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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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 is just a little more than a month away and the latest round of artist announcements just underscore the richness and diversity of the event.  Additions include the Mastersons, Ian Maclagan, the Black Lillies, Laura Cantrell, Elizabeth Cook and many more.
The full-line-up to date:
Amy Ray
Angaleena Presley
Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay
Carlene Carter
Caroline Rose
Chatham County Line
Chuck Mead and His Grassy Knoll Boys
Danny & The Champions
The Deadly Gentleman
Del Barber
The Deslondes
Doug Seegers
The Duhks
The Dustbowl Revival
Emily Barker & the Red Clay Halo
Ethan Johns
The Fairfield Four
The Grahams
Grant-Lee Phillips
Green River Ordinance
Greensky Bluegrass
Gregory Alan Isakov
The Harpoonist & the Axe Murderer
Howlin’ Brothers
Immigrant Union
Israel Nash
Jamestown Revival
Jason Eady
J.D. Wilkes & the Dirt Daubers
Joe Henry
Joe Purdy
John Moreland
Jonah Tolchin
Jonny Two Bags
Joshua James
Lake Street Dive
Leo Welch
Marah Presents: Mountain Minstrelsy
Matthew Ryan
Nathaniel Rateliff
New Country Rehab
Oh Susanna
Otis Gibbs
Parker Millsap
Pete Molinari
Quebe Sisters Band
Rhett Miller
Robyn Hitchcock
Ryan Montbleau
Sam Outlaw
Sean Rowe
Shakey Graves
Todd Snider & Friends
Tom Freund
Tony Joe White
Trigger Hippy (feat. Jackie Greene, Joan Osborne, Steve Gorman, Tom Bukovac & Nick Govrik)
Whiskey Shivers
Willie Watson

Andrew Combs

Anthony D’Amato
The Audreys
Blackie and the Rodeo Kings
Bradford Lee Folk
Brooke Russell & the Mean Reds
The Bros. Landreth
The Brothers Comatose
Cale Tyson
Caleb Klauder Country Band
Carolina Story
Cory Chisel’s “Soul Obscura”
The Danberrys
David Ramirez
Ernie Hendrickson
Frank Fairfield
Grace and Tony
Griffin House
The Haden Triplets
Harlan Pepper
The Hot Nut Riveters
Howard Fishman
Humming People
Ian McLagan
James Maddock
Jim Oblon
Laura Cantrell
Lauren Shera
Leftover Salmon feat. Bill Payne of Little Feat
Liz Longley
Los Colognes
The Mae Trio
Matt Anderson
Matt the Electrician
Matthew Perryman Jones
Matthew Mayfield
Matthew Ryan
Mike Farris
Moot Davis
NQ Arbuckle
Peter Bradley Adams
Phil Madeira
Police Dog Hogan
Parsonsfield (formerly Poor Old Shine)
Promised Land Sound
Robby Hecht
Ryan Tanner
The Silks
Sleepy Man Banjo Boys
The Stray Birds
Truth & Salvage Co.
Zachary Lucky
Follow Sun209 on Twitter at @Sun209com.

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 Blossoms • Carlene Carter • Caroline Rose • Chatham County Line • Chuck 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 Grahams • Grant-Lee Phillips • Green River Ordinance • Greensky Bluegrass • Gregory Alan Isakov • Greyhounds • The Harpoonist & the Axe Murderer • Hayes Carll • Howlin’ Brothers • Immigrant Union • Israel Nash • Jamestown Revival • Jason Eady • J.D. Wilkes & the Dirt Daubers • Joe Henry • Joe Pug • Joe Purdy • John Moreland • Jonah Tolchin • Jonny Two Bags • Josh Ritter • Joshua James • Lake Street Dive • Lee Ann Womack • Leo “Bud” Welch • Lera Lynn • Marah Presents: Mountain Minstrelsy • Marty Stuart • Matthew Ryan • McCrary Sisters • Nathaniel Rateliff • New Country Rehab • Oh Susanna • Otis Gibbs • Parker Millsap • Paul Thorn • Pete Molinari • Quebe Sisters Band • Rhett Miller • Robbie Fulks • Robyn Hitchcock • Rodney CrowellRuthie Foster • Ryan Montbleau • Sam Outlaw • Sarah Jarosz • Sean Rowe • Shakey Graves • Suzy 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:
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
Rosanne Cash
Robert Ellis
Jason Isbell
Hard Working Americans
Lake Street Dive
“Cover Me Up”, Jason Isbell
“A Feather’s Not A Bird”, Rosanne Cash
“Ohio”, Patty Griffin
“Only Lies”, Robert Ellis
Hurray For The Riff Raff
Parker Millsap
St. Paul & The Broken Bones
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 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.

Follow Sun209 on Twitter at @Sun209com.


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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.

Follow Sun209 on Twitter at @Sun9com.

Concert review: Eliza Gilkyson at St. Mark’s in Houston

By Paul T. Mueller

Austin-based singer-songwriter Eliza Gilkyson brought a light touch to sometimes dark material in her March 26 performance at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Houston. The show was the third of five in the church’s second annual “Songs of Lovin’ and Redemption” music series, presented by the church during the Lenten season.

The struggle between light and darkness is an appropriate theme for Lent, and it’s a theme that runs through a lot of Gilkyson’s work, especially on her recently released CD, The Nocturne Diaries. As she explained during the show, which included seven songs from the CD, much of Diaries was written in the middle of the night, when inspiration came at the cost of sleep. Images of night and darkness were featured in such songs as “Midnight Oil” (“Moonlight over the mountains/the midnight oil burns low”), “No Tomorrow” (“And I’ll hold on to you when the world fades to black/Like there’s no tomorrow/No tomorrow”) and “Touchstone” (“When shadows fall where you lie sleeping/In that dark hour before the dawn”).

But just as darkness gives way to light, so Gilkyson balances gloom and doom with hope and optimism. In “Emerald Street,” she sang, “Whole world’s goin’ up in smoke/Love still makes my world go round.” In “Eliza Jane,” a lively song she described as a sort of “doomsday square dance,” she held a kind of self-critical conversation with herself: “Oh Eliza, you try so hard you don’t see nothin’/Blue horizon and you’re expecting rain/Lift your eyes and you just might find/You see something good, Eliza.”

Gilkyson’s humor comes across in live performance in ways that aren’t always obvious in her recordings. She introduced “Beauty Way,” a song about the musician’s life, as “a medley of my hit,” noting that it got some play on an Austin radio station and was covered by Ray Wylie Hubbard. Before “Fast Freight,” which was written by her father, songwriter Terry Gilkyson, she described how he used to put on a suit and tie and commute to an office in Hollywood to write songs, in an attempt to convince her mother that he was just a regular guy. During “Emerald Street,” Gilkyson whistled the chorus and invited audience members to do the same, first congratulating their efforts and then taking her whistling to heights the audience couldn’t match, explaining that “y’all were getting a little cocky back there.” She also followed “The Party’s Over,” a caustic allegory on boom times and their aftermath from a few years ago, with a funny story about a fan at an earlier concert who, despite her enthusiasm, completely missed the point of the song.

Despite a reference or two to her own mortality, Gilkyson was in excellent form throughout the show, holding the church in rapt attention with her strong, clear voice and accompanying herself with skillfully picked acoustic guitar and a small stomp board for percussion.

After thanking the audience for their patience – she noted that some of her new songs were getting their first public performance – Gilkyson closed with “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” combining W.B. Yeats’ apocalyptic imagery (“What kind of beast comes slouching/Slouching towards Bethlehem?”) with the social activism that’s a frequent focus of her work (“You better stand with your shoulder to the wheel/You better band together at the top of the hill”).

Follow Sun209 on Twitter at @Sun209com.




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Best bets: 2014 Tin Pan South Songwriters Festival

tin pan 2014 150x150 Best bets: 2014 Tin Pan South Songwriters FestivalBy Ken Paulson

Tin Pan South, the world-class songwriters festival based in Nashville,  begins this Tuesday in Nashville,  and as usual, the line-up of talent is rich and diverse. It’s a particularly well-curated festival, so there are no lame rounds. That said, these shows caught our eye:

Tuesday,  March 25

Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne at the at the Listening Room Café,  6 p.m.

Brandy Clark’s 12 Stories is one of the best albums of the past year, fueled by striking and down-to-earth songwriting. Her songs have been recorded by Band Perry, Kacey Musgraves and Miranda Lambert.  Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne teamed with Musgraves for her hit “Merry Go ‘Round” and won a 2014 Grammy.

Critter Fuqua, Chance McCoy, Chuck Mead and Holly Williams at the Station Inn,  9 p.m.

BR5-49 veteran Chuck Mead has a terrific new album called Free State Serenade, Critter Fuqua and Chance McCoy are members of the Old Crow Medicine Show and Holly Williams is the very talented granddaughter of Hank Williams, who released the fine album The Highway  last year.

Wednesday, March 26

Jessi Alexander, Josh Kear and Striking Matches at the Hard Rock Café, 6 p.m.

We admred Jessi Alexander as an artist, but she’s really hit her stride as a country songwriter, including the much-honored “I Drive Your Truck.’ Josh Kear has had similar success, including writing the monster Lady Antebellum hit “Need You Now,  and Striking Matches is an engaging duo whose songs have shown up on the Nashville TV show.

Thursday, March 27

Jim Lauderdale and friends at the Station Inn, 6 p.m.

This minimalist listing is all you need to know. Lauderdale, an icon of Americana, works and plays with some of the best in the business.

Friday, March 28

Buzz Cason, Austin Cunningham, Alex Harvey and Dickey Lee at Douglas Corner, 6:30pm
There’s some pop and country  history here, with Dickey Lee, who recorded “Patches,” Buzz Cason, who wrote “Soldier of Love,” Alex Harvey, who wrote “ Delta Dawn”  and Austin Cunningham. And it’s not all oldies from the veterans. Cason has a brand-new new album called Troubadour Heart.

Later at the same club at 9:30 you’ll find 3-time Grammy winner Ashley Cleveland, Dave Coleman, Suzi Ragsdale and Bill Lloyd, power pop and country artist and songwriter, and occasional contributor to Sun209. We’ve had the privilege to work with all four, and they’ll deliver a great show.

Saturday, March 29

 Sony Curtis, Mac Davis and Hugh Prestwood at the Bluebird Café at 6:30 p.m.

One of our favorite past Tin Pan South shows featured former Cricket Sonny Curtis, Mac Davis. Jim Weatherly and Bobby Braddock.   This year’s round looks just as promising, with Hugh Prestwood joining David and Curtis.

Curtis is one of our favorites, a rock pioneer who grew up with Buddy Holly, and went on to write songs ranging from “I Fought the Law” to “Love is All Around,” the theme to the Mary Tyler Moore show. I don’t think anyone else can claim they’ve been covered by the Everly Brothers, the Clash and Joan Jett.

Of course, this is all just a start. This is a festival that also features Amy Grant, Vince Gill, Marcus Hummon, Leigh Nash, Kevin Welch, Kim Richey, Bob DiPiero, Shannon Wright, Gary Talley, Dave Barnes, John Oates, Craig Carothers, Larry Weiss, Phillip Coleman, Tony Arata, T. Graham Brown, Brett James, Rivers Rutherford, Jeffrey Steele, Tom Douglas, Eric Brace, Peter Cooper, Tim Easton, Bill Anderson, Steve Bogard, the Stellas, Amy Speace, Jason White, Leslie Satcher, Larry Gatlin, Tommy Lee James, Erin Enderlin, Jack Sundrud, Karen Staley, Luke Laird, Lee Roy Parnell, Sarah Buxton, Kate York, Sherrie Austin, James Otto, the Kinleys and many more.

Full details can be found at Tin Pan South’s website.

Follow Sun209 on Twitter at @Sun209com.

Review: Jim Bianco’s ambitious “Cookie Cutter”

By Paul T. Mueller

cds CookieCutterCDfrontshot 150x150 Review: Jim Biancos ambitious Cookie CutterHere’s the recipe Jim Bianco used for his latest album, Cookie Cutter: Send out the same 69-question questionnaire to each of 17 people, collect the answers, and write songs based on those answers. The resulting 18-song album (one song has two versions) proves that, musically speaking, Jim Bianco is quite a chef.

A New York native now living in California, Bianco has produced several albums of distinctive and well-crafted adult pop. Cookie Cutter is no exception. Each song starts with some background – imagined messages on answering machines, re-created phone conversations, slide-show narration and such – revealing some of the details the song is based on. The questions, printed on the inside of the CD cover, cover a wide range of topics: “What’s your name? Where do you live? Do you have any pets? Any tattoos? What was your first car?” And so on.

Taking a little literary license along the way, Bianco turned those answers into a batch of excellent songs, performed in a variety of musical styles. The opener, “Apache,” features a jazzy Latin-tinged arrangement powered by horns. It’s nominally about a woman’s dog that ran away, but it ends up being about much more than that. In “Kilpatrick Man,” Bianco spins some facts about a man’s life and work, provided by the man’s brother, into a believable Irish ballad. “Blue Subaru,” written for a fan’s two young nieces, starts out as a bouncy, repetitive ditty with nonsensical lyrics – and then evolves into a complex and beautiful arrangement that would have sounded at home on Sgt. Pepper.

Bianco has a gift for writing about melancholy and heartbreak, and many of the songs explore serious subjects such as romantic troubles, medical problems and loneliness. But it wouldn’t be a Jim Bianco album without at least one funny song full of double entendres, and on Cookie Cutter that song is “That’s What She Said.” Bianco even throws in a twist by faking a serious beginning before downshifting into several verses of goofy, synthesizer-driven pseudo-rap.

Cookie Cutter succeeds as a songwriting exercise, but this collection is strong enough to stand on its own, even without the backstory.

Follow Sun209 on Twitter at @Sun209com.




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Sun209: The week in Tweets

The week in Tweets on Sun209:


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