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- American Songwriter reviews new Sons of Bill album
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- The Telegraph "Sturgill Simpson: Space Cowboy"
- Jambands Reviews Cory Branan's "No Hit Wonder"
- Zoe Muth at WAMU's Bluegrass Country
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Welcome ladies and gentleman to the Saving Country Music LIVE blog from the 2012 Muddy Roots Festival! This will be a running timeline of pictures, observances, news, festival updates, and funny quips from the Muddy Roots site for festival goers and the folks that can’t make it and wish to live the experience vicariously.
A few housekeeping items: I’m starting the timeline early with the setup days so posts might be sparse to begin, but please check back over the weekend as things heat up. And if this page gets too long, I might launch subsequent blogs for each day or something; we’ll figure it out as we go.
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9/3 12:35 PM – On Suday of the fest I was completely unable to connect to the internet, and then the rains came and I was pressed into full-time duty for the fest. So as you can see the “live” blog suffered, but here’s a few more pictures. I will be posting a full recap of the festival in the coming days!
Adam Lee w/ Kody Oh! of the Calamity Cubes and Beth Chisman
My Graveyard Jaw
Pine Box Boys w/ Husky Burnette
The Queen of Underground Country, Rachel Brooke
Pine Hill Haints in the crowd
Dr. Ralph Stanley braving the rain to play Stage 2
The Everymen on the main stage after the rain.
9/2 12:15 PM – Joe Buck amongst a sea of fans.
9/2 12:10 PM – All the talk of rain and Issac spoiling the weekend, except for two passing light showers, the weather has been mostly dry. Friday was very hot and muggy, but Saturday was about as good weather as you could wish for this time of year in middle Tennessee. Sunday there’s a better chance of rain, but so far all the big stuff has passed north and south. Here’s Saturday night headliner The Reverend Horton Heat on the main stage.
9/2 12:00 PM – If you want the best story from the 2012 Muddy Roots Festival, this one might be it. Word got out to the festival that 80-something blues legend Robert Belfour had been in a bad wreck on the highway and wouldn’t be able to perform. Right before another band took the stage as a replacement, he showed up. In a tow truck. With the tow truck driver carrying his guitar and amp. Now if that ain’t the blues, I’ll eat my hat. The tow truck driver stayed through the whole set and attended to the needs of Robert, and when he was done, chauffeured him off. Pictured below Robert Belfour is is his friend L.C. Ulmer who regaled the crowd by chicken walking across the stage and playing behind his back.
9/2 4:30 AM - Well my ability to connect to the internet Saturday night went from deplorable to impossible. I have many stories to tell, but let me first tide you over with some pictures.
The Calamity Cubes! on the main stage.
Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, Stage 2 headliners Saturday night.
Restavrant, who closed out the night at 2:45 AM
9/1 6:55 PM – That bus pulling up at the top of the hill belongs to tonight’s headliner The Reverend Horton Heat.
9/1 6:20 PM – Unfortunately Left Lane Cruiser had to cancel, so we plucked Ray Lawrence Jr. out of the crowd and put him on stage!
9/1 6:15 PM – Hellfire Revival after their set on Stage 2.
9/1 6:10 PM – Don Maddox congratulates Dad Horse Experience¬† on a great set!
9/1 5:18 PM – Dad Horse Experience came out all the way from Germany to play Muddy Roots. He’s a avant-guarde bajor-playing weirdo with a thick German accent. So how did it go over? Amazing. He took two encores.
9/1 5:15 PM – Now THAT’S dedication. Check out the Muddy Roots ink:
9/1 3:35 PM – One of my biggest takeaways from 2012 Muddy Roots will be the Defibulators from New York. Excellent songwriting and substance from this band without sacrificing the fun factor. Loved these dudes.
9/1 3:28 PM – Muddy Roots Lunch Day 2: Fish Tacos
9/1/ 3:15 PM – The beautiful Pearls Mahone on Stage 2
9/1 1:10 PM – Lunchtime counts for early morning at Muddy Roots. Peewee Moore got things kicked off on the main stage this morning, and if that won’t wake you up, the Celtic country punk of Cuttthroat Shamrock will.
9/1 11:10 AM- Just getting moving around after a night of music that didn’t end until 3 AM. Jayke Orvis was the final show of Friday on Stage 2, and even thought he didn’t start until about 1:45, the crowd was huge. Two great moments when JB Beverley and Rachel Brooke came up to sing tunes. Got some great video of the Jayke/Rachel duet “Hold Me Tight” I can’t wait to share. At 2:30 AM they shut the sound off, so Jayke and the band just went out into the crowd and played acoustic. It was a pretty memorable moment.
9/1 1:05 AM – The Legendary Shack Shakers are living up to their legendary name under the second stage tent. I got a ton of amazing shots. Perfect combination of light, smoke, dust, and energy. I’ll share this one for now.
9/1 1:00 AM – One of the most authentic performers you will find. James Hand on the Muddy Roots main stage.
8/31 11:35 PM Bob Wayne murdering it on Stage 2 right now!
8/31 11:20 PM Another awesome picture. Dale Watson w/ Little Jimmy Dickens. Dale played right after Jimmy on the main stage.(Joe Buck in the forefront in second picture).
8/31 7:50 PM – Don Maddox on the Main Stage!
8/31 7:45 PM - Amazing moment w/ JD Wilkes, Avery from The Gallows, Kody Oh! from the Calamity Cubes, and others jamming on stage!
8/31 7:40 PM – Coolest picture of the fest yet. Little Jimmy Dickens and Don Maddox hanging out, getting ready for their sets on the main stage!
8/31 6:15 PM – While we were gone, Filthy Still drew one of the biggest Stage 2 crowds I’ve ever seen at Muddy Roots, Lone Wolf OMB absolutely rocked it, and Husky Burnette is throwing the filthy blues down right now!
8/31 5:55 PM – Alright folks, so after someone walked off with my camera, trying to post from my phone fried all my other posts from today. Finally found the camera, and got the posts restored. Sorry for the inconvenience!
8/31 2:45 PM – Muddy Roots has begun! Johnny Foodstamp has taken the stage!
8/31 2:35 – Fry Pharmacy that uses the original gear from Nashville’s famous Studio “B” will be out at Muddy Roots recording all weekend!
8/31 2:25 – My lunch was provided by Bayport BBQ’s Chris Johnson, the same man who founded the Deep Blues Fest. Two guns up!
8/31 2:00 – Well the music doesn’t start for another 30 minutes, but folks have been jamming on vendor alley and in the campround all last night and today. Lone Wolf OMB found some jamming buddies!
8/31 1:00 PM – HA! JB Beverly has been buzzing the campground in a Shriner-sized homade motorbike thingy with a cigarette dangling out of his mouth. Music starts in 1 1/2 hours!
8/31 11:40 – Jack White’s Third Man Records mobile record store has arrived!
8/31 11:30 – Vendor row is just about full. I’m blown away by the variety of food here this year. Greek, Gator, Jamaican, World Famous Bayport BBQ all the way from Minnesota, a hippie bus serving up who knows what, I just hope there’s enough time to sample it all before the end of the weekend.
8/31 11:15 AM: Fans and vendors came streaming in all last night and now the grounds are beginning to fill up. Only a few of the choice camping spots in the shade of the tress are left. Folks are pumped for the music that will begin at 2:30 PM on Stage 2.
8/30 9:15 PM: Folks have been rolling in like crazy here. The site is really filling up and the fest doesn’t officially start until tomorrow. Have seen Viva Le Vox, Filthy Still, Rusty Knuckles Records, J.B. Beverly, and a bunch of other folks roll in through the front gate.
8/30 3:00 PM: The dignitaries keep rolling in. Just saw Chris Johnson, the Godfather of the Deep Blues Fest and his entourage show up. And Rachel Brooke, fiance Junk, Rachel’s brother and traveling party just pulled up in Rachel’s grandmother’s Class C RV.
8/30 2:45 PM: The Voodoo Kings Car Club volunteering to build the doors for the cabins. These are some good dudes!
8/30 12:50 PM : Have seen some concerned about weather. The Issac remnants are scheduled to go significantly west and north of the fest at the moment. The forecast may say 30% chance of rain, but more than likely it will rain a bit for maybe 15-20 each day and then pass. Please special provisions have been made for rain this year.¬† Stage 2 and Stage 3 are on higher ground, and the tents are bigger to accommodate more folks. Don’t let weather be the reason you don’t make it to Muddy Roots!
8/30 12:30 PM: Muddy Roots ain’t just about music, it’s got kick ass food too. The Gator man just finished setting up!
8/30 11:155 AM: Cabin city is almost complete. A crew has been working for weeks to provide air-conditioned cabins. Put the doors on and they’re done!
Wednesday night 8/29: We’ve been working all day getting the site ready to go. Tents are in the air!
A couple of things worth noting: In the Field Guide I said that the word was AT&T phones were working, but I found reception on my AT&T smartphone VERY spotty. The older yout AT&T phone is, the more likely you will have reception. Also if you notice from the pictures below, Stage 2 has been moved farther back than last year so it is on higher ground and because it is a much bigger tent, so plan for longer walks between Stage 1 and Stage 2. Stage 3 is in the middle.
I bet when you saw Bob Wayne‘s name in the title of this article, you had some sort of immediate emotional reaction, didn’t you? You either thought, ‚ÄúThat foul mouthed punk, I can’t even stand to see his ugly face,‚ÄĚ and you blame him for perpetuating a perversion of country music. Or, you saw his name and said ‚ÄúHell yeah,‚ÄĚ remembering the last time you saw him live and how he rocked your face off, or how how one of his deeper, heartfelt songs helped you through a hard time.
Like him or not, Bob Wayne has arrived. One way you can tell this is by the polarization that precedes his name (just check out the comments on his last album review). In music, it’s always better that people have an opinion about you than to be ambivalent or unbeknown to your existence. Usually where there’s sharp, contrasting opinions, there’s success. Take Shooter Jennings and Hank Williams III for example. You won’t find two more polarizing, or more successful figures in underground/independent country music. But unlike Hank3 and Shooter, Bob Wayne has not had help from his given name, nor the burden of unrealistic expectations being a famous namesake can bestow.
