Box Full of Letters from Issue #42
Pardon our French:
A more worldly perspective
Sorry, I’m a bit behind in my reading, but in the July-August issue [ND #40], in a review of the Houston International Festival, Brad Tyer made a remark that shocked me, saying that at the event, “…it was possible, with proper scheduling, to spend fifteen hours over two weekends without hearing hardly a peep of perhaps the only thing more reliably unappealing than the ever-present alligator-on-a-stick, which is, of course, French music.”
Now, I’ll grant you that French rock music can be, and often is, pretty sucky, but this is an ignorant, uncalled-for remark that reflects poorly on Mr. Tyer. Over the past decade, there has been a large French folk revival which has brought forth loads of interesting performers. The French hip-hop movement is really exciting, with fusions of African and Caribbean styles with rap, my personal favorites being Bisso Na Bisso from Paris via the Congo. France is also, thanks to Islamic fundamentalism, the home of rai, a pop music that shows that the Muslim world has its progressive elements and rocks pretty hard. Even French jazz musicians are learning how to play better.
I can’t imagine a reader of No Depression not liking the Corsican women’s a cappella group Donnisulana or the avant-garde hurdy-gurdy player Valentin Castrier, and I’d also bet they’d go for the gypsy/North African fusion Lo’Jo plays. True, a lot of this stuff isn’t available in the U.S., but that’s about the provincialism of the American radio and record business.
A critic shouldn’t be so provincial; it just reinforces stereotypes about ignorant Americans. It behooves a critic to be informed before dissing an entire country’s musical output. It also doesn’t hurt to have a certain catholicity of taste. Mr. Tyer owes your readers an apology. Otherwise I’ll lock him in a room with a stack of Magma and Gong CDs on repeat mode. That’s French music, too, and yes, it sucks.
— Ed Ward
Reaching across the ocean
In the second full paragraph of the Alan Lomax eulogy [ND #41, Sept.-Oct. 2002], the author refers to the Limey theft of American roots music. Now I’m about as native a Virginian as you’ll encounter and I love America, but around here we’ve heard that American roots music is descended from the British Isles. Is this now false?
Thanks for the magazine, I love it.
— Megan Huddleston
“True to the cinema verite tradition”
I take exception with Geoffrey Himes’ review of the Wilco documentary I Am Trying To Break Your Heart. Himes argued that director Sam Jones missed opportunities to capitalize on the dramatic tensions of the turbulent recording sessions. It troubles me to think that a filmmaker demonstrating subtlety and restraint by avoiding the obvious filmic conventions could find criticism from a magazine which lauds such steadied craftsmanship in musicians.
Himes suggests that during a specific climactic point, “a more astute filmmaker would have sharpened the scene by slowly moving in for a close-up.” That is the cinematic equivalent to finger-tapping the fretboard. I praise Jones’ ability to not let himself overshadow the intimate portrayal of human events with cheap technique. His film stood true to the cinema verite tradition from which it came. I would liken it to a case of Hank Williams and D.A. Pennebaker versus Tug McGraw’s boy and Michael Bay.
— Chris Weaver
Overland Park, Kansas
Bill Friskics-Warren should be commended for his exceptionally articulate review of Allison Moorer’s new CD Miss Fortune [ND #41, Sept.-Oct. 2002]. His analysis of the orchestration is particularly outstanding. However, I think that the awesome superiority of Allison Moorer’s singing should have been given much greater emphasis. Her depth of interpretation far exceeds that of any other living singer, or of any other singer since the late Billie Holiday. The sheer beauty of her voice is also unrivaled. All three of her CDs are the best there is. Anyone who loves country singing at its very best must hear her sing.
— Christian Blom
“Frustrated trust fund jockey”
No parking restrictions here, and I drive a huge rig — a ’93 Ford Econoline van, out of which I earn my living! Next time I want to read about a frustrated trust fund jockey-turned-honky-tonk heroine [Heather Myles feature, ND #41, Sept.-Oct. 2002], I’ll go to the local Barnes and Starbucks and scoff up the latest “Town and Country.”
I knew when I saw the pictures and the “London Calling” header that I didn’t really want to read about this woman, but after eating up the rest of the issue, it was all that was left. Puhlease — still has her “place in London” and just got a house on the Gulf Coast of Florida. And got into country music “suddenly” because she couldn’t stand riding the “lame horses” her brother was training any longer. She’s probably ’bout as close to honky-tonk as you can get. A “plebeian love” for chrissakes. I bet that sent Buck, Loretta, Rose and Merle to their dictionaries.
I’ve not heard this woman and won’t. This is not the kind of crap I buy No Depression for, so please just cut back by a few pages when you don’t have anything real to write about.
— Scott Murrie
Columbia, South Carolina
“Purple-shirt-wearing pretty boy”
“Pure Pop just for now,” por favor [Rhett Miller feature, ND #41, Sept.-Oct. 2002]. First, any self-respecting Old 97’s fan should be embarrassed to own a post Rhett Miller solo project Old 97’s record. Could you really take that band seriously now that Rhett has traded his horn rims for contacts and feathered hair? Second, the fans of No Depression (music or mag) seem to have a high threshold for tolerating crappy music, but I sure remember the Ryan Adams backlash in these pages. Now we have another alt.country flameout ditching his past to grease his way up to the “big leagues.” Can the Rhett Miller, Semisonic, Train tour be far behind?
We may still be foundering for a definition of No Depression, but I’m pretty sure it’s not an L.A.-living, model-wife-having, Elle magazine photo-shoot-taking, ruffled-purple-shirt-wearing pretty boy. If I’m wrong then I’ll expect a glorious appreciation of the Eagles in the next issue of this magazine.
It may be unfair to bag on the guy just because of his looks, so how about the music? I nearly puked when I heard that first single — especially when I heard him ape a line from the far superior Old 97’s material. (The line in question being “I should have never let it start,” also used in “Hands Off” on Hitchhike To Rhome.) Self-referential hack work, I tell you.
Maybe if you play The Instigator backwards you’ll find out that Murray and the rest of the 97’s buried the real Rhett Miller three feet deep in wet East Texas dirt. In the meantime, some A&R schlep with his job on the line got a lot of plastic surgery and a “hip” makeover and managed to sell himself to Elektra brass. My conspiracy theory may be far-fetched, but I’d rather cling to that than the notion that our boy Rhett probably wore flip-flops to his photo shoot.
— Paul Kloss
Ryan & Willie:
Falling into the gap
I was disappointed to see Ryan Adams and Willie Nelson in the latest commercial for the denim empire GAP. Real disappointed. In the past, songwriters and other artists have produced some of their most vital work during tough times. Troubled times seem to spawn meaningful art.
Well, the World Trade Center towers are gone. The economy is in the toilet. Our un-elected, failed-oilman president is trying like hell to send us to war. I would say times are officially troubled. They’re borderline dire.
Ryan and Willie — get off my TV. I don’t want you selling me jeans.
I don’t sing Chevy
I don’t sing for GAP
I don’t sing for nobody
Makes me look like a sap.
This note’s for you…
— Kevin Hyde
“Give them another chance”
I am writing in response to the recent letter from the ex-BR549 fan in Illinois who was shocked, sickened, (possibly hospitalized?) after seeing the new lineup.
I agree that it’s not the same band. But I have seen the new lineup several times this year and completely disagree about your comments regarding their new sound, ability and attitude.
To the casual fan, it must have been disappointing not to see Gary Bennett and Smilin’ Jay McDowell take the stage. But did you really expect Chuck to stand at the mike and give an explanation, or better yet, have him read a legal disclaimer? They are a band, man. They play music. If you really wanted to get an explanation, then stay afterwards and talk to the guys. Any BR fan knows that BR549 will close the place down if there’s a fan still there that wants to chat. That’s just one of the things that sets these guys apart.
I don’t really understand your venomous attack on Chris Scruggs. It sounds to me that you were mad at the start and had made up your mind not to like anything about the band. He has a different voice than Gary Bennett, and while you may not like his style, you can’t deny that he’s incredibly talented. Think about this: What kind of an insult would it be to Gary if they went out and found a carbon copy wannabe that sounds and plays “Gary-style”? It’s like they would be saying that Gary Bennetts are interchangeable, batteries not included, accessories sold separately. I love the new sound that Chris brings to the band. You obviously don’t, but I don’t think he merits the harsh comments you made. What were you doing when you were 19? I sure as hell didn’t have the talent or focus of Chris Scruggs.
I hope you recovered from your bout of nausea during the band’s “forced and false stage banter.” This is completely off the mark! The Illinois show was early in the tour, so maybe it seemed like a “horrible charade” to you, but part of that could be how the band was reacting to crowd response. I’ve always found them to be funny and natural onstage. That’s part of the appeal. I couldn’t disagree more on this point.
Finally, Chuck, Don and Shaw were probably thrown for a loop when Gary and Jay left the band (of their own free will — no big breakup, no argument, just tired of being on the road for the last decade). Do you have so little respect for their musical judgment that you can’t give the new lineup a chance? Do you think that they just scraped together whomever they could find in order to pull the wool over the eyes of unsuspecting fans? No! They were faced with a choice — quit or go on — and made the decision to keep doing what they do. They don’t have a record deal, don’t have a fancy bus, and are busting their asses to entertain the thousands of global fans who still appreciate what they do and who they are.
Ask yourself this: Would you rather see the old lineup of BR549 leaving their honky-tonk roots behind and embracing a new polished poppy corporate country sound? Or would you rather see the new lineup continue to play their hearts out and remind old-timers of the great sound they loved and introduce youngsters to true country and western music? Oh, that’s right — they should just call it quits and go sell shoes for a living.
I invite you to go see the band again and at least give them another chance. Maybe you still won’t like the new sound. Maybe you’ll miss the old Gary standards. Maybe you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Now that you’ve had time to overcome this obvious shock and trauma you encountered, maybe you can focus on the music — which is exactly what BR549 is trying to do.
— Jenny Sue Bradshaw
[Editor’s note: We received a similar letter from Tami Rebstock of Union Grove, Wisconsin.]
Got a bone to pick, or praise to bestow, or just bored at work and wanna goof off? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org — please include your postal address — or send to: No Depression, Box Full of Letters, 2 Morse Circle, Durham, NC 27713.