November 03, 2003

Is There No Other Worthy Al...

Is There No Other Worthy Alt Countryish Band in NPR Nation?: I just heard literally the fourth extended public radio examination of the reverb-addicted newish country rock band My Morning Jacket. Performances, interviews, reviewer meditations.... I mean, they're a decent band & all, but you'd think they were the only ones playing vaguely twangy alternative rock music. I have, um, heard some better bands. For a peek into that thriving subculture, start with No Depression magazine, or the weblog of Jack Sparks. UPDATE: The comments have turned into a name-a-great-alt-country-band-or-album festival; please join in, smart people!

Posted by at November 3, 2003 05:14 PM
Comments

You know what I'd like to see? A good top ten list of these "alt country" bands that don't sound like they're playing punk rock for pussies. I've listened to a few of these bands and I've never been able to get over the impression that they were basically college bands trying to be an edgy Toad the Wet Sprocket or some other dreck.

Posted by: Paul at November 3, 2003 07:58 PM

Paul -- I barely know the stuff, but my list would include Wilco, Jay Farrar (& whatever he's doing), the Mother Hips, Steve Earle. Many other people are fond of Ryan Adams (he's a bit precious & plain for my taste), the Drive-by Truckers (don't know 'em), others I can't recall just this moment.

I can tell you that the new Matrix movie sure is a buncha crap. Save the money, hold on to those precious memories of the first one....

Posted by: Matt Welch at November 3, 2003 10:18 PM

I'm not terribly familiar with the alt-country scene. But I must say one of my favorite bands in the world is Sixteen Horsepower. They sound like Appalachian mountain music meets Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Or, rather, 18th Century traditional Americana meets Bauhaus.

Never heard anything like 'em. Doubt I will again. And there's nothing I'd rather listen to on a road trip in the interior mountain West. After hearing this band, nothing else quite works.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at November 3, 2003 10:20 PM

For some great stuff from the past (god, *my* past!), check out the stuff put out by the great original an TRUE punk band "X" and "The Blasters" under their alternate identity "The Knitters". Just saw Amazon has them on CD. And the other reviews seem to agree with me.

THE release to get is "Poor Little Critters".

Has lots of X's songs reimagined in the country style and Cervanka's voice is great.

Posted by: Doc at November 4, 2003 04:47 AM

Without going to amazon is this a re-release of Poor Little Critter in the Road? or something new?
Does it include the medley of Wild Sife of Life/It wasn't God who made Honky Tonk Angels recorded for some other album and missing from "poor little critter" (IIRC)???

Exene is great but John Doe wins the gold on this with Wrecking Ball and a heart-rending version of Silver Wings.

Posted by: Michael Farris at November 4, 2003 06:11 AM

It *looks* like "Poor Little Critter on the Road" (Same cover art) but is listed as Amazon as "Poor Little Critter". They don't list the titles of the tracks at Amazon. But $11 ain't bad. Wonder if it's on itunes yet to check if it is...

Got the chance to go to an X concert in my wild youth. They were one of the most fun (along with the Ramones).

Wasn't burning house of love on this one too?

Posted by: Doc at November 4, 2003 08:17 AM

Burning house of love was on Ain't Love Grand, the last X album with Billy Zoom IIRC and their first without Ray Manzarek (I forget who the producer was, some hair-band guy I think). A disappointment to most fans at the time, but a lot of it grew on me after I realized it was hopeless to expect them to remake Wild Gift every other year.
PLCOTR was roughly around the same time. I remember buying it on vinyl on my way to one of the UF-related Friday beer fests (probably the anthro group 'cause I remember there was another X fan or three there).
memories ...

Posted by: Michael Farris at November 4, 2003 12:19 PM

John Doe's solo album, the roots-rocky "Meet John Doe," used to be one of my favorites (I haven't listened to it in years, and my bond was forged in the sadness of a tiny Bratislava office, but I think it'd still hold up).

If Layne & Hornberger & Ben Sullivan would be nice, maybe they'd leave some recommendations here????

Posted by: Matt Welch at November 4, 2003 12:35 PM

Kentucky Headhunters. If the name of their first record ("Pickin' On Nashville") wasn't a clue, nothin' was.

Posted by: Billy Beck at November 4, 2003 01:03 PM

I forgot to mention Giant Sand, one of the great unknown bands of all time. Also, the Buckets had a couple of good songs, and I sure like McIlvaine's pals in Red Meat. If Layne's sister or Coulter's wife ever read this blog, we'd have a Top 100 in no time.

Posted by: Matt Welch at November 4, 2003 01:07 PM

Matt,

I would encourage you to see MMJ live. I can't remember the last band I saw that sounded "bigger" and few are bangin' heads so unapologetically. My friend Todd paid them one of the best compliments I've ever heard, "They're the kind of band that makes you wanna quit your job and start a band."

