It Was Midnight on the Ocean, not a Streetcar Was in Sight

My longtime readers may remember me mentioning my maternal grandfather.  He was the one who took on the pseudonym Charlie Young and lied about his age in order to enlist for World War One.  He was an extremely colorful character who was a cop in New York City during the first half of the twentieth century.  Toward his own children he was the typical autocratic Italian American man.  But toward his grandchildren he was like a big kid.  He brought us out for hamburgers and ice cream and whatever else he could think of.  He would tell us stories of the old days. Some of them quite remarkable.  And whenever things got quiet, he’d sing some variation of a song that we thought he had just made up.  It would usually go something like this,

“It was midnight on the ocean

Not a streetcar was in sight

Me and my old friend (fill in the name of a particular grandson)-boy

Were eating by the candle light

When along came a big whale

And washed us all away

Then grandma came along and saved the day.”

Now this song varied by the identity of the grandchild and the details of the trip we were on.  But it was mostly along these lines.  And to a little kid who was out on a fun car ride and getting fast food hamburgers and ice cream it was Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.  Well my grandfather’s been gone about thirty five years and about ten years ago it occurred to me to try to find the lyrics to his little poem on the internet.  And what do you know?  It turns out it’s an old English nonsense poem.  And more to the point a song was made out of it by an American country singer named Harry McClintock back in the 1920s called Ain’t We Crazy (catch the words at the 1:00 mark of the song).

Well, at the time the song was only available as part of an imported music collection that cost $600 so I couldn’t buy it then.  But this week I found it on an inexpensive album on Amazon and got it.  It turns out McClintock also has a song that ended up on the “O Brother Where Art Thou” soundtrack (Big Rock Candy Mountain).  I guess he’s not as obscure as I thought.

I sent the above link to my siblings and cousins and many of them have the same fond memories that I have of this little ritual my grandfather had.  I think I will adopt it with my grandchildren.  Of course, I’ll have to personalize it for each of them but that’s half of the fun of it anyway.  And while I’m at it I’ll tell them stories about their great-great-grandfather Charlie Young who went off to war as a very young doughboy and shot it out with 1920s gangsters from the running board of a speeding car.  They’ll probably think it’s as crazy as the song.

Cash – American IV: The Man Comes Around – A Country Music Review

Strictly speaking this isn’t purely a country music album.  Johnny Cash does covers of popular music from from sources varying from modern musicians like Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode to Simon and Garfunkle to the Beatles.  But Johnny Cash is a country singer and I liked some of the songs very much so…

I’m not an enormous Johnny Cash fan.  I have several of his albums and like a number of his songs but I don’t love everything he’s done.  This album was done in the last year of his life and his voice is frayed by his age and illness.  But it is distinctively Johnny Cash and he is able to use the broken quality of his voice to great advantage on several of the more soulful songs.  It is an interesting experience hearing a man who knows he’s dying singing songs that he has selected to sing before he’s gone.

The first cut and the subtitle for the album is “The Man Comes Around.”  It’s a song Cash wrote and it’s about Judgement Day.  Revelations is quoted at the beginning and end of the song and I find it extremely stirring.  I’d say it’s the high point of the album.

I’ll confess I don’t particularly care for his interpretation of most of the recent songs he covered.  “Hurt,” “Personal Jesus” and “First Time Ever I saw Your Face.”  None of these renditions particularly appealed to me.  Possibly because the songs themselves don’t particularly appeal to me.  “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “In My Life” were better but neither was extraordinary.

I enjoyed much more his take on the western songs, “I Hung My Head,” ”Sam Hall,” “Desperado,” and especially “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” and “Streets Of Laredo.”

And the last song on the album is very interesting.  It’s “We’ll Meet Again.”  Older folks may remember it was a 1939 song and a 1943 movie linked to war-time Britain and the longing that the soldiers and loved ones left behind felt for each other.  Johnny Cash is clearly talking about the afterlife and meeting up with loved ones (especially his departed wife).  That song is quite effective.

I guess I would recommend this album to Johnny Cash fans and for fans of country and western music.  And I think the song “When the Man Comes Around,” will resonate with anyone on the right, living in these apocalyptic times.

That Lonesome Song by Jamey Johnson – A Country Music Review

I only first heard of Jamey Johnson when he had his most commercial song on the Billboards back in 2008, “In Color.”  I enjoyed that song and because at the time all my music was coming off the top 40 country radio stations I never heard anything else by him.  By 2010 I was starting to look for better stuff than the radio provided so I bought his album “That Lonesome Song” (and a couple of his other albums) to see what he was all about.  What I found out is he is a very good song writer and has an interesting singing voice.

