Several months before I was involved with the bloggers exchange I mentioned a couple days ago, I was participating on a one-on-one exchange with Fred Hembeck, my old compatriot from the FantaCo comic book days. Most of my earlier works were chronologically based, but as Fred was already doing more thematic pieces, I did likewise.
One of the topics I decided on was to get a song for every state in the country. I missed a few states, but I ended up putting together three discs of an “American travelogue.”
Meanwhile, Fred was involved with a bunch of folks, most of them interested in comic books, who did a bloggersâ€™ exchange of mixed CDs, initiated by Chris “Lefty” Brown. As I wasnâ€™t blogging at the time, I couldnâ€™t participate. But now that I am posting fairly regularly, I got to give it a go in the second round with these very diverse folks (May 23).
I decided to use the first of my American Travelogue discs, but I made a few changes.
US: I wanted to start and end with an “American” song. I started with “American Roulette” from Robbie Robertsonâ€™s first solo album, which starts off slowly, but really rocks at the end. My old friend Karen has worked for record companies over half her life, and she was trying to promote this album when it came out. She goes to one station trying to explain who Robertson WAS, “You know, The Band? Backing band for Dylan? The Last Waltz?” No hint of recognition from some 23-year old program director who was making decisions about what got played on the air.
NY: “New York, New York” – Ryan Adams was an alt-country darling in 2001. Some critics indicate that he puts out too much mediocre stuff, so his double albums should be single discs. Remind me to look up “alt-country.”
NJ: “Atlantic City” – I wanted to NOT do Springsteen here; I half succeeded. Itâ€™s a Bruce song by post-Robertson The Band, a little more up tempo than The Bossâ€™s version, with mandolin.
PA: “Allentown” – I expect to be pilloried by some bloggers for putting the very uncool Billy Joel on the disc, but sonically, it just works for me. I had put Elton Johnâ€™s “Philadelphia Freedom,” but it didnâ€™t fit.
MD: “Baltimore” â€“ Iâ€™m sure I got Peter Case from Karen. Itâ€™s one of those albums that I never remember to play, but the gravelly-voiced singer always satisfies when I do. I considered Vonda Shepherd’s “Maryland” here, but I was in a city groove.
DE: Couldnâ€™t find anything in my collection for the First State. Don’t think “The White Cliffs of Dover” would count.
DC: “The Bourgeois Blues” â€“ Folkways put out an album of covers of Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly tunes. This song was written by the latter, and sung by Taj Mahal. Talks about black people not getting a break in our nationâ€™s capital.
VA: Some relative told me that “I Believe” was the “future of popular music.” So, sound unheard, I bought the Blessed Union of Souls album. I wouldn’t say it was “the future of popular music,” but “Sweet Virginia” works in this disc.
NC: “Take the Train to Charlotte” â€“ There are a number of other NC songs, but this one was obvious for me, since my mom, sister Marcia, and niece Alex live there. From the Roots and Blues 109-song, box set, this tune is by Fiddlinâ€™ John Carson, no relation to the late, late-night talk show host (I don’t think so, anyway.) This song is from c. 1930.
SC: “Darlington County” â€“ talk about commercial! From Springsteenâ€™s massive Born in the U.S.A. album. This was the toughest change, because I replaced an obscure John Linnell song “South Carolina”, but again the sound was the determining factor.
GA: “Oh, Atlanta.” Love the chromatic scale ascent on this Alison Krauss tune. Chromatic scale? Play the scale MI up to DO, including the black keys, on a piano, staccato (short notes), then imagine that on guitar leading to Alisonâ€™s sweet voice.
FL: “Gator on the Lawn.” At 1:13, the shortest song, also the loudest. It has a really rockabilly feel. From the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakersâ€™ box set.
PR: I DUMPED “America” from West Side Story from this version. I LOVE West Side Story, I ADORE West Side Story, but I didnâ€™t think it worked here.
AL: “Alabamy Home” by the Gotham Stompers, an instrumental from “1930s Jazz- The Small Combos.”
MS: “The Jazz Fiddler” by the Mississippi Sheiks, also from “Roots & Blues”.
LA: “Down at the Twist & Shout” was performed by Mary Chapin Carpenter at a Super Bowl, and I have the live recording, but this is the studio version.
TX: I love Lyle Lovett. I love his backing vocalists, Sweet Pea Atkinson and Sir Harry Bowens. They really help make “Thatâ€™s Right (Youâ€™re Not from Texas)” swing.
US: This CD ends with a Garth Brooks song “American Honky Tonk Bar Association.” Itâ€™s a flat out country song for the “hardhat, gunrack, achin’-back, overtaxed, flag-wavin’, fun-lovin’ crowd.” I had, in the previous incarnation, put this song before Lyle.
So, when I see reviews of this album on other blogs and I link to them, youâ€™ll know what the heck theyâ€™re talking about. Not so incidentally, look at Lefty’s page for June 28 for what other bloggers said about their own and each others’ discs.