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Songwriter, Sirius XM DJ, and country music elder Roger Alan Wade will release his sixth studio album Bad News Knockin’ via Johnny Knoxville Records on December 16th, 2014. Produced by Knoxville and recorded by Dan Creech at Revolving Blackbird Sound in Santa Monica, CA, like most of Wade’s music the new album will feature just Roger, his guitar, and his original songs. Johnny Knoxville and Wade host the weekly Big Ass Happy Family Jubilee on Sirius XM’s Outlaw Country together.
“He inspires me constantly and he’s a tough taskmaster,” Roger said recently about Johnny Knoxville as producer on the Otis Gibbs Thanks For Giving A Damn podcast. “He’ll put up with anything as long as he knows you’re giving it your all. If he thinks you’re slacking man he’s got too much to do to waste his time. I love the way we make records…The only way we know when it’s good is when Knoxville gets chill bumps. Otherwise you keep it going. But if you do it one time and he gets chill bumps, don’t ask to do it again.”
Roger Alan Wade and Johnny Knoxville are first cousins, and Knoxville regularly features Wade’s humor-tinged songs in his movies. But when it comes to his studio albums, Wade can get deadly serious, and draws inspiration from songwriters like Guy Clark, John Prine, and Kris Kristofferson. His 2010 record DeGuello Motel won Saving Country Music 2010 Album of the Year, and his 2012 album Southbound Train was another standout songwriting effort.
“Beige cubicles spook me man,” Wade said to Otis Gibbs about Music Row’s current songwriting environment. “There’s so much about that I don’t understand. I’m not knocking it, I’m not making any judgements. I’m just saying it don’t work for me. Man I like writing them on the run. I like finding that place, wherever it may be, that you’re just holding the pen and it’s coming through you…I strive to be as honest with myself and others, especially when it comes down to asking them to listen to my song. If they’re going to give me three minutes of their life, I want them to know what’s on my mind, and what’s in my heart. And I’m not asking them to agree with me or like it, but you are telling them that it comes with one guarantee, that it’s honest. It may suck, but it’s honest.”
A fixture of the Chattanooga music scene, Wade has written songs recorded by George Jones, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and the #1 song by Hank Williams Jr. “Country State of Mind.”
Bad News Knockin’ Track List:
- Bad News Knockin’
- Blame It All on the Roses
- Lonesome Sunday Blues
- Waitin’ on the Hummingbird
- The Ballad of Shine Marley
- Warm Spanish Wine
- Georgia Blues
- Yellow House in the Country
- Years Ago
- Things I Benn Blamed For
- I Lived the Life
- Red Shoes Blues
- Peace of Mind
If you’re populating a list of criminally-underrated country music talent, Caleb Klauder has to be somewhere near the top. The Pacific Northwest’s best kept country music secret is beloved by those who know about him, and revered by his fellow musicians who’ve had the fortune of making his acquaintance.
Caleb’s fortunes turned for the worse this summer though when he was diagnosed with vocal cord polyps. One of the most distinct and treasured voices of traditional country music was slowly growing silent. “The last two years at least, maybe even longer, songs were falling out of my repertoire that I wasn’t having fun singing—songs that were more challenging,” Caleb explains. “And even in general I just started not singing as much in my free time. I wasn’t having fun with it, and then my voice just kind of went completely kaput. I was at a live show and just lost my voice. I couldn’t sing at all.”
For a man who makes his living with his voice, not just in the Caleb Klauder Country Band, but as one of the long-time members of the influential Foghorn Stringband, this development was troubling to say the least. “I didn’t know what it was. I knew something was weird. It kind of crept up on me. So I went to a doctor, and it got diagnosed right away. It was plain as day. They stuck a little scope down my throat, and looked at it. So then I had surgery and I feel really fortunate because the surgery is non intrusive. They go in your throat with a laser, and it cauterizes the cut as it goes so the healing process is relatively mild and quick. I couldn’t talk at all for seven days, which was crazy. And I couldn’t sing at all really for three months.”
But Caleb’s recovery has been going well, and with the help of a vocal coach, he’s becoming a better, more confident singer than he was before the surgery. “Now I’m back to singing which is really fun. I’ve been out touring for a little bit. Since the surgery and getting the polyps removed, and getting physical therapy with a vocal coach, it literally has brought back all these songs that I didn’t know if I was ever going to sing again. And I’m singing some songs that I was trying to learn to sing, but I just couldn’t get my voice wrapped around them. So it’s really exciting that I can possibly sing these songs again, and it’s actually fun to sing again. It was pretty dark there for a while, but with the vocal training and stuff I’m doing—it’s like weight lifting on your vocal chords—it’s helping out. I feel like I’m at 90% back to where I should be. It’s a fun feeling.”
After taking some extended time off from the country band, Caleb Klauder is back out there touring, and has just released a four-song Just A Little EP to tide folks over for a new full-length album on the way.
“These were the early recordings leading up to a new album,” Caleb explains. “You’ll hear a little bit of (the voice) in there. It will probably sound to people like I’ve always sounded. And the cool thing about the surgery is that it didn’t change my voice. I don’t sound like a totally different guy, which is something I think a lot of people were worried about. But it cleared up things and made it easier to sing, and made me able to access certain songs or certain notes that I couldn’t hit before. So the recordings on the EP are pre all of that, but I definitely had polyps then, I just didn’t really know it. That’s what this new EP and then the CD is about, is letting people know that we’re out, doing it again. We’re going to be working on the new album in January.”
Caleb’s Just A Little EP recorded in January of 2013 in Portland, OR features frequent duet partner Reeb Williams, Caleb’s “Country Band,” and guest fiddler Sam Weiss on the one cover of the album, “I’d Jump The Mississippi” by George Jones. It is available at Klauder’s live shows and will be made available online soon.
Caleb & Reeb w/ Foghorn Stringband Covering George Jones’ “I’d Jump The Mississippi”
One year ago today, Outlaw country artist and songwriter Wayne Mills was shot in the back of the head at the Pit & Barrel Bar in Nashville, TN at approximately 5:00 AM after an altercation erupted with the bar’s owner, Chris Michael Ferrell—a friend of Wayne’s who was hosting an after hours gathering following a tribute concert to George Jones earlier in the evening at the Bridgestone Arena. Mills died later that day of his wounds in a Nashville hospital, and after a protracted investigation, Chris Ferrell was indicted by a Grand Jury on 2nd Degree murder charges. Ferrell is currently out on bond and under electronic surveillance ahead of his trial set to begin on March 2nd, 2015. Meanwhile many questions continue to linger about the circumstances of Wayne’s death as fans, friends, and family remember the fallen performer on this solemn anniversary.
A year has passed, and still very little makes sense, or even is known about Wayne Mills’ death. Early reports had the altercation starting over smoking in a non-smoking section of the Pit & Barrel bar that had recently been remodeled as part of the Spike TV reality series Bar Rescue, but later Ferrell claimed in a preliminary court hearing that Mills’ had come to the bar to “rob and kill” him—something that goes completely against the character of the songwriter who was known by many as a gentle giant. When Ferrell shot Mills, he did not do it from close range according to the autopsy report, which also revealed Wayne Mills had been heavily beaten, with bruises and cuts on every sector of his body and multiple broken ribs. Still, it was Chris Ferrell who initially called 911 after the shooting, and as his attorney says, he didn’t “run for tall weeds” after the incident, but cooperated fully with police, and turned himself in immediately when the indictment was handed down, insisting on his innocence.
