Stranger in Town: Trollheart's Country Music Thread - Page 3


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Thread: Stranger in Town: Trollheart's Country Music Thread

  1. #21
    KXCI does a lotta bluegrass on Saturday.
    The station streams (& also has archives) their Saturday shows. Kidd Squid plays some really great rockabilly stuff as well.
    Actually, the whole day is great:
    First there's the Bluegrass show in the morn, then Ruby's Roadhouse, then Kidd Squid. Then to top it all off is Marty Kool and his Blues Review.
    https://kxci.org/

  2. #22
    And no music collection is complete without some Patsy Cline.
    She was sorta the Billie Holiday of her genre.
    http://<a href="https://www.youtube....bnrdCS57d0</a>

  3. #23
    Offline: Depressed Trollheart's Avatar
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    Now that I’ve written the introduction, don’t expect anything else to be in order. Album reviews will be posted on a very ad hoc basis, though if I’m concentrating on a particular artist of course there may be some order. But genres, generations and artists generally will all be mixed. Some reviews will be longer than others, some very short.

    However, it seems to me that it’s only right to kick the reviews off with the very first country album I ever deigned to listen to. It’s probably not overstating the case to say that it gave me a whole new view on country music, made me a fan of this artist and also pushed me to investigate the whole genre further, and not dismiss it as I had been doing.

    So without further ado…

    It's fair to say that really, there are few albums that really changed my life. You may be the same. Some albums speak to me more than others, and some got me into a certain band I ended up loving, or a genre perhaps, but I can probably count the ones that I could say actually changed my life on one hand: Maiden's The Number of the Beast, Floyd's The Wall, Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of the War of the Worlds and of course Script for a Jester's Tear by Marillion. None of them, of course, are even vaguely country. But this one is, and although it did not change my life, per se, I can say without any fear of contradiction that it definitely changed my mind about country music, and that, to some small degree anyway, changed my life, or at least my appreciation of music.

    Up until I heard this, I had generally dismissed pretty much all country music as generic, laughable trash. Cowboys sung about lost loves and getting drunk, railroads and tractors were in a lot of the lyrics, and every single country song had to have a steel guitar and a harmonica in it. So thought I, naively. Then, one night while doing my usual stint on the local radio back in the late eighties I was leafing through what was laughably called our record library when I came across this album.

    Lone Star State of Mind --- Nanci Griffith --- 1987 (MCA)

    Nothing attracted me to it: it's just that it was about the best out of a bunch of really bad local Irish artists, old fifties songs and some albums by bands I had never heard of, so in total boredom I decided to give a track a spin. I was rather surprised, to say the least, by how much I liked it and whether my two listeners thought the same or not, I was impressed and decided to borrow it so I could listen to it through at home. Having done so, I had to admit that it was time to re-evaluate my view of country music, and I began collecting the rest of her albums. Most were as good, some even better, the odd one didn't chime but I can't really say that I bought a Nanci Griffith album that I did not like, or regretted buying. When she came to town I made sure to buy a ticket and it was a great gig, even if the announcer did tell us at the intermission (yeah we had intermissions back them; it was an indoor concert, very swish) that we should move back to our seats as “Nanci Griffin” was about to return to the stage. It's a mispronunciation of her name I've seen extended over the years to “Nanci Griffiths” and even “Nanci Griffins”. But I'm sure she doesn't care.

    This is her fifth album, but the one to break her commercially. Oddly enough, though it contains what would become her best-known and most-often-played song, it was not a hit for her as it was only released as a promotional single, and therefore did not qualify for chart placement. But more of that later. The album opens with the title track, a bouncy, country rock number that concerns reflections on times gone and loves lost. There's some great banjo and fiddle that really helps the song trip along, even a nice short guitar solo. I love the double meaning in the title too, and Nanci's voice really sounds quite young, although she was thirty-four at the time (fun fact: she was born on the same day as me, ten years earlier); you really would think you were listening to a teenager. The youthful exuberance, the excitement, the starry-eyed optimism that shines through her music even if the lyrics are downbeat and even defeatist at times, all speak to a much younger soul in perhaps a slightly older body.

    There's a sort of false ending before it kicks off on a really cool guitar-and-banjo finish with her crooning “Ooh-ooh-ooh-ohh”, then “Cold Hearts/Closed Minds” is certainly morose, slowing everything down as she prepares to leave her lover, bringing in cello and viola, and yes, there's pedal steel, but you would expect that and it fits in really nicely. It's not to be fair my favourite on the album and something of a comedown after the title, but it's an example of how she can write bitter ballads with the best of them as she sings ”Came by here just to tell you goodbye/ But I can see it in your face/ You don't wanna know why.”

    That song of which I spoke, which should have been a massive worldwide hit for her but never made it into the charts via a technicality is the gorgeous “From a Distance”. Written by Julie Gold, it's been covered plenty of times, and no wonder. Driven mostly on piano with cello accompaniment it's a superb little prayer to peace as she sings "From a distance you look like my friend/ Even though we are at war/ From a distance I can't comprehend/ What all this war is for.” Not an original sentiment, certainly, but a valid one, and the idea of everything looking different “from a distance” is telling. A beautiful piano solo, understated but firm, just makes this song better somehow. It's a mid-paced acoustic then for “Beacon Street”, with a sort of handclap beat driving the percussion, orchestral accompaniment provided by cello, violin and viola. It's a nice song but a little light, then “Nickel Dreams” is a real standout with its Country waltz, swaying along with a lovely dreamy feel, some sweet pedal steel and violin, with a sad, bitter idea in the lyric: ”It's a dollar a wrinkle/ And less than a nickel a dream.”



    The album is full of reflections on a life, real or imagined, semi-autobiographical or not, and it is crammed with regrets of chances not taken, lives not lived, bridges not crossed. There is also time however for a good old-fashioned hoe-down, like when she tackles Robert Earl Keen Jr's “Sing One for Sister”. It's a pretty much shit-on-your-boots country song and a real generic one I guess but it's okay. Again, not my favourite. But then we hit a real rich vein of form, in fact paydirt as the rest of the album absolutely blows it out of the water. Kicking off on “Ford Econoline”, a fast-paced song of freedom and escape, driven on a pounding guitar rhythm, a life-affirming, female-empowering ode to the open road as Nanci sings ”She's salt of the earth/ Straight from the bosom of the Mormon churches/ A voice like wine” and archly observes of the woman's drinkin' gamblin' husband that ”His big mistake was in buyin' her/ That Ford Econline!” A great song that just gets your heart pumping, and cheering on the escaping wife, until we slow right down with one of her Dust Bowl tales, telling the story of the famine in midwestern America in the '30s in “Trouble in the Fields”. With a slow violin and guitar line, it's a song of despair but also hope as she declares ”If we sell that new John Deere/ And we work these crops with sweat and tears/ You'll be the mule/ I'll be the plough/ Come harvest time we'll work it out.” Very moving, and a great steel guitar solo too.

