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Monday, May 26, 2014

Carl Perkins: My Kind Of Country

CARL PERKINS: MY KIND OF COUNTRY (1974)

1) Help Me Dream; 2) You Tore My Heaven To Hell; 3) One More Loser Going Home; 4) Goin' To Memphis; 5) Lord I Sinned Again Last Night; 6) Just As Long; 7) (Let's Get) Dixiefried; 8) Honky Tonk Song; 9) Love Sweet Love; 10) Ruby Don't Take Your Love To Town; 11) Never Look Back.

I am not too sure precisely what this title is supposed to mean. If this is really his kind of country, then what exactly would be not his kind of country? A proper logical reading would suggest that, by 1974, the genre of country was dishonored and spoiled beyond recognition, and that Carl's honorable mission, undertaken against all odds, was to restore it to the glory that it used to be. Another, equally justified, logical reading would be that it really was Carl's and nobody else's kind of country — that he himself was reinventing the genre, like Hank Williams or, say, Willie Nelson, and promoting this reinvention in a not-so-humble manner.

Unfortunately, one single listen to this rather uninspiring set of songs is quite enough to let you know that neither of these readings applies, the title simply being a hollow PR gesture, probably imposed on Carl by the label (he was briefly hooked up with Mercury at the time) rather than his own invention. Yes, this is country music, played and arranged rather typically for the early 1970s. Yes, there is not a lot of fiddle or banjo here; slide guitars, keyboards, and subtle orches­tration take their place, meaning that the sound leans more towards the roots-/folk-rock fashion of the epoch than «classic» «old style» country. But that does not make the songs more interesting.

The only thing that redeems the record is that several decades of performance have shaped Carl into a highly expressive, «mature» singer. His voice has deepened a little, gained more thickness and power, so that he fares much better now with sustaining notes and modulating the pitch in mid-air — singing these generic country tunes expertly, with feeling, and, most importantly, in a completely natural manner (no exaggerated Southern drawl or manneristic yodelling). In other words, the songs are generic country, but without any «arch-generic» country trademarks — perhaps from that point of view, after all, this is his kind of country.

Not all of this is sentimental mid-tempo / slow-tempo balladry, either. There is a fairly gritty rendition of ʽGoin' To Memphisʼ by Johnny Cash (arranged as if it were an R'n'B standard by the likes of Jimmy Reed), a rollicking, if rather superfluous, re-recording of Carl's own ʽDixie Friedʼ, and a fun resurrection of the old ʽHonky Tonk Songʼ. The covers do not add a lot to the originals, but it definitely makes more sense to hear these songs sung by Carl than, say, ʽWhole Lotta Sha­kin' Goin' Onʼ, since they do not require letting your hair down and Carl has always had that problem about letting his hair down (not having that much of it to begin with).

Still, compared to the genuinely promising self-reinvention of On Top, My Kind Of Country is a relative disaster — showing that the man was neither able nor willing to capitalize on that new sound, and preferred to retreat back to the tried and true. Lack of ambition is nothing to sneer at, of course, but art without ambition is usually boring (unless one is able to turn «lack of ambition» itself into the biggest ambition the world has ever seen, like J. J. Cale), and My Kind Of Coun­try is a textbook example of that kind of boredom.

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