Camera Girl is a remarkable human being but she is, foremost, a woman. And any husband worth his salt will tell you that’s not an unalloyed blessing. One of the many things that separate women from rational human beings is their love of soap operas. And this includes that bane of late 20th and early 21st century life, the nighttime soap. Luckily when we were young, we had children so we were too busy in the heyday of nighttime soaps to watch Dallas, Dynasty, Knots Landing, Melrose Place and the rest of that bilge.
But now that we are mostly empty nesters it’s no longer safe. And every once in a while, Camera Girl will reach beyond her annoying predilection for cop shows and look for something truly awful. And so it is that I have been dragged kicking and screaming into the demented saga that is Yellowstone. Kevin Costner and a mostly unknown cast (at least to me) ride horses and shoot guns up in Montana trying to preserve their Ponderosa sized cattle ranch from the real estate speculators, Indian tribes, disloyal cowboys, hedge fund pirates and other assorted lunatics who all seem to need killing. And kill them they do. Their enemies end up shot, stabbed, drowned, blown up, or pushed off cliffs more or less with impunity. And within the family, hatred and dysfunction are on full display. The daughter is a foul-mouthed man-eating lawyer. The lawyer son is her foil that she despises, berates and occasionally assaults. The cowboy brother is the hero, I guess. He’s a decorated war hero and his Indian wife and son have left the reservation and live on the ranch now.
The show truly is a ridiculous nighttime soap with egregious plots and ridiculous dialog. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised when I started hearing some of my favorite country artists on the soundtrack. Colter Wall, Tyler Childers, Chris Stapleton, Ryan Bingham and a bunch of other good to excellent country acts provide at least an interesting aural experience to go along with the annoying goings on at the Dutton family ranch.
One other saving grace that the show possesses are the vistas and landscapes that seem to surround you wherever you look in that magnificent big sky country. The juxtaposition of soaring snowy mountains, cascading rivers, verdant plains and technicolor blue skies can be seen sometimes all in one shot. You often find yourself wanting to yell at the actors to shut up and get out of the camera’s field of view and stop ruining the experience of just seeing and hearing the grandeur on display. But unfortunately, thy will go on yammering about whatever crime or deal they are conniving that week.
So that tells you all you need to know about the show. And honestly there is no way I can say I recommend this train wreck of a television experience. It’s a ghastly offense against story-telling. If you’re an enormous Kevin Costner fan I guess you can justify watching it to see him. He is one of the better parts of the show but even that isn’t saying much. And you can just listen to the soundtrack without watching the show. And I’m sure National Geographic has tons of documentary footage of Montana and Wyoming wilderness to watch anytime you want.
I, on the other hand, have to watch. Camera Girl is a woman and therefore barbarically cruel. I can always hope it will be cancelled soon. Damn you Costner.
At the end of his life Johnny Cash recorded a multi-album project. Listening to this album it’s unmistakable that we’re listening to a man at the end of his life. His voice is in tatters but for some of these songs it’s actually quite effective. The songs were a very divergent group that crossed over popular styles that spanned generations. There’s everything from modern songs like Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” to old standards like “Danny Boy” and “We’ll Meet Again.” And he included pop songs from the 1960s and 1970s like the Beatles’ “In My Life,” the Eagles’ “Desperado” and Simon and Garfunkle’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” He also includes several country western standards like “Sam Hall” and “Streets of Laredo.” But the highlight of the album is the title song “The Man Comes Around.” It’s a dark vision of the Judgement Day. Cash claims that some of the lines came to him in a strange dream. I listen to this song when I’m feeling particularly pessimistic about the future.
Not all the songs work for me. And I’ll guess that not everyone will agree with my picks but here they are:
The Man Comes Around
I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry
Streets of Laredo
For older die-hard fans of Cash this will be a bitter-sweet experience because of the circumstances of this music. But I think the title song is a very stirring song that’s worth a listen by country music fans.
Back in 2000 I went to see the Coen Brothers movie of the same name and even though George Clooney was just as much of a progressive jerk back then as now I enjoyed the movie immensely. So, I bought the movie soundtrack sometime in early 2001 and listened to it from time to time. Then 9/11 happened and I found myself listening to that album over and over. One song especially, “Angel Band,” seemed soothing and fit my mood. About the same time, I was driving home from work, listening to the local classic rock station and it struck me that I had heard the same six songs on the way home for the last six months and just couldn’t stand to hear them again. So, I tried a few of the other rock stations and realized they were playing exactly the same songs. In desperation I clicked around to see what else was playing. Eventually I stumbled on a country music station and by some weird coincidence they were playing Angel Band! I took it as a divine intervention and from then on, I switched to country music.
So that may explain why I have an exaggerated regard for “O Brother Where Art Though.” But undoubtedly it is a very good album. Even the songs that are not strictly country fit the mood of the collection. My favorite songs in the collection are:
Down to the River to Pray (Alison Krauss)
I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow (Dick Burnett)
Didn’t Leave Nobody but the Baby (Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch)
Indian War Whoop (John Hartford)
Angel Band (The Stanley Brothers)
I’ll review the movie separately but I don’t think it’s necessary to watch the movie to enjoy the music but it does add an extra dimension to the experience which I recommend.
