Life and Death (And Almost Everything Else)
(The Omni Recording Corporation)
Rating: 7
US release date: Available as import
by Matt Cibula

All the press on this record, and the sticker on its front cover, says this country duo was "Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood...on acid!" But that's not really true. First of all, Nancy and Lee were probably already on acid (haha, joke, don't sue us). Secondly, Jack Blanchard and Misty Morgan come from an entirely different place in music history. (Namely, Coral Gables. It's in Florida.)

Jack was the auteur, the introspective genre-genius with the brooding look and the huge pimped-out 1970s dark glasses. Misty was the sweet-voiced siren who helped him with melodies, harmonies, and looking good on the album cover. Together, they made a whole bunch of songs, but no one's ever heard more than a couple of them, because Jack and Misty didn't find the magic on the country charts all that often. (Their best-known song, the 1970 crossover hit "Tennessee Bird Walk", is familiar to me somehow, maybe from Dr. Demento listening sessions when I was a kid, but that's about it.) This CD has 29 tracks. About a third of them are funny haha and another third are funny strange and the third third are poignant and sad. I wouldn't give top vocalist prize to either one individually, but their voices always sound pretty danged good together. That is probably why there aren't a lot of back-and-forth duets here, which is good, because that well goes dry pretty quickly. They both attack a song, and back each other up, letting the words and the tunes speak for themselves.

And ye gods, what words, and what tunes! Jack Blanchard was some kind of songwriting talent, is all I have to say. The novelty songs here are the ones all the hipsters will be blasting at this summer's barbecues, and rightly so. We get the silly stupid fun of "Humphrey the Camel" ("One big drink and he's a seven-day swinger"), the sillier, stupider fun of "Yellow Bellied Sapsucker" ("Like a yellow bellied sapsucker sippin from a eucalyptus tree / I feel like a sap since you made a sucker out of me"), and the silliest stupidest funnest song I've heard in many years, "The Legendary Chicken Fairy" (see if you can guess what this one's about). And that's not even discussing the hugely offensive and very funny "chubby-chaser" saga "How I Lost 31 Pounds in 17 Days," perhaps mercifully.

But Jack and Misty could do spooky just as easily: "Chapel Hill" is a jaunty little number narrated by a dead man moldering in the grave, and "The Clock of St. James" is a jaunty, zippy little number, which turns out to be full of guilt and shadows and a cold-blooded murder committed randomly for just "a dollar and a dime." Jack was never averse to letting his metaphors run wild. In one song, the couple compares their love to "the shadow of a big black bird"?not your usual first thought, there?and in another, we are blitzed by weather imagery, only to learn why the singer sounds so sad in a single couplet: "We paid a judge our last ten dollars to bless us with his legal seal / I guess that puttin' love on paper doesn't always make it real."

That's the thing with this album, you're always getting blindsided. Just when you think you have Jack & Misty pegged as a novelty act, they come up with brilliant depressive anthems like "There Must Be More to Life (Than Growin' Old)". Then, when you think, okay, they've got two tricks, they come and hit you with baroque early-1970s rondo pop like "The Dum Song", filled with great stuff like, "Just because you know the words don't mean you can sing / Just because you wear a crown don't make you a king / Just because it's in the phone book don't make it ring." And then BLAM, you're back to something crazy like "Fire Hydrant #79" or "If Eggs Had Legs". (If I have one criticism, it's that they kept going back to their best songs to do more just like them. On the other hand, the copy of an awesome song is usually just as good as the hallowed "original," so it's actually a good thing.)

These songs are unknowable, like Buddha, and completely untethered to the world, like Chuang Tzu, and deep as that puddle in the playground that that one kid fell into and never returned. I'll be rocking this at my own hipster barbecues this summer, except I'm gonna play the serious slow sad sweet beautiful songs and make everyone all contemplative and philosophical...or maybe I'll start out with "I'm Washin' Harry Down the Sink" first. Either way, it's gonna be awesome. We're having veggie burgers and watching the World Cup, BYOB.

? 23 June 2006

THE WIRE (U.K Magazine)

March 2006




Country music is filled with artists whose long, hard careers are remembered for just one crossover hit - and the mission of the new label of Australia's David Thrussell (of Snog, Black Lung and Soma) is to dig beneath such novelties to see what happened as they dropped off the radar. As might be expected, the truth about such artists is often stranger than their fictions. Jack Blanchard and Misty Morgan are remembered for their 1970 hit "The Tennessee Bird Walk", but Life and Death (And Almost Everything Else) covers an entire bizarre career of murmured, bitchy duets, like a married couple breaking up over karaoke after too many tequilas. Their schtick endures best on their occasionally wistful Burt Bacharach-esque moments such as "The Dum Song".

