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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The People of Country Persuasion

To break the mood here, I'm going to talk about country.

I've been searching for good country for a while now, and I'd like to share a few things I've learned. First off, I'm not talking about Garth Brooks or the Dixie Chicks or any of that nonsense. We all know that's some horrid shit. And I'm not talking about anything that's come along under the description of alt-country either. That was probably the biggest disappointment as far as new genres went. Like the rest of you, I checked out Wilco and Uncle Tupelo and was severely let down by the hype. No, this is a discussion of what I've seen described as "southern gothic" and also "gothic americana". Probably because anyone with a bit of sense doesn't want to be considered alt-country. Songs not so much about losing your truck and your dog, but rather about how your soul is in mortal peril because you've impregnated your sister. Music that follows in the footsteps of Johnny Cash and Nick Cave. Yes, I wear lots of black - you should have figured this out by now.

The term "southern gothic" apparently originated as a literary genre, much like the term "gothic". Ambrose Bierce -type stuff. And both genres are ridiculed for their excessive verbiage in regard to pale people doing miserable things.

Anyway, this here is a list of some bands I've come across that I feel deserve your attention, being as they're all really good, but stuck in a genre most of you probably wouldn't even look twice at.

Sixteen Horsepower

These are the big boys of the genre, so they're a good starting point. They're the ones who really brought this style of music back up and made it great again, which is especially important now that Johnny Cash is dead and Nick Cave is singing about his morning frappuccino. Most of their songs are heavily christian country, but in a very fire and brimstone way. The lead singer is a fellow named David Eugene Edwards, who has said that he is very into christianity, and in particular the specific sort of self-hatred that only christianity can deliver. The band is also well versed in the music of the Carter Family, and in fact their album "Folklore" consists largely of covers of old country greats. I realize that creepy covers of "wayfaring stranger" are a dime a dozen, but in my opinion these guys did it best. Oh yeah, dig around and you can find their version of Joy Division's "day of the lords", which is twangy brilliance.

Woven Hand
Having said all that, I must tell you now that Sixteen Horsepower is no more. But you can still find Mr. Edwards doing his melancholy "God hates me" thing in Woven Hand. On average a bit quieter and mellower than his previous work, but still worth checking out.

Slim Cessna's Auto Club
If you're going to check out any of the music I've listed here, it should be these guys. This is a truly great band, and I'm constantly amazed that no one seems to have heard of them. Also from Denver, and possibly Rhode Island. Listening to these guys is like going to a tent revival, or say the Church of John Coltrane, but more fun. Songs about getting drunk and beating up Satan, and rocking out with the founder of the baptist church. And for added weirdness, they're on Alternative Tentacles and Jello Biafra comes to all their shows. Must must listen.

Jay Munly
The "front sideman", whatever that means, of the Auto Club, he recently released an album titled "Munly and the Lee Lewis Harlots", which I haven't been able to go a day without listening to. Most every review I've found of the album uses the word "genius" at least once, and not in a painful Drukqs kind of way. Also, he managed to find the sexiest sounding backup singers I've ever heard. This is also on the must listen list.

Jim White
Probably the most mainstream country sound in this list, but he's good enough that I don't hold that against him. I don't know why, but I'm a sucker for lines like "I'm handcuffed to a fence in Mississippi" and happy songs about sexy serial killers. Look for his album called "no such place" and feel the melancholy joy.

Reverend Glasseye
The good reverend is just the thing for when you can't find your Rain Dogs cd. I can't really decide how much of a compliment or a complaint to make that, but really, it's a lot like Rain Dogs. Really really like Rain Dogs. If you're like me and can eventually work your way past that, you won't be disappointed, but I just thought I should warn you.

These guys will always have a special place in my heart, even though they can't really be considered as good as most of the other bands here. This is satanic bluegrass straight from the wilds of Ohio, and good fun all around. Because there's nothing like necro-bestiality. I also felt I should mention them because some 8 years after their debut, they've released a digitally remastered version of their first album. So now you can hear the squealing of the pigs in hi-fi.

The The
Not really a country band by any stretch, but you should check out their album Hanky Panky, which consists entirely of covers of Hank Williams Sr. songs. And in case you don't already know, that Matt Johnson sure can sing.

I suppose I should provide a link to Smooch Records here, as they seem to be the record label of choice for most of these bands.

One final note. A disproportionate number of bands in this genre come from Denver, and there are several that I didn't list here. Which makes Denver the scene to watch if you're into this sort of thing. Not one of my favorite places, but I can't argue with all the good music coming out of there. And at least it's not something even sillier like say the Omaha music scene. Sorry to all you fans of The Faint out there, but come on, Omaha?



Blogger disrupt said...

Yes, Southern Gothic! I agree, Cave lost it a bit with his last records, a pity. But coincidentically he just came up with The Proposition, a western movie in the Australian outback hell of the 1880s for which he wrote the book. Much in the veine of his classic And The Ass Saw The Angel.

And yes, excellent literature around in this field! Ambrose Bierce, Robert R. MacCammon's Gone South, Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian. And - best of all - Joe R. Lansdale from Texas. Start with 'Dead In The West' (a Zombie-Western!), then check the whole superb Hap & Leonard series or 'The Bottoms'. And grab any copy of the Jonah Hex-comics you might find! Published some years back at Vertigo. Fine literature with that very special Southern Gothic feel!

1:30 AM  
Blogger oslowe said...

we must point out that RevGlass is more of a Lovecraftian tone, since they is from New England, and truly not quite SouthGoth, my dear... no, Adam Glasseye and companions are Junk Opera, as are the Tiger Lillies and Tom who does not Wait. Curtis Eller and his American Circus are EastCoast Doomstruck, check them out. Also Janet Klein, she of the eukelale.

11:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now, I know this blog is an old one, but I stumbled upon it through a google search of gothic americana. that's a great list of some of the key players in a growing scene. 16 Horsepower has kind of become the godfathers of the sound to a certain degree. It has certainly expanded outward, though. There's some great bands pushing the sound forward...In addition to those mentioned, there's Strawfoot, Creech Holler, Pokey LaFarge, Curtis Eller, William Elliott Whitmore, Pinebox Serenade, HUMANWINE...different regions have their own styles and influences, some have more twang, others less...but they all fit into this weird umbrella that is gothic-americana.

9:44 AM  

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