Monthly Archives: September 2004

Racing in Alabama — Talladega Celebrates 35 Years of NASCAR

Racing in Alabama

Talladega Celebrates 35 Years of NASCAR

September 23, 2004

October sports talk in Alabama is traditionally geared toward football. But this year a pair of high-profile automobile races promises action that’s three times faster than a Brodie Croyle bullet pass, and light-years quicker than a Cadillac Williams touchdown run. Talladega Super Speedway celebrates its 35th anniversary the weekend of October 3 with the EA Sports 500. NASCAR has gone through numerous changes since an unknown named Richard Brickhouse drove to victory in the first race at Talladega in 1969. (Brickhouse’s golden opportunity came about only because the usual contingent of NASCAR stars, led by driver-turned-organizer Richard Petty, boycotted the race due to safety concerns at the world’s fastest speedway.) In place now is a new points system that places the top 10 drivers a mere five points apart as they begin what is billed as the Chase for the Nextel Cup, a playoff of sorts designed to make the final 10 races compete head to head with Sunday afternoon NFL football.

Gone is longtime series sponsor Winston due to the straightjacket imposed by the government on tobacco advertising. NASCAR’s top series now races under the title Nextel Cup, but apparently this current version of “legislating morality” doesn’t stop there. Network television’s old-fashioned squeamishness and double standard about advertising liquor has made Crown Royal whiskey the forbidden fruit of the NASCAR circuit. What Crown Royal does sponsor is the International Race of Champions Series, which features NASCAR drivers competing against Indy car and sports car stars in identically prepared racecars, each emblazoned with the purple and gold Crown Royal logo, at NASCAR tracks such as Talladega Super Speedway.

150,000 NASCAR fans can’t be wrong. (click for larger version)

But booze is booze. Budweiser sponsors Dale Earnhardt, Jr. The first thing Earnhardt often does on network TV when celebrating a win is to chug a Bud tall boy before telling the interviewer that he’s going back home “to drink some more Bud.” Coors Light sponsors Sterling Marlin. Miller Lite sponsors the car of Rusty Wallace. Wallace has announced that the 2005 season will be his last, and what has he titled his farewell tour? “Rusty’s Last Call.” Bobby Allison used to drive a gold Miller car that looked like a can of Miller zooming around the track. The NASCAR series that often runs on Saturdays in tandem with Sunday Nextel Cup races is sponsored by Busch beer. Rednecks running moonshine whiskey on the back roads of North Carolina and Virginia in the 1950s and ’60s were grooming themselves to become some of NASCAR’s greatest drivers ever. (Check out Tom Wolfe’s enticing 1965 Esquire essay about stock car legend Junior Johnson, “The Last American Hero is Junior Johnson. Yes!”)

According to AutoWeek magazine, NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter has this explanation: “Yes, TV plays a big part in it. Over the years it [NASCAR] has taken the stance that it’s not in their best interest to advertise liquor and spirits. But climates change, and it’s not like we said we’d never consider it. Network TV doesn’t accept it, and they account for a big portion of sports revenue. It makes sense for us to track that. If it’s acceptable to them tomorrow or later on, that would put a different light on it.” Never mind that Jim Beam currently sponsors an Indy Racing League [IRL] car, or that the IRL runs many of its races at tracks affiliated with NASCAR, and it telecasts races live on ABC.

Some things never change, however, such as that strange twist of human evolution known as the drunken NASCAR fan. Last spring at Talladega, Jeff Gordon, the most despised driver, beat the most popular, Earnhardt Jr. But most disconcerting to the inebriated was that a crash that occurred with a handful of laps remaining forced the race to finish under a caution flag, a situation in which drivers must reduce their speed and maintain their positions, except for pit stops. Feeling deprived of the possibility of a last-minute race to the finish line, hundreds of intoxicated louts hurled Budweiser cans at Gordon’s car as he slowly took the checkered flag. Several weeks later, a race at Pocono Raceway also ended under caution, prompting one irate drunk to toss a cooler at the flagman waving the checkered flag.

Some drivers don’t change, either. Tony Stewart punched rookie Brian Vickers after a race at Sonoma, California. Stewart has a history that includes shoving matches in the garage area after races, throwing things at competitors on the track during cautions, trying to pull racers from their cars, and once knocking a tape recorder out of a reporter’s hand. After Stewart wrecked rookie Kasey Kahne at Chicagoland Speedway this year, Khane’s entire crew charged down pit road during the race to confront Stewart’s crew in a free-for-all. “He definitely needs to get suspended, and he should have his ass beat,” assessed Khane’s car owner Ray Evernham. “That’s the problem with him. Nobody has ever really grabbed him and given him a good beating.” Evernham then offered to administer the whipping himself. Tony Stewart’s legendary temper is refreshing, however, in light of NASCAR’s perpetual attempts to clean up the sport’s image. Ironically, Stewart has often said that Talladega race fans are the worst-behaved on the NASCAR circuit.

Porsche 250 at Barber Track

Birmingham’s lush new Barber Motorsports Park will host the Rolex Grand American Sports Car Series on October 10. The Porsche 250 won’t pack in 150,000 like Talladega does (and George Barber is probably fine with that), but staging this year’s race in October instead of May is expected to attract more than last year’s weekend attendance of 25,000. And while it won’t make network TV, it will be broadcast around the world on the international SPEED Channel.

The racing entry field is expected to be larger this year, as the Rolex Series has more than doubled the number of Daytona Prototypes to almost 20. Sports-cars typically race several classifications on the track at the same time. This year the Grand American Series will have three classes—the futuristic Daytona Prototype (the fastest), GT, and GTS. It’s basically three races held at once, and the added excitement is that they get in each other’s way from time to time.

Several high-profile names have entered the Grand American fray this season. NASCAR and Indy Racing League team owner Chip Ganassi, who will have his drivers Sterling Marlin, Casey Mears, and Jamie McMurray racing at Talladega, has a Daytona Prototype with former Indianapolis 500 stars Max Papis and Scott Pruett sharing driving chores. (Sports-car racing typically has a driver change during a race.) Hurley Haywood will compete with co-driver J.C. France (son of NASCAR magnate Jim France) in the renowned Number 59 Brumos Porsche, winner of last year’s race at the Barber track. Haywood is world-famous for his three wins at Le Mans and his five victories at the 24 Hours of Daytona. The addition this year of NASCAR stars Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Kyle Petty to Grand American races when there isn’t a NASCAR event has increased the racing league’s profile in 2004. If that doesn’t impress you, movie star Paul Newman drove with Petty at the Rolex Series opener, the 24 Hours of Daytona. Appropriately, Newman’s car number matched his age—79.

For those NASCAR fans who have a tendency to snub sports-car racing, it’s more compelling than you realize. Watching two or three Daytona Prototypes banging one another as they compete for one of the Barber track’s numerous tight corners is a thrill you’ll never experience at Talladega. And if the weather’s bad, just bring an umbrella. Unlike the NASCAR boys, the sports-car men aren’t afraid to race in the rain. &

The Ride of a Lifetime

The view from inside. (click for larger version)

Seven years ago I took my turn behind the wheel of a Camaro racecar at Birmingham International Raceway [BIR]. I had been working on a story about drivers at BIR, and one thoughtful gentleman named Sluggo asked if it would help to take his car for a spin around the half-mile oval racetrack, the third-oldest track in America behind Wisconsin’s Milwaukee Mile and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I arrived at the track on a July Sunday afternoon, slipped into a fireproof driving uniform, strapped on a helmet, and did 25 or so laps. It was fun, but I pretty much shamed myself with my lame speed. As I brought the car around for one final lap, terror struck when I applied the brake pedal to come into the pits. There were absolutely no brakes. I circled one more time, as it takes a while to roll to a stop when you’re going 90 mph.

Laughing not only at my timidness to “put some speed on that thing,” but also that the brakes had given out, Sluggo told me I wouldn’t achieve the full experience until I had been out on the track with other cars. He wasn’t kidding. Toward summer’s end, I arrived at the track one Friday night for that evening’s races. Sluggo turned the Camaro over to me during the 7 p.m. practice session for street stock cars, the classification in which he raced. I would be more or less “mixing it up” with a dozen other cars at race speeds. Having already thrown up once from fear when I heard the engines being revved at deafening levels after arriving at the track, I was literally shaking when I climbed into the racecar. The worried expression on Sluggo’s face suggested that he was beginning to have second thoughts about putting me out there with others. Nevertheless, he reassured me that the brake failure a couple weeks earlier had been rectified. I’ll never forget his final instructions before I drove off: “And if you wreck it, buddy, don’t worry about it . . . ’cause we’re just out here to have fun.” With those words of encouragement, I attempted to merge onto the track as half a dozen cars careened out of turn four at more than 100 mph.

