Quick Reads: Country Reviews      

  • CARTER FAMILY – ON BORDER RADIO – 1939: VOL. 1 (Arhoolie)(1995)
  • STANLEY BROTHERS – THE COMPLETE COLUMBIA STANLEY BROTHERS (Sony)(1996)
  • STANLEY BROTHERS – ANGEL BAND: THE CLASSIC MERCURY RECORDINGS (Mercury)(1995)
  • ROSANNE CASH – RETROSPECTIVE (Columbia)(1995)

CARTER FAMILY - ON BORDER RADIOThe Carter Family were one of the most significant ensembles in the history of American music. The roots of folk, country, gospel and bluegrass all stretch back to the group. Originally from the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, A.P.Carter, his wife Sara and her cousin, Maybelle recorded for 14 years, from 1927 until 1941. In various permutations the family has remained a presence on the music scene ever since.

On Border Radio offers excerpts from radio shows broadcast in 1939 on Mexican/American border radio. In addition to the trio the disc features the first recorded appearance of a second generation of Carters: four of their daughters, aged 6-12 are featured on a number of selections.

The mood is more relaxed than on studio recordings. At the time it was assumed these recordings would be heard once or twice and thrown away. The sound is surprisingly good considering the source is long discarded acetates. Announcer “Brother” Bill Guild’s introductions of songs, replete with infrequent Biblical references, (a large part of the repertoire is comprised of spirituals) and advertisements to visit Mexico enhance the mood, and are perfect compliments to the music. A worthy addition to the Carter Family’s catalogue.

Complete Columbia Stanley BrothersRalph and Carter Stanley also hailed from the Appalachian Mountains. For nearly 20 years the Brothers were one of the country’s top bluegrass attractions, rivaling Flatt and Scruggs and Bill Monroe in popularity. First recording in 1948, the Stanley Brothers were perceived by Monroe, the undisputed father of bluegrass to be such a threat that upon their signing with Columbia Records the next year, he left the label in protest. High lonesome three part harmonies coupled with soulful playing brought about a sound that owed equally to Monroe and the Carters. The Stanley’s’ version of a Carter Family original The Wandering Boy is included on the Columbia release, which collects material recorded from 1949-1952. The Mercury anthology samples material released on the label between 1954 -1958. The Stanleys never attempted to modernize their sound, sticking with traditional bluegrass themes of faith, mother, and home.

The Carter Family has continued with impressive showings from generation number three. Carlene Carter, June’s daughter, has produced a number of successful country releases over the last few years, meanwhile stepdaughter Rosanne Cash (daughter of Johnny) has followed a path that has led her away from the country scene.

BOB NEUWIRTH - LOOK UPBOB NEUWIRTH – LOOK UP (Watermelon)

Bob Neuwirth is a true underground legend. As Bob Dylan’s right hand man he appeared in the Don’t Look Back film, wrote Mercedes Benz with Janis Joplin, baby-sat Jim Morrison, mentored Patti Smith and toured as part of the Rolling Thunder Revue. Look Up, described as “a modern day field trip” pairs Neuwirth with musical friends around the world, recording in their homes. Informal enough to leave an unanswered telephone ringing, Neuwirth delivers songs in a gruff voice that bellies his reputation as one of the finest writers around. Cronies including Butch Hancock, Sandy Bull, Elliot Murphy, Victoria Williams, Patti Smith and Peter Case. Neuwirth’s take on the gospel is a natural as anything he writes about: dreams of salty Margaritas and Jesus both ring true.

© John Cody 1996

JOHNNY CASH - UNCHAINEDJOHNNY CASH – UNCHAINED (American)

Mixing contemporary covers with originals and older chestnuts, Johnny Cash offers a companion to his splendid return to form, 1994’s American Recordings. While that album was primarily accoustic, Unchained features first rate backing throughout from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Soundgarden’s Rusty Cage could well depict Cash’s physical struggles. A jaw ailment keeps him in almost constant pain. The condition, unresponsive to years of therapy and numerous surgeries is further exasperated by his steadfast refusal (Cash has a history of addictions to pills) to accept any form of medication. Thus there is more than a cursory reading of the lines “You wired me awake and hit me with a hand of broken nails” but the hope lies in the chorus, where, like the lure of heaven, he declares “but I’m gonna break my rusty cage and run”. Throughout Cash makes it clear real peace is to be found in Christ, from the title track where he cries “Take the weight from me, let my spirit be unchained” and in Josh Haden’s Spiritual where he repeats “Oh Jesus, I don’t want to die alone.”

Covers of Dean Martin’s biggest hit Memories Are Made of This and Hank Snow’s I’ve Been Everywhere sit well alongside Beck’s Rowboat. But spiritual themes dominate the album, including Kneeling Drunkard’s Prayer and Meet Me In Heaven.

Throughout Cash is backed by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, who are the perfect backing band for this project.

  • ROSANNE CASH – RETROSPECTIVE (Columbia)(1995)
  • ROSANNE CASH – 10 SONG DEMO (Capitol)(1996)

Like her father, Rosanne Cash has followed a path that into areas foreign to most of the country music mainstream.

ROSANNE CASH - RETROSPECTIVERetrospective compliments Cash’s previous collection, Hits: 1979 -1989, offering an excellent overview without duplicating tracks included on the previous package. While her initial success was within the country vein, each successive release moved further away from any sort of Nashville formula. Cash’s final albums for Columbia, Interiors and The Wheel, marked a radical abandonment of the status quo. For purists irked by her decidedly feminist slant these albums nailed the lid shut on any chance of long-term country stardom. Both discs document the dissolution of her marriage to singer Rodney Crowell. Always an eloquent voice when dealing with affairs of the heart, these albums easily surpassed previous efforts. Songs such as What We Really Want and On the Surface (her final #1) deal with horrid issues with a matter-of-fact approach. From here on in she would be labeled a “women’s writer” rather than country. With a handful of tracks recorded specifically for the collection, Retrospective offers a fine overview of a first rate artist often misunderstood.

ROSANNE CASH - 10 SONG DEMOCash’s debut for Capitol Records, 10 song demo (actually 11 songs – the original title stuck) continues the string of excellent releases. Initially recorded as pre-production demos for a fully produced album, the label proposed the tapes be released as is and Cash agreed. Performances are limited to new husband/producer John Leventhal and Cash herself. The songs suit the sparse arrangements perfectly. Anything more would have approached overkill. Thematically the introspective journey is continued. While Cash appears to follow a number of philosophys, even when new age ideology is espoused, she counts the cost of living outside God’s will. Price of Temptation speaks of the cost of betrayal. The Summer I Read Collette relates her discovery of the French author, an obvious influence.

Sharing an approach similar to younger singers like P.J. Harvey and Liz Phair, Cash manages to convey the same sentiments without resorting to over the top statements, be it lyrical or musical. It’s a more mature, spiritual approach that comes across as a grown up version of the above mentioned artists. There is acceptance of loss, celebration of what remains, and a sense of calm throughout. An honest depiction of “the inner richness of women’s lives” her music is universal.

JASON AND THE SCORCHERS - CLEAR IMPETUOUS MORNINGJASON AND THE SCORCHERS – CLEAR IMPETUOUS MORNING (Mammoth/Attic) (1996)

Coming onto the scene in the mid 80s, Jason and the Scorchers offered a potent blend of country mixed with punk rock energy. A killer version of Bob Dylan’s Absolutely Sweet Marie got the band noticed quick, and a series of albums soon followed. Known for their wild live shows, the band was at the top of the short-lived cowpunk scene. Jason was equally well known for his excesses: in addition to a stage persona that brought to mind Carl Perkins-meets-Iggy Pop, a serious drinking problem grew. Over the years the band was overshadowed by younger acts, eventually losing it’s major label deal and reduced to playing increasingly smaller venues until the inevitable parting of the ways came near the end of the decade.

