Browsing articles from "December, 2011"

Initial Lineup for 2012 Muddy Roots Festival Europe

December 31, 2011 - By Trigger  //  News  //  13 Comments

2012 will go down as the year that the roots music revolution went transcontinental, as the Muddy Roots Festival heads over to the Old World to storm the beaches of Europe with a ridiculous lineup of talent. Though the festival is happening in Europe, it will mostly feature American acts, similar to the lineup of the original American Muddy Roots Festival going down in Cookeville, TN August 31st-September 2nd, but a few European acts will be featured as well.

“The inspiration for doing a festival over there came from the fans,” according to Muddy Roots promoter Jason Galaz. “We had just as many people come to Muddy Roots from other countries as from Nashville. Seems like they deserve a party in their own back yard. You could say I got a “calling” from the Good Lord to spread the Muddy Roots Gospel to every living creature.”

The invasion will go down June 9th and 10th, at the Cowboy Up Steakhouse Saloon in Waardamme, Belgium. Please note this is the initial lineup. More bands will likely be added later, and other bands currently on the list could change.

Click Here to Purchase Tickets


The 6 “Other” Country Music Archetypes

December 30, 2011 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  56 Comments

Alright, so we all had a good chuckle poking fun at the 6 Pop Country Archetypes, now let’s see what happens when I turn the poison pen towards the folks much more likely to frequent Saving Country Music; those folks that live on the fringes of the greater country music world.

Angry Bangs

Her distinguishing features are hair as black as night, skin as white as the wind driven snow, and bangs that are angrier than Sam Kennison’s id. She may not let you tie her up and gag her like her idol Betty Page, but she will sell you a T-shirt and skull patch from your favorite underground country band. Not every angry bangs girl sells merch, but every underground merch girl must have angry bangs. It’s the law. In high school she smoked cloves and thought she was a vampire. Now she hunts zombies in her tank boots and torn fishnets. She could be a militant vegan, a violent feminist, but either way, she finds identity in being a bitch. She has sex on top, and has penis envy. She can crack a bull whip and adulates about being a sex expert. Her purse is a vintage Addams Family lunchbox.

NPR Elitist

Their roots music knowledge comes from music played before NPR’s “Fresh Air”. They listen to it while driving their Prius to their office at an enviro activist think tank non-profit located in an exclusive hippie-nuveau hamlet on one of the two coasts. Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, and James McMurtry are their favorite country artists because they “appreciate their politics”. They think Emmylou Harris is hard country. They’re referred to as “they” because unlike other Archetypes, they are non-sex specific due to their insistence of a non-sex specific environment, and push for unisex bathrooms in the workplace. They like country music that isn’t too interruptive for their cocktail party or Pilates routine. They thought The Dixie Chicks were ignorant women who let their husbands beat them and taught their kids Creationism like all Texans do . . . until they said that stuff about Bush. Now they’re martyrs and an inspiration, and they love their music. They bitch about consumerism and brand loyalty, but every electronic device they own has that cute little Apple on it. They bitch about corporations and inequality, but live in the most expensive and segregated part of town, and their investment portfolio is fully vested in Exxon/Mobil, Halliburton, and Microsoft. They don’t understand that driving a Prius or a foreign car and eating organic is not a choice, but a privilege. If you don’t agree with their politics, it’s because you’re stupid. They’re food Nazis.

Punk/Metalhead Hank3 Country Convert

If you don’t like Hank3 godammit, then you’re not cockstrong! He’ll preach to you about REAL country music like WAYLON FUKIN’ JENNINGS, JOHNNY FUKIN’ CASH, and ALL THE HANKS! But can’t name you one song from Hank Snow or Hank Cochran, and has no idea the King of Country Music is in fact Roy Acuff. He’s unwilling to admit that Hank3 lost his relevancy in 2008 because he has his name tattooed in 3 different places. For some reason he feels the need to flip the bird EVERY SINGLE TIME a camera is trained on him. His country band is more underground than yours, bitching it gets no respect and is so much better than the “shit” they play on the radio, but his EP sounds like it was recorded in a toilet stall. He’s nothing more than a bad interpretation of Jello Biafra sporting an acoustic guitar. He complains he has no money for real equipment like the rich kids, but has $700 of ink below his right elbow. Anything that is popular or mainstream immediately sucks.


Skinny jeans, deep V-neck, vintage Keds, huge glasses and an ironic mustache, he’s not really into roots music, he just want you to think he is because it’s cool. His version of roots music involves lots of uke and kazoo, a Theremin, and improvisational interpretive dance. He couldn’t roof a doghouse, but he can strip the gears off of any 80′s-era bicycle and turn it into a “fixie” in 5 minutes. At a live show, he shows appreciation for your music by acting apathetic towards it, or his disdain by overlaughing with his friends about it. He really doesn’t like this bar or this country band, he’s just scoping out a space for his friend’s shoegazer nerdcore indie rock band to play the night after the house show at his bungalo in the gentrifying part of the city. He got a job at a fair trade coffee shop after Borders closed down.

Rockabilly / Neo-Traditionalist Nerd /Newgrass Hippie Mashup

Neo-Traditionalist: Fringed pearl snap Western shirt and matching Nudie slacks, neck scarf, bolo tie, and a Howdy Doody smile, he’s country music’s equivalent of the 30-something Dungeons & Dragons nerd. His anachronistic, outdated use of phrases like “Howdy friends and neighbors!” and “Yall-Come!” and “Honky-Tonkin!” is enough to make a Trekkie think that some perspective is needed.

Rockabilly Greaser: Very similar to the neo-traditionalist in his anachronisms, but with a little more cool factor, and a lot more Dapper Dan. High arching pompadour, wallet chain, classic car, black leather jacket, rolled up shirt sleeves and jean bottoms, even Brian Setzer is embarrassed of him. He looks tough, but during the week he sells life insurance.

West Coast Newgrass Hippie Burnout: He’s got skins if you’ve got bud. He thinks Jerry Garcia invented bluegrass, and that bluegrass and reggae are mashable. He can play bad, Kermit-the-frog-like strumming banjo for your bluegrass band, or squat in a Sequoia for weeks to stop an old-growth harvest and impress the newest hot hippie runaway girl. His dog has a hemp necklace, and looks at his dundering and irresponsible owner like a kid looks at a bad stepfather. He thinks marijuana is a legitimate cure for Cancer. He drives a 1984 Volvo and lives off a trust fund.

Arrogant Music Blogger

He should be using his writing skills for something productive, but instead he finds himself way too often using it for snarky dialogue picking on others. He’s bitter that the only blogs people pay attention to are the ones bashing pop country while his in-depth album reviews and features get ignored. Sometimes he needs to chill out and understand IT’S JUST MUSIC, and stop using some bands viral video as an excuse to launch into a treatise on the inner depths of importance of artistic expression in life.

He also lives in his mom’s basement, over-glorifies the obscure music he loves while bashing anything simply because it’s popular, is strictly motivated by jealousy, and has no right to criticize music because he has never played it, never written songs, and never toured as a musician, and all the other assumptions based on an easily-identifiable stereotype that just like all stereotypes and Archetypes, are usually unfair, but nonetheless funny.

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And now I can officially retire this bit before it gets old. Thanks for reading.


2011 Song of the Year – Willy Tea Taylor’s “Life Is Beautiful”

December 29, 2011 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  21 Comments

First off, congratulations to all the other candidates for the 2011 Song of the Year. It was an unbelievably strong field, and they all deserve to be recognized. But in the end what Willie Tea Taylor’s “Life Is Beautiful” had that no other candidate could match was poignancy. It’s also hard to deny a song that can make grown ass men cry, but Willy Tea’s poignancy is what really put him over the top for 2011.

In a world that seems so rife with challenges, where we have Occupy protests, a struggling economy, record unemployment, record greed matched by record envy, here is a song that in the sweetest way possible, grabs you by the shoulders, shakes the anger from your consciousness, and makes you appreciate what you do have in life instead of what you don’t. It also quashes any worrying about what someone else has. It is a masterpiece that speaks to the human heart universally.

And I know that this was probably the farthest thing from Willy’s mind when he wrote “Life Is Beautiful” but 2011 will go down as the year of the laundry list country song in mainstream country, and this song fights fire with fire. That’s the beauty of a strong song like this, it has reverberations and positive effects all over the place inadvertently. What better way to counteract imbecile bravado and cultural idolatry than with sweetness and simplicity.

And Willy scores big with the intangibles as well. As I always say, it is about people first, then music. The Song of the Year will always go to the best song, but ideally the winner is someone who represents the core values that govern independent roots music, how music is meant to lift people up, not speak down to them, and I can’t think of a better representative of the beauty and talent of true roots music than Willy Tea. Since I wrote the song review for Life Is Beautiful and the album review for it’s parent album 4 Strings, I have met Willy, shook his hand, and listened to his music first person, and feel confident “Life Is Beautiful” isn’t just a great ambassador for real music, Willy Tea is too.

I don’t know what else to say really, how do you describe a masterpiece with words? You don’t, you just sit back and listen.


Album Review – Stoney LaRue “Velvet”

December 28, 2011 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  6 Comments

Whenever I am rifling through the always-mountainous pile of albums on my desk peeping at me like hatchlings, begging for review, I’m looking for something. Sometimes that something is obvious, like great songwriting or engaging music. Sometimes it is something intangible, something I didn’t know I was looking for until I found it. Sometimes I use an album to set a context on something I want to express about the greater music world, a trend or something that a particular album is a good example of.

Some assume if I don’t write about an album, or don’t talk about an artist, that means I don’t like them, when many times it just means I don’t know what to say. Stoney LaRue, one of the stalwarts of the Texoma Red Dirt movement, released Velvet in late August, and though a lot of folks whose music tastes I usually align or agree with were singing the praises of this album, I couldn’t find anything I was looking for in it, and didn’t know what to say about it.

Honestly, this album feels and sounds “safe”. At first it felt like the albums you hear coming off of Music Row all the time, where it felt like the artist made the album because it was album making time, instead of from a sincere passion. Some of the lyrical lines feel lazy. They rhyme, but they don’t say much. The music is good and tight, well arranged and performed, but there is no risk in it. Velvet is also a little undefinable. It is not really country, not really rock, and it never really lets loose. Just like the texture of the fabric the album is named for and that adorns the CD cover, Velvet is “soft”, which is surprising coming from a guy that sports a bandana, and skeletons flashing devil horns on his koozies.

However there is something that wouldn’t let me give up on this album, and I am still not exactly sure what it is. After giving it a spin and not knowing really what to do with it, I’d perch back on top of Review Mountain, but I would invariably grab it again just to see if I could find whatever I was missing, never willing to give up on it. After listening to it I would find myself humming the tunes, and wanting to hear them again. That is because for all of Velvet‘s safety, for all of it’s lack of obvious songwriting prowess or easily-seductive music, there is an appeal here.