    The mood stays slow and bleak for “Love in a Memory”, with one of my favourite instruments driving the song, a gorgeous turn on the mandolin from Mark O'Connor in a song that speaks of more cheating men as she sings ”The ring on his finger/ Grows cold to the bone/ His sons are young dreamers/ Who cheat on their own wives/ He still dreams of St. Paul/ When he's cheatin' alone.” Great piano line too, superb song. Another standout. And a fiddle solo to die for, taking us into a faster “Let It Shine on Me”, driving along at a fine lick. Sort of starts off a little like “Lone Star State of Mind”, but it's slightly slower and then develops its own identity on the back of pedal steel and electric guitar. There's a suggestion of gospel in the lyric and the melody, and we end on the reflective “There's a Light Beyond These Woods, Mary Margaret”, which I have to admit would not have been my choice for a closer, but it's a decent enough song and holds its end up enough not to ruin this good feeling I've been getting from the last few tracks. It’s actually from her first album, and is in fact the title track. I guess in some ways it bookends the album by starting with a fast track and ending with a slow one, both featuring memories and a sense of innocence lost, this one actually encapsulating an entire life from childhood to full grown and older woman.

    TRACK LISTING

    1. Lone Star State of Mind
    2. Cold Hearts/Closed Minds
    3. From a Distance
    4. Beacon Street
    5. Nickel Dreams
    6. Sing One for Sister
    7. Ford Econoline
    8. Trouble in the Fields
    9. Love in a Memory
    10. Let It Shine on Me
    11. There's a Light Beyond These Woods (Mary Margaret)

    Sure, it's not an album that is going to shatter anyone's worldview or make them suddenly become a fan of country music, though it pushed me in a direction I had not before considered, and it has its flaws, but for me it was quite a revelation, and as I said I made a point of collecting all the albums of an artiste I had never to that point even heard of, much less dreamed of becoming a fan of. In recent times, Griffith's output stalled a little for me, and her last three albums did not impress me the way those she put out in the eighties and nineties did. But I still remain a fan, and it's all thanks to that one night when I had nothing to play on my radio show, took a chance and thought “what the hell”?

    What, indeed?
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

  4. #24
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    Desperado --- The Eagles --- 1973 (Asylum)

    I bet I’m wrong, but I think this is the first, possibly only concept album I've seen in the country music genre. Of course, I'm not all that well versed with country and western music, so that's really not a claim I should be making. However, it is the only country concept album I've ever seen or heard of, so for that at least it deserves a listen.

    Second album released by the Eagles, it's based around the concept of an outlaw gang, the Daltons, who figure fairly heavily in the history and mythology of the Old West. Although they only enjoyed a brief spell of notoriety, operating from the year 1890 to 1892, they ran with the Youngers, who were affiliated with Jesse James's James Gang (though the Daltons and the James never met or rode together), as well as Bill Doolin, legendary founder of the Wild Bunch. The Daltons were three brothers, who began life as lawmen but later became outlaws for various reasons.

    The album opens on “Doolin-Dalton”, an acoustic rendition of the tale of the Daltons, who later joined up with Bill Doolin and became the Doolin-Dalton Gang. Don Henley takes the lead vocal, with Glenn Frey also adding vocals and a very atmospheric harmonica. Great guitar from Frey and Bernie Leadon, who would only last with the Eagles two more years, unhappy with the direction the band was taking towards more commercial, radio-friendly music and away from pure country and bluegrass. The latter is evidenced by “Twenty One”, on which Leadon not only sings, plays dobro and banjo but also wrote the song. Very much a one-man-band, in terms of this song. It's a good foot-tapper with a good melody, but the sort of song very definitely that the Eagles would gravitate away from, over the course of the next two albums. Far harder and rockier is “Out of Control”, where Frey takes over both on vocals and guitar, perhaps taking a leaf out of Bowie's book on “Suffragette City”. A good rocker, with some great guitar from Frey, a real drinking song, and again the sort of thing they would move away from in favour of more AOR and often bland soft rock in the future, culminating in the record-breaking milestone Hotel California.

    One of their big hits is up next, the mid-paced ballad “Tequila Sunrise”, Glenn Frey again behind the mike and also adding acoustic guitar, with Leadon playing the electric and a beautiful little mandolin solo that really makes the song. This then of course shows the slide towards commerciality that would for some people ruin the Eagles, and for others offer them a door into the world of country music and an appreciation of this band. Either way, it was a huge hit, and the boys were already on their way to fame and glory. The next song everyone knows, but perhaps not everyone knows it was never a single, despite being one of the huge standards of the Eagles. “Desperado” is sung by Henley, with Frey performing a classic and heartfelt piano piece which more or less carries the whole thing, as the outlaw is warned not to push his luck too far: ”Don't you draw the Queen of Diamonds, boy/ She'll beat you if she's able/ The Queen of Hearts is your best bet.” One of my favourite Eagles songs, and with good reason. Why this was never released as a single I will never know.

    >

    Leadon's acoustic guitar and powerful mandolin lead in the only song on the album voiced by Randy Meisner, as “Certain Kind of Fool” tells the tale of how the Daltons became outlaws, with lead guitar from Frey as Meisner tells of the outlaw's purchase of his first gun: ”He saw it in a window/ The mark of a new kind of man/ He kind of liked the feeling/ So shiny and smooth in his hand.” Great solo from Frey, and Meisner's vocal, though a little strained, somehow seems to fit this song. With a flourish on the drums it ends and hits into the only instrumental on the album, less than a minute long, and mostly riding on Leadon's versatile banjo, “Doolin-Dalton (instrumental)” runs directly into “Outlaw Man”, a boogie rocker with Frey back on vocals, on the only song on the album not written by any of the Eagles. A great rippin' guitar solo from Leadon, then the song kicks into higher gear, almost southern boogie style, with fine backing vocals to the end, like a train hurtlin' down the tracks.

