Allison Moorer tour dates announced

Americana Music News - The highlight of the 2013 Americana Music Festival in Nashville may well have been Allison Moorer’s  captivating performance at the City Winery. Her new album Down to Believing is due March 17 and she’s headed out to tour in support of the release:

March 19th – Vienna, VA Jammin Java
March 20th – Princeton, NJ Folk Society
March 21st – Wilmington, DE World Café Live
March 22nd – Cambridge, MA Passims
March 24th – Portland, ME One Longfellow Square
March 25th – Fairfield, CT FTC Stage One
March 26th – Buffalo, NY 189 Public House
March 27th – Albany, NY Sawyer Theatre

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Review: Bill Kirchen in concert

by Paul T. Mueller

Sometimes you go to a show for entertainment and get some education as a bonus. Such was the case when Bill Kirchen played at Houston’s Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church on January 3. Kirchen’s solo performance, part of the church’s UniTunes Coffeehouse series, featured plenty of guitar heroics from the “Titan of the Telecaster” (he played two of the classic Fenders during the show), but also a healthy dose of the musical history he has been living, and contributing to, for the past half-century or so.

Kirchen’s shows with his band tend to be lively affairs, but the UniTunes show was more reflective than raucous, featuring a good deal of between-songs commentary in which he described his musical journey. No doubt most of the stories had been told before, but Kirchen tells them with warmth and charm that makes them seem more like personal revelations than practiced patter.

The show also featured a fair number of skillfully picked acoustic songs (guitar fans might be interested to know that Kirchen’s acoustic guitar was a Wayne Henderson instrument, in what Kirchen said was its first public performance).

Some highlights:

Several songs from Kirchen’s stint as lead guitarist of the musically eclectic Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, including “Semi-Truck,” “Down to Seeds and Stems Again” and, of course, “Hot Rod Lincoln,” a rockabilly tune that featured a string of brief but dead-on impersonations of seemingly everyone who’s ever played electric guitar on record.

  • Several covers harking back to Kirchen’s folkie days, including Bob Dylan’s “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” and “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.”
  • A couple of blues covers – Mississippi John Hurt’s “The Angels Laid Him Away” and Sleepy John Estes’ “Milk Cow Blues.”
  • Two nice instrumentals, one acoustic (Buck Owens’ theme “Buckaroo”) and one electric (Santo & Johnny’s “Sleep Walk”).
  • Several Kirchen originals, including “Hammer of the Honky Tonk Gods,” his tribute to the Telecaster, and “Flip Flop,” his fond farewell to three of his musical heroes, Professor Longhair, Don Rich and Carter Stanley.Kirchen’s signature purple trombone – the instrument he played in his high school marching band – finally made an appearance during his encore song, “Milk Cow Blues.” Partway through, Kirchen turned over his guitar to his soundman while he took up the horn and made a brief visit to the pews before returning to the stage.

Our favorite Americana Music Albums of 2014

It’s the time of year for “Best of 2014″ lists, but we have nothing quite that definitive in mind here. Here’s a sampling of albums that impressed us over the past 12 months:

 John Fullbright’s Songs

By Paul T. Mueller

fullbright_songs_cover_150John 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.

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.

Matt Harlan’s Raven Hotel

 harlan_raven_160by 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.

Paul Thorn’s Too Blessed to Be Stressed

By Ken Paulson

thornPaul Thorn’s Too Blessed to Be Stressed is sort of a children’s album for adults.

Just as kids’ albums teach cooperation, manners and personal hygiene in song, Thorn offers a few life lessons of his own:

  • Remember that we’re “Too Blessed to Be Stressed.”
  • Keep the faith and know that “Everything’s Gonna Be All Right.”
  • Make friends because “Everybody Needs Somebody.”
  • Walk a different path and “Don’t Let Nobody Rob You of Your Joy”

While that may sound preachy, it’s anything but. This is largely joyous and affirming music, supplemented with the vocals of the McCrary Sisters.

“Mediocrity is King,” the album’s highlight, is considerably more cutting. This is a contemporary protest song, bemoaning an era in which the shallow are celebrated, family businesses are obsolete and Johnny Cash would never have made it. In just 18 words, Thorn explains why our democracy is in disarray “When you don’t expect much, you’re never let down; you get the kind of government we’ve got now.” This is smart and pointed songwriting and we need a lot more of it.