Maybe it’s because however mild the different elements are, combined together they equal greater than the sum of their parts. Maybe despite the safety and perceived pallidness of this album, behind it Stoney still gives his music tremendous heart that makes it rise above superficial concerns or a music reviewer’s traditional bullet points. In the end if I had to tell you whether I like this album or hate it, I would say I like it.

Despite the safety, there is a good flow to this music, and a patience. In most music, you have a group of guys doing their best individually, hoping it fits in the context of the song. With Velvet, everyone is on board, listening to the music and what the song is calling for. It’s like the difference of four horsemen riding side by side across the plain, or four horses yoked together, all pulling towards the same purpose. You’re not wowed by any individual effort, but in the end the efforts are more unified and effective.

The walking, rhythmic acoustic line in “Dresses” gets stuck in your heart. The chorus of “Look At Me Fly” is undeniably infectious. “Travelin’ Kind” uses the soft and safe approach to it’s advantage, and adds simplicity to the mix to become the standout composition of the album. “Travelin’ Kind” never really goes anywhere, which is why it is good, and that approach parallels the song’s message. It also features Lee Ann Womack on harmony vocals.

One thing I’ll pick on is the song “Te Amo Mas Que La Vida”. From Tom Waits to Jimbo Mathus to many others, there is a current trend to include one Spanish-oriented song on your album. I think folks think it adds spice to a project, but what it really does is add predictability, and many times, a easily-forgettable track. If you like the Spanish context, great. But add two songs, or no songs. And invariably the song ends up as the 7th or 8th track on the album; go back and check.

I’m not going to recommend you buy Velvet, I’m going to recommend you try Velvet. I wouldn’t argue with anyone if they wanted to call it one of their favorites of the year, or if they said they just couldn’t get into it. Because for me, it is kind of both.

1 1/2 of 2 guns up.

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Preview & Purchase Tracks from Velvet (only $4.99 right now)


Curious Timing of Rodney Atkins Re-Signing with Curb

December 27, 2011 - By Trigger  //  News  //  6 Comments

When Tim McGraw went to court with Curb Records at the end of November in an attempt to get an impasse with the record label resolved, all of the country music world was watching. A Tim McGraw win could have reverberations beyond the Emotional Traffic album he was trying to get released, his final with Curb Records. And in the following weeks, it did. McGraw’s win not only meant he could begin recording music with another label or independently, but Curb decided to release a new single for the album hours after the decision, and finally gave Emotional Traffic a release date.

The court decision was also proceeded by a couple more announcements of releases from Curb artists also on their last album with the notoriously-shrewd label. Lyle Lovett is releasing Release Me on February 28, 2012, his final with Curb who he’s been signed with since 1986, and LeAnn Rimes will be releasing her final album this summer. But in the shadow of the Tim McGraw court win came the curiously quiet announcement that Rodney Atkins had re-up’d his contract with Curb. As the headlines were making people wonder why anybody would ever sign with Curb in the first place, here was a big country star re-signing with the label he’s been with since 1996, yet has only released 4 studio albums in that time.

Rodney Atkins mug shot from Williamson County Sheriffs Department

We would later find out the potential reason for the curious move. On November 21st, police were called to the home of Rodney Atkins after an alleged night of alcohol-fueled fighting with his wife Tammy Jo Atkins. According to Tammy, the fight became physical when Rodney grabbed her by the face, and threw her down a hallway, all in front of their 10-year-old son. And then later, she alleges Rodney tried to smother her with a pillow.

All of these ugly allegations remained under wraps before Curb re-signed Rodney Atkins on December 7th. It was a week later, on December 15th when Rodney filed for divorce that the details of the altercation became public. “Rodney Atkins represents everything that we believe in,” is how Mike Curb’s statement began when announcing the re-signing. Rodney’s attorney refutes the charges, and calls the altercation an “unfortunate verbal dispute”.

As the particulars of a very public and nasty divorce continue to materialize, one can’t help but wonder about the timing. Did Rodney sign with Curb, which continues to shed talent from it’s shady business practices, knowing his commodity as an artist was about to be severely compromised? And did Curb finally get duped by one of it’s artists, instead of vice versa?

Tim McGraw still has the main trial with Curb Records ahead of him this summer, where it will be determined if he violated his Curb contract, and if so what the penalty will be. But as one of Curb’s last remaining workhorses, Rodney Atkins’ court dealings may be just as important, as the allegations of domestic abuse get digested by the traditionally-pliable country music public.


Album Review – The Kentucky Struts “Year of the Horse”

December 26, 2011 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  8 Comments

Well here it is, the end of December. The last few moments of 2011 are counting down, and yet completely unbeknown to us, right under our noses, one of the most expansive, imaginative, engaging, and inspiring projects all year is finally coming into full bloom. It is called Year of the Horse by the Cold Spring, KY-based Kentucky Struts and this isn’t just your run-of-the-mill album folks, this is a multi-layered project that incorporates music, visual art, authentic Kentucky culture, all with an altruistic aim.

When The Kentucky Struts had amassed 12 new recordings for an album, instead of releasing them all at once, they decided to release one in each month of 2011, and then have a visual artist interpret each song into a work of art. Some of the artists they collaborated with include Joshua Black Wilkins, a musician himself and a stunning photographer, and Keith Neltner, probably best known for his work on Hank3 album covers. The most inspiring part is a portion of the sale of the songs, posters, and this album go to Speak Up for Horses, a horse rescue foundation in Falmouth, KY.

You can figure out the most creative way to release your music, and have the proceeds go to a charitable cause, but in the end if the music isn’t engaging, it may all be for naught. A high-minded project like this calls for a high degree of execution in the song craft, and that is exactly what The Kentucky Struts deliver in Year of the Horse. The music is par excellence, in the songwriting, originality, and production.

It’s hard to call this music “country” in the traditional sense, it has more of a country-inspired classic rock feel to it, but in the current post-rock age where the term “roots” has come to encompass a more broad spectrum, it fits in there quite nicely. There’s also a slightly progressive edge to it, and a good amount of darkness, though the songs never stray too far from Kentucky in their themes. Call it Kentucky roots with a progressive approach. This is illustrated best on the super hit of the album “Ava Estelle”, a song whose music is dominant enough to debut on mainstream radio, and whose story is about a gun-toting Granny. This song and a few others on Year of the Horse make you shake your head from how great they are, and are damning evidence against the industry, proving the only reason songs like these don’t land all over radio is a lack of industry connections.

Front man Todd Lipscomb has a little bit of Tom Petty in him, but not too much. A sign of good roots music is when you can keep your sound fresh, yet keep a familiarity in it, and that is what The Kentucky Struts strike here. And if you’re from Kentucky, you have to be able to bring it, and bring it hard. You won’t find many average pickers or boring acts from The Bluegrass State. Bred in the region that birthed some of the strongest string-based maestros the world has ever seen, as well as some of the most dynamic performers like Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers and Sunday Valley, The Kentucky Struts hold their own, and carve out their own niche.

The originality of Year of the Horse is rabid. It’s been a long time since an album this fresh sounding found its way in front of me. It has that one important earmark of a landmark album: accessibility without sacrificing soul. I feel I have let down the sainted Saving Country Music reader by not bringing this project to your attention earlier, but I feel like since it took a whole year to release Year of the Horse, we should be given another year to be able to explore it and all it’s creative and altruistic tentacles. In fact this music is so good, I think The Kentucky Struts had no choice but to get high-minded in how they released it. Just a regular old CD release would seem insulting to the content and vision.

You should pick up Year of the Hose, for yourself, for the horses, and for Kentucky.

Two guns way up!

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Preview Tracks & Purchase directly from The Kentucky Struts

If you purchase the album on CD from The Kentucky Struts, you will receive a randomly-selected cover from one of the original artist prints that are part of this project. You can see all the prints, and follow the progression of the Year of the Horse project on The Kentucky Struts blog.


The 6 Pop Country Archetypes

December 24, 2011 - By Trigger  //  Down with Pop Country  //  68 Comments

Have you ever wondered who actually listens to those songs they play on pop country radio? Here are the six primary Archetypes, or as Music Row refers to them,  the “target demographics” that make up the audience of the pop country world.

Affliction T-Shirt “New Outlaw” Doucher

Affliction T-shirt, designer jeans with embroidery on the ass pockets, he is the bulls-eye on Music Row’s “New Outlaw” target demographic. Those rips in his jeans didn’t come from running barbed wire, but a 70-year-old Laotian woman working at an Armani factory making .36 cents an hour. On UFC stats and Brantley Gilbert lyrics, he’s a expert. He thinks Blackberry Smoke is an underground country band, and he shaves his testicles so his panty-cut underwear won’t chafe. He likes to listen to laundry list country songs about dirt roads and old pickup trucks, but his idea of “roughing it” is not dousing himself in Axe body spray before hitting his suburb’s corporate country bar. If he was a woman, then yes, he would douche. No effort is spared to prove how tough he is, but in an actual physical confrontation, he’ll fold like a paper tiger. He wants to show you his tribal tattoo.

Bored Suburban Soccer Mom

The wacky morning crew at her Top 40 Clear Channel country radio station feels like family. She volunteers at the megachurch. She nicknamed her 2010 Mercury Mountaineer “Betsy”, her vibrator “Trace Adkins”, and thinks her life is perfect (though her cocktail of anti-depressents tell a different story). She thinks Tim McGraw’s plastic hat is sexy, and cries every single time that sappy Martina McBride cancer song comes on the air. Her kids are named “Hannah” and “Bryson”. She wished her daughter was more receptive to Taylor Swift’s message, but instead her daughter is obsessed with Jason Aldean’s butt. This year is going to be the year she’s finally going to figure out how to make some money on Etsy from her scrapbooking ideas. She posts pictures of her feet on Facebook.

Glitter-Faced Pop Country Girl

Oh my God she SO likes all of country music, including Lady Antebellum, The Band Perry, AND Thompson Square! She even likes classic country… like Tim McGraw. “Oh my God that song he has about that girl and guy and someone’s trying to kill them and the guy is all ‘Don’t take the girl’ and I’m all ‘That’s so sweet!!!’”. Her mom wishes she was more receptive to Taylor Swift, but she’s more obsessed with Jason Aldean’s butt. She wants to be a pop star, but her dad is just hoping he can keep her off the pole come her 18th birthday. She likes to put on glitterface and lip sync Carrie Underwood into a shampoo bottle in front of the bathroom mirror in her jammies. Her and her mom are Music Row’s last source of revenue because they’re too ditsy to understand how to steal music.

