Saturday, April 26, 2014

Counry Club 37: Pick me up on your way down

Here's Wanda Jackson, the first lady of rockabilly, singing a great Harlan Howard song that has become a country standard "Pick Me Up on Your Way Down," originally a hit for Charlie Walker in 1958. (There is a nice video of Walker performing his signature tune at the Grand Ol' Opry in the 1980s.)

Growing up in Oklahoma City, Jackson was discovered by Hank Thompson, taught to sing rockabilly by Elvis Presley, combined country and rockabilly on two sides of a single, had a career in straight country when rockabilly faded, and has been rediscovered in recent years.

Harlan Howard was one of the most prolific songwriters in country music history.  His songs include "Heartaches By The Number"; "I Fall to Pieces","Busted", originally a hit for both Ray Charles and Johnny Cash.and later for John Conlee. In 1961 alone he had 15 of his compositions on the country music charts.  Howard also wrote Joe Simon's #1 R&B chart hit "The Chokin' Kind", a million-selling record in 1969.

Jackson is still performing. Her website, which features a beautiful painting of Jackson,  has a listing of what seem to be 2014 tour dates. For more information on her extensive discography check out this page at and for compilations here.

The Smithsonian Channel has an hour-plus biography of Jackson called "The Sweet Lady with a Nasty Voice."

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.