Browsing articles tagged with " Jason Isbell"
Jun
3

Aaron Lewis Stops Concert, Twists Off On “Molesters”

June 3, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  22 Comments

aaron-lewisWarning: Language

We’ve seen these moments more and more at concerts, especially country music concerts where an artist has to stop everything down because someone in the crowd is acting completely inappropriate, but this instance may take the cake. Recent country music convert Aaron Lewis was manning the mic as part of his other gig as the frontman for the angry emo rock band Staind during the last weekends Rockfest in Kansas City, when he stopped the concert down during the song “Something To Remind You” to twist off on guys copping a feel on a 15-year-old crowd surfer. While smoking a cigarette and sporting a shirt of Johnny Cash flipping the bird, the Staind frontman said:

Alright, listen up, you fucking assholes. That fucking girl right there is, like, 15 fucking years old and you fucking pieces of shit are molesting her while she’s on the fucking crowd. Your fucking mothers should be ashamed of themselves, you pieces of shit. You should all be fucking beaten down by everyone around you for being fucking pieces of shit. If I fucking see that shit again, I swear to God, I will point you out in the crowd and have everyone around you beat your fucking ass.

Apparently Lewis got his point across, because the concert proceeded without further incident.

Aaron’s outburst is reminiscent of other artists having to stop down concerts this year, mostly for fighting. Jason Isbell had to stop down as show in Madison, Wisconsin in February for fighting. Jake Owen came to the aid of a girl who was being hit by a man in Ft. Wayne. And Tim McGraw while in Wheatland, CA had to call out concertgoers for brawling.

Arron Lewis has proven himself to be protective of women before. In January he debuted an alternate version of Tyler Farr’s creepy stalking song “Redneck Crazy” written by Zach Woods. “I just always thought the message of this song was pretty fucked up,” he said about the original song. Lewis himself has three daughters, Zoe Jane, Nyla Rae and Indie Shay.

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May
16

Where Does Sturgill Simpson Go From Here?

May 16, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  72 Comments

sturgill-simpson-002

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.

LOVE
Sturgill, Kevin, Miles, & Little Joe

 

May
14

Hayes Carll Signs with Thirty Tigers / New Album Coming

May 14, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  11 Comments

hayes-carllDistribution and publishing company Thirty Tigers has signed critically-acclaimed singer-songwriter Hayes Carll to work on a new album this fall, with hopes for an early 2015 release. Carll’s last album KMAG YOYO was released in February of 2011 through Lost Highway Records, as was his 2008 release Trouble in Mind. Both albums won him critical praise and solid commercial success, and Carll is now considered one of the mainstays of country/Americana touring channels, playing an average of 200 shows a year.

Thirty Tigers is unique in the record label business in letting artists own their own imprints with which to publish their own music. Hayes Carll’s Highway 87 will be the name under which the Houston native will release his first album in four years. Other notable Thirty Tigers artists include Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Ryan Bingham, Elizabeth Cook, and Trampled By Turtles. Hayes Carll adds another high caliber name to a company who is setting the new paradigm in music labels—one that fosters artists keeping control of their own music.

“Hayes is the rare artist that can make you laugh out loud, break your heart or turn a phrase that makes you shake your head in utter joy,” says Thirty Tigers President David Macias. “We feel proud that we get to go fight for him.”

Carll’s manager says, “Thirty Tigers is a great fit for Hayes. Their business model allows him to maintain control of his music. And, he has many deep relationships within the company that go all the way back to his first album.”

May
12

2014 Americana Music Awards Nominees Announced

May 12, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  23 Comments

americana-music-associationOn Monday April 12th, The Americana Music Association announced the nominees for their 2014 Americana Music Awards to be held September 17th at the Ryman Auditorium as part of their annual Americana Music Conference. The ceremony was emceed by performer and Sirius XM DJ Elizabeth Cook, and was simulcast on Sirius XM and streamed on Music City Roots.

The announcement ceremony started off with Jim Lauderdale and Buddy Miller playing a song off of Lauderdale’s upcoming album. Then 2014 Americana Emerging Artist nominees Valerie June, Parker Milsap, and Hurray For The Riff Raff all performed two songs each before the names of the nominees were rattled off. Executive director Jed Hilly also spoke, telling the small crowd assembled how Americana membership has doubled in the last 18 months, and the announcement ceremony was closed out with Elizabeth Cook performing with Buddy Miller.

This years crop of nominees sees a lot of new faces and younger names compared to the usual crop of nominees from the not-for-profit organization.

 

Artist of the Year

  • Rosanne Cash
  • Rodney Crowell
  • Robert Ellis
  • Jason Isbell

 

Album of the Year

  • Sarah Jarosz – Build Me Up From Bones
  • Robert Ellis – Lights From The Chemical Plant
  • Jason Isbell – Southeastern
  • Rosanne Cash – The River & The Thread

 

Song of the Year

  • Jason Isbell – “Cover Me Up”
  • Rosanne Cash – “A Feather’s Not A Bird
  • Robert Ellis – “Only Lies”
  • Patty Griffin  - “Ohio”

 

Duo/Group of the Year

  • The Avett Brothers
  • Devil Makes Three
  • Milk Carton Kids
  • Lake Street Dive
  • Hard Working Americans

 

Emerging Artist of the Year

  • Hurry For The Riff Raff
  • Parker Milsap
  • St Paul & The Broken Bones
  • Sturgill Simpson
  • Valerie June

 

Instrumentalist of the Year

  • Larry Campbell
  • Brian Sutton
  • Buddy Miller
  • Fats Kaplin

 

Apr
23

The Secret Sisters Shine Through In “Put Your Needle Down”

April 23, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  15 Comments

the-secret-sisters-put-your-needle-downProduced by T Bone Burnett, the new Secret Sisters album called Put Your Needle Down—the sister duo’s first record in nearly four years—was produced by T Bone Burnett. T Bone Burnett produced this sophomore effort, and lending his efforts in a production role was T Bone Burnett. T Bone Burnett, T Bone Burnett, T Bone Burnett.

Did I mention that T Bone Burnett produced this album? Okay good. Because apparently that’s a more important point than who this album is by and what it’s titled, and T Bone’s name must precede this information in any copy or conversation.

It’s not that T Bone Burnett isn’t an accomplished and successful producer. I mean hell, you can’t stick your nose anywhere in the Americana realm without finding apostles of T Bone telling you how brilliant he is. The problem though is the hype around his work has become so pervasive, I’m afraid he’s begun to believe it himself, and uses it as justification to employ an extremely heavy hand in his producer capacity, relegating the artists he works with as secondary, if not arbitrary to furthering the weight behind his own name. Or at least, that’s the way it sounds.

No doubt T Bone Burnett is a towering man of music. There’s no denying his record. But that doesn’t give him the right, or make it right to overhaul, supplant, or bury the God-given sound, style, and talent the artists he works for are born with. People can come to T-Bone’s defense and say that this is the fate these artists chose when they signed up to work with him, but it still doesn’t erase the fact that the role of a producer is supposed to be one of a subordinate. Yes, the producer should guide and mentor, but the best producers in the business do not reshape artists into their own appointed image, they coax the best attributes already alive in artists out into the open to be captured in the recorded context. Inexplicably, with The Secret Sisters and Put Your Needle Down, T Bone Burnett does both.

This album shouldn’t be characterized as The Secret Sisters with T Bone Burnett. It should be couched as The Secret Sisters versus T Bone Burnett. Such an over-produced wall of serrated sounds punishes the ear throughout this album, it’s like trying to view the Eiffel Tower through a plague of locusts: You know there’s something very pretty and breathtaking there, but you have to fight with flailing arms to see, and you’re rarely allowed to relax and bask in its beauty.

T Bone Burnett’s production doesn’t seem to have any sense or respect for the time and place The Secret Sisters’ music naturally evokes; their music seems only the canvas for T Bone to do his worst. After the very first song, I was already tired of the ever-present tambourine on this album, which permeates this record deeper than a sheepdog’s flea dip. The tambourine rattles inside your skull like a ricocheting bullet; steadfast and unrelenting. I couldn’t get the iconic image of Will Ferrell banging on a cowbell from that famous Saturday Night Live skit out of my head, but replaced by a round, jingle-filled adult-sized death rattle. Mucky, incongruent moans of excessively chorus-inflected guitar tones burden this work like the apparitions that keep you in slow motion as you’re being pursued in a nightmare by an apex predator.

Am I being a teeny bit harsh here maybe? Is some deep-seated, unnecessary hatred for all things T Bone shining through and compromising my integrity? Perhaps, but I’ll tell you, despite the monstrosity T Bone constructed though his work on this album, I love Put Your Needle Down. I think this album is great—one captivating song after another. Why? Because no different than how the primitive artists of country had to fight through poor production situations when they were making the very first country albums, or in the 60′s when Music Row producers couldn’t resist adding strings and choruses to every damn song, or in the 80′s when everyone decided the best thing to do was get into the keyboard business and over-modulate the hell out of the drum signals, good songs, and good artists will always shine through. And that’s what The Secret Sisters are, and that’s what The Secret Sisters did on Put Your Needle Down.

the-secret-sistersAnd if we’re going to smear T Bone with such colorful language, we also have to give him credit. Whether it was by accident, on purpose, or despite his best efforts, on Put Your Needle Down, the sheer, untouched genius of The Secret Sisters was unearthed in all of its dazzling beauty, and captured so splendidly despite the production woes, that you could fall under it’s spell even if you had to listen through an A-bomb blast.

Sisters Laura and Lydia Rogers were born and raised in one of the holy lands of American music: Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Fertilized with music from George Jones, Merle Haggard, and Doc Watson, and singing in a church that had no instruments, their Southern harmonies were born with such a purity that can only be found in sister siblings. When The Secret Sisters harmonize, it is the sound a pining heart makes, or the sound emitted when a crack cleaves the soul. Or it’s the salve that mends the heart and soul, depending on the theme of the story their soaring voices carry.

Their first, self-titled album from 2010 was a selection of classic country-style songs and was produced by Dave Cobb–famous for working recently with both Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson on their critically-acclaimed albums—with T Bone Burnett breathing down Cobb’s neck as an “executive producer.” The Secret Sisters debut captured them in their most native environment, and in a sincere, country offering. No, my defacing of T Bone’s effort has nothing to do with him taking this album in a non-country direction; it’s that he didn’t respect the natural sound of The Secret Sisters. He could have added some rock or progressive sounds here and there, but the production effort of Put Your Needle Down was a complete whitewashing. And get this: I’m so dug in on this stance, I don’t even care if The Secret Sisters disagree.

But damn if I don’t love virtually everything The Secret Sisters themselves do on this album. Put Your Needle Down differs, and his enhanced from their first album by featuring mostly original songs. The pain and desperation captured in their performances on tracks like “Iuka” and “The Pocket Knife” evoke the plight inherent in the female condition when it’s torn and tested by the villainous priorities of men. The heights reached in the chorus of the 50′s-ish do woppy “Black And Blue” with the sisters harmonies dancing and twirling in such synchronicity, like smoke-trailed acrobats rising eloquently and unresponsive to gravity until it is impossible to discern them apart in formation, is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

One respite from T Bone the Terrible’s reign is on the subdued and simple “Lonely Island”, which if recorded 50 years ago, would be a standard of the country music song book today. It is simply a masterpiece.

And as jarring and inappropriate as the production of this album is, you even get to a point where you’re okay with it, if for no other reasons than refusing to let it ruin what was going on here beneath the layers and layers of over-production, and the fogginess that besets this album—sometimes a symptom of when a project’s mixes have been reworked too many times, especially when they are recorded on 2-inch tape to capture the “warmth” that Audiophiles love to preach about. And yes, I understand what T Bone was trying to do here: he was trying to take something classic and pure, and make it hip and progressive to appeal to a wider audience. On paper, there’s nothing wrong with that. But from a production standpoint, it didn’t work. T Bone was not the right one to try this feat with this particular project.

And why did it take nearly 1 1/2 years for this album to get to our ears? It was recorded in December of 2012, and January of 2013. I think there’s a story there in itself, if only to answer why two young women with the wind behind their backs from their first album had to wait so long for a second release.

But I’ll be damned, I really, really enjoy this album overall. Simply put, The Secret Sisters are the best female duo out there right now, and Put Your Needle Down comes highly recommended….with the obvious production caveat.

1 3/4 of 2 guns up.

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Preview & Purchase Tracks from Put Your Needle Down

Apr
16

Willie Nelson to Receive 5th-Degree Black Belt

April 16, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  7 Comments

master-martial-artsWillie Nelson with Master Martial Arts Class – c/o Master Martial Arts

Willie Nelson might be about to turn 81-years-old and be regarded as one of the world’s most famous living pacifists, but apparently hiding behind his friend-to-all disposition and grandfatherly sweetness is a mean roundhouse kick and lethal karate chop.

You may not see Willie step into the octagon anytime soon, but apparently he’s been training for 20 years in the art of Gong Kwon Yu Sul—a modern Korean martial arts system similar to Tae Kwon Do that “emphasizes the application of striking, locking and throwing techniques in practical, free-flowing fighting situations, rather than static situations.” Willie has been training in the art so long he will be awarded his 5th degree black belt in the discipline on April 28th in Austin—the day before his 81st birthday. Grand Master Sam Um of Austin will be doing the honors at his Master Martial Arts studio as part of a promotional event.

10 Badass Willie Nelson Moments

Willie Nelson has been studying martial arts most of his life, starting in Nashville when he was a burgeoning songwriter. “I got into some martial arts and kung fu,” Willie told Men’s Health Magazine last year. “I liked it. We used to offer kung fu lessons to the kids in town. It’s good for you.” Apparently Willie trains on his famous tour bus The Honeysuckle Rose while on tour to pass the time and to stay healthy.

Speaking of tours, Willie is getting ready to embark on a landmark tour starting May 1st with Alison Krauss, Jerry Douglas, as well as select dates with Jason Isbell, Kacey Musgraves, and The Devil Makes Three.

Move over “World’s Most Interesting Man”, Willie Nelson might have you beat.

willie-nelson-martial-arts

Younger Willie with Master Sam Um

Mar
11

Kevin Fowler’s “How Country Are Ya?”

March 11, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  39 Comments

Oh Kevin Fowler, what are we going to do with you?

kevin-fowler-colt-fordIf anyone rolled up to this article, saw Kevin Fowler’s name, and without reading another word navigated down to the comments section to elucidate just what a cheese dick he is and how much they hate his face, I couldn’t blame them. Not that the guy doesn’t deserve kudos when considering his entire body of work and what he’s done on and off the stage to help the entirety of the “Texas scene” get its feet under it, but the guy has the propensity to put out some of the most plastic banana bullshit songs you can imagine, and during pretty much the entirety of his career, this has been the material out in front, defining who Kevin Fowler is. Remember when he was running around with women’s underwear on his head, singing a country rap song with Colt Ford? I rest my case.

Let’s face it, Kevin Fowler is kind of a shallow, good-timing dude. Fun at parties, but he’s not going to go all Jason Isbell on your ass and get you crying over an emotionally-charged Cancer song. But there’s nothing inherently wrong with that either, nor do songs like “Hip Hop In A Honky Tonk” or “Pound Sign” necessarily portray his entire body of work fairly.

But here he is doing himself no favors, and lending all sorts of fuel to the bonfires of his detractors by putting out an album with a wild-ass, caricaturist cover, a caricaturist title track, complete with an intro by Earl Dibbles Jr. doing his “crack a cold one” bit, and right off the bat you feel like you’re beholding the Disney version of Texas country.

kevin-fowler-how-country-are-yaWhen I first surveyed this album, you have no idea how much I was licking my chops to use it as the sacrificial lamb in my want to expound on how Texas country can many times be just as bad as Music Row, and in fact seems to be trending more in that direction every year. But I’ll be damned if Kevin Fowler didn’t instill enough redeeming songs and redeeming qualities to this album to where I’d feel like a bully doing anything but saying the good probably outweighs the bad.

To begin with, this is a country record. And when I say country, I mean it is positively drenched in pedal steel, with fiddle and twangy guitar right out front throughout the album, with not really any of the rock-driven sound that at times has defined Fowler’s career. From a music standpoint, and even with some of the songwriting, How Country Are Ya? is pretty smack dab in sort of that early 90′s Alan Jackson, hard country sound with a propensity for a few silly songs and an upbeat kick. Maybe Kevin Fowler is benefiting from mainstream country moving so far away from the traditional sound that his country rock flavor now feels more like authentic honky tonk, but even then I think this is a pretty purely country record through and through.

And I’ll be damned if there isn’t some pretty damn good songs here too. The tracks are quick and catchy. It’s almost like a punk album in the way the songs just seem to fly by. “Before Someone Gets Hurt,” “If I Could Make A Livin’ Drinkin’” and “Girls I Go With,” these are pretty good songs. Like Kevin Fowler says himself in the track “Panhandle Poorboy,” he’s just sort of a simple guy from the Texas plains, and I’m not sure if his lack of a deep poetic brain muscles is something we should let get in the way of enjoying the music. How Country Are Ya? even has an instrumental; the very fun “Mousturdonus”.

At the same time, there’s some real stinkers here, especially to start you off. It’s not that How Country Are Ya? is laundry list or “bro country” per se, it’s that Kevin Fowler makes his own little universe of redundancies and clichés with the sheer amount of drinking songs he does on this album and along his entire body of work. This is unfortunate because taken alone, songs like “If I Could Make A Livin’ Drinkin’” and “Whiskey and I” are really pretty good. He also has a propensity to really rehash tired country themes like “Habit I Can’t Break” comparing quitting cigarettes to quitting a girl; this has got to have been done 100 times by now, or the blatantly obvious “Borracho Grande.” “These day José Cuervo, he’s my only amigo…” Yeah, okay Kevin, could have left this one on the cutting house floor, despite the music for the song being pretty cool.

I wanted to hate this album, and I didn’t. And for a guy that once put Fowler on a “blacklist” (whatever that means) for collaborating with Colt Ford, I guess that’s saying something positive about this album even beyond the specific praises about the country instrumentation and some of the songs. At the sake of sounding blatantly obvious, Fowler could really benefit from reeling in all the bits and and drinking songs, but guess what, that’s him. He’s a wise ass. And where his last album was made with the enemy in Average Joe’s Entertainment (Colt Ford’s label), this one is on his own label. Hidden behind all the antics might be a retrenching of sorts for Fowler on this album, and though you may not like all the results, you can’t fault the man for being himself.

1 1/2 of 2 guns up.

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Purchase How Country Are Ya? from Kevin Fowler

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Mar
3

6th Annual Lone Star Music Awards Nominees Announced

March 3, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  27 Comments

lone-star-music-awardsLone Star Music, the Texas music cornerstone that has such good taste and cool vibes that appreciation for it’s unique approach of putting the music first spreads well past the Texas border, has just announced the nominees for their 6th Annual Lone Star Music Awards, and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t hit the sweet spot in showcasing many of the artists that are helping to save country music.

The Lone Star Music Awards will be held at The Marc in San Marcos, TX on Sunday, April 27th and will feature performances from many of the nominees and many others. Last year Saving Country Music was in attendance, and can vouch that a good time was had by all.

This years awards show will feature performances by Reckless Kelly, Joe Ely, William Clark Green, Thieving Birds, Chris King, Slaid Cleaves, Bruce Robison & Kelly Willis, Zane Williams & Kylie Rae Harris!

If you want to vote for your favorite nominees, you can do so once per email address. Voting ends March 31st. ****NOTE: Voting Has Now Ended!

*Vote for the Lone Star Music Awards*

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • Jason Boland & The Straggers – Dark & Dirty Mile
  • Jason Isbell – Southeastern
  • Kacey Musgraves – Same Trailer Different Park
  • Randy Rogers Band – Trouble
  • Shinyribs – Gulf Coast Museum
  • Slaid Cleaves – Still Fighting The War
  • William Clark Green – Rose Queen

 

COUNTRY ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • Bruce Robison & Kelly Willis – Cheater’s Game
  • Chris King – 1983
  • Jason Boland & The Stragglers – Dark & Dirty Mile
  • Kacey Musgraves – Same Trailer Different Park
  • Kyle Park – Beggin’ For More
  • Sturgill Simpson – High Top Mountain
  • Zane Williams – Overnight Success

 

AMERICANA/ROOTS-ROCK ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • Jason Isbell – Southeastern
  • Quaker City Night Hawks – Honcho
  • Reckless Kelly – Long Night Moon
  • Shinyribs – Gulf Coast Museum
  • Sons Of Fathers – Burning Days
  • Thieving Birds – Gold Coast
  • William Clark Green – Rose Queen

 

SINGER-SONGWRITER/FOLK ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • Amanda Shires – Down Fell The Doves
  • Drew Kennedy – Wide Listener
  • Guy Clark – My Favorite Picture Of You
  • Owen Temple – Stories They Tell
  • Patty Griffin – American Kid
  • Slaid Cleaves – Still Fighting The War
  • Terry Allen – Bottom Of The World

 

SONG OF THE YEAR

  • Jason Isbell – Elephant
  • Mando Saenz – Pocket Change
  • Randy Rogers Band – Fuzzy
  • Slaid Cleaves – Texas Love Song
  • Will Callers – House Of Falling Cards
  • Will Hoge – Strong
  • William Clark Green – She Likes The Beatles

 

LIVE ACT OF THE YEAR

  • American Aquarium
  • Lincoln Durham
  • Randy Rogers Band
  • Reckless Kelly
  • Shinyribs
  • Turnpike Troubadours
  • Uncle Lucius

 

MALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR

  • Ace Crayton – Thieving Birds
  • Cody Canada
  • Jason Isbell
  • Kevin Russell – Shinyribs
  • Slaid Cleaves
  • Stewart Mann – Statesboro Revue
  • William Clark Green

 

FEMALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR

  • Amanda Shires
  • Bri Bagwell
  • Courtney Patton
  • Kacey Musgraves
  • Kelly Willis
  • Kylie Rae Harris
  • Patty Griffin

 

EMERGING ARTIST OF THE YEAR

  • Chris King
  • Courtney Patton
  • HalleyAnna
  • Quaker City Night Hawks
  • Sons Of Fathers
  • Thieving Birds
  • Will Callers

 

SONGWRITER OF THE YEAR

  • Guy Clark
  • Jason Isbell
  • Owen Temple
  • Patty Griffin
  • Sam Baker
  • Will Hoge
  • William Clark Green

 

MUSICIAN OF THE YEAR

  • Brady Black – Randy Rogers Band
  • Brandy Zdan
  • Bukka Allen – Terry Allen
  • Cody Braun – Reckless Kelly
  • Lincoln Durham
  • Lloyd Maines – Terry Allen, Various Projects
  • Roger Ray – Jason Boland & The Stragglers

 

PRODUCER OF THE YEAR

  • Adam Odor – Britt Lloyd, Johnny Chops
  • Dave Cobb – Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson
  • Erik Herbst – Rusty Brothers, Sam Riggs, Thieving Birds
  • George Reiff – Band Of Heathens, Brandy Zdan, Lincoln Durham, Shinyribs
  • John Ross Silva – Chris King, Courtney Patton
  • Lloyd Maines – Slaid Cleaves, Sons Of Fathers, Terry Allen, Tejas Brothers, Two Tons Of Steel, Wayne Hancock
  • Rachel Loy – William Clark Green

 

ALBUM ARTWORK OF THE YEAR

  • Bruce Robison & Kelly Willis – Cheater’s Game
  • Cody Canada – Some Old, Some New, Maybe A Cover Or Two
  • Reckless Kelly – Long Night Moon
  • Statesboro Revue – Ramble On Privilege Creek
  • Terry Allen – Bottom Of The World
  • Wheeler Brothers – Gold Boots Glitter
  • William Clark Green – Rose Queen

 

FESTIVAL OF THE YEAR

  • Americana Jam – New Braunfels, TX
  • BigFest – San Marcos, TX
  • Greenfest – New Braunfels, TX
  • Larry Joe Taylor Music Festival – Stephenville, TX
  • Lone Star Jam – Austin, TX
  • MusicFest – Steamboat Springs, CO
  • Old Settlers – Driftwood, TX

 

“THE GRUENE HALL AWARD” (VENUE OF THE YEAR)

  • Billy Bob’s – Fort Worth, TX
  • Blue Light Live – Lubbock, TX
  • Cain’s Ballroom – Tulsa, OK
  • Cheatham Street Warehouse – San Marcos, TX
  • Firehouse Saloon – Houston, TX
  • Luckenbach Dancehall – Luckenbach, TX
  • Magnolia Motor Lounge – Fort Worth, TX
Feb
21

Robert Ellis & “The Lights From The Chemical Plant”

February 21, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  12 Comments

robert-ellis

At any point in the greater country music realm, there’s going to be that one artist that sets the cutting edge for artistic expression and critical merit to where a consensus surrounds them as someone other artists should measure themselves against. They make critics swoon and cultured music fans nod with approval, as NPR, American Songwriter, and other such outlets regale them with the highest accolades, no matter how much their music may remain elusive from the mainstream perspective.

Texas native and current Nashvillian Robert Ellis is certainly a candidate to take that critical acclaim baton from Jason Isbell and run with it as an artist who seems to effortlessly deliver songs with cutting emotional moments in an awe-inspiring display of deft creativity. His much-anticipated new album Lights From The Chemical Plant is full of those instances that give you shivers from their bold illustration of wit and self awareness. There’s this sort of graceful command to his songwriting, a confidence beyond his 25 years, to where even when he turns a phrase that you can anticipate or that feels tired, he’ll throw a little hitch in the timing almost as to announce to the listener it’s cliche, in turn erasing the banality of the moment.

robert-ellis-lights-from-the-chemical-plantThe last album from Robert Ellis, 2011′s Photographs, started out as a mostly-acoustic work that trended toward a downright honky tonk sound by the end, and won him deserved critical praise. The Lights From The Chemical Plant, though certainly with its country moments, is overall more of a classic pop album, referring to influences like a post-Garfunkel Paul Simon and James Taylor. The first song on the album “TV Song” is very much out of the Randy Newman playbook, full of irony, but graced with such a loving perspective for its object of ire, you can’t help but be awed by the intellectual skill such a song displays.

“Hipster” is an often-overused and ill-defined term for people to describe others that they generally don’t understand and that happen to be young, and many times white. As time marches on, hipsters seem to be standing out less, and the term generally tends to just represent young artistic-minded white people in general who rely on elements such as exclusiveness and irony to define their cultural attributes. Their perspective is steeped in a whole new set of parameters compared to the multiple generations of slightly older to much older music listeners from many past generations whose musical understanding is centered around structured ideas of eras, genres, and generational gaps.

Many 25-year-olds don’t hate their parents, and never did. There’s not that inherent sense of emptiness and despair, but a sense of quiet celebration. With The Lights From The Chemical Plant, Ellis celebrates the other side of his musical upbringing, that likely wasn’t presented to him as being in conflict with his country roots, but in concert with them. However, much of the current Robert Ellis sound still emanates from the acoustic guitar and pedal steel. The de facto title track “Chemical Plant” is a sweeping, rising, memory-inducing song, very much bemoaning the march of progress and time no different than more accessible country music fare might, just conveyed in a much more intelligent way.

“Steady As The Rising Sun” takes a dedicated look in the liner notes to convince one it was not indeed written by James Taylor, while Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years” is a little more obvious as a cover. There are a few very long songs on this album, and at times it becomes somewhat of a problem. The 6 1/2-minute “Bottle of Wine” does a good job capturing a sullen, Tom Waits-esque mood, but the tone of the piano seems a little to resonant and bright, and the song just goes on a little too long to maintain the mood or story. “Houston” is one of the album’s best at highlighting Robert’s strength of songwriting, but the fusion jazz-like ending gets buried somewhat, despite its functionality at offering something different and spicy for the album.

The 7-minute “Tour Song” however could probably go on even longer in the way Ellis weaves a masterful web of language clearly told from his own, heartfelt perspective. “Pride” and “Only Lies” work very well in a way that is unique and new, but that also refers back to the classic mode of 70′s songwriter material. “Sing Along” is the up-tempo, and most-decidedly country song on the album, though it’s counter-religious message might ruffle its core sonic audience. Appeal for “Good Intentions” will be much more universal. In an album with a fiercely artistic bent, this song is rousing and infectious without compromising it’s substance and creativity.

The “Not For Everyone” stamp should be slapped in red letters across the cover of this album, especially for people who consider themselves more country fans than Americana or singer-songwriter fans. But Robert Ellis has done superlative work, and will be graced by the singing praises of critics and cultured roots fans that will likely last all the way until they compile their end-of-year lists.

1 3/4 of 2 guns up.

