Saturday, June 16, 2007

Andy Hersey: Somewhere Between God and Country

Tom Wright says:

KCAC/KDKB listeners will recall that one of Bill Compton’s favorite records was John Stewart’s California Bloodlines, with songs that expressed love and hope for America without mindless flag-waving or political posturing. It was a love based on the land and the people, and on the rich traditions of freedom, equality, and opportunity that reflected the best of what America had to offer. Amidst the anguish of Vietnam and the national doubts about what we stood for, John Stewart quietly reminded us of who we were and where we came from.

Andy Hersey, a real, honest-to-God working cowboy from southeastern Arizona, has just released his second CD, Between God and Country. It is not only the finest music to come out of Arizona in the last several years, it is also a worthy successor to California Bloodlines as a statement about America during troubled times. As the title suggests, faith is also addressed, but in terms outside of and completely beyond any religious dogma. "Somewhere between God and country, I am a patriot, I’m a believer," he sings. Not unlike John Stewart’s heartfelt "Oh mother country, I do love you."

Andy was born in Tucson 40 years ago and paid his dues as a cowboy on various ranches in southeast Arizona, including the beautiful and historic San Rafael Ranch (now a State Park). He played guitar and sang old cowboy and folk songs, just for fun, ever since he was a kid; then he started covering the likes of Robert Earl Keen and Kris Kristofferson; finally he started writing and performing his own songs. A serious injury a few years ago prompted him to retire from the more physically-demanding aspects of his work. He bought a few acres of land east of Sonoita, where he now boards horses and raises a few cows and chickens. His neighbor there (and one of Andy’s former employers) is Doc Clyne, father of Roger Clyne (former leader of the Refreshments, now of Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers). Doc introduced Andy to Roger, they formed a fast friendship, and Roger - blown away by Andy’s original songs - encouraged him to "go professional."

Andy’s first CD was Compañero Blanco, released independently in 2002. It’s a flat-out masterpiece. The title song describes his time on the San Rafael Ranch: the beauty of the land, the rewards of hard work, and the friendship that grew between Andy and Reuben Cebellos, the ranch foreman who spoke only Spanish and described the San Rafael as "occupied Mexico." This is strong, vivid, writing that says our common humanity and love of the land outshines the differences imposed by borders and fences and political rhetoric. There are several more cowboy-oriented songs on the album, along with a series of love-gone-wrong tunes that look back on failed relationships sometimes with regret, sometimes with bitterness, but often with humor. The music is a hybrid of country, rock, and folk - not a slick Nashville sound, or some market-driven fakery, but an honest, no-bullshit blend of American roots music with a strong Southwestern accent.

The new CD, Between God and Country, goes even farther. I’m tempted to just reprint the lyrics to the title song in their entirety here, but I won’t... I’ll just say it’s a meditation on those two topics, framed by a story about a blacksmith hammering out a new shoe for a lame horse, swearing that "by God she’ll walk away sound" as he looks up to the nearby Mustang Mountains, where he’s found a spirit that "brought me closer to God than a pulpit." All through the song are images of smoke and flame, sparks shooting out "like agave leaves" as the hammer strikes the red-hot iron, and a hand-forged cross hanging on the wall beneath the tin roof. Then there’s a final, spine-tingling line that fuses the themes and the imagery in a way that will leave you breathless (if you have ears, and a heart). As if that weren’t enough, the CD also contains another group of rueful lost-love songs, the rollicking "Mexican Moonshine" (co-written with Roger Clyne); a Marty Robbins-style western story with an Ennio Morricone-like arrangement ("Roughshod Range"), a stomping rocker ("Burning Georgia Down" [more fire imagery]), and a cheerful statement that he intends to go his own damn way - in life and in the music business - no matter what his critics might say ("Smile and Wave").

So there you have it: two self-released albums by a nearly-unknown singer-songwriter from the ranching country of southeastern Arizona. Both of them put most current, nationally-known artists’ work to shame.

Andy will be having a CD release party at the Last Exit in Tempe (southwestern corner of Southern and Priest) on Saturday, June 30th, around 10:30 P.M. Be there! Buy his CDs! He always puts on a fine show: all original music, all performed with energy and passion and total commitment, usually lasting 2 hours or more. Visit his website ( for more information. He even has his new CD posted there as streaming audio so you can check it out for free.

Finally: no, I’m not his agent or publicist or any sort of a relative. I’m just someone who happened to see him at the Yucca Tap Room a few years ago and, after scraping myself off the ceiling, set out to spread the word about this major, home-grown, uniquely Arizona artist. I wouldn’t steer you wrong - this Sonoita rancher/singer/songwriter is our John Stewart, our Townes Van Zandt, our Guy Clark and John Prine and Robert Earl Keen. Yes, he’s really that good.


1 comment:

Mariah Fleming said...

What a great post! Sounds like an event well worth attending! Thanks for the comprehensive info about the artist too.