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For the first time in the last half decade, the Grand Ole Opry is poised to induct a traditionally-leaning country music act into its distinct and coveted roster of permanent members. Opry member Marty Stuart surprised Old Crow Medicine Show at their show at the Ohio Theater in Cleveland tonight (8-16) with an invitation to join the storied institution during Old Crow’s scheduled performance. Their induction will take place September 17th.
Formed in 1998, Old Crow Medicine Show’s history is strongly tied to the Grand Ole Opry and some of its most important members. The band was discovered by Doc Watson’s daughter when busking on the same street Doc Watson used to play in Boone, NC. That led to them participating in the annual MerleFest music festival in the spring of 2000. At MerleFest, a woman from the Opry named Sally Wilson saw the band perform and invited them to participate in outdoor events in the Opry plaza throughout the summer. The band then found favor with Marty Stuart, who took them under his wing as a mentor. Old Crow Medicine Show made their Grand Ole Opry debut in January of 2001 at a Ryman Auditorium show.
In 2004 the band released their breakout album O.C.M.S produced by David Rawlings, and became one of the premiere string band acts in independent country music. With big songs like “Tell It To Me,” and the now gold-certified “Wagon Wheel,” Old Crow Medicine Show was one of the first string band acts to find fans outside of traditional country circles. “Wagon Wheel” has gone on to become a #1 hit for Darius Rucker, and Old Crow Medicine Show is often named as a precursor and major influence to bands like Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers that have brought massive commercial success to the string band concept.
The Opry’s Old Crow invitation ends a string of invitations and inductions of present-day country pop stars that have angered some traditionalist fans. Rascal Flatts, Keith Urban, and Darius Rucker were the Opry’s last three inductees. The last traditional country star to be inducted was Charlie Daniels in 2008. With this move, the Opry appears to be recognizing Old Crow’s influence, their recent success, and their ability to bridge differences in taste with their enthusiastic and creatively deft show.
In Red Dirt music, there is a place called “The Farm.” It was a 5-bedroom house outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma owned by Bob Childers where the Red Dirt movement started in earnest. No matter what happens in Red Dirt henceforth, whether it continues to grow or it fades away, the few Red Dirt members who called “The Farm” home in those formative years will always have their place in history cemented as forefathers of the music.
If underground country had a version of “The Farm,” Lonesome Wyatt would be one of its inhabitants. Lonesome Wyatt is a pioneer of Gothic country with his band Those Poor Bastards, and one of the originators of underground country whose song “Pills I Took” was covered by Hank Williams III on his landmark album Straight to Hell, he is one of the few artists who will never be forgotten regardless of the long-term fortune of the underground country sub-genre.
Gothic country is not for everyone. Similar to how punk and reggae may not have many similarities on the surface, but whose structures are steeped in similar modes when you explore the music deep at its core, Gothic country may come across initially as counter-intuitive, or even corrosive to someone who calls themselves a country fan. But within Gothic country, you find the stark distinctions of good and evil indicative of The Louvin Brothers and gospel, you find the the murder balladry of Doc Watson and Johnny Cash, you find the Gothic identity and presence of death of The Carter Family, and the empowerment of the poor of Woody Guthrie.
Lonesome Wyatt and his “Holy Spooks” side project may even be less accessible that other Gothic country because the sound is fairly stripped back and the approach quite fey. This is music to be listened to, not heard; music that you sit back and appreciate its textures as opposed to banging your head or tapping your foot to. But for those brave souls not scared off by the spooky dressing, they will discover some striking artistic expression interwoven with timeless storytelling in an album that reveals itself to be more entertaining and even prone to losing yourself in than you would initially expect.
If Lonesome Wyatt was an actor, he’d prefer the method approach to the craft. And if his music were a movie, it would be a graphic novel. Where Lonesome’s Those Poor Bastards material usually carries more anger, and angular, abrupt themes, Ghost Ballads is like a lost collection of Edgar Allan Poe poems written as if they were for children, but that were truly meant for adults. Then he sets it all to music. This is where Lonesome Wyatt’s singular artistic contribution to the world is evidenced, which is his ability to cull the perfect sounds from the universe to conjure a desired mood. A master craftsman of audio textures who is not afraid to pull from both the analog and electronic worlds, his ear is wickedly adept at picking up the most delicious subtleties in sounds that universally trigger dark responses in the human palette.
