Where is there to go when you've already convinced everyone in town that you're fluent in the facts, sounds and live preservation of Nashville country music traditions by the time you can legally order a beer?
Chris Scruggs—an old-school showman who takes his unmistakable last name from his dad Gary Scruggs' side and his musical sensibilities from his mom Gail Davies'—faced that rare quandary. It seemed to take him no time at all to master the honky-tonk scene on Lower Broad, make it onto the Opry, record a more-than-respectable swinging hillbilly album (Honky Tonkin' Lifestyle) and fill Gary Bennett's vacant spot in BR-549. With a bit of nudging you can get him to admit—graciously—that this isn't normal for a young Nashville musician. Not this millennium.
"Yeah, I am very lucky to have done a lot of things so far," says Scruggs. "I started performing on the Grand Ole Opry when I was 17 years old. That's something right there that many people spend years and years wanting to get to that point, and then I just found myself there one day and I was still a very young person. And there's been a lot of experiences like that where I look back and go, 'You know what? I've actually done some things, so I shouldn't be too hard on myself.' "
As for what's left to do since he's done those things, Scruggs says, "I try to not be too nostalgic. And that's a problem if you set out to play older country music and traditional music forms.... It kind of sets yourself up to not really have a lot of room to move. So I like to use the different music that I love as more of a color and not necessarily the entire picture.... I think if you bring a lot of different things together you can get something really nice out of that."
He continues, "But I don't really see that big a point in me just trying to make a traditional country record without drums and with all the elements that made those old records so great. Because those records are there, and if I want to hear Carl Smith or Ray Price, I'll listen to Carl Smith and Ray Price. It's fun to play like that. It's fun to do that stuff. But if you're going to do something and present it as who you are as an individual, I think it's selling yourself short to limit yourself."
So Scruggs made his second full-length album, Anthem. And he made it in Arizona, at Tuscon's Wavelab Studios—not in Nashville. ("The last few Neko Case records...were recorded there, the entire, pretty much...Calexico catalog, stuff from Richard Buckner and Giant Sand—there's a long list of records that have come out of there that I thought, 'You know, that's the place to make a record.' ")
And he stocked it with buoyant melodies whose movements are crisp, catchy and immediately satisfying, the sort only somebody who deeply digs Beatles pop—John Lennon's in particular—can write. "Sing Your Tune" is hard to listen to just once. The melody strolls down easy as you please, then resolves neatly—he tags the ending three times in classic pop fashion.
Scruggs' pedal-less steel guitar playing is all over even the most Beatle-esque tracks. But his lyrics aren't as tailored to honky-tonk dance floors as they once were. "In country music, the presentation is typically very literal, from a songwriting standpoint," he says. " 'This is the story, this guy went and did this and then she felt this way.' When you get away from that, when you get into, I guess, more often rock music and pop music, you have a little bit more room for innuendo and suggestion. You can leave things wide open. I think a lot of the better songs on the record are the ones where the hook is a question."
This post just introduced me to Justice Yeldham. Holy shit.
Never heard of any of these artists?
Awesome!Love everything Jerry puts out. Definitely check out the Tue Mommies bandcamp for more golden…
the no droning rule is fucking dumb
"I love the smell of napalm in the morning...wait, what? That's not napalm??!"