who slept with your neighbor and shaved your cat. Before he was That Guy, he was the one who broke your heart with fanciful stories filled with wistfulness about Eisenhower America and wrote you long letters about how amazing you are. [If your ex-boyfriends are like Whiskeytown songs, then the metaphor for mine must be like drunken Toby Keith karaoke at the bar, flashing everyone your bra and then regretting the hell out of what you can remember the next morning.—Cricket]

“Everything I Do” is a peek at what Ryan got right in his solo career—a song that repeats the same, simple lyrics over and over until you honestly feel the emotional train wreck they guy embodies. What knocks this track out of the park is the sound of him scratching his stubble by the mic, closing out the song with a sort of self-aware irony intended to negate his dramatic sincerity. Hello, 1997!

It’s no secret that I have a complicated relationship with Ryan Adams. If you’ve ever kicked it on this blog, you know all about it. I won’t shut up about it, I know. I feel your pain—imagine being on the inside of this crazytrain! This record still brings on my Ryan stalking tendencies. It’s nice to be reminded of the days when I actually had faith a mainstream artist could come out of obscurity and hold it down for all the kids with serious talent—a sort of aspirational brand for struggling indie artists. Instead, he became the exemplar par excellence of What Not To Do With Your Career. [I still maintain that Ryan Adams is proof that even assholes can make awesome music, and that perhaps one might enjoy music more if they only listen to it and don’t try and peer into the lives of music’s creators.—Cric]

This record is also a touchstone for a lot of what I see as the slacker music culture in East Nashville. Everyone I know can cover at least one song off of it. This is the cred album, the one you’re allowed to nod at to admit that, sure, Ryan Adams is a colossal dickhead, but this record is transcendent. [Hmm, yes, but part of what makes it transcendent, I believe, is that it is Whiskeytown and not Ryan solo. Like he needed the right combination of people working with him to ensure that he doesn’t make a jackass of himself.—Cricket]

Also, oddly, unlike every other Ryan Adams project, the songs I like best now are still the ones I liked best to begin with–“16 Days,” “Avenues,” and “Houses on the Hill.” [“Inn Town,” “Dancing with the Women at the Bar,” and “Excuse me While I Break My Own Heart” for me.—Cric]

Now, should you buy the deluxe-y reissue double album super ultra extravaganza blow out?

Are you a completionist, Ryan Adams/Whiskeytown aficionado nutjob, like me? Then you already own it and are going to troll me in the comments anyway. What about the regular fan–this crap is $30 bucks retail!

I think there’s a lot to be said for the unreleased tracks giving a pretty accurate picture of how this album, the in situ regular version, is a product as much of the producer, Jim Scott, as the band. In the second CD you can hear a pretty accurate prelude to who Ryan became as a solo artist (before the crack problem). There’s a lot of dissonance in hearing deviant vocal phrasing to classic songs (the album’s more than ten years old, so that’s pretty classic in the sense of pop culture). I think I like the alternate version of “Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight,” better than the original album version. The original sounds slightly alt-country dated while the acoustic version is quite timeless. I’ve also got prejudices that tend to favor acoustic versions of singer/songwriter material, too. “Indian Gown” could have been on “Heartbreaker,” which is a compliment.

I read this NME article the other day and remembered how much Ryan can really piss me off to the point of irrationality. It’s the default, “cool” position to hate on Ryan Adams now. [I held that position before it was cool. HAHAHAHAHA!—Cric] My antipathy is personal. I don’t care if he wants to make fifteen records in one month, one totally glockenspiel and parakeet chirps, but he promised me the world and in the end all he delivered was falling off stages and insulting my intelligence. We had a bad break up, and I still drive by his house sometimes to toss eggs.

You should buy the damned album. I really hate to contribute to Ryan’s crack habit like this, but the extra tracks really are worth it. So is the nostalgia. This was what the guy produced at 22! What were you doing at 22? Personally, I was going to punk rock shows in church basements and tripping my ass off in public parks. The alternate version of “16 Days” sounds just so apathetic and 22 that it slays me. Oh, Ryan, why did you have to do me like you did? A decade later, I’m still willing to take you back if you could just pull something like this record out of your ass, darling. [Yeah. What she said. I can’t comment more ‘cause I’mna be over here listening to the entire 20-disc set on repeat, drinking a bottle of Maker’s and fondly remembering being 22 (yeah, one has to be drunk for the fond memories part).—Cric]

Meet me at the station

It’s strange how, in the modern day of air and car travel, the folkloric power of trains seems not to have diminished at all. It’s true I can get in my car and drive nearly anywhere in the country, yet the idea of hopping a train seems to hold more fanciful notions of freedom and escape from the everyday. [It’s because it is a myth, that’s why, exactly.—Mimi] But there’s more to it than that. There’s a wistful, lonesome sound of far-off train whistles which promise escape that is somehow out of reach. The sound now contains more nostalgia than ever before, though trains are still prevalent all over the world.

