Apologies again for the lack of posting. I got really busy starting last July, and it’s only now starting to slow down (and I’m just starting to catch up). But, for my loyal readers, I do have something new to share. A new mix of county singer/songwriters, that I’m quite excited about. Extended thoughts below the fold but I’m definitely curious to know what people make of it. A lot of this music is new to me, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks listening to a bunch new music to work on this, and I’m happy with how it turned out:

Unconventional Country:
1: Walkin’ — Willie Nelson
2: Honkey Tonk Girl — Eilen Jewell (by Loretta Lynn)
3: Saint Anthony With The Broken Hands — Katy Moffatt
4: Hard On Equipment (tool for the job) — Corb Lund
5: West Texas Waltz — Butch Hancock
6: Burning The Toast For You — Suzy Bogguss (by April Barrows)
7: Wander — Paul Burch
8: Listen To The Radio — Kathy Mattea (by Nanci Griffith)
9: Anyhow, I Love You — Lyle Lovett (by Guy Clark)
10: Please — Mary Gauthier
11: Glasgow Girl — Rodney Crowell
12: Six Nights A Week — Peter Case (by Chris Gaffney)
13: Gimme A Ride To Heaven, Boy — Terry Allen
14: Mystery Train Part II — Steve Earle
15: Out In The Parking Lot — Guy Clark
16: Sittin’ Still — Andrew Jacob Holm
17: Boxcars — Joe Ely (by Butch Hancock)

Blame Willie Nelson and Shawn Camp for the fact that I decided do this.

When I started to appreciate Willie Nelson I realized that I’d made it from listening to some country-influenced singer/songwriters (like Townes Van Zandt) to real country music (albeit unconventional) and really enjoying it. Over the last couple of years I feel like I’ve picked a couple of different albums that have made me appreciate the strength of the songwriting tradition in country music. Most recently I got the new tribute album to Guy Clark, organized by Shawn Camp, and loved it. It’s one of the best new albums that I’ve heard in a long time and it absolutely makes the case both that Guy Clarks catalog is an impressive body of work, and that there’s a whole community of country singer/songwriters that I needed to know more about. I ordered CDs from a couple of people who were on that album and, as I started listening to them, I decide that I needed to do a country songwriting mix, and this is the result.

A couple of things strike me, after I’ve finished it. First that my tastes definitely show. I have noticed that, as I start listening carefully, the songs that really attract me are the ones where the performer is emotionally invested in the material. That does, I’m afraid push the mood of the set towards the more serious. I have left in a couple of sillier songs but as it came down to making the final selections the weightier songs tended to make the cut but they are fantastic*.

The second thing that I realized is that, without meaning to, I’d made a mix that was appropriate to the season. I’ve made the argument that one of the things I like about Country Songwriting is that it can very specific. Broadly speaking when I think of great pop songwriters I tend to think of either people who can write wonderfully about universal emotions, or who tend towards playful wordiness (like Bob Dylan or Elvis Costello). I know of more country songs that are about some specific experience that happened to the writer. There’s also, of course, a noble tradition of country songs about heartache. When I arriving at a final selections of songs I realized that I have a number of choices which sit at the intersection of those categories, and are songs about people in the process of figuring out their own lives. There is a good amount of heartache, but there are also a lot of songs in which the song feels like part of making the situation better — songs about the moment of making a choice or coming to a realization, or taking stock of life. That does make it seem like a good mix for Springtime, when things are changing and possibilities opening up.

* To single out one song in particular, I hadn’t listened to “Sittin’ Still” before. I’d been given the album as a gift, listened to it part way through, hadn’t been quite in the mood for it, and put it away and forgot about it. But as I soon as I listened to the song I knew both, that it was too good not to include and that it was a strong emotion that it was going to be tricky fitting it into the mix. Andrew Jacob Holm’s liner notes for the song are (in full), “After leaving a longtime lover in Colorado I moved to Madison, WI to a small one bedroom apartment in the rear of a small house. I wrote Sittin’ Still there one December night after driving nails in 5 degree cold. Wisconsin is cold.” It’s a heavy emotional song, and absolutely great.

Hopefully you will enjoy it as well.

