Perfect Sound Forever

Hey Hey, My My:
De Rising Funky Tide of the Dirty South

by Kandia Crazy Horse
(February 2005)

In memory of Lacy Van Zant, Father of Southern Rock
RIP Kenny Buttrey, Hank Garland, & Brother Ray

As the fourth wife of a (lapsed) Mormon with five kids, resident of southwestern Mizzou, I sometimes feel like the heroine of some classic country song by Tom T. Hall. This here 'burg's a far cry from Manhattan island: Branson provides the bright lights around here, Kansas City is the big metropolis, and St. Louis' fabled Arch is the gateway to "civilization" as I know it.

Still, the myriad Wal-Marts down here yield one boon: cheap-ass CDs, especially those by country and chart-friendly artists. I have scored Peabo and Brooks & Dunn. And when you shop the mammoth outdoor emporium, Bass Pro – for which even Travis Tritt considers us famous, as he commented upon during his September 2004 performance at SMSU's Juanita K. Hammons Hall (we won tix and tees via raffle at the justly celebrated PFI western store) – they show civic-minded prescience in the form of a lavish Blue Collar Comedy Tour and TV show.

Our satellite makes GAC service premium but, even from my recent berth in Gotham, these ears – primed for musical miscegenation of many stripes – had already kenned that New Country's chief muses were – in addition to the outlaw triumvirate of Willie, Waylon, and JC – the Allman Brothers Band, who in '04 dropped One Way Out: Live at the Beacon Theatre, called by Robert Christgau "the best live album of their career," and the Eagles.

An oversimplification, but you get my meaning, which puts such New South scions as the legendary Jim Dickinson's boys Luther and Cody and bi-coastal refugee Chris Robinson in company with would-be rockers like Tritt and relative newbie Keith Urban. Yet ironically, the continued adherence to rock's template has coincided with the rise of Mr. Mom/sub-"Margaritaville"/"sippy cup country," along with other mawkish suburban sentiment.

Where hast thou gone, L'il Abner, "Hee Haw," and Deliverance? And despite the best efforts of Johnny Knoxville, the imminent Dukes of Hazzard remake don't look poised to herald a resurgence of real outlaw music (thanks, Jessica Simpson!). Of course, Shooter Jennings – son of the original Hazzard theme author and Jessi Colter – may surprise and delight with his forthcoming debut.

Since the strain of "southern" or "country" rock – or even rock sans epithets, frankly – descended from Jerry Lee Lewis and assorted Rockabilly stars has come to dominate American (and some global) market charts – we are in still in the wake of Garth Brooks trumping the Billboard pop/rock rankings and proving the genre a lucrative crossover – a word from the country end of the tent is called for when pondering such Allmans-spawn as Gov't Mule, the Derek Trucks Band, and the North Mississippi Allstars, all of whom produced releases of varying quality in 2004.

Most of the latter bands are proud (to different degrees) of being southerners, but often shy away from the "southern rock" tag, despite embodying the genre in its most literal definition. And indeed, some of these outfits – like the Derek Trucks Band – are more so jazz and qawwali-mongers than interested in pickin' on bluegrass standards or spinning hard-luck lyrics from the Wal-Mart milieu.

Thus the Story, in the last few years, of any pop approaching the banner of "southern rock," spotlights acts like Tritt (who now sidesteps his earlier identification somewhat), Urban, Toby Keith, Big & Rich, Montgomery Gentry, Kid Rock, and Brooks & Dunn. And don't forgit "Uncle" Dell Conner of Dawsonville, GA, composer of "Afghan Blues," who self-consciously identifies with the hybridized gang personified by Nashville outsiders Kid Rock (Michigan) and Sheryl Crow (borderline Mizzou), and refers to his "cutting edge, ahead of the curve" output as: "Hardboiled Rock-a-Billy, Redbone Blues and Organic Country." Outlaws all?

Perhaps not, but certainly struggling (consciously or not) to bridge the gap, as the Allmans did three decades ago, when it was truly heroic, and Nas and his father Olu Dara did so brilliantly on last fall's Street's Disciple, fusing Mississippi Delta tradition with the urban blues that is hip-hop. Big Kenny's comments to CMT sum this up well:

"What we're doing now is American music," he adds. "And the most American music format that I know of is country. That audience understands us. People that listen to country music don't just listen to country music. The kids who are coming up listen to Johnny Cash, then Kenny Chesney, then Ludacris or Outkast or Kid Rock. I mean, John's little brother wears a John Deere hat and an Eminem t-shirt."

"And Nashville's going to catch up to that," says John [Rich]. "They want to."

Sho'nuff: this is the land of Country and Rap, the most popular, chart-dominant – and disappointingly phallocentric/misogynistic – music forms of our era, and therein lies the dilemma, for any fan/critic/scholar/artist of these genres hoping for transcendence. Taken as a whole, a revision of last year yields some surprising glimmers of hope.

1. "You cain't take the honky-tonk outta the girl:" For much of the nineties, New Country superstar duo Brooks (of Louisiana) & Dunn (from Texas) crested the wave of suburban celebration/anguish that genre chronicled. And despite their conspicuous CASH-emblazoned mourning armbands at several of the televised awards shows, I have never heard of them cozying up to Bocephus. Off the bus and eager RNC performers that they are, Kix & Ronnie still continued to dominate the last twelvemonth with their mostly great, "devil music"-saturated Red Dirt Road, as well as October's Greatest Hits Collection II (both Arista Nashville).

Something beyond the lazy Stones shuffle "You Can't Take the Honky Tonk Out of the Girl" (which appears on both discs), with Prince (!) familiar Candy Dulfer blowing fit to channel Bobby Keys, must have connected with the masses. Indeed, despite its Music Row marketing and apple pie-Americana furbelows, Red Dirt Road has yielded some of the best out-and-out rock 'n' roll to grace the FCC-controlled airwaves in many a moon. Dunno if outgoing Powell and his "values voting" constituency were snookered into allowing such commercial subversion by the (masterful) ambiguous final track, "Holy War," or if even that Boomer-ridden demo has to put the Bible-thumping up once in awhile, to kick it circa-'75 stylee and boogie at the backyard barbecue?

2. "Down so far even the Devil won't stay": It's vaguely curious how Toby Keith and his ilk are just as indebted to Willie Nelson as Lynyrd Skynyrd and Charlie Daniels. Is it merely because Keith, like Daniels, might like to lynch pot smokers? Or is it that Skynyrd hails from Jacksonville, Florida, and metaphysically lends some credence to "Stays in Mexico" bard Keith et al's sudden bum-rush of the Redneck Riviera?

Meanwhile, the Drive-By Truckers – mostly from 'Bamaland fo' real, and themselves veteran visitors of Gulf Shores – have been industriously 'repping for the "down-pressed" thematic concerns and hard-time crowds which Skynyrd once unequivocally stood up for. Drive-By Truckers eschewed the flag-waving gestures of their Floridian muses during the latest war, focusing instead on the individual hearts and minds of the folk who are – throughout generations, as The Sands of Iwo Jima acutely underscores – typically sent to die by the Gub'ment and Big Business.

While it received less pointed attention along radical lines (compared to Steve Earle's recent output), The Dirty South (New West), and Carolinian scribe Mark Kemp's worthy New South memoir Dixie Lullaby (Simon & Schuster) (it name-checks us both), could act in tandem as a secular hymnal for assorted Southland outlaws, deadbeats, and good ole boys "adding up the cost of [their] dreams" as they suffer from local downsizing, lamenting their glory in the golden era of Bubba cinema (Jimmy "Grinnin' Grits" Carter's semi-halcyon '70s). Between the risible waves of Walking Tall and Dukes of Hazzard remakes, they surf the fatal tides of the Iraq war.

The sole admonishment I would utter, per my erudite and esteemed colleague Don Allred of one-time Bombingham, is that it's high-time for the band to bring the Funk on par with the ATLiens and St. Lunatic Nelly they so admire. Or we'll have to hit 'em with the Bop Gun (tee hee, hee haw!).

Cooley and Jason "Nearly Famous" Isbell's marked guitar heroics don't hurt: never forget you've got a bellicose but beautiful brotherhood rockin' out for you down in Bamallama.

