Celebrating One Year of Hillbilly Highways

It is hard to believe that it has been (now over) one year since I launched Hillbilly Highways.  It has been a richly rewarding year.

I am quite happy with the balance I have struck.  My rough rule of thumb is to strive toward two parts country noir, one part nonfiction, one part TV/film, and one part “oddments,” balanced against a Music Monday post each week.

A number of the posts are deeply personal.  They take a lot out of me.  The nonfiction posts are a great time suck.  But they are both immensely rewarding.  I am gratified to see that none of the interests I have chosen have entirely escaped your interest.

Read on past the jump to learn the most popular posts here at Hillbilly Highways over the past year.

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Monday Music: Favorite Albums From the First Half of 2019

I am not a music critic.  I don’t listen to nearly enough music, and I don’t know enough about music.  I mostly approach it as another form of storytelling, and the songs I pick for Mondays here are mostly to complement what I am talking about on Wednesdays.  So you won’t get a “Best Albums from the First Half of 2019” post from me.

But there are three albums released so far this year have really caught my attention, and I want to highlight them.  Surprisingly, none of the three are Texas country.  Unsurprisingly, one of the artists is from Kentucky and another from East Kentucky (otherwise known as West Virginia).  It augurs well for the future of indie country that all three are debut full-length albums.  The three are Too Mean To Die by Karly Driftwood, Between The Country by Ian Noe, and Seneca by Charles Wesley Godwin.

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Fiction: Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

Cold Mountain begins with Inman, a confederate soldier, laid up convalescing in a military hospital.  As he heals, his dread of returning to the fighting grows and he eventually decides to strike out for home and his left love—in the shadows of Cold Mountain (near Brevard in modern-day western North Carolina).  That left love, Ada, a preacher’s daughter originally from Charleston, meanwhile, is trying to cope with the loss of her father and her newfound destitution.  She may not have survived but for a partnership with a mountain woman, Ruby, her complete opposite in almost every way and her likeness in every other.

I grew up in this part of the country, with roots in the area that go back to well before the Civil War, and the language rings truer than any I have read elsewhere, whether written by Ron Rash, Cormac McCarthy, or whoever.  And Frazier does it without resorting to phonetic spelling.  It really does read like it’s a story your grandfather is telling you by the fireplace after Sunday dinner.  One that was passed down to him from his grandfather.  There are so many sort of random details that just feel right.  It’s the sort of book I wanted to read at my desk with a notebook beside me but that I couldn’t bear to read so slowly the first time through.  The prose is beautiful by any measure.

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Music Monday: Hank Williams’ Health and Happiness Recordings

I had planned to write a post featuring Hank Williams’ The Complete Health & Happiness Recordings on Friday, the day it was released.  I was short on time, so I just highlighted it on Twitter and Facebook and moved on about my day.  But I’ve been listening to it all weekend, and it is an absolute treasure.  I can’t let it go unmentioned here.  So on the day after Fathers’ Day, let us remember the granddaddy of them all, Hank Williams Sr. (speaking of fathers and grandfathers, I really need to highlight Hank Williams Jr. and Hank III on these pages).

The Health & Happiness Recordings were made over eight radio shows in 1949 to promote a patent medicine.  The complete recordings take up two CDs or three vinyl records.  This isn’t the first Health & Happiness Recordings release, but, judging by what’s on YouTube at least, it is the most high quality release.  Many of the songs are higher quality than you will find on Hank’s studio albums.

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Film: Deadwood: The Movie

Before I get into my review of the Deadwood movie, I have a confession to make: I like how the show ended.  In fact, it is perfect.  Deadwood is a show about carving a society out of the wilderness but at the same time attempting to stave off civilization.  Robert E. Howard was wrong: civilization always wins.  The show ends perfectly because it ends when free Deadwood ends.  Time marches on, but the thing about the town that made it such a fascinating subject for a show no longer exists.

My thoughts are also colored by my view of season 3 more broadly.  Deadwood started with the brilliance and heat of a raging wildfire.  By season 3 it only smoldered.  Elements outwore their welcome for me.  The respective storylines for Calamity Jane, Cy Tolliver, and Steve the Drunk each consisted almost shouting epithets.

So how does the movie measure up?  It does finally give Calamity Jane, criminal underused by the show, something to do.  People die.  A large chunk of the movie is extraordinarily tense storytelling.  Its suffers, though, from the usual problems of reunion shows and it undercuts the show ending, all while providing no real closure.

Pic courtesy of HBO

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Music Monday: Colter Wall’s Deadwood Music

Forget Game of Thrones.  A better HBO show was Deadwood.  (There are others better than both, but that is a conversation for another day.)  The show’s ending left many wanting.  HBO has finally returned to cap the story with a recently released movie.  Watching Deadwood: The Movie was my Sunday night entertainment.  More on my thoughts on the show ending and the movie to come on Wednesday (now up!).

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Love Means Always Having To Say You’re Sorry

Now that I’ve been married for five full years I am qualified to lecture everyone else on the topic.  Let me start with a quote that really sums up what it’s all about.

No, let me start with a story about the quote.  It is a quote from a movie that I have never seen.  What I have seen is the episode of VH1’s I Love the 70’s devoted to 1970.  What is it that makes us enjoy looking back nostalgically, even to things we don’t personally remember?  (Related: every time I walk into a college bar they seem to be playing music from when I was in high school or college.)

The one thing that stuck out to me from original episode way back in 2003 was this quote from the movie Love Story:

“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

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