Song of the day: “Is It Love” by Foster and Lloyd

If more country music were like this, I’d be more of a fan.

Desert Island Singles: “Man Of Constant Sorrow” by The Soggy Bottom Boys (2000)

Image from wikipedia

The song was a hit in the movie for the Soggy Bottom Boys, and later became a hit single in real life. It received a CMA award for “Single of the Year,” a Grammy for “Best Country Collaboration with Vocals,” and peaked at #35 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. – Wikipedia

“Man of Constant Sorrow” is probably two or three hundred years old. But the first time I heard it when I was y’know, like a small boy, my daddy – my father – he had some of the words to it, and I heard him sing it, and we – my brother and me – we put a few more words to it, and brought it back in existence. I guess if it hadn’t been for that it’d have been gone forever. I’m proud to be the one that brought that song back, because I think it’s wonderful. – Ralph Stanley

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Are you a Dapper Dan man?
For those who don’t like Fop.

“O Brother, Where Art Thou?” is one of my favorite movies, the Coen Brothers at their best. I’ve heard a dozen versions of “Man/Maid/Girl Of Constant Sorrow” over the years, but none so memorable as by The Soggy Bottom Boys. And of course the scene at the redneck radio station endears this movie to all of us radio geeks. As a reviewer on Amazon observed, “If George Clooney really could sing like this, there would be no hope left for the rest of the male gender.”

The older I get, the more and more true this song becomes for me. And naturally I substitute the line “I bade farewell to Minnesota/The place where I was born and raised.”

Song of the night

The stunningly beautiful Emmylou Harris. “If I Could Only Win Your Love,” an old Louvin Brothers song. Rodney Crowell on harmony, and Albert Lee on guitar.

Country music that doesn’t suck. Makes me want to learn to play pedal steel.

Past masters: Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera (and Shug Fisher)

From the 1955 MGM cartoon “Pecos Pest.”

Uncle Pecos got him some mad movez!

From Wikipedia:

The song has been heard by many people (as “Froggie Went A-Courtin'”) in the 1955 Tom and Jerry cartoon “Pecos Pest,” which uses a version arranged and performed by Shug Fisher, in character as “Uncle Pecos.” In Pecos Pest, Jerry’s Uncle Pecos stays with him while getting ready for a television appearance, and continues to pluck Tom’s whiskers to use as guitar strings throughout the cartoon. It is an improvised version with many lyrics that are unintelligible, and many changed. For example, he stutters and gives up when he tries to say “hickory tree” and says “way down yonder by the–,” stammers out the names of several types of trees, finally settling (ironically) on “eucalyptus.” He also mentions while continuing the music “That’s the hard part right in there, n-n-n-n-nephew!” and “there’s a yodel in thar somewhar, but it’s a little too high f’r me.”

Some refer to this song as “Crambone” as it is repeated at the end of many lines and said more clearly than the other words in this version. For example the line is “Froggie went a-courtin’ he did ride/Crambone.” Fisher, in character as Pecos, delivers the coda with a glottal stutter on the letter c.

(Clip from MGM or Time-Warner or Sony or whoever the hell holds the rights these days.)

I grow weary of what passes for “country” music these days.

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Image from

I know I’ve touched on this before, but I pretty much deplore what passes for “new country.” It’s formulaic and sounds like late-70s soft rock; Barry Manilow with a pedal steel. I worked at a “new country” radio station down south for a couple of years, and if I didn’t dislike it before that I certainly did after.

Inevitably, I guess, as I grow older I’ve gained a grudging respect for “old country.” The Hanks (Williams and Snow), Lefty, George, Johnny, Lester and Earl, Patsy, Wanda, Buck, Merle, Marty, Waylon, and Ira and Charlie. The great John Prine said that rock’n’roll is more an attitude than a music style, and they all had the attitude.

