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Mammas don’t let your babies grow up to be Lydia Loveless.
Not that Lydia’s parental units have anything to be ashamed of, but the type of unhinged, binge-fueled and bawdy rhetoric Lydia Loveless imbibes in is probably not something any parent has in mind for their little princess while she’s having tea parties at a knee high tables with Queen Piggy and Mr. Frog. Lydia Loveless isn’t just empowered, she’s uninhibited. Subtly and coyness are shades she rarely paints in. Instead she opens her mouth and the truth comes out unfettered, refreshingly honest, and many times, R-rated, revealing her sinful tendencies and struggles with self-admitted inadequacies that sometimes veer her towards self-destructive behavior.
Lydia wet our whistles for new music with an EP released late last year called Boy Crazy. Where that project was a fairly lighthearted, hair-twirling affair with a bright yellow cover and devil-may-care attitude, her latest album and second LP from Bloodshot Records Somewhere Else is decidedly a more dark project with moments of real depth not seen before in Lydia’s young career.
The describers for Lydia’s sound out there are all over the place, from a cowpunk princess to an alt-country savant, but I’ve always thought of Lydia solidly in the realm of a garage-like power pop band with many of the earmarks thereof: economical guitar work, potent melodies, and a punk-like attitude that doesn’t sacrifice the prettiness of the music. Despite where you may see the appeal of Lydia’s music reside, you have to search for the country elements.
The one problem with Somewhere Else is that the instrumentation lacks a bit of imagination and diversity, specifically in the guitar work when looking at the project as a whole. It’s just a lot of strumming of chords, calling on many of the same tones throughout the album in songs that seem to hover mostly around the same keys. No specific songs is worth chastising; in fact on their own they each work just fine, and its more a problem of composition than a knock on the band itself. But altogether, the songs tend to bleed into each other and into the songs of the previous EP.
Those specific concerns aside, Lydia Loveless shows great maturity, depth, and diversity in her songwriting that really shines through whatever shortcomings, and makes Somewhere Else a project certainly worthy of your ears.
“Verlaine Shot Rimbaud” about the two famous decadent era poets and their torrid relationship juxtaposed into the complications of a modern relationship is a brilliant little piece of writing. “Everything’s Gone” is Lydia’s crowning achievement thus far in her career, showing remarkable insight, and delivering a vocal performance that fills as much emotion as humanly possible into the vessel of a story—any more and it would fall apart under its own weight. Both these songs also offer exceptions to the musical diversity issues.
“Wine Lips” is also an enjoyable little tune, and really all of Somewhere Else‘s offerings are embedded with smart little turns and juicy melodies that earworm themselves quite deep. I just wish there wasn’t such a gulf between where Lydia’s writing is, and the sonic palette that she’s pulling from to clothe her tunes. At the same time the young Ohioan is only 23-years-old. She’s got a whole lifetime of music to create, and if Somewhere Else is any indication, it’s going to be productive, fulfilling, and enjoyable.
1 1/2 of 2 guns up.
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Pictures provided by Almost Out Of Gas.
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One of the questions that comes up often in country music is “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?” There’s a lot of industry country stars that would love to tell you they’re the ones, and they record songs, print up merch, and proselytize at every turn for their candidacy to fill in for the lost country greats. But beyond the glitz and the market-driven image campaigns that surround some of mainstream country’s “New Outlaws” is an artist like Whitey Morgan and his band The 78′s—a no frills, hard-charging honky tonk outfit that tours more than anyone and brings the twang and Outlaw bass beat to country night in and night out, garnering a deep and loyal grassroots following.
But it has been around three and a half years since Whitey Morgan released a record, and rumors of an unreleased live album have been out there for the better part of two. Whitey has recently been hanging around Texas, playing some shows and getting ready to make an appearance at Dale Watson’s inaugural Ameripolitan Awards show on Tuesday, February 18th, and I sat down with him before a Friday night show at The Rattle Inn in west Austin to catch up, and ask him the question Saving Country Music has been swamped with from readers over the last few months.
People ask me this all the time and so I’ll ask you: What can you tell us about new music from Whitey Morgan?
There’s definitely been some label things happening. I’m actually off Bloodshot [Records] now. That was of my doing. I’m a do-it-yourself kind of dude. I just felt like I can do all of this on my own. The next record is going to be huge. I bust my ass out on the road like almost no other band does, and everything I have is from that. It was just time for me to do something on my own and not give away too much of my money to someone who maybe wasn’t holding up their end of the deal. I’m sure they’ll argue with you on that, but that’s a record label. I have a great booking agent now and great management. I can release a record tomorrow, on my own. I have the distribution outside of a label, I have everything I need. So what do I need a label for?
What’s the story of this live album that’s been swirling out there for a while?
The live album has been done for a year and a half. That was part of the Bloodshot thing. As soon as the live album got finished and I gave it to them is when the talk started from my end that I didn’t want to be on the label any longer. Understandably, they recoiled and said “we’re not going to really release this until we resolve whatever is going to happen in this relationship first.” It will come out when it comes out, but I’ve already forgotten about it.
So a new album is in the works?
We just recorded in El Paso for five days at an unbelievable studio with an killer producer. We got three songs just about in the bag, and we’ll be back in May for seven or eight days, and try to finish up the rest of it. It’s a place called The Sonic Ranch. It’s like no other studio I’ve ever been in or even heard about. They have three live rooms and three control rooms, all on a 3,000-acre property. They have accommodations for I think up to 30 or 40 people in different haciendas. They have a staff that does your laundry and cooks every meal for you. My management is friends with the owners. I hate the studio, but I didn’t hate this studio. I didn’t feel like I was in this studio because I could leave and walk out the studio and be forty feet to my front door and it’s just me; I have my own little hotel room right there. Most studios you can’t do that. You’re stuck in there. You can go out to the parking lot and sit in the van.
Creativity is squashed by studios that don’t have that kind of environment. I almost don’t want to tell anyone about it because I don’t need any more musicians recording there than there already are. And the equipment is unreal. Not just the recording equipment, they have tele’s galore, amps, and everything. It’s unreal. Anything you want, they have it. And it’s all because a guy that has money is passionate about music and recording. To him, it’s the ultimate dream to have musicians come hang out at his place. He’s a great dude.
I’m excited. One of the songs we recorded is an old Bobby Bare tune called “That’s How I Got To Memphis”. We put that one down and I’m really excited about that tune. It’s a little different than my kind of sound. It’s kind of got that early 80′s era sound; it’s got that minor chord in there. It’s slick. I’m trying to move on without moving too far. I know what everybody wants, they want another classic, Waylon-ish sounding album. This one’s going to be a little different, but it’s not going to be that different. We’re doing a Waylon song. I’m not going to say what Waylon song we’re doing, because I don’t think anyone’s ever covered it so I’ll keep my mouth shut on that one. But that was another song we recorded and it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever recorded in my life. The three songs are already leaps and bounds better than the last two albums I did.
The plan is we’re probably going to do an EP, maybe 7 songs. The plan is just to record as much as we can over the next few years. Even if it’s not albums, put out a 7-inch here and there, digitally release two songs. Just keep it going. Never a six month stretch without new songs. And now that I’ve got the studio I want to go to, I can’t wait to just start putting music out, now that I’m able to do it legally.
Who is the producer?
His name is Ryan Hewitt. He’s one of those guys who’s been in a lot of sessions where he was either mixing or engineering or co-producing. He mixed a lot of the Johnny Cash stuff with Rick Rubin, he did The Avett Brothers last three albums. I’ve only ever produced my shit myself. Maybe five years ago I would have been more stubborn. But now, when he’d open his mouth about something, instead of just automatically being like “No, it’s got to be my way,” I think about it from someone else’s point of view and most of the time he’s right. We worked really well together.
How are The 78′s treating you?
The last time I saw you I said that was the best band I ever had. It’s even better now. The band right now, we all get along like brothers on stage and off and that’s never happened in the history of my band. Right now, every night I’m smiling, I’m having a good time. It’s been a while. I’m trying to live a little better. But when we went into the studio my anxiety was through the roof because it’s been a while and I only had a few songs prepared really. And it just jelled.
So you feel like things are going in the right direction. Can you see it in the crowds?
Oh yeah. We’re doubling, tripling, quadrupling every show we play. The internet stuff’s been going better. Everything’s been going better. I never go into a show and it’s disappointing. It’s the management and the booking, but really it’s all of it together. The fucking band is good. The old days, we’d be touring forever but it was a half-assed band. Like I’d have a fill-in drummer for eight shows. And the last year and a half to two years it’s been a fucking good band. I would go see this band.
You played Dale Watson’s new bar down in San Antonio recently. How was that?
Big T’s Roadhouse. It’s cool man, its like Little Ginny’s Longhorn Saloon, but out in the middle of nowhere. It’s even white and red, just like Little Ginny’s. About the same-sized joint. We played it on Sunday; it was Chicken Shit Bingo. It was cool, really cool.
I want to know about your guitar.
