3-minute interview: Will Kimbrough on two new releases

sideshow love 150x150 3 minute interview: Will Kimbrough on two new releasesBy Ken Paulson

Will Kimbrough is on a roll with his solo album Sideshow Love and band project Willie Sugarcapps both in this week’s Americana Music Association airplay chart.

We talked to Will about juggling multiple musical ventures and the unique cover on Sideshow Love, due for release on Feb. 18.


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Mandy Barnett celebates Don Gibson

mandy 150x150 Mandy Barnett celebates Don Gibson By Ken Paulson

Visitors to the Nashville airport see three electronic signs as they descend on the escalator to baggage claim. This week, the first extolled the virtues of Opryland, the second was a greeting from Mayor Karl Dean and the third showcased Mandy Barnett’s new album I Can’t Stop Loving You: The Songs of Don Gibson.

Perfect. Barnett is as Nashville as they come, particularly in her interpretation of  the classic countrypolitan Nashville sound. She’s perhaps best known for her performances as Patsy Cline in Always: Patsy Cline, a role that demands an extraordinary voice.

On her new album, she revisits the work of another iconic figure, songwriter and singer Don Gibson. The classic songs are all here: Gibson’s hit “Oh Lonesome Me,” “Sweet Dreams” recorded by Cline, and “I Can’t Stop loving You,” performed most memorably by Ray Charles.

The album, on the Cracker Barrel label, entered the Americana Music Association chart this week at number 35. This classic material, reinvigorated in faithful, but fresh performances, is clearly finding a new audience.

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Review: Jim Bianco’s ambitious “Cookie Cutter”

By Paul T. Mueller

cds CookieCutterCDfrontshot 150x150 Review: Jim Biancos ambitious Cookie CutterHere’s the recipe Jim Bianco used for his latest album, Cookie Cutter: Send out the same 69-question questionnaire to each of 17 people, collect the answers, and write songs based on those answers. The resulting 18-song album (one song has two versions) proves that, musically speaking, Jim Bianco is quite a chef.

A New York native now living in California, Bianco has produced several albums of distinctive and well-crafted adult pop. Cookie Cutter is no exception. Each song starts with some background – imagined messages on answering machines, re-created phone conversations, slide-show narration and such – revealing some of the details the song is based on. The questions, printed on the inside of the CD cover, cover a wide range of topics: “What’s your name? Where do you live? Do you have any pets? Any tattoos? What was your first car?” And so on.

Taking a little literary license along the way, Bianco turned those answers into a batch of excellent songs, performed in a variety of musical styles. The opener, “Apache,” features a jazzy Latin-tinged arrangement powered by horns. It’s nominally about a woman’s dog that ran away, but it ends up being about much more than that. In “Kilpatrick Man,” Bianco spins some facts about a man’s life and work, provided by the man’s brother, into a believable Irish ballad. “Blue Subaru,” written for a fan’s two young nieces, starts out as a bouncy, repetitive ditty with nonsensical lyrics – and then evolves into a complex and beautiful arrangement that would have sounded at home on Sgt. Pepper.

Bianco has a gift for writing about melancholy and heartbreak, and many of the songs explore serious subjects such as romantic troubles, medical problems and loneliness. But it wouldn’t be a Jim Bianco album without at least one funny song full of double entendres, and on Cookie Cutter that song is “That’s What She Said.” Bianco even throws in a twist by faking a serious beginning before downshifting into several verses of goofy, synthesizer-driven pseudo-rap.

Cookie Cutter succeeds as a songwriting exercise, but this collection is strong enough to stand on its own, even without the backstory.

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Review: Will Kimbrough’s “Sideshow Love”

sideshow love 150x150 Review: Will Kimbroughs Sideshow Loveby Paul T. Mueller

On his seventh solo album, due for release in mid-February, Will Kimbrough turns away from Big Issues to focus on more personal matters. There are 12 songs on Sideshow Love, and they’re all about one or more aspects of human relationships – love, sex, loneliness and various combinations thereof.

