Saturday, 29 December 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #344 - Various Artists, "Country Funk 1969 - 1975"

This was chosen by Piccadilly Records as the best compilation album of the year. You can imagine it ticking a lot of boxes amongst the dusty denizens behind a record shop counter. Obscure, of course; genre-splicing, nice; a bit of vintage helps sweeten the process too. My receptors were tickled in similar fashion and I picked it up.

Listening to it got me thinking about country funk. The best example I can think of where the two streams are crossed, Ghostbusters-style, is Parliament's Little Ole Country Boy, which in a further act of genre skipping was then used by De La Soul for Potholes on my Lawn (their debut single, best known in the UK as a track on Three Feet High...). It is maybe not as genuine as the stuff on this album though, more an act of cultural tourism. Unless they were country boys themselves... It's so dizzying! So I guess it should be a fertile border for sweet, sweet music.

In fact, it's a little hard at time to pick the threads apart. I'm not sure in a way why I should feel the need to; but it may be because country music is so white and funk so black, country so rural heartland and funk so urban ghetto. Right? But it's all music made by poor people at the beginning, eh? Before they moved from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago and New York or got their rhinestone stetsons in Los Angeles. Poor people themes are evident - injustice in love, economic migration and harsh lifestyles. Clumsily put, but I'm a clumsy thinker.

The first few tracks seem to be the stories of boys having to make the move from the Deep South (Georgia, Alabama, err.. Texas) to Los Angeles. It would have been the white hot centre of country rock in this period, Eagles hanging out in desert canyons, drawing in ambitious pickers and jug blowers with heavy gravity. So the tunes packed with this hiraeth sound like country tunes with some funk-tinged, string-boosted backtrack: Johnny Adams' "Georgia Mountain Dew" perhaps stands out the furthest.

Other tracks are more like more straightforward readings of funk with a bit of a country lyrical theme, or maybe just a stab at some homegrown funk with no back country trimmings. Link Wray's "Fire And Brimstone" barely seems to qualify as funk as there is virtually no low end to the music at all. Yet the fast-picking, rattling mass of hoarse screams seems to sneak in under the wire. Mac Davis' "Lucas Was A Redneck" has the swooping strings of Across 110th Street and tight wah-wah loops that you'd expect to be heard on some blaxpliotation flick. But it's a gravelly white Texan singing about a mean, doomed redneck in terms that could be describing some loser mid-Seventies pimp. Blurred, blurred.

The last couple of tracks perhaps point to where funk and country mingle together more regularly, suggesting again that the opposition of line-dancing rednecks and hustling brothers is pretty artificial. Music from Louisiana - Gritz's "Bayou Country" (which has a heavy Clapton feel to these ears) and a cover of Dr John's "I Walk on Gilded Splinters" replete with steel guitar and a drum pattern that sounds like Beck's Loser.

Great sweaty tunes and an excuse for me to crack open the A-level sociology, which never goes amiss, eh?

Rating: Country Funk out of Funky Cunts

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