Reset to Pop: Bill Lloyd’s classic revisited

By Ken Paulson

Bill Lloyd’s Set to Pop was a revelation upon its release in 1994, a buoyant and inventive slice of pop in a league with Emitt Rhodes and Nick Lowe’s Jesus of Cool. So it’s great news that Lloyd has chosen to revisit his classic album 20 years on.

Reset 2014 replicates the track list of the original with remakes, live versions and alternate mixes. The album contains some of Lloyd’s best songwriting, particularly the euphoric opener “I Went Electric,” “the mood swing anthem “Trampoline” (written with Greg Trooper) and the yearning “Forget About Us.”

There’s also a new recording of “Channeling the King,” maybe the smartest Elvis tribute ever recorded, and two live versions of “Niagara Falls,” with contributions by Rusty Young, Billy Block, Byron House, Pat Buchanan, Jason White and Jonell Mosser.

If you’re new to Bill Lloyd’s work, Set to Pop is still the place to start, but Lloyd is offering the original in a bundle with the new release on his website. Highly recommended.

Follow Sun209 on Twitter at @Sun209com.

Review: Memphis Dawls’ “Rooted in the Bone”

By Paul T. Mueller

dawls_cover_150When a band’s name includes “Memphis,” it should come as no surprise – actually, it may be inevitable – that the music will incorporate diverse styles and genres. So it is with Rooted in the Bone, the first full-length CD from folk-Americana trio the Memphis Dawls, who are in fact from Memphis. The album starts off with the chamber-music strings of “Please Don’t Leave Me Now,” but horns and twangy vocals join the mix in short order. The next song, “Skin Like a Cage,” features guitar and keyboards that bring to mind some of U2’s quieter moments.

That’s how it goes on most of the other nine tracks as well. With the help of producer Jeff Powell, the Dawls – Holly Cole on guitar, Jana Misener on cello and Krista Wroten on violin, mandolin and accordion, plus numerous guests – back up their strong vocals and sweet harmonies with a variety of instrumental elements, some of them unexpected. “Liar” is a bluesy love song, seasoned with Memphis soul in the form of organ, horns and doo-wop background vocals. “Shoot ’Em Down” has a more traditional country sound, featuring the mandolin you’d expect, but also mariachi-style trumpet, courtesy of longtime collaborator Nahshon Benford. Trumpet shows up again in the bouncy, country-pop sound of “Where’d You Go My Love,” but this time it lends a jazzy New Orleans vibe.

The Dawls’ lyrics cover a somewhat narrower range, mostly dealing with love and the difficulties that come with it. They come across more as poetry than as songwriting – rhyming conventions are not always adhered to, and the allusions and metaphors are at times a bit obscure. But the words are served well by the Dawls’ expressive voices. Combined with the imaginative instrumentation, it all adds up to a refreshingly different take on well-trodden musical territory.


Follow Sun209 on Twitter at @Sun209com.


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In concert: Ian Hunter and the Rant Band

By Ken Paulson

You won’t find Ian Hunter on the Happy Together oldies tour anytime soon.

As he made clear in his set Saturday night at the City Winery in Nashville, he’s earned the right at age 75 to play exactly what he wants. So it probably shouldn’t have been a surprise that he did as many songs from his most recent album When I’m President as from his years with Mott the Hoople.

Ian Hunter (photo copyright Ken Paulson)

Ian Hunter (photo by Ken Paulson)

We saw Paul McCartney on tour a few weeks ago and marveled at his stamina and performance. Hunter, three years McCartney’s elder, was just as energetic and committed. From the second song of the evening – a driving take on “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” through the moving “All the Young Dudes” at the close, this was a full-on rock show.

Hunter shifted to keyboards about a third of the way into the set, and delivered some of the show’s best moments, including a poignant “Irene Wilde” and raucous “All the Way From Memphis.”

It’s a measure of his deep catalog with Mott and as a solo artist that so many great songs were left on the sidelines. For my part, I would have traded “Boy” or “Bastard” for the fun factor of “Central Park and West,” “Golden Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll” or “Cleveland Rocks,” but I’m sure every Hunter fan has own list of favorites.

It’s remarkable that an artist whose band scored just a single hit in the U.S can continue to tour to good-sized crowds a half-century into his career. And yet his audience is with him every step of the way, devoted, enthralled and cheering madly for “I Wish I Was Your Mother” and “Michael Picasso.”

Hunter clearly doesn’t take that for granted.

“I can’t believe you’re still here and I really can’t believe I’m still here, he sang on “Life,” as he neared the end of the set.

Believe it. Ian Hunter still delivers.

(Nashville’s own Amy Speace opened the show with a brief, but compelling set, previewing her upcoming album That Kind of Girl. You can pre-order it here.)


Follow Sun209 on Twitter at @Sun209com.







Bobby Bare, Bobby Bare Jr. at City Winery

By Ken Paulson

Bobby Bare Jr. knew this wasn’t going to be a fair fight.

“He’s playing nothing but hits and I ain’t got no hits,” he said in mock exasperation, recalling the first time he shared the stage with his father Bobby Bare at the Bluebird Cafe.

Two generations of Bares at the City Winery in Nashville

Two generations of Bares at the City Winery in Nashville

Nonetheless, he agreed to the double bill a second time for a show Friday night at the City Winery in Nashville. Once again, the elder Bare showed no mercy, beginning the evening with his classic “Detroit City” and then playing close to a dozen country hits over the course of the evening.

Bare Jr. was clearly delighted to team up with his dad, serving up his own unconventional tunes in counterpoint. Irreverence and a deep love of music clearly run through their shared DNA. Bare Jr. played a number of songs from his new album Undefeated, including “My Baby Took My Baby Away,” written with Hayes Carll.

