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.

 

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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

Calico

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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What’s Americana music? Answer spans decades

By Rich Gordon

What’s Americana music?

Is it “American roots music based on the traditions of country”? That’s how the Americana Music Association defined Americana in 2003.

Or “music that honors and is derived from the traditions of American roots music”? That was the association’s definition in 2007.

Or “contemporary music that incorporates elements of various American roots music styles, including country, roots-rock, folk, bluegrass, R&B and blues”? That’s the core of the definition today on the association’s website.

The definition keeps getting longer, and the emphasis on country music keeps being diluted. Instead of being recognized as the key ancestral homeland for Americana music, country is now listed as one of five different genres “incorporated” into Americana music. I think this is a mistake.

On the eve of the Americana Music Festival in Nashville, why does this matter to me? I’m a member of a Chicago-based band (Twangdogs) that plays country-rock music — cover songs, mostly. When someone asks me what kind of music my band plays and I say, “Americana,” the overwhelming response is “What’s that?”

Maybe part of the problem is that the “official” definition keeps changing.

When you think of a kind of music — say, “country” or “classic rock” or “hip hop” — what comes to mind? A few possibilities: radio station formats, music-festival motifs, the musical genres associated with certain concert venues, the answer to the question “What kind of music do you like?” And, of course, the type of music that a cover band plays.

“Americana” music, as a term, was born in 1995 when the Gavin Report made used the name for the 12th radio format the publication was tracking — meaning, what songs were being played on what stations. At the time, Americana referred to a blend of two different musical strains:

Americana never really caught on as a radio format — there were 90 reporting radio stations, mostly operated by colleges, non-profits and public radio stations — before Gavin shut down its Americana chart in 2000. By that time, the Americana Music Association had been formed, and it now oversees the official Americana radio chart.

Because the association is tightly linked to the music industry — record labels, promoters, radio station programmers — it understandably emphasizes “contemporary” music. But in an article for NoDepression.com earlier this month, I argued that in expanding beyond country-music influences, the association has diluted the focus for “Americana.”

Instead, I argued that Americana should encompass country-rock music over a longer span of time: “country rock generations,” taking in all of the periods when country music intersected, influenced and blended with rock music. That can encompass everything from:

  • “Rockabilly” like Buddy Holly, Bill Haley and early Elvis Presley
  • 1960s-70s country-rock, from Bob Dylan’s “Nashville Skyline” to the Byrds’ “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” to Creedence Clearwater Revival, New Riders of the Purple Sage, the Eagles and Jackson Browne.
  • 1970s Southern rock like the Allman Brothers and Marshall Tucker Band.
  • 1970s-80s country-punk like the Blasters, X and Lone Justice.
  • 1980s-90s alt-country (aka “insurgent country,” “No Depression,” etc.) such as Uncle Tupelo, Wilco, Son Volt and Whiskeytown.
  • Country-influenced acts on the “jam band” circuit, including old names (Allman Brothers and Little Feat) and newer ones like Old Crow Medicine Show and the Black Crowes.
  • Veteran but still vibrant country-centered performers like Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Rosanne Cash and Jim Lauderdale.
  • Country artists who have revived their careers — and created compelling contemporary sounds — through inter-generational collaborations (Johnny Cash and Rick Rubin, Loretta Lynn and Jack White, Alison Krauss and Robert Plant).
  • The kinds of young performers who now show up prominently on the Americana chart: Shovels and Rope, Justin Townes Earle, Jamestown Revival, Sturgill Simpson and of course, the Avett Brothers.
twangdogs 350x270 Whats Americana music?  Answer spans decades

The Twangdogs

This definition is certainly broad enough to stock a festival — and in fact, this year’s AmericanaFest (put on by the Americana Music Association) is presenting a mix of music that’s consistent with this approach. Jackson Browne and Loretta Lynn are receiving lifetime achievement awards, the Avett Brothers are headlining the Saturday night outdoor concert, and the festival features performers from multiple generations — from Lee Ann Womack to Jim Lauderdale to Rodney Crowell to Angaleena Presley to Cale Tyson.

The “country-rock generations” model also makes for a great setlist for a cover band — one that can appeal to many generations of music fans. As I wrote for NoDepression.com,

A 1970s Eagles or Jackson Browne fan would like the Avett Brothers or Jamestown Revival.  Fans of Old Crow Medicine Show would appreciate Buddy Holly. All of them might enjoy Whiskeytown or Uncle Tupelo.  And music from these performers — and many others — can fit together nicely on a setlist or a playlist.

To demonstrate the power of a “country-rock generations” model, let me use as an example the working setlist for Twangdogs’ upcoming show on Saturday afternoon (Sept. 20) at the 12th and Porter club in Nashville. We’ll be playing songs that cover 57 years of country-rock history, including examples from six decades of music. Here they are listed in chronological order based on their first release:

  • “Oh Boy” (Buddy Holly, 1957) – also recorded or performed by many others, including the Everly Brtohers, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and the Grateful Dead.
  • “Gone Gone Gone” (Everly Brothers, 1964) – also released in 2007 by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss.
  • “Dead Flowers” (Rolling Stones, 1971) — from the period when the Stones were hanging out with Gram Parsons, also recorded by Townes Van Zandt, New Riders of the Purple Sage and played live by Steve Earle and Jerry Lee Lewis.
  • “I Know You Rider” — our version of this old blues song is modeled after the Grateful Dead’s 1972 recording, but the song has been recorded by many others, including Janis Joplin, the Seldom Scene and the Byrds.
  • “Best of My Love” (Eagles, 1974)
  • “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me” (Warren Zevon, 1976; Linda Ronstadt, 1977) – also recorded by country star Terri Clark (1996)
  • “Running on Empty” (Jackson Browne, 1977)
  • “Wall of Death” (Richard and Linda Thompson, 1982)
  • “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet” (the Canadian band Blue Rodeo, 1993)
  • “You’re Still Standing There” (Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams, 1996)
  • “Your Life is Now” (John Mellencamp, 1998)
  • “The Captain” (Kasey Chambers, 1999)
  • “Wagon Wheel” (Old Crow Medicine Show, 2004)
  • “In State” (Kathleen Edwards, 2005)
  • “I’m With the Band” (Little Big Town, 2007)
  • “Down by the Water” (Decemberists, 2011)
  • “Hell on Heels” (Pistol Annies, 2011)
  • “Ho Hey” (Lumineers, 2012)
  • “California (Cast Iron Soul)” (Jamestown Revival, 2014)

These songs will be packaged into a set we’re calling “Love, Americana Style: A Song Cycle of Romance, Relationships and the Road.” Based on our experience playing songs like these in the Midwest — and in Scotland, where we played the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year — there’s something in the set to appeal to every different musical generation. Which is exactly what a cover band needs to play.

Rich Gordon is a college journalism professor, long-time country-rock fan, subscriber to the late, lamented No Depression magazine — and member of Twangdogs, a Chicago country-rock cover band.

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Americana Music Festival’s deep, diverse line-up

ama logo button red Americana Music Festivals deep, diverse line upThe Americana Music Association’s 2014 Conference and Festival in Nashville  begins this week. It’s a rich event with a diverse line-up. Here’s the list of performers: 
Amy Ray
Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay
Chuck Mead and His Grassy Knoll Boys
Danny & The Champions
Doug Seegers
The Duhks
Emily Barker & the Red Clay Halo
The Fairfield Four
The Harpoonist & the Axe Murderer
Howlin’ Brothers
J.D. Wilkes & the Dirt Daubers
Joe Purdy
Joshua James
Leo Welch
Marah Presents: Mountain Minstrelsy
Nathaniel Rateliff
Quebe Sisters Band
Sean Rowe
Todd Snider & Friends
Trigger Hippy (feat. Jackie Greene, Joan Osborne, Steve Gorman, Tom Bukovac & Nick Govrik)
Whiskey Shivers

Andrew Combs

Anthony D’Amato
Banditos
Bradford Lee Folk
Brooke Russell & the Mean Reds
Cale Tyson
Caleb Klauder Country Band
Cory Chisel’s “Soul Obscura”
The Danberrys
Ernie Hendrickson
Feufollet
Harlan Pepper
The Hot Nut Riveters
Ian McLagan
Jim Oblon
Leftover Salmon feat. Bill Payne of Little Feat
Matt Anderson
Matthew Perryman Jones
Mipso
NQ Arbuckle
Parsonsfield (formerly Poor Old Shine)
Promised Land Sound
Robby Hecht
Shinyribs
The Silks
Truth & Salvage Co.
Follow Sun209 on Twitter at @Sun209com.

Shovels and Ropes’ “Swimmin’ Time”

shovels 2 150x150 Shovels and Ropes Swimmin TimeBy Ken Paulson

We loved the Shovels and Rope album O’ Be Joyful and have looked forward to the follow-up. The wait is over.

On August 25, Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent will release Swimmin’ Time, a comparably striking album that melds folk, country, blues and rock in a truly compelling style.  The album marries often rudimentary rhythms to fascinating narratives and compelling lyrics.

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

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

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

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

Follow Sun209 on Twitter at @Sun209com.

Holly Williams, BR5-49 added to festival

ama logo button red 150x150 Holly Williams, BR5 49 added to festivalThe Americana Music Association has announced a third wave of artists for its upcoming festival and conference in Nashville, including Aaron Lee Tasjan, BR5-49, Holly Williams, Joe Fletcher & the Wrong Reasons, Luther Dickinson, Michaela Anne, Paul Burch, Sharde Thomas and the Rising Star Fife & Drum Band.

BR5-49 has widely been credited as the musical catalyst that helped turn around Nashville’s once-decaying Lower Broadway in the ’90s, and paved the way for the city’s current vibrant music scene.

Holly Williams, another Nashville resident, is the granddaughter of Hank Williams and daughter of Hank Jr.

You’ll find the full schedule for the Sept. 17-21 festival here.

 

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Free speech honor for Jackson Browne

links ama1 Free speech honor for Jackson Browne Americana Music News – Jackson Browne has been named the 2014 recipient of the “Spirit of Americana” award for free speech in music, presented by  the  Americana Music Association and the Newseum Institute’s  First Amendment Center.

The annual award, which recognizes artists who have used their music to raise awareness and make a difference, has been presented to a wide range of performers, including Johnny Cash, Charlie Daniels,  Stephen Stills, Kris Kristofferson, Joan Baez, Mavis Staples, Judy Collins and Mary Chapin Carpenter.

“Jackson Browne has long embraced the power of music to engage and inform,” said Ken Paulson, president of the First Amendment Center. “From his founding of Musicians United for Safe Energy to his work on behalf of Amnesty International, Farm Aid and environmental causes, Browne has never hesitated to say – or sing – what he believes.”

The award will be presented at the  Americana Music 13th Annual Honors and Awards ceremony on Wednesday, September 17 at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. The show will be recorded for distribution to PBS stations and a special Austin City Limits presentation.

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Review: Chris Smither’s “Still on the Levee”

Still on the Levee 150x150 Review: Chris Smithers Still on the LeveeBy Ken Paulson
It’s going to be a good year for fans of Chris Smither, the veteran folk-blues artist from New Orleans.
On July 22, his complete lyrics will be published in book form and in September, a tribute CD called Link of Chain is scheduled for release.
Most intriguing though is Still on the Levee: A 50 Year Retrospective, which finds Smither revisiting songs he’s written and recorded throughout his career, beginning with “Devil Got Your Man.” The handsome 2-CD package, with full lyrics in a beautifully illustrated booklet , is a compelling collection.
Smither is a skilled fingerpicker, who draws on both Lightnin’ Hopkins and Mississippi John Hurt for inspiration. He enjoyed early success when Bonnie Raitt covered his “Love You Like a Man  in 1972, but missteps left him largely under the radar. Still on the Levee shows us what we all missed.

The lyrics are painstakingly crafted and have the feel of truth. They chronicle both troubles and hope. Sobering songs like “Don’t It Drag On” are offset by lighter fare, most notably Smither’s duet with Loudon Wainwright III on “What They Say:” “They say the good die young, but it ain’t for certain/I been good all day, and I ain’t hurtin’.”
Allen Toussaint guests on “No Love Today” and the closing songs with Rusty Belle are among the collection’s best. Their performance with Smither on “Winsome Smile” is as close to rock as he gets and brings John Kay to mind.
Both discs close with different versions of “Leave the Light On” a telling take on mortality and a most appropriate way to close this decades-spanning collection.

Follow Sun209 on Twitter at @Sun209com.

Sun 209: 60 years on

NBC Nightly News had a nice feature tonight reminding us that Elvis Presley recorded “That’s All Right Mama” 60 years ago today in a session that led to Presley’s first single. The B-side was “Blue Moon of Kentucky. (Its catalog number inspired the name of this site.)
It’s extraordinary that the studio that ignited rock ‘n’ roll and countless other genres is still open as both a tourist attraction and recording studio. Sam Phillips would be proud.

Americana Festival announces 2014 line-up

Avetts AMA 350x233 Americana Festival announces 2014 line up

The Avett Brothers at the 2011 Americana Awards show

Americana Music News – The ever-growing American Music Association announced today that its annual Nashville festival  will feature an outdoor concert on the city’s riverfront on Sept. 20 with the Avett Brothers as headliners.

The concert will anchor the Americana Music Festival and Conference, scheduled to take place Sept. 12-21. Tickets go on sale June 27 for the riverfront concert. Admission is free to conference registrants.

The Americana Music Association also released this list of 2014 festival acts, with more to come:

Allison Moorer • Amy Ray • Angaleena Presley •  The Barefoot MovementBen Miller BandBilly Joe ShaverBlack PrairieBrennen Leigh and Noel McKay • Buddy Miller • The Cactus BlossomsCarlene CarterCaroline RoseChatham County LineChuck Mead • Danny & The Champions of the World • The Deadly Gentlemen • Del Barber • The Deslondes • Doug Seegers • The Duhks • The Dustbowl Revival • Emily Barker & the Red Clay Halo • Ethan Johns • The Fairfield Four • The GrahamsGrant-Lee PhillipsGreen River OrdinanceGreensky BluegrassGregory Alan IsakovGreyhounds • The Harpoonist & the Axe Murderer • Hayes Carll • Howlin’ Brothers • Immigrant UnionIsrael NashJamestown RevivalJason Eady • J.D. Wilkes & the Dirt DaubersJoe HenryJoe Pug • Joe Purdy • John MorelandJonah TolchinJonny Two BagsJosh Ritter • Joshua James • Lake Street DiveLee Ann Womack • Leo “Bud” Welch • Lera LynnMarah Presents: Mountain Minstrelsy • Marty StuartMatthew RyanMcCrary Sisters • Nathaniel Rateliff • New Country RehabOh SusannaOtis GibbsParker MillsapPaul ThornPete Molinari • Quebe Sisters Band • Rhett MillerRobbie FulksRobyn HitchcockRodney CrowellRuthie FosterRyan MontbleauSam OutlawSarah Jarosz • Sean Rowe • Shakey GravesSuzy Bogguss • Todd Snider & Friends • Tom Freund • Tony Joe White • Trigger Hippy (featuring Jackie Greene, Joan Osborne, Steve Gorman, Tom Bukovac & Nick Govrik) • Whiskey Shivers • Willie Watson

Bill Lloyd on NRBQ’s “honest joy”

Brass Tacks 150x150 Bill Lloyd on NRBQs honest joy By Bill Lloyd

I became a fan of NRBQ sometime around 1980.  I was completely smitten with their sound and vibe and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t “gotten it” earlier. I had previously never paid them much attention thinking they were simply a ’50s throwback band. Oh, how I was wrong!

