Browsing articles tagged with " Gillian Welch"

Retirement Be Damned, Ralph Stanley Readies New Album

December 14, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  13 Comments


It was all doom and gloom and teary-eyed salutations when Dr. Ralph Stanley announced in June of 2013 that he would be embarking on his farewell tour in late 2013 into 2014. It was supposed to be the last time we would be able to see The Man of Constant Sorrow grace the bluegrass stage. But Stanley has always been one to have restless bones, and even before the farewell tour began in earnest, he was already saying he wasn’t ready to retire. “I meant it at the time,” Stanley says about the premature proclamation. “But I’ve decided to leave it up to the good Lord.”

Since then Stanley has continued to tour with no signs of slowing down, despite being 87-years-old, and losing his right hand man and guitar player James Alan Shelton last year. Now Dr. Stanley has a new album in the works. Ralph Stanley & Friends: Man of Constant Sorrow is scheduled to be released on January 19th, and will be distributed through Cracker Barrel’s country stores. It will also be available digitally through iTunes, Amazon, etc. It features 13 brand new tracks, all but two of which match up Stanley with some of the greats of bluegrass and beyond, including Ricky Skaggs, Del McCoury, Dierks Bentley, Lee Ann Womack, Elvis Costello, Robert Plant, and Old Crow Medicine Show.

“I have always enjoyed performing with other musicians ever since my older brother Carter and I first started playing music together when we were kids,” says Dr. Stanley. Carter and Ralph first started out as performers 68 years ago, backed by the Clinch Mountain Boys. “I am excited to share these collaborations with such wonderful artists with our fans. So many of my fans are regular visitors to Cracker Barrel, so I’m happy to have my project available exclusively there so they can find the CD in one of their favorite locations.”

The songs on Ralph Stanley & Friends will be familiar to many Ralph Stanley and bluegrass fans, but the recordings are all brand new. The effort was co-produced by Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale, who also appear on a new rendition of the song “I Am The Man, Thomas.”

  1. ralph-stanley-and-friends-man-of-constant-sorrow-001We Shall Rise with Josh Turner
  2. I Only Exist with Dierks Bentley
  3. Sweethearts in Heaven with Ricky Skaggs
  4. Rank Stranger with Nathan Stanley
  5. I Am the Man, Thomas with Buddy Miller & Jim Lauderdale
  6. White Dove with Lee Ann Womack
  7. Red Wicked Wine with Elvis Costello
  8. Pig in a Pen with Gillian Welch & David Rawlings
  9. Two Coats with Robert Plant
  10. Brand New Tennessee Waltz with Del McCoury
  11. Short Life of Trouble with Old Crow Medicine Show
  12. Hills of Home – Ralph Stanley solo
  13. Man of Constant Sorrow – Ralph Stanley solo

Sammy Brue – Or The Young Man on the “Single Mothers” Album Cover

September 14, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  7 Comments


“Who is that mysterious woman hanging on the shoulder of Steve Earle’s son?” That is the question some were asking when Justin Townes Earle released his first LP called The Good Life in 2008. That mysterious woman turned out to be fiddle player Amanda Shires, who as a young prodigy was once a member of Bob Wills’ legendary backing band The Texas Playboys, and is now known as Amanda Isbell, a renown solo artist and wife of Jason Isbell.

Subsequently every Justin Townes Earle album cover has featured Earle himself and a pretty woman somewhere in close vicinity to him, and just exactly who these pretty women are is part of the fun and mystery. But Justin Townes Earle broke from this tradition on his latest record Single Mothers and put someone else on the cover instead of himself. There’s a girl on the cover yet again, holding the hand of the male protagonist, but that’s not Justin Townes Earle. Or is it?

Prodigies in the music world usually come in the form of instrumentalists, like Amanda Shires. It is rare to find a prodigy whose passion is songwriting, and even more rare to find a young songwriter who can garner acceptance and notoriety from the established music world at such a young age. Generally speaking, younger artists just don’t have the type of bevy of experiences to pull from to enthrall the listener with compelling sentiments, and they just don’t have the cognitive capacity to understand the subtly and nuance necessary to engage an audience in true storytelling.

And then there’s Sammy Brue.

Sammy Brue is the 13-year-old songwriter whose defiant gaze and long locks reaching out beneath a wide-brimmed black hat landed on the cover of Single Mothers. Sammy is originally from Portland, OR, and in his very short career has already made friends with Justin Townes Earle, Joshua Black Wilkins (who was also the photographer who shot the cover, and Justin Townes Earle’s other covers), and many other songwriters of the wider country and Americana communities. Just in the last couple of years, Sammy Brue has opened for Asleep At The Wheel, Hayes Carll, John Moreland, and Lukas Nelson to name a few. His father bought him a guitar for Christmas in 2011 after the family moved to Utah to keep him occupied, and he wrote his first song at the age of ten called “The Woody Guthrie Song.” Since then he’s learned material from legends such as Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, and more contemporary like Justin Townes Earle and Gillian Welch. He’s also written over a dozen original songs.

Sammy Brue has just released an EP through NoiseTrade of all original songs and is working on a second one, and will be performing at the Americana Music Conference coming up this week.

The Single Mothers cover was shot in Dragon Park in Nashville, which is park of Fannie Mae Dees Park in the city’s southwest portion. “Justin grew up playing there,” Sammy Brue tells me, which is further validation towards my initial theory that Sammy is supposed to represent a younger Justin Townes Earle, who grew up with a single mother after Steve Earle left the home.

As for who the girl is, “I only met that girl the one time,” Sammy says. Joshua Black Wilkins didn’t have much more insight into the cover concept either. “It was all [Justin's] idea,” Wilkins says.

But I think I know enough. I’ll take the suggestion of Sammy Brue from the cover and call it good. Who the girl is, and the other particulars, I prefer they remain a mystery. Because sometimes the things you don’t know make for the best art.

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Download the Sammy Brue NoiseTrade EP

Purchase Justin Townes Earle’s Single Mothers



Review – Willie Watson’s “Folk Singer Vol. 1″

May 10, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  25 Comments


On paper, nothing about this album should work. You can’t take one guy, and one guy only, no overdubs or band, just acoustic instruments and a cued mic and call it good. Not to mention that this is an album entirely consisting of covers and traditionals. So yeah, this isn’t Billy Bragg or Charlie Parr. I’m sorry, but that’s just not enough to hold the listener’s ear for an entire album. Or is it?

The key here is that one guy, and that one guy only is the one and only Willie Watson. One of the founding members of Old Crow Medicine Show who left the formidable throwback outfit back in 2011, Willie Watson has re-emerged with a new album and a very, very old approach to country and folk music.

Old Crow has always done very well to make sure they portray themselves as just a gaggle of guys with no real frontman or formalized positions in the band. Nonetheless, fellow founders Ketch Secor and Critter Fuqua, and maybe to an extent the later edition, Gill Landry, have always been the outfit’s most out-front members. Willie Watson was always the guy that blended best in the background, and that’s not meant as an insult, but more of an illustration of his somewhat selfless, straightforward, no nonsense approach to music. As Old Crow would descend into silliness all around him, with a strong jaw and sense of purpose, Willie would be the rock holding the entire thing together, holding steady on the acoustic guitar, acting as the guidepost for the band’s tempo and harmonies. And then when it was his turn to lead a song, it would be the more sensible traditional that kept the group grounded in its original, founding spirit.

So here he is now striking out by himself, somewhat uncharacteristic, but at the same time holding uncompromisingly to what he is as a musician. To become a solo artist, Willie Watson didn’t decide to create a more sensible approach, or learn how to be more personable and well-rounded as an entertainer. Instead he drew even further inward, took what he did and boiled it down even further to the kernel of his creative genius where he’s channeling with almost ghostly authenticity the very folk singers, country troubadours, and blues men he seeks to resurrect through his music. Stern faced and focused, he comes out and sings with such a fierceness, dedication and heart to the emotions and humanity behind the stories he’s singing about, I’ll be damned if Willie Watson doesn’t come across more like Woody Guthrie than Woody Guthrie.

willie-watson-folk-singer-vol-1Then you take the songs he’s chosen. The name of this album is Folk Singer Vol. 1 for crying out loud, and it starts off with the well-familiar “Midnight Special”. Everything about Willie Watson’s approach is so dry, you expect it to fall flat on its face as a form of entertainment. But that’s what’s so cool about it—it’s counter-intuitiveness that is also exactly what you would expect from Willie Watson solo, only even more so. There’s such a dedication that is behind this approach he’s chosen that it steals your attention and conveys an intimacy that alludes most music.

