America, meet your roots 

The sepia-toned, poverty-stricken paradise in the songs of most Americana artists today has little literary direction, other than to charm the listener with vignettes quaint and country. This music only reflects a cultural obsession — reactive to our crisp modern times — with all things rural and out-of-date and dirty, and with notable exception rarely goes beyond the merely descriptive. All the world is a rotten-floored front porch where simple passes for subtle, and true coarse human anxiety is scarcely explored or wrestled with.

The shelves are flooded with craftily costumed artists photographed in boots and lace, pondering something folksy on a lonely haystack with guitar and tambourine. The saddest thing about this market-driven approach to indie roots music is that it has roped in a lot of brilliantly talented musicians. It's certainly safe to say that most roots artists with record contracts are, themselves, impressively skilled on their instruments and backed by musicians of the highest caliber.

But the soul of American roots music, draped as it is in beautiful melody, has been the close relationship of that music to its words. Somewhere the imagery of music has lost touch with its roots. America's is a music built not only on lovestruck loneliness, but on social oppression, economic strife, crude sexual expression, common humanity and political dissent. These are the elements of American life — all still present today — that gave rise to the first blues, folk, country and rock. Corporate-driven artists shy from these themes, gilding a rich musical tradition in empty showmanship and forgettable verse.

Roger Hoover strode quietly onto the scene in Akron, Ohio, about five years ago, with two albums (“Golden Gloves” and “Panic Blues”) whose musical breadth alone should have immediately placed him and his band, the Whiskeyhounds, on touring gigs with the brightest Americana stars. It is likely the case that the Whiskeyhounds — they've since changed their name to Magpies — were lost in a crowd of beggars at the resurgent roots music banquet. What listeners could have heard in these albums was tremendous potential for lyrical complexity, which is the last distinguishing honor to be attained by artists in any crowded musical genre. Regardless, these were the Whiskeyhounds who chanced down to Arkansas and established a connection that would eventually lead to lasting musical relationships with such Arkansas artists as Hayes Carll, Cory Branan and Graham Wilkinson.

“I first met Conway after our drummer booked a house show there for the Whiskeyhounds,” says Hoover. Through a serendipitous punk-rock connection with Matt White (then a Conway kid spending his spare time building a music scene in the driest of college towns, now the booker/manager of Little Rock music institution White Water Tavern) the Whiskeyhounds made it down to Conway from Akron, Ohio.

“We pulled in the drive in a rusted-out Ford van with trailer in tow,” Hoover remembers. “We were instantly greeted with brotherly hugs and heartfelt conversations by people we'd never met. From that moment on I have felt accepted. I felt accepted as a writer, as a friend, and a citizen of Conway.”

Since then, Hoover has developed a fan base in Central Arkansas that, he says, easily trumps any reception in his home state. Arkansas is clearly an artistic inspiration for the band: “Little Rock and Conway are very similar to Cleveland and Akron, Ohio,” he says. “Since I'm from Ohio I have a much more romantic view of Arkansas than maybe you have. I see a land rich in folklore and farming soil that sprouted small American cities with budding intellectual centers. Not far from the metropolis of Little Rock you'll find the Buffalo River and the Ozarks — two places that are very mystic in my eyes. There seems to exist a constant struggle between the old and the new.”



Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Davis Clement

  • Adam Faucett

    “Show Me Magic, Show Me Out”
    • Dec 4, 2008
  • America, meet your roots

    The Magpies, known not long ago as Roger Hoover and the Whiskeyhounds, dig deep.
    • Apr 10, 2008
  • More »

Most Shared

Latest in Top Stories

  • Good for the soul

    The return of Say McIntosh, restaurateur
    • Jun 1, 2010
  • Robocalls are illegal

    Robocalls -- recorded messages sent to thousands of phone numbers -- are a fact of life in political campaigns. The public doesn't like them much, judging by the gripes about them, but campaign managers and politicians still believe in their utility.
    • May 31, 2010
  • Riverfest winds down

    With Cedric Burnside and Lightnin' Malcolm, Steve Miller Band, Robert Cray, Ludacris and more performing.
    • May 30, 2010
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Logoly State Park dedicates new visitors center

Logoly State Park dedicates new visitors center

Arkansas’s first environmental education state park interprets the importance of the natural world and our place within it.

Event Calendar

« »


2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31  

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Faith of our felons

    • He's a monster with monsters who aid his unholy lust

    • on October 22, 2016

© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation