Americana Music News - Nominees for the 56th annual Grammy Awards have been announced by the Recording Academy and the Americana Music Association has helpfully distilled Americana artists from the academy’s massive list:
The Americana Music Association has announced the outcome of their annual Board of Directors election. The results include both the member voted and board appointed
Directors, for terms to start in January 2014. The results reflect the rising influence and the creative, independent and progressive characteristics of the Americana genre itself. Re-elected or appointed for new terms are John Allen (BMG Chrysalis), Jonathan Levine (Paradigm Talent Agency), John Ingrassia (Vector Management) and Kurt Vitolo (KV Financial Group, PC) who will serve once again as Treasurer. Musicians Rodney Crowell and Buddy Miller return as artist ambassadors. New board members starting their terms in 2014 include Cliff O’Sullivan (Sugar Hill Records), Scott Goldman (GRAMMY Foundation/MusiCares), Wayne Leeloy (Warner Music Nashville) and Carrie Colliton (Dept. of Record Stores/Record Store Day).
The incoming directors join returning board members current President Holly Lowman (Ramseur Records), 2014 President Elect Mark Moffatt (Independent Producer), Tim Fink (SESAC), Mary Gauthier (artist), Amanda Hale (Vector Management), Al Moss (Al Moss Promotion), Jessie Scott (Music Fog/Hill Country), Shauna de Cartier (Six Shooter Records) and Lynne Sheridan (GRAMMY Museum). Terry Lickona (Austin City Limits) and Ashley Capps (AC Entertainment) will continue to serve as Ex Officio officers of the Association.
We just received our first holiday album of the year, a collection from the Alex Tjoland Band called Silent Revelry. It has a copyright date of 2012, but Christmas albums are evergreen. It’s an ambitious effort, largely driven by original songs, plus a robust Silent Night to open the set. It includes a surf guitar instrumental appropriately titled “Surf’s Up, Santa Claus.”
We’re Not Lost – The Show Ponies
Here’s an energetic and sometimes irreverent bluegrass album that won us over with “Baby, I’m in Love with You,” a full-throttle opener that (sort-of) manages to rhyme “hiatus” with “cicadas” and “tomatoes.”
Long Way Down- Glass House
Mark Vickness and David Worm comprise Glass House, an accomplished duo with impressive vocals and ambitious compositions.
Highlights include album opener “Build a Bridge” and a stellar cover of Robbie Robertson’s “Broken Arrow.”
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Long before it became a staple of touring bands, Nashville’s Long Players mastered the art of performing great LPs live in their entirety. Tonight they revisit The Band, the second album from the group that arguably founded what we now call Americana Music.
Guests tonight include Matraca Berg, Chuck Mead, Pat Buchanan,Gary Nicholson, Jim Photoglo, James Rubin, Webb Wilder, Jeff Finlin, Danny Flowers, Jeff Hanna and Colin Linden. The core band is led by Bill Lloyd and includes Steve Allen. he E-Street Band’s Garry Tallent, Steve Ebe, Jen Gunderman, John Deaderick, Peter Hyrka and Jim Hoke.
Showtime: 8 p.m. at 3rd and Lindsley in Nashville.
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I have no idea why Greg Trooper’s outstanding new album Incident on Willow Street features a cover worthy of a tawdry ’50s paperback, but the “Don’t judge a book by its cover” adage applies here.
Behind the cheesy imagery is a rich and rewarding collection from an extraordinarily consistent singer-songwriter . There’s no substandard Trooper album; your only challenge is to decide which one to buy first.
Like every Trooper album, Incident is at once both despairing and hopeful. All the Way to Amsterdam” reflects the latter ,opening the album with a dream of escape and restoration. Later in the album there’s the regret-steeped ”Amelia,” calling on a woman to come to her senses and come home.
“Living with You” is the closest thing to rock ‘n’ roll on the album, with my favorite line:”I think you have to sleep with me to prove I’m shooting blanks.”
Trooper’s sense of humor is most apparent on “Mary of the Scots in Queens,” bemoaning how Irish Brian stole the woman of his dreams. “I always hated that Irish Brian,” he sings.
There have been almost a dozen Greg Trooper albums to date and Incident on Willow Street is one of his strongest. Highly recommended.
Singer-songwriter Peter Case did more talking than singing during his November 7 in-store performance at Houston’s Cactus Music. But that was just fine with the several dozen fans in attendance, as much of the talking consisted of funny anecdotes from a career spent on the road. And there were a few songs thrown in as well.
Case was accompanied onstage by author David Ensminger, whose latest book, Left of the Dial: Conversations with Punk Icons, includes an interview with Case. Ensminger acted as an informal moderator, prompting Case to relate stories from his long career, which included membership in The Plimsouls and The Nerves as well as many years of performing solo and with other musicians.
And very entertaining stories they were, albeit delivered in Case’s matter-of-fact style:
Peter Case at Cactus Music
- Hitchhiking hundreds of miles in a blizzard at age 16 to see Texas bluesman Lightnin’ Hopkins perform in the Boston area (and ending up in a women’s dorm in Boston with a couple of newfound friends.)
- Playing several gigs in Australia as part of a package tour that also included Blue Oyster Cult, the Hoodoo Guru, and Buzzcocks, among other bands
- Being enlisted by producer T-Bone Burnett to contribute to a Robert Randolph recording session, only to find that he was expected to come up with lyrics to already-written music during the session
-Interspersed with the stories were a few songs: “Icewater,” based on a Lightnin’ Hopkins guitar riff; “Poor Old Tom,” about a homeless veteran, and “A Walk in the Woods,” a chilling tale of missing children that Case said was the first song he wrote for his first solo album.
A question-and-answer session ensued, during which Case revealed, among things, that:
- He gets tired of the day-to-day grind of life on the road, but never gets tired of seeing the world, writing songs and performing for people
- His all-time favorite musician is Jimi Hendrix
- The musician he’d most like to record with (but can’t afford to) is jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders
- He thinks Coldplay is “U2 without the edge,” and
- He believes the Internet has pretty much destroyed the old business model of the music industry, but that there will always be a music business in some form
After teasing the room with a promise of a Bob Dylan song, Case closed with an energetic rendition of his own “House Rent Party” before adjourning to the front of the store, where he and Ensminger signed CDs, books and other items and spent some time interacting with fans.
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Hangtown Dancehall, an ambitious re-visiting of the tale of “Sweet Betsy from Pike” debuted tonight at 3rd and Lindsley in Nashville with an all-star cast of artists. The musical, subtitled ”A tale of the California Goldrush,” is the creation of Eric Brace (Last Train Home) and Karl Straub, based on a story by Brace.
Brace who grew up in the California community where the story is based, has expanded upon the classic folk song, telling a saga of adventure, romance, greed and betrayal through narration and an impressive array of original songs.
Kelly Willis, Tim O’Brien, Peter Cooper and Brian Wright were among those who joined Brace and Straub onstage tonight, while the just-released Hangtown Dancehall album features Willis, O’Brien, Darrell Scott, Jason Ringenberg and many more Nashville-based talents.
It’s a smart, engaging and musically diverse show that should have a future in theaters across the country.
Rising singer-songwriters Phoebe Hunt and Ali Holder visited Houston’s Cactus Music Oct. 25 to give fans a preview of their show scheduled that evening at a nearby club. Hunt and Holder, playing fiddle and guitar respectively, performed three songs each, accompanying each other instrumentally and vocally.
For Hunt, a veteran of Austin-based groups The Hudsons and The Belleville Outfit, the selections included “Good Blood” and “Sugar,” both featured on her current CD, Live at the Cactus Café, and a third song that might have been titled “Just for Tonight.” All featured her fine fiddle playing and slightly offbeat vocals. Holder’s music typically has a folky sound, but her songs at this event – “The Only Thing,” “Drinking Double” and Hunt’s “Mourning Dove” – were more like traditional country. All three can be found on Holder’s new CD, In Preparation for Saturn’s Return.