“I don’t understand how I lost you to this little man” who has “itty bitty boots and a big fat face,” he sang, detailing the impact of a new child on a couple’s relationship. Somehow it’s a sweet song.

Decidedly less endearing was “The Big Time,” a funny fantasy about becoming such a big success you can kiss your current friends goodbye. “I want to go bowling with Sheryl Crow,” he explained.

Bobby Bare had his own goofy moments during the anatomy lesson that is Shel Silverstein’s “The Mermaid.” Bare may be Silverstein’s very best interpreter.

Bare Jr. had his own song about love gone bad. Before performing “Don’t Go to Chattanooga,” he recalled losing the girl from Manchester, TN who inspired the song. If she had only foreseen Bonnaroo coming to her hometown and his eventual performance there, she would never have left him, he said.

For his part, Bobby Bare just kept performing the hits, including “Streets of Baltimore,” “Four Strong Winds,” “Margie’s at the Lincoln Park Inn,” The Winner,” “That’d How I Got to Memphis” and even “Dropkick Me Jesus,” written by Paul Craft, who passed away weeks ago.

The Bares closed this memorable pairing with “Marie Laveau,” teaming up on the song’s bloodcurdling screams.

The audience would’ve stuck around for multiple encores but the younger Bare explained that wasn’t possible.

Dad “goes to bed at 7:30 and it took three naps” to get him this far, he said.


Follow Sun209 on Twitter at @Sun209com.




Staying Cool: Tim Carroll at the Mayday Brewery

By Ken Paulson

I first saw Tim Carroll perform at a Nashville festival in the late ‘90s, where he shared a set with Amy Rigby and Kevin Gordon. All three impressed and clearly had bright futures, fueled by remarkable songs. Over the past 15 years, all have had considerable critical acclaim, though none have had major commercial success.

Tim Carroll at Mayday Brewery

Tim Carroll at Mayday Brewery

That doesn’t appear to bother Carroll, who recapped his career in a song at his show at the Mayday Brewery in Murfreesboro, TN, Saturday night.

“All I ever wanted was to play guitar/never really cared if I became a star/everybody says I’m close, but no cigar” he sang on “That’s Rock & Roll,” a track from his Look Out! album.

Joined by bassist Bones Hillman and drummer Steve Lantanation, Carroll turned in a vibrant set of full throttle rock ‘n’ roll. He played for almost 2 hours, including songs from his upcoming album Pure Coal. Carroll was self-deprecating throughout, explaining to the audience that they wouldn’t know any of the songs “because I wrote them” and radio doesn’t play them. And that’s a shame.

Mayday is a special venue. It’s a brewery and not a club, and the menu consists of beer and more beer. A food truck outside offers dinner. It’s a sparse, but great setting for live music.

The crowd at the Carroll show was modest, and most in the audience seemed to have wandered in from the bar.

Bu no matter. Carroll, Hillman and Lantanation never let up, delivering energetic and anthemic music all night, including “You Can’t Stay Young, But You Can Stay Cool.” For Tim Carroll, that’s mission accomplished.

Follow Sun209 on Twitter at @Sun209com.



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Review: Chip Taylor’s “Little Prayers Trilogy”

By Ken Paulson

Little PrayersIt’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_largeThe 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


Review: The Very Best of Stories

By Ken Paulson

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.

Follow Sun209 on Twitter at @Sun209com.



Concert review: Rich Hopkins and the Luminarios

 by Paul T. Mueller    

Rich Hopkins and 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.


Caroline Rose’s “I WIll Not Be Afraid”

rose_cover_150by Paul T. Mueller           

Caroline Rose could hardly have chosen a more appropriate title for her first full-scale CD. On I Will Not Be Afraid, the Vermont-based singer-songwriter comes across as absolutely fearless about doing things her way, from her sometimes obscure lyrics to her somewhat offbeat arrangements.

Rose is only in her mid-20s, but she’s been living the life of a traveling musician for a while. Travel and freedom are recurring themes on the album’s 11 songs, all Rose originals. “When you walk you walk alone/You pray no one will bind you,” she sings on “When You Go.” And in the chorus of “Let Me In,” she declares, “We are young, we’re free/And we don’t need anyone.”

While embracing the freedom of the road, Rose also gleefully sneers at the touchstones of more traditional lifestyles. In “Red Bikini Waltz” she counts them off: red bikinis, Lamborghinis, tans, tasteless beers, tacky houses and so on. “What they don’t know,” she sings, “is those people’ve got nothing that lasts.”

Rose is honest enough to acknowledge that freedom sometimes comes with a dark side. “It’s a wonder I’ve got two legs to stand on,” she sings on “America Religious.” “I drink myself blind uncurtailed by moderation/’Stand on me’ I’ll stand on you/Footloose, disillusioned and blue.”

Rose’s sound ranges from folk to indie rock to country, in various combinations, with some gospel and rockabilly thrown in. There is a lot of excellent musicianship on this album, anchored by Rose’s guitar (she’s equally proficient playing electric or acoustic). Rose also plays organ, harmonica and cello on some tracks. The rest of the core band consists of Jer Coons on drums, mandolin, lap steel and piano (he and Rose shared production duties) and Pat Melvin on bass; both also supply backing vocals. Violinist Ben Lively and bassist Ed Grasmeyer make nice contributions to “America Religious.”

Rose’s lyrics could probably benefit from a bit more focus – despite her instrumental prowess, she comes across as a poet-turned-musician – but I Will Not Be Afraid is an impressive start. “No matter what all comes my way/I will not be afraid,” Rose sings on the gospel-ish title track. That attitude has taken her a long way already, and it should serve her well in the future.


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