Friday, August 23, 2019

September Will Be Country Music Month!

At long last, someone in the mainstream is going to give country music some love. Back in 1968 I never would have thought it possible. Ken Burns will be debuting his ten-part series, "Country Music", on September 15. I'm giddy!

Here's a preview:

When I first learned that Ken Burns, the esteemed documentarian, was going to tackle country music, I felt anxious. What does Ken know about country music? Sure, I loved the Civil War series, and it introduced me to an instrumental that for a time became an earworm. But country music? You can't understand country as an outsider. Then I watched the one-hour preview, my stomach churning. He might just do it!

Here's what I learned from the official preview:

  • Yep, they talk to Marty Stuart, the true country historian.
  • There's Rodney Crowell (surprise!)
  • Dwight Yoakam will chronicle the Bakersfield Sound ~ who better?
  • The series will lean heavily on Johnny Cash, the one country artist people who don't like country music worship.
  • Dolly Parton is prominent. (Hit-wise, Tammy Wynette would be a more appropriate choice.)
  • The series is going to be politically correct, for a genre that never indulged in that. 
  • The tale ends with 1996. (Kudos, Ken! We won't be subjected to any of that "new country" pap.)

In the trailer, Ken said something like, "People might be disappointed that their favorite artist isn't featured." No, I'm not that naive. I do hope, however, for historical precision, that artists who were influential in their era will be given their due.

The PBS site for this extravaganza invites fans to become involved. "Share Your Story" poses some basic questions. You could be featured on the page! If you love country, now is your chance.

In honor of this once-in-a-lifetime celebration, I will be devoting the month of September to country music. Watch the series along with me, won't you? And you can bet I'll provide my own commentary. I have pretty rigid standards and I'm a tough critic when it comes to country music.

Before I go set my DVR, let's get this party started:

Friday, August 16, 2019

Retro Album Review ~ "Country Music" ~ Marty Stuart

Like me, Marty Stuart is a fan and a student of country music (I'm not comparing myself to Marty Stuart, by the by). The tale of Marty's extensive country music memorabilia collection is well-documented, so I'm not here to tell that tale. As is the story of his teenage debut as part of the Flatt and Scruggs band. And everybody knows about Marty's link to Johnny Cash.

I first was introduced to Marty Stuart via a CMT music video, and that subtle three-boot kick did it for me. Hillbilly Rock was a natural hit, and the next time I saw Marty, he had teamed up with Travis Tritt for an album that featured a couple of outstanding real country tracks.

Marty would be the first to tell you he's not a natural singer. But who cares? In the "Whiskey Ain't Workin'" performance, I defy you to tell me that this is not the most organic musician you've ever witnessed. And that's Marty's strength. That, and arrangement.

"The Pilgrim" is considered a masterpiece. And it was. My husband, no country fan, introduced me to the album. He even, unbeknownst to me, bought tickets for us to see Marty in concert ~ the first live performance we ever saw together.

Then Marty formed a fabulous band that just happened to be, coincidentally, called The Fabulous Superlatives. 

I kept the album, "Country Music" close to the vest. Only real country lovers would understand. And here's the genius of Marty Stuart ~ he throws you a curve that stabs you in the heart. He knows musical emotion. Anyone who perceives that music pierces one's guts is a true genius.

I haven't researched Marty's reason for titling it "Country Music", but I can probably figure it out.  He starts and ends the album with old classics, throws in a duet with Merle Haggard in the middle, and rounds everything out with some renaissance "Marty" music.

1. A Satisfied Mind

Marty puts his own spin on this song first made famous by Porter Wagoner, but covered by many, many artists. Even Dylan recorded it. Marty changes up the melody a bit, and it's a strong opener.

2. Fool For Love

A Marty original. Marty's songs judiciously employ minor chords, which immediately add gravity to a song that otherwise might be just a writing exercise.

3. If There Ain't There Ought'a Be

Easily the weakest track on the album. Hearing it today, it sounds completely nineties-dated. And I'm not a fan of the rap that starts the song.

4. Here I Am

The second-best song on the LP and another Marty original. I first became enamored of the song because of the arrangement and soaring steel guitar. Then I thought about the lyrics. What a plain-spoken ode to love.

5. Sundown In Nashville

If you buy this album for no other reason, buy it for this track. (I guess you could be a cheap-ass and just download this single track, but c'mon.) This track has it all. Seriously. ALL. If you love country music ~ you know the kind I mean ~ it gets no better than this. The song was written by Dwayne Warwick and was first recorded by Carl Butler and Pearl (odd name for a duo, and I'm no feminist, but Pearl obviously knew her place) who actually recorded some classic songs, such as "Don't Let Me Cross Over" and "We'll Sweep Out The Ashes In The Morning". This one is tops, thanks to Marty.

6. By George

Odd little ditty. Again, this sounds dated, reminiscent of a Joe Diffie song. I don't hate it, but tonight is probably the second time I've listened to it, ever.

7. Farmer's Blues

Obviously this track got the only notice of any on the album, due to Marty's duet with Merle Haggard. I'm a farmer's daughter, so I automatically was on board. And you know how I feel about Merle, and here's Merle yodeling! Takes me back to the Jimmie Rodgers albums of my young years.

8. Wishful Thinkin'

Unfortunately, this is not the excellent song by the same name by Wynn Stewart. I think I kind of hate this one, but every album has its duds.

9. If You Wanted Me Around

Nice Telecaster work on this track. Otherwise, it's a throwaway.

10. Too Much Month (At The End Of The Money)

I sort of like this one when it gets to the bridge. Again, it's very nineties-centric (not that there's anything wrong with that).

11. Tip Your Hat

Marty wanted to honor the legends with this song, and I admire anyone who doesn't forget. The same sentiment could have been executed better, although the mandolin solo at the end takes Marty back to his roots.

12. Walls Of A Prison

This is a Johnny Cash song and a tribute to the Man In Black. The arrangement saves it from being lackluster. I can appreciate the sentiment without falling in love with the song.

No album is fool-proof. I've bought CD's that had one (count 'em, one) good track. I've most likely bought scores of those. If you get two great songs, you are fortunate. If you get three or four, it was worth laying your money down.

Therefore, I'm giving "Country Music":

I'm tucking this album away, and only sharing it with you. I could go on and on about Marty Stuart and all he's done for people like me. He's never gotten any due, except as a country music commentator. But he's so...soooo much more.

Buy it if you love country. At least buy it for "Sundown In Nashville". Good grief; don't say I didn't share the down low.

Why Mark Chesnutt May Be The Best Country Singer Ever

I've got a short list of "best" country singers ~ I've always placed George Strait at the very top. I love the fact that that silky voice is instantly recognizable, even if the song isn't. Don't get me wrong; King George is no Sinatra ~ he's got that heart-clenching break in his voice, when he does it right.

Gene Watson is pure perfection. Is there a country performance better than "Farewell Party"?

Merle is his own category. There's no point in even attempting to lump him in with the others. It's ludicrous.

Others? Well, there's Faron Young, Randy Travis, Dwight Yoakam, Marty Robbins, Ray Price.

Then there's Mark Chesnutt.

Mark Chesnutt should have been a superstar with laurels strewn at his feet. He was definitely a star, but why did he never get his due? I don't know ~ ask Dwight Yoakam why he's suddenly been inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame after being systematically snubbed by the country music establishment for thirty-odd years.

Maybe, like Gene Watson, Mark Chesnutt is just too damn country.

The nineties was a time of transition for me. In 1990 I turned thirty-five and embarked on a road that would determine my default profession for the next thirty years. My kids were suddenly teenagers and I had the luxury to think about what I wanted to do with my life. My ambition was surging. I'd finally, through dollars I couldn't afford and dogged determination, gotten down to a size three, the tiniest I'd been since age eighteen. I was shopping for clothes at the local thrift store because my size kept shrinking. I was a peon insurance examiner, but the sky was the limit. I wanted to do more ~ I wasn't exactly sure what, but I would grab any flicker of opportunity that flashed before my eyes. And I was suddenly working alongside 29 like-minded confederates, who, like me, were country music fans.

