Browsing articles tagged with " Jason Isbell"
Nov
29

“The Ballad of Shovels & Rope” Chronicles the Band’s Unlikely Rise

November 29, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  6 Comments

shovels-and-rope

Fortuitous would be one way to describe this project. Moving would be another.

Rewind back to 2010, when singer and songwriter Cary Ann Hearst was still working as a waitress part time to pay the bills in between music gigs, including with husband and solo artist Michael Trent in a duo known as Shovels & Rope. Two years before in December of 2008, the tandem had already released an album called Shovels & Rope, and in 2009 the two solo performers got married, but Shovels & Rope was never meant to be a permanent thing. It was more of a collaboration between their two respective solo shows.

It was in 2010, around the time Cary Ann Hearst reached out to filmmakers Jace Freeman and Sean Clark to make a couple of videos for her individual music that serious plans were being laid to make Shovels & Rope the preferred project of both Hearst and Michael Trent. Jace Freeman and Sean Clark, known collectively as the Moving Picture Boys, saw an opportunity to chronicle the formation of the band by following the duo around for a few months with no real plan of how to feature the content once it was captured, but with a sense something interesting might come of it. Four years later, Freeman and Clark were still filming, and Shovels & Rope was becoming the biggest new band in Americana, winning top industry awards, playing Letterman and Austin City Limits, and generally exploding on the national scene.

Shovels & Rope and the filmmakers put the cart before the horse, but in this instance it paid off in a brilliant and inspiring film. The Moving Picture Boys didn’t have the daunting task that most documentary makers face in attempting to tell a compelling story about an unknown or mundane subject, or having to embellish the important moments to keep viewers entertained. The story was telling itself in a way no script could ever facilitate. They just had to make sure they did justice to the story unfolding before them. Then when a Kickstarter was launched to fund the final production of the film, the fierce Shovels & Rope fans doubled the pledge drive’s initial goal of $20K, pulling out any and all stops to making The Ballad of Shovels & Rope one of the best music documentary films of 2014.

shovels and ropeThe beginning of the film starts off a little bit awkward as you can tell Cary Ann and Michael are adjusting to having cameras in their creative and home space, and some of the moments come off a little more choreographed than spontaneous. But eventually everyone settles in and soon you’re witnessing the reality of this band in its formative and humble incarnation when crucial decisions are being made that will enable their eventual success. Their struggles, their second guesses and vulnerabilities are on display as they play frustrating shows and take a chance on going to LA to record an album in two days, and ultimately scrapping everything they cut. Though you go into this film knowing there’s a happy ending that is beyond all odds in a cutthroat business known for crushing 1,000 dreams for every one it fulfills, the documentary shows that even amidst their success, there was a litany of preliminary failures.

But perseverance, and the self-awareness of knowing when something is right, and when something is not is what powered this husband/wife duo through adversity, and landed them on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium, walking away with the Americana Song of the Year award for a composition the cameras are there to capture Cary Ann Hearst carving out of inspiration four years before in the very early stages of the film. You literally see a career-defining song go from scribbles in a notebook to being played at the Country Music Mother Church and being awarded the greatest distinction any song in the Americana realm can receive.

In between The Ballad of Shovels & Rope captures the band deciding to record their premiere album O Be Joyful DIY style in their own house as Cary Ann is still waiting tables and haunting laundromats in the throes of poor musicianhood. It shows them soliciting the services of Amanda Shires to record fiddle parts in the duo’s tour van as Shires’ future husband Jason Isbell sits in the background with a fedora and a mixed beverage in his pre-sober condition. The cameras are there when the duo is approached by the Dualtone label, and when they’re consternating and eventually make the fateful decision with their manager to sign the record deal, putting them on a path to roots music success. And there’s more intimate moments throughout the film, like the duo bedding with their dog Townes in Wal-Mart parking lots, and hanging out at Cary Ann’s parent’s house.

No matter how emotionally invested you may or may not be in Shovels & Rope’s music when you begin this 70-minute feature, both the rarity of being able to watch a quirky, cool, and creative band make it in the music business, and to have cameras there capturing all of the most important moments, makes The Ballad of Shovels & Rope something universally appealing beyond the musical quotient. The perseverance of hope is really what is chronicled in this film, along with a lot of wisdom to understand for a rag tag band to make it in 2014, it takes a tremendous amount of work, a few lucky opportunities, and not just the ability to make the right decisions, but the insight to not allow oneself to make the bad ones.

Just like the band itself, The Ballad of Shovels & Rope is an achievement beyond all odds that results in art that uplifts as it entertains.

1 3/4 of 2 Guns Up.

- – - – - – - – - – -

The Ballad of Shovels & Rope is officially released December 1st. It won the Nashville Film Festival “Ground Zero Tennessee Spirit Award” for Best Feature.