It was brand new in 2001 I believe. But it was black with white binding. I loved it, but I always wanted a tobacco burst Tele. That’s the look I always love is tobacco burst anything. So I stripped it down, repainted it, and the “WM” I painted it on there by taking some pin striping, masking it, and spraying it. Once the original frets wore out, instead of getting a fret job, I just bought a new neck. That’s the third neck I’ve had on it. It’s the U-shaped, big baseball bat neck, and it’s got new Grover tuners on it. I love it. I go to these vintage shops and pick up these 70′s tele’s and I’m like, “Oh this thing is so rad,” and then I play it and I say, “Mine plays better” because I made it exactly how I want it to play. I ended up using mine in the studio even though they had like six unbelievable tele’s there from the 60′s and 70′s.
The 78′s are Brett Robinson – Pedal Steel, Tony Dicello – Drums, Benny James Vermeylen – Guitar and Backing Vocal, and Alex Lyon – Bass.
Songwriter and performer Justin Townes Earle has been on the warpath as of late through his always-entertaining Twitter account, taking to task a record label for standing in the way of a new release.
On October 19th, Justin seemed to allude through Twitter that he was done writing the material for a new album, posting “I might have finally finished writing this bitch!!!! Freedom!!!!!!!!”
Then more recently the tone has turned quite sour, with Justin posting on December 15th, “I have now learned that you can never trust a bunch of babies that ain’t worked a day in their lives. May Shane McGowan kick their asses. The only thing I hate about business is that it’s frowned upon to pistol whip the competition. Tweets are gonna be angry for awhile. Just found out I won’t be making a record for a while due to a bunch of pussies in an office. Never working with another record label.”
Shane MacGowan is the front man for the Irish rock group The Pogues.
Then on December 18th, Earle posted, “So I am being told that I agreed to write 30 songs and let the label “help” make the record. That for sent even sound like me! Like I would ever let some little twit fucking comb through my work. And calling me a liar well them is fighting words. Anytime bitch’s!”
Justin Townes Earle released his last album Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now in March of 2012 through Bloodshot Records; a label he singed with in 2007 and subsequently released 5 albums through. The ambiguity of Earle’s tweets left some fans not certain about Earle’s contractual situation thinking Bloodshot was the target of his criticism. There was never any news of Earle signing with a new label. Co-owner of Bloodshot Nan Warshaw told Saving Country Music, “When Justin Townes Earle delivered his last album “Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now”, that successfully and amicably completed his multi-album recording contract with Bloodshot Records. Bloodshot is honored to have his five releases in our catalog and to have helped launch his career. We wish Justin all the best.”
Instead it is apparently Communion Records—a British label owned by Ben Lovett, the accordion and keyboard player of Mumford & Sons, and Kevin Jones of Bear’s Den—that is drawing Justin Townes Earle’s ire. Justin clarified this today (12-19) through Twitter, saying “My rants have to do with communion records! not bloodshot. leave the good people at bloodshot alone! Badger the fucking Brits.”
Justin told VOX Magazine in April, “I’m trying to wrap up writing my next record. It’s one that I’m paying very close attention because I’ve completed my contract with Bloodshot (Records). I’m going to be moving on to probably a little bit bigger (label). I’m just trying to do my best, to be in control of my everything — producing records and all that stuff. We actually already have offers from labels. I’ve recorded one track mainly because a couple of the bigger record labels are looking at me. We made a teaser track just to say this is what we do, this is how we do it, and this is how we’re going to do it.”
The conflict appears to be with Communion Records requesting Justin turn in 30 songs that they can then vet to eventually be parred down to his next record, but Earle doesn’t have that many songs so the album-making process can’t move forward. What this means in the long run is that it could be a while for new Justin Townes Earle material.
UPDATE: Justin Townes Earle has posted some followup comments on Twitter:
“Let me make this clear! I have not, and never will write 30 songs in a year. That isn’t art it’s vomit. I write a record. Quality matters not quantity! I deliver records in sequence and have a pretty good record so far. I don’t need the new kids giving me tips. Lady’s and gents. I will find a way to get new music out very soon. Will write and record a solo EP. Then Find some grown ups to work with.”
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New Justin Townes Earle song from a recent show at the Southland Ballroom, NC:
I’ve had some open and honest reservations about Bloodshot Records’ cowpunk princess Lydia Loveless over her short career, it’s true, but while always appreciating her spunk and energy and style, and her ability to land comedic punches in her verses like few others. Lydia is a fun artist, that can’t be denied. It’s just that some of the accolades seemed to come to Lydia a little bit premature, and some of the rock & roll attitude felt outmoded compared to the genuineness that many artists in the recent roots revolution exhibit, both through their music and on stage.
Lydia’s 2011 Indestructible Machine seemed to take a little too much pleasure in her self-destructive tendencies, and though her singing and sonic style showed much promise, it still felt like it was searching for its proper place. No doubt there was more good than bad, but there were just a few hangups keeping me from entering full fledged fandom.
Ahead of a new full-length album promised from Lydia in 2014 is a quick little EP called Boy Crazy. Though I have no specific intel telling me so, in my mind I envision Lydia getting ready to finish her new album, having a few too many songs, and seeing how these five selections fit so well together, deciding to release them this way. Whether that’s true or not, the songs of Boy Crazy all do work well together to the point where they equal a sum greater than their parts and may be diminished if they were orphaned from each other. This is important, because it answers the question every artist thinking about the EP route must answer, which is “Why release an EP if an LP will be better?”
Boy Crazy is a straight ahead power pop album with punkish and country undertones that draws you right in with it’s juicy hooks and melodies, witty lyrics, fun themes, and general good-timedness. Any wonkiness from Lydia trying to find her sound has slipped away for tight grooves and cunning, infectious arrangements that if anything are almost too accessible, making you wonder if it’s okay to get so deep into this music, or if it should be considered a guilty pleasure.
Both the “Boy” and “Crazy” of the title are important here, because the five songs of this EP are all love songs of one version or another, but told through Lydia’s signature skewed, unsettled, and sometimes substance-altered vision of reality. You get the picture that Lydia’s version of love is just as much swinging fists and shattered windows as it is serenades, but she’s also not afraid to show her sweet and vulnerable sides. Boy Crazy comes across as powerfully sincere in places, especially in the concluding track, “The Water,” while the ultra-infectious “Lover’s Spat” is a crazy-eyed donnybrook of love gone mad with a punk soundtrack. “All I Know” and “All The Time” are significantly more sensible, but just as engaging, and “Boy Crazy” is anthemic in how it rises and draws you in.
This Boy Crazy EP is what it is—a quick little album with some cool, charming songs with a loose theme holding them all together. Some trepidation remains for Lydia on my part, but maybe most importantly with this EP is it really wets your appetite for what Lydia might have coming with her new full-length project.
Fun little album.
1 ¾ of 2 guns up.
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With a gift for poetry like Townes Van Zandt, and a penchant for the whimsical, progressive approach to bluegrass akin to John Hartford, Robbie Fulks releases a stunningly entertaining, brilliantly-balanced, deep, yet instantly-engaging comeback album called Gone Away Backward through longtime associates Bloodshot Records.
You never know exactly what you’ll get with Robbie. It maybe be something along the lines of swing or rockabilly, like the style of one of his signature songs “Fuck This Town” (about where else but Nashville), or it may be a full album of Michael Jackson covers like his last release Happy. If you’re confused already, that is right where Robbie wants you; intrigued, guessing, and on your toes about what’s coming next, with the long-time Fulks fans following him since the first slew of late 90′s Bloodshot albums fully knowing whatever it is, it is going to be good.
What you get with Gone Away Backward is quite sensible and straightforward if there is such a thing from Robbie Fulks. Steeped in the roots of bluegrass and old time, this sparse, acoustic-only album offers a traditional sound that is brought up to modern-day relevancy by the staggeringly-cunning use of wit in Robbie’s verses. This is one of those albums you can cull a litany of quotes from, while not giving anything away sonically.
Buoyed by one amazing line after another, songs like “I’ll Trade You Money For Wine” and “Where I Fell” speak right to the heart of folks who take their music like medication. “Long I Ride” is possibly the album’s standout. It is one of those songs that feels like an instant old-time standard with its lack of chorus in favor of a recurring lyrical hook. “Imogene” evokes just as much Taj Mahal as it does traditional country, while two instrumentals “Snake Chapman’s Tune” and “Pacific Slope” come at just the right times on this albums to give it a warm, hearthy feel. “Sometimes The Grass Is Really Greener” again stuns you with the songwriting, with Fulks once again sliding back into his old habits of calling out the mainstream country establishment.Now the record company man confessed he liked me, but he’d have to shave a few rough edges down. Cut my hair like Brooks & Dunn, trade the banjo for some drums Because no one would buy that old high lonesome sound.
“That’s Where I’m From” is one of those songs that is an example of how Music Row’s incessant laundry listing may make an otherwise great song lack listfulness, and “The Many Disguises of God” may meander a little too much for some listeners to glean its otherwise great message. But overall Gone Away Backward is a song-heavy album with very little need for track navigation. Fulks also does a sensational job at exploring his entire range and using dynamics to emphasize an otherwise average voice to where Gone Away Backward also turns in an above-par vocal performance.
Traditional country music may not appeal to the masses, but one of its best attributes is that it’s timeless, and always will be. Gone Away Backward will appeal to a wide swath of enlightened music listeners, from the old time, traditional, and bluegrass crowds, to the Americana and NPR upper crust, and to post punk roots fans with its cutting themes and adept acoustic styling. The message of Gone Away Backward as inferred in the title is one of the broken promises of fame, wealth, and the downfall of the city—drawing on the long-standing country yearning for simplicity, but contemporizing it with relevant language and themes. Like Woody Guthrie, Robbie Fulks uses an intelligent sense of perspective to canonize the common man and their eternal struggles.
And maybe most importantly, Gone Away Backward exudes a lot of leadership. This is a bold album, while still being sparse and simple. You can complain about how bad modern country music and Nashville are—and Robbie has done plenty of that in his time—or you can offer a healthy alternative. If you want an example of how traditional country music can still be relevant, fresh, and appealing in 2013, look no further than Robbie Fulks’ Gone Away Backward.
Two guns up!
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Fans of Outlaw country music are about to get a big wish granted, as plans have been announced to form an Outlaw Country Music Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame will be located in Lynchburg, TN. A space for the upcoming Hall of Fame has been acquired in Lynchburg and an architect is currently working on design plans. The Hall of Fame’s inaugural slate of inductees will also be added around that time in a ceremony the new organization hopes to conduct at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.
“The Hall of Fame will be dedicated to those artists, both musicians and songwriters, whose work best exemplifies the qualities of the Outlaw movement that first began in the 1970′s and has gained renewed momentum as an alternative to the Nashville pop country scene,” says the organization’s press release. “In doing so it will place the spotlight on music firmly attached to the roots of country. Moreover, the Hall of Fame will educate the public about Outlaw country, memorialize founders—such as Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Jessi Colter—recognize current Outlaw artists, and provide a platform for them and for independent record labels who currently have little if any voice in the industry.”
Along with the Outlaw Country Hall of Fame will be the formation of an Outlaw Country Music Association. Similar to the Country Music Association, or the CMA that governs the Country Music Hall of Fame, it plans to be made up of record labels, DJ’s, journalists, and other music personalities and professionals. Governing the Outlaw Country Music Association will be a board of directors. Current members of the board include Jeremy Tepper of SiriusXM, Terry Jennings of Korban Music Group, author of Outlaws Still At Large Neil Hamilton, Joe Swank at Bloodshot Records, mayor of Lynchburg Sloane Stewart, Professor of Entertainment Law David Spangenburg, architect Thomas Bartoo, and CEO of Sol Records Brian DeBruler.
Gary “Sarge” Sargeant, head of the Tennessee-based non profit “Outlaws and Icons” is heading the new project. A 5,000 sq-ft space has been acquired located right on the town square in Lynchburg has been designated for the facility that plans to allow for live broadcasts of events on the internet.
The announcement of the Outlaw Country Music Hall of Fame was made today on SiriusXM’s Outlaw channel.
You may have been a little shocked to read the above title in reference to the wild-assed, ribald-laced, gonzo front man of the legendary West Coast punk rock band The Supersuckers, but die hard fans of Eddie Spaghetti don’t need to be sold on the idea that when Eddie wants to wipe the smirk off of his face, he can pen (or sing) a pretty heartfelt composition, and that even his more silly material still coveys solid elements of wit.
This is what Steve Earle picked up on when he decided to do an album with The Supersuckers, and what country fans heard when the band surprising released a real country record in 1997 called Must’ve Been High. It’s also what has motivated Eddie Spaghetti to continue to release solo country records while continuing his Supersucker duties, including his latest one The Value of Nothing co-porduced by Jesse Dayton in Austin, TX, and dropped a few weeks ago through Bloodshot Records.
The Supersuckers will be hitting the road with up-and-coming country outfit Hellbound Glory on September 1st (see dates below). Eddie was kind enough to take a few minutes to talk to me about The Value of Nothing and the songwriting legacy he’s trying to leave behind.
Trigger: The Value of Nothing is your first solo country or country-ish album of all original songs. Was this on purpose, or did it just sort of happen that way?
Eddie Spaghetti: No it was sort of on purpose. I decided that I should probably start taking this solo thing that I do a little bit more seriously. I always wrote a couple songs for each solo record but I never really bothered to write a whole record, because it was more fun for me to do a bunch of covers. I didn’t take the whole solo artist thing too seriously. And I still don’t think that I take it that seriously. But I appreciate that it’s a real thing for me to be able to get to do now. I just kind of wanted to start leaving a legacy of solo material behind.
You’ve been working pretty hard. You put out another solo album Sundowner in 2011 and you’re working on a new album with your main gig being the front man for The Supersuckers. What motivates you to keep releasing music? You mentioned leaving behind a legacy. Is that what is driving you?
Yeah, that’s kind of what it’s turned into. When we started The Supersuckers, that wasn’t really something we thought about. We just wanted to be a big arena rock and roll band. But it wasn’t in the cards for us, so that’s when you start shifting your priorities and you start realizing, “Wow, I’ve really written a lot of good songs.” And you just try to maintain that level of quality and hope that eventually people will notice.
No, because it is such a part of who I am. It’s a real passion for me to just make up good songs, whether they be country songs or rock songs. But I just think that a good song is a valuable thing to everybody. Who doesn’t want to hear a good song?
The Value of Nothing has a cool cover that speaks to the title with this girl that’s got all this money that’s been ink splattered, or whatever they call that when they rob a bank. Where did the inspiration of that come from?
My wife came up with the whole idea, with the concept of the cover. She collaborated with the art guy that we use for all the solo record covers. She’s actually the model for the cover. It worked out really well. I think it made sense in a loose kind of way to the title.
In 1997 The Supersuckers released Must’ve Been High, a sort of landmark album that was the precursor to the whole “punk gone country” movement that would come later, and allowed y’all to get to play behind folks like Steve Earle and Willie Nelson. There were a few others before you like The Knitters, but at the time did you feel like you were doing something cutting edge and innovative, or were you just out to have a good time and it turned out that way?
Yeah, it was kind of a little bit of both. We knew we were up to something cool. We knew what we were doing was really cool. And when the record came out our fans were so shocked. The reaction to the record was pretty crappy. No one really liked it. No one got it. Everyone thought we were just taking a piss, and throwing our last contractual obligation to Sub Pop down the toilet. But we didn’t feel like that at all. We thought we were going to make this real good real country record, and it’s going to stand the test of time. And it turns out it has. It’s become our big record.
Now that there’s so many punk bands turning their electric instruments in for acoustic ones, do you feel like it has become more of a hip thing instead of one driven by heart for punk bands to go country, or is it a cool phenomenon?
I think it’s a little bit of both. Some of these bands are just in it for the fashion of it, because you know they can’t really play fast, or they can’t do the things they initially thought they could do. But it turns out they can play an acoustic guitar okay, so they switch. You know, if you’re a remedial artist, you’re going to be a remedial songwriter. It takes someone really special to make it, and I think the cream usually rises to the top. Eventually people notice who’s good, and who’s kind of pretending at it. I don’t bother myself with insulting bands too often unless they’re just really crappy.
You’re about to go out on tour with Hellbound Glory; a band that’s finally getting some worthy attention. Do you know their music, and what do you think about them?
I like them, I think they’re good. I think they’re quality, and they’re the real deal. They put on a really good live show. I’m really looking forward on going on tour with them.
Supersuckers Tour Dates with Hellbound Glory:
|09/01/13||Providence, RI||Fête||Hellbound Glory|
|09/02/13||DeWitt, NY||Lost Horizons||Hellbound Glory|
|09/04/13||Cambridge, MA||The Middle East||Hellbound Glory|
|09/05/13||New Haven, CT||Cafe Nine||Hellbound Glory|
|09/06/13||Stanhope, NJ||Stanhope House||Hellbound Glory|
|09/07/13||Brooklyn, NY||The Bell House||Hellbound Glory|
|09/08/13||New Hope, PA||Fran’s Pub||Hellbound Glory|
|09/10/13||West Chester, PA||The Note||Hellbound Glory|
|09/11/13||Baltimore, MD||Ottobar||Hellbound Glory|
|09/12/13||Washington, DC||Rock N Roll Hotel||Hellbound Glory|
|09/14/13||Cleveland, OH||Beachland Ballroom||Hellbound Glory|
|09/15/13||Hamtramck, MI||Small’s||Hellbound Glory|
|09/17/13||Buffalo, NY||Tralf Music Hall||Hellbound Glory|
|09/18/13||Pittsburgh, PA||Altar Bar||Hellbound Glory|
|09/19/13||Altoona, PA||Aldo’s Lounge||Hellbound Glory|
|09/20/13||Lancaster, PA||Chameleon Club||Hellbound Glory|
|09/21/13||Long Branch, NJ||The Brighton Bar||Hellbound Glory|
|09/26/13||Lexington, KY||Cosmic Charlie’s||Hellbound Glory|
|09/27/13||St Louis, MO||Fubar||Hellbound Glory|
|09/28/13||Kansas City, MO||Knuckleheads Saloon||Hellbound Glory|
|09/29/13||Des Moines, IA||Vaudeville Mews||Hellbound Glory|
|10/01/13||Minneapolis, MN||Triple Rock Social Club||Hellbound Glory|
|10/02/13||Green Bay, WI||Crunchy Frog||Hellbound Glory|
|10/03/13||Lombard, IL||Brauerhouse||Hellbound Glory|
|10/04/13||Lombard, IL||Brauerhouse||Hellbound Glory|
|10/05/13||Waterloo, IA||Spicoli’s Bar & Grill||Hellbound Glory|
|10/06/13||Omaha, NE||The Waiting Room Lounge||Hellbound Glory|
|10/08/13||Fort Collins, CO||Hodi’s Half Note||Hellbound Glory|
|10/10/13||Denver, CO||Larimer Lounge||Hellbound Glory|
|10/11/13||Denver, CO||Larimer Lounge||Hellbound Glory|
|10/13/13||Salt Lake City, UT||Burt’s Tiki Lounge||Hellbound Glory|
|10/16/13||Las Vegas, NV||LVCS (Las Vegas Country Saloon)||Hellbound Glory|
|10/17/13||Costa Mesa, CA||Tiki Bar||Hellbound Glory|
|10/18/13||West Hollywood, CA||Viper Room||Hellbound Glory|
|10/20/13||San Diego, CA||Soda Bar||Hellbound Glory|
|10/22/13||Walnut Creek, CA||Blu 42 Sports Lounge||Hellbound Glory|
|10/23/13||San Francisco, CA||DNA Lounge||Hellbound Glory|
|10/24/13||Santa Rosa, CA||Russian River Brewing Company||N/A|
|10/25/13||Portland, OR||Dante’s||Hellbound Glory|
|10/26/13||Seattle, WA||Tractor Tavern||Hellbound Glory|
|10/27/13||Bainbridge Island, WA||Treehouse Cafe||Hellbound Glory|
Notorious Supersuckers front man Eddie Spaghetti is back with a brand new solo country rock record out 6/18 on Bloodshot Records called The Value of Nothing, and for the first time for one of his loner country projects it includes all original tunes.
The West Coast country punk rocker recorded the new album in his adopted hometown of Austin, TX with help from musician/zombie killer Jesse Dayton, hoping to capture an authentic country sound, but ended up with “a hybrid: a ragtop-down road trip soundtrack; an album embracing the guilty and not-so-guilty pleasures of classic rock, hooky-as-hell Texas roadhouse, and the always lurking- on-the-corner-barstool dirty joking of classic Supersuckerism.”
Eddie Spaghetti and The Supersuckers have helped define the nexus between country and punk for years, starting with their landmark 1997 punk to country crossover Must’ve Been High. Since then Spaghetti and the Supersuckers have collaborated with the likes of Steve Earle and Willie Nelson. Spaghetti’s 2010 album Sundowner was his first solo project with Bloodshot, and included covers from Dave Dudley and Johnny Cash, right beside selections from The Dwarves and Spaghetti’s own hybrid country punk tunes.
Enjoy an exclusive stream of The Value of Nothing below.
Embedded in the timeline of music are these choice, rare moments when a sound is captured that seems to give a definitive audio reference to the most authentic human emotion. Creating these moments is what every artist yearns for when they bend to the task of composing a new record, but little do they know that the most cherished of these timeless moments are rarely attained by anything more than sheer accident.
The string of early 70′s Rolling Stones albums starting with Sticky Fingers and centered around Exile of Main St. was quite possibly the first time the white man figured out how to capture sweat on a recording, but this wasn’t necessarily what The Rolling Stones set out to do. They were simply trying to navigate the freedom of a new recording deal, while avoiding massive tax liens that precluded them from going home to the UK to record. This resulted in sometimes manic recording sessions, many times captured by their inferior mobile recording studio. Meanwhile nearly the entire band was a hair away from a heroin overdose and hanging out with the bad influence of Gram Parsons. Gram was a bad personal influence at least. Like he did with The Byrds, Parsons made The Stones believe it was their idea to go country.
40-something years and a few heroin overdoses later, the sound evoked in those Sticky Fingers / Exile sessions is still strived for by musicians of many stripes, yet rarely achieved. It’s not just about 2-inch reel to reel tape and vintage amplifiers. Simple tone is not enough. The sound comes from a feel that there’s no true formula for, only a notion in your heart that you know when you hear it. Separating themselves from those with only a half-sense for the early 70′s vibe and hipsters who see it as trendy, the Deadstring Brothers have been proving they have an unadulterated sense for that coveted heroin sweat sound and how to mix it with their own original expression since their first album on Bloodshot Records in 2003.
If you’re looking for superpickers to get your spine tingling or superlative poetic exorbitance, you’re sorely missing the point of the Deadstring’s Cannery Row. This album is an evocation of warm memory, burrowing deep into your brain matter to reprise moments that meant something in your life and allowing you to relive them. It tugs at your heart strings, but not in the traditional way. It does it from the inside out–with a familiarity of feeling that is customized to your personal ear and experience.
A country rock album in the classic, Gram Parsons sense of the term, Cannery Row sets a sepia mood and sternly sustains it throughout. This is one of the most aesthetically-pleasing albums that you will listen to all year. The album’s opening track “Like A California Wildfire” may come across initially as a little too cliche to hold your attention, but like the heroin sweat it harkens back to, after a few doses, you’re hooked. “Oh Me Oh My” is another standout, with it’s bright, hooky pedal steel guitar cutting to your bones, and the male/female harmonies helping give warmth and depth to the story.
You damn near hear Jagger at the beginning of “Long Lonely Ride,” but that is Deadstring mainstay Kurtis Marschke who is the primary writer and singer of the songs. He’s joined by JD Mackinder, a member of the Bloodshot Records family that made the move over from Whitey Morgan & The 78′s. Pete Finney’s pedal steel is one of the most tasteful elements of Cannery Row, and the same could be said for Mike Webb’s keys. This album is drenched in harmonies from Kim Collins, and you may recognize the name Mickey Raphael bringing his all-familiar harmonica tone to this already familiar-feeling album.
One fear is that Cannery Row may not contain the type of diversity in texture needed to grab some people’s attention and hold it, but many of its tracks work so great autonomously, including the album’s first five cuts, and it’s most country offering, “Lucille’s Honky Tonk.”
Cannery Row works so well from the history of so many legendary recordings behind it, while interfacing with the individual history of the listener in a harmonious, memorable experience. Simply put, Cannery Row is a pleasure to listen to.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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Forget all your stuffy old outmoded notions of what Nashville is. Right now Nashville is the center of the music universe in so many more ways than what is represented by the few city blocks of old houses and mini-rise office buildings on Music Row. Right here, right now, Nashville is the place to be for independent music. Sure, in a few years when the rest of the world catches on to that fact, they will move there in droves and ostensibly destroy what motivated them to move there in the first place (see Austin, TX circa now). And in many ways, especially in parts of east Nashville, this is already happening.
But right now, Nashville is that magical locale in the country where creativity is thriving because of the influx of talent coming in and the caliber of projects coming out. When you have so much talent and rabid creativity in one place, it compounds on itself in collaborations, it pushes individual artists to be better to keep up with their peers, and the end result is a mutual inspiration that rises all boats. It’s Haight Ashbury circa 1965. It’s Guy Clark’s kitchen in the movie Heartworn Highways.
This is just one clique of many, but right now in Nashville there is a crop of close-knit quasi-country musicians who represent the nucleus of the new Americana movement and the rebirth of creativity in Music City. Here they are, and how they inter-relate with each other.
Some people probably thought he was nuts for quitting the Drive By Truckers to pursue a solo career. Now he’s arguably one of the biggest names in Americana, and certainly one of the most current and influential. Jason Isbell is all about the power of the song. Originally from just outside of Muscle Shoals, his song “Alabama Pines” was the Americana Music Award’s Song of the Year in 2012. He was once married to Drive-By Truckers’ bass player Shonna Tucker. Now he’s married to Amanda Shires. He’s also good friends with Justin Townes Earle and appeared on his album Harlem River Blues, and played guitar for Justin when he performed the title track from the album on David Letterman.
A name made famous by others, but with a talent all his own, Bloodshot Records took a shot on this wild card with a rough past, and it paid off in spades. Along with Isbell, Justin Townes Earle is one of the most current and influential outlets for Americana music. Aside from putting out 5 stellar records, his resume is diverse, from being named one of GQ’s “Most Stylish Men” in 2010, to producing Wanda Jackson’s last record Unfinished Business. He’s good friends with Jason Isbell, who appeared on his album Harlem River Blues, and played guitar for Justin when he performed the title track from the album on David Letterman. Amanda Shires, who is married to Jason Isbell, is the girl that appears on the cover with Justin on his album The Good Life. Fiddle player Josh Hedley toured with Justin for a number of years, and Caitlin Rose has toured with Justin in a supporting role.
A fiddle prodigy that joined the legendary Texas Playboys at age 15, Amanda Shires’ talents began to be exposed to the alt-country/Americana world as a member of the Thrift Store Cowboys from her hometown of Lubbock, TX. Soon people began to catch on that Amanda was just as gifted as a singer and a songwriter as she was a giving, skilled, and attentive accompanist and collaborator, and she released her first solo album Being Brave in 2005. Amanda began playing with Jason Isbell both in a duo role, and with his band The 400 Unit a few years ago, eventually leading to their marriage in February of 2013. On twitter she now goes by “Amanda Isbell.” She appeared on the cover of Justin Townes Earle‘s The Good Life and has played fiddle for Justin as well.
