Thursday, March 12, 2009

When I switched to the whiskey, I knew that I was gone...

"Sweets for a sweetheart, that is what you said to me, as you handed me a shot glass, and I drank down hungrily."

A confession, a caveat, and a peace offering.

First the confession: It’s time I said it. I’m really not all that wild about alt.country. Apart from a few exceptions (Uncle Tupelo, early Neko Case, the first few Old 97’s records) I find it to be mostly boring and derivative. Sorry. I hope this fact won’t get between us. (Please feel free to vent in the comments.)

Now the caveat: When I say “alt.country,” I’m talking about the music that calls itself "alt.country," not the long tradition of music on the alternative or rocking side of country. I really love 1980’s cowpunk, 1970’s progressive/outlaw country, 1960’s country-rock, 1950’s rockabilly, and 1940’s hillbilly boogie. But it all kind fell flat for me in the 1990’s, right about the time they coined the term “alt.country.” Not sure why. Maybe I'm just old.

And, finally, the peace offering: Despite my newly expressed reservations about the genre, today I’m posting a great song performed by two alt.country artists I really do like, Amy Allison (the daughter of Mose Allison) and Laura Cantrell.

You can have this song two different ways: As a shot of straight-up bourbon whiskey (the original by Amy Allison) or on the rocks with a sprinkle of cool branch water stirred in (the smoother, but equally delicious, cover by Laura Cantrell). Try them both, as they've each got a different feel. Either way, it’s a fine drinking song, and about as contemporary as you’re going to get out of me in this series.

Amy Allison – The Whiskey Makes You Sweeter (buy album)

Laura Cantrell – The Whiskey Makes You Sweeter (buy album)

Both of the albums from which these tracks come are well worth your money—especially if you actually like alt.country.

If you're looking for more drinking songs, be sure to head right over to Star Maker Machine, which is featuring the same theme this week.

14 comments:

Jon said...

Tend to agree with you on the alt. country thing. I think a lot of what is now called "alt. country" used to be called "singer songwriter". I never liked "singer songwriter" music. I've heard some alt.country lately that was just plain rock music. Not bad, but why call it country? Mose Allison's daughter? No kidding?

Paul said...

I think you hit the nail on the head there Jon. One problem for me is that it's too singer-songwriter. That stuff's not really "country" at all.

On the other side of the coin, a lot of the recent alt.country that is twangy has kind of an over-corniness or false ring to it, like its intentionally countrified or something.

Come to think of it, both of these same objections could be levelled at the popular "country" music of today (e.g. CMT) as well. Either not country or fake country.

Jon said...

Yeah, I think the onomatopoetic word "twang" is being badly, badly abused.

Greg said...

Too singer-songwriter? I am trying to understand that as a negative....

This is my #1 followed blog, and is chock full of singer-songwriter music, it seems to me.

Greg.

BigSteve said...

Btw yes, you are old. And getting older. And those durned alt.country singers should take their twang and get off your lawn!

Jon said...

Big Steve, that about sums up my feelings. Darn them. Darn them all.

Paul said...

Greg,

Let me try to explain myself better. (Too much alcohol this week...) Much of what passes for alt.country/Americana these days (and, really, for the last ten years) is either too whimpy or too fake. By "singer-songwriter," I don't just mean "singers who write their own songs." What I mean is confessional, pop-folk music in the James Taylor/Carly Simon style.

That stuff is OK, but it's not really country and not something I usually post here.

But as for artists who write their own songs, like Hank Williams and Merle Haggard, I'm definitely cool with that.

donch said...

Can someone please explain to me what exactly is the "alt." component in Amy Allisons music? To me it's plain honky tonk country. Cool honky tonk country, though. But does that already make it "alt."?

I think Caitlin Rose said it all in your interview:
"The term alt-country really turns me off. It feels like a sort of immature betrayal. Like when you're a kid and you're just too cool or too embarrassed to go see a movie with your parents."

Paul said...

donch,

I agree with you. The only thing that is "alt" about Amy Allison's record is the way it is marketed/classified (and the fact that it never had any chance of radio play on "country" stations), which is probably why I like it. Same with Caitlin Rose.

simon2307 said...

