Category Archives: Country

Andrew Bird – The Crown Salesman & So Much Wine

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Andrew Bird has been releasing records in some form or another for the past 16 years (1996 he first contributed to a Squirrel Nut Zippers Record). Most known for his exquisite skills as a whistler(notably appearing at the end of The Muppets), Mr. Bird is a multi-instrumentalist who creates music that defies most descriptive genre labels. At times folk, at times pop, and in moments ethereal and other worldly, Andrew Bird creates compositions that are uniquely his own.

In preparation for Mr. Bird’s album, Break It Yourself, he released this 7″. The release is actually two cover songs, the a-side, ‘The Crown Salesman’, was originally performed by a band called Alpha Consumer, which is Jeremy Ylvisaker‘s band, who is also Bird’s touring guitarist. The b-side is called “So Much Wine” and is performed by The Handsome Family, an alt-country band formed in 1993.

What did we think of the songs? We’re gonna tell you!

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Rob: I don’t know if there’s such thing as a typical Andrew Bird song, or a typical Andrew Bird sound, but to me, the intro distortion and guitar sound announce that this is going to be a song by Andrew Bird (even though it really doesn’t sound a whole lot like many other Andrew Bird songs). There’s a slow building distortion. The ever present violin, but a guitar that seems to be trying to find it’s voice, but can only let out high pitched distortions of voice.

Later in the song, after the second verse, there’s an almost screeching-ness into the violin and guitars. It’s right on the borderline between being pleasurable musically and nails on a chalkboard, but it just rides the line. It’s small things like that, intricate sounds that on first listen seem simple, but upon further reflection seem to be down right hard to create.

The lyrics, at first, seem to be almost anthemic, supported by a driving, march like drum (or an early Bruce Sprinsteen rock and roll beat, just slowed down (boom   – – da da). Riffing on the Statue of Liberty,  Mr. Bird sings, ‘bring me your trampling masses, your Sunday best’. It seems as though the Crown Salesman is running the game. We only get two verses and the chorus twice, with the rest of the song creating the atmospheric violin / guitar distortion described above. Check out the original version, to see how Andrew Bird makes it his own, adding the distortion and his own unique brand of singing.

Eric: The way the guitar starts out in the song, its like a paragraph starting with a period, or maybe an ellipsis.  As if the guitar is saying, what was I saying? Oh, that’s right.  Then Andrew Bird’s voice cuts it, but throughout the song it feels as if he and his guitar are struggling: each one wants to have the floor to speak. When he sings “I am the Crown Salesman!” the guitar then comes in as if to answer, “Oh, really?” and in the end, it seems as if Mr. Bird loses his struggle and the guitar and violin take the floor to let out the chaos that he had been holding back.

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Rob: ‘So Much Wine’ is also a cover. And far more traditional as we begin with just a simple acoustic guitar accompanying Andrew. In come the brushed snares, and then a little later the single twangy guitar. If anything, this song demonstrates that Andrew Bird might have a second career as a country artist. His voice still retains it’s majestic or baroque qualities, but he still manages to impart a small bit of twang.

In quintessential country song fashion, ‘So Much Wine’ is about drinking (obviously, I suppose). And like any good country song, it’s not about the loss and loneliness that that wine causes. The narrator seems to be counseling his significant other, and realizes that her problems are deeper than any glass of wine can help. Until the drinking itself has become the problem. And all he can do is drive away, and contemplate the stars.

In the second half of the song though, the solo guitar loses it’s twang and instead we get a little bit of the distortion we heard in the first song. Not an all encompassing distortion, but the twang is allowed to stretch a little bit, to float off into the night sky, as if the song was being played around a camp-fire, with coyotes coming closer in the woods and howling their pleasure to every line.

Eric: “When you fell asleep/with blood on your teeth/I just got in my car/And drove away” sounds like it could be a line from a song about vampires. Though this is not the case, it is very much so a song tinged from beginning to end with melancholy, talking about the tragedy of alcohol and relationships. I absolutely love the refrain of “Listen Butterfly/there’s only so much wine/you can drink/in one night/and it will never be enough/to save you from the bottom/of the glass”. No matter what you do, eventually you have to come back to the sober reality, consequences and loneliness that come with the next morning. I think Andrew Bird puts a great spin on this song, carrying it out and away.

