Monday, June 30, 2008

Not all Country Music Hall of Famers sucked

They're all pretty wonderful, in fact, and I'm delighted to learn that yesterday in my hometown of Nashville was the ceremony inducting the Statler Brothers and Tom T. Hall into that august group. They're two of my favorite country acts, and it only means -- ulp -- I'm getting older when I can say that I'm a lifelong fan of both.

The Statler Brothers, like their contemporaries the Oak Ridge Boys, sing secular, contemporary country music in the vocal style of old-time Southern gospel quartets. It's a sound I love. But unlike the Oak Ridge Boys, the members of the Statler Brothers bring extraordinary songwriting chops to their work. Their hit "Flowers on the Wall," by late Statler tenor Lew DeWitt, is a breathtaking, sui generis song for the ages. Also first-rate is "Bed of Roses," which I'm including here. Written by bass singer Harold Reid, "Bed of Roses" is sung achingly by brother and baritone Don Reid. It's a love song, but a sad and desperate one.

Speaking of extraordinary songwriting chops, the Tom T. Hall nod is well deserved, and then some. He's one of a small number of mainstream Nashville songwriters who craft material that's very personal, but also very accessible -- even, dare I say, commercial. Although he can turn a memorable hook as well as anyone (viz., "That's How I got to Memphis"), his stock in trade is story songs -- sad or funny or poignant narratives, told with great wit, humble insight, unadorned language and, generally, a heaping helping of ambivalence. One of his best in this vein is "Margie's at the Lincoln Park Inn," a motel song to beat all motel songs.

Congrats, gentlemen!

The Statler Brothers - Bed of Roses
Tom T. Hall - Margie's At the Lincoln Park Inn

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