Browsing articles tagged with " Justin Townes Earle"
Apr
16

Record Store Day 2013 Country Music Field Guide

April 16, 2013 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  9 Comments

record-store-day-2013

This Saturday, April 20th is the 2013 installment of Record Store Day–the annual event started in 2007 to help struggling independent record stores. As the event has grown over the years and has expanded to include an event on Black Friday before Christmas, artists and labels have stepped up to help with the cause, releasing limited-edition collectible pieces of vinyl to entice the public into visiting their local mom and pop music sellers.

2013 has some juicy releases, including some super rare Willie Nelson demo sessions, a split with Waylon Jennings and the Old 97′s, some cool live albums from Gram Parsons and Sarah Jarosz, and a re-issue of Justin Townes Earle’s first album, the Yuma EP. The below list are Record Store Day’s country and country-ish releases in alphabetical order.

Complete List of Record Store Day Releases

Find A Participating Record Store

chet-atkins-black-jack-rsdChet Atkins

Black Jack EP
Format: 7″ Vinyl
Label: SUNDAZED
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
More Info:

Previously unreleased recordings by this guitar master

Midnight, Boo Boo Stick Beat, Blackjack, Blue Moon of Kentucky

avett-brothers-randy-travis-rsdThe Avett Brothers and Randy Travis

Music From CMT Crossroads

Format: 7″ Vinyl
Label: Warner Music Nashville
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
More Info:

Limited edition split single. Randy Travis covers the Avett Brothers’ “February”, The Avett Brothers covers the Randy Travis song, “Three Wooden Crosses.

the-band-last-waltz-rsdThe Band

The Last Waltz

Format: 12″ Vinyl
Label: Rhino
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
More Info:

3 180 Gram LPs, Numbered RSD Edition. All original packaging with Embossing and two foils. All original inner sleeves plus 12-page booklet. Out of print for more than a decade.

Created with The GIMPBlitzen Trapper

Blitzen Trapper Deluxe Reissue

Format: 12″ Vinyl
Label: LidKerCow, LTD
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
More Info:

Blitzen Trapper’s debut album from 2003 will be available for the first time on vinyl in celebration of it’s 10th Anniversary.  The record was remastered by Bruce Barielle and the lacquers were cut by Jeff Powell at Ardent Studios in Memphis, TN.  A very limited edition run, the record is pressed on 180g vinyl with a free digital download of the entire record with five previously unheard bonus tracks from the original sessions.

calexico-rsdCalexico

Spiritoso

Format: 12″ Vinyl
Label: Anti/Epitaph
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release

Includes songs from ALGIERS as well as the Calexico catalog recorded live in Germany in June 2012 with the Radio Symphonic Orchestra Vienna and the Deutsches Filmorchester Babelsberg.

kasey-chambers-shane-nicholson-rattlin-bones-rsdKasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson

Rattlin Bones

Format: 12″ Vinyl
Label: Sugar Hill
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
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A staple of the Americana genre, this release marks the first collaboration for these Australian husband-and-wife superstars. First time on vinyl.

charlie-poole-and-the-highlandersCharlie Poole With The Highlanders

Complete Paramount and Brunswick Recordings

Format: 12″ Vinyl
Label: Tompkins Square
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
More Info:

All sides recorded in New York, 1929. Liner notes by Poole authority Kinney Rorrer

dale-watson-record-store-dayDale Watson

I Lie When I Drink

Format: 45 Vinyl
Label: Red House
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
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Featuring fan-favorite songs “I Lie When I Drink” and “Thanks To Tequila,” 3,500 copies of the record were pressed on high quality red vinyl. The free 45 is only available at select independent record stores on Record Store Day.

elizabeth-cook-jason-isbellElizabeth Cook & Jason Isbell

Tecumseh Valley b/w Pancho & Lefty

Format: 7″ Vinyl
Label: 31 Tigers
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
More Info:

“Tecumseh Valley” b/w “Pancho & Lefty”

Studio versions of both artists covering Townes Van Zandt. They originally performed these songs on Late Night with David Letterman

mike-cooley-too-pretty-to-workMike Cooley

Too Pretty To Work

Format: 7″ Vinyl
Label: Cooley Records
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
More Info:

Record Store Day 7″ featuring 2 live tracks recorded at shows in 2012.

1 – Self Destructive Zones (3:36)
2 – Get Downtown (3:12)

justin-townes-earle-yumaJustin Townes Earle

Yuma

Format: 10″ Vinyl
Label: Bloodshot Records
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
More Info:

Previously released debut EP from Justin Townes Earle, now on vinyl for the first time. 10″ vinyl. Colored vinyl (opaque gold). Limited to 1000 copies, for RSD.

The Ghost of Virginia, You Can’t Leave, Yuma, I Don’t Care, Let the Waters Rise, A Desolate Angels Blues

Alejandro Escovedo/Chris Scruggs

78 rpm 10

Format: 10″ Vinyl
Label: Plowboy Records
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
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78 rpm 10″ A/B single release of two covers of Eddy Arnold standards by Alejandro Escovedo (A side) and Chris Scruggs (B side) for upcoming “You Don’t Know Me: Rediscovering Eddy Arnold” album project due in May 2013

a side : “It’s a Sin” by Alejandro Escovedo – B side: “Just A Little Lovin’ (Will Go A Long Way” by Chris Scruggs

Patty Griffin

Ohio
Format: 7″ Vinyl
Label: New West
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
More Info:

This is a single A-side 7” pressed on heavyweight vinyl.  The vinyl is black, hand-numbered 1-500, and Patty will sign Side B on 25 of the records, which will be randomly distributed. This song is from her forthcoming album, American Kid, due out 5/14/13. This will come in an all white sleeve with a stamped logo and a stickered UPC.

sarah-jarosz-live-at-the-troubadourSarah Jarosz

Live At The Troubadour

Label: Sugar Hill
Release type: ‘RSD First’ Release
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Recorded in August of 2012, Live at the Troubadour finds the Grammy-nominated acoustic wunderkind in pristine form and marks Jarosz’s debut live recording.
TRACK LISTING: 1. Tell Me True 2. Kathy’s Song 3. Mansineedof 4. Shankill Butchers 5. Broussard’s Lament

jd-mcpherson-fire-bugJ.D. McPherson

Fire Bug

Format: 7″ Vinyl
Label: Concord
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
More Info:

SIDE A: Fire Bug / SIDE B: A Gentle Awakening

tift-merritt-markingsTift Merritt

Markings

Format: 12″ Vinyl
Label: Yep Roc
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
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4-song 12″ featuring an unreleased track, a live track and two acoustic tracks from Traveling Alone. Covered with a tactile cross-stitched/embroidered record cover.

mumford-sons-live-at-bull-mooseMumford & Sons

Live at Bull Moose

Format: 10″ Vinyl
Label: Glassnote
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
More Info:

“””I Will Wait”” “”Ghosts That We Knew”” “”Where Are You Now”” “”Awake My Soul”” — 3 or 4 songs from their bull moose instore – CD version”

Willie Nelson

Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die

Format: 7″ Vinyl
Label: Legacy
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
More Info:

7″ Green Colored Vinyl, Numbered.

Side A – feat guest vocals by Snoop Dogg, Jamey Johnson & Kris Kristofferson
Side B – previously unreleased Willie solo version

WillieNelsonCrazyVinyl.inddWillie Nelson

Crazy: The Demo Sessions

Format: 12″ Vinyl
Label: Sugar Hill
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
More Info:

When Willie first got to Nashville he cut some demos for Ray Price and Hal Smith’s publishing company, Pamper Music. Though these cuts were used to pitch songs to artists (including ‘Crazy’ for Patsy Cline) and producers, many weren’t released. These 1960-1966 tracks are raw, real and really good, clearly the work of an artist/songwriter headed for stardom.

old-97-waylon-jenningsOld 97s and Waylon Jennings

Old 97s/Waylon Jennings

Format: 7″ Vinyl
Label: Omnivore Recordings
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
More Info:

2 x 7″ Two tracks from Old 97s sessions with Waylon Jennings, and two additional Old 97s demo tracks. Cover art by Jon Langford of the Mekons and Waco Brothers, and famed painter of country icons.– Iron Road, The Other Shoe, Visiting Hours (1996 demo), Fireflies Take 2 (1996 demo)

Gram Parsons

Gram Parsons & The Fallen Angels-Live 1973 7

Format: 7″ Vinyl
Label: SIERRA
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
More Info:

Originally released in 1982 as a bonus 7″ EP to Sierra Records “Live 1973″ LP release of Gram Parsons with Emmylou Harris with full color sleeve.

Side One: Medley- Bony Moronie, 40 Days, Almost Grown  Side Two: Conversations, Doing It in the Bus, Broken EBS Box, Hot Burrito #1

Richard Thompson

Salford Sunday

Format: 7″ Vinyl
Label: New West
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
More Info:

This is a single A-side 7” pressed on heavyweight vinyl.  This song is off of the releaseElectric (2/5/13). The vinyl is black, hand-numbered 1-500. Richard will sign Side B on 25 of the records, which will be distributed randomly.

yonder-mountain-string-bandYonder Mountain String Band

Yonder Mountain String Band

Format: 12″ Vinyl
Label: Vanguard
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
More Info:

Available for the first time on vinyl.

Mar
29

Nashville’s New Independent Nucleus

March 29, 2013 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  25 Comments

nashvilleForget all your stuffy old outmoded notions of what Nashville is. Right now Nashville is the center of the music universe in so many more ways than what is represented by the few city blocks of old houses and mini-rise office buildings on Music Row. Right here, right now, Nashville is the place to be for independent music. Sure, in a few years when the rest of the world catches on to that fact, they will move there in droves and ostensibly destroy what motivated them to move there in the first place (see Austin, TX circa now). And in many ways, especially in parts of east Nashville, this is already happening.

But right now, Nashville is that magical locale in the country where creativity is thriving because of the influx of talent coming in and the caliber of projects coming out. When you have so much talent and rabid creativity in one place, it compounds on itself in collaborations, it pushes individual artists to be better to keep up with their peers, and the end result is a mutual inspiration that rises all boats. It’s Haight Ashbury circa 1965. It’s Guy Clark’s kitchen in the movie Heartworn Highways.

This is just one clique of many, but right now in Nashville there is a crop of close-knit quasi-country musicians who represent the nucleus of the new Americana movement and the rebirth of creativity in Music City. Here they are, and how they inter-relate with each other.

jason-isbell-amanda-shiresJason Isbell

Some people probably thought he was nuts for quitting the Drive By Truckers to pursue a solo career. Now he’s arguably one of the biggest names in Americana, and certainly one of the most current and influential. Jason Isbell is all about the power of the song. Originally from just outside of Muscle Shoals, his song “Alabama Pines” was the Americana Music Award’s Song of the Year in 2012. He was once married to Drive-By Truckers’ bass player Shonna Tucker. Now he’s married to Amanda Shires. He’s also good friends with Justin Townes Earle and appeared on his album Harlem River Blues, and played guitar for Justin when he performed the title track from the album on David Letterman.

justin-townes-earle-the-good-life-amanda-shiresJustin Townes Earle

A name made famous by others, but with a talent all his own, Bloodshot Records took a shot on this wild card with a rough past, and it paid off in spades. Along with Isbell, Justin Townes Earle is one of the most current and influential outlets for Americana music. Aside from putting out 5 stellar records, his resume is diverse, from being named one of GQ’s “Most Stylish Men” in 2010, to producing Wanda Jackson’s last record Unfinished Business. He’s good friends with Jason Isbell, who appeared on his album Harlem River Blues, and played guitar for Justin when he performed the title track from the album on David Letterman. Amanda Shires, who is married to Jason Isbell, is the girl that appears on the cover with Justin on his album The Good Life. Fiddle player Josh Hedley toured with Justin for a number of years, and Caitlin Rose has toured with Justin in a supporting role.

amanda-shiresAmanda Shires

A fiddle prodigy that joined the legendary Texas Playboys at age 15, Amanda Shires’ talents began to be exposed to the alt-country/Americana world as a member of the Thrift Store Cowboys from her hometown of Lubbock, TX. Soon people began to catch on that Amanda was just as gifted as a singer and a songwriter as she was a giving, skilled, and attentive accompanist and collaborator, and she released her first solo album Being Brave in 2005. Amanda began playing with Jason Isbell both in a duo role, and with his band The 400 Unit a few years ago, eventually leading to their marriage in February of 2013.  On twitter she now goes by “Amanda Isbell.” She appeared on the cover of Justin Townes Earle‘s The Good Life and has played fiddle for Justin as well.

jonny-fritzJonny Fritz (Corndawg)

The weird, quirky, sarcastic, but sincerely talented songwriter and performer whose silly songs may be an initial turnoff, but when delved into deeper reveal devilish wit and demonstrative scope. Like a Roger Miller of our time, I once overheard a concert attendee say about his music, “It’s like really bad country music that you can’t help but love.” His steadfast Tonto is fiddle player Josh Hedley, whose been with Jonny ever since he stopped touring with Justin Townes Earle. Jonny has shared Caitlin Rose‘s pedal steel player Spencer Cullum, and Jonny and Caitlin have appeared on stage together multiple times. They are both currently releasing albums through ATO Records.