    Another great ballad then in the mariachi-influenced “Saturday Night”, a real song of reminsicence with Henley on vocals and acoustic guitar, and Leadon adding his mesmeric touch on the mandolin, almost giving the song a vaguely celtic feel. Really nice song this, close to the standout, but then you have of course the title track, “Tequila Sunrise” and “Doolin-Dalton” to consider. The next one is close to a contender as well, with vocal from Bernie Leadon on the introspective “Bitter Creek”, also written by him. It has a very Delta blues feel to it, and I'm pretty sure that's a dobro Leadon is playing. It's also the longest track on the album, just over five minutes. Some great vocal harmonies on this, puts me in mind in places of Simon and Garfunkel at their best.

    The closer is a sort of pastiche of the opener and the title, called “Doolin-Dalton/Desperado (reprise)”, which at the time excited me when I found out about it. I had listened to, and loved, “Desperado” for decades, never knowing or even dreaming there was more to the song, that there was a reprise. It's not a disappointment, and it closes the album really well. The first part, the “Doolin-Dalton” section, is essentially just a retreading of the song that opened the album, though more acoustic with banjo and dobro in Leadon's capable hands, and Henley on lead vocals. About halfway through the song, a banjo break ends the first part and we slide into “Desperado (reprise)”, which is indeed a continuation of the famous classic, and gives it new life, finishing the story but nevertheless leaving the conclusion unresolved, and taking this classic album to a very satisfying end.

    There are those who love the Eagles, and those who hate them. There are those who think they sold out on the Hotel California album, and perhaps they did. There's no doubt that, like Deep Purple and perhaps Led Zeppelin too, they were coaxed out of retirement by huge mountains of money: Don Henley's promise that the band would reform “when Hell freezes over” was used as a clever marketing ploy to title the reunion album, but is fairly clear evidence that these guys did not get back together because they missed each other. Most had quite successful solo projects going, and they surely did not need the hassle of a world tour. But the dollar has a loud voice, and they listened to it.

    Many will denounce them for that, for making the music secondary to money, but there's no doubting that, while that album was little more than a live set of old material with four new tracks, it did lead to one of the best albums, in my opinion, of 2007, the real comeback album, Long Road Out of Eden. Whatever your view on their future work, Desperado shows the two sides of the Eagles: the pure, undiluted country/bluegrass and the more adult-oriented rock side of them, the latter of which won out in the end and made them huge international stars. But I really like this album, not so much for its disparities but for the way it pulls all the threads together into one cohesive whole. Elements which should really have no business working together do, and the album is the better for it.

    The final word I leave to a review in, of all things, an Alias Smith and Jones annual from my childhood. A few paragraphs only, concerned of course with the fact that this album addresses the story of cowboy gangs and outlaws, and yet, for all its brevity and simplicity, it really does say it all about this album.

    Desperado, by the Eagles. It's only a record. But what a record.”

    TRACK LISTING

    1. Doolin-Dalton
    2. Twenty-One
    3. Out of Control
    4. Tequila Sunrise
    5. Desperado
    6. Certain Kind of Fool
    7. Doolin-Dalton (instrumental)
    8. Outlaw Man
    9. Saturday Night
    10. Bitter Creek
    11. Doolin-Dalton/Desperado (reprise)
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

  5. #25
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    Buenos Noches from a Lonely Room --- Dwight Yoakam --- 1988 (Reprise)

    I may have mentioned at some point, I used to work in radio. Oh, it was nothing major, just a local community radio station that I worked with for a few years. Probably had a handful of listeners, most of whom more than likely didn't listen regularly, just tuned in from time to time. My show was at one time sandwiched between an Irish traditional music programme and the sports show: I recall once - true story! - arriving with my records (no CDs or MP3s in those days, kids!) at the station and the guys running the trad show had a real live band in, and they were, well, playing live in the studio. So while they did what they did I had to climb past keyboards, drums and people seated with fiddles and so on, into my chair behind the desk to get ready for my show! Ah, showbusiness! Can't beat it!

    Why do I mention this? Well, the point is (what is the point? Oh yes!) that most of us who were seriously interested in music - usually the older guys: I would have been around mid-twenties at the time - and weren't just doing this for the “thrill” or prestige of being a DJ - sorry, presenter! We weren't allowed to call ourselves DJs; gave the wrong impression - often spoke about it and swapped experiences, albums, recommendations. It was one of the guys there, “Boppin'” Billy (I kid you not!) who got me into Springsteen, when he played “Dancing in the dark”, after which I ran out - not literally - and bought Born in the USA, and the rest is history, soon to be related when they turn my life story into a movie. I'm forever grateful to him for that.

    But another guy mentioned to me that he knew I “like my country flavoured with a bit of rock”, or it could have been the other way around. Either way, he suggested I might enjoy the music of one Dwight Yoakam (oh, that's what this meandering diatribe is about! I see!) and lent me the album Guitars, Cadillacs, etc., etc. which I really liked, and thereafter bought it myself (second hand, of course!) along with two others of his. This is his third, and was in fact the first album on which he notched up two number one singles on the country music charts.

    I find it a little more mature than the two previous albums, the aforementioned Guitars and Hillbilly Deluxe, which followed it. It's one on which he renews his partnership with Maria McKee, who sang with him on the debut, although here she does backing vocals rather than duet with him, and one on which he also gets to sing with his longtime hero, Buck Owens.

    It's not Steve Earle, it's not rewriting the country or rock genre, and to be fair there's nothing terribly new here, but for what he does Dwight does it well. The album opens on “I Got You”, a typical country blues bopper in which Dwight bemoans his problems and his mounting bills: ”Got a letter from the folks over at Bell/ Just to let me know for my next phone call/ I could walk outside and yell”, but as long as he has his girl he's okay. Nice bit of guitar and a great line in bass, Dwight's voice that typical Texas drawl but somehow not annoying or whiny as country singers can often be. It's a nice uptempo opener with the sort of blind optimism that sometimes can be endemic to country songs, and it's followed by “One More Name”, a ballad with some lovely mournful fiddle and a nice shot of pedal steel (what would a country song be without the old pedal steel?), lightened by some smooth mandolin courtesy of Scott Joss.



