Monday, June 19, 2017

Music Review: The Nashville Sound by Jason Isbell

Have you ever heard that old saying, "The early bird gets the worm?" My experience has proven this to be true. In 2006, my brother and I went with a group of friends to Charlotte so we could see one of our favorite bands, The Black Crowes. Being the musical enthusiasts we've always been, we showed up early so we could see the opening bands as well. The very first opener was the Drive-By Truckers who (at the time) were sporting guitar slinger/songwriter, Jason Isbell. Unfortunately, this was at a time when that era of the band was speeding into a tumultuous halt and Jason Isbell would soon no longer be a member anymore. Several albums and a couple of Grammy's later, Jason Isbell has proven he's not intimidated by unemployment.

Listening to Jason Isbell's records, with and without the Truckers, is like reading his personal journal. With the Truckers and his first few albums with his band, the 400 Unit, you get to hear the pissed off teenager/young adult with a chip on his shoulder and a substance abuse problem. His last two albums, Southeastern and Something More Than Free, found a sober-minded Jason Isbell reaching for his acoustic and tackling serious subject matter like his newfound sobriety, his relationship with Amanda Shires, and becoming an adult. I thoroughly enjoyed those two albums because they helped me through a time in my life when I was dealing with similar issues. I was anxious to see whether his new album, The Nashville Sound, would continue building the same momentum or if he would coast off the recognition he's been getting. Sometimes when an artist starts getting noticed they tend to either take a more commercial direction and isolate the fan base of their earlier material, or they just keep it cool and invite new fans to be a part of the freak show.

The answer, for me personally, is the momentum continues. The opening statement, “Last of My Kind,” is incredible. It fades in with the impression that there was a live jam in the studio which segued into the song. It fades out the same way. Jason Isbell employed Dave Cobb, once again, to produce the album and I would bet my assumptions are true given that he prefers to do everything by take instead of tracking individually. The next song, “Cumberland Gap,” will be a breath of fresh air for those who missed the in your face approach of Isbell's earlier work. “Tupelo” is another standout track for me. I could have listened to the band stretch this one out for another seven or eight minutes. It's got a nice folk rock sensibility to it with a chorus you'll be singing for days.

On “If We Were Vampires” Jason Isbell proves once again how well he can write a love song. The strange thing is this song and one of the later tracks, “Chaos and Clothes,” wouldn't feel out of place on an adult alternative playlist alongside the Head & the Heart or the Shins. Being all over the place but still making it sound like yourself seems to come naturally to Mr. Isbell. The last track of the album, “Something to Love,” brought back some of the same emotions I felt when I heard his song, “Outfit,” for the first time. These two songs sound nothing alike but they take me to the same place in my mind. As a Georgia boy who lives in California, I've journeyed far from home but sometimes someone will say or do something that takes me on a trip across the country while my body is stays one location. I'd have to say he really saved the best for last by putting this song at the very end.

As I said earlier, listening to Jason Isbell's albums is like reading his journals. The personal depth of his lyrics is what keeps me on my toes every time he announces he has a new album coming out. When I'm pissed off I can reach for one of his earlier albums and indulge in those emotions. When the sentiments of marriage and fatherhood tug at my heartstrings I can listen to this album or one of the two it was prefaced by. Jason Isbell is a very diverse artist and his music has something for everyone. The Nashville Sound is another fine chapter in the story that is Jason Isbell.

Bio Matthew Westmoreland (or Matty, as his friends call him) was born in South Carolina, grew up in Georgia, and rambled everywhere in between. Currently located in Mendocino, California with his wife and two sons, he spends his days writing songs and his evenings listening to & reviewing albums for Story & Grit before gigs. Look for his debut album in late 2017 and keep up with him in the meantime at

Monday, June 12, 2017

Red Dirt Revival by W.A. Coleman

Red Dirt Revival

"Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction."
-Blaise Pascal
Boy was tryin ta sell me on it just bein a lisp. . . but I wasn't buyin it none. He seemed ta liked timing his appearances with my fentynl fixes. In the hindsight now, I know why he did it. He didn't want ta have ta be dealing with all my wits.

He wasn't no Christmas special angel, that's for sure. He was a tall, gangly, sassy, skinny as a rail nigger that seemed to have left all his yes sa's back at home. He was fairly well dressed, I’ll give him that, but all I can ever think about when I see me a polished up negra in a blazer, is a busted ape late for a court date. But more than him bein way too black for holy in my book, was that lisp a his that had me worried.

"Angels don't got no lisps." I told em.

"Who says?" He tells me with a clean tongue that sounded so clean, so far from home, it sounded like a textbook was talking to me.

He jus looked at me.

"Am I dyin."

He nodded.

"How much longer?" I asked and he shrugged.

"You don't know?"

"I do not."

"How can you not know?"

"It isn't up to me."

"But I am on deck?"

He nodded.

"Where's your halo?" I asked.

"We don't wear halo's. That's just in the movies." He told me.

"Where's your wings?"

"We don't wear wings. That's just in the movies."

I look at him. I'm not convinced. He looks at me and grins a bit. He knows I ain't convinced.

"Where bouts you from?"

"I'm not from anywhere." He tells me.

"So you's born this way?"

He nods. "Yeah." He confirms.

"You was born an angel?"

"Mhmm." He tells me with this kinda slimy salesman's grin. I look at him. I look at him hard and he knows that I caught that lyin twinkle in his eye.

I sigh.

"If you gonna spoon feed me your bullshit, boy, you best spice it up a bit more."

He laughs.

"I'm from California. . . originally" he says and all I can do is sigh and then rub the frustration outta my eyes. "Southern California actually. . . round the Torrance area."

"Mhhmm." I say shaking my head and sighing my disapproval.

"We moved up north when I was in high school," he says beginnin ta drone on and on.

"Lived in Seattle for a. . ."

"Yeah, you can stop any time you want. . . Wanted to know where yu's from, not your whole. . . entire life story."

He stops.

"Listen, you seem like a sensible young man, so don't take this personal. . . Or. . . hell, take it personal I don't care. . . but do us both a favor. . . just go back up and tell Him. . . tell Him I want someone else."

"Tell who?"

"Who you think! The boss man!" I say pointin ta the holy heavens.

"Oh. . . ya mean Allah? Yeah, I could ask," he says.

I look at him startled at first and he maintains his seriousness for as long as he can before he then burst into an explosion of laughter.

"I'm just messing with you." He tells me like it's just nothin.

I grit my teeth.

"That there's blasphemy."

He laughs some more.

"Best you holster that shit when you's around me."

"So what you’re suggesting, is that you want me to go ask the Lord. . . that you would prefer a white angel?"

"You don't have ta say it like that."

"Why not?"

"Cause it makes me sound like an asshole."

He laughs. It seems like I'm real entertaining to him.

"How do you want me to say it?"

"I don't know. . . just tell Him you think. . . think that maybe be best for Roger ta work, work with his own breed."

He snickers at the thought.

"I mean, I ain't picky. . . I’ll even take a half breed if that's all that's available."

"I'm only half black."

"Half black?"

"That's what I said."

"What's the other half? Negra?" I tell him laughin my ass off. He bows his head and rubs the frustration outta his eyes now too. I guess I'm irritating him as much as he's irritating me.
I look at him for a second, rubbin his eyes. What a dainty little thing he is.

"That ain't no lisp you got. . . is it?"

He flips me off without lookin while continuing ta rub his eyes.

"You’s a fag, ain't you?"

"I don't like that word." He says liftin his face quickly outta his hands.

"You dont?" I tell em, pokin out my bottom lip at him.

He walks up right to me and gets in close and mad dogs me. He gets right in my face. I feel wind, his nostrils flare. I get a little scared. My fear hides behind my smile.

"Boo!" He says makin me jus bout jump off my bed as he disappears into a heavy gust a wind.

* * *

"Is the water warm enough." That big nurse asks me while paintin my body with a soapy lather.

"Hands rougher than a. . . a damn cotton picker’s!"

"I’m sorry, I’ll go easier."

