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Unless you’re one of those people who finds themselves so overwhelmed every year with the Christmas spirit that it’s a tough choice what Christmas sweater to wear, the annual dirge of Christmas movie releases is enough to turn your stomach like a glass of expired eggnog. But there is one movie out this year that may be worth your time, if for no other reason than the cast is built around country music royalty. Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Lyle Lovett, Harry Connick Jr, and Connie Britton from ABC’s TV drama Nashville make up the primary cast of When Angels Sing, based off a novel of the same name released in 1999 by Turk Pipkin.
The film stars Harry Connick, Jr. as a history professor who as a child loved Christmas, but after a tragic accident, grew to hate the holiday. As a grown up, he still can’t find the joy of Christmas, but as his son faces a tragedy, he rekindles his holiday spirit again. He gets a push in the right direction after the lease comes due on his current home and he meets a man named Nick (Willie Nelson) who sells him a house at half price, but only if he will keep up the traditions of the house and neighborhood, including maintaining the house as the centerpiece of the neighborhood’s Christmas celebration.
Kris Kristofferson plays Harry Connick Jr.’s father, Connie Britton plays Connick’s wife, and Lyle Lovett plays one of the neighbors. The film also includes cameos from female Texas country 4-piece The Trishas, Texas swing legend Ray Benson, Dale Watson, Sarah Hickman, Marcia Ball, Guy Forsyth, Joel Guzman, Kat Edmonson, Miss Lavelle , Eloise DeJoria, and others.
When Angels Sing, which is based in the Austin area, first debuted as part of the South By Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival in Austin on March 10th. “We already had a great start with Harry and Willie and Kris, so I told our casting director ‘let’s put everybody who’s a musician in the movie’,” director Tim McCanlies told Billboard.
Music wasn’t a part of the original script, but McCanlies saw a unique opportunity with so much music talent on the set to make it a seminal part of the movie. Some of the musical performances include Kris Kristofferson singing Willie Nelson’s “Pretty Paper,” and an original duet written by Willie and Harry Connick Jr. that plays over the ending credits. Each song in the movie was filmed with full performances, so a soundtrack for the movie is also a possibility.
Information on the distribution of When Angels Sing remains sketchy, but it received a very limited release to select theaters on Novemeber 1st, and is reportedly available on demand through Direc TV. Check back as more information on distribution becomes available.
You can watch more clips and behind-the-scenes interviews from the film on Fandango.
Best of luck pigeon-holing Leo Rondeau, the man or his music. The North Dakota-born, Austin, TX-based singer songwriter boasts about as many influences and textures as a patch quilt of found fabrics. A distinctly Italian first name, a last name that describes a form of old French poetry, and enough Native blood in him to be able to say in one song on his latest album Take It And Break It that his ancestors “fought the white man,” Rondeau speaks for many voices of the American experience. He’ll throw out a Cajun tune complete with accordion, and transition from rock to folk without a blink. But at his core is a country music songwriter in the legendary Austin mold, wowing you with his ease at turning a phrase and illuminating emotion and perspective in his songs.
For years Leo could be seen holding down a residence at Austin’s famed “Hole In The Wall” venue, and playing his part in a defiant scene of independent-minded country musicians, some of which appear on Take It And Break It like Jim Stringer, Brennen Leigh, and Beth Chrisman of The Carper Family. These artists both create a support network, and push each other stylistically. And as a respected songwriter, Rondeau songs have been recorded by folks like The Carper Family and Mike and the Moonpies.
Take It And Break It affords nine new original tracks from Rondeau, and is produced by R.S. Field who has previously worked with folks like Billy Joe Shaver and Hayes Carll, and produced Justin Townes Earle’s first two LP’s.
In Rondeau’s “Here’s My Heart,” he reveals the dichotomy inherent in many males—one of displaying a bellicose, bawdy front to the world, while hiding an inherently fragile romantic state beneath. “Bound To Be A Winner” has one of the most finely-crafted choruses you will find, reminding you of Tom Petty in his prime in its distinctly American candor and tone. “When It Was Around” also speaks to Petty in its driving beat and infectiousness.
“Blackjack Davey Revisited” is pure poetry from Rondeau. Its wit is delivered with dizzying rapidity, while the melody takes you right to the time and place of its sad story. “Alligator Man” gives Take It And Break It a bit of a spicy Cajun kick, while the epic “Whaler’s Tale” finishes out the album in an immersive audio experience. For years I’ve believed that Cajun music sits right on the edge of a big revival, just like we’ve seen recently in other sectors of the roots world. Rondeau could be an artist who has just enough Cajun texture mixed with country and rock sensibilities to benefit from that wave if it ever occurs.
But even if it doesn’t, Leo Rondeau is a songwriting lifer who you sense takes a wide, patient perspective, and has a belief in the power of song to outlast trends, obscurity, or even a song’s original creator when it is approached with heart. Rondeau and Take It And Break It are probably not for everyone. There was a slight lack of presence on this album that I found hard to pin down or explain that may hold it at arm’s length from some listeners. But this album has a great spirit and is a worthy receptacle for these original songs that now get to go out into the world and find inviting hearts.
1 1/2 of 2 guns up.
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It’s not that JD McPherson does anything different than many other artists have done before him. It’s just that he does it better.
Good music will always be relevant, and JD McPherson is living proof of this. A strict revivalist of the 1950′s rock & roll blues, his music has branched out and burrowed into the consciousness of many folks not regularly susceptible to the pull of a straight-laced throwback rock & roll show. Rockabilly fans appreciate his style, though his rockabilly influences are slight. Traditional country fans appreciate his classic taste, but he’s not really country. Blues fans appreciate his approach, but it still remains more rock & roll than blues. Punk fans love his energy, but he’s in no way a punk hybrid or derivative. And anyone with a pulse can’t help but be rocked when JD rears back and lets his powerful voice fly.
JD could very easily have gone in the punk-infused or rockabilly direction, and this may have been an easier step to music success to endear himself to an established scene. But this is where JD McPherson separates himself–by being a strict revivalist of the mid-century vibe and resisting all temptations to fall into the rage in music these days of mixing it all together. By keeping it pure, McPherson appeals to an even wider audience and becomes an even bigger bridge across musical differences than many genre benders could ever be.
On Saturday night 3-2-13, JD McPherson held forth at Antone’s in California-fying west Austin to a packed house house of folks whose Saturday night garb proved McPherson’s wide and diverse appeal. Opening the show was the incomparable James “Slim” Hand, promoting his recent release Mighty Lonesome Man, with Beth Chrisman of The Carper Family joining him on fiddle. The second act of the night was The Bellfuries who had been touring with McPherson for 5 days previous. Bellfuries frontman Joey Simeone wrote the song “Your Love (All That I’m Missing)” from McPherson’s album Signs & Signifiers, and the two had a special moment in the night as they shared the song on stage.
Without the showmanship of rockabilly or the visceral appeal of punk, JD McPherson relies on dynamics and adroit, dexterous players to make a more well-rounded sound devoid of trend or fashion. You never know where a JD McPherson song is going to take you. It could start off slow and stay there, or start slow and end out-of-control. At the same time there’s always a steadiness, a heartbeat that keeps each song grounded.
Many of JD’s songs could speed up so easily. They want to so badly, and by not doing so they create a tension in the music that enhances the energy level and experience. Though JD is commonly compared to Little Richard and Fats Domino, and more modern-day comparison would be the recently-deceased Nick Curran, who JD’s drummer was wearing a shirt of on the night. Nick’s unique gift was his ability to bring uncontrolled excitement to his music, and the wild-eyed approach and tempo is what appealed to people. JD McPherson’s energy–though certainly still evident to the naked eye and ear–resides just below the surface and emits a more steady, sustainable experience. It is akin to the difference between enjoyment and fulfillment.
JD McPherson’s band is world class. A spot behind McPherson must be one of the most coveted spots in the retro rock & roll world. It is capped by bass player, collaborator, and producer Jimmy Sutton, who took a couple of opportunities to lead the band himself. Behind every good #1 is a #2, and that is what Jimmy Sutton is to JD McPherson.
Watching JD McPherson live, you can tell why Rounder Records picked up his album Signs & Signifiers for re-release. You can tell why he was invited to play Letterman, Pickathon, and Bonnaroo. His is the rising star of the pure, rock & roll revivalists, and a treat to experience live.
Two guns up.
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In 1999, a true underground in country music was coming into form. Neo-traditionalists and country punks moved into lower Broadway in Nashville, revitalizing the area and establishing a home base for young, like-minded musicians offering up an alternative to whatever was going on a mile away on Music Row. BR549‘s residency at Robert’s Western World was in full swing, and Layla’s Bluegrass Inn was up and running with bands like Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers and Hillbilly Casino.
Then the grandson of Hank Williams put out a debut album with a neo-traditional style that featured three songs from an Austin, TX artist named Wayne “The Train” Hancock, taking the country music underground transcontinental. Along with Dale Watson, another superb Austin, TX performer, this three-headed monster started rattling the cage of the country music world, gnashing their teeth at Nashville and name dropping each other in songs and on stage.
Amongst all the bustle and big names in 1999, another superlative Austin talent released a debut album a little more quietly. The idea that there’s an amazing, world-class music talent on every corner of Austin, TX is not a myth, and Roger Wallace is a testament to that. But what many of Austin’s legendary local artists don’t have that Roger Wallace does is that one album, that one work that stands out from the crowd and withstands the test of time.
Named for the semi-famous Austin apartment complex he was living in at the time, Hillbilly Heights is a timeless treasure of country music. This album could be put out today, or in 1975, and its music would still sound just as fresh and engaging and speak to everyday lives as it did in 1999. If space aliens came down and asked me to choose one album that represented country music, after shitting myself from the shock of being accosted by aliens, I very well may hand them over a copy of Hillbilly Heights, worried that a Hank Williams album from the 50′s may be too classic for their taste, or a more modern album too pop.
But like so many of these Austin country music stars, self-promotion and the world outside of the Austin corridor is an afterthought with Roger, and that is how Hillbilly Heights and Roger have remained obscure to so many outside of Texas. A check of Roger’s website shows he hasn’t updated his show dates since George W. has his legs propped up in Oval Office. Austin becomes so comfortable for many musicians, it’s hard for them to leave or focus their energy elsewhere.
Hillbilly Heights is an album of instant classics. Populated with 9 Wallace originals and a smart batch of covers, it never slips up, never reveals a bad moment, it just keeps giving pure classic country gold. The formula for making good classic country these days is to get it to sound like the old stuff, yet to bring fresh themes and approaches to the songs. That’s easier said than done, but exactly what Roger Wallace does, like with the song “Don’t Nobody Love Me (Like My Baby)” that starts out as a good love song, but then reveals itself to be an even greater murder ballad.
I wouldn’t call Roger’s voice “big”, but what do all the ladies tell us? Roger’s size doesn’t matter because of how he uses it, with an acute sense of inflection and timing in his pentameter to squeeze the ultimate amount of pain and suffering out of his stories. And like Roger displays in his original “Nobody But Me”, he can go way up there in the register to really bring out the sorrow in a song. Writing songs that compliment your vocal strengths is something most artists struggle with. This is one of Roger’s greatest assets. Even in 1999, Roger was carrying an aged pain in his voice well beyond his years, yet he delivers it with a smoothness and confidence.
The late 90′s, early 2000′s here ten years later feel like the golden-era of the classic country resurgence, with some fans of Hank3 wishing he’d go back in that era, with Wayne Hancock fans finally wearing out their copies of Thunderstorms & Neon Signs, Dale Watson never reaching the same energy of Live in London again, and BR549 long since defunct. If you wish you could go back in time and re-live those same feelings or find out what you missed, Roger Wallace and Hillbilly Heights is where to start.
Today Roger Wallace can be seen on virtually any night of the week in Austin, plying his craft at legendary venues like The Continental Club, The Broken Spoke, and Ginny’s Little Longhorn, the same haunts Dale Watson keeps residence at when he’s in town as well. So why doesn’t he receive the same recognition as Dale and others nationally? One can’t say, but one listen to Hillbilly Heights will tell you that Roger Wallace is world class.
Two Guns Up!
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On Friday night (5-4-12) we attended a show of reigning Saving Country Music Artist of the Year Justin Townes Earle at Antone’s in Austin, TX’s increasingly-crowded west downtown district. The Bloodshot Records-signed son of Steve Earle was in town in support of his latest record Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now, with a full band behind him for one of the first times on tour.
Opening support was given by Tristen, an indie rocker who was sporting a new short haircut (these things are important to the frau I have found) that was punctuated by an eternal tress clogging her vision on one side. She dazzled the crowd with high-charged and catchy original indie-rock compositions in a fun show, punctuated by her ending number where she shirked her electric guitar and business blazer to dance around the stage in her very short green sequined mini shorts, gesticulating the salient points of her song.
Tristen captures the retro feel of the best of Brit rock and 80′s glam, reminding us that pop was not always such an awful alternative to people who appreciated good music. Her performance left you wanting to check out her music further, which in the end is the perfect goal of any opening artist. She’s got a little Natalie Merchant in her (see Tristan from SXSW).
For the last few years Justin Townes Earle’s touring party featured Josh Hedley on fiddle, whose since moved on to work with Jonny Corndawg, and Bryn Davies, the beautiful upright bass player who is now part of Jack White’s all female band amongst other projects. There’s no drama behind the name changes. With the Memphis approach to the new material, fiddle was not needed, and when talking to new bass player Vince Ilgan, he said that Bryn was taking some time off to “have his baby.” John Radford also joined them on drums, and Paul Niehaus (Calexico) was on lead guitar and Sho-Bud pedal steel.
As first and foremost a singer-songwriter, and an elite one of the modern era at that, Justin Townes Earle started the set off solo, and on three other occasions stayed on stage while the band took a break. Justin is always at his best when he’s alone. Backing players are simply there for texture. The full sound complimented the new material well, which was showcased heavily in his set. Now on his 4th full-length release, he’s come to the point in his touring life where set list decisions are difficult. At one point a request was shouted out from the crowd. “I know what I’m doing,” Justin responded to the delight of the audience. “We’ve thought this all out very carefully.”
As one of the first dates on his national tour, this was a test run for Justin’s plan. The band chemistry was good, but you could tell it was still early in the development. After songs, the band would exchange glances, looking pleased and almost surprised that what they had been practicing was well-received by a crowd that went from rowdy at times to completely hushed from the respect Justin can command. It was a sold out show, with a strange mix of patrons that ranged from preppy college kids, rough-edged typical Bloodshot Records fans, to elder NPR listeners grumbling about no seating being provided.
Justin Townes Earle looked the healthiest I have ever seen him. Strong, alert and in the moment, wearing a paperboy’s hat with long sideburns creeping over his ears, and a vest over a long baby blue shirt with the sleeves rolled up showcasing his arm tattoos. A bead of sweat formed across his brow early on this hot and humid Texas evening; the moisture causing havoc with the guitar tuning marking the night’s only setback.
Along with most of the material from the new album, Justin played “My Starter Won’t Start” in his signature and unique guitar style borrowed partly from blues finger picking and and partly from clawhammer banjo, as well as “Mama’s Eyes” after unleashing an unveiled shot at his dad for not being around back when. “I may put my daddy in a home, but I’d never put my momma in a home, shit. She was the one that raised me.” He also featured the train-inspired “Halfway to Jackson”, the “Can’t Hardly Wait” Replacements cover, and the gospel-esque “Harlem River Blues” amongst others.