3. Mofro's central partnership of J.J. Grey and Daryl Hance also hail from Florida, and although they reside in J-Ville's precincts for convenience (no doubt), they extol the virtues of their central Sunshine State homeland. Lochloosa (Swampland), the band's stunning sophomore swing through swamp ethics, is merely two or three steps away from a concept album about their unpaved boyhood paradise far from the greedy grasp of "Uncle Disney" and urbanizing agents, who now seek to encroach on locales like the actual Lake Lochloosa in order to profit from more strip malls and snowbird condo complexes. Lest you think this great disc merely a preachy one, tunes like "How Junior Got His Head Put Out" and the gorgeous "Fireflies" rival DBT leader Patterson Hood's compositions for rigorous tale-telling and finely wrought, humane observance.

4. "A cowboy Stevie Wonder": I simply adore Big & Rich, yet they are often dismissed as Caucasian P-Funk-lite with requisite "giant Ethiopian" (Cowboy Troy) and little person (Two Foot Fred) thieved from the Austin Powers series/Kid Rock's Twisted Brown Trucker Revue. Interestingly, when Buford & my boyz in DBT exercise a similarly satirical and jaundiced view of twang shibboleths, they are praised for it far and wide. Meanwhile Big & Rich appear to have arrived at a near-perfect synthesis of New Country and hip-hop that must be giving Kid Rock pause; why didn't he and his good co-writing pal/pukka shell potentate Kenny Chesney beat them to the punch?

The MuzikMafia includes promising songwriters like James Otto, an onstage painter – like former utopian southern collective Arrested Development, once upon a time (Rachel Kice) – and Tom T.'s son Dean on gee-tar. This doubting daughter of the Powhatan Confederacy asks which came first: OutKast's dastardly Hiawatha trip on the 2004 Grammys, or the clever appropriation of the "Hey Ya!" refrain, coupled with tom-toms and native flute, in "Wild West Show"? To be sure, the hypothetical tokenism of Dallas Cowboy Troy could prove problematic for 'dis heah Race Woman, 'lessen he breaks out big in '05.

Of course thus far, CT's flow has been less potent than, err...Kid Rock's, but if 50 Cent channeling Mush Mouth is laudable, Brer Troy deserves to get paid. Fitty has mysteriously gotten away with an aggressive dumbing-down of hip-hop – the moribund genre has nowhere to go but the red clay road the ATLiens and Kaintuck's Nappy Roots have partly paved.

Anyhow: as the New Gangsta Redneck Negress (Claudia Lennear, of Mad Dogs & Englishmen fame, gets the glory as O.G.), I have to applaud Big & Rich's Bronze Buckaroo enjoying his moment in the spotlight. And rapping en Espa-ol is cunning to say the least. This morena salutes y'all: ‘Chevere!

Back to the divine Big Kenny and honey-throated John Rich, a duo detested behind the backhanded sniping of both the Music Row establishment and anti-Nashvillains in the deep south (and on the Coasts). Perhaps it's my subjectivity as a colored listener from the periphery of the twang tent that causes me to (over-?) identify with the sentiments of "Six Foot Town," but I can relate to – and praise – any composer who deftly summarizes what it's like to be plagued by cultural ambition that exceeds the narrow purview of one's surroundings via this lyrical metaphor:

It's hard to get around in a six foot town
When you're ten feet tall everything is so small

The "cowboy Stevie Wonder" tag is not an utter misnomer: Rich, especially, has a fluid, soulful voice, which castigates and mocks the extant members of Lonestar with its every utterance; the partnership has ably shown itself versant in several genre traditions. Their "Music Without Prejudice" motto may not be unique, but it is obviously a polarizing manifesto in the Music Row milieu.

If they put their twang gains where their mouths are, Big & Rich may attain some semblance of Wonderlove: the humanitarian tone of "Holy Water" (a paean to Big Kenny's sister, erstwhile victim of domestic abuse) and other tunes like the lachrymose and spiritual "Live this Life" and "Deadwood Mountain" [big ups to Ian McShane on his Deadwood Globes win!] balance out the tongue-in-tobacco-puffed-cheek satire of "Kick My Ass" and "Rollin' (The Ballad of Big & Rich)." Nonetheless, the duo's movement is best received as sonic challenge, the deft fusion of American pop flourishes from fuzz guitar and hip-hop call & response to barbershop harmonies and Crescent City jass piano – all threads of a theme for an imaginary western, one co-scribed by Ishmael Reed, Loren D. Estleman, the Ghost of Serge Gainsbourg (I predict a "Bonnie & Clyde '5" remake next for B & R), and Robert Downey Sr., art-directed by Wes Freed and Pedro Bell, natch.

