“Drifted”: Celebrating the Continental Drifters

By Ken Paulson

driftersI last saw the Continental Drifters in a club in Columbia, Missouri more than a decade ago. The show wasn’t widely publicized and the turnout was disappointing, with the band barely outnumbering the fans.

But that didn’t matter to the Drifters, who played a great set, punctuated with one-on-one banter with audience members. Good people. Great band.

Drifted: In the Beginning and Beyond, set for release this Friday,  is a testament to the Continental Drifters’ range and talent. Like the Band, the group tapped multiple lead vocalists, songwriters and players to creative a compelling collective.

The two-disc set showcases some rare and early Drifters recordings, reminding us that this was an Americana band well before the genre had a name.

Over time, the band expanded to include Susan Cowsill, the dBs’ Peter Holsapple, and the Bangles’ Vicki Peterson, and their recordings grew more melodic and pop-oriented.

As serious about their music as the Continental Drifters were, they were also playful. That’s captured on multiple covers on the new collection, including Mike Nesmith’s “Some of Shelley’s Blues,” Neil Young’s “When You Dance I Can Really Love” and “I Can’t Let Go,” recorded by the Hollies and written by Chip Taylor. They nail every song.

Most remarkable is their live rendition of the early Beach Boys track “Famer’s Daughter.” It opens with the James Bond Theme, shifts into tight harmonies from Cowsill and Peterson, and absolutely soars.

The album also includes tracks from the band’s 2001 EP Listen, Listen, a celebration of Richard Thompson and Sandy Denny of Fairport Convention.

Drifted is a fascinating overview of an underappreciated band and is an extraordinary gift to longtime fans.

Review: John Moreland’s “High on Tulsa Heat”

 

By Paul T. Mueller

moreland_cover_150High on Tulsa Heat, the latest from Oklahoma singer-songwriter John Moreland, is not quite as much a one-man-band effort as his breakout 2013 album In the Throes, but it’s still a very personal statement. Like Throes, it’s not always easy to listen to. Moreland says in the liner notes, “This is a record about home. Whatever that is.”

Apparently it’s a place of loneliness, alienation and romantic difficulty. Consider some of the song titles: “Heart’s Too Heavy,” “Sad Baptist Rain,” “Losing Sleep Tonight.” Not a lot of fun there. But it’s a rewarding listen despite the darkness, owing to Moreland’s perceptive lyrics and catchy melodies, supported by his strong singing and playing. This is one former metalhead who knows his way around a nicely picked acoustic guitar and a quiet but heartfelt vocal. “Well, I’m the kind of love it hurts to look at,” he sings in “You Don’t Care for Me Enough to Cry.” “Maybe we should take it as a sign/When I’m strung out on leaving/Exalting all my demons/And you don’t care for me enough to cry.”

As on Throes, Moreland does most of the playing and singing here (and engineering, mixing and producing). But he makes a little more use of collaborators this time out. John Calvin Abney III (guitars and keyboards) and Jared Tyler (Dobro) help out on several tracks, as well as sharing engineering duties. Other contributors include Chris Foster on upright bass, Jesse Aycock on pedal steel, and Kierston White and Camille Harp on vocals.

As to the title, Moreland has said it derives from a song called “High on East Texas Heat” that he wrote years ago about his delirious state of mind after several sleepless nights in the un-air-conditioned home of a friend in East Texas. He dumped the song but kept the title, changing the name of the city to something more appropriate to his native Oklahoma.

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Reissue: Paul Williams’ “A Little on the Windy Side”

By Ken Paulson

windyThe 2011 documentary “Still Alive” purported to “find” the lost Paul Williams, the highly successful composer who was also a mainstay on talk shows of the ‘70s. It’s an odd premise.

Paul Williams lost? The same Paul Williams who in 2009 was elected president and chairman of ASCAP? The same Paul Williams who was elected to the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2001?

No, the man who wrote “Rainy Days and Mondays,””We’ve Only Just Begun” and many more pop classics wasn’t missing, but some of his music was. His ninth album – A Little on The Windy Side – was so scarce that the asking price on Amazon was in excess of $100.

That’s been remedied with the release of the 1979 recording by Real Gone Music and Second Disc. The album, produced in Nashville with Williams’ brother Mentor, featured some of the era’s finest session players including guitarists Reggie Young and Troy Seals and keyboardist David Briggs. Despite the Music City origin, it’s not a country album. Instead, it has some very gentle funk underpinnings to make it sound contemporary in the late disco era.

The material here is solid and showcases Williams’ strengths, most notably on  “A Brand New Song” and “Here’s Another Fine Mess.”

The real treats are two songs that Williams wrote for the film “One on One” in 1977.

“My Fair Share” and bonus cut “Love Conquers All” were performed by Seals and Crofts on the soundtrack, and propelled the film in joyous fashion. It’s great to have the songwriter’s renditions on this long-overlooked collection.

New: Jon Pousette-Dart, Deslondes

A round-up of new releases:

pousetteTalk – Jon Pousette – Dart – BFD – Best known for his successful run with the Pousette-Dart Band in the ‘70s, Jon Pousette-Dart continues to write and record rewarding music, as evidenced by his new collection Talk. The new album set for release on July 24, draws on blues and country, and features contributions by Reggie Young, Rhonda Vincent, Dan Dugmore, Jonell Mosser and Bekka Bramlett. It’s very much a Nashville album, produced by Bill VornDick at Ronnie’s Place, and with co-writes by Music City residents John Oates, Gary Nicholson and Angela Kaset.

The DeslondesNew West Records – This talented roots band draws on Sun Records in such an authentic fashion that the album probably should have been released on 78.  The California leg of the Deslondes’ tour begins shortly with a date in San Franciso on July 14. They’ll be at the Roxy in LA two days later.

Dear Elvis – Chris Cuddy – Vanishing Castle Recordings – Like the Deslondes, Chris Cuddy’s nw album draws on rock ‘n’ roll inspirations of more than a half-century ago., and guests Albert Lee and Gene Taylor help him out on “Rock ‘n’ Roll History.”

Come on HomeDan Rodriguez – Dan Rodriguez is the singer and songwriter behind everyone’s favorite commercial. It’s his “Come on Home” that plays on the heartwarming Budweiser commercial in which a dog waits for his owner, who decides not to drive home impaired. That’s a good jump start for an album that delivers on the promise of the song. Recorded in Nashville, Come on Home boasts strong songs and robust sounds throughout.

MigrateTroy and Paula Hagg – Southern Gothic Productions Migrate is the second album from this North Virginia husband and wife duo. Troy sings and plays guitar, while Paula provides harmonies and percussion on this amiable and engaging collection.

American ShuffleHobo Nephews of Uncle Frank – Chaperone Records – The new album from the Minneapolis-based Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank features two songs inspired by sports legends. “Old Number Four” celebrates the achievements of quarterback Brett Favre in nearby Green Bay, while “The Day Billy Martin Quits” chronicles the life of the fiery Yankee player and manager.

The Mallpass Brothers – Organic Records – The Mallpass Brothers deliver faithful treatments of classic country and honky-tonk songs on their new album. A handful of new songs complement familiar tunes from Hank Williams, Jack Clement and the Louvin Brothers, but it’s all pretty seamless. Highly recommended for fans of vintage Marty Robbins and Merle Haggard.

 

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Expanded Americana Music Festival lineup

ama_logo_button_redThe Americana Music Association has just added a second wave of artists booked for thie fall’s Americana Music Festival and Conference, set for Sept. 15-20 in Nashville, including Band of Heathens, the McCrary Sisters, Luther Dickinson, the Fairfield Four, JD Souther, Doug Seegers, Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale. You’ll find the initial  lineup here.

The new additions:

Adam Faucett

American Aquarium

Amy LaVere

Andrew Leahey & The Homestead

Band of Heathens

Buddy Miller

Buxton Cale Tyson

The Carmonas

Daniel Romano

Darrell Scott

David Wax Museum

Dirty River Boys

Donnie Fritts & John Paul White

Doug Seegers

Dreaming Spires

Dustbowl Revival

Eddie Berman

Eilen Jewell

The Fairfield Four

Gill Landry

The Good Lovelies

Great Peacock

Gretchen Peters

The Hillbenders

The Honeycutters

Humming House

JD & The Straight Shot

JD Souther

Jeffrey Foucault

Jim Lauderdale

Jonathan Tyler

Josh Rouse

JP Harris

Kacy & Clayton

Kelsey Waldon

Legendary Shack Shakers

Lewis and Leigh

Lindi Ortega

Los Colognes

Low Cut Connie

Luther Dickinson

Margo Price

The Mavericks

McCrary Sisters

Michaela Anne

Miss Tess & The Talkbacks

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats

Paper Bird

Pine Hill Project (featuring Richard Shindell & Lucy Kaplansky)

Pony Boy Porter

Possessed By Paul James

Raised By Eagles

Ron Pope & The Nighthawks

Ry Cooder/Sharon White/Ricky Skaggs

Ryan Culwell

Sam Outlaw

Spirit Family Reunion

The Suffers

T. Hardy Morris

T Sisters

Taarka

Those Pretty Wrongs

Town Mountain

Uncle Lucius

Whitney Rose

Willie Watson

The Wood Brothers

Review: Michelle Malone’s “Stronger Than You Think”

 by Paul T. Mueller

malone_coverA sense of joy pervades Stronger Than You Think, the latest album from Georgia-based folk-rocker Michelle Malone. Joy in its fullest sense – darkness as well as light – informs Malone’s lyrics, but beyond that, there’s the sheer joy of music – writing it, singing it, playing it, sharing it. Stronger’s 13 tracks are filled with all kinds of joy, making for a richly rewarding listening experience.

Malone has been working at this music business for a few decades now, and it seems she’s got it pretty well figured out. She’s a fine singer, equally comfortable with belting out a rocker or crooning a quiet ballad. She’s also a terrific guitarist, acoustic or electric, and adept on the mandolin and harmonica. She ties it all together with strong production skills, here shared with Gerry Hansen. You get the sense that Malone knew exactly what she wanted out of this album, knew how to get it – and did so.

Stronger gets a strong start with “Stomping Ground,” a Tom Petty-esque, mid-tempo rocker that combines nostalgia for youthful experiences with the recognition that while you can revisit the past, you can’t go back to it. The next track, “Vivian Vegas,” may or may not be straight-up autobiographical. “I got kicked out of three high schools trying to get my rock and roll degree,” Malone declares over a fast rockabilly beat, without a hint of regret. “I’ve always been in trouble,” she concludes gleefully, “and trouble’s always been in me.”

Other highlights include:

  • “My Favorite T-Shirt,” a defiant breakup song, with equal measures of bitterness at a former lover and exultation over newfound freedom. Singing with the venom of the ill-treated, Malone’s narrator demands the return of the titular T-shirt (“the one that I bought at the Stones concert/When you said no one would ever love me like you do”) and notes “I stayed, you held me like a crutch/I stayed ‘til I got up the courage to run.”
  • “Keep My Head Up,” a slide guitar-fueled affirmation of the power of persistence: “When I want to quit/I talk to myself/I say, ‘Girl, you got this/You know you’re stronger than you think.’ “
  • “Ramona,” a heart-wrenching ballad about old age, told from the point of view of a middle-aged daughter dealing with her mother’s slow, painful decline. “She says, ‘Ramona, how many husbands did I have?’ ” Malone’s narrator sings. “ ‘Tell me, Ramona, why did I ever leave Birmingham?’ “

Other players include Hansen and Vic Stafford on drums, Davis Causey on electric guitar, Ben Holst on lap steel and electric guitars, Michael Steele on bass, and Trish Land, credited with “tambo-bomb and shakery things.” Backing vocalists include Amy Ray (Indigo Girls) and Kristian Bush (Sugarland), each of whom co-wrote one song; the rest are credited to Malone.

Malone dedicated this album to “those of you who are fighting the good fight.” This is something she knows a lot about; the album is the product of her struggles, and more importantly of her response to them. It’s the work of an artist at the peak of her creative powers, wiser with maturity but still driven by the passion of youth.

Michelle Malone has always had an enthusiastic fan base; Stronger Than You Think makes the case for a much larger one.

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Jerry Lawson at the Station Inn

By Ken Paulson

It was a long time coming, but Jerry Lawson’s show at the Station Inn in Nashville June 5  was a spirited and often inspiring evening.

Lawson, the 71-year-old lead singer for the Persuasions, was there to celebrate the release of Just a Mortal Man, his first solo album.  His voice broke a bit as he explained that the album’s title hit home for him shortly after he finished recording it.  He said he understood just how mortal he was when a torn esophagus led to a life-threatening medical emergency.

Jerry Lawson and Eric Brace on stage at the Station Inn

 Jerry Lawson and Eric Brace on stage at the Station Inn

Red Beet Records founder and artist Eric Brace explained that he had connected with Lawson years earlier when he wrote a piece for the Washington Post saluting his talents. After years of correspondence, the two ended up on stage together in Phoenix, leading to Brace saying “We should make a record together.” In time, they did.

Lawson’s mobility was limited because he’s recovering from knee replacement surgery, but his voice was in fine shape, opening with “Kiddio” and then moving on to perform much of the album. Highlights included Paul Simon’s “Peace Like a River,” Brace’s “Time and Water” and Peter Cooper’s cautionary “Wine,” which Lawson insists could have been written for him.

 

 

 

 

 

Reissue: “Nils Lofgren”

nils lofgrenBy Ken Paulson
It’s not unusual for a first solo album to be among an artist’s best. After all, most singer-songwriters have a young lifetime of work from which to select those first 10 or 12 tracks. But that wasn’t the case with Nils Lofgren, just reissued by Real Gone Music.

Lofgren had already put out several albums with his band Grin and toured with Neil Young. The material for this 1975 collection had to be fresh and striking, and Lofgren delivered on both counts.

It’s remarkable to see how many beloved Lofgren tracks show up on this first record, from the blistering “Back It Up” to the wistful “Can’t Buy a Break” and the inventive cover of Carole King’s “Goin’ Back.”

The highlight may well be “Keith Don’t Go,” the celebration of his “main inspirer” Keith Richards. That plea to Keith to stay in the Rolling Stones must have worked; Keith is still on board four decades later.

Nils Lofgren offers a portrait of an absolutely confident young musician. Teamed with Wornell Jones on bass and Aynsley Dunbar on drums, Lofgren aced his debut with consistently strong songs and stellar work on guitar and piano.

New releases: Jerry Lawson, Chris Stapleton

New Americana, folk and soul releases:

Jerry LawsonJust a Mortal ManJerry Lawson – Red Beet Records -Jerry Lawson’s  Just a Mortal Man is a joyous surprise. The 71-year-old lead singer of the Persuasions has just released his first solo album. His rich voice remains a revelation, and the smart song selection showcases his gifts. Highlights include Paul Simon’s “Peace Like A River” and producer Eric Brace’s “Time and Water.” Guests include the McCrary Sisters and Jim Lauderdale. He’ll be in Nashville on June 5 for a show at the Station Inn.

TravellerChris Stapleton – At 37, Chris Stapleton is finally releasing a much-anticipated solo album. He was the lead singer for the Steeldrivers and has had amazing success as a songwriter. Billboard Magazine has a great feature on his songs, as recorded by Adele, Jason Aldean, Blake Shelton, Lee Ann Womack and many more.

The TravelerRhett Miller – What are the odds that Chris Stapleton and Rhett Miller would release new albums with almost identical titles? Here Old 97’s frontman Miller teams up with Black Prairie, with guest spots by Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey of REM

Hope You’re Happy NowGrant Langston – The new album from Grant Langston is out now; publicity materials offer this description: “This new record is dark, moody and veers into the downright somber.”

Alicia MichilliAlicia Michilli – We met Alicia Michilli on a plane flying back from the Grammy Awards. She’s from Detroit, but has moved to Nashville to launch her career. Her self-titled EP makes a great first impression. Despite her 22 years, she has an impressive feel for classic ‘70s soul, as evidenced by the five original tracks. And check out her salute to Etta James here.

My Crazy HeadLevi Lowrey – Out now is the new release by Levi Lowrey, described in press materials as his “most revolutionary album yet.”

A Light That Never DiesKaiL Baxley – Forty Below Records – Set for release on June 2, KaiL Baxley’s second album was co-produced with Eric Corne.

Pat McGeePat McGee – This solo album from the Pat McGee Band leader features an impressive array of session players and guest talent, including Russ Kunkel, Leland Sklar, Waddy Wachtel, Danny Kotchmar, Jeff Pevar, Paul Barrere, John Popper and Pat Monahan.

Review: Amy Speace’s “That Kind of Girl”

 

By Paul T. Mueller

speaceIt seems a bit of a shame that singer-songwriter Amy Speace had to turn to crowdfunding to get her latest album released. Still, maybe making an album independently is the best way to end up with exactly what you want, and That Kind of Girl has that kind of sound about it. It’s an excellent collection – 12 songs full of raw, honest emotion, beautifully conveyed by Speace’s powerful, expressive voice. It also features skillful instrumental and vocal backup from a cast of outstanding musicians, including some of her East Nashville neighbors.

There’s no filler here; these songs demonstrate Speace’s mastery of songcraft, which should come as no surprise to those familiar with her previous work. Her writing – on this set she’s credited as sole writer on three songs and co-writer on the rest – is clear and filled with the kind of nuance that can bring a smile, a tear or both. “You know you never really told me when you knew that you chose her,” she sings in “Epilogue (I Don’t Know How to Stop Loving You),” one of the solo efforts. “So I folded you inside my dreams, like an old concert poster.” And, from “Raincoat,” written with Katie Klim: “It’s a strange kind of sadness/And it’s hard to explain/You were my raincoat/You were my raincoat/You were my raincoat/Now you’re the rain.” It’s a simple metaphor, but so effective.

The songs span a range of styles, from the soulful ’60s vibe of opening track “Nothing Good Can Come from This” and the title track, to sad ballads such as “One Man’s Love” and “Raincoat,” to the vintage country sound of “Come Pick Me Up “ and “Trouble Looks Good on You.” There’s also the jazzy, eerie feel of the spiritually themed “Three Days,” the bouncy pop of “In Chicago” and the Irish air – somewhere between dirge and celebration – of the farewell song “Hymn for the Crossing” (the latter written with Irish songwriter Ben Glover the day after Pete Seeger died, according to Speace).

Credit for the fine production goes to Neilson Hubbard (who also did the mixing and contributed drums, percussion and vocals, plus co-writing two songs) The excellent supporting cast includes Will Kimbrough and Carl Broemel on guitars (the latter also on pedal steel), Dan Mitchell on keyboards, Eamon McLoughlin on violin, viola and mandolin, and Dean Marold on upright bass. Contributing vocalists include Glover, John Moreland, Garrison Starr, Tim Easton, Doug and Telisha Williams and Rod Picott.

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