Each year when Saving Country Music sits down to compile the best songs, it’s done so with a solemn reverence and understanding that the idea embedded in a song has the power to change a life, and change the world. There are many songs out there that are a joy to listen to, but a Song of the Year must say something that can evoke shivers, and do so in a way nobody else has done before.
Parker Milsap had an excellent song this year called “Truck Stop Gospel,” and Jim Lauderdale‘s “I Lost You” pound for pound may be the most enjoyable song released all year. Willie Watson had numerous songs like “Mexican Cowboy” and “Keep It Clean” that while not originals, had the energy and approach of ones. There were epics like Joseph Huber‘s “Wanchese & Manteo,” or great performances like The Secret Sisters‘ “The Lonely Island.” But the nine songs below stood out from the rest in Saving Country Music’s humble opinion.
Audience participation is strongly encouraged, and will influence the outcome. Leave your opinions, write-in candidates, or other observations below in the comments section. This is not simply an up and down vote though. I make the final decision, so it is your job to convince me why the album you feel deserves to win is the right pick. The winner will be chosen in about a month.
Don Williams – “I’ll Be Here In The Morning” – from Reflections
Townes Van Zandt and Don Williams team up to deliver one of the most disarming performances of 2014, taking a timeless composition, and bringing it to life again through an immortal voice. The warmth this performance coveys is astounding, and as can be seen in the video, it was recorded live. Great song from a great album. (read review)
Lydia Loveless – “Everything’s Gone” – from Somewhere Else
“Everything’s Gone” is Lydia’s crowning achievement thus far in her career, showing remarkable insight, and delivering a vocal performance that fills as much emotion as humanly possible into the vessel of a story—any more and it would fall apart under its own weight.
“Lord now I’m sick of seeing the fear in my family’s eyes. I need to find the man who put it there and set his life on fire.”
Ray Benson & Willie Nelson – “It Ain’t You” - from A Little Piece
Originally written by Waylon Jennings with Gary Nicholson, “It Ain’t You” was never recorded, and was relatively unknown except to a select few for many years. When Asleep At The Wheel frontman Ray Benson was looking for material to release on his first solo album in a decade, the song was suggested to him by Sam “Lightnin’” Seifert who co-produced the effort with Lloyd Maines.
What the forces that would sway popular American music to only focus on youth fail to regard is where simply the tone of a voice and the visage of a legendary performer can evoke such a reverence and place such immeasurable weight of an entire remarkable career behind it that an immediate elevation of whatever music being performing occurs in a measure that could never be challenged by the simple exuberance of youth. “It Ain’t You” is exquisitely written, and makes one wonder how this song went unheard for so long. (read full review)
Tami Neilson – “Cry Over You” – from Dynamite!
It is said often that there’s no more standard songs being released that will withstand the test of time. Well Tami Neilson just released one, and punctuated it with a timeless vocal performance.
Sturgill Simpson – “Turtles All The Way Down” – from Metamodern Sounds
A polarizing song from its seeming questioning of faith and drug laws, “Turtles All The Way Down” speaks to the very core of what the Sturgill Simpson experience is all about: a forward-thinking, challenging approach to enhancing the senses by marking a crossroads between traditional country and a progressive approach.
Leon Virgil Bowers – “Streets of Aberdeen” – from LV
Leon Virgil Bowers (formerly of Hellbound Glory) continues to be America’s most undervalued songwriter, and someday the rest of the world is going to wake up to that fact. While Virgil is known most for his strong wit, weaving moments in songs that touch your heart and funny bone at the same time, this exploration of more in-depth storytelling by Leroy was a big success. And only appropriate that the song and video was cut in Aberdeen, in a building with ties to the story. (read more)
Hurray for the Riff Raff – “The Body Electric” -from Small Town Heroes
The legacy of the murder ballad is one of the very building blocks of country, bluegrass, and folk music, and never before has an artist taken that primordial idea and conveyed so much while saying very little. It awakens the defiance in the female condition, as an array of thoughts flow through the listener.
First Aid Kit – “Waitress Song” – from Stay Gold
First Aid Kit’s Stay Gold on any other year might be the album everyone is talking about, and in certain segments of the folk and Americana world, it still is. No album can top it in 2014 when it comes to harmonies and melody building, and it’s hard to pinpoint just one song where this is evidenced the best. But even amongst the towering compositions of the album like “My Silver Lining” and “Cedar Lane,” “The Waitress Song” is the one I kept coming back to. A strange song from the usually serious and regal Söderberg sisters, it starts off playful and silly with it’s fluttering “girls just want to have fun” line, but reveals later a lot of life truths and deep perspective swirling around the idea of walking away from ones self and starting over.
“It’s a dark, twisted road we are on. And we all have to walk it alone.”
Matt Woods – “Liberty Bell” – from Brushy Mountain
The question going into Matt Woods’ new album With Love From Brushy Mountain was if he could he match the magic he evoked in his song “Deadman’s Blues” that went on to win him Saving Country Music’s Song of the Year in 2013. The answer turned out to be “yes,” and the best evidence might be this soul-wrenching song that matches “Deadman’s Blues” punch for punch.
In September of 2012, Blake Judd of JuddFilms brought a camera crew to the famous Cash Cabin Studio in Hendersonville, TN to shoot a pilot episode for a television series that has never been aired. Meant to be aired late at night, similar to the late-night musical variety show The Midnight Special that was broadcast on NBC from 1972 to 1981, the idea was to take well-known established artists, worthy undiscovered musicians and songwriters, and stick them all in Johnny Cash’s legendary cabin with an open bar, and set the camera’s rolling.
Developed by Shooter Jennings and JuddFilms, Shooter Jennings’ Midnight Special had little to no rules. Pickers and songwriters organically decided what they wanted to play, and people joined in if they wished. The idea was to capture collaborative magic, while using the names of larger artists to help expose smaller ones. The names assembled in the Cash Cabin include mainstream country artists like Kellie Pickler and John Anderson, Americana names like Jason Isbell and Leroy Powell, and underground artists such as Leon Virgil Bowers (formerly Leroy Virgil of Hellbound Glory), and Col. JD Wilkes of Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers.
In the below video obtained by Saving Country Music from Judd Films, it finds Leon Virgil Bowers leading the Cash Cabin in a rendition of Garth Brooks’ “Two of a Kind.” The woman blowing in Bowers’ ear in the early portion is Leon’s wife who is known to request the song whenever she sees Leon with a guitar in his hand. Joining Leon is a stupidly-dizzying amount of music talent, including Jason Isbell, Amanda Isbell (Shires), Col. JD Wilkes, Jessica Wilkes, Scott Icenogle on bass, Rico from Hellbound Glory on slide guitar, while Shooter Jennings, Sarah Gayle Meech, John Carter Cash, Leroy Powell, Joey Allcorn, some pretty girls, and who knows else sway along and offer harmony vocals. It’s a crazy roundtable of talent, while top notch video cameras and studio-quality sound capture the entire thing.
Even more interesting is there’s apparently much more from where this video came from, with footage being captured all day, and John Anderson, Kellie Pickler, and others joining in, including Kellie doing Kitty Wells’ “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” to be released on December 4th. No word on what ever happened to this series, but it is definitely interesting to see all this talent in one place.
Hellbound Glory, the raucous Reno, Nevada-based country band is no more, and the band’s long-time frontman and songwriter has taken on a new moniker.
R.I.P. Hellbound Glory and Leroy Virgil, and hello Leon Virgil Bowers.
The band had the internet buzzing on October 1st when they announced that Hellbound Glory would be killed off. “31 more nights… till the death of Hellbound Glory” the band stated, leaving fans of the resurgent country outfit wondering what the hell would be happening next. Then on Halloween, friends and family gathered at the at the Buckhorn Lodge in Pioneer, California to lay Hellbound Glory to rest, complete with a Hellbound Glory flag-draped coffin symbolizing the death of a music era that saw the band play hundreds of shows coast to coast, tour with Kid Rock and Leon Russell, and release some of the best independent country songs in the last decade.
The rest of Halloween weekend left fans wondering what was going to happen next. Then on Monday (11-3), a new website was launched and the name Leon Virgil Bowers, the given name of Leroy Virgil, emerged as the new incarnation of Hellbound Glory.
Leon Virgil Bowers has been the only permanent member of Hellbound Glory since the band’s inception in 2008. The band’s first two albums Scumbag Country and Old Highs & New Lows became landmarks of independent/underground country music and still remain testaments to Leroy’s prowess as a frontman and songwriter, along with his newer albums, 2011′s Damaged Goods, and the recent 2014 LP called LV, named after Leon’s initials.
A name change is something that worked very successfully for Sturgill Simpson when he dropped the Sunday Valley moniker. Sturgill’s name change is considered one of the keys to his meteoric rise. Country music is mostly a solo name business, and for some reason bands working under an individual’s name tend to do better.
“I’ve actually considered it a lot. We’ve talked about it,” Leon said when Saving Country Music interviewed him in May and asked him about going with his own name in the future. But he also showed reluctance at the time to drop the Hellbound Glory name. “There’s so much momentum going with Hellbound Glory and I’ve got so many years of work into it. Within a week or two of moving to Reno, I’d written the song and turned it into a band name. So it’s been something I’m stuck with. Part of me would like a change.”
But don’t throw dirt on the grave of Hellbound Glory just yet. “We tried to kill it, but it looks like the spirit of Hellbound Glory will live on,” the band posted through social network. As they allude, the music of Hellbound Glory will continue to be enjoyed by fans. And who knows, maybe the name will be resurrected in the future. But with Leroy’s greatest asset being one of the premier songwriters of the independent world, working under his own name may just be the right decision to help get his music to the wider audience it deserves.
Ever since October 1st when Reno, Nevada-based country outfit Hellbound Glory posted on their Facebook page “31 more nights… till the death of Hellbound Glory…“ speculation has run rampant about what might befall the band on All Hallows’ Eve as it fastly approaches. Subsequently Hellbound Glory has booked a concert they’re advertising by saying “Witness The Death of Hellbound Glory,” set to transpire on Oct. 31st—Halloween night, at the Buckhorn Lodge in Pioneer, California—a couple of hours from Reno.
So what’s happening? is Hellbound Glory truly dying? Is it a publicity stunt? Though Saving Country Music has reached out to Hellbound Glory just to make sure everything is okay (meaning nobody is really dying), what Hellbound Glory will look like on November 1st still remains a mystery, and may yet to be determined in full by Hellbound’s principal members themselves. What we do know is there will be a change, and it will likely be a big one.
The only permanent member of Hellbound Glory since the band’s inception in 2008 has been the frontman and songwriter that goes by the name of Leory Virgil. The band’s first two albums Scumbag Country and Old Highs & New Lows became landmarks of independent/underground country music and still remain testaments to Leroy’s prowess as a frontman and songwriter, along with his newer albums, 2011′s Damaged Goods, and the recent 2014 LP called LV.
2012 saw the band receive a huge step up when it was announced they would be opening for Kid Rock on a nationwide arena tour. This looked like the moment this much heralded independent country band had been waiting for, and they were finally getting their due. But something has happened to Hellbound subsequently. After the Kid Rock tour, Hellbound shed virtually all of its members save for Leroy Virgil and drummer Francis Valentino. Even the lineup for the Kid Rock dates was a departure from the original Hellbound Glory lineup that was featured on those first two records. Though you couldn’t ever doubt the power of a Hellbound Glory song, the band fluctuations made Hellbound Glory hard to define.
Who was Hellbound Glory? Were they a rocking power trio? An acoustic singer/songwriter outfit? Or a full five-piece country band? They’d been all three in recent memory, and it may have been a little hard for fans to keep up. And a band that many had pegged to be one that could blow up nationally, similar to what has happened recently with acts like Sturgill Simpson or Jason Isbell, stayed put in relative obscurity despite their amazing songs, some big tours, and a rich discography.
So it’s time for a change. A shake up. But what? Here’s the three major possibilities.
Hellbound Glory is Truly Going Away
That’s right, meaning no more Hellbound Glory, and no more Leroy Virgil. Gone. Kaputz. Maybe some weekend solo shows in Reno every few months just to get the devil out, but Leroy Virgil quits music as a full time pursuit. This certainly would not be out of the realm of possibility. He’s married now with a young son, gray hairs are filling in, and he isn’t getting any younger. He gave it his all, but Hellbound Glory just may be one of those bands that was too good, and too real to be successful at a sustainable level.
Hellbound Glory Is Simply Going Through A Name Change
Long-standing followers of Hellbound Glory know that this has happened with the band before, though maybe not to this significant of a degree. When Leroy Virgil was doing more of a singer/songwriter thing, sitting on a bass drum and had a band of stand up bass and slide guitar, he was calling it “The Excavators,” though the Hellbound Glory name was still being used too. As Leroy told Saving Country Music in an interview in May, “As I’ve changed lineups, I’ve always called the band something different. For a while we were the Excavators, for a while I was calling it the Damaged Good Ol’ Boys, for a while to was the Damn Seagulls, so it’s always kind of changing up for me.”
So maybe Hellbound Glory will simply be changed to something different to give it new blood and create new interest.