When the “new traditionalists” came into the country music universe in the 1980s I had rekindled hopes for less weaksauce and more of that attitude. Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, The Mavericks, Mary Chapin Carpenter, k.d. lang, Lyle Lovett, Rodney Crowell, Nanci Griffith, Foster & Lloyd, Shawn Colvin, Todd Snider, the Desert Rose Band, and the Dixie Chicks. But alas, this was all too… unique for Nashville. Too different and unfamiliar for a genre that bets its bankroll and depends so desperately on everything sounding JUST THE SAME AS EVERYTHING ELSE.

Tall grass gets mowed down even with the rest; nails that stick up higher than the others get hammered level. So back came the weaksauce. We ended up with Toby Keith, Brooks & Dunn, and Carrie Underwood. Jesus, take the wheel.

It’s no surprise to me that when the economy goes in the tank, the radio industry puts all its chips into country music. It’s predictable, it’s easy to program, and radio sales people love it because “new country” fans seem like they’d rather buy CDs than feed their kids. (“But Mama, I’m hungry!” “Shut up and listen to Lady Antebellum!”) Seems like the only time we hear alternative rock stations or anything with some creativity to it is when the economy is on an uptick.

This is actually very short-sighted on the part of radio programmers. (What a surprise..) As far as listener loyalty, no demographic group holds a candle to the fans of “Music Of Your Life”-type “Adult Standards” stations (a/k/a the “nostalgia” format). They’re so grateful to hear the music they love. And let’s face it, they have the money to spend. In the Twin Cities market our local adult standards station actually received calls from listeners who said, “Send me a list of your sponsors. I want to buy things from them.”

So here’s a whole demographic with enormous loyalty and resources. And the music’s better too. Yet the radio world dashes like lemmings to “new country” whenever the economy falters. Idoan geddit.

Desert Island Discs: “Fervor” by Jason and the Scorchers (1983)

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I think if a person buys a cassette  — twice, and plays it until it’s in ribbons — twice, that ought to qualify it as one of his Desert Island Discs.

Yes, I confess to watching a dangerous amount of MTV when it was new (i.e., back when it still actually played music). One night in 1983 I watched a video block that featured cowpunk. The first bit featured Rank And File (I bought their albums too, by the way).. and then these guys played the best Dylan cover not recorded by The Byrds.

The very next day I ran out in a buying frenzy and bought their EP, “Fervor.” Played it until it was in ribbons, bought another and did the same.

If you read the Desert Island Disc about The Ozark Mountain Daredevils, you already know that I think most “country rock” is weaksauce. Mainly because it wusses out on the rock: but often cowpunk bands seemed to almost mock the “country” part of the equation, played it for laughs. That’s not just weaksauce, it’s clownshoes too. Yup, you read it right: weaksauce and clownshoes. Country rock can be done right: listen to the Daredevils, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Son Volt, and the post-Crosby Byrds. Jason and the Scorchers also get it right.

Seven songs on this EP and each is amazing. (Jason Ringenberg co-wrote “Both Sides Of The Line” with R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe.) Ringenberg has the ideal voice for cowpunk, and Warner E. Hodges is one of the half-dozen best damn rock’n’roll guitarists I’ve ever heard. Example: “Harvest Moon,” the best song on the EP not written by Mr. Bobby Zim.

“Fervor” is out of print as a free-standing EP, but EMI has repackaged and reissued it a couple of times, usually with the follow-up LP “Lost And Found.” It’s a great buy. Some listeners pronounce “Lost And Found” the better of the two. I won’t quarrel, but I side with “Fervor.” Listen and decide.

Clips from youtube

Desert Island Discs: “It’ll Shine When It Shines” by The Ozark Mountain Daredevils (1974)

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In the early ‘70s, between the breakup of The Beatles and the beginning of disco, rock music was all about hippies moving to the hills. “Southern rock” was the term of choice, and it was heavier on the rock than the weaksauce that passes for “country rock” these days. (grumble grumble grumble, goldurn kids…) And it’s the subject of today’s Desert Island Discs, 1974’s “It’ll Shine When It Shines” by The Ozark Mountain Daredevils.

