Thursday, June 26, 2008

How Long Must We Sing This Song?

Rough timeline for our usual Wednesday worship:

We show up at 6:15pm.
We are set up by 6:25.
Soundcheck and the solving of technical problems until 6:35.
Run-through and the solving of musical problems until 6:55.
Prayer and back to places.
Worship starts at 7pm.

If we're lucky, and yesterday we were. By lucky, I mean prepared. So the run-through was done early.

Our drummer is a keys guy who can point the skins on occasion, and he takes whatever time he can to get practice, as he has no kit at home. So, he took the extra time to hit a few grooves.

Second one was quite obvious to me. I knew that song. I've known that song for 25 years. So I start playing my part. F# minor, A major, D major 6, in a clean and trebly tone.

And the other guitarist joined in.

When it was over, the drummer claimed he didn't know he was playing "Sunday Bloody Sunday" by U2. But that's what we were playing, and playing well.

Friday, June 20, 2008

No Cool Songs On The Car Radio.....

Listening to XM. X Country (Pron: "Cross Country") played a song, like they're wont to do. Mike McClure, "Everything's Upside Down".

It's the best song Tom Petty never recorded.

I've never heard it on the radio.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Oooh! Shiny!

It's been too long since I've done a gear post.

That's a good-un, ain't it? About half again the most I'd ever expect to pay for a guitar, but dang it's pretty. Part of me thinks that if I'm gonna get a metal guitar, I should go ahead and put in a resonator. The rest of me says no, but you really need to have a palm tree sandblasted onto the back.

I'm curious about the sound, though. Whether it sounds like a wooden guitar. Certainly the pickups provide more of the sound than anything else, though.

Some Trussarts come with 3-piece compensated GraphTech Ghost bridges. Wouldn't you want to rock something like this into a MIDI rig?

This one I saw in an ad for Leslie cabs for guitars. A very LesterCaster guitar for setup, and a very sweet paintjob on top of that. I don't really want a Lestercaster, but doesn't this look sharp?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

They Weren't County When Country Wasn't Alt

But, you know Dave, as I write this, it occurs to me that I really have no clue as to the boundaries of what be alt. country.

Well, Jack, I've been thinking long and hard about it. And I've generated some ideas. I'll get into the greater Americana deal in a moment, but first we'll get to the smallest definition of Alt Country. The five essentials, plus some connections.

Uncle Tupelo, and the two offshoot band, Son Volt and Wilco. The band formed by their roadie and spare guitarist, the Bottle Rockets. The Jayhawks. The supergroup containing members of Wilco and the Jayhawks, Golden Smog. The third group contributing songwriters to the Smog, Soul Asylum, which only occasionally leans into this genre, but we'll put them in anyway, just for now. And Whiskeytown, which kinda came later and kinda don't fit in this.

I made a mix for the way home yesterday, and between Brian Henneman and Chrome Dreams, I figured it out. All of the above bands, have Neil Young as their primary inspiration. 1970s Neil Young, the Neil from Decade and Rust Never Sleeps. Not Gram Parsons. Not the Flatlanders. Not Waylon Jennings. Not Buck Owens. It's all on Neil Young. There's other influences, of course, but they come from the rock side, I think. UT plays CCR's "Effigy" for the No Alternative sampler, but they play it like Neil would. When they did March 16-20. 1992, they didn't play bluegrass, they didn't play really folky, they played strummy Neil Young style.

As time went on, they expanded their styles. Much less Neil in Anodyne than Still Feel Gone, for example. And when they did country covers, like Soul Asylum doing "Cocaine Blues" and Tupelo doing "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?" with Joe Ely, they're trying to get that sound more. I've been listening to more Waylon these days, and I'd be hard pressed to say how their arrangement differed from Waylon's. The bass was certainly root-fifth and way out in front.

But that brings me to the other part. These bands didn't go to LA and get caught up in that scene like Neil did. They didn't go to Nashville and get day jobs at MCA and play bar gigs on Lower Broadway until they got drawn into the Music City machinery, like the Waylon song describes. They set up their own gigs until they signed to minors, toured small gigs until they got enough following to jump to the majors. They didn't do it like Hank. They did it like Hank! Rather, more like REM. They did it like a college-rock band from the 80s, which really is what they were. Alt Country is a heresy of Rock, not Country.

