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

grissom 150x150 Reviews: Some of 2014s most rewarding albumsBefore 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

egan 150x150 Reviews: Some of 2014s most rewarding albumsIf 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

boyer 150x150 Reviews: Some of 2014s most rewarding albumsSinger-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

croucher2 150x150 Reviews: Some of 2014s most rewarding albumsThe 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.


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Americana Music Association’s Top 100 albums

ama logo button red Americana Music Associations Top 100 albumsThe 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

2015 Americana Music Grammy nominees announced

Taj Mahal 350x262 2015 Americana Music Grammy nominees announced

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)



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

(Billy Joe Shaver is coming to Nashville on Dec. 5 to appear at 3rd and Lindsley. He’s touring behind his first album in six years, Long in the Tooth)

By Paul T. Mueller

shaver 150x150 Review: Billy Joe Shavers Long in the ToothAt 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 Sun209 on Twitter at @Sun209com.


Ian McLagan 1945-2014

Ian 2 350x262 Ian McLagan 1945 2014Ian 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)


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“An Americana Christmas” and other new holiday albums

americana christmas cover 300dpi 150x150 An Americana Christmas and other new holiday albumsBy 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 Jason 150x150 An Americana Christmas and other new holiday albumsJason 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


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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


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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 350x262 2015 Americana music conference set for Sept. 15 20

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

Americana Music Festival on PBS this weekend

Ry Cooder 350x263 Americana Music Festival on PBS this weekend

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 Prayers 150x150 Review: Chip Taylors Little Prayers TrilogyIt’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 large 150x150 Oct. 27: The Week in Americana MusicThe 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


Review: The Very Best of Stories

By Ken Paulson

stories 150x150 Review: The Very Best of StoriesStories’ “I’m Coming Home” was a fresh burst of pop on AM radio in 1972, rivalled only by Emitt Rhodes’ “Fresh As A Daisy” for simple exuberance. Unfortunately, it aired on too few stations and the single stalled at number 42 on the Billboard chart.

But the band, build around the talents of the Left Banke’s Michael Browne and vocalist Ian Lloyd,  soldiered on, turning out hook-laden rock for years to come, including the huge hit single “Brother Louie.”

They weren’t always consistent (their “Louie” follow-up “Mammy Blue” was a baffling choice), but they could be very good, as evidenced on Stories Untold: The Very Best of Stories on Real Gone Music.

The package is comprehensive, beginning with two obscure Brown tracks recorded under the name “Steve Martin” and concluding with a cover of the creepy-in-retrospect “Do You Wanna Touch Me,” the Gary Glitter hit.

It’s a fine collection for fans of the band, spanning almost a decade of album cuts and near-hits.

Follow Sun209 on Twitter at @Sun209com.



Concert review: Rich Hopkins and the Luminarios

 by Paul T. Mueller    

Rich Hopkins 350x192 Concert review: Rich Hopkins and the Luminarios

Rich Hopkins and Luminarios

Rich Hopkins and the Luminarios brought a rich blend of Arizona desert rock and Texas singer-songwriter tunes to their Oct. 17 performance at McGonigel’s Mucky Duck in Houston. For fans of powerful guitars and sweet harmonies, the result was as refreshing as the long-awaited cool front that blew through the area a few days before.

Fronted by Hopkins, a longtime mainstay of the Tucson music scene, the band was celebrating the release of its excellent new CD, Tombstone (Hopkins also has an extensive discography with his previous band, the Sidewinders, later known as the Sand Rubies). The gig was also a celebration for fans of band member Lisa Novak, who grew up in Houston and achieved notable success as a singer and songwriter before her personal and professional relationship with Hopkins (they married several years ago and released a duo album, Loveland, in 2009).

On display was the band’s signature sound – melodic power pop, often in the service of socially aware themes. Musically, it’s based on a multi-guitar attack (Hopkins and Jon Sanchez on electric, Novak on acoustic) that would sound at home on a Byrds or Tom Petty album, further sweetened by excellent harmonies involving the same three musicians, or various combinations thereof. Drummer George Duron and bassist Michael Poulos provided solid rhythm support.

The set list included Tombstone’s title track, an account of the notorious gunfight at the O.K. Corral as seen from the point of view of one of the Clanton brothers. Also featured from the new collection were “Everything,” an exploration of the idea that material goods don’t always bring happiness, and “Don’t Worry,” an easier-said-than-done response to middle-age angst.

The rest of the 14-song program consisted of older material, including several songs from the previous Luminarios album, Buried Treasures. Among them were “Dark Side of the Spoon,” a stark look at addiction, featuring Sanchez’s fine slide guitar; “Alycia Perez,” sung in Spanish, a sympathetic take on the struggle of immigrants seeking a better life in the United States, and “Strutter,” an ode to a bad girl, which turned (like several other songs) into an extended jam featuring excellent back-and-forth between the guitars of Sanchez and Hopkins.

Hometown favorite Novak got the spotlight on several songs, particularly “The Allure,” a bitter song to a former lover that appeared on her Too Shallow to Swim album, and a couple of nice vocal duets with Hopkins – “Heartbreak Police,” from Loveland, a funny but gritty look at infidelity, and “Good Intentions,” which Hopkins described as an attempt at a jaded country song.

The band followed up with an in-store appearance the following day at Houston’s Cactus Music. The hour-long set, which drew an enthusiastic audience, was a slightly pared-down version of the previous night’s show, but the band’s impressive energy ensured that the music sounded just as good or even better in the light of day.


Oct. 20 – This week in Americana music

This week in Americana

Lucinda Williams remains in the top spot in the Americana Music Association airplay chart with Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, followed by Paul Thorn’s Too Blessed to Be Stressed. Dropping to third is Justin Townes Earle’s Single Mothers, with new albums by Ryan Adams and John Hiatt rounding out the top five.

In Nashville:

Lake Street Dive 150x150 Oct. 20   This week in Americana musicIt’s another great week for live shows in Nashville. We’re particularly enthusiastic about the Lake Street Dive show at the Cannery Ballroom on 10/25. Their Bad Self Portraits is one of our favorite albums of 2014, a smart and engaging pop showcase.

Jason Isbell, the hottest artist in Americana music, has a three-night run at the Ryman Auditorium beginning 10/24.

Wilco 10/21 and 10/22 at the Ryman Auditorium

Mac Wiseman at the Franklin Theatre 10/21

Los Lobos 10/22 at City Winery

Music City Roots, featuring Caleb Klauder, James McMurtry, Del Barber, Caroline Rose and John Oates at the Factory in Franklin

Beausoleil Avec Michael Doucet 10/25 at 3rd and Lindsley

New this week:

The Earls of Leicester, a celebration of Flatt and Scruggs, from Jerry Douglas, Tim O’Brien, Shawn Camp, Charlie Cushman and Barry Bales.

In the news:

The Bonnaroo Music Festival announced its 2015 dates: June 11-14 in Manchester, TN.

Hard Working Americans  will release The First Waltz, a live album and documentary on Oct. 28.

Follow Sun209 on Twitter at @Sun209com.

This week in Americana music

This week in Americana

Lucinda WilliamsDown Where the Spirit Meets the Bone tops the Americana Music Association airplay chart  for yet another week, followed by Justin Townes Earle’s Single Mothers, Paul Thorn’s Too Blessed to Be Stressed (reviewed here) and the latest from Shovels and Rope (review), Ryan Adams and John Hiatt (review.)

In Nashville: Music City Roots at the Factory in Franklin features Selwyn Birchwood, Taylor Beshears, Keelan Donovan and Whiskey Shivers on Oct. 15. Tickets are $15.

Sons of Bill at the High Watt, Friday, Oct. 17

Steel Wheels at 3rd and Lindsley, Oct. 17

Jessi Alexander, Jonathan Singleton, Barry Dean and Jon Randall at the Bluebird Café, Oct. 17

Angaleena CD 150x150 This week in Americana musicAngaleena Presley is featured at the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Songwriter Session at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 18.

The Long Players recreate Born in the USA at 3rd and Lindsley, Oct. 18

In the news:

The Country Music Hall of Fame announced a major exhibition set for March 27, 2015: Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats, Museum director Kyle Young says “this exhibit is a great opportunity to talk about the early confluence of country and rock.”

The Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix has just opened an exhibit celebrating the Carter Family and Johnny Cash.

Americana on tour:

Runner of the Woods in Newport, Kentucky 10/16, Thomas, West Virginia 10/17 and Bluefield, West Virginia, 10/18.

New releases this week:

American Middle Class by Angaleena Presley

The Essential Kinks

Ride Out by Bob Seger

All Them Ghosts by Pauline Andres, “written over 4 years in 4 different countries,” according to the release.



1861 Project set for Franklin Theatre

Franklin 150x150 1861 Project set for Franklin TheatreBy Ken Paulson

It’s the rare concept album that holds up over multiple editions. Bat Out of Hell III anyone?

One exception was the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Will the Circle Be Unbroken series, which spanned several decades. And now we have the third volume of the  1861 Project, which brings together talented artists to chronicle the Civil War through music.

Franklin, the third volume in this consistently well-done series, focuses on the Battle in Franklin, just south of Nashville. On November 28, the new album – along with selections from the first two editions, will be performed at the Franklin Theater, timed to coincide with the 15oth anniversary of that battle.

Bobby Bare, Kim Richey, Sierra Hull, Maura O’Connell, Peter Cooper, Eric Brace and Irene Kelly are among the talented artists participating in this  rare and possibly final performance of the 1861 Project in concert.

Tickets are available online from the Franklin Theater.

Highly recommended.

Review: Robert Earl Keen and Lyle Lovett in concert

By Paul T. Mueller

A recent show at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands, just north of Houston, marked a kind of homecoming for a pair of celebrated Texas singer-songwriters. The Sept. 11 gig featured Robert Earl Keen opening for friend and former college classmate Lyle Lovett, who was winding down his usual summer tour with his Large Band. Both are from the area – Keen grew up in southwest Houston, while Lovett is from the town of Klein, just northwest of the city. Plenty of friends, family members and longtime fans were in attendance on what turned out to be a mild late-summer evening at the open-air venue.

Backed by his longtime band, Keen started off with “Corpus Christi Bay,” an anthem to brotherly love and good times. Next came his tribute to the late Levon Helm of The Band, “The Man Behind the Drums.” More favorites followed over the next hour and a half – a solemn rendition of Townes Van Zandt’s “Flying Shoes”; a lively take on “Ready for Confetti”; the jazzy “Dreadful Selfish Crime,” featuring nice keyboards by Marty Muse, better known as a pedal-steel player; “Gringo Honeymoon,” with nice acoustic guitar work by Rich Brotherton, and “Shades of Gray,” Keen’s tale of small-time crime and mistaken identity, fueled by an excellent guitar duel between Brotherton and Muse.

 Of course the set included two of the biggest hits of all: “Merry Christmas from the Family,” which Keen proclaimed as the official kickoff of the holiday season, and the closer, a hard-rocking treatment of the crime-love-and-betrayal ballad “The Road Goes on Forever.” Called back to the stage, Keen briefly quieted the crowd by saying he wanted to talk about “something a little bit serious” – but that turned out to be an announcement of the impending sale of “Robert Earl Keen beer” by a local grocery chain. The band finished with “I Gotta Go,” featuring Brotherton’s acoustic guitar and Muse’s resonator.

 After a short intermission, Lovett’s Large Band took the stage with its usual instrumental intro. Lovett, accompanied by the legendary Francine Reed, came out and launched into the classic “Stand By Your Man.” A few songs later, the 14-piece ensemble took a jazzy turn on “Penguins,” featuring some quasi-line dance footwork by Lovett and others near the front of the stage, including Reed, fiddler Luke Bulla and guitarists Keith Sewell and Ray Herndon.

Lovett called Keen back to the stage for a beautiful rendition of “This Old Porch,” which the two wrote together during their college days at Texas A&M. “Robert and I are real friends, not just show-business friends,” Lovett noted at one point. A rousing version of “My Baby Don’t Tolerate” was followed by an extended take on “What I Don’t Know” in which almost every band member got to take a short solo – all of which Lovett observed with obvious appreciation.

 After several more well-received numbers, including “That’s Right (You’re Not from Texas),” “God Will” and “L.A. County,” Lovett turned the stage over to Bulla and Sewell, each of whom performed one of his own songs. Then came the crowd-pleasing “If I Had a Boat,” featuring nice cello work by John Hagen, and Lovett’s always-entertaining duet with Reed, “What Do You Do?” Then Reed got her turn in the spotlight, with excellent, high-energy performances of her signature tunes “One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show” and “Wild Women Don’t Get the Blues.”

