Friday, April 29, 2016

Dates of Note in Country Music, May 1-15

Category: News

(Hall of Fame members in bold on birth/death date, followed by hall[s] of fame in which they are enshrined and the year enshrined.  CM=Country Music; BG=Bluegrass; NS=Nashville Songwriter; SG=Southern Gospel; StG=Steel Guitar; GLA=Grammy Lifetime Achievement; RR=country act also inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.)

May 1:

Rita Coolidge born in Nashville, Tennessee, 1944 (now 72). Although primarily a pop singer, Coolidge had a dozen songs chart in country. She is also the former wife of Kris Kristofferson.
Wayne Hancock born in Dallas, Texas, 1965 (now 51)
Sam McGee born in Williamson County, Tennessee, 1894 (died 1975)

Sonny James (ne James Loden) (CM 06) born in Hackleburg, Alabama, 1929 (died 2016)
Jimmy Gately born in Springfield, Missouri, 1931 (died 1985)
Ott Devine born in Gadsen, Alabama, 1910 (died 1994)
Spike Jones died in Bel Air, California (emphysema), 1965 (was 53). The novelty band leader recorded "Pal-Yat-Chee" with Homer and Jethro, and Red Ingle (of Red Ingle & Natural Seven, of "Temp-Tay-Shun" fame) was once a member of Jones' City Slickers.
Jim Hager of the Hager Twins died in Nashville, Tennessee (heart attack), 2008 (was 66)
Elvis Presley married Priscilla Beaulieu in Las Vegas, Nevada, 1967
A six-inch rainstorm hit Nashville, 2010.  The massive flood damaged the Grand Ole Opry House, the Opryland Hotel, the WSM-AM studios, the basement of the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Wildhorse Saloon, the instrument storage business Soundcheck, and a number of country singers' homes. Over 13 inches of rain fell over a two-day period in Music City and killed nearly two dozen.

May 2:

R.C. Bannon born in Dallas, Texas, 1945 (now 71)
Larry Gatlin born in Seminole, Texas, 1948 (now 68)
Ty Herndon born in Meridian, Mississippi, 1962 (now 54)
Roy Lee Centers of the Clinch Mountain Boys died in Jackson, Kentucky (shot to death -- details disputed between a fight, "road rage" or murder), 1974 (was 29)
"Slowly" by Webb Pierce hits #1 on the Billboard charts, 1954. It becomes the first #1 song to feature the pedal steel guitar.

May 3:

Cactus Moser of Highway 101 born in Montrose, Colorado, 1957 (now 59)
Bing Crosby born in Tacoma, Washington, 1903 (died 1977). The pop crooner has the distinction of being the performer of the first #1 single in Billboard magazine's "Hillbilly and Western Singles" history with his rendition of Al Dexter's "Pistol Packin' Mama." Dexter's own recording was the second #1 song.
Dave Dudley born in Spencer, Wisconsin, 1928 (died 2003)
Patsy Montana (CM 96) died in San Jancinto, California (unknown cause), 1996 (was 83)
Dollywood theme park opened in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, 1986

May 4:

Stella Parton born in Sevierville, Tennessee, 1949 (now 67)
Robert Ellis Orrall born in Winthrop, Massachusetts, 1955 (now 61)
Randy Travis (CM 16) born in Marshville, North Carolina, 1959 (now 57).  Travis is one of the "class of 2016" inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Al Dexter (ne Clarence Albert Poindexter) (NS 71) born in Jacksonville, Texas, 1902 (died 1984)
Bobby Austin born in Wenatchee, Washington, 1933 (died 2002)
Joe L. Frank (CM 67) died in Chicago, Illinois (complications of throat infection), 1952 (was 52)
Leo Jackson died in Nashville, Tennessee (suicide [gunshot]), 2008 (was 73)

May 5:

Ace Cannon born in Grenada, Mississippi, 1934 (now 82)
Roni Stoneman born in Washington, DC, 1938 (now 78)