The album isn’t wall-to wall messages. “I Backslide on Fridays” is more familiar Thorn fare, explaining how good intentions disappear over the course of a week.

Thorn and co-writer Billy Maddox have crafted a fine album with hook-laden songs that actually say something about the world we live in, a surprisingly rare achievement. Too Blessed to be Stressed continues Thorn’s remarkable run.

Parker Milsap

millsap.coverBy 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.

Jack Clement’s Once and For All

Jack ClementBy Ken Paulson

I spent my day Friday interviewing nine members of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame as part of an archival project and one name came up again and again: Cowboy Jack Clement.

The producer, songwriter and occasional artist had a knack for identifying talented young songwriters and artists and nurturing them. In Memphis at Sun Records, in Beaumont, Texas, and finally in Nashville, Clement made friends, helped build careers and made great records.

That’s why it’s no surprise to see so many remarkable guests on For Once and For All, the final Clement album , released 11 months after his death in August 2013.  Rodney Crowell, Vince Gill, Marty Stuart, Emmylou Harris, Bobby Bare, Duane Eddy, Dickie Lee, T- Bone Burnett, Buddy Miller, Dan Auerbach, Leon Russell, Gillian Welch, Dave Rawlings, Shawn Camp, John Prine, Dierks Bentley, Jim Rooney, Jim Lauderdale and Will Oldham are all on hand for this farewell album.

For Once and For All revisits 12 of Clement’s songs, a number of which were first recorded by Charley Pride. Clement and Pride broke down racial barriers in country music, and made some great records in the process. “Just Between You and Me,” “Got Leaving On Her Mind,” “Baby is Gone” and “I Know One” are among Pride’s best.

“Jesus Don’t Give Up on Me,’ with guitar by Duane Eddy, is the closest thing to a religious song on the record, but Peter Cooper sets the record straight in his liner notes: “Jack was about as religious as a corn cob, but he was a spiritual guy.”

“The Air Conditioner Song” is a reminder that keeping our windows sealed may make us more comfortable, but there’s beauty through an open window. Gill and Camp contribute background vocals and Joey Miskulin is on accordion.

It’s all quite an informal affair, with gentle instrumentation and Clement’s relaxed vocals.

I knew Jack just well enough to say hello, but I treasured every meeting. For Once and For All truly captures his spirit. Buy it for the joy.

Shovels and Ropes’ “Swimmin’ Time”

By Ken Paulson

shovels 2Shovels and Rope – Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent –  have released a striking album that melds folk, country, blues and rock in a truly compelling style.  Swimmin’ Time  marries often rudimentary rhythms to fascinating narratives and compelling lyrics.

There’s a lot of water imagery here, including “Fish Assassin” possibly the most unsettling fishing song of all time.

“Mary Ann and One Eyed Dan” tells the saga of a waitress and a man who lost part of his eyelid in combat: “She said “Do you like the menu or do you need me to read it to you?’ Her question leaves him ” half way angry, half turned on and half confused.” It’s  lousy math, but good songwriting.

Those kinds of lines jump out at you throughout the album. “I got wasted and sat around the fire all day, see if I could find someone to make love to,” Hearst sings on the plaintive album opener “The Devil is All Around.”

The music is still direct and basic, and often ominous, no surprise with song titles like “Evil” and “Bridge of Fire.” It’s a worthy follow-up to their highly successful debut.

The MastersonsGood Luck Charm

MastersonsBy Ken Paulson

We first saw the Mastersons two years ago on a Cayamo cruise and were knocked out by their tight harmonies and penchant for great hooks.

Those traits show up in abundance on their second album Good Luck Charm on New West Records. Chris Masterson and Eleanor Whitmore, also members of Steve Earle’s Dukes and Duchesses, make for an impressive duo and their new album is even more fully realized than their first, Birds Fly South.

While not overtly political, the title track and “Uniform” make their points in highly melodic settings. “Closer to You” is a reminder to break down the barriers that keep us apart, a serious message delivered in an upbeat vessel.

There are songs of love and lost love, all with the engaging hooks and harmonies that drew us to the Mastersons in the first place.

Masterson and Whitmore have clearly committed themselves to releasing great sounding songs that say something. Mission accomplished.

Jesse Winchester’s A Reasonable Amount of Trouble

By Ken Paulson

JesseI braced myself for the first listening to Jesse Winchester’s A Reasonable Amount of Trouble. After all, this was his final album, recorded while he was dying of cancer. And the cover image of his painting of a crying woman was anything but upbeat.

Who would have guessed such dour packaging would contain such a joyous album? With loving production from Mac McAnally, A Reasonable Amount of Trouble truly celebrates Winchester’s talent. Set for release on Sept. 16, the album features McAnally on guitar, Roscoe Beck on bass and Eric Darken on percussion, with guest turns by Jerry Douglas and Jim Horn.

Opener “All That We Have is Now” tells us to embrace the moment; it’s encouraging and lilting throughout. And then there’s the charming goofiness of “Never Forget to Boogie,” a bluesy shuffle and a pretty good way to live your life.

Winchester tapped into his childhood for three ‘60s-era hits, offering up sweet and fun covers of “Rhythm of the Rain,” “Devil or Angel” and “Whispering Bells.”

Closing out the album is “Just So Much,” a touching reflection on mortality and the most truthful song you’ll ever hear. Stunning.

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Reviews: Some of 2014’s most rewarding albums

by Paul T. Mueller

In any given year, a lot of new music is released, and much of it deserves more attention, but gets overlooked. So, before 2014 turns into 2015, here’s a quick look at some high-quality projects that came out during the past year:

How It Feels to Fly, David Grissom

grissomBefore he stepped out on his own as a singer-songwriter, Austin-based David Grissom made his bones as a flashy guitarist for bigger names including Joe Ely, John Mellencamp and the Dixie Chicks. There’s plenty of fine six-string work on this collection of eight studio tracks and four live cuts, but it’s also a showcase for Grissom’s excellent production skills and ever-improving songwriting. The title track is a kind of ode to joy that soars just as its name suggests; “Never Came Easy to Me” is a triumph-over-tough-times anthem featuring some nifty wordplay and plenty of that fat guitar tone Grissom is known for. The live tracks include a couple of nods to the classics – a lively rendition of the Allman Brothers’ “Jessica” and ZZ Top’s gritty “Nasty Dogs and Funky Kings.”

 

 Amulet, John Egan

eganIf John Egan’s mastery of the resonator guitar brings to mind the late Chris Whitley, that’s probably not a coincidence, as the two were friends. Some of Amulet’s 11 tracks recall the kind of spooky acoustic blues that first brought Whitley to national attention, but Egan often takes a more lyrical approach. “Another Falling Summer” evokes beauty and sadness in equal measure. “What you can’t forget will make you stronger/When you’re learning how to live,” Egan sings, accompanied by sweet strings that lend just the right amount of atmosphere. “And the same mistake can be your lucky break/Over and over again.” Things get a little funkier on “Sweet Ride (So Good)” and “Shake!,” with its jazzy New Orleans vibe. The undercurrent of spirituality that runs through the album surfaces in the closing track, “Peaceful Mind,” whose chorus includes the gruff plea, “Bless us, O Lord, with a peaceful mind.” Most of Amulet consists of Egan originals; the one well-chosen cover is a fine rendition of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.”

Montagu Hotel, Brad Boyer

boyerSinger-songwriter Brad Boyer is making a name for himself as an accomplished songwriter and performer of Texas folk/country. It doesn’t hurt that he seems to know everyone who’s anyone in Texas music, and that he got about half of them (Joe Ely, Rick Richards and “Scrappy” Jud Newcomb, to name but a few) to back him on this album. Some of the themes are familiar – trucking (“Big Rig Driver”), drinking (“Tonight I’m Gonna Lose”), women (“Texas Darlin’ ”) and lost love (“Long Cold December”) – but Boyer handles them with affable panache. Things get more interesting when he steps off the path a bit. “Five Stones and a Sling” explores faith a bit obliquely, but with plenty of twang. “The Light” looks at truth and uncertainty more directly and with a harder edge, provided by John Carroll’s fine electric guitar. The song recounts the story of Jesus and Thomas, with the former advising the latter, “Don’t doubt in the dark/What you’ve seen in the light.” Other highlights include a version of the sad love-and-violence tale “The Ring,” somewhat different from co-writer Matt Harlan’s earlier version, and “The Last Folksinger,” a moving tribute to iconic singer-songwriter Guy Clark. The title track is a gentle tribute to an old hotel in downtown Houston where, Boyer sings, he lived for a month as a child and “met some cool cross-dressers/and some desperate confessors/looking for excuses for their sins.”

Blanco County Lights, Brant Croucher

croucher2The songs on Blanco County Lights deal with familiar country themes like women and drinking and trucks, but Brant Croucher’s approach to them shows more imagination than that of most of the bro-country dudes currently selling out arenas. “Doing Well” talks about lost love and booze, but “sleeping around don’t suit me,” Croucher sings, and “drinking to drown is too easy.” Similarly, the title track’s narrator is no stranger to a barstool, but ruefully concludes that he’s “not really that comfortable with how comfortable this bar’s become.” There’s a truck in “84 Boxes,” but it’s a big rig, not a pickup, and the guy telling the story is not the driver but the sweaty guy on the loading dock. “It’s a couple bucks an hour for the hours in the day,” Croucher sings, backed by a fast shuffle beat and a couple of intertwining guitar lines. “Ran a tab with the Devil, now it’s time to pay.” The album’s sweetest song is “Theodora,” which Croucher wrote as a love song from his grandfather to his grandmother. Most of it is the story of the couple’s life, starting out in the Southeast and ending up in Texas, but the third verse is in the first-person voice of his grandfather: “Theodora, I hope you know I love you/I love you more than any words could ever say/And I will until my very last day.”

 

Follow Americana Music News on Twitter @Sun209com.

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Review: Willie Nile’s “If I Was A River “

Willie Nile riverBy Ken Paulson

Willie Nile’s most recent albums American Ride and The Innocent Ones  were vibrant and energetic collections, full of anthemic songs. These were remarkably fresh recordings by an artist in his fourth decade in music.

But it appears that the key to that creative longevity is not to repeat yourself. The new If I Was A River is distinctly different from its predecessors. These are reflective and intimate songs played on piano. It’s very spare, with Nile’s rough-hewn vocal at the forefront.

The album boasts both a great love song (the title track) and a great break-up song in “I Can’t Do Crazy (Anymore,) written with Danny Kortchmar.

The oddest song is “Lullaby Loon,” a fun and presumably facetious rant against virtually all forms of music. In contrast, the truly affirming  “Let Me Be the River” comes at album’s end.

If I Was A River is quiet and compelling. We may miss the rocker this time out, but we admire the songwriter.

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Americana Music Association’s Top 100 albums

ama_logo_button_redThe Americana music Association has just released its list of the top 100 Americana music albums, based on airplay between December 2, 2013 and December 1, 2014. It’s no surprise that genre veterans like Rosanne Cash, Nickel Creek and Rodney Crowell top the list, but it’s gratifying to see emerging artists like Nikki Lane, Shovels and Rope and Lake Street Dive break into the top 10.
The full list:
Rosanne Cash                                                                   The River & The Thread
Nickel Creek                                                                      A Dotted Line
Rodney Crowell                                                                Tarpaper Sky
Hard Working Americans                                              Hard Working Americans
Old Crow Medicine Show                                               Remedy
Nikki Lane                                                                         All Or Nothin’
Lake Street Dive                                                               Bad Self Portraits
Shovels And Rope                                                             Swimmin’ Time
John Hiatt                                                                          Terms Of My Surrender
Sturgill Simpson                                                                Metamodern Sounds In Country Music
Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin                                                    Common Ground
St. Paul & The Broken Bones                                           Half The City
Parker Millsap                                                                    Parker Millsap
Willie Nelson                                                                      Band Of Brothers
Paul Thorn                                                                          Too Blessed To Be Stressed
Lucinda Williams                                                              Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone
Trampled By Turtles                                                         Wild Animals
Various – A Tribute To Jackson Browne                       Looking Into You
Keb Mo                                                                                 BLUESAmericana
Secret Sisters                                                                      Put Your Needle Down
John Fullbright                                                                  Songs
Amos Lee                                                                            Mountains Of Sorrow, Rivers Of Song
Jamestown Revival                                                           Utah
Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison                                          Our Year
Jason Eady                                                                         Daylight & Dark
Infamous Stringdusters                                                   Let It Go
Chuck Mead                                                                       Free State Serenade
Sarah Jarosz                                                                      Build Me Up From Bones
Billie Joe & Norah Jones                                                 Foreverly
Justin Townes Earle                                                         Single Mothers
Ryan Adams                                                                       Ryan Adams
Johnny Cash                                                                       Out Among The Stars
First Aid Kit                                                                        Stay Gold
Carlene Carter                                                                    Carter Girl
Devil Makes Three                                                             I’m A Stranger Here
Red Molly                                                                            The Red Album
Duhks                                                                                   Beyond The Blue
Mastersons                                                                          Good Luck Charm
Will Hoge                                                                             Never Give In
Blackie and the Rodeo Kings                                           South
Puss N Boots                                                                      No Fools, No Fun
Billy Joe Shaver                                                                 Long In The Tooth
Brandy Clark                                                                      12 Stories
Drive-By Truckers                                                             English Oceans
Carolina Story                                                                    Chapter Two
Lee Ann Womack                                                              The Way I’m Livin’
Will Kimbrough                                                                 Sideshow Love
Irene Kelley                                                                        Pennsylvania Coal
Trigger Hippy                                                                    Trigger Hippy
Shakey Graves                                                                   And The War Came
Carolina Story                                                                   Chapter One
Hurray For The Riff Raff                                                Small Town Heroes
Chuck Prophet                                                                   Night Surfer
Girls Guns & Glory                                                           Good Luck
Howlin’ Brothers                                                              Trouble
Blue Highway                                                                    The Game
Amy LaVere                                                                       Runaway’s Diary
Jim Lauderdale                                                                 I’m A Song
Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings                                     Give The People What They Want
Black Prairie                                                                      Fortune
Ruthie Foster                                                                     Promise Of A Brand New Day
Whiskey Myers                                                                  Early Morning Shakes
Robert Ellis                                                                        The Lights From The Chemical Plant
Suzy Bogguss                                                                     Lucky
Seth Walker                                                                        Sky Still Blue
Felice Brothers                                                                   Favorite Waitress
Ray Benson                                                                         A Little Piece
Scott Miller                                                                         Big Big World
String Cheese Incident                                                     Song In My Head
Lydia Loveless                                                                   Somewhere Else
Mingo Fishtrap                                                                  On Time
Haden Triplets                                                                  Haden Triplets
Robert Cray Band                                                             In My Soul
Mike Farris                                                                        Shine For All The People
Tommy Malone                                                                Poor Boy
Zoe Muth                                                                           World Of Strangers
Greg Trooper                                                                     Incident on Willow Street
Charlie Robison                                                                High Life
Marty Stuart                                                                      Saturday Night/Sunday Morning
Various – Inside Llewyn Davis                                       Inside Llewyn Davis
Old 97s                                                                                Most Messed Up
Chris Smither                                                                    Still On The Levee
Various – A Tribute To Born in the USA                      Dead Man’s Town
Deep Dark Woods                                                             Jubilee
Rod Picott                                                                          Hang Your Hopes On A Crooked Nail
Steve Martin And The Steep Canyon Rangers           LIVE featuring Edie Brickell
Janiva Magness                                                                Original
Otis Gibbs                                                                          Souvenirs Of A Misspent Youth
Avett Brothers                                                                  Magpie And The Dandelion
Candi Staton                                                                     Life Happens
Blue Rodeo                                                                        In Our Nature
Dolly Parton                                                                      Blue Smoke
Head And The Heart                                                       Let’s Be Still
Peter Mulvey                                                                     Silver Ladder
John Mellencamp                                                            Plain Spoken
Laura Cantrell                                                                   No Way There From Here
Band Of Heathens                                                            Sunday Morning Record
Jim Lauderdale                                                                 Black Roses
Mary Gauthier                                                                   Trouble & Love
Hannah Aldridge                                                              Razor Wire
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2015 Americana Music Grammy nominees announced

2015 Grammy nominee Taj Mahal

2015 Grammy nominee Taj Mahal

The 2015 Grammy nominees for Best Americana album, Best American Roots Performance and Best American Roots Song were announced today.

Best Americana Album

“The River & the Thread,” Rosanne Cash

“Terms of My Surrender,” John Hiatt

“Bluesamericana,” Keb’ Mo’

“A Dotted Line,” Nickel Creek

“Metamodern Sounds in Country Music,” Sturgill Simpson

 

Best American Roots Performance

Statesboro Blues, Gregg Allman & Taj Mahal

A Feather’s Not a Bird, Rosanne Cash

And When I Die, Billy Childs Featuring Alison Krauss and Jerry Douglas

The Old Me Better,  Keb’ Mo’ Featuring The California Feet Warmers

Destination, Nickel Creek

 

Best American Roots Song

“A Feather’s Not A Bird,” Rosanne Cash & John Leventhal (Rosanne Cash)

“Just So Much,” Jesse Winchester (Jesse Winchester)

“The New York Trains,” Woody Guthrie & Del McCoury (The Del McCoury Band)

“Pretty Little One,” Edie Brickell & Steve Martin, songwriters (Steve Martin And The Steep Canyon Rangers Featuring Edie Brickell)

“Terms Of My Surrender,” John Hiatt (John Hiatt)

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Review: Billy Joe Shaver’s “Long in the Tooth”

By Paul T. Mueller

shaverAt 75, Billy Joe Shaver is no longer the young country outlaw he once was. But he’s still around and kicking, and on his latest album, Long in the Tooth, he bares his (figurative) teeth on songs about several things he’s not too happy about, including his old nemesis, alcohol; today’s country music, and humanity’s warlike ways. His mellower side shows up on a few nice love songs, and there’s even a tune about growing up that features a train. Shaver is in good voice here and is backed by a fine studio band and guest appearances by some illustrious players. It all adds up to a strong effort.

Standout tracks include:

  • “Last Call for Alcohol,” a country two-step in which Shaver sings about a lost love and the booze in which he’s trying to drown her memories. “Last call for alcohol, I’m finally through with you,” he sings, but it’s not clear whether it’s the lover or the liquor he’s saying goodbye to.
  • “I’ll Love You As Much As I Can,” a gentle but honest warning to a potential romantic partner. “Remember the chance that you’re taking,” Shaver sings. “I’ll love you as much as I can.”
  • “Checkers and Chess” is fueled by the populist, anti-authority outlook that’s long been a Shaver trademark. “Nothin’s fair in this world of lying shame,” he sings. “The rich man steals the money/The poor man takes the blame.” The poor also get to die in rich men’s wars, he later adds.
  • “Hard to Be an Outlaw,” a duet with Willie Nelson that laments the passing of time, while taking a swipe at musical newcomers and what the old guard sees as their unearned success: “They go and call it country/But that ain’t the way it sounds/Makes a renegade like me/Want to terrorize the town.”

The title track is a kind of rap about growing old, but not gracefully. Points for trying, but let’s face it – rap is not what Billy Joe Shaver is best at. “Music City USA” covers similar ground but a lot more effectively. It’s not clear that the story of a young man who left Texas “to capture Music City USA” is autobiographical – that story line could apply to a lot of people – but it might as well be. “That crazy fool with shaggy hair has spread his songs out everywhere,” Shaver sings. “I reckon he done captured Music city USA.”

Four of the album’s 10 tracks were co-written with Gary Nicholson and two with Ray Kennedy; the two Nashville veterans also co-produced the album. They had some good material to work with – the “Can’t Hardly Playboys” studio band consists of guitarists Dan Dugmore and Jedd Hughes, bassist Michael Rhodes and drummer Lynn Williams. Also contributing is a long list of excellent guest artists, including Leon Russell, Tony Joe White, Larry Franklin, Mickey Raphael and Joel Guzman, among others.

 

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Ian McLagan 1945-2014

Ian 2Ian McLagan’s performance in the parking lot of Grimey’s in Nashville was a highlight of the 2014 Americana Music Festival. McLagan died today, Dec. 3. (Photo by Ken Paulson)

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Celebrating Bobby Keys

By Ken Paulson

(This article first appeared in May 2011 on Sun209. Bobby Keys passed away this week.)

There was a moment in Bobby Keys’ show at the Mercy Lounge when it dawned on everyone just how pivotal a player in rock history he is. Sure, we knew of his long association with the Rolling Stones and his short, but fruitful association with Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen, but then he told a sweet story about hearing his saxophone on the radio for the first time, and how he wished his girlfriend had been there to hear it. And then he played “The Wanderer.”
It was an apt reminder that throughout the first three decades of rock ‘n’ roll, Key’s sax was at the heart of both AM and FM radio, including such songs as “Brown Sugar,” “Whatever Gets You Through the Night” and Bitch”, as well as albums by George Harrison, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Warren Zevon, Nilsson, Eric Clapton, Faces and dozens more.
Keys’ playing is still vibrant, and he’s joined by a terrific band that includes Dan Baird (Georgia Satellites) on lead vocals and Michael Webb (Poco) on keyboards.
This isn’t an oldies show; it’s a loose and lively celebration of an iconic career, and it does the man justice.

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