Monday, January 28, 2013

Vehicular Homicide

Smash Hits! 

Don't cheat on Carrie Underwood, dude

Carrie Underwood has an interesting relationship with cars. Generally speaking, if there’s  car in a song of hers, it’s getting wrecked, bad, and someone is getting hurt. Bad.

In her first post-Idol hit, Jesus had to take the wheel when the car hit a path of ice, saving the mother and child inside.

She teaches a cheating boyfriend a thing or two about bitch-ass crazy by taking a Louisville Slugger to both headlights etc. etc. in “Before He Cheats.” And that’s before he cheats, apparently.

What makes her appreciate how small she is in the world at large? According to her video for “So Small,” it’s walking back a suicidal car crash which is shot in exquisite slow-motion, like rubberneck porn.

And in her most recent single, Two Black Cadillacs are evidently used to squash a cheating husband to death, driven by his homicidal wife and mistress. Huh? Again, the car’s body is shown un-crumpling as if the deed had never been done. What does the mistress leave on his coffin? The car keys.

Traditionally speaking, cars appear in American music as tropes for freedom, escape, the great open road. They are literally vehicles for moving from one life to another. In Underwood’s song “Don’t Forget To Remember Me,” she uses a car to drive off into adulthood.

Now, when you hear that Underwood has a new “smash hit,” you know what this means.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Big and Rich: That’s Why We Listen

It's The Song

Here’s some songs you might have heard:

Jason Aldean’s “Hicktown,” "Amarillo Sky,” and “Johnny Cash.”
Faith Hill’s “Mississippi Girl,” and “Like We Never Loved At All.”
Tim McGraw’s “Last Dollar (Fly Away).”
Gretchen Wilson’s “Redneck Woman.”

They were all co-written by John Rich, one half of the duo Big and Rich. Big Kenny Alphin is the big tall guy in a top hat. Rich is the smaller guy in a suit and a cowboy hat with an anachronistic moustache.

You may have heard their 2007 song “Lost In This Moment,” which is played ubiquitously at weddings.

Or you may have smirked at their other song, “Save A Horse (Ride A Cowboy).”

If you listen to country radio, chances are your ears have caught a song written by a posse of talented writes (such as Sarah Buxton), “That’s Why I Pray.”

The reason The Inky Jukebox likes Big and Rich is not because of their politics, which are, like many of the artists The Inky Jukebox champions, not exactly the same as The Inky Jukebox’s. We like them because every now and then, two people come along and sing together and make a glorious noise. Their two voices are lovely apart, but gorgeous together. Big Kenny provide the dark velvet undertones, while John Rich claims the earnest upper register.

If you were the captain of a band which had to write and perform songs, Big and Rich would likely be your first picks. (Fine, Mac McAnally might be in there too.)

Music is about sound. Pleasant, awesome, brilliant sound is what songs are made of. Big and Rich deliver both Bigness and Richness to music. It’s as simple as that.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Aaron Lewis: Out On The Road

Homebody's Lament

These are the things that Aaron Lewis would like you to know he loves most, in order:

His children
His wife
His home
His hometown
His Granddaddy’s gun
Hanging out with his wife and kids, at home, 
in Massachusetts, hunting, preferably with a gun of some kind.

It’s a pretty nice, old-fashioned list. It is not the list, one might think, of a rocker who spends a great deal of time playing music out on the road.

This is the crux of Aaron Lewis’s creative output as a bona fide country singer: he’s a conservative homebody who resents anything that takes him away from the things he loves — including music, which is what he does for a living. It seems that he might therefore be a bit morose, but his music doesn’t come across that way; though filled with songs about regret, they are nonetheless upbeat and celebratory, even as they bemoan large chunks of life that are missed.

His latest album, The Road, is a collection of songs that sound like country songs, not least because they feature steel guitar and instrumentation that one hears in more traditional Nashville offerings. It’s a challenge to anyone who might still hold the idea that rock singers can’t be country acts — something that the new crop of young Turks makes clear is woefully out of date. You’re more likely to hear heavy guitar riffs on the country charts than anywhere else these days. And yet Lewis doesn’t shred up the studio on his records; it’s his songwriting and most of all his voice that carries the day.

The album consists of ten tracks, none of which are fillers. If you want twang, you have “75” and “Party In Hell,” which give the album a solid country base. And if you want radio-ready hits, there’s the single “Forever,” and “Granddaddy’s Gun.”

The deluxe version (which The Inky Jukebox highly recommends) offers five additional bonus tracks, all live versions of his best songs, and a surprising but profoundly competent cover of Rascal Flatts’ “What Hurts the Most,” proving that a song’s a song’s a song.

Go to 3:40

Lewis’s previous EP, Town Line, was fleshed out with multiple versions of the hit “Country Boy,” the best of which was always and clearly the one with George Jones playing the part of the Devil, accompanied by Charlie Daniels on fiddle. How can you go wrong? But the real gems on that short record were the four songs which never made it onto the radio, ballads with real heart and soul and melody.

The Inky Jukebox would love for him to come to town and play, but would feel awfully guilty for dragging him away from the things he loves to do so.  If you like country music, you’ll like this new record. You should buy it now.