Not that this was the only influence on these guys.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Oh My Goodness!

I am working on another Alt-Country post. I will get to that later. Right now, I just must vent.

Driving the Speed Limit on an Interstate Highway is Dangerous

Normally, I commute at 75 MPH, but the last couple of days, I've been going down to 70, trying to up the gas mileage. And I spent most of my time looking in the rear-view. Especially when the guy from Ohio who looked like Horatio Sans dressed up as Mario — Mason, if his license plate is any indicator — who wanted to drive his mini-van into my trunk.

People, if you want to be in the slow lane, drive like it's the freakin' slow lane!

I thought about pulling onto the shoulder. I thought about moving to the fast lane and standing on the brakes. I finally took an exit just to get the guy out from behind me. What kind of ass-holistic driving is that?

Thursday, June 12, 2008


There's a Song Meanings page for Ray Wylie Hubbard's "Screw You, We're From Texas".

Wanna know what that song means?

It means "We're from Texas, so screw you!"

It's really not that hard.

I'm not from Texas, so I guess "screw me", but he does have a point. I mean, Mr. Stevie Ray Vaughn is the best there was, and there is no band cooler than the 13th Floor Elevators.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

... She should at least find you handy

This is something that recently came up, and maybe you'll benefit from this.

There's a local coffeeshop. They host shows, including a band a friend plays in. I've seen them there twice. This was also where I saw Chaconne Klaverenga.

They have a mailing list, through which they announce their upcoming events.

I signed up.

When the first mailing came, it came to me, to Johnny, to Clem, to Jenny, to Anne, to Trey.... Basically, there was a big list of email addresses, and she put them in the To: line of Gmail and pressed send.

And now I have dozens of email addresses of people that I could now spam, if I was the scum of the earth.

Here's the trick – BCC. It stands for Blind Carbon Copy. If you send something out with someone BCCd, that person receives it without it being addressed to him. If you send something out with two people BCCd, neither can tell that the other was sent it.

Subject: My Coming Midwest Tour!
From: Sans Direction <>
To: Sans Direction <>

Just a tip from your old friend Sans.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Strange Case of Marty Party

The man owns and plays Clarence White's original B-Bender.

He owns and plays Pops Staples Tele, given to him by Mavis.

He owns and plays Lester Flatt's D-28.

He owns a whole lot of other Country memorabilia. Collects it. Curates it.

He recorded one of very few concept albums ever to come from a Nashville label.

He played mandolin for Lester Flatt.

He played all sorts of instruments for Johnny Cash.

He named his backing band with one of the best band names I've ever heard: The Fabulous Superlatives.

He can walk on stage with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones and hold his own.

I should be the hugest fan of Marty Stuart.

I'm a fan. Just not a huge one.

It's all on me. It's not fair to say "If you were this guy and not that guy, I'd be your biggest fan." As if he'd listen.

What distinguishes Alt-Twang from Nash-Twang? Comparing Gibson's Top Five to the "Never Call Me" Requirements, you don't see a lot of Mama, prison or modes of transportation. Maybe some getting drunk. Certainly heartbreak. Certainly nostalgia and disappointment. Not much Mama. And certainly, there's nobody singing about Alt-Country or Alt-Country Girls. And if anyone in an Alt-Country song has ever been triumphantly drunk, I don't recall it.

I can think of only one parental reference in Alt Country: The Gear Daddies' "Statue of Jesus"
Lord knows how hard I try but I just don't think I fit
Daddy always said everything I touch, it turns to shit
In Marty's songs, the Dads give helpful and good advice.