The investigation into the death of Wayne Mills resulted in some very curious circumstances in itself. The police initially misidentified Wayne as another Nashville songwriter, Clayton Mills, and worked under this assumption for some ten hours into the investigation. This unfortunate error resulted in Wayne Mills’ widow, Carol Mills, confined to a hospital waiting room while her husband lay fighting for life behind closed doors that the staff would not let her past because they couldn’t confirm she was family. Meanwhile Chris Ferrell was able to come and go freely, and though Wayne was subjected to a toxicology test as part of his autopsy, it is still unclear if a similar test was done on Ferrell. And even if Chris Ferrell was acting in self-defense, why was a fatal shot needed, and one that was fired at a distance and from behind, meaning Wayne at the time was likely not in a position to pose a threat to Ferrell. Two guns were presented to police when they arrived on the scene, and later a private investigator hired by Ferrell found a second bullet embedded in the Pit & Barrel’s wall.
There were no direct witnesses to the Wayne Mills killing. Country performer Shooter Jennings and his manager Jon Hensley had left shortly before, and everyone else in the bar had filed outside amidst the altercation, leaving only Chris Ferrell and evidence collected at the scene as a way to piece together what truly happened, making the upcoming trial of Chris Ferrell all the more important. Beyond the fans, family, and friends of Wayne Mills who want justice, many in the music community and Nashville at large simply want answers of why a man died seemingly so unnecessarily.
Jerald Wayne Mills was laid to rest on December 8th, 2013 after a memorial service was held for him in his hometown of Arab, Alabama. A man who had been a friend and mentor to stars as far ranging as Blake Shelton and Jamey Johnson, and had left a vibrant legacy of songs and music was gone. Wayne Mills is survived by his wife Carol, and his young son Jack, and thousands of fans who were touched by his music.
On the one year anniversary of Wayne Mills’ death, it is important to remember and celebrate Wayne’s legacy. But it is also important to remember that we still don’t have the answer to why he was killed. As citizens of the music community, it is important that we continue to ask this question, and to remain vigilant in the face of the passage of time and the distraction of daily news until this important answer is found.
Silly me for thinking that the experience of having his home ripped apart by his own selfish actions, and his entire life smattered across tabloid covers would elicit at least a slight recalibration of priorities for Jason Aldean, or for goodness sakes, at least stimulate a few moments of introspection or something close to the semblance of a deep thought. But instead what we get with Old Boots, New Dirt is a doubling down of Aldean’s errant behavior. The album is the singer breaking free of the repressive sexual bonds of marriage and country music’s rigid moral regime to reclaim his wild 16-year-old post-adolescent oats at the age of 37. On Old Boots, New Dirt, Jason Aldean proclaims the world his oyster, and presents such a flaunting of the human id, even Charlie Sheen would cock an eyebrow and give it a nodding approval.
Bad mouth Jason Aldean’s previous accomplishments all you want, but heretofore his career has been defined by the defiant spirit of interior America’s lost populous—disenfranchised and forgotten in the age of technology as they unflinchingly continue on with their way of life inherited down from generations. It was the rumination on water towers and wondering what if they could talk, the troubling thoughts at watching grain silos slowly run empty and fall into disrepair just like the towns that sit in the shadows of them. It was starring at the dirt underneath your fingernails every evening and the age slowing cracking across your face, while you brood in the same house your grandparents lived in. And yes, it was even driving down dirt roads, swerving like your George Jones, with memory lane up in the headlights, and pondering your place in this fast-changing world and the intimidating passage of time.
Now what do we get from Jason Aldean? A simple enumeration of his sexual conquests one after another, with very little respite.
“I knew the minute that I picked you up, it was gonna be a wild ride,” the very first song “Just Gettin’ Started” starts off. “You kissed me like you couldn’t get enough. Barely made it out of your drive.”
The second song “Show You Off” unfolds just about as you would expect it to. “I just want to show you off. Drive them all crazy, watch all the boys hate me. This ain’t so wrong, come on.” This is what passes for Aldean being “sweet.” This leads into the lead single from the album, the already much maligned and ultra-sexualized “Burnin’ It Down,” …and on and on from there.
And all of this is punctuated with these softcore-style bubbly, smooth jazz R&B electronic sex beats that are the sonic foundation for this album. Jason Aldean has apparently morphed into the country music equivalent of the classic Saturday night Cinemax lineup—showing just enough skin to get you somewhat steamy-feeling, but not conveying enough of either truly revealing material or depth of story to leave you either satisfied or fulfilled. It’s all froth.
Old Boots, New Dirt sees Jason Aldean doing what he did with “Dirt Road Anthem,” which went on to become a landmark moment for rap in country music. Where artists like Jerrod Niemann and Sam Hunt tried to push country music aggressively towards an EDM era, Aldean and his production team understood that to truly take the idea mainstream, you have to smooth off the edges and homogenize it so when you serve it up en masse to the public, they don’t gag as it is getting shoved down their throat. That was at the heart of the success of “Dirt Road Anthem,” and that is what’s at play here. Country rap had already been around for years, but Aldean figured out how to make it palatable for white America’s corporate country consumer. “Burnin’ It Down” (which has been widely successful) and Old Boots, New Dirt do this for country’s new EDM/R&B era.
This all begs the question of what mainstream country music is going to do next since it’s burning through genre bending ideas at about one genre per year. Before we know it, someone will be figuring out how to work polka into pop country (and god knows it would probably be an improvement). But for now, EDM/R&B country is likely to be very financially lucrative for Aldean and others.
There are a couple of moments where Jason tries to evidence some vulnerability and depth on this album. “Tryin’ To Love Me” seems to talk about reflecting back on relationship fights and understanding that the conflict was really coming from love and not spite, and could be taken in the context of Aldean’s recent marital troubles as something true to his personal experiences. But of course this is immediately followed up with “Sweet Little Somethin’” that makes the sentiment behind Maddie & Tae’s “Girl In A Country Song” feel so very timely, and songs like “Laid Back” and “Tonight Looks Good On You” are every bit as awful as their titles imply.
The second half of the album is a little better though, and ends with the best song, “Two Night Town,” which is so classic and well-written, it’s a shame someone like Aldean had to cut it and bury it as a final track. But it is too little too late for this epilogue to Aldean’s era of enumerating the simple virtues of the Heartland ideal and the everyday injustices perpetuated against it through the march of time. Old Boots, New Dirt is Jason Aldean’s Benedict Arnold moment. It is the moment the corn farmer’s son comes home wearing a flat-brimmed baseball cap and listening to Wiz Khalifa. It’s inevitable, but still somehow a shame—not because Wiz Khalifa is evil necessarily, but because it symbolizes the end of an era. Once upon a time, this was something that made for good Jason Aldean songs.
Two guns down.
Friends, fans, and family of slain country music artist Wayne Mills will have to wait a little longer to attempt to get the answers and justice they seek in the songwriter’s death. The 2nd Degree Murder trial for the man accused of killing Wayne, bar owner Chris Ferrell, has been pushed back nearly five months from its originally scheduled date of November 17th, 2014, to a new date of March 2nd, 2015 according to the Davidson County Criminal Court. It is a jury trial in the court of Judge Steve Dozier.
A court spokesperson told Saving Country Music that the delay in the trial likely had to do with scheduling, and does not necessarily represent a change in the particulars of the trial. “It could be the the defendant’s attorney, it could be the District Attorney, it could be the judge. It could just be scheduling for that date,” a court representative said. A discussion docket for charges of assault, vandalism, and interference with a 911 call against Chris Ferrell stemming from a previous incident was also moved from November 17th to March 2nd.
Wayne Mills was shot and killed by Chris Ferrell at the Pit & Barrel Bar in Nashville—a bar that Chris Ferrell owned— at roughly 5 AM on November 23rd, 2013. The two men were hanging out after the George Jones Tribute concert at the Bridgestone Arena earlier that evening. Chris Ferrell called 911, and when police arrived, he claimed he shot Mills in self-defense. Though the first reports had the altercation starting because Wayne was smoking in a non-smoking section of the bar, Ferrell later claimed in court that Wayne had come to the bar to “rob and kill” him. Two guns were found at the scene when police arrived: an empty revolver and a semi-automatic handgun. A private investigator hired by Chris Ferrell—former city homicide detective Larry Flair—also found an additional bullet lodged in a wall of the Pit & Barrell that police had not recovered. Subsequently, the Pit & Barrel bar has been liquidated.