Purchase The Ballad of Shovels & Rope

Nov
27

The Heartbroken Rejoice Over Arlo McKinley’s Lonesome Sound

November 27, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  13 Comments

About the time it’s ready to take the turkey out of deep thaw is the time to start checking back to see what we may have missed in the year of music as the steady roll of new releases begins to slow down to a trickle and allows us to catch up. 2013 was such a bumper crop year for earnest, melancholic songwriters like Jason Isbell and John Moreland, our music stomachs were stretched in a way 2014 seemed it would never be able to fill. But some important projects have tried, and given us some new names to draw from when the mood is one where we enjoy drowning in sorrow.

arlo-mckinleyI don’t expect you to recognize the name Arlo McKinley & The Lonesome Sound. There’s no major effort underway at the moment to promote his music to the masses. Unless you’re clued into the right sectors of the Cincinnati music scene, his name is likely one of a stranger. But just as music worth hearing tends to do, it has slowly been bubbling up from word of mouth until some of those mouths have begun to speak about this record as one of the best music offerings all year.

A heartbreaker of an album, Saving Country Music headquarters has been spinning Arlo McKinley for a while now, but concerns for just how distressing and slow it was kept delaying any copy on it. It’s also a bit of a creeper, as slower albums can be. You aren’t going to spy its magic simply by skimming through iTunes previews. There’s no catchy hooks or sick beats to grab you by the scruff and make you listen. It has its way of sticking to your bones however, to where you find yourself favoring it over more upbeat fare, and craving it when awash in certain dour moods.

Arlo McKinley has a little bit of Sam Quinn (formerly of the Everybodyfields) in his voice, and a style that is not all too foreign to that region between old-school inspired country, and new-school infused folk rock. It’s the appreciation for the honesty of country songwriting without all the fluff and circumstance, fiddle and steel guitar of the discipline. This album is ten slow and deliberate gut punches with little mercy or sunny interludes. McKinley isn’t dabbling in anything here, he’s lowering his head, swinging away, and hoping you feel as miserable as the moments that inspired these songs, with minimal and tasteful musical hues shading his tear-soaked sketches.

arlo-mckinley-and-the-lonesome-soundComing to this album with a country mindset, “Time In Bars” jumps off the track list as one of the takeaways, and so does “Sad Country Song,” even though its methodology of making a country song from other country songs has been done a few times before. When you think Arlo can’t get more depressing, he doubles down with a song like “This Damn Town” with its purposely harsh guitar, or the unbearable emptiness at the beginning of “Waiting For Wild Horses.”

McKinley’s ear for matching emotion with sound is quite skilled, even if his approach isn’t wholly original. Even the more upbeat-sounding numbers like “Don’t Need to Know” or the pounding final track “Dark Side of the Street” deliver a bravely vulnerable and depressing account of the life and times of this adept Ohio songwriter.

It takes courage to unburden your soul and air your personal frailties in the way Arlo McKinley has done in this album, and it takes insight and study to do it in a way that sounds so so good.

1 3/4 of 2 Guns Up.

- – - – - – - – - – - – - -

Purchase Arlo McKinley & The Lonesome Sound on Bandcamp

Purchase Arlo McKinley & The Lonesome Sound on Amazon

Nov
21

The Mavericks to Release New Album “Mono”

November 21, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  11 Comments

the-mavericks-monoSaving Country Music’s 2013 Album of the Year was not Jason Isbell’s breathtaking Southeastern, or Sturgill Simpson’s breakout High Top Mountain, but the comeback record from the Latin-inspired Raul Malo and The Mavericks called In Time. The reason was because in Saving Country Music’s esteemed judgement, no other record in 2013 afforded a much musical enjoyment as The Mavericks’ first studio effort in a decade.

Now The Mavericks have announced that they’ve been in the studio again and will release the followup to In Time called Mono on February 17th, 2015. The band made the announcement while performing at the Grand Ole Opry on November 18th. Like their previous album, it will be released by the Valory Music Group, a division of Big Machine Records. Yes, the same label of Taylor Swift, Florida Georgia Line, and Brantley Gilbert. “You know, they did right by us,” Raul Malo tells Rolling Stone. “Heck, they let us make a record at this stage. I know people probably have a hard time imagining this, but it’s not the easiest thing to get these days, to be able to make records and have a record contract.”

However The Mavericks will be moving forward down a man. Robert Reynolds is taking some time off to attend to his ailing wife Angie Crabtree Reynolds who is battling Cancer. That leaves the core of The Mavericks as singer/songwriter/guitarist Raul Malo, lead guitarist Eddie Perez (guitar player for Dwight Yoakam & others), drummer Paul Deakin, and Jerry Dale McFadden on keys. The band will also be embarking on a world tour around Mono‘s release (SEE DATES).

