It is a tale as old as time itself. As above so below. Yin and Yang. The explored and the unexplored. The hero’s journey, any and all of them, are exposed to the eternally enduring dance of chaos and order. We must leave the garden, enter into the forest to find the gold, kill the dragon, and return back to where we began, returning back more harmonized, realized, and higher frequency than we began.
Musically, Cosmic Country takes this pattern and uses it as its sole fuel for the soul and all of its musical fruits. Cosmic Country is an approach that uses simplicity, complexity, and truth to tell stories of life that bring beauty and goodness into reality. This 9-track mixtape I have assembled for your enjoyment and exploration today covers some ground of the far-flung lands of music that is Cosmic Country, where the high frequencies fall like rain and blossom like lilies in the fields that never end nor never began. Let’s get Cosmic. – Daniel Donato
“Honky Tonk Night Time Man” – Merle Haggard
This is a country song. But just like any country, there is more nuance to be discovered and brought to light than meets the eye. This is an archetypal honky-tonk song. A few of these will be on here. Honky-tonk songs cover truthful states of life that apply to all of our brothers and sisters sojourning in space and time together down on this chaotic planet. This song talks about relief from the grind and finally getting around to what is right for the soul when quittin’ time comes around.
“Doggone Cowboy” – Marty Robbins
This is also a country song, but it is also more nuanced than that. This is a cowboy song. The cowboy is one of the great American archetypes. The cowboy embraces a life of service, hard work, endurance, adventure, and most enduringly, faith. It takes faith to stay patient and persistent in pursuing your work through realms of chaos that you must travel through and come out on the other side stronger than you did prior. Marty had a way of personifying sorrow, acceptance, reflection, and hope in his delivery of these transcendant, simple lyrics.
“Mystery Train” – Jerry Reed
It can’t be fully Cosmic Country unless it moves you. Internally, songs move us, but sometimes the pocket and groove move us externally, which is a brilliant expression of personality. What I love about this song is that Jerry Reed always had a vision in his mind that could create a groove for people to dance to and for players to have fun-expression in. Everyone knows “Mystery Train,” but this version can make any club, honky tonk, theatre, or arena dance and move all together. Bonus points for a train song. Everyone loves a train song.
“Everybody’s Talkin’” – Harry Nilsson
The bottomline is that we are on our own trip. It is an individual experience of life, personality, and dynamics that only you experience. No one will ever live your life for you or as you. Songs that find promise and truthful reflection on the truly individualized nature of existence are my favorite. The movie Midnight Cowboy turned me onto this song when I was 16. I’ve never wished I had written another song as much as this American classic.
“I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You)” – Hank Williams
The Shakespeare of country music. The man who was able to take the power of the word – through a Western lens of faith, hardship, and hard living – and deliver to us some of the most truthful and beautiful songs composed of themes ranging from love, loss, religious experience, jail time, honky tonkin’, and the universe. This song specifically has a brilliant form to it, just one verse and two B sections, coupled with that classic lap steel signature sound from Don Helms.
“Waiting for a Train” – Jimmie Rodgers
Any storyteller of American songs, country songs, any songs based in truth and experience, must tip their “Slouch Hat” to Jimmie Rodgers in one way or another. A lot of everything country begins with the songbook of Jimmie Rodgers. This song is just a fantastic story through and through. The lyrical furniture, the sophisticated use of actual terms of water tanks, brakemen, boxcar doors, all bring the listener into the simulated reality that this song conjures.
“Long Black Veil” – Lefty Frizzell
Murder songs are a necessity. The reaper takes his toll, and with that, law and order speak their truth. One of the brilliant elements of this song is that the perspective is from the deceased character. That is innately Cosmic, especially given the window of time this song was released. Lefty was one of Merle’s favorite vocalists, and was the band leader with which Roy Nichols and Merle Haggard first played together when Merle was 16.
“You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” – The Byrds
Even though Bob Dylan penned this one on the side of the road, in the rain, waiting for a motorcycle fix, The Byrds – with Gram Parsons and Clarence White – deliver to us one of the most archetypal Cosmic Country recordings there will ever be. The instrumentation, the vocal melody, and harmonies on this song alone explain this sentiment, but the lyrical detail is another universe worth noting with great reverence. The olden language of the great folk songs of America inform the meter and colloquialisms in this song, giving it an ability to exist in the past through its roots, the present through its great orchestration and arrangement, and the future through its seeds of truth, beauty, and goodness – the only values in any creation that endow it to persist through the fleeting episodes of space and time.
“Truck Drivin’ Man” – Buck Owens
If I left out truck driving songs, then everybody from my time at Robert’s Western World would be ashamed of me. The truck driver is a minister of the highways, the great vehicle of true exploration and discovery. The eternal, long white line drags on and on, and the road songs of her fruits just keep coming, but some of the great ones came from Capitol Records in L.A. in the early ’60s.
An element of Cosmic Country that this song relates to is the overall “sound.” What is “the sound?” It is ultimately unqualifiable – it cannot be fully explained or qualified by words – especially when The Sound is doing what it can be doing in potential, which is rendering feelings that hit deeper than words can describe. With the Transcendant Twang of Don Rich’s Telecaster, the immensely clean and powerfully compressed sound of Mickey Cantu’s snare drum, along with that Tic-Tac Fender Bass playing, Buck Owen’s vocal and story rests upon a divinely simple and reverberated landscape of country gold. If there ever was a record that “sounds” like a country song, this one certainly qualifies.
Photo Credit: Jason Stoltzfus