Ronnie Fauss’ debut EP, New Songs for the Old Frontier, Volume 1, took me by surprise earlier this year, impressing me with its dusty, stripped-down sound and high standard of songcraft, including an obvious commitment to honest-to-goodness storytelling. New Songs… is full of literate earworms, songs with words that demand your attention and melodies that stay with you far down the trail. They sound like the work of a seasoned artist, not some guy in Dallas whose name you’re hearing for the first time.
Fauss recently issued a three-song follow-up, I Can’t Make You Happy, available now from your favorite digital retailers, including iTunes and Amazon MP3. It’s good stuff too.
Given my enjoyment of his music, I was thrilled when Fauss agreed to share some of his favorite country albums with us. He took the task seriously, submitting a strong list with commentary that offers a nice window into his background and personality. It’s a very worthwhile read.
Here are Ronnie’s picks, in his own words:
Harvest – Neil Young
I have a 5 year old daughter named Phoebe. For the last few years our Saturday morning tradition has been: coffee for me, scrambled eggs for her, make a tent in the dining room, and listen to this record. She loves it.
Red Headed Stranger – Willie Nelson
Recorded 15 minutes from my house, I love this album for what it represents as much as what it contains. With this record, Willie provided a much-needed counterpoint to Nashville Country and helped put Austin, and Texas in general, on the map.
The Road To Ensenada – Lyle Lovett
Lyle Lovett and I went to rival high schools (although he went 20 years or so before I did). I had the privilege of running into him around town a few times before I moved away. Every encounter was weirder than the last. He is the best songwriter ever to come out of Houston, and that’s saying something. This is his opus.
Nebraska – Bruce Springsteen
As an ’80s kid, I’ve been aware of Bruce for his pop songs ever since I started listening to music, but after I saw him in concert as a grown up, I started delving into his back catalog, which is where his true genius lies. This was a Valentine’s Day present from my wife after we saw him together at the since-demolished Reunion Arena in 2001.
Fair & Square – John Prine
My favorite all-time songwriter. I love his early stuff, his ’80s stuff, and his latter-day stuff. I’m not sure he’s ever written a bad song. I picked this record because, unlike so many others of his generation, this is the one that proves that he hasn’t lost a single damn step as he enters his 60s and heads towards his 70s.
Transcendental Blues – Steve Earle
I love the versatility of this record. He transitions between folk, honky tonk, and celtic rock effortlessly.
Other Voices, Other Rooms – Nanci Griffith
I think Nanci is a great songwriter, but there’s something about her interpretations of other writers’ material (many of whom are on this list) that keeps me coming back to this record more than her others.
Car Wheels On A Gravel Road – Lucinda Williams
Southern gothic country-rock at its best. The instrumentation on this record is just killer.
Bring The Family – John Hiatt
Hiatt has long been a master of tongue-in-cheek irony, but he won me over with his earnest folk songs on this album – “Lipstick Sunset” (my daughter’s favorite lullaby), “Tip Of My Tongue,” “Stood Up”… they’re all proof that the best art often comes from the most trying times of life.
Nashville Skyline – Bob Dylan
Not my favorite Dylan record, but his most honky-tonk, for sure. Dylan + Cash = Musical Heaven.
The Late Great Townes Van Zandt – Townes Van Zandt
His most complete record, including his biggest hit (“Pancho and Lefty”) and his best song (“If I Needed You”).
Grievous Angel – Gram Parsons
My fascination with the Privileged Youngster Who Never Reached His Potential Due To Reckless Substance Abuse, Yet Still Somehow Managed To Give Us An Incredible Catalog And Turned Into One Of My Songwriting Heroes continues… first with Townes, now with Gram. This record has a number of his best songs, including his single greatest achievement – “Return Of The Grievous Angel,” with Emmylou on harmony.