New releases: Mavericks, Dale Watson, Becky Warren

New and recent releases:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Review: Suzy Bogguss’ “Aces Redux”

suzy-bogguss-aces-reduxBy Ken Paulson

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

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

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

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

Timothy B. Schmit opens tour in Nashville


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

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

By Ken Paulson

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

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

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

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

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






Snapshots: Americana Music Festival

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

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

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










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

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

Ray Hoover at Fond Objects

Ray Hoover at Fond Objects

William the Conqueror at the Groove

William the Conqueror at the Groove



Jason Isbell tops Americana Music Awards

By Ken Paulson

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

This week: Americana Music Festival


We’re just days away from our favorite music event in Nashville, and the Americana Music Festival boasts another great line-up of performers. The latest list:

Aaron Lee Tasjan
The Accidentals
Amanda Shires
Amelia Curran
The Americans
Amy Helm
Aoife O’Donovan
Applewood Road
Aubrie Sellers
The Ballroom Thieves
Bart Crow
Billy Bragg & Joe Henry
Birger Olsen (of Denver)
BJ Barham (of American Aquarium)
The Black Lillies
Bobby Rush
Bonnie Bishop
The Bottle Rockets
Brent Cobb
Brian Whelan
Brian Wright
Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers

Buddy Miller
C.W. Stoneking
The Cactus Blossoms
Caleb Caudle
Carl Anderson
Cedric Burnside Project
Charlie Faye & The Fayettes
Charlie Parr
Ciaran Lavery
The Cordovas
David Ramirez
Dead Horses
Derik Hultquist
Dex Romweber
Dietrich Strause
Dori Freeman
Dylan LeBlanc
The Fearless Kin
Front Country
Grant-Lee Phillips
Green River Ordinance
The Handsome Family
Harpoonist & the Axe Murderer
Hollis Brown
Howe Gelb
Indigo Girls
The Infamous Stringdusters
Jack Ingram
Jason Eady
Jay Nash
Jesse Malin
Jim Lauderdale
Joe Purdy
John Fullbright
John Paul White

John Prine
Kaia Kater
Kasey Chambers
Larkin Poe
Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams
The Last Bandoleros
Lee Ann Womack
Lewis & Leigh
The Lonely Heartstring Band
Lori McKenna
Lowland Hum
Luke Bell
Lydia Loveless
Mandolin Orange
Marlon Williams
Matt Haeck
Mindy Smith
Molly Parden
Moonsville Collective
Motel Mirrors
My Bubba
The O’Connor Band featuring Mark O’Connor
Paper Bird
Parker Millsap
Penny & Sparrow
Peter Bruntnell
Phil Cody
The Pines
Quiet Life
Red Shahan
Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band
River Whyless
Rob Baird
Robert Vincent
Ruby Amanfu
Ruby Boots
Ruston Kelly
Ryan Beaver
Sam Lewis
Sam Outlaw
Sammy Brue
Sara Watkins
Sarah Potenza
Sean McConnell
Sean Watkins
Shane Nicholson
Shawn Colvin & Steve Earle
Shawn Mullins
Sons of Bill
Steve Poltz
Sunny Sweeney
Teddy Thompson & Kelly Jones
Tony Joe White
Whitney Rose
Will Hoge
William Clark Green
William the Conqueror
Willie Watson
Wynonna & The Big Noise
Yola Carter

The festival opens Sept. 21 in Nashville.

Review: Craig Kinsey’s’ “The Nylon Sessions”

By Paul T. Mueller

kinsey_nylon“This should tide you over until the next full studio album,” read the words of Craig Kinsey on the back cover of his latest CD, The Nylon Sessions. No such disclaimer is needed. This 13-song collection from Kinsey, a singer-songwriter based in Houston, holds up just fine on its own. For the most part, the songs are unplugged renditions of previously recorded Kinsey originals – “songs in their bedroom, without formal attire or affectations,” in his words.

Kinsey, who spent several years in an Arkansas monastery before earning a college degree and launching a career as a musician, is known in Houston for his theatrical stage shows, for which he often wears a top hat and employs burlesque dancers. The Nylon Sessions takes a much simpler approach. All but one of the songs feature Kinsey, an expressive singer who accompanies himself on a nylon-strung guitar (hence the title) and harmonica, plus one other player. The result is a worthy showcase for the thoughtful lyrics of the 11 originals and two covers – as well as for the skills of the supporting musicians.

The Nylon Sessions demonstrates Kinsey’s comfort with several musical genres. Old-time country is represented by a beautifully understated reading of the Lefty Frizzell hit “Always Late (with Your Kisses),” with Kelly Doyle, of Robert Ellis’ band, The Perfect Strangers, on synthesizer. Doyle’s guitar is also featured on the jazzy “Bits and Pieces” and “Romulus and Remus.” Other Ellis bandmates also contribute – pedal steel player Will Van Horn, on the straight-up country of “Cold Shoulder”; banjo player Geoffrey Muller, on the nice gospel workout on “Look at His Hands,” and Muller on electric bass on an excellent cover of Bob Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.”

Houston-based trumpeter Aaron Koerner lends his jazzy chops to “Siddhartha’s Dancers” and “Montrose Blvd. Blues,” a fond, New Orleans-inflected tribute to the eclectic Houston neighborhood that has long nurtured the city’s musicians and other artists. Sergio Trevino, front man of Houston indie/Americana band Buxton, provides nice harmony vocals on the folksy, irreverent “Atheist’s Love Song.”

The album’s only solo effort is Kinsey’s lovely solo rendition of “Green Grow the Rashes,” Scottish poet Robert Burns’ ode to the ladies. The closing track, another highlight, is the bluesy lost-love tale “After All,” featuring Mike Whitebread on guitar.

“Simply songs. Words,” Craig Kinsey calls this album. That’s plenty.


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WMOT launch: Jim Lauderdale, Suzy Bogguss, Will Hoge

Jim Lauderdale hosted the launch party for new Americana radio station WMOT at the Country Music Hall of Fame, drawing on the talents of Will Hoge, Suzy Bogguss, Mike Farris and an All-Star Americana band. The new station, based at Middle Tennessee State University’s College of Media and Entertainment, can be accessed on mobile devices with the Roots Radio app for Apple and Android devices.

Review: Tim Easton’s “American Fork”

By Paul T. Mueller

tim eastonTim Easton has some advice for you: Stop wasting time. Put down your smartphones. Talk to each other.

Any folksinger worthy of the title throws some messages in with the music, and Easton, a singer-songwriter based in East Nashville, is no exception. But on his new album, American Fork, he does it in an entertaining way instead of preaching. His earnestness is wrapped in excellent musicianship, which happily results in his best album in a while, and one of his best ever.

Fittingly, he wastes no time in getting to one of his big themes, leading off with a polite diatribe on wasted time. “Every minute that you stare at that stupid screen,” he sings in “Right Before Your Own Eyes,” “and read all the chatter that you think you should read/is another minute sooner that your young old mind is dying.” That’s a serious point, passionately made, but the delivery is good-natured and it’s backed by some terrific instrumentation that includes saxophone and steel guitar.

“Killing Time” explores a similar theme in a slightly different way, incorporating a concept – “What do you live for?” – that Tim Easton has used in a series of social-media mini-interviews with people he’s met during his travels in the past few years. “Don’t hang there like a broken door,” he sings. “Find out what you’re living for/There has to be something more than just killing time.” Again, strong advice, but the tone is gentle and encouraging, not hectoring.

Easton takes a tougher tone on “Gatekeeper,” an angry blast at the powers that be – maybe in the music industry, maybe on a bigger scale. “Then you knocked me off my feet as you pinned me to the ground,” Easton sings, accompanied by sinister-sounding slide guitar and ghostly background vocals. “But I called you as you walked away/but you never turned around/Gatekeeper, go count your money.”

Easton shows his lighter side on “Elmore James,” a lively tribute to the pioneering slide guitarist, and the rollicking “Alaskan Bars, Part 1,” which recounts a series of nightlife anecdotes that one suspects might be based on actual experiences.

Another reality of the troubadour life – one Easton is no doubt familiar with – is its transient nature. In the album’s closer, “On My Way,” he sums it up: “Like the trucks out on the highway/like the seasons and the days/like the river that passes through your town/I really must be on my way.” The quiet tone and understated playing hark back to Easton’s sound on earlier works such as The Truth About Us and Break Your Mother’s Heart.

The full-band production on this album is a big jump from the minimalist approach of Easton’s previous outing, 2013’s Not Cool. Here he and co-producer Patrick Damphier use a broad spectrum of instrumentation. Jon Radford’s drums and Michael Rinne’s bass provide the foundation, while Easton handles the guitars with his usual formidable skill. Further color and texture come from talented Robbie Crowell on keyboards and horns, Russ Pahl on pedal steel and Larissa Maestro on cello. Backing vocals are nicely done by Maestro and fellow singer-songwriters Megan Palmer, Ariel Bui and Emma Berkey.

Tim Easton has spent a lot of years on the road and he’s learned a lot about life and music along the way. We get the benefit of some of that hard-won knowledge on American Fork, in a way that’s both thought-provoking and pleasing to the ear.

New releases: Bobby Rush, Kiefer Sutherland

New and recent releases from Bobby Rush, Kiefer Sutherland and Woodland West –

Bobby RushBobby Rush – Porcupine MeatRounder Records -We should all aspire to be just like Bobby Rush when we’re 82 years old. Granted, it’s a big leap for most of us to become a seasoned bluesman at that age, but the vibrancy Rush exhibits on his new album is truly inspiring. Due September 16 is his new album on Rounder Records called Porcupine Meat. It features guest artists Dave Alvin, Joe Bonamassa and Keb‘ Mo’. it’s all decidedly old-school (in a good way,) right down to the jealousy-fueled “Dress Too Short” and “I Don’t Want Nobody Hangin’ Round,” in which Rush declares “milkman, don’t bring me no milk” and sings that he would rather have his house burn down than have a fireman near his girlfriend when he’s away.

Kiefer SutherlandKiefer SutherlandDown in a Hole – About the best compliment an actor-turned-singer can expect from music writers is that he’s “actually not bad.” “And he’s not. It’s refreshing when someone like Kiefer Sutherland can deliver an album like Down in a Hole, a collection of hardscrabble songs written and performed with Jude Cole. Sutherland has some gravel to his voice and is well-suited to these often dark and dispirited themes.


 Woodland WestWoodland WestDevil to Pay – Set for release on August 19 is the first album from Woodland West, an adventurous Americana and bluegrass band from Seattle. You have to love the album cover, depicting harred parents and a clearly unhappy baby. The band is scheduled to tour the West Coast Sept. from Spet. 16 through Oct. 2.  Among other new releases: Blues artist Johnny Nicholas’ Fresh Air, Ron DiLego’s Magnificent Ram A, John “Papa” Gros’ second solo album River’s on Fire and Dear Country, the debut album from Mark Lynn and Arrica Rose, due August 26.


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Review: Quirky, intense “Robert Ellis”

By Paul T. Mueller

RobertEllis“You are the only person who truly knows what is supposed to happen with your art,” Robert Ellis writes in the booklet that accompanies his self-titled latest CD. The Texas-born singer-songwriter takes those words to heart, having moved on from his earlier country-folk sound. There’s still plenty of Texas in his voice, but from the lyrics and arrangements on Robert Ellis, he seems to have more in common these days with the likes of Paul Simon (whose songs he’s covered both live and on record) than with most of his Lone Star State contemporaries.

You don’t have to dig too hard to get to the truths Ellis is trying to put across. They’re pretty much right on the surface. The opening track, “Perfect Strangers,” describes, with unflinching directness, the progression of a romance from giddy beginnings to eventual disillusionment. “Perfect strangers moving further with each heartbeat,” Ellis sings, “in directions that may not meet up again.” The same kind of quiet desperation informs “California,” whose narrator is trying to make plans out of the ashes of a relationship, and “Drivin’,” a story of boredom and hopelessness that was co-written by Angaleena Presley.

Grim stuff, it would seem, but Ellis’ bouncy melodies and imaginative arrangements form an interesting counterpart to the depressing words. More contrast can be found between the backwoods twang of Ellis’ voice and the sophistication of his arrangements and playing. He’s equally at home and equally skilled on keyboards and guitar, and gets plenty of room to demonstrate his virtuosity on both.

Ellis’ penchant for drama shows in the crashing chords of “How I Love You”; the soft/loud dynamics of “You’re Not the One,” about the disturbing suspicion that one has ended up with the wrong person, and the discordant playing on the album’s closer, the forbidden-love anthem “It’s Not OK.”

There aren’t a lot of happy tunes in this collection; the only one that really merits that label is “Couples Skate,” a lively rocker about young love at the skating rink, and the hope that it may turn into something longer-lasting. “Please don’t move too fast, make it last,” Ellis sings. “The music is slow, I never wanna let go.”

There’s only one name on the cover, but Robert Ellis is very much a band effort. Guitarist Kelly Doyle, bassist Geoff Muller, steel-guitar player Will Van Horn and drummer Michael (Tank) Lisenbe have been together for a while and they’re good. Ellis produced the album, with help from Doyle.

Thematic darkness aside, Robert Ellis is a fine artistic achievement. It’s quirky, intense and most likely exactly what Robert Ellis wanted it to be.


Review: Megan Palmer’s “What She’s Got to Give”

by Paul T. Mueller

Megan PalmerWhat She’s Got to Give marks a real step forward for East Nashville-based singer-songwriter Megan Palmer. Palmer’s earlier recordings, including 2012’s Waycross, showed promise, but this one delivers on that promise, offering thoughtful lyrics, interesting arrangements and excellent playing and vocals.

Romantic difficulty lies at the heart of several of these songs. The oddly titled “The Only Trumpet” is an angry blast at a disappointing lover, while the bouncy tone of “Knifetwister” contrasts with its dark narrative about a bad girl behaving badly. Similarly, the sweet melody and gentle playing on the title track are at odds with its bittersweet theme – loneliness and the high price of trying to avoid it. “No one’s listening to what she says she wants,” Palmer sings plaintively, accompanied by intertwined guitar and piano lines. “They’re just taking all they can, and she knows that’s what she’s got to give… She knows that it’s never-ending.”

The album’s only cover is a nice rendition of John Hartford’s “In Tall Buildings,” which deals with growing up and accepting the drudgery of the 9-to-5 life. Again, the subject matter isn’t all that pleasant, but the song is enlivened by some sweet harmony from vocalists including Emma Berkey, Ariel Bui, Nellie Clay and Dylan Lee Johnston (Amy Speace contributed vocals on other tracks). The album closes with an uncredited final track, the bluegrassy “Tomorrow’s Gonna Make Up for Yesterday,” which showcases Palmer’s fine fiddle.

That fiddle is what Megan Palmer is probably best known for, but she’s also credited here with guitar, piano, organ and harmonium, as well as vocals. Other players include Tim Easton on guitar, mandolin and harmonica, Larry Cook and Tony Scherr on bass, and Jon Radford on drums. Patrick Damphier gets credit for clean production and interesting arrangements, as well as guitar and vocals.

Palmer, who’s dealing with a serious medical issue, was the beneficiary of a July 13 happy hour at Nashville’s 5 Spot. Hosted by Rod Picott, the event featured performances by Wild Ponies (Doug and Telisha Williams), Tim Easton, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Amy Speace, Allen Thompson and “surprise guest” Steve Poltz. A GoFundMe campaign to help Palmer with her medical bills has been set up at

Review: “Dreamer” celebrates Kent Finlay

By Paul T. Mueller

finlay_cover_400“I love my songwriters,” Kent Finlay is reported to have said, moments before he took his last breath. Clearly the feeling was mutual.

James Kent Finlay was the owner of Cheatham Street Warehouse, a small music venue in San Marcos, Texas, that helped launch the careers of many Texas musicians – including, among others, George Strait, Todd Snider, Slaid Cleaves and James McMurtry. Finlay died last year at 77 (on March 2, Texas Independence Day), but his spirit lives on in this 14-track tribute, consisting of songs written or co-written by Finlay and performed by some of the artists who spent time at Cheatham Street. For those not familiar with his work, it’s impressive proof that in addition to his nurturing of other artists, he was a fine songwriter in his own right.

Most of the musicians on the album are probably better known around Texas than nationally, but they all deliver polished performances that do credit to Finlay’s songs. Terri Hendrix opens with “I’ll Sing You a Story,” which Finlay used to perform himself at the beginning of songwriters’ night each Wednesday at Cheatham Street. Walt Wilkins covers “Bright Lights of Brady,” a nostalgic look back at youthful yearnings. James McMurtry’s weathered voice is a fine match for the grim outlaw ballad “Comfort’s Just a Rifle Shot Away,” and Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay give an excellent reading of “Yesterday’s Oatmeal,” a sad story of faded love and domestic disappointment.

From Finlay’s younger daughter, HalleyAnna, we get “I’ve Written Some Life,” which could be the autobiography of a lot of songwriters. Adam Carroll provides a nice rendition of “Be Nice to ’Em Son,” a cautionary tale about the fleeting nature of fame and fortune, while Jon Dee Graham’s gruff persona is well suited to the hard-living ballad “Taken Better Care of Myself.”

Houston-based singer-songwriter Matt Harlan, who used to drive to San Marcos most Wednesday nights to play at Cheatham Street, does a fine job on “The Songwriter,” which neatly sums up Finlay’s philosophy: “Yesterday is all we have that’s sure to last forever/Today will end in darkness, there’s no doubt/But you can never make him stop believing in tomorrow/Tomorrow’s all today is all about.”

The album’s last credited track is “Hill Country,” Finlay’s lament for the Central Texas region he loved, sung by Jamie Wilson of The Trishas. Its two final choruses feature the Hill Country Choir, a large cast of “fans and friends, songwriters and song lovers” recruited through social media to a Wednesday night recording session. Leigh and McKay return to close Dreamer with an uncredited rendition of “Saturday Night,” a nice story of a cross-border, cross-cultural love affair.

The CD – much of it recorded in San Marcos just after Finlay’s death – was ably produced by Jenni Finlay, Kent Finlay’s firstborn daughter, and Brian T. Atkinson. The two are the authors of the recently published Kent Finlay, Dreamer, which details the history of Cheatham Street Warehouse and includes first-person recollections from dozens of artists.


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New releases: Tommy Womack, Michael Fracasso

By Ken Paulson

namasteTommy Womack NamasteTommy Womack is back and we’re grateful. One of the smartest, and simultaneously sweet and subversive songwriters in Nashville, Womack has recovered from a life-threatening 2015 car crash and released Namaste, an album with a front cover that conveys his gratitude for recovery.

Womack has been a member of Government Cheese, the Bis-Quits and Daddy (the latter two with Will Kimbrough), but his solo albums are always the most personal and reflective.

“Angel” opens the album with a melodic and gentle expression of hope, and then Womack throws open the doors to tackle everything from his balding (“Comb-Over Blues”) to the essence of Christian faith “God Part III.” That’s quite a range.

Nashvillians will recognize their changing city in the blistering and funny spoken-word “Nashville.”

“Darling Let Your Freebird Fly” revisits the headlines of pop music and throws an elbow in the direction of Geraldo Rivera and Chevy Chase. On “I Almost Died,” Womack’s account of his first near-death experience in 2007 will give you chills,

Namaste, produced by Brad Jones, is powerful, irreverent and distinctly different.

FrancassoMichael FracassoHere Come the Savages – Blue Door Records – This new album from Austin-based artist Michael Fracasso combines solid originals with intepretations of classic pop songs, including Brian Wilson’s “Caroline No” and the Rascals’ “How Can I Be Sure,” both delivered with the sad, slow delivery that the lyrics call for.  Fracasso’s buoyant take on the Kinks’ “Better Things” is a highlight.

Steve Dawson – Solid States and Loose Ends – Black Hen Music – Steve Dawson’s bluesy new album draws on some of Nashville’s most talented musicians, including Jim Hoke, Fats Kaplin and Regina and Ann McCrary.

Urban PioneersFeast or Famine – This hillbilly music/string band is set to tour Texas, beginning with a June 17 date at Badlands in Austin.

Thomas HineSome Notion or Novelty – Folk singer-songwriter from Colorado issues his follow-up to 2013’s “Forgive My Future.”


Celebrating Sun Records: Margo Price, JD McPherson

margo priceBy Ken Paulson

We lost Sam Phillips in 2003, but his spirit filled the CMA Theater at the Country Music Hall of Fame on Saturday. Margo Price, J.D. McPherson, Webb Wilder and the Planet Rockers showcased the Sun Records sound with songs from the label and some original tunes that were clearly inspired by Phillips’ work.

Webb Wilder opened the show with two tracks from his pivotal “It Came From Nashville” LP and a raucous cover of “Ubangi Stomp.”

JD McPherson offered up some Junior Parker and Charlie Rich, closing with his Sun-fueled ‘North Side Gal.”

Jerry Phillips

Jerry Phillips

Margo Price, who recorded her current album at Sun Studios, sang Johnny Cash’s “Big River” and bent the “rules” a bit by doing a Billy Swan-inspired cover of “Don’t Be Cruel,” Elvis’ first RCA single after leaving Sun.

The afternoon’s biggest surprise was a guest appearance by Sam Phillips’ son Jerry, all decked out in a red sportcoat and a rockabilly attitude. His “Never Too Short to Rock” was great fun.

Backing up most of the artists and offering up a spirited set of their own were the Planet Rockers. The energetic afternoon closed with all of the artists returning to the stage for a finale of Carl Perkins’ “Boppin’ the Blues.”

It was an extraordinary 90 minutes and a testament to the power and passion of Sam Phillips. The Hall of Fame’s exhibit “Flying Saucers Rock & Roll: The Cosmic Genius of Sam Phillips” closes on June 12. Highly recommended.

Review: Hayes Carll’s “Lovers and Leavers”

By Paul T. Mueller

carll_ll_160Texas singer-songwriter Hayes Carll made a splash with his last album, 2011’s KMAG YOYO, which featured such raucous fare as “Stomp and Holler,” “Another Like You” and the title track. On Lovers and Leavers, he turns inward, focusing on such themes as love, loss and struggle. The subject matter reflects Carll’s challenges during the intervening years – divorce, vocal problems and new love, among others – but Lovers and Leavers is more than a collection of sob stories. The songs are full of insightful (and sometimes painful) observations that illuminate wider truths, and they’re marked by fine playing, singing and production. With the help of a distinguished group of collaborators, Hayes Carll has succeeded at turning personal travail into good art.

Each of the 10 tracks is a co-write, with such illustrious names as Darrell Scott, Will Hoge, Scott Nolan, Jim Lauderdale and J.D. Souther, among others. From Carll and Scott we get “Sake of the Song,” a concise overview of the musician’s life and those who live it; “Love Don’t Let Me Down,” about hope and fear at the outset of a new romance, and “The Magic Kid,” a touching tribute to Carll’s young son (an aspiring magician who’s been known to open shows for his dad) that touches on the larger themes of courage and truth. Hoge contributed to “Good While It Lasted,” a clear-eyed look at the emotions, good and bad, that come with the fading of good times. “Nothing lasts forever and time knows that it’s true,” Carll sings. “Sometimes a little while’s the best we can do.”

Carll teamed with Jack Ingram and Allison Moorer on the sad but beautiful “The Love That We Need,” a cautionary tale about settling for less than we should and finally facing up to that truth. “We lie down together/but our hearts never touch,” Carll sings, later adding in the chorus, “We got the life that we wanted/but not the love that we need.” A better side of love features in “Love Is So Easy,” written with Ruston Kelly: “I’ve always had a hurt that I can’t name/but it all feels better when you call my name.”

The album closes with the lovely “Jealous Moon,” written with J.D. Souther. Maybe no one else would have thought to lament the plight of Earth’s lonely satellite, doomed to watch over the pageant of life without ever getting to participate. Carll and Souther did, and Carll – his voice apparently recovered from the problems of the past few years – does a fine job telling the story.

Carll is credited with all the guitar (all acoustic) on the album. Other musicians include Jay Bellerose on drums and percussion, Tyler Chester on keyboards, Eric Heywood on pedal steel and David Piltch on bass, all ably produced by Joe Henry.

This just in: Americana Music nominees

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

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

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

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

New releases: Darrell Scott, Cyndi Lauper, Honeycutters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In concert: Kelley Mickwee

By Paul T. Mueller

Kelley Mickwee

Kelley Mickwee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Review: Mary Gauthier, Gretchen Peters and Eliza Gilkyson

By Paul T. Mueller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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