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Hank Williams III struck out today for Texas on a 2 week tour that will take him through the Midwest and parts of the South ahead of the release of 2 new albums on October 1st: the double CD Brothers of the 4×4, and the punk-infused A Fiendish Threat. Over the last few years, country fans have come to expect a mixed bag from Hank3, whose veered more towards punk and heavy metal as time has gone on. His first two albums Risin’ Outlaw and Lovesick, Broke, & Driftin’ became staples of the early 2000′s neo-traditionalist movement, while 2006′s Straight to Hell is considered his opus, and the beginning of his move to a much harder sound.
His last “country” album Ghost to a Ghost/Guttertown had a decidedly Cajun flavor to it, but ahead of the release, Hank3 was warning people not to expect a tear jerking traditionalist country effort. “I’m just saying that out of respects to my fans. Some of the Cajun stuff has a country feel. But I at least have to say that to my fans, because it’s a new line for a Hank3 country record.”
While speaking to The Dallas Observer ahead of his show at the Rail Club in Ft. Worth, Hank3 struck a much different tone about what people could expect from the upcoming Brothers of the 4×4:
It’s a traditional country record. It’s got your slow country songs if you need to get some bad emotions out. It’s got a couple of, you know, the not as sad kind of songs and a couple of songs that just aren’t really country but they’re kind of folky soundin’. When I make a country record, it’s always very important for me to have a banjo, steel and acoustic guitar, fiddle and a chicken pickin’ guitar on it. Those are really the deep roots of country music for me.
Hank3 wrote, recorded, produced, and played all of the drums and acoustic guitar on the new record, while using his stable of superpicking friends for all of the lead parts, including Andy Gibson, Zach Shedd, Billy Contreras, David McElfish, Daniel Mason, and a guest appearance by banjo champion Leroy Troy.
And for those wondering what they may get from the country punk A Fiendish Threat:
It’s done on an acoustic guitar with a little bit of fuzz on it and a stand-up basss beatin’ it down. It’s a different singin’ voice for me. A lot of people who’ve known me for 10 years say, ‘Man, if you hadn’t told me it was you, I wouldn’t have guessed. It just doesn’t sound like you.’ That’s a good thing for me. That just means I’m changin’ it up. Not everybody will get it, but some people will understand the creative process that’s going on.
Hank3 Tour Dates:
8/24 Austin, TX @ The Austin Bat Fest
8/25 Ft. Worth, TX @ Rail Club
8/26 Tulsa, OK @ Cain’s Ballroom
8/27 Lawrence (KC), MO @ Granada
8/29 Sauget, IL @ Pops
8/30 Ft. Wayne, IN @ Pierre’s
8/31 Flint, MI @ Machine Shop
9/1 Indianapolis, IN @ The Vogue
9/2 Pittsburgh, PA @ Alter
9/4 Lancaster, PA @ The Chameleon
9/5 Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club
9/6 Richmond, VA @ National
9/7 Charlotte, NC @ Amos Southend
9/8 Atlanta, GA @ The Masquerade
The annual Muddy Roots Festival held over Labor Day weekend announced their initial lineup last week (see below) and at the top of the list was the name of legendary Bakersfield Sound songwriter Red Simpson, chiefly known for his devotion to the story of the American truck driver. Living on the outskirts of Bakersfield in an old trailer park, Red was recruited for Muddy Roots during a chance meeting with Century Media recording artist Bob Wayne who was touring through town.
In a strange turn of events, Bob Wayne found himself sitting in Red Simpson’s trailer at 6 AM, swapping songs and stories with a man he considered a hero, and who country music has so unfortunately forgotten over time.
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Bob Wayne: When I first started touring with Hank3, mainly Andy Gibson (Hank3 steel guitar) turned me on to him. Basically when we’re on tour and rolling down the road, we’re listening to music that we love, and turning each other on to music. Andy was like “Man, you’ve got to hear Red Simpson,” and he has all his CD’s. As soon as I heard it, I immediately fell in love with it and we would constantly be listening to it. He’s always singing about truck driving, or being a highway patrolman. We just thought it was so funny that was his only two topics pretty much. We obsessed over him for years. I was a huge fan, but I never looked him up to see what he was doing. I knew he was still alive but I figured he was really old.
Trigger: He must have been a big influence on your music as well. Your 2nd album was 13 Truckin’ Songs and since then you’ve put out even more trucking songs.
Bob Wayne: Definitely. When we we’re recording (with Andy Gibson), he was one of the guys we would go to to get the sound we were looking for. We’d listen to Johnny Paycheck, Red Simpson…just pull up these records and listen to them, and we really listened to Red Simpson’s guitar players. In fact we gave him a little tribute in the song “Mack.” It’s kind of subliminal, it’s in the background, but there’s a little guitar lick in there about Mack the truck driver. Red’s sound is just amazing.
Trigger: So how did it come about that you were hanging out with Red Simpson in Bakersfield and all of a sudden you’re helping book him at the Muddy Roots Festival?
Bob Wayne: It goes back to my guitar player Ryan (Clackner). He’s got a really big beard. He was in downtown Nashville–this goes back to last summer I think–and he was just sitting there hanging out, and this woman came up to him that was probably in her 60′s, and came up to Ryan out of the blue and said, “I just love your beard, and your aura.” She told him, “I work at the Crystal Palace in Bakersfield.” It’s a famous museum and restaurant down there in Bakersfield, and she gave him her number and said if he was ever in Bakersfield he could have a free tour or whatever.
This was all before Ryan joined my band. So he joins the band now, and we’re in Bakersfield and he ends up calling this girl and she comes to our show. We get to talking and I mentioned Red Simpson, not knowing she knew him or anything like that. I said, “I love Bakersfield, this is where Red Simpson is from.” And she said, “Do you like Red Simpson?” and I said, “I love Red Simpson, you don’t even know.” About 15 minutes later she walks over with the phone and says, “Someone wants to talk to you.” I’m like “Okay?” And I get on the phone and it’s like, “Hey, this is Red. How’s it going man?”
We started talking. Ended up he knew Donnie Herron of BR549 who now plays with Bob Dylan and whose played on all of my albums. Donnie used to live in Bakersfield. So we had that connection. And then Red was like, “Why don’t you come over tomorrow morning and we’ll drink some coffee? We’ll trade songs.” Just listening to him talk, I’m such a fan of his–like the way he laughs, he gives a little “heh” like he does at the end of some of his songs I was like, “Oh my God this is really him.” I was a little star struck. This is one of my heroes. He says, “How about 6 AM?” and I’m like, “Oh my God.” He’s 78 I think, so he’s up there. So I got up early, none of the band wanted to go that early.
He lives in a trailer park in Bakersfield, right in between the cemetery and the dump in this old ass trailer park. He’s got two old Cadillacs sitting out in the front, just like my old Cadillac limo. We ended up sitting there talking for hours, drinking coffee. He showed me all his demos, he played me all the unreleased Red Simpson songs that he’s just written. He’s just sitting in his trailer writing all these songs. He said, “Man, I’d really like it if you’d cut this one.” He gave me a couple of songs he really wants me to record. I asked him, “Do you still play gigs?” And he said, “I play down at the nursing home every Monday night for a free meal.”
So anyway we ended up hanging out all day until I had to leave. We we’re driving up to the next gig and I thought, “Man, I wonder if he would want to play Muddy Roots?” So I called Jason (Muddy Roots promoter), and Jason said, “Oh hell yeah.” So I called up Red and he said, “Well, I don’t have any band up there. And so I said, “We’ll learn your songs and do a good job.” Andy (Gibson) was really excited too. He said, “One minute we’re driving down the road listening to Red Simpson, now we’re going to be playing with him!”
Red is also going to do a show at the Country Music Hall of Fame February 23rd, and I’m actually going to pick him up in my limo and give him a ride to it. We’re going to hang out, he’s gonna come by the house, and we may do some recording and stuff. So Red Simpson is gonna be going to the Country Music Hall of Fame in my limo, and I’m gonna blow the big bullhorn for him and open the door and everything!
Trigger: This is all so appropriate because the Country Music Hall of Fame, their big exhibit is highlighting the Bakersfield Sound, which of course Red Simpson was a part of as much as anybody. It’s all about finding these old guys that time has forgotten, and giving them the props that they deserve.
Bob Wayne: Yeah, and it was funny because after I called him, about 10 minutes after he called me again and said, “Hey man, thank you so much for doing that. And uh…if you can get me any more gigs…” (laughing). So I’ve been putting out some feelers for him. Now I’m friends with him, it’s weird. We call, I talk to his wife and stuff. It’s crazy. — Purchase Tickets to the Muddy Roots Festival
The underground country movement started roughly in the mid 90′s on lower Broadway in Nashville that at the time was a run down part of town. Young musicians from around the country, some from punk backgrounds, came together from their mutual love of authentic country music to create a counterbalance to the pop country that was prevailing on Music Row a few blocks west.
Underground country started with mostly neo-traditionalists like Wayne “The Train” Hancock, Big Sandy, and Dale Watson, but spread to the punk and heavy metal world through acts like Hank Williams III and Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers. This list does not just consider the appeal of these albums, but also the influence they had on other underground artists and albums, and on country music and music in general.
Please understand that this list is just for underground country albums. This means artists better defined by the Deep Blues like Scott H. Biram or Possessed by Paul James, or Texas artists like James Hand or Ray Wylie Hubbard, or country artists who may work on the fringes of underground country but would not necessarily be considered underground like BR549 or Roger Alan Wade, are not included. Americana acts are not included. This is strictly underground country’s opportunity to bask in the spotlight.
Please feel free to leave your own list below.
16. The Boomswagglers- Bootleg Beginnings – 2011
This very well may be the most authentic album of music put out in the modern era for any genre. The Boomswagglers have always been and continue to be more myth than reality, with original Boomswaggler Lawson Bennett long gone and a cavalcade of replacements shuffling in an out with Spencer Cornett. Even if they never put out another album, The Boomswagglers made their mark, and it is a deep one.
“The music is wildly entertaining and deceptively deep. If you’re going to be a Boomswagglers song, someone’s got to die, and likely a woman. Some may find this silly, monotonous, or even offensive, but you have to listen beyond the lyrics, and unlock the carnal wisdom that is hidden in these songs.” (read full review)
15. JB Beverley & The Wayward Drifters – Dark Bar & A Juke Box – 2006
Dark Bar & A Juke Box was an instant underground country classic, and so was the anti Music Row song that the album got its name from. JB and his Wayward Drifters grit out a superb selection of songs displaying taste, restraint, and a sincere appreciation for the roots of country music, which may have surprised some who knew JB more for his work with heavy metal bands like The Murder Junkies and the Little White Pills. Dark Bar & A Juke Box also boasts appearances from the famous son and grandson of a country music royal family, who due to contractual issues had to work incognito (wink wink).
14. Lucky Tubb & The Modern Day Troubadours – Del Gaucho – 2011
Some (including Lucky himself) may point to Hillbilly Fever as being the seminal Lucky Tubb album with its big budget and appearances by Wayne “The Train” Hancock. But Del Gaucho is where Lucky Tubb came into his own, found his sound, and the unique musical flavor only he has to offer the world. Dirty, rowdy, rocking, but still steadfastly neo-traditionalist country, Del Gaucho scores off the charts when it comes to style points. When you’re talking about some of the greatest neo-traditional country albums and artists of all time, Lucky Tubb and Del Gaucho deserve to be in that conversation.
13- Bob Wayne & The Outlaw Carnies – Blood to Dust – 2008
They say you have your whole life to write your first album, and what makes Bob Wayne’s Blood to Dust so special is how true and touching he told his life’s story through song. His subsequent albums aren’t too shabby either, but with signature songs like “Blood to Dust”, “Road Bound”, and “27 Years”, this still stands out as his signature album, and a signature album of the underground country movement. It was performed, produced, and recorded by an all-star cast of contributors that included Donnie Herron, Joe Buck and Andy Gibson, and brought Bob Wayne out from behind-the-scenes as Hank3′s guitar tech, and made him one of the movement’s most well-known songwriters and performers.
12. Jayke Orvis – It’s All Been Said – 2010
This is the album that launched Farmageddon Records, and that launched Jayke Orvis as a formidable, premier front man in underground country. One of the founding members of the now legendary .357 String Band, Jayke was asked to leave the band because of irreconcilable differences and almost immediately began touring with The Goddamn Gallows and trying to make this album happen. The result was a slick, tightly-crafted LP showcasing excellent songwriting and instrumentation. From ballads to blazing instrumentals, Jayke Orvis has proved himself to be one of the singular talents of underground country roots.
11. Lonesome Wyatt & Rachel Brooke – A Bitter Harvest – 2009
This album was destined to become an underground country classic. The mad genius music mind of Lonesome Wyatt of the Gothic country duo Those Poor Bastards has the uncanny ability to procure the absolute most appropriate sounds to evoke the desired dark mood in his music. Then you combine that with one of the best voices not just in underground country, but in all of music in Rachel Brooke, and magic was bound to happen. The creativity on A Bitter Harvest is spellbinding. More of an artistic endeavor than a toe tapper, Lonesome Wyatt and Rachel create a soundtrack to human emotion and despair. For people looking for a place for country music to evolve, A Bitter Harvest shows how you can take authentic country themes and an appreciation for the roots of the music, and envelop it in layers of textural color culled from the wide experience of human sounds.
10. Justin Townes Earle – Midnight At The Movies – 2009
Midnight At The Movies was Saving Country Music’s 2009 Album of the Year. Today it would be difficult to characterize Justin Townes Earle as underground country because the quality of this album launched him into the inner sanctum of Americana.
“Justin Townes Earle has done an awesome thing with this album; he has figured out a way to unite all the displaced elements that make up the alternative to mainstream Nashville country, while still staying somewhat accessible to the mainstream folks as well. You might even catch the bluegrass folks nodding their head while listening to it. Folkies like it, and there’s a few tunes blues people can get into. This isn’t just the REAL country album of the year, it is the “Alt-country” album of the year and the “Americana” album of the year.” (read full review)
9. Slackeye Slim - El Santo Grial, La Pistola Piadosa – 2011
“Every once in a while, an album comes along that changes everything. It’s an album that inspires other albums, and dynamic shifts in tastes and approach throughout a sector of music, while at the same time dashing the dreams of other artists, as the purity and originality are way too much to attempt to rival. Slackeye Slim’s El Santo Grial, La Pistola Piadosa is one of those albums.
“El Santo Grial is a masterpiece, exquisitely produced, arranged, and performed. This is a patient, uncompromising album. You can tell time was never introduced into this project as a goal. The goal was to flesh out Slackeye’s vision without ever settling for second best, and that goal was accomplished.” (read full review)
8. Wayne “The Train” Hancock – That’s What Daddy Wants – 1997
Thunderstorms & Neon Signs is the Wayne Hancock album most people gravitate towards as their favorite because it was their first, and the first to showcase Wayne Hancock’s unique blend of country, Western Swing, rockabilly, and blues. But pound for pound, That’s What Daddy Wants is just as good of an offering, boasting some of The Train’s signature songs like “87 Southbound” and “Johnny Law”. Wayne Hancock has never put out a bad album, and distinguishing between them is difficult. But it’s not difficult to say that the underground country movement would have not had as much class if That’s What Daddy Wants hadn’t seen the light of day.
7. .357 String Band – Fire & Hail – 2008
“They were all the absolute best possible musicians you could find at their respective positions, each challenging each other, pushing each other to keep up with the band’s demands for artistic excellence in both instrumental technique and creative composition.
“Listening back now at Fire & Hail, with so much talent in one place, no wonder the project was untenable, and no wonder the respective players have moved on to become their own trees instead of respective branches of the same project. Still, the loss of .357 String Band may go down as underground country’s greatest tragedy.” (read full review)
6. Hank Williams III - Lovesick, Broke, & Driftin’ – 2002
BR549 and Wayne “The Train” Hancock spearheaded the neo-traditionalist movement in the mid 90′s, but Hank Williams III was the one to carry it into the oughts and introduce it to a brand new crop of fans he brought along from his dabblings in the punk/heavy metal world. After having to tow the line somewhat for his first album Risin’ Outlaw, Hank3 was unleashed and able to showcase his own songwriting, heavily influenced by Wayne Hancock and Hank3′s famous grandfather, but still all his own. His voice was wickedly pure with a heart wrenching yodel and commanding range. The songwriting was simple, but powerful. This is a masterpiece, and remains an essential title of the neo-traditionalist era.
5. Hellbound Glory – Old Highs & New Lows – 2010
Hellbound Glory had already been around for years, but they burst into the underground with this magnificent, hard country album highlighted by head man Leroy Virgil’s world class songwriting. Despite the “hell” in their name and the hard language in their songs, Hellbound Glory hadn’t gone through any retooling as post punk refugees. They were pure country through and through and Old Highs & New Lows combined excellent Outlaw-style bar stompers and ballads with some of the most wit-filled songwriting since Keith Whitley. As far as honky tonk albums go, it may be years before this one is trumped. And when it is, it might be Leroy Virgil and Hellbound Glory doing the trumping.
4. Dale Watson – Live in London…England – 2002
Dale comes out on stage and starts slinging guitars, cutting classics, and speaking the truth. Before Dale was the hometown boy and house band for Austin, he was pissed off and willing to sing about it. Dale’s anti-Nashville classics “Real Country Song”, “Nashville Rash”, and “Country My Ass” can all be found here, but Live in London isn’t all pissing and moaning. Songs like “Ain’t That Livin’” showed off Dale’s superlative voice and suave style. Honky tonk albums are sometimes hard to make because it is hard to capture that live, sweaty energy in the recorded context. So what better way to solve that problem than making a live one? Live in London remains the best Dale album to date.
3. Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers – Cockadoodledon’t – 2003
This was one of the first albums to bust out of the burgeoning music scene on lower Broadway in Nashville where one can argue the undergorund country movement started. It showed the world what kind of mayhem could be created by mixing country, blues, and punk music together without compromising taste and soul. It is the album which acts as a guidepost to the eclectic, yet intuitive and inter-related mix of influences that you will find in underground country: honest to goodness appreciation to the roots of American music, with a punk attitude and approach. And if you ever wondered why Joe Buck is considered part of underground country, appreciate that he played most of the music on Cockadoodledon’t.
2. Wayne “The Train” Hancock – Thunderstorms & Neon Signs – 1995
There are two albums that you can look back on an make a serious case that if they did not exist, underground country music may not exist–the album below this one on this list, and Wayne Hancock’s Thunderstorm & Neon Signs. There are two types of music artists: originators and imitators. Sometimes imitators can be very successful, and very creative artists themselves. But it always takes the originators to set the plate for the imitators to do what they do. Thunderstorms & Neon Signs was an original album from one of America’s most original country roots artists of all time. It doesn’t get much better or more influential than this.
1. Hank Williams III – Straight to Hell – 2006
This album isn’t underground country’s Red Headed Stranger. It isn’t underground country’s Honky Tonk Heroes. It is both. It is the album that both was a novel concept, a breakthrough sonically and lyrically, and had a massive impact on the business side of music, for artists winning control of their music and inspiring and showing artists how to do it themselves. The deposed son of country music royalty had taken on a major Nashville label, and won, and all while being one of the first to successfully bridge the energy and approach of punk and heavy metal music with traditional country, all while keeping the music solidly country in nature.
It was the first album to be put out through the CMA with a Parental Advisory sticker. It was the first to ever be recorded outside of a traditional studio setting. Of course only a select few were paying attention, but it broke through many barriers that to this day have changed music in significant ways, sonically and behind the scenes.
The approach also had wide-ranging impacts outside of underground country and country music in general, to rock music and punk and heavy metal, inspiring thousands of rock kids to put down their electric guitars and AC/DC records, and pick up banjos and Johnny Cash records. The impact on mainstream music may have not been seen, but it was felt, and just like all great albums, it’s legacy will grow and be more appreciated and understood as the future unfolds.
The fight for the purity of country music is almost as old as the genre itself. The conflict between pop and traditionalism, and the fight for creative control for artists runs like a thread throughout country music’s history, defining it as much as the twang of a Telecaster, or the moan of a steel guitar. Here are some of the most iconic images of country music revolution, and the stories behind them.
Fanning The Flames
Charlie Rich was tapped to present the trophy for Entertainer of the Year at the CMA Awards in 1975. Knowing what name the little envelope contained (and not being too happy about it), Rich pulled out his bic and lit it on fire, announcing the winner as “My friend, Mr. John Denver.” Denver wasn’t in attendance and accepted via satellite, unaware of the pyrotechnics. Rich, who’d won 5 CMA Awards in the past, was never invited back to the CMA’s, and was never nominated again.
Flipping The Bird
Johnny Cash’s famous middle finger photo was shot by photographer Jim Marshall at California’s San Quentin prison during a concert in 1970. The pose was the response to Jim’s request: “John, let’s do a shot for the warden.” Where it became an iconic image of American culture was years later, when Johnny Cash was making his American Recordings records with Rick Rubin. Cash’s album Unchained had won the Grammy for “Best Country Album”, but was being virtually ignored by country radio. So Rick Rubin ran an ad with the obscene image, along with the caption, “American Recordings and Johnny Cash would like to thank the country music establishment and country radio for your support.” (read full story)
On March 17th, 18th, and 19th of 1972, The Dripping Springs reunion, aka the “Country Music Woodstock” went down just outside of Austin, TX. It was a commercial flop, but a fundamentally-important event nonetheless because it established Austin, TX as a serious alternative to the restrictive environment of Nashville, with Willie Nelson leading the charge. Similar to the underground/independent movements in country music today, The Dripping Springs Reunion paid respects to the older legends like Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs, Buck Owens, and Roger Miller who all attended and performed, while establishing in earnest the Outlaw movement with native Texans Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson at the helm.
Tompall Glaser saved his pennies from his days in The Glaser Brothers and bought himself a renegade studio / clubhouse that would later be known as Hillbilly Central. Located on 19th Ave. right off of Music Row, it broke the monopoly RCA, Chet Atkins, and Studio “B” had on country music at the time. It allowed artists like Waylon Jennings and Billy Joe Shaver to record their music the way they wanted and use their own bands as opposed to Nashville’s unionized studio musicians. In the words of Outlaw writer Michael Bane, it was “the home of all those records Nashville really didn’t want to make,” including such iconic albums as Waylon Jennings’ Honky Tonk Heroes and John Hartford’s Aereo Plain.
Though the Grand Ole Opry continues to use the likeness of Hank Williams prominently, he was never reinstated as a member after being dismissed in 1952. The understanding was that Hank would sober up and make a triumphant return to the Opry that he so loved, but he died on New Year’s Day 1953 at the age of 29 and never got the opportunity. Hank’s grandson Hank Williams III started a movement called “Reinstate Hank” that now boasts over 54,000 signatures on its online petition. (photo courtesy of minnemynx)
Wanting to take creative control of his music and to be released from the budgetary restraints of the studio, Hank Williams III did the unprecedented for an artist signed to a major country music record label under the CMA umbrella. He took a a Korg D-1600–a consumer-grade piece of recording gear–and cut his record Straight to Hell in the house of his bass player, Joe Buck. It was the underground mentality brought to the mainstream, with the result being Hank3′s magnum opus.
(from left to right: Andy Gibson, Hank Williams III, Joe Buck)
Lower Broadway in Nashville has a new songstress haunting the streets, and she’s a good one. Sarah Gayle Meech, originally from the sticks of Washington State, showed up in town via LA and is doing what she can to make sure the once epicenter of the underground of country music doesn’t become just a row of corporate bars and crappy music.
If you want to know how to put out one badass independent/underground country album in Nashville, you could use One Good Thing as a template. First you line up the greatest renegade studio owner in town, one Andy Gibson, maybe more famous for being Hank Williams III’s steel and dobro player, but the man who tweaked the knobs on such legendary albums as Hank III’s Straight to Hell, .357 String Band‘s Fire & Hail, and every piece of recorded music Bob Wayne has ever released.
Then you line up the best superpickers in town, namely the superlative “Cousin” Kenny Vaughan (Marty Stuart, many others), and the legendary Chris Scruggs (BR549, many others). Just with these assets, if underground country were an arms race, Sarah Gayle Meech would have just announced herself a superpower.
But none of these dude’s names are on the cover, and none of them wrote these songs. Sarah and her songwriting are the center of attention here, and with impeccable country taste and instincts, Sarah assembles 12 original and authentic honky-tonk hard country songs for your listening enjoyment.
Don’t let the sleeves of tattoos scare you, this is country and country only. There’s no screams coming out of those red lips, or goat horns concealed under that raven black hair. Sarah Gayle Meech and One Good Thing are country through and through, piercing the breastplate of honky tonk with an adrenaline shot right to its heart.
Lying, cheating, heartache, and one night stands are the colors Sarah swirls together on her palette and then paints on to the canvas with a strong voice and a stellar band. I’ve seen Sarah live (at Muddy Roots) and can vouch One Good Thing isn’t just a product of studio magic, that live the material might even be more engaging, as in many instances honky-tonk-style country is. Sarah has set up residency at Lower Broadway’s famed Bluegrass Inn, and plays Robert’s Western World next door as well. She boasts a professional band and attitude, and her dedication, heart, and willingness to sacrifice to do it right is woven into the fabric of this album.
One Good Thing is a great debut album from Sarah, but what I want to see from here is how she develops and figures out a way to separate herself sonically from the overwhelming crowd of traditional bands and artists playing honky tonk music these days. She’s cut her teeth now, proven her country cred and how the modes and love of true country music coarse through her veins. But all the greats in the genre brought something unique to the table. They added something, or took something away, or reached deep down inside themselves to find a way to separate themselves from the herd.
I won’t say the material and music on One Good Thing is cliche, but the lyrics and licks are common enough that I’m afraid it will sound like “just another traditional country album” to some. This is a common issue for honky tonk artists, even for folks like Dale Watson.
Sarah Gayle Meech gives new blood to old music, and with a bold style and a professional attitude, she should be keeping Lower Broadway true to itself and hopefully expanding to parts beyond in the years to come.
1 1/2 of 2 guns up.
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Sarah at Robert’s on Lower Broadway
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, “That foul mouthed punk, I can’t even stand to see his ugly face,” and you blame him for perpetuating a perversion of country music. Or, you saw his name and said “Hell yeah,” 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 “major” with an expansive network and Rolodex, but small enough to be considered an “independent” 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 “Outlaw Carnies”.
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.
Over the years I’ve been a big Bob Wayne proponent, and to some folks he’s been a very hard sell. I’ve always counseled to look beyond the persona to the songwriting. With his new album Till The Wheels Fall Off, Bob Wayne frankly makes that task much harder. At the same time, he’s put out his most enjoyable album yet.
Since the beginning, there’s been two sides to Bob Wayne: the introspective songwriter side, and the “Hellbilly” side. In between are his storytelling songs that tend to draw from both worlds. Despite the bandana and salty language, what Bob is doing is not much different than what Johnny Cash did. Johnny didn’t shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die, or take a shot of cocaine before shooting his wife. It was a persona created to tell a story. Bob has maybe modernized some of the language and themes, but country music songs on the sinful life are a staple of the genre.
What he has done as his career has progressed is tip the scales from the more introspective material to the more hellraising material, and this is where he’s left some listeners scratching their heads. With his first few albums, songs like “Blood To Dust,” “27 Years,” and “The Final Walk” made it easy for the music brain to understand Bob, and then enjoy the hellraising songs right along with the crowd who may see a song like “27 Years” as too artsy.
But with Till The Wheels Fall Off, there are very few of those guideposts. Bob’s first album Blood to Dust was weighted in favor of the deep songwriting material. This album is skewed to the “hellbilly” side, giving detractors heavy ammunition to pass off the whole Bob Wayne presentation as a bad bit. Even some of the songs on Till The Wheels Fall Off that are presented to be deep, like the lead single “Get There When I Get There” is more ambiguous in nature than artistic. There’s little of that stone cold hard reality that tears at your heart like many of his previous offerings.
Does that leave Till The Wheels Fall Off vacuous or non-entertaining? Not at all. Not whatsoever. “Devil’s Son” may be the funnest song Bob Wayne has ever put out. And “Wives Of Three,” though on the surface a shallow and silly song, may be one of his best attempts at songwriting.
Let’s take “Wives of Three” as a case study. The first time I listened to this song, I hated it, saying to myself, “Come on Bob, you’re killing me out here!” Then I understood the genius behind it. This song is more David Allan Coe than David Allan Coe. It evokes a whole range of emotions, from creepiness and weirdness, to humor, to sincerity and true love. Most importantly to the success or failure of a songwriter, Bob is able to transport you to a scene where he’s standing in his childhood home with these three women, presenting them to his mother.
You can visualize the whole thing, his mother’s sense of shock and dismay, yet a creepy sense of pride, Bob’s sense of awkwardness and hope that this lifestyle will be accepted, and these three women that in a 3-minute song, Bob is able to present to where you can visualize them, their faces, their stories and motivations. It’s all bullshit that is totally believable and makes your mind explore the inner depths of morality, family, and love.
The words and persona are what everyone seems to focus on when it comes to Bob, but let none of that distract you from the fact that the instrumentation on this album is par excellence. Andy Gibson, Hank3′s steel guitar player and the engineer on all of Bob’s albums, along with an all-star cast of contributors put together an amazing album of music. From conjuring the spirit of Jerry Reed in “Ain’t No Diesel Trucks In Heaven” to the lonesome teardrop steel sounds in “Hunger In My Soul”, this album is a 10 out of 10 on how Bob’s vision was fleshed out.
Your feelings on Till The Wheels Fall Off are going to be based on taste even more so than on most albums. It is my job as a reviewer to divest personal taste for a more true judgement on the work. Do I personally like the strictly hellraising songs like “All Those One Night Stands” and “Spread My Ashes On The Highway”? No, no I really don’t. But I also recognize the appeal and the wit embedded in the songwriting, and won’t let them repeal my love for a song like “Hunger In My Soul”. But not all music is for everyone, and that’s okay. It is not fair to strictly base taste on calling something bad, and it is not fair to call someone’s tastes bad just because they are different from yours. Bob Wayne seems to drive home the importance of these points more than most.
Where I take some points away from Till The Wheels Fall Off is when measuring it against what I know Bob is capable of. He is capable of writing songs that can change people’s lives. If he changes someone’s life with this album, it may not be for the better. There are also issues with the continuity in his storyline. With some of his previous works, his sobriety is a theme, where in this album, it is the breaking of that sobriety. Is this true in Bob’s real life, or an extension of the persona? Either way it is okay, it’s the ambiguity in how you’re supposed to approach these songs that may be the issue.
Instead of just writing on the road, I think Bob needs to get in better touch with his inner dialogue through solitude, so the guideposts leading listeners to the realization of his songwriting prowess are more present.
But this is not a bad album. It is fun as hell. At times you are laughing out loud at some of the lines. Are we so uptight we can’t enjoy music for the visceral experience? Isn’t it fun to go on a vicarious exploration of the id through music and character? This is what Bob Wayne delivers in Till The Wheels Fall Off; an escape, a good time. Sure maybe we, maybe underground country has grown up from most of this behavior, but isn’t that the theme here, that Bob will never change, that he’s going Till The Wheels Fall Off? And there’s nothing wrong with siting back and watching his ride.
1 1/2 of 2 guns up.
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On Tuesday (5-22-12) Bob Wayne will be releasing his brand new album through People Like You Records called Till The Wheels Fall Off, and Saving Country Music is excited to premier for you the EPK introduction video for the album.
It was shot at the house of Andy Gibson, Hank Williams III’s steel guitar and dobro player, and the man who recorded Till The Wheels Fall Off and all of Bob Wayne’s albums.
When I recorded my first album Blood to Dust, I had about 30 songs written to choose from.” Bob tells Saving Country Music. “The next two albums I recorded were a lot of older songs that I had in the bank. Then with the Century Media release of Outlaw Carnie we made kind of a “best of” album. I can tell you this, this album is EXACTLY where I’m at right now in life!”
…or on Amazon.
Country music madman, the Outlaw Carnie Bob Wayne has just announced he has a new album coming out May 22nd, 2012 (April 9th in Europa) from Century Media called Till The Wheels Fall Off, and that the album will feature a duet with none other than Hank Williams III called “All My Friends” that will be released MONDAY (3-26-12). ***UPDATE – Song has been released and can be PURCHASED HERE.
“When I recorded my first album Blood to Dust, I had about 30 songs written to choose from.” Bob explains. “The next two albums I recorded were a lot of older songs that I had in the bank. Then with the Century Media release of Outlaw Carnie we made kind of a “best of” album. I can tell you this, this album is EXACTLY where I’m at right now in life!”
Bob Wayne began his country career after years in metal bands when touring with Hank3 as a guitar tech. Wayne and his song “Working Man” appeared on Hank3′s 2008 album Damn Right, Rebel Proud as a duet. His new album, just like all of his albums, was recorded by Hank3′s steel guitar player Andy Gibson, and Hank3 had a little input as well.
“I had just gotten home from 312 shows in 17 different countries with no break. The day I got home Andy and I started breaking everything out and getting it going. My ears were completely burned out from touring so hard and I had gone over to his (Hank3′s) house to play him some tracks and he gave it a listen. It was pretty funny because I thought we were almost done mixing, and he looked over at me and goes, ‘Wheres the acoustic guitar?’ Then I started really listening and he was right!”
Though Andy Gibson has always recorded Bob Wayne’s albums, Bob explains that the process has evolved dramatically over time.
“Back then we were recording on an 8 track machine. The next two records were also done in this fashion. As Andy helped with several more Hank 3 albums and a Goddamn Gallows album and several .357 String Band records, his studio became more and more advanced, better mics, more recording knowledge, better gear all around, etc. Also through the years I was touring constantly on these songs and I became more confident in my singing. I think that’s pretty obvious in the performance differences from my early recordings to now.”
“The funny thing is when I hear people talk about really liking the old cd’s and now that Century Media signed us were all overproduced or whatever, that’s really funny to me because they have nothing to do with the recording except give us money (laughing), it is still just me and Andy in here grinding it out. The biggest difference in the way we recorded back then and the way we record now is we track the drums and bass and acoustic guitar and vocals live. Before we didn’t have enough equipment to do that so we had to record everything one at a time. I really like recording the foundation of the record live as it is more true to what we actually sound like.”
Along with Hank3 and Andy Gibson, Wayne also had help on the album from Donnie Herron (BR549, Bob Dylan) on the title track that was written at the 2011 Muddy Roots Festival.
“It was at Muddy Roots hanging outside my camper one night. Brook from The Calamity Cubes happened to be walking by and Jean “La Diabla” from Holland was there as well. We ended up writing the song together right there in the campgrounds! A few fans even stopped by and listened! “Spread My Ashes On The Highway” is probably my favorite song on there. It actually kind of got me chocked up while writing it. The lyrics about all my friends quitting their jobs and hitting the road to travel and have fun kind of got to me. I actually wrote most of that driving by myself down some highway in Holland after playing the last show of a 312 day run.”
–Hank III to release 4 Records on September 6th: A double country album, a metal “Attention Defecit Domination” album, and a “3-Bar Ranch Cattle Callin’” record.
–New double country Ghost to a Ghost/Guttertown album will have a total of 41 new songs.
–Guest appearances include Tom Waits, Les Claypool, Dave Sherman, Troy Medlin, and Alan King of Hellstomper.
From Hank 3.com:
LOS ANGELES, CA – THURSDAY, June 23, 2011 — With his own new label, Hank3 Records, and the sense that he has thrown off the chains holding him back creatively, Shelton Hank Williams III, aka Hank3, is coming out swinging this year with the release of four records on September 6 – that’s right – FOUR.
The unprecedented launch, in a distribution partnership with Megaforce Records (MRI), features a broad range of music that bridges more than one head-thumping genre – a familiar theme that true Hank3 fans have embraced for years. Ghost to a Ghost/Guttertown, a double-album set, is a straight-shooting country collection, flavored with Hank3′s trademark hellbilly sound, and heavily weighted with Cajun influence (especially on Guttertown) and an ambient, lonesome mood – and a few very special guests.
Two more releases are Attention Deficit Domination and 3 Bar Ranch Cattle Callin – intensely metal-driven records on which Hank3 plays all instruments. Attention Deficit Domination is a pressure-dropping, doom rock statement that has been anticipated by his hardcore fans for years, and Cattle Callin explores a new mind-bending “Cattle Core” sound, featuring Hank3′s speed metal woven in and around actual cattle auctioneering.
All three projects were recorded at The Haunted Ranch, Hank3′s home and studio that lies on the outskirts of Nashville – a fitting place since the town has never really known what to do with this grandson of the American icon. He finally parted ways with Curb Records January 1.
“I have musical freedom. I’m able to say ‘Here’s my record’ and I don’t have to go through a million different channels just to put out a song,” he says. “It’s all me now.”
Hank3 wrote the lion’s share of the songs that appear on the 41-track Ghost to a Ghost. The players are Andy Gibson on steel guitar and banjo, who also aided in its recording, David McElfresh on fiddle and mandolin, Zach Shedd on standup bass, Daniel Mason on banjo, super-picker Johnny Hiland on guitar, Billy Contreras on fiddle, and Rory Hoffman on accordion.
Guest appearances include the mythical Tom Waits on the haunted “Fadin Moon” from Guttertown and on the Ghost to a Ghost title track, Alan King of Hellstomper, Les Claypool of Primus fame and beyond, Dave Sherman, Troy Medlin and Hank3′s dog, Trooper.
Cuts such as “Guttertown,” “Ridin The Wave,” and “The Devil’s Movin In” on Ghost to A Ghost, and “Goin to Guttertown,” “The Low Line,” and “I’ll Save My Tears” on Guttertown highlight both the excellent musicianship on the records, and Hank3′s unmistakable, confident vocals.
Attention Deficit Domination allows the listener into Hank3′s crunching, metal world of the heavy and the slow, complete with his renowned, fundamental percussion. The nine tracks hardly allow you to get up from the floor. With songs such as “I Feel Sacrificed” and the tormented “Livin Beyond Doom,” Hank3 works a ground somewhere between devastation and high theatre.
“Both A.D.D. and Cattle Callin are very intense. It’s very manic,” Hank3 says. “It’s hard to follow, even for the guys I play with. I’m playing everything on these two. It’s very complex.”
There are 23 tracks on Cattle Callin, featuring Hank3′s driving, formidable guitar attack, with instrumentation build around the auctioneering and, in some cases, his own higherregister vocal treatment laid over the top. Metal fans will notice some tongue-in-cheek humor with titles such as “Heavy Cattle” and “Angus of Death.” Also, fans of bluegrass will love the banjo-driven “Cattle Callin Lonesome Blues,” featuring Mason.
“I was raised around it [cattle auctioneering] and it’s pretty amazing how fast these guys are,” Hank3 says. “Hip-hop has looped auctioneers. Bluegrass has messed around with it a little bit. This has never been done in the heavy metal world.”
The September release of all three projects represents a new birth for Hank3, and he’s happy to have the chance.
“Megaforce Records has helped me with my vision to do something that’s never been
done before,” he says. “They’re handling my distribution, and I wanted to flood the
market and do everything different. I wanted to come out of the gate strong.
“I’m opening up the mind a little bit and bringing some different styles together.”
****UPDATE****UPDATE*****UPDATE – Cover Art Revealed
(Daytrotter just posted a session with Dale Watson today)
The best way to describe Crazy Again is an “accidental documentary”. Released in 2006, but only screened at a few film festivals, and to my knowledge never made available to the public in any format until recently through Amazon’s streaming video service, the film follows Dale Watson on a tour starting in his home of Austin, TX, to Atlanta and back, and then features an interview with him in New Mexico where he describes in great detail a period of his life where he goes through a mental collapse and a spiritual rebirth.
The movie was made by filmmaker Zalman King, who met Dale while looking for someone to cast in his movie Austin Angel. Ray Benson referred Zalman to Dale Watson, who was playing that night as he does every Sunday night when in Austin at Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon, hosting an Austin tradition called “Chicken Shit Bingo”. This is where the film opens, with Dale doing his “Chicken Shit Bingo” gig, and Zalman being so intrigued by Dale, he decides to go on tour with him.
