While sowing seeds, tending to crops, and harvesting our bounty is a necessary process for all of us, farmers must possess a mammoth supply of patience. Indianola's Steve Yarbrough is the son of cotton farmers in the Delta, and his short stories and novels carry a lot of patience in their revelation of detail.
Educated at the University of Mississippi and the University of Arkansas, his early writing focuses greatly on his home. 2004's "Prisoners of War" begins as another hardscrabble Mississippi tale. Like Lewis Nordan, Yarbrough's writing mixes modern narration with old-time (heavy on the vernacular) dialogue. Unlike Nordan (and even Harry Crews), Yarbrough is a builder of conversation between his characters. We begin to know more about the landscape than his characters from his descriptions. However, when he lets the characters speak, they truly speak for themselves.
Memories are dotted with conversation. However, those dialogues that take place in the time of the book build rhythmically and give you a level of familiarity with people you know - but Yarbrough has yet to even describe. Like all of us, they fume, fuss and fight - but always end up working together.
The 2006 novel, "The End of California" (once a Book of the Month Club selection), finds Yarbrough bringing his protagonist back to his fictional hometown of Loring, Mississippi. Where "Prisoners of War" has young men shipped off to WWII while German POWs come to work the fields, "California" is the tale of a doctor's return with his family to his home state. The story here is told on multiple fronts. Pete flees California to escape scandal only to be confronted by memories he had suppressed every day. His wife and daughter paint the Mississippi town as an alien environment where the daughter feels like she lives in a motel and the mother never feels settled.
Juggling these twin perspectives, Yarbrough makes the small town stifling and a trap to its inhabitants as relationships quickly escalate into sordid Southern drama. Unlike Ellen Douglas, you as a reader never feel quite at home in Loring either. Like Flannery O'Connor, it is the circumstances of their lives that shade in each character, not their physical attributes.
Yarbrough's writing is immediately engrossing. "The End of California" opens with one of the best first sentences: "Under the circumstances, he told himself, speeding made sense." From here, he gives you only what you need to know and most importantly what details will make his stories remind you of episodes in your life.
Mik Davis is the record store manager at T-Bones Records & Cafe in Hattiesburg.
NEW MUSIC THIS WEEK
CHARLEY CROCKETT - Music City USA (Sons of Davy/Thirty Tigers/The Orchard)
JOSE GONZALEZ - Local Valley (Mute)
This Texas native and former Blues singer has some of the best phrasing of any Americana singer today. Most Country-ish singers try to sound like they "fit in" to the style of their idols. Crockett has a slightly deep but resonant voice that allows him to sound a bit like a more languid Sam Cooke. With horns and organ added to his music, Crockett's recent output is bathed in that classic Sixties Country production. "I Won't Cry" is a beautiful almost-atmospheric ballad; "Round This World" rages out of the gate with banjos and Crockett enveloped in ghostly reverb. However, it is "I Need Your Love" with its Stax-meets-Nashville production that poses the best chance of taking you for a ride.
Swedish/Argentinian singer/songwriter Jose Gonzalez made a huge splash with his 2003 debut "Veneer." Since then, he has made some great records (based around his unusual almost reedy voice and love of South American rhythms) but none have had the immediacy. "Local Valley" is another exploration of songs that are meditative (but might benefit from a chorus) "Head On," or perhaps a little too spritely ("Swing"). However, the beautiful "Visions" and its natural sound, his phrasing and harmony is a stunner.
CARCASS - Torn Arteries
What does a Metal band do after establishing its own subgenre and style of Extreme Metal? It reunites to push its definitive style (and lyrical content) into more technical and almost commercial textures. Liverpool's Carcass founded around the same time as Grindcore legends Napalm Death (who guitarist Bill Steer also played with), put the extremes of Metal (blastbeat, blazing walls of guitar) together with grim, gore-filled, vegan-lifestyle promoting lyrics. However, even in the Nineties Carcass pursued some mixture of music that would find success (1993's "Heartwork").
Reformed in 2007 and returning to recording in 2012, Carcass's "Surgical Steel" refused to look back at their past sound. Instead, the band picked up where they left off and discovered that Metal around them had grown, shall we say, more "Death"-ly. Last year's "Despicable" EP was a preview of the blast that is "Torn Arteries" Carcass has returned to NWOBHM thunder but with a thunderous, almost maddening, burst of speed. "Kelly's Meat Emporium" is all chugging guitars with highly melodic guitar lines slicing through like a samurai, while the "Dance of Ixtab" slows things down to a Judas Priest-ian grind and rages on a stairstep riff and almost tribal drums. Label it Death Metal all you want, "Torn Arteries" is thunderous ROCK.
BOB DYLAN - Springtime in New York: The Bootleg Series, Vol.16 1980-1985
Dylan in the Sixties. Pitch perfect. Never a dull song or moment. Dylan in the Seventies. The highs and lows of finding yourself as a timeless writer during a decade where change dictated everything around it.
Time for Dylan in the Eighties.
The late Seventies marked a colossal change for Dylan. In the midst of decadence around him, Dylan went Christian. Using the stage as his pulpit, audiences recoiled and Dylan clearly took it to heart. "Springtime" covers what did not make the records. 1981's "Shot of Love" ended his Christian trilogy with songs that were sanctified ("Every Grain of Sand") and somewhat more earthly ("The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar"). One of the most contested tracks "Caribbean Wind" died in rehearsals, while "Angelina," appearing here, represents what passed those frustrating sessions.
Two years later, "Infidels" marks Dylan's official return to the secular. Now embracing technology with producer Mark Knopfler, the outtakes from this one have been circulating for years. With his band in a state of the art, you can hear Dylan building the songs from the ground up. "Blind Willie McTell," existing here in several different takes, gives you the best chance to hear Dylan changing his song in response to his band. 1985's "Empire Burlesque" cast Dylan as his own producer. While it definitely falls prey to the production that makes many Eighties records sound dated today, the outtakes of "Burlesque" show Dylan pulling in a lot of different directions. Having first trying recording with both Al Green's band and L.A.'s cowpunkers Lone Justice with Stones guitarist Ron Wood, the question arises: Is Dylan leading or being led? "Springtime" is an entertaining way to formulate your own answer.