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”).

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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.

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Sun209: The week in Tweets

The week in Tweets on Sun209:


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Review: Willie Sugarcapps

Willie Sugarcapps 150x150 Review: Willie SugarcappsBy Ken Paulson
We first saw Willie Sugarcapps in the Grimey’s Record Store parking lot in Nashville this spring and for the record, there’s no Willie. This is a band of friends with considerable musical talents and their energy and collective spirit fueled a fun and engaging set in the parking lot.
Willie Sugarcapps consists of  Will Kimbrough, Sugarcane Jane (Savana Lee and Anthony Crawford), Grayson Capps and Corky Hughes, an amalgam in name and spirit.
Their impressive album feels homespun and acoustic, and sounds like someone set up recording equipment on the front porch.
Many of the songs are about life’s basics: celebrating the birthday of a 93-year-old, repairing a relationship and just working your way through life.
Capps’ “Poison” is a particular treat and natural sing-along: “Drink a little poison before you die.”
And then there’s “Willie Sugarcapps,” the title track and self-mythologizing tale of a singer and multi-instrumentalist who we need more than ever:   ”Folks are suffering all across this land, Woody Guthrie’s long gone, won’t you give us your helping hand?”
It takes a confident band to name itself, a song and album after a legendary figure they just made up. Bo Diddley would have approved.
Follow Sun209: Americana Music News on Twitter at @Sun209com.

Duane Allman’s “Skydog” issued in “encore” edition

duane allman 150x150 Duane Allmans Skydog issued in encore editionAmericana Music News - The new Muscle Shoals documentary tells the fascinating story of Rick Hall, Fame Studios and the against-all-odds success of two great studios in the same small town. There’s a great moment in the movie when we hear about Duane Allman showing up, ingratiating himself with his style and guitar, and eventually urging Wilson Pickett to tackle “Hey Jude” on the now-classic recording. It’s a reminder of Allman’s gifts and his career in music well before the Allman Brothers.

Skydog: The Duane Allman Retrospective documents his career in impressive style, ranging from early recordings with the Escorts, Allman Joys and Hour Glass to sessions with Clarence Carter and Aretha Franklin and recordings with Eric Clapton and the Allman Brothers Band.

The 7-CD set was released by Rounder Records in a limited edition in March and is now back in an “encore edition.” The packaging is stripped down, but the 72-page booklet and extraordinary music are intact. This should make a lot of “best of” lists for 2013.

Follow Americana Music News on Twitter at @AmericanaToday.




