Doyle and Debbie interview: Behind the scenes

By Ken Paulson

Walk by the venerable Station Inn tomorrow night or on many evenings throughout the year and you’ll hear raucous laughter coming from inside the Nashville venue.

Strange. Bluegrass isn’t that funny.

But Doyle and Debbie are. They’re the lead characters in an irreverent musical that parodies traditional country songs in a non-traditional way. “When You’re Screwin’ Other Women (Think of Me)” pretty much says it all.

The show – in residency at the Station Inn – recreates Doyle’s “comeback” tour with his “third Debbie.” It satirizes old school country, but with an affectionate nod.

The show was created and written by Bruce Arnston, and features Arnston and Jenny Littleton in the title roles.  We had the chance to talk with both recently about this truly singular show:

New: Mavericks, Rodney Crowell, Drew Holcomb

Lari White’s “Old Friends, New Loves”

Americana Music News- Lari White, literally a star of stage, screen and recordings, has a new double-EP out called Old Friends, New Loves. We had the chance to talk with her about her new release on board Delbert McClinton’s Sandy Beaches Cruise 2017.

Merle Hazard: Invested in country music

Americana Music News – Nashville is full of talented artists, but you wouldn’t trust many of them  to manage your portfolio.

Enter Merle Hazard, a singer, songwriter and economics expert. (Hey, we all need something to fall back on.) If Weird Al had a doctorate in economics, he would be Merle Hazard.

Sans hat, Merle’s secret identity is Jon Shayne, a man of significant fiscal responsibility. We asked Merle about the melding of music and money management. His account:

Ever since the first rumblings of the financial crisis, in 2007, I have been putting out the occasional country song about the economy. I grew up mostly in Nashville, and I’m a money manager. Maybe it is a way of reconciling parts of myself that otherwise wouldn’t fit together. I have lately been putting out about one per year.

Musically, I love the old country records produced by Billy Sherrill and Owen Bradley. My latest number is styled more in the tradition of Flatt and Scruggs, however. I still remember hearing “Rollin’ in My Sweet Baby’s Arms” as a young boy. (Ironically, that was in an apartment in Manhattan, where my family lived until I was six.)

I also love Tom Lehrer and Cole Porter. In some ways, they are my natural musical home, more than country. I listened to a lot of Tom Lehrer and Top 40 pop, growing up.

The name “Merle Hazard” is first and foremost a pun on the economic concept of “moral hazard.” It is also a tip of the cowboy hat to the Merles who preceded, particularly Merle Travis and the late,  great Merle Haggard.

My songs live mainly on YouTube. Sometimes the PBS NewsHour and the BBC World Service use them in reports, and professors use them in the classroom. The song that gets quoted the most is “Inflation or Deflation?” That one showed up in a German economics journal and in a couple of books on economics.

For my first few songs, I was timid about approaching Nashville session pros, fearing that they would laugh. And I mean laugh “at,” not “with.” With help from one session musician I got to know, I finally began to realize that they might not mind, and might even find the project amusing, at least if I paid them what they normally make for sessions. I started to use a group of Opry sidemen out in Hendersonville for some tracks and they did wonderful work.

For my latest song, “How Long (Will Interest Rates Stay Low)?,” the idea was for a Flatt-and-Scruggs-style number. I asked Alison Brown, Nashville’s queen of the banjo, for help. We have some mutual friends from college days, and connected that way. She has a great sense of humor and has been generous beyond measure. She appeared in the video, as does her daughter. Alison assembled a dream band consisting of herself, Tammy Rogers King, Trey Hensley, and Garry West, who is her husband, for that one. I was totally blown away by their playing and hope to do more with Alison and her musicians in the future.

My songs read mainly as humor. But they are all about things that bug me, as a money manager or as a citizen. “How Long (Will Interest Rates Stay Low)?” is a a joke, of course. But it is also a kind of lament, if you take the perspective of a retiree trying to earn income on bank CDs, or a money manager like me who is trying to help clients. 

Review: Sandy Beaches Cruise 2017

By Ken Paulson

The Sandy Beaches Cruise, the much-loved music festival at sea hosted by Delbert McClinton, rocked – in more ways than one – throughout its 23rd annual edition.

While the U.S. was shivering from a wide-ranging cold front, the temperatures on the Holland America Oosterdam were far more pleasant, but accompanied by high winds and waves. That left a number of artists struggling to keep their footing on stage and dancing audience members discovering moves they didn’t know they had.

