Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Hardscrabble Lonesome

I spend way too much time bitching about the current state of Country Music. And I spend too much time bitching about the fact that I'm bitching about the current state of Country music. Might be a good idea for me to just sit back and enjoy the good shit that's out there. And there are some mighty tasty platters spinning on the modern hi-fi.

Willie Heath Neal often gets compared to Hank Williams III, having more to do with their relative youthfulness and a tendency towards, ahem, wayward rebelliousness, than in actual style. On earlier albums, Neal did display the tendency towards the sort of self-referential shit-kicker vibe that Williams has perfected, for better or worse, but one always got the sense that Neal traded more in respect for the form than in lineage.

With his latest album, Lonesome, on Chicken Ranch Records, Neal drops any alt/cowpunk leanings and delivers a hell of a set of barroom ballads. Yeah, I said ballads...wait, come's not what you think. We aint talkin' no pansy-ass metal balladry or vile Michael Bolton shite. Great Country has always been about the slow burning examination of where did I go wrong, how did I fuck up so badly, and what can I drink to make it better? It's the bread and butter of the genre. It's also a focus on great songwriting, and Neal steps to the plate, compiling a string of lost love and missed opportunity under the strobe of blinking neon lights. He shows himself as a songwriter, and a damn good one. I'd recommend checking out Neal's other albums. They're teetering, whiskey-fuelled honky stompers, and a hell of a lot of fun. But it's Lonesome that shows Neal growing up, and finding a voice that pushes him toward greatness. 'Least so far as we're concerned. But what the hell do I know?

I've rambled on about James Hand at length, and, frankly, it probably hasn't been enough. Leastways, not 'til I see him on the cover of every damn magazine on the planet. With Willie Heath Neal, we've got a younger version. Neal's not at Hand's level yet, but he's on his way, and I'd give a lung to see the two tour together.

Keep sending those drinking songs!
Support your local House of Imbibing!

Friday, January 12, 2007

All My Friends Are Gonna Be Strangers

Good lord a-mighty! I think I've got the best readers in the world! I asked for help and all y'all came through. Keep the suggestions coming, as I'm adding every one to a big-ass old list, from which to whittle down. And it's official, the final list is going to be The 100 Greatest Drinking Songs. 50 was just too small a number. If you don't know what I'm talking about, scroll down to the previous post.

Thank you, each and every inebriated one of you, from the bottom of my pickled liver.

If you've sent me an email, please be patient, as I plan to respond to each one of you. And to those who sent me tunes, I bow in humble appreciation.

And in case you're wondering, it appears as if George Jones, Merle Haggard, and Wynonie Harris are topping the percentage of suggestions. Probably not a big surprise there. I'm also pleased with the folk who threw up (heh) some Rap and Metal/Hard Rock (whatever that is) suggestions. I had egregiously forgotten about Gin and Juice (both the Snoop and dead-on Gourds versions), for example.

One final request, and then I'll leave you alone. I'm looking for a panel of judges. I've got a couple of folks lined up already, but I'd like to have 2-3 more. It won't take too much of your time. I just want to ensure that this list is not simply a reflection of what I like, but a true(ish) consensus of what constitutes a great drinking song. If you're up for a little arguing, discussing, dissing, and a smidge of critical hoo haw, then email me why you should be on the panel. You'll get full credit as a judge, and a special gift from the Mountain for your effort. My email is Let's show those hoity toity magazines with their big important lists what us real folks can do (Sorry, I just watched an episode of My Name Is Earl). To add more fuel to your fire, I've already decided what Number 1 is going to be. Wanna prove me wrong?

Next week I'm gonna return to normal, posting about artists I think are really keen, with a post about a feller who might give my boy James Hand a run for his money.

But for now, here's a couple more tunes to whet your appetite, and help you through the long weekend.

Papa Lightfoot: Wine, Women, and Whiskey (mp3)

Laverne Ray: Drunk, That's All (mp3)

Keep those suggestions coming.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Booze Party!


Here's the deal. The Mountain is about to start a project, and we need your help. Yes, you, there in the corner with the half-empty can of Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer. We're making a list of the Greatest Drinking Songs Of All Time. Not sure yet if it's going to be numbered at 50 or 100, and here's where you come in. I want your suggestions. Any list of drinking songs is going to be heavy on Country and Blues, which I've got a decent grip on, but there's a good chance I'll forget a few if left to my own inebriated devices, and, of course, great drinking songs are not limited the above genres, The Replacements, The Pogues, and Tom Waits.

So help me out here. What are your favorite drinking songs? What tunes help you raise that last glass at the end of the night, or the first crack of dawn? What songs can you sing at the top of your voice, never missing a lyric, while sloshed out of your mother-lovin' brains? What puts a tear in your beer?

Here's some suggestions:

-The songs should be something that more than two people know. Your buddy's garage band demo does not qualify.
-The songs shouldn't be merely songs that make you want to drink, such as anything by Jessica Simpson or her stupid sister. Drinking should be an integral part of the song.
-Give me something that I might not think of, something that may be outside of the Mountain's range. Perfect example is "Margaritaville". Not a big Jimmy Buffet fan, but there's no way "Margaritaville" doesn't finish in the top 20. It's a classic, whether I like it or not, and too many people have stopped a bar dead in it's tracks, glasses raised or head lowered to the bar, by slapping it on the jukebox.

I know you're out there, I've seen the stat counter. So help me out. I'm aiming towards getting the list together by, oh, I dunno, how about the middle of March? Maybe, and I'm just picking a random date, March 17th seems like a good day. I haven't decided if I'll offer up a zip file of the whole thing, or randomly selected songs. Maybe I'll make a special offer to folks who contributed, whether their song made it or not. We'll see. You can give your opinion on that matter also. If you don't contribute, you can't bitch about the final list.

You can leave a comment below, or send me an email at

To get you in the mood, here's a couple of tunes that may or may not be eligible for the list.

Corky Jones is, well, let's be honest here.....Corky Jones is Buck Owens. Playing a little boozey rockabilly under an assumed name.

Corky Jones: Rhythm and Booze (mp3)

Three Aces and a Joker: Booze Party (mp3)

Thanks for stopping by. Support your local Tavern.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Six String Drag And A Wheezing Megaphone

And, finally, the top 3 albums on the Big Rock Candy Mountain Most Essential, You're a Loser If You Don't Own These Albums List Of 2006.

That was a mouthful. Especially with the tongue planted firmly...well you get it, we're self-referentially ironic. Yawn. Let's git er done. Sorry, couldn't resist


10. Cast King: Saw Mill Man
9. Gob Iron: Death Songs For the Living
8. Richard Buckner: Meadow
7. Jolie Holland: Springtime Can Kill You
6. Lambchop: Damaged
5. South Filthy: Crackin' Up
4. Cat Power:: The Greatest

On with the show.

3. Tom Waits: Orphans

This should really come as no surprise, except for the expectation that we might have placed old Tom a couple of slots higher at number 1. What that should tell you is how keen I am on the the top finishers.

In my experience, there is little middle ground so far as Tom Waits appreciation goes. Folks either love him or hate him. His is not the persona or Howlin' Wolf fucking Beefheart voice that invites apathy. Which is fair enough. And this three disc set of odds, sods and whatnot, frankly, is probably not the best starting point for the novice.

This set is essentially a love letter to his fans, a group he's been reluctant to admit to, though in a recent interview on the Daily Show Waits came as close as I can remember to acknowledging the beast that is the Tom Waits collective.

I am not unbiased when it comes to Waits, I couldn't pretend to be, so I can't offer a critical remove when including this set. I also had a hell of a time selecting one track as a sampler, so I'm offering up one from each album. If I did this tomorrow, I'd probably select three different songs.

"Bottom of The World", is Waits at his hobo best, containing one of my favorite lines "Well God's green hair is where I slept last/He balanced a diamond on a blade of grass". "Take Care Of All My Children" is a track from the film Streetwise, and on of my favorite missing Waits songs, previously sitting dusty in my rows of Waits bootlegs. It's Waits channelling his inner Salvation Army band. And "Home I'll Never Be" is a Kerouac piece. I'm not a Kerouac fan, but filtered through Wait's grizzled growl and pathos, the song takes life of it's own, borrowing but not indebted to the Beats.

Tom Waits: Bottom Of The World (mp3)

Tom Waits: Take Care Of All My Childrent (mp3)

Tom Waits: Home I'll Never Be (mp3)

2. Halden Wofford and the Hi-Beams: Midnight Rodeo

This is another album I can't lay a claim to having a critical remove from. Halden Wofford and the Hi-Beams are my favorite band. Doesn't matter, though, because they've earned their spot on this list. They're the best band in America you've never heard. Actually, they're better than most bands you have heard. The Hi-Beams are a honky tonk band, pure and simple. No posturing or hip and ironic Western shirts from the Gap. No insurgent stance or loudfast Hank Williams as punk icon nonsense. A band in their element in sweaty, Lone Star beer-soaked venues ripping shit-hot steel guitar lines perfectly twanged to a snap snare, stand up bass and the sweet Texas yodel of Halden himself. To rein in the perfection of their live presence, which I've covered briefly elsewhere, and commit it to aluminum, is a daunting task, one which they achieve brilliantly on their second album, Midnight Rodeo. If the current state of Country and Western, and Western is certainly a part of the Hi-Beams canon, leaves you cold and wistful, this is your salvation. For all those in favor of honky tonk bands out there slogging the spirit of Country in the face of Nashville and commercial packaging indifference, this band's for you. Catch 'em live if you can. The album contains several rave-ups, and runs the gamut of great Country styling, but I'm picking a slightly slower number to feature, one which is a live favorite of mine, and one you can dance with your lady or fella to. I'm going to do a longer post later, featuring, fingers crossed, an interview, so you'll get your swinging bopper later. Stay tuned.

Halden Wofford And The Hi-Beams: Blues Fallin' Down (mp3)

1. James Hand: The Truth Will Set You Free

Shocker. If you've read my posts here or here, you could have easily guessed where this would end up. It's not only the best album I've hear this year, it's the best album I've heard in many years. Chasing his own ghostriders in the Country constellation, Hand forges something that is uniquely his own, yet rooted strongly in a tradition as old as the first plucked string. In a time in which Bob Dylan can record the same album for the third time in a row, and receive rave reviews, it's artists like Hand who should be getting the attention.

A horse trainer and beer joint troubadour, Hand plays a continually rarefied form of hard Country, one passed through mountain water and Texas dust, a twangy and hiccupping yodel traveling the darker roads where lonesome has lost the ability to cry. Hand can sound as old as the hills, filtering a strain of deep Southern Gothic, but the songs he writes are timeless, both in subject and the ability speak across years.

More hyped bands and artists will always sell more records and fill larger venues, but that's the problem with hype, in that it allows for passing fad to overshadow the great artist hiding in corners. James Hand has made a stunning album, one I think folks will be talking about years from now when the dust settles and perspective weighs in. If you have any love for Country, this album is the one for you this year. And next year. And the year after....

James Hand: In The Corner At The Table By The Jukebox (mp3)

Please support you local, independent Honky Tonker, jukejoint, and record store.