Jonny Fritz (Corndawg)
The weird, quirky, sarcastic, but sincerely talented songwriter and performer whose silly songs may be an initial turnoff, but when delved into deeper reveal devilish wit and demonstrative scope. Like a Roger Miller of our time, I once overheard a concert attendee say about his music, “It’s like really bad country music that you can’t help but love.” His steadfast Tonto is fiddle player Josh Hedley, whose been with Jonny ever since he stopped touring with Justin Townes Earle. Jonny has shared Caitlin Rose‘s pedal steel player Spencer Cullum, and Jonny and Caitlin have appeared on stage together multiple times. They are both currently releasing albums through ATO Records.
The daughter of country music master songwriter Liz Rose, she has a powerful voice that matches her stellar songwriting skill and pedigree. Though the UK seems much more receptive than the US to her music at the moment, the boldness and accessibility of her recent release The Stand In should go far in making Caitlin a staple name in Americana for years to come. She has toured with Justin Townes Earle, and both have worked with studio producer Skylar Wilson. She has shared the stage and her pedal steel player Spencer Cullum with Jonny Fritz, and both Caitlin and Jonny are currently releasing albums through ATO Records.
Like Amanda Shires, Josh is the consummate, selfless, fiddle-playing sideman who also displays moments of brilliance when he steps into the frontman role. He’s opened for Eileen Rose as a solo artist, and released an EP called Green Eyes in 2009. He’s also done studio work for artists as big as Jack White, and is known to perform at Nashville’s fooBar, Full Moon Saloon, and other locations when not on the road. For years he played fiddle for Justin Townes Earle. He’s now the mainstay of Jonny Fritz‘s traveling band.
Other new artists making up Nashville’s creative nucleus: Sturgill Simpson, Austin Lucas, Tristen, Escondido, Rayland Baxter, Nikki Lane, Andrew Combs, Joshua Black Wilkins, Lindi Ortega, and who else?
Justin Townes Earle performing “Harlem River Blues” with Caitlin Rose and Josh Hedley
Justin Townes Earle Performing “Harlem River Blues with Jason Isbell & Amanda Shires
The King of Juke Joint Swing, The Viper of Melody, one Wayne “The Train” Hancock will be releasing his first album in nearly 3 years on February 26th called Ride through Bloodshot Records.
“Well folks just wanted to let ya know I’m now a Double A Daddy (means I’m clean and sober),” Hancock announced on Saturday (1-4), referencing one of the signature songs from his first album Thunderstorms & Neon Signs. “Starting the New Year off with a new attitude! We got the new album coming out in Feb. and tours to follow. See ya all down the road.”
UPDATE: The title track and first single from ride has just been released! Listen below.
And that’s not the only new Wayne Hancock album out. On the day after Christmas, Bloodshot Records released Choice Cuts: Best of Wayne Hancock as part of the label’s digital-only series meant to give new fans an easy way to catch up on an artist, or old fans the ability to find an artist’s best songs in one place. Wayne’s Best Of also includes a rare duet track of his hit “Juke Joint Jumping” featuring Hank Williams III. Previously the track was only available on Bloodshot’s For A Decade of Sin compilation released in 2005.
Hancock has had substance and alcohol issues in the past. In June of 2011, Wayne entered rehab to help with his “long-term fight with addiction.” But hopefully Wayne is on the right track now, and as the saying goes, THE TRAIN WILL ROLL ON.
Rosie Flores is rockabilly royalty. You can draw a direct line from Rose Maddox, to Wanda Jackson, to Rosie Flores, and she takes her role as the “Rockabilly Filly” seriously, helping to revitalize the careers of both Wanda and the “Female Elvis” Janis Martin when she invited them onto her smash 1995 release Rockabilly Filly.
A Member of the Austin Music Hall of Fame, she was dubbed the “female Dwight Yoakam” when she emerged out of the new traditionalist scene in Southern California. But enough comparisons with the boys, Rosie is a world beater all her own, recently making headlines by raising money and posthumously releasing Janis Martin’s The Blanco Sessions, as well as creating and performing a multimedia presentation for Janis at the Rock n’ Roll Hall Of Fame.
And as if Rosie wasn’t busy enough, here she is releasing her 11th full length album Working Girl’s Guitar through Bloodshot Records on October 16th. This raucous and rebellious collection of songs features Rosie for the first time handling all the solo guitar licks herself and writing some new original tunes along the way. Touching on rockabilly, surf, blues, and country, Rosie slays all comers and proves why she remains one of the most entertaining, energetic, and influential female guitar players around today.
Rosie Flores, Working Girl’s Guitar by BSHQ
Bloodshot Records has just announced that Justin Townes Earle will be releasing his 4th LP Album on March, 27th, 2012, and it is a mouthful, called Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now.
Produced by Earle alongside longtime collaborator Skylar Wilson, the 10-track album was recorded completely live with no overdubs over a four-day period at an old converted church recording studio in Asheville, NC. Of the new record, Earle says, “I think that it’s the job of the artist to be in transition and constantly learn more. The new record is completely different than my last one, Harlem River Blues. This time I’ve gone in a Memphis-soul direction.”
Indeed, NGCTWYFAMN is uncompromised, 60′s-era Muscle Shoals sound, accompanied by lots of brass, and we’ll think you’ll find this album a natural progression of JTE’s musical catalog.
Back in February, Earle told Billboard he wanted his next album to have a Memphis vibe, and intended to record it in London for a “change of pace”. Obviously the latter did not happen, but the idea of reviving the Memphis sound did.
I’m going to approach different forms of music that have come out of Memphis over the years, based around everything from Sun to Stax. I think it will be fun. I approached that a little bit by having ‘Move Over Mama’ and ‘Slippin’ and Slidin’ ‘ (on Harlem River Blues). I’m of the opinion rock ‘n’ roll and soul music are virtually the same thing, just with a difference in the beat. They’re the same chords. The songs are about the same things. One of things I like doing is finding those connections and running them all together.”
The other notable change between Nothing’s Gonna Change and his last album Harlem River Blues is this album will hypothetically be one Justin Townes Earle recorded while sober. Earle openly admits his last album was recorded during an extended relapse that ended with him being arrested in Indianapolis, and that his lack of sobriety can hurt his creative process as he told Blurt:
The abuse I put my body through never once helped me write a song. Luckily, I haven’t done any permanent damage to my brain. Often, drugs destroy your creative process.
After winning Saving Country Music’s 2009 Album of the Year with his second full-length release Midnight At The Movies, Saving Country Music openly questioned Justin’s sobriety when giving Harlem River Blues a mixed review. However the album was critically-acclaimed by most, and the title track won the 2011 Americana Music Awards Song of the Year. JTE also SCM’s Top Live Performance for 2011, and certainly Nothing’s Gonna Change is one of our most-anticipated releases for 2012.
1. Am I That Lonely Tonight?
2. Look the Other Way
3. Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now
4. Baby’s Got a Bad Idea
6. Down on the Lower East Side
7. Won’t Be the Last Time
8. Memphis in the Rain
9. Unfortunately, Anna
10. Movin’ On
“It Won’t Be The Last Time” was the first song Justin Townes Earle wrote after getting sober.
Short film from Joshua Black Wilkins made during recording of the album.
When I sat down to name the top 10 live performances of 2011 as seen through my eyes, I didn’t know what a mess I was making for myself, and it wasn’t until then that I realized what a power packed year for live music it has been. My 10 stretched to 15 fast, and I’m still leaving out acts like Hellbound Glory, Lucky Tubb, and Ray Wylie Hubbard. I will be the first to tell you that is bullsh, but the line had to be drawn somewhere.
Unlike the Album of the Year and Song of the Year, with my inability to see every live performance, this is simply based on my own experience. However live performances always go into consideration for other awards, like the three solid Hellbound Glory shows I saw were considered when nominating them for album of the year.
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I really enjoyed the Sundays each month that Ruby Jane played historic Gruene Hall down in the heart of Texas, but it was a random night at Austin’s Continental Club that gave rise to her standout performance of the year with composer Graham Reynolds. Ruby’s stellar musicianship and passion on fiddle is hard to match. The flourish at the end of this song was something to make the hair stand up on the back of your neck.
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This is what South by Southwest is designed to do: take people who are involved in the music business, and put them in front of the artists in intimate setting to bypass all the press release and preview track bullshit so you can decide if an artist is worthy of your attention or not. The Revolution Bar in gentrifying east Austin was the perfect place to catch an intimate performance by Austin Lucas, joined only by his sister Chloe who supplied sublime harmonies and banjo. His simple, honest, and heartfelt performance proved to me this was an artist I needed to bring into the Saving Country Music fold.
They screw up in the middle of this, and it is still awesome. Listen to how quiet it gets in the room at the end.
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Speaking of hushing rooms and heartfelt songwriting, by evoking character through his music like few others I’ve ever seen, Charlie Parr and his guitar suck you in with songs of heartache sung with immeasurable soul. Charlie doesn’t sing about subjects in third person, he becomes the subject of his songs in an uncanny channeling of character, and makes the story flesh and bone right before your eyes.
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Whitey Morgan played the Pickathon Festival as well and had two excellent sets, but the standout show for me happened back in Austin during Bloodshot Records’ annual showcase at the Red Eye Fly, where Whitey Morgan & The 78′s were booked as the headliners. The sound was positively awful that night. The Waco Brothers played their whole set with the only working speakers being their monitors on stage. Meanwhile Whitey and the boys were sitting in their van, passing a bottle and anticipating a train wreck by the time they took the stage.
