Review: Cayamo 2015 may have been best yet

By Paul T. Mueller

You’re never going to get more than 2,000 music lovers to agree on everything, but there seems to be something of a consensus that this year’s Cayamo cruise was one of the strongest, if not the strongest, editions in the eight-voyage history of the festival-at-sea.

Cayamo, a production of Atlanta-based Sixthman, sailed from Miami on Jan. 17 aboard the Norwegian Pearl, its home since 2010. The event featured calls at the Caribbean islands of St. Barts and St. Croix, but the real draw, as always, was the music, which began before the ship left Miami and continued nearly nonstop, almost to the minute the Pearl returned to its home port a week later.

This year’s headliners, all veterans of previous Cayamos, were Lyle Lovett (with his Acoustic Group), John Prine, Brandi Carlile, and Richard Thompson (as part of his Electric Trio). The next level consisted of a large group of talented musicians and bands, including Lucinda Williams, Buddy Miller, Shawn Mullins (the only artist to have participated in every Cayamo), Jim Lauderdale, Kacey Musgraves, David Bromberg, Rodney Crowell, Shawn Colvin, John Fullbright, The Lone Bellow, Elizabeth Cook and many more.

New this year were five “Soundcheck Artists,” chosen by passenger vote before sailing from a group of 25 nominees. This group comprised Birds of Chicago, the Black Lillies, the Dusty 45s, the Michelle Malone Band and Amy Speace, who was backed by two of her East Nashville neighbors, Tim Easton and Megan Palmer.

The lineup also included one notable “stowaway” – the eccentric but brilliant Todd Snider, who caused a furor by backing out of last year’s Cayamo at the last minute. Finally aboard, he made his first appearance at a midnight show halfway through the week.

In addition, many passengers, not content with merely watching and listening to professionals make music, brought their own instruments aboard. Individuals and groups could be found picking and jamming at all hours in various corners of the vessel, but particularly in an area known as Bar City.

Buddy Miller, Dave Jacques and Fats Kaplin

Buddy Miller, Dave Jacques and Fats Kaplin

All of this added up to far too much music for any one person to take in, even given the abbreviated sleep schedule that’s an integral part of the Cayamo experience for many. Schedule conflicts also got in the way, despite Sixthman’s commendable efforts to program shows and stages so as to distribute the crowds as evenly as possible around the ship’s several performance venues. As great a show as one might be witnessing at any given moment, something equally excellent was more than likely happening somewhere else at the same time.

As the Pearl left the dock a couple of hours behind schedule, Birmingham, Ala.-based St. Paul & the Broken Bones kicked the party on the pool deck into high gear with their high-energy blend of rock and soul. “I know it’s early,” said lead singer Paul Janeway, “but we gotta let it loose!” Nearly a week and dozens of shows later, Cayamo drew to a close with a “No Sleep ‘til Land Jam” that lasted into the small hours just before docking. It was hosted by the Austin-based Band of Heathens and featured guest performances by a great many of the artists aboard.

This kind of collaboration is a longtime hallmark of the Cayamo experience, and it was much in evidence all week. Almost anyone was liable to show up at almost any gig, to lend a hand on an instrument, sing a verse or provide backing vocals.

There were a few glitches – the presence of some much larger vessels at Norwegian’s main terminal left the Pearl with a smaller and less efficient temporary terminal (actually a large tent), which led to long and frustrating lines at both ends of the cruise. Still, it was hard to find anyone with anything really negative to say about Cayamo. A week at sea in the sunny Caribbean, dozens of world-class musicians performing almost nonstop, thousands of kindred spirits in the audience (including, for many repeat cruisers, old friends from previous Cayamos), and all the comfort and convenience of a major-label cruise ship – all of that adds up to what many call the Best Vacation Ever – until next year’s edition.

Still to come: More detail on the week’s shows, big, small and in between.

New releases: Robert Earl Keen, Steve Earle

6PAN1T-R PSDAmericana Music News – New releases in our mailbox this week:

Robert Earl KeenHappy Prisoner DualtoneKeen’s latest is a bluegrass album, set for release Feb. 10. Full of familiar favorites, it includes “T for Texas,” Long Black Veil” and “Vincent Black Lightning. Among the guest artists: Lyle Lovett, Sara Watkins, Natalie Maines and Peter Rowan.

Tom Paxton Redemption Road – Pax Records – The folk legend’s latest is set for release March 10; features appearances by John Prine and Janis Ian.

American Aquarium Wolves – The follow-up to Burn.Flicker.Die. is set for release Feb. 3. Produced by Brad Cook.

TerraplaneSteve Earle and the DukesTerraplane – Set for release on Feb. 17, this is Earle’s blues album, produced by R.S. Field. Most intriguing song title: “Go Go Boots Are Back.”

Susie Fitzgerald Restless –Big Purr Music, Fitzgerald’s second album, set for release Feb. 9.

Scott WooldridgeScott Wooldridge – Solo album from Minneapolis-based singer-songwriter; Midwest tour planned. www.

The David MotelPeople, Places, Things – New project from Nashville-based singer-songwriter David Brooks, produced by Dave Coleman of the Coalmen.

Drew holcombDrew Holcomb and the Neighbors Medicine – Magnolia Music – First single is “Shine Like Lightning;” album produced by Joe Pisapia.

PI JacobsHi-Rise Ranch – Six-track collection from L.A. musician, produced by Eugene Toale.

SeahorseThe Fire’s Heart – Raven’s Flight Records – A Kickstarter-fueled album from Oregon anchored by Rich Swanger.

Chris CarrollTrouble & Time – Debut album from Texas-based congwriter, produced ny David Beck.

The WestiesWest Side Stories – Michael McDermott and Heather Horton present a “song cycle” about gangsters in Hell’s Kitchen in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Follow Americana Music News on Twitter.




Snapshots: Scenes from the Sandy Beaches Cruise

Americana Music News - A sampling of scenes from Sixthman/Delbert McClinton’s 2015 Sandy Beaches Cruise:







Delbert McClinton played with pretty much everybody on the Sandy Beaches cruise, but was clearly in his element as Gary Nicholson accompanied him in a stellar guitar pull.

Bruce Channel

Bruce Channel







That guitar pull included Bruce Channel, who performed a number of his country hits, along with a fine rendition of his 1962 hit “Hey! Baby,” accompanied by McClinton on harmonica. McCinton played on  the original record.






The McCrary Sisters previewed  their upcoming album (produced by Buddy Miller) with outstanding performances throughout the ship. Particularly memorable were covers of the Staples Singers’ “I’ll Take You There” and an unexpected medley of “Oh Happy Day/Happy.”


Danny Flowers

Danny Flowers





Danny Flowers’  next album features the McCrary Sisters throughout, and the women could be seen quietly singing along in the audience at one of his songwriter sessions. He began one of the shows with what he described as his worst song (“East Batcave”),  and opened another with “Tulsa Time,” one of his best.









Sitting next to Flowers at the first songwriters session was Al Anderson, a highly successful songwriter and founding member of NRBQ.


Jill Sobule rocked the atrium with an energetic (and very entertaining) set, backed by members of Paul Thorn’s band. She’s a remarkable songwriter, but there was also real joy in her cover of the Mott the Hoople hit “All the Young Dudes.”








Along with Lyle Lovett, the Mavericks were the biggest draw on the cruise, previewing songs from their new album Mono in sets at the Stardust Theater and outside on the deck.







Lari White and Delbert McClinton

Lari White and Delbert McClinton

You knew it was  going to be a great set (from a confident performer) when Nashville’s Lari White opened up her Stardust Theatre set with “Amazing Grace.” Lari also did a great show in the Atrium, and teamed with husband Chuck Cannon to lead the renewal of marriage vows on the ship.







Etta Britt, another fine Nashville artist, did her own soulful sets throughout the cruise, including a memorable show in the Atrium.








Jimmy Hall, yet another performer from Nashville, closed his show with “Keep On Smilin'” a Top 10 record in 1974, when he was lead singer of Wet Willie.








IMG_8802One of the final shows on the cruise was also one of the best. Teresa James delivered a stirring set in the Stardust Theater, with a guest spot from Marcia Ball and a multi-performer finale that channeled Aretha.


Review: Delbert McClinton’s Sandy Beaches Cruise 2015

By Ken Paulson

We’ve just stepped off Delbert McClinton’s Sandy Beaches Cruise, a floating music festival in its 21st year. Though the ship stopped in Antigua and St. Croix, that really didn’t matter. On Sandy Beaches, you come for the music.

The cruise features an amazing array of artists, with blues, rhythm and blues and New Orleans influences among the most common denominators. Headliners included McClinton, Paul Thorn, the Mavericks, Lyle Lovett, Marcia Ball, Wayne Toups, Band of Heathens, the McCrary Sisters, Teresa James, Elizabeth Cook, Lari White and Mingo Fishtrap. Rough seas moved some of the deck shows inside, but the performances didn’t suffer. It was one rich performance after another.

McClinton’s partner on the 2015  cruise was Sixthman, the industry leaders in music cruises. Their cruises (they call them festivals) include ventures with Kiss, Florida Georgia Line, Train and Kid Rock, as well as the popular Americana-folk-rock Cayamo cruise.

We’ve written extensively about the always amazing Cayamo cruise over the years and we’ll have a report on the 2015 cruise shortly. It’s the cruise that most closely matches the vibe and music of Sandy Beaches. While both are impressive festivals, Cayamo tends to have bigger names and a wide range of singer-songwriters (John Prine, Lucinda Williams, Richard Thompson and Lovett are headliners this year), while Sandy Beaches books bands and artists whose primary mission is to get you dancing in the aisles.

Among the week’s highlights on Sandy Beaches:

Red Young and Delbert McClinton

Red Young and Delbert McClinton

Collaborations – some planned, many impromptu – were a big part of the cruise, and Delbert McClinton was everywhere. In addition to three sets with his band, he sat in on a songwriters session featuring Gary Nicholson, Spooner Oldham, Danny Flowers, Glen Clark (of Delbert and Glen) and Bruce Channel. It was Delbert who played harmonica on Channel’s big hit “Hey! Baby,” a #1 record in 1962, and the duo revisited that classic.

The most striking team-up came when Delbert sat down on the piano bench with

veteran keyboardist Red Young for a stirring version of “Georgia,” while members of the audience attempted to slow dance despite high waves and a rocking boat. Young was a revelation throughout the cruise.

He’s played piano for Clyde McCoy, Lloyd Price, Eric Burdon, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and even Sonny and Cher, and he showed up as a sideman on stages throughout the cruise, while also leading a band that played Frank Sinatra and jazzy pop in the Spinnaker Lounge.

Delbert also joined Lari White for a song from her Green Eyed Soul album, to her obvious delight. She had opened her set by telling the audience that she would understand if they filtered out to see the Mavericks, whose set overlapped with hers. She then went on to make

Lari White and Delbert McClinton

Lari White and Delbert McClinton

sure they didn’t, Opening with “Amazing Grace” (her usual encore, she explained), a sizzling take on Steve Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” and guest spots with Young and others.

White’s concern about competition from the Mavericks was understandable. They played two robust sets, including songs from their upcoming album Mono, set for release on Valory Music on Feb. 17.

Bass player and longtime Maverick Robert Reynolds is no longer in the band, and the Mavericks used Sandy Beaches to introduce his successor James Intveld. Raul Malo claimed they were throwing Intveld into the mix without much rehearsal time, but it didn’t show. He’s an accomplished solo artist and a great addition to the band.

As hard as Delbert worked, Marcia Ball matched him, headlining her own three sets, hosting an all-star “Pianorama” that featured the most talented keyboardists on the cruise complementing and competing with each other, and doing guest spots in other shows, including a memorable turn with Teresa James.

Marcia Ball and Teresa James

Marcia Ball and Teresa James

Lyle Lovett was probably the biggest draw on the cruise, and packed the largest theater on the boat with acoustic sets that had fans raving.

Paul Thorn’s fans were also out in force, though he surprised many by announcing that after more than a decade on this cruise, this would be his last. He told fans to watch his website for developments, and then delivered an outstanding set that included a guest spot by his daughter on tambourine.

It’s been a few years since we’ve seen Thorn perform, and it’s clear that as his fan base has grown, so has his sound. He’s playing much bigger rooms now and his band is more powerful  and his songs more anthemic. He played a number of songs from his latest album Too Blessed to Be Stressed, including “Everybody Needs Somebody” and a wonderful version of the title song with guest vocals from the McCrary Sisters.

Another highlight from the new album was “Mediocrity is King,” the best protest song we’ve heard in years, taking to task everything and everyone who waters down our culture, and expressing special disdain for both Republicans and Democrats.

A bonus was the Paul Thorn Band’s take on Jackson Browne’s “Doctor My Eyes,” from the recent tribute album Looking Into You.

Thorn also showed up on Jason Wilber’s “In Search of A Song” radio show taping and as a flamboyantly dressed guest on Fred Eaglesmith’s mock talk show. The Sandy Beaches audience will miss him.

Elizabeth Cook battled an illness early in the week, and only made it through four songs before her voice gave out.

To our surprise, she battled back on Friday to deliver a solid set that drew heavily from her recent Gospel Plow album and her 201o release Welder, including “El Camino” and “Heroin Addict Sister” from the latter.

Whether it was the bug or the mix, her vocals were sometimes overwhelmed by her new band, but she played for almost 90 minutes.

Jill Sobule’s time on the boat was limited, but she delivered one of the most entertaining sets of the week, backed by members of Paul Thorn’s band. she opened with “If I Had a Jetpack,” followed by the defiant “I’ve Got Nothing to Prove,” immediately winning over the audience.

Jill Sobule and her instant chorus

Jill Sobule and her instant chorus

“Where is Bobbie Gentry?,” from her California Years album, was next, and Sobule said she had been told that Gentry thought the song was very funny. It was a  sweet tribute to Gentry and the sound of “Ode to Billie Joe.”

Sobule explained that she had been hired to write a song about the history of immigration in America, and enlisted more than a dozen audience members to serve as a chorus on a powerful and profane song that makes the point that virtually all of us are in the U.S. because of immigration.

Sobule closed with a sampling of fan favorites, including “Supermodel” from the Clueless soundtrack, “Bitter,” “When My Ship Comes In, “Underdog Victorious”  and “Lucy in the Gym,” with an atrium-wide sing-along on the encore of Mott the Hoople’s “All the Young Dudes.”

Of course, all of this just scratches the surface. There were more than 60 shows, with outstanding sets by Wayne Toups, the Band of Heathens, the McCrary Sisters, Jimmy Hall, Teresa James and many more.

Spooner Oldham and Glen Clark

Spooner Oldham and Glen Clark

As musically memorable as the week was, some of the smaller moments were the most memorable. When Muscle Shoals great Spooner Oldham performed his “I’m Your Puppet,” a hit for James and Bobby Purify in 1966, Glen Clark couldn’t contain himself, rushing all the way across the stage to harmonize with Oldham. We know the feeling.

(The 2016 Sandy Beaches Cruise is scheduled for January 9 through 16 on the Holland America Line. More information is available on Delbert McClinton’s site.)





















Review: Doyle and Debbie on the Sandy Beaches Cruise

The Doyle and Debbie Show

The Doyle and Debbie Show

By Ken Paulson

For years, we’ve heard great things about the Doyle and Debbie Show, a satirical take on country music with a long weekly residency at Nashville’s Station Inn. Instead of seeing it just miles from home, though, we finally caught up with it on Delbert McClinton’s Sandy Beaches Cruise.

The shows tells the story of Doyle, a washed-up old school country singer who never quite made it, and his duo partner Debbie, an earnest and quirky young woman who sees the chance to team up with Doyle as her last, best shot at a career in show business.

It’s laugh-out-loud funny, particularly because Bruce Amston (“Doyle” and the author of the show) and Jenny Littleton (“Debbie”) play it so straight, delivering outlandishly goofy lyrics with heart. Among the songs: “Barefoot and Pregnant,” “When You’re Screwin’ Other Women (Think of Me)” and “Whine Whine Twang Twang.”

There were two performances of the Doyle and Debbie Show on board, and we saw both of them. On the second night, a computer glitch shut down their music in the final minutes of the show, leaving Amston to scramble to a laptop.

At each show, Doyle thanks the audience for being so “forgiving,” but this time, Amston said he really meant it. The computer rebooted, the music kicked in and the show ended with a well-deserved standing ovation.

Paul Thorn’s surprising musical influence

By Ken Paulson

Paul Thorn on Sandy Beaches

Paul Thorn on Sandy Beaches


Paul Thorn has been a dynamic and omipresent performer on Delbert McClinton’s Sandy Beaches cruise, with an impressive acoustic solo set in the ship’s Stardust Theatre and a band show on the deck that included a surprising cover of Jackson Browne’s “Doctor My Eyes” from a recent double-CD tribute set.

But the bigger surprise was when Jason Wilber of John Prine’s band interviewed Thorn for his “In Search of A Song” radio show. Wilbur asked Thorn what his current musical favorite is.

“The Bee Gees,”‘Thorn replied. There was predictable laughter, but Thorn pressed on, citing ‘How Deep is Your Love” as an example of the brilliant melodies of the Brothers Gibb. They may be seen as a little cheesy today but they were great writers, Thorn said.

Wilbur asked the question again, pushing Thorn for another example of a band he loves. Thorn just smiled and once again said “Bee Gees.”



Marcia Ball, Wayne Toups kick off Sandy Beaches

Wayne Toups on the Sandy Beaches Cruise

Wayne Toups on the Sandy Beaches Cruise

By Ken Paulson 

The 21st edition of Delbert McClinton’s Sandy Beaches Cruise got off to a rousing start Saturday, despite blustery winds that moved the main events off the deck. This cruise, like the Cayamo cruise next week, features a wide range of Americana, blues and folk performers in often intimate seetings. Headliners on Sandy Beaches include Lyle Lovett, Paul Thorn, the McCrary Sisters, Jill Sobule, Band of Heathens, Etta Britt, Elizabeth Cook, Mingo Fishtrap, Gary Nicholson, Red Young, Teresa James, Fred Eaglesmith, Lari White and the Mavericks.

The weather hitch Saturday meant Sandy Beaches openers Marcia Ball, Wayne Toups and Delbert himself took the stage at the Stardust Theatre, the best venue on the cruise ship. The audience lost a deck party under the stars, but enjoyed superior lines of sight and much better sound. Not a bad trade under the circumstances.

Marcia Ball

Marcia Ball

Ball began the evening with a spirited set that immediately brought dancers to the front of the audience. She’s been part of McClinton’s cruises since the beginning and set the tone for the party to come. She drew heavily from her latest album The Tattooed Lady and the Alligator Man, including the title cut, “The Squeeze is On” and “Human Kindness.”

Yet for all the dance music she played, the highlight may have been her poignant performance of Randy Newman’s “Louisiana 1927.”

Wayne Toups, also a veteran of the earliest cruises, followed with a blistering set that began up-tempo and accelerated from there, just easing up for a phenomenal rendition of Van Morrison’s “Tupelo Honey” and the Neville classic ‘Tell It Like It Is.”

Delbert McClinton closed out the evening at the Stardust with old favorites like “Old Weakness Coming on Strong” and “New York City,” reminding the faithful why this cruise has worked so well for 21 years.

(Photos by Ken Paulson)

Allison Moorer tour dates announced

Americana Music News - The highlight of the 2013 Americana Music Festival in Nashville may well have been Allison Moorer’s  captivating performance at the City Winery. Her new album Down to Believing is due March 17 and she’s headed out to tour in support of the release:

March 19th – Vienna, VA Jammin Java
March 20th – Princeton, NJ Folk Society
March 21st – Wilmington, DE World Café Live
March 22nd – Cambridge, MA Passims
March 24th – Portland, ME One Longfellow Square
March 25th – Fairfield, CT FTC Stage One
March 26th – Buffalo, NY 189 Public House
March 27th – Albany, NY Sawyer Theatre


Related Posts

Share This

Our favorite Americana Music Albums of 2014

It’s the time of year for “Best of 2014″ lists, but we have nothing quite that definitive in mind here. Here’s a sampling of albums that impressed us over the past 12 months:

 John Fullbright’s Songs

By Paul T. Mueller

fullbright_songs_cover_150John Fullbright’s first studio album, From the Ground Up, made him a rising star in roots music circles two years ago. The singer-songwriter from Oklahoma probably could have gotten away with shaking things up the second time out. Instead, the recently released Songs is notable for its restraint. The 12 tracks are marked by clean production by Fullbright and Wes Sharon, with spare arrangements that leave plenty of space for Fullbright’s distinctive voice and lyrics.

Relationships, good and bad, are at the heart of most of Fullbright’s songs. The album starts with the ironically titled “Happy,” a not-very-happy examination of the aftermath of a relationship that apparently didn’t work out so well. In “The One That Lives Too Far,” Fullbright acknowledges the difficulty of long-distance relationships, and “Until You Were Gone” tells the old, sad story of insight acquired too late – “I didn’t know I was in love with you/Until you were gone.”

Fullbright manages a more positive tone in “When You’re Near,” a cautiously optimistic tune that features some nice electric guitar by Terry “Buffalo” Ware. “I’m the one that you can go to/When you need another heartbeat near,” Fullbright sings in the chorus. “Don’t I feel like something when you’re here.” The album closes on an up note with “Very First Time” – “Between love everlasting/And meaningless rhyme/Sits feeling good for the very first time/I’m feeling good for the very first time.”

Fullbright has said he doesn’t understand why some people say his lyrics are vague, but such statements are clearly tongue in cheek. He is a writer who loves words, but he doesn’t always see the need to arrange them in straight lines. He fills his songs with images and metaphors whose meaning isn’t obvious at first glance, or maybe ever. Songs includes several examples of this, including “Write a Song,” a self-referential exercise that begins, “Write a song/Write a song about the very song you sing.” The cheerful “Going Home” starts out in a similar vein – “Bitter hearts from bitter ends/Crooked limps from crooked mends” – but also features the eminently quotable, “I met love. Love met me/And we agreed to disagree.”

The one song on Songs that’s really a narrative is “High Road,” a sweet but sad ballad about a farm couple and the disaster that eventually befalls them. It’s a quiet but powerful story.

Vague or clear, Fullbright’s songs work because he sings them with an imperfect but expressive voice and accompanies them with excellent guitar and even better piano (along with smaller doses of harmonica, drums and even whistling). He’s supported by a cast of fine musicians, including bassist David Leach (a member of his touring band, as is guitarist Ware), drummer Mike Meadows, organist Daniel Walker and steel guitarist Ryan Engleman. Co-producer Wes Sharon, who also recorded and mixed the album, is credited with bass on two tracks and percussion on one.

John Fullbright’s first studio album, From the Ground Up, made him a rising star in roots music circles two years ago. The singer-songwriter from Oklahoma probably could have gotten away with shaking things up the second time out. Instead, the recently released Songs is notable for its restraint. The 12 tracks are marked by clean production by Fullbright and Wes Sharon, with spare arrangements that leave plenty of space for Fullbright’s distinctive voice and lyrics.

Relationships, good and bad, are at the heart of most of Fullbright’s songs. The album starts with the ironically titled “Happy,” a not-very-happy examination of the aftermath of a relationship that apparently didn’t work out so well. In “The One That Lives Too Far,” Fullbright acknowledges the difficulty of long-distance relationships, and “Until You Were Gone” tells the old, sad story of insight acquired too late – “I didn’t know I was in love with you/Until you were gone.”

Fullbright manages a more positive tone in “When You’re Near,” a cautiously optimistic tune that features some nice electric guitar by Terry “Buffalo” Ware. “I’m the one that you can go to/When you need another heartbeat near,” Fullbright sings in the chorus. “Don’t I feel like something when you’re here.” The album closes on an up note with “Very First Time” – “Between love everlasting/And meaningless rhyme/Sits feeling good for the very first time/I’m feeling good for the very first time.”

Fullbright has said he doesn’t understand why some people say his lyrics are vague, but such statements are clearly tongue in cheek. He is a writer who loves words, but he doesn’t always see the need to arrange them in straight lines. He fills his songs with images and metaphors whose meaning isn’t obvious at first glance, or maybe ever. Songs includes several examples of this, including “Write a Song,” a self-referential exercise that begins, “Write a song/Write a song about the very song you sing.” The cheerful “Going Home” starts out in a similar vein – “Bitter hearts from bitter ends/Crooked limps from crooked mends” – but also features the eminently quotable, “I met love. Love met me/And we agreed to disagree.”

The one song on Songs that’s really a narrative is “High Road,” a sweet but sad ballad about a farm couple and the disaster that eventually befalls them. It’s a quiet but powerful story.

Vague or clear, Fullbright’s songs work because he sings them with an imperfect but expressive voice and accompanies them with excellent guitar and even better piano (along with smaller doses of harmonica, drums and even whistling). He’s supported by a cast of fine musicians, including bassist David Leach (a member of his touring band, as is guitarist Ware), drummer Mike Meadows, organist Daniel Walker and steel guitarist Ryan Engleman. Co-producer Wes Sharon, who also recorded and mixed the album, is credited with bass on two tracks and percussion on one.

Matt Harlan’s Raven Hotel

 harlan_raven_160by Paul T. Mueller

Houston-based singer-songwriter Matt Harlan isn’t one of those musicians who puts out an album every year – his last was released in early 2012 – but you can bet that when one does finally show up, it’s worth the wait. Raven Hotel is an excellent showcase for Harlan’s writing, playing, singing and production skills.

The album’s second track is titled “Half Developed Song,” but that may be a little inside humor (it’s actually about getting past everyday obstacles and getting on with life). There’s nothing half developed about any of Raven Hotel’s 12 songs. All are carefully written, skillfully played and sung. Clean production, for which Harlan and Rich Brotherton share credit, makes the most of them.

The title track deals with the struggle to maintain human connections in a busy world. “I’m living in my own world now, you can stop by if you like,” Harlan sings, “ ’Cause I’ll forget to call and I’ll forget to write.” Even more personal is the love-is-tough theme of “We Never Met (Time Machine).” “Well, it’s hard to be your lover, and it’s hard to be your friend,” goes the second verse. “When you don’t offer no forgiveness, it’s a game nobody wins.”

In “Second Gear,” a father’s instructions to his child during a driving lesson (“Drop it down another gear/The roads are slick this time of year”) turn into larger life lessons (“You’ll find a higher place that you can climb to/Just leave a trail to show them where you’ve been”). “Burgundy and Blue,” a sweet love song, marks a departure from Harlan’s usual folky style – it’s done as a jazz ballad, backed by the smoky tenor sax of John Mills.

Harlan’s wife, Rachel Jones, gets the vocal spotlight on “Riding with the Wind,” an ode to freedom that Harlan has said was written with her voice in mind. She also contributes nice harmony vocals on several other songs.

Other members of the all-star cast Harlan and Brotherton assembled for this project include Bukka Allen on organ, piano and accordion (the latter used to good effect on “Old Allen Road,” a dark tale of implied violence); Maddy Brotherton on violin; Floyd Domino on keyboards; Glenn Fukunaga on bass; Jon Greene on drums, and Mickey Raphael, best known for his long association with Willie Nelson, on harmonica, best heard on the wistful “Slow Moving Train.” Brotherton, who’s the longtime lead guitarist in Robert Earl Keen’s band, contributed on guitars and several other stringed instruments, as well as synth and vocals.

Paul Thorn’s Too Blessed to Be Stressed

By Ken Paulson

thornPaul Thorn’s Too Blessed to Be Stressed is sort of a children’s album for adults.

Just as kids’ albums teach cooperation, manners and personal hygiene in song, Thorn offers a few life lessons of his own:

  • Remember that we’re “Too Blessed to Be Stressed.”
  • Keep the faith and know that “Everything’s Gonna Be All Right.”
  • Make friends because “Everybody Needs Somebody.”
  • Walk a different path and “Don’t Let Nobody Rob You of Your Joy”

While that may sound preachy, it’s anything but. This is largely joyous and affirming music, supplemented with the vocals of the McCrary Sisters.

“Mediocrity is King,” the album’s highlight, is considerably more cutting. This is a contemporary protest song, bemoaning an era in which the shallow are celebrated, family businesses are obsolete and Johnny Cash would never have made it. In just 18 words, Thorn explains why our democracy is in disarray “When you don’t expect much, you’re never let down; you get the kind of government we’ve got now.” This is smart and pointed songwriting and we need a lot more of it.

The album isn’t wall-to wall messages. “I Backslide on Fridays” is more familiar Thorn fare, explaining how good intentions disappear over the course of a week.

Thorn and co-writer Billy Maddox have crafted a fine album with hook-laden songs that actually say something about the world we live in, a surprisingly rare achievement. Too Blessed to be Stressed continues Thorn’s remarkable run.

Parker Milsap

millsap.coverBy Paul T. Mueller

 Oklahoma singer-songwriter Parker Millsap put together a very good debut with 2012’s Palisade. His self-titled sophomore effort, released earlier this year, is even better, demonstrating the kind of growth and perspective good songwriters acquire as they mature. It’s a little scary to think about where Millsap might be in a few years, given that he is now all of 21 years old.

 For someone barely old enough to buy a legal drink, Millsap already possesses a phenomenal grasp of the art and craft of songwriting. Consider the album’s fourth track, “The Villain.” In its three verses (there’s no bridge), each constructed around a different theme, Millsap sings a gentle but profound apology and goodbye to a lover. “I don’t wanna be the missing piece of track anymore,” he sings in the final verse. “I don’t wanna be the guy/that straps you to a railroad tie/and listens for the rumble and the roar/I don’t wanna be/the villain in your dreams anymore.” The imagery is straight out of an old silent melodrama, but the emotional impact is immediate and intense.

Some of the album’s other songs – “Forgive Me,” “When I Leave,” “Yosemite” – work this quieter vein as well. But Millsap is equally good at letting it rip. His fuzzy electric guitar fuels “Truck Stop Gospel,” which seems to poke fun at evangelical Christianity – or does it? “I’m Paul the apostle preachin’ truck stop gospel/I’m not angry, no I’m not hostile,” Millsap sings, later adding, “Just wanna modify your behavior/I just want you to love my savior.” Sincerity or satire? You could argue it either way.

Some songs are better than others, but there isn’t a bad one in this collection. “Disappear” tells a sweet story of a young couple moving on to a fresh start (“Leave behind the things that never stood a chance/Like your mother’s good china and all our original plans”), while “Quite Contrary” and “At the Bar (Emerald City Blues)” relocate familiar characters (from nursery rhymes and Oz, respectively) to unexpected settings. The album’s closer, “Land of the Red Man,” is a joyous, resonator- and fiddle-soaked rave-up that takes some good-natured swipes at both Millsap’s native state and its rival to the south. “Maybe Oklahoma’s hotter than hell,” he wails, “but it’s better than Texas.”

Millsap’s performing style is compelling as well. His raspy voice, which makes him sound older than his years, is well suited to the stories and observations in his songs. For some listeners, the occasional yelps and yodels that punctuate his lyrics may take a little getting used to, but there’s no denying the absolute conviction with which he delivers everything from quiet ballads to all-out rockers.

Millsap is also a fine guitarist and harmonica player, and he has some excellent people helping him out here, starting with his touring band, fiddler Daniel Foulks and bassist Michael Rose (who also plays bowed saw). A couple of guys borrowed from fellow Oklahoman John Fullbright’s band make notable contributions – David Leach on trombone (he plays bass for Fullbright) and drummer Giovanni Carnuccio III on a few tracks (Millsap handles drums on the rest). Millsap and producer Wes Sharon also make effective use of a couple of other horn players, Eric Walschap on baritone sax and Marcus Spitz on trumpet.

Millsap was recently named one of five nominees for the Americana Music Association’s Emerging Act of the Year award. One listen to Parker Millsap will tell you why.

Jack Clement’s Once and For All

Jack ClementBy Ken Paulson

I spent my day Friday interviewing nine members of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame as part of an archival project and one name came up again and again: Cowboy Jack Clement.

The producer, songwriter and occasional artist had a knack for identifying talented young songwriters and artists and nurturing them. In Memphis at Sun Records, in Beaumont, Texas, and finally in Nashville, Clement made friends, helped build careers and made great records.

That’s why it’s no surprise to see so many remarkable guests on For Once and For All, the final Clement album , released 11 months after his death in August 2013.  Rodney Crowell, Vince Gill, Marty Stuart, Emmylou Harris, Bobby Bare, Duane Eddy, Dickie Lee, T- Bone Burnett, Buddy Miller, Dan Auerbach, Leon Russell, Gillian Welch, Dave Rawlings, Shawn Camp, John Prine, Dierks Bentley, Jim Rooney, Jim Lauderdale and Will Oldham are all on hand for this farewell album.

For Once and For All revisits 12 of Clement’s songs, a number of which were first recorded by Charley Pride. Clement and Pride broke down racial barriers in country music, and made some great records in the process. “Just Between You and Me,” “Got Leaving On Her Mind,” “Baby is Gone” and “I Know One” are among Pride’s best.

“Jesus Don’t Give Up on Me,’ with guitar by Duane Eddy, is the closest thing to a religious song on the record, but Peter Cooper sets the record straight in his liner notes: “Jack was about as religious as a corn cob, but he was a spiritual guy.”

“The Air Conditioner Song” is a reminder that keeping our windows sealed may make us more comfortable, but there’s beauty through an open window. Gill and Camp contribute background vocals and Joey Miskulin is on accordion.

It’s all quite an informal affair, with gentle instrumentation and Clement’s relaxed vocals.

I knew Jack just well enough to say hello, but I treasured every meeting. For Once and For All truly captures his spirit. Buy it for the joy.

Shovels and Ropes’ “Swimmin’ Time”

By Ken Paulson

shovels 2Shovels and Rope – Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent –  have released a striking album that melds folk, country, blues and rock in a truly compelling style.  Swimmin’ Time  marries often rudimentary rhythms to fascinating narratives and compelling lyrics.

There’s a lot of water imagery here, including “Fish Assassin” possibly the most unsettling fishing song of all time.

“Mary Ann and One Eyed Dan” tells the saga of a waitress and a man who lost part of his eyelid in combat: “She said “Do you like the menu or do you need me to read it to you?’ Her question leaves him ” half way angry, half turned on and half confused.” It’s  lousy math, but good songwriting.

Those kinds of lines jump out at you throughout the album. “I got wasted and sat around the fire all day, see if I could find someone to make love to,” Hearst sings on the plaintive album opener “The Devil is All Around.”

The music is still direct and basic, and often ominous, no surprise with song titles like “Evil” and “Bridge of Fire.” It’s a worthy follow-up to their highly successful debut.

The MastersonsGood Luck Charm

MastersonsBy Ken Paulson

We first saw the Mastersons two years ago on a Cayamo cruise and were knocked out by their tight harmonies and penchant for great hooks.

Those traits show up in abundance on their second album Good Luck Charm on New West Records. Chris Masterson and Eleanor Whitmore, also members of Steve Earle’s Dukes and Duchesses, make for an impressive duo and their new album is even more fully realized than their first, Birds Fly South.

While not overtly political, the title track and “Uniform” make their points in highly melodic settings. “Closer to You” is a reminder to break down the barriers that keep us apart, a serious message delivered in an upbeat vessel.

There are songs of love and lost love, all with the engaging hooks and harmonies that drew us to the Mastersons in the first place.

Masterson and Whitmore have clearly committed themselves to releasing great sounding songs that say something. Mission accomplished.

Jesse Winchester’s A Reasonable Amount of Trouble

By Ken Paulson

JesseI braced myself for the first listening to Jesse Winchester’s A Reasonable Amount of Trouble. After all, this was his final album, recorded while he was dying of cancer. And the cover image of his painting of a crying woman was anything but upbeat.

Who would have guessed such dour packaging would contain such a joyous album? With loving production from Mac McAnally, A Reasonable Amount of Trouble truly celebrates Winchester’s talent. Set for release on Sept. 16, the album features McAnally on guitar, Roscoe Beck on bass and Eric Darken on percussion, with guest turns by Jerry Douglas and Jim Horn.

Opener “All That We Have is Now” tells us to embrace the moment; it’s encouraging and lilting throughout. And then there’s the charming goofiness of “Never Forget to Boogie,” a bluesy shuffle and a pretty good way to live your life.

Winchester tapped into his childhood for three ‘60s-era hits, offering up sweet and fun covers of “Rhythm of the Rain,” “Devil or Angel” and “Whispering Bells.”

Closing out the album is “Just So Much,” a touching reflection on mortality and the most truthful song you’ll ever hear. Stunning.


Related Posts

Share This

Reviews: Some of 2014’s most rewarding albums

by Paul T. Mueller

In any given year, a lot of new music is released, and much of it deserves more attention, but gets overlooked. So, before 2014 turns into 2015, here’s a quick look at some high-quality projects that came out during the past year:

How It Feels to Fly, David Grissom

grissomBefore he stepped out on his own as a singer-songwriter, Austin-based David Grissom made his bones as a flashy guitarist for bigger names including Joe Ely, John Mellencamp and the Dixie Chicks. There’s plenty of fine six-string work on this collection of eight studio tracks and four live cuts, but it’s also a showcase for Grissom’s excellent production skills and ever-improving songwriting. The title track is a kind of ode to joy that soars just as its name suggests; “Never Came Easy to Me” is a triumph-over-tough-times anthem featuring some nifty wordplay and plenty of that fat guitar tone Grissom is known for. The live tracks include a couple of nods to the classics – a lively rendition of the Allman Brothers’ “Jessica” and ZZ Top’s gritty “Nasty Dogs and Funky Kings.”


 Amulet, John Egan

eganIf John Egan’s mastery of the resonator guitar brings to mind the late Chris Whitley, that’s probably not a coincidence, as the two were friends. Some of Amulet’s 11 tracks recall the kind of spooky acoustic blues that first brought Whitley to national attention, but Egan often takes a more lyrical approach. “Another Falling Summer” evokes beauty and sadness in equal measure. “What you can’t forget will make you stronger/When you’re learning how to live,” Egan sings, accompanied by sweet strings that lend just the right amount of atmosphere. “And the same mistake can be your lucky break/Over and over again.” Things get a little funkier on “Sweet Ride (So Good)” and “Shake!,” with its jazzy New Orleans vibe. The undercurrent of spirituality that runs through the album surfaces in the closing track, “Peaceful Mind,” whose chorus includes the gruff plea, “Bless us, O Lord, with a peaceful mind.” Most of Amulet consists of Egan originals; the one well-chosen cover is a fine rendition of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.”

Montagu Hotel, Brad Boyer

boyerSinger-songwriter Brad Boyer is making a name for himself as an accomplished songwriter and performer of Texas folk/country. It doesn’t hurt that he seems to know everyone who’s anyone in Texas music, and that he got about half of them (Joe Ely, Rick Richards and “Scrappy” Jud Newcomb, to name but a few) to back him on this album. Some of the themes are familiar – trucking (“Big Rig Driver”), drinking (“Tonight I’m Gonna Lose”), women (“Texas Darlin’ ”) and lost love (“Long Cold December”) – but Boyer handles them with affable panache. Things get more interesting when he steps off the path a bit. “Five Stones and a Sling” explores faith a bit obliquely, but with plenty of twang. “The Light” looks at truth and uncertainty more directly and with a harder edge, provided by John Carroll’s fine electric guitar. The song recounts the story of Jesus and Thomas, with the former advising the latter, “Don’t doubt in the dark/What you’ve seen in the light.” Other highlights include a version of the sad love-and-violence tale “The Ring,” somewhat different from co-writer Matt Harlan’s earlier version, and “The Last Folksinger,” a moving tribute to iconic singer-songwriter Guy Clark. The title track is a gentle tribute to an old hotel in downtown Houston where, Boyer sings, he lived for a month as a child and “met some cool cross-dressers/and some desperate confessors/looking for excuses for their sins.”

Blanco County Lights, Brant Croucher

croucher2The songs on Blanco County Lights deal with familiar country themes like women and drinking and trucks, but Brant Croucher’s approach to them shows more imagination than that of most of the bro-country dudes currently selling out arenas. “Doing Well” talks about lost love and booze, but “sleeping around don’t suit me,” Croucher sings, and “drinking to drown is too easy.” Similarly, the title track’s narrator is no stranger to a barstool, but ruefully concludes that he’s “not really that comfortable with how comfortable this bar’s become.” There’s a truck in “84 Boxes,” but it’s a big rig, not a pickup, and the guy telling the story is not the driver but the sweaty guy on the loading dock. “It’s a couple bucks an hour for the hours in the day,” Croucher sings, backed by a fast shuffle beat and a couple of intertwining guitar lines. “Ran a tab with the Devil, now it’s time to pay.” The album’s sweetest song is “Theodora,” which Croucher wrote as a love song from his grandfather to his grandmother. Most of it is the story of the couple’s life, starting out in the Southeast and ending up in Texas, but the third verse is in the first-person voice of his grandfather: “Theodora, I hope you know I love you/I love you more than any words could ever say/And I will until my very last day.”


Follow Americana Music News on Twitter @Sun209com.


Related Posts

Share This

Americana Music Association’s Top 100 albums

ama_logo_button_redThe Americana music Association has just released its list of the top 100 Americana music albums, based on airplay between December 2, 2013 and December 1, 2014. It’s no surprise that genre veterans like Rosanne Cash, Nickel Creek and Rodney Crowell top the list, but it’s gratifying to see emerging artists like Nikki Lane, Shovels and Rope and Lake Street Dive break into the top 10.
The full list:
Rosanne Cash                                                                   The River & The Thread
Nickel Creek                                                                      A Dotted Line
Rodney Crowell                                                                Tarpaper Sky
Hard Working Americans                                              Hard Working Americans
Old Crow Medicine Show                                               Remedy
Nikki Lane                                                                         All Or Nothin’
Lake Street Dive                                                               Bad Self Portraits
Shovels And Rope                                                             Swimmin’ Time
John Hiatt                                                                          Terms Of My Surrender
Sturgill Simpson                                                                Metamodern Sounds In Country Music
Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin                                                    Common Ground
St. Paul & The Broken Bones                                           Half The City
Parker Millsap                                                                    Parker Millsap
Willie Nelson                                                                      Band Of Brothers
Paul Thorn                                                                          Too Blessed To Be Stressed
Lucinda Williams                                                              Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone
Trampled By Turtles                                                         Wild Animals
Various – A Tribute To Jackson Browne                       Looking Into You
Keb Mo                                                                                 BLUESAmericana
Secret Sisters                                                                      Put Your Needle Down
John Fullbright                                                                  Songs
Amos Lee                                                                            Mountains Of Sorrow, Rivers Of Song
Jamestown Revival                                                           Utah
Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison                                          Our Year
Jason Eady                                                                         Daylight & Dark
Infamous Stringdusters                                                   Let It Go
Chuck Mead                                                                       Free State Serenade
Sarah Jarosz                                                                      Build Me Up From Bones
Billie Joe & Norah Jones                                                 Foreverly
Justin Townes Earle                                                         Single Mothers
Ryan Adams                                                                       Ryan Adams
Johnny Cash                                                                       Out Among The Stars
First Aid Kit                                                                        Stay Gold
Carlene Carter                                                                    Carter Girl
Devil Makes Three                                                             I’m A Stranger Here
Red Molly                                                                            The Red Album
Duhks                                                                                   Beyond The Blue
Mastersons                                                                          Good Luck Charm
Will Hoge                                                                             Never Give In
Blackie and the Rodeo Kings                                           South
Puss N Boots                                                                      No Fools, No Fun
Billy Joe Shaver                                                                 Long In The Tooth
Brandy Clark                                                                      12 Stories
Drive-By Truckers                                                             English Oceans
Carolina Story                                                                    Chapter Two
Lee Ann Womack                                                              The Way I’m Livin’
Will Kimbrough                                                                 Sideshow Love
Irene Kelley                                                                        Pennsylvania Coal
Trigger Hippy                                                                    Trigger Hippy
Shakey Graves                                                                   And The War Came
Carolina Story                                                                   Chapter One
Hurray For The Riff Raff                                                Small Town Heroes
Chuck Prophet                                                                   Night Surfer
Girls Guns & Glory                                                           Good Luck
Howlin’ Brothers                                                              Trouble
Blue Highway                                                                    The Game
Amy LaVere                                                                       Runaway’s Diary
Jim Lauderdale                                                                 I’m A Song
Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings                                     Give The People What They Want
Black Prairie                                                                      Fortune
Ruthie Foster                                                                     Promise Of A Brand New Day
Whiskey Myers                                                                  Early Morning Shakes
Robert Ellis                                                                        The Lights From The Chemical Plant
Suzy Bogguss                                                                     Lucky
Seth Walker                                                                        Sky Still Blue
Felice Brothers                                                                   Favorite Waitress
Ray Benson                                                                         A Little Piece
Scott Miller                                                                         Big Big World
String Cheese Incident                                                     Song In My Head
Lydia Loveless                                                                   Somewhere Else
Mingo Fishtrap                                                                  On Time
Haden Triplets                                                                  Haden Triplets
Robert Cray Band                                                             In My Soul
Mike Farris                                                                        Shine For All The People
Tommy Malone                                                                Poor Boy
Zoe Muth                                                                           World Of Strangers
Greg Trooper                                                                     Incident on Willow Street
Charlie Robison                                                                High Life
Marty Stuart                                                                      Saturday Night/Sunday Morning
Various – Inside Llewyn Davis                                       Inside Llewyn Davis
Old 97s                                                                                Most Messed Up
Chris Smither                                                                    Still On The Levee
Various – A Tribute To Born in the USA                      Dead Man’s Town
Deep Dark Woods                                                             Jubilee
Rod Picott                                                                          Hang Your Hopes On A Crooked Nail
Steve Martin And The Steep Canyon Rangers           LIVE featuring Edie Brickell
Janiva Magness                                                                Original
Otis Gibbs                                                                          Souvenirs Of A Misspent Youth
Avett Brothers                                                                  Magpie And The Dandelion
Candi Staton                                                                     Life Happens
Blue Rodeo                                                                        In Our Nature
Dolly Parton                                                                      Blue Smoke
Head And The Heart                                                       Let’s Be Still
Peter Mulvey                                                                     Silver Ladder
John Mellencamp                                                            Plain Spoken
Laura Cantrell                                                                   No Way There From Here
Band Of Heathens                                                            Sunday Morning Record
Jim Lauderdale                                                                 Black Roses
Mary Gauthier                                                                   Trouble & Love
Hannah Aldridge                                                              Razor Wire
Follow Americana Music News on Twitter.

2015 Americana Music Grammy nominees announced

2015 Grammy nominee Taj Mahal

2015 Grammy nominee Taj Mahal

The 2015 Grammy nominees for Best Americana album, Best American Roots Performance and Best American Roots Song were announced today.

Best Americana Album

“The River & the Thread,” Rosanne Cash

“Terms of My Surrender,” John Hiatt

“Bluesamericana,” Keb’ Mo’

“A Dotted Line,” Nickel Creek

“Metamodern Sounds in Country Music,” Sturgill Simpson


Best American Roots Performance

Statesboro Blues, Gregg Allman & Taj Mahal

A Feather’s Not a Bird, Rosanne Cash

And When I Die, Billy Childs Featuring Alison Krauss and Jerry Douglas

The Old Me Better,  Keb’ Mo’ Featuring The California Feet Warmers

Destination, Nickel Creek


Best American Roots Song

“A Feather’s Not A Bird,” Rosanne Cash & John Leventhal (Rosanne Cash)

“Just So Much,” Jesse Winchester (Jesse Winchester)

“The New York Trains,” Woody Guthrie & Del McCoury (The Del McCoury Band)

“Pretty Little One,” Edie Brickell & Steve Martin, songwriters (Steve Martin And The Steep Canyon Rangers Featuring Edie Brickell)

“Terms Of My Surrender,” John Hiatt (John Hiatt)

Follow Americana Music News on Twitter.



