Review by Peter Karoly

While anyone who knows me would find it hard to believe, I was actually raised on country music. My mother is the kind of person that, once the radio or television is on, it stays on that channel and the one she usually chose in my youth was WXOX, the Big Ox, the Tri-Cities' leader in country music. I have heard my share of Jim Reeves, Marty Robbins, Johnny Horton and Patsy Cline, mostly while all of them were still living.

Because of that steady bombardment of warbles, bangles, and beer-soaked ballads, I have gone on to seek out as many songs of Jimmy Rodgers, Hank Senior, Bill Monroe and Bob Wills that I can find. What I have not sought out is contemporary country music. Having a cowboy hat and a twang in your voice does not necessarily make you a country singer, and the contemporary landscape is just too smooth for me. That doesn't mean that country music can only come from the country, however. Take Cornpone, for instance.

First of all, it takes a lot of guts to call your band Cornpone. It sounds like something that can't be taken too seriously and, one or two transposed letters, and you could be attracting a whole different kind of clientele. Country music has always seemed to have a playful side to it (how long was Hee Haw on television?), and it is that, along with some fine instrumentation, that gives Cornpone a big plus in my book.

I had this disc on the player and was only half listening when I recognized what I thought was a Hank Williams tune called "Long Gone Lonesome Blues" (and he didn't hit all the right notes, either, but it sounds great!). The difference was the lyrics, which had been changed to "Lonesome City Blues," the title track for this CD. This guy was singing about how lonesome he was to get back to the city, and in this case that city was Coleman and he mentioned about being Hemlock-bound! Not only did these guys play country music, but they sang about our area. What could be better than that?

I took a closer look at the titles of the other songs and found ones like "Saginaw," "Hemlock," and "M-46." Now this was getting very intriguing. On "Saginaw" you hear the plaintive lament or acknowledgement that "this place is like a rubber band; you go too far you feel its pull. Saginaw, oh Saginaw, you'll be the death of me. Saginaw, sweet Saginaw, your ground will cover me." In "Hemlock," I laughed out loud to hear the names of many establishments that I have frequented. My college roommate (whose father was the namesake for an elementary school) and I have done more than one tour of duty at the Evergreen as well as Allison's, The Farmer's Home and some of the other places mentioned. "M-46," sung to the tune of "Route 66," speaks of the highlights along that legendary stretch of road.

This three-member group is made up of Big Tex Nate Callison on guitar and high lonesome vocals, Jim "Pone" Potrykus on fiddle and steel guitar, and Jeff "Lowdown" Schrems on doghouse bass. The group has been around for some time and, according to its MySpace page, shared the stage on occasion with some country heavyweights. From what I hear, I think they not only held their own but borrowed and shared some ideas that have turned up in their music. It's not smooth but it's not rough. It's the way country music should sound and I heartily recommend it.

The cover of the CD has a vintage photograph of the interior of a saloon, but the faces of the patrons are hard to make out. On the back cover, the band members are standing in the background and, again, their faces are out of focus and hard to see. I think that is a nice touch and deliberate on the part of the band. After all, it's not really important what they look like. It is important what they sound like. In real country music, it always has been the story that is the most important thing. Cornpone has some stories to tell on "Lonesome City Blues," some of which sound awfully familiar to me, and the result is a collection that I would rank as far closer to classic than contemporary.

The group is scheduled to appear at White's Bar, 2609 State Street, in Saginaw January 11th and 25th (every other Monday is its regular slot) starting at 4pm. If you want to hear what down home country music sounds like, make sure to get a ticket. I don't know where you may be coming from, but I think you can find the way, as well as get some kicks on "M-46."

Peter Karoly is a music enthusiast and an English teacher at Bay City Central High School.

© Peter Karoly, 2009