James Talley

Got No Bread, No Milk, No Money, But We Sure Got a Lot of Love

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James Talley's 1975 debut for the Capitol label was perhaps unnoticed by the country music establishment, deemed not sophisticated enough and too inside the hillbilly tradition for the outlaws; nonetheless, it is an unqualified artistic achievement. Featuring 12 of his own songs, this album of Talley's music comes from the rural country blues and from Bob Wills' Western swing, and his songs are rooted in the everyday lives of folks, whether working-class or living in poverty, who make the best of difficult situations without too much complaining. The title track, with its blues riffing and sweet hillbilly abandon, tells the story of a woman loved enough to break a man without malice because she loves him too. "Red River Memory" is an update of the "Red River Valley" legend set to the same melody with a shimmering pedal steel in the background just under the acoustic guitars. "Give Him Another Bottle" inhabits the terrain where honky tonk, bluegrass, and the blues all meet and converse. The rodeo queen at the heart of "Calico Gypsy" is classic Talley, where people are evoked not only as memories but as reflections of the natural world from the color of the sky to the blooming of summer flowers. Side one closes with the lone cover on the album, Johnny Gimble's "Big Taters in the Sandy Land," on which the author plays fiddle. The rest of the disc -- such as tracks like "No Opener Needed," a Merle Haggard-esque bluesy love song, or "Take Me to the Country," a rambling country poem where the elegiac and the prosaic commingle inside the desperation of a broken heart -- make Talley a master of the ordinary. Talley can tell a story plainly without the use of extended metaphors and framework artifices, and when he communicates this directly, he can touch even the hardest and most cynical heart. This is as auspicious a debut as there is.

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