Whitey climbed on stage and took no prisoners, cussing and swearing the stage hands straight before the even did anything wrong. Bloodshot owner Nan had her face in her hands, worried Whitey was about to make a scene when what he was really doing was making sure the ship was righted before they started, and trust me, after Whitey put the fear of God in everyone, it was. Then they delivered the best set I have seen them play, and playing the headliner spot of the Bloodshot Records showcase, that is when I knew Whitey Morgan & The 78′s had arrived.
Here they are sharing the stage with legendary Eddie Spaghetti of the Supersuckers.
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11. Micah Schnabel of Two Cow Garage – ninebullets.net SXSW Showcase
Maybe not country, but nonetheless mind blowing was Micah Schnabel, who when PA issues kept his band Two Car Garage from plugging in, he grabbed his acoustic and did the solo thing like few others can. This guy is one of the most authentically-passionate performers on stage I’ve ever seen. As I like to say: if Possessed By Paul James gives birth on stage, Micah Schnabel commits suicide on stage.
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I saw this same lineup, at the same place, two different times this year, and I still did not get my fill. The perfect traveling amalgam of music, it starts off with James Hunnicutt playing solo, then Jayke Orvis taking the stage with Hunnicutt, Fishgutz from The Gallows, and Joe Perreze on banjo making up the “Broken Band,” and then at some point they are all on stage as The Goddamn Gallows.
And then there’s fire.
Joined here on stage by Gary Lindsay.
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9. Slim Cessna’s Auto Club – SXSW Showcase @ Spiderhouse
For years, the two best bands to see live have been Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers and Denver, CO’s Slim Cessna’s Auto Club. In support of their new album Unentitled they made their way down to SXSW and played a set mixing their new pop mocking songs in with their long-time favorites. This band is mind blowing every time. (video is not the best; only one I could find from the show)
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In the middle of a nearly year-long hiatus from the road, Hank3 drove out to Austin for a one-off show at The Revival Festival, and it was a good one. Not having to save anything for the next day and having nothing to recover from the night before, and dragging the badass chicken-picking half-blind maestro Johnny Hiland with him out from Nashville, Hank3 threw down the best live show I’ve seen from him in the post-Joe Buck era. It was one for the ages.
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To see either of these bands alone is an opportunity you cannot pass up. But to put them together back to back was a music cream dream come true. These two bands and their dynamic frontmen were instrumental in the revival of lower Broadway in Nashville, and the same dynamic that gave rise to the abominable frontman of lower Broadway was on display Sunday night at Muddy Roots.
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Just about every one of Willie Nelson’s kids plays music in one capacity or another. How many do it well is another story. But Lukas Nelson and his band The Promise of the Real is the real deal my friends. Far beyond riding coattails or his daddy’s name, 2011 in many ways was a coming out party for Lukas Nelson, and his performance at the 2011 Willie’s 4th of July Picnic / Country Throwdown picnic proved why. The man simply stole the show.
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5.Various Artists – Muddy Roots Festival Late Night Jam
This might be the biggest live music memory of 2011, but without any specific artist to attribute it to, or any other real way to quantify it, I’m just not sure where to put it on this list. What I do know is when you get a legend like Wayne “The Train” Hancock leading JB Beverley, Banjer Dan, all of Hellbound Glory, and who knows else, it’s hard to leave it off the list. It may have not been pretty, but it certainly was legendary.
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4. Marty Stuart – Gruene Hall, Gruene, TX
This was the performance that convinced me that Marty Stuart might be the one to save country music (read full review). This wasn’t a punk gone country show, or a neo-traditional swing back bit, it was simply pure, true country, yet dripping with energy, an engaging nature, attitude, and gospel soul. And his band The Fabulous Superlatives might be one of the best collections of country talent ever assembled. Simply put, this was the best set of straightforward country I’ve seen in years.
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3. Possessed by Paul James – Muddy Roots Festival
First off, the fact that this moment sits at #3 for the year tells you just what a power packed year for music experiences in underground roots music 2011 has been, because really, this moment sets itself apart in the musical experiences of a lifetime.
I saw Possessed by Paul James play live 6 times from late 2010 until now, and in that period, I watched a rebirth of one of the most dynamic live performers I’ve ever seen. Voice issues put him on hiatus for a bit, and when he started performing again, there was a slight timidness, a lack of confidence in his new vocal reality he was struggling with. But over that period, the confidence and abandon came back in full force, to where now I cannot think of another solo performer I would place above him in ability and consistency. Possessed by Paul James delivers every time, and I have come to think of him as a true headliner, and a true legend in the live and recorded context. They say that Possessed By Paul James gives birth to his songs on stage. In 2011 we also saw a PPJ resurrection.
By the end of his Muddy Roots set, some folks were in tears, and everyone was talking about the mysterious burst of wind on that blisteringly hot day that hit the tent right as he began to play. Call that mysterious wind burst a sign of the divine, or quantify it by explaining the dramatic atmospheric wind shift that preceded a change from the hot weather to a tropical disturbance ushered in by Tropical Storm Lee that moved over middle Tennessee. Either way, PPJ channeled that energy through his music, and changed people’s lives.
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2. Sunday Valley – The Pickathon Festival, Portland, OR
I really don’t know what to say here, except that Sunday Valley was the best live band I discovered in 2011, and very possibly might be the best live band right now in all of country music. I know that may come across as a platitude, but I believe it, and to try and use words to describe their live experience almost seems insulting; you just have to experience it yourself. Sturgill Simpson is country’s version of Jimmy Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughan. Mark my words, 2012 might be the year of Sunday Valley. (read more in live review from Pickathon)
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1. Justin Townes Earle – The Parish, Austin, TX
I will start this off by saying I know some people will read this having also seen Justin Townes Earle at some point in 2011, and thinking I’m crazy for putting him here at the top spot. That is because JTE can be hit and miss live, because JTE has a drug and alcohol problem.
When I saw him live at SXSW in 2010, that is when I first recognized a sharp dropoff in the quality of his live show, and a few months later, called him out on it in connection with a rumored drug problem. Later that year in September, he got arrested in Indianapolis after tearing up a dressing room, and brawling with cops. Shortly therafter came a rehab stint, and by January of this year, he was back on tour. We know from subsequent stories that between now and January, JTE had another relapse with heroin, and a relapse while on tour in Australia, and I’ve heard mixed review of his live shows.
I am not omnipresent, so I can’t speak on all his performances, but in Austin, TX, Justin Townes Earle put on the performance of his lifetime. Nearly a year later, I still get chills as I sit here and write about it. Stone cold sober, having just been from hell and back, his own mortality and career hanging in the balance, Justin Townes Earle sang from the heart like nobody else I have ever seen, or possibly ever will see. Since the performance, I have had to come to grips with the fact that I may never be moved by another performance for the rest of my life, like the way I was moved that night. (read review)
For years I’ve had the theory that one of the major problems facing country music is its inability to develop talent. Without a system in place to discover truly talented and unique artists and develop them into stars, it has made the genre weak, and open to infection from other genres, as current and new stars must reach out into other forms of music to stay relevant.
Now that mainstream country music has been seen as just another version of pop music by so many people for so long, my concern is that talented musicians are being turned off by the mere mention of the term ‘country’, seeing it as a genre without gravitas, obsessed with money and image, making it even more likely for the one-in-a-million music talent to stay away.
“We call ourselves a honky tonk band.” is how Bloodshot Records recording artist Whitey Morgan puts it. “You call yourselves country and people think you mean that shit they play on the radio.”
Ruby Jane, a 16-year-old music phenom who was the youngest invited fiddle player to ever play The Grand Ole Opry, and was touring with Asleep At The Wheel and Willie Nelson at age 14, iterated in a recent interview that she’s moved on from identifying with the mainstream country world. “I love what I used to do, but I’ve always listened to rock ‘n’ roll. I don’t really listen to that other stuff. I mean, I listen to bluegrass and country, I guess, but I’m not sitting at home listening to George Strait and Carrie Underwood all day.”
Justin Townes Earle is a little more pointed on the matter, saying recently on his always-entertaining Twitter feed: The reason I live in NYC and not in Nashville is coming through my walls right now in the form of shit country music! Some people!!! Fuck!!!” And later following up with, “I was born and raised in Nashville and just hate seeing my town defaced. It is still a great place full of great folks.”
The latter two artists were once featured in a group of four that I asked which one might be country music’s next savior. Regardless of their listening patterns or musical style, it appears that neither really wants a lot to do with the term ‘country’, a term that feels so embattled in circles of people that don’t want to be lumped in with Music Row’s mainstream fare, and want to be known for taste and quality above commercial appeal. Justin Townes Earle’s move to New York City seemed very symbolic when it happened, like he was doing everything he could to remove himself from the typecasting environment of his native Nashville.
And speaking of Townes Earle and New York, the title track from his recent album Harlem River Blues just won Song of the Year at the Americana Music Awards. ‘Americana’ seems to be the new chic term for artists whose music has country leanings, but who don’t want to be lumped in with the Jason Aldean’s of the world, just like “alt-country” was the hip term back in the 80′s and 90′s. Alt-country never had their own awards and infrastructure like Americana is attempting to cultivate, and over time, alt-country has morphed into almost a classic genre classification, because it almost implies an outmoded approach that few artists want to be associated with anymore.
One of the problems with Americana is when you look at the list of the Americana Awards 2011 nominees and winners, the names look like they are drawn from a very narrow perspective, zeroed in on the personal tastes of American Songwriter magazine and their readership. But where Americana has the advantage over country is that good artists who want to be appreciated for their creativity and talent don’t mind being called that.
So now not only is the term ‘country’ being diminished by being used to market mainstream pop, rock, and now even hip-hop music, it is also being diminished by top-flight talent fleeing from the term. This is why country is drafting actors and artists from other genres to “go country”, because talent from within, and talent tied to the roots of the music is leaving, or never coming. ‘Country’ used to be a big tent genre. Townes Van Zant certainly was more of a folk singer-songwriter, but never publicly ran from the ‘country’ term, and still fits the classic definition of ‘country’ today.
And parallels can be drawn with the fans of country music. Likely if you’re reading this right now, you’ve caught yourself saying, “Yeah, I like country, but not that type of country.” Just like artists, fans who want to be known for appreciating creativity and talent in music don’t always want to be associated with the ‘country’ term.
I would say country music is in trouble, but as public music education continues to be cut, there seems to be no end to the flow of people willing to consume bad music. The question is, where will this potential talent vacuum leave the term ‘country’ in the long term?
When it comes to one man bands, Scott H. Biram is the franchise. There may be artists with more soul and songwriting skills like Possessed by Paul James, or that are more brutal like Joe Buck, but Biram is the one with the big Bloodshot Records deal, the one that is the complete package, with soul, grit, and brutality, in blues, punk and country. He is the top of the heap, the one that inspired so many others. He’s tussled with semi trucks and spilled his guts out on the highway just like he’s spilled his guts out on countless stages all across the Western world until he earned that glorious ‘H’ in the middle of his name. Like the initial on a superhero’s chest, one letter says it all. Hiram Biram: A genuine Southern-fried, Texas-bred little ball of badassedry, and nobody has ever rocked no nonsense gray velcro tennies harder.
He’s also one I would consider a live performer first, which always presents challenges in the album making process. Live performers must be able to capture their energy in recordings. That’s exactly what Biram does in the Bad Ingredients tracks “Dontcha Lie To Me Baby” and “Killed A Chicken Last Night”. You must be able to connect with people without being able to look them in the eye, and that is what he does in “Broke Ass”, “Open Road”, and “Wind Up Blind”. And you must be able to innovate, and offer something to your audience above a simple recorded version of what they see in person, and that is what Scott does in the epic “Victory Song”.
Other problems present themselves when you’ve been making music for over a decade, and have 8 albums under your belt. Expectations from your fan base kick in. That big ‘H’ on Biram’s chest could start to become a burden. You have to keep tapping deeper wells, venturing further into the depths of the soul to find new themes, to discover what needs to be said that has never been said before. Again, Biram does all of this, and in the process, may deliver his best album yet, and possibly one of the best albums in this calendar year, buoyed by one of the year’s best songs in the aforementioned “Victory Song”. With Bad Ingredients, Scott H. Biram simply delivers.
What struck me most about Bad Ingredients was the variety of styles found here, and that each is done with such masterful proficiency. It’s not just tone and style, it’s the inflections in his voice, and the different ways each song is recorded according to its style. A side effect of that is that there’s something here for everyone. There’s sweet little country blues numbers like “Memories Of You Sweetheart”. There’s chest beating punk/country rockers, there’s old time blues standards, and everything is grounded in the roots with authentic blues progressions and language, even the progressive and multi-layered “Victory Song”. At the risk of sounding like a master of the obvious, he’s just one man, but he’s able to do so much and create such a contrast that it keeps you engaged from track 1 to 13.
And it is delightfully sloppy. Just like I doubt Scott has ever taken a spin on a bidet, I doubt he’s ever used a click track or a metrodome. The lyrics to “Open Road” don’t even rhyme, yet it is one of the standouts.
Already there’s talk from some that Bad Ingredients is is a candidate for the best album of the year. For an album to get that distinction eventually, it must endure months of scrutiny and heavy listening. But from what I’ve heard so far, it at least deserves to be considered for that type of top tier recognition.
Two guns up!
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When I saw a new Ryan Adams album was coming down the pike, I honestly didn’t know what to think. I’ve been so hot and cold on the guy over the years as he shape shifts from the whims of identity crises and style changes, it’s harder to form a solid opinion about him than it is to conjure up a firm stool after 6 weeks in interior Mexico.
His early stuff with Whiskeytown and during those formative Bloodshot Records years holds some serious Gram Parson’s-inspired country music gold. And then all of a sudden he’s popping his collar, frizzing his hair, and playing pop rock. And then comes a period where he’s putting out anything and everything he a can cook up in a studio with no governor, like he’s Beck or something and can pull that kind of thing off. At some point I caught the Neil Young syndrome with him, where I like him, but absolutely can’t stand the dude at the same time. And didn’t he marry Mandy Moore and quit music just a couple of years ago? Hell I don’t know.
When I saw NPR had fingered Ashes & Fire for one of their ‘First Listens’, I thought hell, I’ll navigate over there and give it a sniff, and I swear, 30 seconds in I knew this album was going to be brilliant. And it is….in places.
First you must understand this album is not country, and it’s not rock n’ roll. It is solidly Americana, in the true Americana mold that Ryan helped codify during the early oughts, not so much some of the current Americana crop that sounds like pandering to the NPR demographic, or some others trying to out-Guy Clark each other. Regardless of the quality, I think this is the album Ryan Adams wanted to make, irrespective of trends.
Adams has been known to play the producer role in music, Willie Nelson’s Songbird from 2006 for example, and with this album, you can tell why. This might be one of the most well-produced albums I’ve ever heard. Helping Adams as producer was the famous Brit Glyn Johns, who is the second Johns to work with Ryan Adams. Glyn’s son Ethan Johns produced Adams’ Heartbreaker and Gold in the early 2000′s.
The problem with this album is that it lacks mustard. It really drew me in, but did not hold me. It never got off the ground. It was like the beautiful, brand new car, perfect in every way, that you’re scared to take out on the road because it might get a scratch. I kept wanting it to just go, for Ryan to unleash, but he never did. He was almost too careful, too perfect. To many people, this is what will speak to them in this music. For me it held it back. There’s an undefinable inhibition to this album. All of these beautiful elements there, but they never get flowing all in the same direction.
Soft arrangements and space can be good, but songs like “Come Home” and “Rocks” captured the sleepiness of a castrated James Taylor, while “Chains of Love” made me feel like I was soaring through the clouds on the back of a silver luck dragon with its wistful poppiness. But damn if “Ashes & Fire” isn’t a great, mid-tempo song, or that “Dirty Rain” doesn’t have some great lyrics. For all the great production, this album still lacks spice, from the lack of contrast between the songs, or cutting depth or sharp wit in the lyrics.
So I guess I’ll have to continue to hate to love to hate Ryan Adams. I’m not sure I could find the heart to argue against anyone who told me this album was brilliance, or that it was complete frap. Depends on taste I guess. But I can’t deny the effort is more solid than not. And you know, solid is good. Better than a Mexico-inspired lower GI travel illness.
1 1/4 of 2 guns up.
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With the support of his family, friends, club owners and label, Wayne Hancock has canceled his July and August tour dates to enter a comprehensive residential rehabilitation program.
Confirmed through his manager, Hancock is currently in a short-term rehab program and following his next two Texas shows next week, and a performance at the Rockabilly Rave in the U.K. on June 16th, he will then enter an extended-term recovery facility to address his long-term fight with addiction.
We would like to extend our appreciation for your understanding, especially to those who had tickets to the cancelled shows. Wayne will do his best to return to your area in the near future.
List of canceled tour dates:
7/9 Houston, TX at Armadillo Palace — 7/20 Salt Lake City, UT at The Garage — 7/21 Ketchum, ID at Whiskey Jacques — 7/22 Virginia City, MT at Wells Fargo Coffee House — 7/23 Yellowstone, MT at West Yellowstone City Park — 7/29 Minneapolis, MN at Lee’s Liquor Lounge — 7/30 Des Moines, IA at Gas Lamp — 8/2 Columbia, MO — 8/3 Kansas City, MO at Knucklehead’s
Saving Country Music’s thoughts are with Wayne Hancock, his family, band, and friends. Like we always say no matter the drama, THE TRAIN WILL ROLL ON!
The Pickathon Fesival out in Portland, OR has just announced the rest of their 2011 lineup, including the very cool addition of Kentucky’s Sunday Valley. Pickathon likes to say they don’t have headliners in the traditional sense: huge super-names that grab people’s attention. I guess this just proves how much of an independent music nerd I am, because I look at their lineup and see headliners up and down it, people like Ray Wylie Hubbard, Pokey LaFarge, and Michigan’s Whitey Morgan & The 78′s. In fact “headliners” is exactly what I called Whitey & the boys in my South by Southwest recap.
Whitey Morgan and his bass player Jeremy Mackinder have a very similar symbiotic relationship that made the pairings of Waylon Jennings and his drummer Ritchie Albright, Willie Nelson and his drummer Paul English, into such successful, productive duos: a working relationship that just works, where creativity can flourish while nuts and bolts tasks still get done. During SXSW I sat down with the pair for a chat.
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Triggerman: Y’all are from the Detroit/Flint area. Since I’ve been covering this music, it blows my mind how many bands come from the upper Midwest. Why do you think the upper Midwest is such an epicenter for bands willing to do it their way?