Most of his songs are about the darker side of life and love.  His characters are men suffering through loneliness, disfunction, addiction and loss.  Even the couple of comical songs are about broken relationships.  “In Color” is the exception.  Although the song chronicles the fearful existence through the Great Depression and WW II it ends on a very high note.  But there are several songs on the album that even though full of sadness and regret are undoubtedly very good.  I’m sure in a group of songs this varied, there will be one or two that don’t click for every listener and that list will vary due to the variety in listeners.  But my opinion is that this is an excellent country album.  My favorites are

  1. “High Cost of Living”
  2. “Place Out on the Ocean
  3. “In Color”
  4. “The Last Cowboy”
  5. “Dreaming My Dreams”
  6. “Between Jennings and Jones”

I will also qualify my recommendation of this album by saying that if someone doesn’t like sad songs then this album won’t be for him.  Not every song is sad but this is definitely an album from the less sunny side of the street.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EYGwxf1gCC4

Colter Wall’s Songs of the Plains – A Country Music Review

Last November I reviewed Colter Wall’s self-titled album.  To say I liked it would be a gross understatement.  It had such stand outs as Kate McCannon, Bald Butte and Fraulein.  But the whole album was worthy.  Colter has a new album and I got my copy yesterday.

This is a theme album that can best be described as a country western celebration of the Great Plains.  Colter is from the Canadian Plains and he concentrates on Canada but he does include a ballad to Wild Bill Hickock.  I’ll list the tracks followed by a short comment or two.

In addition, I’ll summarize that as a whole the album is a good traditional country western collection.  And it suits me.  Hopefully I’ll provide enough information for the reader to make up his mind.

The full track list to Colter Wall’s Songs of the Plains:

  1. “Plain to See Plainsman” (written by Colter Wall)

Straightforward acoustic guitar and harmonica western.  An ode to home on the great plains.

  1. “Saskatchewan In 1881” (written by Colter Wall)

Upbeat Canadian folk song with a touch of humor.  Where else could you find a rhyme like, “Don’t pick no fights with Mennonites?”

  1. “John Beyers (Camaro Song)” (written by Colter Wall)

This is a short little revenge song.  Very catchy and fun.

  1. “Wild Dogs” (written by Billy Don Burns)

This is a song by Billy Don Burns and it’s literally a song narrated by a wild dog about his life.  The music has some good spots but it’s not something I care for.

  1. “Calgary Round-Up” (written by Wilf Carter)

A western about a roundup jamboree.  You could easily imagine the Sons of the Pioneers singing this song.  It even has yodeling.

  1. “Night Herding Song” (Cowboy Traditional)

It sounds like a spiritual mixed with a lullaby for the cows.  Most of it is acapella.  I like it.

  1. “Wild Bill Hickok” (written by Colter Wall)

Western ballad chronicling Wild Bill’s life.  Well done.

  1. “The Trains are Gone” (written by Colter Wall)

A dirge to the changing world of the old west.  Kinda downbeat.

  1. “Thinkin’ on a Woman” (written by Colter Wall)

A song a bout a trucker brooding over a lost love.  Amusing enough.

  1. “Manitoba Man” (written by Colter Wall)

A cokehead bemoaning his fate and thinking about his next score.  Not my thing.

  1. “Tying Knots in the Devil’s Tail” (Cowboy Traditional)

This is an upbeat western about two drunk cowboys tying, branding and knotting the devil’s tail.

Tyler Childers – Live on Red Barn Radio I & II – A Country Music Review

Regular readers know I’m a fan of Tyler Childers.  He’s a country singer-songwriter from Eastern Kentucky and he combines interesting vocals, his acoustic guitar playing, an excellent mix of country instrumental accompanists with his very creative lyrics.  I especially enjoy his ballads, a stand out being “Banded Clovis” on his “Purgatory” album.

The present review is of a live album from 2013.  The eight songs include two that were on other albums, namely “Whitehouse Road” from Purgatory and “Bottles and Bibles” from the album of the same name.  Listening to some of the other songs I would say you can tell that they come from an earlier period of his song-writing career.  They are simpler and less ambitious in terms of imagery and effect.  But they’re good and I take them as an excellent addition to my collection.  Interestingly two of the songs were written by other artists, “Rock Salt and Nails” by Bruce Utah Phillips and “Coming Down” by John R. Miller.  Now I guess I’ll be forced to look up their stuff.  How I suffer for my art.