The production of Crazy Again is pretty lo-fi, with a skeleton film crew forced to shoot in cramped spaces like Dale’s tour van, or at concerts without the benefit of sound from the board, just what the camera picks up. The other principle character of the movie is Donnie Knutson, who was Dale’s long-time road manager, and has been Hank III‘s road manager since leaving Dale, and still is currently. One of the first things that happens in the film is Donnie Knutson tells Dale he can no longer work for him because he is getting married. This sets the table for the reflective mood between Dale and Donnie on the tour that helps Zalman capture Dale’s intriguing story that unfolded after his girlfriend Terri Herbert died in a car wreck.
The first hour of the movie is a fairly straightforward portrayal of a Dale Watson road trip, with shots of conversations in the tour van, hanging out in hotels, meeting people along the way as the story of Dale’s life after his girlfriend’s death unfolds, including an instance when Dale locked himself in a hotel room with a gun, and fired a shot as police tried to barge in, Dale hoping the police would kill him so he wouldn’t have to commit suicide.
There are many staged shots and poses that Dale and sometimes Donnie Knutson effect for the camera throughout the film that might be more annoying or unforgivable if Dale wasn’t so damn photogenic. While in Atlanta, Dale’s crew runs into Joe Buck, Hank III’s bass player at that time, and there is some interesting scenes with Dale hanging out on Hank III’s bus with Joe Buck, Andy Gibson, and a very sick Hank III, ragged after 40+ days of touring. Another highlight of the trip is Dale’s stop at The Grand Ole Opry to play the historic Ryman Theater.
Through the first hour of the film, your mind begins to settle into the idea that this is a simple, snapshot look at Dale Watson, peppered with interesting facts mostly centered around the tragic death of his girlfriend that would probably not appeal too intently to people who are not Dale fans to begin with. But when Zalman takes Dale out to his house in New Mexico and sits him down in front of an abandoned house in a New Mexico ghost town to tell the story of his spiritual transformation, it becomes so much more.
Dale tells a wildly insane story that begins with him talking to a spirit guide, his dead girlfriend, and Jesus through a Ouija board, and ends with him in an insane asylum, with preaching in train stations in Europe and trying to meet The Pope at the Vatican and fighting the devil in hotels rooms all in-between.
Crazy Again does a good job capturing and preserving certain important historical elements, like the Sunday scene at Ginny’s, life on the road with Dale in the mid-oughts, and explains the theme behind his progression of album releases between 2001 and 2008. But what I took away from this film was a much deeper appreciation for Dale Watson, who I’ve always loved but never though of as particularly “deep” until this movie. I will never look at the man the same way after knowing the battles he went through. I will never listen to his songs the same, because I will know where the meaning came from them and why the message is so important. And every song he writes and sings from now on will mean that much more, because you know that a on number of different occasions, the world was within inches of losing this man.
Two guns up!
For years, the Honky Tonk Hustlas have been a hub right in the middle of the deep South, keeping the heart of real/underground country alive in an area infected with the sickness of country pop as much as any other. Their first album Hallways of the Always (2008) was a solid offering, and though they have never been a big touring band, they have shared many bills with big names rolling through their stomping ground of Montgomery, AL.
The band is fronted by T. Junior, who also writes a majority of the songs. The strength of the band is his naturally-unique, slightly higher-pitched voice with an endearing, nasally quality that can’t be faked. The lineup of the band is straightforward, with an acoustic guitar, upright bass, and mandolin/lead guitar. South of Nashville is also fleshed out by the legendary Andy Gibson, who beyond being Hank III’s steel guitar player, is our generation’s Tompall Glaser, recording over a dozen bands at this point in his home operation, opening up professional-quality recordings to artists that rarely can afford them, and doing it in a comfortable setting that nurtures creative freedom.
The instrumentation, arrangements, and performances on the album are very solid, and South of Nashville is slick, in regards that it does not sound like a home recording or a hurried project. Time was taken to do it right, and the same can be said for the cover art and presentation. Sonically, this is a fun album, constructed in the “hellbilly”, full-tilt, hard country mold.
I’ve heard some people say that this album “sounds” like Hank III. I disagree to some extent. T. Junior’s voice is nowhere near similar to Shelton’s, and the instrumentation is way more acoustic oriented compared to what Hank III is doing these days. Where the similarities between the Honky Tonk Hustlas and Hank III lie are in the lyrics.
The problem with South of Nashville is when you really sit down and listen to the lyrics and try to have them speak to you, there is nothing there. Nothing. At all. Or it is so buried under under cliche, it is barely worth searching for. The parody of Hank III and of the Honky Tonk Hustlas themselves in the lyrics can only be described as “relentless” and “awesome”. The parody almost seems purposeful, because it is so undeniable and blaring. The “whiskey, devil, I don’t give a fuck” parade goes on mercilessly for 15 tracks until you don’t want to hear another death reference for the rest of your life.
If I lined up all the comments from people on Saving Country Music saying they were tired of all the “whiskey, devil, cocaine” lyrics in the songs and albums I tout, I could reach the moon and back. In 2006 when Hank III released Straight to Hell, it felt fresh and relevant, but that style was played out over a year ago. And even in Straight to Hell and Hank III’s subsequent albums, there’s way more diversity than can be found here. His last album Rebel Within had songs like “Lookin’ For a Mountain” and “Karmageddon” and “#5″ that offered a breather from the “drinking and druggin’” anthems.
In the Rebel Within album review written almost a year ago I said:
Some will complain that the drinking songs are too much. I agree that Hank should open up some new song themes in the future, though he starts down this path in this album. But Hank III reinvigorated the ‘hellraising” attitude in country. One of the reasons it seems overused is because Hank inspired an army of copycats who can’t craft an original idea, throwing out “whiskey,devil, cocaine” references with no direction or purpose.
This is what the Honky Tonk Hustlas do in South of Nashville, and it not only drags them down, it drags Hank III down, and all other bands who have these hard-edged songs but include some originality or diversity in their projects as well. Hell, it is dragging me down, because I have to answer to critics who say this “whiskey, devil” stuff is all I cover. The lyrics on the album are so stultifyingly bad, it oozes out to infect other projects, and the independent country scene in general, perpetuating negative stereotypes. Think of it like the spandex glam rocker in 2002 or something–way past its relevancy, but not long enough yet to be retro or even ironic. It’s just bad.
Maybe the best example is the title track “South of Nashville.” Good title and idea behind it, good music, fun song, but the lyrics are so cliche you can anticipate what is coming next, and at times, they don’t even make sense:
Well I was born way down in Dixie, round about a half past 9
Ever since then I’ve been raising hell, and man I’m feelin’ fine.
Then he launches into talking about how he needs to “get out on that road, no ain’t no lookin’ back”. Yet in the same phrase he says, “So I just keep on staying here, just South of Nashville”. OK, so which one is it? Are you on the road, or staying put? There’s a lot of references to being on the road in this album, which is a common theme in country music, but the Honky Tonk Hustlas have never done any substantial touring. May they be making the classic songwriting mistake of not writing what you know about? If HTH’s had toured, maybe they could write lyrics with more meaning and soul. These lyrics just don’t speak to me.
There are a few exceptions if you dig deep and listen hard. “After I’m Gone” is a decently-written, sweet waltz, but would be better if it wasn’t dragged down by all the other songs that reference death. “You Can’t Go Back” is probably the best written song on the album, addressing a very soulful subject. “Corporate Man” is not wholly original on it’s own, but by the time you get to the 14th track, you feel so thankful to get a breather from all the “I’m dying and I don’t give a fuck” references.
I just don’t understand dragging this album out to 15 tracks. Better to have 10 good ones, or even 9 if that’s all you can pony up. Take the three songs I mentioned, the title track, and a few others and you have a decent album. Adding dead weight just to feel like you’re giving the consumer more than they are paying for defeats the purpose by burying anything worth listening to under all the chaff. And it’s not the songwriting overall; the structures of the songs are good, and at times great. It’s the lyrics. I’m sure this album will still have lots of fans. Some albums I’ll argue till I’m blue in the face about how bad they are. This one scores high on many aspects, and so I can’t blame it for speaking to some. But I also can’t lie. It doesn’t speak to me. I need some soul and originality.
I also can’t blame anyone for saying they won’t touch the Hustlas music with a 10 foot pole, after T. Junior launched into many folks on an article meant to promote them.
We all make mistakes. Lord knows I have. If you strung all my bad articles together and paraded them in front of me, I’d probably be looking for a rope and a tree. And we all have bad days and demons and regrets; that’s why we are country music fans, and why the music speaks to us like it does. But the measure of a man is how he handles those mistakes once they are dealt. I will not judge T. Junior for losing his cool. Because God knows I have. What I’m interested in is what happens next. And then we all have ourselves to judge, if we can offer understanding and forgiveness if it is asked for, or not.
One gun up for a fun, well-produced, well-performed album.
One gun down for horrifically-cliched lyrics.
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Preview entire album below:
The first thing you need to appreciate about Outlaw Carnie is that it is country. Forget that it’s on a metal label, and that Hank III’s name is being put out there for context. There’s no fusing of metal and country here. There’s no sludgy BC Rich or Flying V guitars, no screamo, cookie monster lyrics. There’s banjo, fiddle, dobro, upright bass, brushes on snare, if there’s any drums at all. A third of these songs don’t have any electrified instruments whatsoever. This isn’t today’s country, this isn’t even your daddy’s country. This is your grand daddy’s country, and if it’s close to Hank III, it’s the Hank III circa 2000-2005, not 2008-present.
The lyrics are where one might say there is a “metal” or “punk” approach, but this is just on some of the songs, and even then, these songs don’t stray too far from what you might hear from Johnny Cash, Johnny Paycheck, or David Allan Coe. The album cracks open with a solitary banjo from Daniel Mason (Hank III), and the second song opens with the fiddle of Billy Contreras, leaving no doubt this is a country project. There is no lip service paid to metal fans or anybody else to assuage you that country can rock. On Outlaw Carnie, Bob puts his country songs out there with a bold “take it or leave it” attitude.
I don’t envy Bob and producer/engineer Andy Gibson (Hank III steel player, too many other accolades to list) for taking on the task of trying to one-up songs that many core Bob Wayne fans have come accustomed to the original versions of. Only a handful of the tracks are totally new to the world. And honestly, the talk of, “Ah, we cut those old versions quickly in the back of the motorhome and sold them in Ziploc bags” made me bristle. I happen to like those home spun recordings, and home spun recordings in general. One could even make the case that the underground country movement was created from the interface of artists and technology that allowed them to record DIY. The heart of the song is what I’m after. I guess a good recording is better than a bad recording, but make sure you mine the heart of the song above all. The rest is aesthetics.
Without question, the new versions of the songs are much more full, much cleaner and polished, fleshed out and thought out. If you listen to the new version and then the old one right after, you get a similar effect of looking through a dirty windshield vs. a clean one. But this is dangerous territory. It’s not unusual for me to use the term “polished” as a negative thing, but I have to say, overall, the new versions are better. Much better. And what is remarkable is it’s the same artist, same engineer, and some of the same players of the older versions. I think this is what gave Bob Wayne an advantage. Put him in an antiseptic studio with a bunch of strangers and we may of watched these songs die before our very eyes. Put him in Andy Gibson’s house with Andy Gibson calling the shots, and they thrived. Andy knows these songs. He recorded them the first time, he’s played them live out on the road. He knows where they need to be, and the proof is in the finished product.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Bob Wayne may be the best pure songwriter of our generation. But you have to listen. I know that sounds obvious, but the key to appreciating Bob’s music is taking the time to listen to it. There’s two versions of Bob Wayne: the rowdy version, and the introspective version. If you just take a whiff of his music, you’ll probably end up in the “meh” camp who just heard one of his rowdy songs and thought he was hokey. I’ll put the songwriting of “Blood to Dust” and “Reptile” up against any. “Estacata” is a track easy to overlook, but illustrates that Bob is not only good, but versatile and multi-dimensional as a songwriter. Where most of his songs deal in stark language with a bellicose approach, “Estacata” proves he can work in subtleties and deep soul as well. Even a song like “Road Bound” might be mistaken as simply a rowdy ego trip, but lyrics like “All my friends are family, my family is my life,” prove Bob can work in depth no matter the context.
Bob is a storyteller. Whether the story is totally true, like in “Blood to Dust,” or fictitious like in “Work of the Devil,” he has a confident knack of being able to create characters, make you care about them, and then have them do all manner of crazy things, and usually in less than five minutes. Don’t let the “meth snorting, running from the cops” lyrics or the aviator sunglasses and bandanna cloud your judgment. What is going on here is on the Robert Earl Keen, Kris Kristofferson level of songwriting. Yes, Bob has many more skins to hang on the wall to keep that company, but in his short sample, this is the caliber of the quality.
I’ll be honest with you. I’ve always been more for the deep Bob Wayne songs than the devilish ones, and on the whole, the middle child of his three independent releases 13 Truckin’ Songs was my least favorite. But man, this version of “Mack” made me understand what he was getting at with this song, and may have even risen my estimation of all his rowdy songs by proxy. “Everything’s Legal in Alabama” is a silly song, but clever and engaging nonetheless. And how cool is it that Wayne “The Train” Hancock lent his name to this song and this project, and that it was co-written by Derek Dunn of the .357 String Band, once again highlighting the influence of that band that once backed Bob on a full tour.
The Bob Wayne naysayers are really going to hate me for this one, but I think Bob understands good and evil and the relationship between them from a heightened level, in many ways like Johnny Cash did, who Bob gives some credit to for helping save his life. The Cash-esque song “Reptile” is probably the easiest example of this, but God is not referenced in this album just to be damned, but is given credit, for saving his life, or having a master plan, or allowing him to move on from previous sins. A song like “Driven by Demons” marks the antithesis maybe, but that is where Bob resides, somewhere in the struggle between good and evil. He’s a felon and a drug addict, a former drug addict that is. He’s sober now, but willing to sack anything with a heartbeat. Good and evil wrestle for his soul, and the souls of the characters he creates, and this is what makes the Bob Wayne musical perspective so original, insightful, and entertaining.
One thing that drove me a little crazy was it felt like Bob was over-singing at times. Maybe this is a symptom of my brain bending to the worn, comfortable grooves of the older song versions, or maybe a symptom of Bob trying to outperform the old and occasionally over-emphasizing, but if this is the case, this may be the singular place where old vs. new came into play. I’ve never been much for compilation or tribute albums because the first version of a song that I hear is usually to one I like best; it fits like a broken-in pair of boots and the offshoots usually just feel weird. But I was surprised how quickly I latched onto these new versions and wonder now if I could go back. This also speaks to all the great players Bob assembled to flesh these songs out.
From a behind-the-scenes standpoint, this is a very important album. As former and current metal kids flock to these type of hard country bands that are filling the vacuum that Nashville’s pop approach has left in the heart of America for authentic country music, and meanwhile the music industry is going through uncharted contraction and reorganization, how this album is received according to many different parameters might spell how labels and artists proceed for years to come. I’ve seen the comments of metalheads whining that this project found its way on to their beloved Century Media. In some respects I can’t blame them–we fight for purity around here too. But the key to Bob Wayne is you must listen, I can’t emphasize this enough. It’s not metal; no need to be a master of the obvious. The question is, is it good?
I would assert that Outlaw Carnie is better than good. It is great, and worthy of affording Bob Wayne the much wider audience that his music deserves.
Two guns up!
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Also, to fully understand Bob Wayne, you have to let yourself succumb to his sense of humor.
A couple of weeks ago, I caught up with Bob Wayne before his gig at Austin’s Hole in the Wall to discuss a few things, including the slight delay in the release of his new album Outlaw Carnie and his relationship with the traditionally heavy metal label Century Media, as well as the new band lineup, and how he lets Andy Gibson beat him at video games.
I’ve transcribed the meat of the interview, but you can also listen to the full audio below, recorded in the back of his 80′s era Cadillac limo with steer horns on the front, parked on a busy Austin street the day before Halloween while Bob single handedly consumed a large cheese pizza. You can also listen to an interview I did with his new fiddle player Liz Sloan.
Bob Wayne: This is what’s happening right now with me and the label. They have two different plans with me. In Europe it’s here’s this songwriter guy who lives in his limousine driving down the highway, selling the shit out of the back of his car for five years, you know, serious musician. Whereas American its like woo hoo! Party, chicks, limos, drinks, drugs! I write songs for a show. In a show I can’t just nail them with songs like “Blood to Dust” the whole time because you’ll lose … people are getting drunk. I’m there to put on a show so I want to make you laugh, I want to make you think about some shit for a minute, I’m gonna take your mind off everything, then I’m gonna break it down for you. If you lure them in with that stuff then you can put a serious song in there that’s like “Whoa.”
Triggerman: Tell me about the new album. It was supposed to be out in January, then it was October 25th, and now all of a sudden it’s January again.
Bob Wayne: At first they told me it was coming out in October, before I ever announced anything. Then they told me “Look Bob we have three other bands coming out in October that are really big. We don’t want to have your album … they want to do a good job on my record because this is new for them. The didn’t want my CD to be back burner. They want it to be a focus and really have a chance. So then they decided to move it to February. Also there was some problems with the bar code. When you rang up my record it came up as some old metal band from the 80′s.
Triggerman: Country is sort of the new metal, and bluegrass is kind of the new punk in a lot of ways, and I think it’s really proactive and smart for Century to be trying to pursue this avenue.
Bob Wayne: They’re going to see how my record goes I think, and if it does real good, they’ll be doing more.
Triggerman: So the new band. Or I guess you’ve always got a new band.
Bob Wayne: Not by choice, for the record. Though sometimes I do like to do what I did with the .357 String Band, or with Zeke backing me up or people from Hank III’s band. That stuff’s fun to do. I’d like to have a core group and I did for a while: Pat, Dan (Infecto), Uncle Buck. We rode that for a good couple years. Thing is I have an unhealthy obsession, I can’t stop touring. And people have their lives, you know. People have their own passions and dreams and I totally understand that, and I totally knew that going into this, and that’s why when I was thinking about band names I just went with Bob Wayne, because I knew how hard I wanted to hit it, and I didn’t want to have to be in a position where I was explaining to people why this person wasn’t in the band anymore.
Triggerman: So you can have a superstar band, because you don’t have to commit, and they don’t have to commit.
Bob Wayne: Yeah. Billy Cook is leaving and I’m gonna have Andy Gibson whose like the most amazing musician I know, so.
Triggerman: Liz Sloan is the new fiddle girl that you’re playing with. How did that come about?
Bob Wayne: She emailed me on Facebook. At the time I still had Buck, and I’m actually pretty loyal to people. It’s not me making the decisions, like you’re in you’re out this game. Buck decided he wasn’t going to show up for a few shows, so Liz stepped up and took that slot for those gigs and now she’s there. And she likes it, and she’s really good and she’s meshing really well. And she’s a total road dog, which means a lot.
Triggerman: So you mentioned Andy Gibson. He recorded your new album.
Bob Wayne: He recorded all of my albums, and played half the instruments.
Triggerman: How is it working with him?
Bob Wayne: We play a lot of Medal of Honor, on our breaks. And I’ll let him beat me. And then he feels good about himself. And then he’s like “It’s OK Bob, you can’t win them all. Let’s do that banjo track again.” You know I build up his self-esteem by making him think he’s really good at that game, but really I can slay him in like 5 seconds.
I picture a post-Apolcolyptic scene: ghost towns full of crumbling buildings and rubble, smoke filling the sky and blocking out the sun, the result of a society that gave no value to art, heritage, and truth; a vast wasteland of grayness. Then all of a sudden in the midst of all the death and decay, there’s movement: a lone being protected by the elements by a big black, robotic-like suit. Maybe it is one of the few survivors, or an alien sent to investigate the fate of this once beautiful place.
He goes sifting through the rubble of a bombed out structure, looking for evidence of what went wrong. He finds a shelf whose contents of CD’s and DVD’s have been belched out onto the dusty, rubbage filled floor in a pile. A big black glove pushes aside CD’s by Brittaney Spears and Taylor Swift, DVD’s with pretty movie stars adorning their covers. Then he sees something curious: a black disc with crossed guns on the front. What is this? He pops it into a media player attached to the side of his helmet, and all of a sudden a new world is presented to him: The picture of a collection of artists fighting against society’s homogenization and creative vapidness unfolds through music. A resistance. Outlaws, fighting a rebel war against the mainstream, and carrying forth a long line of traditions from the past.