They had already gone through several personnel changes in lineup since their late ’60s beginnings. I felt late to the party at the time, but it really didn’t matter as they were at their peak as an amazing live act and fearless recording artists. Their appeal was eccentric and scattershot and hard for record companies to market, but they deftly hit all the musical touchstones for me.

Their self-described “omni-pop” was a mix of classic rock-pop, country, rockabilly, Monk-inspired jazz and the kitchen sink. If they liked it, it was in the musical stew and they threw in some goofy humor for good measure.

For many, their records came with the caveat that you had to see them live where they would raise the roof with crazy-good energy. They rarely played to a set list and you never knew what was coming next. They played their own material but there was always a load of unexpected covers that seemed spur-of-the-moment, but were performed with jaw-dropping musicianship. The best part was that there was no fashion or show-biz or pretense about them. It was honest joy pouring off the stage and through the audience. I was hooked and would see them every chance I got.

During this era of the band’s career (1974-1994), NRBQ housed three strong songwriters in Big Al Anderson, Joey Spampinato and founder Terry Adams. The 4-man lineup, along with their great drummer, Tommy Ardolino, is still considered by many fans, as the “classic lineup”.

From this version of the group, Big Al broke rank first and came to Nashville to write songs, play guitar and make records and, without qualification, succeeded on every kind of level. Al’s first replacement for the ‘Q was Joey’s younger brother, Johnny, from The Incredible Casuals. He seemed a perfect fit with some really good songs and fine guitar playing. After a few more years and some wonderful studio and live albums, NRBQ went on hiatus in 2004 when Terry Adams received a cancer diagnoses.

The Spampinato Brothers went off to make their own fine records. As Terry’s health began to return, he made a wonderful record with original guitarist Steve Ferguson shortly before Ferguson passed on and then began playing with his own Terry Adams Quartet. Tom Ardolino would guest sometimes with Terry, but Tommy’s own failing health kept his appearances sporadic. He passed in 2012. Terry Adams decided to reclaim the name of NRBQ in 2011 with the members of his own quartet.

All this history is meant to be a glimpse into the backstory of Terry Adams’ amazing persistence and musical vision of what a band ought to be. I heard the “new Q” live in 2012 with Scott Ligon, Pete Donnelly, Conrad Choucroun and rejoiced that the renamed quartet totally captured the wonderful vibe that every version of the band had before them. At the show, I bought their cd, “Keep This Love Goin’”, and found the spirit of the band still in the grooves. My only disappointment with their recording was that I felt that the songwriting in the new band didn’t have the same depth that the “classic” lineup with Big Al and Joey had. I was, as a fan, a bit judgmental and holding on to old allegiances.

It’s 2014 and there’s a new NRBQ album scheduled for release June 17 called Brass Tacks. As I listened to it, I found my “happy meter” starting to peg. Couldn’t stop smiling as one track played after another. One of the first things I noticed as I let it wash over me is that it’s a great sounding record from a sonic point of view. Really well recorded and mixed with cool and thoughtful sonic touches throughout. The songwriting is spread out among Adams, Ligon and new bassist, Casey McDonough. Longtime sideman/sax-man, Jim Hoke is also represented with the charming Everlys-like “I’d Like To Know”.

All of the music feels and sounds great and, for longtime fans, covers beloved familiar stylistic ground. It’s not fair to compare a new batch of songs to the best of the Spampinato and Anderson songs from years past. Maybe it’s not fair to compare Adams songs to the best of his own work over the years.

As a fan, I’m happy he’s healthy, recording and touring. Throughout the NRBQ catalogue, those guys wrote songs that could compete with their heroes – McCartney, Bacharach, whoever.  The songs on “Brass Tacks” are also informed by their influences. I would guess that, for the newer members of the band, their influences would include Adams, Anderson and Spampinato. It’s not an easy thing to hold your creative ground and hold up a 40- plus-year legacy at the same time.

Scott Ligon must have absorbed every musical nuance the old “Q” had to offer. When you see them live, his voice and guitar covers ground that both Anderson and Spampinato held. He can powerhouse-telecaster his way through jump blues and rockabilly and then turn on a dime and sing some sweet Beatlesque-pop, one of Spampinato’s fortes. Ligon’s songs on “Brass Tacks”, in particular his acoustic “It’ll Be Alright”, transcend imitation and he’s proven to be Adams’ reliable partner in the “new Q”. Adams offers some wonderful new compositions. “Places Far Away” is an atmospheric and lyrical treasure. “Greetings From Delaware” echoes their classic “Green Light,” but is that a bad thing? Nope.

