The red dirt subgenre of country music is defined more by its geography — Oklahoma and Texas — than by a particular sound. It includes folkier singer-songwriters like Robert Earl Keen and the late Jimmy LaFave, neo-outlaws like Cody Jinks, and bands like Cody Canada & The Departed, who rock as hard as they twang. As the audience could see at City Winery in DC recently, Cody plays loud and lives the hard, rock-n-roll lifestyle.
In a particularly harrowing story Cody recounted at City Winery before playing “Easy,” he recalled how he was robbed in West Memphis, Arkansas. Cody suggested the audience avoid this city, as it is bad news; my only other familiarity with it is from the sad tale of the wrongly-convicted West Memphis Three, the subject of Lucinda Williams’s “West Memphis.”
A drug dealer approached him and was rather insistent that Cody purchases his wares. Cody said he was not interested because “I already have my own drugs.” At that point, the dealer pulled a gun. Cody managed to escape into a nearby gun. The driver asked if the man pursuing him had a gun; when he said he did, she produced one of his own. Over the years, he’s also been robbed in Portland and Detroit.
The stories kept flowing from Cody’s mouth to our ears in the raucous show at City Winery on April 17. A song called “17,” cowritten with his good friend Jason Boland (of Jason Boland & The Stragglers), recalled an incident from his youth. Cody’s father had a tab a nearby gas station and would send him, despite his being underage and not having a license, to buy beer for him. That may seem like irresponsible parenting, but it also seems less irresponsible than driving when you’re no condition to drive. On this occasion, Cody was with Jason, and both were drunk and stoned, and they somehow managed to avoid the cops.
Watch the official music video for “17” by Cross Canadian Ragweed, Cody’s previous band, on YouTube:
Back in the van days, they played the now-shuttered club Iota in Arlington, Virginia, and they weren’t sure what kind of reception they were going to get. At the time, Cody said, they weren’t exactly burning up the charts. Much to their surprise, they found the club was packed and the audience was absolutely roaring to go, demanding they play “The Boys From Oklahoma.” Normally — as it was this Easter Sunday — it’s a closing song, but the crowd was insistent, and they gave in.
There were a couple of shout-outs during the set: Cody dedicated “Brooklyn Kid” to Rhett Miller of the Old 97s, and thanked him for his support of the years. They covered “Lonely Feeling” by Robert Earl Keen, who Cody called “the master.” He mentioned Robert Earl’s plans to retire from the road following the end of his tour this summer.
Like a lot of artists, Cody got caught up in a bad record deal. Without understanding exactly what he’d signed, he gave away the rights to the music on the records he made with his previous band, Cross Canadian Ragweed. He said he was surprised as anyone that he followed Taylor Swift’s lead, but he was rerecording his albums so that he’d own the music, and the first part of that project, the rerecording of Soul Gravy, had been completed. The band then shared the first track, “Number.”
Notably, Cody’s been playing with his bassist, Jeremy Plato, for more than 20 years. Jeremy took lead vocals on “To Find My Love.”
The set began with “Lonely Girl, “If You Want It That Much,” and “Hammer.” He introduced the next song, the title of which I’m not sure about, as “a 2020 song, so take it easy on me.” Other songs included “Again,” “Constantly,” “Carry You Home,” “Soul Agent,” “Time To Move On,” and “Alabama.” The encore began with a song about a young woman who’d come through one of his songwriting camps and really impressed him. It continued with “Sick and Tired,” and the evening finished with a cover of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In The Free World.”
Them Dirty Roses tore it up before Cody hit the stage with an hour-long opening set that was raucous and loud. They wear the influences right on the sleeve with their cover of the Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post.” Songs like “Whiskey In My Cup” capture a mixture of outlaw flavor and ’70s Southern rock. It’s a brand of very loud, hard, long-haired southern rock that hasn’t been in style for a while, but I personally enjoy the hell out of it. The same is true of Cody and his body of work, if a little more Texas-Oklahoma. God bless.