New releases: Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams

A round-up of new and recent Americana music releases:

larry-campbell_teresa-williamsLarry Campbell and Teresa Williams – Red House Records – One of our favorite albums of the summer, the debut duo album from Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams has soared up the Americana music airplay chart since its release five weeks ago, and has just entered the top 10. Rightly so. Best known for their affiliations with Levon Helm and Bob Dylan, the couple has delivered a self-assured collection of soulful and compelling songs, with immaculate playing throughout, and guest turns from Amy Helm and Bill Payne.

Jason JamesNew West Records –  Jason James taps into classic country on his debut solo album, recording new songs with a decidedly familiar feel.  It’s all honky tonk and heartbreak, just like they made them 50 years ago.  Set for release on August 21.

The Howl and the GrowlThe Surreal McCoys –  Produced by Eric Ambel, The Howl and the Growl offers up straight-ahead, high energy rock and country. The Surreal McCoys will be featured at a showcase at the Americana Music Festival in Nashville on Sept. 17.

Back on the Old Stuff– The Tallent Brothers – Rocky and Brandon Tallent left David Allen Coe’s band to record their own album, including a co-write with Pat McLaughlin on “There’s  a Spirit.” Release date: August 10.

Sure to OffendJim Pharis – Second album from Jim Phrais, who cites Leo Kottke,  Rev. Gary Davis, Merlre Travis and Bo Carter as his influences.

Old NewsDave Desmelik –  Dave Desmelik’s 10th album revisits a dozen songs he’s recorded over the past 16 years.

Long Gone Song Nocona  – Long Gone Song is the second studio album from Nocona. The band’s lyrics have a dark bent (see “Toothless Junkie”), but their sound is often spirited and adventurous.

Salvatella Breadfoot – Jeezie Peezie Records – The fourth album from Breadfoot, whose music has been featured on Roadtrip Nation. Out this month.

Country/FolkWell Worn Soles – – Debut album from Emerson Wells-Barrett and Chelsea Dix-Kessler features low-key country and folk, just as described in the title. Buddy and Julie Miller offer up a supportive promotional quote, calling the duo “some comfortable listening.”




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


By Paul T. Mueller

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

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

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

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


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

By Ken Paulson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New: Jon Pousette-Dart, Deslondes

A round-up of new releases:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Expanded Americana Music Festival lineup

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

The new additions:

Adam Faucett

American Aquarium

Amy LaVere

Andrew Leahey & The Homestead

Band of Heathens

Buddy Miller

Buxton Cale Tyson

The Carmonas

Daniel Romano

Darrell Scott

David Wax Museum

Dirty River Boys

Donnie Fritts & John Paul White

Doug Seegers

Dreaming Spires

Dustbowl Revival

Eddie Berman

Eilen Jewell

The Fairfield Four

Gill Landry

The Good Lovelies

Great Peacock

Gretchen Peters

The Hillbenders

The Honeycutters

Humming House

JD & The Straight Shot

JD Souther

Jeffrey Foucault

Jim Lauderdale

Jonathan Tyler

Josh Rouse

JP Harris

Kacy & Clayton

Kelsey Waldon

Legendary Shack Shakers

Lewis and Leigh

Lindi Ortega

Los Colognes

Low Cut Connie

Luther Dickinson

Margo Price

The Mavericks

McCrary Sisters

Michaela Anne

Miss Tess & The Talkbacks

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats

Paper Bird

Pine Hill Project (featuring Richard Shindell & Lucy Kaplansky)

Pony Boy Porter

Possessed By Paul James

Raised By Eagles

Ron Pope & The Nighthawks

Ry Cooder/Sharon White/Ricky Skaggs

Ryan Culwell

Sam Outlaw

Spirit Family Reunion

The Suffers

T. Hardy Morris

T Sisters


Those Pretty Wrongs

Town Mountain

Uncle Lucius

Whitney Rose

Willie Watson

The Wood Brothers

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

 by Paul T. Mueller

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

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

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

Other highlights include:

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

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

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

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


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New releases: Greg Trooper, the Grahams

New Americana, folk and bluegrass releases:

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

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

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

Highly recommended.

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

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

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

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

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


2015 Americana Music Awards nominees announced

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

This just in: 2015 Americana Music Festival line-up

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

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

You’ll find conference and wristband information at


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


Review: James McMurtry’s “Complicated Game”

by Paul T. Mueller   

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

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

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

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

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

New Releases: Alabama Shakes, Susie Glaze

alabama shakes 2New in our mailbox this week:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rediscovered: Dusty Springfield’s “Faithful”

By Ken Paulson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New: Spirit Family Reunion, Honeycutters

New releases in our mail this week:

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

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

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

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



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

by Paul T. Mueller

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

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

Ray Wylie and Lucas Hubbard

Ray Wylie and Lucas Hubbard

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

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

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

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

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



New releases: Boxmasters, Sam Lewis

By Ken Paulson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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New releases: Allison Moorer’s “Down to Believing”

MoorerAllison MoorerDown to Believing – eOne Music – We first heard the songs from Allison Moorer’s new album Down to Believing at the Americana Music Festival in Nashville six months ago. Her performance was riveting, supported by a stellar band that included album producer Kenny Greenberg on guitar. The new material was vibrant and soul-baring, and the recording fulfills the promise of that September night. Down to Believing reflects Moorer’s personal story, from her divorce from Steve Earle to her son’s autism diagnosis. With all respect to Moorer, those aren’t necessarily themes that would invite repeated listening. The power in Down to Believing comes from marrying intimate and confessional lyrics to compelling musicality, exemplified by soaring album opener “Like It Used to Be.”

Other new and recent releases:

Red Heart AlarmHammer Anvil Stirrup This Seattle—based band calls its music “Gruntry,” an amalgam of country and the region’s grunge history.

Little Texas – Young For A Long Time – Cleopatra Records These early ’90 country hitmakers are back with a new studio album and a national tour that begins at the Florida Blueberry Festival in Brooksville, Florida on April 12.

Vanish Valley – Queen of the Concert – Hard Bark Los Angeles band Vanish Valley is set to release its second album Queen of the Concert on May 12. The project, recorded in less than a week, is fueled by the songwriting of Andrew McAlister.

Stacy Jones – Whiskey Wine & Water Stacy Jones, named best female vocalist in 2014 by the Washington Blues Society, has a new studio album, released March 27.

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Review: Robert Earl Keen’s “Happy Prisoner”

keen_coverby Paul T. Mueller

Texas singer-songwriter Robert Earl Keen returns to his bluegrass roots with Happy Prisoner – The Bluegrass Sessions. There are a few rough spots among the CD’s 15 covers, and the playing might not be quite pure enough for bluegrass fanatics, but it’s well done and enjoyable.

Keen is no stranger to bluegrass, having developed a love for the genre despite growing up in Houston, not exactly a hotbed of Appalachian string music in the 1960s and ’70s. In “The Bluegrass Widow,” a song from his second album, 1988’s The Live Album, he describes learning about bluegrass during high school and playing in a bluegrass band during college. The song, which Keen describes as “quite possibly the worst bluegrass song ever written,” includes his account of being fired by his bandmates because he lacked “that high and lonesome sound that bluegrass music requires.”

Having seen his budding bluegrass career derailed, Keen regrouped and went on to forge a successful career as a songwriter and performer. Decades later, his voice is, if anything, even less high and lonesome, but that didn’t keep him from recording this belated tribute to his first musical love.

Standout tracks include “Long Black Veil,” the much-covered ballad about crime, love and the price of loyalty; “T for Texas,” with help from Lyle Lovett; “East Virginia Blues,” a lost-love song by A.P. Carter; “Walls of Time,” sung with Peter Rowan, who wrote the song with Bill Monroe, and the classic spiritual “Wayfaring Stranger,” featuring vocals by ex-Dixie Chick Natalie Maines.

Not as successful is a cover of Richard Thompson’s “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” one of those songs that are performed so definitively by their writers that there’s little point in trying to cover them. Keen’s version also suffers from the lack of an instrumental bridge, leaving an abrupt transition between the happy early verses and the sad later ones.

Along with his longtime band – guitarists Rich Brotherton and Marty Muse, bassist Bill Whitbeck and percussionist Tom van Schaik – Keen gets help from a talented group of players including fiddlers Sara Watkins, Dennis Ludiker and Chloe Keen (Robert’s daughter), mandolinist Kym Warner and banjoist Danny Barnes. Lloyd Maines handled production and other technical duties.

New releases: Lily Hiatt, Joseph Wooten

Americana Music News – New releases include albums from Lily Hiatt and Joseph Wooten, both artists with strong  Nashville ties:

LilyRoyal Blue Lily Hiatt – Normaltown Records   We first saw Lily Hiatt years some ago as a solo songwriter strumming an acoustic guitar on a side stage at the CMA festival in Nashville. It’s a more mature and musically adventurous Hiatt on the just-released Royal Blue, a dynamic recording produced by Adam Landry with pedal steel, synth and a rock foundation. The lyrics reflect broken relationships, but the sound is bold and confident.

Stumpjumper – Charlie Parr – Red House Records   Set for release on April 28, Charlie Parr’s Stumpjumper release is the first album he’s recorded with a full band. The Duluth-based artist is on tour now, with dates this week in Pittsburgh, Maumee, Ohio and Milwaukee .

Gill LandryGill Landry – ATO Records  Gill Landry , best known as a member of Old Crow Medicine Show, is joined on his third album by guests Laura Marling and Robert Ellis. Landry is touring in support of the album, with dates this week with Justin Townes Earle.

WootenSoul of FreedomJoseph Wooten Joseph Wooten’s latest solo album Soul of Freedom is both familiar and fresh, melding the influences of Steve Wonder and Sly Stone with very contemporary takes on the world around us. Wooten is the keyboardist with the Steve Miller Band and a member of the musically rich Wooten family (his brother Victor guests here.) He also clearly embraces music for its capacity to inform, engage and elevate. From “Life Love Truth” to “Unity” and “I Matter,” Wooten delivers affirmation and reflection in a consistently ambitious musical setting.

Head for the HillsMarkus James – Firenze Records – Head for the Hills continues Markus James’ collaborative blues recordings, teaming him a with a number of drummers from the North Mississippi Hill Country.


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New releases: Brandi Carlile, Ray Wylie Hubbard

Americana Music News – New releases in our mailbox this week:

Basic CMYKThe Firewatcher’s Daughter Brandi Carlile – ATO Records –  Fresh off the Cayamo cruise, Brandi Carlile is touring the country in support of this new album, including a March 4 date at the Troubadour, March 7 in Atlantic City and March 11 in Brooklyn. Carlile continues her impressive work with Tim and Phil Hanseroth on this album (out March 3) that reportedly consists primarily of first takes. The first single is “Wherever is Your Heart.”

Twice Told Tales10,000 Maniacs – Cleopatra Records The current generation of 10,000 Maniacs has a new album set for release on April 28. It’s a return to the band’s core musical influences with renditions of traditional folk songs from the British Isles, including “She Moved Through the Fair” and “Wild Mountain Thyme.”

Ray Wylie Hubbard RuffianThe Ruffian’s MisfortuneRay Wylie Hubbard – Bordello Records – Ray Wylie Hubbard is following up The Grifter’s Hymnal (reviewed here) with The Ruffian’s Misfortune, described in press materials as “the tightest and most focused” of his career. The album is set for release on April 7, and is to be followed by an autobiography.

Another Rising Sun Jon Chi  The former member of Rainmaker recorded his second solo album in Milwaukee with Ken Krei. The album ,described as “a blend of folk, gospel and jam” is set for release on May 5.

Old Ways vs. New DaysJ. Tex and the Volunteers –– Heptown Records This Copenhagen-based Americana band is fronted by Detroit native J. Tex.


New releases: Vespers, Whitehorse, more

Americana Music News – New releases and albums of note:

vespersSisters and Brothers Vespers – Just released is the Vespers’ third album; the title is a nod to the band consisting of the Cryar sisters and Jones brothers. The opening lyrics are a mission statement: “Everybody sounds like someone else. We all just want to sound like ourselves.” We first saw the Vespers perform at the Americana Music Association conference about three years ago and the new album shows musical growth, confidence and an undeniably rawer and more distinctive sound.

Cowboy BoudoirKimmie Rhodes – Sunbird Music- We enjoyed Kimmie Rhodes’ performances on the Sandy Beaches cruise and are glad to see this new release.  The album, produced by Gabriel Rhodes and dedicated to the late great Jack Clement is described as “a retro-cowgirl-hippie-chick musical experiment.”

The Limestone KidParker McCollum – Indie Extreme – On his debut album, the 22-year-old McCollum offers up an engaging collection of songs, including the full-throttle “Lucy” and the amiable single “Meet You in the Middle.” Lloyd Maines sits in on pedal steel.

whitehorseLeave No Bridge Unburned Whitehorse – Six Shooter Records – We raved about the debut Whitehorse release in 2012 and this new album may be even better. Luke Doucet and Lelissa McCelland are musically ambitious, building on intense and intimate songs with cinematic flourishes. Favorite song title: “Fake Your Death (and I’ll Fake Mine.)”

Here We Are John and Judy Rodman – Rivermoon Records – 29 years ago, Judy Rodman topped the country charts with “Until I Met You” for MTM Records. She would have later hits, but her recording career wound down by the ‘90s. This new album returns her to the recording studio in a duo with her husband John. This 7-song collection is set for release on March 24.


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