The CD “Kakistocracy” from Spicewood Seven was released yesterday and is available here from Austin Records Direct, a newly revived record label that once launched a variety of Texas artists from Stevie Ray Vaughan to Omar And The Howlers (have to catch up with them actually). As someone who has frequently dumped on red states throughout my online existence here, I’m proud to help a product that comes from the reddest state of all.
I guess I should start with the name. The term “kakistocracy” means government by the most corrupt or incompetent (how perfect, sadly), and Luke Powers came up with it; Powers is a former Morehead scholar from UNC-Chapel Hill who earned his Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University, and he and his friend and musical partner Tommy Spurlock (billed in the record’s bio as “an Austin-based musician, producer and wildman”) assembled the musical talent for the recording.
This includes keyboardist Garth Hudson of The Band, drummer Jamie Oldaker (formerly of Eric Clapton’s band), Elana Fremerman (Bob Dylan and Hot Club of Cow Town) and Leon Rausch (legendary singer of Bob Willis and the Texas Playboys). Spurlock made his name as a guitar and steel guitar player before producing and playing sessions with Shania Twain, George Jones, Guy Clark, David Olney, and John Prine.
The CD contains 17 tracks ranging from hard-driving rhythm and blues (“Mercury’s in Retrograde”) to radio-ready tunes (“Crawford, Texas” and “Poor Boy”) to melodic acoustic ballads (“America, What’s Happened To You?”) to more anthemic contemplations of where our country is at this moment (“400 Years”).
As you may have guessed from the song titles, the music is very topical, consisting of slice-of-life observances of people’s lives, even “Crystal Time” with great C&W “swing” vocals from Brennen Leigh as a “meth” mama (“well your tongue is waggin’ like a windshield wiper/If you make a beer run, don’t forget the diapers”) conjuring up an image to your humble narrator of Loretta Lynn gone straight to hell.
Of the many fine individual performances on the CD, David Hearne's vocal on "America, What Happened To You?," Spurlock's fender steel riffs on "Prayer For The Living And The Dead," Jamie Oldaker's drumming on "Going Down The Road To Baghdad" (creating a feeling like you're rumbling up Route Irish in a Humvee - lots of grunt slang worked into the song by the way) and Elana Fremerman's fiddle accompaniment in "Iraqi Soldier Blues" stood out chiefly for me.
I didn’t find the songs to be overly preachy, with the exception of “Dying Planet” (leading off with a lyric like that is a tough rode to hoe, which is kind of a shame because it has the best dance groove on the recording). “Chinese Murder Mystery” is a sad story which, unfortunately, didn’t translate into a good song (though, like all of the recordings, it is interesting to listen to).
Though some of the songs definitely oppose Dubya, they’re not particularly angry or confrontational but questioning and introspective, which makes them more powerful as far as I’m concerned (Powers and Spurlock consider themselves commentators on everything as opposed to advocates for change, which is fine). More than anything, Powers and Spurlock are pretty much wondering just what the hell happened to this country over time and putting their concerns to music, and their concerns are pretty much apolitical.
I said something on Monday which more or less questioned how much we’ve really thought about the events of a little over five years ago now and what they mean to our lives and this nation, and I think it was, in part, an occasion to look inside ourselves a bit. These guys have done that and taken a good look around also, and they should be applauded for it. And we really need to help them with this, because the likely place to hear this music on the radio would be on country stations, which may be difficult because it's actually intelligent music and has nothing to do with pickup trucks, bar fights, or Jessica Simpson parading around in her "Daisy Dukes" (not that I have a problem with that, mind you).
So go to the Austin Records site and order “Kakistocracy” now. You laugh a bit, think a bit, and maybe even dance a time or two.
That sure sounds like a good deal to me.