Glen Duncan of Lonesome Standard Time born in Columbus, Indiana, 1955 (now 61)
J.D. Miller born in Iota, Louisiana, 1922 (died 1996)
Tammy Wynette (CM 98, NS 09) born in Itawamba County, Mississippi, 1942 (died 1998)

Wayne Carson (NS 97) born in Denver, Colorado, 1942 (died 2015)
Jerry Wallace died in Corona, California (congestive heart failure), 2008 (was 79)

May 6:

Jimmie Dale Gilmore born in Austin, Texas, 1945 (now 71)
Cliff Carlisle born in Taylorsville, Kentucky, 1904 (died 1983)

Otis Blackwell (NS 86) died in Nashville, Tennessee (heart attack), 2002 (was 71)
George "Goober" Lindsey died in Nashville, Tennessee (brief illness), 2012 (was 83)
Dottie Dillard of the Anita Kerr Singers died in Springfield, Missouri (natural causes), 2015 (was 91)

May 7:

Jerry Chesnut (NS 96) born in Loyall, Kentucky, 1931 (now 85)

Lorie Collins of the Collins Kids born in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, 1942 (now 74)
Riley Puckett born in Alpharetta, Georgia, 1894 (died 1946)
Horace "Aytchie" Burns born in Cisco, Georgia, 1918 (died 1974). Aytchie, the older brother of Jethro Burns, was a performer at the WNOX Midday Merry-Go-Round and the Renfro Valley Barn Dance. While in the Army he was also the platoon sergeant of Roger Miller.
Eddie Rabbitt (NS 98) died in Nashville, Tennessee (lung cancer), 1998 (was 56)

May 8:

Jack Blanchard born in Buffalo, New York, 1942 (now 74)
Del Anthony Gray of Little Texas born in Hamilton, Ohio, 1968 (now 48)
Jimmie Tarlton of Darby & Tarlton born in Cheraw, South Carolina, 1892 (died 1979)

Homer Bailes of the Bailes Brothers born in Kanawha County, West Virginia, 1922 (died 2013)
Benny Martin (BG 05) born in Sparta, Tennessee, 1928 (died 2001)
Rick Nelson born in Teaneck, New Jersey, 1940 (died 1985)
Leon Huff of the Light Crust Doughboys died (unknown cause), 1952 (was 39)
George D. Hay (CM 66) died in Virginia Beach, Virginia (unknown cause), 1968 (was 72)
Eddy Arnold (CM 66, GLA 05) died in Brentwood, Tennessee (complications from a fall), 2008 (was 89)

Charles "Everett" Lilly (BG 02) died in Clear Creek, West Virginia (aneurysm/heart attack), 2012 (was 87)

May 9:

Richie Furay of Poco born in Yellow Springs, Ohio, 1944 (now 72)
Bobby Lewis born in Hodgenville, Kentucky, 1946 (now 70)
Fuzzy Knight born in Fairmont, West Virginia, 1901 (died 1976). The actor appeared in several films as Tex Ritter's sidekick.
Hank Snow (CM 79, NS 78) born in Brooklyn, Nova Scotia, 1914 (died 1999)
Nudie Cohn died in Hollywood, California (unknown cause), 1984 (was 81)
Keith Whitley died in Nashville, Tennessee (alcohol poisoning), 1989 (was 33)

Johnny Gimble died in Dripping Springs, Texas (complications of a stroke), 2015 (was 88)
Jimmie Davis elected governor of Louisiana, 1944

May 10:

Carl T. Sprague born in Houston, Texas, 1895 (died 1979)
Mother Maybelle Carter (CM 70, BG 01, GLA 05) born in Nicklesville, Virginia, 1909 (died 1979)
Shel Silverstein (NS 02) died in Key West, Florida (heat attack), 1999 (was 68)

May 11:

Bobby Black (StG 04) born in Prescott, Arizona, 1934 (now 82)

Mark Herndon of Alabama (CM 05) born in Springfield, Massachusetts, 1955 (now 61)
Bob Atcher born in West Point, Kentucky, 1914 (died 1993)
Dick Overbey (StG 10) born in Detroit, Michigan, 1942 (died 2014)
Glen Sherley died in Salinas, California (suicide [gunshot]), 1978 (was 42)
Lester Flatt (CM 85, BG 91, NS 07) died in Nashville, Tennessee (heart failure), 1979 (was 64)
Dottie Rambo (SG 97, NS 07) died in Mt. Vernon, Missouri (bus crash), 2008 (was 74)

