Staff Picks Category: Country music

Longtime Companion by Sonny & the Sunsets []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

Step one after a break up is to write and record a country album. San Francisco native Sonny Smith has followed this guide, only he’s unexpectedly added a little bounce, shuffle and humor. I saw Sonny & the Sunsets on the Longtime Companion tour at Flywheel in Easthampton, MA and he played a number of songs from this record alongside his usual catchy, sometimes surfy, melodic fair. He also took off his pants.

Smith’s deadpan delivery over the groovy “I See the Void” had me sold on his version of country music. He and the Sunsets played a mini set of their hip take of twang with nods to Buck Owens, The Flying Burrito Brothers (the self-titled number takes me to that “Hot Burrito no. 2″ place with steady soul bass over a simple chord change) and even a little Beachwood Sparks.

For a record dealing with heartbreak and separation, Sonny & the Sunsets offer the listener an enjoyable experience and while forging new ground within a classic genre.

Tagged: , ,

Bobby Charles by Bobby Charles []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

No album better represents the sound of a bunch of guys hanging out, having good times and recording music than Bobby Charles’s  self-titled album.  Charles, celebrated for writing “See You Later Alligator” for Bill Haley and “Walking To New Orleans” for Fats Domino, found himself relaxing with The Band in Woodstock, New York in ’71.  The circumstances for his east coast residence have something to do with a divorce and hiding out from a Nashville marijuana bust.
The Band (with Dr. John in tow) back Charles through a set of lazy melodies with New Orleans influence and a loose, country bounce.  With this all-star line-up, it’s really not a shocker that the backing is as cool as can be.  However, it’s Charles’s voice that shines brightest.  There is a exceptional fullness and soul in each word that Charles projects and yet he sometimes gives the listener the impression that he’s singing softly, almost narrating a local tale.
The feeling of living out in the country, slowing down and finding peace are intertwining themes throughout Bobby Charles.  On “Small Town Talk”, after a whistled intro, Charles croons “and it’s small town talk, you know how people are/they can’t stand to see someone else doing what they want to”.  “Tennessee Blues”, the album’s closer, is also no exception to this sensibility.  The song is so perfect and timeless, one might imagine Charles ripped it from a book of standards at least 25 years earlier.  With one of my all time favorite vocal performances (Doug Sahm’s version is definitely worth hearing as well), Charles sings:
Find me a spot on some mountain top
With lakes all around me
With valley and streams and birds in the trees
And lakes that surround me
A place I feel loose
A place I could lose these Tennessee Blues

Tagged: , , , ,

Snockgrass by Michael Hurley []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

Fact: Michael Hurley (a.k.a. “Snock”) is a drastically, under-appreciated American folk singer.  With a voice reminiscent of Hank Williams and a songwriting style rooted in country & western, bluegrass and the blues, Hurley has been issuing stellar material since the early 1960’s.  Recent years have seen a new appreciation for the musician.  Artists such as Vetiver, Lucinda Williams, Cat Power and Matloaf have cited Hurley as an influence.

1980’s Snockgrass (album not pictured here due to singer’s risque cover painting) is classic Michael Hurley.  There’s plenty of swinging numbers, reflective waltzes, weirdo lyrics and country-fried boogies with the mood volleying from serious to sardonic to silly.  “The Midnight Rounder”, “O My Stars” and “Watchin’ the Show” are excellent starting places for someone just beginning their Snock obsession.

Tagged: , ,

Blood on the Tracks by Bob Dylan []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

Once this guy I knew split up with his girlfriend and then he was gone for a while. I think he went to his uncle’s farm out in Kentucky or somewhere. When he came back, he had a beard and seemed a bit more serious. I asked him how he was feeling and he softly replied, “I’ve been listening to a lot of Blood on the Tracks, man.”
Blood on the Tracks? I had heard of that, but I was in the twilight of my teenage years: I was still thinking of and enjoying Dylan with the big curly hair, polka dot shirt, pointy shoes and Al Kooper playing groovy organ riffs. Still, I sought out this folky record.
Dylan at that time was going through the break up of a marriage and though the author denies any trace of autobiographic tendencies, the songs appear to reflect this time of his life. The album opens with “Tangled Up in Blue”, a lyrical bombast about two lives crossing. Other highlights include “Idiot Wind”, the eight minutes and change “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” and “Shelter From the Storm”.
Like the majority of his work, the lyrics read like poetry on Blood on the Tracks and here we find Dylan with his heart on his sleeve and at his most tender and delicate state. When I went through break-ups as a younger lad, I tended to go with early Beach Boy albums. They had those beautiful harmonies that are underlined with melancholy. It’s easy to wallow and hold onto sadness like a serpent to the neck with this sort of music. On Blood on the Tracks, Dylan is presenting a more mature and grown up outlet for heartbreak, man.

Tagged: , ,

Hot Burritos: The True Story of the Flying Burrito Brothers by John Einarson with Chris Hillman []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

This refreshing biography about the pioneer country rock outfit unearths plenty of new insight. Author John Eirarson leaves behind previously scattered, sensational headlines for contemporary accounts of the group’s living members (including extensive interviews with founding member/ex- Byrd Chris Hillman). Where as most biographies of the Burritos tend to lean on the “tortured soul” angle of the late Gram Parsons, “Hot Burritos” discusses the collective innovation and follies of this seminal group.

Tagged: , , ,