Browsing articles tagged with " Jason Isbell"
Sep
29

A Meow Mix Commercial Speaks To Bro-Country’s Critical Mass

September 29, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  13 Comments

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There’s that moment when every stylistic trend in popular culture reaches critical mass, and where before most everyone used to be on board with the trend, they’re now part of a backlash that brews en masse when something that had little substance or long-term future to begin with begins to sour in the minds of fickle American consumers.

This is the moment in time we find ourselves in with Bro-Country. The distaste for this hyper-trend has become so effusive, it has spread not just throughout disenfranchised country music fans, but throughout the entire American culture and beyond. People who are not even country music listeners are finding Bro-Country on their televisions when they tune into a college football game and Florida Georgia Line is singing the intro, or they hear a Bro-Country song playing out of the car beside them at a stop light or over the speakers at a store. And they’re all wondering to themselves, “What the hell happened to country music?”

Case in point, last week people were meowing over a newly-released video marrying Meow Mix cat food with what appeared to be a Bro-Country parody called “Country Cat.” The two-minute video performed by country artist J.R. Moore enlists typical sonic and lyrical tropes of country music’s current hyper-trend into a humorous advertisement as part of a Meow Mix brand relaunch.

The ad is one of the first salvos from a company called Pop Up Music, which is the Nashville offshoot of Jingle Punks—one of the leading companies in crafting jingles for commercials, television, and movies in the United States. Pop Up Music opened their outlet in Nashville just this month, and are already releasing live content. “Country Cat” is actually part of a three-part series that started with a video poking fun at EDM stereotypes, and will be debuting a new video “Hipster Orchestra” coming soon.

“People no longer just want to license hit music or pay for talent fees from standard celebrities,” says Jared “Jingle” Gutstadt, the CEO of Jingle Punks. “People want platforms and good ideas. We’ve been able to create music content as the hub of advertising strategies and ride shotgun with some of the best and brightest agencies in the world … Where in the past, music needed to be marketed, people no longer consume music the same way. People enjoy music and the audience for it is growing faster than ever before, but the way that it’s being consumed and paid for is shifting the power back to a lot of marketing and branding agencies.”

In other words, the lines between commercial or advertising content, and creative content, are blurring like never before. And this Meow Mix parody is a perfect example of this emerging paradigm. But is it really supposed to be a parody of Bro-Country, or is it just an example of country music in general? If it targets Bro-Country specifically, this would be yet another sign that the amusement at Bro-Country has become so effusive throughout culture, that it can even be used in advertising. The only way an advertising video like this works is if it resonates with the public at large, and not just with a small segment of disgruntled country fans.

j-r-moore-meow-mix-2“Some of the guys from Jingle Punks actually wrote this song, and yes, it is entirely meant to be a parody of bro-country,” “Country Cat” singer J.R. Moore explains to Saving Country Music.We wrote several songs in different country styles, but when this one came up, it became very clear that bro-country was the way to go. It was always intended to be very tongue-in-cheek, especially trying to play it straight in the beginning of the song until the reveal that it’s about a cat.” 

J.R. Moore explains that he wasn’t reluctant to put on the Bro-Country hat to pull off the parody. “People should know that the song (and the commercial, for that matter) was intended to give people a chuckle. I am actually a serious artist, with songs that aren’t intended to be jokes. But I’m not too serious to laugh at myself or a genre that’s easy to pick on (or wear fake tattoos and a sleeveless denim hooded shirt). We had a lot of fun with the song and the shooting of the video, and we hope everyone else does, too.”

For a decade J.R. Moore fronted the successful rock outfit Ingram Hill and is now launching a solo country career with an EP due out in 2015. After finding him on Twitter, it was clear he was a fan of artists like Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson. I’ve been an Isbell fan for quite a while, and though I’m a little late to the game on Sturgill, I absolutely love his music. I was very lucky to be in L.A. at the same time as him recently and was able to catch his show at the Troubadour. Great stuff.

When similar hyper trends in music began to show signs of dying like Disco or 80′s hair metal, one of the first signs of the public’s souring on the trend was the permeation of humor and parody making fun of the musical styles. To have a huge advertising agency and a major national brand recognize that a Bro-Country parody would elicit a humorous response from the public at large could speak to just where we are in Bro-Country’s lifespan. Just like Maddie & Tae’s “Girl In A Country Song,” this silly cat commercial resonates.

Sep
29

Country Artists And Their Famous Look Alikes

September 29, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  18 Comments

briand-kelley-doogie-houserHave you ever been scanning through photos of your favorite (or least favorite) artists and thought, “Hot damn! That dude look just like this other dude!” From eery similarities like Sturgill Simpson and Javier Bardem’s creepy character from the movie No Country For Old Men, to Johny Paul White and Johnny Depp who I am pretty much convinced are the same exact person, here are some country artists and their famous doppelgangers.

 


Jason Isbell (Americana Artist of the Year) – Matthew Stafford (Detroit Lions Quarterback)

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Brian Kelley (Florida Georgia Line) – Doogie Houser (M.D.)

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John Paul White (The Civil Wars) – Johnny Depp (part-time pirate)

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Sturgill Simpson – Javier Bardem from No Country For Old Men

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Seth Avett (The Avett Brothers) – Ashton Kutcher

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Jeremy Fetzer (Steelism, Caitlin Rose guitar player) – Joey Lawrence (Blossom-era {whoa!})

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David Allan Coe – Geico Caveman

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Scotty McCreery – Alfred P. Newman

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Kristian Bush (Sugarland) – Lucky Charms leprechaun

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Colt Ford – Grimmace

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Tyler Hubbard (Florida Georgia Line) – A Bottle of Massengill (douche)

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Sep
24

The Whiskey Shivers Shine in New Self-Titled LP

September 24, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  3 Comments

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Trust me when I say if you go ambling through American college towns, you won’t find anything resembling a dearth of string bands with a bunch of young men and their banjos and fiddles stomping and shouting on stage. What you will find a dearth of are these bands that are actually worth listening to, at least outside of the context of a drunken college town barroom. It is in that spirit that I present to you the Whiskey Shivers and their brand new self-titled album that enlists the speed we haven’t heard since .357 String Band, The Dinosaur Truckers, and early Trampled By Turtles, yet entails a completely different vibe from the dark or emotional mood of those efforts.

The best way to describe The Whiskey Shivers is as a bluegrass party band. Oh but don’t worry you Stanley Brothers and Bill Monroe bluegrass Bible thumpers, they’re not going out of their way to call themselves pure bluegrass, and there’s a lot more to their show than just a party. What makes the Whiskey Shivers special though is it just seems like five guys on stage having tons of fun while you get to listen in. It’s this vibe they bring to the building that leaves cadres of rabid fans behind at every stop.

The Whiskey Shivers have been around for a few years now, and the Austin-based band has some national tours with bigger names such as Scott H. Biram, Larry & His Flask, and Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers under their belt. They played at Stagecoach this year right beside artists like Jason Isbell, to as high as Eric Church and Jason Aldean. They appeared at ACL Fest last autumn. And the whole time they’ve been building up a grassroots fan base from their infectious and fun live shows.

the-whiskey-shiversWhat the band was lacking heretofore was a really good record to represent the energy they ignite on stage for the folks who wanted to take the Whiskey Shivers home with them. The few homespun offerings available at the merch table over the years had a lot of spirit, but did not do their live show justice. So for this effort they solicited the services of rising Americana star Robert Ellis as a producer, and set out to make what they hoped to be their definitive studio album that would set them apart from the string band hordes. I’m happy to report this album does just that.

