Musical Diamonds in the Rough

May 20, 2009

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I have a collection of a couple hundred CDs.  Sometimes a track buried deep on an album will strike my fancy, while other times I’ll enjoy the music of an unknown (or lesser known) artist.  Today, I’m going to share musical diamonds in the rough.  I place a lot of emphasis on lyrics – a good story line can hook me on a song.

Rough diamonds from popular artists

The Cheap Seats – Alabama.  “This town ain’t big, this town ain’t small, it’s a little of both they say.  Our ball club may be minor league, but at least it’s triple A …”  Thus begins my favorite baseball song, performed by my favorite group.  This song should be the anthem for true fans of baseball everywhere.  They have to be talking about Des Moines, right – a middle sized town in the midwest that has a AAA team? 🙂

Hurricane – Bob Dylan .  This song – not Blowin’ In The Wind or The Times They Are A-Changin’ – is my favorite Dylan song.  It is the story of boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter.  Carter was convicted of murder in 1967, but question were raised about his guilt and his conviction was set aside in 1985 based on a judge’s decision that racism played  a major role in the prosecution.  Carter’s story was later featured in the movie Hurricane, featuring Denzel Washington.  The original version of the song is more than eight a half minutes long and packs quite a story into the lyrics (although Dylan took considerable poetic license when writing the song).

I Will Play for Gumbo – Jimmy Buffett.  I love Buffett’s classics (Margaritaville, Cheeseburger in Paradise, Fins, etc) but this fun song pays homage to a popular cajun dish on Buffet’s 1999 album Beach House on the Moon.  The album also contains one of my favorite lyric snippets (from the song I Don’t Know and I Don’t Care) – “Therapy is extremely expensive.  Poppin’ bubblie wrap is radically cheap.”

See Jane Dance – Brooks & Dunn.  Another fun song, but this one probably doesn’t have the best moral.  The song tells the story of Jane beginning her career by winning an amateur night “dancing” contest and escalating to the point where Jane’s dancing career has put her in a position to retire comfortably at a very early age (a couple million in the bank by the time she’s 31).  A bit of a risque topic for the country duo.

Which One of Them – Garth Brooks.  This song was a bonus song that was added to Ropin’ The Wind when Garth’s albums were released as a box set (each disc had an extra song that was not originally on the album).  Garth tells us the tale of a man who is being pursued by two woman at a dance – but neither of them can replace the woman that the man desires.

Paperback Writer – The Beatles.  Is it really fair to include a song that hit #1 on this list?  Sure, why not – I’m making the rules!  As an aspiring novelist myself, the story of a man struggling to sell his novel has always been one of my favorite songs.  By the way, if you don’t own the “1” compilation by The Beatles, buy it!  27 top hits are shoehorned onto one disc.

Songs from lesser known artists

1969 – Keith Stegall.  Songwriter/producer Keith Stegall has released two albums of his own – a self titled album in 1985 and Passages in 1996.  I stumbled across Passages in a used CD store, and it quickly became a favorite album of mine – it’s packed with great songs.  (Hey, Keith, it’s been another decade – how about another album?)  1969 tells the story of a kid who was rejected by the army because he was married and then swung the other way and attempted to become a hippie.

Just Enough Rope – Rick Trevino.  Trevino had some popularity in the 90s before separating from his label in order to pursue a different musical direction.  Just Enough Rope is a metaphorical song, with the man being a yo-yo on a string who is given “just enough rope” by a woman.  English and bilingual (English and Spanish) versions can be found on Rick’s self-titled album.

Under the Kudzu – Shenandoah.  This  song was the title track on the group’s 1993 album.  It romanticizes the kudzu vine that is universally despised in the south by tying it in to a long family history on a plot of land – and the susequent loss of the farm.

One Eyed Dan (the Fiddlin’  Man) – Tim Briggs.  Briggs’ career was unfortunately derailed by personal issues.  His self titled 1998 release featured a few cool songs.  One Eyed Dan is a song with a lot of fiddling, which is always a plus in my book.  Cold Budweiser and Sweet ‘Tater and She’s a Country Girl are also very good songs.

Riding with Private Malone – David Ball.  I first heard this song while driving back to Illinois after attending my brother’s funeral.  My brother was a retired marine who died of heart disease at an early age.  Riding With Private Malone doesn’t really tell a story that fits the relationship of myself and my brother, but there is the superficial military connection, and that made it strike a cord on that particular day.  The song is about how the spirit of a soldier killed in Vietnam saves the life of a man who purchased his 1966 Corvette 30 years later.

Leaving October Behind – Sons of the Desert.  Sons of the Desert was my second favorite group (behind only Alabama) when they were active.  Unfortunately they dissolved, but member Drew Womack later launched a solo career.  Leaving October Behind is the sad tale of a widower who can usually handle the absence of his wife – but is overcome with emotions when autumn begins – because his wife died in October.

Wine into Water – T. Graham Brown.  This song is the story of a recovering alcholic who is battling his demons and asking Jesus to perform the opposite of the miracle at Cana and turn the wine into water (not literally – but to give him the strength to overcome the addiction).  There are some other good songs on this album (also titled Wine into Water) including the quirky Memphis Women and Chicken (which, interestingly, can also be found on the Tim Briggs album).

Rodeo Man – Ronna Reeves.  I’m one of a select group of people who own all 5 of Ronna’s CDs – 4 country albums and a 5th album that crossed over into pop.  She never had a top 40 song, but I like her songs.  Rodeo Man is a warning to women to not have their hearts stolen by a cowboy.

Five O’Clock Shadow, Brandon Howard.  Brandon puts a new definition on the term “five o’clock shadow”. In this song, the term refers to a man’s daughter who sticks close to him after they are finished with their day of work and school. The song is the sentimental tale of a daughter’s hero worship of her daddy and the father’s love for his daughter. 

Brandon has a lower profile than the other artists mentioned in this article, but his debut album Static (2002) is definitely an enjoyable record to listen to, if you can manage to get your hands on a copy. Static and She Don’t Need a Diamond are two other tracks that I really enjoy from this album. Brandon is working on an article about his experiences in the music industry that will be featured in a future edition of The Soap Boxers.


What are some songs that you consider to be underappreciated diamonds in the rough?  Please share!

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