And just when he has you in the darkest of all moods, the creepy bastard springs into the saccharine, 50′s-ish do-woppy “Dream of You” making the whole experience feel even that much more sinister.
Reportedly recorded surreptitiously at the haunted Maribel Caves Hotel in Maribel, WI, Ghost Ballads may not be the best starting point to get into Lonesome Wyatt’s uniquely dark and creative approach to music, but is a good selection if you’re looking for music to create camaraderie with a dark mood, or are looking to evoke one.
Lonesome Wyatt is a timeless artist, and I’m sure Ghost Ballads along with his entire discography will be haunting Gothic fans long after he’s in the grave.
1 1/2 of 2 guns up.
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The case can be made that Mumford & Sons is the biggest thing in all of music right now, with Babel winning the Grammy for Album of the Year and their worldwide sales rivaling all other artists. This is a weird reality for many roots fans who fell into favor with acoustic music many years ago.
Roots music has always been a quiet, shy sphere of the music world, not really craving popularity or hype. Meanwhile Mumford’s wild success has some talking about a roots backlash, and has opened up the possibility of an impending crash in the popularity arch that could leave elements of the roots world feeling like a fad, like 60′s folk or late 90′s swing.It all makes you wonder if Mumford’s music wouldn’t be better received in some circles if it just wasn’t so damn popular.
Many of the bold changes in the direction of popular music begin with artists that are too fey, too polarizing to become popular themselves. So it takes others who understand how to soften music with sensibilities to make it accessible to the masses, and hopefully, if time is on their side, transect the popularity timeline, resulting in superstardom.
With Mumford & Sons, there were many other bands, artists, and events that set the table for their wild success, buttering up crowds, building an appreciation for acoustic roots music throughout varying demographics and origination points. Here are a few of them.
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O Brother Where Art Thou created its own roots music tempest and bluegrass revival when it was released in 2000, and since it originated in the cinematic world instead of the music world, its impact on popular culture was far reaching, finding its way down avenues that otherwise would not be exposed to roots music. From that big bloom, the seeds were planted that would later sprout and blossom into the Mumford & Sons’ ubiquitous, widespread appeal, making acoustic roots into full-blown popular music.
Old Crow Medicine Show was one of the main ingredients in both influencing the sound of Mumford & Sons, and setting the table for their mass appeal. Marcus Mumford says of Old Crow, “I first heard Old Crow’s music when I was, like, 16, 17, and that really got me into, like, folk music, bluegrass. I mean, I’d listened to a lot of Dylan, but I hadn’t really ventured into the country world so much. So Old Crow were the band that made me fall in love with country music.” Ketch Secor of Old Crow concurs, saying, “Those boys took the message and ran with it.”
Meanwhile Old Crow Medicine Show, and specifically their gold-certified song “Wagon Wheel” created the fervor for roots music that Mumford & Sons are currently feeding off of.
Old Crow Medicine Show might be the band named as Mumford’s primary influence, but when looking at the band from the standpoint of lineup, instrumentation, energy, and the emotional context of their lyricism, The Avett Brothers’ fingerprints can be found all over Mumford & Sons.
The easiest similarity to distinguish is how the two bands line up on stage. Scott Avett was one of the first acoustic roots frontmen to play a bass drum with his foot while standing at center stage, while his brother Scott played a hi-hat cymbal the same way. The brothers also had the propensity to move around stage behind different instruments, specifically the drums, just like Marcus Mumford does. The high, punk-esque energy The Avett Brothers bring to their show alongside a softening of the edges of roots music is something else Mumford emulates, as are their songs that seem to drip with emotionalism. This emotional approach to roots music is what separated The Avett Brothers from their bluegrass forebears when The Avetts started out in 2000; a full 7 years before Mumford & Sons’ first release.