After an ill-fated solo outing and a messy divorce Ringenberg hit bottom. Upon sobering up Ringenberg returned to his Catholic roots, and regrouped all four original Scorchers for 1995s’ A Blazing Grace. Since the band’s reuniting drummer Perry Baggs, whose father was a gospel singer, has also returned to the church. Returning to the scene they helped create (now labeled alternative country), the ferocious edge remains, and the band is experiencing a second wind 15 years after they first hit.

If A Blazing Grace served notice that the Scorchers were back, Morning ups the stakes, with more solid writing and playing. Although there seems little chance of the act ever becoming popular on the CCM scene, a strong sense of biblical grace is apparent through most of the album. Self-Sabotage offers a cow punk read on Paul’s questioning (Rom 7:15) of why he does what he doesn’t want to do. Going Nowhere tells the story of a prodigal daughter. Victory Road offers a joyous picture of one reaching out in faith: I’ve been looking for a miracle/tell me brother have you seen one/I’m so tired of being cynical/I want to kick my way to freedom. Everything Has A Cost features a duet with Emmylou Harris.

NORMA WATERSON - NORMA WATERSONNORMA WATERSON – NORMA WATERSON (Hannibal)

Waterson delivers a collection of folk tunes that evince her reputation as one of the finest vocalists in the genre. A stellar cast of back up players includes Richard Thompson, Danny Thompson and Martin Carthy. In addition to traditional tunes Waterson has assembled an impressive selection of newer material from writers not normally associated with the form, including Elvis Costello, Jerry Garcia, and Ben Harper. In the tradition of British folk, there are a number of adult subjects addressed, including a woman’s death at the hands of her father. Broken hearted lovers abound.

In amongst the darker forays Waterson includes songs that celebrate the gospel. The traditional There Is A Fountain In Christ’s Blood is given a reverent reading. Richard Thompson’s God Loves A Drunk, originally from his own Rumor and Sigh, offers a unique slant on the creator’s view of seemingly hopeless alcoholics.

  • JULIE MILLER – BLUE PONY (Hightone)
  • JIM WHITE – WRONG-EYED JESUS (Luaka Bop/Warner Bros.)

JULIE MILLER - BLUE PONYBetween 1990 and 1994 Julie Miller released four solid discs, each aimed squarely at the CCM market, and as good as they were, all missed the mark sales wise. Her fourth, Invisible Girl was particularly strong, but sales remained as depressing as ever. Given the right exposure, Miller’s rootsy mix of twang guitar and Appalachian style folk tunes coupled with a childlike delivery would seem to insure a bigger audience. The vocalist she most brings to mind, sometime singing partner Victoria Williams, is an prime example of quirkiness catching on with the general public.

With Blue Pony Miller has followed her husband Buddy, (whose debut effort Your Love and Other Crimes was one of the finest albums released in 1995) to mainstream label Hightone.

While the disc was recorded for a new market, Miller hardly changes her stance. As she explained to World Magazine, “I know the album’s for Hightone, so I’m not going to sell them a really heavy duty gospel record. But, then again, if I can’t be myself and release my heart – what’s the point. Our days are numbered, and I just want God to use my life. That’s all I really care about.”

Blue Pony makes good on the promise of all these years, offering the most mature, enjoyable disc of her career. Perhaps with Hightone behind her Miller will finally begin to reach the audience she deserves. To that end, the influential Entertainment Weekly magazine recently awarded the disc an A rating.

Miller’s pal Victoria Williams guests on the following two releases.

JIM WHITE - WRONG-EYED JESUSJim White’s debut, Wrong-Eyed Jesus, comes complete with a curious written testimony entitled The Mysterious Tale of How I Shouted “Wrong-Eyed Jesus!”. Sincere, and insisting it’s true, White comes across like a character straight out of a Flannery O’Conner story. Originally from Pensacola, Florida, White was raised in the Pentecostal church After what he describes as a “spiral of tragedy” a move to New York led to a career as a fashion model. For three years he traveled the world on high profile assignments, during which time he attempted to live the life of an ascetic. Summing up his philosophy in a recent interview White explained his philosophy- “If I said no to everybody about everything, somehow all the no’s would accumulate into one aggregate yes.” Abandoning modeling, his next move was to directed the feature-length movie, It’s a Beautiful World, a gloomy tale of deception and beauty. Only then, and almost by accident, did he turn to music. Overheard while singing alone, a friend encouraged White to record his songs. Purchasing substandard recording gear at a garage sale, a tape eventually reached David Byrne, who signed White to his label, Luaka Bop.

At times it’s next to impossible to pick up on exactly what White is saying thanks to a prominent southern drawl. The majority of songs deal with religion, spirituality, and life in general. Plucked banjos, steel guitar and half spoken vocals bring to mind early 20th century southern revivalists.. That’s not to say the stance is always serious. The Road That Leads To Heaven offers the self-depreciating sentiment: “She’s a brainy girl/that is good/she’s smarter than me/then so is wood.” Too wide ranging to fit into the currently popular No Depression scene, for those interested in something a bit more adventurous, White is worth searching out. Williams guests on the track Angel Land.

© John Cody 1997

Roger McGuinn: McGuinn’s Folk Den Vol 1Roger McGuinn: McGuinn’s Folk Den Vol 1, McGuinn Music, 1999

Roger McGuinn has always been attracted to the cutting-edge, be it gadgets or concepts. From his pioneering use of synthesizer (Moog Raga) with the Byrds, singing about friendly aliens a quarter of a century before we’d heard of the X-Files, or addressing car phones (from his solo disc Back To Rio) back when the idea was still novel, he’s always been a few steps ahead of the crowd.

Fittingly, he’s one of the first noteworthy artists to fully embrace the internet and it’s attendant breakthroughs in sales and distribution. After almost 5 decades recording for major labels, this is his first effort released without industry involvement. Utilizing the Digital Automatic Music (DAM) system, the disc works in both MP3 and standard CD audio formats.

Recorded at home, each of these tracks was previously featured as song of the month on his Folk Den website. Revisiting to his roots, the songs are traditional, or like Blind Willie Johnson’s John The Revelator, have become part of the folk vocabulary. McGuinn first recorded Mighty Day, which commemorates the great Galveston Flood of 1900, in 1961, as an accompanist for the Chad Mitchell Trio. The recording here is of similar vintage, and is easily mistakable for Bob Gibson, one of McGuinn’s early influences.

The remaining recordings are from the last couple of years, including a number of songs that reflect his faith – John The Revelator, Mary Had A Baby, Wayfaring Stranger. A natural pairing, just McGuinn and his guitars, it’s a surprise it was never attempted before. Then again, there’s no marketing experts to say it won’t work.

Price is reflected in the minimal packaging: $7.99 plus 50 cents postage gets the disc, a plain paper sleeve, and that’s it. But it’s the music that counts, and this is a bargain. Liner notes can be downloaded at his website. Not one to sit still, McGuinn is now offering downloadable video from his website.

Residents: WormwoodResidents: Wormwood, ESD, 1998

Conceptual artists employing a dada-esque mindset, the Residents are one of the quirkiest and downright original acts ever to enter a recording studio. Based in San Francisco, the group has released uncompromising music since the mid 70s.

Their debut, Meet the Residents, took the Meet the Beatles album cover artwork, modifying each Beatle’s face and in effect turning the fab four into mutants. Capitol Records was not amused, and subsequent pressings featured revamped artwork. A catalogue of over 30 releases includes such titles as Third Reich And Roll, Duckstab and 1989’s The King & Eye, a slightly more accessible disc which coupled reworked Elvis Presley songs with narration to a group of young listeners, confused as to just what sort of monarch this was.