Nov
20

Leon Virgil Bowers Leads Star-Studded Cash Cabin Singalong

November 20, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  27 Comments

leon-vrigil-bowers-jd-wilkes-amanda-isbell-jason-isbellLeon Virgil Bowers, JD Wilkes (back to camera), Rico from Helbound, Amanda Isbell, Jason Isbell

In September of 2012, Blake Judd of JuddFilms brought a camera crew to the famous Cash Cabin Studio in Hendersonville, TN to shoot a pilot episode for a television series that has never been aired. Meant to be aired late at night, similar to the late-night musical variety show The Midnight Special that was broadcast on NBC from 1972 to 1981, the idea was to take well-known established artists, worthy undiscovered musicians and songwriters, and stick them all in Johnny Cash’s legendary cabin with an open bar, and set the camera’s rolling.

Developed by Shooter Jennings and JuddFilms, Shooter Jennings’ Midnight Special had little to no rules. Pickers and songwriters organically decided what they wanted to play, and people joined in if they wished. The idea was to capture collaborative magic, while using the names of larger artists to help expose smaller ones. The names assembled in the Cash Cabin include mainstream country artists like Kellie Pickler and John Anderson, Americana names like Jason Isbell and Leroy Powell, and underground artists such as Leon Virgil Bowers (formerly Leroy Virgil of Hellbound Glory), and Col. JD Wilkes of Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers.

In the below video obtained by Saving Country Music from Judd Films, it finds Leon Virgil Bowers leading the Cash Cabin in a rendition of Garth Brooks’ “Two of a Kind.” The woman blowing in Bowers’ ear in the early portion is Leon’s wife who is known to request the song whenever she sees Leon with a guitar in his hand. Joining Leon is a stupidly-dizzying amount of music talent, including Jason Isbell, Amanda Isbell (Shires), Col. JD Wilkes, Jessica Wilkes, Scott Icenogle on bass, Rico from Hellbound Glory on slide guitar, while Shooter Jennings, Sarah Gayle Meech, John Carter Cash, Leroy Powell, Joey Allcorn, some pretty girls, and who knows else sway along and offer harmony vocals. It’s a crazy roundtable of talent, while top notch video cameras and studio-quality sound capture the entire thing.

Even more interesting is there’s apparently much more from where this video came from, with footage being captured all day, and John Anderson, Kellie Pickler, and others joining in, including Kellie doing Kitty Wells’ “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” to be released on December 4th. No word on what ever happened to this series, but it is definitely interesting to see all this talent in one place.

Nov
19

Billboard’s New Album Chart Rules Will Affect Your Favorite Artists

November 19, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  26 Comments

billboardOn December 4th, Billboard will roll out new changes to their Billboard 200 album chart, and the effect will be big on some of your favorite music artists, including legends like Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton, and up-and-comers like Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell. The changes will be the first major overhaul to the album chart since 1991, and will send pop stars and artists whose fans favor streaming to much higher positions and allow them to stay there for longer, while artists whose fans prefer to buy physical, cohesive albums or downloads will be diminished.

As first explained by Saving Country Music in September, the new chart rules (dubbed initially as a ‘Consumption Chart’) take into consideration the streaming of songs when rating the overall impact of an album. 1,500 songs streams on services such as Spotify, Google Play, Beats, Rhapsody, the new YouTube Music Key, or any other streamers will count as the equivalent of one album sale, even if those streams are all for only one song. The chart change is meant to take into account the new reality of how music is consumed, and give a boost to artists whose albums get buried on Billboard album charts because of poor sales of cohesive albums.

A big differences between what was initially reported about the upcoming changes and what were highlighted in a New York Times feature on the charts posted late Wednesday (11-19) is that there won’t be an autonomous ‘Consumption Chart,’ but changes directly to the Billboard 200.

It is also left ambiguous at the moment if there will still be dedicated album charts that do not take into account streaming. Original reports had album charts remaining, but likely losing relevancy with the implementation of the new chart system. There’s also no news at the moment if the changes will also be implemented for Billboard’s genre specific album charts.

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, these new chart rules 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 will be diminished under the new system. Artists who rely heavily on vinyl sales like Jack White will 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 these artists on the charts could affect their overall sales, or their acknowledgement by the industry. The new system will 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.

On the flip side, many artists who’ve arguably been treated poorly because their music depends mostly on streaming will benefit from the new system, and some change was probably warranted to account for consumers’ changing behavior. Also the chart will account for listening behaviors beyond the initial sale. Since streaming behavior happens for much longer after an album is released, it could give a more accurate portrayal of the importance of an album beyond the release date. But of course, there’s no way to gauge how many times a consumer who purchases a physical or downloaded copy listens after the purchase date, putting artists whose fans bases buy physical at a disadvantage, beyond getting a much bigger credit in the charts for the physical sale initially.

