- Marty Stuart: Keeper Of Country Music's Cowboy Couture
- Willie Watson on NPR's Mountain Stage
- Fader Interviews Lucinda Williams
- Chuck Mead on NPR's Mountain Stage
- Apple Reportedly In Talks with Majors for Cheaper Music
- Backstage Pass: Enjoy a Bit of Bradford Lee Folk Lore
- If You Missed It: Lucinda Williams on Fallon 9-30
- SXSW Probably Isn't Going Anywhere – But Big Changes Loom
- Revisiting Cowboy Jack Clement, Country Music's Jester and King
- Audiobook Review: Tom T. Hall "The Storyteller's Nashville"
- Mac Wiseman Featured in The Wall St Journal
- Live Nation Moving Off of Music Row
- After SiriusXM Success, The Turtles Take on Pandora
- American Songwriter reviews new Sons of Bill album
- Cool Music Photos from New "Still Moving" Picture Book
- The Telegraph "Sturgill Simpson: Space Cowboy"
- Jambands Reviews Cory Branan's "No Hit Wonder"
- Zoe Muth at WAMU's Bluegrass Country
- A night in the life of Austin City Limits ringleader Terry Lickona
- Review: Sturgill Simpson At Leaf Cafe, Liverpool, UK
- Can the people Nashville hopes to attract afford to move to Nashville?
All of a sudden development and preservation in the City of Nashville, and specifically the mother brain of country music industry known as Music Row, has become the big hot button issue in a city struggling with rapid growth and raised attention along with the music that the city calls home. On Monday (7-28), the property at 30 Music Square West that houses the historic Studio ‘A’ at the center of the growth and preservation debate was sold to Bravo Development. Bravo’s assessment of the building is bleak, citing asbestos, bad plumbing and wiring, a leaky roof, and mold in the ducts. Though Bravo said initially it was their intention to attempt to preserve this historic studio even if the rest of the building was to be razed, they’re now saying their main intention is to resell the property as soon as possible to someone else. In fact as soon as the deal closed, 30 Music Square West was immediately up for sale again. The future of Studio ‘A’ still remains very much in question.
When Ben Folds, the renter and caretaker of Studio ‘A’ made a public outcry when he heard the building was to be sold, it started a full-fledged movement to help save many of the historic buildings on Music Row by attempting to get the city to grant a historic overlay on the district, helping to protect certain buildings and restrict development. The idea was a popular one amongst local residents, music fans, and civic leaders alike. But the idea wasn’t popular with 30 Music Square West’s previous owners—the estates of Owen Bradley and Chet Atkins. Owen Bradley’s brother, guitar player Harold Bradley, said that Chet and Owen built the building as an investment in the future of Music Row, with the intent of reselling it some day. Tighter restrictions on the building could potentially hurt its value, and the value of other buildings in the area.
It’s interesting that the primary voice of dissent in the preservation efforts of Music Row are the representatives of Chet Atkins and Owen Bradley—two Country Music Hall of Famers whose contributions to country music are towering, and also polarizing and controversial. If you were going to point to two men that set up the Music Row system that subjugated country music artists into a automated and antiseptic assembly line of making country music during the Countrypolitan or Nashville Sound era, it would be Owen and Chet. Ruled by bean counters from out-of-town, efficiency was the name of the Music Row game in the 60′s and 70′s, as well as a focus on appealing to certain demographics as opposed to letting the artists breathe through their own artistic expressions. The whole reason Studio ‘A’ was built was to have a big enough studio space to record the string instrumentation that found itself onto many of the country music recordings of the time. Chet Atkins, Owen Bradley, and their cohorts and underlings chose the songs, produced the records, and called virtually all the shots when it came to how country music was made. Forget creativity or the preservation of country music’s traditional sound, this was all about the money, and so it is only appropriate that the representatives for Owen and Chet bring the same sentiment when it comes to the preservation of Studio ‘A’.
The fight to save country music’s landmarks is nothing new. Preservationists have won some and lost some over the years. And many times the champions of country music’s historic landmarks are strange ones. Ben Folds is a pop music piano player, not a staunch country music purist. Country punks like Jason & The Scorchers, Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers, BR549, and Joe Buck and Layla were the first ones that bravely moved back into the crime-addled Lower Broadway area in the mid 90′s and revitalized one of Nashville’s most storied entertainment districts. There was once plans to bulldoze the Ryman Auditorium itself—the “Mother Church of Country Music.” It was barely saved from the wrecking ball. Can you imagine the outcry if the mere idea of razing the Ryman was broached today? The Lower Broadway area where the Ryman and the Country Music Hall of Fame sit, and Music Row a couple of miles farther west, constitute a country music holy land of sorts. And though sometimes buildings need to be bulldozed and perspective is needed in certain instances in the preservation debate, once these historic places are gone, there’s no bringing them back.
In the 80′s, 90′s, and into the 00′s, preservation was much less popular than it is today. People didn’t think twice about putting the wrecking ball to a building if it was in their way. Today people are much more careful when it comes to such matters. Preservation is very popular. But why is this popularity for preservation isolated only to country music’s historic places? Why is the same reverence and desire to preserve and restore not extended to the actual music itself—the very reason these buildings and places mean something in the first place?
Right now what is happening in country music is the equivalent of revving up an army of bulldozers on one side of Music Row, and driving across the entire district, leveling everything in their path. It can always be folly to fancy the time that you live in as never being worse. But when zooming out and looking at the big picture of country music, there has never been a period when the encroachment of other genres has been so rampant, that the move away from the roots of the music has been so rapid, and the perilous nature of how quickly this new “development” is happening has been so daunting. We are not talking about tiring arguments about taste, and modern versus traditionalism. We’re talking about the audio equivalent of the wholesale demolition of the landmarks and foundations of what makes country music, country music.
And even more alarming is the acceptance and ambivalence to this trend of rapid audio gentrification that might see country music completely lose its identity in mere months. There are no committees organizing to fight this trend like you have with Music Row preservationists. There are no mayoral candidates stumping on the idea of preserving the historic sound of country music like you have with Studio ‘A’. And what ceases to amaze is that the parallels between Nashville’s historic places coming under danger and the same happening for the music goes virtually unrecognized. In fact country music preservationists are ostensibly ostracized in the current country music climate—the whole Old Farts & Jackasses, “Country music must evolve” debate. The historic sound of country music isn’t just scoffed at, it’s insulted on a regular basis.
Of course country music must evolve, just as at times certain buildings must go if they have completely lost their functionality and the cost of preservation is not in accordance with the historic value. But there always has to be that measure, that attention and reverence paid to the past to where we don’t allow unchecked “evolution” to result in remorse of what was lost along the way.
Even from their graves, Chet Atkins and Owen Bradley’s stamp on country music remains: Out with the old and in with the new, and it’s all about the money. But country music isn’t owned by Chet, Owen, or anybody else; it is the property of the country music people. And the people of country should voice their grievances loudly about preservation, on the street and on the air. Because this is part of a healthy country music environment, and one that ultimately is about the universal desire to see the sustainability of country music well into the future.
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.
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 Pickathonâ€™s â€śPumphouseâ€ť–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 Pickathonâ€™s Workshop Barn. Right up there with Thee Oh Sees, Lake Street Dive from Boston 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,Â 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
Iâ€™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
â€śPeople first, then musicâ€ť 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 theyâ€™ll completely surprise you with some spice, like Iris Dementâ€™s â€śOur Townâ€ť or Hank Williams IIIâ€™s â€śD Ray White.â€ť
I went to the Scott Valley Bluegrass Festival hoping to catch the Anderson Familyâ€™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.Â 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.
Here is the list of 25 albums Saving Country Music deems essential for 2012 listening, and then I added an extra one I couldn’t leave off. Please note this list only includes albums that have been reviewed so far. There are a few more good and important albums in 2012 that have yet to be reviewed. The first 7 albums on the list (from Little Victories to Lee Bains) were all serious considerations for Saving Country Music’s Album of the Year. PLEASE NOTE: None of the Album of the Year candidates are included on this list, so look over there before complaining about omissions. After the first 7 albums, they are listed in the order the albums were reviewed, not in order based on recommendation/quality/etc.
Saving Country Music reviewed twice as many albums as it did last year, but it is impossible to review everything. As always, your feedback is encouraged. What are your essential albums? What did we miss? What was released in 2012 that deserves a review? Please leave your feedback below.
Chris Knight – Little Victories
Every year there is one album and artist that admittedly gets screwed when it comes to Saving Country Music’s bigger awards, and this is the one that gets named the “Most Essential” album for a given year. This year, it is Chris Knight’s Little Victories.
“This is the exact album that the United States of America needs right here, right now, at this very moment in time. Finally, someone has the courage and the wisdom to use music to reassure people of the power of individual will, and the beauty of the rising action embedded in every human soul instead of as a vehicle to lay blame on everyone else for the problems the individual faces.
