Monday, July 10, 2017

2:30 A.M. By Mike Lee


2:30 A.M.

A.

“This isn’t really going to work out,” said Corie, while placing her fingers around the bound stack of cash from a stolen duffel bag of Benjamins.  “I’m holding this like a baby, but it won’t be long now before we lose all this, honey.”

“Shush, baby,” Stahl responded, succeeding at falsely reassuring her.  “That’s the last stack.”  Corie passed it slowly across the counter.  Stahl fingered the stack, “You wrapped it tight, baby.  S’going to be alright, kay?”  He put his hand on her neck, nuzzling her nose before kissing her.  “S’going be well.”

“I-I understand.”  Corie wanted to believe him, but he has lied before.  Will again and probably is right now, she thought.

The old high school football equipment bag, which had belonged to her daddy, held the wrapped bricks of 100 dollar bills, those Benjamins, the new-new kind with the fancy strip and the thick paper, at least it felt this way for Corie as she counted the stacks, and held them in place while she wrapped them in plastic.  Their intention was to put them in a bucket in daddy’s tool shed, hidden sort of in plain sight.  It was her idea, but Stahl later claimed it was his.  Corie was used to this from Stahl—she didn’t care, anymore.  He was never going to change.

Stahl placed the last stack in the bag, zipping it closed.

Kissed her good-bye, and promised to meet her later at the club.

She watched him drive off, feeling sad for him, but not much else.

B.

“Sweet fucking sugar sassafras!  I just cannot believe you jus’ killed that boy.  What in the name of heaven were you thinking, Corie?”

Frances lit a cigarette.  Her eyes were puffy.  Corie would grow old to look like her.  “You know this goddamned paper is shit, right?  You do understand that?  You’re not going to pass a single one of these fucking notes without pigs snorting in my house if no longer than a day after you do.”

Corie held her head in her hands.  “I know.”

“Well, that good for nothing shithead ain’t gonna be missed by no one.  Machine head did him in, but I cannot think of what I can do about this money you got in my big brother’s football bag.”

She inhaled deeply.  “Seriously, who’s gonna take this shit unless it’s a Mexican?  And I am not going to talk to one of those people.”

“Aunt Frances, I can talk to someone.”

“The hell you ain’t, girl.  You don’t know no one.”

“You’d be surprised.”

Frances kicked out at the football bag.  “Then get this and your ass out of here.”

C.

Terry’s price was a blowjob, and more, for half the money in the bag.  The cut was still better than the initial arraignment with Stahl, who Corie suspected was going to take her for a walk in the woods and so she jumped the gun and took him out first.

At least they did it with her leaning over the wood dining room table; that position was preferable for her.  After he pulled out of her Corie lingered on the table top, staring out the window, letting his semen roll down her leg.  Kind of sort of like rape, felt violated in some ways, but in reality this was an agreed-upon transaction where she paid to get reamed.  Therefore, it was hard for Corie to ever feel exploited or used as a whore.  Finally, she had no other choice.  The other option remained the scumbags down by the river, and they would have slit her throat and fucked the wound.

She could hear Terry run the water in the bathroom sink behind her.  Through the window, she saw it was beginning to rain.

Finally, she pulled herself up, standing unsteadily in her clog sandals.

“You done yet?  I need to shit you out.”

“By all means, sweetheart.”

“I ain’t kissin’ you.”

Terry smiled.  He needed a shave.  “I don’t need to.  I got what I wanted.”

While Corie did her business, Terry went into his bedroom safe, extracting several banded stacks of cash, shoving them into a brown paper bag.

When she came out, he handed it over to her.

“Fifteen grand to start. Like I said, it’s all I got. I’ll get you the rest tonight.”

D.

Well, she killed Stahl.  Simple enough.  They never liked each other, even when they were kids.  Walking home one day, when Stahl was eight, and Terry six, Stahl started punching him, kicking him in the stomach when Terry hit the dirt.  No reason—no reason at all to do that.  Years later, Terry got him back.  Through Corie, of course, telling her that ripping off some Russians coming into town to set up a krokodil lab was a bad idea.  He had a better idea, though.

