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Various Artists | Beyond Nashville (Manteca)
There's a paradox at the heart of the compilation album, namely that the more successful the anthology is, the quicker its obsolescence. Once you've bought the albums you like, you don't need to hear the same tracks on the comp. And the ones that you didn't buy, you probably don't want to listen to anyway. Exclusive tracks can offset this problem but the compilers of this album have eschewed them in favour of album cuts. Comprising of 42 previously released songs and split between a CD of 'traditional' country music and one of 'alt.country' there's nothing exclusive or even rare about the choices herein. The first CD tries to trace the history of Country music from the high pitched country blues yodel of Jimmie Rodgers in 1931 to the equally high pitched lonesome quaver of Jimmie Dale Gilmore on the Flatlanders' awesome 1972 masterpiece, Dallas. In between there's no rhinestone cowboys or hat bands, no schmaltz or schmooze. Of course this is bowing to the canonical view of a history of country music unallied to modern Nashville, a revisionist declaration of the roots of alt.country and, while all such endeavors are doomed to failure, this one seems to be guiltier than most. One question that keeps coming back is: who is this album geared towards? Surely not alt.country fans who will already undoubtedly own the majority of material here. As for people curious about alt.country, it's very doubtful that modern sensibilities can get their heads round the pure country genius of Lefty Frizell, Bill Monroe and Bob Wills. The first CD traces the move from rural country blues, towards hillbilly, rock and roll and western swing - but it does it so cursorily that it actually demonstrates the heterogeneity of country music and the limitations of our notation. Which is perhaps the point but whether people will get it is another matter. Halfway through the first CD, the shadow of Gram Parsons falls and there's a fair representation of the willowy, subdued, pretty country rock of the early seventies. There's no Dylan which reminds us how history is created through licensing arrangements. The first disc goes up to 1973 while the second starts in the mid-nineties with what was then called the No Depression movement (subtly morphing into alt.country / Americana). But there's a huge gap - like seeing the beginning and end result of one of those Rube Goldberg devices but not the links between. There's nothing from the mid-eighties, a time that saw country being re-invented in the light of punk and post punk by bands such as Giant Sand, Green On Red, the Long Ryders and Rank And File. This was the great transformation. The foundation and Rosetta Stone of country rock - shearing away all Poco / Eagles' gentilities and tearing a new asshole into the genre with guitars, rage and amphetamine. So we end up in the mid-nineties and while the selection on CD 2 is just as catholic as on the first, there's a certain weariness to the choices, a vast majority of the songs having appeared before on several compilations including Loose 2 and recent Uncut cover mounts. How many times can one hear WGC's Evening Mass or Son Volt's Windfall? An uneven, uninspired and depressingly populist compilation for anyone who's been following the genre over the last few years and a head scratching pot pourri for those just wanting a taste.
CWAS #9 - Winter 2002