Social media is currently a small, wooden boat carelessly adrift in a sea of fear, anxiety, boredom and general listlessness. It has given rise to creeping paranoia, despair and a flood of mini-polling data that now informs you as to what 10 random things your friends don’t like, which Tiger King character you most identify with and how much certain friends resemble their firstborn child. In the spirit of the times and a disrupted sleep pattern that found me up way too early on a Sunday morning, we tossed out the query “If you could only listen to one album for the rest of this quarantine, what would it be?”
The answers immediately came pouring in. Everything from classic rock titles like Willy Braun’s choice of Tom Petty’s Into the Great Wide Open to selections as varied as Freddie King, Counting Crows, Nas and Bob Dylan. You found responses in increasing frequency for the likes of Robert Earl Keen, Jack Ingram, Bleu Edmondson, Willie Nelson, Mike McClure and American Aquarium.
It’s a powerful litmus test to ask which record you’d listen to in this scenario we find ourselves in. It must be something you find comforting, familiar and above all great.
There were two albums that generated more responses than all the others. Ryan Bingham’s Mescalito and Cross Canadian Ragweed’s Purple album were not those top two…but were damn close. The staying power and impact of those records could only be rivaled by the top two response getters.
Randy Rogers Band’s Rollercoaster and Turnpike Troubadours Diamonds and Gasoline are genre defying modern masterpieces. They are as strong and vital today as they were upon their respective releases. If anything, they have only grown in stature and importance. The songs, the hooks, the melodies, the sounds, the stories. There is something there for every mood, including surviving a worldwide pandemic.
Look, I’ve written about both of these records at endless lenghts over the years and there isn’t much left to be said in a general sense. But, there’s a reason we all keep returning to them. It’s the angst in Rogers’ voice on “Down and Out”, it’s the familiarity of Felker’s awkwardness in “7&7”. It’s the loneliness of Rogers’ in “Somebody Take Me Home” and the same emotion found from Felker in his title track. It’s the fiery fiddling of Brady Black on the former and the twangy tele of Ryan Engelman on the latter. And so on.
One important touchtone that I’m not sure many of us have covered over the years is the production geniuses behind each album. Two legends helped create two legendary albums. Radney Foster was behind the console for RRB and Mike McClure for Turnpike. In each case, the producer’s fingerprints can be found, yet not in an overwhelming sense. This is a case of them realizing what they had in front of them and gently guiding it to destiny. Much like the coach of a once in a generation player. You may call the play and help scheme it up, but the player has to execute. And these bands and songwriters executed the plays beautifully.
It’s funny, I haven’t gone back and listened to either album front to back in quite some time. Sure, many of the songs populate my favorite playlists; but it had been a minute since I started at track 1 and let it ring until the last note dried up. Since we threw up this poll online I’ve gone back and done just that a couple times over. It’s cathartic. It’s a reminder of better times and the good times that will come once more.
So, really I could’ve probably predicted the end result without us running this poll. Once you get past the bedrock albums that founded this scene. You know, the ones from Jerry Jeff, Pat, Willie, REK, Jack, etc, it’s constantly been these two on top of the mountain for over a decade now. For good reason.
Which album would I listen to if I could only pick one to listen to for the rest of the quarantine? I think I’ll cheat and answer with two. You already know what they are.