Little Victories is a big victory for Chris Knight, for country music, and for the level-headed, wise approach to life in an overly-politicized world.” (read full review)
Ray Wylie Hubbard – The Grifter’s Hymnal
“If thereâ€™s honor amongst thieves, then it only seems fitting there should be a Grifterâ€™s Hymnal. And if thereâ€™s going to be a Grifterâ€™s Hymnal, itâ€™s only fitting Ray Wylie Hubbard should compose it. The ingredients of grifters are already mixed there on his palette: Tales of dead and dying things and dens of iniquity, the struggle or the soul between good and evil, and the difficulty sometimes of telling the two apart. But to have a hymnal you also must have a message, and you must be able to convey that message with eloquence, poetical prowess, wit and rhyme. Well donâ€™t worry, itâ€™s all here. Just open it up and sing along.” (read full review)
Rachel Brooke – A Killer’s Dream
“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.
“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 sheâ€™s up to these alchemical feats in A Killerâ€™s Dream, and proves that sheâ€™s musical gold, worthy of the attention of the greater Americana / roots world.” (read full review)
Justin Townes Earle – Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now
I thought this was an album of great songs, but not a great album if that makes sense. The whole Memphis vibe Earle tried to conjure worked at times, and didn’t at others. But you can’t deny the power of songs like “Unfortunately, Anna”, “Maria”, or “It Won’t Be The Last Time”. Anybody who says this is their favorite album of 2012, I wouldn’t argue with. Very solid offering from Justin Townes Earle.
“There is not a bad song on this album. We see JTE return to the honest, heavy-hearted songwriting that has become his signature. Though this album is hard to warm up to. JTEâ€™s voice may come across as unusual at first, maybe even weak, and the production may seem out-of-place or even droning because it is such an unusual approach for him, or any artist originating out of the Americana world. But when you give it time, it all starts to work. I think time will be a great ally of this album, just as much as the short-term may be a hindrance.” (read full review)
The Calamity Cubes – Old World’s Ocean
“‘Old Worldâ€™s Ocean’ puts The Calamity Cubesâ€™ bevy of talents on glorious display. Excellent songwriting is conveyed through flawless vocal performances and inventive music. By being unafraid to display their vulnerabilities, yet having an inherent rawness to their music and releasing it through one of the most â€śhardcoreâ€ť labels in roots circles in the form of Farmageddon Records, The Calamity Cubes create a unique and important nexus in string-based roots music, and do so while putting out creative, innovative, and entertaining tunes that touch all parts of the musical anatomy.” (read full review)
Marty Stuart - Nashville Vol.1 Tear The Woodpile Down
“Marty Stuart is on an amazing roll ladies and gentlemen. What heâ€™s doing right now with lead guitar player â€śCousinâ€ť Kenny Vaughan and The Fabulous Superlatives is stuff that legends are made of. You know those periods in an artistsâ€™ career that you look back on like they canâ€™t do wrong, churning out amazing songs and albums one after another? Hank Jr. from Whiskey Bent & Hell Bound to The Pressure Is On, Willie & Waylon after theyâ€™d shaken loose from the grips of RCA in the mid 70â€˛s. Thatâ€™s the kind of epic and influential period were in the midst of right now with Marty Stuart, and what a blessing it is to realize this and to be able to experience it all in the present instead of trying to relive it through the past.” (Read full review)
Lee Bains & The Glory Fires – There’s A Bomb In Gillead
“This is an explosively-energetic album with influences and styles pulling from a wide range of American music. Lee Bains is well-versed in Southern modes from both sides of the tracks, and shows tremendous versatility in being able to conjure up the smoky mood of a blues singer, and the sweaty twang of a Southern rocker in the space of a breath, with The Glory Fires right on his heels with their authentic, spot-on sonic interpretations.” (read full review)
Paige Anderson & The Fearless Kin – Wild Rabbit
“One hard and fast rule around Saving Country Music is that I donâ€™t review EPâ€™s except for in â€śextreme cases.â€ť Thereâ€™s just too much music out there these days to consider half efforts, and in many cases, this is what EPâ€™s are. I know theyâ€™re the hip thing, and a quicker way to get singles to fans in the digital age. But thereâ€™s something sacred about the album concept that Iâ€™m unwilling to let go of. So what is an â€śextreme case?â€ť Well in 5 or so years, not once have I had an EP cross my desk that I felt qualified. Until now.
“Wild Rabbit is a remarkable collection of songs that illustrate all of Paige Andersonâ€™s singular talents, including her solitary prowess as a female flatpicking guitar player; an attribute that has landed her numerous features in Flatpicking Guitar magazine and other periodicals. But her voice is what threatens to steal the spotlight, with its inherent conveyance of pain in a tone that is both youthful and old, wildly unique and undeniably accessible.” (read full review)
Joe Buck – Who Dat?
“‘Who Dat’ is a completely different direction for Joe Buck, while still being exactly what heâ€™s always done. Thatâ€™s the root genius of it. Yes, without question this album is a lot more tame, more tame than even ‘Piss & Vinegar’. But what this approach does is bring out the roar of quiet anger. In many ways, even though this album features much less distortion and more singing than shouting or screaming, itâ€™s even harder, even more disillusioned and unbalanced as a byproduct of itâ€™s muted approach. Joe Buckâ€™s anger isnâ€™t as obvious, it is seething beneath the surface, boiling and permeating these recordings with an unsettled feeling, like a pressure tank ready to burst. (read full review)
The Foghorn Stringband – Outshine The Sun
“‘Outshine the Sun’ is an excellent album, and where it makes its mark is in the positivity of its message. There are many bands these days digging up old standards from The Carter Family, The Stanley Brothers and the like, but that tend to seek out the darkness in roots music; songs about muder, and preferrably cocaine if you can find them, because they feel like those themes are what keep the music relevant.
“‘Outshine the Sun’ works boldly in the opposite direction, presenting the cheerful side of the roots from its formative years, in the lyrical content, and in the modes of the music, with bright, frolicking and fun compositions and instrumentals that make this a fresh approach to the roots despite the vintage age of the material. I grimaced when I saw 21 tracks on this album. I mean did they expect to hold my attention for that long? But they did, and they do by the sheer talent of the Foghorn roster, and the sincerity of their approach.” (read full review)
Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band – Between The Ditches
“I swear, it is almost like Reverend Peyton had a little window into my brain when making Between The Ditches, because virtually every one of the concerns I had about their sound going in was resolved, while still keeping what is at the heart of their raucous and rowdy Delta-blues sound completely alive.
“For an underground roots band, Reverend Peyton is â€śmaking it.â€ť Worming their way on to the Warped Tour and opening for The Reverend Horton Heat, theyâ€™ve found some traction with their music by working hard and taking a professional approach as opposed to compromising their sound. That is whatâ€™s great about Between The Ditches. Itâ€™s not a change, it is a refinement. Thought Rev. Peyton still has the same bellowy voice, heâ€™s figured out how to employ it better, keep it in check when it could be grating. Though the repetitiveness in some of the lyrics remains, itâ€™s measured. And though thereâ€™s still the Vaudevillian feel, there seems to be new value put on the music over the show.” (read full review)
Sara Watkins - Sun Midnight Sun
“For me, Sun Midnight Sun was one of those albums that had some good songs that I latched on to, but the project never stuck to me as a whole. But those few songs though, let me tell you. Iâ€™m libel to recycle them over and over in one setting until I feel stupid about it. The opening track â€śThe Foothillsâ€ť may be the leader in the clubhouse for instrumental track of the year. This amazing folk/bluegrass composition is built in layers like a buttermilk biscuit. They stack upon each other gradually and meld in unison through a recording technique sure to be asked for its recipe by distinguishing ears for years to come. And beneath all of that is a heavy, progressive world-beat that burrows straight into your primal nerves.” (read full review)
Billy Don Burns – Nights When I’m Sober
“There are great songwriters, and then there are songwriters that define the apogee of the craft, songwriters like Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandtâ€¦and Billy Don Burns. There are songs on Nights When Iâ€™m Sober that will rip at your heart like nothing else. Thereâ€™s a great variety on the album with sweet songs and fun songs. And where Billy Don elevates the stakes is in the production and approach to each composition. With producer/guitar player Aaron Rodgers, they reinvigorate the late-era, rock-infused Outlaw sound that had Haggard and Paycheck seeking Billy Donâ€™s services. (read full review)
James Leg & Left Lane Cruiser – Painkillers
“Listen to me folks, GET THIS ALBUM! I know itâ€™s my job as some high fallutinâ€™ music writer to come up with a bunch of stuff to say about music. But after listening to Painkillers, if I were you, Iâ€™d skip all the gabbing and just go get it. And then find the biggest, loudest audio player you can procure and crank it to 10. If you want to flatter me, come back and read the rest at some other point.
