It’s an old love story, and I swear to god it’s true.
“April 5th”-Rosanne Cash, Kris Kristofferson, and Elvis Costello
It’s an old love story, and I swear to god it’s true.
“April 5th”-Rosanne Cash, Kris Kristofferson, and Elvis Costello
Props to youtube commenter “bruisedorange57,” who writes this:
“I was wearing a John Prine t-shirt to a Springsteen concert in about 1985, and a kid asked me, ‘Who the hell is John Prine?’ I said, ‘If Springsteen could be anybody he wanted to be, he’d be John Prine. But he can’t write songs like John, so he settled for being The Boss.’”
It just so happens that this song, “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness,” and its line “you’re out there running just to be on the run” sums up somewhere between 30-50% of all Springsteen songs/albums.
Some may be turned off by Josh Ritter’s jumbled, frenzied vocals in “Hopeful.” He fits as many syllables as he possibly can into each verse, at times on the verge of getting tongue-tied
And that’s the point. In a song whose singer is still shocked and confused both by his previous breakup and his newfound lover/well-wisher, Ritter’s narrator is caught up in his own words, as if he’s figuring everything out as he sings along to his own lovestruck, heartbroken mania. And then there’s the chorus, which is just a few short syllables of release, a clean place of resolution worth lingering in: “She’s hopeful, hopeful, for me.”
“Hopeful” is reason enough to check out “The Beast In Its Tracks,” Josh’s latest.
“Home was a dream that I’d never seen, ‘till you came along”
“Cover Me Up,” new track from J. Isbell, is (big surprise) a keeper.
“My Idea Of Heaven Is To Burn One With John Prine”
This song (sadly, but understandably) isn’t on Kacey’s new record, which is out today.
That alt.country’s discourse of commercialism comes from an oppositional stance makes it no less central to the genre’s identity. The anticommercialism of alt.country, like the commercialism of mainstream country, allows those who champion the genre to identify an independent space in the music industry in very specific structural terms…By embracing an aesthetic stance, and, more important, a business plan, that criticizes mass culture and assumes sales in the tens of thousands rather than the hundreds of thousands or the millions, the record labels that sign alt.country bands bring attention to and exploit the economic weaknesses of the major labels.
Although they are wary of the excesses of commercialism, Americana’s artists and businessmen do not pretend to be noncommercial or unconcerned with record sales….On the contrary, while encouraging its fans to understand and reject the inner workings of a mainstream music business it sees as being driven exclusively by profits… the Americana industry also presents its ability to sell solidly at midmarket level as an important validation of its aesthetic worth. After all, three hundred thousand Ryan Adams fans can’t all be wrong.”"
That quote is from Diane Pecknold, in an essay called “Selling Out or Buying In?” which is from the very worthwhile book Old Roots New Routes: The Cultural Politics of Alt.Country Music. I’m halfway through, and what keeps striking me is how astutely the book (published in 2008) precisely predicts 2012’s Mumfordization: the kind of intensely profitable Phillip Phillips Americana posturing that has been one of the biggest pop stories of the last few years.
This quote is only one of many moments where a variety of scholars and writers shine light on how alt.country/roots/americana has so adeptly used its authentic, antiestablishment rhetoric as its own fruitful way of marketing the genre since the early 90’s. These academics would have had a field day had this book come out a few years later.
There’s something about Alejandro Escovedo’s guest verse on “Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight,” maybe it’s the harsh contrast between his and Adam’s vocal styles, maybe it’s the way his verse comes out of nowhere, the type of authority and attention a line like “so if the rain falls down on your Mississippi town let your eyes drift easy into mine” instantly commands, that truly makes the song.
For a dozen or so listens, what really had me hooked was Escovedo’s last line, which I was certain went something like this:
“Is this some Southern joke to you? Is this some Southern joke to you?”
What a line, I thought. Escovedo was singing at the narrator, asking him if he was taking his heartbreak seriously enough, if he wasn’t just treating it as some meaningful life experience he could drink himself through.
He was singing at Ryan Adams and his buddies, a bunch of kids cashing in on pedal steel guitars and country heartbreak. They called themselves Whiskeytown, which, today, sounds like a parody of a name for a band that makes the type of music Whiskeytown made. Is this some Southern joke to you, Ryan? asks Escovedo, a San Antonio native who in 1997 was a 46 year old singer-songwriter still lacking the major label release that Whiskeytown found so effortlessly with Stranger’s Almanac.
Or, is Escovedo simply working off Adam’s premise here. Can heartbreak be Southern? Is Adams conscious of what he’s doing, starting a band that trades on country tropes and riding it out for all it’s worth. Is he poking fun at himself with that line, making Escovedo sing it back at him?
It turns out he’s singing “is this some sort of joke to you?” Still love the song though.
The gospel choir over the final choruses comes on like some sound collagist has mashed in scraps of Song of the South. It’s ridiculous, shameless, way too much, and touched with brilliance. Just because the old minstrel tune “Dixie” peddles the most loathsome of antebellum nostalgia doesn’t mean that “Dixie” is something that can or should be left behind. It’s a damn fine tune, and Americans have worked variations of it for almost 200 years.
Paisley’s treatment of it is joyous and nostalgic but also admirably critical. First of all, he’s sharing it with a black choir, and acknowledgement that this heritage, no matter how painful, is owned by all Americans."
Typos aside, one would think that someone who devotes two paragraphs of their otherwise fine piece on Brad Paisley’s recent single to the song’s complicated, bold, sampling of “Dixie” would spend a bit more time thinking about blackface and minstrelsy and appropriation. To say that a black choir singing “Dixie” “is an acknowledgement that this heritage…is owned by all Americans” not only willfully disregards and miscasts the deep, complicated tradition of African-Americans blacking up for white audiences, but also comes close to making the contentious, fairly offensive leap in saying that because blackface is a part of our national past, it’s also equally all of our faults, as Americans, regardless of race and ethnicity.
