Jason Eady: AM Country Heaven
Well, they sing about Jesus, they sing about Jones
And they sing of American pride
But they’re all too damn clean, polished like stones
And they won’t sing about cheatin’ and lies
Well, I remember the days when the singers just sang
And left it all in the stories they tell
These days we’re in AM country heaven
And FM country hell
AM country. It’s all but gone. I think I’ve heard a country song or two through the static while looking for a ballgame in the world of amplitude modulation, but I generally try to stay away from those airwaves, which are usually so full of angry talking heads and call-in advice shows. There was a time, years ago, when almost every day started at 1260 on the AM dial. For me, AM country heaven would be WCSA in Ripley, Mississippi, a low-power station broadcasting from 6 to 6, the country sounds coming ’round, coming down, literally coming down from an old radio on top of Mama Doug’s (pronounced Doog) brown refrigerator (that’s right, she had a brown refrigerator) as I sat at her linoleum-covered breakfast table and poured the juice from pear preserves onto a homemade biscuit, hoping that I wouldn’t have to catch bus number 39 to Ripley Middle School. That old radio played George and Conway and the Charlies (Rich and Pride) and told us that the buses were running, that the 1/2 inch of snow, already melted, would not keep my brothers and me out of school on a cold, gray morning in the early 70’s.
Back then, the singers did leave it in the stories they’d tell. They sang about cheatin’ and lies. They also sang a lot about drinking and bars, which made me curious, since we didn’t have any bars in our dry county. The singers even sang about things that made Mama Doug blush. Behind Closed Doors was a bit much for her, as I recall. But she liked Kiss An Angel Good Morning, even with the “love her like the devil when you get back home” part. AM country heaven wasn’t always heaven, though. That same radio played The Streak about 10,000 times in 1974. “Don’t look Ethel!” But on the whole, it all seems pretty sweet in my mind’s eye. And it’s hard to listen to Jason Eady’s song, AM Country Heaven, without thinking of that kitchen, that radio and Mama Doug. Mama Doug and her biscuits. And on Sundays, her homemade rolls and fried chicken. R.I.P. Anyway, a couple years after The Streak, Ripley got an FM station and the old AM station became irrelevant. I left Ripley for college a few years after that, and even left country for a while, but I’ve always had a warm place for the old sounds.
I miss the days when the women were ugly
And the men were all forty years old
Cause you had to say something for the people to listen
Now they just do what they’re told
Well it’s all about idols and pretty blonde hair
And how many trucks you can sell
Out here in AM country heaven
And FM country hell
So, in this time of American Idol and pop country on the one hand and Americana/alt country music schizophrenically moving toward folk and rock on the other, why would anyone make an old school country record? Marty Stuart’s been quoted recently as saying, “The most outlaw thing you can do in Nashville, Tennessee, today is to play country music.” Same could be said for us on the Americana/alt country side, too, if you think about it. How many records are really country? And Eady didn’t just put in a country song or two and then rock out on the rest of the album. It’s country start to finish. What does that mean? Paraphrasing Justice Potter Stewart from a different context, all I can say is that I know it when I hear it. It starts with Eady’s vocals (and the Scott Davis harmony vocals). I won’t mess up this review by making comparisons to other country singers, I’ll just say Eady sings like a country singer should sing. You can see for yourself on the video below. Musically, the album is undeniably country. Lloyd Maines’s steel and dobro, Redd Volkaert’s guitar and Cody Braun’s fiddle combine for a true country sound. It doesn’t hurt to have Patty Loveless step in for a duet on Man On A Mountain and Cary Ann Hearst singing harmony on Paid My Dues. Kevin Welch has produced a fine country record, one that at one time would have sent several singles straight to country radio. But now country radio is FM country hell, and they can’t have these.
Well out on these back roads the only real truth that I know
Don’t cross the radio band
It cuts through the static like a chill in the air
Well it fades out then comes back again
Well I don’t mean to sound jaded because I know there are plenty
Young singers who aren’t up for sale
But they’re all stuck in AM country heaven
And FM country hell
A word here about Jason Eady. He’s got Mississippi roots, but he’s adopted Texas as home now. He’s a veteran of the Air Force, where he worked as a translator. AM Country Heaven is his fourth record, and it’s unlike his previous recordings. He and Kevin Welch were playing around with the old country stuff as a side project and it grew into a full album. “There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of artists doing [old school country] these days. It’s almost the opposite . . . like people running away from it. I admit that this record is a drastic departure from anything I have done before, but this is where my heart is.” Me too. Like an old sweater, this record fits perfectly and makes me happy when I put it on.
Well I knew it was over the day that I overheard
A record executive cry
“Keep it all simple, don’t get offensive
And don’t play songs in three quarter time.”
Well mister record man I hope you don’t take offense
But you’re a helluva joke I can tell
You’re the reason we’re in AM country heaven
And FM country hell
It’s easy to demonize the record guys, mainly because a lot of them are demons. But now, thanks to all the changes in the business, they’re like low-power AM stations. They’re irrelevant. But I still dig it when Eady sings “you’re a helluva joke I can tell . . .” Thanks for that, Jason.
Before signing off, let me invite you to have a look and listen at Jason Eady doing Wishful Drinking, another song off of AM Country Heaven. This was taped well before the record came out by the good folks at Music Fog. Enjoy.
[Quoted lyrics are from Eady’s song AM Country Heaven, taken down as heard by me. I didn’t have a lyrics sheet, so my apologies if I got anything wrong.]
Mando Lines is on Twitter @mando_lines.