Apr 232013
 

About two months ago I was listening to Pandora and heard a mournful cry in a haunting tune that was labeled Country but didn’t quite sound like Country. It wasn’t Luk Thung – the Thai version of Country Music inspired by Johnny Cash and other American artists – but it may as well have been. It was ‘Let Freedom Ring,’ the ending track of Terry Allen’s Amerasia, an alt- Country album that was part political statement on the botched aftermath of the Vietnam War in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam; part Country album; and part experimental album with World Music. It appears that Allen worked over a decade on the album; he recorded with Laotian musicians in Thailand a decade prior (engineered by Supod Sookkald, Witan Tuwatchhai) – and the album incorporates SE Asian songs with English songs which condemn both the War and war in general.

Country musician and anti-war activist Natalie Maines’ father (Lloyd) and uncles (Kenny and Donnie) backed up Terry Allen on this album as they have done on others – I can see where Natalie gets it from. They not only play traditional Country Music instruments such as guitar and fiddle, but Thai instruments as well, including trupbra (drum) along with other Thai drums, chimes, and various other noisemakers.

While targeting war, the album also strives to demonstrate how friendship can come out of war from the opposing sides and that friendship can unite us in the end – that may seem corny, but this album makes a case that maybe there is truth to it.

Terry Allen’s concept album is worthy of a ciccerone – it starts off with the whirring helicopters of the title Track ‘Amerasia’ (American meets Asia – oh, now I get it) – and a foreboding narration from Terry Allen on how the War in Vietnam has changed Thailand for the worse; has possibly conquered this unique nation in a strange way despite the fact that they were our allies at the time – this ancient land that never been conquered or changed by any outside force prior. It is disturbing to note that Thailand was basically used as an aircraft carrier from which to bomb the neighboring countries of Laos, Cambodia, and of course Vietnam.

The second track is a couple of seconds of ‘My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,’ which in this context serves to suggest that patriotic violence is not very patriotic in its swath and path of destruction.

The third track, ‘The Burden,’ actually reprises the first musical track – a traditional-sounding Country song – but this time uses it to weave an anti-war, tragedic lament honoring the thousands of nameless fallen, with Thai drums pounding in the background behind Country instruments. It is a far cry from the awful rah, rah, dry, patriotic, pro-Iraqi top-40 Country songs of a decade ago.

‘Back out of the World’ is kind of honky-tonk, about a dissatisfied solider returning home and trying with difficulty to readjust to society. In the background are female Country vocals purposely and intriguingly trying to sound Southern and Oriental at the same time.

‘Swan Lake’ is a gritty instrumental, almost blues-like, that just goes to show you that when you combine good music from two cultures, better music is the result (and the question of what country the music originally came is forgotten). Allen works with Laotian musicians Surachai Janyimathorn (guitar, Singha beer bottle); Mongkol Utog (on Paen, aThai Mandolin); Tong Kran Tanaa (phenomenal acoustic slide guitar); and Veersak Sunitohnsri (guitar, Singhai beer bottle), as he does on a variety of tracks.

‘Display Woman/Displaced Man’ is a lively, action-packed song that sounds like it could have been in a Chuck Norris 80s action movie, about the sex trade created from the Vietnam War (an activity that is world-famous and still thrives today). I should note that because of the kathoey (transsexual woman), the displaced man has become the display woman.

The Cajun-sounding ‘Lucy’s Tiger Den’ is an homage to an infamous bar that was a hangout for former soliders, ex-CIA pilots, construction workers, and assorted other military types, that closed in 1987 and gave Americans a way to spend holidays with each other away from home during the war. Kind of reminiscent of M*A*S*H* in that respect.

Most of the songs to this point sound American with hints of Asian, but the record kind of reverses that starting at an American/Thai amalgam of ‘Chopsticks’ at the album’s midway point.

‘Nobody’s Goin’ Home,’ weighing in as the last American music-dominated number and true to its pessimistic title, is a stark criticism of how the US treated Thailand, who was its ally, by destroying the country in the very act of building its infrastructure – and at the same time betraying its own, American citizens by not valuing its soldiers’ lives.

Songs like ‘Metrapab’ are what make Amerasia an inventive Country album ahead of its time – this song could have easily been just Terry Allen singing in outcry against the Vietnam war; but instead Surachai Janyimathorn sings several songs critical of the War from his point of view. I think Surachai is Laotian, but he sings in the Thai language. Perhaps coincidentally (though perhaps not), both Allen and Janyimathorn share a similarly dry, nasal-sounding voice, so that they almost sound like the same person singing about the same events in the ‘same voice,’ but from two opposite worlds.

