There is no period in country music that resonates today as much as it did in 1956-1972. But you’d have to dig beyond just the hits - into the b-sides and deep album cuts to get to the real meat. These were the “glory days” of day-to-day living in the United States. There were great advances toward a legitimate middle class, with movement toward racial equality, unionism, and anti-war sentiment. But in reality, the ruling class never really took their boots off the necks off the working class. The "war on poverty" would be the least successful of the progressive movement.
The myth went that even the unskilled and uneducated had access to great paying union jobs, a stable family environment, an education, and the latest greatest Chevy V-8 in the driveway. There was rock ‘n’ roll on the radio. Happy days were here again. Peace & love would triumph over war, hot and cold. But despite the historical summary, this never applied to the poor. And the ruling class has been working ever since to roll back the clock - to the 19th Century.
On Record Day this year, the folks at The Omni Recording Corporation (Iron Mountain Analogue Research Facility) released a 16-track version of this title on vinyl. That it would be an Australian outfit to release such a collection should surprise no one. While major American entertainment companies focus on perpetuating the myth (i.e. Garth Brooks TV concert specials), it often seems that for a deeper understanding of classic American music, one must often look overseas. Tracking down master tapes of such recordings, years of research, and a 21st Century re-mastering comes from a labor of love, not a love of money.
With only 500 copies of the vinyl pressed, there was a need to hear more – thus a much welcome expanded version (30 tracks) on CD. The extra 14 tracks add to, not detract from, the original concept.
So how were the working (lower) class faring in those years? Well, it seems they weren’t faring too well, subjected to the same worldly fears, financial woes, and personal angst that we experience today. The song from which this album takes its name, Jimmy Griggs’ “The Beginning of the End,” captures that in it’s opening line. “People say they believe in love/ But the hate goes on.” And what rings more true today than David Price’s “National Everybody Hate Me Week,” especially in the battle grounds of social media? Mell Tillis’ “Survival of the Fittest?” It’s an early exploration into environmental concerns. And a questioning of faith.
Opening and closing with two different versions of “Searching” The Beginning of the End shows exactly how much thought went into this project. As long as we search (and act) victory for the ruling class is not a guarantee.
Rating: A (best compilation of 2018)
Just as I was about to give up on Frank Turner, he’s emerged from his rabbit hole with an album jam packed with sharp political criticism – absent from more recent releases. Not that Turner has become a revolutionary British street fighting man or anything like one. But there is something alluring about the simplicity of “Be More Kind,” especially when mixed among songs like the biting “Make America Great Again.” Or the historical significance of “1933” where he sings “Be suspicious of simple answers.” It seems a lot of songwriters channeled aspects of The Kinks’ Preservation this year. 2018 was, indeed, a scary year on the planet. “Be More Kind” is the simple answer, but as Turner establishes throughout this album, it’s only part of the mix. Comeback album of the year.
TumbleTown: Never Too Late
This prog-opera might have you running to your record collection for the safety of Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar, or any other schlock ‘70s musical of your choosing. Occasionally there is some Brian May influenced guitar. But weighted with this much pomposity, the overall results have the unwanted effect of high anxiety. Lyrically, TumbleTown struggle with the same second language problems as their Dutch compatriots, Golden Earring. But where “Vanilla Queen” rocked mightily, Never Too Late just slogs along.
In the mid-90s Reef landed high in the UK charts with “Place Your Hands,” a rhythmically fresh feel-good tune that challenged the then waning sound of Grunge. MTV picked up the video in the States – a promising start for a career that went nowhere. Two more albums followed with little success. Now, after eighteen years of silence, Reef return with an album that starts off with a track that will leave listeners thunderstruck. With gravel-voiced Gary Stringer doing his best Bon Scott imitation, the band plows through the title track like a rock ‘n’ roll bulldozer, hell-bent on destroying any illusions that this is going to be a return to form. Unfortunately, they spend the rest of the album trying to convince the audience that they were only kidding. Reef are not the next AC/DC. They are not even the next Rose Tattoo or Rhino Bucket. What follows is a meandering of styles that roughly mirror their past – some catchy tunes with evangelical overtones. But there are far more duds than you would expect from a band that had almost two decades to think about it. With a quarter of the tunes being covers, things reach a low point with ”Darlin’ Be Home Soon,” patterned after the Joe Cocker version, but with none of Cocker’s finesse.
Rating: C (a full notch up from what it deserves, but that title track is a doozy)
[All reviews by Bill Glahn]