The autopsy report for Wayne Mills released on January 16th showed that the musician had been shot in the back of the head, and there was no powder burns that would indicate the shot was fired at close range. To fans and family of the deceased singer, this refutes Chris Ferrell’s claims of self-defense in the killing. The autopsy also revealed broken ribs and other trauma Wayne Mills had suffered.
After the killing, Chris Ferrell remained free for two weeks, until being indicted by a grand jury and turning himself into police. He was subsequently released and is currently free on a $150,000 bond.
This is the news relayed from George’s widow, Nancy Jones, who announced today that she has spent $4.35 million on two pieces of adjacent property at 128 and 130 Second Ave. N. in Nashville that was the former home of the Graham Central Station nightclub complex. The property is right near the Cumberland River, and within walking distance of both the Country Music Hall of Fame, and the recently opened Johnny Cash museum. Early plans call for a 44,000 sq. ft. facility that would include event space, a music venue, restaurant, and gift shop, all to commemorate the legacy of country music legend George Jones who passed away on April 26th, 2013.
“We are overjoyed to share George’s legacy and memory with the Nashville community,” Nancy Jones said in a statement. “We hope that this will draw George’s friends and fans worldwide to our great city. George and I made this our home, and he would be happy to know that we found a home to continue his legacy in the heart of Music City.”
The three-story building that currently resides on the 1/4-acre lot was shut down in March by Nashville police after it was deemed to be a public nuisance because of “persistent criminal activity” according to The Tennessean. Called The Hooper Building, it has a 3rd floor rooftop patio that overlooks the Cumberland River and Nashville’s Riverfront Park. The building was originally built in 1924 and was owned previously by the Callen Trust. Nancy Jones is currently working with designers on how to move forward to reconfigure the space for the museum’s needs, and expects to have more information about what country music fans can expect from the new museum in the coming weeks and months.
The Johnny Cash Museum, which opened at 119 3rd Ave S in downtown Nashville in May of 2013, has been a great addition to the area. As Nashville has experienced dramatic growth over the last few years, many older and historic properties are getting bulldozed in favor of condominium complexes and other new developments. The George Jones museum will be another positive addition to downtown Nashville’s historic neighborhood.
The Hooper Building in downtown Nashville:
via Google Maps
Blake Shelton. The Decider. Mount BS. Mr. Lambert.
On August 18th, he released his latest single called “Neon Light” from his upcoming Bringing Back The Sun album. As a rather sedated, nondescript, somewhat country, but ultimately sort of boring offering, it was really hard to get worked up about it one way or the other. Sure it has a banjo and a somewhat country setting, but it’s no “Tear In My Beer.” And sure it starts off with a stupid hip-hop beat, but that’s every damn song on mainstream country radio today. Starting a song with a hip-hop beat isn’t expected in 2014, it’s required. That stop sign was blown through and a couple of pedestrians mowed over on country music’s way to careening head on into a retaining wall some nine months ago. In 2007 this song would have made us all want to drink Drano, but in 2014? Eh, there’s much bigger fish to fry, and much better stuff to listen to.
But either Blake Shelton let some Twitter troll get the best of him, or he’s decided to tilt at windmills to give a little jolt to the song’s deflated reception, and he’s struck out on the warpath against the “haters.” “Of course, I’m always going to have the haters and critics out there that say it’s not [country],” Blake told Rolling Stone Country. “But then, kiss my ass! I know more about those records than a lot of people.”
Whoa, slow down there speed racer. First off, who exactly has a huge problem with this song? I’ve scoured the world wide internet looking for negative reviews for “Neon Light” and came up with a big bag of nothing. You check all the usual suspects of Blake Shelton hate, including Saving Country Music, and mum’s the word on “Neon Light.” Not to say there isn’t someone chirping out there in some social network comment section, but that’s for every song. And what’s up with unilaterally tearing into our country music knowledge for criticisms that don’t exist?
Blake Shelton then goes on to say, “The song, the melody, the chorus is so George Jones or George Strait. It really is.”
Oh okay Blake, so just because your song has banjo and is loosely about seeking refuge in a bar it’s now fitting company to be compared with the overlords of the genre? Is it really up to an artist to decide where a song fits in the pantheon of country music, or is that the job of history?
The simple fact is that Blake Shelton’s “Neon Light,” aside from the opening hip-hop beat—which should immediately relegate songs to the trash heap of country music history—is symbolic of the very slow, but very present return of a little bit more sustainable country sounding substance that is being evidenced across country music in the emerging post Bro-Country era. “Neon Light” should in no way be compared to George Jones and George Strait, no matter what measuring stick or perspective is employed. But is it better than Blake’s “Boys ‘Round Here”? Sure. Of course this is all a symptom of the diminishing returns we’ve been receiving from country music for the past few years, but you can’t help but identify the green chutes of promise when they begin to emerge out of the barren landscape of horrendously bad music.
“Neon Light” is not terrible, but it’s not good either. That’s about the best I can give it. It still is slavish to the rhythmic trends plaguing country music in the way the song repeats words in triples, but the chorus shows off Shelton’s vocal range. How it will fare on the country music charts will be almost exclusively tied to how much money the label decides to put behind it in promotion, because it’s not good enough to have a life of its own. Blake Shelton knows he can’t compete with the worst of Bro-Country, so he’s trying to carve out his niche as the popular traditionalist.
But George Jones, or even George Strait? I’m sorry, that’s BS.
It’s been a working theory for years here at Saving Country Music that country is constantly trying to apologize for itself, and explain away all of the stereotypes of the genre to garner wider acceptance. Country spends all of its energy trying prove that it’s not a bunch of rednecks and racists and old people’s music, instead of educating people on the beauty of country in both its traditional and contemporary forms. I remember a couple of years ago when Jason Aldean said right before the ACM Awards,
Country music still kind of fights the stereotypes a lot of times. And here we’re having a country music show, and it’s in one of the glitziest cities in the world, so it just shows you that were not still sitting on hay bales passing out awards at these shows.
And you see this attitude play into the production of country music’s annual award shows and other large events more and more as time goes on. They invariably start off with the most non country performance as possible, attempting to lure viewers in by proving how not country the genre really is. This was especially evident during Tuesday (8-5) night’s broadcast of the CMA Music Fest special on ABC. There was little to nothing country about it. It came across as nothing more than an infomercial about how non-country the music of country really is. Dierks Bentley spelled it out before the night even started when he said, ““It’s a young, current, hip thing that’s happening that deserves to be in a downtown city center that’s new and growing and feels vibrant and just feels … represents the music properly. You know, this is not like your grandfather’s country music anymore.”
In an interview with Country Weekly, classic country artist Sammy Kershaw, who’s promoting his new Do You Know Me? George Jones tribute album had some poignant things to say about country music’s poor self-esteem.
Look, I’ve always said country music is the only genre that hates itself. It wants to be everything else, but country music. I’ve been in it for a long, long time and I’ve seen the changes, but it always comes back. But now, I don’t see it coming back. It finally found a route to go.
Hopefully Kershaw is wrong about country music coming back, but what he’s most certainly right about is country music wanting to be everything else than what it’s supposed to be. Whether the circle is truly broken forever, or it will eventually come back around again like it has done before in the past, there’s no doubting country is farther out on the loop than ever before.
Man. If you want to make a live music DVD, get yourself a Southern rock band. And if you’re looking for a Southern rock band, you best be looking in the direction of Atlanta, GA’s Blackberry Smoke. These days you can find all manner of variations on the Southern rock theme, and there’s some damn good ones out there—folks mixing Southern rock with Motown soul, and Southern rock with surf, punk, and so much more. But if you’re looking for the band that defines what Southern rock is in the modern day world, Blackberry Smoke is your poison. They’re the guys taking the torch that was first lit by Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers, then was passed on to bands like The Black Crowes, and are doing one of the South’s most storied subgenres all manner of proud in making sure that sound is passed on to a new generation.
