By Ken Paulson
We’re just days away from our favorite music event in Nashville, and the Americana Music Festival boasts another great line-up of performers. The latest list:
Aaron Lee Tasjan
B R U N S
The Ballroom Thieves
Billy Bragg & Joe Henry
Birger Olsen (of Denver)
BJ Barham (of American Aquarium)
The Black Lillies
The Bottle Rockets
Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers
The Cactus Blossoms
Cedric Burnside Project
Charlie Faye & The Fayettes
The Fearless Kin
Green River Ordinance
The Handsome Family
Harpoonist & the Axe Murderer
The Infamous Stringdusters
John Paul White
Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams
The Last Bandoleros
Lee Ann Womack
Lewis & Leigh
The Lonely Heartstring Band
The O’Connor Band featuring Mark O’Connor
Penny & Sparrow
Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band
Shawn Colvin & Steve Earle
Sons of Bill
Teddy Thompson & Kelly Jones
Tony Joe White
William Clark Green
William the Conqueror
Wynonna & The Big Noise
The festival opens Sept. 21 in Nashville.
By Ken Paulson
Brian Wilson wrapped up his two-night stand at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville last night with a generous set that included the full Pet Sounds album. Playing with a remarkable band that included Beach Boys veterans Al Jardine and Blondie Champlin, Wilson offered up most of the big hits, along with lesser known treats like “Wild Honey,” “Salt Lake City” and the international hit “Cottonfields.”
Oddly, Wilson described the latter – composed by Leadbelly – as a song that he and Jardine wrote. He said the same thing about Sloop John B, traditional folk song that he arranged. Wilson is a better songwriter than historian.
It’s no secret that Brian Wilson has not been comfortable on a stage for a half-century, and obviously he doesn’t have the voice he once had. Still the songs remain rich and powerful and it’s a privilege to hear the composer sing his own “God Only Knows,” bathed in extraordinary harmonies from his first-rate band.
— Dave Paulson (@ItsDavePaulson) September 17, 2016
saw Brian Wilson last night. Amazing show! crazy difficult to get good footage and be discrete. But here’s the… https://t.co/Un6QINj9EL
— The Dude (@thedailyvinyl) September 18, 2016
By Paul T. Mueller
“This should tide you over until the next full studio album,” read the words of Craig Kinsey on the back cover of his latest CD, The Nylon Sessions. No such disclaimer is needed. This 13-song collection from Kinsey, a singer-songwriter based in Houston, holds up just fine on its own. For the most part, the songs are unplugged renditions of previously recorded Kinsey originals – “songs in their bedroom, without formal attire or affectations,” in his words.
Kinsey, who spent several years in an Arkansas monastery before earning a college degree and launching a career as a musician, is known in Houston for his theatrical stage shows, for which he often wears a top hat and employs burlesque dancers. The Nylon Sessions takes a much simpler approach. All but one of the songs feature Kinsey, an expressive singer who accompanies himself on a nylon-strung guitar (hence the title) and harmonica, plus one other player. The result is a worthy showcase for the thoughtful lyrics of the 11 originals and two covers – as well as for the skills of the supporting musicians.
The Nylon Sessions demonstrates Kinsey’s comfort with several musical genres. Old-time country is represented by a beautifully understated reading of the Lefty Frizzell hit “Always Late (with Your Kisses),” with Kelly Doyle, of Robert Ellis’ band, The Perfect Strangers, on synthesizer. Doyle’s guitar is also featured on the jazzy “Bits and Pieces” and “Romulus and Remus.” Other Ellis bandmates also contribute – pedal steel player Will Van Horn, on the straight-up country of “Cold Shoulder”; banjo player Geoffrey Muller, on the nice gospel workout on “Look at His Hands,” and Muller on electric bass on an excellent cover of Bob Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.”
Houston-based trumpeter Aaron Koerner lends his jazzy chops to “Siddhartha’s Dancers” and “Montrose Blvd. Blues,” a fond, New Orleans-inflected tribute to the eclectic Houston neighborhood that has long nurtured the city’s musicians and other artists. Sergio Trevino, front man of Houston indie/Americana band Buxton, provides nice harmony vocals on the folksy, irreverent “Atheist’s Love Song.”
