So, David Gahan, here, in brief, is why you and I should get along so awfully: You suck. I don't. Which is because I'm a heterosexual American. You're not. You're gay, you're from England and you wear leather pants. Your music is silicon-based, if not literally computer-generated. Carbon was good enough for Stradivarius and Stratocaster and it's good enough for me. Talk all the French you want, Monsoor Depecky Mode, but you and your music are flaccid. I'm rigid as a hoe, and yes, out here at Whoa-o-rama Farm, we spell ho with an e. Compare that Euro-trash to this lovely sentiment from Tracy Byrd:
We got pink flamingos in the front yard, Picture windows with a view of Wal-Mart. Blue collar heaven, domestic bliss; It just doesn't get any better than this.
Depecky Mode could never write lyrics like that no matter how hard they try. And yet Wanda, my Bitch-Goddess of Love, is still manifesting her synth-pop obsession. And my kids are right at this moment mewling along with "She's so high, high above me/She's so lovely/She's so high/ Like Maggie Thatcher, Rosa Parks, and Indira Gandhi" or whoever the hell it is.
So what with all that, my imaginary friend Barry Goldwater and I are feeling a lot like Howard the Duck: trapped in a world that we never made. Whatever happened to good old basic traditional American values like racism and patriarchy and the closet big enough for everybody? I don't know, but what I do know is that I am bewildered by modernity, adrift on a roiling sea of change that I don't understand. What's more, there's been a severe drought out here in the Pennsylvania boonies, and the corn is dead, though the soybeans survived. We're broke; we're unhappy; we're in a vicious cycle of drunkenness and domestic violence. And yet despite the empty silos we can still take shelter in the big old barn of traditional country music, where they're singing about our situation. If only Wanda and the delinquents would let me play it.
Not all of the albums reviewed below are brand-new, but you sure as hell haven't heard them. Plus I don't get the record companies to send me free discs. They don't seem to think that the demographic of NYPress is really who they're selling country music to. Shows what they know. Multiply pierced sexually confused commodity brokers from New York City are the future of country music. (If you represent MCA Nashville, e-mail me at email@example.com, and send me all that great shit you put out and I'll try to con the brokers into buying it.)
Now let me explain something to you about criticism. You may well disagree with me about the stuff I'm reviewing: you might think my favorite stuff sucks. But this is similar to the matter of why you and I should get along so awfully. You live in New York. I, on the other hand, live in Bumfuck, Egypt. You are a conceptual artist by day, porn actor by night. I am a farmer, the bedrock of the American way of life. For these reasons and many more like them, I'm right and you're wrong. Your views are mere subjective impressions. Mine are the cold, hard truth. Try to deny it. Tell me you don't own a pair of leather pants.
Speaking of the cold hard truth, that's the title of latest George Jones CD. I think this is the best country album of the last couple of years. George and his songs sound like they did 40 years ago, but with better production values. Jones is the greatest male country singer who ever lived (I would rate his ex-wife and ex-partner, the formerly alive Tammy Wynette, as the greatest c.s. who ever lived period), and Cold Hard Truth (Asylum) shows you exactly why. He's a treasure, a master, a genius, etc., and, frightening as it is given his relentlessly self-destructive lifestyle, he's as good as he's ever been. Wanda says that if she liked country music, she'd like this album.
Just after he finished recording Cold Hard Truth last spring, George got into that terrible car wreck. I'm figuring he's still alive, 'cause he played the York Fair down here this year. But George, unlike you, "David," doesn't have to die to be a legend. Every damn song on this album shows why he's a legend. "I almost wish that I could lose my mind sometimes/Then maybe I'd be free of the memories you left behind," he moans with total conviction on "This Wanting You." That, Phil, is music. Advice: Believe your lyrics as you sing them. It helps if you write believable lyrics to begin with.
What we're all asking out here in rural America is where the next George is coming from. David Ball is actually a pretty good candidate. His song "Thinking Problem" was one of the best country songs of the early 90s, which was a golden era for country music, now distant as the Stone Age. Good as the song was, it was the twang and extreme drawl in Ball's voice that etched it right into your frontal lobe. Right after that, he mysteriously disappeared, at least off the charts and country radio. Now he's got a new CD that hints at the reasons for the vanishing act.
Picture yourself as a trad country artist suddenly caught in an undertow of idiotic schlock. What you might do is sell out halfway: try to sound a bit rootsy while achieving a syrup level that would help you hold on to the career. The worst songs on Play (Warner Bros.), like "What Do You Say to That," skate dangerously close to the flatulence emerging these days from formerly cool people like Clint Black and Sammy Kershaw. But the best songs still wallow in pain and pedal steel guitars, and I find myself sticking this disc in the player voluntarily, if only to arrive at that one perfect moment of emotional torture: "Going Someplace to Forget." It's not only the best country music that wallows in pain, Miss Editorial Assistant at Conde Nast. Out here, we shoot girls who wear Abercrombie & Fitch.
The current front-runner in the Country for Conde Nast department is Julie Miller. Julie's giving music critics from National Public Radio to The Washington Post (not exactly a stretch) a big ole hard-on, and one reason is precisely because she does not use pedal steel guitars. The other reason is that she sounds a lot (a lot) like Lucinda Williams. Compare the opening song of Broken Things (Hightone) to the opening song of Williams' Car Wheels on a Gravel Road and you'll see what I mean. But Miller's voice isn't as interesting, her lyrics aren't as good, and ultimately nothing sticks to the wall. Before you buy this thing, make damn sure that you have everything Williams ever recorded.
Speaking of hard-ons, let's talk Dixie Chicks. Me and Barry love chicks, especially chicks that call themselves chicks, and these little fluffy ones have single-handedly rescued country music from Trisha Yearwood. They're cute, they're fun and they're good. Practically every song on their last album was a hit single, and actually the same thing could happen with Fly (Monument). By the end of this album, they're taking artistic chances, a concept so foreign to Nashville that it might as well be Marxism. Martie Seidel plays fiddle and Emily Robison plays more or less all string instruments. They are actual players. They rock. And the real weapon is the singer Natalie Maines, who sounds like the love child of Connie Smith and Alanis Morissette. George takes you back, but the Chicks take you simultaneously back and forward.
However, there's a song here celebrating a woman named Wanda for killing her husband. I'm not kidding. "Ain't it dark/wrapped up in that tarp?" Eep. I take it all back, I swear.
Now perhaps you're wondering why I'm not reviewing Garth Brooks as Chris Gaines, the most frightening thing to happen to American pop music since "Ray of Light." Wanda! Stick on some of that there Depecky Mode.