Review: Matt Harlan’s “Raven Hotel”

 harlan raven 160 150x144 Review: Matt Harlans Raven Hotelby Paul T. Mueller

Houston-based singer-songwriter Matt Harlan isn’t one of those musicians who puts out an album every year – his last was released in early 2012 – but you can bet that when one does finally show up, it’s worth the wait. Raven Hotel is an excellent showcase for Harlan’s writing, playing, singing and production skills.

The album’s second track is titled “Half Developed Song,” but that may be a little inside humor (it’s actually about getting past everyday obstacles and getting on with life). There’s nothing half developed about any of Raven Hotel’s 12 songs. All are carefully written, skillfully played and sung. Clean production, for which Harlan and Rich Brotherton share credit, makes the most of them.

The title track deals with the struggle to maintain human connections in a busy world. “I’m living in my own world now, you can stop by if you like,” Harlan sings, “ ’Cause I’ll forget to call and I’ll forget to write.” Even more personal is the love-is-tough theme of “We Never Met (Time Machine).” “Well, it’s hard to be your lover, and it’s hard to be your friend,” goes the second verse. “When you don’t offer no forgiveness, it’s a game nobody wins.”

In “Second Gear,” a father’s instructions to his child during a driving lesson (“Drop it down another gear/The roads are slick this time of year”) turn into larger life lessons (“You’ll find a higher place that you can climb to/Just leave a trail to show them where you’ve been”). “Burgundy and Blue,” a sweet love song, marks a departure from Harlan’s usual folky style – it’s done as a jazz ballad, backed by the smoky tenor sax of John Mills.

Harlan’s wife, Rachel Jones, gets the vocal spotlight on “Riding with the Wind,” an ode to freedom that Harlan has said was written with her voice in mind. She also contributes nice harmony vocals on several other songs.

Other members of the all-star cast Harlan and Brotherton assembled for this project include Bukka Allen on organ, piano and accordion (the latter used to good effect on “Old Allen Road,” a dark tale of implied violence); Maddy Brotherton on violin; Floyd Domino on keyboards; Glenn Fukunaga on bass; Jon Greene on drums, and Mickey Raphael, best known for his long association with Willie Nelson, on harmonica, best heard on the wistful “Slow Moving Train.” Brotherton, who’s the longtime lead guitarist in Robert Earl Keen’s band, contributed on guitars and several other stringed instruments, as well as synth and vocals.


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Review: Allen Toussaint in concert

By Paul T. Mueller

Allen Toussaint’s performance at the Miller Outdoor Theatre in Houston on June 19 was a textbook example of how to please existing fans and win new ones.

Following performances by three other acts (including a brilliant set by Austin’s Ruthie Foster), the legendary New Orleans musician took the stage after a short intro by his ace band. He spent the next hour or so filling Miller Theatre, an outdoor amphitheater in one of Houston’s oldest parks, with the distinctive rhythms and melodies of his native New Orleans.

 At 76, Toussaint is a revered and beloved figure in American music, but this was no phone-it-in nostalgia gig. In addition to his skills as a songwriter and producer, he’s a tremendously gifted piano player and he put that skill to full use on a set list drawn from his extensive repertoire, including “Southern Nights,” “A Certain Girl,” “Mardi Gras Man,” “Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley” and “Yes We Can Can,” among others. Toussaint has a fine voice as well, and most of his songs included his soulful singing. One notable exception was a haunting and beautiful instrumental rendition of the folk classic “St. James Infirmary,” sad and joyful at the same time.

As if the music weren’t enough (actually, it was), Toussaint also left his grand piano during one song to throw souvenirs into the crowd from the edge of the stage, in the spirit of Mardi Gras float occupants distributing beads and doubloons to the masses along the parade route.

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Review: Willis Alan Ramsey in Houston

ramsey photo 150x150 Review: Willis Alan Ramsey in Houston

Willis Alan Ramsey

By Paul T. Mueller

Cult-favorite singer-songwriter Willis Alan Ramsey had a rocky outing on June 17 at McGonigel’s Mucky Duck in Houston.

