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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Once we were lost, now we're found

Let’s face it. We’ve been on summer vacation. An unannounced and unplanned hiatus. August was too insanely hot in Tennessee for anyone to think let alone get work done. I’m surprised the whole state didn’t just shut down. And then Daisy joined us in Nashville. You’ll recognize her, surely, from her blog comments and editorial comments, as she’s been help us out around here for a while. Now the bright lights of Nashvegas have drawn her like a moth to a flame. [Sigh, clichés are so cliché.—Mimi] [I’m still waiting for the houseboy I was promised as part of my relocation—Daisy] Now she’s a full-fledged HCT Girl and resident of HCT HQ. She’ll be writing with us and hopefully keeping us a little more on track than we have been.

After Daisy arrived, a bunch of our friends that also hang around the site came to visit: Sarita, Lulu, Weston, Ethel Cannes, Texas Jen, and Esse. We took them to Arkansas. Not because we hate them, but for the Lucero Family Picnic featuring Cory Branan, Glossary, Southern Bitch, Two Cow Garage and, of course, Lucero. There were gallons of bourbon drank (literally), long hours in the car, much jackassery and not a single chigger bite. All in all, it was a successful venture [Hrmph.—Mimi]. The show was great; the White River in Arkansas and the weather treated us as well as the music. Admittedly, none of us wish to visit Arkansas again. Once was enough. [I have nothing against Arkansas, that is all y’all.—Mimi] [If we had been able to teleport to Batesville, our feelings might be different.—Daisy]

We have a lot of music to review, shows to talk about, news, podcasts and other stuff.

However, I haven’t been working on that. Instead, I’ve started listening to pop country radio in my drive time. You could say I’m a hideous masochist, but I like to think, instead, that I’m taking one for the team. It’s science, right? Proving I still hate it? And you know what? I do still hate it. Sure there’s occasional new-to-me George Strait song to make me smile and tap my toes. How much would I love a heavy, more alternative, punk infused cover of this song? If Drag the River hadn’t broken up I’d beg them to do it. So, I don’t hate everything I hear on country radio, but it seems the recent spate of new pop country stars are conspiring to make me more angry than I ever was before [For godsakes, then, listen to NPR on the way home!—Mimi] [You know that makes me more insane.—Cric]

The current female singers all blend together for me when I hear them on the radio. I can barely discern one from the next. It’s a sad state of affairs since there are so many amazing female singers in the various nooks of the country genre, but it seems none of them get radio play. The men aren’t faring much better. So many of the songs don’t even twang, just sound like bad easy-listening contemporary music. It’s tragic really. [You could always listen to my Crowded House CDs in the car.—Mimi]

The songs on heavy repeat on Top Twenty Country Radio just anger me. Luke Bryan’s “All My Friends Say” starts out well enough and then just fails. I don’t know Bryan from a hole in the ground and I’m too lazy to look him up. I’m going to take a wild guess that he didn’t write the song [No, really? You mean the people in Nashville don’t write their own songs? Oh, my illusions are burst! God, I am so bitter today and enjoying it! I pity whoever we run into tonight. HAHAH!—Mimi]. It’s a story of waking up drunk and having to call your friends to ask what happened the night before. I was with him through that part, and the middle section where he talks about how he sure showed his girlfriend by acting like a fool really ain’t bad. The problem is that the song itself requires some amount of ironic self-effacing that isn’t at all evident in Bryan’s rendition of it. Waylon could have carried it off. Bryan does not. In the interest of bringing you the exact facts, I just watched the video for the song and now I hate it even more than I did before. [Where is the quote about Toby Keith here?—Mimi] [Oh, hey! I have that right here in my notebook of mortifying quotes!

Conversation that actually happened last night:

Cricket: The song just doesn’t have that…
Mimi: Toby Keith-ness?
Cricket: Yeah. Toby Keith totally could’ve done that song justice.
Mimi: Totally.

