Best Local Rock Songs Ever, Part 17 [Marshall Chapman, Swamp Dogg, Chelle Rose, Brittany Howard and Ruby Amanfu, Megan McCormick]


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It wasn’t that long ago that Cleveland paid host to the latest Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, an occasion that almost always sparks a bunch of bitching about how un-rock 'n' roll it is to even have such an institution, especially one that’s been profoundly shaped by a Rolling Stone-ish white, male, Baby Boomer worldview. Being a fan of Patrick Sweany, The Black Diamond Heavies, The Legendary Shack Shakers, Jason and the Scorchers, the Jompson Brothers, JEFF the Brotherhood and too many other acts who rock out with their cocks out to mention, I don’t have a thing in the world against amplified Anglo-American guys. But I figured I should devote this, the 17th edition of the Cream's ongoing Best Local Rock Songs Ever series, to some of the other voices in our midst.

Marshall Chapman, “Why Can’t I Be Like Other Girls?”

Listen: Soundcloud

Marshall Chapman is such a force of nature as a personality and performer that she usually dresses down onstage — string of pearls, T-shirt and sweatpants — so as to avoid causing her audience sensory overload. Or something like that. When the rock ‘n’ roll bug bit her, she left her Southern society upbringing in the dust, and her irreverent spirit is still contagious. The whole story’s in her memoir, Goodbye Little Rock and Roller, but an important chunk of it — the propriety-bucking, sexism-confronting part — is in this song. This is the version from her 1979 album Marshall.

Swamp Dogg, “Redneck”

Listen: YouTube

I just read Hidden In the Mix: The African-American Presence in Country Music — which is an important book, by the way — and it reminded me about Jerry Williams Jr., aka Swamp Dogg (see contributor Edd Hurt's recent interview with Swamp Dogg here). On his first solo album, Total Destruction to Your Mind — which Alive Naturalsound Records just released in a remastered version — he covered Joe South’s racist-bating song “Redneck,” and ratcheted up both the tempo and the piss and vinegar. I mean, check it out: He’s snarling, shouting and smirking over a hot, hard-driving boogie. That was some bold shit in 1970.

Chelle Rose, “Alimony”

Chelle Rose’s T-shirts say “APPALACHIAN ROCK N ROLL,” and that’s about right. She brings a deliciously sinister Southern gothic shading to everything she does, including her mean and tough, drawled delivery. When she wrote a song about divorce, you can just tell she got pleasure out of hitting the rich guy where it hurt. She gets the last laugh in the hook: “Said this music that I make, it’s a waste of time and money / Now we’re here to rock and roll you with some alimony!”

Brittany Howard and Ruby Amanfu, “I Wonder”

Listen: Rolling Stone

This one’s only a couple months old, and it’s a fairly brilliant pairing of singers and song: Brittany Howard, the gigantic voice of Alabama Shakes, and our own Ruby Amanfu, together covering Rodriguez’s “I Wonder.” When they’re not sanguinely harmonizing, they’re tossing lines back and forth, Howard with grit and Amanfu with peppery vibrato. It comes off as a celebration of different sensibilities.

Megan McCormick, “Addiction”

Listen: Reverb Nation

There are lots of different sides to Megan McCormick: the pop singer-songwriter, the bluegrass picker. But right now, I’m not concerned with those. She also happens to be a powerfully emotive and aggressive electric guitarist, and fluent in rock’s often masculine-sounding native language: the unleashed solo. I thought “Addiction” was the best example of that on her debut album Honest Words. Plus, the riff is so damn angular and agitated.


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