The Mount Rushmore of (Good) Bro-Country

One term will brand 2014 for the sub-par music year it was: bro country. First used in print in August 2013 by New Yorker music writer Jody Rosen to describe mainstream-country boy-band Florida Georgia Line's hit single "Cruise," the term has taken on a decidedly derogatory coloring as tools like Luke Bryan and soon-to-be-irrelevant Blake Shelton stamped out unimaginative boilerplate party songs about girls in cut-offs or tight jeans, partying at the creek, driving back roads, and popping a cool one on the tailgate of the Chevy truck.

You know the formula. You're sick of it.

It's too bad the term wasn't coined earlier, like back when country music had real testicles. These earnest pretty boys and Jason Aldean tough guys today look as if the closest they've ever been to a cow is the meat aisle at the grocery store or the drive-thru at Whataburger, but it was not always so.

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Is Country Music Ready for Sturgill Simpson?

Photo by Jason Wolter
Sturgill Simpson at a recent show in Houston
So the big new noise in the increasingly noisy -- or static-y -- genre known as Americana is this Kentucky guy Sturgill Simpson. With 2014 appearances on Letterman and Conan and a first-ever Grammy nomination for his sophomore album, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, Simpson has been branded (not by him, but by those who take it upon themselves to brand such things) as a new hope for country music, a Waylon/Outlaw Movement throwback, a loophole through which we can crawl back toward the Holy Grail: legitimate, old-school country music that sounds like, well, country music rather than background noise at a Young Republicans meeting.

If you live in Houston and remember the old Whiskey Wednesdays at Mango's and later at Fitz, you probably thought young Robert Ellis would eventually fulfill this role, but, well, he's gone in another artistic direction.

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The 10 Funkiest Chicken Songs Ever Recorded

Merle Travis likes his chickens fryin' size when they're hangin' around his pen.
Lonesome Onry and Mean was hanging with some folks the other night when Rufus Thomas' classic Memphis dance tune "Do the Funky Chicken" came on the jukebox. The owner happened to be standing near the volume control and cranked it; the energy level in the place went off the meter, smiles broke out, swaying commenced and two women got up and danced.

While the chicken has been described as funky, that's probably the only cool cred it has going for it. It doesn't have the majesty of the bald eagle, the historical significance or stature of the turkey, the literary significance of the raven, or the fear factor of the falcon, but there sure are a lot of mostly goofy songs about the world's go-to edible bird.

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Jim Mize Falls Down the Rabbit Hole

Photo courtesy of Big Legal Mess Records
For Jim Mize, it's all about observation
"Tie me to the chair and lock the door/ Take my shoes and nail 'em to the floor"

Nothing short of an envelope stuffed full of crisp new payola $100 bills moves Lonesome, Onry and Mean like hearing a new recording from an unknown artist that causes insomnia to set in. Right now that album is Jim Mize by, you guessed it, Jim Mize (I could've said eponymous, but that's the most pompous who-cares adjective ever), on Mississippi roots label Big Legal Mess. The label also handles folks like Jimbo Mathus and John Paul Keith, who both just happen to support Mize on this nine-track Southern Springsteen-ish effort.

Mize is the anti-rock-star, a 58-year-old insurance adjuster from Little Rock, Ark., and if you've heard about him at all it's probably via his tune "Let's Go Runnin'," which was on Blue Mountain's 1995 album Dog Days. Mize has two other Big Legal Mess efforts, No Tell Motel (2000) and Release It to the Sky (2007).

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South Mouth: Alt-Country Firebrand Robbie Fulks Returns

courtesy of Bloodshot Records
Robbie Fulks has something to say about Nashville: "Fuck this town"
It's been interesting to watch the career transformation of Robbie Fulks.

The Chicago picker and writer grabbed some notoriety -- and a decent alt-country cult following -- after his frustrations with trying to "make it" in Nashville in the mid-'90s led to his did-he-really-say-that tune, "Fuck This Town."

The entire No Depression nation screamed a big "Hell, yes" to Fulks' wry observations on his 1997 album South Mouth.

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Excess of Talent: Meet Austin Super-Ensemble the Eightysixxed

courtesy of David Holt
A young David Holt and Nick "Mr. Carlene Carter" Lowe in Nashville
If Lonesome, Onry and Mean was a betting man, we'd bet our entire bankroll that while Warehouse Live or Fitz are filled to capacity with folks checking out the latest hyped-up, flash-in-the-pan, cover-of-Paste-magazine band that's been in existence, oh, at least a year or two, Austin's worn and weathered the Eightysixxed will probably play to maybe 100 cognoscenti Wednesday night at Under the Volcano.