Look for this to be a regular feature I like to call “Things Cricket and Mimi wish Daisy hadn’t been sober enough to remember them saying”—Daisy]

Tim McGraw’s “BBQ Stain” doesn’t hit the mark well, either. It works well enough as standard mainstream country song. [Which is what, I guess, from the words “Tim” and “McGraw”, is what it is.—Mimi] Its got the rhythm, form and structure I expect from this kind of song. The content is less insipid than most songs I hear on the radio. Mostly though, I just like the title and the idea of a country boy trying to hit on guy when he’s got BBQ sauce on his shirt. Also amusing is the Sims video some created for the song. [This is the greatest thing ever! There should be Sims videos for all the songs we like! Cory fans, get on that.—Daisy]

The rest of the current crop of crap on country radio blends together. I’m not sure if there’re three different songs about tractors in heavy radio rotation right now, or if it’s just one song so unmemorable that I can’t be sure if it’s the song I heard before. There are also some songs about American soldiers dying that I can get behind the sentiment of, but really, the execution is either too cutesy or too sentimentally overbearing to make the songs worth remembering.

I think I’ll be okay now that I’ve gotten this off my chest. Plus, I seem to have developed the ability to scan stations in the exact pattern needed to miss all Rascal Flatts songs. [Most useful superpower ever.—Daisy] At least I haven’t been listening to Fall Out Boy Like Mimi has (I’ll let her tell you about that herself). [I do not deny this. And I am going to have a word with you about even appearing to compare FoB to Rascal Flatts. Srly? GDIAF.—Mimi]. And Daisy is about to be inundated with new music, so look forward to hearing what she has to say.

We’re back. I mean it this time. Plus Mucklewain is coming up so we ought to get off our asses, huh? [God, I hate outdoor shows.—Mimi]

Continuously bringing you quality content

It’s raining in Tennessee. [That’s news. –Mimi] I’m sure this comes as a surprise to no one who lives here or has visited here. The rain makes it hard for me to take the long walk to the mailbox, also I think the umbrella is in the car. When did I become such a wimp? Back out West this weather never would have slowed me down. Maybe all the Tennessee whiskey has thinned my blood. Or the delicious, sticky-hot summer has ruined me for more normal weather. [Whiskey. –Mimi]

We’ve recently been lazing around watching CMT and GAC as punishment, I guess, though I’m not sure for what. [How about our entire lifestyle? –Mimi] We really should just put the recorder on when we do this, as transcribing the conversations just doesn’t do us justice, but I’ll transcribe anyway:

The new Hank Jr video? Makes embarassed for my adopted homeland. Oh how I love the South even for these faults, or perhaps because of them. Also I’m not sure if I’m ready for a rant on the muzik mafia, but I think it’s coming soon. [I think it’s Muzik Mafia, capitalized to denote the fact they are special. Or something. This Bocephus vid is just wrong. How does one lose all of one’s self-respect without the aid of whiskey? It’s shameful!–Mimi]

Cricket: “Tequila makes her clothes fall off“?
Mimi: Yes, which I believe now, after the other night.
Cricket: I guess after her clothes fall off she needs to wait for the two pink lines?
Mimi: Why is there nothing in this song about losing your phone down the toilet in the bar, since we know that’s what really happens?

Mimi: Is this our new nemesis Keith Urban? In $300 jeans? In an LA aquaduct?
Cricket: Why does he have emo kids in his video? Who is he appealing to here?
Mimi: Isn’t his market our moms?
Cricket: Not my mom.
Mimi: Maybe mine. Oh, he’s so hardcore he kicked over a mic stand!
Mimi: Does he even really play guitar?
Cricket: He surely doesn’t play banjo.
Mimi: *sneezes 6 times*
Cricket: Jesus, are you okay? You allergic to Keith Urban?

Mimi: Oh thank god, Loretta Lynn. Alright! Oh, never mind, it’s from Van Lear Rose.
Cricket: I hate Jack White. What is wrong with him?
Mimi: Uh, he’s a poseur.

Seriously though, I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but this is the state of middle American music? No wonder our country is so screwed up. I mean this is the music of people who espouse family values as the reason to prevent gay marriage? We’re in a heinous war and our mainstream entertainment is singing about drunk girls and pregnancy tests? Excellent.