Corie listened, and while Stahl slipped cut-up newspapers between the Franklins, she replaced the bands and wrapped them tight.  Then she made a phone call.  Stahl never figured out Daddy had two football bags—one when was in JV.  That’s what Stahl brought with him to the shed while the Russians waited inside for him.

She hesitated going to Terry, but after what her aunt said, she decided to go ahead, give him what he wanted, and now waited in her car, on the dirt road near the Interstate where she and Terry and Stahl grew up. In fact, this was right where Stahl beat up Terry.

At 2:30 a.m., she saw a car come down off the highway, cross over the old bridge, coming toward her.  The driver flashed the headlights.  It was Terry.

Neither bothered to get out of their cars.  He handed the equipment bag to her, smiling.

“I’ll wait for you to check it.”

“I bet you’re gonna shoot me while I look.”

“I’d never kill you, even if I wanted to.  You always were my best friend.”

“I let you fuck me in the ass.  I figured you’d show your appreciation by letting me live.”

She opened the bag, flipping quickly through the bills.  Mostly twenties interspersed with odd bands of Franklins.  This made them easier to spend, especially after she got to Atlanta.

“So you’re out of here?”

“Yep, and I bet you too.”

“Not for a while, I believe.”  Terry reached in his pocket for a cigarette.  “I got something going with the Mexicans.  I have to be here a while.”

“I ain’t have no business here.  Want to go back to Atlanta.  Maybe go further.  Don’t know.”

Terry waved his hand.  “You’ll be fine wherever you go.”

“Well, it’s all here.  You’re a sweetheart.  You only fucked me once today.”

“That’ll last you a while.”

“Perhaps. I never spend it all in one place.”  They chuckled at that.

She looked at him and smiled.  “No kisses.”

“No kisses.”  As he began to back the car away, he said something Corie couldn’t clearly hear.  She wondered about what he might have said while driving down the Interstate, with the mountains behind her and the lights of Greenville-Spartanburg ahead.  She also wondered about her aunt waking up to find a sack filled with cash on the kitchen table and what Stahl’s last thoughts were when he saw the Russians.

“S’going to be well,” she whispered as she drove on the exit ramp which led toward Atlanta.


-End-

Bio Mike Lee is a writer, labor journalist and photographer based in New York City. His fiction is published and forthcoming in West Trade Review, The Ampersand Review, Paraphilia, The Roaring Muse, The Airgonaut, Sensitive Skin, Reservoir, The Avenue, Easy Street, The Corvus Review and others. His photographs are currently on exhibit at Art Thou Gallery in Berkeley, California. Website is www.mleephotoart.com.
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Friday, July 7, 2017

Music Review: Youth Detention by Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires



Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires were described to me by a southern rocker as a punk rock Lynyrd Skynyrd. This punk rocker would describe songs like Good Old Boy, as a southern man's Dead Kennedy's. This band is neither southern rock nor punk. They're one of those, "good luck describing them to someone who's never heard them before," kind of bands. If there's one description that fits my favorite bands it's, "you'll just have to listen to them." Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires are garage rock with a touch of everything.

I don't exactly write traditional reviews. I usually spend the first two paragraphs explaining my personal connection to the band or artists' music or giving a backstory on where the artist came from. I had no former relation to this band or their music before this album so this was a complete first for me. The album starts out heavy and never really lets up except to change tempos from fast to faster. Breaking It Down! sets the mood with heavy distorted guitars, cowbell, and the singer trying to cram as many words into the line of a lyric like Bob Dylan in Subterranean Homesick Blues before it's climatic catchy choruses. The rest of the album pretty much follows this formula.

The next standout track for me is Whitewash, one of the slowest moments on the album. Underneath the Streets of White Noise brings back the uptempo mood most of the album maintains. I won't lie, this album was a challenge for me to listen to. I wasn't able to listen to it from start to finish in one sitting like all the other albums I've reviewed for Story and Grit. The thing that kept me listening to it, though, was the fact that, at one point, I couldn't listen to a Drive-By Truckers album from start to finish either.

