Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of pieces written for Nine Bullets by special guest artists, creators and other friends of the site. Morgan Enos fronts the bands Other Houses and Hollow Sunshine.
It sometimes feels like an artifact of the Baby Boomer mentality to need a song to illustrate your times. But, I remember driving around with my dad listening to Neil Young’s Living with War when it came out. It’s another of Shakey’s “impulse albums” that was recorded as quickly as it was forgotten, calling for George W. Bush’s head. But, to my 14-year-old brain, it truly seemed like a cataclysmic political message, like that burlap packaging on the cover contained a letter bomb to Washington. It was 2006, but I felt like I was in 1966.
Ten years later, Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers appeared at the Democratic National Convention in support of presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton. It was stunning to see the Alabaman authors of “The President’s Penis is Missing” (Pizza Deliverance, 1999) as talking heads on the national news, a flash of authenticity onscreen. And as 2016’s American political climate parodies itself to a nearly psychedelic extent, we could do worse than Cooley and Hood as our musical ambassadors against the chaos. Now, we have American Band.
I actually wrote off Drive-By Truckers for most of my life. I’d sniff every time I’d hear someone’s rendition of “Bulldozers and Dirt” or “Women Without Whiskey” at a cafe or bar and presume whoever was behind it was unbearably hokey. It took James Jackson Toth of Wooden Wand penning a comprehensive piece about the band for Stereogum, which calls them“maybe America’s greatest extant band,” for me to realize how wrong I was. I quickly fell in love with the band’s body of work, with their multiple songwriters and needle-sharp narratives, accompanied by their go-to illustrator Wes Freed’s visual aesthetic ofCooley birds and tattered Southern landscapes.
American Band is their most streamlined work yet, and, on the surface, disposes of many of the elements that initially drew me to the group. Gone is the Wes Freed album cover, replaced by an unprecedented photograph of a muted, half-mast Old Glory. The songs operate differently, too. While the group’s past tunes set personal and mythological scenes against a changing American South, these songs fire outward against police killings, nationalist creeps and blind Rebel Flag waving. The Truckers have a righteous axe to grind.
It doesn’t hurt that the band sounds better than ever. Divorced from the sometimes compressed, distorted sound of recent albums like The Big To-Do (2010)and English Oceans (2014) the band sounds loose, energetic and wide-open. Cooley’s “Kinky Hypocrite” is yet another in his growing pile of Stonesy rave-ups (check out“Marry Me” or“Shit Shots Count” for the same kind of song) but it’s a wickedly funny put-down of the 1%. It’s not all finger-pointing, however: several songs reference co-leader Hood’s relocation from the Truckers’ home base of Athens, Georgia, to Portland, Oregon. His “Guns of Umpqua” finds the songwriter taking stock of his new life against the climate of a horrific recent shooting in Oregon. “When the Sun Don’t Shine” is a sweet, simple weather report of Hood’s internal world, in which he opts to “watch the moon peak into my room” rather than bask in some rays.
But it’s the weighty closer, “Baggage,” that is far and away the most potent cut here. To my ears, it’s the end credits to the band’s entire history, from the anarchic, inebriated makers of Gangstabilly (1998) or Pizza Deliverance (1999) to modern rock’s poet laureates.
In a revealing Facebook post from 2011 about the Truckers’ early song “Buttholeville,” from Gangstabilly (1998), Hood related his anger at his hometown of Florence, AL at age 24. “Things weren’t going particularly well on any level back then. I was very frustrated with everything in my life, personal, musical, financial, you name it,” he recalls. It’s a sense of despondency that’s seeped into his work ever since, but he spends the six stormy minutes of “Baggage” battling his demons in real time. It’s a fitting encapsulation of the current state of Drive-By Truckers as they near 20 years of existence. On American Band, Cooley and Hood crucially sharpen themselves as individuals and storytellers to go after our nation’s intolerance, violence, and poisoned traditions. Sometimes we do need a song.
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of pieces written for Nine Bullets by special guest artists, creators and other friends of the site. Larry Fulford has spent time on the mic as a comedian and behind the kit as a drummer. He’s a peach of a fellow and we asked him to reflect on a recent show he attended.
