Wave That Flag, Hoss!

Five albums that’ll have you feeling patriotic…but in a healthy, nonaggressive way.

I love my country...but fear my government. That's one of them liberal bumper stickers. It's pasted to a gorgeous mid-'60s Dodge all loused up with other enlightened poo like "Celebrate Diversity," "Got Rights?," and "Who Would Jesus Bomb?" Every day I walk by that truck, wishing I could scrape it clean of self-righteousness before driving it around a maze of gorgeous mountain roads. But you know what? I'd keep that one sticker. Maybe. We live—as if you haven't noticed—in an age when patriotism is defined as duty to king, not country. Yet country—the triangulation of land, people, and culture—is the only thing that matters. America, like Queen Latifah, is big and beautiful. In a single day you can venture from 125th Street in Harlem to the Appalachian foothills of northern Georgia, from Chicago's Buckingham Fountain to western Nebraska's high plains, from the Space Needle to some four-corners outpost in Montana, where silence and space swallow you whole. Truly patriotic music is like a good road trip. It floats across all the king's imaginary borders and phantom municipalities, ultimately losing itself in America's vastness. Of course, I've just dragged you into Invisible Republic territory. (Sorry, Mr. Marcus. I'll PayPal you tonight.) To prevent any further incursions, my top five ultimate American jammers for Bottle Rocket Day will not include a single album from the Boss, Dylan, or the Band. Promise. Although The Rolling Thunder Revue came oh-so-close. Sir Douglas Quintet: Mendocino If there was ever a musician whose sound traversed every square inch of this country, it was Doug Sahm. The lanky Texan howled brassy blues like Bobby Bland before putting together a British Invasion–inspired garage band with Mexican and American blood. When San Francisco's hippies went supernova in '67, the Quintet relocated to northern California, where they recorded Mendocino, a hazy song cycle about a country boy from Texas gettin' groovy but ultimately feeling lost and out of place. Sir Doug blends a staggering number of styles: acid rock, R&B, cosmic country, folk, jazz, Tin Pan Alley, Tex-Mex, and Norteño. Those last two ingredients are key. For all the soul-of-America mythology surrounding the Band, Dylan, and The Basement Tapes, they never did roam the borderlands of the Southwest. Cannon's Jug Stompers: The Best of... Although Dylan made some kick-ass music after going electric in '65, Pete Seeger Syndrome—folk is good, pop is bad, and the twain should never meet—still pervades American roots culture. This makes zero sense. In the country that invented the phonograph, the two have always been inextricably linked. Nowhere is this more apparent than in 1920s jug-band music. Mild controversy surrounds groups like the Memphis Jug Band and Cannon's Jug Stompers because their tradition is rooted in minstrelsy. In my humble opinion, however, modern folks too hung up on long-established stereotypes simply don't know how to process a band that sounds white and black, rural and urban. On the legendary "Minglewood Blues," the Stompers cry as though they were Delta bluesmen fresh off the plantation. But on "Mule Get Up in the Alley," they croon like Tin Pan Alley crackers auditioning underneath Broadway's bright lights. Now how's that for getting around? The Coydogs: Coydogs Los Angeles, Nashville, New England, and London—that's the amount of mileage the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield put under their wheels when filtering folk and country through Beatlesque rock and roll in the '60s. It's a circuit that's since been traveled by the likes of Crazy Horse, Big Star, Tom Petty, and Matthew Sweet. Brooklyn's Coydogs are newbies. Yet they know how Yanks roll. Brits are refined (i.e., effete snobs): hooks first, jamming second. But Americans, they're all sloppy hicks, even them city folk. They rock out, then fill in the cracks with some of that catchy stuff. Coydogs drops like a nine-pound hammer tied to a half-dozen Genny beer balls. It's music tailor-made for frayed denim shorts and a rusty Vega hatchback. Seriously. DeFord Bailey: Harmonica Genius DeFord Bailey Sucking Mother Earth dry won't change the fact that American music has imitated trains, cars, and planes for over a century, easy. We're extroverts, forever worshipping the god Movement with loud, ritualistic boogie. Deford Bailey took this devotion to new extremes. He's commonly tagged "black hillbilly music," but he really sounds like a giant locomotive come to life, ready to groove. He also replicated all manner of farm noises. It's totally wild, and kind of avant-garde by default. Between 1927 and 1940, Bailey crossed some heavy racial boundaries, regularly appearing on the Grand Ole Opry. If the genius harmonica player were alive today, however, he'd probably tell Nashville to go to hell! The USA Is a Monster: Tasheyana Compost They're an über-modern noise-rock band with a name that Homeland Security is probably tracking as you read these words. But trust me: USA Is a Monster is a couple of hardcore patriots, albeit rebellious ones devoted to the DIY ethos that has always been a part of our cultural DNA. Merging Rhode Island space rock and Meat Puppets psycho-twang, Tasheyana Compost calls for nothing less than the dissolution of the government and the return of all lands to Native Americans. "No More Forever," adapted from Chief Joseph's legendary surrender speech of 1877, just might be the most moving antiwar anthem post–September 11: "Hear me chiefs/I am tired/My heart is sick and sad/From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever." Hey, that reminds me of a bumper sticker: Pacifism is patriotic, too. music@seattleweekly.com

 
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