Sweet Country Feedback

I hope that I've got a pretty wide ranging taste in music, from my favourite electronic album of all time, Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works '85-'92 to my favourite metal album ever; either Metallica's And Justice For All or Aenima by Tool.

Up to my late teens, country music had passed me by. Disliking anything remotely country with a passion, my opinion had been tainted by the syrup ridden, pseudo-Irish, Americana that gets served up as "Country and Western" over here in Ireland and of course, the "pop" country that we were getting from the States, Shania and Garth etc. Stadium filling tripe.

Manchester, Liverpool and Oxford were the sources for the musical staples of our teenage years.. The uniforms were Dark mascara, black jeans and Doc Martens that later morphed into baggy flares and trainers - not a single cowboy hat was in sight, unless it was bright pink, covered in sequins and on the head of a tough looking guy, naked to the waste and being massaged by someone dressed entirely in day-glo. Our gods were The Stones Roses, 808 State, Happy Mondays, Orbital (see last blog entry) and the shoe gazing fraternity.


To me at that time, the notion of banjos, silky vocals and broken relationships in middle America were as far away as the geography itself could indicate. Then, while watching a TV series about classic albums I had an epiphany moment, hearing a couple of snippets from Wrecking Ball (1995) by Emmylou Harris.

Here was a dark and brooding album, approaching gothic with its haunting, soaring guitars and sad vocal lines, I was utterly fascinated - the title track and "Goin' back to Harlan" particularly catching my attention. Song writing prowess, vocal skill and fantastic musicianship allowed me to move from a tentative exploration of the fringes of country music into a growing appreciation of what's to be found, in what is still very alien territory for me.

Here's the opening track "Where Will I Be?"..

These days the country act that I'm listening to most Alison Krauss & Union Station or AKUS as they are often referred to.

I'm not going to go on a big spiel about them; particularly as I've mentioned them in a previous blog entry.

I'll just recommend checking out the album New Favorite - listen to The Boy Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn, Crazy Faith and, for some serious musicianship, Choctaw Hayride. Watch the embedded YouTube video below for that one.

Also worth a spin is the album that Alison Krauss just released with Robert Plant (Raising Sand) that has a few great tracks on it. I bought it a couple of weeks ago and it's definitely a grower. A couple of tracks have a really Zep feel!

Lastly I should really admit to the smidgeon of country influence hiding in those teenage years.. mainly REM from Georgia (so it should be obvious really), who would smuggle some tracks with clear country roots on to several albums such as Fables of the Reconstruction's Driver 8 and Old Man Kensey and on Reckoning's So. Central Rain and (Don't Go Back to) Rockville. Great great tunes all. Come to think of it, you could probably successfully argue the country influences to be found buried in bands like The Pixies and Throwing Muses.

-- chillyspoon

Emmylou Harris of course started her career singing with Gram Parsons. Parsons' brief but very colourful career (and bizarre death) is well documented elsewhere - suffice to say he more or less invented country rock, taking country music out of the hicksville ghetto it inhabited in the 50s and 60s and introducing it to the likes of the Byrds (who he effectively took over for one album), the Stones (who he spent a lot of time hanging out with, learning bad habits that would eventually be his downfall) and less fortuitously laying the groundwork for likes of the Eagles.

This is from his solo debut GP, which I can't recommend highly enough:

Gram Parsons with Emmylou Harris - "We'll sweep out the ashes in the morning"


-- shweeney