Whereas Mumford & Sons’ rise has been meteoric, The Avett Brothers enacted a very slow build, van touring incessantly on a small club circuit until their infectious approach to roots music saw them graduate to small theaters, large theaters, and then signing with Rick Rubin in 2008, nearly a decade after they started out. The Avett Brothers approach, and the sweat equity they built from tireless touring over many years is at the very fabric of Mumford & Sons’ sound and success. Mumford is not an Avett Brothers rubber stamp, but it’s hard not to give The Avetts props for blazing a wide, clear path for them.
Bob Dylan is given great credit as a Mumford & Sons’ influence, and this is primarily evidenced in the poetic, and sometimes veiled nature of Mumford’s lyrical writing. In that same respect, Shakespeare and Plato are Mumford influences. Both characters and others from classical literature are originators of language that has appeared in Mumford & Sons songs. Marcus Mumford once said, “You can rip off Shakespeare all you like; no lawyer’s going to call you up on that one.” They also draw from American novelist John Steinbeck in their songs “Dust Bowl Dance” and “Timshel.”
The Devil Makes Three is never given enough credit for impacting the roots music revolution. It’s probably a stretch to say they had any direct influence on Mumford & Sons, but when The Devil Makes Three started in 2002, they were one of the very first bands, and virtually the only band on the West Coast that brought a high-energy, punk-inspired approach to acoustic roots music. Rarely spoken about east of the Mississippi or away from their native Vermont, The Devil Makes Three draws massive crowds in California and have inspired many spawns across the country. They are responsible for countless new acoustic roots fans, and helped allow the cross-continent permeation of Mumford mania.
Along with the obvious bluegrass greats like Bill Monroe, Jimmy Martin, Flatt & Scruggs, Doc Watson, and Ralph Stanley, newer artists like Wayne “The Train” Hancock, The Civil Wars, Trampled by Turtles, The Hacksensaw Boys, Split Lip Rayfiled, Larry & His Flask, The .357 String Band, The Foghorn Stringband, The Wiyos, The Goddamn Gallows, Reverend Peyton, and many more laid a foundation for alternative roots music appreciation in America that Mumford & Sons now enjoys.
Wednesday night (9-12-2012) country music’s mother church The Ryman Auditorium was alive with the sounds of The 2012 Americana Music Awards that saw an always talented, eclectic (and sometimes confusing) flock of musicians, songwriters, and performers amass to give credit to the best and brightest of the year. Part of the greater Americana Music Conference happening in Nashville this week, the awards featured excellent performances from legends such as studio great Booker T. Jones and songwriter Richard Thompson, as well as Emerging Artist nominees The Alabama Shakes and Deep Dark Woods.
Some highlights of the night were Booker T sitting in with The Alabama Shakes, Cary Ann Hearst of Shovels & Rope doing the “Another Like You” duet with Hayes Carll, and my favorite part of the night, when Song of the Year winner Jason Isbell thanked his manager Traci Thomas of Thirty Tigers, and then took a shot at The Country Music Anti-Christ saying he wanted an empty chair onstage “…so I could yell at an invisible Scott Borchetta.” Generations were bridged when Patterson Hood of the Drive By Truckers, the son of a famous studio musician David Hood of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section gave an excellent speech inducting Booker T Jones as an Americana Lifetime Achievement Award recipient for instrumentation.
Lifetime Achievement Award for Performance inductee Bonnie Raitt closed out the festivities with two songs, including her signature “Thing Called Love” before the stage filled with Americana dignitaries including Bonnie and John Hiatt to do a stirring rendition of The Band‘s “The Weight” in tribute to the late Levon Helm, who was remembered along with Doc Watson and Earl Scruggs.
Jim Lauderdale hosted the event, and Buddy Miller, Don Was and others worked all night as the Americana house band.
How to define the term “Americana” was the running joke all night (and is somewhat of a tradition of the awards), but whether you were listening in through NPR’s live stream or lucky enough to subscribe to the right service get it on the TV, it was hard to argue with the talent and accolades the Americana Music Association used to define the 2012 awards.
2012 Americana Music Award Winners
Instrumentalist of The Year
Dave Rawlings, Gillian Welch’s guitar accompanist.