In fact this album doesn’t just capture what the Whiskey Shivers do live, it elevates it. The wild-eyed and dirty sound of the band is what makes them so lovable, but that also leaves room for improvement in composition and arrangement that could elevate their game that much more. That was the trick for producer Robert Ellis—get these boys to behave just a tad, clean up and arrange those five-part harmonies properly, cinch up those licks a little tighter, etc., but do this all while not polishing away the magic at the Whiskey Shivers’ core. And in turn this could also improve the live show from the band by being that much more mindful of arrangements and boundaries.

Just a look at the Whiskey Shivers’ multi-cultural lineup and you see this isn’t you’re typical string band. Some consider fiddle player Bobby Fitzgerald as the frontman, but really each player brings something unique to the table that is important to the Whiskey Shivers’ magic. Where the band had originally leaned on covers, all but one of the songs on this self-titled album are originals, allowing each member to have their voice be heard.

Though some of the songs on the album still feel like they’re trying with some degree of difficulty to capture the live feel in the recorded context like “Been Looking For” and “Hot Party Dads,” many of the songs came to life in a way the live show could never afford. Their droning spiritual “Graves” is one of those songs that feels immediately timeless, and you could see this being embedded in some big Hollywood movie, or even have one built around it. The trapping of a band that relies on speed is they tend to be known for speed and speed only, but in songs like “Friends” and especially “Pray For Me” they show they can thrive in the mid-tempo, and adding the steel guitar texture to the latter turned out to be a really savvy call. And though you wouldn’t traditionally consider the Whiskey Shivers as super pickers or compositional masters (this is no Punch Brothers, but that’s the point), the last song “Swarm” illustrates a lot more depth than some may expect from this project.

Taming the beast without destroying its wild wonder is what this self-titled LP accomplishes, and it should frame the Whiskey Shivers as one of the string bands worthy of more wide, national recognition as young band on the rise.

1 3/4 of 2 Guns Up.

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Preview & Purchase Tracks from Whiskey Shivers

Sep
15

How Billboard’s New Consumption Chart Could Have A Big Impact

September 15, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  31 Comments

billboardWhen Billboard implemented sweeping changes to their chart configurations in October of 2012, it was predicted at the time by many that these changes would fundamentally modify the industry in historic ways, ushering in an era where popular American music would rapidly succumb to the monogenre, and distinctions of separate genres would slowly become irrelevant. Artists who did not occupy the “crossover” realm would see diminished significance, and music would all begin to sound the same.

Subsequently that is exactly what we have seen, and the fingerprints of Billboard 2012′s rules changes can be found all over malevolent trends in country music, including the rise of “Bro-Country,” the institution of rap and EDM elements in country in a widespread manner, and the continued struggles of the genre to support and develop female artists. And country music is not alone. The Billboard rap charts have seen similar homogenization, at least in part because of the new rules. Virtually every individual genre’s charts, and thus the music itself and how it’s manufactured and marketed, have been affected in fundamental ways by these changes. And it may about to get much worse.

Many of the changes Billboard made to their charts in October of 2012 were not only necessary, they were much past due. Rating consumer interactions such as streams on Spotify and plays on YouTube were important to give both consumers and industry professionals a better illustration of the importance and performance of a given track. The problematic change was a rule governing “crossover” material. It allowed artists such as Taylor Swift, Luke Bryan, and Florida Georgia Line to receive credit for radio play and other consumer activity in the pop world on the genre specific country charts. This restricted the ability for artists with no crossover appeal to be successful in their genre specific rankings, while artists that released rap remixes, or songs that appealed to pop radio as well as country to fare much greater.

But the October 2012 changes Billboard implemented didn’t fundamentally change the structure of the charts themselves. You still had an album chart, based off of how many cohesive albums—physical or digital—a given artist sold in a week period. You still had the airplay charts, which ranked songs specifically by how many spins DJ’s gave them across the country. And you had the Hot Songs chart, which now took into consideration crossover data, and a new suite of streaming and other consumer interaction data, but it was still the same fundamental chart meant to give a more broad picture of a song’s impact.

Now that all might change. Or at least, these traditional charts may be so significantly diminished in importance, they are rendered virtually insignificant, especially the album charts. And once again, with these chart changes could come fundamental musical changes from the industry to try and take advantage of these new metrics.

This new, sweeping system is currently being called the “Consumption Chart,” and it is presently being constructed by Billboard in conjunction with Nielsen SoundScan—the company that aggregates consumer data, including sales, streams, YouTube views, and other data that goes into building Billboard’s charts. Billboard and SoundScan are currently tweaking on the specifics of the new chart—one of which is how to aggregate streaming data, which is currently being tabulated by hand.  Though there is no hard and fast date of when the Consumption Chart may be rolled out, the word from HITS Daily Double is that Billboard hopes to have it in place by the very beginning of next year so that when the new music ranking system starts, it can have an entire year to give a more cohesive picture to both consumers and industry.

One of the strange aspects about Billboard’s 2012 changes is since they happened in not just the middle of a year, but in the middle of a business quarter, it created a dirty data situation where the rules governing songs changed in the middle of the game. There was also little to no warning ahead of the changes being made. Billboard’s new rules came somewhat unexpectedly and were implemented immediately. Though indications are the roll out of the Consumption Chart will wait until the end of the year, especially since Billboard and SoundScan want to give themselves proper lead time to make sure their system is road tested and debugged before being debuted to the public, there’s no guarantee we may not wake up one morning and find that the way music is measured has been massively overhauled yet again.

What Is The Billboard Consumption Chart?

To put it simply, The Billboard Consumption Chart would be a combination of an album and a song chart. Instead of just considering physical album sales to gauge an album’s performance, the new chart would take song plays from streaming data and turn them into equivalent album sales. The idea is to bridge the gap between artists who receive a lot of streaming interaction but have marginal physical sales, and artists who have strong physical sales but don’t experience a lot of streaming activity. All indications are that Billboard hopes that this new Consumption Chart will become the industry standard for rating music.

According to HITS Daily Double:

The weekly chart will combine album and track sales with audio and video streams, assigning an equivalent-album value to each, as in the TEA metric, theoretically providing a more accurate and comprehensive representation of modern-day music consumption … Billboard’s album sales chart will remain in place, but most observers believe it will take on decreasing importance over time as the business acclimates itself to the new system … In some respects, the consumption chart will mirror the present sales charts in that sales and streaming tend to correlate, with certain exceptions … Overall, the most dramatic effect of the consumption chart will be to lengthen the tails of bona fide hits by measuring their aftermarket impact, potentially providing the labels with additional time in which to market these hits.

A mock up of the new chart was made last week, and the biggest takeaway was that albums for artists whose consumers mostly listen to songs on Spotify and YouTube instead of actually purchasing the album received a significant boost in the new metric by making “album equivalent” gains from the amount of streams and plays songs received. For example, the album Settle by the EDM duo Disclosure went from #213 on the album chart based purely off of sales, all the way up to #64 based off of these “album equivalent” streams and plays. That is a 149-spot difference just from the new Consumption Chart reporting method. Another example is Katy Perry’s album Prism, which moved from #61 to #16.

How The Consumption Chart Could Hurt Older and Independent Artists

What this all means is that artists who do well with physical album sales and digital downloads could be significantly diminished in this new system, while artists who primarily have their music heard through streaming methods will see a significant boost. This could immediately put older artists, and independent artists at a significant disadvantage.

