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V/A - Country Funk 1969-1975

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Artist: V/A

Album: Country Funk 1969-1975

Label: Light in the Attic

Review date: Jul. 31, 2012




The first three tracks on Country Funk ("L.A. Memphis Tyler, Texas" by Dale Hawkins, "Hello L.A. Bye Bye Birmingham" by John Randolph Marr, and "Georgia Morning Dew" by Johnny Adams) depict, as literally as possible, the hard right turn country music took toward a more urbane approach in the late 1960s. Until these songs were released, hearing the phrase "ainít no bum trip, man" on a record that might conceivably be described as "country" must have seemed out of the question, but thereís Dale Hawkins, muttering it in the compilationís opening track.

That Hawkins isnít terribly convincing in his delivery of hippie platitudes highlights a problem with the compilation, and with the genre in general: Too much of it seems to have been dreamt up in a boardroom by people aspiring to sell the same records to fans of two types of music. The arrangements tended to be serviceable-to-good studio creations, and the lyrics and delivery often fell into the same "Aw shucks, whatís a guy like me doing on a song like this?"-style traps.

Luckily, Country Funk frontloads these generic examples, and leaves the rest of the compilation up to artists who managed to eke meaning out of the stylistic changes. The formal progressiveness of the music underscores the political message of Mac Davisís "Lucas Was a Redneck" (Also: "His daddy died drunk with a belly full of rum, his momma died waiting for a miracle to come." What a line.) Additionally, the musicís emphasis on syncopated, repetitive rhythms and high-volume arrangements gives some of the vocalists a chance to shine: Something like Bobbie Gentryís direct, womenís-lib sexuality in "He Made a Woman Out Of Me" would have seemed out of place in an earlier country-music milieu. On Link Wrayís legendary "Fire and Brimstone," Wray lets loose and articulates the songís apocalyptic subject matter in a manner much more unhinged than his usual simmering menace. Gentry and Wray avoid the wink-and-nod factor that turned a lot of country-funk songs into novelties, embracing the sound as something new and separate from formalist country. Itís no coincidence that theirs are the two best songs on the compilation.

West coast-sounding Country Funk seems like more of a cultural inevitability in retrospect than it may have at the time. Increases in communication technology and the upheaval of the í60s forced folks who had tended to view the world through a lens of being "country" to look toward more cosmopolitan places and situations. At the time these tracks were released, Los Angeles served as a kind of synecdoche for all of the new culture and glamour that was coming through the pipe. Standing on a mountain in Los Angeles and reminiscing about Georgia meant embracing the new as much as possible (Iím sure that, even now, a fair share of country music fans continue to approach this type of thing with a crooked eye) while still keeping in touch with what had come before. It was a way, as a young or forward-thinking country artist, of hedging oneself between the old world and the new world. This type of thing can come off as clumsy and pandering even during the excellent examples on this compilation, but, considering that decades later we live in a world where a song called "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk" exists, itís clearer than ever that these artists did a pretty good job.

By Joe Bernardi

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