Check them off: Anticipated love (“When Your Loving Comes Around”), physical love (“Let the Big World Spin”), boastful love (the title track), practical love (“Home Economics”), and so on.

High points include “I Want Too Much,” a confessional song that features some really nice acoustic picking; “Has Anybody Seen My Heart,” a gentle lost-love ballad written with Joy Lynn White; and “Who Believes In You,” co-written with Carter Wood and featuring some beautiful cello by engineer and co-producer David Henry.

Will Kimbrough is an excellent player, singer and producer, and his talents are on full display here. One could wish for a bit more poetry in his lyrics, but in light of his other contributions that seems a bit churlish.

Best, maybe, just to appreciate the moods and colors he creates with his guitar (and several other instruments) and his voice.

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Review: Willie Sugarcapps

Willie Sugarcapps 150x150 Review: Willie SugarcappsBy Ken Paulson
We first saw Willie Sugarcapps in the Grimey’s Record Store parking lot in Nashville this spring and for the record, there’s no Willie. This is a band of friends with considerable musical talents and their energy and collective spirit fueled a fun and engaging set in the parking lot.
Willie Sugarcapps consists of  Will Kimbrough, Sugarcane Jane (Savana Lee and Anthony Crawford), Grayson Capps and Corky Hughes, an amalgam in name and spirit.
Their impressive album feels homespun and acoustic, and sounds like someone set up recording equipment on the front porch.
Many of the songs are about life’s basics: celebrating the birthday of a 93-year-old, repairing a relationship and just working your way through life.
Capps’ “Poison” is a particular treat and natural sing-along: “Drink a little poison before you die.”
And then there’s “Willie Sugarcapps,” the title track and self-mythologizing tale of a singer and multi-instrumentalist who we need more than ever:   ”Folks are suffering all across this land, Woody Guthrie’s long gone, won’t you give us your helping hand?”
It takes a confident band to name itself, a song and album after a legendary figure they just made up. Bo Diddley would have approved.
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Review: The Whiskey Gentry’s “Holly Grove”

By Ken Paulson
whiskeygentry 150x150 Review: The Whiskey Gentrys Holly GroveIt’s that time of the year when we rush to catch up with particularly worthy albums that we never quite got around to reviewing. Case in point is the Whiskey Gentry’s Holly Grove, the second album from the Atlanta-based band.

The Whiskey Gentry melds high-energy bluegrass and traditional country with some attitude, opening the album with heartbreak and honky tonk on “I Ain’t Nothing” and closing with “Here’s Your Song,” presented with the hope that “it finds you in the gutter or in bed with another or wherever the hell you are.”

It’s an album full of impeccable playing, some unexpected themes (“Particles” and the title song) and impressive vocals from Lauren Staley. To top it all off, there’s the surprisingly fresh cover of Peter Rowan’s “Lonesome L.A. Cowboy,” first recorded by the New Riders of the Purple Sage on their Adventures of Panama Red album in 1974.

Here’s a clip of the Whiskey Gentry in their appearance last year on Music City Roots:

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Duane Allman’s “Skydog” issued in “encore” edition

duane allman 150x150 Duane Allmans Skydog issued in encore editionAmericana Music News - The new Muscle Shoals documentary tells the fascinating story of Rick Hall, Fame Studios and the against-all-odds success of two great studios in the same small town. There’s a great moment in the movie when we hear about Duane Allman showing up, ingratiating himself with his style and guitar, and eventually urging Wilson Pickett to tackle “Hey Jude” on the now-classic recording. It’s a reminder of Allman’s gifts and his career in music well before the Allman Brothers.

Skydog: The Duane Allman Retrospective documents his career in impressive style, ranging from early recordings with the Escorts, Allman Joys and Hour Glass to sessions with Clarence Carter and Aretha Franklin and recordings with Eric Clapton and the Allman Brothers Band.

The 7-CD set was released by Rounder Records in a limited edition in March and is now back in an “encore edition.” The packaging is stripped down, but the 72-page booklet and extraordinary music are intact. This should make a lot of “best of” lists for 2013.

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Review: “Woody Guthrie American Radical Patriot”

Guthrie 150x150 Review: Woody Guthrie American Radical PatriotBy Ken Paulson

I thought I had a pretty good sense of Woody Guthrie. I’d read the books, listened to the music and even watched a mediocre film biography starring David Carradine.

But all of that pales next to Woody Guthrie: American Radical Patriot, an extraordinary box set that chronicles Guthrie’s work for the U.S. government.

While you wouldn’t expect the politically restless Guthrie to embrace the government, he saw that government could do some good for the poor and he clearly appreciated the paycheck.

The most revelatory aspect of this project is the opening interview with Alan Lomax of the Archive of American Folk Song on a recording made for the Library of Congress. This is Guthrie before he stepped onto the national stage and he talks candidly about his childhood, musical influences and stunning personal tragedies.

The 6-CD collection sounds great, and includes a wide range of performances, including those he wrote while working for the Bonneville Power Administration, plus some venereal disease prevention songs.

Included in this limited edition box is a DVD of “Roll On Columbia,” a fascinating University of Oregon documentary about Guthrie’s stint as a songwriter trying to convey the importance of the Woody Bonneville Dam Project .

The box set also features a 60-page booklet (and a full-length version on an included PDF) and a 78 of Bob Dylan singing Guthrie’s “VD City” and Guthrie’s home recording of “The Biggest Thing That Man Has Ever Done.”

This Rounder Records release epitomizes a great box set: rare recordings, insightful documentation, multi-layered content and artful packaging. Highly recommended.

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Americana Music Association’s Top 100 albums