Recently we have seen older country artists such as Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, and Billy Joe Shaver set career chart records with their album releases because these artist’s older fan bases are one of the few demographics left that actually buy albums. But since these artist’s streaming footprint is significantly less, this new Consumption Chart would see them fare significantly worse compared to the current system.

Same could be said for many independent artists like Old Crow Medicine Show, Sturgill Simpson or Jason Isbell, whose fan bases are more likely to buy physical albums to help support the artist. These artists have seen significant boosts from chart performances recently, and this could go away under the new system. Artists who rely heavily on vinyl sales like Jack White could also see diminishing returns from the new charting system.

Since these charts are used to gauge the importance and impact an artist has in the marketplace, a diminishing of them on the charts could affect their overall sales, or their acknowledgement by the industry. Once again, just like Billboard’s 2012 chart rules, the new system very well may create even a greater discrepancy between the have’s and have not’s of music, and see more attention paid to the biggest artists, the biggest songs, and the biggest albums.

One big question for the Consumption Chart is if it takes into consideration the greater commitment a consumer shows by purchasing a physical album or downloading an entire copy instead of streaming an individual song or consuming it in a free environment such as YouTube. Does it also take into consideration that these physical and digital sales generally result in more revenue for the artist, the labels, and the industry as a whole? Where streaming is currently gutting the industry, physical sales are one of the the last bastions of revenue, including vinyl sales which are on the rapid increase.

Once again, certain changes are probably necessary to Billboard’s charts to take into consideration the new realities of consumer’s consumption habits when it comes to music. But it shouldn’t be at the expense of artists who are already struggling under the current system.

The good news is that this Consumption Chart has yet to be implemented, and so there is still time to understand what its impact might be and game plan for it, or even to influence the direction it might take before it is rolled out. This opportunity did not pose itself in 2012.

And as Billboard will probably point out, there’s no plans to put away the purely sales-based album chart. But many industry experts believe it will be significantly diminished under the new system. Some believe this new system could be dead on arrival, while others think it is necessary to keep Billboard’s relevance in the marketplace alive.

As HITS Daily Double asks, “In what ways will attempts be made to manipulate the new chart, and what new games will labels play in order to get a leg up on the competition? Will the consumption chart mean the end of the SoundScan-era emphasis on the first week of release, or will the majors figure out new ways to max out that total?”

Either way, if the changes made by Billboard in 2012 were any indication, the Consumption Chart could have a significant impact on music much beyond simply how it is measured.

Sep
14

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

September 14, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  5 Comments

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

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

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

And then there’s Sammy Brue.

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

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

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

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

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

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Download the Sammy Brue NoiseTrade EP

Purchase Justin Townes Earle’s Single Mothers

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Sep
9

Scott Borchetta Tried to Convince Taylor Swift to Stay Country

September 9, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  59 Comments

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Taylor Swift, who just made her big switch from country to pop, is the focus of Rolling Stone‘s cover story in the latest issue, and the in-depth feature finds Miss Swift dunking in the ocean fully clothed and dropping some very interesting tidbits that could help country music perform its postmortem about why Taylor Swift left and what it really means.

The first interesting nugget from the article is how the Country Music Antichrist and head of Big Machine Records Scott Borchetta attempted to keep Taylor Swift in the genre, or at least tried to convince Swift to give him some country singles that he could use to keep her in the country fold.

A casual fan won’t notice much difference, but to Swift and her brand, it’s a big step. She says she won’t be going to country-awards shows or promoting the album on country radio. When she first turned in the record, she says the head of her label, Scott Borchetta, told her, “This is extraordinary – it’s the best album you’ve ever done. Can you just give me three country songs?”

“Love you, mean it,” is how Swift characterizes her response. “But this is how it’s going to be.”

But even more interesting is the wisdom, either purposeful or accidental, that Taylor Swift dropped about trying to pursue a dual musical life, and what the result could be…

One of the quizzical things about Taylor Swift’s country departure is how unnecessary it seemed. The genre has moved so far in the pop direction, she wouldn’t need to deliver Scott Borchetta three country songs to stay country. Swift could simply release any song she wanted to country radio, and they probably would play it. In fact, some country stations are playing Swift’s new single anyway. But this course would have continued the incessant conflict that has dogged Swift’s career since its inception about how she’s not country. By officially making the switch to pop, she puts most of those criticisms to bed.

Also, since Borchetta is being portrayed in the article as trying to keep Swift within the country fold at least to some extent, it shows that Swift’s decision was not based on business. Something else that was strange about Taylor’s move to pop was it seems to be going against the grain of the current trends in popular music. Most pop music is moving towards country not away from it, because country is seen as the greenest pasture at the moment, continuing to gain market share and solidify its place as the most popular genre of music. But Swift’s move appears to be more philosophical, and perhaps, a little more long-sighted; more long-sighted than the view country music is currently taking of itself.

In the Rolling Stone article, Swift acknowledges that her last album, 2012′s Red, straddled the boundary between country and pop. “But at a certain point, if you chase two rabbits, you lose them both,” Swift says.

While most people will likely gloss over this point in the article as they try to spy a wet Taylor Swift nipple through her white shirt or obsess on if it’s really Katy Perry she’s apparently calling out with one of her new songs, there is wisdom here that country music would be smart to heed. When you try to appeal to everyone, which country music is trying to do right now by being so open to pop, rap, and EDM sounds, you end up not capturing anyone. All of the “rabbits” (to use Swift’s analogy) go hopping away, and you’re left in the popular music lurch, just like rock music is at the moment.

The fashionable claim to make right now is that genres don’t matter, and you don’t just hear this from country music’s biggest pop stars, but from independent and Americana artists like Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson. But what Taylor Swift did by declaring herself pop is she proved why they still do. Taylor Swift is the most popular artist of the current generation, and she felt the need to more clearly define herself and her music, not because it was necessary or even commercially lucrative, but because it was smarter in the long-term and extricated her from confusion and conflict. She defined herself as pop against the wishes of her label, and against popular trends. And now her career is on more sure footing, and she can be more confident in herself and in her music moving forward, and ironically, gain the respect of many of her country detractors over the years for finally being honest.

Again, most will allow for this wisdom to zoom right over their heads. But Miss Swift just proved she’s one step ahead, and one measure wiser than the industry she just left.

Sep
5

Jason Isbell & Kellie Pickler to Release Pink Vinyl

September 5, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  14 Comments

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Some of your favorite music from the country world and beyond is going pink on September 30th to help spread awareness and raise money for those suffering from Breast Cancer as part of the music world’s contribution to Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October. Red Distribution and Gilda’s House are partnering to offer “Ten Bands / One Cause” limited edition pink vinyl releases with proceeds going to Gilda’s House. Jason Isbell’s Southeastern, Kellie Pickler’s The Woman I Am, St. Paul & The Broken Bones’ Half The City, and seven other worthy projects will receive the pink treatment, and all are now available for pre-order.

“I love this idea,” says Jason Isbell, whose song “Elephant” from Southeastern tackles the Cancer issue head on with a courage and honesty rarely seen. “I’m in favor of anything that raises funds or awareness of this issue. Plus, it makes me feel like one of those cool ballplayers with the pink bats.”

Kellie Pickler shaved her head for Breast Cancer awareness in 2012.

Kellie Pickler shaved her head for Breast Cancer awareness in 2012.

Against Me!, Courtney Barnett, Lucius, Nothing, Temples, In This Moment, and Me First & The Gimmie Gimmies are also participating in the pink-colored promotional campaign. Many outlets are offering free MP3 downloads with the vinyl purchase.

