Winter is here — and so is Flatt Lonesome!
Winter is here — and so is Flatt Lonesome!
Country’s greatest living legend, George Strait, dropped a new album on March 29, “Honky Tonk Time Machine.” (Strait has retired from regular touring, but not from recording.)
I make no bones about it: I’m biased and I’m okay with it. George Strait is my favorite artist of any genre, he was my first real concert, and he defines what country music should sound like. No one is perfect, but my fellow Texan can do little wrong. The man may not know songwriting, but he knows music, and perhaps that’s even better. George Strait can listen to a rusty demo, find a gem, and turn it into something we can all connect with, and isn’t that what music’s all about? When you hear the first two notes of The Chair, Amarillo By Morning, Wrapped, Check Yes or No, Fool Hearted Memory, or any one of 100 others – you’re home. And with 60 #1 hits and dozens more in the top 10, it really is 100 others.
“Honky Tonk Time Machine” is a little uneven, but still good. It’s not up there with anything from Strait’s spectacular runs in the ‘80s, 90’s, or ‘00s, but it holds its own with his last few outings, and gives us more of that classic sound we’ve been yearning for.
The album is way better than 2015’s lackluster “Cold Beer Conversation,” and I bet that on repeat listening, it will be of a piece with the previous four albums going back to 2008. (Go back further and you’re into the good stuff.)
No songs clearly deserve to be on a future Essentials collection, but with an overall cohesive Texas sound, the record holds its own. Strait co-wrote eight songs, continuing this new phase of his career. After writing a few flops at the very start in the early ‘80s, he turned to singing others’ songs, until picking up the pen again in 2009. Eight is a new high, one more than 2011’s “Here for A Good Time.” Co-writing with his son seems to fire the man up, and who can blame him for that? The result is songwriting that’s not quite as good as we used to get, but a happy artist and another decent album.
“Some Nights” is a slow, classic country song about love and loss. This might be the best song on the album, and I hope it’s the next single. You can say similar things about the wistful ballad “Sometimes Love” or the cover of Johnny Paycheck’s “Old Violin,” both of which I like, but nothing touches “Some Nights.” These three have been the highlights, at least during my first listens.
The second single “God and Country Music” sounds good, but don’t pay close attention. It has the feel of a vintage George Strait song, but as an ordained minister, I honestly don’t like the lyrics. “There’s two things still worth saving // God and country music.” Nope. We don’t save God. God saves us. It’s great music but try as I might, I can’t get behind the well-intentioned but accidentally arrogant words. For religion, I prefer “What Goes Up,” a slow song about Christ’s presence during our darkest days.
“Every Little Honky Tonk Bar” (the first single), “Two More Wishes” and “Blue Water” are nothing special, but they’ll all be good background music when you’re hanging out at the lake. They round out the sound and that’s okay.
If you’re looking for fun on the dance floor, for which Strait has given us many fine examples over the years, you’ll be happy with “Take Me Away” and the title track. Same as the previous three I mentioned, they’re nothing special in and of themselves, but they help contribute to the album’s overall feel, that classic George Strait sound that never goes wrong.
I wish I could say the same about “Codigo,” but it feels like a drunk Strait checked out and joined Kenny Chesney and Jimmy Buffett at the shore, and that makes sense, because he’s just trying to hock his own vanity line of tequila, Codigo. That’s fine, whatever, moving on.
“The Weight of The Badge” is the third single, about the sacrifices and honor of a police officer. In my day job, I’ve worked on a lot of campaigns against police violence. Anyone who has the legal authority to deny life and liberty must be held to a higher standard. So let me be clear: I like this song’s message! Yes, sometimes bad people become cops and abuse their authority, but good people also become cops to protect us. This song doesn’t wade into the politics, and if it feels like it does, that’s only because the topic has become politicized. No, this just salutes officers who make sacrifices for their communities, and I like that. Alas, the lyrics themselves are forced and syrupy, but hey, that’s what country did in the 2000s, and aren’t we stepping into a time machine?
Finally, there’s “Sing One With Willie.” You want more from the song that finally gives us this much-yearned for duet; it has no purpose other than to exist and talk about itself. But that’s okay, I’m not going to complain too much, because my heavens, we’ve finally got a Willie Nelson and George Strait duet!!!
Like I say, “Honky Tonk Time Machine” isn’t great, but it is good, and it’s refreshing to have new music from the king. What’s especially encouraging is that the lead single, “Every Little Honky Tonk Bar,” is currently at #19 on the country airplay chart, and Spotify is featuring the album and a short film about Strait’s career on their Hot Country playlist. Along with Chris Stapleton, Luke Combs, and Kasey Musgraves holding spots on the chart, there seems to be at least a tiny resurgence of hope on the airwaves.
3.5 whiskey bottles out of 5 and a very hearty Texas thank you to his royal highness.
NPR just ranked “The 150 Greatest Albums Made By Women.”
Joni Mitchell clocks in at #1, and obviously Janis Joplin made the top ten as well. Lucinda Williams and Dolly Parton are also in the top 20. Also appearing from the genres this blog covers: Loretta Lynn, Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, Rosanne Cash, the Dixie Chicks, Tammy Wynette, Shania Twain, Joan Baez, Bobbie Gentry, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Alison Krauss and Union Station, Alabama Shakes, Miranda Lambert, Reba McEntire, Patty Griffin, and Iris DeMint.
Check out the full list. What do you think is missing? What would you put at #1?
