Down River – Mark Huff – This vibrant new EP from Mark Huff moves seamlessly through rock, folk and country, fueled by some of Nashville’s best players. Down River was produced by Huff and Mark Robinson, joined in the studio by Audley Freed, Jen Gunderman, Paul Griffith, Mike Vargo and Lisa Oliver-Gray. Huff writes smart and personal songs with compelling hooks, a next-generation Elliott Murphy. “Almost True” would be the ideal single if there still was such a thing.
Brown-Eyed Georgia Darlin’ – Sammy Walker – The legendary Phil Ochs championed Sammy Walker in the ‘70s, but commercial success eluded the Georgia folksinger. Give credit to Ramseur Records for unearthing the set of demos that launched Walker’s career. They’re very much of the era – “Talkin’ Women’s Lib”– but clear evidence that Walker’s songwriting and Arlo Guthrie-like vocals should have taken him further.
Experienced – Larry Keel – Flatpicking guitarist Larry Keel’s new album features guest spots from Sam Bush, Del McCoury, Peter Rowan and Keller Williams.
Six on the Out – The Westies – Chicago-based duo follows up debut West Side Stories with a new collection of folk-rock narratives.
Multitudes – James Houlahan – Third solo album from former member of The Jody Grind and Dogs on Television.
Broken Man – Ben Hemming – London-based singer-songwriter’s first album features blues-fueled Americana. A U.S. tour is in the works.
Americana Music News — There’s a scene in an episode of Nashville in which Deacon decides he’s going to perform his new material in Murfreesboro, TN so he can be sure that no one will see him.
On Feb. 18, Grammy-winning songwriter Don Henry will defy that stereotype with a benefit show at 6:30 p.m. at MTSU’s Miller Coliseum in Murfreesboro, raising money for scholarships.
Henry, whose “All Kinds of Kinds” was a recent hit for Miranda Lambert, has written for Ray Charles, Blake Shelton, Kathy Mattea, Lonestar, Patti Page, Conway Twitty and many others.
And in a town full of fine singer-songwriters, Henry is one of the best performers, regularly engaging audiences with energetic, warm and funny performances at the Bluebird Cafe. Tickets are available here.
Kelly Willis’ performance at McGonigel’s Mucky Duck in Houston on Jan. 22 was a testament to the enduring power of good music. The show, the second of two at the venue that night, was part of a brief tour in honor of the 25th anniversary of her debut album, Well Travelled Love. For the tour, as on the album, she was backed by her old band Radio Ranch, sounding just as good as they did back in the day.
Well Travelled Love, released in 1990, was fueled by Willis’ lively vocals and the rockabilly twang of her band, plus big-time Nashville production (by Tony Brown and John Guess) and promotion. The 11 songs were a mix of originals by drummer Mas Palermo (who also happened to be married to Willis at the time) and such Nashville notables as Steve Earle, Paul Kennerley, Monte Warden and John Hiatt. The band didn’t last very long and neither did Willis’ status as country music’s newest sweetheart (a role she wasn’t all that comfortable with), but none of that changes the fact that WTL was an excellent album and a fine showcase for everyone involved.
“I can’t believe it’s been 25 years,” Willis said before launching the show with “My Heart’s In Trouble Tonight,” WTL’s opening track. The band’s full sound and tight playing belied what must have been a pretty brief rehearsal period. “It’s like not a day has passed!” Willis declared after the song ended.
The rest of the show included seven more songs from Well Travelled Love, along with material from Willis’ subsequent albums. An occasional hiccup notwithstanding, all were marked by Willis’ strong, confident singing and excellent backup from the band – lead guitarist David Murray, steel guitarist Mike Hardwick, bassist Brad Fordham and drummer Palermo. On many songs the guitarists alternated fiery solos, while the rhythm section provided a solid foundation and Fordham contributed harmony vocals.
There wasn’t a throwaway in the 17-song set, but particular highlights included the twangy “I Don’t Want to Love You (But I Do)”; the beautifully weepy “World Without You,” from Kelly Willis’ second album, Bang Bang; the rocking “Teddy Boys,” from her most recent solo album, 2006’s Translated from Love; and the sweet, sad ballad “One More Time,” from WTL.
After closing the main set with a spirited rendition of Hiatt’s “Drive South,” Willis thanked the audience for taking part in “this wonderful moment in time.” Returning after a short break, she and the band performed “Take It All Out on You,” a song she said was co-written by Texas singer-songwriter Bruce Robison, to whom she’s now married, and Palermo, during a breakup with Robison before they were married. “A song written by my husband and my ex-husband,” she said with a laugh. “That qualifies me to be a country singer!”
The ninth annual Cayamo music cruise sails from Miami on Jan. 31, en route to a week of music and fun under the Caribbean sun. Produced by Atlanta-based Sixthman aboard the chartered Norwegian Pearl, Cayamo is a weeklong music festival at sea, featuring dozens of scheduled performances in indoor venues ranging from small lounges to a thousand-seat auditorium, as well as a couple of open-air stages on the pool deck.
Cayamo is also known for passenger participation; a fair number of the 2,000-plus cruisers bring along their instruments and can be found jamming at pretty much any hour of the day or night. These sessions often draw the attention, and participation, of some of the professional musicians as well.
While it’s not specifically an Americana cruise, this year’s Cayamo features a couple of the biggest names in Americana music at the moment – Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton, both still touring on the strength of excellent 2015 albums (Something More Than Free and Traveller, respectively). Other scheduled performers include two-time Cayamo veteran Lucinda Williams; three-timer John Prine; John Hiatt, back for a sixth tour; Nashville (and Nashville) superstar Buddy Miller, a fixture on every Cayamo except 2009; Shawn Colvin, who’s sailed five times before; John Fullbright, a two-time Cayamoan, and Steve Earle, back after two previous sailings. Atlanta-based singer-songwriter Shawn Mullins, the only performer who’s been on every Cayamo, also returns to keep his streak unbroken.
Returning to the Cayamo music cruise after successful debuts on previous cruises are country songbird Kacey Musgraves, whose duet show with Prine was a big hit last year; Amanda Shires, a fiddler and singer-songwriter who’s married to Isbell and is a member of his band, the 400 Unit; the talented duo Birds of Chicago (2015); Texas singer-songwriter Robert Ellis (2013), and Knoxville, Tenn.-based The Black Lillies (2015).
Stepping out from sideman roles with scheduled sets of their own are Buick 6 (Lucinda Williams’ band, consisting of guitarist Stuart Mathis, bassist David Sutton and drummer Butch Norton) and Jason Wilber, Prine’s longtime guitarist.
competition for spots on the roster include the Andrew Duhon Trio, from New Orleans; The Novel Ideas, a Massachusetts-based folk quintet, and the aforementioned Slaid Cleaves. And the possibility of a “stowaway” surprise artist can never be ruled out; last year Todd Snider filled that role, coming aboard mid-cruise and performing a couple of excellent sets.
A good many Cayamo passengers don’t much care where the cruise goes and would just as soon sail around in circles for a week. But for those who like a little sightseeing with their music, this year’s ports of call are Tortola, one of the British Virgin Islands, and St. Maarten/St. Martin, which consists of both Dutch and French territory. There will also be four full days at sea, providing time for traditional cruise-ship activities – and for even more music than on port days.
Jimmy Hall, the former lead singer of Wet Willie, was back for the 18th year in a row.
There were newcomers as well. New York singer-songwriter Brian Donne confessed that given the talent on the ship, he half-expected to be turned away when he showed up to board the cruise.
Marcia Ball may have been the most collaborative artists on board. When she wasn’t playing her own sets or hosting Pianorama, she was sitting in with others. And when the ship docked in St. John…
… she showed up on stage here.
Alyssa Bonagura’s fine first set on the pool deck included guest performances by her parents Michael Bonagura and …
… Kathy Baillie of Baillie and the Boys.
Teresa James and the Rhythm Tramps put on great shows all week, including a Friday afternoon set moved indoors because of the only inclement weather of the week. The move inspired a very funny recollection of a very dark dive bar frequented by housewives in the middle of the afternoon.
Spooner Oldham., Danny Flowers and Bruce Channel span decades of great songwriting.
Red Young’s 5 p.m. dance parties in the ship’s lounge were always packed, fueled by Young’s deep setlist of Ray Charles songs.
As Marcia Ball wrapped up her first song to polite applause, she seemed a little nonplussed.
“I thought there was a dance floor here,” she said, as she kicked off Delbert McClinton’sSandy Beaches Cruise 2016. The crowd took the hint, and the rest of the evening – and the week – was one non-stop dance floor.
That sets this music cruise apart from others, where headliners and reserved seats are the norm. The Sandy Beaches crowd listens respectfully, but they move to the music.
That’s probably the influence of McClinton himself, who is a low-key and welcoming presence thoughout the cruise. It’s as though you were invited to Delbert’s house – one with a very large pool – with his musical friends on a Saturday night.
And if this is your first visit to Delbert’s, you won’t feel like a newcomer for long.
