New South – A Retrospective

[Editor’s Note: Taking a short break from The! New! Plague! for this post (and the crowd goes wild)! These may become more common as the plague goes on. To be honest, I am a bit tired of it, but its tough to find time to really devote to something. However, given what I found yesterday, this had to happen. Hope you enjoy and are staying safe.]

mike west new south

I was talking to the genius the other day, and I was trying to quote something that was buried in the recesses of my mind. You ever have this? It happens to me a ton. Where there is a faint memory of something that you think maybe you made up in your head? Something you are trying to remember that sits on the edge of your mind.

Well, in this case, I did some googling to find it, and I saw HOLY SHIT the whole album I was thinking of is on YouTube, Spotify, Google Play

I turned it on and was immediately brought back….

Cut to college. 

My freshman year was kind of rough. All of my friends went to the state college, and I had to be the asshole to make it into a private college. It put me in New Orleans all by myself. I spent some time trying to find what people younger than me would call my “scene.” But, definitely didn’t think of it that way.

One day, friends of mine took me to the Neutral Ground Coffeehouse.  Its still there even today and hasn’t changed. 

The place was covered wall to wall with tchotchkes, board games, and art for sale. The clerks would take a million years to make a cup of fantastic coffee. All the seating was either leather chairs or couches. Designed for you to hang with friends, group study, or board games. It was open till ass late. 2am. Sometimes 4am depending on the day. 

And they always had live music. Usually some sort of weird acoustic offerings. Very eclectic. Would have been HUGELY popular in the like the late 2000s. 

Well, when I started going there was this artist Mike West who was paying like a residency. I dunno what he was doing in New Orleans but he was at that coffee shop one night a week for like 3 months straight. 

For most of these types of artists, they don’t really connect with me. My usual reaction is polite applause, or I find something I like. But not enough to really dig on the artist. Well this guy……I can’t remember the first song I heard from him but I remember the song I heard on that first night that completely hooked me:

What hooked me wasn’t the songwriting (which was fantastic) or the musicianship (which was good too), but the attitude. This is where I was mentally. I grew up surrounded by “This is Duke Country” signs, and I spent the entirety of high schoo telling all of those kinds of people to fuck off. 

Also, this was like pre-Lumineers. Pre-Avett Brothers, but post-O’ Brother. I didn’t know shit about folk music back then, so this scratched an itch I never tried to itch before. 

I went to every single show he had. And after that series, he came back through town every once and I while, and I went. I liked some of the other stuff he did, but nothing actually connected to me like the New South record. Prior to the discovery of this record hitting the streaming age, I only had .wav files (!) that I got from someone who actually owned the physical CD. He didn’t have this CD for sale when he was playing the Neutral Ground, so I used these shitty wav files for a long time. 

Eventually I forgot about Mike West. Probably about the time MP3 players went the way of the dinosaur. Without being able to have all my shit with me at all times, some shit falls away. And Mike West was one of them….till now…..

Holy SHIT does this record hold up:

Like I said at the top, my big attraction to this guy his perspective on the world. I really like his take on the south, which is very similar to mine. However, it is VERY MUCH an early 2000s take on the south. Very pre-Immortan. Mentally I thought this is where we were. People shit-kicking the racists and moving to a new version of the South that SHOULD have happened after the Civil War. However, the Immortan very much dragged this dream backwards. But, its nice to still hear this perspective. 

One thing that may turn people off is the sound. This is very much a simple record. Banjo, bass, vocals (some harmonies), and that’s it. If you don’t dig that banjo/upright bass sound, you wont like this. I mean dude cranked this out in a studio in a week I am sure. In a way, there is a purity to the record as a result. He also has a very specific accent. Never found out where the dude was from, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he wasn’t from the south. I think sometimes it takes an outsider to make these kinds of insights. So, that may turn people off. 

For me, where I am right now, amidst this plague, this is what I needed when I needed it. 

One thing that sticks with me now is how fucking good this guys songwriting is. 

He has that Ben Folds knack of crafting these stories around individual characters. Someone once told me that there are only two types of songwriters: Paul McCartney style storytellers and John Lennon style arty song writers. And both styles can be great. Mr. Ben and Mike West definitely file in the former category. 

I like Mike West’s little worlds of being lost in the South and trying to find your way. He’s really good at blending a nice riff with the right story. The songs here is what stand out to me. 

I think this was a hole I didn’t know I had that Mike West filled, and that, truthfully, didn’t get filled again till Sturgill. This sort of critical eye to traditional southern perspectives, while staying VERY southern. 

On this record, Mike west really points at something that I have been struggling with how to articulate to this day. The south has plenty of interesting things to celebrate and be “proud” of, but we manage to pick the worst fucking things to worship. And its a tragedy. 

I also think that’s why this record holds up. The portrait he paints on this record feels complete. Interspersing the serious stuff with songs about judging people based on what they have in their fridge. 

I like this version of the world. A version of the world that could have been….were it not for stupidity and social media completely overwhelming progress. 

4/4 – I don’t know what Mike West is doing now. And I don’t know if he ever hit these heights again. But this collection of stuff is something special. I highly recommend giving it a listen.  

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