Review: Sandy Beaches Cruise 2017

By Ken Paulson

The Sandy Beaches Cruise, the much-loved music festival at sea hosted by Delbert McClinton, rocked – in more ways than one – throughout its 23rd annual edition.

While the U.S. was shivering from a wide-ranging cold front, the temperatures on the Holland America Oosterdam were far more pleasant, but accompanied by high winds and waves. That left a number of artists struggling to keep their footing on stage and dancing audience members discovering moves they didn’t know they had.

But this is one cruise where the weather is almost irrelevant. People return to the Sandy Beaches Cruise every year because the musical talent is deep and the vibe is relaxed. When cruisers meet each other, the first question is almost always “How many of these have you been on?” There’s status in numbers.

week kicked off with Marcia Ball and Teresa James, strategic scheduling that got the audience up out of its seats on the very first night. That pattern held throughout the week with highly danceable music from McClinton, Marc Broussard, Jimmy Hall, Clay McClinton, Gary Nicholson, Lee Roy Parnell, Wayne Toups and Mike Zito.

The Mavericks performed three exuberant shows, though one was in the face of powerful winds and a cascade of sea spray. I’m not sure I’ve seen a more challenging performance environment, but the band – and the faithful – stayed the course.

The World Famous Headliners, a band comprised of NRBQ veteran Al Anderson, Shawn Camp, Pat McLaughlin, Michael Rhodes and Greg Morrow, were cruise favorites. There are a few songs on which their three lead vocals mesh and sound strikingly like the Band, but with a sense of humor. The Headliners have recorded two fine albums, but almost never perform, so those on board for the cruise the past two years have probably seen a majority of their shows.

The McCrary Sisters are the spiritual heart of the cruise, offering up a powerful mix of soul and gospel. Their medley of “I Can See Clearly Now/Let the Sun Shine In” was a musical weather forecast, with a bit of wishful thinking thrown in.

The surprise of the week was a salute to Eric Burdon and the Animals, led by Red Young, who played with Burdon for decades. It turns out that Teresa James and members of the Rhythm Tramps also served as latter-day Animals, and they joined Young on this impressive revue of Burdon’s best. James herself took the lead on “Don’t Bring Me Down.”

“Pianorama” is always a highlight of the Sandy Beaches Cruise. This impromptu annual jam session led by Marcia Ball brings together nearly a dozen great keyboard players. Adrenaline flows and the performances are inspired.

Lari White, Etta Britt and Kree Harrison offered up impressive solo showcases, while the Band of Heathens, the Howlin’ Brothers and Mingo Fishtrap delivered well-received sets, tapping into country, rock and traditional music. No one had a more traditional sound than the Quebe Sisters who channel brilliant harmonies (they say the Mills Brothers are their model) and a love of Bob Wills into a vibrant and contemporary take on Western Swing

The Sandy Beaches Cruise songwriters sessions are always entertaining and probably merit a larger venue. One show was dedicated to Lubbock, Texas (in a back-handed sort of way.) It featured a very funny monologue by Jaston Williams of “Greater Tuna” fame, who explored the city’s quirks. “Our homosexuals were not all that gay,” he noted. Gary Nicholson had a great story of his own, recalling a truly crazed friend who rescued him from a biker gang. Delbert shared his own account of seeing UFOs high over Lubbock. Kimmie Rhodes organized the session, which also included stories and music from Sharon Vaughn.

Other songwriting shows featured Bruce “Hey Baby” Channel, Bob DiPiero, Donnie Fritts, Danny Flowers, HalleyAnna, Terry McBride, Tom Hambridge, Spooner Oldham, Kevin Welch, Dustin Welch and Lari White, among others.

Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real was this year’s revelation. Fresh off backing Neil Young, Willie Nelson’s sixth child delivered a high energy show reminiscent of the power trios of the late ‘60s. His own material – highlights included “Four Letter Word” and “Can You Hear Me Love You” – was complemented by nods to the past, from Paul Simon’s “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” to Roger Miller’s “King of the Road.”

And then there are Doyle and Debbie, aka Bruce Arnston and Jenny Littleton. The duo, along with Matt Carlton, offer up the story of a washed-up country star who latches onto a talented and desperate young woman and launches a comeback tour. The show, which features songs like “When You’re Screwing Other Women (think of me)” and “Fat Women in Trailers,” has been touring – and on the cruise – for a decade, and for good reason. It’s one of the funniest and most irreverent shows you’ll ever see.

The final show of the Sandy Beaches Cruise  always features Delbert McClinton and a wide range of guest artists. Gary Nicholson assembled about a dozen friends from Nashville, who joined him in singing “More Days Like This,” a fitting sentiment after 7 days of soulful and satisfying performances.

Delbert McClinton’s “Prick of the Litter”

Americana Music NewsDelbert McClinton is about to release “Prick of the Litter,” his 19th album. We spoke with him on board his annual Sandy Beaches music cruise, a weeklong music festival at sea that features the Mavericks, Marcia Ball, Teresa James, World Famous Headliners and many more country, blues and Americana artists.

Townes Van Zandt remembered at 20th annual “wake”

By Paul T. Mueller

There were few tears but plenty of laughter and good fellowship at the 20th annual Townes Van Zandt wake, held Jan. 1 at the Old Quarter Acoustic Café in Galveston, Texas. The event takes place every year on the anniversary of the 1997 death of the revered singer-songwriter from Texas. Free to the public and open to anyone who wants to get onstage and play, it’s one of the signature events at the iconic dive bar in downtown Galveston. The club is the successor to the Houston venue where Townes Van Zandt recorded one of his best-known albums, 1973’s Live at the Old Quarter; it was founded and, until recently, owned by musician and former Van Zandt bandmate Rex Bell, who goes by “Wrecks.”

The Townes Van Zandt wake at the Old Quarter Acoustic Cafe

The wake, which this year also honored Guy Clark and Leonard Cohen, started about 6:30 p.m. and ran until a little after 2 a.m. Scores of music fans packed the tiny club, at times almost certainly exceeding its legal capacity. Over the course of the evening, something like 25 performers, both professional and amateur, performed nearly 30 of Van Zandt’s songs (some were covered by more than one artist), sometimes assisted by the audience. The only rule (and it was broken once or twice) was that the songs had to be ones written by Van Zandt, Clark and Cohen. Fifteen different Clark songs were performed, along with four of Cohen’s.

The line between amateur and professional seemed a bit blurry at times, but those performing included Bell and his wife, Janet; singer-songwriters Joanna Gibson, Matt Harlan, Marina Rocks, Tommy Lewis, Robert Cline Jr., Chuck Hawthorne, Drew Landry, Charlie Harrison, Cody Austin, Lazarus Nichols, Smith & Turner, and Libby Koch. Most performers were from Texas, but some came from beyond the borders of the Lone Star State, including one from Virginia and Dutch musician Jacques Mees, touring Texas for the first time with vocalist Jolanda Haanskorf.

Gary Reagan, Joanna Gibson, Janet Bell and Wrecks Bell

Gary Reagan, an accomplished acoustic guitarist and longtime wake attendee, backed many performers with beautiful picking and slide work as well as harmony vocals. “Playing ‘Rex’s Blues’ with the Rex for almost 20 years is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done,” he noted.

During his time onstage, and in the course of introducing other performers, Bell offered stories about and memories of his old friend, describing him as “a beautiful, beautiful man” who, despite his demons, never took out his frustrations on anyone else. Bell, who recently sold the Old Quarter and plans to relocate to Arkansas, noted that he had suffered a stroke last July 4, but “I’m making a great comeback.” During one of his mini-sets he sang “Rex’s Blues,” which Townes Van Zandt wrote about him decades ago. “I hated that song,” Bell said, but eventually reconciled himself to it. Two other artists also performed the song, despite what one said was an “unwritten rule” that it not be played. Other songs that got multiple readings included the lovely “If I Needed You,” sweetly done by Bell and Gibson, and the dark and nihilistic “Nothin’.” Marina Rocks’ solo rendition of the latter was suffused with a scary intensity worthy of Townes himself; it was one of the standout performances of the evening.

The assembled cast celebrates Townes Van Zandt

Other notable performances included a heartfelt, if somewhat halting, version of “Tecumseh Valley” by a man who gave his name as Robert and said he’d traveled from Virginia; a suitably sad rendition of “Marie” by Bobby Hoskins, whose gruff delivery on that song and two by Clark left the sometimes chatty audience in churchlike silence, and a cheerful take on Clark’s “Stuff That Works” by a colorfully dressed lady who introduced herself as “Jackie Sue, the next big thing” and told the audience, “I believe the Old Quarter is stuff that works!”

Gracing a small table onstage, and available to anyone in need of a bit of liquid courage, were a party-size bottle of vodka and a two-liter bottle of Diet Orange Crush – reportedly the ingredients of Townes’ cocktail of choice. Several performers, amateur and professional alike, partook of these libations over the course of the evening.

Gibson, the evening’s first performer, said she had attended every Townes wake since the event’s founding. “What a great way to start the new year,” she noted. Gibson was one of the few to take on Cohen’s catalog, leading off with nice renditions of “If It Be Your Will” and “Suzanne.” Other Cohen interpreters included Nichols, with a hoarse but heartfelt “Dance Me to the End of Love,” and Galveston’s own Billy Marabella, whose rendition of “Suzanne” included a recounting of his personal history with the song.

The wake ended with a fine rendition of Van Zandt’s “Snowin’ on Raton,” with Matt Harlan, Libby Koch, Chuck Hawthorne, Tommy Lewis and Charlie Harrison taking turns on vocals. As the last few audience members dispersed into the foggy streets of Galveston, performers and club staff gathered onstage with Wrecks and Janet for a group photo.

New releases: Paul Thorn, Kimbrough & DeMeyer

Americana Music News – New and recent releases:

Review: John Egan’s “Magnolia City”

By Paul T. Mueller

egan_magnolia_150On his latest collection, Magnolia City, Houston-based singer-songwriter John Egan goes back to the basics – a stomp board, a couple of National steel guitars, and a voice well suited to a 10-song mix of classic blues and folk songs and well-crafted originals.

Although Egan seems comfortable fronting a band, he’s more often to be found playing on his own, and he has said that Magnolia City is an effort to reproduce the feel of those solo gigs. It succeeds, fueled by Egan’s skilled picking and slide work and his minimal but effective percussion. His singing is improving with age; here he demonstrates a range of styles, from the howling and growling of an old-time bluesman to more contemporary crooning as the material dictates.

The original songs include the soulful blues of “Harder Than a Stone,” the gentle lament of “Looking for a Place to Fall” and the more raucous blues-rock of “Where the Angels Fly.” The quiet tone of “It Ain’t the Gun” contrasts with its tough-minded message, denouncing the violence that’s become all too common in Houston and elsewhere. The introspective “Man I’ll Never Be,” also on the quieter side, deals with love and expectations.

John Egan pays tribute to a predecessor and fellow Houston bluesman with fine renditions of Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Once a Gambler” and “Mojo Hand.” He also takes on Townes Van Zandt’s “Marie,” and if his matter-of-fact reading of that ballad’s sadder-than-sad lyrics doesn’t quite match the pathos Van Zandt brought to them – well, whose could? More successful is a lively reimagining of Bob Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm,” featuring a little less twang in the vocals and a little more in the strings.

Clean production by Egan and Steve Christiansen complements the music, as does the CD’s simple sleeve, featuring monochrome images by Houston photographer Ray “Texas Redd” Redding.

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Mountain Tough concert to help Gatlinburg

Americana Music News – We’re proud that our friends and colleagues at WMOT and Music City Roots are playing major roles in this Saturday’s “Mountain Tough” fund-raising concert  in the wake of the devastating fires in Gatlinburg. The official announcement:

WMOT_rev2All week, artists and radio stations have been signing on to support Mountain Tough, an all-day, free musical celebration and fund-raiser in Gatlinburg on Saturday, Dec. 17 from 10:00 am until approximately 9 pm. The event is being produced by Yee-Haw Brewing Co., Ole Smoky Moonshine, Music City Roots and the Gatlinburg TN Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Donations are all going to the Sevier County Community Fund.

The full show will be carried all day by flagship broadcaster WMOT / Roots Radio, 89.5 FM serving Middle Tennessee from the College of Media and Entertainment at Middle Tennessee State University. Other stations committed to broadcast or stream Mountain Tough include: Knoxville country powerhouse WIVK, Knoxville indie/Americana station WDVX, Nashville public radio station WPLN, University of Tennessee stations KUTK and WUOT and Chattanooga’s WUTC.

In addition, NPR Music affiliated World Café and the VuHaus digital music video service will host the video stream of the show produced and served by Music City Roots of Nashville.

Most importantly, the talent lineup continues to take shape. Nationally renowned duo The Secret Sisters signed on in the last 48 hours. Other artists committed include: Sam Bush, Jason D. Williams, Derek St. Holmes, Jim Lauderdale, Chuck Mead, Rob Ickes & Trey Hensley, Shannon Whitworth & Barrett Smith, Sarah Potenza, Firewater Junction, Greg Reish, Chelle Rose, Carl Anderson, R.B. Morris and Mo Pitney. Zac Brown Band will take the stage last at about 7:50 pm.

Delbert McCinton’s 2017 Sandy Beaches Cruise

By Ken Paulson

Delbert McClinton is the host and ringleader of the Sandy Beaches cruise, opening and closing the week, and playing all over the ship throughout the week.

Delbert McClinton is the host and ringleader of the Sandy Beaches cruise.

We’re looking forward to Delbert McClinton’s 2017 Sandy Beaches Cruise, which begins Jan. 6 in Tampa. There’s a relaxed vibe throughout the week, in contrast to other music cruises that include assigned seats and lines to get into shows.

It’s a great line-up, with Marcia Ball, the Mavericks, Marc Broussard, Fred Eaglesmith, Clay McClinton, the Quebe Sisters, Wayne Toups, Red Young, World Famous Headliners, Teresa James, Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real, Etta Britt, the McCrary Sisters, Big Joe Maher, Lari White, Bob DiPiero, Anson Funderburgh, Bluz House Rockers, Bruce Channel, Danny Flowers, Doyle and Debbie, Gary Nicholson, Jimmy Hall, Kimmie Rhodes, Kree Harrison, Lee Roy Parnell, Mike Zito, Mingo Fishtrap, Sharon Vaughn, Shelley King, the Band of Heathens, Spooner Oldham, the Howlin’ Brothers and Tom  Hambridge .

We’ll have full coverage of the 2017 Sandy Beaches cruise, but here’s our report from 2016.

As Marcia Ball wrapped up her first song to polite applause, she seemed a little nonplussed.

“I thought there was a dance floor here,” she said, as she kicked off Delbert McClinton’s Sandy Beaches Cruise 2016. The crowd took the hint, and the rest of the evening – and the week – was one non-stop dance floor.

That sets this music cruise apart from others, where headliners and reserved seats are the norm. The Sandy Beaches crowd listens respectfully, but they move to the music.

That’s probably the influence of McClinton himself, who is a low-key and welcoming presence thoughout the cruise. It’s as though you were invited to Delbert’s house – one with a very large pool – with his musical friends on a Saturday night.

And if this is your first visit to Delbert’s, you won’t feel like a newcomer for long.

“This is your cherry and we’re here to bust it, “ Ball declared, launching into a high-velocity set of rhythm and blues, including the week’s first performance of “Sea Cruise.’ “A lot of nerve, “ she laughed.

“All Night Long” with the Mavericks

Raul Malo of the Mavericks

Raul Malo of the Mavericks

The Mavericks headlined the pool deck stage three times and the energy never flagged. Since reuniting in 2012, the band has been on a roll, culminating in their Grammy nominations for the song “All Night Long” and their Mono album, and being named group of the year in the Americana Music Association awards. When a band with more than two decades of experience hits a new career high, it shows on stage. In their final set of the week, they even played a danceable “Okie from Muskogee.”

 

 The McCrary Sisters Let It Go

The McCrary Sisters delivered their first set on Sunday, appropriately so for this hard-rocking gospel quartet. Regina McCrary spoke of God’s capacity for healing and offered to pray for anyone in need. If you have a burden, you should “Let It Go,” they sang. No, not the song from “Frozen.”

Later in the day, Roger Blevins Jr. and Mingo Fishtrap announced they were going to echo the McCrarys’ advice to “let it go, “though their version would be “more profane.”

It wasn’t all church for the McCrarys . The sisters did the Family Stone proud with an inspired version of “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin.)”

Sandy Beaches Cruise 2016 songwriters

The songwriter sessions were uniformly impressive, giving artists the chance to showcase their writing in an acoustic performance. Sharon Vaughn told the story of how she pitched her classic My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys” to Waylon Jennings, who refused to believe she wrote it. Spooner Oldham played songs he co-wrote with Dan Penn, including James and Bobby Purify’s hit “I’m Your Puppet.”

Delbert McClinton joined the songwriters mid-week to showcase songs from a new album due this spring.

The World Famous Headliners

Former NRBQ member Al Anderson has been on the last 18 cruises, but this time he brought his bandmates from the World Famous Headliners . It’s a tongue-in-cheek name, but Anderson, Shawn Camp and Pat McLaughlin make up a potent front three, with stellar guitar work and tight harmonies. The band – deep in writing talent – showcased songs from their new album, including “Hitchike Home,” “The Whoa Whoa Song” and “Fried Chicken,” a song that mashes up Memphis music and the Bee Gees.

The Headliners know no barriers. “We’d like to apologize for these songs,’ McLaughlin told the audience, shortly before Anderson sang “Stick It Where the Sun Don’t Ever Shine.”

The band brings Little Village to mind. That was the storied band featuring Nick Lowe, Ry Cooder, John Hiatt and Jim Keltner, an amazing line-up of players and songwriters that never seemed to gel as a group.

The Headliners gel. They even have their own theme song, which they played at both the beginning and close of their set. “We’re the World Famous Headliners…”

Keb’ Mo’ and the return of Lee Roy Parnell

Among other highlights of  Sandy Beaches Cruise 2016:

Keb’ Mo’ drew big and appreciative crowds poolside with impeccable sets of blues and soul, including his fresh take on the O’Jays’ “Love Train.”

Mingo Fishtrap rallied the audience on the final day, with Blevins Jr. saying that although everyone would have to disembark the next morning, now was the time to “self-lobotomize.” The band then launched into a blistering medley of classic James Brown songs.

Lee Roy Parnell, on the Sandy Beaches Cruise since its inception 22 years ago, was back after a year away. He saluted the late Allen Toussaint with a spirited take on his “Holy Cow.” Lari White joined him for a duet of a song she and Parnell had written, and Etta Britt delivered a powerful “People Get Ready.”

The annual “Pianorama,” with Marcia Ball as ringleader, convened virtually every keyboardist on the cruise for a piano jam. Five players at a time took the stage, trading off parts on songs like “Iko Iko,” “Nothing from Nothing” and Drinkin’ Wine Spo-de-o-dee.”

The Quobe Sisters Band

The Quobe Sisters Band

The Quebe Sisters were a revelation. Their harmonies were gorgeous – in 1940 they would have been the Andrews Sisters –and all three play fiddle beautifully. They draw on a big songbook, but Western Swing is a specialty.

Doyle and Debbie, the lampooning country music revue, doesn’t change and doesn’t need to. It remains fresh and funny.

Alyssa Bonagura was joined onstage by her parents Kathie Baillie and Michael Bonagura, aka “Baillie and the Boys ,” who revisited their musical past, including an impressive “Blue Bayou.” It’s that rare family where the daughter can plug her parents’ CDs at the merch table.

Bruce Channel joined Delbert to perform his big 1962 hit “Hey Baby,” a record on which McClinton played harmonica. I’m sure they’ve performed it together dozens of times, but it’s still a joyous performance.

The Howlin’ Brothers – Ian Craft, JT Huskey and Jared Green impressed audiences with both a reverence for folk, blues and bluegrass classics and their ability to craft new songs that continue the tradition.

Guy Clark’s Dualtone work collected

New: Molly and Me’s “Old Friend”


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Americana Music Association’s Top 100 albums

avettThe Americana Music Association just released its list of its 100 top albums, the most-played on Americana music radio stations from Dec. 1, 2015 through Dec. 5, 2016. Each year we always find some overlooked gem. The Avett Brothers top the new list, followed by the Tedeschi Trucks Band, Bonnie Raitt and the Lumineers. For full details and other Americana music news, you’ll want to visit their site.

 

Avett Brothers True Sadness
Tedeschi Trucks Band Let Me Get By
Bonnie Raitt Dig In Deep
Lumineers Cleopatra
Hayes Carll Lovers And Leavers
Parker Millsap The Very Last Day
Mudcrutch 2
Sturgill Simpson A Sailor’s Guide To Earth
Colvin & Earle Colvin & Earle
Jayhawks Paging Mr. Proust
Margo Price Midwest Farmer’s Daughter
Record Company Give It Back To You
Lucinda Williams The Ghosts Of Highway 20
Nathaniel Rateliff and The Nightsweats Nathaniel Rateliff and The Nightsweats
Dylan LeBlanc Cautionary Tale
Cactus Blossoms You’re Dreaming
Darrell Scott Couchville Sessions
Elizabeth Cook Exodus Of Venus
Bonnie Bishop Ain’t Who I Was
Aubrie Sellers New City Blues
Sarah Jarosz Undercurrent
Loretta Lynn Full Circle
Sara Watkins Young In All The Wrong Ways
Shovels & Rope Little Seeds
Carrie Rodriguez Lola
Josh Ritter Sermon On The Rocks
Wynonna & The Big Noise Wynonna & The Big Noise
Infamous Stringdusters Ladies & Gentlemen
John Prine For Better, Or Worse
Hard Working Americans Rest In Chaos
Paul Simon Stranger To Stranger
James Hunter Six Hold On!
Aoife O’Donovan Magic Hour
Robert Ellis Robert Ellis
Honeycutters On The Ropes
Luther Dickinson Blues & Ballads
Peter Wolf A Cure For Loneliness
Sam Bush Storyman
Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals Call It What It Is
Devil Makes Three Redemption & Ruin
Joe Ely Panhandle Rambler
Buddy Miller & Friends Cayamo Sessions At Sea
Dwight Yoakam Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars…
Lori McKenna The Bird & The Rifle
Jason Isbell Something More Than Free
Yarn This Is The Year
Wilco Schmilco
Various – The Songs Of Blind Willie Johnson God Don’t Never Change
Anderson East Delilah
Randy Rogers Band Nothing Shines Like Neon
Corb Lund Things That Can’t Be Undone
Turnpike Troubadours Turnpike Troubadours
Willie Sugarcapps Paradise Right Here
Luke Bell Luke Bell
Jim Lauderdale Soul Searching
John Doe Westerner
Bottle Rockets South Broadway Athletic Club
Teddy Thompson & Kelly Jones Little Windows
Miss Tess Baby, We All Know
Los Lobos Gates Of Gold
Bill Kirchen & Austin de Lone Transatlanticana
Southern Culture On The Skids The Electric Pinecones
Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Lost Time
Black Lillies Hard To Please
Green River Ordinance Fifteen
Jack Ingram Midnight Motel
Patty Griffin Servant Of Love
Amanda Shires My Piece Of Land
Chris Isaak First Comes The Night
Charles Bradley Changes
Sierra Hull Weighted Mind
Wood Brothers Paradise
Reckless Kelly Sunset Motel
Chris Stapleton Traveller
Shovels & Rope Busted Jukebox Volume 1
Hackensaw Boys Charismo
Grant Lee Phillips The Narrows
Todd Snider Eastside Bulldog
Seth Walker Gotta Get Back
Charlie Faye & The Fayettes Charlie Faye & The Fayettes
Drive-By Truckers American Band
William Bell This Is Where I Live
Derek Hoke Southern Moon
Tim O’Brien Pompadour
Sarah Borges Good And Dirty
Frankie Lee American Dreamer
Steve Martin & Edie Brickell So Familiar
Earls Of Leicester Rattle & Roar
Hiss Golden Messenger Heart Like A Levee
Whiskey Myers Mud
Billy Bragg & Joe Henry Shine A Light
Lydia Loveless Real
Sean McConnell Sean McConnell
Malcolm Holcombe Another Black Hole
Billy Gibbons Perfectamundo
Tim Easton American Fork
Mary Chapin Carpenter The Things We Are Made Of
Rob Baird Wrong Side Of The River
Brent Cobb Shine On Rainy Day
Janiva Magness Love Wins Again

 

 

Carolyn Sills Combo’s ‘Dime Stories Vol. 2″

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New: Balsam Range’s “Mountain Voodoo”

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Review: Aaron Lee Tasjan’s “Silver Tears”

 

silvertears_160By Paul T. Mueller – With his new album Silver Tears, Aaron Lee Tasjan nails an impressive achievement – channeling a roster of worthy influences while remaining true to his own voice and vision. Tasjan, an accomplished singer-songwriter and guitarist based in East Nashville, leads off with “Hard Life,” which does in fact deal with difficulties, but in a bouncy pop style that brings to mind Harry Nilsson. “Little Movies” casts life in cinematic terms – “Watch the day unfold in little movies / With silver tears that sparkle from my eyes” – recalling John Lennon in both its arrangement and its lyrics. The dramatic “Ready to Die” evokes Warren Zevon in its fatalistic lyrics (“I’m ready to die / For a worthy cause / It’s ’cause I’m tired of feeling bad”).

Tasjan, who’s done stints with the New York Dolls and drivin n cryin in addition to his solo work, is a master of many musical styles, as shown here on the introspective ballad “Refugee Blues,” the soulful twang of “Memphis Rain,” the quiet folksiness of “On Your Side,” the bluesy New Orleans vibe of “12 Bar Blues,” and the exuberant R&B of “Success.” All of it is driven by richly textured instrumental support, not least of which are Tasjan’s excellent guitars. It’s also peppered with lyrical wisdom. “One day, they said the future / Was flying cars and a ride on a rocket,” Tasjan sings in “Till the Town Goes Dark.” “Time passed and all I got / Was America today and a TV in my pocket.” Credit to producer Eli Thomson and a fine group of supporting musicians.

In “Success,” Tasjan observes, “Success ain’t about being better than everyone else / It’s about being better than yourself.” Given that Silver Tears is his strongest and most consistent effort to date, that makes Aaron Lee Tasjan, by his own lights, a success. Listeners are likely to agree.

New release: Kacey Musgraves’ “Very Kacey Christmas”

kacey-christmasAmericana Music NewsKacey Musgraves has a new holiday album, aptly titled A Very Kacey Christmas. She talked about the unconventional collection of Yuletide tunes in an interview on WMOT Roots Radio at the Family Wash in East Nashville yesterday.

There are standards – “Let It Snow” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” among them – but plenty of surprises as well. There’s the obscure 1953 hit “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” and a cover of “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late.)”

Guest appearances include Willie Nelson on “A Willie Nice Christmas,” plus the Quebe Sisters and Leon Bridges.

First-person: Aaron Lee Tasjan’s “Silver Tears”

Americana Music News – Aaron Lee Tasjan dropped by the Family Wash in Nashville today to sing a few songs on a WMOT Roots Radio broadcast in support of his new album “Silver Tears.” Here he talks about the new recording and an unusual promotional tour.

New releases: Mavericks, Dale Watson, Becky Warren

New and recent releases:

mavericks-liveThe MavericksAll Night Live, Vol. 1 – Mondo Mundo Records – The Mavericks have had an extraordinary resurgence in recent years, emerging as top Americana music artists. All Night Live, Vol. 1 is packed with vibrant live versions of songs, largely from recent albums, plus a charming cover of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon. The collection is the first release on the band’s new Mondo Mundo label, and lead singer  Raul Malo told the Tennessean there are “so many freakin’ volumes” to come in the “All Night Live” series. A new studio album is expected in April 2017.

Blind PilotAnd Then Like Lions – ATO Records – Third album from the Portland-based band, now on tour in California.

Jesse DaytonThe Revealer – Blue Elan Records – The ninth album from Jesse Dayton includes standout track “Holy Ghost Rock ‘n’ Roller,” now getting good play on WMOT. He’s on tour through early December

dale-watsonDale WatsonUnder the Influence – BFD – Dale Watson revisits honky tonk and country classics on this new collection, including covers of Doug Sham, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Conway Twitty, Lefty Frizell and Mel Tillis.

Becky WarrenWar Surplus – Here’s a novel album concept. Nashville-based Becky Warren tells the story of a solider in Iraq and his girlfriend, with songs alternating their points of view. Warren goes on tour with the Indigo Girls beginning October 27.

Cris JacobsDust to Gold – American Showplace Music – Second album from Cris Jacobs, on tour through October and November.

nipperDavid Nipper EP – Fresh collection from talented Nashville singer-songwriter David Nipper. He’ll appear in the round  at the Commodore Grill in Nashville on November 10 with Phil Dillon and Dave Gibson.

Jack Tempchin One More Song – Blue Elan Records – New album from Eagles collaborator and songwriter Jack Tempchin is an intimate collection, opening with his Johnny Rivers classic “Slow Dancin’.”

 

 

Review: Suzy Bogguss’ “Aces Redux”

suzy-bogguss-aces-reduxBy Ken Paulson

Suzy Bogguss  was kind enough to join us a few weeks ago at the Country Music Hall of Fame for the re-launch of WMOT, Nashville’s new Americana radio station. We had the chance to talk briefly about Aces Redux, a revisiting of Aces, her breakthrough album of 25 years ago.

She said her goal was to record the same songs, but with a more organic feel. She’s succeeded.

You live and learn a lot in a quarter century and this new recording reflects both the strength of that original album and Bogguss’ growth as an artist.

Three songs on the album – “Outbound Plane,” “Aces” and “Letting Go” – soared into the country music Top 10 in 1991 and 1992, with “Someday Soon” nestled in at number 12. Still, the new release showcases the other charms on the collection, particularly “Save Yourself” and “Part of Me.”

Timothy B. Schmit opens tour in Nashville

 

Timothy B. Schmit in concert at the City Winery in Nashville

Timothy B. Schmit in concert at the City Winery in Nashville

By Ken Paulson

Timothy B. Schmit, veteran of both the Eagles and Poco, opened his new tour at the City Winery in Nashville tonight, following a number of guest appearances during the 2016 Americana Music Festival.

The tour is to promote his new album Leap of Faith, and most of his set was drawn from that album, including the engaging “My Hat” and the radio friendly “Red Dirt Road.”

If the set was short on familiarity, it was long on musicality and harmonies.

Schmit was in fine voice, and he’s put together a good band, with multiple vocalists.

Schmit did dip into the catalog for his big Eagles hit  “I Can’t Tell You Why,” plus “Love Will Keep Us Alive,” “I Don’t Want to Hear Anymore” and the Poco classic “Keep On Tryin’.”

 

 

 

 

 

Snapshots: Americana Music Festival

The official programming at the annual Americana Music Festival is just part of the entertainment. All over town, artists perform on stages at record stores and restaurants. A sampling:

Yola Carter at the UK showcase at the Groove in East Nashville.

Yola Carter at the UK showcase at the Groove in East Nashville.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jared Tyler, whose new album "Dirt on Your Hands" is set for release this fall.

Jared Tyler, whose new album “Dirt on Your Hands” is set for release this fall.

Ray Hoover at Fond Objects

Ray Hoover at Fond Objects

William the Conqueror at the Groove

William the Conqueror at the Groove

 

 

Jason Isbell tops Americana Music Awards

By Ken Paulson

The annual Americana Music Awards and Honors event is always a special evening and one of the most memorable musical events in a city legendary for them.
This year I had the honor of joining Joe Henry in awarding the Spirit of Americana Free Speech Award to Billy Bragg. That’s always an honor, and offers the chance to see witness the backstage energy at the Ryman Auditorium. The artists are always pumped for  this special show.
That translates onstage to truly striking performances.
Most surprising was George Strait’s performance with Jim Lauderdale of the latter’s “King of Broken Hearts.” I’d never seen Strait on stage before and it quickly became clear why he’s such a giant in country music. Show host Lauderdale, who received the rarely-awarded Wagonmaster Award,  seemed deeply touched by Strait’s appearance.
Jason Isbell had a another great year, winning the awards for top album and song of the year.
The evening’s winners at the 2-16 Americana Music Awards;
Album of the Year: Something More Than Free, Jason Isbell, Produced by Dave Cobb
Artist of the Year: Chris Stapleton
Group/Duo of the Year: Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell
Song of the Year: “24 Frames” Jason Isbell; Written by Jason Isbell
Emerging Artist of the Year: Margo Price
Instrumentalist of the Year: Sara Watkins
Spirit of Americana/Free Speech in Music Award co-presented by the Americana Music
Association and the First Amendment Center: Billy Bragg
Lifetime Achievement Award, Trailblazer: Shawn Colvin
Lifetime Achievement Award, Songwriting: William Bell
Lifetime Achievement Award, Performance: Bob Weir
Lifetime Achievement Award, WagonMaster: Jim Lauderdale
President’s Award: Woody Guthrie
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