Young Hines’ recommendation: As music trivia has turned into an exponentially challenging game, I think it’s fair to recognize annually that there are new developing young minds amongst us and we should somehow refrain from the obligatory condescending knee jerk reaction of “oh my god I can’t believe you haven’t heard (insert artist or band)” when someone doesn’t remember a title or artist that you consider the bedrock of all that is music. With so many know it alls, one would begin to think it’s futile to even attempt sharing one’s experiences anymore let alone musical suggestions to generations plugged into the mainframe at the hip with the personality mean mode and median equivalent to Wikipedia for better or worse. That being said if you happen to be sitting alone as to not challenge publicly your own credentials, I would like to reintroduce you to Willie Nelson. If I could sit and play my Epiphone Casino with any human on the planet in a 12 bar blues jam, it would be Willie Nelson…in E.
I’m gonna tell you what I remember being told about the making of the Red Headed Stranger album. Not what I looked up and fact checked, (though I hope they’re similar), just the story that left an impression on me years ago no matter the degree of truthfulness. Burned into my memory is a story of a songwriter not from, but in Nashville with scattered songs amongst the stars like Patsy Cline singing his song Crazy. I heard he yearned to be the artist on the screen but the people that decided such things did not find him suitable. About the same time he’s realizing his musical fate in Nashville, his fucking house burned down. This event juxtaposed with doubt, he packed up his truck and moved to Texas. Once he got there and after some scratchin’, he was offered a record deal with some money up front to fund recording. It’s my understanding that instead of going into preproduction and tracking, he headed north to Colorado with his wife to go snow skiing with the money.
After the vacation he had to head back to Texas because the record was supposed to be done soon and he hadn’t even begun. I can see angel Willie and devil Willie on his shoulders struggling with the decision of spending the last few hundred (or thousand) bucks on another sack or getting back to a studio to get this record tracked on a budget….or both!!! Though I could relate to the former, I’m glad he chose the latter(s). Somewhere in the mountains at night, just before reaching Denver on the drive home he was talking to his wife about the impending deadline and how he found himself a little short on ideas and material. His wife said something to him that would steer the course of Willie’s album . She said “why don’t you write a record about that western gunslinging’ bedtime story you always tell the kids, you know the Red Headed Stranger?” With that sounding like a fabulous idea to Willie, they began banging out the lyrics together as the bright lights of Denver that sparkled like diamonds got closer. By the time they got back to Texas the next morning the songs were written and ready to go. Willie called on his sister and some others that would work on a budget and tracked the whole album in two days. The record company initially rejected it but somehow the record found life and it is now one of the best records I have ever heard. My point here is I think it’s good to remember that admirable people also benefit from bending or flat out breaking the rules. Yes it’s wise not to impede on others liberties to satisfy yourself, but there is also no need to cooperatively emasculate oneself. Willie’s Robin Hood story is one that doesn’t bore me.
New to Willie Nelson? Young suggests you start here: Beyond my ramblings, why should you listen to Red Headed Stranger? Let’s start with the sound. It’s the best Willie Nelson’s voice ever sounded on a medium. I’m sure he sounds this good all the time, it’s just that they captured it here. Beyond the vocals, everything else sounds warm too. The piano, the classical guitar played by Willie throughout, and don’t forget the bass harmonica! I’ve never seen any photos from this session and I don’t think I want to. Best left to my imagination. Now let’s talk about content delivered. It’s a story woven together mostly through the use of originals and a few well placed songs Willie didn’t write. My favorite line of the record comes in the song Hands on the Wheel, “I looked to the stars, tried all of the bars and I’ve nearly gone up in smoke…”. The record as a whole is a story of betrayal and redemption. Go buy the vinyl. I suggest going on Craigslist and find yourself and old 50′s turntable with tubes like a Califone or something. Once you get your hands on it take it somewhere and have them bring it up on a Variac and test the tubes all the while delaying your first real listen to Red Headed Stranger. Once everything is in order, turn out the lights and roast one while you get baptized in audio in the year of ’01 where the stories are over and a lesson’s begun.”
About our guest author, Young Hines: It shouldn’t surprise that Young savors Willie Nelson’s rags to riches story because Young himself has been part of a bit of a fair tale himself. His backstory is one where he was in a Beatles cover band (listen a few seconds of the clip from Rainy Day below and you can hear John Lennon singing through Hines from his cloud in the sky) when Brendan Benson (member of The Raconteurs with Jack White and a super-solid solo artist in his own right) heard his house painter playing Hines’ demo. In a flash. Brendan signed Young to his new record company, Readymade Records and the rest is history. Brendan released his debut with the label, Give Me My Change, a ’60s-pop-meets-’90s-Teenage Fanclub-era collection that will feel right at home in any mix targeted at those who relish great harmonies and catchy choruses. Hines is now on tour, so be sure to check his Facebook Page for tour dates and more info.
Teddy Thompson and Gillian Welch and David Rawlings
Teddy Thompson’s recommendation: “These two are the most blissful musical union since George and Tammy, Gram and Emmy Lou. Their sound though is closer to the Carter Family or The Louvins: spare, almost always acoustic and totally honest. The fact that neither is from the South probably only helped them avoid any of the Nashville sheen that has ruined modern mainstream country music. It’s tempting to classify them as retro sounding or a throwback to a bygone era but rather than being dated, it’s just timeless.”
