Record reviews in brief

As mentioned a while ago, I’ve been pushing myself to listen to more music this year, because I really neglected it last year. So I’ve been hitting the Apple Music and the YouTube quite frequently. YouTube tends to be for playing individual tracks, and gets irritating after a while because you spend more time scrolling through than actually listening. Plus, ads. Apple Music, I’ve been alternating between playlists and records. It’s a long time since I curated my on-the-move alphabetical playlist, but I’ve got a few I turn to. My Sinatra playlist for marking books, my Hiss Golden Messenger for lowering my heart rate, my Eric Church because I love Eric Church.

I recently made a playlist of songs written by Matraca Berg, who is one of the greatest songsmiths in modern country music. You can go back to the 90s for a lot of her best stuff; that’s mainly because she was on a hot streak and hot streaks feed themselves, because top artists go to you to record your songs. Then when the fashions change (and IN PARTICULAR) country radio decides to stop playing women artists, it all fades away. But Matraca Berg’s hot streak is something else, from Deana Carter’s “Strawberry Wine” to Trisha Yearwood’s “XXXs and OOOs” or “Everybody Knows” to Martina McBride’s “Cry on the Shoulder of the Road” or Patti Loveless’ “You Can Feel Bad (If It Makes You Feel Better)” – just the titles alone can be genius.

I mentioned before the latest Dierks Bentley album, Gravel and Gold, which I’ve given a few more virtual spins. I Really like it a lot, especially the songs “Sun Sets in Colorado” and “Cowboy Boots”. This latter features Ashley McBryde on vocals, and her most recent album, Lindeville is still current (came out late last year). Lindeville is a concept album, complete with short radio ads reminiscent of The Who Sell Out. It’s all about small town life, gossip, with several guest vocals, including Caylee Hammack and Pillbox Patti on the standout “Brenda Put Your Bra On”, and Benjy Davis on “Gospel Night at the Strip Club”. Brandy Clark shows up on “If These Dogs Could Talk”.

McBryde, Clark, and the other Brandi, Carlile, represent the great trifecta of gay women in country/rock at the moment, and it’s fitting that the two Brandi/ys have collaborated on Clark’s eponymous forthcoming album. The track “Buried” is out now. Consider these lyrics:

If you don’t want me
If you’re beyond me
If you don’t love me anymore
I’ll be an over-you achiever
I’ll make you a believer
That I don’t love you either
I’ll meet somebody else
Probably get married
I’ll keep it to myself
But I’ll love you ’til I’m buried

I should add, as a side note, that I am all in on these gay women in country. In an America in which school heads can be fired because students were shown pictures of Michelangelo’s David, I think to release records with tracks like “Brenda Put Your Bra On” and “Gospel Night at the Strip Club” is both brave and necessary. None of them need me, but I love them. Brandi Carlile in particular is basically the President of the music world at the moment.

Tim McGraw has a new single out, “Standing Room Only”, which is excellent, and reassuringly sounds just like a Tim McGraw record. It has been a long time, so it’s good to hear his voice again. Looking forward to the album which I hope will follow.

Which brings us to my last pick, Stoned Cold Country, which is a Country tribute to the Rolling Stones, to celebrate their 60th anniversary. Fourteen tracks, no surprises. Not even a “Far Away Eyes” or “Hand of Fate”, the songs covered by a variety of artists are pretty much the first 14 any Stones fan might name. Give or take “Satisfaction” (Ashley McBride) and “Paint it Black” (Zac Brown Band), the chosen songs were released in the Stones’ Golden Age, between Brian Jones and Ronnie Wood. What was the magic ingredient that made them so great in that era, I wonder? *cough*Mick Taylor*cough*

Honky Tonk Women, Dead Flowers, It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It), Tumbling Dice, Can’t You Hear Me Knocking, Wild Horses, You Can’t Always Get What You Want, Sympathy for the Devil, Angie, Gimme Shelter, and Shine a Light all come from that interregnum, and although Mick Taylor wasn’t on all of them, it’s a pretty tight period of time. The only one from after this era on the album is “Miss You”. Huh. Not even “Beast of Burden”, huh.

But here’s the thing. Most of these cover versions stick pretty close to the original arrangements, if not the instrumentation. Little Big Town make their harmonies work really well on “Wild Horses”, and you can imagine it would go down a storm, along with their Fleetwood Mac covers, in concert. Eric Church also makes an effort to do something different with “Gimme Shelter”. But the rest of it seems fairly pointless. The best you can say is that it sends you back to the original.

Take “Shine a Light”. I mean. The original is so transcendent that even the Stones themselves can’t cover it. Mick Taylor’s solo on it is so fluid, so perfect, so beautiful, and neither Keef not Ronnie Wood are capable of even getting close to it.

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