Review: Cayamo 2015 may have been best yet

By Paul T. Mueller

You’re never going to get more than 2,000 music lovers to agree on everything, but there seems to be something of a consensus that this year’s Cayamo cruise was one of the strongest, if not the strongest, editions in the eight-voyage history of the festival-at-sea.

Cayamo, a production of Atlanta-based Sixthman, sailed from Miami on Jan. 17 aboard the Norwegian Pearl, its home since 2010. The event featured calls at the Caribbean islands of St. Barts and St. Croix, but the real draw, as always, was the music, which began before the ship left Miami and continued nearly nonstop, almost to the minute the Pearl returned to its home port a week later.

This year’s headliners, all veterans of previous Cayamos, were Lyle Lovett (with his Acoustic Group), John Prine, Brandi Carlile, and Richard Thompson (as part of his Electric Trio). The next level consisted of a large group of talented musicians and bands, including Lucinda Williams, Buddy Miller, Shawn Mullins (the only artist to have participated in every Cayamo), Jim Lauderdale, Kacey Musgraves, David Bromberg, Rodney Crowell, Shawn Colvin, John Fullbright, The Lone Bellow, Elizabeth Cook and many more.

New this year were five “Soundcheck Artists,” chosen by passenger vote before sailing from a group of 25 nominees. This group comprised Birds of Chicago, the Black Lillies, the Dusty 45s, the Michelle Malone Band and Amy Speace, who was backed by two of her East Nashville neighbors, Tim Easton and Megan Palmer.

The lineup also included one notable “stowaway” – the eccentric but brilliant Todd Snider, who caused a furor by backing out of last year’s Cayamo at the last minute. Finally aboard, he made his first appearance at a midnight show halfway through the week.

In addition, many passengers, not content with merely watching and listening to professionals make music, brought their own instruments aboard. Individuals and groups could be found picking and jamming at all hours in various corners of the vessel, but particularly in an area known as Bar City.

Buddy Miller, Dave Jacques and Fats Kaplin

Buddy Miller, Dave Jacques and Fats Kaplin

All of this added up to far too much music for any one person to take in, even given the abbreviated sleep schedule that’s an integral part of the Cayamo experience for many. Schedule conflicts also got in the way, despite Sixthman’s commendable efforts to program shows and stages so as to distribute the crowds as evenly as possible around the ship’s several performance venues. As great a show as one might be witnessing at any given moment, something equally excellent was more than likely happening somewhere else at the same time.

As the Pearl left the dock a couple of hours behind schedule, Birmingham, Ala.-based St. Paul & the Broken Bones kicked the party on the pool deck into high gear with their high-energy blend of rock and soul. “I know it’s early,” said lead singer Paul Janeway, “but we gotta let it loose!” Nearly a week and dozens of shows later, Cayamo drew to a close with a “No Sleep ‘til Land Jam” that lasted into the small hours just before docking. It was hosted by the Austin-based Band of Heathens and featured guest performances by a great many of the artists aboard.

This kind of collaboration is a longtime hallmark of the Cayamo experience, and it was much in evidence all week. Almost anyone was liable to show up at almost any gig, to lend a hand on an instrument, sing a verse or provide backing vocals.

There were a few glitches – the presence of some much larger vessels at Norwegian’s main terminal left the Pearl with a smaller and less efficient temporary terminal (actually a large tent), which led to long and frustrating lines at both ends of the cruise. Still, it was hard to find anyone with anything really negative to say about Cayamo. A week at sea in the sunny Caribbean, dozens of world-class musicians performing almost nonstop, thousands of kindred spirits in the audience (including, for many repeat cruisers, old friends from previous Cayamos), and all the comfort and convenience of a major-label cruise ship – all of that adds up to what many call the Best Vacation Ever – until next year’s edition.

Still to come: More detail on the week’s shows, big, small and in between.

New releases: Robert Earl Keen, Steve Earle

6PAN1T-R PSDAmericana Music News – New releases in our mailbox this week:

Robert Earl KeenHappy Prisoner DualtoneKeen’s latest is a bluegrass album, set for release Feb. 10. Full of familiar favorites, it includes “T for Texas,” Long Black Veil” and “Vincent Black Lightning. Among the guest artists: Lyle Lovett, Sara Watkins, Natalie Maines and Peter Rowan.

Tom Paxton Redemption Road – Pax Records – The folk legend’s latest is set for release March 10; features appearances by John Prine and Janis Ian.

American Aquarium Wolves – The follow-up to Burn.Flicker.Die. is set for release Feb. 3. Produced by Brad Cook.

TerraplaneSteve Earle and the DukesTerraplane – Set for release on Feb. 17, this is Earle’s blues album, produced by R.S. Field. Most intriguing song title: “Go Go Boots Are Back.”

Susie Fitzgerald Restless –Big Purr Music, Fitzgerald’s second album, set for release Feb. 9.

Scott WooldridgeScott Wooldridge – Solo album from Minneapolis-based singer-songwriter; Midwest tour planned. www.

The David MotelPeople, Places, Things – New project from Nashville-based singer-songwriter David Brooks, produced by Dave Coleman of the Coalmen.

Drew holcombDrew Holcomb and the Neighbors Medicine – Magnolia Music – First single is “Shine Like Lightning;” album produced by Joe Pisapia.

PI JacobsHi-Rise Ranch – Six-track collection from L.A. musician, produced by Eugene Toale.

SeahorseThe Fire’s Heart – Raven’s Flight Records – A Kickstarter-fueled album from Oregon anchored by Rich Swanger.

Chris CarrollTrouble & Time – Debut album from Texas-based congwriter, produced ny David Beck.

The WestiesWest Side Stories – Michael McDermott and Heather Horton present a “song cycle” about gangsters in Hell’s Kitchen in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

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Snapshots: Scenes from the Sandy Beaches Cruise

Americana Music News - A sampling of scenes from Sixthman/Delbert McClinton’s 2015 Sandy Beaches Cruise:







Delbert McClinton played with pretty much everybody on the Sandy Beaches cruise, but was clearly in his element as Gary Nicholson accompanied him in a stellar guitar pull.

Bruce Channel

Bruce Channel







That guitar pull included Bruce Channel, who performed a number of his country hits, along with a fine rendition of his 1962 hit “Hey! Baby,” accompanied by McClinton on harmonica. McCinton played on  the original record.






The McCrary Sisters previewed  their upcoming album (produced by Buddy Miller) with outstanding performances throughout the ship. Particularly memorable were covers of the Staples Singers’ “I’ll Take You There” and an unexpected medley of “Oh Happy Day/Happy.”


Danny Flowers

Danny Flowers





Danny Flowers’  next album features the McCrary Sisters throughout, and the women could be seen quietly singing along in the audience at one of his songwriter sessions. He began one of the shows with what he described as his worst song (“East Batcave”),  and opened another with “Tulsa Time,” one of his best.









Sitting next to Flowers at the first songwriters session was Al Anderson, a highly successful songwriter and founding member of NRBQ.


Jill Sobule rocked the atrium with an energetic (and very entertaining) set, backed by members of Paul Thorn’s band. She’s a remarkable songwriter, but there was also real joy in her cover of the Mott the Hoople hit “All the Young Dudes.”








Along with Lyle Lovett, the Mavericks were the biggest draw on the cruise, previewing songs from their new album Mono in sets at the Stardust Theater and outside on the deck.







Lari White and Delbert McClinton

Lari White and Delbert McClinton

You knew it was  going to be a great set (from a confident performer) when Nashville’s Lari White opened up her Stardust Theatre set with “Amazing Grace.” Lari also did a great show in the Atrium, and teamed with husband Chuck Cannon to lead the renewal of marriage vows on the ship.







Etta Britt, another fine Nashville artist, did her own soulful sets throughout the cruise, including a memorable show in the Atrium.








Jimmy Hall, yet another performer from Nashville, closed his show with “Keep On Smilin'” a Top 10 record in 1974, when he was lead singer of Wet Willie.








IMG_8802One of the final shows on the cruise was also one of the best. Teresa James delivered a stirring set in the Stardust Theater, with a guest spot from Marcia Ball and a multi-performer finale that channeled Aretha.


