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***NOTE: This story has been updated.
Garth Brooks, who’s been making overtures recently about a country music comeback and new releases, will reportedly be releasing a box set called Blame It All On My Roots: Five Decades of Influences through Wal-Mart on November 28th. The initial announcement about the release was made briefly during Garth’s television special also entitled Blame It All On My Roots that aired Saturday night (11-9) on GAC. The box set will include 6 CD’s and two DVD’s, with 10 songs on each disc covering the various influences that went into Garth’s country career.
The project appears to be mirroring the theme of Garth’s recent shows in Las Vegas of exploring his roots through cover songs. Four discs will be entitled Country Classics, Classic Rock, Blue-Eyed Soul, and Melting Pot for their respective influences. Some of the songs that will be covered in the release include the classic Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn duet “After The Fire Is Gone” with wife Trisha Yearwood, Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls Of Fire,” Cat Stevens’ “Wild World,” and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson.”
Garth’s final show at Wynn Casino’s Encore Theater in Las Vegas is set to air as a CBS Special on November 28th.
The inaugural inductees to the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame set to open in the Spring of 2014 in Lynchburg, TN have been unveiled. In an event carried live during a 3-day concert in Altamont, TN, the 17 initial inductees were announced in two different categories: Pioneers/Innovators (Pre-1970), and Highwaymen (1970-1990).
Along with the official inductees, the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame also announced Guardian Award winners. The Guardian Award is not a Hall of Fame induction, but a one-year award meant to honor an artist’s hard work and unwavering commitment to their music and their fans and best exemplify the tradition of those who came before them. The Hall of Fame also announced that fans will be able to vote on Guardian Award winners in the upcoming years.
OUTLAW HALL OF FAME INDUCTEES
- Hank Williams Sr.
- Loretta Lynn
- The Carter Family
- Bobby Bare
- Chris Gantry
- Willie Nelson
- Waylon Jennings
- David Allan Coe
- Kris Kristofferson
- Merle Haggard
- Johnny Cash
- Johnny Paycheck
- Sammi Smith
- Steve Young
- Jessi Colter
- Hank Williams Jr.
- Billy Joe Shaver
- Dallas Moore
- Wayne Mills
- Hank Williams III
- Jamey Johnson
- Whitey Morgan
The Hall of Fame is dedicated to those artists, both musicians and songwriters, whose work best exemplifies the qualities of the Outlaw movement that first began in the 1970′s and has gained renewed momentum as an alternative to the current Nashville pop country scene. In doing so it will place the spotlight on music firmly attached to the roots of country. Moreover, the Hall of Fame will educate the public about Outlaw country, memorialize founders of the genre—such as Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Jessi Colter—recognize current Outlaw artists, and provide a platform for them and for the independent record labels who currently have little if any voice in the industry.
The facility, due to open in spring of 2014, will encompass more than 5,000 square feet and feature a state-of-the-art layout, including interactive displays. There will also be a studio to allow for live broadcasts to be streamed over the Internet. Located on the town square in Lynchburg, the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame will sponsor a concert series each April to November to showcase independent roots country artists.
Gone are the days of the legendary duet pairings in country music like George and Tammy, Loretta and Conway, right? Well they may not boast beehive doos or lamb chops, or grace the stage of the CMA Awards or come beaming into your home or buggy via the miracle of Clear Channel radio, but the Austin country scene’s power couple of Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay have revitalized the country duet concept album in a smart, brilliant, hilarious, and sweet offering called Before The World Was Made.
You’ll be sorely disappointed if you’re in the mood for sappy sonnets serenading the human love quotient. This is a love album for lovers who hate each other, and love each other all the same. It’s not that sentimentality doesn’t show its face here, but just like the real world, Before The World Was Made is not afraid to delve into the turbulence of love, to tickle the funny bone, and to tell it like it is.
This album is the perfect soundtrack to an “it’s complicated” relationship status, with ingenious songs like “Breaking Up Is Easy,” “Breaking Up and Making Up Again,” “Be My Ball and Chain,” and “Let’s Don’t Get Married.” Yes, it sounds like a gloomy outlook, but underlying every song of this “on again, off again” album is a sweet love story that you can’t help believing mirrors Brennen Leigh’s and Noel McKay’s real-life narrative.
You can relate to their silly little squabbles and how they plot to resolve them with a positive ending. The way these songs work is both classic and fresh. Even walking in to Before The World Was Made with a deep appreciation for the songwriting chops of both parties, you are still perplexed at how Brennen and Noel wrote this entire album themselves, simply from the strength and the “instant classic” caliber of these songs.
Even the more straightforward love songs like “The Only Person In The Room” and “Salty Kisses In The Sand” are so fresh and clever, they fit right in to the cunning style of this record. “Let’s Go To Lubbock on Vacation” is downright side-splitting (sorry Lubbock readers), while still at its core being a nectarous little love story.
Before The World Was Made doesn’t let up for one moment, and it’s not just all about the words. The album is bolstered by tasteful, classic country arrangements, edified by producer extraordinaire Gurf Morlix. This is a neo-traditional country album at its heart, and the music offers tasty accompaniment to these high-caliber compositions.
Can’t say enough about Brennen, Noel, and Before The World Was Made. They may not be willing to commit to each other, but the music they make together is definitely a keeper.
Two guns up.
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Listen to album below.
I remember back in the early 90′s, someone told me they had done a complete archival scan of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s body using lasers, so that even in the future he could star in action movies. I’m not sure if that was an urban myth or not, and certainly the technology to pull off something like that would be in much better order today than when Arnold was starring in Terminator 2. But whatever the technology was then, and whatever it is now, they really should employ it and in full measure towards making sure the sound of Willie Nelson’s voice, and that earthy tone of his guitar Trigger never disappear from the face of the earth. Because few things can make that warm feeling roll over you from head to toe like Willie.
To All The Girls is Willie Nelson’s third album to come from his recent partnership with Sony’s Legacy Recordings, and the second to come out this year. The record features an ample 18 tracks, each constituting a duet with a female counterpart drawing from a wide swath of talent that includes both legacy names like Loretta Lynn and Emmylou Harris, and some new names like The Secret Sisters and Brandi Carlile. The pairings alone are enough to make the country music listener salivate, while the variety of names passively bridges tastes and segments residing under country music’s big tent.
Though Willie Nelson doesn’t make the easiest duet partner because of the unusual phrasings he uses—a trait that over the years has become his signature (and continuously more pronounced)—Willie, each of his dance partners, and producer Buddy Cannon do a good job arranging the singing parts to where Willie could still call on his avant-garde phrasings, yet the duet could come across seamless. The vocal performances are superb, and the 18 ladies on To All The Girls illustrate just how much female talent country music boasts, regardless of how rarely their names may show up on the top of the country charts these days.
But despite the names and the commendable performances, To All The Girls is a somewhat sleepy as a whole. This may seem unconscionable to say with so much star power, but out of the 18 songs, only 2 could be characterized as residing in the mid tempo, and only two as up tempo. The rest are slow to very slow, and sparse, and though no one song could be singled out as being a snoozer, taken all together they can become the sonic equivalent of Unisom. Even the most up tempo track, the re-cut of Willie’s “Bloody Mary Morning” with Wynonna Judd features some amazingly hot guitar, steel, and piano solos, but they get somewhat buried in the mix almost as to not be an interruption.
There isn’t really a lot of texture or spice between the tracks, except for maybe the Spanish feel of “No Mas Amor” with Alison Krauss, or the Motown feel of the duet with Mavis Staples, “Grandma’s Hands.” Maybe this album was built more for the digital age to be cherry picked by respective fans of the guest artists instead of trying to take it as a whole, but by the end you wish this album could have been condensed into fewer tracks so it would result in some more memorable moments.
Did we really need 18 songs? Any time you can pair Willie Nelson with Dolly Parton, magic will happen. The songs are not the problem, though there are quite a few recognizable covers. It’s that the instrumentation that varies very little. I know, the music varies very little on Red Headed Stranger as well, but this album isn’t trying to take a conceptualized approach.
