Friday, July 4, 2008

Fifty States: Gourds Edition ("Lower 48")

Gourds: Lower 48 [purchase]

First of all, happy 232nd birthday, America. You don't look a day over 180. I don't care what Canada says. So, in tribute to the American continent, I present to you "Lower 48," a tune that celebrates the continental U S of A. Sorry, Alaska and Hawaii.

The Gourds have been stirring their Texas gumbo for over a decade now and this is fairly representative of their Doug Sahm-meets-Los Lobos sound. This album (Blood On The Ram) actually marked their departure from a strict acoustic sound ... except for Jimmy Smith's bass, anyway ... to a template that now features electric guitar and Nord keyboard. The Gourds are best known for their rendition of "Gin 'n' Juice," but the novelty of that cover shouldn't obscure the fact that they're one of the most unique and soulful roots-rock bands of the last couple decades. Enjoy ... and happy 4th.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Washington: Spokane Motel Blues

Tom T. Hall: Spokane Motel Blues


I love Tom T. Hall. Mostly because Tom T. Hall loves life.

The only connection to Washington in this song is the location of the motel room in which Tom T. sits wishing he were doing something more fun with his buddies. When you hear the list of things he’d rather be doing, you realize he knows how to have a pretty good time.

Pennsylvania: U.S. Steel

Tom Russell: U.S. Steel


A good song about the closing of the steel works in Homestead, Pennsylvania.

From the Wikipedia entry:

“Settled in 1871, Homestead was chartered in 1880. For most of its first 100 years, Homestead served as the place where one of the world's most productive steel mills existed. About 7,000 men were employed in the plant around the turn of the century in 1900 when the population of Homestead was 12,554 people. The industrious people of Homestead increased their numbers to 18,713 in 1910, and to 20,452 in 1920.

In 1940, 19,041 people lived in Homestead. During the early 1940s half the population was displaced as the United States Government added on to the steel mills to have the capacity for armor plating for ships and tanks (preparing for WWII). After the end of World War II, a decline in the steel-making industry of the United States took place.

By 1970, it had become well-nigh impossible to obtain employment at the Homestead Works, which was not producing much steel at that time. In 1984, the mill closed and The Homestead Works was demolished, replaced in 1999 by The Waterfront shopping mall. As a direct result of the loss of mill employment, the number of people living in Homestead dwindled. By the time of the 2000 census, the borough population was 3,569. The borough began financially/economically recovering in 2002, with the enlarging retail tax base.”

Washington: Filthfarm Of Washington State

Birds Of Prey: Filthfarm Of Washington State


The positive side of Birds Of Prey - they make GWAR sound good.

All fiddy states - fini!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Pennsylvania: Needmore, Pennsylvania

The Mommyheads: Needmore, Pennsylvania


Here's one that actually has the word Pennsylvania in the title! If someone can nail down Washington we will officially have all 50 states. I have looked and I can't find one that is actually about Washington state, but it has to be out there somewhere. C'mon SMM'ers -- don't give up the fight.

Washington: Roll On Columbia

Woody Guthrie: Roll On Columbia


Ok, ok...just one more before bed!

This one follows the journey of the Columbia River through Washington State, and the history it has seen on its travels.

Washington: Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle / Olympia

Nirvana: Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle


Hole: Olympia


Here are a couple of tracks from the First Couple of grunge music. Not the usual SMM fodder, but music that is intrinsically tied to my teenage years...I sometimes forget how much I love this kind of music until I listen! Fear not, I shall be back with something more 'fitting' in my next post.

N.B. If you follow the 'purchase' link to Hole's Live Through This, you will not see Olympia listed...fear not, it is there, but it was part of that whole 90s 'secret track' phenomenon.

Right, I'm off to bed...1.39am here in the UK!

Washington: Talkin' Seattle Grunge Rock Blues

Todd Snider: Talkin' Seattle Grunge Rock Blues


Modern folk troubadour Todd Snider channels Arlo Guthrie in this half-spoken tale of rock god rise and fall circa the Seattle grunge movement of the late eighties and early nineties. The lyrics poke fun at grunge rock and its players, but like Guthrie, Snider has a bigger target in mind: underneath the hilarious send-up of the "alternative" label and grunge pose (pensive) and hairstyle (long, over the face) is a cohesive, biting social commentary on the commercial phenomenon that is/was the star maker machine, from A&R to MTV and back again, just before the napsterization of culture changed the rules of the game. Appropriate, for a guy who has somehow managed to elude true fame, despite being one of the best inheritors of the likes of John Prine, Billy Joe Shaver, and other wry working-class songwriters with an eye for blue-collar honesty and a storyteller's way with honest words.

Notably, then, the song isn't really anti-grunge; grunge is just a vehicle to get Snider somewhere much more important. As such, posting this one isn't intended to be a pre-emptive strike on what may well be Washington State's biggest contribution to the world of music so much as it is a way to ensure that any subsequent grunge music posted for this theme (or indeed any theme) can be heard in the proper historical context. But writ large, I think it also goes farther: like a few others out there (Tom Petty's Into the Great Wide Open), this is a meta-song, an industry product about industry product; as such, it tickles my irony bone while it provides a particular framework for how we hear any industry-produced music.

Someday, it would be fun to tackle songs about hitmaking, and turn the blog loose on the aging, dying industry, kicking it while it's going down. In the meantime, I'd say more, but the song kind of says it for us.

Purchase note: Talkin' Seattle Grunge Rock Blues was actually a hidden track on Todd Snider's first album, 1994's Songs for the Daily Planet; the purchase link above goes to That Was Me, which compiles the best of Snider's first three albums. Either or both, folks, but get some Snider if you haven't already.

Pennsylvania: The Scrapple Song

Robbie Fulks: The Scrapple Song [purchase]

I was curious if we were gonna loosen the reins for the last two states because I've had this Fulks number waiting in the wings. Thankfully, I now get to share it. By the way, if you ever get to see Robbie live, he's hysterically funny, bears an uncanny resemblance to former Sixer, Shawn Bradley (here's a pic of Fulks and here's a pic of Bradley), and is an absolute monster of a guitar player. Seriously, he could join any bluegrass band in the country and hold his own. In the meantime, pull up to the table and dig in to some scrapple.

"The mom and pop diners 'round Allentown,
Don't really have much that a fella can hold down,
And the folks up around Philly and Bethlehem,
Ain't gourmet types, really, or chefly men.

Now, they're God-fearin' folk in that Keystone State,
But their food ain't fit for a collection plate,
There's things for all kinds of people to hate,
But there's one that everybody loves.

And they call it SCRAPPLE SCRAPPLE,
Corn-beef steamed and hog-meat dappled,
Set by the window 'til it's cold and hard,
Sliced up thick and fried in lard.

Hey, what's that swimmin' in the big bread pan,
That's kickin' up all this mania,
The pride of Pennsylvania."

The Final Two States: PA & WA

As the USA is about to celebrate its 232nd birthday on Friday, it's fitting that the final two states left in our little game are Pennsylvania (where the Declaration of Independence was signed) and Washington (named after the first American President).

Unfortunately, these two fine states are not named in the titles of many songs. But that doesn't mean they aren't any good songs about them.

So, for the next couple of days, our mini-theme here at SMM will be songs relating to Pennsylvania or Washington. Maybe you can think of a song about a city located in one of these states, or about a particular industry (i.e., coal mining, jet planes, apples) or person associated with Pennsylvania or Washington.

(The titles of your posts should begin with "Pennsylvania:" or "Washington:" but keep using the "fifty states" label. The one post per state rule will be lifted for Pennsylvania and Washington.)

Fifty states: Delaware

City and Colour: Hello, I'm In Delaware


I'm not, as it happens...I'm in Tyne and Wear.

Not the greatest of songs, but it fits the bill!

Try also (still not great songs, but it proves that somebody's thought of it!):

Neal Casal: Delaware Station [purchase]

Saves the Day: Hot Time In Delaware [purchase]
(from an album that also contains a Nebraska and a New Jersey song)

Drop Nineteens: Delaware [purchase]

Fifty States: Virginia

Dave Alvin: East Virginia Blues


Johnny Cash: East Virginia Blues


Crooked Still: Old Virginia


Three vastly different versions of this old public domain tune paint three very different approaches to folk music; taken together, the set provides a nice exploration of diversity in folksong, I think. Plus, Grateful Dead fans will find a familiar verse in there, too. Nothing new under the sun, as far as traditional folksong goes.