‘Metrapab’ represents a complexity of thought regarding Americans during this timeframe, expressed in simple poeticism worthy of Willie Nelson. The message is hard-hitting and laden with irony: Americans have come to Thailand in order to use it as a way to defeat Americanism, killing everyone in their wake, including their Thai allies and their own citizens, heedless that their casualties extend even to children as the mess they leave behind in Thailand for that country to clean up includes children that are ‘left behind’ from either hooking up with or raping local women. But yet, despite all of this, there still somehow remains a transcendent respect for the Americans and a desire to make peace and friendship.

The next three tracks — ‘Church Wall,’ ‘Food Stall,’ and ‘Canal’ — are all instrumental tracks that try to capture the memories of the ex-soldiers who may still be wandering around Thailand. The melodies used in all three are essentially the same, with the mood and instrumentation being tweaked a bit from track to track.

‘Sawahadi’ (‘Christmas Song’) is a short Christmas reflection sung by Terry Allen; and it is lonely – a couple of tracks earlier ‘Lucy’s Tiger Den’ mentioned Thanksgiving. The plaintive situation faced by the individual Americans there for that time is not lost sight of in this deeply human musical work.

In ‘Orphans’ we have a mesmerizing, haunting instrumental (possibly one of the best tracks on the album), from Terry Allen’s Laotian crew; Terry Allen was doing this even a couple of years prior to Ry Cooder’s going to Cuba to record Buena Vista Social Club and to Mali to record sessions with late bluesman Ali Farke Toure.

‘Pataya’ (sic) sounds a note that is almost patriotic and is written and sung by Terry’s Asian vocal ‘double,’ Surachai Janyimathorn. Pattaya was a fishing village that was turned into a resort town by American soldiers and remains a bustling tourist spot today. In this song it sounds like Pataya is being attacked and plundered by American marauders, as if they were fighting them instead of Viet Nam and warns Thailand not let this happen. That the Thais and Americans were allies one would never know, based on these lyrics.

‘Let Freedom Ring,’ the final and perhaps the best track on this album, is a round sung by Terry Allen and Surachai Janyimathorn doing the same lyrics in English and in Thai – here, especially, when I first heard the song, I thought it was the same person. This one is an optimistic tune that sounds something like an ending to a Kurosawa film — you know, where the idea is we must unite and trust each other despite all of the war, chaos, and destruction.

Amerasia, twenty years later, is worthy of a review – and while the Vietnam War is now forgotten and buried, replaced by the events of 9/11 and the decade plus-long war that followed, Terry Allen’s experimentation with world music, which neither at the time nor since was ever really given its full measure of discovery or appreciation, has never rung more true.

May 132010
 

Blues, rock, & jazz – born on American soil as the lagniappe of world-vagabonds here – have of course since gone on to continue their globetrotting and reinseminate beaucoups d’other cultures.

This we all know. However, there is one other American art form – Country music – and arguably our most poetic (especially when it comes to the artful expression, in simplest terms, of those most basic & universal of all tacit and complex emotions – namely, the ones we all feel in relationships) – that is also surprisingly cosmopolitan.

Surprising, because Cunt’ry music can of course sometimes be our most unfairly appraised, underrated, underappreciated (even ridiculed) native art form.

Everyone knows that the American banjo has traversed the globe– why not the music that goes along with it. Country music has fiddled, whined, twanged & influenced unexpected parts of the globe: cultured Europe, black Carribean & Africa, Thailand, etc.

One that is a pretty interesting hotbed of Country Music is the Caribbean nation of Grenada, with acts such as Joe-Country. Thailand is another, with its own styling, dubbed ‘Luk Thung.’ After listening & watching some Luk Thung, it is clear that they create themselves in a ‘look’ (not just sound) that is similar to what American Country musicians go in for – as to such things as props, hairstyles, clothing, and such. Suphanburi in Central Thailand has been dubbed the ‘Thai Nashville.’

Bachata from the Dominican started out to be Country sounding, but it no longer sounds that way. Some Cuban music has country roots as well.

Some of Brazil’s Sertanejo shares the worst aspects of American Country Music — namely the schmaltziness & overly-saccharine qualities. I think I might be in danger of contracting diabetes if I listen too much to groups like Chitãozinho e Xororó or Leandro e Leonardo.

