David Allan Coe is a scary guy. While he has clearly deliberately cultivated his hell-raising image, it’s hard to tell where the myth ends and the man begins. On the CMT Outlaws show of a few years ago, in which he took the stage with Merle Haggard, Billy Joe Shaver, and Toby Keith (among others), he was the only whose presence seemed unsettling even to the other performers. Perhaps because they could never be sure what the guy was going to do at any given moment.
Coe is also, of course, an exceptional songwriter. While his most well-known songs came out of the ’70s and ’80s, one of his finest albums is of more recent vintage: 1999’s wryly titled Recommended for Airplay finds an older, wiser Coe showing a younger generation of would-be outlaws how it’s done.
He’s settled down a bit. “Song for the Year 2000” finds him considering various alternative lifestyles and arriving at something like bemused acceptance (though given his history, some won’t buy it):
But it takes all kinds of people to make the world go ’round
I’ve been the whole world over and that’s one thing that I’ve found
Color does not matter, black or white, red or brown
It takes all kinds of people to make the world go ’round.
Similarly, “A Harley Someday” is a send-up of those weekend warriors and “bona fide wanna-be tough guys” who immerse themselves in motorcycle culture without actually, you know, riding. But the most important lines come near the end: “And the truth is it’s hard to remember/That we all started out just like that.” Nice.
Other highlights include break-up ballads “The Price We’ll Have to Pay” and “She’s Already Gone,” the latter of which ranks among Coe’s best songs ever. (“If she’s talking about leaving, she’s already gone,” he advises like a man who has been there too many times.) Drinking songs “Drink My Wife Away” and “Drink Canada Dry” aren’t far behind, both infectious honky tonk home runs worthy of Merle or George… or David Allan at his very best. Meanwhile, Coe has never sounded more tender than he does on love songs “Let Me Be the One You Turn To” and “In My Life.” While much of the music on Recommended for Airplay fits neatly in the traditional country vein, the blues burn of “We Can Talk” reminds of his tendency to reach across genre boundaries.
Recommended for airplay? Well, yeah, but that won’t happen. So I’ll just recommend it for you.