Red-Blooded ‘Merican

He can’t wait for Armageddon to come so he can start mowing down brown skins unilaterally, and justify that $5,000 purchase of a 10,ooo-watt generator last summer. You’re damn right he likes Toby Keith, and you know what, that Aaron Lewis guy from Stained ain’t bad neither. He truly believes Al-Queda could invade at any time, and that Abu down at the dry cleaners in town probably did time at Gitmo. He swears he knew the Dixie Chicks were commies way before everyone else did, but he had the plump one sign his Stetson in Sharpie in 2001 (he keeps it hidden in the bottom shelf of his gun safe). He’ll shoot at you if any portion of your tire touches his property line when you’re making a U-turn out on the highway, and if you’re one of them towel-heads, he’ll shoot to kill. He still thinks Garth-era printed button up collared shirts are hip, and that if you have more than 2 inches of hair growth anywhere on your head, you’re clearly a homosexual.

Priestly Pop Country Porcupine

Hair highlights, frosted tips, hyper image conscious, he’ll prove to you just how cool Christianity can be by getting the 10 Commandments tramp stamped on the small of his back. His idol is Keith Urban, and he so wants Gary LeVox’s hair. Similar to the “New Outlaw Doucher”, but he trades in the tribal designs for Gothic crosses, and doesn’t limit the manscaping to just the crotch region. He broke his chastity pledge once, but that’s OK because Jesus loves him. He doesn’t know how it is to go to a church that isn’t conducted in an auditorium and has a Starbucks and Chili’s Too in the east wing. He has every subtle change to all three members of Rascal Flatt’s hair designs saved on a thumb drive just in case his computer crashes. The embroidery on his designer pearl snap shirts incorporates glitter. He’s thanks God he doesn’t have to interface with ugly people very often.

Overweight Country Rapper

Morbidly obese, woefully unemployed, and draped in whatever his local Wal-Mart stocks in XXXL, he thinks he’s a gangster, but instead he’s just a fat loser land locked in a small town in America’s breadbasket. Colt Ford is his hero, and Yelawolf is the only one who really understands him. He got a title loan on his 1992 Grand Am so he could get a tattoo of an alien smoking a joint on his neck. He would move to a bigger city, but he doesn’t have the gas money to even make it to the county seat, and besides, the real gangsters would kick his ass within 5 minutes. He likes to snort Dr. Scholls foot powder and pretend it’s cocaine because he can’t afford meth. He knows a guy in LA that he sent his demo to, and once he hits it big, he’s getting the hell out of this town and buying a set of spinning rims for his mom. He knocked up some girl that works at Dairy Queen just so he could bitch to his friends about his baby mama drama. His problems are everyone else’s fault.


OK, I would contend that this 7th Archetype is actually a subset or derivative of the “Red Blooded ‘Merican” or the “Affliction T-Shirt ‘New Outlaw’ Doucher”, but I am bowing to public pressure and adding one more. I hope you approve.

The Windshield Cowboy

Sporting an always brand spanking new 1 ton pickup truck with a diesel engine and dually tires, he needs this heavy equipment as a middle management quality control paper pusher in a cubicle farm located in white flight Suburbia. He’d like you to think he owns a farm, but a farmers wage wouldn’t even pay his truck’s interest. His yearly gas bill equals the gross domestic product of Myanmar. He’s shining his chrome rims while his children and wife are ignored. He listens to songs about dirt roads, but’ll be damned if he takes his baby off the blacktop and gets a brush scratch in the paint. He wants you to think he’s country, but Nickelback comes up as “Most Played” on his iTouch. He once hauled a 10 lb bag of potting soil in his truck. Afterwards he immediately sprayed down the beadliner and buffed the paint for 3 hours. He’ll never do that again, but he will haul his equally pristine bass boat, four wheeler, and fifth wheel travel trailer with it, all that he bought to offset his misery. He works 60 hours a week to pay for it all, but is two months from bankruptcy. Deep inside he feels trapped and desperate, but that’s OK because his truck kicks ass. He’s under the impression you can take your material possessions with you to Heaven and tried to write that stipulation into his truck’s two year lease. No, he will not help you move next weekend, he has to wash his truck.

The 6 “Other” Country Music Archetypes


Curb Releases Tim McGraw Single ‘Right Back Atcha Babe’

December 21, 2011 - By Trigger  //  News  //  10 Comments

On Monday Curb Records released a brand new single from Tim McGraw’s long-disputed album Emotional Traffic called “Right Back Atcha Babe”. This is the second single Curb has released from the album. The first, “Better Than I Used To Be” was released mere hours after Tim McGraw won a crucial court battle against Curb that allowed him to pursue recording music with a new label or independently if he so chooses. The single is available on iTunes.

The timing of the single release is somewhat puzzling. The “Better Than I Used To Be” single was released only 3 weeks ago. Curb has been recognized for being on the cutting edge of waiting much longer in between releases of albums and singles as the song cycle elongates in the contracting music environment. So the “Right Back Atcha Babe” release seems counter-intuitive to Curb’s modus operandi. Meanwhile many Tim McGraw fans are refusing to partake in Emotional Traffic and it’s singles, not wanting their money to go to the label that kept McGraw under thumb for many years. One reviewer on iTunes wrote:

Please don’t buy this. Curb Records has been screwing over Timmy and his fans for years…download this illegally, and support Tim McGraw some other way, like buying a ticket to one of his shows.

McGraw’s Emotional Traffic was finally given a release date from Curb of January 17th, 2012, but in a statement to his fans, McGraw alluded to moving on from the Emotional Traffic content, and that “After the first of the year I’ll have a brand new single which I can hardly wait to share with everyone.


Saving Country Music’s Worst Country Songs of 2011

December 20, 2011 - By Trigger  //  Down with Pop Country  //  44 Comments

I’m sure every year since the early 90′s it would be easy to look back and say this is the worst year for mainstream country music ever. This may be the sign of a continuing downward trend, or a common symptom of the human condition that doesn’t allow us to look big picture. But what I can say for sure is that I never recall a year with this high caliber of a crop of bad songs. This group can hold their own against the Achy Breaky Hearts and Honky Tonk Bandonka Donk’s of the last few decades.

And this year might be the first that songs do well not in spite of being stupid, but because they are stupid as the thirst for irony in modern society seems to have no end. When taking a step back and trying to find the worst songs from the year, you can see 2011 will go down as the year when the laundry list country song perpetuated by the over-bravado doucher “New Outlaw” ruled the roost.

5. Brantley Gilbert – Country Must Be Country Wide

Unlike the other songs on this list, this one from the official “Country Music Douche” doesn’t have you reaching for a brown paper bag or running to the bathroom to unload your lunch, it’s more just insulting to the intelligence of the listener when you try to decipher the lyrics. This song is nothing more than a vehicle to drop transparent countryisms that people immersed in the corporate country culture expect to hear in their songs. And that’s the problem, they hear this song, but they don’t listen to it. Because if they did, they’d discover real quick it is an incongruent pile of leavings from a large farm animal. (read song review)

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4. Beer Time – Justin Moore

Double vomit. “Beer Time” proves that this 5’6″ pip squeak has as hard of a time performing an honest, heartfelt song as he does reaching the wine glasses on the top shelf of the cupboard. I picked this song because of it’s spectacular aptitude of soaring to new heights of suckitude, but really you can pick just about any song on his ridiculously-named Outlaws Like Me album and chances are it will be just as bad. (read review for Outlaws Like Me album)

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3. Toby Keith – Red Solo Cup

That’s right ladies and gentleman, raise your red solo cups high, and let’s all toast the onset of idiocracy! A dumb song, and an even dumber video expose Toby Keith as a business man and marketing guru first, then an artist. Toby owns the Show Dog Universal record label responsible for 2 of the 5 songs on this list. You have to give him credit for his cunning use and understanding of modern media: make a stupid viral video for an even more stupid song and you have the spoon fed public eating out of his hands. And just because Toby Keith admits this song is stupid, doesn’t mean it’s still not in fact stupid. I’d rather shit red solo cup shards than have my ears exposed to this audio abortion. (read “Red Solo Cup”: Bad is the New Good)

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2. Trace Adkins – Brown Chicken Brown Cow

Sexualized puppets and sexual innuendo specifically targeted towards children, this song is the lowest of the low. Toby Keith and Show Dog Universal should have know better when Trace twisted their arm to release this as a single. The pony-tailed baritone with a million-dollar voice and a 10 cent brain had delusions this would finally be the follow up to his blockbuster and the undisputed heavyweight champion of all awful pop country songs “Honky Tonk Badonka Donk”, but he was wrong. Trace may be every pop country-loving soccer mom’s sexual fantasy, but this song sucked so bad even Trace was eventually forced to admit defeat and pull it from radio.

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1. Jason Aldean – Dirt Road Anthem

This is it folks, this is the one. It is where the mono-genre went from theory to practice. And this song didn’t just partake in the previously-taboo mixing of country and rap in the mainstream format, it blew right through the barrier and kept on going until it became the best-selling, most-important, and most-influential song in all of 2011. All the others songs on this list are just stupid or silly or just downright bad, but this one is certifiably hurtful and dangerous when it comes to the integrity of country music. Like Garth Brooks flying over the crowd at Texas Stadium or Olivia Newton-John’s CMA win, we will look back at Dirt Road Anthem’s dominance of 2011 as a big black eye, and possibly the beginning of something even worse for the genre. (read song review)

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Dishonorable Mention: Taylor Swift’s immature “Mean” and Martina McBride’s mawkish “I’m Gonna Love You Through It”.


New Justin Townes Earle ‘Nothing’s Gonna Change..’ 3/27

December 19, 2011 - By Trigger  //  News  //  12 Comments

(download title track now at

Bloodshot Records has just announced that Justin Townes Earle will be releasing his 4th LP Album on March, 27th, 2012, and it is a mouthful, called Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now.

Produced by Earle alongside longtime collaborator Skylar Wilson, the 10-track album was recorded completely live with no overdubs over a four-day period at an old converted church recording studio in Asheville, NC. Of the new record, Earle says, “I think that it’s the job of the artist to be in transition and constantly learn more. The new record is completely different than my last one, Harlem River Blues. This time I’ve gone in a Memphis-soul direction.”

Indeed, NGCTWYFAMN is uncompromised, 60′s-era Muscle Shoals sound, accompanied by lots of brass, and we’ll think you’ll find this album a natural progression of JTE’s musical catalog.

Back in February, Earle told Billboard he wanted his next album to have a Memphis vibe, and intended to record it in London for a “change of pace”. Obviously the latter did not happen, but the idea of reviving the Memphis sound did.

I’m going to approach different forms of music that have come out of Memphis over the years, based around everything from Sun to Stax. I think it will be fun. I approached that a little bit by having ‘Move Over Mama’ and ‘Slippin’ and Slidin’ ‘ (on Harlem River Blues). I’m of the opinion rock ‘n’ roll and soul music are virtually the same thing, just with a difference in the beat. They’re the same chords. The songs are about the same things. One of things I like doing is finding those connections and running them all together.”