“‘Painkillers’ isnâ€™t just a catchy idea to sketch some cover art around, it is the idea this album is built from, to take a bunch of timeless, kick ass songs, give them the dirty, heavy-handed Left Lane Cruiser/James leg punk blues treatment, with the result being an album that is perfectly concocted to kill pain. Thatâ€™s whatâ€™s so genius about it. If they had released a batch of original songs under this concept, the painkilling would just be a placebo. By taking songs we all know and love already, songs that mean something to us, the medicine is potent, fast-acting, striking right at your gut.” (read full review)
Don Williams – And So It Goes
“This album has the ability to stimulate memory and reflection without coming across as dated or even nostalgic. This was the wisdom of going back and using Donâ€™s original producer of Garth Fundis on this album. ‘And So It Goes’ is like an ice cream cone your grandfather bought you, the smell of your grandparentâ€™s house, a tire swing on an old tree, the shade of the light when it hits a golden meadow just right at the turning of spring or fall.
‘”And So It Goes’ simply sends you to this soft place, and makes you second guess yourself if you overlooked some mainstream 70â€˛s and 80â€˛s country for lacking substance. It makes you wonder just how many of those Don Williams #1â€˛s can you name. Not all of them? Well you better start digging and see what you missed.” (read full review)
Joseph Huber – Tongues of Fire
“”And that is what imbibes ‘Tongues of Fire’ with that intangible thing that makes certain albums feel warm to you. This album is about Joe searching and finding that sense of balance and purpose, while still recognizing that certain wild desires are there and will always be.
Though on the surface ‘Tongues of Fire’ may seem like a less poetic approach, after a few listens you find the poetry very much alive in songs like â€śAn Old Mountain Tuneâ€ť and â€śDance Around The Daggersâ€ť. â€śIron Railâ€ť seems to speak to the hopeless, caged feeling Joe may have been laboring under in .357, while the theme can speak to frustrations in all of us. â€śFell Off the Wagonâ€ť is the outright fun song that was lacking from Joeâ€™s first release. And just about the time you wonder where Huberâ€™s signature blazing banjo is on this album, here comes â€śWalkinâ€™ Fineâ€ť.” (read full review)
Tom VandenAvond – Wreck of a Fine Man
“VandenAvond is a pure songwriter. As much as people love to babble on about how songwriting is such a noble art and pat their favorite artists on the back for being so great at it, few delve into the inner workings of the craft like Tom VandenAvond. Comparisons are made to Dylan because of VandenAvondâ€™s voice. Artists comparisons are rarely fair to either side, yet this one is understandable because just like Dylan, VandenAvond is a writer that sings, not a singer that writes. When it feels like the music is getting in the way of the story, this can be a symptom of an upper stratosphere songwriter who it sometimes takes interpretations of their songs from other artists to make their work accessible to the wider public.” (read full review)
JP Harris & The Tough Choices – I’ll Keep Calling
“This true, honky-tonk, hard country music, with a little Western swing and rockabilly mixed in. Songs like â€śBadly Bentâ€ť and â€śCross Your Nameâ€ť tell hard-nosed stories that donâ€™t need heavy language to drive home their heartbroken themes, and the up-tempo â€śTake It Backâ€ť and â€śGear Jamminâ€™ Daddyâ€ť gives this album a good variety and spice that keep it engaging throughout. All of these songs could be labeled cliche, but theyâ€™re so good, itâ€™s hard to.
Can a long-bearded boy from Vermont make real country music? Can songs about letters stamped â€śReturn To Senderâ€ť and and shots of whiskey to drown sorrow still be relevant? If Iâ€™ll Keep Calling is any indication, the answer is an adamant â€śYes!â€ť” (Read full review)
Willie Nelson- Heroes
This is truly a good album. It’s easy to look at it and say, “Well I’m a Willie fan so I guess I will like it,” but this is the best album he has put out in years, with great contributions from Willie’s son Lukas.
“As I said in my review of Lukasâ€™s latest album, he is the offspring most rich with Willie blood, with top-shelf guitar playing abilities all his own to boot. If you want to know what a rock & roll version of Willie would be, look to Lukas. Close your eyes when Lukas is singing, and you can almost see Willie, with Lukasâ€™s natural, high-register tone, and perfect pitch and control that doesnâ€™t ape Willie, but evokes his memory.
“This album is good both because it is Willie, and because it is good. After years of navigating through a gray area in his career and having to dabble with some record labels probably less able to do a Willie release justice, heâ€™s back with the same company who released ‘Red Headed Stranger’, and back to making albums worthy of the world stopping down to pay attention to.” (Read full review)
The Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls
“This rootsy, soulful rock band is bound together by the force known as Brittany Howard, part Janis Joplin, part Kimya Dawson, both poetic, and fanatically possessed. Whenever I think of the true embodiment of the word â€śsoulâ€ť I think of an old black woman. Whether itâ€™s an old black female singer, or young white male guitar player, if they truly want to have soul, they must have an old black woman trapped inside of them somewhere, with 1,000 injustices fighting back tears in world-torn eyes, and infinite wisdom bred from bad choices by the self and others. Soul is anger only semi-controlled, and that is what Brittany Howard has. (â€śIâ€™ll fight the planet!â€ť she proclaims in the song â€śHeartbreakerâ€ť. )” (Read full review)
Jackson Taylor & The Sinners – Bad Juju
“This fiery, unfettered, full tilt assault on country music strikes that perfect chord of being both inescapably familiar yet remarkably fresh. Johnny Cash on cocaine may be the most appropriate description. More Memphis than Nashville, more madness than melancholy. But moreover, ‘Bad Juju’ is just one hell of a good time.
“This is fun music in the truest sense of the term. You donâ€™t conjure up Bad Juju to commiserate with your pain, you conjure it up to forget about it. Jackson Taylor & The Sinners found their mojo by stripping it back to the simplest of lineups: Acoustic guitar and vocals, lead guitar, and drums. And when they found that mojo, they stuck with it, refined it, worked at it until it was perfect and its power both undeniable and universal on the human body.” (Read full review)
McDougall – A Few Towns More
“Scott McDougall from Portland, OR might be the last of the true Romantic-era troubadours: a bardic-like, almost fantasy character that arrives in town with a bass drum on his back and guitar in hand, and sets up at the local pub to sing songs, spin tales, slay lonesome moments, and save the spiritually repressed before whisking out of town like something out of a dream. The puffy beard, the cherubic features, his skill with wit, instrument, and lyric delivered with a wisp of Renaissance flair, heâ€™s like an archetype pulled right out of the glossy illustrations of childhood fable.” (Read full review)
Davy Jay Sparrow - Olde Fashioned
“This album is just so refreshing. Itâ€™s refreshing for Western swing and for a neo-traditionalist album because itâ€™s just so fun. This may be the most fun album I have heard in years. Itâ€™s not afraid to be spontaneous and whimsical. Thereâ€™s a comic book element to it, and a Golden-Era silver screen dime store novel romanticism, yet in never crosses the line of being corny or cornpone. If anything, itâ€™s â€ścoolâ€ť in the traditional sense of the term. Itâ€™s like The Slow Poisoner meets The Stray Cats. With the funny names and cheese-colored cover, you may expect cheesiness, but it solves any of those concerns by being wonderfully structured and very astutely written, arranged, and performed.” (Read full review)
Lone Wolf OMB – A Walk in My Pause
“Katy bar the door and baton down the hatches folks because Lone Wolf, the Italian, trilingual, pizza spinning, gator wrestling, globe trotting, banjo plucking, banjo building, wild-assed Floridian from up North via Costa Rica has a new album headed your way. Warn the neighbors downstairs, cause itâ€™s about to get loud and feet will be stomping!
“At this mature stage in the evolution of American music, it is extremely rare to hear something with a wholly unique approach. And to have that approach come from just one man and a very traditional, primitive instrument makes it even more exceptional. The combination of tempo and original technique derived from the clawhammer banjo style swirl for the most dizzying, disarming music experience imaginable when Lone Wolf is cued.” (Read full review)
Carolina Chocolate Drops - Leaving Eden
“The minute the Carolina Chocolate Drops were formed, the American music landscape was a much better place. Why, because we need yet another old-time juggy string band? God no. A mysterious yet very specific plague could wipe out half a hundred banjo-playing anthropology majors in suspenders busking in college town coffee shops and there would still be too many. The reason the Chocolate Drops are important is substance, sincerity, understanding of music, and rabid passion for exhuming the bones that form the skeleton that all the beauty of roots music hangs from.” (Read full review)
Restavrant – Yeah, I Carve Cheetahs
“This music comes at you like some crazy berserker dude kicking and swinging nun chucks, or a rooster with razor blades tied to its talons flying at your head. You may not exactly know whatâ€™s going on at first, but it certainly will get your heart pumping. Restavrant doesnâ€™t play music for you, they beat you over the head with it. A two piece setup of screaming wierdo dudes originally from Victoria, TX, one armed with a gut-bending guitar and slide, and the other with common truck stop parking lot refuse that he wails on to create audible percussive-like noises. Iâ€™m pretty sure their form of expression is considered assault in certain countries. But for those with the right ear and disposition, it hurts so good.” (Read full review)
Well I can tell you this. No matter what you were expecting from this album, you’re probably going to be surprised.
