As I was scouring the neighborhood around 9pm last night after work looking for an open pet store, I flipped through the local radio stations looking for something new and interesting. I really didn’t expect to find much, but after awhile, I finally hit something with an interesting beat and lyrics. Something that I hadn’t heard before and sounded different. I kinda liked it, but couldn’t place it.
It turns out that the station was previewing the new Green Day album, 21st Century Breakdown, (due out in stores and online today). I consider myself somewhat of a Green Day fan, despite the fact I only own Dookie and American Idiot. (And there’s a good, somewhat funny concert story related to the band mixed in there as well.) As such, I’ve been cautiously optimistic about their new album.
From what I heard in between futile stops at closed pet stores, I decided to buy it today. But as I made that decision, I realized that, while maybe I’m just uninformed, there are very few albums coming out that I’m genuinely looking forward to with anticipation and excitement. And I was truly surprised about how ambivalent I really felt about this release by a band that I know I like. Maybe that’s because as we get older, we become more picky and more frugal. Or perhaps we just haven’t heard anything awesome in such a long time, we figure it might be best to wait and see if we hear a buzz before we cautiously download a song, much less an entire album.
Still available on Amazon (Tuesday)! Don’t miss this opportunity to add Steve Earle’s newest album, Townes, to your collection for only $2.99!
Although Earle has covered Townes Van Zandt’s material throughout his career, this is the first time he’s put together an album entirely dedicated to Van Zandt’s songs. A master covering a master can only yield brilliant results, right? I’ll be reviewing this album later on, but check it out and let me know what you think!
One of country music’s gifts is its ability to evoke strong images and feelings through its relatable lyrics. And nothing engenders intense, occasionally conflicting, emotions like your hometown. Whether or not your hometown is a reflection of who you are or have become, it is an integral part of your personal history and has influenced you in ways perhaps too obscure to realize.
I love hometown songs because of the obvious emotion behind the lyrics. That emotion is always imbued with a sense of nostalgia or longing (for what was or what could be or what might have been), even if the lyrics don’t necessarily shine a positive light on the hometown. It’s an irresistible combination, especially for country music listeners.
Anyone who reads Bob Lefsetz’ “The Lefsetz Letter” knows that Lefsetz is a fairly new country music fan, but a passionate one all the same. I frequently disagree with his current assessment of country music, particularly country radio (although recently he has clued in to its frequent vapidness and monotony), but he’s a fantastic voice out there championing country music.
In a recent letter, he made some interesting statements about his desired role for the future of country music (i.e. the classic rock of the future). After approvingly citing the recent Newsweek article which bemoaned the current state of country music, Lefsetz stated:
Country used to have an edge. My buddy Pete Anderson would love to bring it back. But I’m thinking we’ve just got to move the needle a little bit, and suddenly we’ve got the rock business we used to have, the one that triumphed in the seventies.
What a difference a day makes. With Day One’s mishaps still fresh in my mind, I set out for Day Two of the Stagecoach Festival with a renewed sense of purpose and new insight on the day’s upcoming adventure. Keeping in mind lessons learned on Day One, I grabbed a map from the front desk of my hotel, set out early, purchased a chair on sale for $8 at Target, bypassed the long line in front of the main entrance to the Festival, and located a too-good-to-be-true back entrance to the parking lot. Amazingly, within five minutes of arriving at the polo fields, I was on my way to the Mane Stage with my new chair and re-filled water bottle in hand. (Kudos to Stagecoach for being so eco-friendly!)
As soon as possible after depositing my chair and blanket between a large stack of hay bales and the largest speaker I could find, I split for the side stages. With fewer people on the grounds, I finally realized how big the Festival actually was—it was huge! It had everything, from a CMT sing-a-long tent to a bucking bronco ride. It even had an abhorrent t-shirt tent full of homophobic and xenophobic t-shirts (an anomaly at an otherwise pretty classy event). Thankfully, on Day Two I also discovered the heart of the Festival: the bands playing in the two large tents off to the side of the Mane stage. The crowds weren’t nearly as large—at the beginning of the day, the large airy tents were mostly empty—but the smattering of hay bales were packed, the audience enthusiastic and the artists often times more talented than their famous peers on the Mane stage.
Live and learn. I did a lot of living and learning during my first day (ever) at the Stagecoach Country Music Festival in Indio, California. First lesson: Don’t rely on MapQuest. I didn’t take the large black freeways on the map to the beautiful but bizarre desert retirement slash resort community that hosts Stagecoach. Or the smaller blue lines, or even the teensy red ones. I took the non-existent purple ones through the backcountry past unusual rock formations and the odd farmhouse. It was just me and the random tanker truck going mach negativo.
Second lesson: Show up early. The tanker truck and purple lines aside, I didn’t plan well. And any plans I did have were shot to h*** as soon as I arrived at the polo fields and, well, circled the fields at a crawl (which is a generous term) for nigh two hours before entering the parking lot. So, as I slowly watched the thermometer inch up towards 100 degrees on my dashboard, I kissed goodbye my plans for The Infamous Stringdusters and Lynn Anderson. I’m sorry, guys.
Third lesson: Don’t presume anything about country music fans. While I was very slowly making my way into the parking lot, I took notice of the cars around me. There was a BMW in front of me, a Porsche on my left and a Mercedes behind me. Hmmm…didn’t they hear that polo was cancelled this weekend? But no, the fancy cars were full of college kids, a large family and an old couple…all dressed in cowboy boots and hats and headed to the festival. I’d say welcome to country music, Southern California style: cowboy boots and Gucci purses, but that would cheapen the genuine spirit of those who attended the festival. While not precisely diverse, I doubt you will find a more overall wholesome group of people anywhere. You can only have organized chaos in a group this large with people like this.
It has finally cooled off here in Southern California, so I’m headed out to the Stagecoach Festival in Indio, California this weekend, April 25-26! The country cousin of Coachella, Stagecoach is now in its third year and will be playing host to nearly 40 acts, including Reba McEntire, Brad Paisley, Little Big Town, Lady Antebellum, Darius Rucker, Kenny Chesney, Zac Brown Band and Miranda Lambert.
I’m excited for the festival, particularly because it hosts a mix of country music, from mainstream country to bluegrass, folk, roots rock and alt-country. With three different stages – appropriately named “Mane,” “Palomino” and “Mustang” – set on the beautiful Empire Polo fields in Indio, the Festival provides a fantastic opportunity to check out the entire gamut of styles and personalities in country music.
“Love, love, love, love…” crazy love? Unfortunately, no. There is a brief moment at the beginning of “Dreaming Love” where you think Kate & Kacey might break into Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love.” But no, we’re not that fortunate.
Kate & Kacey do have some songwriting chops. In fact, they have a co-write with Jamey Johnson coming out on George Strait’s upcoming album. However, “Dreaming Love” is not a shimmering display of those abilities. Overall, the song is plagued with a pretty but forgettable tune (slightly reminiscent in parts of Heidi Newfield’s “Johnny and June”), decidedly unmemorable vocals and unimaginative lyrics expounding on that n’er-written-about subject, love.
Emily West’s latest single “That Kind of Happy” genuinely makes me “that kind of happy” while somehow managing not to be “fake happy” (i.e., “country radio happy”) in the process. Finally, someone got it right. West shows us that a fun song, a fascinating vocal performance chalk full of personality and genuine talent are not mutually exclusive. This is far and away my favorite single of the year so far.
I wasn’t sold on West’s music with her last single “Rocks in Your Shoes,” but I was sold on the artist. Her personality was infectious. This time around, I’m sold on the music as well. Her appreciation for older artists isn’t superficial and that comes across in her production and vocal choices. This single is very modern, yet at the same time feels surprisingly traditional. It’s a good combo and it works very well for West.
The following is a guest contribution from Charles H. Geier. Charles runs two excellent sites of his own – The Widening Geier and Sports Statistics: By the Numbers.
Country music is a genre which I have come to appreciate largely through osmosis. My parents did not play it in the house or the car when I was growing up. New York has had trouble maintaining a quality country station, and even when it has, the radio dial did not find its way down there often.
My youth occurred before the internet and satellite radio, and our tape deck for car trips tended to be filled with Phil Collins, Paul Simon and the soundtrack to various musicals (being the youngest, my objections were drowned out by “Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes”…etc). My mother did occasionally refer to my father’s affinity for Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman”, but mostly because he would never sing past the first seven words.