“This is your cherry and we’re here to bust it, “ Ball declared, launching into a high-velocity set of rhythm and blues, including the week’s first performance of “Sea Cruise.’ “A lot of nerve, “ she laughed.
“All Night Long” with the Mavericks
Raul Malo and Jerry Dale McFadden of the Mavericks
The Mavericks headlined the pool deck stage three times and the energy never flagged. Since reuniting in 2012, the band has been on a roll, culminating in their Grammy nominations for the song “All Night Long” and their Mono album, and being named group of the year in the Americana Music Association awards. When a band with more than two decades of experience hits a new career high, it shows on stage. In their final set of the week, they even played a danceable “Okie from Muskogee.”
The McCrary Sisters Let It Go
The McCrary Sisters delivered their first set on Sunday, appropriately so for this hard-rocking gospel quartet. Regina McCrary spoke of God’s capacity for healing and offered to pray for anyone in need. If you have a burden, you should “Let It Go,” they sang. No, not the song from “Frozen.”
Later in the day, Roger Blevins Jr. and Mingo Fishtrap announced they were going to echo the McCrarys’ advice to “let it go, “though their version would be “more profane.”
It wasn’t all church for the McCrarys . The sisters did the Family Stone proud with an inspired version of “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin.)”
Sandy Beaches Cruise 2016 songwriters
The songwriter sessions were uniformly impressive, giving artists the chance to showcase their writing in an acoustic performance. Sharon Vaughn told the story of how she pitched her classic My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys” to Waylon Jennings, who refused to believe she wrote it. Spooner Oldham played songs he co-wrote with Dan Penn, including James and Bobby Purify’s hit “I’m Your Puppet.”
Delbert McClinton joined the songwriters mid-week to showcase songs from a new album due this spring.
Former NRBQ member Al Anderson has been on the last 18 cruises, but this time he brought his bandmates from the World Famous Headliners . It’s a tongue-in-cheek name, but Anderson, Shawn Camp and Pat McLaughlin make up a potent front three, with stellar guitar work and tight harmonies. The band – deep in writing talent – showcased songs from their new album, including “Hitchike Home,” “The Whoa Whoa Song” and “Fried Chicken,” a song that mashes up Memphis music and the Bee Gees.
The Headliners know no barriers. “We’d like to apologize for these songs,’ McLaughlin told the audience, shortly before Anderson sang “Stick It Where the Sun Don’t Ever Shine.”
The band brings Little Village to mind. That was the storied band featuring Nick Lowe, Ry Cooder, John Hiatt and Jim Keltner, an amazing line-up of players and songwriters that never seemed to gel as a group.
The Headliners gel. They even have their own theme song, which they played at both the beginning and close of their set. “We’re the World Famous Headliners…”
Keb’ Mo’ and the return of Lee Roy Parnell
Among other highlights of Sandy Beaches Cruise 2016:
Keb’ Mo’ drew big and appreciative crowds poolside with impeccable sets of blues and soul, including his fresh take on the O’Jays’ “Love Train.”
Mingo Fishtrap rallied the audience on the final day, with Blevins Jr. saying that although everyone would have to disembark the next morning, now was the time to “self-lobotomize.” The band then launched into a blistering medley of classic James Brown songs.
Lee Roy Parnell, on the Sandy Beaches Cruise since its inception 22 years ago, was back after a year away. He saluted the late Allen Toussaint with a spirited take on his “Holy Cow.” Lari White joined him for a duet of a song she and Parnell had written, and Etta Britt delivered a powerful “People Get Ready.”
The annual “Pianorama,” with Marcia Ball as ringleader, convened virtually every keyboardist on the cruise for a piano jam. Five players at a time took the stage, trading off parts on songs like “Iko Iko,” “Nothing from Nothing” and Drinkin’ Wine Spo-de-o-dee.”
The Quebe Sisters were a revelation. Their harmonies were gorgeous – in 1940 they would have been the Andrews Sisters –and all three play fiddle beautifully. They draw on a big songbook, but Western Swing is a specialty.
Doyle and Debbie, the lampooning country music revue, doesn’t change and doesn’t need to. It remains fresh and funny.
Alyssa Bonagura was joined onstage by her parents Kathie Baillie and Michael Bonagura, aka “Baillie and the Boys ,” who revisited their musical past, including an impressive “Blue Bayou.” It’s that rare family where the daughter can plug her parents’ CDs at the merch table.
Bruce Channel and Delbert McClinton perform “Hey Baby” on Sandy Beaches Cruise 2016.
