We lost John Lennon 33 years ago today and we continue to both mourn the loss and celebrate his life and music.
This Thursday, a group of Nashville artists will gather at 3rd and Lindsley in Nashville for Imagine No Gun Violence, a concert and fundraiser featuring Lennon’s songs. Performers include Tommy Womack, Bill Lloyd, Will Kimbrough, members of Poco and many more. It’s always a highlight of the musical year, and in a town like Nashville, that’s saying something. Tickets are still available.
Lennon work also continues to be celebrated in recordings, and the Nutopians’ Lennon Re-Imagined is a particularly impressive example.
The Nutopians , founded by Rex Fowler of Aztec Two-Step and Tom Dean of Devonsquare, bring a gentle sensibility to Lennon’s music, with acoustic and harmony-laden renditions that work on multiple levels.
“Revolution” is a revelation, with Maggie Coffin distilling the familiar rock song into a conversation about the world and the need for change. Two medleys sung by Fowler - “Cry Baby Cry/Bunglaow Bill” and “Love/Oh My Love” are seamless and beautiful.
In these treatments, the lyrics resonate deeply – and unexpectedly. Alana McDonald’s “Beautiful Boy” is sweet and sad, while the obsessiveness of “No Reply” come across as a little creepy.
The Nutopians take their name from Lennon’s playful treatment of his immigration problems in the early ’70s. Only true fans would know that, just as only true fans could create such a fun, insightful and moving collection of Lennon’s work. Highly recommended.
Follow Americana Music News on Twitter at @AmericanaToday.
Americana Music News - Nominees for the 56th annual Grammy Awards have been announced by the Recording Academy and the Americana Music Association has helpfully distilled Americana artists from the academy’s massive list:
We just received our first holiday album of the year, a collection from the Alex Tjoland Band called Silent Revelry. It has a copyright date of 2012, but Christmas albums are evergreen. It’s an ambitious effort, largely driven by original songs, plus a robust Silent Night to open the set. It includes a surf guitar instrumental appropriately titled “Surf’s Up, Santa Claus.”
We’re Not Lost – The Show Ponies
Here’s an energetic and sometimes irreverent bluegrass album that won us over with “Baby, I’m in Love with You,” a full-throttle opener that (sort-of) manages to rhyme “hiatus” with “cicadas” and “tomatoes.”
Long Way Down- Glass House
Mark Vickness and David Worm comprise Glass House, an accomplished duo with impressive vocals and ambitious compositions.
Highlights include album opener “Build a Bridge” and a stellar cover of Robbie Robertson’s “Broken Arrow.”
Follow Americana Music News on Twitter at @Sun209com.
Long before it became a staple of touring bands, Nashville’s Long Players mastered the art of performing great LPs live in their entirety. Tonight they revisit The Band, the second album from the group that arguably founded what we now call Americana Music.
Guests tonight include Matraca Berg, Chuck Mead, Pat Buchanan,Gary Nicholson, Jim Photoglo, James Rubin, Webb Wilder, Jeff Finlin, Danny Flowers, Jeff Hanna and Colin Linden. The core band is led by Bill Lloyd and includes Steve Allen. he E-Street Band’s Garry Tallent, Steve Ebe, Jen Gunderman, John Deaderick, Peter Hyrka and Jim Hoke.
Showtime: 8 p.m. at 3rd and Lindsley in Nashville.
Follow Americana Music News on Twitter at @sun209com.
I have no idea why Greg Trooper’s outstanding new album Incident on Willow Street features a cover worthy of a tawdry ’50s paperback, but the “Don’t judge a book by its cover” adage applies here.
Behind the cheesy imagery is a rich and rewarding collection from an extraordinarily consistent singer-songwriter . There’s no substandard Trooper album; your only challenge is to decide which one to buy first.
Like every Trooper album, Incident is at once both despairing and hopeful. All the Way to Amsterdam” reflects the latter ,opening the album with a dream of escape and restoration. Later in the album there’s the regret-steeped ”Amelia,” calling on a woman to come to her senses and come home.
“Living with You” is the closest thing to rock ‘n’ roll on the album, with my favorite line:”I think you have to sleep with me to prove I’m shooting blanks.”
Trooper’s sense of humor is most apparent on “Mary of the Scots in Queens,” bemoaning how Irish Brian stole the woman of his dreams. “I always hated that Irish Brian,” he sings.
There have been almost a dozen Greg Trooper albums to date and Incident on Willow Street is one of his strongest. Highly recommended.
Singer-songwriter Peter Case did more talking than singing during his November 7 in-store performance at Houston’s Cactus Music. But that was just fine with the several dozen fans in attendance, as much of the talking consisted of funny anecdotes from a career spent on the road. And there were a few songs thrown in as well.
Case was accompanied onstage by author David Ensminger, whose latest book, Left of the Dial: Conversations with Punk Icons, includes an interview with Case. Ensminger acted as an informal moderator, prompting Case to relate stories from his long career, which included membership in The Plimsouls and The Nerves as well as many years of performing solo and with other musicians.
And very entertaining stories they were, albeit delivered in Case’s matter-of-fact style:
Peter Case at Cactus Music
- Hitchhiking hundreds of miles in a blizzard at age 16 to see Texas bluesman Lightnin’ Hopkins perform in the Boston area (and ending up in a women’s dorm in Boston with a couple of newfound friends.)
- Playing several gigs in Australia as part of a package tour that also included Blue Oyster Cult, the Hoodoo Guru, and Buzzcocks, among other bands
- Being enlisted by producer T-Bone Burnett to contribute to a Robert Randolph recording session, only to find that he was expected to come up with lyrics to already-written music during the session
-Interspersed with the stories were a few songs: “Icewater,” based on a Lightnin’ Hopkins guitar riff; “Poor Old Tom,” about a homeless veteran, and “A Walk in the Woods,” a chilling tale of missing children that Case said was the first song he wrote for his first solo album.
A question-and-answer session ensued, during which Case revealed, among things, that:
- He gets tired of the day-to-day grind of life on the road, but never gets tired of seeing the world, writing songs and performing for people
- His all-time favorite musician is Jimi Hendrix
- The musician he’d most like to record with (but can’t afford to) is jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders
- He thinks Coldplay is “U2 without the edge,” and
- He believes the Internet has pretty much destroyed the old business model of the music industry, but that there will always be a music business in some form
After teasing the room with a promise of a Bob Dylan song, Case closed with an energetic rendition of his own “House Rent Party” before adjourning to the front of the store, where he and Ensminger signed CDs, books and other items and spent some time interacting with fans.
Follow Sun209: Americana Music News on Twitter at @Sun209com.
Hangtown Dancehall, an ambitious re-visiting of the tale of “Sweet Betsy from Pike” debuted tonight at 3rd and Lindsley in Nashville with an all-star cast of artists. The musical, subtitled ”A tale of the California Goldrush,” is the creation of Eric Brace (Last Train Home) and Karl Straub, based on a story by Brace.
Brace who grew up in the California community where the story is based, has expanded upon the classic folk song, telling a saga of adventure, romance, greed and betrayal through narration and an impressive array of original songs.
Kelly Willis, Tim O’Brien, Peter Cooper and Brian Wright were among those who joined Brace and Straub onstage tonight, while the just-released Hangtown Dancehall album features Willis, O’Brien, Darrell Scott, Jason Ringenberg and many more Nashville-based talents.
It’s a smart, engaging and musically diverse show that should have a future in theaters across the country.
The release of a new Peter Cooper album is an occasion for much joy and a little sadness. Joy because Cooper is an accomplished songwriter and performer who can write and sing about just about anything and make it all sound great. Sadness because, as good as he is, he may not be reaching as wide an audience as he deserves.
For now, let’s focus on the joy. Opening Day, Cooper’s third solo album, is another fine collection, and its 11 tracks, nine of them well-crafted originals, cover a lot of ground, with excellent musicianship throughout. The opener, “Much Better Now,” starts with Cooper reciting, with characteristic humor, a litany of past unhappiness before declaring that he’s “much better now.” In the title track, he uses baseball as a metaphor for life – not exactly a novel idea, but Cooper does it with style. “We’re tied for first with the whole summer left to play,” he sings. “Keep the aftermath and the epitaph, give me opening day.”
There’s more autobiographical material here. “Distraction” is a kind of plea for focus amid the many things competing for his attention – which might be expected from a guy who, in addition to being a songwriter and performer, is also a music journalist, a college professor, a radio DJ and a few other things. In “Part Time,” he takes stock of his music career and concludes, “That’s hard work even for a man in his prime, so I’m thinking about going part time.” It’s a little hard to believe he really means it.
When Cooper sings about other people, they tend to be interesting as well. The title characters of “Jenny Died at 25” and “Grandma’s Tattoo” both start out as young women, but the decisions they make land them in very different places down the line. Without giving away too much, it must be said that Grandma’s story is the more entertaining of the two.
Current events show up in “Quiet Little War,” the story of a military drone operator for whom warfare is an 8-to-5 job and the workplace is half a world from the battlefield. The album closes with a nice cover of Bill Morrissey’s “Birches,” a quiet, bittersweet story about life and love and time and compromise.
Besides accompanying himself on guitar, Cooper did a nice job as producer, assembling a talented supporting cast that includes Lloyd Green on pedal steel, Richard Bennett on guitar, Jen Gunderman on keyboards, and Dave Jacques, David Roe and Mark Fain on bass. Paul Griffith and Pat McInerney handle the drumming, while Kieran Kane contributes mandolin and percussion. Backing vocalists include Julie Lee, Thomm Jutz and Eric Brace (Cooper’s partner on three duo albums and also the head of Red Beet Records, which released Opening Day).
In the crowded musical marketplace, it would be easy to overlook an album like this one. But to paraphrase a line from one of Opening Day’s songs, that would be a shame and a crime.
Bands with banjos have become something of a cliché in the past few years, possibly to the point of fostering a bit of five-string fatigue. Don’t let that keep you from checking out Brooklyn-based Schucks Road, which consists of guitarist/pianist Michael Perrie Jr. and guitarist/banjoist Brandon Pfeltz. On their recent EP One By Land, they wisely use the banjo to add flavor and texture without overwhelming the music. The real stars here are Perrie and Pfeltz’s good writing, excellent harmonies and fine melodies, all contributing to a lively folk-pop sound with some country undertones.
The two share songwriting credits on the EP’s five songs. Lyrical themes include the quest for success, and its high price (“Chasing Stars”) and spiritual struggle (“Flesh & Bone”). “Heart of the Country” is an exuberant anthem to the positive side of love; “The Bar” is similarly up-tempo, but it’s about breakups, barrooms and bitterness. The closing track, “Lantern,” is a gentle, harmony-driven love song that features a nice combination of acoustic guitar and violin, courtesy of George Robson.
Perrie and Pfeltz are from Maryland, but they formed Schucks Road in New York in 2012, writing their first song by candlelight amid Superstorm Sandy’s wind and rain. That’s a tough way to start a band, but One By Land is a promising beginning.
Americana Music News – We caught up with Eric Brace at the Americana Music Conference in Nashville and he told us about a new video featuring Tom T. Hall’s “Mad” and a slew of really cool guest stars, including Marty Stuart, Duane Eddy and Mac Wiseman. The video promotes The Comeback Album, the most recent album from Brace and Peter Cooper. Here’s Brace talking about how “The World’s Greatest Video” came together: listen to ‘Eric Brace’ on Audioboo
Americana Music News – Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott have teamed up again for an impressive new album called Memories and Moments.
This is their second studio album, with songwriting duties split between the pair, and a powerful new collaboration on “Keep Your Dirty Lights On,” a powerful environmental message.
We had the chance to talk to Tim about the new album at the American Music Festival in Nashville:
Follow Sun209: Americana Music News on Twitter at @Sun209com.
Ken Paulson presents Stephen Stills with the Spirit of Americana/Free Speech in Music Award.
Sometimes you just can’t suppress the fan in you.
