Ahhh sweet little genre that you were, alt-country, why have thee forsaken us? I know you were a tender nebulous thing, that in reality you didn't even exist, that you were just a dusty brown intersection on the Venn diagram of music, where some punky people rubbed uglies with some country people who had an affair with singer-songwriters and all desperately tried to birth up a bastard like The Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street but wound up with Whiskeytown's Faithless Street instead. I still loved you for tryin'. But like all brief brilliant things, they burn out fast and the talented folks in your number went on to bigger and better things (except Jay Farrar who dredged up his old Son Volt banner to fly again, even though he's the only Son to still show up a Mama's for Sunday dinner) Jeff Tweedy is the new something, maybe John Ashberry, maybe the new Dylan, not sure. Ryan Adams has become the Very Model Of the Very Modern Pop Singer. Richard Buckner is still wandering the woods just out of earshot of most folks. Ramsay Midwood is floating on raft somewhere with me being the only person whose ever bought his brilliant Shootout at the OK Chinese Restaurant (twice) And its all for the best, I guess, since things were starting to get recursive in the Americana section, but I still miss it.
Evidently so does Iowa roots rocker Harvey Pardekooper. On his latest slowburner Haymaker Heart, he addresses this very thing on "Folk This (Kelly Cougar)" where he calls out the players in the genre
Now you're countryfied
Rocked up your hillbilly side
Fucked up in your double wide
Sippin PBR's outside
But all those roots are ill-begotten
Drunken Cowboys soon forgotten
Washed out on the bedroom eyes
Of our country boys. They've been glamorized
and goes on in a barrage of quotes from Dylan, Robbie Fulks, John Cougar and Uncle Tupelo filling his indictment. One could almost picture the former Old 97's spokesmodel Rhett Miller pulling the buds from his disbelieving ear, dropping his copy of the Details he is in, decrying "Oh no he di-int!"
Pardekooper is a little less personal in his incendiaries through the rest of this dusty epic, but no less lethal. "Tell me (You're the One)" is pleading with his love to tell him the things he wants to hear, hoping all the problems will be ironed out, while "Draw the Line" underscores all the shortcomings of a rambling man, with a tune that slyly borrows from The Stones' "Honky Tonk Woman" upturning the celebratory decadence of it forbearer. The garage rocker "Wild Love" is a scorchy resignation, urging people to do what they are gonna do to go ahead and mess things up royally.
There are also tender moments like the wistful "Too Late" and its neighbor "Goo" where his raspy voice and impeccable production create delicious rich soundscapes of hope and regret. Its great classic stuff, Goerge Jones refined loneliness with a decided edge. There are also devastating staggering numbers like "Drinking Alone Again" and 'Take Me 2 My Home" to round out the depictions of hard lives lived in this work. There is a lot on this record, and unlike most of the sprawling masterpieces of the Alt-country world, there is a definite consistency among the songs. He's not looking for a place wedge in his sound collage he's been working at on the side, he's instead dipping into what I would guess to be a wealth of songs in his repertoire. From the opening "Not in Iowa," a Calexico-style lonesome road siesta detailing his departure from the environs of the Midwest, to the near psychedelic roll of the final live track (the last six songs were not listed on the cover) its a rich, refreshing ride.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com
The Review of the Year of Things #1: Jason Lewis surveys the years' great albums and noting so many, compartmentalized, as men do. So, here, albums by those so profoundly impacted by Death