I’ve never thought of Joe Buck as one to pay too much attention to the artistry of the recorded format. His discography consists mostly of slapped together CDRs with little psychotic scribbles for cover drawings, all home recorded, many with multiple versions of the same songs. I’m not complaining. They’re cool in their own right, like little pieces of evil folk art that contain more meaning than a mass produced glass-mastered silver disc in a plastic jewel case ever could. But it would be a stretch to say that a lot of refinement went into them. Joe Buck is a live performer.
Then about two years ago he released Piss & Vinegar, a proper studio album produced by Jack Endino (Nirvana’s Bleach) reportedly to be put out with heavy metal label Century Media before that deal went south. It included the prime cuts of Joe Buck’s previous albums done in a proper studio. For some of Buck’s core fans who’d been used to hearing the rough versions for so many years and watching him morph into a one man monster live, Piss & Vinegar felt somewhat tame. But Piss & Vinegar wasn’t for them necessarily, it was to reach folks who’d never heard Joe Buck before, to create a high-quality archive of his songs.
Joe Buck’s song craft has always been under-appreciated. People pick up on the primal experience of his show and many times miss the wisdom in his music. He once told me he could write songs for Taylor Swift (after telling me also that he “gets her”), and with one of his signature songs “Bitter Is The Day”, Joe Buck has given us a glimpse of what he’s capable of.
Who Dat is a completely different direction for Joe Buck, while still being exactly what he’s always done. That’s the root genius of it. Yes, without question this album is a lot more tame, more tame than even Piss & Vinegar. But what this approach does is bring out the roar of quiet anger. In many ways, even though this album features much less distortion and more singing than shouting or screaming, it’s even harder, even more disillusioned and unbalanced as a byproduct of it’s muted approach. Joe Buck’s anger isn’t as obvious, it is seething beneath the surface, boiling and permeating these recordings with an unsettled feeling, like a pressure tank ready to burst.
Just as with all of his albums, Joe Buck plays everything: guitar, drums, and bass. The instrumentation on Who Dat is more fleshed out than on most Joe Buck works, with good separation and engineering in the recording by Twin Oak’s Jason Dietz. Joe Buck plays his leads on an acoustic, again keeping you on that creepy edge from the understated approach. The words are more clear, making the conveyance of Joe Buck’s madness more coherent, while in places his writing leaves the messages a little more veiled.
Joe Buck’s song craft works in a circular pattern, spiraling into a moral about the descent of mankind that some may misunderstand asÂ iniquitous or anti-religious. In truth it is the opposite. It is the Dante approach as apposed to the Gospel approach to pointing out the wayward trajectory of man. The acoustic-only “Jesus Is Dead” may be the best example of this, and one of the best Who Dat songs from an instrumental standpoint. In spots Who Dat is very personal, like the sweet and straightforward “Tied at the Hip” about Joe Buck and his wife. At other times it’s playful in a wicked way, like in the “Tango of Death”.
I don’t want to say Joe Buck has reinvented himself. I’m sure the stage show will be very similar to what we’ve seen from him in the past. And those who are familiar with Joe Buck’s work with Captain Sean from Throwrag may warm up quicker to this more subtle Joe Buck approach, that at times sways towards that Capt. Sean lounge-like feel.
What Joe Buck does with Who Dat is keep his music fresh. So many of his signature songs have been played for so many years with the same exact arrangement because they work so well. Now he has a new crop of excellent songs to work in as core standards, as well as a new approach to older songs if he wishes. This isn’t Joe Buck growing old with his music, it’s Joe illustrating tremendous self-awareness for a now almost 50-year-old performer; to be able to pull back, evaluate, and evolve to something new that at the same time is exactly what he’s always done.
Joe Buck will always be misunderstood by the masses. But when you look at the greater music world, his contributions are stout. To having a significant role in the #1 and #3 albums on SCM’s Greatest Underground Country Albums of All Time, to when you watch the new TV show “Nashville” on ABC and see Layla’s Bluegrass Inn featured—a place that Joe Buck bought back when lower Broadway in Nashville was virtually abandoned and help bring up along with that whole part of town–it’s plain to see that the music world would be a lot more plain if it wasn’t for Joe Buck’s musical madness.
Two guns up.
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Who Dat is only available on MP3 format and at Joe Buck live shows.
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.Â 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 youâ€™re going to be a Boomswagglers song, someoneâ€™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 thereâ€™s a few tunes blues people can get into. This isnâ€™t just the REAL country album of the year, it is the â€śAlt-countryâ€ť album of the year and the â€śAmericanaâ€ť 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. Itâ€™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 Slimâ€™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 Slackeyeâ€™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 bandâ€™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 countryâ€™s greatest tragedy.” (read full review)
6. Hank Williams III - Lovesick, Broke, & Driftin’ – 2002
BR549 and Wayne â€śThe Trainâ€ť Hancock spearheaded the neo-traditionalist movement in the mid 90â€˛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 â€śReal Country Songâ€ť, â€śNashville Rashâ€ť, and â€śCountry My Assâ€ť can all be found here, but Live in London isnâ€™t all pissing and moaning. Songs like â€śAinâ€™t That Livinâ€™â€ť showed off Daleâ€™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 isnâ€™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, itâ€™s legacy will grow and be more appreciated and understood as the future unfolds.
The fight for the purity of country music is almost as old as the genre itself. The conflict between pop and traditionalism, and the fight for creative control for artists runs like a thread throughout country music’s history, defining it as much as the twang of a Telecaster, or the moan of a steel guitar. Here are some of the most iconic images of country music revolution, and the stories behind them.
Fanning The Flames
Charlie Rich was tapped to present the trophy for Entertainer of the Year at the CMA Awards in 1975. Knowing what name the little envelope contained (and not being too happy about it), Rich pulled out his bic and lit it on fire, announcing the winner as “My friend, Mr. John Denver.” Denver wasn’t in attendance and accepted via satellite, unaware of the pyrotechnics. Rich, who’d won 5 CMA Awards in the past, was never invited back to the CMA’s, and was never nominated again.
Flipping The Bird
Johnny Cash’s famous middle finger photo was shot by photographer Jim Marshall at Californiaâ€™s San Quentin prison during a concert in 1970. The pose was the response to Jim’s request: â€śJohn, letâ€™s do a shot for the warden.â€ť Where it became an iconic image of American culture was years later, when Johnny Cash was making his American Recordings records with Rick Rubin. Cash’s album Unchained had won the Grammy for “Best Country Album”, but was being virtually ignored by country radio. So Rick Rubin ran an ad with the obscene image, along with the caption, “American Recordings and Johnny Cash would like to thank the country music establishment and country radio for your support.” (read full story)
On March 17th, 18th, and 19th of 1972, The Dripping Springs reunion, aka the “Country Music Woodstock” went down just outside of Austin, TX. It was a commercial flop, but a fundamentally-important event nonetheless because it established Austin, TX as a serious alternative to the restrictive environment of Nashville, with Willie Nelson leading the charge. Similar to the underground/independent movements in country music today, The Dripping Springs Reunion paid respects to the older legends like Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs, Buck Owens, and Roger Miller who all attended and performed, while establishing in earnest the Outlaw movement with native Texans Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson at the helm.
Tompall Glaser saved his pennies from his days in The Glaser Brothers and bought himself a renegade studio / clubhouse that would later be known as Hillbilly Central. Located on 19th Ave. right off of Music Row, it broke the monopoly RCA, Chet Atkins, and Studio “B” had on country music at the time. It allowed artists like Waylon Jennings and Billy Joe Shaver to record their music the way they wanted and use their own bands as opposed to Nashville’s unionized studio musicians. In the words of Outlaw writer Michael Bane, it was “the home of all those records Nashville really didn’t want to make,” including such iconic albums as Waylon Jennings’ Honky Tonk Heroes and John Hartford’s Aereo Plain.
Though the Grand Ole Opry continues to use the likeness of Hank Williams prominently, he was never reinstated as a member after being dismissed in 1952. The understanding was that Hank would sober up and make a triumphant return to the Opry that he so loved, but he died on New Year’s Day 1953 at the age of 29 and never got the opportunity. Hank’s grandson Hank Williams III started a movement called “Reinstate Hank” that now boasts over 54,000 signatures on its online petition. (photo courtesy of minnemynx)
Wanting to take creative control of his music and to be released from the budgetary restraints of the studio, Hank Williams III did the unprecedented for an artist signed to a major country music record label under the CMA umbrella. He took a a Korg D-1600–a consumer-grade piece of recording gear–and cut his record Straight to Hell in the house of his bass player, Joe Buck. It was the underground mentality brought to the mainstream, with the result being Hank3′s magnum opus.
(from left to right: Andy Gibson, Hank Williams III, Joe Buck)
The Queen of Underground Country, the lovely and talented Rachel Brooke will be releasing her new album A Killer’s Dream on December 4th, featuring Florida’s Viva Le Vox as her backing band, and a duet with Lonesome Wyatt of Those Poor Bastards. This will be her 3rd full-length album.
A Killer’s Dream was recorded at Rachel Brooke’s brother’s Halohorn Studio in Traverse City, MI, and will be made available in limited edition 100 red vinyl copies, black vinyl, CD, cassette, and digital form. All formats will be available for pre-order on Tuesday, November 20th at Â http://
The first cool surprise is the world premier video for the song “The Black Bird” that you can watch below. Rachel will also be touring through the South and East in February and March as part of a Viva Le Vox / Joe Buck Yourself / Rachel Brooke super tour that will eventually take her to Europe and the European Muddy Roots Festival this summer.
Muddy Roots Europe 2013
The Muddy Roots Festival has just announced that they will be heading back over to Europe once again this summer for the 2nd Annual Muddy Roots Europe June 14-16, 2013 at Cowboy Up Saloon Waardamme Belgium. They have released a lineup that spans the globe. From the US, from The Netherlands and Germany, to all the way from Brazil, bands and fans will be trekking from all over the world.
“I’ve made a lot of friends in the old world that are lending a hand,” says promotoer Jason Galaz. “A hand full of other festival promoters have reached out with help in promotion and have been teaching me the ins and outs of putting on an event in another country. It has been nothing but support from small promoters to mega festival promoters. Many local bands have been asked to join the bill as well as a few acts from around the world. It just goes to show you that all this hard work is and adventure has been effective in changing the underground music climate worldwide.”
2013 Muddy Roots Europe Lineup:
Possessed By Paul James (US)
Bob Wayne & The Outlaw Carnies (US)
Joe Buck Yourself (US)
Koffin Kats (US)
Reverend Beatman (Switzerland)
Jayke Orvis & The Broken Band (US)
Jet-Sons Rockabilly Trio (Poland)
Rachel Broooke (US)
Viva Le Vox (US)
Tio Gringo (Netherlands)
Dad Horse Experience (Germany)
Dinosaur Truckers (Germany)
Heinrich XIIIÂ & The Devilgrass Pickers (Germany)
James Hunnicutt (US)
The Booty Hunters (Spain)
Husky Burnette (US)
Johnny Foodstamp (US)
DJ Charlie Hounddog (UK)
Lonewolf OMB (US)
Big Bayou Bandits (Belgium)
The Dublo (UK)
Mary Lee & The Sideburn Brothers (Brazil)
Muddy Roots Spring Weekender
Muddy Roots will also be adding a brand new domestic show called the Muddy Roots Spring Weekender on May 10-11 in Adams TN, just north of Nashville. The Red River Canoe Campgrounds where it will be located has permanent restrooms, showers, laundry room, ample RV hookups, and shade trees.Â Folks can rent canoes and go down the river. This event is not intended to be as big as the Muddy Roots Festival held on Labor Day weekend annually, but will still have the great music people have come to expect from Muddy Roots. They are planning to have about 15-20 bands perform “…but you know how I tend to get carried away.” says Jason Galaz. “I really want to give folks the most I can and then some.”
Additionally, connecting the two Muddy Roots events is going to be a “super-tour” of sorts, fitting Joe Buck Yourself, Rachel Brooke, Viva Le Vox, and Sean Wheeler y Zander Schloss together. The 4 acts will be playing the Spring weekender, then tour the US, and then Joe Buck Yourself, Viva Le Vox, and Rachel Brooke will end up at Muddy Roots Europe.
The full lineup for the Spring Weekender is still being forged, but here is the preliminary lineup:
Joe Buck Yourself
Sean y Zander
Viva Le Vox
Possessed By Paul James
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, â€śThat foul mouthed punk, I can’t even stand to see his ugly face,â€ť and you blame him for perpetuating a perversion of country music. Or, you saw his name and said â€śHell yeah,â€ť 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 â€śmajorâ€ť with an expansive network and Rolodex, but small enough to be considered an â€śindependentâ€ť 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 â€śOutlaw Carniesâ€ť.
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.
There’s never been a question in anyone’s mind if Johnny Cash actually shot a man in Reno just to watch him die. But that lyric, and Johnny’s song “Folsom Prison Blues” have gone on to become an iconic piece of country music history. This language was nothing new in 1955. Murder ballads and gunslinger tales trace back to the very roots of country music and America’s Gothic, violent identity.
Stretching the boundaries of lyrical content was something at the very foundation of the early Outlaw movement in country music. As has been pointed out many times before about American culture, violence is perfectly acceptable, but sex can be taboo. Nobody batted an eyelash at “Folsom Prison Blues”, but when the original Outlaw Bobby Bare recorded Tompall Glaser’s “Streets of Baltimore” with it’s fairly docile and veiled reference to a man leaving his wife, it caused a controversy.
Kris Kristofferson pushed the limit for drug references with his song “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” Johnny Cash later cut the song himself, and despite the “stoned” lyric, the song went on to be the CMA’s Song of the Year in 1970. The boundaries are continuously being pushed in country, until now in many respects country has lost most of its family friendly identity.
In underground country, racy lyrics have been at the very foundation of the movement, though in no way are they required. Hank Williams III’s Straight to Hell album was the first to ever be released under the CMA with a Parental Advisory, but the salty content is many times misunderstood as being autobiographical, or condoning the behavior being sung about. Sometimes it is, but sometimes, just like with “Folsom Prison Blues” it is telling a story with the real language and themes people face in modern day life.
“There’s just a little misconception…” Hank3 told IBWIP on their 5th Anniversary episode. “All the Williams’ have had a rowdy crowd, whether its Hank Sr., Jr., or myself. Most of my songs have been, you know I’ve lived a lot of them. And once in a while I’ll kind of put myself in other people’s shoes. Like the song “#5″ was some friends of mine that have been hung up on some really hard stuff, you know with the heroin and stuff like that. I just put some hopeful songs out there. Once in a while I’ll put out a little bit of a fantasy out there like the dedicated song to GG (Allin). Those kind of songs I haven’t done anything like some of the topics that hit on that song. I can just project, or put myself in that mode for a little bit.”
“One of the reasons I sing about smoking and drinking and all that stuff so much is because I try to create a partyin’, good time atmosphere when people come to see me. I’m not trying to bring them down, I’m trying to lift them up so they can forget about all their problems and all the stuff that’s happening in the world. And for two or three hours, they can come out to a show and just have some fun. And I always try to tell folks to pace it out as much as possible.”
When reviewing Bob Wayne’s recent album, the topic came up in a heated debate Bob Wayne participated in personally. “…So you’re telling me DAC (David Allan Coe) killed a women in TN then broke out of jail… I think a lot of his songs a true manâ€¦ But I think he is also a storyteller,” Bob replied to critics. Bob Wayne regularly sings about drinking and drugs while in real life remaining completely sober, just like many underground country artists with racy lyrics like Joe Buck Yourself and Lonesome Wyatt.
It is hard to fault country music fans who do not want to see foul language or hard themes in a genre so tied to traditional values. Just like any genre of music, this is the reason well-defined lines are important so people can steer clear of content they may find offensive. But it is also unfair to fault artists carrying on the same storytelling traditions Johnny Cash and Hank Williams did while modernizing the language no different than how it’s being modernized in the mainstream of country. It’s also unfair to say singing songs you haven’t lived somehow makes them invalid. Street cred, dues, skin’s on the wall, or however you want to phrase it will always be important in country music, but the should never be essential to telling a story.
Hard language presents a challenge to underground country and its aging demographic. Most underground country fans are now in their 30′s. When Hank3′s Straight to Hell came out they were in their 20′s, and could relate better to many of the racy themes. Now, like many of the artists themselves, the fans have grown up, taken real jobs, have kids and spouses, sobered up possibly, and sometimes the hard language songs can come across as immature or hard to relate to.
Barring something similar to the Middle East’s Islamic Revolution, the trend will always arch towards the breaking down of moral barriers to artistic content in culture. With this freedom comes a responsibility to make sure people are only presented with questionable content when they want to be. Instead of looking at other people’s tastes and judging them, maybe we should feel fortunate we live in a time when censorship is lax and people can enjoy the music they find appropriate and appealing without it being run through a filter of other people’s opinions, tastes, or views.
