“What’s your real name (Jean Craddock)?” “I’m Bad Blake. My tombstone will have my real name on it. Until then, I’m just gonna stay Bad.”
This ain’t a film review of Crazy Heart, but rather a smorgasbord-listening-fest of these terrific sounds waftin’ sweetly from this Deluxe Soundtrack, produced by T Bone Burnett and Stephen Burton. 23 perfect country tunes are packaged herein, and a balance is forged between old timey rare country gems and newer ones written specifically for the movie.
I picked out 11 songs to take a shot at here. Even if Jeff Bridges doesn’t win for Best Actor tonight on the Academy Awards, and even if The Weary Kind don’t win in the Best Song category, this soundtrack will be immensely popular in the months to come.
I’ve come to believe that T Bone Burnett is on a roll when it comes to assembling a movie soundtrack. He’s had Walk the Line and O Brother, Where Art Thou? Already! The muse is with T Bone. This one’s even better! So, let’s take a trip down memory lane and raid the vaults of C & W’s finest! Hope you enjoy my humble spittoonings of plug-tobaccy?
The first song on the soundtrack is Hold On You, a throwback to the Country Outlaw greats, like Waylon and Willie (and the boys). Jeff Bridges sings it convincingly; he talks/sings his lonesome cowboy story just as the late-great Johnny Cash would have. “I’ve been blessed and I’ve been cursed, all my lies have been unrehearsed. A wall of fire that I walked through, only trying to get a hold on you.”
Hold On You was written by Stephen Bruton, T Bone Burnett, John Goodwin and Bob Neuwirth. I see it as an anthem of Bad Blake’s, a mission to clean up his act and to try to pursue his new love, Jean Craddock, in order to create a better life for himself. Bad’s singing it to Jean in earnest, he’s been on the road too long and needs a good woman to settle down a piece with.
I can’t get over how tight the Buckaroos are on Hello Trouble. Hello Trouble was cut 6 on side 2 of Together Again/My Heart Skips a Beat, which was released in July of 1964 on Capitol Records. The song was written by Orville Couch and Eddie McDuff and has lyrics that tie in heartache with love. That is, when this little fling comes around to visit Buck she stirs up a hornets’ nest. A common theme in country music songs.
“We’ll make a pot of coffee, and you can rest your shoes, you can tell me them sweet lies, and I’ll listen to you. For I’m just a little part of the life you’ve lived, but I’d rather have a little bit of trouble than to never know the love you give.”
The band sounds so good; it makes me want to hear more of these Buck Owens’ records from the 60s. Did get Act Naturally the other day. The band is sparse, economical and the rhythm is peppy. This is referred to as the ‘Bakersfield Sound’, which is somewhat rougher and more rockin’ than what was comin’ out of Nashville at that time. YouTube has a cool Hello Trouble live, that was performed on Hee Haw one time.
The great guitar work and harmonies are done by Don Rich, Buck’s longtime partner who helped him polish his sound to perfection. Don Rich died in a motorcycle accident in 1974 and this devastated Buck Owens. Buck sank into a deep depression as a result of his partner’s death. But fortunately those glory days are captured on those early Capitol records.
This is my initial exposure to The Louvin Brothers; track 3 is My Baby’s Gone written by Hazel Houser. It was released as a single in 1958 and then included on an album, My Baby’s Gone, on Capitol Records Nashville. The Louvin Brothers are known for their tight harmonies and remind me of The Everly Brothers.
“Hold back the rushing minutes, make the wind lie still. Don’t let the moonlight shine, across the lonely hill. Dry all the raindrops, and hold back the sun, my world has ended, my baby’s gone.”
It’s a worthy endeavor to explore their entire careers; that’s on my ‘to do’ checklist. Ira and Charlie Louvin were steeped in the Baptist religion and were comfortable in the gospel genre also. However, Ira, the mandolin player, had a bad temper, a drinking problem and was known for his run ins with the law. Tragically, Ira was killed in a car crash in 1965. The 1960 album, Satan Is Real, is something of a cult classic in terms of being a ‘sign of those times’.