I normally hate compilations. This one is different. No, this does not have all the “hits” from our insurgent country scene that you’ve already heard compiled in some way to try to squeeze more money out of worn out songs. And it’s not the odds and sods and leftovers for other projects either. It is a collection on good, fresh, original, previously-unreleased material that is fun to listen to, and also acts as a primer for artists you may have heard of, but never heard their stuff.
But in another way this is so much more than that. This compilation DEFINES our movement. It gives it clear edges, and at the same time illustrates and celebrates our diversity. Our diversity is what makes us strong: men and women, gothic country w/ Those Poor Bastards, New Outlaw country with Roger Alan Wade, REAL bluegrass with the .357 String Band. Sure there’s maybe a few signed artists missing like Hank III, and the Bloodshot Record’s gang like Wayne “The Train” Hancock and Scott Biram. But you already know those guys. This is a jump start for the fresh blood, the up and comers.
I’ve got comments on specific songs below, but in closing let me just say that if you do not buy this compilation, you deserve to have your genitals dry up a whither.
Outlaw Radio can be heard every Wednesday night at 8PM Central at scrubradio.com. Show are archived, and you can purchase this compilation at savingcountrymusic.com/outlaw-radio
1. The Dad Horse Experience–Gates of Heaven (Vinyl Version): How ironic is it that there’s more appreciation for American roots in EUROPE than in the US? Dad Horse might be one of many European bands we see crop up in the coming years. Love the German accent here, glad he didn’t try to hide it.
2. Old Red Shed–Another Round: Great song from a band whose about to put out their first album Country Fury on Arjuna Records. Get in on the ground floor with these guys and watch them rise, they’re great!!!
3. Black Eyed Vermillion & Andy Gibson–Death Don’t Have No Mercy: Not my favorite BEV track ever, but a great example for those who think Gary Lindsey is all blood and guts, just how soulful he can be. And Andy Gibson, well, he is the master. Our generation’s Tompall Glasser. Hats off!
4. Bob Wayne–Ain’t No Diesel Trucks in Heaven: INSTANT CLASSIC! Bob Wayne proves once again that he is the best lyric writer in underground country, and maybe in current country period with this Cash-eque song tastefully arranged and witty. Great song!
5. Rachel Brooke–Closer Still: BEST TRACK OF THE ALBUM! Amazing. Rachel’s voice is somewhere between sublime and perfection. I said in my review of A Bitter Harvest:“Rachel has a big bag of tricks, and though this album highlights some that have never been seen before, there are more that my ear yearns for that I know are lurking within her. She can tear into bluegrass.” Well this is Rachel tearing into bluegrass. A++
6. Ted Russell Kamp–My Heart Has a Mind Of Its Own: Shooter Jennings’s bass player is more than just Shooter Jennings’s bass player. This song highlights his tight songwriting skills and a strong, soulful, smoky voice.
7. Ronnie Hymes–Sea of Sin: Good song from the best artist on the Pint of Happiness Record Label.
8. Joey Allcorn–Gone, But Not Forgotten Blues: An excellent neo-traditionalist artists that seems so easily “forgotten,” and I am to blame as much as any. A solid track.
9. Those Poor Bastards–The Minister’s Doom: The Kings of Gothic country never cease to amaze me with how deep their bag of tricks is. This track isn’t for everybody, just like Those Poor Bastards isn’t. But it nonetheless exemplified Lonesome Wyatt’s adeptness at arrangement, and his expertise at setting a mood to tell a story in.
10. Dave Smith and the Country Rebels–Price to Pay: This song may come across as “too mainstream” for some, but I personally think we need more accessible artists in this scene, and Dave & The Rebels prove why. Fun, tight song.
11. Last False Hope–$2 Pints: Gothic punkgrass from the mastermind of the Outlaw Compilation himself: Jashie P and a few close friends. When I first heard this track, I was amazed at the complexity and depth of songwriting, and how clean and pro it sounded. I guess I had just always envisioned Jashie as more of a hack ;). Seriously, good song, and keep your eyes out for a full length release from them coming soon.
12. Izzy and the Kesstronics–Gotta Do What I Wanna Do: Nothing replaces seeing Izzy and the boys live. Their energy level and astuteness are mindblowing. But this track comes very close at bottling that live energy. It’s a goofy song, but it’s what they do. You may hate Izzy Zaidman, but the simple fact is he’s a better musician than you are, and probably gets laid more often too.
13. The Fisticuffs–The Ballad of Bill Blizzard: We can’t forget that we owe the roots of our roots to the folks in the British Isles over the pond. This is a band worth checking out if you like an Irish attitude with a punk approach.
14. The Boomswagglers–Run You Down: LOVE THIS SONG! Only reason this isn’t my favorite song on the album is because Rachel Brooke is hotter, but The Boomswagglers are one of the best kept secrets in this scene. Crude, dirty, lo-fi, but their songwriting prowess is undeniable, and this might be the best song they’ve ever cut. Hopefully these boys can keep their asses out of the pokey and we’ll hear much more from them in the future. This is one of those songs that you love the first time you hear, and you play it over and over. A++!!
15. Roger Alan Wade–Breakfast At Audrey’s: Just the name Roger Alan Wade adds legitimacy to this album, and this song adds a solid singer/songwriter track with endless soul. What I really like about this song is it is clearly just Roger and a mic. You can even hear him flip the paper the verses are on while he sings. Some artists spend thousands of dollars trying to bottle that raw sound, and Roger did it just by being himself. Good track!
16. Little Lisa Dixie–Cheating Games: If I was going to cheat on my music love Rachel Brooke, it would be with Little Lisa. This song has a good slow grooving rockabilly feel to it. Little Lisa has enough talent that she should take her music to the next level, and proves that WOMEN are a big and beautiful part of this music revolution.
17. .357 String Band–Restless Man Blues: Known for bluegrass, this is a pretty straight country-feeling tune. Not their greatest track ever, but a solid offering.
18. Six Gun Britt–Hard Habit To Break: Damn. Six Gun could melt a rock. She is just amazing, and this is a beautiful, sad song. Every time I hear Six Gun sing, it makes me angry. That’s right. Because in a perfect world she would be a superstar. Her talent is that worthy. And if her music wallows in obscurity for the rest of time, what an atrocity that would be. If you’re reading this right now, consider yourself deeply blessed, because you’re one of the few who knows who Six Gun Britt is.
19. Hellbound Glory–Livin’ On Pabst Blue Ribbon: Leroy Virgil is the fastest rising star in Insurgent country, and that is the fault of his unbelievably adept songwriting, built on a solid foundation of REAL country appreciation and study. All one hell of a backing band, and Hellbound Glory might be the best apostles for REAL country we have right now. Not Hellbound Glory’s best, but a good, fun song.
20. The Goddamn Gallows–Waitin’ Around to Die (live): Great cover of the Townes Van Zant classic spiced with the Gallow’s gotic circus freak sow punk billy grass that is all their own. SEE THESE GUYS LIVE BEFORE YOU DIE!
21. Joe Buck Yourself–Big River (live): This song comes from a recording Jashie P did of an entire Joe Buck concert in Chicago a while back. He played the whole show at the end of one of his podcasts, and I listened to it probably a dozen times, and it remains my favorite recorded Joe Buck experience, more than his albums. Joe Buck is just such a unique experience live, I think that is what his next release should be, a live CD.
22. Lucky Tubb & The Modern Day Troubadours–Thanks A Lot (live): Lucky has a spellbinding singing cadence that is all his own. It’s there in his recorded material, but even more present live. He’s dripping with talent, and puts the “traditionalism” back in neo-traditional. Good track. Love the steel guitar.
#5 Roger Alan Wade–Breakfast At Audrey’s
#4 Six Gun Britt–Hard Habit To Break
#3 Bob Wayne–Ain’t No Diesel Trucks in Heaven
#2 The Boomswagglers–Run You Down
#1 Rachel Brooke–Closer Still
For the modern day underground country fan, going to a Hank III show is a no brainer. Even if you’ve gotten sideways with his recent sound, you go. It’s Hank III. It is the one show you make sure to catch that year. And you see people you haven’t seen since that last Hank III show, or people you’ve never met, but know one way or another through Hank III.
Hank III does not put on bad shows, it is as simple as that. The Prevost bus could be like a Petri dish of strep or flu (and many times is), and still you’re not going to see any symptoms on stage. Sidemen might change, but they don’t miss a beat. Hank III is obsessive about the quality of the live set, and it’s hard to find criticisms about the product on stage. Most the whining you hear is about the venue or maybe the moshers in the crowd.
Hank III really plays three shows at a concert: country, hellbilly, and his metal band Assjack. In previous years, by the time Assjack came around it felt like an afterthought; not because of the performance, more because the crowd would thin out heavily, and familiarity with the material was limited. Whether it’s because Assjack finally won an official album release from Curb Records recently, or more metal fans are finding their way to Hank III shows, the crowd for the most part stuck around this time, and for the first time, the harder material was my favorite part of the concert.
Notable from Assjack was that DaveyMac, sometime fiddle player for Hank III was also playing lead guitar, and though he mostly stood in one place, which seemed a little out of place with all the other chaos happening on stage with III and frontman Gary Lindsey, the man absolutely shredded when he took his solos.
Right as the Assjack set started, two blowup dolls materialized from near the stage, and were being tossed around above the crowd. Gary got a hold of one and deserves kudos for his, um “prowess” utilizing the impromptu stage props, including relieving one of her internal pressure by biting her in the crotch. The dolls made an appearance the next night in Ft. Worth too. I think all of us should come together for America and make flying blow up dolls a staple of all future Assjack sets.
The country set was solid as always, but I have to say, I missed Hank III’s previous fiddle player, Adam McOwen. Not taking anything away from DaveyMac or III’s superpicker steel player Andy Gibson, but when you wanted to cram the most possible notes into a solo, McOwen was the best. I like DaveyMac’s fiddle chunking between solos, but Adam was the best solo taker in the Damn Band, period. Certainly DaveyMac’s dual use makes the change understandable. Adam McOwen in my mind will always be the most underrated member of the Damn Band.
