Thursday, March 11, 2004
No Depression: What It Sound Like (Vol. 1)
Since 1995, No Depression magazine has been in the unenviable position of trying to define what alternative country music is. This 13-track compilation attempts to prove the genre actually does exist with musical evidence from a wide array of artists. From legend Johnny Cash to lesser-known artists like Hayseed, who sings a duet with Emmylou Harris on “Farther Along,” the release proves that there are a lot of amazing artists who fall in the cracks between modern rock radio stations and contemporary country music stations.
A couple of the release’s highlights are rare tracks from alternative country chanteuses Kasey Chambers and Neko Case, but it is a tune from the late, great Johnny Cash that really sums up the spirit of the release. On a cover of pal Willie Nelson’s “The Time of the Preacher,” Cash is backed by a band featuring members of Soundgarden, Nirvana, and Alice in Chains. Though this great song was featured on a Willie Nelson tribute album called Twisted Willie, without compilations like this one, the song will never be heard.
It may be that the members of the French duo Air learned to speak English from early David Gilmour-era Pink Floyd records, but then again it’s almost impossible to conquer the suspicion that they’re just being cute, with full knowledge of how totally stupid their lyrics are. And because seven of Talkie Walkie’s 10 tracks are vocal (an inverse ratio to 1998’s Moon Safari), that leaves only three that aren’t written in standard pop format.
Of these, “Alone In Kyoto” is the worthiest for its use in Sophia Coppola’s movie Lost In Translation, but one song, no matter how strongly associated with Scarlett Johansson, is not enough to keep an album afloat. That Talkie Walkie was produced by Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich doesn’t make much difference in its sound and really only serves to further illustrate Air’s timid attempt to market themselves to a pop audience.
This sincere complaint surfaces because, in balancing vanguard electronica with the better aspects of 35-year-old psychedelic music, Air, until two albums ago, was one of the coolest, most promising contemporary bands. Their soundtrack to Coppola’s previous film, The Virgin Suicides, is perfect.
Live Recordings from the Louisiana Hayride
The greatest country singer that ever lived hasn’t had much by way of live recordings in his 50-year career for a few reasons. One, he was always recording and two, he was very unsteady onstage, not so much because of his habits, but because he’s uneasy on the boards—he’s famous for headlining shows as the opener, because he wants to leave right away, that is, when he shows up at all. Behind the mic in a studio is where he is most comfortable.
These early offerings are not unlike the Elvis session from the Hayride, the sound varies wildly and the performances were better almost everywhere else. Except for an on-fire “Nothing Can Stop My Loving You,” a minor hit for the Possum back in the ‘50s, the same holds here, although his stiff, stilted song patter is priceless.
But it’s a wonderful disc if for no other reason that it reminds us that country was once white folks’ soul music. It wheezes and creaks, it speeds up and slows down, and it is so far removed from the sanitized scrub of Nashville today, it’s impossible to imagine it’s even in the same genre. Recommended.