Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Righteous Man

Country music is America’s royal-blooded black sheep. Names like Cash, the Louvin Brothers, Hank, George, and Loretta just to name a few, and are a line-up of controversy unquestioned, but also devastating revelation.

When the commercial force of music mutated during the seventies and eighties, country music had to move along with it. The kind of “roots” identity that had been highlighted in previous decades began to draw from rock and pop music. Kitty Wells gave way to Olivia Newton-John, CMT appeared on the national scene, and all your rowdy friends came over to watch football. They were changing with the times, and still are legitimate, if not popular names in country music today, that represent a large percentage of consumption and common perception.

This gave birth to aggressive and darker sub-genres, and old-school purists looking for banners to unite under. Hellbilly was influenced by punk and metal, not only as a driving instrumental force, but also in imagery and lyrical themes. Hank III, grandson of Williams Sr., is the most recognized figure in the scene for obvious reasons, but he does not standalone. It’s a movement that has been going on for over a decade with artists like David Allan Coe, Wayne Hancock, and Those Poor Bastards surviving through a loyal underground following.

Jayke Orvis, the founding member of the blue-grass gunslingers the .357 string band, on his album is called Its All Been Said, moves away from his overdrive plucking, and breaks his heart all through the night. He describes an individuals attempt to escape from the paranoid and self-destructive power of falling, “I guess I love you/ I love you more than I could ever really love myself / Cus' when things go wrong / I just stare too long at empty bottles on a broken shelf.” “Dreadful Sinner” sings the refrain “Mercy wrap your arms around me / Jesus why did you not buy me? / What does it take to become a righteous man? /…. Wickedness is painless / But its blaze is strong and true.” The mood of the It's All is uncompromisingly dark, but it’s also a living, breathing, human descent.

Orvis isn't afraid to reach for even greater depths in a music scene that will never make it onto broad radio circulation. “Gone Forever More” is confession of murderer who is driven to suicide in order to find peace after taking the life of his loved one. The chorus backing vocals on “Streets,” are so sweet that you forget he’s singing about the desire to disappear from a tortured life. Those who followed his previous band and were anticipating some lightning mandolin work, will be mildly disappointed. There are moments on the instrumental “Yankee Taste” and a great ode to the legendary Doc Watson on “Shady Grove/Gypsy Moon,” when he comes roaring down the highway at you.

This album is tough, but comfortably worn in, and by redefining the appreciation for those forgotten legends, it shows how their work is both timeless and essential. Jayke Orvis walks a long and lonely road on Its All Been Said, and spits in the face of those who want to sing about salvation.

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