Uncle Dave Macon said that Earl Scruggs wasn't a damn bit funny. And neither is Alt Country. Marty's an entertainer, not an artist. He'll make you cry, he'll make you dance, and he'll make you laugh. He's a Country guy, and Country includes Minnie Pearl and Larry the Cable Guy. It ain't just music, it's entertainment. I'm used to thinking of Alt Country as a heresy of Rock rather than one of Country, and I'm not used to acts like that. There's only one Alt Country song I've heard on the radio. "Radar Gun" by the Bottle Rockets. If you don't recall, it's a song about a local cop on a quest to fund local government via speeding tickets. It's a rocker, but it's also pretty much a novelty song, the second-closest I've heard an No Depression artist writing a joke song. The closest is "Idiot's Revenge", which couldn't get on radio for one specific word, which I will not repeat here.

(As an aside, I've been thinking. You don't get songs in Rock defending the institutions and history of Rock. Well, outside of Bob Seger. There's never be a "Murder on Music Row" about Rock music, saying someone's killed it. Is it because Rock is so geographically diverse? So musically diverse? So balkanized? And is "Murder", as I'm leaning right now, a terrific song but a bogus thesis?)

So, here I am, trying to learn to digest real Country and not infect it with my pretensions. And listening to him and the Staples Singers sing "The Weight".

Happy Birthday, Lester!

If you play electric guitar, and if you record, most everything you do was thought up first by Les Paul. Not only was he a great inventer (The Gibson Les Paul has his name on it for a reason!), he was and is a shredder. He just turned 93, and he's still gigging. Happy Birthday, Les, and many, many more!

Don't Want To Buy It Twice

I have No Depression. I have Still Feel Gone. I have March 16-20, 1992. I have Anodyne. The first three are Rockville releases. The last one on Sire. I have the Legacy compilation, and I've found MP3s of some, not all, of the obscure stuff they tossed onto the end of the Legacy reissues.

Is it worth it to re-purchase the re-releases of all that Uncle Tupelo stuff?

Shouldn't Be Ashamed

First, I put up Gibson's list of essential Alt-Country, then opined that I prefer A.M. to Being There.

Then Jack Pribek (who happens to know people who were involved in Being There) posted a link to some Quicktime (I hate Quicktime) of Wilco's three-night stand in St. Louis. He commented:
I’ve had some recent discussions with some Wilco fans and a lot of them are more enamored of the earlier work. Whereas, I think they sound like a band that is currently at the peak of their form.
Really, I was just looking for some Alt-Twang that isn't old enough to go to Math Camp with my middle child! I have all the Wilco except Sky Blue Sky! I'm a good fan! Really!

But I kinda took that up as a challenge. So, today, instead of setting my playlist to just play things that Windows Media Player hasn't played for me (which should take several weeks), I queued up Wilco. I'm still early into A.M., my avowed favored territory. But I'll go through it all today, commenting as I go. (You're welcome to take the journey with me!)

In part because I very much doubt that the Quicktime stream will flow through the firewall at work. Nope.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Alt-Country: The Missing Years

Gibson has a list of the Top 5 Essential Alt-Country albums.

1. Uncle Tupelo, Anodyne (Warner Bros, 1993)
2. Son Volt, Trace (Warner Bros, 1995)
3. Whiskeytown, Strangers Almanac (Outpost, 1997)
4. Wilco, Being There (Reprise, 1996)
5. The Jayhawks, Hollywood Town Hall (Warner Bros, 1992)

I hope it surprises nobody that I own them all. I hope it surprises nobody that I listen to them all fairly regularly.

Can I tell you what surprises me?

Every one of those recordings is over 10 years old. Brilliant, to be sure. I'm not always sure that those are necessarily the albums I'd pick but I'd certainly go with the artists. Specifically, Wilco's best album by my ears is still A.M., and if I was to pick a favorite Uncle Tupelo album ... I'd pick 'em all, but at this moment I'm leaning more toward Still Feel Gone. Not that Anodyne isn't great, because it is.

But what have the alt-twangers done for us lately? This non-traditional music has always tugged my ear far more than mainstream Nashville stuff, and even though my TV is more often tuned to CMT than to MTV, there's a shallowness to it that puts me off. And while I've been keeping those five artists and a few others in fairly regular rotation, I'm finding out about the newer, cooler stuff in drabs at best.