Whitey: I think it’s a rebellious type thing, because we come from a place that’s not known for that kind of music. But the place that is known for that type of music isn’t fucking doing it. What can I do to not only feel real about what I’m doing, but also get some attention? And maybe knock down some doors and let people know there something wrong with the mainstream right now. There’s volumes and volumes of great music that nobody seems to give a shit about anymore.
Jeremy: You wake up in Flint or Detroit or anything up north, you wake up pissed off, and you go from there. There’s a lot of piss and anger and vinegar in that area, and this music kind of lends itself to that. I don’t think there’s any way to take away that fight from anything a band from Detroit is going to do. I used to love going to New York City. Any band you were in, you could plug “from Detroit” and you had a crowd. Detroit just reeks of attitude, and so does this kind of music.
Whitey: It’s tough up there. Every day in the Winter is an uphill battle. It’s colder than shit, you’re waiting 10 minutes for your car to warm up, if it starts. For me, you spend 35 Winters in a shithole town, everything ain’t roses, and that’s kind of what this whole music is about. A lot of my songs are about drinking and forgetting about that shit.
Triggerman: I sometimes feel bad for the honky tonk bands and the fans for this music in the South, because they want to have regional pride, they want to have state pride, and like we were talking about, there’s not a whole lot of this music coming out of the South that fits that concept. And people think of Michigan as “Yankees” since it’s up north. I spent some time living in Flint, and what’s funny about Michigan is that it has a culture that is so unique to itself. Like you call a convenience store a “Party Store”, and you have blinking red lights at left turns. You go to Michigan any say “What is going on here?” There’s a lot of rural culture that is permeated throughout Michigan.
Whitey: 20 minutes outside of any city in Michigan could be northern Alabama. The people are that backwoods and turned around. In the 70′s when my grandpa was playing music in Flint, almost a quarter of the population were transplants from the South that came to work at the factories. When you have a quarter of the population, and they start having babies, what you have is this Southern culture that is ingrained in them, even though some of them have never even been there. Like me when I was growing up, the things we ate, certain words that you said were Southern. To me it was normal. To my friends that were really Yankee’s, it was weird. They didn’t eat fried bologna sandwiches and drink sweet tea and listen to gospel and bluegrass on Sundays at their grandpas house. Any of the Southern food, that’s what my grandma’s house smelled like any time I went in there. My grandpa demanded that stuff, he was a hardcore Southern guy living in fucking Flint, MI.
Jeremy: Speaking of Whitey’s grandpa, he had this look that Whitey showed me a picture of one time, where he’d stare right through you. Go ahead and make a mistake on stage, and see that look come firing down your way! (laughing)
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Triggerman: Y’all just recorded an album for Bloodshot Records, you did it at Levon Helm studios in New York. I hear a lot of people talk about, “Well what’s the point of even being on a label anymore?” It seems like y’all had some big opportunities from that release. Y’all were on NPR’s Mountain Stage, and other opportunities I just don’t see completely independent bands be able to crack.
Whitey: They do a lot of the legwork. We get their Rolodex when we need it, whereas when you don’t have that, you have to go out there and do it all on your own. Which is fine I’m sure for some people, but you can’t be out there playing 230 shows a year and still deal with trying to find new contacts. Not to mention the fact that were on Bloodshot brings people to shows, even if they’ve never heard us, because they have a respect and a reputation from their followers.
Jeremy: We had put out another album with a different label, and not to slug on them but they didn’t have the country cred that Bloodshot does. We end up on Bloodshot, and all of a sudden Sirius/XM plays our music like crazy. And people think that the disadvantage of being on a label is that you’re not going to make any money off your records. But quite honestly, unless you’re selling hundreds of thousands of records, you’re not going to make any money on your records anyway. Independent or label-wise, your records are just kind of paying for themselves.
Whitey: Realistically, and it doesn’t matter what level you’re on, live shows is where you make your money. You can be independent and do everything yourself, but if you can’t get out there and play shows, then what’s the point?
Triggerman: How did the whole Bloodshot thing come about?
Whitey: You’ve got to give credit to the Deadstring Brothers and Wayne Hancock. Our road guy Stubby was actually touring with Deadstring when we were off. He’s a big cheerleader of ours. Every chance he got he’d be talking to Bloodshot about us. And even Travis.
Jeremy: Travis our drummer was in Deadstring and Tamineh our fiddle player was in Deadstring.
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Triggerman: Jeremy, so you used to write for big publications?
Jeremy: I did. I did it under pseudonyms. I only had two printed. As a musician, when you say something negative, you definitely don’t want people to know that was you. Not because I was scared, just because it could reflect negatively on my band. You have to be careful, because you represent five other people too, and you represent your livelihood. Another thing you have to be careful of too is politics. Politics is a polarizing thing. Politics and music are like oil and water.
Whitey: That’s what I want to tell somebody, you’re a fucking entertainer. I don’t give a fuck what you think about the state of the goddamn world. Fucking entertain me, that’s what I paid you to do. I know that’s pretty harsh, but that’s the way I feel sometimes. Where do they get off thinking they know best?
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Triggerman: Y’all are living your dreams, playing your music, the way you want to play it, on your terms. Do you have any other drive? Like saying “this music needs to stay alive.”
Whitey: Oh, definitely.
Jeremy: We were just hollering about that the other day in the kitchen. We have to do this. We feel a responsibility to push this forward and continue to make this happen. For the longest time at shows people would come up and say, “Man I don’t like country music but I sure like you guys!” Well that just means you hadn’t heard country music.
Whitey: Granted we’re not traditional country music like Dale (Watson) or Wayne Hancock. They’re keeping it in the genre, in the era, more correct. We’re a little louder, we strip the songs down more. More of a meat and potatoes kind of thing because God bless us, we can’t play those songs, I can’t play guitar like Dale. But that’s not what we want to play. Some of the greatest songs ever written were written that way because of limitations of the musicians.
Triggerman: Well you hear Waylon’s “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way”. What a simple song.
Whitey: He did what he knew how to do, and he did the fuck out of it. Better than anybody else. People ask “What’s responsible for how your bands sounds?” and I say “musical limitations”. We’re not that good, but we do what we know how to do and we do it every goddamn night with everything we got. I always say, who would you rather hear play a dirty blues song, Keith Richards or Joe Satriani? Who technically is way fucking better, and who do I want to hear?
Country music might ignore Record Store Day (RSD) this Saturday (April 16th), the worldwide event that has become an international holiday for audiofiles, but Saving Country Music won’t. Neither will Bloodshot Records, who has a number of releases and events planned for the day meant to prop up the ailing mom and pop record store.
Justin Townes Earle will be releasing a 7″ called Move Over Mama, which will include that track from his most recent album Harlem River Blues, with the B Side being “Racing in the Streets”, a “heretofore unreleased sparse, haunting Bruce Springsteen song that JTE’s been slaying ‘em with live.”
I’m also salivating over the release of No One Got Hurt: Bloodshot’s 15th Anniversary @ The Hideout Block Party. It is a live bootleg from their September 12, 2009 Anniversary Party, that includes some amazing tracks from Scott H. Biram, The Waco Brother, Bobby Bare Jr., The Deadstring Brothers, and many more. 19 tracks in all.
This is a CD, not an LP, but is being released in conjunction with Record Store Day. It will eventually be released digitally to the masses, but the only way you will be able to get it in the near term is finding a local record store that carries Bloodshot stuff. However, I will be spinning tracks from the bootleg on this Saturday’s edition of Saving Country Music Radio, which broadcasts at 9 PM on Record Store Day via The Real Deal KOOK, and which I will include the most BRUTAL version of Scott Biram’s “Truck Drivin’ Man” I’ve ever heard. It’s so out of control it had to be edited for the public airwaves!
Bloodshot artists like Whitey Morgan & The 78′s, The Deadstring Brothers, and Dex Romweber Duo will be conducting in-store performances, and many record stores like the infamous Shake-It Records in Cincinnati will have Bloodshot specials going on. See a full list of Bloodshot’s Record Store Day events.
Track List for No One Got Hurt: Bloodshot’s 15th Anniversary @ The Hideout Block Party:
- SANCTIFIED GRUMBLERS – EZ Riden’ Grumblers
- SALLY TIMMS – Sad Milkman
- JON LANGFORD – Pill Sailor
- THE BLACKS - Theresa Leaves Lonesome Town
- THE BLACKS – Horrorshow
- BOBBY BARE JR – Monk at the Disco
- BOBBY BARE JR - Valentine
- MOONSHINE WILLY - Turn The Lights Down Low
- THE SCOTLAND YARD GOSPEL CHOIR – Aspidistra
- THE SCOTLAND YARD GOSPEL CHOIR – Tear Down the Opera House
- SCOTT H BIRAM – Still Drunk, Still Crazy, Still Blue
- SCOTT H BIRAM - Truck Driver
- DEADSTRING BROTHERS – If You Want Me To
- DEADSTRING BROTHERS – Smile
- ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO – Castanets
- ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO - I Was Drunk
- WACO BROTHERS - Red Brick Wall
- RICO BELL & the Waco Brothers - Merseysong
- WACO BROTHERS – See Willy Fly By
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- Eli Locke on Dierks Bentley’s “Riser” (Review & Giveaway)