By HAP MANSFIELD
It is arguable whether Country music is best written and sung by a southerner, but it is undeniable that its roots are plunged deeply in the South. It would be equally true to say that today’s Country and Western music is not the same as your dad’s or your grandpa’s, although it does owe a considerable amount to the past. Jordan Minor, local songwriter and musician, embodies both a Southern disposition and modern sensibilities in his work.
The South is in his blood. Georgia born, he lived, if for a while, in South Carolina before moving with his parents to Texas when he was 10.
“I’ve never lived above the Mason-Dixon line,” Minor chuckles. “I’ve always lived in the south.”
But he also listened to the music of his generation, and this variety informs his music.
“I suppose my favorite musician when I was in Middle School was Tupac (Tupac Shakur, legendary urban hip-hop/rap artist), but it pretty much changed every year – Townes van Zandt, Hank Williams, Bob Wills,” he said. “And I’m a big fan of Billy Jo Shaver.”
A young musician with varied tastes, Minor, 24, signals the change that has taken place in Country music over the years. Younger audiences can be enthralled with My Morning Jacket and still love The Carter Family, they can relate to Missy Elliot and Hank Williams. The lines are blurring between genres as people repeatedly cross over them. So one fan can describe Minor’s music as “Outlaw Country,” and another propose the term “Thinking Man’s Western Soul,” and yet another can say “Southern-Fried Irish Folk,” and all these terms, different as they are, seem equally correct.
It’s true that Minor’s songwriting approach slants in at a diagonal angle, not straight-out country homespun folk, not anthemic country pop, but an unusual amalgam of the two with a decidedly independent twist.
“Yeah,” he smiles, “I’m tryin’ to parachute in.”
The “parachute” technique has helped him avoid the trendy, shallow, country/western stereotype. His music is oddly refreshing and less imitative than most, while still maintaining a faithful country heart. On his song about Billy the Kid, “The Ballad of William Bonney,” there is the distinct wail of a rock guitar threading through the tune, mournful and wild. It seems fitting in spite of its non-traditional sound.
Take his critically acclaimed song, “Still Shinin’,” as another example of his unusual skills. The song relates the tale of a man who is growing marijuana between the stalks of his corn crop, just to keep his farm from going under. He says he has bootlegging in his blood. The still his grandpa used sits in his barn. This could have been a simple-minded anthem about grass and white lightnin’, but Minor makes it much more than that. It’s a song that touches on the complex problems of rural America, the class struggle of rich vs. poor, the sad ironies of veterans of foreign wars and a parched thirst in this country for justice. His song’s narrator says, sadly, “I still thank Jesus every morning, but I can’t get no government relief.”
All of Minors’ ballads are well-painted pictures. In, “On The Rails,” he tells of an immigrant Irish railroad worker who trades stories at mealtimes with the other workers, talking “of the ones we let down,” back in the home country. The song is a full story with a beginning, middle and an end. It has the traditional rousing chorus, “String up the fiddle and pour me a pint,” but there’s also a concise history of this Irishman, ending with his praises for America, “this beautiful land.” Other songwriters would take ten laborious verses to tell you what Minor tells you in three. While this exhibits his fine craftsmanship, Minor’s expressive voice certainly enhances the nuances of each song.
Minor says he learned much of the art of how to write a song from Kent Finlay and his Songwriters Circle, a weekly event of song exchanges and craft honing at the Cheatham Street Warehouse.
“I was taking Kent Finlay’s class at Southwest (now Texas State) and he invited me to his songwriter’s night,” Minor said. “It really helped me with writing tunes. You really have to bring something new to the table. Every night, it’s a challenge. ”
Finlay is proud of both Minor’s exceptional skills and knowledge of his musical predecessors.
“Of all the years I have been teaching that class [History of Country Music], only two students have ever gotten 100 on the final. Jordan was one of them,” Finlay beams.
Finlay is such a proponent of Minor’s work that he is helping him record his first release. They are working carefully on each song.
“Well, I have no label yet, but Kent’s been producing it – that’s the songs you can hear on MySpace,” Minor said. “We’re about half-through with it,” Minor said.
Jordan’s music can be found at myspace.com/jordanminormusic.
Perhaps some of Minor’s songwriting genius stems not only from the sage advice of Finlay, but because he is an avid reader. His taste in reading matter once again exhibits his extraordinary range of tastes. He cites Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn” as a favorite book. He also enjoys Larry McMurtry and Louis L’Amour.
“I just finished reading ‘Women,’ by Charles Bukowski,” Minor said. “I like biographies a lot. ‘Scar Tissue,’ by Anthony Kiedis of The Red Hot Chili Peppers is really good, too.”
Minor works a construction job in Austin by day and plays music by night. He is featured every Tuesday at the Cheatham Street Warehouse, accompanied by a revolving set of adept musicians known as The Bottom Dollar Band. While fame and fortune are often the motivating forces in people blessed with musical talent, Minor remains humble.
“If I could make a living at this, I’d be more than happy,” Minor said. “I don’t think I could do anything else. I’ve just got to make music.”
Lucky us. All we have to do is listen.Email | Print