That’s as for the worst (but now that’s over). The best sertanejo has similarities to other South American styles & to Mexican mariachi. I do feel some better to find that we are not the only country guilty of making Country sound crass & like a truck commercial. Forró is a less commercial-sounding Country that has German & African influences; the modern stuff may not resemble Country (although the father of Forró Luis Gonzaga’s ‘Asa Baranca’ resembles Bob Wills and Louisiana Cajun music from the 20s & 30s), but the recurring themes of love, passion, jealousy, romance are very much in the Country spirit.

Swedish Country music (& Brazilian Sertanejo) proves that what I might post might not be in good taste. Beware, Listener, Beware.

I will however add that I was listening to some German & Dutch music the other week — not sure what era — and it struck me how Country it sounded — especially the crispness, that was reminiscent of someone like Bob Wills. It also got me thinking that traditional German music also sounds a little country — the accordian IS featured in Western Swing.

All I ever heard about (probably you, too) were the Celtic (both Scotch & Irish) & English influences in Country music — as if these were the only influences Country music ever had. I am not denying that influence is there, of course — but there were also a lot of Germans who immigrated to this country as well — what happened to their music? My suggested answer to that is, I think I hear their influences in Country as well.

As it happened — I was eating at a Mexican restaurant in East Tennessee last week, and the typical Mariachi, Ranchera, & Teajano music was in the background (and, no, it wasn’t any different, just because the restaurant was near Knoxville) — and it dawned on me – ‘This is a bit Country.’

My research for this post not only confirmed heavy German influence in Country music, but also in Mexican & South American music as well (!) — hence the accordian’s being a popular instrument in those cultures. Besides which – yodeling (a/k/a Jimmie Rodgers, ‘Father of Country Music’), as we all know, comes from the Swiss. On a related side note, after purchasing the wonderful boxed-set by Warner Brothers, ‘From Where I Stand: The Black Experience In Country Music’ (1998), a few years ago (– if you can find a copy – get it –), it is difficult for me not to interpret Ray Charles & (especially) Fats Domino as Country musicians.

Apparently, there will be a documentary out soon on Tomi Fujiyama – a female, Japanese Country Musician – who performed at the Grand Ol’ Opry (& was the first Japanese artist to do so) in 1964 with Bill Anderson.

There are Country Music Festivals all over the world — most notably in South America & in Australia. Australia has its own Country music scene. I was able to locate a link for Country done in the Chamorro language on Guam.

Finally, after being already familiar with Cajun music from Louisiana & its Acadian cousin from the Canadian Northeast, & now listening to Franco-Country from Québec, there must be French influence in Country music as well. I am myself a proud Celt – however, I have to conclude, after spending some time looking into the matter, that it is just not accurate to say that there is only British Isle influences in Country music. There are – obviously enough if you stop & listen — German, French, Swiss, Dutch, African American, & Spanish influences as well — just to name a few. And I even found some Country influence on African artists (not just Jimmie Rodgers being picked up by Lady Black Mambazo) — such as musicians in the Congo (DRC — formerly Zaire) & African whites in Zimbabwe (when it was known as Rhodesia), who were personalizing their political movement in their version of Country.

Note: Some of these links would be considered Classic Country & were made about the same time as our Classic Country; while others are modern & reflect our modern Country tastes. Some of worldbeat Country sound is a precise reproduction — whether sung in English or the artist’s native language – while some is something from their own culture crossed with elements from American Country. ‘My Watermelon Sweet Farm Girl’ gives one a favor (forgive pun) of this.

Alright – enough of that.

NORTH AMERICA:

USA:
Black Artists In Country Music
From Where I Stand: The Black Experience in Country Music [Box set] — Listen to Samples
Margot Leverett & the Klezmer Mountain Boys

Québec:
Un Amour Qui Ne Veut pas Mourir — Renée Martel
André leJeune
C’est Noel une Autre Fois — Georges Hamel (Franco Country Christmas)
Une Fleur dans la Nuit — Georges Hamel
Tshinanu – Kashtin (Innu not French)

México:
Mariachi Viva México
Mariachi Cielito Lindo
Grandes de la Musica Ranchera ‘Coplas’
El Rey — José Alfredo Jiménez
Juan Charrasqueado — Jorge Negrette
La Tequilera — Lucha Reyes
Norteo Music — National Geographic
Selena Teaches about Tejano Music (México & Texas)