4745.jpgCaitlin Rose

The daughter of country music master songwriter Liz Rose, she has a powerful voice that matches her stellar songwriting skill and pedigree. Though the UK seems much more receptive than the US to her music at the moment, the boldness and accessibility of her recent release The Stand In should go far in making Caitlin a staple name in Americana for years to come.  She has toured with Justin Townes Earle, and both have worked with studio producer Skylar Wilson. She has shared the stage and her pedal steel player Spencer Cullum with Jonny Fritz, and both Caitlin and Jonny are currently releasing albums through ATO Records.

josh-hedleyJosh Hedley

Like Amanda Shires, Josh is the consummate, selfless, fiddle-playing sideman who also displays moments of brilliance when he steps into the frontman role. He’s opened for Eileen Rose as a solo artist, and released an EP called Green Eyes in 2009. He’s also done studio work for artists as big as Jack White, and is known to perform at Nashville’s fooBar, Full Moon Saloon, and other locations when not on the road. For years he played fiddle for Justin Townes Earle. He’s now the mainstay of Jonny Fritz‘s traveling band.

 

Other new artists making up Nashville’s creative nucleus: Sturgill Simpson, Austin Lucas, Tristen, Escondido, Rayland Baxter, Nikki Lane, Andrew Combs, Joshua Black Wilkins, Lindi Ortega, and who else?

Justin Townes Earle performing “Harlem River Blues” with Caitlin Rose and Josh Hedley

Justin Townes Earle Performing “Harlem River Blues with Jason Isbell & Amanda Shires

Mar
7

Caitlin Rose Comes In Full Bloom on “The Stand-In”

March 7, 2013 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  8 Comments

caitlin-roseLadies and gentlemen, Caitlin Rose has arrived. It may take some time for the rest of the world to wake up to this realization. But they will. The strength of The Stand-In assures it.

The Stand-In is frighteningly good. It’s an enterprise in the evocation of rich human emotions, interwoven with delicious hooks and intelligent riffs, stirring vocal performances delivering meaningful, elevated lyricism, and a towering production performance that may go down in the history books. Just simply… Wow.

Scoring high on all the basic music food groups–singing, songwriting, arrangement, instrumentation, production, and performances–there are songs on The Stand-In that Caitlin Rose will labor the rest of her career to top. This is a career album. This is an album the rest of the industry will use as a measuring stick in the coming years. By casting a wide sonic net that takes only the finest ingredients from country and rock’s classic era, and then emboldening them with modern, relevant sensibilities, The Stand-In grips you and won’t let go.

Don’t get your hopes up too high for a hard country album here folks. At times the steel guitar is penetrating and the depth of story is interminably palpable. But the magic of The Stand-In is that it is not really country. It’s Caitlin Rose. It’s an amalgam of one girl’s music quest interpreted through a cohesive vision by the production crew and players. At the same time, Caitlin knows when to be submissive to her collaborators, and the result is a unified artistic expression with a very fresh and robust sound. This is music for right here, right now, that shows that sensibilities do not always come at the compromise of substance, and that the seismic shift of sonic relevance in independent music from Austin to east Nashville is complete.

This album has so many monster songs. Let’s begin with “I Was Cruel,” one of the album’s most country offerings, and one of its standouts. The emotional moment at the end of this song is something some artists and songwriters work their entire lives to attain, yet Caitlin makes it look so effortless. “Only A Clown” is ridiculously good, and along with “Everywhere I Go” is ripe to be injected into a movie soundtrack or something. They have that devilish, universal appeal. These are the type of legacy songs that you thought music was no longer capable of.

caitlin-rose-the-stand-in“Dallas” is a Felice Brothers cover, and is another one of the more country-feeling tracks, featuring the always stirring out-of-place ‘F’ bomb. Caitlin has a howitzer of a voice, but heretofore could be accused of being too shy with it at times. But in “Dallas,” Caitlin’s voice shines, just as it does in a redemptive manner for some of the album’s lesser tracks like “Pink Champagne” and “Silver Sings.”

The production on The Stand-In is heavy-handed, yet remarkably unobtrusive to the songs. Producers Jordan Lehning and Skylar Wilson may be the real unsung heroes of The Stand In, deftly arranging Caitlin’s songs and separating them in style while not straying from under the unifying sonic umbrella defined by Caitlin’s broad influences. Skylar Wilson has worked with Justin Townes Earle in the past. Much like Townes Earle, Caitlin exhibits sonic leadership by evoking a sound that is equal parts rock and roots, yet fights to remain unconfined. But where Townes Earle relies on space and minimalist composition, Caitlin comes out with a full, bold approach.

Numerous times when listening to this album you want to question the direction of the production–the out front bass track on “Waitin’,” or the Tom Petty-esque feel at the beginning of “Silver Sings.” It’s not that The Stand-In is without warts. But this album has so many of those rising moments that music lives for, any potential misstep is chased by a redemptive moment. You can’t help but compare the album to some of the landmark production accomplishments of the past in how it brings Caitlin’s A-list songwriting to life.

Two other dudes who deserve props are Caitlin’s guitar player, the fresh faced Jeremy Fetzer, and pedal steel player Spencer Cullum who is also known to play with Jonny “Corndawg” Fritz. Both these guys bring a skill set of taste and instinct that is imperative to the Caitlin Rose sound.

The tile “The Stand In” alludes in part to Caitlin’s uneasiness as a front person. When I first saw her open for Justin Townes Earle in late 2010, her talent was blinding, but her confidence was confining. I knew then if the girl could just let loose, she could become a music powerhouse.

It’s really hard to look at this album and not see it as a springboard. This is Caitlin Rose’s moment. She’s no stand in, she’s an A1 girl.

Caitlin Rose is in full bloom on The Stand-In.

Two guns up!

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Purchase The Stand In from Caitlin Rose

Preview & Purchase tracks on Amazon

Jan
9

Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Mother Blues” on Letterman

January 9, 2013 - By Trigger  //  Outlaw History  //  14 Comments

ray-wylie-hubbardIn the mid 70′s Ray Wylie Hubbard went by the handle “The Forgotten Outlaw.” And though he leans much more towards the blues these days, his music is many times misappropriated for country. In the blues world, there’s an element in the mythos called “paying dues.” And Ray has payed his many times over. Of course the reason you pay your dues is to hopefully reach a payoff, and Ray was be cashing that in at least in some small part when he made an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman Wednesday night (1-9-13).

“Well I know 66 is kinna old to be making my first appearance on late w/ night david letterman,” Ray said through Twitter.  “But I didn’t wanna peak too soon.”

Though many A-list entertainers from a swath as wide reaching as Willie Nelson to Ringo Starr consider Ray Wylie both an influence and a friend, his name still remains in the “yeah, I think I’ve heard of him before” status with most of America, or like Ray puts it sarcastically, he’s a “Music book smudge, country music stain.”

It’s pretty telling that Ray has to travel 1,800 miles to play Letterman to get the national attention he’s deserved these oh so many years, when Austin City Limits–originally set up highlight Texas talent to the rest of the world–has mostly alluded him. His only appearance on the hometown format was when Hayes Carll invited him up on stage for a song a couple years back. Oh, and there was that time Willie Nelson pulled out Ray’s “Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother” on ACL’s pilot episode in 1975.

Meanwhile David Letterman whose locked in a ratings tussle with Leno and the recently-rescheduled Jimmy Kimmel decides to supplant booking a musical guest the American public already knows for one they damn well should. Along with other independent roots acts like Jason Isbell, Justin Townes Earle, and Jessica Lea Mayfield, Letterman and his peeps have stepped up to the plate when it comes to representing the rising Americana roots scene of which Ray Wylie is a pillar and patriarch of. Meanwhile ACL is pulling household name talent from the coasts, causing a criss-crossing of traveling musical acts that can’t be healthy for America’s carbon footprint. It sure is a strange, post-digitization music world out there.

“Mother Blues” is about the perfect song for Hubbard to play on Letterman because it is both specifically autobiographical and generally badass. It highlights many of the songwriting attributes that have made Ray the legendary “Wylie Llama” in songwriting circles: humor, ribald, and cunning songcraft. Even more appropriate that he would play it with his son Lucas Hubbard accompanying him on lead guitar because Lucas is referenced in “Mother Blues” along with Ray’s wife, and the song is named for the semi-legendary blues venue where Ray got his start in Dallas. And don’t forget that gold top Les Paul…

Watch Web Exclusive of Ray Wylie playing “Screw You, We’re From Texas” by Letterman’s Request

Jan
9

2012 Artist of the Year – Marty Stuart

January 9, 2013 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  40 Comments

marty-stuartIf anybody asked me point blank, who is the artist that is most saving country music right now? I would answer without hesitation, “Marty Stuart.”

Marty Stuart is the man. More so than any other modern country music artist, Marty does everything right, from preserving the roots of country and helping to keep the traditions alive, to putting out fresh, fun, and relevant music, to taking up the cause of the oldtimers and the up-and-comers alike to keep the country music community both honorable and vibrant. You name it, Marty has done it, and done it many times away from the cameras and country writers, simply from a passion for country music, and from the kindness of his heart.

Marty Stuart breathes country music, and helps preserve it and pay it forward almost as if it was an involuntary action. He doesn’t know how to do anything different. The man is tireless, touring many months out of the year, and spending the majority of his time when home in Nashville on his Marty Stuart Show or playing the Grand Ole Opry, or other endeavors that many times seem to be about promotion someone other than himself. The amount of talent he has churning through the Marty Stuart Show set alone is boggling, and it is about the only place left in American popular media where you can see what real country entertainment once was.

You know, I’ve heard some folks say that Marty is “hokey,” probably partly in response to his RFD-TV Show. I’ve heard others remark that he’s just plain weird, maybe from his flamboyant hairdo or dress. What’s funny though is when it comes to Marty Stuart’s music, all of that stuff seems so superfluous. His recent output is responsible for some of the hardest-charging guitar music that exists in country right now, walking right up near the line of rock & roll, but cleverly knowing where not to cross it. The magic Marty is making with “Cousin” Kenny Vaughan and the double-barreled Telecaster twang-out sound is something that will go down in the annals of country music as one of its coolest eras.

Marty Stuart also has excellent ballads and beautiful instrumentals and traditionals that include some of the tightest musicianship and harmonies you will find, mostly the fault of his excellent band The Fabulous Superlatives. From gospel to Outlaw, Marty Stuart can work within all of country music’s colors, and practice the art of playing and living authentic country music that he preaches. As Marty says, “The most Outlaw thing you can do in Nashville right now is play country music.”

One thing that many folks don’t know about Marty Stuart is that he owns a vast archive of country music memorabilia, and not from a personal desire to horde expensive valuables, but a sincere desire to preserve these artifacts for future generations of country fandom.

I’ve heard many stories about Marty’s generosity from other artists over the years, but the one that sticks with me most was from 90-year-old Don Maddox, the last surviving member of the Maddox Brothers & Rose. When Don flew out from the West Coast to be a part of the opening of the Bakersfield Sound exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame, Marty acted as Don Maddox’s personal tour guide in Nashville, taking him to see the Maddox Brothers costumes Marty gobbled up years ago for safe keeping (some of which were given to the Hall of Fame for the Bakersfield exhibit), inviting Don to play with him on The Grand Ole Opry, and putting him on The Marty Stuart Show.

Marty’s generosity stretches out to all sectors of real country music, to up-and-coming acts like The Quebe Sisters and Justin Townes Earle that he’s invited on his TV show, to Hank Williams III who appears on a duet on Marty’s latest album Nashville Vol. 1 – Tear The Woodpile Down.

And in the end, Marty Stuart’s music is the reason he deserves this honor the most. The reason Marty is in a position to do all the great things that he does is because he is so revered by his peers, by country music’s historic institutions, and by the overall country music community.

Simply put, Marty Stuart is saving country music.