Instead his success is a symptom of relentless touring in America and Europe; a tour schedule whose tireless nature rivals any other in music today. And one thing Bob Wayne has that country’s famous sons don’t is fantastic label support. Century Media may be way better known for metal music, but they fit in that sweet spot for present day labels: big enough to be considered a ‚Äúmajor‚ÄĚ with an expansive network and Rolodex, but small enough to be considered an ‚Äúindependent‚ÄĚ with the ability to offer strong, healthy, catered support to each of their artists.
Though the crowds for Bob Wayne are certainly growing domestically, Europe is where he’s made his strongest foothold, like many independent country and roots artists that made the jump from amateur to professional before him. In certain Euro stops, Bob Wayne is pulling 800 capacity crowds in, just to see him, not as a support act. This is likely one of the reasons Century Media decided to put out his last album Till The Wheels Fall Off on their European imprint People Like You, an unusual move for an artist based in the States. Bob has also bought a van and a complete set of backline instruments for his band that he permanently stores in Europe to facilitate his frequent overseas tours and save on expenses.
Instead of worrying about pulling a profit or working some master plan, Bob Wayne simply put his head down and booked his own breakneck tours for years, figuring out how to include European stints in them when he could. He would work construction jobs in his home state of Oregon to get the money to buy European plane tickets for him and the band, tour the country from West to east, fly out to Europe, and then start the whole cycle over again. All of that touring led to a tight live show and a professional attitude on stage from Bob and his talent-packed ‚ÄúOutlaw Carnies‚ÄĚ.
Over the years, the Outlaw Carnies have become a proving ground for underground country talent. With a loose arrangement, players are allowed to come and go as they please, but they all must provide stellar musicianship to keep up with Bob and the band’s budding legacy. Joe Buck, Andy Gibson, Donnie Herron, and Dan Infecto are just a few of the names that have contributed to Bob either live or recorded in the past, and then continued on to make bigger names for themselves. The dating duo of fiddler Liz Sloan and bassist Jared McGovern cut their teeth as Carnies, and now play with Jayke Orvis and Filthy Still among others. The entire .357 String Band once did a stint as Bob’s backing band.
The newest edition is Lucy B. Cochran on fiddle. At first glimpse you might mistake her for Liz Sloan who she replaced, but the two female fiddles have very different styles. Lucy goes to the bluegrass shuffle like few fiddlers I’ve seen, and adds a more countrified element to the Carnies. The current Carnies also feature “Elmer” on standup bass, and Ryan Clackner who can serve up some of the hottest leads licks on Telecaster that you can find. Bob’s current lineup is as sharp as any you will find in underground country, and so is Bob’s show…that is of course if Bob Wayne is your thing. If it’s not, then he could resurrect Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys to back him up and it still wouldn’t be enough.
It’s the swear-filled lyrics and racy themes in many of his songs that will always keep Bob at odds with many country faithful, and understandably so. They will also unfortunately keep those same people from enjoying many of his deeper songs that don’t feature racy topics or bad language.
The cold, hard fact is many favorite underground country bands may never be able to make the leap from being amateur, underpaid musicians, to professionals making a reasonable, living wage, despite the quality of their music or their desire or ability. But Bob Wayne has, and with continued label support, creative freedom, a stellar backing band, and a bottomless pit of energy and enthusiasm for touring, he also seems to have plenty of upside potential.
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Bob Wayne is playing the Muddy Roots Festival on Friday 8/31 at 11 PM on Stage 2.
And with that said, let it be known that I am available to screen test with Fox at any time.
I’m probably a fool for trying to give advice to American Idol on how to right their ship. At this point, barking advice is about as helpful as saying, “I told you to look out for icebergs.” It’s also a little hypocritical, seeing how there’s few waving the pom-pom’s more fervently for the demise of that television franchise than me. The cultural phenomenon that was American Idol in the early oughts is no longer, and their last batch of celebrity judges left en masse after last year’s finale, smelling fear and desperation in the air from the show’s rapidly-declining numbers and influence. So what’s American Idol’s solution for next season? Pander even more to celebrity.
Under the misguided notion that the problem with the show was that their celebrity judges weren’t current enough, they’ve gone out and added shock-star Nicki Minaj, plopped Mariah Carey into the “diva” spot, and added Keith Urban as their default “country” judge. In other words, instead of addressing the systemic problems with the show–i.e. too much competition in the format and allowing the talent to be judged too much by young girls who choose who they want to bang as opposed to the brightest talent–American Idol producers are once again kneeling at the alter of the cult of celebrity looking for ratings salvation.
But the whole thing that made American Idol intriguing to begin with was not the stories of the judges, but of the contestants. Adding sensational judges like Steven Tyler and Nicki Minaj takes attention away from contestants. When America’s Got Talent added Howard Stern, its ratings for the series premier plummeted.
What intrigue there was with American Idol judges in its heyday surrounded Simon Cowell; the harsh, belittling critic who wasn’t afraid to tell it like it is, and someone who was relatively unknown in the US before the series. Television loves conflict and drama, and that is what Simon Cowell provided. People loved to hate him, like the bad guys in professional wrestling. Ironically, Cowell is also the cause for so much Idol competition. His Syco production company is behind both “The X Factor” and the “America’s Got Talent” franchises. You want to point to who is responsible for TV talent competition parity? Point to Simon.
Keith Urban and his hair highlights won’t save American Idol. What made American Idol work was that it was built on the idea that every American has a dream. Adding “celebrity” judges doesn’t forward that dream, it speaks to the demise of it, where established celebrity and image is celebrated instead of sincere talent. Not to say American Idol’s celebrity judges aren’t talented, they’re just not talented at being judges.
If Fox and American Idol want to save their dying franchise, they need someone who is not afraid to get up in people’s faces, to be honest, and not just with the contestants, but with the audience that ultimately decides the winner. They need someone to ask America, “Do you like it when you are judged on image alone? Do you think that’s fair? Then don’t just vote for the cutest boy, vote for who inspires you on a personal level and makes you a better person, someone that motivates you to pursue your dreams.”
Then, and only then, American Idol may be something that America will idolize again.
These days you can’t go a few minutes listening to modern mainstream country radio without hearing a “Laundry List” song in the rotation. Usually with little or no plot or story, they simply spew out easily-identifyable elements of country culture (ice cold beer, pickup trucks, dirt roads, etc.) in an attempt to appeal to mostly non-country demographics that can live the country life vicariously through the shallow lyrics.
Another common thread through country checklist songs is how they are used to convey country pride, and help their listeners identify with their side of the urban vs. rural, liberal vs. conservative, religious vs. non-religious culture war. Nostalgia is also a big player.
Like most of the overused song formulas employed by Music Row songwriters, the laundry list likely started with some good, creative, innovative tunes. But once something works, it is called upon again and again by Music Row until all creativity is spent and it becomes cliche. Such is the evolution (or devolution) of the country checklist song.
What is the “first” country music laundry list song?
Though there were others before it, David Allan Coe’s “If That Ain’t Country” comes in as a strong candidate from the way Coe lists out the things from his past that make him “country” and the continued popularity of the song today.
What is the first MODERN country music laundry list song?
Though Rebel Son, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and some other artists may have something to say about it, Rhett Akins “Kiss My Country Ass” is a solid contender for where songs about country pride went from conveying stories to simply being vapid lists of country artifacts and behaviors.
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Below is a list of songs that likely contributed or played an important role in the formation of the modern country checklist song from the legacy era, and a list of songs in the modern era that could be called the “first” laundry list song. I don’t pretend for this list to be complete, so if you feel there is an omission, please add your 2 cents in the comments.
THE LEGACY ERA
Merle Haggard – “Okie From Muskogee” – 1969
Leather boots are still in style for manly footwear. Beads and Roman sandals won’t be seen. Football’s still the roughest thing on campus. And the kids here still respect the college dean.
Unlike the modern laundry list song, Merle spends most of the time in “Okie From Muskogee” spelling out what people from the country (or Muskogee) don’t do, but the idea of country people using a song to delineate themselves from the other side of society in the culture war through lists of artifacts and behaviors was born. And so was the “Proud to be” lyric that is so prevalent in laundry list songs today.
Bob Seger – “Night Moves” – 1977
Out past the cornfields where the woods got heavy. Out in the backseat of my ’60 Chevy.
Bob’s first breakout song, and Rolling Stone Magazine’s “Best Single of 1977″ (it was released in December of ’76), it has had huge reverberations in modern country despite being released in rock. The laundry list lyrics are clear, and so is the nostalgia that is an essential element to many modern laundry list compositions. I’ve said before that the majority of modern country songs can be traced back to “Night Moves”. Listen to the best-selling country song from 2011, the Brantley Gilbert/Colt Ford-penned “Dirt Road Anthem” and you will spy the nostalgia of “Night Moves” all throughout it.
David Allan Coe – “If That Ain’t Country” – 1977
With 13 kids and a bunch of dogs, a house full of chickens and a yard full of hogs. Spent the summertime cutting up logs for the winter.
If you’re looking for the first true laundry list country song that started the whole trend, this might be the most solid candidate. But unlike the modern laundry list song, this one actually has a story and theme to convey, and is truly autobiographical. “If That Ain’t Country” was Coe attempting to prove his country cred to critics who said his music wasn’t, which is what many modern male pop country stars must do because they aren’t. It also features the lyric “Kiss my ass” that becomes a big player in the laundry list song’s evolution.
Hank Williams Jr. “Country Boy Can Survive” – 1982
“I live back in the woods you see, the woman and the kids and the dogs and me. I got a shotgun, a rifle, and a 4 wheel drive, and a country boy can survive.”
One of Hank Jr.’s seminal songs and all self-penned, it spells out the pride and resilience of people from the country like few others. But many elements of “Country Boy Can Survive” are misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misappropriated in the modern checklist song. Resilience is replaced by fear, self-reliance by materialism. Country and Southern pride are at the heart of many Hank Jr. compositions, but few resonate like this one still does today. “Country Boy Can Survive” and Hank Jr. are referenced specifically in many modern laundry list songs.
THE MODERN ERA
Marcus Hummon “God’s Country USA” – 1995
Looking back at my one cop town, skinny dipping drinking Royal Crown. And thinking about year long days, and rowdy ways, and best friends lost and found. Remembering my half back moves, night games and backseat blues.
