CG | It takes me a lot longer to come up with these little playlists than you might expect. I spend far too much time fretting over what you – the invisible and unknowable reader – may have heard already, and if what I’m trying to communicate about these songs comes across as earnest sharing, or arrogant posturing. I’d initially planned to put one of these together every 3 or 4 months, but getting all up in my head has made it a much more arduous and time-consuming task – not unlike the mix tapes this series of posts are inspired by. I hope you’ll take my excitement about these songs at face value; as things of beauty I wanna share with you. But enough navel-gazing – let’s get into it.
Verbena | Birmingham, AL
The first time I heard Verbena was not long after Souls For Sale came out. I’d just moved back to Alabama after a couple of years in Northern Virginia, and I had absolutely no idea what had been going on in the music scene back home. Frontman A.A. Bondy has since moved to a markedly different, though equally compelling style, but back around 1998, Verbena was an exciting reintroduction to the state of Southern rock, mixing equal parts grunge attitude and Stonesy swagger.
“Sing Me Your Song”
Mark Gormley | Pensacola, FL
Pensacola-based Mark Gormley’s mid-70s demos, recorded when he was a Marine stationed in Scotland, were given new life when they were discovered by local public-access svengali Phil Thomas Katt in 2006. Although it’s a bit of a mindbender to see the now 50-something Gormley greenscreened onto lunar and beach backgrounds while singing in a much younger man’s high tenor, “Sing Me Your Song” is a soft rock masterpiece that fits right into the milieu of the time, reminiscent of everything from America’s sun-dappled twelve-strings to the James Gang’s more pastoral moments.
“Hey Old Lady/Bert’s Song”
Hampton Grease Band | Atlanta, GA
I think I first heard this song courtesy of one of the Oxford American‘s music issue CDs. I’d heard a lot about Bruce Hampton and his various backing outfits over the years, but I didn’t expect this frantic blurt of proto-punk/jazz – it immediately brought to mind the kind of fractured, multi-faceted musical ethos adhered to by both San Pedro’s Minutemen and the aural Dada of Hampton’s fellow Southerner, the Rev. Fred Lane.
Bobby Charles | Abbeville, LA
Spotify served up “Street People” to me about a year ago and it just knocked me flat. A few months later, Charles’ eponymous LP showed up used at my favorite Atlanta-area record store, Ella Guru, and I had to pick it up. I’m not really a fan of The Band, but the quality of their backup work on this record is undeniable. Charles’ work with The Band extended to a performance (which also included Dr. John) at their Last Waltz farewell concert, although that footage didn’t make the final film. “Bobby Charles” is a perfect Sunday-morning album, though I tend to listen to it every other day of the week as well.
“See My Jumper Hangin’ On The Line
R.L. Burnside | Holly Springs, MS
Sometimes I think maybe heaven is like being in a song that lasts forever. There are several versions of this Burnside original available for consumption, but I assure you this is the most magical, hypnotic take you’ll find. I’m absolutely enthralled by that fleeting, earnest smile R.L. gives every once in a while during this performance, sandwiched between uncomfortable glances at the camera. Although I fully understand the heart behind the playing is what makes this song what it is, I’m not too proud to admit I’ve Googled what guitar R.L. is using here (a stripped Kent Polaris). And yes, I do want that shirt.
“Feast On My Heart”
Pylon | Athens, GA
Like a lot of Southern kids of a certain age, I was a huge REM fan. I heard them before I knew they were from Athens, GA and the idea that a band so weird, cool and unapologetically Southern could exist within a day’s drive was a revelation to me. Prior to that I’d always assumed cool things happened somewhere in California, New York City, or London. I devoured everything REM-related, which of course included the Athens Inside/Out documentary, which I dubbed onto a VHS tape that also included Nirvana’s 1992 performance on “Saturday Night Live.” Though I came for sights like Pete Buck drinking a beer in his pajamas, I was blown away by the cracked rockabilly of the Flat Duo Jets, crushed-out on the Bar-B-Que Killers‘ incredibly aggro frontwoman Laura Carter, and fascinated by Pylon’s refocusing of jerky British post-punk through a Southern lens. Ironically, I heard Wire and Gang of Four long after I discovered Pylon, at which point their influence became immediately clear. In one of many desperate bids to be unique and unusual in Gen X-era Montgomery, I bought Pylon’s “Hits” cassette and proceeded to talk them up for the next… well, I guess I’m still talking them up.