Leroy Virgil Will Drop “Hellbound Glory,” and Go Under His Own Name
This is something that worked very successfully for Sturgill Simpson when he dropped the Sunday Valley moniker. Sturgill’s name change is considered one of the keys to his meteoric rise. Country music is mostly a solo name business, and for some reason bands working under an individual’s name tend to do better. Remember, Hellbound Glory’s last release was called LV for Leroy’s initials. Maybe this was a hint of things to come. And interestingly enough, Leroy wrote the single for that EP called “Streets of Aberdeen” on Halloween. It is about the famous serial killer from his hometown of Aberdeen, WA, and the song was recorded in one of the spaces the serial killer used to frequent.
As Leory told Saving Country music in the same May interview about changing to his own name,
“I’ve actually considered it a lot. We’ve talked about it, but there’s so much momentum going with Hellbound Glory and I’ve got so many years of work into it. Within a week or two of moving to Reno, I’d written the song and turned it into a band name. So it’s been something I’m stuck with. Part of me would like a change. But it’s a great band name when you think about it. It’s good and evil, heaven and hell…Hellbound Glory has always been my thing. It’s always been less of a band, and more of a gang. People come and people go, and people come back.”
It’s also a possibility that Leroy decides to go under his own name, but doesn’t use “Leroy Virgil.” For example, “Sturgill” is Sturgill Simpson’s middle name, while his first name is “John.” This could mark a new era and change of scenery for Leroy.
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Either way, as Hellbound Glory fans are getting ready to go out Friday night, gussying up the kiddos in their costumes, or painting themselves up for a night of haunting on the town, it will probably be worth giving a peek to what Hellbound Glory has to say about what the future holds. Because this band’s music has been too good to end up as a corpse. Hopefully there is life after Hellbound Glory.
Compared to albums, making picks of songs is such a tough, arbitrary business. This year seems especially tough, not because the field isn’t strong, but because many of the best moments are coming from unlikely sources, including a cadre of cover songs that despite the spirit of the “Best Songs” approach being about original compositions, seem almost criminal to omit.
PLEASE NOTE: “Best Songs” are not those catchy tunes you can’t take off of repeat, they’re songs that can change your life; legitimate Song of the Year candidates. No order to the list below was intended or should be implied, aside from the first nine highlighted songs being considered strong candidates for Saving Country Music’s “Song of the Year” consideration in six months, though any of the songs listed come highly recommended, and could rise through time to become a contender. Time, as always, is the greatest judge of music. And please feel free to leave your opinions and suggestions about what the best songs of 2014 so far are down below.
Hellbound Glory – “Streets of Aberdeen” – from LV
Hellbound Glory’s Leroy Virgil continues to be America’s most undervalued songwriter, and someday the rest of the world is going to wake up to that fact. While Virgil is known most for his strong wit, weaving moments in songs that touch your heart and funny bone at the same time, this exploration of more in-depth storytelling by Leroy was a big success. And only appropriate that the song and video was cut in Aberdeen, in a building with ties to the story. (read more)
Don Williams – “I’ll Be Here In The Morning” – from Reflections
Townes Van Zandt and Don Williams team up to deliver one of the most disarming performances so far of 2014, taking a timeless composition, and bringing it to life again through an immortal voice. The warmth this performance coveys is astounding, and as can be seen in the video, it was recorded live. Great song from a great album. (read review)
Sturgill Simpson – “The Promise” – from Metamodern Sounds
It has been my working theory that Sturgill Simpson is not being challenged enough in music, and this can lead to moments of aloofness, almost boredom from the burgeoning artist. Taking a song from 80′s English new wave one hit wonder When in Rome and turning it into a traditional country song of this caliber was certainly a challenge, and one Sturgill accomplished with flying colors. It deserves to be considered right beside 2014′s original offerings. (see video premier on NPR)
Melody Williamson – “There’s No Country Here”
Though country protest songs can feel like a dime a dozen these days, 15-year-old Melody Williamson did it right, and the striking message coming from such a young artist became a viral phenomenon in the first part of 2014.
“As I always say, it won’t be websites, organizations, or awards that will Save Country Music, it will be songs. And Melody Williamson proves why this is true once again with ‘There’s No Country Here’.” (read review & see studio version)
Matt Woods – “Liberty Bell” – from From Brushy Mountain
The question going into Matt Woods’ new album With Love From Brushy Mountain was if he could he match the magic he evoked in his song “Deadman’s Blues” that went on to win him Saving Country Music’s Song of the Year in 2013. The answer turned out to be “yes,” and the best evidence might be this soul-wrenching song that matches “Deadman’s Blues” punch for punch.
The Secret Sisters – “Lonely Island” – from Put Your Needle Down
You’d be hard pressed to find another song that showcases the beauty of harmonizing sisters so exquisitely. If “Lonely Island” was recorded 50 years ago, it would be a standard of the country music song book today. It is simply a masterpiece.
Willie Nelson – “The Wall” – from Band of Brothers
No favoritism or bias being shown here to a legendary artist. Willie Nelson has truly written his best song in years.
“Isn’t it interesting how we look upon Willie Nelson as such a saint of not just music or country music, but of the nation and world, and here he is releasing a song that instead of reveling in his accomplishments and resting on his laurels, catches the 81-year-old country legend looking back upon his past mistakes, self-deprecating and pensive, yet understanding how those mistakes made him the man he is today.” (read review)
Sturgill Simpson – “Turtles All The Way Down” – from Metamodern Sounds
A polarizing song from its seeming questioning of faith and drug laws, “Turtles All The Way Down” speaks to the very core of what the Sturgill Simpson experience is all about: a forward-thinking, challenging approach to enhancing the senses by marking a crossroads between traditional country and a progressive approach.
Kirsty Lee Akers – “Take Me Back”
A timeless sentiment that Kirsty Lee revitalizes in an excellent performance that highlights her unique and inviting voice. This is one of those songs that you get lost in, and makes you take stock. Your sense of perspective is changed after listening.
Other Great Songs:
• Charlie Parr – “I Dreamed I Saw Paul Bunyan Last Night” – from Hollandale
• Jason Eady – “Whiskey & You” – from Daylight & Dark
• Bob Wayne & Elizabeth Cook – “20 Miles to Juarez” – from Back to the Camper
• Red Eye Gravy -”Hard Livin’” – from Dust Bowl Hangover
• Dierks Bentley – “I Hold On” – from Riser
• First Aid Kit – “Cedar Lane” – from Stay Gold
• Miranda Lambert – “Hard Staying Sober” – from Platinum
• Karen Jonas – “Thinking Of You Again” – from Oklahoma Lottery
• Zoe Muth – “Mama Needs A Margarita” – from World of Strangers
• John Fullbright – “Write A Song” – from Songs
• Eric Church – “Dark Side” – from The Outsiders
• Parker Milsap – “Truck Stop Gospel” – from Parker Milsap
• Willie Watson – “Mexican Cowboy” – from Folk Singer Vol. 1
Redneck comedian Jeff Foxworthy wanted to start his own festival, and that was the germination of the idea that bloomed into the inaugural Red Fest held Memorial Day weekend just south and east of Austin, TX at the Circuit of the Americas speedway—the only F1 racetrack in the United States. The sprawling complex built in 2012 includes a 3.4-mile, 20-turn racetrack with multiple grandstands and buildings, including a 14,000-capacity music amphitheater and 251-foot observation tower. This became the scene for the multi-faceted festival catering to country music-minded people of mostly the mainstream perspective, but with quite a few independent and up-and-coming bands and artists thrown into the lineup for good measure.
As new huge corporate festivals come online all across the country, Jeff Foxworthy’s idea was to make Red Fest more of a culturally-immersive experience to separate himself from the competition. Along with himself, he brought on Larry The Cable Guy, and the Duck Dynasty folks to give Red Fest a comedic wrinkle. Then strewn out across nine different areas surrounding the speedway, you could find a varied array of different activities, including an archery range, go-karts and racing simulators, dodgeball and volleyball courts, horseshoes and cornhole pits, a fully-complimented carnival midway, mechanical bulls, a military village housing charity booths and boot campaigns, and that’s just getting started. Even the most dedicated patron would have needed all three days of Red Fest to see and experience it all.
As for the music, the Red Fest lineup was built on good intentions. Big names like Florida Georgia Line, Tim McGraw, Kellie Pickler, and Lynyrd Skynyrd were billed alongside lesser-known bands from the local and national landscape like Hellbound Glory, The Whiskey Sisters, and Bri Bagwell. Think of it like the model the Stagecoach Festival in California has been using for the last few years: instead of segregating independent and mainstream music, integrating it. Yet at its heart, Red Fest was still very much a mainstream, corporate festival, built to cull every last dollar from super-consumer fans who pride themselves in working hard and spending hard.
Though asking $10 for a CD these days is apparently considered too much by many, the market can bear $4.00 for a bottle of water, $7.00 for a domestic beer, and $20.00 for parking, despite the Red Fest grounds being amongst vast tracks of Texas land with absolutely no premium on space. Ticket prices and booking fees, not album sales, are now what keeps the music industry’s coffers flush, so the entire festival experience is an exercise in wringing the consumer out of as much money as possible. Luckily, Red Fest patrons were blessed with pretty good weather over the weekend, so copious amounts egregiously-priced libations were not absolutely necessary (though many elected to over-hydrate anyway), and despite a few minor intermittent showers causing some to scurry for cover, clouds and cooling breezes kept temperatures very reasonable compared to how hot or stormy central Texas can be at the end of May.
When Red Fest let 6,000 free tickets go to military service members, it wasn’t just a sincere token of good will, it was a sign that the fest was going undersold, and they needed to get butts through the gates. Aside from the upper lawn of the amphitheater bowl, and the entire amphitheater area when the headliners like Tim McGraw and Florida Georgia Line took the stage, the crowd all weekend felt a little thin. The grounds either needed to be more compact, or have more people to fill them. The 1/4 mile trek from the heart of the fest to the other two stages was a little bit too much for your average patron to endure. So generally speaking, they didn’t explore the extremities of the fest unless it was for one of its extra-curricular features, or a band that they really wanted to see and already knew about, like Parmalee, Colt Ford, or Texas country star Granger Smith. Meanwhile worthy acts like The Derailers and The Whiskey Sisters from Austin, or out-of-towners like Hellbound Glory and Sundy Best played to thin crowds made up mostly of people who already knew about them, rendering the idea of turning new fans on to a different sound somewhat unfulfilled.
Nonetheless, some great music transpired at Red Fest, and not just for those that made an attempt to seek it out on the smaller stages. Kellie Pickler put on a great set, reprising many of her most popular songs, and playing some classics, including Loretta’s “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)” and “White Lightning” for the large audience. The two-piece Sundy Best on the Natty Light side stage performed an extended medley of 80′s and 90′s pop tunes that included Fresh Price, the song “O.P.P.”, and The Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way”. The rest of the set showcased their own songwriting, vacillating between fun-loving and sincere. Sundy Best needs to make up their mind if they want to be a party band, or a singer-songwriter showcase, but they’re hard not to like. Granger Smith proved that even the Texas country scene is capable of producing laundry list schock, despite how much of a guilty pleasure Earl Dibbles Jr. might be.
The Whiskey Sisters on the smallest Redfest Showcase stage converted from an Airstream trailer showed why they’re one of the best bands in Austin to see live, and Hellbound Glory put on a rowdy set, almost as if they were looking to define the extreme of the proceedings. Compare this with Florida Georgia Line, who when they took the main stage to close the fest out Sunday Night, felt like a force of homogenizing nature. Right before their set, rap music blared over the mains, with legions of self-proclaimed rednecks swinging their hands in urban gesticulations and singing along. Then the duo walked out to Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive”, illustrating the blurred genre lines of the whole experience. Love them or hate them, Florida Georgia Line has without question captured (or capitulated) the current mainstream sound, and it’s infectiousness is so undeniable, it is a downright scary notion to stomach for the critical minority.
The commitment by Jeff Foxworthy to make Red Fest an annual event seems unwavering, despite it being somewhat foreign to the indigenous music culture in and around Austin, TX. Many patrons likely drove in from the San Antonio and Houston areas to the fest, and you saw more Aggie maroon than UT orange per capita throughout the weekend. The branding of the event called it “A New Memorial Day Tradition,” and they already are getting ready to do pre-sales for next year. Despite the first year hiccups of having the site too spread out, and prices for things more tailored to the upper-crust F1 racing crowd as opposed to a redneck festival, it went off without a hitch. Hopefully next year Red Fest continues to book bands worthy of a wider audience, and also does a better job of getting that audience in front of them.
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Red Fest Amphitheater:
The Whiskey Sisters:
Sturgill Simpson has arrived ladies & gentlemen, thanks to the resounding critical success of his new album Metamodern Sounds of Country Music that has permeated just about every corner of the independent roots music culture. From NPR, to The New York Times, to Billboard, to important periodicals in Europe, wherever you turn, someone is singing the praises of the Kentucky native.
This resounding success has made some, if not many, wonder where does Sturgill Simpson go from here? Just how big can he get? Could we possibly hear Sturgill Simpson songs on mainstream radio? Could we see him get a nomination from the CMA? Could Sturgill Simpson and Metamodern Sounds be the artist and album to save country music? Without a doubt he’s that one artist this is resonating, right here, right now, and unlike other artists that have done so recently such as Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson is decidedly country, potentially giving him the ability to be considered for attention by country music’s largest institutions.
