Thursday, November 19, 2009

These United States of America (Part Four)

We continue our wanderings through the United States of America, with part two of the Southlands, which is my favourite bit as its nearly all country...On we go...

Josh Turner - South Carolina Low Country (Everything Is Fine, 2007)

South Carolina was one of the states for which we had absolutely nothing starting out, so we had to look this one up. We couldn't have really stumbled upon anything better for the job - because this is distinctly South Carolinan in flavour. Turner sings about his home state with genuine reverance on the closing track from his latest album, Everything Is Fine. "South Carolina low country is the music that comes out of me…" - yep, that'll do the trick nicely.

Johnny Cash - New Mexico (1955)

Johnny Cash put forward a dozen or more nominees for Tennessee and his home state of Arkansas, but ended up representing New Mexico as the only man to come forward. His story of a young cowboy seeking work is hardly an ode to the largely barren state. "It was there our pleasures ended, and our troubles, they began…" Cash intones, detailing a series of misfortunes to hit the song's narrator in the state known, apparently ironically, as the "Land of Enchantment". "To all you happy people/This much I have to say/Go back to your friends and loved ones/Tell others not to go/To the God forsaken country/They call New Mexico". Noted.

John Denver - Take Me Home Country Roads [West Virginia] (Poems, Prayers and Promises, 1971)

I always think John Denver's music is slightly too corny, and yet I can't help but like the most of it. Darn it, the melodies are too good. So how did a New Mexico native who would forever become associated with Colorado end up singing a song about his home in West Virginia? According to the story, he was, as he put it, "wired, you know" on painkillers after breaking his thumb following a gig in Washington DC when he was given a ride by local musicians Billy Danoff and Taffy Nivert. They ended up persuading Denver to help them finish a song they'd been working on, and this was the result.

Lynyrd Skynyrd - Sweet Home Alabama (Second Helping, 1974)

Yeah, there was no other choice, was there? Few songs are more intrinsically linked with a state than Sweet Home Alabama and the Yellowhammer State. Few songs have a better back story. It's a defiant slice of Southern Pride, written as a direct response to what the band saw as attacks on the region from Canadian Neil Young. According to just about every review you'll find, it was a direct response to Young's 'Southern Man', released in 1970. Indeed, the track is namechecked in the song (I hope Neil Young will remember/A Southern man don't need him around anyhow"), but the year before Skynyrd wrote this, Young had also penned the equally damning track 'Alabama' and put it out on Harvest. Perhaps that song was why Skynyrd, who hailed from Florida, chose Alabama as the setting for their response. Neil being Neil, he loved the song, and became good friends with Skynyrd. His classic song Powderfinger was one he wrote for the band, but they never recorded it. And the inspiration for great music hasn't ended there - allow me to recommend the Drive-By Truckers' account of the whole carry on, 'Ronnie and Neil' from their 2001 opus Southern Rock Opera.

The Rolling Stones - Sweet Virginia (Exile On Main Street, 1972)

The precise manner in which the Stones which to pay homage to ol' Virginny is not clear, but this is most definitely a song about drugs. It was recorded after another lengthy stint of hanging out with Gram Parsons had brought Keith Richards back to his country side. However, it seems that rumours that Parsons was part of the backing chorus are wrong, as he had already been kicked out of the Stones' French base because they wanted rid of the drug users who were attracting the attention of the French police. Irony abounds.

The Gossip - Arkansas Heat (Arkansas Heat, 2002)

There you go, I've written far too much about those last two, so here's a nice slice of punk. There's really no need to analyse punk. Just turn it up.

Kings of Leon - Arizona (Because of the Times, 2007)

The Kings of Leon have won millions of fans with their latest album, Only By The Night, but also lost several thousand who claim they've gone too far in the direction of stadium rock. I'm not one of them, but at least we can all get together and agree that Because of the Times is a stone cold classic. Give the bass an extra notch on this here closing track.

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