But this is one cruise where the weather is almost irrelevant. People return to the Sandy Beaches Cruise every year because the musical talent is deep and the vibe is relaxed. When cruisers meet each other, the first question is almost always “How many of these have you been on?” There’s status in numbers.

week kicked off with Marcia Ball and Teresa James, strategic scheduling that got the audience up out of its seats on the very first night. That pattern held throughout the week with highly danceable music from McClinton, Marc Broussard, Jimmy Hall, Clay McClinton, Gary Nicholson, Lee Roy Parnell, Wayne Toups and Mike Zito.

The Mavericks performed three exuberant shows, though one was in the face of powerful winds and a cascade of sea spray. I’m not sure I’ve seen a more challenging performance environment, but the band – and the faithful – stayed the course.

The World Famous Headliners, a band comprised of NRBQ veteran Al Anderson, Shawn Camp, Pat McLaughlin, Michael Rhodes and Greg Morrow, were cruise favorites. There are a few songs on which their three lead vocals mesh and sound strikingly like the Band, but with a sense of humor. The Headliners have recorded two fine albums, but almost never perform, so those on board for the cruise the past two years have probably seen a majority of their shows.

The McCrary Sisters are the spiritual heart of the cruise, offering up a powerful mix of soul and gospel. Their medley of “I Can See Clearly Now/Let the Sun Shine In” was a musical weather forecast, with a bit of wishful thinking thrown in.

The surprise of the week was a salute to Eric Burdon and the Animals, led by Red Young, who played with Burdon for decades. It turns out that Teresa James and members of the Rhythm Tramps also served as latter-day Animals, and they joined Young on this impressive revue of Burdon’s best. James herself took the lead on “Don’t Bring Me Down.”

“Pianorama” is always a highlight of the Sandy Beaches Cruise. This impromptu annual jam session led by Marcia Ball brings together nearly a dozen great keyboard players. Adrenaline flows and the performances are inspired.

Lari White, Etta Britt and Kree Harrison offered up impressive solo showcases, while the Band of Heathens, the Howlin’ Brothers and Mingo Fishtrap delivered well-received sets, tapping into country, rock and traditional music. No one had a more traditional sound than the Quebe Sisters who channel brilliant harmonies (they say the Mills Brothers are their model) and a love of Bob Wills into a vibrant and contemporary take on Western Swing

The Sandy Beaches Cruise songwriters sessions are always entertaining and probably merit a larger venue. One show was dedicated to Lubbock, Texas (in a back-handed sort of way.) It featured a very funny monologue by Jaston Williams of “Greater Tuna” fame, who explored the city’s quirks. “Our homosexuals were not all that gay,” he noted. Gary Nicholson had a great story of his own, recalling a truly crazed friend who rescued him from a biker gang. Delbert shared his own account of seeing UFOs high over Lubbock. Kimmie Rhodes organized the session, which also included stories and music from Sharon Vaughn.

Other songwriting shows featured Bruce “Hey Baby” Channel, Bob DiPiero, Donnie Fritts, Danny Flowers, HalleyAnna, Terry McBride, Tom Hambridge, Spooner Oldham, Kevin Welch, Dustin Welch and Lari White, among others.

Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real was this year’s revelation. Fresh off backing Neil Young, Willie Nelson’s sixth child delivered a high energy show reminiscent of the power trios of the late ‘60s. His own material – highlights included “Four Letter Word” and “Can You Hear Me Love You” – was complemented by nods to the past, from Paul Simon’s “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” to Roger Miller’s “King of the Road.”

And then there are Doyle and Debbie, aka Bruce Arnston and Jenny Littleton. The duo, along with Matt Carlton, offer up the story of a washed-up country star who latches onto a talented and desperate young woman and launches a comeback tour. The show, which features songs like “When You’re Screwing Other Women (think of me)” and “Fat Women in Trailers,” has been touring – and on the cruise – for a decade, and for good reason. It’s one of the funniest and most irreverent shows you’ll ever see.

The final show of the Sandy Beaches Cruise  always features Delbert McClinton and a wide range of guest artists. Gary Nicholson assembled about a dozen friends from Nashville, who joined him in singing “More Days Like This,” a fitting sentiment after 7 days of soulful and satisfying performances.