I think we all need to take a douse of realism, while at the same time understanding that Sturgill Simpson becoming something bigger than just a mid-level club act is very realistic if the right things fall into place. But there is a long, long way to go, and a lot of the talk surrounding him at the moment is sort of like playing fantasy football. In the long run, for an artist like Sturgill to reach the CMA level, a lot of specific watermarks must be reached, and it’s imperative on his fans, and Sturgill himself, not to set unrealistic expectations that can end up deflating the positive momentum he’s created. So in the end, a “Let’s just do the best we can, and see where this goes” mentality is probably the most wise course of action. Though someone who might read artcles on savingcountrymusic.com on a regular basis might see Sturgill Simpson’s name everywhere they turn and think this thing is in the midst of something historic, out in the big scary world, he’s still very much an unknown. For now.
But you also can’t discount the magic of music when it is matched up with the right moment for the world to hear it. That’s how all great movements in music start, by one person doing something the world has a great hunger for. And can anyone disagree that a hunger for someone like Sturgill Simpson exists in country music right now? As silly as the notion may seem to some, the indelible part of the country music mythos that hopes for a savior to come and return balance to the genre is a very real force all to itself, and carries its own weight and momentum.
It’s also worth pointing out that Sturgill Simpson isn’t the only one who deserves credit for what is becoming a meteoric rise. Some very wise moves have been made in marketing him, and how his music has been released. Normally, releasing albums less than a year apart is frowned upon these days. For Sturgill, this move was fortuitous. Just as the High Top Mountain‘s cycle was losing steam, here he comes with an album that regardless of where he goes from here, will be looked back upon as a landmark; as an important moment in his development. Now Sturgill has all the momentum at his back, and that, along with an excellent management team, has allowed Sturgill to reach far beyond what we normally see from independent artists that may feel very intimate to us because we’ve seen them in half empty barrooms, or heard their music before anyone else.
Sturgill’s manager Marc Dottore (also Marty Stuart’s manager), has been able to get him in front of big audiences at the Opry, on The Marty Stuart Show, and opened up many doors not normally accessible to independent artists. Sturgill’s booking agent got him on some big tours opening for Dwight Yoakam. And Sturgill and his band have been pounding the pavement, playing strange tour runs that are not always intuitive when they’re drawn on a map, and that take a toll on the band’s personal lives and sanity, but in the end got him in front of the right people to have an impact. There are a lot of talented country artists, and a lot of artists like Sturgill that have worked very hard. But Sturgill, his band, and his management team and publicists didn’t just work hard, they worked smart. And that, just as much as Sturgill’s talent, the appeal of the music, and the fortuitous timing of it, lent to where he is today.
Could Sturgill Simpson Be Picked Up By A Major Label?
Could he? Sure. Since he’s signed with new school distribution company Thirty Tigers, Sturgill still retains his rights, and the freedom to do whatever he wants with his music, whether it is the music on Metamodern Sounds, or music he makes in the future. This is one of the specific reasons Sturgill decided to go with Thirty Tigers, despite being offered other deals by other labels before High Top Mountain. And there’s precedent here with other artists. Chase Rice, one of the writers of Florida Georgia Line’s blockbuster song “Cruise”, started out as a Thirty Tigers artist, releasing music through the label before making a partnership through Columbia Records in March to distribute his EP and his “Ready, Set, Roll” single.
Speaking of Florida Georgia Line, they have a somewhat similar story, where they made an EP called It’z Just What We Do that after it went crazy, landed them a deal with Big Machine Records. Much of the music from that EP ended up on their first major full-length release.
But let’s be realistic. Do we really think real deal Sturgill Simpson is going to sign with a major label that would more than likely mean handing over the rights to his songs, and potentially artistic control? Granted, this isn’t always a pitfall of the major label world. There are some artists that with the right leverage power have been able to negotiate contracts in their favor that didn’t include all the traditional trappings of a major label deal. But unless it is perfect, Sturgill Simpson isn’t going to take it. Sturgill is a peculiar, cantankerous individual; an idealist that isn’t motivated by fame and money beyond wanting to provide for his family.
So the next question would be is, would the combination of Thirty Tigers and Sturgill’s current management structure be able to handle some major meteoric rise that would result in the gross equivalent of a major label deal? It’s kind of hard to know, but simply asking the question may be getting way ahead of ourselves.
Could Sturgill Simpson Be Nominated for a CMA Award?
Not to throw cold water on anything, but shaking my magic ’8′ ball, what I’m coming up with is “not likely”. Maybe in the future, when Sturgill has taken a few more steps, and his name recognition is such that the wider industry is paying more attention. But for now, Sturgill must conquer the Americana and independent ranks. He may very well do that with Metamodern Sounds, and this may create the gateway to greener pastures. But we can’t take this happening as a given.
One benefit he has over artists like Jason Isbell or Justin Townes Earle who’ve both had big success in Americana, is that Sturgill Simpson is purely country. This means hypothetically that the sky is the limit, unlike with Americana.
But the CMA, and especially the ACM are set up to promote the country music industry, just as the Americana Music Awards are set up to promote the Americana industry. And right now, Sturgill Simpson isn’t part of that industry. He may play country music, but that doesn’t immediately make him a contender, let alone visible to the CMA voters, even though he may technically qualify. What would put him on their map is strong, prolonged commercial success along with his critical acclaim: solid showings on MediaBase and Billboard charts for sales and plays.
The other thing he would need to do to be considered by the CMA is to have mainstream radio play. And with the climate these days at mainstream radio, where it realistically takes sometimes $500,000 to $1 million dollars to promote a single, especially from an unknown artist, that possibility may be the most out-of-reach for Sturgill. Besides, I’m not sure Metamodern Sounds contains any “single” material for modern-day radio.
However there is hope that a critical darling can crack through all the commercial hurdles that hold many artists out of the CMA process. Though Kacey Musgraves resides on a major label, appreciate that without even one Top 10 single to her name, she walked away with the Album of the Year trophies at both the Grammy Awards and ACM’s this year. When faced with overwhelming consensus about a critical favorite, whether it’s Musgraves’ Same Trailer, Different Park, or Jamey Johnson’s That Lonesome Song, industry awards will step up to at least dole out nominations to these projects. An Americana Grammy for Sturgill is a very real possibility, but remember last year they completely snubbed Jason Isbell, who by all accounts was the clear favorite going in.
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More realistically, Sturgill Simpson just needs to eat what’s on his plate, and focus on growing his name recognition. Sturgill will continue to focus on touring, and creating a fan base that can support him at the club level. That will open up the possibility for bigger opening slots, and more exposure.
We have been at this crossroads before, where an artist feels like he’s on the brink of blowing up and rising to the mainstream level. In 2008 when Hank Williams III was riding off of huge momentum from a critically-acclaimed and commercially-successful release Straight to Hell, it looked for a minute that he may break through the walls of the mainstream and completely shake up the industry. Williams had been touring like crazy for a half decade. He had all the momentum at his back. When his next album came out, Damn Right, Rebel Proud in 2008, it debuted at #2 on the Billboard charts. Williams had climbed nine rungs up a ten rung ladder, and he had done it his way, fighting against his label to win creative freedom, and finding success despite a lack of radio play.
But Damn Right, Rebel Proud was a step down in quality from his previous releases, and Hank3 proceeded to take 18 months off of touring. Subsequent releases charted decently as well, but he never reached the same heights. Hank3 had been right there, right at the precipice of breaking through, and for whatever reason, lost the drive, lost the momentum, had pushed himself too hard, and had to step back.
Hellbound Glory, also finding great critical acclaim, landed the opportunity to open for Kid Rock on an arena tour, and it looked like the doors would finally start opening for them. And some doors did. But a year later, Leroy Virgil had not a single member in his band that had been around for the Kid Rock tour, and in many respects landed right back where he started. Jamey Johnson reached the very top of the industry, penning #1 songs and being nominated for big awards. But then a label dispute stopped him in his tracks, and it’s been nearly four years since he’s released an original song.
Whether the fault of the artists or others, the ninth rung of that ten rung ladder has been where these artists have stalled, one after another. And the dream, the promise of returning the balance back to country music stalls with it. Whether it’s artists losing their hunger, being hindered by the industry, or never really having a chance to begin with, the dream wasn’t fully realized. It wasn’t played out to its last, exhaustive breath. But with Sturgill Simpson, we have another opportunity.
And if something magical does happen with Sturgill Simpson, we shouldn’t see it as a shot from nowhere. George Strait just won Entertainer of the Year for both the CMA’s and ACM’s. Kacey Musgraves has been winning awards left and right. Both traditionalism and substance are resonating again in country music, despite however buried they may appear by bro-country.
The most important thing is that Sturgill Simpson keeps on growing, and that the independent community does what they can to help foster that growth. Sturgill Simpson said it best when he posted the day of the release of Metamodern Sounds:
I have said it many times and I will continue to say it, as it is the truth and I whole heartedly believe it…guys like me and the countless others others out there attempting to offer an alternative are not capable of change. We are not the catalyst of change. You guys are. We can only do our best to make the best records we are capable of but it is up to you the listener to have your voices heard. This is the only road to the true change that a lot of you I talk to at shows are seeking. If you connect with something that moves you it’s up to you to share it/burn it/ steal it/ give it away. As long as it finds and connects with as many people as possible that is all we wish for.
From the bottom of our hearts, thank you all for everything YOU have done and are collectively doing to make our dreams come true. It goes without saying that I am about as sick of hearing/talking about me as I have ever been in my entire life. With that said, we are anxiously looking forward to taking this show on the road for the rest of our lives.
Sturgill, Kevin, Miles, & Little Joe
Reno’s Hellbound Glory has just released a new 5-song EP called LV, named for the initials of lead singer and songwriter Leroy Virgil. The album was recorded in and partially inspired by Leroy’s hometown of Aberdeen, Washington, and marks the first new music from Leroy and Hellbound Glory in nearly three years.
On the occasion of the new release I gave Leroy a call and spoke to him about the new EP, another EP he has coming out July 3rd called Folk Hero, and what opening for Kid Rock on an arena tour did for his career.
“It’s about a hour-and-a-half outside of Reno on the Gardnerville side, through Gardnerville, then you take 88 up into the mountains,” Leroy tells me about the place he’s living now ouside of Reno. “Just a little town, out kinda in the middle of nowhere. I’ve got a really great view. Hardly anyone lives around me. Just a really secluded little place out in the woods, which is cool by me. I’ve lived up here for about a year.
“Obviously I spend a lot of time out on the road. But my wife and I moved up here to be closer to her family. Just wanted a place where my kid could play out in the woods. The area we can afford to live in Reno was getting a little bit rough. So this was good for the family. My boy is great. He’s a big boy. He knows my music, loves music in general. He’s my biggest fan, and I’m his biggest fan too. Since he’s been born I’ve been stealing material from him.”
Tell us about this new EP you’ve got out, LV.
Last Halloween I wrote this song called “Streets of Aberdeen”. It literally took me like a half hour to put it all together. I wrote it, and later that night I posted it on the internet to share it, and as I started playing it more, I thought, “this has some potential.” I got a hold of an old friend of mine back in Aberdeen that I used to record with when I was a teenager who has a studio there. I just said, “Hey, would you be interested in hitting the studio together?” He’d been out of commission for a while, but he got it all set up. If you’ve heard the song, the storyline’s about an infamous murderer back there in Aberdeen. And the place I recorded it—and this is completely random, none of this was on purpose—but the actual studio is an old union building where Billy Gohl murdered all these people at. That just happens to be where the studio happens to be. So I wrote this song, and I kind of knew in the back of my mind that the studio was in the same place, but the song is about it, and it’s recorded right there. I don’t know, I just thought it was something kind of cool. I’d always heard the story when I was a kid and it was stuck in my brain. It makes for a good story at the very least.
The EP is all tape, all analog studio, and he hadn’t been recording for about ten years or so. So it’s old tape equipment before they started using Pro Tools and stuff. There’s no computers in the whole entire office. And I went there and did a couple of songs with Adam whose playing bass for me, and Marty Chandler who plays guitar for the Supersuckers. They play on a few of the songs, and then the rest of the songs I just did by myself as kind of a one man band.
The “Streets of Aberdeen” song, I tried to get it recorded for a couple of sessions, and it just wasn’t coming together. It got to be one of the last days, and I knew Bryan [the engineer] had to head off to some dance thing for his wife. It got to about four o’clock and he had to be gone by five, so I just tuned the guitar down and started strumming something and I came up with this chord. And after a bunch of tries earlier, I found the right chord, I found the right tempo, and I recorded everything on the song in about an hour.
Tell us about your history with Aberdeen. Hellboud Glory is so synonymous with Reno, but I know that’s the area you’re from.
My mom moved to Aberdeen when I was about three. She met my step dad out there and I lived out there for the most part, with the exception of a couple months here and there when I would visit my real father who lived in Sun Valley, right outside of Reno. So I bounced back and forth between the two places quite a bit. At about 21, I decided to move out of Aberdeen because I wanted to go to Reno to become a big star (laughing). That’s a joke. Nobody moves to Reno to become a big star. But I moved to Reno to pursue music a little bit, and to get to know my dad. But yeah, I grew up in Aberdeen. I grew up on an oyster farm just outside of town, but I also spent a lot of time hanging out in the downtown area with street kids.
And Aberdeen is a strange town because I don’t know that traditionally you would call it a music town, but there’s all this musical history swirling around the area out there.
Metal Church is from out there, which actually Brian Smith who recorded this EP has some ties to. The Melvins are from out there. And of course Nirvana and Kurt Cobain are from Aberdeen as well. There’s definitely something in the water out there I’d say.
So why release a 5-song EP now instead of a full album a later? Do you consider this somewhat of a concept album because it’s so tied to this location?
There would be more songs if I had more songs that I’d recorded. I’ve got to say that LV is the first thing I’ve put out where I’m happy with every single one of the songs. The versions are definitive versions of these songs. Some of the past projects, I’d put twelve songs on it and there would be three or four songs where it was a good song, but I just wasn’t quite happy with the way it turned out, but I put it on there just because I wanted to get the song out. This was the first time I didn’t make concessions to time or anything.
I’ve got another 5-song EP in the can that I’ll be putting out July 3rd. It’s going to be called Folk Hero. It’s going to be a political album. A lot of the songs people have probably heard and there’s a couple of cover songs. It’s more electric than the stuff I have doing with the Aberdeen sessions. It’s a little bit more like what our live show is going to be like. It was recorded out in Detroit.
The “LV” of the EP is for your initials. How much is this LV EP Hellbound Glory, and how much of it is it Leroy Virgil?
I started Hellbound Glory more than ten years ago back in Reno. Hellbound Glory has always been my thing. It’s always been less of a band, and more of a gang. People come and people go, and people come back. Because I recorded this EP back in Aberdeen, and I recorded a lot of it by myself, it is a little bit more of a pure expression of just me. I really put a lot of myself onto the tape with it. Just trying to capture more where I’m from as opposed to where the band is from.
Have you thought about just going under the Leroy Virgil name?
I’ve actually considered it a lot. We’ve talked about it, but there’s so much momentum going with Hellbound Glory and I’ve got so many years of work into it. Within a week or two of moving to Reno, I’d written the song and turned it into a band name. So it’s been something I’m stuck with. Part of me would like a change. But it’s a great band name when you think about it. It’s good and evil, heaven and hell. As I’ve changed lineups, I’ve always called the band something different. For a while we were the Excavators, for a while I was calling it the Damaged Good Ol’ Boys, for a while to was the Damn Seagulls, so it’s always kind of changing up for me. I could see a day when it is called Leroy & Hellbound Glory, or whatever. I have no shortage of good band names. I want people to connect with the songs rather than the band name.
Every time I bring up Hellbound Glory, people ask me what’s going on with those Shooter Jennings sessions that you did out in Nashville. Is it coming in the future, is it sort of in limbo?
You know, I’d say it will probably be out someday. To be honest with you, I didn’t really bring it to the recording sessions. A lot of the songs I hadn’t finished yet, I don’t think. And we were just really limited on time. I’ve heard them, and Shooter did a great job, it was just I didn’t do that great of a job. We drove three days and showed up at noon and started playing. We really partied pretty hard. And you know, I don’t regret doing it because it made the songs better. But I just wasn’t too stoked about what got laid to tape. I love Shooter to death and I wish it would have worked out, but the songs weren’t done yet. There were lyrics on it that were half cooked. I didn’t sing all that great. But I’m looking forward to working with Shooter again. We’ve actually talked about getting back into this studio in Aberdeen.
How much does it concern you that you have songs out there that you’ve created, and maybe you get tired of them, or maybe you’re working on them, and that maybe they’ll get lost?
I’m not afraid of that at all. I like my songs. I’ve got five new ones that I’m polishing up right now. For me, I don’t want to force it in the studio. All of those songs I recorded with Shooter, they’re not off the table. I’m not going to put them out until I’ve got the right groove for them. I’m going to keep on trying. I’m always working on them. I’m still planning to get them out because I like them. I think they’re great songs.
What kind of impact did the Kid Rock tour have on your career?
It put me on stage in front of a bunch of people, and I learned a whole shitload just being around the guy. I don’t know. My life has completely changed since I went on that tour. People may not be able to see it. We’re not selling out big places or nothing. But I’ve got a nice new van, recording in a nice studio. I’ve got a really good booking agent. I don’t know. Every interaction I had with Kid Rock, I learned something. He didn’t make me an overnight sensation, but he definitely put me on the radar.
Brand new, long-anticipated music from Reno, Nevada’s Hellbound Glory is finally on its way in the form of a brand new EP scheduled for release on May 13th called LV. It is exclusively a digital release, and is the first new music aside from a few individual singles since the band released its last full-length Damaged Goods in November of 2011. The album is now available for pre-order through iTunes.
Accompanying the release will be a video for the song “Streets of Aberdeen” from Ryan Short of King of Hearts Productions, and is scheduled to be released May 6th. Hellbound Glory will also hit the road in support of LV this Summer.
Taking its title from front man Leroy Virgil’s initials, “LV” was recorded in the songwriter’s original hometown and music mecca, Aberdeen, Washington. It was recorded to analog tape at the Oceanside Recording Studio, overlooking the bank of the Wishkah River.
Longtime friend, musician, and Aberdeen native, Brian Smith who was tapped to co-produce, record, engineer, and mix the session explains, “I took a 6 year hiatus from recording, but I kept the room and the gear… This was the project that made me want to pull the sheets back and dust it off.”
Smith is no stranger to Virgil, first recording the young singer at age 15. Smith continues, “Even at 15, I could recognize his talent.”
LV is an exploration of the legacy and ghosts of Aberdeen’s distant and recent past, including Virgil’s own. Virgil explains, “I grew up in Aberdeen, WA and spent half my time on my stepdad’s oyster farm and the other half on those streets. When the song ‘Streets of Aberdeen’ came to me, it opened up a floodgate of memories, emotions, and stories. I knew I had to go back there to capture what it was like for me growing up. These are the most personal recordings I’ve ever done.”
Hellbound Glory was thrust into the national spotlight when it was announced they would open for Kid Rock on his Rebel Soul tour during the winter and spring of 2013. After the tour the band experienced some lineup changes, and has recently toured with The Supersuckers.
Hellbound Glory won Saving Country Music’s Album of the Year in 2010 for their breakout album Old Highs & New Lows, and front man Leroy Virgil is considered by many to be one of country music’s greatest undiscovered songwriters.
LV Track List:
1. Streets of Aberdeen
2. Just a Shell
3. So Nervous, No Service
4. Small Township
5. Goodnight, Irene
The greatest album, and the greatest recorded song will never be able to trump the truly live musical experience where music is shared in real time with both the artist and listeners. It is in this spirit that each year I assemble a list of the Best Live Performances to reinforce that as technology and the busying of life incrementally encroach upon us more and more every year, we must remember that the live music show deserves its own attention and reverence. This year for the first time, I’ve included some television performances and a live stream, because the weight these performances carried make them more than worthy to be included here.
Please understand, unlike Saving Country Music’s other yearly awards, since omnipresence isn’t an attribute I posses, this list is simply based on my own experiences, and not meant to capture the overall pulse of the live events that transpired all year. You are encouraged to share your own favorite live musical experiences from 2013 below.
10. Hellbound Glory – The Empire Control Room, Austin, TX
“Hellbound Glory started with a blistering, amplified version of Hank Williams’ “My Buckets Got A Hole In It” that reinvented and revitalized that tune originally learned by Hank Williams from Rufus Payne in the mid-30′s, and made it feel like an iconic 70′s-era Southern rock anthem. Not 30 seconds into the first song, and you could tell that Leroy had played so many shows in front of so many big crowds in 2013, that being on stage was second nature, and a downright showman had emerged from a man who is known as a songwriter first. Not that Leroy was a stiff before, but now he had a swagger about him—a sway and arm motions—engaging the crowd and carrying songs to another level with his ability to be completely uninhibited with the music.” (read full review)
9. Eric Church & Valerie June – The ACM Awards
Say what you will about Eric Church, he delivered the most memorable performance at the ACM Awards back in April, and he did it while showcasing the up-and-coming musical powerhouse Valerie June.
“Church, who is usually known for his baseball cap, aviator sunglasses, and rowdy country gone rock sound, kept it simple this time, accompanied only by his guitar and one harmony singer–a breathtaking female in a red dress, adorned with a crown of dreadlocks. As much as Eric Church’s performance caught the ACM crowd and Eric’s fans by surprise, so did this virtually unknown singer accompanying him.
“Valerie June didn’t announce her performance on the ACM’s. Her name was not mentioned in the credits or by the announcers. But like she always does, she left an indelible, unforgettable impact on the hearts and ears of the ACM attendees and viewers.” (read full review)
8. Andrew Bird & Tift Merritt – Pickathon Festival Woods Stage – Portland, OR
The Pickathon Festival on the outskirts of Portland, OR every August affords some of the best music moments a year can offer, while broadening the perspective of fans from all corners of the roots music world by assembling one of the most diverse and forward-thinking lineups in the festival realm. Many Picktathon moments could be listed here, but seeing the amazing Andrew Bird perform all manner of beyond-human vocal acrobatics accompanied by the accomplished Tift Merrit was truly something to behold.
“Andrew Bird on the Wood’s Stage was phenomenal. Maybe a little fey for some, but he’s a fiddling bluegrass maestro who has one of the best use of dynamics you will find. You also won’t find a better whistler in bluegrass. Joining him on stage for the set was Tift Merritt…” (read full Pickathon Live Blog)
7. Jayke Orvis & The Broken Band – The Scoot Inn
“Jayke finally declared earlier this year that he was taking his last tour with the Gallows, and trained his attention solely on a solid, permanent Broken Band lineup that includes guitarist James Hunnicutt, and former Bob Wayne Outlaw Carnies’ Liz Sloan and Jared McGovern on fiddle and upright bass respectively. With stability and a shared vision of making a band around Jayke’s music, but one where all musicians are treated as equal, Jayke Orvis & The Broken Band have re-captured the fervor and spellbinding performance aspect that made the .357 String Band such a force of music nature. If anything, The Broken Band may be taking it a step further with a deeper attention to composition, pushing all four players to the edge of their abilities, and the edge of human capability itself, balanced by slow and mid-tempo songwriter material.
Jayke Orvis & The Broken Band are the underground roots equivalent of the Punch Brothers, and are one of the top tier performers of the underground sub-genre.” (read full review)
6. LeAnn Rimes Patsy Cline Tribute – The ACA Awards
“And at the end of the medley, when LeAnn went a capella, and the tasteful sepia filter that the ACA’s had placed on the cameras to afford a vintage feel on the first part of the tribute turned back to color, a downright evocation emerged during Patsy’s “Sweet Dreams” that even the embattled and valiant LeAnn Rimes eventually couldn’t even fend off, bursting into tears during the final turn of the chorus.
“No video will ever do the moment justice, because it was a moment you had to share in live. At some point you saw LeAnn smile, like she recognized the spirit of Patsy had entered the room, and then the emotion immediately began to well up in LeAnn, and all who were paying attention.” (read full review)
5. The Mavericks -Gruene Hall – Gruene, TX
“Raul Malo is no doubt the rock and heart of The Mavericks, but the addition of guitar player Eddie Perez, who was Dwight Yoakam’s long-time touring guitar player before joining the band, is really what has allowed The Mavericks to give up nothing, and continue to grow in their nearly 25-year existence. From his masterful guitar work to his superhero-like ability to follow Raul Malo wherever he may go vocally, Eddie Perez is 1A to Raul in the Mavericks, with long-time rhythm guitarist Robert Reynolds and keys player Jerry Dale McFadden affording the buoyant vitality that makes The Mavericks’ sound so infectious, and drummer Paul Deacon holding the whole thing together and giving the The Mavericks their communicable groove.” (read full review)
4. Red 11 SXSW Showcase at the White Horse – Austin, TX
Eligibility on this list would normally only be open to single performances by a single band or artist, but the showcase put on by the booking agency Red 11 on Tuesday night (3-12) of South by Southwest at the White Horse in Austin was such a legendary lineup, it deserves its own distinction, beyond all the excellent artists that played it. Yes folks, the gritty, bluesy one man band Lincoln Durham, the Tejano-flavored The Crooks, The Dirty River Boys, The Turnpike Troubadours, followed by American Aquarium, and capped off by Jason Eady is the lineup that held forth at the intimate setting of The White Horse that night. Oh, and it was all free. I’m not sure there will ever be a moment when such a ridiculous amount of talent will be showcased in the same place, and in such a small space again, unless it happens at SXSW 2013.
3. Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires – XSXSW 6 – Austin, TX
Passing up an opportunity to see Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires live is a borderline criminal offense for any fan of hard rocking roots music. When they lit up the Frontier Bar as part of XSXSW 6, it was by far the most raucous set of music that still had real substance to it experienced in 2013. Later in the year when touring with Austin Lucas through Ft. Worth, Lee Bains got shut down and 86′d by the Live Oak Music Hall & Lounge for playing too loud. That’s how legendary Lee Bains live has become.
