Let’s for a second forget the whole thing about how The Duke is a stone-cold mercenary, at least 97.6% solid granite and also thirsting for vengeance of some sort, likely on account of some horrific post-Vietnam attack on my pigeon.
That pigeon was the only one who understood me, is what.
Forget that shit for a second, if you can, because there’s a hitherto unsuspected truth to be flung at you, dear reader, like some verbal ninja star dripping with revelation.
The Duke, it will stun the hell out of you to learn, is something of a sucker for a good old slushy ballad. A song about “Aw, shucks, I’m a tough, unshaven fella with a chest bigger than your own, most likely, but still, you make me all gooey and shit, is what”, that kinda stuff is enough to make The Duke feel all sentimental and nostalgic and full of the “warmth”.
I even quite liked that Bryan Adams song about Everything I Do Is For You, You Motherfucker or whatever. I watched that video, like, a million times or somethin’, and then for some reason I ended up robbing the post office with a bow and arrow.
The Media Is Killing Our Children With Suggestions And Also Knives, Guns, Headbutts.
Anyway, the point of it all is that I have been, for the past few days, enjoying This I Gotta See, the new record by a country-singin’ character named Andy Griggs. First time I put it on, I’m thinking about how it’s pleasant enough, as far as contemporary Nashville product is concerned. Second track in, I’m even thinking up some line-dancing moves I could perform to it, if it wasn’t for the fact that The Duke is far too mysterious, moody, dark around the soul to be prancing back and forth in snakeskin boots and a cowboy hat in a town hall in the middle of drizzle-soaked County Antrim.
Next thing I know, though, from out of nowhere there’s this song by the name of She Thinks She Needs Me, and I collapse in a heap, inoperably wounded in the slush-gland. He knew were to strike, man. And the result is that I find his record delightful.
This Andy Griggs fella wouldn’t necessarily attract The Duke’s attention when I’m browsing through American Country A-H in the record emporium, as is my want of an afternoon. When it comes to the American Country, I tend to flip on past records like This I Gotta See. He just doesn’t look miserable enough, I think is the crux of the problem. He probably doesn’t even have a crippling narcotic addiction, maybe even smiles now and again. He’s a handsome fella, too, like he could maybe have took a show on the road under the banner Andy Griggs The Singin’ Lumberjack if he hadn’t secured a lucrative deal with those Nashville cats.
And yet, surprise and so on, because upon inserting this disc into the old CD player, I’m greeted with something a fair few notches above “unpleasant”. Truth be told, this Andy Griggs fella knows a thing or two about performing a tune. His voice – a deep, rugged, yet rather tender instrument – elevates even the more generic of the tracks contained on This I Gotta See to something approaching glorious.
For sure, it’s the kinda stuff CMT was invented for, the kinda radio-friendly country tomfoolery that Uncle Tupelo supposedly killed off a decade back. But just because it’s commercial don’t mean it’s no good. I mean, believe it or not, I hear even The Beatles sold a few records back in the day.
The record’s 11 tracks can be divided into two categories with fairly little fuss; full-blooded Alan Jackson-esque boogie-rockers (Hillbilly Band, Careful Where You Kiss Me), and heartfelt, sentimental ballads, ie, the ones I mentioned a couple a paragraphs back, the ones that sometimes cause The Duke to sit down with a photo of my gal back home, and maybe some letters she might have written a few years back, soaked in perfume once upon a time, but now pretty much sniffed-done.
The three central ballads on this record, the title track, the aforementioned She Thinks She Needs Me, and, best of all, Why Do I Still Want You, are gorgeous. They’re the kinda things that, for better or worse, have the crossover appeal of, say, If Tomorrow Never Comes by Garth Brooks. I don’t think Andy Griggs has any plans to do a concept album as Eddie Vedder though, far as I can tell from the press releases and so on.
The lyrics deal in the same sorts of honky-tonk clichés a fella can find tumbling from the lips of a thousand clean-cut troubadours, certainly, but there’s something so infectious, so damn enjoyable about these numbers, that even those songs about “I got in my car and let it roll” and “I smoked my last cigarette” draw you in, have you grinning and nodding the noggin one minute, and then mournfully contemplating lost love the next.
In saying that, though, there is, at the very least, one particular song that manages to craft something evocative, beautiful, inspiring, from subject matter waxed on and off about since folks started strumming guitars and saying about their baby done left them bad.
The track in question, In Heaven, is probably the finest gospel ballad The Duke has heard in a long, long time. Lyrics like;
“If Heaven was a town, it would be my town,
On a summer day, in 1985″
are so alive with wide-eyed optimism and heartbreaking reflection that even if the thought of commercial American-Country sickens a fella to the pits of his guts, it’s still fairly likely that the imagery knocks you off-guard for a moment.
In short, the facts of the case are that fans of Randy Travis or Travis Tritt or, yeah, that Brooks fella, they’ll take this record to their heart and love it with such intensity that they probably end up getting arrested by the RIAA or some shit. And the rest of us, us cynical sons a bitches sneering from the corner clutching the new Randy Newman, we’ll pretend we hate it, but really, only the most hopeless of cases will find any reason to dislike it.
Good work, Andy Griggs
The Duke resides at Mondo Irlando