Ramsey’s set got off to an unexpected start, with an unannounced opening set by Ramsey’s wife, Alison Rogers. After only one song, a morose musing on love and loss, Ramsey hollered “Time out!” from his barstool at the back of the room, and then spent the next 15 minutes conferring, or arguing, with the guy running the sound board. Rogers finally resumed her set and got in one more song before another long break. And so it went.

When Ramsey finally took the stage, he started out with yet more fiddling with equipment and arguing with the soundman. He managed to get through a few songs before interrupting himself again – mostly bluesy folk performed in a laconic style, accompanied by guitar and harmonica.

Five or six songs of what eventually turned out to be a 14-song set were from his semi-legendary debut (and so far, only) album, 1974’s Willis Alan Ramsey. These included “Wishbone,” “The Ballad of Spider John,” “Angel Eyes” and “Northeast Texas Women,” among others. Unfortunately, they were interspersed with long, rambling stories, lots of tuning and “breaks” taken for no apparent reason.

Ramsey started losing his audience about halfway through, as a considerable part of the crowd headed for the door during a particularly testy exchange with the soundman. Some unpleasant comments about local favorite Lyle Lovett, with whom he wrote “North Dakota,” did little to endear him to those who remained.

Three and a half hours in, the audience was down to 20 or so diehards, plus a few noisy patrons at the bar. Ramsey asked them to quiet down, but that had little effect other than prompting one particularly vocal heckler to urge him to just play and finish the show. By this point he had given up on his equipment and was singing and playing without amplification. Ironically the two or three songs he did this way were among the better performances of the evening.


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Americana Festival announces 2014 line-up

Avetts AMA 350x233 Americana Festival announces 2014 line up

The Avett Brothers at the 2011 Americana Awards show

Americana Music News – The ever-growing American Music Association announced today that its annual Nashville festival  will feature an outdoor concert on the city’s riverfront on Sept. 20 with the Avett Brothers as headliners.

The concert will anchor the Americana Music Festival and Conference, scheduled to take place Sept. 12-21. Tickets go on sale June 27 for the riverfront concert. Admission is free to conference registrants.

The Americana Music Association also released this list of 2014 festival acts, with more to come:

Allison Moorer • Amy Ray • Angaleena Presley •  The Barefoot MovementBen Miller BandBilly Joe ShaverBlack PrairieBrennen Leigh and Noel McKay • Buddy Miller • The Cactus BlossomsCarlene CarterCaroline RoseChatham County LineChuck Mead • Danny & The Champions of the World • The Deadly Gentlemen • Del Barber • The Deslondes • Doug Seegers • The Duhks • The Dustbowl Revival • Emily Barker & the Red Clay Halo • Ethan Johns • The Fairfield Four • The GrahamsGrant-Lee PhillipsGreen River OrdinanceGreensky BluegrassGregory Alan IsakovGreyhounds • The Harpoonist & the Axe Murderer • Hayes Carll • Howlin’ Brothers • Immigrant UnionIsrael NashJamestown RevivalJason Eady • J.D. Wilkes & the Dirt DaubersJoe HenryJoe Pug • Joe Purdy • John MorelandJonah TolchinJonny Two BagsJosh Ritter • Joshua James • Lake Street DiveLee Ann Womack • Leo “Bud” Welch • Lera LynnMarah Presents: Mountain Minstrelsy • Marty StuartMatthew RyanMcCrary Sisters • Nathaniel Rateliff • New Country RehabOh SusannaOtis GibbsParker MillsapPaul ThornPete Molinari • Quebe Sisters Band • Rhett MillerRobbie FulksRobyn HitchcockRodney CrowellRuthie FosterRyan MontbleauSam OutlawSarah Jarosz • Sean Rowe • Shakey GravesSuzy Bogguss • Todd Snider & Friends • Tom Freund • Tony Joe White • Trigger Hippy (featuring Jackie Greene, Joan Osborne, Steve Gorman, Tom Bukovac & Nick Govrik) • Whiskey Shivers • Willie Watson

