John Sieger With The Skeletons – Her Country: The Songs Of Michael Feldman
Michael Feldman, host of Public Radio International’s popular quiz-and-interview show “Whaddya Know?”, isn’t someone you’d think of as a musical artist. Apparently he feels that way, too. While the other left-of-the-dial funnyman, Garrison Keillor, croons away week in and week out, Feldman contents himself by parodying the national news, quizzing audience members on minutiae of all sorts, and phoning unsuspecting residents of small-town America.
Feldman is an aspiring lyricist, however, and when it came time to set his words to music, he brought in the right men for the job. First, John Sieger, late of the 1980s roots-rock band Semi-Twang and a longtime friend of Feldman, wrote the music. Then they brought in Springfield, Missouri, band the Skeletons, who have backed such artists as Steve Forbert, Dave Alvin, Jonathan Richman, Syd Straw and Boxcar Willie.
Feldman and Sieger’s songs are witty and often wise. The title track is a declaration that, in the battle of the sexes, the men consider themselves hostages. Some may feel “Nothing Ruins a Man Like a Woman” is misogynistic, but Sieger’s straightforward delivery of Feldman’s over-the-top lyrics is itself the equivalent of a nod and a wink. It’s the same sort of thing Lyle Lovett faced down on “She’s No Lady” and his cover of “Stand By Your Man”.
For their part, the Skeletons demonstrate once again they can play darn near anything, be it roots-rock, blues, cornpone country, or even reggae. Guitarist D. Clinton Thompson, bassist Lou Whitney, drummer Bobby Lloyd Hicks and keyboardist Joe Terry shine especially on “done the Time”, “Even Jesus Don’t Love Me” and “Potowatomi”. Whitney even gets to sing the funniest song, “I’m Not Dead”, in which a corpse tries to convince the driver of his hearse that he’s got the wrong guy.
Despite all the yuks, Feldman and Sieger are capable of delivering straightforward love songs, such as the gritty rocker “Just Found Out”, which laments the girl who got away, and “Loved Her Then”, which does the same in a more wistful fashion.
Complicating some of these songs is Feldman and Sieger’s back-story: Sieger is married to Feldman’s ex-wife, though all parties remain friends. Thus, as he’s mentioned in interviews, it’s possible for Feldman to dance with his ex-wife to a song he wrote about her, while it’s being played and sung by her current husband who is also his co-writer.
Let’s see Mr. Keillor try that sometime.