“As the room was still filling up with patrons, Lee Bains played like he was feeding of the energy of a packed house. This man sings with as much soul as anyone in rock & roll right now, and this was never evidenced more clearer then when he sang the title track of their latest album There’s A Bomb in Gilliead. For SXSW’s most acrobatic moment of 2013, at one point lead guitarist got on the shoulders of Lee Bains as they both walked out into the crowd with guitars blazing. This set was sick.” (from the SXSW 2013 live blog)
2. Jason Isbell – Live Stream of Austin City Limits Taping – August 19th
I admit, it seems strange to put a streaming event such as this on this list, and so high up no less. But if you witnessed it, you would know why. The technology is becoming such, and artists like Isbell are beginning to receive such recognition, that an online experience can sometimes be just as immersive as being there.
“On Monday night the Twitterverse blew up around the occasion of songwriter Jason Isbell recording an upcoming episode of Austin City Limits. The taping was streamed live online, and drew a remarkable amount of attention and praise from the online participants who took the time to tune in. Usually music confined to the online format is at such a distinct disadvantage, it is barely worth your time, and though Austin City Limits’ production value is world-class, this wasn’t what made the event special. Jason Isbell is quite the capable singer, and since he started out as a guitarist for the Drive By Truckers, it’s hard to denounce his musicianship either. His band The 400 Unit was sensational as well, and so was his wife Amanda Shires who sang and played fiddle for the set. But none of this is why the event became a singular experience for those who tuned in.
“It was Jason Isbell’s songs and his songwriting that made so many online watchers walk away with one of those feelings you get after watching a stellar movie—where your mind gets so immersed in the experience it is hard to return to the real world.” (from 2013: The Year of the Songwriter)
1. The Turnpike Troubadours – SXSW The White Horse – Austin, TX
The Red 11 South by Southwest showcase at The White Horse in Austin, TX was already given proper credit above, but the crown jewel of the night was the performance by Oklahoma’s Turnpike Troubadours, which also was the crown jewel of 2013.
“The Turnpike Troubadours were responsible for one of those once-in-a-lifetime musical experiences. The White Horse that had hovered around 3/4 capacity up to that point in the night swelled to where there was no elbow room, and a strong majority of the people there knew every word to the Troubadours songs and proved it by belting them out at every chance. When the band broke into their most popular tunes like ‘Every Girl,’ ’7&7′ and ‘Good Lord, Lorrie,’ the crowd would erupt. During the choruses, the singing of the crowd could become deafening, drowning out the band itself. Their high-energy, inspired performance was great in itself, but the camaraderie created by the crowd made it one of those moments hard to forget. The Turnpike Troubadours have no business playing a venue this small these days, and that is the type of unique experience SXSW can create. Their set was one for the record books.” (from the SXSW 2013 live blog)
You won’t see Reno, Nevada’s Hellbound Glory at the top of anyone’s ‘Best Of’ lists this year, unless it relates to touring or live performances. Leroy Virgil & the boys didn’t leave much time for recording and releasing albums in 2013; they were too busy ripping off one of the toughest, busiest, and arguably the most notable touring schedules in 2013 from an independent country act. It started in February as an opening band on Kid Rock’s “Rebel Soul” arena tour of which a retooled Hellbound Glory did two legs of, all the while playing smaller shows here and there when possible, and then revisiting many of the same areas afterwards on their own bills in the proceeding weeks and months.
Then most recently Hellbound went on a breakneck, two month tour with The Supersuckers, covering 40-something dates spanning the US. When Leroy Virgil rolled into Austin, TX on Friday Dec. 6th to play a quick set at the Empire Control Room downtown, he’d been rode hard and put away wet, and Hellbound Glory had not a familiar face from the members who had started out with him at the beginning of the year. However he’d recruited the very capable guitarist ‘Metal’ Marty Chandler, and drummer Chris VonStreicher from the Supersuckers, and Adam Kowalski from North Carolina on bass and band manager duties.
Aside from the music, the night was weird all around. They started at 9 PM, which is very early for a weekend show in Austin, and a few straggling fans missed some of the set. Hellbound was supposed to play outside, but 20-degree weather and a stiff north wind scrapped those plans. The Empire Control Room was more ambient for a rave than a real country show, with pacifier-sucking, glowstick-twirling visuals projecting onto the walls, and a mandate on Hellbound to stop after an hour so a DJ could spin house music to an entirely empty room. This was all quite in contrast to Leroy’s prominent “Hank” suspenders strapped over his shoulders, and his beer chugging honky tonk tunes.
But when Leroy Virgil and Hellbound Glory 4.0 hit the stage, none of that mattered. Leroy started with a blistering, amplified version of Hank Williams’ “My Buckets Got A Hole In It” that reinvented and revitalized that tune originally learned by Hank Williams from Rufus Payne in the mid-30′s, and made it feel like an iconic 70′s-era Southern rock anthem. Not 30 seconds into the first song, and you could tell that Leroy had played so many shows in front of so many big crowds in 2013, that being on stage was second nature, and a downright showman had emerged from a man who is known as a songwriter first. Not that Leroy was a stiff before, but now he had a swagger about him—a sway and arm motions—engaging the crowd and carrying songs to another level with his ability to be completely uninhibited with the music.
Leroy’s electric guitar sounded horrible. It was a black and white Squier Stratocaster that had “$100″ written on the pick guard in permanent marker like he’d just bought it off the side of the road. It’s the kind of guitar you buy your 14-year-old son when you know he’s only going to ignore it, with stock pickups that sound like the smell of ass. But Leory was just holding down the rhythm anyway, and then getting out of the way for ‘Metal’ Marty to rip into some of the juiciest solos Hellbound’s music has ever been graced with. Despite the ‘Metal” addendum to his name, Marty referred to a heavily influenced and versed knowledge of country guitar modes and licks that he displayed with confidence and abandon. It was a high volume, electric country show, and more than a stone’s throw from the days of Leory sitting on a bass drum, playing it with the back of his heel while strumming an acoustic guitar.
Leroy played a lot of his more well-known Hellbound Glory songs, a few more covers like his rendition of Hank Jr.’s “Women I’ve Never Had” and Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire.” He was also featuring a ferocious growl that punctuated parts of songs and overall became one of the highlights and takeaways of the set. Leroy’s voice has become tattered around the edges like a cheap blue tarpaulin pulled over an apartment’s worth of shit made susceptible to the wind on a cross-country move, and then marinated by a thousand shots of whiskey lined up all across the front of the stage by well-meaning fans. But like an old tinker, Leroy has taken what he’s been given, and made it into one of his finest tools: a road-worn and weathered bellow with which he can unfurl and blow a crowd away with.
Forget how many new players make up the Hellbound Glory cast, when Leroy gave a subtle hint to whatever song he wanted to play next, his band was right there behind him, hitting every change, and holding every sustain as good or better as any Hellbound Glory lineup. Leroy has never been good at keeping new material a secret, and the set featured a few new songs, and so did the half hour or so after the set when he pulled out his acoustic guitar and gave a personal concert to all who stuck around on the side of the stage.
Whenever Hellbound Glory’s name is mentioned these days, the next question you hear is, “When’s the new album coming out?” Though I wasn’t able to glean that specific intel from Leroy, I can tell you he’s recently been doing some recording in Aberdeen, WA. I wouldn’t hold your breath on hearing the results of that anytime soon, but if the new songs Leroy’s been playing are any indication, when new music does emerge, it promises to be worth the wait.
Until then, you can use the below Leroy Virgil recap of the last year or so to tide you over.
Two guns up.
The following story is a guest post by Mike Fiedler, proprietor of the Shore Road Tavern in northeast Philadelphia.
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Back in October of 2012, Leroy Virgil and the boys from Hellbound Glory flew into New York City for a handful of East Coast shows including one at The Shore Road Tavern. We run the place like a true roadhouse by maintaining a third floor apartment above the bar, which is reserved strictly for the touring musicians that play our venue. It has become a welcome stop on the road as it allows musicians a chance to relax after their set, hang out with the crowd, or chill in the apartment, and to not have to worry about loading out until the next day. This was to be our third time hosting the ‘scumbags’ and, needless to say, we were really looking forward to their company as always. But this trip held a special purpose for Leroy.
Jimmy Lloyd, host of NBC’s The Jimmy Lloyd Songwriter Showcase, had chosen Leroy Virgil, along with singer songwriter Sean Walsh, to participate in the inaugural episode of his “Live Songwriter-in-the-Round Series” at Hill Country BBQ, located near 26th and Broadway in New York City. The event was being taped by NBC Digital Networks for a future broadcast, and immediately after the hour long taping, Hellbound Glory was to play a full-band set.
Leroy invited us to come up for the Thursday night show. Since it was going to be such a big night for the band, and we live a very convenient 90 miles from Manhattan, we didn’t hesitate to say yes. Plus we had a large case of Hellbound Glory shirts that were shipped to the bar, in advance of their upcoming Philly show that Saturday, so I figured they’d come in handy.
The “Songwriter Showcase” followed a format that saw each songwriter perform one of their songs, one after another, followed by a discussion about the meaning of the song and how it evolved. Throughout the evening, Leroy was the clear standout.
After Hellbound Glory finished playing at Hill Country, the guys opted to ride back to Philly with us that night instead of taking a train the next day, but they had a 1am show to do somewhere in the East Village first. We started to load their gear into our SUV, and as Leroy was putting his guitar case in the back, he muttered “I’m tired of dragging this thing around” “I’m gonna’ leave it in Philly”. “Yeah, yeah, right Leroy”, I said. With a camera crew in tow, that had apparently been following Leroy around New York City all day, we squeezed in to a few vehicles and set out for the East Village.
After a late show, and an uneventful ride back to Philly, we pulled up to the bar and started to unload the truck. As Leroy pulled his guitar case out of the back, he reiterated, “I am, I’m leaving this thing here, I’m tired of dragging this thing around”. “Yeah, yeah, right Leroy”, I said. We dropped them off at the apartment and went home to crash. We returned to the bar later that afternoon because, as willing as they were to rely on Amtrak for this handful of shows, they were equally willing to accept the offer of my truck to run down to DC for a show that night. As they loaded up the truck, Leroy again repeated how he was leaving his guitar “here at the apartment in Philly”.
By now, knowing how mischievous Leroy can be, and how much he loves fucking with people, I am pretty much dismissing him outright as ‘Leroy just being Leroy’.
They came back from DC Saturday afternoon and pretty much laid low in the apartment until showtime. The boys once again played to a packed house, throwing down another raucous three hour show that we’ve become accustomed to whenever they play Philadelphia. We hung out until well after closing and, since they really had no place to be until they flew back to Reno on Monday, they decided to stick around for another night. We surely didn’t care as long as they didn’t mind sharing the apartment with the acts scheduled to play that Sunday night, James Hunnicutt and Filthy Still (which, at the time, featured Jared McGovern and Liz Sloan as touring members). Of course they didn’t mind.
With a lighter turnout on Sunday night, and so many musicians milling about, the night broke out into some spontaneous music, both in the bar after Filthy Still’s set, and well into the night as James Hunnicutt, Jared McGovern, and Liz Sloan continued to work on some things in the empty floor above the bar. At one point, I walked in to see Leroy sitting in the corner, leaning back in a chair, watching them play with that shit eatin’ grin of his. I pulled up the chair next to him, sat down, and said “yo, that’s Django Reinhardt they’re doing”. He just grinned even wider as he slowly nodded his head. We just sat there for the next 5-10 minutes or so, watching these three virtuosos without saying a word.
The night wound down shortly after that and, as we were socially preparing for the inevitable parting of our separate ways, Leroy once again reinforced his desire to leave his guitar at the apartment as the “house guitar” and to “let everybody play it”. By this point, I was a bit worn down by his dogged persistence and single-mindedness, and for the twelfth time that weekend I said, “yeah, yeah, right Leroy, OK”. We hugged, offered our salutations and well wishes, and went our separate ways until our paths would, inevitably, cross again.
Everybody had left the apartment by Monday afternoon and I didn’t have a chance to get down there and clean until Tuesday morning. As I walked up to the third floor apartment, sure as shit, there it was just like he said. Sitting at the top of the staircase, leaning against the wall with the case open was Leroy Virgil’s beat up old Esteban guitar. I shook my head and thought to myself ‘that’s Leroy being Leroy’ and, with a slight smirk on my face, I picked her up and then just let out a sigh as I placed it into one of the closets. As I was cleaning up the apartment, processing all the events of the last couple days, I kept thinking about one thing in particular that Leroy had said, “let everybody play it”. I then thought about how he had left me in stewardship of his old guitar, an instrument that, from my perspective, already has provenance and should rightly wind up in a museum one day. I decided that, to honor that trust he had in me, I would continue to add to the instrument’s already storied life by doing a running portrait series of every musician that plays his old guitar.
Saving Country Music’s 2010 Album of the Year winner, Reno, Nevada’s Hellbound Glory has just released an entire concert set worth of video footage from a show in Memphis earlier this year while on the Kid Rock tour. Whether you’ve heard the name before but never had the right excuse to check them out, or are a wiley old Hellbound Glory veteran looking for your next Hellbound fix, this video footage will set you right.
“On March 21st, Hellbound Glory descended up on the city of Memphis, Tennessee and the renown FexEx Forum in support of Kid Rock and the Rebel Soul tour. With much respect to the city’s musical heritage (and a visit the day before), the band laid into a blistering 30 minute set, putting into motion a series of events that only time a whiskey will ultimately divulge. This video document is testament to that fateful night Hellbound Glory came to town.
The audio captured here is a “board mix” and has not been altered or remastered in any way.”
For more information, visit hellboundglory.com. They are currently on tour with The Supersuckers.
Another Bender Might Break Me
Hank Williams Records
Cliche Country Singer
Women I’ve Never Had (Hank Jr. Cover)
Baby’s Got A Sugar Daddy
Showin’ Off Sure Is Fun
Repo Man (Medley)
On August 15th, the plans for the upcoming Outlaw Country Music Hall of Fame and an accompanying Outlaw Music Association were made public. 5,000 sq. ft. of space has been allocated for the new Hall of Fame in Lynchburg, TN, and a Board of Directors has been formed that includes Jeremy Tepper of SiriusXM, Terry Jennings of Korban Music Group, author of Outlaws Still At Large Neil Hamilton, Joe Swank at Bloodshot Records, mayor of Lynchburg Sloane Stewart, Professor of Entertainment Law David Spangenburg, architect Thomas Bartoo, and CEO of Sol Records Brian DeBruler.
The announcement stimulated a lot of speculation about what direction the upcoming Hall of Fame would take, but not many serious answers. So Saving Country Music reached out to Gary “Sarge” Sargeant, the spearhead of the Outlaw Country Hall of Fame, to try and clear up many questions about what folks can expect from the upcoming institution.
Sarge is also putting on a charity event coming up October 25-27 for Troy Rector who suffered a debilitating medical accident. The event will be at Chopper Hill in Altamont, TN (More information). The inaugural class of inductees to the Outlaw Hall of Fame will be announced during the event.
You can listen to the entire interview below. For those who prefer a written form, the meat of the interview is transcribed below as well.
Gary Sargeant: I’m a lifelong fan, 55 years old, of Outlaw music, independent artists and labels, and just firmly believe in people who stay true to themselves and their music, and don’t compromise. It all started at a David Allan Coe benefit that I attended back in June. He was in an accident and wasn’t able to tour. I was kind of upset that David Allan Coe required a benefit. That at 73, he had to tour just to pay his bills because back in the day, things happened and he doesn’t own his catalog. And I was trying to think of a way we could support legends, and recognize people like David, or any number of people that have contributed so much to this music, and have never compromised. I wanted to make sure we had a place to recognize those folks who will never get recognized by anybody else, and then also be able to support today’s Outlaws—the Pete Berwick’s, the Gurf Morlix’s. Its time has come, and we’re going to do this.
When you announced the Outlaw Country Music Hall of Fame, you included a Board of Directors. Why have a Board of Directors?
Well, again it goes back to me being just a fan. I’m a fan with an idea. But I knew if we were going to do this and be taken seriously, and if it was going to be successful, I needed to put together a group of industry professionals.
The term “Outlaw” has already been taken by Music Row and used for marketing purposes. It’s safe to say that there’s music consumers out there that think Outlaw means Justin Moore, Eric Church, and others. How do you distinguish yourself from Music Row’s version of Outlaws when Music Row’s reach is so vast?
Nashville can tell somebody to dress in black jeans, grow a five day stubble, put on these boots, act all bad boy. That doesn’t make you Outlaw. Outlaw to me is not a genre of music. Outlaw is an attitude. Outlaw is a refusal to compromise your music or your beliefs in order to make a dollar. It is traveling up and down the roads, thousands of miles a year, traveling 500 miles to play a $150 show. True Outlaws are doing it for the love of the music only. I believe there’s going to be a lot of defections from Nashville music once the Outlaw Music Association and Hall of Fame are established and up and running. The definition of Outlaw should be made by those that are truly Outlaw, not some publicist sitting in an ivory tower in Nashville thinking that this will sell records.
Some may say the term Outlaw is outmoded because Nashville is taking it and using it with very prominent artists like Justin Moore—that the term doesn’t hold the same sway or meaning it once did. Are you saying that term needs to be fought for?
I’m saying it needs to be clearly defined. Of course Nashville is going to try and take anything successful and try to co-opt it. But them jumping on the bandwagon doesn’t make them independent artists. They’re playing to a formula. But the formula doesn’t work. Listen to the stuff coming out of Nashville.
How do you feel about Dale Watson’s Ameripolitan movement, and how does it fit in your plans for the Outlaw Music Association? Will there be overlap? Could there be potential conflict? Is it splitting the independent-minded or Outlaw populous of country music into two segments?
I wouldn’t think so. My hope would be that people going in that direction, because that’s very narrowly focused right now, I hope they would go, “Hold on a second, here’s something that has come along, that is exactly what we’re trying to do, but encompasses even more people, and hopefully is a very inviting and open Association.” Because I believe if we start putting restrictions on who is going to be in it, then we’re no better than the CMA or anybody else. Great music is great music, whether it be Texas Swing, or Southern rock country, or traditional country. If you’re an artist and you believe in what you’re doing, and you’re good at what you do, we’re going to give you all the support in the world, whether it be Dale Watson, or Shooter Jennings who can go off in different tangents and experiment with different music, or Hank3 who is so excellent. There’s so many artist out there that don’t have a place to call home, and that’s what the Outlaw Music Association is gonna be. It’s gonna be a place where independent labels and artists can receive support, promotion, and have a place they can call home and feel welcomed for who they are instead of something somebody else wants them to be.
We’ve seen in the past, for example with Shooter Jennings’ “XXX” movement and Dale Watson’s Ameripolitan movement, there’s been a lot of conflict and dissension with these attempts to unify the music behind a common purpose. I think that may be what is at the root of some fear and concern of what the Outlaw Music Association and Outlaw Country Music Hall of Fame will become. There’s a history of trying to find a uniting element apart from the CMA in the history of country music. Back in the 70′s there was “ACE” that was set up after Olivia Newton-John and John Denver had won CMA Awards. Traditional country artists met at the house of George Jones and Tammy Wynette and tried to form a new thing. The Academy of Country Music was set up because West Coast entertainers felt like the CMA was bias against California country artists. ACE never really took off, and the ACM just became a doppelganger of the CMA….
…and you forgot to mention the AMA, the Americana Music Association.
Sure, which I personally have said in the past is very narrow in focus, even though a lot of the artists they help promote are great artists.
I couldn’t agree with you more. To me, there is an extreme hunger and thirst out there to have an alternative to what’s being pushed down everybody’s throats by Nashville, the record labels, and the conglomerate of radio stations that are out there. Our focus is not narrow. I don’t care if it’s Dale Watson, or Hellbound Glory, or Jamey Johnson, it doesn’t matter. There’s a whole group of artists out there that deserve to be supported. We are not going to impose conditions. If you’re talented, and your music speaks for itself, and your music speaks to fans, our goal is to make sure that we support you. We’re not guaranteeing success for anybody. But we’re not going to say, “You’re not worthy.” Everybody’s worthy if they’re a musician, and they work hard, they write their own music and stay true to it, and they have some fans and are successful, we’re going to make sure they have an opportunity to be even more successful. We are a non-profit. Our proceeds go to supporting the legends, and also supporting the independent artists of today.
The narrowing of perspective seems to be a really big challenge of independent music right now, whether it is with the Americana Music Association, or just these little scenes that have popped up in independent music. How do you insulate yourself from that trend?
Technology is changing by leaps and bounds every month, let alone every year. The money to be made in today’s world is through touring…touring and merchandise. So we are going to support tours. As a non-profit—it’s kind of being dubbed the Outlaw iTunes—where independent artists can upload their music, and we will turn around and allow it to be downloaded for 99 cents a download, and we give all of it back to the artists while not taking 63 cents. We will be asking for a small donation that will go back to the legends. Technology is changing so quickly, and we have some very good people who are up to speed on today’s technology and the future of music distribution. Those are the areas we want to educate independent artists and labels on, and assist them in giving them an outlet to distribute their music, and use the Hall of Fame to support tours, and get [artists] out in front of the people. Are we going to be the savior? Hell no. But are we going to do everything that we can to help these folks who are working so hard and believe in what they’re doing? Yes, we’re going to do everything we can. Is it guaranteeing success? No. Is it guaranteeing effort? Yes.
There’s a lot of people out there touring and writing their own songs, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that their music is valuable enough to be heard by the masses. What’s to keep people who may not embody the Outlaw spirit from just becoming part of this if there’s no governor to keep anybody and everybody from applying?
The fans of Outlaw music are by far the most discerning fans in the world. Otherwise, these artists wouldn’t have any success. An artist will make it if his fans want him to make it. The fans are going to decide if you make it or not, not the Association.
The assertion about Music Row is that they choose who is going to be the stars, and then they push that to the fans. What you’re saying with the Outlaw Music Association is the fans would choose the stars, and the OMA just gives them the platform and the support so that the fans can make that choice.
Eloquently put. And shouldn’t that be the way it is? Shouldn’t the fans be able to say what they like and don’t like? They shouldn’t be told what’s good and not good. With the focus being so narrow and money dictating who is going to be the next star, we’re all robbed. The fans are robbed, the artists are robbed, everybody is robbed of the next potential star. It’s not my job to decide who is good and who’s not good.
Tompall Glaser recently passed away. Right after he died, I posted a quote that came from him back in the 70′s that goes, “Damn it, the fight isn’t in Austin and it isn’t in Los Angeles. It’s right here in Nashville, right here two blocks from Music Row, and if we win–and if our winning is ever going to amount to anything in the long run–we’ve got to beat them on their own turf.” And I’ve heard some similar criticisms about Dale Watson’s Ameripolitan genre where it seems like, “Okay, were going to give up on Nashville and country music, and we’re just going to call it what we want to call it.” What would be your rebuttal to that as far as setting up something that’s apart from Nashville and Music Row?
Lynchburg, TN is not but 55 miles south of Nashville. It’s close enough to pull resources from the Nashville area, but still far enough away and separated enough to say, “Hey, this is separate. This is an alternative.” The people, the demographics that are visiting Lynchburg on a daily basis are the same people that are going to visit our Hall of Fame. It’s all about inclusion. This country is based on freedom, and I believe artists ought to have the freedom to practice their music the way they want without the almighty dollar driving their product.
In closing, I would just like to say to all the fans of Outlaw country music, thank you, and if you really want to make a difference, you have an opportunity. But you have to express your voice. You can’t just sit in your truck or in your house and say, “This sucks,” and expect it to change. If you want change, this is your opportunity. This is a grass roots movement. This is your Hall of Fame. This is your Association. If you want to support artists that made the music what it is today, and those that are continuing in that same vein, support the Hall of Fame, support the Association. Let your artists know that you support us, that you support them by supporting us. This is only going to work if the average fan stands up and says, “I’ve had enough. I want a hand in what I listen to.”
Country music in 2013 feels like the best of times, and the worst of times. While a few top male performers perpetrate untold atrocities on the integrity of the genre, the rise of independent music and infrastructure in the marketplace is now almost to the point where it equals its corporate counterpart. Quality songs and worthy artists are beginning to see more and more support, while current events and new outlets create avenues for substantive music to find its way to hungry ears. It is so easy to focus on the negative because it still seems to pervade the popular consciousness. But here are twelve reasons it is looking up for country music in 2013.
Yes, Kacey Musgraves. Even if you see her as some Music Row machination meant to offer an alter ego to the Taylor Swift’s of the world (Taylor equals Kacey’s noms with 6 herself), at least mainstream country is now offering a choice to consumers. What Musgraves’ symbolizes is that you don’t have to prove overwhelming commercial success to get noticed. Her biggest hit “Merry Go ‘Round” didn’t even make the Top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100 Country Songs. Musgraves is a songwriter in a traditional sense, even if some of her best, and most-heady material didn’t make her big debut album. The reason she was able to rake up so many nominations is because of her songwriting credits, accounting for half of her CMA considerations. Kacey Musgraves’ 6 CMA nominations proves that regardless of how stupid country music’s leading males are trying to make the genre, in 2013, songs matter.
Yes ladies and gentlemen, it is getting dirty out there, and the more artists that speak out, the more other artists gain the courage to join the chorus. And not to shy away from the fight, Kacey Musgraves could be characterized as leading the charge, coming out multiple times to complain about where country music is headed. Alan Jackson also had some choice words recently, as did Gary Allan, Tom Petty, and most recently Zac Brown. Country music may be crossing more unfortunate lines than ever, but at least it’s genuine artists are being vocal about their dissent.
Yes, it was bad that Blake Shelton had to disrespect large segments of country music listeners when he ostensibly called them “old farts and jackasses,” but the backlash that ensued became a unifying element for disenfranchised country fans. Ray Price wrote a blistering letter to Blake Shelton, resulting in Blake having to make a public apology. Dale Watson wrote a song about the whole incident which has since become one of the most popular numbers of his show. An “Old Farts & Jackasses” group on Facebook boasts over 93,000 “likes,” and the list goes on from there. Blake Shelton awakened a beast, and gave it a rallying cry. Who would have thought in 2012 that people would be proudly calling themselves “Old Farts & Jackasses” ?!?
The days of inducting traditionally-leaning artists and bands seemed to be over with the Grand Ole Opry’s recent membership invitations to Darius Rucker, Keith Urban, and Rascal Flatts. But lo and behold, the Grand Ole Opry can still get it right, inducting an act that has paid their dues many times over, and deserve to be recognized as one of the forefathers to the re-popularization of string bands that has seen the rise of bands like Mumford & Sons, The Avett Brothers, and The Lumineers. The news is not only good for Old Crow Medicine Show, but other artists who may not be top tier names in country music, but deserve the distinction.
