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Blues Run The Game - Jackson C. Frank
What really messes me up about Jackson's music is how tragic his life was. I mean, the man was marked by tragedy: one after the other, this tumbling spiral of awful events that outright prevented him from the pursuit of music and all the beauty that the world lost out on because of it. It's a terrific loss, in the original sense of the word: causing terror, stirring, frightful. It makes you go a little green at the gills to consider the sheer volume of loss that hemorrhages when creatives can't create, through whatever circumstances they may be grappling with. What can we all do but try to play the hand we've been dealt in the best way that we can, you know? Still, sometimes life just sucks. Sometimes things just aren't fair. I get that. Knowing that doesn't soften the sting any, and it shouldn't, I don't think. There's nothing really profound in it. Sometimes shit just sucks.
This song really perfectly encapsulates his style, I think- mournful, not in some maudlin hammed up sort of way- but a quiet wistfulness, and a sadness that's aged through years of kissing death with tongue: in knowing your demons as intimately as you do the face of a lover, or the quiet line of their spine resting agaist the covers. It's soulful, tunes plucked out with just enough twang to yank at your heartstrings and remind you of where you came from: no matter how hard you try to run away from where you came from, or the demons that dog you across the open waters of the ocean. No matter where you go, your circumstances are your own- drown them in drink, try to hold the head of your sorrows under: but there is something profoundly, horrifically, lonely, about being lonely yet not alone. Hotel rooms in all of their absence of identity, their blank slate-edness, they drive me to the point of tears, too- "if I'm not sleeping honey, you know you'll find me crying." I get it, man. The blues come following down, through cities, through states, through stretches of highway where the call of the void calls on you to yank the wheel to a sharp right and crash, careen through the sheet metal signs warning you of deer crossings and impale yourself on the branches of pitchy pines and blossoming horns, branching off endlessly like fractals, like snowflakes.
It's definitely not a happy sort of song. It's the sort of song you have to be hurt to really understand, I think- and there's a real sense of kinship and identifying with the sufferer in the lyrics, with the inescapable, perpetually same-sadness that colours your life bleak grey. It's a beautifully wrapped up moment of washed out agony, when the bite and acid's been worn out of anger, and you're left resigned, reclining on your hotel bed and crying over sips of a drink you're barely old enough to buy. You have to live it to know it.
So here's to Jackson C. Frank, indeed- one of the world's best forgotten artists. May you have found relief.
Are You Washed In The Blood? - Randy Travis
Honestly, I really like this song just because of how jarring the mental imagery presented in it is. It's supposed to be this metaphor about faith and baptism and I understand that conceptually, but at first pass it's kind of a outlandish question: are your garments white as snow after being washed in blood? There's a lot of imagery that's ripe for the picking when it comes to this sort of language, anyways- baptism and eucharist- drowning your sins and eating your gods, tearing into flesh and supping on blood to wash it all down with. It's a visceral sort of tongue, and the violence strewn in the rituals, as glossed up as they might be to a bored Sunday morning crowd dressed in their very best- a sea of black suits better suited to a funeral and pretty pastel dresses that'd look right at home at Easter- pair that alongside the aching beauty of stained glass and the way your voice echoes and reverberates like something holy inside a chapel: it's another combination that delights by contrast.
The contradiction the song itself conjures is fun to contemplate, and the contrast of the singer's almost calm line of questioning without any of the jovial lift or twang of the background instruments presents another strange little twist you don't quite expect. The long introduction also brings to mind a pied piper-esque scenario, with players slowly trickling into the meeting place and joining in with one another before the man of the hour finally steps in front of gathered faces. A stand out line would be questioning if you're fully trusting in the Lord- right at the introduction. There's no holding punches back here, I see- it cuts right to the quick of the matter. It's the calmness of his voice that gets to me- so often, the sort of country music that I listen to is either upbeat and fused with pop, or mournfully bluesy as they croak and croon out about lost lovers or lives led astray. It's startling to have someone sound so reassured and yet indifferent.