Steve Earle headed out with guitar slung on his shoulder, a head full of ideas, a mug full of attitude, a longing heart and appetites big as Texas. Fates and circumstance led him to Townes Van Zandt who became mentor, friend and shaman feeding those appetites with everything from how to pick a guitar, turn a lyric and, so the story goes, make sure he used clean needles when shooting heroin. When Towns Van Zandt passed away on New Year’s Day 1997, Earle kept following, finding his friend wherever he turned until he finally sat down in Galway, Ireland two months later and wrote Fort Worth Blues as a tribute to his departed friend.
Archive for the ‘Country Music’ Category
I’ll Never Get Out of this World Alive
Written by Hank Williams and Fred Rose. Performed by Hank Williams.
The last song Hank Williams recorded, “I’ll Never Get Out of this World Alive” didn’t hit the charts until after his death in January 1953. Coming out so soon after William’s mysterious demise – they found him in the backseat of his Cadillac on the side of the road on New Year’s Day – only added pathos to what sounds like a throwaway ditty. Listen enough and you hear country blues at its finest and maybe even a nihilistic anthem.
Falling in love, a simple and powerful idea, yet those words have been so overused that they’re stripped of meaning. From the opening mariachi horns, Johnny Cash wakes us up to the meaning of falling in love, of falling into that “ring of fire.” His voice, at once tough and desperate, conveys the truth of the experience, makes us understand that “love is a burning thing.”
Falling in love is not a deliberate act, not one we can pre-plan or guide. The heart goes and we follow. It’s a helpless feeling to want someone so much. In that early love, we don’t know what will happen, we don’t k now if the other loves us back or can ever feel the way we do about them. It is less a letting go, then a falling. No rational person would make that choice, and yet we can’t help ourselves. Johnny sings in that hard voice:
Songs for Independence Day and the Fourth of July
It’s the Fourth of July and here’s a pack of songs you might want to check out. You can find the patriotic songs elsewhere and the songs perfect for your backyard BBQ abound on the web. This list includes songs that make a direct reference to the 4th of July or Independence Day or speak about an Independence Day. Some do both.
Corpus Christi Bay
Performed and written by Robert Earl Keen
Robert Earl Keen is a master storyteller whose songs show great range from the hilarious (“Merry Christmas from the Family”) to the anthemic (“The Road Goes on Forever”) to the poignant (“Mariano”). Listen to his music and you can tell he learned his craft listening to the Texas masters like Jerry Jeff Walker, Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt. This song tells the tale of two hard-living, hard-partying brothers working the oil rigs of Corpus Christi Bay. The mix of country and Tex-Mex music (including a wispy accordion) keeps the song light and Keen’s singing rolls as easy as a convertible cruising along back road Texas highway. The lyrics seem to match the music recounting the escapades of the fun loving boys, though by song’s end we dwell in the darkness of the one brother’s drinking and loneliness. The lightness of Keen’s touch keeps the song from falling into a maudlin puddle of self-pity.
Absolutely Sweet Marie
Performed by Jason and The Scorchers and written by Bob Dylan.
To live outside the law, you must be honest
A great version of a great song, Jason and the Scorchers demonstrate how to do a cover song. I want to talk about this song first, then riff for a bit on cover songs and list some great covers.
Jason and the Scorchers burn through this song with a frenzy that completely remakes the Dylan original. They do what great cover versions require: They make the song their own with no regard to the original. They re-envision the song so we see it anew again, see it in ways not imaginable before, yet obvious once we hear the new version. Where Dylan’s version played coy and danced around the swirl of images, Jason and the Scorchers roar through the verses, turning gentle references into dangerous shards and making clear the sexual longing and thwarted lust. Whipping guitar, pounding drums and bass and Jason’s snarl remove any doubt about the meaning of the song.
Mama Hated Diesels So Bad by Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen
Performed by Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen and written by Blackie Farrell
I’m a sucker for a tear-jerker country song and they don’t come any better or jerk any more than Commander Cody’s “Mama Hated Diesels So Bad.” With the winding of the pedal steel, the irresistible hook of the chorus, the poignancy of the lyrics and Billy C. Farlowe’s singing, the song will pull you in, sit you down and make you listen.
The song opens with Billy C. leaning into the mike and half-talking, half-singing the chorus over the somber strumming of the guitar and the pedal steel:
Mama hated diesel so bad
I guess I knew it was something to do with Dad
The first time I seen her cry
Was after one of them things went by
Mama hated diesel so bad
Beer and Kisses
Written and Performed by Amy Rigby.
Amy Rigby traces the arch of romance in a tightly crafted 3:41 seconds from when “we loved like it was something new” to “It’s sad how we both forget/The thing we had for each other/Way back when we first met.” “Beer and Kisses” is a pop-song for grown-ups, wry and subtly structured lyrics knitted to a winsome melody.
The ex-punk singer living in the East Village turns out this country-tinged duet with John Wesley Harding as if they are the second coming of Tammy Wynette and George Jones. The tale opens in the first glimmers of new love, the couple meeting in the supermarket and though boy-meets girl has reoccurred forever, Rigby knows that for those inside the love, it’s like a new world. Thus the lines:
We loved like it was something new
From day one we could not be parted
You had me and honey I had you
In recording Diary of a Mod Housewife, Rigby says she wanted to “balance being a mother and a wife and still being a rocker at heart.” She hits the target in this song: no subordination here, two equals madly in love.
All My Ex’s Live in Texas
Performed by George Strait
Written by Sanger D. Shafer and Linda J. Shafer
There are plenty of downhearted songs about past loves, but not this gem from George Strait. It’s as breezy, graceful and fun as a spring day on the porch with a cold beer. Everything works together to create a gem of a country song: the well-honed craftsmanship of the songwriting, the consummate musicianship that skips the flash in favor of playing in service to the tune and George Strait’s honeyed and laconic voice that fits the song so well.
This track provides another example of how George Strait finds popularity in the too-often derivative and bland contemporary country music market while keeping true to his country music touchstones and country-swing roots. You can hear Bob Wills, Merle Haggard and Hank Williams loud and clear in his music. Strait has the knack for picking songs right for his voice and style and his performances all contain an organic integrity: the pedal steel and fiddle open this song not because of some formula, but because they are absolutely perfect for opening the song.
Play “All My Ex’s Live in Texas” and you know you’re in the hands of a master when Strait sings the opening chorus with its irresistible hook: