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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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.

This just in: Americana Music nominees

The Americana Music Association has just released its list of nominations for the  15th Annual Honors & Awards:
Album of the Year
Something More Than Free, Jason Isbell, Produced by Dave Cobb
The Ghosts of Highway 20, Lucinda Williams, Produced by Greg Leisz, Tom Overby and Lucinda Williams
The Very Last Day, Parker Millsap, Produced by Parker Millsap and Gary Paczosa
Traveller, Chris Stapleton, Produced by Dave Cobb and Chris Stapleton

Artist of the Year
Jason Isbell
Bonnie Raitt
Chris Stapleton
Lucinda Williams

Duo/Group of the Year
Alabama Shakes
Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell
Lake Street Dive
The Milk Carton Kids
Tedeschi Trucks Band
Emerging Artist of the Year
Leon Bridges
John Moreland
Margo Price
Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats
Song of the Year
“24 Frames” Jason Isbell
“Dime Store Cowgirl” Kacey Musgraves
“Hands Of Time” Margo Price
“S.O.B.” Nathaniel Rateliff & The Nightsweats

Instrumentalist of the Year
Cindy Cashdollar
Stuart Duncan
Jedd Hughes
Sara Watkins

New releases: Darrell Scott, Cyndi Lauper, Honeycutters

New and recent releases from Darrell Scott, Cyndi Lauper, Jeremy Nail, David Newbould, the Honeycutters, Mike Eldred Trio and Robert Rex Weller, Jr.:

CouchvilleDarrell Scott The Couchville Sessions – It’s a measure of Darrell Scott’s depth as an artist and songwriter that he could record an album’s worth of material 15 years ago and then put it on the shelf. The Couchville Sessions was worth the wait, highlighted by the haunting “Waiting for the Clothes to Get Clean” and covers of Johnny Cash’s “Big River” and James Taylor’s “Another Grey Morning.”

 Cyndi LauperDetour – Sire Records – We suppose we shouldn’t be surprised by Cyndi Lauper’s collection of country covers recorded in Nashville. After all, her Memphis Blues was recorded just down the interstate not long ago. We assume a celebration of Knoxville is next. It’s a fun release with guests galore, including Emmylou Harris on “Detour,” Vince Gill on “You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly” and Allison Krauss on “Hard Candy Christmas.”

 Mike Eldred TrioBaptist Town – Great Western Recording Co. – The new Mike Eldred Trio album was recorded in Sun Studio in Memphis and features guest turns from Robert Cray, John Mayer and David Hidalgo.

 Jeremy NailMy Mountain – Open Nine Music – Jeremy Nail’s new album was produced by Alejandro Escovedo with a band that included Chris Masterson, Eleanor Whitmore, Bobby Daniel and Chris Searles. Our favorite track: ”Dreams.”

honeycutters The HoneycuttersOn the Ropes – Organic Records – Rich new album from the Honeycutters is their fourth. The title track sets the tone with equal measures of defiance and resignation:
“ I paid a lot to feel this bad.”

 David NewbouldThe Devil is his Name – Coming May 20, the new David Newbould EP follows up his strong Tennessee release. Helping out are stalwarts Michael Webb and Jefferson Crow.

Robert Rex Weller, Jr. – Western Seeds Record Company – Robert Rex Weller tackles a wide array of covers, ranging from Willie Nelson to the Hollies and the Doors.

In concert: Kelley Mickwee

By Paul T. Mueller

Kelley Mickwee

Kelley Mickwee

Austin-based singer-songwriter Kelley Mickwee brought a kind of career retrospective to the Fulshear House Concerts series on April 30. The show, in the Houston suburb of Fulshear, featured Mickwee performing songs from her early days as half of the Americana duo Jed and Kelley; from her days as a member of vocal quartet The Trishas, and from her more recent solo career.

Mickwee was born in Birmingham, Ala., and grew up in Memphis, Tenn., which helps explain the bluesy, soulful tone that colors her singing. She has a powerful, expressive voice, which she uses effectively to convey the emotions in her lyrics, exploring such topics as love, loneliness and temptations of various kinds. “I’m a singer first and foremost,” she told the audience of about 30. “It’s what I really love to do.” She accompanied herself capably on acoustic guitar and harmonica, plus a little foot-stomping percussion when needed.

The 15-song show was more or less chronological, starting with one of Mickwee’s earlier songs, “Strangers,” a look at what happens when lovers grow apart. She noted that she started writing the song before her marriage to (and eventual divorce from) Jed Zimmerman, who was also her musical partner in Jed and Kelley. “I didn’t know what I was talking about,” she noted with a laugh.

Mickwee performed several other songs that were recorded by The Trishas during the roughly four years the group was actively touring and performing (other members included fellow singer-songwriters Jamie Lin Wilson, Savannah Welch and Liz Foster, plus guitarist Brandy Zdan). These included the funny-but true romantic lament “Liars & Fools” and “Rainin’ Inside,” co-written with singer-songwriter Kevin Welch (Savannah’s father). She also sang a couple of songs that effectively showcased her strong, clear voice – “Drive,” a ballad about getting away, and “Take Me Home,” about loneliness and homesickness.

Between songs, Mickwee related details of her personal history and how it shaped her songwriting and singing. She accompanied a nice rendition of Eliza Gilkyson’s “Dark Side of Town,” a ballad about a talented musician whose hedonistic habits become his downfall, with the story of how she first met her father when she was 21 and had only a few years with him before similar lifestyle choices led to his demise. She took a similar approach with an excellent version of Emmylou Harris’ “Boulder to Birmingham,” noting that her relatively late start as a songwriter paralleled that of the Americana icon.

Mickwee ended the show with “Closer,” a plea for intimacy that she has yet to record. The song is in a key that’s outside her usual vocal range, she said, but added that pushing one’s limits is the path to artistic growth, and that the song has become her new favorite to sing.

Mickwee’s most recent solo CD, You Used to Live Here, came out in 2014. “It’s time for another one,” she said in an interview before the show, noting that she has several songs ready to record, but plans to wait until she has more before going into the studio, possibly by the end of the year. “I’m not in a rush,” she said. “I want to make sure I have 10 really great songs.”

 

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Review: Mary Gauthier, Gretchen Peters and Eliza Gilkyson

By Paul T. Mueller

The tour is billed as “Three Women and the Truth,” and that’s, well, the truth. There is a whole lot of truth in the songs of Mary Gauthier, Gretchen Peters and Eliza Gilkyson, and the trio presented it straight up to a capacity audience at the first of two April 23 shows at McGonigel’s Mucky Duck in Houston. The format couldn’t have been much simpler – three women, each with an acoustic guitar. But the writing and performing skill on display were anything but simple.

The trio took turns, each performing five songs, with occasional vocal and/or instrumental support from the others. The subject matter included such themes as death (Peters’ “Hello Cruel World”), romantic difficulty (Gilkyson’s “Think About You”) and social inequity (Gauthier’s “Sugar Cane”).

But while the tone was a bit dark, the performances were dazzling. Particularly affecting were Peters’ “The Matador,” an ambivalent love story full of rich imagery; Gilkyson’s “Easy Rider,” a touching tribute to her father, folksinger and songwriter Terry Gilkyson, one of whose groups was The Easy Riders; and Gauthier’s classic “Mercy Now,” which earned one of the set’s most enthusiastic responses.

Accompanying the music was a generous sprinkling of between-songs banter covering such topics as the sometimes alarming honesty of Dutch audiences, Gilkyson’s skills with onstage electronics (when something went wrong, she was able to make a quick repair), and

Gauthier’s prowess at parallel-parking large vehicles (she got a big laugh when she referred to that skill as “kind of a lesbian pride thing”).

After what seemed like a much-too-short set, the trio took a bow, conferred briefly and sat down again to alternate verses on a beautiful rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom.”

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