What I’m Listening to This Week


Buck Owens: Young Buck, the Complete Pre-Capitol Recordings (Audium)

Inside the kivas of the pueblo tribes of the American Southwest is a small hole in the ground called a sipapu, which represents, according to Hopi mythology, the place where the Hopi people emerged onto the earth. Bakersfield, California is the sipapu of outlaw music. Indeed, Bakersfield stands with New Orleans, Oakland and Memphis as a birthplace of what might loosely be called American roots music. From those parched labor camps emerged some of the titans of the western country music: Ferlin Huskey, Spade Cooley, Wanda Jackson, Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, who died last week. Bakersfield is were country went electric, began to crib from rock and roll. Of these, Owens may be the most familiar owing to his decades of service on “Hee Haw”. Although he was an innovative guitar-player, perfecting that electric western twang which Gram Parsons and Dwight Yokum (among others) later adopted, Owens was certainly not the most talented ambassador of the Bakersfield Sound. While Haggard and Husky’s music matured and evolved over the years, Owens submerged under the suffocating schmaltz of modern Nashville that is anathema to rougher roots of outlaw country. Even so, Owens’ early recordings reveal the freshness and vitality of a new kind of music being born. These are the recordings to remember Buck Owens by, before the rot of “formula-ism” set in.

Anthony Davis and the Orchestra of St. Lukes: X: the Life and Times of Malcolm X. (Rhino)

A jazz opera about Malcolm X. composed by one of the most gifted young black pianists of the 1980s. One of the acute ironies here is that Davis is a devotee of free jazz. Here every note is scripted, but the whole has the feel of orchestral improvisation. “X.” is remarkable achievement that went almost unnoticed by the music establishment when it was released in 1991 on the tiny Grammavision label. Kudos to Rhino picking up this music and making it available to a wider audience; and shame on Rhino for allowing it go out of print.

The Ramones: Rocket to Russia (Rhino)

Considered by some the Rosetta Stone for American musical nihilism, “Rocket to Russia” is either the greatest or the worst rock LP of the Seventies, depending on which side of the bed you fell off of in the morning–assuming it was morning (unlikely for most true fans of the Ramones). Did American punk ever again reach the adrenal heights of “Teenage Lobotomy” or “I Don’t Care?” This remastered version includes a couple of demos (though who could tell a demo from a finished track with the Ramones?) and songs previously unreleased in the states, such as “It’s a Long Way Back to Germany.” Well, perhaps not that far, after all. Joey, you wouldn’t believe what’s gone down since you departed the planet.

Robbie Robertson: Contact from the Underworld of Redboy (Capitol)

Here’s another record, this one by The Band’s former front man Robbie Robertson, which is either profoundly embarrassing or simply profound. On most days I lean toward the latter, if only because of Leonard Peltier’s gut-wrenching rap on the song “Sacrifice” and the bizarre “Rattlebone,” which for some as yet inchoate reason reminds me of Galway Kinnell’s arresting poem of bloody metamorphosis “The Bear.” Who knew that Native American beats could survive translation into bohemian electronica?

Miles Davis: Siesta: Soundtrack (Warner)

In which “Sketches of Spain” goes electric. Just as Gil Evans deserves at least half of the credit for Sketches of Spain, bassist and synth-meister Marcus Miller must be considered the driving creative force behind Siesta, a soundtrack to the 1987 surrealist film directed by Mary Lambert. These haunting improvisations, several of them featuring guitarist Earl Klugh, have a shimmering, sun-scorched quality to them. Davis and Miller don’t try to recast Spanish music so much as record musical impressions of the Spanish landscape itself.

Dixie Chicks: “Not Ready to Make Nice”

Frankly, I’m not that big of a fan of the Dixie Chicks’ music; the palette of their songs is a little too bright and the production a little too lush for my gloomier and grimier tastes. Never mind. I bought their latest single anyway from iTunes as a show of solidarity for their courageous refusal back down to the censorious bastards who run Nashville, from the record execs, the radio stations and the industry music writers, such as the abominable hack Chet Flippo, who advised the women that they should just “Shut up and sing.” Kris Kristofferson had the best retort to that tripe, telling Flippo and his paternalistic claque of C&W pseudo-patriots to “Shut up and listen.” Natalie Maines and the Dixie Chicks did more than publicly denounce Bush, they showed the world that the specter of the blacklist still haunts America. And not only haven’t they let it scare them off, they’re fighting back with a song.

Not Ready to Make Nice
By Emily Robison, Marty Maguire, Natalie Maines, and Dan Wilson

Forgive, sounds good
Forget, I’m not sure I could
They say time heals everything
But I’m still waiting

I’m through with doubt
There’s nothing left for me to figure out
I’ve paid a price
And I’ll keep paying

I’m not ready to make nice
I’m not ready to back down
I’m still mad as hell and
I don’t have time to go round and round and round
It’s too late to make it right
I probably wouldn’t if I could
‘Cause I’m mad as hell
Can’t bring myself to do what it is you think I should

I know you said
Can’t you just get over it
It turned my whole world around
And I kind of like it

I made my bed and I sleep like a baby
With no regrets and I don’t mind sayin’
It’s a sad sad story when a mother will teach her
Daughter that she ought to hate a perfect stranger
And how in the world can the words that I said
Send somebody so over the edge
That they’d write me a letter
Sayin’ that I better shut up and sing
Or my life will be over

I’m not ready to make nice
I’m not ready to back down
I’m still mad as hell and
I don’t have time to go round and round and round
It’s too late to make it right
I probably wouldn’t if I could
‘Cause I’m mad as hell
Can’t bring myself to do what it is you think I should

I’m not ready to make nice
I’m not ready to back down
I’m still mad as hell and
I don’t have time to go round and round and round
It’s too late to make it right
I probably wouldn’t if I could
‘Cause I’m mad as hell

JEFFREY ST. CLAIR’s music writings (as well as CPers Ron Jacobs, David Vest and Daniel Wolff) can be found in Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.

Previous Playlists

March 25, 2006

March 18, 2006

March 11, 2006

March 4, 2006

February 18, 2006

February 4, 2006

January 28, 2006

January 21, 2006

January 14, 2006

January 7, 2006

December 31, 2005

December 24, 2005

December 17, 2005

December 10, 2005

December 3, 2005

November 26, 2005

November 19, 2005

November 11, 2005

November 5, 2005

October 29, 2005

October 14, 2005

October 7, 2005




More articles by:

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Bernie and the Sandernistas: Field Notes From a Failed Revolution. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net or on Twitter  @JSCCounterPunch

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