Friday, February 08, 2008

"What's the Matter Now?" / Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen

Being in a bluegrass mood got me to listening to Bill Kirchen again, which sooner or later was bound to get me pulling out the classic album Lost in the Ozone, by Commander Cody. It's snowing outside but this tasty bit of vintage ham-and-grits warms me up just fine.

Now, I have to make one big embarrassing admission: For years I got Commander Cody and Captain Beefheart mixed up. I remember albums by both of them in the guys' record collections I'd thumb through in college, but I can't recall anybody ever actually playing them. It never seemed important to me to learn the difference.

Well, I was wrong. I've listened to Captain Beefheart now and it just doesn't do it for me (please, somebody, explain what I'm missing). But I completely dig this Commander Cody stuff, with all its honky-tonk piano and country twang geetar and deadpan humor. These guys deliver the same sort of fun as the Jim Kweskin Jug Band and Dan Hicks & the Hot Licks, only less esoteric and arty; they're like all those British pub rockers I love, but much more lazy and laidback.

There isn't any "message" in a song like "What's The Matter Now?" -- nothing but a leisurely rhythmic stroll that leads us from one solo to another ; some twiddling on a tinny piano, a shuffling steel guitar, a meandering fiddle solo, and a loping bass. The singer wanders in from time to time to scratch his head and wonders what his woman's up to, singing in a woeful, baffled voice, "What's the matt-errrr now? / What's the matt-errr now? / Well I haven't seen my baby since way last spring / Tell me pretty mama did you bring that thing? / I want some honey from that honeycomb (gimme!) / Tell me what's the matter now."

This guy is so clueless. His wants are simple: he hasn't seen her in ages, he wants some love, and he just can't fathom why she has to make it so complicated. That classic honeycomb metaphor is just graphic enough to make me snort. MEN! If he really thinks he can just walk in, probably without washing his hands or nothing, and get a piece of that action -- well, buddy, you got another think coming.

It's like Nick Lowe* sings in "People Change," "Storybook love, meant for each other / And now she treats you like a brother / And you don't know what you've done / Or even how to make it right." I'll side with the ladies here; men can be so dense sometimes. If I have to tell you what's wrong, then what's the point?

Of course this track is really all about those loose-limbed, easygoing solos; the singer can moan and complain all he wants, those playful instrumentals make sure we don't take him one bit seriously. Every once in awhile somebody hoots in the background, just to keep the roadhouse vibe going, and eventually a slightly offkey barroom chorus harmonizes in sympathy. Sure, there's the old war between the sexes, but hell, sugar, have another beer and it'll be all right.

What's the Matter Now? sample

* You knew I'd bring him in eventually.


Uncle E said...

Yes, I think we all knew you'd work Mr. Lowe into your post, Holly. Not a bad thing, by any stretch.
I took your advice on the Kinks stuff from the 70's, and downloaded about 30 or so songs. When I have had time to digest them I'll get back to you.
Also, if you're in the mood for a really good back-porch type of an album, try Ry Cooder's 'My Name Is Buddy'. Good stuff, very honest record...

See ya!

Carol said...

And Bill Kirchen is in there too. I've been a fan of that line up since they started up (being a Kalifornian and all). Just where I'm from, the place and time. "Lost in the Ozone" was my son's fave album in 74/75 when he was two something. His little toddling body would start dancing. Think he liked the cover art, the flying monsters and ray guns. Talking cover art, I had to hide my copy of Steely Dan's "The Royal Scam" as it freaked out my baby girl at the same age.

Holly A Hughes said...

Oh, yes, Bill Kirchen, gotta love him.

That's one benefit of CDs -- the covers are never big enough to really freak out small children. Remember when you could sit for hours, staring at a piece of album cover art? Good times, good times...