This song may be somewhat obscure, but may be the missing link between the old-school and modern-day laundry list country songs. Marcus Hummon is a big, behind-the-scenes songwriter in Nashville that has written #1 hits for Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts, The Dixie Chicks, Sara Evans, and has numerous Top 40 hits to his name. Hummon was 14 years ahead of his time with this song that sounds just like the checklist songs of today.
Lynyrd Skynyrd – “That’s How I Like It” – 2003
Like my women hot and my beer ice cold. A real fast car and my whiskey old. Like a slow drive down and old dirt road. That’s how I like it.
Even more surprising than how similar the lyrics to “That’s How I Like It” are to today’s laundry list songs is how similar the sonic structure is. Lynyrd Skynyrd is a Southern rock band, meaning they could get away with rock beats and overdriven guitars in 2003 when this would have been crossing a line in country. Of course today in country, anything goes. From the unplugged intro, to the rhythmic power chords, to the almost rapping style of lyrics in the chorus, “That’s How I Like It” is the sonic template many present-day laundry list songs are derived from.
Rebel Son – “Redneck Piece of White Trash”¬† – May 2005
I like to dip, I like to spit. I like talking on the phone when I’m taking a shit. I’m proud to be a redneck piece of white trash. If you don’t like that pucker up motherfucker you can kiss my ass.
This song from a relatively-obscure, but well-loved band with a very loyal fan base virtually writes, trumps, exposes, and lampoons all modern pop country laundry list songs all at once, even though it was written way before most of them. Aside from the “kiss my ass” lyric from David Allan Coe, if you want to find the truly “first” original modern checklist country song, look no further. Rebel Son relies on humor, while at the same time portraying cold-faced reality in songs meant to be hysterical and completely serious at the same time.
Rhett Akins – “Kiss My Country Ass” – October 2005
Tearing down a dirt road, Rebel flag flying, coon dog in the back. Truck bed loaded down with beer and a cold one in my lap.
Probably the more obvious and more-accepted advent of the modern laundry list country song (as opposed to Rebel Son), “Kiss My Country Ass” appeared on Rhett’s 2007 album People Like Me, but was released as a single in October of 2005. The song mentions Hank Jr.’s “Country Boy Can Survive” directly, and was re-recorded by Blake Shelton for his 2010 Hillbilly Bone EP. If you’re looking for the smoking gun, the primary culprit for the modern laundry list song’s popularity and its move from telling stories to simply conveying lists of countryisms, “Kiss My Country Ass” is the probably strongest candidate.
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Thanks to frequent SCM commenter “tontoisdrunk” for asking about the evolution of the laundry list song.
If there’s one thing you can expect from Dale Watson, it’s a new album on the way. With 21 major albums under his belt in 17 years, the iconic pompadoured Texas music legend has been nothing less than prolific.
His last album The Sun Sessions with its Johnny Cash-infused vibe came out in October of 2011 so you’d figure it’s about time for him to release some new material, and that’s exactly what he’ll do on Monday (8-27) when he debuts his new single “Daughter’s Wedding Song”; the first single from his upcoming album I Lie When I Drink due out in early 2013.
“I’m often asked to recommend a song for the father/daughter dance,” Dale says. “I usually say Merle Haggard’s “Farmers Daughter.’” The only problem is that, in the song, the mother is gone. So one day I told this couple I would write one special for the dance.¬†While writing, I drew on my two daughters for inspiration and started crying halfway through it. I figured if it hit my heart strings, maybe it’ll hit the heart strings of fathers and daughters everywhere.”
Like The Sun Sessions, I Lie When I Drink will be released on Red House Records. And for those that can’t wait for some Dale, he will be playing at the Muddy Roots Festival in Cookeville, TN Friday night (8-31), right after Little Jimmy Dickens, and right before Wayne “The Train” Hancock.
Here’s Dale performing the song “I Lie When I Drink”
From certain people’s perspectives, when they look at the top of the pyramid in independent country/roots they may see Hank Williams III, or maybe Shooter Jennings. But there is a whole other sphere based in and around North Carolina that have The Avett Brothers at the top of the heap. Just like Hank3 and Shooter, the Avetts have made their name in quasi-country, but unlike Hank3 and Shooter, they’ve not been helped by their names. Just like Hank3, the Avetts are wildly influential, spawning some great bands, and some unfortunate doppelgangers (see Mumford & Sons), but they’ve also made it far beyond the Hank3 ceiling, now regularly selling out arenas.
It’s curious how rarely these two sides of the roots world come together, but if you take the Avett’s energy and exploration of emotionalism, mixed with the rawness of underground roots, what you get is the Wichita, KS-based Calamity Cubes. Banjo, guitar, and upright bass, they’re not afraid to bare their naked soul in a song, or come crashing into the mosh pit instruments and all.
They say to make it in music today you need a distinct voice. Well The Calamity Cubes have two of them; the deep, brooding baritone of Brook Blanche, and the whimsical, character-filled sighs of Joey Henry. Bass player Cody Oh! is not afraid to sing one too, or be the solid harmony backing up Brook and Joey. Get them all going at once and it’s something special. Live, it is the energy of The Calamity Cubes that first captures you, but soon you gravitate toward the soul encapsulated in the vocals, and the ponderous nature of the songwriting.
Old World’s Ocean puts The Calamity Cubes’ bevy of talents on glorious display. Excellent songwriting is conveyed through flawless vocal performances and inventive music. The Cubes are mostly a tale of the two songwriters Joey And Brook, with each singing their own compositions, but the album starts off with a very collaborative song “Anchors The Way” where the three men’s voices weave and intertwine.
One of the slight misgivings I’ve had about the Cubes in the past is Joey Henry’s tendency to strum the banjo instead of pick. Outside of of certain ragtime circles, banjo strumming is somewhat unaccepted, but in “Anchors The Way” and other Calamity Cubes songs, Joey shows how the banjo’s unique ring set to an engaging rhythmic pattern can do wonders for the shivers housed along the human spine.
Brook Blanche is credited with the lion share of the songwriting on Old World’s Ocean, and supplies the songs of drinking and heartache. One great thing about The Calamity Cubes is they each display such great character through their music and appearance, and they are so distinct and unique, yet counter-balance each other perfectly. Brook seems a wash of emotions and chemical imbalances that bring his wide, dark, and tall lug to a submission of sways and binges.
Songs like “Rock Chalk” and “Lillybelle” convey a man with little or no control of his delicate side, who’s moaning voice bellows out from the very inner depths of dark human emotions. “Lillybelle” is helped along by an excellent guitar solo by contributor Paul DeCeglie, and marks one of the album’s best tracks along with Brook’s “Empty Bottle” that rivals any country drinking song in depth of songwriting. “Thought I Lost You” is a respite from Brook’s depression, whose genius is in the song’s short length and sweet message.
Joe Henry with his muppet-like hair and disarming warmth draws you in with his whimsy, poetic nature, and his romantic’s heart. His arrangements are more loose, abstract affairs, like musical roller coaster rides. “Bathwater” has a gospel heart, but with a much more progressive, loose approach that’s the perfect vehicle for showcasing Henry’s elevated vocal prowess. Joey Henry closes out the album with the sweet and slyly-wise “Traveling Lovers Lullaby”.
Gospel is one of the building blocks of The Calamity Cubes sound, and makes another appearance in Kody Oh!’s contribution “Salvation”. The other side is represented by Brook Blanch’s skeptical and jaded “Same God”. Strong opinions of politics and religion in music are usually no no’s for me, and this song would fit in that category. But that’s my personal hangup and it would be unfair to say that this song isn’t touched by Brook’s astute songwriting like all the others.
With only three players and no drummer, The Cubes are usually too busy holding down the rhythm to add traditional “solos” to their music. But on Old World’s Ocean they bring in a stable of solid contributors including the aforementioned Paul DeCeglie, and players from another Wichita-based band Carrie Nation & The Speakeasy to help clothe the compositions.
By being unafraid to display their vulnerabilities, yet having an inherent rawness to their music and releasing it through one of the most “hardcore” labels in roots circles in the form of Farmageddon Records, The Calamity Cubes create a unique and important nexus in string-based roots music, and do so while putting out creative, innovative, and entertaining tunes that touch all parts of the musical anatomy.
Two guns up!
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Old World’s Ocean does not have an official release date as of yet, but can be pre-ordered from Farmageddon. It has also been previously made available in limited quantities at XSXSW 5, Farmageddon Fest, and will be available in limited quantities at the upcoming Muddy Roots Festival.
Texas country music legend James Hand will be releasing his brand new studio album Mighty Lonesome Man on October 16th. The 12-track album will include all original material, and contributions from an All-Star cast of Austin, TX’s country music talent. It will be released digitally, and on CD and vinyl, with the CD exclusively offering two bonus tracks, including a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Get Rhythm”. There is also a Collector’s Edition that will include a Mighty Lonesome Man t-shirt, poster, and guitar pick, along with both vinyl and CD copies of the album.
Contributors to Mighty Lonesome Man include Earl Poole Ball, aka “Mr. Honky Tonk Piano” who played with Johnny Cash for over 20 years, played on Gram Parsons Safe At Home, and has played with a grocery list of other country music greats, including Merle Haggard, Marty Robbins, and Marty Stuart.
Other contributors include Will Indian, Speedy Sparks (of Doug Sahm’s Texas Tornadoes), steel guitar player and Grammy award winner Cindy Cashdollar, fiddlers Bobby Flores and Alvin Crow, and Beth Chrisman of The Carper Family.
James Hand recorded the album this spring at Summit Street Studios in Austin, and has a busy year ahead of him. He will be headlining Friday night at The Muddy Roots Festival August 31st in Cookeville, TN, where word is a few advanced copies of Mighty Lonesome Man might be available. He is starring in an upcoming film Thank You A Lot about a music agent whose forced to sign his reclusive, legendary father.
Hand has released four previous studio albums, all to critical acclaim including his last two, Truth Will Set You Free and Shadow On The Ground, both on Rounder Records. Mighty Lonesome Man will be Hand’s first album with Austin-based Hillgrass Bluebilly Records. The cover photos were taken by CC Ekstrom of Almost Out Of Gas, with layout provided by J Anderson of prettygoodposters.com.
Mighty Lonesome Man track List:
- Mighty Lonesome Man
- Years I’ve Been Loving You
- Lesson In Depression
- Please Me When You Can
- The Drought
- Old Man Henry
- Now Not Later
- My Witness
- Wish You Would Kiss Me
- You Almost Fell
- Favorite Fool
- You Were With Me Then
- Get Rhythm
- You’re An Angel
We first learned about pop country’s Michael Jackson Montgomery over 1 1/2 years ago, when the pop country “mega-franchise” project he was a part of for a major Nashville record label pulled the plug on his manufactured music career. Since then Montgomery, aka “The Bleeding Cowboy” has been leaking demos of some of the songs meant for his album to Saving Country Music and explaining the stories behind them.
Well now apparently after much wrangling by lawyers behind-the-scenes, Michael Jackson Montgomery is ready to begin releasing the full studio versions of his songs ahead of an album release possibly some time this Fall/Winter, and he is starting today by releasing what he is calling “The perfect pop country song” called “Ice Cold Beer In A Pickup Truck”.
“I’m serious Trig, it is perfect, and I ain’t saying that to pat myself on the back.” And according to the press release for “Ice Cold Beer In A Pickup Truck”, he’s not lying:
“Ice Cold Beer In A Pickup Truck” was written by a team of Nashville’s top songwriters in conjunction with scientists that are studying how certain sounds effect dopamine and other chemical responses in the brain, and statisticians who study trends and figure out the best song patterns and the right time to release a song. After years of work, they came up with “Ice Cold Beer In A Pickup Truck” and decided that it should be released right now, today, August 21st, 2012.
“Even the flaws in the song were put there on purpose to make it sound dirty and authentic,” explains Michael Jackson Montgomery. “Eat your heart out Steve Goodman!”
So without further ado, here is the worldwide release of Michael Jackson Montgomery’s smash single “Ice Cold Beer In A Pickup Truck”.
Ice Cold Beer In A Pickup Truck = 28 times.
The Muddy Roots Festival is nigh upon us, and folks from all around the country and world will be making the trek to Cookeville, TN in a few days for the premier event for underground/independent roots music.
If you have been there before, you know you are about to be a part of one of the best music experiences of your life, and if this is your first time, you will realize that soon.
Most of the information you need to know about the Muddy Roots Festival can be found on their website, but here is a more in-depth look for folks who want to be prepared, as well as some updated information about the lineup and such.
This is all the info you need in one place, so print it out, bookmark it and pull it up on your phone during the fest, and most importantly, have fun!
Free Music Downloads
Whether you’re attending the Muddy Roots Festival or not, you should take advantage of the 30 free songs Muddy Roots has made available from this year’s performers. It’s the perfect thing to listen to on the trek there and back, or to live vicariously through the music if you can’t be there.
The Schedule & Lineup
Please be aware and help spread the word that there has been some changes to the lineup and schedule since it was initially released in May, principally that T Model Ford and GravelRoad will not be performing because of his recent health issues, and neither will Slim Chance and the Can’t Hardly Playboys. Other names have been added, and others moved around to fill spots. The most up-to-date and accurate schedule is printed in the latest edition of The Rambler Zine which is available for $1, can be viewed online, and will also be available for free at Muddy Roots. SCM’s calendar goddess has also made the schedule available in multiple PDF formats that you can print out or download below.
Provisions have been made this year to reduce the overlap of the performances so that hopefully folks aren’t torn between who to see, but I would recommend looking over the schedule and doing some planning before you leave for the fest. Also be realistic and plan for downtime, hanging out at camp with friends and/or impromptu jams in the campground, seeing bands that you DON’T know, etc. etc. And please be aware as always the schedule is subject to change.
There will be a 3rd stage set up this year that will act as an “open mic” stage, and where movies etc. will be shown. If you’re planning to show up and play stage 3, you may want to reach out to Muddy Roots beforehand or as soon as you arrive to make sure you are secured a spot.
Stage 3 – Open Mic Stage – Movie Screenings
This year, Stage 3 is an Open Mic stage for artists and bands that are attending Muddy Roots and want an opportunity to play. Some acts that have been confirmed to be playing are:
- Ray Lawrence Jr.
- Black Eyed Vermillion
- Los Bastardos Magnificos
- The Dirt Scab Band
- Sean Wheeler, possibly with a very special guest (wink,wink)
- Don Maddox (second set)
There will be certain times on all three days of the fest where Stage 3 will be reserved for specific events. For example, Don Maddox will be doing a second set and telling stories for a recording. Beyond that, performers are encouraged to sign up and play on a first come, first serve basis, as long as they are respectful to the other performers and take no longer than 30 minutes on stage. Artists or bands that are performing on the other stages over the weekend that, for example, want to play acoustic sets or collaborate with other artists on side projects are also welcome, but please be respectful of the folks who may have not had a chance to play yet. There will be a sign-up list, and please understand it will be a loose, organic situation that everyone must work together to make work.
There will be a PA provided for sound on Stage 3, but performers will be expected to help with their own sound, and supplies of mic/cords/etc. may be limited, so come prepared. Please understand that with the unlimited amount of people that could show up wanting to play the open mic, playing does not mean you get free admittance to the fest. However open mic performers are more than welcome to sell merch, or possibly play twice, as long as they are respectful to the other performers.
Movies will be shown late at night Thursday night for early comers, and possibly other nights on a big screen. There will also be screenings of The Folksinger and We Juke Up In Here during evening sets at Stage 3.
Food, Drink, Alcohol, Merch, & Vendors
The Muddy Roots Festival has plenty of food vendors on site that will be cooking all day and all night, including breakfast fare. The famous hippie bus that was such a big hit last year will be there again, and so will a new vendor selling gator. And of course there’s hamburgers and hot dogs, vegetarian choices, just about whatever you would want to eat, so bringing your own food or running into town is not necessary, but unlike many festivals, you can bring your own food, beverage, alcohol on-site if you want. As hot as it can get in late August in middle Tennessee, I would recommend everyone arrive with a stock of water. There will be beer available at the June Bug bar, and not at baseball game/Bonnaroo prices. Everything is fairly reasonably priced.
Along with food and beverage vendors, there will also be craft vendors, and of course plenty of merch and music you can purchase to help support the bands. Jack White’s Third Man Records will be driving their mobile merch van out from Nashville for the event for example, so bring an few extra bucks for goodies to take home. This year Muddy Roots is setting up a “General Store” that will be located at the back of stage 3 where all the bands will assemble their merch. They will also be selling sundries, snacks, and Muddy Roots souveniers.
There are no reserved camp spots at the June Bug Ranch. The festival is in a very large open field with a ridge down the middle where all the stages and vendors set up. Around the edge of the field are woods where you can get shade, and those are the areas that tend to fill up first. Camping is first come, first serve, so if you plan to camp, the earlier you get there, the better. You can camp right by your car, pull up an RV or trailer, take as much space as you want, it’s no problem, and the camping is free with your admission. All camping is primitive and so there are no electric or water hookups, but there is electric and water on the site if you need it, as well as an ice vendor who makes the rounds all day.
The best part about camping is that you will always be right by the action, and don’t have to worry about DUI’s. Everything is within walking distance. Even if you’re planning to stay in a hotel, it may not be a bad idea if you’re driving in to pack a tent and a sleeping bag just in case. There will always be plenty of room to set up.
There are also air-conditioned, lockable cabins for rent but by none other than Muddy Roots blues performer Cashman, but supply is limited at this point to Thursday, Sunday, and Monday. You can rent them at the Muddy Roots Online Store. Tent and sleeping bag rental is closed for 2012, but consider they do offer that service if you are attending next year. Campers can arrive a day early (Thursday Aug 30th) and stay a day late (Monday Sept. 3rd).
Parking is free with admittance as well, and just like camping, is sort of “find the best spot” in the designated parking areas. The areas near the stages and vendors on the top ridge should be kept clear for the people working the festival and attendees with special needs. All roads and paths should be kept clear as well. Muddy Roots IS wheelchair and elderly accessible.
There is no seating in front of either of the stages, so even if you’re not planning to camp, you may consider bringing folding chairs for certain events. The Muddy Roots Festival and the June Bug Ranch are completely self contained, so there’s no reason to leave the fest once you get there, unless you want to.
Showers / Style Tips
Hot showers are provided on site for no additional charge. There will be hand washing stations by the portable toilets throughout the grounds. There is not water throughout the camping areas, but there are some spigots in and around the vendors that you can use. Dress comfortably. Wear good shoes. Worry about staying cool first instead of looking cool. Expect rain. And for the ladies, here’s some beauty tips specifically catered to Muddy Roots:
There is ample hotel space in Cookeville to accommodate everyone attending Muddy Roots, so don’t worry about a run on rooms. The fest’s lodge of choice is the Key West Inn which is the closest hotel to the grounds and also provides a shuttle to and from and offers a special rate. The Key West Inn may fill up, so book early if you can. Aside from that, there are numerous choices for hotels in Cookeville. Cookeville also has plenty of grocery stores, big box stores, restaurants, etc, whatever you might need if a need arises.
In Case Of Rain
In 2011, torrential rain from a tropical storm made for a muddy Muddy Roots on Sunday. This year, provisions have been made in case of major inclement weather, mainly that Stage 2 and Stage 3 are going to be set up on higher ground, where water is less likely to pool. Both the Stage 2 and Stage 3 tents are going to be bigger as well. If rain forces the closing of the main stage, then all the performances will be moved under the Stage 2 and Stage 3 tents. All Stage 1 performances will be on Stage 2, and all Stage 2 performances on Stage 3, and then times will be the same.
Cellphone / Internet Access
The first two years of Muddy Roots, AT&T phones had trouble finding signal, though Verizon and some other carriers were fine.
The word is this year AT&T phones are working fine. UPDATE: After my first day out on the site (Thursday), I found AT&T service out there VERY sketchy. If you have AT&T, likely the older your phone is, the better chance you will have at reception.
Internet access is available at the front bar of the June Bug Ranch if needed. Take into consideration that power outlets are only scantly available throughout the site, so maybe consider packing in an extra battery or have some other plan for staying charged.
Make The Most of Your Trip to Middle Tennessee
Whether you’re driving or flying in, take note that Muddy Roots is only an hour from Nashville. Lower Broadway is where much of this music originated. Take a gander into Hatch Show Print, The Bluegrass Inn, and the Ernest Tubb Record Shop. Take a tour of The Ryman Auditorium. The Country Music Hall of Fame has exhibits up right now on Minnie Pearl and the Bakersfield Sound.
Just as you may be traveling to Muddy Roots, so are many of the bands. Check the SCM Calender and see if maybe on your way you can catch one or two on a tour stop.
If you want to volunteer at Muddy Roots to help make the festival better, or if you have any questions or concerns, email nashville rockabilly at gmail dot com.
Take Care of Yourself, and Muddy Roots
Last year the Muddy Roots Festival experienced extreme heat, and then extreme rain. Many folks not used to being out in the heat and eager to get their party on ended up missing many of their favorite bands because they were in their camp with various symptoms of heat exhaustion. Eat, hydrate, and sleep well first, and then worry about whatever fun things you want to pour down your gullet. Trust me, this will make for a more pleasant experience.
If you’re planning on camping at the fest, expect there to be noise all night. People are there to have fun.¬† At the same time, be respectful of your neighbors. There is security at Muddy Roots, but the best way Muddy Roots and other independent festivals can stay cool and not have the restrictive environment found at most corporate festivals is by people taking care and policing each other, handling problems around the campfire, and being understanding.
Understand the Muddy Roots is where a lot of independent/underground roots music is presented to the rest of the world, and that the rest of the world is watching. People causing problems leads to rules, and rules lead to a less fun time for the rest of us. There is a list of rules that you can read near the bottom of the Muddy Roots website, but this biggest one is DON’T BE A DICK.
Country Music legend Willie Nelson spent Sunday night in a Denver area hospital after complaining of breathing problems due to Emphysema and the high altitude. He was scheduled to play a benefit concert for a Humane Society Organization called the “Dumb Friends League” in Castle Pines Village when he had to cancel. Fred Bartlit, the host of the fundraiser told The Denver Post “I was told Willie woke up and had trouble breathing, so he was taken to the hospital.” The event, dubbed “Lulu’s Barkin’ BBQ” was being held at Fred Bartlit’s home.
According to KVET 98.1 in Austin, Willie Nelson is feeling better this morning and planning to head back to Texas today. Nelson has a show scheduled at the Dallas House of Blues for Tuesday (8-21), but no word if he will be playing the show or not.
****UPDATE****UPDATE**** According to the Associated Press, Willie is doing fine, back in Texas, and plans to resume touring normally, including making his stop Tuesday (8-21) at the House of Blues in Dallas, TX. Spokesperson Elaine Shock says Willie was never hospitalized.
Willie Nelson, known for being a marijuana user and proponent, has a history of lung problems. In late March of 2008, the singer almost died after having his left lung collapse while swimming in Hawaii. In 2010, Willie switched to using a vaporizer for marijuana because “…the vaporizers¬†are better for your lungs.¬† You don‚Äôt¬†inhale any heat, you don‚Äôt inhale any smoke.¬† You only get the vapors. The vaporizer is better for your lungs, sure.”
Willie Nelson is 79-years-old.
50% of Americans may not be able to correctly identify that Saskatchewan is a part of Canada, or even have the presence of mind to comprehend that Canadians are technically Americans as well, but if one of your friends has been exposed to Canadian country singer Corb Lund‘s music and scoffs it off as something too foreign for their ears, you may want to seriously consider a renouncement of said friend’s country music citizenship.
The United States is not the only land with lonesome cowboys and wide open spaces. Corb Lund grew up on his family’s farm and ranch in Alberta (the Canadian province, not your smelly aunt with 6 cats), and his rural cowboy life and thirst for country comes through in his music. There’s no corny hoser-ism here, Corb Lund is rich with ribald and wit, with forays into rock & roll and wild diversions of the mind from a man struggling to relate to modern society. He’s crazy in a way that doesn’t come across as weird, but endearing, and almost warm and soothing in the way he articulates madness as a mechanism to cope.
His newest album Cabin Fever starts off with one of these songs, “Getting Down On The Mountain”. This “Country Boy Can Survive” – type number has been done before, but never Corb Lund style, and as long as the only hope some disenfranchised souls can find in the direction of the world is in a prayer for the utter destruction of it, it will always be relevant. It starts off with a catchy beat, almost like many modern pop country songs, but this one has Corb’s cool factor conveyed through his relentlessly entertaining songwriting and sense of groove.
Unlike a lot of artists who are regarded as “songwriters” Corb isn’t afraid to use words for rhythm, and isn’t too pretentious to let you disengage from the “art” and enter the primal world where you should feel instead of listen. “Dig Gravedigger Dig” and the Beach Boys-esque “Mein Deutsches Motorrad” get hands clapping, boots stomping, and the frau’s shaking booty. Corb has the Brian Wilson vibe on “Mein Deutsches Motorrad” down pat, even to the lead guitar. If Cabin Fever was lacking in one area, you may point to the lead parts and instrumentation: not bad, just not really present as some in-your-face element to the album. But Cabin Fever is so entertaining without some superpicker dynamic superimposed on top, adding that may drown out the more important elements: the words, the emotion, and the groove.
And just as some songs are there to make you move, some are there to just make you laugh, like the sardonic but still somewhat social commentary-laced “Cows Around” or the observant “Gothiest Girl I Can”:
Gonna get the Gothiest girl I can, with the pale white Rockabilly tan. You know the kind, the ones you find in a country metal punk rock band. Well she might be into hot rod cars, or leather fetish bondage bars. She’s dirty, pretty, the hippest in the city she’s the Gothiest girl I can.
Some really great Western/Cowboy storytelling songs made the cut for Cabin Fever in the form of the dark-humored “Pour ‘Em Kinda Strong” about a wanted man’s last sips, and the even darker-humored “Priceless Antique Pistol Shoots Startled Owner”. Cowboy themes mixed with love is the brew for songs like “(You Ain’t Been A Cowboy) If You Ain’t Been Bucked Off” and “One Left In The Chamber”.
About the only track that has “straightforward” as an attribute is Cabin Fever‘s first single “September”. As much as I like this song and it adds some deeper substance to the album, I also am worried it misrepresents Cabin Fever and Corb. The only song I didn’t care for was “Bible on the Dash”. I swear, before I looked at the liner notes, when this song came up I wondered why Corb was trying to do a bad Hayes Carll impression. No offense to Carll, but his drunken, swervey sarcasm seemed a little out-of-place in this duet, and honestly, outmatched by Corb’s similarly irreverent, but more elevated use of wit.
Whether you’re a long-time Corb Lund fan, just hearing about him right here, or just feel like helping support the Canadian economy, Cabin Fever is a great album of country music, one of the best of 2012 so far.
Two guns way up!
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Fake country music “Outlaw” Justin Moore has been served papers for a copyright infringement lawsuit stemming from his 2009 laundry list song “Backwoods” released on his debut self-titled album. Also named in the suit is the Country Music Anti-Christ Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Records label who released the song.
Louisiana fiddle player Britton Curry and songwriter Bobby Carmichael claim that they wrote the song in 2003, and registered the song with the US Copyright Office. When attempting to sell the song in Nashville in 2005, Curry and Carmichael say that another songwriter Jamie Paulin “heard and/or secured the song” and took it for his own. Jamie Paulin, along with Justin Moore are listed as co-writers on “Backwoods”, along with Jeremy Stover who is a co-writer on many of Moore’s songs. Apparently the original song has nearly identical lyrics, pitch, and rhythm to “Backwoods”. “The lawsuit speaks for itself,” says Bobby Carmichael’s attorney.
Carmichael and Curry are asking for $150,000 each for each copyright infringement on the song. “Backwoods” has been downloaded 300,000 times, rose to #6 on the Billboard country chart, and the album it appears on has sold half a million copies.
Justin Moore inserted himself right in the middle of the debate about country music’s “new Outlaws” when he released an album and song called “Outlaw Like Me” in June of 2011. The album was generally panned by critics (including this one) for being rife with country music stereotypes and laundry list songs, just like “Backwoods”.
On Monday (8-12), Taylor Swift had a live press conference via the miracle of YouTube and Google+ where she announced she will be releasing her new album entitled Red on October 22nd, and that it would include a whopping 16 songs. Flanked by glitterfaced girls who made the trek to Nashville from all different parts of the country, the only thing that would have made a mid-30′s male music journalist feel more like a pedophile peering into this press conference was if a pillow fight had broken out.
Whether we like it or not, and no matter how much some people may or may not care, Taylor Swift is the biggest name in country music right now, and how her music goes, so can go the entire genre. The hints of what Taylor Swift had in store for her new album were subtle, but seemed to be leaning towards a maturing of her music. She talked openly about how it would be a “darker” album. And then she collaborated with The Civil Wars and played a show with James Taylor, and it seemed as if Taylor’s winsome style might disappear like the curls that marked her teenage years.
Maybe Taylor would even do something bold, attempt to lead sonically or set the trends instead of trying to reside safely within them. After all, she does write her own material, produce her own records, can actually play instruments, and is such a great role model for youth. Even the starkness and depth of the “Red” title, and how she talked to her fans in the press conference about how she was happy that words and songwriting were important to them, and just the sheer number of songs the album included set us up for feeling like we were on the verge of something audacious.
And then she premiered the first single from the album “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and even the most devout Taylor Swift apologists were reminded very starkly that Taylor Swift is just a pop star.
“We Are Never Getting Back Together” is as saccharine as any Taylor Swift selection, and rivals any of her songs for being the most pop. From an artist that has shied away from voice enhancements and digital treatments, there’s something automated going on here, though I’m not confident enough to level the charge of Auto-tune. “We Are Never…” is ultra-catchy, I mean I was humming this dumb thing hours after Taylor’s fluffy presser had gone off air; so catchy that any type of redeeming creative content in the song is rendered benign. But again, any expectations lumped on her first new single were probably going to be disappointed unless your goal was to procure new material to lip-sync to with your shampoo bottle in front of a full-length mirror.
And to be fair, this is just one song. There’s 15 more coming, and some bonus tracks. In fact I wonder why Taylor didn’t just release a few more and bump Red up to a full-blown double album. And this leads me to the train of thought I was on about Taylor before her press conference: that she is starving for radio play.