Also, I can’t criticize anything about the music or the energy level in the country set, but the simple fact is that I was hearing basically the same country material that I’ve been hearing since ’06. Not to say I didn’t enjoy it, but except for the title track of his new album Rebel Within, they were the same songs I’ve been wearing out for over fours years through albums, videos, and live shows.
A lot of this is not Hank III’s fault, as his music has been held up in legal fights with Curb Records. And though he does have new songs and has played them at local Nashville gigs, he faces a tough decision: play the new stuff to appease the live audience and risk having the material feel less fresh when the album is released, OR continue to play the same old numbers until the release date.
I also thought that some of the fast songs of the country set we’re a little slow. In my review of the Hank III show last year, I mentioned how III had worked to “find the groove” for songs, not just playing them as fast as possible, and how he had worked to delineate the country and metal material. But now some songs like “Long Hauls & Close Calls” slowed down even more, past the “groove.” Check out the song from ’06 HERE, and then late ’09 HERE. Hank III’s contribution to country is bringing that punk/metal energy to the format. That is what makes him unique.
A question people always have about Hank III is how his voice is holding up. It was early in the tour when I saw him, but his voice was excellent. Another observation from last year was that he’d not been screaming as much during the Hellbilliy/Assjack material. Now he pretty much didn’t scream at all to preserve the voice. I think that’s a good thing. A good thing has also been the integration of banjo into the band, which only gets better and tighter as time goes on. Of all the talk of Hank III “going metal,” the country set has been maturing to a more traditional style over his career, going from lead guitar to steel guitar, and adding the banjo.
The last song of the night was not country, or the Assjack we’re all used to. III introduced it as a “stoner” song, and it was slow, thick, and heavy. This song might be the best hint yet of what a post-Curb era Hank III will sound like. DaveyMac was more integrated into this song than the other Assjack stuff (Assjack doesn’t always have a lead guitar player), and I was really impressed with the mood and arrangement.
I have to give props to Emo’s in Austin. The venue has poor sight lines, but this was the best sounding Hank III show I’ve ever been to: not so loud that the music was distorted, but loud enough where you felt it. This was also the best crowd at a Hank III show to be a part of. All the other Hank III shows I’ve been to, the whole venue became a mosh pit after the second country song. At this show, there was that element at the front of the stage, but everyone seemed respectful, especially during the country set.
Overall it was a damn good time and an excellent show. Hank III is still one of the best live shows to see, and one of the best values for the amount of music you will get.
To read a review of the opening band Kyle Turley, click here.
Thanks to Helldorado from hank3.com for the blow up doll photo from the Riglea in Ft. Worth.
During and after South by Southwest this last week, people kept asking me what my favorite show was. It’s probably a toss up between Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, and Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers. (Reviews coming, and also of the pre-SXSW Hank III show).
But one of the cool things about SXSW is the random collaborations of artists that can happen at any time, and that is what generated my favorite, most memorable moment of the whole week.
The Rockabilly Filly Rosie Flores is a legend on her own. (read my artist review of her HERE.) I had never seen her before live, so this was one of my top priorities for the week. When she was setting up at the Bloodshot Records showcase on Friday (3-19), I noticed they brought a steel guitar on stage, NOT a pedal steel, but the pedal-less style.
This was very significant to me. If you could say that there’s one instrument that embodies REAL country music, it would be the pedal steel guitar. But when you’re talking about the one instrument that embodies the country music REVOLUTION and the neo-traditionalist movement, it would be the pedal-less steel. It’s what Wayne Hancock uses, Hank III uses, but it got it’s start in the modern era in BR549, and specifically with one of the best and influential multi-instrumentalists of our time, one Chris Scruggs.
When I interviewed Hank III’s steel player Andy Gibson, he gave credit to Chris for really reintroducing the pedal-less steel sound to the new generation, and re-igniting interest in players like Kayton Roberts.
That’s why my jaw dropped when Chris walked on stage, to back up one of the few women in the world that takes her own leads. Luckily I had the camera locked and loaded, ready to shoot:
As soon as the set was over, I tried to talk to Chris or at least shake Chris’s hand, but he was gone like lightning. My guess is he was collaborating with a dozen different people that day. How Rosie and Chris got hooked up I don’t know; Rosie is Austin and rockabilly, and Chris is Nashville and traditional. But it made for the highlight of my 2010 SXSW.
PS: Don’t let one evil thought enter your mind about the Jessica Rabbit slimmy in the second video. She’s mine. We’re going to get married and have babies so HANDS OFF!
I really didn’t know what to expect from The .357 String Band’s new album Lightning from the North. I mean, were they going to introduce some new sound? Of course not, they ARE the new sound. Were they going to throw down the best album I’d heard in years? They already did that with their last offering, Fire & Hail.
But this album held a few surprises and distinctions from Fire & Hail, and keeps them on their track of making exceptional albums, which is possibly the hardest task when you’re trying to follow up a marquee release.
The instrumentation on this album is more diverse than their previous two. At first listen I was surprised how much fiddle there was and went looking through the liner notes to see if maybe Donnie Herron was involved in the session, but none other than banjo man Joe Huber was responsible. Huber is putting himself up there with Herron and Chris Scruggs as a premier multi-instrumentalists in the movement. Add Billy Cook’s dobro work on top of his mandolin skills, and you have many tricks to flesh a song out with.
The “hit” of the album is Derek Dunn’s “Oh, Adeline,” which is one of those songs that sticks on your bones the first time you hear it and makes you paw for the replay button. It’s been said that there are not enough love songs in the current insurgent country scene, but .357 is an exception to that rule, and “Oh, Adeline” is an exceptional song in the .357 arsenal. The other standout in the Dunn offerings was “The Harvest Is Past” which has a very 20′s-esque swingy, shuffly punch that is a good shakeup in the middle of the album.
The two aforementioned songs are also standouts for the bass work done by Rick Ness, who drives the shape of “The Harvest Is Past” and has a knack for matching walking bass lines with Dunn’s slower tunes.
For me the standout track of the album is Joe Huber’s “The Day’s Engrave.” He’s responsible for some of the more rowdy songs on the album, including the title track, but this song for me highlights Joe’s unusually thematic and thick approach to some songs; a trait that is almost vacant in bluegrass or string music, esp. in music more noted for its high octane.
This one line struck me: “Your word against mine/Your God against my everything/My fist in your eye/And I don’t care if it don’t solve a goddamn thing”. . . “All my pages are fingerstained/And though my heart is still pumpin’/Across my face . . . how the days engrave.”
Speaking of themes, the album starts off with a very Milwaukee feel, but the Southerners don’t need to grumble. After the well-done cover of Lee Fikes’ “Milwaukee, Here I come,” this thread ends, and if there was one theme throughout this album, I would say it is the weariness of road life. These guys write what they live, and live what they write. There is no effecting of voices or worn out, irrelevant old-timey terms or themes like in so much modern day “string” music. This is genuine music from genuine people.
If I were venture to guess, this album will not be named “Album of the Year” like I named their last album in 2008, though it might settle near the top. There’s not much to criticize, it’s just that the .357 String Band has settled into their sound now, and the experience of hearing them recorded is not as fresh. I have no doubt that if they keep beating the pavement like they have been, their following and fortune will only continue to grow.
Some other notes from the album: the recording engineer was Hank III’s steel player Andy Gibson, and the album was recorded in Andy’s house in Nashville. Bob Wayne also makes an appearance on Track 8 “producing.”
**UPDATE**UPDATE: Now available on CD Baby, where you can also preview all tracks: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/357stringband3.
Here’s a video of the title track from Mr. Bandana on YouTube:
In the last year or two, many new artists and bands have sprung up in the Outlaw/ Underground country movement, many new fans, podcasts, etc. But this all would not be possible if it wasn’t for the hard work of a few musicians, the trunk of the tree from which these new branches have sprung so to speak.
One of these artists is Joe Buck. From sharing a stage and sleeping quarters with BR549 at the beginning of the neo-traditionalist movement, to becoming a venue owner on lower Broadway in Nashville, to being a sideman for JD WIlkes and Hank III, to now being the essence of the crossroads between punk and country, it is not hard to say that this whole movement would have a different flavor if not for Joe Buck.
This is just as much an interview as it is my attempt to document and preserve the few artists that are the very heart of insurgent country. If Music Row had it’s way, these people would disappear from the public consciousness, and the music they have devoted their lives to would be forgotten. It is our job to make sure their legacies are carried on to the next generation.
And Joe Buck is far from just being another musician, he has superlative wisdom and insight, and a unique perspective on life that deserves as much attention and preservation as the music he creates.
Just like my interview with Andy Gibson was, it is long, and is not for the faint of heart, but the hardcore fan. I mixed in some music as well when possible. The interview was conducted on Oct. 22nd, 2009, in Joe Buck’s motorhome, in the parking lot of a venue called Johnny B’s in Medford, OR, before a show also featuring The .357 String Band and The Slow Poisoner.
It’s about an hour long, so come back and give it a listen when you have the time.
Well there is some good news and some bad news in regards to the Outlaw Radio Chicago podcast. Bad news first: The network that it was broadcasting on live every Tuesday has apparently gone belly up. The good news is you can still listen to every episode at savingcountrymusic.com/outlaw-radio, and I will begin posting the podcasts on Tuesday nights at 9 PM in the regular Outlaw Radio time slot, at least until the podcast can find another network, or I can figure out how to broadcast it live here.
Even better news is that this week’s episode includes interviews and audio from Jashie P’s visit to Nashville to see Hank Williams III play at Layla’s Bluegrass Inn. It is a special 80 minute-long episode that includes interviews with of course Hank III, steel player Andy Gibson, bassist Zach Shedd, and various semi-famous people who were also in attendance, including Cathy’s Reinstate Hank Bandwagon.
Part two of Jashie P’s Nashville junket will air next week, featuring Josh Hedley and Corey who play with (or used to) Justin Townes Earle.
And stay tuned on where and when you will be able to hear Outlaw Radio broadcast live in the future.
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