Robert Earl Keen : Ride

It’s laughable I know, but this is the first time I consciously listen to a Robert Earl Keen song and I haven’t even got one of his albums (yeah, I know).

Don’t care much for the video to this, but there wasn’t a really good sounding version I could find of this on YouTube so I choose this one. It’s a smashing song. And perfect for a day you are fed up with your job…

Steve Earle : The Warner Bros. Years

Steve Earle  The Warner Bros. Years Cover

Steve Earle : The Warner Bros. Years

(2013 Shout Factory)

 Steve Earle has been of my favorite songwriters for a very long time – I pretty much own all of his albums, starting with Guitar Town. Funnily, two of the three original albums included in this fine, if slightly pricey, box set weren’t among them – his 1996 album I Feel Alright and its follow-up El Corazon. The third one though, Train A Comin’ has probably been my 2nd favorite Earle album after Copperhead Road. Earle himself claims that El Corazon and Train A Comin’ are better records than Copperhead Road in the short interview printed and opening, the 30+ pages booklet which also includes the lyrics of the studio albums featured here. It also features extensive liner notes by The Wire creator David Simon. Earle acted on a couple of episodes and his song I Feel Alright was used in one episode. His version of Way Down In the Whole was also used as the opening tune in Season 5 (which I wasn’t aware of before, as I am still watching season 4 at the moment). His connection with The Wire is probably befitting his life story, as he was incarcerated on drugs charges and all the material on The Warner Bros Years stems from the period of the first few years after he was released from jail. Also included is a previously unissued live recording from December 1995 on CD, and a DVD with a live concert recorded as part of his parole arrangement (apparently it was recorded for MTV, which shows in the style it’s made).

As I said, Train A Comin’ is very dear to me, so I’ll probably write about that some time in the future, but for now I will start with El Corazon.

Steve Earle El Corazon cover

El Corazon


 As I wrote before, for some reason I can’t remember, El Corazon previously passed me by. However, after discovering the lovely video of a live performance by Steve Earle and Emmylou Harris (see my previous post) of Ft. Worth Blues, a song I immediately loved and that was so far unbeknownst to me, I decided to check that out and found out about the recently released box set. Emmylou Harris’ voice is sadly missing from the Ft. Worth Blues version on here (she guests on Taneytown though), but it’s still one of the very best songs he’s ever written and recorded – a lovely, touching ballad and ode to Townes Van Zandt (he also named his son Justin Townes Earle after him). It’s closing the album and the equally wonderful, slow and gentle ballad Christmas In Washington are bookending the album rather nicely, which is also appropriate as the rest of the tracks stray pretty far from that direction musically. Where Ft. Worth Blues is intensely personal, the lyrics of Christmas In Washington are quite a bit more political, they are concerned with the presidential elections in 1996 and a chorus wishing for the return of Woody Guthrie and others fighting for the good in society such as Cisco Houston and Martin Luther King – a hymn for the good in people wherever they live and whatever the circumstances. As hinted at above, the rest of the 12 tracks on the album are stylistically quite different from each other – starting with 2nd track Taneytown, almost possessing Neil Young & Crazy Horse qualities, slow burning and hard rocking at the same time, though not as extreme in length and intensity perhaps. If You Fall is a mid-tempo Country-Rock song, not particularly exciting or one of the best songs on here maybe, but a good song nevertheless.

 I Still Carry You Around offers yet another direction, it’s recorded with the Del McCoury band, who were later to accompany him on a whole album, the brilliant The Mountain. So, as you can probably imagine, it’s an up-tempo and good-natured Bluegrass-romp. Telephone Road is a very-catchy Folk/Country-Rock song featuring some nice background vocals by the Fairfield Four and a Saxophone (not that often heard on an Steve Earle album), it’s slightly unusual (for his standards) but highly effective.

 Somewhere Out There reminds me a little bit of his earliest work on Guitar Town and Exit O, mixed with some 60’s Power-Pop (the background vocals and the ringing guitars), which I like a lot. You Know The Rest and especially N.Y.C. are the both good time tracks – the first one with a distinctive Country-bent, and the latter featuring the hard-rocking The Supersuckers, a welcome return to the sounds of Copperhead Road – (not-so-clean perhaps) good fun.

 Poison Lovers is a, true to the theme of the lyrics, slightly melancholic mid-tempo Folk-Rock song with affecting female vocals courtesy of Earle’s longtime musical partner’s Ray Kennedy’s wife Siobhan Kennedy. The Other Side Of Town is purely old-timey Country complete with 78’-record crackling’ sound and the classic title and lyrics to boot, not many people could do that as convincingly as Steve Earle. Here I Am (featuring his son Justin Townes Earle on guitar) is a short, furious Rock’n’Roll/

Country-Punk track – I love the uhhhh and ahhhh backing vocals. Great stuff.