And though all of these songs have been heard by the world before, Willie Watson takes the old folk singer approach of making each composition his own by changing up the words while keeping the root composition the same. This isn’t Willie Watson contemporizing or re-writing these songs. This is Willie taking the orthodox, traditional approach of the folk singer to take what his predecessors have done and add his own spin. This is how many of these songs were formed in the first place, and Watson just carries forward that heritage. So even though this is a new album of old songs, there’s a good measure of originality gracing this project.

Willie Watson can downright mesmerize, and he shouldn’t be discounted as a singer and performer just because there’s nothing flashy to his craft. On the song “Mexican Cowboy”, he evokes some singing moments that many pop singers wish they could re-create, while the guile and sense of character illustrated in “Keep It Clean” is spellbinding.

Folk Singer Vol. 1 was produced by David Rawlings, known for his work with Old Crow Medicine Show early on, as well as Gillian Welch and his own solo stuff, but I’m not sure what his useful purpose was for this record aside from staying the hell out of Willie Watson’s way. And refreshingly, Willie and Rawlings didn’t decide to try and get all retro in the recording process and make a foggy album by using antiquated gear. It’s a classic sound, but clear and present. The cover choice of this album is very debatable though. The image of Willie Watson with his steel jaw and wide-brimmed hat is so powerful to the conveyance of his songs, it’s a shame that they showed him here missing his lid and smoking a pipe that doesn’t seem to even fit in the same mood, in sunglasses, and setting a capo on his guitar.

Simply the limitation of how many people’s attention can be held by one person playing old songs makes Folk Singer Vol. 1 hard to recommend vehemently to the wide public. But beyond the limiting approach, it’s hard to find fault or flaw in Willie’s invocation of classics from America’s songbook.

1 3/4 of 2 guns up.

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Purchase Folk Singer Vol. 1 from Willie Watson

Preview & Purchase Tracks on Amazon


The Lingering Influence of Emmylou’s “Wrecking Ball”

March 22, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  21 Comments


In February it was announced that the the era-defining album Wrecking Ball released in 1995 by country music songstress Emmylou Harris was getting the reissue treatment, with a remastering of the original album, a new disc of demos and outtakes, and a DVD delving into the making of the album, all set to be released on April 8th.

If you’re not familiar with the Emmylou Harris discography or the influence Wrecking Ball has had on the modern country ear, you may wonder why this was the album picked out of the choir for a reissue, and why now. Wrecking Ball wasn’t a particularly great seller. Released when Emmylou was 48, the former Gram Parsons understudy had settled in as a “legacy” act in country, and was already well off the radar of country radio and award show attention by the time of the release. So why not stretch your wings and try something different? And try something different she did.

emmylou-harris-wrecking-ballThe influence of Wrecking Ball is evoked on Saving Country Music, and many other country and Americana websites regularly. Its impact on alt-country and Americana may only be outdone by Uncle Tupelo’s 1990 album No Depression, or Steve Earle’s late 80′s Guitar Town, and may not be outdone by any when it comes to the alt-country subset sometimes described as “progressive” country, or specifically when it comes to influencing the women in alt-country and Americana. And in the nearly 20 years since it was originally released, Wrecking Ball‘s influence hasn’t waned a bit, as one female artist after another tries to match or best its watermark.

Many country purists hated Wrecking Ball when it was first released. Early on in Emmylou’s career, some in country’s traditional ranks had been leery of the Alabama-born singer because of her folk rock past and her carousing with Gram Parsons. But in the wake of Gram’s passing, Emmylou won over nearly the entirety of the country music listening public with the sheer power of her voice, and her propensity to mix traditional country material with her more folk-oriented songs. By 1995, Emmylou’s career had been defined as a songbird, and as an acoustic, almost bluegrass-like performer, and a counter-balance to country’s newly-defined stadium era with superstars like Garth Brooks.

And then here came Wrecking Ball, completely unexpected, crashing through the conventional thinking on Emmylou. It was produced by Daniel Lanois for crying out loud; a guy known best for working with the rock band U2. Country critics for the first time were having to employ words like “atmospheric” and “spatial” to describe what they were hearing. Instead of working with more conventional cast of country songwriters and session players on the album, Emmylou had assembled Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Gillian Welch, Neil Young, and even covered (however subdued) a Jimi Hendrix song.

Though at its core, the themes of Wrecking Ball were still very traditional. The song “All My Tears” written by Buddy Miller’s wife Julie, was a spirited Gospel song, despite the strange burpings that comprise the sonic bed of the composition. Bob Dylan’s “Every Grain of Sand” placed in the center of the album had a very subdued, acoustic approach to ground the album from getting too weird. But the sweeping, bold, alternative thinking and approach to how Wrecking Ball presented its songs would be by far the biggest takeaway and the most lasting impact of this album in the end.

In the crux of the current culture war for the heart of country music is the argument being made by mainstream, commercially successful males that country music must progress. But the answer of how country music can progress why still holding on to the spirit of its roots has been held in the women of country for almost two decades, and it arguably started with Emmylou’s Wrecking Ball. Rhythmic elements that capture the attention of fresh ears, while not sacrificing melody or the thematic heart of what makes country music special, is the splendid balance that Emmylou Harris forged on Wrecking Ball.

emmylou-harris-2Wrecking Ball also birthed some indelible compositions, specifically the title track written by Neil Young, the haunting, ominous “Deeper Well,” and the first song “Where Will I Be?” written by producer Daniel Lanois. But really you can’t go wrong with any track on Wrecking Ball.

However the legacy for this album is not all rosy. Just like the influence of Emmylou’s mentor Gram Parsons that while spreading the message of country music to a wider audience incidentally spawned some watered-down West Coast offshoots, so has Emmylou’s Wrecking Ball made some producers and artists unnecessarily strive to reach a similar bar or to make a similar sound instead of trying to find a better approach more within the true style of the artist and the era. One of the most interesting notes about Wrecking Ball and its live followup from a few years later called Spyboy is that it was preceded by one of Emmylou’s most traditional eras, when she assembled the bluegrass-inspired Nash Ramblers and helped revitalize The Ryman Auditorium and ostensibly the entire Lower Broadway portion of Nashville by recording and releasing an album from the abandoned venue.

And maybe most important to note about Wrecking Ball beyond its influence is that after eighteen albums and at the age of 48, one can argue that this was the album that Emmylou’s voice truly came into full bloom. The way her tone strains and breaks so eloquently, the intelligent way the chords are picked to compliment this phenomenon and put Emmylou uncomfortably between her regular tone and falsetto to squeeze the greatest degree of pain out of each composition is award winning in itself, and along with all of the album’s other notable achievements, is one of the reasons it won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Recording in 1996.

Wrecking Ball was the result of Emmylou Harris following her heart, searching for a voice she never knew she had, and a vein of country music nobody knew existed before. And even here nearly 20 years after its release, its influence, its beauty, and its place as one of the most important markers on the country music timeline, remains untarnished.

Two guns up.

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Purchase Original Wrecking Ball Album

Purchase Deluxe Edition from Nonesuch


10 Artists to Check Out Even If You’re Not Going to SXSW

March 10, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  19 Comments

Oh you poor little non-SXSW goers, you’re social network feeds are about to get positively inundated with South By Southwest information, riddling your psyche with scores of free music events you’re unfortunately missing out on, resulting in an experience for you somewhere between the teasings of a cruel temptress, and Chinese water torture.

So in the spirit of wanting to bridge the SXSW haves and have not’s, here’s a list of artists that all happen to be attending SXSW (and their appointed set times), but are worthy of being checked out more in-depth even if you can’t make it down to Austin, TX to get raped for parking and sit in lines for 7 hours a day.

Sturgill Simpson

Saving Country Music’s reigning Artist of the Year, this country music savior has a hot new album out in High Top Mountain, and another one on the way called Metamordern Sounds in Country Music out May 13th, and might be the most worthy up-and-coming country music personality to see at SXSW 2014. Sturgill Simpson is so good, even if you consider yourself more of an Americana or roots fan, he’s still worth checking out.

  • Sat. 15th 7PM, St David’s Historic Sanctuary, 304 E 7th St.

shakey-gravesShakey Graves

If anyone is showing up to SXSW with tons of positive momentum behind him, it would be Shakey. It probably helps that he cut his teeth in Austin, playing regularly at places like The White Horse and Hole in the Wall. He’s now reportedly transitioning from a solo act to a full band sound, and whether you get Shakey solo or Shakey 2.0, he’s certainly worth rerouting your SXSW itinerary to catch.

  • MONDAY, 3/10: 10:00pm – Spider House Ballroom (2906 Fruth St) – Mother Falcon’s All The Friends Ball
  • TUESDAY, 3/11: 6:30pm – KLRU Studio 6A (2504-B Whitis Ave) – Premiere screening of PBS documentary on Shakey Graves “Not Alone” + live performance
  • WEDNESDAY, 3/12: 1:00pm – Cedar St. Courtyard (208 W. 4th St) – FILTER/Lagunitas Party
  • THURSDAY, 3/13: 12:50pm – Weather Up (1808 E. Cesar Chavez) – Billy Reid Showcase
    4:00pm – Licha’s Cantina (1306 E. 6th St) – Audiotree Showcase
    7:25pm – Heartbreaker Banquet at Willie Nelson’s Luck, TX Ranch
  • FRIDAY, 3/14: 12:30pm – Spotify House (901 E. 6th St)
    5:05pm – The 512 (408 East 6th St) – Colorado Music Party
    1:00am – The Gatsby (708 E. 6th St) – Pandora / Americana Music Association Showcase (official SXSW)
  • SATURDAY, 3/15: 11:00pm – Holy Mountain Backyard (617 E. 7th St.) – New Frontier Touring Showcase (official SXSW)

possessed-by-paul-jamesPossessed by Paul James

The school teacher by day turned music savant by night will be plying his craft at SXSW on the heels of being featured on NPR and CMT, and ahead of an appearance at Pickathon and many other festivals this summer. This high-energy and enigmatic solo performer is spiraling up the music world staircase with songs that resonate deeply with fans from all across the roots music landscape.

  • Mon. 10th, 8:00 PM, Hotel Vegas, 1500 East 6th Street
  • Wed. 12th, 5:30 PM, ABGB, 1305 West Oltorf Street
  • Fri. 14th, 11:30 PM, Austin Moose Lodge XSXSW 7 2103 E M Franklin Ave.


Hurray for the Riff Raff

Hurry for the Riff Raff is Alynda Lee Segarra, and sometimes other accompanying musicians, who evoke the musical traditions of Appalachia with a newer, Americana approach mixed in. Critically acclaimed and a favorite of her musical peers and fans of songwriting and traditional music alike, she just released her latest album Small Town Heroes and will be one of the rising roots stars attending SXSW in 2014. Gillian Welch for a new generation.

  • Wed. 12th, Mello Johnny’s, 2:00 PM
  • Wed. 12th, Weather Up, 1808 E Cesar Chavez St., 5:50 PM
  • Fri. 14th, Hotel San Jose, 4:00 PM
  • Fri. 14th, The Gatsby, 10:00 PM

willie-watsonWillie Watson

This former and founding member of Old Crow Medicine Show is now out to make his own name as a solo folk singer, and will be attending SXSW ahead of the release of his David Rawlings-produced debut album Folk Singer, Vol. 1 out May 6th that features standard and obscure roots songs. Those who’ve followed string bands for a while will recognize the name, and most lovers of sincere music soon will with the way Willie Watson engages crowds and weaves his craft.

  • Wed. 12th, 11:00 PM, St. David’s Episcopal Church, 301 E. 8th St.
  • Thur. 13th, Heartbreaker Banquet, Luck, TX.


john-fullbrightJohn Fullbright

The former Turnpike Troubadour who surprised everyone in 2012 when his debut album From The Ground Up was nominated for a Grammy, John Fullbright is one of Americana’s brightest future stars and a top shelf songwriter to boot. And as you can see from his SXSW schedule, he’s willing to put the sweat equity into career. We all pray that the traffic sea parts for you often this week, John.

  • 3/11 – The Oklahoma Showcase @ The Buffalo Lounge (set time: 1:00am)
  • 3/12 – Thirty Tigers Showcase @ St. David’s Historic Sanctuary (set time: 12:00am)
  • 3/13 – Heartbreaker Banquet’s Chapel Stage @ Willie Nelson’s Ranch in Luck, TX (set time: 4:15pm)
  • 3/14 – Live Vibe Presents The Listening Room @ Winflo (set time: 1:15pm)
  • 3/14 – Sin City Social Club SXSW Bash @ St. Vincent’s (set time: 4:00pm)
  • 3/14 – Hill Country Live SXSW Showcase @ Saxon Pub (set time: 10:30pm)
  • 3/15 – Twangfest Party @ Broken Spoke (set time: 2:30pm)
  • 3/15 – Folk Alliance Showecase @ Threadgills (set time: 5:00pm)
  • 3/16 – Music City Texas Showcase @ G&S Lounge (set time: 6:30pm)



One of the strangest projects you can probably partake in at SXSW that would still fall within the big tent of the “country” world, but also one of the coolest and most creative, is steel guitar player Spencer Cullum Jr.’s Steelism band. You may recognize Spencer, as well as Steelism guitar player Jeremy Fetzer from Caitlin Rose’s band. Essex-native Spencer Cullum has also played with Jonny Fritz, and many others from the current east Nashville scene. Others you may see fleshing out the Steelism lineup at any given time are Mike Rinne, Matt Rowland, Jon Radford, and Andrew Combs. Who said the steel guitar was dead?

  •  Wed. 12th, 11:00 PM, Tap Room at The Market, 311 Colorado St
  • Fri. 14th, 8:00 PM, Shotguns, 503 East 6th St.

robert-ellisRobert Ellis

Texas native and current Nashvillian Robert Ellis is certainly a candidate to take that critical acclaim baton from Jason Isbell and run with it as an artist who seems to effortlessly deliver songs with cutting emotional moments in an awe-inspiring display of deft creativity. His much-anticipated new album Lights From The Chemical Plant is full of those instances that give you shivers from their bold illustration of wit and self awareness.

  • Wed. 12th, 7:00 PM, Paste Party @ Swan Dive, 615 Red River Street
  • Thur. 13th, 5:20 PM, Weather Up, 1808 E Cesar Chavez St.
  • Thur. 13th 7:00 PM, Threadgills, 301 West Riverside Drive
  • Thur. 13th 8:00 PM, Red 7, 611 E 7th St
  • Fri. 14th, 5:00 PM, Hotel San Jose, 1316 S Congress Ave


lydia-lovelessLydia Loveless

Artists that just released albums seem to flock to SXSW light moths to the lamp, and such is the case for Bloodshot Record’s cowpunk princess Lydia Loveless that has many singing her praises after the release of her latest album Somewhere Else. Lydia Loveless isn’t just empowered, she’s uninhibited. Subtly and coyness are shades she rarely paints in. Instead she opens her mouth and the truth comes out unfettered, refreshingly honest, and many times, R-rated, revealing her sinful tendencies and struggles with self-admitted inadequacies that sometimes veer her towards self-destructive behavior.

  • Tue. 11th, 8:00 PM, Hole In The Wall
  • Wed. 12th, 10:00 PM, The Continental Club
  • Fri. 14th, Yard Dog Art Gallery
  • Thur. 13th, Noon, The Broken Spoke
  • Thur 13th. 2:00 PM, Swan Dive
  • Thur 13th, 6:30 PM, Hole In The Wall


robbie-fulksRobbie Fulks

With a gift for poetry like Townes Van Zandt, and a penchant for the whimsical, progressive approach to bluegrass akin to John Hartford, Robbie Fulks isn’t your typical up-and-coming SXSW attendee, but a wily veteran coming back for the action. His recent album Gone Away Backward from Bloodshot Records was a Saving Country Music Album of the Year candidate in 2013.

  • Wed. 12th, 9:00 PM, The Continental Club
  • Thur. 13th, 4:00 PM, The Broken Spoke
  • Fri. 14th, Yard Dog Art Gallery
  • Sat. 15th, 2:00 PM, Brooklyn Country Party @ Licha’s Cantina

2012 Americana Music Award Winners & Recap

September 12, 2012 - By Trigger  //  News  //  21 Comments

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

Gillian Welch

Duo/Group of the Year

The Civil Wars

Lifetime Achievement Award for Performance

Bonnie Raitt

Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting

Richard Thompson

Lifetime Achievement Award for Instrumentalist

Booker T. Jones

Lifetime Achievement Award for Executive

Dennis Lord


“Go Ready” Artists in Americana Music Right Now

June 25, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  27 Comments

We did this a while back for bands in country music, taking Music Row’s rigorous requirements and running bands through them to illustrate that there are many accessible acts out there that could improve the genre right now if only given a chance. Though Americana may be a less-institutionalized and much smaller genre that tends to have better music and promote artists that are easier to respect, sometimes it can seem almost as exclusive as Music Row, as was seen in the latest list of AMA Award nominees. So here is a list of artists that even considering Americana’s heavy requirements, could make it big and improve the Americana world if only given a chance.