Where we live, you can hear the trains everyday, all the time. Though more at night when they aren’t masked by road traffic noise and the television or the iPod. Often the sound will wake me up in the night, which isn’t bothersome at all. It’s more like a reminder of the time and place I’m in. The rattle-hum of freight trains over the tracks sound like home. When I was little, the trains ran right along the far side of the field behind my grandparents’ farm. You could hear them coming when they were miles away and even miles past you could still sense the train when the whistle was too far to hear. I’m sure there’re many people who grew up hearing trains to the point where they hardly notice them, [Like me, for instance, the tracks ran along the bluffs and curved along the coast where I grew up a couple blocks down from my house.—Mimi] but pulled away from them would come to think of it (unconsciously) as a cradle sound, something calming.

In the last 100+ years, trains have driven imaginations in all different directions, in fiction and film and especially music. Train songs seem to exist in all genres of music. I’m going to rec my favorites, sticking (mostly) to the country/folk/bluegrass/alt-country realm. I bet you already know all these songs. Maybe this is a reminder to listen to songs you’ve lost, or perhaps you’ll find something new. This is the barest surface scratch of train songs, but when I think of them, these are the first that come to mind.

Uncle Tupelo – “Train” (from No Depression)
This is a war song as much as it’s train song. Jay Farrar uses the visual of the train to set you in small town America where boys are being dragged off to war. It’s quintessentially American, and pretty brilliant, even for Farrar.

Johnny Cash – “Wreck of the Old 97” (from The Legend)
This song has been covered by nearly everyone since Vernon Dalhart first recorded it in the 20s. It’s based on the wreck of real train, and is based, I believe, on an older, traditional Irish ballad (I’m sure I read that in book somewhere, but the internet isn’t producing the links I’d hoped for). Historically interesting because it was the first time song lyrics were involved in major copyright suit, as several people claimed to have written it. The last verse always seemed like some tacked morality lesson, but it’s doesn’t soften my enjoyment of the song. I could write an entire essay on the history of this song, but it’s all been said elsewhere and I’d probably start to bore myself. I picked Mr. Cash’s version to include here because currently I love it best, but I think the Hank Snow version is equally as famous, though both have shortened the lyrics from the original. [Oh, Johnny, Johnny, how much I love you! Just hearing him cue up on the iTunes makes me nostalgic and homesick just in a general way.—Mimi]

Steve Earle – “Texas Eagle” (from The Mountain)
A bluegrass styled song, performed with The Del McCoury Band. Right off, the typically Earle intro of him randomly talking to no one and everyone, saying: “You gotta put your hat on, boy. You wanna be in the band, you have to put your hat on,” just kills me. Oh ♥Steve♥. Then the song rides in with hard guitar strum like trains coming at ya and spins into fiddle and mandolin, twanging you through some time past, but not so distant that you don’t remember it, but you feel a little bit of longing for it. Bonus points for having a “granddaddy” reference. [You gotta put your hat on, boy! This is my favorite song off this album. This is a head swaying back-and-forth tune. This is also a stealthy political song, listen up.—Mimi]

Neko Case – “Train From Kansas City” (from The Tigers Have Spoken)
This cover of the Shangri-Las’ song is perfectly suited to Neko’s voice. She makes the song much more melancholy and thoughtful than I remember the original song being. The cover also retains a 60s feel while being very much the folky-country of the Sadies (backing Neko up here).

The Stanley Brothers – “Train 45” (from Complete Starday and King Instrumentals)
There’s a call and response of sorts in the beginning of this, everyone calling out where they are taking the train to (I assume home for each other them, given the places they list). [Amusingly, also, the train is leaving from Cincitucky. Where else would people going home to the hills be leaving from?—Mimi] The fiddle playing here is what wins me over. Obviously, it’s an old-time song, and one that manages to effectively tell the story without lyrics. You can hear the train winding through the hills and slowing down in the station through each instrument as it’s played.

Hank Williams – “(I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle” (from Gold)
I think the Johnny Cash version of this song may have actually surpassed the Hank Williams in popularity. Shocking, I know, but I swear I never hear old daddy Hank singing it anywhere anymore. A classic bit of tragedy, boys getting in trouble and hearing the whistle blowin’ while they waste away in jail. A poignant bit about how much the sound of trains means freedom.

Guy Clark – “Texas, 1947” (from Keepers)
This song manages to capture the childhood fascination with trains (and crushing nickels on the tracks!) and the adult nostalgia about them. Guy says it’s about the first time he saw a streamlined train, the whole town came out to watch it go by. The harmonies are really spectacular, and train theme aside, I think this actually one of Guy’s best songs.