Somehow I put the car into the middle of race traffic, and away I went. I held on for dear life as cars passed me on the right and left, often at the same time. There were no side mirrors on the Camaro, just a wide rearview mirror above the dash. The full-face helmet and painfully tight seat harnesses that strapped me to the seat with no room to move allowed for near zero peripheral vision. I’ll never forget the sight of several cars in my rearview mirror. Ahead, a car had slowed, which meant that I would have to pass someone as three cars were coming around me. I sweated bullets and somehow stayed out for 10 noble laps. Poking through the corners, I would slam the accelerator all the way to the floor as I exited the second and fourth turns, which meant I was blasting down the straightaways [approximately 120 yards in length] at a top speed of maybe 90 mph before having to turn left again. On the tenth lap, the car’s rear went out of control in a fishtail-style maneuver as I tried to pick up my speed between turns three and four. I gripped the steering wheel firmly to brace myself for impact, either with a wall or another car. I knew from many years of watching races at BIR that I’d probably have to fight whomever I wrecked . . . if I was still conscious. But, amazingly, the car straightened out as I lifted off the accelerator. (The pros know you often step on the gas to straighten out a sliding car, but I didn’t have that much courage.) In fact, I barely touched the accelerator again as I crept down the back stretch of the track with my tail safely tucked between my legs. The brakes worked this time. For the rest of my life, whenever I watch Sunday afternoon racing and the telecast shows the driver’s view from the in-car camera, I’m able to say that I’ve been there . . . sorta.

One Fine Evening

One Fine Evening

Carole King proves that she’s still the queen of song.


September 23, 2004 

As the sun set on Chastain Park Amphitheater in Atlanta in late July, the final rays of the day glimmered off the glossy black grand piano at stage center. A pair of lamps, towering potted plants, a couch, and a couple of plush thrift-store chairs decorated the stage. A posh audience peeled shrimp, uncorked wine, and chatted incessantly. It took a full 10 seconds for the high-brows to realize that Carole King had wandered onto the stage and was waiting patiently (and somewhat slightly embarrassed) for their acknowledgement. King, who is still easy on the eyes at 62, smiled as a smattering of applause erupted into a standing ovation. After bowing ceremoniously and taking her seat behind the piano, she flicked on the small lamp above the instrument and pounded out the opening chords to “Home Again,” her dirty-blond curls bouncing in time to her prancing fingers. Due to King’s notorious stage fright, she rarely gives live performances. This was her first tour in more than a decade, and I was fortunate enough to be in the front row witnessing a performance I’d been waiting my entire life to see.

(click for larger version)

It’s been more than four decades since the songs of Carole King and her former husband, lyricist Gerry Goffin, ignited a 1960s phenomenon known as “girl groups.” The Shirelles scored one of their earliest hits in 1960 with the couple’s “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” The Cookies recorded “Chains” (which later became an even bigger hit for The Beatles); the controversial “He Hit Me (and It Felt Like a Kiss)” was recorded by The Crystals in 1962, while The Chiffons put the irresistible “One Fine Day” on the pop charts in 1963. Other artists began paying attention, and soon The Animals added a tone of danger to King’s music with their foreboding version of “Don’t Bring Me Down.”

Her songs also found a niche in the 1966 bubblegum craze: “Pleasant Valley Sunday” by The Monkees; “I’m Into Something Good” by Herman’s Hermits; and Donny Osmond with the syrupy “Go Away Little Girl” and “Hey Girl.” Her babysitter landed in the Top 40 as Little Eva singing “The Loco-Motion,” the vocals of which sounded suspiciously close to King’s. Aretha Franklin recorded a soulful version of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” Blood, Sweat, and Tears covered “That Old Sweet Roll (Hi De Ho).”


Her voice, never a thing of beauty but nevertheless always a perfect fit, has aged with a ragged edge that adds a touch of oddly refined dignity and genuine personality.

King was a prominent pioneer in modern pop music at a time when it was a man’s world. Yet despite the legacy of her influence on early rock’n’roll, 1971′s Tapestry remains King’s masterpiece. Her two previous albums received little response, but Tapestry was the record that made King a star. It sold in the millions before such numbers were relatively common in the music industry (current sales of Tapestry are over 15 million). The record introduced a new genre: soft rock. “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” “You’ve Got a Friend,” “I Feel the Earth Move, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” “Home Again,” “Tapestry,” “It’s Too Late,” and the sentimental “So Far Away” brought hippies from the edge to the middle of the road, and suddenly the piano was almost as hip as the electric guitar.