None of these Eightysixxed knights of the road, who have thousands of gigs under their belts in bands with legends like Joe Ely, Robert Palmer, Carlene Carter and Jesse "Guitar" Taylor, chases the frenzied admiration of hipsters anymore; that would be demeaning and embarrassing to artists of such stature and ability. They're past the "flavor of the day" hype contests, preferring to let their instruments do the hyping.

But just so everyone knows what they're missing when they don't see the Eightysixxed Wednesday night, here are some short bios of each member. Read 'em and weep.

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The Everlasting Joys of "Let's Work Together"

Lonesome Onry and Mean was pondering the greater meaning of all things with the aid of a cold bottle of Thought Elixir when Dwight Yoakam's version of the old Wilbert Harrison R&B smash "Let's Work Together" came up in the iPod mix. Harrison's original has been part of our DJ sets since Day One, but hearing Yoakam's twang version reminded us of Bryan Ferry's glam hit with his cover of the tune which was tearing up Europe just as we arrived there in 1976.

Thought Elixir being what it is, down the YouTube rabbit hole we plunged in search of our past. While Ry Cooder and Buckwheat Zydeco, Bob Dylan, Kentucky Headhunters and others have covered the tune, these are our favorites beginning with Harrison's 1970 masterpiece.

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Our Top Five Hank Williams Sr. Covers

L-R: Leon Payne, author of "Lost Highway," Hank Williams, and Jerry Irby in Houston circa 1950
Kids, there's a reason Hiram "Hank' Williams, who would have been 90 years old September 17, is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Dead of an overdose of pain killers in the back of his long white Cadillac at 29, Williams was, in his brief interval in Nashville, not only a hit-making country star but a songwriting machine.

Now don't get me wrong, Hank was no Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen, capable of building staggering cloudbursts of carefully sculpted, magnificent poetry. No, old Hank was the working man's bard, the guy who cut straight to the heart of any matter -- and most of those matters were either woman trouble, drinkin' trouble, or a combination of the two unless he decided to wax eloquent about mama goin' to heaven or the perils of gossip. The working class had a voracious appetite for almost anything Hank would commit to wax.

What many don't realize is that much of Williams' financial success came when his songs were cut by others who were sometimes not in the country genre at all. In fact, Williams was known as something of an egotistical braggart around Nashville, occasionally whipping out receipts for his royalty checks to impress other writers or executives.

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Outlaw Book Takes Wild Ride with Waylon, Willie & the Boys

Photo by Jason Wolter
Billy Joe Shaver at Discovery Green, May 2013
Outlaw: Waylon, Willie, Kris and the Renegades of Nashville
By Michael Streissguth
It Books, 304 pp., $26.

A recent Rolling Stone cover story on Johnny Depp was titled "An Outlaw Looks at 50." To what extent that a multimillionaire movie actor who won the genetic lottery could be viewed as an "outlaw" is highly debatable, but it points to just how diluted the term has become to encompass any practitioner of any art from who is a bit "outside the norm" (whatever that means), lives "by their own rules" (while still adhering to many), and is viewed as "unique" (despite similarities to others).

In the 1970's and '80s, "outlaw" country music was the catch-all phrase given to country music artists -- some of whom had been around for decades -- who embraced long hair, beards, drugs, a more rock and roll sound and attitude, and a rowdiness and rebelliousness that would have horrified Hank Snow or Roy Acuff, not to mention the thought of "country" artists on the same bill as acts like the Allman Brothers Band and the Grateful Dead.

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The First Alt-Country Record? Flatlanders Rediscover The Odessa Tapes

courtesy of New West Records
L-R: The Flatlanders in Odessa: Steve Wesson, Butch Hancock, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Tony Pearson, Joe Ely
A lot of stellar music came out of that flat land known as West Texas. Bob Wills, Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly, Waylon Jennings, Terry Allen, Guy Clark, and the Sparkles are just a few artists who found something in the wind, the dust, the heat, the cactus, the mesquite, the sandstorms, the blizzards, the endless horizon, the solitude and isolation that translated into great music.

In January 1972, almost 20 years before Uncle Tupelo recorded No Depression and the media began to use the term "alternative country," a carload of Lubbock guys drove down to Tommy Allsup's recording studio in Odessa to record a glorified demo.

The purpose was to convince Shelby Singleton, the new owner of Sun Records, to sign the group and release an album. The resulting Odessa Tapes, recently released by New West Records, is considered by many to be the first alt-country recording.

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