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Reno, Nevada’s Hellbound Glory just finished up a big 6-week tour, and behind them they left a trail of rumors that a future album might have a contribution from electro pop star Ke$ha. Apparently the band met Ke$ha just after coming off another tour and hanging out at their favorite Reno bar called The Hideout the same night Ke$ha was in town playing a show. It still seems somewhat uncertain if the collaboration will actually happen, and if it does, it probably wouldn’t be a full blown duet with Hellbound Glory frontman Leroy Virgil, more just a female backing vocal track.
But all of this Ke$ha talk rekindled a fascination I had with the pop star and her country aspirations about two years ago. Certainly in my world, the meteoric rise of a pop star will not light a blip on my radar…until the rumors of them wanting to “Go Country” forces me into duty, sniffing around on celeb-pop websites like a ravaged beagle in an overturned trash can, squinting my eyes at glittertext, wading through pop-up ads for pimple creme and Southern California-based reality shows to try and substantiate the “Gone Country” claims.
Ke$ha told Papermag in July of 2010:
“I’m really inspired by country music–my mom wrote country music–and I love Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash. I think at some point there might be some country collaborations or records in the future.”
Earlier in 2010 she told popeater.com:
I think people should know the classics — Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, also Townes Van Zandt, I’m a huge fan of him. [Bob Dylan's Nashville Skyline is] one of my favorite albums of all time, because I grew up in Nashville, and so everything about that record is really special to me. When you listen to that record, especially on vinyl, and you’re either falling in love or waking up after a long night and you’re with all your friends, it just brings up a lot of nostalgia.
Pop stars positioning themselves for a country move by claiming they’ve always been into the music is nothing new. The difference with Ke$ha though is her references to her country roots and influences are actually true. Two years ago I wrote a whole article about how Ke$ha could become a huge force in country music but never published it, probably worried it would be misunderstood. Though on a later post about Lady Ga-Ga “going country” I claimed, “the pop star you really need to worry about going country, is Ke$ha. Mark my words.” And later in the comments explained why, how Ke$ha’s past was rooted in country.
Ke$ha’s mom is a country songwriter by the name of Pebe Sebert. Her song of note is Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle To You), which became a hit for Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard, and Johnny Cash. Pebe Sebert did not start off in country though. She was a singer in a punk band, and then wrote the hit song “as a joke” according to Kesha in an interview with Ryan Seacrest. Pebe moved from LA to Nashville in 1991 after signing a songwriting contract when Ke$ha was still very young.
Ke$ha grew up in a songwriting environment, surrounded by music, and was taught how to play and sing at an early age. The story goes that as a baby, Pebe would put Ke$ha in a guitar case on stage while she performed. As Ke$ha grew, they would write songs together. A young Ke$ha and mom Pebe appeared in an episode of the TV show “The Simple Life.” Through the dumb reality TV plot, you can get a good reading of what kind of person Pebe is. Ke$ha was a good student and scored “near perfect” SAT numbers before dropping out of high school to pursue music in LA.
Ke$ha got involved with high rollers in the LA music scene, the whole time she was writing her own songs, citing Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, and classic country as big influences. Ke$ha is a strong singer, has appeared on a number of pop and hip-hop albums singing backups and harmonies, and has written songs for other pop stars including Brittney Spears and Miley Cyrus.
However when her debut album Animal came out, it was described by critics as the most predictable, un-apologetically pop-oriented ultra-catchy album put out in years. Of course, the spoon fed public ate it up. The debut song Tik Tok was a #1 hit in 11 different countries, and became the longest running number one debut single by a female artist since 1977. When questioned about critics, Ke$ha bristles, citing how she writes all of her songs, and is just “having fun” right now.
Even during Ke$ha’s mega success and worldwide tours, she’s still collaborated with other artists. It was her contribution of backing vocals on rapper Flor-ida’s hit “Right Round” that put her in the pop spotlight to begin with, though she didn’t get paid a dime for the contribution. That is when she adopted the “$” in her name, to be ironic, because even though she was well-known, she was living out of the back of a Lincoln Town Car in LA.
Since then she’s established a trashy persona that celebrates bad tattoos, mullets, Tran-Am’s, and reckless behavior. Though on the outside Ke$has seems sincerely pop, some have given her credit for mocking the system with her songs and persona, an anti-pop star so to speak. She publicly distances from the Paris Hilton party scene, and very well may be playing the pop world from the inside, writing stupid, catchy songs to prove a point while cashing in financially. If there was ever a Trojan Horse of the pop world, Ke$ha would make a good candidate.
The question isn’t if Ke$ha will go country, only when. But it won’t be on her next album due out later this year, self-described as guitar-driven “cock rock” that “capture(s) some of the true essence of what rock and roll is, and that’s just irreverence and sexiness and fun and not giving a fuck.” Hellbound Glory would be Ke$ha’s first country contribution, but you can bet it wouldn’t be her last.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Ke$ha will be a force in country music.
This recap was written by Sean Reinhart aka “Seanzo” (see bio below) who attended all three days of Farmageddon Fest in West Yellowstone, Montana July 20,21, & 22nd. All pictures are Sean Reinhart, with layout and editing of the recap by The Triggerman.
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So first of all, for all of you that couldn’t make it to the Farmageddon Fest, I’m sorry. Don’t worry though, since it went so well you will probably have another chance to catch it next year. But to give you an idea of what the music festival was like, this is the story of my experience down on “The Farm.”
All I can say is, it was the best four days of my life. The reality of what I was going to witness didn’t really hit me until driving through the festival gates. It was around midnight when we arrived Thursday night. The place was dark besides the brightly lit up stage. We got our wristbands and a bear warning then went to find our camping spot. The festival grounds were quiet except for a few party animals down the way playing loud drunken sing-alongs.
The next day I woke up in the unbearable sauna that was my tent, and made my way to the main stage by noon. The first grand performance I got to see was the bold and the beautiful Molly Gene and her One Whoaman Band. The familiar feline growls always strike a primal appreciation for the blues. Then the Howling Wolf-like vocals really slap you in the face until your jaw drops to the ground. It that sounds like the kind of blues that came right off the chain gang but on turbo mode.
Next up was the Shivering Denizens. If it weren’t for the accordion in the band I’d have taken these guys as a backwoods band from the Deep South. With songs like ‘Burn that old Shack Down’ I could see where their name came from. They all did seem to be shivering, and with each strum they seem to bounce up and down while strutting their necks like a group of chickens in a cockfight.
I soon found out that I could barley catch every other set in that mid-day heat. I kept having to take a break to save my energy and hydrate. But once I heard Carolina Still come on I rushed back over to the stage from our camp in the far corner of the festival. Their songs are all relative to good ol’ country traditions like taking care of the family, making moonshine, gambling, and having gun duals.
I had to take a nap after that so I missed Sean K. Preston and Thee Swank Bastards, but got up in time to see headliners Southern Culture on the Skids. For many people this band was the reason they came to the festival. They were also one of the most expensive bands to get on the bill. I had never listened to them myself. Though I thought they were going to be a little too mainstream for my liking soon changed my mind with their Americana blend of country swamp rock.
Saint Christopher was up next to through a wrench in the gears for those who came for traditional country music. With a punk rock edge and narrative vocal style he is one person that truly speaks for rebel culture as a whole. He’s not so much root’s music in sound but in the sense of it all, the angst and the passion in his music is how early blues came about. To follow up along those same lines came some of the legends of punk rock, Sean Wheeler from Throw Rag with Zander Schloss from the Joe Strummer days and bands like Circle Jerks. They threw together a terrific set including everything from punk to folk, country and ragtime.
By that time the night was full blown, and to top it off was Tales from Ghost Town. He threw down some impressive country punk blues and after that point I thought the night was over. But no, Danny Kay had to show up late and then really rock the socks off the place. I passed out after that but apparently Sean K. Preston and Cutthroat Shamrock continued rocking around the camps into the night.
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I woke up even more unpleasantly on Saturday than the day before. After getting a good hearty breakfast and town and re-uping on beer, I was ready to go around the time McDougall came on stage. Seeing this guy is more like a spiritual experience than a concert. He’s not a pretentious preacher man per se but more of a humble messiah who has seen the light. He’s got the force of a fully loaded gospel choir packed into a one-man band. Each song seems to take you on an adventure, like you were hopping a train boxcar at night. You feel the darkness but at the end of the song you feel relieved to have made it through the night’s journey and you feel joyful to greet the next day’s sunrise. Yes most of his songs are travelin songs but they’re not your average travelin songs that make you long to hit the road and do what you hear in the lyrics. They actually make it seem like you were there. From Irish banjo tunes to rock-your-face-off folk songs McDougall never ceases to amaze me.
Up next was another one-man band by the name Phillip Roebuck. He put on yet another fabulous display of musical multitasking. With his kick dumb on his back, attached to ropes tied to his feet he could also play guitar and harmonica at the same time making a powerful sound that makes you feel alive and want to get shit done. It was going to take a lot for me to be impressed after McDougall but surprisingly I was.
The lovely Izzy Cox came up next with a band backing her though I’m at a loss of words on how to describe the set besides beautiful, eerie and a dab of old fashioned tasteful risqué. The talented duo Whiskeydick also took it away with a rough and rugged display of outlaw country. Their game consisted of kickin’ ass and takin’ names, drinkin’ whiskey and chasin’ dames. All you really need to know about this band is in the name.
From there it just kept getting rowdier. The ill and insane Black Eyed Vermillion got everyone’s blood pumping and even started a mosh pit. With rockabilly punk rock attitude they certainly fit the bill and got the job done right. They finished off the set with a song that always gets me going with the lyrics, “Good bye to my friends and my lovers. Goodbye to my enemies as well. You all brought out the worst in me, you also made me stronger so goodbye, good luck and go to hell.”
Next singer/songwriter Graham Lindsey came on stage to mellow everyone out. Not only is he a great musician, but he is one of the hardest working man behind the scenes. The festival couldn’t have gone so smoothly if it weren’t for Graham. Aside from running around the place making sure things were in order, he was on stage thorough most of the festival playing with other musicians. It goes without saying his set was terrific. Accompanied by his wife Tina, he sang beautiful songs of desperation and heartbreak. His sound is solemn and sorrowful, yet soothing and soulful. He has the ability to draw the crowd in with his dark and twisted googily eyes then lifts up their hearts like a saint while interchanging yodels and yells, banjo and guitar, harmonica and of course steel brush drum strokes by his other half. Oh and did I mention the man’s got better poetry than any musician I’ve listened to?
Next was James Hunnicutt, warming hearts and belting out notes few other men can reach. The big teddy bear was looking a little more scraggly than the last time I saw him with his slicked back hair but he still made an impression on everyone there. His style ranges from waltz songs like ‘To Wait Here and Want You till I Die’ to cabaret-esque songs like ‘Bad Girl’ country-folk songs like ‘One Last Kiss’ to punk rock songs like ‘Hybrid Moments’ by the Misfits. Aside from his music Hunnicutt always has very inspirational things to say. When he did Hybrid Moments with Nicole Pike you could feel the emotion like a freight train behind it as they sang their hearts out trying not to laugh and cry and the same time. Out of any musician I’ve ever talked to, no one is as sincere as Hunnicutt.
J.B. Beverley was the act I was looking forward to most. I heard him once through an elevator shaft at a restaurant I was cooking at in Livingston, MT but I’ve never had a chance to see him. However I remember thinking to myself that it was honestly some of the best country music I’d ever heard. Needless to say I had high expectations for J.B. at farm-fest and he exceeded them.
And just when I thought it just couldn’t get any better here comes the biggest name of the festival, Shooter Jennings came to take it away. I can’t say I was a big fan before hearing him there but that’s just because I wasn’t familiar with much of his music. Nonetheless, I was anything but disappointed with what I heard. The fact that he was accompanied by the “Farmageddon Boys” including James Hunnicutt, Jayke Orvis, and J.B. Beverley sure didn’t hurt either. Seeing my favorite musicians on stage all together just having a good time was worth every cent I paid for the ninety-dollar ticket.
Next up was Slim Cessna’s Auto Club. Wow. From seeing Slim falloff the stage to be smothered by the crowd to being mesmerized by the ghoulish Jay Munly summon the ghost of Hank Williams, all I can say is the performance gave me the chills. Those boys were ridiculously good. After that shell shocking performance it was time to get crazy with the devil’s son himself and his band of outlaw carnies. Bob Wayne was the name. Playing mean old country music like juggling blood and fire was the game. Wayne even had to apologize for some of the Outlaw songs he sang. He even offered his own guitar to Farmageddon owner Darren before playing the songs “Mack” and “Everything’s Legal in Alabama”.
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Sunday finally arrived and I felt barley alive. My throat was charred, lungs swollen, skin sunburnt, joints achy, and my feet was sore. But my heart was still pumping with adrenaline and I couldn’t be happier to be where I was. Our shantytown of tarps was barley holding up from all the wind that weekend was quite a sight. One festival goer’s tent was flipped over while he lay passed out next to it. Beer cans, cigarette butts, empty whiskey bottles and moonshine jars were scattered throughout the camps. The outhouses down the way reeked to high heaven. And everyone stunk just as bad, wearing odd sunburns caked with dirt sporting band T-shirts and Farmageddon memorabilia.
I went to the stage around the time The Perreze Farm was finishing up, also a very impressive show if you get the chance to see. Highlonesome was getting ready to play next. I only recognized two of the band members though, the singer and drummer. That band is always changing, but I thought the two new additions did the group justice. Ol’ burly Noah belted it out as usual and the ecstatic drummer played with an awesome amount of energy.
A guy by the name of Soda Gardocki was up next. Soda open his mouth I was enthralled by the raspy montage of soul and desperation. It was like Bukowski and Tom Waits morphed into one. You could see a rich history behind his tired eyes and sense the blissful remembrance of old blue skies in his poetry. Between songs he would lighten the mood by telling jokes in between sips and cigarette drags. I liked the fact that he was brutally honest about himself, bringing up his past and present various additions, the ‘eins’ as he called them. He also really tugged on the heartstrings when he played a drinking/love song he wrote with his grandmother. He called up the saw girl whom he met in New Orleans, a fiddle player named Lauren. Then Izzy Cox came up to play their rendition of “St. James Infirmary Blues”. The beautiful eeriness give me chills that reverberated through my bones for the duration of the entire song. I was absolutely mesmerized. My heart grew cold but my soul grew warm, and all I could say was “whoa”.
After that I went back to camp to take a breather. I missed the Ugly Valley Boys play but the great thing about farm-fest is no matter where you were you could still here the music. I sat back in my chair humming along to the song “I don’t feel alright now, but maybe someday.” I walked back over the stage once I heard “Traveling Kind” being sang by Tom Vandenavond. He played a priceless set with the Calamity Cubes and Jayke Orvis. At one point they all got done on the ground and played as the crowd consumed them. Then the Calamity Cubes got back on stage to play their own set erupting with a sound of raw country roots blues. It was really an accumulation of everything backed by the reverberation of the lead singers deep melodic vocals.
The next act had a little different edge. Filthy Still got up and electrified the crowd with their own flavor of punk rock bluegrass. The crazy fast pace was enough to kick your ass and melt your face. All you could do was bang your head and stomp your feet in one place while the band rocked harder and harder on stage. And then it was Carrie Nation and the Speakeasy’s turn. All I can tell you is they played with an intense raw power of old time music and if you haven’t heard of them I suggest you check them out.
I was spent after that string of acts so I went back to camp to take a break, which meant I missed Eerie Von. But it was gonna be a long night so I needed the rest. Besides, I was about to see the man who helped start Farmageddon with his first album, Jayke Orvis. What to say… The man had a striking style unlike anyone else. Though he seemed to be trying to hide it he was obviously having too much fun up there on stage, playing depressing songs like “Feelings Like This” to chipper old traditionals like “Shady Grove”. I’d say he was impressive for not only playing steadily well for each set that he joined in, but for making his own an act to remember.
I have to tip my hat to all the ladies that got on stage and preformed. I already mentioned Molly Gene and Izzy Cox, but I forgot about the sexy violinist Liz Sloan. She played in seemingly every band over the weekend. And she seemed to be enjoying herself thoroughly in each heartfelt set. She kept her rhythm with ease for each song, swaying gracefully, rocking her knees, and tapping her feet. I remember at one point she closed her eyes tilted her neck back and seemed to be playing in pure ecstasy.
So after 4 long and unforgettable nights it was time for the bloody cherry on top: The Goddamn Gallows. They slowly eased into the grand finale by showing off their side projects first. The Pereeze Farm and Fishgutz and his Arrogant Band all played earlier in the day, and Mikey Classic’s solo performance did the job in preparing us for the Goddamn Gallows main set. Seeing a Gallows show is like having the spirit of a hundred demons summoned to jump into the crowd’s souls making them jump around like crazed Hooligans as the band plays. They somehow make you feel astonished and disgusted at the same time while performing circus acts on stage. Most of all they just melt your face, then keep rocking what’s left it right off. Usually it’s a test of both stomach and stamina. But all in all you’ll never see a band quite so exhilarating.
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Well, I think that’s everything. There’s so much that I missed, left out or don’t remember that I’m afraid this lengthy review is still inadequate but at least it’s something. I hope my rants might give you some insight on what it was like to be there in my shoes.
But surprisingly through all the drunken shenanigans that went down, nothing got out of hand. People were usually on their best behavior. There were a few close calls. At one point someone let off a firework. They didn’t catch him but luckily no fires were started. There were few complaints, not even from some of the West Yellowstone townsfolk who were scared to death to let the thing go on.
I don’t even think there were any fights, even with all the different groups of people there. I mean you had young crusty punk kids covered with tattoos hanging out with old conservative folk and there were no problems whatsoever. The Best part about it, is that it didn’t matter who you were, whether you were a hippie or a redneck, a tattooed metal head or a conservative country lover, or whether you liked to party or if you chose to remain sober. Everyone got along.
All in all it was a successful festival in the sense of safety and stellar performances. And the kicker of the whole ordeal was that ones putting it on even made a little money. So hats off to the farm-family. I’ll see you all again next year. And I have a feeling that it’s going to be even bigger and better than this one. Anyway I’m finally done rambling. Goodbye, and good luck!
Seanzo, over and out.
There is a 5 CD box set of the recordings from Farmageddon Fest plus a merch package available for pre-order at newrootsorder.com.
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Sean Reinhart Bio
My name is Sean Reinhart. Sometimes I go by Seanzo. I’m an ex-journalism student of the University of Montana. I grew up in Livingston Montana, a small town made up of bars, coffee shops, art galleries and churches. Growing up I noticed there was a split between hicks and hippies in my town, but I would say I’m a little bit of both and have always hated the division between the two. That is the reason I suppose I love music because it brings people together as human beings despite which category they fall into. I can’t say I’m a musician myself but I do some work with the pen. I began my writing career when I became a high school intern at a local newspaper by the name of the Livingston Weekly. My work there encompassed many things but to name a few I had my own column in which I would mostly rant about growing up in small town and various other life experiences. I was also assigned to review local music scene, which for us youngsters consisted of mostly punk rock. That was our roots that united and gave us something to stand for that was bigger than ourselves.
Following Old Crow Medicine Show over the years has been a journey. If you were anything like me, when you first heard their 2004 album O.C.M.S it sounded like music you’d been waiting your whole life for: old-time string music that was raw, punk, and real. It was such a viscerally-enthralling experience that touched on all your nerves, from the rawness of songs like “Tell It To Me” and “Tear It Down”, to the heart and depth of “Wagon Wheel”.
Then somewhere along the line sentiments began to sour a bit. All of a sudden you began to realize the OCMS singers were effecting their voice to sound overly-old and Southern. Authenticity is a common, worn-out subject in music, but in some ways where Old Crow started on the right side of it, they began to creep to the wrong one. Levon Helm was able to sing a song set in the Civil War without faking Southern inflections, why couldn’t Old Crow?
Then come to find out Bob Dylan had a heavy hand in “Wagon Wheel” and you began to hear it being played by a lot of string and bluegrass bands, and then even more of them, and then seemingly every single one until when you were at a live show and that opening riff rang out you immediately leaned over to your music buddy and made the international sign for inducing vomiting.
And then if you looked around, you could find some bands that were doing things similar to OCMS, only better. Bands like .357 String Band and Larry & His Flask were better musicians and songwriters, and brought even more energy.
About the time OCMS’s whole old-time string band bit felt like it had run it’s course, they hired producer Don Was to help them with their last album Tennessee Pusher, hoping to embody a more progressive sound and approach; to mature if you will. As cool of a name as Don Was is, the question was, why do you need Don Was to produce what is supposed to be a bunch of guys on the street corner singing for nickels? And then a few lineup changes and a 2011 hiatus made you wonder just how much their heart was still into this music.
That leads us to their latest album Carry Me Back. This is the boys returning to their roots of being a roots band, though there is still a little progressive Americana here, just like Tennessee Pusher wasn’t completely void of the string band setup. Having admittedly mixed emotions about OCMS going in, I found myself wanting to validate my negative sentiments about the band at first listen. Yep, here comes the first song and their still effecting their voice like Southerners from the late 1800′s, and they still have songs that veer towards the political.
But if Old Crow was attempting to rekindle the magic they captured on their older albums, they did a pretty good job here. It will never be as fresh as it was back then, but it can be just as fun. “Bootlegger’s Boy” is classic OCMS with a great story progression and enthralling music. “Steppin’ Out” with its ragtime approach has an excellent little turn of phrase and might be the best written song on the album. On “Mississippi Saturday Night”, Ketch Secor gets blowing on that harmonica like he will and the chills start rolling up your spine from the speed and recklessness.
Some of the songs you may not want to like at first, you begin to warm up to with consecutive listens, like the heavily Southern-inflected and slightly-political first three songs “Carry me Back to Virgina”, “We Don’t Grow Tobacco”, and “Levi”. “Ain’t It Enough” is the deep, heartfelt song of the collection, whose charm may have mixed results on the audience. The only two songs that seemed like hard sells were “Genevieve”, whose strait-laced vocal performance and approach seemed so out-of-place on this album (though the song itself is fine), and the overly-cornpone “Country Gal”.
Yes, the issues that concern some about Old Crow Medicine Show are still here, and yes, there is still similar versions of this music only better. But that doesn’t mean Old Crow and Carry Me Back aren’t good. Sometimes it takes a more accessible version of your favorite music to engage the masses, and if you’re a true fan of music, you will see this as a societal upgrade. Sure, it may annoy you when some frat boy in a backwards baseball cap yells “Wagon Wheel!” at a cover band, but that’s so much better than a request for the latest Brantley Gilbert song? Little victories people.
Carry Me Back is solid, is a return to what made Old Crow Medicine Show great, has some great songs, a few warts maybe, but is worth your time to explore further.
1 1/2 of 2 guns up.
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On July 25th, 2012, Waylon Albright Jennings, aka “Shooter”, the son of the late Waylon Jennings, sold out as hard as one can to the forces of big corporate mainstream Music Row pop country by releasing an undeniably pop country song and video with “The Nickelback of Country Music”, Bucky Covington.
But that’s okay, because he was wearing a Scott H. Biram shirt while doing it.
“Drinking Side of Country” is so bad, it is impossible for me to write a review for it that is negative enough. It is a song and video for 14-year-old mop-headed boys to masturbate to. The first thing you need to know about the song is that it’s an older song that Bucky originally cut in 2010 that they changed the lyrics to because of an embarrassing situation involving Shooter. You see, the original chorus had Bucky referring to himself as an “Outlaw on the run.” But seeing how in Shooter’s song “Outlaw You” he publicly called out pop country pretty boys who use the term “Outlaw”, they changed it. They were hoping all the tits in the video would distract from the lyrical shell game, but luckily you have your sweet, lovable Triggerman here to set the record straight.
This is a classic materialistic, chauvinistic, image driven song and video with positively no soul, relatively no story, and absolutely no attention paid to message or artistic appeal. It’s fluff. The only difference between this song and one from Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Kenny Chesney, or Brantley Gilbert is … well … nothing. It’s corporate music that contains all the calling cards of pop country: the token banjo, the bikinis, the reference to booze, the materialistic shots of vehicles, and the wholesale vapid approach that conveys nothing but envy and consumerism. In fact, what it is is a rap song and video; a product of the mono-genre. Pimps with all their ho’s and hot rods.
In this song they decide to razz on the beautiful city of Detroit, saying “So we went up to Detroit and took some country to the city. Like some old hillbilly tourists I guess we looked real silly.” Ha! Detroit is way more country than this song, video, or Bucky and Shooter combined.
What does “Drinking Side of Country” even mean? It means nothing. It’s focus group-driven consumerism demographic-pandering drivel. See here, Shooter likes beer so much, he can’t even put it down to talk at the camera.
The kinky sex backroom deal ultra-corporate cross-marketing stamp is all over this song and video as well. Bucky Covington and Shooter were paired together because they share the same label. Kellie Pickler appears in the video, and was on the same season of American Idol as Bucky. The video was released through Maxim, where Kellie has a big interview and photo spread this month.
Is “Drinking Side of Country” the worst song attempting to garner attention on country radio right now? No, no it’s not. Tim McGraw’s “Truck Yeah”, Kip Moore’s “Somethin’ About A Truck” and a few others are worse. But I would put it in the bottom 10 percentile in regards to substance.
And I don’t want to hear anybody talk about how this song will give exposure to “underground” bands. The gateway drug theory rarely pans out, and you don’t attract new fans with shitty sellout songs, you attract them with the good ones, with substance. You shouldn’t have to mince your words, shave off the edges and apologize for real, authentic music. Instead you should educate and expose people to the real stuff with the confidence and sincerity that it is truly better. “Drinking Side of Country” doesn’t represent the values of anything underground or independent, it represents the the selling out of those values.
If you watch the video for “Drinking Side of Country” and truly believe that it has anything to do with independent, underground, real, true, Outlaw, or just pain good country music, or if you think it has any substance whatsoever in the context of any music, then you my friend have been completely duped by the cult of personality of Shooter Jennings.
Just think of what Dale Watson would say watching this video. Envision him sitting there taking it all in, with his white fluffy pompadour, butterfly collars and leather vest, with his nickel-clad Telecaster slug over his shoulder. I think I know what he’d say.
Two guns way down!
I come to the Sara Watkins world admittedly from the outside looking in. I wasn’t along for the ride when her previous band Nickel Creek blew up and made stars of its principals, principally mandolin maestro Chris Thile who now heads The Punch Brothers. Since Nickel Creek split into forks, some folks have been laying their silver down on which player will outmatch the other. Not having much of a dog in the race, I just saw the scuffle and dust, and hearing some bits of the music made me realize there was probably a tremendous bevy of talent left behind in Nickel Creek’s ashes that was worth scoping out.
Just like Chris Thile and the Punch Brothers album Who’s Feeling Young Now?, Sara Watkins’ Sun Midnight Sun is fiercely progressive for what you would consider roots or string music, but in such a remarkably different direction. The Punch Brothers are a challenging, heady, orchestral set of complex equations that tend to lack accessibility as a trait, however much that is made up for in talent. Conversely, Sara Watkins is refreshingly light and easy, maybe too easy for some in stretches, with whimsical, sweet tales dealing with a single girl’s struggles, and the fiddle (Sara’s charge in Nickel Creek) mostly called upon for textures instead of structure.
All that said, they figured out how to throw some grit on these Sun Midnight Sun recordings through technique, and really brought a raw and real feel to this project that surprises you from the otherwise pop feel of some of the compositions. Watkins has sort of a cute, spinster-like way about her songwriting and cover selections that draws you in. The production is very heavy handed. Think Emmylou Harris’s Wrecking Ball, with pounding, rhythmic percussion tracks that give this music a very primal, yet at the same time elevated, bohemian feel, and a groove bordering on a techno infectiousness in spots.
For me, Sun Midnight Sun was one of those albums that had some good songs that I latched on to, but the project never stuck to me as a whole. But those few songs though, let me tell you. I’m libel to recycle them over and over in one setting until I feel stupid about it. The opening track “The Foothills” may be the leader in the clubhouse for instrumental track of the year. This amazing folk/bluegrass composition is built in layers like a buttermilk biscuit. They stack upon each other gradually and meld in unison through a recording technique sure to be asked for its recipe by distinguishing ears for years to come. And beneath all of that is a heavy, progressive world-beat that burrows straight into your primal nerves.
“You and Me” employs this similar rhythmic base, but lays on top of it a sweet and simple love story. Yet again an impressive production approach is able to create space, dimension, and distance in a recording that dramatically elevates a rather plaintive, but nonetheless compelling story. Sara Watkin’s songs sound like memories.
That leads us to the heart of Sun Midnight Sun, the almost 7-minute “When It Pleases You”. Though in a quick sniff this song may smack of Alanis Morissette whining or something, there’s so much more here. The way it drones, the way the song is structured so Sara’s voice is strained throughout, cracking in moments, its cyclical nature captures the sonic equivalent of being in a relationship that you know is never going to work but can’t seem to get out of. The music illustrate the frustration at the heart of the song’s message. This is a brilliant stroke of lyrical theme and music coming together to drive home the mood and inspiration for the song through empathy.
After trying valiantly to be similarly compelled by the other songs on the album, I can say confidently there’s nothing wrong with any of them, but I didn’t find them as appealing as the three others previously mentioned. I anticipate the experience being completely different for someone either more familiar with Sara’s work, or someone more inclined to enjoy this fiercely progressive side of roots music. Or frankly, female listeners I think will have a foot ahead of us males at finding more universal appeal in Sun Midnight Sun. But I thoroughly enjoy what I thoroughly enjoy about this album, and in no way could justify telling people that they shouldn’t check it out. I always hate to recommend cherry picking, but I must say not at least having “The Foothills” in your music collection seems abundantly stupid.
Props should be given to producer Blake Mills on this one, and it’s worth mentioning that Fiona Apple, Jackson Browne, and Benmont Tench (of Tom Petty) appear on the album as well.
Give this one a try. Go into it understanding what you’re getting into, and you might just find some of your favorite music so far this year.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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“People first, then music” is the mantra on this site, and it is such a blessing when you discover people who are just as inspiring as the music they make. Such is the case with the Anderson Family Bluegrass Band from Grass Valley, CA. Hovering above the fray of most stock family bands and stock bluegrass bands, there is a realness to their music that sets them apart. Yes, their set lists include many standards you would expect from any bluegrass band, but then they’ll completely surprise you with some spice, like Iris Dement’s “Our Town” or Hank Williams III’s “D Ray White.”
One of the great things about following a family band is you get to watch the kids mature into their proficiency and personality, and one good thing about the Anderson Family is they lack the hokiness or cultish feel you can find sometimes in the family band concept. Yes, the kids are home schooled, but they are not some unusual version of a hyper-religious family, nor are they anti-religious either. They are just people, and their music is fiercely real. They are the same on and off the stage. And the honesty of their love for each other and the music is unbelievably infectious and uplifting.
“It’s never been a ‘You have to do this’ thing,” eldest sibling and guitar player Paige Anderson explains. “It’s something the family is very passionate about, and really loves. Without music, I’m not sure what our life would be like. It seems crazy to think about that. If we weren’t passionate about it, we wouldn’t be doing it.”
For years it was easy for your attention to gravitate to Paige, the front person of the band. Female flat picking guitarists are so unbelievably rare to begin with, and Paige’s adeptness with the discipline is matched in slickness by her sublime and saccharine voice. But when seeing the Anderson Family perform live this weekend at the Scott Valley Bluegrass Festival in Etna, CA, just the improvement in all the players from previous seasons was spellbinding in its own right.
Maybe worth noting the most is how Paige’s younger sister Aimee’s singing had acquired this confidence that allowed it to meld with her siblings with such ease. Every one of the Anderson Family kids are highly proficient pickers, but Ethan, aka “Bo” Anderson may turn out to be the instrumental savant of the clan while giving up no ground in his ability to hold up his side of a harmony. The 13-year-old stole the show when he sat in with the David Thom Band on the weekend. To see a 13-year-old stand in on a full set of hard-charging bluegrass music completely unrehearsed proves that the Anderson Family are not just programmed, they are proficient way beyond their years.
And Daisy, my word. The youngest sibling drew the loudest hands of the weekend, with both her vocal prowess, holding out he part on the song “Ruby” (see below) for an inhuman amount of time, fitting right in with the challenging harmonies of her older sisters, and handling her breaks on the dobro better than most players who are her age squared. With that much talent and drive, mom Christy Anderson on upright bass, and dad Mark Anderson on banjo are just happy to keep up.
But what’s always the challenge with child performers is if the originality is going to develop. Sure, learn the modes of music and how to move your fingers as fast as you can, but will there be soul? Can you write a song? The Anderson Family already exudes a lot of originality in the way they arrange their traditionals and covers and how they handle their solo breaks, but with Paige Anderson now writing her own material, this adds a whole new dimension to the music.
Within the Anderson Family Bluegrass Band, and in Paige’s spinoff with sister Aimee and brother Ethan called “The Fearless Kin”, Paige is developing her own independent roots style with a bluegrass backbone, inspired by folks like Chuck Ragan, and Possessed by Paul James, both of which The Anderson Family has shared the stage with before.
“We met Chuck Ragan in 2008,” explains Paige. “He helped me write my first song. And ever since then I’ve been writing more and more and gravitating towards that style.”
Paige just graduated high school, and wants to pursue music as a career full time.
“My plan is to pursue music because I’m passionate about it and I love it, to take a semester off just to write songs, and get my thoughts sorted out about booking gigs and all of that. And right now I’m also working on my first EP which consists of all original tunes except for one. And in January I’m going to go to a community college and take music business. I think the business aspect of music is really important, and studying it.”
She’s hoping to release the EP some time this summer.
I went to the Scott Valley Bluegrass Festival hoping to catch the Anderson Family’s set and shake their hands, and the Anderson Family ended up making me feel like one of the family for the weekend (Trigger Anderson, if you will). The music is excellent, but this is just the excuse to get you to pay attention to the profound warmth and by-gone family strength the Anderson Family conveys.
“My siblings are like my best friends,” says Paige “We’re each other’s best friends. Family to me is home, and I really value that a lot.”
Their strength and authenticity is inspiring, and stays with you after the last note has rung and the last hand has been shaken. Sure, like any family, the Anderson’s have their struggles, but they are also an example of how fulfilling life can be when your priorities are simplified into family and artistic expression.
Hank Williams III’s “D Ray White”
“Ruby” featuring Daisy Anderson
That’s right ladies and gentlemen, your hero, the lord of underground roots, the savior of independent music, Shooter Jennings, is releasing a duet single and video with the most pop-ity pop of pop country uber douches, the “Nickelback of Country Music”, American Idol’s Bucky Covington. The song is called “Drinking Side of Country” and all indications is that it will suck hard enough to send a golf ball through a garden hose.
For those of you who have no idea who Bucky Covington is (and I would like to think that is the majority of the Saving Country Music readership) you could make a serious case that he is one of the worst artists pop country has ever seen, from numerous perspectives. The only difference between Bucky and Jason Aldean is people actually listen to Jason Aldean. There’s nothing more failed than a failed pop country star, and that is what Bucky Covington is.
Last week folks were in a tizzy because Jason Aldean dropped the tidbit that he simply listens to Nickelback. Ha! Bucky has him beat by 1000 miles. In 2010, Bucky Covington actually recorded and released an entire Nickelback song, “Gotta Be Somebody.” And no, this was not just as some demo bonus track, it was a full fledged radio single with a big budget video. Watch, if you dare:
The world first learned about Bucky Covington’s flowing locks of highlighted hair and his Dirk Diggle mustache when he was a contestant on American Idol in 2006, finishing 8th. Since then he’s been slaying America with his bland and generic take on the most formulaic of pop country and garnering tepid commercial success. He’s also pretty notorious for being dumb. In April of 2010, he recounted a story to The Boot about actor Billy Bob Thorton, proving just how dumb he is:
I went to his house and hung out drinking lukewarm Coronas. This guy is the epitome of cool. We were talking movies and music, and he brings up the movie ‘Sling Blade,’ and I said, ‘Were you in ‘Sling Blade’? That was a great movie!’ And he thanked me. I asked who he was in ‘Sling Blade,’ and he said, ‘Carl.’ I said, ‘That’s the main character!’ I didn’t even know he was in it! But actually technically that’s a huge compliment to an actor, that I watched the movie, and I didn’t know it was [him]! And he wrote the dang movie as well!
Bucky also has a twin brother, Rocky, and together they like to do stupid shit and then lie about it to the cops. In 1998 they were arrested for hit and run, leaving the scene of an accident, resisting arrest, giving fictitious information to a police officer, and driving with a suspended license. Brother Rocky was in a car accident and had a suspended license at the time, so he dialed up Bucky who raced over and told the 5-0 that he was actually the one driving. The cops sniffed it out, and eventually they confessed. Then in July of 2011 they both were charged with grand theft for stealing $1,500 from the cash box at a Florida show. The charges were later dropped from lack of evidence.
Shooter Jennings has been trying his little heart out to earn scene points with the “roots” underground after his glam rock, industrial rock, and mainstream country projects tanked. So why now is he buddying up with Bucky Covington? Because of corporate politics and cross marketing. Both Shooter and Bucky are signed to Entertainment 1 Records, which ironically is one of the biggest hip-hop labels in the world. As much as Shooter wants to talk a big game about how corporate music sucks and he’s for the little guy, here he goes trying to re-cultivate his mainstream legitimacy. Or even worse, he’s doing it because he wants to.
But I don’t blame Shooter for pairing up with Bucky Covington. That is what he should be doing. When it comes to country, Shooter has always been a mainstream artist with mainstream songs. Where he doesn’t belong is acting like he fits into anything that is related to underground roots music. He doesn’t record DIY. He releases his music through big corporate labels. And up to 18 months ago, he admits himself had no idea underground roots music existed.
And no, Kellie Pickler’s name is not relevant here. Apparently she has a cameo in the Shooter/Bucky duet video and she used to be an American Idol pop country product too. And yes, I’ve grown very fond of her last album 100 Proof, but nobody is saying Kellie Pickler should do a duet with Hellbound Glory or headline the Muddy Roots Festival. That would be out-of-context, just like anything Shooter has to do with “underground” country. And if this Bucky Covington business doesn’t make you realize that, then you have been completely duped by the Shooter Jennings cult of personality.
And sure, Bucky Covington could’ve had a change of heart about his music just like Kellie Pickler did, but this duet song “Drinking Side of Country” is an old song Bucky released in 2010. It’s not new. It’s a stupid laundry list country song, and even worse, he named drops “Outlaws” in the song. Yes, Bucky Covington, Bucky Covington is talking about Outlaws, the same thing Shooter Jennings called out in his song “Outlaw You”. The hypocrisy is so incredibly-thick and undeniable around this song, but we’ll deal with the actual content of the song in due course, trust me. Meanwhile check out Bucky’s effeminate moves in the original version of “Drinking Side of Country” that make Luke Bryan look like a lumberjack:
And for all the folks that will say, “Gee Trig, why you always gotta be so negative?” I have no choice in this matter. My hand is being forced. When some artist who is touting themselves as a product of the underground/independent world cuts a duet with Bucky Covington filled with hypocrisy, or points a tank at the Country Music Hall of Fame, or promotes a Waylon song turned into a rap song, or buddies up with The Moonshine Bandits, I have no choice but to put as much distance as possible between those actions and myself.
I don’t think that Shooter is without talent. He has some good songs, and I recognize he is trying to do some things to help promote smaller bands. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And furthermore with Shooter, it’s the disingenuousness, it’s the talking out of both sides of his mouth, it’s the wanting it both ways, it is the Svengali-ing of independent artists by acting like he has any means to help them “make it” when really he’s using them to be promoters of his cult of personality. It’s the manipulation. And I’m sure Shooter will say, “Let me explain”, just like he says every time he makes a dumb move in his career.
Sure, Shooter has gotten some scant play in dark recesses of the dying corporate radio world in severely off-peak hours for some artists. This whole cross-exposure back scratching scenester bullshit isn’t outreach, it’s simply people trying to prove how cool they are to each other. Shooter doesn’t have the power to increase the exposure of any act any more than anybody else. And since he is a wickedly-polarizing character (who likely will even become more polarizing after this Bucky Covington mess), for every fan the Shooter Jennings name may bring to an artist, it scares away two more.
And no, “Hey I met Shooter, and he seems like a nice guy,” is no excuse for his endless string of bad decisions and overt hypocrisy.
There is no Shooter/Triggerman rivalry. He is an artist and someone rying to further his career, and I am a writer whose charge it is to tell the truth the way I see it. And right now, the truth in my eyes is that Shooter has no compass, no principles, will do and say whatever he thinks he has to to create support and traction in his career. And that has always been the case with Shooter, throughout his career, along with coming very close to stealing ideas and personas. Shooter cutting a pop country laundry list song with Bucky Covington is him jumping the shark, and showing his true colors.
But I’m probably just jealous.
TV watchers have been crying for over a week now because MTV, CMT, and other channels have been canceled for some viewers in an ongoing dispute between satellite provider DirecTV, and Viacom, the world’s 4th largest media conglomerate. Listen to me, crying at the loss of CMT, MTV, and certain other Viacom properties is the television equivalent of sympathizing with your kidnapper.
I’ve often wondered, why is it always the music channels that get hijacked from their original formats to become the preeminent purveyors of cultural filth? They start off by showing music videos, and somehow that organically translates to showing realty TV that displays the most vile of stereotypes. Every time the story is the same, whether it is MTV, CMT, VH1 or BET. Once Viacom buys a cable channel, they enact a reformatting to pander to very narrow, very obvious demographics of people who identify with corporate culture. I wouldn’t let my dog raise its leg on a television set that was aglow with an episode of CMT’s “Redneck Vacation” or MTV’s “Jersey Shore”. That would be assigning it more dignity than it deserves.
And is it the music programming that Viacom is using to entice its viewers to either switch providers or lobby DirecTV to return the Viacom channels? No, it’s these reality series. Urban culture, rural culture, hip-hop culture; it is all covered here. Check it:
“Whut?” WHUT? Yuck Yuck Yuck! HEEEE YAWWWW!!!
It’s bad enough that for years Hollywood and mainstream media have made Southern and rural America the brunt of their jokes. Now Southern culture is doing it to ourselves through CMT. “Camera’s rolling redneck, dance! Come on! Do something funny for us! Eat a rattlesnake, roll in the mud! Go!”
Many of these music channels started off as small-time operations with good intentions. BET was originally created by black television executives who were tired of the rest of media only portraying people of color in a negative light. But as soon as Viacom gained control, it began showing programming with even worse stereotypes than the regular networks. Viacom turned music channel TNN into Spike TV, and shifted the programming to pander to the young male “PS2 pot head” demographic. Maybe it is not a coincidence that the rise of reality programming and reformatting of these music channels paralleled the lull in the music business we saw in the mid/late 2000′s.
Some folks are blaming DirecTV for getting in the way of their “Redneck Vacation” or other watching, when it was clearly Viacom who instituted the dispute when they raised the rates DirecTV must pay to carry Viacom channels. DirecTV claims if they were to keep the Viacom programming, they would have to raise the rates of the customers. Of course DirecTV isn’t squeaky clean either with the way they bait and switch their subscription plans, making them super cheap in the beginning and then slowly raising rates and taking away programming over time.
I say good riddance to CMT, MTV, and Viacom. Hopefully DirecTV isn’t the only ones who jettison the Viacom tripe, and hopefully they stick to their guns. I know that not all Viacom channels are awful, and neither is all CMT and MTV programming. And though I’m not a television watcher myself, I know that folks need downtime in life and TV offers an easy opportunity for that. But clamoring for the return of CMT, MTV, “Redneck Vacation”, “Jersey Shore”, or certain other Viacom programming is like clamoring for more pesticides in your food.
Trust, me, you don’t want it.
It’s not too often that 90-year-old entertainers experience a resurgence in their careers, but that is exactly what Don Maddox of Maddox Brothers & Rose finds himself in the midst of. After 50 years of being hidden away in the town of Ashland, OR where he was known only as a cattle rancher, Don has the spotlight shining down on him once again, receiving standing ovations at The Grand Ole Opry, headlining festivals, and having the history of his legendary family band on display as part of the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Bakersfield Sound exhibit.
“If you don’t get Don Maddox back here for this exhibit, you might as well not have it at all,” is the quote from Merle Haggard that everyone was talking about at the Bakersfield Exhibit opening, and the standing ovation Don Maddox received when Marty Stuart took him to the Grand Ole Opry is what Don couldn’t stop talking about when he invited me out to his ranch just outside of Ashland, OR; the epicenter of all things Maddox after the band’s breakup in the mid 50′s.
The Maddox family moved to California from Boaz, Alabama during the early stages of the Depression. Tired of working as itinerant farmers, they decided to become entertainers and The Maddox Brothers were born. At the beginning, Don was too young for the band, but when he came of age he joined his brothers and sister as the fiddle player and “comedian” of the band with the nickname “Don Juan”. 70 years later, Don’s wit has not dried up or slowed one bit, despite being off the stage since the late 50′s. He is the last surviving member of the band.
One can make the case that Maddox Brothers and Rose are one of the most influential bands of all time in American music, and this isn’t just a platitude meant to flatter. When the Maddox Brothers began, they didn’t even call it country music yet, it was called “hillbilly music”, yet the Maddox Brothers didn’t play hillbilly music exclusively. They mixed it with boogie woogie, which would later become rock & roll. Where the Maddox Brothers influence is undeniable is in the combination of hillbilly and boogie woogie that came to be known as rockabilly.
Rose Maddox has been called anywhere from the queen, to the mother, to the grandmother of rockabilly, and brother Fred Maddox who played upright bass is given credit for developing the slap bass approach to the instrument. “Well the reason he did a slap bass was because he didn’t know how to play the bass.” Don Maddox explains. “All he was doing was playing rhythm anyhow. He didn’t know the notes so he’d just slap the bass for the rhythm part. Everybody thought he put on a great show and thought he was the best bass player there was.”
The Maddox Brothers & Rose, also known as “The World’s Most Colorful Hillbilly Band” for their bright embroidered Western suits, may have also had some influence on Elvis who they shared the stage with, sonically and in the style of dress.
“We were playing a show with Elvis in Beaumont, TX at the auditorium.” Don recalls. “A package show. And we had on our fancy outfits, the ones with the bell bottoms on them and all the flowers and all of that stuff. Elvis, he was just coming on the scene at that time. And they came in with their street clothes. That’s all they had at that time. It was pretty hot down in Beaumont so we took off our fancy jackets and hung them in the dressing room backstage. And when we came off stage and went back there to get our jackets, Elvis had on one of our fancy jackets and was parading backstage and he said, ‘One of these days I’m going to get a fancy outfit like this.’ So eventually Elvis got himself a fancy outfit, not like ours but even more fancier. But it had bell bottoms on it, so the story is he got the idea from seeing bell bottoms on our outfits at that time.”
In the mid 50′s, Maddox Brothers and Rose officially disbanded. They determined their style of music had peaked. “The money was going out faster than it was going in,” says Don. So Rose, along with brother Cal who played guitar, and mother Maddox who was the family’s manager, left for Nashville to hopefully make it big in country music. They thought Rose was the real star, and could make more money without all of the other brothers. Don Maddox was 37-years-old at the time and was living in Hollywood. He’d never graduated high school, he had no direction, and didn’t think he was good enough to play fiddle in any other bands.
So Don enrolled in a college of agriculture that taught the cattle business, and after graduating, drove his ’57 pink Cadillac north from Hollywood in search of a ranch to buy. He wanted to purchase in the Napa Valley just north of San Francisco, but eventually settled in Ashland, OR, just over the California border, where he found a beautiful 300-acre plot just east of town. They wouldn’t take his pink Cadillac in trade, but he stole the place for $27,500; a lot of money at that time, but nothing compared to the $150,000 prices Ashland, OR acres fetch today.
With the ranch secured, Don Maddox headed to Las Vegas to buy a bull, and he settled on a champion angus named “Ben Bond Revolution #73″ that he paid $10,000 for in a fierce bidding war with another rancher. “I latched on to that ‘revolution’ and I was going to revolutionize the cattle industry with that bull. And I named my ranch ‘Maddox Revolution Angus Ranch’. I kept that bull for two years and he gave me some good calves. And then he went sterile on me! And I had to sell him for hamburger prices at 25 cents a pound and he brought about $500. So I didn’t revolutionize the cattle industry because nobody would join my revolution.” Don says laughing.
“So when my new bride came along and she wanted me to make CDs, and the guy that was making the CD for me said, ‘You’ve got your revolution ranch, why don’t you make it Revolution Records?’ So that’s where the Revolution Records came from.”
Don has kept the Revolution Ranch running all the way up to today, where he still lives in the original house and still helps keep the ranch going. The barn that reads “Maddox Revolution Angus” that overlooks Ashland, OR on a bluff is a landmark, but the vast majority of Ashland residents are clueless to Don’s or the Maddox’s musical past.
The irony in Don’s story is that even though he was one of the Maddox Brothers members who wasn’t seen as good enough to keep going when Rose tried to make it big in Nashville, he was the one able to take the wealth the family enjoyed from the 40′s and 50′s and make it stretch. So when Rose’s career came to a halt in Nashville, she, along with brother Cal and mother Maddox moved to Ashland, where Don sectioned off a 5-acre plot of the ranch and sold it to them to live on. Mom, Rose, and Cal lived there for the rest of their lives. When they couldn’t afford to pay for it, Don bought it back, and then leased it to them so they could continue to live there.
Throughout their lives in Ashland, The Maddox Brothers and Rose’s musical past mostly remained a secret except for some diehard country and rockabilly fans who knew the Maddox name for the legendary and influential force in American music they were.
2 years ago, Don married Barbara who he refers to as his “child bride”, and Barbara began helping Don get back into the music business. In August of 2011, The Muddy Roots Festival in Cookeville, TN flew Don out to play, and Don was able to meet Marty Stuart during the trip, who owns all of the Maddox Brother’s colorful Western suits that (potentially) inspired Elvis, and who loaned the collection to the Country Music Hall of Fame for their Bakersfield exhibit. Since then Don has played The Grand Ole Opry (and received a standing ovation, don’t forget) and even appeared on The Marty Stuart Show as a special guest.
Once again in 2012, Don Maddox will be playing The Muddy Roots Festival in Cookeville, TN, and who knows what will happen from there. “This is my golden years.” Don beams. “I heard of the golden years when I was a young man and I thought, ‘Yeah right.’ But in my golden years I’ve been on The Grand Ole Opry, I’ve been in the Country Music Hall of Fame. This is the golden years for me.”
Don shows no signs of slowing down whatsoever, is still funny and as sharp as a tack, and still gets standing ovations for his renditions of songs like “Step It Up & Go” and “Orange Blossom Special”. Don Maddox is a living piece of history that harkens back to a time when American music was known by completely different names and was just beginning to form into the major genres we identify with today. Rock & roll and rockabilly owe just as much to Don and the Maddox Brothers as country does, and they owe him a lot.
Don Maddox is a national treasure, and still one amazing entertainer.
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(Saving Country Music’s full interview with Don Maddox will be posted soon)
Don Maddox @ The Muddy Roots Festival:
Don Maddox on the Marty Stuart Show:
If you’re looking for what is hip, what is hot right now in the confluence of American roots and rock music, you could make a strong case for the young, energetic roots rock bands emerging from the deep South as the epicenter of enthusiasm and influence. With the Alabama Shakes blowing up, the freedom to boldly mix blues, rock, country, and a large measure of soul has been endowed to bands with ample amounts of hunger, talent, and skill.
After years of nerdcore shoegazers being the most hip part of the scene, with their ukes and theremins and some pink haired girl in Sally Jessy Raphael glasses banging away at a Fisher-Price xylophone toy with a spatula, balls and back beat have re-emerged, including in the Birmingham, Alabama-based Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires whose debut album There’s a Bomb in Gilead was released on Alive-Naturalsound Records in May.
This is an explosively-energetic album with influences and styles pulling from a wide range of American music. Lee Bains is well-versed in Southern modes from both sides of the tracks, and shows tremendous versatility in being able to conjure up the smoky mood of a blues singer, and the sweaty twang of a Southern rocker in the space of a breath, with The Glory Fires right on his heels with their authentic, spot-on sonic interpretations.
There’s A Bomb in Gilead has some great tracks, anchored by the rocking “Centreville” which boasts some sick and stirring lyrical lines. Then Lee Bains and the boys show off how quick they can switch gears with the slow, country-feeling “Reba”. “Righteous, Ragged Songs” and “Red, Red Dirt of Home” hearken back to the golden-era of Allman-style Southern rock, while “Opelika” takes it over to the poor, dark side of town on a front porch, with good distance captured in the recording.
Overall the album conveys that “sweaty” sound The Rolling Stones perfected back in their Exile-Sticky Finger needle & spoon days that so many bands yearn for but few realize. There’s a Bomb also has some some very deep soulful moments that I hear in a lot of these Southern roots rock bands; Motown stuff that they call upon with the same frequency and confidence as the country and blues vibes.
Not to carry out The Alabama Shakes comparisons too far, but a similar concern I had with them I hear with Lee Bains too. With the wild variety in styles between songs, there is no one universal or unique style that defines the band, and it necessitates the listener shifting listening gears between songs. This also happens to keep the album spicy and your ears alert, but I would like to see Lee Bains & The Glory Fires do more to define their own sound, not just master the sounds of others.
Still this album passes the listening test, meaning you find yourself coming back and listening to it over and over. If you come to this album as a die hard country fan, you will come to it from the outside looking in, but with the song “Reba” and a strong Southern rock influence, there will be enough familiarity with it to allow you to warm up to the rest of the material.
This is a good first album with some great songs and great energy, and I look forward to hearing what Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires offer up in the future.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
(10-20-12) After much thought and listening to this album, I have decided to do the unprecedented and boost the rating of this album to a full “Two Guns Up!”. Though my concern remains that Lee Bains needs to further develop what is own unique sound is going to be, the listenability and appeal of the songs is just too great to deny it the best rating I have to give.
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If I had to describe this album in one sentence it would be, “Bocephus walks into a studio, cuts on a mic, and begins to blow hard.” Old School, New Rules is a self-important, self-promoting, self-gratifying opus of an American doofus offering no real depth, wisdom, originality, or creative engagement. It is the Shock n’ Y’all of 2012; a political album that relies on the same old tired Hank Jr. modes, and marks a moment of egotistical grandstanding future generations will look back on with embarrassment.
The problem is Bocephus has bought into his own ethos even more than some of his hardcore fans. He truly believes he’s a mad genius with an arsenal of witty one-liners ready to let fly at any moment when in truth he’s in the throes of an egotistical mind fog. I love how the man wants to preach about how we should all live and how the government should run, yet he’s had how many divorces? Jr’s been a part of how many public embarrassments? Been to rehab how many times? And is currently estranged from his son and name sake? Same can be said for Steve Earle and other artists who like to lecture us on the liberal side of things. How about before you preach about the way things ought to be you get your own house in even some minor semblance of order?
This album isn’t just bad, it’s downright painful to listen to in places. Bocephus has adopted this singing style over the years where he sings the first half of a phrase, and then talks the second half for emphasis with these wild up-and-down inflections that are caustic to the ear. Listen:
This album was dated before it even came out. You can hear Jr’s voice grinning as he’s makes points that he thinks are genius when in reality they fall flat, or are cliche, or in some instances, don’t even make sense. Saying “keep the change” in reference to Obama was tired 2 1/2 years ago, but Bocephus calls upon it multiple times in this album. Old School, New Rules creates its own set of cliches by the end, relying the same dumb lines and points over and over.
There’s also this alarming lack of congruency or flow in some songs like the opening track “Takin’ Back The Country,” which goes from his Fox & Friends debacle, to sampling two different Hank Williams songs, a horn section, Obama and EPA bashing, Facebook & Twitter all in a sonic structure that is horrifically Hank Jr. cliche. Good gosh man, just tell a story and try to relate it to some folks. At the end of this song, you feel like your brain was in a blender.
His flag-waving formula song “We Don’t Apologize For America” has the same problem. It starts off as one song and subject, and then becomes another. So does “Cow Turd Blues” where Jr. takes an okay song and ruins it by adding a completely embarrassing self-gratifying diatribe about himself in reference to his ESPN/FOX debacle, about how “There’s some things in this country you don’t mess with. And I am blessed to be on that short list.”
Who the hell says this about themselves?
The song “That Ain’t Good” is sold as some deep-minded treatise on modern-day American struggles when no single line really sells itself. “Old School” might be the most palatable take on the album, but broken down is just a vehicle for Bocephus to brag. Out of all of the songs, “Three Day Trip” is the absolute worst. Take the horrifically over-worn formula of the Kenny Chesney island song, add some humor as flat as a 3-week-old 3-liter of Pepsi, call a woman a “bitch”, and this song should be offensive to just about any and all real country fans.
Did Hank Jr. forget his old routine with Kid Rock where Jr. says in country music, “We don’t say ‘bitch’ we say ‘ma’am’”?
A lot of folks are going “Wow, I just heard “I’m Gonna Get Drunk And Listen To Hank Williams” on the radio, what a great song!” when this is the same song formula as “Whiskey Bent & Hell Bound”, and the same song Jr’s put on every single one of his albums since the history of ever. Take drinking and combine it with Hank song titles and walla, you’ve got a spot filled on the Hank Jr. track list.
Two cover songs, Hank Sr.’s “You Win Again” and Merle Haggard’s “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here And Drink” offer a little respite from the rest of the album, but are excellent examples of when cover songs are unnecessary and really offer no new value to an existing composition.
I understand why people find appeal in Hank Jr. and in this album. It is because they identify with him and his message. I get that, I really do, but in no way is this album helpful to your cause or anyone elses. Instead it speaks to the very cause of the divisiveness in this country. In one breath, Bocephus is talking about how he refuses to give up his big V8, and then in another says he can’t explain why terrorists blow themselves up. Did he ever stop to think that the two might be interconnected? Instead he takes pride in his ignorance saying, “I don’t know.”
And I understand this is supposed to be a “fun” album, but with the massive politicization of the material, it is hard to have fun unless you agree with every word he says. And in fairness to Hank, he’s always put out these types of songs about being an old school, simple man who has difficulty relating to the modern world, almost to the point of making fun of himself. But for every “Dinosaur” song he’s released over the years, he’s released an “All in Alabama.” There used to be depth and balance, with one or two of the funny, opinionated songs per album. Now that’s most of what you get. Hank Jr has become a series of bits and cliches; a bad impersonation of a stereotype of himself.
These political albums rarely work, either for swaying public opinion, or as a piece of art. Neil Young’s Living With War or virtually anything from Todd Snider are also great liberal examples of this, but at least the points in these albums are lucid, and the material is original. It feels like Hank Jr. rushed this album out to profiteer off the election cycle, hindering some of his ideas that with a little more time and thought, could have come across with much more wit.
Hank Jr. got the wrong impression that bawdy political rancor is a positive way to create attention for yourself when the negative publicity from his Fox & Friends interview shined a spotlight on him.
Look, I still consider myself a Hank Jr. fan, and I will fight anyone who says his career back in the late 70′s, early 80′s wasn’t filled with some great songs. But this is a completely wrong direction to start off his post-Curb Records career. I’m not going to choose sides about whose at fault for the political state of America, but what I can say is that neither Obama, Bush, Romney, Hank Jr., Bruce Springsteen, or anyone else has more effect on your life or your state of affairs than you do. Talking down to the other side, which Jr. does with alarming ease on this album (“two and is four, do you get it?”) speaks to the mentality that if someone disagrees with you, they’re inherently stupid. This is exactly why the United States is wickedly polarized and in the midst of one of its biggest political stalemates in history: a fundamental lack of respect and simple-minded reactionary attitudes.
How about speaking to everyone? How about using subtly to talk about political struggles? How about trying to find common ground and understanding? How about simply telling a story that relates to the universal human condition and makes you feel something? Hank Jr. didn’t take one moment out of his political grandstanding and re-hashing of classics and cliches to do this. He should be better than this, and we all should be better than supporting it. This is beyond music. This isn’t Republican vs. Democrat, this is reactionary polarization against rationalization.
And I know what side I want to be on.
Two guns down!
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Think what you want about former American Idol contestant Kellie Picker’s latest album 100 Proof and its striking traditionalist approach, but what may be even more interesting and inspiring than the album itself is the story behind it. After recently parting with her label Sony Music Nashville, Kellie’s narrative is becoming similar to the one of Waylon Jennings, the country music Outlaw that Kellie cites as a primary influence.
In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, Kellie spoke about the arduous process she went through to release 100 Proof through Sony.
“Well, it wasn’t promoted. When my album came out, I didn’t even have a song out on the radio. Nobody does that. [The label was] spread thin…Recording this album, to be honest — and I don’t mind saying this — the process was hell. [Sony and I] couldn’t agree on songs. The thing is, my life is a country song. I don’t need to be manufactured, and I don’t need anyone to tell me what to say or what to sing.“
Kellie, who says her influences for 100 Proof and music in general are folks like Tammy Wynette, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, and Kitty Wells, says this album was the first time she was being herself, and spoke about the pressures young artists are put under to abide by music label’s interpretations of what they should be as an artist.
“Since American Idol, it’s been like a blur. I’ve been pulled in a hundred different directions by a hundred different people. You know, signing contracts that I couldn’t read, but I was 19 and green and it was, “Sign this contract or go back to working in fast food,” and I didn’t want to do that. When this album came out, the people that know me, my friends, went, “There’s Kellie. There you are.”…It’s the only album that I’ve ever had that the critics have embraced. You know why? Because it’s me.”
Though 100 Proof has been a critic’s favorite (including this one), it has been a commercial disappointment compared to most major label releases, selling only 74,000 copies since its release in January. Kellie says she has no desire for crossover pop success. “I wanted to make a hardcore country album…I don’t give a damn about being on any other format’s station…I am a diehard country music fan.” And Kellie hints that an independent label may be her next move.
I’ve thought about the major labels versus the more independent ones. The ones that actually can probably do more for you. They have more to prove. [You want] to sign with someone that is about the music and gets you.
Who would have ever thought that American Idol’s Kellie Pickler would be one carrying the country music Outlaw mantra into the modern-day context? And for folks wondering if Kellie’s stint into the traditional side of country was a short-term phase, it appears her experience has only steeled her resolve to be herself. The next shoe to fall is to see if she can find people to believe in her as much as she believes in herself, and if she can enjoy the same commercial success the original Outlaws did back in the mid 70′s when they shook loose their major label chains.
For years, the principals of the Hank Williams estate (Hank Jr. and Jett) were warring back and forth, and this kept the treasure trove of Hank Williams’ legacy recordings relegated to bootlegs and listening parties for the select few with access to the Acuff/Rose archive. But the last couple of years have seen a dizzying dump of previously-unheard material from country’s first superstar, enough to make navigating and delineating between the various projects a little difficult.
This week yet another new release of music was announced, called the Lost Concert Recordings set for release on October 2nd. The collection includes two live concerts, one from Niagara Falls, NY on April 25, 1952, and another from Sunset Park in West Grove, PA on July 13, 1952. The collection also includes the only known live recording of “Are You Walking and A Talking,” and a rare radio interview conducted on September 14, 1951 (see more details below).
Some folks who may have been listening to the Hank’s Mother’s Best bootlegs for years may see these new box sets as pricey extravagances, but Time Life has done a remarkable job putting together collections to appeal to various people and that make great gifts filled with extensive liner notes and photos. Whether you have the inclination to purchase them or not, it is good to see Hank’s complete legacy now finally available for all the world to hear.
Here is a complete list of Hank Williams’ recent legacy recording releases.
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Release Date: October 28, 2008
This was the first of the Hank Williams legacy recordings to be officially released by Time Life, and includes 54 songs that Hank recorded as part of a Mother’s Best Flour-sponsored show on WSM in Nashville weekday mornings during 1951. When Hank was out of town on tour, he would pre-record the shows on an acetate format. The acetate discs remained on the shelves of WSM for years until they were thrown away and a studious WSM studio worker rescued the recordings in a dumpster. After an 8-year court battle, the Williams estate finally gained ownership of the recordings. This first collection only includes a potion of the much-larger Mother’s Best collection, but also includes some of its choicest cuts. The Complete Mother’s Best recordings would be released later (see below). A bootleg of the Mother’s Bestrecordings was circulated for years before this official release.
It is available on vinyl, as well as CD and MP3 format.
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Release Date: May 5, 2009
Another collection culled from The Mother’s Best Recordings, but is only one, 15-song CD showcasing the best gospel cuts from Hank’s weekday morning show.
- I’m Gonna Sing
- I Heard My Savior Calling Me
- Precious Lord, Take My Hand
- I’ve Got My One-Way Ticket to the Sky
- Thirty Pieces of Silver
- When God Dips His Love in my Heart
- Farther Along
- From Jerusalem to Jericho
- When the Fire Comes Down
- Drifting Too Far from the Shore
- The Old Country Church
- Lonely Tombs
- Where the Sould Never Dies
- Where He Leads Me
- I Saw the Light
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Release Date: November 3, 2009
This is the second 54-song installment of the original Mother’s Best recordings, and like the first, comes with 3 discs and a 40-page booklet in the physical form, but this one is not available on vinyl.
One of the highlights from this collection is it showcases Jerry Rivers and Hank’s Drifting Cowboy Band on multiple tracks. This box set has sold significantly less copies as the first Unreleased Recordings and wasn’t as heavily promoted, possibly because the cuts are deeper into the Mother’s Best sessions. However for serious Hank Williams fans, Revealed holds just as many audio treasures.
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Release Date: April 5, 2011
This is the mother load of the Hank Williams Mother’s Best recordings, all 365 tracks, 143 songs, on 15 discs and one DVD. The collection comes in a collector’s “radio box” with an embedded sound chip, and includes a 108-page hardcover book with information and photos, an introduction by Hank Williams Jr. and an afterward by Jett Williams, and a poster that chronicles Hank’s 1951 touring schedule. The collection went on to be nominated for a Grammy.
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Release Date: September 13, 2011
Another release by Time Life, but the first not to include recordings from the Mother’s Best acetate collection. Instead this 3-disc set includes 8 15-minute recordings from his first real syndicated radio program, “The Health and Happiness Show” sponsored by Hadacol, 4 previously-unreleased recordings from 1940 that Jett Williams bought at an auction from a collector, and recordings from 1938 when then teenager Hank Williams recorded his first ever songs in the kitchen of DJ Uncle Bob Helton in Montgomery, AL. on acetate. This collection includes truly the earliest and most-rare Hank Williams recordings, including his first ever recorded song, a blues number called “Fan It”.
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Release Date: October 4, 2011
This is the most controversial of Hank Williams’ legacy releases, and the only one not released by Time Life but rather Bob Dylan’s label. The Lost Notebooks takes unfinished song sheets from Hank found after his death and combines them with big names in music today to finish them like Jack White, Sheryl Crow, and Alan Jackson. In a story very similar to the acetate recording from Hank Mother’s Best collection, 17 songs from these “lost notebooks” were allegedly found thrown away by an employee at the offices of music publisher Sony ATV (previously Acuff/Rose). The employee then sold them to a collector and after an extended legal battle, Sony ATV re-acquired the lost songs.
