It’s raining outside in Nashville, a cold and pervasive onslaught of water torture; this is not the kind of rain in which one bathes away sins and past lovers, accompanied by freshwater tears that bring sanity back to a balancing point. It is the horribly non-rhythmic drop of just-above-freezing, the kind that lops down with its only mission to break a cigarette in half.
The one commonality between all rainy days, however, is the consistent need to lose myself inside the ingenuity of Pokey LaFarge. Having crafted a brilliant blend between early ragtime and jazz, interwoven with the storytelling of the outlaws and the chords of the blues, he pushes his songs through an honest and modern context. Pokey, a Third Man recording artist, keeps the syncopated beats of American roots eternal, yielding one of the most defiantly familiar and original sounds to exist today.
Though I am sure one could conduct an advanced genealogical map on the hybrids of sounds that have contributed to Pokey LaFarge’s originality, a good place to start in understand the tastes of this well-versed musician, and furthering a respect for country music, is in his Nashville Five ::: [playing Wednesday at Mercy Lounge]
While I could talk all day about some of the obvious favorites about Nashville: WSM, Eddie Stubbs, Ryman Auditorium, Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum, Prince’s Hot Chicken and more, I always like to point people in a different direction, and look beneath the surface for hidden quality.
In the ‘home of country music ‘, there is and isn’t, real and fake, old and new, tried and true, honored and forgotten.
I’d like to now put forth what I feel are 5 underrated country singers from the past.
1. Lefty Frizzell – perhaps the greatest, most influential country singer of all time- according to Merle Haggard and George Jones. Like Jimmie Rodgers country singing was different after Lefty arrived with his effortless, natural and completely original singing and phrasing. Perhaps he never got out of the shadow of Hank Sr. but his voice influenced every major country singer to follow. The sweet sorrow in his voice just kills me every time I hear him.
2. Onie Wheeler – a Missouri boy, just like Ferlin Husky and Porter Waggoner. A great singer, songwriter and harmonica player. His voice is versatile yet natural. He had country soul for sure, with his note bending baritone. I’ve heard he actually carries the unique distinction for being the only man to die while performing on the Opry stage.
3. Del Reeves– this man deserves a lot more praise. He was a consummate performer, he kept his music raw, ‘real country’ and never shied away from a truckin’ song all the way through the ‘rhinestone cowboy’ 70’s. The ‘do do do do man’ and his songs should be standards at this point.
4. Johnny Horton- I feel like most people only know his topical, patriotic material. Not only was he a rockabilly and honky tonk machine, this man was a deeply soulful, as well as versatile songwriter and singer.
5. Carl Smith- perhaps he never got out of the shadow of Johnny Cash or nice guys finish last, but Carl Smith enjoyed a long and successful career with a string of hits and a legendary voice.