The Cash is from an unauthorized bootleg, which is fitting for a public domain song. The Dave Alvin version is from an album called Public Domain. I reviewed Crooked Still just last week; theirs is the best cello-infused traditional folk out there today. Other than that final note, I'm going to let the music speak for itself.

Fifty States: Connecticut

Superchunk: Connecticut


I know little of Connecticut. Overall, it's a nice place to live and home of Yale University. Superchunk sing about going to the water's edge with scary thoughts. There you have it!

Fifty States: Nebraska

Victoria Spivey: Nebraska Blues


Victoria Spivey was a Blues Women that was part of the 60s revival of the genre - from The Red Hot Jazz Archive, one of the very best Jazz & Blues sites on the Net:

Victoria Spivey got her start in music at age twelve when she began playing piano in a movie theater in Houston, Texas. From there she expanded her musical career to playing in saloons and whorehouses. She was was a big fan of the Blues singer Ida Cox and modeled her own career after Cox's. In 1926 at the the age of twenty she traveled to St. Louis where Okeh records was on a field trip looking for new acts to record. She recorded her own songs Black Snake Blues and Dirty Woman Blues which became a best selling record. Over the the next two years she was quite a hot item and recorded records almost once a month, often with the accompaniment of great Jazz musicians like Lonnie Johnson, Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Clarence Williams, Luis Russell and many others, including her sister Addie "Sweet Pease" Spivey. In 1929 she played a small role in King Vidor's early film musical "Hallelujah". As the Blues craze and the record industry in general hit the skids in the early 1930s, Spivey somehow managed to keep recording and performing unlike almost all of the other Classic Blues singers. She expanded into playing in vaudeville musical revues, including the acclaimed Hellzapoppin' Revue in New York City and recorded and toured with Louis Armstrong and his Orchestra. Spivey was constantly working, playing countless one-night stands throughout the 1930s and 1940s, but by the l950s, Spivey had left show business, but continued singing in the church choir in her home in Brooklyn. Victoria returned to show business in 1962 when she formed her own record company, Spivey Records. Her first record on the label featured Bob Dylan as an accompanist. So, Spivey's career began again in the early 1960s; she began performing in folk and blues festivals and in nightclubs in and around New York City and continued to record for the rest of her life.

Victoria Spivey, born in October, 1906, was married four times, and in October of 1976, at the age of 69, died from an internal hemorrhage.

Fifty states: Indiana

Tom Petty: Mary Jane's Last Dance


I am essentially posting this song to be a bit cheeky and 'muso'. Whilst it does not have the word 'Indiana' in the title, I have purposefully eschewed the other Indiana songs in my music library in favour of this...a song that was originally called Indiana Girl.

If you click that link, it will take you to the Wikipedia page about the song, where you can read about a couple of 'borrowing' goes like this: The Jayhawks -> Tom Petty -> Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Fifty States: Arizona

Wilco: Hotel Arizona


Furthermore, and etc etc. etc... don't we all think things like this sound perfecto? Oh, no? Well... why the heck no, then? Of course this is the best rock -y Roll err sounds..... but I'm sloshed, so might not be right....

But it makes "Arizona" get checked from the list, so...

And, since I dunno nuthin' about the actual Arizona, is gonna be as good as gosh.

Fifty States: Idaho

The B-52's: Private Idaho


I love this song because it coined the phrase, "d00d, you're living in your own private Idaho", something I've been known to utter on occasion. There was also a great film based on it, Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho. Since Idaho is the potato state, you'd think that Devo, aka "The Spud Boys", would have an Idaho song, but the closest they got was the lyrics of Red Eye Express: "Something's rotten in Idaho and I don't know what to do" - I have the mp3 posted here, if interested. Now, sit back and enjoy The B-52's paean to self-absorption.

You're livin in your own Private Idaho
You're out of control, the rivers that roll
You fell into the water and down to Idaho
Get out of that state
Get out of that state you're in

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Fifty States: Wisconsin

I'm going to get a reputaion as a weirdo, here in the Machine, if I keep poting up oddball stuff like this, but (for this state, at least) I haven't got much choice. They're the only Wisconsin tunes I've got!

The Dead Milkmen: I'm Living In Wisconsin

[purchase other Milkmen releases]

First up is a fairly sweet song from The Dead Milkmen off the 1983 self-released cassette A Date With The Dead Milkmen. Not too easy to get ahold of, that one, so the link goes to their official Amazon page. All their major label stuff is available there.