I look at her in disdain. This negra, wrapped in a professional’s wrapper.

"You okay, baby?"

"No. I aint."

"What's wrong?"

"My angel’s a faggot!"

She doesn't respond.

"A faggot." I say shakin my head and I continue to complain about it and I go on ta explain ta her my run in with the little wingless, brown fairy and in my head I'm talkin with clear concise words, but they come out quiet and weak and incoherent, which she only semi listens to.

"Don't wanna talk to him no more." I say beginnin ta tear up and I hate ta cry in front a others. "Can’t be in there alone. . . don't ya, don't ya be puttin me up alone."

"You just dreamin."

"Nigger child. . . you don't know! You don't know shit from shinola!" I tell her splashin water.

"Shh. . . shh. . . shh. . . it’s ok, Roger. . . it'll be alright. . . baby. . . just, just. . ."

"You don't know!" I yell to her my tears streamin.

"Let me get some’n ta help you sleep....ok?"

I keep arguin with her but it only comes out my mouth like screams. And I keep yellin and I push her outta the way and try ta get outta the tub but I can't walk and I hear that big ol woman yellin for help and this big ol nigger and this even bigger ol dumb lookin red headed Yankee come in ta restrain me and they give me some meds and I get real sleepy.
* * *

I lie in my bed and I can taste them meds circulatin in me. . . posionin my blood and my mind. I look over and see the black boy jus gazes out that blackened hospital window that mirrors the inside of the room more than it does peer out on ta that pitch dark, moon less night. He has his arms crossed and I jus stare at him. Every so often he looks at me lookin, before quickly lookin away and shakin his head in disgust.

"You can leave at anytime." I tell him.

He responds by just rolling his neck and dilating them ram air nostrils a his.

"Was it your mother. . . or your daddy, which one was the nigger?"

He ignores me.

"I only askin cause you's lookin at me like I fucked your momma. . . but I don't fuck negras."

He just ignores me while keepin his gaze on and out the window.

"Now if it was your momma that was the whitey. . . well, no promises." I tell him and he, once again ignores me. "Whats your name?"

He looks at me.

"What's your name? Least give me that if yu's jus gonna hang around." I tell him.


"You ain't no angel are you, David?"

That little grin a his comes out again.

"Who are you?"

"You don't remember me at all. . . do you?" He says.

"No." I say firmly.

"Do I need to refresh your memory?" He tells me and I look at him and I begin to feel a gentle warm breeze in the room like we's outside and I gulp a little cause I was a little afraid, and then I'm hit with what feels like a jolt of electricity and it makes me bridge in my bed and grimace against these painful little spasms that seem ta bust through all them pain killers that are supposed ta be sheildin me from pain, and each memory rides atop the jolt a pain and  I see a negra on the asphalt, his face blood soaked. Me and the boys we's got em down. We's tap dancin on his noggin and my toes ache, the full memory comes through in my toes. And I come to and look on at David and I realize that he was one them fags me and my buddies, we put a beat down on outside of some dive bar, some, way long time ago.

"Wrong color, wrong persuasion for you, huh." He tells me. "Just couldn't help yourself could you?" David says and then there's another strike a white light and it's me on the asphalt and my boys are kickin me, and I come to in my bed and I rub my face and I look at my palms and I'm  bleedin and then I start cryin and I start shakin and David is now in my ear, whispering to me these filthy evil things.

"You. . . soldier of god. . . Is that what you call yourself?" He tells me with a snicker. " Your word is vile. . . this word." He says pointing to my bible.  "God's word. . . written by hateful men!" He says grabbing my bible and tossing it across the room.

I wake in bathed sheets.
* * *

"Is the water warm enough?" The big black nurse asks me and all I could do was look at her. I didn't want ta cry in front a her but I's jus revealin to her my teary future as I gazed at her with them twin ponds a mine.  I could feel the weight of my tears on low eye lids, and I felt like a stressed dam, about ta crack.

I'm flexin every fiber in my bein, tryin ta keep my eyes from burstin.