Americana Music Association’s Top 100 albums

Isbell 150x150 Americana Music Associations Top 100 albumsAmericana Music News - The Americana Music Association has just released its list of the Top 100 most-played albums of the year, based on airplay from November 19, 2012 through December 2, 2013.
Jason Isbell’s haunting Southeastern is at the top of the list, with  the top 10 largely occupied by Americana music’s royalty: Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin, Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale.
And then there are the surprises: the reunions of Delbert and Glen (after decades) and the Mavericks, the always-great pairing of Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison and top ten finishes by Carrie Rodriguez and Holly Williams.
“Surprises” may be the wrong word. These are all remarkable artists in the Top 10 and we’ve seen their albums dominate airplay much of the year.
The full list from the Americana Music Association:
Artist                                                               Title
1. Jason Isbell                                                      Southeastern
2. Steve Earle & The Dukes (& Duchesses)   The Low Highway
3. Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell           Old Yellow Moon
4. Patty Griffin                                                     American Kid
5. Mavericks                                                         Suited Up And Ready / In Time
6. Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison                       Cheater’s Game
7. Delbert McClinton & Glen Clark                 Blind, Crippled & Crazy
8. Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale             Buddy and Jim
9. Carrie Rodriguez                                           Give Me All You Got
10. Holly Williams                                             The Highway
11. Richard Thompson                                      Electric
12. John Fogerty / Various Artists                 Wrote A Song For Everyone
13. Slaid Cleaves                                                 Still Fighting The War
14. Tedeschi Trucks Band                                 Made Up Mind
15. Mumford & Sons                                          Babel
16. Aoife O’Donovan                                          Fossils
17. Guy Clark                                                       My Favorite Picture Of You
18. Black Lillies                                                  Runaway Freeway Blues
19. Steeldrivers                                                  Hammer Down
20. Steve Martin And Edie Brickell               Love Has Come For You
21. Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson      Wreck & Ruin
22. Dwight Yoakam                                           3 Pears
23. Dawes                                                            Stories Don’t End
24. Nora Jane Struthers & The Party Line   Carnival
25. Donna The Buffalo                                      Tonight, Tomorrow And Yesterday
26. Kacey Musgraves                                         Same Trailer Different Park
27. Son Volt                                                         Honky Tonk
28. Sarah Jarosz                                                Build Me Up From Bones
29. Civil Wars                                                    Civil Wars
30. Howlin’ Brothers                                       Howl
31. Sturgill Simpson                                        High Top Mountain
32. Ben Harper w/ Charles Musselwhite    I Don’t Believe A Word You Say
33. Mavis Staples                                             One True Vine
34. Band Of Heathens                                     Sunday Morning Record
35. Amos Lee                                                    Mountains Of Sorrow Rivers Of Song
36. Sons Of Fathers                                         Burning Days
37. Billy Bragg                                                  Tooth & Nail
38. Neko Case                                                  The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight.
39. Kim Richey                                                Thorn In My Heart
40. Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors         Good Light
41. Ashley Monroe                                          Like A Rose
42. John Hiatt                                                 Mystic Pinball
43. Wayne Hancock                                       Ride
44. Various – The Music Is You                   A Tribute To John Denver
45. Tim O’Brien & Darrell Scott                  Memories & Moments
46. Shooter Jennings                                     The Other Life
47. Jamey Johnson                                         Living For A Song: A Tribute To Hank Cochran
48. Avett Brothers                                          The Carpenter
49. Various – Let Us In Americana             The Music Of Paul McCartney
50. Amanda Shires                                         Down Fell The Doves
51. Iris DeMent                                               Sing The Delta
52. James Hunter Six                                    Minute By Minute
53. Tim Easton                                               Not Cool
54. Mark Knopfler                                         Privateering
55. Wheeler Brothers                                    Gold Boots Glitter
56. Tift Merritt                                               Traveling Alone
57. Pokey LaFarge                                         Pokey LaFarge
58. J.J. Grey And Mofro                              This River
59. Various                                                     Ghost Brothers of Darkland County
60. Chris Knight                                            Little Victories
61. Kris Kristofferson                                   Feeling Mortal
62. Jason Boland and the Stragglers        Dark & Dirty Mile
63. Milk Carton Kids                                    The Ash & Clay
64. Josh Ritter                                               The Beast In Its Tracks
65. Peter Rowan                                            The Old School
66. Marshall Chapman                                Blaze Of Glory
67. Dale Watson And His Lonestars         El Rancho Azul
68. Over the Rhine                                       Meet Me At The Edge Of The World
69. Gibson Brothers                                     They Called It Music
70. Houndmouth                                          From The Hills Above The City
71. Max Gomez                                              Rule The World
72. Time Jumpers                                         Time Jumpers
73. Wood Brothers                                        The Muse
74. Randall Bramblett                                  The Bright Spots
75. Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit            Live In Alabama
76. Willie Nelson                                           To All The Girls
77. Steep Canyon Rangers                           Tell The Ones I Love
78. Various                                                     High Cotton: A Tribute To Alabama
79. North Mississippi Allstars                    World Boogie is Coming
80. Robbie Fulks                                           Gone Away Backward
81. Shannon McNally                                   Small Town Talk
82. Mando Saenz                                          Studebaker
83. Underhill Rose                                       Something Real
84. Departed                                                 Adventus
85. Della Mae                                                This World Oft Can Be
86. Vince Gill & Paul Franklin                   Bakersfield
87. Statesboro Revue                                   Ramble On Privilege Creek
88. Will Hoge                                                Never Give In
89. Elephant Revival                                   These Changing Skies
90. Avett Brothers                                        Magpie And The Dandelion
91. Valerie June                                             Pushin’ Against A Stone
92. Gary Clark Jr.                                          Blak And Blu
93. Willie Sugarcapps                                  Willie Sugarcapps
94. Devil Makes Three                                 I’m A Stranger Here
95. Ryan Bingham                                        Tomorrowland
96. Greencards                                              Sweetheart Of The Sun
97. Buddy Guy                                               Rhythm & Blues
98. Andrew Bird                                           Hands Of Glory
99. Wild Ponies                                            Things That Used To Shine
100. Civil Wars And T-Bone Burnett       A Place At The Table Soundtrack

Celebrating John Lennon: In Nashville and on recordings

Nutopians 150x150 Celebrating John Lennon: In Nashville and on recordings By Ken Paulson

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.





