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Wednesday, 27 September 2006 00:00

Fine playing on a Kinky collaboration

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By Chris Cooper

I have to admit — I really don’t know much about Kinky Friedman. I mean, most of us have certainly heard the name, but beyond what seems like the sheer novelty of being a Jewish country artist and the rather non PC nature of a few song titles (“Ride ‘Em Jew Boy” comes to mind) I can’t say I’ve ever even heard a Kinky Friedman song.

 

But obviously quite a few people ARE indeed very familiar with Friedman’s work; people like Lyle Lovett, Dwight Yoakam and Willie Nelson would be part of that group. And on Why The Hell Not... The Songs of Kinky Friedman these artists and a host of others pay tribute to the man that’s been called the “Frank Zappa of country music” and has the honor of being the only musician that’s recorded an episode of the venerable Austin City Limits television program that ACL in turn decided never to air.

I’m not trying to paint a negative picture of Friedman here at all, but between the colorful past he’s created and infamy earned due to his oft misunderstood satirical take on nearly everything about the human condition, it seems wise to keep these points in mind before listening to the album. Otherwise, a few tunes have potential to create a little unfortunate “panty wadding” if you know what I mean.

Well paced between up-tempo twangers like the opener, “Get Your Biscuits In The Oven (And Your Buns In The Bed)” and the somber reading of “Lady Yesterday” by Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis, the album itself moves nicely and sounds just as slick and clean as you’d expect with artists like in its liner notes.

Some fine honkytonking is provided by Dwight Yoakam on “Rapid City, South Dakota,” and the high tech country guitar playing on the intro of “Get Your Biscuits...” sounds quite a bit like Nashville session guitarist extraordinaire Brent Mason, whose playing alone is often worth the price of admission to any project on which he makes an appearance.

An entertaining aspect to a few of the tunes is the disparity between the poignant delivery and decidedly goofy lyric content — Willie Nelson’s signature guitar and whiskey smoothed vocals are fine as ever, but as soon as he gets to the “...ride ‘em jewboy...” line, it’s hard not to snicker.

More often than not, the song titles don’t necessarily represent the inherent message of the song. Of course, in other places, they absolutely do, as in Ray Benson and Reckless Kelly’s Texas-sized swing through “Homo Erectus” and its tale of a college student and his rather inconvenient infatuation with an anthropology teacher.

But with the hindsight provided by wildly successful newer country acts like Big & Rich, and the mass acceptance of a distinctly Friedman flavored hit like “Save A Horse, Ride A Cowboy,” much of Friedman’s tongue in cheek humor is easier to take, and his influence on some of the “wink and nudge” innuendo found in today’s country easier to see.

Why The Hell Not... The Songs of Kinky Friedman is actually a pretty good ride — there’s great playing all over the album, and the list of performers is simply stellar. I’m not sure why this particular album works where similar material falls short, possibly the mix of material (not every song chosen falls into Friedman’s satire catalog) or the chance to hear so many performers with such distinct personalities in one sitting.

Either way, songwriter/author/politician Kinky Friedman has earned the honor of a tribute album like this purely on the merit and fearlessness of his work, not ill deserved and fleeting star power or a label’s opportunistic “cashing in” in on a highly recognizable name. Good stuff, as long as some of it is taken with a grain of (kosher) salt.

(Chris Cooper is a musician and writer who can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )

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