Friday, May 11, 2012

Country Club & Quonset Hut

“Have you heard this one?” asked my friend. We were flicking through the selections in plastic troughs, celebrating Record Store Day some days prior to the actual event. I squinted at the CD cover. John Doe & The Sadies, Country Club. “No,” I admitted. I like The Sadies, I like X — how had I missed this?

“Allow me,” said my friend.

When I finally got it up and running on the home stereo, I wished I'd reciprocated and given my friend the new Chuck Mead disc, Back At The Quonset Hut, with his Grassy Knoll Boys. Both discs capture veteran acts nailing down an Old-Timey Country set.

As Country Club played on, however, I began to wonder how Chuck Mead's material would have been received. Mead, the former front-man for BR5-49, has an ear for the foot-stompin', hand-clappin' songs that appealed to the straw hat and hankie-wearin' Friday Night crowd of the Dirty Thirties and Post-War Forties. The Quonset Hut in the title is probably a reference to one of Music Row's old studios, many of which were set up in these decommissioned military structures, but it could just as easily evoke the bedside pow-wow singalongs that off-duty WWII grunts resorted to in their barracks. Either way, Quonset Hut ably houses the cheer-inducing music that fed the spirits of blue-collar nation builders from days gone by. One hopes the music might still offer some much-needed uplift for a nation whose anxieties and social conflicts are not so far removed from the past.

So, yes: lots of Old-Timey uplift, slowed down a bit by a couple of hurtin' songs. What you won't find much of in the Quonset Hut is regret, dismay, irony or introspection — qualities more readily at hand in John Doe & The Sadies' Country Club. These bulk of these songs are also pulled from the past, albeit one not quite so distant: Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard — an era of singer-songwriters more closely associated with Khe Sanh and Nixon than to Normandy and Roosevelt.

The subjects in these songs all seem to be nursing hangovers and waking up beside people they're not married to — perfect material for the nicotine-cured voice of John Doe, in other words. It probably won't shock anyone if I admit this sort of thing has an easier time getting past my defences and resting close to my heart.

Any way you look at it, neither Chuck nor John fit the current “Country” mode (people dressed up like rock stars pretending to be country singers). And nobody's putting me in the ridiculous position of choosing between these two discs, so I am happily playing them both — a great deal.

There's a post-Record Store Day follow-up pencilled in on my calendar: I think I'll be making that gift in kind after all.

Links: John Doe And The Sadies - Stop The World And Let Me Off - Live At Sonic Boom Records In Toronto from Graeme Phillips on Vimeo. Chuck Mead & His Grassy Knoll Boys - On The Honky Tonk Hardwood Floor, Back At The Quonset Hut.

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