Jon had a quick layover on his way to Memphis to play with Cory Branan (a show that I could not attend, no I don’t want to talk about it, I might cry). [Seriously, we need to find a way to supplement our income so that we can pursue our rock star lifestyle because the day job thing is getting old. What gives, universe?—Daisy] We met up for drinks with a couple other friends. [Which I could not attend. No, I’m not at all bitter, why do you ask?—Daisy] There wasn’t time for a podcast or really even a formal interview but I did learn a few things about Jon, about myself and about the world. Here they are in no particular order: Continue reading
If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you know at least two things about me: I love Lucero and I love Drag the River. The other things you may have gleaned about me from reding these pages are probably better left undiscussed.
This week I’ve been rattling around, as I do, slightly disorganized and trying to do way more than I have time for. As always I start my day by reading 624,729 blog posts from various sources. Often I make lists of things I want to share with you all and mostly I never ever get around to doing that. I swear, I’m working this I am totally going to get better about it. Sometimes I don’t share because it’s just too personally depressing. Like this post about Lucero’s Ben Nichols at SXSW. These are the moments in life that I knowing I missed them just breaks my heart. If nothing else to have heard new songs and finally have seen Last Pale Light in the West performed live [You’re missin’ out, lady. Although it’s comparable to any time Ben closes out with an acoustic, my love of the book bumps those songs up a notch–Mick]. You know, assuming there is the possibility of a Lucero related show that I was sober enough remember. Which would totally happen at SXSW, right? Right? Yeah, maybe it’s better that I wasn’t there…
Speaking of Ben Nichols, you all know about $5 Cover already, right? If not, as far as I can tell, it’s sort of a faux/extra real reality show in which actual musicians play themselves and their own music and “act” in loosely scripted scenes making up a show about how musicians in Memphis live ( assuming that real life really is like a soap opera). Well they’ve got the Nichols’ behind the scenes video up. Mostly he talks about how easy it is to play himself. Hee hee hee. It’s damn amusing. Probably not as great as having been at SXSW would have been, but it’s something, right?
So I suspect you all actually regularly check the Suburban Home Records site? So you know that in addition to lots of other wonderful things, there is also a new record from Drag the River’s Jon Snodgrass, Vistor’s Band. No, I don’t have it yet, if I did, instead of these tiny bits of news you would all be reading my long, incredibly spastic love letter to Mr. Snodgrass. But, hey, 9bullets.net has a streaming version [Plus Drag the River’s posthumous collection of rare 7″ and B-sides, also worth a listen or twelve–Mick]you can listen to! So go on over there, give it a listen, get acquainted with the music and then after you buy the album, you can put it on a listen while you read my future musical love letter to Jon.
For this first bit I blame folks who send me such hilarious things first thing in the morning thus forcing me to share with anyone who will pay attention:
You know, rabid fans that you are, that before there was Lucero, there was Red 40, Ben Nichol’s punk band. You can read a bit about them here. But the important part is the yearbook photos. It is clear that Ben always had deep thoughts, wore over sized army jackets and once expressed his art by drawing the tortured unicorns of his soul. The D&D stories suddenly seem so much more true. Thankfully for us he finally channeled that into song, which it’s much less dorky. I’m sorry, Ben, for sharing this. I still think you are hot. Indeed, it’s vaguely gratifying to see that you appear to be kindred to the guys I smoked pot with in high school.
Drag the River is playing in Boston tonight, and then several shows with Mr. Branan in California. Sadly I will miss all of these, so I expect all you guys to go and report back to us in great detail. In the meantime, Daisy and I are going to the TV rodeo this weekend to drown our sorrows of missing shows we want to see. We will report back to you on that.
Chris Milam is still posting a free song a week on his MySpace. I encourage you go on over and download and give them a listen. I am especially fond of “Tin Angel.”
I am so far behind in reviews that I want to bash my head into a wall, but I won’t as that would probably inhibit further review writing. How ever, I swear, we got some coming up. I’mna cram some show review together, for bevity’s sake, and then I’ll do the same with a few albums and then we’ll back to business as usual? Maybe. In the meantime, I’ll try and keep posting as much useless filler as I can think up. Including this somewhat not work-safe bit of delight from YouTube:
If it wasn’t for the twangy music I love so much, I’d surely be listening to Indian pop all day. Maybe just for the videos alone. And the cracktastic “translations” are that much better. There’s bunch of them on YouTube if you poke around. Go on, you know you want to lose hours of your life like I just did. It will make the minutes you wasted reading this post seem like nothing at all.