Just look at these bastards. They look like they could make the inside of a tour bus smell like steak and motor oil just by looking at it, or walk into a Southern buffet and bankrupt it in one sitting. These are some long-haired, burly, and badass dudes who drip nothing but cool and authenticity. Lead singer Charlie Starr’s mutton chops are longer than the Florida panhandle. And when all those pop country guys get up there on stage and start trading Stratocaster licks doing their best to be cool, a band like Blackberry Smoke is who they are trying to emulate. But it will never be as real as a Blackberry Smoke show.
Two years after releasing their last studio album The Whippoorwill to critical-acclaim, Blackberry Smoke is back with a double live album and DVD called Leave A Scar: Live in North Carolina. There’s a few ways you can choose to partake in this live experience: You can either hear it on a double disc CD set (or download), or you can get the DVD and watch and listen. Or you can do both. The DVD gives you the option to either watch the entire concert seamlessly, or see it with a series of background spots about the band. The background portions probably don’t go as in-depth as a full-fledged documentary, but offer great insight about the band, their families, their cars, their kids, and how they all fit into the band and help make Blackberry Smoke tick so well both on and off the stage.
Your tour guide is Blackberry Smoke front man and primary songwriter Charlie Starr. He introduces you to the two brothers: bass player Richard Turner and drummer Brit Turner, the latter who also acts as the band’s archivist and avid business man. Piano and organ player Brandon Still tells the story about being hired by Blackberry Smoke, and the only stipulation was he had to give up his ‘new wave’ X-wing keyboard stand for a psychedelic-draped piano stand to join. “I was like ‘You know what? We can get rid of the X-wing stand,’” Brandon recalls, and the rest is history. Brandon and lead guitar player Paul Jackson are good friends outside the band as you see on the DVD. “Brandon hangs out, and he’s like Uncle Brandon to Paul’s kids,” says Charlie Starr.
But the music is what we’re here for, and the performances on Leave A Scar: Live in North Carolina are as tight and entertaining as you would expect for a band who’s been going at it for going on 15 years. They’re beyond road-tested, and can play these songs in their sleep. A good mixture of Blackberry’s catalog is featured in this CD/DVD project, and aside from breaking into Memphis Minnie & Led Zepplin’s “When The Levee Breaks” in the middle of one song, it features all original Blackberry Smoke material.
Hard work and hard play isn’t just a marketing mantra for these guys and their fans. It’s the only thing they know, and that’s what comes through most evident on this project. Seeing some of the shots from the crowd and the fans singing along in the perfect-sized venue for this type of undertaking really captured the relationship and value Blackberry Smoke has with the fandom they’ve earned over the years. The project is keenly shot by Judd Films, with Neltner Creative supplying the cover art, and a great engineering feat by Logan Patton doing the live vibe justice and giving the recording the perfect amount of crowd noise to put you right there in the room.
Though I might still recommend to someone who has never heard Blackberry Smoke to start with one of their studio projects, Leave A Scar: Live in North Carolina is a treasure trove for the hardcore Blackberry fan, including bonus footage on the DVD that shows the band recording with Jamey Johnson and the recently-deceased country legend George Jones.
Blackberry Smoke likes to take their time between studio releases, which can be frustrating for some salivating fans. Leave A Scar: Live in North Carolina is the perfect thing to tide them over, and chronicle what one of the most important modern-day bands in the Southern music realm do on a nightly basis for appreciative fans.
1 1/2 of 2 guns up.
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The health status of Randy Travis still remains very much in question, but that is not stopping the Randy Travis camp and Warner Bros. from releasing the second installment of his Influence: The Man I Am series on August 12th. The first album in the series was released on September 30th, 2013—a few months after Randy suffered a serious heart condition and subsequent stroke. Travis had to undergo brain surgery, and has been taking part in significant rehabilitation and physical therapy ever since the health episode.
Randy’s Influence series of releases looks to chronicle the classic country songs that went into the sound that may Randy Travis one of the most popular and influential country music artists of the late 80′s and into the 90′s and beyond. The new collection includes covers of Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On”, Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down”, Hank Williams’ “Mind Your Own Business”, and Waylon Jennings’ “Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line”. It also includes the Randy Travis tribute to George Jones “Tonight I’m Playin’ Possum” written by Keith Gattis. Randy’s performance of the song at the 2013 CMA Fan Fest was one of his last public performances before his health issues (see below). Travis recorded both volumes in the Influence: The Man I Am series before last year’s health scare.
The extent of Randy’s paralysis after his stroke and surgery, and if he will ever sing again have been a topic of great speculation in the tabloid press, with multiple unnamed and named sources leaking conflicting information about Randy’s health status, while pictures of Randy appearing in public continue to surface. Last week yet another story citing an unnamed source surfaced in Closer Magazine, saying, “He hasn’t plateaued in his recovery, which is always a big fear. He really faces a long, tough battle.” The story also cites songwriter and Randy Travis friend Bonnie Paul who says, “He’s taking great strides and getting better. He’s a cowboy! If he gets back his strength, then anything is possible.”
Meanwhile any true health information about Randy’s status remains unclear, and his camp has yet to release any official statements about his prognosis or rate of recovery.
This Influence: The Man I Am series gives Randy Travis fans something new to listen to while Randy continues his hard-fought recovery to better health.
George Riddle, a songwriter and musician whose music and influence can be heard throughout the classic country music world, passed away on Saturday night, July 19th after battling with throat Cancer.
Over his long career in country music, George Riddle wrote songs for artists such as George Jones, Ray Charles, Faron Young, Tammy Wynette, Mickey Gilley, Del Reeves, Melba Montgomery, and Margie Singleton among others, and wrote 13 songs for George Jones alone. George Riddle also sang and performed his own songs, recording at various times for United Artists, Musicor, MGM, Starday, Marathon, and Roma Records, releasing seven full albums and multiple singles throughout his career. For 40 years, George Riddle was a regular on the Grand Ole Opry, backing up many of the biggest Opry stars. But he might be best known as the very first and original Jones Boy, backing George Jones up in what would later become George’s legendary band. When George Jones first started out, it was just him and George Riddle. And as they say, the rest is history.
George Riddle was born in Marion, Indiana September 1st ,1935, and graduated from Van Buren High School in 1953. He served in the United States Army from 1958 till 1960, then went to Nashville to pursue his dream of becoming a country and western singer. This is where he met George Jones and became one of country music’s marquee sidemen.
Riddle also made appearances on The Johnny Cash Show, The Nashville Network, in the movie Country Music on Broadway, and many other notable stage and television appearances throughout his career. Most recently he hosted a classic country radio show on WCJC 99.3 FM in Indiana every Saturday morning from 6 am till 11 am near his home in Gas City, Indiana.
Despite his accomplishments throughout his career, George Riddle was known as a private person, not desiring the spotlight. In 2011 and 2012, Riddle received R.O.P.E. (Reunion of Professional Entertainers) Awards for his DJ work, as a songwriter, and a Lifetime Achievement Award.
George Riddle will be greatly missed as an important contributor to classic country music.
The below photos are from the George Riddle Facebook page. The first is with George Jones and Patsy Cline. It is believed to be one of the final pictures of Patsy, and was taken the day before her tragic plane crash.
Tom Petty has been known to speak his mind from time to time, including in August of 2013 when he criticized modern country as “Bad rock with a fiddle.” Now in a new interview with Canada’s CBC news organization, Petty has relayed some pointed opinions about what he characterizes as stars that have “won a game show” and that make “plastic computer music.”
