Showing posts from 2013

Track This: The Backslider's "Christmas Doesn't Have to be So Bad)" and BR549's "Truck Stop Christmas"

Over the last few years I have become increasingly enamored by original Christmas tunes. I'm not talking about mall soundtrack, elevator muzak, or the same old Bing Crosby songs that get pumped through public sound systems or bloat out oldies stations. I've been on the search for original Christmas songs since I bought the Flat Duo Jet's "I'll Have a Merry Christmas Without You" from Norton records years ago. But recently something has me searching for new stuff. I've compiled a collection of sad old country songs, rocking jump blues tunes, alterna-rock one-offs, and purely novelty creations.

Two of these tunes really struck a chord this year; I can't stop playing them. Austin's Backsliders  "Christmas (Doesn't Have To Be So Bad)" underscores the assumption that many people grow up and the holiday loses its meaning, yet there is still much to be happy about even when you aren't a kid. The song rocks along with sweet guitar licks…

Track This: Jim White's Christmas Day

"Christmas Day" is a seven-minute gothic country exploration of loneliness. White tells the story of another lonely man stranded on his way to Mobile. The "devil is in the details" as the narrator sits crying at the Greyhound Station on Christmas Day in 1998. The sparse guitar work underlines the tragic experience and White's vocals only make it more harrowing.

The song is one of the loss and love that are seldom explored in most well-known Christmas songs which typically prefer to gloss over the loneliness that comes with this season, instead piling up a hootenanny of pleasant experiences. Even the songs rife with loneliness prefer to traffic in what the narrator hopes to find at home or misses, instead of reveling in loss. "Christmas Day" doesn't do that; the narrator wallows in self pity and continually returns to the sweet smile of his love. He discusses the good fiction that the situation might make, weaving in between reality and unreality.  …

Top Records of 2013: 10-1

10. Black Joe Lewis - Electric Slave (Vagrant)

Black Joe Lewis and company serve up a healthy dose of lo-fidelity R and B that will get your ass shaking and leave a spring in your step. Rawer than 2011's Scandalous, but even more driving, if that is possible, Electric Slave pulses from the first dirty notes of "Skulldiggin" until the last of "Mammas Queen." The energy remains palpable and the melodies simmer long after. "Young Girl" is more garagey, but the tempo never lets up. "Dar Es Salaam" is just as manic as Scandalous' best cut "She's So Scandalous." While not as cohesive as that earlier effort, Electric Slave piles on one classic track after another, filtering it through a lens of blues, rock 'n' roll, and funk, and it just never lets up.

9. Subrosa - More Constant Than The Gods (Profound Lore)

Salt Lake City's Subrosa slowly infiltrates the psyche. Their albums are like little else out there and their s…

Top Records of 2013: 20-11

20. The Night Marchers - Allez Allez (Swami)

John Reis always has his hand in so many projects that sometimes it's hard to keep up. The release of the second Night Marchers' album, Allez Allez keeps up his tradition of putting out high voltage rock 'n' roll at a time when it is almost extinct from the shelves. Not as vibrant as See You In Magic, but just as raging, the tight guitars and manic drums deliver Reis's amped-up message to the masses. While it might not be as raging, chaotic, or fun as another Rocket From The Crypt release, it is good to know that Reis is still making music. Long may he "wear the horns."

19. Dawes - Stories Don't End (HUB)

 "Stories Don't End" is another minor triumph from Los Angeles's Dawes. The songs drift in like an amalgamation of 70's Laurel Canyon song-writing mixed with all too modern Suburban housewife ennui. Each seems so knowable and so perfectly formed that they seem to have been playing over…

Top Records of 2013 Part One: 26-21

This year has been really slow at Snobbin'. Grad school and other engagements have kept me from posting like I would like to. One of my resolutions is to post more often and write more about music and other important cultural artifacts. I even amended the title of the blog and excised the word "Indie" because the topics of the blog have never been quite that narrow.

