Review: Chip Taylor’s “Little Prayers Trilogy”

By Ken Paulson

Little Prayers 150x150 Review: Chip Taylors Little Prayers TrilogyIt’s remarkable that the composer of one of pop’s most shallow hits now writes and records some of America’s deepest and most reflective songs.

“Wild Thing/You make my heart sing/You make everything groovy” is light years away from Chip Taylor’s compositions on The Little Prayers Trilogy, his new three-CD collection on Train Wreck Records.

Though Taylor’s early career included writing such hits as Wild Thing,” “Angel  of the Morning” and “I Can’t Let Go,” he’s carved out a less commercial path as a solo artist, beginning with a series of solo albums in the late ’60s and ‘70s that foreshadowed the Americana genre.

The new album continues his recent run of personal  and often somber recordings. Behind the Iron Door, the first disc, includes two duets with Lucinda Williams (memorable on Taylor’s earlier London Sessions Bootleg) and largely focuses on the oppressed. “Ted Williams” is not about baseball.  The surprise here, though, is the darkest Christmas song you’ve ever heard

Love and Pain, the second disc, includes the hauntingly self-aware Nothin’ Coming Out of Me That I Like,” which continues ” Nothing prayerful and nothing respectful, so I think  I’ll just shut me down  for a while and come back in a while and see who I am.”

Little Prayers is the most sparse of the three discs, although the entire project is characterized by quiet, hushed vocals and minimal instrumentation. It’s an astonishingly intimate recording; you’ll hear every catch of breath, every swallow, every purse of the lips.

This is not background music. It demands your attention. That makes it rewarding, but not a particularly comfortable listening experience.

For Chip Taylor’s long-time fans, the new collection is a thought-provoking bounty. For those new to Taylor’s music, we’d suggest the more accessible Yonkers N.Y. or even Last Chance. In his sixth decade of making music, Chip Taylor is not coasting.

Oct. 27: The Week in Americana Music

This week in Americana

30a logo large 150x150 Oct. 27: The Week in Americana MusicThe sixth annual 30A Songwriters Festival, scheduled for Jan. 16-18 in South Walton County, FL has announced its first round of artists, including Graham Nash, Indigo Girls, Leon Russell, Jason Isbell, Shawn Mullins, Sara Watkins, Chely Wright, Bobby Bare Jr., Steve Poltz, Angaleena Presley, Over the Rhine, Glen Phillips, Jeffrey Steele, Jesse Harris, Mary Gauthier, Hayes Carll, Bob Schneider, Ellis Paul, Allison Moorer, Deana Carter, Peter Karp and Sue Foley and David Ryan Harris.

In Nashville:

On Monday, Oct. 27, Sarah Jarosz and the Milk Carton Kids join forces in concert at 8 p.m. at  the CMA Theater at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

Other shows this week:

Caroline Rose Oct. 28 at the High Watt

Drive By Truckers Oct. 30 at the Ryman Auditorium

Caitlyn Smith Oct. 30 at the Station Inn

The Devil Makes Three at the Marathon Music Works Oct. 31

Rounding out the week is a Nov. 1 appearance by Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee  Pat Alger at the Country Music Hall of Fame at 11:30 a.m.

New this week:

First Waltz – Hard Working Americans

Rock and Roll Time – Jerry Lee Lewis

The Complete Epic Recordings – Stevie Ray Vaughan

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Review: The Very Best of Stories

By Ken Paulson

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

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

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

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

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

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Concert review: Rich Hopkins and the Luminarios

 by Paul T. Mueller    

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

Rich Hopkins and Luminarios

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Oct. 20 – This week in Americana music

This week in Americana

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

In Nashville:

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

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

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

Mac Wiseman at the Franklin Theatre 10/21

Los Lobos 10/22 at City Winery

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

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

New this week:

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

In the news:

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

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

Follow Sun209 on Twitter at @Sun209com.

This week in Americana music

This week in Americana

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

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

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

Steel Wheels at 3rd and Lindsley, Oct. 17

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

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

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

In the news:

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

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

Americana on tour:

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

New releases this week:

American Middle Class by Angaleena Presley

The Essential Kinks

Ride Out by Bob Seger

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

 

 

1861 Project set for Franklin Theatre

Franklin 150x150 1861 Project set for Franklin TheatreBy Ken Paulson

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

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

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

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

Tickets are available online from the Franklin Theater.

Highly recommended.

Review: Robert Earl Keen and Lyle Lovett in concert

By Paul T. Mueller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Americana honors Jackson Browne

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

Jackson Browne Sun209 350x262 Americana honors Jackson Browne

Ken Paulson and Jackson Browne

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

Highly recommended.

 

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Jason Isbell wins big at Americana Music awards

 

Isbell 350x262 Jason Isbell wins big at Americana Music awards

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

By Ken Paulson

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

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

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

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

The full list of honorees:

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

Artist of the Year: Jason Isbell

Duo or Group of the Year: The Milk Carton Kids

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

Emerging Artist of the Year: Sturgill Simpson

Instrumentalist of the year: Buddy Miller

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

Lifetime Achievement for Instrumentalist: Flaco Jimenez

Lifetime Achievement for Performance: Taj Mahal

Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriter: Loretta Lynn

President’s Award: Jimmie Rodgers

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Calico shines at release party in LA

By Terry Roland

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

calicohotelcafe 350x233 Calico shines at release party in LA

Calico

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

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

rod3 150x150 Calico shines at release party in LA

Rod Melancon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 (All photos courtesy Jacki Sackheim.)

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What’s Americana music? Answer spans decades

By Rich Gordon

What’s Americana music?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Twangdogs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Americana Music Festival’s deep, diverse line-up

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

Andrew Combs

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

Shovels and Rope’s “Swimmin’ Time”

shovels 2 150x150 Shovels and Ropes Swimmin TimeBy Ken Paulson

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow Sun209 on Twitter at @Sun209com.

Holly Williams, BR5-49 added to festival

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

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

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

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

 

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Free speech honor for Jackson Browne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow Sun209 on Twitter at @Sun209com.

Sun 209: 60 years on

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

Americana Festival announces 2014 line-up

Avetts AMA 350x233 Americana Festival announces 2014 line up

The Avett Brothers at the 2011 Americana Awards show

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

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

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

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

Bill Lloyd on NRBQ’s “honest joy”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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