Tuesday, February 14, 2006

It's Music Meme Time!

Ian over at Fried Rice Thoughts was "tagged" for one of those blogger meme things ("List seven songs you are into right now") that people pass around like so much, uh, gas. (Incidentally, I had been pronouncing it with a short e, like the French word for "same," but apparently it's pronounced MEEM. Who knew? Ok, everyone but me.)

Anyway, I started to respond with my seven songs in the comments section of Ian's blog, then realized that my response completely overlapped with a post I was going to do here about a new CD I stumbled across at work, "Raw Vision: The Tom Russell Band, 1984-1994."

I've written about Tom Russell in this space before. His last CD, "Hotwalker," which I also purloined from work, is pretty bizarre but also strangely compelling. If I smoked pot, this would be a common soundtrack choice. So when I saw another CD from Russell last week, I eagerly snapped it up. And I've been listening to it constantly ever since. It is, as the name implies, a compilation album of some earlier songs. And it is all songs this time, no midgets narrating or archival recordings of Charles Bukowski reading poems.

Russell, in addition to being a sterling songwriter, has an arresting and earthy voice, at turns smooth and soothing or cracked and raucous. As for what the music itself is, as Russell says in the liner notes, it was "country rock" 20 years ago and it's "Americana" now, with maybe a dozen other names along the way. "Alt country" is another label that might apply. It can be a little hard to classify some of this stuff, but steel guitars and Southwestern flair often figure into it.

I even played the CD for my friend Matt, not exactly a country music buff, and he agreed it was good. And naturally, I was thrilled to discover Russell would be playing in Ann Arbor at the end of March. A friend is trying to hook us up with free tickets, but I'll go even if I have to, like, actually pay.

At any rate, all of the seven songs I'm "into" right now come from "Raw Vision":

1. Home Before Dark: This is probably the rockiest country rock song on the album. It's definitely air-guitar worthy.

2. Purgatory Road: I'm a sucker for any song that artfully combines sex, Catholic girls, and "wild asparagus." (Keep your dumb-ass priest jokes to yourself, thank you.)

3. Heart of Hearts: A more conventional love song, but Russell's voice makes it more moving than it probably has a right to be.

4. Gallo del Cielo: This is a ballad in the tradition of Marty Robbins (who I also like) about a man trying to win enough money from cockfighting to buy back the land some dirty bastard stole from his father. (Gallo del Cielo = Rooster of Heaven, the name of the, er, title cock.)

5. Spanish Burgundy: "And I drank until I slept / And I slept until I dreamed / And in my dreams her lips did taste of Spanish burgundy."

6. Hurricane Season: This odd tune is the awesomest song in the whole collection, with a lyric that just absolutely, totally, perfectly encapsulates the theme of my crappy novel-in-progress, whose current working title also happens to be Hurricane Season. What a weird coincidence. Oh, the lyric? "God protects the drunks and the adulterers / And He drowns everyone who says their prayers."

7. Oil Field Girls: This is an unreleased demo that shows what Russell can do with just an acoustic guitar and a little percussion. His lyrics and voice really make this one. Plus, it's the only song I know that mentions Old Peculier. "They walk the strip / Like painted shadows / Cursing the night / When man was born."

There are a few songs about veterans and steelworkers and whatever that I'm not quite as enthusiastic about, but otherwise this collection is more proof Tom Russell deserves to be more widely known. On the other hand, I'm kind of glad he's not, since then he probably wouldn't be playing at the Ark for $20.