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.
We’re fans of Eric Brace and were glad to hear the news that one of his songs inspired a NASA video and tribute to Neil Armstrong.
In Eric’s words: I’m extraordinarily honored and proud that the folks at NASA heard my song “Tranquility Base” and are using it to help commemorate the first anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s death (Sunday). The video they created to accompany the song, using footage from the historic Apollo 11 mission, is spectacularly beautiful and moving and can be seenhere on NASA’s website.
Someone once said, “Geography is destiny,” and that certainly seems true of Not Cool, the new CD from much-traveled singer-songwriter Tim Easton. Easton recently moved to the Nashville area after several years in the Mojave Desert town of Joshua Tree, California. Fittingly, many of the songs on Not Cool have an early rock ‘n’ roll/rockabilly sound that’s well suited to the home of country music, and Easton’s lyrics (he wrote 10 of the 11 tracks) have taken a more straightforward direction, in contrast to the sometimes oblique nature of much of his recent work.
In keeping with the vintage sound, the CD’s running time totals only 30 minutes, with eight of the 11 tracks clocking in at three minutes or less. Themes include life’s travails (“Troubled Times,” “Four Queens,” “Gallatin Pike Blues”) and bad romance (“Don’t Lie,” “Lickety Split” and the title track). But the grim subject matter is offset by bouncy arrangements, mostly featuring the excellent guitar playing of Easton, J.D. Simo and Sadler Vaden. Megan Palmer, Easton’s partner in a duo called Out of Our Tree, contributes sweet violin and vocals on several tracks.
Easton saves the best for last, closing the album with “Knock Out Roses (For Levon),” a beautiful tribute to the late Levon Helm. Written, according to Easton, the day Helm died, it’s an acoustic instrumental featuring an old-timey sound, set to a lively waltz tempo, but with a melancholy undertone. The song’s delicate interplay of guitar, banjo and violin fades out near the end, leaving only the violin to carry the tune to its end. Sweet.
Americana Music News – Bluegrass duo the Roys were all over the CMA Festival in Nashville this week and we caught them in a makeshift concert hall adjacent to the Nashville Visitors’ Center. They played a brief and entertaining set that included a preview of their new album Gypsy Runaway Train and a fun cover of the Johnny Cash hit “Ring of Fire.”
We’re always going to be partial to an album that includes a spirited cover of Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” the flip side of – ahem – Sun209, the first Elvis single. The Rays find a middle ground between the original and the frenetic Elvis cover.
The title track on this engaging album celebrates music fans: “We love your smilin’ faces standing in the crowd.” When you play this well at a mid-day show, competing with the volume of a much louder show next door, for an audience that largely just wandered in, that sentiment rings true.
Americana Music News – We saw the diversity of Tin Pan South tonight at two 6 p.m. shows in distinctly different venues.
J.D. Souther hosted an evening at Douglas Corner, where the room was dark and the audience was hushed and almost reverential. The club was packed and the sign outside said the room was at capacity (which happened with some disappointing regularity this week.)
Across town, the irreverent foursome of Don Henry, Karen Staley, Jerry Vandiver and Jack Sundrud held court at the much brighter Commodore Grille at the West End Holiday Inn. Henry sang about a guitar tossed into a tree after a spat, Staley described her “Thyroid Condition” with a nod to Hank Williams Jr. and Vandiver delivered the pun-plentiful “Athens Grease.”
–I met Kenny O’Dell at a press conference announcing the new Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame earlier this year, and mentioned how much I had enjoyed his Beautiful People album, released in 1967.
O’Dell, who is a member of the Hall of Fame, was gracious and seemed surprised that anyone remembered the pop album he recorded before going on to fame in country music.
Now with the re-issue of that album on Real Gone Music, many more can appreciate this modest pop gem. Largely a collection of quick recordings pulled together to capitalize on O’Dell’s Top 40 hit “Beautiful People,” the album features the hits of the era – “Kentucky Woman” and “Different Drum” among them – and also his “Next Train to London,” which became a hit for the Rose Garden.
O’Dell’s vocals were similar to Bobby Vee’s, so it probably wasn’t a surprise that Vee’s cover of “Beautiful People” also broke into the Top 40, undercutting O’Dell’s own chart success.
O’Dell went on to write “Behind Closed Doors” for Charlie Rich and even had his own career as a country artist, butthis bonus track-laden re-issue of Beautiful People shows him to be a strong pop writer and performer as well.