The album’s only solo effort is Kinsey’s lovely solo rendition of “Green Grow the Rashes,” Scottish poet Robert Burns’ ode to the ladies. The closing track, another highlight, is the bluesy lost-love tale “After All,” featuring Mike Whitebread on guitar.
“Simply songs. Words,” Craig Kinsey calls this album. That’s plenty.
Jim Lauderdale hosted the launch party for new Americana radio station WMOT at the Country Music Hall of Fame, drawing on the talents of Will Hoge, Suzy Bogguss, Mike Farris and an All-Star Americana band. The new station, based at Middle Tennessee State University’s College of Media and Entertainment, can be accessed on mobile devices with the Roots Radio app for Apple and Android devices.
By Paul T. Mueller
Tim Easton has some advice for you: Stop wasting time. Put down your smartphones. Talk to each other.
Any folksinger worthy of the title throws some messages in with the music, and Easton, a singer-songwriter based in East Nashville, is no exception. But on his new album, American Fork, he does it in an entertaining way instead of preaching. His earnestness is wrapped in excellent musicianship, which happily results in his best album in a while, and one of his best ever.
Fittingly, he wastes no time in getting to one of his big themes, leading off with a polite diatribe on wasted time. “Every minute that you stare at that stupid screen,” he sings in “Right Before Your Own Eyes,” “and read all the chatter that you think you should read/is another minute sooner that your young old mind is dying.” That’s a serious point, passionately made, but the delivery is good-natured and it’s backed by some terrific instrumentation that includes saxophone and steel guitar.
“Killing Time” explores a similar theme in a slightly different way, incorporating a concept – “What do you live for?” – that Tim Easton has used in a series of social-media mini-interviews with people he’s met during his travels in the past few years. “Don’t hang there like a broken door,” he sings. “Find out what you’re living for/There has to be something more than just killing time.” Again, strong advice, but the tone is gentle and encouraging, not hectoring.
Easton takes a tougher tone on “Gatekeeper,” an angry blast at the powers that be – maybe in the music industry, maybe on a bigger scale. “Then you knocked me off my feet as you pinned me to the ground,” Easton sings, accompanied by sinister-sounding slide guitar and ghostly background vocals. “But I called you as you walked away/but you never turned around/Gatekeeper, go count your money.”
Easton shows his lighter side on “Elmore James,” a lively tribute to the pioneering slide guitarist, and the rollicking “Alaskan Bars, Part 1,” which recounts a series of nightlife anecdotes that one suspects might be based on actual experiences.
Another reality of the troubadour life – one Easton is no doubt familiar with – is its transient nature. In the album’s closer, “On My Way,” he sums it up: “Like the trucks out on the highway/like the seasons and the days/like the river that passes through your town/I really must be on my way.” The quiet tone and understated playing hark back to Easton’s sound on earlier works such as The Truth About Us and Break Your Mother’s Heart.
The full-band production on this album is a big jump from the minimalist approach of Easton’s previous outing, 2013’s Not Cool. Here he and co-producer Patrick Damphier use a broad spectrum of instrumentation. Jon Radford’s drums and Michael Rinne’s bass provide the foundation, while Easton handles the guitars with his usual formidable skill. Further color and texture come from talented Robbie Crowell on keyboards and horns, Russ Pahl on pedal steel and Larissa Maestro on cello. Backing vocals are nicely done by Maestro and fellow singer-songwriters Megan Palmer, Ariel Bui and Emma Berkey.
Tim Easton has spent a lot of years on the road and he’s learned a lot about life and music along the way. We get the benefit of some of that hard-won knowledge on American Fork, in a way that’s both thought-provoking and pleasing to the ear.
Americana Music News Editor Ken Paulson also oversees a public radio station at Middle Tennessee State University. This just in:
Unique partnership with Music City Roots launches “WMOT-FM/Roots Radio 89.5” on Sept. 2
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — WMOT-FM, Middle Tennessee State University’s public radio station, is dramatically expanding its reach and range of music to launch a new format dedicated to Americana music and a new home on the dial for its current jazz format.
