“An Americana Christmas” and other new holiday albums

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

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

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

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

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (Luther Dickinson)

Everything Is Cool (John Prine)

Pretty Paper (Robert Ellis)

The First Noel (Emmylou Harris)

The Gifts They Gave (Johnny Cash)

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

Run Run Rudolph (Dwight Yoakam)

Must Be Santa (Bob Dylan)

Winter Wonderland (Valerie June)

Everybody Deserves A Merry Christmas (Ronnie Fauss)

Season Of My Memory (Max Gomez)

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

At Christmas Time (The Common Linnets)

FaLaLa Love Ya – (Nikki Lane)

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

Other holiday albums of note:

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

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Tom Waits Tribute set for Dec. 6 in Nashville

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

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

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2015 Americana music conference set for Sept. 15-20

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

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

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

Americana Music Festival on PBS this weekend

Ry Cooder 350x263 Americana Music Festival on PBS this weekend

Ry Cooder at the Americana Music Honors and Awards show

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

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

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Reset to Pop: Bill Lloyd’s classic revisited

By Ken Paulson

Bill Lloyd’s Set to Pop was a revelation upon its release in 1994, a buoyant and inventive slice of pop in a league with Emitt Rhodes and Nick Lowe’s Jesus of Cool. So it’s great news that Lloyd has chosen to revisit his classic album 20 years on.

Reset 2014 replicates the track list of the original with remakes, live versions and alternate mixes. The album contains some of Lloyd’s best songwriting, particularly the euphoric opener “I Went Electric,” “the mood swing anthem “Trampoline” (written with Greg Trooper) and the yearning “Forget About Us.”

There’s also a new recording of “Channeling the King,” maybe the smartest Elvis tribute ever recorded, and two live versions of “Niagara Falls,” with contributions by Rusty Young, Billy Block, Byron House, Pat Buchanan, Jason White and Jonell Mosser.

If you’re new to Bill Lloyd’s work, Set to Pop is still the place to start, but Lloyd is offering the original in a bundle with the new release on his website. Highly recommended.

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Review: Memphis Dawls’ “Rooted in the Bone”

By Paul T. Mueller

dawls cover 150 Review: Memphis Dawls Rooted in the BoneWhen a band’s name includes “Memphis,” it should come as no surprise – actually, it may be inevitable – that the music will incorporate diverse styles and genres. So it is with Rooted in the Bone, the first full-length CD from folk-Americana trio the Memphis Dawls, who are in fact from Memphis. The album starts off with the chamber-music strings of “Please Don’t Leave Me Now,” but horns and twangy vocals join the mix in short order. The next song, “Skin Like a Cage,” features guitar and keyboards that bring to mind some of U2’s quieter moments.

That’s how it goes on most of the other nine tracks as well. With the help of producer Jeff Powell, the Dawls – Holly Cole on guitar, Jana Misener on cello and Krista Wroten on violin, mandolin and accordion, plus numerous guests – back up their strong vocals and sweet harmonies with a variety of instrumental elements, some of them unexpected. “Liar” is a bluesy love song, seasoned with Memphis soul in the form of organ, horns and doo-wop background vocals. “Shoot ’Em Down” has a more traditional country sound, featuring the mandolin you’d expect, but also mariachi-style trumpet, courtesy of longtime collaborator Nahshon Benford. Trumpet shows up again in the bouncy, country-pop sound of “Where’d You Go My Love,” but this time it lends a jazzy New Orleans vibe.

The Dawls’ lyrics cover a somewhat narrower range, mostly dealing with love and the difficulties that come with it. They come across more as poetry than as songwriting – rhyming conventions are not always adhered to, and the allusions and metaphors are at times a bit obscure. But the words are served well by the Dawls’ expressive voices. Combined with the imaginative instrumentation, it all adds up to a refreshingly different take on well-trodden musical territory.

 

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In concert: Ian Hunter and the Rant Band

By Ken Paulson

You won’t find Ian Hunter on the Happy Together oldies tour anytime soon.

As he made clear in his set Saturday night at the City Winery in Nashville, he’s earned the right at age 75 to play exactly what he wants. So it probably shouldn’t have been a surprise that he did as many songs from his most recent album When I’m President as from his years with Mott the Hoople.

Ian Hunter 1 350x262 In concert: Ian Hunter and the Rant Band

Ian Hunter (photo by Ken Paulson)

We saw Paul McCartney on tour a few weeks ago and marveled at his stamina and performance. Hunter, three years McCartney’s elder, was just as energetic and committed. From the second song of the evening – a driving take on “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” through the moving “All the Young Dudes” at the close, this was a full-on rock show.

Hunter shifted to keyboards about a third of the way into the set, and delivered some of the show’s best moments, including a poignant “Irene Wilde” and raucous “All the Way From Memphis.”

It’s a measure of his deep catalog with Mott and as a solo artist that so many great songs were left on the sidelines. For my part, I would have traded “Boy” or “Bastard” for the fun factor of “Central Park and West,” “Golden Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll” or “Cleveland Rocks,” but I’m sure every Hunter fan has own list of favorites.

It’s remarkable that an artist whose band scored just a single hit in the U.S can continue to tour to good-sized crowds a half-century into his career. And yet his audience is with him every step of the way, devoted, enthralled and cheering madly for “I Wish I Was Your Mother” and “Michael Picasso.”

Hunter clearly doesn’t take that for granted.

“I can’t believe you’re still here and I really can’t believe I’m still here, he sang on “Life,” as he neared the end of the set.

Believe it. Ian Hunter still delivers.

(Nashville’s own Amy Speace opened the show with a brief, but compelling set, previewing her upcoming album That Kind of Girl. You can pre-order it here.)

 

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Bobby Bare, Bobby Bare Jr. at City Winery

By Ken Paulson

Bobby Bare Jr. knew this wasn’t going to be a fair fight.

“He’s playing nothing but hits and I ain’t got no hits,” he said in mock exasperation, recalling the first time he shared the stage with his father Bobby Bare at the Bluebird Cafe.

Bares at the Winery 350x262 Bobby Bare, Bobby Bare Jr. at City Winery

Two generations of Bares at the City Winery in Nashville

Nonetheless, he agreed to the double bill a second time for a show Friday night at the City Winery in Nashville. Once again, the elder Bare showed no mercy, beginning the evening with his classic “Detroit City” and then playing close to a dozen country hits over the course of the evening.

Bare Jr. was clearly delighted to team up with his dad, serving up his own unconventional tunes in counterpoint. Irreverence and a deep love of music clearly run through their shared DNA. Bare Jr. played a number of songs from his new album Undefeated, including “My Baby Took My Baby Away,” written with Hayes Carll.

“I don’t understand how I lost you to this little man” who has “itty bitty boots and a big fat face,” he sang, detailing the impact of a new child on a couple’s relationship. Somehow it’s a sweet song.

Decidedly less endearing was “The Big Time,” a funny fantasy about becoming such a big success you can kiss your current friends goodbye. “I want to go bowling with Sheryl Crow,” he explained.

Bobby Bare had his own goofy moments during the anatomy lesson that is Shel Silverstein’s “The Mermaid.” Bare may be Silverstein’s very best interpreter.

Bare Jr. had his own song about love gone bad. Before performing “Don’t Go to Chattanooga,” he recalled losing the girl from Manchester, TN who inspired the song. If she had only foreseen Bonnaroo coming to her hometown and his eventual performance there, she would never have left him, he said.

For his part, Bobby Bare just kept performing the hits, including “Streets of Baltimore,” “Four Strong Winds,” “Margie’s at the Lincoln Park Inn,” The Winner,” “That’d How I Got to Memphis” and even “Dropkick Me Jesus,” written by Paul Craft, who passed away weeks ago.

The Bares closed this memorable pairing with “Marie Laveau,” teaming up on the song’s bloodcurdling screams.

The audience would’ve stuck around for multiple encores but the younger Bare explained that wasn’t possible.

Dad “goes to bed at 7:30 and it took three naps” to get him this far, he said.

 

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Staying Cool: Tim Carroll at the Mayday Brewery

By Ken Paulson

I first saw Tim Carroll perform at a Nashville festival in the late ‘90s, where he shared a set with Amy Rigby and Kevin Gordon. All three impressed and clearly had bright futures, fueled by remarkable songs. Over the past 15 years, all have had considerable critical acclaim, though none have had major commercial success.

Tim Carroll 350x262 Staying Cool: Tim Carroll at the Mayday Brewery

Tim Carroll at Mayday Brewery

That doesn’t appear to bother Carroll, who recapped his career in a song at his show at the Mayday Brewery in Murfreesboro, TN, Saturday night.

“All I ever wanted was to play guitar/never really cared if I became a star/everybody says I’m close, but no cigar” he sang on “That’s Rock & Roll,” a track from his Look Out! album.

Joined by bassist Bones Hillman and drummer Steve Lantanation, Carroll turned in a vibrant set of full throttle rock ‘n’ roll. He played for almost 2 hours, including songs from his upcoming album Pure Coal. Carroll was self-deprecating throughout, explaining to the audience that they wouldn’t know any of the songs “because I wrote them” and radio doesn’t play them. And that’s a shame.

Mayday is a special venue. It’s a brewery and not a club, and the menu consists of beer and more beer. A food truck outside offers dinner. It’s a sparse, but great setting for live music.

The crowd at the Carroll show was modest, and most in the audience seemed to have wandered in from the bar.

Bu no matter. Carroll, Hillman and Lantanation never let up, delivering energetic and anthemic music all night, including “You Can’t Stay Young, But You Can Stay Cool.” For Tim Carroll, that’s mission accomplished.

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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.

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