“Now the dark air is like fire on my skin, and even the moonlight is blinding.”
As far as country and americana goes, I’ve always preferred songs from the darker side of the road. Songs that carry with them some of the ancient sinisterness rippling below the surface of the American South’s expansive landscapes or the isolation of its satellite settlements.
This mix was part inspired after reading my way through Southern Gothic writer Flannery O’Connor’s short stories for an article I wrote commemorating her death fifty years on. Despite an early death, O’Connor’s output was formidable and her vivid, sardonic stories brought to life the conflicted and shifting American South of the mid-twentieth century. In a lecture on the grotesque she said, “I think it’s quite safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ haunted”. It’s this feeling of spiritual malaise that permeated the straggled communities and primeval swamplands of Louisiana in Nic Pizzollato’s HBO series True Detective, the other inspiration for this mix, and which I tried to recreate here.
So if, like me, you like your americana with a tinge of gothic desolation, this is for you. Plug in and enjoy.
Tracklist: 1. ‘Drover’ – Bill Callahan – Apocalypse 2. ‘To Bring You My Love’ – PJ Harvey – To Bring You My Love 3. ‘Meet Me In The Alleyway’ – Steve Earle – I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive 4. ‘Redemption Day’ – Johnny Cash – American VI: Ain’t No Grave 5. ‘Rake [Live]’ – Townes Van Zandt – A Gentle Evening With Townes Van Zandt 6. ‘The Way It Will Be’ – Gillian Welch – The Harrow And The Harvest 7. ‘Youngstown’ – Bruce Springsteen – The Ghost Of Tom Joad 8. ‘The Singer’ – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Kicking Against The Pricks 9. ‘Cold Irons Bound’ – Bob Dylan – Time Out Of Mind 10. ‘Algiers’ – The Afghan Whigs – Do To The Beast 11. ‘Fallen Peaches’ – The Handsome Family – Singing Bones 12. ‘Wings’ – Josh Ritter – Hello Starling 13. ‘Satellite’ – Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions – Through The Devil Softly 14. ‘Everything’s Fucked’ – Dirty Three – Dirty Three
Let me know what you thought of this mixtape, or post any mixes of your own, in the comments below. I’d love to hear them.
There are good covers, and there are bad covers. These are some I think belong in the former category.
Josh Ritter – ‘The River’ (Originally by Bruce Springsteen) Simply one of the best songs ever written, this rendition was one of the first tracks that turned me onto Josh Ritter and marked him out as one to watch. Capturing the broken and forlorn spirit of the song, Ritter’s plaintive cries send a shiver up the spine. I saw him perform this at his show at the Paradiso in Amsterdam last year and it was spellbinding, where time seemed to stand still for the briefest of moments.
Jeff Buckley – ‘If You See Her Say Hello’ (Originally by Bob Dylan) Found on the extensive and unparalleled Live At Siné, this recording sees Jeff Buckley in his element performing in his café stomping grounds before the release of Grace. Buckley covered many of Dylan’s songs, seeing him as a songwriting muse in some respects, but as ever he left his indelible mark on this slide-driven version of the Blood On The Tracks highlight. He didn’t just play songs, he inhabited them, and the emotional intensity of this song (and many others) remains an indisputable testament to his effulgent talent.
Julia Holter – ‘Hello Stranger’ (Originally by Barbara Lewis) Virtually unrecognisable from the original, Julia Holter definitively updated the R&B hit on last year’s Loud City Song, taking the fifty years since it’s release in one giant leap. Stripped of the “shoo-bop-she-bop” vocals and jaunty organ, ‘Hello Stranger’ drifts amongst textural soundscapes and Holter’s reverberating vocals, becomeing less a chance meeting in the street and more of an intense channeling, like meeting someone from across the years in a dream.
“On a train through the Midwest, I was trying to get reborn”
While Mutual Benefit, the chosen stage moniker of Jordan Lee, may not be a particularly rock n’ roll name, his recent full-length debut Love’s Crushing Diamond is far more appropriately named. Glimmering and beguiling with an apparent simplicity that belies its complexity, Lee’s music is a reverie inducing blend of Americana with percussive and melodic influences from world music. Think Abigail Washburn with a proclivity for prolonged daydreaming. After self-releasing a number of EP’s and mini-albums with varying lineups on his Kasette Klub label (all available digitally over at his Bandcamp), Lee signed with fledgling record co. Other Music to release the Love’s Crushing Diamond LP and has resulted in a steadily growing universal wave of following and recognition since it landed.
Lee’s musical pursuits have lead him from his Columbus, Ohio hometown through to Austin, Boston and New York, and this wanderlust comes through in the meandering character of his music, especially on ‘”Let’s Play” / Statue Of A Man’. It does not come at you head on so much as it sprawls out in all directions, gradually unfolding into an indelibly complete soundscape of disparate elements weaved together. While Mutual Benefit is ostensibly a musical unit with Lee as the only constant and a revolving door personnel policy that allows for limitless collaboration (and LCD’s long personnel list suggests a lot of collaboration), the balanced and singular sound that is carved from these sounds, melodies and cacophonies shows that Lee has a steady auteuring hand. But really, at its core this is grand, dreamy pop indebted to the joyful potential of making music. Mutual Benefit may not immediately grab your attention, but if you give the music your attention you will slip into it and never wish to resurface.
Love’s Crushing Diamond is available now through Other Music/Fat Possum.