    Dwight writes most of his material himself, and on this album he writes seven of the eleven tracks, and “What I Don't Know” rocks along nicely, another of his compositions with more than a nod back to John Fogerty. More great fiddle and a light sense of menace in the lyric: ”What I don't know/ Might not hurt me/ But if I find out/ You've been cheatin'/ What I don't know/ Might get you killed.” Kudos to Don Reed, whose fiddle playing really keeps the country air in even the rockiest of tracks. The first cover version is up next, Johnny Cash's “Home of the Blues” given a decent outing, with some pretty damn fine guitar from longtime compatriot and producer Pete Anderson, then the title track is another slow bluesy ballad, another Yoakam original, which recalls the best of the more acoustic, barebones Springsteen, like Nebraska and The Ghost of Tom Joad. Great accordion accompaniment by Flaco Jiminez gives the song a very Mexican feeling, and with the title, that's probably the intention. Reed is there again with his versatile fiddle, while Taras Prodaniuk keeps a steady bass rhythm, the heartbeat of the song.

    Another cover next, with a rabble-rousin' version of J.D. Miller's “I Hear You Knockin'”, Skip Edwards's honky-tonk piano conjuring up visions of a redneck bar deep in the south of the south, where they say things like “Hey you! Let's fight!” the response to which is “Them's fightin' words!” Okay, so I ripped that off from the Simpsons, but hell, it's funny ain't it? The fiddle holds court again, and you can't just help but tap your foot to this one. An original tune, things slow right down for “I Sang Dixie”, the sad tale of the singer coming upon a man down on his luck, drunk and dying in the street. As no-one else will even stop to help the guy, the narrator sings “Dixie” to comfort the stranger as he dies. Very much a fiddle-led piece into which Dwight intersperses the original song “Dixie”, this was a number one hit for Yoakam in the country music charts. As I said at the beginning, more a mature album than his previous two.

    Everything kicks right back up then for “The Streets of Bakersfield”, with accordion duties being taken for this track by Francisco “Pancho” Zavaleta, and Dwight duetting with his hero, Buck Owens, who also popularised the song although he did not write it. It's a fast, uptempo bopper, a short song but really leaves an impression when it's over. It was another number one for Dwight. We're back with his original compositions then for “Floyd County”, a mid-paced rocker with some really nice mandolin and guitar, and of course fiddle from Don Reed. Dwight reunites with Maria McKee (whom the uninitiated will only know from the single “Show me Heaven”, but whose debut self-titled album is a total, ignored classic, the review of which you can find in my Album Review thread), with whom he duetted on the debut, though on “Send Me the Pillow” he takes the main vocal and she's more a backing singer really. Nice piano line and some sultry fiddle, then we close on “Hold On to God”, the last original number on the album. It's an uptempo country, almost gospel rocker, which adds an extra layer to the album and finishes it in some style.

    Like I say, no-one's going to be converted to country music by listening to Dwight Yoakam, but you can listen to him as a rocker and not feel embarrassed (if you normally do, when listening to country music): he doesn't exude the usual image many country stars do. Yes, he wears the cowboy hat, but then, what self-respecting country rocker would not? But he writes his own material, pays homage to his peers and has up to now eleven albums. This is not the best of them, but it's a pretty darn fine place to start appreciating the man and his music.

    TRACK LISTING

    1. I Got You
    2. One More Name
    3. What I Don't Know
    4. Home of the Blues
    5. Buenos Noches from a Lonely Room (She Wore Red Dresses)
    6. I Hear You Knockin'
    7. I Sang Dixie
    8. Streets of Bakersfield
    9. Floyd County
    10. Send Me the Pillow
    11. Hold On to God
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

  6. #26
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    Taking the Long Way --- Dixie Chicks --- 2006 (Columbia Nashville)


    I make no bones about the fact that I'm not a huge country fan. There are bands and artists I like, some I'd listen to and some I would not consider giving my time to. That said, sometimes music crosses boundaries and takes on a new importance, almost universal. The treatment the Dixie Chicks received from some sides of the US audience in the wake of their condemnation of the Iraq War in 2003 has always rankled with me. As a matter of history, it's usually been musicians who tend to stand up, in one way or another, for what is right. Given that most of the bands in the Country and Western scene would tend to hail from what is known as "The Bible Belt", itself overwhelmingly Republican and conservative, it is seldom really that a country artist will take a political stand against the established order, especially against a sitting president, for fear of not only alienating their audience but of engineering a serious drop in record and ticket sales.

    But these three country gals from Texas - the biggest state to take on when you're going Bush-bashing - stood up proudly and declared their opposition to the invasion of Iraq, which was about to start. As a result, their records were burned, their gigs boycotted and one of them received death threats. The fact that they were right in the end was and has been wasted on the vociferous American Right, who roundly castigated them for daring to speak out about the president, labelling them unpatriotic and traitors. I'm sure if there had been some way that they could have classed them as "enemy noncombatants" and shipped them off to Guantanamo they would. Even in the wake of a somewhat lame apology by Natalie Maines, who had made the comment at a gig in London, their critics were not appeased and it looked bad for the Dixie Chicks. Country radio in the US refused to play their records, people tried to return CDs and they were booed at award ceremonies. Natalie even needed a bodyguard at one point!

    But they came storming back three years later, and perhaps people who were now able to see that the war would not be over in a matter of months, and despite Bush's assurances that there would be no American casualties saw the hollowness of that statement, and as WMDs stubbornly and embarrassingly refused to be found, realised that, you know, maybe there was something in what these brave women had said, after all. This, their first album since that incident, shot to the top of the country and indeed the Billboard mainstream chart too, and eventually won five Grammy awards. If anything, it proved that the controversy, while no doubt scary, worrying and unwelcome at the time, had propelled the Dixie Chicks into the limelight and opened up their music to fans beyond the country genre. They now considered themselves less country artistes, they said, and more "part of the big rock'n'roll family".

    The opener which is as close to the title track as you're going to get opens with a strummed acoustic guitar as Natalie Maines sings the vocal, then it cuts loose and becomes something of a redemption song in ways. It's got good pace to it, singing of experiences in life and on the road, with the telling line "I could never follow" running through the song. Nice bit of violin from Martie Maguire while Emily Robinson handles the guitars with aplomb. Mind you, these girls are multi-talented, and all play at least two instruments, in the case of Martie that's the omnichord and her lovely voice, whereas the other two play more than three or four each. There's a great sense of vindication and triumph about the song, and it leads into "Easy Silence", a slower, piano-led piece with a yearning vocal kind of more folk-tinged and even alt-rock in there too.

