Not all “country” music is unsophisticated or even American. Here I give you a bunch of stuff I have been working through and following. Let us start with Tom Russell’s classic “US Steel”— a straight- up traditional country lament complete with sweet pedal steel, but set in Pennsylvania rather than on the border or even Appalachia, full of sad images of decaying industry. I sent it to Marty Stupich, who worked in and documented that mill in the 80’s and now is photographing the abandoned smelter in El Paso, and to Retrieverman in West Virginia, who has been musing on such things. (I also suggested he look at a pre- doctrinaire Steve Earle in the stirring if slightly sinister “Copperhead Road” — a mini- movie with echoes of Thunder Road. Rednecks strike back…)
Which suggested in turn Show of Hands’ poignant “Country Life”. No jobs… no pubs… even in the American west, are we following England down?
The next jump almost leaves the tradition– Show of Hands provides the soundtrack to a traditional, rhyming poem turned strange, a very dark contemporary Christmas tale by Charles Causley, but the images in this version are adopted from Anime! I think it works. Causley changed Herod, the archetype of an arbitrary wicked king, into a more contemporary bogeyman, a sort of supernatural child molester, and put him in the English countryside. SOH gave him a soundtrack that stands at least MY hair on end. And the animator covered all this and added an apocalyptic edge– look at the sky and feel the wind over the line “…melt in a million suns”.
Enough doom! End your tour with “Longdog”, a merry tale of a merry poacher and his lurcher, also by Show of Hands; a hunter- gatherer, a “Municipal Paleolithic Man” in action. If dogs are outlawed only outlaws will have dogs…