Six Modern Artists Doing Right by the Past –

6.) The Reverend Horton Heat

The good reverend himself, Jim Heath, and his band have been plying their trade for decades; it would be a sin to leave them off the list!  They say the Holy Ghost himself sculpted the Reverend’s hands to play a Gretsch.

5.) The Chop Tops

Can we talk about Sinner’s cardio?  Cause the man plays stand up drums and is able to sing like this.  Live recordings on YouTube make The Chop Tops sound especially terrible, so watch this video, process Sinner’s inhuman cardio and go buy Triple Deuces.

4.) Los Straitjackets

If you’re looking for a group of well-dressed gentleman from Nashville playing surf rock and wearing Mexican luchador masks, well then, look no further!

3.) Imelda May

Let’s not forget that when the Beatles infiltrated America, UK fans were more than happy to take up the torch for rockabilly, as it’s popularity in the States was already waning, and rock was already evolving into something different.  May’s voice is smooth and beautiful when she does jazz standards, but listen to the Wanda Jackson creep in on this Burnette standard:

2.) Nick 13

I already said my piece about Nick here, but wanted to include him again.  If you’re looking for a Hank Williams that’s not Hank 3, then find Nick 13.

1.) Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys

If your music catalog can simultaneously remind someone of Richie Valens and Louis Jordan, you must be doing something right.  Go buy all of Sandy’s albums.  Start with Turntable Matinee and go from there.  The music’s jump blues… it’s roots rockabilly… it’s western swing… it’s really hard to pick a song to put here to encompass his talent.

If there’s a lesson to be learned here, I think it’s this: wear more suits and respect the stand-up bass.

Hillbilly: the music of Nick 13

Let me say this plain: I’m one generation removed from shootin’ and eatin’ squirrel.  My grandfather once ran moonshine over the county lines, and hung around with men named Elvis and Slim.  Elvis and Slim referred to my grandfather as “Skillet” and although I would love to know the reason, the fact that this moniker is shrouded in mystery tickles me all the more.  My Granny was an avowed Hank Williams fan and came from “Missourah.”  My dad, though removed from Missouri at an early age retained enough hillbilly to steer me into the appropriate direction as far as country music went: “Marty Robbins is fine, but stay closer to “Streets of Laredo” than “White Sport Coat (And a Pink Carnation), okay?”

So often I hear the “I love all kinds of music, everything but country.”  I’m not sure when and where it became a badge of honor to distance yourself from country music, but there it was.  Somewhere between Loretta Lynn and Billy Ray Cyrus, everyone sorta forgot where Rock and Roll came from.  Now, I know country today isn’t what it was and I don’t want to take anything away from blues, jump blues, or swing as far as the birth of rock… but why has hick become such a four letter word?  It especially aggravates me to see rockabilly fans extol Johnny Cash as the be-all, end-all of the genre.  I love Johnny Cash, too, and I have 3 cash t-shirts.  Believe me, no one’s making any cool Charlie Feathers or Roy Orbison shirts… I would be wearing them.

That’s why I was soo pleased to see Nick 13 of Tiger Army make a self-titled “hillbilly music” album.  I’ve been listening to Nick’s album for almost two months now, and I think he’s perfectly captured how to make the country sound of the 40s and 50s translate to 2011.  It would have been easy to take only the Gretsch road, but Nick added Greg Leisz with a mournful steel guitar that reminds rock fans it all started with the Richenbacher.

Nick’s voice is plaintive and pleasing… we already have Sinner or the good Reverend Jim Heath to sing it low.  The shy stylings of Nick 13’s voice on his solo album has only been hinted at with Tiger Army songs… here it underscores the fact he is a master at ballad lyrics.  He’s slowed down songs from Tiger Army albums like “Cupid’s Victim” and “In the Orchard.”  The only nitpick I have is that he didn’t also add “Outlaw Heart”… next album, please?  But that’s hardly surprising, given that my favourite TA songs were the ones where Nick was obviously reaching into the past.  I can only hope that younger fans (what, I’m 30 and I’m calling out “younger fans”?  When did this happen?) investigate Nick’s obviously love for roots rockabilly.

Given that I have totally veered off course and turned this into an album review, let’s just end with this: the man looks good in a Nudie suit.  Can we clone him, please?