Speaking to reporter Jian Ghomeshi of CBC about his past, Petty said that discos and DJ’s presented a problem for Petty’s first band Mudcrutch when they first came onto the music scene.
“Now if you’re a band it’s really tough to find places to work, places to play,” Petty says. “This changed so much. I remember when we were a working band, when Mudcrutch was just a working band, we had to work all the time in order to eat, you know? And disco suddenly changed over to cats who just played records, and the bands were out of work. And we were so insulted. Like, ‘What? You mean, we’ve been fired for a guy that plays records?’ But that was the first wake up call that wow, there’s a lot of gigs being taken away. And if you want to keep working, you’re going to have to get better and better.”
When talking about his influences, and how Petty saw Elvis, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones, and eventually onto what rock music would become, Petty said, “Nothing was any worse than corporate rock. Nothing worse has come along, though there is a lot of popular kind of plastic computer music that’s not that interesting. I don’t feel like somebody … like the artist did that, you know? You put your name on it, but you didn’t do that. But nevertheless, how a record’s made isn’t important to the audience. What’s important to them is what they’re hearing.”
When the idea of fame was brought up to Petty, he replied, “As far as getting famous, I don’t know nothing about getting famous … A lot of people get famous now very quickly, and then they seem to have a turnover where they weren’t famous for that long, but someone else steps in to fill the slot. They’re sort of disposably famous I suppose. But I can’t keep up with who’s famous anymore … I know in my time, in my generation, if you had come, if they tried to offer my generation music by someone that had won a game show, it would have been hysterical. You would have been laughed out of the room. I mean we were suspicious of people that had hit records. I mean it was that different of a time.”
The interview happened at Tom Petty’s Woodshed Recording studio in Malibu, where Petty is getting ready for the release of his latest album Hypnotic Eye on July 29th; his first album with The Heartbreakers since 2010′s Mojo. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers also have a massive tour planned to begin on August 3rd.
Petty is given credit by some for sparking off the Season of Discontent last summer and fall that saw artists from both the country and rock worlds coming out in record numbers to criticize the direction of country music. “Well, yeah I mean, I hate to generalize on a whole genre of music, but it does seem to be missing that magic element that it used to have,” Petty said at the time. “I’m sure there are people playing country that are doing it well, but they’re just not getting the attention that the shittier stuff gets. But that’s the way it always is, isn’t it?”
Later Florida Georgia Line responded to the Petty quotes with a petty “U think we care?” Country songwriter Chris Stapleton also took Petty to task for his comments.
The 63-year-old Gainsville, FL native has shown his appreciation for country over the years, including covering the Conway Twitty / George Jones song “Image of Me”.
In the annals of country music, the amount of concept albums proffered to the public have been very very few. But these extra efforts have almost always gone on to loom larger than their more standard format counterparts, and become pillars of influence from which scores of other albums draw their inspiration. Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears: Ballad of the American Indian was arguably country music’s first concept album, and has gone on to become a cult favorite. Willie Nelson’s Phases & Stages helped stimulate his rise in country as a performer, and his Red Headed Stranger is arguably the greatest country music album of all time. Hank Williams III’s Straight to Hell helped create a country music underground and put the 3rd generation star on the map. And even today, whether you consider Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music a concept album or not, it has critics singing its praises and marks the starting point of a fast-rising artist.
Lost among country music’s great concept albums though, unless you count yourself amongst the die hard Marty Stuart fans, was the 1999 offering from Marty called The Pilgrim released 15 years ago today. A commercial flop that was poorly-promoted but well-received by all the critics who happened to receive a copy, The Pilgrim produced no singles and no awards, but it wasn’t meant to. This was Marty Stuart flexing his creative muscles, and doing what he wanted to do at the end of a century, and the end of an era.
In 1999, Marty Stuart was at a crossroads. He still had his signature black hair and some semblance of a mainstream career, but the gray was filling in and he was quickly being forgotten by radio. He still was using The Rock & Roll Cowboys as his backing band. It wouldn’t be until his next album that Stuart would saddle up with his long-standing and current outfit The Fabulous Superlatives. The album was his last with MCA Nashville and an opportunity for Marty to do what he wanted, free of the commercial worry of a major label breathing down his neck about delivering on their investment. This brew of circumstances resulted in arguably the Philadelphia, Mississippi native’s crowning opus.
What some don’t know about The Pilgrim, even some of its apostles, is that the linear narrative of the album is based on a true story from Marty Stuart’s hometown. It begins with a man named Norman, characterized as “cross-eyed” but still able to land the town’s most beautiful woman by the name of Rita. When Norman becomes jealous and protective of Rita, she takes to the arms of “The Pilgrim”, who doesn’t know that Rita is married. When Norman finds out about the relationship, he commits suicide, and filled with guilt, The Pilgrim takes to traveling, ending up on the West Coast before returning eventually to be with Rita once more.
Along this journey, Marty Stuart takes the role of Norman, and other characters as he narrates the theme. Helping Marty unfurl the story of The Pilgrim is one of the most impressive collection of legendary country music names this side of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” session. The indelible voice of Emmylou Harris greets listeners early in the album, assuring that The Pilgrim will be full of surprises, turns, and towering contributions. Pam Tillis, George Jones, Ralph Stanley, Earl Scruggs, and Marty’s former boss and father-in-law Johnny Cash also contribute, with Cash helping to conclude the album with a haunting performance.
The Pilgrim consists of twenty total tracks, including instrumental interludes and recurring “acts” that lend corresponding sonic shades to compliment the arc of the story. And it’s all written by Marty Stuart himself, aside from some contributions here and there from notables like Gary Nicholson, and Mike Campbell (Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers). Other notable musicians lend their talents to the music of The Pilgrim including fiddle player Stuart Duncan and organist Barry Beckett. The instrumentation on the album is nothing short of world class, pulling out all the stops to paint The Pilgrims‘ story in vibrant colors, and endow it with the timeless touch of some of country music’s most noble torch bearers.
In the twenty tracks, The Pilgrim exemplifies tremendous range, almost like an audio timeline of country music’s evolution. From blistering bluegrass-inspired mandolin numbers from Stuart’s nimble fingers, to the more honky-tonk style electric rockers that Marty is known for now and during his near past, to the poetic and smoky surprise of the album, a song called “The Observations of a Crow” that show a beatnik style from Stuart seldom seen, the music of The Pilgrim is in no way an afterthought to the story, and so many of the compositions can be taken out of context and thrive autonomously, and often do when Marty reprises many Pilgrim tracks during live performances; some of them staples of his Marty Stuart Show with The Fabulous Superlatives by his side.
Fifteen years after the release of this somewhat forgotten, but unquestionably iconic album, Marty Stuart looks like the genius for pulling it off, especially when some of the contributors would unfortunately pass on, and others lose the essence of their skills so soon after the release. Whatever financial flops The Pilgrim recorded on the books of MCA Nashville, it did what many other commercially successful albums of the period couldn’t—withstand the test of time, and grew richer with age.
Two guns up!
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King George Strait played what is expected to be his final show as a big ticket touring musician to a packed audience at Dallas Cowboys’ stadium in Arlington, TX on Saturday night, and the event that saw people travel from all over the world to witness, and drew some of country music’s biggest names in support, shattered previous attendance records for an indoor concert. A head count of 104, 793 attendees was taken, roughly 5,000 over the stadium’s listed capacity of 100,000, and breaking the previous record for an indoor concert of 87,500 held by a Rolling Stones show at the Superdome in New Orleans in 1981—the same year Strait released his first hit “Unwound”.