Review: Billy Joe Shaver’s “Long in the Tooth”

By Paul T. Mueller

shaverAt 75, Billy Joe Shaver is no longer the young country outlaw he once was. But he’s still around and kicking, and on his latest album, Long in the Tooth, he bares his (figurative) teeth on songs about several things he’s not too happy about, including his old nemesis, alcohol; today’s country music, and humanity’s warlike ways. His mellower side shows up on a few nice love songs, and there’s even a tune about growing up that features a train. Shaver is in good voice here and is backed by a fine studio band and guest appearances by some illustrious players. It all adds up to a strong effort.

Standout tracks include:

  • “Last Call for Alcohol,” a country two-step in which Shaver sings about a lost love and the booze in which he’s trying to drown her memories. “Last call for alcohol, I’m finally through with you,” he sings, but it’s not clear whether it’s the lover or the liquor he’s saying goodbye to.
  • “I’ll Love You As Much As I Can,” a gentle but honest warning to a potential romantic partner. “Remember the chance that you’re taking,” Shaver sings. “I’ll love you as much as I can.”
  • “Checkers and Chess” is fueled by the populist, anti-authority outlook that’s long been a Shaver trademark. “Nothin’s fair in this world of lying shame,” he sings. “The rich man steals the money/The poor man takes the blame.” The poor also get to die in rich men’s wars, he later adds.
  • “Hard to Be an Outlaw,” a duet with Willie Nelson that laments the passing of time, while taking a swipe at musical newcomers and what the old guard sees as their unearned success: “They go and call it country/But that ain’t the way it sounds/Makes a renegade like me/Want to terrorize the town.”

The title track is a kind of rap about growing old, but not gracefully. Points for trying, but let’s face it – rap is not what Billy Joe Shaver is best at. “Music City USA” covers similar ground but a lot more effectively. It’s not clear that the story of a young man who left Texas “to capture Music City USA” is autobiographical – that story line could apply to a lot of people – but it might as well be. “That crazy fool with shaggy hair has spread his songs out everywhere,” Shaver sings. “I reckon he done captured Music city USA.”

Four of the album’s 10 tracks were co-written with Gary Nicholson and two with Ray Kennedy; the two Nashville veterans also co-produced the album. They had some good material to work with – the “Can’t Hardly Playboys” studio band consists of guitarists Dan Dugmore and Jedd Hughes, bassist Michael Rhodes and drummer Lynn Williams. Also contributing is a long list of excellent guest artists, including Leon Russell, Tony Joe White, Larry Franklin, Mickey Raphael and Joel Guzman, among others.


Follow Americana Music News on Twitter.


Ian McLagan 1945-2014

Ian 2Ian McLagan’s performance in the parking lot of Grimey’s in Nashville was a highlight of the 2014 Americana Music Festival. McLagan died today, Dec. 3. (Photo by Ken Paulson)


Related Posts

Share This

“An Americana Christmas” and other new holiday albums

americana christmas-cover-300dpiBy Ken Paulson

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

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

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

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (Luther Dickinson)

Everything Is Cool (John Prine)

Pretty Paper (Robert Ellis)

The First Noel (Emmylou Harris)

The Gifts They Gave (Johnny Cash)

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

Run Run Rudolph (Dwight Yoakam)

Must Be Santa (Bob Dylan)

Winter Wonderland (Valerie June)

Everybody Deserves A Merry Christmas (Ronnie Fauss)

Season Of My Memory (Max Gomez)

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

At Christmas Time (The Common Linnets)

FaLaLa Love Ya – (Nikki Lane)

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

Other holiday albums of note:

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


Related Posts

Share This

Tom Waits Tribute set for Dec. 6 in Nashville

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

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


Related Posts

Share This

2015 Americana music conference set for Sept. 15-20

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

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

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

Americana Music Festival on PBS this weekend

Ry Cooder at the Americana music Honors and Awards show

Ry Cooder at the Americana Music Honors and Awards show

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

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

Follow Sun209 on Twitter at @Sun209com.



Review: Chip Taylor’s “Little Prayers Trilogy”

By Ken Paulson

Little PrayersIt’s remarkable that the composer of one of pop’s most shallow hits now writes and records some of America’s deepest and most reflective songs.

“Wild Thing/You make my heart sing/You make everything groovy” is light years away from Chip Taylor’s compositions on The Little Prayers Trilogy, his new three-CD collection on Train Wreck Records.

Though Taylor’s early career included writing such hits as Wild Thing,” “Angel  of the Morning” and “I Can’t Let Go,” he’s carved out a less commercial path as a solo artist, beginning with a series of solo albums in the late ’60s and ‘70s that foreshadowed the Americana genre.

The new album continues his recent run of personal  and often somber recordings. Behind the Iron Door, the first disc, includes two duets with Lucinda Williams (memorable on Taylor’s earlier London Sessions Bootleg) and largely focuses on the oppressed. “Ted Williams” is not about baseball.  The surprise here, though, is the darkest Christmas song you’ve ever heard

Love and Pain, the second disc, includes the hauntingly self-aware Nothin’ Coming Out of Me That I Like,” which continues ” Nothing prayerful and nothing respectful, so I think  I’ll just shut me down  for a while and come back in a while and see who I am.”

Little Prayers is the most sparse of the three discs, although the entire project is characterized by quiet, hushed vocals and minimal instrumentation. It’s an astonishingly intimate recording; you’ll hear every catch of breath, every swallow, every purse of the lips.

This is not background music. It demands your attention. That makes it rewarding, but not a particularly comfortable listening experience.

For Chip Taylor’s long-time fans, the new collection is a thought-provoking bounty. For those new to Taylor’s music, we’d suggest the more accessible Yonkers N.Y. or even Last Chance. In his sixth decade of making music, Chip Taylor is not coasting.

Oct. 27: The Week in Americana Music

This week in Americana

30a_logo_largeThe sixth annual 30A Songwriters Festival, scheduled for Jan. 16-18 in South Walton County, FL has announced its first round of artists, including Graham Nash, Indigo Girls, Leon Russell, Jason Isbell, Shawn Mullins, Sara Watkins, Chely Wright, Bobby Bare Jr., Steve Poltz, Angaleena Presley, Over the Rhine, Glen Phillips, Jeffrey Steele, Jesse Harris, Mary Gauthier, Hayes Carll, Bob Schneider, Ellis Paul, Allison Moorer, Deana Carter, Peter Karp and Sue Foley and David Ryan Harris.

In Nashville:

On Monday, Oct. 27, Sarah Jarosz and the Milk Carton Kids join forces in concert at 8 p.m. at  the CMA Theater at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

Other shows this week:

Caroline Rose Oct. 28 at the High Watt

Drive By Truckers Oct. 30 at the Ryman Auditorium

Caitlyn Smith Oct. 30 at the Station Inn

The Devil Makes Three at the Marathon Music Works Oct. 31

Rounding out the week is a Nov. 1 appearance by Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee  Pat Alger at the Country Music Hall of Fame at 11:30 a.m.

New this week:

First Waltz – Hard Working Americans

Rock and Roll Time – Jerry Lee Lewis

The Complete Epic Recordings – Stevie Ray Vaughan


Page 1 of 2012345...1020...Last »