By Ken Paulson – It’s the rare children’s album that delights adults as much as kids , but that’s certainly the case with The Mighty Sky, a new album from Beth Nielsen Chapman.
The album offers lessons in astronomy through a wide array of pop songs written by Chapman, Annie Roboff and Rocky Alvey, giving parents the chance to play spot-the-genre while their kids learn about the moon and stars.
There’s the joyous pop of “Big Bang Boom,” the doo-wop of “The Moon,” the straight ahead “Rockin Little Neutron Star” (with Bill Lloyd and Steve Allen) and of course, the “Zodiacal Zydeco.” “You Can See the Blues” could have been written by Leiber and Stoller – if they had been astronomers.
Speaking of astronomers, the lyrics to The Mighty Sky were written by Alvey, the director of Vanderbilt Dyer Observatory in Nashville. They’re both informative and engaging, teaching in the most entertaining and low-key way.
Follow Sun 209: Americana Music News on Twitter at @Sun209com.
Americana Music News – One of the most pleasant surprises on the 2012 Cayamo cruise was Holly Williams. She proved to be a self-assured performer with impressive material. We saw her again at the 30A Songwriters Festival two weeks ago.
Now fresh off an appearance on the Tonight Show, the granddaughter of Hank Williams (yes, that one), is performing at the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville on Feb. 12 at 7:30. Tickets are $15.
Her new album The Highway is out now and features guest performances by Jackson Browne, Jakob Dylan and Dierks Bentley.
Follow Sun209: Americana Music News at @Sun209com.
Joseph and Victor Wooten at 3rd and Lindsley in Nashville.
Joseph Wooten, keyboard player for the Steve Miller band and a solo artist, invited his brothers for a reunion and Christmas party in Nashville on Dec. 21. Soul classics prevailed, plus the funkiest version of Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song” ever performed.
Follow Sun209: Americana Music News on Twitter at @Sun209com.
Nashville – For a genre that sometimes struggles to establish itself, Americana Music was very visible at tonight’s Grammy Nominations Concert at Bridgestone Arena.
Guest presenters the Lumineers were nominated along with the Alabama Shakes for the Grammy award as best new artist. Mumford & Sons’ Babel was nominated as best album of the year. Throw in a Johnny Cash salute from Dierks Bentley and The Band Perry and you could almost overlook the fact that Maroon 5 was about 30 percent of the show.
The musical highlight of the evening was fun. and Janelle Monae doing “We Are Young” with a string section. The audience sing-along was joyous.
You’ll find a full list of Grammy nominations here.
Follow Sun209: Americana Music News on Twitter at @sun209com.
By Paul T. Mueller–Brand New is billed as the debut album of Nashville singer Brittany Spriggs. At five tracks some would call it an EP, but maybe that’s just semantics. Either way it’s fair to call it a radio-friendly first outing for an up-and-coming country artist.
Country by the current Nashville definition, that is – glossy pop with a bit of twang. Spriggs’ father, Nashville guitarist and songwriter Michael Spriggs, produced the project and plays acoustic guitar, accompanied by a competent cast of fellow Music City veterans, including past or current members of Little Texas and Jason Aldean’s road band.
All of it is in service to Brittany’s voice, which sounds great – from soft and warm on the quiet ballads (“Deeper,” “I Don’t Know”) to powerful on the rockers (“Full Moon Friday,” “That Song Was Better Than You,” “Undone”). Whether the material is distinctive enough to make Brittany Spriggs a star remains to be seen, but Brand New seems like a promising start.
Follow Sun209: Americana Music News on Twitter at Sun209com.
Americana Music News –Eileen Ivers, an extraordinary violinist best known for her performances with Riverdance, comes to Nashville on Friday, Oct. 26, for a concert at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s James K. Polk Theater.
It should be a good fit. Just as Nashville has outgrown its country music roots, Ivers has moved past her reputation as a Celtic musician to embrace the sound of multiple countries.
With her band Immigrant Soul, Ivers explores a range of world, funk, pop, jazz and Irish music. Ivers’ fiddle work is impeccable and energizing, regardless of the genre.
A 9-time all-Ireland fiddle champion, Ivers first came to prominence as a member of Cherish the Ladies.
Carpenter, who played the Ryman Auditorium Friday night, is being recognized for a body of work that includes “I Feel Lucky,” “Down at the Twist and Shout” and “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her.”