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Purchase Lights From The Chemical Plant from Robert Ellis

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Feb
17

Do Not Fight at a Jason Isbell Concert (Video)

February 17, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  41 Comments

Jason-IsbellSometimes it’s the unscripted moments when you get to see the true character of individuals that your primary interaction with is either through their music or watching them on stage. Case in point is Saving Country Music’s reigning Artist of the Year Jason Isbell, who at a show at the Barrymore Theatre in Madison, Wisconsin on February 7th was confronted with a few brawling fans near the front rows and had to stop the show down.

In stark contrast to the culture surrounding many of mainstream country’s male stars who seem to condone and even promote fighting, including Eric Church who once bragged to Playboy Magazine about the fighting culture that permeates his concerts which was then evidenced a few weeks later in the massive melees, multiple arrests, and colossal mess left in the wake of one of his concerts with Kenny Chesney in Pittsburgh last summer, Jason Isbell stopped down the concert to deal civilly with the fracas.

But the best part was Isbell’s mix of swear words to let the offending parties know he meant business, and the “aw shucks” authenticity of a guy originally from Muscle Shoals, Alabama that made a rather common concert occurrence into an endearing display of character.

Feb
14

Willie Nelson & Alison Krauss Headline Landmark Tour

February 14, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  38 Comments

willie-nelson-2Nothing gets my motor running more than established talent giving worthy up-and-comers a hand up, and rising stars helping to introduce legendary talent to a new generation of fans. This is the way country music is supposed to be—spanning generations and cross-pollinating fans bases to create a healthy environment of support. And an upcoming, nationwide, early summer tour is scheduled to do that very thing.

Willie Nelson and his legendary Family Band, Alison Krauss with her legendary Union Station band including Jerry Douglas, are scheduled to embark on a 35-date tour running from May 1st to July 18th, supported at various whistle stops by the critically-acclaimed Jason Isbell, the recently Grammy-decorated Kacey Musgraves, and country punk pioneers Devil Makes Three. This will be a lineup not to miss….unless you’re in Texas or California.

May 1               Murray, KY                   CFSB Center/Murray State University*
May 2               Atlanta, GA                  Chastain Park Amphitheatre *
May 3               Knoxville, TN               Thompson Boling Arena*
May 4               Cary, NC                       Koka Booth Amphitheatre*
May 6               St. Augustine, FL        St. Augustine Amphitheatre*
May 8               Daniel Island, SC         Family Circle Cup Stadium*
May 9               Simpsonville, SC         Charter Amphitheatre*
May 10             Greensboro, NC           White Oak Amphitheatre*
May 11             Huntington, WV           Big Sandy Superstar Arena*
May 13             Roanoke, VA                Roanoke Civic Center*
May 14             Columbus, OH              Schottenstein Center*
May 16             Nashville, TN                The Woods at Fontanel*
May 17             Birmingham, AL            BJCC*
May 18             Augusta, GA                 James Brown Arena*
June 5              Southaven, MS             Snowden Grove Amphitheater #
June 6              Louisville, KY               Waterfront Park+
June 7              Lewiston, NY                Artpark #
June 8              Bethel, NY                     Bethel Woods Center For the Arts #
June 10            New York, NY                Radio City Music Hall #
June 13            Philadelphia, PA           Mann Center #
June 14            Columbia, MD               Merriweather Post Pavilion
June 15            Simsbury, CT                Simsbury Meadows #
June 17            Boston, MA                   Blue Hills Bank Pavilion #
June 19            Bangor, ME                   Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion #
June 20            Gilford, NH                    Bank of NH Pavillion at Meadowbrook #
June 21            Canandaigua, NY         CMAC Performing Arts Center #
July 6               Kansas City, MO           Starlight Theatre ~
July 7               Rogers, AR                   Arkansas Music Pavilion ~
July 9               Oklahoma City, OK       Zoo Amphitheatre ~
July 11             Council Bluffs, IA         Harrah’s Stir Cove~
July 12             Chicago, IL                    Ravinia Festival~
July 13             Detroit, MI                      Freedom Hill~
July 15             Rama, ON                       Casino Rama
July 17             Interlochen, MI              Kresge Auditorium~
July 18             Toledo, OH                    Toledo Zoo

*The Devil Makes Three
# Kacey Musgraves
~ Jason Isbell
+ The Wild Feathers

Feb
10

Whiskey Myers & the “Early Morning Shakes”

February 10, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  27 Comments

whiskey-myers-header

Early Morning Shakes is the 3rd record from the Texas music scene’s Southern rock contingent known as Whiskey Myers. No, Whiskey Myers isn’t the name of the front man, just the collective persona of five guys from the greater Palestine, TX area, helmed by singer and principal songwriter Cody Cannon. The band put out their first album in 2008 and have since become one of Southern rock’s most emboldened and energetic torch bearers, tearing it up across the country to packed houses of both country and rock fans.

whiskeymyersComing off the surprising success of their second album, 2011′s Firewater that debuted at #26 on the Billboard country charts, Whiskey Myers saddled up with producer Dave Cobb—the man who was behind three very successful albums in 2013: Sturgill Simpson’s High Top Mountain, Jason Isbell’s Southeastern, and Lindi Ortega’s Tin Star. Cobb’s reputation of bringing a signature touch to music that straddles the line between rock and country made him a perfect fit for the project. The result was many great, original song concepts being fleshed out with smart and tasteful production elements, adept guitar-driven instrumentation, and despite some ostentatious moments, a sincere and fun album that sets the standard high for all Southern rockers in 2014.

Southern rock has been in such a state of flux for years now, it’s hard to know where to place it on the relevancy arch on a given day. Its modes have been somewhat borrowed by mainstream country, yet as rock itself continues to amble directionless, Southern rock is one of the last bastions of pure, electric guitar-based music that’s not blaring metal, or eepish, hipster pretentiousness. Calling yourself “Southern rock” affords you a lot of latitude: You can build a song around a riff and not a lyric and not ruffle any feathers like you might in country, or play a straight up country song and still reside within Southern rock sensibilities. You can even add some soul elements like backup singers as Whiskey Myers does here and separate yourself even further from the increasingly-automated sounds of modern music.

Early Morning Shakes is bold and expansive for a 12-song project. There’s a lot going on in these songs, without any of the compositions coming across as especially busy. Songs like “Early Morning Shakes”, “Where The Sun Don’t Shine”, and “Time Off For Bad Behavior” are each built from a good premise, and fleshed out with excellent guitar work by Cody Tate and John Jeffers. So often these days Southern rock guitar can get wanky and self-absorbed. Whiskey Myers may trend slightly that way in certain places, but overall the band’s guitar battery does a good job of waiting for the battle to come to them, and landing their shots when the time is right and in a manner that showcases both their prowess and their taste.

whiskey-myers-early-morning-shakesThe band takes some chances on this record, and generally they nail the landings like with the final song “Colloquy” that tries to evoke the emotional epic, and dutifully succeeds. There is depth here beyond the riff-driven nature of the songs, like in “Reckoning” or “Wild Baby Shake Me,” which starts off as a rump shaker, but then develops into so much more.

But the real star of the show are the pipes of Cody Cannon. The guy’s voice is built for Southern rock. Without a hint of fake inflections or put-on’s, he sings effortlessly and straight from the heart, growling and confident when he needs to be, and willing to express emotion and vulnerability when it’s called for.

One small concern would be some of the chest-puffing present on this album in a song like “Headstone.” There are a few of these self-indulgent moments on the album, but these may disappear from the Whiskey Myers repertoire over time, and already seem diminished from their previous albums. The second song on the album called “Hard Row To Hoe” is just way too similar to Zepplin’s “Heartbreaker” to work, which is strange from a project that otherwise is fairly remarkable at avoiding the well-worn ruts and striking an original path.

The crunchy slide guitar, rising steel, and good songwriting of “Dogwood” make it one of the album’s best songs, and one of the album’s decidedly country selections. The sensible “Shelter From The Rain” is another good country-inspired, story-based song worth a deeper listen. Include the aforementioned “Colloquy” and there’s a good amount here for listeners who are country fans first, and Southern rock appreciators second.

With Early Morning Shakes, the now well-seasoned Whiskey Myers crew affirms themselves as one of the preeminent bands in Texas music and beyond.

1 3/4 of 2 guns up.

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Purchase Early Morning Shakes from Whiskey Myers

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Jan
26

Jason Isbell Got Screwed: A 56th Grammy Awards Preview

January 26, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  41 Comments

56th-grammy-awards-2014

CHECK OUT OUR GRAMMY LIVE BLOG

THE 56th ANNUAL GRAMMY AWARDS

When: 7 PM Central, 8 PM Eastern, 5 PM Pacific on CBS.

Where: The Stapes Center, Los Angeles, CA.

Host: LL Cool J

THINGS TO WATCH FOR

More Traditional Country Than One Might Expect

• Though the Grammy Awards are all-encompassing, there will be quite a bit of country, including classic country on the night with Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson scheduled to perform. Just like we saw with the CMA Awards in November, there is a renewed push to at least include something for classic country’s often-overlooked fans. There will also be a tribute to the recently-passed Phil Everly. See a complete list of the country performances below.

Kacey Musgraves To Push Boundariesagain.

• Similar to the CMA Awards, Kacey Musgraves will be performing her song “Follow Your Arrow.” At the CMA’s, the line “roll up a joint” was censored by ABC. We’ll see if CBS follows suit. She is also up for Best Country Album, Best Country Song for “Merry Go ‘Round,” and the all-genre Best New Artist. With her status as a critic’s favorite, and the propensity for the Grammy Awards to traditionally be more about artistic appeal than commercial success, Kacey should at least be considered a strong nominee, at least for the country awards. The 56th Grammy Awards could be where the Kacey Musgraves experiment sticks if she walks away with the top prizes.