"It ill be alright baby." She tells me. She doesn't hear me, and I'm too old to get asked for a repeat. I reach out for a hug and she hugs me and her hug, it feels so good, so kind and I rest my cheek upon her shoulder and it feels so comfortin, as if she's my momma."

"What's your name?" I ask her and she pulls away and smiles.

"Its Nia."

She had been giving me baths for over a year now and I never thought to ask.
* * *

I sit in my bed and look at my holy bible lyin on the table tray that bridges across my hospital bed. I just look at it but don't read it. Not no more. Its leather bound and it looks new cause I had her re-leathered few years back. Them pages got the tips of yellow sticky notes stickin out all throughout the book,  the mapping proof of the many times I had chartered that book, cover to cover hundreds of times. The only book I've ever read. The passages, favorites, tabbed and book marked by anything that ain't really a bookmark. Napkins, junk mail, coupons, cash bills, and last but not least an honest ta goodness memory that got many of them passages scarred in my brain.

I didn't have to look up ta see the presence. I jus felt her. I know she was there. I raised my head and there she was, that Vietkong momma, kneelin down and cryin over her dead farmer husband, who I decapitated with a shot rifle.

She would turn away and look at me in disgust. She was angry. This soul is still mad. She throws them memories at me in pieces, even though, unlike David I remember her jus fine but her memories came ta me more gently and with more detail, details all the way down to them smells. The sounds of her and her husband’s obnoxious pig latin screams, as I kneeled them both down and we executed them and the entire village and I grit and I cried cause she was giving me her emotions, her pain, her shock, her agony.

I shake my head against a thought that, at one time empowered me, but now she has now soured. And I cry and I shake and I tremble and David is there and he whispers in my ear.

"God? His work?" He whispers and I'm now on my knees ready for execution and David is there and I'm shaking and David holds up his shotgun, and he places it on my temple.

"They were my enemies!"

He laughs and fires the shotgun and I wake in bathed sheets.

* * *

"Is the water warm enough." the nurse tells me as she begins ta sponge me softly. She's a pretty young redhead.

I nod.

"Where's Nia?" I ask and she tells me she's out sick and that ta me was bad news. What has come over me? Papa roll over in his grave if he knew I was wantin for the company of negra.

I can taste them med's in my dream and when I wake I can't tell if I'm still dreamin or wakin up ta another dream. I open my eyes and the walls got these big, glowin spiders on the walls and they make lots a noise and chirp like birds and I see the little Thai girls playin soccer with an old, weathered basketball and the hospital tile has turned ta grass that sways in that muggy air and the summer stench of my overseas youth and I stare at them and watch them play, exhausted by my judgment. David is sitting next to me and I can't look at him in the eye but I hear him, I hear his taunts, his taunts that drive my guilt. 

"You know why they are here?"

I nod meekly as I watch them with my tail tucked, beaten and bruised in this judgment. I close my eyes and I call out to my Lord and David smacks the table making my cup a water go airborne and come down like heavy rain and I open my eyes in fear. I look at him with tears rollin down my face, my lips wigglin like a scolded little boy, shakin my head.

"You slaughtered this family." he tells me and I shake my head. I still got some fight in me.

"And then, you. . . and yours." He tells me as the scene changes and the crying of the little girls begin to feel my ears, so loud. . . the sounds of us taking the girls, our grunts of fucking. . . their screams.

"They were children, Roger. And you treated them like an exotic dish, that your dick craved for." he says to me and I hold my head down in shame for the first time in my life as I hear the sounds of the little children, their agony, their pain as we forced ourselves onto them.

"Look at it, Roger. . . Does this. . . does this excite you? It did before."

And then there is quiet and the scene changes and I open my eyes and see my younger self, kneelin over a stream and washing all the blood off a deep bite wound from one of the children and I look upon my old forearm and the old scar begins bleedin and hurtin and throbbin like it's fresh.

"And this is where you went after your. . . your lustful feast. You close your eyes and you recite your sacred, memorized words, the words of God you claim, and you bathe in these words, words that rids you of it all, right?"

I start crying. I feel so ashamed. I feel so dirty and evil and rotten and I shake and tremble and I feel all the layers of sin upon me. Sin that I thought I had washed off and now I'm drownin in it.