    Some good acoustic guitar from the Heartbreakers' Mike Campbell and mourning violin from Martie, a vocal from Natalie that almost embraces a very slow rap style; think a slower version of The Script and you're close. Lovely violin solo then everything drops back for solo piano and Natalie's soft vocal before the song builds back up again on the back of Emily's guitar. Addressing what has become known in Dixie Chicks folklore now as "The Incident", the next song up is called "Not Ready to Make Nice", and the lyric reaffirms, despite Natalie's public apology, the girls' commitment to the sentiments they expressed that night in 2003. She sings "I'm still mad as hell/ Too late to make it right/ Probably wouldn't if I could..." - oh yeah, these ladies are still fuming quietly about their treatment both from the American public and the country music world in general, few if any of whom supported their stand. In fact, it was left to people like Springsteen and Madonna to stand by their side and express their support. It's obviously left a bad taste in their mouths, as the final lines in the song sigh "I'm still waiting..."



    More uptempo and almost poppish is "Everybody Knows", with male backing vocals for the first time, from Dan Wilson. There are some notable guests on the album: Mike Campbell has already been mentioned, and he's joined by Benmont Tench, Bonnie Raitt and John Mayer, legends all. Whether they're there to lend support to the Dixie Chicks' "comeback" or are just fans I don't know, but it's nice to see that there are people in the rock world ready to help out. It's a good song if a shade generic, with some great steel guitar courtesy of Lloyd Maines, father of Natalie and himself a Grammy-winning musician and producer. There's a real sense of punch and power to the ballad "Bitter End", quite a Nanci Griffith vibe I feel personally, with some fine violin from Martie and piano under the fingers of Tench. "Lullaby" is a simple little low-key song mostly on guitar with omnichord from Natalie adding little swirly flourishes in the background, and indeed a soft lulling vocal from her.

    It all kicks off then for "Lubbock or Leave It", with a big fast bluegrass rhythm and stomping drums, a bit of rockabilly thrown in and it's good fun with some cool banjo licks from Emily - almost a solo really - while "Silent House" is more in almost slow southern rock territory, a big slow grinder with more great banjo and what sounds like synthwork but may be actual human backing vocals. Partially written by Sheryl Crow, "Favourite Year" actually has quite a bit of Tom Petty in it, so I'm a little surprised Campbell isn't involved in the writing. A nice mid-paced almost acoustic ballad, it has some gentle little piano and organ lines in it presumably from Benmont Tench again, and some sweet vocal harmonies from the girls. More southern rock, faster this time in "Voice Inside My Head", some lovely sitar this time from Emily Robinson, pedal steel from Natalie's old man, a real heavy country feel to it.

    Slick little acoustic guitar to start off the shuffling "I Like It" with jazzy organ and digital piano from Tench, goes all sort of soul/funk with some doo-wop and horns getting in on the act. Not that sure about this one to be honest: I think it's trying to cram too many diverse influences and sounds into the one song and it all gets a bit messy. A much better one is the stripped-down "Baby Hold On", a real Faith Hill sort of song, with acoustic guitar and soft percussion, a wistful vocal from Natalie and some powerful piano coming in with great vocal harmonies from the other two ladies. Fine guitar solo from John Mayer near the end just adds the icing on top of the cake, and we head into "So Hard", a mid-paced rocker with folky overtones, Natalie again referring perhaps to "The Incident" when she sings "Sometimes I don't have the energy/ To prove everybody wrong"

    The album then closes on "I Hope", which says everything about what the Dixie Chicks stand for: "I don't wanna hear nothing about killing/ And that it's God's wish" with an appropriately gospel slant and a strange mixture of Springsteen, Simon and old-style blues, some smoky organ work from Benmont Tench and really quite an understated little track to wind up an album which has a lot to say, crackles at times with anger and recrimination and regret, not for what was said but for how shortsightedly it was received, but in the end reverberates with a sort of acceptance and understanding, if not forgiveness, and embodies the worldview and outlook of these three girls from Texas in the closing track of this, their "comeback" album. And what a comeback.

    TRACKLISTING

    1. The Long Way Around
    2. Easy Silence
    3. Not Ready to Make Nice
    4. Everybody Knows
    5. Bitter End
    6. Lullaby
    7. Lubbock or Leave It
    8. Silent House
    9. Favourite Year
    10. Voice Inside My Head
    11. I Like It
    12. Baby Hold On
    13. So Hard
    14. I Hope

    At a time when none of their contemporaries dared say what so many people - within and outside the music world - thought and feared about the war to be visited upon us by the greedy and the stupid, the Dixie Chicks were one of the few who were prepared to stand up and say what they thought, to take a stand against this madness, to declare themselves ashamed of their president. As reward, they were vilified, pilloried and received death threats. Three years later, with the war well in swing on two fronts and showing no signs of coming anywhere close to an end, and Bush halfway through his second term, they came back with an album that showed that they had not forgotten those who had cursed and deserted them.

    But in the dark cloud there was a shining silver lining, for on the back of the admittedly adverse but nevertheless worldwide publicity their stand received, they made new fans and crossed over genres, leaving the often traditional and fundamentalist country sphere trailing in their wake. Their album smashed all previous records for their work and brought their music to a whole new generation of fans. They'll probably never be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, but their courage and determination not to back down has shown us that there's honesty and truth and a desire to do the right thing, even deep in the heart of Texas.
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

  7. #27
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    Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now
    --- Justin Townes Earle --- 2012 (Bloodshot)




    Ah, like father, like son! Just like his famous daddy did, Justin Townes Earle struggled with a heavy drug addiction which landed him in rehab and had him ejected from father Steve's band the Dukes until he got his act together. It seems he has, and like his dad, having beaten the addiction he's turned his attention fulltime to making music, this being his third full album. Justin began using drugs at the tender age of twelve, and by the time he was in his teens his habit was threatening to destroy his life. Luckily, he saw sense (no doubt drummed into him by his old man, who had gone through the same thing and knew what a destructive force drug addiction is) and got help, and since then he has become one of the rising new stars of the country music circuit, winning the American Music Award for Best Emerging Artist of the Year in 2009, plus nominations for album of the year for his Midnight at the Movies, as well as artist of the year. He was awarded the AMA for Harlem River Blues last year, so he definitely looks to have got his life back on track.

    His middle name is of course a nod of appreciation to Steve Earle's late mentor and friend, Townes Van Zandt, to whom he dedicated an album some years ago. He's the son of Steve and his third wife, Carol Ann Hunter Earle, their only child, though Steve himself has four children in total, by different women. Justin espouses more the bluegrass side of country mixed with folk elements, and so doesn't quite follow completely in his father's rockin' footsteps, but he's still a chip off the old block, and no doubt the elder Earle is justifiably proud of his eldest child.

    There's an immediate mention of Steve in the opening line of “Am I that lonely tonight”, when Justin sings ”Hear my father singing on the radio” - a unique position to be in, indeed. The song is far more laid back than even the softest of Steve Earle's ballads, with a lot of acoustic guitar and some nice horns from Jordan Lehning. To my mind, J.T sound more like B.S than S.E, which is to say, he sounds more like Springsteen than his father. It's a nice gentle opener, with a very melancholy feel about it, while “Look the Other Way” is a little more uptempo, but still not what you'd consider rock. This is far more country flavoured with folk than the sort of country/rock his father favours and made popular. More upfront electric guitar here, courtesy of Paul Niehaus, with more horns carrying the mood of the song; possibly a little closer to Steve's early albums like Guitar Town, though again nothing as heavy or indeed hillbilly about this music. The title track then is a slow ballad, very bleak and mournful, in which Justin gets to stretch his vocal talents, a soft organ backing from Skylar Wilson setting the backdrop for the song, while jangly guitar again recalls the best of acoustic Springsteen. My only complaint, or comment, at this point, is that Justin's voice is a little too laconic, too much of a drawl, and doesn't seem to inject any real passion into the songs, at least so far. Almost more Chris Martin than Bruce Springsteen, in ways.

    It's very relaxing and soulful, but I would like to hear the band break out and if not actually rock, then at least boogie a little. Just up the tempo and have some fun. And look! They must have heard me because this is exactly what happens with “Baby's Got a Bad Idea”, some happy horns and honky-tonk piano bringing a much-needed sense of fun and abandon into the mix, with a great little piano run by Wilson, almost bringing a sense of Dwight Yoakam into the music, then “Maria” keeps things fairly uptempo, with Justin's voice a little more animated, though you still can't imagine him jumping about on stage and shouting “How are y'all tonight?” (though he probably does). He's certainly inherited his father's songwriting talent, as he pens all the tracks on this album himself, and some of them are very good.



    No epic tracks here, as you would probably expect. Like his dad, he tends to keep songs within the two or three-minute mark, one or two going over (one going under), with the longest just shy of five minutes. They're small snippets really, some only really getting going when they're over, but none outstay their welcome. Things slow down again for the swing-ballad “Lower East Side”, with a certain sense of his father's “Fort Worth Blues” in it, some really nice upright bass and a great little saxophone solo from Geoff Pfeifer, then Paul Niehaus breaks out the steel guitar for the laid back and bleak “Won't Be the Last Time”, his strings expertly crying along with Justin's sombre voice. Some mournful fiddle from Amanda Shires adds to the melancholic atmosphere of the song, and it has the real broken-down-crying-in-a-bar feel about it.

    A powerful stab of organ chords changes the mood as “Memphis in the Rain” kicks the blues away and rocks out nicely, the horns again adding to the sense of joy in the same way that they can add to the sense of bleak despair on other songs here. Amanda Shires adds her voice to the backing vocals here, and Niehaus's electric guitar carries things along nicely and at a respectable lick. Everything slows right back down though for “Unfortunately Anna”, an almost acoustic slow ballad reminiscent of Dylan or Cohen, with minimal backing, a song which really showcases his powerful if often understated vocal.

    The closer, “Movin' On”, has a sort of bluegrass/hillbilly-cum-rockabilly sense to it, some welcome harmonica from Cory Younts giving the thing a real Nashville feel merged with the best of the Delta blues. There's a certain feeling of yearning for change in the lyric, as Earle declares ”I'm tryin' to move on” but we get the idea it's not that simple. He notes ”Maybe I should find the moment/ Where my father broke my mother's heart in half/ Or I could just go back to New York City/ And just learn to live with it.” I would hazard this is a reference to his father leaving his mother for his fourth wife, and you can hear that he has some serious issues, pulled between loyalties to one parent or the other. This must indeed be hard, as he's decided to operate in the sphere in which his father holds court, and has, as already mentioned, played in his band.

    As an introduction to the son of Steve Earle, it's an interesting revelation. Rather than try to emulate his old man, or copy his music, Justin seems to have carved out his own musical niche. It's not unique by any means, drawing on influences from folk and bluegrass to blues and jazz, but it's his own specific signature sound that he's trying to create and identify with, and for the most part, he seems to have succeeded. It can't be an easy thing, being the son of Steve Earle. No doubt he wants to succeed on his own terms, not just travel along on the coattails of his famous father, and for that he certainly should be applauded. He even resists the urge to include his dad on the album: whether Steve would have guested or not I don't know, as I'm unaware of their current relationship, but it's nice to see that the son is cutting his own path through life, and music, without relying too much on his famous name.

    A chip off the old block? Perhaps, but Justin Townes Earle is fashioning his own block, in his own image, and doing very nicely, thank you very much.

    TRACK LISTING

    1. Am I That Lonely Tonight
    2. Look the Other Way
    3. Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now
    4. Baby's Got a Bad Idea
    5. Maria
    6. Lower East Side
    7. Won't Bbe the Last Time
    8. Memphis in the Rain
    9. Unfortunately Anna
    10. Movin' On
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

  8. #28
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    Hell on Heels --- Pistol Annies --- 2011 (Columbia)

    A country supergroup? Well, so they style themselves, but I have to admit I have never heard of any of these three ladies. Then again, I'm not a huge country fan and I hardly keep my finger on the pulse of country music, so what do I know? But apparently Miranda Lambert was a finalist on the Nashville Star contest in 2003, has three albums and two number one singles (presumably in the country charts only) to her credit. Ashley Monroe is a singer/songwriter with one album released in 2009 (doesn't sound like qualification to the “supergroup” club to me) and Angaleena Presley, despite the famous surname, does not appear to be related to the King.

    But whether or not they're a supergroup, or even well known outside country circles, it is, as always, the music that does the talking. So talk, ladies!