“Old Joe Clark”
Jimmy Bryant & Speedy West | Moultrie, GA & Springfield, MO
I was casually hooked on pedal steel the first time I heard Lloyd Green’s work on the Byrd’s “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” album, which was a favorite of my Dad’s. An NPR feature on Jimmy Bryant and Speedy West sent my interest in the instrument soaring to a whole new level.West and Bryant have a call-and-response that’s eerily akin to that of Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli. The overall vibe reminds me a bit of gypsy jazz-inflected western swing by way of Hawaii. West plays the steel far more “hot” than Green’s laid-back style, with Bryant peeling off runs that have inspired generations of Telecaster players ever since.
Deerhunter | Atlanta, GA
Sometimes you have to circle back to albums or bands a few times before they hit you the right way – at least I do. Since prior examples of “stuff I didn’t get” include universally-lauded muso favorites along the lines of the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” and the Kinks’ “Village Green Preservation Society,” I’ve learned to give stuff second, third, and sometimes even fourth chances. My friend Doug tried to get me into Deerhunter as early as 2008, but I wasn’t ready yet. It wasn’t until 2013’s “Back To The Middle” came out that it started to coalesce for me. Their excellent 2019 release, Why Hasn’t Everything Disappeared Already? builds on everything they’ve done before, culminating in quiet moments like “Tarnung” as well as sweeping, baroque movements like “Element.”
Aaron & Maria
American Analog Set | Austin, TX
I first heard this song in a record store in Birmingham that no longer exists. It felt like someone took the sound I’d been wanting to make in my own bands and put it on a record – I immediately went to the counter and had the clerk (John Strohm of Blake Babies!) take it off the platter and bag it up. Years later my wife and I saw them in Atlanta on their final tour, and the songs were just as magical live as we’d hoped they’d be.
Billy Joe Shaver | Corsicana, TX
Back when mix CDs were still a thing, my old friend Jeb made me a mix CD titled Honky Tonk Heroes. By that point, we’d been exchanging mixes for well over 15 years, beginning with artfully hand-decorated cassettes and moving into CD mixes with more sophisticated layouts as we both made our way into the design field. When he shared Honky Tonk Heroes with me, I was just beginning a deeper dive into country music, propelled by my wife’s burgeoning interest in the genre. I was well-versed in Montgomery’s hometown hero, Hank Williams, but I’m embarrassed now to say that I didn’t have a lot of appreciation for staples like George Jones, Waylon Jennings, Conway Twitty, and I certainly had no inkling of who Billy Joe Shaver was. The whole Texas thing can get tiresome to me, but Shaver… man, his deadpan delivery on that line about “how those eagles fly” is enough to earn him a pass and then some.
“Girl In The Holler”
Leo “Bud” Welch | Sabougla, MS
Another hypnotic blues song from Mississippi. Sometimes a song is barely anything when you look at its individual pieces, but those pieces hang together in a way that defy its very sparseness and elevate it. But then as Billy Childish said, “only a pompous fool would de-sky a hawk, tack out its mortal guts, rummage around in its very entrails and then declare themselves to now understand beauty” – I’m probably too close to that level of pomposity already, so maybe just stop reading now and listen to the song.
Ramsey Midwood | Arlington, VA
This is a public service announcement: get your Spotify “Discover Weekly” tuned up right. It takes several months of clicking hearts and specifying “I don’t like this song” or “I don’t like Steely Dan,” but once you get it dialed in you’re likely to get rewarded with something like this. I honestly don’t know what Ramsey Midwood is talking about in this song, but despite the low-grade paranoia the idea of “loopers everywhere” may cause, the overall laid-back vibe and the idea of “shakin’ them beans down to New Orleans” sounds good to me. The video is set in Midwood’s current stomping ground of Austin, but it could just as easily be a dive in Memphis, Macon, or even [insert your town here].