Gilda’s Club New York City was named for Gilda Radner, the brilliant comedian and one of the original cast members of Saturday Night Live. Gilda was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1986. Following her death in 1989, Gilda’s husband, Gene Wilder and her cancer psychotherapist, Joanna Bull started the Gilda’s Club movement. In June, 1995 GCNYC opened its signature red door – Gilda’s legacy to everyone living with cancer. Since opening, it has offered a place where men, women and children living with cancer – and their families and friends – can join together to build social and emotional support as a supplement to medical care.

“We have resources to help Cancer patients and their families learn how to live with their Cancer experience through our support groups, educational lectures, and classes,” says CEO Lily Stafani.

Pre-Order Jason Isbell’s Pink Vinyl Southeastern

Pre-Order Kellie Pickler’s Pink Vinyl The Woman I Am

Pre-Order St. Paul’s Pink Vinyl Half This City

Sep
5

Nashville’s Independent Artists Speaking Out About City’s Growth

September 5, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  40 Comments

“You can’t just roll into town anymore. It’s a fucking arms race to find the last affordable rental. More Wayne Newton than Waylon Jennings.” — Caitlin Rose

It’s that penultimate moment—that tipping point—when a town or neighborhood known for it’s cool, rich, and creatively-vibrant culture becomes so awash with interlopers, gentrifying hipsters, and retiring baby boomers that the critical mass point is reached in redevelopment, rising rents, and real estate prices and the entire thing implodes, leaving in ruin the whole reason people desired to be in the area in the first place, and taking with it the inspiration that brews beneath the streets, the collaboration that is fostered in its venues and low rent space, and a magical time and place on the musical timeline falls victim to imported money and urban renewal, maybe to be harbored once again in another part of town or another town altogether, or maybe not.

east-nashville-muralNashville—not Music Row Nashville—but the independent underbelly of Nashville and specifically the East Nashville portion of town, have been the rallying point for the current generation of vibrant country and Americana artists that make up the heart of what independent roots music has been all about for the last half decade to decade or so, but even going back to the 70′s when songwriters from Texas were moving to the city to be closer to artists who may cut their songs. East Nashville’s affordability gave artists the ability to be flexible with their income, allowed them to be able to only work part time, or dedicate themselves solely to their craft in a way that wouldn’t be possible amidst a higher cost of living. East Nashville was the creative generator of Music City, churning out songs that inspired the rest of the town, and the rest of the industry.

But all that might be changing, or has changed, depending on who you ask.

In late June Saving Country Music published an article entitled How Nashville’s Economic Boom Could Kill Its Creativity, later to be reposed by American Songwriter. In just the short two-month period that has since passed, as more and more development breaks ground and other massive building projects get announced, Music City may have finally reached the point of no return; at least that is what some of the artists are now saying.

On August 21st, performer and songwriter Caitlin Rose, daughter of well-known songwriter Liz Rose, went on a Twitter rant about what she sees currently going on in Nashville.

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Caitlin Rose

“Everyone can stop moving to Nashville now. We’re full. Thanks.” Caitlin said in part. “Did y’all hear they’re tearing down all of Nashville and putting one giant Margaritaville in its place? People come to Nashville for the music. They stay for the expensive chain restaurants and condo culture. They never leave… Everyone’s got dreams of making it in Music City, USA. Most of them don’t. Like barely any of them.”

This marrying of concerns about the percentage of independent businesses and the ability for young artists to make it in the city speaks to complexity of the gentrification issue. It’s not just the low rents, or even the concentration of creative types in a certain locale that sees the formation of a creative epicenter, it’s also the inspiration that can be drawn from cool old buildings, independently-owned business, mural art and graffiti, and a menagerie of other community elements that go into building a creative forward environment. “Just saw badass dude biking down Charlotte with a raccoon on his shoulder and a box full of blankets. Fuck new Nashville and condo culture,” Caitlin Rose tweeted out a few days later.

"This is where my grandfather's house used to be" native Nashville resident Justin Townes Earle tweeted out last year.

“This is where my grandfather’s house used to be” native Nashville resident Justin Townes Earle tweeted out last year.

Justin Townes Earle, son of alt. country forefather Steve Earle, has been another vocal opponent of Nashville’s gentrification. Earle grew up in the city, and regularly takes to Twitter to complain about the bulldozing of landmarks, the building of condos, and the general scrubbing away of everything Music City is supposed to be about. Earle recently told American Songwriter, Nashville is where I was born and raised, I never got away from the city, but the city is definitely not the city that I grew up in…It’s pretty crazy, people here think they live in New York. They live in Nashville, and it’s hard to swallow sometimes. I had a fucked up childhood so I lived in over 30 houses in the city, and I think that maybe two of them are still standing, and one of them is part of an apartment complex.

Otis Gibbs is one of East Nashville’s most identifiable musician residents, and offers a slightly different perspective. His Thanks For Giving A Damn podcast regularly features friends and neighbors from his East Nashville haunt, and he likes to hoot and harp on the East Nashville way of living regularly on Twitter.

“Amy Lashley and I moved here seven years ago from Indianapolis, but the growth in East Nashville started long before we came along,” says Otis. “People like Chuck Mead, Skip Litz, Joe McMahan, Kevin Gordon, Sergio Webb, Mike Grimes and later Todd Snider were living here and touring the world twenty years ago, or more. Back before that people like Guy Clark, Marty Robbins, Roy Acuff, Grady Martin and a lot of others lived here. This has been a neighborhood full of creative people over the last few decades, but the national media is just now catching on.”

Otis shared a picture with Saving Country Music of Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and Susanna Clark on Guy Clark’s porch in East Nashville that speaks to the history of East Nashville as a bastion for creative types.

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“Nashville is home to the best pickers in the world,” says Otis Gibbs. “It’s an embarrassment of riches and it’s easily my favorite part of living here. I played a venue in Zurich, Switzerland a couple of weeks ago and saw a poster advertizing my neighbor’s band. He owns the house next to mine and he’ll be playing that same club next month. The first time I ever met that same neighbor was when we both played a festival in Springfield, Illinois. He walked up to me back stage and said, “I think you live in the house next to mine.” That sort of thing happens all the time. I once learned who moved into the house down the street from me by reading his name on his road cases as he was moving in.”

Otis says home ownership for East Nashville’s musicians is one way to hold on to heart of what the community has become over the years.

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Otis Gibbs

“It’s always nice to see musicians in my neighborhood who own their homes. It’s cheaper than renting and if property values get as crazy around here as some people suspect, they’ll have something to show for it. I have friends in South Austin who bought their homes back in the day and have seen their homes quadruple in value.” 

The problem is when those homes values increase, if the musicians aren’t already locked into ownership, they are locked out of the community in rising prices and rents, and that is the new dilemma arising for many of East Nashville’s musicians. One of the biggest points of contention in the community is the splitting of lots so that two new homes can be built on the same original lot. Along with the demolition of older apartment complexes, this has seen the inventory of older and cheaper housing in the city dry up, and with it, much of the original character of East Nashville neighborhoods. Some neighborhoods, including East Nashville’s Inglewood and Rosebank districts are looking to restructure zoning laws to help stem the tide of gentrification.

Still, growth and lot division is occurring because of the demand for more living space in East Nashville, and where there are losers, there’s winners as well. Craig Havighurst, a writer and the co-host of Music City Roots has a different take on condos and all of the commotion about Nashville growth.