As successful as Taylor Swift and her last album Speak Now have been, the radio play from the album was downright anemic. In fact before the release of “We Are Never…” the Swift material you were likely to hear randomly while at the grocery store or in a friends car was from her first two albums, not Speak Now. Her harshest critics will never admit this, but Speak Now was very mature for a pop album, and for Taylor Swift. The songs were just too long for radio play. There wasn’t a song on Speak Now that clocked under 3 1/2 minutes, 11 of the 14 songs clocked in at or over 4 minutes, 5 of them clocked in at over 5 minutes, and two at over 6 minutes. That’s unheard of in pop/radio play music.
Even though Taylor is/was unarguably the hottest thing in country, none of the first four singles from Speak Now made it to #1, including the notorious “Mean” which won two Grammy’s. It was only the 5th single “Sparks Fly” that hit #1, and only briefly. And for the last few months, country radio has been free of any Swift singles. Compare this to Swift’s closest commercial rival, Jason Aldean, whose My Kinda Party album had 3 #1 singles, and two songs top out at #2, and Aldean immediately began releasing singles from the new album after the old one was singled out. That’s what you can do when nearly every song is under 4 minutes.
So am I surprised when Taylor’s lead single is the most radio-friendly 3-minute pop-eriffic thing she’s done since her second album Fearless? Not at all. I’m also not surprised that Taylor went back to using co-writers as opposed to writing all the material herself like she did with Speak Now. Taylor needed a hit single to keep her music queen status fresh. I do think that Taylor wants to be regarded as creative, authentic, and autonomous. But she also wants to be successful, and that is why “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” won out as the lead single.
As for what Taylor’s Red album will eventually reveal itself as, we’ll have to wait and see, but I wouldn’t be surprised if “We Are Never…” is the album’s most vapid offering, or that it becomes a #1.
1 1/2 of 2 guns down.
After 50 years of service to country music, the 80-year-old George Jones has just announced that in 2013, he will be going on his final tour. “The Grand Tour” as it is being billed will include 60 dates. At this time, no dates or cities have been announced. “The Grand Tour” was also an album and song Jones released in 1974.
“It is tough to stop doing what I love, but the time has come,” Jones said in a press release, citing a desire to spend more time with his wife, children, and grandchildren.
Earlier this year George Jones battled a respiratory infection that lasted for weeks. He spent a week in the hospital in early April 2012, and as he was recovering at his home in Franklin, TN, doctors mandated he take additional time off and canceling numerous shows. Jones’s recovery was slow, but he finally resumed touring this year. He’s also been involved in a battle with his daughter Georgette Jones, and has had difficulty selling his Franklin, TN estate.
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As much of a fan of George Jones as I am and it pains me to see him announce a farewell tour, it also seems appropriate considering his health struggles and personal issues. The man has given so much to country music and touring is such a burden on a performer’s family life and health that it would only make sense that George Jones take some time for himself here in his golden years. I feel confident George Jones will not disappear after the 2013 tour, but will be around longer as a country music elder statesman by pacing himself and finding the appropriate role for music in his life as he grows older.
Initial Tour Dates:
Nov. 16: Peoria, Ill.
Nov. 17: Hiawassee, Ga.
Nov. 23: Winnie, Texas
Nov. 24: Bossier City, La.
Dec. 1: Elizabeth, Ind.
Dec. 15: Jackson, Tenn.
Feb. 2: Tunica, Miss.
Feb. 7: Lakeland, Fla.
Feb. 22: Greenville, Texas
Feb. 23: Forrest City, Ark.
March 15: Joliet, Ill.
March 16: Muncie, Ind.
March 22: Chattanooga, Tenn.
April 5: Fairfax, Va.
April 6: Knoxville, Tenn.
April 19: Atlanta
April 20: Salem, Va.
April 27: Huntsville, Ala.
May 17: Charlottesville, Va.
May 18: Spartanburg, S.C.
June 1: North Tonawanda, N.Y.
June 2: Lancaster, Pa.
Nov. 9: Grant, Okla.
Nov. 22: Nashville
Try telling Blackberry Smoke that genres don’t matter in modern music. In many ways they don’t, and in many ways they are absolutely the most important thing. Blackberry Smoke may be a prime example of why. They are firmly ensconced members of the Southern rock world, and in the recent reorganization of the music landscape brought on by digitization and radio consolidation among other things, Southern rock in some ways was left without a chair when the music stopped. Then you have modern mainstream country, which at this point is borrowing so heavily from Southern rock influences that Southern rock is having trouble holding onto its autonomy. You play a Southern rock song and some claim it is pop country.
“It’s just music” may be fine for fans and some bands, but it’s tough for marketing. It leaves a band like Blackberry Smoke in a strange position. They’re too successful to be considered underground country (though many mainstream fans might misunderstand them as such simply because they’re not a big country headliner), yet they can’t seem to get their due from the mainstream country world either. And where is rock? It’s gone “indie” and is way outside the Blackberry Smoke realm.
Then there’s the Zac Brown Band. Zac himself has said he’s more Southern rock than country, but thanks the country world for supporting his music. Zac Brown is a perennial at country awards shows and in the country charts (his latest album Uncaged sits at #1 right now), so why all the love for Zac Brown by country music, but Blackberry Smoke is still left on the outside looking in? That may be the reason Zac Brown has taken Blackberry Smoke under his wing, having them open for him on tour, and now releasing The Whippoorwill through his Southern Ground label.
As much as Blackberry Smoke has struggled in the past to find their place, now the stage might be set. Zac Brown’s name holds about as much weight as anyone’s these days, and where their sound was just outside of the country world before, now it is in the pocket. Next what they need is a good album and some good songs, and that’s where The Whippoorwill comes in.
This album is solidly Southern rock, which means there’s country influences and even some country songs, but it’s still not country. This may ruffle the feathers of some purists, but when a band is being honest about what they are, it is a little harder to be angry when they start being pushed through country circles.
The Whippoorwill has some really good songs. The standouts start with the well-written and addictive “Pretty Little Lie”. Another great one is “One Horse Town” which looks at small town rural life from the other side of the coin. Usually these songs focus on how the small town is drying up; nostalgia and such. Blackberry Smoke looks at it from the perspective of the young person forced by guilt into staying in a small town resulting in the suppression of their dreams, and it does so with great composition and a good ear for mood.
Many modern Southern rock bands focus too much on force to drive home the Southern rock vibe: relying on cheap guitar riffs and cliche chord structures and then inserting whatever lyrics work to flesh out the song. I was surprised at how little hard-driving songs there were on this album, and how much attention was paid to lyrics. Blackberry Smoke may look like the stereotypical Southern rock band with their long hair and scruff, but they take their song craft seriously.
One of the knocks you will find out there for Blackberry Smoke is that they have a lack of maturity in the content of some songs. Some of that may have burned off after 12 years of touring and a couple of studio album releases before this one, but some of it didn’t. However one person’s immaturity is another person’s “edge” and that is what you find in songs like “Six Ways To Sunday” and “Leave A Scar”. Again, both solidly-written compositions that use catchy and infectious lyrical hooks to draw you in.
Do I hear that one song that may elevate them to take Zac Brown-level of mainstream country success? I kind of don’t. I’m not sure if this is a criticism or a compliment.
I’d be lying if I said I’ve had my fingers as deep in other Blackberry Smoke albums as I do this one. I know them mostly from select songs I’ve heard here and there up to this point. But taking my moderate knowledge base of modern Southern rock and of this band itself, I feel confident enough to say that The Whippoorwill is a solid album worth your consideration.
1 1/2 of 2 guns up.
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What a banner year it has been for bad songs in country music. After 2011′s “Red Solo Cup” by Toby Keith and Jason Aldean’s country/rap “Dirt Road Anthem” the bar has been raised for how low you must go to get attention for your twilighting music career. I’m sure there’s even worse songs out there, but all of these selections were actually released as singles; put out there for mass consumption. Put a clothesline clip on your nose, a paper bag on your knee, and dive in…if you dare.
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5. Pontoon – Little Big Town
Little Big Town does its level best to shipwreck country music by jettisoning off any and all country roots and twang and inviting on board the most unabashed pop culture imagery and materialism in this stupid summer lake song. The only time a pontoon like this should make an appearance in country is when a bass boat is trolling by and its redneck occupants drop trow and moon these martini-sipping elitists. The eardrum-raping “tings” that make up the idiotic hook for this song sound like the noise that Satan would evoke when perpetually pulling out your pubic hairs one by one as the punishment for eternal damnation.
I hear mention of “motorboating” but unfortunately none of the sea hags in Little Big Town are endowed fully enough to pull the trick off. No, it’s not the choppy water, it’s this song that is making me want to blow chunks overboard.
4. Drinking Side of Country – Bucky Covington & Shooter Jennings
Shooter takes the ‘O’ out of country and pulls a Benedict Arnold by teaming up with pop country also-ran Bucky Covington (aka “The Nickeback of Country Music”) in this positively awful pop song. Not even Kenny Chesney has stooped to this level of music vapidness in his otherwise vapid career. Shooter has his Kool-Aid-drinking apologists selling out every one of their principles to defend their country music savior while he ca$hes in by the elevation of his cult of personality.
Want to know how pop this video is? It got 1 million hits in one day, more hits than any video Shooter has ever received during its entire lifespan. As we all know, sex and shitty music is what sells to the masses, and that’s what Bucky and Shooter deliver here. Oh and let’s not forget they changed the “Outlaw” lyric in the song so Shooter wouldn’t look like a hypocrite.
But all of this is forgivable, because hey, Shooter kissed my ass when I met him once.
I’m still waiting for someone, anyone to explain to me exactly what the hell “Drinking Side of Country” actually means. Anybody?… Anybody?…Bueller?
3. Somethin’ ‘Bout A Truck – Kip Moore
You know your song is lame and unimaginative when Mother Goose is suing you for royalties and mechanicals. There’s something about a truck? There’s something about some pop country douche in a backwards baseball cap ripping off the nursery rhyme “Hole in the Bottom of the Sea” accompanied by Richie Sambora-style stratocaster guitar that makes me want to insert a corkscrew into my earhole and start turning.