Dec
17

Saving Country Music’s 25 Essential Albums for 2012

December 17, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  43 Comments

SCMLOGOLAYERSHere 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

little-victories-chris-knightEvery 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

ray-wylie-hubbard-grifters-hymnalAnother excellent album that would have been an Album of the Year candidate if it wasn’t for such a strong field in 2012.

“If there’s honor amongst thieves, then it only seems fitting there should be a Grifter’s Hymnal. And if there’s going to be a Grifter’s Hymnal, it’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 don’t worry, it’s all here. Just open it up and sing along.” (read full review)

Rachel Brooke – A Killer’s Dream

rachel-brooke-a-killers-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 she’s up to these alchemical feats in A Killer’s Dream, and proves that she’s musical gold, worthy of the attention of the greater Americana / roots world.” (read full review)

Justin Townes Earle – Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now

justin-townes-earle-nothings-gonna-change-the-way-you-feel-about-me-nowI 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. JTE’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

the-calamity-cubes-old-worlds-oceanAnother album that was right on the edge of being named an Album of the Year candidate. Excellent songwriting and performances on this album.

“‘Old World’s Ocean’ puts The Calamity Cubes’ 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 “hardcore” 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-nashville-vol-1-tear-the-woodpile-down“Marty Stuart is on an amazing roll ladies and gentlemen. What he’s doing right now with lead guitar player “Cousin” Kenny Vaughan and The Fabulous Superlatives is stuff that legends are made of. You know those periods in an artists’ career that you look back on like they can’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 they’d shaken loose from the grips of RCA in the mid 70′s. That’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

lee-bains-iii-the-glory-fires-theres-a-bomb-in-gileadThe only reason this album was left of the Album of the Year list was because it’s really not that country. But watch out for this band. The are going to be big in the coming years.

“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

paige-anderson-fearless-kin-wild-rabbit“One hard and fast rule around Saving Country Music is that I don’t review EP’s except for in “extreme cases.” There’s just too much music out there these days to consider half efforts, and in many cases, this is what EP’s are. I know they’re the hip thing, and a quicker way to get singles to fans in the digital age. But there’s something sacred about the album concept that I’m unwilling to let go of. So what is an “extreme case?” 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 Anderson’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?

joe-buck-yourself-who-dat“‘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. (read full review)

The Foghorn Stringband – Outshine The Sun

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

reverend-peytons-big-damn-band-between-the-ditches1“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 “making it.” Worming their way on to the Warped Tour and opening for The Reverend Horton Heat, they’ve found some traction with their music by working hard and taking a professional approach as opposed to compromising their sound. That is what’s great about Between The Ditches. It’s not a change, it is a refinement. Thought Rev. Peyton still has the same bellowy voice, he’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, it’s measured. And though there’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

sara-watkins-sun-midnight-sunThis is an album that I believe is being irresponsibly overlooked in many circles. A very progressive album, but a very good one. Excellent composition and some excellent songs.

“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. I’m libel to recycle them over and over in one setting until I feel stupid about it. The opening track “The Foothills” 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

billy-don-burns-nights-when-im-sober“There are great songwriters, and then there are songwriters that define the apogee of the craft, songwriters like Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt…and Billy Don Burns. There are songs on Nights When I’m Sober that will rip at your heart like nothing else. There’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 Don’s services. (read full review)

 

James Leg & Left Lane Cruiser – Painkillers

left-lane-cruiser-james-leg-painkillersMaybe the most fun album of 2012.

“Listen to me folks, GET THIS ALBUM! I know it’s my job as some high fallutin’ music writer to come up with a bunch of stuff to say about music. But after listening to Painkillers, if I were you, I’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’ isn’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. That’s what’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

don-williams-and-so-it-goesProbably the best classic country album of 2012.

“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 Don’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 grandparent’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 70′s and 80′s country for lacking substance. It makes you wonder just how many of those Don Williams #1′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

joseph-huber-tongues-of-fireThis is many people’s pick for the 2012 Album of the Year. Once again Joe Huber’s songwriting is excellent.

“”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 “An Old Mountain Tune” and “Dance Around The Daggers”. “Iron Rail” 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. “Fell Off the Wagon” is the outright fun song that was lacking from Joe’s first release. And just about the time you wonder where Huber’s signature blazing banjo is on this album, here comes “Walkin’ Fine”.” (read full review)

Tom VandenAvond – Wreck of a Fine Man

tom-vandenavond-wreck-of-a-fine-manThe title track is also a candidate for Song of the Year

“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 VandenAvond’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

jp-harris-tough-choices-ill-keep-callingOne of the biggest surprises of 2012. A great traditional record.

“This true, honky-tonk, hard country music, with a little Western swing and rockabilly mixed in. Songs like “Badly Bent” and “Cross Your Name” tell hard-nosed stories that don’t need heavy language to drive home their heartbroken themes, and the up-tempo “Take It Back” and “Gear Jammin’ Daddy” gives this album a good variety and spice that keep it engaging throughout. All of these songs could be labeled cliche, but they’re so good, it’s hard to.

Can a long-bearded boy from Vermont make real country music? Can songs about letters stamped “Return To Sender” and and shots of whiskey to drown sorrow still be relevant? If I’ll Keep Calling is any indication, the answer is an adamant “Yes!”” (Read full review)

Willie Nelson- Heroes

willie-nelson-heroesThis 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 Lukas’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 Lukas’s natural, high-register tone, and perfect pitch and control that doesn’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, he’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

alabama-shakes-boys-and-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 “soul” I think of an old black woman. Whether it’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. (“I’ll fight the planet!” she proclaims in the song “Heartbreaker”. )” (Read full review)

Jackson Taylor & The Sinners – Bad Juju

jackson-taylor-and-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 don’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

mcdougall-a-few-towns-moreThis also contains a Song of the Year candidate “The Travels of Fredrick Tolls Pt.2″

“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, he’s like an archetype pulled right out of the glossy illustrations of childhood fable.” (Read full review)

Davy Jay Sparrow - Olde Fashioned

davy-jay-sparrow-olde-fashioned“This album is just so refreshing. It’s refreshing for Western swing and for a neo-traditionalist album because it’s just so fun. This may be the most fun album I have heard in years. It’s not afraid to be spontaneous and whimsical. There’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, it’s “cool” in the traditional sense of the term. It’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

lone-wolf-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 it’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

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

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 what’s going on at first, but it certainly will get your heart pumping. Restavrant doesn’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. I’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)

 

Dec
15

Paige Anderson & The Fearless Kin’s “Wild Rabbit”

December 15, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  7 Comments

“Every so often in the sea of folks playing and learning every instrument imaginable, a talent emerges that sets the bar for others to come. I believe Paige Anderson is one of those talents. I first learned of her intense imagination and raw gift from playing and songwriting some years ago and she instantly became an artist that I will enjoy listening to for years to come as she flourishes and continues to set that bar for those of us around who aspire to learn more ourselves.” –Chuck Ragan

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One hard and fast rule around Saving Country Music is that I don’t review EP’s except for in “extreme cases.” There’s just too much music out there these days to consider half efforts, and in many cases, this is what EP’s are. I know they’re the hip thing, and a quicker way to get singles to fans in the digital age. But there’s something sacred about the album concept that I’m unwilling to let go of. So what is an “extreme case?” Well in 5 or so years, not once have I had an EP cross my desk that I felt qualified. Until now.

One of the few times an EP is permissible is when it is the first release from a young, burgeoning artist that has a real serious shot of making music a career. Justin Townes Earle’s Yuma or Samantha Crain’s The Confiscation are good examples. Paige Anderson and her EP Wild Rabbit is another.

Paige Anderson is only 18, but she has some serious skins on the wall as a performing musician already. As a flat picking prodigy and the front person for her family band Anderson Family Bluegrass, she has performed on the California bluegrass festival circuit for going on 8 years. Anderson Family Bluegrass has played at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, and toured on Chuck Ragan’s Revival Tour along such artists as Austin Lucas and Possessed by Paul James. Chuck Ragan has been so impressed with Paige, he wrote the quote above, and lends his voice to Wild Rabbit in the duet “Ballad of the Red River”. Paige Anderson is no random pretty-faced guitar player plucked out of thin air, she is a seasoned, flat-picking maestro that is making the transition from child prodigy to top-flight performer and songwriter.

Paige Anderson is in the most critical time for a “prodigy” musician turned original performer. So often this is the juncture when a whiz kid who is wonderful at memorizing music is exposed. Naturally we all give adolescent performers a greater benefit of the doubt. But when they’re old enough to vote, the cold reality of the judgmental music world scowls down upon them and pulls no punches. The leap from performing covers and traditionals to penning your own music is treacherous to say the least. Paige Anderson’s Wild Rabbit is not perfect, but I am delighted to report that she strides over one of the most difficult hurdles in a music career and sticks the landing.

This EP displays an uncanny adeptness of songwriting and arrangement beyond the formative age of the players, and conveys hope by forming a nexus between youthful appeal and artistic value. Its foundation is bluegrass, but Paige Anderson’s wise compositions draw influences from folk, country, indie rock, and roots music in an amalgam that is fiercely original. She is backed by The Fearless Kin consisting of her sister Aimee on fiddle and brother Ethan on mandolin, with mother Christy Anderson on bass. When the three Anderson siblings combine on harmonies, hearts stop.

Wild Rabbit is a remarkable collection of songs that illustrate all of Paige Anderson’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.

This may be the first you’re hearing about Paige Anderson & The Fearless Kin. Trust me, it won’t be the last.

Two guns up.

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Purchase Wild Rabbit from The Fearless Kin

Preview & Purchase Tracks from Amazon

Dec
13

The Greatest Underground Country Albums of All Time

December 13, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  81 Comments

By request, here is my list of the greatest underground country albums of all time.

The underground country movement started roughly in the mid 90′s on lower Broadway in Nashville that at the time was a run down part of town. Young musicians from around the country, some from punk backgrounds, came together from their mutual love of authentic country music to create a counterbalance to the pop country that was prevailing on Music Row a few blocks west.

Underground country started with mostly neo-traditionalists like Wayne “The Train” Hancock, Big Sandy, and Dale Watson, but spread to the punk and heavy metal world through acts like Hank Williams III and Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers. This list does not just consider the appeal of these albums, but also the influence they had on other underground artists and albums, and on country music and music in general.

Please understand that this list is just for underground country albums. This means artists better defined by the Deep Blues like Scott H. Biram or Possessed by Paul James, or Texas artists like James Hand or Ray Wylie Hubbard, or country artists who may work on the fringes of underground country but would not necessarily be considered underground like BR549 or Roger Alan Wade, are not included. Americana acts are not included. This is strictly underground country’s opportunity to bask in the spotlight.

Please feel free to leave your own list below.

16.  The Boomswagglers- Bootleg Beginnings – 2011

This very well may be the most authentic album of music put out in the modern era for any genre. The Boomswagglers have always been and continue to be more myth than reality, with original Boomswaggler Lawson Bennett long gone and a cavalcade of replacements shuffling in an out with Spencer Cornett. Even if they never put out another album, The Boomswagglers made their mark, and it is a deep one.

“The music is wildly entertaining and deceptively deep. If you’re going to be a Boomswagglers song, someone’s got to die, and likely a woman. Some may find this silly, monotonous, or even offensive, but you have to listen beyond the lyrics, and unlock the carnal wisdom that is hidden in these songs.” (read full review)

15. JB Beverley & The Wayward DriftersDark Bar & A Juke Box2006

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 CarniesBlood 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 BrookeA 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 EarleMidnight At The Movies – 2009

Midnight At The Movies was Saving Country Music’s 2009 Album of the Year. Today it would be difficult to characterize Justin Townes Earle as underground country because the quality of this album launched him into the inner sanctum of Americana.

“Justin Townes Earle has done an awesome thing with this album; he has figured out a way to unite all the displaced elements that make up the alternative to mainstream Nashville country, while still staying somewhat accessible to the mainstream folks as well. You might even catch the bluegrass folks nodding their head while listening to it. Folkies like it, and there’s a few tunes blues people can get into. This isn’t just the REAL country album of the year, it is the “Alt-country” album of the year and the “Americana” album of the year.” (read full review)

9. Slackeye Slim - El Santo Grial, La Pistola Piadosa – 2011

El Santo Grial was Saving Country Music’s 2011 Album of the Year.

“Every once in a while, an album comes along that changes everything. It’s an album that inspires other albums, and dynamic shifts in tastes and approach throughout a sector of music, while at the same time dashing the dreams of other artists, as the purity and originality are way too much to attempt to rival. Slackeye Slim’s El Santo Grial, La Pistola Piadosa is one of those albums.

“El Santo Grial is a masterpiece, exquisitely produced, arranged, and performed. This is a patient, uncompromising album. You can tell time was never introduced into this project as a goal. The goal was to flesh out Slackeye’s vision without ever settling for second best, and that goal was accomplished.” (read full review)

8. Wayne “The Train” HancockThat’s What Daddy Wants – 1997

Thunderstorms & Neon Signs is the Wayne Hancock album most people gravitate towards as their favorite because it was their first, and the first to showcase Wayne Hancock’s unique blend of country, Western Swing, rockabilly, and blues. But pound for pound, That’s What Daddy Wants is just as good of an offering, boasting some of The Train’s signature songs like “87 Southbound” and “Johnny Law”. Wayne Hancock has never put out a bad album, and distinguishing between them is difficult. But it’s not difficult to say that the underground country movement would have not had as much class if That’s What Daddy Wants hadn’t seen the light of day.

7. .357 String Band – Fire & Hail – 2008

“They were all the absolute best possible musicians you could find at their respective positions, each challenging each other, pushing each other to keep up with the band’s demands for artistic excellence in both instrumental technique and creative composition.

“Listening back now at Fire & Hail, with so much talent in one place, no wonder the project was untenable, and no wonder the respective players have moved on to become their own trees instead of respective branches of the same project. Still, the loss of .357 String Band may go down as underground country’s greatest tragedy.” (read full review)

6. Hank Williams III - Lovesick, Broke, & Driftin’ – 2002

BR549 and Wayne “The Train” Hancock spearheaded the neo-traditionalist movement in the mid 90′s, but Hank Williams III was the one to carry it into the oughts and introduce it to a brand new crop of fans he brought along from his dabblings in the punk/heavy metal world. After having to tow the line somewhat for his first album Risin’ Outlaw, Hank3 was unleashed and able to showcase his own songwriting, heavily influenced by Wayne Hancock and Hank3′s famous grandfather, but still all his own. His voice was wickedly pure with a heart wrenching yodel and commanding range. The songwriting was simple, but powerful. This is a masterpiece, and remains an essential title of the neo-traditionalist era.

5. Hellbound GloryOld 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 WatsonLive in London…England – 2002

Dale comes out on stage and starts slinging guitars, cutting classics, and speaking the truth. Before Dale was the hometown boy and house band for Austin, he was pissed off and willing to sing about it. Dale’s anti-Nashville classics “Real Country Song”, “Nashville Rash”, and “Country My Ass” can all be found here, but Live in London isn’t all pissing and moaning. Songs like “Ain’t That Livin’” showed off Dale’s superlative voice and suave style. Honky tonk albums are sometimes hard to make because it is hard to capture that live, sweaty energy in the recorded context. So what better way to solve that problem than making a live one? Live in London remains the best Dale album to date.

3. Th’ Legendary Shack ShakersCockadoodledon’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” HancockThunderstorms & 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 IIIStraight to Hell – 2006

This album isn’t underground country’s Red Headed Stranger. It isn’t underground country’s Honky Tonk Heroes. It is both. It is the album that both was a novel concept, a breakthrough sonically and lyrically, and had a massive impact on the business side of music, for artists winning control of their music and inspiring and showing artists how to do it themselves. The deposed son of country music royalty had taken on a major Nashville label, and won, and all while being one of the first to successfully bridge the energy and approach of punk and heavy metal music with traditional country, all while keeping the music solidly country in nature.

It was the first album to be put out through the CMA with a Parental Advisory sticker. It was the first to ever be recorded outside of a traditional studio setting. Of course only a select few were paying attention, but it broke through many barriers that to this day have changed music in significant ways, sonically and behind the scenes.

The approach also had wide-ranging impacts outside of underground country and country music in general, to rock music and punk and heavy metal, inspiring thousands of rock kids to put down their electric guitars and AC/DC records, and pick up banjos and Johnny Cash records. The impact on mainstream music may have not been seen, but it was felt, and just like all great albums, it’s legacy will grow and be more appreciated and understood as the future unfolds.

Dec
3

2012 Saving Country Music Album of the Year Nominees

December 3, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  116 Comments

2012 was a bumper crop year for great albums in the greater country music world, and that necessitates a bolstered lineup of candidates for Saving Country Music’s coveted Album of the Year.

7 total made the list, with others admittedly getting completely screwed by their absence. Rachel Brooke’s A Killer’s Dream isn’t officially out until tomorrow, but trust me, it is epic, and still couldn’t make the list. It’s ridiculous that both Ray Wylie Hubbard’s Grifter’s Hymnal and Justin Townes Earle’s Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now aren’t on here, but they will both show up very prominently in the Song of the Year list.

Lee Bains & The Glory Fires There’s A Bomb In Gillead and the Calamity Cubes’ Old World’s Ocean are other excellent offerings that on a lesser year for music may have won the award outright. But this year, competition is stiff, and you really had to shoot the moon to make the list. Another that probably should be considered, but I must recuse myself from considering because I was part of the production team is James Hand’s Mighty Lonesome Man. (Look for these and other album on SCM’s upcoming “Essential Albums” list.)

I already have a bead of sweat forming across my brow brought on by the impossible decision of who I’m supposed to pick off this list. As always, audience participation is very encouraged, including write-in candidates. Vote down in the comments section and I do take feedback into consideration for the final decision, especially if people tell me why it is the best candidate, instead of simply following a Facebook link and typing a name.

Turnpike TroubadoursGoodbye Normal Street

To be the Saving Country Music Album of the Year, you can’t just be good, or even great. You have to bring some intangibles to the table. You have to make an important impact on the greater music world. The way Goodbye Normal Street accomplishes this requirement is by its ability to branch out and create new fans for independent music. Find the most diehard pop country fan and play “Good Lord Lorrie” for them and watch them wither and want their own copy. It’s substance with accessibility, and that is a powerful, powerful weapon for real music.

“Call it a maturing or a coming into their own, but this album marks the most solid offering from this Oklahoma-based band yet, and a defining of their sound, their place in the music world, and as a band that music world should pay more serious attention to. Sharp wit, self-reflection, specific references to characters and situations in an almost Townes or Robert Earl Keen-like storytelling approach imbibes this music with a freshness and engaging nature, revitalizing the old-fashioned love and heartbreak songs in the modern, independent context.” (read full review)

Kellie Pickler100 Proof

The founding, underlying principle of Saving Country Music is the fight for creative freedom for artists. In 2012, no other album and no other artist defines that fight more than Kellie Pickler. Sacrificing her major label deal and a big payday to make the album she wanted, Kellie put out a strikingly traditional and engaging album that Chet Flippo, the same writer that covered the Outlaw country music scene back in the 70′s for Rolling Stone, called “the best pure country album in recent years.” But if 100 Proof wins, it won’t just be because of what the album symbolizes or its critical acclaim. It will be because it’s just so damn fun to listen to.

“If you are truly a fan of country music and have an open heart, you will like 100 Proof. In the Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn mold, 100 Proof revives the lost appreciation for the strong, yet sweet country woman, while staying away from the surface symbolism that erodes the substance from many of the other artists that attempt this difficult feat.” (read full review)

Olds SleeperNew Year’s Poem

I swear, Olds Sleeper is the Tom Waits, Beck, and Townes Van Zandt of our generation all wrapped into one…while at the same time being some random dude with a straight job churning out songs in a spare bedroom, playing all the parts and recording the music himself. Someone putting out so much music in a year, and doing so in such a lo-fi context isn’t supposed to be this good. Olds Sleeper will churn out 3 or 4 albums, and 40-something songs a year under various pseudonyms. The songwriting is par-excellence, tearing at your heart, reducing grown ass men to tears at times. And at other times New Years Poem is a straight up headbanger. Be prepared for how dirty and under-produced this project is, but that’s all part of the fun. New Year’s Poem is breathtaking, Old’s magum opus up to this point. Oh, and it’s FREE.

“Old’s New Year’s Poem opens up a new chapter in his music, and name’s his most complete album yet. There’s a great balance between his balls-out fuzz jams and heart-straining ballads, and a good flow from stem to stern.” (read full review)

Bloody Jug BandCoffin Up Blood

If I was picking the winner exclusively on creativity and originality, this album would win it running away. Coffin Up Blood gives you hope for music. It proves that there’s still new ways of making old music, and still uncharted territory yet to discover. At the same time it is one of the most purely entertaining albums of 2012. On the outside it may look like some horror gimmick, but this was an album that lots of time and love went into and was done right from start to finish.

“Forget the heavily death-infused concept, what The Bloody Jug Band has accomplished is releasing one of the most creatively-spellbinding albums in recent memory. Its funny. Its dark. It never takes itself too seriously. It is as engaging as any album I have listened to in years. You can’t stop listening to it, and when you’re not listening to it, you crave it. Think it’s all been done in roots music? Listen to Coffin Up Blood and prove your ass wrong.” (read full review) 

Corb Lund- Cabin Fever

Like the cowboy poets of old, Corb Lund is a master craftsman with the pen, knowing how to balance humor and heartbreak, irony and perspective to perfection. This album is angry, bordering on insane at times, but never loses its poetic, top-shelf aptitude with words. From a songwriting perspective, it’s 2012′s best while boasting some real fun music ranging from rock & roll to Western Swing.

“The United States is not the only land with lonesome cowboys and wide open spaces. Corb Lund grew up on his family’s farm and ranch in Alberta (the Canadian province, not your smelly aunt with 6 cats), and his rural cowboy life and thirst for country comes through in his music. There’s no corny hoser-ism here, Corb Lund is rich with ribald and wit, with forays into rock & roll and wild diversions of the mind from a man struggling to relate to modern society.” (read full review)

Lindi OrtegaCigarettes & Truckstops

That’s right ladies & gentlemen, two Canadians are candidates for Saving Country Music’s Album of the Year. Lindi lands on the list for putting out the most tasteful, most stylistically-flawless album over the past 12 months, and one that has something for everyone. Lindi Ortega will be a big force in American country and roots music in the coming years. Mark my words.

“‘Cigarettes & Truckstops’ is a succulent endeavor into the very fabric of country music, dusting off country’s roots, adding a little rockabilly, and re-emerging with them in a sexy and relevant candor, talking care free about drugs and danger, and not doing anything to be cool but being herself. Lindi Ortega doesn’t need to paint flames on her chest, she’s hot enough. I certainly can see how folks from a very wide swath of the roots world could get into her music. From the underground to Americana, if you don’t like her music, you’re not listening to it right.” (read full review)

Eric Strickland – Honky Tonk Till I Die

If you’ve made to the bottom of the list here and were wondering where in the hell the music from just a simple Southern country boy belting out bad ass country songs with no strings attached was, well meet Eric Strickland. Straight laced as it may be, this album is still something special simply from the strength of the songs and the performances.

“This is what Saving Country Music is all about. This is the reason I put my pants on every morning. Everything else is just fluff, filibustering, treading water until I come across that one artist, that one album that embodies everything true country fans are looking for but have yet to find. That is what you have with Eric Strickland and his band The B Sides, and their album ‘Honky Tonk Till I Die.’” (read full review)

Nov
17

Justin Townes Earle Let’s Wanda Be Wanda in “Unfinished Business”

November 17, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  11 Comments

Wanda Jackson w/ Producer Justin Townes Earle

Let’s be honest. The chances of Wanda Jackson putting out some groundbreaking, landmark album these days are slim. Her immeasurable influence spanning country, rockabilly, and rock and roll is undeniable. But at age 75, you’re not looking for something sensational, you’re just looking for something solid, something that rekindles the memories of her past magic and imparts some new memories along the way.

Same thing goes for these celebrity producerships that seem to be all the rage in music these days. You just want them to work. Hey, I’m one of the first to fall for them hook, line, and sinker. I see a high-caliber producer name attached to some upcoming project and my music pants start going crazy, and certainly that was the case when I heard Justin Townes Earle was producing Wanda’s Unfinished Business. But really, what is the success rate of these celebrity producer collaborations? Are big name musicians really qualified to be producers, or is this all marketing?

There’s been some hits with this formula, like Jack White’s work with Loretta Lynn on the album Van Lear Rose. And there’s been some, well, not hits, like when Jack White hooked up with Wanda on her last album The Party Ain’t Over. The result was decent, but a little too much Jack and not enough Wanda.

A good producer’s job is not to be noticed, but to get you to notice the talents of whoever they’re producing. And that’s what Justin Townes Earle does in Unfinished Business. He gets the hell out of the way and let’s Wanda Jackson do her thing, while still lending a creative and influential hand.

