Thursday, November 11, 2010
Oxford American 2006 Southern Music CD
Time for another installment of the ongoing Oxford American Southern Sampler/Southern Music CD series. It would be a pretty cool dream job to work as the guy who puts these things together. There is definitely an art to assembling music compilations - especially good ones -which would help explain why I spent hours of my teenage and early twenty-something years engaged in the activity. As usual, this OA disc from the magazine's 2006 music issue is an eminently listenable model of heterogeneity with the featured titles covering an approximate 150-year span of performances by Southern musicians representing a wide variety of genres.
The only problem with reviewing these things is that I've always had a problem with brevity, so it's a challenge for me not to write a paragraph or two about each artist. What ultimately unites all of these musicians is the fact that they are sons or daughters of the South. Sometimes the compilers push the envelope a little bit either by including performers from states that are not traditionally considered part of Dixie or by featuring those whose origins are Southern but play music that is not considered representative of the region. However, that's part of what makes these comps so great. You never quite know what you're going to get other than a usually compelling mix of both familiar and obscure material that is either directly or indirectly a product of the South.
So we'll start with my favorite tracks. If you've read my review for Jeannie C. Riley's The Generation Gap, you already know how much I dig her miniature psychedelic country masterpiece "Words, Names, Faces," about which I can't really say enough good things. Banjoist Uncle Dave Macon's "Keep My Skillet Good and Greasy" might be overly familiar to aficionados of hillbilly music, but this song certainly deserves its reputation as a classic. Even though tobacco use disgusts me, Western swing master Tex Williams' "Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)" is simply irresistible, as is the Armstrong Twins' guitar-mandolin tour de force "Beetle with the Boogie Woogie Beat." Although most people don't associate 19th century America with classical music, we actually had an outstanding native-born composer in Louis Moreau Gottschalk, whose superb piano opus "Souvenir de Porto Rico" is expertly played by Amiram Rigai. Gary Stewart provides some really good late 1970s country with "Single Again." "C'est Si Bon" is an example of one of those tracks that sounds anything but Southern. However, let's not forget that the lovely Eartha Kitt originally hailed from South Carolina, which is culturally a million miles away from this performance. Ask any Sam Cooke fan to list the singer's five best songs, and I'll bet you that none of them will mention "Tennessee Waltz." Play this track for them, and they might reconsider. If Eartha Kitt's "C'est Si Bon" is a million miles from South Carolina, Sun Ra's "We Travel the Spaceways" is a million light years from his home state of Alabama. It's a great track, even if the performance focuses more on the vocals of June Tyson than it does the bandleader's Farfisa organ work.
In my opinion, the remaining material rates from pretty good to pretty not-so-good. "Goin' Back to New Orleans" by Joe Liggins and His Honeydrippers is fine jump blues - if that's your bag - and fans of Big Star will probably like "Stroke It Noel" from Third. When I lived in Oxford, Mississippi from 1996 until 1998, I took a lot of flak for not jumping on the Fat Possum bandwagon. I still think that Junior Kimbrough's recordings are extremely overrated, but I must admit that "I Cried Last Night" is decent enough. "How Long Do I Have to Wail for You?" is passable modern-day funk from Sharon Jones. Although I prefer more rough-hewn gospel performances, the Swan Silvertones do a nice version of "Oh Mary, Don't You Weep," whereas the track by the mysterious NuGrape Twins is a strange example of sanctified singers doing a jingle for a soft drink in 1926. I actually remember Bob Dorough's "Three Is a Magic Number" from the Schoolhouse Rock television show, and it still holds up after all these years. I don't think as highly of "Right on My Way Home," however. "Theme from Ali and His Gang vs. Mr. Tooth Decay," with, um, vocals by the erstwhile Cassius Clay has a little bit of novelty value, and that's about it. "Straight to Hell" by the awkwardly named Drivin' N' Cryin' doesn't really do much for me, nor does "You You You You You," an overly-precious song from the 6ths featuring Katharine Whalen. Andy Griffith's excessive wholesomeness always rubbed me the wrong way, but I must admit that he never sounded tougher than he does on "Mama Guitar," which was originally featured in the five-star 1957 movie A Face in the Crowd. It's a pity that the identities of the accompanying musicians is consigned to oblivion. Other than the Nightcrawlers, We the People are my favorite 1960s garage-psych rock band from Florida. "She Does Everything for Me" is good, but not their best. A lot of people forget that Richard Hell of Television and Voidoids fame was originally from Kentucky, thus the inclusion of "Blank Generation" on this sampler. 1970s New York punk isn't really my thing, but if it's yours, you probably already love this song. There's nothing wrong with Townes Van Zandt's "Nothin'," recorded live in 1994, but I prefer his earlier material.
1. Goin' Back to New Orleans - Joe Liggins and His Honeydrippers
2. Words, Names, Faces - Jeannie C. Riley
3. Keep My Skillet Good and Greasy - Uncle Dave Mason
4. Stroke It Noel - Big Star
5. Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette) - Tex Williams
6. I Cried Last Night - Junior Kimbrough
7. Beetle with the Boogie Woogie Beat - The Armstrong Twins
8. How Long Do I Have to Wait for You? (radio edit) - Sharon Jones
9. Oh Mary, Don't You Weep - The Swan Silvertones
10. Three Is a Magic Number - Bob Dorough
11. Theme from Ali and His Gang vs. Mr. Tooth Decay - Muhammad Ali
12. Souvenir de Porto Rico - Louis Moreau Gottschalk played by Amiram Rigai
13. Straight to Hell - Drivin' N' Cryin'
14. Single Again - Gary Stewart
15. You You You You You - The 6th featuring Katharine Whalen
16. Right on My Way Home - Bob Dorough
17. Mama Guitar - Andy Griffith
18. I Got Your Ice Cold NuGrape - The NuGrape Twins
19. She Does Everything for Me -We the People
20. C'est Si Bon - Eartha Kitt
21. Blank Generation - Richard Hell
22. Tennessee Waltz - Sam Cooke
23. Nothin' - Townes Van Zandt
24. We Travel the Spaceways - Sun Ra and His Intergalactic Solar Arkestra