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Two great country songs from the mid-1990’s by singer/songwriters I never heard from since.

Bob Woodruff sings with a country twang that sounds like someone trying to sound older than he is, like a kid imitating Dwight Yoakam. But that’s a good thing, especially on this song, which is about a guy trying to keep up with a self-destructive girlfriend:

Baby do you still remember the year we tried to kill the pain
With sex and drugs and bad intentions
And staying up to the break of day

The pain the woman is trying to kill is unspecified, but the singer’s pain is the woman herself, his semi-reciprocated love for her and his witnessing of/participation in her descent:

Put me out of your misery
I swear I almost drowned

Apart from that “sex and drugs” reference, we don’t get much of a sense of excess here, which may be a weakness of the song: to kill the pain they take a road trip to Oklahoma, get good suntans, make friends with bartenders and make love in the grass in front of Graceland. There is a reference to “trying to steal a train,” but this is so hard to imagine I attribute it to the necessities of rhyme more than actual incident.

Still, at the end of the song the singer, now parted from the woman, says he wouldn’t trade 10 years in Heaven for the year they tried to kill the pain. My guess is he didn’t feel that way at the time, or for a long time afterward, but those peak experiences always do remember better.

(I own this song on a record company advance cassette. James Burton plays a solo, and Emmylou Harris sings backup. Yet I don’t remember it receiving any airplay whatsoever.)

Bobbie Cryner has a wonderful, lower-register voice that I imagine is what critics are referring to when they talk about a “voice like Burgundy.” (Deep, rich, red?) The music is traditional, radio-friendly country, with big-name producer Tony Brown at the dials, the voice has a slight twang but you could get away with that back then–but again, I don’t remember it getting played. Maybe it was too sad for country radio, which really is saying something.

The story the song tells is a familiar one: a man walking out the door to a new lover, a woman who still loves him left behind. As he leaves, the singer tells him about a note she found in an old pair of his pants, a note she wrote describing herself back when their relationship was new. Her likes and dislikes are mostly familiar enough–Gone with the Wind, Marilyn Monroe, truck stops–along with a few idiosyncratic ones: American Pie, Jessica Lange when she played Patsy Cline. The note is signed “The Girl of Your Dreams.”

This is the person you’ve forgotten I am, the singer is saying; this is the person you started out loving, who’s been lost in the day-to-day of our lives. This is a reminder of the best part of ourselves that we’ve taken for granted but is still there.

Such appeals rarely work, and it’s clear it’s not going to work here. We’re left with the subtle catch in Cryner’s voice as she sings that ultimate sorrowful rhetorical question that reappears in many guises in many such songs:

Have the years that we spent together
Been that cruel?

The song chokes me up every time I hear it. And Jessica Lange truly was wonderful as Patsy Cline.

Where Are They Now: the Internet helps us with the “Are” part–they’re still out there, have Web sites and Kickstarters, seem to be available for weddings and funerals–but not so much with the “Where.” I hope they’ve made enough money to get by. I hope their record company experiences were not too scarring. I hope they had other things in their lives to fill the place they initially designated for stardom. I mostly hope that occasionally on a Saturday night they still crank these songs out, either as an early act on a bill of bigger names at a theater or past midnight at a local bar where the small crowd knows every word to every one of their songs.