Willie Nelson started off his new deal with Sony utilizing producer Buddy Cannon on the album Heroes, which really showed a lot of vitality from the Willie camp, and was arguably one of his best albums in years. But one small thing that saddled the album as I explained in my review was the excessive collaborations that made the album feel a little too busy. Another Buddy Cannon-produced album, Jamey Johnson’s Living For A Song, A Tribute to Hank Cochran, drew a similar observation, and I even linked back to Willie’s Heroes review for context.
It ["Living For A Song"] makes the same mistake Willie Nelson’s last album Heroes does of having too many guests. And may I point out that both albums were produced by Buddy Cannon. Like I said about ”Heroes”:
Where the album may come across as too busy or unfocused is the amount of contributors to each composition, and to the album as a whole…Sure, many of these names we love, but there’s too many of them, diverting focus from any one pairing or performance.
And once again here is a Buddy Cannon-produced album that leans very heavily on collaborations and cover songs. Willie Nelson can still write and select good, original songs, and we saw that with Heroes. What I’m worried is we’re seeing an approach to sell albums creep into the album making process, loading albums up on celebrity names that can later be used in promotional copy, or maybe trying to make up for what is perceived as a lack of appeal for Willie alone. Somewhere the music may have gotten lost as the most important thing.
But that’s not to take away from any single To All The Girls song. Maybe it’s because “Always On My Mind” is such a timeless tune, but this duet with Carrie Underwood kills it. “Grandma’s Hands” with Mavis Staples carries a lot of depth and meaning, maybe because Willie was himself raised by his grandmother. The Western swinging “Till The End of the World” with Shelby Lynne was a real standout, and so was Willie’s duet with his daughter Paula Nelson singing the CCR song “Have You Ever Seen The Rain.” And though Willie may have played “Bloody Mary Morning” 10,000 times by now, this might be the recorded version that is the best.
To All The Girls is a brilliant concept. I just wish a little more care would have been taken with the type of names and star power it assembled to really try to make a new generation of Willie classics and introduce him to a new generation of listeners through the names that lent their time to the project. But as well have all learned over the nearly 60-something years of his career, when it comes to Willie, the sound of his voice and that earthy tone from Trigger is enough to raise goosebumps all on their own.
1 ½ of 2 guns up. 3 of 5 stars.
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That’s right. A scandalous accusation I know, but one I stand behind with puffed chest and other such countenance to covey, “Yeah, I said it. You got a problem with that ?!?!”, and one that holds up when taking the most basic look at our little genre known as country music, and simply asking, “Where in the hell are the women?” Especially on country radio.
No, I don’t have any hidden camera footage of country music scheming with his fraternity brother that runs HR to systemically keep the women of country music at a lower pay scale. But if country music in 2013 were the equivalent of an office worker, it would be a douche-tastic, handsy, shallow, down-looking chauvinist with triple sec on his breath after lunch that specializes in subtle pelvic thrusts during elongated, unnecessary hugs, and pubic hair jokes.
Currently on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs Chart, there is not one single female artist in the Top 20. Not even one. Not even a Taylor Swift, Miranda Lambert, or Carrie Underwood. Not even a song from a country music group like The Band Perry or Lady Antebellum that has a female member. And this isn’t the first time in recent memory that this has happened. In fact aside from the occasional errant single from one of the aforementioned girls, a country music sausage fest is the default setting for country music’s Top 20 in 2013.
A deeper look into Billboard’s other charts and Neilsen’s radio ratings reveals similar discrepancies when it comes to the female gender and country music. But it doesn’t just stop there. The term “sexism” has two definitions:
That’s right. It’s not just that the women of country music are getting locked out of the process, being ignored by radio programmers who are predominantly male, and are being under-developed by the male-dominated industry. It’s also that the songs, artists, and albums that are dominating the charts and that are being pushed first and foremost by the industry are portraying women in a very objectified, stereotypical manner, both in the lyrics of the songs and in the accompanying videos.
