The middle of the road got a bad name. Like the word, mainstream, it’s been used to decry anything not ambitious or daring enough to be true art. As I was growing up it was even defined by that hit Scottish beat combo of the same name who released the MOR anthem, ‘Chirpy, Chirpy, Cheep Cheep.’ ( I danced my socks off to it at Rosemary Lothian’s birthday party in 1971).
The phrase was finally buried by Neil Young who dismissed two of his finest albums as being in the middle of the road as he merrily described himself as heading towards the ditch. As much as I’ve enjoyed Neil’s output (and I have almost every album) I think that middle land wasn’t nearly as bad as he made it out to be. I, for one, would have taken few more miles on the clock.
So it was with interest that I read an interesting interview on my current fave blog site, Bluegrass Situation, about Caitlin Canty and her take on being bang in the middle. Here she wasn’t talking about some type soft rock she’d stumbled into but simply the age where she found herself. Her new album Quiet Flame it says, …’ is a dispatch from — and a celebration of — the middle; it is a testament to the in-between, to the precious spaces between day and night, birth and death, here and home. It is also a rallying cry, a call not to run from middle moments, but to revel in them. ‘
I liked this so much I spent an early morning walk listening through to her new record and I’ll be bringing you the opener on this week’s AC. We will have lots more new and wonderful records to play including takes from Morgan Wade, Hailey Whitters and Bobby Bare.
However, the main reason we are gathering this week is to listen to the remarkable interview I recorded a few weeks ago with Amanda Shires. I’d interviewed Amanda some ten years ago and as I recall it she was someone who didn’t reveal a huge amount about herself or her songwriting. How things have changed! She too is now in that interesting middle ground. Around the same age and experience as Caitlin but also between so many varied projects.
I knew I wanted to speak to her about these many aspects to her life. First up was her own solo career which centred around the songs on her most recent LP, ‘Take It Like a Man.’ It only takes a couple of listens to the record to pick up the central theme of sexual politics which courses its way through the songs. It also didn’t take Amanda long to explain where these songs came from and how honest she was being about herself, her marriage and the careers of herself and her husband, Jason Isbell.
Into this mix we need to add that Amanda also played some brilliant acoustic versions of her album tracks and talked about life in The 400 Unit, her role in The Highwomen and her recent collaboration with Bobbie Nelson. In all the years we’ve been on air (fifteen and counting) it is one of the most remarkable and moving conversations I’ve been lucky enough to record.
You can hear all of this in two special hours of radio from this Tuesday evening onwards on BBC Radio Scotland or on BBC Sounds. Join me if you can.