Lyle Lovett : Step Inside This House

Everything about this is masterful, the song (by Guy Clark, funnily I couldn’t find a single version of this by himself so I am not sure if he even recorded it himself), the vocals by Mr. Lovett and the musical arrangement/accompaniment, especially the lap steel guitar. Not to mention beautiful. An ode to simple living, filled with music and memories.

Advertisements

Rebels With A Cause – How Dwight Yoakam and Steve Earle Saved Country Music

Read this brief, but spot-on story about the new blood being infused into the Country Music scene in the mid-1980’s over at Acoustic Guitar Magazine. I am glad to be able to truthfully state that I was with them both (and a host of other artists mentioned in the article) from early on as I bought both Guitar Town and Guitars Cadillacs Etc., Etc. pretty much when they came out (on vinyl back then of course.

Rebels With A Cause How Dwight Yoakam and Steve Earle Saved Country Music

Dwight Yoakam : Guitars Cadillacs

 

Steve Earle : My Old Friend The Blues

Plus, Steve Earle can be seen playing a Martin 15 Series guitar in the article closely related to the one I do (although he undoubtedly does so much better than me)

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

(1997)

 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.

John Prine : Souvenirs

JP_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.