The other notable change between Nothing’s Gonna Change and his last album Harlem River Blues is this album will hypothetically be one Justin Townes Earle recorded while sober. Earle openly admits his last album was recorded during an extended relapse that ended with him being arrested in Indianapolis, and that his lack of sobriety can hurt his creative process as he told Blurt:

The abuse I put my body through never once helped me write a song. Luckily, I haven’t done any permanent damage to my brain. Often, drugs destroy your creative process.

After winning Saving Country Music’s 2009 Album of the Year with his second full-length release Midnight At The Movies, Saving Country Music openly questioned Justin’s sobriety when giving Harlem River Blues a mixed review. However the album was critically-acclaimed by most, and the title track won the 2011 Americana Music Awards Song of the Year. JTE also SCM’s Top Live Performance for 2011, and certainly Nothing’s Gonna Change is one of our most-anticipated releases for 2012.

Track List:

1. Am I That Lonely Tonight?
2. Look the Other Way
3. Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now
4. Baby’s Got a Bad Idea
5. Maria
6. Down on the Lower East Side
7. Won’t Be the Last Time
8. Memphis in the Rain
9. Unfortunately, Anna
10. Movin’ On

“It Won’t Be The Last Time” was the first song Justin Townes Earle wrote after getting sober.

Short film from Joshua Black Wilkins made during recording of the album.


Album Review – Ray Lawrence Jr. “Raw & Unplugged”

December 19, 2011 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  18 Comments

Before we get started here, let me just address the folks that will say the only reason I’m doing a review for this album is because Hank Williams III included some of Ray Lawrence Jr.’s songs on his latest Ghost To A Ghost/Guttertown release. Well of course that’s the only reason I’m doing this review, and it’s the only reason I know Ray Lawrence Jr. exists, and it’s the only reason this album exists.

And I’ll even take it step further and say even though I liked the songs entitled “Ray Lawrence Jr.” on Hank3′s album as maybe a bootleg or something you nab off of YouTube, I didn’t think they were worthy of including on a serious release. Frankly, these days I’m apt to look at many Hank3 decisions with cocked head, like a cocker spaniel looks at you when you loudly pass gas. But what the Ray Lawrence/Hank3 tracks did was got us to pay attention to this artist, and after listening to Raw & Unplugged, it is hard to say anything except that Hank3 once again deserves credit for playing pusher for another relatively unknown artist who wholeheartedly deserves the recognition.

As the title of this album implies, this is Arizona-based singer/songwriter Ray Lawrence Jr. with just him and his guitar. The album was quickly put together after Hank3 released Ghost To A Ghost, to meet the demand Hank3′s exposure created. It is in this context you must judge and listen to this album. Some albums are recorded raw and unplugged as a purposeful approach to create a desired aesthetic. This one is done more out of time and necessity.

However you want to look at the approach, this is some of the best true country songwriting I have heard all year. I am floored folks. I’ll be honest with you, knowing the context of this album going in, I didn’t think it had much chance to charm my little music heart, but that is exactly what it did. Ray’s songs are just so true, honest, well-written, and authentic, it makes his adeptness at song craft absolutely undeniable. And screw the fact that there’s no accompanying instruments here, who needs them. The strength of song is enough to make this album accessible despite it’s sparseness.

Ray is an example of how songs about truck driving and divorce will never get old in country music, as long as they’re being sung by someone who sings from personal experience, and with heart. Songs like “Check’s In The Mail” and “Just Kick My Ass To Texas” work in that timeless country manner of conveying simple wisdom through wit. “There’s Another Cheatin’ Heart” was my favorite track from the album, from the way Ray uses the simple countryism “off somewhere” to draw you in with it’s authenticity. And songs like “My Hurtin’ Will Be Done” show that Ray isn’t just about engaging lyrics, but also has a great ear at structuring the music around the mood he wishes to convey.

Ray’s guitar playing is great for the solo acoustic context; not just cord strumming, but not over noodling either. Good walks up and down, and the rhythm and cords are always present. And his voice is one of those aged, authentic instruments of song that so many a young man can try and duplicate, but aside from William Elliot Whitmore, can never match. In places the edges of the notes are frayed just so from the years of drink and smoky bars, but there is still a strength to it, and a desert twang that Ray wields with confidence. There is a little David Allan Coe to his vocal delivery.

From Homeless To Hank3: The Story of Ray Lawrence Jr.

I don’t mean to keep going back to the context of Ray’s Hank3 connection, but something I can’t drive home enough is how country this album is. This isn’t some Hellbilly kick or punk meets country as some may assume from seeing Hank3′s name, this is an album you could play for your grandmother, and you know what, she might like it. No hard language, just simple, universal country themes and stories that touch your heart from their authenticity.

Is this album like a “best of” from a songwriter whose been going at it for decades, and put all his top notch material together making a follow up an inevitable letdown? Will Ray exploit this opportunity Hank3 has given him as artists like Lucky Tubb, Bob Wayne, and Those Poor Bastards did before? Time will tell, but what I am hear to tell you right now is Raw & Unplugged is top notch. And as a pure country singer/songwriter album, I highly recommend it.

Two guns up!

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Preview Tracks and Purchase Ray Lawrence Jr. Raw & Unplugged

Purchase from CD Baby


Interview – Derek Dunn / Formerly of .357 String Band

December 17, 2011 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  10 Comments

One of the great things about the now disbanded .357 String Band from Milwaukee, WI was that it really didn’t have a frontman. Each member brought such a high caliber skill set to the table that it never seemed fair to call one member the focus. However guitar player and songwriter Derek Dunn did feel like the primary spokesman throughout its 7 years, and the fulcrum that the rest of the band rotated around.

Derek is now working on a couple of EP’s of new material and booking solo tours, and ahead of a Midwest/Florida tour starting January 8th (see dates below), I discussed with him the situations surrounding the .357 breakup, and his plans for his solo stuff.

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The Triggerman – Why do you think the .357 String Band never took off?

Derek Dunn – We marketed ourselves for shit.  That’s the number one reason.  We were really bad at it, and all of us hated it.  I didn’t even have a facebook page until I had to make one when .357 split up.

The Triggerman – What is going to happen with the original .357 songs that never found their way onto an album?

Derek Dunn – The songs that I had prepared for the next .357 album are going to make up the crux of the e.p. I’m working on right now, which should be finished early next year, I hope. I’m actually working on two separate e.p.s. The second one which I’m working on sort of secondarily will be released later, that being a collection of songs I’d had written while in .357, but didn’t think was appropriate for .357, for whatever reason.

The Triggerman – Are you worried the high energy show and top-notch instrumentation at times overshadowed the focus on songwriting in the band?

Derek Dunn – I think it definitely did, but I wouldn’t say I worried about it – shows are separate things from the songs themselves, which are also their own things.  I don’t think the aim of a live show should be to reproduce the written songs as precisely as possible, in an effort to showcase how well written they are.  Shows are about people coming together in a shared space and creating shared experience, both audience with performer and performer with audience, as well as audience with each other.  I mean, when I write songs, I can spend a week trying to decide whether it sounds better to start a line with “And” or “But”, or days trying out different versions of a line to determine the perfect number of syllables – 29 dates deep on a 32 day tour, there’s a damn good chance I’ll just forget the whole verse altogether and sing the first one again – so far no one’s complained.

The  Triggerman – One of the reasons given for the breakup of the .357 String Band was that banjo player Joe Huber felt like the aesthetic of the band no longer represented him, that it was too harsh or aggressive, and that can be seen in his more singer/songwriter approach to his album Bury Me Where I Fall. Do you share share Joe’s assessment that .357 was too aggressive?

Derek Dunn – First of all, I suppose I should mention that to say Joe quit for any one particular reason is probably an oversimplification, but either way, you’d have to ask him about that.  To answer your question at face value, though, no, I absolutely don’t think that The .357 String Band’s music was too anything, I’m proud of the music we made and the direction, or directions, we were heading in.  To my mind, it worked as a juxtaposition, as a collaboration.  But because it was a collaboration, I always knew that it was a fragile thing, something depending on the whims of 4 very different people.  In many ways, .357 String Band was like herding cats, and that’s a big part of what I’m trying to avoid doing the solo thing.

As far as making music that is or is not aggressive – I am interested in making music that reflects a range of human emotion and experience;  and that includes acknowledging the negative and the positive, the light and the dark.  I don’t think anyone would call “Oh, Adilene” overtly “aggressive”.  I think a lot of it is that the whole lip curling punk rock thing has been taken to such a ludicrous level that there can be a tendency to avoid handling darker topics, or to express anger, frustration, etcetera, even in a legitimate or artistic way, so as not to appear juvenile, or like a stereotype.  I feel like I have enough faith in my audience, though, to make songs that explore the darker side of life without being taken as an endorsement of certain behaviors or thoughts.  I’ve always tended to use music as a way to channel and process my more negative and painful emotions – that’s why writing a song for me, in general, is a very painful and frustrating thing.  As a result, I’ve often produced music that I feel very happy with on an artistic level, but really doesn’t represent “me” very well – and I believe that’s fine, that’s ok.

Every piece of art that is produced does not have to be autobiographical, it doesn’t have to express “me” as a whole person.  It may have a piece of me in there, in fact it must, but no song I’ve ever written can be taken as a face value expression of “myself”, whatever that is – the closest I’ve come in that regard is the love songs.  All the other songs to a greater or lesser extent represent a small slice of that, “me”.

One of my favorite songs ever is called “In Flames” by Dragstrip Riot, out of the Northwest.  In it the singer, Knuck, basically says what I feel on my most hopeless of days – “I’m probably all I’m ever going to be.”  Now, on a fundamental level, I DON’T BELIEVE THAT!  I believe in change, I believe that human beings are absolutely breath-taking in their capacity for change, growth, understanding, etcetera.  But man, there have been so many times when I’ve felt like the opposite, and that song exists to say, “hey, I been there, too.”  I have faith in my audience that the darkest of my songs will be taken in that spirit, as well.

The Triggerman - Can people expect your solo stuff to be in the same vein, or different?

Derek Dunn – It’s hard for me to say, I was never able to sit down and say, “Ok, I’m going to write a song about this, and it’s going to sound like this”; the song I’ve written has always been the song that I felt compelled to finish at that point, usually an expression of my feelings and what’s going on around me in my life.  It’ll certainly be in the same vein, I suppose, but I think it will sound fairly distinctly different.  When people come out to see me live, it’ll certainly be different – just me and a guitar.

The Triggerman – I hear you are starting to book some tours.

Derek Dunn – Yeah, I don’t really know what else to do with my time other than tour, it was absolutely one of my main compulsions for playing music in the first place, being able to travel, so this January I’m heading down through the Midwest to Florida and back, and then from there I’m going to start filling up my calendar – I have to leave a little time to get these damn recordings done, but I hope to be on the road a fair amount, for sure.

