New releases: Allison Moorer’s “Down to Believing”

MoorerAllison MoorerDown to Believing – eOne Music – We first heard the songs from Allison Moorer’s new album Down to Believing at the Americana Music Festival in Nashville six months ago. Her performance was riveting, supported by a stellar band that included album producer Kenny Greenberg on guitar. The new material was vibrant and soul-baring, and the recording fulfills the promise of that September night. Down to Believing reflects Moorer’s personal story, from her divorce from Steve Earle to her son’s autism diagnosis. With all respect to Moorer, those aren’t necessarily themes that would invite repeated listening. The power in Down to Believing comes from marrying intimate and confessional lyrics to compelling musicality, exemplified by soaring album opener “Like It Used to Be.”

Other new and recent releases:

Red Heart AlarmHammer Anvil Stirrup This Seattle—based band calls its music “Gruntry,” an amalgam of country and the region’s grunge history.

Little Texas – Young For A Long Time – Cleopatra Records These early ’90 country hitmakers are back with a new studio album and a national tour that begins at the Florida Blueberry Festival in Brooksville, Florida on April 12.

Vanish Valley – Queen of the Concert – Hard Bark Los Angeles band Vanish Valley is set to release its second album Queen of the Concert on May 12. The project, recorded in less than a week, is fueled by the songwriting of Andrew McAlister.

Stacy Jones – Whiskey Wine & Water Stacy Jones, named best female vocalist in 2014 by the Washington Blues Society, has a new studio album, released March 27.

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Review: Robert Earl Keen’s “Happy Prisoner”

keen_coverby Paul T. Mueller

Texas singer-songwriter Robert Earl Keen returns to his bluegrass roots with Happy Prisoner – The Bluegrass Sessions. There are a few rough spots among the CD’s 15 covers, and the playing might not be quite pure enough for bluegrass fanatics, but it’s well done and enjoyable.

Keen is no stranger to bluegrass, having developed a love for the genre despite growing up in Houston, not exactly a hotbed of Appalachian string music in the 1960s and ’70s. In “The Bluegrass Widow,” a song from his second album, 1988’s The Live Album, he describes learning about bluegrass during high school and playing in a bluegrass band during college. The song, which Keen describes as “quite possibly the worst bluegrass song ever written,” includes his account of being fired by his bandmates because he lacked “that high and lonesome sound that bluegrass music requires.”

Having seen his budding bluegrass career derailed, Keen regrouped and went on to forge a successful career as a songwriter and performer. Decades later, his voice is, if anything, even less high and lonesome, but that didn’t keep him from recording this belated tribute to his first musical love.

Standout tracks include “Long Black Veil,” the much-covered ballad about crime, love and the price of loyalty; “T for Texas,” with help from Lyle Lovett; “East Virginia Blues,” a lost-love song by A.P. Carter; “Walls of Time,” sung with Peter Rowan, who wrote the song with Bill Monroe, and the classic spiritual “Wayfaring Stranger,” featuring vocals by ex-Dixie Chick Natalie Maines.

Not as successful is a cover of Richard Thompson’s “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” one of those songs that are performed so definitively by their writers that there’s little point in trying to cover them. Keen’s version also suffers from the lack of an instrumental bridge, leaving an abrupt transition between the happy early verses and the sad later ones.

Along with his longtime band – guitarists Rich Brotherton and Marty Muse, bassist Bill Whitbeck and percussionist Tom van Schaik – Keen gets help from a talented group of players including fiddlers Sara Watkins, Dennis Ludiker and Chloe Keen (Robert’s daughter), mandolinist Kym Warner and banjoist Danny Barnes. Lloyd Maines handled production and other technical duties.

New releases: Lily Hiatt, Joseph Wooten

Americana Music News – New releases include albums from Lily Hiatt and Joseph Wooten, both artists with strong  Nashville ties:

LilyRoyal Blue Lily Hiatt – Normaltown Records   We first saw Lily Hiatt years some ago as a solo songwriter strumming an acoustic guitar on a side stage at the CMA festival in Nashville. It’s a more mature and musically adventurous Hiatt on the just-released Royal Blue, a dynamic recording produced by Adam Landry with pedal steel, synth and a rock foundation. The lyrics reflect broken relationships, but the sound is bold and confident.

