Box Full of Letters from Issue #51
“Filled with emotion”
Just wanted to send an appreciative note for the delightful feature on Patty Griffin in ND #50 [March-April 2004]. John T. Davis did a wonderful job capturing the magic and energy that infects everything Patty does. Her music is so beautiful and filled with emotion that it makes you want to cry.
I am a relatively new fan — I saw Patty for the first time last fall in Boston on the songwriters tour with Dar Williams, Shawn Colvin and Mary Chapin Carpenter. The main reason for my driving two hours to Boston was to see Dar. I readily admit that on the way in, I had no idea who Patty was. She might as well have been Nanci Griffith for all I knew.
Oh, but what a concert! Dar and Mary and Shawn were all terrific, but young Miss Griffin stole the show. She expressed anxiety in following Mary’s “I Am A Town”, Shawn’s “Shotgun Down The Avalanche” and Dar’s “The Babysitter’s Here”, and then proceeded to lay down the most powerful version of “Poor Man’s House” imaginable. She would go on to play two more songs that evening, and delivered definitive versions of “Top of the World” and “Truth # 2”. The Dixie Chicks should be so lucky as to convey half as much passion as Patty when they perform those songs.
Patty is no less than a national treasure. Thank you for sharing her story with your readers, and with it, hopefully some of the public recognition which she so richly deserves.
Heck, I even heard “One Big Love” on satellite radio last week. Maybe it’s finally her turn…
— William Woityra
West Kingston, Rhode Island
“They should be venerated”
If a song tells a story and makes you so happy that you’re smiling and tapping your toe… then I’m a lightweight who loves novelty songs. If the sound is pure and their heart shines clean through a Nudie suit lifting my spirits… then I guess I’m a lightweight who loves novelty songs.
I’ve never been fortunate enough to see BR549 live. But in my mind’s eye, I don’t picture purveyors of such fine music in jeans and T-shirts.
I was raised listening to Hank, Johnny, Carl, and Buck. In my opinion, BR549 does a great job of blending my AM memories with a little Shel Silverstein and hipness. All of this without insulting the music, my heritage or intelligence. There’s a golden rule in our family that Live At Robert’s is never removed from the car or home CD player.
I think the Hagar twins perhaps could have been considered a lightweight novelty act. But not BR549; they should be venerated, not playerhated. I look forward to the new record and I’m not hung up about the new lineup as long as they keep cranking out those old-time country numbers. Blind, cripple, crazy for BR549 and No Depression. Thanks to both of you for making my days better.
— Krupa Broome
Summerville, South Carolina
A hillbilly’s revenge
I can’t take it anymore. Every couple of months I get No Depression, I leaf through reviews of “hillbilly” bands from Canada and all points east and north. I page past seemingly the same ads for the same pouting poet girls leaning against old truck/trailer/barn with banjo or autoharp cradled in her arms, staring into the camera lens and screaming with their eyes, “I am soooo in touch with the old time country sound.”
Now there’s this Grey DeLisle [ND #50] from California talking about how her ancestors’ background in Ireland and Mexico, for God’s sake, is the equivalent of Appalachia and therefore she is in touch with the culture by proxy, by God. No wonder she works in cartoons. Hey, DeLisle, maybe you can team up with that other Caliphoney singer Gillian Welch and do some hard hittin’ songs about the hills… Beverly Hills, that is. I am absolutely sick and tired of having my culture carpetbagged.
Hey, I like burritos and tacos. Maybe I should record a record of Norteno music.
— Jeff Kerr
Sixth Generation 100% Authentic Hillbilly
Pike County, Kentucky/Dickenson County, Virginia
Don’t expect a swimsuit issue
There are a couple of very notable and unexpected findings in the latest issue [ND #50]. First is the almost overwhelming number of alternative country recordings that are now available as reviewed, discussed and advertised in your magazine. This is especially remarkable given the crisis being experienced by mainstream music. Second and perhaps more shocking to me are the pictures of Patty Griffin on pages 94-95 that include credits for makeup, styling and hair. I think it is safe to say that you have achieved a “new” level…
As an aside, I wish you would do a feature about the Amazing Rhythm Aces. I think they were a prototype of alt.country/Americana music in their original group in the late 1970s/early 1980s. A testament to their quality is that the internet led to a reformation of the band in the 1990s. Russell Smith was also no slouch in the interim period including his work with Run C&W.
As always, please keep up the good work and thanks.
— Thomas L. Hall
Brooks & Dunn:
Enclosed you will find a self-addressed, stamped envelope so that Bill Friskics-Warren can send me some of whatever he’s smokin’. I look forward to its arrival.
Did I see “Brooks & Dunn” and “none were better” used in the same sentence [critics’ poll, ND #49]? Egads. I also think I saw “Brooks & Dunn” and… wait, I can’t do it. Let me start a new sentence. To compare such a country-pop duo to the Drive-By Truckers is blasphemy.
I’ve got nothing personal against Brooks & Dunn — I recently bought their greatest hits and considered myself a big fan. I used to, that is, before the rising tide of Clear Channel-inspired country overwhelmed and whitewashed all that is good. I mean, despite the promising title of Red Dirt Road, the first song is “You Can’t Take The Honky-Tonk Out Of The Girl”. And yes, that song is as bad as it the title implies.
