It’s amazing how music magazines can accumulate. I purchased the NME from 1983 to 2001 (just missed two issues); their unwieldy & yellowing paper eventually ended up in my parents’ attic – with similar friends Melody Maker & Hot Press – before making their way to the local recycling centre around 10 years ago. Smash Hits and Number One magazine had numerous unhappy accidents with scissors while some years later, when I moved into my own house, magazines started to sprout up in every nook and cranny. Neon, Empire, Premiere, The Wire, Record Collector, DVD Times, The Word, Mojo and Uncut. The latter two were my favourite source of covermount CDs; a practice that really kicked off around 1997 and still continues, albeit the jewel cases have sadly been superseded by cardboard.
The September 1998 Uncut is one magazine that I will never throw out. My copy still has the price sticker – A.M.-P.M. £3.92p. Neil Young is on the front cover; the exhaustive 20 page feature focuses on his Doom Trilogy 1973-1975. Other articles include a look back at The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Endless Highway (a fine take on road movies), a piece on the new technology called the DVD player and a look at Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels. And if that wasn’t enough, a free CD with the enticing title Sounds Of The New West along with an intriguing feature on the genre known as New Country. All 20 tracks on the disc get a sizeable comment along with a very comprehensive A to Z on the entire movement, complete with the obligatory sidebars and photos. Plus the token Silk Cut Ultra advert before the Shakey piece: “Life. Death. Hard drugs. The wilderness years.”
So we begin with Hazeldine’s Tarmac, described as “sensationally coruscating”, searing rock and top class harmonies. As a first impression, it immediately draws you in. A rush and a push and the land is ours: we then go back to the past, the roots and the template – The Flying Burrito Brothers with Sin City. Some background from 88WildCat: “The lyrics are about L.A. The song was written after someone broke in to the house that the FBB were staying at and stole all their equipment. The guy on the 31st floor was some record label head who screwed Parsons over earlier. The last verse is about RFK, shot and killed in L.A.” The Gilded Palace Of Sin remains one of the greatest LPs of all time, one of the finest country rock albums. In the wake of genius comes Josh Rouse and the lush vignette that is Suburban Sweetheart, a gorgeous melody unfurls. It stops suddenly and in comes Emmylou Harris and her atmospheric cover of Neil Young’s Wrecking Ball, originally included on 1989’s Freedom. Produced by Daniel Lanois and Neil is on backing vocals.
The Pernice Brothers’ Crestfallen can be filed under chamber country, a most striking arrangement with deeply evocative lyrical twists. It slows down later on, almost like a death march onto the end. Next is Neal Casal with Today I’m Gonna Bleed sounding like Teenage Fanclub re-imagining The Byrds’ Sweetheart Of The Rodeo. And then Kate Campbell’s storytelling giant Crazy In Alabama, a personal take on a particular period in US history. Meanwhile the Willard Grant Conspiracy’s Evening Mass is immense, a slumbering lament that builds and builds over six minutes. Another epic is Wagon’s Two Hours Alone, a low-key number that reminds me of a countrified Michael Stipe leading REM in an album of Rockvilles. Bringing the first half to a close are Freakwater and the doomy, almost macabre Lorraine. They were described as a “post-punk Carter Family.”
The tempo rises somewhat with Vic Chesnutt’s Until The Led, a joyful southern bop. Produced by Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner who pops up with his own band later on the beguiling Saturday Option from the fabulous What Another Man Spills. I still remember using How I Quit Smoking to get the children to sleep; a great lullaby record. Elsewhere Calexico’s Trigger is brief and atmospheric, sinister & ghostly border rock, worthy of a Rodriguez film. It’s followed by the stupendous American Gothic of Weightless Again, my introduction to The Handsome Family. Alex Kraemer puts forward: “I think we all feel weightless—as in care free, hopeful, without worry—at some point in our life, but after that we never quite find that same elation again. We all just want to be shorn of our anxieties and concerns, but we can’t, not until we die, and then we cease to be and cannot enjoy the fruits of our weightlessness. The cruel nature of our existence: we all want to be free, but we can only really be free in death, and at that point freedom is meaningless.”
At this point we head into Freebird Records customer territory as the Silver Jews fade into view with the mournful How To Rent A Room. Its “Chalk lines around my body, like the shoreline of a lake” sounds tragic now. And then Will Oldham, not so bonny on the austere Apocalypse, No! lifted off the uncompromising Joya before Sixteen Horsepower’s driving Coal Black Horses. Neil’s spirit hangs over the next track, The Walkabouts’ superb cover of On The Beach, perfectly gloomy and as desolate as Jim Rockford’s trailer. It’s well paired with Nadine’s corrosive Darker Light. So we reach the end and it’s almost an afterthought or an encore: Emmylou Harris’ live version of her haunting Boulder To Birmingham.
And that’s all from me. This is the final compilation review; I have covered everything that I set out to do. The Mixes & Words sections may be periodically updated with new content in the future – if so, this will be publicised on Twitter. A sincere thank you to all who have read, followed and commented on A Pop Fan’s Dream over the last seven years. Take care.
The Flying Burrito Brothers – Sin City
Willard Grant Conspiracy – Evening Mass
Lambchop – The Saturday Option
Lest we forget
The Handsome Family – Weightless Again