The Triggerman – I once called Rick Ness the best bass player in underground country. You have a whole solo career ahead of you, I have a feeling we’ve not heard the last from Joe Huber, but what will become of the Rickness?

Derek Dunn – I hope I’ve got a whole solo career ahead of me, that remains to be seen.  As far as Rick goes, last I heard he was busting his ass working 10 or 12 hours a day, which is what he was doing before we met…He has developed such a unique style of playing upright, though, it really would be a shame if he didn’t start slapping that thing with somebody.

The Triggerman – Do you ever see any future collaborations with former .357 String Band members? I know it may be too early to say, but are y’all open to reunion shows/tours when the time is right, or is this truly the end?

Derek Dunn – I know people are interested in .357, the break-up and it’s future, but I’m actually trying not to think about it.  .357 is painful for me to think about, and I definitely feel it’s basically a necessity for me to concentrate on my own music and my own career.  I suppose I’m not opposed to playing with those guys in theory, but if I’m being honest, I certainly have no desire to do so right now. I think it’s important that all of us concentrate on our own lives right now.  For some of us, we spent 7 years sort of living crammed together into a van.  .357 was an amazing, wonderful opportunity for me, one that I am so thankful for, and one that allowed me to travel literally around the world and see things most people never get to see.

I’ve been searched by the cops in Hungary.  I saw Dublin covered in snow.  I’ve walked next to the Mississippi and the Rhine, hiked through the Rockies and drove through tunnels in the Alps, climbed towers thousands of years old, and bought hash in a squat in Copenhagen.  I’ve played shows in front of thousands of people, which was awesome, and shows in front of 5 people singing every word to every one of our songs, which was even more awesome.  I learned to love my country by traveling around it in a van, and I learned to love my home by traveling around the country.  People around the world are listening to our creative output.  In many ways, I am absolutely the luckiest person on Earth.

All that being said, .357 also caused me an insane amount of blood, sweat, and grief.  It kept me separate from my family when my mom was ill, it put a strain on my relationship with my beautiful and long-suffering girlfriend, and hindered me from working and creating in any one of my many other hobbies or areas of interest.  I know it may be hard for people to understand, but right now I’m missing the things that .357 String Band got in the way of more than I’m missing The .357 String Band.  That may change, who knows?

Derek Dunn Tour Dates:

Fort Wayne, IN — Sunday, January 8  – The Brass Rail

Chillicothe, OH — Monday, January 9 – Two Dollar Pistol Tattoo Shop

Cincinnati, OH — Tuesday, January 10 – The Crow’s Nest

Atlantic Beach, FL – Friday, January 13 - The Fly’s Tie

Flagler Beach, FL — Saturday, January 14 – The Dog Pound Saloon

Lake Worth, FL — Thursday, January 19 – The Speakeasy Lounge

Gainesville, FL — Wednesday, January 25 – Loosey’s – Downtown Gainesville.


Rachel Brooke’s “Late Night Lover” 7″ Out January 3rd

December 14, 2011 - By Trigger  //  News  //  16 Comments

Michigan songbird Rachel Brooke has a new project on the way that can now be pre-ordered called Late Night Lover. It is a 7″ vinyl 4-song release that will only be sold in a limited-edition 500 numbered quantity accompanied by a digital download card. Late Night Lover is being released on the heels of her full length album Down in the Barnyard, which was named SCM’s Most Essential Album of the Year. But as Rachel explains, the projects are not very similar.

“In my own mind it’s completely different. I feel it is a better representation of my work, writing, and style. It’s also a more personal release. It’s not a grand production, it’s not meant to blow anyone away. I almost view it as a little handmade gift to people who really understand what I’m trying to do. It’s special.

Late Night Lover features just Rachel and her guitar, and as the title implies, the songs were recorded late at night. Rachel has a theme and purpose for the release.

These songs were meant to be together. Although this album is short, it is one complete thought/story to me. And to be honest, I still might include one of these on my next album..It’s weird. When I write songs, I hear them complete with various instruments, vocal harmonies, and percussion. But I also hear them with just an acoustic guitar, and that’s it. So, I almost feel that I’m not quite finished with a few of these, but at the same time VERY satisfied with the way they are now.

“This release is significant to me at this time because I’m moving away from the “solo” sound. Both in performances and releases. I just have all these “full sounds” just aching to get out of my brain, so I’m not sure when the next “simple” release will be. I’m not saying it wont happen, but it will be few and far between from now on.

The cover photo was done by Kelly Kustra with a film camera and minimal editing.

I want people to understand that you don’t need alot of fancy photos, equipment, production, or anything like that. Some things sound the best without all that, and I think more people should explore that idea.

Late Night Lover will be release on January 3rd, 2012.

Pre-order/purchase Late Night Lover


Keys to Taylor Swift’s Success Every Artist Can Learn From

December 14, 2011 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  67 Comments

Yesterday Taylor Swift turned 22, and just over the last few weeks she’s assembled more awards and accolades than most artists could hope to get their entire careers, and not just from the shallow usual suspects of industry-driven institutions. She was awarded Billboard’s Woman of the Year award, the Nashville Symphony gave her the “Harmony Award,” and this is all after being named the reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year in November.

When people talk about the “manufactured” pop star, what they mean is taking a pretty face, and pushing all the right buttons to make an artist that has mass appeal at the expense of soul and creativity. It is very easy to pigeon hole Taylor into this lot: She sells out stadiums, her shows are filled with shrieking little girls, she’s pretty, and on the surface, her songs are pallid. But in truth Taylor Swift’s success has nothing to do with her following all the rules, because she didn’t. She broke all of them, and that is why she is now in a position of not following trends, but forming them, and is on the way to only only becoming the biggest name in country music for 2011 or even the last 5 years, but possibly the biggest, most impactful music artists of a generation.

When you look at a band like, let’s say, Sugarland, you see a band that saw the success of Taylor Swift, misunderstood it as a simple infusion of pop sensibilities, and then sold out in an attempt to simulate her path. Sure, selling out to the manufatured pop template can give you a short-term boost of revenue, but I have no doubt Sugarland’s legacy will end up somewhere beside the Phil Collins’s of the world: eventually relegated to a punch line by the brutal judgement of time.

But if any artist or band, regardless of the genre, or their scope or goals, doesn’t want to hit their head on a ceiling, whether that ceiling is monetary, popularity-based, or creatively-based, they would be wise to learn from the lessons the success of Taylor Swift has taught us all.

1. Do Not use Auto-tune.

Ironically, the one mainstream country artist that could benefit from the pitch-correcting program the most refuses to use it, and has always refused to use it from some intuitive, self-born philosophy that it is cheating. The three singers of Rascal Flatts are probably all more gifted vocalists than Taylor Swift, but unflinchingly and overtly use Auto-tune in their live shows and on their records. In fact most, if not all mainstream country singers sing better than Taylor, yet many do use or have used Auto-tune. Taylor took the gamble that fans would appreciate honesty over perfection, and it has paid off in spades.

2. Do not lip sync, or participate in events where lip-syncing is necessitated.

When reigning American Idol champion Scotty McCreery flubbed his lip sync performance at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, many offered the excuse that every performer has to lip sync at a parade, and to refuse the exposure a parade or similar event can offer would be self-defeating. Well unfortunately the exposure it brought to Scotty was probably not the type he was looking for. He truly was “exposed.”

Taylor Swift on the other hand, without lip-syncing at parades, performing National Anthems, or participating in any other events to increase her exposure that could also expose her vocal limitations, has outsold every other artist in the last 5 years. And just like with Auto-Tune, Taylor Swift might be the one who to benefit most from a pre-recorded track. Once again, honesty trumps perfection.

3. It Is Not All About Image.

Yes, aside from what anyone thinks about her music, Taylor Swift is an attractive young lady, make no mistake. But she is not the prototypical alpha-female with big boobs and a chiseled face, and she does not use sex appeal to sell her music. She does use choreography and all manner of over-production in her live shows, but at the same time she admits to her ungracefulness, and at times strips all the over-production back to sing songs with just her and a guitar.

Just like her honesty endears her to her fans, so does Taylor’s realness. Her early songs talk about being a dork in school and not fitting in, and they are not only something her fans can relate to, they are authentic. And for all the over-production, she never crosses the line of being sensational like a Lady Gaga, or sexualizing it. Sure, if Taylor Swift was dumpy with acne scars, then we probably would’ve never heard of her or her music. But Taylor Swift is not about shallow imagery. She uses imagery only when it does not sacrifice substance.

4. Write your own music, produce your own records.

Taylor Swift wrote every song on her last Speak Now album, and is credited as the co-producer, trumping a lot of her critics who asked about her previous albums, “Exactly how much of those songs do you think that little girl wrote?” In a recent 60 Minutes interview, Taylor explained how when signed to a development contract with RCA on Music Row, they continuously suggested to her to sing other people’s songs. In unprecedented move, she walked away from her deal, and singed up with Scott Borchetta at Big Machine as the label’s first artist. Scott gave her unprecedented creative freedom, and once again the move paid off in spades.

5. Endear yourself to your fans by being real and honest.

Though this is encapsulated in all of the other points, Taylor Swift takes it a step further. It is hard to humanize yourself to your fans when you’re standing on a stage in a stadium, but Taylor Swift has figured out how to. During her live shows, she goes to the back of the crowd to the cheap seats and sings acoustic songs. On her way back to the stage, she purposely weaves through the crowd to touch her fans and be close to them. When she first started out she answered every single email her fans would send her on MySpace. Taylor’s fans are so loyal, not because she is someone they idolize, but because she is someone they identify with. She is one of them.

6. Be Yourself.

Taylor Swift is not wildly-popular and successful because is is the best singer, best musician, best songwriter, or prettiest girl. It is because she is the best Taylor Swift, uncompromisingly-herself, true to her feelings, her instincts, and her desires.

Further Things Taylor Swift could do.

1. Dump the Cover Girl makeup endorsement.

In some ways I don’t blame her for taking the big payday when it was offered to her, but at this point Taylor, her family, her children, and her grandchildren are all set up for the rest of their lives with just the money she has earned and will continue to earn off of what she has done already. Just like many superstar artists and athletes that are offered endorsement money and refuse it, this is another step Taylor could take to endear her to her fans, and quiet some of her critics. It would give her the ammunition to say that she and her music are not just about money; that it is about artistic expression first, and the money is just a symptom of the purity and appeal of that expression.

2. Find and follow her roots.

It is not a coincidence that Taylor’s most popular song from her Speak Now album is also the one that is the most country. At 10-years-old she begged her parents to take her to Nashville. Somewhere there are some deep country roots in Taylor. Maybe those roots lead to Tim McGraw and not country’s deeper traditions, but the deeper she plants her roots in the music, the stronger she will grow, and she must create a stronger foundation if she is able to sustain her level of success. She did this in part when she moved to Nashville instead of New York or LA when she moved out of her parent’s house.

