Release Date: May 17, 2011
Record label: Drag City
Genre(s): Country, Singer/Songwriter, Pop/Rock, Progressive Country
This Texas native (1940-2002) was a one-man song factory in the late Sixties, writing hits for Nashville royalty. But Newbury's hurt and searching, draped in chamber-country silk, bloomed best on the solo LPs in this box: Looks Like Rain (1969), 'Frisco Mabel Joy (1971) and Heaven Help the Child (1973). His grainy vocal tenderness in "San Francisco Mabel Joy" evokes the combined haunting of Leonard Cohen and Nick Drake, while "An American Trilogy" – turned into flag-waving Wagner by Elvis Presley – is, in Newbury's grip, patriotic anguish for a country at war with itself.
First, do not let the name of the Mickey Newbury box set, An American Trilogy confuse you. The box contains four, not three, compact discs. However, the set does include the trilogy of the pioneering country-rock singer-songwriter’s interrelated classic albums made between 1969-1973 in their entirety (Looks Like Rain, ’Frisco Mabel Joy, and Heaven Help the Child).
On his latest album, Apocalypse, released in March, Bill Callahan halts midway through the marching track “America!” to list some of the country music greats that enlisted in the armed forces: “Captain Kristofferson, Buck Sergeant Newbury, Leatherneck Jones, Sergeant Cash…What an army!” Three of those names will be familiar to anyone with even a passing interest in postwar Americana, but “Buck Sergeant Newbury” might raise a few eyebrows in 2011. Callahan’s label, Drag City, has apparently decided to rectify that situation, releasing a four-disc set of Mickey Newbury’s very odd, very beautiful solo LPs from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Titled An American Trilogy, after the Newbury song made famous by Elvis Presley, the box collects 1969’s Looks Like Rain, 1971’s ‘Frisco Mabel Joy, and 1973’s Heaven Help the Child, as well as a new compilation of demo and radio recordings, Better Days.
The years preceding the American Bicentennial were especially good ones in Nashville. Not only did country music graduate from a rather large niche market to the mainstream, but the talent on the city's periphery began to insinuate itself into the center, as songwriters like Guy Clark, Kris Kristofferson, Donnie Fritts, and Willie Nelson attracted so much attention that the scene became known as the "New Nashville. " In practice, this group of musicians raised hell all over town and wrote aching songs with unpretentiously poetic lyrics, passing their compositions up the ranks for royalties and notoriety.