(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
For the true country music fan on your Christmas shopping list, here are some recommended gift possibilities. First, some books. And then many DVDs.
A Shot in the Dark: Making Records in Nashville, 1945-1955, Martin Hawkins (Vanderbilt University Press & Country Music Foundation Press). This is a big, lavishly-illustrated history of a pivotal decade in Nashville’s music history. The country recording history was still in its formative stage, while R&B and gospel were flourishing. Indie record labels such as Bullet and Excello and Nashboro and Cheker and Hickory and Dot ruled the musical world, and there’s an extensive record label listing. It also includes a 20-song CD of recordings from the era. The photographs graphically capture the era, and I was glad to see a picture of the fabled Randy’s Record Shop.
How Nashville Became Music City, U.S.A.: 50 Years of Music Row, Michael Kosser (Hal Leonard). More valuable history. Much of the record of how Nashville indeed became a musical capital has gone unrecorded and unwritten, and Kosser goes a long way to correcting that with many long interviews with principals in country’s recent history. The CD included in the book has 10 songs, with highlights being Willie Nelson’s demo recording of “Crazy” and songwriter Bobby Braddock’s demo for the classic “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
My Country Roots: The Ultimate MP3 Guide to America’s Original Outsider Music, Alice Randall (Naked Ink). Novelist (The Wind Done Gone) and songwriter (Trisha Yearwood’s “XXX’s and OOO’s”) Randall, with the help of songwriters and performers Carter Little and Courtney Little, has compiled 100 playlists of country songs to download, grouped by subject matter, from “Courting” to “Drugs” to “Desire” to “Kids” to “God” to “Murder” and many more, with thumbnail descriptions of each song.
Waylon Jennings: Nashville Rebel (Legacy). Get ready for some truly amazing stuff: 20 Waylon salvos of the man at his absolute performing peak. Especially noteworthy are the five never-before-seen video clips, shot by Cowboy Jack Clement, of songs ranging from “Lonesome, On’ry, and Mean” to “Waymore’s Blues.” You’ll also love seeing his four songs from Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert from 1974.
Live From Austin, TX: Waylon Jennings (Austin City Limits/New West). This was recorded for the Austin City Limits TV show in 1989 when super steel guitarist Ralph Mooney was still propelling Waylon’s sound. Waylon does duets here with his wife Jessi Colter on “Suspicious Minds” and “Honky Tonk Angels.” A good picture of Waylon before his health problems.
Live From Austin, TX: Merle Haggard (Austin City Limits/New West). Haggard cut this at ACL in 1985, and it’s a very energetic set. If you’ve never seen or heard him do the songs “Thank You for Keeping My House” or “What Am I Gonna Do (With the Rest of My Life),” this is the place.
Live From Austin, TX: Willie Nelson (Austin City Limits/New West). Recorded in 1990, this 17-cut, 50-minute set is a cut-down but enthusiastic representation of his much longer road show at the time. Noteworthy are the Shelby Lynne collaborations on “Still Is Still Moving to Me” and “Milk Cow Blues.”
Live From Austin, TX: Sir Douglas Quintet (Austin City Limits/New West). Doug Sahm, the guru of the Sir Douglas Quintet, the hit Texas version of the Beatles in the ’60s, was a country music child prodigy, and when he moved back to Austin, he became the local all-music guru before Willie got there. This was cut in 1981 with Austin fiddle-maestro Alvin Crow sitting in with the current SDQ lineup and, as Doug would say, it’s beautiful, man.
Live From Austin, TX: Kris Kristofferson (Austin City Limits/New West). People forget how good Kris’ band was at this time. Here are Stephen Bruton playing guitar and singing, Glen Clark playing many things and singing, Sammy Creason drumming, Donnie Fritts on keyboards, Tommy McClure on bass and Billy Swan on keyboards, guitar and vocals. Add Kris, and you’ve got the real deal.
Live From Austin, TX: Johnny Cash Live in Denmark 1971(CMV/Columbia Legacy). This 19-song set is really a historical snapshot of Cash and his big stage show in that era. He was performing with Carl Perkins, the Statler Brothers, June Carter Cash and the Carter Family. For rockabilly fans, these are stellar clips of Perkins performing “Matchbox” and “Blue Suede Shoes.”
Roy Orbison: In Dreams (Legacy). Orbison just gets better and better, in retrospect, and this is a nice mix of vintage videos and tribute interviews. The latter range from Chet Atkins to Bono to Robert Plant to film director David Lynch. Ninety minutes of really good stuff, including the great video of Roy and k.d. lang driving “Crying” over the limit.
Neil Young: Heart of Gold (Paramount). This was one of the best live concerts in Nashville in recent years and being able to see it again is wonderful. Neil at the Ryman Auditorium with an ensemble of his Nashville friends such as Emmylou Harris and Ben Keith and Karl Himmel was a golden night of Young enjoying himself with some favorite songs. Director Jonathan Demme obviously loved it, too, and this is a warmly-shot video.