Stumpjumper – Charlie Parr – Red House Records   Set for release on April 28, Charlie Parr’s Stumpjumper release is the first album he’s recorded with a full band. The Duluth-based artist is on tour now, with dates this week in Pittsburgh, Maumee, Ohio and Milwaukee .

Gill LandryGill Landry – ATO Records  Gill Landry , best known as a member of Old Crow Medicine Show, is joined on his third album by guests Laura Marling and Robert Ellis. Landry is touring in support of the album, with dates this week with Justin Townes Earle.

WootenSoul of FreedomJoseph Wooten Joseph Wooten’s latest solo album Soul of Freedom is both familiar and fresh, melding the influences of Steve Wonder and Sly Stone with very contemporary takes on the world around us. Wooten is the keyboardist with the Steve Miller Band and a member of the musically rich Wooten family (his brother Victor guests here.) He also clearly embraces music for its capacity to inform, engage and elevate. From “Life Love Truth” to “Unity” and “I Matter,” Wooten delivers affirmation and reflection in a consistently ambitious musical setting.

Head for the HillsMarkus James – Firenze Records – Head for the Hills continues Markus James’ collaborative blues recordings, teaming him a with a number of drummers from the North Mississippi Hill Country.

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New releases: Brandi Carlile, Ray Wylie Hubbard

Americana Music News – New releases in our mailbox this week:

Basic CMYKThe Firewatcher’s Daughter Brandi Carlile – ATO Records –  Fresh off the Cayamo cruise, Brandi Carlile is touring the country in support of this new album, including a March 4 date at the Troubadour, March 7 in Atlantic City and March 11 in Brooklyn. Carlile continues her impressive work with Tim and Phil Hanseroth on this album (out March 3) that reportedly consists primarily of first takes. The first single is “Wherever is Your Heart.”

Twice Told Tales10,000 Maniacs – Cleopatra Records The current generation of 10,000 Maniacs has a new album set for release on April 28. It’s a return to the band’s core musical influences with renditions of traditional folk songs from the British Isles, including “She Moved Through the Fair” and “Wild Mountain Thyme.”

Ray Wylie Hubbard RuffianThe Ruffian’s MisfortuneRay Wylie Hubbard – Bordello Records – Ray Wylie Hubbard is following up The Grifter’s Hymnal (reviewed here) with The Ruffian’s Misfortune, described in press materials as “the tightest and most focused” of his career. The album is set for release on April 7, and is to be followed by an autobiography.

Another Rising Sun Jon Chi  The former member of Rainmaker recorded his second solo album in Milwaukee with Ken Krei. The album ,described as “a blend of folk, gospel and jam” is set for release on May 5.

Old Ways vs. New DaysJ. Tex and the Volunteers –– Heptown Records This Copenhagen-based Americana band is fronted by Detroit native J. Tex.

 

New releases: Vespers, Whitehorse, more

Americana Music News – New releases and albums of note:

vespersSisters and Brothers Vespers – Just released is the Vespers’ third album; the title is a nod to the band consisting of the Cryar sisters and Jones brothers. The opening lyrics are a mission statement: “Everybody sounds like someone else. We all just want to sound like ourselves.” We first saw the Vespers perform at the Americana Music Association conference about three years ago and the new album shows musical growth, confidence and an undeniably rawer and more distinctive sound.

Cowboy BoudoirKimmie Rhodes – Sunbird Music- We enjoyed Kimmie Rhodes’ performances on the Sandy Beaches cruise and are glad to see this new release.  The album, produced by Gabriel Rhodes and dedicated to the late great Jack Clement is described as “a retro-cowgirl-hippie-chick musical experiment.”