It was a Monday night, a night touring musicians dread even more than Sunday night, in Chicago, Cubs Country, during a Cubs game, in a city with a bar on every corner, a theater on every other corner, hundreds of ways to spend your money, and I was taking $8 to Uncommon Ground in Wrigleyville, a smallish craft-everything bar just down the street from where the Cubbies were playing, to see Micah Schnabel (Two Cow Garage) perform a solo/acoustic set on the second-to-last night of his most recent tour. A capable two-piece, acoustic singer/songwriter accompanied by an electric lead player, kicked things off. The sound was outstanding but the room itself was kind of stuffy, seated with table service and drinks I couldn’t afford. Maybe fifteen people sat at the tables, kind of spread out, making their pricey drinks last and nibbling on food I was jealous of. Fifteen in a room that, according to a sign, held forty-seven. It felt more like a cafe than a dive bar or rock club, the kinds of places I was used to seeing Schnabel and Two Cow. But the sound was incredible, so I told myself to hold onto that. From meager, midwestern beginnings as a simple alt-country outfit that was heavier than most, to a soaring, driving-with-the-top-down powerhouse walking a tightrope over a quarry of punk rock, to saying “Fuck it” and diving headfirst into that quarry but climbing up for air long enough to keep things interesting, I’ve been a fan of Two Cow Garage since I saw them play to an audience of maybe 12 as though it were an audience of 12,000 without a hint of bitterness. Years later, on an unassuming Monday night in Chi-Town, Schnabel alone took the stage (or place on the floor where a stage might be someday) and, just as I’d seen him lead the charge in front of 12 as though we were 12,000, stepped up to the mic to do exactly what he had come here to do, regardless of outcome or interest. Except this time, for the most part, he left the old songs on the records, save for maybe one Two Cow Garage track (“Let the Boys Be Girls”) and an I’m Dead, Serious bonus track (“How to Quit Smoking”). The rest of the set I was mostly unfamiliar with, with the exception of a couple songs I’d seen live clips of on YouTube. And this new stuff, wherever it came from, whatever triggered it, was captivating in the most brutally honest, unafraid to make you uncomfortable, beautiful way. There were lyrics about uncertainty, about questioning your own identity and the idea of identity, our collective reasons for doing things as simple as making small talk, existence, fear, the illusion of an “American dream,” domestic violence, child abuse, gun control, greed, starving, and finding hope in hopelessness. Ya know, real cock-sure, glamorous rock ‘n’ roll shit. Certain lines had me smiling, others had me staring, taking them in, sitting with them, asking myself questions like “How does this make me feel?” and thinking things like “Holy hell.” The imagery wasn’t always easy on the ears, but real art, the good stuff, isn’t always something you necessarily want to hear. But Schnabel’s words kept the room pindrop-worthy and landed as relatable, or at least easy to empathize with, because, subtly, ultimately, the theme of the night was We’re All Just People Here, Flawed and Fractured, Trying Our Fucking Best. Afterwards, as though nothing had happened, Micah and I and some buddies shot the shit about nothing at all, came up with ideas for t-shirts we’re never going to make, pretended we were friends with Seal. But something had happened. Something I was aware of even while it was happening. We’d all been temporarily whisked away to Greenwich Village or San Francisco in the ‘60s, when people gathered in rooms that wouldn’t hold more than maybe forty-seven people and turned their attention to someone who was singing or saying things as though he or she had been somewhere we’d never been, and maybe would never dare go, and had come back to us with pockets full of postcards. It’s been said “the revolution will not be televised,” because it won’t be. Because it’s slow-going and all around us and happening all the time. And it’s not always big, with explosions, castle-storming, chaining ourselves to trees. Sometimes, more often than not, it’s very, very small and personal, like a butterfly a million miles away, flapping its wings. I was born too late to sit in a smoky speakeasy and watch Lenny Bruce launch verbal cannonballs into the sails of hypocrisy, or Dylan boldly declare outright “the times, they are a-changin,’” but this show gave me what I imagine were similar chills. The whole “being a musician” thing usually begins simple enough. You want to learn how to play guitar (or drums, or bass, or sing) because you don’t just listen to music, music speaks to you, and you want to know what it’s like to speak that language, even if at first all that sounds like is butchering “Come as You Are” (or “Enter Sandman,” or “I Wanna Be Sedated” or anything-Zeppelin) while your parents knock on the door and ask if you’ve finished your homework. Your heroes are outcasts, outlaws, rebels who shirked real life in favor of climbing on stages, suspended in a state of permanent adolescence, sweating and bleeding and leaving everything “real” behind for whatever reason; money, fame, chickz (or dudez), or purely because they felt they had nowhere else to go. There are all sorts of reasons someone might start or join a band, but I think at the very core of every one is camaraderie. Whether you’re a misunderstood nerd with Rush posters all over your walls or a nerd-bullying jock dabbling in finding the only acoustic guitar at the house party to wow