Friday, February 27, 2015

Songs South: Rednecks

Randy Newman "Rednecks"
purchase Randy Newman "Rednecks"

For the second week in a row, I am going to bend (not break) the rules. No "south" in the title and only one use of the word in the lyrics: a single mention of the south side of Chicago. But Newman leaves no doubt about the brunt of his jibes: he's singing about "down here".


Although we probably shouldn't assume that North/South is a predominantly American theme, for many reasons - more than 100 years after the war that tried to split the South from the North - the US is still dealing with the issue (Selma ... 10 Years a Slave ...Neil Young and Lynard Skynard). For the record, and perhaps the "lite" aspect of this is all for the best, the Google prompt for a search for South leads to ... South Park. But of course.
North <> South ... East <> West ... Male <> Female ...there are too many dichotomies in life to list them all. Or to dwell on them. Too firmly believing in things has a tendency to lead folks to take sides - not just to take sides, but to try to defend one side over another when, in fact, there is always more than one  (right) side to any issue. There is no South without a corresponding North.  That said, some wise man once said that music soothes the savage beast - certainly it should bridge a North/South divide.
But back to American rock and our theme. We were looking for Songs South, and I suggested in the lead off prompt to my fellow bloggers (which none has yet taken up) that they might try Idlewild South/Allman Brothers. Now, there's a quintessentially southern (or is that Southern with a capital S?) band and a southern sound. I also proposed that someone take on Southern Man (see above).But those are really a bit too trite (you'll agree?)
How about Randy Newman? Now there's a musician who regards few constraints towards taking sides or soothing the savage beast. His take on the south is so "in your face", whether you agree with his perspective(lyrics) or not. Pardon my French (as my folks used to say). He describes southerners so:
we don't know our ass from a hole in the ground


Ouch! But if you are taking offense, you missed the whole point above (and I lived in Greensboro, NC for years and years). What I do like about this song (typical of the man) is its irreverance. And the way it seems like "I could write that song" (but couldnt) - so simple on the surface, but so deep below. Lyrically and musically.



Thursday, February 26, 2015

Songs South: Tennessee Snow


If you look to the left, you can see that the concept behind this theme was to write about songs that “reference warmer climes.” When we chose this theme, it was because it was freezing in the Northern United States, and we were longing for more tropical weather.

Turns out, pretty much since the day the theme started, it has been freezing cold in the American South, with snow and ice storms in places where such weather is incredibly rare, including Texas, Louisiana and Georgia. I, however, am most interested and concerned about the weather in Tennessee—Nashville, in particular, where my son and his girlfriend moved last fall. They have already seen, first hand, cold and snow that I bet they never expected, and have had to chip a layer of ice off their car. Having grown up in the Northeast, they have now experienced what it is like to live in a place that doesn’t have a fleet of snow plows standing by, or a stockpile of salt and sand, and where the drivers aren’t used to the weather conditions.

In their honor, then, is this tune from bluegrass band Lost Highway, called, appropriately, “Tennessee Snow.”

Stay safe and warm, Adam and Robin.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


Bet you're expecting me to extol the merits of a good old Cornish burr, Devonian dipthongs or even just my home county of Sussex and it's own idiosyncratic twang, but, no, they haven't written songs about that (unless you mean this, God help us!) I refer, and you knew really, didn't you, to the 1985 song by Tom Petty. Strangely, as a band of Floridians transplanted to the West Coast, I never really think of them as "Southerners," irrespective of latitude, as "the South", in music at least, seems to reserve itself for the Deep South, the territories of Stax and Capricorn record companies, so Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina, plus or minus parts of Texas. (If that's wrong, forgive me, but, just as you guys have quaint visions of Swinging London, so too do I about the seamy side of N'Awlins, with accents as stiff and impenetrable as a burnt hoggroast.)

There's a southern accent, where I come from
The young'uns call it country, the Yankees call it dumb
I got my own way of talkin' but everything is done
With a southern accent where I come from
Now that drunk tank in Atlanta's just a motel room to me
Think I might go work Orlando if them orange groves don't freeze
I got my own way of workin' but everything is run
With a southern accent where I come from
For just a minute there I was dreaming
For just a minute it was all so real
For just a minute she was standing there with me
There's a dream I keep having where my mama comes to me
And kneels down over by the window and says a prayer for me
I got my own way of prayin' but everyone's begun
With a southern accent where I come from
I got my own way of livin' but everything gets done
With a southern accent where I come from

Now I just love the sentiment in those lyrics, the sheer pride in belonging, into having an identity forged and formed in geography, believing the song could hold equivalent credence to other maverick nations, clinging on to their territories. "With a Scottish accent, where I come from" somehow comes instantly to mind. And the tune, too, carries a sedate majesty, tinged with just enough melancholia for the days gone by.

For such a simple song it is certainly my favourite within the Tom Petty canon, and it covers remarkably well.
So, here's Tom:

But don't you think the song was actually made for this guy?

Though, I have to say I am also very keen on this version, by Dawn Landes:

Buy Tom

Buy Johnny

Buy Dawn


Songs South: Honky Tonk Blues

Hank Williams, "Honky Tonk Blues"
Honky Tonky Blues, purchase

I lived ‘down South’ for a number of years, but I hated Southern music, or “Country” as it should be properly named. Wouldn’t even entertain it. Granted, I was down there when Grunge was bitch-slapping the popular music scene and Nirvana was sitting atop a new Olympus.

Country music was the stuff the sorority girls who wouldn’t give me a second glance were listening to. My general impression of country music was of those girls heading to Walnut Creek Amphitheater in straw cowboy hats, mini skirts and boots. Or rednecks in pickups.

I defined country music by the those who listened to it, with no understanding or knowledge of the roots and history, the depth or multitudinous of genres and styles, and I failed to read its influence on almost everything else I was listening to.

But, to be fair, my strongest impression of ‘country’ music at that time was Alan Jackson’s “Chattahoochee”, which made brave but strange reference to ‘hootchie coochie’, among other things my misplaced northern soul just couldn’t cotton to…

Which is too bad, as I feel I came to a grand tradition pretty late, and have been trying to make-up ground for a long time.

Luckily, I found Hank Williams, listened to more than the radio hits of the Allmans, and Lynyrd Skynyrd; I found Cash—but we all did, at some point. I found a lot of good stuff, mostly through what I was already listening to and following the influences of bands in the alt-country scene that I’d learned to love, like Uncle Tupelo, Wilco, and The Jawhawks. It is strange, in retrospect, how much I loved those bands yet still took such a circuitous route to country music.

However crooked, or slow, I did find my way.

And I can’t think of a better song to fit this month’s category of “South”, than Hank Williams’ “Honky Tonk Blues”.

The song is perfect: a strutting, ramble-rhythm, fiddles in the back pushing the melody, the purring shimmy of the pedal steel and Williams’ inimitable lamenting warble—I can’t call it a yodel. That voice was the veritable personification of pain and misery, light coming though it like a half-empty whiskey bottle on the windowsill. To say he yodeled would be to diminish the palpable spirit he brought to song. That voice, a transcendent, plaintive howl, personifies in a single instance, the searching earnestness of all his pain, misery, mischief, and occasional happiness. Some might hear Williams pull that ‘country shit’ and think, no, not for me. But, they are missing out on what amounts to pure poetry.

“Honky Tonk Blues” is exactly what it is: a shuffling lament of leaving the country for the big town, and wanting nothing more than to get back home. It’s ‘country mouse, city mouse’, a tale told and retold. It’s William’s warning about straying too far from what you know, but then, when you take Williams’ hard luck myth and real life blues, all of his songs are some kind of warning. Hank ‘s legend sometimes outshines the simple, sad elegance of his music. But songs like “Honky Tonk Blues” are pure magic, and do more than cast a spell. Rather, his music spells out the blueprint for country music.  He reminds me of all the stuff I missed when I was down South, and make me want to get back as soon as I can. Honky Tonk blues, indeed.