Real Country Music
The Lost Kerosene Tapes, 1999
Hat Full Of Rain/ Brand
New Blue/ Angel at the Café Risque/ Closer To The Truth/ Outskirts Of The
Blues/Banks of the Cumberland/ Peggy Blue/ Fire In the House Of Love/ Put Down
That Gun/ Beautiful(bonus track)/ Whiskey Heaven(bonus track)
Producers: Ray Kennedy and
Sound Asleep Records
In 1994, I bought one of my all time favorite records; to be
truthful I bought it as a cassette. To be even more truthful, I bought it at
least five times. I had to repurchase it so many times because it would
disappear into the hands of friends who asked to borrow it. Radio wasn’t very
friendly toward Bob Woodruff’s Dreams and Saturday Nights, but apparently my
truck was a good form of promotion. I eventually learned to say no to lending
it out, but it stayed high on the rotation list based on requests.
I thought the record, with Bob’s distinguishable voice, and his honest and rather blunt lyrics, was just the shot in the arm Radio needed. I was confused the two times I saw him play live to small crowds…There was plenty of substance and style to his music, but the people seemed to have missed it.
But, sometimes newer artists need a second record before they really begin to make a name for themselves. After one listen to 1997’s
Again, Bob mainly gained critical acceptance with the release. Both releases were lauded by pundits but struggled in the marketplace. I, like many other critics, will go on record in saying that both are essential releases.
And, I’ll say the same of the latest release. Originally intended for a 1999 release, the album is just making the rounds thanks to Sound Asleep Records.
Like the previous releases, many of the songs center on the end of relationships. Bob’s writing again boils the matter down to a point where both hate and love exist at the same time. These feelings of regret and passion mark “Brand New Blue”, “Closer to the Truth”, “Fire in the House of Love”, “Peggy Blue”, and “Beautiful”.
With lines like “I know you slept around …it was obvious….about half the town knew it…but that’s not how you broke my heart….”, from “Peggy Blue”, Bob, as usual, finds the blunt side of things to be more cutting. Another example, Bob sings “I would have loved to have called you today…and taken you someplace where we’ve never been…cause there’s so many things left undone and unsaid…but I walked by your house and cursed you instead…”in “Beautiful”. And so what, if the tracks themselves are over a decade old, the subject matter and economical approach is timeless.
Other areas of loss, such as time and/or a dream, are touched in “Hat Full Of Rain”, “Banks of the
A bit of loss is found in the remaining three tracks as well. But each of these is also marked by a darkness almost cinematic in nature. While the others show a sensibility present on his other albums, these three, while expressing something recognizable like the other tracks, can almost bring a bit of discomfort in their rawness.
“Outskirts of the Blue” begins with a setting of “a row of houses on the forgotten part of town” where “kids coming home from school got no place to play”. Soon the character in the song, who’s “living on the outskirts of the blues”, is asking “is anyone out there ‘cause I don’t know what to do?” And he remembers how he was once “young and strong”, when “every day was a brand new song”. And he tells of how he “lived for the day, but that was yesterday, and it’s gone away” and now he’s here at a place he never meant to be. This cut is truly as bleak and hard as any James McMurty track and has a somewhat similar muscular sound. It’s from a place where the blues of collars have become so soiled as to appear black in the light.
“Put Down That Gun” is another track that veers in a direction not usually traveled by an artist once played on CMT. This time, behind an almost pub rock sound, the character asks someone to “Put Down that Gun” while explaining how he “wears this ring for you not so and so”. And he asks again for her “put down that gun because I love you…yes I do.” Like “Outskirts…”, this track is not at all country in sound , but I say let the first one among us that has not experienced a “domestic disturbance” cast the first stone toward this mirror. More than likely, even with time, after all stones are thrown, you’ll still be able to use the mirror to comb your hair.
Which leaves us with “Whiskey Heaven”…a tale of lost love that leads to “pills…breakdowns…these days in whiskey heaven”. Regrets and questioning of choices is made clear in the last lines of “true love is something like seeing ghosts…we all talk about it but few of us have ever seen one”…
The themes of loss, relationships, and time are central to Country Music. Truth be told, they are often found in most forms of roots music. With each album, Bob Woodruff relies less and less on the traditional notion of fiddle and guitar and allows electric guitars to take over. If twin fiddles make a proper country record in your mind….you may find The Lost Kerosene Tapes a bit of a challenge. However, if heartbreak is more of a defining factor, you’ll find plenty to appreciate.
I have often been told that I only like the old stuff, and I
usually answer, “No, I like the true stuff.” Truth in music is important, it‘s
what nurtures art, and there is nothing truer than hurt. Even happiness hurts.
And whether that comes with a side of fiddle or electric twelve string
guitars….I truly could care less.
But it really is that tired same old argument about what makes art art, isn’t it?
My view is that good music, country especially, should make you uncomfortable at times. It should challenge you to question where you’ve been, where you’re going, and who you are. Bob has done just that. So…this is a great album…that some might not like…it is definitely not pretty. But I would be more than happy to find many more like it in my mailbox.