And let’s all hope that the country music themes of morality vs. sin, good vs. evil, sober vs. imbibing, and law vs. the outlaw remain eternal in country music until kingdom come, because this eternal struggle is what we all face every day, and the reason country music speaks to us like nothing else.
Sporting a squared off pompadour, work shirt, bushy beard, and a mess of tattoos, American Idol introduced Jason “Wolf” Hamlin as one of this year’s contestants on the episode that aired Sunday night. This mechanic-by-trade came in with his “guit-fiddle” (guitar) and sang a “CCR” song (which the well-versed would recognize as Leadbelly’s “Midnight Special”), and then when Steven Tyler asked him to sing another, he sang Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues”.
And then the emails started coming, and the chatter raised on various social networking channels Saving Country Music patrols seemed positive for “Wolf” with many saying, “Well hell, if he’s gonna be on there, I may actually watch this year!”
…and now you know why he was featured.
And “Wolf” was not only featured on an audition, he was significantly highlighted on the episode. They sent a production crew to his job as a golf course mechanic, got an in-depth interview with him, etc. I’m assuming all of this stuff happened after his audition. I mean, they wouldn’t go though all that trouble pre-audition unless they already determined he would be a contestant or would be featured, would they?
…and now you know a little more of what’s going on here.
Look, the blue-collar “roots” demographic, though seemingly small because it is traditionally ignored by the mainstream, is in many ways blowing up as a cultural force. American Idol did not “pick” Jason Hamlin, they “chose” him, and specifically chose to make him a significant focus of their episode.
And American Idol isn’t the only one all-of-a-sudden paying attention to the independent roots music world. The shift of the punk culture into roots music is a very real, culturally-significant phenomenon that the greater world is taking notice of. And they are courting the roots fan for the passion and loyalty that are recognized as top attributes of their behavior.
Century Media, a traditionally heavy metal label recently started a roots division for artists like Joe Buck and Bob Wayne. Victory Records, who some will give credit for “killing” punk music, has announced a roots project with so far an unknown specificity. And there’s a pretty solid rumor out there that Kevin Lyman of The Warped Tour and the Country Throwdown Tour is putting plans together for a “roots” version of the annual touring festival, possibly as early as this year. We’ll see.
As for Jason “Wolf” Hamlin, he could be a great thing, or he could be a horrible thing. We don’t know the guy, and we shouldn’t pretend we do, and we should understand he’s just a mechanic at a golf course who likes Johnny Cash. Or is he? And sure, he could be a shill for FOX producers hoping to bring the burgeoning masses of roots fans into the fold. Or, he could be the country music Messiah that I’ve been dreaming of (and Eric Church mocks me for). Or he could dive out in the first few weeks and all this consternation is for naught, unless in the process he actually exposes some kids to some real music they would otherwise not be.
But be wary friends and neighbors. If you reacted positively to seeing Jason “Wolf” Hamlin on American Idol and said “Well hell, I kind of like this guy. I may actually watch this stupid show this year!” just understand that is exactly what the folks in Hollywood wanted you to say.
Here is Wolf performing an original song.
When it comes to one man bands, Scott H. Biram is the franchise. There may be artists with more soul and songwriting skills like Possessed by Paul James, or that are more brutal like Joe Buck, but Biram is the one with the big Bloodshot Records deal, the one that is the complete package, with soul, grit, and brutality, in blues, punk and country. He is the top of the heap, the one that inspired so many others. He’s tussled with semi trucks and spilled his guts out on the highway just like he’s spilled his guts out on countless stages all across the Western world until he earned that glorious ‘H’ in the middle of his name. Like the initial on a superhero’s chest, one letter says it all. Hiram Biram: A genuine Southern-fried, Texas-bred little ball of badassedry, and nobody has ever rocked no nonsense gray velcro tennies harder.
He’s also one I would consider a live performer first, which always presents challenges in the album making process. Live performers must be able to capture their energy in recordings. That’s exactly what Biram does in the Bad Ingredients tracks “Dontcha Lie To Me Baby” and “Killed A Chicken Last Night”. You must be able to connect with people without being able to look them in the eye, and that is what he does in “Broke Ass”, “Open Road”, and “Wind Up Blind”. And you must be able to innovate, and offer something to your audience above a simple recorded version of what they see in person, and that is what Scott does in the epic “Victory Song”.
Other problems present themselves when you’ve been making music for over a decade, and have 8 albums under your belt. Expectations from your fan base kick in. That big ‘H’ on Biram’s chest could start to become a burden. You have to keep tapping deeper wells, venturing further into the depths of the soul to find new themes, to discover what needs to be said that has never been said before. Again, Biram does all of this, and in the process, may deliver his best album yet, and possibly one of the best albums in this calendar year, buoyed by one of the year’s best songs in the aforementioned “Victory Song”. With Bad Ingredients, Scott H. Biram simply delivers.
What struck me most about Bad Ingredients was the variety of styles found here, and that each is done with such masterful proficiency. It’s not just tone and style, it’s the inflections in his voice, and the different ways each song is recorded according to its style. A side effect of that is that there’s something here for everyone. There’s sweet little country blues numbers like “Memories Of You Sweetheart”. There’s chest beating punk/country rockers, there’s old time blues standards, and everything is grounded in the roots with authentic blues progressions and language, even the progressive and multi-layered “Victory Song”.Â At the risk of sounding like a master of the obvious, he’s just one man, but he’s able to do so much and create such a contrast that it keeps you engaged from track 1 to 13.
And it is delightfully sloppy. Just like I doubt Scott has ever taken a spin on a bidet, I doubt he’s ever used a click track or a metrodome. The lyrics to “Open Road” don’t even rhyme, yet it is one of the standouts.
Already there’s talk from some that Bad Ingredients is is a candidate for the best album of the year. For an album to get that distinction eventually, it must endure months of scrutiny and heavy listening. But from what I’ve heard so far, it at least deserves to be considered for that type of top tier recognition.
Two guns up!
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I want to start this off by saying that I think that JD Wilkes truly is one of the most underrated performers in all of American music right now, and that he is one of the best frontmen in American music of all time. I also don’t think he gets enough credit for being a true pioneer and father of the current independent roots movement, as one of the brave souls that spent time down on lower Broadway in Nashville in the mid-late 90′s revitalizing an area Music City’s corporate citizens had abandoned. Along with BR549, Joe Buck, Hank3, and Wayne “The Train” Hancock, JD Wilkes and his band Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers deserve top tier placement on the country roots family tree.
Wake Up, Sinners! is the brand new album from JD Wilkes’ new/other band The Dirt Daubers, but it is a project that has been gestating and evolving for quite some time now. They released a homespun, self-titled album in October of 2009, and played a few shows with JD on vocals, banjo, and kazoo, his wife Jessica on mandolin, vocals, and pretty dresses, and “Slow” Layne Hendrickson on a gutbucket bass.
Though my love for JD really wanted me to get behind this project, at the beginning it seem to lack a punch. The authenticity of their approach was appreciated, but wasn’t necessarily translating into entertainment value.
I’m not sure if it was because JD got better with his banjo playing, Jessica got more confident on stage, or when the Shack Shaker’s Mark Robertson replaced “Slow” Layne on a stand up bass, but at some point The Dirt Daubers hit their groove. And when they hit it, they hit it hard, and that unique energy and style, along with the original authenticity that The Dirt Daubers was founded upon, is captured exquisitely in Wake Up, Sinners!
I love this album. You may look at the track listing and ask yourself why we need yet another version of “Wayfaring Stranger” out there. The answer is because the great Col. JD Wilkes has never done a version before. A perfect mix of classics and originals, don’t just pigeon hole this project as just another rag tag bluegrass bit, there a lot of hot jazz, rockabilly and blues mixed in with the old time string band approach, helped along by the male/female tradeoff in the vocals.
Another early Dirt Daubers development that concerned me was the presence of Mrs. Wilkes in the band. Significant others sharing a stage has long been my musical kryptonite, though adding a girl to the band if she actually fits the part can add a layer of legitimacy to the whole thing. With Jessica, it is the latter. She contributes excellent singing and swagger, and I can’t imagine replacing her with some swinging dick super picker that would misunderstand that this music is not about technique, but about channeling the long-held traditions of family bands that would entertain on back porches and community halls and blend the musical influences found all around them without prejudice. Jessica’s presence is essential to The Dirt Daubers success.
But speaking of technique, adding bassist Mark Robertson was key. It may have come at the slight expense of purity, but the music now has a heartbeat, and a backbone. This is music to get you moving. It’s fun. JD Wilkes’ banjo and Jessica’s mandolin work is not wowing; it would take away from the project if it was. But JD’s harmonica playing is. Most folks might see JD as an entertainer first, and then a musician. But I’d hold his harp work up against anybody, and his sense of tone on this album is spectacular.
Piano, kazoo, accordion, foot stomping, a little snare, backing vocals, and who knows what else custom tailored to each track makes Wake Up, Sinners! way more than just a recorded version of their live show. This album was really well done, with immaculate taste on every single track. Like a patchwork quilt, the various forms of American rural roots music are represented with pride and care in an experience that is wickedly catchy, accessible, though austere with its authentic approach. When I interviewed JD Wilkes a while back, he said about The Dirt Daubers:
Iâ€™ve always appreciated the roots of what we do. Sometimes I think the roots of it get lost in the rock nâ€™ roll aspect. Itâ€™s just a way of breaking it down and making it a little more obvious. I also just indulging my appreciation for mountain music, string band music, jug band music, hot jazz. I just love that stuff and want to be a part of it. I feel sometimes the sheer volume of the Shack Shakers diminishes it at times. I want to be able to purely touch base with that.
With Wake Up, Sinners!, that is exactly what The Dirt Daubers do. I just hope it doesn’t mean the eventual death of one of the greatest live shows to ever grace the stage.
Two guns up!
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Last week as I was traveling through Tennessee, I took some time to visit downtown Nashville, where I hadn’t been in a few years, and I brought along one of my best friends named Pointer. Pointer goes wherever I go. Funny thing is, we don’t always like the same things. For example, when I go somewhere sightseeing, I really have no desire to have my mug in the picture. Pointer is just the opposite, he wants to be in all the pictures. We also have total opposite tastes in country music. I like the cool old stuff and the new independent stuff, while he likes the current pop country radio stars. But we’re both good enough friends that we can respect each other’s interests.
I thought it might be fun and informative to share Pointer and my pictures of our downtown Nashville trip for those who’ve never been there.
We started off the adventure on lower Broadway, the last bastion of what Nashville used to be. You can find cool vintage shops here like the Ernest Tubb Record Shop and Hatch Show Print, legendary venues like Robert’s Western World, where BR549 and Joe Buck got their start, and Layla’s Bluegrass Inn next door, a place Hank3 plays frequently, all overshadowed by the mother church of country music, the majestic Ryman Auditorium just across the alley.
Of course one of the most famous places on lower Broadway is Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, where Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson and others would hang out and write songs all day (Ryman Auditorium in the background).
It’s also famous for the famous faces painted on the front of the building. Pointer found one particular famous figure he really wanted his picture taken with.
Then we walked around the corner to visit the majestic Country Music Hall of Fame. In front of the Hall we came to a really cool walkway called the “Music City Walk of Fame”, with stars of famous people like Ernest Tubb, Little Jimmy Dickens, and Kris Kristofferson adorning the sidewalk.
Pointer found numerous stars he wanted to get his picture with:
And of course, we already know what a HUGE Kid Rock fan Pointer is!
After touring the Hall of Fame, we went to inspect the construction site for the new Nashville Convention Center, the one they tore the Musicians Hall of Fame down for after promising them a new space, an action that eventually led to all the artifacts being ruined in the big Nashville flood last year. Pointer thought the construction site looked really neato.
While walking down 3rd and Commerce, we ran into some bona fide Nashville natives:
I asked Pointer if he wanted to have his picture taken with them, and he said no, that they looked like assholes. I told Pointer it’s not fair to judge a book by its cover.
Then we hiked a mile or so to the famous Music Row district, where all the big movers and shakers in country music do their business. Apparently we’d just missed by 24 hours a big shindig at the BMI headquarters, canonizing Jason Aldean, Colt Ford, and Brantley Gilbert on the success of the #1 song “Dirt Road Anthem”. From CMT’s account, it sounded like quite the affair:
Large, gold-painted stones anchored the burlap table cloths that flapped and curled in the late afternoon breeze as uniformed servers circulated through the crowd, proffering trays of miniature cheeseburgers and bite-size servings of barbecue.
Now if that ain’t country, I’ll kiss your ass.
Pointer, being a huge fan of Leanne Rimes and Tim McGraw, wanted to get his picture in front of the home office of his favorite record label on Music Row:
After this picture, Pointer leaned over to me and said, “This Curb character sure does have his name splattered on just about everything down here, doesn’t he?”
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In closing, I’d like to say that Pointer and I both really enjoyed our trip to downtown Nashville, and we both found downtown Nashville to be a land of contrast.
That’s right my friends, royalty will be gracing the Muddy Roots Festival stage in Cookeville TN on September 3rd & 4th. And when I say “gracing”, I don’t know that there has ever been another to rock with such grace than the Queen of Rockabilly herself, the lovely and talented Wanda Jackson.
Few artists can still call themselves relevant and engaging over 50 years after their career started. Even fewer can say they once dumped the King of Rock n’ Roll. Wanda Jackson can say whatever the hell she wants to say, because there’s has never been anybody bigger or better in the rockabilly world in my opinion. Folks making their way to Cookeville should not just feel excited that Wanda will be there, they should feel honored to be attending an event with her as the headliner.
But as excited as I am to have a Rockabilly legend in attendance, I might be even more excited that Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers will be there as well. I cannot name you another band above the Shack Shakers that I would rather see live. Even if you can’t make it to Muddy Roots, they should be on anybody’s top 5 bucket list to see before you kick it. When company like Robert Plant and Jello Biafra of The Dead Kennedy’s is singing your praises, you know it’s something special. And to make it even better, frontman JD Wilke’s stripped-down mountain music project The Dirt Daubers will be playing a set as well.
And while were speaking of legends, Rockabilly Hall of Fame legends the Art Adams Band has been added to the lineup as well, and so have the high energy Harmed Brothers from Oregon, and the lovely Sabina Kelley as the pin-up pageant judge, “Captain” Sean Wheeler of Throwrag (and occasional Joe Buck Yourself collaborator), Zander Schloss of legendary punk band The Circle Jerks, and the Davy Jay Sparrow & His Well-Known Famous Drovers!
(Daytrotter just posted a session with Dale Watson today)
The best way to describe Crazy Again is an “accidental documentary”. Released in 2006, but only screened at a few film festivals, and to my knowledge never made available to the public in any format until recently through Amazon’s streaming video service, the film follows Dale Watson on a tour starting in his home of Austin, TX, to Atlanta and back, and then features an interview with him in New Mexico where he describes in great detail a period of his life where he goes through a mental collapse and a spiritual rebirth.
The movie was made by filmmaker Zalman King, who met Dale while looking for someone to cast in his movie Austin Angel. Ray Benson referred Zalman to Dale Watson, who was playing that night as he does every Sunday night when in Austin at Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon, hosting an Austin tradition called “Chicken Shit Bingo”. This is where the film opens, with Dale doing his “Chicken Shit Bingo” gig, and Zalman being so intrigued by Dale, he decides to go on tour with him.
The production of Crazy Again is pretty lo-fi, with a skeleton film crew forced to shoot in cramped spaces like Dale’s tour van, or at concerts without the benefit of sound from the board, just what the camera picks up. The other principle character of the movie is Donnie Knutson, who was Dale’s long-time road manager, and has been Hank III‘s road manager since leaving Dale, and still is currently. One of the first things that happens in the film is Donnie Knutson tells Dale he can no longer work for him because he is getting married. This sets the table for the reflective mood between Dale and Donnie on the tour that helps Zalman capture Dale’s intriguing story that unfolded after his girlfriend Terri Herbert died in a car wreck.
The first hour of the movie is a fairly straightforward portrayal of a Dale Watson road trip, with shots of conversations in the tour van, hanging out in hotels, meeting people along the way as the story of Dale’s life after his girlfriend’s death unfolds, including an instance when Dale locked himself in a hotel room with a gun, and fired a shot as police tried to barge in, Dale hoping the police would kill him so he wouldn’t have to commit suicide.
There are many staged shots and poses that Dale and sometimes Donnie Knutson effect for the camera throughout the film that might be more annoying or unforgivable if Dale wasn’t so damn photogenic. While in Atlanta, Dale’s crew runs into Joe Buck, Hank III’s bass player at that time, and there is some interesting scenes with Dale hanging out on Hank III’s bus with Joe Buck, Andy Gibson, and a very sick Hank III, ragged after 40+ days of touring. Another highlight of the trip is Dale’s stop at The Grand Ole Opry to play the historic Ryman Theater.
Through the first hour of the film, your mind begins to settle into the idea that this is a simple, snapshot look at Dale Watson, peppered with interesting facts mostly centered around the tragic death of his girlfriend that would probably not appeal too intently to people who are not Dale fans to begin with. But when Zalman takes Dale out to his house in New Mexico and sits him down in front of an abandoned house in a New Mexico ghost town to tell the story of his spiritual transformation, it becomes so much more.
Dale tells a wildly insane story that begins with him talking to a spirit guide, his dead girlfriend, and Jesus through a Ouija board, and ends with him in an insane asylum, with preaching in train stations in Europe and trying to meet The Pope at the Vatican and fighting the devil in hotels rooms all in-between.
