I have diagnosed John Corbett with what I call ‘Rick Springfield Disease’. What, pray tell, is this mysterious heretofore unknown malady? Well, it’s when the arbiters of taste and gatekeepers of authenticity declare certain artists less than worthy based on elements other than talent. For instance, if Jon Bon Jovi looked like Shane McGowan, he wouldn’t be a guilty pleasure. He’d be a pleasure, pure and simple. After all, there’s no way a guy THAT GOOD LOOKING could be so talented, right? RIGHT? How could someone so pretty be so (eyes squinting) gifted? Hence…Rick Springfield Disease, named for the patron saint of talented yet unjustly maligned musicians, blessed with movie star good looks and therefore disrespected by the oh-so-hip and bloated powers that be. Others afflicted are Rick Nelson, Tom Keifer of Cinderella, and John Corbett. There are others, yet I can’t go on mainly due to the beginnings of an uncontrollable white hot fire of a thousand suns rage. Deep breath.
This sad and pathetic state of affairs (instigated, no doubt, by jealous music executives resembling Tom Cruise’s character in Tropic Thunder) is…well, it’s the Mount Rushmore of Stupid. Rick Springfield’s Working Class Dog is one of the best records of the last 35 years. I defy anyone to hear a better hard rock record than Cinderella’s Long Cold Winter. Everything Rick(y) Nelson recorded was sheer magic. Well, I’ll be damned. The pretty man can play.
Enter John Corbett and Leaving Nothin’ Behind, his 2nd CD of rustic everyman Americana. (His self-titled debut was released in 2006.) In a more perfect union, it would reign at the top of the charts Moses-style. But what do we get instead? Another faux-angsty teenager bloviating about her latest boycrush, another singing pair of torn jeans that sounds exactly like Mr. Haney from Green Acres, and…dammit there’s that white hot fire of a thousand suns rage again. Serenity Now. SERENITY NOW. Deep breath.
Meanwhile, what does Corbett have to endure? “Just another movie star who thinks he can sing country music.” “Go back to Hollyweird, pretty boy.” “Carpetbagger.” It’s a testament to Corbett’s good nature that he doesn’t lash out in a justifiable torrent of blood, spit, and fingernails. If I were the recipient of such boneheaded criticism, I’d have taken to the Texas Observatory Tower by now. He’s a stronger man than I.
And here’s the worst part: none of that boneheaded criticism is based in fact. John Corbett is from By God West Virginia. He worked the steel mill. He grew up on Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, and Waylon Jennings. He came to country music like any good Southern boy does—with his hat in his hand.
Country oozes out of him like wringing sweat out of an A-shirt. I’ll bet you good hard American greenbacks that he’s killed his share of varmints and tobacco worms. So take all that ‘Hollywood carpetbagger’ crap and shove it up Ol’ Rosey. Corbett is the real deal. Period end of sentence.
So how does it play out on Leaving Nothin’ Behind? Like gangbusters, that’s how. Corbett has crafted a stellar set of songs (mostly written by producer Jon Randall Stewart) that rock, roll, weep, and tremble. It’s both gritty and smooth, sentimental and matter-of-fact. It breathes. There’s not a dull thud to be found. It runs the gamut of Americana styles, from south-of-the-border (‘El Paso’ and no, it’s not the Marty Robbins song) to Stonesy rockers (‘Rainy Windy Sunshine’) to flat-out channeling Buck Owens (‘Backside Of A Backslide’). Special mention must go to ‘Cocaine And Communion’ (a poetic rumination from a prodigal son coming home), and ‘Name On A Stone’:
Be more than just a name on a stone
More than just a box full of bones
I want someone to miss me when I’m gone
I want to be more than just a name on a stone
Holy Sweet Jesus, what a lyric. If that doesn’t move you, you are in desperate need of a heart.
The crown jewel of Leaving Nothin’ Behind, however, is the final track, ‘Dairy Queen’. It is nothing less than a time capsule entry. It covers everything in a succinct 5 minutes and 3 seconds: high school, love, loss, war, death, success, memory…and a Dairy Queen. Corbett’s performance is devastating. It’s one cold chill after another. If you can get through this song without shedding a tear, you are made of tree bark. Seek redemption before it’s too late.
Here’s the money shot, folks: Leaving Nothin’ Behind is a keeper. Stop reading this review, get in the car, and go buy this record. And while you’re there, pick up Working Class Dog and Garden Party. Well, I’ll be damned. The pretty man can play.
Michael Franklin is the Media & Reserves Specialist at Western Kentucky University’s Visual & Performing Arts Library (VPAL). Michael is also a professional musician and sound engineer. He is currently recording his 6th CD with his best friends Screenlast 6.0 and Audacity Sourceforge. He thinks Iggy Pop is the greatest singer in the history of music. If you disagree, you’re wrong. You better ask somebody.
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