New Releases: The Coalmen, Chip Taylor

By Ken Paulson

New and recent releases:

CoalmenThe CoalmenPushed to the Side – Coming August 19 is Pushed to the Side, the fifth album from the Nashville-based Coalmen. Band leader Dave Coleman is a next-generation Tony Joe White, writing soulful and thoughtful songs and he’s joined here by Dave Ray and Paul Slivka. The songs are sometimes sobering and always well-crafted. Highlights include “Depreciation,”  an insightful song about the aging process and the driving “The Payoff.”

Various artists On Top of Old Smoky – New Old Time Smoky Mountain Music – In the excellent liner notes to this new collection,Ted Olson explains that a scholar named Joseph Sargeant Hall was hired in 1937 to research the local culture and record the music of the Smoky Mountains just before those living there had to move to make way for the new national park. This collection features contemporary artists, including Dolly Parton, and Norman and Nanci Blake, revisiting the songs captured by Hall.

chip taylorChip TaylorLittle Brothers – Trainwreck Records – It’s hard to say which is more remarkable – Chip Taylor’s prolific output or the consistent thoughtfulness behind his work. His new collection include “Refugee Children,” a song about kids he met during his travels in Europe and “Enlighten Yourself,” a self-help song he punctures with his own irreverent commentary. Taylor also has a bonus release– I’ll Carry For You – a song about the bond between sisters.

Sarah WatkinsYoung in All the Wrong WaysNew West – This striking new collection from Sarah Watkins shows her growing confidence and skills as a songwriter. It’s a long way from Nickel Creek.

Ruby Dee and the Snake HandlersLittle Black Heart – Caddy Town Records -Today is the release date for a new album from Ruby Dee, who overcame  significant medical challenges to release this rockabilly-fueled collection.

 

Amy Black, Spooner Oldham salute Muscle Shoals

Americana Music News – Tonight Amy Black brought a bit of Muscle Shoals to the City Winery in Nashville,

Spooner Oldham and Amy Black

Spooner Oldham and Amy Black

showcasing classic songs from her Muscle Shoals Sessions album with a horn section and a guest appearance by the legendary songwriter and keyboardist Spooner Oldham.

The evening’s highlight was Black’s duet with Oldham on “I’m Your Puppet, the James and Bobby Purify hit written by Oldham and Dan Penn.

Other great renditions included the “Lou Rawls version” of “Bring it On Home to Me,” Mel and Tim’s “Starting All Over Again,  and Arthur Alexander’s classic “You Better Move On.”

 

Review: Megan Palmer’s “What She’s Got to Give”

by Paul T. Mueller

Megan PalmerWhat She’s Got to Give marks a real step forward for East Nashville-based singer-songwriter Megan Palmer. Palmer’s earlier recordings, including 2012’s Waycross, showed promise, but this one delivers on that promise, offering thoughtful lyrics, interesting arrangements and excellent playing and vocals.

Romantic difficulty lies at the heart of several of these songs. The oddly titled “The Only Trumpet” is an angry blast at a disappointing lover, while the bouncy tone of “Knifetwister” contrasts with its dark narrative about a bad girl behaving badly. Similarly, the sweet melody and gentle playing on the title track are at odds with its bittersweet theme – loneliness and the high price of trying to avoid it. “No one’s listening to what she says she wants,” Palmer sings plaintively, accompanied by intertwined guitar and piano lines. “They’re just taking all they can, and she knows that’s what she’s got to give… She knows that it’s never-ending.”

The album’s only cover is a nice rendition of John Hartford’s “In Tall Buildings,” which deals with growing up and accepting the drudgery of the 9-to-5 life. Again, the subject matter isn’t all that pleasant, but the song is enlivened by some sweet harmony from vocalists including Emma Berkey, Ariel Bui, Nellie Clay and Dylan Lee Johnston (Amy Speace contributed vocals on other tracks). The album closes with an uncredited final track, the bluegrassy “Tomorrow’s Gonna Make Up for Yesterday,” which showcases Palmer’s fine fiddle.

That fiddle is what Megan Palmer is probably best known for, but she’s also credited here with guitar, piano, organ and harmonium, as well as vocals. Other players include Tim Easton on guitar, mandolin and harmonica, Larry Cook and Tony Scherr on bass, and Jon Radford on drums. Patrick Damphier gets credit for clean production and interesting arrangements, as well as guitar and vocals.