Radio was vital; necessary. We discussed hits with each other; compared our favorite artists. There were so many:  Pam Tillis, Diamond Rio, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Tracy Lawrence, Clay Walker, George Strait, Kathy Mattea, Dwight Yoakam, Vince Gill, Shania Twain, Randy Travis, Brooks and Dunn, Patty Loveless, Travis Tritt, Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Restless Heart, Lorrie Morgan, Little Texas.

Throughout that journey, from 1990 to 1999, was Mark Chesnutt.

It was odd that Mark Chesnutt never came up in our conversations, and yet I bought every single one of his CD's. And played the hell out of them. I think the lack of discussion about Mark was that it was simply a given there was nothing to debate. Nice as Clay Walker was, Mark was no two-hit wonder. Much like George Strait, we all knew that Mark Chesnutt would release another single that'd stir the hearts of true country-lovin' connoisseurs.

Even when Mark covered an Aerosmith song, he suffused it with country music bona fides.

In countless ways, the music of the nineties was magnificent; yet, by the strict definition, not all of it was stone country; not even George Strait sometimes. Little Texas was technically pop, and one could argue the same for Restless Heart. Shania was pop. Dwight was some kind of amalgam. I still loved it all.

There are those who like "country", and then there are people like me who love country. Mark Chesnutt was country. He was (is) principled. I admire principles.

In 2004 Mark released an album that lives in my heart, "Savin' The Honky Tonk", which features a track that can only be described by those of us who love country as stupendous:

Yep, Mark Chesnutt's the real deal.

No discussion required.


Friday, August 9, 2019

Around 1974

I was a sheltered girl. Much as I try to deny it, I knew nothing of real life at age eighteen. I'd reluctantly secured my first "real" job in 1973 right out of high school, because that's what I was expected to do. I'd never learned how to drive, so I depended on my dad or my brother to drive me to work every day. Why they agreed to it, I have no idea. I have a faint recollection of asking one of my co-workers, who had also been a high school classmate, if I could "carpool" with her and she said, "no.". I was taken aback; my sense of entitlement jarred. I'd been too scared to venture forth behind the wheel after one stressful outing with my dad and a short-lived attempt at driver's ed, during which the elderly instructor hyperventilated into a paper bag. So, I was helpless, frozen with highway fear.

It wasn't entirely bad. I made a friend at my new place of employment, a girl my age who actually knew how to navigate the world. She had a VW ~ not a bug, but some kind of passenger vehicle ~ a Golf maybe. I think it was yellow. Not that we drove much. Alice Two had an apartment about two blocks from the State Capitol where we worked, so we'd clomp down the sidewalk at lunchtime in our platform shoes to her place and she'd heat up a can of SpaghettiOs. I convinced myself I was sophisticated. I was an eighteen-year-old rube.

I can't even begin to describe the depths of my naivete. Even though my mom and dad were not model parents, I leaned on them as much as I could and allowed them to care for my needs, which essentially consisted of food and transport. It was a confusing time of transition. My best friend since sixth grade, Alice One, and I had begun to drift apart, despite my struggle to hang on. I desperately needed to maintain the mirage of normalcy, but nobody cooperated. It was almost as if I was being elbowed into maturity.

I was still living at home and not contributing any of my paycheck towards shelter, so I bought clothes and records. I obtained a JC Penney charge card (my very first!) that had a $75.00 credit limit and I ordered items from the catalog, took them home and tried them on; then returned most of them. It was, I guess, a semblance of the "grown-up game".  JC Penney, in fact, was the go-to store in town. It had clothes and shoes and a basement full of record albums. Montgomery Ward and Sears were a bit more low-rent.  There was also a local discount department store called Tempo, which was definitely inexpensive and definitely shoddy. Its tissue paper clothing almost disintegrated before my eyes as I lifted it from the shelf.

I had a boyfriend I tolerated, just so I could say I had one. I wasn't sophisticated like Alice Two, who had boys practically breaking down her apartment door, but then again, she did have her own apartment and I had a bedroom in my parents' house. My boyfriend wanted to get married, so I said okay. I was eighteen, after all ~ practically an old maid ~ and this might be my only chance.