It was going to be impossible for Justin to eclipse or even match the feat of his last Austin show that I have since deemed one of the best shows I’ve ever seen live, and that is okay. The venue, the crowd which was noticeably younger than previous shows, the strength of material among other factors felt a little like challenges to overcome for Justin in comparison to previous performances, but he presented himself well, as he continues to make the case for himself as one of our generation’s premier songwriters and solo performers. Justin feels mere steps away from graduating to a theater circuit, which would probably be a better fit for his music and approach and the crowd it attracts. As would a wider audience, because that is what his music deserves.
Two guns up!
Today it was announced that a new statue of Willie Nelson will be erected in Austin, TX, commemorating the country music legend whose career now spans over 50 years. The bronze statue is a gift from the not-for-profit organization Capitol Area Statues. It stands 8-feet tall and weighs 1 ton, at a cost of about $300,000. It was created by sculptor Clint Shields, who told The Rolling Stone he had a difficult task of making sure he represented all the eras of Willie, from the Outlaw of the 70′s, to the face of Farm Aid in the 80′s, to today.
The statue will sit at the base of the stairs to ACL Live’s Moody Theater where Austin City Limits is taped, at the W Austin Hotel downtown. The statue was initially unveiled to a small group in Austin on November 14th (see image of statue), but the public unveiling will happen the same day Willie Nelson and many other artists are scheduled to perform at the “We Walk The Line” tribute commemorating Johnny Cash’s 80th birthday on April 20th, aka 4/20. The statue will also officially be unveiled at 4:20 PM “as a nod to the country star’s reputation as a stoner.”
As Saving Country Music pointed out last August, asking if Willie Nelson was becoming a “pot punchline”:
Willie Nelson is an American treasure, one of the worlds greatest pacifists, an advocate for farmers, biofuels, and countless other causes, as well as being one of the most revered living American artists, and one of the greatest country music legends of all time. His album Red Headed Stranger is disputably the greatest, most important country album ever. But as time goes on, what Willie seems to be best known for is a guy who happens to smoke pot.
…what I am concerned with is that Willie’s weed identity is trumping, if not marginalizing the other accomplishments of one of our country’s elder statesmen, including his marijuana advocacy work…If marijuana was legal, it would simply be a footnote to Willie’s legacy, like a baseball player’s favorite ice cream.
The 4/20 unveiling of the Willie Nelson statue happens to be a convenient date when Willie and other music dignitaries will already be in attendance at the Moody Theater, but unveiling it right at 4:20 PM reinforces what Willie Nelson’s legacy is becoming in the eyes of popular culture.
Statue creator Clint Shields said that while creating the likeness, he was concerned about the statue’s impact “especially a younger generation (that) grew fond of him during his more mature years.” Willie Nelson’s songs have long since left radio. He can’t be found on country awards shows. There’s no Willie Nelson videos on MTV or CMT. The way most of the younger generation and popular culture interface with Willie Nelson is through TMZ stories about his marijuana arrests, collaborations with Snoop Dogg on stoner songs, and stories like The Rolling Stone article above that mentions little about his music or other accomplishments.
Willie Nelson’s music, his legendary albums like Red Headed Stranger, Wanted: The Outlaws, and Stardust all constitute his musical legacy. His work with Farm Aid, and for biofeuls, world peace, environmentalism, and marijuana advocacy constitute his world legacy. Willie’s pot legacy is only his pop legacy, irrelevant in the face of such a reverent and inspiring life of work. To perpetuate a typecasting of Willie Nelson in the frame of an ironic joke at such a memorable moment as the unveiling of an eternal tribute seems like an unnecessary reduction of his legacy.
Some may want to commemorate Willie Nelson’s “reputation as a stoner”, but I choose to remember him as so much more, like his reputation as a world-class musician, a fighter for artists’ independence, an advocate for peace, and a spiritual inspiration.
I saw both of these acts recently at the Hillgrass Bluebilly Lunch Party, but because I was too busy managing the live internet audio stream during the Boomswaggler’s set, and the stage was so surrounded by teeming “dirtyfoots” for Possessed’s nightcap performance that I couldn’t steal even a peep, I headed down to Beerland in Austin, TX Friday night to take in the double bill of Hillgrass artists.
The Boomswagglers are a band on the rise people, mark my words. For an act with no formal release, and up to this point no major touring or even residency in a local scene, they have created quite the buzz and following. There were people there that night just to see The Boomswagglers, many of them singing along to songs and screaming out requests.
Unfortunately the sound was pretty muddy, and the beginning of their set was a little rough. But when they were joined on stage by Possessed by Paul James, they rallied:
A similar observation I had seeing them previously is that they are both extremely-talented guitar players, but their use of tones and volume doesn’t always lend to that being translated to the audience. Same could possibly be said for lyrics. But this one song emphasizes both:
Don’t take it so literally ladies.
And be aware, The Boomswagglers do have a big release and tour coming, but they are making sure to get it right, because they are worth it, so no specific details just yet on either.
Next was Possessed by Paul James, and of the three times I have seen him live, this was by far his most inspired performance. Not that the previous two were bad, but this was just a different, more rowdy energy. Konrad is a school teacher, and my guess would be a damn good one, but he mentioned during the show his frustrations for the red tape involved in teaching, and wondered aloud if his future wasn’t better cast in music. Like I iterated in my review of Feed The Family:
Possessed certainly has the chops to be a full-time performer if he wanted to, but he’s chosen his path from a belief of what is best for his family, and because of a dedication to service that was instilled in his Mennonite upbringing. I respect Possesessed’s decision, but I hope he understands that his music is a service as well; a touching, uplifiting, empowering experience that the world is a better place because of.
Regardless of the reasoning, Possessed was on fire on Friday. His gear was dogged by technical difficulties, but instead of adding hiccups to an otherwise good show, it created moments of spontaneous beauty, like when he couldn’t get his banjo and amp to work together, so he headed out into the crowd to make sure energy didn’t die:
When I posted this year’s Muddy Roots lineup, there was a reason I put Possessed by Paul James’ name second to the top. He is a headliner, and an elder of the fusion of country, folk, and blues, and has the songs, stories, road time, wisdom, and bald spot to back it all up. The lighting wasn’t good that night, and as per usual of a PPJ show, the front of the stage was crashed by rabid fans and sight lines were few if any. But the music and energy was great as always, and below are a few more vids worth checking out. I don’t know, but for some reason I am really digging what the bad lighting and sight lines created. I think they capture the magic of the night better than a clean video could.
In 2004, a legendary underground punk band called The Murder Junkies made a whistle stop in Austin, TX at a venue called Emo’s. 10 years before, Emo’s was the last place Johnny Cash ever played in Austin, and they have the stool he used that night hanging from the ceiling to prove it. The year before that Cash performance, The Murder Junkies became the backing band for the most infamous man in rock n roll ever, Mr. GG Allin. GG died shortly after, and at the time of the Murder Junkies 2004 stop in Austin, filling in as frontman for GG was a man named JB Beverley. It was the first time The Murder Junkies had played Austin in 12 years. Check it out:
Fast forward to Sunday night, and the scene was much different. JB Beverly was now fronting The Wayward Drifters, a straightforward, old-school, real country band. There may not be a better example of how as Nashville has abandoned it’s roots and the true country sound, musicians with punk and metal backgrounds have risen up to embrace those sounds and traditions. JB is also a great songwriter, and writes some of the best anti-pop/Nashville songs this side of Dale Watson:
The crowd was thin that night since this was a pickup gig on a Sunday, and they didn’t start playing until 12:30, but it was star studded. In the crowd that night was none other than Wayne “The Train” Hancock and his wife Gina.
Wayne regaled me with some very funny stories. Emo’s has two stages and two separate rooms. One time Wayne was playing on the bigger stage, where Hank III plays when he comes to town, but all the people were in the smaller room, where JB was on Sunday. So Wayne dropped a handful of stink bombs in the smaller room. The people fled and he doubled his crowd instantly. After telling me that story, Wayne stuck his hand deep into his black leather aviator’s jacket like he was digging for a flask, and let fly the loudest arm fart I’ve ever heard. A lady walking by turned and blushed. You’d never guess it, but “The Train” is quite the prankster.
You just knew Wayne was going to have to make it on stage at some point, and when he did, he serenaded his wife Gina with a new song:
Along with JB, the Wayward Drifters were filled out with the great fill-in bass player Braxton Brandenburg, and one of the best superpickers in the scene, the peerless “Banjer” Dan Mazer. Banjo, dobro, or mandolin, you will struggle to find a more proficient player. He played with Bill Monroe folks, and when double time is called for on the banjo, he can made your head spin with the speed. My favorite song of the set was a new one JB wrote called “Mad River High.” It is kind of a new sound for him, and really sucks you in:
I give the night overall two guns up, and afterward, JB Beverley and the boys headed back to the Hancock Hacienda, where the music kept going:
Here’s another video of JB Beverly performing “Dead Flowers” and Banjer Dan showing off his skills.
When Jamey Johnson released his critically-acclaimed album The Guitar Song this year and the four star reviews began to roll in, I so much wanted it to be an excellent album that I could sing the praises of, and that we could finally have a mainstream country project that was true to the roots, and more importantly, just enjoyable to listen to, and that all the disparate elements of “country” could unify behind. A similar reason is why I named Justin Townes Earle’s 2009 Midnight at the Movies SCM’s 2009 Album of the Year. Declaring The Guitar Song a home run would have made my life so much easier. But the problem is that I cannot tell a lie, and from my perspective, the album was only average, and I could not offer my support.
Similarly, it would make life much easier for me if on Saturday night, Justin Townes Earle put on the performance of a lifetime. With all the negative publicity he has received here and other places, but especially here, it has characterized me as a madman on a mission to destroy him. From NPR stuff, to more NPR stuff, to breaking the story on his arrest, it has branded me a Justin Townes Earle adversary in a way that has adversely effected my standing with many people I respect. And maybe, just maybe, if I could say one thing positive about Justin, it could lend credence to my assertions that my Justin coverage has been a matter of the way the cards played out, as opposed to a vendetta.
But I cannot tell a lie. I’ve built this website on giving my honest opinions at all times, damn the popularity or political fallout. So how was the Justin Townes Earle performance?
It was fucking phenomenal. Absolutely unbelievable. It was the best live performance I have seen all year. Hell, it may be the best music performance I have seen, ever. It was genuine, it was pure, and outright magical. Justin Townes Earle is gifted beyond words, and it seems almost foolish to try and describe it. I’ve given careful, sober thoughts to my reactions to his performance Saturday night at The Parish in Austin, TX, and I can say with confidence that Justin Townes Earle is nothing less than a national treasure.
Really, I’m speechless. I could put together pretty sentences with big words trying to describe what he does live, but that seems so banal when still basking in the natural high his performance afforded. I will say that Justin has a magical way about him, where he is like a concentrated explosion. It is like all the energy of a punk rock show concentrated and honed in his long, awkward body, and then that energy is emitted only when it can come out with class and infinite taste.
Does that mean that I have changed my mixed feelings about Harlem River Blues? No, in fact it has strengthened them. And strengthened the feeling of horror I felt when I saw him try to perform wired at 2010′s South by Southwest in March, and the downward spiral in my JTE coverage began. JTE wrote, produced, and performed that album while under the influence, and though on the outside everything seemed to be in order, for those who have a sense for these things, they could see beyond the music to the neuroses running deep beneath it’s surface. Justin’s path will always be a shaky and dogged one, but he must stay on it. Drugs and drinking or not, for most of 2010, JTE was off his path, and it showed, just like it would show in the underbelly of this article if I did not give my honest opinion, or my best effort.
If there was a lull in the set, it was when Justin performed “One More Night in Brooklyn,” but as weaker as the Harlem songs may have been, overall their live versions were much better than the album takes. Josh Hedley did an excellent job on fiddle, and I was very pleased to see Bryn Davies back on bass. Bryn had gone AWOL at least for a little bit after the Indy embrolio, and somehow her presence there on Saturday validated the whole thing. If JTE needed a bass player, the line would form to the left, and same can be said for the talented Bryn Davis if she was looking for a new band. If she wanted out, she had plenty of excuses to exit amicably. But she believed in Justin, and where he is right now, and stayed.
The arrest and Justin’s checkered past did come up, numerous times, and in numerous ways. Justin broached the subject first (see second video below), and then during in-between song banter he would allude to it at times. At one point to be comical, someone yelled out “Freebird,” and Justin, just like he did in Indianapolis replied “Fuck You,” in a fairly playful manner. Another person yelled, “Take your shirt off.” You have to give the crowd credit for being educated on the situation. But overall the attendees were unbelievably respectful. They had no choice, they were spellbound. At times the place was as quiet as I’ve ever heard a concert venue. When Justin came out for an encore, he performed “Louisiana 1927″ (see first video below), and the place was like church. The unbelievable silence became an element of the experience in its own right. When he took his solo set during the middle of the concert, the place was remarkably hush as well.
I also have to give kudos to The Parish in Austin for their smoke and light show. At first I though it was going to be annoying and overkill, but the visual element combined with Justin’s already engaging stage demeanor made for some cool visual moments beyond the music. Another cool moment was at the end of the set, when Justin invited opening act Caitlin Rose and her band onstage with Joe Pug for a performance of “Harlem River Blues” (see third video below).
I was planning on getting a few videos that night, but each song seemed so important to capture, so I captured what I could, and still missed JTE performing Tom Waits’ “Union Square” and a high energy blues song (got the tail end). I am still uploading video, but as they come online, I will added them to the collection of photos and such from the night to This Message Board Thread. You can also read a review of opener Caitlin Rose.
A lot of people criticize that I spend too much time dwelling on the negative, that I spend too much time fighting, and not enough time supporting. I fight because I believe in things. I don’t fight Nashville or country music because I hate them. I fight for them because they are worth fighting for, and I love them. Many things are NOT worth fighting for. It’s trivial if they spiral into obscurity or self-destruction. But Justin Townes Earle is not one of them. He’s worth fighting for, and I’m glad I have. I’m not running a popularity contest. Some will not understand. But that is irrelevant to me. I must do and say what I think is right in my heart, and let history judge it. And in my heart, I know that Justin Townes Earle is gold.
For the last 6 years, Wayne “The Train” Hancock playing Austin, TX’s legendary Continental Club on Thanksgiving Night has slowly morphed into a full blown tradition. Though Wayne is based out of Austin, he plays in town maybe twice a year, keeping his A-Town appearances exclusive, and special.
Opening this year was the greatness of Lucky Tubb with His Modern Day Troubadours. Lucky & Co. were their usual dapper selves, still holding on to the tightness they’ve acquired from much more consistent touring these days. They’d also acquired a new Tele player since I’d seen them last, a hot shot silly sider named Will Owen Gage that was a standout player in a night full of them (wait till you hear who Wayne boasted in his band).
My crossed fingers gave rise to the event I was hoping to see the last time I saw the Wayne/Lucky pairing, which was a live rendition of one of their duets off of Lucky’s new album Hillbilly Fever, and sure enough, The Train was called to the stage early and they rocked out a version of “West.” Unfortunately my moving picture camera was forgotten on the charger at the Saving Country Music headquarters, but the still one was in hand (see pics below) and so was a recording device:
Then it was Wayne Hancock’s turn, and man, Wayne was in rare form. I think this had a lot to do with Wayne being able to cherry pick all-star players from his past to fill out the night’s lineup. Hancock had a smile form ear to ear all night, as some of Austin’s best players traded licks back and forth across stage.
Musicians included Bob Stafford on lead guitar AND trombone, aka “Texaco” that you can hear Wayne call out on his early albums. A mad keys player TJ Bonta who played with Wayne on the album Wild, Free, & Reckless manned the side of the stage, Chris Darrell was on stand up bass, and the great Eddie Rivers was on stand up steel. Eddie is a legend around Austin who now plays with Asleep At The Wheel, but played with Wayne first.
Hancock has a funny way about him, where his smile and mood is infectious. I relate it somewhat to Ray Charles. When Ray Charles would smile, when you knew he was feeling warm, it made you feel warm; some sort of empathetic relationship with the audience that makes the moments that much more special. After each song, the packed Continental Club would burst with applause and cheers. I’ve never seen such reception for Wayne’s music. At one point I saw him utter “Wow” under his breath at the outcry, and Wayne and the band took that energy and reciprocated, as Wayne picked out a songlist that kept the mood moving just right.
Near the end, Wayne’s wife, Gina Gallina Rose Hancock, a performer in her own right, got up on stage for another rare moment. Never before has anyone made a cheat sheet look so hip, as the love birds belted out “I’ll Never Be Free.”
(The person growling “wow” from about 0.10 to 0.14 is Lucky Tubb)
Enjoy an extended picture gallery below.
Yesterday, fiddle phenom, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and singer Ruby Jane turned 16. Less and less it feels right to call her a “prodigy” as she grows older and her skins on the wall continue to grow as well, surpassing the accolades many musicians twice her age have amassed: youngest fiddle player to ever play the Grand Ole Opry, touring with Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel, being named MVP of the Austin City Limits Festival by many.
Ruby Jane has deserved to be judged against musicians of any age for years, but as she reaches 16, her songwriting and singing have become even more refined. She has developed her own style; a unique mark of brilliance beyond blazing fiddle breaks. Ruby is old school, but with a young energy and a fresh approach. Ask yourself how many 16-year-olds are covering Townes Van Zandt songs, or singing into effect mics to make their music feel authentic?
I was lucky enough to sit down with Ruby outside of the RV that Ruby and her mom have called home for three years now; a humble existence that has helped nurture the dreams of this young woman. We talked about her first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry (you can hear her reaction when told Hank Williams is not a member), what she likes to do besides music (Football? Yes, football!), as well as meeting Willie Nelson, influences in her music, and her young perspective on an old world that at times loses touch with their dreams. Find the audio and the important parts transcribed below.
You should also check out the interview with CBS news she did when she was 11, where she talks about playing the Grand Ole Opry, and writing a song inspired by Hank Williams.
The Triggerman: You have another passion, don’t you? You have a new song that says, “I like to eat, pie makes me very happy.” What are some of your favorite foods?
Ruby Jane: That’s a good question. Yeah, I do like pie. I like pretty much all pie. My mom makes this great Dutch apple pie, it’s crumpled up brown sugar on top, and that’s probably my favorite pie ever. Everything from chocolate pie to quiche, which is a kind of pie I guess. I’m a big Japanese food fan. I love sushi. Chocolate, of course, I think every girl likes chocolate. Just in France which was amazing. When you go over to France, their pastries, I mean you can’t even compare French pastries. I got pretty addicted to French pastries when I was there. I think one day I even decided that I was gonna eat only pastries all day long. That didn’t really work out, I got a really bad stomach ache.
The Triggerman: Does it frustrate you that you’re only 15-years-old?
Ruby Jane: I’ve been lucky enough to gain respect at an early age, musically and artistically. When I was younger, 12 or 13, people would kinda just look down at me, not really cut me down, but be “oh she’s 12, she doesn’t really know.” And now which is really great, people respect my opinion when I’m hanging out with other people in music. So I really don’t have a problem with that. I think the only thing that’s weird, it’s not really frustrating, but that’s strange about being 15, is that I go to online high school, so I’m not around other kids my age, hardly at all. I’m around adults 24/7 . If I’m not doing school, I’m doing rehearsals with adults, or playing a gig, or having a meeting. My friends are adults. What is strange sometimes is remembering I’m 15. But there’s nothing really frustrating.
The Triggerman: Is there anything that frustrates you about adults?
Ruby Jane: That’s a tough question. I’m definitely not the first person to judge anybody. Something that is definitely frustrating, and I know people would say, “That’s just because she’s 15, and she hasn’t got the needle in her balloon yet.” But I look at people who’ve kinda given up. I’ve been blessed to have done so much at an early age, and I realize not everybody has been given those kind of opportunities. People have said to me before “You’ll get older. Things change. You’ll realize that you can’t really do what you thought you could do.” That to me is really frustrating. People say, “You never do what you thought you could do.” Well we can do whatever we want to do, truthfully. If we set our mind to it.
Ruby Jane: Yes, I very much do. Its important for me to remember how lucky I’ve been, and that not a lot of people get those opportunities. Really all I can do is be thankful because I do realize that my life has been very strange and different from most people. And that because of people like my mom that from the beginning put me before her own career. For me when I think about that, it’s like OK I’ve been given all this stuff. Now its just important for me to turn around and make sure I use it. It’s good though. I’ve had a cool life.
The Triggerman: Tell me about meeting Willie Nelson.
Ruby Jane: Most of the time I’m not really intimidated talking to famous people or whatever. But the one person that I really thought about before I met him, I thought “Oh my gosh I’m about to meet Willie Nelson, I hope I don’t faint.” When I was 4 or 5, it was for Christmas and my present was the Willie Nelson Teatro video with Emmylou Harris, that’s what I had asked my mom for, and when I got it I freaked out, and I just started running around the room screaming and none of the other kids understood it. So that was probably the one person I was scared to meet. And so I remember he walked in the room, and I had gone over the scenario, how it would happen in my head. So he walks in the room and he’s kinda short. He had a little tummy, he’d gained a little weight. And he just had this kinda goofy smile on his face. It was basically like your grandpa just walked in the room. I just remember meeting him, and him being the most down-to earth person. It was almost if it wasn’t even Willie Nelson. And ever since then he’s been the sweetest, most non-intimidating guy ever.
The Triggerman: So you toured with Willie on the Willie & The Wheel tour?
Ruby Jane: I did. I did some tours with him and his “Family Band” and then I did a tour with Willie & The Wheel because I recorded on that, which actually the first time I met him was back when they were recording the Willie & The Wheel CD. At that point they had already finished recording the whole CD, but Ray (Benson) had been talking to Willie about me, and Willie goes “OK let’s put her on the bonus track.” I met Ray about three months after coming into town (Austin).And I guess he found out about me because I’d been playing around town, and he was looking for somebody to be in the musical “A Ride With Bob.”
The Triggerman: So you get to Austin, you’re 12 years old, you pull your RV into town, and you’ve got your fiddle and your 12-year-old self, and you’re just going around to these different venues and trying to integrate into the Austin scene?
Ruby Jane: We went to a bunch of jam sessions. The first night in town we went to the Continental Club, and I can’t even remember how I got in, but Dale Watson was playing . Dale is very professional and is not the kind of guy that would just invite someone on stage that he’s never heard before. But luckily enough we got to talking, and I’d played with Marty Stuart and we had that mutual friend in common and he just said “Come play with me.” And we just started going around to jams and this great guy named Jim Stringer that plays guitar around town, I started sitting in with him, which was different for me, just getting up on stage and jamming, and we were doing that almost every night when I first got to town.
The Triggerman: Do you want to tour?
Ruby Jane: Oh yeah, definitely. My mom and I are both huge travel freaks. I’d much rather be traveling than in one place. So I can’t wait to get on the road. That’s a huge thing for me. I’m really looking forward to that.
The Triggerman: Tell me about your experience playing the Grand Ole Opry.
Ruby Jane: I’ve played the Grand Ole Opry twice. The first time I was nine-years-old. Second time I played I was like 11 or 12. The very first time I played with a guy named Mike Snider, this incredible banjo player and comedian. I got hooked up with Mike through Jim Brock who taught me fiddle for a long time. He played on the Opry for years with Jim & Jessie, and Bill Monroe. So I remember going to the Grand Ole Opry and I had it in my head that this was the make or break point. I thought if I do really good, I’ll be world famous, and if I do really bad, everyone’s gonna hate me and I’ll never do a show again. I was so nervous. I remember walking in and I told Jim my fiddle teacher and my mom I said, “These are the doors to fame or doom.” And I almost couldn’t even open the doors I was so nervous. Mike Snyder is a funny funny guy and was cracking jokes, and he could tell how nervous I was, so he took me on the back of the stage when the Whites were playing, and he said “I just want you to stand here for a minute, just take a deep breath and see what it feels like.” So I did, and after that, I felt really comfortable.
The Triggerman: Did you know that Hank Williams was not a member of The Grand Ole Opry?
Ruby Jane: Really? Wow. That’s interesting. You would think obviously that Hank Williams would be. Wow. That’s interesting.
The Triggerman: So do you know what “soul” is? Can you hear it in music?
Ruby Jane: I’d like to think so. I think it’s pretty easy to tell when someone’s playing just to play or making cliche rhymes. I think there’s a balance in saying exactly what you mean, and also making it sound good. I’ve also heard music where you can tell that person is pretty much just having sympathetic conversation with themselves and it doesn’t actually make sense musically or it isn’t actually catchy. On the other end there’s music that’s pure beats and catchy and you can tell they put absolutely no thought into what they’re writing. So I think there’s a happy medium in really expressing yourself and having soul, but also something that makes sense and sounds good.
The Triggerman: What do you like to do that’s not playing music?
Ruby Jane: It’s so weird because so much of what I do has to do with music, there’s almost no time for anything else. But hanging out with friends obviously. I’m a big reader, I love reading books. I’ve never been a big sports person, but I like playing football.
The Triggerman: So wait, you like playing football?
I like playing football when I get a chance. I don’t have a lot of chances, but there’s something about just tacking somebody that is so, I don’t know. And that’s really the only sport. I mean I like sports, and I think they’re fun to play. I can’t watch them, but playing football, whether it being at a family reunion, I love playing football.
The Triggerman: Do you ever see yourself not playing music?
Ruby Jane: No. Like I’ve thought about “what if?” but I think so much of my life has been involved in it I really don’t think I’d know how to do anything else at this point. I like acting a lot, and I’d like to in the future do acting as well as music, and I’ve taken some acting classes and I enjoy that. But in terms of like full life, I can’t see myself doing anything besides music.
The Triggerman: I’m going to ask you a very weird question. And there’s no right or wrong answer. Sometimes, maybe when its late at night, maybe you’re in a hotel room somewhere on a tour. Do you ever feel like at times you get a weird pain in your chest, almost like there’s a hole in your chest? Or like there’s something missing?
Ruby Jane: No. I think if there were ever to be anything missing in my life, it would be if I wasn’t playing music. I feel pretty fulfilled. And I have thought about that before, you know I’ve thought about what would it be like if I didn’t play music, and I think it would be that hole that you’re talking about. I think at this point in my life, I think if I were ever to feel unhappy, it would be because I felt like I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing. And I feel like I really am doing what I’ve been called to do, which is fulfilling. So no, I don’t, thank goodness.
On Saturday night the Hole in the Wall in Austin, TX was transformed into “Dirtyfoot” headquarters for fans, bands and extended family of Hillgrass Bluebilly Records for their Launch Party. Folks from as far as Canada, Seattle, Minnesota, and Boston flew in exclusively for the event and helped pack the walls of the Hole to near capacity, while over 150 people from around the world tuned in through SCM Live to share the experience.
7 bands and 5 hours of music meant both Hole in the Wall’s stages were pressed into service. Darren Hoff & The Hard Times got things stirring with their hard edged country on the smaller stage, while some started biting nails wondering if the second band The Boomswagglers were going to show for their second slot. As was explained later, “We forgot to put gas in the truck,” which they reportedly tried to remedy by pulling off a radiator hose and trying to siphon gas out of a motorcycle before calling someone to pick them up. Now if that ain’t country. . .
The Boomswagglers get the award for most authentic band of the night, in a night packed with authenticity. As they bled out their country/bluesy mix about bad women and hard times the shot glasses and beer jars stacked up on an amplifier like a mocking model of Austin’s ever-increasing skyline of posh condo buildings. Whatever the high rise condo represents, The Boomswagglers represent the polar opposite. Spencer Cornett is taller than a beanpole and skinnier than Shaggy on crack, while Lawson Benett is as tall is he is round. Together they are like dirty country’s Laurel and Hardy, with a larger-than-life, almost rock-star air around them even though they are the nicest, most down-to-earth “just blew in from the corn field” country boys you’ll ever meet.
The Boomswagglers were the one band that night I was most curious to see because I had no idea what to expect. Their song “Run You Down” that was featured on the Outlaw Radio Compilation has been one of the most popular songs in underground country, but was this just a one hit wonder? What I found was they are above-average pickers with solid and original songwriting ability that deserve whatever praise their small but loyal fans give them. Keep an eye out for their first Hillgrass Bluebilly release coming soon.
Next was Roger Wallace, who on such a stacked bill might have been overlooked by some, but was one of the standouts of the night. Roger is pure country, but with some soul and boogie to him as well. He also boasts one of the best bands to be found, with Jim Stringer on lead guitar, and the amazing Lisa Pankratz on drums. Lisa has also played with Dale Watson, Wayne Hancock, and Billy Joe Shaver to name a few. Like so many of the bands that performed, Roger deserves his own separate review.
Tom VandenAvond and his “Say Hey Kids” band afforded the most memorable moment of the night, when he finished his set on the main stage with the song “Brick by Brick,” and was joined on stage by the headliners Possessed by Paul James on fiddle and Larry & His Flask, as well as Brian and Molly Salvi in one of those family-feeling moments that can’t be rehearsed or staged.
The best flat out musician from the night, on a night filled with so many great ones, might be Jim Chilson who flew down with the rest of the Ten Foot Polecats from Boston exclusively for the event. The seemingly effortless trance-inducing guitar rhythms with ridiculous fingerwork put the blues in this Bluebilly event, and was accompanied by balls out singing from Jay Scheffler and expert drumming. Who needs bass?
Now we have come to the point where I am supposed to somehow explain with human language what it is like to see Larry & His Flask live, but no words, no videos do it justice. Larry & His Flask are sheer madness. They are the essence, the pinnacle of on-stage energy. I talk often about one man bands, and how they must put out the energy of a full band. Then there is Hillstomp, which is a two man band, with both men putting out the energy of an entire band, doubling the equation. Well play the analogy out, and Larry & His Flask are like a six man band. No, this isn’t stating the obvious because there’s six people in the band, what I aim to say is they put out the energy of six bands combined.
You might think that their punk approach to an eclectic combination of roots is not for everyone. Videos just make it seem like theater. You have to appreciate that NOTHING in music trumps Larry & His Flask in the amount of energy.
The night was capped by Possessed by Paul James on the small stage, which immediately after The Flask finished, was crowded around so thick even us 6+ footers had to settle for hearing and not seeing. Nothing can trump the energy of The Flask, but it was perfected in mood by Possessed’s heartfelt soul. At that point all these folks from all around the country, from different walks of life and varying musical slantings, young and old, male and female, were all family. It was no longer about launch parties or Austin, or any of that; it was about the fellowship that a dizzying night of music can create for the soul when it is capped so perfectly by true, heartfelt expression.
A few tears were shed as all joined in Possessed’s “We Welcome You Home” at the very end of the night, and the mood in the room was such that you might anticipate all participants would disintegrate into the cosmos in a moment of infinite bliss and communion with the almighty. However reality met you cold in the face the next day, but nonetheless the participants of the Hillgrass Bluebilly Launch Party, in person and online, will never be the same after their experience, and the joy and understanding will remain inside their souls till death and beyond.
Two guns up.
More videos and pictures can be found on the message board.
When reviews and videos surfaced from Bob Wayne’s recent tour with Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers, the big buzz was about Bob’s new fiddle player named Liz Sloan. Not that Bob hasn’t had great musicians in his band before, quite the contrary, and not that a woman should be considered out of place in Bob’s band, but still Liz’s presence was wildly intriguing because one knew there must be a good story behind it. After talking to her Saturday night (10-30) before a show at Austin’s Hole in the Wall, and seeing her perform live, I can say that the breadth of her skills and the depth of her story did not disappoint.
Liz Sloan was a classical violin prodigy, starting the violin at the age of 3. At age 8 her family moved to Dallas, TX so Liz could have better training, and became an understudy of Dallas Symphony Orchestra Concertmaster Emanuel Borok. Liz won numerous awards for her violin playing, and eventually a scholarship to Texas Christian University in Ft. Worth. Later she would transfer to The University of North Texas, which is known as one of the best public music schools in the country.
Liz was aggressively pushed by a religious mother to excel in the classical arena, but inside Liz was troubled by a different calling. She says she got “burned out” on music by the age of 13, and after a bad car wreck where her vehicle rolled four times, she walked away from music completely for two years. A boyfriend who introduced her to Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers is what got Liz interested in music that led to Bob Wayne. “His song ’27 Years’ really spoke to me,” Liz says, and she sent Bob an email, showing interest in playing in the Outlaw Carnies.
Right before going on tour with Bob, Liz was playing with a pop country band from Nashville.
I emailed (Bob) out of desperation. I said “Please rescue me because I can’t handle this music.” I felt like I was selling my soul, like I had gotten a big paycheck to play something that I wasn’t in to. . . I knew that being with Bob and being around Bob and the musicians he’s around that I would grow tremendously as a musician. And I wasn’t doing that before. Everyone has their own thing, it just wasn’t mine. I was kind of up there for a marketing scheme, to make this band seem more country.
Out of respect, Liz doesn’t want to name names of which pop country outfit she worked for, and I take her loyalty as a sign of character, but her story is a very poignant example of how Nashville pop country acts stifle creativity and are driven by image.
Liz and I also talked about her upbringing, musical influences, about other important fiddle players, and her plans for the future. Find the rest of the interview below, and look for my review of the Bob Wayne show and an interview with Bob coming soon.
Nashville was lucky. During the early 20th Century, many cities could have ended up with the “Music City” moniker. Tulsa had a bustling music scene, with Bob Wills playing weekly at Cain’s ballroom. Bakersfield, CA had the best recording studios west of the Mississippi and was a magnet for the Southern talent that had migrated during the Depression. Shreveport, LA had the Louisiana Hayride, where Elvis got his start, and so many others.
But Nashville had WSM and the Grand Ole Opry. And the Grand Ole Opry had Hank Williams.
We tend to trash Nashville so easily these days. I am as guilty as any. It’s hip, and it’s only fair because Nashville deserves it . . . or at least institutions that call Nashville home do.
“People say, “Oh, you know, country music went bad,” and they like to blame it on Nashville. People say, “I can’t stand Nashville for what it’s done to country music.” Nashville was the home of Hank Williams, Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, Loretta Lynn and Kitty Wells. To blame Nashville for the state of country music is like blaming the house for being robbed. People came, cheapened it, and they took away a lot of the magic. That’s not Nashville’s fault, it’s the industry’s fault, and it’s the same industry that’s responsible for a lot of the mediocre rock music you get nowadays too. Country fans feel so betrayed by Nashville as a city and I’d like to champion Nashville and say that no, Nashville is still a good place.”
Yesterday it was revealed in The Tennessean that Dale Watson, performer of “Nashville Rash” and other anti-Nashville songs recorded his latest album at the Hilltop Recording Studio in Music City, and used Nashville players. Dale defended the decision by saying:
“People say, ‘What are you doing? You hate Nashville.’ But I don’t hate Nashville. I hate what has been done to the music that I love, the music that came from Nashville and that was invented in Nashville. I’m 100 percent inspired by what Nashville was.”
So should we separate the city from its seedy industry? Not so fast. Distinguishing the industry from the individuals that call Nashville home, or recognizing the history is one thing. However remember back in February, when the Nashville City Council voted to eminent domain the Musician’s Hall of Fame? They bulldozed a site dedicated to music to erect another tool of industry. The President of the Musicians Union at the time said:
“…all people are gonna remember is that the city of Nashville took a building that was honoring musicians in an eminent-domain court proceeding and that to me is a black mark on the city of Nashville…and that’s not gonna go away overnight.”
This year Nashville sent Janet Miller of the Nashville-area Chamber of Commerce to Austin’s SXSW Festival to “Defend the Music City Brand.” They passed out this survey to some 20,000 attendees to “find out how Nashville is perceived.”
Nashville on the surface seems to understand that it must preserve its “Music City” name, but their approach seems to be all symbolism and no substance. Billboards, commercials, and little music notes on manhole covers downtown will not replace actual notes of music being played in Nashville, or preserved in historical landmarks threatened by eminent domain. If the trend continues, those manhole covers will be like the tombstones of what Music City was.
There is a battle right now for the heart of country music, and as goes that battle, so does the city that country music calls home, for now.
“You can’t grow if you rip your roots out of the ground,
It looks like that Nashville Rash is gettin’ around
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.
Perfect hair is an unattainable goal for many Americans. Forget about genetics for a moment, and just think about the wide varying humidity and barometric pressure that we can experience here in the United States. It can wreak havoc on even the most ideal head of God given locks. And then all those hair products, my goodness. Shampoos, conditioners, gels and sprays now can take up over an aisle and a half at your local retailer.
And don’t get me started with trying to hunt down a good stylist. Every time you find a good one they move, retire, go back to graduate school, whatever, and then your left fending for yourself. And don’t even try asking your friends, oh no. They guard that secret like the babysitter that will work on Saturday nights for only $15 and a bag of Newman O’s, and won’t go rifling through your closet looking for your porn collection.
But despite all of this, I am so happy to report that at the Hank III show at Emo’s in Austin last night (3-16-10), the opening band, Kyle Turley had a bass player with the most perfect head of curly golden strands. It had that “just stepped out of the shower” sheen, without being clumpy or greasy looking. And the way he thrashed it around in rhythm with the music, just about made me want to start playing for the wrong team.
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Seriously, I’m having a little fun at the expense of a guy that did a fine job last night, but I think the bass player’s hair, and how he thrashed it around, was a good microcosm of the Kyle Turley set. I know the hip thing to do would be to come on here and trash it, but in truth, it wasn’t that bad, it was just out of place.
Kyle Turley was like the one sports card dealer at a horror comic convention. But he did a good job. The performance was tight, and the music was decent. Listen, if you had walked into some random bar and saw a former famous football player up there with a full band doing his thing, you would’ve been impressed. Kyle Turley is doing what he wants to do and following his dreams. And if every American did that, we’d probably be living in a much better world, though our hair style may be a little worse for the wear.
Some people have called his music pop country. Last night he said: “I’d like to discuss it with anyone out on the street.” I honestly don’t hear the very quickly identifiable pop country formula in his music. He calls it “power country,” which a critic might say is southern stoner metal without the balls, or country without the soul. But it fits into some sort of hard rock, southern-fried category that I could see being very successful for him in the hands of the right audience, I just don’t know that the Hank III audience was the right one.
There were a few boos, but mostly people were receptive, or at least tolerant. My guess the boos were from hardcore Hank III fans, and your average walk-up ticket attendee dealt with Turley’s fairly catchy, but never too involved songs just fine. His song “Flying Helmets” kind of plays right into his critic’s hands, and I’m wondering how his remark about Jerry Jones being an asshole, and all Dallas Cowboys being crooks is going to go over in Ft. Worth tonight, but I guess they say sing about what you know about.
His song “I’m With the Devil,” though it breaks down to a tribute song to his music mentor Hank III, I really think is a good song and shows a lot of songwriting promise and prowess that might pay off for Kyle eventually. His band was solid, but simple and straightforward. The lead guitar mainly played varying rhythm more than anything, and the keyboards had their moments, but were average. I can definitely say that what Turley did last night was much better than anything YouTube has to offer of his work (at least at the moment), and I wouldn’t go drawing hard conclusions from amateur videos.
A lot of people will take this as a negative review, but honestly would give him an A- if I was just walking into a random bar and saw him. But as the opener for Hank III, I’ll eek out a C+. But please, someone should tell Turley’s bass player to tame the hair situation; not the hair itself, but the way he tries to steal the show with it. He’s not doing himself or Kyle and favors. This is not an 80′s Poison routine, this is country music. There’s a reason Hank III ties his hair back during the country set.
And one of the reasons Hank III has become the biggest act in underground country is by knowing who his people are. Sure, in the last few years he’s alienated the hippie and alt-country crowd as he’s moved more towards the metal heads, but the trade off in numbers has been tit for tat at the worst. But this fit, for Hank III AND Kyle, seemed a little forced.
I hope the best for Kyle Turley, and hope he continues to follow his dreams and desires.
Interviews with Kyle Turley can be heard on Outlaw Radio Episode 83, and White Trash Revival Episode 33.
It will probably be easier to name of the bands and artists that WON’T be at South by Southwest in Austin, TX this week than to even begin trying to make a list of the ones I’m hoping to see. In fact I’m learning before I even get there that the most maddening thing about my upcoming SXSW experience is how much great music I will miss.
While I’m watching a band that I’ve wanted to see for years (let’s say, Slim Cessna’s Auto Club), there will be another band that I’ve wanted to see for years (maybe Whitey Morgan and the 78′s playing right down the street . . . within walking distance . . . for free . . . while they’re serving free beer . . . and free food . . .while the most beautiful women in the world (that being the one’s of the Texas persuasion) walk around enjoying the fact that they do not need to wear as much clothing as they did a month before.
It’s a good problem to have.
I’ve been trying to keep any itinerary thoughts free and lose so I don’t get frustrated trying to stick to some pre-ordained plan, but I know for sure it will all start off with the Hank III show tonight at Emo’s, and probably end sometime Sunday with me not wanting to hear one more note of music for a while, cursing large crowds, and nursing a gullet tortured and poisoned by bad diet and worse behavior.
Most of the interviews, reviews, and other SXSW content will likely not show up on the site this week, but next week when I can make sense of it all. This week sow, next week reap. But if you want, you can follow my daily activities on the Twitter Feed, and no, you don’t have to join Twitter, you can just watch. It will give you some insight into what I’m doing if you so care, music wise that is. I’ll keep updates on my bowel movements to myself.
With all the hubbub last week with new releases and news, I had little time to talk about Big John Cash, who had a birthday, and a posthumous release of American VI: Ain’t No Grave. But when Friday came, I got to leave the laptop behind, and head down to Austin to focus on The Man in Black and the Man in Black only at the 4th running of the Johnny Cash Bash.
You can’t see Johnny Cash anymore, but the Cash Bash is the next best thing. First you have a lineup that includes one of the best Johnny Cash tribute bands, The Band in Black, add Earle Pool Ball, Johnny’s pianist, and W.S. “Fluke” Holland, Johnny’s drummer. Then put them in the last venue that Johnny Cash played before his death (and where I’ll see Hank III in 3 weeks), that being the legendary Emo’s, and if you couldn’t feel the spirit of Johnny Cash in that room, you belonged at the hip dance bar down the way. You know the one I’m talking about, the one that thumps the repetitive bass line as you walk by, and requires a silk shirt and shaved balls to get in.
Emo’s even has the stool Johnny Cash used that night in 1994 hanging from the ceiling. Johnny was there my friends, and so were many other artists and bands worth seeing all on their own, like Roger Wallace, The Skeletons (always love bands with female drummers), The Derailers, and the artist I was most looking forward to seeing, the one and only Lucky Tubb.
That is over five hours of music. At least, I was there for over five hours and got there fashionably late, and left when music was still happening. The crowd was strong, despite temps in the lower 40′s (that’s a hard freeze in Austin) and the venue being open air. The crowd peaked about the time Earle Pool Ball’s band played, who despite being up there in years and a pretty regular on the Austin live show schedule, still felt like the headliner in a strong field.
At a Johnny Cash tribute you’re going to get a good mix of people: country folks, hardcore folks, kids, olds. And they all seemed to appreciate the music, no matter if it was The Skeletons kicking it rockabilly style, or Earle Pool Ball leading the whole crowd in the gospel tune “Will The Circle Be Unbroken?”
There were also auction items available, with all proceeds going to SOS USA, Johnny’s favorite charity.
Over its four year run, the Cash Bash has been gaining a lot of steam, and a lot of national notoriety. They added a Houston and Dallas date this year, and for part of the night I hung out with 6 people who had flown down from Detroit City just to be there. It was a guy’s 50th birthday party, and he couldn’t think of a better way to spend the day than at the Cash Bash, in Austin, at Emo’s, with the stool hanging from the ceiling and the whole bit.
Keep your eyes on this annual event, because my gut tells me it’s only going to grow with each new installment.
To read a review of the Lucky Tubb set, click here.
The Johnny Cash Bash 2010 was sponsored by Martin Guitars, Outlaw Magazine, The Austin Chronicle, and was hosted by Rowdy Tijmes of Rowdy Radio.
Rowdy introducing Lucky Tubb and the Modern Day Trubadors:
Mr. Honky Tonk Piano, Earle Pool Ball:
Fluke Holland on Drums:
A couple of free goodies just because available from one of my favorite emerging artists, Justin Townes Earle. The first is a free download of an acoustic version of the title track from Midnight at the Movies (which I just discovered you can buy on limited edition vinyl HERE). It is just him an his guitar from a PBS performance, and really highlights his unique clawhammer banjo-inspired guitar style, and reminded me of just how engaging he is live.
To get the free download CLICK HERE.
Also Alt-512 has a full 24-song recording of Justin live from the legendary Stubb’s BBQ in Austin, TX on 2-4-2010, accompanied by Josh Hedley and the beautiful Bryn Davies. Thanks to the the9513 for turning me on to that one.
So do yourself a favor and get you some while the getting is good!
Fortune would find that on my way down to Mexico, I was in Austin, TX the same day that Ray Wylie Hubbard’s new CD A: Enlightenment B: Endarkenment (Hint: There Is No C), was being released, and he was making a short, low-fi appearance at the famed Waterloo Records. So I grabbed savingcountrymusic.com’s most latest acquisition, a handheld HD-capable camcorder, and headed on down.
When I wrote my review of Enlightenment, I proclaimed that the aging Ray Wylie still had lots left in the tank, and that his new CD was one of the best I’ve heard in a while. Even after seeing him with a stripped-down band on an awkward record store stage playing a short set, and wearing a ridiculous head warmer-like thing on his head that made him look like a resurrected zombie who’d stumbled into a Richard Simmons video, my positive feelings about his music were steadfast. Hubbard hasn’t lost a step, and might be writing the best songs on his career.
He used to be known as the “Forgotten Outlaw,” but now he’s morphed more into the frank-speaking blues player, with a hint of country. I asked him about his old “forgotten” handle after the performance, and he seemed a little surprised to hear it mentioned, especially from someone without gray hairs. Weather it’s because Ray Wylie is enjoying a resurgence in popularity, or because he’s ditched the bluegrass fiddle for the bottleneck slide, little about Ray Wylie seems “forgotten” or “Outlaw.” But he was still damn good.
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