The George Strait concert was the final show in his 60-date farewell “Cowboy Rides Away” tour that embarked on the road January 13th, 2013 for a show in Lubbock, TX. Showing up to support George was an impressive list of performers, especially since the date competed with the big night of Nashville’s CMA Fest at LP Field. The show included Jason Aldean, Kenny Chesney, Eric Church, Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Miranda Lambert, Martina McBride, Lee Ann Womack, Sheryl Crow, and Asleep At The Wheel. Alan Jackson and George Strait reprized their CMA Award-winning duet “Murder On Music Row” from 2000 on the custom-built stage that sat in the center of the field. “It’s still appropriate,” the duo said about the protest song.
Other performances included George Strait and Vince Gill covering George Jones’ song “Love Bug” as well as “Does Ft. Worth Ever Cross Your Mind”, Martina McBride and George sang duets on “Golden Ring” and “Jackson”, Miranda Lambert joined in for “How ‘Bout Them Cowgirls”, and Alan Jackson also sang “Amarillo By Morning” with night’s man of honor. At the end of the concert, everyone took the stage, including Ray Benson from Asleep At The Wheel to sing “All My Ex’s Live in Texas” and finish up with “The Cowboy Rides Away”.
George Strait performed 584 shows since 1990 that grossed more than $405 million, had 44 Number One hits on Billboard’s country chart, and sold nearly 70 million records. But as Strait promised when first announcing the tour, this doesn’t mean he will stop recording or playing shows upon occasion. It will just be the end of the long haul stadium/arena tours. “Like Arnold Schwarzenegger says, I’ll be back,” Strait said before the final song. There was also a film crew shooting the whole event that saw tickets spike to an average of $688 in the secondary market.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am to be here tonight,” said Strait from the stage. “It’s just been on my mind since we started this tour two years ago, and finally it’s here tonight. We broke a record for the most people, ever. Really? Why wouldn’t we, huh?”
On Saturday night (5-31), Valory Music Group artist Brantley Gilbert headlined the Blue Ridge Music Festival in Salem, Virginia, with Thomas Rhett, ABC Nashville actress and singer Clare Bowen, and Travis Tritt opening for him. Apparently what transpired stimulated Travis Tritt to take to Twitter to question the level of respect he and his fellow openers were treated with, and the respect he and other aging artists are receiving in general. Here are the Tweets in sequential order.
Even though @BrantleyGilbert only gave us 8 feet of stage, we had a great time performing for everyone @BlueRidgeFest tonight. Great crowd! My word of advice to all up and coming performers: Don’t kick anymore asses on your way up than you are willing to kiss on your way down! I’ve always treated my heroes and peers with respect. I’ve respected everyone from George Jones, Waylon and Charlie Daniels who opened.
Then Tritt tended to soften his stance as the tweets continued.
I doubt very seriously if @Brantley Gilbert knows how disrespectful his stage setup is to those who open for him. However, I’m just saying. Regardless of circumstances, I love performing for an appreciative audience. The folks make the show for me. Nobody appreciates y’all more! Make no mistake, @BrantleyGilbert is a fellow Georgia boy. He deserves whatever place he has carved for himself in the biz …. All I’m saying is that his handlers/management should be a little more aware of how he comes off to those he works with. No disrespect. Everyone in this biz knows we can’t please everyone, in spite of our best intentions. However, non of us can fix what we don’t know is wrong.
About an hour later, Tritt added:
Know this. I’ve had openers from Trisha Yearwood, Dixie Chicks, Little Texas, Joe Diffie, Lynyrd Skynyrd & LeRoy Parnell over the years …. And I’ve always personally made sure that they had all the stage space and production that they needed to put on the best show possible.
No response has been seen from Brantley Gilbert, who has not posted a Tweet since May 30th. Gilbert at the moment is promoting his recently released Just As I Am album which has been surprising people with its sales numbers and debuted at #1 in country music.
Tritt’s snipping of Gilbert’s nose (or at least his crew and management’s) is reminiscent of last summer when artists began speaking out like never before about the direction of the genre and the lack of respect for older artists, arguably crowned by Zac Brown who called Luke Bryan’s song “That’s My Kind of Night” the “Worst Song Ever.”
In January, Travis Tritt also had some criticism of the direction of the country music business, telling Peter Cooper of The Tennessean:
There’s a mentality in the country music world of Nashville that says, “You don’t know anything, and we know how to do this.” It’s “We know what’s best for you: You get to the microphone, sing what we tell you to sing, play what we tell you to play, and you’ll be fine.” That scares people away from branching out and doing things that creatively are out of the box.
The music business establishment does not have a crystal ball. They do not know everything that they tell you they know. I’d say to any of the new people coming out, ‘Find the courage to step out and try it your way.’ Otherwise, what we get is a cookie-cutter mentality that isn’t good for artists who are having to portray themselves as something they aren’t, or that are capable of doing so much more but are being stifled.
Garth! Hey buddy, it’s been a long time. Yeah, I know, we’ve seen each other in passing here and there. Some appearances at the award shows and such, and that whole thing out in Vegas and the recent box set release, though I’m not really sure if any of that counts. But hey, don’t worry, I’m not jumping on your butt or anything. You hung the moon for me for over a decade, and no matter what you decide to do from here on out, I’m forever in your debt for taking me to levels I thought were never possible, flying over stadiums on suspension wires and inspiring the Billy Ray Cyrus’s of the world notwithstanding. Hell I don’t even know that I can get worked up about all of that stuff anymore, or about your whole Chris Gaines gimmick, or for trying out for the Padres baseball team. I get it now. You were bored. You had climbed the mountain, conquered it, and were looking for the next challenge. Well let me tell you Garth, if you’re looking for a good challenge, I’ve got one. A big one. And this is one you might be able to accomplish. In fact, you might be the only one left on Earth who can.
Don’t think for a second that I blame you for taking a dozen-plus years off to spend time with your family, please. In fact I commend you for it. If we all spent a little more time putting family first, this probably would be a much more pleasant world to live in. Hell, don’t think the idea of dialing it all back doesn’t cross my mind every damn day, yet here I am working like a three-peckered billy goat. Do you know they say that country music is the biggest American music genre now? Ha, did you ever think we’d see that day Garth?
But this is the problem old friend. They’ve thrown the barn doors wide, and now everybody and their cousin is calling themselves country, and it’s gotten completely out of control. Be careful what you wish for, right Garth? I mean we’ve got DJ’s who don’t do anything but stand behind a couple of turntables pressing buttons now calling themselves country, rappers calling themselves country, hard rockers calling themselves country. It’s to the point now where I yearn for the days where Kenny Chesney and Taylor Swift were the biggest pains in my ass. I look back now at the time when they said you were ruining the genre as the good ol’ days. By the way, do you have any idea if Waylon Jennings ever really said that line, “Garth Brooks did to country music what pantyhose did to finger $#@!ing?” Because for the life of me, I can’t verify it anywhere. And yeah, I know I just censored myself. But to some of us Garth, country music is still a family format.
I’m swallowing my pride here Garth. I need your help. Whether it was you and I pairing up in the in the 90′s to sell all those records that truly stimulated all these problems in the first place or not, the simple fact is you and I coming back together could maybe spell the end of it, or at least restoring some sort of balance to where if someone turns on their radio and tunes it to a country station, they might actually hear something that sounds like country.
I know there’s no need to pry you off you’re couch or anything; you’ve already got all the plans in the works for your big triumphant return, so this is not the direction my pleas are headed. What I want to implore you to do Garth is to keep it country. For the love of all things holy, keep it country. Please, as a favor to your old pal. Just be yourself. This is no longer about about trying to turn away the hordes who will call anything “country.” Truth is they won the battle years ago. That ship has sailed. This is about storming the gates ourselves, and taking back what is ours. You may be the best-selling solo artist in the history of popular music, but as I’m sure you know Garth, country music is bigger than any one person (not to gloat, but you know…), and it is the responsibility of everyone, however big or small, to preserve and protect the country music institution, especially an artist like yourself whose benefited in the manner of untold riches from it.
They can say what they want about you Garth. There are old codgers and punks out there that will bad mouth your name no matter how the rules of the game change, and how much time redeems your past accomplishments. Actually, you want to put those critics to bed? Simply put out a true country album that is successful, and those people’s anger will turn to nostalgia and appreciation. I know deep inside of you is still that little boy from Oklahoma that grew up listening to Merle Haggard and George Jones; that appealed to the masses not by borrowing from other genres, but from finding and writing meaningful songs and singing them from the heart. Some focus on your wireless mic and your flawless, almost too-perfect presentation. But I focus in the fire in your eye, the aching moan in your voice that mimics a steel guitar the comes bursting through the mix to remind us all of the magic that country music can evoke when done right.
And you Garth, and only you, may still have the power at this late hour to remind the masses of that magic.
You did it once for the money Garth. Now, do it once for the music. Because we need it now more than ever.
Your once strained, but now rehabilitated and appreciative friend,
Country is the only genre of music on planet Earth where the midlife crises of its artists play out on the airwaves and populate the very top of the charts, effecting the sonic path of the entire format for all the world to unbearably behold. And right now, Jerrod Niemann is doing the country music equivalent of blowing his retirement kitty on a red Lamborghini, and showing an unhealthy, creepy interest in his daughter’s hot best friend’s after school extra-curricular activities.
To call Jerrod Niemann an “ass” isn’t even hyperbole at this point. He isn’t spreading his arms wide in a submissive pose and pandering to Music Row to do their worst with him—be damned whatever destruction it might do to his legacy or long-term perception—Niemann’s precarious position at the moment much more resembles the compromising and unsavory posture of the poor bastard that graced the original cover of Pantera’s album Far Beyond Driven. Jerrod Niemann in 2014 might as well be like that fictional, computer-generated pop star in Japan: soulless, inhuman, and completely void of free will, relegated to a malleable piece of pop country EDM silly putty for marketing pricks to digitally program and have do their bidding without any fear of human will hindering the money making process or harboring any resentment or conscience. Jerrod Niemann is nothing more than a puppet, and the iron hands of the recording industry are confidently ensconced in his orifice whose colloquial name is an alternative to the title of his new single, “Donkey”.
Don’t fall for the ruse that just because Jerrod Niemann admits that this song is stupid that it somehow absolves it of all of the inexcusable, heinous sins it commits. Forgo all of the superfluous banjo on this track, Niemann’s cadence on “Donkey” evokes hellish nightmares of a cross between a castrated Right Said Fred and whoever the fuck sang that omnipresent mid 90′s ear worm “How Bizzare”. The line “They all walk funny when they’re done riding you know who,” singularly sets back country music 50 years, and would turn Loretta Lynn into stone like Medusa’s gaze if it ever graced her sainted ears. Our Lord Jesus Christ should resurrect Waylon for the exclusive purpose of shoving one of his Flying “W”‘s straight up old Niemann’s keister to see what kind of gait his pathetic ass would sport afterwards.
The jargon and inspiration for “Donkey” comes directly from the uncultured mouths of mid-pubescent 14-year-old boys with hard on’s, and any man who ever utters the term “honkey tonkey” in his entire existence should be banished from ever feeling the touch of another woman till the end of eternity, or certainly from mentioning the immaculate George Jones or his riding lawnmover in their stupid songs. And Niemann shows just how “country” his designer drug, upper crust dance beats are when he reveals that he thinks the term “donkey” and “mule” are interchangeable.
“Donkey” is an uprovocated ass raping of the ears, and if any Niemannites come here preaching to me the virtues of this song because “country music must evolve,” I will personally take a pair of donkey balls and use them to tea bag each and every one of their bedroom pillows when they’re not looking. “Donkey” isn’t just bad, it defines the catastrophic trainwrecking of the entire human evolutionary timeline. 800,000 years of homo sapien progress brought to a screeching halt because one pudgy douchebag wants an arena-sized “country” career before his pubes turn gray. “Donkey” is a harbinger for a dark age for arts, entertainment, and intelligence that humankind is on the precipice of plummeting headlong into.
The worst song ever? I’m tired to doling out this distinction only to have to offer a revision every six weeks when some other pop country asshole finds a new gradient for rock bottom, but Jerrod Niemann’s EDM-encrusted, braying ass certainly deserves to be in the discussion for that most disgraceful of honors.
Two guns way down!
It was a year ago today that country music legend George Jones passed away due to Hypoxic Respiratory Failure at the age of 81. On Saturday, friends, fans, and family, including George’s widow Nancy, country star Larry Gatlin, and others gathered at the Woodlawn Cemetery on Thompson Lane in the Berry Hill portion of southern Nashville to honor George and to plant two Dogwood trees in his memory. The event was open to the public, and fans began to congregate early in the morning to witness the ceremony that transpired at 1:00 PM.
The two dogwoods were planted on either side of the “He Stopped Loving Her Today” monument that was unveiled at the Woodlawn Cemetery on November 18th, 2013. Members of George’s family did the honor of placing the trees and helping to fill the holes of the two Dogwoods. “This day is going to be bittersweet,” says Nancy Jones. “I know how much people loved George, and the love has continued even a year later. I am so fortunate for the friends and fans that George and I made through the years. I want everyone to come celebrate with us, not because he is no longer with us, but to keep his legacy alive.”
Nancy Jones, Larry Gatlin, and others spoke at the event, circled by gatherers who are still mourning the passing of one of the greatest country music artists of all time. A framed letter from the State of Tennessee Senate was also unveiled, and the ceremony culminated in the assembled crowd singing “Amazing Grace.”
Produced by T Bone Burnett, the new Secret Sisters album called Put Your Needle Down—the sister duo’s first record in nearly four years—was produced by T Bone Burnett. T Bone Burnett produced this sophomore effort, and lending his efforts in a production role was T Bone Burnett. T Bone Burnett, T Bone Burnett, T Bone Burnett.
Did I mention that T Bone Burnett produced this album? Okay good. Because apparently that’s a more important point than who this album is by and what it’s titled, and T Bone’s name must precede this information in any copy or conversation.
It’s not that T Bone Burnett isn’t an accomplished and successful producer. I mean hell, you can’t stick your nose anywhere in the Americana realm without finding apostles of T Bone telling you how brilliant he is. The problem though is the hype around his work has become so pervasive, I’m afraid he’s begun to believe it himself, and uses it as justification to employ an extremely heavy hand in his producer capacity, relegating the artists he works with as secondary, if not arbitrary to furthering the weight behind his own name. Or at least, that’s the way it sounds.
No doubt T Bone Burnett is a towering man of music. There’s no denying his record. But that doesn’t give him the right, or make it right to overhaul, supplant, or bury the God-given sound, style, and talent the artists he works for are born with. People can come to T-Bone’s defense and say that this is the fate these artists chose when they signed up to work with him, but it still doesn’t erase the fact that the role of a producer is supposed to be one of a subordinate. Yes, the producer should guide and mentor, but the best producers in the business do not reshape artists into their own appointed image, they coax the best attributes already alive in artists out into the open to be captured in the recorded context. Inexplicably, with The Secret Sisters and Put Your Needle Down, T Bone Burnett does both.
This album shouldn’t be characterized as The Secret Sisters with T Bone Burnett. It should be couched as The Secret Sisters versus T Bone Burnett. Such an over-produced wall of serrated sounds punishes the ear throughout this album, it’s like trying to view the Eiffel Tower through a plague of locusts: You know there’s something very pretty and breathtaking there, but you have to fight with flailing arms to see, and you’re rarely allowed to relax and bask in its beauty.