Lucero tour dates:
2-21-08 Birmingham, AL – Bottletree Cafe (All Ages)
2-22-08 Orlando, FL – The Social (18+)
2-23-08 St. Petersburg, FL – State Theatre (All Ages)
2-24-08 Gainesville, FL – Common Grounds (18+)
2-25-08 Tallahassee, FL – Beta Bar (18+)
2-27-08 New Orleans, LA – The Parish at House of Blues (18+)
2-28-08 Jackson, MS – Hal & Mals (Ages TBA)
2-29-08 Cleveland, MS – The Armory (Ages TBA)
3-01-08 Little Rock, AR – The Village (All Ages)
3-12-08 Baton Rouge, LA – Chelseas Cafe (18+)
Cory Branan Tour dates:
1-24-08 Little Rock, AR – Juanita’s (All Ages)
2-09-08 Pasadena, CA – Old Towne Pub
2-13-08 Los Angeles, CA – Hotel Cafe (8pm Slot)
2-14-08 Lake Forest, CA – Gypsy Lounge (w/ Drag the River)
2-15-08 San Diego, CA – Casbah (w/ Drag the River)
2-16-08 Glendale, CA – The Scene Bar (w/ Drag the River)
2-20-08 Memphis, TN – Folk Alliance
2-21-08 Memphis, TN – Folk Alliance Showcase
2-22-08 Memphis, TN – Otherlands (w/ Guests)
5-01-08 Palmer, AK – TBA
5-02-08 S. Anchorage, AK – TBA
5-03-08 Anchorage, AK – TBA
Drag the River tour dates:
1-24-08 Denver, CO – 3 Kings
1-26-08 Ft. Collins, CO – Aggie Theater
2-07-08 Dover, NH – The Brick House
2-08-08 Boston, MA – Middle East upstairs (18+)
2-09-08 Jake’s Providence, RI
2-14-08 Lake Forest, CA – Gypsy Lounge (w/ Cory Branan)
2-15-08 San Diego, CA – Casbah (w/ Cory Branan)
2-16-08 Glendale, CA – The Scene Bar (w/ Cory Branan)
Once upon a time I was much younger Cricket and I listened to punk rock and the alternative music of the day (which was more alternative than the stuff these kids today are making). Eventually I expanded out into alt-country and, by extension of that old country, Americana and roots music. One day my pal, Ethel Cannes, dropped Lucero in my lap and it was like everything came together. Punk rock and country music written like someone was reading my own heart. There must be more, I thought, and went a-searchin’.
I don’t know how I found it, though it feels like maybe I tripped over it in a dark alley as I was leaving a bar after too much whiskey, but there it was: Drag the River. If someone was making music just specifically, exactly, only for me it would be Drag the River. And there was much rejoicing when I finally came to hear them. And lo, there were past albums to revel in. And so I did. And then they broke up. And I cried. And cried. And cried. But wait, there is another album, coming soon to save all our souls. It’s You Can’t Live This Way, and I have it in my hot little hands, for my own salvation and yours too (assuming your salvation hinges on my actually starting to post here on HCT again, the album has granted it, eh?).
It is more than just a new album from my favorite band, it’s a last album. A parting shot and one sent right through my heart exactly when I needed it most. See I was recently broken up with and when you break up you need something specific to listen to. In this case, Bob Dylan was right out. Lucero and The New Tragedies were too sad and already too close to my heart and then, suddenly, there was DTR! The best part is I’m enough past breaking up to not have my sadness associated with this album, which, while gruesomely sad, just makes me so fucking happy it’s almost like the album itself is my new boyfriend.