The Limestone KidParker McCollum – Indie Extreme – On his debut album, the 22-year-old McCollum offers up an engaging collection of songs, including the full-throttle “Lucy” and the amiable single “Meet You in the Middle.” Lloyd Maines sits in on pedal steel.

whitehorseLeave No Bridge Unburned Whitehorse – Six Shooter Records – We raved about the debut Whitehorse release in 2012 and this new album may be even better. Luke Doucet and Lelissa McCelland are musically ambitious, building on intense and intimate songs with cinematic flourishes. Favorite song title: “Fake Your Death (and I’ll Fake Mine.)”

Here We Are John and Judy Rodman – Rivermoon Records – 29 years ago, Judy Rodman topped the country charts with “Until I Met You” for MTM Records. She would have later hits, but her recording career wound down by the ‘90s. This new album returns her to the recording studio in a duo with her husband John. This 7-song collection is set for release on March 24.

 

Interview: Hemming on Sail Across the Sun

By Ken Paulson

Hemming may well have been the youngest artist on the Sail Across the Sun cruise (other than the School of Rock students), but won over audiences in her shows in the ship’s atrium.

Hemming

Hemming

Hemming is the alter ego of Candice Martello, a singer-songwriter based in Philadelphia. Her appearance on  Make or Break: The Linda Perry Project gave her solo career a jump start, and a debut album is in the works. She cites Cat Power and M. Ward among her influences.

We spoke with her just before the cruise ship left Miami.

Her thoughts on her music and emerging career:

Review: Sail Across the Sun cruise 2015

By Ken Paulson

Train’s Sail Across the Sun cruise runs on two parallel tracks.

On one, it’s a floating music festival featuring Train, the Wailers and emerging acts like Striking Matches.

Pat Monahan of Train

Pat Monahan of Train

On the other, it’s a fanfest for those who love Train, which means three crowd-pleasing concerts by the band, Q&A and photo sessions, podcasts, wine tastings with the band’s Jimmy Stafford, and even “Trainaoke.”

Surprisingly, it all works.

Not as music intensive as some other Sixthman music crusie offerings,  the five-day cruise supplements the music with cooking demonstrations and comedy. They could use a few more musicians; by the fourth day you’ve seen some acts three times.

Calling Train the headliner of the cruise is an understatement, Lead singer Pat Monahan is the ringmaster, visible throughout, and even hosting the karaoke contest.

This kept the Train fans very happy, and they returned the goodwill when Monahan’s voice gave out before the band’s final show.

“My voice is broken,” Monahan said, explaining that other artists on the boat and even a Trainaoke finalist or two would fill in for him. Monahan gamely stayed on stage, exhorting the crowd and keeping the show moving. It was Train’s greatest hits (and Journey and Led Zeppelin covers) sung by both some talented and some overmatched vocalists, but the audience wasn’t fazed,  standing and cheering until the end.

Other highlights from the cruise:

A Great Big World

A Great Big World

– We saw Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino of A Great Big World pick up their Grammy in Los Angeles just four days before the cruise and it appeared the euphoria hadn’t worn off. Their shows were joyous, reflective and often funny, with three sets spread throughout the ship, including an acoustic set the final night.

– Andy Grammer and Ingrid Michaelsen both drew big and enthusiastic crowds for their consistently smart and engaging pop performances.

– Striking Matches’s new album Nothing but the Silence is due in March  and their energetic performances on board showcased their always-strong material. Sarah Zimmerman and Justin Davis are best known for writing songs featured on the Nashville TV show; it’s good to see them record on their own.

– John Driskell Hopkins, a founding member of the Zac Brown Band and co-writer of the band’s hit “Toes,” writes and sings highly melodic and accessible country and folk. His sets drew heavily from his fine 2012 release Daylight, including “She Don’t Love Me Today,” a funny and inspired song about the realities of marriage.

The Wailers

The Wailers

– We first saw Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers on a Cayamo cruise about five years ago,  and his solo performances this year were engaging  and intimate, even when he played  on the pool deck.

