Today’s Tracks

"Long Haired Country Boy"
The Charlie Daniels Band

They say high gasoline prices are keeping people off the freeway.

All I can say is…sometimes.

I spent all day Saturday going to online traffic school. What a scam. You’ve literally got to spend eight hours, even live they don’t make you do the entire time. Turns out there’s a timer, that only works if the traffic school page is up front and center on your computer. If you’re surfing somewhere else, in another app, even checking your e-mail, the counter stops. If your computer screen saver kicks in, it stops. So, what is supposed to be eight hours, turns out to be about ten, it takes you that long to figure out the scam. And it’s boring, and frustrating. And when I was done I hit the 405 to find…gridlock.

So, I’m pushing the Sirius buttons and I find this.

I don’t know where I was when "Long Haired Country Boy" hit the chart. Probably not listening to AM radio, where it peaked at number 56 back in ’74. So, it was new to me. And needing to pay attention to inept drivers, having just spent a day and a half in online traffic school, I didn’t have time to look down at the readout to see who did this until I was deep in, when I was hooked by its laconic groove, when I wasn’t tainted by any preconceptions of Charlie Daniels.

Actually, I thought it was a one hit wonder. A novelty track. I was surprised it was by someone famous and I hadn’t heard it before, but I loved it.

And, what I loved it about was that groove. Like it was late Saturday afternoon, which it was, everybody in the group had had a beer or two, and didn’t give a shit about making it, becoming famous, logging friends on MySpace or Facebook. These guys were playing for the fun of it. And listening was so much fun.

The lyrics are great, a less intense version of the Five Man Electrical Band’s "Signs". But then I hit these lines:

A poor girl wants to marry
And a rich girl wants to flirt
A rich man goes to college
And a poor man goes to work

And there you have the war between the classes, the difference between luxury and need right there.

If you have money, your decisions are just not that important, you can afford to drift, literally. But if you’re poor, you’re functioning with both eyes open at all times, you’ve got to plan, for your FUTURE!

A poor girl wants something better. Better yet, she wants SOMETHING! She’s the one leaning on you at the bar, making plans, pledging to do your laundry. She wants to make herself IRRESISTIBLE! She doesn’t pick just anybody, BUT YOU’RE THE ONE!

The rich girl… You read about her everywhere. Fucking this famous person and that. And leaving them. Endless opportunities. Tipping a drink in her hand, smiling, laughing, not worrying about her rent…

And the rich boy is all about his future. He might be screwing off in college, but he’s going somewhere, setting himself up for a fat cat job, maybe in his dad’s business. Whereas the poor boy can’t afford college.

Of course, now the rich girls go to college too. This song was written in the early seventies, just before women’s lib truly took hold, before our daughters’ foremothers blazed the trail and then were forgotten as their wannabe ho’s barely covered up to go to class. And the poor girls are struggling at minimum wage jobs. And if you want to go to college, if you want to pick yourself up by your bootstraps, you can’t afford it. Because the rich people want to pay less taxes, and a state education is no longer close to free.

‘Cause I ain’t asking nobody for nothin’
If I can’t get it on my own
If you don’t like the way I’m livin’
You just leave this long haired country boy alone

If this were the early seventies, we’d call this guy a Democrat. Today, is he a Republican? Then again, Republicans don’t really want to leave their constituents alone, they want to make them behave just like them, in theory…

This is the essence of the American dream. Being left alone, to prosper and play. Assuming you can make enough money to do so, assuming you don’t have to resort to dealing dope to making ends meet.

It all starts with the song. "Long Haired Country Boy" is as magical today as it was when it was written, a generation and a half ago.

"Let It Die"
Foo Fighters

When Charlie was finished singing, I pushed the buttons up the Sirius dial and found this. What a phenomenal, intimate intro. I had to stay in the car and listen, even though I was at my destination. Eventually, it starts to rock, and loses some of its magic. If the Foo Fighters made a quiet album, I’d be interested. The first minute and a half of this song is absent all the bombast that the Foos and too many rock bands have to employ to maintain some kind of cred amongst those who believe music can’t be good unless the singers and instrumentalists turn it up to 11 and play in an overbearing fashion.

But I don’t want to overcriticize. This is pretty good. Just that it ends up being really great Grand Funk Railroad, maybe good Mountain, but not transcendent. It’s a second-rate English band, Uriah Heep, when you’d prefer to listen to Led Zeppelin.

The lyrics are so basic as to be almost unnecessary.

My head says no, but my heart says yes. If you’ve been haranguing me about the Foos, I’ll say this almost closes me.

"Rattlin’ Bones
Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson

Heard this on XM’s X Country.

The sound and feel are INCREDIBLE! Imagine eastmountainsouth, but add balls. The production makes you feel like they’re playing on a stage in some roadhouse and you’re in THE VERY FIRST ROW!

This is the kind of sound that you don’t have to be familiar with the material to enjoy. This is why people are going to folk and bluegrass festivals.

I was stunned to come home and find their album in my mailbox.

But when I played it, I found this, the title track, to be curiously unfinished. The song needed improvement. A change. Or two.

This is what A&R guys used to do. This is what Rick Rubin does. They don’t settle for MEDIOCRITY! You labor, you come in with your new opus, and they say IT’S JUST NOT GOOD ENOUGH!

Unlike Clive Davis, Rick Rubin doesn’t rewrite your songs, doesn’t hire someone to write them for you, he implores you to dig down deep, to get in touch with that hunger you had when you were a wannabe.