Review: John Fullbright’s “Songs”

fullbright songs cover 150 150x150 Review: John Fullbrights SongsBy Paul T. Mueller

John Fullbright’s first studio album, From the Ground Up, made him a rising star in roots music circles two years ago. The singer-songwriter from Oklahoma probably could have gotten away with shaking things up the second time out. Instead, the recently released Songs is notable for its restraint. The 12 tracks are marked by clean production by Fullbright and Wes Sharon, with spare arrangements that leave plenty of space for Fullbright’s distinctive voice and lyrics.

Relationships, good and bad, are at the heart of most of Fullbright’s songs. The album starts with the ironically titled “Happy,” a not-very-happy examination of the aftermath of a relationship that apparently didn’t work out so well. In “The One That Lives Too Far,” Fullbright acknowledges the difficulty of long-distance relationships, and “Until You Were Gone” tells the old, sad story of insight acquired too late – “I didn’t know I was in love with you/Until you were gone.”

Fullbright manages a more positive tone in “When You’re Near,” a cautiously optimistic tune that features some nice electric guitar by Terry “Buffalo” Ware. “I’m the one that you can go to/When you need another heartbeat near,” Fullbright sings in the chorus. “Don’t I feel like something when you’re here.” The album closes on an up note with “Very First Time” – “Between love everlasting/And meaningless rhyme/Sits feeling good for the very first time/I’m feeling good for the very first time.”

Fullbright has said he doesn’t understand why some people say his lyrics are vague, but such statements are clearly tongue in cheek. He is a writer who loves words, but he doesn’t always see the need to arrange them in straight lines. He fills his songs with images and metaphors whose meaning isn’t obvious at first glance, or maybe ever. Songs includes several examples of this, including “Write a Song,” a self-referential exercise that begins, “Write a song/Write a song about the very song you sing.” The cheerful “Going Home” starts out in a similar vein – “Bitter hearts from bitter ends/Crooked limps from crooked mends” – but also features the eminently quotable, “I met love. Love met me/And we agreed to disagree.”

The one song on Songs that’s really a narrative is “High Road,” a sweet but sad ballad about a farm couple and the disaster that eventually befalls them. It’s a quiet but powerful story.

Vague or clear, Fullbright’s songs work because he sings them with an imperfect but expressive voice and accompanies them with excellent guitar and even better piano (along with smaller doses of harmonica, drums and even whistling). He’s supported by a cast of fine musicians, including bassist David Leach (a member of his touring band, as is guitarist Ware), drummer Mike Meadows, organist Daniel Walker and steel guitarist Ryan Engleman. Co-producer Wes Sharon, who also recorded and mixed the album, is credited with bass on two tracks and percussion on one.


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Hank Williams: Rediscovered classics

Hank 150x150 Hank Williams: Rediscovered classicsBy Ken Paulson

Historical documents rarely sound this good.

The Garden Spot Programs, 1950 is an extraordinary treat, capturing Hank Williams in his prime in performances that have gone unheard for 64 years.

The recordings stem from discs distributed to a number of radio stations across the country,  and in this case, aired by KSIB in Creston, Iowa in February 1950. Stations created the illusion of a star in their studios, a sponsor received valuable exposure and the artist managed to “visit” far-flung communities without leaving Nashville.

These recordings were intended to be heard just once in each community and never listened to again. Instead, we now have vibrant versions of “Lovesick Blues,” “Mansion on the hill” and “Mind Your Own Business,” among others. Highly  recommended.

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Bill Lloyd on NRBQ’s “honest joy”

Brass Tacks 150x150 Bill Lloyd on NRBQs honest joy By Bill Lloyd

I became a fan of NRBQ sometime around 1980.  I was completely smitten with their sound and vibe and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t “gotten it” earlier. I had previously never paid them much attention thinking they were simply a ’50s throwback band. Oh, how I was wrong!

They had already gone through several personnel changes in lineup since their late ’60s beginnings. I felt late to the party at the time, but it really didn’t matter as they were at their peak as an amazing live act and fearless recording artists. Their appeal was eccentric and scattershot and hard for record companies to market, but they deftly hit all the musical touchstones for me.

Their self-described “omni-pop” was a mix of classic rock-pop, country, rockabilly, Monk-inspired jazz and the kitchen sink. If they liked it, it was in the musical stew and they threw in some goofy humor for good measure.

For many, their records came with the caveat that you had to see them live where they would raise the roof with crazy-good energy. They rarely played to a set list and you never knew what was coming next. They played their own material but there was always a load of unexpected covers that seemed spur-of-the-moment, but were performed with jaw-dropping musicianship. The best part was that there was no fashion or show-biz or pretense about them. It was honest joy pouring off the stage and through the audience. I was hooked and would see them every chance I got.

During this era of the band’s career (1974-1994), NRBQ housed three strong songwriters in Big Al Anderson, Joey Spampinato and founder Terry Adams. The 4-man lineup, along with their great drummer, Tommy Ardolino, is still considered by many fans, as the “classic lineup”.

From this version of the group, Big Al broke rank first and came to Nashville to write songs, play guitar and make records and, without qualification, succeeded on every kind of level. Al’s first replacement for the ‘Q was Joey’s younger brother, Johnny, from The Incredible Casuals. He seemed a perfect fit with some really good songs and fine guitar playing. After a few more years and some wonderful studio and live albums, NRBQ went on hiatus in 2004 when Terry Adams received a cancer diagnoses.

The Spampinato Brothers went off to make their own fine records. As Terry’s health began to return, he made a wonderful record with original guitarist Steve Ferguson shortly before Ferguson passed on and then began playing with his own Terry Adams Quartet. Tom Ardolino would guest sometimes with Terry, but Tommy’s own failing health kept his appearances sporadic. He passed in 2012. Terry Adams decided to reclaim the name of NRBQ in 2011 with the members of his own quartet.

All this history is meant to be a glimpse into the backstory of Terry Adams’ amazing persistence and musical vision of what a band ought to be. I heard the “new Q” live in 2012 with Scott Ligon, Pete Donnelly, Conrad Choucroun and rejoiced that the renamed quartet totally captured the wonderful vibe that every version of the band had before them. At the show, I bought their cd, “Keep This Love Goin’”, and found the spirit of the band still in the grooves. My only disappointment with their recording was that I felt that the songwriting in the new band didn’t have the same depth that the “classic” lineup with Big Al and Joey had. I was, as a fan, a bit judgmental and holding on to old allegiances.

It’s 2014 and there’s a new NRBQ album scheduled for release June 17 called Brass Tacks. As I listened to it, I found my “happy meter” starting to peg. Couldn’t stop smiling as one track played after another. One of the first things I noticed as I let it wash over me is that it’s a great sounding record from a sonic point of view. Really well recorded and mixed with cool and thoughtful sonic touches throughout. The songwriting is spread out among Adams, Ligon and new bassist, Casey McDonough. Longtime sideman/sax-man, Jim Hoke is also represented with the charming Everlys-like “I’d Like To Know”.

All of the music feels and sounds great and, for longtime fans, covers beloved familiar stylistic ground. It’s not fair to compare a new batch of songs to the best of the Spampinato and Anderson songs from years past. Maybe it’s not fair to compare Adams songs to the best of his own work over the years.

As a fan, I’m happy he’s healthy, recording and touring. Throughout the NRBQ catalogue, those guys wrote songs that could compete with their heroes – McCartney, Bacharach, whoever.  The songs on “Brass Tacks” are also informed by their influences. I would guess that, for the newer members of the band, their influences would include Adams, Anderson and Spampinato. It’s not an easy thing to hold your creative ground and hold up a 40- plus-year legacy at the same time.

Scott Ligon must have absorbed every musical nuance the old “Q” had to offer. When you see them live, his voice and guitar covers ground that both Anderson and Spampinato held. He can powerhouse-telecaster his way through jump blues and rockabilly and then turn on a dime and sing some sweet Beatlesque-pop, one of Spampinato’s fortes. Ligon’s songs on “Brass Tacks”, in particular his acoustic “It’ll Be Alright”, transcend imitation and he’s proven to be Adams’ reliable partner in the “new Q”. Adams offers some wonderful new compositions. “Places Far Away” is an atmospheric and lyrical treasure. “Greetings From Delaware” echoes their classic “Green Light,” but is that a bad thing? Nope.

NRBQ has always been as much about taking cover material and making it their own and their take on Rodgers and Hammerstein’s  “Getting To Know You” is such a perfect choice.

Despite whatever musical ghosts are along for the ride, this album holds its own. Excellent singing, playing and bottom line still the joyous feeling that you get when you hear NRBQ play. Thank you Terry Adams for keeping on keeping on.

Bill Lloyd is a Nashville-based songwriter whose songs and own recording career has swung between genres and formats. With country success as part of the Foster and Lloyd duo and power-pop critical acclaim from his many solo records, Lloyd’s appreciation of NRBQ comes honestly. He has also written songs with Al Anderson including “It Came From The South”.


Richie Furay’s talent, legacy go “Hand in Hand”


richie 350x262 Richie Furay’s talent, legacy go “Hand in Hand”

Richie Furay at the Bluebird Café in Nashville

By Terry Roland

The story is by-now a worn-out cliché. It even shows up on network television shows like Nashville. It goes like this: The influential elder statesmen who helped found a form of music popular today, is granted meetings with record label A&R executives ‘out of respect’ to hear their newest, vital work, only to be told ‘no’ to label support for release, promotion and distribution. Oh, they love the music, mind you. “It’s great,” they say. “The best of your career,’ they add. “But, we can’t help you.”

It’s hard to fathom. Especially when the work is as good as Richie Furay’s latest yet-to-be-released album, Hand in Hand. It is reason for pause in a genre known for its appreciation of timeless, age-defying and cross-generational music. That it is happening to the co-founding member of The Buffalo Springfield and Poco, a peer of Neil Young and Stephen Stills, is even more enigmatic and frustrating.

While ageism is all-too-common in the world of music today, the Americana scene has offered shelter from such clichéd responses to many veteran artists like Johnny Cash, Levon Helm, Rosanne Cash and Dr. John. Richie Furay deserves better. His new album is as vital, fresh and passionate as any new releases from younger artists. It stands alongside the best work of his peers today.

Hand in Hand can also serve as an introduction to Richie Furay whose career spans over five decades. The album begins at the beginning of his story.

“We were the dreamers shooting’ high for the stars

Making rock & roll music, playing country guitars.

We blazed a trail for generations to come

We were the dreamers, pioneers pressing on.”

This first song, “We Were the Dreamers,” opens with a lead guitar intro that echoes Paul McCartney’s simple riff from “The Two of Us” on The Beatles’ Let it Be, but then crashes into a familiar electric major 7th chord change, which is unmistakable in its Springfield essence. He rocks us through lyrics reflecting the simple truth of Richie Furay’s legacy, best summed up in the term, visionary. His words are a testament to the sound he helped create and his influence reverberates today.

“We Were the Dreamers” is more than an exercise in nostalgia or a history lesson; it is a quicksilver lightning-lit journey through the past to present day Americana music. Furay starts us with his past glories referring to his earliest days with Poco when they were the hottest country-rock band out of L.A. on the threshold of phenomenal national success.

It’s been 40 some years, 1969

On that Troubadour stage, it just seemed like our time

Laurel Canyon and Sunset that’s where we called home

We made certain our music had a sound all its own.

Then he leads us present day to a country music scene, where acceptance of rock and cultural undertones is a given, that he helped create:

Today out in Nashville, it echoes the sound

But back then redneck and hippie would never be found

On the same stage together, a few got it for sure

Today it’s just music, nothing less, nothing more.”

For Furay, who is undeniably humble and grateful for his place in music history, these words are not a matter of pride or arrogance, but a statement of fact. “We Were the Dreamers” sets the pace as he sings about the redeeming and healing power of music, faith, love and unity in the face of troubled waters ahead.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, who recently turned 70, was an important balancing member of the Buffalo Springfield. He made the all-too-brief historic 2011 reunion possible and creatively plausible. As in times of old, he offered a counterpoint to the critical but often tense creative energy between Stephen Stills and Neil Young, rivaling guitarists and singer-songwriters. Back in 1967 it was Furay who sweetened the sound with high harmony vocals, a dynamic stage presence that usually found him dancing with guitar in hand to his own unique songs. He led the band into a full-fledged country-rock sound.

To many, during the 2011 tour, Furay was the element of surprise, the artist many Springfield fans had lost track of since the times when he first blazed the country-rock trail. As he sang lead vocal on familiar classics like “On the Way Home,” “A Child’s Claim to Fame” and “Kind Woman,” he stepped out from the shadows of the iconic Stills and Young to a spotlight of his own, less worn and tattered around the edges than his Springfield comrades. The reviews of the shows in San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and at Bonnaroo in Tennessee, uniformly praised Furay’s presence, energy, vocal power and contributions to the band during the tour. In spite of a scheduled 30 city national tour, the band would return to their 40 year silence after their final appearance at Bonnaroo (a decision made by the ever changeable Young). But Furay was still restless with the creativity the tour had sparked.

Today, as Nashville producers casually bring in elements of rock music with popular young artists, as The Eagles forge ahead on established sold-out arena tours with constant radio and Internet airplay, and as new artists build on the country rock sound forged so long ago under California skies, Richie Furay’s influence is tangible.

Even so, the most common response when people hear Furay’s recent albums is, “Man, he sounds like The Eagles!”   To be more accurate, the opposite is true. The Eagles adapted the sound of Richie Furay long ago. As he tells it today, it was Glen Frey who once helped Poco draw up their set lists for their early appearances. He and Don Henley were present at the band’s early rehearsals.

Poco’s original engagements at Doug Weston’s Troubadour in Los Angeles was a high water point for much of the fledging Southern California country rock scene where artists like Rick Nelson and The Eagles would take their cue from Furay for their own musical direction. The Poco shows and the subsequent tours were dynamic, energetic, passionate and hard rocking performances that took no prisoners. Furay was the undisputed front man for this trailblazing band that saw two future members of The Eagles pass through its ranks (Timothy B. Schmidt and Randy Meisner). Poco never attained the level of stardom found by imitators like The Eagles, but their mark was felt and capitalized on.

Furay was so important to the country-rock sound that Eagles’ label owner, David Geffen, signed him to Asylum Records where he released a pair of albums with ‘supergroup’ Souther, Hillman and Furay (SHF) scoring a top 20 hit with his own song, “Falling in Love.” SHF never quite worked as a cohesive band and disbanded during the recording of their second album. This was followed by a series of critically acclaimed but commercially failed solo albums released between 1975 and 1981, most notably I’ve got A Reason and Dance A Little Light.

It was after 1981 that Furay quietly withdrew from mainstream popular music, raising his family and taking on a Calvary Chapel pastorate at his home in Broomfield, Colorado. During the intervening years he would release two devotional Christian based album, “In My Father’s House” and “I Am Sure” with the help of Poco members, Rusty Young Paul Cotton and Jim Messina.

When he remerged in 2003, the country-rock focused Heartbeat of Love was the fulfillment of his post-Poco career promise. His soulful energy drove the good-time surface of many of the songs. But it is that soul beneath the style that gives his work its timelessness. It was his prodigal return to country-rock. It also included Stills and Young on separate tracks.

Heartbeat was a reminder of Furay’s signature vocal sound. It is the natural, effortless style of his voice that others have built their own vocal styles on. But, while the sound may be similar, it’s the soul beneath that is impossible to recreate. He merges Buck Owens and Otis Redding. In his own unique way he is as much a soul singer as country.

