Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year

Brought You You From 1980

The Inky Jukebox knows that ABBA isn’t country, but it’s New Year’s Eve and their song, aptly titled “Happy New Year,” is one of our favorites.

Entire generations of people have grown up since ABBA were last making music, and thus are completely unaware of how intensely popular they were. The Inky Jukebox was fortunate to have actually attended an ABBA concert, their Super Trouper tour. People may dismiss ABBA as Swedish pop — which it is — but it is good, rich, exquisitely written pop with a unique sound that has stood the test of time.

The Inky Jukebox likes any musician willing to stand up as an ABBA fan — especially the metal guys. If you think about it, the metal dudes and ABBA were wearing pretty much the same outfits back in the 70s.

Happy New Year! 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Inky Jukebox’s Redneckest Top Ten of 2011

Of Course "Redneckest" Is A Real Word, Jeez

Instead of trawling through the iTunes mega-vault to find the year’s best song, which is boring as all-get-out, and pointless besides (what does “best” mean?), The Inky Jukebox decided to go with a differently themed end of year wrap-up.

We therefore present The Inky Jukebox Redneckest List of 2011. To qualify, a song had to be released in 2011 or on an album whose major sales came in 2011. It also had to feature as its main theme those ideals / images that best represent the redneck way of life. It was hard to narrow this list down to just ten, which is such a random number, but we did and here it is. All of these clips also showcase what tremendously gifted musicians all of these people are. Enjoy, ya'll.

Justin Moore: Guns

You know y’all bought this album to get this song and you play it in your truck as loud as it will go. You know y’all get crazy with your demonstrative hand gestures when Moore hits his money-note about needing his Colt 44 to waste home invaders towards the end. It’s a love song to the Second Amendment, and has mass appeal, whether you’re more into Remingtons or Glocks. (Do we let terrorists watch cable TV, by the way?)

Pistol Annies: Trailer For Rent

The entire Pistol Annies album could qualify as an entry here because it doesn’t just speak from the redneck girl experience, it rolls around in it like a bride in mud. This song is about a trailer whose walls have punch holes in them being sold by a woman who’s just tired of her man’s shit. It’s sung in such a beautiful way, it could be mistaken for a song not about any of these things.

Brantley Gilbert: Take It Outside

Brantley Gilbert hit it huge in 2011, not only with the songs he wrote for Jason Aldean, but with the reissue of his superb album, Halfway To Heaven. It was hard to choose between this song and his hit “Kick It In The Sticks,” which has a whole heapload of hillbilly all up in it, including advice on how not to “get your ass torn up round here.” It involves not hitting on other men’s women. Other advice includes not letting anyone take you snipe hunting, but that’s preaching to the choir. Therefore we have chosen this song, which will never be a single. It’s about bar brawls. The only moment of pause among the testosterone jet-fuelled violence is the reminder to take it outside because “we got girls in here.” Always chivalrous, them boys. Here is a film of him recording it. 

Brad Paisley: Camouflage

This is Brad Paisley’s most redneckest song since “Alcohol,” and is a welcome return to his humorous side. Not that he ever left it behind. But a song with the line “You’re my favorite color, Camouflage,” and lines about — well, all of the lines — especially those rhyming “camouflage” with “corsage” gives it an automatic in on our list.

Eric Church: Jack Daniels

Eric Church is badass, and to prove it he challenges Jack Daniels to a fight. He loses, predictably, singing in his understated way, as if actually feeling the hangover, that “Jack Daniels kicked my ass again last night.” It’s a gentle ditty, as opposed to some of the hollering on his excellent album, Chief, any of the songs of which could also be included on this list. But it presumes jack Daniels is an actual person, and that’s country, y’all.

Miranda Lambert: Dear Diamond

Dear Miranda wrote this one, and it’s a gem (!) of a tune about regret and betrayal when the female protagonist muses on how destroyed her husband will be if he finds out she’s cheated on him with another dude. So she’s not going to tell him. How d’you think that one will play out? Miranda never sounded so forlorn, or so lovely.

Montgomery Gentry: Where I Come From

For a start, Montgomery Gentry’s album is called Rebels on the Run, which plays up the whole Southern outlaw thing, and then they kick the record off with a song about shooting someone dead when they come through your door without knocking first. They’re proud of their right to do this under the curtilage laws which dictate that if you have to shoot a ho on your property, you’d best kill them dead instead of just scare them off a little. You probably already know this is how the guys from Montgomery Gentry feel, but they know their audience, and their audience are redder than that. Which is why we're going with their single, "Where I Come From," which paints a portrait of an America that only exists . . . in the minds of songwriters harping on nostalgia. Also, it's all about offing the enemy.

Josh Thompson: Way Out Here

Speaking of bustin’ caps, Josh Thompson lays it out real simple for those city slickers who might not be familiar with how things are done where the blacktop ends. These folks smoke and chew and fry everything. They sing the words so loud you can't hear the singer. Their “houses are protected by the good Lord and a gun / And you might meet ‘em both if you show up here not welcome son.” You have been warned.

Trace Adkins: Brown Chicken Brown Cow

So this controversial song wasn’t one of Adkins’s best, but it’s on our list because its title refers to the corny music synonymous with 70’s porn. It’s a song about getting it on in the barn. There’s nothing more we can say.

Zac Brown Band: Whiskey’s Gone

But they’re not leaving! A rollicking tune about loving the liquor so much you cannot quit that bitch even if it’s quit you.

Honorable Mentions (Thought we could stop at ten?)

Whiskey Myers: Ballad Of A Southern Man

Because it opens with the lineage of a rifle and keeps saying that’s something you don’t understand. Yes we do. He grew up on a prison farm and knows all the words to "Simple Man." There's also blood on the table. Don't ask.

Craig Campbell: Fish

The only thing we need to say here is that you're meant to substitute the word "fish" for "fuck." he also says "pretty pink bobbers." Haw haw haw. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Miranda Lambert Is On Fire

Four The Record, For The Record

 The cover of Miranda Lambert’s newest album, Four The Record, has our girl standing in a Western-themed dress next to a burning convertible. Has she set the car on fire? Has it spontaneously combusted from the proximity to country’s newest star? Or is the vehicle just a metaphor for the competition?

One of the indications that this Lambert is a rocket going from strength to strength can be seen here: every single track is a winner. This is not unusual on a Lambert record, but look who she now has the clout to hitch to her white-hot tail — the liner notes catalogue a who’s-who of the finest songwriters, instrumentalists and singers the industry has to offer. Apart from her hubby Blake Shelton, she gets assists from Patty Loveless, the Little Big Town gals Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman, Allison Moorer, Brandi Carlile and Sarah Buxton on vocals, Steve Winwood and Randy Scruggs, and the songwriting magic of Chris Stapleton, Charles Kelley, Shane McAnally, and her Pistol Annies cohorts, Angaleena Presly and Ashley Monroe, to name a few. The brilliant part is that you’d never know any of it unless you read the liner notes; it’s Lambert’s voice you hear first and foremost, and even though each song has a different musical style, each one sounds distinctly like a Lambert song.

The one exception to the general feel of the album is the second track, “Fine Tune,” a saucy, sexy conceit that pretends Lambert is a car that needs tuning up by the man who shows up with a “master key.” It’s been treated to a load of distortion and slowed to molasses, all the better to make that metaphor play out and to throw shade on lines like “You started tweaking on a little knob / That I didn’t even know was there.” Oh really, you coy minx, you. The Inky Jukebox can imagine that because of the electronic noise, some folks might object to this track, but let it be said: it’s the best of the bunch (and the bunch sits on a higher branch than most) precisely because it dares to be different, and is unforgettable.

When it comes to Lambert’s musical direction, the album keeps close to her usual themes while reaching out to pick up traditional formats along the way. Some of these tunes are full-on honky tonks; some rock; some bluegrass; some sound like 1950s throwbacks. The guts Lambert showed when signing for her first record deal, where she told the company boss the deal was off unless she could record what she wanted is on full display here, and  it’s not only all the awards and honors she’s gained since then that have confirmed her conviction; it’s that she can produce a record like this. She’s hauled away a ton of trophies in the last few years, and she deserves them.

