(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
My nomination for totally unexpected and best off-the-wall country album of the year has to be The Agoraphobic Cowboy. It’s pretty much existential country music, which all of us love, of course, except maybe for the beer-run crowd. But what’s wrong with a nice, crisp, white wine country song now and then?
“Four more beers/Four more beers/When you don’t know where you’re goin’/What’s it matter who steers? Here’s three cheers for four more beers.”
I’m not saying that his song “Four More Beers” is political, but some people could read it that way. The point being, The Agoraphobic Cowboy is a sort of re-construction of the country song in a wry, lopsided way that we haven’t seen since the lyrics of witty and laconic writers such as Roger Miller and Kinky Friedman and Ray Stevens and Shel Silverstein.
This is the brainchild of Rick Moranis, whose work has adorned comedy shows and movies for many years. He was long a mainstay of SCTV, the brilliant Canadian series that illuminated modern television comedy and predated and predicted Saturday Night Live. These days, as Moranis told me over lunch in New York City recently, he’s mainly known as “the guy who makes parents have to take their kids to see these Disney movies.” By that, he means the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids movies. He’s also been in a bunch of other movies, such as Ghostbusters, Brother Bear and the neat Little Shop of Horrors. But I remember him most fondly from SCTV. Who can forget the priceless Bob and Doug McKenzie segments, in which Moranis and Dave Thomas portray a pair of “Canadian hosers” whose lives are dominated by a love of beer, back bacon, donuts, ice hockey and more beer? Just thinking about it gives me a hankering for an ice cold LaBatt’s Blue. Moranis was writing songs for the McKenzies back then (as well as singing in Little Shop of Horrors), and such numbers as “The Beerhunter” were foreshadowing his country expedition.
The Agoraphobic Cowboy was recorded in Tony Scherr’s home studio in Brooklyn and has a homemade feel to it, although the sound – analog — is first-rate. Scherr, who produced the album and plays guitar and bass on it (and sings backing vocals), has done notable work with such artists as Bill Frisell, John Lurie, Norah Jones and Jesse Harris. Scherr is well-known as the bassist in the jazz group Sex Mob but his solid guitar playing is definitely country, shading to the rockabilly side. Banjo, fiddle, mandolin and drums round out the economical sound.
Moranis says he started writing country songs after listening to his children play CDs, especially those by the Yonder Mountain String Band. They rekindled his interest in the classic country songs he had listened to as a child and that he later played as a disc jockey in Toronto. When it became apparent to him that he was now writing country songs, he called up friends and played them over the phone. His friend Donald Fagen of the group Steely Dan liked them so much he encouraged Moranis to record the songs. The result is The Agoraphobic Cowboy.
The song “Nine More Gallons” gives you a hint of where he’s going on this witty and quirky record, with lyrics like this: “Seventeen more wheels/And I’ll have me a truck…Two more times a lady/Three more hundred blows/Four more easy pieces /Five more days on the road/Seven more days a week now/Eight more lives a cat/Nine more gallons/And I’ll have me a hat.” He does a clever update on the old chestnut “I’ve Been Everywhere,” changing it to “I Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.” “Press Pound” is a love song based on the keys on a telephone keyboard. The bonus track is called “Bonus Track” and is actually a well-written train song. You get the idea. I like it. Check it out on his web site, which is his first and last names followed by dot com.