The Delmore Brothers – “Red Ball to Natchez” (from Classic Railroad Songs, Vol. 2: Mystery Train)
This song is comforting in its nearly trite “taking the train home to my girl” theme. It’s a gleeful number about the happy hobo, an archetype that has definitely fallen off in the last 50 years. [Because of the rise in awareness that homelessness is not a happy-go-lucky state of unfettered freedom but rather a social pestilence, perhaps? My love of “Big Rock Candy Mountain notwithstanding.—Mimi] I think the idea of the ramblin’ man who goes off and does what ever he does ’til he finally comes home to settle down was at it’s peak with train stories in the early part of the last century. The Delmore Brothers make it a jolly story without angst or sadness.

Stephen Simmons – “Next Stop Redemption” (from Drink Ring Jesus)
I nearly swooned the first time I heard this song. Salvation and train metaphors together? Oh, be still my heart! Stephen croons out the tale of the train that takes all sinners through the night, no town in sight, that finally heads to the end—Hell or salvation. [He’s really beyond awesome.—Mimi] [Yeah, this song makes me feel a little swoony. I think it’s my favorite of the bunch.—Daisy]

Sleepy LaBeef – “Mystery Train” (from Rockin Decade)
Surely Elvis’ version is the most famous of all, but Sleepy kicks up the rockabilly just enough to make the song even more enjoyable. Another song of the train back home to the girl, this one is nearly danceable with its sense of joy, though both Sleepy LaBeef and Elvis throw in a little angst to the vocal delivery. [Yeah, I think he’s mimicking Elvis, actually.—Mimi] The origin of some of the lyrics of this song is mired in almost as much controversy as “Wreck of the Old 97.” The version here is credited to Junior Parker and Sam Phillips. The “mystery” in the title probably refers to whatever original source they gacked the song from. [Probably written by a black person.—Mimi]

The Waifs – “Crazy Train” (from A Brief History…)
What I particularly love about this is how the music and lyrics both seem to belong in some bygone era, and yet the singers’ voices, while not unsuited to the music, sound like they pulled song out of some ancient train barn and sped it right up into the present. There’s an old-timey, bluesy sort of feeling to the track, that captures the essence of old time, but is surely a brand new song. [Isn’t this a Black Sabbath song?—Mimi] [I’m shocked you would even know that. No, same title, different song.—Cric]

Kinky Friedman – “Silver Eagle Express” (from Sold American)
Though generally I associate Kinky with insane books, wacky politics, and other amusements, he really is a fantastic country musician. [Now, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves here. He’s a gimmicky song writer mainly.—Mimi] [But where does gimmicky fit best but in country music?—Cricket] This song manages to perfectly encapsulate the train themes of departure and forgetfulness. Musically, it’s subtly full of twangy steel and train sounds (well, subtle until the end). Lyrically it’s really much more than I would ever expect. All in all a beautiful country song, made more so by the train theme. [Yeah, I’m surprised he has a song that doesn’t make me think of Hee-Haw and midgets tying balloon animals, frankly.—Mimi]

Alison Krauss – “Steel Rails” (from I’ve Got That Old Feeling)
The theme of escape is heavy here. She sings about looking ahead to keep from remembering the past with shout outs to hobos. The visual of the train tracks ribboning through the sunny hills is perfect. This actually sounds almost like a Dolly Parton song to me, and by that I mean it’s excellent. [Yeah, it sounds like a Dolly track, for reals.—Mimi] [I thought Dolly as well the first time I heard it.—Daisy] I do believe this was one of the first songs to chart for Miss Krauss, and deservedly so.

Todd Snider – “Play a Train Song” (from East Nashville Skyline)
I listen to this song so often it borders on pathological. Indeed, it was sort of the inspiration for this post, since it’s stuck in my head all the time and I started thinking about what other train songs I like to play. Even though this isn’t literally a train song, only metaphorically, as with all Todd’s songs it’s the not just the brilliantly clever lyrics, but the delivery that sells it. This particular song tugs at my heart in a nearly inexplicable way. There’s a sense of loss here, but more about remembering the good in lost loved, rather than mourning, but all somehow darkly tied to drugs and tinge of sadness. [Really, a Todd Snider song about substance abuse? He rules. I think he might shop at the Kroger up the street, too.—Mimi] [Stalkerific! –Daisy]

Finally on Friday there's a few top fives

Before I go on about my own random blather, I’d like to point out a little bit of utter awesomeness to you. Brody, one of the lovely folks over at The 9513, has crowned the country music blogs with their Golden Age counterparts. We at HCT are stupidly thrilled to be compared to Townes in such a way—not just because our blog is named for a song written about Townes, but more specifically Brody seems to like the way we play. So go check out the post, check out all the other awesome blogs there and give Brody and his kin some love. Also I would like to say an extra thanks from the HCT cat, whose name is, in fact, Townes Van Cat (a stray that lives in the yard, how appropriate, eh?). [Aw, that’s sweet. Is it one of the feral cats?—Daisy]

Indeed, this past week seemed to be all about the love. I don’t know if it’s some sort of Valentine’s Day over-saturation or impending Lent. [You have to get all the lovin’ in before Lent? –Daisy] Maybe it’s the crazy weather that’s been freezing or burying everything east of the Mississippi. It’s hard to say really, but we here at HCT have been getting a lot of love from our counterparts, and we figured the best way to respond to that was to share with you all some things we love. Of course, that’s 90% of what we do around here anyway, but there are always some little things that fall between the cracks or aren’t quite what you’d expect. This time it’s single songs that we haven’t had other opportunities to yammer on about. More specifically it’s my top five songs I’m listening to on heavy repeat that you might never have heard, and then Mimi’s on the same play, because that’s how we roll.