Isbell 150x150 Americana Music Associations Top 100 albumsAmericana Music News - The Americana Music Association has just released its list of the Top 100 most-played albums of the year, based on airplay from November 19, 2012 through December 2, 2013.
Jason Isbell’s haunting Southeastern is at the top of the list, with  the top 10 largely occupied by Americana music’s royalty: Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin, Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale.
And then there are the surprises: the reunions of Delbert and Glen (after decades) and the Mavericks, the always-great pairing of Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison and top ten finishes by Carrie Rodriguez and Holly Williams.
“Surprises” may be the wrong word. These are all remarkable artists in the Top 10 and we’ve seen their albums dominate airplay much of the year.
The full list from the Americana Music Association:
Artist                                                               Title
1. Jason Isbell                                                      Southeastern
2. Steve Earle & The Dukes (& Duchesses)   The Low Highway
3. Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell           Old Yellow Moon
4. Patty Griffin                                                     American Kid
5. Mavericks                                                         Suited Up And Ready / In Time
6. Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison                       Cheater’s Game
7. Delbert McClinton & Glen Clark                 Blind, Crippled & Crazy
8. Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale             Buddy and Jim
9. Carrie Rodriguez                                           Give Me All You Got
10. Holly Williams                                             The Highway
11. Richard Thompson                                      Electric
12. John Fogerty / Various Artists                 Wrote A Song For Everyone
13. Slaid Cleaves                                                 Still Fighting The War
14. Tedeschi Trucks Band                                 Made Up Mind
15. Mumford & Sons                                          Babel
16. Aoife O’Donovan                                          Fossils
17. Guy Clark                                                       My Favorite Picture Of You
18. Black Lillies                                                  Runaway Freeway Blues
19. Steeldrivers                                                  Hammer Down
20. Steve Martin And Edie Brickell               Love Has Come For You
21. Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson      Wreck & Ruin
22. Dwight Yoakam                                           3 Pears
23. Dawes                                                            Stories Don’t End
24. Nora Jane Struthers & The Party Line   Carnival
25. Donna The Buffalo                                      Tonight, Tomorrow And Yesterday
26. Kacey Musgraves                                         Same Trailer Different Park
27. Son Volt                                                         Honky Tonk
28. Sarah Jarosz                                                Build Me Up From Bones
29. Civil Wars                                                    Civil Wars
30. Howlin’ Brothers                                       Howl
31. Sturgill Simpson                                        High Top Mountain
32. Ben Harper w/ Charles Musselwhite    I Don’t Believe A Word You Say
33. Mavis Staples                                             One True Vine
34. Band Of Heathens                                     Sunday Morning Record
35. Amos Lee                                                    Mountains Of Sorrow Rivers Of Song
36. Sons Of Fathers                                         Burning Days
37. Billy Bragg                                                  Tooth & Nail
38. Neko Case                                                  The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight.
39. Kim Richey                                                Thorn In My Heart
40. Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors         Good Light
41. Ashley Monroe                                          Like A Rose
42. John Hiatt                                                 Mystic Pinball
43. Wayne Hancock                                       Ride
44. Various – The Music Is You                   A Tribute To John Denver
45. Tim O’Brien & Darrell Scott                  Memories & Moments
46. Shooter Jennings                                     The Other Life
47. Jamey Johnson                                         Living For A Song: A Tribute To Hank Cochran
48. Avett Brothers                                          The Carpenter
49. Various – Let Us In Americana             The Music Of Paul McCartney
50. Amanda Shires                                         Down Fell The Doves
51. Iris DeMent                                               Sing The Delta
52. James Hunter Six                                    Minute By Minute
53. Tim Easton                                               Not Cool
54. Mark Knopfler                                         Privateering
55. Wheeler Brothers                                    Gold Boots Glitter
56. Tift Merritt                                               Traveling Alone
57. Pokey LaFarge                                         Pokey LaFarge
58. J.J. Grey And Mofro                              This River
59. Various                                                     Ghost Brothers of Darkland County
60. Chris Knight                                            Little Victories
61. Kris Kristofferson                                   Feeling Mortal
62. Jason Boland and the Stragglers        Dark & Dirty Mile
63. Milk Carton Kids                                    The Ash & Clay
64. Josh Ritter                                               The Beast In Its Tracks
65. Peter Rowan                                            The Old School
66. Marshall Chapman                                Blaze Of Glory
67. Dale Watson And His Lonestars         El Rancho Azul
68. Over the Rhine                                       Meet Me At The Edge Of The World
69. Gibson Brothers                                     They Called It Music
70. Houndmouth                                          From The Hills Above The City
71. Max Gomez                                              Rule The World
72. Time Jumpers                                         Time Jumpers
73. Wood Brothers                                        The Muse
74. Randall Bramblett                                  The Bright Spots
75. Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit            Live In Alabama
76. Willie Nelson                                           To All The Girls
77. Steep Canyon Rangers                           Tell The Ones I Love
78. Various                                                     High Cotton: A Tribute To Alabama
79. North Mississippi Allstars                    World Boogie is Coming
80. Robbie Fulks                                           Gone Away Backward
81. Shannon McNally                                   Small Town Talk
82. Mando Saenz                                          Studebaker
83. Underhill Rose                                       Something Real
84. Departed                                                 Adventus
85. Della Mae                                                This World Oft Can Be
86. Vince Gill & Paul Franklin                   Bakersfield
87. Statesboro Revue                                   Ramble On Privilege Creek
88. Will Hoge                                                Never Give In
89. Elephant Revival                                   These Changing Skies
90. Avett Brothers                                        Magpie And The Dandelion
91. Valerie June                                             Pushin’ Against A Stone
92. Gary Clark Jr.                                          Blak And Blu
93. Willie Sugarcapps                                  Willie Sugarcapps
94. Devil Makes Three                                 I’m A Stranger Here
95. Ryan Bingham                                        Tomorrowland
96. Greencards                                              Sweetheart Of The Sun
97. Buddy Guy                                               Rhythm & Blues
98. Andrew Bird                                           Hands Of Glory
99. Wild Ponies                                            Things That Used To Shine
100. Civil Wars And T-Bone Burnett       A Place At The Table Soundtrack
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