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".


Pribek said...

Nashville is a different canvas. Not many find acceptance there. If you are accepted by Nashville, it's better than having an annuity. You will be taken care of long after the records stop selling. So, the rule is; don't screw up a good thing here.

Marty Stewart has probably sold more records and made more money than 15 years of No Depression mag. feature artists combined. I realize you may be using ND in a broader sense. Anyway, Marty isn't going to screw up his lifetime pass by getting too gritty. But, I have no doubt that he has it in him. Hell, he's a fat string Tele player, you know he's been to dark side.

Alt. Country isn't void of humor, there is the BR549 type of shtick that others have adopted and there are some witty songs.

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.

I would be interested in your opinion of what the definition of alt. country is. And, are roots rock, Americana, red dirt separate entities?

I don't know that anybody has definitively talked about this.

Dave Jacoby said...

You are right. Don't rock the jukebox, as Alan Jackson said. I think I've made that point about Little Jimmy Dickens earlier in this blog.

And you know, he's just about pushed it as much as he can. I've heard that The Pilgrim killed his MCA deal, and you can't count on getting another one these days.

I have a very catholic definition of Alt-Country, one that reaches out and grabs people like Del McCoury, Chris Thile and Dwight Yoakam. (Hey, any man who plays Country at CBGB's and walks out live can't be a straight traditionalist, can he?) And also Camper Van Beethoven. BR5-49 is one of very few of those bands that seems to know what western swing actually was.

I'll have to reconsider what the boundaries should be. I honestly don't know if I should sully people like the BoDeans with this label.