Carole King has dubbed her summer concert itinerary “The Living Room Tour.” She had been stumping for presidential candidate John Kerry, going into rich folks’ homes to raise money and, inevitably, to play a song or two. King decided that an intimate series of shows armed with only her piano and a couple of acoustic guitarists (who wisely stayed out of the way for much of the evening) would be a good way to spend the summer. Surprisingly, the only political grandstanding of the evening came when King plugged wilderness protection near her Idaho home (“I moved to Idaho after Tapestry when heavy metal appeared,” King told the audience, laughing) and demanded that people register to vote, regardless of their choice of candidates.


(click for larger version)

Her voice, never a thing of beauty but nevertheless always a perfect fit, has aged with a ragged edge that adds a touch of oddly refined dignity and genuine personality. The only glaring negative was a near-condescending moment when she and the guitarists decided to “write a song from scratch” to give the crowd a taste of the mystery of songwriting—which is really not so mysterious considering that probably 99 percent of the audience had invented an equally stupid little tune at some point in their lives, even if it were only making up melodies to nursery rhymes as kids.

Several of her 1960s hits recorded by others were lumped into a medley, which was understandable given time constraints. A verse and chorus of “Go Away Little Girl,” in which King wished aloud that Donny Osmond was present to perform a duet with her (which would’ve made a near-perfect evening even finer) was certainly better than nothing. A surprising highlight was a full rendition of her Monkees hit “Pleasant Valley Sunday.” Throughout the evening, she chatted amicably to the audience between songs, engaging in stories behind the creation of some of her biggest hits. It really was like having Carole King playing piano in your living room—if your home had been invaded by a wine and cheese brigade staffed by balding, affluent men and middle-aged women with fake breasts and skirts too short for ex-hippies hoisting glasses of Burgundy in toast to Carole King. &

Smoot’s Grandstanding Fools No One

Smoot’s Grandstanding Fools No One

County Commissioner Shelia Smoot turns a deaf ear to her constituency.


September 09, 2004 

“You talk about poor people? I HAVE LIVED BELOW THE POVERTY LINE! Me! I went to a poor school! I didn’t have new books!” bellowed County Commissioner Shelia Smoot. Minutes earlier at the August 24 Jefferson County Commission meeting, Smoot joined Commissioners Larry Langford and Mary Buckelew to approve Commission President Langford’s one-cent tax increase to fund capital projects for the 11 school districts in the county. Langford’s $1 billion school bond proposal has been largely frowned upon due to his rush to get the plan passed. It was first brought to public attention on August 12.

The tax, which does not apply to automobiles and boats, goes into effect January 1, 2005. Fairfield (where Langford served as mayor), Midfield, Tarrant, and Lipscomb will each now have a sales tax of 10 percent. Birmingham will have a nine-percent rate. The tax is expected to be retired when the bonds are paid off around the year 2019. State law allows the commission to implement the tax without public approval.

Smoot purportedly wanted public input to help her make her decision, but it was obvious that she had already decided how she would vote.

Smoot was the so-called “undecided” swing vote, a dramatic role in which she obviously reveled. The night before the commission vote, Smoot held a public hearing in her district at More Than Conquerors Faith Church. Smoot purportedly wanted public input to help her make her decision, but the hearing was a ruse, as it was obvious that she had already decided how she would vote. Several large signs promoting the benefits of the tax increase were posted throughout the room, with one conspicuously mounted in front of the speaker’s podium. It read “A Penny for our Children.” From the outset, Smoot referred to the proposal as “a plan that is going to be historical, a plan that is going to be significant.” The preacher offering the invocation tried to enlist divine intervention. “I invite the Father to help us with the plans. . . . Thank you God for synchronizing our hearts.” He finished by asking God to give Smoot “a mouth of wisdom.” She nodded her head in accord.

Despite Smoot’s claim the next day that only 50 people showed up for the hearing, more than 75 people attended. The overwhelming majority were either opposed to the tax or requested that the County Commission delay their vote. Only four people spoke in favor, including, of all people, the hearing’s moderator, James Williams, from radio station 98.7 KISS FM. Though he insisted that he, like Smoot, had yet to make up his mind on the tax, his words indicated otherwise: “History shows that the lottery didn’t pass, MAPS didn’t pass. If a penny will change our schools, why not do it?”