  1. Holly A Hughes’s avatar

    Tasty, tasty, tasty. I’ve heard a lot of these artists on the Outlaw Country station on Sirius Radio, but it’s nice to contemplate them as a group.

    Right off the bat: If you EVER have a chance to see the Songwriters Circle shows that Guy C., Joe Ely, Lyle, and John Hiatt perform from time to time, please don’t miss it. Four guys with acoustic guitars in chairs, each singing one of his songs in turn. No set list; in fact they like to surprise each other by pulling out different songs night after night. And they have the depth to do it. Extraordinary.

    Glad you picked that Clark song — I love it. Guy Clark wrings more wisdom out of the quotidian than any songwriter I know. But now you’ve really got to listen to more Lyle Lovett; his wit, sly storytelling, and tenderness are a potent combination.

    There’s a real Texas bias here, which is a good thing in my mind. I did a Texas week roundup a couple years ago you might enjoy (starts here: [url]http://thesonginmyheadtoday.blogspot.com/2010/10/state-of-texas-old-97s-texas-music-week.html)[/url]


  2. NickS’s avatar

    I’ll definitely be curious to know what you make of it once you have a chance to listen a bit (random note: I had a couple of different possibilities for the opening track and picked that one because I liked that the first thing you hear isn’t a band, it’s just Willie’s voice all by itself).

    You’re right to say there’s a strong Texas emphasis. There are a couple of reasons for that. Part of it is that I came to country music through Townes Van Zandt and Willie Nelson, so it was just to be expected. I also think that lately independent songwriters have been more successful in the Texas scene than in Nashville (and by “Lately” I mean, “in the 90s.” I don’t pretend to be current. Though Corb Lund, who’s Canadian, has said that he found Texas to be the place in the US that was most open to new independent music). But one other factor is that, having done a mix with a strong bluegrass element I was trying to stay away from the bluegrass side of Country and I think that also contributed to looking farther West to Texas and Oklahoma.

    Yeah, the Songwriter’s Circle sounded amazing when you first described it and now it sounds absolutely incredible. I don’t know that I will have a chance to see them, but if I do I will make sure to go. It’s funny, I hadn’t heard of Joe Ely before starting on this project and it was actually listening to the Butch Hancock which convinced me that I should listen to him as well; I feel like most people move in the opposite direction.

    Finally, a bit of gossip to share. Shortly after I’d gotten the Guy Clark tribute album I ran into a musician in town that I knew had worked as a songwriter in Nashville in the late 60s (he would have been in his early 20s at that point). I mentioned the album to him and said that I thought it really showed how Guy has continued to write amazing songs over his whole career.

    He said that he knew Guy and Townes from Nashville. He said that, at that point, Texas music wasn’t a thing. “That was before Willie Nelson moved back to Texas. At that time everybody just thought of him as another Nashville songwriter who happened to throw a couple of extra Jazz chords into his songs.” He also said that he appreciated that when Kris Kristofferson started to become famous and get a lot of praise for his songwriting that Kris always said that he learned how to write from living in Nashville — that there was such a community of writers and such a commitment to craft there. He also said that Guy Clark wasn’t a very strong performer at that point, I think he said, “[Guy] was kind of a fencepost.” Which made me feel better for not liking a number of his 70s recordings — amazing songs, but kind of stiff.


  3. RS’s avatar

    I love the way
    15: Out In The Parking Lot — Guy Clark
    16: Sittin’ Still — Andrew Jacob Holm

    go together. It’s a great sequence and makes both songs very strong.

    I sent Skip a copy of Hard on Equipment and he loved it. I know he’s sending it on to his brother among others.

    The backup singers in 6 nights a week have a wonderful feel of singing that refrain every set for six nights a week.

    The tune for Burning the Toast for You keeps floating back into my head at unexpected moments.

    Thanks for the compilation,



  4. peep’s avatar

    I’ve been meaning to write thank you for this mix for a while.

    I liked it the first time I listened to it, and that I’ve listened to it a few more times I have to say I love it. Thank you!


  5. NickS’s avatar

    Oh, thank you very much.

    I was actually just listening to it again a couple weeks ago and quite happy with how it turned out.

    I think it has a nice balance of serious and less serious.


  6. Will Fitzhugh’s avatar

    I really like this mix. Thanks.



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