The Hard Times edition of Grant Alden’s Field Notes
More gratuitous self-promotion for my monthly one-hour radio show on WMKY here in Morehead, KY. This show I actually recorded a week ago, instead of pulling something from the archive that I cut some months back. I figured even if the economists had decided the recession was over, the folks around me were still having a rough time (and economic waves crest here a year or two after they’ve struck the big places).
I went looking for songs about hard times, then. You’ll notice that I missed a bunch and made my usual crackpot choices. One thing I noticed, though: They fall in a sine wave, these songs. The economy goes up and down, some gigantic game of crack the whip, and we who aren’t on the top always get cracked the hardest.
I become increasingly cynical about the nature of our participatory capitalistic democracy. But this show is meant to be apolitical, at least by my standards.
The songs, then…
“Hard Times Come Again No More,” a Stephen Foster composition from 1854, rendered here by Mavis Staples from the most excellent Stephen Foster tribute disc my friend Tamara Saviano and some other fine folks won a Grammy for a few years back.
“Wooden Platforms,” from Jimmy Ryan (ex-Blood Oranges, though he’s done enough after that for me to flinch typing those words) and his most recent EP, Mandolin.
“Rich Man’s World,” by Eilen Jewell (the album is Letters From Sinners). Plus or minus her current Loretta Lynn album, this is a first-rate song that sounds as if it came from the twenties, only Ms. Jewell wrote it.
“Hard Times,” by the Bottle Rockets, from their most recent Bloodshot release.
“Hard Times,” by Bessie Smith, but sung by Big Mama Thornton. Partly because I keep wanting to shine a light on Big Mama, and partly because I think the original recording is too hard to listen to for most folks, simply because of the state of recording technology when it was cut.
“Tough Times,” by John Brim, from a weird Chess repackage (Whose Muddy Shoes) featuring Brim’s sides alongside some Elmore James. I bought it for the Elmore James, kept it for John Brim. Though I remain a big proponent of Elmore James. I like his weaknesses.
“Get Downtown,” from the Drive-By Truckers newest, The Big To-Do. A Cooley song that seems true and makes me laugh.
“If Money Talks…” written by Perry Bagge, drummer for Jason & the Scorchers, and demoed with some Nashville session folks in hopes of getting a cut back in 1984. As far as I know, nobody has cut this song. Somebody should. Somebody like Brad Paisley or, y’know, anybody. It’s a great song. (“If money talks/I wisht it’d speak to me…”
“Blue Collar Dollar,” by Kevin Gordon. From Cadillac Jack’s #1 Son, still my favorite of his records only because it was the one I played the most at the time, I suppose.
“Outdated, Frustrated, and Blue,” by Otis Gibbs. The album (his newest) is titled Joe Hill’s Ashes. It was Otis who suggested the Bottle Rockets track when I e-mailed to see about this one.
“Boney Fingers,” by Hoyt Axton. Because I love Hoyt Axton, and used to be a typesetter.
“Say Boss Man,” from Bo Diddley’s Chess box set. Not the Bo Diddley I’m used to hearing. Better than.
“Workin’ Man’s Blues,” Merle Haggard. Because I can. And must. I wish I’d thought to put Billy Joe Shaver’s “Bottom Dollar” in this set, but I didn’t until yesterday. Ah, well.
“The Wonderful Soup Stone,” a Shel Silverstein song offered up by Bobby Bare on Lullabies, Legends & Lies.
“Don’t Forget the Coffee, Billy Joe,” a Tom T. Hall classic (Mr. Hall comes from Olive Hill, about twenty minutes from where I sit typing), sung by R.B. Morris on the Real tribute album.
“Ol’ Cook Pot,” the Duhks, from Migrations. Still need to hunt up that Jessee Havey EP I saw rumor of once.
“No Depression (In Heaven),” the Dead Ringer Band, before Kasey Chambers was put up front. Pretty good version. Somebody sent me Charlie Monroe’s unreleased 1948 recording of the song, and I really wish I’d had it to play. Another time.
Somebody around town wondered why I didn’t put “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” into the mix, but I don’t think I have it lurking about the stacks, and it’s not a song I think of. So…even this playlist was winnowed down from almost three hours of potential music.
So it goes.
End of gratuitous self-promotion for another month.