Of course, Friskics-Warren also has some praise for Toby Keith, so it shouldn’t be surprising that he would find Brooks & Dunn top-notch; compared to Shock’n Y’all (a disc which ranks in importance somewhere between the Earthlink and AOL CDs I get in the mail), it probably is top-notch.
I’ve moonlighted as a music reviewer (from my primary assignment as an assistant sports editor), so I would like to submit my name for consideration as a contributor to your magazine. That would further free up Mr. Friskics-Warren to do more Senior Editing and less music reviewing.
— Chad Laytham
Fruits of her labor
Though I usually am wary of mass polling of either experts or the public at large, I must say it was a relief to see your critics vindicate Lucinda Williams’ World Without Tears — as over against Peter Blackstock’s cursory, dismissive paragraph about her across the page from the poll results [ND #49].
It’s hard to understand his critique of Williams’ alleged “reach for hipness” on the new album, though he only references one song, “Righteously”, Lost Highway’s selection as the work’s token single. “Righteously” is far from the best cut, but surely this rollicking plea for respect from romantic partners applies to “sisters” of all ages, not just the mid-20s crowd to whom Blackstock implies she is pandering.
I suggest a relistening. To pick just one of the other songs on World Without Tears, “Fruits Of My Labor” (the overall record’s original title) is a bookend to Williams’ much earlier “Passionate Kisses”. In its ambivalent feelings about hard-earned fame and glory, “Fruits” would not have been as poignantly penned if done by anyone closer to 25 than to 50 — Blackstock’s apparent benchmark ages.
As many readers of No Depression know, by the time she was really 25 (as opposed to “pretend[ing]” to be so now?!), Lucinda Williams had written most of the wonderful songs which later comprised Happy Woman Blues and her self-titled album. Thank God she’s only gotten better and more eclectic in style and subject matter through the decades. Rodney Crowell (and for that matter Peter Blackstock) is welcome to face whatever “middle age” crisis he may or may not be having “head-on,” but I’ll take mine in all its obliqueness and ambiguity with a heavy dose of Lucinda’s often anguished, ever poignant chords and lyrics.
— Roger Stanley
A welcome addition
The January-February  issue is excellent, and I really appreciate the critics’ poll. I went so far as to print out the ballot info from your website. While I certainly don’t agree with all the choices, I am always interested to see what music the critics loved. Keep up the good work!
— Kris Rossmiller
“A musically irrational universe”
Like no other magazine, one with no first cousin, today’s No Depression often tries to reassure its increasingly less-hip audience that everything’s going to be cool. Downbeat, overanalyzing articles congratulate the reader in this genre for being better than suburban drones and other uninformed music fans; even the articles about interesting artists at some point usually turn inward toward someone’s navel or a reason to lament. The articles describe a musically irrational universe where cool bands never become popular enough and bad bands always rule the charts.
It’s a tiresome message, and it has the disadvantage of being disconnected from reality. All you have to do is read the catalog of Miles Of Music to find countless examples of good music being purchased and bad music being shunned — at least in this world.
— Paul Barr
Downers Grove, Illinois
A different perspective
I can’t claim to have anything close to James Talley’s experience with the music industry [Sittin’ & Thinkin’, ND #50]. And though I think he makes some excellent points, I disagree with several of his conclusions. Yes, the major music imprints are struggling for many of the reasons he cites: “bloated overhead, overpaid top executives, old business models… and bad music.”
Leaving aside the issue of digital piracy, if the music industry were to address the failings that Talley lists, it would no longer be the music industry — at least as we know it. Cutting salaries, lowering overhead, taking advantage of digital distribution (much like iTunes or eMusic or even Wal-Mart), and producing good music would go a long way to overcoming Talley’s bleak assessment: “Music companies… cannot invest their capital where there is no return and no profit.”
There is an inherent contradiction in Talley’s statements: “a whole new class of young people who seem to feel that music should be free” and affirming that 50-year-olds constitute “the demographic where piracy and friend-to-friend ‘file-sharing’ — another word for theft — is most rampant.” Regardless of who is most responsible for this theft, even if digital piracy were magically eliminated, doing so would have no effect on the real problems that Talley recognizes. Stop peer-to-peer sharing, and we still have a bloated industry populated by overpaid execs who turn out crap.
Without defending digital piracy, it is an understandable reaction to an industry that clearly has nothing but contempt for its customers. What is it beside greed that prevents major labels from selling music on a per-download basis? What prevents them from opening their archives and making even a fraction of their live recordings and alternate takes available? Why was Let It Be Naked released years after the so-called Black Album bootleg?
Artists like Rickie Lee Jones are now distributing their live concerts on their websites. Meanwhile, when Robinella & the CC Stringband finally got major-label distribution, Sony stopped them from selling their indie CDs on their website. Take a look at eBay to see what you’ll pay now — and none of that money goes to the musicians. In fact, none of the millions that changes hands in the “used” music aftermarket on Amazon and half.com goes to the artists.
The poet W.H. Auden wasn’t addressing the music industry, but his words apply: “Those to whom evil is done, do evil in return.” Perhaps the phrase Chairman Mao used to launch the Cultural Revolution resonates with the rise of indie labels: “Let 100 flowers bloom.”
— Anonymous reader
Fort Lee, New Jersey