Much stronger is Henson Cargill's retrospective A Very Well Travelled Man. His trademark laconic delivery has an undeniable edge of humour, timing his deadpan punchline perfectly on "None Of My Business" - "I read about a girl, I forgot about her name/ she was screaming for help, and ... nobody came/ but it's none of my business." But the epic "Reprints (Plastic People)" - "All choose the same set, the same restaurant/ all choose exactly the same moment to run/ all thought in each mind, must be back at one" - is a reductio ad absurdum of modern life that's as incisive as Jacques Tati's bewildered Hulot in Playtime. The description 'Zen Country' is well earned and the retrospective is timely.


March-April 2006



THE BOYCOTTS and sit-ins and marches of the civil rights era coincided precisely with those years in which the Nashville Sound catapulted country music to unprecedented levels of national popularity. But if you tuned in country radio? in those years, the events of Montgomery, Birmingham and Selma - or Nashville, for that matter, where sit-ins were taking place just a few blocks from the Ryman in 1960 - passed without comment by the records played, if not perhaps by the DJs playing them.

This sin of omission is at least partly explained by the continuing support for Jim Crow by many, if not most, country musicians and fans. As critic Craig Werner observes in?A Change Is Gonna Come, "The real problem with country's racial politics during the sixties was that they pretended not to exist. Blacks weren't attacked, they simply weren't anywhere to be seen."

There were infrequent exceptions. But even those country performers who wished to go literally on the record (belatedly) in support of integration were stymied by cautious label heads - as was reportedly the case with Billy Joe Shaver's "Black Rose", a would-be Waylon Jennings single from 1972.

Other country acts suffered failures of nerve. Merle Haggard certainly would have caught hell if he'd followed the Silent Majority success of "Okie From Muskogee" with the interracial love song "Irma Jackson" (as he'd originally planned), rather than with "The Fightin' Side Of Me" (as producer Ken Nelson persuaded him to do).

But does anyone doubt that "Irma" would've been an enormous hit, in any case? And if it had been, how might that have altered the future of country radio? We'll never know. As it stands, the only country single to broach the topic of racism?and?to become a major hit in this era was "Skip A Rope", a 1968 country chart-topper and #25 pop hit by Henson Cargill.

On the one hand, this makes Cargill a kind of hero. He'd been everything from a rancher to deputy sheriff in Oklahoma before he began recording for Monument Records in Nashville, and within his era of country music, "Skip A Rope" presents Cargill as the rare man with guts enough not only to admit to himself but to condemn out loud the way parents teach children "to hate your neighbor for the shade of his skin". So: Good for you, Henson Cargill. And good for producer Don Law, who provided the handclaps and hopscotch beat that helped Cargill's medicine go down smooth.

On the other hand, 1968's "Skip A Rope" was the only major country record of its time to acknowledge race as an issue at all - and it does it only in the one partial lyric quoted above. This is the very definition of too little, too late. When Cargill's single topped the charts, after all, Emmett Till had been dead for nearly fifteen years, the March on Washington was half a decade past, and MLK had two months to live.

Several Cargill recordings exhibited a similarly frustrating social consciousness. In "None Of My Business", a top-10 country hit in 1969, Cargill sang, "This stuff about my fellow man's fate, well, it's none of my business". He meant it sarcastically, but one wonders if many listeners didn't simply shake their heads in agreement. Elsewhere, his message songs don't look away from the world's troubles so much as they seem to say: Sure the world's a mess... but whatya gonna do?

Even "What's My Name", which wants to say something profound about the human potential for good and for evil, can only throw up its han ds at the seeming arbitrariness of human evolution. In a bizarre chant, a Nashville Sound Greek Chorus intones earnestly: "Augustine, Bonaparte, Hitler, Mussolini, Martin Luther King, Abraham, Jagger, Jonas Salk." You get the idea.

Still and all... A Very Well Travelled Man is a disc more than worth your time and money. The half-dozen message numbers will at the very least provide a groan or two, but they nonetheless provide a revealing glimpse of Music Row politics circa 1970. The remaining twenty or so cuts are first-rate countrypolitan, backed by alternately loping or skittering rhythms, dramatic choruses, and sad stories - the kind of numbers that would have been accompanied by quick cuts, groovy zooms and dancing girls on "The Ed Sullivan Show" or "The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour".