So, while I might not totally agree with Earle’s statement that El Corazon is the better album compared with Copperhead Road, I have to agree that it’s definitely a return to form, and has to be counted as one of his best, and that’s saying something.

Del Reeves : Looking At The World Through A Windshield

Today’s video is a bit more traditional than the stuff usually covered on here but I just love it. I heard this song first on Son Volt’s A Retrospective  : 1995 -2000 and it quickly became a favorite of mine. I love the ‘Naaaashville’ in this version. (Apparently you can’t embed this – so you have to follow the link onto YouTube – well worth the extra click)

Gene Clark : White Light

Gene Clark White Light Cover


Gene Clark: White Light

(1971 A&M Records, 2002 expanded re-release)

The first Gene Clark album I actually bought was his 1986 collaboration with The Textone’s Carla Olson So Rebellious A Lover. I also own the fine but somewhat messy compilation American Dreamer 1964 – 1974 which features all kinds of material he was involved in from that period such as his solo work, songs with The Byrds, The Gosdin Brothers and The Dillard & Clark Expedition. As I came back to that album quite often in the past few months, I recently bought White Light, regarded by many as his finest work. I bought the expanded version, re-released in 2002 and have to say that everybody involved in that project did a very good job on it. As I am a bit of a closet audiophile I am quite satisfied with how the album sounds – not exactly up to today’s standards, maybe, but considering this was originally recorded back in 1971 the sound is pretty good and clear.

Contrary to one of my friends who said to me that Gene Clark’s work is too depressive for him (‘unlike you, I don’t need to hear depressive music ALL the time’ were his words (he’s mistaken by the way, it’s actually not all the time, only most of it)).

The songs on White Light are outstanding, with maybe 2 or 3 exceptions, Tears Of Rage and 1975 are in my opinion rather mediocre songs and I much prefer the Byrds version of One In A Hundred to the one on here, I don’t like the background vocals towards the end on this one at all.

The album gets off to a flying start, setting the mood of the album perfectly, with The Virgin, Clark’s inherently melancholic voice and a number of acoustic and electric guitars on a bed of plucking away drums, and, crucially for setting the tone of the album, a number of harmonica solos, mixed far into the foreground of the mix, which is much to my taste. The lyrics on this track are evocative of that period of time and the environment in which it was written and recorded quite perfectly – it’s apparently about a girl embracing her new-found freedom in the late 1960’s to her fullest, whether the track has got a e darker underlying theme as well  I couldn’t say for sure. But it all sounds very romantic, to my 21st century ears at least.

Next track With Tomorrow is more reduced, with some slightly crooked and imperfect acoustic guitar that adds to the solemn mood of the composition. White Light is offering quite a different direction – a loose, more up-tempo Country-Rock tune, with the harmonica used to fine effect again, quite probably influenced by his work with The Dillard & Clark Expedition (which I still have to check out thoroughly, I only know the few songs from that period included on American Dreamer). One of my faves on here.  Because Of You is on here twice, I actually like the ‘alternate mix’ with its less polished lead vocals a little bit better.

Probably the best song in my opinion on White Light (battling it out with the title track) is For A Spanish Guitar, a gentle, melancholic and even slightly baroque ballad with a oh so lovely tune, in scope and lyrically it’s possibly the most refined composition on here. Where My Love Lies Asleep is another fine ballad.

The 5 bonus tracks on the expanded edition are of varying quality. Stand By Me, yes that one, is better than the version we all have heard thousands of times before, I always had a dislike for the voice of what’s-his-name, so this sounds a bit better to me, but I still have got problems listening to it. The next song Ship Of The Lord is very good though, I was very surprised to see that it is a Gene Clark song because the lyrics are so overtly religious. Musically it’s rather unfinished, with dry Rock’n’Roll guitar licks and a catchy tune – maybe that’s exactly the reason why I like it so much. Opening Day isn’t exceptionally good, but it’s not bad at all either. The last song Winter In is just that, the lyrics full of nature references, quite probably infused by the northern Californian landscape he escaped to after leaving The Byrds, and the allusion to winter is always welcome in my house.

As I said before, all people involved in the reissue of this gem of a Folk/Country-Rock album have done a splendid job, but most credit of course does belong to Gene Clark, who a lot of people consider to be the best of the Byrds songwriters (although I still vote for Bob Dylan even if he wasn’t in them), and his conspirators who recorded the original album.

Lyle Lovett : Church (Video)

I haven’t really been following Mr. Lovett’s career that thoroughly and have bought only two of his albums – this track is from ‘Joshua Judges Ruth’.I’m not normally really into Gospel music all that much – but this is just too infectious not to like it, especially in combination with his voice. Also, it’s a great story being told.

Dave Alvin : Border Radio (Video)

I have heard this song in quite a few different versions in the past 30 years (oh boy), but this is one of the best, this band he’s been touring with for the past few years is bloody brilliant (and his brother Phil too).