Wanda Jackson’s greatest asset is her voice. Like a brand new switchblade polished with Windex, it cuts with class. At 75, her voice is probably going to show some age and we can accept that, if not even enjoy its character in patches. Possibly the reason Jack White felt inclined to bring in bellowing horn sections on the last album was possibly to bolster, or bury Wanda’s voice from fear of it showing its age. But what Jack’s approach did was suffocate what makes Wanda special.

With Unfinished Business, instead of setting up a one band, one formula approach for most of the album, Justin Townes Earle approached each song individually, and this is where this album shines: the customized treatment for each track that creates a brilliant contrast of moods. Where Jack White seemed wanting to make a statement through Wanda, Justin Townes Earle just wanted to have fun.

If Wanda Jackson’s greatest asset is her voice, her second is her coolness and style. Earle was wise to pick up on that and utilize that in composition, like in the first track “Tore Down”. Bringing in backup singers for Wanda’s version of the Etta James number “Pushover” was a brilliant call that also called on Wanda Jackson’s cool factor.

Great, great song selection on this album. “It’s All Over Now”, a song first cut by the Valentino’s that then went on to be The Rolling Stone’s first #1 hit in 1964 was an excellent selection for the track list. Lower Broadway revivalist Greg Garing’s “Down Past The Bottom” may be the best track on the album.

Justin Townes Earle may have made an effort to make sure this album wasn’t all about him, but he’s far from sitting in the background. Wanda’s hard country version of Justin’s “What Do You Do When You’re Lonesome” is another standout track. And Earle shares the mic with Wanda in the somber duet, “Am I Even A Memory?”, where once again he does a great job playing the part instead of trying to stamp his signature on the song.

I’m not sure of the epicness yearned for in the ending track “California Stars” is captured, but the song is solid nonetheless. And I seem to always want to hear more of the Wanda rockabilly growl than what I get on her albums. But Unfinished Business touches on a tremendous amount of textures, styles, and moods, including lots of country and steel guitar, which is only appropriate because of Wanda’s wild, varying influence on American music. And most importantly, Unfinished Business let’s Wanda be Wanda.

As far as I’m concerned, Wanda Jackson has no “unfinished business” to attend to. She’s given her heart and soul to the music, and the music is better off because of it. She’s got nothing to prove, but she proves it anyway in Unfinished Business. And so does Justin Townes Earle.

1 3/4 of 2 guns up.

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Buy Unfinished Business from Wanda Jackson / Sugar Hill Records

Preview & Purchase Tracks from Amazon

Nov
7

Americana Loses Its Greatest Ambassador, & Gains Another

November 7, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  33 Comments

Yesterday it was announced the the vocal duo The Civil Wars were canceling all remaining performances and going on an indefinite hiatus. Through Facebook they released this statement:

“It is something we deeply regret. However, due to internal discord and irreconcilable differences of ambition we are unable to continue as a touring entity at this time. We thank each and every one of you for your amazing love and support. Our sincere hope is to have new music for you in 2013.”

The note has mixed messages to say the least. I always thought “irreconcilable” meant there was no solution, but they also say they hope to make more music next year. They also talk about “ambition” which gets the brain cells firing about what all that might mean. Though I appreciate their honesty, their comments lend to more questions than answers.

Either way, the decision means that Americana music and the more general independent roots world lose possibly their greatest ambassador. I never was able to get terribly into The Civil Wars. Ever since I stood on a stage 5 feet from them in Austin during SXSW 2010, right as they were beginning to blow up on the national stage, I had serious concerns about how viable their vocal bit would be long term. My token phrase for them was “The Steve Vai of Vocals” but that doesn’t mean they weren’t good, and weren’t a much better alternative to the majority of garbage being sold on mainstream country radio these days.

Like them or not, The Civil Wars were able to effect massive exposure onto the alternative to mainstream country. Being nominated for Vocal Duo of the Year by the CMA  Awards, and being nominated right beside Taylor Swift for their work on the Hunger Games soundtrack, were historic moments when independent music was placed right beside its mainstream counterpart. Their mark on ABC’s new show Nashville is undeniable. At the least they exposed people to the idea that there is a whole other world of music out there to discover.

So where does Americana and independent roots music go from here? In my opinion, the man that has been showing the steadiest rising action in his career over the past decade, and has the ability through style and a universal appeal for his music to entice not only the upper crust NPR crowd, but all the way to the crusty underground country fans, is Justin Townes Earle.

I once named Justin Townes Earle a leading candidate as country’s possible next savior (in the same article that likely helped inspire Eric Church’s “Country Music Jesus”), and Justin’s name also came up when I broached the subject of how “country” had become an embarrassing term for some acts that otherwise would fall under that umbrella.

Justin broached both subjects on the stage at The Majestic Theater in Detroit a few days ago (11/2/12, see video below) to a packed audience.

When I made my first record, I wanted to be a country singer. But see something has happened to country where it doesn’t mean the same thing that it used to. I don’t like what it means anymore. Taylor Swift actually works for herself. I mean she’s the least of our worries, the LEAST of our worries. I think where country music went wrong in the first place is when it lost its connection to the blues. Hank Williams introduced the 12-bar blues into country music, where the stars before him like “Uncle” Dave Macon were nowhere near as popular as he was. But he (Hank Williams) introduced the 12-bar blues to the Grand Ole Opry and changed country music.

And then Justin launched into his song “Ain’t Glad I’m Leaving” that practiced what he preached.

What Justin Townes Earle has that The Civil Wars don’t is long-term substance. No offense to The Civil Wars, but where their act is based on acrobatic vocal abilities that can be polarizing, Justin builds from the song out, and happens to be a great singer and a unique guitar player on top of that. And Justin gives nothing away to them on style. He may not be as pretty a face as The Civil Wars, but he’s been named one of GQ’s most stylish men for example, and somehow has positioned himself as a heartthrob outside of the music world. And most importantly, Justin Townes Earle exemplifies leadership through music.

Justin’s substance abuse issues could always flare up again, and maybe this is the 500 lb. anvil hanging over his career at all times. But if Americana and the greater roots world is looking for either an alternative or a replacement as their ambassador to the outside world, Justin Townes Earle could very well be their man as he continues to exude both wide appeal and creative prowess.

Oct
17

ABC’s “Nashville” Cast’s Real Life Counterparts

October 17, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  40 Comments

Like most fictional characters in popular culture, the characters of ABC’s new drama Nashville are probably based more on stereotypes than real-life folks. But for fun, let’s see if we can’t match up who the real-life inspiration is for the principals of the Nashville cast, and through the experiment see if the show really does represent all aspects of the Nashville music scene.

Nashville Character: Rayna Jaymes

Real Life Counterpart(s): Reba McEntire and/or Martina McBride

“Well you can kiss my decision as it’s walking out the door.”

Aging country pop queen concerned about her sagging skin has to worry about the kiddos running under foot and the budding buxom starlet on the rise trying to trample her career. On the outside she sticks to her principles, but on the inside she will do whatever she can to save her stardom.

Nashville Character: Juliette Barnes

Real Life Counterpart: Taylor Swift? No, girl from Dale Watson’s “Country My Ass”

“Oh, I’m always nice.”

Out of all of the Nashville characters, this is probably the one most based on a stereotype instead of an actual person. The creators of the show have said Juliette is not supposed to be Taylor Swift. Swift is seen as the proper, good girl who doesn’t use Auto-tune, while Juliette Barnes nails anything she can to get ahead except the proper note. The mold that fits Juliette Barns perfectly can be found in a Dale Watson song. “She can’t sing a lick, and in a bucket, she couldn’t carry her tune. She’s pretty as a picture, and she sure has a nice set of…wits. And she misses her producer that seduced her–I mean produced her a hit.”

Nashville Character: Lamar Wyatt

Real Life Counterpart: Mike Curb

“That’s alright if you see me as your enemy. Don’t you be foolish enough to make that a two-way street. ‘Cause my enemies don’t fare too damn well.”

Just like Mike Curb using the money he usurped from country music artists to spread his name all across Nashville under the guise of charity and civic duty, Lamar Wyatt wants a new baseball stadium and is willing to use his money and influence to appoint a puppet mayor of Nashville that he can use to run the city through behind-the-scenes. These old-guard aristocratic megalomaniacs are like two peas in a pod.

Nashville Character: Scarlett O’Connor

Real Life Counterpart: Caitlin Rose

“They’re just poems, not songs.”

A reluctant, timid songwriter that lacks nothing in talent either as a writer or performer, that when coaxed into action can rear back and command a crowd with both passion and skill.

Nashville Character: Gunnar Scott

Real Life Counterpart: Justin Townes Earle

“I guess I’m just naturally suspicious of anyone that confident.”

Long, lanky, a songwriter, and a gentleman (as opposed to the “punk country” Avery Barkley), he’s more Americana than country, symbolizing the new independent approach to Nashville that emphasizes artistic appeal and substance as opposed to commercial success.

Nashville Character: Avery Barkley

Real Life Counterpart: Ryan Adams

“It’s kind of an alt-country punk, but more cerebral.”

Dangerous sideburns and a confident swagger, the chicks swoon over him and his bad boy persona and rock star attitude. But watch out, he’ll probably do them wrong.

Nashville Character: Deacon Claybourne

Real Life Counterpart: David Rawlings

“I promise to not use it as a coaster.”

The consummate loyal sideman whose an excellent guitar player and an accomplished songwriter himself. A true music good guy whose willing to lurk in the shadows most of the time to allow good music to come to life. Whether there’s something romantic going on with the boss or not, it’s easy to assume there is.

Nashville Character: Glenn – Juliette Barnes’ Manager

Real Life Counterpart: A Young Scott Borchetta

“Take the money and run.”

Savvy, slick, new-school business man who Svengali’s a young starlet into signing with him so he can springboard to a seven-figure music executive career in the coming years. Glenn is a Scott Borchetta starter kit.

 

Sep
12

This New CMT Edge Outlet

September 12, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  12 Comments

A few days ago, CMT launched a new format and website called CMT Edge with the intent of covering artists outside the norm of mainstream country music. Since then I’ve been asked many times what I think of it, and my stock answer has been that I don’t exactly know what I think of it yet. The venture is still in its infantile stages, and it will take time to determine just what CMT Edge will be, and the impact it will have.

Having said that, I see no reason at this point not to stay positive about it. It’s always good to have more avenues for good music to reach people. As I always say, I want good music to get popular, and popular music to get good. Any sense of ownership or desire for exclusivity anyone might feel with the independent music they love and worry that CMT Edge might erode that exclusivity is being silly and selfish. So far, they’ve featured artists like Sara Watkins, The Avett Brothers, Trampled by Turtles, and JD McPherson among others. They also appear to intend to use CMT Edge to cover older country artists like Dwight Yoakam and Patsy Cline; both who’ve been featured already.

If you look at the categories of the 11 features posted on CMT Edge so far, 8 of them are labeled “Americana”. I don’t think it’s coincidence CMT Edge was launched the same week the Americana Music Conference is going on in Nashville mere steps from the CMT headquarters. Americana is growing, and CMT would be fools to not try and tap into that market. Make no mistake that CMT, which is owned by Viacom, would have never launched this venture if they didn’t think there was a profit to be made, and that there’s demand for the content.

So what is the possible downside to CMT Edge? It could possibly take attention away from independent media outlets, especially ones in the Americana world like No Depression, Paste, or possibly in some small respects Saving Country Music. But again, more outlets for good music is generally a good thing, and if these outlets feel threatened, they should step up their game. And I doubt CMT Edge will dig as deep as many of the current independent outlets do. As much as bands like Trampled by Turtles and The Avetts are on the outside looking in when it comes to mainstream country coverage, they are also very successful bands making good livings playing music. To stay profitable, CMT Edge will stay with established acts who simply don’t fit comfortably in the mainstream country world. Don’t expect Hellbound Glory and Jayke Orvis to get features soon.

My biggest concern is in the underlying subconscious labeling of acts that could come with CMT Edge coverage. Some may see a band being featured on CMT Edge as an implication that they are a smaller tier, second rung act. By not putting these acts beside country music’s biggest names, but below them through an outlet meant to cover the “edge,” there’s the danger of typecasting these artists as cut-rate. It’s always been a belief of mine that the top tier independent talent deserves equal-billing with country’s top names. If just given a chance, an artist like Justin Townes Earle could possibly score just as high as Jason Aldean with the public. Consumers just need to be given that choice. CMT Edge in some respects kicks the “more choice” can down the road instead of confronting mainstream country’s issue of a lack of new talent entering the genre.

