Tag Archives: Guy Clark

Album Review: Steve Earle & the Dukes–So You Wannabe an Outlaw

Rating: 8.5/10

I’m not really sure I need to write any kind of introduction to this; I’m pretty sure Steve Earle has been introducing this quite well on his own, and that may or may not be taking away from the music. So I’m going to take the advice from Steve’s own comment, and let this be about the songs. What I will say is that he stated both that he wanted to make a record inspired by the outlaws, and more specifically, Waylon, and that this record would be about dealing with loss. And what we get is basically exactly that–the front half is filled with badass, renegade/outlaw material–or at least what we might think of when referring to that term–and then the back half adds to the validity of it all by taking us on journeys of heartbreak, loneliness, and loss, and in the end, you’re left wondering if this outlaw thing is really all that great after all, and perhaps second-guessing your dream. And in a way, that separates this record from all the others trying to be cool outlaw because it shows all the sides to the story, the glamor along with the pain.

That’s not to say there aren’t painful realities on the first half. IN fact, the opener and title track starts the album by explaining all the things you have to go through if you really want to be an outlaw, albeit in a pretty lighthearted manner. Willie Nelson appears here, which adds to the message and the overall coolness of the song. You also have “Lookin’ For a Woman” and “If Mama Coulda seen Me,” both of which Earle wrote for the show Nashville–the former is a restless heartbreak song where the narrator is trying to find a woman who “Won’t do me like you,” and the latter is about a prisoner who is thankful that his mom died before she had to see him in chains. All of this half, however, is pretty upbeat, and even though the material is dark, some of the glamorous side of being an outlaw still shines forth in the attitude and in the cool blending of country and rock instrumentation. This half comes to a brilliant, angry climax with “Fixin’ To die”–this song is told from Death Row, and I didn’t mean to compare it to Chris Stapleton’s song “Death Row,” but that’s what happened. I said before that Stapleton’s didn’t quite have emotion even though he belted it–I know a lot of people disagreed, but the point I’m making is that whether it came through or not, Stapleton meant that song to be sad. When this opens and Steve Earle bellows, “I’m fixin’ to die, reckon I’m goin’ to hell” and then adds, “I’d be tellin’ you a lie if I told you I was takin’ it well,” for me, that captures all the emotions, from anger to sadness to regret. It’s an intense story and definitely a great way to complete this more rocking front half of the record.

It’s the back half, however, that really makes this album shine and adds an authenticity to these opening songs. It’s one thing to sing about being an outlaw for the sake of it, but when you get to stuff like “This is How it Ends” and “You Broke my Heart” and see there’s a tender side to this story, it really adds something to the whole project. Steve Earle mentioned loss, and it is explored in every form here, from the heartbreak in these two songs, the former of which features Miranda Lambert, to the poverty and self-doubt in the excellent “Walkin’ in LA” to the closer, “Goodbye Michelangelo,” a tribute to Guy Clark. “Walkin’ in LA” features Johnny Bush, the writer of “Whiskey River,” and it’s one of the best songs on this whole thing, despite it not being the most flashy. It’s one of those rare gems where the melody, the lyrics, and the instrumentation all work together flawlessly to form an incredible piece of music. The melody and beautiful acoustic guitar play in “Goodbye Michelangelo” really add to that song as well. It’s a great way to close the album.

As much as I loved this record, I do have a couple criticisms. There are a few songs that felt like filler; “Girl on the Mountain” was sandwiched between “This is How it Ends” and “You Broke my Heart,” and so it stands out as the weakest heartbreak song of the three. At first, I really didn’t enjoy the pairing of Earle and Miranda Lambert, but that’s growing on me, mainly because it’s just such a damn good song. My initial problem was that Lambert is meant to be singing harmony, but sometimes she drowns out Steve. I’m starting to like it better because in doing so, she makes it easier to understand some of the lyrics. ON the front half, “The Firebreak Line” is quite a fun song, but it doesn’t necessarily add much. “News From Colorado,” the only subdued song on the front half, is also a little vague and underdeveloped lyrically. But all these are really minor, nitpicking criticisms, and overall, this record is pretty great.

So, in conclusion, this is a pretty fascinating album. First, you have the angry front half, and then you have the subdued, heartbroken back half, and together they tell a very good story. Steve Earle is a fine songwriter, and the natural grit in his voice just accidentally adds a lot to this album and the stories told. Every collaborator also brought something to the record. I mentioned there were some weaker songs, or perhaps even filler, but at the same time, it’s one of the few albums I’ve played in 2017 without a single bad track. Very nice, solid album. Give it a listen.

P.S. I’m not reviewing the deluxe version, but that also has four pretty awesome covers of songs previously written by Waylon, Willie, and Billy Joe shaver.

Listen to Album

Album Review: Angaleena Presley–Wrangled

Rating: 10/10

Wrangled is an explicitly forthright journey through my experience in the business of Country Music. I tried to tackle uncomfortable realities like the discrimination against female artists at the height of Bro-Country, the high school mentality of Music Row and the pain that’s just beneath the surface of the road to stardom

These words came from Angaleena Presley ahead of her second album, and they serve better than any introduction I could hope to write. Wrangled lives up to that description from the opening track, “Dreams Don’t Come True.” Written with fellow former Pistol Annies Miranda Lambert and Ashley Monroe, it delivers this message in a matter-of-fact way and even advises us, “don’t let anyone tell you they do.” It’s that straightforward honesty coming through to shatter your dreams on the opening track that makes you listen to, an believe, Angaleena Presley throughout the record. After all, who is going to tell you your dreams won’t come true, that you’ll end up pregnant instead of selling hit records? That’s a truth our friends and family would be even, and perhaps especially, hard-pressed to give us. But there’s something about the unapologetic way Angaleena broadcasts that truth, and right there at the start of her record, that makes you take notice and respect what she has to say–it might be brutal, but she damn sure won’t lie, and there’s a refreshing quality in that which can only come from such authenticity as this.
I said Presley’s honesty makes you respect what she has to say, and it turns out she has to say quite a lot. “High school” tells of the harsh realities of getting through each day in high school, and based on the quote above, I have to wonder if this is also directed at Music Row. Either way, I have to say this would have been a hell of a lot more helpful to have heard in high school than most of the mainstream music marketed to today’s youth. Other tracks are more obviously commenting on Music Row and the struggles in the business. “Groundswell” details Angaleena’s travels from Georgia to Kentucky to Alabama as she tries to make enough to support herself. “Outlaw” feels like this song’s antithesis; here, Presley sings, “It’s too hard to live this way” and says the money would be easier if she weren’t an “outlaw” and a “renegade.” You get the feeling listening that if she could change herself, she might conform, but she knows that it would be impossible, and she can’t be something she’s not.
The most blatant protest of Music Row is “Country,” and I can’t believe I even have to explain this in detail, but after reading the barrage of SCM comments misunderstanding and flat-out hating this, it seems apparent that I must. It’s hard to explain without listening, and I’ll post the video, but obviously it can’t stand alone, so I’ll say that the distortion is purposeful. The name-checking of every bro country reference in the verses and the hook devoid of any actual words is purposeful. And the killer rap verse added by Yelawolf name-dropping Sturgill and telling Music Row to “fuckin’ save it” is not only purposeful, it’s genius and adds to the parody. By all means, hate this song, but at least take the time to understand what it is before you decide it sounds like crap, as that was part of the point, and the song is all the better for it.
Angaleena Presley also said she wanted to discuss the discrimination against female artists. This is done in a more subtle way–there’s not really a track dealing with that specifically, but there are certainly many that speak to the female perspective and address the unique realities faced by women. The crown jewel of the album is the title track, where the narrator feels “wrangled” by her life and by her husband. It’s very nice melodically, an the lyrics are some of the best on the whole thing–“girls down at church can go to hell. Ironing shirts and keeping babies quiet ain’t no life, it’s a livin’ jail.” As much as I hate to pick a track off this fantastic album, if you must choose one, make it “Wrangled.” As the album progresses, Presley’s irritation only seems to grow; on “Wrangled,” the woman portrayed is tired of her life and resentful of the women around her who seem to enjoy it. That frustration comes out in “Bless my Heart,” where she casually informs any woman who is content to backstab others for their own gain, “If you bless my heart, I’ll slap your face.” There’s more of that frustration on “Mama I Tried,” another highlight of the record, as the main character laments that despite everything she did, she couldn’t be the lady her mother wanted–“always a bridesmaid, never the bride.” And finally, that pent-up frustration comes spilling out in anger on “Good Girl Down,” co-written with Wanda Jackson–“It’s a man’s world, and I’m a lady, and they’ll never appreciate me. They don’t take the time to get to know who I am, frankly, boys, I don’t give a damn.”
Yes, we do have a Miranda Lambert-esque song, “only Blood,” where the narrator marries a preacher who abuses her, and yes, she kills him. There have been a lot of songs like this certainly, but I do feel this one stands out some because it is built around the line “only blood can set you free” and serves a double purpose of exposing the hypocrisy in the church. “Motel Bible” does this in a much more understated and fun way to close the record–“God don’t give a damn how I’m dressed.”
But Angaleena Presley is not always angry or discouraged on this album; in fact, “Cheer up Little Darling,” written with Guy Clark, expresses a hope seen rarely on Wrangled, and in doing so, it completes the record; “It feels like a tight spot, but it’s just a loose end.”
This album lived up to everything Angaleena Presley advertised it to be, and for the honesty and songwriting alone, it deserves the highest praise. It’s the second ten of 2017, and it has earned this rating for exactly the opposite reasons as Marty Stuart’s–that album was special musically, and this one is special because of the lyrics, the stories, and the emotions running throughout it. An honest, compelling album that gets better with each listen. Three chords and the truth.

Listen to Album

Female Fridays: Featuring Jamie Lin Wilson

Someone said they’d like me to do a feature on Jamie Lin Wilson, and that day has come. I am excited to feature Jamie on this Female Friday.

How You Might Know Jamie

Much like her friend Courtney Patton, whom I covered two weeks ago, you might not know Jamie Lin Wilson if you aren’t familiar with the Texas scene. If you are, she’s a member of the Texas-based group The Trishas. She can often also be found singing with Courtney.

Bio

From a 2014 article by The Daily Country, on the influences for her debut album,

The type of music she likes to make is, she says, influenced by “the greats” — Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson, Guy Clark, Townes van Zandt, John Prine, Rodney Crowell and Tom T. Hall. But it’s equally inspired by those friends and contemporaries, including the Trishas and song-swap pals like [Courtney] Patton,Drew Kennedy and Owen Temple. “Their style creeps into my style and vice versa,” she says. “I love that. We’re a little team.”

From an interview with Newslang on her style of songwriting:

The song I wrote with Jason [Eady] and Adam [Hood], we started with a photo. I sent this picture of an old abandoned house in Yancey. The yard is overgrown and the windows are broken. It hasn’t been lived in for a very long time. There was a chair on the porch facing out that had been there ever since the last people moved out. They left this chair on the porch. I took a picture of that and sent it to them saying that there was a song in this picture and we needed to write it. That was one of the easiest co-writes because we all had the same image. Half of co-writing is trying to get that same image in your head. We figured out that was a great way to co-write.

Jamie Lin Wilson has gained a great reputation in the Texas scene as a singer and songwriter. However, for many years, she was simply a collaborator on other projects. Her career began fifteen years ago while she was in college; she was simply inspired by the sight of Natalie Maines, the former lead singer of the Dixie Chicks, singing and playing guitar. Shortly after this, Jamie started a band called the Sidehill Gougers (later known only as the Gougers) and began writing songs. She released a solo EP in 2010 called Dirty Blonde Hair and made a name for herself as a member of the Texas-based female group the Trishas. During a Trishas hiatus, Jamie Lin Wilson finally took time out of her life–which by this time included a marriage and three children–to record her first full-length solo record. Holidays & Wedding Rings, released on May 19th, 2015, has been met with much-deserved praise and appreciation. Finally, people everywhere are being exposed to one of Texas country’s best-kept secrets.

Why Jamie Belongs on Country Radio

Her case is similar to Courtney’s; as I said with Courtney, I am not going to spend time explaining why independent/Americana/Texas artists deserve to be treated fairly in the mainstream. This is a headache-inducing topic that can only be improved through sources such as Saving Country Music, Country Perspective, and this site that give these artists an equal playing field and hopefully more fans. This post, however, is about Jamie, and what she brings to country music in general. Well, firstly, and I don’t know why I have to keep writing this sentence on these features, she’s country! This should need no further explanation. She has relatable, real-life experience in her songs–you don’t have to have partied in every cornfield and club in the South to relate to her lyrics. Similar to Courtney’s, her songwriting tells the stories of real people in real-life situations. Like Lindi Ortega’s, Jamie Lin Wilson’s voice is unique. Blake Shelton would say, if somehow she were ever able to stand before him on The Voice, “There’s no one quite like you in country music right now.” Well, Blake, this is because mainstream Nashville doesn’t want originality, and that’s what Jamie has to offer.

Tracks I Recommend

Most Jamie Lin Wilson apologists will say I shouldn’t pick apart Holidays & Wedding Rings, and indeed it is a great album. These are just personal favorites.

1. “Just Some Things” (featuring Wade Bowen)–Holidays & Wedding Rings
2. “Whisper on my Skin”–Holidays & Wedding Rings
3. “Here Tonight”–Holidays & Wedding Rings
4. “She’ll Take Tonight”–Holidays & Wedding Rings
5. “You Left my Chair”–Holidays & Wedding Rings [this is the song written with Jason Eady and Adam Hood]

Listen to Holidays & Wedding Rings

Finally, I was told to check out Jamie’s videos with the Southern Gospel Revival, and all of you should too.