Review: Willie Nile’s “If I Was A River “

Willie Nile river 150x150 Review: Willie Niles If I Was A River By Ken Paulson

Willie Nile’s most recent albums American Ride and The Innocent Ones  were vibrant and energetic collections, full of anthemic songs. These were remarkably fresh recordings by an artist in his fourth decade in music.

But it appears that the key to that creative longevity is not to repeat yourself. The new If I Was A River is distinctly different from its predecessors. These are reflective and intimate songs played on piano. It’s very spare, with Nile’s rough-hewn vocal at the forefront.

The album boasts both a great love song (the title track) and a great break-up song in “I Can’t Do Crazy (Anymore,) written with Danny Kortchmar.

The oddest song is “Lullaby Loon,” a fun and presumably facetious rant against virtually all forms of music. In contrast, the truly affirming  “Let Me Be the River” comes at album’s end.

If I Was A River is quiet and compelling. We may miss the rocker this time out, but we admire the songwriter.

Follow Sun209 on Twitter at @Sun209com.

Americana Music Association’s Top 100 albums

ama logo button red Americana Music Associations Top 100 albumsThe Americana music Association has just released its list of the top 100 Americana music albums, based on airplay between December 2, 2013 and December 1, 2014. It’s no surprise that genre veterans like Rosanne Cash, Nickel Creek and Rodney Crowell top the list, but it’s gratifying to see emerging artists like Nikki Lane, Shovels and Rope and Lake Street Dive break into the top 10.
The full list:
Rosanne Cash                                                                   The River & The Thread
Nickel Creek                                                                      A Dotted Line
Rodney Crowell                                                                Tarpaper Sky
Hard Working Americans                                              Hard Working Americans
Old Crow Medicine Show                                               Remedy
Nikki Lane                                                                         All Or Nothin’
Lake Street Dive                                                               Bad Self Portraits
Shovels And Rope                                                             Swimmin’ Time
John Hiatt                                                                          Terms Of My Surrender
Sturgill Simpson                                                                Metamodern Sounds In Country Music
Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin                                                    Common Ground
St. Paul & The Broken Bones                                           Half The City
Parker Millsap                                                                    Parker Millsap
Willie Nelson                                                                      Band Of Brothers
Paul Thorn                                                                          Too Blessed To Be Stressed
Lucinda Williams                                                              Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone
Trampled By Turtles                                                         Wild Animals
Various – A Tribute To Jackson Browne                       Looking Into You
Keb Mo                                                                                 BLUESAmericana
Secret Sisters                                                                      Put Your Needle Down
John Fullbright                                                                  Songs
Amos Lee                                                                            Mountains Of Sorrow, Rivers Of Song
Jamestown Revival                                                           Utah
Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison                                          Our Year
Jason Eady                                                                         Daylight & Dark
Infamous Stringdusters                                                   Let It Go
Chuck Mead                                                                       Free State Serenade
Sarah Jarosz                                                                      Build Me Up From Bones
Billie Joe & Norah Jones                                                 Foreverly
Justin Townes Earle                                                         Single Mothers
Ryan Adams                                                                       Ryan Adams
Johnny Cash                                                                       Out Among The Stars
First Aid Kit                                                                        Stay Gold
Carlene Carter                                                                    Carter Girl
Devil Makes Three                                                             I’m A Stranger Here
Red Molly                                                                            The Red Album
Duhks                                                                                   Beyond The Blue
Mastersons                                                                          Good Luck Charm
Will Hoge                                                                             Never Give In
Blackie and the Rodeo Kings                                           South
Puss N Boots                                                                      No Fools, No Fun
Billy Joe Shaver                                                                 Long In The Tooth
Brandy Clark                                                                      12 Stories
Drive-By Truckers                                                             English Oceans
Carolina Story                                                                    Chapter Two
Lee Ann Womack                                                              The Way I’m Livin’
Will Kimbrough                                                                 Sideshow Love
Irene Kelley                                                                        Pennsylvania Coal
Trigger Hippy                                                                    Trigger Hippy
Shakey Graves                                                                   And The War Came
Carolina Story                                                                   Chapter One
Hurray For The Riff Raff                                                Small Town Heroes
Chuck Prophet                                                                   Night Surfer
Girls Guns & Glory                                                           Good Luck
Howlin’ Brothers                                                              Trouble
Blue Highway                                                                    The Game
Amy LaVere                                                                       Runaway’s Diary
Jim Lauderdale                                                                 I’m A Song
Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings                                     Give The People What They Want
Black Prairie                                                                      Fortune
Ruthie Foster                                                                     Promise Of A Brand New Day
Whiskey Myers                                                                  Early Morning Shakes
Robert Ellis                                                                        The Lights From The Chemical Plant
Suzy Bogguss                                                                     Lucky
Seth Walker                                                                        Sky Still Blue
Felice Brothers                                                                   Favorite Waitress
Ray Benson                                                                         A Little Piece
Scott Miller                                                                         Big Big World
String Cheese Incident                                                     Song In My Head
Lydia Loveless                                                                   Somewhere Else
Mingo Fishtrap                                                                  On Time
Haden Triplets                                                                  Haden Triplets
Robert Cray Band                                                             In My Soul
Mike Farris                                                                        Shine For All The People
Tommy Malone                                                                Poor Boy
Zoe Muth                                                                           World Of Strangers
Greg Trooper                                                                     Incident on Willow Street
Charlie Robison                                                                High Life
Marty Stuart                                                                      Saturday Night/Sunday Morning
Various – Inside Llewyn Davis                                       Inside Llewyn Davis
Old 97s                                                                                Most Messed Up
Chris Smither                                                                    Still On The Levee
Various – A Tribute To Born in the USA                      Dead Man’s Town
Deep Dark Woods                                                             Jubilee
Rod Picott                                                                          Hang Your Hopes On A Crooked Nail
Steve Martin And The Steep Canyon Rangers           LIVE featuring Edie Brickell
Janiva Magness                                                                Original
Otis Gibbs                                                                          Souvenirs Of A Misspent Youth
Avett Brothers                                                                  Magpie And The Dandelion
Candi Staton                                                                     Life Happens
Blue Rodeo                                                                        In Our Nature
Dolly Parton                                                                      Blue Smoke
Head And The Heart                                                       Let’s Be Still
Peter Mulvey                                                                     Silver Ladder
John Mellencamp                                                            Plain Spoken
Laura Cantrell                                                                   No Way There From Here
Band Of Heathens                                                            Sunday Morning Record
Jim Lauderdale                                                                 Black Roses
Mary Gauthier                                                                   Trouble & Love
Hannah Aldridge                                                              Razor Wire

2015 Americana Music Grammy nominees announced

Taj Mahal 350x262 2015 Americana Music Grammy nominees announced

2015 Grammy nominee Taj Mahal

The 2015 Grammy nominees for Best Americana album, Best American Roots Performance and Best American Roots Song were announced today.

Best Americana Album

“The River & the Thread,” Rosanne Cash

“Terms of My Surrender,” John Hiatt

“Bluesamericana,” Keb’ Mo’

“A Dotted Line,” Nickel Creek

“Metamodern Sounds in Country Music,” Sturgill Simpson


Best American Roots Performance

Statesboro Blues, Gregg Allman & Taj Mahal

A Feather’s Not a Bird, Rosanne Cash

And When I Die, Billy Childs Featuring Alison Krauss and Jerry Douglas

The Old Me Better,  Keb’ Mo’ Featuring The California Feet Warmers

Destination, Nickel Creek


Best American Roots Song

“A Feather’s Not A Bird,” Rosanne Cash & John Leventhal (Rosanne Cash)

“Just So Much,” Jesse Winchester (Jesse Winchester)

“The New York Trains,” Woody Guthrie & Del McCoury (The Del McCoury Band)

“Pretty Little One,” Edie Brickell & Steve Martin, songwriters (Steve Martin And The Steep Canyon Rangers Featuring Edie Brickell)

“Terms Of My Surrender,” John Hiatt (John Hiatt)



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Review: Billy Joe Shaver’s “Long in the Tooth”

(Billy Joe Shaver is coming to Nashville on Dec. 5 to appear at 3rd and Lindsley. He’s touring behind his first album in six years, Long in the Tooth)

By Paul T. Mueller

shaver 150x150 Review: Billy Joe Shavers Long in the ToothAt 75, Billy Joe Shaver is no longer the young country outlaw he once was. But he’s still around and kicking, and on his latest album, Long in the Tooth, he bares his (figurative) teeth on songs about several things he’s not too happy about, including his old nemesis, alcohol; today’s country music, and humanity’s warlike ways. His mellower side shows up on a few nice love songs, and there’s even a tune about growing up that features a train. Shaver is in good voice here and is backed by a fine studio band and guest appearances by some illustrious players. It all adds up to a strong effort.

