KELLY PARDEKOOPER – Haymaker Heart
(2004 Leisure Time Records)
Kelly Pardekooper knows his roots-rock history, but darned if doesn’t repeat it anyway. “Folk This (Kelly Cougar)” traces the alt-country movement from its Dylan beginnings (name-checking “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Maggie’s Farm”) through John Mellencamp to today’s practitioners, referencing Uncle Tupelo, SonVolt, the Old 97s, Ryan Adams, Richard Buckner and Robbie Fulks in a name-that-tune closing sentence. Though the song is basically an amusing dig at urban-cowboy types who pretend to be something they’re not (whether it’s folkies or country boys) he demonstrates an impressive knowledge of the genre, and it’s pretty damn catchy, too.
Moving to Madison from Nashville last year for a girl, he brought with him his fine 2004 release Haymaker Heart. Produced and played mostly by Pardekooper and John Svec, they had some high-profile help from modern bluesman Teddy Morgan, who was the one that convinced him to move to Nashville from Iowa in the first place. Haymaker opens, appropriately enough, with “Not In Iowa,” a Calexico-flavored slow burner haunted by accordion and gentle Spanish-inflected electric guitar. It’s an intriguing beginning to a disc full of treasures. The gently reassuring “Tell Me (You’re the One)” follows; or maybe he’s the one looking for reassurance with honest lines like “Tell me you’re the one that’ll always drive me crazy / Tell me you’re the one that still wants to have my baby.”
On rockers like the it’s-all-over-now “Down” and the bitter anti-gentrification rant “21st Century Trailer Park,” he growls the way Steve Earle used to before all he sang about was politics. In the latter he spits bile at developers who keep putting up soulless cookie-cutter condos while he admits that “You tend to get numb and you kind of get down / When they’re fuckin’ up your hometown.” Anyone who has watched the condos springing up all over Madison recognizes the universality of his complaint. In contrast, the gently strummed “Old Car,” on which Dave Moore trades in his accordion for a harmonica, conveys all the heartbreak of an Alejandro Escovedo song, though it’s hard to imagine a sentiment sadder than the one in “Just Shoot Me” (“My heart’s already gone, and my body can’t have long / Go on shoot me, so the rest of me can die”).
Everything about the record rings true and honest, from the alcohol anthem “Drinking Alone Again” in which he asks the bartender to “just line ‘em up and I’ll shoot ‘em down” to the half -dozen “Haymaker Bonus Tracks,” the classic country rockers that close the record. For this reason the spoken segment before the final track is quite jarring. A poem read in a foreign language, it sounds so completely out of place with everything before it that you wonder if there was an error in production. Aside from that, Haymaker Heart is nearly seventy very enjoyable minutes of the good kind of country.