“Ladies and gentlemen, bricks don’t teach,” said Ronald Jackson, executive director of Citizens for Better Schools and People United. Birmingham resident James King called the plan “a new tax for the new Jim Crow system.” Then he warned county residents that they “may as well bend over and grab their ankles.” A Fairfield resident complained, “This thing has been shoved down our throats!” John Harris of Concerned Citizens for Social Change said that he had not received enough information to make a decision, then asked Smoot to vote “no.” Retired teacher Beatrice Royster said the plan does not really address education, noting that people tend to wrongly think that education is a money problem. She eloquently explained that the purpose of an education is to “teach people how to live and make intelligent decisions.”

At meeting’s end, Smoot continued her diatribe. “Same people with the same rhetoric” was her take on the public hearing. Smoot wants new ideas. She griped that residents are leaving Birmingham, and that highway improvements are allowing potential shoppers to bypass the city. She left little doubt regarding which side she was on, observing, “All the people that are for it are at home, and all the people against it are here!” Stating that she and her family had received threats because of the plan, Smoot was almost in tears. “I will not be turned around. I will not be intimidated . . . This ain’t a black and white issue.” She urged residents to stop by her office anytime. “You don’t have to make no appointment,” she added.

The next day, at the weekly County Commission meeting, Commissioner Larry Langford wandered into the packed audience to berate an opponent of his tax plan. “When you come down here to get contracts, and begging for money, you don’t want a referendum then!” Langford thundered. Commissioner Mary Buckelew said that her 30 years of experience in education prompted her to “feel comfortable with this.” Buckelew added that 25 years of proration were being addressed, saying that those schools that don’t need the money “can give it to the systems that do.”

Back on the dais, Langford’s demeanor now as composed as the meticulously coiffed gray curls on his head, he claimed that he only received one phone call against his tax plan. The commission president then turned his venom on commissioner Bettye Fine Collins, who lost on a motion to take the tax increase to a public vote. “[Collins] didn’t ask for a vote when she got the previous commission to pay for her college education,” Langford said with a smirk. “If I had proposed a penny to build prisons, nobody would be outraged because we are scared to death of our own kids. But we say, ‘Let’s come back and take a penny and add more seats to Legion Field so Alabama will play football there.’” Recognizing the quality education offered by the Hoover, Homewood, Vestavia, and Mountain Brook school systems, Langford made a bizarre comment: “In order to have something good, you have to have something bad to compare it to. We’ve got plenty of bad. It’s time to fix it.”

Commissioner Gary White told the others on the commission that his district, which includes Mountain Brook, Vestavia, and Hoover, is financially stable. White said that yearly reevaluation of property values will adequately provide the money needed for schools. “The people of my district recognize the value of education and have addressed that. They have passed taxes to support education in their communities,” he explained, adding, “I have not heard the outcry for this in my district.” Smoot quickly responded. “Your schools are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. That community does the right thing,” she said. She praised the more affluent municipalities—Hoover, Homewood, Mountain Brook, and Vestavia—for “building playgrounds or moving dollars for schools.” Adopting the tone of a Baptist preacher, she continued: “Now let me tell you where some of the kids in my district come from. They come from a lot of different circumstances that they can’t control at home—environments that some of you wouldn’t put your dog or cat into. . . . You get in your Lexus! You get in your Cadillac! You get in your Mercedes! Go out over the mountain to spend your money! How many of you are gonna go to Midfield today and buy some lunch? How many of you are going to Lipscomb and buy some lunch? . . . People don’t even stop in Lipscomb to get gas!” Smoot was on a roll, and it got stranger as she ranted. “You go out to Tarrant. I had to go through there every day holding my nose from the ABC Coke plant,” she shouted. “You go out to the Food Fair. And you look in the grocery store. And the next time you go pick up something in those communities, they’re selling expired food! Expired meat, people!”