This record is so good I’m tempted to start rattling off some pretentious bullshit about authorial intent and what these songs mean, but really the only thing I can reasonably do is what I always do: tell you what the songs mean to me in the most overblown way possible. Let’s not kid ourselves, this isn’t going to be a reasoned, rational discussion of the merits of each song, of the musical contribution to society. [Indeed, judging by the amount of typos I corrected, I would not be surprised if half of this review was written by Cricket jumping up and down on her keyboard in excitement.—Daisy] I’ll just say for the sake of reviewing, if you liked the past DTR albums, you’ll like this one. If you haven’t heard DTR and you like Lucero or other albums I’ve reviewed for lyrical content and emotional meaning and good, rough, not over-produced music, then you will like this. [Let the spazzing begin!—Daisy] And so without any useful or critical information, I give you my own take on each song:
You Can’t Live This Way opens with “The Death of the Life of the Party.” On my first listening, this song struck me as an anthem of sorts. Tommy Womack once spoke in these pages about how his “Cockroach After the Bomb” was a personal bit about growing older and surviving, but how after 9-11, it became something everyone related to. “The Death of the Life of the Party” has that for me. It could be about an actual someone’s death, it could be about a specific party, it could be about how the good times always seem to end, whether it’s old age setting in or just how things seems to change, it could be about the band breaking up. It doesn’t matter, it resonates, utterly, on so many levels for me.
“Rangement” follows. I’ve heard a couple versions of this song and musically this is by far my favorite because of the crazy jazz horn break in the middle. The song itself is nearly perfect in that it sounds like maybe a break-up song, or a love that could be or never was, or just a song, you know, about a thing, that like might or might not become a thing.
There is such a strangely resigned sadness in “Brookfield.” If I listen to this song with my eyes closed I see run-down clapboard houses on the side of a dusty road and rough old honky-tonks populated by hardworking, dead end guys who don’t do much but work and drink until they die. Happiness isn’t something that’s ever addressed. There’s a sense of being stuck, one way or another that pervades the whole song, but there’s not really misery tied to it, so much as a sort of wistful melancholy.
“If forgetting is forgiving/I have given/Giving into new things every day.” (I’m just taking a wild stab at transcribing lyrics here.) “Fleeting Porch of Tide” is a grey day of a song, where the sun cracks, bright, gold, just for a second between the clouds, right before it sets. It’s the point after you break up when you can’t be sad any more, being angry is too hard and you are just trying to forget so you don’t have to think about it anymore and can just move on. The song itself is almost a celebration of the grey in-between, when you recognize that all relationships seem to ebb and flow away and have beginnings and ends. That one bit of clarity on the cycle you have before you start it all over again. Or perhaps I making way too personal of a reading here? [Well, if nothing else, you’re bumming the hell out of me.—Daisy] Naw, I’m gonna say not possible, since music isn’t anything for me if I can’t make it ridiculously personal. Also the accordion here is so excellent as to make nearly pee from joy.
I’ve hit the point where I have to make myself write about the album. I start wanting to just quote all the lyrics and go, “See!? Look how great!” But I won’t. I am strong. I can resist. “W. W. Too” hit a point in the album for me where I start to succumb to the desolate sadness that is a DTR album. I start out excited just to be listening to DTR that I can make even the saddest thing joyful. Up to a point. The lines, “Would you give up all hope/dig your grave and rest your bones,” might be what sent me over. Or perhaps the very western, clicky cowboy drums and guitar strumming on this song. It’s got a campfire and boiled coffee, out on the plains sadness to it.
The grim tone picks up in “Tobacco Fields,” or at least there’s some small joy, the feeling of mud between the toes, even when the rain never seems to end. I’m actually quite mesmerized by the low, twisty guitar on this one. It’s simple and sets a beautiful tone for this song. Like so many of the songs here, there’s too much time passed, too much to remember and things we’ve just set aside because of the pain associated with them.
“Defy the Moon” has the deep, heartache of twang I’ve always associated with DTR. The song rocks steadily along, but the underpinning of it is a very country, nearly Hawaiian bit of steel. Though here it doesn’t follow the country music honkytonk twang standard, rather it’s more evocative, more interesting and more deeply tied to the song itself. The lyrics here have the usual DTR excellence, but I find myself closing my eyes and listening to the second story from the steel player.
On “Caleb’s Grave” the juxtaposition of the chorus the lyric “I haven’t been this scared in a life time/roses die on the bloodline/down in Caleb’s Grave you’re haunted for life,” is switched out for “I haven’t slept this sound in a life time/roses thrive on the blood line/down in Caleb’s Grave you’re haunted for life,” just pierces me. There’s an overtone of death to the entire record. I can’t say if I’m perceiving it more because I know this is the last DTR album, the death of something, or if over all it is that much darker than the previous very black albums.