Apparently this song is about getting laid by some shallow chick. “On one occasion, [my car] broke down, so I asked my dad, ‘Pop, I need your truck.’ He said sure, so I took it to pick her up … It was like I picked up a whole other human. She was vibrant and all about me; she was all over me from the beginning of the date.”
But the girl that night discovered what the girl in the red dress in the video soon will: Kip Moore has no penis.
2. Corn Star – Craig Morgan
Yes my friends, this song actually exists, and was even released as a single. How do you out cornpone your corny competition? Make a pun about corn and insert into a sexually-charged urbanism (aka the Honky Tonk Badonka Donk songwriting formula). I can just see songwriters Jeffrey Steele and Shane Minor high fiving each other in the BMI building on Music Row, hoping this is the hit that takes them out of the cubicle farm to the corner office. But they’re not laughing with you, they’re laughing at you for buying into this worthless piece of drivel.
If you think “Corn Star” is funny, then the joke’s on you.
1. Truck Yeah – Tim McGraw
“Truck Yeah” picks up where Jason Aldean’s country/rap “Dirt Road Anthem” left off, blurring the lines between country and rap until you’re left with “crap”. Worst country song ever? Well see, we’re still early in “Truck Yeah’s” life cycle, but McGraw’s undeniable sellout moment and cry for relevancy debuted as his best single ever and is slowly making its way up the charts.
“Rap or country, city/farm, it don’t matter who you are…Are you one of us?”
All hail the death of variety, diversity, and contrast in popular American music!
One of the banes of the music writer is when you find music you like, but you just don’t know what to say about it. What’s even worse is when people assume that one of the reasons you’ve said nothing about an artist or album is because you don’t like it. Andy Vaughan and The Driveline‘s first album Long Gone was one of those albums: good, but hard to find words for. Seeing them at The White Horse in Austin, TX earlier this year was not much help either. Only with Searching For The Song have I been able to find the words.
There’s so much music these days vying for everyone’s attention, it is almost imperative that you employ some sort of “bit” to get noticed: a distinctive singing style, a blending of genres, humor, irony, etc. How about just sincerity in craft, and good songwriting? Why can’t that get noticed too? After all, in music these days, that’s pretty rare itself, and those attributes are what Andy Vaughan puts into play in Searching For The Song.
If Andy Vaughn was searching for some great songs for this album, he certainly found them. And if you are searching for great songs, look no further. Take “I Believe In Cowboys” for example, about holding on to the faith and wonder of youth, even as the world pushes its acrimony and bitterness down your throat. The way the song articulates its positivity, and then is structured so perfectly to turn defeatist but doesn’t is a mad stroke of songwriting genius and marvelously-refreshing in such a cynical world. Counterbalancing this is the despondent, but equally-witty song “I Don’t Care”.
Songs like “One More Teardrop”, “Movin’ On”, “Hello Misery”, and “One Good Day” are just good old-fashioned country songs of heartbreak, but this album isn’t all gloom. “Swing That Hammer Down” and “Giggle & A Wiggle” add some lightheartedness and fun to the project, giving Searching For The Song great balance.
And let’s give some props to The Driveline as well, especially steel guitar player Slim Stanton, and Andy’s right hand man and lead guitar player Jerry Renshaw who wrote “Giggle & A Wiggle” and co-wrote “Caught On The Fence” with Andy.
If I had to name a best song, I might go with the aforementioned “I Believe In Cowboys”, or the “Searching For The Song” title track where Andy gets right down to the heart of the matter, and articulates the theme of this album and the underlying issue with artists like him that are struggling in the shadows, chasing a dream that unfortunately is all to unrealistic, yet they can’t stop believing in and pursuing despite knowing better.
The final track “Don’t Tell Me I Ain’t Country” is a good song, it just seemed a little out of Andy’s element (though artists should be afforded a little latitude on a last track). And as much as I want to chagrin music bits, and as much as I like Searching for the Song, I do think that Andy’s music is still “searching” for something that can better help define him and delineate his music from the crowd. But at the same time, that is what’s cool about Searching For The Song, because that is what the theme of this album is about.
With JP Harris, Eric Strickland, and now Andy Vaughan & The Driveline, 2012 has seen a solid crop of no frills, real deal, old school country music albums. If those albums spoke to you, this one will too.
1 1/2 of 2 guns up.
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Alright, so we’ve all now had our yucks over this story of a naked Randy Travis being arrested, and I am certainly not above guilt, but I am seeing some fairly alarming rhetoric surrounding this story that I feel is unhealthy to the country music environment. The details of the story may be funny, but the incident is not. Celebrity or no, Randy Travis is a human being who is clearly going through a moment of crisis in his life. And just because he engaged in some illegal behavior shouldn’t give him some additional cred in country music, or somehow means he’s now a country music “Outlaw.”
We expect our celebrities to live larger than life, so that we can too, through them, vicariously. Forget that most artist and performer types are already predisposed to being more susceptible to things like substance abuse and self-destructive behavior, society also sells to them that as artists, they must suffer for their art to be inspired and authentic. It is true that much great art has come from suffering, but it is also true that great art comes from dedication, perseverance, and sweat. And as much as society likes to perch celebrities up on unrealistic pedestals, we also love to tear them down when they trip, in moments of empathetic vacuousness, clawing at them with our jealousy and spite to feel better about ourselves. This is the vicious pop cycle I like to allude to upon occasion, and just like Taylor Swift once said in a famous song, “The cycle ends right now.” Or at least it does here for me.
Are we so diseased in country music that we actually think more of our stars when their lives become a wreck to the point where they’re laying naked in the middle of the road and making death threats to law enforcement? Is this behavior cool? Is this a fate you would wish upon yourself or any of your friends or family? Getting drunk and doing stupid shit may sound like a country song, but facing felonies and a ruined career and loss of a sense of self-worth are very real issues. It is one of the reasons we have a 27 Club, and why suicides and overdoses are such a heavy burden on the celebrity population.
And us lay civilians love to sit back and say, “Oh yeah, you have it real tough with all that money and fame.” But money and fame are broken promises, and many times don’t help pad a celebrity’s fall, they fuel it.
And for the folks saying Randy Travis’s recent troubles make him an “Outlaw” are only fueling the misconceptions of what a country music Outlaw is. I conceded long ago that accurately defining the “Outlaw” term will be a battle of evermore, but trust me, Randy Travis is no more an Outlaw now than he was in 2011, before his drunken behavior was writing headlines.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, a country music Outlaw has nothing to do with legalities. The original Outlaws–Bobby Bare, Tompall Glaser, and Kris Kristofferson–were not lawbreakers, nor was Willie Nelson until later in life when he was hit with a few stupid and unnecessary pot arrests. Waylon Jennings positively hated the term “Outlaw” and blamed it for his legal woes when the federalies trailed a package of cocaine from New York to the studio where he was recording, later memorialized in the song “Don’t You Think This Outlaw Bit Done Got Outta Hand?”
A country music Outlaw is one that bucks the traditional Music Row, old-guard way of music production by writing their own songs, recording with their own bands, and calling their own shots. Lyrical content and personal behavior are not completely autonomous to the “Outlaw” country image thanks to artists like Johnny Paycheck and David Allan Coe, but the foundation of a country music “Outlaw” has to do with the business of music, not behavior.
Furthermore, the ignorant assertion that personal behavior does influence a country artist’s “Outlaw” status is what is partly fueling this ridiculous and slanderous use of the term by the crop of “new Outlaws” (Eric Church, Justin Moore, Brantley Gilbert, etc.) who think just because they drink too much, talk about fighting, and put women with big tits in their videos they’re carrying on Willie and Waylon’s legacy. Please. Willie Nelson is a pacifist, and probably respects women more than most women respect themselves these days. Being an Outlaw in country means being yourself, and bucking the trends instead of pandering to them. As Sturgill Simpson says, “The most Outlaw thing that a man today can do is give a woman a ring.”
And through this incident, were seeing the rewriting of Randy Travis’s music legacy. Some folks who come to country from the outside looking in are all of a sudden giving his music another look after laughing him off as pop before just because they recognized the name and it wasn’t Johnny Cash, while judgmental types are saying they always knew there was a screw loose with him and they wouldn’t bring themselves down to listening to him again.
This incident didn’t change Randy’s music one bit. Randy has never received enough credit for spearheading both the new push of neo-traditional country and the commercial resurgence of the genre in the late 80′s. One can make the case he set the table for Garth Brooks and country’s return to the stadium and superstar status, without selling out himself.
Randy Travis has given a ton to the country music community, and now in his time of need, it is time for the country music community to give back in the form of support, forgiveness, and understanding.
Whatever is troubling Randy Travis, I hope he works through it to continue to provide the world great country music, and to grow as a person, and as an artist.
Thank you Randy Travis for your music and your service to country music. And even if you’re called home tomorrow, rest assured your legacy is secured in country music, and that it is a positive one.
Randy Travis is making headlines yet again down in Texas today after he was arrested around midnight near his home in Tioga. Police found the country music singer injured after he wrecked his Trans Am, and claim he smelled of alcohol, and was naked lying in the middle of the road. After refusing a breathalyzer, police preformed a blood alcohol test, and say that Travis threatened to kill them, raising the stakes of the arrest to a possible felony offense. Travis was also arrested in February for public intoxication when police found him drunk in a church parking lot.
So what is the cause of all of Randy’s recent erratic behavior? One expert says it can be linked to the silver wings that have recently sprouted from the side of Randy’s head. “Paulie Walnuts syndrome is what some like to call it, named after the famous Sopranos TV character known for being especially ruthless and having ‘silver wings’ in his hair,” Dr. Malcom Frankenfurter, a physiologist for the University of Texas Medical Center explains. “But it is a serious medical disorder just recently discovered that can lead to major behavioral difficulties in aging males.”
The disorder apparently is caused by an imbalance of the chemical melanin in the brain. “Melanin is the pigment that gives hair and skin its color,” says Dr. Frankenfurter. “As we age, many times the hair follicles that contain a finite amount of pigment cells cease to produce the melanin, and our hair begins to turn gray, or white. In the case of people with Paulie Walnuts syndrome, the melanin loss is so dramatic and concentrated around the lower sides of the brain that it effects the temporal lobes of both brain hemispheres, many times causing erratic behavior and temporary loss of judgement, especially when alcohol is involved. If you look at an image of the brain, the temporal lobes virtually mimic the location of many aging male’s ‘silver wings.’”