Only two type's of music, good and bad, Amy & Laura fall in the good category however "we" label them ;)

brendan said...

People say you can't, or you shouldn't, classify music or put a label on it. I understand, but personally I love putting music in a category.

It helps me, to segment genres and subgenres, to see what's traditional, derivative, groundbreaking or original. I love the labels.

That said, I agree alt country gets slapped on anything these days. I've read tons of blogs that will toss the term into a review of some humdrum indie rock band just because they use an acoustic guitar.

I suppose it's a term to help distinguish real country from pop or CMT country, but it did get stuck with a particular sound in the 90s. We should probably stop using it to refer to music that isn't from that era.

Greg said...

Hello Paul:

I will "confess" that James Taylor/Carly Simon have never been on my personal landscape. (Not wanting to step on anyone's toes, I have nothing positive to say about either.)

I think of singer songwriters such as James McMurtry and Dave Alvin. Neither has had any play on "Country" radio and never will. I don't know it they are .alt anything, but I have greatly admired both for years. They are enthusiastic students, by the way, of HW, MH and many of the "classics" on your list.

As for the spirits: keep it up. The 17th is near.

As for the blog, I appreciate it big time. Number 1 for me.

Greg

Vaughn said...

Alt-SchmAlt, let's dance!
I'm with Simon2307, it's either good or bad. If your taste runs to the country side of things then seek out what's good about it and so on and so forth.
Labels are for marketing and people get too bogged down with them (especially with music).
Gram Parsons was all about tearing down those walls of labels on things by creating and exposing people to the music that he loved, be it Soul, Rock or Country. He put a label (COSMIC AMERICAN MUSIC) on what he was doing but it was too nebulous and weird for most to grasp; making it kind of perfect, don't you think?

Matt.H said...

The term alt-country is generally used in such derogatory terms these days (usually relating to Uncle Tupelo, Wilco or Jayhawks clones) that it's hardly surprising many people sometimes have such a low opinion of the genre. In fact, I think when the term is generally banded about these days it's usually to denegrate another tired band on the scene releasing another uninspired re-hash of 'Strangers Almanac' whilst claiming never to have heard the music of Uncle Tupelo. I will make some attempt to stand up for alt.country though, for no other reason than many bands I now love at one time or other, operated under or were described by the alt.country moniker. I truly believe also, that the best albums of the booming alt.country era of the mid to late early 00's will stand the test of time. There was a heap of truly awful stuff too, but to be fair the same could be said for the increasingly mainstream, watered down indie scene that in many ways has lacked spark for many years now. Let's look at it this way, if it's a bad album, usually it's 'alt.country'. But when an alt.country act makes a great album, suddenly it becomes 'Americana' 'country-rock' or a combination of all 3 without the condescending 'alt.country' tag. The new Bonnie Prince Billy album, for instance, is the most country leaning record he's made, yet seems to have been universally coined 'Americana' by most of the music press. Some people seem to have more of a problem with the term than the music. By the way, I always thought the term alt.country dated back to the Mekons covering 'Lost Highway'in the mid-80's, leaving bemused record staff unsure as to where to shelve an alt.rock album with a Hank Williams song on it. Whereever the tag originated, Giant Sand, Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams have all at one point been labelled alt.country but have either become too familiar or too established to be restricted by genre boundaries that were thrust upon them in their early days. I loved the Jayhawks(Sound Of Lies especially), Devotion&Doubt by Richard Buckner , 'The Crying tree' by the Blood Oranges(one of the first), 'Throwing Rocks At The Moon' by the Backsliders is another great album and if you can track down 'The Rockingbirds' by the Rockingbirds I reccomend you grab a copy(great version of 'In Tall Buildings'). Lucinda Williams debut self-titled album is also her best and dates back to the her alt.country pre 'Americana' days. I can understand the lukewarm reception alot of alt.country acts get but if you wade through the sludge there are many gems out there and I believe there will always be great alt.country acts out there if you look hard enough. I was listening to Kristofferson Live In Austin TX today (great record) and at one time he certainly would have been termed an alternative country singer. Today, his songs are country standards, and it takes alternative country to push boundaries and shape the future sound of country music.