THE COUNTRY PERFORMANCES

Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, and Blake Shelton will all perform a medley of songs together (which one of these things is not like the others?). The performance will begin with Willie and Kris singing the Jimmy Webb-penned song “The Highwayman.” Then all the men will sing a version of “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” and end with Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee.”

Miranda Lambert & Billie Joe Armstrong will perform a Everly Brothers tribute. Phil Everly recently passed away, and Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day recently released a tribute album to the brother duo with Norah Jones. No word why Miranda is the duet partner and not Norah.

Kacey Musgraves will reportedly be performing her current single “Follow Your Arrow” that had the “roll up a joint” line censored by ABC during the CMA Awards in November.

Hunter Hayes will be performing a brand new anti-bullying single called “Invisible.”

Taylor Swift is rumored to be performing “All Too Well.”

Keith Urban will be performing with John Legend in a salute to the Beatles.

Hunter Hayes, Zac Brown, and Martina McBride will be award presenters.

See the list of the non-country performances below.

SPECIAL AWARDS

These awards have already been given out as part of The Grammy Award’s per-televised events.

Kris Kristofferson was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Kris Kristofferson‘s first, self-titled album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Dolly Parton‘s song “Jolene” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

 

COUNTRY AWARD NOMINEES & PREDICTIONS

The most shocking story of this Grammy Awards season was the snub of Jason Isbell from even being nominated for the Americana Album of the Year. This is a perfect example that the Grammy community is very much on the outside looking in when it comes to country music, especially the sub-genres like Americana and bluegrass.

At the same time, The Grammy Awards have a better history of picking artists based on their artistic merit as opposed to their commercial success. Remember it was the Grammy Awards that recognized Johnny Cash’s comeback during his American Recordings years when the country music industry was still ignoring him. Similarly the Grammy Awards tend to vote more down political lines, like when they recognized The Dixie Chicks after their blackballing from country music. This all sets up well for an artist like Kacey Musgraves.

The Grammy Awards are notoriously hard to predict, but I’ll do my best.

Best Country Album

I see this as a two horse race. Though the women of country are such underdogs these days, Kacey Musgraves as the critical favorite, and Taylor Swift as the commercial favorite, have to be considered the likely winners. There’s an outside chance for Blake Shelton because of his high profile from The Voice, but he would be an upset. Aldean & McGraw have no chance. In the end I think Swift will take it, but don’t rule out Kacey.

  • Jason Aldean, Night Train
  • Tim McGraw, Two Lanes of Freedom
  • Kacey Musgraves, Same Trailer Different Park – Other Potential Winner
  • Blake Shelton, Based on a True Story…
  • Taylor Swift, Red – Winner

 

Best Country Solo Performance

Probably a race between ‘I Drive Your Truck” that won the CMA, or Darius Rucker’s version of ‘Wagon Wheel.’ Outside chance again for Blake Shelton because he’s so well-known, and there will be pressure to give him something. Understand this award is mainly for the performance, not the song. But if ‘Mama’s Broken Heart’ wins, it would be a noteworthy win for songwriters Kacey Musgraves and Brandy Clark, and if ‘Wagon Wheel’ wins, for Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show, and Bob Dylan. Remember when Darius Rucker said he better be nominated or “Country Music’s Screwed“?

  • Lee Brice, ‘I Drive Your Truck’ – Winner 
  • Hunter Hayes, ‘I Want Crazy’
  • Miranda Lambert, ‘Mama’s Broken Heart’
  • Darius Rucker, ‘Wagon Wheel’ – Other potential Winner
  • Blake Shelton, ‘Mine Would Be You’

 

Best Country Duo/Group Performance

The Civil Wars have been Grammy darlings in the past, and may still win despite the band dissolving last year. Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton would be the sentimental vote, but they should be considered a long shot. We may see Scott Borchetta assert his power here and have ‘Highway Don’t Care’ walk away with the hardware. It is cool to see a lot of good country names in this category, including Vince Gill. This is a very hard one to pick.

  • The Civil Wars, ‘From This Valley’ – Other potential Winner
  • Kelly Clarkson feat. Vince Gill, ‘Don’t Rush’
  • Little Big Town, ‘Your Side of the Bed’
  • Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift & Keith Urban, ‘Highway Don’t Care’ – Winner
  • Kenny Rogers with Dolly Parton, ‘You Can’t Make Old Friends’ – Other potential Winner

 

Best Country Song

Another wide open field. Lee Brice once again has to be thought of as a front runner, but this very well may be Kacey Musgraves’ moment. This win would arguably mean more to her than any other nominee. And remember, Kacey and Brandy Clark also win if Mama’s Broken Heart’ is ultimately selected. I don’t really see Taylor Swift or Blake Shelton having a chance with this one.

  • Taylor Swift, ‘Begin Again’
  • Lee Brice, ‘I Drive Your Truck’ – Other potential Winner 
  • Miranda Lambert, ‘Mama’s Broken Heart’
  • Kacey Musgraves, ‘Merry Go ‘Round’ – Winner 
  • Blake Shelton, ‘Mine Would Be You’

 

All Genre Awards

  • Taylor Swift’s Red is the sole country album up for Album of the Year, and it is my pick for the winner. The other strong contender would be Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories.
  • Kacey Musgraves is up for Best New Artist, but it is hard to see her outlasting Macklemore + Ryan Lewis, Kendrick Lamar, or Ed Sheeran.

 

AMERICANA & BLUEGRASS NOMINEES

Once again the Americana genre is saddled by its very narrow perspective in nominees. And except for Sarah Jarosz, they are all older artists this year. Compare this with last year when John Fullbright, The Avett Brothers, Mumford & Sons, and The Lumineers were all nominees. The Americana nominees really show how much the Mumford backlash took root, and how that was very much last year’s trend. Jason Isbell got completely screwed, and so did many other deserving artists.

Not going to make any predictions for these awards because they are all wide open fields. Anybody could win here. These awards will be given away before the televised portion of the awards, so check the Saving Country Music LIVE blog for winners.

***UPDATE – In the pre-televised Grammy presentation….

  • The Grammy for Best American Roots Song went to Edie Brickell and Steve Martin for “Love Has Come For You“.
  • The Grammy for Best Americana Album went to Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell for “Old Yellow Moon“.
  • The Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album went to Streets of Baltimore from the Del McCoury Band.
  • And the Grammy for Best Folk Album went to My Favorite Picture of You by Guy Clark.

Best Americana Album

  • Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell — Old Yellow Moon
  • Steve Martin & Edie Brickell — Love Has Come For You
  • Buddy Miller And Jim Lauderdale — Buddy And Jim
  • Mavis Staples — One True Vine
  • Allen Toussaint — Songbook

 

Best Bluegrass Album

  • The Boxcars — It’s Just A Road
  • Dailey & Vincent — Brothers Of The Highway
  • Della Mae — This World Oft Can Be
  • James King — Three Chords And The Truth
  • Del McCoury Band — The Streets Of Baltimore

 

Best Folk Album

  • Guy Clark — My Favorite Picture Of You
  • The Greencards — Sweetheart Of The Sun
  • Sarah Jarosz — Build Me Up From Bones
  • The Milk Carton Kids — The Ash & Clay
  • Various Artists; Chris Strachwitz, producer — They All Played For Us: Arhoolie Records 50th Anniversary Celebration

 

Best American Roots Song

  • “Build Me Up From Bones”
    • Sarah Jarosz, songwriter (Sarah Jarosz)
  • “Invisible”
    • Steve Earle, songwriter (Steve Earle & The Dukes (& Duchesses))
  • “Keep Your Dirty Lights On”
    • Tim O’Brien & Darrell Scott, songwriters (Tim O’Brien And Darrell Scott)
  • “Love Has Come For You”
    • Edie Brickell & Steve Martin, songwriters (Steve Martin & Edie Brickell)
  • “Shrimp Po-Boy, Dressed”
    • Allen Toussaint, songwriter (Allen Toussaint)

     

OTHER GRAMMY PERFORMERS

  • Beyonce and Jay Z will open the show with “Drunk In Love.”
  • Gary Clark, Jr.
  • Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue
  • Sara Bareilles featuring Carole King
  • Daft Punk featuring Nile Rodgers, Stevie Wonder and Pharrell Williams
  • Kendrick Lamar and Imagine Dragons
  • Lorde
  • Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
  • Madonna
  • Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr
  • Metallica featuring Lang Lang
  • Nine Inch Nails, Queens of the Stone Age, Dave Grohl and Lindsey Buckingham
  • Katy Perry featuring Juicy J
  • Pink featuring Nate Ruess
  • Robin Thicke featuring Chicago
Jan
6

Saving Country Music’s 2013 Album of the Year

January 6, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  57 Comments

the-mavericks-in-time

Yes ladies and gentlemen, you’re seeing this right. Do not rub your eyes or adjust your monitors. In a wild upset, coming out of left field, and counter to just about every other music outlet’s top rated albums, Saving Country Music’s Album of the Year for 2013 is none other than the masterpiece from The Mavericks, the infectious celebration of the joys of life and music known as In Time.

Go ahead, leave your comments below about how this album is not country.

saving-country-music-album-of-the-year-2013Great albums dominate genres. Masterpieces defy genres. And that’s what The Mavericks do with In Time.

The Mavericks’ In Time cuts against the grain, and is counterintuitive to all of the well-noted and often-ballyhooed music trends of 2013. 2013 was coined as the “Year of the Woman” in country music by many, and the “Year of the Songwriter” by Saving Country Music and others. In Time doesn’t appreciably reside in either of those distinctions, though I would argue that it’s a much more deft songwriting presentation than it may seem on the surface. And no, it’s not especially country in the traditional sense.

But you reach a point in music where it is so good that no data points, no trends, no narrow-minded ties to genre matter. Music isn’t meant to be over thought as we so often do as active music fans, it is meant to be felt. And the best music simply grips you and allows you to lose yourself in it. In Time reminded this jaded music critic who must toil through reams of albums every day to find something even worthy of writing a few paragraphs about of what it meant to be a music lover all over again.