Urban creative hives require urban scale and urban density, which is something I feel we’re only beginning to approach from South of Broadway all the way out to Green Hills. Two houses on one lot are a way to provide critical housing supply without sprawling. It might prove to be one of the best accidental policy ideas the city’s ever had. Because better to build in and up than out. Complaints that the houses are too large for their lots are entirely subjective and based on the look and feel of a kind of neighborhood that isn’t necessarily compatible with urban dynamism. The new people fill new restaurants and coffee shops, where those aspiring musicians find jobs while they develop. And a lot of those new arts and music professionals bought starter homes in Inglewood and Sylvan Park. We can empathize with folks who are seeing their rents rise and still acknowledge that for many, this was a good investment that will make their future more secure.

What everyone can agree on is that the cultural dynamic that exists in Nashville at the moment and has helped give rise to artists like Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Caitlin Rose, Justin Townes Earle, Cory Branan, Tristen, Lindi Ortega, many more countless names in the past, and who knows who in the future, is in every music fan’s interest in seeing preserved because of the musical riches it has afforded us for the last few years, and for decades before.

Aug
22

Album Review – Sunny Sweeney’s “Provoked”

August 22, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  26 Comments

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When perusing the bereft landscape of mainstream country music and searching for a female performer with some substance and an independent spirit who could possibly still raise a blip at the highest levels, Sunny Sweeney is one of the first names to come to mind. It’s not too hard to envision the Texas native making a splash in the mainstream because she has done it before. In 2010, her single “From A Table Away” made it all the way to #10 on the Billboard charts—a feat for any woman in this particular country music climate. Of course it helped that Sweeney had Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Records behind her at that time. Sweeney was one of the very first Big Machine signees along with Taylor Swift, and when Borchetta opened up the Republic Nashville imprint, Sweeney was the label’s inaugural artist.

These days the particulars of Sunny Sweeney’s business dealings are much different. Her latest album Provoked was released through Thirty Tigers—the same independent, champion-of-the-little-guy distributor that artists like Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell use. But Sweeney’s sound still remains very much steeped in that space that can find consensus amongst both mainstream fans, and traditional/independent fans from leanings that are traditional, expressive, yet still accessible to the wide ear.

Just like Miranda Lambert and Kacey Musggraves, Sunny Sweeney is an east Texas girl at her core, and no matter what Nashville does, it’s never possible to completely quiet those jangling spurs or smooth out that accent. Sweeney though, compared to Miranda and Kacey for example, seems to have held onto her decidedly Texas style even more so over the years. She very much fits that mold of the Texas country artist that got big enough to be recognized by Music Row, but always felt just a little too authentic to do much more than experience that world from the outside looking in.

sunny-sweeney-provokedAt the same time, Sunny Sweeney also has some quickly-identifiable fingerprints of the industry in her sound. Sometimes it feels like instead of hearing three chords and the truth, you’re hearing three professional songwriters and a hook. It might still be a hook that is hard to escape the appeal of, but the formulas and tropes find their way into the female side of country music too, and there’s a few of those overt moments on Provoked. The album’s two beginning tracks—”You Don’t Know Your Husband” and “Bad Girl Phase”—strike at that female answer to Bro-Country vein in portraying the sassy, non-behaving female quite directly.

“Front Row Seats” is a sensational track on this album, superbly written and pointed in its message, but it still plays very much to this Kacey Musgraves anti-conformist formula that the success of “Merry ‘Go Round” has given rise to. A song like “Sunday Dress” shows that when it comes to the women in country, ‘mama’ is the female version of the men’s ‘tailgate,’ and disobeying her wisdom is expected on an album at least a few times. From another perspective though, many of these trends and tropes are hot right now, and Sunny’s contributions overall are just a little more thoughtful, and little more developed, and a little more country than most of her country peers who’ve seen mainstream success.

Sweeney also strikes out on some limbs, and in moments let’s her traditional influences shine through unapologetically. The gem of this album might be the swing-timed “Find Me.” It is so aching, so brilliant in the way it builds tension both in the story and sonically until Sunny has swept you up in a wave of emotions. Like all but two of the songs on Provoked, “Find Me” is co-written by Sweeney, and feels like a very personal expression. The only true cover on the album is Randy Weeks’ “Can’t Let Go” which has been done many times by many artists, maybe most notably by Lucinda Williams, but Sweeney really nails her version, with the song seeming to be custom-made to fit her Southern twang, and the half-time beat highlighting the chorus being the perfect call in the arrangement.

“My Bed” with Will Hoge is another Provoked highlight, and is a good example of how Sweeney also translates well into the more progressive, Americana-style of production that a few of the album’s tracks veer toward. And though the sassy, non-behaving female formula was decried above, the final track on the album, “Everybody Else Can Kiss My Ass” is just too damn fun, the lyrics too good, and the steel guitar too hot to give it anything less than two guns up.

Sunny Sweeney has a very sweet, very alluring natural tone to her voice, but it has always felt like she stops her phrasing a little too short, as evidenced on Provoked in the song “Second Guessing.”

In the end it is not Sunny Sweeney’s super heartbreaking sentimentality, or her high caliber songwriting that makes her stand out in the crowd. It is her practical, pragmatic, bridge-building approach to country music for all that stays true to her nature that has you rooting for her no matter what the color of your country music stripes.

1 1/2 of 2 guns up.

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Purchase Provoked from Sunny Sweeney

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Aug
21

Lucette Enlists Sturgill Simpson & Dave Cobb for “Bobby Reid”

August 21, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  22 Comments

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After his award-winning work with artists like Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell, Jamey Johnson, and so many more, when you see the name Dave Cobb associated with an artist, it’s probably worth paying a little bit closer attention. And such is the case when it comes to burgeoning country artist Lucette from Edmonton, Canada, who just released her first single and video, and is about to release her debut album, Black Is The Color.

Lucette met producer Dave Cobb through a strange series of events. At a concert in Edmonton, she sang backup for an former American Idol contestant named Michael Johns, who incidentally died on August 1st after a blood clot formed in his ankle. “We became good friends from our mutual love of Otis Redding,” says Lucette of Michael Johns, and Dave Cobb had worked as a producer for Michael Johns previously. But Lucette didn’t start working with Dave Cobb in the beginning. Instead she was working with big industry movers and shakers in Canada in the camp of legendary producer and songwriter David Foster. Lucette was being groomed for the big time, but the results were something she was not happy with. “It was a big, Celine Dion-sounding record. The music coming out of these other people, it was terrible. I can’t explain how inaccurate it sounded to my style and my interests.”

She was only 18-years-old at the time and was being presented with the biggest music opportunity of her life, but she was miserable with the results. So she confided in Michael Johns for guidance, who told her, “‘You have to talk to my friend Dave Cobb,’ and of course when I looked Dave up, he’d already produced half of my favorite records.”

lucette-black-is-the-colorLucette then flew to Nashville and started working on a new record with Dave. She came to Nashville in 2011 with 20 songs ready to record, and ended up scrapping every one of them. “We wrote the album in three weeks, and recorded it,” she says. “Dave and I wrote half the songs together.” Lucette made subsequent trips to Nashville to complete the record, and it was finally finished last year.

The centerpiece of the project was a song called “Bobby Reid.” “Out of the songs I wrote, and the ones that we co-wrote, the ones we co-wrote definitely stood out. They had a certain vibe to them, and that’s where the Bobby Reid character was born. We wrote it in one night, and recorded it in one take the next day. And one song kind of changed the whole mood of the album. I was writing mostly 50′s and 60′s country, almost like Skeeter Davis, but this Bobby Reid character kind of changed the way that I write, and the way I think about music. I was 19 when I wrote that song.”