But I am self-loathing Sox fan, so what the fuck do I know?

FM

Posted by: Don Caballero at November 4, 2003 01:44 PM

I'd like to second the Drive By Truckers as a great alt/country/southern rock/metal act...and funny that M. Totten mentions 16 horsepower as favorite intermountain West driving music....they're a Denver original (and I think recently back together.)

In a slightly different vein, I highly reccommend any and all Junior Kimbrough. The late Junior has been described as hillbilly-metal-funk and is pure Mississippi devil blues. He wasn't recorded until the 90's when he was in his sixties....thank sweet Jeebus for Fat Possum Records.

Posted by: Chris Leoniak at November 4, 2003 01:57 PM

Okey ... first you might want to hear Kasey Chambers, an Aussie gal who sings like a dream ... a mix of Chrissie Hynde & Emmylou Harris & some part Kasey just invented.

Then you would want to Go To School and immediately buy the recently unearthed Beat Farmers live album, "Live at the Spring Valley Inn." This was my school. I was there pretty much every weekend for many months, until they moved to Bodie's and my young group began playing their opening slots, and the style, taste, soul and guts of the Beat Farmers never sounded better. Songs by Johnny Cash, Springsteen, the Lovin' Spoonful ... plus great orignals by Buddy Blue, Jerry Raney, and twisted covers by the late Country Dick.

Do not forget Jay Farrar. His latest record is one of the weirdest, darkest, prettiest things since Neil Young sang about the needle & the damage done.

If you like history, Columbia Legacy just put out a two-CD re-issue of the Byrds' legendary "Sweetheart of the Rodeo." It's got six or eight versions with the original Gram Parsons vocals, plus some other nice stuff.

Red Meat is a kick-ass honky-tonk band in the Bay Area. Whatever they do is always good, and they are a helluva way to have a nice night out on the town.

High Fives to the Drive-by Truckers. And I still love me some Ryan Adams. (If you liked the WhiskeyTown, do not miss fiddle-player / harmony singer Caitlin Cary's solo debut record. It will break your stupid little heart.

Did you feel sad cuz Joe Strummer died and you didn't do anything? Well, maybe go buy the latest from Strummer's favorite Texas Troubador, Mr. Joe Ely. It is called "streets of sin," and it is the best thing he has recorded in about a decade. (And he really never made anything less than good, although his Flamenco stuff bored me.)

Do not buy Steve Earle's DVD / CD deal. Some of the live songs are good, but listening to Earle preach about politics is just about as miserable as hearing Bill O'Reilly fuck your wife.

(Buy all other Steve Earle rosted by: Jackson Cooper at November 5, 2003 02:36 PM

Neko Case

Practically anything on Bloodshot Records (Ryan Adams, Neko Case, Alejandro Escovedo, Kelly Hogan and more)

Calexico (serious southwest desert feel)

Giant Sand (the 2 guys in Calexico play in this band)

Howe Gelb (the frontman and genius of Giant Sand)

Why can't I remember more names, this is my job for jeebus sakes.

Posted by: Fred at November 5, 2003 03:57 PM

X holds up so well. Alas, spun some Rank and File and Green on Red vinyl recently, and they don't. Gun Club still sounds good. True Believers. Thin White Rope -- was that country?

Posted by: Paul Dubuc at November 5, 2003 06:30 PM

Matt, you were right about the Matrix.

Posted by: Paul at November 5, 2003 08:49 PM

Flatirons, Prayer Bones (Portland, OR). Greatest alt-country band ever. And their **best** album is sitting in a music industry dungeon, waiting to be ransomed for a measly $2000. But the band is defunct.

Amelia ( www.ameliaband.com ) has some of the people. Not alt country but has a jazzy, classic feel.

Posted by: zizka at November 5, 2003 09:28 PM

Right now, if I had to spend dough, I'd go buy "Famous Anonymous Wilderness," by Graham Lindsey, on Catamount Records.

All of the bands listed above (or below) are outstanding and will provide hours and hours of listening enjoyment. If you shoot over to my blog, my Top Twenty list (remember it's a BLOG list, so don't take it too seriously) contains links to amazon and the artists' pages, if you really want to waste some cash.

My historical "alt country" family tree goes:
Hank Williams
Buck Owens/Gram Parsons
Neil Young/Bob Dylan
Willie Nelson & the Outlaws
Jason & the Scorchers/X/The Mekons
Uncle Tupelo
Bloodshot Records
The Gourds

If you spend a few hours slacking off at work looking at that stuff, listening to the music, and then running home to burn your Garth Brooks records, my life is a complete and utter failure.