young ladies with Nickelback’s “Photograph,” there’s a sort of us-against-the-world feeling when you’re playing the role of rock star. And I use “rock star” figuratively here to describe anyone who’s found a spotlight, be it at a dumpy coffee shop where someone blends drinks over your attempt at quivering out the tritest of trite lyrics about your last break-up, a garage with three friends who also happen to know “Say it Ain’t So,” or a lonely bedroom, sitting on the edge of a dirty mattress, strumming the ever-loving shit out of “Everlong.” Myself? It couldn’t have been more about camaraderie if I’d known I was going to be writing this article one day and needed it to be. I became a drummer solely because my buddies in junior high were starting a band and needed a drummer, and back then, as now, there were no drummers to be found. The thing about bands, and music in general, is over time it gets harder and harder to make time. People go off to college, get married, accept offers for “real” jobs, have babies, find Jesus, sometimes all of the above. The odds are stacked against you from the get-go. It’s as though every band is a camel that thinks it’s a tank, and life is a veritable desert covered in sand-colored landmines. And, if your delicate endeavor does somehow beat the odds and sticks it out longer than, say, other high school garage bands in your graduating class, it’s almost inevitable that, eventually, the reason(s) you came together become filtered through reasons to continue to exist. Why are we doing this? It’s clearly not the money. It’s not the fame. Chickz? Dudez? Expression? Sustainability? Legacy? Should we start dressing a little nicer onstage so, aesthetically, we look more like we’re in the same group? Where should each of us look in this photo? Did that make us look too depressed? How are we gonna pay for the next record? Why are we even bothering making a next record when we still have boxes of the old record? Do we know any mechanics in Des Moines? It’s almost as though, to keep it going, you have to cling to some sort of goal, no matter how invented, farfetched, or out of reach, and start being concerned with things like marketing (blech), finding the right manager (blech!), and selling yourself (what in the actual fuck?!). It’s a long way to the lower-middle if ya wanna rock ‘n’ roll. Which is why it’s always inspiring when you come across a band or singer/songwriter (or, hell, painter, writer, comic, photographer, etc.) that refuses to be pigeonholed or let fashion and fleeting trends dictate the next thing that comes out of his or her hands and mouth, preferring rather to use their guitars, words, paintbrushes, and cameras as knives to cut out the bullshit and carve their own niche, searching for revelation, revolution, or simply a sigh of relief in the midst of a screaming world, where we all think we’re the centers of our own universes. Those are the ones keeping the ball rolling. Those are the ones doing more than entertain. They’re fighting a good fight and an uphill battle blindfolded because, to them, it doesn’t matter if they never cross the finish line or get gunned down along the way. They don’t do this simply because they want to anymore, they do it because they need to, because something in their brains or hearts or guts won’t let them set the tools of their trades down long enough to get a “real” job. There’s something burning inside and no extinguishing the flame. There is only breathing fire. Some of these people have been at it for years and will be until their last gasps, when you can finally pry their reasons for existing from their cold, dead hands. They’ve missed loved ones’ birthdays, lost jobs, been evicted, had relationships crumble, and none of it has made them choose to slow down because there is. no. choice. Micah Schnabel is one such “lifer” whose evolution I feel privileged to have had ringside seats for, and Two Cow Garage is one such band. And now, all these years later, when most groups at their level would be paralyzed with fear, carefully calculating what to say next, how to sound next, what to wear next, or deciding maybe this wasn’t such a great idea after all, Schnabel is all but dismissing the surface, choosing instead to turn himself inside out, more interested in what we as human beings might be trying to hide rather than how we as entertainers look under those precious lights. And, in turn, he’s writing some of the most important songs of his generation, and the generation after, and probably the generation before, and probably generations to come. I don’t know how else to describe it. Important. I could try to explain it better, like how it kind of reminds me of Salinger with a guitar or Dylan with a sense of humor, but to be fair to everyone I’m name-dropping, Micah included, I’ll stop at “important” and hope you see fit to check it out on your own when he comes to your town or commits it to plastic. I’d like to think true artists aspire to reach a point where they’re comfortable baring their souls. Some manage to get over themselves and find a way to dig that deep. Even fewer will dig that deep, hit a gas line, stash of marked bills, lava, or worse and still throw enough caution to the wind to unearth it into a song, painting, book, joke, movie, etc. Micah now goes beyond that. He hits the skeleton of his soul, chips it away and fires the pieces into space with a slingshot. And now that he’s armed with these new songs and ideas, that run the gamut from friendly reminders to scathing satire, I’ve decided the only thing I enjoy more than listening to him myself is watching people hear him for the first time.