Wesley Willis: Wisconsin State Trooper

The next tune is by the late Wesley Willis. I can't do justice to this madcap, in such a short space, so urge you to read up on him on Wikipedia and listen to some more of his stuff over at Alternative Tentacles. He's certainly not for everyone, but was definately an interesting beast.

Fifty States: Kansas

Damnations: Kansas [purchase]

So, I go from posting about The Jayhawks to posting about the Jayhawk State. The Damnations, however, were not from Kansas. In fact, they were a group of Austinites, led by a pair of gorgeous, folk-singing sisters originally from upstate New York. Bassist Amy Boone sings lead on this tale of "Bleeding Kansas," with acoustic rhythm guitar and harmonies provided by her sister, Deborah Kelly. Meanwhile, Rob Bernard (also of Prescott Curlywolf) takes a break from his Eddie Van Halen meets D. Boon guitar badassery to hunker down on banjo and mandolin, while fellow Prescott moonlighter, Keith Langford, holds down the drum kit. (Soon after this recording, Langford would leave both The Damnations and Prescott Curlywolf to join The Gourds full-time, where he remains to this day). Finally, a subtle fiddle part is added by Eamon McLoughlin, now of The Greencards.

Sadly, this 1999 recording captures The Damnations at their short-lived peak. As the new millennium dawned, it seemed like the band was poised to break out. They had the sirens up front, songs that ranged from hoe-down country to melodic pop to cowpunk, and were gradually building up a devoted following. Unfortunately, within a year of releasing their debut album, Half Mad Moon (linked above), their label, Sire Records, merged with London and the band got lost in the promotional shuffle. Not only that, they recorded their second album just as the Sire-London partnership ended, leaving the band with no options as they were legally bound to the label that was itself in financial and legal limbo and had no interest in promoting them. By the time they released Where It Lands, their sophomore follow-up, the band existed in name only. RIP The Damnations.

Fifty States: Nevada

Jayhawks: Nevada, California [purchase]

"Can you help me to find Nevada, California
The last thing I did
Was I tried to hold her."

I'm not sure if this is cheating because there isn't actually a Nevada, California. There IS a Nevada City, which is about 45 minutes away from Chico, where I happened to get my undergrad degree. In fact, in 1992 I was serving as music director of the Chico State campus radio station, KCSC, when The Jayhawks' Hollywood Town Hall album fell into my lap. While I was fully immersed in that golden age of college rock ... before it metastasized into grunge and alternative ... I simply couldn't deny the old-school country-rock appeal of The Jayhawks. With the high, lonesome harmonies that recalled Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers and a deceptively crunchy guitar sound akin to their labelmates, The Black Crowes, this album proved crucial for me. I didn't know it then, but it was about to launch me headlong into the scare of the mid-'90s. If country-rock holds even the slightest appeal for you, Hollywood Town Hall and 1995's Tomorrow The Green Grass are absolutely essential.

Fifty States: Maine

Doris Day: That Jane from Maine


No one seemed to really give a hoot last time I posted a Doris Day tune, but what the hay--I don't see anyone else piping up with a Maine song! The song comes from her 1959 film It Happened to Jane, also starring Jack Lemmon. The movie wasn't terribly successful (I also haven't seen it yet... whither Jane, TMC?), though Day had plenty to sing about later the same year when Pillow Talk came out.

I don't know. Kind of a goofy song, but in a harmless, innocent sort of way. She does have a few others that I think are fantastic, though. Probably won't be the last of Day you see around these parts...

Fifty States: New York

Billy Joel: New York State Of Mind


I never dreamed my birth state wouldn't be chosen by now, so I'm glad to have at it. This song is definitely an easy choice, but I won't let that stop me.

Billy Joel started playing in Long Island cover bands in 1965, he went solo in 1971. Captain Jack was his first song that caused a buzz, 1972's Piano Man was his break out number. I was a fan all the way to 52nd Street, which I feel is a much overlooked album. New Wave hit and in an attempt to jump on the bandwagon, Joel released Glass Houses - this is where I got off the boat. After that, I feel Joel focused on commercially oriented albums to make money. There's nothing wrong with getting paid, but if at an artistic cost, the music loses conviction. We'll always have his back catalog to listen to, so all is not lost.

Some folks like to get away
Take a holiday from the neighborhood
Hop a flight to Miami Beach
Or to Hollywood
But I'm taking a Greyhound
On the Hudson River Line
I'm in a New York state of mind

Fifty States: Arkansas

Eggs Over Easy: Arkansas


Arkansas became the 25th state on June 15, 1836. Known as the Natural State, Arkansas contains over 600,000 acres of lakes and 9,700 miles of streams and rivers. This song comes from pub rock pioneer Eggs Over Easy's "lone" lost album, the feel good classic Good'N'Cheap.

Fifty States: Missouri

Low: Missouri


We've all been in the state of misery at one point in our lives, right?

Monday, June 30, 2008

Fifty States: West Virginia

Louis Jordan: Salt Pork, West Virginia


Credit goes to a friend of mine who just forwarded this song to me. What a beauty it is!  This is music for sitting out on my porch on a hot Monday night in late June.  I'm not really familiar with Louis Jordan's music, but his vocal delivery reminds me a little of Leadbelly.  Really excellent stuff.

Fifty States: Kentucky

Elvis Presley: Kentucky Rain


When it comes to great songs, Kentucky is right up there with Texas and Georgia. The obvious choice is probably Blue Moon Of Kentucky by Bill Monroe, but then I listened to this tune from the King and it just hit the spot.

In conjunction with this week's theme I'm working on a massive Kentucky post over at my other blog. Watch this space for further details.

Fifty States: Georgia

Ray Charles: Georgia On My Mind [purchase]*

James Brown: Georgia On My Mind [purchase]

To echo what Darius said about "Louisiana 1927," there are times when you wanna shoot for the deep cuts and this is not one of those times. The greatest song ever written with Georgia in mind is Hoagy Carmichael's "Georgia On My Mind." There's a reason why Brother Ray's version is the official state song, so for totally obvious reasons his version leads things off. However, I wanted to include another cover of the tune from a certain native Georgian. Augusta, G.A., to be precise. Of course, I'm talking about Soul Brother #1, James Brown.

Both versions are dedicated to Uga VI, the University of Georgia's legendary bulldog mascot who recently passed away due to heart failure. For those of you not SEC football fans like myself, the picture above is probably the most famous Uga-related photo. From 1996, it's actually Uga V snapping at booger-eating Auburn player, Robert Baker, after Baker had the nerve to score on Uga's beloved Bulldogs. RIP Uga. May Georgia always be on your mind.

* While "Georgia On My Mind" is on several different compilations, I'm linking to The Genius Hits The Road because its traveling motif is entirely appropriate to this week's theme. In fact, 11 different songs (!) name check states, so keep it in mind for future themes and your own blogs.

Fifty States: Rhode Island

Erin McKeown: Rhode Island Is Famous For You


Blossom Dearie: Rhode Island Is Famous For You


The basic premise of this playfully silly song, originally written for a patriotic 1948 Broadway musical review starring Carl Reiner, among others, is that while other states are famous for major industrial output, Rhode island is famous for you.

By implication, then, Rhode Island doesn't make much. But you rock, so thanks for suggesting it, folks.

There were, in fact, two different artists mentioned as sources for this one; since I had 'em, I decided to come in with both covers. Personally, I prefer post-folkie Erin McKeown's retro swingfolk to Ms. Dearie's sixties showtune singing, but only by a very slim margin.

Bonus track: Of several other much more recent songs which are actually about Rhode Island, I much prefer young Sonic Youth compatriot Jennifer O'Connor's hopeful ode to the great state as a setting for a fulfilled and partnered future. The lyrics are actually quite beautiful under all that awesome New England fuzzrock.

Jennifer O'Connor: Exeter, Rhode Island


Fifty States: South Carolina

Dean Martin: Just A Little Bit South Of North Carolina


If you go just a little bit south of North Carolina you'll find yourself in South Carolina, the state about which hepcat Dean Martin is singing here.

Fifty States: Colorado

The Flying Burrito Brothers: Colorado


I spent a month camping in Colorado once. It was amazing. Let me tell you something: being 24 years old, fishing for your breakfast, and playing the guitar under the stars at night is about as good as life gets. This song was written by Rick Roberts after Graham Parsons left the band. I don't really think it's a great song, but it's pretty OK.  However, thinking of that month I spent in those mountains makes me sympathize with Roberts' lyric as he longs to return to the state:

Hey Colorado is it too late to change my mind?

Also, during a younger and more innocent stage of my life I loved John Denver, so I'm including him here too. I can't listen to him anymore for some reason, maybe because life is too serious now or maybe because I'm too "cool", but there's a certain wide-eyed optimism to his music that has its appeal. Say what you will about the Muppets and the glasses, but this guy loved the outdoors and he loved Colorado.

John Denver: I guess he'd rather be in Colorado

Fifty States: Utah

Harry Nilsson: The Beehive State


To Star Maker Machine's great shame, this blog has been running in its current format for nearly four months and there has only been one measly Harry Nilsson song. Come on Star Makers! Nine Bob Dylans? Eight Elvis Costellos? Where's the love for Harry?

In my own defense, half of my Nilsson collection is apparently blocked by iTunes mojo: I can't convert them from m4as so I can't post them. This has been heartbreaking to me since there's been at least one great choice for every theme we've had. Finally I'm able to get one in, though! And none of you thoroughbreads busted out of the fifty state gate with Utah! So there!

This fantastic song, written by Randy Newman, takes place on the floor of congress, as the congressmen from Kansas and Utah (aka the Beehive State) each plead for much-needed funds for their states--proving that in the right hands, anything can make a great pop song.

Fifty states: Maryland

The Mountain Goats: Going To Maryland

When the theme is a geographical one, you can always rely on Mountain Goats mastermind John Darnielle. His Going To series contains an amazing 43 songs up to now, spread out over many albums, cassettes and singles. It would be great if someone compiled them on a box set sometime. There´s Going to Jamaica, Going To Bolivia, Going To Marrakesh, Going To Reykjavik, Going To Some Damned English City... And hey, there´s even a Going To Maryland... "And it's a stupid trick of fortune anyway, but the lights are bright tonight and your eyes shine tonight on Chesapeke Bay."

Fifty States: Iowa

Greg Brown: Iowa Waltz


I suppose I should knock off my adopted home state of Iowa. I hated Iowa when I first moved here, but I've learned over the years that it's a wonderful place to live (except for the months of December, January, and February, which suck eggs). We have dense forest across the street from our house, we have the right sized cities, we have good people, we have universities, we have good music. If it weren't for those nasty, ugly winters when all the leaves fall off the trees, it would be everything I would want in a place to raise a family.

Greg Brown grew up a couple of hours south of my house. I'm not a farmer, and since I live in a University town I don't really know any farmers. But, I still love this line:

We take care of our own, take care of our young,
Make hay while the sun shines.
Growing our crops, singing our songs,
And planting until harvest time.

Fifty States: Illinois

Tom Waits
: Johnsburg, Illinois


A short but very sweet declaration of love from Tom Waits to his wife Kathleen Brennan, who was born in ´the hometown with spirit´. "She grew up on a farm there, there´s a place on my arm where I´ve written her name next to mine..." 

Fifty States: Oklahoma

The Kinks: Oklahoma U.S.A.


One of the great lost Kinks’ songs.

All life we work, but work is a bore
If life’s for living, what’s living for?

Fifty States: Louisiana

Randy Newman: Louisiana 1927


Several posts this week have already talked about avoiding the obvious song, and I often agree. But not in this case. The song is just too good.

Reader submission from Darius.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Fifty States: North Dakota

Lyle Lovett: North Dakota


And the boys from North Dakota
They drink whisky for their fun
And the cowboys down in Texas
They polish up their guns
And they look across the border
To learn the ways of love

My father long ago decided that he would visit every state in the US before he died. But he refused to go anywhere just for the sake of going -- there had to be some reason to go.

He's covered 49 states so far.

There isn't much to North Dakota. Even Lyle Lovett only manages to brace it against Texas, really. But I love this song. I love this album. I love this singer. And I love my father.

Dad, this one's for you.

Fifty States: Texas

Billy Joe Shaver: Heart Of Texas


Forget Tennessee, the great state of Texas is the center of my country music world. So I’ve got a ton of Texas songs. I’m sure you do too. But hold off posting them for now. Both Texas and California are going to be theme weeks here at Star Maker Machine.

OK, go ahead and post your Texas songs in the comments. I can’t wait for the other theme to come around!

Fifty States: Vermont

Billie Holiday: Moonlight In Vermont [purchase]

Frank Sinatra: Moonlight In Vermont [purchase]

Pennies in a stream
Falling leaves, a sycamore
Moonlight in Vermont

Icy fingers wave
Ski trails on a mountain side
Snowlight in Vermont

Telegraph cables, they sing down the highway
And travel each bend in the road
People who meet in this romantic setting
Are so hypnotized by the lovely...

Evening summer breeze
Warbling of a meadowlark
Moonlight in Vermont

Fifty States: Oregon

American Standard: Postcards from Oregon


One of the catchiest songs from these Hoboken, NJ, lifers. "I Keep on Hoping I Hear the Whispering".

Fifty States: South Dakota

Andre Williams: Only Black Man in South Dakota


The whole damn state said "Hell No!". That says it all in this "Rawhide" meets "Gangsta Song" 50s style. Mick Collins and Dan Kroha of the Gories give Andre Williams the perfect musical backdrop to "wax poetic" about the upper Midwest paranoia of the black man. Even if 100% completely untrue-- it's makes a great story and even better song.

Fifty States: Massachusetts

Juliana Hatfield Three: Feeling Massachusetts


Back in 1993 Juliana Hatfield and Tanya Donnelly (un)intentionally released albums at the same time. While Tanya stuck to more obscure themes, Juliana decided to wear it on her sleeve. Despite that I have had some monumental moments in Plymouth Rock state (first kiss, free beer via truck wreck, swimming in March) there is no denying that the place is dismal (snowing in May, cold, St. Pauli girl beer of choice circa '89). Hatfield relished in her misery which she descriptively documents in this song. Feeling bad? Blame the locale. In retrospect "Supermodel" exemplifies denial, "Spin the Bottle" channels into that virginity myth she tried to float, and "My Sister" a jealousy that only a sibling could understand. However, this subtle "knife in the back" to her adopted state (she's from Maine (now there is a state steeped in misery)) tells you a lot about Hatfield in the early 90s-- a pretty chick, a mean streak, and an extreme desire to treat you like shit. She could be dumped into the best situation possible (person, place, and time) and she would find a way to wreck it. Essentially feeling Massachusetts is just a way to describe who she was at the time and pining a geographical location to clue everyone in on the misery. The genius in this song though is that she disguises it in some wistful vocals and a very catchy pop song. She likely had all those great moments (and more) that I had, but instead of remembering the good -- she makes the Massachusetts "state of mind" very bad.

Fifty States: Michigan

Your host at Star Maker Machine is a lifelong resident of The Great Lake State. Despite Michigan's impressive musical tradition (Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Madonna, The Stooges, Eminem, The White Stripes, The Temptations, Smoky Robinson, The Supremes, Iggy Pop, Sufjan Stevens, The Four Tops, MC5, Jackie Wilson, Del Shannon, Bob Seger, Marshall Crenshaw, Kid Rock, Commander Cody) there aren't many popular songs about my home state or its people.

I have only two in my collection (both from this century).

Sufjan Stevens: Say Yes! to M!ch!gan! [purchase]

Califone: Michigan Girls [purchase]

The title of Sufjan Stevens’ song, Say Yes! to M!ch!gan!, comes from an emphatic tourist slogan we tried here awhile back.

If you have any more Michigan songs, please include them in the comments or send them to me. Thanks!

Michigan trivia: Michigan’s two peninsulas have more miles of Great Lakes shoreline (3,288 miles/5,292 kilometers) than the distance from Maine to Florida.

Here’s one of my favorite places in Michigan, The Legs Inn located in Cross Village:

Fifty States: Florida

Vic Chestnutt: Florida


"Florida, Florida,
There's no more perfect place to retire from life... "

For more info about this song, see here.

Fifty States: Tennessee

Bobby Charles: Tennessee Blues [download]*

Doug Sahm: Tennessee Blues [purchase]*

Here's two different versions of Bobby Charles' homage to Tennessee. The first can be found on his waaaaay under-appreciated 1972 self-titled LP. While there aren't individual song credits ... at least on the vinyl copy ... it's worth noting that Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Levon Helm, and Richard Manuel of The Band all back up the Louisiana native. In fact, Danko and longtime Band co-conspirator, John Simon, produced the album with Charles. It only takes about 10 seconds to realize that this tune is right in The Band wheelhouse.