The quality of the music behind the dark lyrics is, obviously, 50% of what makes DTR so great. “Lying in the Feel” is like a love note to that notion of mine. It’s subtle, but it rises and falls with the emotions of the song. There’s gentle, almost soothing guitar leading in, that picks up and starts to pull apart and twang a little. The drums kick in with bells (tambourine?) and the guitar comes even more forward as the song goes on. I can feel myself rising and falling with the song, each note part of the storytelling here.
So, here it is, in “Lost Angel Saloon,” the definitive line for the album, “But memories hurt/so you drink ’til they don’t/let me be the first to welcome you to the Lost Angel Saloon.” And there it is. A song about the desolate, bad choices people make that send folks along dark paths, beauty dying and ending up in dead end places. It carries that one line that covers so much of how the whole album makes me feel. That time when there’s so much pain from one thing, from every thing, that you keep pushing on, towards something or nothing, just to forget and when that doesn’t drink, our characters end up lost and lonely in dark bars way out west. It’s part of what makes this such perfect, if completely non-mainstream, country music. The keys and the steel in this song play together in particularly spectacular way. Putting the beauty back in an otherwise irredeemably bleak song.
“Br00tal” rocks a little harder than the other songs. Or maybe it sounds more electric to me. It’s fuzzy and perfect and I’m nearly dying to hear it live, rock to it while drinking cold beer and chilling with my friends. This almost a recommendation against lost lonely lives, that same hopeless feeling of lost love and lives that go on to something better.
Titled perfectly, because “Pre-Post Party” is like there, grooving, growing and then just gone. Twenty seconds. It could be a hundred times longer and still not enough for me.
I can never choose a favorite, they aren’t my children, but it’s like choosing between them, but “Lizzy” is high on my list. “I’m the kinda man your momma hates/I wouldn’t blame you if you did too/If you think I wrote this song for you/You’d be wrong.” It’s a little louder, a little angrier, a little more than the other songs. It fits well, the album is quite cohesive, but here maybe I relate a little more.
For close out to what is essentially a posthumous album for an excellent band, “Bad Side of a Good Time” couldn’t be more perfect. It picks up, the keyboards making it a little, dare I say, jauntier. So we can all tap our toes cheerfully along even as the lyrics tie the ending right up. This song carries the thread of lost, directionless lives, ignored warnings and endings. Like so many of the songs here it could be about anything your heart puts into it, break-ups (bands or relationships), death, bad choices, it all works.
At the end of each DTR album there’s a track that is a single track containing all the songs from the album, I assume all alternate takes. Sometimes I can clearly pin down the difference between the two versions—like “Rangement” lacks the surprising Mexican horns. I love this long track so much. It’s like they I knew I wouldn’t be able to wait to listen all over again and so it’s all just right there, just different enough, just the same enough to make me really pay attention.
I’m pretty much in denial about this being the end of Drag the River. You Can’t Live This Way is really the most mature DTR effort to date. The others are of course superb, but there’s a quality to the music here that makes me wish for even more, to see where the band would go. I don’t know if the repeated theme of endings and death in the songs are because the band knew it was all over or just they way the bottles fell. Whatever it was, it is a perfect send off to an amazing band.
Lucero Family Picnic. C’mon, you know you want to go. You can buy me a beer and we’ll hang, okay? Cory Branan’s going to be there. William Elliott Whitmore. Glossary. Two Cow Garage. Southern Bitch. Yeah, you know you don’t want to miss it now, huh?
And hey, Mucklewain is happening again this year. We’ll be there too, although you all need to head over to their site and harass them to post the line-up, ’cause July is almost over and I’m dying to know who gonna be there this time. As with last year, we’ll do our best to bring you reviews of the bands playing and coverage of the show.
It doesn’t have much to do with music, but have y’all gone over and checked out Shorpy? It’s a blog of predominately old photos, plenty that look like old country songs sound. Take a sec a browse through it. It’s just…neat.
In other rockin’ news, Jon Snodgrass (formerly of Drag the River) has got some songs up on his MySpace page, and a few dates he’ll be touring solo or with his band Armchair Martian. Jon’s voice makes me swoon. There’s a Lucero cover there, not to be missed. New songs, even though not my beloved Drag the River, are made entirely of 100% whole grain awesomeness.
But the really important part of this post is this bit courtesy our friends over at Last Chance Diner, check out our pal, Sarita, belly-dancing on stage with Cory Branan: