WEIRD SCENES INSIDE THE BIRDHOUSE - Jack Blanchard & Misty Morgan- (Omni Recording/Fuse)
There are plenty of odd characters and strange stories right across the spectrum of country music. From Spade Cooley, the hillbilly swing radio star who beat his wife to death, and who himself died of a heart attack on stage when paroled to play a police benefit concert, to David Allen Coe, whose resolute tough guy/red neck image sits oddly with the fact that he wrote one of the most beautiful songs ever, “Would You Lay With Me (In A Field Of Stone)”. Lyrically, too, there are rich pickings for fans of the odd and the obscure- Hank Williams’ “My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It” or Jack Kittel’s “Psycho”, for instance.

I thought I was fairly familiar with the nooks and crannies of the genre, but somehow husband and wife team Jack Blanchard and Misty Morgan had escaped my attention. Until now. Although they are resolutely independent -they write, play and produce everything themselves- they’ve had a fair share of success, working from the fringes of Nashville, though apparently based in Florida for quite a while. Their crossover hit “Tennessee Birdwalk” (sadly not included here) was nominated for a Grammy in 1970, and they’ve spent a over 100 weeks on top of the country charts.

Despite that level of mainstream success, this is a seriously odd collection. Comprising work from the early '70s, it comes with a sticker on the front proclaiming it as “lysergic hayseed melancholy and cowpoke philosophy”- and for once you can believe what it says on the box. There is a distinctly fractured philosophy and outlook shining through most of these, and in the liner notes/essays that come in the booklet.

Case in point- the opener, “Cockroach Stomp”. Over a simple rock/doo wop backing, it starts: “Kill, kill, kill/Everybody do the cockroach stomp/California, Tennessee, and Louisville/Come on, and do the cockroach Stomp./1 and 2 and 3 and 4,/Stomp your partner on the floor.” But then the second track, “Carolina Sundown Red”, changes tack completely, and shines as a Nancy Sinatra/Lee Hazelwood-style duet number, complete with sweeping strings and lush production. This switch is a pattern that continues throughout the whole disc.

There are more strange metaphors in “Starvin’ Hog Blues”( “I'm like a starvin' hog when I think about your kissin', baby” ) and in “Molasses In The Moonlight”, with most of Jack’s vocals sounding like they are being played on a Victrola set up in the back of the studio. Or try this verse, from “Cows”- “I like cows, I think they're cute/Walkin' in their big cow suits/They give me milk, they give me cheese/They give me hoof and mouth disease” These aren’t novelty songs, they just constantly pull you up by the slightly off kilter quality to the lyrics. But then interspersed among them you also get straight ahead country gems, like “Down To The End Of The Wine”, and “Asleep In The Saddle”, the sweet tale of drunken bar room cowboy and a friendly barmaid, who’s more than happy to see him home and help him take his boots off.

 If you are reading this in Australia, you’ve probably already heard Jack and Misty without knowing it- that’s their woozy backing playing behind that “Xerox in prison” ad for photocopier paper, that runs pretty regularly on TV.

David Thrussel’s OMNI Recording Corporation deserve serious respect for the work they are doing to bring gems like this and their prior re-releases- Porter Waggoner , John D. - TJ Honeysuckle