NRBQ has always been as much about taking cover material and making it their own and their take on Rodgers and Hammerstein’s  “Getting To Know You” is such a perfect choice.

Despite whatever musical ghosts are along for the ride, this album holds its own. Excellent singing, playing and bottom line still the joyous feeling that you get when you hear NRBQ play. Thank you Terry Adams for keeping on keeping on.

Bill Lloyd is a Nashville-based songwriter whose songs and own recording career has swung between genres and formats. With country success as part of the Foster and Lloyd duo and power-pop critical acclaim from his many solo records, Lloyd’s appreciation of NRBQ comes honestly. He has also written songs with Al Anderson including “It Came From The South”.

 

Richie Furay’s talent, legacy go “Hand in Hand”

 

richie 350x262 Richie Furay’s talent, legacy go “Hand in Hand”

Richie Furay at the Bluebird Café in Nashville

By Terry Roland

The story is by-now a worn-out cliché. It even shows up on network television shows like Nashville. It goes like this: The influential elder statesmen who helped found a form of music popular today, is granted meetings with record label A&R executives ‘out of respect’ to hear their newest, vital work, only to be told ‘no’ to label support for release, promotion and distribution. Oh, they love the music, mind you. “It’s great,” they say. “The best of your career,’ they add. “But, we can’t help you.”

It’s hard to fathom. Especially when the work is as good as Richie Furay’s latest yet-to-be-released album, Hand in Hand. It is reason for pause in a genre known for its appreciation of timeless, age-defying and cross-generational music. That it is happening to the co-founding member of The Buffalo Springfield and Poco, a peer of Neil Young and Stephen Stills, is even more enigmatic and frustrating.

While ageism is all-too-common in the world of music today, the Americana scene has offered shelter from such clichéd responses to many veteran artists like Johnny Cash, Levon Helm, Rosanne Cash and Dr. John. Richie Furay deserves better. His new album is as vital, fresh and passionate as any new releases from younger artists. It stands alongside the best work of his peers today.

Hand in Hand can also serve as an introduction to Richie Furay whose career spans over five decades. The album begins at the beginning of his story.

“We were the dreamers shooting’ high for the stars

Making rock & roll music, playing country guitars.

We blazed a trail for generations to come

We were the dreamers, pioneers pressing on.”

This first song, “We Were the Dreamers,” opens with a lead guitar intro that echoes Paul McCartney’s simple riff from “The Two of Us” on The Beatles’ Let it Be, but then crashes into a familiar electric major 7th chord change, which is unmistakable in its Springfield essence. He rocks us through lyrics reflecting the simple truth of Richie Furay’s legacy, best summed up in the term, visionary. His words are a testament to the sound he helped create and his influence reverberates today.

“We Were the Dreamers” is more than an exercise in nostalgia or a history lesson; it is a quicksilver lightning-lit journey through the past to present day Americana music. Furay starts us with his past glories referring to his earliest days with Poco when they were the hottest country-rock band out of L.A. on the threshold of phenomenal national success.

It’s been 40 some years, 1969

On that Troubadour stage, it just seemed like our time

Laurel Canyon and Sunset that’s where we called home

We made certain our music had a sound all its own.

Then he leads us present day to a country music scene, where acceptance of rock and cultural undertones is a given, that he helped create:

Today out in Nashville, it echoes the sound

But back then redneck and hippie would never be found

On the same stage together, a few got it for sure

Today it’s just music, nothing less, nothing more.”

For Furay, who is undeniably humble and grateful for his place in music history, these words are not a matter of pride or arrogance, but a statement of fact. “We Were the Dreamers” sets the pace as he sings about the redeeming and healing power of music, faith, love and unity in the face of troubled waters ahead.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, who recently turned 70, was an important balancing member of the Buffalo Springfield. He made the all-too-brief historic 2011 reunion possible and creatively plausible. As in times of old, he offered a counterpoint to the critical but often tense creative energy between Stephen Stills and Neil Young, rivaling guitarists and singer-songwriters. Back in 1967 it was Furay who sweetened the sound with high harmony vocals, a dynamic stage presence that usually found him dancing with guitar in hand to his own unique songs. He led the band into a full-fledged country-rock sound.

To many, during the 2011 tour, Furay was the element of surprise, the artist many Springfield fans had lost track of since the times when he first blazed the country-rock trail. As he sang lead vocal on familiar classics like “On the Way Home,” “A Child’s Claim to Fame” and “Kind Woman,” he stepped out from the shadows of the iconic Stills and Young to a spotlight of his own, less worn and tattered around the edges than his Springfield comrades. The reviews of the shows in San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and at Bonnaroo in Tennessee, uniformly praised Furay’s presence, energy, vocal power and contributions to the band during the tour. In spite of a scheduled 30 city national tour, the band would return to their 40 year silence after their final appearance at Bonnaroo (a decision made by the ever changeable Young). But Furay was still restless with the creativity the tour had sparked.