You might find that some of these songs aren’t the usual alt-country or what have you that we spend so much time talking up here. That’s because these are our real playlist songs, and while we do listen to everything we review here, we also listen to other stuff, so this is like sneak peek inside our iPods. If the song is available for download or listening on something like MySpace, we’ve provided links.

Cricket’s five:

“Love” – Lisa Hayes
I haven’t talked much about Miss Lisa here, mostly because I procrastinated on reviewing the album for so long, now I’m just waiting for the new one to come out. But I listen to her all the time, if not daily, then pretty close. She’s a rockin’ real country singer out of Austin. “Love” opens with the lyric: “You say love is the answer/Well what was the question,” so is it any wonder that I adore this song? Lisa’s got twang and soul. She walks a line between alt-country and mainstream country, but she’s got so much heart and emotion that it’s genuine country music she’s making, nothing near the fake radio pop stuff. Did I mention that I love her to death? Yeah, watch this space for my spasticness when her new album comes out.

“Reno to Vegas”Chuckanut Drive
Back home there’s a lovely stretch of highway, one of the most beautiful in the country called Chuckanut Drive. These boys come from my neck of the woods and they picked a great name. I was trepidacious at first, could their music live up their name? Oh my yes, yes it does. This is twangy country music that’s very western in its influence, but still holding down the fort for the indie rock/alt-country battle. This a band I’m definitely surprised hasn’t broken bigger in the alt-country scene.

“They’ll Need a Crane”The Wrens
I love a good cover. I define that as someone taking a song I love and making into something entirely different than the original, yet staying true to the spirit of the song. This is an excellent example of that. It doesn’t hurt that both They Might Be Giants and The Wrens are among my favorite bands. This song completely blew my mind when I first heard it. It’s moody and deeply emotional in a way that the original isn’t. It makes a fun song suddenly hurt without actually drastically changing it. It’s hard to explain, just go listen.

“Bus Back to Birmingham” – Drunk Stuntmen
I swear there was a brief period where this would come up daily when my iPod was on shuffle and I’d think “OMG! What is this? It’s AMAZING!” And it is. Overall, the whole album from these boys is impressive, but this song in particular feels like something that transcends time and space to just be perfect. It’s had a very 1950s country-rock feel to it and yet retains an odd sort of musical freshness. I also find it strangely satisfying that these guys look more like Hank III than Buddy Holly, despite how this song having that 50s feel. This particular song, however, isn’t necessarily indicative of how the band sounds in general. They are country-rock and sort of all over the board in terms of influences. Definitely worth checking out.

“Full Grown” – Goodbye Sons
I love this band, although sometimes not as much as I think I should. This song is why. The band is awesome, brilliant, talented, but this song is, to me, so totally spectacular that it completely outshines everything else on their albums. Guaranteed, no matter how shitty of a mood I am in, all I have to do is hear this song and suddenly it’s like I’m sitting in the shade, on the grass, by sparkling creek, on a warm summer’s day, and I have not a care in the world. I don’t even have any idea what the lyrics are about. They might be depressing, I haven’t listened closely. Which is weird considering how I’m always about the lyrics and how many hundreds of times I’ve listened to this song. Here it’s really the music that overtakes me, overwhelms me. There’s just so much joy in this song. The band is very Southern influenced folk-rock, heavy on the mandolin, accordion and banjo.

Mimi’s five:

“Rehab”Amy Winehouse
This one and “Me and Mr. Jones” are sort of a toss up. This one’s about substance abuse and the other has the word “fuckery” in it. How can one choose? [Usually, I’d say when in doubt, go with “fuckery”, but “Rehab” is pretty freakin’ awesome.—Daisy] I have some trouble sometimes knowing how famous certain acts are because of my strange peer group. Everyone I know loves Amy and has for a while. Y’all, meet Amy. You can thank me later. You are thinking to yourself that I hate female singers, so what’s the deal here, I know. I hate most female singers. I make exceptions, mainly for standard and torch song singers and the odd hip-hop artist.

“Float On”Ben Lee
Yeah, the Modest Mouse song covered by an Aussie singer-songwriter. This is one of those weird covers that really works. Ben Lee is the exact sort of scenester wanker I normally loathe, but something about his songs makes me like him. I have no real reason for this other than self-indulgence.