I figured I’d share a little with you today. I don’t have any great words of wisdom, hell I’m barely treading water at this point, but I’ve been mulling over a playlist for a while and I put it together when I was supposed to be working this morning. So here’s a little something to help get you through today, or maybe not…
For over 2 decades and 10-plus albums, Malcolm Holcombe has treaded right on the cusp of notoriety and infamy.
One of my favorite quotes on Holcombe has always come from Steve Earle, who said he was “the best songwriter I ever threw out of my studio.” That follows the intensity and controlled chaos that is a Malcolm Holcombe set.
The years have seen less unpredictability from Holcombe. He rarely rocks his chair to points where most people would lose their balance and crash into the floor. He also no longer wanders the stage during songs while singing bent over the mic with the back to his audience. However, he maintains an intensity that would leave an audience of punk rockers in awe. There is not a moment Holcombe does not seem to be pouring himself out on stage through songs or meandering stories that seems like nonsense until the song joins it.
With a new album, Another Black Hole, out in the world for consumption, Holcombe rolled through Houston for his second stop at McGonigel’s Mucky Duck. Sensing he was in classier quarters than usual, Holcombe held back most of his colorful language and stories for the latter half of the set, when he found a rapport with the audience and a sense of comfort.
The first thing one notices at a show by Holcombe is the extraordinary amount of sound coming from the small, fragile looking man that walks on stage and his acoustic guitar. Once he throws his hat to the ground and begins his fingerpicking, any thought of fragility disappears. He beats notes out of the guitar, frails all 5 fingers across the strings to bring percussion, lead and rhythm all out at once. A stare that looks nothing short of crazed and haunted comes across his face, then the stories begin.
The music comes from a breadth of experiences. There are reflective songs like his opener for the past few tours, Mountains of Home, and downright bitter songs lamenting the average man being left on his own like the upbeat Papermill Man or the slower Savannah Blues .
The songs rolled forth for a little over an hour before Holcombe exited the stage to calls for an encore. As he ducked outside, pulling his pack of cigarettes from the pocket on his t-shirt, the cries carried on for a few more songs. Then, as people began to give up, Holcombe’s cigarette must have burned to its final drag as he came through the front door to finish out the show with a 1-2 punch of The Music Plays On and A Far Cry From Here.
If you’ve never heard Malcolm Holcombe, be sure to get that changed up real soon. He’s not getting younger, his cigarette intake is forever unwavering and the road keeps calling him out on it. Don’t miss your opportunity to see this man up-close and personal.
This mix was inspired by the comments on my Top 5 Train Songs post both here and on my Facebook wall. I had to do a little curating but I tried not to do much. Some songs I couldn’t find a decent version of and some I had to pick which artist I was going to use. I didn’t duplicate artists or songs and we still ended up at 25 tracks! I really hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed the work involved in putting it together.
As I go through my old archives I keep finding mixes that I really like and think need to see the light of day again. This one seemed perfect for a Thursday where I am buried at work. I can’t remember how in the hell I actually put these tracks together, in this order, and thought it would work. Strangely enough it does and it’s a lot of fun to comb back through these old mixes and re-post them! I hope you’re enjoying them as much as I am.
Living in Baltimore there sadly hasn’t been a good venue to see acoustic that was worth bands playing so most of those shows went to DC or skipped our area as a whole. Enter Club 603 which is actually a house venue that’s been putting on shows since at least 2013 and with appearances from bands like Centromatic, John Moreland and Mike Doughty you can tell it’s not your average house show. I discovered the place when Will Johnson was playing there and finally went to my first show there last year to see John Moreland. The furniture is moved out of the living room, a bunch of chairs are moved in and with that the room can hold 50-60 people depending on the band’s setup which makes for a perfect setup for acoustic performances.