Standout tracks include:

  • “Last Call for Alcohol,” a country two-step in which Shaver sings about a lost love and the booze in which he’s trying to drown her memories. “Last call for alcohol, I’m finally through with you,” he sings, but it’s not clear whether it’s the lover or the liquor he’s saying goodbye to.
  • “I’ll Love You As Much As I Can,” a gentle but honest warning to a potential romantic partner. “Remember the chance that you’re taking,” Shaver sings. “I’ll love you as much as I can.”
  • “Checkers and Chess” is fueled by the populist, anti-authority outlook that’s long been a Shaver trademark. “Nothin’s fair in this world of lying shame,” he sings. “The rich man steals the money/The poor man takes the blame.” The poor also get to die in rich men’s wars, he later adds.
  • “Hard to Be an Outlaw,” a duet with Willie Nelson that laments the passing of time, while taking a swipe at musical newcomers and what the old guard sees as their unearned success: “They go and call it country/But that ain’t the way it sounds/Makes a renegade like me/Want to terrorize the town.”

The title track is a kind of rap about growing old, but not gracefully. Points for trying, but let’s face it – rap is not what Billy Joe Shaver is best at. “Music City USA” covers similar ground but a lot more effectively. It’s not clear that the story of a young man who left Texas “to capture Music City USA” is autobiographical – that story line could apply to a lot of people – but it might as well be. “That crazy fool with shaggy hair has spread his songs out everywhere,” Shaver sings. “I reckon he done captured Music city USA.”

Four of the album’s 10 tracks were co-written with Gary Nicholson and two with Ray Kennedy; the two Nashville veterans also co-produced the album. They had some good material to work with – the “Can’t Hardly Playboys” studio band consists of guitarists Dan Dugmore and Jedd Hughes, bassist Michael Rhodes and drummer Lynn Williams. Also contributing is a long list of excellent guest artists, including Leon Russell, Tony Joe White, Larry Franklin, Mickey Raphael and Joel Guzman, among others.


Follow Sun209 on Twitter at @Sun209com.


Ian McLagan 1945-2014

Ian 2 350x262 Ian McLagan 1945 2014Ian McLagan’s performance in the parking lot of Grimey’s in Nashville was a highlight of the 2014 Americana Music Festival. McLagan died today, Dec. 3. (Photo by Ken Paulson)


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Celebrating Bobby Keys

Bobby Keys 350x197 Celebrating Bobby KeysBy Ken Paulson

(This article first appeared in May 2011 on Sun209. Bobby Keys passed away this week.)

There was a moment in Bobby Keys’ show at the Mercy Lounge when it dawned on everyone just how pivotal a player in rock history he is. Sure, we knew of his long association with the Rolling Stones and his short, but fruitful association with Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen, but then he told a sweet story about hearing his saxophone on the radio for the first time, and how he wished his girlfriend had been there to hear it. And then he played “The Wanderer.”
It was an apt reminder that throughout the first three decades of rock ‘n’ roll, Key’s sax was at the heart of both AM and FM radio, including such songs as “Brown Sugar,” “Whatever Gets You Through the Night” and Bitch”, as well as albums by George Harrison, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Warren Zevon, Nilsson, Eric Clapton, Faces and dozens more.
Keys’ playing is still vibrant, and he’s joined by a terrific band that includes Dan Baird (Georgia Satellites) on lead vocals and Michael Webb (Poco) on keyboards.
This isn’t an oldies show; it’s a loose and lively celebration of an iconic career, and it does the man justice.

