Class reunion: The original Alice Cooper band

By Ken Paulson

It’s been more than four decades, but I still remember seeing the Alice Cooper “School’s Out” tour. Complete with guillotine, they rocked Chicago Stadium. And there they were tonight, the band’s original members reuniting to deftly play “Eighteen,” “School’s Out” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy” in Nashville at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center.

I’d be surprised if Dennis Dunaway, Neal Smith and Michael Bruce have played those songs in recent years, but the rust didn’t show. The mini-set offered up driving rock and nostalgia in equal measure.

The first part of the set featured Alice’s current band, and with the early classics saved for the original band, was little heavy on album tracks of the past 20 years. That said, “Under My Wheels” and “Halo of Flies” were absolute highlights.

One side note: Alice Cooper’s shows have always been about theatricality, but it was a little jarring to have him pull out a dagger at the end of his sympathetic “Only Women Bleed” and have the audience cheer in anticipation of the stabbing to come. Maybe it’s time to retire that.

 

Tonight was a reminder, though of the enduring appeal of  radio-friendly songs, imaginative staging and a persona that never seems to age. Alice Cooper was always about hard rock and humor. Some things never change.

 

 

 

 

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Drew Holcomb and Neighbors set for Ryman

Americana Music News – This is a very big weekend for Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors. They’re playing two nights at the legendary Ryman Auditorium in Nashville – and they just have to drive across the river to get to their shows.

East Nashville is home base for this talented band, currently touring in support of their excellent new album Souvenir. We wrote  briefly and approvingly about the album in February, but may have undersold it. This is a band with top-notch musicianship and a healthy respect for hooks. “California” still looms large in our personal playlist.

Some tickets are still available for the Friday and Saturday shows, with Joe Purdy and Penny & Sparrow opening on respective nights.

2017 Americana Music Awards nominees announced

The Americana Music Association unveiled its nominees for the 2017 Americana Music Awards in a press event at the Country Music Hall of Fame.  It’s a nice mix of veterans (Rodney Crowell, John Prine), today’s mainstays (Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson) and emerging artists (Aaron Lee Tasjan, Margo Price and more.)

Album of the Year

“American Band,” Drive-By Truckers, Produced by David Barbe

“A Sailor’s Guide to Earth,” Sturgill Simpson, Produced by Sturgill Simpson

“Close Ties,” Rodney Crowell, Produced by Kim Buie and Jordan Lehning

“Freedom Highway, Rhiannon Giddens, Produced David Bither, Rhiannon Giddens and Dirk Powell

“The Navigator,” Hurray for the Riff Raff, Produced by Paul Butler

 

Artist of the Year

Jason Isbell

John Prine

Lori McKenna

Margo Price

Sturgill Simpson

 

Duo/Group of the Year

Billy Bragg & Joe Henry

Drive-By Truckers

Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives

The Lumineers

 

Emerging Artist of the Year

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Aaron Lee Tasjan

Amanda Shires

Brent Cobb

Sam Outlaw

 

Song of the Year

“All Around You,” Sturgill Simpson, Written by Sturgill Simpson

“It Ain’t Over Yet,” Rodney Crowell (with Rosanne Cash & John Paul White), Written by Rodney Crowell

“To Be Without You,” Ryan Adams, Written by Ryan Adams

“Wreck You,” Lori McKenna, Written by Lori McKenna and Felix McTeigue

 

Instrumentalist of the Year

Spencer Cullum, Jr.

Jen Gunderman

Courtney Hartman

Charlie Sexton

Reissue: James Talley’s “Tryin’ Like the Devil”

By Ken Paulson

A lot of us who were fans of  Jerry Jeff Walker, Rusty Wier, Michael Martin Murphey and others in the mid-70s were pleasantly surprised by a newcomer named James Talley. He released four albums on Capitol Records in that decade, including the highly admired Tryin’ Like the Devil.

That album is now back in a 40th anniversary edition, released by Talley’s own Cimarron Records. This edition comes with extensive liner notes and full lyrics, and is available at Talley’s site.

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Review – Rodney Crowell’s “Close Ties”

by Paul T. Mueller – There’s a little looking forward, a lot of looking back, and more than a hint of unfinished business in Rodney Crowell’s latest collection, Close Ties. The last comes courtesy of a couple of songs that reference Susanna Clark, wife of Guy Clark, Crowell’s early mentor and later peer (and competitor). In “Life Without Susanna,” Crowell describes her as “the most near perfect woman I’d ever seen” and “the most worthy opponent that I’ve ever known.” But he also talks about the darker days that followed. “Life without Susanna started when Townes Van Zandt died,” he sings “She made the bed inside her head a shelter… Nothing pierced the fortress inside her mind.” In “Nashville 1972,” Crowell describes his arrival in Music City and the beginnings of his complicated relationship with the Clarks: “I found my way around this town with a friend I made named Guy/Who loved Susanna and so did I.”

Falling into the “looking back” category, in addition to the above, is “East Houston Blues,” which recounts Rodney Crowell’s hardscrabble childhood and adolescence. A glimpse of the future comes in “I Don’t Care Anymore,” in which the singer contemplates life with less concern with the trappings of success and more comfort with the man he’s become.

Crowell’s introspective bent manifests itself in “Reckless,” in which he describes a dream fueled by the tension between temptation and guilt. In “Forgive Me, Annabelle,” he sings of belatedly coming to terms with the end of a relationship, and with his responsibility for that event.

One of the album’s more interesting tracks, in terms of both subject matter and songcraft, is “It Ain’t Over Yet,” which seems to take the form of a three-way dialogue between Crowell, Guy Clark and Susanna Clark. The song features John Paul White and Rosanne Cash as stand-ins for the Clarks, imparting such wisdom as “Here’s what I know about the gifts God gave/You can’t take ’em with you when you go to the grave” (Guy/White) and “I’ve known you forever and it’s true/If you came by it easy, you wouldn’t be you” (Susanna/Cash).

Close Ties works pretty well as a summing-up of an illustrious career. But there’s also the sense that, at 66, Rodney Crowell has much more to offer.

Other notable guests include guitarists Steuart Smith, Tommy Emmanuel and Jedd Hughes, bassist Lex Price and Michael Rhodes, drummers Ian Fitchuk and Jerry Roe, and singer Sheryl Crow.

Music legend B.J. Thomas at the Franklin Theater

B.J. Thomas described himself as “crabby” during his appearance Friday night at the Franklin theater just down the road from Nashville. It was an evening of awkward silences and some irritation with the lighting.

But it really didn’t matter. B.J. Thomas has always had a great pop voice and he ably performed songs from throughout his career, including his first hit – a 1966 cover of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” – and his final number one record  “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” from 1975.

In that nine-year period, Thomas was rarely off the charts and on Friday he showcased all of the big hits, including “Hooking on a Feeling” and “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head.”  This may have been an off night for B.J. Thomas, but you wouldn’t have known it from the music. – Ken Paulson

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’.”

 

 

 

 

 

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