Dave Cobb was excited about the song as well, and saw it as the single off the album, and the one to target for a video. So Dave called up filmmaker Blake Judd, who dreamed up the concept of an old-school river baptism, and recruited his circle of musician contacts to help fulfill the cast, including Sturgill Simpson, and Col. JD Wilkes of Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers and the The Dirt Daubers. “At this point, Sturgill Simpson hasn’t even put out ‘High Top Mountain,’” Blake Judd explains. “Sturgill said, ‘Yeah, I like the song, I like Dave, and I like you.’ And then I called J.D. Wilkes and asked him if he wanted to reprise his role as a creepy preacher. So everyone converged in Greensburg, Kentucky in August of 2012, and we made the video.”

But the song “Bobby Reid,” the video starring Sturgill Simpson, and Lucette’s Dave Cobb-produced album almost never saw the light of day. Lucette’s management at the time was not fond of the old-school, dark Americana road she was going down. They believed Lucette’s future was in a more mainstream direction. “I met with four or five major labels. A few of them I went back to several times,” Lucette explains. “But there were several meetings with a couple of labels that led me to a lot of inner turmoil because they basically said, ‘This song has to be shorter. This song has to be longer. You have to cut this one.’ And then it came to the point where someone said, ‘You’re not going to be able to do this as a career.’”

But once again Lucette listened to herself instead of the industry, and saw that the work she did with Dave Cobb was the right direction. “I’m glad I went with my gut. I’m glad that I’ve had people in my life that kind of got my vibe and understood me enough to know that my record might not be a huge thing to a major label. But to the people that get it, I think they will really get it.”

Dave Cobb is one of those people that gets the young Canadian songwriter.Lucette really brings out the dark side of American turn of the century folk when it seemed the world was gonna end, and breathes new light into it,” says Dave Cobb. “We had a blast making the record. I’ll never forget sitting in a booth right next ta her playin guitar and hearing bobby Reid coming through the headphones. It felt timeless.”

Lucette’s album Black Is The Color is set to be released on August 26th, and the video for “Bobby Reid” just debuted on CMT Pure.

Pre-Order Lucette’s Black Is The Color

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Aug
19

Album Review – Cory Branan’s “The No-Hit Wonder”

August 19, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  9 Comments

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You see the mural above? It is currently on display in East Nashville where a rising swell of songwriters is currently setting the pace for artistry and depth in the greater country and roots world. And chief among these cutting edge artists at the moment might be the Mississippi-born and Memphis-bred Cory Branan, who has just released his second album with Bloodshot Records called The No-Hit Wonder.

Steeped very much in the muse that resides in the independent underbelly of Nashville and challenges songwriters from the rabid nature of the friendly competition and healthy collaboration fostered between performers in such close proximity, The No-Hit Wonder could be looked at as a good road map to the East Nashville music experience, or at least a starting point. With a number of contributions from Jason Isbell, and appearances by other notable East Nashville apparitions such as Austin Lucas, Caitlin Rose, and Tim Easton, we may look back at The No-Hit Wonder when the rabid gentrification of East Nashville has finally scattered the artist class to the four winds as a project exemplifying the artistry and collaboration that once ruled that turf in an important era of roots music.

If you’re gazing slunk shouldered at your Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson records as so loved that you’re tired of listening to them, The No-Hit Wonder may just be the project to point your nose toward next. Though the strong rock performances in songs like “You Make Me” and “The No-Hit Wonder” are likely to be what get the most people chirping, the album is very much steeped in country traditions, like that old guard alt-country spirit that started with country, and sped it up a bit from a punk rock approach.

You can draw all sorts of lines from Cory to other famous musicians, like Chuck Ragan who calls Cory the “greatest songwriter of our generation,” or Lucero who once immortalized Cory in the song “Tears Don’t Matter Much,” saying Cory Branan’s got “words that’ll bring you to your knees.” He’s one of these songwriters that has gone far in inspiring and challenging his peers, and the fingerprints of Cory’s style can be found in independent roots music far and wide.

cory-branan-the-no-hit-wonderBut these musical types are not always the most successful themselves. In some ways it is their lot to be sung about in Lucero songs, but remain a serious challenge for labels and publicists to know what to do with. This is the symbolic message contained in the cover and title of his new album—how his career can be defined by some incredible praise, but in the end an artist like Cory Branan will always find difficulty connecting with the average American. It is all of the substance, but none of the hype. This is the theme of The No-Hit Wonder, and an eternal theme of the East Nashville scene.

Cory’s first album on Bloodshot Records after a six year recording hiatus was 2012′s Mutt—a wide-ranging, curious affair that couldn’t be denied of its songwriting moments, but challenged the ear possibly a little too much to the point where the brain got tired of shifting sonic gears by the end. Cory called it “Mutt” to describe the disparate influences and styles that went into the album, but in the end he may have proved why genres still matter, or at least why approaching an album with more of a cohesive mood does.

The No-Hit Wonder is a completely different story. This is old school country rock at its finest, with exquisitely-crafted, cunning lyrical runs that make you laugh, amazing insight enhanced by brilliant timing and pentameter, and musical clothing that enhance each song’s strengths and endear them to the audience, pointing them the way to the album’s enjoyment. Yet there’s still some great variations here throughout the record to keep the listener enthralled. “Sour Mash” with Tim Easton is a perfect little country tune with its take off Telecaster. “C’mon Shadow” and “All The Rivers in Colorado” are great little country tunes as well. “All I Got And Gone” is where you hear Cory’s Tom Waits influence seeping through, while the final track, “The Meantime Blues” shows of Cory’s finger picking prowess on the acoustic guitar that some say challenges Cory’s songwriting as his most noteworthy skill.

This is the album Cory Branan needed to write, record, and release. Enough time had passed since his earlier works in the 00′s, and a whole new crop of listeners have emerged for this type of music to where it was necessary to re-introduce himself to the musical world in a way that could open his entire body of work to a hungry audience always looking for new songwriters to sink themselves into. The No-Hit Wonder may not pole vault Cory into the Top 10 on Billboard and make the title a bit of irony, but it should land him a wider audience beyond the notoriety of an East Nashville mural.

1 3/4 of 2 guns up.

Purchase The No-Hit Wonder from Bloodshot Records

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Aug
12

Jason Isbell, Jamey Johnson + More to Tribute Lynyrd Skynyrd

August 12, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  40 Comments

lynyrd_skynyrd_logoOn November 12th, artists from across the country and Southern rock world will be coming together to pay tribute to Lynyrd Skynyrd in a unique way. Not your typical tribute concert, and not your typical tribute album, One More For The Fans! — Celebrating The Songs & Music of Lynyrd Skynyrd will be a combination of both ideas taking place on the stage of the famed Fox Theatre in Atlanta. 17+ artists and an all star band directed by producer Don Was will be celebrating the music of Lynyrd Skynyrd in the intimate space while camera crews roll to produce a multi-platform Lynyrd Skynyrd project to be released next year.

Using the 4,700-seat Fox Theatre as the backdrop for this tribute is symbolic. When Lynyrd Skynyrd cut their 1976 live album One More For The Road in the Atlanta venue, it was scheduled for demolition. The live album helped revitalize the venue, and the title of this tribute, One More For The Fans! is an homage to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s history with the historic venue.