Record label execs are basically herd animals. Each wanted their very own Eagles or Allman Brothers or Lynyrd Skynyrd. As a result there came Pure Prairie League and The Outlaws and Firefall. In 1973 A&M Records’ execs received a demo tape from a Springfield, Missouri band called “Cosmic Corn Cob & His Amazing Ozark Mountain Daredevils.” Thankfully the band shortened its name: according to Wikipedia this was because they wanted to avoid confusion with the Amazing Rhythm Aces, but mainly because none of the members wanted to be known as “Cosmic Corn Cob.”

Two A&M producers flew to Missouri to hear the Daredevils perform. They were nervous that night, and they stunk. Unperturbed, their promoter invited the two back to his coffee house in Springfield to hear an “unplugged” performance. That was the ticket: the two were blown away and the band got signed.

Their eponymous first album was recorded in England and released in late 1973. It sold well and generated a minor hit, “If You Wanna Get to Heaven.” The next album was recorded on the band’s home turf, in the pre-Civil War house that served as their rehearsal space. I’m skeptical when an artist or band says they experience “a special vibe” in a particular studio, but that’s undoubtedly the case here.

Of the six band members, five contributed songs to this album and collaborated on a few. The best-known song on this album, and the Daredevils’ biggest chart hit, came when drummer Larry Lee was at the piano noodling a song about a 420-friendly woman they knew. A&M producer Glyn Johns suggested if they cleaned it up they’d have a hit on their hands. Lee and lead singer Steve Cash tweaked and buffed and polished till they came up with “Jackie Blue,” wherein the woman morphed from a stoner to a loner. Johns was right: it hit #3 in the summer of ’75.

The versatility on this album is astonishing. There’s rockers (“Look Away,” “Kansas You Fooler,” the aforementioned “Jackie Blue”), swamp boogie (“E.E. Lawson,” “Tidal Wave”), country (“Walkin’ Down the Road,” “It Probably Always Will”), ballads (“It Couldn’t Be Better,” “What’s Happened Along in My Life,” “Lowlands”) and even a couple of hillbilly spirituals (“You Made It Right” and the title track). (Yes, kiddies, there was a day when variety in pop music was a GOOD thing.)

My two favorites on the album are “Look Away” and “It Probably Always Will.”

The Daredevils never recreated this success, but they created an album that stands as an icon of ‘70s Southern rock. Back in the day when country rock contained as much “rock” as “country.” If it were released today it would be called alt-country and compared to Son Volt. A Desert Island Disc to be sure.

Incidentally, the marketing super-geniuses at UMG have kept the Daredevils’ CDs out of print for several years. They’ve just recently been released again, but a company in the UK has put them out for many years. They sell a twofer of the first two CDs on one disc which is an amazing bargain. Find it, snap it up.

This is one of the best descriptions of current “country music” I have ever read.

From Jaime J. Weinman’s excellent blog “Something Old, Something New.” I wish I had written this.

“I can think of plenty of country singers who are popular performers and/or personalities even with people like me, who aren’t country-music buffs. But they’re either dead (the first and best Hank Williams; Waylon Jennings) or elder statesmen of one kind or another (Loretta Lynn; and, yes, Dolly Parton, who is cool for every possible reason). Are there any current country performers who have that kind of ‘crossover’ appeal? I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some and I’ve missed them — I miss a lot of stuff that’s contemporary — but most of the contemporary country musicians I hear, or hear of, are clearly ‘niche’ performers, as much as any other type of specialized musical performer.”

“It seems to me, again, speaking from a position of less-than-complete familiarity with today’s country music, that country songs now sound like any other commercial pop music. Probably a simpler way of saying this is that Johnny Cash could kick the ass of any living country star with one hand tied behind his back and the other hand strumming a guitar. And he’d make them take off those hats.”