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One of the great things about roots music is its Gothic legacy of cautionary tales, ghost stories, murder ballads, messages to the infirmed, and other such methods of macabre that allow country and roots artists to paint in dark colors when they so choose. This makes roots music one of the best realms to draw from when putting together your Halloween playlist. Here is a list of some of the artists who dabble in the dark side of country and roots.
The things that hide under beds, in closets, and eerily disappear when you shine a light their way are what conspire and collaborate to create the inspiration for Lincoln Durham and his dark tales of murder and inner mayhem, belted out with a voice that can meld like a shape shifter and carries behind it the soul of 1000 black men. A conjugation of deep blues, Gothic country, and dark folk, Durham fits nowhere and everywhere in the music world all at the same time. Halloween is tailor made for Lincoln Durham’s music, and so is his just-released album Exodus of the Deemed Unrighteous.
You can’t get more Halloween and country than the King of Country & Western Troubadours that happens to also be a 300-year-old vampire. Unknown Hinson has what you need to keep your country-themed Halloween soundtrack rolling by blending a classic country sound with his creepy, blood-thirsty pursuits of “womerns” that always seems to take the darkest of turns. After saying last year he was done for good, the man who also is the voice of the character Early Cuyler from Cartoon Network’s Squdbillies announced earlier this year he was back from the dead, and will be touring regularly. Unknown’s alter ego Stuart Daniel Baker also happens to be one hell of a guitar player.
The Bloody Jug Band
When you have The Bloody Jug Band to listen to, you can celebrate Halloween all year. Similar to Unknown Hinson mentioned above, they make their dark music doubly entertaining by instilling humor into their music. But The Bloody Jug Band is no bit. Their debut album Coffin Up Blood was a nominee for Saving Country Music’s 2012 Album of the Year from the creativity and innovation they display though music that is dark and funny, but also shows how roots music can evolve while still paying respect and residing within its heritage.
Lonesome Wyatt & The Holy Spooks
There’s nothing better for Halloween than a good ghost story, and Lonesome Wyatt & The Holy Spooks have a whole catalog of them, including the freshly-exhumed album released just for this season called Halloween Is Here, complete with ghost stories and songs molded in the classic Halloween album style. Parental guidance would be strongly suggested, but some of Lonesome Wyatt’s songs and stories even work well for kids. And for all your year-round gloomy needs, look no further than Lonesome Wyatt’s other Gothic country concept, Those Poor Bastards.
Like a foreboding raven who sits high on her perch and caws out her cautionary tales of murder, deceit, and a world gone mad, Rachel Brooke’s music is dark as it is wise. From ghost stories to murder ballads, Rachel has Halloween covered, with numerous songs from her catalog ripe for the witching hour. Another spooky project worth dropping in your trick or treat bag is the collaborative effort with the aforementioned Lonesome Wyatt called A Bitter Harvest.
The Slow Poisoner
Halloween was made for The Slow Poisoner, and The Slow Poisoner was made for Halloween. As equally creepy as he is creative, this comic book writer and illustrator haunts the San Francisco public schools as a substitute teacher by day, and puts on one of the most entertaining live one man band shows you can see by night, complete with big creepy cue cards and other live props while he peddles his Egyptian oils and other wares through his dark music.
Sons of Perdition
From the disturbed imagination of Zebulon Whatley comes one of the core bands of the modern Gothic country era. Similar to Lonesome Wyatt and the Those Poor Bastards (who’ve been known to collaborate with the Sons of Perdition in the past) Zebulon draws heavily on religious dogma mixed with a dark perspective for inspiration. The Sons of Perdition’s ghastly hymns are enough to keep the ghosts haunting you all night, and are set to release a new album Trinity on November 12th.
The Goddamn Gallows
If you like your roots music dark, it doesn’t get any darker than The Goddamn Gallows. With their old soul tales from a scarier time, The Gallows are like a freak medicine show set to music, or a haunted carnie ride rattling off its tracks and plunging you into a deep, dark place where only the most unsettled of thoughts go. Complete with pounding drums and a washboard player that breathes fire, these guys are like the soothsayers of the Apocolypse.
Other Dark Roots Bands Ripe for Halloween:
- Pine Box Boys
- The Haunted Windchines
- Those Poor Bastards
- Slim Cessna’s Auto Club
- Jay Munly
- Ray Wylie Hubbard
- Johnny Cash
- Nick Cave
- Slackeye Slim
- Viva Le Vox
- Black Jake & The Carnies
- The Perreze Farm
- The Slaughter Daughters
- Lindi Ortega
- Tom Waits
- Jayke Orvis & The Broken Band
- Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers
- Larry & His Flask
- Shakey Graves
- .357 String Band
- Joe Buck Yourself
- O’ Death
- The Dinosaur Truckers
- Creech Holler
- Reverend Glasseye
- The Devil Makes Three
- Dad Horse Experience
- Joel Kaiser & The Devil’s Own
- Jesse Dayton
- Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys
- Pinebox Serenade
- Filthy Still
- Serial Killer
**NOTE: The image from the very top is from a now out-of-print dark roots compilation called Rodentia.
The underground country movement initially formed around the mid 90′s not because somebody launched a website or a record label. It wasn’t because of a festival or because someone came up with a special name for a new genre. It wasn’t because some personality who was bestowed a famous name took the reigns and began promoting music. The strength, the support, and the fervor that went into forming underground country and the bonds and infrastructure that is still around today came from the songs artists were writing, recording, and performing; songs that spoke very deep to the hearts of hungry listeners. In the end, all leadership and must come from the music. A good song will solve its own problems. Like water, it will eventually find a path to thirsty ears, and funnel support to the artist and infrastructure that surrounds it.
This isn’t necessarily a list of the greatest underground country songs, or even the most influential. It is simply 12 songs that were so good, they helped create something where there was nothing before.
Wayne “The Train” Hancock – “Juke Joint Jumpin’”
Wayne Hancock is one of the fathers of underground country, and he’s also the King of Juke Joint Swing, so it’s only appropriate to include one of his signature songs here. The very first song on his very first album Thunderstorms & Neon Signs from 1995, it made listeners wonder if they were hearing the ghost of Hank Williams. Later Hancock would perform the song as a duet with Hank Williams III.
Hank Williams III – “Not Everybody Likes Us”
Hank3 has probably written better songs, but not that speak to the spirit of underground country so well. “Not everybody like us, but we drive some folks wild” epitomizes the philosophy behind the country music underground—that it doesn’t matter if the masses like your music, only if you and your friends do. Add on top of that a big dig at country radio, and “Not Everybody Likes Us” has become a rallying cry of underground country music.
.357 String Band/ Jayke Orvis – “Raise The Moon”
This song is so good, it has been released twice, been played regularly by three different bands, and still is not tired. Written by Jayke Orvis, “Raise The Moon” originally appeared on the .357 String Band’s first album Ghost Town in 2006. When Jayke Orvis left .357 for a solo career and a spot in the Goddamn Gallows, the song appeared on the Gallows’ album 7 Devils. 7 years later and the song still remains a staple of Jayke’s live show, and a defining sound of underground country.
The Boomswagglers – “Run You Down”
Authenticity is such an unattainable myth in modern music these days that it is nearly impossible to find a truly original and untainted sentiment. But that is what The Boomswagglers serve up with “Run You Down.” It is one of those songs that immediately sticks in your head and stays with you for a lifetime. Defying style trends, it is simply good, and its story, like much of The Boomswagglers music, is deceptively deep. Songs like this withstand the test of time.
Hank Williams III – “Straight to Hell”
The title track off of Hank3′s magnum opus Straight to Hell from 2006 was the “hit” of underground country if it ever had one. It has risen to become one of Hank3′s signature songs, and he regularly uses it to start off his live shows.
Bob Wayne – “Blood to Dust”
Bob Wayne may be best known for his wild-assed party songs laced with drugs, loose women, and running from the cops, but that doesn’t mean he can’t write a deep song when he wants. As Bob will tell you, every word in this song is true, and the personal and poignant nature of the story makes it very hard to not be affected emotionally when it is listened to with an open heart. “Blood to Dust” speaks to the broken nature of many of underground country’s artists and fans. The song appears on Bob Wayne’s very first album of the same name, and his first big release Outlaw Carnie on Century Media.
JB Beverley & The Wayward Drifters – “Dark Bar & A Juke Box”
Underground country isn’t just a sound, it is a sentiment; a feeling that something is wrong in country music, and something needs to be done about it. This is the foundation for the title track off of JB Beverley & The Wayward Drifter’s 2006 album. At the time JB Beverley may have been better known for fronting punk bands. But unlike many of the underground country bands that would come along later, blurring the lines between punk and country, JB Beverley serves “Dark Bar & A Juke Box” up straight, in a sound that refers Wayne Hancock’s throwback style.
Wayne “The Train” Hancock – “Johnny Law”
If “Juke Joint Jumpin’” is Wayne Hancock’s signature song, then Johnny Law is his defining jam. This song has become a showcase for some of the greatest musicians in the history of underground country during the extended breaks for both the guitar and upright bass player. It might also go down in history as one of the most requested songs in underground country.
Dale Watson – “Nashville Rash”
For a precious time in the late 90′s ans early 2000′s, the triumvirate of Wayne Hancock, Hank Williams III, and Dale Watson looked like they were going to take the country music world by storm. It was because they were willing to speak out, and lead by example, both sonically and lyrically. Dale is still leading today, and his legacy of country protest songs like “Nashville Rash” still gets you pumping your fist.
Rachel Brooke & Lonesome Wyatt – “Someday I’ll Fall”
Rachel Brooke, The Queen of Underground Country, and one of the founding fathers of Gothic country, Lonesome Wyatt from Those Poor Bastards, teamed up in 2009 for the landmark album A Bitter Harvest. The album, and specifically the song “Someday I’ll Fall” symbolize the collaborative spirit inherent in underground country—where two artist come together to become greater than the sum of their parts. “Someday I’ll Fall” is also a great example of taking old school influences and embedding them in a new, fresh approach.
Joe Buck Yourself – “Planet Seeth”
One of the men responsible for helping to revitalize the hallowed ground of lower Broadway in Nashville in the mid 90′s delivers this bloodletting of a song where the audience is actively encouraged to release their hate in Joe Buck’s direction. Though the language and music may be too hard for most, the concept and execution of “Planet Seeth” is nonetheless genius. It embodies the participatory aspect of underground country, where the crowd is as much a part of the show as the artist, giving back in energy what they receive from the performer in a symbiotic relationship.
Wayne “The Train” Hancock – “Thunderstorms & Neon Signs”
Few songs can evokes mood and reminiscent memory like Hancock’s “Thunderstorms & Neon Signs.” It set the standard for the old-school style of country swing that was so seminal to the formation of underground country. The song’s legacy was cemented when Hank Williams III covered it on his first album Risin’ Outlaw, introducing Wayne Hancock to a whole new audience, and vice versa. “Thunderstorms & Neon Signs” helped cement the underground country movement.
I actually come from the camp that believes that if Mumford & Sons weren’t so popular, more core roots fans would respect them. But it is really hip to hate and undervalue Mumford right now. Let’s hope that the current backlash doesn’t hurt every band with a banjo, because there’s many great string bands out there that and mix high energy and heartfelt songs into the string band concept.
Devil Makes Three
The West Coast’s preeminent string band for years that has garnered a massive underground following, Devil Makes Three is finally getting the recognition and large crowds their music has deserved since they started in 2002. The trio was one of the first to bring a punk attitude to string band music, and with a new Buddy Miller-produced album coming out soon, they only promise to find more fans.
The Dirty River Boys
If you’re looking for a Mumford-like alternative from the Texas music scene, The Dirty River Boys from El Paso have the high-energy, heartfelt songwriting thing covered and then some. Like so many successful Texas bands, they’re able to balance substance with sensibility to bring real music to a wider audience.
Larry & His Flask
One of the most dynamic, off-the-wall live acts you can see, Larry & His Flask launched themselves into the wider consciousness when traveling on the Warped Tour in 2011, and continue to leave fans gasping for breath from the sheer madness they evoke on stage. If energy and showmanship is what you’re looking for from your string band, look no further than Larry & His Flask.
They’re no longer officially around, and they’re still better than Mumford & Sons. The .357 String Band broke up in late 2011, but they left behind a legacy of some of the most full-tilt string band music you will find. They were the pinnacle of speed, skill, and songwriting in string band music.
Split Lip Rayfield
Never given enough credit and regularly overlooked, Wichita’s Split Lip Rayfield was one of the very first bands to infuse string band music with punk. Formed in 1995 and releasing their first album with Bloodshot Records in 1998, the band has seen a decline in output and touring over the last few years after the death of founding member and guitarist Kirk Rundstrum, but remain one of the biggest treasure troves of high octane string band music.
If there is a legacy band in the throwback old-time string band concept, it is these guys. Just invited to become Grand Ole Opry members and now with a #1 song to their name in the form of Darius Rucker’s “Wagon Wheel” cover, Mumford & Sons could and burn like a fad, but Old Crow Medicine Show is here to stay.
