Graded on a Curve:
The Naysayer,
“Pure Beauty”

Country music is the province of hard-luck stories. Losers, cheaters, boozers, feckless lovers, unfaithful honky-tonk angels, drifters, ramblers, and busted gamblers—country music has a place for all of them. But few bands have wrung every last ounce of angst out of country living way The Naysayer (not to be confused with the punk band from Richmond, VA) has. A band composed primarily of Cynthia Nelson (formerly of Retsin) and Anna Padgett (along with a number of collaborators), The Naysayer is a veritable doom and gloom machine, and they’d be too much of a bummer to handle if they didn’t transmute all the pain in their songs into sublime humor.

The alt-country band bring a sharply honed intelligence to their songs, enough to make you think they studied at the knee of John Prine or Kinky Friedman. The finely observed details and darkness in their songs bring to mind Killdozer, another band that played songs about shitty bad luck for laughs. Don’t get me wrong; they do more than just deliver punch lines, but on their 2003 EP “Pure Beauty” they knock off five songs, four of which are guaranteed to make you laugh through your tears.

Anna Padgett’s voice is deadpan and her guitar is great, and they open with “Waitin’ and Datin’,” the woeful tale of a woman who dies and goes to Heaven, and realizes her lover isn’t about to stay celibate until he meets her there. “Looks like you might all change your minds/Before you up and die,” she sings as she watches from her heavenly perch as her beloved slow dances at a honky-tonk with another woman. She adds, “That’s when the full force hit me/I’m going to be screwed if you quit me.” So she cries in heaven along with all “the other lonely angels in the sky.” “I’m up here waitin’/You’re down there datin’,” she sings, before concluding that all of the men on Earth are “Runnin’ around/Paintin’ the town/Our hands are tied/We’re not around.”

The fast-paced “My Liver Needs a Lawyer” is hilarious, the confession of a woman who is nothing but trouble and knows it. She introduces herself at honky-tonks by singing, “So I wouldn’t lend me money if I were you/And I’d keep that ten-foot pole away from me too,” before concluding, “My liver needs a lawyer, hew hew hew.” She had a guy but gave him away like a “beat-up toy,” but she’s still convinced she’ll find a guy if she changes her ways, which doesn’t seem likely. Seems to me her smartest move is to convince her liver to settle for a plea bargain. “Things Have Gone to Pieces” isn’t played for laughs, but is simply the lovely but woeful first person account of a woman who has had nothing but bad luck since her man left her. She has “three nickels and a dime” in her pockets, the arm fell off her favorite chair, and the faucet has developed a drip, and that’s just the beginning.

“Frank & Terri Ann” is the story of a terrible and violent marriage saved by a horrible accident; Frank burns Terri Ann’s face on a frying pan, and soon becomes “a fixture at all the strip joints/In their little town.” Then one morning Terri’s crying along to the Saturday cartoons while Frank “is under the pickup in the front lawn” when she hears him—the pickup has collapsed on her lout of a husband. She visits him in the hospital where he’s been sent after losing both his arms, and she says she loves him and says he should stay with her, and they live happily ever after. Her take on this case of marital therapy by double amputation is to sing, “Love sweet love, what a mysterious force/Can’t direct its path/And you can never know its course.” And concludes that, “The illusive key sought by all/Is love between woman and man/It’s all around us/It’s right beside us/And to seize it you need no hands.” And good thing, because Frank doesn’t have any.

Which brings us to “Pure Beauty,” the most phallus-centric song, perhaps, in the whole rock canon. It opens with these great lines: “Your dick is like a stick of pure beauty to me/As I lay me to sleep it’s all that I see/Your dick is like a stick of pure beauty to me/So please, please, won’t you give it to me.” His dick, she sings, is worth far more than gold, and she wants to grow old with it, and then there comes a lovely guitar solo, at which point Padgett again pleads for her mate’s lovely member. A wonderful song, and one that reminds me of Henry Miller’s great description of an erection, to wit, “A piece of lead with wings on it.”

The Naysayer is a primo alt-country band, what with their spunk and their talent and their humorous take on the country tradition. They bring to mind “You Never Even Called Me by My Name,” the great C&W tune sung by David Allen Coe, in which every country cliché in the book is included in one hilarious verse. “My Liver Needs a Lawyer” is an instant classic, as are “Pure Beauty” and the wonderful “I Just Left Myself” and “Dead End Road” off their 2002 LP Heaven, Hell or Houston. It was some dickhead, the late Christopher Hitchens to name names, who wrote an entire essay on how women aren’t funny. Obviously he never listened to The Naysayer. Or to any other female on the Planet Earth for that matter. Too bad a pickup never fell on him. Might have changed his attitude. Sure worked with Frank.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A

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