Hey, I’m a red blooded male with fully-functioning male plumbing and a propensity to want to look at T&A just as much as the next guy. All males were instilled with the stupid gene to drool at cleavage through evolution. But there is a time and a place for everything, and when I’m walking through the grocery store with my young, impressionable niece to buy her a freeze pop, I don’t want to be accosted by a Luke Bryan song that works like the soundtrack to a date rape terrorizing our ears. Do these assholes not have women in their lives that they hope will be respected by other men? There’s a time for all adults to get raunchy, but country radio is supposed to be that one place of respite on the FM dial. Here in 2013, Top 40 country music is just as much of a den of iniquity as anything.
Artists like Luke Bryan, Tyler Farr, and Florida Georgia Line have no respect for women, and they have no respect for country music. Or if they do, there’s no evidence of it in their songs and videos. It’s just stereotypical fashion-plate models in bikini’s in objectified roles with the sole purpose of being oogled at just like their shiny new jacked up pickup trucks.
But even worse, when I watch concert footage of these country music cocks of the walk up on stage strutting it like Chippendale’s dancers, I’m not seeing a bunch of men of the front row pumping their fists. No, this female-less country phenomenon is not just about males using their physical superiority and good ole boy system to keep women down. The women of mainstream country are taking the role of willing accomplices, inviting this cultural degradation and humiliation with their hands raised in their air submissively and screaming for Luke Bryan to shake his butt. The problem isn’t just that male record executives and male program managers at radio stations aren’t giving women their proper due. It’s that the women are the ones that are demanding this drivel and driving the market.
And no, I’m not just calling for an equal playing field for women. If you have to, you gerrymander the damn system to makes sure you have at least one song on the charts that showcases female talent. Are you telling me there’s nothing out there from a female fit for the Billboard Top 20? There are many women who could immediately make country music better right now—professional, proven, beautiful, appealing, relevant, and ready to take their music big time and represent women in a positive light in a genre that has always been about showcasing strong women like Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Alison Krauss.
Come on country music, let’s do this. I’m tired of telling folks I’m a fan of country music, and then having to put a paper bag over my head in shame, or load it down with qualifying points. We have an obligation to discover, nurture, and showcase female talent. If country music was a board room of 20 members and not one female, some uptight women’s league would be suing their asses from hell to breakfast. So why should country music be held to a different standard?
The dirty little reason that women are not being showcased on country radio is because they’re not willing to sell out like the men. The women of country music respect themselves just fine. It’s the male performers of country music, their industry counterparts, and the women who fawn on them that are driving this trend.
And I’m mad as hell about it.
The Coal Miners Daughter and Country Music Hall of Famer Loretta Lynn has been forced to cancel a couple of weekend shows after cracking two ribs last weekend right before a big concert at her ranch in Hurricane Mills, TN. The 78-year-old was trying to get her guitar out of a closet when it apparently fell on her, forcing her into a dresser and breaking two of her ribs. She persevered through the pain for her big Labor Day show, not appreciating the severity of her injury, but has decided the pain is too unbearable to play two separate shows at Choctaw Casino Resorts in Oklahoma this weekend. Both shows have been rescheduled for December 29th and 30th.
“I’ve had to cancel my shows in Oklahoma this weekend. I hate more than anything to miss shows, but sometimes you just have to,” Loretta explained to her fans. “I’m like an accident waiting to happen these days. I was trying to get my guitar down out of my closest and the dang thing fell on top of me causing me to fall into my dresser. All this happened right before my big Labor Day Concert at my Ranch in Hurricane Mills. I didn’t know how bad I hurt myself until the next day. Come to find out I had broken two of my ribs. We are rescheduling the shows now.”
Loretta’s next set of shows, staring in Daytona Beach, FL on September 13th are still scheduled.
Even at 78, Loretta has been staying busy, telling Billboard Magazine recently that she wishes to collaborate with Jack White again. The pairing was responsible for Loretta’s landmark album Van Lear Rose in 2004. She also said she has three separate projects on the way—a Christmas album, a gospel album, and a collaboration with singer songwriter Shawn Camp on an album of mountain songs.
Sex has been used to sell music almost since music became a commercial enterprise. From the shaking of Elvis’s hips, to Madonna’s “Sex” book, to Miley Cyrus doing all manner of gratuitous things with a foam finger on MTV’s Video Music Awards.
What seems especially sinister about the recent descent of artists like Miley Cyrus, Brittney Spears, and so many others is that they started out as child stars and young female role models, marketed towards children and young teenagers. Even when the artists become adults themselves, many times their fan bases continue to predominately hover around ages where being exposed to certain behavior is inappropriate, especially for impressionable young girls who look up to big music stars as role models. Miley Cyrus’s recent stage antics on MTV’s Video Music Awards included teddy bears as a primary part of the presentation, representing the blurring lines between age and the marketing of music to children and adults.
Maybe the ugliest part about Miley Cyrus’s turn for the worse is how predictable the whole scenario is. Cyrus was purposely being sensational to get people talking to eventually sell more music. By decrying her actions, we in turn are fulfilling her wish.
It’s hard not to fall for the idea that depravity and raunch is what rules the day in the modern popular music culture because that is what gets the lion’s share of attention. But in truth there’s plenty of positive female role models in music, from huge, internationally-known pop stars, to promising up-and-coming artists. Here is 8 of them from a cross section of well-known and up-and-coming talent. You are encouraged to share other examples in the comments section below.
Mandolin wizard and multi-instrumentalist Sarah Jarosz signed with Sugar Hill Records as a senior in high school, releasing her first album in 2009. Her song “Mansinneedof” was nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of Best Country Instrumental Performance, and despite having her career path well set in music, she decided to enroll in the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music after high school, recently graduating with honors. Her third album Build Me Up From Bones is set to be released on September 24th.
I just made half a thousand hardcore punk fans throw up into their keyboards, but the simple fact is Hayley Williams is one of the few artists heading a popular rock band that remains unrefined, original, and authentic, and this is even more phenomenal because she is a young woman facing the pressures to sell herself as product. Unlike other pop punk princesses such as Gwen Stephani or Avril Lavigne, Hayley has never sold out for widespread appeal, and remains in her original band despite the big payday that would probably await her with a solo career. Beyond all that, Hayley Williams is a role model because she is fiercely herself. She never sold herself as a sex symbol, and when the suits wanted her to go pop early in her career, she refused. Hayley shows young women that they can be themselves, even if that means being quirky, boyish, or downright strange. There’s a lot of character in this girl, and she also happens to be able to belt out some great Loretta Lynn….
A fiddle prodigy that became the youngest invited fiddle player to ever play the Grand Ole Opry stage, Ruby Jane went on to tour with Willie Nelson and Asleep At The Wheel at age 14. Ruby has been doing her part to set a positive example for younger female musicians for years, despite just graduating high school herself. She received the Daniel Pearl Memorial Violin in 2007, named after the famous journalist killed in Pakistan in 2002—given to artists who display both world-class musicianship, and world-class character. A recent talk she gave to students as part of the TED project is another example of Ruby Jane’s leadership.
You may not think of the inaugural winner of American Idol to be your typical role model, but despite residing firmly in the pop world, Kelly Clarkson has been a champion of being yourself and not being obsessed with image for the entirety of her career. Kelly capped off possibly the most popular quip after Miley Cyrus’s VMA performance on Twitter, calling the VMA performers “pitchy strippers.” In an interview with NPR, Clarkson once said, “I am not normal. Usually, people don’t weigh what I weigh. Usually people don’t go against the grain as a far as, ‘No, I don’t want this song from the most popular writer ever’ and it’s not because I don’t like the song. It’s because I would rather work with people that I want to work with.”