Crazy Again does a good job capturing and preserving certain important historical elements, like the Sunday scene at Ginny’s, life on the road with Dale in the mid-oughts, and explains the theme behind his progression of album releases between 2001 and 2008. But what I took away from this film was a much deeper appreciation for Dale Watson, who I’ve always loved but never though of as particularly “deep” until this movie. I will never look at the man the same way after knowing the battles he went through. I will never listen to his songs the same, because I will know where the meaning came from them and why the message is so important. And every song he writes and sings from now on will mean that much more, because you know that a on number of different occasions, the world was within inches of losing this man.
Two guns up!
I’m not one to chase every single limited-release 45 rpm put out by my favorite bands–that can get expensive quickly–but since we are nearing Record Store Day where the 7″ limited-release reigns supreme, and this little gem was thrown in my lap, I thought I would tell you about it’s virtues, and by proxy, the virtues of the single-sized vinyl format for those still perplexed why technology has regressed to move forward.
From Rusty Knuckles, this limited-edition 300-run 45 is a split with madman Joe Buck Yourself, and the Flat Tires. As aesthetics and artwork are just as important as the music for these collector-oriented releases, this one is delivered in clear blue vinyl, with a sleeve that has a parchment-like look with gold flecks you can see if you hold it in the light just right. The sleeve folds out to make a very cool original artistic rendition of Joe Buck and the Flat Tire front man meeting at the torso without interruption.
Anybody who has seen Joe Buck Yourself live can attest his show is like no other. This 7″ includes a staple of his live performance called “Planet Seeth”, which may on the surface sound like an immature punk/metal song targeted to the kids of divorce, while when you take it in, especially live, it can grant the most infinite wisdom.
“I fucking hate that I hate.”
That line is angry, self-deprecating, wise, relieving, and enlightening all at the same time. It is nothing short of genius. And live, when Joe Buck calls for “hate” from the crowd, scowling, pleading with his outstretched arm, with the red light gleaming in his eyes, it is an experience like no other. Of course trying to re-create this energy and interchange with crowd and performer in your domestic abode is virtually impossible, but it is highly more probably when the track your listening to is live like this one, and delivered with the piercing pureness and warmth of needle on vinyl.
On the flip side is the Flat Tires. Straight from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Appalachia, their punk-infused, raucous rockabilly juke joint madness comes at you like a kick in the teeth. I’ve never seen them live, but hearing this makes me bust my seams wanting to. The first minute on this live version of “Drink It Dry” is spent rearing back, like a taught slingshot string that when they finally let it fly, exudes more energy then a classroom full of ADD kids. It’s a rocking, wild number that gets your heart thumping and your head banging.
Two guns up!
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A good chaser to this 7″ would be the Rusty Knuckles Antiseen 7″ that includes Joe Buck on a rendition of the traditional “Black Eyed Susie”.
One of the singles on country radio right now is Taylor Swift’s “Mean”. As Taylor says in the preview of the song, it is about “…one guy…who just crossed the line over and over again of just being mean.” Prompted by numerous people saying the song was about me, I dared ask the question, which apparently since Carly Simon wrote a song about this subject matter, you’re “vain” for even broaching the subject, though I would counter by asking if someone asks the simple question and the answer is “yes”, are you being vain, or just perceptive?
The popular belief is that “Mean” is about music industry guru Bob Lefsetz. Problem is, even according to Bob, he does not fit the criteria Taylor lays out in her song. Bob really didn’t cross any lines “over and over”, he simply took the point after her bad performance on The Grammy’s with Stevie Nicks to say that now that we all knew Taylor Swift couldn’t sing, it was over for her.
The one big piece of evidence pointing to Bob as the subject of “Mean” is that in the liner notes, Taylor CAPS certain letters to hint who songs are about. In “Mean” they spell out “I THOUGHT YOU GOT ME.â€ť Taylor & Bob were close until his post-Grammy premature epitaph. Though this goes against the grain of someone criticizing her “over and over”. Taylor may have one primary person in mind for the subject of “Mean”, but I think she drew inspiration from multiple sources, and because of the tone and exposure of my post-Grammy rant, I do feel like she read it, and pulled out parallel launguage (ex. “The cycle ends right now”) for the song.
Go ahead, call me vain. I’ve been called worse.
But both Bob and I were wrong in saying she would flame out. I still say she is not country and that her voice is weak, but unlike 80% of the stuff coming out of Nashville right now, Taylor Swift is doing what she wants to do. The 80% is doing what they think will sell. Taylor is leading, while everyone else is following. When she won CMA for Entertainer of the Year, she symbolized the worst of country music. Six months ago, she symbolized the median. Now she may be one of the standard bearers for mainstream country music, as sad as that may be.
Taylor and her handlers must be at least slightly disappointed in the performance ofÂ the album’s singles. There’s been no blockbuster #1′s, not even close. “Mean” peaked at #6, and now sits at #17. Maybe it’s because a lot of these songs are too long, and some too good for the demographics they target. As the rest of country music is dumbing down, mistakenly thinking this is Taylor Swift’s appeal, Taylor is maturing, and though her talents might be minimal and her perspective pallid and shallow, someone making art honestly will always trump something made to mimic something else. As country songs, tracks from Speak Now are a joke. But as pop songs, they carry some weight in a mainstream music world where little else does.
Calling someone “Mean” is just such a base accusation. This isn’t punditry, it’s name calling. Maybe this song would have worked if she delved into the psychology of why people are mean, or even created some sympathy and understanding for her bullies. But instead she descends into the same “Mean” mentality herself, calling her detractor(s) “…pathetic, and alone in life”. Think about it: If someone truly is alone in life, then that is a pretty harsh mean-ism.
Then she tries to use envy against her critics, talking about “living in a big old city”. “Big ol’ city” has connotations of wealth and stature. It also has some anti-country connotations, as if not living in a big ol’ city is something to be looked down upon, or something to be ashamed of.
There’s certain ways you can handle criticism. You can ignore it, deflect it, debate it, or you can absorb it and attempt to learn from it. Or you can try to avenge it, which Taylor seems to be doing with “Mean”. Some more insight on how Taylor deals with her adversaries can be found in the song “Better Than Revenge”. Revenge is anger that is personalized. Good music uplifts the soul, or nurtures it by providing camaraderie through pain. Revenge brings down the soul, to a carnal, reactionary state. Revenge is also a sign of a young soul. “Dear John” from Speak Now did a surprisingly good job humanizing Taylor Swift. “Mean” just makes her come across as spiteful, immature, if not hypocritical.
It goes without saying that when you’re in the public eye, there will be people who will use your persona to vent anger. I can tell you with certitude, whoever the next President of the US is, regardless if he’s the greatest humanitarian who ever lived, there will be people painting Hitler mustaches on his image before he even signs one piece of legislation. Hating Taylor Swift is the new world sport, evidenced by this Hater’s Guide to Taylor Swift published on of all things, a sport’s site. This type of anger venting is not only unfair to Taylor, but unfair to critics who are trying to fight for the integrity of a form of music they love, by painting all Taylor critics as just “Mean”.
But it goes without saying that Taylor Swift will have the last laugh between her and her critics. She’s a millionaire, going on billionaire, and showered with accolades and awards beyond belief. So who cares if a few music nerds pick fun at her?
Or is the last laugh hers? What is more valuable, wealth that will be gone the moment her heart stops ticking, or a life full of learning and humility and giving that is nurtured by attempting to build understanding through conflict with other humans?
Taylor Swift has come a long way in my estimation over the past couple of years. But if she wants to go farther, she must understanding that some of her critics are not simply being “Mean”, they are simply “right”, and understanding and admitting to her limitations and shortcomings is the only way she will ever get past them. I still assert that in the end, I will look like Taylor Swift’s best friend. The people who were “Mean” to her were the ones that told her she was country. Without that simple designation to her music, I and many others would have never raised our poisoned pens against her.
There are a lot of songs on Speak Now that are good…as POP SONGS. But “Mean” is not one of them.
Two guns down.
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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. Iâ€™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 canâ€™t, leave it.
But donâ€™t forget who brought you back into country music after years of disappointment from the mainstream. Donâ€™t forget who introduced you to country music when you were listening to who knows what kind of filth. Donâ€™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. Donâ€™t forget who made you feel hope that maybe everything in country music isnâ€™t lost. Donâ€™t forget who introduced you to countless other fans who now feel like family. Donâ€™t forget who made the music that was there for you when nobody and nothing else was.
If it wasnâ€™t for Hank III, I wouldnâ€™t be here. If it wasnâ€™t for Hank III, YOU wouldnâ€™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 â€śgoing back to my rootsâ€ť bit in a few years, itâ€™s just not germane to what I cover. But Iâ€™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.
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