Juke Joint Jumpin’ is a recurring feature in which I loosely go through some of what has been in my listening rotation lately, with the primary purposes being to discuss various eras in country music history, offer recommendations, and to talk anecdotally about why these songs connect with me.
This edition of Juke Joint Jumpin’ is a little over the place and slightly modern … ish. Included below are tracks from Lyle Lovett, Lydia Loveless, Drive-By Truckers, Kathy Mattea, and more. Anyway, onward!
Lyle Lovett, “In My Own Mind” (written by Lyle Lovett)
By way of request, Lyle Lovett will be an eventual focus of ‘Fifteen Favorites.’ And I admit, this one will be different for me. You see, while I’ve written loosely about Lovett by mentioning him in various features here and am familiar with a few albums of his, I’m no expert on his discography. It will mostly be a time of discovery for me, and I don’t want to rush that. So I took the deep-dive into his 2003 My Baby Don’t Tolerate album last night, which was recommended to me by a friend who also happened to highlight “In My Own Mind” as a personal favorite. And … I’d have to agree! It’s an anthem for the scatterbrains out there like … well, me, that’s sold with a warm, understated production – particularly in the terrific fiddle pickups – and a little bit of humor and self-awareness to boot. Not so much fun as it is simply rollicking and good-natured enough to leave you with a smile. I have a ways to go, but it’s an early contender for the list so far.
Lydia Loveless, “Chris Issak” (written by Lydia Loveless)
Lydia Loveless has two new random singles out. I haven’t heard them yet, but I’m delighted to see an even quicker pivot from 2020’s Daughter following the tumultuous scars left by Bloodshot Records that, at the absolute very least, resulted in an unfortunate delay in new music. She’s drifted away from her early cowpunk roots, and I get why she’s not a hot topic among country fans now like she was a decade ago, but I’ll still faithfully follow what she does, if only because nearly every one of her releases has been excellent.
And while 2011’s Indestructible Machine gets all of the love, I’ve been spinning 2014’s Somewhere Else a lot lately. What’s always drawn me in with Loveless is her raw, unbridled, frank, and distinctly memorable and sharp lyricism and even sharper delivery. Case in point: this song, which is less about referencing Chris Issak tunes as it is falling in love with someone and bonding over a mutual love for the same kind of music only to have to burn it all down in the aftermath of a breakup and having the music ruined for her. Plenty bitter, plenty sad, and plenty and painfully relatable, at that.
Charlie Robison, “El Cerrito Place” (written by Keith Gattis)
Perhaps far too many of you can relate to this, but growing up, I seemed to be the only kid who enjoyed country music. I would, naturally, get sideways glances and taunts from those looking to easily lampoon the genre, and some level, I had to give it to ‘em, given where the genre headed in the early 2010s. I had one friend, however, who was sympathetic to my cause, and insisted he liked country music and that one of his favorites was “Chenny Kesney.”
Eh, he tried. At any rate, I can’t help but think of this song specifically and not think about that. And yes, the Kenny Chesney version of this song is the one I heard first and am most familiar with, and if you have your pitchforks at the ready, I’ll say it’s a fine version, too. But I think my favorite version is Charlie Robison’s, which simply captures the lonely desperation of its search the best in its understated production and Robison’s haggard drawl. Plus, that repeated “I’ve been looking for you baby” hook is far more haunting and striking than one would expect.
Drive-By Truckers, “Carl Perkins’ Cadillac” (written by Mike Cooley)
Lyle Lovett isn’t the only act whose discography I’ve been running through for the first time this year. This might surprise some, but I actually didn’t take the Drive-By Truckers deep-dive until I started my Modern Country Music History project (through researching Jason Isbell, naturally, given that the band itself doesn’t really have anything to do with that history). I won’t say a lot of their later work is necessarily all that great, but their run from Gangstabilly to The Dirty South is excellent, with Decoration Day probably being my personal favorite for its darker tones.
My favorite song of theirs, though, is easily “Carl Perkins’ Cadillac,” which I’ve been spinning regularly all year. It’s basically a tribute to the Million Dollar Quartet that’s surprisingly simple and straightforward in execution, but, like most attempts by the band to capture rock ‘n’ roll lore and legends, a bit more complicated beneath the surface. That’s more for the album this song to stems from to properly flesh out in the hypocrisy and irony that forms its actual formation, because as a standalone single, this is an anthemic ode to the rise of rockabilly and Sun Records. Cool, man.
Jean Shepard, “It’s Hard to Tell the Married From the Free” (written by D. Helmns and George Jackson)
Country music’s first album of original material by a female artist was a concept album, and its concept of the falling out of a marriage – in 1956, no less – predates several classic works that ran with the same concept decades later. Sadly, Jean Shepard just doesn’t get the love she deserves in the modern day, because Songs of a Love Affair is an excellent listen. Its closing song is likely my favorite, an excellent takedown of the ways men cheat and conceal their commitments from others, hence the title. It was gutsy to release this then, and it paved the way for other women in country music to speak their own truths. Oh yeah, that’s Buck Owens on guitar, by the way.
Kathy Mattea, “Walking Away a Winner” (written by Bob DiPiero and Tom Shapiro)
And continuing on with the theme of heartbreak … while my favorite songs from Kathy Mattea tend to be her ballads, this is an anthemic upbeat tune that manages to turn a bad situation into a learning opportunity. I’ve always loved the sunny optimism on display, and it’s one example of how it was country music’s women that recorded the more challenging and thoughtful material of the genre’s most commercially impressive decade. Sadly, it was also Mattea’s last big radio hit, but with a song like this, it’s kind of fitting, ain’t it?