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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Music Monday: RIP Billy Joe Shaver

Billy Joe Shaver died on October 28. He was a true outlaw. I won’t go back over his outlaw resume—I covered most of it in a post last year. The outlaw country music movement Mount Rushmore only has two faces on it—Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. But Billy Joe Shaver is in the second-tier of the movement, one short step back from Willie and Waylon. He wrote most of the songs on Waylon’s landmark outlaw country album Honky Tonk Heroes. His album Old Five and Dimers Like Me, which shares four songs with Honky Tonk Heroes, is a part of outlaw country canon in its own right.

A few beers didn’t stop me from getting some high quality shots that night
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Country Noir: Hillbilly Hustle by Wesley Browne

It wasn’t Tonya Harding’s white trash roots that sold me on I, Tonya as a country noir flick, or even the homemade fur coat.  It was the intense incompetence of the men tasked with doing the deed against Nancy Kerrigan.  Incompetent crooks hold a special place in the subgenre.  There are archvillains, to be sure, but country noir storytellers recognize that most criminals are knuckleheads (which certainly reconciles with my own time working in the criminal justice system).

Hillbilly Hustle has a knucklehead for a protagonist, Knox Thompson.  He doesn’t stand a chance once he is in the web of archvillain Burl.

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Music Monday: RIP Mac Davis

Whelp. It is 2020 and the hits just keep on coming. Davis died last week after heart surgery and will be laid to rest today.

Not that I am a fan with a deep and broad knowledge of Mac Davis’ body of work. Outside of It’s Hard to be Humble (which I didn’t realize was his song until many, many years after discovering it), my Mac Davis fandom starts and ends with Texas in my Rear View Mirror.

But Texas in my Rear View Mirror is one of the most finely crafted country songs ever written, so it’ll go a long way. (I do still need to watch North Dallas Forty.)

There are worse places to spend three hours on the side of the road than Lubbock, Texas
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SF: Comanche by Brett Riley

Raymond Turner has a problem.  The New Orleans-based private investigator crawled into a bottle when his wife died and has only crawled out with considerable effort and grace on the part of his partner.

The town of Comanche, Texas has a problem.  Over one hundred and thirty-five years ago several townspeople killed the Piney Woods Kid and desecrated his corpse.  Now the ghost of the Piney Woods Kid is exacting his revenge on the descendants of those townspeople, haunting the grounds of the historic depot where his body was dismembered—newly renovated and opened as a diner by the town mayor.

Fortunately, the mayor’s wife is Turner’s sister.  Turner’s chance for redemption is Comanche’s chance for salvation.

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