I admit that I was initially skeptical of Krishna Country Gold. East meets West, guitars & sitars? Nah, I’m good. In fact, I can’t count the number of times I’ve been at the supper table railing against whoever first shoved a sitar into a rock n’ roll song (Brian Jones? George Harrison? Whichever, wherever I end up, we’re havin’ words), so I nearly allowed the latest EP from Alabama’s B.B. Palmer to float by like so much dandelion pappus on the breeze… But let me go ahead and state for the record now that I was wrong.
Inspired by what can only be considered a dharmic discovery of the Bhagavad Gita, the epic Hindu scripture from the first millennium, Bernard Palmer Breitung (aka B.B. Palmer) discovered an undivined well of spirituality within himself, and through reading the ancient text, was obliged to explore Indian culture and experiment with meditation, yoga, and of course, the music of the Sama Vedas. It’s heady stuff and from a kid raised Catholic on the west side of Mobile Bay, it strikes a strange but ultimately compelling stance in the realm of Cosmic Country music.
Krishna Country Gold opens with a rolling acoustic guitar that swells with Morricone reverb and enigmatic Man With No Name presence before whip-cracking into a surprising melange of Telecaster, sitar, and dramatic intent. Dubbed the “The Great Cosmic Motion Picture Show”, the song was inspired by guru Paramahansa Yogananda, who in meditation experienced a transfer of consciousness, simultaneously existing within himself and a dying soldier during WWII. It’s a two-minute tune thick with movement but angel-wing light that establishes B.B.’s mission of blending traditional Indian instruments and music with classic honky tonk hallmarks.
“God Consciousness” comes in hillbilly strong, layered with guitar, fiddle, and pedal steel before darkly changing tactics and segueing into funky, danceable territory that makes me wonder if Jerry Reed ever picked up a sitar or what the Buckaroos might’ve sounded like with Ravi Shankar sitting in at the Crystal Palace.
Taylor Hunnicutt, a card-carrying member of B.B. Palmer the outfit, supplies harmony throughout KCG and duets properly on “Why Do You”, a ballad potentially designed for a Calcutta rodeo afterparty and heartbreakingly anchored by the query, “Dammit Bernard, why does it always seem so hard for you to let go and die?” The sentiment is likely tethered more to spiritual freedom and earthly detachment but nevertheless conjures the tragedies of Hank Willams and Townes Van Zandt in red and gold tones.
The Sgt. Peppery “Simulation Theory” is deceptively the darkest cut on the EP, reveling in a myriad of conspiracies and ridiculousness that have unfortunately come to define western– particularly American– culture, and when B.B. sings, “I don’t know what the game is, I’m just tired of playing / Enlightenment is five percent of living, but I want it all,” he delivers a soft rebuke and the sharpest notion on the entire EP.
Like any tale worth telling, Krishna Country Gold’s concise and beautifully executed narrative ends at the beginning, arriving at the pattern’s genesis with “Many World’s Theory”, the first song B.B. crafted for the project and a melodic cherry on top of the falooda. B.B. declares “I already know where I’d like to go when I have to die / I’d like to fall asleep in a dream of your mind,” and it’s that faith in the manifestation of popular belief mixed with tanpura and steel guitar strings that leave such a sweet and enduring impression. I don’t know how or why but heaven help me, the dang thing works.
Now, I won’t be rushing out to purchase any sitar compilations– but I think I’ve got an old copy of the Gita waiting for me somewhere, and if you’ve made it this far and don’t think I’ve cracked, I hope you’ll give the five songs on Krishna Country Gold a spin. You’ve only enlightenment to risk.
AI- Back in the spring, I spoke to Taylor Hunnicutt and we briefly touched on Krishna Country Gold. Honestly, when she first told me about it, I groaned– I won’t lie– and she did exactly the same thing you’re doin’ right now, she laughed at me! She said, “Oh when he first told us about it, we thought he’d cracked! We thought we were watching him lose his mind in real time!” But she said, “But then I heard it! I just had to trust the process.” Now, I’ve heard it, and I know why she laughed at me. How did this begin?
BB- I don’t know when it really started. The first videos we started to work on for the singles, let’s say that’s the start date, and that happened right before COVID hit– February 2020? But I’d started writing and wanted to do the idea two years prior to that.
The Bhagavad Gita— I kinda reacquainted myself with it. I read some of it the brief time I spent in college many, many years ago. You found a copy of it in a closet in a place you were livin’, and this is what sparked this spiritual, musical journey?
Yeah, no doubt. It was like somethin’ off The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (laughs)! I just opened up this door and a whole world fell out!
What was it that resonated so much? Was it a particular moment in time? I sometimes consider myself more of like a trashy, agnostic Daoist at times…
I can relate to that!