Possessed by Paul James

The only reason Possessed by Paul James isn’t big in Americana right now is because of exposure. If his music, recorded, but especially live, could be put in front of the right people, he would positively explode in the Americana world. He has all the right Americana tools: excellent songwriting, skilled musicianship, a message, and he exists in a no-man’s land; not really country or folk or blues or punk, but a true amalgam of them all, a wholly unique performer with a style all his own. He doesn’t just simply channel the emotions and energy from music and evoke them on stage, he becomes a manifestation of that energy, a creative quasar exploding right before your very eyes with beams of positive energy, inspiration, and emotion shooting into you as they bound off the walls and ceiling until they have penetrated you from every angle and you are a changed person. If you listen to the stories of people whose whole worlds have changed at a Possessed by Paul James show or if you are one of those people yourself, it is hard to look at a list of Americana talent and say it is anything but incomplete without him on it.

Austin Lucas

Austin Lucas is custom tailored to fit into Americana, because like most Americana artists, he doesn’t fit any where else, though his talents are undeniable and are worthy of a much higher level of support and attention. He’s too much punk and rock to be considered true country, but he too country to be considered folk. First and foremost he is a songwriter and a performer and an excellent singer who has some tremendous skins on the wall considering he’s unknown to many, including cutting records with Chuck Ragan, and touring on the Country Throwdown tour and sharing the stage with the likes of Jamey Johnson and Willie Nelson. Though it’s hard to see where Austin Lucas’s home is, it’s easy to say with that level of talent, once he finds it, he could explode. If Americana was smart, they would snatch him up before someone else does.

Caitlin Rose

Out of all the artists on this list, Caitlin may be the most well-connected to break into the Americana inner-circle some day. Adored around her hometown of Nashville, and from a songwriting pedigree from her mother Liz Rose (the brainworks behind Taylor Swift’s early songwriting success), Caitlin sits in the awkward, not-exactly country, but not really indie-rock, rootsy world where Americana is supposed to rise up and fill the void. She brings the hip, indie-rock-esque new school approach to old country and roots music; the exact shot of youth, energy, and relevancy the graying Americana world needs without straying away from its principles. In her mid-20′s, time is still on Caitlin Rose’s side and her upside seems tremendous.

William Elliott Whitmore

Whitmore may be the artist in a position of least need of the Americana stamp of approval seeing how he’s signed on the well-respected ANTI label with artists such as Tom Waits and Gillian Welch, but he may be the best example of how Americana, not just the artist, could improve their lot by being more inclusive. A one man show just like Possessed by Paul James, with punk cred just like Austin Lucas, he’s the songwriter without a real home who incorporates blues, folk, and some country with tinges of a punk attitude that can appeal to a wide swath of the enlightened music-listening population. It is pretty amazing where you can put William Elliott Whitmore and he works, and how many people are into him despite their diverse music sensibilities.

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Some other good candidates would be the emerging Shovels & Rope, Rachel Brooke (though some could argue she’s more country/neo-traditional), and though they’re older performers, it would be great to see Charlie Parr and Otis Gibbs get some Americana love. Willy Tea Taylor would be another great candidate, though I think he looks at music more as a gift than an occupation.

Who are some artists you would like to see more incorporated in Americana?


Saving Country Music’s Essential Albums for 2011

December 8, 2011 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  46 Comments

So here it is, the list of albums Saving Country Music deems essential for 2011 listening. Please note this list only includes albums that have been reviewed so far. There are a few more good and important albums in 2011 that have yet to be reviewed, and there is a list of some of them at the bottom. Aside from the first few albums mentioned, which should be considered close runners up to the SCM Album of the Year (which includes albums not on this list), the albums are in no special order.

And as always, your feedback is encouraged. What are your essential albums? What did we miss? What was released in 2011 that deserves a review? Please leave your feedback below.

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Rachel BrookeDown In The Barnyard

Every year, there is going to be one album that gets screwed out of being a nominee for Album of the Year. Even if I double the amount of nominees, still the line is drawn somewhere, and that next album on the list is the odd one out. Last year it was Jayke Orvis’s It’s All Been Said. This year it is this amazing offering from Rachel Brooke. Call it 2011′s “Most Essential” album.

You can tell Rachel has studied many modes of classic country, not just some. I hear Charlie Louvin, not just Hank Williams. I hear The Carter Family, not just Johnny Cash. And the themes are not just from the 1950′s, but the 1850′s as well. There’s no big branches for you to grab on to and say, “Hell yeah, this is the kind of country I like!” but the originality embellishes the album to such a more magnanimous degree. (read full review)

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The Boomswagglers- Bootleg Beginnings

Another album I wouldn’t argue with you over if you wanted to call it the best of the year. One of the most authentic albums of 2011 for sure.

The music is wildly entertaining and deceptively deep. If you’re going to be a Boomswagglers song, someone’s got to die, and likely a woman. Some may find this silly, monotonous, or even offensive, but you have to listen beyond the lyrics, and unlock the carnal wisdom that is hidden in these songs. They were Boomswagglers, and that low form of living is ever present in every note on this album.(Read full review)

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Lone WolfLone Wolf OMB

Probably the album with the most original approach in all of 2011; something nobody else has done before. And at the same time, it is the most viscerally engaging. Excellent album you’d be foolish to overlook.

The first time I turned this album on, I was out of my chair, stomping my foot on the floor, banging my head, making a complete ass out of myself for the entertainment of the four walls of the Saving Country Music headquarters. It made a music virgin out of me again. (read full review)

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Lucky Tubb & The Modern Day TroubadoursDel Gaucho

One of the best of the year, and one of the best from Lucky Tubb. In Del Gaucho, you really feel like he has found his voice and sound.

So many other artists and bands, to take this same selection of covers and originals and record them, it would just come across as cheesball retro country with it’s anachronistic language and outmoded style. But Lucky Tubb has a swagger that makes him immune to such concerns. To him, this isn’t playing country like it used to be done, this is playing country like it is supposed to be done. (Read full review)

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Husky BurnetteFacedown in the Dirt

The best album of 2011 from the Deep Blues side of things in my opinion.

This is music to get you moving. I can’t listen to this album at home. I’ll get flying around and break things. I can only listen while driving, with a foot pumping on the gas pedal to the groove. If somebody was listening to this album and wasn’t at least bobbing their head or tapping their foot, the next thing I’d do is put a mirror in front if their mouth. (read full review)

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Nick 13Nick 13

This solo country project from psychobilly’s Tiger Army is certainly essential, and one of those albums that was not on your radar at the beginning of the year, but you’re still listening to at the end of it, especially the essential songs of “101,” “Gambler’s Life,” and an updated version of “In The Orchard”.

With Nick 13′s first self-titled release, he hasn’t just stuck his foot in the door of country music, he’s kicked the door down. This is a good one folks! The California native’s brand of country is hard, with a lot of Western influences mixed in to the instrumentation and lyrics, contrasted with his soft and delicate, but deliberate voice. (read full review)

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Ugly Valley BoysDouble Down

Another surprise album out of left field that has become one of the year’s best.

So many bands try to imbibe their music with a vintage feel and Western space by using copious amounts of chorus or reverb. Guitar player, singer, and songwriter Ryan Eastlyn takes the road less traveled with the use of moaning, melodic chorus lines that are so excellent, they vault this band from a relative unknown to one responsible for one of the better albums put out so far in 2011. (read full review)

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Cody Canada & The DepartedThis Is Indian Land

I was surprised to find out a few months after reviewing this album that not many Cross Canadian Ragweed fans, or critics for that matter have much use for this album. I have to respectfully disagree. Quit wanting what you’re used to expecting from Cody Canada, and start listening to what he is offering. There is a little fat here, but This Is Indian Land also has some of the best songs put out all year.

