Saturday, June 25, 2011

City Songs Saturday - Border State Cities

Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. That should be plenty of territory of border states to explore a few city songs. Right?

Spokane Motel Blues - Tom T. Hall

El Paso - Marty Robbins

Saginaw, Michigan - Lefty Frizell

Brownsville Girl - Bob Dylan

Helena, Montana - Terry Allen - Strong song...even if the video isn't


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Thankfully Semi-Twang is not Fully Twang

More than twenty years ago - seriously? can it really have been that long ago? - I picked up the debut release by a band called Semi-Twang. I don't recall exactly how I learned about Salty Tears. It was likely a review in Rolling Stone or Pulse, the Tower Records magazine.

I had already latched onto my share of twang by getting into artists and bands such as R.E.M., Blue Rodeo, Joe Ely, E.I.E.I.O., The Rainmakers, Lone Justice, The Silos, etc. No question the band's name caught my attention. If twang was involved, I was convinced it would align nicely with these other artists I'd really begun to enjoy.

It turns out the first half of their band name was the part I underestimated. The band was only kind of ... that is, semi ... twangy. But that was OK. I really enjoyed the CD - and still do to this day. I enjoyed it enough that I kept my eyes open in the store bins and in magazines for info about a follow-up release. But it never came.

Over the years, I've pulled Salty Tears off the shelf and listened to it many times over - not something I can say about everything in my collection. (Click here and scroll down about half-way to listen to a couple of band-provided tracks from their debut.) In the pre-web days though, it was weird not knowing how this talented band could end up as a one-and-done.

Then the e-mail arrived several weeks ago. I'm not sure if the publicity folks found me through this blog, tracked me down through my monthly contributions to Feel Bad For You, or what other sources they used. Either way, the news was so surprising I had to read it a couple of times. After a 23-year absence, sure 'nuff Semi-Twang was back with their second release, Wages of Sin.

As was the case 20+ years ago, my attention was snagged. One, because after a 23-year absence, I was floored to realize a second album was actually here. Two, Wages Of Sin was also a song title by The Rainmakers - so the hook was set.

You might think after a two-decade pause between recordings, a second release might move Semi-Twang to Fully-Twang. Listen to a few of their tracks, however, and I think you'll find Semi is the part they continue to embrace best. Some bluesy riffs, a nice dose of organ without going overboard, and generally a mature sound and vocals - to be expected from performers who have added a good bit of gray to their look. Yet, there is enough distortion, fuzz, and nasally tone to qualify for the twang portion. Musically, the band is very tight as a unit while still playing a bit loose for their style.

Song listing:
  • Sonny Liston (MP3)
  • Do Right - Organ starts > guitar with slight distortion > drum fade-in > 2nd guitar > vox - all seamless with great groove
  • The Wages of Sin (MP3)
  • Just A Train - conjures a bit of Little Village (John Hiatt, Nick Lowe, Ry Cooder, Jim Keltner) from ... guess what ... yep, 20 years ago
  • I Can't Read Your Mind - hints of Marshall Crenshaw or Elvis Costello
  • When the Wind Kicks Up
  • Its That Time Again - first of the back-to-back, most enjoyable tracks for me
  • Nervous Energy - has a Todd Snider'esque vibe to it for me
  • Your Name Was In It (MP3)
  • Move It Or Lose It
  • Doubting Thomas - Guilty as charged. Never thought I'd see another release by these guys - maybe they didn't either!
  • When My Angel Smiles - the longest track of the album at 4 minutes even with somewhat of a haunting-sound.
As is common with many folks, I generally learn the names of band members whose albums I listen to over the years. With Semi-Twang's single release, however, I never really took the time to learn about the individual members. I just listened to the CD, shelved the jewel case, and didn't think much more about it.

This time, though, I tried to dig around a bit more about the band. Lo and behold, Mike Hoffman who was and still is in Semi-Twang was in E.I.E.I.O. back in the day - one of the bands that helped cement my interest in twang. Tonight, I pulled their 1988 CD Land of Opportunity off the shelf, opened the liner notes, and ta-daaa there he was.

Furthermore, Hoffman has contributed recently to Florizona, the latest album by The Silos. Walter Salas-Humara has been known to change the members of the The Silos over the years about as often as I change socks. But it was cool to learn yet another connection between multiple bands I enjoy.

My suggestion? Go ahead and get both Semi-Twang so you can be fully twanged. Besides, I'm not sure any of us can wait another 20 years for release number 3.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

City Songs Saturday - A States

Without a logical theme coming to mind for today, I figured I'd stick with the simple. Here's a sampling of city songs from the "A" states of the good ol' USA.