She complained that when her old high school closed, the surrounding school systems refused to take the students. “And when you do take ‘em, you put ‘em in Special Ed!” she scolded. Smoot then criticized those in the county who had not attended her public hearing. “I had 50 people at a public hearing, and 25 of them will come to anything and kill everything, and are paid off under the table to come and shoot at me! Well, guess what? You missed!” There was a slight pause as Smoot dropped her voice to a near whisper and hissed, “You missed.” &

A WIng and a Prayer

A Wing and a Prayer

September 09, 2004An airborne ballet of soaring tricks and flirtations with disaster will dash through the sky at the Wings and Wheels 2004 air show September 25 and 26 at the Shelby County Airport . Led by AeroShell Aerobatic Team daredevils flying North American T-6 Texans (World War II trainer aircrafts known as “pilot-makers”), the show will feature graceful loops and rolls trailed by white plumes of smoke in a display of precision flying maneuvers. Barnstorming ace Greg Koontz will lead the festivities with an inverted mid-air ribbon-cutting stunt in his Super Decathlon flyer. Koontz, who currently operates an aerobatic school in Birmingham, started performing in air shows in 1974 as a member of Colonel Moser’s Flying Circus, a comedy airplane troupe. He is credited with resuscitating the World’s Smallest Airport routine years ago when he landed a Piper Cub on a moving pickup truck. Koontz puts on a dazzling array of snaps and tumbles, vertical rolls, and outside loops. And, most thrilling of all, Koontz is fond of performing at extremely low altitudes.




The gates open at 10 a.m. each day, and admission is $10 for adults, $2 for youths, and children younger than 5 are admitted free. For more information, call 1-866-246-2376 or visit for details.

The Set List — 9-09-2004


September 09, 2004

Janis Ian

Janis Ian was the first musical guest to appear on “Saturday Night Live,” where she sang her ode to lonely, unattractive teenage girls, “At Seventeen.” With its verses about “ugly duckling girls like me” and “inventing lovers on the phone,” one could almost hear the universal sobs emanating from the bedrooms of acne-plagued adolescents. It’s rather odd that she found such a natural connection singing about the younger set, because her teenage years were anything but normal. She had her first hit at 15 with “Society’s Child,” a tale of interracial teen love. Needless to say, she had parents drenched in cold sweat as they perused their children’s albums to find out what other mischief their kids might be getting into. (Friday and Saturday, September 10 and 11, at the Hoover Library Theater; 8 p.m. $20) — Ed Reynolds

The Damnwells

You’d be enjoying a proper interview with The Damnwells if they weren’t the most publicity-averse band in New York City. I used to blame the Epic label for trying to bury this Brooklyn band’s Bastards of the Beat—despite the album being loaded with earnest plainspoken tunes whose lack of pretension is their biggest charm. Smooth and sparse tracks are contrasted with others that work up convincing heads of steam, all brimming with stylistic atmosphere and sheer musical invention.

And if any of those descriptions sound reliably dull, it’s because I lifted a bunch of misleading praise from the Trouser Press reviews for BoDeans and Grant Lee Buffalo. The difference is that you won’t be embarrassed to someday still own a Damnwells album.

The guys in The Damnwells won’t mind that gag, either. They’ve already had to endure plenty of more insulting comparisons—although the real high point was when the indie mag No Depression accused them of sounding like “poor man’s Americana.” It was a bad review, too, which should leave all of us wondering exactly what’s missing from the logic there.

Most likely, what’s missing is the $20 that certain No Depression critics charge for providing positive reviews. Anyway, The Damnwells have recorded one of those Albums of the Year that you’ve never heard of. Actually, it’s kind of refreshing how that’s their own damn fault. (Wednesday, September 15, at The Nick, $7) —J.R. Taylor

Paul “Wine” Jones

Listening to Paul Jones’ raucous, haphazard vocals and runaway train guitar licks, it’s easy to start wondering how he got the nickname. Make that stop wondering. This isn’t juke joint or front porch blues so much as falling-off-the-porch blues, egged on by adult doses of getting-tossed-out-of-the-joint, Mississippi back-roads skronk. It’s a glorious mess, but Jones’ lack of technical proficiency is matched by an appealing lack of pretense; song titles such as “Roll That Woman” and “Guess I Just Fu**ed It All Up” suggest that this artist is what is sometimes referred to as “the genuine article.” If it were possible to isolate the basic elements of Delta and Memphis music, toss them into the trunk of a big ’78 Bonneville, and then get liquored up for an all-night drive to Memphis, you might not recreate Jones’ sound, but you could get dangerously close to his style.