May 12:

Kix Brooks born in Shreveport, Louisiana, 1955 (now 61)
The Duke of Paducah, Benjamin "Whitey" Ford, (CM 86) born in DeSoto, Missouri, 1901 (died 1986)
Joe Maphis born in Suffolk, Virginia, 1921 (died 1986)
Leroy Pullins born in Berea, Kentucky, 1940 (died 1984)

W. Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel died in Dallas, Texas (unknown cause), 1969 (was 79)

May 13:

Ray Kennedy born in Buffalo, New York, 1954 (now 61)
Lari White born in Dunedin, Florida, 1965 (now 50)
Jack Anglin born in Columbia, Tennesee, 1916 (died 1963)

Johnnie Wright born in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, 1914 (died 2011)
Gid Tanner died in Dacula, Georgia (unknown cause), 1960 (was 74)
Bob Wills (CM 68, NS 70, GLA 07) died Fort Worth, Texas (pneumonia/complications of stroke), 1975 (was 70)

May 14:

Jimmy Martin (BG 95) died in Nashville, Tennessee (bladder cancer), 2005 (was 77)

May 15:

K.T. Oslin born in Crossett, Arkansas, 1941 (now 74)
Eddy Arnold (CM 66, GLA 05) born in Henderson, Tennessee, 1918 (died 2008)
June Carter Cash died in Nashville, Tennessee (complications from open heart surgery), 2003 (was 73)

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Dates of Note in Country Music, April 16-30

Category: News

(Hall of Fame members in bold on birth/death date, followed by hall[s] of fame in which they are enshrined and the year[s] enshrined.  CM=Country Music; BG=Bluegrass; NS=Nashville Songwriter; SG=Southern Gospel; StG=Steel Guitar; LAG=Lifetime Achievement Grammy; RR=country act also inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame)

April 16:

Dusty Springfield born in London, England, 1939 (died 1999). The legendary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer hit the country charts in 1962 as part of the Springfields with "Silver Threads and Golden Needles."

April 17:

Craig Anderson of Heartland born in Huntsville, Alabama, 1973 (now 43)
Eddie Cochran died in Bath, England (injuries from an April 16 car wreck), 1960k (was 21). The rockabilly pioneer co-wrote "Summertime Blues," which Alan Jackson covered in country.
Dorsey Dixon died in Plant City, Florida (heart attack), 1968 (was 70)
Hank Penny died in Camarillo, California (heart failure), 1992 (was 73)
Linda McCartney died in Tuscon, Arizona (breast cancer), 1998 (was 56). Linda and husband Sir Paul McCartney's band, Wings, hit the country charts in 1974 with "Sally G."
Glenn Sutton (NS 99) died in Nashville, Tennessee (heart attack), 2007 (was 69)

April 18:

Walt Richmond of the Tractors born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1947 (now 69)
Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown born in Vinton, Louisiana, 1924 (died 2005)
Curtis Potter born in Cross Plains, Texas, 1940 (died 2016)
Your blogger born in Louisville, Kentucky, 19(??!) (now in need of a wheelchair and a fan and a bottle of Serutan)
Milton Brown died in Fort Worth, Texas (pneumonia resulting from injuries in an April 13 car wreck), 1936 (was 32)

April 19:

Jody Carver (StG 04) born in Brooklyn, New York, 1929 (now 86)
Bill Rice (NS 94) born in Datto, Arkansas, 1939 (now 77)
Gary Brewer born in Louisville, Kentucky, 1965 (now 51)
Bobby Russell (NS 94) born in Nashville, Tennessee, 1941 (died 1992)
Earl Bolick of the Blue Sky Boys died in Tucker, Georgia (unknown cause), 1998 (was 78)
Levon Helm died in New York, NY (throat cancer), 2012 (was 71)
The "National Barn Dance" debuted on WLS, Chicago, 1924

April 20:

Johnny Tillitson born in Jacksonville, Florida, 1939 (now 77)
Doyle Lawson (BG 12) born in Ford Town, Tennessee, 1944 (now 72)
Wade Hayes born in Bethel Acres, Oklahoma, 1969 (now 47)
Frank "Hylo" Brown born in River, Kentucky, 1922 (died 2003)
Benny Hill found dead in his London flat (coronary thrombosis), 1992 (was 68). The British comedian's Benny Hill Show featured Boots Randolph's "Yakety Sax" as its theme song.

April 21:

Wade Mainer born in Buncombe, North Carolina, 1907 (died 2011)
Ira Louvin (CM 01, NS 79) born in Section, Alabama, 1924 (died 1965)
Carl Belew born in Salina, Oklahoma, 1931 (died 1990)
Paul Davis (NS 10) born in Meridian, Mississippi, 1948 (died 2008)
Neal Matthews Jr. (CM 01) died in Nashville, Tennessee (heart attack), 2000 (was 70)

April 22:

Glen Campbell (CM 05, LAG 12) born in Delight, Arkansas, 1936 (now 80)
Pat Enright of the Nashville Bluegrass Band born in Huntington, Indiana, 1945 (now 71)
Cleve Francis born in Jennings, Louisiana, 1945 (now 71)
Larry Groce born in Dallas, Texas, 1948 (now 68). The Mountain Stage host had one charted record, 1977's "Junk Food Junkie," which was a minor country hit.
Reuben Gosfield of Asleep at the Wheel born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1951 (now 65)
Heath Wright of Ricochet born in Vian, Oklahoma, 1967 (now 47)
Ray Griff born in Vancouver, British Columbia, 1940 (died 2016)
Steve Sholes (CM 67) died in Nashville, Tennessee (heart attack), 1968 (was 57)
Felice Bryant (CM 91, NS 72) died in Nashville, Tennessee (cancer), 2003 (was 77)
Paul Davis (NS 10) died in Meridian, Mississippi (heart attack), 2008 (was 60)
Richard Nixon died in New York, New York (stroke), 1994 (was 81). The former president's political troubles were chronicled in Tom T. Hall's song "Watergate Blues." Nixon also appeared on the Grand Ole Opry during its first night at the Opry House in 1974.
Hazel Dickens died in Washington, DC (pneumonia), 2011 (was 75)

April 23:

Roland White of the Nashville Bluegrass Band born in Madawaska, Maine, 1938 (now 78)
Roy Orbison (NS 87, LAG 98) born in Vernon, Texas, 1936 (died 1988)
Kent Robbins (NS 98) born in Mayfield, Kentucky, 1947 (died 1997)

April 24:

Shirley Boone born in Chicago, Illinois, 1934 (now 82). Pat Boone's wife is also the daughter of Red Foley.
Rebecca Lynn Howard born in Salyersville, Kentucky, 1979 (now 37)
Harry McClintock died in San Francisco, California (unknown cause), 1957 (was 74). His greatest success would come decades after his death when his recording of "Big Rock Candy Mountain" began the film O Brother, Where Art Thou.
Bobby Garrett (StG 95) died in Tyler, Texas (cancer), 1999 (was 64)
Bonnie Owens died in Bakersfield, California (Alzheimer's disease), 2006 (was 73)

April 25:

Larry Robbins of the Johnson Mountain Boys born in Dickerson, Maryland, 1945 (now 71)
Karl Farr (CM 80) born in Rochelle, Texas, 1909 (died 1961)
Cliff Bruner born in Texas City, Texas, 1915 (died 2000)
Vassar Clements born in Kinard, South Carolina, 1928 (died 2005)
O.B. McClinton born in Senatobia, Mississippi, 1940 (died 1987)
The musical Big River opened on Broadway, 1985. It won a "Best Musical" Tony for songwriter Roger Miller, making him, to date, the only country performer to ever win a Tony Award.

April 26:

Johnny Mosby born in Fort Smith, Arkansas, 1933 (now 83)
Duane Eddy born in Corning, New York, 1938 (now 78)
Fiddlin' Doc Roberts born in Richmond, Kentucky, 1897 (died 1978)
Cecil Null born in East War, West Virginia, 1927 (died 2001)
Tim Spencer (CM 80) died in Apple Valley, California (long illness), 1974 (was 65)
Wesley Rose (CM 86) died in Nashville, Tennessee (unknown cause), 1990 (was 72)
George Jones (CM 92, LAG 12) died in Nashville, Tennessee (respiratory failure), 2013 (was 81)

April 27:

Maxine Brown of the Browns (CM 15) born in Campti, Louisiana, 1931 (now 85)
Herb Pedersen of the Dillards and Desert Rose Band born in Berkley, California, 1944 (now 72)
Sydney Nathan (BG 06; RR 97) born in Cincinnati, Ohio, 1904 (died 1968)
Jimmie Skinner born in Blue Lick, Kentucky, 1909 (died 1979)

April 28:

Dale Potter born in Puxico, Missouri, 1929 (died 1996)
Tommy Caldwell of the Marshall Tucker Band died in Spartanburg, South Carolina (injuries from an April 21 car wreck), 1980 (was 30)
Ken Curtis died in Clovis, California (heart attack), 1991 (was 74). The Gunsmoke star was also a one-time member of the Sons of the Pioneers.

April 29:

Billy Mize born in Arkansas City, Kansas, 1929 (now 87)
Duane Allen of the Oak Ridge Boys (CM 15) born in Taylortown, Texas, 1943 (now 73)
Wayne Secrest of Confederate Railroad born in Alton, Illinois, 1950 (now 66)
Karen Brooks born in Dallas, Texas, 1954 (now 62)
Eddie Noack born in Houston, Texas, 1930 (died 1978)
Vern Gosdin died in Nashville, Tennessee (stroke), 2009 (was 74)
Kenny Roberts died in Alton, Massachusetts (natural causes), 2012 (was 85)

April 30:

Fuzzy Owen born in Conway, Arkansas, 1929 (now 87)
Willie Nelson (CM 93, NS 73, LAG 00) born in Abbott, Texas, 1933 (now 83)
Darrell McCall born in New Jasper, Ohio, 1940 (now 76)
Johnny Farina (StG 02) born in Brooklyn, New York, 1941 (now 75)
Robert Earl Reynolds of the Mavericks born in Kansas City, Missouri, 1962 (now 54)
Johnny Horton born in Los Angeles, California, 1930 (died 1960)
Curly Chalker (StG 85) died in Hendersonville, Tennessee (brain cancer), 1998 (was 66)
WLS airs the final broadcast of the National Barn Dance, 1960, after 36 years on the air.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Sing Me Back Home Before I Die

Category:  News/Obituary

Merle Haggard has died.

The legendary "Poet of the Common Man," lovingly referred to as "Hag," died this morning on his 79th birthday.  He had suffered numerous bouts of double pneumonia over the past four months, forcing him to cancel shows.  In February he confessed to Rolling Stone that the December illness "nearly killed me."

Born in California, Haggard's youth was one of trouble.  His songs about prison life were written from personal experience:  he was incarcerated at San Quentin.  In 1959 Johnny Cash did a concert at the prison, with Haggard in the audience.  The show changed Haggard's outlook, and he started focusing on music.

He burst on to the scene in the mid-60s, doing songs by Liz Anderson ("[All My Friends Are Going to Be] Strangers," the song that gave his backing band its name) and Tommy Collins (to whom Haggard paid his thanks in the song "Leonard") as well as his own songs.  His themes of the down-on-their-luck or hardworking, blue-collar individuals ("I Take a Lot of Pride in What I Am," "Working Man Blues") earned him the nickname "The Poet of the Common Man."  His pro-American stand in songs like "Okie From Muskogee" and "The Fightin' Side of Me" endeared him to countless Americans who appreciated his "opposing view" to the anti-Vietnam, anti-government protests of the late 60s.

Haggard's career never waned.  Last year, despite the fact that he was deemed "too old" to be "relevant" in country music, he had a #1 album with his duet collaboration with Willie Nelson, Django and Jimmie

One of his finest songs was "Sing Me Back Home," a song about a death row inmate ready to be executed.  That song's chorus echoes how we all feel with the loss of this mighty country legend:

Let him sing me back home with a song I used to hear
Make my old memories come alive
Take me away, and turn back the years
Sing me back home before I die.

Thank you, Hag.  Rest in peace.

Monday, April 04, 2016

What Now, Country Radio?

Category:  Opinion

Back in February 2015 Sony Nashville CEO Gary Overton told the Tennessean, ahead of a convention for country radio programmers, consultants, and executives, "If you're not on country radio, you don't exist."  The comments caused a tremendous backlash from acts who are not on country radio (e.g., Charlie Robison, Aaron Watson [who, ironically, had the #1 single the week this happened, despite not getting airplay!]).  A month later, Overton was out of a job (technically "stepping down" after "mutual agreement" with Sony officials) -- not so much because of what he said as the fact that he let a closely-guarded industry secret (that being commercial mainstream music [not just country music] is tightly controlled and manipulated to the point where the songs are successful and what songs are not are pre-determined) out.  (I encourage you to read the Saving Country Music blog about this fiasco.  It's worth your time, and you'll get a good laugh out of it.)

In the succeeding 14 months Overton's comments took a serious beating in the world of reality.  Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard scored a #1 album with Django and Jimmie, despite no airplay.  Don Henley's Cass County went to #1 despite no airplay.  Joey + Rory's Hymns That We Love went to #1 despite no airplay.  And, two weeks ago, nearly 84-year-old Loretta Lynn's Full Circle debuted on the album chart at #4...again, despite no airplay.

The biggest monkey wrench in this notion that "no country radio = no success" is named Chris Stapleton.  At the Ain't Country Music Academy of Country Music (ACM) awards last night (4/3) Stapleton swept the categories he was nominated in, the second time he's done that in country music awards in the past five months (he also was three-for-three in the CMAs in November).  In addition to that, he won two Grammys in February, including "Best Country Album" for Traveller.  

And he did it all WITHOUT RADIO.  

He can't be played on country radio.  While he's not exactly traditional country, he's certainly more country (and less "sex on the tool box at the tailgate party" bro-country) than anything that's come along in recent years.  You can't play Buck Owens after Led Zeppelin then tell people they're the same genre.  (He also doesn't fit the "hunk" stereotype, and, at nearly 38 [his birthday is next week], he's "too old" for the "young and good-looking" mentality they've been hyping for over two decades.)

Stapleton is now the hottest property in country music.  That's leaving country radio programmers in a bind.  They can't play something they didn't pick to click, or something that's closer to George Strait than Dire Straits, because it's going to stick out, and people are going to start asking questions ("what kind of music is that?  That's not 'country music' you've been spoon feeding us for the last 25 years!").  Yet, he's so successful that they have to play him.

What now, country radio programmers?  Do you finally listen to Dale Watson's plea from 20 years ago ("Mr. DJ, would you please play a real country song?"), or do you keep hyping the Sam Hunt and hope nobody will notice that you're ignoring Stapleton?  Or, do you just continue to ignore your two-year downward trend in ratings while Stapleton's album goes platinum (remember that the past two years have given us one platinum album per year -- both by pop women [Taylor Swift and Adele]) and people discover him and others (such as another success-without-radio story, Kacey Musgraves) without your help?

Friday, April 01, 2016

Country's Finest Novelist

Category:  Album Review 

Upland Stories, the spectacular new album by Robbie Fulks, isn't likely to become southern Chamber of Commerce fodder.  It is a collection of beautifully detailed novels songs set mostly in the South, painting brutally real pictures of social and personal life.  The album contains some of Fulks' best songwriting ever, and that is saying something about this man who stands alone as country music's finest novelist-posing-as-a-songwriter.

Robbie Fulks' brilliant new collection of musical novels,
Upland Stories.  Courtesy of Bloodshot Records.

"Alabama At Night," based on James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, an honest look at the toll the Depression took on people in the South, opens the album.  Sadly, it's hard to tell if this is just a musical summary of Agee's 1941 book or observations from last month.  When the Louvin Brothers paid homage to their home state in the song "Alabama" they sang of "your beautiful highways are carved through the mountains where loved ones do wait...and the 'welcome home' sign hanging over the gate."  The picture Fulks paints is far from the postcard that Ira and Charlie depicted.  "Poor's no sacred song," Fulks sings with quiet anger, "poor is a disease."

The first "story" in the album moves from the general feel of the south to the familial one.  "Baby Rocked Her Dolly," a Merle Kilgore composition that was a top 15 hit for Frankie Miller in 1960, is a perfect set-up for the following song on the album.  (In fact, the tracking on Upland Stories seems to deliberately situate the songs in an order where they feed on one another, turning songs into scenes in a minutely-detailed mini-movie.)  An old man in a nursing home remembers the good times of home ("My sister did the dance and brother beat the drum and baby rocked her dolly") and his late wife ("that wife of mine, God rest her soul, she's gone on before me, I bet she's told the Lord about all the times our house was filled with folly").

Similar memories of home is probably what drove the cancer-stricken protagonist of "Never Come Home" to return home ("not that the old place was the answer, just one last thing that I could try"), only to quickly realize it was a terrible mistake ("I was welcomed like a guilty prisoner, old grievances fouled the air").  The narrator has to deal with family members who, like the strangers of "Alabama At Night," are staring instead of showing any interest.  As he dies the last things he hears are not the comforting words of his family but the drunken backbiting ("black vultures gathering at my tomb") who "will bury me with all speed" without any emotion.

Unquestionably the highlight of the album is Needed."  The tune is a deeply autobiographical song where Fulks gives fatherly advice to his 18-year-old son (who left for college last year).  This song is breathtaking.  It is rare for a songwriter to boldly lay his soul naked to the world as Fulks does in this song, detailing the nonchalance of a young man more interested in his own carefree life than a girlfriend's pregnancy, then later realizing the joys of "commitment" to marriage and parenting and the accompanying maturity it brings ("when you were born is when I became a man").  "Needed" will hit you between the eyes, knock you off your feet, and not let you back up until you've shed a tear or 20.  After you've recovered from the emotional wringer this song puts you through you'll go back for more.

"America is a Hard Religion" harkens back to Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, which looked long and hard at tenant farming in the South during the Great Depression ("you plant a seed in rocky soil and perhaps to die").  This is the only song on the album where Fulks lets loose vocally, sounding almost like a preacher extolling the societal sins of the nation.  He's quieter on the third song about Agee, "Miracle," which even references the Brothers of the Holy Cross, a Catholic order that ran one of the boarding schools Agee attended as a child.

Another microcosm of the same theme, "South Bend Soldiers On," is the only song not explicitly set in the South, but rather in "this Midwest that I love" (although the chorus of "keep your burdens from your neighbor and leave a good name when you're gone" is stereotypical southern philosophy).  It's also another song about the departure of a grown son from the nest.

The close of the novel album is "Fare Thee Well, Carolina Gals."  The song, Fulks has said in concert before performing it, was inspired partly by attending his high school reunion ("bad mistake," he quipped once).  The song is primarily about teenage years spent in North Carolina, where the protagonist was "a medium to poor boyfriend and pretty good house painter" while in search of his first sexual experience.  Near the end he's finished his flashback and is in the present, contemplating buying a Cadillac with the money he'll make when "I cash in the farm after mama dies" and "just ride till the Pacific meets the bumper."  He concludes this trip through his past -- and through the entire trip through the "upper South" -- admitting he's not bitter.  "Chapel Hill hasn't done me wrong.  It was fine until it wasn't."

Near the end of the fun romp "Katy Kay" Fulks makes an interesting guitar run that causes him laugh as he delivers the lyrics.  Instead of going back into the studio to "correct" it, he left it on the album.  That's a great indication that everything on this album is real:  the gritty, frequently depressing truths in life depicted in the lyrics; and, most significantly, the talent.