As the end of this year neared, I had no idea just what albums I would put on the list. It has been so busy and I'm sure I missed a ton of good stuff. I've never been one to say that older music was better, but as I drift into my 30's, I understand the lure of this trap. I was second guessing this year's crop of albums from the start. There was nothing so immediate as what made the list last year. I even recalled conversations from the past that cursed odd years as being worse for music. While these types of High Fidelity conversations can be fruitful at times, they trend fairly closely to the…

Remembrance of T-Shirts Past

There is nothing quite like digging in old closets, through shirts and sweaters like past shrift. A confession of sorts is in the hem and stitch of each garment. Myriad stains on white shirts mingle with frayed collars and dust bunnies. The shelves look forlorn in half-light. Those old clothes look alone even in abundance, each telling a different story about the minuscule and the larger. Moments are defined by those old shirts. So are basic daily decisions. Some are transitory and momentary. They are gone in months. They may fit wrong or remind us of a lost love. Perhaps they fall apart in multiple washes or bleach out in the sun. Some hang much longer, years even, before they are folded and put in drawers or donated to become part of other lives. They mean something more to us. Something as simple as comfort, as undefined as fashion, as amiable as a cool slogan or pattern. These things matter to us as we scan the tired folds. A new shirt is too clean, too loose, too inanimate. Not …

Cal Smith: "So Long, Country Bumpkin"

Cal Smith, born Calvin Grant Shofner on April 7, 1932, died on October 10. He was best known for the 1974 hit, "Country Bumpkin." A tangible part of my childhood, the song still echoes in my head whenever pumpkins are displayed or the newest batch of Pumpkin ales hits the store shelves. 
Where I grew up in Northern Wisconsin, the old Blues Brothers adage rang true that there were two kinds of music, "country and western." My parents always listened to country music in our house (My mom preferred '90s country radio) and there was always a bunch of western in there as well.(Mostly from my dad). I remember hearing "Streets of Bakersfield" often drifting from car radios and home stereos. I developed an early attraction to some of these songs, even though years later I would hide it behind a sheen of four chords and punk rock. A secret shadow self of country knowledge and Western Swing bravado remained, only unsheathed for music trivia and in the dark reces…

Liquid Television: Crude Flashes of Brilliance From an Old School TV

The lights are off, and I'm in bed watching television. The year is 1992.  I'm supposed to be sleeping -- I have school in the morning, but I can't stop watching Liquid Television. Images are flashing across the screen, a kaleidoscope of colors and mangled drawings. The characters are unbelievable -- Crazy Daisy Ed, Aeon Flux, Beavis and Butthead, Dogboy. The scenarios are even wilder -- "Cut-up Camera,"" Invisible Hands," "Stick Figure Theatre, The Art School Girls of Doom" -- each escalating in delicious promise and craziness.

When the TV is off, these images swarm through my mind. Odd music, odder scenarios, forming memories, re-routing synapses, shocking parents across the greater USA. At the time, I was unaware that many of these short vignettes were from the minds of underground cartoonists who were just trying to make a buck beyond book covers and advertising. MTV transformed a few of these into later series that didn't retain the s…

Blue-eyed Soul?: Ben Atkins' Patchouli and Jim Ford's Harlan County

Wikipedia defines blue-eyed soul as "rhythm and blues and soul music performed by white artists . . . and first used in the mid-1960s to describe white artists who performed (such music) that was similar to the music of the Motown and Stax record labels." The term has been increasingly used to describe many white artists who take a soulful approach to music or sing certain kinds of torch songs. I was surprised to not find an entry concerning the form in The Rock Snob's Dictionary but the style doesn't seem to hold the cache of such genres as Americana or 70's AM folk. Even so, the entry for Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham shares some anti-hipster disdain for the "Memphis-based song writing duo invariably praised for being 'real soulful for white boys'" with tongue firmly entrenched in cheek. While the style does have its share of detractors, there is no mistaking that such songwriters as Penn and Oldham wrote some of the best soul songs of the 60…

The World is Awash

The world is awash with random events. I sit here drinking at the bar. Nirvana cranks from the speakers. Cobain sings about the hinterland just like the hi-fives. Live from the Wishkah, hah. As if he slept under various bridges waiting for that final night and I as a poet use a cellphone to record my thoughts against beer and a 90s soundtrack. Ruth Ruth and all those forgotten bands from indie and grunge scenes are revitalized. Hah. I record the malaise of a lost decade. Recording those indecisive nights on a machine that didn't exist then, except in Zach Morris's time-stopping daydreams. Huzzah. I am lost.

