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Country Music II: DOES YOUR HEART STILL BEAT FOR ME?; more new songs; more thoughts on new Conor

This is a love story.

In 1980 I was a huge Elvis Costello fan (still am: the albums have lost their consistency but the live shows are stellar and his TV talk show “Spectacle” was a must see earlier this year, especially the Elton John and Rufus Wainwright interviews) and so when I heard he was appearing on a George Jones special I went out of my way to see it. Though Costello was sick with the mumps it was the first time I heard him in full country mode (except for “Stranger In the House” circa 1978).

One of the songs he played, “He Got You,” was absolutely lovely and I made a mental plan to listen for it on the soon to be released “Almost Blue” album. But it wasn’t there.

So I went in search and in those days it meant going to record after record store in the Village and yet nobody had heard of it till I reached “Vinyl Solution” off Bleeker Street and the wiseguy behind the counter realized I had the gender wrong. He gave me “Patsy Cline’s Greatest Hits” and there was “She’s Got You” and the start of side two. Within three months I had everything available that wasn’t a collectors item and had read her biography.

Fast forward seven years and I was writing my second novel, “The Positive Touch”. It was the story of an alcoholic twenty something discharged from the army and trying to write a novel about Patsy Cline. Well, what else could a twenty something write about?

That’s how high I rate Patsy Cline: As a vocalist up there with Ella, Billie, George and Frank. Patsy Cline is a case of how high can you get. She has a beautiful voice that barely twanged out its yearn by the time of her mindboggling early death.

However, in the story of country what is more important was Patsy Cline’s collaboration with producer Owen Bradley in the early 60s with what become known as “Countrypolitian.” Countrypolitican added a classic American pop orchestration to countrt music and sold it back to New York and other markets where urban pop was king. Starting with “I Fall To Pieces” in 1961 and continuing with hit after hit (Including “Crazy” written by one Willie Nelson). The mainstream success of country in the 1980s is directly attributable to Ray Charles’ “Modern Sounds Of Country” and Patsy Cline in the 60s. While the complaint is that Owen drowned her out, the truth is he made her a much bigger star by adding in the orchestration and he pulled country music out of the honky tonks.

If you don ‘t have a feel for Patsy Cline’s music you might start with a greatest hits, if you have already like her well there are not that many songs she recorded. Buy the lot (and don’t forget the terrific “Live At the Opry” -the first not the second).

Cracker seem like a one hit wonder (altogether: “The world needs another protest singer like I need a whole in the head”) but were always more a real good alternative rock band. New single “Turn On Tune Up Drop Out” off new album “Sunrise In the Land Of Milk and honey” is a pretty damn good piece of extended escapism, “Darling One” isn’t. “Make you Mine” is a beautiful Marley sound alike by Buju Banton’s newbie. “Epiphany” by Christine Michele, the title tack from the same named album is pretty and strong though it could use a coupla more hooks. I gotta find out more about “Peaches” -this is electronic soul off the amusingly titled “I Feel Cream”.

Finally, more thoughts for Conor on the occasion of his new album:

1) Conor name checks Hunter s. Thompson and Hemingway; Adam, Eve, Moses, Jesus, A Pharoah or two, Solomon… proof that all name checking famous folks will do is make you the next Dylan
2) Giving half the lead vocals to your back up band will just make half your album nothing much.
3) Walking blues like “Roosevelt Room” and “Synesthete Song” isn’t daring, and it isn’t crazy horse, it’s bad song writing.
4) Don’t cover “Corina, Corina” when it was obvious to every one at Terminal 5 that “Kodachrome” was the keeper.
5) Don’t forget a cardinal rule you knew well once: the calling card of a songwriter is consistency uber alles.

Here’s my tally on the 20 songs:

9 pointless songs by the other band members.
1 third tier Conor song sung by a band member.
2 Lousy bluesy numbers
2 1st tier Conor
1 Conor masterpiece
2 2nd tier Conor
3 have left no impression at all

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