VINYL HAYRIDE; COUNTRY MUSIC ALBUM COVERS 1947-89 by PAUL KINGSBURY

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VINYL HAYRIDE; COUNTRY MUSIC ALBUM COVERS 1947-89 by PAUL KINGSBURY

The purest strain of American country music -- not the pop-schlock of Shania Twain or the credible singer-songwriters out of Texas -- bewilders most people. It can be cornball, sentimental, blindly patriotic, hypocritically conservative, and often just plain strange. It is also, to cite Nick Tosche's excellent studies of it, "the biggest music in America" and "the twisted roots of rock'n'roll".

For those reasons alone it's something we should pay attention to. And that's easy because country wears its art on its sleeve.

This large-format, soft-cover collection of colourful, kitschy, mawkish and downright odd album covers isn't deliberately selected for Tosche's reasons, it is simply a cross-section through the heart of country music from the days of Tex Ritter and square dances to the new country acts of the late 80s such as Lyle Lovett, Steve Earle (when he was thin and young) and kd lang.

satan   These covers are fascinating, tacky and sometimes unintentionally hilarious. Tex Williams' Smoke Smoke Smoke makes smoking look like a patriotic act, the Louvin Brothers stand in the inferno for Satan is Real, Carl Butler and Pearl pose in matching and very wrong jackets for Loving Arms, and Grandpa Jones really shouldn't have put on leiderhosen for Yodeling Hits.

   There are themes, among them truck drivin', drinkin' and cheatin' (sometimes all at the same time).

   It's unlikely you'll learn much from these colourful pages (other than don't let a country singer pick your wardrobe) but some do reflect universal truths. Moe Brandy looks suitably broken, ornery and vengeful as he sits in a bar holding a broken bottle for I Just Started Hatin' Cheatin' Songs Today.

silkBut what was the young Linda Ronstadt thinking when she posed in a pig sty with two fat porkers for Silk Purse?

Girl, that's just too literal, even by country's lowered standards.


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