Countrypolitan Roots Maneuver
Ooh, girl is sneaky. She and MCA Nashville are bringing it all back home on the cover of this album, making it look like some old Lynn Anderson or Crystal Gayle record, cheesy typeface and song titles listed on the cover and soft-focus glamour shot and all.
The lead single, “I May Hate Myself in the Morning”, is much the same. It sounds like one of those folk-rock “countrypolitan” 1970s songs that had a habit of crossing over to the pop charts. It’s a good ol’ Nashville cheating-is-both-bad-and-good song, and there isn’t any damn thing you can say to tell me that this isn’t one of our contributions to world culture. Lee Ann has a great twangy instrument, but she understates it here, the better to match the Odie Blackman song’s booty-call ambivalence: “Ain’t it just like one of us / To pick up the phone and call after a couple drinks”. The whole thing is shot full of steel guitar swoops strings and drenched in strings, which swell at the end to let us know that the third verse is a-comin’. Oh, it’s a lovely thing that producer Byron Gallimore has made here, a genuine bona-fide throwback to the days when country music wasn’t trying to be Kiss or Kix or L.L. Cool J or…
Oh, see what they did there? They got me. I started getting nostalgic for the past. The thing is, the past of this record was largely hated by country music people back then, who were convinced that this was sell-out music, as far from the real country as modern naysayers say that Big & Rich and Kenny Chesney are. And this record doesn’t really sound like those old records, not really; the production is sharper, the acoustic guitars pop out of the speakers in a very modern way, and it’s all a little too-too to really be some kind of rebellious roots move. But what a strange situation country music is in when a record sounds radical for sounding like the Bellamy Brothers instead of Son of a Son of a Sailor?
Gallimore goes for this old-fashioned-y sound on several other songs, most notably the title track and “Twenty Years and Two Husbands Ago”, the only song that credits Womack as a writer. (That’s one thing that Nashville hasn’t changed, like, ever.) It’s a good song—and extra points for referencing Maybelline on the song, except that she’s talking about makeup instead of Chuck Berry—and it has a lot of signifiers on it, but there’s never really any time when the listener feels transported back in time. Which is okay by me, but don’t get the idea that this album will be a mysterious portal back to a golden age where Dolly Parton was mainstream and kids could earnestly debate who the hottest Mandrell sister was. (Don’t blame me, I voted for Louise; Irlene was overrated.)
The thing is, most of There’s More Where That Came From could easily fit onto other modern country records. The horribly corny Kostas song “Happiness” is an extended metaphor about a place that’s hard to find, even though it’s on the map, blah blah blah. (Kostas should remember that an extended metaphor is called a CONCEIT.) “When You Get to Me”, which follows right after, could be the next Martina McBride single, except that Martina is currently busy with that song about the disabled kid. And “Waiting for the Sun to Shine” has lyrical tropes that remind me, surprisingly, of the subtle work of Mr. Noel Gallagher: 4:27, and only about 30 words in the whole thing.
Which isn’t meant to say that this isn’t a good album, people. The album closer, “Stubborn (Psalm 151)”, is meant to be a God thing, about locking yourself into a hotel room with your demons (alcohol? sex?) and hoping the Gideon Bible will save you, but it doesn’t really sound like it’s a lock that those demons won’t triumph, so I’m not hating it. I really kind of love “One’s a Couple”, where the triangle is between our narrator, a dude trying to pick her up in a bar, and her memory: “They institutionalize people for acting like I do / Drinkin’ with somebody that ain’t in the room” is thickly-sliced genius. And “The Last Time” is somewhat haunting and wholly admirable.
Overall, this is good stuff. It’s not a revolution, it’s not a bold new path, it’s nothing more than good old country music, schmaltz and truth and hurt and illicit sex all wrapped up together with a pretty and garishly red bow. It is neither new school nor old school, fish nor flesh nor fantasy. It is what it is. Country music is Zen meditation. There’s always more where that came from.