A year after Charles released his album, Doug Sahm tackled the tune on his equally under-appreciated Texas Tornado record. What's interesting is that there is a common musical denominator. Dr. John was part of the Bobby Charles Krewe and he served in much the same capacity for Sir Doug, tickling the ivories to add the night trippin' gumbo flavor. Where Charles aims for the back porch, Sahm goes for the nightclub. Of course, given all the talent involved, both versions deliver the goods. A great song from two albums definitely worth owning.

* I swear I'm not intentionally seeking out songs from expensive, hard-to-find albums, but in both cases here the CD versions of the albums are positively usurous. However, the downloadable versions are somewhat reasonable, so I linked to them instead.

Fifty States: New Mexico

Rick Danko: New Mexicoe

"You might catch me down in New Mexico,
I got some folks there that I used to know,
I'd be wasting time, you know just what I'd find,
More of the same that made me leave there."

I don't know why Rick Danko and Bobby Charles named their song "New Mexicoe," as opposed to the more traditional "New Mexico," but whatever chemistry was at play obviously worked. This lovely, wistful tune ... which you can find on Danko's self-titled 1977 LP ... blends The Band's country roots with Charles' cajun blues. Garth Hudson's accordion adds a nice southwestern touch and Eric Clapton punches in with some tasteful guitar leads.

Fifty States: Wyoming

The Lucksmiths: Wyoming


Here's a great tune from The Lucksmiths 1997 album, The Good Kind Of Nervous. I live in the Midwest but I'm originally from California, so whenever we drive home we see the entire length of Wyoming. It's amazing that there's still that much space left in the world. The Lucksmiths are from Australia, so they probably know something about open spaces themselves.

I'm going to ask forgiveness instead of permission on this next one: I hope everyone will forgive me for absolutely shattering the 20th Century guideline for this blog by posting a second Wyoming song from JP Haynie. He's a brand new artist, yes. Unsigned, in fact. This is, without question, my favorite Wyoming song, though, so I couldn't resist. My hope is that when you hear it you'll realize (1) that it was worth it, because this song is gorgeously written, (2) that there is nothing modern, ironic, or hip about this tune and that it could have been written at any point in the last 40 years, and (3) that it feels like Wyoming. I promise, all of my other state songs are recorded between 10 and 75 years ago.

JP Haynie: Wyoming


Fifty states: Alaska

In honour of perhaps my favourite television show ever...although does anyone else think that Maggie's (beautiful) head looks disembodied in the picture above??

Here are some choice words from the character Chris Stevens, ever the philosopher:
"There's a dark side to each and every human soul. We wish we were Obi-Wan Kenobi, and for the most part we are, but there's a little Darth Vader in all of us. Thing is, this ain't no either-or proposition. We're talking about dialectics, the good and the bad merging into us. You can run but you can't hide. My experience? Face the darkness. Stare it down. Own it. As brother Nietzsche said, being human is a complicated gig. So give that ol' dark night of the soul a hug. Howl the eternal yes!"

Fifty States: Hawaii

Gabby Pahinui: Blue Hawaiian Moonlight

I'm not sure if I'm the only SMM contributor with Hawaiian heritage ... my mom was a native, born and raised ... but I feared that the Hawaiian track was gonna be Elvis' "Blue Hawaii" or the Hawaii Five-O theme. So, my mission was to preemptively strike with some actual Hawaiian flavor. Don't get me wrong, this is no diss on the King or Jack Lord and his perfectly coiffed hair. But, Gabby Pahinui was a giant of Hawaiian music, a slack-key and steel guitar master going back to the 1930s, and the man had sweet honey for a voice, which I think this song showcases beautifully. Suffice to say, many people know of Mr. Presley. Not very many know of Mr. Pahinui, so if I can turn a few ears, I'll be happy. My only regret is that the track cuts off at the very end, so my apologies for that. Also, because Gabby has a fairly limited CD catalog ... and Hawaiian music is kinda inherently niche ... prices tend to be outrageous, which is why I didn't bother including a purchase link. But, you may get lucky at some download sites or the occasional record store, so keep a look out. Aloha.