This is one of the funnest, freshest, well-written, well-produced albums to come out this year. There’s good songs, good performances, and it’s bold. While still sounding relevant and un-obscure, Cody and The Departed were able to stay out of the well-worn grooves that run like tired veins through so much of mainstream music. (read full review)

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The Dirt DaubersWake Up, Sinners!

Along with Larry & His Flask’s All That We Know, I’m afraid these are the two albums being grossly overlooked this year.

I love this album. You may look at the track listing and ask yourself why we need yet another version of “Wayfaring Stranger”. The answer is because the great Col. JD Wilkes has never done one before. A perfect mix of classics and originals, don’t just pigeon hole this project as just another rag tag bluegrass bit, there a lot of hot jazz, rockabilly and blues mixed in with the old time string band approach. (Read full review)

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Larry & His FlaskAll That We Know

Larry & His Flask from the ultra hippie nouveau town of Bend, OR have been making the rounds on the live circuit for years now, leaving legions of disciples and gallons of sweat behind at every stop. Putting out as much energy as any band has in the history of ever, and a lineup that necessitates shoving multiple tables together at every restaurant the tour van stops at, LAHF’s live show is impressionable to say the least.

Along with all the other elements, LAHF build their music using dark cords and unusual, unintuitive changes and progressions that give them a unique sound beyond any traditional string or punk music. (Read full review)

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Willy Tea Taylor- 4 Strings

If you’re a tragic, tragic audiophile like myself, then you understand just what a blessing it is when out of the blue you discover an artist that really speaks to you, and it opens a brand new vein of music for you to enjoy for years to come. This is the experience most people come away with when hearing Willy Tea Taylor for the first time.

Like so many albums that take the stripped down approach, there is just less to criticize, allowing the pureness of the music to flow. I cannot give you one reason not to like Willy Tea Taylor or 4 Strings, only reasons you’d be a fool for not loving it. (Read full review)

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Slim Cessna’s Auto ClubUnentitled

When this album came out early in the year, it was the frontrunner for Album of the Year. At the end of the year, it still holds up. Slim Cessna is not for everyone, and his take on pop music may make this album even more obscure, but it is nonetheless genius and engaging.

At first I didn’t know what to make of this album. In places, this is the most accessible, most non-dark music they have ever done. There are many bands that if they had put out an album like this, grumbles of “going mainstream” or “selling out” would be heard. But The Auto Club is so weird, so fey to begin with, being more normal actually makes them even more weird than they were before, adding to the mystique and mythos behind the band. (read full review)

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Still can’t get into Ghost To A Ghost, the first album of this double album set, but the second album is solid from beginning to end.

The first record in the 4 record salvo from Hank3 Ghost to a Ghost felt very much like business as usual in the post-Straight to Hell era. But Guttertown is where Hank3 gets it right by doing the same thing he did in the early and mid oughts, following his heart, defying any expectations for sound and genre, and letting his creative passion flow. Simply put, this is the best album Hank3′s put out since his 2006 opus. (Read full review)

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Jason Boland & The StragglersRancho Alto

One of the standouts in both Red Dirt and real country for 2011.

The heavy thematic focus on Texas and Oklahoma in Red Dirt music is what has made the movement strong throughout that region. It’s also what keeps it from progressing beyond. I’ve always believed that good songwriting allows you to look past proper names, and delve into the meaning of what a songwriter is attempting to convey. Jason Boland does this in Rancho Alto. (Read full review)

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Scott H. BiramBad Ingredients

When it comes to one man bands, Scott H. Biram is the franchise. He is the top of the heap, the one that inspired so many others. He’s tussled with semi trucks and spilled his guts out on the highway just like he’s spilled his guts out on countless stages all across the Western world until he earned that glorious ‘H’ in the middle of his name.

Biram may deliver his best album yet, and possibly one of the best albums in this calendar year, buoyed by one of the year’s best songs in the aforementioned “Victory Song”. With Bad Ingredients, Scott H. Biram simply delivers. (read full review)

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Tom WaitsBad As Me

One of the most pressing questions I’ve seen about his music in the context of his new album Bad As Me is if it should be considered “roots” or “Americana.” 7 years ago, when Waits put out his last real original album, I would have probably said no, but loaded with qualifiers. Today my answer would be “absolutely.”

What can I say, it’s Tom Waits, and he’s better than everyone else. It’s pretty much unfair and bullshit, but that’s just the way it is. All other artists, back to the drawing board with you. There has never been another artist worthy of the title of “transcendent” than Tom Waits. (Read full review)

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Olds Sleeper – I Will Follow You To Jail

Olds has a few other albums out in 2011 including Plainspoken which SCM has yet to review, but I Will Follow You To Jail may be the best primer to get you in touch with this genuine and prolific songwriter.

Unless you frequent a few small music circles in the underground world, you may have never heard of the artist Olds Sleeper, but that doesn’t diminish the argument one can make for him being one of the best songwriters of our generation. Of course, saying anyone is the “best” of anything is always disputable, but numbers are not, and by the numbers, Olds is indisputably one of the most prolific songwriters out there. (Read full review)

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Gillian WelchThe Harrow & The Harvest

I firmly believe that one of the problems with modern music is that there’s too much of it. So to see Gillian Welch wait 7 years to put out an album, is refreshing, and wise. But time and patience don’t guarantee a good album. What does is excellent songwriting, and that is exactly what Gillian delivers in The Harrow & The Harvest.

This album is one of those that needs multiple listens before you can fully appreciate it, but once it sticks to your bones, not listening to it enough will not be an issue, because you might need a pry bar to get it out of your player. (Read full review)

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Little Lisa DixieLittle Lisa Dixie

One of the few that made the Essential List that was not rated “Two guns up,” but belongs here from the strength of the songs.

With her first self-titled album, Little Lisa Dixie is helping make the case that in independent/underground country, 2011 might be the year of the woman. With surprisingly good, classic songwriting, excellent use of texture, and solid instrumentation, she has made the album that her fans have waited years for be one that is well worth the wait. (read full review)

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Bob WayneOutlaw Carnie

The first thing you need to appreciate about Outlaw Carnie is that it is country. Forget that it’s on a metal label, and that Hank III’s name is being put out there for context. There’s no fusing of metal and country here. There’s no sludgy BC Rich or Flying V guitars, no screamo, cookie monster lyrics. There’s banjo, fiddle, dobro, upright bass, brushes on snare, if there’s any drums at all.

I would assert that Outlaw Carnie is better than good. It is great, and worthy of affording Bob Wayne the much wider audience that his music deserves. (Read full review)

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Jimbo MathusConfederate Buddha

There’s no pretentiousness in Confederate Buddha, no premeditated attempt to appeal to demographics. Just like Gram once explained to Emmylou about country music, the beauty of Jimbo’s songwriting is in the simplicity.

Confederate Buddha is yet another exercise in what Jimbo Mathus does best: Delving auspiciously into various styles of classic American music, while blurring the lines between them and injecting his deep-rooted Mississippi blood. It continues and perpetuates the music mythos of Mathus as a genuine student and steward of American roots music, and a Mississippi and National treasure. (Read full review)

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Sunday ValleyTo The Wind And On To Heaven

First and foremost Sunday Valley is a live band, and that is how they approached this recording. The guitar is unapologetically loud and heavy–kind of the Stevie Ray approach of simply not worrying about what people say, just continue to do it until that is what you’re known for. This is about the loudest and heaviest you will hear guitar that still has the identifiable country “twang.”

Sunday Valley is definitely worth your consideration and raising a blip on your radar, because mark my words, I have a feeling that this will not be the last time you will hear about this band, from me or others. (Read full review)

Other albums yet to be reviewed:

The Goddamn Gallows7 Devils

Lonesome Wyatt & The Holy SpooksHeartsick

The Damn QuailsDown The Hatch

Other albums many folks recommend & received positive SCM reviews:

Dale Watson – The Sun Sessions

Lydia LovelessIndestructible Machine

William Elliot WhitmoreField Songs

Eilen JewellQueen of the Minor Key


Album Review – Miranda Lambert’s “Four The Record”

November 15, 2011 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  49 Comments

So here we go. Once again I sit down to review an album originating on Music Row, which means some will have an immediate negative reactionary response about why their little Saving Country Music is selling out for a pop country star, while others will come to sing the praises of how Miranda Lambert is the one to save country music. With her new album Four The Record, Miranda proves that the truth, as it usually does, lies somewhere in the middle.

Though sonically Miranda may be one of the most “real” things on mainstream country radio, there is still a good amount of pop to her sound, and unlike a Jamey Johnson, or even a Taylor Swift, she does not write most of her own music, or produce her own albums. Having said that, Lambert has illustrated that she has somehow carved out at least a small amount of creative freedom in the stifling Music Row environment by being allowed to release her Pistol Annies side project, which for most Music Row artists would have been a non-starter. So independent of Four The Record being on an industry label, I have to assume this is the album Miranda Lambert wanted to make.

My first reaction to Four The Record was the same reaction I have to almost all mainstream country albums: What is the point? Why are we putting out new music if all we’re doing is rehashing the same themes and ignoring the album concept? Isn’t there enough music out there already? Four The Record is not a bad album, but it’s really not an album at all, it is just a collection of songs that have little congruency and don’t assert a theme or message. I mean, I guess it does a competent job continuing the Miranda Lambert persona of being a “badass”, but then some songs are meant to show Miranda as fragile and vulnerable. And Miranda’s “music” persona of a crazy girl that lights shit on fire is not in concert with the real-life Miranda who has a perfect celebrity marriage with Blake Shelton.

When people show concern for the death of the album concept at the hands of digital downloaders who cherry pick albums, they seem to think extra packaging and bonus tracks are the antidote. How about going back and listening to all of those classic albums that withstood the test of time? They all said something. Even the title of Four The Record is just a punch line that falls flat. So, without any real way to describe the album on a whole, you must resort to listening to the songs individually, which is a symptom of an album being less than the sum of its parts.

Four The Record has some good songs, a few really good songs, and some ho-hum songs. I wouldn’t say there’s any “bad” songs, but there are some that you just wonder, “what’s the point?” like her duet with Blake Shelton, “Better in the Long Run.” It’s not like it forces your hands over your ears, but I can’t see someone listening to this song with a pensive glance out in to space, and a tear forming in the corner of their eye. You might as well of had 3:34 of dead air.

Two songs from two great female songwriters fall mostly flat as well. Gillian Welch’s “Look At Miss Ohio” feels uninspired throughout, and Brandi Carlisle’s “Same Old You” is only salvaged slightly at the end by Miranda’s beautiful yodels.

The one song I’m outright opposed to is the lead single “Baggage Claim.” An easily transparent use of the Beyonce “Get Your Shit And Go” formula, this song proves that parody between super genres does not only materialize in the form of rap. The urban inflections in Miranda’s voice, especially the “…in yo’ name…” line illustrates this song’s want for relevancy, while the bass-driven rhythm seems to almost admit that much of country is too tired for youth appeal, and the parallel between airline baggage and a bad relationship never really sticks.

The songs improve greatly from there. The opening track “All Kinds of Kinds” is one of the standouts on the album, and though this song has been written and re-written many times, it would be unfair to not point out the song’s engaging nature and catchiness. This song, and “Over You” co-written by Blake Shelton, both feature a very 80′s feel, the former from a delayed chorus line that 18 months ago would’ve been as outmoded as parachute pants, but somehow now works, and the latter from a tinkly Sheena Easton-like, almost yacht rock guitar line. “Over You” is a really impressive song, maybe one of the best on the album, building great emphasis and feeling with a rising action in its structure, but it’s solidly pop; no country here whatsoever, which is not necessarily a negativism by itself, but something you don’t expect from someone many are touting as country’s female savior.

“Fastest Girl In Town” and “Mama’s Broken Heart” show that Miranda has not completely buried that bad girl persona that made her first few albums so engaging. Both “Easy Living” and “Oklahoma Sky” are elevated from average to pretty good by smart production. “Oklahoma Sky” is something you could find on Emmylou Harris’s legendary Wrecking Ball album, with its wispy openness and emphasis on soul and expression.

The best song on the album, and it’s not even close, and this song is so good, I dare say it may be the best song I have heard on a major Nashville label release in years is “Fine Tune”. It is common of Music Row releases these days to have a quirky, silly, “change of pace” song that isn’t necessarily meant to work, but meant to lighten the mood and add some spice, though most of the time they just come across as curious and forgettable. I dare say this song turned out so good, even though it is completely unconventional and does not fit Miranda’s style at all, they put it in the choice #2 slot in the track list, a spot usually reserved for what you think is the truly best track on the album.

Singing through a telephone mic with a neo-traditionalist, loungy style, Miranda murders this song like nobody else could. Miranda has an excellent voice, though this album and the songs chosen don’t really emphasize that in most place. Her voice’s best asset is its cuteness. This is what made “The House That Built Me” such a hit. The only song on this album that brings that out is “Fine Tune.” Two guns way up on that song.

In the end, I’m not sure how to rate this album. If I rate it amongst all country music, it is probably average. If I rate it against its peers on Music Row, it may be one of the better albums in years. What I do know is I wouldn’t blame some for cherry picking “Fine Tune,” “All Kinds of Kinds”, and maybe a few other songs and moving on. Here at her fourth album, I feel if Miranda was going to save country music, it probably would have happened by now. At the same time, without question she’s on of the good guys, and an artist independent fans shouldn’t just dismiss out of pocket.

1 1/2 of 2 guns up.

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Preview & Purchase Tracks from Four The Record


Album Review – William Elliott Whitmore’s “Field Songs”

August 3, 2011 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  13 Comments

One way to describe William Elliott Whitmore’s music is to say that he has the soul of an old black woman. I know that analogy may not make sense to anyone but me, but it makes such perfect sense to me, I’m going to roll with it.

As the name implies, Field Songs evokes the rhythms and weary textures of labor. Instead of trying to charm you with witty one-liners like most engaged in singer/songwriter craft, William instead uses lyric to set a groove, like a good, slow blues song. He trances you into feeling the theme of the music by employing the chants, the rhythms men have hummed as they toiled away since the invention of work to ease the burden and boredom. That rhythm is what ties this album to an inherent, universal language of the human condition and prickles the soul.

Adding ambient nature sounds and lots of space between tracks is Whitmore’s way of encouraging the work to be taken in one breath instead of cherry picking tracks. This isn’t an album to blare when you’re pissed off at your boss, this is for when you’re weary and sore and want to relax and appreciate the fulfillment of toil, or when you need an uplift of the spirit, because despite Whitmore’s uncannily-aged, almost hoary voice and the droning nature of the songs, there is a lot of positivity here, similar to how the field songs of generations past were intended to uplift the spirit despite the sometimes desperate conditions that inspired the tunes.

My concern about this album is that it may not be the best way to represent what Whitmore does to people for the first time. Taken in the context of his live show and his previous works, it fits like a glove, but there is so much dead space on this album, many minutes of just strumming open chords, and with it’s inability to convey the energy of what Whitmore does live, I’m worried some will find it boring, and for justifiable reasons. Unlike other sparse, acoustic-based albums, like Gillian Welch’s recent The Harrow & The Harvest for example, there isn’t those heavy lines of lyric that help create body in a song when there’s a lack of instrumentation.

However Whitmore’s work is also aided by authenticity. Hailing from an Iowa horse farm on the banks of the Mississippi, William has no doubt experienced the inspiration for Field Songs first hand. The album also carries a universal theme, which always makes an album greater than the sum of its parts.

I would say this album is not for everyone, but one of the curiosities about Whitmore’s decade-plus run with music is the diversity of the following he’s garnered, ranging from punk kids, to the most exclusive of the NPR crowd that only consume the finest of wines. Field Songs may not be Whitmore’s best year, but it is certainly worth a tasting.

1 1/2 of 2 guns up.

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Preview and Purchase Tracks from Field Songs


Interview with Austin Lucas

July 20, 2011 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  12 Comments

One of the standouts in 2011 so far has been Bloomington, Indiana-based singer/songwriter Austin Lucas, and his album A New Home in the Old World. And apparently this isn’t just my opinion, as Austin was able to land on this summer’s Country Throwdown tour’s exclusive lineup.

On July 4th, the Country Throwdown and Willie Nelson’s long-running 4th of July Picnic’s collided in Ft. Worth, TX’s historic stockyards at Billy Bob’s Texas. Of all the amazing talent amassed on that historic day, at the top of my list for folks to interview was Austin. He was kind enough to sit down with me for about a hour to discuss his experience on the Country Throwdown and touring with Willie Nelson, how he got into country music after starting in the punk/metal scene, the business of songwriting, and how his goals are measured and focused on the art of songwriting first, above his own popularity.

