"Real: The Tom T. Hall Project"
On "Real: The Tom T. Hall Project," former Jayhawk Mark Olson
and his wife, Victoria Williams, sing the simple words, "I went
back to the room and wrote down this song." It is this basic
approach to lyrics written with an eye for the details of life,
that is in effect, a tribute to Hall, one of country music's
best songwriters. Fellow contributor Joe Henry described Hall's
songwriting in the album's liner notes: "It's like a Raymond
Carver short storya bite out of someone's life, beginning
abruptly and dangling at the end with a flash of almost unspeakable
The history of Tom T. Hall goes back 30 albums to the hills
of Kentucky. He began his career as a bluegrass musician and
DJ until he discovered he could write songsthe kind
that tell stories. Hall's first big success, and the song
he is still probably most remembered for outside of the country
world, came in 1968. He was asked to write a song in the vein
of Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billie Joe." Not only did that
particular tune, "Harper Valley PTA" top the music charts
with Jeannie C. Riley's record selling a million copies, but
it went on to become both a feature film and a television
series as well. However, the success of "Harper Valley PTA"
does not truly reflect the scope of Hall's talents, talents
that current songwriters like Joe Henry, Mary Cutrufello,
and others have picked up on for years.
If you have heard the songs of Richard Buckner, you can't
help but think that he came across this Hall line, "about
as happy as a thinking man can be," years ago, but Buckner
makes Hall's "When Love Is Gone" his own. From the rock world,
Freedy Johnston turns in one of his best renderings of a country
song when he takes on "Coffee, Coffee, Coffee." Ron Sexsmith
stays true to himself by making "Ships Go Out" into a pure
pop song. Jonny Polonsky's version of "Old Enough to Want
to (Fool Enough to Try)" has me begging for a follow-up to
his debut album. Calexico, the side project of two members
of Giant Sand, bring back the old west with a modern twist
on Hall's "Tulsa Telephone Book." And the Mary Janes take
you straight back to the days of Patsy Cline with "I'm Not
Ready Yet." Another legend who just received his own tribute
album, Ralph Stanley, is joined by Ralph Stanley II for "Water
It is said that Hall has still not received his due in the country world, the recognition that others of his era and caliber (like Cash, Haggard, and Willie Nelson) have gotten. Maybe there is some comfort in knowing that those who are doing it best now remember that he was one of the best doing it then.Jeremy Reed
E, the singer/songwriter/guitarist for Eels, has had a rough time since releasing the band's last album, "Beautiful Freak," in 1996: He lost several friends and family to suicide, heart attacks, and cancer. E hit rock-bottom, faced his demons, and then poured all his emotions and energy into recording the band's second album, "Electro-Shock Blues." The product of his trauma is an elegantly stripped-down and completely original album.
Lyrics like "Waking up is harder when you want to die" and "You're dead but the world keeps spinning" might tend to bum out a lot of people, but E pulls it off and lightens the mood somewhat with sharp musicianship and one of the best falsetto voices in rock. The songs range from the acoustic, alt-country-sounding "Ant Farm" to the '60s keyboard romp of "Cancer for the Cure" to the mellow backward-tracking of "Efil's Good." And, by adding subtle horn and string accompaniments in all the appropriate places, Eels prove they are much more than a run-of-the-mill alternative band.
the help of musician friends Grant Lee Phillips (Grant Lee
Buffalo), Michael Simpson (Dust Brothers), and Lisa Germano,
the band takes the listener for a ride through E's mental
landscapedealing with disease, funerals, psychiatrists,
and drugs. But, in the end, E reaches a place within himself
where he can be at peace, and decides that "it's time to live."
It may have been painful, but E has purged himself and, in
the process, kicked any notions of a sophomore slump to the
Send feedback here.