New to Gillian Welch & David Rawlings? Teddy recommends you start here: “I’d say Time (The Revelator) is a good place to start if you’ve never heard them. I believe it’s their 3rd or 4th record. It has a bit of everything. Catchy “pop” tunes, My First Lover, Red Clay Halo. Dreamy love songs, Dear Someone. A blistering live recording, I Want To Sing That Rock n Roll. And the remarkable last song which clocks in at over 14 minutes, I Dream a Highway. Somewhere in the middle there’s also perhaps the best song about Elvis I’ve ever heard.”
About our guest author, Teddy Thompson: Teddy is the son of folk legends Richard and Linda Thompson, so great song-writing is almost an automatic (not that we’re taking it for granted!). What really hooked us on Teddy is his ultra-smooth voice. We’re talking Roy Orbison smooth. We’re talking Chris Isaak smooth. We’re talking one-of-the-best-voices-in-the-pop-game smooth. His last outing, A Piece of What You Need is chock full of up songs, complete with bouncy bass and twangy guitars. No wonder The Guardian declared it “one of this year’s best” in 2008. Thompson’s next effort, Bella is coming out on Feb. 1 and is produced by David Kahne (The Strokes, Regina Spektor, Paul McCartney). Excited yet? Cruise over to the official Teddy Thompson website and sign up for his email newsletter for album and tour info.
The recommendation from Chuck Cleaver: “This past Valentine’s weekend I was given Jesse Winchester’s eponymous debut album. We’d just seen the Elvis Costello show on cable not more than a week earlier where Jesse sang Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding (from his latest album Love Filling Station) & Brand New Tennessee Waltz (from the first one) and had Elvis slack-jawed and Neko Case tearing up and I’d mentioned that I’d had his debut album as a kid but misplaced or sold it somewhere along the way. So flash forward a week and here it is again and, although I’m hearing it with different ears, I’m enjoying it just as much if not more.
The first time I owned it was when I was around 13 – 14 years old, right along 1973 – 74. It came out in early 1971 and I remember reading a review in one of my older brother’s music mags, maybe in Rolling Stone, probably in Creem, and they mentioned that Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm from The Band (cue sunbeams through the clouds) were on it and that’s all it took. As soon as I had enough mowing money I rode into Wilmington, Ohio with my parents on grocery night and had them drop me off at the Hallmark Cards store. The woman that owned it had a son that looked a lot like the Droopy Dog member of the Hudson Brothers and he ran a small record shop in one corner. A lot of times he had to order the stuff I wanted but I remember this one was in stock and that was that.
As I’ve always been a sad bastard, upon first listen I immediately took to the ballads, especially Biloxi & Brand New Tennessee Waltz but I can also remember thinking Payday, with it’s ramshackle Robbie Robertson guitar solo that kind of echoed the one he’d unleashed 10 years earlier in Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks version of Who Do You Love was pretty cool as was the amazing mess that is The Nudge. And Black Dog (not a Zep cover) just plain scared the shit out of me.
But like I said, the slow ones are the ones that kill me more often than not and this record’s no exception. Biloxi, with it’s pretty girls splashing naked in the water and swimming in the sea and the couple in Brand New Tennessee Waltz waltzing on air down Victorian stairs. Crimony. They both had me longing for something that I was only vaguely aware of. The kinds of songs that make you want to be in them, all young, bearded and scruffy with barefooted girls unencumbered in gauzy dresses, shady green meadows, front and back porches and watermelon and sweet iced tea and all that other shit. Along with every other record that’s kicked my ass, it seemed to be something that very well could exist somewhere along the line if I made it past adolescence and out of the small town I came from. These kinds of records gave me promise, something to look forward to.
So now it’s 35 or so years on and a lot of that stuff either happened, sort of happened, didn’t happen or probably never will. I mean, it’s not like Jesse Winchester or any other songwriter can actually conjure this shit up. It’ll either happen to you or it won’t and I’m not sure how much sense it makes to dwell on such things. But as I listened to this record last evening while washing the dishes the same songs hit me pretty much the same way, proving that I’m either a fucking idiot or that maybe there’s still something to look forward to. I’m banking on the latter.”
More on: Chuck Cleaver and Wussy (Editor’s note: Chuck Cleaver formerly fronted the Cincinnati indie outfit, The Ass Ponys, but he has hit his stride with Wussy, which he currently leads with Lisa Walker. Wussy’s records have been praised by Rolling Stone, Spin and NPR and they have 2 albums on Robert Christgau’s Best of the Decade list (Funeral Dress and Left for Dead). They are finishing a new record, but you can check them on tour now. Spy the tour dates here and buy their CDs here.)
The recommendation from Micah Schnabel: “ I’ve been pretty much head over heels for a new band from right here in Columbus, Ohio by the name of Ghost Shirt. Just amazing pop songs one right after the other. They’re first record, Domestique, will be coming out next month on Anyway Records. I’m a sucker for a great hook and this record is full of them. They are also currently doing 52 singles in 52 weeks. One single a week for a year. Pretty impressive for such a young band. You can find all the singles on donewaiting.com. They post the new one every saturday. I cannot recommend this band enough. Lyrically honest, no pretense, pop songs. What else can a music fan ask for? So there it is. Please go and enjoy. And tell them Two Cow sent ya! Thanks for reading.”
More on: Micah Schnabel (Editor’s note: Micah fronts the full throttled alt-country Columbus, Ohio outfit Two Cow Garage. He also has a quieter solo record in the can, When The Stage Lights Go Dim, that you can pre-order here. If your record collection is crying for the void left by early Replacements and Uncle Tupelo, Two Cow and Micah aim to help you out.)
More on: Ghost Shirt
Hear Ghost Shirt songs and check their tour dates at the Ghost Shirt Web Site and don’t forget to get their debut record, Domestique, next month on Anyway Records, but if you wanna be in the know before your hipster friends, sample them here: