Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Best Southern rock songs

I'm not a huge Southern rock fan, perhaps because I actually grew up there. I'll be happy if I never hear That Smell again, and I'm still wondering why .38 Special felt it needed two drummers.

But the genre has given us some great music, from Allman Brothers jams to songs belted out by a guy who tips the scale at about 250 pounds, 300 if you include the hair and the belt buckle.

Some of the highlights:

Flirtin' With Disaster, Molly Hatchet: The great underrated Southern rock epic, with the rhythm guitar laying down a heavy groove that backs away to let the drums take over between verses. Can't beat the vocal, a snarled tribute to pointless risk-taking complete with an impeccably timed whistle smack in the middle of the guitar solo.

Fire on the Mountain, Marshall Tucker Band: Southerners are supposed to be great storytellers. I'm not, which is why I envy this well-spun tale in which the chase of gold turns out to be a fools' pursuit. The slide guitar is evocative rather than irritating, and the understated vocal burns with the injustice of it all.

I'm Keeping Your Poop, Hayseed Dixie: I've listened a bit to XM's bluegrass channel, and I can't quite get into it. It's generally fun music until someone opens his mouth and starts singing. Too many bluegrass song titles are just permutations of the following words: hills, moon, Kentucky, grass, Mississippi, mountain, green, blue, Tennessee. And then there are the gospel songs with names like I'm Using My Bible As a Roadmap. (Seriously. And check out the freakish cover to Satan is Real, which poses all sorts of theological problems.) It's like going to a jazz club to hear Branford Marsalis, only to have him put down the sax and start ranting about an oversimplification of Buddhism or the sidewalk in his old neighborhood.

Fortunately, Hayseed Dixie realized and rectified the problem. For a good time with a bunch of guitars, banjos and fiddles, just sing a bunch of AC/DC, Kiss, Spinal Tap and J. Geils Band covers, then make sure one of only two originals in your first three albums includes the word "poop" in the title. They sing with all the sincerity of every other bluegrass artist you've heard, a deadpan performance worthy of the original Airplane cast.


Neel Mehta said...

Hey, is that Freedom Rock?

I grew up in the South as well, and I think the real storytellers gravitate toward country music, leaving the others to rock out meaninglessly.

The last good Southern song I heard was "Ol' Red" by Blake Shelton, a country song that's part Shawshank Redemption, part Lady and the Tramp.

bdure said...

Hadn't thought about it that way. I could see some storytellers going country, but my guess is that the sets of "good storytellers" and "top 10 country artists" don't intersect that much. If I were to dig around in the country aisle, I'd probably find some folks who tell good tales that aren't the usual "I love you because you put up with my hunting" or "America is the best country because we have guts, if you define 'guts' as military hardware" fare.

The only significant country artist on my iPod is Emmylou Harris, who does some fine storytelling on Red Dirt Girl.

Neel Mehta said...

Not incredibly familiar with Emmylou Harris, but I was under the impression she was folk.

I don't think good storytelling has anything to do with the top 10 of any genre. Though I appreciate your dig against top 10 stalwart Toby Keith.

bdure said...

Emmylou does straddle some genre lines. For Wrecking Ball, she worked with Daniel Lanois and turned out a CD with a bit more atmosphere than a typical country release. Red Dirt Girl, the titletrack of that CD, is more traditional, though the guitar still has some Lanois effects.

There are probably a few country singers meeting the "might makes patriotism" point of view, but yeah, Toby Keith sprang to mind.