The two biggest criticisms of Taylor is that she can’t sing, and that she’s not country. She could fix one of those fairly easily, even just by setting a slightly more country tinge to her music since her median at this point is so centered around pop.

3. Watch who she associates with.

Taylor Swift must lead, not follow. Collaborating or even associating with acts that regularly lip sync and use Auto-tune for example can only make their star burn brighter, and weaken hers. On her Speak Now tour, she invited local artists to perform with her on stage in certain cities, and this was a good way to localize her music and create memorable and definable moments for media to report on, and fans to remember. But Taylor Swift doesn’t need a popularity boost from TI or Tim McGraw, it is vice versa. Her collaborations should stay to up-and-coming artists that need the attention Taylor can afford, and with other artists who have the universal legendary status Taylor is now on the verge of achieving.

Read: We Were Wrong About Taylor Swift


Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Grifter’s Hymnal” Album Upcoming

December 13, 2011 - By Trigger  //  News  //  7 Comments

When you’re compiling your list of most-anticipated albums for 2012, you’ve got another one to add to the top of the heap. Ray Wylie Hubbard has announced he’s got a new one ready for 2012 called Grifter’s Hymnal, and he’s got an interesting cast of characters helping him, including Ringo Starr, long-time drummer Rick Richards, George Reiff, and his son Lucas Hubbard.

Here is what I have been up to in case you were wondering. I am am in the middle of mixing the new record with george reiff. The musicians who played on the record are Rick Richards, George Reiff, Audley Freed, Billy Cassis, Lucas Hubbard, Ian Mclagann, Ringo Starr and Brad Rice. Javi Garcia is doing his voodoo magic on the album artwork. We’re gonna call it “The Grifter’s Hymnal”, got a ring to it, huh?

Hubbard’s “Grit, Groove, Tone & Taste” mantra to making albums, along with his cunning use of lyrics, has made him known in certain circles as “Wylie Lama,” an originator of style from which other artists can learn from. This makes his albums a template for musicians, and  a treasure trove for fans. His 2010 release A. Enlightenment B. Endarkenment (Hint: There is no “C”) was a Saving Country Music 2010 Album of the Year candidate. When I spoke to Ray a few months ago, he talked about how excited he was about this album, and the unique place he decided to record it.

At Festival Hill in Round Top, TX, they have a musical conservatory there. It’s an amazing place. They have a thing called the Edith Bates Old Chapel. It’s an old Methodist Church I think built in 1830 in LaGrange, and they moved it to this facility and it’s just incredible. The sound is just incredible. I’m really excited about it.

No word yet on a release date. Stay tuned.


Album Review – The Carper Family “Back When”

December 12, 2011 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  7 Comments

From Austin, TX comes a new album by The Carper Family, an Austin superband of sorts, as three women who’ve sat in with some of Austin’s most legendary country artists band together to make some legendary music of their own.

You might recognize Melissa Carper (aka Daddy Carper), and Beth Chrisman (aka Mama Carper) from the group The Camptown Ladies that also featured Gina Gallina. They join forces with Jenn Miori (aka Little Sister Carper) who played with The Corn Ponies amongst others, and with help from Austin country luminaries Brennen Leigh, and Cindy Cashdollar, they create excellent and authentic arrangements, and three part harmonies out of a tasteful selection of original and traditional songs.

Like all good country music, The Carper Family starts with strong songwriting and build out from there. I’ve been admiring Melissa Carper and her seemingly-effortless use of vintage country language in her songs for years, and she tops herself a couple of times on Back When. The country idiom in “Would You Like to Get Some Goats?” is absolutely sublime, where she uses farm chores and an idea for a “new brand of hot sauce” in allusion to love.

One of my music pet peeves is referening “texting” in songs because it seems so inevitable to be dated at some point, and it drives me even more crazy when modern references are mixed with a neo-traditional style like The Carper Family employs. But with Melissa’s swing-time song ‘Who R U Texting 2Nite?” she plays off of that anachronistic anomaly with such cunning wit, making tie-ins with past loves and land lines to where you can help but laugh out loud. (Sorry, too easy.)

…as you work that phone, with a true passion. Our love’s in the days by gone.

Beth Christman delivers her own stellar composition with the counter-intuitive “Don’t Treat Me Too Nice.” Is she being honest or ironic? Is she making reference to the fickle nature of the modern female heart? I prefer to leave that a mystery, because the ambiguity is one of the best elements of the song.

The song I liked the best was the opening “Loving Me Like You Do,” which puts in perspective that no matter how much Music Row wants to try and write authenticity into a female group like The Pistol Annies or the JanDear Girls, you can’t top three girls with true passion for the music singing for next month’s rent.

The cover songs on the album are all well-selected, and most fit into the Gene Autry, singing Cowboy, silver screen-era of country, songs like “There’s a Rainbow on the Rio Colorado” or “Pale Moon” that slip in smoothly amongst the Carper Family originals like “Texas, Texas, Texas.” There’s a lot of Western swing influence here, and a lot of just “Texan” influence. This is the kind of music you expect to hear when hanging out in an authentic Texas honky-tonk.

Criticisms? I don’t know, I guess at 15 songs, they could have weeded out a couple of the weaker tracks, and they maybe could’ve had a little more fun with the production, done an a cappella song to feature their harmony strengths, or messed with a little more reverb or dabbled with some percussion here and there to help separate the songs in style. But the album has such a good cohesiveness, how it works smoothly between the originals and covers, that I’m not sure I’d want to mess with it too much.

The Carper Family illustrates the unfair, unreasonable amount of talent, and specifically female talent, that can be found in Austin, TX on any given night. And that is what The Carper Family does; they are a working, local band, playing many nights a week at various Austin venues. Back When proves that this local band deserves more national, and international attention.

1 3/4 of 2 guns up!

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Purchase Back When Directly from The Carper Family

Preview & Purchase Tracks on Amazon


Ruby Jane & Mom Held At Gunpoint / Gear Stolen

December 10, 2011 - By Trigger  //  News  //  53 Comments

In a very alarming story, 17-year-old fiddle phenom Ruby Jane and her mom JoBelle Smith were carjacked and held at gunpoint in Houston Thursday night (12-8-11) around midnight after a show at Dosey Doe with Paul Thorn.

As Jobelle pulled up to a friend’s condominium complex where they were staying the night, and rolled down the window to enter the gate code into the keypad, a man reached through the window and held a gun to JoBelle’s head. The man fled in their 2004 Chevy Trail Blazer, with all of Ruby Jane’s musical equipment, including a custom-made violin and mandolin, guitars, microphones, pedals, and Jobelle’s video and camera equipment, cell phones, jewelry, and then left the two girls on the side of the road, fleeing in their car. “I thought they were going to take Ruby,” Jobelle says.

Ruby Jane was a fiddle prodigy originally from Mississippi who was the youngest invited fiddle player to ever play the Grand Ole Opry. At age 14, she moved to Austin, TX, and began playing in Ray Benson’s Asleep At The Wheel where she met Willie Nelson and toured numerous times in Willie’s “Family Band.” She is now a singer/songwriter developing her own career as a solo artist with her own band.

Both Ruby Jane and Jobelle are fine, and are back in Austin where they live, though they had to cancel their show at Houston’s historic Anderson Fair tonight (Sat), and Ruby Jane is currently sick with the flu. Both Ruby and Jobelle had their cell phones stolen, and didn’t even have keys to their home when they arrived back in Austin.

The custom bond between a musician and their instruments can never be replaced. Ruby Jane had a custom violin made especially for her from Jonathan Cooper that is inscribed on the inside “Made for Ruby Jane,” and a custom-made mandolin from Michael Kelly. Below please find a list of the stolen instruments to be on the lookout for, and as more detailed information/pictures are made available, I will update the list.

A benefit has been set up for Ruby at Victory Grill in Austin on Saturday Dec. 17th from 7-10 PM featuring WhoDo, a band Ruby plays in. Her performance at Gruene Hall this Sunday (12-18) from 12:00-3:30 PM Central will also be a benefit, and will be broadcast LIVE here on SCM LIVE.

Last month Ruby Jane set up a Kickstarter campaign in an effort to record a new album, so folks can contribute there as well.


12-11 (2:30 PM CST) – Ruby’s 12-string guitar was found beside the dumpster of Mason’s Pawn Shop in Southeast Houston. That means the rest of the stuff is out there folks. Please keep an eye out! Updating the list of stolen items when the information is available.

12-11 (7:25 PM CST) – Ruby appeared as the top story on Austin’s ABC affiliate KVUE about the incident. Apparently the will have more about the story on their evening broadcast.

12-12 (7:45 PM CST) – Ruby’s 12-string guitar and their case full of merchandise were recovered from the Houston police, after being found near a pawn shop dumpster in Southeast Houston. Unfortunately a team of volunteers were unable to find any more items. An updated list of items still missing can be found below. 12-14 (10:45 AM CST) – A couple of new stories on the carjacking. Ruby Jane speaks to We Are Austin and goes into a little more detail about what occurred, and Austin Culture Map talks with JoBelle about being thankful for all the help they have received. They have also posted a new update to the Kickstarter page. 12-14 ( 1:00 PM CST) – A paypal donate button has been set up for folks who want to contribute to Ruby directly

12-15 (12:20 PM CST) – The stolen Trailblazer has been found by Houston police. No word at the moment of it’s condition, or if any contents were left in it. Stay tuned. It has also been confirmed that Ruby’s Show at Gruene Hall this Sunday (12-18) from 12:00-3:30 PM Central will be a benefit as well, and for folks who are not able to attend locally, it will be broadcast right here on SCM LIVE.
12-16 (12:00 AM CST) – JoBelle Smith and Ruby’s guitar player Trevor LaBonte were featured on the Channel 2 News in Houston. The story shows where Ruby and JoBelle were carjacked, and them searching for the stolen instruments.
12-17 (12:15 PM CST) – Jobell Smith’s Chevy Trailblazer was recovered in Houston in a Jack in the Box parking lot. There is some slight damage, but generally speaking the car appears OK. The only thing that was left in it was a suitcase full of clothes and some various papers. Unfortunately nothing of significant value. Ruby appeared recently on Austin’s NBC Affiliate KXAN about the incident.
12-18 (3:00 PM CST) – Last night was a benefit for Ruby at Victory Grill in Austin, TX. Both KVUE and KXAN in Austin were there covering the event.


List of Stolen Items:

  • FOUND – Gray 2004 Chevy Trailblazer with Texas License plates “LGK 973″ w/ numerous bumper stickers
  • Jonathan Cooper custom-made violin with the inscription “Made for Ruby Jane” (see pic below)
  • Michael Kelly custom-made mandolin, dark reddish brown with inlaid head & neck (see pic below)
  • FOUND – Gibson acoustic/electric 12-string guitar (see pic below)
  • FOUND – Gray Neumann microphone in a gray case
  • Beta 87 microphone
  • Pedal board in big gray hard case, with 2 Red Eye DI boxes (see pic below), Boss Chromatic tuner, blue ABC switch, Silver AB switch
  • Sony Video HandyCam, model NEX-VG10, serial S01-0124165-5 or XBJ7-V8VP-8PYE (see pic below)
  • Nikon D-90 digital still camera, serial #3098020
  • Pedal board with various pedals (more update soon)
  • (More detailed info coming)

FOUND – Ruby Jane’s Stolen 12-string acoustic Gibson guitar

Ruby Jane Stolen Mandolin

Stolen Sony Handycam

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(1-8-13) – Ruby Jane’s custom Jonathan Cooper violin has been found and recovered by Houston police. After receiving a tip from a Ruby Jane fan who saw the violin listed on Craigslist, Houston police contacted the seller, offered to purchase the violin, set up a meeting, and made an arrest. The suspect Sexton Holmes says he bought the violin from someone “down the street” from him for $45. Sexton spent the night in jail before posting bail. He is now awaiting trial, and Ruby Jane will be recovering her violin soon.

See Full Story From Click 2 Houston.



Willie Nelson’s Bassist Dan “Bee” Spears Dead At 62

December 9, 2011 - By Trigger  //  News  //  9 Comments

Saving Country Music is very sad to report that Bee Spears, the perennial bassist for Willie Nelson, who played in Willie Nelson’s “Family Band” for 40 years, died on Thursday, 12/8/2011 after falling outside of his home in Nashville and being exposed to the elements overnight.

On Willie Nelson’s website, a single candle has been set up saying “In Loving Memory of Dan ‘Bee’ Spears, long time friend and bassist,” along with this statement:

We are deeply saddened by the death of Family member Dan “Bee” Spears, long time friend and bassist for Willie Nelson and Family. We are still in shock and gathering details as the day continues. He apparently died of accidental exposure at his property near Nashville, Tenn.

Bee Spears was one of the original members of Willie Nelson’s band, who moved with Willie from Nashville when Willie’s house burned down, and encamped at the Pedernales Golf Course in Austin while Willie restarted his career as a country music Outlaw. Bee was Willie’s “Third in Command” for years behind drummer Paul English, managing the road and stage crews.

Bee was a great person to be around, and had a great sense of humor. Many give credit for Garth Brooks for being the first man in country music to strap on a harness and go flying across stage, but in truth, it was Bee Spears. In Willie Nelson’s autobiography w/ Bud Shrake, Willie recalled the funny incident.

`I started singing “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground.” The crowd started laughing. “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” is one of the best songs I ever wrote, but there is nothing funny about it.

I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I wondered if my jeans were unzipped or maybe I hat my hat on backwards. Then I noticed the guys in the band were laughing, too. This was my guitar chorus, and I didn’t think it was all that great to have my whole band laughing behind my back.

So I turned around to check it out, and just then Bee Spears came flying right over my head wearing ballet tights and one of those puffy skirts. Bee was flying back and forth across the stage, playing his guitar, and the room was rocking with laughter. What had happened was they had been performing the musical ‘Peter Pan’ on that stage and had left the wires in place that made Peter Pan fly.

…It was the funniest thing I ever saw onstage, not counting certain heavy metal rockers who are funny but don’t seem to know it.

I have to thank artist Austin Lucas for introducing me to Bee Spears backstage at this summers Willie Nelson 4th of July Picnic / Country Throwdown Tour. My favorite Bee Spears performance was on the very first, original pilot episode of Austin City Limits in 1974. Bee was so animated and energetic throughout the set, but the best part is when he sang Merle Haggard’s Okie from Muskogee, right after Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother.” Watch Bee take the spotlight at 15:50 :

Watch Pilot Episode: Willie Nelson on PBS. See more from AUSTIN CITY LIMITS.


Saving Country Music’s Essential Albums for 2011

December 8, 2011 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  46 Comments

So here it is, the list of albums Saving Country Music deems essential for 2011 listening. Please note this list only includes albums that have been reviewed so far. There are a few more good and important albums in 2011 that have yet to be reviewed, and there is a list of some of them at the bottom. Aside from the first few albums mentioned, which should be considered close runners up to the SCM Album of the Year (which includes albums not on this list), the albums are in no special order.

And as always, your feedback is encouraged. What are your essential albums? What did we miss? What was released in 2011 that deserves a review? Please leave your feedback below.

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Rachel BrookeDown In The Barnyard

Every year, there is going to be one album that gets screwed out of being a nominee for Album of the Year. Even if I double the amount of nominees, still the line is drawn somewhere, and that next album on the list is the odd one out. Last year it was Jayke Orvis’s It’s All Been Said. This year it is this amazing offering from Rachel Brooke. Call it 2011′s “Most Essential” album.

You can tell Rachel has studied many modes of classic country, not just some. I hear Charlie Louvin, not just Hank Williams. I hear The Carter Family, not just Johnny Cash. And the themes are not just from the 1950′s, but the 1850′s as well. There’s no big branches for you to grab on to and say, “Hell yeah, this is the kind of country I like!” but the originality embellishes the album to such a more magnanimous degree. (read full review)

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The Boomswagglers- Bootleg Beginnings

Another album I wouldn’t argue with you over if you wanted to call it the best of the year. One of the most authentic albums of 2011 for sure.

The music is wildly entertaining and deceptively deep. If you’re going to be a Boomswagglers song, someone’s got to die, and likely a woman. Some may find this silly, monotonous, or even offensive, but you have to listen beyond the lyrics, and unlock the carnal wisdom that is hidden in these songs. They were Boomswagglers, and that low form of living is ever present in every note on this album.(Read full review)

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Lone WolfLone Wolf OMB

Probably the album with the most original approach in all of 2011; something nobody else has done before. And at the same time, it is the most viscerally engaging. Excellent album you’d be foolish to overlook.

The first time I turned this album on, I was out of my chair, stomping my foot on the floor, banging my head, making a complete ass out of myself for the entertainment of the four walls of the Saving Country Music headquarters. It made a music virgin out of me again. (read full review)

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Lucky Tubb & The Modern Day TroubadoursDel Gaucho

One of the best of the year, and one of the best from Lucky Tubb. In Del Gaucho, you really feel like he has found his voice and sound.

So many other artists and bands, to take this same selection of covers and originals and record them, it would just come across as cheesball retro country with it’s anachronistic language and outmoded style. But Lucky Tubb has a swagger that makes him immune to such concerns. To him, this isn’t playing country like it used to be done, this is playing country like it is supposed to be done. (Read full review)

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Husky BurnetteFacedown in the Dirt

The best album of 2011 from the Deep Blues side of things in my opinion.

This is music to get you moving. I can’t listen to this album at home. I’ll get flying around and break things. I can only listen while driving, with a foot pumping on the gas pedal to the groove. If somebody was listening to this album and wasn’t at least bobbing their head or tapping their foot, the next thing I’d do is put a mirror in front if their mouth. (read full review)

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Nick 13Nick 13

This solo country project from psychobilly’s Tiger Army is certainly essential, and one of those albums that was not on your radar at the beginning of the year, but you’re still listening to at the end of it, especially the essential songs of “101,” “Gambler’s Life,” and an updated version of “In The Orchard”.

With Nick 13′s first self-titled release, he hasn’t just stuck his foot in the door of country music, he’s kicked the door down. This is a good one folks! The California native’s brand of country is hard, with a lot of Western influences mixed in to the instrumentation and lyrics, contrasted with his soft and delicate, but deliberate voice. (read full review)

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Ugly Valley BoysDouble Down

Another surprise album out of left field that has become one of the year’s best.

So many bands try to imbibe their music with a vintage feel and Western space by using copious amounts of chorus or reverb. Guitar player, singer, and songwriter Ryan Eastlyn takes the road less traveled with the use of moaning, melodic chorus lines that are so excellent, they vault this band from a relative unknown to one responsible for one of the better albums put out so far in 2011. (read full review)

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Cody Canada & The DepartedThis Is Indian Land

I was surprised to find out a few months after reviewing this album that not many Cross Canadian Ragweed fans, or critics for that matter have much use for this album. I have to respectfully disagree. Quit wanting what you’re used to expecting from Cody Canada, and start listening to what he is offering. There is a little fat here, but This Is Indian Land also has some of the best songs put out all year.

This is one of the funnest, freshest, well-written, well-produced albums to come out this year. There’s good songs, good performances, and it’s bold. While still sounding relevant and un-obscure, Cody and The Departed were able to stay out of the well-worn grooves that run like tired veins through so much of mainstream music. (read full review)

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The Dirt DaubersWake Up, Sinners!

Along with Larry & His Flask’s All That We Know, I’m afraid these are the two albums being grossly overlooked this year.

I love this album. You may look at the track listing and ask yourself why we need yet another version of “Wayfaring Stranger”. The answer is because the great Col. JD Wilkes has never done one before. A perfect mix of classics and originals, don’t just pigeon hole this project as just another rag tag bluegrass bit, there a lot of hot jazz, rockabilly and blues mixed in with the old time string band approach. (Read full review)

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Larry & His FlaskAll That We Know

Larry & His Flask from the ultra hippie nouveau town of Bend, OR have been making the rounds on the live circuit for years now, leaving legions of disciples and gallons of sweat behind at every stop. Putting out as much energy as any band has in the history of ever, and a lineup that necessitates shoving multiple tables together at every restaurant the tour van stops at, LAHF’s live show is impressionable to say the least.

Along with all the other elements, LAHF build their music using dark cords and unusual, unintuitive changes and progressions that give them a unique sound beyond any traditional string or punk music. (Read full review)

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Willy Tea Taylor- 4 Strings

If you’re a tragic, tragic audiophile like myself, then you understand just what a blessing it is when out of the blue you discover an artist that really speaks to you, and it opens a brand new vein of music for you to enjoy for years to come. This is the experience most people come away with when hearing Willy Tea Taylor for the first time.

Like so many albums that take the stripped down approach, there is just less to criticize, allowing the pureness of the music to flow. I cannot give you one reason not to like Willy Tea Taylor or 4 Strings, only reasons you’d be a fool for not loving it. (Read full review)

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Slim Cessna’s Auto ClubUnentitled

When this album came out early in the year, it was the frontrunner for Album of the Year. At the end of the year, it still holds up. Slim Cessna is not for everyone, and his take on pop music may make this album even more obscure, but it is nonetheless genius and engaging.