*

Why it when girls use the men’s room in rock clubs and punk clubs that no one bats an eye, but you do it in a cowboy bar not only do guys have to comment on it, but also perhaps invite you back in with them for some fun? This hasn’t happened to me, but I’ve seen it and I find it curious (and by curious I mean, what, am I not hot enough for someone to propose bathroom sex, even if I’m going to refuse it anyway?). Is this somehow tied to what’s wrong with mainstream America? [I really hope my mom doesn’t learn how to work the internet and read this. For the record, I said no to the bathroom sex cowboy.–Mimi]

*

And because there should be fun and joy in everyone’s day, here’s Cory Branan roundly abusing a Lyle Lovett song. Thanks to our own Captain Ethel for sending me the link originally and bringing me hours of joy watching it. Now you can join the fun. Cory clearly thinks the same way about Lyle as we do, much to my amusement. Also Cory suggests the person filming this not put it on the internet, so it’s clearly our job to pass it around as much as possible now that it’s up.

[Speaking of Cory, he’s out West soon and we will promote the hell out of that…more than I’ve already done in emails to certain people who live in certain States called California. We will be publicly humiliating ourselves at his show at 3rd and Lindsley here in Nashvegas on Nov 2nd, as well.–Mimi]

Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest

When I’m not listening to music, I’m reading about it. Here’s some of my recent reading list. Some dissapointing, some great.

Rednecks and Bluenecks, Chris Willman

First off, this isn’t a sit down and read it through book. The author is predominately a magazine writer and it shows. This book is best read in small digestible pieces, like a series of magazine articles.

What’s really missing is an in-depth analysis of how the politics in this country are swinging wildly to the right and how that’s reflected in the mainstream country music industry. Not that Chris Willman doesn’t try, he does, but with a mixed outcome. I think I wanted something more thought provoking. Reading this was like setting out to argue passionately with someone and instead just sitting around, sharing a pot of tea and going, “Oh yeah, I totally agree with you on that. Uh-huh. Yeah, that too. Oh, man, really, that’s where I’m coming from too.” Which is validating, but doesn’t exactly charge you up, you know?

There’s perhaps too much time spent on the Dixie Chicks fiasco, though I was surprised to discover how little I actually knew about how that all went down. I ended up feeling pretty sorry for them, though I’m sure that was Willman’s intention, given that his own politics are clearly very left. Overall most of the interviewed musicians come off as looking pretty poorly informed, which makes them, I guess, like most regular folks. The most shocking thing here was the revelation that Toby Keith is Democrat and given some time to digest that information even that seems a little lackluster in terms of big reveals.

But given all that, there’s some interesting interviews and enjoyable back stories. I ain’t givin’ it 5-stars, but if you’re at the library and not finding anything else you want and you come across this? Yeah, pick it up and spend an afternoon with it.

*

Fearless Heart, Outlaw Poet, David McGee

This isn’t a book about Steve Earle exactly. It’s from a series called “Lives in Music” and in this case it’s about the lives of people in the music business who have worked with Earle at one time or another. It tells their stories, mini-biographies to some extent, all connected together by their interactions with Steve. I think the author likes Steve’s politics and thought it would be fun to write something he could express his own politics in. But either he couldn’t get access to Steve and is bitter about it, or he didn’t dig very deep, didn’t like what he found of Steve on the surface and just left it at that.

There is very little of Steve here. Even as it delves deeply into the creation of his albums, there is less of Steve in these pages than there is in each of Steve’s songs. Here, as David McGee tells it, Steve is a self-centered, blowhard jackass who cares not at all for the people around him. I don’t know Steve, so I don’t know if this is true, but I do know how to read between the lines and what I see here is someone who was put off by Steve’s behavior toward them and found a bunch of people who felt similar and tied all their stories together.

Am I Steve apologist? Well, OBVIOUSLY. Find the sentence on our “Music We Love” page describing Steve and why we love him in the side pages and it’s clear I am. But I’m also a writer and lover of words. Someone easily swayed by pretty, well-written words (as evidenced in my love of music and especially lyrics) and David McGee’s words were even less objective than this review. Certainly drug-addicted rock stars aren’t necessarily tortured souls who need to be coddled, but characterizing someone with exceptional poetic songwriting skill as a loud mouthed jerk seems a little skewed to me. I half wish McGee could have convinced me his bias was truth. Like the way the Wilco documentary makes you loathe Jeff Tweedy. Instead McGee condescends, taking asides to explain things like how the Beatles were once huge and that the Vietnam vets weren’t treated well when they arrived home. Detailing dates of issues in the Clinton administration as background for Steve’s work. As if anyone who would pick this book up wouldn’t have actually lived through those events or at least be well-informed enough to know that background already. Media coverage of John Walker Lindh was biased, Mr. McGee? Really? Well, I’m sure glad you told me cause lord knows I was only in my late 20s when all that went down and was clearly too young to remember or process what was going on.