Delbert McClinton’s “Prick of the Litter”

Americana Music NewsDelbert McClinton is about to release “Prick of the Litter,” his 19th album. We spoke with him on board his annual Sandy Beaches music cruise, a weeklong music festival at sea that features the Mavericks, Marcia Ball, Teresa James, World Famous Headliners and many more country, blues and Americana artists.

Guy Clark’s Dualtone work collected

New: Molly and Me’s “Old Friend”


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Review: Aaron Lee Tasjan’s “Silver Tears”

 

silvertears_160By Paul T. Mueller – With his new album Silver Tears, Aaron Lee Tasjan nails an impressive achievement – channeling a roster of worthy influences while remaining true to his own voice and vision. Tasjan, an accomplished singer-songwriter and guitarist based in East Nashville, leads off with “Hard Life,” which does in fact deal with difficulties, but in a bouncy pop style that brings to mind Harry Nilsson. “Little Movies” casts life in cinematic terms – “Watch the day unfold in little movies / With silver tears that sparkle from my eyes” – recalling John Lennon in both its arrangement and its lyrics. The dramatic “Ready to Die” evokes Warren Zevon in its fatalistic lyrics (“I’m ready to die / For a worthy cause / It’s ’cause I’m tired of feeling bad”).

Tasjan, who’s done stints with the New York Dolls and drivin n cryin in addition to his solo work, is a master of many musical styles, as shown here on the introspective ballad “Refugee Blues,” the soulful twang of “Memphis Rain,” the quiet folksiness of “On Your Side,” the bluesy New Orleans vibe of “12 Bar Blues,” and the exuberant R&B of “Success.” All of it is driven by richly textured instrumental support, not least of which are Tasjan’s excellent guitars. It’s also peppered with lyrical wisdom. “One day, they said the future / Was flying cars and a ride on a rocket,” Tasjan sings in “Till the Town Goes Dark.” “Time passed and all I got / Was America today and a TV in my pocket.” Credit to producer Eli Thomson and a fine group of supporting musicians.

In “Success,” Tasjan observes, “Success ain’t about being better than everyone else / It’s about being better than yourself.” Given that Silver Tears is his strongest and most consistent effort to date, that makes Aaron Lee Tasjan, by his own lights, a success. Listeners are likely to agree.

New release: Kacey Musgraves’ “Very Kacey Christmas”

kacey-christmasAmericana Music NewsKacey Musgraves has a new holiday album, aptly titled A Very Kacey Christmas. She talked about the unconventional collection of Yuletide tunes in an interview on WMOT Roots Radio at the Family Wash in East Nashville yesterday.

There are standards – “Let It Snow” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” among them – but plenty of surprises as well. There’s the obscure 1953 hit “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” and a cover of “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late.)”

Guest appearances include Willie Nelson on “A Willie Nice Christmas,” plus the Quebe Sisters and Leon Bridges.

First-person: Aaron Lee Tasjan’s “Silver Tears”

Americana Music News – Aaron Lee Tasjan dropped by the Family Wash in Nashville today to sing a few songs on a WMOT Roots Radio broadcast in support of his new album “Silver Tears.” Here he talks about the new recording and an unusual promotional tour.

New releases: Mavericks, Dale Watson, Becky Warren

New and recent releases:

mavericks-liveThe MavericksAll Night Live, Vol. 1 – Mondo Mundo Records – The Mavericks have had an extraordinary resurgence in recent years, emerging as top Americana music artists. All Night Live, Vol. 1 is packed with vibrant live versions of songs, largely from recent albums, plus a charming cover of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon. The collection is the first release on the band’s new Mondo Mundo label, and lead singer  Raul Malo told the Tennessean there are “so many freakin’ volumes” to come in the “All Night Live” series. A new studio album is expected in April 2017.

Blind PilotAnd Then Like Lions – ATO Records – Third album from the Portland-based band, now on tour in California.

Jesse DaytonThe Revealer – Blue Elan Records – The ninth album from Jesse Dayton includes standout track “Holy Ghost Rock ‘n’ Roller,” now getting good play on WMOT. He’s on tour through early December

dale-watsonDale WatsonUnder the Influence – BFD – Dale Watson revisits honky tonk and country classics on this new collection, including covers of Doug Sham, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Conway Twitty, Lefty Frizell and Mel Tillis.

Becky WarrenWar Surplus – Here’s a novel album concept. Nashville-based Becky Warren tells the story of a solider in Iraq and his girlfriend, with songs alternating their points of view. Warren goes on tour with the Indigo Girls beginning October 27.

Cris JacobsDust to Gold – American Showplace Music – Second album from Cris Jacobs, on tour through October and November.

nipperDavid Nipper EP – Fresh collection from talented Nashville singer-songwriter David Nipper. He’ll appear in the round  at the Commodore Grill in Nashville on November 10 with Phil Dillon and Dave Gibson.

Jack Tempchin One More Song – Blue Elan Records – New album from Eagles collaborator and songwriter Jack Tempchin is an intimate collection, opening with his Johnny Rivers classic “Slow Dancin’.”

 

 

Review: Suzy Bogguss’ “Aces Redux”

suzy-bogguss-aces-reduxBy Ken Paulson

Suzy Bogguss  was kind enough to join us a few weeks ago at the Country Music Hall of Fame for the re-launch of WMOT, Nashville’s new Americana radio station. We had the chance to talk briefly about Aces Redux, a revisiting of Aces, her breakthrough album of 25 years ago.

She said her goal was to record the same songs, but with a more organic feel. She’s succeeded.

You live and learn a lot in a quarter century and this new recording reflects both the strength of that original album and Bogguss’ growth as an artist.

Three songs on the album – “Outbound Plane,” “Aces” and “Letting Go” – soared into the country music Top 10 in 1991 and 1992, with “Someday Soon” nestled in at number 12. Still, the new release showcases the other charms on the collection, particularly “Save Yourself” and “Part of Me.”

Timothy B. Schmit opens tour in Nashville

 

Timothy B. Schmit in concert at the City Winery in Nashville

Timothy B. Schmit in concert at the City Winery in Nashville

By Ken Paulson

Timothy B. Schmit, veteran of both the Eagles and Poco, opened his new tour at the City Winery in Nashville tonight, following a number of guest appearances during the 2016 Americana Music Festival.

The tour is to promote his new album Leap of Faith, and most of his set was drawn from that album, including the engaging “My Hat” and the radio friendly “Red Dirt Road.”

If the set was short on familiarity, it was long on musicality and harmonies.

Schmit was in fine voice, and he’s put together a good band, with multiple vocalists.

Schmit did dip into the catalog for his big Eagles hit  “I Can’t Tell You Why,” plus “Love Will Keep Us Alive,” “I Don’t Want to Hear Anymore” and the Poco classic “Keep On Tryin’.”

 

 

 

 

 

Snapshots: Americana Music Festival

The official programming at the annual Americana Music Festival is just part of the entertainment. All over town, artists perform on stages at record stores and restaurants. A sampling:

Yola Carter at the UK showcase at the Groove in East Nashville.

Yola Carter at the UK showcase at the Groove in East Nashville.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jared Tyler, whose new album "Dirt on Your Hands" is set for release this fall.

Jared Tyler, whose new album “Dirt on Your Hands” is set for release this fall.

Ray Hoover at Fond Objects

Ray Hoover at Fond Objects

William the Conqueror at the Groove

William the Conqueror at the Groove

 

 

Jason Isbell tops Americana Music Awards

By Ken Paulson

The annual Americana Music Awards and Honors event is always a special evening and one of the most memorable musical events in a city legendary for them.
This year I had the honor of joining Joe Henry in awarding the Spirit of Americana Free Speech Award to Billy Bragg. That’s always an honor, and offers the chance to see witness the backstage energy at the Ryman Auditorium. The artists are always pumped for  this special show.
That translates onstage to truly striking performances.
Most surprising was George Strait’s performance with Jim Lauderdale of the latter’s “King of Broken Hearts.” I’d never seen Strait on stage before and it quickly became clear why he’s such a giant in country music. Show host Lauderdale, who received the rarely-awarded Wagonmaster Award,  seemed deeply touched by Strait’s appearance.
Jason Isbell had a another great year, winning the awards for top album and song of the year.
The evening’s winners at the 2-16 Americana Music Awards;
Album of the Year: Something More Than Free, Jason Isbell, Produced by Dave Cobb
Artist of the Year: Chris Stapleton
Group/Duo of the Year: Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell
Song of the Year: “24 Frames” Jason Isbell; Written by Jason Isbell
Emerging Artist of the Year: Margo Price
Instrumentalist of the Year: Sara Watkins
Spirit of Americana/Free Speech in Music Award co-presented by the Americana Music
Association and the First Amendment Center: Billy Bragg
Lifetime Achievement Award, Trailblazer: Shawn Colvin
Lifetime Achievement Award, Songwriting: William Bell
Lifetime Achievement Award, Performance: Bob Weir
Lifetime Achievement Award, WagonMaster: Jim Lauderdale
President’s Award: Woody Guthrie