Dr. Frankenfurter is quick to say Randy Travis has not been diagnosed with the ailment, but recommends his doctors look into the possibly Randy is effected by it right away.
“Randy Travis really should be checked out before he does something to really endanger his country music career, like sign with Scott Borchetta of Big Machine Records and release a country rap song about a truck, or even worse, release a single with Bucky Covington.”
Paulie Walnuts could not be reached for comment.
There are a lot of things I could praise Pickathon for, like the fact they can throw a festival for over 3,000 folks and generate virtually no trash, that they can broadcast all of their stages online in super-high quality, and for free, and implement all manner of other forward-thinking ideas into the music festival format while thinking out all the little dilemmas and ensnaring tentacles that may arise when trying new things.
But the thing I am most thankful for when it comes to Pickathon is that in this age of music and cultural mypoia, where technology and media that intuitively should give us access and awareness to so much more seem to instead be fueling the narrowing of the music reality tunnel, Pickathon works to erode music myopia by filtering off the cream of many different scenes and styles of music and offering them all for your listening enjoyment in one place, and at the same time offering that music in multiple formats and settings to be enjoyed.
Almost like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, with so many different stages and performers playing multiple times over the weekend, everyone’s Pickathon experience is going to be unique, and it is going to be filled by both enjoying the familiar, and discovering the unknown.
My Pickathon 2012 experience started with the familiar in the form of Whitey Morgan & The 78′s. Whitey played Pickathon in 2011 as well, but only had one remaining member from last year’s lineup; pedal steel player Brett Robinson. New bass player Joey Spina and harp/harmony vocalist Danny Coburn looked like they belong in Whitey’s band more than Whitey, with their long hair, huge build and beards, and black vests, while Whitey appeared to have lost half a hundred pounds since last August. With new drummer Tony DiCello, you may consider this the “hot” version of The 78′s with generally faster-paced songs.
This 78′s lineup may be new, but they were tight. Danny Coburn has been singing harmonies with Whitey since they were 15, and you got these sense you weren’t just watching a tight band, but a tight group of friends. Numerous times during both of Whitey’s Friday sets he capped off barely-veiled shots at old lineups and old players. “My band’s totally different from last year, and twice as better. It’s the best band I’ve ever had, dot dot dot!”
They featured a new cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Cowboy Song”, and a new version of their old song, “I Ain’t Drunk”:
Between Whitey’s sets on the main stage and the Galaxy Barn, I caught Cajun Country Revival consisting of Caleb Klauder, members of the Foghorn Stringband, and real deal Cajun musicians Jesse Lege and Joel Savoy. They stimulated the biggest crowd of dancers in the Galaxy Barn all weekend.
Integrating Cajun and country, French and English, weaving in and out of the different styles sometimes in the same song awakens that deep-rooted roots appeal embedded in all of our souls and sets the body in motion. Whether it was when Joel Savoy and Foghorn’s Stephen Lind got sawing together on the fiddles, or when elder Cajun music legend Jesse Lege took the lead on accordion or belted out a chorus in authentic Cajun French, or Caleb Klauder then parroted the line in English in his sublime country voice, the Cajun Country Revival created shivers.
And no matter where you put Caleb Klauder, the quality of the music project rises, and its sometimes hard to not focus on him alone. With his own band, with Foghorn, or sitting in with someone like Justin Townes Earle like happened at Pickathon three years ago, Caleb Klauder is quality, and a very familiar face around the Pickathon grounds. After the Cajun Country Revival set, I felt the need to take to Twitter and unilaterally declare him the “Mayor of Pickathon.”
Here they are performing Buck Owens’ “I Don’t Care (Just As Long As You Love Me)”:
At the end of the year whenever I look back on all the live performances I’ve seen, Pickathon usually facilitates one of the top musical experiences, and that was the case when Thee Oh Sees took the Galaxy Barn stage late Friday night. It is physically impossible to put out more energy then they did in their wild set of psychedelic surf guitar rock. Hard, driving, and fast, but still ethereal and dreamy, it was one of those fully-encompassing music experiences where you’re completely taken in by the music and nothing else matters. They mix the mod/retro feel of the B-52′s, the style of Dick Dale, the energy of West Coast punk, and the boy/girl high harmonies indicative of fellow San Francisco-based Jefferson Airplane. No words would do them justice so just watch the video below (and here’s another from Pitchfork). If you like music, you need Thee Oh Sees in your life.
Saturday started by checking out Andy Bean and the Two Man Gentlemen Band, drenched in their period garb and offering the neo-traditional fare for the weekend. Call them a bit if you want, but they had the crowd up on their feet with their up-tempo, catchy tunes bolstered by humorous lyrics and tight harmonies. Then after a second round of Thee Oh Sees on the main stage, it was time for clawhammer banjo player Abagail Washburn accompanied by Kai Welch. Progressing way beyond her primitive instrument, Abigail offered a diverse set that went from gospel, to ambient keyboard loops and ethereal vocals accompanied by Kai’s trumpet, to traditional Chinese music complete with appropriate hand gestures. And then she finished up with what else, but dancing a jig while leading the crowd in a gospel sing-along.
This year’s Pickathon had a very distinct Cajun/New Orleans flavor, from the previously-mentioned Cajun Country Revival, to the big and boisterous Hot 8 Brass Band–a New Orleans street marching street act–to the Lost Bayou Ramblers, which featured Gordon Gano from The Violent Femmes on fiddle, both of which delivered blazing sets on Saturday night to big crowds.
Other Saturday highlights were Reverend KM Williams keeping the blues alive at Pickathon, and Ohio’s Southeast Engine who offered a breather from all the bits and showed that straightforward rock songs and substantive songwriting will always have their place and appeal in music.
Last year when Pickathon released their lineup and Langhorn Slim was not on it, fans raised such a clamor, there was no keeping him off this year. It certainly wasn’t from lack of talent that Langhorn Slim was left off, only that he has performed the fest so many times in recent memory. If Caleb
Klauder is the Mayor of Pickathon, Langhorn Slim is the King. His use of dynamics is the most enchanting thing this side of Phish, and the energy is virtually unmatched. But what you can’t overlook is Langhorn’s lyricism, and for how entertaining his fast, dynamic numbers were, his slow songs may be the most memorable.
Saturday night was also when pseudo-headliner Neko Case (Pickathon is famous for not having traditional headliners) had her first set on the Woods Stage, which as the name implies, is set way back in the woods in a primitive setting. I’ll say first that this was not Neko’s primary slot. She would play Sunday night as well on the main stage and from all accounts (I had to leave before her set), it was excellent. But this first one Saturday night was the most off and uninspired set of music I witnessed all weekend, or at any Pickathon, and coming from someone dubbed as one of the biggest name at the fest, this was disappointing.
Her set was supposed to begin at 9 PM, and didn’t start until after 10. I’m not sure if this was completely her fault. I know the stage had been running about 45 minutes late earlier in the day, but the crowd had been standing there for more than an hour in the darkness, with no other music that bled over into her slot. The lone beer stand back in the Woods ran out of booze. Dust had been a big issue over the weekend, especially at the Woods Stage, and people sat or stood breathing it in to in the end watch a mild set of music.
When Neko finally came out on stage sporting an Iron Maiden t-shirt and stroking the hair back out of her face every few minutes, she looked bothered and unfocused. She flubbed numerous songs, having to start one over, and messing up another one by forgetting her guitar player was not there, which also aided to the hollow and uninspired sound. A big chunk of the set was filled with only partially-humorous, and many times confusing and incongruent stage banter about leaking nipples and Hobart mixers. When Neko was singing and focused, the music was excellent, but after 3/4′s of the set and a nose full of black buggers, I raised a white flag and headed for the Dr. Dog show on the main stage.
Dr. Dog never does not deliver. You can ask the question why they and other bands like The War on Drugs are performing at a festival that is basically roots-based (and they ask that very question themselves from the Pickathon stage two years ago, the first time they played the fest) but the magic and appeal of their music is undeniable.
After seeing Lake Street Dive perform at Pickathon’s “Pumphouse”, a small shack isolated in the woods where bands go in and make top notch videos for the site Live & Breathing, I made a vow to catch their set on Sunday at Pickathon’s Workshop Barn, where bands not only perform, but get a chance to tell stories about their songs, and sometimes engage in question and answer sessions with the crowd. Right up there with Thee Oh Sees, Lake Street Dive from Brooklyn was one of the new take-aways for me from 2012 Pickathon. Though maybe a little more polished and jazzy for traditional Saving Country Music fare, their style and musicianship was enthralling and made me a fast fan. After their last Workshop Barn song, they got the biggest ovation I think I have ever seen for a live performance, possibly ever. I was afraid the floor was going to cave in.
Shovels & Rope was also a top priority for Sunday, and Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent delivered. On a weekend that showcased some of the greatest pickers and players out there today, Shovels & Rope showed that passion and heart are still the most important parts in connecting with music. They’re like the underdogs you love to root for, though they may not be underdogs for long. Pickathon has a way of finding talent and showcasing it right before its meteoric (and sometimes too expensive to book in the future) rise, and Shovels & Rope might have been that band this year.
Unfortunately, even with Pickathon offering two performances from artists, there were still folks I wanted to see and missed, like Doug Paisley and Blitzen Trapper, and Todd Snider who played both sets before I arrived on Friday. But still the amount of music I saw was enough to satiate the music brain for months, and the new bands I discovered gave me plenty of homework.
Once again Pickathon put on an excellent festival that I can comfortably call the most well-operated, most forward-thinking, and most hospitable festivals you can find, music or otherwise. This year dust was an issue for some folks, but that is a solvable problem, and though Pickathon seems to be teetering right at the edge of overcapacity, some smart thinking in the routing of people, and making small changes like an overflow area for the Workshop Barn and moving the beer stand away from the Galaxy Barn to relieve congestion helped stave off those concerns for now.
A big hand goes out to Terry, Zale, all the Pickathon performers, organizers, workers, and volunteers for another excellent an inspiring music experience!
Two guns up!
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