Mainstream country lacks a legitimate farm system. And once an artist is cast as Americana/Independent/Underground, etc. they’re usually beholden to those avenues for their music till eternity, many times facing low ceilings of success and no chance of mainstream radio play or media coverage. Meanwhile in mainstream country, there’s few artists working the traditional program, going from honky tonks, to clubs, to theaters, to eventually the arena and a major label deal. Instead, new country talent is culled from the safe, easy avenues of reality TV programming, or professional Nashville songwriting circles. This has left country creatively bankrupt, as the most-creative and brightest talent flocks to Americana because they don’t want to be labeled as “country” because of the non-creative, commercial stigma.

Americana may have a lower commercial ceiling than mainstream country, but it continues to find some very legitimate traction, and seems to be building in stature and infrastructure each year. NPR is now offering Americana a big radio outlet, festivals are forming and growing that appeal to the Americana crowd, and small to medium, sustainable music entities like Thirty Tigers, Bloodshot Records, Dolph Ramseur (the man behind the Avett’s success and the Carolina Chocolate Drops) are beginning to create real organization behind the Americana idea, and are even having success getting their artists on programs like The Late Show with David Letterman, and Jimmy Kimmel Live.

What does this all have to do with CMT Edge? Clearly the independent side of the music world is growing, and CMT doesn’t want to be left in the dust. As all popular music continues to coalesce into one big “popular” mono-genre, music that is indefinable by genre and/or appeals to micro-sects of people is expanding. Whether it is Americana, classic country artists, neo-traditionalists, or punk-country, appeal for independent music is increasing, and CMT Edge is proof of that. Is CMT Edge commercial exploitation of this music? We’ll have to see, but there’s no indication that is what is happening at the moment.

As much as I think that much of CMT’s reality programming perpetuates negative country stereotypes and that its parent company Viacom is generally a negative force in the media marketplace, there’s nothing from CMT Edge so far that irks me. So let’s stay positive about it, work as a music community to attempt to steer it in a positive direction, and be glad that better music is catching on and continues to find new outlets.

Jul
10

Wanda Jackson’s ‘Unfinished Business’ Produced by Townes Earle

July 10, 2012 - By Trigger  //  News  //  15 Comments

In an unexpected nugget of news that has my music pants going crazy, The Rolling Stone has just announced that Wanda Jackson will be releasing a new album entitled Unfinished Business on October 9th, and that the album’s producer will be none other than Saving Country Music’s 2011 Artist of the Year Justin Townes Earle.

“I’ve had a wonderful time working with Wanda and creating this new record,” Earle says in the video below. “Hopefully everyboy’s going to enjoy it…well I know they will. They don’t really have a choice, do they?”

This will be Wanda Jackson’s 31st studio album and will be released on Sugar Hill Records. Wanda will turn 75 two weeks after Unfinished Business will be released, yet she’s showing no signs of slowing down. She released The Party Ain’t Over in early 2011 with another famous artist/producer in Jack White.

“From day one I really liked Justin’s idea to take me back to my roots and make a record of country, blues, and rockabilly songs,” Jackson told Rolling Stone. “The band was extra tight and great to work with during the whole process. The record just sounds terrific and I’m hoping that my fans enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed making it.”

 

Jun
14

Best Songs of 2012 So Far

June 14, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  38 Comments

Some confusion always seems to dog my lists of top songs, because I’m not just looking for that catchy tune you can’t take off of repeat, I’m looking for the song that changes your world. For a song to qualify, it must be original, and barring exceptional circumstances, it must be composed by the performer. These are songs that take you somewhere. Any thoughts on additions, omissions, and your own individual lists are encouraged below in the comments section.

Turnpike Troubadours – Gone, Gone, Gone – from Goodbye Normal Street

The Turnpike Troubadours have now officially arrived. If you’ve been sitting on the sidelines, sniffing at them from afar, waiting to see what happens before you drop a Hamilton on one of their albums, it’s time to jump in. There are a couple of Goodbye Normal Street songs that could have made this list, “Good Lord Lorrie” and “Wrecked” were possibilities, but “Gone Gone, Gone” raises to that special quality by slowing it all down and really speaking to the soul.

Tom VandenAvond – Wreck of a Fine Man – from Wreck of a Fine Man

What’s curious about this song is that Tom V usually composes such autobiographical material, yet this one feels so outside himself, it gives it an unusual aspect. And Tom’s songs usually drone, but this one is strong and defiant despite it being about a dissolving and disillusioned life. Any song that can work in referencing The Ryman is going to get bonus points. Aside from VandenAvond’s signature song, the anthemic singalong “Brick By Brick,” this might be his best composition to date.

Justin Townes Earle – Unfortunately, Anna – from Nothing’s Gonna Change…

Justin Townes Earle may be the best pound for pound songwriter in music right now. He’s not prolific, but his profoundness has no peer. As much as the story and words of “Unfortunately, Anna” are enough to tear at your heart strings, it is the arrangement, the music and the stripped-down approach that really sends this song over the top.

Justin Townes Earle – It Won’t Be the Last Time – Nothing’s Gonna Change…

Self-realization is such a biting, dirty, and difficult exercise. We expect our songwriters to charge down into the depths of the inner soul to regions we ourselves are too scared to explore, to mine the sacred gold of truth to tantalize our senses, and this is what Justin Townes Earle does with haunting honesty in this song. “It Won’t Be The Last Time” is about Earle’s always-fragile sobriety. Listen to me folks and listen good; Justin Townes Earle’s sobriety is not just his own responsibility, it is all of our responsibilities as a music community.

Shooter Jennings – Daddy’s Hands – from Family Man

When I wrote my review for Shooter’s latest album I was under the impression this song was about Waylon. Since then we’ve learned it was in fact about Shooter’s fiance Drea DeMatteo’s side, which makes it even more cool in my opinion. As I said in the introduction, to be the best song all year, you have to move people, and many times songs that move us come from real life instances when an artist was moved themselves.

Olds Sleeper – Bigsky/Flatland – from New Year’s Poem

There were a few other songs I could have picked off of Olds’ New Year’s Poem album, including the title track and the excellent “Born To Lose,” but this is the one that has moved me more consistently, whose spell refuses to wear out. No it’s not that I like this album so much I had to pick one song from it to include on this list, it’s that this list would be woefully incomplete without the simplicity and soul Olds Sleeper evokes in this heart-wrenching and easy-to-relate-to story told with the perfect sonic accompaniment and inflections.

Ray Wylie Hubbard – New Years Eve at the Gates of Hell – Grifter’s Hymnal

I say that Song of the Year candidates cannot just be viscerally enjoyable, they must move you, make you a better person, communicate wisdom. Well in the case of this song, it is both a physical and intellectual uplift. The song is strikingly simple in its structure, really no more than rhythm and a few simple chord changes. But that is what makes it so potent. It awakens your primal nature, at the same time the words challenge your intellect and inspire your spirit. It’s unfairly witty.

Eric Strickland – Drinking Whiskey – from Honky Tonk Till I Die

Eric Strickland so far is 2012′s biggest surprise. It may take a little fudging of the rules to put this song in 2012 contention since it has been released as a different version before, but it’s too good to be an omission. The best part about this song is how on the surface the subject matter seems so plaintive. It’s the way Eric squeezes the soul out of the words and story that take this song from great to something special.

McDougall – The Travels of Fredrick Tolls (Part 2) – from A Few Towns More

I’m afraid McDougall’s latest album is becoming the greatest overlooked album of 2012 so far, which is unfortunate for so many reasons, including that it includes this resounding, life-altering, wisdom-imparting epic of a song that starts of like a Celtic frolic, and ends in a soul-shaking repatriation of the human spirit. “If known what it’s like to be the one who went hungry, now will you be the one that feeds?” is the line that inspires me to redouble my efforts to reach the musically-hungry masses who if they could only hear songs like this, could be uplifted with the inspiration of music and lead more fulfilling lives.

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NOTE: There are no female artists on this list, thought I’m sure the feminine side of things will rally by year’s end. A few songs worth checking out that almost made the list were Rachel Brooke‘s “Lonesome Turns Boresome” (written by her fiance Brooks Robbins), Kellie Pickler‘s “The Letter (to Daddy)” (written by who knows), and Kara Clark‘s “Southern Hospitality.”

Jun
4

Top Albums of 2012 So Far

June 4, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  28 Comments

2012 so far has been a remarkable year for top flight albums throughout the country world. That compelled me to tweak my regular mid-year format to not just include any album that has received a positive review (though these are all listed at the bottom), but instead highlight the ones that I think have a serious chance to be considered for Album of the Year. So though this list may be shorter than normal, this is the best of the best. To already have six Album of the Year contenders in only 6 months speaks to just how strong the upper eschalon of albums could be, and already is in 2012. A bumper crop to say the least.

Please understand this list just includes albums that have already been reviewed by SCM. There may be others out there still needing to be reviewed. And if you see an album you feel is left off, or you want to leave a list of your own, by all means, navigate to the comments section and share.

Marty StuartNashville Vol. 1, Tear The Woodpile Down

Right now, nobody is doing more to save country music than Marty Stuart. And he doing it by revitalizing the roots of country why still being cool, fresh, relevant, and loud.

“You know those periods in an artists’ career that you look back on like they can’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 they’d shaken loose from the grips of RCA in the mid 70′s. That’s the kind of epic and influential period were in the midst of right now with Marty. 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)

Olds SleeperNew Years Poem

Can an album from some local musician who doesn’t tour much win Album of the Year? He did last year in the name of Slackeye Slim. How about an album that’s given away for free? Why not when it’s this good, and the always-assiduous Olds has put out yet another free album I haven’t even had time to process yet called Head First. Olds Sleeper may be some musical genius that it takes years to discover the depths of.

“The fact that he’s just some weird guy, hunkered down in a walk-in closet with a 4-track or something, who plays all his own instruments and does all his own recordings, rarely plays out live, and puts out albums at a 4-per year clip and makes them all cheap or free, doesn’t diminish from one’s ability to take him seriously, it adds to his mystique. Sure, there’s tons of armchair musicians out there balancing studio time in their basement between a bad job and honey-do’s, but they rarely, if ever have the level of substance, heart, and dedication that Olds Sleeper does.” (read full review)

Ray Wylie HubbardThe Grifter’s Hymnal

Hubbard’s previous album A. Enlightenment was nominated for SCM’s Album of the Year in 2010, and as I said in the review for The Grifter’s Hymnal, this one is better. The songs are more song-like, the album is a more cohesive concept. Hubbard may not be country, but he’s real, and that makes him more country than most of what flies that flag.

“If there’s honor amongst thieves, then it only seems fitting there should be a Grifter’s Hymnal. And if there’s going to be a Grifter’s Hymnal, it’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 don’t worry, it’s all here. Just open it up and sing along.” (read full review)

Kellie Pickler100 Proof

Saving Country Music likes an album put out by a former American Idol contestant that came from Music Row? You bet it does, and unabashedly so. The industry may be ignoring this record, but I refuse to. And yes, there is a chance it may be named the best all year. And if it is, it won’t be just to send a flying middle finger at the radio DJ’s and industry type ignoring it, it will be because it is the best.

“If you are truly a fan of country music and have an open heart, you will like 100 Proof. In the Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn mold, 100 Proof revives the lost appreciation for the strong, yet sweet country woman, while staying away from the surface symbolism that erodes the substance from many of the other artists that attempt this difficult feat. This is one of the best albums to come off of Music Row in years, and may turn out to be one of the best in 2012, period–an opinion I fear we may see validated in lackluster sales and the absence of hit singles from it. The mainstream may not support in en masse, but I will.” (read full review)

Turnpike TroubadoursGoodbye Normal Street

I still feel like the Turnpike Troubadours have room to grow, which is so very exciting when you already hear the strength displayed in this album.

“Call it a maturing or a coming into their own, but this album marks the most solid offering from this Oklahoma-based band yet, and a defining of their sound, their place in the music world, and as a band that music world should pay more serious attention to…The Turnpike Troubadours make songs about love cool to listen to again. This is also their ace-in-the-hole, what makes them a band that could break out…Goodbye Normal Street says goodbye to the silly love and heartbreak song formulas that saddle corporate FM, and says hello to how love songs and sad stories in country music should be.” (read full review)

Justin Townes EarleNothing’s Gonna Change…

I didn’t even give this album the full two guns up in the review, though I left it open for augmentation in the future. I still have reservations about the whole “Memphis” album concept and how that relates to some of the songs, but when you talk about strength of songwriting, it doesn’t get any better than Nothing’s Gonna Change…. I still may change the review to two guns up, and it still might win Album of the Year without it. Songs like “Maria”, “It Won’t Be The Last Time,” and “Unfortunately, Anna” are just that magnificent.

