'round the dial
Wednesday 24 September @ 14:01:47
by Tom Hallett
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “I think that’s the key to all songs—you have to unlock certain doors to free yourself up so the song won’t be predictable. So that it has life. Otherwise it’s a cliche.”
SONG OF THE WEEK: “Sleep Don’t Come Easy.”
Before we kick things off this week, I’d like to thank an attentive reader, K.F. Raizor, who wrote in to let me know that I flubbed a detail in last week’s column. Turns out late actor John Ritter’s dad, Tex, didn’t write his hit “Hillbilly Heaven,” after all. Tex’s may be the version most of us remember today, but that hot little number was penned by none other than Mr. Eddie Dean (no relation to the “Big John”/sausage guy—although his brother’s name was Jimmy). Eddie was a 1940’s cowboy movie star of some note who also wrote and performed some country classics, including the aforementioned tune as well as “One Has My Name (The Other Has My Heart)” and killer covers of Western anthems like “Cool Water” and “Tumbling Tumbleweeds.” Born in 1907, Eddie had a long and productive life, passing away in 1999 with a dozen albums and scores of great flicks under his belt. So let me say it one more time, the right way: If there’s a Hillbilly Heaven, Tex and John Ritter are there with Eddie Dean, who’s most likely thanking Tex for all those years of royalty checks he helped bring in. Thanks again to K.F. for pointing out this interesting factoid.
And now on to this week’s edition of RTD, where I’ll make one more concerted effort before year’s end to plow through the still massive stack o’ discs piled precariously next to my desk. In order to cover as much ground as I can in the space allotted to me here, I’ve decided to just give short, to-the-point reviews of each album. Hopefully I’ll get through the majority of ‘em before the snow falls. Bands/artists/PR folks who’ve been bugging me for reviews, keep in mind that if I’ve taken over a month or two to get to your album, it probably didn’t strike me with awe and wonder the first time around, so you may wish you’d just forgotten about sending it to me in the first place when I get done here. On the other hand, there have been times I’ve gone back to an album I didn’t particularly love the shit outta the first time I heard it and found that I MUSTA BEEN CRAZY!! But those times are pretty rare. So here we go, kids, RTD’s Last Gasp Pile O’ Pithy Reviews For 2003:
Hey, ho! It’s SMART ROCK, boys n’ girls! That’s right, you get all the pop licks, driving bass, pounding drums, and perfect harmonies of your average Top 40 alterna-rock band, PLUS The Melismatics have COLLEGE EDUCATIONS! At least, with song titles like “(Let’s Get) Sublimated” you’d think they did, anyway. Har de har har. OK, OK, I’ll stop being a smart-ass for a minnit. Bottom line, these guys have the chops, the hooks, the looks, and the spirit to MAKE IT BIG!! Oops, there I go again. (Slap! Stop that now, you burnt-out ole rock writer! Bad writer!) No, I really mean it. The guys (Ryan Smith, Jeremy Ylvisaker, guitars, Mark Wade, bass, and Ron Caron, drums) have undoubtedly reached a local pinnacle with this release, and there’s only one way to go: RIGHT TO THE TOP!! No, no, I’m not kidding. I mean, actually, there are two ways to go, yeah, that’s it, they could just say fuck it right now, skip the obligatory MTV Beach Party appearance and 50 weeks on the CMJ Top 20 list, and just go right back to the shitty local dives to play acoustic folk songs about how they almost made it to the top, without the headache of EVER GOING TO THE TOP!! Yeah, that would rock, man.
Two & Out
Barnett lays down simultaneously shadowy and shimmering keyboard-driven anti-pop with an understated shrug, coloring in the lighter areas with able assistance from guests like guitarist/multi-instrumentalist (and producer) John Hermanson, Dave Boquist (on gorgeous lap steel), and John and Angie Solomon. I’d like to say I’ve just about had it up to here with sensitive singer/songwriter types, but every time I do, somebody like this comes along and makes me remember why I love this shit so much. Songs like “Just One Time,” “What You Do,” and “Where Do We Go,” served up with just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek and a healthy dose of self-deprecation, only help to remind me all the more why I always loved Simon & Garfunkle, Elton John, Nick Drake, and yes, even smarmy little Ryan Adams. Now shuttup so I can listen to this and drink, willya?
Living The Good Life
Produced by Rich Brotherton at The Hit Shack down in sunny ole Austin, Texas, Rodney Hayden’s latest album comes out of the gate with a nice honky-tonk grin, but that ear-to-ear smile is glossed over with some mighty powerful whitening agent, if ya ask me. I mean, I dig a good ole jukebox hummer as much as the next cat, but when you’re crooning lines like “I got a job/I work real hard/I got a dog in my backyard/There’s a place I like to go/It’s my favorite fishing hole...” you best have a crack, down-to-earth, kick-ass band behind ya, buddy. Frankly, I don’t mind Rod’s voice all that much, and he just might pull this polished piece o’ overproduced poo outta the hat (he does namedrop Lake Pontchartrain, or at least sort of, when he covers Slaid Cleaves’ “Broke Down.”) live, but this stuff just dredges up memories of long, uncomfortable drives with my redneck dad, who had this irritating habit of clicking his fingernails together on the steering wheel in time with whatever inane piece of commercial country claptrap that was playing on the AM at the time. Ugh! You know it’s not real country when it makes you want to QUIT DRINKIN’!
Gone To Heaven
Lead singer/songwriter Jacob Fleischi steers the Tractor Kings down some well-plowed furrows on this release, but the good news is that they’re comfortable, friendly, respectable furrows. The title track rings out like a chip offa The Traveling Wilburys’ shoulder(s), and things just get better from there. “Buried In The Sky” rolls out on a lazy, loping organ riff, with Jacob’s echo-y, backwater voice wrapping around your ears like a singer you hear across a lake: “I’m six feet underground/I can’t say goodbye..” he says, and you can just about imagine him winkin’ up at you from his coffin as you slide a pint in next to his body. “Never Lonely” is a shuffling, ringing heartbreaker, “Goodnight” weeps pedal steel teardrops, and album closer “My Old Ways Are Gone” would fit real nice in a Tom Waits encore set. A great mix of classic country grooves, Band-ish rock n’ roll horseplay and modern sensibilities. I’ll take a cruise through the corn patch with these musical cultivators anyday.
That’s it for me this week, gang. Come on back again for more of these short, not-always-so-sweet reviews, rants and raves. Until next time—make yer own damn news.
If you have local music news/gigs/events that you’d like to see listed in this column, or you’d just like to (sigh) rail at me for making light of college-educated rockers (Hey! Some of my best friends will be paying off student loans until they DIE!), send replies to: TMygunn777@aol.com.