Cuba:
Sucu Suqué? Pt. 1-2
Sucu Suqué? Pt. 2-2
Guantanamera — Celina Gonzales

Puerto Rico:
Andres “El Jibaro” Jimenez y Edwin Colón-Zayas
Music of Puerto Rico (see paragraph on Jiabro)

Dominican Republic:
Amorcito De Mi Alma — José Manuel Calderón
Serenata Sin Luna — Eladio Romero Santos
Bachata — Wikpedia

Grenada:
She Want A Rider — Unidentified Grenadan Country Musician — Begins at 8:05
He Is The One — Joe Country
Carribean Country Boy — Joe Country on Jimmy Kimmel
Joe Country Write-Up (Links Don’t Work)

SOUTH AMERICA:

Brazil:
Sertanejo:
O Dia Em Que Eu Sai De Casa — Zezé diCamargo e Luciano
Eu Só Penso Em Você (Always On My Mind)
— Zezé diCamargo e Luciano & Willie Nelson

Choram As Rosas — Bruno e Marrone
Seleção de Pagodes — Tião Carreiro & Pardinho
Joao de Barro — Tonico e Tinoco
Ela Não Vai Mais Chorar — Chitãozinho e Xororó Billy Ray Cyrus (Brasil/USA)
We’re all alone – Chitãozinho & Xororó e Reba McEntire
Words – Chitãozinho e Xororó e Bee Gees
Forró:
Baião — Luiz Gonzaga
Asa Branca — Luiz Gonzaga
Forró – National Geographic

Argentina:
San Pedro Country Music festival

Uruguay:
Montevideo Hot Country @ Festival Internacional de Música Country de Uruguay

Chile:
Ay Ay Ay — Los Cuatro Huasos

EUROPE:

Ireland:
Glor Tire (Irish Country Music Idol TV Program)

Germany:
Deutsche Volkmusik Maschendrahtzaun — Stefan Raab
Man of Constant Sorrow — Texas Lightning

Switzerland:
Yodeling Swiss Cowboy — Peter Hinnen
Dr. Schacher Seppli — Rudolf Rymann Live at the Country Night Bettenhausen — Nevada

Sweden:
Jolene — Hilde Heltberg with Elisabeth Andreassen Då lyser en sol — Elisabeth Andreassen
Cowboy Jodli — Kikki Danielsson
Kikkis Bästa — Kikki Danielsson
Dag efter Dag — Chips (Elisabeth Andreassen & Kikki Danielsson)
Mycke Mycke Mer – Chips
Kärleken är — Jill Johnson

Netherlands:
Mississippi — Pussycat
My Broken Souvenirs — Pussycat

Russia:
Bearing Straight — Bering Strait
Buckledown w/ former members of Bering Strait & some Americans

AFRICA:

Egypt:
Egyptian-American Country Musician (Kareem Salama) in Egypt

Congo DRC:
Early African Guitar 1982 — Mwenda Jean Bosco

Zimbabwe:
Clem Tholet — Rhodesians Never Die
Clem Tholet — What A Time It Was (If A World Had Another Hitler)

South Africa:
Ladysmith Black Mambazo & Dolly Parton — Knockin On Heaven’s Door

Ghana:
No Beer In Heaven — Atongo Zimba

OCEANIA:

Australia:
A Pub With No Beer — Slim Dusty
Waltzing Matilda — Slim Dusty
The Kelly Gang — Buddy Williams
Hillbillies From the Bush – Legends from Australian Country Music
Australian Country Music — Wikipedia

Guam:
Chamoru Country Music — Triste Yu’

ASIA:

Thailand:
Pleading With Father’s Ghost – Suraphol Sombatcharoen
My Watermelon Farm Girl – Suraphol Sombatcharoen
Your Little Sister Is Just Like A Monkey & Go Away Friend, Straight Ahead – Suriya Fapathum
Mon Rak Luk Thung
Mon Ruk Loog Thung – Yardrock SalockJai
Luk Thung – Wikipedia

Japan:
Made In Japan Trailer — Tomi Fujiyama
Made In Japan Doc Teaser — Tomi Fujiyama
‘A Country Dream’ Kyoto Concert Montage 2004 — Tom Fujiyama
Tomi Fujiyama’s Official WS

Myanmar:
Su – Than Naing & the Playboy Group (Myanmar)