Founding .357 String Band member Jayke Orvis has taken his solo project into hyper drive lately, and has himself one of the most well-orchestrated string bands pushing well-written material. Like many underground roots bands, Jayke Orvis suffers from a lack of outside recognition, but their talent rivals any other string band at the moment.
The Hackensaw Boys
Given credit as one of the very first bands of the current string band revolution, Hackensaw Boys member David Sickmen and former member Rob Bullington had a band called the Route 11 Boys with Ketch Secor and Chris “Critter” Fuqua who would later go on to found Old Crow Medicine Show. Hackensaw Boys have been sort of a proving ground for musicians, including Tom Peloso who went on to join indie rock group Modest Mouse. Most of the string bands you speak to will list The Hackensaw Boys as a big influence.
Since they ostensibly are one of the primary influences of Mumford & Sons and their original concept can be seen all throughout Mumford’s approach, it’s only appropriate that The Avett Brothers are included here. The Avett’s were one of the very first bands to evolutionize string music and give it a shot of punk energy, and to bring it to an audience outside of the traditionally-defined roots world.
The Foghorn Stringband
One of the most traditionalist-style string band’s in the recent uprising, but one who proves that style and craftsmanship can outlast speed or over-sentimentality in songwriting when the music is done right.
Trampled by Turtles
Another band that has seen big success from the rise in popularity of string music, and just sits below the big boys like The Avett Brothers and Old Crow Medicine Show in draw. Trampled by Turtles can pick as fast as anyone, but tend to favor the songwriting aspect more in their most recent album.
More String Bands Better Than Mumford & Sons: Carolina Chocolate Drops, The Calamity Cubes!, Yonder Mountain String Band, The Tillers, Carolina Still, The Pine Hill Haints, The Dinosaur Truckers, Chatam County Line, The Gourds, The Pawn Shop Saints, and…
2013 has come on strong here recently for quality albums, with some real contenders for the coveted “Album of the Year” distinction released just in the last week. Any “Best Of” album list for 2013 is also going to reflect the leadership and creativity displayed by country music women, which has become one of the year’s underlying themes so far.
PLEASE NOTE: This list only includes albums that have already been reviewed by Saving Country Music. There are many other excellent albums sitting in the review que, for example John Moreland’s In The Throes that many are hyping as an Album of the Year candidate. And please feel free to leave your opinions and suggestions about what are the best albums of 2013 so far down below.
The Mavericks – In Time
“Some bands like to espouse themselves “defying genre,” when many times this is just a front for lacking a musical compass or an original sound, hoping disparate elements will meld together simply from the uniqueness of the experience. That is not the case with The Mavericks. Every one of their songs is a country song. Every one is a Latin song. And every one is rock n’ roll, all the way through. It’s because their influences overlay each other in parallel layers instead of being haphazardly mixed together. They aren’t a blend of genres, they’re every classic genre all at the same time.
“This is not just a great album for The Mavericks, it is a great addition to the American songbook as an example of the melting pot of cultures that have come together to birth some of the most vibrant and compelling music heard by man.” (read full review)
Sturgill Simpson – High Top Mountain
“Real country fans are just going to have to get comfortable with the new reality that their favorite music is on a surprising uptick. No more mopey faces, no more plotting midnight graffiti runs to Music Row as retribution for keeping your favorite artists down. Regardless of what kind of filth is still transpiring on country radio, a new spring of vibrant, independent country music is blooming and finding surprising support, and there may not be a better example of this new season than Kentucky native Sturgill Simpson and his breakout album High Top Mountain.
“Emerging from the coal region of Kentucky, to working on trains in Utah, to Nashville, TN to tackle the nasty business of trying to make it in music, Sturgill’s path has been windy, but like the stitches on the cover of High Top Mountain, it has lead to a sunny ending of seeing the realizations of his dreams—dreams that we all benefit from in the form of a great new gift of country music.” (read full review)
Caitlin Rose – The Stand-In
“Ladies and gentlemen, Caitlin Rose has arrived. It may take some time for the rest of the world to wake up to this realization. But they will. The strength of The Stand-In assures it. The Stand-In is frighteningly good. It’s an enterprise in the evocation of rich human emotions, interwoven with delicious hooks and intelligent riffs, stirring vocal performances delivering meaningful, elevated lyricism, and a towering production performance that may go down in the history books. Just simply… Wow.
“It’s really hard to look at this album and not see it as a springboard. This is Caitlin Rose’s moment. She’s no stand in, she’s an A1 girl. Caitlin Rose is in full bloom on The Stand-In.” (read full review)
Jason Isbell – Southeastern
“On Southeastern Isbell goes right for the gut with an elegiac knife, thrusting and stabbing in a morose and unrelenting ritual of emotional evocation. Southeastern is downright suffocating in spots in its weight. It is bold, and merciless in how in preys on the faint-of heart, and can make a faint-of-heart out of even the most devout Stoics…It’s potent enough that it doesn’t need additional content to keep you entertained for longer because even when you walk away from it, the songs are still playing in your head, and the emotions it conjures are still ripe.
“Completely unfair Isbell, completely unfair. And selfish too. You should have saved some of these songs for others.” (read full review)
Eric Strickland – I’m Bad For You
“Eric Strickland is Country with a capital ‘C’ and couldn’t make a bad album if he tried. He may be more locally-oriented than the other big names in honky tonk music, but gives up nothing to his more well-known comrades when it comes to cutting songs and records….At the heart of Strickland’s appeal is his ability to take what on the surface may seem like tired, clichè country themes, and give them a fresh, new feel.
“Real deal, true blood, hard driving, but daring to be sweet in moments, Eric Strickland and The ‘B’ Sides are doing their part to save country music. Now it’s time to do your part by giving them your ear and attention.” (read full review)
The Dinosaur Truckers – The Dinosaur Truckers
“Can four dudes from Germany make American roots music and still be authentic? Do they have the ear, the personal history, the DNA, the dirt under their fingernails to do what American-based string bands do, or will they be forever relegated to being once removed from the American musical experience? If The Dinosaur Truckers and their new self-titled LP are any indication, the answer would be “Ja! Natürlich!”
“German or not, The Dinosaur Truckers give up nothing to their cross-ocean string band brethren, and maybe could even teach a thing or two to some of the awful punk-gone-country string bands who bring the energy and anger, but not the songwriting and attention to detail. The Dinosaur Truckers are the full package.” (read full review)
Jason Boland & The Stragglers – Dark & Dirty Mile
“If Red Dirt spans a wide sonic palette that ranges from hard country to straight rock n’ roll—with alt-country, country rock, Southern rock, and even some country pop thrown in between—then Jason Boland is the hard-edged bookened defining Red Dirt’s country border. In other words, it is pretty difficult to be more country than Jason Boland and the Stragglers.
“You know what you’re going to get from a Jason Boland show and a Jason Boland song. Dark & Dirty Mile continues on with that consistency and strength, and assures that as Red Dirt grows and ages, Jason Boland & The Stragglers will still be one of the movement’s premier acts, and one preserving the country roots in the Red Dirt legacy.” (read full review)
Jayke Orvis & The Broken Band – Bless This Mess
“With stability and a shared vision of making a band around Jayke’s music, but one where all musicians are treated as equal, Jayke Orvis & The Broken Band have re-captured the fervor and spellbinding performance aspect that made the .357 String Band such a force of music nature. If anything, The Broken Band may be taking it a step further with a deeper attention to composition, pushing all four players to the edge of their abilities, and the edge of human capability itself…” (read full review)
Holly Williams – The Highway
“Before this album, I’d been mostly opinion neutral on Holly Williams. Being the granddaughter of Hank Williams, the daughter of Hank Jr., and the sister of Hank3 appointed her music the respect of more than a cursory look. The pedigree runs too deep in that family to handle her otherwise.
‘The Highway’ puts Holly Williams smack dab in the middle of this revolutionary crop of young women that threatens to completely shake up the country music world and mindset. Along with Kacey Musgraves, Caitlin Rose, and Ashley Monroe, Holly Williams now has a career-caliber album that exemplifies the leadership and creativity coming from country’s young women.” (read full review)
Other Notable 2013 Albums So Far
- Wayne Hancock’s Ride
- Ashley Monroe’s Like A Rose
- Carolina Still’s The Color of Rust
- The Carper Family’s Old-Fashioned Gal
- The Ten Foot Polecats Undertow
- Willie Nelson’s Let’s Face The Music & Dance
- The Deadstring Brothers’ Cannery Row
- Rattleshack’s Rattleshack
- Fifth On The Floor’s Ashes & Angels
- Son Volt’s Honky Tonk
- Nellie Wilson’s Not This Time
- The Highballer’s Soft Music & Hard Liquor
- Olds Sleeper’s Before & After The Here And Now
- Ray Lawrence Jr.’s More Raw Stuff
- Dale Watson’s El Rancho Azul
- Jimbo Mathus’s The White Buffalo
- Daniel Romano’s Come Cry With Me
- Roger Alan Wade’s Southbound Train
- Amber Digby – The World You’re Living In
- Kacey Musgraves – Same Trailer, Different Park
For years we took for granted that the mainstream music industry was in a calamitous free fall, spiraling towards cataclysmic implosion. We were so sure of this diagnosis, we used it as the crux of all our music theories. Then lo and behold, the industry figured out how to pull out of the tailspin, and independent artists that years before we’d never dream of seeing getting big breaks began to get noticed. Hellbound Glory has been out on arena tours. Sturgill Simpson is touring with Dwight Yoakam. The Alabama Shakes are playing SNL, Shovels & Rope is playing ACL, and everyone is playing Letterman. All of a sudden it’s not appropriate to be so sullen about the direction of music.
But if you’re looking for an act that is still virtually unknown, one that is buried deep in the underground and that embodies the raw energy of the roots movement and not just a commercially-viable watered-down derivative, one whose active ingredient still works on even the most hardened of roots addicts, then Jayke Orvis and The Broken Band might be your drug.
A founding member and the mandolin player for the groundbreaking .357 String Band, Jayke Orvis may have taken a long and windy road to finding his way in the music world, but if his current sonic output is any evidence, he has found his path, and it is righteous. What made the .357 String Band so singular was that it was four dudes testing the very limits of human ability with instrumentation, while positively debilitating you with the emotion of their songwriting. When Orivs was undutifully released from .357 (the band eventually disbanded in late 2011), he became more of a singer/songwriter type of performer, sometimes favoring the guitar over his mandolin.
As the name alluded, Jayke’s “Broken Band” was a hodgepodge of plug-in players that all did dutiful jobs, but never had the stability to congeal enough to hone in on everything that the music could be. Orvis himself was a revolving member of the Gothic roots outfit The Goddamn Gallows, and regularly borrowed from their players for his Broken Band on dual Orvis/Gallows tours. The collaborations were enthralling and memorable in their own right, but never allowed Jayke the intimate focus on his own music that it needed to realize its true potential.
Jayke finally declared earlier this year that he was taking his last tour with the Gallows, and trained his attention solely on a solid, permanent Broken Band lineup that includes guitarist James Hunnicutt, and former Bob Wayne Outlaw Carnies’ Liz Sloan and Jared McGovern on fiddle and upright bass respectively. With stability and a shared vision of making a band around Jayke’s music, but one where all musicians are treated as equal, Jayke Orvis & The Broken Band have re-captured the fervor and spellbinding performance aspect that made the .357 String Band such a force of music nature. If anything, The Broken Band may be taking it a step further with a deeper attention to composition, pushing all four players to the edge of their abilities, and the edge of human capability itself, balanced by slow and mid-tempo songwriter material.
Jayke Orvis & The Broken Band are the underground roots equivalent of the Punch Brothers, and are one of the top tier performers of the underground sub-genre. But as Jayke explains, he’s not looking for recognition from the Americana Music Association or berths on arena tours with big country names. “I want to open for Slayer,” Jayke told me right after their live set at Austin, TX’s Scoot Inn on 5/06. “Well I mean that may be a little hard now, but I want to show punk and metal kids that roots music can be cool.”
As the overall roots world seems to be benefiting from a rising tide, it’s not hard to wonder if some of the best of the underground are being left behind, and how long this rising tide will last before the popularity arch begins to fade. Jayke Orvis is one of those artists who has stuff that could catch fire. He’s one that could benefit when roots fans conclude that Mumford & Sons just doesn’t have the mustard to hold their attention long-term.
Jayke Orvis & The Broken Band recently released their 2nd album, Bless This Mess on Farmageddon Records. His first album It’s All Been Said constituted the formation of that record label. Though the album has officially been out for a while, you won’t find it on Amazon or iTunes. You can’t stream it on Spotify or Pandora. I secured my copy at a live show, and was told there was only a few more copies left in their merch bag before they would be able to restock in a few days. A good problem to have in some respects, but one that makes the outreach of the music problematic when people can’t get it.
