Sunday, February 25, 2007

Never Bought A Ringtone

Like any self-respecting music fanatic, I prefer to have heard of or heard everything first (preferably before it comes out) but awards like the Grammys serve an effective winnowing function for figuring out what to listen because it is culturally significant in some way that might not have to do with musical merit. With that in mind, I still couldn't get past the third song of Stadium Arcadium, but the Dixie Chicks' Taking The Long Way Around (a band I always wanted to like but never quite made the jump) has proved to be a keeper. The title track retells the classic American rebel/road myth with economy and style. There's the self-consciously girly but still charming "pink RV with stars on the ceiling" and a passing reference to the anti-war remarks upscuttle (belabored subsequently on the song "Not Ready to Make Nice") but also a couple of awkward lyrics - the opening quatrain's reference to "...houses in the same zip codes/Where their parents live" is a little too sociological and "wouldn't kiss all the asses that they told me to" is sort of trite Nashville vulgarity, "take this job and shove it" redux.
My absolute favorite songs, the ones currently on endless repeat, tend to be where the vocal harmonies are so dense and gorgeous that I don't even notice what the songs are about ("Bitter End" and "Silent House", the former distinguished also by 12/8 meter, which I favor unreasonably). "Lubbock Or Leave It" is powered by a grainy Telecaster riff that evokes the Bakersfield modern of Dwight Yoakam, for me a preferable California country-rock reference point to the Eagles from whom I have a lifetime prejudice against the word "easy". Apparently the seemingly thin-skinned country music audience has a problem with this one too - I'm just reminded that I need to find and relisten to Terry Allen's semi-legendary Lubbock (On Everything). Finally, I was struck by the use of banjo (presumably played by Emily Erwin) - we are, I hope, through with the authenticity police scolding pop-country bands for using traditional country instrumentation as window dressing, and in fact the staccato, tactile timbre of the banjo tends to sit in the mix more like whatever the East Asian sounding stringed instrument is on the East Flatbush Project's "Tried By 12" (perhaps having Rick Rubin as producer has something to do with it).

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