Some examples given of who would benefit under mock ups of the new chart system show artists such as EDM duo Disclosure and their album Settle going from #213 on the album chart based purely off of sales, all the way up to #64 based off of album equivalent streams and plays. That is a 149-spot difference just from the new reporting method. Another example is Katy Perry’s album Prism, which moved from #61 to #16 in early projections. But according to David Bakula of Nielson Soundscan—the company partnering with Billboard on the new chart formula—Taylor Swift’s new album 1989 would still be safe at #1 even though she has chosen to exit the streaming business on Spotify.

When Billboard implemented sweeping changes to their song 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 popular 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 and beyond, 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. The new rules have also affected Billboard’s rap charts and other genres, and have been aided by the addition of YouTube data in 2013.

Once the new charts are published on December 4th we’ll know more. But once again it is the little guy, the legend, and the up-and-comer that gets squeezed as the industry retools to face the new reality of music streaming.

Nov
19

NBC’s “The Voice” Wants Jason Isbell to Audition

November 19, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  52 Comments

jason-isbell-001That is apparently the story from an email Isbell received from the producers of the show, but it doesn’t look like the singer and songwriter is falling over himself to accept.

Jason Isbell is the most critically-lauded artist in the Americana music realm at the moment, walking away from September’s awards with Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Artist of the Year, but apparently NBC’s talent competition The Voice doesn’t believe he’s well known enough yet that the flotsam and jetsam of the American public wouldn’t potentially gobble him up as an undiscovered gem in prime time. After apparently coming across Isbell “online,” the producers felt his prowess in the competition could be at such a degree that they decided to reach out him to participate in industry auditions.

Yes, imagine the irony of Blake Shelton picking Jason Isbell to be “coached” with the help of Taylor Swift on singing, style tips, and choreography.

“I am a talent producer on NBC’s ‘The Voice,’” read the email that Isbell posted partially on his Twitter account. “I came across Jason Isbell online and was hoping to chat with him about auditioning for us if it’s something that interests him? We are getting ready to travel the country and will be having invite only industry auditions (these are not open calls)…”

Apparently Isbell is only entertaining the matter as fodder for humor. “My audition on ‘The Voice’ will be a solo vocal and French horn rendition of ‘Oh Comely’ by Neutral Milk Hotel. I will wear a #bikini,” Isbell tweeted out in response. I would take that as a sign that there’s probably not a good of chance of that happening.

Though it’s a sexy idea of Jason Isbell being featured on what has become America’s biggest singing competition and exposing millions of viewers to the powers of Americana’s most iconic artist at the moment, the idea of the opportunity being effective for either entity is questionable. Though competitions like The Voice receive a lot of attention, their ability to actually launch stars has been called into severe question over the last couple of years. Many times winners tend to sink right back into obscurity after the finale, or fight for attention as middling stars in an industry now stacked with reality show talent vying for attention.

Though you can’t blame producers for trying. Isbell possesses the type of talent that would validate a show like The Voice, and an opportunity like that could be a big moment for Americana. But in the end, if there’s an artist that has ever found his place, it would be Isbell. And if you want a chance to see him on the boob tube, he has a live DVD of his Austin City Limits performance coming out November 24th, and will be featured on the re-airing of the Americana Music Awards via PBS Nov. 22nd on Austin City Limits. Here’s a taste of what Americana has, and what The Voice wish they did:

Nov
18

Finally, New Music From Jamey Johnson, But …. {Sleigh Bells}

November 18, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  18 Comments

jamey-johnson-new-music-coming-soon

(This article has been updated)

When you navigate to jameyjohnson.com, it darn near takes the home page 15 seconds to load because the above banner proclaiming new music on the way is so damn big. Jamey’s fans aren’t complaining though. They’ve been waiting so long for new, original music from the songwriter, they’ll take any sign as a good one. After a protracted legal battle, it’s about time the creative reigns on one of country music’s most successful modern day traditionalists were loosened.

jamey-johnson-the-christmas-songA Christmas album though? That may not be exactly what many Jamey Johnson fans were hoping to find under their country music Christmas tree. But others will find a treat in the new release nonetheless, and this does not mean a new album of non Holiday-oriented music still isn’t on the way.