Hunt and Holder were backed by Connor Forsyth, doing excellent work on banjo although he’s better known as a keyboardist, and guitarist/singer-songwriter Daniel Thomas Phipps, filling in on bass.If the event had been a competition, the judges might have given the edge to Hunt for stage presence and to Holder for vocal purity. But rather than a contest, it was a happy collaboration. Either of these artists is worth seeing on her own; getting to see them together is a bonus.
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When my vinyl copy of Richard Buckner’s latest release arrived in the mail, I knew the rest of the work day was shot. A home office offers every distraction imaginable, but music is at the top of the list. “Surrounded” (Merge Records) is the perfect excuse to crank the stereo and stare out the window.
In a year that has seen album sales hit record lows, Buckner is still making them in the strictest sense of the word. Every recording is comprised of songs that seem to have been written during a sustained blast of inspiration. The tracks are sequenced with care, and as with his live show, one often flows immediately into the next, without pause.
Fans of 2011’s “Our Blood” will be drawn to the gorgeous title track, which opens the album with a fingerpicked acoustic guitar and the words, “you just won’t lie down / even closing your eyes / you can’t let it go / surrounded inside”.
What is he talking about? Buckner is a long way from the more straightforward heartbreak songs of his 1994 debut, “Bloomed”. With each subsequent release he has shed alt-country baggage in favor of more abstract storytelling and indie rock flavors.
For the uninitiated, the combo of Buckner’s ultra-relaxed, whispered tenor and cryptic lyrics will make for demanding listening. Anyone looking for an album of sing-along choruses to serve as a soundtrack to driving around town will be bored to tears. This is an intimate affair, with very personal lyrics buttressed by instruments played by the same guy (liner notes: “All racket was made by me in my room”). The songs work best when the album is played in full, from start to finish.
For longtime fans – myself included – this is exactly where we want Buckner to be. “Surrounded” features many of his trademark ingredients: steady strumming in alternate tunings and synth intros/outros. But the real surprise is the smooth quality of his typically gruff singing voice. From the harmonies of Side A’s closer, “Portrait”, to Side B’s standout track, “Go”, Buckner sings beautifully. For an artist who once claimed to have taken up smoking to alter the quality of his voice, Buckner can still sell songs based on vocals alone.
Whereas the recording process for “Our Blood” reads like fuel for every musician’s night terrors (stolen laptop, equipment malfunctions, murder investigation) ,“Surrounded” is clearly the fruit of focused woodshedding. The end result is a far cry from Buckner’s earlier breakup records; rather, this is the perfect companion to a long, brooding afternoon and the question, “What am I doing with my life?”
The release of a new Peter Cooper album is an occasion for much joy and a little sadness. Joy because Cooper is an accomplished songwriter and performer who can write and sing about just about anything and make it all sound great. Sadness because, as good as he is, he may not be reaching as wide an audience as he deserves.
For now, let’s focus on the joy. Opening Day, Cooper’s third solo album, is another fine collection, and its 11 tracks, nine of them well-crafted originals, cover a lot of ground, with excellent musicianship throughout. The opener, “Much Better Now,” starts with Cooper reciting, with characteristic humor, a litany of past unhappiness before declaring that he’s “much better now.” In the title track, he uses baseball as a metaphor for life – not exactly a novel idea, but Cooper does it with style. “We’re tied for first with the whole summer left to play,” he sings. “Keep the aftermath and the epitaph, give me opening day.”
There’s more autobiographical material here. “Distraction” is a kind of plea for focus amid the many things competing for his attention – which might be expected from a guy who, in addition to being a songwriter and performer, is also a music journalist, a college professor, a radio DJ and a few other things. In “Part Time,” he takes stock of his music career and concludes, “That’s hard work even for a man in his prime, so I’m thinking about going part time.” It’s a little hard to believe he really means it.