Henley wrote a number of hit songs, including the Bette Midler hit “Wind Beneath My Wings.” Both Arata and Williams enjoyed success writing for Garth Brook. Among other Brooks hits, Arata wrote “The Dance” and Williams’ wrote “Ain’t Goin Down ‘Til the Sun Comes Up.”For more information on the inductees, see the Hall of Fame’s website.
Follow Sun209: Americana Music News on Twitter at @sun209com.
“ Fourteen years ago the First Amendment Center took a distinctly musical turn.
Our Nashville-based center decided to take advantage of its presence in Music City and organized a charitable event focusing on free speech and music. The concept was simple: Music is free speech with a melody; this new “Freedom Sings” project would feature songs that had once been censored or challenged.
This year’s Freedom Sings concert … will focus on the years 1972-1974, which we’ve collectively tagged “The Watergate Years.”
As we researched music from those three years, we were surprised at how apolitical popular music had become. The strident anti-war anthems of the late 1960s were gone, and only a handful of songs seemed to focus on the turmoil of the times. This was a period in which the nation was still trying to extricate itself from Vietnam, we had our first taste of the oil crisis and the presidency was embroiled in scandal. And yet pop songs largely avoided all of those issues.
This year’s Freedom Sings focuses less on censored music and more on the songs and artists that broke new ground, addressing new topics in new ways. These include “Superfly,” Curtis Mayfield’s take on inner city life, Merle Haggard’s, “If I Can Make It to December,” Paul Simon’s poignant “American Tune” and Randy Newman’s “Sail Away.”
Eleven is the title of Martina McBride’s latest album, and those digits began the onscreen countdown for her performance at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville tonight.
That bit of stagecraft foreshadowed a generous two-hour set spanning most of her hits and a surprising number of covers. Martina told the audience from the outset that this would be a more intimate evening, allowing her to perform at her own pace and interact with the audience.
Despite her gift for ballads, the set was consistently up-tempo, with particularly driving performances of “This One’s For the Girls” and “When God-Fearin’ Women Get the Blues,” among others.
We’ve always admired McBride’s gravitation to songs with a social conscience and she delivered both Gretchen Peters’ “Independence Day” and Buzz Cason and Tom Douglas’ “Love’s the Only House” with passion and energy.
Most surprising was her remarkable arrays of covers, including “Rose Garden” and “Help Me Make It Through the Night” from her Timeless album. Her take on Roger Miller’s “King of the Road” was great fun, and her encore of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” and the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” were as joyous as a 1984 prom.
Follow Sun209: Americana Music News on Twitter at @sun209com.
By Ken Paulson –Nick Lowe has been a regular in Music City in the last year or so, opening for Wilco at the Ryman Auditorium and being feted at the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Still, it was a real treat to see him deliver a decades-spanning acoustic set at the Mercy Lounge Saturday night.
The 64-year-old Lowe has aged gracefully, with wry observational songs replacing the buoyant rock songs of his early years. His intimate performance meant every lyric resonated, particularly those of “I Read A Lot” and “House for Sale,” heart-rending tales of lost love.
The most surprising audience reaction came during “I Trained Her to Love Me,” a dark and chilling song about a manipulative man who seduces and then abandons. The audience found this hilarious, and a bemused Nick played to it.
Lowe didn’t neglect his catalog. ” Old favorites included “Without Love,” “When I Write the Book,” “Heart,” “Raining” and his sole hit “Cruel to Be Kind.”
“What’s So Funny (about Peace, Love and Understanding?” is his best copyright and though his current rendition isn’t the full throttle rocker recorded by Elvis Costello, the spirit is intact. “I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll)” was a particular treat.
Nick Lowe remains an extraordinary songwriter and a compelling performer. He’s not to be missed.
Follow Sun209: Americana Music News at @sun209com.
Americana Music News – This year was another extraordinary Americana Music Festival, with an overflowing slate of talent. Here’s a sampling of images that only hint at the range of artists:
Photos copyright 2012 by Ken Paulson. Follow Americana Music News on Twitter at Sun209com.
One of the highlights of Americana Music Festival week in Nashville is Americanarama, sort of the ultimate in-store, but held outside in the parking lot of beloved record store Grimey’s.
We dropped by to watch impressive sets by the Howling Brothers, Amy Cook and Kim Richey, who recently moved back to Nashville and has been recording a new album.
We also dug through thousands of $1 albums, and ended up buying 25 relative obscurities, including a two-disc album capturing the highlights of the Nixon-Kenedy debates. We wonder if they released a single.
Follow Americana Music News on Twitter at @sun209com.
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