Last week I was way too specific. So this week, I’m overcompensating. Not intentionally, though — the calendar just happened to fall that way. “You’re No Good To Anyone” is the most open-ended song in the Almanac, and I hope it will mollify those who’ve said in the past that a listener needs a search engine to appreciate my music. I hope my performance lends these threadbare lyrics some resonance. The story of my life basically goes like this: I wanted to sing like Bob Seger, but I couldn’t do it, so I tried to sing like Green Gartside instead. The rest is just supplementary detail.
When I wrote this number, I was thinking about Brett Whitmoyer specifically; he’s a U2 fan, and I wanted to give him something that he could rattle and hum with. The original demo featured a drum part that sounded like what Larry Mullen, Jr. might play if he was hopped up on Cap’n Crunch and 24 straight hours of C-SPAN. To his credit, Brett ignored all of that and just played it as if it was a proper rock song. We did it at Pianos last weekend with Ronni Reich on backing vocals, and I don’t think it was half bad.
But what does any of this have to do with Nashville?, I hear you cry. After last week, when I was hitting us over the head with street names and particular places in metro Phoenix, the elliptical quality of “You’re No Good To Anyone” probably does seem un-Tris McCall-ish. I don’t even make up for it in the story, which is about the intersection of politics and prophecy and could really be set anywhere in the South. But Nashville, as Tim McGraw reminded us on the Two Lanes Of Freedom album that you almost certainly didn’t listen to, owes much of its identity to country music, and this is my attempt to reproduce that peculiar shiver I get from country songs. Did I do it? You’ll have to tell me.
It’s been a very good year already for country music — real country music, I mean — though not all of the great stuff has been made widely available. Natalie Hemby, who has collaborated a bunch with Miranda Lambert, put out a nine-song album called Puxico that is impeccably written in an understated manner; maybe not what you’d expect from the co-author of “Brews And Boobs On The Pontoon” or whatever it was called, but these hitmakers sometimes save their most reflective stuff for their own sets. I just wish it would get a proper release. Right now it’s only downloadable, and c’mon, there are no digital cows on the farm (yet.) Angaleena Presley, who proved to be the nation’s most reliable futurist on American Middle Class, has a new one out, too, and so does John Moreland, who sings like Springsteen circa Nebraska, and Chris Stapleton, who sings like the state of Kentucky on Derby Day. Also, the only protest song I need at the moment is Brad Paisley’s “The Devil Is Alive And Well.” Brad, I got the cleverly encoded message.
And on the subject of people with acoustic guitars and something to say: you make have picked this up from my writing, but I might like Laura Marling a tiny bit. There may be some good music on her latest. Seriously, when I see something like this Mahogany session, I do wonder why I, or anybody else for that matter, even bothers. Lately I feel like the entire corpus of British folk-rock — from Fairport and the Pentangle and ISB and North Star Grassman through Annie Haslam and Nick Drake to Beth Orton and Kate St. John — was all just there to set up 2:59 through 3:10 of “Nothing, Not Nearly.” Knocks me cold, every time.