    Well, it starts with the title track, almost a Bon Jovi “Wanted Dead or Alive” vibe with nice acoustic guitar, joined by really nice combined vocals with of course that recognised country twang endemic to most of the female country singers. The combination of the singers is very effective, however the song is a little restrained, and I would have expected something more in-your-face from three sassy ladies and a title like that. “Lemon Drop” is basic country bopalong, with nice guitar. I'm having trouble finding out who plays what, but I see on the sleeve of the album one of the girls has a guitar, and checking on their website it turns out to be Angaleena, the only brunette, who goes by the nickname of “Holler Annie”, with the other two being called “Hippy” (Monroe) and “Lone Star” (Lambert).

    I could certainly do without the twee whistling on “Lemon Drop”, and the end-line where they all chorus ”I know there's better days ahead/ Thank God” is just barf-inducing, but “Beige” is a nice steel guitar-led ballad very in the mould of Nanci Griffith's best, nice measured percussion keeping the beat perfectly. Vocals on this track are taken by Ashely Monroe, and she does a great job. Is it anything new though? Is it exciting? Will it light the world on fire? Well, so far I see no evidence to support that.

    Let's give them credit though: Pistol Annies write all their material themselves, and there's not a single cover or song written by anyone else on the album. It's fairly standard country fare though, as far as I can see: lots of songs about men, trailers, agriculture and the simple life. Nothing wrong with that, but what marks this out from any of the other good country female artists out there? Nothing much so far, other than the novelty factor of having three hot women in the band. And the Dixie Chicks already exist, girls… “Bad Example” is a Willie Nelson styled bopper, with the expected high notes on the gee-tar, double bass and tap-along drums, the three girls singing it must be said like angels, but is it a triumph (or defeat) of style over substance?



    “Housewife's Prayer” is another ballad, with an interesting opening line: ”I've been thinking about/ Setting my house on fire/ Can't see a way out / Of the mess I'm in/ And the bills keep getting higher.” Well, we can all identify with that sentiment from time to time, regardless of gender. Pedal steel is to the front again, with some nice acoustic guitar adding a little flavour of semi-rock to the proceedings, and as a song this is probably the best so far, with Presley taking the lead.

    You also have to admit they know their market. There are no long songs on this album, no epics. Only half of the ten tracks are over three minutes, some of those only by seconds, and the songs are short, snappy and catchy, for the most part. “Takin' Pills” is good fun, while “Boys from the South” goes back into steel guitar balladry, with what sounds like a banjo or mandolin doing its thing too. Could be a smattering of violin in there: lot going on. Lambert takes the vocal for this one, and it's the first time we hear her singing on her own. She certainly has a nice voice, sweet and sexy but with that raw, tough edge no doubt honed in the bars of west Nashville.

    There's an interesting mix of moods on the album, and to be honest I think Pistol Annies are best with the slower, or even mid-paced ballads, though when they rock out, as on the abovementioned “Takin' Pills” or the next one up, “The Hunter's Wife”, they really hit the mark. There's a kind of a rockabilly feel to this track, seems to be the story of a woman sick of her man spending so much time in the woods away from her. The old “golf widow” story, transplanted to the country setting, where the top male solitary pastime is huntin', shootin' or fishin'.

    Lambert is back then for the next-to-last track, “Trailer for Rent”, a Neil Young-ish half-ballad as the woman prepares to leave home and her man behind. To be fair, there's a deep sense of earthy honesty about these songs, and you get the feeling that these women have either lived the stories played out in their lyrics, or know someone who has. This is why I prefer artists to write their own material - makes it so much more personal. Of course, it may not be, but it definitely lends an authenticity and a certain heart to the songs. This could be another standout really.

    And then we close with the uptempo “Family Feud”, with all three girls again singing. Reminds me in places of the Eagles' “Get Over It”, the fast vocals, the melody and the beat. It's a good, if somewhat downbeat despite the boppy tempo, closer as the girls sing ”She's only been in the ground/ A day or two/ I'm glad momma isn't here/ To see this family feud.” All too true, sadly.

    So, country supergroup? Your guess is as good as mine, but this is not a bad album. When I say that, it should be clear that it is also not a great album. I must say, given the fanfare I expected more, but it's just okay. Good songs, good songwriting, sexy ladies. Guess in some ways you could find it hard to ask for more. I just had hoped there would be something, some spark, some difference that would mark this album, and this band, out from the hundreds of other country artists out there making their way in the world. Maybe it's my fault: maybe this rocker just ain't enough of a country boy. But Pistol Annies leave me feeling vaguely disappointed.

    TRACKLISTING

    1. Hell on Heels
    2. Lemon Drop
    3. Beige
    4. Bad Example
    5. Housewife's Prayer
    6. Takin' Pills
    7. Boys from the South
    8. The Hunter's Wife
    9. Trailer for Rent
    10. Family Feud
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

  9. #29
    Offline: Depressed Trollheart's Avatar
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    Cry --- Faith Hill --- 2002 (Warner Bros)


    An album that stands out as the jewel in this artist's crown, and which, so far as I can see anyway, she never equalled, or even came close to. Although Faith is renowned as a country music singer, Cry, her fifth album, comes across as much more a commercial pop album than a country one. Although I couldn't write a song to save my life, I do prefer artists to write at least some of their own material, and so was more than a little disappointed to find that not one of the sometimes excellent tracks on this release were penned, or even co-written, by the artist herself. That notwithstanding, this is a fantastic album that could conceivably be enjoyed by both country fans and mainstream music fans - rock and pop alike.

    Starting off with a nice little uptempo popper, “Free” gets things going in decent style, with it has to be said, not a hint of country there at all. It's not till the opening ballad, also the title track, that you hear the familiar steel pedal guitar whine in, but this is not what would be thought of as a typical country ballad, as Faith asks ”Could you cry a little? / Lie just a little? / Pretend that you're feelin' / A little more pain?” Very much the song of a spurned woman who wants her lover to share her pain, it's a beautiful bittersweet song, really showcasing Faith's vocal range.

    Perhaps trying for some record, Faith has assembled a supporting cast of almost one hundred musicians for this recording, and they certainly make their presence felt, giving the album a full, rich sound. However, it's the solitary piano that carries the delicate “When the Lights Go Down”, similar in theme to Bob Seger's “Hollywood Nights”, as she reflects on the loneliness of being left standing when all the money and fame evaporates: ”They were there for the fame / The flash and the thrills/ The drop of a name/ The parties, the pills/ Another star falls from the Hollywood hills/ Without a sound.” “Beautiful” is another tender ballad, opening with a spoken vocal over acoustic guitar, but some of the real standout tracks are more towards the end of the album, like “Stronger”, a real contender for best track on the album.



