Saturday, April 19, 2014

Country Club #36: is it okay to like a Garth Brooks song?

I heard "Long Neck Bottle" on the radio earlier this week, but as is the practice nowadays the deejay didn't announce the song or the artist. When I did a web search, I have to admit that I was a little disappointed to learn that LNB was performed by Garth Brooks. Brooks, of course, is one of the top three selling record artists of all time, trailing only Elvis Presley and the Beatles.

Here is a video of Brooks doing the song live with Steve Wariner who co-wrote the song with Rick Carnes. Wariner is given lots of space and there is a nice short scat-guitar vocal reminiscent of George Benson.

 There are some non-musical reasons to dislike Brooks, not least his partnership with Walmart. And, some non-musical reasons to like him, including his support for gay rights and attention to domestic violence. But it is music that is the real point.

Garth Brooks is a pivotal figure in the history of country music, no matter how much some country purists would like to deny it. With his commercially savvy fusion of post-Merle Haggard country, honky tonk, post-folk-rock sensitive singer/songwriter sensibilities, and '70s arena rock dramatics, Brooks brought country music to a new audience in the '90s -- namely, a mass audience. Before Brooks, it was inconceivable for a country artist to go multi-platinum. He shattered that barrier in 1991, when his second album, No Fences, began its chart domination, and its follow-up, Ropin' the Wind, became the first country album to debut at the top of the pop charts; No Fences would eventually sell a record-shattering 13 million copies. After Garth, country music had successfully carved a permanent place for itself on the pop charts. In the process, it lost a lot of the traditionalism that had always been its hallmark, but that is precisely why Brooks is important. 


Not only did his record sales break all the accepted country conventions, but so did Garth Brooks' concerts. By the end of 1990, he was selling out stadiums within minutes and was putting on stadium-sized shows, patterned after '70s rock extravaganzas. Brooks used a cordless, headset microphone so he could run around his large stage. He had an elaborate light show, explosions, and even a harness so he could swing out above the crowd and sing to them. It was the first time any country artist had incorporated such rock & roll techniques into stage shows.
In short, Brooks could be blamed for a lot that is wrong with country music today. At least, by those who like me like their country music traditional or neo-traditional. Still, Brooks some very fine songs, including Long Neck Bottle, and "Two of a Kind, Working on a Full House."

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

April Moon

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Country Club 35: Brandy Clark Get High

Brandy Clark is one of a rising group of outstanding women artists in country music. I don't think they are selling as much as the current crop of male performers, but they are doing really substantial music. There have been some un-offical videos of this song from her highly acclaimed debut CD 12 Stories, but this looks like the official video.

Cuba Invites Foreign Investment But Bans Economist Mesa Lago

At the end of March, Raul Castro's Cuba passed a new law to attract foreign investment. Apparently, the goal is to increase foreign investment ten-fold.  Not surprisingly, the law was unanimously by the National Assembly. But whether this will solve the deep problems of Cuba's over-centralized bureaucratic economy is another question.  Within days of the new law, the Cuban government refused permission for the eminent Cuban-born economist Carmello Mesa Lago to speak about his new book on the Cuban economy to a program organized by Espacio Laical, a highly-read magazine of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Havana, which has been allowed a margin of space.

Sam Farber and others have argued that Raul and the other military-party elite have in mind a Sino-Vietnamese model of centralized political power and a capitalized economy.  The banning of Mesa Lago leads credence to that view.

The most powerful economic reform that Cuba could enact would be to break the political monopoly and allow real political freedom.

 Havana Times reports

At the beginning of March, the renowned Cuban scholar Carmelo Mesa Lago was invited to attend an interesting intellectual gathering in Cuba. The organizers – particularly Cuba’s Espacio Laical (“Secular Space”) journal – had planned to pay tribute to Mesa Lago, now 80, and to launch his latest book about the Cuban economy in the era of Raul Castro.

It was an excellent initiative. Mesa Lago is the most important Cuban social scientist of our time. He has an enviable academic career behind him, has published many important books and can boast of an expertise that makes him a world authority on more than one issue. He is the kind of person that graces an academic event with his presence, and does so with the kind of modesty and joviality that often characterize greatness.

Mesa Lago is so discrete that only some time later, and through other channels, have we been able to find out that the Cuban government denied him a visa to visit the country of his birth. That is to say, the Cuban government, instead of rejoicing at the prospects of having someone of Mesa Lago’s intellectual and moral stature visit the country, instead of availing itself of his brief sojourn among Cuban scholars, decided to prevent him from attending the event and enjoying the tribute he deserved.

Here is a 2013 talk by Mesa Lago on his book.

Some questions and answers from the same session.

Here are some remarks about the Mesa Lago book from a review by University of Pittsburgh economist Marla Ripoll

The sad reality described by Mesa-Lago is that the social indicators for the Cuban economy are showing a declining trend. Although back in 1999 the Gini coefficient was 0.41, inequality has most likely increased in Cuba. Public employees have lost their jobs, and there are no private jobs to go to; social spending has been cut; access to schooling has been severed; and taxation remains regressive. With a drop of real wages of 73% between 1989 and 2010, raising poverty rates are as much of a concern as raising inequality.

Not that inequality in Cuba, although lower than in Latin America, has been exempt of the two issues that plague inequality everywhere: gender and race. Economists studying inequality around the world have pointed at technological change as the culprit of its recent increasing trend. But leaving technological change aside, which may anyways be marginal in countries in which barriers to technological adoption still abound, what is left is a society in which women and racial minorities face cultural barriers to economic mobility. One would have thought that the equality ideals of the Cuban Revolution, the very ones that traded off efficiency and equality, would have been conducive to resolving the more fundamental issues of human equality.

 As Mesa-Lago concludes, gradualism of economic reform in Cuba is really a reflection of disagreement within the ruling party on how much market activity to allow. But I think it is also a reflection of the lack of an effective plan that would spur economic development in Cuba.

Here is another review at Americas Quarterly. And here is the book Cuba Under Raúl Castro: Assessing the Reforms on Amazon.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Country Club #34: instrumental virtuosos

There's a long history of country music virtuosos and few, if any, stand out more than the long-time duo of Speedy West on pedal steel and Jimmy Bryant on electric guitar. Here's one of their pieces.

Jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, in 2011,toured a musical tribute to the music of Speedy Weat and Jimmy Bryant. He commented 

My first impression was, ‘Man alive! This is insane! The speed, technique….wacky! I’d never heard anything like it.
If you want to hear, there are some other tunes on YouTube and some fine collections on CD.

Monday, March 24, 2014

BDS Factless Water Day Libel of Soda Stream

The BDS (Boycott, Divest, and Sanction) movement tried to make March 22 World Water Day an occasion to promote it's campaign to boycott Soda Stream.

There may well be a water crisis on the West Bank and there may be a case for boycotting Soda Stream.  But is there a real causal connection between Soda Stream and water problems on the West Bank?  Or is is just a convenient excuse to attack Soda Stream and demonize Israel?

You might have seen this tweet  on your timeline.

Not  surprising, since it was a part of an organized tweetstorm by the U.S. Committee to the End the Occupation.

I got to wondering about this claim. If one Soda Stream device "helps deny 71,622" Palestinians, things must be pretty dire since there are thousands and thousands of Soda Stream dispensers made at the factory.  And what exactly I wondered was the factual nexus between the production of Soda Stream devices and the lack of running water access.  Since Soda Stream production has been growing, there must be a growing number of Palestinians.

So I clicked on the link to see what the promised "more information" provided.  further  It took me to a page from the respected Israeli watchdog group B'Tselem - The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. Funny thing, there was no mention of Soda Stream on the page of statistics about the Palestinian Water Crisis.

It turns out the number of West Bank Palestinians in 2011 who lacked access to running water was 71,622 or 2.6 percent of the West Bank population.  But in 2008, the figures were much larger: 188,922 residents without access to running water or 10.4 percent.  

That's a reduction of over 117,000 and 7.8 percent.

(Incedentially, tefore the 1967 war, only 10 percent of West Bankers were connected to running water.)

There is another thing that stands out in the statistics.  About 30 percent of the water on the West Bank is wasted due to defective pipes or theft.  This is a failure of the Palestinian Authority.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Political Duopoly Reconsidered

From Ballot Access News

For the sixth time in a row, Texas Democrats are indirectly helping the Green and Libertarian Parties to remain ballot-qualified for 2016. The indirect help consists of not running a full slate of candidates for statewide office. The two ballot-qualified minor parties must poll 5% for a statewide race (or 2% for Governor) in order to remain on the ballot. When one of the major parties stays out of a race, it is easy for those two parties to meet that vote test. Texas Democrats left three statewide offices unfilled this year.

Country Club #33: PBR

Via Gene at Harry's Place who blogged about "Hipsters, rednecks and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer" who ponders the strange fact that today's hipsters and yesterday's rednecks beer of choice coincidentally happens to be Pabst Blue Ribbon and that conservatives have recently written books attacking hipsters and rednecks. (Greg Gutfeld’s Not Cool: The Hipster Elite and Their War on You and Charlotte Hays When Did White Trash Become the New Normal? A Southern Lady Asks the Impertinent Question).

Johnny Russell's recording of "Rednecks, White Socks, and Blue Ribbons" was a hit in 1973.  


There's no place that I'd rather be than right here
With my red necks, white socks and blue ribbon beer
The barmaid is mad 'cause some guy made a pass
The juke box is playin' "There Stands the Glass"
And the cigarette smoke kind-a hangs in the air
Red-necks, white socks and blue ribbon beer
A cowboy is cussin' the pin-ball ma-chine
A drunk at the bar is gettin' noisy and mean
And, some guy on the phone says ill be home soon dear
Red-necks white socks and blue ribbon beer

No we don't fit in with that white collar crowd
We're a little too rowdy and a little too loud
There's no place that I'd rather be than right here
With my red-necks white socks and blue ribbon beer

The semis are passing on the highway outside
The four thirty crowd is about to arrive
The sun's go-in' down and we'll all soon be here
Rednecks, white socks and blue ribbon beer

There's no place that I'd rather be than right here
With my red-necks, white socks and blue ribbon beer
"There Stands the Glass" was a Number 1 country hit for Webb Pierce in 1953.  (Video)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Country Club #32: Under appreciated

Eddie Rabbitt is an under appreciated country artist.  Perhaps it is his last name, which is his real family name and, unlike John Melloncamp's stage name Cougar, not imposed by a manager. Perhaps it is that he grew up in Brooklyn and New Jersey and, by our geographic stereotypes. Perhaps it is that country music is taken less seriously than other American song moments. should have been a rock-and-roller.  Perhaps it is Rabbitt was an impure country artist, crossing borders, mixing non-country styles, rather than a neo-traditionalist,   Still, he made some very fine music, including some songs which could be considered neo-traditional.

Tom Roland appreciates on

One of country music's most innovative artists during the late '70s and early '80s, Eddie Rabbitt has made contributions to the format that have often gone overlooked. Especially in songs like the R&B-inflected "Suspicions" and the rockin' "Someone Could Lose a Heart Tonight," Rabbitt challenged the commonly recognized creative boundaries of the idiom.
And, he was a very successful artist.

In 1976, he started a string of Top Ten hits that ran uninterrupted until 1989. During that time, he had 16 number one singles,
Here is "Suspicions." one of the most un-country songs ever to reach #1 on the country charts.

It's even been covered by Tim McGraw.

Here's "Drivin' My Life Away," one of many songs based on Chuck Berry's "Too Much Monkey Business" and Bob Dylan's "Subeterranean Home Sick Blues."

And, here, is "On Second Thought," with a video styled to resemble a country TV show from the 1950s or 1960s.