Let me start off by making one thing ABSOLUTELY clear. I LOVE GRAM PARSONS. It changed my life hearing his music. I had no idea growing up in South Alabama listening to the Grand Ole Opry (with my Grandfather in the warehouse the housed his peanut pickers and tractors) on Saturday nights, that “Country Music” could be so hip. It was through Gram’s solo records and the landmark Sweetheart of the Rodeo LP with the Byrds that I reconnected with my love of the music of my childhood. HOWEVER…there is one thing I cannot stand, and that is when some 20-something who heard Gram 6 months ago (via a Ryan Adams cover more than likely) lays down their angular noise driven indie-rock and starts playing “Country Music.” I’m sorry. I call bull-shit! I think you should be given quiz on the entire history of Country Music before being allowed to play (it would help eliminate 99% of the crap on mainstream Country Radio too, for that matter). I don’t believe you can truly love the genre without embracing some of it’s well-written cheesy moments & mistakes, at least the heartfelt ones. I think you should have to sing 3 or 4 “non-cool country tunes” from 1960-1992 because you love them for entrance into the building. For Example: “Straight Tequila Night” by John Anderson, “Love in the First Degree” by Alabama, “Amarillo by Morning” by George Strait, and “Tight Fittin’ Jeans” by Conway Twitty.
OKAY…PREFACING RANT OVER.
When I heard Cale Tyson’s name the first time, someone was drawing that lazy comparison to Parsons that any left of center country act gets. SEE ABOVE: I was skeptical. I dug a little deeper and found out he was a (Does) Fort Worth (ever cross your mind) guy. And yes, his bio mentions him hearing Gram, Guy, and Townes at an early age, but upon hearing his EP High on Lonesome I wasn’t hearing some bastardized version of “Cosmic American” Country. I heard something you don’t often hear outside of George Jones, George Strait, and Merle Haggard to name but a few. I heard the true ingredient for Hard Core Honky Tonk music. That only happens when someone can take “Country” and actually add “Western” to it. The danger of whole hearted Parson’s worship is taking it away from the cheap, cold, domestic beer saloon and dressing it up for a wine and cheese dinner party. Country needs to be intellectual but it also needs dirt under it’s finger nails. You need a little “Hee-Haw” in it. Otherwise, it runs the risk of being too smart and too ironic for it’s own good. Cale’s EP avoids that trap with a commitment to honoring country’s historic songbook. Plenty of nods to Hank’s “Honky Tonk Blues,” but also Ernest Tubb’s “Walkin’ the Floor,” the late/great King of Broken Hearts (George Jones), up to Hag’s “Lonesome Fugitive,” as well as couple nods to the New Trads of the 1980’s. Tyson has done is homework.
But Book knowledge can only take you so far. My wife (a TN native, but who’s reluctantly begun loving Country Music through me subjecting her to it on road trips) and I drug ourselves out on a school night to catch his release show. Cale’s band was right up there with Emmylou’s Hot-Band, a batch of crack pickers that included Robert Ellis on guitar no less. On “Dreams Don’t Come True” – she turn to me and says, “This touches something in my muscle memory. It’s like a stick of butter melting in a cast iron skillet. I feel like I need to make some cornbread.” Well done, Cale Tyson. Well done indeed.