Tom T. Hall – America the Ugly

Tom T. Hall

Tom T. Hall’s fans dubbed him “The Storyteller” and you can see why when you listen to his songs. Originally from Kentucky, Hall doesn’t have to try to produce an authentic, old-fashioned Southern sound through his music.

I heard Hall’s song Old Dogs, Children and Watermelon Wine on The Current‘s United States of Americana and loved it. The song immediately reminded me of the classic 60’s and 70’s country from artists like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard.

At first glance, America the Ugly sounds like a funny title for a song. If you read the lyrics below and take time to digest what Hall is saying, it really hits home. I had a hard time finding when this song was released, but it was featured on his 1995 album, Storyteller, Poet, Philosopher and seems just as relevant today as whenever he may have written it. I would be particularly interested in finding out about his reference to “the enemy” and if he’s referring to the devil. Either way, the theme I took from the song is that if those of us who have the means took care of the poor and hurting this country would look much different. All the lyrics aside, the song has some great country guitar and a nice, laid back melody.

There was a man came to see the USA from a foreign land
To photograph the progress of dear old Uncle Sam
He got off the boat in New York went down to the Bowery
I know what the man went to photograph and to see
There were hopeless hungry living dead
Winos who sell their souls for a bottle of a cheapest red
That’s the picture that he wanted
And that’s what he got they say America the ugly today

He went to the Appalachians and he saw what we all have seen
Where people live on bread and soup fat back and pinto beans
He saw the hungry children and he photographed the ragged clothes
I guess we’re gonna try to tell him that it ain’t so
There were good men standin’ around with nothing to do
Pregnant young women who didn’t even have a pair of shoes
The man got his pictures and what are we going to say America the ugly today

Then he went to the medicare centers and he saw the old people there
It seems that the young generation just didn’t want ’em in their hair
He saw the poor man workin’ it out while the mighty rich lives high
And my friend that brings a gleam to the enemy’s eyes
There were some folks had plenty and some had none at all
The enemy knows when a heart gets hard the country is bound to fall
If we get heads and hearts together we won’t have to hear them say
America the ugly today America the ugly today

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