Have fun, and I hope I'm not Ashcroft's list YET AGAIN for posting on a pinko commie web-site (as Foghorn Leghorn would say, "that's a joke son...is any of this gettin' thru to yer pointy little head?")

Posted by: Jack at November 5, 2003 10:43 PM

Word on Neko Case and Calexico.

My $.02 is in favor of The Bottle Rockets, who came out of the same scene as Uncle Tupelo. Their sound is kind of like a knowing Lynrd Skynrd, but the writing is really incisive.

I'd also recommend Kelly Willis, who is a little closer to mainstream country but has a really beautiful Patsy Cline-like voice.

Also, though not quite alt-country, Gillian Welch's first two albums are definitely worth the listen.

Posted by: Shai at November 5, 2003 11:35 PM

Everybody has such great alt country lists. I think that most AC bands fall under two categories: trying to bring back the folksy/rootsy nature that underpins older country (and, in a more convoluted sense, all modern music), or simply trying to emulate Gram Parsons - many people point to The Flying Burrito Brothers as Alt Country 101.

Modern alt country artists that do not get enough time: Beachwood Sparks, Clem Snide, M. Ward, The Bottle Rockets, The Tyde, Royal City, The Old 97s, Tim Easton, Lucero, Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash, Starlings TN, and The Summer Hymns. Plus I agree with most selections here, except the curiouser and curiouser My Morning Jacket, who fail to impress me in many many ways, the most important one being that Squirrel Bait and Slint forever altered the way I viewed music from Kentucky.

Posted by: Kyle Hale at November 6, 2003 12:21 AM

Coincidentally or not, this was just posted on Fark.

Posted by: Dave Straub at November 6, 2003 07:24 AM

Y'all need to check out an L.A. guy named Chuck Prophet -- his No Other Love is one of the best alt-country things I've heard in ages.

Posted by: tom at November 6, 2003 09:55 AM

I see some great acts listed above, but I don't think anyone's mentioned Tift Merritt. Check out the EP she did with the Two Dollar Pistols, called (natch) The Two Dollar Pistols with Tift Merritt.

Also: It took me a while to warm to it, but I now consider the Scud Mountain Boys' Massachussetts worthy of all the hype it got when it came out in the mid-'90s.

Re: No Depression: I've written for it a few times, and I've got a piece in the new issue sticking up for Dylan's much-maligned Christian albums. Consider this paragraph an advertisement for it.

Posted by: Jesse Walker at November 6, 2003 12:33 PM

Oh -- and if you dig that old-time alt-country, don't neglect the Kinks' Muswell Hillbillies, a country/blues/trad-jazz/rock disc that just may be my favorite album of all time.

Posted by: Jesse Walker at November 6, 2003 12:35 PM

BR-549 (With one of the best song titles out there: Too Lazy To Work, Too Nervous To Steal)
Old 97s
Whiskeytown
Iron & Wine
Mike Wexler and Fourth Rome
Jayhawks
Slaid Cleaves

Posted by: Dakota Loomis at November 6, 2003 01:39 PM

I forgot to just post my blog address:

http://babelogue.citypages.com:8080/jsparks

Down the right hand column of my blog, there are six labels that are pretty central to the "alt country" movement. Most of the acts mentioned in this thread record for one or several of them.

Happy Hunting.

Posted by: Jack at November 6, 2003 02:36 PM

I don't know from "alt-country", but what about cowpunk, like the Supersuckers?

HUH?

Posted by: Sigivald at November 7, 2003 10:55 AM

Since I'm an old geezer who can't even describe alt-country in a meaningful way I'm hesitate about throwing my less than two cents in to such a mostly erudite and knowledgeable thread.
That being admitted to, since two of my favorites are on some posters lists, Son Volt and Bottle Rockets, going to jump in and suggest others.
Even tho' neither has recorded since '97, both The Delevantes and The Refreshments are superb listening experiences. And what about The Derailers?
I like Ryan Adams, but much prefer his Whiskeytown work to the solos.
Have to agree with Ken on Kasey Chambers, hey just cuz I'm old doesn't mean I'd do something stupid like disagree with Mr. Layne. To her I'd add Kate Jacobs and Nanci Griffith, not sure if they qualify as the alt, but sure are listenable play after play.
And finally, the one album, back in '95, wonders, Charlie Sexton Sextet. I find it almost impossible to believe that these guys did not hit megastar status. At least based on "Under the Wishing Tree".

Posted by: Mike Daley at November 7, 2003 05:04 PM

Jesse - I guess I didn't make the connect but since that was your piece in No Depression I'd like to commend you. I thought it was great.

Ken had mentioned the Byrds 'Sweetheart' as an original and Jeese's mention of the Kinks' 'Muswell Hillbillies' is also excellent. I've always thought that the Stones' 'Let it Bleed' fell into the same catagory.

Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys have a cover of Poison's 'Every rose' which must be heard. The Court & Spark are my flavor right now.

Posted by: Jason at November 7, 2003 05:34 PM

Thanks, Jason. And I'll take your Let It Bleed and raise you three: You can make a case for putting all four of the Stones' studio albums from Beggars' Banquet through Exile into the category. I think "Dead Flowers" is one of the best country songs ever written.

And yes, Sigivald, cowpunk belongs there too. Emphatically including the Supersuckers. I saw them play at Willie Nelson's Fourth of July Picnic a few years back, and they stole the show.

Posted by: Jesse Walker at November 8, 2003 08:08 AM

I saw Joe Ely mentioned upstream, here's a few other Texas alt-oldies but goodies that y'all might have passed by: Billy Joe Shaver, Robert Earl Keen, Delbert McClinton, Jimmie Dale Gilmore. And leave us not forget Lucinda Williams & Iris DeMent.

Posted by: Carl H. at November 8, 2003 12:05 PM

I'm glad Neko Case has been mentioned already. At times, she tours with Carolyn Mark as the Corn Sisters. Carolyn is the closest thing I've heard to Patsy Cline yet. Striking voice and great songs. Check out her "Terrible Hostess" album, if you can find it.

Neko also tours with the Vancouver "indie super-group" The New Pornographers. Not really alt-country, but there's some original and brilliant songwriting and the music's great too. "Mass Romantic" is fantastic.

The best new alt-country artist I've seen in a long time, and one of the most deserving of the label, is Corb Lund of the Corb Lund Band. Formerly the bass player for the now-defunct Edmonton-based punk band, the smalls, Lund switched back to his country roots with the killer "Five Dollar Bill" release. Since his conversion, his shows have been quite the spectacle - you find yourself between multi-studded punks and pure-bred cowboys straight off the ranch. The singing's okay, he's a decent picker, but the songs are the strong suit. Highly recommended.

Posted by: Huck at November 8, 2003 05:34 PM

Speaking of the Stones and country-type stuff, their best live album, after Get Yer Yah-Yah's Out, was Stripped, from about 1995. Mostly acoustic versions of Not Fade Away, Dead Flowers, Love in Vain, Let it Bleed, Angie, Shine a Light, The Spider and the Fly, etc, etc.

I was in high school at the time and all I knew of the Stones before I bought that album were the great big arena-rock songs on Hot Rocks. I was blown away, and it made me go out and buy the orignal versions, which turned out to be even better.

So go buy Stripped for the casual Rolling Stones fan on your Christmas List. Thank you for your time.

Posted by: Tony at November 9, 2003 01:25 PM

Tony -- Everything you said was right on the money, except for that "I was in high school at the time" nonsense...

Posted by: Matt Welch at November 9, 2003 04:21 PM
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& Iris DeMent.

Posted by: Carl H. at November 8, 2003 12:05 PM

I'm glad Neko Case has been mentioned already. At times, she tours with Carolyn Mark as the Corn Sisters. Carolyn is the closest thing I've heard to Patsy Cline yet. Striking voice and great songs. Check out her "Terrible Hostess" album, if you can find it.

Neko also tours with the Vancouver "indie super-group" The New Pornographers. Not really alt-country, but there's some original and brilliant songwriting and the music's great too. "Mass Romantic" is fantastic.

The best new alt-country artist I've seen in a long time, and one of the most deserving of the label, is Corb Lund of the Corb Lund Band. Formerly the bass player for the now-defunct Edmonton-based punk band, the smalls, Lund switched back to his country roots with the killer "Five Dollar Bill" release. Since his conversion, his shows have been quite the spectacle - you find yourself between multi-studded punks and pure-bred cowboys straight off the ranch. The singing's okay, he's a decent picker, but the songs are the strong suit. Highly recommended.

Posted by: Huck at November 8, 2003 05:34 PM

Speaking of the Stones and country-type stuff, their best live album, after Get Yer Yah-Yah's Out, was Stripped, from about 1995. Mostly acoustic versions of Not Fade Away, Dead Flowers, Love in Vain, Let it Bleed, Angie, Shine a Light, The Spider and the Fly, etc, etc.

I was in high school at the time and all I knew of the Stones before I bought that album were the great big arena-rock songs on Hot Rocks. I was blown away, and it made me go out and buy the orignal versions, which turned out to be even better.

So go buy Stripped for the casual Rolling Stones fan on your Christmas List. Thank you for your time.

Posted by: Tony at November 9, 2003 01:25 PM

Tony -- Everything you said was right on the money, except for that "I was in high school at the time" nonsense...

Posted by: Matt Welch at November 9, 2003 04:21 PM
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