– The Wailers shouldn’t bother playing on land. Their set – laden with Bob Marley classics – is ideally suited for a cruise. There’s a younger generation of singers fronting the band, but the legacy remains intact.

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Concert Review: Alejandro Escovedo in Houston

by Paul T. Mueller

Singer-songwriter Alejandro Escovedo added some jazz to his usual mix of folk and rock at McGonigel’s Mucky Duck in Houston on Feb. 7. Escovedo played in a trio format, with tenor saxophonist Elias Haslanger and bassist Bobby Daniel. The result was a brilliant success, with Haslanger’s dazzling riffs and lyrical solos sharing the melodic spotlight with Escovedo’s acoustic and electric guitars. The Austin-based jazzman got plenty of space to demonstrate his formidable chops, occasionally veering close to the rock idiom. Daniel, a member of Escovedo’s Sensitive Boys band, anchored the mix with steady, percussive rhythm on the stand-up bass and contributed some supporting vocals as well.

In the second of the evening’s two shows, the trio performed 16 songs over the course of an hour and 45 minutes. The set list was drawn from a wide swath of Escovedo’s career, ranging from “I Was Drunk” and “Everybody Loves Me,” from 1999’s Bourbonitis Blues, to “Sally Was a Cop,” “Can’t Make Me Run” and “Sabor A Mi,” from the most recent collection, 2012’s Big Station. Every song was marked by excellent musicianship and passionate execution. Some were loud (“Sally Was a Cop,” “Everybody Loves Me,” “Chelsea Hotel ‘78”), while others were quietly poignant (“Rosalie,” “I Wish I Was Your Mother”). “Can’t Make Me Run” was both, starting out at high volume and ending in dramatic whispers.

An emotional high point came about halfway through, as Escovedo dedicated a song to the late Ian McLagan, a onetime member of Small Faces and the Faces and a longtime Austin resident and esteemed member of that city’s music scene. What followed was a slow, achingly beautiful rendition of “Sister Lost Soul,” from 2008’s Real Animal. It was a tear-your-heart-out elegy to a good friend gone too soon. Following similar lines was the main set’s closer, a heartfelt take on Ian Hunter’s “I Wish I Was Your Mother,” which Escovedo offered as a tribute to the former Mott the Hoople frontman, one of his musical heroes.

The trio’s encore consisted of a nice rendition of “Sabor A Mi,” a 1959 love song by Mexican composer Alvaro Carrillo, and a rousing version of Escovedo’s popular “Castanets.”

Haslanger said after the show that family considerations usually keep him from playing outside his home base of Austin, but that he’s willing to travel to play with Escovedo. The Mucky Duck audience seemed happy that he feels that way.

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The 10 best lines on the Cayamo music cruise 2015

By Paul T. Mueller

The 10 best lines from artists on the 2015 Cayamo cruise:

Amy Speace

Amy Speace

  • It was sad knowing everyone I knew or loved was going to hell. – Elizabeth Cook on her fundamentalist upbringing (Saturday)
  • This has been a very palpable evening. – Jim Lauderdale, during John Fullbright’s “Unlikely Sit-In” show (Saturday)
  • I starred in “Shakespeare in the Parking Lot” – Amy Speace on her days as a Shakespearean actress in New York (Monday)
  • Thanks, Mom. – John Prine, in response to a female audience member’s shout of “You’re sexy, John Prine!” (Monday)
  • The difference between a freeloader and a free spirit is about three chords. – Todd Snider (Wednesday)
  • This was No. 1 for about two weeks on the radio in Serbia. Take that, Lyle Lovett! – Amy Speace on the title track of her new CD, “That Kind of Girl” (Thursday)
  • Morning, everyone! – Lucinda Williams, at a 1:30 p.m. show (Thursday)
  • He doesn’t consider himself an Eagle, but I do. No, I consider you an egret. – Shawn Colvin to guitarist Steuart Smith, who tours with The Eagles (Thursday)
  • What we do on Cayamo stays on Cayamo. – Shawn Colvin (Thursday)
  • Since you probably played on the original record, play a little guitar right here, good brother. – Rodney Crowell to David Bromberg, during “Like a Rolling Stone” (Friday)

 

 

Review: Cayamo 2015 may have been best yet

By Paul T. Mueller

You’re never going to get more than 2,000 music lovers to agree on everything, but there seems to be something of a consensus that this year’s Cayamo cruise was one of the strongest, if not the strongest, editions in the eight-voyage history of the festival-at-sea.