Artists scheduled to perform as part of the concert include Lynyrd Skynyrd, Alabama, Gregg Allman, Jason Isbell, Jamey Johnson, Charlie Daniels, Warren Haynes, Peter Frampton, John Hiatt, Aaron Lewis, Govt. Mule, Robert Randolph, Blackberry Smoke, Cheap Trick, Donnie Van Zandt, and Trace Adkins. More performers are expected to be announced in the future, and surprise guests will also be part of the presentation.

Lynryd Skynyrd, Trace Adkins, Alabama, Gregg Allman, Charlie Daniels, Peter Frampton, Warren Haynes, John Hiatt, Jason Isbell, Jamey Johnson, Aaron Lewis, moe., Govt Mule, Robert Randolph, Blackberry Smoke, Cheap Trick and Donnie Van Zant. – See more at: http://www.atlantamusicguide.com/2014/08/11/star-studded-concert-event-honoring-lynrd-skynyrd-announced/#sthash.QstrliJd.dpuf

One More For The Fans! was dreamed up by Kevin Wortman. Wortman, Ken Levitan, and Ross Schilling are acting as executive producers for the project. Tickets for the show will go on sale to the general public at 10 AM on Monday, August 18th.

Though there is no shortage of Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute albums floating around out there—in fact they may be one of the most tributed bands in history—to have the remaining Lynyrd Skynyrd members participate, along with such a star-studded lineup in the historic Fox Theater, One More For The Fans! might become the definitive Skynyrd tribute for the ages.

Keith Wortman
One More For The Fans! – Celebrating The Songs & Music of Lynyrd Skynyrd – See more at: http://www.atlantamusicguide.com/2014/08/11/star-studded-concert-event-honoring-lynrd-skynyrd-announced/#sthash.QstrliJd.dpuf
One More For The Fans! – Celebrating The Songs & Music of Lynyrd Skynyrd – See more at: http://www.atlantamusicguide.com/2014/08/11/star-studded-concert-event-honoring-lynrd-skynyrd-announced/#sthash.QstrliJd.dpuf

Jul
31

Whiskey Shivers to Release New, Self-Titled Album

July 31, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  9 Comments

the-whiskey-shiversOne of the hottest and most entertaining primordial string band outfits on the planet right now is the Austin-based Whiskey Shivers, and patient fans who’ve been waiting for a defining album from a band whose been tearing it up live for years are finally getting their wish. Produced by noteworthy Americana artist Robert Ellis, Whiskey Shivers will be releasing their self-titled LP September 23rd.

“Whiskey Shivers isn’t just the five of us on stage, it’s everybody in the room,” says Whiskey Shivers frontman and fiddle player Bobby Fitzgerald. “We try to bring everybody into the moment and get them to realize there’s no wall between us and the crowd. We’re all in this together, and we’re all here to have a good time. We’ll do our best to facilitate it, but it takes all of us to make it happen. When you start to feel that, you can’t help but feel a little attachment and become invested in the show. You realize, ‘Oh, I’m here to have good time too!’”

With a live show that sets crowds on fire, the Whiskey Shivers have found themselves booked at some of the biggest festivals in the US, including ACL Fest in their back yard, and California’s Stagecoach Festival, sharing the same stage with artists like Jason Isbell and Shovels & Rope. They’re now scheduled to play the Americana Music Festival right before the album release in September, and have a short tour with Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers coming up.

Though known somewhat as a party band that plays a lot of bluegrass covers, their new self-titled LP finds the five-piece delving into deeper material and taking up the songwriting role themselves. Producer Robert Ellis was the perfect man to help facilitate that maturing in the band’s development.

“He’s a really comfortable guy, and we really respect his songwriting,” says upright bass player Andrew VanVoorhees. “When it came time to say who we wanted to shape this thing, Robert was the first on the list. He’s really taking our songwriting and musicianship to a new level. Robert actually put it pretty well. He said, ‘We’re making an album, not making a recording.’ We put out three recordings that were just songs we were excited about, but we never tried too hard to make them representative of the live shows. Or if we tried, we just fell short.”

“We’re all going through shit all the time. We recognize that life’s tough,” Bobby Fitzgerald says. “We try to write songs that recognize the hard times that we all share. When you put your problems out on the table where everyone can see them, it doesn’t really have the same power over you any more, and you can start to acknowledge it, separate yourself from it, and go on with your life. Try to take a night where you can forget about your problems and just feel good, have a good time with your friends, make new friends, and be part of a little community for a while.”

The new album will be available for pre-order on August 7th, and will be available in physical form at shows starting in September.

Check Whiskey Shivers Tour Dates

Jun
30

How Nashville’s Economic Boom Could Kill Its Creativity

June 30, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  22 Comments

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Last week, one of the big stories in Nashville’s music scene became the potential bulldozing of Music Row’s historic Studio ‘A’, currently under the care of musician Ben Folds who’s been renting and upkeeping the space for the last dozen years. Studio ‘A’ has been in service since 1964, and was the site of some of country and pop music’s most important recordings, so when Ben got word that the studio was being sold to Bravo Development, the piano player feared the worst, and wrote an impassioned open letter to let people know the important landmark might be in trouble. A rally was planned for Studio ‘A’ on Monday morning (6-30, which still transpired to raise awareness about preservation in general), but the developer let it be known on Friday that it was always the plan to keep Studio ‘A’ in tact as part of any development plans.

Crisis averted, right? It was for Studio ‘A’, but it wasn’t for the Musicians Hall of Fame a few years ago. Another controversial development plan that would have put a Walgreen’s on Nashville’s historic Lower Broadway entertainment district was also shot down last week. But these might just be symbolic wins in a battle Nashville is waging that may see the erosion not just of some of its historic places and buildings, but its creative epicenters which have transformed Music City not just into the mecca for mainstream country, but has given rise to some of the most sought after dirt for artists looking to be on the cutting edge of music innovation and creativity championed by an independent spirit.

To say that Nashville is going through boom times doesn’t being to explain the half of it. Nashville has always been a draw to people with dreams of becoming big country music stars, many that end up feeding the city’s labor force for service staff at restaurants or other low skill jobs as they struggle to get a seat in exclusive songwriter circles or acoustic rooms that may help them land their big break. Some people will tell you the city’s music business is simply set up to subjugate people’s dreams, and that popular country music is just a promotional tool for the system, with millions of dollars of promotion, management, and studio time being spent by people who ultimately will never have a chance at the big time.

But with the currently popularity of country music, and the massive promotional boost ABC’s hour-long drama Nashville has given to the city, there’s parts of town that feel like they are about to burst apart at the seams, and many such neighborhoods are the places that young, aspiring artists set up shop to incorporate themselves in the creative channels running through the city. Nashville isn’t just the home of Taylor Swift and Tim McGraw, it is the home of Jack White and Dan Auerbach. It is the home of Caitlin Rose and Sturgill Simpson, of Jason Isbell and Cory Branan. It is also the home of scores of songwriters and performers that ultimately contribute to the music world creatively, even if their names are not well-known to listeners. They offer up co-writes, they influence the bigger artists that can’t take the same risks the smaller ones can. The concentration of cutting-edge talent in one place creates and environment of healthy competition that spurns everyone on to the benefit of listener’s ears, and that is what Nashville has become in the last half decade in the shadow of downtown’s big buildings, and beyond the business-oriented mindset of Music Row.

