With a beautiful candles backdrop, perfect for the Sabbath day. If you haven’t heard these girls before, you’ll love them:
A bit more Lennon & Maisy for good measure:
With a beautiful candles backdrop, perfect for the Sabbath day. If you haven’t heard these girls before, you’ll love them:
A bit more Lennon & Maisy for good measure:
This blog was named after the Stephen Foster 1854 American folk song, “Hard Times Come Again No More“:
Let us pause in life’s pleasures and count its many tears,
While we all sup sorrow with the poor;
There’s a song that will linger forever in our ears;
Oh! Hard times come again no more.
‘Tis the song, the sigh of the weary,
Hard Times, hard times, come again no more
Many days you have lingered around my cabin door;
Oh! Hard times come again no more.
The song doesn’t pray for no more hard times just for Christians, or just for Americans. It is a universal lament that every one of God’s children has felt during one dark time or another. Can’t we hear these words coming from the mouths of today’s victims of terrorism? From those Syrians who are persecuted, Muslim and Christian alike, by Daesh/ISIS and are now fleeing to our shores as refugees, crying out for a land of religious freedom like the English pilgrims before them?
I try to be a man of deep faith, and have certainly led a very political life, but I generally try to keep those things off of this blog. If justice is my calling and my career, then music is my passion and my hobby. I like to keep those two worlds separate so that the music can reach as wide an audience as possible for its own sake.
I can’t do that today. This is too important. Part of “Americana” music is “America” – and all the values that that word claims to stand for. Values like love, justice, compassion, and hospitality. America should not and can not stand for hatred, bigotry, nationalism, or rejection. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” These are the values we have always sung about, and what we must keep singing. What do we want America to be is a question that all of us answer every minute of every day, and need to talk about in every space, even music blogs. So I write today as an American, as a Christian, and also, later in this post, as a music fan, so if you only came for the music, please press on (or scroll down).
Donald Trump said this week that Muslims in the U.S. “absolutely” have to register in a database, and that we need more than just databases to manage them. He did not argue with comparisons to Third Reich Germany requiring its Jewish citizens to wear identifying symbols and tattoos. His bigoted broadside against religious freedom comes on the heels of Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz’s comments that America should allow Christian refugees, but not Muslim refugees – never mind that Daesh/ISIS’s primary victims are its fellow Muslims.
Jesus calls me to love everyone. Everyone means everyone, but especially Muslims, my brothers and sisters in the God of Abraham. These brothers and sisters face far too much violence – abroad from ISIS, at home from bigotry – leaving them bleeding at the side of the road. Jesus says I need to love my neighbor, to think of everyone as my neighbor, and to help the person bleeding by the side of the road. He used a Samaritan as the example, because Jews in 30 AD looked at Samaritans the same way Trump, Cruz, and Bush look at Muslims today. But, Jesus said, that’s not what matters.
I love what the Rev. Daniel “@PastorDan” Schultz wrote on Twitter this week about the refugees:
“You want to witness to the gifts of Christ? This is how you do it. You care for the poor, the powerless, the strangers. Yes, even though there’s some risk. *Because* there is some risk. Because to be a Christian is to open ourselves to vulnerability, in imitation of Christ who made himself vulnerable to us.”
Trump has led the presidential primary polls for months. Cruz has shown he has the influence to shut down the federal government, and Bush is the son and brother of two past U.S. presidents. These men matter, a great deal. Don’t think that the history books won’t record their hatred and ignorance, or that the rest of the world isn’t taking notice now – and don’t think that those historians and global neighbors won’t also attribute that hatred and ignorance to us if we are not seen speaking out, loudly and vehemently. American Muslim citizens are also noticing, and we need to let them know that we stand by them. They need to feel that they are not alone or endangered during this dark time. If we don’t light a candle in the darkness, who will?
It is especially important for us country and Americana fans to speak out. The country music world is overwhelmingly (though not exclusively) white and Christian. Americana may not be quite as heavily Christian, but it is also a very white genre. We are the ones who are most likely to support politicians like Trump, Cruz, and Bush. We are the ones being defined by their words. We are also the ones with the most ability to become good neighbors to all of our brothers and sisters. But just as our actions can be powerful, so is our inaction – we are the ones who can leave our Muslim friends feeling abandoned, ignored, and threatened. We need to choose action over inaction, and stand with them in love.
