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|A Little Too Country, a Little Too Rock 'n' Roll: Cross Canadian Ragweed, May 3 at the Capitol Theatre|
|Music - Feature Stories|
|Written by Jeff Ignatius|
|Wednesday, 29 April 2009 06:00|
On Cross Canadian Ragweed's 2007 album Mission California, the lead track is "Record Exec," and the prompt was the legendary Tony Brown, the co-founder of the band's label who played with Elvis Presley and produced records by everyone from Steve Earle to Reba McEntire.
It's not a flattering portrait, and it jumps out as an unnecessary agitation and a passive-aggressive bit of acting out. After all, Cross Canadian Ragweed - playing on Sunday at the Capitol Theatre in downtown Davenport - is still on the same major label and still doing pretty well.
And it doesn't stop with that song. "Record label hasn't done shit for us for three years," said Cody Canada - Cross Canadian Ragweed's singer, guitarist, and chief songwriter - in a phone interview last week.
The song and the attitude are symptomatic of Cross Canadian Ragweed's uneasy relationship with the music industry and Nashville. It's not that the band has gotten shafted by its label; it's just that they don't fit comfortably anywhere, and I'm skeptical any label would know what to do with the quartet.
Pegged as a country act even though one listen would disabuse anybody of that notion, too rock for country radio, too country for rock radio, and too polished and straightforward and bright for alt-country credibility, Cross Canadian Ragweed has a big following but no natural territory.
Canada has said he knew what was going to happen when Brown asked to take a crack at the band's "This Time Around"; he thought he would butcher it, and he was right.
"He left my vocals, and that was it," Canada said, and replaced the band with Nashville session players.
This didn't please Canada, for obvious reasons. He confronted Brown and pleaded with him not to release it. (The band's version appears on its 2005 album Garage.)
And even though Brown was gone from the label by the time Mission California was released, "Record Exec" stands as an unsubtle poke at Universal South.
It's primarily a country label, and while three of Cross Canadian Ragweed's albums have peaked in the top six on the country charts, Canada spits in the face of contemporary country at pretty much every opportunity, and has from the beginning.
"Whatever you do, don't label us as a country act," Canada said he told Universal South. "The people we are trying to reach are not going to listen at all because they're going to think we're country."
As Canada said bluntly, "We don't like country music," although he amended that the band doesn't like what's called country these days.
I don't mean to paint Canada as bitter. He seems friendly enough, but this issue with pigeonholing and country music seems to color nearly everything. Cross Canadian Ragweed has two albums left on its contract with Universal South, and the upcoming Happiness & All the Other Things seems (again) designed to provoke the label.
The initial description sounds innocuous enough. Canada said there's more piano, more organ, and more female vocals.
"We kind of did something like the Sgt. Pepper's thing. We upped it a notch. ... It's our 10th record, our 15th year as a band, let's do something completely for us and get weird." Canada teamed up with co-writer Stephanie Briggs - whom he said is metaphoric in a way he never could be - and the band recorded in California from March 3 to April 1.
What's telling is that the band shuttered itself in the house where it recorded. Only those directly involved in the recording were present - fewer than 10 people.
"This time around, we didn't let anybody in," Canada said. The recording was done "without any outside ears hearing it before it's done. ... We didn't want opinions. ... Nobody touched that but us."
With this album and the firing of its old publicist, Canada said, "we are 100 percent throwing in the towel, folding our cards, walking away from anything remotely close to country music."
It's apparent that Cross Canadian Ragweed still hasn't mended that rift with the label. Canada didn't like what Brown did to their song, but he also said that he hasn't had a relationship with anybody at Universal South since Brown and the label's other co-founder accepted a buyout in 2006.
"We tried to leave" the label, he said, but Universal South refused to release Ragweed. "If the label doesn't like you, they'll kick you out. If you don't like the label, you're fucked.
"We're one of the best sellers over there. That's why they won't let us go."
But Canada said the band won't phone it in for the last two records under its contract. "They're going to release them," Canada said, "so why not go out with a bang? ...
"It's called a record because it's permanent."
Cross Canadian Ragweed will perform on Sunday, May 3, at the Capitol Theatre (330 West Third Street in Davenport). Ernie Hendrickson opens, and the show starts at 7 p.m. Tickets are $18 and $22 and available from TheCapDavenport.com.
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