With the format change on Sept. 2, the 100,000-watt station, known going forward as WMOT-FM/Roots Radio 89.5, will become the region’s only channel devoted to the unique amalgam of bluegrass, folk, gospel, soul, country and blues music defined in the music industry as Americana. The station boasts the clearest and strongest radio signal in greater Nashville.
This innovative partnership combines the reach and scholarship of a major university with the expertise and experience of radio and music industry professionals. A special public kickoff celebration will be held at 11 a.m. Friday, Sept. 2, at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, featuring live music and the beginning of DJ programming. Video of the event will be streamed through musiccityroots.com.
“Imagine, in our neck of the woods, a radio station with real people playing music they actually care about, even love,” said revered artist Rodney Crowell, recipient of the Americana Music Association Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting. “WMOT is bringing Middle Tennessee real music when we need it most. Miracles happen.”
WMOT-FM will continue to serve as a training ground for MTSU students who are integrating audio editing and narration skills into their multimedia portfolios, which include television, social media, print and website management.
“This will give our students the opportunity to work and learn in a vibrant professional environment and provide greater interaction with the music industry,” said Ken Paulson, dean of the College of Media and Entertainment, which operates the station.
The station has partnered with the creative team behind Music City Roots — including its executive producers Todd Mayo and John Walker — to develop a unique, Nashville-centric take on the Americana musical genre. WMOT will also become the flagship station for Music City Roots, a weekly variety show that airs nationally on American Public Television, with its fourth season premiering Oct. 28.
Bluegrass Underground, an Emmy-award winning PBS program and radio show recorded live 333 feet below ground in Cumberland Caverns in McMinnville, Tennessee, also will find a home on WMOT.
“Among Nashville artists charting with Americana albums in recent months have been Sturgill Simpson, the Mavericks, Elizabeth Cook, Darrell Scott, Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell and many more,” Paulson noted. “Nashville is Americana’s hometown.”
The station will remain the flagship for Blue Raider Athletics and will continue to air “MTSU On the Record,” a 30-minute public affairs interview program highlighting the university community, as well as regular area news updates.
WMOT, which first went on the air in April 1969, reaches as far north as Bowling Green, Kentucky, to as far south as the Alabama border.
It has aired mostly classical music, with jazz on the weekends and evenings, since 2009, when it moved from its all-jazz format.
In a nod to its tradition of jazz programming, the university will also launch on Sept. 2 the MTSU Jazz Network on WMOT’s HD channel as well as its FM signals 104.9 in Brentwood and 92.3 in Murfreesboro.
“As much as Nashville has cried out for a true Americana station that represents the roots revolution taking place here, we also see jazz as a pure American art form that deserves its own focus,” said Walker, who will oversee the development of new programs for WMOT.
“We couldn’t imagine a Music City radio landscape without it
New programming to showcase ‘roots music’
The new WMOT will showcase and celebrate the past, present and future of American roots music with a focus on Nashville’s unparalleled track record of artistry and songwriting, while also highlighting regional and stylistic “roots and branches” from around the country and across the world.
Curated by the programming team of Music City Roots, the Roots Radio playlist will be deep and wide, covering styles associated with Nashville, such as classic country and bluegrass, plus genres that have made up the fabric of Americana and roots music broadly speaking, including gospel, soul, R&B and blues.
The station’s playlist will include thousands of songs from the past, plus a strong rotation of current, vital Americana music. The station will seek to span genres and generations, in defiance of standard radio industry demographic micro-targeting.
Listeners can expect live radio hosts from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays, including veterans of roots music broadcasting. Anchoring the team and directing musical programming will be industry icon Jessie Scott, the first roots music director on satellite radio and a founding board member of the Americana Music Association.
Music City Roots’ Walker will host morning drive. Grand Ole Opry veteran Keith Bilbrey will handle midday, tapping his expertise in country music. Long-time radio man Whit “Witness” Hubner will work early afternoons.
