Three good things that are making my world a better place:
- Rain (act of God)
It has been raining for most of the last three days. I hate it and I love it. Every time it seems to have cleared up and I go outside to pull weeds, work on plantings, or just generally work in the yard, it begins to rain again. I stay out in the rain as long as I can; these rains we’ve been having in central Alabama lately have not been hard rains, so I usually last 10 to 15 minutes before giving up. I’ll then head indoors, clean up a bit, and start on another project there and, as soon as I begin – and, invariably, look out the window – the rain stops and the sun comes out. You probably see where this is going: as soon as I then abandon my inside activity and go outside again, the rain sneaks back into the picture. It is an interminable game of cat and mouse, where I believe I have been saddled with the unfortunate role of the mouse.The upside of this frustrating game is that everything is green and lively in the yard, on my street, and just about anywhere I go within this city or in the surrounding region. I know it sounds corny, but it is truly worth suffering through that little rain dance to be out of our extended drought, and to be able to enjoy a healthy landscape again for the first time in nearly three years.
- The library (community cornerstone)
I enjoy reading. I have done so my entire life, or at least as long as I can remember being able to read. Even though I know I spent many hours in libraries as a child, and especially in college, my habits post-college when related to reading changed dramatically. I became – no, scratch that – the book collector that I already was came into full bloom. I was always a book collector, a book admirer, a book horder, a personal-library builder. I am now at the point where I have more books than I could possibly read in my lifetime, if I lived to be 100 years old and did nothing but read 24 hours a day. Realizing this, I have slowed down on the collecting activities. Finances have had an influence on this, also, as you may have rightly assumed.Two weeks ago, I went over to the library, looking for the first volume of Richard Evans’ history of the Third Reich. I was driven to do this when I discovered that hardcover editions of the book were going for at least $100 from Amazon sellers. I discovered that I could, miraculously, go onto the Jefferson County Library Cooperative’s website, find out if the holdings of the JCLC contain a particular book, and electronically request it be sent to my neighborhood branch (which happens to be the Avondale branch). An addictive activity, to be sure, and it has the added positive reinforcement option where I can be e-mailed straight to my BlackBerry when a book I have requested has arrived. I have been away from libraries for so long that I have no idea how long this process has been in place. My mental reference set for searching for a book goes way back to the ’80s, when I used to plow through the Widener Library stacks for obscure Walt Whitman and Freud volumes, getting caked with centuries-old dust in the process. I think I prefer this “new” procedure, and it has brought me back into the library again, exposing me, so far, to the Evans book, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and a book of interviews with writers entitled Story Story Story (which caught my attention because it contains an interview with one of my favorite writers, Ethan Canin). And the library is close enough to my house that it has encouraged another essential and under-utilized activity in my life…bike-riding! (When it’s not raining, that is.)
- The Dexateens’ Singlewide (CD)
Speaking of getting back to basics (and that’s what the general theme today seems to be), the new album by The Dexateens is a stripped-down detour down a dusty back road, more concerned with spinning a yarn than settling into a kickin’ groove. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; “Makers Mound,” off the band’s 2006 Hardwire Healing, is one of the grooviest slices of southern rockin’ I know. On Singlewide, however, the groove is easy, and props up a gallery of characters and stories that, for me, set the album back in an era when character and story seemed to be really important. You know I’m talking about the ’70s.
I know that it becomes an annoying practice, from the musician’s point of view, when people like me dredge up a list of names of other artists to describe a current artist’s sound. However, I am going to resort to that now (that’s your cue to stick your fingers in your ears, go “la la la la la,” and skip to the next paragraph). The Dexateens, on this album, sound like at least a dozen other artists: Wilco and Son Volt on “Trail” and “Spark,” respectively; fellow Southerners Drive-By Truckers on “Grandaddy’s Mouth”; the Rolling Stones during their frequently recurring country-rock archivist period (nearly once an album for a stretch), but especially Sticky Fingers-era Stones. Then there is this indistinct but unmistakable vibe present throughout the entire album, as if the late-night essence of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Nils Lofgren, Jackson Browne and Hot Tuna had been sprinkled into the plastic coating of the CD before it was sealed up and mailed to me. I hear that on every track.
The good news is that The Dexateens never sound like any one of the aforementioned artists on Singlewide without sounding like themselves. They’ve got a musical signature that’s distinguished by that high, sly and nasal vocal, an instrumental looseness (never sloppy), and the smarts to revel in the music that’s shaped the landscape on which they travel. Oh, did I say “smarts?”: “Charlemagne,” a track about the unlikely trio of Emperor Charlemagne, Jesse James and Bob Crane in the throes of existential crises, just finished and I am in stitches. I really dig this album.
“Trail” by The Dexateens, from Singlewide (2009)
“Grandaddy’s Mouth” by The Dexateens, from Singlewide (2009)
And, from the ’70s…you let me know if you think I am way off base:
“The Ballad of Curtis Loew” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, from Second Helping (1974)
“Song for the North Star” by Jorma Kaukonen (of Hot Tuna), from Quah (1974)
“Two by Two” by Nils Lofgren, from Nils Lofgren (1975)
“The Times You’ve Come” by Jackson Browne, from For Everyman (1973)