The whiskey flows like the crystal streams they say flow in heaven

Friday, March 2, 2012

Woke up this morning and got myself a shovel. Shoveled the driveway so we could get to work. Got the three-year-old up. Prepared some organic coffee and poured it into my reusable container.

I’m not sure, but I may be a little beyond my badassery prime.

Some records fit your time and place. Twister Sister and I both wanted to rock when I was 12. (As Wikipedia’s Twisted Sister page says: “Many of the band’s songs explore themes of parent vs. child conflicts and criticisms of the educational system.”). Def Leppard shared a fondness for sugar when I was 15. Syracuse was down with JPB. JoCo expresses the ennui of my currently-chosen career.

But, some records are timeless. The Smiths are evocative regardless of decade. Uncle Tupelo always delivers. John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman always put me in a good mood.

Fifteen or so years ago, I picked up one of the most affecting records I’ve ever heard, and it’s been in heavy rotation ever since. Here’s how I describe it:

What would happen if you combined the Paul’s Boutique era Beastie Boys with the London Calling era Clash?

You get Exile on Coldharbour Lane, by Alabama 3. (Alabama 3 is known as A3 in the United States, due to some crankiness on the part of the Love in the First Degree folks.)

This record soundtracked several weird years in my life, roughly from when I moved from Natick Center to Central Square in 1998 to when I met my future wife in 2003, a time when I used to go to clubs, spending a lot of time at T.T. the Bear’s, the Middle East and Cantab trying to find inspiration in drinks, dartboards, women and song. Back when 9PM would see me going out, not going to bed.

This record saw me through affairs of the heart, both licit and ill, wandering through an epicenter of the dotcom gold rush and watching its implosion.

It was the little devil on my shoulder.

Spin out another tale of sweet testimony

I love music, but I’m completely tone-deaf – couldn’t carry a tune if it had handles on it, etc. Miss DeFazio told me in middle-school that I should perhaps sing a little more softly in chorus. (To be fair, she did give me prime non-singing roles in the annual musicals – most famously (for some value of famous), as the Wizard in The Wizard of Oz.)

I’ve probably owned north of 2,000 records over the course of my life. And, being a hyper-analytical INTJ, I’ve built a pretty good mental universe of all the different types of music and where all the individual artists and albums fit in. (To the point of exasperating all the females in my home with discourses on the through-line from outlaw country to Kid Rock.) Exile is almost impossible to fit into the standard matrices. Which makes it fascinating.

Sweet Pretty Country Acid House Music

But, what does it sound like?

Alabama 3 describes its sound as “sweet pretty country acid house music.”

To me, it sounds like Mississippi, or at least the Mississippi I imagine from my home in pastoral Massachusetts. Maybe more like Mississippi invaded by Manray. It sounds like the complete particle inversion of Viva La Vida.

It’s swampy, with one of the best harmonica players I’ve ever heard driving through it. It vibrated my little sports car as I drove down the Pike. (It’s not quite the same now. My Avalon’s bass is chipmunkian.)

It’s a hot mess, a perfect stew. It’s all groove. They curse a lot, and sample the Reverend Jim Jones.

Larry Love’s baritone rumbles through the record like a haptic controller strangling you. D. Wayne Love is the Flavor Flav of this group, half Greek Chorus, half Jimmy Swaggert’s slippery slope.

You can have your Metallicas, your Lynyrd Skynyrds, your Elvis. These are the guys I want to hang out with.

Getting Disequilibriated.

This is one of those albums that you can imagine as a play or a novel, without descending into Yes-ian pretensions. The characters float in and out, finding salvation and braving its opposite, all the while making you hit up Urban Dictionary to brush up on your drug slang.

The guys take the material and their characters seriously, though. They deal with poseurs and religion and drugs. (And socialism, straight in the mainline.) Plus, anyone who covers John Prine is ok in my book. (More on John Prine later this year.).

Here’s a taste:

Woke Up This Morning

This is probably their most famous song, because it ended up serving as the opening theme song for The Sopranos. This is the album mix, though, far superior.

Ain’t Goin’ to Goa

I’ve been one of these. Though, I can honestly say that my barrel chest precludes being called eurotrash; I’m not nearly emaciated enough.

Mao Tse Tung Said

This actually got me in trouble when I was teaching in Yantai. I let one of our 18-year-old translators listen to it. She did not get it at all. (Later that summer, I transcribed Eminem’s Stan for her. I’m not sure she got all of that, either.)

This is a live version from a few years ago. The album version is tighter, but this has a ragged charm.

The Night We Nearly Got Busted

I love the wordplay and the theater of the mind in this song.

This is a live version from a couple of years ago, which inexplicably channels Smoke on the Water and has an uncredited cameo from Severus Snape.

It’s a great album. I hope you like it.

P.S. The other two famous “Exile” records, by Liz Phair and The Rolling Stones, are pretty good, too.

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