“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. JTE’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)

Other Great Albums to Check Out:

(click on link for review)

May
31

2012 Americana Music Award Nominees Show Narrow Perspective

May 31, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  46 Comments

Today the nominees for the 2012 Americana Music Awards were announced at the Clive Davis Theatre in Los Angeles, with Lucinda Williams, Buddy Miller, and other artists performing before and after actor John C. Riley read the lists of nominees. The awards will be handed out September 12th at The Ryman in Nashville.

What immediately struck me as I watched the presentation being broadcast online was how overtly cliquish the Americana Music Association has become, or continues to be, as they narrowcast out awards to the same pool of networked-in, dramatically-familiar, and specifically-focused artists that all tend to know each other, and carry the same politics.

This is a difficult and conflicting conclusion to come to, because all of these artists, and the entities that make up the AMA are ones that I love, respect, and look up to. But they must be more worldly in their perspective to create legitimacy behind their product, their presentation, the term “Americana” in general, and these awards specifically.

The Americana genre is growing in leaps and bounds, and the AMA must grow and evolve with it. When it started out in 2002, it needed to keep its perspective narrow and its network strong so it did not become a flash in the pan or a fad term. There is nothing wrong with sustainability and attempting to grow slowly and smartly, but there can be issues with not attempting to grow at all.

Sure, up to this point there may have been little reason for the AMA to branch out, but after numerous grumbles over the last few years about an underserved audience and talent base, and the lingering question about what Americana actually is, something needed to happen. This feels like such a missed opportunity. As Americana continues to grow, it could put pressure on the CMA for example, and create channels for outreach to the scores of disenfranchised roots music fans left behind by the corporate music world. But instead we get many of the same names, names of the same people in different categories, many of the same names from years past, and names who know each other on a personal level, who’ve played in each other’s bands, produced and played on each other’s albums, and in the case of Steve and Justin Townes, are related.

No, nobody should be discriminated against just because they know each other or because of who their father is or because they’ve won before. And yes, there’s are some new names here. It is great to see the names in the Emerging Artist category, but why does the this category have fewer names than any other? I know there is a process of how these names are derived, but how does it hurt to add another name or two that could benefit from the spotlight an AMA nomination could cast?

Maybe the AMA doesn’t understand just how big Americana has become. Again, I can’t disagree with any of the names of the nominees here. The talent level is ridiculous and inspiring, and the decisions are without question difficult to make. And the AMA should be praised, not criticized for keeping their system sustainable and manageable. But we needed something new, a new category, more names, fresh names, a broader perspective, a better system for finding and evaluating emerging talent. Because in the end this list just comes across as a myopic perspective and tired, and that could create challenges to its legitimacy.

These comments are meant to be constructive, and are not just based on one person’s perspective.

Album of the Year
Here We Rest – Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit
I’ll Never Get Out of this World Alive – Steve Earle
The Harrow & The Harvest – Gillian Welch
This One’s For Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark – Various Artists

Artist of the Year
Gillian Welch
Hayes Carll
Jason Isbell
Justin Townes Earle

Emerging Artist of the Year
Alabama Shakes
Dawes
Deep Dark Woods

Song of the Year
“Alabama Pines” – Written by Jason Isbell and performed by Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit
“Come Around” – Written and performed by Sarah Jarosz
“I Love” – Written by Tom T. Hall and performed by Patty Griffin
“Waiting On The Sky to Fall” – Written and performed by Steve Earle

Instrumentalist of the Year
Buddy Miller
Chris Thile
Darrell Scott
Dave Rawlings

Duo/Group of the Year
Carolina Chocolate Drops
Civil Wars
Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings
Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit
Punch Brothers

May
6

Live Review – Justin Townes Earle – Antone’s Austin, TX

May 6, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  10 Comments

On Friday night (5-4-12) we attended a show of reigning Saving Country Music Artist of the Year Justin Townes Earle at Antone’s in Austin, TX’s increasingly-crowded west downtown district. The Bloodshot Records-signed son of Steve Earle was in town in support of his latest record Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now, with a full band behind him for one of the first times on tour.

Opening support was given by Tristen, an indie rocker who was sporting a new short haircut (these things are important to the frau I have found) that was punctuated by an eternal tress clogging her vision on one side. She dazzled the crowd with high-charged and catchy original indie-rock compositions in a fun show, punctuated by her ending number where she shirked her electric guitar and business blazer to dance around the stage in her very short green sequined mini shorts, gesticulating the salient points of her song.

Tristen captures the retro feel of the best of Brit rock and 80′s glam, reminding us that pop was not always such an awful alternative to people who appreciated good music. Her performance left you wanting to check out her music further, which in the end is the perfect goal of any opening artist. She’s got a little Natalie Merchant in her (see Tristan from SXSW).

For the last few years Justin Townes Earle’s touring party featured Josh Hedley on fiddle, whose since moved on to work with Jonny Corndawg, and Bryn Davies, the beautiful upright bass player who is now part of Jack White’s all female band amongst other projects. There’s no drama behind the name changes. With the Memphis approach to the new material, fiddle was not needed, and when talking to new bass player Vince Ilgan, he said that Bryn was taking some time off to “have his baby.” John Radford also joined them on drums, and Paul Niehaus (Calexico) was on lead guitar and Sho-Bud pedal steel.

As first and foremost a singer-songwriter, and an elite one of the modern era at that, Justin Townes Earle started the set off solo, and on three other occasions stayed on stage while the band took a break. Justin is always at his best when he’s alone. Backing players are simply there for texture. The full sound complimented the new material well, which was showcased heavily in his set. Now on his 4th full-length release, he’s come to the point in his touring life where set list decisions are difficult. At one point a request was shouted out from the crowd. “I know what I’m doing,” Justin responded to the delight of the audience. “We’ve thought this all out very carefully.”

As one of the first dates on his national tour, this was a test run for Justin’s plan. The band chemistry was good, but you could tell it was still early in the development. After songs, the band would exchange glances, looking pleased and almost surprised that what they had been practicing was well-received by a crowd that went from rowdy at times to completely hushed from the respect Justin can command. It was a sold out show, with a strange mix of patrons that ranged from preppy college kids, rough-edged typical Bloodshot Records fans, to elder NPR listeners grumbling about no seating being provided.

Justin Townes Earle looked the healthiest I have ever seen him. Strong, alert and in the moment, wearing a paperboy’s hat with long sideburns creeping over his ears, and a vest over a long baby blue shirt with the sleeves rolled up showcasing his arm tattoos. A bead of sweat formed across his brow early on this hot and humid Texas evening; the moisture causing havoc with the guitar tuning marking the night’s only setback.

Along with most of the material from the new album, Justin played “My Starter Won’t Start” in his signature and unique guitar style borrowed partly from blues finger picking and and partly from clawhammer banjo, as well as “Mama’s Eyes” after unleashing an unveiled shot at his dad for not being around back when. “I may put my daddy in a home, but I’d never put my momma in a home, shit. She was the one that raised me.” He also featured the train-inspired “Halfway to Jackson”, the “Can’t Hardly Wait” Replacements cover, and the gospel-esque “Harlem River Blues” amongst others.

It was going to be impossible for Justin to eclipse or even match the feat of his last Austin show that I have since deemed one of the best shows I’ve ever seen live, and that is okay. The venue, the crowd which was noticeably younger than previous shows, the strength of material among other factors felt a little like challenges to overcome for Justin in comparison to previous performances, but he presented himself well, as he continues to make the case for himself as one of our generation’s premier songwriters and solo performers. Justin feels mere steps away from graduating to a theater circuit, which would probably be a better fit for his music and approach and the crowd it attracts. As would a wider audience, because that is what his music deserves.

Two guns up!

Apr
17

Record Store Day 2012 Country Music Field Guide

April 17, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  9 Comments

This Saturday, April 21st with be the 2012 installment of Record Store Day, the annual event started in 2007 to help the struggling independent record store. As the event has grown over the years, artists and labels have stepped up to help with the event, releasing dozens of limited-edition collectible pieces of vinyl to entice the public into their local mom and pop’s.

Country I am embarrassed to say was one of the last genres to get behind Record Store Day, with last year the only country representation of note being a Justin Townes Earle 7″, and a bunch of Hank Williams III re-issues on colored vinyl. Well I’m happy to report 2012 will go down as the year when country came busting through the Record Store Day scene with full representation, with so many projects being released taking stock of it all can be dizzying. So here is your 2012 Country Music Record Store Day Field Guide.

Complete list of Record Store Day Releases

Find a Participating Record Store

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Blitzen Trapper

Hey Joe b/w Skirts on Fire

Format: 7″ 45
Label: Sub Pop

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Bonnie Prince Billy (Will Oldham)

Hummingbird

Format: 10″ LP
Label: Spiritual Pajamas

The great Leon Russell’s “Hummingbird” anchors this new 10 inch, and Bonny and his assembled cast of LA musicians render it an exercise in contrast. Using Russell’s famed Shelter Records soundboard for this one-off session–with its memories of Petty and Cale, and now owned by one Jonathan Wilson–Bonny introduces a pallet of musical soundscapes including the keys of “Farmer” Dave Scher, the porch-stomp grooves of Entrance Band rhythm section Paz and Derek and the claps of a thousand hands before letting the song “fly away” in a breeze of soulful psychedelia that stretches nearly twice the original’s length.

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Buck Owens

Colouring Book w/flexi disc

Format: Book
Label: Omnivore

Tracks:
“Act Naturally”
“Together Again”
“I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail”
“Crying Time”

Original Buck Owens Coloring Book. Commissioned by Buck Owens in 1970, these original, uncirculated vintage coloring books include a new 4-track flexidisc and download card.

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Caitlin Rose

Piledriver Waltz

Format: 7″ 45
Label: Domino
Release type: RSD Limited Run / Regional Focus Release

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Justin Townes Earle

Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now

Format: 7″ 45
Label: Bloodshot

Tracks:
“Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now”
“Sneaky Feelings”

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Lydia Loveless

Bad Way To Go

Format: 7″ 45
Label: Bloodshot
Release type: RSD Limited Run / Regional Focus Release

Tracks:
“Bad Way To Go”
“Alison”

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Pistol Annies

Hell on Heels

Format: LP
Label: RCA Nashville

The first vinyl release of the 2011 debut from the group formed by Miranda Lambert, Angaleena Presley and Ashley Monroe.

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Ralph Stanley

Single Girl / Little Birdie

Format: LP
Label: Tompkins Square
Release type: RSD Limited Run / Regional Focus Release

Tracks:
“Single Girl”
“Little Birdie”

500 limited-edition copies.

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Ricky Skaggs & Tony Rice

Skaggs & Rice

Format: LP
Label: Sugar Hill

Tracks:
“Bury Me Beneath the Weeping Willow”
“Mansions For Me”
“More Pretty Girls Than One”
“Memories of Mother and Dad”
“Where The Soul of Man Never Dies”
“Talk About Suffering”
“Will the Roses Bloom (Where She Lies Sleeping)”
“Tennessee Blues”
“The Old Crossroads”
“Have You Someone (In Heaven Awaiting)

This heartwarming collection, featuring classic bluegrass tunes and traditional folk songs done in the close-harmony duet style, still stands as a high-water mark for both men.

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Ryan Adams

Heartbreak A Stranger / Black Sheets Of Rain

Format: 7″ 45
Label: PAXAM

Format: 7” colored vinyl

Tracks:
“Heartbreak A Stranger”
“Black Sheets Of Rain”

Two Bob Mould covers recorded at November’s “See A Little Light” Bob Mould Tribute Show at Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles, California.

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Sara Watkins w/ Fiona Apple / The Everly Brothers

You’re The One I Love

Format: 7″ 45
Label: Warner Bros

Format: 7″ olive green and black splatter

Tracks:
Everly Brothers’ “You’re The One I Love” and a cover of the same song by Sara Watkins featuring Fiona Apple

Another in the Side by Side series created exclusively for Record Store Day featuring an original track (this time The Everly Brothers’ “You’re The One I Love” backed by a cover from another artist (this time Sara Watkins featuring Fiona Apple)

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The Civil Wars

Billie Jean

Format: 7″ 45
Label: Columbia Records U.K.