Jamey Johnson’s The Christmas Song, a 5-song “genre-defying” Christmas album will arrive on store shelves December 9th. It includes Jamey’s take on four Christmas standards, collaborations with The Secret Sisters and Lily Meola, and an original Johnson-penned Christmas tune—the first original Jamey Johnson song released in over 4 years. The Christmas Song is being released through Jamey Johnson’s own record label Big Gassed Records.

jj xmas photo-1The album is described as, “four timeless holiday standards and a much-anticipated new Christmas song. The genre-defying collection could be describe as Trains, Trailers and Tikis, because it features traditional and jazz-inspired Christmas sounds reminiscent of Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, an uplifting Hawaiian holiday feel and powerful country songs. Johnson is joined by The Secret Sisters on ‘Mele Kalikimaka (Hawaiian Christmas Song)’, while singer Lily Meola shares the microphone on ‘Baby, It s Cold Outside.’ In addition, Johnson offers his interpretation of ‘The Christmas Song’ and Willie Nelson’s ‘Pretty Paper.’ The award-winning songwriter was inspired to write a new song, ‘South Alabam Christmas,’ which ends with a lullaby to soothe anxious children to sleep on Christmas Eve.”

February of 2013 is when Johnson first let on that a contract dispute was the reason for his lack of creative output, telling Rolling Stone, “Financially speaking, they treat me worse than they ever did the Dixie Chicks. I feel pretty used by the music industry, in that my contracts are written in such a way that I don’t get paid I wish I could tell you that I am writing. I’m not. I wish I could tell you I’m gonna go home next week and record another album. It’s not likely to happen.” It then came out that Jamey’s issue was not with his label, Mercury Records, but with his publisher. The Christmas Song may tide thirsty fans over until a new full-length is ready to release.

Pre-Order Jamey Johnson’s The Christmas Song

TRACK LIST:

  • Baby It’s Cold Outside
  • Mele Kalikimaka
  • South Alabam Christmas
  • Pretty Paper
  • The Christmas Song
Nov
10

Jason Isbell to Release “Live at Austin City Limits” DVD

November 10, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  35 Comments

jason-isbell-live-at-austin-city-limitsNear the end of 2013, Saving Country Music rewarded Jason Isbell’s live streaming set on August 13th from the Austin City Limit’s stage as the #2 live event in all of 2013. “I admit, it seems strange to put a streaming event such as this on this list, and so high up no less,” was said at the time. “But if you witnessed it, you would know why…It was Jason Isbell’s songs and his songwriting that made so many online watchers walk away with one of those feelings you get after watching a stellar movie—where your mind gets so immersed in the experience it is hard to return to the real world.

Now Jason Isbell’s entire Austin City Limits set will be released to DVD on November 25th via Isbell’s Southeastern Records, and will include his entire 15-song performance, not just the abbreviated 6-song version that aired with Neko Case during the ACL episode on PBS. The new DVD includes two of the most important moments from the performance left off the broadcast—the 9-minute version of “Danko/Manuel” and the cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.”

The DVD also includes many songs from Jason Isbell’s award-winning Southeastern album that was recently crowed Album of the Year by the Americana Music Association, including the Americana Song of the Year “Cover Me Up.” Songs from earlier in Isbell’s career, like the Drive By Truckers staple “Outfit” and “Decoration Day” are also included.  Isbell’s had one stellar run lately, including selling out three consecutive shows at Nashville’s acclaimed Ryman Auditorium in October with his backing band The 400 Unit.

Jason Isbell: Live at Austin City Limits is available for pre-order, and has to be considered an essential for most any roots fan.

Purchase Jason Isbell: Live at Austin City Limits

jason-isbellTRACK LIST:

Flying Over Water
Go It Alone

Alabama Pines

Decoration Day

Outfit

Cover Me Up

Different Days

Live Oak

Codeine

Traveling Alone

Elephant

Stockholm

Super 8

Danko Manuel

Can’t You Hear Me Knocking

Oct
29

American Aquarium Recalls Florida Georgia Line Opening For Them

October 29, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Down with Pop Country  //  53 Comments

american-aquarium-sxsw-white-horse

Raleigh, North Carolina-based country rock band American Aquarium, and specifically their frontman, singer, and principal songwriter BJ Barham have been known to twist off about the state of country music upon occasion, both online and on stage. Such was the case on Tuesday (10-28) when the band reminisced about the time one of today’s biggest pop country acts actually opened for them during their 8-year run of playing some 300 club shows a year.

“Three years ago, to the day, Florida Georgia Line opened up for us in Jacksonville, FL with their same brand of bro country that is all over the radio today,” the band posted on their Facebook page. “They now have millions of fans, tons of money and all the cut off bedazzled denim vests anyone could ask for. At least we still have our self respect. Here’s to the working bands out there that never settle. Good on ya.”

Though you would think that most of the fans of American Aquarium would carry similar sentiments about Bro-Country as they do, apparently multiple people took exception, which stimulated American Aquarium to double down on their ideas of what is country and what isn’t, and the right way to make it to the top.