“Hockey Song”Corb Lund
Right, so we love Corb and it’s no secret. It’s actually sort of pathetic (but not as pathetic as another friend of ours who has elaborate fantasies of running off to Alberta to homestead with him; I love it when our friends are crazier than we are). This is why I love this song: it rules. To elaborate: in Canada, this song is sort of like “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” or something which I can’t explain, really. The guy who wrote it is an institution (his name is Stompin’ Tom, what more needs to be said?). Now, what elevates Corb’s version of this song is that he tacks on a final verse that is a parody of the final verse of “You Never Even Call Me By My Name” by David Allen Coe. This is brilliant and it makes me sad that his target audience for this song (hockey fans who like 70’s country music) is just me and a dude named Gord in Saskatoon.

“Fiji Baby”Good Shirt
It would appear this album wasn’t ever even released in the States—that’s me, Indier Than Thou for the win! My friend, Fiona, from New Zealand gave me this. If you send me an email and beg/barter, I will send it to you. It’s pop music at its best.

“Non-Believer”Joel Plaskett
Plaskett is hands-down my favorite Canadian artist. It’s funny, too, because the band he was in before he went solo I had an unholy hatred for. This guy is the best the Halifax indie scene produced—he’s real, honest, can write a pretty pop song with real content, and is fantastic live. This clip I linked to is funny. WTF is he wearing, and he cut his hair off? Woes. Anyway, this song is deep and thoughtful and full of the random sort of mourning people do about the Futility of It All.

Sometimes we like things so much we can barely be objective

Sigh.

Matthew RyanConcussion and From a Late Night High Rise

Sometimes I just hate myself for missing out on the good stuff while I’m off reading books about math theory or comic books. (And here I will have to WARN for me talking in comic book metaphors and references for a while, since I’ve been on a comics-reading jag lately.)

These two albums are very different, which to some people would show depth of talent and interest and to others will be just annoying—

Digression: I think we have all had the experience of hearing a record and just flipping the hell out over how perfect and integral to our continued existence it is only to buy the artist(s)’s other work and be gob-smacked by how unlistenable it is. There are acts that transcend this—but even I don’t want to listen to Guitar Town. Change is hard, and there’s a fine line between artistic development and what devoted listeners will stretch to accommodate (looking, as per always, at you, Ryan Adams). We all find our own balance with this. I am often the person who likes someone’s early work and hates the subsequent (big budget) stuff. Cricket is much more loyal of a listener than I am. [I like to think not loyal to a fault. That’s probably arguable though.—Cricket]

I said all this because Matthew Ryan is someone for whom I am willing to stretch to accommodate his growth.

I suppose the most remarked-upon aspect of Matthew Ryan’s music, based on reviews (both heinously critical and exuberantly overly excited), is his voice. This is a make or break issue for anyone listening to him. Some people are gonna hate him because his vocals are this crushed glass and whiskey-broken rasp that wavers from bitter to wounded to pleading. Listen to it with the headphones on and give him a couple goes.

Concussion came out in 2001 and features a duet with Lucinda Williams on the song “Devastation”—cue Cricket! [This was one of the first few of Ryan’s songs I heard. His voice had already sold me, but singing with Lu? Sent me over the edge. Also I’m re-listening to both albums as I go through this and I keep getting distracted and just stopping to listen. It’s really that good. Er, to say I am absurdly giddy about Matthew Ryan is probably the understatement of the century.—Cric]

“Rabbit” feels like a late Sunday evening as the sun’s going down and you just feel like crap and lonely for no real reason. Those days you get in the car and turn the crank and everything just feels hopeless, even with the sticky humidity and a bright sunset grounding you. This is sort of a tattered driving song. I’m sure Cricket likes it. It think he alludes to “rabbiting” away from a crappy situation instead of sticking around to work things out. [I don’t know about this being a driving song, since I think this song requires scotch and we all know I don’t drink and drive.—Cricket]

My god, this record is bleak. Normally, this isn’t my thing at all, because if I want to be depressed, I can just turn on the news. Even on “Happy Hour” when he’s singing about letting go and letting god, it feels way more Tom Waits than anything else. “If you had everything you wanted, what would you wish for, and what would you lose.” I think this lyric is pretty exemplary of the sharp, bitterness Ryan manages to fill with poignancy rather than pathos. Basically, he’s saying that without hope there is nothing, and what is the meaning of hope when you have everything and have no need to hope. That’s a little weighty for pop music and I think I see why he’s had to work to get an audience. Dumbing yourself down to sell records seems to work in Nashville. [And clearly Ryan isn’t dumbing any of it down. Or dulling the pain.—Cricket]

Look, if you’re terribly, tragically existential like Cric and me, you need this record. She likes to listen to depressing crap when she’s depressed (why is beyond me) and I like to be reminded sometimes of the universality of experience. We all get down (as in sad and not breakdancing), and a lot of that has nothing to do with anything tangible. This record has that feeling of the inevitability of tragedy and heartache that comes to everyone’s lives no matter how good or well-ordered. [But. But, you see, it’s oddly hopeful for all that. Listening to it fills my chest with so much emotion that I feel I could burst and there’s as much joy as there is misery in that emotion. Really, I love this so much that I can’t even write sensibly about it. It’s probably best that Mimi did the bear’s share of the work here because you’d just get giddy squeeing from me and nonsensical stories about my past romances.—Cric]

I am extremely embittered that I didn’t previously own this. ARG! Bitter, I tell you! [I agree. We got the head’s up here from a boy I know and really I should have listened to him the first time he mentioned it. The good news is we have close to a dozen albums to luxuriate in now, rather than having had to wait for all of them to come out.—Cric]

Now From a Late Night High Rise. However hyperbolic you think the above review was, it ain’t got nothin’ on this.

