Review: Chip Taylor’s “Little Prayers Trilogy”

By Ken Paulson

Little Prayers 150x150 Review: Chip Taylors Little Prayers TrilogyIt’s remarkable that the composer of one of pop’s most shallow hits now writes and records some of America’s deepest and most reflective songs.

“Wild Thing/You make my heart sing/You make everything groovy” is light years away from Chip Taylor’s compositions on The Little Prayers Trilogy, his new three-CD collection on Train Wreck Records.

Though Taylor’s early career included writing such hits as Wild Thing,” “Angel  of the Morning” and “I Can’t Let Go,” he’s carved out a less commercial path as a solo artist, beginning with a series of solo albums in the late ’60s and ‘70s that foreshadowed the Americana genre.

The new album continues his recent run of personal  and often somber recordings. Behind the Iron Door, the first disc, includes two duets with Lucinda Williams (memorable on Taylor’s earlier London Sessions Bootleg) and largely focuses on the oppressed. “Ted Williams” is not about baseball.  The surprise here, though, is the darkest Christmas song you’ve ever heard

Love and Pain, the second disc, includes the hauntingly self-aware Nothin’ Coming Out of Me That I Like,” which continues ” Nothing prayerful and nothing respectful, so I think  I’ll just shut me down  for a while and come back in a while and see who I am.”

Little Prayers is the most sparse of the three discs, although the entire project is characterized by quiet, hushed vocals and minimal instrumentation. It’s an astonishingly intimate recording; you’ll hear every catch of breath, every swallow, every purse of the lips.

This is not background music. It demands your attention. That makes it rewarding, but not a particularly comfortable listening experience.

For Chip Taylor’s long-time fans, the new collection is a thought-provoking bounty. For those new to Taylor’s music, we’d suggest the more accessible Yonkers N.Y. or even Last Chance. In his sixth decade of making music, Chip Taylor is not coasting.

Oct. 27: The Week in Americana Music

This week in Americana

30a logo large 150x150 Oct. 27: The Week in Americana MusicThe sixth annual 30A Songwriters Festival, scheduled for Jan. 16-18 in South Walton County, FL has announced its first round of artists, including Graham Nash, Indigo Girls, Leon Russell, Jason Isbell, Shawn Mullins, Sara Watkins, Chely Wright, Bobby Bare Jr., Steve Poltz, Angaleena Presley, Over the Rhine, Glen Phillips, Jeffrey Steele, Jesse Harris, Mary Gauthier, Hayes Carll, Bob Schneider, Ellis Paul, Allison Moorer, Deana Carter, Peter Karp and Sue Foley and David Ryan Harris.

In Nashville:

On Monday, Oct. 27, Sarah Jarosz and the Milk Carton Kids join forces in concert at 8 p.m. at  the CMA Theater at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

Other shows this week:

Caroline Rose Oct. 28 at the High Watt

Drive By Truckers Oct. 30 at the Ryman Auditorium

Caitlyn Smith Oct. 30 at the Station Inn

The Devil Makes Three at the Marathon Music Works Oct. 31

Rounding out the week is a Nov. 1 appearance by Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee  Pat Alger at the Country Music Hall of Fame at 11:30 a.m.

New this week:

First Waltz – Hard Working Americans

Rock and Roll Time – Jerry Lee Lewis

The Complete Epic Recordings – Stevie Ray Vaughan

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Concert review: Rich Hopkins and the Luminarios

 by Paul T. Mueller    

Rich Hopkins 350x192 Concert review: Rich Hopkins and the Luminarios

Rich Hopkins and Luminarios

Rich Hopkins and the Luminarios brought a rich blend of Arizona desert rock and Texas singer-songwriter tunes to their Oct. 17 performance at McGonigel’s Mucky Duck in Houston. For fans of powerful guitars and sweet harmonies, the result was as refreshing as the long-awaited cool front that blew through the area a few days before.

Fronted by Hopkins, a longtime mainstay of the Tucson music scene, the band was celebrating the release of its excellent new CD, Tombstone (Hopkins also has an extensive discography with his previous band, the Sidewinders, later known as the Sand Rubies). The gig was also a celebration for fans of band member Lisa Novak, who grew up in Houston and achieved notable success as a singer and songwriter before her personal and professional relationship with Hopkins (they married several years ago and released a duo album, Loveland, in 2009).

On display was the band’s signature sound – melodic power pop, often in the service of socially aware themes. Musically, it’s based on a multi-guitar attack (Hopkins and Jon Sanchez on electric, Novak on acoustic) that would sound at home on a Byrds or Tom Petty album, further sweetened by excellent harmonies involving the same three musicians, or various combinations thereof. Drummer George Duron and bassist Michael Poulos provided solid rhythm support.

