Box Full of Letters from Issue #14
Yoakam if you got ’em
Now that the most laughable, campy, unlistenable country album of the year has been nominated for a Grammy, it’s time to do what I should have done two months ago: Write a letter in defense of David Cantwell’s original review of Dwight Yoakam’s Under The Covers. First there was a ridiculous letter from Jana Pendragon thanking Dwight for “taking the time and care to harken back to many of the songs that helped to form the musical personalities of an entire generation.” Then Mike McAfee wrote that Pendragon’s comments were valid… “until her last paragraph.”
I love country music. My friends love country music. Not the crap that is on the radio, but the old stuff and the new No Depression stuff. I brought Dwight’s record home the day it came out, popped the top on a couple of beers, and my wife and I settled in for a listen. We were shocked, and laughing, by the fourth song, and utterly devastated by the end of the CD. I thought it was a joke. The Madonna inspired booklet graphics, the arrangements, the song selection. But why would Dwight want to play a joke on me, a loyal fan, and rip me off for fourteen bucks? Who was the joke on? None of it made any sense. Why didn’t someone stop this ridiculous project before its release? Did Dwight and Pete Anderson go mad?
I got my money’s worth, though. I played Under The Covers for every person who came to my house, for weeks. It was so bad it was funny. We all laughed, and no one disagreed that “Tired Of Waiting” was an abomination, something to be added to the next version of Rhino Records’ Golden Throats Of Rodeo Drive whereby Carol Channing and Telly Savalas and a host of other Hollywood celebrities take their turns on country classics. It’s a comedy country album. “Baby Don’t Go” received nearly as much disdain, but so many songs on Under The Covers are so bad…it is perverse. I am temporarily scared away from anything produced by Pete Anderson, who I previously admired (I almost bought the Blazers’ new album, but I hesitated).
I sent Cantwell’s review to friends in Tucson, and showed it around constantly in Minneapolis. Although I disagree on Cantwell’s assessments of another recent Yoakam album (I thought Dwight Live was great), he was dead-on with his review of Under The Covers. Now, not only has Cantwell been taken to the woodshed by two separate readers, but the piece of crap at the center of the controversy has been nominated for a Grammy. Unbelievable. The Derailers, Son Volt, Robbie Fulks and so many others all get passed over for Under The Covers. The worst country album of the year — at least the worst by someone capable of doing great work — just won’t go away and die a quiet death.
Goldman and Hill:
Who you callin’ commie?
Your review of Steve Earle’s album El Corazon in the Nov.-Dec. ’97 issue mistakenly referred to Emma Goldman and Joe Hill as communists! Old Emma and Joe would be stirring from their graves to the nearest soapbox. Emma Goldman was an anarchist who was extremely critical of Bolshevik-style communism. Joe Hill could more properly be called a syndicalist. He was the famous songwriter of the Industrial Workers of the World labor union, or “Wobblies” (which still exists, by the way). Not all radicals are communists in the totalitarian police state sense. There is some complexity and variation. And unlike the tone of the review, the dream of a libertarian socialism is still alive.
Credit check #1:
Your recent article on Victoria Williams was introduced with a quotation from a song titled “Nature Boy”, and appeared to be giving Ms. Williams credit for having written it. In fact, the song was written by Eden Ahbez, and was released by Nat King Cole in March 1948. This song was the one which marked Cole’s transition from respected jazz trio leader to international pop singing sensation. Natalie Cole’s Unforgettable CD includes a lovely version of the song, and a brief history is contained in the liner notes.
Thank you for your attention to this, and thank you for a very enjoyable magazine.
Credit check #2:
“He’s A Mighty Good Leader”
I just wanted to point out that Neal Weiss wrote in his review of a Beck concert in your Jan.-Feb. ’98 issue that Beck himself wrote the song “He’s A Mighty Good Leader”. Actually, it is a song by Skip James, the Mississippi Delta bluesman, who recorded it in 1930 under the title “Jesus Is A Mighty Good Leader”. I had always wished that Beck would have credited James for writing that song on his One Foot In The Grave record on K.
Hey, I dig your magazine.
Not shiny enough armor?
It was with great anticipation that I read Grant Alden’s article on Chris Knight (ND #13, Jan.-Feb. ’98). You see, I had already heard the album (about 150 times), and when I learned that No Depression would be devoting an entire article to Chris Knight, I just assumed that whoever wrote the article would be as excited about Chris Knight as I had become and would use his or her power to spread the word about this incredible new talent. I believe Alden’s lukewarm evaluation of Knight’s new album unintentionally achieved just the opposite.
It is clear that Alden was captivated by Knight as an artist. But for his readers to truly share this excitement, they will need to hear Knight for themselves, i.e., by going out and buying his new CD. Incredibly, Alden does not encourage his readers to do so. Instead, the primary focus of his article is Alden’s contention that Knight has better material that did not make it onto the album. Even if this is so, Alden neglects to assure his readers that this album is still an outstanding piece of work and is worth purchasing.
Is Alden oblivious to the fact that many of his readers look to him for just such advice? If Alden meant to convey an overall positive review of the album, he was unclear about doing so. To the extent Alden’s article has the effect of discouraging some of his readers from going out and buying Knight’s new album, they will miss out, because Knight’s new album is outstanding, regardless of Alden’s contention that it could have been better.
To keep all this in perspective, I must commend No Depression for devoting a feature-length article on a guy like Chris Knight — someone who doesn’t fit neatly within the current boundaries of country music — and for creating a forum to expose this type of music. Keep up the good work.
Thanks a lot
As a new subscriber to No Depression, I have no complaints or suggestions. However, I wish to express my sincere thanks to the co-founders of the magazine. This magazine is truly amazing! As a big fan of “Americana music,” I look forward to immersing myself into each and every issue of the magazine in the coming new year. I’ll be burning a hole in my pocketbook but I will be rewarded with an incredible music library. I just hope my wife does not kill me first (ha ha, she actually loves the music but likes for me to spend my money smartly).
Santa Barbara, California