Growing up as I did in the East End of Henrico County, Virginia I have had a complex relationship with country music. For most of my life it represented everything I stood against. Racism, ignorance and the leering macho horseshit of my fellow residents. The twang of the slide guitar was a surefire sign that I was about to be fucked with by a bunch of hormone addled teenagers in a pickup truck that were drunk on Budweiser and vicious pack mentality. There was copper in my mouth every time I heard a Southern accent in a song.
You see, my parents are The Gay. I don't know if you're familiar with America or not but there's a large chunk of our population that has a problem dealing with the fact that gay people exist. It's one of those things I've just never been able to understand. Something about some old book or something. More than that, I was kind of a weird kid with too much book smarts and no sense of how to blend in or when to shut my trap. I was a teenage gladiator stuck in a suburban arena with country music as the backdrop to my own grapple with puberty. So I was left with this association of country music as being a harbinger of terrible things to come. Mind you, what I considered country at the time was just Pop With A Twang and the same mindless drivel that vapid morons use to fill in the spaces between mouth breathing and pummeling anything different than them. Alright, I can admit to some remaining prejudices. The illusions of memory and the bitterness of adolescence take a very long time to work past. It helps to have some contrast.
I had my contrast.
So we've grown closer now, country music and I (I've had some damn good nights with Johnny Walker and Johnny Cash ya'll). Recently though, things had been a bit stale. I'd gone through the 30's forward, gotten familiar with Lost Highway, fell in love with Calexico and worn through my Neko Case records. It was almost time to move on, not forever but I could tell things were getting a little stale. Then the indomitable Ian Graham dropped Suburban Home Records in my lap. I discovered the G-Spot of country music. Suddenly things were hot again. I was excited every time she got near my ears. Thoughts of moving on vanished.
Tim Barry rings clearly in every ear in Richmond. Avail was a big part of putting RVA on a map that didn't just say: Civil War Battlegrounds Hereabouts. "Dixie", shitty weed and PBR tallboys at the river made up a good chunk of high school for a lot of RVA kids my age. This isn't about Avail though. This is about Tim. He writes in a way that is so raw and personal that it's sometimes uncomfortable to hear. "Church Of Level Track" will drop you to the floor, pick you back up, slap a beer in your hand and send you home. The first time I heard him play it live I welled up with tears. It's serious shit and it has a physical impact on the listener. Is it country? Does that even matter? There's some recursive post-post-hardcore-post-folk-post-punk-retro-blah blah tag out there for what he's up to but it really doesn't matter. I call it country. He pours his blood into his songs, doesn't worry about complex arrangements and uses fiddles, dobros and slide guitars so I call it country. Tim isn't trying to impress you and I find that leaves a very large impression.
Austin Lucas. Austin pulls his entire life out of the murky depths of memory and filters it through a poetic asceticism that leaves nothing superfluous at the edges. "Go West" is an amazing song and is a good example of this ability. He reminds me that well written music can be intelligent without succumbing to the dangers of needless verbosity and overly complex schemes. Look at the arrangements and later work of Leonard Cohen. There is nothing inaccessible about his poetry; it's not glossed over with too many classical references, not so tied into his inner mythology that it's not available to the reader. This is the same way I see Austin Lucas. I'm interested to see how he evolves as a songwriter. If my instincts are correct then this man has a long and extremely influential future ahead of him.
There's this perpetual struggle between artifice and authenticity in culture. I invariably find myself on the side of authenticity. How the hell do you know if something is authentic? Well, does it seem right? Do you look at the guy and say, "Yeah, I think he's being honest."? That's the best criteria there is. Why choose authenticity? Because it is the harder path, but much more rewarding. I see these guys, I listen to their music and I can feel their soul coming through the speakers. That's the personal connection I love about music like this. It's not relegated to one form, to one person, to one style or era. It's out there in every kind of music and it brings me no end of joy to find it in a style I have so frequently maligned and misinterpreted throughout my years. I love to be proven wrong.