New release: Two Tracks’ “Post Card Town”

Americana Music News – Coming May 19 is Postcard Town , the new album from the Wyoming-based Two Tracks. It’s clearly a tightly-knit band with comfortable harmonies and a fun approach.

They reached out to Will Kimbrough to produce this set and that has paid dividends.

Here’s their mini-documentary on the making of “Postcard Town”:

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.

The Whiskey Gentry’s new album “Dead Ringer” released

The Whiskey Gentry have just released their first album since 2013 and it marks a vibrant step forward for this Atlanta-based band. The talented Lauren Staley remains at the forefront, singing songs that draw on the joys and travails of playing music for a living. “Dead Ringer” captures the hunger for affirmation – “Everybody tells me I’m a dead ringer for a more famous girl on the radio” and the English degree left behind – “If you want to talk Shakespeare, then now’s your chance.”

“Dead Ringer” highlights include the blistering “Paris,” “Rock & Roll Band,” “Following You” and a wonderful cover of Rosanne Cash’s “Seven Year Ache.”

The Whiskey Gentry are on tour this spring, with upcoming dates in Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee. – Ken Paulson

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Re-issue: Lesley Gore’s “Love Me By Name”

By Ken Paulson

Real Gone Music remains a great friend to fans of ’60s pop music queens, with a fine catalog recognizing the legacies of Dusty Springfield, Petula Clark, Jackie DeShannon, and recently,  Lesley Gore. Following up their reissue of her Someplace Else Now, Real Gone Music has issued an expanded edition of the 1976 album Love Me By Name.

This adventurous album with a sci-fi cover reunited Lesley Gore with producer Quincy Jones, who recorded all of her early “It’s My Party”-era hits. Lesley hadn’t had much success in the ’70s, and this was a stab at giving her a contemporary sound.

It succeeded in doing that, though the album didn’t find an audience. Love Me By Name features an all-star group of players (Herbie Hancock, Harvey Mason, Jim Keltner and  Dave Grusin among them) , and includes “Sometimes,” a performance with the then-emerging Brothers Johnson.

Lesley co-wrote the songs with Ellen Weston, and they ‘re well-crafted. I’ve long admired “Immortality,” the single from the album. It’s about reincarnation or more precisely bouncing back from death. It is the peppiest song ever about the afterlife and features an 11 syllable hook: “Im-im-im-im-im-mo- mo – Imortality.”

Lesley Gore had a rich writing and recording career long after the “party” was over. This new collection captures some of her most ambitious later work.

New: Mavericks, Rodney Crowell, Drew Holcomb

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.

New releases: Paul Thorn, Kimbrough & DeMeyer

Americana Music News – New and recent releases:

Review: John Egan’s “Magnolia City”

By Paul T. Mueller

egan_magnolia_150On his latest collection, Magnolia City, Houston-based singer-songwriter John Egan goes back to the basics – a stomp board, a couple of National steel guitars, and a voice well suited to a 10-song mix of classic blues and folk songs and well-crafted originals.

Although Egan seems comfortable fronting a band, he’s more often to be found playing on his own, and he has said that Magnolia City is an effort to reproduce the feel of those solo gigs. It succeeds, fueled by Egan’s skilled picking and slide work and his minimal but effective percussion. His singing is improving with age; here he demonstrates a range of styles, from the howling and growling of an old-time bluesman to more contemporary crooning as the material dictates.

The original songs include the soulful blues of “Harder Than a Stone,” the gentle lament of “Looking for a Place to Fall” and the more raucous blues-rock of “Where the Angels Fly.” The quiet tone of “It Ain’t the Gun” contrasts with its tough-minded message, denouncing the violence that’s become all too common in Houston and elsewhere. The introspective “Man I’ll Never Be,” also on the quieter side, deals with love and expectations.

John Egan pays tribute to a predecessor and fellow Houston bluesman with fine renditions of Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Once a Gambler” and “Mojo Hand.” He also takes on Townes Van Zandt’s “Marie,” and if his matter-of-fact reading of that ballad’s sadder-than-sad lyrics doesn’t quite match the pathos Van Zandt brought to them – well, whose could? More successful is a lively reimagining of Bob Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm,” featuring a little less twang in the vocals and a little more in the strings.