Subtitled Curious Stories From The Bible, Wormwood is a collection of 20 tracks inspired by scripture. A spokesman for the group (they’ve never spoken publicly) describes the album as “The Residents’ window onto an ancient and bizarre culture.”

Claiming the Bible has been “handicapped” and “held hostage by zealots,” the project isn’t taking a stand against intolerance as much as offering “another voice.” These are not the stories dealt with on a typical Sunday sermon. Titles like They Are The Meat and Spilling The Seed are never going to be endorsed by Focus On The Family. The disc’s booklet contains lyrics, commentary and relevant scripture for those who would doubt these tales really come from the Bible.

For those interested in learning more regarding these curious stories, a few books worth checking out would be the Hard Sayings series (InterVarsity Press) and Gleason L. Archer’s Encylopedia of Bible Difficulties (Zondervan 1982).

As for the group’s own philosophy, the spokesman claims it’s quite random: “They feel that we’re all rolling around in a giant pinball machine”…. “If you’re lucky, you get to reach out and punch the flipper every 10 or 15 years.”

© John Cody 1999

Lyle Lovett: Live In TexasLyle Lovett: Live In Texas, Curb, 1999

Recorded in ’95, Live In Texas features Lovett and his Large Band taking on material from throughout his career. Lovett has a longstanding love affair with the Lone Star State – his most recent studio effort, 98’s Step Inside This House, was a two-disc tribute covering material from his favorite Big Sky songwriters. That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas) first recorded on The Road To Ensenada (’96) and reprised here, is a gospel-styled love song to the state, offering the couplet “Even Moses got excited when he saw the promised land.”

One of the more intriguing characters in music today, before his first album was released Lovett had already earned a degree in journalism, (which may partially account for some of the more colorful characters inhabiting his songs) and over the past decade he’s acted in a handful of movies, including critical favorites The Player, Short Cuts and The Opposite Of Sex.

Lovett’s late father was a long-serving member of the Trinity Lutheran Church in Klein, Texas. The family has deep roots there – his great grandfather helped found the church in 1873. When Lovett passed through town a few years back he made news when he was spotted attending Sunday service at a Lutheran church in Revelstoke. If this sounds like a public stance keep in mind Lovett has always played his cards close to the vest. There’s little help perusing lyrics. His songs at times appear almost nonsensical, yet somehow work, as in the opener, Penguins, a love song to the Webbed Wonder.

Church is typical – the story of a congregations’ hunger pangs as the Pastor threatens to preach all day long. A dove descends to the pulpit, only to be eaten by the preacher. The moral of the story: “Children it is plain but true/God knows if a preacher preaches long enough/Even he’ll get hungry too.”

For the neophyte, Live In Texas is an excellent introduction. Longtime fans, however, might prefer some original material – it’s been four years since a disc of new songs was released.

Terry Allen: SalivationTerry Allen: Salivation, Sugar Hill, 1999

Another Texas treasure, Terry Allen has never enjoyed more than marginal sales.

Operating under the radar, he’s produced a body of work that rivals and often exceeds any of his contemporaries. Working in theatre, sculpture, film, painting and more, music is just one facet of a remarkable talent. He’s received three NEA grants and holds a Guggenheim Fellowship. A renaissance man few are aware of. He’s recorded for 25 years, but outside of a handful covers by the likes of Little Feat and Bobby Bare, he’s still an unknown.

Like Lyle Lovett, his songwriting straddles too many genres to fit a single category. Numerous forms co-exist, the most prominent being country, but it’s about as far from the country espoused by Garth and his ilk as one could imagine. The songs are real, at times ugly, and unlikely to find their way onto radio. Tellingly, when asked to list his favorite musicians, the first name up is Captain Beefheart, followed by Joe Ely, David Byrne (he’s worked with both) and Lou Reed.

