Everyone's a cowboy now

What ever did happen to the Rockingbirds? I noticed a new Alan Tyler record the other day, and the first song on it was called 'Everyone's A Cowboy Now'. I like to think there's a trace of bitterness there, the admirable resentment of someone who arrives at a party too early only to be ignored when everyone else arrives.

I don't know if it's any good, but I would wager that the Alan Tyler record sells much less than the Beth Gibbons and Rustin Man record. You know that Beth Gibbons record that all the broadsheets and monthly music mags are drooling over. Well, I have to confess that I succumbed and bought the stupid thing, and hate myself for doing so. I should have gone for the Alan Tyler record I'm sure. Anyone want to swap?

You probably know the score: Portishead singer Beth retreats with ex-Talk Talk rhythm man to pastoral idyll and creates rustically minimal masterpiece, or something. The trouble is that despite being terribly admirable, it all sounds too forced and rings horribly hollow. I could probably live with that if some cracked voice didn't keep telling me that if I could be listening to Mary Margaret O'Hara's Miss America for half the price.

Much as our Beth may be admired for refusing to play the fame game, she still seems reluctant to let go. And I like my music when someone lets go. Now Miss America is a record where someone really lets go. Seems strange now, fifteen years on, that anyone needs reminding what an incredible record this is, and stranger still that this is still the only real Mary Margaret O'Hara record. Now that's how not to play the fame game Beth.

Someone keeps saying that context is everything, and they're right. So it should be remembered that when Mary Margaret bared her soul in making this very special record there was no alt.country thing, just perhaps the odd Nanci Griffiths record, David Roback's and Kendra Smith's haunting early Opal recordings, and maybe the Cowboy Junkies. So to mix up country, jazz, folk, torch ballads, gospel, world rhythms, and the most heartbreaking and arresting vocal displays since Van Morrison's Astral Weeks and Tim Buckley's Sweet Surrender, and the purest performances this side of Anne Briggs (go and investigate please!), was a brave move. If it sounds nothing to write home about now, then you have not waltzed round the room recently to 'A New Day' or wept along to 'Help Me Lift You Up'. I just have.

So everyone may be a cowboy now, or all the cowgirls may be singing the blues, but there's still something about Mary Margaret. Round our way we like our mavericks to be the real thing, and anyone who chooses not to follow up the best lp ever is the sort of maverick we like. And if you start at track four, Miss America is really the best LP ever. Will anyone say that about the Rustin Man in 15 years time?

© 2002 John Carney