Surf’s Up: Brian Wilson at the Ryman

By Ken Paulson

Brian Wilson wrapped up his two-night stand at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville last night with a generous set that included the full Pet Sounds album. Playing with a remarkable band that included Beach Boys veterans Al Jardine and Blondie Champlin, Wilson offered up most of the big hits, along with lesser known treats like “Wild Honey,” “Salt Lake City” and the international hit “Cottonfields.”

Oddly, Wilson described the latter – composed by Leadbelly – as a song that he and Jardine wrote. He said the same thing about Sloop John B, traditional folk song that he arranged. Wilson is a better songwriter than historian.

It’s no secret that Brian Wilson has not been comfortable on a stage for a half-century, and obviously he doesn’t have the voice he once had. Still the songs remain rich and powerful and it’s a privilege to hear the composer sing his own “God Only Knows,” bathed in extraordinary harmonies from his first-rate band.

WMOT launch: Jim Lauderdale, Suzy Bogguss, Will Hoge

Jim Lauderdale hosted the launch party for new Americana radio station WMOT at the Country Music Hall of Fame, drawing on the talents of Will Hoge, Suzy Bogguss, Mike Farris and an All-Star Americana band. The new station, based at Middle Tennessee State University’s College of Media and Entertainment, can be accessed on mobile devices with the Roots Radio app for Apple and Android devices.

New Releases: The Coalmen, Chip Taylor

By Ken Paulson

New and recent releases:

CoalmenThe CoalmenPushed to the Side – Coming August 19 is Pushed to the Side, the fifth album from the Nashville-based Coalmen. Band leader Dave Coleman is a next-generation Tony Joe White, writing soulful and thoughtful songs and he’s joined here by Dave Ray and Paul Slivka. The songs are sometimes sobering and always well-crafted. Highlights include “Depreciation,”  an insightful song about the aging process and the driving “The Payoff.”

Various artists On Top of Old Smoky – New Old Time Smoky Mountain Music – In the excellent liner notes to this new collection,Ted Olson explains that a scholar named Joseph Sargeant Hall was hired in 1937 to research the local culture and record the music of the Smoky Mountains just before those living there had to move to make way for the new national park. This collection features contemporary artists, including Dolly Parton, and Norman and Nanci Blake, revisiting the songs captured by Hall.

chip taylorChip TaylorLittle Brothers – Trainwreck Records – It’s hard to say which is more remarkable – Chip Taylor’s prolific output or the consistent thoughtfulness behind his work. His new collection include “Refugee Children,” a song about kids he met during his travels in Europe and “Enlighten Yourself,” a self-help song he punctures with his own irreverent commentary. Taylor also has a bonus release– I’ll Carry For You – a song about the bond between sisters.

Sarah WatkinsYoung in All the Wrong WaysNew West – This striking new collection from Sarah Watkins shows her growing confidence and skills as a songwriter. It’s a long way from Nickel Creek.

Ruby Dee and the Snake HandlersLittle Black Heart – Caddy Town Records -Today is the release date for a new album from Ruby Dee, who overcame  significant medical challenges to release this rockabilly-fueled collection.

 

Amy Black, Spooner Oldham salute Muscle Shoals

Americana Music News – Tonight Amy Black brought a bit of Muscle Shoals to the City Winery in Nashville,

Spooner Oldham and Amy Black

Spooner Oldham and Amy Black

showcasing classic songs from her Muscle Shoals Sessions album with a horn section and a guest appearance by the legendary songwriter and keyboardist Spooner Oldham.

The evening’s highlight was Black’s duet with Oldham on “I’m Your Puppet, the James and Bobby Purify hit written by Oldham and Dan Penn.

Other great renditions included the “Lou Rawls version” of “Bring it On Home to Me,” Mel and Tim’s “Starting All Over Again,  and Arthur Alexander’s classic “You Better Move On.”

 

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