Del McCoury and friends stick it to the Men


Times are tough. Down the street from my house, traffic was backed up on Duval and 45th in all directions yesterday because the corner convenience store was selling regular unleaded gas for $2.59/gallon. That would have been ludicrous just a few months ago.

Del McCoury feels our pain, though. The bluegrass patriarch recently curated a compilation of hard-time tunes, Moneyland, which will be released in early July. Featuring artists like Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris, Bruce Hornsby, and Mac Wiseman, the album is equal parts empathetic consolation and political outrage at a government that has left the common folks behind. Bookended by two recordings of FDR Depression-era Fireside Chats, the intent is clear. The politicians may dance around the idea of a recession, using every euphemism other than the truth, but the public knows when to call a spade a spade.

Most scathing is the title track by McCoury. He opens:

“Now it’s a pity to see/When the land of the free/Turns out to be/Nothin’ but a free for all.”

McCoury’s “40 Acres and a Fool” follows suit, if a bit more playfully, castigating the class of new money ranchers that care neither about the job nor the land. He also contributes a bluegrass cover of the Beatles' “When I’m 64,” an odd choice, but set within the context of the other songs, a poignant plea.

Haggard contributes the other prominent voice on the album, balancing McCoury’s string band spite with a more everyman perspective. “What Happened?,” released last year on Hag’s The Bluegrass Sessions, strikes like “Are the Good Times Really Over (I Wish a Buck Was Still Silver)” as he ponders, “What happened, where did America go? Everything Wal-Mart all the time. No more mom and pop five and dimes.”

His duet with Marty Stuart on “Farmer’s Blues” is a powerful lament, and the classic “If We Make It Through December” wrings a new desperation. Haggard’s best contribution to the comp may be the song he actually doesn’t sing, however. “Mama’s Hungry Eyes,” which is here performed by Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, is ripped with ache, recognition of the tough times we’ve been through as we stand on the brink of facing them again.

By far the best song on the album, though, is Patty Loveless’ version of the Darrell Scott coal-mining classic, “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive.” The stark banjo and the moaning ache of Loveless’ voice invest the song with a visceral loss. Kentucky native Chris Knight’s “A Train Not Running” falls somewhere between Springsteen and Robert Earl Keen, while bluegrass legends Mac Wiseman and Dan Tyminski offer the medley “I Wonder How the Old Folks Are At Home/ I’d Rather Live by the Side of the Road” and “Carry Me Across the Mountain,” respectively. Bruce Hornsby presents an excellent new version of his “The Way It Is,” which is worth hearing even if it feels a bit stylistically out of place on the album.

Alongside the Fireside Chat samples, the album begins and ends with “Breadline Blues.” Bernard “Slim” Smith’s 1932 version opens the album and a contemporary remake with McCoury, Wiseman, Tim O’Brien, Gillian Welch, and David Rawlings closes. The latter recasts the plea to vote for change into a 2008 setting, and though the political positioning of the album remains ambivalent, the call to address the economic situation remains steadfast. Moneyland isn’t the kind of compilation that would necessarily affect political change, but it’s an important statement for a genre whose populist pull generally leans conservative.

The 2021-2022 Austin Music Awards Music Poll is underway. Vote now for your favorite bands, venues, and music until January 31.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Del McCoury
ACL Music Fest Live Shots
The Del McCoury Band
Friday, Sept. 14, Zilker park

Doug Freeman, Sept. 21, 2007

More by Doug Freeman
What We're Listening To Right Now
What We're Listening To Right Now
Kydd Jones, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, Rose Sinclair, Carson McHone, and Berkshire Hounds

Jan. 21, 2022

Crucial Concerts for the Coming Week
Crucial Concerts for the Coming Week
Mike & the Moonpies lead a stacked Sagebrush bill, plus Joey DeFrancesco, Destroyer of Light, the War on Drugs, Thor & Friends, and Clem Snide

Jan. 14, 2022


Del McCoury, Merle Haggard

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle