Browsing articles from "June, 2012"

Court Says “Not So Fast” to Tim McGraw’s Curb Departure

June 28, 2012 - By Trigger  //  News  //  16 Comments

I was really surprised in November of 2011 when after a minor initial court ruling in favor of Tim McGraw against his label Curb Records, it resulted in a victory lap by the McGraw camp. All the court had ruled was that McGraw could begin recording music with another label, not that he wasn’t still under contract with Curb, or owed them reparations for violating his contract when he recorded the music for his album Emotional Traffic too early. As I said in my story on the November court ruling:

The win means McGraw is now free to record new music and pursue a new label “outside of his contract” with Curb, but in no way means he’s out of the woods. A full trial is set for July, when the decision will be made if McGraw was in breach of his contract, and if so, what the penalty is. Despite the win, McGraw may still be bound by certain elements of his Curb contract, and by court orders from the ongoing lawsuit.

However McGraw immediately began recording new music, signed with Scott Borchetta and Big Machine records, and stated plans to release a new single “Truck Yeah” on Tuesday all before the trial and penalty phase of his court battle had even began.

Now the court has ruled in favor of Curb Records to postpone the trial until it can investigate the legal relationship between Big Machine Records and Tim McGraw. But once again, some outlets are falsely reporting the story, saying that Curb won and now all the music Tim McGraw has recorded with Big Machine is now the property of Curb. This is simply what Curb records is requesting from the court because they feel Tim McGraw is still under contract with them, and so any music he records would be their property.

The actual finding by the court if in fact McGraw is still under contract with Curb Records, if he still owes them another album, or if the 20-something songs he’s recorded recently belong to Curb, will be decided in a trial set for July. You can read the full Curb Records request for the court HERE.

I don’t begin to have any idea what the court will rule, but I was really surprised at the confidence both Tim McGraw and Scott Borchetta approached their new relationship with, way before the trial with Curb had taken place, a trial whose date has been set for July 2012 since late last year. The fact that McGraw has now signed another contract without allowing the trial process to resolve, and then with Borchetta planning the unprecedented move of releasing competing singles with Curb’s material, I can only imagine the court looking unfavorable towards McGraw and Borchetta’s aggressive moves, just like they did to Mike Curb’s aggressive move of asking McGraw for a whole other album before releasing him from his contract.

What is clear is we are seeing a battle of epic proportions transpire on Music Row, whose implications and court decisions could set historic precedent and shape Music Row politics for years to come.


Kellie Pickler’s Parting w/ Sony Could Spell Doom for Trad. Country Albums

June 28, 2012 - By Trigger  //  News  //  12 Comments

“See,” says Sony Records Nashville. “This is why we can’t have good records.”

If you want validation of just how good and traditional Kellie Pickler’s latest album 100 Proof is, check the album’s abysmal sales numbers. Though the 3rd album from the 6th place-finishing 2005 American Idol contestant will probably sell more copies than most traditional country artists will sell in their lifetimes, it was possibly not enough for her label Sony Records Nashville and it was announced today, on Kellie’s 26th birthday, that her and Sony have parted ways.

This spells doom for any hope of a late bloom from 100 Proof, which was released in January. With Pickler’s parting, it is unlikely Sony will put any more promotion behind it, or release any new singles. And though it was a long shot to begin with, without solid label backing, 100 Proof will probably not find any love from the year’s round of award shows. Despite being a critic’s favorite, including here where we asked if it was the best mainstream album in years, 100 Proof quickly dropped off the charts after debuting at #2 in country. The album’s best single “Tough” stalled at #30.

Kellie Pickler knew she was taking a gamble when she made a record drawing inspiration from Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn. “It’s a big risk for a record company to take a leap like they did with me,” she told The Boot. Pickler was of the opinion, “…there’s room for all of it, there’s room for the pop country, and the classic country, and the traditional sound.”

Apparently she was wrong.

Despite how some traditional country fans may feel about Pickler and 100 Proof, the album was a big opportunity to restore some balance between pop and traditional country in the mainstream format. Now its failure (at least in the mind of Sony Nashville) could mean an even tougher, if not impossible environment for mainstream country stars to release traditional albums. Sony took a gamble, and lost. So how likely do we think Sony or its other Music Row bunk mates will take the same gamble again?

Meanwhile Kellie Pickler has a big decision to make. Does she become the first American Idol alum to mutiny from the pop world and continue her traditional approach, or does she revitalize her career with a pop resurgence on a different label? Or maybe she has already made that decision, seeing how the Sony split was sold as being a mutual decision. Kellie’s name still is a very well-recognized, franchise-caliber commodity.

Clearly the inspiration from 100 Proof came from somewhere. Clearly Kellie felt caged in the pop country world. And all hope might not be lost for 100 Proof. An album of this caliber could become a forgotten classic, performing a slow burn over years until it finally reaches the sales potential both Pickler and Sony were hoping for.

But at this moment, it is hard to say anything other than that it just got much harder to release a traditional country album in the mainstream country music world, and that Kellie deserves a badge of courage for putting her career on the line to try.


Michael Jackson Montgomery Supports the Troops More Than You

June 27, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  12 Comments

Saving Country Music first learned about Michael Jackson Montgomery in February of 2011, when a mole at a major, prominent, well-known Nashville label leaked details on the “vast, multi-level, multi-platform, cross market super franchise…” that Michael Jackson Montgomery was being groomed to be the face of. Montgomery, and his daughter Natalie (just one name, like Sting) were going to be part of a project that was going to incorporate TV, movies, albums and tours, with Montgomery being the big country star, and Natalie being big in pop.

But when drama between Billy Ray Cyrus and his daughter Miley came up–the real life mega franchise that the Michael Jackson Montgomery mega franchise was pattered after–the major Nashville label behind the manufactured pop country star pulled the plug on the project. Since then Montgomery has been in contact with Saving Country Music regularly, leaking rough demos of the songs meant for the mega franchise that were scientifically formulated by big Music Row songwriters to be super hits, songs like “The Letter ‘B’” showcasing Music Row’s laundry list songwriting formula.

Well now ahead of what Michael Jackson Montgomery is hinting might be a full studio release of material from the “mega-franchise”, he’s released another rough demo to Saving Country Music. Here is the note he passed to us along with the song:

“I Support The Troops More Than You” was specifically developed by a crack team of Music Row songwriters to be the optimum flag-waving, American sentiment song. As you probably know Trig, these songs are pretty much a requirement for any major Music Row release. Though many times the performers themselves are big troop supporters and participate in benefit shows, flying around the world on USO tours and stuff, the record labels see these patriotic anthems as a big cash grab, profiteering off of pro-military, pro-American sentiment.

I tell you Trig, I worry many times these do more damage than good for actual troop support because of the sheer amount of these songs and the bravado contained in them sometimes creates a polarizing political environment. It’s disingenuous. Many times they’re not concerned about supporting the troops, they’re just looking to make a buck.

You can listen to “I Support The Troops More Than You” below. Something I noticed when looking through the lyrics, Michael Jackson Montgomery sings about a  “Korean guitar”. I think this is in reference to the king of the patriotic song singers, The Ford Truck Man Toby Keith, and his endorsement with Takamine, a Korean guitar maker, and the maker of both his signature American flag and Ford guitars.

And really tell those readers of yours to listen to this song Trig. Out of all the songs I did for this project, I think this one really shows off my vocal abilities.

Stay tuned to Saving Country Music for more information on details on what might be a full-blown upcoming Michael Jackson Montgomery release.

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“I Support The Troops More Than You” Lyrics:

At the sound of my voice, an eagle starts to cry
And when the sound of my guitar comes cracking through the air
Well them terrorists they run and hide

And like the Statue of Liberty wielding her torch
I'm a certified weapon of justified force
And you know I never served in the service of course
But I'll scream how my pappy did until I'm hoarse
And it's all a marketing scheme perpetrated on you. 

Cause I'm American....
I bleed Red, White, and Blue (and those colors don't run either)
Cause I'm American....
A lot more American than you

And we'll lead a coalition of the willing so far
While I scream about America playing a Korean guitar
And the only time I served was behind bars
For showing my junk in public at a transvestite bar
And these songs are an insult to the men and women serving for you. 

Cause I'll sit here, and tell you
I support the troops more than you



Blues Review – James Leg & Left Lane Cruiser “Painkillers”

June 26, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  16 Comments

Holy shitballs.

Listen to me folks, GET THIS ALBUM! I know it’s my job as some high fallutin’ music writer to come up with a bunch of stuff to say about music. But after listening to Painkillers, if I were you, I’d skip all the gabbing and just go get it. And then find the biggest, loudest audio player you can procure and crank it to 10. If you want to flatter me, come back and read the rest at some other point.

The merging of Black Diamond Heavies keys player James Leg with the dirty punk blues duo Left Lane Cruiser known as Painkillers is not a cover album. No, it’s a concept album. Yes, it is made of all covers, songs like “Come to Poppa” made popular by Bob Seger, “When The Levee Breaks” by Led Zepplin, but this is a concept album in the truest sense. Concept is what so many albums are lacking these days, and how this album takes a rag tag of recognizable songs from the rock and blues worlds and makes them into a remarkable collection that marks the most viscerally-satisfying album I have heard so far this year. Wanton, ribald, reckless, and uninhibited, Painkillers will have you slam dancing and pissing off the neighbors.

Painkillers isn’t just a catchy idea to sketch some cover art around, it is the idea this album is built from, to take a bunch of timeless, kick ass songs, give them the dirty, heavy-handed Left Lane Cruiser/James leg punk blues treatment, with the result being an album that is perfectly concocted to kill pain. That’s what’s so genius about it. If they had released a batch of original songs under this concept, the painkilling would just be a placebo. By taking songs we all know and love already, songs that mean something to us, the medicine is potent, fast-acting, striking right at your gut.

How’s the instrumentation on the album? The approach? Dirty. Real dirty. Nasty, filthy. All the songs are awash in a mess of gritty reverb and distortion. Don’t come here looking for any lightning-fast chicken-picking licks to tinkling of keys, this is about immersing you in a wall of sound. And though the nasty, dirty punk blues approach may not be for everyone, the song selections are. Pure genius went into picking these songs. For me personally, I didn’t care for some of the blues standards, but “Chevrolet” made famous by Taj Mahal, and The Rolling Stones’ “Sway” are two of my favorite songs of all time, and to hear the James Leg/Left Lane Cruiser tandem do their worst with them was a gift tantamount to a pull of nectar from a goddesses nipple.

One word of caution: Yes, Painkillers is habit forming. (Come on, did you think I was going to make it all the way through this review without some drug cliches?) And just like many albums that pull you right in on the first play, Painkillers can lose its potency rather quickly. But after you set it down for a few days, you will find it calling you back once again.

No joke, if you’re depressed, lonely, angry, sad, whatever, as prescribed, Painkillers will get you to feeling right.

Two guns up!

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Purchase Painkillers from Alive Naturalsound Records

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“Truck Yeah”: Big Machine & Curb Competing w/ Tim McGraw Singles

June 26, 2012 - By Trigger  //  News  //  42 Comments

An outright street fight of mammoth proportions is breaking out on Music Row in Nashville, the legendary stretch of asphalt where many of country music’s major labels hold their headquarters. The brawl is pitting two of Music Row’s heaviest hitters against each other, Mike Curb of Curb Records, representing the old guard and the heavy-handed restrictive way of handling artists, and the up-and-comer, Scott Borchetta, the Country Music Anti-Christ.

The two Nashville-based record labels, located mere blocks from each other are lobbing competing Tim McGraw radio singles at each other like grenades, a very unique and virtually unheard of scenario in music. McGraw, who was signed to Curb for some 20 years, signed with Borchetta’s Big Machine label last month. At the press conference announcing the new McGraw signing, Borchetta hinted competing singles may be released, and today made it official when Big Machine announced that they will release “Truck Yeah” from McGraw on Tuesday, July 3rd.

Curb, who had been holding back McGraw’s last album Emotional Traffic in hopes to indefinitely extend his contract, immediately began releasing singles from the album as soon as they lost a key court battle that allowed McGraw to record with another label. McGraw has a current single from Emotional Traffic “Right Back Atcha Babe” out right now, climbing the charts. Now the two singles, the two labels, and the two men, Borchetta and Curb, will be competing for the attention of the general public.

This development is very significant for Music Row, a usually tight knit fraternity of music business colleagues. Now you have arguably the two most significant Music Row citizens duking it out. Many major labels have satellite offices on Music Row, but are based in other cities like New York, LA, or London. Curb Records and Big Machine are the two major Nashville-based, independently-owned labels that call Music Row home.

“Truck Yeah” also marks a significant change in Tim McGraw’s style. Aside from his first major single, the controversial “Indian Outlaw”, McGraw has been known for more serious material, sometimes labeled as the adult contemporary star of country music. “Truck Yeah” with it’s heavy guitar smacks of the arena rock, laundry list songs that have become so popular over the last couple of years in mainstream country music.

Who will win this battle we will have to see. But the most significant development to take away from this is that Music Row now is not only battling the forces from the outside–illegal downloaders, traditionalists mad at the direction of country, artists wanting more freedom, etc.–it is now fighting itself.


Album Review – Don Williams “And So It Goes”

June 25, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  17 Comments

This biggest question heading into the release of Don Williams’ And So It Goes was what would change in Don’s sound after an 8-year hiatus from recording, 18 years after last working with long-time producer Garth Fundis, a quasi-retirement, and an induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame? Well the answer is positively nothing, and that’s what makes And So It Goes such a treasure.

It’s so easy when reflecting on country music’s past to focus on the big, flashy names: Willie & Waylon, Dolly & Kenny, Merle & George while intermixed with all the superstar names and dramatic style changes in country music, Don Williams amassed 17 #1 hits over his career, and did it all with an endearing straightforward, no nonsense approach, letting his towering build that won him the name “The Gentle Giant” and his rugged frontiersman hat convey his message. Don never needed to say much in his own defense. He looked more like country music than anyone else.

With his bronze secured in The Hall, Don Williams didn’t have to do much with this release, which means he could do what he wanted. Throughout this album is a sweetness, an innocence that harkens you back to Don’s golden era when country music was a lot more stable, and the approach and goals of the music much more simple: tell a story, touch someone’s heart, offer hope or relief, and do it all with class.

Who built the pyramids? Do aliens exist? Where does God come from? One more phenomenon. But if you know how strong my love is. And your heart and mind can comprehend. Just how long I’m gonna feel like this. Then you’ll know what infinity is.

From some country artists, lines like this from Don’s song “Infinity” would be cheesy. From Don, it is the utmost of class, and speaks to the simplicity that is supposed to be at the heart of country music, the ease of simple goals and simple pleasures, releasing the burden of big questions. And the mood is all brought along so charmingly by Don’s smooth voice and approach.

This album has the ability to stimulate memory and reflection without coming across as dated or even nostalgic. This was the wisdom of going back and using Don’s original producer of Garth Fundis on this album. And So It Goes is like an ice cream cone your grandfather bought you, the smell of your grandparent’s house, a tire swing on an old tree, the shade of the light when it hits a golden meadow just right at the turning of spring or fall.

And So It Goes simply sends you to this soft place, and makes you second guess yourself if you overlooked some mainstream 70′s and 80′s country for lacking substance. It makes you wonder just how many of those Don Williams #1′s can you name. Not all of them? Well you better start digging and see what you missed.

This isn’t honky-tonk music, no heavy bass or stomping of boots on barroom floors. This is contemporary country from a by-gone era. And despite of what you may of thought about contemporary country before, you may be surprised to find And So It Goes speaking right to you.