Keen returned to join the choir for “Church,” whose joyful mood was only barely nicked by a rare vocal glitch on Lovett’s part. After more effusive thanks to the audience, Lovett left the stage, returning a few minutes later to close with a rocking rendition of Van Zandt’s “White Freightliner Blues.”

 Contributing throughout was the excellent Large Band horn section, consisting of Harvey Thompson on tenor sax, Brad Leali on alto sax, Charles Rose on trombone and Chad Willis on trumpet. Also in fine form were the rhythm section – pianist Matt Rollings, drummer Russ Kunkel, conga player James Gilmer and bassist Viktor Krauss – and pedal-steel man Buck Reid.


Follow Sun209 on Twitter at @Sun209com.



Americana honors Jackson Browne

By Ken Paulson
There were many special moments at last night’s Americana Music Association Honors and Awards event at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.
It would be hard to top songwriting honoree Loretta Lynn’s performance of “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” Flaco Jimenez received a lifetime

Jackson Browne Sun209 350x262 Americana honors Jackson Browne

Ken Paulson and Jackson Browne

achievement award for instrumentalist and then performed in tandem with Ry Cooder, who seemed to be having a particularly good time all night long. And I was grateful for the opportunity to present the Spirit of Americana Free Speech in Music Award on behalf of the Americana Music Association and the First Amendment Center.
This year legendary songwriter J.D. Souther joined me in presenting the award to Jackson Browne. Souther, a decades-long friend of Browne’s, spoke eloquently about his respect for the man and his craft, noting that he first heard some of his earliest and greatest compositions through an apartment floor  – over and over again.
Browne, who joins such past honorees as Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Mavis Staples and Charlie Daniels, has never hesitated to use his music to make a point. He has fought for safe energy, stood with America’s farmers and has never hesitated to raise hell in speech or song, demanding that this nation truly lives up to its ideals.
Souther also took part in an earlier tribute to Browne, a 2-CD collection called Looking Into You, released 6 months ago. Souther closes out that album with a moving verion of “My Opening Farewell.”
Otter highlights include  Paul Thorn’s take on “Doctor My Eyes,” Lucinda William’s slow and spare version of “The Pretender,” Don Henley’s “These Days,” the Indigo Girls’ “Fountain of Sorrow” (performed by Browne and Souther at the awards show), and Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa’s “Linda Paloma.”

Highly recommended.


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Jason Isbell wins big at Americana Music awards


Isbell 350x262 Jason Isbell wins big at Americana Music awards

Jason Isbell performs at the Americana Music Festival Honors and Awards show at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.

By Ken Paulson

It’s the rare music awards show that peaks ten minutes in, but that was the case tonight at the Ryman Auditorium for the 13th Annual Americana Music Association Honors and Awards Show. That was when Loretta Lynn, winner of a lifetime achievement award as a songwriter, took the stage and performed “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” It was thrilling and historic at the same time.

Jason Isbell made a bit of history himself, dominating the awards with wins for artist of the year, album of the year and song of the year.

Sturgill Simpson won the emerging artist of the year award and the Milk Carton Kids (very funny tonight while stalling for time) won as the duo of the year.

The least surprising win of this year or any other: Buddy Miller was named instrumentalist of the year.

The full list of honorees:

Album of the Year: “Southeastern,” Jason Isbell, produced by  Dave Cobb

Artist of the Year: Jason Isbell

Duo or Group of the Year: The Milk Carton Kids

Song of the Year: “Cover Me Up” by  Jason Isbell

Emerging Artist of the Year: Sturgill Simpson

Instrumentalist of the year: Buddy Miller

Free Speech in Music Award presented by the Americana Music Association and the First Amendment Center: Jackson Browne

Lifetime Achievement for Instrumentalist: Flaco Jimenez

Lifetime Achievement for Performance: Taj Mahal

Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriter: Loretta Lynn

President’s Award: Jimmie Rodgers

Follow Sun209 on Twitter at @Sun209com.


Calico shines at release party in LA

By Terry Roland

On Saturday, September 5, Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles was host to an album release party for the new multi-talented Americana trio, Calico the band.

calicohotelcafe 350x233 Calico shines at release party in LA


They were joined by up and coming Americana singer-songwriter, Rod Melancon and country roots solo artist Shooter Jennings, both based in L.A.   The showcase was for the band’s family of supporters with their debut album, Rancho California released on their own California Country Music label.

It was a night that called to mind L.A.’s storied past when clubs like The Palomino hosted the best in country music.  Each act reveled in its own glorious full-tilt rough and ready performance chops delivering high octane sets with passion. There was a strong sense of breaking out of the mold of today’s often stilted and boring mainstream country into broader and more creative sonic landscapes.

rod3 150x150 Calico shines at release party in LA

Rod Melancon

The show opener, Rod Melancon, a Louisiana to California transplant, came to Hollywood five years ago on the trail of an acting career when he took a permanent curve into L.A.’s Americana singer-songwriting scene. With two fine albums under his belt, he has evolved into an artist who can take the stage, deliver songs and perform as though James Dean took a detour and landed somewhere between the hometowns of a Bruce Springsteen and Merle Haggard.

His set found him confidently easing into his stage persona like a pair of well-worn jeans.  He was in strong voice, fronting a band of skilled musicans including Ben Redell, Adam Zimmon, Jim Doyle and Lee Pardini.  While he demonstrated his own unique style of storytelling on the Springsteen-like stripped down songs “Duck Festival Queen,” and “Curve Lounge,” it was when he and the band called up the sultry12-bar blues funk of “Marcella” and “Wanna Go For A Ride,” that allowed him to sink his raunch & roll teeth on stage coming on like an anti-Elvis rebel.

Shooter Jennings, the 35-year-old son of Waylon Jennings and Jesse Colter, closed out the evening witha blistering interpretation of Dylan’s “Isis.”   With Calico’s Aubrey Richmond on violin, he ressurected the haunting core of the song branding it with his own second-generation outlaw madness successfully walking the line between country soul and rock and roll sensibility.

His set included his familiar tribute to mentor and country legend, George Jones on  “Don’t Wait Up(I’m Playing Possum).” Jennings remains as much an outlaw as his pedigree calls for on a sarcastic shout-out to new country stars on “Outlaw You” with lines like “Hey pretty boy in the cowboy hat/you couldn’t hit country with a baseball bat.”

His long hair swaying to the beat of the drum and a lonesome, ornery and mean attitude of his own, Jennings clearly revels in carrying on the original rebel legacy of his father and friends of past generations.  He does so with originality and a passion that’s a joy to behold for those of us who recall his father’s famous stage presence.

But the night clearly belonged to Calico,  the band who came on between Melancon and Jennings’s set.  Fronted by three musically distinctive songwriters and instrumentalists, Kirsten Proffit, Manda Mosher and Aubrey Richmond, their debut album, Rancho California, offers a solidly accessible, well-crafted collection of songs centered around the themes of the Pacific West in ways similar to The Flying Burrito Brothers of years gone by.

A triple threat within their own circle of individualized triple threats of songwriting, instrumental and vocal talent, they add a layer of the essence of the harmonic Laurel Canyon sound of the ’60s and ’70s that once fostered Crosby, Stills & Nash and the Mamas and Papas to a solidly inventive country-rock sound.

Opening with “Never Really Gone,” a somber homage to mentors who have gone beyond the vale, they filled the venue with clear-as-a-mountain stream vocal harmonies.  But the evening was not to be about musical sobriety, as they launched into songs like “High Road,” and the whiskey-soaked upbeat song of California  relationship woe, “San Andreas Shake.”

“Runaway Cowgirl,” and “Fool’s Gold” carried echoes of the great country music renaissance of the ’80s  when Desert Rose Band and Rosanne Cash ruled the country airwaves and charts. All three artists offered their own distinctive craft and appeal with Kirsten Proffit giving a solid center to Manda Mosher’s multi-instrumentalist moves, swaying in Tom Petty-like fashion, on her left and Aubrey Richmond’s sexy fiddle and dance on her right.   It was a visual as well as a sonic treat.

Like any good party, the girls invited many of their best friends to perform including Mark Christian of Merle Jagger, Ted Russell Kamp, Carl Byron, Jonathan Tyler and Scott Kinnebrew of Truth & Salvage.

hile Los Angeles still lags behind in recognition for their posse of excellent roots-based Americana and alternative country artists, last week’s release party brought together three of today’s finest ambassadors of a regional brand whose influence runs deep in today’s real country music.

 (All photos courtesy Jacki Sackheim.)


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