Allegedly as part of The Country Music’s Hall of Fame’s Williams Family exhibit, Bob Dylan was given the songs to finish them, though Saving Country Music discovered Dylan had been in discussion to finish the songs as early as 2004. Dylan finally decided to hand the songs out to various folks to finish. There continues to be questions surrounding The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams project, but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming one of the best-selling of Hank’s recent legacy projects.
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Release Date: October 2nd, 2012
This collection includes two live concerts, one from Niagara Falls, NY on April 25, 1952, and another from Sunset Park in West Grove, PA on July 13, 1952, and boasts the only known live recording of “Are You Walking and A Talking,” and a rare radio interview conducted on September 14, 1951. In between the songs, Hank shares personal anecdotes about himself, his band members and his songs.
Niagara Falls, New York: April 25, 1952.
1. Comedy with Hank and the Drifting Cowboys
2. I Can’t Help It
3. Jerry Rivers and the Drifting Cowboys: Orange Blossom Special
4. Why Don’t You Love Me
5. Are You Walking and A Talking
6. The Funeral
7. Hey Good Looking
8. Cold, Cold Heart
9. Lovesick Blues
Sunset Park, West Grove, PA: July 13, 1952.
11. Hey Good Looking
12. Comedy with Hank and the Drifting Cowboys
13. Jerry Rivers and the Drifting Cowboys: Fire On The Mountain
14. Lonesome Whistle
16. Long Gone Lonesome Blues
17. Half As Much
18. I Saw The Light
19. Lovesick Blues
20. Interview: Hank interviewed by Mack Sanders, KFBI, Wichita, Kansas, September 14, 1951.
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Release Date: June 25th, 2013
Another Time Life release that includes songs from the original Mother’s Best acetate recordings, the one disc Sacred Songs II features tracks that can be found on other Mother’s Best compilations, but focuses on the gospel selections that Hank loved to sing. Sacred Songs II also includes the bonus of a complete radio show from 1951 finishing the album Hank Williams singing his hit Lovesick Blues among others.
Pop country’s official pretty boy Luke Bryan got caught red handed Tuesday night (7-10-12) at the Major League All-Star Game gaining advantage from a substance applied on his hand like Gaylord Perry dressing a spitball. Yes, Luke Bryan had plenty of time for multiple applications of his chemical tan and to have a team of dwarves squeeze him into his designer skinny jeans, but couldn’t be bothered to actually memorize the words to our National Anthem.
As he stood in the middle of Kauffman Stadium, holding the microphone in a very curious, gingerly manner, he could clearly be witnessed receiving aid from words written on his paw. Some theorists have surmised that he was actually checking his watch to time the song’s climax with the stealth bomber flyover, but both times when he peers towards his hand he clearly turns the face of his watch away from him (the direction of the face and buckle of the watch are clearly visible). So yeah, this theory is a slow dribbler that rolls foul. And if his intention was to time the song with the flyover just right, he whiffed here too because the bomber clearly flew over before the song was over.
Aside from not knowing the words to a song most third graders could scratch out with their Husky pencils by heart, his performance was actually next to flawless. But once again when country is given the opportunity to showcase itself on a national scale, to a national audience, it strikes out.
Luke Bryan through his Twitter account admitted writing down a “few key words” on his hand and apologized to anyone offended.
Morning everyone. I really wanna explain the national anthem performance from last night…I had a few keys words written down to insure myself that I wouldn’t mess up. I just wanted to do my best. I promise it was from the heart…If I offended anyone with my approach I sincerely apologize. Anytime I sing the anthem it is an honor and my heart beats out of my chest…I did check my watch because I knew the stealth bomber would fly over 2 minutes in and I knew a started a little late…Being a part of the all star game was amazing and I look forward to the next time I can perform the anthem. Thanks y’all. Love ya.
In an unexpected nugget of news that has my music pants going crazy, The Rolling Stone has just announced that Wanda Jackson will be releasing a new album entitled Unfinished Business on October 9th, and that the album’s producer will be none other than Saving Country Music’s 2011 Artist of the Year Justin Townes Earle.
“I’ve had a wonderful time working with Wanda and creating this new record,” Earle says in the video below. “Hopefully everyboy’s going to enjoy it…well I know they will. They don’t really have a choice, do they?”
This will be Wanda Jackson’s 31st studio album and will be released on Sugar Hill Records. Wanda will turn 75 two weeks after Unfinished Business will be released, yet she’s showing no signs of slowing down. She released The Party Ain’t Over in early 2011 with another famous artist/producer in Jack White.
“From day one I really liked Justin’s idea to take me back to my roots and make a record of country, blues, and rockabilly songs,” Jackson told Rolling Stone. “The band was extra tight and great to work with during the whole process. The record just sounds terrific and I’m hoping that my fans enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed making it.”
What a treasure this album is.
I’ll spare you the lengthy diatribe about what shame it is that Billy Don Burns isn’t a more heralded and recognized elder of the greater country music community. But rest assured, he should be. When you’ve produced albums for Johnny Paycheck and Merle Haggard, and had Willie Nelson cut your songs and appear on your albums, you deserve to be thrown a few more bones than what Billy Don has found at his feet. But you don’t need to drop names to know what a one-of-a-kind talent Billy Don Burns is, all you have to do is listen.
Then again, the demons that have pursued Billy Don throughout his life and career, dogging his successes with lapses into addiction and destitution make the start and stutter nature of his career understandable. Those battles are also what have fueled and elevated his status as a songwriter in certain circles. He’s deity-like to the people who know and love him, yet the general public is unfamiliar with the name (though they may recognize music he’s written or produced). Billy Don Burns is a force behind the music.
There are great songwriters, and then there are songwriters that define the apogee of the craft, songwriters like Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt…and Billy Don Burns. There are songs on Nights When I’m Sober that will rip at your heart like nothing else. There’s a great variety on the album with sweet songs and fun songs. And where Billy Don elevates the stakes is in the production and approach to each composition. With producer/guitar player Aaron Rodgers, they reinvigorate the late-era, rock-infused Outlaw sound that had Haggard and Paycheck seeking Billy Don’s services.
Aside from maybe Tom Waits, Hank Williams and a few others, I have never heard an artist be able to pull as much emotion out of a composition as Billy Don Burns does by slowing everything down in the tear-jerking songs that constitute the backbone of this album. “Is He the Writer?” and “Stranger” are two excellent selections that work in the traditional Keith Whitley-style self-referential method that calls on both wit and irony to drive home a tragic story. “When Lonesome Comes Around” is a lot more of a loose arrangement, and takes “darkness” to all new depths as Billy Don tells the story of a man inviting in illusion as the one last antidote to alleviate chronic sorrow.
The dark songs are counterbalanced with some really warm offerings, specifically “Gaylor Creek Church” about the by-gone culture of community churches and the warmth they instilled in a child’s soul, and “Wouldn’t Have It Any Other Way” with its fun acoustic lead-in and lead-out and its positive take to life on the road. “Wouldn’t Have It…” is awfully fetching and probably constitutes the “hit” of the album. Night’s When I’m Sober is always on the move, with the motorcycle story “Born to Ride” and the touring tale “Aaron Rodgers and Me”.
What elevates this album the most, the intangible of Nights When I’m Sober is the authenticity Billy Don Burns can approach these songs with. The battle will rage on forever about if songwriters and performers have to live what they sing and write about to be authentic, but with Billy Don, the point is moot.
In the song “Is He the Writer?” Billy Don mentions the classic tale of the artist cutting off his ear to suffer so he can draw inspiration. Many artists and their fans love this romantic notion of art and inspiration, but few artists have the commitment to see it through. You get the sense that with Billy Don, if times were tough, he wouldn’t hesitate looking for a fillet knife, and that he’s done the rough equivalent of cutting his ear off many times before, and will again before it’s all over.
Billy Don Burn’s albums Train Called Lonesome and Heroes, Friends, & Other Troubled Souls are also worth picking up, but I think one could make the case for Night’s When I’m Sober being Billy Don’s defining release.
Two guns up!
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The following videos showcase songs from Nights When I’m Sober with luthier Richard Peek making a gas can banjo in the background.
Oh how independent music nerds love to puff their chest out and pontificate about what’s wrong with the mainstream music industry, how it’s creatively bankrupt and was too slow to evolve to the onset of the digital format, and how now the whole industry is on the brink of implosion at any moment, which would be to their little heart’s delights. And meanwhile experts love to tell us how we’re mere months away from music ownership going extinct in favor subscriber and cloud-based formats, how Spotify and other such sites will rule the day.
What none of these nerds and experts seem to be willing to recognizing though (including this one up until recently) is that over the last 18 months, music sales have miraculously pulled out of their nearly decade-long tailspin to stabilize and even increase. And in country music, sales are increasing at a faster rate than the rest of the economy. Sure, we’re still very far away from the glory days of the late 90′s-early 2000′s, but music sales are staging a big comeback, especially in country.
In 2011, overall country music sales were up 4%. Though physical album sales were down slightly, digital album sales saw an increase of 27%. Overall music sales in all genres increased 1.3% from 2010 to 2011, the first time the music industry saw a year-to-year increase since 2004 (See complete 2011 Nielsen music sales figures). Country music sales are doing even better in 2012, increasing 5.6%, or roughly 1 million more units from January to July over the same period in 2011; the biggest increase in all of music. And this is all over a period when Taylor Swift, country’s biggest bread winner and a big seller in pop as well, has not released a new album (her last album Speak Now was released in October 2010). A new Swift release this Fall/Winter can only increase country’s upwards sales trend.
In 2010, we were mere months away from major bankruptcies and massive consolidation all across the music industry. The business was in such a long-trending downward spiral, just to slow the rate of decline would have been a huge success. Brought to the point of extinction, with their backs against the wall, the music industry rallied and began to figure it out. New ways of delivering music to consumers and the digital age will continue to challenge the industry, but those waiting for the fall of Rome shouldn’t hold their breath.
So what happened? How did the music industry right the ship? Here’s some theories:
Understanding Who Still Buys Music
You want to bankrupt the music industry? Teach girls and women how to steal music. You wonder why most of what you hear on the radio sounds like it was written for little girls and their moms? Because it was. Why do you think the last handful of American Idol winners have been cute young boys? Because young girls are the last ones paying attention. By understanding who is still buying music (girls and their moms), the music industry can focus music to them and not waste resources on music that is likely to sell poorly or be stolen by tech-savvy males.
Many Choices in How to Purchase Music
As much as the ability for consumers to be able to purchase digital singles has created challenges for the album format and price points, it also takes pressure off the consumer who don’t have to buy a whole album of songs when they may only want half or one of them. Meanwhile the resurgence of vinyl has increased that album concept’s viability and the price point for physical music, giving consumers many more options for purchasing music than they had in the CD era.
And purchasing music is no longer an arduous chore if you don’t want it to be. You can download a song or album instantly on your phone, have it sync with your computer or MP3 player through a cloud-based format, and still hunt for vinyl for fun when you have the time. Cheap, digital music caters to the impulse buy, and now many times it’s easier to buy it than to steal it. “The masses like crap” is how independent music fans like to put it, but the practical observation is that busy people are less likely to question the musical choices presented to them through mainstream media. Digital music facilitates this process by making purchasing easy. A catchy song gets stuck in your head from a commercial, so you download it onto your phone on your walk to work in the morning.