This year also marks her well-publicized marriage to Blake Shelton, who has also had a big year professionally. Their duet, “Better In The Long Run,” is a powerhouse that sounds like it’s being sung by two people in love, which is a nice touch. Here they are singing a duet off Shelton's album, "Draggin' The River.

A note about Miranda’s wardrobe. A stylist is clearly dressing her in bandage-type gowns which serve to hold everything in with a smooth profile while disguising the mechanics involved (elastic). The sad truth about such garments is that they only really work to make slim women look slimmer; when worn by a more full-figured gal, they tend to emphasize, rather than hide the truth. The best outfit Miranda sports in the album pictures is the tank-top / belt / giant skirt / cowboy boots combo, which not only suits her figure but is sexier than all the designer duds she’s ever been poured into. It also describes who she is (at least, who her songs purport her to be): a down-home country girl at heart, who likes to dress up on occasion like a glamorpuss. I believe her in boots and a tank far more than the sparkly plunge-top things that have become her red carpet wear.

It’s a pity that Miranda Lambert is a country music star. Because she’s a star, period. Twang be damned: this is America y’all. This album is one of the best of the year, in any genre.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Gramma’s Grammy’s

Adele Faces Zero Competition

This is the best video of the year. It's how to do black and white. It's not even the official video. 

It’s that time again — when The Inky Jukebox has a vitriolic rant about the Grammies, nominations for which were announced today. The dates spanning this year’s eligible releases are October 1, 2010 – September 30, 2011.

The Grammies are supposed to represent outstanding achievement in the recording industry, yet they famously do not do this. Here’s why.

First of all, record companies have to submit eligible recordings to the National Academy of the Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS). They are entered into whatever category the reviewing committee (comprised of “150 experts from the recording industry” whatever that means) feels best suits the recording.

Already this is a problem because what if they feel your recording is pop instead of country, for example? How does this committee determine what category of the 30 available is the right one?

After this, lists of the recordings are sent to NARAS members, whoever they may be, and however many of them there are. These members can all vote for the general fields (Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist), and nine of the remaining category fields. (There are 78 actual categories spanning many fields of music and technical achievement.) Though there is the general expectation that these experts will vote on recordings from their area of expertise (whatever that may be), there is no requirement that they do so. They make their choices without necessarily ever hearing the recording, as they are not sent the actual tracks, only the list of track names.

Again, this is highly problematic; surely members will only vote for those tracks they have actually heard, which is determined by personal preference (theirs, or their spouse’s, or their kids’….) or professional familiarity (anyone see a conflict of interest?). They are not supposed to vote this way, but there is no mechanism for preventing it.

Once the top five vote getters in each category are tabulated, nomination ballots are again sent out. This time, the voting is the same, except members can only vote in 8 additional categories.

That’s it. The voting is secret. Add to the tricky voting structure are the mystifying titles for categories, which makes it hard to determine whether a recording is by a soloist, duo, group or ensemble, and whether it is a performance of not. Some categories reward songwriting while others reward singing.

The Inky Jukebox believes it is for these reasons that the Grammies have biome so unhinged with reality. If one takes even a brief look at the nominees in the categories most of us have actually heard, there is a depressing repetition of artists nominated over and over again, seemingly because this particular singer, band or record is the only one many voters have heard or heard of.

Take for example, The Band Perry’s nomination as Best New Artist, which The Inky Jukebox shudders to think they will actually win. Surely most NARAS members will only have heard of them because they have won other awards and because their tween granddaughter kept singing their one song all summer? There is no reason on Earth that this trio of mediocre musicians should be so lauded. The only reason anyone has ever heard of them is in fact because a little girl told her famous Daddy about them and he gave them a leg up. Kimberly Perry’s lyrics are saccharine and awkward, and her voice horribly screechy. They are nowhere near the best new artists Nashville has produced this year.

This category is determined by the eligibility of the recording by which the artist gained widespread popularity. This, itself, is obviously open to interpretation.

It is to be expected that country music will be poorly represented this year, because hardly anything was released within the eligible period. Notable omissions which were eligible and also truly superb are Sugarland’s Incredible Machine and Justin Moore’s Outlaws Like Me.

Prediction: Adele will win. (And so she should.)