Find the full audio of out interview below, and the big points of the interview are transcribed below as well. Austin will also be on tour later this summer and into fall, including some dates with Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, so check at the very bottom for those dates.

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Triggerman: How’s the Country Throwdown tour been, and how did you get on it?

Austin Lucas: It wasn’t a shock to me to be on the Country Throwdown because my booking agent had said it was very probable to be on the tour. The shock for me was because last year the headliner was Montgomery Gentry, and this year Willie Nelson was the headliner. I mean how many opportunities does a person like me, especially from a totally far off distance scene but of course has been a Willie Nelson fan his entire life, get the opportunity to tour with Willie Nelson, an American Icon? I’ve told people that I peaked on this tour. I don’t know that I’ll ever do something as great as standing on stage with Willie Nelson. I’ve sang with him many times on this tour. At the end of the show we all get up on stage and do gospel. I’ve done it exactly six times, not that I’m counting (laughing).

Triggerman: You’re not out here with a band. What they’re doing to showcase the up-and-comers is these Nashville Rounds where you’re with other songwriters. How’s that been as an experience, not just as a songwriter, but as a performer?

Austin Lucas: Most of the people on this tour are not performers, they’re Nashville writers. Of course some of them are artists, but the focus of their career thus far has been to write hits for people. And I’m the only one that doesn’t live in Nashville. So what’s cool about this tour is people are like, “Oh, so you live in Nashville?” and I’m like “No, I’m from the Midwest”. I’m from southern Indiana and honestly the common people there believe themselves to be from the South. But geographically speaking, I’m definitely an outsider.

Triggerman: When it comes to the underground country scene, it seems like there’s a lot of bands coming from the Midwest and Upper Midwest, and I’ve always wondered why that is. There is a lot of great Southern bands as well. Some people think I have a conspiracy against Southern bands because I’m always covering people from Indiana, or Michigan, or Minnesota.

Austin Lucas: The potential reasoning for that could be, and it’s really unfortunate, but Southern culture has been so substantially mined for stereotypes, and exploited. Everybody expects certain things from Southern bands. Obviously not all Southern bands provide that thing that they’re looking for. A lot of the markets there are looking for a certain thing.There’s still a lot of radio hanging around, so there’s a lot of effort to produce hits. Like whereas when you’re coming from Indiana, you’re not trying to produce hits, you’re just trying to make a record and write songs. There’s no hope for us to have hits, so we write the songs that we want, and play music for us.

Triggerman: You said before that you’ve been touring for 15 years, and you’ve been working for 5 years on this project specifically. Where did you come from? Explain in brief your music career, where you first picked up a guitar, and are now sharing a stage with Willie Nelson.

Austin Lucas: I started with my dad as a very small child, making music with him. I didn’t get serious about it until I was 12 or 13 years old, and that was playing in punk bands. I ruined my voice singing in punk bands and then later metal bands. I was in that scene very deeply, I still am actually and I still do tours, like my band Guided Cradle, were on hiatus right now technically. The guitar player also plays in a band called Hellshock which is a very famous band in our scene. We’re just waiting to get the steam to do something else. But basically in 2000 I was singing in a band called Rune, which is a grindcore band that was on Relapse Records, and I just kind of stopped doing it and stated playing acoustic music. So I’ve actually been at this project for 11 years, but it took me 5 years before I got my voice back.

Triggerman: What was the inspiration for going to acoustic music?

Austin Lucas: For me, it was really hinged on the fact that I was really tired of only hearing that type of music, the metal and punk and stuff. I lived in a house with the other guys from Rune, and literally all they played was Morbid Angel and all these really heavy bands. I just woke up one day and was like “I’m over it.” I didn’t want to hear it anymore, and so I stopped wanting to play it as much. I still do play it and I love playing it, it is a part of myself that’s very intrinsic for my soul. But I didn’t want to focus on it anymore. I wanted melody and songwriting. So all the country and bluegrass that I’d been hearing for my whole life basically, I just started trying to write like that. And honestly, Bloomington, Indiana is a big indie rock town, and there was a songwriter Jason Molina of the Magnolia Electric Company, and some of his records were the biggest influence on me. I saw him play for the first time in 2001, and it literally changed my world. He was so dark and evil, but at the same time so beautiful, and that is what I wanted. My last record had two guys from Magnolia Electric Company on it.

Triggerman: You’re in the beginning tier of the Country Throwdown tour in these Nashville rounds. You’ve told me you like to set the bar low and that you might have hit your peak. Could you see yourself in the Lee Brice or Jamey Johnson role on this tour in the future? Or do you even desire that?

Austin Lucas: That’s actually a difficult question to answer. My booking agent came to one of the shows and said we should look into getting you out with these guys and I told him, “Don’t get me wrong, I love these guys, but I don’t think I want this.” I would love to go on tour again with Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, Jamey Johnson, but I just don’t want to ever be in a position where a record label is telling me what to do. And honestly, I don’t want to ever walk into a mall and have anyone freak out. Let’s put it like this: If I could put myself in the place in my career where I could put out my Red Headed Stranger, and have it be the amount of success that it was, and get the attention and garner the type of following Willie was able to garner, which was a very open-minded segment of country music, then I would be interested in it. (But) I don’t know that I want to be as famous as Willie Nelson ever was.

Triggerman: When you first started describing your music to me, you mentioned Americana. Do you feel like that’s your niche or where you feel more comfortable?

Austin Lucas: I feel more kinship with Americana artists, or what people call “Americana” artists. If I could pick one singer/songwriter I’d like to go on tour with, I would say Gillian Welch. I feel a little bit more in touch with that kind of scene that really cares about songs.

Triggerman: Anything else you want to add?

Austin Lucas: I’m going to be going on tour soon, and I hope people add me on Facebook, ReverbNation, MySpace and Twitter. If you add me, then you’ll know what I do. And I need you to know what I do because I need you to come and see me play. Because honestly, if you don’t come out and see me play, then I can’t keep coming out and doing it.

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Headlining Tour:

August 20, Columbus, OH @ Rumba cafe
August 21, Groten, NY TBA
August 22, Boston, MA @ Great Scott
August 23, Brooklyn, NY @ Union Hall
August 24, Asbury Park, NJ @ Asbury Lanes
August 25, Washington DC @ the Black Cat (backstage)
August 26, Shepardstown, WV @ Blue Moon Cafe
August 27, Durham, NC @ Motorco Music Hall
August 28, Charleston, SC @ the Tin Roof
August 29, Charlotte, NC @ the Milestone Club
August 30, Atlanta, GA @ 529 Club
August 31, Opelika, AL @ Eighth and Rail
September 2, Oxford, MS @ Blind Pig
September 3, Little Rock, AK @ the White Water Tavern TWO COW GARAGE 10th anniversary party!!!

w/ Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band

Sun/Sep-11 Colorado Springs, CO @ Black Sheep
Wed/Sep-14 Denver, CO @ Bluebird Theatre
*Fri/Sep-16 Missoula, MT @ The Badlander (AL&tBP Headline show)
Sat/Sep-17 Salt Lake City, UT @ The State Room
Mon/Sep-19 Seattle, WA @ Tractor Tavern
Tue/Sep-20 Portland, OR @ Dantes
Thu/Sep-22 San Francisco, CA @ Bottom of the Hill
Fri/Sep-23 Hermosa Beach, CA @ Saint Rocke
Sat/Sep-24 Los Angeles, CA @ The Mint
Mon/Sep-26 San Diego, CA @ Soda Bar
Tue/Sep-27 Tempe, AZ @ The Sail Inn
Wed/Sep-28 Albuquerque, NM @ Low Spirits
Fri/Sep-30 Austin, TX @ Emos
Sun/Oct-02 Dallas, TX @ House of Blues – Cambridge Room
Tue/Oct-04 St. Louis, MO @ Cicero’s
Wed/Oct-05 Carbondale, IL @ The Hangar
*/Oct-06 Normal, IL @ Firehouse Pizza & Pub (AL&tBP Headline show)
Fri/Oct-07 Springfield, IL @ Marly’s
Tue/Oct-11 Nashville, TN @ Exit/In


Album Review – Gillian Welch ‘The Harrow & The Harvest’

July 12, 2011 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  13 Comments

I firmly believe that one of the problems with modern music is that there’s too much of it. So to see an artist, especially one as influential, critically-acclaimed, and well-received by the public as Gillian Welch wait 7 years to put out an album, is refreshing, and wise. Quality over quantity people.

But time and patience don’t guarantee a good album. What does is excellent songwriting, and that is exactly what Gillian delivers in The Harrow & The Harvest. Superbly-crafted, dark, sometimes even disturbing songs employ subtlety and wit so well, it rockets the songcraft on this album to the top of the 2011 class, and makes The Harrow well worth the wait.

From a songwriting standpoint, there is not a weak track on this album. Each song conveys an underlying theme, message, or lesson, or all three, and like all great songwriting, affords brilliant perspective on life.

The difficulty of this album that some, maybe many people will find will be the sparse nature of the music. This is mood music, not music for every mood. The album features David Rawlings on guitar, and not much else; some banjo and harmonica on “Six White Horses” and banjo again on “Hard Times”. The inability of this album to separate the individual songs through production, or separate them from Gillian’s body of work in total might bring some to want more from this album, or even find it boring. I would caution though that this album is meant to be listened to, not heard. No, there’s not a lot of booty shaking to go along with The Harrow & The Harvest, but there’s no intention in this album to effect that response either. The intention is to capture the heart of the song as it was envisioned by Gillian, and though a few more subtle layers of production might have helped this album, drums or a more electric approach might have buried the song’s greatest attribute, which is the words themselves.

And for people who want more meat or body from this music, don’t overlook this element in the lyrics. The music may be liliting, but there’s a lot of anger, soul, torment, and blood in the words and stories. Gillian builds a song out from a torment or innate human frailty like a rock band may build a song from an angry guitar riff. Something else worth noting is that Gillian doesn’t over-sing, like many of the up-and-coming women who fit in this “Americana” genre that Gillian helped forge.

This album is one of those that needs multiple listens before you can fully appreciate it, but once it sticks to your bones, not listening to it enough will not be an issue, because you might need a pry bar to get it out of your player.

Two guns up.

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Purchase & Preview Tracks of The Harrow & The Harvest


Top Albums of 2011 So Far

June 11, 2011 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  63 Comments

(Saving Country Music Radio will be playing songs from the Top 2011 Albums so far tonight (6-11-11) on The Real Deal.)

Well, we’ve just about reached the half way point of 2011, and let me level with you folks, so far this has been a down year for music. Yes, there’s been a few good projects and some surprises as well, but generally speaking it’s been pretty bleak compared to 2010, which was such a bumper year for music. Last year I thought my head was about to explode from all the great music. Well, we’re paying for it this year.

There are some interesting projects coming up, a new Hellbound Glory album, new William Elliot Whitmore, Scott H Biram, Gillian Welch, and Pokey LaFarge, and a new country album from the always polarizing Shooter Jennings that will be fun to see how it is is received, but below is a list of my top 2011 albums so far. Please note, there are a few albums already out that I have not reviewed yet. This will only include previously-reviewed albums.

Austin LucasA New Home, in the Old World (read review)

If you’re looking for a top-dog, and one with twang, then this album might be the winner. Excellent songwriting, beautiful singing and harmonies, a well-produced album with top-notch instrumentation and performances, and a good variety in the songs. Something about this album I’ve noticed is that while I gravitated away for the more rock-style songs on the album, many single these out as the best tracks. That means this album has a little something for everyone. Austin Lucas will be on Willie Nelson’s Country Throwdown tour this summer, and he deserves this honor after putting out such a superb album.

Slim Cessna’s Auto ClubUnentitled (read review)

This album is not for everyone. Being more in the Gothic country/Americana mold, it contains some natural barriers from being a true country album of the year. But as far as the project that so far has spent the most time in the listening rotation and shows the greatest amount of creativity and originality, this is the one. Being their dark, twisted take on pop music, the album has a strange addictive and accessible quality to it as well.

Lone WolfLone Wolf OMB (read review)

If you’re looking for the album that strips it all down and is simply an earth quaking, booty shaking primal experience, this is it. You may not think that one man and a banjo could be that engaging, but by the end of Lone Wolf OMB, you will be a believer.

Rachel BrookeDown in the Barnyard (read review)

The best album so far with a conceptualized approach and a cohesive theme that makes the collection of songs better than the sum of their parts. Well-crafted songs and lyrics are custom-fit with Rachel’s magnanimous voice in a very wise approach. And this is also the premier neo-traditionalist offering so far, going all the way back to modes of The Carter Family. If you’re looking for an album to get rowdy to, keep moving. If you’re looking for an album to be listened to and not just heard, then listen to this one.

Little Lisa DixieLittle Lisa Dixie (read review)

An excellent combination of smart and fun, Little Lisa Dixie’s premier, self-titled release is cast in the mold of the classic underground country album: a homage to the traditional approach to country music with a “devil, gun, and whiskey” edge. Little Lisa also throws a rockabilly vibe in on a few songs to keep things spicy.

Jimbo MathusConfederate Buddha (read review)

I have a sense that I’m going to have to drag people kicking and screaming to this album, but that’s OK, I like a challenge. Jimbo Mathus was keeping the roots alive and combining country, blues, and rock when many of the other folks in this list were still in Jr. High. Jimbo “keeps it real” in the truest sense of the phrase, is an American original, and this is a very solid, enjoyable album.

Caitlin RoseOwn Side Now (read review)

Another dark horse that may have the best songwriting from a lyrical standpoint in the whole lot and performed with a gorgeous voice. This album may be a little more placid than what folks are used to me recommending, but it is worth giving more than one chance.

Other albums to check out would be Ted Russell Kamp’s Get Back To The Land and Wanda Jackson’s The Party Ain’t Over and Left Lane Cruiser’s Junkyard Speedball.

Two albums that I feel weird trying to judge because they contain mostly previously-released material, but are worth checking out are Bob Wayne’s Outlaw Carnie, and Joe Buck’s Piss & Vinegar.

What are your top albums so far? What good albums have I’ve missed? Which albums are you most looking forward to for the rest of 2011?


Hank III’s Upcoming Album: The Rebel Within

November 1, 2009 - By Trigger  //  News  //  4 Comments

Hank IIIOn Oct. 20th, Hank III granted a rare interview with Outlaw Radio Chicago and let slide quite a few tidbits of interesting information, including that he wants to tour Canada and Japan again soon, and he talked at length about his upcoming album, which we now know is going to be entitled The Rebel Within, after a song that he’s been playing recently at live shows (see below for video.)

To listen to the entirety of the interview you can click here and scroll down to Episode 66, but since I have has a lot of questions about the upcoming album and some are not wired for podcasts, here’s the info from the Head Hellbilly himself.

As for the status of it:

“We got one more country record before I get to get “independent” of Curb. By Nov. 1st it should be turned in with all the artwork and be coming out sooner than later. I’ve heard through the grapevine that once I turn it in that there’s a clock that’s gonna start ticking and they have to let me go after 10 or 11 months or something like that. Hopefully they’ll see that I gave them a good record. I could have gave them nothing but static and noise and been like “Ah, here ya go, it’s been nice knowing you.” But I gave them a good record man.”

The Songs, and Compared to Straight to Hell:

“I honestly don’t think it tops Straight to Hell. It’s got a couple of moments. It’s got a strait up country song called “Drinking Ain’t Hard to Do.” Then of course you have “The Rebel Within” that has a little bit of the screamin’. And then you got a little more of the hellbilliy, psychobilly track on “Let’s Party.” Both of those songs are already on YouTube and you can check them out. It goes through some different kind of moods, like there’s some slow ones like “#5″ it’s the big gut wrencher. It’s written for one of my friends whose gone through the hard times with the heroin man, and made it through the other side. It’s got the slow ones its got the fast ones and a little attitude. But I still don’t think it tops . . . I still got another 4 years before I come close to knocking that one (Straight to Hell) down.

What Will He Do Next?:

“It’s hard to say right now. I probably just go with a good distribution company and see how that works. That’s advise from Henry Rollins and people like that. And if it’s an artist, let’s say Buzz from The Melvins starts a record company or if I go with Jello Biafra at Alternative Tentacles or something. I would definitely do it with someone that I respect and who’s a fellow musician. I just want to have the freedom to have fun with my friends and make music out there, and we’ll see if I can go DIY. With our foundation and the internet, it should be interesting.

Another interesting tidbit from the interview was Hank III said his two favoirte female signers were Janis Joplin and Gillian Welch.

There’s a lot more info from that interview so you should check it out when you get a chance, and here’s the title track of The Rebel Within:

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