JAIMIE VERNON – TAKE ME HOME COUNTRY ROADS
Full disclosure. I don’t do Country music. I’ve never been a fan of those Good Ol’ Boys singing – through their noses, I might add – about dogs and bar fights and pick-up trucks and hurtin’ songs about how a good woman gone done them wrong or some endless road trip of wide open spaces carrying a rack full of guns because: FREEDOM!
It’s a living cliché that is as alien to my personal experiences as sheering sheep or bailing hay. I can’t relate, even on an emotional level, never mind on an intellectual one. But I do understand why other people like it. It’s a stripped down, uncomplicated black and white checklist of all the important things in life. And for that it has my utmost respect. There’s an honesty and a human vulnerability to every word especially when you hear a grown Manly-Man sing a sad song about how he misses his mama. There’s no Gucci handbags, Ferraris or issues with Platinum VISA cards inherent in the narrative – or the lives of the listeners it’s aimed at. Well, at least there wasn’t until now.
Country music is currently going through a major crisis because there’s a battle going on between those who yearn for Good Ol’ Boys music (Hank, Waylon, Willie, Cash, Kristofferson, George Jones, Twitty) and the modern crop of snot-nosed newcomers. Somewhere in the evolution of the genre those songs about the simple life were replaced by young guys in designer Stetsons and Rodeo Drive alligator boots singing about partying in Vegas, violating the Daisy Duke wearing girl next door and driving Lexus SUV’s over to Iraq to take care of some ‘Merikan FREEDOM!!!!
The transition began with the collapsing infrastructure of the administration heavy major labels in the late 1980s. It was resuscitated with a new school of George Jones and Hank Williams inspired artists on the back of something called NEW Country. It started out with good intentions but immediately there was something wrong with the younguns because this Country music was wrapped in a bow and focused on guys from University who were squeaky clean GAP models that looked pretty on album covers who did little more than smile, sing and play a 6-string acoustic guitar with all the authority of a flight attendant waving goodbye on a recently taxi’d aircraft. The backlash was almost instant.
What was lacking was the heart of those early hurtin’ tunes. Songs weren’t being written on Greyhound buses during gruelling 70 city tours of broken roads and broken towns in the dead of winter anymore. The grizzled haze of an alcoholic bender in a slimy Route 66 roadside motel was no longer there to inform the context of that next Hank song. The musical heartland had been gutted and a pop-up boxed store of ready-to-order Moon-To-June auto-tuned confectionery was now on-demand.
The entire genre is now being controlled by the new Brill Building/Tin Palley sect in Nashville. Industry heavy weights are calling the shots, bank rolling the artists, the players, and the songwriters to create a factory supply of hits – all sounding exactly the same – to feed the deregulated, unlimited monolithic radio conglomerates. In fact, many artists so desperate to get signed in Nashville have paid for what they assumed were demo sessions only to have their bed-tracks re-used with better sounding, hotter looking players already on the payroll rush released to radio right under their noses. It it’s the most cynical version of cut-throat capitalism money can buy. ***NSFW***
Country music, and those making it, are now part of a disposable, replaceable Middle American Idol dog ‘n’ pony show. Some acts have even recently come out admitting that they hate what they’re doing and they hate being manipulated by it, but what are they to do otherwise? It’s all they know. When you haven’t paid one minute of dues to gain experience, you become the race horse in a business that’s only interested in how you perform on the race track. Make sure you don’t act out of line or break a leg.
Well, they could do what Ottawa’s Shane McNulty has done. They could do an honest days work, raise a family first, then record those experiences after they’ve achieved some wisdom from life itself. Shane’s new album, ‘Cold Beer & Barb Wire’, is a modern cowboy’s view of old-fashioned values and healthy outlook on life.
There’s no bar-brawls or gun-toting Ford F-150 hootenannies between the grooves. There is, however, a steady diet of hurtin’ songs like “Why Did You Go” and “Without You” balanced by McNulty’s true affection for his wife on tracks like “You Make It Right”, “Believin’” and “Lovin’ You”. These are for the purists and the traditionalists. Songs that allow He-Men to voice their appreciation for the fairer sex failing their lack of words. Throw the disc in the CD changer and let Shane serenade your Missus. She’ll understand.
That’s not to say this is a traditional country album. It just isn’t. There’s some great dobro and pedal steel playing courtesy of Dennis Cameron and John Steele respectively, but it’s tastefully intertwined with that modern country flavour we’ve grown to expect since the early 1990s. What it lacks is the plastic, paint-by-numbers feel of the slick Nashville production giants. It’s organic. McNulty sounds like he’s seriously enjoying himself on radio friendly tracks like “8 Seconds”, “Mexico” and the balls-to-the-wall “Take It On Down” while fronting a band of comfortable and complimentary players courtesy of Jeff Nystrom (bass) and Wayne Killius (drums) .
Nystrom also produced the CD and brings a non-Country sensibility to the proceedings from an usual place: heavy metal. Nystrom was once a member of Ottawa metal band FIST. He has since expanded his musical Rolodex and found a bigger palette to paint from – and he brings it to the fore on this album to get the best song writing and performances out of McNulty.
Even Good Ol’ Boy tunes like “This Farm” and “Nanna’s Song” are fresh and given a new spin where lesser productions would have fallen into cliché musical traps or even parody. McNulty and Nystrom bring out just the right amount of keyboards, and harmony backing vocals on each tune to accent the themes, but not overpower them. A lesson that could be learned by those fat cats in Nashville.
Admittedly, I really like this record. If all Country music were this melodic and accessible I’d be willing to switch teams (and any record that has my old Internet friend Andy Dore on it must be great!). Looking forward to hearing Shane McNulty’s next venture because he’s heading down a country road rarely travelled anymore. http://www.shanemcnulty.com
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Jaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 33 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 years. He is also the author of the recently released Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ is now available at Amazon.com http://gwntertainment.wix.com/jaimievernon