Category: Hokum

Seven favorites of 2017 in no particular order (until the end)

Chris Stapleton, From a Room, Volume 1. Look, he’s a blues musician. I know he wears cowboy hats and sells hits to country stars in Nashville, but he’s a blues musician. He’s got a blues musician’s voice and plays a guitar that has more sustain than twang, and you can hear the weary life stories in his voice. This album features all those talents, even on fun little tossaways like “Them Stems.” He’s a big-time star.

Ray Wylie Hubbard — Tell the Devil I’m Gettin’ There As Fast As I Can. I’ve been pulling the title track, with Eric Church and Lucinda Williams singing harmonies and a subtle little mandolin part, into all of my playlists. The other songs also are classic RWH territory — a little about living, a little ruminating about death, quite a few call-outs about cool guitars and amps. The guy’s a treasure.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit — The Nashville Sound. Some day, Isbell is going to make a “meh” album, I suppose. This isn’t it. The album takes turns being snarling and soft, and if you are not affected by “If We Were Vampires,” you are dead inside. But “Hope the High Road” is an anthem of both rage and defiance over our current political situation, with a reminder that “there can’t be more of them than us.”

JD McPherson — Undivided Heart and Soul. It works the straight rockabilly line a little harder than his last two efforts, but I love his voice and his songwriting and he remains far more than some mere traditionalist.

Hayes Carll — Lovers and Leavers. He released this in 2016, but I didn’t get around to listening to the album until this year, and I immediately regretted waiting for so long. There is a sad worldliness about this album, particularly “Sake of the Song,” (my favorite song this year) that I just find overpowering.

Nikki Lane — Highway Queen. I often tell this story at my own gigs: The first time I saw Nikki Lane in person (the very night when this photo was taken), she was wearing this top (Nikki is on the left; Shelly Colvin is on the right and the namesake is in the middle):

Buddy F. Miller and friends

If you’re going to open an album with a song titled “700,000 Rednecks,” you’d better have some attitude and some chops. Nikki Lane has ‘em. “Jackpot” is another favorite single of the year for me.

(Side note: Most of this video was shot in downtown Vegas, just east of the Fremont Street Experience where all of the tourists go. This is a very cool area, with lots of locals’ bars, restaurants and the funky old El Cortez hotel. Check it out.)

But when it comes down to it, the album below is easily my favorite of the year. If it was an LP, I would have worn it out already:

Valerie June — The Order of Time. It’s just trance-inducing (in a good way), super-cool and the perfect music to play at 2 a.m. after a gig. Her voice is unique and the riffs that support her songs are just irresistible. This album melds into one long, trippy, beautiful dream.

Again, Lord?

Dear Lord:

I know that You blessed me with the privilege of being a St. Louis Cardinals fan from my childhood until well into my adult life. I knew the thrill of victory, and even when Satan momentarily blinded that umpire and threw the 1985 World Series to his servants, the Royals, I could not be denied the joy of watching a championship-level team that knew how to win the big game.

But now, Lord, You test me, for I have become a fan of the Washington Nationals. This team finds glory in the regular season, and excruciating pain in the post-season, and now the window is closing on the time when they remain above mediocrity (or worse).

Lord, You may see Washington as a seedbed of wickedness and despair, but that fifth inning against the Cubs seems like an overreaction on Your part. I have seen hundreds of baseball games, and that very well might be the oddest inning I’ve ever witnessed in person (I will give You points for creativity, though).

O Lord, we have suffered enough. Forgive us our sins. Give our Nationals one more chance next year before the team crumbleth. Let us win a playoff series. We don’t have to go to the World Series or even win the league — we just want to be the victor in one of these accursed first-round matches.

In Bryce’s name we pray, Amen.

Hope and the Nationals

I will remain calm. I will. I will. I will.

But the Nats have their Best Team Ever, one that is full of tested veterans now, one that easily would have won 100+ games this season if the first-half-of-the-season bullpen hadn’t been so unspeakably awful (but that’s fixed now), one that cruised all year despite a genuine crush of injuries, one that is as healthy as a team is likely to be after a long season.