When Cooper sings about other people, they tend to be interesting as well. The title characters of “Jenny Died at 25” and “Grandma’s Tattoo” both start out as young women, but the decisions they make land them in very different places down the line. Without giving away too much, it must be said that Grandma’s story is the more entertaining of the two.
Current events show up in “Quiet Little War,” the story of a military drone operator for whom warfare is an 8-to-5 job and the workplace is half a world from the battlefield. The album closes with a nice cover of Bill Morrissey’s “Birches,” a quiet, bittersweet story about life and love and time and compromise.
Besides accompanying himself on guitar, Cooper did a nice job as producer, assembling a talented supporting cast that includes Lloyd Green on pedal steel, Richard Bennett on guitar, Jen Gunderman on keyboards, and Dave Jacques, David Roe and Mark Fain on bass. Paul Griffith and Pat McInerney handle the drumming, while Kieran Kane contributes mandolin and percussion. Backing vocalists include Julie Lee, Thomm Jutz and Eric Brace (Cooper’s partner on three duo albums and also the head of Red Beet Records, which released Opening Day).
In the crowded musical marketplace, it would be easy to overlook an album like this one. But to paraphrase a line from one of Opening Day’s songs, that would be a shame and a crime.
The Greencards, that little old Aussie band from Austin, moves a bit further from its bluegrass roots on its sixth outing, Sweetheart of the Sun. The album’s 12 tracks constitute a kind of folky song cycle woven around the theme of travel of various kinds, and permeated with images of water. All are performed with great instrumental and vocal prowess by the group’s three members and a skilled supporting cast; the result is a collection that’s immediately accessible but also rewards repeated listening.
Founders Carol Young and Kym Warner, both from Australia, have been playing together for a long time, and it shows in the way their contributions – Young’s vocals and bass, Warner’s mandolin and other instruments, mostly stringed – combine in the service of their beautiful melodies and interesting, if sometimes obscure, lyrics. Carl Miner, an American who joined the group a few years ago, adds texture in the form of guitars, keyboards and percussion.
The core lineup also benefits from some talented guests, including David Beck and Paul Cauthen of Sons of Fathers, on bass and vocals; guitarists/multi-instrumentalists Jedd Hughes and Kai Welch, both of whom also contributed lyrics to several songs; singer Aoife O’Donovan; bassist/pedal steel player Luke Reynolds of Guster, and Andrea Zonn on violin and viola. Gary Paczosa’s sharp, clean production also deserves high marks.
As mentioned, travel and water feature prominently on Sweetheart of the Sun. Sometimes it’s obvious – the cover art shows the band standing knee-deep in water, and song titles include “Black Black Water,” “Ocean Floor,” “Traveler’s Song” and “Midnight Ferry,” among others. Sometimes it’s a little more subtle – the way several tracks fade out and segue into others brings to mind the way waves on the beach recede and return, and the sequencing of the songs – one somber, the next upbeat – might be analogous to the repetitive cycle of the tides.
Sweetheart includes three instrumental tracks; the best (by a small margin) is “Paddle the Torrens,” apparently a reference to the River Torrens that flows through the Australian city of Adelaide. It blends bluegrass and Irish music in an upbeat melody that winds through unexpected but pleasing turns. It’s an excellent showcase for all things stringed, not the least of which is Zonn’s terrific violin.
Other highlights include “Forever Mine,” which sets lyrics of longing to a lively tempo; “Ocean Floor,” the quietly disturbing first-person account of a drowning victim (written by Mark Logen, it’s the album’s only cover); “Traveler’s Song,” written by Warner and sung by Young, that pretty well sums up the joys and trials of the itinerant life; “Wide Eyed Immigrant,” a term that might have described Young and Warner at one time; “Boxcar Boys,” which brings Spanish and gypsy flavor to a story of leaving home for a better life, and the album-ending “Fly,” in which Young sings, “Remember words I once was told/Keep your roots down low, your head up high.” Good advice for anyone, including world-class musicians.