Tracks:
“Billie Jean (Live)”
“Sour Times (Live)”

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Live at Amoeba

Format: CD
Label: Sensibility Music LLC

Tracks:
“Tip of My Tongue”
“Forget Me Not”
“From This Valley”
“20 Years”
“I’ve Got This Friend”
“Billie Jean”
“Dance Me to the End of Love”
“Disarm”

Limited Edition One Time Pressing EP/CD Live at Amoeba – EP by Grammy Award Winners and Indie Sensations, The Civil Wars, recorded live in Hollywood on June 14, 2011. Exclusive for Record Store Day 2012. (A Portion Of The Cost Of This Title Goes Directly To Support Record Store Day)

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Townes Van Zandt

At My Window

Format: LP
Label: Sugar Hill

Tracks:
“Snowin’ on Raton”
“Blue Wind Blew”
“At My Window”
“For the Sake of the Song”
“Ain’t Leaving For Your Love”
“Buckskin Stallion Blues”
“Little Sundance #2″
“Still Lookin’ For You”
“Gone, Gone Blues”
“The Catfish Song”

The first and best album the late Texas singer-songwriter made for Sugar Hill, this set contains classics as “Snowing on Raton” and “Buckskin Stallion Blues”.

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Uncle Tupelo

Format: 7″ Vinyl Box Set
Label: Sony

3×7″ box set

“I Got Drunk/Sin City,”

“Gun/I Wanna Destroy You,”

“Uncle Tupelo Sauget Wind/Looking For A Way Out (acoustic), :Take My Word”

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No Depression

Format: LP
Release type: ‘RSD First’ Release

180 Gram vinyl

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March 16-20, 1992

Format: LP
Release type: ‘RSD First’ Release

180 Gram Vinyl

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Still Feel Gone

Format: LP
Release type: ‘RSD First’ Release

180 gram vinyl

Apr
3

The Origins & Epicenters of Underground “Muddy” Roots

April 3, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  57 Comments

From the outside looking in, one may look at the lineup of The Muddy Roots Festival for example, and wonder how a throwback legend from Texas like Wayne “The Train” Hancock, a hillbilly punk freak from Tennessee like Joe Buck, a golden-throated singer from Michigan like Rachel Brooke, a crazy hellbilly songwriter from the Pacific Northwest like Bob Wayne, and a blues legend from Mississippi like T-Model Ford could all be booked right beside each other and it work seamlessly.

This illustrates the dramatic sonic and geographical diversity that goes into creating what we know now as the underground country roots, or “Muddy Roots” world. Below is a list of the disparate origins of Muddy Roots music that came together from a mutual understanding and appreciation of the roots of American music, and the epicenters where this music originated from and/or is thriving today.

ORIGINS:

The revitalization of Lower Broadway in Nashville.

In the early 90′s, lower Broadway street in downtown Nashville comprised the last bastion of old buildings that symbolized what Music City used to be. Overrun with dirty bookstores and titty bars, and The Grand Ole Opry’s original home The Ryman shuttered, young cowpunk and neo-traditionalist musicians like BR549, Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers, Hillbilly Casino, Greg Garing, and Joe Buck and Layla, commandeered lower Broadway and revitalized the strip into the tourist destination it is today. Emmylou Harris‘s legendary concert with the “Nash Ramblers” in 1994 also breathed new life into The Ryman, and later Hank Williams III would cut his teeth in lower Broadway venues like Layla’s Bluegrass Inn.

The fierce appreciation for country’s roots combined with an independent, punk mentality is what revitalized the most historic portion of downtown Nashville, and created the foundation for the blending of country, blues, and punk that Muddy Roots music would spring from.

Read more about lower Broadways revitalization: PART 1PART 2PART 3PART 4

 Outlaw Country

Not just Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, but Bobby Bare, Kris Kristofferson, and especially Tompall Glaser’s “Hillbilly Central” renegade studio in Nashville is the origin of the Outlaw spirit behind underground country roots, the “Do It Yourself” attitude to not allow labels to arrest creative control from the artists and to always respect the elders and traditions of the country genre while also allowing the music to innovate.

Punk

Underground country and Muddy Roots is very much a construct of the “post punk” music landscape. As punk music and scenes began to become stale or gentrify, punk artists and fans looking for the raw approach to music, and many times raised on traditional country and bluegrass, began to turn back to their own roots and put down their Flying V guitars for fiddles and banjos. This is where some of the fast, aggressive approach to roots music comes from, on both the country and the blues side, as well as the DIY spirit, and the grassroots approach to scene building and album production.

After Hank Williams III’s stint with the punk metal band Superjoint Ritual is when many punk and metal heads found themselves listening to country music again. In 2006, when Hank3 recorded his album Straight to Hell at home on a consumer-grade machine and put out an album with a Parental Advisory sticker on the front through one of Nashville’s major labels, many barriers were broke down and parameters set for how Muddy Roots music would evolve.

North Mississippi Hill Country Blues & Deep Blues

One of the reasons both country and blues music can work right beside each other in Muddy Roots is because in many cases they are both being infused with punk, just like artists Scott Biram and The Black Diamond Heavies do. Many times the infusion is with a very specific type of blues from the North Mississippi Hill Country, brought to the attention of the rest of the world by Fat Possum Records in the early 90′s, just about the same time lower Broadway in Nashville was being revitalized by young country punks.

One of the first events that put these like-minded blues and punk blues musicians all in one place, and included a few country-based artists as well was the Deep Blues Festival put on by Chris Johnson in Minnesota starting in the mid 2000′s. Deep Blues fest was where the relationship between blues, punk, and a deep appreciation for the roots of blues by young white musicians was codified.

Rockabilly

In a similar way to infusing both country and blues music with a punk edge and mentality, rockabilly artists in the early 90′s like The Reverend Horton Heat pioneered “pyschobilly”, a punk version of rockabilly. Just like their blues and country counterparts, they were neo-traditionalists, staunchly educated in and preservers of the roots of the music.

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EPICENTERS:

Part and parcel with the sonic diversity of underground country roots is the geographic diversity. Unlike many other past music movements that sprang up in specific geographical areas (or maybe in a few general areas, like East Coast vs. West Coast), Muddy Roots has epicenters all across the country as illustrated in the map below.

1. Tennessee (Nashville)

As explained above, Nashville has played the most vital role in the formation of underground country roots, from the Outlaw country music movement in the mid-70′s, to the revitalization of lower Broadway beginning in the mid-90′s, and today with the Muddy Roots Festival just an hour east in Cookeville, Nashville and Tennessee remain the major Muddy Roots epicenter, including the up-and-coming east Nashville, home to many venues supporting underground musicians, and the home of Hank Williams III, arguably the most important musician to the formation of a country music underground.

2. Austin, TX

As the”Live Music Capitol of the World” and a huge music town, Austin follows only Nashville in it’s importance to Muddy Roots music. Home to Wayne “The Train” Hancock, Scott Biram, Dale Watson, and many other underground roots musicians, as well as one of the epicenters of the original country music Outlaw movement and a lot of independent music infrastructure, Austin is a vital epicenter in underground roots.

3. The North Mississippi Hill Country

It’s not just any old blues that builds the nexus between blues and country into that unique underground roots concoction, it is a specific type of blues from the north Mississippi Hill Country. Fat Possum championed the sound of artists like RL Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, T Model Ford, and many others beginning in the early and mid 90′s. That sound has since been picked up and combined with punk by artists like Scott Biram, The Ten Foot Polecats, Restavrant, and The Black Keys to form what is more commonly referred to today as “Deep Blues”.

4. Michigan – (Detroit, Flint)

On the surface maybe one of the most unlikely epicenters for country and roots music is also possibly one of the most vibrant. The home base for artists like Whitey Morgan & The 78′s, Rachel Brooke, The Goddamn Gallows (Lansing), as well as a vibrant local scene with bands like Some Velvet Evening, Michigan has grown just about as many underground roots acts as anywhere else. To grow good roots bands you need support, and events like the legendary “Honky Tonk Tuesdays” at Club Bart in Ferndale created the community and collaboration that have allowed Michigan roots music to thrive.

5. The Upper Midwest (Minnesota, Wisconsin)

The Upper Midwest is the proving ground for many early and influential Muddy Roots bands, including the Gothic country stalwarts Those Poor Bastards from Madison, WI, the premier punk/bluegrass .357 String Band from Milwaukee, and Trampled by Turtles from Duluth, MN. When you throw in Michigan as an Upper Midwest state as well, the region becomes one of the strongest in the country for roots music.

Minnesota was also the scene of the crime for the original Deep Blues Festivals, and is the home of Chris Johnson, the founder of Deep Blues, and the owner of Bayport BBQ, a blues-based venue near St. Paul. Along with Weber’s Deck in French Lake, MN, they make Minnesota an Upper Midwest roots haven.

6. Arizona (Phoenix)

It only seems appropriate that one of the places where Waylon Jennings began his legacy from would years later become an underground country epicenter. The original home of Hillgrass Bluebilly Records, and a must-stop for touring bands going to or coming from The West Coast, Phoenix feels like home for many, and is home to artists like Ray Lawrence Jr. , Junction 10, and “Valley Fever” every Sunday night at the Yucca Tap Room. Hillgrass Bluebilly events are where many underground roots artists would meet for the first time, sparking collaborations on albums and tours that created a coagulating effect in an otherwise spread-out movement.

7. The Pacific Northwest

The Pacific Northwest is like a factory for underground roots talent. Bob Wayne, Larry & His Flask, McDougall, James Hunnicutt, Hillstomp, and Brent Amaker are all from there, and the list goes on and on. And then when you start digging deeper, many artists who are now based out of other places originated from there, like some of the original members of BR549. Both Loretta Lynn and Willie Nelson did time in the Pacific Northwest early in their careers. And we can’t forget the punk world’s Eddie Spaghetti and the Supersuckers started doing country side-projects in the late 90′s and collaborated with Steve Earle.

Bluegrass is big in the area, and there seems to be a kindred spirit between the rainy west and the deep South because of the rural life and landscape, and because many of the original settlers of the Northwest were originally from the South. With a population that tends to support the arts and music, and many specific neighborhoods and venues and festivals like Pickathon that cater to the roots scene, the Pacific Northwest is one of underground roots’ biggest power players.

8. Montana

Montana may look like a lowly outpost on the map, but it played a vital roll in the formation of underground roots in the mid to late oughts, specifically with a promotion company called Section 08 Productions putting together the “Murder in the Mountains” tours. By bringing together artists from all around the upper part of the country like Rachel Brooke, JB Beverley, .357 String Band, Bob Wayne, Slackeye Slim and others, they were one of the first to take the theoretical underground roots scene, and give it some substance. Section 08 Productions has since morphed into Farmageddon Records, and is still based in Montana.

 9 – California

California has always been the force in country music just behind Nashville and Texas, and that counts for underground country and roots as well. Where California played a key role in the formation of underground country was the interjection of punk influences and the transition of punk fans. Mike Ness of Social Distortion, Jon Doe and Exene Cervenka from the band X doing country side projects in the 80′s and 90′s is what led to the punk/country nexus. The Devil Makes Three from Northern California were one of the very first bands to bring a punk attitude to string music, The Pine Box Boys from San Francisco were one of the pioneers of Gothic bluegrass, and Los Duggans from LA were an important Deep Blues band.

10. North Carolina

Boasting some great music towns and big time roots music labels like Rusty Knuckles, Ramseur Records, and Yep Rock, North Carolina can make the case for itself as having the best music music scene and the most infrastructure right behind the big boys of Nashville and Austin. It also doesn’t hurt that one of the most successful roots acts in recent history, The Avett Bros., call North Carolina home.

11. Chicago, IL (Bloodshot Records)

Chicago will always be a big important part of underground roots as the home of Bloodshot Records. Bloodshot was one of the first labels to put their money where there mouth was in 1994, being “drawn to the good stuff nestled in the dark, nebulous cracks where punk, country, soul, pop, bluegrass, blues and rock mix and mingle and mutate.” As home to artists as important and wide ranging as Justin Townes Earle, Scott Biram, and Wayne “The Train” Hancock, Bloodshot Records’ impact and influence will always make Chicago a roots epicenter.

12. Central Florida

The scene in Central Florida is young, but burgeoning. Being the home of artists like the legendary Ben Prestage, Lone Wolf OMB, The Everymen, and many more, Florida is primed to become one of the underground country and roots hot spots.

13. Lawrence, Kansas

As a college town with a music school, Lawrence, KS is one of the best mid-sized music towns out there. Lawrence brings the support for live music, and not just for the usual college-town indie rock fare. It is home to bands like the long-running Split Lip Rayfield, and the high energy Calamity Cubes, and some of the coolest music venues you can find, like the Jackpot Music Hall, 8th St. Tap Room, and The Bottleneck.

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Other important epicenters: Little Rock, Arkansas, and specifically the legendary Whitewater Tavern. Bloomington, Indiana, a big music and roots town, and home to Austin Lucas, Davy Jay Sparrow, and many more. And Denver, CO, home to Slim Cessna’s Auto Club amongst many others.

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