They're playing my songs

January 26, 2000

It's probably not wise to admit this, but back when I was a wee critter I was a big fan of country music. Fortunately it didn't take any 12-step program to wean myself of the disease, because country music in my lifetime, like my work ethic, peaked early.

Back then, country music was Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, Johnny Horton, Patsy Cline, Charley Pride, Bobby Bare and Ernest Tubb.

Today we have the tedious, mind-numbing Vince Brooks and Co. It's no comparison. (And don't laugh, all you twentysomethings. Fifteen years from now you will be telling your teens about the days when bands like Nine Inch Nails, Everclear and Rage Against the Machine had real soul and harmony and inner beauty, not like the sicko rubbish you kids are listening to today.)

I was happy about country music's critical decline, because in high school, kids who acknowledged a tolerance for country music were routinely found with their heads jammed between two mimeograph machine rollers. I distinctly remember a last-minute cram session once where I was able to pass a history test by studying the temples of a kid named George Parks.


I've had absolutely no desire to return to the country fold. Which is precisely why I hated that band BR5-49 that played in the Mountain Green concert series at HCC Saturday night. They did what no other artist has been able to do for the past 25 years - they made me enjoy country music. The jerks.

I tried to console myself that the five-man group doesn't strictly fit into the country genre. But the other categories they fit into - rockabilly, honky tonk - sound even worse. I'm paranoid of unexpectedly bumping into MSO conductor Elizabeth Schulze at a Tupperware party and having to bumble awkwardly along: "Well yes, Mozart's early works were clearly superior to Strauss, who had that dreadful habit of mingling a C-sharp with a G in his iconoclastic years - but really Ms. S., I'm more of a 'honky tonk' man myself."

Maybe it's drummer Shaw Wilson's Clark Gable haircut. Maybe it's because that instead of looking as if he's playing the upright bass, Jay McDowell looks more like he's beating it up and taking its lunch money.

Or maybe it's a warm spot for fellow West Virginian Donnie Herron, who is sort of the Pete Townshend of the steel guitar. I think it's safe to say you have never heard a steel guitar played the way Donnie plays it. After the act I was waiting for him to smash the instrument against the stage and hurl it into the audience. Or at least pick it with his teeth, like Jimi Hendrix.

It doesn't hurt that BR5-49 is a bit wild and a bit odd. Lead singers Chuck Mead and Gary Bennet have a way of explaining their songs, such as "Goodbye Marie," which Chuck says "is about infidelity, cheap hotels and suicide - but to keep anyone from bumming out, we put it to a polka beat."

This stuff sounds to me like the rightful descendant of the country music of old, partly I guess because they play their share of Hank Sr. and Bobby Bare.

"Six Days on the Road" sounded like Bare himself might have performed it, given 35 years of musical evolution and subjection to that early Aerosmith influence. And their "Lefty Frizzell love song about jealousy, murder and stabbings" dovetails nicely with their own chicanery, including a piece that illuminates the untold story of Opie Taylor's criminal activity, kept secret from Andy and Aunt Bea all these years.

So there you have it. If you make up your mind to tempt fate and pick up a BR5-49 CD, fine, there's nothing I can do to stop you.

But if you have ever harbored country music tendencies and are worried about relapsing, it would be a good idea to Just Say No.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist

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