"Denounce this, denounce this God of hate. . . this God that you worship so much. . . do so. . . and we will not only stop the guilt. . . but I will show you the real Him." He says with a smile.

I look to him. I look him deep into his eyes, and I believe him. I lean over and grab my silver zippo and my treasured, sacred bible, and I ask David to help me up, which he does. I walk to the bathroom and light the word of God and in the mirror and can see all them children and her parents, and young woman and David and all my sins behind me, smiling and some crying out of joy as I place it in the sink and let it got up in flames. The sounds of smoke detectors go off loudly and I jus sit and watch the word of God go up in smoke as several people come stormin in.

"LET IT BURN!!!!" I scream.


* * *

Is the water warm enough?" Nia asks me.

I nod and look at that nigger child with guilty a feel that I had never felt.

"My words. . . they sting you?"

"Hmm." She says askin me ta repeat with them eyebrows.

"My words, they stung you before. . . don't they?"

She looks at me a bit surprised and then flashes kind of a little smile.

"No, baby. We good." She says before lookin away shy like.

I just keep lookin at her. She looks back up at me and notices me gazing at her.

"Maybe sometimes." she says.

I look at her and an apology escapes my eyes and she smiles a bit. I put my hand on her hand.

* * *

I lay and I can taste them meds and I look at my old, salvaged, leather bible sittin on the night table and it's all charred and looks like burnt toast and I look around for David but he's not around today and so I jus close my eyes.

I want to pray but I don't know how anymore. I knew David wouldn't have approved but I called out to my Lord, my old Lord and I awaked kneeled on the night grasses of my homeland, a lushing thick green grass floor and the wet winds that smell a rains and the pitch black horizon, flickerin daylight, all tells of an Oklahoma spring and I bow my head and hug myself and tremble against my cold and fear. I feel this bright, twinkle of light before I see it, and when feeling the speck of warmth I raise my head and look towards the black, godless horizon and that's when I see the flames birthin from the ground and drawing the fire cross upon the nothingness backdrop and I gasp from the bright, from the warmth, from the familiarity and security and it's like a blanket that comes over me.

And then I hear David's voice. He is callin for me, searching for me and his voice, his presence it rides a cold, foreign yankee gust a wind and as he speaks, as he calls for me, I look up to the hill and see the cross beginnin ta fade against the wind and as it fades everything gets so dark and so cold again and I wrap my hands around my body and I grit against this weakenin of my God. And when David talks in my ear, the gust blows faster and harder and the fire cross dims more. David’s words, his thoughts harvest my guilt and kill my faith and my warmth and all I can do is kneel and watch with tears in my eyes as the fire cross barely twinkles in the candle size flames. And in this moment of fear, that’s when it came ta me. One of the first verses momma made me memorize from the Psalms:

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

I repeat the verse, over and over and over again, until I believed it again and when I did, I felt a surge of strength come into me and I opened up my eyes and I looked over and saw, sitting on the grass, my old pump can sprayer from my youth. I smiled and picked it up and it was heavy with full gas and I ran up the hill and stood up on my tip toes at the base of the faded, tall cross, now charred black, and from the bottom I squirted them weak flames with the gas and they burst into large ones as I re-ignited the cross and I looked to all its glory and I fell ta my knees and cried and asked God to forgive me for losing my way. Durin my weepin, I felt my father’s hand and I heard his klan robe flippin in the wind like a flag like it always did and I didn't even have to open my eyes to know it's him. I felt his warm moonshine breath hittin my ear and he whispered to me the word.

"The false prophets. . . they come to you in sheep's clothing. . . but they are wolves!" He tells me in a loud whisper.

"Remember His word, son." He tells me. "They are the truth, the final truth."

I awake peacefully in my bed.

* * *

"Is the water warm enough?" Nia asks me, in a tone that suggests a friendship and trust. I sigh and ignore her as she bathes me.

