Singles Reviews: Dexateens, Cass McCombs, David Ball

(All of these songs appear on our new free sampler, The Country Way Digital Vol. 1)

Cass McCombs – “Dreams-Come-True-Girl” (featuring Karen Black)

An outlier on an otherwise country album, this is the least so, favoring the crooning and ‘50s-era oldies in the bass and percussion. Karen Black’s background singing is most memorable in the closing notes when she insists, “Take me out. It’s Saturday.” You just may be compelled to watch the prom scene in Grease afterward.

David Olney – “The Moment I Tell You Goodbye”

“Tomorrow will never begin. Forever will come to an end.” A Johnny Cash-like marriage of hymnal and rocking chair ballad makes for a pretty tune in which Olney can describe his life in shambles should he have to part with an unnamed lover. A world in the absence of a certain someone is a world blown apart.

David Ball – “Back to Alabama”

Musicians who long for Alabama in song have typically tended to pair their feelings with electric guitar, rather than western-style pedal steel and ten gallon hats. Ball makes things endearing with a line-dancing tune set at a lazy tempo. Though he delivers in a style more fitting for the west, he reminisces about a state further east. It might seem like a dis if he wasn’t so cordial.

Dexateens – “Granddaddy’s Mouth”

An overcast tone sometimes still harbors a little optimism at the core. A pedal steel’s heartbroken whine is comforted by Elliott McPherson’s reassuring voice in a song that tries and fails to be modest. The Dexateens “can’t explain granddaddy’s mouth,” just like you can’t explain the subtle beauty of the song, but it’s there.

Doc Watson – “Country Blues”

Come gather, “you good-time people” for an Appalachian storybook tune that could easily have fallen right out of the Cold Mountain soundtrack. The famous flatpicker tells it like it is in a tizzy of banjo plucking that follows a wine-drinking, ne’er do well-chasing woman, whiskey-soaked sorrows, and ends in Doc’s own cold grave.

Jakob Dylan – “Smile When You Call Me That”

It’s been a while since the brooding wallflower that once thrived on rock uprooted and bloomed in the countryside. Some of us still pine for the days of Breach, but if you can surrender yourself to a country love song, you can curl up inside the sound of his steel guitar and get rocked to sleep by the gray, shadowy voice that’s stayed the same.

Black Prairie – “Red Rocking Chair”

One can only speculate about the gruesome details in this tale of a missing baby. The three Decemberists included in this group of Oregon musicians brought their sensibility for gypsy folklore, and still have an ear for the eerie and the ghoulish. Annalisa Tornfelt’s hollow vocals hover like death over foreboding bass and violin that cuts through the blackness, but even the darkest instrumentation can’t fill her empty cradle.

Cherryholmes – “Broken”

A country tune about a lovelorn girl – well, go figure. The attraction lies in the opening acoustic parts, leading into the strings and mounting in intensity until Cia Cherryholmes’ clear, unwavering vocals break through a Celtic-bluegrass haze. This family band should probably book a gig at the Renaissance Festival.

Carrie Rodriguez – “Rex’s Blues”

Carrie Rodriguez’s voice glorifies the poetry of late fellow Texan Townes Van Zandt. The lyrics cut deeply, but the timbre is so soft and easy that it won’t hurt when the lyrics hit. Any song with the sound of the Lone Star State budding at its heart is bound to leave someone “alone and low as low can be.”

Cadillac Sky – “Hangman”

Tracks so rustic that they sound as if they were done demo-style often have the most charisma. If you go vernacular, go all the way. From the vocal style and strained harmonies to simplistic string plucking, “Hangman” is anything but smooth. Still, unlike a rope around the neck, it’s inviting.

Gary P. Nunn – “The Girl Just Loves to Dance”

Somewhere between doting and wistful falls this swinging-door jukebox number. There’s little left to figure out once Nunn gives it all away up front with the title. Just put down the shot and grab a partner next time you’re in the saloon wearing your dancin’ shoes. Then let the bar fight happen.

Mark Erelli – “Same for Someone”

Mark Erelli tosses his collaborative nature aside and packs a thousand years of wisdom into “Same for Someone.” Bittersweet and softened with female vocals and acoustic guitar, Erelli affectionately offers life lessons. He promises that the road ahead is paved with sorrow, but most importantly, that John and Paul were onto something: “All you ever need is love and anyone who tells you differently is lying.”

Mike McClure Band – “Colors Fade To Grey”

Melancholy couplets deliver a swift kick to the heart in a country lullaby. The former member of The Great Divide repeats “you’re dying to try to be born.” While you’re dying to understand what that means, you’re distracted by the defeat oozing from McClure’s every word. Like a sun setting, something about it says it’s all over.

Drive-By-Truckers — “The Fourth Night Of My Drinking”

Four straight nights of drinking is a lot for anyone, and the “leather-livered” protragonist of this Drive-By-Truckers track is no exception. “On the second night of drinking I was looking for my car. And as luck would have it I found it parked outside my favorite bar.” By night three, he’s yelling at his house, and it only gets worse from there.

— Evan Schlansky

Will Kimbrough — “Wings”

“Everybody’s got a pair of wings that they can’t see,” proposes country songwriter and sideman Will Kimbrough, in this good feelings-generating track from Wings, which is Tom Petty-like in it’s simplicity. A plaintive harmonica underpins the proceedings and helps lift the spirit. if you’re going to get high, you might as well get high on inspiration.

— Evan Schlansky