It’s the authenticity of his voice that makes Hand in Hand is such a pleasure. His voice is in full force, driving the melody and the rhythm through familiar territory and into the rough terrain of life today. Not so young anymore, but quite a bit wiser, he is always ready to rock. On this new album, he sounds more like an impassioned artist in his ‘30s rather than a seasoned vocalist who just turned 70.

Hand in Hand adds nuance and dimension to what he started on Heartbeat of Love. It is an album of Furay signature country rock that calls up the best spirit of The Buffalo Springfield and Poco. While the album still carries the expected love songs and good time rockers(“Still Fine” “Love at First Sight”), much of the album reflects his latter day Poco and 70’s solo work. He moves into deeper waters with a global message to America as a country of people divided and disillusioned by economic woes and political controversy.

After “We Were the Dreamers” aptly opens the album, Furay turns back to his ‘kind woman,’ for inspiration on the title track, “Hand in Hand” and delivers another classic love song that stands alongside “Good Feeling’ to Know,” and “Just For You and Me,” from the peak of his Poco days. There is a gospel-soul feel to his interpretation of an obscure Dan Fogelberg song, “Don’t Lose Heart,” that is infectious, inspiring and goose-bump producing.

The album turns on three songs about the American journey in the second decade of the 21st century, a trilogy of sorts. These are the center piece of the album. Opening with “Don’t Tread on Me,” a call to patriotic unity over the politics of partisanship, it speaks to today’s polarization and divisiveness. This is Furay transcending his familiar love song themes. It’s the same artist who once reached out to his friend, Gram Parsons as he was fading into his own self-destructiveness with the impressionistic epic “Crazy Eyes.” On “Don’t Tread on Me,” Furay sings to the people of America. It is a call to unity as he cries, “My heart bleeds red, white and blue as I recall, united we stand, divided we fall,” and asks us to bypass political bias to remember our collective “heart of gold.” “Wind of Change,” with an underlying fiddle and banjo, speaks to the hope of a new day in the aftermath of today’s discouraged and burned-out America.

 When the sun shines in the morning

Bringing the dawn of brand new day

If we can just hold on until tomorrow

Maybe we can set things straight again

Before we lose it all to the wind…”

“Someday,” completes the trilogy with hope and an upbeat tempo that is danceable in the best Poco sense. It’s a celebration of the soul familiar to Furay’s best work pointing us to healing, hope and faith as we return to our better angels.

Hopefully, the release of this album will be soon. It will, of course, take something more than cliché’s and lip-service for this to happen. It will take A&R people who possess the same kind of heart, vision and energy that Furay exudes on this record to get it out in the light of day where it belongs. It belongs as a part of our national soundtrack as we walk into the dawn of a brand new day.

Hand in Hand is among Richie Furay’s strongest albums with a clear statement of both musical vision and personal growth through dark economic and spiritual times. Its soul rests on the hope found in what Furay has communicated throughout his career; that the heart of musical expression centered on faith and celebration is our greatest resource, be it for a night of good time music or a life built on the hope of things unseen, but known to be true. Its appeal is in the melodic energy and inspiration found in one of America’s founding fathers of country-rock.

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Review: The art and craft of “Parker Millsap”

millsap.cover  150x150 Review: The art and craft of Parker Millsap By Paul T. Mueller

 Oklahoma singer-songwriter Parker Millsap put together a very good debut with 2012’s Palisade. His self-titled sophomore effort, released earlier this year, is even better, demonstrating the kind of growth and perspective good songwriters acquire as they mature. It’s a little scary to think about where Millsap might be in a few years, given that he is now all of 21 years old.