Just buy this, if for no other reason than to support a guy from Nashville who needs your support. It’s like buying local produce, but with music. [He is kind of like those perfect summer Heirloom tomatoes you buy from the guy with the truck at the side of the road, but you know, with music and no seeds.—Cricket]

From “Babybird:”

Baby, baby, please
Get up off your knees
This ain’t the time or place to grieve all you grieve
I’m declaring war on arrogance
It’s always been the worst and the fall of men
Just look at Rome, look at the old south
It’s the oppressed that show you then and now
How sheer will can turn the world on its side
And when they do it again
Your luxury
SUVs
Won’t be
No place to hide

Uh, hello, what? This isn’t vapid, I-love-you-baby bullshit songwriting, folks. Bring your mind and engage with the songs and you’ll come out the other end more than just entertained, maybe also a different sort of person. [I can’t believe you left out: “Martin Luther King and the Liberty Bell/vs. a Super Bowl ring of artifacts of Hell/Hello could you please, hold for a while?” Oh, catch me before I just fall down and die from the goodness of it.—Cricket]

On “Providence,” Ryan’s voice almost brought me to tears with the strained hurt and need. I’m a total bitch, so this one will probably win you over. Also, the weird electronic beats work here in a way I’m not usually a fan of.

“Everybody Always Leaves” is this weird upbeat pop-y sounding song with these beautiful, poetic lyrics that is completely about juxtaposition of the tempo and electronic peppiness with the devastation of the words. Holy crap. [I’m nearing embarrassing myself if I keep going on about how much I love this. And goodness knows I have no shame, and am pretty hard to embarrass. I feel the need to digress and talk about his website (good, especially so compared to the usual Nashville craptasticness) which features graphics of the man with dark and light wings in front of my favorite bridge. It’s like before I even knew it, some one was tailor-making the design exactly for me.—Cricket]

“All Lit Up:”

I’m all lit up
From the inside.

What on earth has turned me into a lyrics quoting fourteen year old? The glory that is Matthew Ryan’s vocal delivery. Man. This stuff verges on EMO and I am eating it up with both hands. Maybe Cric and I traded brains while I was in the whiskey-induced coma? You know, in a totally unsurprising turn of events, this record sort of reminds me of RYAN ADAMS! Yes, I am nothing if not predictable. [Maybe Concussion is close to Whiskeytown-era Adams, otherwise, ugh.—Cricket]

This is the closest I get to liking mainstream pop music (of which this is somewhat, in that it sounds like the Postal Service and that ilk in a lot of ways), and people who find that music accessible will like this record more than some of the other stuff we’ve gone totally batshit for. [I confess to liking that kind of music and, man, this album dissolves me emotionally. Concussion is the most perfect kind of alt.country, while From a Late Night High Rise traverses almost to the other end of the good music spectrum.—Cricket]

The last track is spoken word, and as much as I want to listen to it over and over to hear Matthew talk, it’s about a very personal tragedy for him, and I just feel sort of like it’s too much emotional voyeurism. [This is “The Complete Family” and you have to be made of stone not to be won over by this.—Cricket]

If you are around our part of the world, after you buy the albums, go see him live. [If you can make the Nashville show, you know you will find us there looking all emo like Eeyore.—Cric]

Best of the best "best-ofs"

I sat down to write a sort of “compilations and ‘best-ofs’ that you must own.” But then I realized, really what do I know about what you should own? Nada. So, instead, here is a rambling excursion through compilations I own that feel necessary to my continued existence and Mimi’s as well, since I conscripted her to help me write this. Maybe they are to your continued existence, too, you just don’t know it yet.

GOLD Greatest Hits – Dolly Parton
It feels a little risky, starting right out with Miss Dolly. But really, who doesn’t love Dolly? She’s an insanely talented song-writer. Her singing may not be for everyone but is undeniably beautiful. She’s like a mad genius with the marketing and all. I mean what do you know about her personal life? Nothing! And yet she gives every appearance of being honest, open, friendly and forth-coming all the time. She has amusement parks! Seriously, that’s like my dream someday. Cricketworld! You’d have to be 21 to get in, and have a valid Valium prescription, but hey! We won’t kick you out for being drunk. [You get a theme park, I’m setting my ambitions slightly higher with a banana republic of my very own stocked with guys in grass skirts and no winter.–Mimi]

Oh, got side-tracked, uh, what? Oh, Dolly, she’s written approximately 45,876,351 songs, so it’s not like you’re going to go buy all of her albums anyway. Sadly, I looked to make a link here and it appears GOLD is no longer available, so you’ll have to settle yourself with Ultimate Dolly Parton which looks almost as good. The next best, perhaps.

