Thursday, April 25, 2024

James Talley - Blackjack Choir / Ain't It Somethin' (1977 us, gorgeous fusion of folk, country, blues, soft, jazzy overtones, honky tonk with greasy guitars)

Talley was born in Oklahoma, but his family moved to Richland, Washington when he was young. There, his father worked as a chemical operator at the Hanford plutonium factory. Realizing the hazards his father's employment presented, the family packed up and left for Albuquerque, New Mexico. Shortly after, his father passed from cancer that was no doubt acquired at the plutonium factory, which Talley later wrote a song about.

In 1975, an oddball country album called “Got No Bread, No Milk, No Money, But We Sure Got a Lot of Love” appeared in Nashville and made a big stir in music circles far beyond. Everything about it—from its unwieldy title to its eclectic take on traditional country to its cover photo of a scruffy young man and his pregnant wife and their toddler in front of a rural grocery store—set it apart from Music City’s generic product.

Whereas most country songs were set in Anywhere, U.S.A., this ambitious song cycle conveyed a keen sense of place. Written, produced and performed by a second-generation Okie named James Talley, the record took listeners to Mehan, a hamlet near Stillwater, Okla., and other spots “as far back in that country as you can stick a butcher-knife,” as Mr. Talley put it in the title song. Here was Og, a tobacco-chewing farmer, and blue-eyed Ruth, and an old railroad man who’s now the town wino—all kith and kin from Mr. Talley’s early years.

The got-no-bread title was barely a stretch. By the mid-1970s, Mr. Talley had gone broke making the self-financed album. By chance, his day job as a carpenter had him remodeling the Nashville home of Frank Jones, the head of Capitol Records’ country-music division; Mr. Talley gave Jones a copy, one of 1,000 he had custom-printed and -pressed featuring his young family on the cover. It led to a record deal, though his major-label album debut barely made a ripple in Music City. But rock critics, drawn to the songs’ progressive Woody Guthrie vibe, compared it to the elegiac, back-to-the-land imagery of The Band and hailed the album as a classic. Despite the hype, it was a commercial dud.

Three later Capitol albums earned more praise and expanded Mr. Talley’s cult following. Among his ardent fans were President Jimmy Carter and wife Rosalynn, who invited him to perform at the White House. But a hit record never happened. Country music in the 1970s was going mainstream, so a backwater outlaw from the boonies—unless he was named Waylon or Willie—was a tough sell. By the end of the decade, Mr. Talley had disappeared from the record industry, his albums out of print.

His bracing songs tapped into a Woody Guthrie-like vision of America. The music industry turned its back. 
by Eddie Dean
1. Bluesman - 2:55
2. Alabama Summertime - 2:53
3. Everybody Loves A Lovesong - 3:20
4. Magnolia Boy - 3:16
5. Mississippi River Whistle Town - 4:30
6. Daddy Just Called It The Blues - 4:30
7. Up From Georgia - 2:44
8. Migrant Jesse Sawyer - 5:40
9. You Know I've Got To Love Her - 3:41
10.When The Fiddler Packs His Case - 3:20
11.Ain't It Something - 2:55
12.Only The Best (Jim Rooney) - 3:03
13.We Keep Tryin' - 3:17
14.Dixie Blue - 3:16
15.Not Even When It's Over - 2:35
16.Nine Pounds Of Hashbrowns - 3:00
17.Richland, Washington - 2:19
18.Middle "C" Mama - 2:04
19.Woman Trouble - 2:53
20.Old Time Religion (Traditional) - 2:42
21.Poets Of The West Virginia Mines - 5:34
22.What Will There Be For The Children - 2:52
Music and Lyrics by James Talley except where stated

Tracks 1-10 
*James Talley - Vocals, Acoustic Guitar
*Byron Bach - Cello 
*Ralph Childs - Tuba 
*Rick Durrett - Piano, Tac-Piano 
*Dave Gillon - Electric Slide Guitar (Track 6) 
*Johnny Gimble - Fiddle, Mandolin 
*Josh Graves - Dobro 
*Doyle Grisham - Steel Guitar 
*Steve Hostak - Acoustic, Electric Guitar 
*Irv Kane - Trombone 
*B.B. King - Electric Lead Guitar (Track 1) 
*Mike Leech - Electric Bass 
*Andy Mcmahon - Piano, Electric Piano, Organ 
*Clark Pierson - Drums, Percussion 
*Billy Puett - Saxophone, Clarinet 
*John Sayles - Fiddle (Track 8) 
*Don Sheffield - Trumpet 
*Jerry Shook - Acoustic Guitar, Banjo, Harmonica 
*Tommy Smith - Trumpet/Horn - 
*Kyle Tullis - Upright Bass 
*Reggie Young - Electric Lead Guitar Chord Fills (Track 1) 
*Clark Pierson - Harmony Vocal (Track 10) 
*Pebble Daniel, Marsha Routh, Mary Jo Talley - Background Vocals

Tracks 11-22 
*James Talley – Vocals, Acoustic Guitar 
*Ralph Childs - Electric Bass (Track 18) 
*Tommy Cogbill - Electric Bass 
*Rick Durrett - Piano, Electric Piano, Organ, Clavinette 
*Johnny Gimble - Fiddle Josh Graves - Dobro 
*Marty Grebb - Tenor, Alto Saxophones 
*Doyle Grisham - Steel Guitar 
*Steve Hostak - Acoustic, Electric Guitar 
*Mike Leech - Electric Bass (Track 11) 
*Charlie Mccoy - Harmonica 
*Billy Puett - Tenor, Baritone Saxophones, Clarinet 
*John Sayles - Miscellaneous 
*Randy Scruggs - Banjo 
*Jerry Shook - Electric, Acoustic Guitar 
*Greg Thomas - Drums, Percussion 
*Dave Gillon - Harmony Vocal