The set list included Tombstone’s title track, an account of the notorious gunfight at the O.K. Corral as seen from the point of view of one of the Clanton brothers. Also featured from the new collection were “Everything,” an exploration of the idea that material goods don’t always bring happiness, and “Don’t Worry,” an easier-said-than-done response to middle-age angst.

The rest of the 14-song program consisted of older material, including several songs from the previous Luminarios album, Buried Treasures. Among them were “Dark Side of the Spoon,” a stark look at addiction, featuring Sanchez’s fine slide guitar; “Alycia Perez,” sung in Spanish, a sympathetic take on the struggle of immigrants seeking a better life in the United States, and “Strutter,” an ode to a bad girl, which turned (like several other songs) into an extended jam featuring excellent back-and-forth between the guitars of Sanchez and Hopkins.

Hometown favorite Novak got the spotlight on several songs, particularly “The Allure,” a bitter song to a former lover that appeared on her Too Shallow to Swim album, and a couple of nice vocal duets with Hopkins – “Heartbreak Police,” from Loveland, a funny but gritty look at infidelity, and “Good Intentions,” which Hopkins described as an attempt at a jaded country song.

The band followed up with an in-store appearance the following day at Houston’s Cactus Music. The hour-long set, which drew an enthusiastic audience, was a slightly pared-down version of the previous night’s show, but the band’s impressive energy ensured that the music sounded just as good or even better in the light of day.

 

Caroline Rose’s “I WIll Not Be Afraid”

rose cover 150 150x150 Caroline Roses I WIll Not Be Afraidby Paul T. Mueller           

Caroline Rose could hardly have chosen a more appropriate title for her first full-scale CD. On I Will Not Be Afraid, the Vermont-based singer-songwriter comes across as absolutely fearless about doing things her way, from her sometimes obscure lyrics to her somewhat offbeat arrangements.

Rose is only in her mid-20s, but she’s been living the life of a traveling musician for a while. Travel and freedom are recurring themes on the album’s 11 songs, all Rose originals. “When you walk you walk alone/You pray no one will bind you,” she sings on “When You Go.” And in the chorus of “Let Me In,” she declares, “We are young, we’re free/And we don’t need anyone.”

While embracing the freedom of the road, Rose also gleefully sneers at the touchstones of more traditional lifestyles. In “Red Bikini Waltz” she counts them off: red bikinis, Lamborghinis, tans, tasteless beers, tacky houses and so on. “What they don’t know,” she sings, “is those people’ve got nothing that lasts.”

Rose is honest enough to acknowledge that freedom sometimes comes with a dark side. “It’s a wonder I’ve got two legs to stand on,” she sings on “America Religious.” “I drink myself blind uncurtailed by moderation/’Stand on me’ I’ll stand on you/Footloose, disillusioned and blue.”

Rose’s sound ranges from folk to indie rock to country, in various combinations, with some gospel and rockabilly thrown in. There is a lot of excellent musicianship on this album, anchored by Rose’s guitar (she’s equally proficient playing electric or acoustic). Rose also plays organ, harmonica and cello on some tracks. The rest of the core band consists of Jer Coons on drums, mandolin, lap steel and piano (he and Rose shared production duties) and Pat Melvin on bass; both also supply backing vocals. Violinist Ben Lively and bassist Ed Grasmeyer make nice contributions to “America Religious.”

Rose’s lyrics could probably benefit from a bit more focus – despite her instrumental prowess, she comes across as a poet-turned-musician – but I Will Not Be Afraid is an impressive start. “No matter what all comes my way/I will not be afraid,” Rose sings on the gospel-ish title track. That attitude has taken her a long way already, and it should serve her well in the future.

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Oct. 20 – This week in Americana music

This week in Americana

Lucinda Williams remains in the top spot in the Americana Music Association airplay chart with Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, followed by Paul Thorn’s Too Blessed to Be Stressed. Dropping to third is Justin Townes Earle’s Single Mothers, with new albums by Ryan Adams and John Hiatt rounding out the top five.

In Nashville:

Lake Street Dive 150x150 Oct. 20   This week in Americana musicIt’s another great week for live shows in Nashville. We’re particularly enthusiastic about the Lake Street Dive show at the Cannery Ballroom on 10/25. Their Bad Self Portraits is one of our favorite albums of 2014, a smart and engaging pop showcase.

Jason Isbell, the hottest artist in Americana music, has a three-night run at the Ryman Auditorium beginning 10/24.