Track 8, Fallin’ & Flyin,’ is a new one written for the movie by Stephen Bruton and Gary Nicholson. Stephen made up many of these clever lines; they’re off the cuff and natural and were derived from a real life situation. Don’t know the particulars on this, but rumors certainly fly around. “I was going where I shouldn’t go, seeing who I shouldn’t see.”
Jeff Bridges does a great job on the vocal giving it the comic edge that it so desperately needs. And I love the squeeze box part by Joel Guzman, which is a splash of lime on it. Stephen Bruton died in May of 2009, but made major contributions to the movie screenplay and to this brilliant soundtrack. Bruton was a road warrior himself and his experience is interspersed into the Bad Blake character.
Track 9 is one by Kitty Wells, The Queen of Country, Searching (For Someone Like You). With a smooth lilting rhythm, this one is old-fashioned country music that you don’t hear anymore. Searching was a single for Kitty from 1956, written by Murphy Maddux, that made it to # 3 on the U.S. Country charts.
The arrangement is simple, traditional, with an upright piano taking the lead. The session pianist utilizes an arpeggio accent that is quite effective, and not confused by other instruments. Brushes are used on the drums and the bass thumps are subdued in the mix. Just a touch of a steel pedal and the color of harmonies against Kitty’s pleas of passion.
“Searching, I’ve spent a lifetime darling, searching, looking for someone like you. Dreaming, in all my dreams I dream that someday I’d find someone like you.” The lyrics might apply to the way that Bad Blake finds and falls in love with the music reporter Jean Craddock in the movie.
Kitty Wells achieved a great amount in country music early on in the 1950s and paved the way for future female country stars, such as Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette. Her hit from 1952, It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels, where she suggests that deceitful men are equally as responsible for ‘fallen women’ as the women themselves, is a step in the right direction as a counterpoint to the ‘paternal mores’ of the 1950s. “It’s a shame that all the blame is on us women.”
It’s said that Waylon Jennings started the Outlaw Country movement with the 1972 RCA release of Ladies Love Outlaws. Waylon and Willie reacted negatively to the ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ attitude that persisted in Nashville. They initiated that radical movement right here in Austin, Texas in the early 1970s. I remember it well, since I was in school at UT at the time.
Anyway, track 12 is Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way, which was a # 1 U.S. country chart topper for Waylon in 1975. It’s Waylon’s plea for people to start doin’ things the way Hank Williams had done them originally, legitimate and proper! This is the radical new voice of country urging us to return to our roots, and stop being so flashy and over-produced.
“It’s the same old tune, fiddle and guitar, where do we take it from here? Rhinestone suits and new shiny cars, we’ve been the same way for years. We need to change.”
I think it’s safe to say that a good amount of Bad Blake comes from Waylon Jennings. He had an amazing career (1937-2002), was in the original Crickets with Buddy Holly, avoided the plane wreck that took Buddy, The Big Bopper and Richie Valens, then he became a superstar who spearheaded a revolution in country music. Oh, Waylon had his own run-ins with substance abuse himself, as you probably already know.
Track 14 is one by George Jones, Color of the Blues. It was a single released in 1958 and made it to # 7 on the U.S. country charts. It was written by Lawton Williams and George Jones himself, with on the button metaphors for the woeful condition of the blues. Images of skies, waters and bluebirds are rotated to simulate this universal human condition. The 2nd verse is my favorite.
“There’s a rainbow overhead, with more blue than gold and red, blue must be the color angels choose. A blue dress you probably wore, when you left to return no more, blue must be the color of the blues.”
In this early, fairly obscure George Jones song, his vocals are in top form, and he bends the words to accent his feelings of sorrow and hurt. The band is minimal with fiddle, bass and acoustic guitar complimenting a country and western voice that makes you feel a tremendous amount. I want to thank T-Bone Burnett personally for digging this gem up; I can experience my own troubled past, channeled by way of ‘George Storms.’
I’ve seen Townes Van Zandt a few times up in Dallas at Poor David’s Pub. Townes was a bit messed up one time, as I recall. Didn’t know he’d become a legend. Can’t get a hold of many of his best albums anymore, like The Late Great Townes Van Zandt. Track 18 is If I Needed You, one of his most popular songs.