Increased Cross Marketing and Royalties
Using movies, TV shows, commercials, sporting events, YouTube, etc. to push singles instead of traditional radio has increased exposure across the board for music, reaching more people, and people outside of the music’s normal demographics. This is also kept up another lucrative revenue stream of the music industry: songwriter royalties. Royalties were one of the few stable elements of the industry during the late-2000′s tailspin. Songwriters and performers and their publishing houses are regularly fetching 5 and 6 figures to have their songs basically promoted on national television or in wide release movies. This is a win-win for the industry and artists.
Making music that appeals to the widest possible audience is the best way to increase sales. The biggest selling single in country music in 2011 was Jason Aldean’s country rap “Dirt Road Anthem” that just went triple-platinum last month. Taylor Swift already has a huge base in country and pop, and she just cut a hip-hop single with rapper B.o.B. Lionel Richie has the best-selling “country” album so far in 2012, selling a whopping 912,000 copies, 300,000+ copies more than the second-best, Carrie Underwood’s Blown Away. Break down distinctions between genres and you eliminate barriers to sales potential.
2011′s biggest seller was Adele, an artist many music critics and fans agree brings substance to her music. Many independent music fans may not want to admit that mainstream music is getting better (and the term “better” depends on taste), but what can be said for sure is that the music industry is making music with greater appeal, and judging from Adele’s success, part of that appeal is based on substance. The idea that all corporate music is crap has always been unfair, and may be slowly become outmoded as the industry re-introduces substance to attempt to reintegrate disenfranchised consumers.
Increasing Immigrant Population & Lower Income Access
Latinos continue to be the US’s largest-growing demographic, and they are more likely to purchase their music in the more traditional, ownership-based or even physical formats. Much of American music is new to them, and as they assimilate their music tastes with their native music, they purchase current hits and backlist classics as they are presented to them through popular media. The cheaper music and music delivery devices have become (you can store music on the phone you’ve already purchased), the more accessible it has become to lower income demographics who used to rely on radio to get their music.
Why Is Country The Fastest-Growing Genre?
It’s not because more people love country music, it’s because the amount of music that is flying the country flag is increasing. Music that used to be considered mainstream rock, pop, adult contemporary, etc., is now coming to country to seek support in the form of radio play and award shows. Lionel Ritchie’s Tuskegee became a huge commercial success partly because of the hour-long special the Academy of Country Music (ACM) put together and broadcast on CBS as part of their 2012 Awards season.
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From a business standpoint, the music industry and major labels weathered the storm, and are now retooling with the wisdom that they are not bulletproof, and must adapt with the times.
Now how much hope do you think I gave a CD entitled Coffin Up Blood from an act called “The Bloody Jug Band” going in? Yeah, not very much. I could just anticipate the band’s back story as I wrestled off the cellophane packaging: “Local punk band facing a dwindling scene has an epiphany at a Goddamn Gallows concert to get into roots music, trades in electric instruments for acoustic ones and joins an endless parade of ‘underground roots’ bands already taxing an anemic fan base.”
“All of this has been done before,” is what I said to myself starring at the cover. Parody is reigning and creativity is lagging. What can we gain from yet another Gothic roots band?
Well if it’s The Bloody Jug Band, the answer is “a ton.”
Forget the heavily death-infused concept, what The Bloody Jug Band has accomplished is releasing one of the most creatively-spellbinding albums in recent memory. Its funny. Its dark. It never takes itself too seriously. It is as engaging as any album I have listened to in years. You can’t stop listening to it, and when you’re not listening to it, you crave it. Think it’s all been done in roots music? Listen to Coffin Up Blood and prove your ass wrong.
Like a proper jug band, they build out from a washboard, washtub bass, jug, and percussion. So many bands try to move forward with the jug concept, but rarely have the rocks to see it through, eventually relegating the “jug” portion of the band to window dressing while guitars dominate the scene. Here though, the guitars, mandolins and such all are added on top of music that at its core is very rhythmic, very percussion and vocally-based. What is so curious to the ear though is how sensible the music is. Its a jug band, but I can hear influences ranging from as far away as David Byrne and Annie Lennox. This music isn’t just wicked, it is wickedly catchy, and for beginning as a jug concept, it is strikingly well-composed and shows remarkable depth in approach.
The best part of The Bloody Jug Band is the vocal play between the male and female singers “Cragmire Peace” and “Stormy Jean”. The threads they weave, the amount of space and depth they create in their harmonies as they float and dance with each other is like watching a tantric mating dance from the animal kingdom. They are perfect for conveying the treasure trove of wit and dark humor at the Bloody Jug Band’s core.
The band also calls upon contrast to elevate their music. Like in the song “Blacktooth Growl” whose beginning reminds me of an old Listerine commercial from the 90′s yet whose subject is very dark, or the song “Reaper Madness” that has catchy pop folk arrangement…and is about The Grim Reaper. Don’t let the imagery and words from The Bloody Jug Band fool you. There’s a lot of brightness and playful humor to their music that they use to counteract the darkness and create deep engagement and interest by stimulating the mind. You could take this same music, change the lyrics around at it would probably sell very well in the mainstream. In some ways it’s almost a shame some of these song structures are wasted on dark sarcasm, but they’re only wasted on the closed-minded.
And though this album is dominated by dark sarcasm, two very serious songs, “Moon Bathing” and “The Pain” (showcasing Stormy Jean) are two of the best tracks on the album, uplifting the entire project beyond a gimmick to something that can offer serious substance. After all, the Halloween one-liners could wear out eventually.
I could sit here and write forever on how good this album is, but make no mistake I am fully aware how many people will be turned off before even listening because of the dark verbiage and imagery, and others that may be attracted to it for those very reasons that may be turned off by the popish feel of some of the songs. Listen to me, it is your job as an enlightened music listener to put aside whatever prejudices and listen to this album with an open heart to unlock the tremendous enjoyment it can convey.
At the same time, because of both the accessibility of the music and the artistic approach of the dark subject matter, Coffin Up Blood could be an excellent gateway album to people outside of the Gothic roots world. I could see this album going viral in certain circles, or becoming sort of a cult classic.
They do everything right here. When it looked like we were at a creative dead end, The Bloody Jug Band opens up brand new doors, band new avenues, and challenges both the listener and other artists. We needed this album, which means you need this album.
Two guns way up!
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For months, Leroy Virgil of the infamous Hellbound Glory has been dropping little tidbits about a potential triple album coming out in the future to be called MericA. As Virgil told SCM at the beginning of the year, “Gonna come out in chapters or volumes, haven’t decided. Songs about real ‘merica.” Virgil is a virtual songwriting machine, and when you see him live expect to be regaled by brand new songs throughout the set. At some point the man will need to narrow the gap between what he’s written and what he’s recorded, and a triple album may be the only way to accomplish this.
A couple of weeks ago Hellbound Glory was in Nashville, in a studio session that included former Waylon Jennings’ drummer and right hand man Ritchie Albright, as well as Amanda Shires and Shooter Jennings among others. This was the first step in making what may become a landmark triple album of independent country a reality.
For the holiday, Leroy has released the lyrics to the upcoming title track, and in true Virgil fashion, they work just fine without the musical accompaniment.”MericA” plays off the broad theme Leroy has adopted of depicting rural America, one that is filled with broken dreams and bad habits; a more subversive view than corporate country likes to portray, but also one that is more accurate.
Stay tuned for more info on the album Merica.
The MericA Song (4 Bocephus)
(by Leroy Virgil of Hellbound Glory)
“There aint nothin like a gun to make you feel real tall
Like some alcohol, adderol,
Hey are you ready for some football?
You buy this truck rust and all
Its like a broke down American made
Suped up old Chevrolet
It aint our Government that makes us Great
And as long as we can make it
I think we got it made
In the good ole USA
Firing bottlerockets at the Ghetto Bird
Piss drunk July Third
Thats freedom honey aint you heard
It ain’t fun unless someone gets hurt
God bless the NRA through hard times and holidays
Sometimes we all just got to pull and pray
And as long as we can make it I think we got it made
In the good ole USA
I love pretty girls in shitty cars
High times in old divebars
Pissin beneath the moon and stars
God bless this land of ours
Its like a broke down American made
Suped up old Chevrolet and though it sound a little cliche
As long as we can make it I think we got it made
In the good ole USA”
Really Tim McGraw? Really? After 20 years of slaving under the oppressive control of puppetmaster Mike Curb, this is what you do with your new found freedom? Wow.
With the first single from the Big Machine Records-era of Tim McGraw, the country music mega-star pulls off the biggest sellout move of his career, and one of the biggest sellout moves ever seen from an established country music franchise name. Yes friends and neighbors, Tim McGraw has fallen prey to the hyper-trend of the country music laundry list truck song. “Truck Yeah” is such an overt outcry for relevancy and commercial acceptance, I feel embarrassed for McGraw simply from writing about it.
When you boil this song down, it’s a rap song, and a bad one at that, just like so many of these country checklist songs. There’s no story. Instead the song just spews out stereotypical artifacts of culture while hanging on one single monotone vocal note with minor variations. This song is a product of the mono-genre. It’s a club dance song. Countryisms and urbanisms are belted out by McGraw with no delineation between the two. He talks about crew cabs and clubs downtown. DJ’s and rednecks. And then there’s the line, “Got Lil’ Wayne Pumpin’ on my iPod.” And add on top of all of that the stupid cornpone title lyric and the fact that it’s yet another mainstream song about trucks and you have a super-fecta of pop country suckitude.
And I hate to be a hypocrite and cite the morality of the situation, but since this song is being put out on the public airwaves, why not ask the question of where the line is? Kids aren’t stupid, despite the best efforts of public schools and popular media. Kids know what McGraw is implying here. And in the live version, he even thrusts his fist in the air like he’s flipping the bird at the crowd. Most people see the country station as a refuge when the kiddos are in the car. Or at least they used to. It’s bad enough most of the music young brains are being barraged with is in such poor taste. Now we have to worry if it’s morally straight.
The worst part about this song is Tim McGraw knows better. We expect this dumb shit from the Justin Moore’s and Brantley Gilbert’s of the world, but from Tim McGraw? Say what you want about his music, that it’s boring or country’s version of adult contemporary, but aside from his idiotic “Indian Outlaw” song, his career has been marked with depth. And in McGraw’s defense, we haven’t heard all of the new material he’s been recording for Big Machine, and this may be the worst of the lot. But man, I just can’t see how anybody can look at this song and not say “sellout”.
This is an embarrassment for country music, this is an embarrassment for Tim McGraw, this is an insult to all the folks fighting for creative freedom for country artists on Music Row, and this is even more validation that Scott Borchetta of Big Machine Records is indeed the Country Music Anti-Christ.
Somewhere Mike Curb is sitting behind a desk, maniacally stroking a cat sitting on his lap and cackling. There’s a reason country labels see it necessary to hold such a heavy thumb on artists. This song could perform like Kip Moore’s “Something About a Truck” which became a #1, or it could be like Track Adkin’s “Brown Chicken, Brown Cow” or Craig Morgan’s awful “Corn Star” and bomb. I think there will be high initial curiosity about this song, but it also runs a big risk from both being controversial and polarizing, and for venturing so far out of McGraw’s established demographic.
And why? Why this? Why now? Tim McGraw is selling out arenas and has songs climbing the charts on country radio. Does he not have enough money or attention? Why risk being labeled a bit singer like Trace Adkins or a douche like Brantley Gilbert?
Just be yourself Tim.
Two guns down!
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