The Outlaws…Good Ol’ Southern Rock Band

What will follow for the remaining month of August (heck, even the remainder of the summer if I feel like it) is me taking a musical vacation through our great Southern states. I’ll bring up some brilliant country or southern rock artists and try to give y’all the skinny on why they merit your attention. There’s something about music from the South that conjures up certain memories for me. As a native El Pasoan I can’t shake my western or Southern roots and am prone to lapses into those musical tastes.

All of this makes sense to me now, because I grew up with a dearth of radio stations, when I was younger the only stations I had to listen to were either Norteño stations from Mexico, a really bad top-40 station which occasionally played the Quiet Storm music I loved, a really bad classic rock station playing top-40 grunge which I avoided, an oldies station which I loved, and a couple of mainstream Country stations. When I finally went to college in the middle of nowhere all I had to listen to were three stations, one was the campus/Public radio station, the other was our local Country station, and the last one was a megawatt Border Blaster Mexican station. It was during my time there that my only musical buddies were Soulseek, and the rare hours of classic southern rock that the Country station KALP would play.

That’s where my nascent love of certain groups like the Allman Brothers, Poco or artists like Kinky Friedman blossomed, since I sorta saw them as fellow compatriots in biding time, trying to be cool in decidedly “uncool” places which for us held a lot of charm, even if it was just for their small town hospitality or aged earthly environs. So, for a bit, humor me as I rediscover some of these bands with ya and who knows? you might just start thinking that southern nights filled with this type of music ain’t quite so bad and find some great bands you might keep in your heart/mind as well.

Starbuck

How about I get us started with these two songs: one of them is from a one hit wonder of sorts called “Moonlight Feels Right” from Atlanta band Starbuck and the other “Southern Nights” from the New Orleans genius Allen Toussaint, both paint such a marvelous picture of the south, one its sly rocking side and the other its comforting graceful side. Likewise, both serve as great launching points for where the rest of the month will go. This might be a labor of love from now on, so bear that in mind if some my song reviews don’t get quite as detailed as before. I mean, I could be rediscovering them as much as you hopefully will be newly enjoying them as well (and sometimes I’d rather let the songs speak for themselves).

“Moonlight Feels Right” is simply a wonderful time capsule of the year 1976. This song was written by the heavily mustachioed Bruce Blackman a native Mississippi keyboardist who founded the band Starbuck with some friends from Atlanta. The self-titled album its off of displays some very intriguing synthesizer and electric keyboard led soft-rock that ventures into art pop. However, the star of the whole album was this ode to going out and enjoying a Southern evening.
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Listen to Moonlight Feels Right at Grooveshark.

The song has a very lascivious quality to it, that’s an undeniable fact, but in equal measure (like much other southern rock music) there’s a high level of brilliant musicality to it all. As Bruce intones in a sly drawl of the need to drive top down to the Chesapeake Bay, and watch the moon and stars pass on by, you can make out a knowing sarcastic laugh before that catchy chorus, as if to say to us listeners not to take everything he is saying so seriously and to just go along with the cruising groove. Once the magnificent marimba solo kicks in that launches all bunches of sultry Moog synth washes, that’s when sonically we’re ready take a trip across the ocean. When I hear him sing “moonlight feels right” I can for a brief moment just picture that Houston bay moon coming up the horizon, and all feels right in the night as long I leave it on a Southern station…

Allen Toussaint

New Orleans funk stalwart Allen Toussaint needs very little introduction he is the man responsible for producing some of the best work from the Meters, Dr. John, and Elvis Costello…heck you might know him from his hits like “What Do You Want the Girl to Do?” and “Lady Marmalade” that other artist like Boz Scaggs and Labelle took to the top of the charts. The man himself though was a brilliant artist as well. “Southern Nights”, from the 1975 album of the same name, is more than a tone poem of the easy breeziness the South has to charm anyone, but also a wondrous humble ode to trying to move past the then recent South’s notorious past.

Over an almost Far Eastern-music type of melody played on piano and synthesizer, Allen sings over a vocoder of sorts, some descriptive lyrics describing all the small beauty of the South that gets forgotten through all its turmoil. When he closes his eyes the sights are so vivid, that a Southern breeze is all it takes to evoke them so well to the point its almost frightening. You can’t help but realize that he wanted all his Southerners to step back a bit, feel the history of their place, and feel that breeze together and reflect for a bit on the time they could be enjoying together. Shoot even another southerner from Arkansas, Glen Campbell, saw fit to remake this feeling good ole country style to illustrate that point. Double Heck! If, you listen closely, a lot of “Moonlight Feels Right” shares the same melody as well. Anyway, I’ll continue my swing around the South tomorrow…

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Listen to Southern Nights at Grooveshark.