Let’s also remember that there is a long, rich musical tradition of singing out our values of compassion, love, and justice, especially in Americana, country, and folk. It wasn’t just Foster. Woody Guthrie wrote the dust bowl ballads about struggling farmers and migrant workers. Pete Seeger sang about unions and fair wages. So much of roots music was shaped by slave spirituals, praising God and yearning for that most precious human right, freedom. After 9/11, many country stars emphasized the importance of standing together. And folk music was home to hundreds of civil rights and Vietnam War protest songs. (Many ask where today’s protest songs are. They still exist, but they’re not folk anymore – they are hip hop. But in a way, if folk music is the lyrical voice of a people, isn’t hip hop the folk music of certain urban landscapes? I digress.)
Returning to the issue at hand, America is “one nation, under God” and “e pluribus unum” – out of many, one. We do not treat Muslims differently than Christians. We are one people. And it’s not just a slogan – it’s the law. As our First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” And earlier, in Article VI, paragraph 3, we read, “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Rejecting people of a faith different than our own could not be more un-American. If we do not stand for religious freedom for all, we do not stand for religious freedom at all, and we do not sing our country songs of praise with pure or honest hearts.
We have made these mistakes before. At the same time that Hitler was requiring the Jews to register, we were turning them away, refusing to let in refugees because we were afraid that German spies would hide among their ranks. One of the would-be refugees denied entry was Anne Frank herself. We have made these mistakes before. We cannot make them again.
And it’s easy to love Muslims. Like George W. Bush told us, Islam is a religion of peace. Yes, it has its violent Scriptures, but so does Christianity. Terrorists are to Islam what the KKK, Westboro Baptists, or Irish wars are to Christianity. But even if this were not true, we are also called to love our enemies.
I don’t have to choose values-based arguments – there is definitely a practical side to this issue. I could argue, and have elsewhere, that turning away refugees is exactly what ISIS wants us to do (and they’ve said so in their propaganda to one another). I could argue in favor of the rigorous 18-month vetting process that refugees face. I could point to the overwhelmingly positive statistics that show refugees simply don’t commit terrorism here. I could talk about how it doesn’t make sense for a terrorist to come as a refugee – there are faster, easier ways to strike.
But values are what matter most. We show who we are when times are hard, not when they’re easy. This is when it’s most important to stand by the values we proclaim, and not shrink like cowards in the face of fear. I think Joe Biden put it wonderfully yesterday in an off-the-cuff answer to a reporter’s question:
“One way to make sure that the terrorists win is for us to begin to change our value system. That’s number one. Number two, we have a real vetting system for refugees coming into the country. We can assure Americans that they will be safe. For us to turn our back now, for us to turn our back now on refugees is turning our back on who we are. The only way terror wins is if they cause you to change your value system. ISIS is no existential threat to the United States of America – simply stated, they are not. And we are going to be working as hard as we can to open our arms to refugees.”
Shame on every member of the U.S. House of Representatives, both Republican and Democrat, who voted against American values of compassion, hospitality, and justice yesterday – and shame on every one of us who stands idly by without saying a word. Please, look up how your member voted here, then call Congress and ask for your representative at (202) 224-3121 to either thank or chastise them. And because this conversation needs to be loud and public, please share posts like this one, and also this one from the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the one from above by Pastor Dan, this one, and this one on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, or whatever else you use. It won’t be easy – you might have friends or family who fight you for it. But that’s why it matters. That’s where love needs to be planted most.
“For the Lord your God is god… who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Deuteronomy 10:18–19
“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Matthew 25:35
Saving Country Music is reporting that pop country star Jason Aldean dressed in blackface for Halloween.
Make no mistake about it: Dressing in blackface as a white person is, whether intentionally or not, an incredibly racist thing to do. And it was barely a month ago that Aldean was also slamming the women of country music.
How do we know what’s racist? By listening to those who are minorities when they tell us what they find hurtful. I am only an expert in my own story. You are only an expert in yours. We must all listen to one another, and trust and respect what we hear.
One of the reasons I post so less often than I would like here at Hard Times is that, as of this past August, I am blessed to be a seminarian at Yale Divinity School. Yale’s been in the news a bit lately over some racist incidents of our own. As you may have heard, the school’s Intercultural Affairs Committee emailed all undergraduates and asked them to choose against wearing “culturally unaware and insensitive” Halloween costumes, specifically mentioning blackface, turbans, and Indian headdresses. A residential dean flipped out, charging that asking students to make such a choice is censorship and that minorities should just look away. This dean is white, but had no trust in minority students with experiences different than her own when they spoke out about their pain and politely asked others to stop causing that pain. She has not handled the incident well since then, either, only deepening the pain. Worst of all, this comes on the heels of a frat turning away black women from a party, letting in only white women. As a result of these compounding incidents, many minority students do not feel welcome here.