All shows will be able to accommodate drop-in guests, including Music City artists as well as MTSU’s extensive roster of expert faculty.
Greg Reish, for example, is the director of the Center for Popular Music at MTSU, one of the nation’s deepest archives of recordings, sheet music, books and ephemera. He will host a weekly “Lost Sounds” show drawing on the archives with historic context. Plus the archive will inform and inspire other programming and special on-campus events.
Leveraging university, Music City connection
The format transition marks only the latest progression in WMOT-FM’s 47-year history of dedicated service to the university and the community.
From its inception as a pop and rock music listening resource for students in 1969, through its jazz and classical incarnations, the station’s professional broadcasters and their student protégés always have put the listeners’ concerns first, said Val Hoeppner, executive director of MTSU’s Center for Innovation in Media, which oversees the station.
WMOT has received more than 70 awards from the Tennessee Associated Press Broadcasters’ Association since 1984 with more than half of them being first-place honors. It also is one of the most honored radio newsrooms in the Tennessee Association of Broadcasters’ history. This legacy will continue with regular area news updates and top-of-the-hour national and international news from National Public Radio.
“This change will allow WMOT to grow audience, relevance and influence in the Music City market – and beyond,” Hoeppner said. “And we will be able to leverage our ties to the Nashville recording industry by showcasing artists on a radio stage that will reach almost all of Middle Tennessee.”
As a public radio station, WMOT depends on underwriting support from community-minded businesses. Music City Roots’ Walker and Mayo have drawn on long-standing relationships with some of Nashville’s biggest music supporters.
Additionally, remote venue broadcasts will be a big part of WMOT’s community outreach, with shows originating from the Factory at Franklin, Acme Feed and Seed downtown, and The Family Wash in East Nashville.
WMOT/Roots Radio will broadcast and stream the 2016 Americana Awards Show and Red Carpet arrivals from the Ryman Auditorium on Sept. 21.
Founded in 1911 as one of three state normal schools for teacher training, Middle Tennessee State University is the oldest and largest undergraduate university in the Tennessee Board of Regents System. With a fall enrollment averaging more than 22,000 students for the past five years, MTSU remains committed to providing individualized service in an exciting and nurturing atmosphere where student success is the top priority. MTSU features eight undergraduate colleges and the College of Graduate Studies, and more than 140 programs and departments including accounting, aerospace, concrete industry management, music and recording industry. Offering a wide variety of nationally recognized programs at the baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral levels, MTSU takes pride in educating the best and the brightest students from Tennessee and around the world. For more information, call 615-898-2300, visit http://mtsu.edu/ or www.mtsunews.com. Follow MTSU on Twitter @MTSUNews and like us on Facebook.
About Music City Roots
Music City Roots is a weekly live radio show, HD webcast and annual series distributed by American Public Television featuring outstanding roots and Americana music based in or passing through Nashville. Since going on the air in October 2009, Music City Roots has broadcast the authentic sound of today’s Music City, embracing the traditional and the progressive in equal measure. The show reaches around 40 public radio partners on a syndicated basis and most of the U.S. through an annual 14-week series on American Public Television. Every Wednesday at 7 p.m. Central, four guest artists perform to an audience of 300 to 800 people in Liberty Hall in the Factory at Franklin, Tennessee. A professionally directed shoot of the show reaches thousands of viewers worldwide via Livestream.com, and as of September 2016, the show is broadcast live to the entire Midstate of Tennessee via 100,000-watt WMOT-FM/Roots Radio 89.5. Veteran Grand Ole Opry announcer Keith Bilbrey emcees with help from musical host, Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Jim Lauderdale and interviewer Craig Havighurst. The show was created and produced by Todd Mayo and John Walker and is supported by valued underwriting partners Nissan, Star 129, Ascend Federal Credit Union, Acceptance Auto Insurance and Vietti Chili. More information at www.musiccityroots.com.
