Review: Mary Gauthier, Gretchen Peters and Eliza Gilkyson

By Paul T. Mueller

The tour is billed as “Three Women and the Truth,” and that’s, well, the truth. There is a whole lot of truth in the songs of Mary Gauthier, Gretchen Peters and Eliza Gilkyson, and the trio presented it straight up to a capacity audience at the first of two April 23 shows at McGonigel’s Mucky Duck in Houston. The format couldn’t have been much simpler – three women, each with an acoustic guitar. But the writing and performing skill on display were anything but simple.

The trio took turns, each performing five songs, with occasional vocal and/or instrumental support from the others. The subject matter included such themes as death (Peters’ “Hello Cruel World”), romantic difficulty (Gilkyson’s “Think About You”) and social inequity (Gauthier’s “Sugar Cane”).

But while the tone was a bit dark, the performances were dazzling. Particularly affecting were Peters’ “The Matador,” an ambivalent love story full of rich imagery; Gilkyson’s “Easy Rider,” a touching tribute to her father, folksinger and songwriter Terry Gilkyson, one of whose groups was The Easy Riders; and Gauthier’s classic “Mercy Now,” which earned one of the set’s most enthusiastic responses.

Accompanying the music was a generous sprinkling of between-songs banter covering such topics as the sometimes alarming honesty of Dutch audiences, Gilkyson’s skills with onstage electronics (when something went wrong, she was able to make a quick repair), and

Gauthier’s prowess at parallel-parking large vehicles (she got a big laugh when she referred to that skill as “kind of a lesbian pride thing”).

After what seemed like a much-too-short set, the trio took a bow, conferred briefly and sat down again to alternate verses on a beautiful rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom.”

Review: Caleb Caudle’s “Carolina Ghost”

 By Paul T. Mueller

caudle2_160Caleb Caudle is a fine singer and a better-than-average songwriter, but his latest album, Carolina Ghost, doesn’t quite do justice to his gifts.

The pieces are there – tasteful guitar picking, twangy steel guitar, a solid rhythm section, some keyboards for flavor. But what it adds up to is a pleasant and not-very-challenging sound that’s reminiscent of the country pop of the Seventies.

Technically, it’s hard to fault the precise playing and the clean production by Caudle and Jon Ashley. But the album doesn’t capture the full sound and spirit Caudle and his musicians are capable of when performing live. Carolina Ghost is a good effort that would have benefited from a little more grit.

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New releases: Charlie Faye, Hartford and Forrester

New and upcoming releases:

FAYETTESCharlie Faye and the Fayettes –  Charlie Faye teams up with Betty Soo and Akina Adderley to form a girl group on her new album “Charlie Faye and the Fayettes.” It melds a ’60 sound with 2016 attitude, exemplifed by the sexual invitations on “Green Light.” The Chiffons would have been appalled. Classic influences abound, from the Ronettes intro to “Coming Around the Bend” to “Breakaway”-era Jackie DeShannon on “Delayed Reaction.” It’s all fresh and fun.

Cornflower BluesInvincible – Reflective third  album from Ontario band, due June 1.

homemadesugarJohn Hartford  and Howdy ForresterHome Made Sugar and a Puncheon Floor – Spring Fed Records( The Center for Popular Music at Middle Tenessee State University) – Historic home recordings from John Hartford and fiddler Howdy Forrester. The album offers an informal performance and conversation focusing on  songs Forrester learned as a boy from his Great Uncle Bob Cates.

Town MountainSouthern Crescent – Spirited  new bluegrass album, due April 1.

Bobcat-cover-for-webstore-280x251[1]Kyle TuttleBobcat – Debut album of Nashville-based banjo player Kyle Tuttle features his own compositions.

Steve DawsonSolid States and Loose Ends – Canadian artist Steve Dawson, now based in Nashville, releases his seventh solo album.

Mary Ann CasaleRestless Heart – Blues, folk and jazz from Northern New York artist.

speed of the plowMatt Brown and Greg ReishSpeed of the Plow –Fiddler Matt Brown and guitarist Greg Reish play old-time American instrumentals.

Lizanne Knott Excellent Day – Bluesy, intimate new album due April 8.

Tin Toy Cars – Debut album from Las Vegas-based Tin Toy Cars.

Celebration of songwriting at Tin Pan South

By Ken Paulson

Wayland Holyfield and Dickey Lee

Wayland Holyfield and Dickey Lee

The Tin Pan South songwriters festival in Nashville this week offered up five nights of remarkable performances by some of the country’s best songwriters, but an early show on Thursday at the Station Inn featuring three veteran performers and writers was among the most memorable.

I’ve just finished reading The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory, a book by John Seabrook that documents how today’s songs are engineered rather than created. There’s a new hook every few seconds because the formula demands it. Every generation complains that “all these new songs sound the same.” This time they’re right.

That’s why the performance at the Station Inn was so special. Buzz Cason, Dickey Lee and Wayland Holyfield have had hits spanning five decades, fueled by inspiration, happenstance and creativity.

Buzz Cason

Buzz Cason

Cason’s “Soldier of love” was covered by the Beatles during the BBC sessions and his “Everlasting Love” has become a pop standard. But he explained that his professional breakthrough came just by mimicking the goofy doo-wop vocals of Jan and Dean, and then submitting the songs to the duo. The result: “Tennessee” and the Top 25 single “Popsicle.”

 Dickey Lee had a successful career as a recording artist and performed “I Saw Linda Yesterday,” his hit from 1963.  But the emotional stakes of that song were trumped by his biggest hit, “She Thinks I Still Care,” a classic in the hands of George Jones. Lee said the song was inspired by a girl who broke his heart.

Holyfield played “Rednecks, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer,” his first hit as a songwriter and a big record for Johnny Russell. But the highlight of  his performance was “You’re My Best Friend,” a Don Williams hit that Holyfield dedicated to his wife.

And so it goes. The hits of the past were inspired by lost love. Found love. And an impulse to get Jan and Dean to record your songs.

No algorithms. No product. Just art, creativity and fun.

CTM writers at Tin Pan South

Review: Parker Millsap’s “The Very Last Day”

 By Paul T. Mueller

MillsapIs April too early to start talking about contenders for best album of the year? Probably, but chances are Parker Millsap’s The Very Last Day is going to be on a lot of people’s Top 10 lists come December. It’s no stretch to call the Oklahoma singer-songwriter’s third album one of the best of the year so far. Millsap starts with conventional musical forms, including blues, folk, bluegrass and a bit of jazz, and puts an unconventional spin on them. He ends up with a sound that’s all his own, and a collection of slightly offbeat songs marked by excellent writing, exuberant singing and accomplished playing.

A lot of the buzz around The Very Last Day is going to center on “Heaven Sent,” in which a gay son seeks acceptance from his minister father. It is a brilliant piece of songwriting, heart-wrenching and affirming at the same time. “You say that it’s a sin/ but it’s how I’ve always been,” Millsap sings, his tormented voice dramatically underscored by guitar and violin. “Did you love me when/he was just my friend?” It’s a powerful message, combining anguish and defiance, and Millsap has the emotional range to get it across convincingly.

The title track deals with an unusual subject – nuclear apocalypse – in an unexpected way. Instead of dread, there’s a kind of gleeful resignation. “You know there ain’t no reason being so afraid/Yeah, you can try to hide, but it’s gonna get you anyway,” Millsap sings. “When I see that cloud, gonna sing out loud/Lift my head and say/Praise the Lord, it’s the very, very, very last day.”

There’s plenty more – “Pining,” a sweet love song; “Hades Pleads,” in which the lord of the underworld seeks companionship; “Morning Sun,” a gentle, bluesy song about love and loneliness; “Hands Up,” a rocking first-person narrative by a reluctant gas-station robber. The album closes with “Tribulation Hymn,” a beautiful and cryptic meditation on spirituality and sin.

Of the 11 tracks, all are Millsap compositions except for the classic blues-gospel song “You Gotta Move,” which here gets an excellent acoustic treatment. A staple of Millsap’s live shows, it’s fueled by his almost unearthly vocals and the powerful, yet somehow playful, violin of Daniel Foulks.

Other players include the third member of Millsap’s touring band, bassist Michael Rose, playing both acoustically and electrically; Patrick Ryan on drums and percussion, and Tim Laver on accordion and keyboards. Backing vocals are courtesy of Erika Attwater, Sara Jarosz, Aiofe O’Donovan, Caitlyn O’Doyle and Sara Watkins.

 

Song Suffragettes at Tin Pan South

 

Opening night at Tin Pan South

Tin Pan South 2016 preview

By Ken Paulson

Mac Davis and Bobby Braddock at Tin Pain South 2011

Mac Davis and Bobby Braddock at Tin Pan South 2011

Tin Pan South, one of Nashville’s best -and most economical – music festivals begins Tuesday, April 9, the first of  five nights of songwriter showcases.

This annual event brings together songwriting legends (Bobby Bare, Mac Davis, Bill Anderson) and songwriters dominating the charts today (Luke Laird, Barry Dean, Natalie Hemby, Lori McKenna, Jessi Alexander.) It features legacy artists (Dickie Lee, Buzz Cason) and current stars (Will Hoge, Kacey Musgraves.)

The songwriters rounds encompass a wide range of themes – “A Little Chick on Pick Action” anyone? – but the overall quality is always high. Some shows that we found particularly intriguing:

Tuesday, April 5, 6pm | $20 Bluebird Cafe
Bill Anderson, Bobby Bare, Buddy Cannon, special guests

Tuesday, April 5, 6pm | $20 The Country

Jessi Alexander, Cary Barlowe, Jonathan Singleton, Josh Thompson

Tuesday, April 5, 9pm | $15 Whiskey Rhythm Saloon
Keith Burns, Jim Peterik, Collin Raye, Joie Scott, special guest

Wednesday, April 6, 9pm | $15 Station Inn
Chuck CannonLari WhiteLee Roy Parnell

Wednesday, April 6, 9pm | $20 Bluebird Cafe
Mac Davis, Scotty Emerick, Leslie Satcher, Special Guest

Thursday, April 7, 6pm | $20 Listening Room
Barry Dean, Natalie Hemby, Luke Laird, Lori McKenna, Special Guest

Thursday, April 7, 6pm | $10 Station Inn
Buzz Cason, Wayland Holyfield, Dickey Lee

Thursday, April 7, 9pm | $15 Douglas Corner
Bekka Bramlett, Billy Burnette, Bruce Gaitsch, Dennis Morgan

Thursday, April 7, 6pm | $15 Bluebird Cafe

Pat Alger, Don Henry, Livingston Taylor, Jon Vezner

Friday, April 8, 6:30pm | $20 3rd and Lindsley
Granville Automatic (Elizabeth Elkins & Vanessa Olivarez),
Travis Meadows, Angaleena Presley

Friday, April 8, 6:30pm | $15 Listening Room
Jeff Cohen, James T. Slater, Kim Richey

Saturday, April 9, 6:30pm | $15 Station Inn
Marti Dodson, Will Hoge, Tony Lane, Jason Mizelle, Special Guest

Saturday, April 9, 6:30pm | $20 3rd and Lindsley
A Benefit for Bonaparte’s Retreat
Clare Bowen, Chris Carmack, Colin Linden, Brandon Young, special guest, hosted by Emmylou Harris

Saturday, April 9, 9:30pm | $25 3rd and Lindsley
Shane McAnally, Kacey Musgraves, Josh Osborne

The full schedule can be found on the Nashville Songwriters Association website.

Review: Jason Wilber’s “Echoes”

By Paul T. Mueller
wilberJason Wilber is best known to many as the nattily dressed guy who stands to the right of the great John Prine on stage, playing guitar and mandolin and singing harmony. Wilber also happens to be a singer-songwriter in his own right, with nine solo albums to his credit.

The newest, Echoes, finds him performing songs by other writers. He’s covering a lot of ground here – Leon Russell’s “A Song for You,” the Rolling Stones’ “As Tears Go By,” Pink Floyd’s “Echoes,” Joni Mitchell’s “Edith and the Kingpin,” David Bowie’s “Oh You Pretty Things” and Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed” are among the 11 tracks. Of course Wilber’s boss gets his due, with a solemn reading of “Paradise,” Prine’s lament about the despoiled coal country of Kentucky.

Echoes follows several years’ serious effort by Wilber to improve his singing voice, and while he will probably always be more noted as a guitarist than as a singer, his vocals do justice to the essence of these songs. The album benefits from spare but clean production by Paul Mahern, who also handled percussion duties, with help on a couple of tracks from Devon Ashley. The rest of it – guitars, bass and vocals – is all Wilber.

 

 

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