So I thoroughly understand the need to explore and pursue other religions’ philosophies. The eternal search for truth– was that an extension of that for you and just caught you at the right time?
Yeah, it just kinda hit me. They call the years up to thirty and thirty-five the “Christ Years” of the human existence ’cause that’s when not everybody but a good portion of people start to think about somethin’ other than the physical plain and the material world. I think the combination of where I was at that point, where I’d been before, and where I was heading was like a rebirth. The Gita certainly kicked that off even though I didn’t really understand it the first many times… I still have trouble understandin’ it but parts of it deeply, for some reason, I connected with.
I see the parallels between psychedelia and cosmic country and then some of the text of the Gita, and when you begin to put that all together with music… There’s no stretch of all those artists back in the ’60s experimenting with those sounds, but it’s a little more rare in this day in age for someone so closely tied to country music experimenting with that. The first thing I thought of when I heard Krishna Country Gold, immediately, George Strait popped into my mind, you know, “By transcendental meditation, I go there each night,” from “All My Ex’s”. I’ve always thought that was a misplaced line in his song, but now I don’t think it was! Now, I think it was on the path to what you’re doing!
Great line! Absolutely! Mixin’ this and music, they go hand and hand. You know “OM”, [sings] ommmmmm… That’s the eternal sound of the creation of the universe. The first thing that was created in the universe was the vibration of sound according to the Gita text. And that makes sense now that we’re discovering noise and sound emitted from gravitational waves. It’s funny how western science is starting to line up with the deep philosophies and religious texts of 6000 years ago from the east! I think that’s a beautiful juxtaposition, and those two could work very well together.
How did you prepare musically to make this? Sitting down to write the lyrics, that seems like a job separate from sitting down to sonically map all this out. And how did you prepare your band?
Oh man, there was no preparin’ for it (laughs)! You kinda just go with the flow because you can’t prepare for somethin’ you’ve never done before, you know? I mean, you can– but it’s better to just let it happen naturally and with this process, it was very natural. Like you said, when you talked to Taylor, I brought it to the band, and really Josh [McKenzie]– God bless Josh, that’s my brother right there, he’s been with me since the beginning– is the reason why me and Taylor and the band are doin’ it today. He’s the essence of B.B. Palmer, so really, I seek his approval like a son would a father. I could see his uncertainty like, “You wanna do what now? Um…” And I was like, “Just trust me,” and he did ’cause he always has.
As far as the music goes, the lyrics were the most natural part of it. There was times that I think that these songs didn’t come from me, you know what I’m sayin’? I was just the medium for somethin’ else. Had to be. It didn’t feel like the other two records that we did– those felt like it was comin’ more from me. But this was somethin’ that just poured outta me, so that was a cinch, you know, it wasn’t a problem. I blacked out and let it happen.
The music part took time and it took experimenting and it took tryin’ to find the right people and it took tryin’ to find how do you blend eastern modalities and the scales– which are totally different tuned instruments– with western instruments. Eventually, over the course of a few years, I was able to find the right people– and they all happened to be in Alabama!
Which is the best part of this! You brought up Josh McKenzie who has quickly become one of my very favorite guitarists. Havin’ him wrangle that Telecaster around the sitar… This is the second time in just a few weeks that I’ve had a conversation involving a sitar with another artist, and I never woulda thought that would come about! Your sitar player and your pedal steel player are the same, and I find that completely wild! Davis Little, right?
Yeah, me and Dave go way back! Me and Dave played in a bluegrass band together before B.B. Palmer was ever a thought! I remember goin’ over to his trailer, him and Daniel [Raine]– they do Little Raine Band– when they moved to Auburn. They were young kids– I say young ’cause they were like like 17, 18 at the time– and I was probably 24, somethin’ like that. I remember goin’ over there and Davis was already into Hindustani, classical music, raga… He was into the Vedic text long before I was, has always been a very deeply spiritual dude, and so it came full circle when our drummer Mr. Ken Zephyr ran into Davis eight months before we were plannin’ to go in the studio, and he was like, “Yeah, we’re lookin’ for a sitar player,” and Davis was like, “Well, I just got a sitar six months ago!”
I immediately was like, “Anybody else, I would be skeptical about just gettin’ a sitar six months ago,” but Davis, I knew how deeply he understood the Vedic traditions. It was very serendipitous to get him on board, and obviously, he’s a great musician– he plays multiple instruments– so I was like, “What else can you play? Let’s get you on this!”
Have you been able to pull all of this off live? Have you been performing these songs the way they were intended? And how’s that goin’ over?