It’s so easy to read the headlines and see the top of the Billboard country charts and say that all is lost in the genre. But as long as Sturgill Simpson is out there touring, you can’t say country music is dead. Out on tour with Dwight Yoakam, playing the Grand Ole Opry, inspiring critics from coast to coast and overseas to sing his praises, Sturgill Simpson is giving hope for the future to country fans that has a value beyond his music specifically.
Yeah, I’m not too much for the silly cliffhanger drama-laden plot lines either, but Nashville has become an invaluable teacher of how the music business works, specifically on the songwriting side of things. An educated consumer makes better choices, and if they see and understand how backroom politics stultify the creativity and freedom of artists, and how a song goes from inspiration to the big stage, they just may make better choices, and think about where the music they enjoy comes from. Furthermore, Nashville has become a music outlet to a nationwide audience that may otherwise not be exposed to the music of independent artists like Caitlin Rose, Lindi Ortega, Ashley Monroe, Shovels & Rope, and so many more.
There are many good, independent country bands that are enjoying a rise in interest in 2013, but there may not be a bigger rags to riches story (so to speak) than Hellbound Glory landing an opening spot on a Kid Rock arena tour. Going from playing half-empty bar rooms to sold-out arenas, Hellbound Glory is seeing the recognition their quality country music has been deserving for years. And the opportunity has been paralleled by bigger crowds and better support even after the arena tour ended.
Caitlin Rose, Valerie June, Lindi Ortega, Austin Lucas, Amanda Isbell, Cory Branan, Jonny “Corndawg” Fritz, and so many more that call east Nashville home (or at least to some extent) have seen career watermarks and burgeoning interest in 2013. Forget Music Row or the circus downtown, Nashville, not Austin, is the new vibrant epicenter for independent music, and the artists there pushing and supporting each other is fostering a creative environment that regardless for how long it lasts, will be looked back upon fondly in the future as a time and place that got it right, and set the bar for artistry and substance. Add on top of that already-established and influential artists like Jack White and Dan Auerbach, and Nashville is the place to be in 2013.
“Cowboy” Jack Clement and Bobby Bare Inducted Into the Country Music Hall of Fame
Yes, two very important players in the rise of country music’s “Outlaw” movement finally got their due this year, and it was especially timely for “Cowboy” Jack Clement who would pass away only a few months after the announcement. Though there is still a long list of worthy inductees that many fans worry will never get in, these two men prove that the Outlaws will not be forgotten, and move other important country music icons one step further to being inducted themselves.
If you feel like the Outlaws of country music have not been dealt a fair deal and they need need a new institution to give them the support and recognition they deserve, your wishes were granted in 2013 when it was announced there will be a new Outlaw Country Music Hall of Fame in Lynchburg, Tennessee coming soon. Nashville may have swept their legacy off the streets like common refuse, but at least somewhere the Outlaws will ride eternally.
If you desire more validation that 2013 is the “Year of the Song,” then behold the overwhelming breakout success of Jason Isbell in 2013. Bolstered by his manager Traci Thomas, a bulldog of the Thirty Tigers group, Jason Isbell is becoming the defining songwriter of our generation. If you ever wished you could go back and re-live the heyday of Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt in their prime, watching Jason Isbell and his 2013 tear is the next best thing.
With radio becoming less and less accessible through every measure of consolidation by Clear Channel and Cumulus, new outlets must open up to support independent music. And they are in 2013, and sometimes in the most uncanny places. David Letterman not only has been giving his stage over to artists like Dale Watson, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Pokey LaFarge, Shovels & Rope, and so many more, he’s been seeking out this talent to play his show as a fan of the music. Where big network TV debuts for independent artists seemed to be a thing of the past, now they seem to be a weekly occurrence.
During Johnny Cash’s legendary concert at San Quentin Prison in 1969, photographer Jim Marshall said to Johnny backstage, “John, let’s do a shot for the warden.” The result was the photograph above that mostly remained under wraps until 1998. That is when producer Rick Rubin decided to use the iconic photo in an ad in Billboard magazine decrying country radio’s lack of love for Johnny’s second album on Rubin’s American label called Unchained. Despite no industry support, Unchained went on to win the 1998 Grammy for “Best Country Album.”
Since then the image of the angry face and the raised middle finger has become an iconic symbol of defiance against the direction of country music. As indecent as a raised middle finger happens to be in the first place (and the propensity for some seedy country fans and artists to over-saturate its use in every single photo of them), it has come to mean much more than its vulgar connotation in the fight to save country music.
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Willie Nelson’s middle finger photo was shot by a photographer named Sean Moorman on Willie Nelson’s tour bus on July 26, 2002. The title of image is “Willie Nelson Sending Jim Marshall Regards.” Both the Jim Marshall photo of Johnny Cash and the Sean Moorman photo of Willie stimulated litigation when Urban Outfitters printed up Johnny Cash middle finger T-shirts without permission, and Spencer Gifts did the same with Willie.
Dale Watson doing his best Johnny Cash impression:
Hank Williams III and David Allan Coe in younger days:
Jonny (Corndawg) Fritz telling a fan they’re #1 (Kayley Luftig – Photographer):
Bob Wayne, adding the stink eye for extra emphasis:
Jeff Austin of the Yonder Mountain String Band doing the double bird (Chad Smith Photography):
Keith Richards’ middle finger is insured for $1.6 million. Yes, that one he’s point at you. And no, I’m not kidding.
The wet cigarette of country music, Kid Rock. And Saving Country Music friend “Pointer” from a downtown Nashville excursion in 2011 getting his picture with Kid Rock on the front of Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge.
Townes Van Zandt, from the back cover of his 1972 album The Late Great Townes Van Zandt.
Kellie Pickler telling Kanye West “Fuck You!” for not liking country music (see video).
Lenny Kravitz giving the crowd at the 2013 CMA Fan Fest the double bird because they “couldn’t get with love” during his elongated set that left the crowd underwhelmed.
A sign hanging up in the Johnny Cash themed bar and music venue in Austin, TX called the Mean Eyed Cat.
The ad Rick Rubin placed in Billboard Magazine after Johnny Cash won the 1998 Grammy for Best Country Album:
You may have been a little shocked to read the above title in reference to the wild-assed, ribald-laced, gonzo front man of the legendary West Coast punk rock band The Supersuckers, but die hard fans of Eddie Spaghetti don’t need to be sold on the idea that when Eddie wants to wipe the smirk off of his face, he can pen (or sing) a pretty heartfelt composition, and that even his more silly material still coveys solid elements of wit.
This is what Steve Earle picked up on when he decided to do an album with The Supersuckers, and what country fans heard when the band surprising released a real country record in 1997 called Must’ve Been High. It’s also what has motivated Eddie Spaghetti to continue to release solo country records while continuing his Supersucker duties, including his latest one The Value of Nothing co-porduced by Jesse Dayton in Austin, TX, and dropped a few weeks ago through Bloodshot Records.
The Supersuckers will be hitting the road with up-and-coming country outfit Hellbound Glory on September 1st (see dates below). Eddie was kind enough to take a few minutes to talk to me about The Value of Nothing and the songwriting legacy he’s trying to leave behind.
Trigger: The Value of Nothing is your first solo country or country-ish album of all original songs. Was this on purpose, or did it just sort of happen that way?
Eddie Spaghetti: No it was sort of on purpose. I decided that I should probably start taking this solo thing that I do a little bit more seriously. I always wrote a couple songs for each solo record but I never really bothered to write a whole record, because it was more fun for me to do a bunch of covers. I didn’t take the whole solo artist thing too seriously. And I still don’t think that I take it that seriously. But I appreciate that it’s a real thing for me to be able to get to do now. I just kind of wanted to start leaving a legacy of solo material behind.
You’ve been working pretty hard. You put out another solo album Sundowner in 2011 and you’re working on a new album with your main gig being the front man for The Supersuckers. What motivates you to keep releasing music? You mentioned leaving behind a legacy. Is that what is driving you?
Yeah, that’s kind of what it’s turned into. When we started The Supersuckers, that wasn’t really something we thought about. We just wanted to be a big arena rock and roll band. But it wasn’t in the cards for us, so that’s when you start shifting your priorities and you start realizing, “Wow, I’ve really written a lot of good songs.” And you just try to maintain that level of quality and hope that eventually people will notice.
No, because it is such a part of who I am. It’s a real passion for me to just make up good songs, whether they be country songs or rock songs. But I just think that a good song is a valuable thing to everybody. Who doesn’t want to hear a good song?
The Value of Nothing has a cool cover that speaks to the title with this girl that’s got all this money that’s been ink splattered, or whatever they call that when they rob a bank. Where did the inspiration of that come from?
My wife came up with the whole idea, with the concept of the cover. She collaborated with the art guy that we use for all the solo record covers. She’s actually the model for the cover. It worked out really well. I think it made sense in a loose kind of way to the title.
In 1997 The Supersuckers released Must’ve Been High, a sort of landmark album that was the precursor to the whole “punk gone country” movement that would come later, and allowed y’all to get to play behind folks like Steve Earle and Willie Nelson. There were a few others before you like The Knitters, but at the time did you feel like you were doing something cutting edge and innovative, or were you just out to have a good time and it turned out that way?
Yeah, it was kind of a little bit of both. We knew we were up to something cool. We knew what we were doing was really cool. And when the record came out our fans were so shocked. The reaction to the record was pretty crappy. No one really liked it. No one got it. Everyone thought we were just taking a piss, and throwing our last contractual obligation to Sub Pop down the toilet. But we didn’t feel like that at all. We thought we were going to make this real good real country record, and it’s going to stand the test of time. And it turns out it has. It’s become our big record.
Now that there’s so many punk bands turning their electric instruments in for acoustic ones, do you feel like it has become more of a hip thing instead of one driven by heart for punk bands to go country, or is it a cool phenomenon?
I think it’s a little bit of both. Some of these bands are just in it for the fashion of it, because you know they can’t really play fast, or they can’t do the things they initially thought they could do. But it turns out they can play an acoustic guitar okay, so they switch. You know, if you’re a remedial artist, you’re going to be a remedial songwriter. It takes someone really special to make it, and I think the cream usually rises to the top. Eventually people notice who’s good, and who’s kind of pretending at it. I don’t bother myself with insulting bands too often unless they’re just really crappy.
You’re about to go out on tour with Hellbound Glory; a band that’s finally getting some worthy attention. Do you know their music, and what do you think about them?
I like them, I think they’re good. I think they’re quality, and they’re the real deal. They put on a really good live show. I’m really looking forward on going on tour with them.
Supersuckers Tour Dates with Hellbound Glory:
|09/01/13||Providence, RI||Fête||Hellbound Glory|
|09/02/13||DeWitt, NY||Lost Horizons||Hellbound Glory|
|09/04/13||Cambridge, MA||The Middle East||Hellbound Glory|
|09/05/13||New Haven, CT||Cafe Nine||Hellbound Glory|
|09/06/13||Stanhope, NJ||Stanhope House||Hellbound Glory|
|09/07/13||Brooklyn, NY||The Bell House||Hellbound Glory|
|09/08/13||New Hope, PA||Fran’s Pub||Hellbound Glory|
|09/10/13||West Chester, PA||The Note||Hellbound Glory|
|09/11/13||Baltimore, MD||Ottobar||Hellbound Glory|
|09/12/13||Washington, DC||Rock N Roll Hotel||Hellbound Glory|
|09/14/13||Cleveland, OH||Beachland Ballroom||Hellbound Glory|
|09/15/13||Hamtramck, MI||Small’s||Hellbound Glory|
|09/17/13||Buffalo, NY||Tralf Music Hall||Hellbound Glory|
|09/18/13||Pittsburgh, PA||Altar Bar||Hellbound Glory|
|09/19/13||Altoona, PA||Aldo’s Lounge||Hellbound Glory|
|09/20/13||Lancaster, PA||Chameleon Club||Hellbound Glory|
|09/21/13||Long Branch, NJ||The Brighton Bar||Hellbound Glory|
|09/26/13||Lexington, KY||Cosmic Charlie’s||Hellbound Glory|
|09/27/13||St Louis, MO||Fubar||Hellbound Glory|
|09/28/13||Kansas City, MO||Knuckleheads Saloon||Hellbound Glory|
|09/29/13||Des Moines, IA||Vaudeville Mews||Hellbound Glory|
|10/01/13||Minneapolis, MN||Triple Rock Social Club||Hellbound Glory|
|10/02/13||Green Bay, WI||Crunchy Frog||Hellbound Glory|
|10/03/13||Lombard, IL||Brauerhouse||Hellbound Glory|
|10/04/13||Lombard, IL||Brauerhouse||Hellbound Glory|
|10/05/13||Waterloo, IA||Spicoli’s Bar & Grill||Hellbound Glory|
|10/06/13||Omaha, NE||The Waiting Room Lounge||Hellbound Glory|
|10/08/13||Fort Collins, CO||Hodi’s Half Note||Hellbound Glory|
|10/10/13||Denver, CO||Larimer Lounge||Hellbound Glory|
|10/11/13||Denver, CO||Larimer Lounge||Hellbound Glory|
|10/13/13||Salt Lake City, UT||Burt’s Tiki Lounge||Hellbound Glory|
|10/16/13||Las Vegas, NV||LVCS (Las Vegas Country Saloon)||Hellbound Glory|
|10/17/13||Costa Mesa, CA||Tiki Bar||Hellbound Glory|
|10/18/13||West Hollywood, CA||Viper Room||Hellbound Glory|
|10/20/13||San Diego, CA||Soda Bar||Hellbound Glory|
|10/22/13||Walnut Creek, CA||Blu 42 Sports Lounge||Hellbound Glory|
|10/23/13||San Francisco, CA||DNA Lounge||Hellbound Glory|
|10/24/13||Santa Rosa, CA||Russian River Brewing Company||N/A|
|10/25/13||Portland, OR||Dante’s||Hellbound Glory|
|10/26/13||Seattle, WA||Tractor Tavern||Hellbound Glory|
|10/27/13||Bainbridge Island, WA||Treehouse Cafe||Hellbound Glory|
You know how you may root for a hometown sports team for years even though they’re terrible, and then out of the blue when they start to get good you don’t know how to behave because you’ve identified with losing for so long? Well that is what is happening in 2013 with many of the artists Saving Country Music and so many loyal fans have been following for years. Acts that we got in a habit of using as evidence of how the industry was woefully neglecting legitimate talent are now finally starting to find success, reshaping our theories on music’s downward spiral.
There is still much to do, but in 2013 we can find signs hope in the success of these artists.
When Saving Country Music named Hellbound Glory’s Old Highs & New Lows its 2010 Album of the Year, we were hoping someday the Reno, NV-based band might find the bigger audience they deserved, but who knew that only a few years later they would be playing to sold out arenas as an opening act on a Kid Rock tour. Hellbound Glory’s road was winding, and with the strength of front man Leroy Virgil’s songs they could still grow from here, but 2013 is the year we will point back on as the time they finally got their boot in the door.
With all the talk of 2013 being the “Year of the Woman” in country music, Caitlin Rose’s name has been appearing right beside names like Ashley Monroe and Kacey Musgraves as evidence that country’s new crop of women are the ones restoring substance to the genre. Once thought of as the UK’s best kept independent country secret, Caitlin’s scope is now coast to coast here across the pond as the songs from her critic’s favorite The Stand-In speak to a wide audience with both accessibility and smarts. Working with the Dave Matthews-backed ATO Records, Caitlin’s voice is finally starting to find an audience, and with a voice like hers, the sky is the limit.
There is nobody in roots music who has worked harder, toured more, come so close to finally getting his break so many times, and deserves the sweet rewards of success more than Austin Lucas. Though Austin had received some fortunate breaks in the past touring on Chuck Ragan’s Revival Tour and the Country Throwdown Tour, a year ago after seeing Austin Lucas deliver an inspiring show at Austin, TX’s Mowhawk club, he confided in me he was concerned if his music would ever stick, and how he was growing older by the day. The very next show Austin played resulted in him eventually being signed to New West Records, who is scheduled to release his latest album Stay Reckless on August 27th. Austin Lucas is a positive example of why you never give up, and how the power of the song can still override the concerns of the traditionally shallow music industry.
If there is one artist symbolizing hope for real country music in 2013, it is Sturgill Simpson. Like all of these artists, he’s put the hard work in as well, but the biggest lesson to take away from Sturgill’s success is to never settle for second best, and to believe in yourself. By allowing his music and personality to remain more of an enigma than a known quantity, Sturgill was able to make sure he wasn’t boxed in to any scene or subtext so when the time was right he could present his music to the world on his terms. Working with Thirty Tigers, and having been out on tour with folks like Dwight Yoakam and Junior Brown, Strugill is building a formidable career in country music.
Valerie June received the mother of all opportunities in 2013 when she was asked to appear in front of a national audience as part of an intimate duet with Eric Church at this years ACM Awards. But that might just be the beginning for Valerie, whose highly-anticipated album Pushing Against A Stone set to be released on August 13th is already receiving buzz from big media outlets like Billboard and NPR. Like Ashley Monroe and Caitlin Rose, Valerie June is primed to join the class of inspiring up-and-coming country women taking shape in 2013.
Over the last few months we have finally begun to see a few success stories be made of some excellent songwriters that sat under the radar for way too long—folks like Sturgill Simpson and Leroy Virgil of Hellbound Glory. If you were looking for another name of a songwriter that’s been criminally overlooked for too long, and has that uncompromising honky tonk sound like Dale Watson and Whitey Morgan, then the man you seek is North Carolina’s Eric Strickland, and his backing band The ‘B’ Sides.
Eric Strickland is Country with a capital ‘C’ and couldn’t make a bad album if he tried. He may be more locally-oriented than the other big names in honky tonk music, but gives up nothing to his more well-known comrades when it comes to cutting songs and records.
At the heart of Strickland’s appeal is his ability to take what on the surface may seem like tired, clichè country themes, and give them a fresh, new feel. Take “whiskey” for example, maybe the most worn out word in country music. His last album Honky Tonk Till I Die ends with the song “Drinkin’ Whiskey” that went on to be nominated for SCM’s 2012 Song of the Year. Strickland starts off I’m Bad For You right where the last album ended, with the excellent booze-drenched “The Whiskey Seems To Always Change My Mind,” pulling you in with its walking bass line in the chorus and cutting, true lyrics.
Strickland serenades even harder stuff later on the album with another standout, the chicken-picking “Methamphetamines.” This leads into the album’s best ballad, “Brandy On My Mind” written by ‘B’ side guitarist and harmonizer Gary Braddy. The song “I’m Bad For You” is another great honky tonk classic belted out with just as much bravado as honesty.
The album concludes in two rousing live tracks–a real treat because as Eric Strickland fans can attest, as good as his albums are, his live show may even be better. His backing band The ‘B’ Sides are more seasoned than some bands that play 280 shows per year. All you you need to do is listen to their rendition of Little Richard’s “Lucille” and you’ll hear it for yourself. It’s got some of those moments that make it feel like a feather is being raked on the back of your neck. It’s followed by an excellent live version of “18 Wheel of Hell On The Highway” from Eric’s last album.
One concern with I’m Bad For You is that after the first song, the album slows the tempo down, and stays there for quite a while. No song is bad, but this doesn’t really allow the album to suck you in. But with the overall line up of stellar songs on this album, it rivals any other released so far in 2013.
Real deal, true blood, hard driving, but daring to be sweet in moments, Eric Strickland and The ‘B’ Sides are doing their part to save country music. Now it’s time to do your part by giving them your ear and attention.
Two guns up.
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For years we took for granted that the mainstream music industry was in a calamitous free fall, spiraling towards cataclysmic implosion. We were so sure of this diagnosis, we used it as the crux of all our music theories. Then lo and behold, the industry figured out how to pull out of the tailspin, and independent artists that years before we’d never dream of seeing getting big breaks began to get noticed. Hellbound Glory has been out on arena tours. Sturgill Simpson is touring with Dwight Yoakam. The Alabama Shakes are playing SNL, Shovels & Rope is playing ACL, and everyone is playing Letterman. All of a sudden it’s not appropriate to be so sullen about the direction of music.
But if you’re looking for an act that is still virtually unknown, one that is buried deep in the underground and that embodies the raw energy of the roots movement and not just a commercially-viable watered-down derivative, one whose active ingredient still works on even the most hardened of roots addicts, then Jayke Orvis and The Broken Band might be your drug.
A founding member and the mandolin player for the groundbreaking .357 String Band, Jayke Orvis may have taken a long and windy road to finding his way in the music world, but if his current sonic output is any evidence, he has found his path, and it is righteous. What made the .357 String Band so singular was that it was four dudes testing the very limits of human ability with instrumentation, while positively debilitating you with the emotion of their songwriting. When Orivs was undutifully released from .357 (the band eventually disbanded in late 2011), he became more of a singer/songwriter type of performer, sometimes favoring the guitar over his mandolin.
As the name alluded, Jayke’s “Broken Band” was a hodgepodge of plug-in players that all did dutiful jobs, but never had the stability to congeal enough to hone in on everything that the music could be. Orvis himself was a revolving member of the Gothic roots outfit The Goddamn Gallows, and regularly borrowed from their players for his Broken Band on dual Orvis/Gallows tours. The collaborations were enthralling and memorable in their own right, but never allowed Jayke the intimate focus on his own music that it needed to realize its true potential.
Jayke finally declared earlier this year that he was taking his last tour with the Gallows, and trained his attention solely on a solid, permanent Broken Band lineup that includes guitarist James Hunnicutt, and former Bob Wayne Outlaw Carnies’ Liz Sloan and Jared McGovern on fiddle and upright bass respectively. With stability and a shared vision of making a band around Jayke’s music, but one where all musicians are treated as equal, Jayke Orvis & The Broken Band have re-captured the fervor and spellbinding performance aspect that made the .357 String Band such a force of music nature. If anything, The Broken Band may be taking it a step further with a deeper attention to composition, pushing all four players to the edge of their abilities, and the edge of human capability itself, balanced by slow and mid-tempo songwriter material.
Jayke Orvis & The Broken Band are the underground roots equivalent of the Punch Brothers, and are one of the top tier performers of the underground sub-genre. But as Jayke explains, he’s not looking for recognition from the Americana Music Association or berths on arena tours with big country names. “I want to open for Slayer,” Jayke told me right after their live set at Austin, TX’s Scoot Inn on 5/06. “Well I mean that may be a little hard now, but I want to show punk and metal kids that roots music can be cool.”
As the overall roots world seems to be benefiting from a rising tide, it’s not hard to wonder if some of the best of the underground are being left behind, and how long this rising tide will last before the popularity arch begins to fade. Jayke Orvis is one of those artists who has stuff that could catch fire. He’s one that could benefit when roots fans conclude that Mumford & Sons just doesn’t have the mustard to hold their attention long-term.
Jayke Orvis & The Broken Band recently released their 2nd album, Bless This Mess on Farmageddon Records. His first album It’s All Been Said constituted the formation of that record label. Though the album has officially been out for a while, you won’t find it on Amazon or iTunes. You can’t stream it on Spotify or Pandora. I secured my copy at a live show, and was told there was only a few more copies left in their merch bag before they would be able to restock in a few days. A good problem to have in some respects, but one that makes the outreach of the music problematic when people can’t get it.
Bless This Mess didn’t have a well-promoted release date, if any true release date at all. No promotional push paralleled its availability. No review copies were sent out to independent music outlets, including Saving Country Music which named Jayke Orvis its 2010 Artist of the Year. In 2013, statistics show that for every song bought, 100 are streamed, and that albums that are streamed for free prior to their release sell more copies. To not make an album available at all digitally puts the album and the artist at an unparallelled disadvantage. This does not necessarily mean this is neglect on the part of Jayke or his label. All of this very well may be on purpose, and I’m sure it will be available digitally eventually. But the point of releasing music is to get it in as many hands as possible, and an artist holds no more potent promotional tool than when they release an album.
When I loaded Bless This Mess into my computer, the tracks were unmarked. I got “Unknown Artist” and “Unknown Songs” with the track times and numbers. If the idea is that this is an underground approach to releasing music, this is somewhat misguided. Jello Biafra was such a genius because he was able to get his music right beside the music of big labels in record stores by doing it the right way. Legions of hopeful artists with awful music release albums every day that in no way reach the quality level of Bless This Mess, but get more attention because they’re released the right way. You want to know what so much popular music sounds so bad? Because some people are willing to understand the correct approach. Jayke Orvis’s music is too good to put limitations on it by not following the easy and well-established modes of how to release an album.
The counter-point is that Jayke’s fan base is so loyal, all these concerns are silly. But the goal of any artist, even one that is not driven by fame or money, is to attain a healthy sustainability that hopefully factors in at least some moderate growth.
Though Bless This Mess seems like it may be one step behind where Jayke & The Broken Band are right now with their live show, it still boasts some excellent arrangements and performances, and a wonderful lineup of both originals and covers. Hank’s “Kaw-Liga,” Ralph Stanley’s “Bound to Ride,” and The Weary Boys’ “Pick Up The Steam” round out a remarkable set of well-interpreted renditions. Banjo player and part-time Broken Band member Joe Perreze also offers up one of the albums standout instrumentals in “Clankertown.”
This all leads into Jayke’s original material. Whether its blazing instrumentals like “Murder of Crows,” or more singer/songwriter-style material like “West Wind,” and what may be the album’s legacy track “Crooked Smile,” Jayke Orvis shows himself as one of the premier purveyors of Gothic-infused American string music worth a wide ear and critical acclaim. And let’s not gloss over that Jayke also scores well on the intangibles. With the way he presents himself and his stage presence, he has that essential charisma to hold an audience captive, while at the same time the humility to defer to his players and make it more about the music than himself.
Jayke Orvis & The Broken Band is a name that deserves to be ready on the tongue whenever folks query for names of top flight string bands to check out. But it will only get there if at least cursory attention is paid to the promotional side of things. Making good music isn’t enough. Marking track names on albums and distributing an album digitally is the easy part. The hard part is making music that touches you on a human level, and does so in a pioneering way, and this is what Jayke Orvis & The Broken Band do with almost unfair effortlessness.
Two guns up on the Jayke Orvis live show
1 3/4 of 2 guns up on Bless This Mess
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