Review: Delbert McClinton’s Sandy Beaches Cruise 2015

By Ken Paulson

We’ve just stepped off Delbert McClinton’s Sandy Beaches Cruise, a floating music festival in its 21st year. Though the ship stopped in Antigua and St. Croix, that really didn’t matter. On Sandy Beaches, you come for the music.

The cruise features an amazing array of artists, with blues, rhythm and blues and New Orleans influences among the most common denominators. Headliners included McClinton, Paul Thorn, the Mavericks, Lyle Lovett, Marcia Ball, Wayne Toups, Band of Heathens, the McCrary Sisters, Teresa James, Elizabeth Cook, Lari White and Mingo Fishtrap. Rough seas moved some of the deck shows inside, but the performances didn’t suffer. It was one rich performance after another.

McClinton’s partner on the 2015  cruise was Sixthman, the industry leaders in music cruises. Their cruises (they call them festivals) include ventures with Kiss, Florida Georgia Line, Train and Kid Rock, as well as the popular Americana-folk-rock Cayamo cruise.

We’ve written extensively about the always amazing Cayamo cruise over the years and we’ll have a report on the 2015 cruise shortly. It’s the cruise that most closely matches the vibe and music of Sandy Beaches. While both are impressive festivals, Cayamo tends to have bigger names and a wide range of singer-songwriters (John Prine, Lucinda Williams, Richard Thompson and Lovett are headliners this year), while Sandy Beaches books bands and artists whose primary mission is to get you dancing in the aisles.

Among the week’s highlights on Sandy Beaches:

Red Young and Delbert McClinton

Red Young and Delbert McClinton

Collaborations – some planned, many impromptu – were a big part of the cruise, and Delbert McClinton was everywhere. In addition to three sets with his band, he sat in on a songwriters session featuring Gary Nicholson, Spooner Oldham, Danny Flowers, Glen Clark (of Delbert and Glen) and Bruce Channel. It was Delbert who played harmonica on Channel’s big hit “Hey! Baby,” a #1 record in 1962, and the duo revisited that classic.

The most striking team-up came when Delbert sat down on the piano bench with

veteran keyboardist Red Young for a stirring version of “Georgia,” while members of the audience attempted to slow dance despite high waves and a rocking boat. Young was a revelation throughout the cruise.

He’s played piano for Clyde McCoy, Lloyd Price, Eric Burdon, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and even Sonny and Cher, and he showed up as a sideman on stages throughout the cruise, while also leading a band that played Frank Sinatra and jazzy pop in the Spinnaker Lounge.

Delbert also joined Lari White for a song from her Green Eyed Soul album, to her obvious delight. She had opened her set by telling the audience that she would understand if they filtered out to see the Mavericks, whose set overlapped with hers. She then went on to make

Lari White and Delbert McClinton

Lari White and Delbert McClinton

sure they didn’t, Opening with “Amazing Grace” (her usual encore, she explained), a sizzling take on Steve Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” and guest spots with Young and others.

White’s concern about competition from the Mavericks was understandable. They played two robust sets, including songs from their upcoming album Mono, set for release on Valory Music on Feb. 17.

Bass player and longtime Maverick Robert Reynolds is no longer in the band, and the Mavericks used Sandy Beaches to introduce his successor James Intveld. Raul Malo claimed they were throwing Intveld into the mix without much rehearsal time, but it didn’t show. He’s an accomplished solo artist and a great addition to the band.

As hard as Delbert worked, Marcia Ball matched him, headlining her own three sets, hosting an all-star “Pianorama” that featured the most talented keyboardists on the cruise complementing and competing with each other, and doing guest spots in other shows, including a memorable turn with Teresa James.

Marcia Ball and Teresa James

Marcia Ball and Teresa James

Lyle Lovett was probably the biggest draw on the cruise, and packed the largest theater on the boat with acoustic sets that had fans raving.

Paul Thorn’s fans were also out in force, though he surprised many by announcing that after more than a decade on this cruise, this would be his last. He told fans to watch his website for developments, and then delivered an outstanding set that included a guest spot by his daughter on tambourine.

It’s been a few years since we’ve seen Thorn perform, and it’s clear that as his fan base has grown, so has his sound. He’s playing much bigger rooms now and his band is more powerful  and his songs more anthemic. He played a number of songs from his latest album Too Blessed to Be Stressed, including “Everybody Needs Somebody” and a wonderful version of the title song with guest vocals from the McCrary Sisters.

Another highlight from the new album was “Mediocrity is King,” the best protest song we’ve heard in years, taking to task everything and everyone who waters down our culture, and expressing special disdain for both Republicans and Democrats.

A bonus was the Paul Thorn Band’s take on Jackson Browne’s “Doctor My Eyes,” from the recent tribute album Looking Into You.

Thorn also showed up on Jason Wilber’s “In Search of A Song” radio show taping and as a flamboyantly dressed guest on Fred Eaglesmith’s mock talk show. The Sandy Beaches audience will miss him.

Elizabeth Cook battled an illness early in the week, and only made it through four songs before her voice gave out.

To our surprise, she battled back on Friday to deliver a solid set that drew heavily from her recent Gospel Plow album and her 201o release Welder, including “El Camino” and “Heroin Addict Sister” from the latter.

Whether it was the bug or the mix, her vocals were sometimes overwhelmed by her new band, but she played for almost 90 minutes.

Jill Sobule’s time on the boat was limited, but she delivered one of the most entertaining sets of the week, backed by members of Paul Thorn’s band. she opened with “If I Had a Jetpack,” followed by the defiant “I’ve Got Nothing to Prove,” immediately winning over the audience.

Jill Sobule and her instant chorus

Jill Sobule and her instant chorus

“Where is Bobbie Gentry?,” from her California Years album, was next, and Sobule said she had been told that Gentry thought the song was very funny. It was a  sweet tribute to Gentry and the sound of “Ode to Billie Joe.”

Sobule explained that she had been hired to write a song about the history of immigration in America, and enlisted more than a dozen audience members to serve as a chorus on a powerful and profane song that makes the point that virtually all of us are in the U.S. because of immigration.

Sobule closed with a sampling of fan favorites, including “Supermodel” from the Clueless soundtrack, “Bitter,” “When My Ship Comes In, “Underdog Victorious”  and “Lucy in the Gym,” with an atrium-wide sing-along on the encore of Mott the Hoople’s “All the Young Dudes.”

Of course, all of this just scratches the surface. There were more than 60 shows, with outstanding sets by Wayne Toups, the Band of Heathens, the McCrary Sisters, Jimmy Hall, Teresa James and many more.

Spooner Oldham and Glen Clark

Spooner Oldham and Glen Clark

As musically memorable as the week was, some of the smaller moments were the most memorable. When Muscle Shoals great Spooner Oldham performed his “I’m Your Puppet,” a hit for James and Bobby Purify in 1966, Glen Clark couldn’t contain himself, rushing all the way across the stage to harmonize with Oldham. We know the feeling.

(The 2016 Sandy Beaches Cruise is scheduled for January 9 through 16 on the Holland America Line. More information is available on Delbert McClinton’s site.)





















Bonnaroo announces 2015 lineup

Americana Music News — The Bonnaroo Music Festival has announced its  lineup for 2015 and a fair number of Americana music artists are in the mix, including Sturgill SimpsonJerry Douglas and the Earls of Leicester, Mumford and Sons, Alabama Shakes,  Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn and the Punch Brothers.

The line-up so far:

Billy Joel

Mumford & Sons


Kendrick Lamar

Florence + The Machine

Robert Plant & The Sensational Space Shifters

My Morning Jacket


Alabama Shakes

Childish Gambino




Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals

Belle & Sebastian


The War on Drugs


Ben Folds

SuperJam !


Atomic Bomb! Who is William Onyeabor?

Tears for Fears

Brandi Carlile

twenty | one | pilots

The Bluegrass Situation SuperJam featuring Ed Helms and Special Guests

Flying Lotus

Earth Wind & Fire


Gary Clark Jr.


Punch Brothers

Medeski, Scofield, Martin, & Wood

Tove Lo

Run The Jewels



Trampled By Turtles

Sturgill Simpson

Moon Taxi


Sylvan Esso

Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn


Jamie XX

Against Me!



Jerry Douglas presents Earls of Leicester



Mac DeMarco


The Very Best

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib

Shakey Graves

Shabazz Palaces


Unknown Mortal Orchestra


Benjamin Booker


The Growlers

Glass Animals

Ana Tijoux


Courtney Barnett

Rhiannon Giddens

Royal Blood

Tanya Tagaq


Hurray for the Riff Raff



Between the Buried & Me


Ryn Weaver


Pokey LaFarge



Strand of Oaks


Gregory Alan Isakov

Brownout Presents BROWN SABBATH

The Districts

Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear


Catfish & The Bottlemen

Jon Cleary & The Absolute Monster Gentlemen


Dej Loaf

Christopher Denny

Hiss Golden Messenger

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

Jessica Hernandez & the Deltas

Unlocking The Truth


Review: Doyle and Debbie on the Sandy Beaches Cruise

The Doyle and Debbie Show

The Doyle and Debbie Show

By Ken Paulson

For years, we’ve heard great things about the Doyle and Debbie Show, a satirical take on country music with a long weekly residency at Nashville’s Station Inn. Instead of seeing it just miles from home, though, we finally caught up with it on Delbert McClinton’s Sandy Beaches Cruise.

The shows tells the story of Doyle, a washed-up old school country singer who never quite made it, and his duo partner Debbie, an earnest and quirky young woman who sees the chance to team up with Doyle as her last, best shot at a career in show business.

It’s laugh-out-loud funny, particularly because Bruce Amston (“Doyle” and the author of the show) and Jenny Littleton (“Debbie”) play it so straight, delivering outlandishly goofy lyrics with heart. Among the songs: “Barefoot and Pregnant,” “When You’re Screwin’ Other Women (Think of Me)” and “Whine Whine Twang Twang.”

There were two performances of the Doyle and Debbie Show on board, and we saw both of them. On the second night, a computer glitch shut down their music in the final minutes of the show, leaving Amston to scramble to a laptop.

At each show, Doyle thanks the audience for being so “forgiving,” but this time, Amston said he really meant it. The computer rebooted, the music kicked in and the show ended with a well-deserved standing ovation.

Paul Thorn’s surprising musical influence

By Ken Paulson

Paul Thorn on Sandy Beaches

Paul Thorn on Sandy Beaches


Paul Thorn has been a dynamic and omipresent performer on Delbert McClinton’s Sandy Beaches cruise, with an impressive acoustic solo set in the ship’s Stardust Theatre and a band show on the deck that included a surprising cover of Jackson Browne’s “Doctor My Eyes” from a recent double-CD tribute set.

But the bigger surprise was when Jason Wilber of John Prine’s band interviewed Thorn for his “In Search of A Song” radio show. Wilbur asked Thorn what his current musical favorite is.

“The Bee Gees,”‘Thorn replied. There was predictable laughter, but Thorn pressed on, citing ‘How Deep is Your Love” as an example of the brilliant melodies of the Brothers Gibb. They may be seen as a little cheesy today but they were great writers, Thorn said.

Wilbur asked the question again, pushing Thorn for another example of a band he loves. Thorn just smiled and once again said “Bee Gees.”



Marcia Ball, Wayne Toups kick off Sandy Beaches

Wayne Toups on the Sandy Beaches Cruise

Wayne Toups on the Sandy Beaches Cruise

By Ken Paulson 

The 21st edition of Delbert McClinton’s Sandy Beaches Cruise got off to a rousing start Saturday, despite blustery winds that moved the main events off the deck. This cruise, like the Cayamo cruise next week, features a wide range of Americana, blues and folk performers in often intimate seetings. Headliners on Sandy Beaches include Lyle Lovett, Paul Thorn, the McCrary Sisters, Jill Sobule, Band of Heathens, Etta Britt, Elizabeth Cook, Mingo Fishtrap, Gary Nicholson, Red Young, Teresa James, Fred Eaglesmith, Lari White and the Mavericks.