If a thing shows no signs of life in ten years, it must be considered dead. Is there nothing essential in Alt-Country from the last decade? Rather, what would you consider essential, great or even just really darn good Alt-Country released 1998-2008?

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Imperfect Country and Western Song

You know the story.

Steve Goodman writes a song and sends it to David Allen Coe, saying it's the perfect Country and Western song. David writes back that it is not the perfect Country and Western song, because it lacked a list of stereotypical elements of country songs, like Mom and Trains and Prison. So Goodman wrote a new verse, unconnected to the rest of the song but chock full of Mom and Trains and Pickups and Drinkin'.

With all due respect to Mr. Coe, it was that because it was a perfect song, but not a C&W song, not because it was a C&W song that was somehow imperfect. It's structurally well-written ("All the lines are sung in time and every verse ends in a rhyme", as NoFX wrote but didn't actually sing), containing a small narrative, funny and engaging. Perfect songs don't have to be great songs; you can listen to album upon album of John Hiatt songs, for example, and while they'll all be perfectly crafted, they won't all be great like "You Never Even Called Me By My Name" is great. (Some might be. "Memphis In The Meantime" is. Just being fair.)

I have started this to talk about Gram Parsons.

"Huh?", you ask. "You've mentioned three other songwriters just to get to Gram?"

That's the way I think. No apologies.

I think I'll mention more. My line on Patti Smith is that she somehow made great albums without actually making good albums. Gram Parsons, in my opinion, somehow made great songs without making good songs. Which is to say he wrote a lot of great songs, songs that draw you in and hold your ear, but they were generally imperfect.

Gram Parsons recorded only six albums in his life. There are some live recordings released after his death, but we'll concentrate on the ones from his life. They are:
International Submarine Band, Safe At Home
The Byrds, Sweetheart of the Rodeo
The Flying Burrito Brothers, Gilded Palace of Sin
The Flying Burrito Brothers, Burrito Deluxe
Gram Parsons and the Fallen Angels, GP
Gram Parsons and the Fallen Angels, Grievous Angel
I will use Gram Parsons Homepage as a lyrics source.

"Hickory Wind" was first released on Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the Byrds' trip through the Country. Gram's vocals are not on the record due to legal and personal issues, relating to him leaving the band. He recorded it again, with Emmylou Harris, in a live in the studio but faked live in a bar track on Grievous Angel.
In South Carolina there are many tall pines
I remember the oak tree that we used to climb
But now when I'm lonesome, I always pretend
That I'm getting the feel of hickory wind
This is a great verse to hear. But pine is not oak and not hickory. It works, because he establishes a strong wood-nostalgia connection here. "Oak Wind" or "Pine Wind" just would not work as well.
I started out younger at most everything
All the riches and pleasures, what else could life bring?
But it makes me feel better each time it begins
Callin' me home, hickory wind
"I started out younger at most everything"?


Thing is, it doesn't have the hallmarks of a "I just don't care anymore" lyric. It almost fits. But it doesn't. The whole verse is great, it's Ecclesiastes. I have the world at my feet and at the end it does not satisfy. But every time I hear that word, I'm tossed out of the experience.

It's not a perfect song. Someone like John Hiatt wouldn't let it out of his notebook. And come to think of it, where's drinkin'? Where's Mom? Where's the pickup? Prison? The train? This ain't a perfect song. It ain't, by Coe's standards, a country song.

But I still sing along every time.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Why can't I be a 15-year-old musical prodigy?

Earlier this evening, I saw a classical guitarist.

If you want to respect yourself as a guitarist, don't watch classical guitarists.

Her name is Chaconne Klaverenga, and she's the daughter of one of the guitar shop owners' in town.

Isn't she good?

Those pops really drew me out. Bob Brozman says that electric music has killed dynamic range, that this is one of the big benefits of playing acoustic. This is a terrific example.

I dragged out my acoustic when I got home. My dread, not my classical, which should barely count as such. And I re-realized that fingerpicking hurts my thumb, on the edge where it hits the string. And I feel like a wimp. But enough about me and more about her.