To the people bitching about the previous post…

1) I am surprised you are into what we do if you are taking up for this garbage on the radio, but to each his/her own.
2)You are right, I AM jealous of their success. Every band wants to be big. Every band wants to make a living. Every band wants to live the dream. But I want my fame to come from earning people’s respect, not it being handed to me. I want to bust my ass every single day and know that I earned it. I want to play music with my best friends, not some band that my label put together for me. I want to write my own songs. I want to sing my own songs. I want to know that 6 guys stood in a room with microphones and performed every single note you hear, together…as a band. A real band. But jealousy is not the only emotion. I’m also…

-Sad that this is what “country” music has been reduced to. One of the greatest American art forms has been reduced to garbage. No attention to detail. No honesty. No soul.
-Angry that when I tell people that I play country music and this is the first thing that comes to their mind. Angry that America has accepted this. Angry that these “songwriters” do it for the dollar, instead of the integrity.
-Afraid that its only going to get worse. If fans of country music keep letting the powers that be lower your standards, IT WILL become more and more laughable. As long as they know that you will buy it, they will keep dumbing you down. Scares the shit out of me.

But its not all negativity. I’m also…

-Happy that folks like Jason Isbell, John Moreland, Josh Ritter, Patterson Hood, Ben Nichols, Cory Branan, Sturgill Simpson, Evan Felker, Justin Townes Earle, Joe Pug, and many, many more folks are keeping a real, sacred tradition alive. Writing, playing and singing good songs that matter. That will stand the test of time. That will not go in and out of style, but will always fit, because I truly believe that is what honest music does. It transcends time, trends and everything else.

…and last but not least, I am excited that I get to be a part of the solution, and not the problem.

American Aquarium boasts a wide array of influences, and similarly have pulled from various sectors of the music world to form their loyal fan base, including country, Americana, and Southern rock. They’re also considered honorary members of the Texas country music scene. Jason Isbell produced their last record, the critically-acclaimed Burn.Flicker.Die.

And apparently Florida Georgia Line is not the only Bro-Country outfit that opened for the band and went on to big fame. Former Survivor contestant, “Cruise” co-writer, and rising Bro-Country star Chase Rice also once kept the stage warm for them as can be heard in the following clip of BJ Barham from an American Aquarium show.

Here’s another story from Jacksonville, FL:

Oct
26

Is Hellbound Glory Really “Dying”?

October 26, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  14 Comments

death-of-hellbound-glory

Ever since October 1st when Reno, Nevada-based country outfit Hellbound Glory posted on their Facebook page 31 more nights… till the death of Hellbound Glory… speculation has run rampant about what might befall the band on All Hallows’ Eve as it fastly approaches. Subsequently Hellbound Glory has booked a concert they’re advertising by saying “Witness The Death of Hellbound Glory,” set to transpire on Oct. 31st—Halloween night, at the Buckhorn Lodge in Pioneer, California—a couple of hours from Reno.

So what’s happening? is Hellbound Glory truly dying? Is it a publicity stunt? Though Saving Country Music has reached out to Hellbound Glory just to make sure everything is okay (meaning nobody is really dying), what Hellbound Glory will look like on November 1st still remains a mystery, and may yet to be determined in full by Hellbound’s principal members themselves. What we do know is there will be a change, and it will likely be a big one.

Leroy Virgil of Hellbound Glory, Opening for Kid Rock

Leroy Virgil of Hellbound Glory, Opening for Kid Rock

The only permanent member of Hellbound Glory since the band’s inception in 2008 has been the frontman and songwriter that goes by the name of Leory Virgil. The band’s first two albums Scumbag Country and Old Highs & New Lows became landmarks of independent/underground country music and still remain testaments to Leroy’s prowess as a frontman and songwriter, along with his newer albums, 2011′s Damaged Goods, and the recent 2014 LP called LV.

2012 saw the band receive a huge step up when it was announced they would be opening for Kid Rock on a nationwide arena tour. This looked like the moment this much heralded independent country band had been waiting for, and they were finally getting their due. But something has happened to Hellbound subsequently. After the Kid Rock tour, Hellbound shed virtually all of its members save for Leroy Virgil and drummer Francis Valentino. Even the lineup for the Kid Rock dates was a departure from the original Hellbound Glory lineup that was featured on those first two records. Though you couldn’t ever doubt the power of a Hellbound Glory song, the band fluctuations made Hellbound Glory hard to define.

Who was Hellbound Glory? Were they a rocking power trio? An acoustic singer/songwriter outfit? Or a full five-piece country band? They’d been all three in recent memory, and it may have been a little hard for fans to keep up. And a band that many had pegged to be one that could blow up nationally, similar to what has happened recently with acts like Sturgill Simpson or Jason Isbell, stayed put in relative obscurity despite their amazing songs, some big tours, and a rich discography.

