The Essentials – John Evans Share
In “The Essentials” series, our official blogger, singer/songwriter/journalist Mike Ethan Messick, dives into the catalog of one of the Texas Music Scene’s brightest stars or biggest legends and comes up with a handful of essential songs to recommend. Alternately he might tackle a theme, regional scene, or subgenre and list off just enough highlights and personal favorites to fill up your next mix CD.
- “House of Cards” – One of many tunes from Circling The Drain that hit the speakers like a breathless rush of rock & roll, this number also serves as a crash course of sorts in the last fifty years or so of popular music. Punk-rock tempo, honky-tonk twang, soaring pop harmonies and the echo of rockabilly swagger all coming at you at once … the average John Evans Band tune hits at least two of those notes, but this one goes for the grand slam.
- “Hoochie In A Honky Tonk” – Evans isn’t as wordy of a songwriter as the Robert Earl Keens or James McMurtrys of the world, but he has maintained an uncanny knack for giving simple, jokey hooks just the right amount of cleverness to avoid slipping into “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” territory. He also hot-wires them to some of the finest four-on-the-floor country music you could ask for, giving lines like “knock me off my barstool/steal my Telecaster/she’s sucking out my last breath/I wish she’d kill me faster” the whiff of moonshine desperation they deserve.
- “Just Today” – A slow country shuffle from his debut Biggest Fool In Town, this is one of the more subtle gems in the John Evans catalog and ironically is more memorable for what it lacks (blazing tempo, hot leads, etc.). It’s a rock-solid barroom weeper in the pre-countrypolitan Ray Price mode, with just enough dynamic to set it apart from the hundreds of similarly terrific country classics that it emulates. Great vocals, too, soaked in pathos without weepily overdoing it.
- “Take Me Away” – Another winner from Circling The Drain, this Adam Carroll co-write is more familiar to many fans through Hayes Carll’s beautifully downbeat cover of it on Little Rock. Evans’ version turns the abstract lyrics from a lament to a romantic victory lap, less a plea than a demand … both versions are essential to any serious Texas music fan (and if Adam ever records it, make that all three). Come to think of it, bluegrass youngsters The Hillbenders (co-fronted by Texan Nolan Lawrence) put out a hell of a version of it too …
- “Whoa Oh Yeah” – As I said, Evans isn’t the wordiest songwriter around, and this is exhibit A. There’s maybe a dozen or so words in the whole thing and the chorus (such as it is) is spelled out right there in the title. It’s also an amazing slab of primal rock & roll gusto, with the ghost of Buddy Holly somewhere in that mix of sledgehammer drums and garage-born guitar meltdowns.
Rounding things out …
7. “Electric Gum Drop”
8. “Whiskey Warm & Delta High”
9. “She Talks To Strangers”
10. “Ride Away”
11. “Silver Eagle”
13. “Long Way Home”
14. “Cry You A Bayou”
15. “Three Shades of Blue”