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While the Internet is obviously at the cutting edge of new technology, this month we look back over our shoulder in the direction of music that came before computers. That's not to say that the World Wide Web isn't going to be useful in our exploration. It makes a fantastic forum for discussing and researching historical concerns. Remember the old joke in which a band says, 'We play both kinds of music - Country AND Western'? Follow me down the World Wide Web and we'll find that the Country road has a lot more twists and turns than you'd expect.
John Nutting and Lee Kernaghan
in the Saturday Night Country studio
photo courtesy of
Steve JW Roberts gurucam
On a recent broadcast of Saturday Night Country (ABC Radio and Webcast to the world), Lee Kernaghan was in the studio to showcase his new album 'Rules Of The Road'. On the Internet, via the Telstra Country Chat Room, I asked Lee if he realised how big an impact his new album would have, introducing the music of Tex Morton, Buddy Williams and their friends to the (younger members of the) Internet generation. Lee replied, 'Well Bob, it's going to be interesting to see how people receive the album. It's quite a bit different to what I've done before. I really just wanted to tip my hat to Tex, Stan, Gordon, Slim and all the greats. I think Australian Country Music has a great heritage and I'm really proud to have made an album that pays tribute to the music. I think we should acknowledge the great work of the pioneers.' John Nutting added that this was reflected in the fact that a Buddy Williams album was on the charts, and compilations of the work of several of those legends were still being made available.
Although several Van Morrison songs, especially 'Brown Eyed Girl', find their way into the repertoire of many Country bands, you rarely find his music discussed in Country journals. His music does, however, come from similar roots. This is evidenced in his latest exhilarating release, 'The Skiffle Sessions' which finds him sharing the spotlight of a Belfast stage, with Lonnie Donegan and Chris Barber. Skiffle is a music form that began in America during the early part of the 20th century, and was often known as 'Jug Band' music. Around 1956, Lonnie Donegan and his classic version of 'Rock Island Line' spearheaded a huge Skiffle revival in the U.K. Before long everyone was forming groups that consisted of guitar, tea-chest bass and washboard. One of these groups, The Quarrymen, eventually became The Beatles, but that's another story. On 'The Skiffle Sessions', Morrison, Donegan, and trombone master Chris Barber, perform a collection of songs including those from the pens of Jimmie Rodgers, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly. Tunes that can be found in the repertoire of everyone from Merle Haggard to the Beach Boys! It is interesting to hypothesise how just one of these songs, 'Muleskinner Blues' for instance, could originate from the American West, travel to England and become part of a movement that eventually became British Rock. The same song travelled here to Australia and became digested as an influence to early traditional Australian Country Music. If you want to follow this logic, visit the links in this paragraph which will start your exploration. If you just want to enjoy the sounds, get 'The Skiffle Sessions', and revel in the spontaneous excitement of the music. Chris Barber and his band are currently touring Australia with Kenny Ball.
Although he was born in New York, Béla Fleck would have played many of these same tunes when he first fell in love with the banjo and bluegrass music. Currently visiting Australia with his band The Flecktones, he has won several Grammys, and been nominated in an amazing number of categories including Country, Jazz, Gospel and World Music. The latest 'solo' album from Béla Fleck is entitled 'The Bluegrass Sessions - Tales from The Acoustic Planet Volume 2'. It features not only the absolute 'dream team' of Bluegrass pickers, but guest appearances from John Hartford, Earl Scruggs and Vince Gill. In the liner notes Fleck says he was looking for a polka to record when he ran across the tune 'Clarinet Polka' on the Internet. It's just one of 18 glorious tracks on the album. On the more experimental side, with his band The Flecktones, the CD 'Greatest Hits of the 20th Century' is an excellent compilation of music from their albums, plus two previously unavailable tracks. Staggering musicianship, and performances on everything from vintage Country instruments, to the electric Drumitar. You can explore their full catalogue at The Flecktones Web site (albums are available in Australia via Warner Music Australia).
Clint Black opens his latest album D'lectrified with a bit of Country swing, 'Bob Away My Blues' (which apparently isn't about me). Taking the retro/unplugged path, the cover proclaims 'No Electric Instruments Used In This Recording'. Although the CD insert contains a wealth of information, it saves us further eyestrain by directing us to Clintblack.com for a complete list of all the orchestra and choir members. A wonderfully diverse album from Clint Black, that proves a cowboy hat can sit comfortably on many styles. Western Swing is having something of a revival lately. The all-star Asleep At The Wheel sessions like 'Ride With Bob' (not about me, either) always attract a lot of interest, and our own Feral Swing Katz were a very hot attraction at the Tamworth Festival this year. No matter whether the Katz were flying through tunes from their excellent album Come Out Swingin', or playing behind guests Peter Busher and Rosemary Rae, who enthralled audiences with their duet of 'That's The Way Love Goes'. Merle Haggard and Jewel recorded the most recent version of that old Lefty Frizell classic, when Merle looked back at his own career on the 'For The Record' collection.
So we find that the old joke was funny, but not accurate. There are many branches on the Country tree, but there are only two types of music - good and bad! This stuff is all Good.
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