Trust me, you will hear (a lot) more from and about Dave Alvin on Backroad Bound in the future.

In the meantime, enjoy!

John Prine : Souvenirs



John Prine : Souvenirs

(2000, Oh Boy Records)

 ‘Fifteen new recordings of classic songs’ – that’s what the front cover states, so far, so good. What it doesn’t say is how excellent these new versions are.

Recorded in ‘Cowboy’ Jack Clement’s The Cowboy Arms Hotel & Recording Spa in Nashville the sound is excellent. What we get is mainly John Prine and his finger-picked acoustic guitar at his best, augmented by a select cast of uniformly accomplished musicians (just listen to Angel from Montgomery) on the usual instruments in that Singer-Songwriter/Folk/Country context (electric guitars, bass, mandolin, fiddle and accordion and so on). All very well and nice to have, but that wouldn’t count for much, wouldn’t he write such damn good songs. I don’t own all of his records (yet) so I can’t say which songs he left out I would have loved to have on here as well – apart from one and that is Daddy’s Little Pumpkin (from The Missing Years), given that that version is already so perfect maybe it’s better it isn’t done here again. As far as I’m aware, it’s note one of his most popular songs, but it is my favorite.

The album starts with Souvenirs (from Diamonds in the Rough), setting the course of the album nicely, his gravelly voice, a lovely acoustic guitar only backed by an electric guitar and a little bit of bass and mandolin – the sound as pure and clear as a fine winter morning. Next song Fish And Whistle (from his 1978 album Bruised Orange) features some fine accordion backing, and is one of the more Country-influenced songs on Souvenirs (together with Grandpa Was A Carpenter and Please Don’t Bury Me).

Far From Me (from the first, self titled album) which was also recorded by Justin Townes Earle on Broken Hearts And Dirty Windows in a mighty fine version, but the version on here is far more melancholic, which suites the lyrics of the theme better. It’s about a couple going through something of a rough patch (‘…. Well. Ya know, she still laughs with me But she waits just a second too long…’), but the way the song is set (with him picking her, a waitress, up at the end of her shift) is one of the best examples of Prine’s songwriting capabilities – it just begs to be given a cinematic treatment, at least I can imagine a short film/music video version perfectly well. Next track Angel From Montgomery, which I was familiar with from a radically different, but excellent version by Canadian outfit The Leslie Spit Treeo (anybody remember then?), is a slow ballad, augmented by the lovely interplay between pedal steel guitar and mandolin.

The following Donald & Lydia is another prime example of why Prine is regarded so highly as a songwriter, the lyrics mirroring American small-town life perfectly, it’s about a would-be couple that tragically never meet in real life although they only live a few miles apart and are both dreaming about finding love (‘They made love in the mountains They made love in the streams They made love in the valleys They made love in their dreams But when they were finished there was nothing to say ‘cause mostly they made love from ten miles away’) – how touching is that?

Grandpa Was A Carpenter is an old-timey Country tune with a prominent fiddle and suitably rustic, old-style lyrics (‘Well he used to sing me ‘Blood On the Saddle’ And rock me on his knee And let me listen to the radio Before we got T.V. Well, he’s drive to church on Sundays And he’d take me with him too Stained glass in every window Hearing aids in every pew…’) – proving that he can do both sad, melancholic and upbeat, good-natured songs equally well.

The Late John Garfield Blues is another highlight for me – slow, quite melancholic and with a lovely tune, one of his finest songs if you ask me.

But it’s next song Blue Umbrella, which I probably love best on here – just John Prine, his voice and a picked acoustic guitar – actually pretty much the only things he needs to sing his songs write into my heart.

Six O’Clock News is one of the saddest songs on here, telling the sad story (‘… The Whole town saw Jimmy On the six o’clock news His brains were on the sidewalk And Blood Was on his shoes…’) of young James Lewis, son of Wanda, and it’s also one of the loveliest arranged one, I very much like the interplay between the electric lead guitar, accordion and piano.

Well, what’s to say about Sam Stone? Another, and probably, if I am informed correctly, one of his best known songs (covered by the likes of Johnny Cash) about a war veteran (most probably from the Vietnam war), coming home with military accolades, but also an addiction to morphine which ends with his overdose – not very surprising it was/is so popular in the US, very sad indeed – I am especially moved by the line (‘… While the kids ran around wearing other People’s clothes…’), a great song, that.

Next to last song Please Don’t Bury me is another slightly faster and good-natured song with a ueber-catchy chorus. I have to admit that I actually like the version on his first album of album closer Hello In There a tad better – an excellent song and the lyrics are a very good example of his maturity in both outlook on life and as a songwriter, even at an early stage in his career (he was only in his mid-twenties when that album was released in 1971).

A lot of catching up for me left to do I guess, when it comes to his work, as I only own this album, The Missing Years and the first album so far.