Alabama: Angel From Montgomery - John Prine

Alaska: Anchorage - Michelle Shocked

Arkansas: Little Rock - Hayes Carll

Arizona: By The Time I Get to Phoenix - Glen Campbell

Arizona Bonus: Goin' Back to Tucson - Supersuckers


Saturday, June 4, 2011

City Songs Saturday - Big Ten edition

With all the drama surrounding [snark] The [/snark] Ohio State University, Jim Tressel, Terrelle Pryor, tats, weed, jerseys, and cars, I thought a Big Ten edition of City Songs Saturday might work.

Before anyone unleashes on me, yes I realize these cities aren't the homes of Big Ten universities. I'm just trying to get in the general vicinity of the states.

Detroit Rock City - KISS

Cleveland Rocks - The Presidents of The United States of America

Champaign, Illinois - Old 97s

What's Made Milwaukee Famous - Jerry Lee Lewis

The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines - Joni Mitchell


Friday, June 3, 2011

Memories One Year Later

One year ago this morning - June 3, 2010 - I was at my parents' house. Their suitcases were packed, and we were about to leave for the airport. I'd booked seats on Southwest to fly them to Jacksonville to visit my sick uncle, my mother's youngest brother.

As we finished a cup of coffee and finished loading the trunk of the car, the phone rang. Too late. The battle was lost. He had died in the early morning hours. Flights and hotels were canceled, and the bags were unloaded. That day sucked.

Its hard to believe a year has passed. I miss conversations and visits with him immensely - even though I know his absence to me pales in comparison to what it means to my aunt and my mother.

One habit I developed the last 2 or 3 years of his life was to call him as I grilled steaks. Every few weeks, it was just a neat opportunity to talk with him from my deck for 20 minutes or as I sipped a beer and waited for medium-well.

A memories have popped back in my head in recent months. I started a draft of this entry months ago when the first one hit, and I continued to add to it with a target publish date of today. Here are a few stories that still make me smile.
  • In spring 1984, I needed to land a summer job between college quarters. My uncle said he could arrange a job in the accounts receivable department with his employer. Because I was an accounting major, this would be great practical experience - plus give me the chance to live in Florida for the summer. I quickly accepted and quit looking around Nashville. With about a week to go before the spring quarter ended, he called to say that because he was in sales, the company's nepotism and other control policies prevented me from working in receivables. Instead, he offered me the chance to work in the warehouse loading trucks in non-ventilated trailers. What could I do? So I went from having an air-conditioned desk job to working in trailers that seemed hotter than the seventh level of hell.
  • July 4, 1984. My aunt's boss was retiring, and she was about to be promoted to his position. She and my uncle scheduled a retirement party/picnic for him and a ton of co-workers at their house. I offered to help - mow the grass, man the grill, refresh ice on the beer, whatever. A day or two later, my uncle admitted he'd had two tickets to the Firecracker 400 NASCAR race in Daytona. He knew he couldn't go because of the gathering, but he didn't tell me about them because he didn't know if I'd want to go alone. It turns out it was no ordinary race as my racing hero Richard Petty won his 200th career race. Instead of my being there, the tickets went unused on his night stand.
  • My uncle, a long-time friend of his, a long-time friend of mine, and I went to a local beer joint in Jacksonville the night before the Daytona 500 in 1994. A table of girls had their eye on my uncle's friend and got him to dance. The others were okay from a distance - but we just kept our seats, drank our beer and continued our conversation. A few songs later, another one claimed my uncle and it was down to my buddy and me. As the two of us continued to talk, we kind of just forgot about the two of them. Let 'em have a good time. Whatever. But then suddenly, my uncle grabbed me by the neck and dragged me to the dance floor. He had recruited a midget - I'm telling you a MIDGET - to dance with me. Now I'll never be mistaken for an NBA player, but I'm hardly in the midget category. But he and his friend were doubled over in laughter while I had to figure a way to wrangle myself out of this awkward situation.
  • One of the neatest phone calls I ever received was in summer of 2000. I answered and heard the following challenge: "Hey, guess where I went last night." Now how am I supposed to answer that? So I immediately gave up with "I dunno. Where?" He excitedly said "the Billy Graham Crusade!" He talked a lot that night and much more in the years to follow how his faith was strengthened beginning about that time. He eventually started a men's small group Bible study class on his screened-in porch. He told me they had a great core of guys who enjoyed wrestling with scripture and drinking beer as they discussed it.
  • He was a huge sports nut. Lifelong Celtics fan - including sitting 2 rows behind the bench at the old Boston Garden as a 40th birthday gift to himself. Season ticket holder of USFL Jacksonville Bulls and NFL Jacksonville Jaguars for many years. Played fantasy baseball before it became the rage. He attended MLB, NFL, NBA, NASCAR, 'wrasslin', and just about everything else in professional sports - except hockey. I'm glad to say I took him to his one and only NHL game - the Tampa Bay Lightning vs. our Nashville Predators - about 5 or 6 years ago. Unfortunately, the Lightning mopped the floor with the Preds that night. But we had a great visit, shared a number of brews at the game and at a few of the lower Broadway honky-tonks after the game, and he crossed the NHL off his list of sports events to see.