Clean production by Egan and Steve Christiansen complements the music, as does the CD’s simple sleeve, featuring monochrome images by Houston photographer Ray “Texas Redd” Redding.

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Guy Clark’s Dualtone work collected

New: Molly and Me’s “Old Friend”


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New release: Farewell Milwaukee’s “FM”

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Carolyn Sills Combo’s ‘Dime Stories Vol. 2″

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New: Balsam Range’s “Mountain Voodoo”

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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: “In the Dark” by Matt Harlan and Rachel Jones

By Paul T. Mueller

harlan_darkIn the Dark marks a couple of changes of direction for Houston-based singer-songwriter Matt Harlan. He’s now part of a duo; his musical partner and wife, Rachel Jones, has contributed to previous projects, but this time she gets equal billing on the CD cover and a much-expanded vocal role, of which she’s more than worthy. And his songs are more about poetic abstraction – images and feelings – than the narrative of such earlier efforts as “Elizabethtown” and “Old Allen Road.”

Case in point: In the title track, nothing much happens except some sitting – in a bar, at home – and watching the night give way to the day. The stylistic shift might be frustrating to fans of Harlan’s storytelling skills, but there’s a place for quieter, less linear songs as well. Harlan and Jones are good at this kind of thing, using their understated but expressive vocals as a vehicle for Harlan’s literate lyrics. All of it is supported by his excellent guitar playing and contributions from some talented guests.

The album’s only song not written or co-written by Harlan, “My Mother’s Song (at Seventeen),” does feature a narrative of sorts. Written by Steve Dodson and Danny Jones, it’s a dialogue of conflict and reconciliation between a parent and a child. “You look at me and disagree,” Jones sings, “and shake your head and sigh.” Guest vocalist Allison Fisher replies, “The thing that you don’t understand is – we sing a different song.” Later they harmonize on a conclusion: “The thing that you don’t understand is – we see a different light.”

Time is a recurring theme on In the Dark. “Move Slow” envisions “every day [as] a gift from somewhere else” and admonishes us to seize the day: “Just imagine all the time we’ll never get to dance out in the thunderstorms.” “Strangers on the Hill” laments the passage of time (“Simple story: Time drifts by”) while casting a critical eye on how we choose to pass that time: “Obligations, tensions high: trying to live like the strangers on the hill.”

Time and change also figure in “Mozart,” which closes the eight-song set. “Mozart will always be Mozart, just like disco will always be dead,” Harlan sings, but in contrast, “as long as I’m living I’m changing, with each drop of sweat that rolls off of my brow.”

Matt Harlan and Rachel Jones share production credit; contributors include Tony Barilla on accordion and keyboards, Steve Candelari on drums and Willy T Golden on lap steel.

Review: Craig Kinsey’s’ “The Nylon Sessions”

By Paul T. Mueller

kinsey_nylon“This should tide you over until the next full studio album,” read the words of Craig Kinsey on the back cover of his latest CD, The Nylon Sessions. No such disclaimer is needed. This 13-song collection from Kinsey, a singer-songwriter based in Houston, holds up just fine on its own. For the most part, the songs are unplugged renditions of previously recorded Kinsey originals – “songs in their bedroom, without formal attire or affectations,” in his words.

Kinsey, who spent several years in an Arkansas monastery before earning a college degree and launching a career as a musician, is known in Houston for his theatrical stage shows, for which he often wears a top hat and employs burlesque dancers. The Nylon Sessions takes a much simpler approach. All but one of the songs feature Kinsey, an expressive singer who accompanies himself on a nylon-strung guitar (hence the title) and harmonica, plus one other player. The result is a worthy showcase for the thoughtful lyrics of the 11 originals and two covers – as well as for the skills of the supporting musicians.

The Nylon Sessions demonstrates Kinsey’s comfort with several musical genres. Old-time country is represented by a beautifully understated reading of the Lefty Frizzell hit “Always Late (with Your Kisses),” with Kelly Doyle, of Robert Ellis’ band, The Perfect Strangers, on synthesizer. Doyle’s guitar is also featured on the jazzy “Bits and Pieces” and “Romulus and Remus.” Other Ellis bandmates also contribute – pedal steel player Will Van Horn, on the straight-up country of “Cold Shoulder”; banjo player Geoffrey Muller, on the nice gospel workout on “Look at His Hands,” and Muller on electric bass on an excellent cover of Bob Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.”

Houston-based trumpeter Aaron Koerner lends his jazzy chops to “Siddhartha’s Dancers” and “Montrose Blvd. Blues,” a fond, New Orleans-inflected tribute to the eclectic Houston neighborhood that has long nurtured the city’s musicians and other artists. Sergio Trevino, front man of Houston indie/Americana band Buxton, provides nice harmony vocals on the folksy, irreverent “Atheist’s Love Song.”

The album’s only solo effort is Kinsey’s lovely solo rendition of “Green Grow the Rashes,” Scottish poet Robert Burns’ ode to the ladies. The closing track, another highlight, is the bluesy lost-love tale “After All,” featuring Mike Whitebread on guitar.

“Simply songs. Words,” Craig Kinsey calls this album. That’s plenty.

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Review: Tim Easton’s “American Fork”

By Paul T. Mueller

tim eastonTim Easton has some advice for you: Stop wasting time. Put down your smartphones. Talk to each other.

Any folksinger worthy of the title throws some messages in with the music, and Easton, a singer-songwriter based in East Nashville, is no exception. But on his new album, American Fork, he does it in an entertaining way instead of preaching. His earnestness is wrapped in excellent musicianship, which happily results in his best album in a while, and one of his best ever.

Fittingly, he wastes no time in getting to one of his big themes, leading off with a polite diatribe on wasted time. “Every minute that you stare at that stupid screen,” he sings in “Right Before Your Own Eyes,” “and read all the chatter that you think you should read/is another minute sooner that your young old mind is dying.” That’s a serious point, passionately made, but the delivery is good-natured and it’s backed by some terrific instrumentation that includes saxophone and steel guitar.

“Killing Time” explores a similar theme in a slightly different way, incorporating a concept – “What do you live for?” – that Tim Easton has used in a series of social-media mini-interviews with people he’s met during his travels in the past few years. “Don’t hang there like a broken door,” he sings. “Find out what you’re living for/There has to be something more than just killing time.” Again, strong advice, but the tone is gentle and encouraging, not hectoring.

Easton takes a tougher tone on “Gatekeeper,” an angry blast at the powers that be – maybe in the music industry, maybe on a bigger scale. “Then you knocked me off my feet as you pinned me to the ground,” Easton sings, accompanied by sinister-sounding slide guitar and ghostly background vocals. “But I called you as you walked away/but you never turned around/Gatekeeper, go count your money.”

Easton shows his lighter side on “Elmore James,” a lively tribute to the pioneering slide guitarist, and the rollicking “Alaskan Bars, Part 1,” which recounts a series of nightlife anecdotes that one suspects might be based on actual experiences.

Another reality of the troubadour life – one Easton is no doubt familiar with – is its transient nature. In the album’s closer, “On My Way,” he sums it up: “Like the trucks out on the highway/like the seasons and the days/like the river that passes through your town/I really must be on my way.” The quiet tone and understated playing hark back to Easton’s sound on earlier works such as The Truth About Us and Break Your Mother’s Heart.

The full-band production on this album is a big jump from the minimalist approach of Easton’s previous outing, 2013’s Not Cool. Here he and co-producer Patrick Damphier use a broad spectrum of instrumentation. Jon Radford’s drums and Michael Rinne’s bass provide the foundation, while Easton handles the guitars with his usual formidable skill. Further color and texture come from talented Robbie Crowell on keyboards and horns, Russ Pahl on pedal steel and Larissa Maestro on cello. Backing vocals are nicely done by Maestro and fellow singer-songwriters Megan Palmer, Ariel Bui and Emma Berkey.

Tim Easton has spent a lot of years on the road and he’s learned a lot about life and music along the way. We get the benefit of some of that hard-won knowledge on American Fork, in a way that’s both thought-provoking and pleasing to the ear.

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