In short, This. Is. It. We’re unlikely to get a better Nats team here…well, ever. This team has World Series-level talent, including a batting order that is genuinely frightening all the way until you get to the catcher in the eight-hole. It has three aces on the pitching staff. It now has a stud bullpen.

But first they must beat the Cubs…the defending world champs, the best team in the National League by record over the second half of the season, a team that played under tremendous pressure in last year’s World Series and won the greatest Game 7 (and maybe the best baseball game, period) I’ve ever seen.

Of course. It can’t come easy for these Nationals, losers of all three playoff series they’ve been in, breakers of my heart in 2012, keepers of that great Washington sports tradition: Hope-building, followed by choking.

Screw it. I just bought a ticket to Game 5 of the Cubs-Nats series. GO NATS.

The test

From a certain empirical viewpoint, it is fascinating to watch this man spread his little seeds. Like many corruptors, he pulls people along by showing them their dreams, then twists those dreams into something awful and distorted for his personal benefit. Eventually, he leaves most of his believers exhausted (and often a lot lighter in the wallet).

Along the way, he portrays his opponents as a horrific enemy, one that will destroy all that is good in the world. He gives you the choice: Are you going to believe what he so convincingly offers you, or are you going to believe your lying eyes?

And so, he goes about the corruptor’s work of dividing, and subdividing, and sub-subdividing. He instinctively knows what may of us feared: Racism, sexism, class warfare and a hundred other flavors of us-vs.-them all are excellent tools to separate the masses. All it takes is the right kind of agitation. And even those who have been pulled into his orbit out of some sense of duty are consumed. They are spit out, rarely to be heard from again, when their worth has been extracted.

It’s a nonstop con, one that must be supported by an endless series of sideshows and distractions, lest someone start looking under too many rocks. Like most cons, it’s harder to pull off over time. Eventually, it all collapses — although the good con man knows how to skip away just before that happens.

But we’re not talking about some shady real estate development here, or some casino scam involving greedy people. We’re talking about the mechanisms of the greatest democracy the world has ever seen — one that, until very recently, has been the beacon of hope for millions of people across the globe. It is far more important than he will ever be, and its greatness — we all should hope — lies beyond his reach.

It won’t stay that way unless we fight for it. And this is not a matter of conservative or liberal politics. It’s a matter of standing for the principles that built this country — principles he’s trying to crumble for his greater personal glory and treasure.

This is a test. We must pass it.

The finger of God touches paradise


The remnants of Ivan’s Stress-Free Bar, White Bay, Jost Van Dyke, BVI.

St. Bart’s. St. Maarten/Martin. Tortola. Jost Van Dyke. St. John. St. Thomas.

I’ve visited every one of these islands, often repeatedly, in the last five years. And Hurricane Irene just did its damndest to wipe every one of these islands off of the map.

In some cases, it got about as close to succeeding as a hurricane can realistically get these days. All of the aforementioned Caribbean islands were basically flattened, hit by sustained Category 5 winds and massive rains. The pictures of the islands, denuded of most growth, are stunning. And all of these islands are so reliant on tourist income that it’s hard to imagine a recovery for years. That, in turn, will force thousands to leave in search of work, which could trigger another downward spiral and a generation of poverty.

St. John and Jost Van Dyke are particularly close to my heart because of the remarkable people on both islands. If you go there for any length of time, you’ll meet people you’ll never forget, and you’ll feel like they’re your personal friends (even though they meet thousands of people like you every year). And so, I immediately wondered if Seddy and Ivan (who’s really getting on in years) and Ali Baba and Foxy had survived the storm (they all did). I assumed Vinny was off the island, running his Harley dealership in Colorado (he was), and I was reassured by the fact that it was low season on the islands and a lot of people were gone anyway. But now they have nothing to come back to.

I certainly don’t want to discount the suffering of people in Florida, Texas, Georgia, South Carolina and Louisiana in the wake of hurricanes there, but I am comforted by the fact that the resources and people of the United States government are easily mobilized to assist them. St. John and St. Thomas are part of the United States as well, but as islands far from the U.S. mainland, they must wait for supplies and become too easy to forget. The consequences of that are potentially awful.

I love these islands. In this time of need, I’m not going to forget them. You shouldn’t, either.