Sunday, March 19, 2006

If you only listen to one of these songs, make it "Please Tell My Brother" by Golden Smog

There was a time in my life when I was very interested in alt-country. It started on the day I bought Rufus Wainwright's debut album and Wilco's "Summerteeth" (which still ranks as the best CD buying day of my life). I knew Rufus Wainwright would be a winner, but I only bought Summerteeth on a whim, fuelled by some positive press and one cool single. I figured I'd probably listen to it a little and then move on. Six years on, Summerteeth is still my favourite album ever.

Here I was, holding this fantastic album but not knowing anything else about Wilco. In this situation, 17-year-old Dickolas naturally takes to the internet and finds that not only does Wilco have another highly acclaimed album in their back-catalogue, but that their fearless leader Jeff Tweedy was actually in this other band that a lot of people seemed to really like. Also, that while in this band, he invented country rock (his words, not mine). When a Canadian hears these words, he immediately thinks of Blue Rodeo, and so I borrowed my father's copy of "Outskirts". I bought some more Wilco, I got some mp3s off Napster before I was booted off for downloading Roy Orbison's "Crying". Thus began in earnest my phase.

For most of this time I was content to stick by my main man Mr. Tweedy and try to get into this whole exciting rock/Americana/"No Depression" thing. I picked up all of Uncle Tupelo's albums -- except, curiously, "No Depression", I obsessed over the excellent "Mermaid Avenue" album Wilco did with Billy Bragg and (sort of) Woody Guthrie, and I picked up a Golden Smog album (a sort of supergroup with lots of "big names"). I expanded my Blue Rodeo collection eight-fold, and heard a few tracks by Whiskeytown and the Jayhawks ("We've been called the American Blue Rodeo," said Gary Louris). During this time, I even considered buying a banjo.

Still, it wasn't really going to work out between me and Sure, Uncle Tupelo's "Anodyne" is a great album, but as I went back through their catalogue, the appeal was diminishing further and further until I just couldn't be bothered to buy their seminal first album, the important one that invented the genre. What Whiskeytown I could track down didn't grasp me either. The Jayhawks were cool, but all of the stuff I liked by them came when they were moving from Country rock to country Rock, if you will. Eventually, I concluded that I didn't really like so much as I liked Wilco and Blue Rodeo, and rootsy guitar rock. But that's okay, because it taught me not to fear banjos, mandolins, and pedal steel guitars.

I tend to really like the stuff that formerly alt-country bands make after they get out of alt-country. Since Wilco got out of the alt-country game, they've made three all-time classic albums. The Jayhawks have a fantastic album in "Rainy Day Music". My Morning Jacket followed up "It Still Moves" with "Z". I think that alt-country is like going to a good school, only with music: instead of getting you a good job, it allows you to make music that appeals to me, Dickolas Wang. It teaches people to really embrace tube distortion and to write melodies. It exposes them to all sorts of great vintage keyboard sounds, like the Farfisa and the Rhodes piano. I think that all this experience keeps bands from going too far off the deep end when they go the way of Radiohead and make their difficult 4th album. This got me thinking that I should make up the 2nd semi-annual I, Dickolas Wang mixtape. I'll put together a list of post-alt-country songs by formerly alt-country bands, I thought, and it would have some jam-rock, some classic pop, even a little lounge jazz. The criterion would be simple and broad-reaching: any song that has even a peripheral connection to alt-country would be fair game. I'd also include a little bit of a country-tinge, too.

As I put together the list, though, damned if the rootsier stuff didn't stick together better. So, the final list contains a lot more pedal steel than I initially planned. And why not? When it comes right down to it, great as the new stuff might be, this is the stuff that I turn to on a cold and rainy night for comfort. These are the songs that will love you, as they say, even when you don't love yourself. The lack of diversity of artists here is a symptom of me not actually knowing a huge amount about alt-country, which I feel bad about, but not that much.

Obtain, by whatever means you wish:

  1. The Jayhawks - I'm Gonna Make You Love Me
  2. Gillian Welch and Alison Krauss - I'll Fly Away
  3. Son Volt - Driving the View
  4. Wilco - Someday Soon
  5. Blue Rodeo - Hasn't Hit Me Yet (live)
  6. The Jayhawks - Blue
  7. Uncle Tupelo - Acuff Rose
  8. Billy Bragg & Wilco - Way Over Yonder In The Minor Key
  9. Ryan Adams - Beautiful Sorta
  10. Blue Rodeo - God and Country
  11. Billy Bragg & Wilco - Feed Of Man
  12. Soul Asylum - Runaway Train
  13. Neko Case - Deep Red Bells
  14. Golden Smog - Please Tell My Brother
  15. The Jayhawks - Save It For A Rainy Day
  16. Blue Rodeo - Try
  17. Uncle Tupelo - No Sense In Lovin'
  18. Blue Rodeo - The Ballad of the Dime Store Greaser and the Blonde Mona Lisa
  19. Wilco - Say You Miss Me

It might be long, but I pared it down from 37.

I just found out that Golden Smog, a sort of alt-country supergroup featuring both Jeff Tweedy and Gary Louris of the Jayhawks, is putting out a new album in April. I am eager to see if Tweedy still has any of the old spirit in him. This playlist has really made me hope that he does.

Current Music: Official I, Dickolas Wang Mixtape #2


rachel said...

Have you tried as a means of putting links to actual MP3s on your page? Or can you not do that south of the border?

Dickolas Wang said...


Stacey said...

So you once liked alt/country and now don't? Or you still like some alt/country on occasion? Just kidding. You might want to check out my new blog for some new bands/musicians. I'm going to check out that site to see if I can add MP3's of the artists.

Dickolas Wang said...

I remain a committed fan of country rock in the early Wilco and mid-period Blue Rodeo sense. Alt-country in "Still Feel Gone"-era Uncle Tupelo sense is a little bit much for me.