My position with the State Health Department was called Clerk Typist II. The "II" was very important to me, because I was at least better than a "I", although the cache was imaginary. I began by typing up birth certificates for walk-in customers on an IBM Selectric; then toddling back to my director's office so she could emboss her official stamp on them. Sometimes the clients would want something that was stuffed inside a dusty file drawer in the back room, so I retrieved that. I must have either been a good retriever or a typist who employed Liquid Paper sparingly, because soon I was singled out to join a new project along with Alice Two; a vast undertaking to commit to microfilm every birth, death, and marriage certificate in the state of North Dakota from the beginning of time. It certainly sounded auspicious, but it quickly became as dull as dirt.

Alice Two and I and our new supervisor were cloistered inside a smoky back office, where we employed number two pencils to trace over the faded typeset (and in some cases, handwriting) of each document bound inside powdery albums dating back to 1889. Then we took turns inside the curtained microfilm booth sliding said records under the camera eye and clicking a button, over and over and nauseatingly over. It was scintillating work for a girl still in her teens. Worse, everyone else in the department grew to hate us, because we closed the office door behind us and smoked our guts out; carcinogens wafting out from beneath the door jamb.

We did have an AM radio for consolation and it buzzed out tunes all day long. 1974 was an odd year in music. There were breathtaking songs and then there were novelties. There were also tracks that were somehow taken seriously, but were actually revolting. In fact, 1974 most likely racked up some of the worst songs ever recorded.

I'll begin with the intentional novelties:

Then the unintentional:

It was AM radio ~ they weren't playing Led Zeppelin.

Not exactly sure what this was:

Don't care ~ I like this ~ and yes, it's strange;

The radio even played songs my little sister liked:

Ringo was trying to be relevant:

Then there were the good songs:

This one goes out to my little brother:

These are for me:

And most especially this:

Things did not end well in that little smoky back office. Alice Two's and my supervisor, an old married lady around age 26, insinuated herself into our friendship, desperate to regain her lost youth. As inevitably happens among a party of three, Linda did all she could to rupture Alice's and my bond. Fortunately for me, she focused her energies on Alice, setting up hapless blind dates and couples nights out. Alice was the cool one, after all. That experiment ended abruptly the night Linda's husband came a'knockin' on Alice's apartment door. While the whole imbroglio was never mentioned (expect in a whisper to me), the oxygen became heavy soon after. Linda turned brittle toward us. The AM radio was suddenly switched off. The three of us scribbled in silence.

Alice eventually met the man she would marry and we served as bridesmaids at each other's weddings.

And we simultaneously quit our jobs, leaving bitter Linda to sort out her life and find two new rubes to intimidate.

The joys of one's first job ~ little life lessons, even if we are merely innocent bystanders. We learn about allegiances and how much we're willing to assert them. And what the stakes are either way. Earning minimum wage helps in our decision making. I chose friendship over a job I didn't even actually like.

Nevertheless, for a time in 1974 we had the radio.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Lazy Radio

I don't actually listen to terrestrial radio, but I am addicted to Sirius XM. It could be partially habit, but I would find myself bereft and bewildered without my Friday night double shot of XM.

That said, Sirius has either become terribly lazy, or perhaps it always was and I was simply not paying enough attention.

Generally at the start of the weekend I'm in the mood for some tasty oldies, which I categorize as anything from the fifties through the eighties; and there does seem to be more care given to my oldie programming. Luckily. The 80's on 8 channel features some of the original MTV VJ's, and they at least pretend to care about what they play. Even the 60's on 6 puts forth some effort.

Country, on the other hand....

Willie's Roadhouse is pretty damn good, until the yodeling cowboys' show comes on, and then I have to switch channels. You know I love Dwight Yoakam, but I'm a bit disappointed in the Bakersfield Beat Channel. Dwight'd be better off simply adding his own songs to the playlist, because some of his choices are rather obscure (as in, not good).

Then we have the three main country channels for those of us who would rather dive headlong off the Golden Gate than listen to "new country".

"Prime Country" is Garth-centric (and he has his own channel!). Worse, the Garth songs played on the channel are the ones that people who don't like country music would choose.

The same can be said for "80's and 90's Country". Nobody who actually listened to country music in the eighties would cite Kenny Rogers as their most cherished artist. Nobody. I'm guessing whoever programs the channel figures, "Ehh, no one's listening anyway, so let's throw in some names I know...uh, Kenny Rogers?"