"So my littlest. . . she came up ta me the other day and she wearin my scrubs that jus draggin on the floor and she had my stethoscope, but she also had her on her little chef’s hat on and I said ‘Baby, you a doctor or a you a chef?’ and she said she wanna be both and she asked me ‘Can I be both, momma?’ and I laughed and said ‘Baby, you be whatever you wanna be’"  Nia says ta me,.. shootin the shit like we's equals or somethin. I jus looked at her.

"Why you gonna lie to her like that?" I ask her and she turns still with that big grin intact.


"I said. . . why you gonna lie to her like that?"

She looks at me confused, but still, that smile is intact.

"Bout what?"

I laugh.

"You know."

She looks at me, once again still with that goofy smile stuck on her face.

"No. . . I don't know, Roger."

"Think it may be best if you didn't feel it necessary. . . give me a blow by blow of all your little baby niglets and their doins."

I watch her smile dissolve. She breaks eye contact and I see her swallow nothin a bit hard before turnin and lookin at me again with concerned eyes.

"Are you ok?" She asks me and I just smile at her.

I nod.

I feel great." I tell her with confidence.

"Did you sleep last night, baby?" She says tryin ta get a wet bang outta my face and I slap her nigger hand away and she retracts it back like I's a snake in the grass and she gives me these wide eyes that begin shinnin with tears but I don't feel nothin for her cause I got the word of the Lord on my side.

"When was the last time you read the Word?"

She jus looks at me.

"You read the Holy Word?"

She shakes her head, angry at me.


"One my papa's favorite passages: 'Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to talk back, not to pilfer, but to show complete and perfect fidelity.'"

"This just you crazy talkin."

I laugh.

"Wish I could'a known yu when yu's younger."

I lean in close to her and shake my head.

"No you don't."

Her nostrils flare.

"Go. Leave me be."

She doesn't move.

"Go on!"

She tosses the rag at my face and I laugh. She stands up liked a whipped dog and sets my towel out.
"I'll be out here if you. . ."

"Of course you will. . ." I tell her, once again wavin her away with my hand.
* * *

I can taste the extra doses they's given me and my face, when I touch it, it don't got no feel and I know it must be my soul beginning ta separate from my body and before long I hear him sit down in the chair next to me. I know now why he's really here. I know what he really wants.

I open my eyes and look at him with a smile. He smiles back.

"It's good to see you smile, Roger."

"Oh, yeah?"

"I'm glad that you came around." He says as I hear the children playing and there is one of them little Vietnamese whores sittin in his lap.

"Me, too." I say. He then looks down and sees something peeking up from out of the covers and he quickly removes my sheet to reveal me huggin tightly with one hand on my charred Holy Bible. He looks at me with shocked eyes. I flash him a little grin before grabbin my freshly sharpened crossword pencil with my free hand and then quickly jabbin it into his neck.

"I will never be led astray ever again. . . You are Lucifer in a sodomite's mask." I tell him with a whisper and all he can do is look at me with wide eyes; his tears the tears of his failure to pull me from God’s word. The little girl screams as he grips onto her out of reflex, not letting her escape the horror. He coughs and spews blood on the little Thai who finally wrestles from his death clinch as the other girls scatter and scream and the woman screams louder. I bring him in close, "If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act. . . and they shall surely be put to death!" I say pulling out my pencil sword and letting his diseased soul fall to the ground.

I stand up with the vigor and strength of the Lord and I feel my makeshift dagger drip with the blood of a heathen.  The woman, the widow mother attacks me in defense of her children and I run her through and I say to her: “Now, therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.”

And I drop her body as I snag one of the women children and unclothe her and claim her as my own.  I break the child in her, over and over again, in the name of the Lord and whilst naked and with my manhood dripping like a dagger with the blood of new woman that I have given to this world, I see a bright, warm, holy light. Bright, white. White as lightning, more warmin through than the most soothing of sun rays.

And I raise my hands and weep.



Bio W.A Coleman is a native of Tulsa, Ok. His work has been featured in Evergreen Review, Typehouse Magazine, LAROLA, Houston Literary, 3 AM, Thrice Fiction, Founding Review, Echo Ink, Crack the Spine and many more. His first collection entitled Wound and Suture (Montag Press) was published last year.