Yes, I can’t decide if I’m more offended by the condescension or the incomplete picture I feel this book paints. I don’t even want to say, “Don’t read this book,” because then if you read it you could discuss it with me or argue about it with me. That would be good. But if your time is valuable, you’re probably better off looking up old Steve interviews online and not losing hours of your life to 300+ pages of clunky exposition and lengthy description of things not really related to the topic at hand. Some of the insight into the actual recording sessions was good and the little catalogue of people who’ve covered Steve’s songs was interesting. The afterword relates exactly what I thought as I read this: “Steve didn’t offer to co-operate, neither did most of his actual friends, and only some of his family did.” It leaves me wondering why you’d even bother to write the book then, unless you just had an axe to grind.

Yeah, I’ll take a deep breath, calm down and go listen to Jerusalem a few times until my brain is washed clean.

This book is even less worth reading than the gossipy, sensationalist Hardcore Troubadour: The Life and Near Death of Steve Earle by Lauren St. John. I say if you want Steve, listen to a few albums and read Doghouse Roses, it’s bound to make for a better experience than any biography could give.

*

Lost Highway: The True Story of Country Music, Colin Escott

This book is a companion to the BBC series Lost Highway. The books lacks being narrated by Lyle Lovett. Seriously, if Lyle wanted to just come read to me, I bet I would find any book a thousand times more enjoyable. The TV show clearly wins, even though I haven’t seen it, because, well Lyle. The book, however, is great!!

It’s picture heavy and not exactly comprehensive. There’s pounds and pounds of other, bigger books full of minutiae on the history of country music. I own a few and have even read some of them, but this one stands out for me. Sure, I already knew most of the stuff it covers, but it really focuses on real country music and some alt.country. The important bits are here and as a starting point, it’s wide ranging, easy to read and interesting. I suggest going over the contents, getting some of the music and reading while listening to the music of each era it discusses. Yes, you could get that experience from watching the documentary, but if you can’t get your hands on that, this experience is nearly as good, though it involves more effort on your part.

I give it sixty-seven and half stars as an introductory text. If you’ve been listening to stuff we cover here and haven’t been delving into country music, start with this book. Make yourself a list of everyone you read about here and begin downloadin’, my friend, it’ll do your soul good, not just to have to old music but to know a little about it.

Say it ain't so

The world is ending. No, really. I’m pretty sure Toby Keith will be our downfall. Because he might not suck.

Goodness, did I just say that out loud? Okay, here’s the deal. There’s this book, Rednecks and Bluenecks, which suggests that his politics, privately, are very much in line with mine (seriously, there were a dozen, “wait, Toby Keith is a Democrat?!?!?” conversations around HCT headquarters). And then he goes and is on the Colbert Report and is charming, self-effacing and funny. Also he clearly loves Willie Nelson. Plus he’s a tall cowboy, and beef noodle hearty, which means Mimi could probably be easily induced to crush out on him (yikes). And I keep hearing around town that he’s running his record label right and supporting the artists and giving them control of their music etc.

So I hate his music. And yeah, he’s definitely in it for the money to some extent and willing to suck up to the Man and the major labels and play the game (even the name of his label, Show Dog Records, seems to some how imply that he is so playing some game). I don’t dig that. It’s just suddenly I find I can’t blindly hate him anymore. Unles she’s playing some insane game to make money from people he hates? Man, I can’t even follow that train of thought. My world is already upside down enough.

I’ll have to transfer all that mindless rage to Kenny Chesney and Rascal Flatts. Oh wait they have it already. Well I’m sure there’s plenty of others out there in mainstream country. Maybe I just need an evening of drinking PBR and watching GAC Nights to come up with good, comprehensive list of who gets the loathing formerly directed at Toby Keith?

It’s things like this that could drive me to drink. I mean, how can I live with myself now? Also this post already feels like it will be the kind of thing I wake up in the morning, suddenly remember the night before and completely regret.

Almost anything is better than Rascal Flatts, even a boot to the head

Rascal Flatts, man, I can not turn on CMT for more than 7.3 minutes (I did too time it, you don’t know, shut it — and yes I watch CMT, it’s good to know what you’re up against) without seeing this band in videos or commercials or just there, doing nothing, taking up space, wasting minutes of my life. I hate them on principle. They aren’t country music. They have the appearance of a crappy manufactured adult contemporary boy band that couldn’t even get anyone attractive to show up for the audition, but are perhaps crappier than that appearance. Even Amazon.com, in their generally bland and inoffensive reviews, calls Rascal Flatts “soft rock masquerading as country.” Which really is my whole damn problem with Rascal Flatts and mainstream pop radio country. It’s without soul, without real twang, without heart, without substance.

Their name irritates. It’s just words pulled out of a hat that some exec at Disney thought sounded cool (I have no proof of this, but you believe me, right?). [It’s more like they needed more soundtrack for Gilmore Girls. I assumed all along this was another WB act, but they’re not — so this is a concerted effort by all the big labels to kill us. — Mimi]

Watching them on the TV grates every nerve I have. I just — ugh! I like TV, and they make me want to smash mine with big rocks. But I like to be informed, so in the interest of science, I listened to their new album, Me and My Gang. Could it have a stupider title? No, it could not. Minus 6 points for lame titling. The cover? So contrived that it looks like a poster for high school production of a modern day version of West Side Story with three gay guys and no Puerto Ricans. Minus 11 points for the cover.

The album? Okay, well when I say I listened to it “in the interest of science” I mean fact-finding, sort of like when you pull the milk out of the fridge and the sell-by date is a week past so you put your thumb over the date and hold the carton out to some else and say “Does this smell okay?” and then the other person is all pissed at you for putting rancid milk in their face instead of checking it yourself. In this case, being the listener was like being the put-upon milk smeller. Sucky job that no one should have to do if other people are doing their jobs right (yeah, record execs, I’m looking at you). [So, you, like employ someone to smell the milk in the fridge? That’s who that dude with the tattoos was? — Mimi] [Which dude with the tattoos? — Cricket]

The music is formulaic, and, you know, that isn’t always an insult. I mean, the formula came about for a reason. It’s just often used to bad effect, like here. And yeah, I think their music is bad. But in all honesty it’s ignorably bad. I can mostly tune it’s craptasticness out. What bothers me is that it is so bad and so many people like it. They love it. It is to music what McDonald’s is to real food — assuming that MickyD’s stopped using salt and anything protein based.

I did listen to the whole album one time through. I can not tell one song from the next. I really wanted to hear it a second time to see if the songs were maybe distinguishable as individual songs, but none of my friends had time to sit with me on 24-hour suicide watch, so there was no second time.

I am pretty sure that while listening I heard the lyric “That’s what you get when you play a country song backwards.” (No, I can’ t be bothered to look it up.) Seriously, what? I’m so stunned by the stupidity of this I can’t even think of anything clever to say about it. [He got his dog, truck, and woman back? I assume that’s the lamecore joke being made there. — Mimi] [Damn it, I had to go look it up and YES that is the joke. Please kill me for knowing that now. — Cricket]

People really like this. I know they do. I just can’t even understand why. I mean if you have to listen to this bland, Magic Kingdom-contrived pop album, can’t you at least listen to real boy bands? Or Christina Aguilera or something? Dudes, I may or may not have listened to a Hilary Duff album several times through, and if I did listen to it I would recommend it highly when compared to Rascal Flatts. [Or how about The Wreckers? — Mimi]

Minus 86 points (that’s banned for life, yo) for the album being so bad. Okay, so on a scale of 1-10, 10 being AWESOME, Rascal Flatts got -103. That’s a lot of negative numbers right there. Not enough. I should take some more points away for being Disney created and having dumb hair. I can’t be bothered though. I’m off now for an evening of anti-seizure medication and 14-year-old Oban single malt scotch to ensure none of these songs ever resurface inside my brain.