- The Washington Times - Monday, November 6, 2006

Various artists

Why the Hell Not…: The Songs of Kinky Friedman

Sustain Records

So-called maverick politicians, who tend toward a socially permissive, fiscally tough-minded centrism, can always count on at least one constituency to back them — the media. But their loose-cannon personalities (Ross Perot) or thunderous sententiousness (John McCain) usually land them in trouble with the partisan base or the general electorate.

On one of those voter-guide check boxes, Kinky Friedman, the cigar-chomping, Jewish country-Western songwriter and mystery novelist, would seem like this sort of maverick. He’s running in the Texas gubernatorial race (as an independent, natch) and seems sincere in his belief that he could run the state as well as any better-credentialed civil servant in Austin.

Yet, happily, he maintains a Goldwateresque “It’s not forever, and it might be fun” disposition about politics. If he loses today, as seems likely, life for Kinky Friedman will proceed normally and uninterruptedly tomorrow morning. The campaign is, therefore, something of an earnest publicity stunt.

As it happens, a new Kinky Friedman tribute album is in stores. Commissioned by Mr. Friedman, the disc is the musician-politician’s version of the official campaign hagiography.

Unsurprisingly, it’s a rather hasty affair. Its best songs — including Lyle Lovett’s aching version of “Sold American” and Willie Nelson’s take on “Ride ‘em Jewboy” — already have been released on a previous tribute album, 1999’s “Pearls in the Snow.” (Dwight Yoakam’s “Rapid City, South Dakota” and Delbert McClinton’s “Autograph” are the other reissues.)

Luckily, what’s new is pretty good, especially because relative country newcomers such as Reckless Kelly are fast attaining the kind of star wattage that made “Pearls” so compelling. The latter band teams with Asleep at the Wheel veteran Ray Benson to reproduce the anthropological hilarity of Mr. Friedman’s Western swing classic “Homo Erectus.”

Honky-tonker Kevin Fowler nails the barn-burner (or is it a bra-burner?) “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven,” Mr. Friedman’s faux-misogynistic send-up of “uppity women.” Make way for the fainting couch, ladies: “Before you go and make your weekly visit to the shrink/You better occupy the kitchen and liberate the sink,” Mr. Fowler sings, proving Mr. Friedman prefigured “Borat” comedian Sacha Baron Cohen by a generation.

Charlie Robison’s rendition of “Wild Man From Borneo,” drawn from Mr. Friedman’s stint as a Peace Corpsman on the Southeast Asian island, is perfectly fine but suffers in comparison to the great Guy Clark’s version of same on “Pearls.”

“They Ain’t Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore,” performed here with extra kick by neo-traditionalist roots rocker Todd Snider, is a nutshell study of why Kinky Friedman is merely a boutique commodity. Though it’s an equal-opportunity offender, the song’s anti-redneck humor, much of it unprintable, symbolically burns the Stars and Bars.

Interestingly, senatorial candidate James H. Webb Jr. may unseat Virginia’s incumbent Republican George Allen today, having trumpeted his opposition to the Iraq war loudly enough to mask his previous conservative credentials from Democrats in the state’s elite Washington suburbs.

I wonder what the Kinkster makes of Mr. Webb, Virginia’s Scots-Irish warrior-poet.

One thing’s for sure: Sen. Macaca sure could have used a humor coach as smart as Kinky Friedman.

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