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.

New releases: Greg Trooper, the Grahams

New Americana, folk and bluegrass releases:

greg trooper liveLive at the Rock RoomGreg Trooper – Due in June is Greg Trooper’s Live at the Rock Room, recorded in Austin with Chip Dolan on keyboards and accordion and Jack Saunders on bass. It’s Trooper’s third live recording and a testament to his exceptional songwriting and performance skills.

Trooper has been a recording and touring artist for many years, a longevity that only comes with a compelling stage presence and catalog. The new album draws from recent albums, with themes ranging from quiet resignation (“They Call Me Hank”) to enduring lust (“Mary of the Scots in Queens.”)

Trooper writes about real lives and challenges; his “We’ve Still Got Time” is one of the best songs you’ll ever hear about aging and romance.

Highly recommended.

Glory BoundThe Grahams – There’s an ambitious new album and film on the way from the Grahams. Glory Bound  has a companion film Rattle the Hocks that explores the intersection of railroads and roots music. Our favorite track on Glory Bound is the driving title song. It begins with youthful regrets and then soars in window-rattling style.

Holidays and Wedding RingsJamie Lin Wilson – Also out Tuesday is a solo album from Jamie Lin Wilson of the Trishas.  Jon Dee Graham and Wade Bowen are among contributors to the set.

OnwardChristian Lopez Band – Blaster Records – Christian Lopez is a 19-year-old songwriter with West Virginia Roots. Produced by Dave Cobb.

Restless YouthDeer Run Drifters –This is the second album from the Virginia-based roots band. Anthem in the making: “You Go to Hell, I’m Going Drinking.”

Sour BridgesSour Bridges – The band calls its music “browngrass,” explaining that it’s bluegrass, “but a little dirtier.”

 

2015 Americana Music Awards nominees announced

The Americana Music Association announced this afternoon the nominees for the 2015 ama_logo_button_redAmericana Honors and Awards. The winners will be announced at the association’s annual conference, set for Sept. 10-15 in Nashville.
2015 Americana Honors & Awards Nominees
Album of the Year (Award goes to Artist and Producer)
And The War CameShakey Graves; Produced by Alejandro Rose-Garcia and Chris Boosahda
Down Where The Spirit Meets The BoneLucinda Williams; Produced by Lucinda Williams, Tom Overby and Greg Leisz
Metamodern Sounds In Country Music Sturgill Simpson; Produced by Dave Cobb
The Way I’m Livin’Lee Ann Womack; Produced by Frank Liddell
Tomorrow Is My Turn – Rhiannon Giddens; Produced by T-Bone Burnett
Artist of the Year
Rhiannon Giddens
Jason Isbell
Sturgill Simpson
Lucinda Williams
Lee Ann Womack
Duo/Group of the Year
Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn
The Lone Bellow
The Mavericks
Punch Brothers
Shovels & Rope
Emerging Artist of the Year
First Aid Kit
Houndmouth
Nikki Lane
Doug Seegers
Shakey Graves
Instrumentalist of the Year
Hubby Jenkins
Laur Joamets
Greg Leisz
John Leventhal
Stuart Mathis
Song of the Year (Award goes to Artist and Songwriter)
“Dearly Departed” – Shakey Graves; Written by Alejandro Rose-Garcia and Esme’ Patterson
“East Side Of Town” – Lucinda Williams; Written by Lucinda Williams
“Terms Of My Surrender” – John Hiatt; Written by John Hiatt
“Turtles All The Way Down” – Sturgill Simpson; Written by Sturgill Simpson
“You’re The Best Lover That I Ever Had” – Steve Earle & the Dukes; Written by Steve Earle

This just in: 2015 Americana Music Festival line-up

ama_logo_button_redThe  Americana Music Association has just announced its initial artist line-up for the 16th annual Americana Music Festival and Conference, set for September 15 – 20, 2015, in Nashville.

It’s always an extraordinary week of music and one of the best festivals in Nashville each year.

You’ll find conference and wristband information at www.americanamusic.org.

 

The roster so far:
Anderson East
Andrew Combs
Anthony D’Amato
Banditos
Barna Howard
Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn
Billy Bragg & Joe Purdy
Birds of Chicago
Brian Wright
The Bros. Landreth
Caleb Caudle
Caleb Klauder Country Band
Carly Ritter
Carsie Blanton
ChessBoxer
Christopher Paul Stelling
The Contenders
Corb Lund
Crooks
Darlingside
Dead Winter Carpenters
Dom Flemons
The Dustbowl Revival
Emma Swift
Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen
The Freightshakers
The Grahams
Grant-Lee Phillips
Guthrie Brown & The Family Tree
Hackensaw Boys
Halfway
The Hello Strangers
Henry Wagons
honeyhoney
Horse Feathers
Horseshoes & Hand Grenades
Hugh Bob and the Hustle
Jackie Greene
James McMurtry
Joe Pug
John Moreland
John Paul Keith
Kingsley Flood
Kristin Diable
Kristin Andreassen
Laney Jones and the Spirits
Lee Ann Womack
Legendary Shack Shakers
Lera Lynn
Leyla McCalla
Lilly Hiatt
Liz Longley
Los Lobos
Low Cut Connie
Lucette
Lydia Loveless
Martin Harley
Mary Gauthier
Nikki Lane
Nora Jane Struthers
Nudie
Oh Pep!
Packway Handle Band
Patty Griffin
Pokey LaFarge
Porter
Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen
Ray Wylie Hubbard
River Whyless
Sarah Borges
Sean McConnell
Shemekia Copeland
The Show Ponies
Session Americana
Steelism
The Steel Wheels
Stephen Kellogg
The Stray Birds
Tall Heights
The Vespers
Water Liars
The Whistles and The Bells
Whitey Morgan and the 78s
The Wild Reeds
William Elliott Whitmore
Whitehorse

 

Review: James McMurtry’s “Complicated Game”

by Paul T. Mueller   

mcmurtry“Honey don’t you be yelling at me when I’m cleaning my gun.” Is there a better opening line for a song or an album anywhere? Could there be? Hard to imagine. A dozen words into “Copper Canteen,” the first song on Complicated Game, James McMurtry’s ninth studio CD, and you know you want to know more about these people. That’s one of McMurtry’s great strengths – sharp, clean writing that sketches characters and their lives with only a few well-chosen words.

Another of McMurtry’s gifts is his almost uncanny ability to embody a wide range of personas in songs. Most of Complicated Game’s songs are written in the first person; the protagonists include a husband dealing with the frustrations and pleasures of a long-term relationship (“Copper Canteen”); a man reminiscing about his younger self and a long-ago love (“You Got to Me”), a rootless wanderer (“Ain’t Got a Place”), a man planning his own disappearance (“Forgotten Coast”), a returning veteran who finds that things back home are not what he’d hoped for (“South Dakota”), and – in what McMurtry described recently as “the deepest and darkest song I ever wrote” – a person of unspecified gender who deals with emotional pain through self-injury (“Cutter”). These are people you might pass on the street any day without knowing anything about them, but McMurtry’s skill as a lyricist brings them vividly to life.

The overall sound of Complicated Game is closer to that of older, quieter albums, such as It Had to Happen and Walk Between the Raindrops, than to the louder, angrier tone of McMurtry’s more recent work. There’s plenty of fine guitar playing, but this time out it’s mostly acoustic. Much of the backing is by longtime touring bandmates Cornbread (bass), Daren Hess (drums) and Tim Holt (guitar and vocals). The impressive list of contributors includes McMurtry’s son Curtis on banjo and vocals, Benmont Tench on keyboards, Dustin Welch and Danny Barnes on banjo, Derek Trucks on slide guitar, and many others.

McMurtry’s vocals have more animation here than on his past few albums; he’s been quoted as crediting co-producer CC Adcock with expanding his range. (Mike Napolitano is also credited with production. He and Adcock did a fine job; there’s a lot going on musically, but it all serves the songs without overshadowing them.)

James McMurtry has been an excellent musician and storyteller since he launched his career more than a quarter century ago, and he shows no sign of letting up now. Complicated Game is one of his best, and one of the best albums of 2015 so far.

New Releases: Alabama Shakes, Susie Glaze

alabama shakes 2New in our mailbox this week:

Sound & ColorAlabama Shakes – ATO Records – Alabama Shakes’ second album is a statement of extraordinary confidence from a young and ambitious band.

It would have been so easy to echo the sounds and success of debut release Boys & Girls. Instead Sound & Color is a bold amalgam of soul, psychedelia, rock and electronica.

For every heart-rending ballad like “Give Me All Your Love,” there’s a punk-propelled “The Greatest” or Stones-influenced ‘Shoegaze.”

Brittany Howard’s vocals are stunning throughout, giving these far-flung sounds a soulful core. Alabama Shakes are in it for the long run.

The LightUncle Lucius – Boo Clap/Thirty Tigers Due June 9, the fourth album from the Austin-based band will be their first independent release since exiting a label deal.

glazeNot That Kind of GirlSusie Glaze and the Hilonesome Band – Produced by Herb Pedersen – Suzie Glaze’s website touts her band as a “Newgrass Americana Folk Fusion Quartet,” but that’s probably working too hard. As Not That Kind of Girl firmly establishes, this band plays engaging bluegrass and Celtic music, eagerly drawing on a wide range of influences and inspirations. A highlight: A sweet cover of J.D. Souther’s “Prisoner in Disguise.”

Melancholy SeaThe Pinder Brothers The opening few seconds of Melancholy Sea bring  “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” to mind, an apt influence for the Pinder Brothers, whose father Mike Pinder was a founding member of the Moody Blues. Deft melodies and harmonies abound on this third album from the duo.

Rediscovered: Dusty Springfield’s “Faithful”

By Ken Paulson

DustyAfter a wait of 44 years, Dusty Springfield’s third album for Atlantic Records is finally available.

That’s actually pretty extraordinary. She was one of the premier song stylists of her era and was elected to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1999, the year she passed away. And now we have a new album set for release on April 28.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that it’s not her finest work. There are a lot of reasons for shelving an album, and underwhelming content is often a factor.

She was teamed with pop producer and songwriter Jeff Barry, hot off his work with the Monkees and the Archies.

Dusty generally had impeccable taste in song selection, but Faithful features ten songs written by Barry and his staff of writers , including Bobby “Montego Bay” Bloom. I’m sure that’s how you built an Archies album, but Dusty deserved more distinctive material.

That said, there are some gems here.  “All the King’s Horses” is a hook-laden slice of soulful pop that should have been a single, while “Natchez Trace” is an ambitious rocker that brings Bonnie Bramlett to mind.

Two classy covers – Bread’s “Make It With You” and Carole King’s “You’ve Got A Friend” – outstrip the album’s original material.

Faithful was never going to be Dusty in Memphis, but this release is  a gift to Dusty Springfield fans everywhere and a valuable addition to her recorded legacy.

New: Spirit Family Reunion, Honeycutters

New releases in our mail this week:

Hands TogetherSpirit Family Reunion – The Spirit Family Reunion is on tour throughout April in support of their second album, including a date in Nashville on April 20 with Blitzen Trapper at the City Winery. Here’s their memorable NPR Tiny Desk concert:

Me Oh My – The Honeycutters – Organic Records – Me Oh My is the third studio album from the Asheville-based Honeycutters, a self-described “Appalachian Honky Tonk” band, They’ll be in Nashville this Wednesday, April 22, to appear on Music City Roots.

Americana AshWhite Owl Red – J.J. McManus fronts this San Francisco-based band on their first album.

Loser AngelsJim Pelz  – The Kentucky-based guitarist for Hickory Robot has just issued his first solo album.

 

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Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “The Ruffian’s Misfortune”

by Paul T. Mueller

rwh_ruffians_cover_150Ray Wylie Hubbard doesn’t break a lot of fresh ground on The Ruffian’s Misfortune, his latest collection of dispatches from the dark side. But that’s OK, because Hubbard’s bluesy tales of misplaced priorities, bad decisions and tragic characters are always entertaining, even when they’re not exactly new.

“All Loose Things,” the opening track, starts off as you might expect, with loud guitar chords and the martial beat of a drum. “All loose things end up being washed away” is the song’s apocalyptic message, and that tone carries over to the next track, “Hey Mama, My Time Ain’t Long.” “I’ll tell you a tale about the songs the bluesman sings,” Hubbard begins in his weathered, raspy voice, later elaborating: “Some say it’s the devil jingling the coins in his pocket/I’d say it sounds more like a pistol when you cock it.”

Ray Wylie and Lucas Hubbard

Ray Wylie and Lucas Hubbard

The blues often deals with the opposite sex, and so it is on Misfortune. “Too Young Ripe, Too Young Rotten” is a kind of gentle elegy for a woman who’s lived her life by her own lights and is dealing with the consequences.

“Chick Singer, Badass Rockin’ “ could be the story of the same character in her earlier years – “short dress, torn stockings/That chick singer is badass rockin’.” Mississippi country blues singer Jessie Mae Hemphill gets an affectionate tribute in “Jessie Mae,” which features some nice fiddle by The Mastersons’ Eleanor Whitmore.

Hubbard is known to take on loftier themes at times, and here he does so on “Barefoot in Heaven.” “Well, it ain’t no secret, oh if you know me/that I’ve been no-’count most of my life,” he sings, backed by the McCrary Sisters, among others. “But I’ve been converted, oh, I got the spirit/Just a chance I’m gonna see this paradise.”

Hubbard closes with “Stone Blind Horses,” whose rueful tone seems to sum up the late-life regrets of “wild young cowboys, old drunks, paramours and thieves.” Hubbard’s weary voice is well matched with his words: “My only hope is somewhere in that heaven/Someone says a prayer for me.”

All this fun comes courtesy of some familiar names – Hubbard’s son Lucas on guitar, George Reiff on bass and Rick Richards on percussion. Other players include Conrad Chocrun on drums, Gabe Rhodes on guitars, mandolin and piano, and Brad Rice on guitar. The playing is good and the production – by Hubbard and Reiff – is sharp throughout.

 

 

New releases: Boxmasters, Sam Lewis

By Ken Paulson

boxmastersThe BoxmastersSomewhere Down the Road – 101 Ranch Records – It’s not every album that has its own built-in mood swing. The Boxmasters – “Bud” Billy Bob Thornton, Teddy Andreadis, Brad Davis and J.D. Andrews – will release a new two-CD set this week, each disc with a distinctly different tone.

The first disc features their brand of “Modbilly,” an amalgam of jangly pop and country that emulates everyone from the Searchers to the Mavericks. It’s breezy, melodic and often amusingly quirky, as exemplified by “Kathy Won’t Share,” a song about adding another woman to a couple’s lifestyle.

The second CD is considerably darker. Sample lyrics: “As much as I hate myself, I love you.”

“Who Can I Tell” is the saga of a man with a burning secret about a lover who is later found “on the rails, in pieces in the rain.” “Long Black Veil” it’s not.

Sam Lewis – Waiting for You – Brash Music  – Sam Lewis must have spent a lot of time listening to Moondance. The influence is unmistakable on his soulful second album, which includes performances by Will Kimbrough, Darrell Scott, the McCrary Sisters and Kenny Vaughan. He’s on tour now, with a Nashville date set for April 23 at the 5 Spot.

Monty Byrom100 Miles South of Eden – Due on April 14 is the new album from Monty Byrom, a member of Big House and the co-writer of the Eddie Money hit “I Wanna Go Back.” It includes a 1998 live performance of Buck Owens’ “Big in Vegas” by Owens and Big House.

Matt Lax and Nearly Beloved – Attaboy Records – The fourth album by Matt Lax and the Nearly Beloved, a Northern California band, is set for release in May.

Rob NanceSignal FiresRob Nance follows up Lost Souls & Locked Doors with a more musically adventurous second album, set for release on April 21.

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