"80's Hits" ~ if I have to hear "All The Gold In California" one more time, I will flick that channel off my favorites list.

And that's the thing with the country channels ~ it's the same ten or twelve songs over and over and over. Do they have them on a loop?

Just think what a country channel could be if it was programmed by someone who actually music. Where is Rodney Crowell, Mark Chesnutt, Faron Young, The Mavericks, Gene Watson, Highway 101, Marty Stuart, Lynn Anderson, Johnny Rodriguez? Where the hell is Merle? Oh, I guess we had to make room for Crystal Gayle instead...

Hey, Sirius ~ either have more guest country DJ's or just let me do it. And I would do it.

I find that my favorite channel on Sirius is "Yacht Rock", even though I find the name preciously pretentious.  I get to hear all those songs I once took for granted, like this:

I'll stay a Sirius fan, because what else is there? I'll just try to avoid the country stations. Until they realize that country fans buy subscriptions, too.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Gosh ~ Country Is Not Doing Well

In a new article in something called Country Aircheck, radio programmers are bemoaning the decline of country music in the Arbitron ratings. It seems that all the artists sound the same and the songs are too "poppy".

I'm flabbergasted.

My question is, who exactly is listening to "country" radio? Who are these freaks? Certainly not music fans. Do these listeners even know what country music sounds like? Do people even like music anymore?

When I gave up on country radio sometime around the year 2000, it was because I'd become disgusted with the amalgamation of country and thin, watery gruel. About the time that Faith Hill and/or her producer decided to countrify a Janis Joplin song, I threw up my hands and stopped. Stopped listening to radio completely. My last sad memories of country radio are some shredded electric guitar by Keith Urban and the last gasp of the Dixie Chicks.

Since then I have no idea who or what is popular in music, country or otherwise. My one country website, which is sadly bro-centric, tries to steer me toward nice new country, but everything I sample is a disappointment. I've almost given up trying. I would kill for a new shiny artist who was country and good. I don't think it's gonna happen. Because no one knows what country is. Granted, I've been around longer than most, but there is such a thing as recorded music. Anyone can listen, anytime.

I'm on the cusp of starting my own music podcast, just because people are idiots. Probably not the best tagline.

I would do mine differently, though. I don't exactly care about artists' backstories. I care about the music.

It's the least I can do.

Before it's too late.

My Latest Fake Album Has Dropped!

I haven't done this since 2007; and I felt like having some fun tonight. This is an old game that allows one to create their own album. Since my real band is in a dormant period, why not?

I've had to update the links a bit, due to a couple of the former sites dissolving into the ether.

Here are the rules:

The first article title on the page is the name of your band.

The last four words of the first quote is the title of your album.

The third picture, no matter what it is, will be your album cover.

If you want to get fancy and add track listings, go here:


Tonight my band is called, naturally, Mexico Fed Cup Team, and we've titled our album, "Computer Is A Moron".

One might think our cover art is a bit incongruous, but trust me, we have our reasons:

 Tracks on our album:

1.  Scrumptious Asteroids
2.  The Tall Movie
3.  She Dances Above Wine
4.  They Cleans He
5.  Female Beyond the Painting
6.  The History Come Back
7.  Shining Victor
8.  Speak Players
9.  Incredulous Development
10. Put

Funny story about track #10. The band was sitting around wondering what we should put as the last song, and that's how we came up with "Put". Don't dismiss it ~ it's probably the most profound track on the album. 

My personal favorite is "They Cleans He". I wrote that one and I think it says it all. I was inspired by some of John Lennon's more offbeat songs. 

Naturally we had to lead off the album with "Scrumptious Asteroids". It has such an ethereal vibe and really sets the tone for the tracks that follow.

You can, of course, sample our album on Spotify, but I will point out that "Shining Victor" has a bit of a hidden meaning. Our bass player's name is Victor and he's a bit of an exhibitionist. Everyone in our audience naturally gravitates toward Vic because he's just, well, shiny ~ with his floor-length lemon cloaks and feathered boas. The rest of us have taken to calling him Shining Victor. This song is our tribute to the baddest bass player this side of the Appalachians.

So, give us a try. You'll be "Dancing Above Wine"!



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