John Calvin Abney was the first to play on this night and since I knew absolutely nothing about him I was glad I got there just in time for him to begin. The crowds at these shows are interesting because they’re a mix of people that know about one or more of the artists and are there to see them, or it’s one of a dedicated group that comes to shows here trusting that they always book acts worth hearing. John’s set was full of what I tend to identify as Texas storyteller songs even though he is in fact from Oklahoma but either way one song in I knew I was buying his record as soon as this show was over. I talked to John after the show only to find out that he’d not only played on John Moreland and Samantha Crain’s records but that i’d seen him play with Crain in DC previously. His solo record Better Luck, which Moreland plays on, is just as great as his set was so give it a listen.
Up next was Porter who I hadn’t seen since his days as Some Dark Holler but I’ve enjoyed his new solo record, that Will Johnson produced, This Red Mountain since its release earlier this year. His set included songs from that record and new songs as well as some from previous projects like The Back Row Baptists which all flowed great together and were very well received by the crowd that was largely new to him. He then brought up John for a few songs and we were treated to some of their tour stories from his Natural Disaster run including a sleeping pill and ibuprofen mishap that resulted in a perilous drive to the next stop. The songs they played together were fantastic and left me wanted to see them together again.
Closing out the night was North Carolina’s Caleb Caudle who had previously played this venue in January so most of the audience was at least familiar with him. He started off with some songs from last years record Paint Another Layer on My Heart which it was obvious the crowd new well and loved. We were then treated to a mix of new songs off his forthcoming record as well as more songs from the previous two records. This room is dead quiet and with hardwood floors a voice like Caleb’s just fills up the place beautifully. It’s a rare treat to be able to sit/stand and listen to songs like these without the artist fighting to overcome some sort of crowd noise. I’m looking forward to all of these guys next stop through Club 603.
18 months ago I took over running this little joint. It took a while to get my feet under me and I’ll admit there have been some stumbles along the way. Once I had my feet under me I decided to do a redesign, life happened, and everything moved very slowly. Fast forward a while and we end up where we are today, announcing that on late Sunday night or early Monday morning, depending on your location, a new 9 Bullets look will be launched.
While the site will look completely different nothing else will change. You can still expect the same quality reviews, occasional snark, and general tone that you’ve come to know and love. I am really excited about this as it is the culmination of months of work in my spare time. I am really proud of the new look and really proud of the staff here and their dedication to providing content. We all do this out of love for the music and artists and if I have my druthers that’s how it will always be.
So stay tuned, I’m sure that things will be a little bumpy during the DNS transition and there might be some hiccups with the new site but I’ll be actively fixing anything to crops up and don’t hesitate to let know if you have problems once the new site launches next week!
So I’ve been working a lot lately, and thinking about work. I’m too exhausted to put much thought into this post, so I’m not going to. I have a lot of feelings about work, and you can find a lot of them in this mixtape.
It has a lot of stuff I really love: starts out with a rare Lucero track, has some live Lee Bains III, good ol’ Tim Barry, and is (I believe) the Ninebullets debut of a little-known artist named Kanye West.
Give it a listen and let me know what you like to have in your ears at work. For me it’s audiobooks, rock operas, and the constant needling of my own self-doubt.
I want to get more into making mixtapes for folks, and maybe podcasting in the manner of our very own Charles Hale’s Ajax Diner Book Club. So here’s a taste of what I bring to the table, pun from mixing metaphors neither intended nor appreciated.
Upsetlists are EP-length transmissions, upsetting set-lists, malfunctioning time machines, flashes of divine recombination. A coupla-song podcast. This one is for all the whales in captivity:
Bob Neuwirth – “Kiss Money” – Bob Neuwirth (1974): Bob Dylan’s old buddy, Neuwirth’s recorded output resembles more outlaw country kind of stuff. He wrote one of my favorite Kristofferson songs, “Rock & Roll Time.”
Steve Young – “Love in My Time” – Rock Salt & Nails (1969)
Gene Clark – “For a Spanish Guitar” – White Light (1971): maybe the coolest Byrd; two of his albums, White Light and No Other (1974) are killers.
Willis Alan Ramsey – “Spider John the Gambler” – Willis Alan Ramsey (1972): he only made one album but it’s awesome.
Natalie Prass – “Bird of Prey” – Natalie Prass (2015): great new album.