On a more positive note, I could spend many ear fatiguing hours by the radio with my guitar figuring out all the licks to I Heard God! because it's got every riff a garage rocker needs to learn. I Can Change! is another very punk rock moment on the album with a lot of bass guitar at the forefront and sloppy lead guitar to give it the wild abandon that rock and roll are notorious for. I also really enjoyed The City Walls. Songs like Tongues of Flame were favorites as well because I love songs that can rock out in a minute and a half or less. It's even got piano in it! Who does that? I'm also a sucker for some good acoustic guitar so I found The Picture of a Man to be the greatest treat on the whole album.

My only real complaint with this album was the amount of songs and the length. It was hard for me to make it through all seventeen songs without breaking it up because they all started to sound the same after a while. I look forward to hearing this band in a few years when they've gained a little more variety with their sound. Perhaps they're a coming of age band for me and I need to get young again to be able to appreciate their music. I still recommend this album because music is interpretive and you mighty get something out of it that I missed. In fact, I hope you do. Feel free to email me with what stands out about the album to you. I want to know because nothing excites me more than talking about music.

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 facebook.com/westmorelandsounds
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Monday, July 3, 2017

Music Review: London Southern by Jim Lauderdale



Jim Lauderdale is the unsung hero of honky tonk music. For as long as I can remember, there's been an animosity between country music purists and the Nashville establishment about the quality and authenticity of mainstream country. Personally, I don't understand why these people are trying to hold Nashville accountable to something it was never responsible for, to begin with. The Carter Family was from Virginia. Hank Williams got famous in Texas. Bob Wills' career was highlighted in Tulsa and Hollywood. Johnny Cash began his career in Memphis. Do you see what I'm saying? Authentic country music veterans didn't begin their career or enjoy the benefits of it because of Music Row. Shut up, Wheeler Walker, Jr.!

I've come to realize, most of the time, when people challenge the modern definition of country music they're attempting to parallel what gets played on the radio with a brief era of the genre's history that took place in Bakersfield, California. The Fender Telecaster was the prominent guitar, often sharing lead duties with a fiddle as heard on the early recordings of Merle Haggard and the Don Rich era of Buck Owens & the Buckaroos. The music of this era still lives on today in honky tonks all over the world. Jim Lauderdale is an artist who has kept that tradition alive. When I was a kid my mom had George Strait's cd Blue Clear Sky which had a writer's contribution from Sir Lauderdale called, "Do The Right Thing." I knew his music before I was ever aware of him as a person.

London Southern is just another great chapter in an already impressive body of work. He kicks things off with a story about love in lingo called, "Sweet Time." It's a heartbreaker with some nice boogie piano to compound the feeling of the song. He wastes no time between upbeat songs and ballads as the next two songs take a slower approach. Things pick back up with, "You Came To Get Me," adding some variety to the albums with a horns section. This song could be an R&B hit or a good gospel number. He keeps the R&B flavor cooking with, "What Have You Got To Lose." "If I Can't Resist" has a surf rock feel.

Circling back to our earlier discussion about authentic honky tonk music, No Right Way To Be Wrong, is as "smoky beer joint" as it can possibly get. I could hear the Allman Brothers doing this song in a biker bar, or a cover band playing it in some off the beaten path bar out in the sticks. It's an incredible song upheld by both superb musicianship and top-shelf songwriting. In my opinion, this song could put an end to the argument I described earlier. If people would listen to Jim Lauderdale instead of arguing about Nashville the world would be a better place. As if that song wasn't good enough, he follows it up with a 50's pop sounding song called, "I Can't Do Without You," that brings the horns section back.

My goal with this review wasn't to pidgeon hole Jim Lauderdale as the savior of country music because I don't consider his music country. In my opinion, what makes him a honky tonk artist is his versatility and ability to write a ballad that can be played alongside an upbeat whiskey drinking song. I don't believe in categorizing with subgenres like Americana. Jim Lauderdale simply makes great music that can be applied to a wide variety of categories. My point with London Southern is if you're willing to look elsewhere you can find some great quality music that should be getting more attention than it's being given if you haven't already heard something he's written for someone else.

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 facebook.com/westmorelandsounds

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