***WARNING: IMPENDING PIGEONHOLING OF COMPLEX GENRE IN ORDER TO A) USE A FAVOURITE QUOTE B) AVOID HAVING TO ENGAGE IN LENGTHY AND POTENTIALLY ILL-INFORMED/WRONG CONSIDERATIONS OF WHAT THE GENRE ACTUALLY IS AND C) BECAUSE I CAN’T THINK OF ANY OTHER WAY TO GET INTO THIS. WARNING OVER.***
“Just gonna go home, lie down, and listen to country music. The music of pain.”
Xander Harris had something there. There is a LOT of pain in country music. But damn’, that music is good. And, for your listening pleasure, I (briefly) offer up some of its delights, whether you know it and love it already, or feel like giving it a try, these beauties might whet your whistles. As you’d expect no genre is as cut and dry as it might be made out to be – there’s as much nuance and variety in country as there is in anything else – and it’s all there waiting for you. Dive in.
Two beautiful songs – straight up tear-duct-botherers: “Oh My Sweet Carolina” by Ryan Adams and “Stray Paper” by Tift Merritt. There’s a lot of pain here. “…Carolina” is from Ryan Adams’ solo debut “Heartbreaker”, one of the finest albums I have ever heard, a stunningly complete achievement. I defy you to listen to the lines “I miss Kentucky and I miss my family” and not well up. “Stray Paper” is the opening song from Tift Merritt’s second studio album “Tambourine” released in 2004. Her debut album “Bramble Rose” is a lovely record, but Tambourine really showcased just how strong and broad her talent is. This is a wonderful piece of songwriting, with tremendous guitars and probably her finest set of lyrics: “that night in the headlights, with the blankets pressed”. You should also check out her radio show The Spark where she interviews other artists about making music.
Two rabble-rousers – rock it up a notch with these two, first Steve Earle‘s amazing “Devil’s Right Hand” and then Wilco‘s “I Got You (at the End of the Century)”. Steve Earle ought to be familiar, either from his main hit “Copperhead Road” or from his wonderful cameos in The Wire. This track features outstanding enunciation of the word “thirteen” and is a good example of the fact that the pain in Country isn’t always heartbreak – often it’s violence and retribution and then prison. Wilco’s song is a much more straight-ahead country-rocker from one of the greatest bands ever – if you’ve never experienced them then get out there and buy every album they have ever released. You will have your freaking mind blown by the way in which their sound has changed over time and you will hear some of the finest songs ever written. (nb: there might not be any pain in the Wilco song… sorry).
Two toe-tappers – heading out to bluegrass and hillbilly folk. First up, Emmylou Harris‘ “Bluebird Wine”, followed by Big Smith’s “12-inch, 3-speed, oscillating fan”. Emmylou’s pain is drinking; for Big Smith it’s too hot. Emmylou is one of the giants of country and has one of the most recognisable and lovely voices out there – you only have to look at the roster of artists that she has worked with over the years to see how in demand her voice is. That final, soaring repetition of “Bluebird Wine” is perfection. As for Big Smith, this is family-based, harmony singing at its finest. I first saw them in the brilliant “Homemade Hillbilly Jam” documentary which showcases the music scene up in the Ozark mountains – which you can buy here.
***WARNING: SHAMELESS CLOSING CLIP. END OF WARNING ***