In one respect, someone actually has isolated the elements of Jones’ particular style. A remix of his song “Goin’ Back Home” adds jazz samples and electronic flourishes to Jones’ gritty number, sounding like The Fall and Gang of Four covering Canned Heat, with John Lee Hooker’s vocals. That won’t happen at the live show, but this stunning track can be heard on Jones’ 1999 Fat Possum gem Pucker up Buttercup. (Wednesday, September 15, at Club XS, Tuscaloosa and Tuesday, September 21, at The Nick; $6) —David Pelfrey

The Pierces

It was a strange day when the mail brought The Pierces’ debut CD in 2000. I’d never seen ballerinas from Birmingham who’d grown up to be anything but waitresses and/or heroin addicts. It certainly wasn’t their fault that gorgeous harmonies and ethereal beauty were about to become old hat. The record was pretty impressive, but it was kinda obvious that it wouldn’t age any better than your average Christina Ricci performance.

The Pierces (click for larger version)

And nobody could’ve complained if The Pierces’ long-delayed follow-up was a commercial contrivance. Instead, Light of the Moon is even more unrepentantly gorgeous than the first album, with producer Brian Sperber carefully anchoring their languid sound to a true heart of darkness. Maybe everyone in Birmingham has been enjoying this maturation, but idiots in NYC didn’t have any idea what the gals have been doing lately. Oh, wait—the Strokes guitarist, right? (Wednesday, September 15, at Workplay; 8 p.m. $8) —J.R. Taylor

Billy Joe Shaver

Perhaps the greatest country music outlaw since Johnny Paycheck, Billy Joe Shaver has never strayed far from the working-man ethic embraced by his more famous buddies Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, and the late Waylon Jennings. Shaver played Zydeco several years ago in a quartet that featured his son Eddy assaulting patrons’ ears with a bulldozer guitar attack. Despite his son’s electrified licks, the elder Shaver’s songs retained their stark lyrical and melodic charms. After the show, the band immediately hit the bar to drink and carry on with unattached women. Not Billy Joe. Having been sober for quite a few years after a lifetime of hard drinking and drugging, the ever humble, unpretentious Shaver carried on with business as usual as he broke down and packed up everyone’s gear, including the drummer’s equipment. And he didn’t mind chatting with a stranger while he worked, talking endlessly about how much he missed his dog back home.

Billy Joe Shaver found a way to whip his demons. Unfortunately, his son never did. Eddy Shaver died of a heroin overdose on New Year’s Eve 2001. Devastated, the elder Shaver found solace that night by enlisting Willie Nelson to take his son’s spot in the band at an Austin club in what must have been the most emotional performance of his career.

In a world of boring, generic singer/songwriters too numerous to list, Billy Joe Shaver is the last of a dying breed. Widely regarded as a cowboy poet laureate after Waylon Jennings recorded an entire album of Shaver songs (except for one) on Honky Tonk Heroes, Shaver nevertheless continues to labor in virtual obscurity. And he does it his own way. Who else would record a song written after Kurt Cobain’s suicide and end it with a shotgun blast? (Wednesday, September 22, at Workplay; 7 p.m., $20) — Ed Reynolds

Gene Watson

Like musical legend George Jones, Gene Watson is admired throughout the country music industry as a “singer’s singer” for his smooth but unique vocal delivery. It’s country in the truest sense. Watson spent a decade touring Texas honky tonks before hitting the charts with “Bad Water” in 1975. His only number-one record was the catchy “Fourteen Carat Mind.” But the real diamond in his repertoire is the tearjerker “Farewell Party,” the greatest funeral dirge since the Carter Family sang “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” It’s the ultimate song of self-absorption and self-pity, as Watson sings from the perspective of a corpse peering from his casket, watching his friends bringing him flowers one last time while his true love has the time of her life “at my farewell party.” More creepy than tragic. (Thursday, September 23, at the Cullman County Fair, Cullman) — Ed Reynolds

Marc Broussard

Marc Broussard (click for larger version)

Remember when we used to complain about bands whose soulful roots were as deep as the theme-park camps of Orlando, Florida? At least those kids had an excuse. Marc Broussard is genuinely depressing as the product of both a fine musical heritage and an industry that was supposed to spare us from pop pap. This guy grew up surrounded by some of the best musicians in Louisiana. He was also helped along by the same crappy Americana industry that’s hyped soulless acts such as Ryan Adams. The result has been a major-label career that’s left Broussard fitting in perfectly on bills with Maroon 5 and Gavin DeGraw. The new album’s called Carencro, and it’s just more of a beautiful R&B voice singing useless crap. (Thursday, September 23, at Workplay; 9 p.m. $12) —J.R. Taylor