A keen observer of the human condition, here he takes on some of the dodgier aspects of the Americanized Christianity, including TV Preachers, cultists and holly rollers. He’s described the theme of the disc as dealing with “the collision of the need to damn and the need not to be damned…It deals with human needs slamming up against spiritual needs.” The results aren’t likely the pass muster in many churches, but like last summer’s Kevin Smith film Dogma, it’s an interesting, thought provoking journey.

A witty, literate writer, for the most part Allen avoids cheap shots. Salivation will likely do nothing to change his status within the music industry, but for those wanting something interesting, thought provoking, this will do the trick.

Tonio K: YugoslaviaTonio K: Yugoslavia, Gadfly, 1999

Yugosalvia marks K’s first album of new material in over a decade. While the still born Ole saw belated release in ‘98, and Rodent Weekend ’76-’96 (Approximately) a compilation of outtakes and rarities, was released the same year, this marks the first collection of new material since Notes From the Lost Civilization in ’88.

Much of the material here was written with other artists in mind, and as such is a bit more palpable that K’s more esoteric numbers. But there’s plenty of vintage material. Opening with “Sixteen Tons Of Monkeys” it’s clear he’s lost little of his bit over the years. Described in the liner notes as an “abstract autobiography” it captures the frustration and confusion that comes with trying to make sense of the world we live in. Like a character out of the Old Testament, he asks the hard questions and ain’t satisfied with pat answers.

Like T-Bone Burnett, Tonio K assumes his listeners are intelligent, and his disgust is tempered with compassion. Life’s Just Hard makes it clear we all struggle, and life without love means : “We die trying/To invent a substitute/We’ll do anything/Say anything/Be anything/Believe anything.”

A fine addition to the K. canon.

Julie Miller: Broken ThingsJulie Miller: Broken Things, HighTone, 1999

Broken Things is Julie Miller’s sixth album, and second release on HighTone, following the well received Blue Pony (1997). The title track, originally on He Walks Through Walls (1991), was subsequently recorded by the Williams Brothers, and more recently Lucy Kaplansky. ‘All My Tears,’ from Orphans And Angels (1993), later covered by Emmylou Harris and Little Jimmy Scott, is reprised with Steve Earle sitting in on mandolin. Apart from a cover of the traditional standard ‘Two Soldiers,’ the disc is made up of nine new original tracks that show her to be in top form.

Before moving into the mainstream, Miller released four discs into the CCM market. Years ago she described her frustrations to CCM Magazine: “I’m not for everyone; I’m sort of funky and messy. I think Myrrh [her label] wanted to make me a poppier pop artist than I already was.”

It’s not so much the earlier albums were bad – each includes a few excellent tracks – as the way she was packaged by the label, attempting to sell her as just another off-the-rack happy Christian, in the process cheapening a fully-realized artist.

One track she recorded, ‘S.O.S. (Sick of Sex)’ was rejected by the company as offensive, but finally saw release on her third album after much finagling. ‘Strange Lover,’ a song on the new album dealing with cocaine abuse, which would also likely have been rejected back then, stands as just one facet of a remarkable writer’s vision on Broken Things.

Buddy Miller: Cruel MoonBuddy Miller: Cruel Moon, HighTone, 1999

Honky Tonk for the new millennium.

Buddy Miller enjoys a well-deserved reputation as sideman par excellence, having worked with Steve Earle, Shawn Colvin, Jim Lauderdale and Emmylou Harris. He’s also released a pair of alt-country discs that were a breath of fresh air, rivaling his employer’s best efforts.

Everything more or less stays the same on Cruel Moon. Strong originals and smart covers, including the Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil chestnut ‘I’m Gonna Be Strong.’ The song gets a remarkable makeover, into a plaintive cry only hinted at in the original Gene Pitney hit. The Staple Singers’ ‘It’s Been A Change’ is likewise given a whole new reading.