The weather hitch Saturday meant Sandy Beaches openers Marcia Ball, Wayne Toups and Delbert himself took the stage at the Stardust Theatre, the best venue on the cruise ship. The audience lost a deck party under the stars, but enjoyed superior lines of sight and much better sound. Not a bad trade under the circumstances.

Marcia Ball

Marcia Ball

Ball began the evening with a spirited set that immediately brought dancers to the front of the audience. She’s been part of McClinton’s cruises since the beginning and set the tone for the party to come. She drew heavily from her latest album The Tattooed Lady and the Alligator Man, including the title cut, “The Squeeze is On” and “Human Kindness.”

Yet for all the dance music she played, the highlight may have been her poignant performance of Randy Newman’s “Louisiana 1927.”

Wayne Toups, also a veteran of the earliest cruises, followed with a blistering set that began up-tempo and accelerated from there, just easing up for a phenomenal rendition of Van Morrison’s “Tupelo Honey” and the Neville classic ‘Tell It Like It Is.”

Delbert McClinton closed out the evening at the Stardust with old favorites like “Old Weakness Coming on Strong” and “New York City,” reminding the faithful why this cruise has worked so well for 21 years.

(Photos by Ken Paulson)

Allison Moorer tour dates announced

Americana Music News - The highlight of the 2013 Americana Music Festival in Nashville may well have been Allison Moorer’s  captivating performance at the City Winery. Her new album Down to Believing is due March 17 and she’s headed out to tour in support of the release:

March 19th – Vienna, VA Jammin Java
March 20th – Princeton, NJ Folk Society
March 21st – Wilmington, DE World Café Live
March 22nd – Cambridge, MA Passims
March 24th – Portland, ME One Longfellow Square
March 25th – Fairfield, CT FTC Stage One
March 26th – Buffalo, NY 189 Public House
March 27th – Albany, NY Sawyer Theatre


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Review: Bill Kirchen in concert

by Paul T. Mueller

Sometimes you go to a show for entertainment and get some education as a bonus. Such was the case when Bill Kirchen played at Houston’s Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church on January 3. Kirchen’s solo performance, part of the church’s UniTunes Coffeehouse series, featured plenty of guitar heroics from the “Titan of the Telecaster” (he played two of the classic Fenders during the show), but also a healthy dose of the musical history he has been living, and contributing to, for the past half-century or so.

Kirchen’s shows with his band tend to be lively affairs, but the UniTunes show was more reflective than raucous, featuring a good deal of between-songs commentary in which he described his musical journey. No doubt most of the stories had been told before, but Kirchen tells them with warmth and charm that makes them seem more like personal revelations than practiced patter.

The show also featured a fair number of skillfully picked acoustic songs (guitar fans might be interested to know that Kirchen’s acoustic guitar was a Wayne Henderson instrument, in what Kirchen said was its first public performance).

Some highlights:

Several songs from Kirchen’s stint as lead guitarist of the musically eclectic Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, including “Semi-Truck,” “Down to Seeds and Stems Again” and, of course, “Hot Rod Lincoln,” a rockabilly tune that featured a string of brief but dead-on impersonations of seemingly everyone who’s ever played electric guitar on record.

  • Several covers harking back to Kirchen’s folkie days, including Bob Dylan’s “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” and “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.”
  • A couple of blues covers – Mississippi John Hurt’s “The Angels Laid Him Away” and Sleepy John Estes’ “Milk Cow Blues.”
  • Two nice instrumentals, one acoustic (Buck Owens’ theme “Buckaroo”) and one electric (Santo & Johnny’s “Sleep Walk”).
  • Several Kirchen originals, including “Hammer of the Honky Tonk Gods,” his tribute to the Telecaster, and “Flip Flop,” his fond farewell to three of his musical heroes, Professor Longhair, Don Rich and Carter Stanley.Kirchen’s signature purple trombone – the instrument he played in his high school marching band – finally made an appearance during his encore song, “Milk Cow Blues.” Partway through, Kirchen turned over his guitar to his soundman while he took up the horn and made a brief visit to the pews before returning to the stage.
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