Cayamo, a production of Atlanta-based Sixthman, sailed from Miami on Jan. 17 aboard the Norwegian Pearl, its home since 2010. The event featured calls at the Caribbean islands of St. Barts and St. Croix, but the real draw, as always, was the music, which began before the ship left Miami and continued nearly nonstop, almost to the minute the Pearl returned to its home port a week later.

This year’s headliners, all veterans of previous Cayamos, were Lyle Lovett (with his Acoustic Group), John Prine, Brandi Carlile, and Richard Thompson (as part of his Electric Trio). The next level consisted of a large group of talented musicians and bands, including Lucinda Williams, Buddy Miller, Shawn Mullins (the only artist to have participated in every Cayamo), Jim Lauderdale, Kacey Musgraves, David Bromberg, Rodney Crowell, Shawn Colvin, John Fullbright, The Lone Bellow, Elizabeth Cook and many more.

New this year were five “Soundcheck Artists,” chosen by passenger vote before sailing from a group of 25 nominees. This group comprised Birds of Chicago, the Black Lillies, the Dusty 45s, the Michelle Malone Band and Amy Speace, who was backed by two of her East Nashville neighbors, Tim Easton and Megan Palmer.

The lineup also included one notable “stowaway” – the eccentric but brilliant Todd Snider, who caused a furor by backing out of last year’s Cayamo at the last minute. Finally aboard, he made his first appearance at a midnight show halfway through the week.

In addition, many passengers, not content with merely watching and listening to professionals make music, brought their own instruments aboard. Individuals and groups could be found picking and jamming at all hours in various corners of the vessel, but particularly in an area known as Bar City.

Buddy Miller, Dave Jacques and Fats Kaplin

Buddy Miller, Dave Jacques and Fats Kaplin

All of this added up to far too much music for any one person to take in, even given the abbreviated sleep schedule that’s an integral part of the Cayamo experience for many. Schedule conflicts also got in the way, despite Sixthman’s commendable efforts to program shows and stages so as to distribute the crowds as evenly as possible around the ship’s several performance venues. As great a show as one might be witnessing at any given moment, something equally excellent was more than likely happening somewhere else at the same time.

As the Pearl left the dock a couple of hours behind schedule, Birmingham, Ala.-based St. Paul & the Broken Bones kicked the party on the pool deck into high gear with their high-energy blend of rock and soul. “I know it’s early,” said lead singer Paul Janeway, “but we gotta let it loose!” Nearly a week and dozens of shows later, Cayamo drew to a close with a “No Sleep ‘til Land Jam” that lasted into the small hours just before docking. It was hosted by the Austin-based Band of Heathens and featured guest performances by a great many of the artists aboard.

This kind of collaboration is a longtime hallmark of the Cayamo experience, and it was much in evidence all week. Almost anyone was liable to show up at almost any gig, to lend a hand on an instrument, sing a verse or provide backing vocals.

There were a few glitches – the presence of some much larger vessels at Norwegian’s main terminal left the Pearl with a smaller and less efficient temporary terminal (actually a large tent), which led to long and frustrating lines at both ends of the cruise. Still, it was hard to find anyone with anything really negative to say about Cayamo. A week at sea in the sunny Caribbean, dozens of world-class musicians performing almost nonstop, thousands of kindred spirits in the audience (including, for many repeat cruisers, old friends from previous Cayamos), and all the comfort and convenience of a major-label cruise ship – all of that adds up to what many call the Best Vacation Ever – until next year’s edition.

Still to come: More detail on the week’s shows, big, small and in between.

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