I had the extraordinary opportunity to share the stage at the Ryman Auditorium with Richie Furay and present an award for free speech in music to Stephen Stills at the Americana Music Association Honors and Awards show Wednesday night. I had my First Amendment advocate hat on, but I couldn’t help but be excited about standing next to two members of Buffalo Springfield.
Why was Stills honored? Here’s a succinct explanation, from my brief essay in the awards show program:
“For What It’s Worth” was not a protest song. Yes, the Stephen Stills composition was inspired by a confrontation between police and young people on the Sunset Strip, but his tone was one of observation, not outrage. “There’s somethin’ happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear” he sang on that early Buffalo Springfield hit. He even poked fun at the protesters who carried signs “most saying hurray for our side.”
Throughout his career, Stills has used his music to encourage us to look at our society and ourselves. His response to the world’s challenges has been reflective, not reflexive. As a member of one of America’s most political bands – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Stills often offered a measured counterpoint. Neil Young’s “Ohio” was a chilling indictment of the government that could shoot dead four students at Kent State University. The flip side of that single was “Find the Cost of Freedom,” a four-line Stills song about sacrifice and liberty. From the post-apocalyptic “Wooden Ships” to the cautionary “The Ecology Song” and the affirming “We Are Not Helpless,” Stills’s music has truly engaged us. Recent songs like “Feed the People” and “Wounded World” continue his tradition of topicality.
Stills has walked the talk. CSN&Y toured the country in 2006 with its Free Speech Tour, challenging its audiences with songs protesting the war in Iraq. Stills used the tour to campaign on behalf of candidates for Congress. “The most valuable resource that we have, that we are wasting, we are squandering, are those wonderful men and women who would be so noble as to put on a suit, endure basic training, pick up a weapon and stand a post in our defense,” he said in one campaign appearance captured in the “Free Speech Tour” documentary. Seven of the ten candidates that Stephen Stills campaigned for during the Freedom of Speech Tour won their elections.
Two new and notable albums celebrate country music’s heritage, successfully revisiting classic songs in a contemporary setting.
Vince Gill and premier steel guitar player Paul Franklin team up on Bakersfield to celebrate California country, specifically the recordings of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard.
It’s no surprise that the playing of these Time Jumpers bandmates is impeccable. What is surprising is just how fresh these half-century old songs sound.
The tracks alternate between those made famous by Owens and Haggard and include “Together Again,” “Foolin’ Around,” “The Bottle Let Me Down” and “I Can’t Be Myself.”
Gill and Franklin grew up on these songs and their comfort level shows, though it’s a bit disquieting to hear perennial nice guy Gill snarl about “some squirrelly guy who claims he don’t believe in fightin’” on Haggard’s “The Fightin’ Side of Me.”
Gill and Franklin show up again on The Big E – A Salute to Steel Guitarist Buddy Emmons, performing album opener “Country Boy.”
Album producer and former Hot Band steel guitarist Steve Fishell put this project together, pairing great players and singers on songs that played a significant role in Emmons’ storied career.
The biggest treats include a couple of pop-oriented tunes. Albert Lee and JayDee Manness team on “Rainbows All Over Your Blues,” a song from John Sebastian’s first solo album that was transformed by Emmons’ solo. Similarly, Joanie Keller Johnson and Mike Johnson offer a fine cover of “Someday Soon,” a Judy Collins hit graced by Emmons’ licks.
The album includes reverential, detailed and sometimes technical liner notes from Fishell that make clear just how influential Emmons was. Highly recommended.
Sun209 – We’ve seen Sarah Jarosz’s successful career unfold over the years and really enjoyed her 2011 release Follow Me Down.
Coming Sept. 24 on Sugar Hill Records is her third album, Build Me Up From Bones.
Here’s a preview:
The Amazing Rhythm Aces were a little ahead of their time.
1975, the year of the Aces’ debut album, was not the time for a country band that was soulful or a bluesy band with a twang. And it sure wasn’t the time for a band that embraced all of that, plus rock and jazz.
36 years ago, it was called “eclectic.” Today, it would be called “Americana.”
Now the band’s first two albums are available again on a reissue from Real Gone Records. Stacked Desk, their debut, boasted a big hit single in “Third-Rate Romance,” a genre-defying song that proved irresistible to AM radio.
That first album was fun and funky, but follow-up Too Stuffed to Jump may have been even stronger. The band-written “Typical American Boy,” “The End is Not In Sight” and “Dancing the Night Away” showed songwriting depth, while their rendition of “If I Knew What to Say” added a reflective tone.
The new Band of Heathens album Sunday Morning Record is an eye-opener, packed with diverse sounds and reflective lyrics.
It comes during a period of significant change for the band, and the departure of three band members, including Colin Brooks. The album chronicles the churn and change surrounding the band.
We first saw the Band of Heathens on stage at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville as part of the Americana Music Festival in Nashville, We loved their energy then, but they’ve clearly grown as a band, despite the personnel shifts.
This is a musically adventurous album, highly melodic with impressive harmonies. It’s folk, rock, country and pop rolled into a full and rewarding sound. ”Shotgun” and “Records in Bed” are particularly compelling, intimate and ambitious at the same time.
“Miss My Life” is a free-spirited declaration that shares some musical turf with “Give Peace a Chance”, and “Texas” tips a hat to Austin even as the band heads out the door.
If we have any reservations about the album, it’s in the number of songs that focus on unrealized dreams and unsettled relationships.
Founding member Gordy Quist is quoted in the press materials: “We chronicled our trip through a strange, weird and intense time. You can hear it all here: the joy, the heartache, the disappointment, the longing and ultimately the resolution that this band has found to continue to make albums and perform shows together.”
I’m sure that every band that has endured personnel changes and a relocation from Austin can relate. But for the rest of us, piecing the songs into a thematic whole is a bit of challenge.
Still, the album resonates with fresh music and hooks. It’s the sound of a good band getting better.
It’s hard to believe it’s been almost half a century since the Monkees were one of the biggest bands around. Even harder, maybe, to believe the hold their music still has on the imagination of those who grew up with it. But despite the years and the loss of singer Davy Jones in 2012, the old magic was still there at Houston’s Arena Theatre on August 1, as the onetime pop sensations kicked off the second half of their “Midsummer’s Night with The Monkees” tour.
The remaining members – Michael Nesmith, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork – gave the audience of a couple of thousand or so what they came for – well-crafted mid-’60s pop songs, many of which were big hits. Beyond that, they gave proof, if any is still needed, that the Monkees long ago transcended their made-for-TV beginnings and turned into a real band.
Despite advancing years – around 70, give or take a year or two – the trio still had the energy, halfway through a 24-date tour, to blow through a two-hour, 29-song show, albeit one punctuated by several breaks during which recorded audio and projected video were left to carry the load. Dolenz and Tork did most of the bouncing around; Nesmith mostly stood in place, although he seemed a bit more animated when performing his own compositions.
The show’s first segment featured eight songs from the first two albums, The Monkees and More of The Monkees, starting with a lively rendition of “Last Train to Clarksville.” A little later came the sing-along favorite “I’m a Believer,” written by Neil Diamond and performed – as Dolenz pointed out for the benefit of the kids in attendance – by The Monkees long before Shrek came along. Dolenz also proved capable of bringing some proto-punk attitude to his vocal on “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone.”
The second segment featured several songs from the fine third album, Headquarters, which Tork described as the first on which The Monkees really felt like a band. Highlights included two fine Nesmith compositions, “You Just May Be the One” (the only song on which Tork played bass) and “The Girl I Knew Somewhere,” with Nesmith on lead vocal. Tork did a nice job with the wistful “Early Morning Blues and Greens.”
After another break, the band returned with slightly newer fare, including “The Door into Summer” (the first-ever live performance of the song, according to the band’s Facebook page) and “Goin’ Down,” featuring some fine jazzy vocals from Dolenz.
Yet another break was followed by several songs from Head, the band’s trippy 1968 movie. They were followed by the evening’s only real acknowledgement of the missing Monkee – a projected clip of Jones dancing in a tuxedo while singing “Daddy’s Song,” also from Head. But the show’s real emotional high point followed, when Dolenz brought an audience member onstage to help sing “Daydream Believer.” What his guest – a shortish, middle-aged man with a noticeable accent – lacked in polish, he made up for in enthusiasm, belting out the familiar lyrics with the gusto of a true fan. The applause that followed was well deserved.