Owl Dreams

This is the world held within two points On the borders of sheen and stripped Darkness not alert from the cry Of a distant owl fluttering and coasting Along the borders of the forest Hunting desperately for food In boundaries of dark and twilight Piercing cries and shrieking crimes Unnatural and distant in the brightest light Ley lines of extremities unshorn What of it. Imaginary or real. The hunt for sustenance Be it shattered bones or feathers.

Bathroom Elegy

Staring at the unrelenting forgiveness of the shower wall, I stumble into the regrets of the past. Each year ticks off the clock and goals fall underneath the wheels of graduate school and time, slowly slipping towards a reaper with few words and little sympathy. The wall is clean, yet the grout is stained. Dark dirt sleeps in the crack of the shower nozzle. It might hold redemption or just another ray of chlorinated water slipping down the drains of the world. The water circles backwards and forwards, unceasing. Its blues and greens match the eyes of the world's watchers.

Here I am, I think. Another day or week older, another step closer to some goal, another shadow of my former self. The mirror reflects a cracked visage, one a little rounder, a little more grizzled, perhaps, a little wiser. So much time is spent in the bathroom examining and reexamining, warbling long forgotten pop songs. Thinking, thinking, thinking, and more regret. It is here that honesty exists within each o…

Record Collecting Miscellanies: Run Out Groove Messages

Sometimes record engineers, band members, label people, or other unknown individuals will inscribe funny messages or insider jokes on the run-out grooves of records. These spaces near the label of the record are often inscribed with matrix numbers that contain record manufacturing or label information. Dates, pressing number, plant identification, logos, initials, and other information can be gleaned by the avid record fan. These details may reveal when the record was cut, who engineered it, where it was pressed, etc.

The numbers, for instance, usually are different than the catalog number, yet many minor labels print the catalog number and record side in the groove as well -- probably because their pressing runs are smaller. For example, Green Day's Slappy EP has a matrix number of L35573, but also has Lookout 35-A designating the label number scratched into the wax, as well as the initials, D.W.K. Many major label  records have less information, which may refer to the order of th…

Record Collecting Miscellanies: Re-evaluating the Collection via the Byrds

As a vinyl collector, I find myself getting more adventurous every year. Albums I would never have purchased, even five years ago, make it into my stack more and more often. If I find a dusty ol' record that looks interesting, I will buy it without hesitation (especially if I'm paying 5 bucks or less). This is how I managed to own not only most of the Top 40 Fleetwood Mac, but also a sizable collection of prog records by Yes and Rush -- these records get played once and filed as I have still not, nor probably ever will, garner an appreciation for 25 minute songs. Give me sugary 60's pop any day.

Of all the thrift store records I own, the Byrds perhaps get the most play. When I pick through those dusty thrift store bins, brimming with Mitch Miller and Neil Diamond, I always hope to find a Byrds record I don't own. This is surprisingly easy as many people don't respect them enough. All the sappy David Crosby songs and missteps in the later years have turned people off…

Jason Isbell's Southeastern

Jason Isbell's Southeastern, is a rare thing -- an honest, singer-songwriter record that strikes a truly personal vein without drifting into the realm of the precious or overwrought. Isbell, wearing his proverbial heart on his sleeve, is getting the kind of press that he hasn't seen since he was part of the Drive-by Truckers. He might finally be leaving that part of his career behind, so that he can be respected on his own as the fine song writer that he has become with each successive record.

Southeastern's stripped-back arrangements allow the songs to breathe. His character sketches remain strong; in fact, they seem more grounded in reality than they have before. Isbell has created a record with truly believable characters, something he has been groping towards since Sirens of the Ditch. Here he is entirely successful because he doesn't try to experiment as much. Siren's great songs ran the gamut of rockers, blue-eyed soul, and folk. While they showed Isbell'…

Seasonal Shifts: Maquoketa Caves State Park

"Now, why do we want to go messing with the moon for? If God wanted a man on the moon he would have built a road there. I get a hundred thirty-five dollars a month from Social Secure, and I sure can't afford to live there." -- Veris Metzger in James York Glimm's Snake-Bite: Lives and Legends of Central Pennsylvania, 1991.

 Maquoketa Caves State Park in Jackson County, Iowa.