So it’s time for a change. A shake up. But what? Here’s the three major possibilities.

Hellbound Glory is Truly Going Away

That’s right, meaning no more Hellbound Glory, and no more Leroy Virgil. Gone. Kaputz. Maybe some weekend solo shows in Reno every few months just to get the devil out, but Leroy Virgil quits music as a full time pursuit. This certainly would not be out of the realm of possibility. He’s married now with a young son, gray hairs are filling in, and he isn’t getting any younger. He gave it his all, but Hellbound Glory just may be one of those bands that was too good, and too real to be successful at a sustainable level.

Hellbound Glory Is Simply Going Through A Name Change

Long-standing followers of Hellbound Glory know that this has happened with the band before, though maybe not to this significant of a degree. When Leroy Virgil was doing more of a singer/songwriter thing, sitting on a bass drum and had a band of stand up bass and slide guitar, he was calling it “The Excavators,” though the Hellbound Glory name was still being used too. As Leroy told Saving Country Music in an interview in May, “As I’ve changed lineups, I’ve always called the band something different. For a while we were the Excavators, for a while I was calling it the Damaged Good Ol’ Boys, for a while to was the Damn Seagulls, so it’s always kind of changing up for me.”

So maybe Hellbound Glory will simply be changed to something different to give it new blood and create new interest.

Leroy Virgil Will Drop “Hellbound Glory,” and Go Under His Own Name

This is something that worked very successfully for Sturgill Simpson when he dropped the Sunday Valley moniker. Sturgill’s name change is considered one of the keys to his meteoric rise. Country music is mostly a solo name business, and for some reason bands working under an individual’s name tend to do better. Remember, Hellbound Glory’s last release was called LV for Leroy’s initials. Maybe this was a hint of things to come. And interestingly enough, Leroy wrote the single for that EP called “Streets of Aberdeen” on Halloween. It is about the famous serial killer from his hometown of Aberdeen, WA, and the song was recorded in one of the spaces the serial killer used to frequent.

As Leory told Saving Country music in the same May interview about changing to his own name,

“I’ve actually considered it a lot. We’ve talked about it, but there’s so much momentum going with Hellbound Glory and I’ve got so many years of work into it. Within a week or two of moving to Reno, I’d written the song and turned it into a band name. So it’s been something I’m stuck with. Part of me would like a change. But it’s a great band name when you think about it. It’s good and evil, heaven and hell…Hellbound Glory has always been my thing. It’s always been less of a band, and more of a gang. People come and people go, and people come back.”

It’s also a possibility that Leroy decides to go under his own name, but doesn’t use “Leroy Virgil.” For example, “Sturgill” is Sturgill Simpson’s middle name, while his first name is “John.” This could mark a new era and change of scenery for Leroy.

- – - – - – - – -

Either way, as Hellbound Glory fans are getting ready to go out Friday night, gussying up the kiddos in their costumes, or painting themselves up for a night of haunting on the town, it will probably be worth giving a peek to what Hellbound Glory has to say about what the future holds. Because this band’s music has been too good to end up as a corpse. Hopefully there is life after Hellbound Glory.

Oct
24

Eliot Bronson Teams with Dave Cobb on New Self-Titled LP

October 24, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  10 Comments

eliot-bronson

Nothing is more satisfying for the music devotee than stumbling upon a new top shelf songwriter you’ve never heard of before. Though maybe if you were paying a little bit better attention, you would have already heard of Eliot Bronson. The Atlanta, GA-based songwriter has released two solo albums since exiting Atlanta’s The Brilliant Intentions duo some years back, and was awarded the 1st place prize for the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest in 2013. But being brilliant, and being the best does not always mean being visible, especially in this day of skewed priorities in the musical arts.

One name that has been receiving worthy recognition for his contributions recently has been producer Dave Cobb. In the last 24 months, Dave has gone from a mostly industry-known working man’s version of more famous producer T Bone Burnett, to becoming producer du jour— just as hot, if not a hotter commodity than T Bone and other big name producers from his proven success with Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Lindi Ortega, Whiskey Myers, and so many others.

Dave Cobb has now entered the stratum where more times than not his name is preceding whatever artist he’s working with, and though this seems like both an unfair balancing of priorities in music, and against Dave Cobb’s otherwise long-standing temperment to prefer to stay behind-the-scenes, boy it sure makes for smart marketing. Whenever you see Dave’s name attached to a project, you’re probably wise paying a little closer attention.

Sensing this, and wanting to see his music score more heavily with people outside of the local Atlanta music mindset, Eliot Bronson reached out to Cobb coldly, looking for a long shot chance to land the producer for a definitive-minded, self-titled project. And to Eliot’s surprise, not only did Cobb respond, he responded favorably from the brilliance he found in Bronson’s poetry.I was stunned when I got a response,” says Eliot. “It was really validating for me because I sort of had him on a pedestal.” Next thing you know the two are hanging out in Cobb’s home studio making a record.

eliot-bronson-albumEliot Bronson is Americana in the truest sense of the word—instead of simply falling back on the term as a default. His lyrics come inspired from America’s country and roots past, but the music refers to more progressive folk rock and blues legacies. First and foremost though, his self-titled LP is a songwriter’s showcase, capturing moments of spectacular insight and feeling, and giving words to what previously were thought to be unmentionable, and undefinable feelings, and doing it all with a deep sense of mood and melody that make the emotions drip from the edges of the notes like tears.

This is the type of album we wished all our favorite old songwriters would make again. This is the type of album that made us first love all of those old songwriters. It concentrates some of the best characteristics of Justin Townes Earle and Chris Issak, while capturing a sentiment unique enough to feel fresh and undone. Eliot Bronson would not be considered a singer unique to our time from his voice’s natural tone or cadence, but the way he cups the emotions in his words and pours them out at the most opportune times makes for a vocal performance that lives up to the lyricism, while he’s not afraid to rely on “ooh’s and aah’s” to covey the weight of moments where words would invariably fail.

The music of this album is tastefully understated, but comes out growling when called for. Dave Cobb’s analog studio underpins a vintage warmth to the entire project, even if at times a palpable hiss or seemingly unbalanced sounds show up like in the song “Sleep On It.” The old-school audio approach is one of the watermark’s of Cobb’s handiwork recently, and as has been stated before in regards to other projects, can bestow both virtues and failings in the recording process.

Standout tracks on this album come mostly towards the center of the track list, with the hopping “Comin’ For Ya North Georgia Blues” being one of the album’s best foot tappers, and both “You Wouldn’t Want Me If You Had Me” the later solo acoustic number “Never Been A Friend of Mine” being excellent vessels for raw emotion. “New Pain” finds a slightly-familiar, old school Paul Simon vibe, while “Just Came Back To Tell You That I’m Leaving” is a punching, country heartbreaker fleshed out with bluesy slide guitar for one of the album’s most lively moments. “Time Ain’t Nothin’” with it’s haunting “Talk to momma, talk to momma” verses really unguards the listener. Bronson’s songs are easy to love, yet lasting in their appeal.

You get the sense listening to this album that Eliot Bronson is not just releasing his latest album, but the one he sacrificed pieces of his soul to make. This is “the one” so to speak, and that sense of purpose, if not desperation and pent up frustrations at being a 30-something songwriter still struggling to find his place and the proper attention from the public results in a passion that is palpable, and music that is memorable.

Good album.

1 3/4 of 2 Guns Up.

- – - – - – - – - – - -

Order Eliot Bronson from Saturn 5 Records

Preview & Purchase Tracks on Amazon

Sep
29

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

September 29, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  14 Comments

meow-mix-bro-country-2

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  //  20 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)

jason-isbell-001matthew-stafford-1


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

brian-kelleydoogie-houser


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

john-paul-white-1johnny-depp-2


Sturgill Simpson – Javier Bardem from No Country For Old Men

sturgill-simpsonJavier-bardem-1

sturgill-simpson-2javier-bardem


Seth Avett (The Avett Brothers) – Ashton Kutcher

seth-avettashton-kutcher


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

jeremy-fetzer-steelismBLOSSOM


David Allan Coe – Geico Caveman

david-allan-coegeico-caveman


Scotty McCreery – Alfred P. Newman

scotty-mccreeryalfred-p-newman

Kristian Bush (Sugarland) – Lucky Charms leprechaun

kristian-bushlucky-charms


Colt Ford – Grimmace

colt-fordgrimmace


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

tyler-hubbardmassengill

Sep
24

The Whiskey Shivers Shine in New Self-Titled LP

September 24, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  4 Comments

whiskey-shivers

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.

- – - – - – - – - – - -

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  //  6 Comments

sammy-brue-single-mother-justin-townes-earle

“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.

- – - – - – - – - – -

Download the Sammy Brue NoiseTrade EP

Purchase Justin Townes Earle’s Single Mothers

sammy-brue-single-mother-justin-townes-earle-001

Sep
9

Scott Borchetta Tried to Convince Taylor Swift to Stay Country

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

taylor-swift

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

ten-bands-one-cause-vinyl

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.

4745.jpg

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.

Guy-Clark-

“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.

otis-gibbs

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

sunny-sweeney

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.

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – -

Purchase Provoked from Sunny Sweeney

Preview & Purchase Tracks on Amazon

George Miguel
Del Maguey
Best Of Lists
Old Soul Radio Show

Categories

Archives