Am I offended by the use of “Dixie” in Paisley’s song? Not at all. But it’s worth talking about, and if you’re going to make “Dixie’s” long, troubled history a major take-away point of your article, then “it’s a dam fine tune” isn’t really going to fly as an acceptable critical stance on minstrelsy.
Sam & Dave - When Something Is Wrong With My Baby
I haven’t been to very many weddings. How does the music work at weddings, and why am I always thinking about what song I’d want to be played at mine? Is it because I’ve seen High Fidelity too many times, or because choosing a good love song is about all I can process, emotionally, conceptually and otherwise, when I think about something like a wedding happening to me? So far, the only way I’ve been able to think about this hypothetical is selfishly: what song would I, and solely I, want to have played at my wedding.
I first heard the Sam & Dave ballad “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby” on one of my many sleepy gray bus trip through Northwestern Spain during a semester abroad. Right before I was about to move away, I was lucky enough to have received an iPod pre-loaded with music by a well-regarded record collector as a gift. Taking the advice of my father, who had scored me the iPod, I decided not to add a single song of my own for my five months away.
It’s hard to reflect back on my brief time abroad without thinking about that iPod, without recalling the dozens of hours I spent on buses and trains shuffling through its many riches and letting the music (blues, jazz, soul, rockabilly, doo-wop) teach me as much about the country I was missing back home as the country I was currently traveling though and ostensibly living in, experiencing,“studying.”
There was one song that taught me more than any other. I don’t remember the first time I heard Sam & Dave sing about love and hurt, I don’t know from where I was coming from or to where I was going, but I was probably alone and tired and grinning, staring out a bus window wondering why I had had to travel so far to hear something so simple.
When something is wrong with my baby, something is wrong with me. I was 20 years old when I first heard that line. Why, after years and years of late night headphoned devotion to love songs of all shades and types, had none of the others told me that? Had they been scared to? Had they been trying to say it all along? Sam & Dave whispered in mono this great big secret into my ears. I was scared and grateful.
Dave Porter, who wrote “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby,” was one of the primary songwriters and producers at Stax in the mid 60’s, a time when a hit song could come from spending a little too much time in a bathroom stall (“hold on, I’m coming!” Porter once shouted to an impatient Isaac Hayes).Porter (not to be confused with Dave Prater, the “Dave” in Sam & Dave), once explained the song’s inspiration in words as elegant as the song itself:
I was in bed one night feeling miserable. Big house and a big car, but I’m not in love, and I’m not happy. I was fantasizing about what it would really be like to be in love. I got out of bed and went downstairs and said, ‘If I was in love with somebody, then that relationship should be such that if something is wrong with her, something is wrong with me.
For Porter, true love can be deduced. It is a mathematical theorem, a self-evident truth when you see it right in front of you, or at least when you’re lonesome and alone, dreaming about what it must be like. “Just what she means to me now, ohhhhhhhhhhhh you just wouldn’t, you just wouldn’t understand,” Sam Moore kept singing to me that Spring. He was mostly right: I couldn’t come close to grasping what Sam is really talking about; I definitely didn’t understand. But by the end of the song, I had at least figured out what it was I was missing out on.
It seems like an obvious perversity to play a song called “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby” at a wedding. For one, it’s incredibly hard to argue the song comes anywhere close to being happy. What kind of wedding song spends its first verse rhyming baby with worry and misery? That when (not if), is key. Pain and adversity are big variables in Porter’s theorem, and it’s right there: in Sam & Dave’s moaning and warning, in their frightening harmonies, in Moore’s scary laughing and Prater’s straining when he reaches for “we stand as one,” as if to say it’s no small feat to get that far.
More than anything else, “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby” is sure of itself: as a life lesson, as a difficult, necessary challenge, as a love song. It preaches a harsh reality and an unnatural devotion, the kind that combines the selfish pains, fears, and joys of two unlikely strangers into one. I think It’d make for a fine slow dance.
Jonathan previously appeared on OWOB writing about Drive-By Truckers.
Hey all, this was my contribution to 2012’s year-end theme week at One Week One Band.
Anyone else wondering why Country music is so into Paris these days?
Father John Misty’s Fear Fun is probably my favorite record of the year, and his/their show this past Tuesday night was the type of concert that reminds me why I go to concerts. I’m not sure if my review gets that across, but seriously, go check out this record, everyone.
I’ve never had a more poignant “intentionally misheard lyric” moment than on Taylor Swift’s “22,” a song that, until a kind internet commenter told me I was deadly wrong, I was positive started:
“It seems like a perfect night to dress up like hipsters and make fun of our accents.”
When I told a fellow Swift conspirator about my “excuse me while I kiss this guy” moment, his reaction was “accents? That literally makes no sense.” Fair enough.
But I really do think it would have been such sweet sense, for Taylor, or whoever’s singing “22,” to be having a go at her own Country Southerness (or lack thereof) by making a mockery of her accent. “Let’s pretend to be like the urban others (and in so doing make fun of them, those Hipsters, or make a point about them) while making a joke of, and thus shedding, our own rural roots and past.” Great stuff?
And the best part: I knew the line sounded funny, the way I imagined it. But of course, that was the point, the singer is making fun of her accent by saying accent in the most distorted, almost offensively exaggerated pseudo-hillbilly tone. What songwriting brilliance!
Oh well, I still like the song (alot), but not quite as much, now that we’re dealing with more ex-boyfriends in that opening line. One day, someone should collect and publish an anthology of music criticism based entirely on misheard lyrics.
Oh right, here’s a gratuitous link to my Red review.