Chris Stapleton is a big country music star. His 2015 debut solo album Traveller was double platinum and went to number 1 on Billboard. But I only heard of him when I looked up a song that was on the soundtrack of the movie Hell or High Water that I watched last year. That was the song “Outlaw State of Mind.” So, I figured I’d buy the album it was released on and that was “Traveller.” Chris Stapleton is a very successful songwriter with his songs being sung by country artists such as Luke Bryan, Tim McGraw, Brad Paisley and Dierks Bentley. And when you listen to this album you realize he is a fantastic lyricist. It is filled with great music. There are all kinds of different songs, songs about love, heartache, addiction, music, God and working-class alienation. There’s plenty of good stuff on it but being the romantic that I am my favorite song on the album is a love song called “More of You.” It’ a mandolin accompaniment to a husband describing his undying love for his wife. As a man married for almost a lifetime to a woman as stubborn and aggravating as Camera Girl no one is more aware of the homicidal impulses that can awaken in a husband’s tortured mind when such a woman really tries to twist the knife. But I also know the flipside, which is that a good marriage is the best thing that can happen to a man. This song captures that good side. It is simple, tender and beautiful.
The Zac Brown Band has been putting out country albums since 2005 but the two albums that caught my attention are “The Foundation” (2008) and “You Get What You Give” (2010). These two albums have some of Zac’s best songs. Many of them are ones you’ll enjoy listening to over and over. Here are some of my favorites:
Highway 20 Ride
You Get What You Give
I Play the Road
Zac fills his albums with songs that are original and meaningful. He has a sound that combines elements of country, bluegrass and Southern Rock. On a few songs on these albums he’ll mix in some reggae stuff which isn’t my favorite thing but usually it’s okay. He writes most of the songs and fills them with great instrumental work and heartfelt lyrics. And he even has a few comical songs which I like. Of course, nobody will like all the songs and I’m sure there are some folks who won’t like his stuff but I’ll risk a statement that most country music fans will like quite a lot of these two albums.
Zac has a bunch of other albums but in my opinion, these are his best two efforts so far. In another review I’ll pick out the rest of his work to highlight the best of these other albums.
Since nothing new has caught my attention in Country lately I’ve decided to do retrospectives on some of my favorite artists. I’ll start with Tobey Keith. I consider Tobey one of the most successful Country Music singers. He has quite a number of songs that are truly excellent. These are songs that you can play over any number of times without wearing them out. And Keith has a variety of song types. He has serious patriotic ones, comic ones and ones that sing about the vicissitudes of modern life. He has a strong pleasant voice and he uses both country and western melodies with occasional rock and other music types.
Another aspect of Tobey Keith is his unashamed patriotism and his well-known support for the military. Keith performed in Iraq during the war and embraced charities that helped the wounded soldiers and penned the song American Soldier as a tribute to the fighting men.
So, Tobey writes his own songs, has produced twenty-five albums, won numerous awards and is worth over five hundred million dollars. Not bad for a country boy from Oklahoma. But all that is beside the point. He has a boatload of good country music and if you go through his greatest hits, you’re bound to find several that you’ll enjoy. Well, at least, I think you will.
Here are a number of songs that I especially enjoy in the categories I’ve grouped them in.
Courtesy of The Red, White & Blue (The Angry American)
When I played Sturgill Simpson’s “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music” a while ago, I was struck by the fact that he could write an excellent and very genuine country song like Panbowl but didn’t really seem to belong to the genre on a consistent basis. Later I listened to “High Top Mountain” and noted that this was an album that followed the country music conventions but breathed an original and idiosyncratic life into them.
Recently I bought Simpson’s “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth” and “Sound & Fury” albums. I can officially declare that Sturgill Simpson’s days as a country musician have ended. A Sailor’s Guide is an album of personal songs, some to his young child, that might be characterized as some kind of combination of folk/pop and a smattering of everything else. Sound and Fury is what a musician I know described as techno-metal.
Whatever they are, they ain’t country. It seems that musicians wander into country via folk music origins, probably because it’s commercially viable and then can’t maintain the interest. I think many of them feel too constrained or long to add other sounds to the mix.
So unless someone tells me that Sturgill Simpson has become possessed by the spirit of Hank Williams Senior I won’t be checking out his subsequent releases.
I’m a fan of Tyler Childers’ music. He’s a singer songwriter with an interesting voice and talent for producing lively melodies. And he tells stories about modern Appalachia. Stories about country people and stories about himself. One of my favorites of his songs is a murder ballad on his Purgatory album called Banded Clovis. His lyrics paint an engaging picture of the murderer at the moment when greed and desperation over comes camaraderie and decency.
Childers’ new album Country Squire is in the same cast as Purgatory. It has songs that describe the life of every day folks in Appalachia and also has more autobiographical songs about his life on the road as a musician. For me these personal songs are not as compelling because that lifestyle doesn’t resonate with how I live. But the other songs are more interesting to me. So, unsurprisingly the three songs I like best on the album are of this type; Creeker, Peace of Mind and Matthew. They’re just stories of everyday people living everyday lives. But Childers is able to generate good country songs with it. The other six songs have a number of what I called above autobiographical songs and here it’s more hit or miss. “Country Squire” and “Bus Route” are pretty good. But “Ever Lovin’ Hand” I’ll take a pass on. The musicality is fine but the story is too odd for me.
So if you’re a Tyler Childers fan you’ll like Country Squire. If you’re a country music fan give it a try but I would start with his Purgatory album first. I think it’s a better introduction to his range of songs.