Wilco 10/21 and 10/22 at the Ryman Auditorium

Mac Wiseman at the Franklin Theatre 10/21

Los Lobos 10/22 at City Winery

Music City Roots, featuring Caleb Klauder, James McMurtry, Del Barber, Caroline Rose and John Oates at the Factory in Franklin

Beausoleil Avec Michael Doucet 10/25 at 3rd and Lindsley

New this week:

The Earls of Leicester, a celebration of Flatt and Scruggs, from Jerry Douglas, Tim O’Brien, Shawn Camp, Charlie Cushman and Barry Bales.

In the news:

The Bonnaroo Music Festival announced its 2015 dates: June 11-14 in Manchester, TN.

Hard Working Americans  will release The First Waltz, a live album and documentary on Oct. 28.

Follow Sun209 on Twitter at @Sun209com.

This week in Americana music

This week in Americana

Lucinda WilliamsDown Where the Spirit Meets the Bone tops the Americana Music Association airplay chart  for yet another week, followed by Justin Townes Earle’s Single Mothers, Paul Thorn’s Too Blessed to Be Stressed (reviewed here) and the latest from Shovels and Rope (review), Ryan Adams and John Hiatt (review.)

In Nashville: Music City Roots at the Factory in Franklin features Selwyn Birchwood, Taylor Beshears, Keelan Donovan and Whiskey Shivers on Oct. 15. Tickets are $15.

Sons of Bill at the High Watt, Friday, Oct. 17

Steel Wheels at 3rd and Lindsley, Oct. 17

Jessi Alexander, Jonathan Singleton, Barry Dean and Jon Randall at the Bluebird Café, Oct. 17

Angaleena CD 150x150 This week in Americana musicAngaleena Presley is featured at the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Songwriter Session at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 18.

The Long Players recreate Born in the USA at 3rd and Lindsley, Oct. 18

In the news:

The Country Music Hall of Fame announced a major exhibition set for March 27, 2015: Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats, Museum director Kyle Young says “this exhibit is a great opportunity to talk about the early confluence of country and rock.”

The Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix has just opened an exhibit celebrating the Carter Family and Johnny Cash.

Americana on tour:

Runner of the Woods in Newport, Kentucky 10/16, Thomas, West Virginia 10/17 and Bluefield, West Virginia, 10/18.

New releases this week:

American Middle Class by Angaleena Presley

The Essential Kinks

Ride Out by Bob Seger

All Them Ghosts by Pauline Andres, “written over 4 years in 4 different countries,” according to the release.

 

 

1861 Project set for Franklin Theatre

Franklin 150x150 1861 Project set for Franklin TheatreBy Ken Paulson

It’s the rare concept album that holds up over multiple editions. Bat Out of Hell III anyone?

One exception was the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Will the Circle Be Unbroken series, which spanned several decades. And now we have the third volume of the  1861 Project, which brings together talented artists to chronicle the Civil War through music.

Franklin, the third volume in this consistently well-done series, focuses on the Battle in Franklin, just south of Nashville. On November 28, the new album – along with selections from the first two editions, will be performed at the Franklin Theater, timed to coincide with the 15oth anniversary of that battle.

Bobby Bare, Kim Richey, Sierra Hull, Maura O’Connell, Peter Cooper, Eric Brace and Irene Kelly are among the talented artists participating in this  rare and possibly final performance of the 1861 Project in concert.

Tickets are available online from the Franklin Theater.

Highly recommended.

Review: Robert Earl Keen and Lyle Lovett in concert

By Paul T. Mueller

A recent show at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands, just north of Houston, marked a kind of homecoming for a pair of celebrated Texas singer-songwriters. The Sept. 11 gig featured Robert Earl Keen opening for friend and former college classmate Lyle Lovett, who was winding down his usual summer tour with his Large Band. Both are from the area – Keen grew up in southwest Houston, while Lovett is from the town of Klein, just northwest of the city. Plenty of friends, family members and longtime fans were in attendance on what turned out to be a mild late-summer evening at the open-air venue.

Backed by his longtime band, Keen started off with “Corpus Christi Bay,” an anthem to brotherly love and good times. Next came his tribute to the late Levon Helm of The Band, “The Man Behind the Drums.” More favorites followed over the next hour and a half – a solemn rendition of Townes Van Zandt’s “Flying Shoes”; a lively take on “Ready for Confetti”; the jazzy “Dreadful Selfish Crime,” featuring nice keyboards by Marty Muse, better known as a pedal-steel player; “Gringo Honeymoon,” with nice acoustic guitar work by Rich Brotherton, and “Shades of Gray,” Keen’s tale of small-time crime and mistaken identity, fueled by an excellent guitar duel between Brotherton and Muse.

