With Gareth Hipwell
I was only half-joking when I told a friend recently that, life is just a tedious exercise in killing time between Drive-By Truckers releases. Launchpad of Convict Capital favourite Jason Isbell and one of the great storytelling outfits of our time, Drive-By Truckers are one of those rare bands whose albums I have the burning need to own, in tangible form. So when Patterson Hood and co. announced the release of career-spanning live megalith It’s Great to Be Alive! earlier this year, I did as any die-hard fan would and ordered the deluxe edition – Five LPs! Three CDs! A 16-page mini-book! (And, perhaps least excitingly, a digital download on release day).
There’s nothing wrong, at the end of the day, with owning albums in digital form only. The same discoveries and personal thrills are there to be enjoyed. Even while listening to It’s Great to Be Alive! on the cheapest of headphones on a crowded bus, the discovery that Mike Cooley sounds more and more like Willie Nelson with every passing day came as a striking realisation. But with iTunes and Spotify being, as they are, so much ease and convenience, it’s increasingly rare for even the hardened fan to go out of his or her way to purchase an album in physical form – this much, at least, has been written about at inordinate length elsewhere, and by better minds than mine. But this poses an interesting question: why is it that some artists continue to inspire the devoted to make the pilgrimage to JB Hi Fi or Sanity – or, far better, to their local independent record store?
Where I am concerned, it seems that coveting objects of artistic beauty, in whatever form, appeals to a latent childlike urge to collect things. There comes a point, after all, at which adult tastes supplant the drive to hoard trading cards and matchbox cars and those weird little troll figurines with the garish, neon-coloured hair. So it was that my recent first-time visit to Nashville saw me buy not one, not two, but five Hatch Show Print playbills. To buy the first makes all the sense in the world to someone who has long admired the work of the Hatch printery from afar. But the fourth? The fifth? What followed was an inner dialogue along the following lines:
Commonsense: I think we’ve bought enough posters, now.
Gareth: But the type! The thickness of the ink on the page! And the smell!
C: We live in an attic – where will we put them all?
G: On the ceiling? In the bathroom? The kitchen, maybe?
C: The ceiling slopes at 45 degrees – they’ll fall off. And no one wants your country posters spread all over the house.
G: They will learn to like them. Besides, we can give some away when we get home – as presents.
C: If we buy them, we’ll never just ‘give them away’. Besides, we already bought that inflatable stars’n’stripes AK47 for the old man. And we don’t have room in the luggage for any more posters!
G: We’ll just jettison some socks.
C: I suppose we could do that. Well, let’s get the Old Crow Medicine Show one, too, then. The orange font looks great on that brown background.
Where records are concerned, there are no doubt similar factors at play. There’s reason enough to buy a Steve Earle LP in order simply to admire the arcane “painted collage” cover artwork of Tony Fitzpatrick, which dovetails so perfectly with Earle’s output that it’s hard now to imagine the one existing without the other. The same is true of Drive-By Truckers: that I decided to splash out on the deluxe edition of the aforementioned live release (treat yourself! it’s been a good month, moneywise, when the invoices are all tallied) was perhaps due in large part to my fascination with the sometimes irreverent, frequently brooding Southern Gothic cover artwork of Wes Freed, which is (to my mind at least) so synonymous with the Truckers’ oeuvre. Not to mention the liner notes, which, to the obsessive collector (or music writer) are always an invaluable source of information, giving fascinating insight into the ways in which an album is actually made.
Short of record stores, the merch stands of concerts large and small are the ideal places to pick up an artist’s work in physical form – and, often enough, to get it signed, to boot. Thanks to the good people at Bluesfest, the first quarter of 2016 promises plenty of such opportunities, with a raft of exciting sideshows already announced, including appearances from several acts whose records are, without doubt, both artworks to be enjoyed and objets d’art to be coveted and treasured. So be sure to pick up a 2016 diary now, and make careful note of the following not-to-be-missed dates:
Classic rock’n’roll-rockabilly revivalist JD McPherson is at the Factory Theatre in Marrickville on 23 February, before the exquisite Rhiannon Giddens pays the venue a visit on 21 March.
Frequent visitors Steve Earle & The Dukes take to the Metro Theatre stage on 17 March, with support from Dukes fixtures The Mastersons, before the incomparable Sturgill Simpson brings his cosmic coal-country croon to the venue on 22 March. Also on 22 March, Tedeschi Trucks Band makes a stop at the Enmore Theatre, and father son duo Tweedy take to the Factory Theatre, while Austin wildman Shakey Graves is at The Basement on 31 March.
Also braving the long flight across the Pacific for Bluesfest is the hard-touring Jason Isbell, who stops by the Enmore Theatre on 3 April. And be sure to keep an ear to the ground for details of potential, yet-to-be-announced sideshows from Grace Potter, and Blackberry Smoke.
In the not-too-distant future, cult heartbreak heroine Lucinda Williams is at the Enmore Theatre on 2 December, while the Western-Swinging Spin Drifters play The Basement on both 7 December and 11 January. Also at The Basement is Monty Cotton’s A Boy Named Cash Johnny Cash tribute show, on 9 January, before Diesel calls into the venue on 5 March, performing songs from his Pieces of Americana project.
In the Inner West – home of alt. country in the city – there’s a not-to-be-missed appearance from Dan Sultan at Newtown Social Club on 1 December, while Canadian songstress Jenn Grant is at Marrickville’s Django Bar on 2 December, with support from All Our Exes Live in Texas’ own Georgia Mooney, before Lachlan Bryan & The Wildes play the venue on 10 December, and Truckstop Honeymoon (USA) on 3 March.
The Bushwhackers are at Petersham Bowling Club on 5 December, before the venue stages its semi-regular Porch Light Sessions showcase on 10 December. Rob Luckey & The Lucky Bastards also pay the venue a visit on 13 December.
Canterbury Hurlstone Park RSL hosts Canterbury Country on 10 December, featuring Allan Caswell, Billy Bridge and Rebecca Lee. Not to forget Marrickville Bowlo’s regular Sunday afternoon country and rockabilly sessions.
Down South, Cronulla’s Brass Monkey hosts the Paul McKenna Band on 6 January. And to the North, Lizotte’s Newcastle hosts Melinda Schneider does Doris Day on 10 January, and Shane Nicholson on 11 March.
Rooty Hill RSL is, as ever, the high temple of country in the West, playing host to Troy Kemp on 4 December, Steve Earle & The Dukes on 16 March, and the incendiary Adam Brand & The Outlaws on 19 March.
At the risk of flogging a dead horse (so to speak), the wonderful Gasoline Pony in Marrickville continues to play host to a never-ending stream of local country talent, with shows staged at the venue throughout the week. And be sure to keep an eye on the lineup at Lazybones Lounge on the corner of Marrickville and Illawarra Roads – which recently played host to excellent local alt. country act Lost Ragas, with support from the very impressive William Crighton.
As always, if you have a gig to plug or an axe to grind, please feel free to get in touch with the writer at email@example.com. And if you do nothing else this week, get along to Red Eye or Repressed or your nearest independent music retailer and buy yourself an album – or a poster (or five).