Folks consider Big & Rich a joke at best, chart-savvy hacks at worst, but I sincerely believe that if they can two-step between the crosshairs of omnivorous corporate interests, they'll laugh all the way to the Opry and the Apollo. In this week of his national holiday, when foolish Vegas weatherman Rob Blair of KTNV-13 (obviously unlucky!) was sacked for dropping the "coon" bomb during broadcast on the very day, Horse of a Different Color seems not only a necessary sound and vision corrective for those middle-American fans tuned-out to radical voices, but a provocative mass market response to Dr. King's Dream.

5. While GAC is head and shoulders above the country network of record – in terms of their sonic inclusiveness – CMT slam-dunked four rather decent programs in 2004: Waiting in the Wings, a doc chronicling the history of Blacks in country & western (Viva Linda Martell!); a 90-minute special that featured several aspiring African-American country singers and outed Music Row's best kept secret – a far cry from Charley Pride's lone (?) appearance on Hee Haw; the riveting Most Shocking episode "Moonshine Madness," a documentary about the fact that runnin' shine spawned NASCAR (it originally aired on Saturday, Oct. 16th); and the "Outlaws" special headlined by Bocephus, featuring a lineup of Kid Rock, Gretchen Wilson, Montgomery Gentry, Big & Rich, Tanya Tucker, Colter, Jennings, Metallica's James Hetfield (?!) and Lynyrd Skynyrd's Gary Rossington, Billy Powell, and Johnny Van Zant – plus now, in the New Year, MuzikMafia TV is set with a parade of guests including Tim McGraw, Heart, Kanye West, and Usher.

All were/are flawed to a slight extent, but wholly entertaining. The network's westward migration may be turning it into C-MTV – not that an LA base would hurt the genre's superstar's donning of rock raiment; see Keith Urban's clip for "Days Go By" – but for the moment it's displaying some occasionally provocative programming. CMT also made the country-rock connection explicit via its Crossroads program, which has featured bills of Kenny Chesney/John Mellencamp, Lynyrd Skynyrd/Montgomery Gentry, and a Shock N Y'All Superbowl special starring Keith, Steven Tyler, and Willie Nelson. The imminent episode co-stars Keith Urban and his purported hero, Californian classic rocker with "Dixie envy" John Fogerty.

In other country-rock crossover television news, Poison front man Bret Michaels will be one of this season's celebrity judges on Nashville Star. Michaels has recorded an as-yet-unreleased country album for his own Poor Boy label. The formerly spandex-shrouded metallurgist's current duet with Jessica Andrews, "All I Ever Needed," is riding the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart.

In 2004, the Nashvegas status quo was shook up not just by Big & Rich's Freak Parade, but by Nelly copping a hit duet with McGraw, by local erotica scribe Gwen Masters' allegedly unabashed camp following of Keith Urban, and even a much circulated MP3 of Thomas Miller's "Hillbilly Porn," an ode to the nude statues at the entrance to Music Row.

The conquering cadre of he-men like Toby Keith (who now has a duet with his teen daughter, covering "Mockingbird") appears to yield to upstarts of fluid identity, sexual or otherwise (B & R, Gretchen, Shelby Lynne) who embrace the Other – if only metaphorically (see Parrothead Kenny) – and serve as a blinged-out Trojan Horse stealthily depositing funky dung on Music Row.

Whether it's "Island" Chesney in a sarong and pukka shells, rollin' wit' Kid Rock's ex-DJ Uncle Kracker (who himself cracked the crossover chart with a cover of one of the last viable African twang stars, Dobie Gray), Brooks & Dunn's trickster Connie who "ran off with some boy to Cancun," or Rock hitching his-self to Bocephus' double-wide "outlaw country" chariot while continuing to serve as a sonic Johnny Appleseed, hop-scotching across diverse genre charts and the pop culture landscape (thespian, Coors pitchman) while still pissing off the "values voters" in his Party (Rock, dismissed by WorldNetDaily's Ron Strom as "the vulgar rock-rapper," had been initially lined-up to headline the youth concert costarring teen tarts like JoJo and Hilary Duff – at the behest of the Bush twins – as part of Bush's $40 million+ inaugural festivities; his 1990 "Pimp of the Nation" swipe at Presidential Mum Barbara Bush came back to haunt him in the nick of time), the Dixie-fried Freak Parade did much damage to the Nashvillain Establishment last year.

Here's hoping Kid Rock returns from the "Dark Side" to harness all the energy he once spent chasing Pammy's pneumatic tail, and diverts it to spearheading the mission to get poor, forgotten DeFord Bailey, the first Opry superstar, into the CMHofF in 2005. I eagerly await MuzikMafia TV this weekend when outlaw godfather Willie Nelson costars.

6. Continuing on this theme: ponder the polar opposites between the year's twang queens Gretchen Wilson and Neko Case. And don't forgit Patty Griffin, sisters Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer, rock defector Tift Merritt, Julie Roberts, Reba, chandelier-swingin' Shania, the commemorated Wanda Jackson, and, the empress of Hillbilly, Loretta Lynn. [And what about the way-out roots ingιnue on Drag City, Joanna Newsom?]

Is Gretch so different from the young Lynn? Wilson slept with her benefactor too, although hailing from the northern Midwest. They both mine a kind of plain-folks stance that comes across to their audiences as genuine and unmediated.

Those who think Wilson's "I'm just a regular gal from Pocahontas" presentation is mere pose must've delighted in Lynn's sublime duet with White Striper Jack White, "Portland Oregon." Indeed, septuagenarian Lynn, who received Kennedy Center Honors last year, rocked harder than many sister-slingers her junior on that track, somehow summoning her own Bradley-spun back-story, garage punk, and a subtle thrill glossing on Ronnie Spector girl group badass simultaneously. The facility and fluidity of her voice on that track registered as minor miracle, kick-ass enough to make me forgive that she abides on a plantation, but not her podnuh White's dubious urbanite statements about the South as pure, pastoral idyll (meant to match his airless shackling of the blues, no doubt).

Gretchen "Redneck Woman" Wilson, on the other hand, has a long way to go before catching up with the remaining holy triumvirate of heavy white bitches – Bonnie Bramlett (hallowed be Her name), Shaun Murphy, and Stevie Nicks – two of whom I caught in delirious action live. Bonnie Bramlett tore up the stage like the grown-ass woman she is at Times Square's B.B. King's last winter, roaring through D&B classics such as "Only You Know and I Know" and the storied standard she penned, "Superstar," and made her bow in the long-awaited documentary Festival Express (2003; dir. Bob Smeaton), despite no proscenium delights.

Gretch could also do with some fruitful collaboration with a sympathetic master in her field, akin to Bramlett's with the late Lowell George. But it was Murphy, the feminine mainstay of Little Feat – the band Bramlett herself seeded with a vital infusion of New Orleans funk (her former bassist Kenny Gradney served as a jester in Festival Express) – who kicked it solid in concert with fellow Seger veteran Laura Creamer, behind Kid Rock at Jones Beach last spring. Janis Joplin, the Festival Express muse who befriended Bramlett and loved her mid-South distilled bottle long before Wilson, also served as icon for Nicks, whose voice has its rough patches these days, but often shines and drops woman-ist lyrical science. These legacies can act as both cautionary tales and examples of how to triumph over cock-rock adversity for likely best new artist shoo-in Wilson.

Neko Case's live album from November, The Tiger Has Spoken, topped the CMJ chart. She is due to return to the road in February, in company with perennial abettors the Sadies and also Visqueen. Not only is Case the (informal?) Queen of Alt-Country, renown for her patented poetic Americana themes: last year she also achieved the (dubious?) honor of topping a Playboy internet poll as the Sexiest Babe of Indie Rock. No word yet on whether she'll actually grace the skin rag's notorious cover...or is that merely the preserve of Debbie (sorry, Deborah) Gibson?

7. Chris Robinson's second solo outing This Magnificent Distance (Vector) showed him in fine form, accompanied by such collaborators as the great and underrated co-producer Ethan Johns. This Magnificent Distance is quite a leap forward from Robinson's debut, full of far more mature, arresting songs – indeed, his best combination of lyrics and sonics since the much-bootlegged Sweet Pickle Salad tracks (see "One Man's Anger"). Much pondered "Train Robbers" and "...If You See California" take the lead in embodying this considerable aesthetic progress.

