Friday, January 15, 2010
Southern cities have their own brand of soggy desperation. Particularly the small ones. There is a hunger for something more than the immediate surroundings provide, and those with an inclination for satisfaction can get restless. The low-rent apartments can get powerfully small, and we take to the streets with intent of making good on these yearnings. But small cities being what they are, entertainment isn't necessarily had, so much as it is found. Some people find it in creative collaboration. The coming together of minds like a joining of hands and thunderous noise ensues, echoing through those apartment buildings and taverns, carried by the viscous southern air. Tattoo ink and Jameson give it a unique bouquet. A siren song for the southern yearn.
In this primordial soup of Jackson, a thing took shape years ago in the form of Goodman County, an amalgam of Whiskeytown country and Replacements punk, which produced perhaps the anthem of Jackson, in my eyes, Anarchy in the Southern States. And through years of evolution and improvement, the latest and perhaps last work of Jackson's best band has ripened potently. It is a true shame that their greatest work seems to have been their eulogy, but it's good to go out on the top of your game, I suppose. Their self-titled swan song is the culmination of many sweaty nights and broken hearts. And you feel every one. Singer/Songwriters Cody Cox, Ryan Baucum, and Josh Taylor have a knife, and don't mind twisting it. Backed by the steady rhythm section of Tony Abercrombie and Barry Shannon, the rush of adrenaline in the faster tracks like When History Dies is a sensation like you imagine the beating heart of a V8 engine in your own mortal chest would feel. And this album, as a whole, has a more up-tempo personality than their previous efforts.
The album features many of the songs Goodman County has been playing live for the last few years, and hearing them in recorded form is a revelation. It captures the intensity of their live performances, which if you've never had the fortune to catch, is a palpable amount. Cox, in particular, has fire in his voice, which sounds like a pre-Gold era Ryan Adams when he was still singing punk via Paul Westerberg (Look up Adam's Pinkhearts stuff, or The Patty Duke Syndrome, and we'll discuss.) The comparison probably makes the band bristle a bit, but is unavoidable, and actually a positive in this listener's opinion. There is plenty of Johnny Cash morality tale songwriting, Old 97's visualizations, and The Blacks dirty gritt to temper those comparisons. Not to mention 1000% less pretense. Taylor's vocal turns are great counterpoint to Cox's. A bit smoother...a bit more twangy. Kinda the Farrar to Cox's Tweedy. Or, if you prefer, more like Drive By Trucker's Mike Cooley, absolutely confident in his southernness. Regardless, you have a mixture of punk and country that produces a sound that, while not unique to Jackson, seems to have been perfected here.
Standout tracks include the aforementioned romp, When History Dies, the political critique and live classic (and my personal favorite Goodman County song), Auctioneering; the evil swing of Daisy Bait; the replacementsesque abandon of Distortion and Dust; and the distant longing of Roy Rogers. These strong points are strong, indeed, but the album is not without faults. And really, its not a lack of quality, but the amount of good that muddies the waters as an album. The songwriting can delve a little too long into the trite, but to its credit, it never suffers too much for it. In truth, it might be this reviewer's tilt that colors my view that the themes of whiskey soaked longing conveyed in lines like "maybe I'll start drinkin', so I'll forget. You're the worst kind of lonely a boy can get" from Kerosene are a wee bit predictable. It certainly speaks to part of me though, and that part tends to win out against the cynic. There is an honesty here that I can't really argue against. And just as quickly as those pop in the mind, a fantastic line comes and kicks it in the ass and pushes it along, like Distortion and Dusts' "Three thousand miles ain't too far to go to get back what's lost." Truly, if Goodman County are lost to Jackson, three thousand miles would seem like a bargain. Let the court make note of my bias on this matter.
And in that thought of loss of one of Jackson's great bands, I submit that appreciation be their legacy. The cold October nights I stood watching this hungry band play for free at Jacktoberfest, just to be heard, have lingered long and profound in my mind. I remember going up to Cody and Ryan as an awkward fan, unabashedly gushing, as I have here today shouting lyrics like "just a charlatan" at the top of my lungs. But truly, a moment of gushing is warranted in their absence. Which is to say, eight years of badassery should not go without recognition. Looking forward to new incarnations such as Furrows, we are granted a respite against our loss, but make no mistake, the loss of alchemy that was Cox/Baucum/Taylor will be sorely missed. They were a band worth celebrating, and celebrate I will, for the type of art that this southern band produced rose above the white noise of Jackson. They were the cream of another Southern city shrugging to shake off the doldrums of its space and time. A thunderous clap in the otherwise quiet, sticky southern air...the light gone before we heard the sound.
Chris Nolen is an art director and writer in Jackson, MS
That was a really excellent review. I love this review. It has a point, it gives context via other artists with being overly music dork. It quotes the artist's lyrics to make its points about the artist. A+ dude. I personally am not even into GC's music, I just love it when people write about music that makes them excited because it gives me an in to a world that I might not otherwise experience. Also, It is humorously high on my list of pet peeves when music critics write 3 1/2 star reviews. See: http://media.avclub.com/audio/articles/article/36476/hatecast-25_121809.mp3 (about a third of the way through) So thanks for not falling for 3 1/2 star syndrome.
Wow. Thanks. I think ratings, as a whole, are counterproductive to the review experience, from the consumer point of view. Yes, it gives in a quick glance an idea of how the record ranked. But it also allows for your own imagination to be cut off. With no score, the reader is allowed more leeway to consider the points at hand, and to form their own opinion apart from a number or star rating telling them they are wrong. The lack of score encourages exploration of new things more readily, in my experience. Thanks again for the kind words. As a relatively unexperienced writer, I really appreciate the encouragement.
- Chris Nolen