Dressed in Black and Kindred Spirits – Johnny Cash Tributes, Various Artists
I know you’re not over there thinking, “This isn’t helpful, Cric. I’m going to get one, which should I get?” Because no right-thinking Johnny Cash fan would think anything other than needing to be a completionist. How could you choose between a comp with Steve Earle covering Johnny and one with Dale Watson? Between Keb’ Mo and Hank III? You see now how both are necessary. [KEB’ MO! What more do you need to hear, people?–Mimi]

Lonesome On’ry and Mean: A Waylon Jennings Tribute – Various
The biggest gems here are Dave Alvin singing “Amanda,” Junior Brown’s take on “Nashville Rebel,” Robert Earl Keen doing “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?” Which is a) the greatest song ever and b) equally as good when done by REK. (If you’re ever in Nashville and you hear someone’s phone ring with “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?” yeah, that’s me!) [This cover is so good I often listen to it on repeat for like 20 minutes straight! And she beat me to that ringtone because she’s a hussy—and will pay dearly when I figure out a way to defeat her that won’t get blood on my shoes.–Mimi] And if you can’t be convinced that you need this album, then can I at least convince you that Henry Rollins doing “Lonesome, On’ry and Mean” is so good that I nearly peed myself the first time I heard it? If nothing else, get you to iTunes to get that perfect track. [Or that new Rhapsody thing even.–Mimi]

Texas Road Trip – Various
When I talk about country music this is what I mean. Well, this and most the rest of the stuff we talk about here at HCT, but man this Texas stuff? Mimi might be on to something with her unholy love of it. This disc wins! Ed Burleson! Gary P. Nunn! Cory Morrow! Robert Earl Keen! Lyrics from this not to be missed from this album:
– The hummin’ of the road keeps hummin’ through my mind
– I’m standing on a bridge I’d like to burn/At the helm of ship I’d like to sink
– Two steppin’ and skinny dippin’
– I guess you were right/The blue bonnets were worth the drive
– You’re all tanked up but no one’s at the wheel
– I believe we’re on the road to wreck and ruin/But the good news is we’re making damn good time
– You know if I had the chance I’d do a chicken dance/After I watched it burn to the ground

This album is filled with driving metaphors for break-ups, truck driving songs and the occasional Bob Wills style “Aha!” just for good measure. [Ah HA!–Mimi] If country music is sometimes too depressing for you, I guarantee you can put this on and it’ll fix you right up, ’til your dancing like a fool in the living room. And if you think you’ll like this you might check out Brewed in Texas [Hey, that’s one I just reviewed below! We are so awesome when we do that.–Mimi] and I have this other insanely awesome one called Best of Texas but as far as the internet is concerned it doesn’t seem to exist, so I can’t link y’all.

I wish I was on a summer road trip through Texas right now. It’s really cold in Tennessee. Somehow this led to a conversation in which Mimi and I decided that house hippos probably migrate south for the winter (she says to old people’s condos in Boca Raton). You should know that if we drop HCT posting for any period of time, it may be because we are seeking out their migration route. When we find it, we will be snuggling armloads of house hippos and laughing when they bite us. If you run into us at a show and we are covered in little teeth marks and round bruises, you’ll know that we’ve achieved our goal. Do you think house hippos migrate to Texas? That might give us even more of a reason to go there. [YES! To Corpus!–Mimi]

For a Decade of Sin – Various
I’m betting a lot of you already have this Bloodshot Records comp. And good on you! It’s worth it, especially for Split Lip Rayfield, Wayne Hancock and Hank III together, Bobby Bare Jr. covering Jane’s Addiction, The Bottle Rockets (just for rocking like they do) and a dozen-plus other great songs. I like most everything here, but one of the best things about this album is that you can use it to convert your indie rock friends to real country music. The emo boys in their pegged jeans and flow-be haircuts will surely love this, and then you can start slippin’ Dale Watson and other country crack to them once you’ve got them hooked. [Huh, this plan sounds familiar, where have I heard it before?–Mimi]

*

We switched off in the middle and now it’s Mimi. Smooth transition, I know.