 Of course the set included two of the biggest hits of all: “Merry Christmas from the Family,” which Keen proclaimed as the official kickoff of the holiday season, and the closer, a hard-rocking treatment of the crime-love-and-betrayal ballad “The Road Goes on Forever.” Called back to the stage, Keen briefly quieted the crowd by saying he wanted to talk about “something a little bit serious” – but that turned out to be an announcement of the impending sale of “Robert Earl Keen beer” by a local grocery chain. The band finished with “I Gotta Go,” featuring Brotherton’s acoustic guitar and Muse’s resonator.

 After a short intermission, Lovett’s Large Band took the stage with its usual instrumental intro. Lovett, accompanied by the legendary Francine Reed, came out and launched into the classic “Stand By Your Man.” A few songs later, the 14-piece ensemble took a jazzy turn on “Penguins,” featuring some quasi-line dance footwork by Lovett and others near the front of the stage, including Reed, fiddler Luke Bulla and guitarists Keith Sewell and Ray Herndon.

Lovett called Keen back to the stage for a beautiful rendition of “This Old Porch,” which the two wrote together during their college days at Texas A&M. “Robert and I are real friends, not just show-business friends,” Lovett noted at one point. A rousing version of “My Baby Don’t Tolerate” was followed by an extended take on “What I Don’t Know” in which almost every band member got to take a short solo – all of which Lovett observed with obvious appreciation.

 After several more well-received numbers, including “That’s Right (You’re Not from Texas),” “God Will” and “L.A. County,” Lovett turned the stage over to Bulla and Sewell, each of whom performed one of his own songs. Then came the crowd-pleasing “If I Had a Boat,” featuring nice cello work by John Hagen, and Lovett’s always-entertaining duet with Reed, “What Do You Do?” Then Reed got her turn in the spotlight, with excellent, high-energy performances of her signature tunes “One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show” and “Wild Women Don’t Get the Blues.”

Keen returned to join the choir for “Church,” whose joyful mood was only barely nicked by a rare vocal glitch on Lovett’s part. After more effusive thanks to the audience, Lovett left the stage, returning a few minutes later to close with a rocking rendition of Van Zandt’s “White Freightliner Blues.”

 Contributing throughout was the excellent Large Band horn section, consisting of Harvey Thompson on tenor sax, Brad Leali on alto sax, Charles Rose on trombone and Chad Willis on trumpet. Also in fine form were the rhythm section – pianist Matt Rollings, drummer Russ Kunkel, conga player James Gilmer and bassist Viktor Krauss – and pedal-steel man Buck Reid.

 

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Carter Girl: Carlene honors her roots

By Ken Paulson

Carlene Carter e1411441856452 350x278 Carter Girl: Carlene honors her roots

Carlene Carter (photo by P. Paulson)

It was a treat to see Carlene Carter present an award at the Americana Music Awards on the stage of the Ryman Wednesday night, particularly when the Cash-Carter family was so well-represented.

Nominee Rosanne Cash performed, as did her former husband and Johnny Cash son-in-law Rodney Crowell. If Americana has a first family, this is it.

We spoke to Carlene briefly backstage, reminiscing about her appearance at the very first Americana Music Association Awards show in 2002 at a nearby hotel ballroom. It was an extraordinary night,  with June Carter and the Carter Family – including Carlene and her daughter  Tiffany – performing with Johnny Cash.

12 years later, many of us still see that performance as the Big Bang that made the current successful and expansive Americana Music Association Conference and Festival possible.

Carlene has an outstanding new album called Carter Girl,  which includes some Carter Family songs and a nod to her heritage.

There’s also a new and very interesting  interview with Carlene  by Glide Magazine. You’ll find the interview here.

 

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Angaleena Presley: Channeling Loretta Lynn

By Ken Paulson

When Loretta Lynn stepped onto the Ryman stage on Wednesday night to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award for songwriting from the Americana Music Association, no one was more excited than the two women who presented the award: Angaleena Presley and Kacey Musgraves.

Loretta Lynn RYMAN 150x150 Angaleena Presley: Channeling Loretta Lynn

Loretta Lynn

Tears flowed and they were clearly deeply moved to be able to honor this iconic artist. Then Loretta backed up her

legend with a stirring performance of “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”

We had the chance to visit with Presley at the Mercy Lounge two nights later and she continued to sing Loretta Lynn’s praises, reminding us that she, too, grew up a coal miner’s daughter.

Loretta’s inspiration is clearly evident in both Presley’s live show and on her upcoming album American Middle Class, due from Slate Creek Records on Oct. 14.

While  Loretta sang “One’s On the Way,” Angaleena Presley offers the more blunt “Knocked Up.” Loretta cautioned her husband “Don’t Come Home A Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind), while Presley delivers the tough and withering “Drunk.” The songs are four decades apart, but share a refreshing honesty and directness.

Loretta Lynn should be proud.

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