Bless This Mess didn’t have a well-promoted release date, if any true release date at all. No promotional push paralleled its availability. No review copies were sent out to independent music outlets, including Saving Country Music which named Jayke Orvis its 2010 Artist of the Year. In 2013, statistics show that for every song bought, 100 are streamed, and that albums that are streamed for free prior to their release sell more copies. To not make an album available at all digitally puts the album and the artist at an unparallelled disadvantage. This does not necessarily mean this is neglect on the part of Jayke or his label. All of this very well may be on purpose, and I’m sure it will be available digitally eventually. But the point of releasing music is to get it in as many hands as possible, and an artist holds no more potent promotional tool than when they release an album.
When I loaded Bless This Mess into my computer, the tracks were unmarked. I got “Unknown Artist” and “Unknown Songs” with the track times and numbers. If the idea is that this is an underground approach to releasing music, this is somewhat misguided. Jello Biafra was such a genius because he was able to get his music right beside the music of big labels in record stores by doing it the right way. Legions of hopeful artists with awful music release albums every day that in no way reach the quality level of Bless This Mess, but get more attention because they’re released the right way. You want to know what so much popular music sounds so bad? Because some people are willing to understand the correct approach. Jayke Orvis’s music is too good to put limitations on it by not following the easy and well-established modes of how to release an album.
The counter-point is that Jayke’s fan base is so loyal, all these concerns are silly. But the goal of any artist, even one that is not driven by fame or money, is to attain a healthy sustainability that hopefully factors in at least some moderate growth.
Though Bless This Mess seems like it may be one step behind where Jayke & The Broken Band are right now with their live show, it still boasts some excellent arrangements and performances, and a wonderful lineup of both originals and covers. Hank’s “Kaw-Liga,” Ralph Stanley’s “Bound to Ride,” and The Weary Boys’ “Pick Up The Steam” round out a remarkable set of well-interpreted renditions. Banjo player and part-time Broken Band member Joe Perreze also offers up one of the albums standout instrumentals in “Clankertown.”
This all leads into Jayke’s original material. Whether its blazing instrumentals like “Murder of Crows,” or more singer/songwriter-style material like “West Wind,” and what may be the album’s legacy track “Crooked Smile,” Jayke Orvis shows himself as one of the premier purveyors of Gothic-infused American string music worth a wide ear and critical acclaim. And let’s not gloss over that Jayke also scores well on the intangibles. With the way he presents himself and his stage presence, he has that essential charisma to hold an audience captive, while at the same time the humility to defer to his players and make it more about the music than himself.
Jayke Orvis & The Broken Band is a name that deserves to be ready on the tongue whenever folks query for names of top flight string bands to check out. But it will only get there if at least cursory attention is paid to the promotional side of things. Making good music isn’t enough. Marking track names on albums and distributing an album digitally is the easy part. The hard part is making music that touches you on a human level, and does so in a pioneering way, and this is what Jayke Orvis & The Broken Band do with almost unfair effortlessness.
Two guns up on the Jayke Orvis live show
1 3/4 of 2 guns up on Bless This Mess
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The Farmageddon Records family suffered a grave loss last week when Richard Laferte II unexpectedly passed away Saturday, January 5th while visiting family and friends over the holidays in his home state of Maine. Richard, who was living in California with his wife of 4 years, Holly Atkinson Laferte, moved to Maine in 1983, and grew up in the Bangor area. Richard was involved in Little League baseball and youth hockey, and graduated from John Bapst Memorial High School in 1999. He was part of the YMCA Leader’s School, and received the Fellowship Cup during his last year in attendance.
Later in life Richard Laferte was a tireless friend of music and a right hand man at Farmageddon Records, helping to promote bands on the label’s roster and others in the underground and independent roots world. On Thursday, January 10th, music friends from all around the country trekked to the Peakes Hill Lodge in Dedham, Maine just southeast of Bangor to pay their respects and return the music favors Richard had bestowed to them over the years. Following a formal time of remembrance, the gathering turned to celebrating Richard’s life through music.
The celebration included the reunification of 3 original members of the .357 String Band, Jayke Orvis, Derek Dunn, and Joseph Huber. Though all 3 members have moved on to solo careers in music, this is the first time all three men were together since Jayke Orvis left the band in June of 2009. Other musicians in attendance were Graham Lindsey, James Hunnicutt, St. Christopher, and Braxton Brandenburg from the Ugly Valley Boys. Darren and Johnny Wrong of Farmageddon, as well as many other close friends and family were also in attendance.
Richard A. Laferte II was 31. Along with his wife Holly Atkinson Laferte, Richard is survived by his parents Dick and Debbie Laferte of Bangor.
Folks wanting to contribute to Richard’s family are asked to make a donation in his name to the Bangor YMCA Leader’s School in his name, Bangor YMCA 17 Second St., Bangor, ME 04401.
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.357 String Band Reunites for Richard Laferte:
Left: Richard Laferte. Right: Richard in YMCA Leaders School
Richard Laferte in the crowd at the Muddy Roots Festival 2011.
Original members of .357 String Band reunite for Richard
James Hunnicutt pays tribute to Richard.
Pictures from Richard Laferte celebration by Darren of Farmageddon and Braxton Brandenburg.
Where 2011 felt like a high water mark year for live performances and an average year for recorded projects, 2012 feels vice versa. When I look back on 2011, it seemed like there were moments I experienced that I will never top the rest of my life. 2012 is the year that some albums and songs were released that may never be topped. Still there were a quite a few memorable performances worth noting.
Unlike Saving Country Music’s other yearly awards, since omnipresence isn’t an attribute I posses, this is simply based on my own experiences, not meant to capture the overall pulse of the live events that transpired all year. And please consider that even though I may have attended events like Pickathon, The Muddy Roots Festival, or SXSW, I was unable to catch every performance, or enough of certain performances for it to feel fair to include them here. If you feel there is an omission, please share it with the rest of us below.
15. The Calamity Cubes – XSXSW 5 – Austin, TX
Usually in music you get the raw, primal, gut punching experience, or you get the introspective, heartfelt, cerebral experience. The Calamity Cubes are one of those few live performers who can deliver both. They put on a great set at the Muddy Roots Festival in Tennessee as well, but their XSXSW performance in a more intimate, tight-knit setting rose to being something special.
Kody Oh! doing a bass stand in the center of the crowd:
14. Jayke Orvis – Stage 2 – Muddy Roots Festival
Jayke Orvis is always a crowd favorite, and Jayke and the crowd were pretty miffed when the sound crew pulled the plug on them at 2-something in the morning. But sometimes the worst situations breed the most memorable moments, and that’s what happened when Jayke and his Broken Band hopped into the crowd and kicked it acoustic style, sound guys be damned. Other highlights of the set were JB Beverley singing “Streets” with Jayke from his album It’s All Been Said, and Rachel Brooke singing her duet with Jayke “Hold Me Tight” from the .357 String Band’s magnum opus, Fire & Hail.
13. L.C Ulmer – Stage 2 – Muddy Roots Festival
L.C.’s friend Robert Belfour deserves praise for the craziest performance story of 2012. Crashed out on the highway from the torrential rains of the tropical storm that had made its way to middle Tennessee, Robert hopped into the tow truck and told them forget the car for now and point their nose to the Muddy Roots site, he had a gig to play. He showed up late, but he showed up, with the tow truck driver carrying his amplifier and guitar.
Meanwhile during the delay, L.C. Ulmer laid down one of the baddest-assed extended sets of blues music all weekend, chicken hopping across the stage and playing guitar behind his back. It was one of the most surprising sets of music I saw all year.
12. Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band – Stage 2 – Muddy Roots Festival
The first time I ever saw Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band live I straight up walked out. Too much chicken and fried potatoes for me. Granted, I was mainly there to see Austin Lucas who opened the show, and it was at the armpit of Austin music venues–the now condemned and shuttered Emo’s. But nonetheless after 15 minutes, I was done.
Rev. Peyton did something in 2012 though. He figured out the right formula for his music, both recorded and live. And his set at Muddy Roots was sheer madness from downbeat. It culminated in the crowd throwing handfuls of hay up in the air while Washboard Breezy lit her washboard on fire in a mad scene I will never forget, and neither will drummer Aaron “Cuz” Persinger who has an acute hay allergy and had to rush off the stage after the last song to keep his lungs from collapsing.
Audio sucks in the video below, but you get the drift.
11. Lake Street Dive – Workshop Barn – Pickathon
After seeing them perform at Pickathon’s “Pumphouse”–a small shack isolated in the woods where bands go in and make top notch videos for the site Live & Breathing–I made a vow to catch their set on Sunday at Pickathon’s Workshop Barn. Right up there with Thee Oh Sees, Lake Street Dive from Brooklyn was one of the new take-aways for me from 2012 Pickathon. Though maybe a little more polished and jazzy for traditional Saving Country Music fare, their style and musicianship was enthralling and made me a fast fan. After their last Workshop Barn song, they got the biggest ovation I think I have ever seen for a live performance, possibly ever. I was afraid the floor was going to cave in.
10. Thee Oh Sees – The Galaxy Barn – Pickathon
Yes I know, not really country. At all. Though I would say there’s some serious roots influences at play here. Regardless of what you want to label them, Thee Oh Sees are a force of nature in the live context, and it is about time that they busted out of their San Francisco scene to find a place in the greater music consciousness. They are sonic craftsmen (and craftswoman) who seem to understand intuitively how to tickle all the nerves that make your mind and body submit to music and make you wiggle around like an unruly child. Thee Oh Sees are a must see.
9. Bob Wayne – The Continental Club, Austin, TX & Muddy Roots
Three times in 2012 I was regaled by Bob Wayne and his Outlaw Carnies, but there was something special about the night at The Continental Club. Seeing him in one of Austin’s most legendary venues, and with probably his best Outlaw Carnie lineup yet in Ryan Clackner on guitar, Lucy B. Cochran on fiddle, Elmer on bass, and with a full-time drummer in the lineup for the first time, they laid down an ass whooping of a set. This is where I realized that Bob Wayne had completely separated himself from the crowd of crusty, post-punk screamo bands with banjos to become a professional touring act capable of breaking into the next level. Like his music or not, Bob Wayne has arrived and can put on one hell of a show.
Picture from Muddy Roots:
8. Lucky Tubb w/ Don Maddox – Johnny B’s – Medford, OR
Lucky Tubb is not just another famous name. He’s bursting with authentic, classic talent, and wields one of the best voices in country music by combining cadence and style. Sometimes discipline can keep this from being evidenced in full force, but when he’s on, he’s on. And he was on Halloween night and so was his excellent band, with the added bonus of sharing the stage with the legendary, 90-year-old Don Maddox of the Maddox Brother & Rose. (see videos and full review)
7. Slim Cessna’s Auto Club/Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers/The Goddamn Gallows – Muddy Roots Festival
I can’t say enough about these bands, and at this point I’m afraid to say anything more from fear of coming across as redundant. Every year when I talk about live bands, they topped the list. And they will continue to top the list of bands you must see, except for Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers who at least for the moment are no more, giving you even more reason to make sure you see these bands live any chance you get because you may not get another. Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers, and The Goddamn Gallows are as good as it gets live.
Col JD Wilkes of Th’ Shack Shakers:
6. Joe Buck Yourself – Stage 1 – Muddy Roots Festival
One of those “you had to be there” moments when Joe Buck, surrounded by a sea of his fans chanting every word of his songs, created one of those magical moments of musical camaraderie.
5. Austin Lucas & Glossary – The Mohawk – Austin, TX
This is a touring combination I had wanted to catch for a long time. To hear Glossary is one thing. To hear Austin Lucas is another. And then to hear them together is completely something else. It is two autonomous music acts that you swear were built to compliment each other. There is no better way to experience Austin Lucas than with Glossary behind him, and there’s no better band to hear before Austin Lucas than Glossary. It is because they both build their music from the songs out, but still give such great attention to the live performance, and their styles of roots and rock take the same approach and blend perfectly.
4. Sturgill Simpson – The Rattle Inn- Austin, TX
I’ve been open about my reservations about the retooled Sturgill Simpson following the dissolving of his previous band Sunday Valley. Putting an acoustic guitar in his hands seemed like such a travesty after experiencing Sturgill in the raw with the electric guitar and the country music power trio. But however exciting it was, it was a hollow experience for Sturgill in the long run. Many songwriters covet the idea of being listened to instead of heard, but Sturgill actually has the talent to have one of his best tools taken out of his hands and still command an audience. Now Sturgill is making you listen, betting himself to see if he can hush a room, and winning that bet. (read full review)
3. Anderson Family Bluegrass – Scott Valley Bluegrass Festival, California
“People first, then music” is the mantra on this site, and it is such a blessing when you discover people who are just as inspiring as the music they make. Such is the case with the Anderson Family Bluegrass Band from Grass Valley, CA. Hovering above the fray of most stock family bands and stock bluegrass bands, there is a realness to their music that sets them apart. Yes, their set lists include many standards you would expect from any bluegrass band, but then they’ll completely surprise you with some spice, like Iris Dement’s “Our Town” or Hank Williams III’s “D Ray White.”