Album of the Year
“This Ones For Him” A Tribute to Guy Clark
Song of the Year
Jason Isbell’s “Alabama Pines” off the album Here We Rest
Emerging Artist of the Year
The Alabama Shakes
Artist of the Year
Duo/Group of the Year
The Civil Wars
Lifetime Achievement Award for Performance
Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting
Lifetime Achievement Award for Instrumentalist
Booker T. Jones
Lifetime Achievement Award for Executive
Legendary guitar player Doc Watson has died according to his representatives at Folklore Productions.
The 89-year-old folk and bluegrass guitar legend’s heath issues started on Monday (5-21) Bluegrass Today reported, after a fall at his home. No bones were broken, but the incident exposed other health problems. He was airlifted to the hospital on Wednesday, and late Thursday Watson had surgery to resolve an impacted colon where his entire colon ended up being removed. The procedure was declared successful and Watson was said to be “resting and responsive” afterwards, with Doc’s representative Mitch Greenhill saying, “He has regained some strength. The family appreciates everyone’s prayers and good wishes.” But after a follow-up procedure on Saturday, Watson’s condition never improved from “critical” and he remained in Wake Forest Baptist’s Intensive Care Unit. Doc Watson’s family was called to his bedside at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC on Sunday (5-27).
Monday morning (5-28) it was reported that Watson’s vital signs had improved slightly overnight after a “very rough Sunday,” though he continued to remain in critical condition in the hospital’s ICU.
Doc Watson has won 7 Grammy Awards over his career, and also received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004. The blind guitar player is best known for his influential flatpicking and fingerpicking techniques with the guitar, and his oral history of folk, bluegrass, and mountain music. He was born Arthel Lane Watson in 1923 in Deep Gap, North Carolina, going blind before his first birthday. He got the name “Doc” when a radio announced suggest the name Arthel was too unusual and someone yelled “Doc” out from the crowd.
Thoughts and prayers go out to Doc Watson and his family.
“I can’t listen to music if I don’t think I’d like the guy singing it. That’s why I’m not big in to Old Crow Medicine Show. I like some of their songs, I’m just not a fan. Not to talk shit. I have to feel that sort of spirit.”
When I first heard Old Crow’s self-titled album, I ate it right up. With instant classics like “Tell It To Me” and “Wagon Wheel,” OCMS became a popular band for such a rootsy, raw sound, and a major influence in alt-country/roots music. But as I listened to that album and their subsequent releases, my mood on them began to grow sour. Their songwriting skills cannot be denied, and their arrangement and harmonies are superb. But the instrumentation can be sloppy, which at first is endearing, but slowly becomes revealing.
Then there is them “effecting” their voices, trying to sound like Southern bumpkin fallover drunks, when in reality their stone sober in an air conditioned studio. Take their song CC Rider as an example. I’ll eat a bug if this is how these guys sound in real life. The part where Ketch or Willie (not sure which one) says “Play a little while let me get my harmonica,” in such a ridiculously overacted voice makes me want to take the CD and smash it against the wall and never speak of it again. This is what Leroy Virgil was talking about, that lack of genuineness.
They also love to get political on your ass. And not in a cool, ambiguous “the government’s gone nuts” kind of way, but in a way that makes them come across as pushy, pointy nosed intellectual liberals living in very tight reality tunnels, clashing with their bumpkin uneducated style of music. For example in their song “Humdinger” off of Tennessee Pusher the line is, “If you’re not a right winger, then we’ll all have a humdinger.”
My guess is there’s many more “Humdingers” involving “Wine, whiskey, women, AND GUNS” going on in red states than blue, and in my life experience, whether you have a “D” or an “R” in front of your name makes no difference how much you partake in the previously-quoted vices.
Recently their music has become more mainstream. I love the producer Don Was, but why do you need a big name producer to make what is supposed to be simple old time string music?
Without question, Old Crow Medicine Show has been a great ambassador for dirty roots music. I also know that Doc Watson, Emmylou Harris and other high profile people have put their name behind them. But to me they’ve always felt like they are on the outside looking in at what’s really going on in the roots movement, that they’re missing that “soul.” Sure they’re good, but there’s so much better. That’s why a few years back OCMS had to open for the .357 String Band instead of vice versa in Europe, because for whatever reason, the Europeans have a better nose for authenticity than the American public.
I’m not saying I hate the music. On the contrary. But the OCMS approach has given me a love/hate relationship with this band.
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