Today, as Nashville producers casually bring in elements of rock music with popular young artists, as The Eagles forge ahead on established sold-out arena tours with constant radio and Internet airplay, and as new artists build on the country rock sound forged so long ago under California skies, Richie Furay’s influence is tangible.

Even so, the most common response when people hear Furay’s recent albums is, “Man, he sounds like The Eagles!”   To be more accurate, the opposite is true. The Eagles adapted the sound of Richie Furay long ago. As he tells it today, it was Glen Frey who once helped Poco draw up their set lists for their early appearances. He and Don Henley were present at the band’s early rehearsals.

Poco’s original engagements at Doug Weston’s Troubadour in Los Angeles was a high water point for much of the fledging Southern California country rock scene where artists like Rick Nelson and The Eagles would take their cue from Furay for their own musical direction. The Poco shows and the subsequent tours were dynamic, energetic, passionate and hard rocking performances that took no prisoners. Furay was the undisputed front man for this trailblazing band that saw two future members of The Eagles pass through its ranks (Timothy B. Schmidt and Randy Meisner). Poco never attained the level of stardom found by imitators like The Eagles, but their mark was felt and capitalized on.

Furay was so important to the country-rock sound that Eagles’ label owner, David Geffen, signed him to Asylum Records where he released a pair of albums with ‘supergroup’ Souther, Hillman and Furay (SHF) scoring a top 20 hit with his own song, “Falling in Love.” SHF never quite worked as a cohesive band and disbanded during the recording of their second album. This was followed by a series of critically acclaimed but commercially failed solo albums released between 1975 and 1981, most notably I’ve got A Reason and Dance A Little Light.

It was after 1981 that Furay quietly withdrew from mainstream popular music, raising his family and taking on a Calvary Chapel pastorate at his home in Broomfield, Colorado. During the intervening years he would release two devotional Christian based album, “In My Father’s House” and “I Am Sure” with the help of Poco members, Rusty Young Paul Cotton and Jim Messina.

When he remerged in 2003, the country-rock focused Heartbeat of Love was the fulfillment of his post-Poco career promise. His soulful energy drove the good-time surface of many of the songs. But it is that soul beneath the style that gives his work its timelessness. It was his prodigal return to country-rock. It also included Stills and Young on separate tracks.

Heartbeat was a reminder of Furay’s signature vocal sound. It is the natural, effortless style of his voice that others have built their own vocal styles on. But, while the sound may be similar, it’s the soul beneath that is impossible to recreate. He merges Buck Owens and Otis Redding. In his own unique way he is as much a soul singer as country.

It’s the authenticity of his voice that makes Hand in Hand is such a pleasure. His voice is in full force, driving the melody and the rhythm through familiar territory and into the rough terrain of life today. Not so young anymore, but quite a bit wiser, he is always ready to rock. On this new album, he sounds more like an impassioned artist in his ‘30s rather than a seasoned vocalist who just turned 70.

Hand in Hand adds nuance and dimension to what he started on Heartbeat of Love. It is an album of Furay signature country rock that calls up the best spirit of The Buffalo Springfield and Poco. While the album still carries the expected love songs and good time rockers(“Still Fine” “Love at First Sight”), much of the album reflects his latter day Poco and 70’s solo work. He moves into deeper waters with a global message to America as a country of people divided and disillusioned by economic woes and political controversy.

After “We Were the Dreamers” aptly opens the album, Furay turns back to his ‘kind woman,’ for inspiration on the title track, “Hand in Hand” and delivers another classic love song that stands alongside “Good Feeling’ to Know,” and “Just For You and Me,” from the peak of his Poco days. There is a gospel-soul feel to his interpretation of an obscure Dan Fogelberg song, “Don’t Lose Heart,” that is infectious, inspiring and goose-bump producing.

The album turns on three songs about the American journey in the second decade of the 21st century, a trilogy of sorts. These are the center piece of the album. Opening with “Don’t Tread on Me,” a call to patriotic unity over the politics of partisanship, it speaks to today’s polarization and divisiveness. This is Furay transcending his familiar love song themes. It’s the same artist who once reached out to his friend, Gram Parsons as he was fading into his own self-destructiveness with the impressionistic epic “Crazy Eyes.” On “Don’t Tread on Me,” Furay sings to the people of America. It is a call to unity as he cries, “My heart bleeds red, white and blue as I recall, united we stand, divided we fall,” and asks us to bypass political bias to remember our collective “heart of gold.” “Wind of Change,” with an underlying fiddle and banjo, speaks to the hope of a new day in the aftermath of today’s discouraged and burned-out America.

 When the sun shines in the morning

Bringing the dawn of brand new day

If we can just hold on until tomorrow

Maybe we can set things straight again

Before we lose it all to the wind…”

“Someday,” completes the trilogy with hope and an upbeat tempo that is danceable in the best Poco sense. It’s a celebration of the soul familiar to Furay’s best work pointing us to healing, hope and faith as we return to our better angels.

Hopefully, the release of this album will be soon. It will, of course, take something more than cliché’s and lip-service for this to happen. It will take A&R people who possess the same kind of heart, vision and energy that Furay exudes on this record to get it out in the light of day where it belongs. It belongs as a part of our national soundtrack as we walk into the dawn of a brand new day.

Hand in Hand is among Richie Furay’s strongest albums with a clear statement of both musical vision and personal growth through dark economic and spiritual times. Its soul rests on the hope found in what Furay has communicated throughout his career; that the heart of musical expression centered on faith and celebration is our greatest resource, be it for a night of good time music or a life built on the hope of things unseen, but known to be true. Its appeal is in the melodic energy and inspiration found in one of America’s founding fathers of country-rock.

 Follow Sun209 on Twitter at @Sun209com.

Review: The art and craft of “Parker Millsap”

millsap.cover  150x150 Review: The art and craft of Parker Millsap By Paul T. Mueller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Follow Sun209 on Twitter at @Sun209com.

 

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This just in: The 2014 Americana Music Award Nominees

links ama1 This just in: The 2014 Americana Music Award Nominees
Americana Music News - Robert Ellis, Rosanne Cash and Jason Isbell led nominees for the 2014 Americana Music Awards with three nominations each, including artist of the year,  the Americana Music Association announced today in Nashville.
Ellis’ The Lights From the Chemical Plant was nominated for album of the year, while his “Only Lies” was nominated for Best Song.
Cash’s album The River and the Thread and song “A Feather’s Not A Bird” were nominated, and Isbell was recognized for his album Southeastern and song “Cover Me Up.”
Rodney Crowell rounded out the list of best artist nominees.
The full list of nominees:
2014 AMERICANA AWARDS NOMINEES
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Build Me Up From Bones, Sarah Jarosz
The Lights From The Chemical Plant, Robert Ellis
The River And The Thread, Rosanne Cash
Southeastern, Jason Isbell
ARTIST OF THE YEAR
Rosanne Cash
Robert Ellis
Jason Isbell
DUO/GROUP OF THE YEAR
Hard Working Americans
SONG OF THE YEAR
“Cover Me Up”, Jason Isbell
“A Feather’s Not A Bird”, Rosanne Cash
“Ohio”, Patty Griffin
“Only Lies”, Robert Ellis
EMERGING ACT OF THE YEAR
Hurray For The Riff Raff
St. Paul & The Broken Bones
INSTRUMENTALIST OF THE YEAR
Larry Campbell
Fats Kaplin
Bryan Sutton
Winners will be announced at the The Americana Honors and Awards on  September 17, 2014 in Nashville at the Ryman Auditorium. The event is part of the Americana Music Festival.
 

Review: Luther Dickinson’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll Blues”

Luther Dickinson 150x150 Review: Luther Dickinsons Rock n Roll BluesBy Ken Paulson

Rock ‘n’ Roll Blues, the new album from Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi All-Stars, is the best kind of autobiography.
Country blues and rock ‘n’ roll illuminate these slices of Dickinson’s life, from his first amped-up reaction to punk rock and Black Flag (“Vandalize”) to the ignonimy of dealing with yard work when you’re a big-deal touring musician (“Yard Man.”)
“Bar Band” rings true and could be the anthem for thousands of hopefuls who never were: “Ad in the flyer said local bands needed/ lost the battle of the bands because we got cheated.”
Amy Levere is on upright bass and vocals, and Sharde Thomas and Lightin’ Malcom contribute drums and vocals. The sound is spare, but powerful.
It’s one of those rare albums that you really like and just know that you would like the guy behind it.

Review: Leslie Krafka’s “on.ward.”

krafka cover 150 Review: Leslie Krafkas on.ward.by Paul T. Mueller     

For a testament to the respect Leslie Krafka has already earned in Texas music circles, check the credits on her second album, on•ward. The Houston-based singer-songwriter enlisted a cast of experienced, talented musicians for this project, and the album’s 11 tracks – 10 written by Krafka and one well-chosen cover – for the most part are worthy of the all-star team.

 Krafka has a way with narrative, and many of on•ward‘s songs are stories about love – looking for it (“I Want Love,” “Stay With Me”), finding it (“Magdalena”), saying goodbye to the bad kind (“Wine Women and Song”), saying goodbye to the good kind (“The Pain of Losing You”), and finding a substitute for it (“Whiskey High”). The writing is strong for the most part, and the playing is excellent.

The music has a pop feel, with country and folk overtones courtesy of accordions, fiddles and steel guitars. Co-producer Lloyd Maines’ pedal steel helps turn “South Texas Fall” into a serious country weeper. A couple of songs (“Beauty” and “Jewel”) take a more optimistic tone. For her one cover, Krafka turns “Drunken Poet’s Dream” (written by Hayes Carll and Ray Wylie Hubbard), into a first-person account, adopting the voice of the title character. The album closes with “Freedom Train,” the story of a slave’s journey west to a new life.

There’s  nice work on production by Maines and his musical partner, Terri Hendrix – the album has a clean, sharp sound that showcases Krafka’s fine voice. Maines and Hendrix also supplied vocal and instrumental parts; other contributors include such Texas notables as Riley Osbourne on B-3 organ, Bukka Allen on accordion, David Spencer on electric guitar, Richard Bowden on fiddles, Rick Richards and Pat Manske on drums, and Jack Saunders on several stringed instruments. It adds up to a successful sophomore effort that holds promise for the future.

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Review: “Levi Lowrey” falls a bit short

lowrey cover 150x150 Review: Levi Lowrey falls a bit short By Paul T. Mueller

When a musician’s previous album is excellent, it makes it that much more frustrating when the follow-up doesn’t measure up. Such is the case with Levi Lowrey’s recent self-titled disc. Levi Lowrey isn’t exactly bad, give or take a song or two. A lot of what made Lowrey’s 2012 release I Confess I Was a Fool so good is also there this time. The playing and singing are still excellent and Lowrey still has a crowd of talented musicians helping out. But somehow the whole is less than the sum of the parts.

One problem is the writing. While Lowrey wrote 10 of the 12 songs on I Confess , he takes sole credit on only four of the current CD’s 15 tracks. The result is that Levi Lowrey comes across as less of a personal statement and more of a calculated attempt to appeal to a broader audience. The busier production and glossier sound suggest the same. Not that there’s anything wrong with an overdubbed guitar solo here and there, but the quiet honesty that marked I Confess is not so evident in its successor.

There are some high points. “December Thirty-One” makes the case for moving on from tough times – “Yeah, leave them all behind/Way back there in time/December thirty-one/Eleven fifty-nine.” “Trying Not to Die” is about taking chances instead of playing it safe, while “That Is All” offers a bracing response answer to those who claim to know all the answers when it comes to faith: “I don’t know, I don’t know/Feels so good to say it’s so/That God is God and man is man/That is all.”

There are a couple of songs that could easily have been left off. “High and Lonesome” advocates dealing with romantic disappointment with chemicals – not an original idea, but not really a good one either. And it’s hard to imagine why anyone thought it would be a good idea to close the album with an upbeat rendition of “War Pigs,” Black Sabbath’s hoary antiwar rant from 1970.

Content aside, it’s hard to find much fault with the singing and playing here. Lowrey’s voice and playing (on guitar and fiddle) are as excellent as always, and his core band – guitarist Danny McAdams, bassist Jon Daws and drummer Lawrence Nemenz – provides strong backing. There’s a long list of contributors, led by Mac McAnally on guitar and piano and including co-producers Matt Mangano (guitar and vocals) and Clay Cook (vocals and a long list of stringed and keyboard instruments).

John Hiatt, Patty Griffin headline Cross-County Lines

cross county 262x350 John Hiatt, Patty Griffin headline Cross County Lines

Americana Music News – John Hiatt and Patty Griffin are headlining  the Americana Music Association’s  2nd annual Cross-County Lines festival on May 31 in Franklin, TN.

Also in the line-up: Ashley Monroe, Brandy  Clark, Parker Millsap, Joe Pug and Luther Dickinson.

It’s a 7-hour showcase for roots and Americana music in The Park at Harlinsdale Farm, just outside the offices of the Americana Music Association.

We attended last year’s kick-off Cross-County Lines event, which featured Alison Krauss, Jerry Douglas and Amos Lee. The 2014 event should be just as memorable.

The music starts at 3:30 p.m. and $35 tickets are available from Ticketmaster and at the Franklin Theatre box office.

 

Follow Sun209 on Twitter at @Sun209com.

Review: Rodney Crowell’s “Tarpaper Sky”

Tarpaper 150x150 Review: Rodney Crowells Tarpaper Sky By Ken Paulson

I was listening to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s 1979 album An American Dream the other day and was reminded of the beauty of the title track, written by Rodney Crowell and included on his first solo album Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This” in 1978.

“American Dream,” ‘Til I Gain Control Again” and “Shame on the Moon” were all big hits in the hands of other artists, a reminder of just how resonant – and yes, commercial – a songwriter Crowell could be.

Crowell has had extraordinary success as an artist in recent years,  including striking collaborations with Mary Karr on KIN and Emmylou Harris on Old Yellow Moon. His last four solo albums have been autobiographical, topical and sometimes stark.

In contrast, Tarpaper Sky, ( New West) his latest, is not a concept album or project and its tone is often joyous and adventurous. It has more of the spirit of Crowell’s  early recordings, possibly due to the co-production of his ‘80s collaborator Steuart Smith.

The album opens with the soaring “The Long Journey Home,” followed by the jaunty “Fever on the Bayou” (When she gets a hold me/Mucho me-oh-my-oh”) and the full-throttle love song “Frankie Please.” This one’s fun.

The reflective Crowell is still here, with the Karr co-write “God I’m Missing You” and the sentimental “Grandma Loved That Old Man.”

Closing out the album are two tributes: “The Flyboy & the Kid,” a tip of the hat to friend and mentor Guy Clark, and “Oh What a Beautiful World,” a nod to John Denver.

It’s been too long since Sex and Gasoline, Crowell’s outstanding and largely overlooked  2008 solo album. Tarpaper Sky is a welcome addition to his rich body of work.

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