Anyway, if you like Tyler Childers’ other stuff you’ll almost definitely like this live album.  Highly recommended.

High Top Mountain – Sturgill Simpson – A Country Music Review – Part 2

I ‘ve now had a chance to listen to High Top Mountain a good bit and I can say without a doubt that this is my favorite album by Sturgill Simpson.  And that’s because it’s country music.  He isn’t experimenting here with other genres and sounds.  It’s straight up classic country with plenty of energy, fun lyrics and excellent steel guitar.  For me the best songs are:

  • Life Ain’t Fair and the World is Mean
  • You Can Have the Crown
  • Sitting Here Without You
  • Time After All

But honestly, I think they’re all good.  Now how rare is that?  Most albums have three or four strong songs and the rest weak.  This album has twelve songs and they range from excellent to good.  They vary from ballads to up tempo rockabilly.  I’m just disappointed that his later albums don’t appeal to me as much.  Maybe these were all the country songs he wanted to make.  Well if that’s so, then I’m glad he made this album and that I found it.  I think it’s a keeper.

Panbowl – Sturgill Simpson – A Short Country Music Review

Yesterday I put up a post about Sturgill Simpson’s album Big Top Mountain.  I related how I had not loved his two other albums, “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music” and “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth” but that on the former album I thought that the song Panbowl was extremely good.  This post is to expand on that comment.  One of the things that country music can do is tell a story.  In fact, I think that possibly the best country songs are the ones that do that best.  Panbowl seems to be an autobiographical remembrance of youth and family.  It feels to me like a completely heartfelt expression of anguish at the loss of the simple joys of being a child in a family.  He paints a vivid picture of an extended family that provided love and belonging and what it means to lose this.

Admittedly I am attracted to strong sentiment so that might be the reason I rate this song so highly, but I think many country music fans will think this is an excellent song.  In any case I consider it the best song of his I’ve heard and this is because it seems honest and describes something I think is admirable, love of family.  Check it out and see if you agree.

High Top Mountain – Sturgill Simpson – A Country Music Review – Part 1

There is a lot of bad music out there.  And there is a lot of bad country music.  One of the ways I try to find good music is by association with other good music.  Case in point, a friend of mine at work told me about Colter Wall so I checked out his music and really liked it.  One of his songs is a cover of the old song Fraulein.  On that song is a second singer and looking him up it turned out to be Tyler Childers.  So I checked out his music and really liked it.  Looking over Childer’s album Purgatory I noticed it was produced by Sturgill Simpson.  Now I knew of Simpson.  I had his “Metamodern Sounds In Country Music” album and there was one song on that album called Panbowl that was extremely good but overall I was undecided if I was a fan.  But now I decided to take another look at Sturgill’s catalog.  I listened to his latest album, “A Sailor’s Guide To Earth,” and didn’t really care for it.  Then I went back to his first album, “High Top Mountain,” and really liked it a lot.  I’ll listen to a lot of it for the next few days and then I’ll finish up this review.  But I can say already it’s a solid country album and Simpson is a good singer songwriter.  The fact that I didn’t care for his later stuff as much might mean High Top Mountain is more or less all of his stuff I’ll like.  That’s okay.  Even finding a whole album you like is a feat worth noting.  This album is definitely a win.

The Raven is a Wicked Bird

“Well the raven is a wicked bird

His wings are black as sin

And he floats outside my prison window

Mocking those within

And he sings to me real low

It’s hell to where you go

For you did murder Kate McCannon”

(Kate McCannon, Colter Wall,  2017)

The Raven is a Wicked Bird

 

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When we got to the Visitor’s Center at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon this fellow was giving me the evil eye from a low hanging perch on a nearby tree.  He was croaking some kind of a challenge at me.  He probably wanted me to acknowledge his suzerainty over the whole South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  These ravens are enormous and don’t caw like crows.  They croak and bellow.  And anything you leave loose in your campsite is fair game.  They’ll steal anything smaller than a duffel bag that’s interesting looking, especially anything shiny or edible.  And just about anything is one or the other from their point of view.  One sat in a tree above our campsite and serenaded us with abuse at sunset and again at sunrise.  All in all, a very impressive creature.  Almost thirty years ago I read a book called “Ravens in Winter” by a guy named Bernd Heinrich.  He was studying ravens in Maine.  He described how intelligent and social the birds were.  I’ve always wanted to see them up close.  Now I’m jealous of those living in the west where they are very common.