2013 Saving Country Music Album of the Year Nominees

A masterpiece? I believe so. Singer Raul Malo is the the George Jones and Frank Sinatra of our time all rolled up into one, it’s just our time is gripped by the narrow, short attention span that doesn’t paying proper attention to talent like Raul’s towering vocal gifts that are unparalleled in virtually every corner of music this side of operatic maestros, or the tastefulness of guitar player and harmony singer Eddie Perez, or all of the admirable contributions of The Mavericks’ core and subsidiary players.

the-mavericks-in-timeThe country influences are certainly here, and anyone who asserts otherwise simply isn’t listening through the music to its inner soul. But without question, there are heavy Latin, cajun, surf, rock, and jazz influences here too. In Time is not simply the best album in country music in 2013, it is arguably one of the best, if not the best album in all of American music, and for it not to win the day in it’s home genre of country music would be a silly oversight, and tough to justify as In Time only becomes fortified by the test of time, divested from trend or taste as it is, and embedded with such universal appeal.

In Time by The Mavericks is the one; the only album that left no room for improvement, was both slick and tight, yet alive and breathing from the live aspect of the recording. It looked both forward, and behind. It led, but also paid tribute. It was a gift of music that gave more than any other in 2013, that also promises to continue to give for years to come.

Purchase The Mavericks’ In Time


sturgill-simpson-high-top-mountainSturgill Simpson’s High Top Mountain

Fans of this album will be the first to cry foul, but I will say what many long-time fans that knew Sturgill before this album will all admit: Sturgill has even more in him than High Top Mountain captures. I say this in an appreciative way as someone who has known Sturgill’s music longer than most. Sturgill has a whole career of albums ahead of him, and may win half a dozen Albums of the Year from Saving Country Music and others before it’s all done. But if an artist could have even done more than a particular album displays, however excellent that album may be, it must be considered when making a choice for Album of the Year. Nonetheless, consider High Top Mountain a very close runner up.

jason-isbell-southeasternJason Isbell’s Southeastern

Jason Isbell’s Southeastern should also be considered a very close runner up to In Time. It is an astounding collection of songs, but in the end didn’t carry the weight as a complete album concept the way In Time did in my opinion.

Also interesting to note, I did tally all of the clear and obvious votes from readers for all of the Album of the Year nominees. The Mavericks and In Time beat out Southeastern 20 votes to 19. High Top Mountain got the most with 24, but Saving Country Music is also much more familiar ground for Simpson and Isbell fans. It was interesting to see just how close these three albums came to each other, and it did help influence the outcome.

And lastly I would say, before people scream about how another album should have won, my request is only do so after you have given In Time a chance.

Jan
2

Saving Country Music’s 2013 Artist(s) of the Year

January 2, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  37 Comments

2013-saving-country-music-artist-of-the-yearSaving Country Music’s Artist of the Year, just like the Song of the Year and Album of the Year, is designed to eventually resolve down to one. But this is not always the case. For example in 2010 there were two Albums of the Year because with two worthy contenders giving up nothing to each other, it seemed irresponsible to supplant one for the other because of some silly notion that you can only have one. Such is the case here in 2013 when handing out the honor meant to not just highlight the music, but the man or woman behind it.

It was difficult to whittle down this decision even to two. Raul Malo of The Mavericks had one hell of a year. Songwriter and schoolteacher Possessed by Paul James with both a breakout album There Will Be Nights When I’m Lonely and a “Teacher of the Year” nod seemed to embody the balance of both a great person and a great artist that the Artist of the Year distinction is meant to honor. And if there was a runner up to the two men eventually selected, it would be a collection of all the inspiring women in country music in 2013 presented together as a collective Artist of the Year.

In the end though, two individuals in 2013 outshone all others.


Jason Isbell

jason_isbell_southeastern-_cover-by-michael-wilsonArtists of the Year are not just measured against their peers, they are measured against themselves. We’re inspired by artists because they do things that we can’t. At the same time, the best artists inspire us to try to do things that we thought we never could. How many times does an artist’s finest work proceed an era of turmoil and/or redemption in their personal lives, almost to the point where if you start telling too many of the specifics of their success story, it just begins to feel like platitudes? Jason Isbell is the same man he was before 2013′s rousing success, gifted with the same skills as a guitar player and songwriter, influenced by the same legends and works, with the same Muscle Shoals roots intertwining with his fibers to create his unique interpretation of American roots music.

But 2013 is where it all aligned. You could blame his recently-found sobriety. You could blame his manager Traci Thomas and the entire Thirty Tigers organization that is on the cutting edge of the new music business paradigm of giving artist’s world-class support while allowing them to keep control of their music. Or you could blame the love and support of his new wife, Amanda Shires Isbell. But none of these people could write those songs, or deliver them with such feeling. None of them could get sober for Isbell, nor is getting sober the solution for every artist to stumble into the true essence of themselves, or the fortune to be able to share that essence with a wide, appreciative audience. It’s not like Isbell was some slouch to start, or wasn’t graced with attention or accolades in previous years. It just happens to be that when he was able to refine himself as a man, his music followed suit to create one of the most consensus picks for who outshone everyone else in a given year that we have seen in country/Americana music in a long time.

2013 was Jason Isbell’s year, and Southeastern was 2013′s songwriter album that all others will be measured against for very a long time.


Sturgill Simpson

sturgill-simpsonThe idea that country music needs to be saved is woven into the very fabric of the genre. It’s the reason the Outlaws were able to rise in the 70′s, and deliver country music’s first million-selling album. It’s the reason a song like “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way” can reach #1 in 1975, and a song like “Murder On Music Row” can win the CMA for Song of the Year in 2001.

And within this mythos of country music, and residing in the hearts of millions of despondent country fans is this idea, however fanciful or misguided, that an artist, or a group of artists, could rise up and return sensibility, substance, and the roots of country back to the music. Eric Church once mocked this idea in a song called “Country Music Jesus,” laughing at both the idea that country music needed to be saved, and that we needed some artist to do it.

Did Sturgill Simpson save the country music genre in 2013? Of course not. He didn’t even come close. But what he did do is fulfill that promise that the future of country music will be better than the present for the many true country fans who were fortunate to come in contact with his debut, breakout album High Top Mountain. Sturgill Simpson doesn’t want to save country music, he just wants to play it. He may not even want to call it country music, or care that anyone wants to save country….and that’s one of the reasons that he very well just might.

In some respects, Eric Church, and all the other mainstream artists and fans who say country music must evolve are right. And what Sturgill Simpson proved in 2013 is that country music can evolve, can still feel fresh, invigorated, and renewed, while still paying the highest regard and respects to the roots of the music. But maybe most importantly, and the truth that can bring shivers to all those fans hoping for that one artist that can help turn the country music ship around, is the fact that Sturgill Simpson is only just getting started. A brighter future for country music is what Sturgill Simpson delivered in 2013, and there’s no value or distinction that can repay what that means to the hearts of true country fans.

Dec
27

Saving Country Music’s Best Live Performances of 2013

December 27, 2013 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  22 Comments

best-live-performances-2013The 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)

hellbound-glory-empire-control-room


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)

andrew-bird-tift-merritt-pickathon-2013


7. Jayke Orvis & The Broken Band – The Scoot Inn

jayke-orvis“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.

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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)

lee-bains-glory-firest-sxsw-2013-7


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)

turnpike-troubadours-sxsw-white-horse

Dec
24

Why Country Music Was Great in 2013 (Viral Video)

December 24, 2013 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  36 Comments

country-musicOn Saturday evening (12-21), a writer for Entertainment Weekly named Grady Smith, who recently has become an outspoken advocate for giving independent country musicians equal time, and has been critical about the direction of the male-dominated country music mainstream, posted a video called “Why Country Music Was Awful in 2013“. According to Grady, it was in response to when he posted his 10 Best Country Albums of 2013, naming Jason Isbell, Lindi Ortega, and Sturgill Simpson to the top spots, and readers complained he wasn’t representing the mainstream fairly.

I saw the video from Grady roughly an hour after it was posted, tweeted it out through the official Saving Country Music twitter, and put it as the first item in the News Feed that scrolls off at the top of every page. Nonetheless, as sites both small and large picked up the video and it circulated on social network, I got barraged with messages from anywhere and everywhere wondering if I had seen it. I didn’t respond to any of them, nor did I feel the need to get in on the fun by posting my own dedicated story about the video, because I knew as soon as I saw the video that it would go mega viral and a sense of sheer dread swept over me. Subsequently the video has received nearly 1.5 million views at the time of this post.

Why did a sense of sheer dread sweep over me? Because this is not the type of thing that needs to go viral.

This is not a criticism of Grady Smith. He deserves great credit for making the video, and kudos to him for coming up with the brilliant idea and executing it well. However it took more guts, and deserves more praise for posting his end-of-the-year list on Entertainment Weekly. That is what he should be commended for foremost, and that is what should have gone viral, along with the albums he was recommending with it.

But it didn’t, and they didn’t. Why? Because when you boil it all down, in 2013, the vast majority of people, including many of the people who pride themselves in being active and enlightened country music fans, truly don’t give a shit about “supporting” the music, despite of what they will tell you, or post on social media. This video going viral proves what has been brewing over the last few years, which is that independent country fans, and other country fans otherwise disenfranchised from the mainstream, are many times just as shallow as their mainstream counterparts, finding entertainment in the least common denominator and at the expense of others.