How do we know what’s racist? Again, not by looking at the motives behind the action, but by listening to people when they tell us what hurts them. Not everything I do is about me, so I must be careful not to confuse my intent with my impact. Once I’ve learned that I’m having a negative impact, then no matter what my original intention, I need to stop. Yet despite decades of black Americans and American Indians telling us that wearing blackface and headdresses hurts them, many – like Jason Aldean – continue to do so anyway, and when confronted, show thin skin and make someone else’s pain about themselves by screaming against “political correctness.” (Aldean hasn’t had a chance to respond to this breaking story yet; that is a generalization of similar incidents.)
Aldean may well be a good man with a pure heart and maybe he didn’t have racist intentions. I don’t know, and it’s really not the point – his actions were racist nonetheless, and he needs to apologize. Unfortunately, with this costume coming on the heels of his sexist comments in September, that won’t be enough. The country music industry, and its fans, needs to set a better image and hold up better role models. Jason Aldean appears to be self-absorbed with little regard for the pain or realities of women or Black Americans, and he perpetuates Southern stereotypes. I hope he finds redemption, but he should have absolutely no place on country’s center stage anymore.
Wednesday night, country rocker Chris Stapleton took the Country Music Association Awards by storm with a clean sweep for the independent and underground country movement with his album “Traveller.”
I’ve been meaning to review Traveller for months. I’ve never blogged as much as I’d like to and grad school makes it even tougher, but here it is, the long-overdue Hard Times No More review of Traveller:
3.75 whiskey bottles out of 5.
You’re asking, WTF? Empsall, did you drink the other 1.25 bottles?
Well, it is the best album I will ever give less than a 4. I give it 3.75 only because of this blog’s lens. If current country radio is the standard, then Traveller definitely gets a 6 out of 5 – let the whiskey overflow across the floor. If good music in general is the standard, 4.5 out of 5. It’s great stuff, but I’m looking for solid country and Americana music that stands up within the genre. On that particular front, this album is track by track. There’s nothing bad, but not really anything that really knocks me out, either. This is a good album, I like Chris Stapleton as a musician, but for this genre, while it’s really good, it’s also overhyped. I also think there’s a certain storytelling element lacking here that’s usually found on the best country albums. There’s a musical theme, but not quite the lyrical one I want.
Don’t get me wrong. I am thrilled Stapleton swept the CMAs. A talented songwriter for pop-country artists who’s also immersed in the bluegrass and traditional country worlds yet is not a pure traditionalist is probably the only workable bridge between the underground and the mainstream, and as I wrote yesterday, Stapleton’s wins give country fans more hope than we’ve had in a decade.
But as for the album itself – for me, it’s a mix. Stapleton’s voice is a bit like Travis Tritt with a twist of Sam Cooke or maybe even Leon Bridges. But while those folks are great and I wish I could stretch a high note like that, it’s not what you expect. If you don’t mind that, if all you want is great music regardless of type, very cool, definitely put the album in your heavy rotation. I certainly enjoy it. I like this album – I’m just reviewing it as a country album. And Stapleton himself, who’s been in Southern rock and bluegrass bands, both genres that I love, has said he doesn’t want to stay in one box.
Producer Dave Cobb can do no wrong, and the album is well produced with a good vision. It’s a little slicker than Cobb’s work with Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Nikki Lane, Shooter Jennings, etc., but a good vision nonetheless.
My two favorite songs are “Fire Away”, co-written with Danny Green which shows off Stapleton’s wide range and solid tenor voice while staying in a country style, and “Whiskey and You,” co-written with Lee Thomas Miller, and recorded previously by Tim McGraw and Jason Eady. Eady’s cover is one of my favorite songs. Great guitar on both.
“Parachute,” co-written with Jim Beavers, feels like a Bob Seger tune covered by Chris LeDoux. Southern rock, not country, but I dig it.
I really want to like “More of You.” It’s so close to being my favorite, but ultimately misses the top tier. I love the songwriting, the slow melody, the beautiful vocal duet with his wife Morgane, and the Willie Nelson style harmonica. What I don’t love, oddly enough, is the mandolin. Just lightly strumming away on the same couple chords the whole time, it gives the song a high pitch that makes it feel too light. It also feels bluegrass, and while I love bluegrass, that doesn’t seem what this song wants. It should’ve been an octave lower on an acoustic guitar, I think. But I will say this, it grows on me every time I hear it.