Randy Travis / Avett Brothers Split 7″ RSD

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This week we bring you an exclusive Record Store Day only release. In 2012, country legend, Randy Travis, and up and coming folk heros, The Avett Brothers, got together to shoot a CMT episode of crossroads. The special featured both artists playing together on classics as well as each other’s songs. This 7″ gives us two songs from the broadcast: from the Avett Brothers a song entitled “February Seven” and a classic Travis song entitled “Three Wooden Crosses”.

The Avett Brother’s have been singing and touring the country for a decade and change, but it seems that they’ve just hit their artistic (and commercial) stride with their latest release, The Carpenter, as well as the album before that, I and Love and You. Their particular blend of bluegrass, folky, rock is hard to describe. Employing a banjo and mandolin, the Avett Brother’s don’t immediately strike one as a modern country band, but instead maybe the comparison can be found in their heartfelt lyrics (dealing with country mainstay subjects such as heartbreak, loneliness, drinking, whiskey, etc). Within the same songs the Brother’s might leap from delicate harmony to biting punk yelp.

Randy Travis, in the same vein, has been around the block more than a few times, although has been performing for a good 22 years longer than the Avett Brothers. CMT Crossroads seems to be a musical production pairing newer artists with stylistic forbearers, and the Avett Brother’s probably couldn’t have asked for a better mentor. Maybe it’s the fact that both the Avett Brother’s and Randy Travis are both from North Carolina, but they both manage to wrap heavy topics in music both both accessible yet still distinctive.

Here are our thoughts on the two cuts:

 

February Seven (The Avett Brothers)

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Eric’s Thoughts:   ‘February Seven’ is a slow song from the Avett Brothers album ‘The Carpenter’, but it seems somehow even slower with the addition of Travis’ warm molasses twang. The song itself feels natural with Travis, now instead telling the story of two travel weary brothers meeting a wanderer and finding that they share something of their walk of life. The song’s main theme is of not going back, not having regrets, just continuing with forward motion, even if sometimes you might need a moment’s rest.

Rob’s Thoughts:  I agree with Eric, that Travis and the Avett Brothers seem to really naturally complement each other on these two songs. Not only that, but the two songs seem to share the same theme, albeit with different actors. In February Seven, the narrator is out there looking for something, falls in love with a girl, makes some bad decisions, but is pulled out by earlier woman. This kind of thing is the bread and butter of country songs, and Travis’ twang makes it seem like he could have written it just as easily. The injured hero, who’s no stranger to the darker side of life, is pulled through to the brighter side of things by a love and faith. This song seems to be about a girl, but it could just easily be about god (and a country song without god, a woman, or booze just wouldn’t be a country song, would it?)

Three Wooden Crosses (Randy Travis)

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Rob’s Thoughts: These two songs seem to complement each other really well. They’re both about faith, human connections, and redemption. “Three Wooden Crosses” is a little bit more obvious in the way it goes about the message (country never claimed to be subtle). We’re introduced to our cast of characters right away, a teacher, a preacher, a farmer, and a hooker. There’s a car accident, three of the four die and we’re left with a story of what each character left to the future. The chorus of “It’s not what you take, but it’s what you leave behind you” resonates in each of the characters stories, but the narrator is perhaps the most immediate and wonderful thing left behind by the crash. This song seems to be about how life and death sometimes collide in strange ways, but that for every dead tree there might someday be a flower.

Eric’s Thoughts:  Randy Travis’ classic tragic tale of four disparate travelers on a bus still strikes a chord. This time the song feels a bit sped up, perhaps it’s just the  Avett Brothers infusion of energy chugging the song along. I would say this country ballad suffers little from traded vocals and a slightly increased tempo.

Gonna have to listen to these one’s on Youtube:

Buy The Carpenter, Avett Brother’s latest or Randy Travis’ Rise and Shine.