by Sean Jewell ::
The most difficult part of listening to Chris Porter‘s swan song, Don’t Go Baby It’s Gonna Get Weird Without You, is dealing with the fact that you cannot get a hold of him to tell him how great it sounds. That you’re happy he lived through these experiences, and wrote self-effacing, rockin’, humorous songs to prove it. He did, though. His last album is a spit down the tracks at Austin, it’s a weird high speed ride through adult life, chronicling with a lightning bolt dark times, uncertain futures, and ridiculously complex lives of young, touring musicians, each an industry unto themselves.
Right from the start, on “Bittersweet Creek”, Porter’s being poetic about the evasiveness of balance we seek. With just a warm telecaster electric he picks a riff and announces “Bittersweet Creek’s gonna wail and rise / flow like a river while you shiver & you sigh”. Drums, steel, and bass guitar enter to lighten the mood, but it won’t keep the creek from rising. “If I get sober, you stay faithless, I find god, and you get wasted / you’ve got angels on your shoulders, I’ll just stay here, beneath these covers”. Porter’s cleverly weaving through the tangle of relationships, learning to spot the inevitably out-of-sync moments that cause a deluge of emotions, but still unable to prevent it. Throughout Don’t Go, he’ll echo the nature of people off the nature of the land.
If I could thank Porter for one thing today, it’d be for having Shonna Tucker on this album. Boy I’ve missed her voice singing backup. She holds down the rhythm section in solid, sparse thuds, adding the vocal tenderness needed to round out Porters rugged voice. She and John Calvin Abney make their presence known with a force on “Your Hometown”, Abney sweeping across Porter’s landscape about hometown tropes with tasteful synthesizer waves. If it wasn’t already clear, Porter had no plans to hold back musically n this album. At the bridge Chris Masterson comes blazing through with a guitar solo that ends in harmony with the synthesizer. It’s all in harmony with Porter’s writing too, which is modern folk about hometown attitudes, lovers, and industries that “top off the mountain, clear cut the pines, build a hundred little houses you can live inside / Have a hundred little kids, yard full of cars, dig another hole so we don’t starve.”
By this time the album is in full country rock ‘n’ roll throes, “War Paint” is another relationship rocker referencing his darlin’ gettin her makeup on so they can just go downtown and have some fun. John Calvin Abney’s piano twinkles from the back, cymbals crash, and a steady electric riff carries the song about falling apart, and the way a single night out, with someone you love, can sometimes reset the senses.
“Edith” is a biblical honky tonk about the way God metes out punishment from Lot’s wife to modern times. It’s clever when Porter notes that “it’s hard to say these days what’s goin on, the man above makes statues of us all”, and terribly sad to hear him sing “I’d like to stay….and watch you turn to stone til the sky above us tumbles down, and the walls around us fall”.
Even on bummer’s like “Go On And Leave Me” Porter’s band swells into sounds so massive and gorgeous you have to smile at the grandeur. Every song is like seeing the desolate beauty of the Grand Canyon for the first time. Porter brings in subtle accordion to accentuate the 3/4 time “Don’t Hang Up Virginia” about hanging on to the ex, and old habits, a little too long. Though when Porter sings “take me for a spin around that dancefloor, darlin / you don’t even have to take me home” we can tell he’s perfectly harmless.
“Shit Got Dark” is about as perfect a song as you can write. Porter captures a whole feeling of a branded generation with a quick quip, and details a feeling of ennui and endangered paranoia that hangs over everyone alive. Did I live through it? Is this just the eye of the storm? Oh fuck it, let’s just go get high. “Stoned In Traffic” epitomizes the gentrification generation, whose only choice is to try to escape the “whole side of town made of plastic” in eternal traffic, in search of something real, or even just “tacos or a bottle of wine”. Both songs flesh out the deep feeling of desperation and displacement young people suffer in a world of marketing strategies and the promise of success that finds us far flung from families, or fortune for that matter.
On one of the only ballads on the album mandolin and violin accompany Porter on a story about loving a drug addict. Porter is painterly here “when we were young, were wild, it was painless / you were strung out, I was heartbroken, anxious,”. In an ironic twist the object of the storytellers love dies once she gets sober “color me green, like the sky in our rear view, when you got clean, the medicine killed you”. It’s an extremely sad song, Porter’s reedy voice is perfect for the pain it needs to convey.
The truth is, if you only get to make one album that people will remember, that’s enough. Some work a lifetime up to that moment, others capture a zeitgeist right off the bat. The circumstances behind Don’t Go Baby It’s Gonna Get Weird Without You are tragic, and extremely sad. The portrait that Porter has painted here isn’t, though. It’s an elegant tale of modern America through a western voice. People will only need to look one place to understand the attitudes, fears, hopes, and helplessness of musicians “priced out of their generation”, with all the talent in the world and not one record company to record them, voices without representation in a world full of corporations. If you know any musicians, or music industry folks at all you found out the day Porter died, because he’d helped them how he could, and every one of them had a nice thing to say about him. I didn’t know him personally, but after hearing his last album I wish to hell I had.