Opener "40 Days" is perhaps the weakest song: decent but seemingly trying too hard to rival polemical pop of yore. Still on a restless trip he's long pursued, Robinson thematically and aurally hews more to his adopted Gormenghast of California with Laurel Canyon-spawned folksy eclecticism, rather than his Dixie homeland (although the best song, "Mother Of Stone," displays Sanctified Christopher shadowboxing with hurdy-gurdy and guitar arabesques). Sadly, the New Earth Mud's galvanizing tour was aborted too soon, before any fans or casual observers could take the project's full measure. The just-announced Black Crowes reunion run in March will hopefully see Robinson adapting the lessons learned during his former band's turbulent hiatus.

Fortunately, the magnificent North Mississippi Allstars, featuring axe-wizard Luther Dickinson, is one of the acts tapped to open the Crowes' 5-date stand at NYC's Hammerstein Ballroom. Robinson's brief appearance on the NMAS' 2004 release North Mississippi Allstars Hill Country Revue Live at Bonnaroo (ATO) showed him revisiting his roots on "Boomer's Story," yet the live disc's most exalted moments came courtesy of legendary bluesman R. L. Burnside and musician/producer Jim Dickinson.

The wonderful Rising Star Fife & Drum Band also deserve acclaim [and are pictured above – Ed]: one of my personal high points of last autumn was being invited onstage to dance, along with my McComb, Mississippi-native friend Aunjanue, by the Rising Stars and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, who opened for the NMAS at Irving Plaza. Hopefully, as in times past, the Dirty Dozen will also be secret guests at the Black Crowes run.

8. Dirty South hip-hop, and its satellites, has held the most lucrative/spotlighted sway (other than country) over the public in recent years: OutKast continued to dominate with Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, influencing culture the way rock 'n' roll used to: by (Andrι 3000 particularly) adopting the funked-up raiment of rock stars. Lil Jon and the mostly superfluous Eastside Boyz (unless you count the Grecian Chorus litany of "niggas," essential to the Crunk mix) dropped a lackluster follow-up to their ubiquitous entre as a Chappelle punch line, and still went multi-platinum. A lot of Bush Amerika must really dig dat Crunk Juice drink, and these Puritans' prurience regarding his "crunk pornos" must be at an all-time high. An Us People's Network sitcom has to be imminent: Meet Da Crunks, perhaps?

Then there are the duets by Nelly – the presumptive hybrid brain trust from nearby St. Louis – swinging both ways with McGraw and Christina Aguilera (on a percolating dance track abetted by Curtis Mayfield May-He-Rest). Goodie Mob came back sans Cee-Lo and asserted their prowess to (at least) Hip-Hop Nation's hard core habituιs. Young Buck (actually a Nashvegas native) set that Music City's crossover cause for reform back decades with his murderous antics at the VIBE Awards last fall.

The ensuing and negative national press could not have made Music Row executives more excited to engage with sepia talent, even if twangy; all of their jungle prejudices must've been dancing at the back of their collective subconscious (just in time for Peter Jackson's unnecessary King Kong retread certain to be dubbed by the current Administration as "like history written with lightning!").

[I know the fear of returning to the P.J.s is a Leviathan, but will somebody please remind these MCs that if you live by the sword (or glock or...butter knife), you'll die by it too?]

Speaking of Nashville-bred talent: sometime Dungeon Family star Joi's chronicle of her divorce from Big Gipp (lost to the Game), Tennessee Slim is the Bomb, has gotten deserved distribution, and will see light of day in 2005, instead of suffering the fate of her rare treasure Amoeba Cleansing Syndrome. Let it be that Joi's inner Betty Davis is very much at the fore.

9. As for "southern rock's" junior wing, the Kings of Leon and Hanson brotherhoods are most prominent. While KofL's Followills continue to coast as darlings of the UK music press, the Tulsa triumvirate of the Hanson brothers are somewhat stymied by their erstwhile tweeny "MMMBop" fame. Blinkered critics and consumers appear to be constrained by this moldy perception of them, perhaps resulting in their independently-released, superb third album Underneath being utterly ignored.