At first I didn’t know what to make of this album. In places, this is the most accessible, most non-dark music they have ever done. There are many bands that if they had put out an album like this, grumbles of “going mainstream” or “selling out” would be heard. But The Auto Club is so weird, so fey to begin with, being more normal actually makes them even more weird than they were before, adding to the mystique and mythos behind the band. (read full review)

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Still can’t get into Ghost To A Ghost, the first album of this double album set, but the second album is solid from beginning to end.

The first record in the 4 record salvo from Hank3 Ghost to a Ghost felt very much like business as usual in the post-Straight to Hell era. But Guttertown is where Hank3 gets it right by doing the same thing he did in the early and mid oughts, following his heart, defying any expectations for sound and genre, and letting his creative passion flow. Simply put, this is the best album Hank3′s put out since his 2006 opus. (Read full review)

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Jason Boland & The StragglersRancho Alto

One of the standouts in both Red Dirt and real country for 2011.

The heavy thematic focus on Texas and Oklahoma in Red Dirt music is what has made the movement strong throughout that region. It’s also what keeps it from progressing beyond. I’ve always believed that good songwriting allows you to look past proper names, and delve into the meaning of what a songwriter is attempting to convey. Jason Boland does this in Rancho Alto. (Read full review)

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Scott H. BiramBad Ingredients

When it comes to one man bands, Scott H. Biram is the franchise. He is the top of the heap, the one that inspired so many others. He’s tussled with semi trucks and spilled his guts out on the highway just like he’s spilled his guts out on countless stages all across the Western world until he earned that glorious ‘H’ in the middle of his name.

Biram may deliver his best album yet, and possibly one of the best albums in this calendar year, buoyed by one of the year’s best songs in the aforementioned “Victory Song”. With Bad Ingredients, Scott H. Biram simply delivers. (read full review)

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Tom WaitsBad As Me

One of the most pressing questions I’ve seen about his music in the context of his new album Bad As Me is if it should be considered “roots” or “Americana.” 7 years ago, when Waits put out his last real original album, I would have probably said no, but loaded with qualifiers. Today my answer would be “absolutely.”

What can I say, it’s Tom Waits, and he’s better than everyone else. It’s pretty much unfair and bullshit, but that’s just the way it is. All other artists, back to the drawing board with you. There has never been another artist worthy of the title of “transcendent” than Tom Waits. (Read full review)

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Olds Sleeper – I Will Follow You To Jail

Olds has a few other albums out in 2011 including Plainspoken which SCM has yet to review, but I Will Follow You To Jail may be the best primer to get you in touch with this genuine and prolific songwriter.

Unless you frequent a few small music circles in the underground world, you may have never heard of the artist Olds Sleeper, but that doesn’t diminish the argument one can make for him being one of the best songwriters of our generation. Of course, saying anyone is the “best” of anything is always disputable, but numbers are not, and by the numbers, Olds is indisputably one of the most prolific songwriters out there. (Read full review)

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Gillian WelchThe Harrow & The Harvest

I firmly believe that one of the problems with modern music is that there’s too much of it. So to see Gillian Welch wait 7 years to put out an album, is refreshing, and wise. But time and patience don’t guarantee a good album. What does is excellent songwriting, and that is exactly what Gillian delivers in The Harrow & The Harvest.

This album is one of those that needs multiple listens before you can fully appreciate it, but once it sticks to your bones, not listening to it enough will not be an issue, because you might need a pry bar to get it out of your player. (Read full review)

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Little Lisa DixieLittle Lisa Dixie

One of the few that made the Essential List that was not rated “Two guns up,” but belongs here from the strength of the songs.

With her first self-titled album, Little Lisa Dixie is helping make the case that in independent/underground country, 2011 might be the year of the woman. With surprisingly good, classic songwriting, excellent use of texture, and solid instrumentation, she has made the album that her fans have waited years for be one that is well worth the wait. (read full review)

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Bob WayneOutlaw Carnie

The first thing you need to appreciate about Outlaw Carnie is that it is country. Forget that it’s on a metal label, and that Hank III’s name is being put out there for context. There’s no fusing of metal and country here. There’s no sludgy BC Rich or Flying V guitars, no screamo, cookie monster lyrics. There’s banjo, fiddle, dobro, upright bass, brushes on snare, if there’s any drums at all.

I would assert that Outlaw Carnie is better than good. It is great, and worthy of affording Bob Wayne the much wider audience that his music deserves. (Read full review)

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Jimbo MathusConfederate Buddha

There’s no pretentiousness in Confederate Buddha, no premeditated attempt to appeal to demographics. Just like Gram once explained to Emmylou about country music, the beauty of Jimbo’s songwriting is in the simplicity.

Confederate Buddha is yet another exercise in what Jimbo Mathus does best: Delving auspiciously into various styles of classic American music, while blurring the lines between them and injecting his deep-rooted Mississippi blood. It continues and perpetuates the music mythos of Mathus as a genuine student and steward of American roots music, and a Mississippi and National treasure. (Read full review)

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Sunday ValleyTo The Wind And On To Heaven

First and foremost Sunday Valley is a live band, and that is how they approached this recording. The guitar is unapologetically loud and heavy–kind of the Stevie Ray approach of simply not worrying about what people say, just continue to do it until that is what you’re known for. This is about the loudest and heaviest you will hear guitar that still has the identifiable country “twang.”

Sunday Valley is definitely worth your consideration and raising a blip on your radar, because mark my words, I have a feeling that this will not be the last time you will hear about this band, from me or others. (Read full review)

Other albums yet to be reviewed:

The Goddamn Gallows7 Devils

Lonesome Wyatt & The Holy SpooksHeartsick

The Damn QuailsDown The Hatch

Other albums many folks recommend & received positive SCM reviews:

Dale Watson – The Sun Sessions

Lydia LovelessIndestructible Machine

William Elliot WhitmoreField Songs

Eilen JewellQueen of the Minor Key


Nashville Should Be Careful of Its Mike Curb Legacy

December 8, 2011 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  6 Comments

Back in 2005 when Hank Williams III entered into a public feud with his label Curb Records and it’s owner Mike Curb, it might have been easy for many to laugh off the young tattooed musician as an ungrateful punk with no respect, and overlook the cause he was taking up. It may have been more difficult to overlook when the courts sided with Hank3 and forced Curb to release his album Straight to Hell, but the event still remained obscure aside from Hank3 fans and a few industry types.

Now with the very public brush-up between Curb and Tim McGraw, and with McGraw winning a crucial court battle, both anti-Curb sentiment, and the knowledge of Curb’s very restrictive business practices has gone mainstream. As thousands of Tim McGraw fans searched for answers to why his Emotional Traffic album was yet to be released, they learned about Hank3′s story, and the stories of LeAnn Rimes, Hank Williams Jr, Clay Walker, Jo Dee Messina, and many more artists who’ve had major problems with the Nashville-based label.

Curb Records Headquarters on Music Row

And maybe even more alarming is the fact that these public feuds between Curb and artists may just be the tip of the iceberg. Many currently-signed Curb Records artists may be afraid to speak out like Hank3 and Tim McGraw did, in fear their projects and careers could be further restricted. As part of the ruling for Hank3 to have his Straight to Hell album released, he made a concession in his contract that said he could not publicly criticize Curb Records. There may be some, or many Curb artists with similar clauses in their contracts right now, and unlike Tim McGraw, they cannot get their story out to their fans or to the public.

I don’t think it is a stretch to surmise that many, if not the majority of Curb’s artists at this point are engaged in some point of conflict with the label. After the Tim McGraw ruling, LeAnn Rimes fired off on Twitter: “Omg, I am doing the happy dance like its going out of style. Congrats Tim McGraw!!!!!!” Unlike McGraw, Hank3, and Hank Jr., LeAnn Rimes is still under the thumb of Curb, who seems very content with waiting a prohibitive 5 years between it’s artist’s album releases, to keep them on the label as long as possible.

When in Nashville this summer, I took the opportunity to walk downtown Nashville. All of it, with a map in my hand, walking around every city block, observing the buildings, the improvements, how everything was related and laid out. Then I walked down to Music Row and did the same thing. As the Holy Land of country music, every square foot of the downtown Nashville corridor could be considered as important to the country music legacy as the artists and songs themselves.

I compiled a few observances from my walk, and a few concerns. One of the concerns was how much I saw Mike Curb’s name. I saw his name more than I saw the name of Hank Williams. From his star on the Music City Walk of Fame, to the “Mike Curb Conservatory” and “Mike Curb Courtyard” that are an integral part of the front of the Country Music Hall of Fame right across the street, to his ownership of the whole block surrounding 16th Avenue and South Street on Music Row where the Curb headquarters are, the name “Mike Curb” is everywhere as the millionaire has been been unloading his war chest over the last few years to proliferate it all over the city.

And let’s not forget the “Curb Center” at Vanderbilt University, the “Mike Curb College of Entertainment and Music,” “Curb Event Center,” and “Curb Cafe” at Belmont University, the “Curb Family Music Center” at the Harpeth Hall School, or the numerous other Nashville landmarks that as a token, or a consequence for taking Mike Curb money, must embolden his name in columns and cornerstones to be seen forevermore.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not want to criticize the practice of philanthropy, or any of these specific entities that partook of Mike Curb money. My question is with the motivation, and the long-term outcome for some of these institutions. Many have opined that Mike Curb’s motivations for manipulating artists like Tim McGraw are not about money, but about power and legacy. I think it is fair to ask, where did the money come from for these building projects, from manipulative contracts and manipulating artists? From overpriced music and overbearing business practices? And in the current tax scheme, many times ultra-wealthy people are better served to donate their money as a tax write-off, which pays off in etching their legacy on landmarks, instead of simply getting a paper receipt from Uncle Sam.

And what makes the Mike Curb story that has unfolded in the last five or six years that much more disturbing is that Mike Curb is supposed to know better. The fundamental reason country artists based on Music Row have always been dealt with differently than artists from other genres is because most Music Row labels are subsidiaries of bigger companies that have to answer to folks in New York or LA, so a restrictive environment is insisted upon to keep costs in line and a system in tact; to keep the big bosses outside of Nashville happy.

But as a Nashville-based, independent label, Curb was supposed to be the musicians savior from the traditionally-restrictive Music Row culture. As Hank3 explains, he signed with Curb Records because his manager Jack McFadden wanted to deal with someone local, instead of someone splitting time between Nashville and one of the coasts. Now Mike Curb is arguably the poster boy for the restrictive, combative, and sometimes outright illegal practices by Nashville-based music labels.

As Nashville and Nashville-based entities are erecting what will be landmarks, and looking for funding for capitol improvements, before taking money from Mike Curb, or maybe when negotiating the terms of how that money changes hands, maybe they should take to heart the headlines that have hounded the Mike Curb name over the last few years, and ask themselves if that name is a legacy their building, their institution, or the City of Nashville wants to tie their future to.

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