Box Full of Letters from Issue #15
I want to say first and foremost that I am an Alejandro Escovedo fan. I think also I could consider myself a friend of the man. I was fan of the True Believers before I was fan of the Al the solo artist. In fact, I gave Al one of his first gigs as a solo artist outside the city of Austin at Dave’s Art Pawn Shop in Dallas, a stunning gig with Al being backed only by J.D. Foster on bass. I had him play on my radio show on KNON at least three times. I think that the latest Bloodshot record is perhaps his best work, post-Believers. It strips away the layers of the previous works and gets to the heart of the matter, some of the most beautiful songs in the world.
I want it known that I am a fan and a friend, but I also think that someone ought to offer a little reality check for the last issue. What were you guys thinking? You’ve belittled some of the most important artists and works of the decade. A short list off the top of my head shows Dwight Yoakam, Neil Young, Alison Krauss, Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris and Townes Van Zandt all as other contenders for this spot, and the damn decade isn’t even over for almost two years. How much backpedaling will you be able to do should any of the above (excepting Townes, God bless him) put together a couple more records that burn a fire in the soul of this decade? What if there was a reunion album by Uncle Tupelo that caused Anodyne to pale in comparison?
I am almost certain that part of this “Artist of the Decade” business was to invite a flurry of letters and opinions. It probably worked; you got my two cents worth, anyway. For what it’s worth, I hope Al does end up being the “Artist of the Decade,” but let’s let the fat lady sing before making any more rash pronouncements.
I just picked up the March-April ’98 issue and couldn’t agree with you more on your decision to embrace Alejandro Escovedo as the artist of the decade. What a gift this man is to all of us music fans who appreciate songs written from an artist’s heart and soul.
About a year ago a friend of mine booked Alejandro’s band Buick MacKane on a Monday night in Omaha. We did our best to get the one hundred and something people out to see the band, and they rocked the house down. As Alejandro blasted out those power chords, I couldn’t help but feel saddened by his lack of commercial success, but at the same time sensing what he said in Peter Blackstocks article — that as long as he connects with his audience and people want to hear his songs, that’s enough for him. Thank goodness for that.
Thank you No Depression for your article, and thank you Alejandro for your songs — they provide inspiration, comfort, and a connection to you that is greatly appreciated.
Old Town School:
Cheer up and play yer guitar
Four years ago, at the wizened age of 32, I decided it was high time I learned how to play the guitar. So I picked up a cheap-ass son-of-a-buck Alvarez, action too high, fingers bleeding and months of just trying to nail an A chord. I floundered for a couple of years reading books, trying to get even the most simple tunes down (“Yellow Submarine”, anyone?). I suffered a handful of big-haired Megadeth “musicians” by taking half-hour private lessons at various hole-in-the-wall music emporiums. Eventually I smashed that Alvarez against the wall under a potent cocktail of rage and despair mixed with my complete inability to conquer Mel Bay’s Grade 1 Guitar.
A year ago, clutching a brand new Epiphone SJ 200, I walked through the creaky doors of the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago and signed up. So reading Linda Ray’s piece about the school in No Depression #14 (March-April ’98) was almost as good as strumming down Hank Williams’ “Cold Cold Heart” or Johnny Cash’s “I Walk The Line” or any dozen Beatles songs. Since becoming a part of Old Town, I’ve learned over 50 songs, and have come to believe in the folkie-zen vibe that happens in the lobby before classes start — a mighty musical be-in that builds around you as you sip a cold Rolling Rock and tune up your guitar. Noise permeates, and it’s no surprise when a student runs scales on a Martin, another blows harp, and yet another runs funky fingers over a sitar. In Chicago, all the cool kids are strumming out at Old Town.
Homey, comfortable, old-timey, knocked-out loaded with great music, Old Town taught me more than a thing or two about six-string learning. The school opened my mind and gave me a chance to meditate on the mystery of life’s pentatonics.
North To Alaska:
The Arctic Cactus Hour
Until recently, opportunities to hear good, new music on Anchorage radio were slim. But with the addition of KNBA 90.3 to the airwaves, those of us in southcentral Alaska seeking alternatives to the same old stuff now have a venue. I recently began producing/hosting a weekly show called “The Arctic Cactus Hour” featuring the best of the pioneers and what’s new in alternative country (Saturday nights at 7 p.m.). My library of new discs is almost exclusively drawn from reviews and articles in No Depression. And each week before I go on the air, I turn to No Depression for background on the bands I am playing that week. I am damn glad you’re publishing. Thanks again.
The last word
I too thought the Dwight Yoakam album Under The Covers was feeble, but Mark Perron’s utter disdain for the release [Box Full Of Letters, ND #14, March-April ’98] seems to come from his wanting the record to be something it’s not. Mark’s letter uses the word “country” six times. Under The Covers is NOT a country record. The “graphics, arrangements, and song selection” to which he refers bear this out. The project is simply a misguided but forgivable excursion into Yoakam’s non-country partialities.
As for the Grammy nomination, we all know that’s politics and industry bullshit. The good news is that the folks at No Depression and other such kindred spirits are around to aid in our unending quest for music that is truly worthy. Keep the faith!
–Richard M. Kemp