 For someone barely old enough to buy a legal drink, Millsap already possesses a phenomenal grasp of the art and craft of songwriting. Consider the album’s fourth track, “The Villain.” In its three verses (there’s no bridge), each constructed around a different theme, Millsap sings a gentle but profound apology and goodbye to a lover. “I don’t wanna be the missing piece of track anymore,” he sings in the final verse. “I don’t wanna be the guy/that straps you to a railroad tie/and listens for the rumble and the roar/I don’t wanna be/the villain in your dreams anymore.” The imagery is straight out of an old silent melodrama, but the emotional impact is immediate and intense.

Some of the album’s other songs – “Forgive Me,” “When I Leave,” “Yosemite” – work this quieter vein as well. But Millsap is equally good at letting it rip. His fuzzy electric guitar fuels “Truck Stop Gospel,” which seems to poke fun at evangelical Christianity – or does it? “I’m Paul the apostle preachin’ truck stop gospel/I’m not angry, no I’m not hostile,” Millsap sings, later adding, “Just wanna modify your behavior/I just want you to love my savior.” Sincerity or satire? You could argue it either way.

Some songs are better than others, but there isn’t a bad one in this collection. “Disappear” tells a sweet story of a young couple moving on to a fresh start (“Leave behind the things that never stood a chance/Like your mother’s good china and all our original plans”), while “Quite Contrary” and “At the Bar (Emerald City Blues)” relocate familiar characters (from nursery rhymes and Oz, respectively) to unexpected settings. The album’s closer, “Land of the Red Man,” is a joyous, resonator- and fiddle-soaked rave-up that takes some good-natured swipes at both Millsap’s native state and its rival to the south. “Maybe Oklahoma’s hotter than hell,” he wails, “but it’s better than Texas.”

Millsap’s performing style is compelling as well. His raspy voice, which makes him sound older than his years, is well suited to the stories and observations in his songs. For some listeners, the occasional yelps and yodels that punctuate his lyrics may take a little getting used to, but there’s no denying the absolute conviction with which he delivers everything from quiet ballads to all-out rockers.

Millsap is also a fine guitarist and harmonica player, and he has some excellent people helping him out here, starting with his touring band, fiddler Daniel Foulks and bassist Michael Rose (who also plays bowed saw). A couple of guys borrowed from fellow Oklahoman John Fullbright’s band make notable contributions – David Leach on trombone (he plays bass for Fullbright) and drummer Giovanni Carnuccio III on a few tracks (Millsap handles drums on the rest). Millsap and producer Wes Sharon also make effective use of a couple of other horn players, Eric Walschap on baritone sax and Marcus Spitz on trumpet.

Millsap was recently named one of five nominees for the Americana Music Association’s Emerging Act of the Year award. One listen to Parker Millsap will tell you why.


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This just in: The 2014 Americana Music Award Nominees

links ama1 This just in: The 2014 Americana Music Award Nominees
Americana Music News - Robert Ellis, Rosanne Cash and Jason Isbell led nominees for the 2014 Americana Music Awards with three nominations each, including artist of the year,  the Americana Music Association announced today in Nashville.
Ellis’ The Lights From the Chemical Plant was nominated for album of the year, while his “Only Lies” was nominated for Best Song.
Cash’s album The River and the Thread and song “A Feather’s Not A Bird” were nominated, and Isbell was recognized for his album Southeastern and song “Cover Me Up.”
Rodney Crowell rounded out the list of best artist nominees.
The full list of nominees:
Build Me Up From Bones, Sarah Jarosz
The Lights From The Chemical Plant, Robert Ellis
The River And The Thread, Rosanne Cash
Southeastern, Jason Isbell
Rosanne Cash
Robert Ellis
Jason Isbell
Hard Working Americans
“Cover Me Up”, Jason Isbell
“A Feather’s Not A Bird”, Rosanne Cash
“Ohio”, Patty Griffin
“Only Lies”, Robert Ellis
Hurray For The Riff Raff
St. Paul & The Broken Bones
Larry Campbell
Fats Kaplin
Bryan Sutton
Winners will be announced at the The Americana Honors and Awards on  September 17, 2014 in Nashville at the Ryman Auditorium. The event is part of the Americana Music Festival.
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