Bruce Channel joined Delbert to perform his big 1962 hit “Hey Baby,” a record on which McClinton played harmonica. I’m sure they’ve performed it together dozens of times, but it’s still a joyous performance.
The Howlin’ Brothers – Ian Craft, JT Huskey and Jared Green impressed audiences with both a reverence for folk, blues and bluegrass classics and their ability to craft new songs that continue the tradition.
BR5-49 – One Long Saturday Night – Bear Family Productions – Long before Nashville became the “It City,” BR5-49 was Nashville’s “It Band.” The young country band brought an energy to Music City’s Lower Broad that had been missing for a couple of decades. Suddenly, locals packed Robert’s Western Wear, foreshadowing today’s dynamic music scene. One Long Saturday Night is a recording of BR5-49 on German television in 1996, and the band’s Chuck Mead attests that it’s a classic setlist from the group’s earliest years. It’s Hank Williams, Webb Pierce, Harlan Howard, Carl Perkins and a sampling of cool originals played with spirit. History to dance to.
Neil Finn and Paul Kelly – Goin’ Your Way – Omnivore Recordings – Great songs and tight harmonies distinguish this double-CD collection capturing Neil Finn and Paul Kelly in concert in 2013 at the Sydney Opera House. Finn is the better known to American audiences, largely as a member of Split Enz. His “Don’t Dream It’s Over” is included here, but the album is deep in well-crafted compositions. They’re both talented solo artists, but work really well as a duo.
And three more from Nashville:
Brandy Zdan – Brandy Zdan – Who would have guessed we’d find one of the freshest rock albums of the year in our own backyard? Brandy Zdan is a Canadian artist, now relocated to Nashville, and her self-titled album is bold and smart. “Back on You” and “Running for a Song” sound like classic singles you’ve never heard.
Dave Zobl – Simplify – Warm and carefully crafted album produced by Will Kimbrough and recorded in Muscle Shoals. “Colorado Girl” and “John Prine Sunday Morning” are among the best tracks.
Kyle Frederick – Eventide – Vandermont Music – This new album from Kyle Frederick is ambitious and engaging, with wide-ranging music that draws on pop/rock, folk and country. Highlights include “Be Kind to Yourself,” an affirming co-write with Kim Richey, and the hook-packed “The Wishing Tree” and “Karma Lola.” Emmylou Harris joins Frederick on the title track.
Three singer-songwriters named Welch playing the same show – what are the chances? Pretty good when it’s the Welch Family Throwdown, featuring Americana veteran Kevin Welch and his talented progeny, son Dustin and daughter Savannah (plus cellist Mark Williams). The inexplicably small audience notwithstanding, the evening at the Dosey Doe, just north of Houston, turned into a warm and intimate 90-minute set that included originals from all three Welches and a few well-chosen covers.
Welch Family Throwdown
It was something of a holiday show – when putting together the set list, Kevin said, “We’re just looking for songs with the word ‘Christmas.’ ” Thus the opener, a sweet rendition of Joni Mitchell’s regret-laden “River,” featuring lead vocals by Savannah, a member of The Trishas. The theme continued later with Dustin’s take on Mark Germino’s “Lean on Jesus (Before He Leans on You),” set at a mission on Christmas Eve and featuring a nice solo by cellist Williams, whom Kevin had introduced as “the littlest Welch.” A few songs later came “Santa Had a Dream,” which began as an eighth-grade writing project of Savannah’s and reimagines the origin of the Santa Claus legend as a dream experienced by an exhausted, impoverished West Virginia coal miner, “way back before Christmas had been invented yet.”
Most songs featured fine harmonies along with strong lead vocals. The playing was excellent as well, with Dustin alternating between standard and resonator guitars and banjo, and Savannah playing guitar and mandolin as well as percussion. Kevin stuck with one well-worn acoustic guitar, picked and strummed, and Williams’ fine cello added atmosphere and texture to the arrangements.
Other highlights included Kevin’s gentle love song “Millionaire”; a lively rendition of “After the Music’s Gone,” with a capella harmonies to finish; “Gawd Above,” a song Dustin wrote with John Fullbright that’s become a staple of the latter’s sets; “Come a Rain,” Kevin’s whimsical reimagining of a long roster of historical figures, and “Dust Devil,” a new song by Kevin that he said was inspired in part by an atmospheric event that damaged his car.
The show closed with a beautiful rendition of William Bell’s soulful “Everyday Will Be Like a Holiday.” The song featured solos by Williams on cello and Dustin on resonator; its optimistic tone, underlain by melancholy, seemed perfectly suited to the season.
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