I’ve known about Kinky Friedman for some years now. Actually, I should be more specific and say that I’ve known Kinky Friedman’s name for quite some years now. Because, to be honest, the only thing I really knew about him until very recently is that Willie Nelson supported him for Texas Governor in 2006, which should have peaked my interest enough to research him back then.
It wasn’t until recently, after doing an Amazon search for stray Todd Snider songs, that I realized that the colorful and fascinating Friedman, while politically extreme at times, was quite the singing satirist. On the 2006 album Why The Hell Not…The Songs of Kinky Friedman, I discovered an incredible cast of artists (Willie Nelson, Todd Snider, Bruce Robison, Asleep at the Wheel, Delbert McClinton, Charlie Robison, Dwight Yoakam, Kevin Fowler & Jason Boland) doing covers of Friedman’s songs, many so sharp that I was more than a little taken aback at first. Through satire and, sometimes, even seriousness, Freidman offers a lot of social commentary that is often colorful and always intriguing.
Although Friedman’s original versions aren’t especially appe
aling to me, the tribute album is engaging. Two songs in particular caught my attention right away. Kevin Fowler’s cover of “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven” and Todd Snider’s version of “They Ain’t Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore” are both addictively catchy and amusing. Snider’s song would easily fit next to his own socially charged compositions while Fowler’s choice is performed with a charming cheekiness.
While it would be violating Country Universe’s comment policy to quote Todd Snider’s song that deals with racism, I will provide a sample of the lyrics from Fowler’s deliciously ridiculous ditty, which is hopefully extreme enough to be obviously satirical in nature as social commentary.
Verse 1: You uppity women I don’t understand
Why you gotta go and try to act like a man,
But before you make your weekly visit to the shrink
You’d better occupy the kitchen, liberate the sink.
Chorus: Get your biscuits in the oven and your buns in the bed
That’s what I to my baby said,
Women’s liberation is a-going to your head,
Get your biscuits in the oven and your buns in the bed.
Kinky Friedman’s brand of social commentary may be understandably too inflammatory and extreme for many people, but my call to Country Universe readers tonight is to recommend a satirical song that you find appealing.
The lead single from Willie Nelson’s forthcoming Western Swing collaboration with Asleep at the Wheel (titled Willie and the Wheel, natch) offers lots of reasons to expect that the album’s February 3rd release will signal a great day for music fans. “Hesitation Blues” is an old blues standard which has been knocked around by everyone from Jelly Roll Morton to Janis Joplin to Doc Watson to modern jug band Old Crow Medicine Show, but Nelson & Co. manage to bring an unusual rightness to their take, honoring the song’s traditions while still making an effort to mix things up in a way that feels organic rather than calculated.
Of course, it helps that one of the song’s traditions is to mix things up. You’d be hard-pressed to find two renditions of “Hesitation Blues” that actually have a great deal in common since, as with many standards popularized in the early 1900′s, it has undergone multiple transformations of title (the most notable variation being Charlie Poole’s “If the River Was Whiskey”), arrangement, and, perhaps most importantly, lyrics. Indeed, the only line that seems constant throughout the multiple renditions is the hook, “Tell me how long / Do I have to wait / Can I get you now / Must I hesitate,” and even thatone has been subject to minor rephrasing.
Given this across-the-map pedigree, you could almost say it’s become the de facto duty of anyone looking to cover “Hesitation Blues” to retool its sound and lyrics in a fashion both original and still coherent with the old-time novelty setting. And it’s Willie ‘n’ Wheel’s success at managing that balance that makes this recording probably one of the song’s most memorable treatments ever – by anyone.
High praise there, to be sure. But the uptempo riverboat-swing arrangement here is perfectly suited to the melody, the instrumentation is faultless, and the cheerier pace is matched ideally with goofy lyrical recounts like, “Woke up this morning / Lookin’ for my shoes” and “Saw your little monkey / Doin’ the sweet jelly roll” (a possible shout-out to Morton). If anything, the execution might seem a little too effortless to be completely riveting – but how refreshing is it to have your biggest problem with a record be that it sounds too polished, too well-studied and thought-out?