I notice some Townes in the character of Bad too. Townes is a down and out songwriter with quite a few bad habits. He went from dive to dive playing his heartfelt songs, just struggling to exist. That would be Bad Blake. Both mainly gifted songwriters. “If I needed you, would you come to me? Would you come to me and ease my pain? If you needed me, I would come to you; I would swim the seas for to ease your pain.”
I’m much obliged to T Bone for his choice of Track 20, Mal Hombre, by Lydia Mendoza. Lydia and her family members sang in the open air plazas of a still youthful San Antonio. When yet a little girl Lydia collected gum wrappers with lyrics on them. She wrote the music around some of these lyrics, and so we now have the classic Mal Hombre.
The song was recorded in 1934 for RCA Victor Records’ subsidiary, Bluebird. It’s simply Lydia and her twelve-string guitar and tells of a false-hearted lover or ‘evil man.’ Lydia is a legend, especially with the Hispanic community, and has recorded over 1,200 singles and albums. Lydia is also known as “La alondra de la frontera” or “the lark of the border.”
There are two biographies (Lydia Mendoza: A Family Autobiography and Lydia Mendoza’s Life in Music) on Lydia and one documentary from 1979, Chulas Fronteras. If you would like to collect some of Lydia’s CDs, just go over to the Arhoolie Records site to purchase her precious records. Her story is one of struggle as an immigrant from Mexico.
Apparently, Bad Blake, played by Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart, has influences that extend beyond country music. Bad likes jazz and folk too, and sings a song written by Greg Brown in the film. Track 22 is Brand New Angel and was an unrecorded track donated by Greg Brown for the film.
Jeff sings this dirge-like song about a “brand new angel with an old violin.” Unusual lines, but what I got from it, is that this old gifted songwriter, who would be Bad Blake, is immortalizing himself by penning wonderful tunes. Therefore, he is welcomed to heaven by a fiddle-bearing angel.
“Well it rained last night, and the stars shown bright, and way off yonder we heard the whippoorwill. At the first light of dawn, we heard that he was gone, our hearts was empty, and our eyes was filled.”
Bad Blake has a sizeable drinking problem, but is still a most gifted songwriter. In spite of his ordeals with the bottle, his muse never fails him. While I’m not that familiar with Greg Brown’s work, that will hopefully change. The inclusion of Brand New Angel on the soundtrack will surely bring much more attention to the talent of Greg Brown.
Mighty fine pickin’ and singin’ (by Ryan Bingham) on track 23, The Weary Kind. Hope it wins for Best Song tonight. I know in my heart it’s a good un. This is Bad’s signature song. Made him a living. Written by Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett, it is a sweeping statement of Bad Blake’s predicament as a washed-up C & W artist. A travelin’ singer/songwriter’s life is a hard road to travel.
“The days and the nights all feel the same. The whiskey has been the thorn in your side that doesn’t forgive. The Highway that calls for your heart inside.”
One night stands at bowling alleys and honky-tonks. Pool games at truck stops; it’s a lonely life, a lonesome musician on an endless journey. This is what T Bone was trying to capture. “I’ll play the part and I won’t need rehearsing, all I gotta do is act naturally.” Buck and Ringo were right too…
This soundtrack brings the past back to life for us all, vicariously speaking. This is an amazing sojourn through time, the 1970s, that is. The soundtrack is simultaneously a History of C & W and a simulation of the Country Outlaw Period that seem so ancient to us in 2010.
But musicians like Stephen Bruton, Kris Kristofferson, Townes Van Zandt and Waylon Jennings (& a slew of others) actually EQUAL: Bad Blake. This is the right time to review both their biographies and to celebrate their accomplishments in music. T Bone and Jeff (many others too) allow us to do this. Carpe Diem, my friend!
*(my sources are mainly the Wikipedia pages for all of these fabulous artists (along with many links) and the soundtrack itself, Crazy Heart.)
You can find Lydia Mendoza CDs on Arhoolie Records (Down Home Music Since 1960).