I went to the Scott Valley Bluegrass Festival hoping to catch the Anderson Family’s set and shake their hands, and the Anderson Family ended up making me feel like one of the family for the weekend (Trigger Anderson, if you will). The music is excellent, but this is just the excuse to get you to pay attention to the profound warmth and by-gone family strength the Anderson Family conveys. (read full review)
2. Restavrant – Stage 2 – Muddy Roots Festival
There are two types of primary music experiences: visceral and carnal. Uh yeah, this one would be firmly ensconced in the carnal category. A Restavrant set is like a physical, violent assault on your personage that in some weird, masochistic way you addictively crave. I don’t think I still have fully processed exactly what happened on that stage. But rest assured, if I had another chance to see these chaps perform, I’d blow paychecks and cross state lines to put myself in harm’s way and let them run me over like a barreling Mack truck again and again. Restavrant has always been an amazing live experience, but with the addition of drummer/junk smasher Tyler Whiteside, it’s downright out of control.
1. Ralph Stanley – Stage 2 – Muddy Roots Festival
It goes without saying that any time you get to see a true music deity on stage, it will be memorable. Sometimes when this happens, especially with a performer in their 80′s, you have to go in knowing the performance itself may not be the greatest, that they’ve aged beyond their abilities, which will happen to us all. What made Ralph Stanley’s set at the Muddy Roots Festival so memorable is how his band had really thought out how to take a legendary performer who was probably is no longer fit to put on a full set of music himself, and still make you feel like you were taking in a performance from him in his prime.
But true music lovers live for those extremely rare moments when everything comes together, the sky parts and the world hushes, and the very fabric of human experience bends to the will of a truly magical musical moment. That my friends is what unfolded when Ralph Stanley stood in the center of the Muddy Roots stage looking out across a disheveled, soaking wet sea of rednecks and post-punk refugees who all fell as silent as the day after the end of the world when Ralph Stanley recited “O’ Death.” Your goosebumps got goosebumps. And for that brief moment, all of it, all of the reasons we live and struggle, the importance of friends and family and community, and everything we do to ensure music is a part of our lives, the sacrifices, the money, the travel, all came into full reflection.
The underground country movement started roughly in the mid 90′s on lower Broadway in Nashville that at the time was a run down part of town. Young musicians from around the country, some from punk backgrounds, came together from their mutual love of authentic country music to create a counterbalance to the pop country that was prevailing on Music Row a few blocks west.
Underground country started with mostly neo-traditionalists like Wayne “The Train” Hancock, Big Sandy, and Dale Watson, but spread to the punk and heavy metal world through acts like Hank Williams III and Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers. This list does not just consider the appeal of these albums, but also the influence they had on other underground artists and albums, and on country music and music in general.
Please understand that this list is just for underground country albums. This means artists better defined by the Deep Blues like Scott H. Biram or Possessed by Paul James, or Texas artists like James Hand or Ray Wylie Hubbard, or country artists who may work on the fringes of underground country but would not necessarily be considered underground like BR549 or Roger Alan Wade, are not included. Americana acts are not included. This is strictly underground country’s opportunity to bask in the spotlight.
Please feel free to leave your own list below.
16. The Boomswagglers- Bootleg Beginnings – 2011
This very well may be the most authentic album of music put out in the modern era for any genre. The Boomswagglers have always been and continue to be more myth than reality, with original Boomswaggler Lawson Bennett long gone and a cavalcade of replacements shuffling in an out with Spencer Cornett. Even if they never put out another album, The Boomswagglers made their mark, and it is a deep one.
“The music is wildly entertaining and deceptively deep. If you’re going to be a Boomswagglers song, someone’s got to die, and likely a woman. Some may find this silly, monotonous, or even offensive, but you have to listen beyond the lyrics, and unlock the carnal wisdom that is hidden in these songs.” (read full review)
15. JB Beverley & The Wayward Drifters – Dark Bar & A Juke Box – 2006
Dark Bar & A Juke Box was an instant underground country classic, and so was the anti Music Row song that the album got its name from. JB and his Wayward Drifters grit out a superb selection of songs displaying taste, restraint, and a sincere appreciation for the roots of country music, which may have surprised some who knew JB more for his work with heavy metal bands like The Murder Junkies and the Little White Pills. Dark Bar & A Juke Box also boasts appearances from the famous son and grandson of a country music royal family, who due to contractual issues had to work incognito (wink wink).
14. Lucky Tubb & The Modern Day Troubadours – Del Gaucho – 2011
Some (including Lucky himself) may point to Hillbilly Fever as being the seminal Lucky Tubb album with its big budget and appearances by Wayne “The Train” Hancock. But Del Gaucho is where Lucky Tubb came into his own, found his sound, and the unique musical flavor only he has to offer the world. Dirty, rowdy, rocking, but still steadfastly neo-traditionalist country, Del Gaucho scores off the charts when it comes to style points. When you’re talking about some of the greatest neo-traditional country albums and artists of all time, Lucky Tubb and Del Gaucho deserve to be in that conversation.
13- Bob Wayne & The Outlaw Carnies – Blood to Dust – 2008
They say you have your whole life to write your first album, and what makes Bob Wayne’s Blood to Dust so special is how true and touching he told his life’s story through song. His subsequent albums aren’t too shabby either, but with signature songs like “Blood to Dust”, “Road Bound”, and “27 Years”, this still stands out as his signature album, and a signature album of the underground country movement. It was performed, produced, and recorded by an all-star cast of contributors that included Donnie Herron, Joe Buck and Andy Gibson, and brought Bob Wayne out from behind-the-scenes as Hank3′s guitar tech, and made him one of the movement’s most well-known songwriters and performers.
12. Jayke Orvis – It’s All Been Said – 2010
This is the album that launched Farmageddon Records, and that launched Jayke Orvis as a formidable, premier front man in underground country. One of the founding members of the now legendary .357 String Band, Jayke was asked to leave the band because of irreconcilable differences and almost immediately began touring with The Goddamn Gallows and trying to make this album happen. The result was a slick, tightly-crafted LP showcasing excellent songwriting and instrumentation. From ballads to blazing instrumentals, Jayke Orvis has proved himself to be one of the singular talents of underground country roots.
11. Lonesome Wyatt & Rachel Brooke – A Bitter Harvest – 2009
This album was destined to become an underground country classic. The mad genius music mind of Lonesome Wyatt of the Gothic country duo Those Poor Bastards has the uncanny ability to procure the absolute most appropriate sounds to evoke the desired dark mood in his music. Then you combine that with one of the best voices not just in underground country, but in all of music in Rachel Brooke, and magic was bound to happen. The creativity on A Bitter Harvest is spellbinding. More of an artistic endeavor than a toe tapper, Lonesome Wyatt and Rachel create a soundtrack to human emotion and despair. For people looking for a place for country music to evolve, A Bitter Harvest shows how you can take authentic country themes and an appreciation for the roots of the music, and envelop it in layers of textural color culled from the wide experience of human sounds.
10. Justin Townes Earle – Midnight At The Movies – 2009
Midnight At The Movies was Saving Country Music’s 2009 Album of the Year. Today it would be difficult to characterize Justin Townes Earle as underground country because the quality of this album launched him into the inner sanctum of Americana.
“Justin Townes Earle has done an awesome thing with this album; he has figured out a way to unite all the displaced elements that make up the alternative to mainstream Nashville country, while still staying somewhat accessible to the mainstream folks as well. You might even catch the bluegrass folks nodding their head while listening to it. Folkies like it, and there’s a few tunes blues people can get into. This isn’t just the REAL country album of the year, it is the “Alt-country” album of the year and the “Americana” album of the year.” (read full review)
9. Slackeye Slim - El Santo Grial, La Pistola Piadosa – 2011
“Every once in a while, an album comes along that changes everything. It’s an album that inspires other albums, and dynamic shifts in tastes and approach throughout a sector of music, while at the same time dashing the dreams of other artists, as the purity and originality are way too much to attempt to rival. Slackeye Slim’s El Santo Grial, La Pistola Piadosa is one of those albums.
“El Santo Grial is a masterpiece, exquisitely produced, arranged, and performed. This is a patient, uncompromising album. You can tell time was never introduced into this project as a goal. The goal was to flesh out Slackeye’s vision without ever settling for second best, and that goal was accomplished.” (read full review)
8. Wayne “The Train” Hancock – That’s What Daddy Wants – 1997
Thunderstorms & Neon Signs is the Wayne Hancock album most people gravitate towards as their favorite because it was their first, and the first to showcase Wayne Hancock’s unique blend of country, Western Swing, rockabilly, and blues. But pound for pound, That’s What Daddy Wants is just as good of an offering, boasting some of The Train’s signature songs like “87 Southbound” and “Johnny Law”. Wayne Hancock has never put out a bad album, and distinguishing between them is difficult. But it’s not difficult to say that the underground country movement would have not had as much class if That’s What Daddy Wants hadn’t seen the light of day.
7. .357 String Band – Fire & Hail – 2008
“They were all the absolute best possible musicians you could find at their respective positions, each challenging each other, pushing each other to keep up with the band’s demands for artistic excellence in both instrumental technique and creative composition.
“Listening back now at Fire & Hail, with so much talent in one place, no wonder the project was untenable, and no wonder the respective players have moved on to become their own trees instead of respective branches of the same project. Still, the loss of .357 String Band may go down as underground country’s greatest tragedy.” (read full review)
6. Hank Williams III - Lovesick, Broke, & Driftin’ – 2002
BR549 and Wayne “The Train” Hancock spearheaded the neo-traditionalist movement in the mid 90′s, but Hank Williams III was the one to carry it into the oughts and introduce it to a brand new crop of fans he brought along from his dabblings in the punk/heavy metal world. After having to tow the line somewhat for his first album Risin’ Outlaw, Hank3 was unleashed and able to showcase his own songwriting, heavily influenced by Wayne Hancock and Hank3′s famous grandfather, but still all his own. His voice was wickedly pure with a heart wrenching yodel and commanding range. The songwriting was simple, but powerful. This is a masterpiece, and remains an essential title of the neo-traditionalist era.
5. Hellbound Glory – Old Highs & New Lows – 2010
Hellbound Glory had already been around for years, but they burst into the underground with this magnificent, hard country album highlighted by head man Leroy Virgil’s world class songwriting. Despite the “hell” in their name and the hard language in their songs, Hellbound Glory hadn’t gone through any retooling as post punk refugees. They were pure country through and through and Old Highs & New Lows combined excellent Outlaw-style bar stompers and ballads with some of the most wit-filled songwriting since Keith Whitley. As far as honky tonk albums go, it may be years before this one is trumped. And when it is, it might be Leroy Virgil and Hellbound Glory doing the trumping.
4. Dale Watson – Live in London…England – 2002
Dale comes out on stage and starts slinging guitars, cutting classics, and speaking the truth. Before Dale was the hometown boy and house band for Austin, he was pissed off and willing to sing about it. Dale’s anti-Nashville classics “Real Country Song”, “Nashville Rash”, and “Country My Ass” can all be found here, but Live in London isn’t all pissing and moaning. Songs like “Ain’t That Livin’” showed off Dale’s superlative voice and suave style. Honky tonk albums are sometimes hard to make because it is hard to capture that live, sweaty energy in the recorded context. So what better way to solve that problem than making a live one? Live in London remains the best Dale album to date.
3. Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers – Cockadoodledon’t – 2003
This was one of the first albums to bust out of the burgeoning music scene on lower Broadway in Nashville where one can argue the undergorund country movement started. It showed the world what kind of mayhem could be created by mixing country, blues, and punk music together without compromising taste and soul. It is the album which acts as a guidepost to the eclectic, yet intuitive and inter-related mix of influences that you will find in underground country: honest to goodness appreciation to the roots of American music, with a punk attitude and approach. And if you ever wondered why Joe Buck is considered part of underground country, appreciate that he played most of the music on Cockadoodledon’t.
2. Wayne “The Train” Hancock – Thunderstorms & Neon Signs – 1995
There are two albums that you can look back on an make a serious case that if they did not exist, underground country music may not exist–the album below this one on this list, and Wayne Hancock’s Thunderstorm & Neon Signs. There are two types of music artists: originators and imitators. Sometimes imitators can be very successful, and very creative artists themselves. But it always takes the originators to set the plate for the imitators to do what they do. Thunderstorms & Neon Signs was an original album from one of America’s most original country roots artists of all time. It doesn’t get much better or more influential than this.
1. Hank Williams III – Straight to Hell – 2006
This album isn’t underground country’s Red Headed Stranger. It isn’t underground country’s Honky Tonk Heroes. It is both. It is the album that both was a novel concept, a breakthrough sonically and lyrically, and had a massive impact on the business side of music, for artists winning control of their music and inspiring and showing artists how to do it themselves. The deposed son of country music royalty had taken on a major Nashville label, and won, and all while being one of the first to successfully bridge the energy and approach of punk and heavy metal music with traditional country, all while keeping the music solidly country in nature.