Safe or no, this is a boogie-worthy romp that sounds so classic that you might have trouble believing it was actually recorded this decade. I’ve always felt that you can’t get a full picture of an artist’s talents without seeing how well they handle time-honored material, and make no mistake: the folks behind this particular curtain are full-blown masters.
A look back at the previous winners and nominees of the Best Country Album Grammy, updated to include the 2009 contenders.
The Grammys have been doing better in the country categories since they reintroduced the Best Country Album category in 1995, which had only been in existence for two years in the 1960s. Prior to 1995, albums and singles were both eligible in the vocalist categories, so full albums would compete against single tracks in Best Male Country Vocal Performance, for example.
Looking over the history of this fairly young category, you can see trends emerge, with certain acts clearly being favorites of NARAS. You see the same trend with the CMAs, just with different people. What is clear with the Grammys is that radio and retail success will only carry you so far. For awards that are supposed to be based on artistic merit, that’s how it should be.
As with the CMA flashbacks, we’ll begin with a look at this year’s nominees, then discuss previous year’s in reverse chronological order. Winners are in bold.
Be sure to drop by My Kind of Country and vote in their Best Country Album poll. Let your preference be known!
Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song
Patty Loveless, Sleepless Nights
George Strait, Troubadour
Randy Travis, Around the Bend
Trisha Yearwood, Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love
Four veterans and one newcomer vie for this year’s Best Country Album, and it’s a wide-open race with no obvious favorite. The critically acclaimed breakthrough album of Jamey Johnson could earn him his first Grammy. The legendary George Strait would like to start a Grammy collection of his own. Like fellow nominee Patty Loveless, this is his third nomination for this award. While Loveless has also yet to win this one, she does have a Grammy already, for her contributions to the multi-artist collaboration “Same Old Train.”
Randy Travis is a real contender here; five of his previous albums have won Grammys. Two of them (Always & Forever, Old 8×10) won in the Best Male Country Vocal Performance category, back when albums and singles competed with each other in that race. And while this is his first nomination for Best Country Album, he was won Best Southern, Country, or Bluegrass Gospel Album three times, for Glory Train (2007), Worship & Faith (2005) and Rise and Shine (2004.)
While Vince Gill broke the all-female trend in this category last year, he was nominated in an all-male field. If the trend begins again this year, this will be a battle between Loveless and Trisha Yearwood. The latter’s Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love is arguably the strongest album in this category, and while Yearwood won three Grammys in the nineties, she has never won Best Country Album, despite earning more nominations than any other artist in the history of the category – Heartache is her eighth set to contend for the trophy. She’s beyond overdue, but her competition is formidable.
Dierks Bentley, Long Trip Alone
Vince Gill, These Days
Tim McGraw, Let it Go
Brad Paisley, 5th Gear
George Strait, It Just Comes Natural
With the exception of Shania Twain’s Come On Over, no album that has also been nominated for the general Album of the Year race has failed to win Best Country Album. So it was no surprise when Vince Gill picked up the trophy for his four-disc opus These Days. In his acceptance speech, he good-naturedly ribbed Kanye West, providing one of the evening’s brightest moments.
Dixie Chicks, Taking the Long Way
Alan Jackson, Like Red On a Rose
Little Big Town, The Road to Here
Willie Nelson, You Don’t Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker
Josh Turner, Your Man
The Chicks became the first artists in Grammy history to win four genre Best Album awards, breaking their tie with Eminem, who has won three Best Rap Album trophies. This was one of five trophies they took home at the February 2007 ceremony, and the album returned to #1 on the country chart and back to the pop top ten on the strength of those victories.
Anybody looking forward to particular releases next year? Country Music Central is my go-to place for upcoming releases, and it looks like things are typically slow for the first quarter.
I’m looking forward to the new Dierks Bentley and the Willie Nelson/Asleep at the Wheel collaboration. The new year should also bring studio albums from Keith Urban and Tim McGraw. More than anything else, I’d like some new music from Shania Twain and Faith Hill, who have gone quite a few years without a proper new album.
But what I’m most pumped for right now is the February release of Wynonna’s Sing – Chapter 1. Listening to the samples below, this sounds like it will be the most interesting covers collection since Dwight Yoakam’s.
What releases are you looking forward to and hoping for in 2009?
One of my favorite features to write for Country Universe is Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists. So, since I love Christmas music, it seems natural that I change the format a bit to accommodate a list of my favorite Christmas songs.
Narrowing my favorite Christmas songs down to twenty-five choices proved to be a nearly impossible challenge. In order to accomplish this feat, I had to do two things: (1) disqualify all quintessential versions of classics, i.e., Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” or any songs by Gene Autry. Instead, I’ve stuck to modern country versions of any classics that may appear on this list. (2) Limit the number of classics included on this list so that there can be room for as many original Christmas songs as possible.
You can listen to most of the songs and purchase them through the Amazon link at the end. Merry Christmas!
Asleep At The Wheel, “Christmas in Jail”
Merry Texas Christmas, Y’All, 1997
Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel have a fun time with “Christmas In Jail.” The lesson he learns?: “Ain’t going to drink and drive no more.” Good!
Roger Miller, “Old Toy Trains”
King Of The Road: The Genius of Roger Miller, 1995
I first heard this song as a little girl on a Raffi Christmas album, long before I had any idea of who Roger Miller was. So, after I discovered country music and Roger Miller, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this familiar song was actually written by Roger Miller for his son Dean. In this sweet and irresistible ditty, Miller is trying to coax his little boy to go to bed despite the excitement of Christmas
Clint Black, “Til’ Santa’s Gone (Milk And Cookies)”
Looking For Christmas, 1995
This is sung from the perspective of a five-year-old who is getting ready for Santa’s impending visit. He knows what brings Santa back every year. Milk and cookies, of course!
Earlier this year, the Grammys celebrated their fiftieth anniversary with a series of compilations focusing on winners in different fields. Two of the best entries in this series focused on country music. With five decades of winners to choose from, it’s no surprise that Ultimate Grammy Collection: Classic Country and Ultimate Grammy Collection: Contemporary Country are solid collections.
The Classic Country set is particularly strong, including a diverse selection of significant artists from the sixties and seventies. Even better, most of them are represented with their signature tracks. Roger Miller opens the set with “King of the Road”, easily his biggest hit. Other superstars include Tammy Wynette (“Stand By Your Man”), Johnny Cash (“A Boy Named Sue”) and Waylon & Willie (“Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.”)
As the collection moves on to the seventies and eighties, there is a healthy portion of pop-country classics from the likes of Kenny Rogers (“The Gambler”), Dolly Parton (“9 to 5″), Crystal Gayle (“Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue”) and Willie Nelson (“Always on My Mind”). In the midst of that crossover sound, however, there’s a healthy dose of traditional country, courtesy of George Jones with “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
That Jones track is the only one that wouldn’t be familiar to fans that buy the set because they remember those crossover hits, even though it’s a country classic. They might also revel in the discovery of Ray Price (“For the Good Times”) and Jerry Reed (“When You’re Hot, You’re Hot”), which were both AM radio staples back when top 40 regularly played country records. The set also includes mega-hits from Charlie Daniels Band, Lynn Anderson, Donna Fargo and Jeannie C. Riley. The only real misstep is the inclusion of Johnny Cash & June Carter’s “If I Were a Carpenter”, an unnecessary inclusion that was no doubt shoehorned in because of lingering sentiment for all things Cash. That slot would’ve been better represented with Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn’s “After the Fire is Gone.”