Side note: It turns out Sweetheart of the Sun is also the title of a Bangles album from a couple of years ago, and judging from sample clips on that band’s website, that Sweetheart is also worth a listen.
Bands with banjos have become something of a cliché in the past few years, possibly to the point of fostering a bit of five-string fatigue. Don’t let that keep you from checking out Brooklyn-based Schucks Road, which consists of guitarist/pianist Michael Perrie Jr. and guitarist/banjoist Brandon Pfeltz. On their recent EP One By Land, they wisely use the banjo to add flavor and texture without overwhelming the music. The real stars here are Perrie and Pfeltz’s good writing, excellent harmonies and fine melodies, all contributing to a lively folk-pop sound with some country undertones.
The two share songwriting credits on the EP’s five songs. Lyrical themes include the quest for success, and its high price (“Chasing Stars”) and spiritual struggle (“Flesh & Bone”). “Heart of the Country” is an exuberant anthem to the positive side of love; “The Bar” is similarly up-tempo, but it’s about breakups, barrooms and bitterness. The closing track, “Lantern,” is a gentle, harmony-driven love song that features a nice combination of acoustic guitar and violin, courtesy of George Robson.
Perrie and Pfeltz are from Maryland, but they formed Schucks Road in New York in 2012, writing their first song by candlelight amid Superstorm Sandy’s wind and rain. That’s a tough way to start a band, but One By Land is a promising beginning.
Americana Music News – We caught up with Eric Brace at the Americana Music Conference in Nashville and he told us about a new video featuring Tom T. Hall’s “Mad” and a slew of really cool guest stars, including Marty Stuart, Duane Eddy and Mac Wiseman. The video promotes The Comeback Album, the most recent album from Brace and Peter Cooper. Here’s Brace talking about how “The World’s Greatest Video” came together: listen to ‘Eric Brace’ on Audioboo
Americana Music News – Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott have teamed up again for an impressive new album called Memories and Moments.
This is their second studio album, with songwriting duties split between the pair, and a powerful new collaboration on “Keep Your Dirty Lights On,” a powerful environmental message.
We had the chance to talk to Tim about the new album at the American Music Festival in Nashville:
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Ken Paulson presents Stephen Stills with the Spirit of Americana/Free Speech in Music Award.
Sometimes you just can’t suppress the fan in you.
I had the extraordinary opportunity to share the stage at the Ryman Auditorium with Richie Furay and present an award for free speech in music to Stephen Stills at the Americana Music Association Honors and Awards show Wednesday night. I had my First Amendment advocate hat on, but I couldn’t help but be excited about standing next to two members of Buffalo Springfield.
Why was Stills honored? Here’s a succinct explanation, from my brief essay in the awards show program:
“For What It’s Worth” was not a protest song. Yes, the Stephen Stills composition was inspired by a confrontation between police and young people on the Sunset Strip, but his tone was one of observation, not outrage. “There’s somethin’ happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear” he sang on that early Buffalo Springfield hit. He even poked fun at the protesters who carried signs “most saying hurray for our side.”
Throughout his career, Stills has used his music to encourage us to look at our society and ourselves. His response to the world’s challenges has been reflective, not reflexive. As a member of one of America’s most political bands – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Stills often offered a measured counterpoint. Neil Young’s “Ohio” was a chilling indictment of the government that could shoot dead four students at Kent State University. The flip side of that single was “Find the Cost of Freedom,” a four-line Stills song about sacrifice and liberty. From the post-apocalyptic “Wooden Ships” to the cautionary “The Ecology Song” and the affirming “We Are Not Helpless,” Stills’s music has truly engaged us. Recent songs like “Feed the People” and “Wounded World” continue his tradition of topicality.
Stills has walked the talk. CSN&Y toured the country in 2006 with its Free Speech Tour, challenging its audiences with songs protesting the war in Iraq. Stills used the tour to campaign on behalf of candidates for Congress. “The most valuable resource that we have, that we are wasting, we are squandering, are those wonderful men and women who would be so noble as to put on a suit, endure basic training, pick up a weapon and stand a post in our defense,” he said in one campaign appearance captured in the “Free Speech Tour” documentary. Seven of the ten candidates that Stephen Stills campaigned for during the Freedom of Speech Tour won their elections.
By Ken Paulson
We were pleased to host Billy Bragg at Middle Tennessee State University’s College of Mass Communication on Thursday, Sept. 19. Bragg was in Nashville to perform at the annual Americana Music Festival, and came to MTSU to be a part of the Tom T. Hall Lecture Series.
Bragg was also the inaugural speaker in series of programs co-presented by MTSU and the Americana Music Assocation.
The collaboration between MTSU and the association, based in Franklin, Tenn., will bring special learning opportunities to students pursuing careers in music, said Mass Communication Dean Ken Paulson.
Under the partnership, Paulson said, prominent artists will participate in special lectures at the university. Students also got to attend the Americana Music Festival and Conference, which ran this year from Wednesday to Sunday in Nashville, featured about 130 live performances at six music venues.
“We’re indebted to the Americana Music Association for its commitment to a new generation of recording industry and music professionals,” Paulson said. “It’s a great fit on so many levels.
“The Americana Music Association has energized an entire genre of music through fresh approaches and a collaborative spirit, just as our goal at MTSU is to provide an education in innovation.”
Jed Hilly, executive director of the Americana Music Association, said the partnership is a logical extension of the association’s overall mission.
The association describes Americana as “contemporary music that incorporates elements of various American roots music styles, including country, roots-rock, folk, bluegrass, R&B and blues, resulting in a distinctive roots-oriented sound that lives in a world apart from the pure forms of the genres upon which it may draw.”
“Americana Music readily spans generations and we’re proud to establish this dynamic educational partnership with the students and faculty of the College of Mass Communication at Middle Tennessee State University,” Hilly said.
As part of the festival, Paulson on Wednesday presented the Spirit of Americana Freedom of Speech Award to artist Stephen Stills during the Honors & Awards Show at Ryman Auditorium. The award was given by the association and the Freedom Forum’s First Amendment Center.
The award spotlights and celebrates Stills’ contributions to some of the most thought-provoking and observational songs of the 60s and 70s, as a member of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and beyond. Among them: “For What It’s Worth,” “Wooden Ships,” and “The Ecology Song.”
On Thursday, British singer-songwriter Billy Bragg was the inaugural guest speaker for the new Americana Music series at MTSU.
Bragg is best known for his topical songs over his 20-year recording career and for his collaboration with Wilco on “Mermaid Avenue,” a project that married unpublished lyrics by Woody Guthrie with new music.
“Billy Bragg’s appearance at MTSU was a rare opportunity for our students to hear firsthand from an artist who has consistently made music with meaning, drawing on the day’s headlines for politically potent and thought-provoking songs,” Paulson said.
Bragg began his recording career in 1983. His 1986 “Talking With the Taxman About Poetry” was a Top 10 album in Great Britain.
Bragg’s MTSU appearance was also a part of the Tom T. Hall Lecture Series, which brings noted writers and authors to campus.
The Tom T. Hall Writers Series in the College of Mass Communication celebrates songwriters, authors, poets and screenwriters and offers students, faculty, staff and the public a chance to learn more about the creative process as well as the business end of success.
Previous Hall Writers Series guests have included country superstar Vince Gill, acclaimed songwriter John Hiatt, bluegrass impresario Ricky Skaggs and the Emmy-nominated creative team behind the HBO Films movie “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee,” which included MTSU alumnus and composer George S. Clinton.
Tim Easton’s in-store performance at Cactus Music in Houston on Sept. 13 delighted fans who got considerably more than is typical of such gigs. Easton, accompanied by fiddler and musical partner Megan Palmer, didn’t stop at the four or five songs that are more or less standard for promotional appearances. Instead the duo stuck around for more than a dozen, throwing in some oldies, a cover and even a brand-new song, along with seven selections from Easton’s newest CD, Not Cool. From the look of it, they might have kept going had they not been scheduled to play a house concert later in the evening.
From Not Cool, Easton and Palmer played, not necessarily in this order, “Little Doggie (1962),” “Don’t Lie,” “Gallatin Pike Blues,” “Troubled Times,” “Four Queens,” “They Will Bury You” and one we’ll call, for the sake of delicacy, “Crazy MF from Shelby, Ohio.” Without full-band backup, the tunes got a folkier treatment than the rockabilly/Memphis versions on the CD, but Easton’s excellent guitar, harmonica and kick drum, plus Palmer’s lovely fiddle and vocals, proved more than adequate.
Megan Palmer and Tim Easton (Paul T. Mueller)
Easton also reached back into his extensive catalog for fine renditions of “Don’t Walk Alone” and “Carry Me” (the latter by audience request), as well as the more recent “California Bars,” “Dear Old Song and Dance” and “Burgundy Red” (Easton introduced the latter as an example of what he called “pre-hab music”). At one point he threw in a traveling song called “On My Way,” which he said he has not yet recorded. Palmer got a turn at lead vocal on John Hartford’s “In Tall Buildings,” also by request.
If fine songwriting and outstanding musicianship aren’t enough, give Easton and Palmer points for their work ethic as well. Earlier in the day, the two visited a local radio station for a fairly lengthy interview, including playing a few songs on the air, and all of it came less than 24 hours after opening for Billy Joe Shaver in Austin, a few hours’ drive from Houston. That kind of roadwork isn’t easy, but from the buzz Not Cool has been getting, it seems to be paying off.
Two new and notable albums celebrate country music’s heritage, successfully revisiting classic songs in a contemporary setting.
Vince Gill and premier steel guitar player Paul Franklin team up on Bakersfield to celebrate California country, specifically the recordings of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard.
It’s no surprise that the playing of these Time Jumpers bandmates is impeccable. What is surprising is just how fresh these half-century old songs sound.
The tracks alternate between those made famous by Owens and Haggard and include “Together Again,” “Foolin’ Around,” “The Bottle Let Me Down” and “I Can’t Be Myself.”
Gill and Franklin grew up on these songs and their comfort level shows, though it’s a bit disquieting to hear perennial nice guy Gill snarl about “some squirrelly guy who claims he don’t believe in fightin’” on Haggard’s “The Fightin’ Side of Me.”
Gill and Franklin show up again on The Big E – A Salute to Steel Guitarist Buddy Emmons, performing album opener “Country Boy.”
Album producer and former Hot Band steel guitarist Steve Fishell put this project together, pairing great players and singers on songs that played a significant role in Emmons’ storied career.
The biggest treats include a couple of pop-oriented tunes. Albert Lee and JayDee Manness team on “Rainbows All Over Your Blues,” a song from John Sebastian’s first solo album that was transformed by Emmons’ solo. Similarly, Joanie Keller Johnson and Mike Johnson offer a fine cover of “Someday Soon,” a Judy Collins hit graced by Emmons’ licks.
The album includes reverential, detailed and sometimes technical liner notes from Fishell that make clear just how influential Emmons was. Highly recommended.
Press releases promoting Butchers Blinds’ Destination Blues (Paradiddle Records) emphasize influences like Uncle Tupelo, the Hold Steady and even the Replacements, but those comparisons largely escape me.
This band from Bellerose, New York, plays a highly accessible brand of rock and country, melding strong melodies with intriguing themes.
“Nobody Hears What I Say Anymore” is about dashed dreams, and surprisingly, sounds like David Crosby and Graham Nash. “OPP” is an energetic rocker that would have been at home on a Gin Blossoms record. Other tracks bring Tom Petty to mind.
The common denominator, though, is disciplined and focused songwriting, and that bodes well for this promising band.
Americana Music News chronicles rock, country, roots and Americana music. Review copies and press releases: PO Box 432, 3908 Lebanon Pike, Hermitage, TN 37076.
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