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Americana music Grammy nominees announced

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:

Best American Roots Song

BUILD ME UP FROM BONES Sarah Jarosz, songwriter (Sarah Jarosz)

INVISIBLE Steve Earle, songwriter (Steve Earle & The Dukes (& Duchesses))

KEEP YOUR DIRTY LIGHTS ON Tim O’Brien & Darrell Scott, songwriters (Tim O’Brien And Darrell Scott)

LOVE HAS COME FOR YOU Edie Brickell & Steve Martin, songwriters (Steve Martin & Edie Brickell)

SHRIMP PO-BOY, DRESSED Allen Toussaint, songwriter (Allen Toussaint)
Best Americana Album

OLD YELLOW MOON Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell

LOVE HAS COME FOR YOU Steve Martin & Edie Brickell

BUDDY AND JIM Buddy Miller And Jim Lauderdale

ONE TRUE VINE Mavis Staples

SONGBOOK Allen Toussaint

Best Bluegrass Album

IT’S JUST A ROAD The Boxcars





Best Blues Album

REMEMBERING LITTLE WALTER Billy Boy Arnold, Charlie Musselwhite, Mark Hummel, Sugar Ray Norcia & James Harman


GET UP! Ben Harper With Charlie Musselwhite

SEESAW Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa


Best Folk Album




THE ASH & CLAY The Milk Carton Kids


Americana Music Association announces board election results

The results of the Americana Music Association board election are in, and four new  members have been added. The Americana Music Association’s press release follows:

The Americana Music Association has announced the outcome of their annual Board of Directors election. The results include both the member voted and board appointed

Directors, for terms to start in January 2014. The results reflect the rising influence and the creative, independent and progressive characteristics of the Americana genre itself.  Re-elected or appointed for new terms are John Allen (BMG Chrysalis), Jonathan Levine (Paradigm Talent Agency), John Ingrassia (Vector Management) and Kurt Vitolo (KV Financial Group, PC) who will serve once again as Treasurer. Musicians Rodney Crowell and Buddy Miller return as artist ambassadors.  New board members starting their terms in 2014 include Cliff O’Sullivan (Sugar Hill Records), Scott Goldman (GRAMMY Foundation/MusiCares), Wayne Leeloy (Warner Music Nashville) and Carrie Colliton (Dept. of Record Stores/Record Store Day).

 The incoming directors join returning board members current President Holly Lowman (Ramseur Records), 2014 President Elect Mark Moffatt (Independent Producer), Tim Fink (SESAC), Mary Gauthier (artist), Amanda Hale (Vector Management), Al Moss (Al Moss Promotion), Jessie Scott (Music Fog/Hill Country), Shauna de Cartier (Six Shooter Records) and Lynne Sheridan (GRAMMY Museum).  Terry Lickona (Austin City Limits) and Ashley Capps (AC Entertainment) will continue to serve as Ex Officio officers of the Association.


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Americana Music News: The week in tweets

This week in tweets:

Check out John Prine Exhibit to Open at Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum… @thebootdotcom 1 day ago


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Quick hits and recent releases

unreal dream 150x150 Quick hits and recent releasesBy Ken Paulson

This just in:

An Unreal Dream – Various Artists

The soundtrack to An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story features not only atmospheric music from the film, but also compelling performances by a number of Americana artists.

The film tells the story of a man unjustly convicted of murdering his wife. Robert Earl Keen performs “Take This Hammer” and Jerry Jeff Walker does “Amazing Grace.” Truly chilling, though, is “In the Pines” performed by Slaid Cleaves and Eliza Gilkyson.


Silent Revelry – Alex Tjoland Band

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.”

Show Ponies 150x150 Quick hits and recent releasesWe’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.”


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The Long Players celebrate “The Band”

Band 150x150 The Long Players celebrate The BandLong 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.

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Review: Greg Trooper’s “Incident on Willow Street”

Greg Trooper incident 150x150 Review: Greg Troopers Incident on Willow StreetBy Ken Paulson

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.

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Storyteller: Peter Case at Houston’s Cactus Music

 by Paul T. Mueller

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 350x262 Storyteller: Peter Case at Houstons Cactus Music

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.


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Folk musical “Hangtown Dancehall” debuts in Nashville

By Ken Paulson

hangtown poster 150x150 Folk musical Hangtown Dancehall debuts in Nashville

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.

Hangtown Dancehall 350x210 Folk musical Hangtown Dancehall debuts in Nashville

Eric Brace and the cast of Hangtown Dancehall







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Review: Peter Cooper’s “Opening Day”

opening day 150 Review: Peter Coopers Opening Dayby Paul T. Mueller

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.

Follow Sun209 on Twitter at @Sun209com.


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Review: “One By Land” by Schucks Road

schucks cover 150 150x150 Review: One By Land by Schucks Roadby Paul T. Mueller

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.


Follow Sun209 on Twitter at @sun209com.


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Mad: A New video from Eric Brace, Peter Cooper and friends

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

And here’s the finished project:


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