1 3/4 of 2 guns up.

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Preview & Purchase Tracks from And So It Goes


“Go Ready” Artists in Americana Music Right Now

June 25, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  27 Comments

We did this a while back for bands in country music, taking Music Row’s rigorous requirements and running bands through them to illustrate that there are many accessible acts out there that could improve the genre right now if only given a chance. Though Americana may be a less-institutionalized and much smaller genre that tends to have better music and promote artists that are easier to respect, sometimes it can seem almost as exclusive as Music Row, as was seen in the latest list of AMA Award nominees. So here is a list of artists that even considering Americana’s heavy requirements, could make it big and improve the Americana world if only given a chance.

Possessed by Paul James

The only reason Possessed by Paul James isn’t big in Americana right now is because of exposure. If his music, recorded, but especially live, could be put in front of the right people, he would positively explode in the Americana world. He has all the right Americana tools: excellent songwriting, skilled musicianship, a message, and he exists in a no-man’s land; not really country or folk or blues or punk, but a true amalgam of them all, a wholly unique performer with a style all his own. He doesn’t just simply channel the emotions and energy from music and evoke them on stage, he becomes a manifestation of that energy, a creative quasar exploding right before your very eyes with beams of positive energy, inspiration, and emotion shooting into you as they bound off the walls and ceiling until they have penetrated you from every angle and you are a changed person. If you listen to the stories of people whose whole worlds have changed at a Possessed by Paul James show or if you are one of those people yourself, it is hard to look at a list of Americana talent and say it is anything but incomplete without him on it.

Austin Lucas

Austin Lucas is custom tailored to fit into Americana, because like most Americana artists, he doesn’t fit any where else, though his talents are undeniable and are worthy of a much higher level of support and attention. He’s too much punk and rock to be considered true country, but he too country to be considered folk. First and foremost he is a songwriter and a performer and an excellent singer who has some tremendous skins on the wall considering he’s unknown to many, including cutting records with Chuck Ragan, and touring on the Country Throwdown tour and sharing the stage with the likes of Jamey Johnson and Willie Nelson. Though it’s hard to see where Austin Lucas’s home is, it’s easy to say with that level of talent, once he finds it, he could explode. If Americana was smart, they would snatch him up before someone else does.

Caitlin Rose

Out of all the artists on this list, Caitlin may be the most well-connected to break into the Americana inner-circle some day. Adored around her hometown of Nashville, and from a songwriting pedigree from her mother Liz Rose (the brainworks behind Taylor Swift’s early songwriting success), Caitlin sits in the awkward, not-exactly country, but not really indie-rock, rootsy world where Americana is supposed to rise up and fill the void. She brings the hip, indie-rock-esque new school approach to old country and roots music; the exact shot of youth, energy, and relevancy the graying Americana world needs without straying away from its principles. In her mid-20′s, time is still on Caitlin Rose’s side and her upside seems tremendous.

William Elliott Whitmore

Whitmore may be the artist in a position of least need of the Americana stamp of approval seeing how he’s signed on the well-respected ANTI label with artists such as Tom Waits and Gillian Welch, but he may be the best example of how Americana, not just the artist, could improve their lot by being more inclusive. A one man show just like Possessed by Paul James, with punk cred just like Austin Lucas, he’s the songwriter without a real home who incorporates blues, folk, and some country with tinges of a punk attitude that can appeal to a wide swath of the enlightened music-listening population. It is pretty amazing where you can put William Elliott Whitmore and he works, and how many people are into him despite their diverse music sensibilities.

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Some other good candidates would be the emerging Shovels & Rope, Rachel Brooke (though some could argue she’s more country/neo-traditional), and though they’re older performers, it would be great to see Charlie Parr and Otis Gibbs get some Americana love. Willy Tea Taylor would be another great candidate, though I think he looks at music more as a gift than an occupation.

Who are some artists you would like to see more incorporated in Americana?


Saving Country Music Radio Episode #28 Released

June 24, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Podcasting/Radio  //  8 Comments

Sometimes you just have to stop pontificating so much about music and just play it. That is what the Saving Country Music Radio podcast is for. Even if you have no time or desire to listen, please pilfer the playlist for ideas for what we’re listening to right now. This episode is co-hosted by Earl Dibbles Jr. (well, sort of), who just released a new single, and prominently features my favorite new album, Eric Strickland’s Honky Tonk Till I Die, as well as songs from albums SCM has reviewed recently, and others we hope to get to soon.

Thanks for listening and remember….

It’s all about the music!

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Mono-Genre Watch: Taylor Swift Records ‘Both of Us’ Rap w/ B.o.B.

June 22, 2012 - By Trigger  //  News  //  19 Comments

A couple of weeks after Jason Aldean’s country rap “Dirt Road Anthem” went triple-platinum, Taylor Swift was in Nashville shooting a video for an upcoming single “Both of Us” with hip-hop artists B.o.B. to be featured on B.o.B’s upcoming album Strange Clouds.

Swift first shared the spotlight with the Georgia-based rapper in 2011 during the Dallas leg of her “Speak Now” tour, when the two performed a version of B.o.B.’s #1 song “Airplanes” on stage. Taylor also performed with another rapper T.I. in Atlanta during “Speak Now,” who was only 13 days removed from a halfway house.

The “Both of Us” single is not without precedent. Tim McGraw collaborated with girl beater Chris Brown on the song “Human” in late 2008, and Ludacris performed “Dirt Road Anthem” with Jason Aldean on the 2011 CMT Awards. Taylor Swift did make a video with the Auto-tuning T Pain as a gag for the 2009 CMT Awards, but this is her first serious collaboration with a rapper.

Taylor Swift Should Lead, and Not Follow with Hip Hop

The idea behind these collaborations is to cross market the artists to new audiences and as many people as possible. The side effects however can be blurring the lines of contrast in popular American music until regionalism and diversity are bled out completely and all popular music exists in one big homogenized mono-genre, devoid of variety or individualistic taste to maximize profits and marketability throughout the population. As B.o.B. says in the behind-the-scenes video below:

It’s not even a song, it’s more like a project. You know, this is bigger than just B.o.B. and Taylor Swift. This is about all walks of life, about all classes of society. It’s about everybody, really.

This collaboration holds special distinction because Taylor Swift is arguably the most-popular and best-selling artist under the country music flag right now, and she is also the reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year. And even though Taylor does not rap in the song itself, unlike some other country/hip-hop collaborations that have taken on a more R&B flair, this is predominately a rap song.


Will Country Music Ever Be Saved?

June 21, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  47 Comments

Last weekend, former Drive By Trucker turned solo artist Jason Isbell let fire a tweet that read in part, “I just don’t see how any genre of music needs “saving” or “reclaiming.”

I don’t know if this tweet was meant for Saving Country Music or of it was just coincidental, but it raises a point that comes up often on a site named Saving Country Music, will country music ever be saved?

The short answer is…of course not. And even if country music came to some point where everyone agreed yes, country music has now been saved, it would immediately begin to backslide once more from the infallible frailty and cyclical nature of human activity. And of course, there would never be that universally-recognized moment when country music is “saved” because Saving Country Music’s version of country being saved would mean something completely different to executives on Music Row, or Brantley Gilbert fans for example.

But actually “saving” country music isn’t the point, and it never was. It is the pursuit, the attempt that matters. It is about standing up and caring about something that is in decline, registering dissent, and offering support. Like Gandhi once said:

It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.

Or there’s another Gandhi quote that may be even more pertinent:

Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.

What is country music? It is a living artifact of culture. Why is it important? Because we see what can happen to people when their culture is taken from them. They can lose their identity, their feeling of self-worth, their sense of community. And many times to fill the void left where their culture has been taken from them, they partake in consumption, materialism, drug abuse, and cling to whatever popular culture is presented to them through corporate media even if it is devaluing or self-destructive.

Complicating the situation is how corrupted the term “country” has become. Many folks theorized that when Taylor Swift won the CMA for Entertainer of the Year in 2009, this is the moment that country music truly died. “Death” is so absolute though, that prognosis can be argued back and forth, but you can build a greater consensus around the idea that Taylor’s 2009 win was when the “country” term lost control of its true identity and began to mean something wholly different to the general population than it did before. This is the reason some people see no value in trying to save country, or why artists like Jason Isbell feel the need to distance from it, and understandably so.

People might argue if country music truly needs to be saved, but would anyone argue against the saving of let’s say, the Ryman Auditorium? If the Ryman was about to be bulldozed, I would hope that people would rise up to protect that element of our culture, even people who are not particular fans of country music just because they can see the historic significance of the building itself. So why should the living artifact of country music be any different? If country music was destroyed, what worth would that leave for The Ryman with its living cultural counterpart now gone?

Saving Country Music is alchemy. It’s fighting for something that needs to be fought for, and learning and growing through that process. A similar fight could be taken to preserving historical architecture or relics, or dance, or theater, or food. It’s not the specific problem always, but the process one goes through to solve it.

I understand just how wide-eyed and innocent the name “Saving Country Music” may come across, and that it can come across as arrogant as well. Numerous times over the years people have come to me, empathetical, worried what they say will crush my little soul as they iterate, “Man, I’m sorry to tell you, but country music will never be saved,” or “country music is dead.” But in the end, it’s just a name; the actions are what are important. Still, every day, every article I write, I look at that name and ask if whatever I am doing, whatever I’m writing, does that name justice. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. But I try. I ask for your help.


I Don’t Care What Carrie Underwood Thinks About Gay Marriage (a rant)

June 20, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  55 Comments

Is there any way I can unsubscribe from American politics? Is that possible? Can someone please tell Mr. Scotty to beam my ass to November 7th so I can just be done with it all? Why must every single element of American culture be permeated by political polarization and rancor?

Once again country music finds itself on the brink of blackballing one of its artists because of some tepid political assertion squeezed out of them over in the UK. It all began when a Carrie Underwood statement was taken out of context and sensationalized by the left-leaning rag The Independent.

“As a married person myself, I don’t know what it’s like to be told I can’t marry somebody I love, and want to marry,” is how Carrie Underwood handled the inappropriate question of how she felt about gay marriage. “I can’t imagine how that must feel. I definitely think we should all have the right to love, and love publicly, the people that we want to love.”

As Carrie Underwood explained later in an interview with the UK Associated Press, “I was asked a difficult question in the last five minutes of an interview and I answered it the best way I knew how, and after that I do what I do and I love making music…

But of course, this is not how The Independent characterized it saying:

In a development that will doubtless outrage her many fans on the religious right, the nation’s most popular country singer, Carrie Underwood, has come out vehemently in favour of gay marriage.

Vehemently in favour? (and with a ‘u’ in favour nonetheless?!?!) Please, this is a gross mischaracterization of an off-topic and inappropriate question that acted like a speed trap to bait Carrie and help sell subscriptions. And Carrie Underwood is not “the nation’s most popular country singer” by anyone’s measure.

Congratulations Carrie Underwood fans, haters, apologists, and detractors who’ve been swept up by this story, you’ve just been played by a sensationalizing British tabloid with an overt political agenda trying to sell Rolex watches, Land Rovers, and bland food. (see, we can be stereotypical too!)

Why was Carrie Underwood asked about gay marriage in the first place? Why should we even care what Carrie Underwood thinks about gay marriage or any other political wedge issue? She’s a ding-dong pop country singer, not an opinion maker or pundit. Sing and look pretty–that’s her job.

And for all the Christian fans who are now bad mouthing Carrie because of how bad her family values are, where were you when the 2012 ACM Awards invited us all into Carrie Underwood’s vagina? Watch the introduction below. Noticed how the camera is centered right on Carrie’s privates as it zooms in, with lights blanking out her face in a “V” formation telling America, “Yes, country isn’t country folks! Join us and our hip party, where we hang out in Carrie Underwood’s vagina for three hours and hand out awards! And then wait for it….wait…ah yes, the silhouettes of naked women gyrating in the background. Now what could be more appropriate prime time family viewing?

And why doesn’t Carrie Underwood get mad at the Christian fans backstabbing her now who eat shellfish? I mean, that’s iterated in the Bible as a sin right down the street from the “don’t be gay” stuff. You know why Carrie doesn’t do that? BECAUSE IT’S STUPID AND NOBODY CARES. I can’t blame anyone for disagreeing with Carrie Underwood’s political beliefs if they differ from theirs, but the real person they should be blaming is The Independent for characterizing Carrie as some pro gay activist when really she’s just kind of “meh” on the subject and was trying to be polite. Huh, I wonder how they would have characterized her if she said she was against gay marriage?

Life is too short and music is too much of a beautiful thing to let someone’s political beliefs get in your way of enjoying it. If you enjoy Carrie Underwood’s music, then enjoy it. And if you don’t, then don’t. And leave all the political bullshit for when you step into that little photo booth-looking thing and draw the blue curtain. Why do we draw a curtain when we vote? Because your personal political beliefs are nobody’s business unless you want them to be, and because people should not have to fear retribution for whatever those beliefs are.


Album Review – Joseph Huber “Tongues of Fire”

June 20, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  8 Comments

Ascending from the ashes of the country music underground’s ultimate proving ground known as the .357 String Band, banjo player and songwriter Joseph Huber releases his second solo offering, Tongues of Fire. With some songs originally meant for the now deceased .357 project, and some that speak to the causes of its demise and dealing with its aftermath, Huber compiles an engaging and surprisingly bright-sounding album that speaks true to his life, and is easy to relate to yours.

It is difficult to describe Tongues of Fire without comparing it to Joseph’s first solo album Bury Me Where I Fall which in contrast was very dark, and not from the easy avenues of screams and Satan references, but from deep and intelligent songwriting and eery chord structures. Tongues of Fire takes almost an exact opposite approach, with a lighter feel to virtually all these songs even when the lyrics deal with dark subject matter. In this respect Bury Me Where I Fall and Tongues of Fire make an excellent tandem. They create a duality, a fulfilling yin and yang approach where the two projects combined become better than the sum of their parts.

Joseph Huber doesn’t fit the average mold of an ultra-talented musical artist. We’re used to the best and brightest being tortured and fey, yet Joe is surprisingly clear-eyed and relate-able. He’s just like you and I…well…except for being one of the best banjo players I have ever seen, yet giving absolutely nothing up when it comes to his songwriting, and also being able to master guitar and fiddle. He’s a creative dynamo, but the struggles he goes through are simple: trying to find his place in the world, searching for balance; not the deep torment or torturous pursuit for meaning that usually comes with the hyper-creative archetype.

And that is what imbibes Tongues of Fire with that intangible thing that makes certain albums feel warm to you. This album is about Joe searching and finding that sense of balance and purpose, while still recognizing that certain wild desires are there and will always be.

Though on the surface Tongues of Fire may seem like a less poetic approach, after a few listens you find the poetry very much alive in songs like “An Old Mountain Tune” and “Dance Around The Daggers”. “Iron Rail” seems to speak to the hopeless, caged feeling Joe may have been laboring under in .357, while the theme can speak to frustrations in all of us. “Fell Off the Wagon” is the outright fun song that was lacking from Joe’s first release. And just about the time you wonder where Huber’s signature blazing banjo is on this album, here comes “Walkin’ Fine”.

On some songs like “Where the Shadows Shiver to Sleep” I wondered how it would sound with a darker approach to match the song’s dark theme, instead of the playful one it employs. Huber shows a better mastery of DIY recording in his second attempt, though on his first album his lack of recording skills did nothing but compliment his dark approach. It is still good to see his home engineering skill set dramatically improve, yet not grow past the one-man-band approach so Tongues of Fire still gives a fair representation of what you will see from Joseph live.

“Hello, Milwaukee” in the heart of the track order is also the heart of this album. It spells out the struggles Joe has faced, and then the sense of fulfillment when he finds out what he’s been searching for is what he left. This sense of fulfillment is what permeates this album, beyond any of the songs or words or any individual instrumental performances, to make this album special and give it an infectious warmth. Listening to this album, you are happy for Huber.

And whether you can relate to Huber’s sense of content or you are driven by the faith that your contentment still lingers out there waiting for you to find, Joseph Huber’s Tongues of Fire finds a way to speak to you.

Two guns up!

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Purchase Tongues of Fire on Bandcamp

Purchase Tongues of Fire on CD Baby


Earl Dibbles Jr. Strikes a Chord w/ ‘The Country Boy Song’

June 19, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  51 Comments

Granger Smith channels all true country fans’ worst enemy in the character Earl Dibbles Jr. for the new video and song “The Country Boy Song”, exposing the moronic, stereotypical, rehashed, and creatively-vacant world of corporate country’s checklist culture.

The greatest part about this song and video is how accessible it is. “Country Boy” will take much greater strides in saving country music than all of the hate-filled anti-Nashville anthems combined because it is something that may actually end up in front of the people that matter: mainstream country music’s mind-numbed and misled masses. Sure, “Country Boy” is a good salve for us old souls who look toward the mainstream with such ill contempt, but it will also allow 14 to 28-year-old boys to look themselves in the mirror and question if their own cultural identity has become nothing more than a parody. This is the type of outreach, and accessibility through comedy that country music needs.

The words and music of “The Country Boy Song” are a perfect facsimile of pop country. You don’t have to squint to see this song becoming a #1 hit on mainstream country radio if it was presented to it with a few slight changes. It’s only the subtly-embedded tongue-and-cheek elements that present it as parody. And taking the time and capitol to make a professional video is exactly what “The Country Boy Song” needed to fulfill its destiny as a perfect illustration of the inanity of modern-day mainstream country music.

This is what country music needs. To fight fire with fire.

Two guns up!

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And if you like the video, support Granger Smith and buy the song.


Scott Borchetta: The Rise of the Country Music Antichrist

June 18, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  25 Comments

I first used the phrase “Country Music Antichrist” in reference to Big Machine Records CEO Scott Borchetta about 2 1/2 years ago. I’d like to hold my chin high and say I was being prophetic, but in truth at the time I just thought it was a nasty way to label the guy primarily responsible for the rise of Taylor Swift and the biggest perversion of the term “country” the genre has ever seen. And hey, he has the evil goatee. But little did I know a few short years down the road, Borchetta would become one of the most powerful men in all of music.

The reason I coined the nickname had to do with the purity of genre terms. Borchetta calls Taylor Swift country when she’s clearly pop, and Justin Moore has been the primary culprit in the corruption of another important country term, “Outlaw”. We can argue back and forth if we should even care about the purity of these terms any more. This was a much more salient discussion when Taylor Swift was winning her first CMA for Entertainer of the Year in 2009. At this point that battle has been lost. The only question is if these terms are worth fighting to reclaim.

But disgruntled country music purists are not the only ones who look at Borchetta as the Antichrist of their music world. His rival label executives on Music Row must see Borchetta as just as much of a threat, if not even more of one to their way of life. If the prototypical Music Row executive can be visualized as the gray-haired man with a steak-and-potatoes gut spilling out of his navy suit, then Borchetta is the in-shape, sleek guy in a tight-fitting black spandex shirt taking office Yoga breaks and ordering in sushi. As the traditional labels in Nashville have been lethargic in their attempt to keep up with trends, Borchetta has been running circles around them, pilfering their talent rosters and penning historic deals that will re-shape the music industry for years to come.

It hasn’t even been a month since I claimed Scott Borchetta was the new “King of Nashville” after signing Tim McGraw, and since then Borchetta has been at the helm for two more huge decisions. First at the beginning of June, Big Machine expanded into the music publishing business, the one calm port in the calamitously-recessive music industry in the last decade. As sales decline, rights for the use of songs in TV shows, movies, commercials, etc. has remained steady. And then just last week, he inked a deal with Clear Channel that will earn performance rights for his artists when they are played on the radio, a deal that will likely shape how music rights are handled as radio expands and morphs into a more digital format.

The Clear Channel deal is a huge win for Borchetta. “The Big Machine Label Group is the first United States record company in history to have performance rights for our artists,” he told The Tennessean. The deal points out the other dichotomy about Scott Borchetta and his Antichrist identity: his rise to power has in part been the fault of Big Machine’s culture to actually take care of artists and extend to them a measure of creative freedom, ironically the thing same some traditionalists who hate Borchetta for his perversion of country terms and been clamoring about for years.

Scott Borchetta is just what Nashville and country music needed, while also being the sum of all of its fears. His gamble with Taylor Swift paid off in the sweetest run of spades one could possibly imagine, and now he’s not just a big player in the country music world, he is the biggest, and with the Clear Channel deal his influence stretches way beyond the country music realm. The Tim McGraw signing and the Clear Channel deal may not be the culmination of Borchetta’s rise, it may be the beginning of it, as all ties to the old oligarchy that governed Nashville since the time of RCA, Acuff/Rose, and Studio B, slip away from the market power amassed from the success of Taylor Swift.

So yes, though the term “Country Music Antichrist” feels wholly immature and unfair, it also feels expertly a propos.

Timeline of Scott Borchetta’s Rise


  • Scott Borchetta starts Big Machine Records after DreamWorks Records dissolves where he was a top executive. It begins as a joint venture with Toby Keith, and is distributed by Universal Music Group.
  • Borchetta sees Taylor Swift perform at The Bluebird Cafe in Nashville during an artists showcase, and decides to sign her, making Swift the first Big Machine artist.
  • Big Machine signs Jack Ingram and releases the album Live: Wherever You Are.


  • Toby Keith leaves Big Machine to start his own record label, Show Dog.
  • Taylor Swift releases her debut album, Taylor Swift, which would go on to be certified platinum 5 times over, was #1 on the Top Country Albums chart for 24 non-consecutive weeks, and was the longest album to stay in the Billboard 200 in the decade.


  • Big Machine launches a subsidiary label called Valory Music Group, signing Jewel and Justin Moore among others.
  • Sunny Sweeny signs with Big Machine and releases Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame in March.
  • Trisha Yearwood signs with Big Machine and releases Heaven, Heartache, and the Power of Love in November.


  • Taylor Swift releases Fearless, selling a total of 8.6 million copies worldwide, and 6.5 million in the United States, making it the second best selling album in the last decade, and the best selling album in all of music in 2009. It is the only album that has ever remained in the Billboard 200 Top 10 for a full year. It also wins the Grammy for Album of the Year in 2009.
  • Big Machine begins promoting Canadian acts Adam Gregory and Emerson Drive.


  • Valory Music Group signs Reba McEntire.
  • Steel Magnolia signs to Big Machine Records.
  • Big Machine joins with Universal Republic to create a new record label imprint, Republic Records Nashville. Sunny Sweeny becomes a Republic Nashville artist.
  • Republic Nashville signs The Band Perry.
  • Taylor Swift wins first CMA for Artist of the Year, the youngest artist to ever do so.


  • Rascal Flatts signs to Big Machine, releasing Nothing Like This in November.
  • Brantley Gilbert leaves label Average Joes for Borchetta’s Valory Music Group.
  • Taylor Swift releases album Speak Now, which has so far been certified quadruple platinum with over 4 million albums sold. The single “Mean” went on to win two Grammy’s in 2011.
  • Scott Borchetta partners with Live Nation Entertainment chairman/Front Line Management Group CEO Irving Azoff to form B.A.D. Management.


  • Big Machine signs Thomas Rhett.
  • Martina McBride signs with Republic Nashville from RCA.
  • Eli Young Band is signed by Republic Nashville, and releases Life at Best.
  • Taylor Swift wins second CMA for Artist of the Year.


  • Valory Music Group signs The Maverics in Februrary.
  • Big Machine Records Signs Tim McGraw in May.
  • Big Machine sets up its own music publishing division.
  • Scott Borchetta crafts a historic deal with Clear Channel to pay performance rights for Big Machine artists played on radio, while setting the stage for how digital rights and online radio will be managed moving forward.

Review – Tom VandenAvond’s “Wreck Of A Fine Man”

June 17, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  11 Comments

Tom VandenAvond is one of these wheel guys. James Hunnicutt is another. They may not be the flashiest of artists, but when you sit back and study the music, you find these wheel guys are essential to it in so many ways; how everything seems to revolve around them. They are the trunk from which so much other music grows. Trace the veins of the music and you find that their songs and work create foundations and inspiration for so many others.

Just in recent memory VandenAvond’s name could be found on albums by Willy Tea Taylor and Scott McDougall. Some will tell you Larry & His Flask are all grown up from the underground roots world, but here they are once again backing Tom up, just like they did on his last album. The weighty respect other performers and songwriters have for VandenAvond illustrates just how influential his music is.

VandenAvond is a pure songwriter. As much as people love to babble on about how songwriting is such a noble art and pat their favorite artists on the back for being so great at it, few delve into the inner workings of the craft like Tom VandenAvond. Comparisons are made to Dylan because of VandenAvond’s voice. Artists comparisons are rarely fair to either side, yet this one is understandable because just like Dylan, VandenAvond is a writer that sings, not a singer that writes. When it feels like the music is getting in the way of the story, this can be a symptom of an upper stratosphere songwriter who it sometimes takes interpretations of their songs from other artists to make their work accessible to the wider public.

Luckily though, VandeAvond had the ridiculous talent pool of Larry & His Flash backing him up on Wreck of a Fine Man. This allows his compositions and brushy voice to be bolstered with magnificent arrangement and instrumentation, displayed no better than on the title track for this album that I truly believe is one of the best songs so far this year. The song “Wreck of a Fine Man” rises to that level from the combination of excellent lyricism and structure from VandenAvond, and the gorgeous harmonic sighs and ascending string lines in the chorus that create a musical mood unmatched.

Another marquee track was “Busted Knuckles”. What VandenAvond does so well is to stencil broken down characters you can believe in when their stories are told through his shaggy voice, and he creates lyrical lines that he calls back on throughout a song to mold a catchy, revolving theme, like he also does in “But, Anyway Now I Gotta Go” and “Where They Say You’ve Been Livin’”. Another great track was “Meet Me At Weber’s Deck” where regardless of your knowledge or participation in the annual summer ritual outside of St. Paul, MN, you can relate to the story of a place to feel comfort and camaraderie.

Even diehard VandenAvond fans must admit that it’s difficult to characterize his music as accessible. He is a hard sell. This isn’t helped by the slight amount of muddiness in this recording, just like some of VandenAvond’s other albums. Tom does not have a stark voice, and doesn’t use sharp lines or a consistent cadence in his phrasing that people are used to. You must get over that and understand this is his style, and that it benefits the music and the broken down themes he sings about. But the recordings can be a little frustrating to the ear, especially because Tom’s words and Larry & His Flask’s arrangements and performances are so spectacular, you want them right out there and clear for you to enjoy. I appreciate the lo-fi approach, but just a little more clarity might have awakened some of the dynamics of these tracks and created a more approachable work.

But the substance is all here, and I can’t help to think of what an impressive song catalog VandenAvond is amassing, which could be pilfered in years to come by bands looking for that deep soul that only the most serious of songwriters can evoke, while at the same time challenging his current songwriting peers to match his substance and depth, promoting a healthier, more vibrant music world than it would rather be without him, for now and into the future.

1 3/4 of 2 guns up.

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Purchase Wreck of a Fine Man from Hillgrass Bluebilly Records

Preview & Purchase Tracks from Amazon


Waylon Jennings’ Birthday Present from Buddy Holly

June 15, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Outlaw History  //  14 Comments

Out on the road, Waylon’s crew was known for pulling some pretty elaborate pranks for the big man’s birthday. For a while, a staple of Waylon’s live show was to have Waylon’s wife Jessi Coulter walk out from the side of the stage near the end of a show singing the duet “Suspicious Minds” on a wireless microphone. Well one night in Salem, OR, the crew dressed up tour manager David Trask in one of Jessi’s dresses with a wig, and while Jessi sang on the wireless microphone backstage, the transvestite-looking Trask sashayed out of stage left toward Waylon holding the core of a paper towel roll. “I almost swallowed my guitar pick,” Waylon said later.

But possibly the most memorable Waylon Jennings’ birthday moment came when Waylon kickstarted a vintage 1958 Ariel Cyclone motorcycle inside a hotel room at midnight in 1979.

As a lot of Waylon Jennings fans know, Waylon and Buddy Holly were big friends back in Lubbock, TX in the late 50′s. Waylon played bass for Buddy when Buddy’s Crickets took a hiatus, and Waylon was the one that gave up his seat to The Big Bopper on that fateful night in 1959 when a plane crash took Buddy, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens lives, memorialized as “The Day The Music Died” and put to song in Don McLean’s “American Pie.”

1 1/2 years before in May of 1958, Buddy Holly and his original Crickets flew in to Dallas’s Love Field airport on a connecting flight back to Lubbock after a big tour.

“They loved Marlon Brando in “The Wild One,” and when they got to Dallas…they decided on the spur of the moment to buy motorcycles and drive back home on them.” Waylon recalled. “They took a cab into the city and walked into a Harley-Davidson shop. They had their eyes on a trio of 74-inchers, but the proprietor didn’t think they had any money and treated them like a bunch of bums. “Hell, you boys couldn’t even begin to handle the payments on that.”
“Then they went over to Miller’s Motorcycles, which specialized in English bikes. There, Joe B, and J.I. (Allison) bought a Triumph each, a TR6 and Thunderbird, respectively, while Buddy picked out a maroon and black Ariel Cyclone, with a high compression 650cc Huntsmaster engine. They paid cash, bought matching Levi jackets and peaked caps with wings on them, and rode home through a thunderstorm.”

Buddy Holly’s father had kept the motorcycle until 1970, when he sold it to someone in Austin, TX. Then in 1979 for Waylon’s 42nd birthday, the two remaining Crickets Joe B. and J.I. tracked down the 1959 Ariel Cyclone, bought it back, and had it hand delivered to north Texas where Waylon found it sitting there in the middle of his hotel room after walking off stage that night.

“What else could I do? I swung my leg over it, stomped on the kickstarter, and it burst into roaring life. First kick. It was midnight, and it sounded twice as loud bouncing off the walls of that hotel room. I knew Buddy wouldn’t mind.”

Buddy Holly, and Crickets Joe B, and J.I. Allison on their brand new bikes in front of Miller’s Motorcycles in Dallas.


Buddy Holly’s 1958 Ariel Cyclone on display in Waylon Jennings’ home (circa 1979)

Buddy Holly home movie footage riding the motorcycle in Lubbock:

(Waylon quotes from “Waylon, An Autobiography” by Waylon Jennings and Lenny Kaye. Photos from and Steve Bonner, Receipt from J.I. Allison.)


Best Songs of 2012 So Far

June 14, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  38 Comments

Some confusion always seems to dog my lists of top songs, because I’m not just looking for that catchy tune you can’t take off of repeat, I’m looking for the song that changes your world. For a song to qualify, it must be original, and barring exceptional circumstances, it must be composed by the performer. These are songs that take you somewhere. Any thoughts on additions, omissions, and your own individual lists are encouraged below in the comments section.

Turnpike Troubadours – Gone, Gone, Gone – from Goodbye Normal Street

The Turnpike Troubadours have now officially arrived. If you’ve been sitting on the sidelines, sniffing at them from afar, waiting to see what happens before you drop a Hamilton on one of their albums, it’s time to jump in. There are a couple of Goodbye Normal Street songs that could have made this list, “Good Lord Lorrie” and “Wrecked” were possibilities, but “Gone Gone, Gone” raises to that special quality by slowing it all down and really speaking to the soul.

Tom VandenAvond – Wreck of a Fine Man – from Wreck of a Fine Man

What’s curious about this song is that Tom V usually composes such autobiographical material, yet this one feels so outside himself, it gives it an unusual aspect. And Tom’s songs usually drone, but this one is strong and defiant despite it being about a dissolving and disillusioned life. Any song that can work in referencing The Ryman is going to get bonus points. Aside from VandenAvond’s signature song, the anthemic singalong “Brick By Brick,” this might be his best composition to date.

Justin Townes Earle – Unfortunately, Anna – from Nothing’s Gonna Change…

Justin Townes Earle may be the best pound for pound songwriter in music right now. He’s not prolific, but his profoundness has no peer. As much as the story and words of “Unfortunately, Anna” are enough to tear at your heart strings, it is the arrangement, the music and the stripped-down approach that really sends this song over the top.

Justin Townes Earle – It Won’t Be the Last Time – Nothing’s Gonna Change…

Self-realization is such a biting, dirty, and difficult exercise. We expect our songwriters to charge down into the depths of the inner soul to regions we ourselves are too scared to explore, to mine the sacred gold of truth to tantalize our senses, and this is what Justin Townes Earle does with haunting honesty in this song. “It Won’t Be The Last Time” is about Earle’s always-fragile sobriety. Listen to me folks and listen good; Justin Townes Earle’s sobriety is not just his own responsibility, it is all of our responsibilities as a music community.

Shooter Jennings – Daddy’s Hands – from Family Man

When I wrote my review for Shooter’s latest album I was under the impression this song was about Waylon. Since then we’ve learned it was in fact about Shooter’s fiance Drea DeMatteo’s side, which makes it even more cool in my opinion. As I said in the introduction, to be the best song all year, you have to move people, and many times songs that move us come from real life instances when an artist was moved themselves.

Olds Sleeper – Bigsky/Flatland – from New Year’s Poem

There were a few other songs I could have picked off of Olds’ New Year’s Poem album, including the title track and the excellent “Born To Lose,” but this is the one that has moved me more consistently, whose spell refuses to wear out. No it’s not that I like this album so much I had to pick one song from it to include on this list, it’s that this list would be woefully incomplete without the simplicity and soul Olds Sleeper evokes in this heart-wrenching and easy-to-relate-to story told with the perfect sonic accompaniment and inflections.

Ray Wylie Hubbard – New Years Eve at the Gates of Hell – Grifter’s Hymnal

I say that Song of the Year candidates cannot just be viscerally enjoyable, they must move you, make you a better person, communicate wisdom. Well in the case of this song, it is both a physical and intellectual uplift. The song is strikingly simple in its structure, really no more than rhythm and a few simple chord changes. But that is what makes it so potent. It awakens your primal nature, at the same time the words challenge your intellect and inspire your spirit. It’s unfairly witty.

Eric Strickland – Drinking Whiskey – from Honky Tonk Till I Die

Eric Strickland so far is 2012′s biggest surprise. It may take a little fudging of the rules to put this song in 2012 contention since it has been released as a different version before, but it’s too good to be an omission. The best part about this song is how on the surface the subject matter seems so plaintive. It’s the way Eric squeezes the soul out of the words and story that take this song from great to something special.

McDougall – The Travels of Fredrick Tolls (Part 2) – from A Few Towns More

I’m afraid McDougall’s latest album is becoming the greatest overlooked album of 2012 so far, which is unfortunate for so many reasons, including that it includes this resounding, life-altering, wisdom-imparting epic of a song that starts of like a Celtic frolic, and ends in a soul-shaking repatriation of the human spirit. “If known what it’s like to be the one who went hungry, now will you be the one that feeds?” is the line that inspires me to redouble my efforts to reach the musically-hungry masses who if they could only hear songs like this, could be uplifted with the inspiration of music and lead more fulfilling lives.

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NOTE: There are no female artists on this list, thought I’m sure the feminine side of things will rally by year’s end. A few songs worth checking out that almost made the list were Rachel Brooke‘s “Lonesome Turns Boresome” (written by her fiance Brooks Robbins), Kellie Pickler‘s “The Letter (to Daddy)” (written by who knows), and Kara Clark‘s “Southern Hospitality.”


Video Review – Caitlin Rose “Piledriver Waltz”

June 13, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  8 Comments

I know I’m late to the party here, but dammit, this video is just so damn good I must expound on it. There’s so much genius in it in fact, I can’t help but think some of it is completely accidental. And the way it plays to both Caitlin Rose’s strengths and weaknesses is wickedly smart.

Caitlin Rose is an extraordinary little riddle you are in no rush to solve. She is a brilliant songwriter with a sublime voice (when she wants to show it off), yet she can tend to come across as aloof, almost bored at times. Instead of shying away from this attribute, another excellent Caitlin Rose video for her song “Own Side Now” exploited that part of her personality by inserting her in these languid moments, laying her head down on tables and such. The “Piledriver Waltz” video takes a completely different approach, donning Caitlin in clown makeup that affects an awakening of the other side of Caitlin Rose that you always have a sense is there, though she rarely displays any symptoms of.

The setting of a vacant rodeo barn is the perfect context for a song about an impending breakup. Standing in the vastness of an empty, quiet venue, with its stark white walls and bright lights, a place usually inhabited by many people and much movement, speaks to the queer head space and loneliness a breakup conjures.

Then to take the time to develop a back story for clown #2 coming from an Elvis wedding in his little white truck screaming around the corner, and the way Caitlin’s emotional conveyance is so overt in the context of the clown getup, but then countered with the shots of her in the stands that revert to the more aloof and ambivalent Caitlin riddled with self-doubt (pursed lips, biting nails), the video takes strides in creating an addicting Caitlin Rose mythos.

Caitlin is positively adorable in the video, though at the same time refreshingly plaintive. She has this eternal sympathetic magnetism about her that preys on your empathy, and she uses this quality in heavy doses in her music, including this “Piledriver Waltz” composition which is a cover of a tune from The Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner. It was released as a single as part of Record Store Day.

The tune itself is good, with Caitlin putting her signature stamp on it by means of some fuzzy guitar and elongating the verse timing, but the video is what allows “Piledriver Waltz” to take the prize.

Such depth and attention in music videos these days is too rare.

Two guns up!


Saving Country Music Answers Its Critics

June 12, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  35 Comments

(This is  the second installment in a series of “house cleaning” articles that is being published to establish and clarify certain things about Saving Country Music, and is not necessarily meant for entertainment purposes, though obviously reading and commenting is still encouraged.)

There are many fair criticisms that I, The Triggerman, and by extension Saving Country Music are susceptible to. For example I will lose my temper from time to time, and may even say stupid stuff because of it. I probably take music too seriously because of my passion for the art form. I also have a tendency to slip into these weird patterns where no matter how hard I try to edit myself, I make gross grammatical errors and typos.

However other criticisms, many based on assumptions, are completely unfounded. Yet to be fair to the folks that may be making these accusations, I understand that I and this website are polarizing entities and so this comes with the territory. So to answer some of these criticisms, I’ve put together some explanations of SCM’s most common criticisms in a forum that can be linked to in the future to answer them as they pop up on the internet as opposed to having to answer them individually.


Since starting SCM, nothing has been more curious and maddening than the incessant assumptions made about me and my intentions. Let me state this as simply as I can, and with as much emphasis as possible: there has never been an assumption made about me that has been correct. Ever, at all, about anything. All assumptions about me and my motivations and intentions are false. It is not necessarily because the people making the assumptions are stupid, it’s more that I live such an unusual life outside of all norms and regular patterns that I do not fit in any common archetypal mold.

I am the most unusual person you would ever meet, not because I have sleeves of tattoos and purple hair, but because I purposely live my life out of the regular, well-worn patterns of human behavior. I don’t think living a life like this makes me special or better than anyone else, but it does make me different, and virtually impossible to pigeon-hole.

Adding to the assumptions is the fact that even though I may own and operate a public website, I am a fiercely private person. It doesn’t mean I hide myself. I am willing to meet people and volunteer personal information when it is germane to a situation, but as much as detractors love to characterize SCM as being all about my ego, I try to make it be as less about me as absolutely possible, and that is why pictures of me, personal anecdotes, etc., are kept to a bare minimum.

You Cannot Criticize Music Because You’re Not A Musician/Don’t Write Songs/Never Toured

SCM is built on the maxim that everyone has a right to an opinion about music, not just me, but my readers, and anyone who listens to music. Honest criticism is not done with the intention of tearing down other people’s pursuits, but to create an environment of discovery in a world glutted with choices. Similar criticisms come up with critics and writers of sports, politics, movies, food, etc., and it is just as invalid. Can someone not criticize a sports team unless they played professionally? Can someone not vote for the President unless they’ve been President before? Criticism is a way for fans to engage with art.

Of course, the other ironic part about criticizing me for not being a musician is that it is based on an incorrect assumption. So even if you truly believe a critic cannot criticize without himself being a participant in whatever he’s criticizing, this is still a criticism that not germane to SCM. However, since the SCM Charter states, “never use (the site) for self-promotion of you…including for personal music, creative, or business endeavors aside from specific ones related to the site,” I am not going to be drawn offside into the realm of self-promotion just to battle some whiner who says I don’t have a right to criticize music. The only time you may see mention of my personal music on the site is if it is somehow an extension of the site itself, of which there are examples of.

The simple fact is yes, I’ve played music in a professional forum, I’ve toured, played in front of crowds of 2,500 people, written songs, and have an understanding of music and the music business from an artist’s perspective that I can employ within my criticism. Having said that, if I was a better musician than a writer, I probably would be spending more time playing than writing.

And one of my big music theories is that there’s too much music right now, too many artists out there diluting attention from the best and brightest, and so is that what we need, yet another musician out there running around the country in a van with an upright bass player? No, instead it was my belief when starting this website that someone needed to help folks sift through the din of parody so they can have a more fulfilling musical experience.

All that said, I still don’t believe that just because I have a musical past means my opinions about music are more valid than anyone elses. They are simply my opinions, and it is also worth pointing out that musical criticism is just one part of what SCM does.

None of the Artists You Cover Like You / Nobody Likes You

If that’s the case, I say good! Perfect! I didn’t start SCM to make a bunch of friends and fit into a scene. SCM isn’t a popularity contest. It isn’t a fan zine. I’ve got plenty of friends, and if I want one more, I’ll get a dog. In fact I prefer to not have close relationships with artists or other music entities because this may impede my impartiality. In fact I think I prefer they hate me, then I feel no obligation but to be as honest as I can about their music, which is what my readers expect.

It is a sign of respect to give an artist the same professional, honest criticism the big franchise artists receive from major periodicals. I’d rather run the risk of being too critical then coming across as a patsy for any artist or scene. This is a key helping proliferate the music amongst people unfamiliar with these scenes or artists.

As for people saying nobody likes me, make no mistake, I am completely aware that I am a polarizing figure and am easy to hate. I am perfectly fine with that. I don’t care about what people think about me personally, I care about being effective. Let history judge the rest.

You’re Not Saving Country Music is just a website, and I am just a blogger. Nowhere will you find where I have anointed myself country music’s savior, or said where I am saving country music personally. Nor will you find anywhere where I’ve said that I am better than anyone else, or my opinions count more than any others. The people who are saving country music are the artists that SCM attempts to promote, while lampooning and holding accountable the artists and entities that are counter-productive to country music’s values. Where the SCM community comes in is in making judgements between the two. That is why it is important to have a vibrant community that encourages criticism and dialog. There is a reason you see more comments and discussions on this site than most. Many times the coverage on SCM is not dictated by my personal tastes, but the desires of the SCM community.

Saving Country Music Has Sold Out/Changed

This criticism began mere weeks after the website was started. It’s a wonder I still am able to sell out when I already did so years ago and multiple times since. Yes, SCM has changed over the years. It has matured and evolved, and I am proud of that. It has also branched out to attempt to cover more music and different perspectives. That doesn’t mean this has been to the detriment of SCM’s roots; on the contrary. Yes, SCM now attempts to cover more Americana, Red Dirt, blues music, and mainstream music than it did at the beginning, but I still run just as many stories about underground country and roots artists as I did before, it’s just now the website publishes more articles, from an average of 3 a week when it first started, to now over double that per week.

I refuse to preach to a choir. I am never offended when somebody does not want to read one of my articles because it is something they are not interested in. The site is not intended to micro-serve any specific scene, it is intended to spread what it considers good music by offering broad coverage of the independent and mainstream music worlds to attempt to broaden musical perspectives. If someone who only loves and listens to underground country music likes all of my articles, then I have failed because my focus is too narrow. I want to seek out the people who would love underground country if only they were exposed to it.

It’s Easy To Hide Behind A Computer Screen

I have found very little of this job to be easy. The sacrifices I have made to keep this website going have been enormous. A governor I put on everything I write is if I would be willing to say the things to someone face to face. If not, I don’t print it. To run a website, you have to spend time behind a computer, but I spend lots of time and money out in the field, traversing the country attending Summer festivals, live events throughout the year, and I never go incognito, and am willing and open to meeting people.

While operating SCM I have received multiple death threats, have had artists write negative songs about me, had artists call me out on stages live, and have had people spread lies about me calling private investigators on artists, insulting people’s dead relatives, and even for using SCM to promote child molestation. As one who criticizes music, I can comfortably say the criticism I receive is on par, if not greater than what musicians face for example, if not in greater measure because SCM’s audience measures in the thousands on an everyday basis. But I am not complaining. I embrace all this criticism, and in some ways I love it, even the erroneous stuff, and turn around and use it all as motivation.


Left Lane Cruiser & James Leg to Release “Painkillers”

June 11, 2012 - By Trigger  //  News  //  11 Comments

Take the insane punk blues of the two-piece Left Lane Cruiser, add the shirtless, sweat-drenched James Leg from the Black Diamond Heavies, and then put them in charge of reviving some of the most legendary songs in blues music, and you’ve got an album dangerous enough to require a prescription. Jim Diamond on bass and the 66-year-old Harmonica Shah on harp round out the lineup assembled for Painkillers, the new cover album due out 6/26/12 on Alive Natural Sound Records.

I normally don’t get this hot and bothered by cover albums, but when you include pound for pound my favorite Taj Mahal song, the funky “Chevrolet,” my favorite Rolling Stones tune, the rolling molasses of “Sway,” and other such high caliber songs from John Lee Hooker, Jr. Kimbrough, Led Zepplin and Jimi Hendrix, it’s enough to get you pitching a tent in your music pants even if you come to the blues from the outside looking in.

This album has some monster songs on it. Just wait until you hear it!

Painkillers can be pre-ordered on Amazon.

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  1. Sad Days Lonely Nights (Jr. Kimbrough)
  2. She’s Gone (Hound Dog Taylor)
  3. Come to Poppa (Bob Seger {W. Mitchel/E. Randle})
  4. Red Rooster (Willie Dixon)
  5. If 6 Was 9 (Jimi Hendrix)
  6. Shake It (John Lee Hooker)
  7. Ramblin’ On My Mind (Robert Johnson)
  8. Chevrolet (Taj Mahal {E. Young/L. Young})
  9. When The Levee Breaks (Led Zepplin, M. Minnie)
  10. Sway (The Rolling Stones {Jagger/Richards})

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