READ: Nashville’s New Independent Nucleus

If you look at many of American popular music’s big movements and eras, they started in areas where low rents fostered the creative process. Black slums gave rise to American jazz and blues music. An abundant supply of big Victorian houses in San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury neighborhood allowed entire bands to move in together and have plenty of practice space right beside other bands with who they could knock ideas around with, collaborate, and coordinate tours and network with. The urban blight of Compton gave rise to Gangsta rap, Seattle to grunge, Laurel Canyon to the sound of the 60′s, Austin to the Outlaw movement, and when WSM’s Grand Ole Opry became one of the biggest radio shows in the nation, by centralizing much of country music’s talent in one place, it allowed an entire new genre of American music to form.

"This is where my grandfather's house used to be" native Nashville resident Justin Townes Earle tweeted out last year.

“This is where my grandfather’s house used to be” native Nashville resident Justin Townes Earle tweeted out last year.

The draw of traditionally-poor East Nashville as a haven for musicians looking to make it in music and collaborate with like-minded artists has been one of the ingredients not just to Nashville’s current output, but to its allure. It was an ongoing theme in the early episodes of ABC’s Nashville, and still remains a vital part of what makes the Nashville creative community work. But all that is in jeopardy now as development bulldozes much of the city’s affordable housing inventory, and rents and real-estate prices continue to spike.

Nashville’s creative working poor are getting priced out of the city, and this could spell an ebbing of Nashville’s creative influx. The Nashville Ledger recently ran a story about this very problem, written by Jeannie Naujeck.

“I’m perplexed by artists being priced out of an artists’ neighborhood,” Brian Bequette, a musician turned real estate broker told The Nashville Ledger. “It’s my greatest sadness right now that in the neighborhood where I lived for 20 years, people who are just like I was back then can no longer live here. Most of our clients are musicians and artists. That’s what we specialize in; that’s our people. And I want to see them stay in this neighborhood because I feel like if we lose them, we run a really big risk of losing what makes our neighborhood and our city great.”

Eddie Latimer, CEO of the non-profit Affordable Housing Resources says, “East Nashville has historically been what makes the foundation of our creative class. The housing boom is disappointing. It’s good for the city, but it’s disappointing because everyone who is part of those communities understands that some of our best neighbors – the core of what makes Nashville Nashville – have been priced out of the city.”

As It Is In East Nashville, So It Is In East Austin

One of the reasons East Nashville has become a haven for the creative poor is because of its affordability compared to the United States’ other entertainment centers like New York and Los Angeles. Ironically, the influence of New York and LA on the business side of Nashville’s music scene has always been given credit for why country music artists are offered less freedom by labels. Since many major labels only run satellite offices on Music Row while the big shots remain in bigger cities, it necessitates tighter controls. This is one of the reasons country music’s “Outlaw” movement of the mid 70′s was partially centered around Austin, TX.

But even before East Nashville was experiencing pricing pressure on musicians moving and remaining in the neighborhood, many were already flocking from East Austin, where the same wave of gentrification and urban renewal has been sweeping independent artists out of the city like a street sweeper. Home prices in east Austin have tripled since 2007 by some estimates, creating a steady flow of musicians from Austin to Nashville over the last few years. Nashville also seemed more inviting because unlike Austin, there was more label and business infrastructure comparatively. Now when looking at home prices and rents, it’s six one, half-dozen the other comparing the two music-oriented cities, while condominium and other residential developments encroach on both of the city’s entertainment corridors, causing neighborhood conflicts with live music venues. Same can be said for Echo Park in LA, and other creative places in the United States that are being brought under price pressure, many times by retiring baby boomers moving into condos built in creative areas, or young affluent hipsters who don’t yet have to worry about quality of of schooling, so they can justify moving into traditionally downtrodden neighborhoods.

The next question would be, where do the musicians go? Many times they’re scattered to the four winds, living in outlying, and more affordable areas, and commuting into the city when they can. And while some artists and musicians will inevitably land on their feet, and if they’re good and industrious enough, find their appropriate path to a sustainable music career, with the lack of proximity to other creative peoples, the type of energetic and competitive environment can’t thrive like it did before.

Inevitably, necessity becomes the mother of invention, and other creative epicenters crop up: Portland, OR, Athens, GA., etc. But as locales far removed from the footsteps of the industry become the new creative epicenters, artists will no longer have that ability to help influence and foster a creative environment that helps push all of music creatively, and collectively.

Jun
26

American Aquarium Has Van / Gear Stolen in Indianapolis

June 26, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  11 Comments

american-aquarium

This story has been updated. Van has been recovered. Please check for updates below.

Raleigh, North Carolina’s American Aquarium had their van and trailer stolen late last night (Wednesday, 6-25) between 1 AM and 9 AM in Indianapolis at the Wyndham Hotel on the west side of town. The band was in Indianapolis playing a show with the Turnpike Troubadours at the Old National Centre.

According to Andy of the Indianapolis Police Department, the band’s trailer was found in the southern part of Indianapolis, parked on the side of the road. The police officer saw the trailer, and found American Aquarium business cards around it and reached out to the band who had no idea the van and trailer had been stolen out of the hotel parking lot. The van however was not retrieved, and the band is asking people in the area to keep an eye out for it. According to the officer that found the trailer, there were still contents left in it, but the band has been unable to get to the trailer to determine just what was stolen. The trailer was secured and taken to a police impound lot after it was discovered.

American Aquarium posted on their Facebook page at about 10 AM Central, To the guy who stole our livelihood, I sure hope you get what is coming to you. FUCK!!!”

The van is a 2007 White Ford E-350 XLT 15 Passenger Van, North Carolina License Plate #BBD1591. It has a large crack on the the windhshield and a “White Water Tavern” and a “Mercury Lounge” sticker on the back glass. It was stolen from The Wyndham Indianapolis West at  2544 Executive Dr. in Indianapolis, IN 46241.

As soon as more information is available, it will be posted here. In the meantime, people in the Indianapolis area who may have some information about the theft are asked to call (317) 504-5292, or the Indianapolis Police Department.

The theft is the latest in a rash of van and trailer thefts that have plagued the roots music world. Thieves steal the vans and trailers, many times eventually ditching the van and trailer, but making off with much of the contents. Just in the last six weeks Larry & His Flask and Mike & The Moonpies had their vehicles stolen as well.

American Aquarium’s last album Burn.Flicker.Die was a critical favorite, and was produced by Jason Isbell. They are currently working on a new album Wolves.

UPDATE (6-26 2:30 PM CDT): According to the band, only a handful of guitars were stolen from the trailer. Most of the other contents remain. The van is still missing.

UPDATE (6-27 2:30 PM CDT): From American Aquarium: The Indy Police found out van ditched on the highway late yesterday evening. The thieves ripped everything inside apart then took it one step further by pouring water in our gas tank, cutting the brake lines, and taking all the lugs off of the wheels. Sad to say, but this is the end of the road for the old girl. It’s been a good 4.5 years. RIP Rape Van Winkle:/

The band had to play an acoustic show last night in Kentucky because of the theft. No word on their remaining tour dates at the moment.

UPDATE (6-27 4:20 PM CDT): Indianapolis police recovered a ’72 Gibson SJ Deluxe Acoustic Guitar that was taken as part of the theft. A gold, Gibson LesPaul Bass (ser#122411549) is still at large (see picture below).

Also the band has announced their show at Bogart’s in Cincinnati, as well as their remaining tour with the Turnpike Troubadours will transpire as planned.

bill-corbin-bass-stolen

american-aquarium-van

Picture from independentsky.com

Jun
3

Aaron Lewis Stops Concert, Twists Off On “Molesters”

June 3, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  23 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  //  73 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  //  21 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

Del Maguey
Old Soul Radio Show
Lucette
Elam McKnight

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