Lots of great stuff in other genres from amazing, remarkable women, too, including many women of color. Check it out, and open up your Spotify to look up the artists and albums that are new to you!
Earlier today, Donald Trump announced that he will be banning all transgender men and women from serving in the U.S. military, including the 15,000 currently in the military. This cruel bigotry strips these troops of their livelihoods simply because one man doesn’t like the way they were born, sending a signal to such patriots that they are not welcome here and that we do not thank them for their heroic service. An administration official admitted that this was not because of the negligible medical costs that the president cited in his Tweets, but because of crass political cynicism.
Hard Times No More stands with every patriot who serves and wants to serve in the military, their gender identity or sexual orientation bedamned. We also support transgender rights and persons in general. Every human being on earth is one of God’s children. People are people, and the best way a music blog can help show that is by sharing great music made by artists who happen to be transgender.
Let’s start with Joe Stevens performing “Beyond Me”. Anything that includes a steel guitar is fine by me. This is an artist I’ll be looking into more!
Second, here’s Hurray for the Riff Raff’s “Blue Ridge Mountain,” featuring Yosi Perlstein on fiddle. I love Hurray for the Riff Raff, and there’s nothing in this world like a good fiddle!
Next, Lucas Silveira covers Leonard Cohen.
Here’s Rae Spoon’s “I Will Be A Wall”:
Finally, Laura Jane Grace and Against Me with “Transgender Dysphoria Blues.”
If you’re a cisgender reader who opposes transgender rights, it’s easy to look at a post like this and say “Keep politics and music separate!” Yet if I tried to take away YOUR job, YOUR health care, or YOUR identity, suddenly you would say the conversation is not one about politics, but about life and basic fairness. And you’d be absolutely right – but we’re having that same conversation now, too, just about someone else’s job, health care, and identity.
This post isn’t about electoral politics. Only those who already have power and are already included see questions about basic, fundamental rights as electoral, partisan, or controversial. No, posts about transgender rights and talents like this one are simply posts about life. And when it comes to encouraging society to love EVERYONE and to treat everyone equally, art and art critics have always had a huge role to play.
(This post was largely inspired by Angela Dumlao’s article, “To the cis person angrily sharing news of the Trump transgender military ban.” In it, Angela points out that simply sharing news articles is not enough. They list a number of questions we need to ask ourselves to find out if we’re truly supporting those whose rights are under attack, including, “Do you intake media by trans people? TV? Books? Articles? Art? Music?” I knew Perlsetein was transgender, but realized Angela was right and that I had to go deeper than just one man.)
When you Google “Washington is,” some of the automatic suggestions are “broken” and “too close to the banks.” Fair enough – when people think Washington, they think politics. But D.C., while a company town, is also the heart of a six-million person metro area, which can be a pretty dynamic place to live.
Why do I bring that up here, on a music blog? Just to give a quick shout to WAMU Bluegrass Country, 105.5 FM, one of the best radio stations in the country. Most local NPR stations focus on classical music, but in our nation’s capitol, it’s bluegrass and Americana, and they do a great job.
This may not be what you think of when you think Capitol Hill, but I just drove home across the Capitol Hill neighborhood cranking Hank Williams – on the FM dial, not a CD player. “The Dick Spottswood Show” played a short 15-minute radio show from 1949 hosted by none other than Hank himself. He sang Pan American, Lovseick Blues, and I Saw the Light, with some great fiddle interludes. There aren’t too many places in the country where you can drive through an urban area loudly singing along to I Saw the Light with a goofy grin.
So, thank you, WAMU. You keep doing you. And you don’t have to visit DC to hear 105.5 – you can listen along live online.
If you saw this morning’s post about my being blocked by We Hate Pop Country – know that it was all a mistake and the post has been deleted! I take it all back. Whether this was Facebook’s glitch or an accident on the part of WHPC editors, who knows and who cares. But it certainly wasn’t their page taking a ham-handed approach to comments, politics, or diversity. Quite the opposite. Many thanks to them for their speed, professionalism, and courtesy.
We know return you to your regularly scheduled meme sharing.
There are no more piano dancing or knee slides, but even at 66, the Boss rocked Hartford, CT, for more than three hours last night, even crowdsurfing across the entire pit as part of the E Street Band’s “The River Tour.”
While I will never get tired of screaming along to “Born to Run,” “Thunder Road,” and “Dancing in the Dark” during the encore with the house lights up, the highlight of my fourth Springsteen concert in ten years was Nils’ extended guitar solo on “Because the Night.” It was the greatest guitar playing I have ever seen live, bar none, HOLY WOW. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing/seeing!!! I’ll remember that one forever.
As I noted, this was part of The River Tour, which means that every night, the band plays the 1980 album “The River” in its entirety. That made the concert a bit different than most E Street Band shows, with a lot of deep cuts showcasing the Boss’s excellent songwriting and the coherence of an emotional album (Drive All Night? Independence Day? The River itself?) to really create an intimate feel. It also meant less room for crowd favorites. There was no Born in the USA, no Glory Days, and nothing post-Rising. The band intros were also less theatrical than usual, and Patti Scialfa took the night off.
But there were plenty of other highlights to make for a great night:
I think Springsteen will keep playing for another 20 years, but we’ll likely see more and more of his acoustic and folk-rock sides. As its members age – may Clarence and Danny rest in peace, we miss y’all – the E Street Band is probably nearing the end of its raucous run. I’m thrilled I’ve gotten to see them three times in the last ten years (in addition to non-E Street Springsteen shows); I hope this wasn’t my final one. Thank you for a great night as always!