Friday, November 27, 2009

These United States of America (Part Five)

Okay folks, we're on to the final stretch. And, in keeping with the history of the nation, we've left exploration of the west coast until last. Coming in two batches to finish this off, we have 20 songs paying homage to the frontier lands.

Neil Young - The Emperor of Wyoming (Neil Young, 1969)

Okay, so as an instrumental it's only about Wyoming up to a point, but there was no competition for the Cowboy State and I was happy to get on a song from the master's debut. Much overlooked because of the wealth of genius that came after it, Neil Young's self-titled album is full of little treats. It is very different to the bulk of his career work as he continued to work with Jack Nitzsche, who had helped him on the classic "Expecting To Fly" while with Buffalo Springfield. The pair let loose the string sections in a way Young would never do again. There is also a strong country feel to the album, a sound Young would later go back to but not for a some time.

Josh Rouse - Dressed up Like Nebraksa (Dressed Up Like Nebraska, 1998)

The success Josh Rouse's debut album, named after his home state, earned him the chance to leave his home state and move to Nashville, but there you go. That seems to be how it works. Not that there has been much drop off in the quality of his work since. This is a great example of his expansive sound, which you can imagine echoing across the Great Plains of which he sings.

Low - Missouri (Secret Name, 1999)

The stand-out track from Secret Name, Missouri, this delicate slice of what they call sadcore is a beautiful sounding song. It does little to lift the mood that they pronounce 'Missouri' as 'misery'.

Stephen Stills - Colorado (Manassas, 1972)

Taken from "The Wilderness" section of Stills' sprawling Manassas project, this is at the country end of that multi-faceted album. An ode to the ideal of life in the Colorado mountains, away from "the dirt and the smog" of life on the east coast. "Dark-eyed country girl, tears in her eyes/Needs the music of the wind in the pines," Stills sings, doing his own version of John Denver's work for the Colorado tourist industry.

Bruce Springsteen - My Oklahoma Home (We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, 2006)

I know a lot of big Bruce Springsteen fans who don't like the Seeger Sessions, so far removed are they from his usual work, but I adore this album. You can practically hear the smiles on their faces throughout - few bands can have had more fun making a record than Bruce and Co. had with this. And this is one of my favourite tracks - it would have to be something this good to persuade us to take Bruce away from his native New Jersey.

Woody Guthrie - Oregon Trail (Columbia River Ballads, 1941)

In 1941, following time in New York City and Los Angeles, Woody Guthrie moved to Washington State where he was supposed to narrate documentary on the construction of the Grand Coulee Damn, but he was then dropped over fears that he was too controversial. Instead, he got a gig writing songs about the Columbia River and spent the time reeling off a whole bunch of songs about the area. He travelled through Oregon and Washington writing all the way, and this one tells the story of part of that journey.

(Kansas) - Glenn Campbell - Wichita Lineman (Wichita Lineman, 1968)

This one breaks the rules slightly on songs being about states, not cities, but its a classic, so we'll allow it. The best known example of Campbell's country-pop fusion, the song was written by Jimmy Webb after he saw a telephone lineman working along the Kansas-Oklahoma border. Let's hope for the sake of this compilation he was on the Kansas side of said border at the time...

(Minnesota) Bob Dylan With Johnny Cash - North Country Fair (Nashville Skyline, 1969)

Dylan is capable of heartbreaking beauty when he decides to write a love song. I've seen 'Boots of Spanish Leather' reduce grown men to tears, and 'North Country Fair' belongs in the same category. Based around the same old folk song that became Simon & Garfunkel's 'Scarborough Fair', Dylan first recorded the song for Freewheelin', but then revisited it with Cash when in Nashville working on Skyline. Slowing the song down and mixing up the lyrics, they gave it a raw, pained edge, which only makes the lyrics sound greater. So what has it got to do with Minnesota? The girl in question was thought to be Bonny Jean Beacher, Dylan's girlfriend from his time at the University of Minnesota.

Carl T Sprague - Utah Carroll (Utah Carroll, 1927)

Utah gave us as many problems as any other state, but we eventually came up with this, less about the state than about a cowboy named Utah.

Lyle Lovett - North Dakota (Joshua Judges Ruth, 1992)

This album saw Lovett stray away from his country roots into jazz and blues, creating a spare sound matched only by the loneliness of the lyrics to this song. Backing vocals come from Rickie Lee Jones.

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