The Manly Mixtape is a weekly 6-pack of songs on a theme. It will rock your face every Monday.
There are plenty of things to hate about the modern Nashville country music establishment. Hell, just seeing Tim McGraw wearing his fancy leather cowboy hat (I didn't know the Village People had a yard sale) makes me want to walk into a K-Mart and start throwing punches. But the biggest tragedy of the pansification of Nashville is that it's turned off so many people to anything recorded below the Mason-Dixon line. People just assume that since Nashville country mostly sucks, they're going to steer clear of any musician with a Southern accent. But that, friends, would be a mistake. Despite a bad reputation of late, the South still produces some of the finest shit-kicking rock ever to blow out a pair of cheap Ford Ranger speakers on a wild Friday night. Let's take a look at some.
Drive-By Truckers - "Never Gonna Change"
It's a guarantee that you'll hear more about Drive-By Truckers on this blog in the future. They're a band that sings about drinking, fighting, loving, and all the other things that regular folk do. If Man B Que was a late-night talk show, DBT would be the house band. Any one of their songs could go up on here, but since this one has a nice music video to go with it, we'll pick "Never Gonna Change."
Hank Williams III - "Long Hauls and Close Calls"
The original Hank Williams (III's grandfather) came to popularity in an era that may have been rowdy and two-fisted, but still didn't allow recording artists to use the word fuck. His grandson is making serious efforts to enjoy a degree of freedom of expression that his grandfather could not. He sings some of the white-trashiest, whiskey-swillingest, face-punchingest country dive bar rock available today. While "Put the O back in Country" wins for most creatively vulgar song title, I'm going with "Long Hauls and Close Calls" for sheer manic energy.
Steve Earle - Copperhead Road
In the late '80s and early '90s, when everyone else was committing to the neutering of Southern Music - so many fucking rhinestones! - Steve Earle did well for himself waving a broken-nailed middle finger at the establishment. "Copperhead Road" is the most accessible of his catalog, so go ahead and start there. But don't stop - his albums take a natural progression from a sort of biker-country ethos to some populist/progressive themes in his latest work. And look how young Letterman looks - I noticed that right before Earle called him a moron. Then I laughed.
Scott Miller and the Commonwealth - "Dear Sarah"
Every mixtape - EVERY SINGLE ONE - needs to have a Civil War song on it. That's something that John Cusack failed to cover in "High Fidelity," but I'm pretty sure it's true. Or at the very least, this particular mixtape needs it. When I was in college in Tennessee, this band used to play in a church that had been converted into a concert venue. The acoustics were excellent (it was a church, after all), but the venue didn't have a liquor license. So event management did the next best thing - they let you bring in a cooler and all the beer you could carry. I've you've never watched a Southern rock from a choir loft with a row of empties lined up on the ledge in front of you, then you've thus far missed out. SacROCKligious!
Johnny Cash - "Cocaine Blues"
I can't resist the temptation to end this inaugural mixtape with the man himself, Johnny Cash. When Nashville refused to return his calls in the '90s in favor of your fancy, well-groomed Kenny Chesney types, Cash signed with Def Jam founder Rick Rubin, recorded the best country album of the year, and took out this ad in Billboard:
Did I mention he was in his 60s at the time? Here's something from the early days - Johnny Cash singing about cocaine and murder at a time when most of the country was still afraid of dancing and rock music. If anyone tells you they like the Joaquin Phoenix Walk the Line version better, you punch them in the throat.
Now get out there, down a couple of tall boys, and grill some meat. Cash would approve.
- J-B Mays.