Cargill had a low, ragged tenor that's well-suited to singing about loss, as he does on a wise cover of Roger Miller's "Husbands And Wives", or on a live version of Joe South's "Don't It Make You Want To Go Home", a hidden track bemoaning the changes brought by an increasingly urbanized south.

Maybe the best moment here is the working-class lament "Hemphill Kentucky Consolidated Coalmine". Faced with the mining death of his father, a son asks his mother when they can leave the coal country for good.?That sort of song, of course, is a species of social consciousness at which country music has long excelled. They don't call it the white man's blues for nothing.



Jack Blanchard and Misty Morgan
"Life and Death (And Almost Everything Else" (Omni)

Jack Blanchard and Misty Morgan were both born in Buffalo, New York, and though both were childhood prodigies on the keyboards they did not meet until several years later and several hundred miles from New York. Jack and Misty were working in separate clubs almost next door to each other in Florida. By this time Jack had added slide guitar, lap steel, Dobro, and synthesisers to his instrumental skills whilst Misty stayed mainly with keyboards and vocals. Jack had also recorded a couple of solo singles, without success, before meeting and marrying Misty. After Blanchard's band dissolved the couple went out as a duo and in 1970 hit the number one spot with the novelty number "Tennessee Birdwalk", written by Jack. This was followed by another novelty Blanchard composition "Humphrey The Camel" and a country version of the Roger Cook / Roger Greenaway song "You've Got Your Troubles (I've Got Mine)" during that same year. The duo continued to enjoy minor hits until the mid-seventies, but that earlier success was now firmly in the past. Jack wrote humorous articles and drew comic strips for various newspapers, whilst he and Misty continued writing songs for themselves and other artists. Jack and Misty's marriage has survived longer than most in the music business, as has their popularity. The duo has remained extremely popular on the independent scene, where their records are regularly featured in a number of top tens. It is a crying shame that Jack and Misty did not repeat the success of 1970, for, as the newly released compilation, "Life and Death (And Almost Everything Else" (Omni), shows, the duo has recorded many sides equal or superior to that trio of major hits. The album's 29 tracks cover the period 1967-1973, a period some might describe as the duo's golden days, though I would disagree, for I see the last decade as probably Jack and Misty's most creative. However, this album presents a unique chance to sample six years in the life of a devoted and talented couple. Those three hits are included here plus 26 other great songs including" Chapel Hill", "Bethlehem Street", "The Clock Of St. James", "Somewhere In Virginia In The Rain" (a particular favourite of mine), and "A Handful Of Dimes". There is plenty of humour too with "Yellow Bellied Sapsucker", "How I Lost 31 Pounds In 17 Days", and "If Eggs Had Legs". Wonderful stuff!

Pete Smith, April, 2006. (UK)

A Very Well Travelled Man

(The Age {Melbourne Australia})

By Jo Roberts December 30, 2005

Anthology of Henson Cargill's country crooning shows the man is a cult waiting to happen.

Henson Cargill: A Very Well Travelled Man.

Henson Cargill was a lawyer, rancher and deputy sheriff before deciding to pursue a career in country music in the 1960s. And a fine career choice it was too, although not one that made the Oklahoma crooner a household name.

A new 27-track anthology of Cargill's catalogue compiled by - surprisingly - Melbourne electronica guru David Thrussell (Snog, Black Lung), A Very Well Travelled Man, will make you wonder how we missed Cargill the first time around.

While most country artists were singing about lost loves, cheap whiskey and lock-ups, Cargill was railing against child neglect (his 1968 chart-topper, Skip a Rope), social apathy ( None of My Business), racism ( Going Backwards) and mindless conformity ( Reprints).

He did visit country motifs, such as in the love an' leave 'em Johnny One Time and Four Shades of Love, but it was as a social commentator he made his mark. Complemented by that sultry, heavily reverbed production of the era and more key changes than you thought possible in one album, Henson Cargill is surely a cult just waiting to happen.


DAVID THRUSSELL reveals how his obsession for leftfield Nashville country has lead to the formation of his own archival record label, Omni.

By Martin Jones

A couple of weeks ago, two new CD releases arrived on my desk that immediately stood out like shining beacons. One, from a couple called Jack Blanchard and Misty Morgan, was proudly stickered "like Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood ...on acid!" The other, by a ruggedly contemplative-looking Henson Cargill proclaimed itself as "zen country pop!" Needless to say, both titles went straight to the CD player, offering my tired ears 56 tracks of blissful Nashville psychedelia whilst I investigated from whence such long lost gems sprang.