T Bone Burnett’s production doesn’t seem to have any sense or respect for the time and place The Secret Sisters’ music naturally evokes; their music seems only the canvas for T Bone to do his worst. After the very first song, I was already tired of the ever-present tambourine on this album, which permeates this record deeper than a sheepdog’s flea dip. The tambourine rattles inside your skull like a ricocheting bullet; steadfast and unrelenting. I couldn’t get the iconic image of Will Ferrell banging on a cowbell from that famous Saturday Night Live skit out of my head, but replaced by a round, jingle-filled adult-sized death rattle. Mucky, incongruent moans of excessively chorus-inflected guitar tones burden this work like the apparitions that keep you in slow motion as you’re being pursued in a nightmare by an apex predator.
Am I being a teeny bit harsh here maybe? Is some deep-seated, unnecessary hatred for all things T Bone shining through and compromising my integrity? Perhaps, but I’ll tell you, despite the monstrosity T Bone constructed though his work on this album, I love Put Your Needle Down. I think this album is great—one captivating song after another. Why? Because no different than how the primitive artists of country had to fight through poor production situations when they were making the very first country albums, or in the 60′s when Music Row producers couldn’t resist adding strings and choruses to every damn song, or in the 80′s when everyone decided the best thing to do was get into the keyboard business and over-modulate the hell out of the drum signals, good songs, and good artists will always shine through. And that’s what The Secret Sisters are, and that’s what The Secret Sisters did on Put Your Needle Down.
And if we’re going to smear T Bone with such colorful language, we also have to give him credit. Whether it was by accident, on purpose, or despite his best efforts, on Put Your Needle Down, the sheer, untouched genius of The Secret Sisters was unearthed in all of its dazzling beauty, and captured so splendidly despite the production woes, that you could fall under it’s spell even if you had to listen through an A-bomb blast.
Sisters Laura and Lydia Rogers were born and raised in one of the holy lands of American music: Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Fertilized with music from George Jones, Merle Haggard, and Doc Watson, and singing in a church that had no instruments, their Southern harmonies were born with such a purity that can only be found in sister siblings. When The Secret Sisters harmonize, it is the sound a pining heart makes, or the sound emitted when a crack cleaves the soul. Or it’s the salve that mends the heart and soul, depending on the theme of the story their soaring voices carry.
Their first, self-titled album from 2010 was a selection of classic country-style songs and was produced by Dave Cobb–famous for working recently with both Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson on their critically-acclaimed albums—with T Bone Burnett breathing down Cobb’s neck as an “executive producer.” The Secret Sisters debut captured them in their most native environment, and in a sincere, country offering. No, my defacing of T Bone’s effort has nothing to do with him taking this album in a non-country direction; it’s that he didn’t respect the natural sound of The Secret Sisters. He could have added some rock or progressive sounds here and there, but the production effort of Put Your Needle Down was a complete whitewashing. And get this: I’m so dug in on this stance, I don’t even care if The Secret Sisters disagree.
But damn if I don’t love virtually everything The Secret Sisters themselves do on this album. Put Your Needle Down differs, and his enhanced from their first album by featuring mostly original songs. The pain and desperation captured in their performances on tracks like “Iuka” and “The Pocket Knife” evoke the plight inherent in the female condition when it’s torn and tested by the villainous priorities of men. The heights reached in the chorus of the 50′s-ish do woppy “Black And Blue” with the sisters harmonies dancing and twirling in such synchronicity, like smoke-trailed acrobats rising eloquently and unresponsive to gravity until it is impossible to discern them apart in formation, is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
One respite from T Bone the Terrible’s reign is on the subdued and simple “Lonely Island”, which if recorded 50 years ago, would be a standard of the country music song book today. It is simply a masterpiece.
And as jarring and inappropriate as the production of this album is, you even get to a point where you’re okay with it, if for no other reasons than refusing to let it ruin what was going on here beneath the layers and layers of over-production, and the fogginess that besets this album—sometimes a symptom of when a project’s mixes have been reworked too many times, especially when they are recorded on 2-inch tape to capture the “warmth” that Audiophiles love to preach about. And yes, I understand what T Bone was trying to do here: he was trying to take something classic and pure, and make it hip and progressive to appeal to a wider audience. On paper, there’s nothing wrong with that. But from a production standpoint, it didn’t work. T Bone was not the right one to try this feat with this particular project.
And why did it take nearly 1 1/2 years for this album to get to our ears? It was recorded in December of 2012, and January of 2013. I think there’s a story there in itself, if only to answer why two young women with the wind behind their backs from their first album had to wait so long for a second release.
But I’ll be damned, I really, really enjoy this album overall. Simply put, The Secret Sisters are the best female duo out there right now, and Put Your Needle Down comes highly recommended….with the obvious production caveat.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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Jackson Taylor & The Sinners are the best hard-driving country band you’ve never heard of. How do I know you’ve never heard of them? Because nobody has, except for the people that have, and as those people can attest, nobody has heard of them. Hell even when despite all their unknown-ness, they were somehow nominated for one of those Dale Watson Ameripolitan Awards a while back, at the awards banquet in February the presenter called them “JASON Taylor and the Sinners” when reading off the names of nominees. For the people in attendance who knew about the band, it seemed every bit appropriate. Why? Because nobody knows about them. Here they were amongst friends, and they were still unknown. “And the winner is…” the presenter then continued, and someone yelled out from the crowd, “Jason Taylor!” Unfortunately for them neither Jackson Taylor nor Jason Taylor won. But dammit, everyone in attendance that night will remember Jason Taylor from here on out, while Jackson Taylor remains sandwiched in some sort of weird no man’s land between Red Dirt, underground country, and Southern rock & roll.
It ain’t from a lack of sweat equity that Jackson Taylor & The Sinners aren’t any better known. They’ve paid their dues and then some. Maybe it’s because the uptight crowd that would usually get into their hard country sound don’t like the cussing, and the underground cusses don’t care to pay attention to anything outside of their Facebook feeds. But the jokes on them, because Jackson Taylor & The Sinners is one hell of a good time. Just ask the people who know about them.
Don’t take it that Jackson Taylor & The Sinners are like the sisters of the poor. They’ve had their days in the sun, and it certainly must be a proud achievement for them to be featured a part of the prestigious, critically-acclaimed, world-renown, and long-running album series called Live At Billy Bob’s Texas right beside names like Willie Nelson, David Allan Coe, Billy Joe Shaver, and on and on from there. Created by Rick Smith some years back and recorded at the “World’s Largest Honky Tonk” in Ft. Worth, it’s a high honor to be asked on the series even if you get up there on stage and lay an egg.
Luckily we don’t have to worry about that outcome with Jackson Taylor. They come out swinging like Joe Frasier with some of their most lethal haymakers right out of the gate like “Jack’s Drunk Again” and “Old Henry Rifle”. And when they’ve pinned you to the ropes only four songs in, they shift gears into some of their more subdued, songwriting material like “The Mirror” and “Sunset”.
Something cool to note about this set captured live in both excellent audio and full concert DVD is that it all transpired on July 27th, 2013, only a few months after the passing of the Ol’ Possum, Mr. George Jones. So despite this being very much a signature set of Sinner’s music, No Show is there in spirit and is given a healthy tip of the hat when they cover “He Stopped Loving Her Today” (capped off with some of Jackson’s alternative lyrics), as well as their song “No Show” early in the set.
Jackson Taylor is one of these guys you can’t take too seriously or you lose touch with the total enjoyment you can get from him, while at the same time he can be deceptively deep when you read between the lines, or when he performs a song like “Faulkner By Dashboard Lights”—a true and personal track from Jackson and one of the standouts from the set.
Can you really still be unknown and have your own Live At Billy Bob’s release? That wouldn’t seem right, and this 16-song disc/DVD combo that includes an interview with Jackson is probably the perfect introduction to a band for someone who isn’t scared off by the warning that Jackson isn’t shy about cussing a little and getting a little strange, or mixing some over-driven rock guitar into his country. But Jackson Taylor & The Sinners is still country no doubt with the Johnny Cash train beat behind most everything they do, and they do great justice to the weight behind the Live At Billy Bob’s stamp that marks this album’s cover.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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