New and recent releases from Bobby Rush, Kiefer Sutherland and Woodland West –
Bobby Rush – Porcupine Meat – Rounder Records -We should all aspire to be just like Bobby Rush when we’re 82 years old. Granted, it’s a big leap for most of us to become a seasoned bluesman at that age, but the vibrancy Rush exhibits on his new album is truly inspiring. Due September 16 is his new album on Rounder Records called Porcupine Meat. It features guest artists Dave Alvin, Joe Bonamassa and Keb‘ Mo’. it’s all decidedly old-school (in a good way,) right down to the jealousy-fueled “Dress Too Short” and “I Don’t Want Nobody Hangin’ Round,” in which Rush declares “milkman, don’t bring me no milk” and sings that he would rather have his house burn down than have a fireman near his girlfriend when he’s away.
Kiefer Sutherland – Down in a Hole – About the best compliment an actor-turned-singer can expect from music writers is that he’s “actually not bad.” “And he’s not. It’s refreshing when someone like Kiefer Sutherland can deliver an album like Down in a Hole, a collection of hardscrabble songs written and performed with Jude Cole. Sutherland has some gravel to his voice and is well-suited to these often dark and dispirited themes.
Woodland West – Devil to Pay – Set for release on August 19 is the first album from Woodland West, an adventurous Americana and bluegrass band from Seattle. You have to love the album cover, depicting harred parents and a clearly unhappy baby. The band is scheduled to tour the West Coast Sept. from Spet. 16 through Oct. 2. Among other new releases: Blues artist Johnny Nicholas’ Fresh Air, Ron DiLego’s Magnificent Ram A, John “Papa” Gros’ second solo album River’s on Fire and Dear Country, the debut album from Mark Lynn and Arrica Rose, due August 26.
By Paul T. Mueller
“You are the only person who truly knows what is supposed to happen with your art,” Robert Ellis writes in the booklet that accompanies his self-titled latest CD. The Texas-born singer-songwriter takes those words to heart, having moved on from his earlier country-folk sound. There’s still plenty of Texas in his voice, but from the lyrics and arrangements on Robert Ellis, he seems to have more in common these days with the likes of Paul Simon (whose songs he’s covered both live and on record) than with most of his Lone Star State contemporaries.
You don’t have to dig too hard to get to the truths Ellis is trying to put across. They’re pretty much right on the surface. The opening track, “Perfect Strangers,” describes, with unflinching directness, the progression of a romance from giddy beginnings to eventual disillusionment. “Perfect strangers moving further with each heartbeat,” Ellis sings, “in directions that may not meet up again.” The same kind of quiet desperation informs “California,” whose narrator is trying to make plans out of the ashes of a relationship, and “Drivin’,” a story of boredom and hopelessness that was co-written by Angaleena Presley.
Grim stuff, it would seem, but Ellis’ bouncy melodies and imaginative arrangements form an interesting counterpart to the depressing words. More contrast can be found between the backwoods twang of Ellis’ voice and the sophistication of his arrangements and playing. He’s equally at home and equally skilled on keyboards and guitar, and gets plenty of room to demonstrate his virtuosity on both.
Ellis’ penchant for drama shows in the crashing chords of “How I Love You”; the soft/loud dynamics of “You’re Not the One,” about the disturbing suspicion that one has ended up with the wrong person, and the discordant playing on the album’s closer, the forbidden-love anthem “It’s Not OK.”
There aren’t a lot of happy tunes in this collection; the only one that really merits that label is “Couples Skate,” a lively rocker about young love at the skating rink, and the hope that it may turn into something longer-lasting. “Please don’t move too fast, make it last,” Ellis sings. “The music is slow, I never wanna let go.”
There’s only one name on the cover, but Robert Ellis is very much a band effort. Guitarist Kelly Doyle, bassist Geoff Muller, steel-guitar player Will Van Horn and drummer Michael (Tank) Lisenbe have been together for a while and they’re good. Ellis produced the album, with help from Doyle.
Thematic darkness aside, Robert Ellis is a fine artistic achievement. It’s quirky, intense and most likely exactly what Robert Ellis wanted it to be.