Will Oldham / Rising Shotgun, In My Mind b/w Spotlight split 7”, 1997

Both songs on this 7” were written by David Allan Coe, one of the pioneers of the outlaw country genre. Coe spent twenty years in and out of ‘corrective institutions’ before going to Nashville and making a name for himself, chiefly through other people covering his songs. He’s released dozens of albums. Oldham’s side comes from a 1996 effort called Living On The Edge. Coe’s version is a slow somber affair, a fairly standard-sounding country number, with cheap keyboard-sounding strings. Even the lyrics seem like common fare—one of those “if you see her, ask her if she still thinks about me” songs. Oldham makes the song infinitely more likable by adding falsetto on the chorus, which produces a fresh melody, far catchier than the original. The band is the same (members of Palace) on both side of this record; only the singer changes.

In My Mind… sounds very much like a Palace song with an insanely infectious melody. The music has the usual shambling tinny quality, a slow stomping country beat, but Oldham’s vocal is great here, especially on the chorus: “I still got her picture I carry it all the time / It’s not in my wallet / I keep it right here in my mind.” On the phrases “all the time” and “in my mind” he reaches one of those sideways-cracking falsettos that you could almost imagine coming from an old woman with a long crooked nose, pointy black hat and a broomstick under one arm. In between verses the organist plays a simple see-sawing melody over the throb of the acoustic guitar, and that thin drum sound. The lyrics take the form of a bunch of questions to the addressee about how his ex-wife’s doing. But he also wants to know, “did she place the blame all on me?” and whether she told “you that I drove her away?” He still cares about her a lot, such that the picture he keeps of her is not in his wallet, but rather “in my mind.” It’s a pretty, short and pleasant song, a sort of variation of Dylan’s “North Country Fair” theme. Nice to hear what Oldham does with it, but hey, the lyrics make too much sense. There’s nothing here for me to scratch my head over. Now that can’t be right.

Spotlight… is performed by the same band as the A-side with Brett Eugene Ralph on vocals, although at one point I’m pretty sure Oldham joins for the backing chorus. Musically we have a jaunty guitar strum and a thin UFO-hovering organ line. Ralph’s not a great singer, a sort of raw country-plummy quality, and he’s a little too loud over top of the music. This has the quality of a singalong with lines like “Tell all the ladies I’m single” and “Roll me a smoke / Give me some coke / Treat me like I am alive.” It’s a deeply cynical song about being a performer on stage, ergo, “I can’t see nothing but spotlights / Spotlights can’t see nothing but me,” and later, “Somebody shoot out that spotlight / Spotlights ain’t nothing but jive.” It’s one of those country-bum-loser things, although there’s a certain tongue-in-cheek quality to it, and you can imagine in a live setting the audience being invited to yell and holler back to the performer, especially when he sings lines like, “You spent your money to see me tonight / I spent all of mine getting stoned.” There’s a few other good lines in here: “Tell all the ladies I’m single / Tell Fall City Beer that I’m dry.” Cynicism abounds: “Everyone’s lying about livin’ / Everyone’s living a lie / I’m tired of livin’.” Following this is a noisy microphone rubbing sound that simulates an atomic bomb going off, which is followed by that whimsical organ melody while Ralph sings “doo doo doo / doo doo doo” as the song fades. It’s sort of throwaway but after a few listens, the melody becomes very catchy and you even start to enjoy Ralph’s wretched singing.

These songs appear to be exclusive to this release. The next 7″ from Palace was also a split effort, with Oldham covering AC/DC’s “Big Balls.”

About Alan Bumstead Vinyl Reviews

Alan Bumstead is a music fanatic who humbly adds confusion to the world with a string of album reviews written during real-time-listening in a stream-of-consciousness style, then edited for spelling, punctuation, flow and grammar. Apart from an additional introductory paragraph, the writing is improvised in time with the music. There is no re-writing. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- In his book Moving To Higher Ground Wynton Marsalis says, "Because jazz musicians improvise under the pressure of time, what's inside comes out pure. It's like being pressed to answer a question before you have a chance to get your lie straight. The first thought is usually the truth." I like to think that's what Alan Bumstead's all about.
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