Kings Of Leon's debut mined the glitter-gulch of SoCal country-rock, yet Hanson's turns on "Crazy Beautiful" and hidden track "Lula Belle" show that the Oklahomans are more assured and potent acolytes of the pop Brian Wilson and his collaborator Van Dyke Parks once made (could a recording with Robinson be next?). Underneath may not be power pop on the order of your elder brother's Big Star long-players, but then again, the forthcoming, Alex Chilton-led Big Star revival project will doubtless not resemble the shimmering tones of the much-cherished Stax-Ardent quartet's debut. Our beloved Mr. Chilton is too perverse for that.

10. More visual chronicles from the past year arrived in the form of the IFC's recent documentary entitled You See Me Laughing?, which profiled north Mississippi blues label Fat Possum and many of the artists, past and present, on their roster: R.L. Burnside, who's unafraid to blend other forms with the blues, Junior Kimbrough, T Model Ford (with a brief appearance by Spam), and Cedell Davis, not to mention cameos by such rock stars as Bono, Iggy Pop, and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. In an interview, U2's leader/self-styled African savior recalls having seen Kimbrough at a jook-house performance and getting so scared, he wanted to flee the room.

Greatest of all was the Grammy-nominated Tom Dowd & the Language of Music (Palm Pictures). Despite his semi-na• ve involvement in the Manhattan Project, Dowd was a giant among men, one I have admired most since my toddling years when I first began to learn about music and the rockbiz via Atlantic liner notes. Dowd's touching statements at the end of the film, regarding the fact that he was never richly remunerated for all the legendary work he partook in, but felt rewarded that he was friends with all the artists (unto death), underscored a moving and enlightening portrait of humility and character.

The sheer magnitude of his contributions to modern music, represented throughout the film, is almost overwhelming once you begin to tally up how often he was behind the boards and in the studio, at Stax in Memphis and (the O.G.) Muscle Shoals at Jackson Highway in Sheffield, Alabama. During his long association with Atlantic and other assorted independent labels of the mid-20th century, the very sadly deceased Tom Dowd, eminence of Miami's Criteria Studios, had a vital hand in pioneering the use of stereo recording, the (arguably) greatest works by American masters Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin, and the historic introduction of Eric Clapton to Duane "Skydog" Allman, which gave us "Layla." As a lifelong idolater of the Dowd-produced Live at Fillmore East by the Allman Brothers Band, this documentary DVD will remain one of my most prized possessions and a chief treasure of my audio-visual library.

Speaking of Muscle Shoals, Zane (UK)'s latest reissue of Eddie Hinton masterworks was most welcome: Playin' Around: The Songwriting Sessions, Volume 2 rarely left my box. Not only is Zane a swell blues and roots label, but anyone assuming the vital role of keeping the Hinton flame alive these days deserves laurels. No other musician will ever come close to the unique imbalance of talent and raw feeling that Hinton's music embodies – not even my favorites Gram Parsons, Gene Clark and Chilton...all different in their own way – and our "Hard Luck Guy" really should be more widely known.

Although not nearly in the same league, Ray Lamontagne's roots-heavy, Ethan Johns-produced debut Trouble (RCA) was worthy in the tradition of soul singing pioneered by Hinton and, from across the pond, Afro-Kelt balladeer Van Morrison. The current movement of junior acolyte Lamontagne and Hinton's Shoals contemporary Bobby Whitlock could herald another great era of "blue-eyed" soul men.

Final Word: Keep yer eyes pealed for Jerry Lee Lewis covering Led Zep's "Rock 'N Roll," and Big Star revivalism in 2005.

Honorable Mentions: Southern Bitch's Snake in the Grass, Kevin Kinney's Sun Tangled Angel Revival, Freakwater, Old 97's, Johnny Dowd (Cement Shoes), Eric Ambel and the Blood Oranges, the Bottle Rockets, the Black Keys (the Akron, OH, duo summoned to Carnegie Hall in the wake of Rubber Factory), Slobberbone (RIP), Derailers, Bobby Bare Jr., Blue Rodeo (our Canadian "kissin' cousins"), Tishamingo, the Jayhawks (of late, mostly following their Wilco pals to the end of the pop rainbow), Centro-Matic, Tommy Wommack, Dixie Hustler (who have opened for Skynyrd), Soularcat, My Morning Jacket, and Tortuga recording artists Antler, whose music has been aptly described by the Boston Phoenix as, "the Black Crowes meets Calexico."

[Kandia Crazy Horse resides in the Ozarks, about 45 minutes from Branson. She is currently hard at work on her southern rock magnum opus.]

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