Country Noir: The Tilted World by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly

It is rare that a book is considerate enough to explain itself in one pithy paragraph.  It is ever rarer for it to be appropriate to start a review by quoting the last paragraph of a book.  But both are true for The Tilted World.

This story is a story with murder and moonshine, sandbagging and saboteurs, dynamite and deluge.  A ruthless husband, a troubled uncle, a dangerous flapper, a loyal partner.  A woman, married to the wrong husband, who died a little every day.  A man who felt invisible.

But most of all, this is a love story.  This is the story of how we became a family.

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Music Monday: Solid Platinum Edition

Last week I talked about the independent country songs that have been certified gold over the last few years.  And things aren’t slowing down: since I published that post a week ago, I learned that Keep the Wolves Away by Uncle Lucius has been certified gold.  (If hits on a blog post are any guide, I shouldn’t have been surprised.)  Even more impressive than the songs certified gold, independent country artists are getting songs certified platinum.  Leading the way are Tyler Childers and Cody Jinks.  (S.O.B. by Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats was also certified platinum, but I already featured it here and it is really country-adjacent.)

Tyler Childers at Hinterland Music Festival, St. Charles, IA 8/4/18
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Music Monday: Solid Gold Edition

Back when I first really started getting into independent country in the late aughts, most times I looked up an act’s touring schedule I found they didn’t make it out of Texas, Oklahoma, and maybe Arkansas.  Didn’t do me much good in North Carolina, but at least the good people of Texas were keeping the lights on for these folks.  And they still are, but the rise of independent country over the last decade has been extraordinary.  Country radio is still putridly awful on a historic level, but radio matters less than it ever did.

Photo credit Brad Coolidge and Khris Poage; originally posted at Saving Country Music

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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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