Palmer, who’s dealing with a serious medical issue, was the beneficiary of a July 13 happy hour at Nashville’s 5 Spot. Hosted by Rod Picott, the event featured performances by Wild Ponies (Doug and Telisha Williams), Tim Easton, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Amy Speace, Allen Thompson and “surprise guest” Steve Poltz. A GoFundMe campaign to help Palmer with her medical bills has been set up at https://www.gofundme.com/meganpalmer

New releases: Sarah Jarosz, Beat Root Revival

New and recent releases:

SarahJarosz_Undercurrent_coverRGB_Sarah Jarosz – Undercurrent – Just released is Undercurrent, Sarah Jarosz’s fourth album and arguably her best. The new collection reflects her maturation as a songwriter, drawing on life experiences to write or co-write every song on the album. Undercurrent is musically more spare than earlier work, but impeccably performed.  She recently told the Los Angeles Times about driving from North Carolina to Nashville just to see Paul Simon perform at the Ryman. That makes perfect sense. Like Simon, her songs seek that sweet spot between intellect and emotion. Helping out on the album are Parker Milsap and her I’m With Her partners Aoife O’Donovan and Sara Watkins.

beat-roots-revival1Beat Root Revival – Toulouse Records – Ben Jones and Andrea Magee are Beat Root Revival, a folk duo from England that relocated to Austin and has been touring the U.S. with Jonathan Jackson + Enation Their songs – largely written separately – are often anthemic, from the striking opener ‘The Revolution Begins Today,” to “Fire”,” (“There’s no time to wait now/ We just need to break down the walls”) and “Hold On” (“Glory or defeat? Do you stand and fight or jut retreat?” A highlight: Magee’s “Forever,” a pledge of love. There’s much to like on their Toulouse Records debut.

Michael McDermottWillow Springs –Michael McDermott’s 10th album Willow Springs reflects a personal journey spanning dark and more recent, much lighter days. His “Half Empty Kind of Guy” pretty much describes the tone of the album. In press materials, McDermott describes this as “an album of reckoning … dealing with sobriety, grief death, mortality, shame and forgiveness.” McDermott has described Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen as his biggest influences and both are evident here.

More new releases:

Redleg HuskyMy Old Heart –  Asheville trio’s second album blends roots, bluegrass and country.

Pete Kronowitt A Lone Voice – Contemporary protest album San Francisco artist Pete Kronowitt includes the biting “Got Guns?”

Chet O’KeefeBecause of You -Scarlet Records – 3rd album  includes two songs co-written with Kim Richey, producer Thomm Jutz and Jon Weiberger

Lasers Lasers BirminghamRoyal Blue – LA-based artist Alex Owen set to release new EP on July 22.

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Re-issues: Survivor – The Definitive Collection

By Ken Paulson

survivorOn one level, Survivor: The Definitive Collection is a rich anthology chronicling the best moments of a hard-working rock band from the ‘80s. On the other, it’s a testament to the talents of Jim Peterik, an under-recognized rock songwriter whose hits span decades.

As lead singer and writer for the Chicago-based Ides of March, Peterik’s “You Wouldn’t Listen” just missed the Top 40 in 1966, followed four years later by the monster hit “Vehicle.” In 1978, Peterik founded Survivor, which recorded 18 charting singles in a 9-year span, including 5 in the Top 10.

All of the hits are here, including the Rocky movie themes “Eye of the Tiger” and “Burning Heart,” “Is This Love,” “High on You” and “The Search Is Over.”

Survivor played straight-ahead rock and the occasional power ballad. The music holds up well, largely because of the craftsmanship of Peterik  and co-writer and guitarist Frankie Sullivan.

The new collection includes Survivor’s recording of “Rockin’ Into the Night,” an initially rejected song that made its way to .38 Special, who turned into it their first hit in 1980.

The liner notes for this Real Gone Music release include an interview with Peterik and an album-by-album recap of the band’s history.

Here’s the video from Survivor’s biggest hit, with 197 million views on YouTube:

Review: “Dreamer” celebrates Kent Finlay

By Paul T. Mueller

finlay_cover_400“I love my songwriters,” Kent Finlay is reported to have said, moments before he took his last breath. Clearly the feeling was mutual.

James Kent Finlay was the owner of Cheatham Street Warehouse, a small music venue in San Marcos, Texas, that helped launch the careers of many Texas musicians – including, among others, George Strait, Todd Snider, Slaid Cleaves and James McMurtry. Finlay died last year at 77 (on March 2, Texas Independence Day), but his spirit lives on in this 14-track tribute, consisting of songs written or co-written by Finlay and performed by some of the artists who spent time at Cheatham Street. For those not familiar with his work, it’s impressive proof that in addition to his nurturing of other artists, he was a fine songwriter in his own right.

Most of the musicians on the album are probably better known around Texas than nationally, but they all deliver polished performances that do credit to Finlay’s songs. Terri Hendrix opens with “I’ll Sing You a Story,” which Finlay used to perform himself at the beginning of songwriters’ night each Wednesday at Cheatham Street. Walt Wilkins covers “Bright Lights of Brady,” a nostalgic look back at youthful yearnings. James McMurtry’s weathered voice is a fine match for the grim outlaw ballad “Comfort’s Just a Rifle Shot Away,” and Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay give an excellent reading of “Yesterday’s Oatmeal,” a sad story of faded love and domestic disappointment.

From Finlay’s younger daughter, HalleyAnna, we get “I’ve Written Some Life,” which could be the autobiography of a lot of songwriters. Adam Carroll provides a nice rendition of “Be Nice to ’Em Son,” a cautionary tale about the fleeting nature of fame and fortune, while Jon Dee Graham’s gruff persona is well suited to the hard-living ballad “Taken Better Care of Myself.”

Houston-based singer-songwriter Matt Harlan, who used to drive to San Marcos most Wednesday nights to play at Cheatham Street, does a fine job on “The Songwriter,” which neatly sums up Finlay’s philosophy: “Yesterday is all we have that’s sure to last forever/Today will end in darkness, there’s no doubt/But you can never make him stop believing in tomorrow/Tomorrow’s all today is all about.”

The album’s last credited track is “Hill Country,” Finlay’s lament for the Central Texas region he loved, sung by Jamie Wilson of The Trishas. Its two final choruses feature the Hill Country Choir, a large cast of “fans and friends, songwriters and song lovers” recruited through social media to a Wednesday night recording session. Leigh and McKay return to close Dreamer with an uncredited rendition of “Saturday Night,” a nice story of a cross-border, cross-cultural love affair.

The CD – much of it recorded in San Marcos just after Finlay’s death – was ably produced by Jenni Finlay, Kent Finlay’s firstborn daughter, and Brian T. Atkinson. The two are the authors of the recently published Kent Finlay, Dreamer, which details the history of Cheatham Street Warehouse and includes first-person recollections from dozens of artists.

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New releases: Tommy Womack, Michael Fracasso

By Ken Paulson

namasteTommy Womack NamasteTommy Womack is back and we’re grateful. One of the smartest, and simultaneously sweet and subversive songwriters in Nashville, Womack has recovered from a life-threatening 2015 car crash and released Namaste, an album with a front cover that conveys his gratitude for recovery.

Womack has been a member of Government Cheese, the Bis-Quits and Daddy (the latter two with Will Kimbrough), but his solo albums are always the most personal and reflective.

“Angel” opens the album with a melodic and gentle expression of hope, and then Womack throws open the doors to tackle everything from his balding (“Comb-Over Blues”) to the essence of Christian faith “God Part III.” That’s quite a range.

Nashvillians will recognize their changing city in the blistering and funny spoken-word “Nashville.”

“Darling Let Your Freebird Fly” revisits the headlines of pop music and throws an elbow in the direction of Geraldo Rivera and Chevy Chase. On “I Almost Died,” Womack’s account of his first near-death experience in 2007 will give you chills,

Namaste, produced by Brad Jones, is powerful, irreverent and distinctly different.

FrancassoMichael FracassoHere Come the Savages – Blue Door Records – This new album from Austin-based artist Michael Fracasso combines solid originals with intepretations of classic pop songs, including Brian Wilson’s “Caroline No” and the Rascals’ “How Can I Be Sure,” both delivered with the sad, slow delivery that the lyrics call for.  Fracasso’s buoyant take on the Kinks’ “Better Things” is a highlight.

Steve Dawson – Solid States and Loose Ends – Black Hen Music – Steve Dawson’s bluesy new album draws on some of Nashville’s most talented musicians, including Jim Hoke, Fats Kaplin and Regina and Ann McCrary.

Urban PioneersFeast or Famine – This hillbilly music/string band is set to tour Texas, beginning with a June 17 date at Badlands in Austin.

Thomas HineSome Notion or Novelty – Folk singer-songwriter from Colorado issues his follow-up to 2013’s “Forgive My Future.”

 

Bill Lloyd: “Lloydering” through pop history

By Ken Paulson

lloyderingBill Lloyd’s new album Lloydering is an entertaining walk through pop music history, featuring covers of lesser known songs by great bands and artists.

This compilation of songs that Lloyd recorded for tribute albums over the past 26 years reflects both his musical passions and his record collection.

There’s “Coconut Grove” from the Lovin’ Spoonful, “The Lottery Song” from Nilsson, “Lonely You” from Badfinger, “The World Turns All Around Her” from the Byrds , the

Bill Lloyd and Pat Buchanan at Lloydering release party

Bill Lloyd and Pat Buchanan at Lloydering release party

Hollies’ “Step Inside,” the Raspberries’ “Goin’ Nowhere Tonight” and  Todd Rundgren’s “I Don’t  Want to Tie You Down,” plus covers of Wreckless Eric, the Bobby Fuller Four, the dBs and Let’s Active. The one song familiar  to everyone: the Beatles’ “Across the Universe.”

Lloyd performed a number of tracks from the album, along with more than a dozen of his own songs, in a spirited two-set show at the Family Wash in Nashville last night.

Lloydering, which includes Lloyd’s liner notes on each track and band,  is available at the SpyderPop Records site.

 

 

Celebrating Sun Records: Margo Price, JD McPherson

margo priceBy Ken Paulson

We lost Sam Phillips in 2003, but his spirit filled the CMA Theater at the Country Music Hall of Fame on Saturday. Margo Price, J.D. McPherson, Webb Wilder and the Planet Rockers showcased the Sun Records sound with songs from the label and some original tunes that were clearly inspired by Phillips’ work.

Webb Wilder opened the show with two tracks from his pivotal “It Came From Nashville” LP and a raucous cover of “Ubangi Stomp.”

JD McPherson offered up some Junior Parker and Charlie Rich, closing with his Sun-fueled ‘North Side Gal.”

Jerry Phillips

Jerry Phillips

Margo Price, who recorded her current album at Sun Studios, sang Johnny Cash’s “Big River” and bent the “rules” a bit by doing a Billy Swan-inspired cover of “Don’t Be Cruel,” Elvis’ first RCA single after leaving Sun.

The afternoon’s biggest surprise was a guest appearance by Sam Phillips’ son Jerry, all decked out in a red sportcoat and a rockabilly attitude. His “Never Too Short to Rock” was great fun.

Backing up most of the artists and offering up a spirited set of their own were the Planet Rockers. The energetic afternoon closed with all of the artists returning to the stage for a finale of Carl Perkins’ “Boppin’ the Blues.”

It was an extraordinary 90 minutes and a testament to the power and passion of Sam Phillips. The Hall of Fame’s exhibit “Flying Saucers Rock & Roll: The Cosmic Genius of Sam Phillips” closes on June 12. Highly recommended.

Review: Hayes Carll’s “Lovers and Leavers”

By Paul T. Mueller

carll_ll_160Texas singer-songwriter Hayes Carll made a splash with his last album, 2011’s KMAG YOYO, which featured such raucous fare as “Stomp and Holler,” “Another Like You” and the title track. On Lovers and Leavers, he turns inward, focusing on such themes as love, loss and struggle. The subject matter reflects Carll’s challenges during the intervening years – divorce, vocal problems and new love, among others – but Lovers and Leavers is more than a collection of sob stories. The songs are full of insightful (and sometimes painful) observations that illuminate wider truths, and they’re marked by fine playing, singing and production. With the help of a distinguished group of collaborators, Hayes Carll has succeeded at turning personal travail into good art.

Each of the 10 tracks is a co-write, with such illustrious names as Darrell Scott, Will Hoge, Scott Nolan, Jim Lauderdale and J.D. Souther, among others. From Carll and Scott we get “Sake of the Song,” a concise overview of the musician’s life and those who live it; “Love Don’t Let Me Down,” about hope and fear at the outset of a new romance, and “The Magic Kid,” a touching tribute to Carll’s young son (an aspiring magician who’s been known to open shows for his dad) that touches on the larger themes of courage and truth. Hoge contributed to “Good While It Lasted,” a clear-eyed look at the emotions, good and bad, that come with the fading of good times. “Nothing lasts forever and time knows that it’s true,” Carll sings. “Sometimes a little while’s the best we can do.”

Carll teamed with Jack Ingram and Allison Moorer on the sad but beautiful “The Love That We Need,” a cautionary tale about settling for less than we should and finally facing up to that truth. “We lie down together/but our hearts never touch,” Carll sings, later adding in the chorus, “We got the life that we wanted/but not the love that we need.” A better side of love features in “Love Is So Easy,” written with Ruston Kelly: “I’ve always had a hurt that I can’t name/but it all feels better when you call my name.”

The album closes with the lovely “Jealous Moon,” written with J.D. Souther. Maybe no one else would have thought to lament the plight of Earth’s lonely satellite, doomed to watch over the pageant of life without ever getting to participate. Carll and Souther did, and Carll – his voice apparently recovered from the problems of the past few years – does a fine job telling the story.

Carll is credited with all the guitar (all acoustic) on the album. Other musicians include Jay Bellerose on drums and percussion, Tyler Chester on keyboards, Eric Heywood on pedal steel and David Piltch on bass, all ably produced by Joe Henry.

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