Rhythm and Views
JANUARY 25, 1999:
The Mickey Newbury Collection
LISTEN UP, COUNTRY and folk music junkies: This box is a truly a serious find. Singer/songwriter Newbury (referred to in the lines "Hank Williams' pain songs/And Newbury's train songs," sung by Waylon Jennings in "Luckenbach, Texas") is, in a number of ways, far from representing the typical Southern music writer. He plays a gut string classical guitar, has tonsils so pure and powerful he could probably sing opera, and writes songs so delicate they radically stretch country's shitkickin' honky-tonk persona in the opposite direction.
Over 20 years ago, some on-the-money journalist referred to Newbury as "the Robert Frost of country music"--which still stands as the most succinct line of music criticism this writer ever read. The Nashville-by-way-of-Texas legend starts off one song with "Morning came and found her at the window with her nose pressed to the glass/The dew was like a broken diamond necklace left scattered on the grass..." If such lines came from the obtuse mouth of Garth Brooks or his ilk, they'd sound like Sylvester Stallone reading Dostoevsky.
While many of the songs here became hits for an earlier generation ("Sunshine," by Don Gibson, and Jerry Lee Lewis' version of "She Even Woke Me Up To Say Good-bye"), he has since been deemed a patriarch by formidable figures from the ensuing era: Kristofferson, Cash, Nelson and Van Zandt regularly touted his material as timeless. Appropriately, his "An American Trilogy" was not only a favorite of Elvis', but also the last song he ever sang in concert.
Everything reissued here (all 10 albums released between 1969 and 1981) has been long out of print, never before available on CD, and hard to find on vinyl. In fact, you might not have much luck tracking it down in the local CD bin. For buying info, check out www.songs.com/newbury; or write to Mountain Retreat, P.O. Box 888, Escanaba, MI, 49829-0888.
LEE ANN WOMACK
Some Things I Know
FROM SHANIA TWAIN'S Def Leppard imitations to Faith Hill's bubble-gum hollering, the women of popular country music are nearly as insufferable as the men (though not as wimpy). So when Lee Ann Womack's debut single, "Never Again, Again," hit the airwaves last year, the sheer legitimacy of it seemed impossible. One could have only assumed that the powers of Nashville would subsequently teach her a lesson in conformity and talk her out of all that twang-and-fiddle nonsense before she did some real damage.
Indeed, a couple of throwaway songs on this second release suggest that some little devil may have whispered in her ear. But by and large, Some Things I Know is a lesson in sticking to one's guns: The first single, "A Little Past Little Rock," is a fabulous highway tune loaded with controlled passion and elusive melancholy, while "If You're Ever Down in Dallas" is a loping romp that showcases Womack's distinctively gorgeous vocals. And "When The Wheels Are Coming Off" sounds just like a lonely date with a six-pack of Lone Star. Hell, Womack even pulls off a cool duet with the highly suspicious Joe Diffie ("I'd Rather Have What We Had"). Overall, Some Things I Know has the feel of a crossroads, a point of departure for an artist who could make a real difference in the long term. There are very few country singers out there with that opportunity, and most are squandering it by prancing around in catsuits and yelping like Celine Dion. But if we keep our faith in Womack, it's only because she's earned it.
JEWEL IS THIS generation's poster gal for the insipid and insubstantial. Her heaving bosom, pinched, ferret-like squint and excruciating nasal bleat make her as recognizable as Jerry Springer--and yeah, like Jerry, sometimes you just wanna smack her for helping to bring cultural standards down to a level where the signifier phrase "Duh!" has replaced intelligent discourse. Proof? Read these unintentionally hilarious lyrics aloud. "Super paranoid, I'm blending, I'm blurring, I'm bleeding into the scenery/ Loving someone else is always so much easier..." "Fat boy goes to the pool/Sees his reflection, doesn't know what to do/He feels little inside and filled with pride/Oh, fragile flame/No one sees the same..." "The wind blows cold when you reach the top/It feels like someone's face is stuck to the bottom of my shoe..." "If I could tell the world just one thing/It would be that we're all OK..." "When you're standing in deep water/And you're bailing yourself out with a straw..." (SAY WHAT?!?) Of the music, well, the midtempo, easy-listening arrangements are soooo unthreatening and soooo palatable-lite as to be indistinguishable from one to the next. No hooks, no beats, just surface texture. Don't worry, be happy. Pass the Prozac.
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