We have been performin’ ’em live, but we just do it as the five-piece band. They’ve been goin’ over pretty good because they’re just basically stripped-down versions of what you hear on the record. It’d be nice to take a twelve-piece band on the road and have a sitar strapped to the top o’ the van– but obviously, for a working band like us that’s tryin’ and fightin’ to get by and make a livin’ doin’ this, you don’t have that option. You have to break it down to its core elements, which has been nice ’cause you can hear it in a more simple way.
You’ve said that you wanted this music to be a bridge between those two cultures. Tell me about the other side of it– have you gotten feedback from anyone in the Indian or Hindu community that play that style of music?
I have, actually, which has been very cool because I’ve been wonderin’ that myself, “How will this go over with my brothers and sisters from that culture?” I met a fan of ours at a show who was Indian– her parents were from India, she kinda grew up between India and England, and she lives in the South now. She’s turned me on to a whole other side of it. She sent the tapes to Ali Akbar Kahn’s son, which he’s like one of the guys who brought the sarod [a fretless Hindustani string instrument] over to the West in the early 1900s when we were just findin’ out about the East and raga music. Some of the sons of Ali Akbar Kahn have an institute out in California that teaches raga and sarod. We’ve been gettin’ feedback online from our brothers and sisters from India and it’s a beautiful thing to see they’ve embraced it. Somebody told me the other day that our top listeners for [“God Conciousness] are all from Bangladesh! So that’s been cool to see that it’s been reciprocated.
You kick off the EP with “The Great Cosmic Motion Picture Show”, and that has a definite element of what we brought up earlier, that “transcendental meditation”– do you practice yoga? Do you meditate?
For sure, no doubt! It’s been a massive part o’ my life for the past two and half years. I do pranayama, I do asanas, I do mantras and meditation… I take not only what’s good for me from that lineage, but I also incorporate Theravada Buddhist practices and Catholic practices like Thomas Merton [a Trappist monk who wrote extensively about Eastern and Western religion]. It’s funny, discovering this lineage and this type of religion of the East has made me come full circle with my upbringing and understanding the Bible more deeply.
And that makes sense ’cause one of the core tenets– if I can use that word– of [the Bhagavad Gita] is that there can be multiple ways, it doesn’t have to be just one singular path– you have almost infinite in front of you to choose from and to utilize. The Bhagavad Gita starts with the onset of a war, a civil war, and I can’t help but think that’s not a coincidence to come out at this point in time where… I don’t know that I necessarily believe we’re starin’ down the barrel of an actual, legitimate civil war, but that is something that people throw out as far as American politics these days and there’s been a lotta bad goin’ on for a long time. How much of that played a role in creating Krishna Country Gold?
I guess I haven’t really thought consciously of that. But you’re right, the Bhagavad Gita starts off with two families at war with each other and Krishna comin’ down as the eighth avatar of Vishnu and taking Arjuna, one of the head warriors from the families, and telling him, “Listen, you’re sittin’ here in anguish. You don’t wanna have to kill your family, you don’t wanna have to do this but at the end of the day, your dharma’s your dharma, your path is your path.”
You just have to go and do your work and when you remove yourself from your humanity, where your heart hurts and it’s open and you feel for your brothers and sisters and there’s suffering, there’s pain, there’s war, there’s grief, there’s famine– if you can step back from that and see outside of your humanity, you can see that it’s all perfect. Everything is tuned perfectly.
Say that to most people and they’re like, “How can you say this is perfect? What kind of God would bring suffering, war, disease, famine, and children dying? Old men and women suffering?” But if you really stand back and look at it, it’s all perfectly attuned. I don’t think I was consciously thinkin’ of what we’re dealin’ with here in the US when it came to [Krishna Country Gold], but I can see how that ties into the Bhagavad Gita. Other than the one song, “Simulation Theory”, that kinda highlights the madness (laughs) that we’re livin’ in with conspiracy theories. I think that definitely highlights what you’re talkin’ about in where we are right now. There’s a lot of cognitive dissonance goin’ on over here and when the human brain can’t wrap their mind around somethin’, they start sayin’, “Oh, well, that’s not how it is. Actually, what’s really happenin’ is these people in government are eating babies!” I think that’s the only song that I consciously thought of what’s goin’ on in the West, just to represent that a little bit on the record.
Five songs on this EP and each one of them is encapsulated around that three-minute mark– some a little less, some just a little over– so there’s never a moment that bogs. It moves so smoothly but it is still– as succinct as it is– rather operatic and also epic in its way. That begs the question of a larger work. Are you gonna continue to work with melding these two styles?
You know, prob’ly not (laughs)! This has changed my life and definitely opened up doors I couldn’t have possibly imagined bein’ opened up six, seven years ago, but when it comes to writing and what’s on the horizon and what’s next, I typically do the record and get done. With this, as much as it’s been a blessing, it’s kinda like, “Alright, the children are gettin’ grown, time to move outta the house! We’ll see ya later down the road!”