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Archive for the ‘Country’ Category

“Devilish Mary”

Posted by purplemary54 on August 14, 2016

Today would’ve been Daddy’s 75th birthday.  That’s the only reason I dug up this chestnut.  I debated using some Wagner or Monk, or a song by one of Daddy’s other favorites.  But then I decided this happy memory from my childhood was a better choice.

I’ve shared before my love of the old Country Bear Jamboree at Disneyland (now fated to never return since they’re building Star Wars Land in its area of the park).  The music in that show was the kind of music they call Americana now, but it was the kind of music my father grew up listening to in Iowa.  I remember being very small, not more than five, sitting in Daddy’s lap while he bounced his knee in time as the animatronic bears sang this song.

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Ralph Stanley

Posted by purplemary54 on June 24, 2016

Another music legend is gone.  This song Ralph Stanley performed on the soundtrack to O Brother Where Art Thou? pretty much sums up this year.

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“Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys”

Posted by purplemary54 on June 23, 2016

Just listening to Willie, thinking about my daddy and my grammy.

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Merle Haggard

Posted by purplemary54 on April 6, 2016

We couldn’t really afford to lose Merle Haggard.  There just aren’t that many like him left.  Country music has become an assembly line production of empty, shallow, factory-produced pretty faces.  There’s no style or originality.  There’s no personality.  There’s no danger.  And there’s no emotion left.  Merle Haggard had all of those things in spades.  He lived his music.  That’s what made him so damn special.

I think it’s kind of fitting that Haggard died today, his birthday.  He left this world the same day he entered it.  Maybe that means his work was finished.  I don’t know.  I do know I hope he stops by the great bar of the afterlife and has a drink with my dad.  I think they’d enjoy talking shit with each other.


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“Unbreakable Heart”

Posted by purplemary54 on February 23, 2016

One of the sweetest, saddest songs I’ve ever heard.  It doesn’t hurt that the great Benmont Tench wrote it: heartbreak, indeed.  Everyone has felt this way at one time or another.  Have a tissue handy if you’re prone to crying.

It also doesn’t hurt this song that it’s performed by Country music royalty.  Carlene Carter is the daughter of June Carter Cash and the stepdaughter of Johnny Cash, so it’s safe to say she knows how to deliver a great performance.  When she recorded “Unbreakable Heart” in the early 90s, she was happily dating Heartbreakers bassist Howie Epstein, and that’s probably how she connected with the other members of the band.  This was post-Nick Lowe and pre-heroin, and arguably her best period artistically and commercially.  (She descended into addiction with Epstein, and it eventually led to both his ouster from the Heartbreakers and his death.)  I’ve kind of lost track of Carter’s career, so I don’t know exactly what she’s up to these days, but I know she still records and tours.

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Jason Isbell

Posted by purplemary54 on December 14, 2015

I discovered Jason Isbell a couple of weeks ago while I was up late watching an episode of Austin City Limits.  I tuned in just as he was beginning the song “Live Oak,” and I had pretty much the same reaction I had when I heard Kathleen Edwards for the first time: No one that young should be that sad.

To be fair, I’m pretty sure Isbell isn’t nearly as young as Kathleen Edwards was when I first heard her.  He was something of a music business veteran by the time the album “Live Oak” is from came out in 2013.  He played with the Drive-By Truckers for a number of years, and has been working steadily since he set out on his own in 2007.  Isabel paints vivid musical portraits of people at the ends of their proverbial ropes, and while the music is kind of bleak, it’s also good.  Really good.  I don’t know much else about him yet, but I plan on finding out more.

Most of the songs he played on ACL were quieter, acoustic numbers, introspective and heartfelt (track down the episode and watch it; Patty Griffin Neko Case is the performer in the second half).  But his last song rocks out nicely.  It isn’t any more cheerful than his other tunes; if you listen to the lyrics, you’ll find it’s just as bleak as many of the other songs.  But it is raucous, and that’s kind of fun in its own right.  I imagine this is what passes for partying hearty for Jason Isbell.

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“Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)”

Posted by purplemary54 on November 9, 2015

Reposting “The Gambler” again made me think of how long Kenny Rogers has been around making music that people really enjoy listening to.  It might not be the best music, artistically speaking, but it’s good, solid, well-crafted music.  He’s also gone through a few stylistic changes over the years.  Most people recognized Kenny Rogers as a powerhouse Country hitmaker, but not everyone remembers that his first real hit was more Psychedelic than yee-haw.

Supposedly a rant against the use of LSD, “Just Dropped In” isn’t really as anti-drug as I think its creators intended.  It’s just a little too cool sounding to discourage potential tripping.  It’s also kind of atypical of The First Edition, the group Rogers was with at the time; apparently, they were more into the Country-Folk thing than the garage Rock thing.  Fun trivia, according to the Wikipedia page, this song was produced by TV theme song master Mike Post and the guitar solo was played by Country legend Glen Campbell.

This song had a bit of a resurgence in the 1990s, thanks to The Big Lebowski and a classic dream sequence.  That’s when I picked up on it as a pretty decent song; since I’m not much of a fan of Psychedelia, I’d pretty much ignored it before.  But like most of Rogers’ oeuvre, it’s an enjoyable listen.

I guess it’s about the right time to be waxing nostalgic about Kenny.  He recently announced he’s going to retire, from touring at least.  That’s okay; after I don’t know how many hits and at almost 80 years old, I think Kenny’s earned a nice peaceful retirement.

