MUSIC TO COOK BY
Music and food are something intertwined for me. One comes with the other. A day in the kitchen is a day set to music. For me, it’s something that aids in focus and exhorts the emotions that come out in the flavors that appear on your table.
Here are a few albums I’ve been turning to lately. It’s not a top ten, it’s just another tool in my kitchen that helps my cooking, which in turn helps block out the preceding 12 hours I’ve spent with the day and it’s various pressures.
Guy Clark, Texas Cookin’
Before I moved to Austin and then for a brief period when I left, I used to listen to this album to get amped up for the food I would eat on my return. Aside from having possibly the greatest song ever written about food, it’s got some of the best gutwrenchers around. If you’ve never experienced Guy Clark, today would be a good day to make a pot of Texas Red, drink a case of Lone Star, listen to this album on repeat and then watch Heartworn Highways—by the end of it you’ll probably feel about like the boys do in the Christmas scene.
Songs taste like: A big old sausage with a big old plate of ranch style beans.
Kathleen Edwards, Asking for Flowers
There are few voices that bridge confused feelings, lovable yearning and just plain sexy levels of emotional damage the way Katheen Edwards voice does. She’s one of the best, and best sounding, of a current group of songwriters out there, at least for me. And she’s Canadian, which I forgive her for. A good listen to “Sure as Shit” and you’ll be hooked.
Her songs taste like: cold pasta that you eat by yourself, with a cigarette butt in it.
Townes Van Zandt: High, Low and In Between
Townes was a drunk. And arguably an overall ugly person. But goddamnit if he couldn’t write beautiful things. Unlike anyone else, besides maybe Neil Young, his songs speak to a larger philosophical truth like nobody’s business. I sing songs off this album every night to my daughter because I can’t think of anything that could possibly be more important to say.
Songs taste like: Vodka. Townes didn’t go much for solid diets. But if he did, it would be the best food you’d ever tasted.
Neil Young: Rust Never Sleeps
I’m a Neil Young freak, and after years of waxing and waning, this to my mind is his best album. “Powderfinger” is a classic with soaring licks and “Thrasher” is the best song ever to start a road trip. Hands down. No questions asked.
Songs taste like: A better version than anything you, myself or anybody else would be capable of.
Terry Allen: Lubbock on Everything
All you really need to know is that he’s a “pan-handlin’, man-handlin’, high-rollin’, dust-bowlin’ daddy.” After that you can get to know “The Beautiful Waitress,” “The Wolfman of Del Rio,” and the naked girl who prefers furniture from France. If you’re in your backyard, and you have a beer, this album will make both immensely more gratifying.
Songs taste like: Something smart and arty but undeniably Texan—let’s call it queso from a fancy restaurant, the velveeta and Ro-Tel fondue of the Hill Country.
Josh Rouse: Nashville
This man is one smooth sonofabitch. He does it better than anybody else. And when you’ve had enough. When you realize you need to be a better, calmer person than you’re being, there’s little better than Josh Rouse. And Nashville is the best of his many smooth, smooth sounds.
Songs taste like: gravy, soup, banana pudding or other smooth foods.
Johnny Paycheck: Greatest Hits (they’re all greatest hits though, aren’t they?)
I’ve been exceptionally enamored with solid country gold since my brother and I enjoyed a weekend in Nashville. And it doesn’t get more solid country or gold than Johnny Paycheck. You can hear the poor life decisions that he’s glossing over in favor of singing about something more glamorous… like going to prison, drinking 15 beers or cutting peoples’ ears off—those are his better moments.
Songs taste like: Colorado Kool-Aid, and probably a truck stop heat lamp hamburger.
Vietnam: [Self Titled]
Hairy Brooklyn hippy-dippy hipsters that made one amazing album and then seam to have disappeared. It’s a great album in the afternoon when you’re making stock and they’re singing about the peaceful paranoia of being stoned. You’re probably not stoned but the stove and the ipod will make you plenty relaxed.
Songs taste like: A 70s classic, like maybe tater-tot casserole, reheated and sprinkled with herbs for a little freshness.
Josh Ritter: The Animal Years
Yes, he has newer albums. Yes they’re amazing. But this album haunts your brain with lonely, exasperated diffidence. It serves as a sublimely written, existential “fuck you” to everything. Which is a great soundtrack to cooking after a long day, or perhaps after being overlooked in a yearlong meat-curing exhibition that maybe got into your head more than it should have… Maybe.
Songs taste like: A year’s worth of cured pork over a bed of sour grapes.
Bruce Springsteen: Darkness on the Edge of Town
Yet another howling and angry bitchfest aimed at a life of toil with little to hope for in return, outside of sleeping in a bed and waking up to face it all again in the morning. “Factory” lets you know what work has in for you and “Racing in the Street” tells you exactly how your free time ends—with a directionless working class angst and yearning for something beyond your control. Perfect after a long day working as an ad exec toiling away on your ass in front of your Mac, worrying about why “they” don’t like your ideas.
Songs taste like: A can of cold Nally chili, because the man turned off the power to your hotplate… but he can never turn off your passion.