It was the first album to be put out through the CMA with a Parental Advisory sticker. It was the first to ever be recorded outside of a traditional studio setting. Of course only a select few were paying attention, but it broke through many barriers that to this day have changed music in significant ways, sonically and behind the scenes.
The approach also had wide-ranging impacts outside of underground country and country music in general, to rock music and punk and heavy metal, inspiring thousands of rock kids to put down their electric guitars and AC/DC records, and pick up banjos and Johnny Cash records. The impact on mainstream music may have not been seen, but it was felt, and just like all great albums, it’s legacy will grow and be more appreciated and understood as the future unfolds.
Rachel Brooke is one of the few select artist with enough mustard to rise out of the ashes of the country music underground and become a force in the greater roots world. Like an early Emmylou Harris, the music industry should be shuttling her across the country to lend her singular vocal texture to other projects in between putting out excellent solo albums that time finds hard to forget.
The first thing that must be said about A Killer’s Dream is that it’s a blues album. And when I say “blues” I’m not talking about Deep Blues, or punk-infused blues, or country blues. I’m talking the type of straightforward 12-bar blues where the first line repeats itself; the most common progression you think of when you think “blues.”
But this isn’t something far outside of what was heard from the original country bluesmen like Hank Williams and Jimmie Rodgers. And people who think this is a wholly new direction for Rachel (who I’ve dubbed “The Queen of Underground Country” in the past) aren’t versed on her early material like “Bottle Tippin’ Blues” and “Blackin’ Out” that were similarly based deep in blues modes.
Florida duo Viva Le Vox was hired on as the house band for A Killer’s Dream, and I can’t say enough about the taste they brought to this record. These songs afforded them so much space, and they had so many opportunities to walk all over Rachel’s voice or hijack the attention. Instead they laid back and listened, letting their musical wisdom guide them in creating a foreground for Rachel to be framed in, while still somehow imbibing the album with their distinct Viva flair and macabre.
And Viva is just the start of the instrumentation. The amount of textures A Killer’s Dream touches on is impressive: Saw, 30′s jazz horn sections, kettle drum and xylophone just to name a few. The approach to A Killer’s Dream can only be described as “bold.” It’s also an audiophile’s dream. Recorded live to 2-inch tape and not touched by computer until mastering, A Killer’s Dream conveys tremendous warmth and presence.
A Killer’s Dream cracks the speakers with the haunting “Have It All” that isolates and showcases Rachel’s singular attribute–her voice that I once heard best described by mandolin player Jayke Orvis as, “Carrying so much pain.”
After this succulent little bit of audio melts into a reverberating pool reminiscent of Rachel’s landmark collaboration with Lonesome Wyatt called A Bitter Harvest, the album starts in earnest with the bluesy “Fox In A Henhouse”. Immediately your ears train on that Viva Le Vox flavor I alluded to above, and right when you’re ready to accuse this song of being cliche with it’s line, “There ain’t no devil in my heart, ’cause I ain’t a man,” Rachel slays you with the payoff, “But there’s been one in my kitchen, she’s been cooking with my pots and pans.”
It’s always risky to release a second version of a song, but in the case of “Late Night Lover”, the listener is rewarded with a bolstered, energized interpretation that employs trumpet and timpani and an attack to Rachel’s voice in the chorus that both trump the previous version, and make you appreciate the previous version more for its simplicity.
The Fats Domino cover “Every Night About This Time” took a little time to warm up to, but what drew me in was the “oh-oh-oh-oh’s” Rachel sings. They set the table for the 50′s-era vibrations Rachel works with on later offerings like the solid “Only For You” and the title track, “A Killers Dream”. The quivering and cursed “The Black Bird” with its choir of saw shrieks breeds a sense of fear and despair frosted with a vintage patina.
One possible issue with A Killer’s Dream is how many times Rachel goes to drink from the straightforward blues well. Also the middle songs on this album–the stripped down, acoustic “Life Sentence Blues” and the droning “Old Faded Memory”–act sort of like a speed bump on the momentum. Lonesome Wyatt of Those Poor Bastards singing in a higher register than most of us have heard before makes “Old Faded Memory” something special from a sonic standpoint. But the story meanders, the music is sort of flat, and at nearly 7:00, it tests the will.
Individually, the blues songs like “Life Sentence Blues” and “Serpentine Blues” aren’t bad, but in an album that sonically is so diverse, the structure of the blues numbers begins to feel burdensome.
All of these sins are atoned though when Rachel offers up the gem of A Killer’s Dream, the Beach Boys-inspired title track. Possibly Rachel Brooke’s best song ever from a compositional standpoint, the usually reserved Rachel takes risky, daunting leaps and sticks the landings remarkably well. Aside from just being fun and a wholesale change from what we’re used to from Rachel, the writing on this song is its best attribute, which can’t be overlooked for how actively the song pulls you in from a visceral standpoint. This song “makes” this album, proves Rachel’s versatility and musical prowess, while at the same time being completely ridiculous and silly.
How to grow and evolve yet still hold on to what makes you unique and who you truly are is the balance all artists must attain to continue to move forward. Rachel shows she’s up to these alchemical feats in A Killer’s Dream, and proves that she’s musical gold, worthy of the attention of the greater Americana / roots world.
Two guns up.
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“A Killer’s Dream” video that just premiered on CMT Edge:
In 2008, a fledgling Saving Country Music named its first “Album of the Year”. The award went to the blazing punk bluegrass band from Milwaukee, the .357 String Band, and their magnum opus Fire & Hail. Then on New Years Eve of 2010, Saving Country Music announced its “Top 10 Albums of the Decade” in all of country music, and Fire & Hail made it on that list too.
There is no harsher critic, nor more revealing force in music than time. Time reveals all warts and washes away any help from trends and current tastes. But here nearly four years later, no revisions need to be made, no clarifications are called for. Fire & Hail remains a preeminent, timeless release, and one of the most important ever in underground country, surpassed possibly only by Hank Williams III’s Straight to Hell.
.357 String Band put out 3 excellent albums before officially calling it quits in November of 2011. But Fire & Hail is where banjo player Joesph Huber revealed himself as a brilliant songwriter of marksman first-class caliber. It’s where mandolinist Jayke Orvis revealed his depth of composition, from penning one of the band’s signature songs “Raise The Moon” on their first album, to procuring the heart wrenching “Hold Me Tight” duet with underground country queen Rachel Brooke. It’s where guitar player Derek Dunn codified himself as the hub of the band, and where Rick Ness established himself as one of the most solid back beats wielding an upright bass.
And they were all the absolute best possible musicians you could find at their respective positions, each challenging each other, pushing each other to keep up with the band’s demands for artistic excellence in both instrumental technique and creative composition. Listening back now at Fire & Hail, with so much talent in one place, no wonder the project was untenable, and no wonder the respective players have moved on to become their own trees instead of respective branches of the same project.
Still, the loss of .357 String Band may go down as underground country’s greatest tragedy. I can think of no other project that was so ripe for becoming a success story of authentic American underground roots. They were brilliant, but accessible at the same time. Seeing the success these days of Mumford & Sons, The Avett Brothers, Trampled by Turtles, and Old Crow Medicine Show to name a few, it’s baffling how .357–a superior gaggle of talent–somehow missed the boat. It is a great sin of American music.
Luckily we still have the legacy of .357 String Band to reflect back on, and the respective work and side projects of the individual players–including Billy Cook who filled in for Jayke Orvis in later years–to see us through a period that feels mired and creatively discounted without the muse, and the challenge to inferior talent the .357 String Band embodied. That is why it is such great news that the band has reissued the seminal Fire & Hail on split-color red/while limited-edition numbered vinyl.
But even if vinyl is not your bag, if you’ve never heard of this band or never owned Fire & Hail, do yourself a favor and stop down and get yourself a copy. And for the rest of us, the warmth of analog sound will be a tide over until our glorious .357 rises from the ashes to reproduce their magic that has been stricken from the ear too long. Or at least, that’s what we will tell ourselves to cope with the fact they continue to no longer be around. And in a similar vein, there’s talk from them of a “Best Of” with some unreleased tracks seeing the light of day soon, so maybe there’s still a chance to satiate a little more of the .357 String Band thirst that haunts us, eternally unreplenished as long as their hiatus remains active.
If you have a record player, get this. And if you don’t, get a record player. And then get this.
Two guns up!
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…or you can also paypal $19 to streetgrass77 at gmail dot com. Free US shipping, add $5 for Canada, and $9 for Europe.
A few days ago, CMT launched a new format and website called CMT Edge with the intent of covering artists outside the norm of mainstream country music. Since then I’ve been asked many times what I think of it, and my stock answer has been that I don’t exactly know what I think of it yet. The venture is still in its infantile stages, and it will take time to determine just what CMT Edge will be, and the impact it will have.
Having said that, I see no reason at this point not to stay positive about it. It’s always good to have more avenues for good music to reach people. As I always say, I want good music to get popular, and popular music to get good. Any sense of ownership or desire for exclusivity anyone might feel with the independent music they love and worry that CMT Edge might erode that exclusivity is being silly and selfish. So far, they’ve featured artists like Sara Watkins, The Avett Brothers, Trampled by Turtles, and JD McPherson among others. They also appear to intend to use CMT Edge to cover older country artists like Dwight Yoakam and Patsy Cline; both who’ve been featured already.
If you look at the categories of the 11 features posted on CMT Edge so far, 8 of them are labeled “Americana”. I don’t think it’s coincidence CMT Edge was launched the same week the Americana Music Conference is going on in Nashville mere steps from the CMT headquarters. Americana is growing, and CMT would be fools to not try and tap into that market. Make no mistake that CMT, which is owned by Viacom, would have never launched this venture if they didn’t think there was a profit to be made, and that there’s demand for the content.
So what is the possible downside to CMT Edge? It could possibly take attention away from independent media outlets, especially ones in the Americana world like No Depression, Paste, or possibly in some small respects Saving Country Music. But again, more outlets for good music is generally a good thing, and if these outlets feel threatened, they should step up their game. And I doubt CMT Edge will dig as deep as many of the current independent outlets do. As much as bands like Trampled by Turtles and The Avetts are on the outside looking in when it comes to mainstream country coverage, they are also very successful bands making good livings playing music. To stay profitable, CMT Edge will stay with established acts who simply don’t fit comfortably in the mainstream country world. Don’t expect Hellbound Glory and Jayke Orvis to get features soon.
My biggest concern is in the underlying subconscious labeling of acts that could come with CMT Edge coverage. Some may see a band being featured on CMT Edge as an implication that they are a smaller tier, second rung act. By not putting these acts beside country music’s biggest names, but below them through an outlet meant to cover the “edge,” there’s the danger of typecasting these artists as cut-rate. It’s always been a belief of mine that the top tier independent talent deserves equal-billing with country’s top names. If just given a chance, an artist like Justin Townes Earle could possibly score just as high as Jason Aldean with the public. Consumers just need to be given that choice. CMT Edge in some respects kicks the “more choice” can down the road instead of confronting mainstream country’s issue of a lack of new talent entering the genre.
Mainstream country lacks a legitimate farm system. And once an artist is cast as Americana/Independent/Underground, etc. they’re usually beholden to those avenues for their music till eternity, many times facing low ceilings of success and no chance of mainstream radio play or media coverage. Meanwhile in mainstream country, there’s few artists working the traditional program, going from honky tonks, to clubs, to theaters, to eventually the arena and a major label deal. Instead, new country talent is culled from the safe, easy avenues of reality TV programming, or professional Nashville songwriting circles. This has left country creatively bankrupt, as the most-creative and brightest talent flocks to Americana because they don’t want to be labeled as “country” because of the non-creative, commercial stigma.
Americana may have a lower commercial ceiling than mainstream country, but it continues to find some very legitimate traction, and seems to be building in stature and infrastructure each year. NPR is now offering Americana a big radio outlet, festivals are forming and growing that appeal to the Americana crowd, and small to medium, sustainable music entities like Thirty Tigers, Bloodshot Records, Dolph Ramseur (the man behind the Avett’s success and the Carolina Chocolate Drops) are beginning to create real organization behind the Americana idea, and are even having success getting their artists on programs like The Late Show with David Letterman, and Jimmy Kimmel Live.
What does this all have to do with CMT Edge? Clearly the independent side of the music world is growing, and CMT doesn’t want to be left in the dust. As all popular music continues to coalesce into one big “popular” mono-genre, music that is indefinable by genre and/or appeals to micro-sects of people is expanding. Whether it is Americana, classic country artists, neo-traditionalists, or punk-country, appeal for independent music is increasing, and CMT Edge is proof of that. Is CMT Edge commercial exploitation of this music? We’ll have to see, but there’s no indication that is what is happening at the moment.