“An Americana Christmas” and other new holiday albums

americana christmas cover 300dpi 150x150 An Americana Christmas and other new holiday albumsBy Ken Paulson

Each year we try to identify new holiday releases for Americana audiences,  but this year New West has made that easy with An Americana Christmas, a thoroughly entertaining collection of Christmas songs from iconic figures like Johnny Cash, John Prine and Emmylou Harris, as well as emerging talents like Valerie June, Nikki Lane and Robert Ellis.

Some of the tracks will fill you with nostalgia, others not so much. I first heard “Must Be Santa” on a Mitch Miller album decades ago; I still find the bizarre Bob Dylan version included here pretty startling.

There are six new recordings joining 12 older tracks. The full listing:

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (Luther Dickinson)

Everything Is Cool (John Prine)

Pretty Paper (Robert Ellis)

The First Noel (Emmylou Harris)

The Gifts They Gave (Johnny Cash)

Just Me And These Ponies (For Christmas This Year) (Corb Lund )

Run Run Rudolph (Dwight Yoakam)

Must Be Santa (Bob Dylan)

Winter Wonderland (Valerie June)

Everybody Deserves A Merry Christmas (Ronnie Fauss)

Season Of My Memory (Max Gomez)

Les Trois Cloches (Ben Keith w/ Neil & Pegi Young)

At Christmas Time (The Common Linnets)

FaLaLa Love Ya – (Nikki Lane)

Here It Is Christmas Time (Old 97’s)
Christmas Must Be Tonight (The Band)

Other holiday albums of note:

Farmer Jason 150x150 An Americana Christmas and other new holiday albumsJason Ringenberg celebrates the holiday with Christmas on the Farm with Farmer Jason. The new children’s album, produced by Thomm Jutz and Peter Cooper,  is great fun, combining traditional songs, new compositions and a friendly narrative from Farmer Jason, It’s the rare album that follows “All I Want for Christmas” (is a Punk Rock Skunk)” with an earnest “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” The highlight is a goofy duet with Webb Wilder on “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
 Another new holiday album comes from Rebecca Roubion, a Nashville-based singer-songwriter. Christmas Lights offers up warm renditions of traditional favorites like “Silent Night,” “What Child Is This, “Joy To The World,” and her own  fresh and her own songs “Stay The Holiday,” “A Lot To Give,” and the total track.
Roubion is touring behind the album, including a Dec. 14 date in Nashville. Other dates on the tour:
12/2 – San Antonio, TX
12/3 – Waco, TX
12/5 – Dallas, TX
12/6 – New Orleans, LA
12/7 – Austin, TX
12/19 – Laurel, MS
12/20 – Mobile, AL


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Tom Waits Tribute set for Dec. 6 in Nashville

Americana Music News - The ninth annual Tom Waits tribute benefitting the Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee is set for 8 p.m. on Dec. 6 at the 5 Spot in Nashville. The suggested donation is $10.
It’s a great cause and a chance to celebrate Waits’ rich body of work.
Guest artists include:

Angel Snow
Carpetbaggers 615
David Olney
Jamison Sevits
Jhesi and The Nighthawks
Lauren Farrah
Radio Champion
Ryan B. Case
Shane Tutmarc
Travis Stephens
Tom Mason
Tommy Womack


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2015 Americana music conference set for Sept. 15-20

The 2015 Americana Music Festival and Conference has been set for Sept. 15 through 20 in Nashville. Early-bird conference registration is now available. More information is available at the Americana Music Association site.

Taj Mahal 350x262 2015 Americana music conference set for Sept. 15 20

Taj Mahal performed at the 2014 Americana Music Association awards show at the Ryman.

Americana Music Festival on PBS this weekend

Ry Cooder 350x263 Americana Music Festival on PBS this weekend

Ry Cooder at the Americana Music Honors and Awards show

The Americana Music Association’s Honors and Award show at the Ryman Auditorium is one of our favorite events of the year, and highlights from the September show  will be shared with a national audience on a special edition of Austin City Limits that begins airing Nov. 22. Performers include Robert Plant, Taj Mahal, Ry Cooder, Rosanne Cash and Flaco Jimenez.

It’s no easy task to distill the best moments of a nearly three-hour event, but the ACL   emphasis is on the music and not the awards. Here’s the setlist shared by the Americana Music Association:

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