This is the moment when some of you will start laughing, as this statement coming from Saving Country Music is like the pot calling the kettle back. First, I don’t want to diminish whatever effectiveness the video might have at enlightening some folks about the current idiocy of some modern country music. That is why Grady made it; not to entertain the masses that already know this as fact. Grady may have hoped the video would go viral, but rarely do any of us know what button to push to spurn a viral event, or we’d do it on a daily basis.

But why does it take a video like this for a piece of media to go viral? There were many excellent independent country videos this year that great effort was put into that could proselytize the virtues of true music way better than the “Why Country Music Was Awful in 2013″ video. As much as Saving Country Music and other sites might love to make fun of the mainstream, the focus should always be on the positive first. But more and more, album reviews, artist features, song and video premiers, and other such wholesome music coverage is virtually ignored for the latest viral craze.

Saving Country Music, like Entertainment Weekly, posted a lot of end-of-year lists touting recommendations based on this calendar year: a songs list, albums list, video list, etc. But by far the list that got the most attention was are list of the Worst Songs of the Year. That particular list got twice as much traffic as all the other lists combined. It went viral in its own right. Criticism is an important, if not vital part of the spectrum of coverage that ensures a healthy artistic environment. But it can’t be the focus, either by the media, or by the fans. Most of the time, the media does their job. Music journalists got into the business because they love music. But it’s still a business, and they must meet the demands fans are requesting in coverage.

What I’m getting at here is that if similar attention was paid to one video, or one song, or one artist from the top of Grady Smith’s Best Of list instead of this viral video, then today we may be touting Jason Isbell, Lindi Ortega, or Sturgill Simpson straight up busting into the mainstream and making an historic racket for an independent artist, and incidentally, if it was a video or song from one of these artists’ songs, it would have made them a decent amount of money as well. But instead what is the end result of this viral video? We’re all simply assured of what we’d known before about mainstream male music in 2013, while the mainstream fans that listen to this drivel laugh us off as Prius-driving elitists.

And most importantly, I don’t think country music in 2013 was awful, and you don’t have to go any farther than Jason Isbell, Lindi Ortega, or Sturgill Simpson to see why. I think 2013 in country was amazingly positive, inspiringly positive, and I mean that. In the nearly 7 years of running this site, this was the year when I felt a dent was finally made in the pursuit of Saving Country Music.

So I made this video below to illustrate this. Will it go as viral as “Why Country Music Was Awful In 2013″? Of course not. So let’s all as music fans, journalists, advocates, activists, and artists sit back and think about what that really means, and see if in 2014 we can’t make sure to keep our priorities more in focus. I for one vow to.

Dec
18

Saving Country Music’s Best Music Videos of 2013

December 18, 2013 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  25 Comments

2013-best-music-videosThe modern-day music video is a really strange enterprise. Lots of money is spent by artists, and sometimes labels to produce something special; something that really represents the spirit of a song well. But when you look at what people watch, especially when it comes to independent musicians, many times it’s the fan video captured on a consumer-grade piece of technology that draws the most interest. Meanwhile mainstream music videos, especially from male stars, are the epicenter of country music’s decline.

It was just announced that CMT has picked up a whopping 7 new reality shows for their upcoming season. It looks like the era of quality music videos continues to be in decline. But there are still a few artists, and film/video makers out there committed to the art of music videos, and to doing it right.


10. Kacey Musgraves – “Follow Your Arrow”

Okay I’ll admit it, I wouldn’t like this video half as much if Kacey Musgraves didn’t look so good in blue hot pants.


9. Kenny Chesney Concert PSA

In the aftermath of the massive mess and 73 arrests at the Kenny Chesney / Eric Church concert  June 22nd at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field, resulting in shocking photos at the amount of litter left by fans, benstonium.com posted this hilarious parody of the crying Indian PSA. Don’t ask what a “Yinzer” is.


8. Caitlin Rose – “Only A Clown”

Caitlin Rose is one of the few artists that has a nose for the offbeat, engaging video. Last year’s “Piledriver Waltz” video was a standout as well.

“The video for ‘Only a Clown’ is executed with great vision by Michael Carter, resurrecting the VHS format for texture and capturing the thin line between fun and forlornness that accompanies the freedom of the 20-something existence.” (read full review)


7. Sturgill Simpson - “Sturgill Simpson – “You Can Have The Crown / Some Days” (Live at Sun King Brewery)

What scripted videos usually lack is that ability to capture a magical moment in time where it all “clicks” and you get the shivers that only a live experience can afford. This two-song video from the Sun King Brewery has a few of them.


6. Sturgill Simpson – “Railroad of Sin”

“Sturgill threatens to take the high-flying act international by boarding a puddle jumper and puttering over to the Land of the Rising Sun to record the video for his heart-pounding, hot plate, house on fire, country as hell, soon to be hit single ‘Railroad of Sin.’ ‘Godzillabilly’ is what’s he’s patterning the theme, as the Kentucky native and Nashville resident takes a high arching swan dive deep into culture shock.

Johnny Cash may have not been born in Nagasaki, and bullet trains may not be equipped with lonesome whistles, but the Orient is where Hank Jr. picked up his official nickname for Waylon Jennings: ‘Watashin!’ which means, ‘old #1′ and you’d be hard pressed to find a more modern resemblance to Waymore than one Sturgill Simpson. So keep clear of the closing doors, strap in tight, and get ready to speed away on Sturgill Simpson’s ‘Railroad of Sin.’” (read full review)


5. Jason Isbell – “Elephant” Live at SiriusXM Outlaw Country

Capturing the true emotion and inspiration behind a song is what we all want from a video. Yet it so often becomes elusive by the superfluous additions in the production of a full-blown music video. Sometimes all you need is just the man and a guitar.


4. Fred Eaglesmith – “Johnny Cash”

This video stimulated a little controversy when it was released in March. Is Eaglesmith being too harsh, too judgmental? Maybe, but it’s hard to argue that he made one hell of a video.

“When the prevailing image of Johnny Cash in culture is one of him flipping the bird, the argument can be made that it’s the wholesale reduction of a man of such towering accomplishments and time-tested faith. At some point the imagery and cult-of-celebrity of Johnny Cash trumped the man himself, and society lost sight of his greatest contribution: his noble and charitable spirit.” (read full review)


3. Lindi Ortega – “Tin Star”

This video of Lindi’s Song of the Year Nominee “Tin Star” captures the spirit and theme of her emotionally-drenched foray into the realities that many independent-minded musicians face so well.


2. Matt Woods – “Deadman’s Blues”

The point of any video is to get you to pay attention to an artist and their song. One of the problems with many videos is they take an artist’s song and try to interpret too literally, eroding the mystery from the song, robbing it of its ability to mean different things to different people. The video for “Deadman’s Blues” is quite literal, but done so well and with such heart, it bucks this trend. Though I put “I’ll Sing About Mine” a step ahead, it really is #1 and #1A with these two videos. They represent really listening to the songs and then interpreting their messages in the visual format.

(read “Deadman’s Blues” review)


1. Josh Abbott Band – “I’ll Sing About Mine”

“The best part about Josh Abbott’s “I’ll Sing About Mine” video is the faces of the people. I’ll guaran-damn-tee you all of these people are real folks from real places. What’s even better is these scenes they’re in are the same scenes you see in pop country videos–the back of pickup trucks, out on the farm, on a tractor or 4-wheeler, at a football game. But the scenes are 100% real. These people are so ragingly authentic and their faces tell such gripping stories, you want to take every single one of them and put them in your pocket so you can feel the honest, simple goodness in their souls all day long. If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then a face is worth a million.” (read full review)

Dec
13

Why Producer Dave Cobb Is The Real Winner of 2013

December 13, 2013 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  19 Comments

dave-cobb-producerAbout this time of year virtually every magazine, website, and blog is bombarding their readership with end-of-year lists of which artists they feel are worthy of the highest praise for their 2013 effort. The whole practice has become a little nauseating for the consumer as the redundancy on many lists and the sheer number of them being pushed through social media erode the underlying concept of the lists: to help listeners break through the din of an overpopulated music landscape to discover the best stuff. Then there’s the ethics questions if music should be approached as competition at all. Ultimately the reason there are so many lists is because they are effective and appealing in helping listeners determine what to listen to.

Included on many, if not virtually all of those 2013 lists, especially in the independent country and Americana realms is the latest effort by former Drive By Trucker turned solo artist Jason Isbell called Southeastern. Seen as the current watermark of his career and a captivating songwriting effort capturing a clear-eyed, post-rehab Isbell at his apex, Southeastern is one of those rare consensus builders amongst critics as one of the year’s best.

Nipping at the heels on some lists, and overtaking Southeastern on others is the debut album High Top Mountain from former Sunday Valley frontman, Kentucky’s Sturgill Simpson. A much more country effort compared to Isbell, but just as bold of a songwriting project, Simpson has many people labeling him as a country music savior, and the artist they have been waiting years for to emerge in the independent country scene.

And not to be outdone is the dark Canadian singing-songwriting vixen Lindi Ortega, and her tantalizing album Tin Star that has also found its way at or near the top of many 2013 lists; an album highlighting her rising voice and remarkable gift for story and composition.

Though the sound of these three respective albums is fairly disparate, their influences are certainly not the same, the artists are from different locales, and the genres they represent are varied shades of the country music theme, they all have one thing in common: a virtually unnoticed and rarely heralded behind-the-scenes producer named Dave Cobb.

dave-cobbJust as the prevalence of year-end lists has grown in recent years, so too it seems has the trend of performing artists getting into the producer game, and big, franchise name producers like T Bone Burnett being heralded more and more for their producer services. Not that someone like Jack White or even Justin Townes Earle can’t make a great producer, or that T Bone Burnett is some kind of slouch. But for some projects, it becomes more about the name on the back of the album in the fine print instead of the name on the front. A producer’s name can be used as a marketing tool, and to create interest from fans and media venues. “The new album produced by the same producer of The Civil Wars!” “The T Bone Burnett-produced debut album, produced by T Bone Burnett!”

The best producers are usually the ones who prefer to remain subordinate to the artists they work with. Similarly, the best producers don’t come in and mold an album to their sound, but help the artists they work with develop their own. Producers aren’t supposed to be noticed. Critics may sometimes mention a producer’s name and how they may have influenced a certain project, but everyday fans just know when they like an album or not. Noticing the production of an album is like noticing an offensive lineman in a football game. It’s rarely a good thing. The focus should be on the music itself.

But that doesn’t mean producers shouldn’t be heralded or receive credit, especially when they’ve had a banner year like Dave Cobb’s 2013. Cobb has enjoyed some other successful albums, and good years in the past too. Similar to how Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, and Lindi Ortega have become critical darlings in 2013, Jamey Johnson’s last two original albums that graced the top of many end-of-year lists, That Lonesome Song and The Guitar Song, both featured Dave Cobb at the helm. The Secret Sisters’ self-titled breakout album was also produced by Cobb, and so were Shooter Jennings’ first four records. And his list of producer credits goes on and on from there.

But you would never know all of this unless you went poking around, looking for producer credits and connecting the dots. Dave Cobb is not out to perpetuate his cult of personality through his producership role. He’s just looking to make good music. And in 2013, he certainly did.

Dec
5

2013 Saving Country Music Song of the Year Nominees

December 5, 2013 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  96 Comments

saving-country-music-song-of-the-year-2013When you sit down to assemble a list of candidates for Song of the Year, you almost start to tremble in the face of so much creativity, inspiration, and insight, and grow humbled by how fortunate we are to live in such a bountiful time for music. Candidates for Song of the Year can’t just be songs we enjoy, they are songs that make you change the way you see the world, or change the way you see yourself.

Honorable mentions go to just about any song on John Moreland‘s Album of the Year candidate In The Throes. There were a few on the Brennen Leigh & Noel McKay‘s Before The World Was Made that nearly made it. Hank3‘s “Broken Boogie” was on the bubble, and would have made it in a year with a less-crowded field, and so would songs from some of 2013′s breakout female songwriters like Ashley Monroe, Caitlin Rose, Valerie June, and Brandy Clark, whose “Stripes” could have very well made it if the candidates were extended beyond the already hefty field of 10.

2013 Saving Country Music Album of the Year Nominees

Audience participation is strongly encouraged, and will influence the outcome. Leave your opinions, write-in candidates, or other observations or opinions 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.


Josh Abbott Band – “I’ll Sing About Mine” from Small Town Family Dream

Written by Adam Hood and Brian Keane, “I’ll Sing About Mine” appears on 2012′s Small Town Family Dream, but was released as a single with a new video in early 2013. It was 2013′s first strong Song of the Year candidate, and very well may be the best.

“The great thing about “I’ll Sing About Mine” is the non-judgmental, even-keeled manner with which it delivers its message. It takes a lot of patience and a lot of heart to say what this song says without flying off the handle or flipping birds. It makes its point with as few pointed words as possible… It understands that really, few words need to be said, because deep down every human knows what’s real and what isn’t. They just have to be reminded, and then the momentum of the truth will do the rest.” (read full review)


Matt Woods – “Deadman’s Blues”

There are so many artists, so many songs and albums out there today, for any individual artist to stand out, they darn near have to stand on their head and turn somersaults to get our attention. It’s sad but true, but that’s what Matt Woods does with “Deadman’s Blues.”

“We ask a lot of our independent country and roots artists. We want them to release new music early and often, even though it stings them in the pocketbook to record. We want them to play our stupid town, even though it is way out of their way and the turnout will be light. We want them to perform in small, intimate venues, even though it’s not financially feasible for trying to take care of themselves, or God forbid, raise a family. We don’t want them to be too successful, lest their music loses its pain and soul. We don’t want them to age. We want them to see all the places, and do all the things we can’t, and maintain a party-filled lifestyle so we can then live vicariously though them as our own legs grow roots and our lives prosper from stability.” (read full review)


Wade Bowen – “Songs About Trucks”

Written by Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally, “Songs About Trucks” is 2013′s most cunning protest song. But it’s a protest song that offers a little something more.

“Once again a member of the Texas music scene has delivered a song that gives voice and reason to how the rest of us feel. Wade Bowen’s “Trucks” aims its big, diamond-plated bumper at the incessant references to tailgates and four wheel drives in modern pop country songs and slams on the gas. At the same time, it practices what it preaches, making sure to instill some story and soul into the song along the way, instead of just being a vehicle for protest.” (read full review)


Lindi Ortega – “Tin Star” from Tin Star

Lindi Ortega can melt your heart and make you feel the pain of a song like few others, and the beauty of “Tin Star” is the personal nature of the narrative, and how Lindi delivers it’s humble message with such loving care. She coddles this song like one would a malnourished kitten that shows up on your doorstep, or and old pair of scuffed and dusty boots found at a thrift store that she then nurses back to health and vitality, polishes and buffs up to shine to present to the world proudly.

“It’s admittedly hard to hold on to your objectivity when this raven from the Great White North rises in song and such a wave of emotion and beauty grips you that your rationality is sent reeling and all your senses are completely submerged and made submissive to her sway. Lindi Ortega is a creature of the darkness. She highlights the beauty in the world not by shining a light on it, but painting the rest black until the beauty is all that is left. She cherishes life by celebrating death. She makes you feel joy by bringing you to tears. She is the antithesis to an obvious, transparent world, all freshly fallen snow and onyx—biting, contrasting, revitalizing the attention to life and its many dark beauties simply by her presence.” (read full review of the album Tin Star)


Charlie Robison – “Monte Carlo” – from High Life

I’m nominating “Monte Carlo” here officially, but it has a companion song “Out Of These Blues” that is also on High Life and that pairs with it so perfectly, and is also written by Robison’s sister Robyn Ludwick. If someone asked me to play them an example of quintessential Texas country music, these would be the songs I would choose. Texas country masterpieces.

“Can’t say enough about these tracks, the excellence in songwriting they achieve, and Charlie’s ability to interpret their stories perfectly through song. They’re both very similar, and different all the same in the way they convey a feeling of forlornness, but still are imbibed with such a warm sense of memory that a sad story leaves you filled with a happy feeling. The way the chorus of ‘Monte Carlo’ strings you out for so long, hanging in the bubbly moments only the best music can attain, you wish this song could go on forever, and it’s so good it probably could.” (read full review of High Life)


Austin Lucas – “Alone In Memphis” from Stay Reckless

Austin Lucas proves he’s worth the label as one of 2013′s breakout artists with this lead single from his New West debut, Stay Reckless.

“Whether electric or acoustic, Austin only knows one way to perform a song: with 100% passion, until the song’s inspiration manifests right there on stage and coats every word. Even if you hate the lyrics, or can’t connect to the story of ‘Alone In Memphis,’ it is written perfectly to pull the emotion right out of Austin every time and spill it out amongst the audience in a moment of shared reflection and commiseration on one of the most fundamental failings of the human condition—our inability to feel stable without the company of another.

“Great songwriters know how to write to their strengths, and that is what Austin does in ‘Alone in Memphis.’” (read full review)


Sturgill Simpson – “Life Ain’t Fair and the World Is Mean” from High Top Mountain

Due to a technicality in Saving Country Music’s vast and complex bylaws, even though this song was considered for Song of the Year in 2012, since it was released on an album this year, it qualifies to be considered again.

“The magic of “Life Ain’t Fair” is the way it trivializes all the issues it raises by simply pointing out the obvious: that life’s unfairness is inherent, and complaining about it or using it as an excuse to not pursue your dreams is foolish. It’s cynical and inspirational all at the same time, and that feat of acrobatics can’t be performed without some acute dexterity and prowess with the pen.” (read full review)


JB Beverley – “Disappear On Down The Line” from Stripped to the Root

It’s a shame that the best songs tend to come from the deepest despair, creating the paradoxical, and sometimes self-destructive existence that many of the most talented and storied songwriters live. As JB Beverley says about “Disappear On Down The Line”:

“I was in my home, totally isolated and alone, my woman had left, I’d buried my friends, and all the proverbial voices of doubt and chaos, and all this negative stuff was fueling my mind at the time. I use the parable that the demons were dragging me down. Granted, there weren’t literally ghouls in the room tugging me through the floorboards, but as far as the emotional, spiritual, and mental direst and in some instances torment I was under, it was very real.” (read full interview)


Holly Williams – “Drinkin’” – from The Highway

This is one of those songs every other songwriter beats themselves up for not writing. Beautifully complex in its simplicity, both enigmatically deep and pleasantly colloquial, Holly Williams proves the Williams’ bloodline is still virile with an unconventional tune with universal impact on the weary soul yearning for respite. Where has Holly Williams been? She may have taken the roundabout way to finding herself, but she’s here now, and our ears couldn’t be happier.

“Where Holly Williams’ career and releases left her neither here nor there before, now she has found her voice, has found her place, and that place is amongst the talented women doing what they can to return the greater country music world to a place of substance.” (read full review for The Highway)


Jason Isbell – “Elephant” from Southeastern

Trying to pick one song from Jason Isbell’s album Southeastern to represent on this list is like asking a rainbow its favorite color. So if you think another song is more worthy, you’re opinion is probably warranted, so just put your chips on “Elephant” in its stead.

“‘Elephant’ is just downright unfair. Though this trend of token Cancer songs dotting nearly every country album released in the past few years is alarming, Isbell’s offering is far from a saccharine and sappy vie for radio play. It is a complete deconstruction and compromising of the emotional guards protecting a listener’s heart told in shockingly-real language, allowing the chemicals of empathetic response to run pure.” (read full review of Southeastern)

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