As much as I think that much of CMT’s reality programming perpetuates negative country stereotypes and that its parent company Viacom is generally a negative force in the media marketplace, there’s nothing from CMT Edge so far that irks me. So let’s stay positive about it, work as a music community to attempt to steer it in a positive direction, and be glad that better music is catching on and continues to find new outlets.
I bet when you saw Bob Wayne‘s name in the title of this article, you had some sort of immediate emotional reaction, didn’t you? You either thought, “That foul mouthed punk, I can’t even stand to see his ugly face,” and you blame him for perpetuating a perversion of country music. Or, you saw his name and said “Hell yeah,” remembering the last time you saw him live and how he rocked your face off, or how how one of his deeper, heartfelt songs helped you through a hard time.
Like him or not, Bob Wayne has arrived. One way you can tell this is by the polarization that precedes his name (just check out the comments on his last album review). In music, it’s always better that people have an opinion about you than to be ambivalent or unbeknown to your existence. Usually where there’s sharp, contrasting opinions, there’s success. Take Shooter Jennings and Hank Williams III for example. You won’t find two more polarizing, or more successful figures in underground/independent country music. But unlike Hank3 and Shooter, Bob Wayne has not had help from his given name, nor the burden of unrealistic expectations being a famous namesake can bestow.
Instead his success is a symptom of relentless touring in America and Europe; a tour schedule whose tireless nature rivals any other in music today. And one thing Bob Wayne has that country’s famous sons don’t is fantastic label support. Century Media may be way better known for metal music, but they fit in that sweet spot for present day labels: big enough to be considered a “major” with an expansive network and Rolodex, but small enough to be considered an “independent” with the ability to offer strong, healthy, catered support to each of their artists.
Though the crowds for Bob Wayne are certainly growing domestically, Europe is where he’s made his strongest foothold, like many independent country and roots artists that made the jump from amateur to professional before him. In certain Euro stops, Bob Wayne is pulling 800 capacity crowds in, just to see him, not as a support act. This is likely one of the reasons Century Media decided to put out his last album Till The Wheels Fall Off on their European imprint People Like You, an unusual move for an artist based in the States. Bob has also bought a van and a complete set of backline instruments for his band that he permanently stores in Europe to facilitate his frequent overseas tours and save on expenses.
Instead of worrying about pulling a profit or working some master plan, Bob Wayne simply put his head down and booked his own breakneck tours for years, figuring out how to include European stints in them when he could. He would work construction jobs in his home state of Oregon to get the money to buy European plane tickets for him and the band, tour the country from West to east, fly out to Europe, and then start the whole cycle over again. All of that touring led to a tight live show and a professional attitude on stage from Bob and his talent-packed “Outlaw Carnies”.
Over the years, the Outlaw Carnies have become a proving ground for underground country talent. With a loose arrangement, players are allowed to come and go as they please, but they all must provide stellar musicianship to keep up with Bob and the band’s budding legacy. Joe Buck, Andy Gibson, Donnie Herron, and Dan Infecto are just a few of the names that have contributed to Bob either live or recorded in the past, and then continued on to make bigger names for themselves. The dating duo of fiddler Liz Sloan and bassist Jared McGovern cut their teeth as Carnies, and now play with Jayke Orvis and Filthy Still among others. The entire .357 String Band once did a stint as Bob’s backing band.
The newest edition is Lucy B. Cochran on fiddle. At first glimpse you might mistake her for Liz Sloan who she replaced, but the two female fiddles have very different styles. Lucy goes to the bluegrass shuffle like few fiddlers I’ve seen, and adds a more countrified element to the Carnies. The current Carnies also feature “Elmer” on standup bass, and Ryan Clackner who can serve up some of the hottest leads licks on Telecaster that you can find. Bob’s current lineup is as sharp as any you will find in underground country, and so is Bob’s show…that is of course if Bob Wayne is your thing. If it’s not, then he could resurrect Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys to back him up and it still wouldn’t be enough.
It’s the swear-filled lyrics and racy themes in many of his songs that will always keep Bob at odds with many country faithful, and understandably so. They will also unfortunately keep those same people from enjoying many of his deeper songs that don’t feature racy topics or bad language.
The cold, hard fact is many favorite underground country bands may never be able to make the leap from being amateur, underpaid musicians, to professionals making a reasonable, living wage, despite the quality of their music or their desire or ability. But Bob Wayne has, and with continued label support, creative freedom, a stellar backing band, and a bottomless pit of energy and enthusiasm for touring, he also seems to have plenty of upside potential.
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Bob Wayne is playing the Muddy Roots Festival on Friday 8/31 at 11 PM on Stage 2.
Farmageddon Records, home to such roots acts as Jayke Orvis and The Goddamn Gallows, has announced they’re throwing a full-scale, 3 day festival this summer, July 20-22, just outside of scenic West Yellowstone, Montana, behind the Longhorn Saloon on Hebgen Lake.
Farmageddon founder Darren D knows a little something about promoting shows, and even more about Montana, being from the Big Sky State. He started in the music business on a mission to bring roots talent to the region.
“We decided to throw a festival to give the Western half of the US a destination to see roots music,” says Darren. “There has been a lot of momentum building up to the festival in the last few months, and we have had a fair share of international interest as well. We are certainly aiming to make our festival a destination for anyone and everyone who enjoys this kind of music.“
So why West Yellowstone?
“If you are going to throw a music festival it’s important to make it a destination point for the folks that are making a long distance trek to be there. West Yellowstone is home to the label and is right on the SW entrance to Yellowstone National Park. This is a great way to make a summer vacation out of the trip.”
“This particular part of the country is stunning, and if folks haven’t had a chance to visit the park yet this is a great excuse to do so. There are ample places to camp in and around West Yellowstone Montana, and there are also plenty of motels and hotels in the area. West Yellowstone is a small town, and it defiantly gives off a small town feel when you visit. It’s really the perfect place to do a festival.”
A few years ago, the one last piece that seemed to be missing out of the underground country/roots structure was a good festival, or group of festivals. Since then many artists have participated in festivals like The Heavy Rebel Weekender and Pickathon. The Deep Blues Festival has been resurrected, the 2nd Annual Lowebow Fest will be going down in Orlando March. And The Muddy Roots Festival has risen to become the flagship festival for underground roots/country. Folks worried that the Farmageddon Festival may somehow take away from Muddy Roots, or that Farmageddon artists may no longer participate, need not worry according to Darren.
“We will be promoting the Muddy Roots Festival heavily at the first Farm-Fest. There is easily enough folks out there to support both festivals, and we wouldn’t be surprised if you see familiar faces at both events. We are huge supporters of what Muddy Roots is doing, and we will continue to support them and their efforts. We are all planning on attending Muddy Roots this year again, how could you miss it! This is really geared toward the folks who live on the left side of the country, and it’s not going to be a carbon copy of Muddy Roots, so people who decide to attend both won’t be seeing too many repeat performances.“
As can be seen from the lineup below, there will not just be Farmageddon artists performing, but many folks from the greater underground roots community. (note: lineup can change)
- Shooter Jennings
- Southern Culture on the Skids
- Slim Cessna’s Auto Club
- The Goddamn Gallows
- Jayke Orvis & The Broken Band
- Stevie Tombstone
- Graham Lindsey
- The Calamity Cubes
- Filthy Still
- JB Beverley & The Wayward Drifters
- Calamity Cubes
- Soda Gardocki
- Black Eyed Vermillion
- Bob Wayne & The Outlaw Carnies
- Carolina Still
- The Pereeze Farm
- James Hunnicutt
- Ugly Valley Boys
- Cletus Got Shot
- Sean K Preston
- Danny K & The Nightlifers
- Owen Mays
- Tales From Ghost Town
- The Deadnecks
- Tom VandenAvond
- Angie & The Carwrecks
- Shivering Denizens
- Husky Burnette
- Dog Bite Harris
- The Cheatin’ Hearts
- Philip Roebuck
- Whiskey Dick
- Ronnie Hymes
- Slackeye Slim
- Ando Ehlers
- Danny Infecto
- Saint Christopher
- The Dead Tree String Band
- Aran Buzzas
- Hard Money Saints
- Carrie Nation & The Speakeasy
I think at this point it is pretty much a forgone conclusion that in 2012 we’re all going to die of death. You know, that whole Mayan thing. But I thought just to be on the safe side, just in case we all don’t die, we’ll probably want to listen to some music, so wouldn’t it be cool to know what some of your favorite artists have planned for 2012. So I asked them to tell us in their own words.
Leroy Virgil of Hellbound Glory is…
…working on a new project we’re just gonna call ‘merica. Gonna come out in chapters or volumes, haven’t decided. Songs about real ‘merica. Shitload of new songs. Also shit load of touring. Nationwide February and March.
…balancing two aging dogs, two little sons, 500 Elementary aged children, 4 chickens in coop & 1 debilitated claw toe while releasing a 10″ LP and new full length album. We also hope to be coming to your town whether in France, Tennessee or Canada. RAR RAR 2012!
Roger Alan Wade is…
…recording a new album, “The Last Request of Elijah Rose” – it’s a prequel to “Deguello Motel”. -I’ve got the songs written and just been playing them at home and sneaking a few in on shows getting ‘em broke in for the studio. This one feels good. And hittin’ the road a little more this coming year.
…going to put out a new album, spend thousands of miles on the road, and meet the girl of his dreams (not necessarily in that order).
Even as a child Ray Wylie Hubbard sensed the need for a hymnal for grifters. In 2012, he will release an album entitled “The Grifter’s Hymnal” consisting of 11 new original songs and a ringo starr cover; therefore fulfilling a life long quest and hopefully defying the Mayan calender.
Bob Wayne is…
…rollin till the wheels fall off …..(insert train whistle)!!! Yeeeehaaw!!!
Rachel Brooke is…
…heading back into the studio to release an analog full length record. And touring more. Also heading to the west coast where the 2012 earthquake will probably kill me.
Sturgill Simpson of Sunday Valley is…
…planning to win…period.
Ruby Jane is…
…going to remember the importance of loved ones and of being there for them no matter the circumstances. That is the most important thing I leaned from 2011.
…gonna play over 200 shows, just like we always do. See you at the honky tonk.
…already hard at work on a new release. We’re also hitting the road once the snow thaws. IN,IL,OK,AR,LA, and TX are up first. We’ll see ya this Spring!
Jayke Orvis is…
…hittin’ the studio, hittin’ Europe, and hittin’ Baby Genius in the penis.
Austin Lucas is…
…working on a follow up to “A New Home in the Old World”, tentatively with Tennessee legends Glossary as my backup band. I’ll also be heading into the studio with my family this summer for our first ever, official “Lucas Family Band” album. Heading out on the road in a few weeks.
James Hunnicutt is…
…going to kill the world with kindness in 2012 in a rootsy, metal sorta’ way
JB Beverley of the Wayward Drifters is…
…2012 is going to be a big one for me. I have the new Wayward Drifters record, my solo project, the Little White Pills, and Ghostdance. No rest for the weary nor the wicked!
Peewee Moore is…
…releasing his 2nd full length all original album in the Spring to be followed by a 100 + American City Support Tour.
…releasing their 2nd album in spring/early summer and will be touring the west coast, southwest, and southeast in early August and a possible movie appearance may occur if all goes well.
Slackeye Slim is…
… planning on doing a bunch of writing, and trying to get a band together in time for a summer tour of the US.
Lonesome Wyatt of Those Poor Bastards is…
…praying for the destruction of mankind and releasing many more hit songs.
Lone Wolf is…
…gonna be working on a new album which should be ready by February, touring the whole southeast with four other acts on a tour named “The Dukes of Juke Tour”, and also will be playing austin in march. His schedule is getting busier by the day…thats right folks, keep yer eyes and ears peeled cause the one man banjo speed demon may be coming to a town near you!!!!!!!!!
Derek Dunn is…
…putting out “Poisonous Serpents”, and touring around the U.S. and Europe.
Olds Sleeper is…
…releasing an album on Sunday, January 1, 2012 in preparation for the intended self-pocolypse of said year. “New Years Poem” will be free.
Willy Tea Taylor is…
…going to throw a perfect 9 innings during the wiffle ball game of his life.
2012 will go down as the year that the roots music revolution went transcontinental, as the Muddy Roots Festival heads over to the Old World to storm the beaches of Europe with a ridiculous lineup of talent. Though the festival is happening in Europe, it will mostly feature American acts, similar to the lineup of the original American Muddy Roots Festival going down in Cookeville, TN August 31st-September 2nd, but a few European acts will be featured as well.
“The inspiration for doing a festival over there came from the fans,” according to Muddy Roots promoter Jason Galaz. “We had just as many people come to Muddy Roots from other countries as from Nashville. Seems like they deserve a party in their own back yard. You could say I got a “calling” from the Good Lord to spread the Muddy Roots Gospel to every living creature.”
The invasion will go down June 9th and 10th, at the Cowboy Up Steakhouse Saloon in Waardamme, Belgium. Please note this is the initial lineup. More bands will likely be added later, and other bands currently on the list could change.