    The tale of a couple breaking up, it's a power ballad with a powerful line in guitar work and a vocal sung with such emotion that it would almost seem to be personal, except as mentioned Faith did not write it. It opens with a spoken vocal and acoustic guitar, like “Beautiful” before it. We should not however concentrate solely on the ballads, as there are some very good faster tracks, like “This is Me”, with its easily-relatable lyric: ”Yeah, my heart bleeds for the homeless/ I worry about my parents/ And all my bills are late.” and the almost gospel-like “If You're Gonna Fly Away”, not to mention “Unsaveable” (IS that a word?) with its unashamed rip-off of the riff from Berlin's “Take My Breath Away”, and its honky-tonk guitar. However there's no denying that it is the ballads that really stand out on this album, and if “Stronger” is a contender for track-of-the-album, it's just barely beaten out by the superior “If This is the End”, a tearjerker in the most epic fashion, with great orchestration.

    As already mentioned, there's very little on this album which stands out as a country track in the normal sense of the word, and even more so than Shania, I would say Faith Hill has to some extent left her country roots behind and stepped out onto the commercial stage of popular music. If she could maintain the quality of this release, she could have a very strong future, and we could certainly expect to see her in the charts. Unfortunately I was very let down by her follow up, 2005's Fireflies, and have not yet heard her latest, 2008's Joy to the World, but I get the feeling that this is as good as Faith gets.

    But it's damn good!

    TRACK LISTING

    1. Free
    2. Cry
    3. One
    4. When the Lights Go Down
    5. Beautiful
    6. Unsaveable
    7. Baby You Belong
    8. If You're Gonna Fly Away
    9. Stronger
    10. If This is the End
    11. This is Me
    12. Back to You
    13. I Think I Will
    14. You're still here
    Last edited by Trollheart; September 29th, 2019 at 05:32 PM.
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

  10. #30
    Offline: Depressed Trollheart's Avatar
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    IS this country? Was Faith Hill's album? Sharpen those poison pens and let me know, cos like the title says, I'm new in town!


    (Look, let's be honest here: I'm pretty much a newb finding his way through over a hundred years of country music, so I'm bound to get it wrong sometimes. I may feature albums that aren't country, or even artists that aren't, but sound or feel to me as if they are. If that happens, tell me, but bear in mind I'm kind of winging this, so be nice. Thanks.)
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    Harvest --- Neil Young --- 1972 (Reprise)

    One of the defining albums of Neil Young's early career, Harvest was his first solo album after leaving Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and provided him with his first number one hit single, and international fame and recognition outside of CSNY. A very country-tinged album, it features guest appearances from such luminaries as James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt and the other three from CSNY. Apparently its instant and worldwide success so shocked Young that he made a conscious effort after this not to repeat its style, going more out on the fringes where he was most comfortable.

    The album opens with “Out on the Weekend”, a mid-paced country tune with lots of harmonica, pedal steel and acoustic guitar. It's fairly understated, a little introspective, and a slow opener that seems to be to kind of wander around for four and a half minutes without any real idea where it's going. The title track is more guitar based, but slower paced, with again pedal steel making its presence felt. Young's voice is throughout clear and distinct, mostly sounding a little mournful or depressed, perhaps due to the acrimonious split with CSNY. The record is certainly very country, a subtle change in direction from the traditional folk approach of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

    “A Man Needs a Maid” starts off very quietly, Young's singing a little hard to even discern, the instruments even lower in the mix. The addition of the London Symphony Orchestra turns out to be a masterstroke though, as their full-blooded rendition of the music expands the song and makes it much more powerful and accessible. It's a ballad, but with the help of the LSO it turns out to be quite a powerful one. His big hit single is next: “Heart of Gold” took him to the top of the charts in 1972, and is an acoustic song with a somewhat staccato format, a song of longing for the perfect love, helped along by some very effective harmonica. Neil is at his clearest and most passionate singing on this track, with backing vocals from Taylor and Ronstadt, which no doubt helped in its success as a single.

    Things get faster and more upbeat then for “Are You Ready for the Country?”, which is piano led, and just a fun song, kind of reminds me of Dan Fogelberg's early work, like Home Free (which, coincidentally, was released the same year). Lines like ”I was talking to the preacher/ He said God is on your side/ Then I ran into the hangman/ He said 'It's time to die'” give a sometimes rare insight into Young's acerbic sense of humour, and everyone just sounds like they're enjoying themselves on this track, a somewhat welcome break from the morose nature of what has gone before.



    “Old Man” however takes us back into the realms of the dour and the melancholy with another sharp semi-ballad, while “There's a World” opens with dramatic film soundtrack overture, big booming drums and bells, the London Symphony Orchestra making a reappearance, but then the track turns into a pastoral ballad, and ends up alternating between the two styles. “Alabama” is the first time you properly hear electric guitar, a track with the hardest edge on the album so far. It also again features Neil singing more passionately and strongly as he does on “Heart of Gold”, so that you don't have to strain to hear him, as on so many of the other songs. It's certainly the track that comes closest to breaking out of the country mould and into the world of rock.

    Back to acoustic then for “The Needle and the Damage Done”, a song about heroin addiction which has become one of Young's signature songs. There's a definite sense of frustration and helplessness in the song, and it's the shortest on the album, at just over two minutes long. If “Alabama” is the rock song on Harvest, then “The Needle...” is the folk one.

    The album closes on a big bluesy jam, “Words (Between the Lines of Age)” with the re-emergence of the pedal steel guitar and powerful backing vocals from Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor and the remaining members of CSNY. The final song becomes something of a masterclass in guitar from Young, with a lengthy solo to bring the song to its end, and indeed, the album to a close.

    I think Neil Young is something of an acquired taste. I don't claim to be a fan, though I do like some of his work, and this is in fact my first listen to this album. While I can see how it went down so well in 1972, I probably would not have rushed out and bought it when I was young (sorry!), being more into metal and rock at that age. But for Neil Young fans there's no doubt this album stands as one of his most respected and successful, an album that put him on the map and began a long and rewarding career for him.

    TRACK LISTING

    1. Out on the Weekend
    2. Harvest
    3. A Man Needs a Maid
    4. Heart of Gold
    5. Are You Ready for the Country?
    6. Old Man
    7. There's a World
    8. Alabama
    9. The Needle and the Damage Done
    10. Words (Between the Lines of Age)
    Last edited by Trollheart; September 29th, 2019 at 05:34 PM.
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

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