The Monkees, backed throughout the show by a fine seven-member band that included one of Dolenz’s sisters and one of Nesmith’s sons, finished the main set with an excellent rendition of “What Am I Doing Hangin’ Round?” (co-written by Michael Martin Murphey). They returned after a short break for an encore consisting of “Listen to the Band” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” a bit of social commentary written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King.
No doubt there are plenty of people who are never going to believe that The Monkees were, are or ever will be more than “The Pre-Fab Four,” but the band provided its Houston audience ample evidence to the contrary.
Phoebe Hunt appears to be confident, and her new Live at the Cactus Café demonstrates that it’s well-placed.
Not many artists would make their first solo album a live recording. It takes proficiency, a strong setlist and comfort with an audience. All of those ingredients are here.
A fine violinist, Hunt honed her skills as a member of the Belleville Outfit and the Hudsons.
More than anything, the live album showcases her range. The lyrics in her songs about relationships are anything but formulaic. They sound like real conversations. “I’m not a head case, never have been” she sings in “Walk Away,” a declaration of independence.
There’s jazz, folk and country here, but also elements of sophisticated pop and even show tunes.
Occasionally the lyrically-ornate songs give way to pure fun, most notably in the raucous “I Got Love.”
Live at the Cactus Café is a fine album and a great introduction to the talents of Phoebe Hunt.
Jennifer Brantley’s It’s All Good is a breath of fresh air, which is a little ironic considering that a lot of it sounds like it could have been made decades ago. This is country music the way it used to be, played on real instruments, sung with skill and feeling, and with lyrics that don’t all involve beer and pickup trucks.
Brantley, currently of East Nashville, leads off with “I’m Right Here,” a you-done-me-wrong lament set to a classic Western swing melody featuring piano, fiddle and steel guitar. It’s an excellent showcase for Brantley’s fine voice, which covers a wide range with plenty of power. Her writing ability (and that of that of co-writers Gerald Smith and Lisa Shaffer) is also on display here. The same trio also penned “I’d Rather Have a Lonely Heart,” a sad ballad that features nice interplay between fiddle and piano, along with some nice harmony vocals.
Other highlights include Blind Willie Johnson’s “God Don’t Ever Change,” which gets a rocking gospel treatment fueled by soulful organ and electric guitar, and a live version of Roger Miller’s “Half a Mind,” which was a hit for Ernest Tubb. Brantley’s rendition comes from a performance on the Midnite Jamboree radio show at the Texas Troubadour Theatre in Nashville, and features Leon Rhodes, former ace guitarist with Tubb’s Texas Troubadours. Leaning a little more to the pop side is “Just Hearing a Song,” a lively tribute to the power of music and memory.
A couple of tracks sound like they might be aimed at country radio airplay, but even so they’re done with the taste that marks the rest of the album. The title track is a gentle ode to counting one’s blessings, against a backdrop of acoustic guitar and fiddle; “Somebody’s Somebody” is a sentimental tale of orphans and the elderly that would have sounded at home on a Kathy Mattea album back in the ’80s.
It’s a little hard to tell from the liner notes who’s doing what, but contributors include guitarist David Hand, who also plays harmonica and helped produce; former Box Top Swain Shaefer, who contributes keyboards; Mike Daly on steel guitar, and an unidentified fiddle player who really deserves some recognition.
There’s still some room for growth here – Brantley’s twang occasionally sounds a bit forced, and there’s a chorus or two that could be nailed down a little tighter. Nitpicking aside, It’s All Good is a fine effort. Extra points to the producers (Vaughan Lofstead and Greg Perkins are credited along with Brantley and Hand), for keeping it clean and bringing out the best in this talented bunch.
Americana Music News chronicles rock, country, roots and Americana music. Review copies and press releases: PO Box 432, 3908 Lebanon Pike, Hermitage, TN 37076.
Follow us on Twitter at @AmericanaToday