- Wayne “The Train” Hancock (Sunday Headliner)
- Hillbilly Moon Explosion (Saturday Headliner)
- Lucky Tubb & The Modern Day Troubadours
- Bob Wayne & The Outlaw Carnies
- Jayke Orvis & The Broken Band
- Slim Cessna’s Auto Club
- The Hackensaw Boys
- James Hunnicutt
- Derek Dunn (formerly of .357 String Band)
- Molly Gene the Whoaman Band
- Reverend Deadeye
- Tom VandenAvond
- Heinrich XIII and the Devilgrass Pickers
- The Buckshots
- Tio Gringo
When I sat down to name the top 10 live performances of 2011 as seen through my eyes, I didn’t know what a mess I was making for myself, and it wasn’t until then that I realized what a power packed year for live music it has been. My 10 stretched to 15 fast, and I’m still leaving out acts like Hellbound Glory, Lucky Tubb, and Ray Wylie Hubbard. I will be the first to tell you that is bullsh, but the line had to be drawn somewhere.
Unlike the Album of the Year and Song of the Year, with my inability to see every live performance, this is simply based on my own experience. However live performances always go into consideration for other awards, like the three solid Hellbound Glory shows I saw were considered when nominating them for album of the year.
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I really enjoyed the Sundays each month that Ruby Jane played historic Gruene Hall down in the heart of Texas, but it was a random night at Austin’s Continental Club that gave rise to her standout performance of the year with composer Graham Reynolds. Ruby’s stellar musicianship and passion on fiddle is hard to match. The flourish at the end of this song was something to make the hair stand up on the back of your neck.
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This is what South by Southwest is designed to do: take people who are involved in the music business, and put them in front of the artists in intimate setting to bypass all the press release and preview track bullshit so you can decide if an artist is worthy of your attention or not. The Revolution Bar in gentrifying east Austin was the perfect place to catch an intimate performance by Austin Lucas, joined only by his sister Chloe who supplied sublime harmonies and banjo. His simple, honest, and heartfelt performance proved to me this was an artist I needed to bring into the Saving Country Music fold.
They screw up in the middle of this, and it is still awesome. Listen to how quiet it gets in the room at the end.
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Speaking of hushing rooms and heartfelt songwriting, by evoking character through his music like few others I’ve ever seen, Charlie Parr and his guitar suck you in with songs of heartache sung with immeasurable soul. Charlie doesn’t sing about subjects in third person, he becomes the subject of his songs in an uncanny channeling of character, and makes the story flesh and bone right before your eyes.
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Whitey Morgan played the Pickathon Festival as well and had two excellent sets, but the standout show for me happened back in Austin during Bloodshot Records’ annual showcase at the Red Eye Fly, where Whitey Morgan & The 78′s were booked as the headliners. The sound was positively awful that night. The Waco Brothers played their whole set with the only working speakers being their monitors on stage. Meanwhile Whitey and the boys were sitting in their van, passing a bottle and anticipating a train wreck by the time they took the stage.
Whitey climbed on stage and took no prisoners, cussing and swearing the stage hands straight before the even did anything wrong. Bloodshot owner Nan had her face in her hands, worried Whitey was about to make a scene when what he was really doing was making sure the ship was righted before they started, and trust me, after Whitey put the fear of God in everyone, it was. Then they delivered the best set I have seen them play, and playing the headliner spot of the Bloodshot Records showcase, that is when I knew Whitey Morgan & The 78′s had arrived.
Here they are sharing the stage with legendary Eddie Spaghetti of the Supersuckers.
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11. Micah Schnabel of Two Cow Garage – ninebullets.net SXSW Showcase
Maybe not country, but nonetheless mind blowing was Micah Schnabel, who when PA issues kept his band Two Car Garage from plugging in, he grabbed his acoustic and did the solo thing like few others can. This guy is one of the most authentically-passionate performers on stage I’ve ever seen. As I like to say: if Possessed By Paul James gives birth on stage, Micah Schnabel commits suicide on stage.
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I saw this same lineup, at the same place, two different times this year, and I still did not get my fill. The perfect traveling amalgam of music, it starts off with James Hunnicutt playing solo, then Jayke Orvis taking the stage with Hunnicutt, Fishgutz from The Gallows, and Joe Perreze on banjo making up the “Broken Band,” and then at some point they are all on stage as The Goddamn Gallows.
And then there’s fire.
Joined here on stage by Gary Lindsay.
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9. Slim Cessna’s Auto Club – SXSW Showcase @ Spiderhouse
For years, the two best bands to see live have been Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers and Denver, CO’s Slim Cessna’s Auto Club. In support of their new album Unentitled they made their way down to SXSW and played a set mixing their new pop mocking songs in with their long-time favorites. This band is mind blowing every time. (video is not the best; only one I could find from the show)
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In the middle of a nearly year-long hiatus from the road, Hank3 drove out to Austin for a one-off show at The Revival Festival, and it was a good one. Not having to save anything for the next day and having nothing to recover from the night before, and dragging the badass chicken-picking half-blind maestro Johnny Hiland with him out from Nashville, Hank3 threw down the best live show I’ve seen from him in the post-Joe Buck era. It was one for the ages.
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To see either of these bands alone is an opportunity you cannot pass up. But to put them together back to back was a music cream dream come true. These two bands and their dynamic frontmen were instrumental in the revival of lower Broadway in Nashville, and the same dynamic that gave rise to the abominable frontman of lower Broadway was on display Sunday night at Muddy Roots.
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Just about every one of Willie Nelson’s kids plays music in one capacity or another. How many do it well is another story. But Lukas Nelson and his band The Promise of the Real is the real deal my friends. Far beyond riding coattails or his daddy’s name, 2011 in many ways was a coming out party for Lukas Nelson, and his performance at the 2011 Willie’s 4th of July Picnic / Country Throwdown picnic proved why. The man simply stole the show.
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5.Various Artists – Muddy Roots Festival Late Night Jam
This might be the biggest live music memory of 2011, but without any specific artist to attribute it to, or any other real way to quantify it, I’m just not sure where to put it on this list. What I do know is when you get a legend like Wayne “The Train” Hancock leading JB Beverley, Banjer Dan, all of Hellbound Glory, and who knows else, it’s hard to leave it off the list. It may have not been pretty, but it certainly was legendary.
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4. Marty Stuart – Gruene Hall, Gruene, TX
This was the performance that convinced me that Marty Stuart might be the one to save country music (read full review). This wasn’t a punk gone country show, or a neo-traditional swing back bit, it was simply pure, true country, yet dripping with energy, an engaging nature, attitude, and gospel soul. And his band The Fabulous Superlatives might be one of the best collections of country talent ever assembled. Simply put, this was the best set of straightforward country I’ve seen in years.
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3. Possessed by Paul James – Muddy Roots Festival
First off, the fact that this moment sits at #3 for the year tells you just what a power packed year for music experiences in underground roots music 2011 has been, because really, this moment sets itself apart in the musical experiences of a lifetime.
I saw Possessed by Paul James play live 6 times from late 2010 until now, and in that period, I watched a rebirth of one of the most dynamic live performers I’ve ever seen. Voice issues put him on hiatus for a bit, and when he started performing again, there was a slight timidness, a lack of confidence in his new vocal reality he was struggling with. But over that period, the confidence and abandon came back in full force, to where now I cannot think of another solo performer I would place above him in ability and consistency. Possessed by Paul James delivers every time, and I have come to think of him as a true headliner, and a true legend in the live and recorded context. They say that Possessed By Paul James gives birth to his songs on stage. In 2011 we also saw a PPJ resurrection.
By the end of his Muddy Roots set, some folks were in tears, and everyone was talking about the mysterious burst of wind on that blisteringly hot day that hit the tent right as he began to play. Call that mysterious wind burst a sign of the divine, or quantify it by explaining the dramatic atmospheric wind shift that preceded a change from the hot weather to a tropical disturbance ushered in by Tropical Storm Lee that moved over middle Tennessee. Either way, PPJ channeled that energy through his music, and changed people’s lives.
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2. Sunday Valley – The Pickathon Festival, Portland, OR
I really don’t know what to say here, except that Sunday Valley was the best live band I discovered in 2011, and very possibly might be the best live band right now in all of country music. I know that may come across as a platitude, but I believe it, and to try and use words to describe their live experience almost seems insulting; you just have to experience it yourself. Sturgill Simpson is country’s version of Jimmy Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughan. Mark my words, 2012 might be the year of Sunday Valley. (read more in live review from Pickathon)
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1. Justin Townes Earle – The Parish, Austin, TX
I will start this off by saying I know some people will read this having also seen Justin Townes Earle at some point in 2011, and thinking I’m crazy for putting him here at the top spot. That is because JTE can be hit and miss live, because JTE has a drug and alcohol problem.
When I saw him live at SXSW in 2010, that is when I first recognized a sharp dropoff in the quality of his live show, and a few months later, called him out on it in connection with a rumored drug problem. Later that year in September, he got arrested in Indianapolis after tearing up a dressing room, and brawling with cops. Shortly therafter came a rehab stint, and by January of this year, he was back on tour. We know from subsequent stories that between now and January, JTE had another relapse with heroin, and a relapse while on tour in Australia, and I’ve heard mixed review of his live shows.
I am not omnipresent, so I can’t speak on all his performances, but in Austin, TX, Justin Townes Earle put on the performance of his lifetime. Nearly a year later, I still get chills as I sit here and write about it. Stone cold sober, having just been from hell and back, his own mortality and career hanging in the balance, Justin Townes Earle sang from the heart like nobody else I have ever seen, or possibly ever will see. Since the performance, I have had to come to grips with the fact that I may never be moved by another performance for the rest of my life, like the way I was moved that night. (read review)
Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s .357 String Band, one of the stalwarts and one of the first full-time bands in the underground country movement, has decided to call it quits. Their high-octane “streetgrass” approach to traditional bluegrass music made them one of the top-tier live and recorded acts in all of underground country, and afforded them a big following in Europe as well. Their album Fire & Hail was the Saving Country Music Album of the Year in 2008, and the band is where underground country All-Star Jayke Orvis got his start.
According to the announcement from the band’s Facebook page, the decision was made when songwriter and banjo/fiddle player Joe Huber, who released a solo album last year Bury Me Where I Fall, decided to leave the band.
Dear Fans, Friends and Family – It breaks my heart to have to make this announcement, but November 25th and November 26th will be The .357 String Band’s final two shows. Joe has decided that the aesthetic of The .357 String Band no longer represents him; he will be returning to school to study woodworking, and pursue his own musical interests part time. The other 3 of us could not agree on a way to continue The .357 String Band without him.
Keep an eye out for solo projects/tours/etc, and we may occasionally make an announcement or two on here. Thank you all so much for the support over the years, it has meant the world to me. I hope to see you all at one or both of the shows next weekend, so we can celebrate 7 years of Streetgrass, whatever the hell that means…..
Word is guitarist, songwriter, and front man Derek Dunn has a solo album in the works, and is planning a tour to Florida and back this Winter. Stay tuned to Saving Country Music for any further developments.
The band went through some high profile drama in June of 2009, when they let go mandolin player Jayke Orvis. Jayke went on to make the first record on the Farmageddon Records label It’s All Been Said, and join the band The Goddamn Gallows. He was replaced by Billy Cook. The .357 String Band has also toured as the backup band to Bob Wayne.
It truly breaks my heart to read this news. The .357 String Band was one of the elite acts of underground country, one of the best bands to see live, and possibly the best ambassadors and examples to the rest of the world of the type of quality in songwriting and musicianship that the independent country boasts. Their music, influence, importance are truly irreplaceable.
The term of endearment I have for James Hunnicutt is “The Glue That Binds.” At this year’s Muddy Roots Festival, no other musician contributed more, from playing drums behind the legendary Don Maddox, to playing lead guitar with JB Beverly & The Wayward Drifters, Jayke Orvis, Owen Mays, and Rachel Brooke. James Hunnicutt is the ultimate selfless musician, who makes so many projects and tours that wouldn’t happen without him come to life, and makes projects already happening that much better.
But Hunnicutt’s most memorable contribution at Muddy Roots was his solo set, just him and a guitar, standing in a pool of water with folks huddled around him under a tent as the rain poured down, giving an intimate performance with no amplification. This ultimate test for any performer, when you strip everything back and solely rely on song craft and the art of performance, is what is captured brilliantly in the album 99 Lives. Think of Billy Bragg without the political baggage. Considering the amount of friends and favors James could call in, he’d have a fully instrumented album cut and pressed in no time, but instead he chose this methodology as a means to convey his dark, open, and lonesome sound, and make it more about the message.
99 Lives is one of those projects I have to give the disclaimer “Not for everyone” to. It’s no coincidence this review is being posted on Halloween. The album is dark to say the least, but not from the usual suspects of dark elements in music, like screaming drug references or double bass hits. Think more Edgar Allan Poe than Hank3, or The Misfits more than Metallica. The darkness comes from Hunnicutt’s mastery of chord progressions and the minor key, and his ability to match those chords up with the themes of his songs seamlessly.