The only song I straight up don’t like is “Tennessee Whiskey,” a cover of the Dean Dillon/Linda Hargrove song. I LOVE the song. I heard Jamey Johnson sing it live last month, and it was amazing. I sing it to my girlfriend. Hat’s off to George Jones. But this is a bizarre bluesy cover. Why cover a country classic like a blues song… on a country album? It’s talented, but it feels very out of place. And Stapleton can certainly sing smoothly enough to nail a “smooth as Tennessee whiskey” version.
“Traveller” is a good album. You should buy it. It’s the CD Travis Tritt wishes he had released in the 1990s – he could have done that great cover of “Was It 26”. In a broader sense, it’s certainly another Americana triumph for Dave Cobb. I think it’s immensely overhyped, but it is good, I will listen to it again, I would love to see Stapleton live, and I am so grateful for all that it has accomplished for true fans of true country music. Trigger said it best: “It certainly is something to be taken as a very good sign, even if you’re just ho hum on Stapleton.” Yup, that’s me, but I’ll echo this as loudly as I can: “It’s a win for music of more substance, regardless of who made it, and what style it is.”
Last night, country rocker Chris Stapleton took the 2015 CMA Awards by storm, shoving bro-country and country (c)rap out of the way to win Male Vocalist of the Year, New Artist of the Year, and with best-in-the-business producer Dave Cobb, Album of the Year for May’s “Traveller.”
Chris Stapleton straddles country and Southern rock, and previously, bluegrass. So he’s not strictly country – we’re not talking outlaw style like Sturgill Simpson or a traditionalist like Dwight Yoakam – but he can write and perform that way when he wants to, and he is damn good at what he does.
Despite the “New Artist” tag, you’ve heard his work if you listen to either mainstream radio country or bluegrass. From 2008-2010, he was the lead singer for that great bluegrass band, the SteelDrivers. As a songwriter, he has six #1 hits, and wrote or co-wrote four songs I really enjoy: “Your Man” for Josh Turner, “Love’s Gonna Make it Alright” for the king, George Strait, “Drink a Beer,” the only recent Luke Bryan performance I can deeply respect, and “Whiskey and You” for Tim McGraw, though I prefer Jason Eady’s version. You might have also heard “Never Wanted Nothing More” for Kenny Chesney, “Come Back Song” for Darius Rucker, and “Crash and Burn” from Thomas Rhett.
He’s also got an amazing beard that can almost compete with Jamey Johnson’s.
Does this mean the tide is turning? Not on its own, no, but it helps. Kacey Musgraves did well (not as well, but well) at the 2013 and 2014 award shows, but still hasn’t had mass radio play (though both albums were #1). That said, when you add these awards to Sturgill Simpson’s quick rise to the top; Jason Isbell and Alan Jackson’s iTunes album sales in July; attention for quality artists from major industry figures like Zac Brown, Justin Timberlake, and Blake Shelton; and the quick downfall of Sony exec Gary Overton after disparaging independent music, fans of Americana and actual country music have more momentum and more cause for hope than at any time in the past decade.
But remember: While Stapleton is authentic, he isn’t strictly country. As he told Rolling Stone, “I don’t like to put things in a box all the time. If I’m feeling like rock, we’ll do some of that, and if I’m feeling some other way, we might do some of that.” Look to him to make good music, but not to be a singular force that “saves” country radio or the industry.
I’ll have my review of “Traveller” in the next few days. Here’s one of last night’s duets between Stapleton and Justin Timberlake:
And here’s Jason Eady covering Stapleton’s “Whiskey and You”:
This week’s version of Hard Times Come Again No More by Stephen Foster is the first one I heard, the one that turned me on to the song, it’s enduring message, and it’s graceful beauty. Here is James Taylor with Yo Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, and Mark O’Connor.
“Country” star Jason Aldean told the Washington Post that all country’s little ole females are the same. Put the men on stage and the women in the kitchen, or at least in the dressing room for after the show.
“I feel like a lot of times female singers, to me, when they’re singing – and I’ll probably kick myself for saying this – a lot of times, it just seems like I can’t distinguish one from the other sometimes if I just listen to them, you know?“ Aldean said. “A lot of times they just sound really similar to me.”
You know what, Jason? It’s a helluva lot easier for me to tell Brandy Clark from Kacey Musgraves from Courtney Patton from Sarah Watkins than it is to separate out your rapping dreck from that of Brantley Gilbert or Luke Bryan or Tyler Hubbard. Go soak your head in a bucket of Bud Light and cow piss.
I’m going to try and start a regular series here, and post a different version of this blog’s namesake song each Sunday – Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times Come Again No More,” from 1854. To kick things off, here’s the legendary Mavis Staples.