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Re-Repost: “The Gambler”

Posted by purplemary54 on November 8, 2015

I’m late tonight because I’ve been watching the World Series of Poker’s final table.  As I explain in the post, I’m a sucker for televised poker tournaments.  Luckily, this song is timeless.  Even if I’ve reposted it twice now; at least I waited a couple of years.  I edited the beginning because it was no longer pertinent (and it made me a little sad, because it related to Daddy), but the rest is pretty much the same.

I knew all the words when I was a little kid (is 9 still little?). I’d sing them at top volume given the slightest provocation. And listening to it again as an adult, I realize two things. One, this is a really well crafted song. Every part compliments the whole. The production is fairly understated–which is something of an accomplishment for a late-70s country song. The characters of the song are so well drawn they could be something out of a Bret Harte story; Rogers even made a secondary career for himself playing The Gambler in TV movies all through the 80s. Two, if you treat the card playing analogy as exactly that, this is pretty good advice.

I must mention here that I like to watch poker on TV. I stink at playing it (I’m just terrible at reading people or understanding odds), but there is something compelling about watching other people play cards. I have no idea why this is so interesting to me. Maybe I’m as much a victim of the Moneymaker Effect as the donkeys that pony up $10,000 for the WSOP Main Event. And poker is kind of fun to play, even if I do stink. My family used to get together sometimes when I was a kid, and everyone would bring their piggy banks or coffee cans full of loose change to play penny ante poker all night. I don’t think poker is some kind of great meaningful philosophical experience; while there is some skill involved, a significant portion is the luck of the draw. But Rogers takes good sound card playing advice and makes it sound like Nietzsche.

It’s not the chorus–“You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em. Know when to walk away, know when to run.”–that resonates the most strongly with me, although it is a pretty sound philosophy. I find that the final verse is what stands out to me. Maybe it’s because my life is in transition right now. I’ve been evaluating and re-evaluating myself and everything in my life for quite some time now. And sometimes what you need to hear is a little no-nonsense advice that’s vague enough to adapt to your needs. This might be the advice I need right now.

“Every gambler knows that the secret to survivin’ is knowing what to throw away, and knowing what to keep. ‘Cause every hand’s a winner, and every hand’s a loser, and the most that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.”

There’ll be time enough for counting when the dealing’s done.

Just for kicks, here’s “The Gambler” from Kenny Rogers’ appearance on The Muppet Show. Awesome.

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“Nobody Knows Me”

Posted by purplemary54 on August 11, 2015

I figured it was time for a little variety from Lyle Lovett.

I think this might have been the first song I ever heard by Lovett.  It’s so achingly tender and heartbroken.  Lovett’s hushed, almost whispered, delivery is perfect for the mood of this song.  It’s clear the protagonist has sabotaged his relationship, probably by cheating with “a dream made to order, south of the border.”  There’s clearly some racial implications here, which adds another layer to deconstruct.  It’s not the main point of the song, but Lovett is one of the few songwriters I would credit with creating such a complex world of race, class, sex, and privilege in just a few minutes.  (Randy Newman is tops on the short list of others, and Lovett is clearly cut from the same cloth.)  The guy knows he was wrong, but he can’t seem to bring himself to admit it, saying only “there weren’t nothin’ to it.”  He might hate being alone on Sundays, but it’s clear that he’ll be spending a lot of time without the baby that knows him so well.

This song really pushes all my buttons: it’s smart and sad and perfectly constructed.  The production is as muted as the vocals; anything else would’ve ruined it.  This song is a perfect example of less being more.

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I Hate to Repeat Myself, But . . .

Posted by purplemary54 on August 6, 2015

So apparently this is the second time I’ve reposted this song.  I’d apologize, but I really do love it.  I was reminded about how great it is when I heard a clip of it while I was catching up on Pop Culture Happy Hour.  I should probably move on to some other song by Lyle Lovett, though; he really is a terrific songwriter.

Lyle Lovett has always been an intelligent and quirky songwriter, sort of like Randy Newman for the country music set. I think he’s as misunderstood the same way Newman is, too, since his most popular songs tend to be very funny on the surface, and most people don’t look past the surface. Lovett is just considered something of a novelty act by anyone not really familiar with the depth of his music.

Lovett has always had a great range of emotions in his songs, from achingly sad (“Nobody Knows Me”) to bitingly sarcastic (“(That’s Right) You’re Not From Texas”). “If I Had a Boat,” from Pontiac, is full of Lovett’s usual lyrical wit and a yearning for freedom. It is a road song for the mind. The guy in the song imagines what his life would be like if he had a boat: “I’d go out on the ocean. And if I had a pony, I’d ride him on my boat. And we could all together go out on the ocean. I’ll sit me upon my pony on my boat.” This clearly a fanciful daydream, possibly of a landlocked city slicker who harbors romantic fantasies about both the ocean and cowboys. He is alternately Roy Rogers and Tonto and lightning, a strange combination until you realize what they stand for and what he wishes he could reject. Roy Rogers stands in for conventional relationships and marriage, but if he were Roy, “I’d sure enough be single. I couldn’t bring myself to marrying old Dale.” Tonto becomes the working man under the Lone Ranger’s boss, “cause Tonto did the dirty work for free.” But his Tonto would quit, saying “Kemo Sabe, well kiss my ass, I bought a boat, I’m going out to sea.” Lightning stands in for the kind of freedom cowboys usually represent, “I wouldn’t need no sneakers. Well I’d come and go whenever I would please.” The only obligations he would have would be to himself and his pony, and they would be out on the ocean on a boat.

It sounds kind of nice really. Might be a little smelly and crowded. But to be beholden to only yourself and the companions you have chosen is the ultimate kind of freedom. Not nothing left to lose, as Kris Kristofferson once imagined it. This is freedom with everything to gain. All directions are open and all you have to do is go whichever way the wind blows.

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