The answer? Mr David Thrussell. Better known for his electronic musicianship in Snog, Soma and Black Lung (and as Australia's greatest Morricone aficionado), Thrussell is such a fan of left-of-centre Nashville music, that he's started his own label, Omni, to restore and release some of his favourites. The first two off the presses present the work of underground '60s icons Jack And Misty and Henson Cargill on CD for the first time. "There's just certain kinds of music that I absolutely love," Thrussell explains, "and for some reason, I guess to share what I think is great music, I've started up my own label to reissue, at this stage, obscure leftfield Nashville country things that I just love. And just because they're incredibly unavailable, these recordings, and I thought that more people would like to hear them and get something out of them. And I guess being a fan of country music, I'm very happy to be able to release music a. that I absolutely love ? absolutely love this stuff, both these albums, absolutely love them - and also I'm very happy to be able to dispel a few myths about country music."

Indeed, the psychedelic Sonny And Cher of Jack And Misty singing about Humphrey The Camel and the understated ultra-poignant philosophy of Henson Cargill are definitely not mainstream Nashville fare.

Thrussell confirms that his high-school passion for Ennio Morricone certainly helped open the door to a lot of leftfield '60s music for him, but hastens to add that his father was a rabid country music fan who raised Thrussell on Johnny Cash and Tom T Hall.

"As a young, young, young, young kid," he recalls, "I got an understanding that lyrics matter. Having something intelligent or interesting to say about something matters. In the rush to leap off the consumer debt cliff, we seem to have forgotten that art is about communication. And if you don't have something to communicate, maybe you shouldn't bother. That doesn't seem to stop a lot of people? but it's just my humble advice."

Asking how Thrussell stumbled onto and eventually came to be releasing the work of Jack And Misty and Henson Cargill, I get more information than I bargained for. The guitarist of a German industrial band called Einstuerzende Neubauten turned Thrussell onto Cargill's best-known hit 'Skip A Rope' and pretty soon Thrussell found himself collecting and cherishing everything the man recorded.

"It was The Uncomplicated Henson Cargill, his fourth album, his last album on Epic," Thrussell describes the record that really hooked him, "and it just had some mind-bending stuff on it. It's got that 'Reprints (Plastic People)' which is the opening track on the CD, which I just thought was stupendous, it's funky and fat and the lyrics are fantastic, it reminded me, well since then it has reminded me of 'Little Boxes', the Pete Seeger hit, which is a song I can remember singing in primary school. And there were some other incredible songs on that album like Going Backwards, which I just entirely agree with the premise of, you know there's all this talk of progress and technology and blah, blah, blah, but actually our society is generally collapsing around our ears and we're too distracted to even notice it."

A similar story with the work of Jack And Misty (sans the German industrial band) saw Thrussell hunting through dusty record bins on tour until his appetite was sated.

"The Jack Blanchard and Misty Morgan CD is basically a combination of their first two albums with extra tracks that were on 45s and weren't on the albums from that period. Basically it's my personal pick, they actually disagree with me about one or two tracks, but it's my personal pick of what is the best of that period and I do have plans to license, there's like an album's worth of material from 73 to 75 which is great, absolutely great stuff. They didn't follow the almost universal trend of going downhill in that era. There's some really fabulous stuff in there. In fact one of those tracks they've licensed to this Hollywood film starring Ashley Judd that's coming up next year which is pretty funny."

After a long and complicated process licensing, restoring and remastering this material (often using Thrussell's own vinyl copies), the first two Omni releases have emerged blinking in the sun, mainlined straight from the '60s. And they look and sound fantastic.

"We spent a lot of time remastering them to make them the best quality we possibly could," Thrussell attests. "We used as our benchmark the Bear Family box sets, I don't know if you know them, I've got a Waylon Jennings box set that just sounds fantastic. Basically we would play them back to back with that and say 'does it sound as good as that?' And I was very fastidious about that 'cause I think there's no point doing these things unless you're going to do them well. And as I was saying to Jack, actually, this is forever. This might be the only time this happens, it might not, you don't know, but this might be the one document of these things.

With an arm-length wish list of future releases, if all goes well we can expect to hear plenty more from Omni over the next year. As Thrussell concludes: "There's a bunch of things that I would love to do which would shake people's preconceptions about music a little bit, which is one of the names of the game I think."

Henson Cargill's A Very Well Travelled Man and Jack Blanchard And Misty Morgan's Life And Death (And Almost Everything Else) are available on Omni Recording Corporation through Shock.