I’d love to recommend this album. But listen to Little Big Town, and you can see the gulf. Maybe because LBT co-writes with genius Wayne Kirkpatrick, responsible for such hits as Eric Clapton’s "Change The World".

But I am going to recommend a few tracks here.

"Sleeping Cold" has the same magic as Mindy Smith’s "Come To Jesus", if Jesus were still alive and walking in front of us instead of being a construction we place in the sky. In other words, "Sleeping Cold" has balls. Or, in the case of Kasey, pussy. She’s singing from right down there. Not trilling, there’s no melisma, but wailing like a girl in the choir who truly believes.

Her "Adeline" is almost as good. And I like Shane’s "Jackson Hole".

Unfortunately, neither Kasey or Shane’s MySpace pages contains "Sleeping Cold". Ain’t that musicians, completely out of the loop when it comes to their best tracks.

With better material, this is the new Crosby, Stills & Nash. Not because it sounds like that band from yesteryear, but because of the intimacy, the AUTHENTICITY!

This album was number one in Australia. Don’t expect it to make any impact here. If only Americans could cut something as vital as this. If only the songwriting were better.

"Back Where I Come From"
Kenny Chesney

The live take, from "Live Those Songs Again".

There’s a guy you probably don’t know who made a singer-songwriter album for Geffen decades ago entitled "Nothin’ But The Truth". It’s one of my favorites. He’s a great writer who never made it on his own, who plays sometimes with Jimmy Buffett, who writes for others. He wrote this song for Kenny Chesney.

I heard it in the supermarket parking lot yesterday. On No Shoes Radio.

And needing to be soothed, listening to Kenny in the mountains last night, it came over my iPod.

Some say it’s a backward place
Narrow minds on a narrow way
I make it a point to say
That that’s where I come from

This ain’t no Hollywood I reinvented myself and left my history behind wannabe star. This is Mac McAnally, all the way from Mississippi, proud of his roots. You see in the south, it’s less about your accomplishments than who you are, and you never deny where you came from.

That’s where I come from
Where I’ll be when it’s said and done
I’m proud as anyone
That’s where I come from
Back where I come from
I’m an old Tennessean
And I’m proud as anyone
That’s where I come from
That’s where I come from
That’s where I come from

You’ve got to hear the crowd cry when Kenny sings "Tennessean". It brings tears to your eyes.

We all come from somewhere. Too many of us are eager to leave it behind. The media is all about stardom, who’s making his mark. Whereas country music is about life. We’re all here, where we grew up, we drive our kids to school, nobody’s better than anybody else. Life’s a struggle, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have fun.

We can watch Britney shimmy, Sluttienna Miller cavort from the famous to the rich and back again. But it’s got nothing to do with us. We’re rooted, we know who we are, we’ve got no airs. We’re here. And, if we’re there, we can’t forget where we once were.

Kenny finishes the song, the crowd roars, and ten seconds later a cappella he sings:

Back where I come from

And then, after he drops out, the crowd takes over:

Where I’ll be when it’s said and done
I’m proud as anyone
Back where I come from

Am I destined to return to Fairfield, Connecticut? Is that truly the only place I’ll feel comfortable? Can you leave your roots behind, should you leave your roots behind? When we get older, when death is much closer than birth, when whatever mark we’ve left is behind us, do we return to where we once came from?

Then again, I know where I come from. The gig, where I sing along at the top of my lungs, even if the guitars are too loud for me to even hear myself. That’s the experience embedded in this record.

This take of "Back Where I Come From" is not readily available online, but you can hear Mac McAnally’s original, it’s the first song on his MySpace page: Mac McAnally MySpace

"Say That You Love Me"
Loudon Wainwright III

Told you I loved you
Dropped all my cool
Said that you liked me
I feel like a fool

Ninety percent through my hike last night, after Kenny had centered me, I dialed up Loudon’s "Recovery", and that’s when I stumbled upon this track, when it revealed its truth to me.

That’s always an anxious moment in a relationship, when you first say that word out loud, "love". But I don’t think that’s what’s going on in this song.

He’s fallen. He’s head over heels. She’s the object of his desire. He’s gotten up his gumption, he’s verbalized what he feels inside. And hasn’t gotten the response he desired.

You know this situation. Certainly every guy does. You wonder, if you just told that woman you were infatuated with, if you just let it loose, maybe she’d burst into song, like in a Broadway musical, and she’d say SHE LOVES YOU TOO!

But you’re afraid she won’t, so you don’t.

Been said before and you can say it again
I got to be more than one of your friends
I must know you love me, there must be no doubt
Open your heart, open your mouth
Say that you love me, say that it’s true
Say that you love me, I said it to you

The dreaded friend zone. But usually, you’re too embarrassed to continue to talk to her after you’ve revealed your true feelings. Maybe it’s not love, maybe you’ve just suggested the two of you go to a movie, and when you get that lukewarm response, you just don’t know what to do with all that love you’re ready to give, you want to sink right down into the earth.

They say there’s somebody for everybody. But how are you supposed to know who the right one is? What if you’re too uptight to make a move, what if you’re too awkward, what if you blurt out your love and it turns out it’s unrequited?

This is the essence of life.

Maybe you live a life of rolling in Bentleys, banging ho’s, but I certainly don’t, and most guys are like me. We debate, do we reveal what we feel inside?

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