Music Monday: Hillbilly Blood by Chris Stapleton

He made us wait so long, and we really are not talking enough about Chris Stapleton’s new album. It is easy to take for granted the sheer quality of his admittedly limited output. But the list of artists with four albums in a row that strong is pretty much limited to the Turnpike Troubadours.

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Fiction: Black Heart on the Appalachian Trail by T.J. Forrester

I posted on Facebook a couple times over the last few weeks about the mystery behind the man with the trail name Mostly Harmless who was found dead in his tent.  Vance John Rodriguez went into the woods to find himself.  It didn’t save him.  I’ve been reading Horace Kephart’s Camping and Woodcraft.  Going into the woods did save Kephart.  Black Heart on the Appalachian Trail is the story of Taz Chavis finding himself.  Recently released from prison, and after traveling to his hometown to settle his father’s estate, Taz sets off on a through hike of the Appalachian Trail to leave his life in the gutter behind.

In the vast wilderness of the Appalachian Trail, three hikers are searching for answers. Taz Chavis, just released from prison, sees the thru-hike as his path to salvation and a way to distance himself from a toxic relationship. Simone Decker, a young scientist with a dark secret, is desperate to quell her demons. Richard Nelson, a Blackfoot Indian, seeks a final adventure before taking over the family business back home. As they battle hunger, thirst, and loneliness, and traverse the rugged terrain, their paths begin to intersect, and it soon becomes clear that surviving the elements may be the least of their concerns. Hikers are dying along the trail, their broken bodies splayed on the rocks below. Are these falls accidental, the result of carelessness, or is something more sinister at work?

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Nonfiction: Hill of Beans: Coming of Age in the Last Days of the Old South by John Snyder

Snyder grew up not far from me—just one county to the west, and even closer to the NC-SC line (albeit long before I was a twinkle in my mama’s eye)—so my interest was immediate and likely fulfilled regardless of quality.  But, mercifully, Hill of Beans isn’t lacking in any quality.

Snyder’s family wasn’t squalidly impoverished or even dirt-floor-poor, just the kind of poor just about everyone was back then before men like Snyder went out and created a whole lot of wealth that raised all boats.  He had the kind of early life a lot of us had back then—a stern father, an awesome uncle, a hateful old aunt.  He even, like me, left for a school in Chicago, although I made a much, much better decision.

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Fiction: City of Hate by Timothy S. Miller

A book like City of Hate might not have normally caught my eye, but author Timothy Miller offered to send me a copy.  I’m glad I jumped on the offer.  City of Hate is “city noir” that imports much of what I love about country noir.  The setting and the backdrop are inspired, even if the execution wasn’t perfectly to my liking.

I lived in Houston during my swing through Texas.  One of Houston’s nicknames is the “Big Heart,” earned by the open arms its residents met Hurricane Katrina victims.  You could still see “I ♥ Houston” bumper stickers around New Orleans when I was traveling there on a regular basis for work.  Dallas has a nickname of its own that highlights the inevitability of comparisons between the cities and their relative merits: City of Hate.  The moniker is inextricably tied to JFK’s Dallas assassination.  Which might seem a little unfair.  Lee Harvey Oswald only lived in Dallas for a year.  And, whatever conspiracy you might embrace, the bulk of the city certainly didn’t participate in the assassination.  But the stage was already set for the moniker to stick, not by the dull statistic that Nixon won Dallas by a bigger margin than any other city (as remarkable as the existence of such a stat is today) but by a made-for-TV moment where vicious, pearled Dallas society women frothed (read: spit) at Lyndon and Ladybird John in front of a national audience.

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Country Noir: Even As We Breathe by Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle

It is remarkable that it has taken this long to see a novel published by an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.  That work, Even As We Breathe by Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle, is a good’n’.

Cowney Sequoyah is a young Cherokee man.  A club foot has saved him from (or robbed him of, depending on the perspective) service in WWII.  The dearth of available labor and the need of somewhere to house foreign dignitaries/prisoners gives him the opportunity for good work outside of the Qualla Boundary on the grounds crew at the Grover Park Inn.  An initial carpool there brings him into the orbit of Essie Stamper, a beautiful young Cherokee woman working as a maid at the Grove Park for the summer.

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Music Monday: 2020 Playlist

2020 has been year, ain’t it?  No less in the music world than outside of it.  The pandemic had a deep impact, robbing us musicians, shutting down live music for the better part of a year, and both delaying releases and resulting in a number of low production projects being released.  Political and social unrest also seeped in, as it does.  American Aquarium’s Lamentations, maybe the best album of the year, is deeply political, and Tyler Childers directly responds to the George Floyd killing and subsequent protests with Long Violent History.

Through all the turmoil of a most eventful year, music proved both respite and reaction, as it has since the first caveman slapped his thighs in rhythm.

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The Whiskey and Book Club ep. 2 with Jim Cornelius from Frontier Partisans

It has been a cruel eight months of waiting, but our long national nightmare is finally over—episode two of the Whiskey and Book Club is up at YouTube.  Joining me for the second episode of the Whiskey and Book Club is the indefatigable Jim Cornelius from Frontier Partisans.  In addition to his long running Frontier Partisans blog, Jim has recently launched a Frontier Partisans podcast.  His first, four-part series focuses on Kit Carson.

 

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Country Noir: The Bayou Trilogy by Daniel Woodrell, narrated by Bronson Pinchot

Ron Rash may be the patron saint of country noir here at Hillbilly Highways, but it was Daniel Woodrell who coined the term “country noir” in the first place.  He has always exemplified the country noir ethos, going back to his earliest work.  The Bayou Trilogy was a conscious attempt to combine what he learned at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, pulp detective story sensibilities, and his mom’s French-American river culture heritage.

Woodrell’s earlier work fell out of print before he hit it big with the movie adaptation of Winter’s Bone.  That success led Mulholland Books to put out an omnibus collecting his debut trilogy, consisting of Under the Bright Lights, Muscle for the Wing, and The Ones You Do.  I consumed it in audiobook form, as narrated by Bronson Pinchot.

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Oddments: Feeling Thankful

We finally closed on our new house the week before Thanksgiving, finalizing my move back to Appalachia (although I’d already been in my empty apartment for a couple months).  This is our third house, and we are still in our thirties.  Which probably isn’t that impressive.  Even these days, the age of the average first-time homebuyer is only 32.  The three houses thing is mostly a function of repeatedly moving across the country.  I am proud that we went from 5% down to 10% to 20% down.

Dave Ramsey is fond of saying that young couples want to start with the standard of living it took their parents 35 years to build.  It is a good point, and a lot of people need to hear it.  But I exceeded my parents’ standard of living the day I walked out of grad school.  I’ve been broke since then, but I haven’t been poor.  Broke and poor aren’t the same thing.  I’ve been well off, broke, and poor—there is a very clear hierarchy among the three.

I’ve never lived the way my parents did.  Doing it as a kid isn’t the same.

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