But it’s the original songs that stand out. Covered by the likes of Brooks And Dunn, Dixie Chicks, and Lee Ann Womack, Buddy beats them all for authenticity. Womack, who sang ‘Don’t Tell Me’ on her second album, has tracks from both Buddy (‘Does My Ring Burn Your Finger’) and Julie (‘I Know Why The River Runs’) on her latest disc, I Hope You Dance, released this month. In the April issue of ICE she spoke of her admiration for Miller’s work: “I’m almost embarrassed for anybody to hear mine after hearing his.”

Dealing with the darker side of relationships, songs like ‘I’m Not Getting Any Better At Goodbye’ come across like a country cousin to Richard and Linda Thompson’s groundbreaking Shoot Out The Lights. In this case it appears the Millers manage to keep the angst to the music. In an interview with NPR, Julie made it clear their inspiration comes from the sad songs of the Louvin Brothers and Stanley Brothers.

Both discs were recorded at the Miller’s home studio. The arrangements sparse, the sound pristine, capturing things as they went down, with an intimacy that’s missing from the majority of big budget releases.

Warren Zevon: Life’ll Kill YaWarren Zevon: Life’ll Kill Ya, Artemis

Warren Zevon is one of the more astute chroniclers of modern life. Like Tonio K, he has an all-to-rare take on the world we live in, where everything is for sale at the right price. Usually cheap. The most cutting of the seventies L.A. rock crowd, he was out of place even at his commercial peak. Jackson Browne has described him as the “first and foremost proponent of song noir.” Others sang of peaceful easy feelings, Zevon offered an far more unsettling – albeit believable – worldview. Highly literate, his idiosyncratic songs draw comparisons to novelists as often as other songsmiths.

At the age of twelve he was a classical music prodigy, writing twelve-tone music in the style of Stockhausen and befriending Russian composer Igor Stravinsky. A few years later an about face, brought on by ‘peer pressure, puberty” and the realization that classical music was hardly grabbing the ear of his generation, resulted in his working within a more contemporary form – pop music.

He penned a couple of singles for the Turtles, scored television commercials, and placed a song on the Midnight Cowboy soundtrack. His first solo effort, Wanted Dead Or Alive (1969) was ignored, and he moved to Spain in 1970.

Returning to America, he put in a stint as bandleader for the Everly Brothers before releasing an eponymous-titled album on Electra 1976. Perceived as his real debut, the record garnered rave reviews.

Life’ll Kill Ya is his thirteenth release. While long-time problems with alcohol have been dealt with, he’s hardly mellowed. The personal habits may be cleaned up, but the bite is as strong as ever. Aging and mortality are constant themes, and religious imagery is employed on numerous occasions.

“I Was In The House When The House Burned Down,” an allegory to our limited time on the planet, includes a reference to Simon of Cyrene – ‘I met the man with the thorny crown/I helped Him carry his cross through town.” The closer, “Don’t Let Us Get Sick,” is a perfect prayer for the middle-aged non-believer. The title track, dealing with the inevitability of death, questions the possibility of heaven or reincarnation, and ends neatly with the Latin phrase ‘Requiescat in pace (Rest in peace)/That’s all she wrote.’

One of the more intriguing numbers is “Hostage-O” which might be about turning over one’s will to the creator of the universe, but could just as easily concern a more earth-bound submissive/dominant relationship.

‘Ourselves To Know’ employs the Crusades as an image to mirror life’s journeys.

There are more than a few instances of profanity on the disc, but like all great art, that’s hardly the point. ‘My S---’s F----d Up’ offers one of the sadder refrains: ‘That amazing grace/Sort of passed you by/You wake up everyday/and you start to cry.’ Anyone more concerned with the number of curse words per song would best avoid this disc, but for those willing to hear what’s being said, a great disc from a great writer.

Zevon explained the focus: “Old age is an equally appropriate if not more appropriate subject for rock and roll than misunderstood youth.”

© John Cody 2000

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| April 16th, 2011 | Posted in Articles |
     

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