And though I say 99 Lives may not be for everyone, certainly there’s songs from the album that are. The title track made it on my Top Songs of 2011 So Far list in June, and will likely be among the top candidates for Song of the Year. “My Pain” in the middle of the album takes a breather from the dark shades a bit, and this understated approach may make it a good staring point for people first getting into Hunnicutt’s music.
99 Lives calls upon the Gothic elements of country, like Johnny Cash and The Carter Family before: the cautionary tales, the struggles between the soul and temptation. These themes run like a backbone through the album, giving it a classic feel, grounded in the very early roots of Gothic Americana culture. James delves into the depths of human frailty with clarity and honesty: how guilt pummels the mind, and Will is compromised by the whims of the heart and the spell of addiction.
James speaks in the second song “The Misery That’s In Me,” “I sold my soul, so that the pleasure of flesh might ease my pain.” and then resolves in the final song “Never Meant” about his real-life sobriety, “This much has become evident, that past is rarely Heaven sent. So I’m letting it go to hold the promise of today.” In 99 Lives, Hunnicutt creates a circle of wisdom through fearlessly conveying his personal, intimate experiences in life, and by intimating his fears and frailties, and his victories against them. Honesty is the benchmark of all great albums, and 99 Lives’s honesty is unchecked.
And those words and honesty are complimented by the most powerful voice in all of independent country roots. There may be more colorful, more unique singers like Dale Watson, Rachel Brooke, or Lucky Tubb, but when it comes to sheer power and control, Hunnicutt has no peer.
And all the stuff I’ve mentioned about this album, and I still haven’t mentioned two of the most important elements of James Hunnicutt himself. The first is that he is a ringer of a lead guitar player, one of the few up to the task of standing to the right of Wayne “The Train” Hancock and in the shadow of Eddie Biebel and hold his own. However, Hunnicutt’s lead guitar skill set is displayed very little on this album, favoring more of a melodic, chord-based approach that compliments the music and mood better, and this might be the wisest element of the album: to resist the temptation to add overdubs that could have only taken away from the mood, and blurred the focus on James’ excellent lyrics and message.
And the last important element to James Hunnicutt, if not the most important element is who James is as a person. As we always say around here at Saving Country Music, it’s about people first, and then music, and you will be hard pressed to find a better person in music than James Hunnicutt. I touched on his selflessness before, but this is just the beginning. Unfortunately in 99 Lives, you will not hear about what a wise, patient, and inspiring person James is to be around, but anyone who has ever been around him can’t help but be candid about it at the first mention of his name.
Again, probably not for everyone, but for those who enjoy songs meant to be listened to and not heard, and a dark, sparse, and classic approach to music will find James Hunnicutt’s 99 Lives right in their wheelhouse.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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A few days ago, someone posted this on Hank III’s message board.
It seems everyone wants to criticize Hank III, second guess him, pontificate of how he should live his life and what direction his music should go. I’d like to see those people try to fill the biggest boots ever handed down in country music while fighting off a malevolent music label. I say just enjoy the music, that is what it is there for. And if you can’t, leave it.
But don’t forget who brought you back into country music after years of disappointment from the mainstream. Don’t forget who introduced you to country music when you were listening to who knows what kind of filth. Don’t forget who introduced you to Wayne Hancock and Dale Watson, and a slew of other musicians who have changed the very complexion of your life, brought you countless joy, helped you through endless sorrow. Don’t forget who made you feel hope that maybe everything in country music isn’t lost. Don’t forget who introduced you to countless other fans who now feel like family. Don’t forget who made the music that was there for you when nobody and nothing else was.
If it wasn’t for Hank III, I wouldn’t be here. If it wasn’t for Hank III, YOU wouldn’t be here. Hank III created all of this: this genre, this scene, this website, your interest, everything. We may not even be able to agree what to call this music, but we can all agree to call Hank III the king of it, and always will be, whether he puts out another country album or not.
It looked familiar, but I didn’t know from where until someone else pointed out that I wrote it in my review of Hank III’s last album Rebel Within.
Saving Country Music grew out of “Free Hank III”, which was built to battle Hank III’s label Curb Records that was refusing to release his music. Just like many underground country fans, when I first heard Hank III’s album Straight to Hell, when I first saw the eerie resemblance to his grandfather, so stark you could not deny you were looking at country music royalty, a vision of Hank III rising up to become a formidable force in country music washed over me with a tingling sensation. Like the Outlaws of the 70′s, he could turn Nashville and country music on its edge, and right the wrongs of the past 30 years. He could save country music.
And he almost did. From the strength of his music, incessant touring, and one of the most loyal fan bases this side of The Grateful Dead, Hank III created a colossal movement in music that spawned dozens of new bands, united thousands of fans, and created a vibrant underground in a genre that had never had one before. But Hank III ascended 9 rungs up a 10 run ladder, and then stopped. Maybe because of label troubles, maybe because he didn’t want to ascend to that hillbilly throne, even though it was sitting there waiting for him, ripe for the picking. And ever since some time in the late 2000′s, this huge army of fans, bands, DJ’s, podcasters, bloggers, etc. has sat bivouacked, waiting for marching orders, believing every word of songs like “Trashville” and “Dick in Dixie”.
But marching orders never came. Ideas floated out there to help unite the music were never followed through with. Reinstate Hank became headless. And now loyalty has withered, interest has waned, and disillusion and desertion from the Hank III camp is common. That is the reason I said what I said in that Hank III Rebel Within review, and why it was reposted a few days ago. Because people grumbling about a lack of direction need to be reminded of where it all started. There were others before, but for our generation, it started in earnest with Hank III, and that will never change.
Meanwhile Shooter Jennings was putting his own records out, and creating his own fan base. Shooter was a little more accessible, a little more mainstream, but maybe not with the loyalty or influence. A one-sided feud broke out between Shooter and Hank III, which precluded the two ever joining forces.
But now Shooter has started XXX. It is hard to gauge just where it is, and just how far it has gone, but for certain it is not going away. As I said in my first comments about XXX, comments in which Shooter himself said I was being “extremely critical”:
Finally, FINALLY, an artist is trying to show some kind of goddamn leadership, in some capacity, whatsoever.
One of the problems was, and is, is that it’s Shooter. This was supposed to be Hank III’s fight. He built this army. I’m not saying this out of disrespect to Shooter, this is just an observation. Shooter being at the helm of XXX is a criticism you’ll find repeatedly in the XXX opposition. It doesn’t mean XXX is doomed, but it has held XXX back. Meanwhile Hank III, who you could argue should be leading the fight, is not commenting on anything, not engaging anyone, likely doesn’t even know that XXX exists at this point, or at least the details of it, and seems paralyzed by indifference.
When I saw Shooter perform his industrial rock album Black Ribbons live, I said:
I really hope this is the end of my Shooter Jennings coverage. Unless he does the whole “going back to my roots” bit in a few years, it’s just not germane to what I cover. But I’m very glad that I can dot the period on a positive note… though I will never be able to get behind elements of his new album, I can truly say his live performance was top notch.
I thought that would be my last word about Shooter. Now there’s talk he will have a new acoustic country album coming soon. Meanwhile it might be 2012 before we see another country album from Hank III. Word is he’s focused on his “Attention Deficit Domination” stoner rock project, despite saying in an interview with Outlaw Radio that he was planning on releasing a country album, and either an Assjack or Hellbilly album “within a month” of his contract expiration with Curb. It has now been 2 months, and there’s no word on either project. It has also been since October that Hank III toured. Numerous requests for information or interviews have been denied.
This is NOT a comparison of the two artists, whatsoever, nor any attempt to set up another combative environment between them. It’s simply an observation. Who would have guessed six months ago that Shooter Jennings, SHOOTER JENNINGS, fresh off an album release that had little to do with country, would be the big voice behind unification of “too country for rock, too rock for country” music. On his Sirius/XM radio show, he is playing Rachel Brooke, Jayke Orvis, Roger Alan Wade, Whitey Morgan, Hellbound Glory, and Joe Buck (see playlists here). Meanwhile Hank III has canceled opening acts on his tours, a tool that used to be a big break for underground bands, and his over indulgence of “drinking and drugging” themes has become comedic fodder throughout the country world, including from people who embraced Straight to Hell when it first came out.
The sad fact is Hank III would not recognize most, if not all those names Shooter is playing, except for the one he kicked out of his band. I do have some concerns that Shooter is picking out bands that have signed on to XXX instead of bands that clearly define his “too country for rock, too rock for country” parameters, but it is a start. He’s trying to use his recognizable name to give bands a leg up, something Hank III has a rich history with that can’t be denied, but has seemed to abandon. Hank III’s relevance is slipping, and XXX is helping to fuel that, though I truly believe it is inadvertently. Shooter also plays Hank III on his radio show, and has been for years.
I’m not giving any answers here, only questions and concerns. Not criticisms, just observations. I have severe, deep loyalty to Hank III, but I am loyal to the music above any man. As inexplicable as it is to think that Shooter Jennings has now taken the helm from Hank III in the effort to help highly-talented up and coming country bands, it is also undeniable.
I know I didn’t make a list of candidates for some stupid “Artist of the Year” like I did for Album of the Year or Song of the Year for 2010. I know I didn’t even announce that there would be an Artist of the year for 2010, and up until a few days ago, the idea of doing it didn’t even cross my mind. But that is what is great about having your own website, you can do whatever the hell you want. And right now, I want to say that in 2010, when taking into consideration musicianship, songwriting, performance, showmanship, dedication, and intangibles off the stage and aside from music, there is nobody deserving of a top accolade like Artist of the Year than Jayke Orvis.
First an foremost, Jayke Orvis is a super picker, a mandolin maestro, with brilliant technical ability and taste; traits not always found in tandem. And rarely do you find in tandem with a superpicker superlative songwriting abilities, which Jayke also possesses. Numerous songs from his 2010 album It’s All Been Said showed of not only a great ear and deep, masterful songwriting, but the ability to shake it up, writing songs more composition-based like “Shady Grove Gypsy Moon” and “Dreadful Sinner”, and then turning around with a song like “Streets”, which is simple, fun, and straightforward, but as you delve into the lyrics they reveal a tremendous amount of soul.
And Jayke is not some studio whiz. Whether touring with Rachel Brooke and a mashup band of borrowed players, or adding an elemental hand to the madness and magic of a Goddamn Gallows show, Jayke toured a lot in 2010, and left an impression everywhere he went because of the breadth of his music prowess. I’m not going to call Jayke’s pipes golden, or his guitar playing impressionable. What I will say is when looking at all the factors that go into making a musician, Jayke scores tops in so many different was, it’s almost unfair.
Think about it like this: Jayke’s talent was important enough to form a record label around it in the name of Farmageddon Records, because many people saw it as imperative to share Jayke’s music with the rest of the world.
But erase all of that for just a second. Put all my glowing accolades aside. What do I always try to emphasize around here? That music is just the excuse. What we really talk about around here is life, and people, and the importance of certain priorities. Anyone can spend a bunch of free time learning how to play the guitar real well and be an asshole the rest of the time. When two of Jayke’s band mates in The Gallows were wrongly accused of a crime, Jayke didn’t cut and run or say “mum’s the word.” Jayke took the point, along with Darren at Farmageddon Records, in doing whatever was possible to set what was wrong back right. With honest, heartfelt compassion and empathy, he worked for the release of Quentin and Uriah, and through the efforts of him and many others, there is now hope for exoneration. I’m not saying the man’s a saint, but when it counted, he stepped up.
Does this leave egg on the face of the .357 String Band, which Jake was a part of and let go? No, I think it strengthens the influence and impact that band has had, and proves even more how much of a proving ground for creativity .357 has become. Jayke was let free so he could blossom, but at the same time, the combative and equally collaborative environment has created 3 amazing albums from that band, and now a handful of solo projects, including Jayke’s and another spectacular one from .357′s banjo player Joseph Huber called Bury Me Where I Fall. The .357 String band is our generation’s BR549, making stars out of all the individual members because of the rich environment it created.
Right now Jayke is in Nashville, recording a new album with The Gallows with the help of the hottest commodity in underground country recording, Hank III’s steel player Andy Gibson. After that I heard he is planning to head back to Pittsburgh, maybe tend bar and lay low for a while. Jayke has a son, and seems to appreciate some balance in his life. Whatever Jayke decides to do in the future, I hope he understands that to a lot of people, 2010 would have not been the same without him.
Jake also had the 2010 Video of the Year
- Karl on Circumstances of Wayne Mills’ Death Leave Many Questions
- Will on Circumstances of Wayne Mills’ Death Leave Many Questions
- That Guy on Wayne Mills of the Wayne Mills Band Shot Fatally in Nashville
- That Guy on Wayne Mills of the Wayne Mills Band Shot Fatally in Nashville
- Michael Burkhalter, San Diego on Destroying The Dixie Chicks – Ten Years After