Review: “Levi Lowrey” falls a bit short

lowrey cover 150x150 Review: Levi Lowrey falls a bit short By Paul T. Mueller

When a musician’s previous album is excellent, it makes it that much more frustrating when the follow-up doesn’t measure up. Such is the case with Levi Lowrey’s recent self-titled disc. Levi Lowrey isn’t exactly bad, give or take a song or two. A lot of what made Lowrey’s 2012 release I Confess I Was a Fool so good is also there this time. The playing and singing are still excellent and Lowrey still has a crowd of talented musicians helping out. But somehow the whole is less than the sum of the parts.

One problem is the writing. While Lowrey wrote 10 of the 12 songs on I Confess , he takes sole credit on only four of the current CD’s 15 tracks. The result is that Levi Lowrey comes across as less of a personal statement and more of a calculated attempt to appeal to a broader audience. The busier production and glossier sound suggest the same. Not that there’s anything wrong with an overdubbed guitar solo here and there, but the quiet honesty that marked I Confess is not so evident in its successor.

There are some high points. “December Thirty-One” makes the case for moving on from tough times – “Yeah, leave them all behind/Way back there in time/December thirty-one/Eleven fifty-nine.” “Trying Not to Die” is about taking chances instead of playing it safe, while “That Is All” offers a bracing response answer to those who claim to know all the answers when it comes to faith: “I don’t know, I don’t know/Feels so good to say it’s so/That God is God and man is man/That is all.”

There are a couple of songs that could easily have been left off. “High and Lonesome” advocates dealing with romantic disappointment with chemicals – not an original idea, but not really a good one either. And it’s hard to imagine why anyone thought it would be a good idea to close the album with an upbeat rendition of “War Pigs,” Black Sabbath’s hoary antiwar rant from 1970.

Content aside, it’s hard to find much fault with the singing and playing here. Lowrey’s voice and playing (on guitar and fiddle) are as excellent as always, and his core band – guitarist Danny McAdams, bassist Jon Daws and drummer Lawrence Nemenz – provides strong backing. There’s a long list of contributors, led by Mac McAnally on guitar and piano and including co-producers Matt Mangano (guitar and vocals) and Clay Cook (vocals and a long list of stringed and keyboard instruments).

John Hiatt, Patty Griffin headline Cross-County Lines

cross county 262x350 John Hiatt, Patty Griffin headline Cross County Lines

Americana Music News – John Hiatt and Patty Griffin are headlining  the Americana Music Association’s  2nd annual Cross-County Lines festival on May 31 in Franklin, TN.

Also in the line-up: Ashley Monroe, Brandy  Clark, Parker Millsap, Joe Pug and Luther Dickinson.

It’s a 7-hour showcase for roots and Americana music in The Park at Harlinsdale Farm, just outside the offices of the Americana Music Association.

We attended last year’s kick-off Cross-County Lines event, which featured Alison Krauss, Jerry Douglas and Amos Lee. The 2014 event should be just as memorable.

The music starts at 3:30 p.m. and $35 tickets are available from Ticketmaster and at the Franklin Theatre box office.


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A little Poco at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville

By Ken Paulson

It was a good week for Poco fans in the Nashville area.

richie 350x262 A little Poco at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville

Richie Furay

On Tuesday, Richie Furay joined Vince Gill and an emerging duo called Striking Matches as part of the new SoundExchange Influencer series at the club.  The premise is that musicians build on the influences of others, so Gill talked about how Furay influenced him and Striking Matches cited both men as musical heroes.  Furay did a lot of newer material,  but did perform a spirited “Pick Up the Pieces” and closed with “Kind Woman,” the song that essentially led to the birth of Poco.

Rusty Young was on that Buffalo Springfield session and ended up being the longest-standing member of Poco. On Saturday night. Young appeared at the Bluebird Cafe along with Bill Lloyd, Craig Fuller of Pure Prairie League and Little Feat and Robert Ellis Orrall.



rusty 150x150 A little Poco at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville

Rusty Young

Young opened the show with “Call It Love” and closed with “Crazy Love,” but may have received the biggest reaction for “Neil Young” off the recent All Fired Up Poco album, in which he entertainingly explains that Neil is not his brother.

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Live in Houston: Ray Wylie Hubbard

by Paul T. Mueller

Ray Wylie Hubbard’s fans tend to be an enthusiastic lot, and the most enthusiastic one at a recent gig in Houston may not have been old enough for kindergarten. Three songs into Hubbard’s April 9 gig at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, at the end of “Drunken Poet’s Dream,” the first sound that rang out was a high-pitched “Yaaay!” Laughter and applause followed, and the pattern was repeated for the rest of the show, the closing installment of the church’s second annual “Songs of Lovin’ and Redemption” Lenten music series.

Hubbard’s performance was worthy of the praise. Appearing in the series for the second year, he put on a spirited show, accompanied by his son, Lucas, on electric guitar and Kyle Schneider on drums. The show was a mix of rowdier material, such as the aforementioned “Dream,” “Snake Farm” and “Down Home Country Blues,” and songs that were more cerebral and/or spiritual, if not quieter. The latter included “There Are Some Ways,” “The Ballad of the Crimson Kings,” “Count My Blessings” and “Whoop and Holler.”

Lucas Hubbard 150x150 Live in Houston: Ray Wylie Hubbard

Lucas Hubbard

“Mother Blues,” Hubbard’s funny and bawdy account of his life as a young musician in Dallas in the ’60s, got a little extra shot of coolness from Lucas Hubbard’s fine playing on the very same “gold top Les Paul” guitar that figures prominently in the song’s lyrics. Extra points to Lucas for grinning at the punchlines of his father’s stories, which he has no doubt heard many times over the years.

Hubbard closed the set with a powerful rendition of “The Messenger,” his tribute to faith and overcoming fears. Called back for an encore, he and the band turned Mississippi Fred McDowell’s classic “You Gotta Move” into a sing-along before calling it a night.

Review: Rodney Crowell’s “Tarpaper Sky”

Tarpaper 150x150 Review: Rodney Crowells Tarpaper Sky By Ken Paulson

I was listening to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s 1979 album An American Dream the other day and was reminded of the beauty of the title track, written by Rodney Crowell and included on his first solo album Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This” in 1978.

“American Dream,” ‘Til I Gain Control Again” and “Shame on the Moon” were all big hits in the hands of other artists, a reminder of just how resonant – and yes, commercial – a songwriter Crowell could be.

Crowell has had extraordinary success as an artist in recent years,  including striking collaborations with Mary Karr on KIN and Emmylou Harris on Old Yellow Moon. His last four solo albums have been autobiographical, topical and sometimes stark.

In contrast, Tarpaper Sky, ( New West) his latest, is not a concept album or project and its tone is often joyous and adventurous. It has more of the spirit of Crowell’s  early recordings, possibly due to the co-production of his ‘80s collaborator Steuart Smith.

The album opens with the soaring “The Long Journey Home,” followed by the jaunty “Fever on the Bayou” (When she gets a hold me/Mucho me-oh-my-oh”) and the full-throttle love song “Frankie Please.” This one’s fun.

The reflective Crowell is still here, with the Karr co-write “God I’m Missing You” and the sentimental “Grandma Loved That Old Man.”

Closing out the album are two tributes: “The Flyboy & the Kid,” a tip of the hat to friend and mentor Guy Clark, and “Oh What a Beautiful World,” a nod to John Denver.

It’s been too long since Sex and Gasoline, Crowell’s outstanding and largely overlooked  2008 solo album. Tarpaper Sky is a welcome addition to his rich body of work.

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Sun209 interview: Greg Trooper

Greg Trooper incident 150x150 Sun209 interview: Greg TrooperWe caught up  with Greg Trooper on his return to Nashville after leaving the city in 2008. The Basement was packed with fans and friends, including a contingent from Boston. His almost two-hour show was a prime example of an artist capturing the room with just an acoustic guitar, striking songs,  irreverence and energy.

In one of our Three-minute Interviews, Trooper talks about the “tawdry” cover of his new album Incident on Willow Street and life as a touring artist:


We loved Incident. You’ll find our review here.

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Concert review: Eliza Gilkyson at St. Mark’s in Houston

By Paul T. Mueller

Austin-based singer-songwriter Eliza Gilkyson brought a light touch to sometimes dark material in her March 26 performance at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Houston. The show was the third of five in the church’s second annual “Songs of Lovin’ and Redemption” music series, presented by the church during the Lenten season.

The struggle between light and darkness is an appropriate theme for Lent, and it’s a theme that runs through a lot of Gilkyson’s work, especially on her recently released CD, The Nocturne Diaries. As she explained during the show, which included seven songs from the CD, much of Diaries was written in the middle of the night, when inspiration came at the cost of sleep. Images of night and darkness were featured in such songs as “Midnight Oil” (“Moonlight over the mountains/the midnight oil burns low”), “No Tomorrow” (“And I’ll hold on to you when the world fades to black/Like there’s no tomorrow/No tomorrow”) and “Touchstone” (“When shadows fall where you lie sleeping/In that dark hour before the dawn”).

But just as darkness gives way to light, so Gilkyson balances gloom and doom with hope and optimism. In “Emerald Street,” she sang, “Whole world’s goin’ up in smoke/Love still makes my world go round.” In “Eliza Jane,” a lively song she described as a sort of “doomsday square dance,” she held a kind of self-critical conversation with herself: “Oh Eliza, you try so hard you don’t see nothin’/Blue horizon and you’re expecting rain/Lift your eyes and you just might find/You see something good, Eliza.”

Gilkyson’s humor comes across in live performance in ways that aren’t always obvious in her recordings. She introduced “Beauty Way,” a song about the musician’s life, as “a medley of my hit,” noting that it got some play on an Austin radio station and was covered by Ray Wylie Hubbard. Before “Fast Freight,” which was written by her father, songwriter Terry Gilkyson, she described how he used to put on a suit and tie and commute to an office in Hollywood to write songs, in an attempt to convince her mother that he was just a regular guy. During “Emerald Street,” Gilkyson whistled the chorus and invited audience members to do the same, first congratulating their efforts and then taking her whistling to heights the audience couldn’t match, explaining that “y’all were getting a little cocky back there.” She also followed “The Party’s Over,” a caustic allegory on boom times and their aftermath from a few years ago, with a funny story about a fan at an earlier concert who, despite her enthusiasm, completely missed the point of the song.

Despite a reference or two to her own mortality, Gilkyson was in excellent form throughout the show, holding the church in rapt attention with her strong, clear voice and accompanying herself with skillfully picked acoustic guitar and a small stomp board for percussion.

After thanking the audience for their patience – she noted that some of her new songs were getting their first public performance – Gilkyson closed with “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” combining W.B. Yeats’ apocalyptic imagery (“What kind of beast comes slouching/Slouching towards Bethlehem?”) with the social activism that’s a frequent focus of her work (“You better stand with your shoulder to the wheel/You better band together at the top of the hill”).

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Tin Pan South: Cleveland, Lloyd, Ragsdale and Coleman

ashley 350x262 Tin Pan South: Cleveland, Lloyd, Ragsdale and Coleman

Ashley Cleveland performs during Tin Pan South

Ashley Cleveland, Bill Lloyd, Suzi Ragsdale and Dave Coleman were clearly enjoying themselves Friday night at Douglas Corner as part of the Tin Pan South songwriters festival in Nashville.

Unlike other rounds where songwriters might be teamed thematically or shows in which songwriters come out for a rare performance, these were all friends and active performers, eager to play off each other and to share new material.

Three-time Grammy Ashley Cleveland stood to deliver songs from her upcoming Beauty on the Curve, Coleman showcased songs from his band’s new Escalator, Ragsdale debuted “The Ending” from a musical in the works, and Lloyd shared “Happiness,” a cool pop song that channels Burt Bacharach.

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Tin Pan South: Classics revisited

dickey 350x270 Tin Pan South: Classics revisited

Dickey Lee at Tin Pan South

The show was labeled “Classics to Current,” and “classics” was not an overstatement. This Tin Pan South show at Douglas Corner in Nashville featured Alex Harvey, who wrote “Delta Dawn” and “Reuben James”, “Buzz Cason, whose “Soldier of Love” was recorded by the Beatles in their BBC sessions, Dickey Lee of “Patches” fame and Austin Cunningham.

But it was Lee who set the tone for the evening, noting that the song he was about to do had been a hit for George Jones and Elvis Presley and then opened the show with his “She Thinks I Still Care.” Follow that.

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Best bets: 2014 Tin Pan South Songwriters Festival

tin pan 2014 150x150 Best bets: 2014 Tin Pan South Songwriters FestivalBy Ken Paulson

Tin Pan South, the world-class songwriters festival based in Nashville,  begins this Tuesday in Nashville,  and as usual, the line-up of talent is rich and diverse. It’s a particularly well-curated festival, so there are no lame rounds. That said, these shows caught our eye:

Tuesday,  March 25

Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne at the at the Listening Room Café,  6 p.m.

Brandy Clark’s 12 Stories is one of the best albums of the past year, fueled by striking and down-to-earth songwriting. Her songs have been recorded by Band Perry, Kacey Musgraves and Miranda Lambert.  Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne teamed with Musgraves for her hit “Merry Go ‘Round” and won a 2014 Grammy.

Critter Fuqua, Chance McCoy, Chuck Mead and Holly Williams at the Station Inn,  9 p.m.

BR5-49 veteran Chuck Mead has a terrific new album called Free State Serenade, Critter Fuqua and Chance McCoy are members of the Old Crow Medicine Show and Holly Williams is the very talented granddaughter of Hank Williams, who released the fine album The Highway  last year.

Wednesday, March 26

Jessi Alexander, Josh Kear and Striking Matches at the Hard Rock Café, 6 p.m.

We admred Jessi Alexander as an artist, but she’s really hit her stride as a country songwriter, including the much-honored “I Drive Your Truck.’ Josh Kear has had similar success, including writing the monster Lady Antebellum hit “Need You Now,  and Striking Matches is an engaging duo whose songs have shown up on the Nashville TV show.

Thursday, March 27

Jim Lauderdale and friends at the Station Inn, 6 p.m.

This minimalist listing is all you need to know. Lauderdale, an icon of Americana, works and plays with some of the best in the business.

Friday, March 28

Buzz Cason, Austin Cunningham, Alex Harvey and Dickey Lee at Douglas Corner, 6:30pm
There’s some pop and country  history here, with Dickey Lee, who recorded “Patches,” Buzz Cason, who wrote “Soldier of Love,” Alex Harvey, who wrote “ Delta Dawn”  and Austin Cunningham. And it’s not all oldies from the veterans. Cason has a brand-new new album called Troubadour Heart.

Later at the same club at 9:30 you’ll find 3-time Grammy winner Ashley Cleveland, Dave Coleman, Suzi Ragsdale and Bill Lloyd, power pop and country artist and songwriter, and occasional contributor to Sun209. We’ve had the privilege to work with all four, and they’ll deliver a great show.

Saturday, March 29

 Sony Curtis, Mac Davis and Hugh Prestwood at the Bluebird Café at 6:30 p.m.

One of our favorite past Tin Pan South shows featured former Cricket Sonny Curtis, Mac Davis. Jim Weatherly and Bobby Braddock.   This year’s round looks just as promising, with Hugh Prestwood joining David and Curtis.

Curtis is one of our favorites, a rock pioneer who grew up with Buddy Holly, and went on to write songs ranging from “I Fought the Law” to “Love is All Around,” the theme to the Mary Tyler Moore show. I don’t think anyone else can claim they’ve been covered by the Everly Brothers, the Clash and Joan Jett.

Of course, this is all just a start. This is a festival that also features Amy Grant, Vince Gill, Marcus Hummon, Leigh Nash, Kevin Welch, Kim Richey, Bob DiPiero, Shannon Wright, Gary Talley, Dave Barnes, John Oates, Craig Carothers, Larry Weiss, Phillip Coleman, Tony Arata, T. Graham Brown, Brett James, Rivers Rutherford, Jeffrey Steele, Tom Douglas, Eric Brace, Peter Cooper, Tim Easton, Bill Anderson, Steve Bogard, the Stellas, Amy Speace, Jason White, Leslie Satcher, Larry Gatlin, Tommy Lee James, Erin Enderlin, Jack Sundrud, Karen Staley, Luke Laird, Lee Roy Parnell, Sarah Buxton, Kate York, Sherrie Austin, James Otto, the Kinleys and many more.

Full details can be found at Tin Pan South’s website.

Follow Sun209 on Twitter at @Sun209com.


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