Legendary Country Singer! -Willie Nelson
Legendary Country Singer! is just one of approximately a metric ass-ton of compilation albums that Willie’s put out over the years. It’s one of many that we have, and I picked it sort of at random to discuss how you need some Willie Nelson in your life. This is a good one to go for because it covers most of Willie’s biggest hits as a solo performer, the songs that made him…a legendary country singer. Yeah, that was right there so I used it, cope. [If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were too drunk to come up with something better.—Cric] Starting from Willie’s early days with “Man With the Blues” and running through other highlights like “Crazy” (you know he wrote that, right?) and “The Party’s Over” (source of the famous Monday Night Football catchphrase sung by Don Meredith “Turn out the lights the paaaaaaaaarty’s over…”), this record is a lot like a trip through country music history. The middle part is a salute to my childhood, “On the Road Again,” “Blue Eyes Crying In the Rain” (one of my mom’s all-time favorite songs, and the real version is always overlaid with her horrible, off-key wailing in my head), and “Always On My Mind.”

An aside for me rambling: It’s possible that you’ve forgotten just how damned good Willie is at his best. He’s a little trite now, something between a national institution and a punch line (Drugs! Taxes! Silly hair!), but don’t fall victim to the mentality where just because everyone says it’s good, you gotta hate it. Listen to “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys” with headphones on and pay attention to every aspect of it: the confessional lyrics, the weary, knowing vocal phrasing, the overall song construction. This is one of my all time favorite country songs. “My heroes have always been cowboys. And they still are, it seems. Sadly, in search of, but one step in back of, themselves and their slow-movin’ dreams.” This is the iconic cowboy used as at once a metaphor for all people who are outside the system and at the same time presented literally for what they actually are, which is solitary figures who live isolated lives of physical misery for very little recompense who are proud and individual. Cowboys are used as metaphor and icon a lot in the American story, and this is the theme song for that. [And we don’t just love Willie because he loves cowboys like we do. His music feels like personal history, like that place in America that you’ve forgotten and a lot like home.—Cric]

Next time you’re watching USA Network at three in the morning, whip out your credit card and order this one.

Brewed In Texas: The Original Texas Happy Hour – Various
Brewed In Texas: The Original Texas Happy Hour is another label compilation, this time Compadre Records. It starts off pretty damned solid with Cory Morrow wailing out “Staaaaaaayin’ out late in a honky tonk bar!” and with John Rich slotted in the second track position, I knew this one was going to get on the heavy rotation list pretty fast (“I came down here to drink a beer and watch the rednecks fight…” ah, yeah, this sounds like one of my evenings down home—the track’s called “One Bud Wiser,” and it’s full of that country-music specific word-play that most fans of the genre love—me included).

This record could have been compiled by us–themed around drinking, containing tracks by Jerry Jeff Walker, Wayne Hancock, Todd Snider, and covers of such old stand-bys (of ours) “Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound” and “Whiskey River”! [Of course this album does require you to sit down with some Maker’s and a PBR when you listen to it. But it’s a rockin’ time, so hopefully you won’t be crying in your beer when it’s over.—Cric]

Are you listening here? This is a DRINKING album, go buy it, pronto!

If you still aren’t convinced, there’s a song called “The Everclear Song” about drinking Everclear in high school by Roger Creager that reminds me that some experiences are generationally universal. And another called “Ol’ Milwaukee’s Best” about the beer that was ubiquitous in my youth—the redneck isn’t put on around here, folks. [Nor does it come off very easily, even when we try.—Cricket]

And now for something completely different!

Classic Mountain Songs From Smithsonian Folkways – Various
Ok, first off, let’s just state for the record that I hate most of the “bluegrass revival” crap going on right now because it’s soul-less and inauthentic. I find kids from the suburbs who drive SUVs singing about coal-mining to be a cognitive dissonance not to be borne without six shots of Makers and a shotgun.

This album is something completely different from that coffee house, cooler-than-thou b.s. In case you’re unfamiliar with Smithsonian Folkways: Man, if you don’t know about them, then you’ve got so much to look forward to! That’s awesome, get over there and start buying!

I grew up with people calling this music “hillbilly music” and not meaning that in a disparaging way. It was simple description by people who were themselves mountain people. This is traditional music that clearly shows the bones under the skin: British Isles-influenced melodies and fiddle-work, religious lyrics, songs about misery and pain and death. There are some recognizable tracks here to ease you into this and make you feel nostalgic for a life that most of us know nothing about, such as: “John Henry,” “Sixteen Tons,” and “Amazing Grace.” If you’re looking to get into traditional music and have no clue about it at all, this would be a perfect starter, because it’s sort of a primer for Mountain music (Dock Boggs! Doc and Merle Watson! Coal-mining laments! Barbry Ellen!). The high points for me are “I Am a Poor Pilgrim of Sorrow” (because I am sort of stupid for church harmonizing) and “Conversation With Death” (because it’s everything wondrous and perfect about traditional music—pure and unadorned and beautiful and painful in equal measure). [Despite the repeated themes of death, sadness and misery, I find this music really uplifting. There’s a deep soulfulness to it that expresses how people find joy in things like, oh say, singing, even though their lives aren’t joyous in the day to day.—Cricket]

If this particular genre is not your thing (which means you clearly have something wrong with you), just hop over to the Folkways site and I promise there will be something for you. [Something good, like train songs. More on that here later.—Cricket]