Paige Anderson is a flat-picking guitar maestro and the leader of her family band Anderson Family Bluegrass, as well as her new project, Paige Anderson & The Fearless Kin. A budding songwriter whose harmony singing and guitar skills rival any other female performer, Paige has proven to be a positive example for young women, and has proven her leadership skills as the Teen Ambassador for the California Bluegrass Association from 2007 to 2010. Look for this girl to be big in music in the coming years.
Sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg from Sweden are becoming international stars by crossing borders and language barriers, and by simply being themselves and sharing their bold, original songs with such confidence and grace. No Swedish bikini team antics are needed here, they simply lend their voices to song, and the sweetest harmonies heard on any shore come crying out to hungry ears.
The Church Sisters
The reason so many popular female artists feel the need to sensationalize themselves is many times to make up for a fundamental lack of talent and skill. True talent nurtured through hard work and dedication needs no window dressing, no bells and whistles for attention, and twin sisters Sarah and Savannah exemplify this with their sensational harmonies. From traditional country, to bluegrass and gospel, The Church Sisters display the type of wholesome talent that gives you hope for the future of music.
When we talk about the reduction of culture and the void of positive young female role models in music, it’s almost easy to forget that the biggest, best-selling pop star for the last two years running has been the bold and beautiful Adele. The flashy pop stars and their ever-present scandal may get all the tabloid attention, but when you look to the very top, Adele outlasts all the gimmicks, sex, and hype. If you need any more proof that substance can sell, and you don’t need sex or shock to get attention, there has never been a better example.
“If there is one thing I can respect more than anything, it’s individuality in music. And I think back in the early era of country music that was so apparent. Like you could really tell your Johnny Cash from your Waylons from your Merles. They all had a distinct thing happening. And they were all really great at what they did. It was really important for me to etch out my own thing as a student of that.” — Lindi Ortega
Exquisitely antiqued and strikingly original, old school country singer and native Canadian Lindi Ortega is the northern emissary for country music’s current female revolution. A class act all around that is regarded just as highly for her self-penned songs as her heavenly (or devilish) voice, Lindi is a creative maelstrom that sends the room spinning from her ability to expose the most blinding beauty from life’s inherent darkness.
Now living in Nashville, and benefiting from some song placements in the new ABC drama series named after her new home, Lindi is starting to pack venues across the country, leaving a trail of broken hearts and positive buzz. After a rousing show at Austin’s most legendary listening room The Cactus Cafe on Monday (7-1), the gracious and arresting songwriter was kind enough to sit down and explain the inspiration behind her music.
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Trigger: There’s sort of two burgeoning movements in country music right now, and you’re part of both of them. Last year and this year we keep getting great albums from Canadians. How is it being a Canadian playing country music, as a perspective?
Lindi Ortega: I never really think about that when I do what I do. I just know what I listen to and what I’m inspired by. I don’t think about the fact that I wasn’t born in the southern United States and raised on a farm. I feel like maybe in a past life I might have been. That’s why it speaks to me. My mom was really into country music when I was growing up. She sort of planted the seed in my mind; a seed that grew into a great love and appreciation for especially old school country; you know Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn, Waylon and all of them. So I don’t really think about the fact that I’m from Canada when I’m writing songs, or paying tribute or homage to that music. I just happen to be.
Trigger: You’re also part of this revolution of young, beautiful, talented women that are giving country a shot of substance and showing respect to the music’s roots. There’s a lot of people talking about 2013 as the “Year of the Woman” in country music. Names like Caitlin Rose and Kacey Musgraves are brought up, and so is Lindi Ortega as an example. Why do you think the women are outpacing the men right now as far as substance in country music?
Lindi Ortega: I don’t know, but I’m glad that it’s happening. It’s so great because when I started doing country-inspired music in Toronto, I didn’t know anybody who was doing it. I didn’t even hear it around me. Then the more I was doing it, the more I would hear about it. And then of course I moved to Nashville and it’s all around me. It’s so great that people are appreciating the old school way. It’s nice to know that that art of live off-the-floor recordings, and not a shitload of Auto-tune and fancy stuff is going on. I’m glad that’s not a dying art. And I’m glad that females are doing it.
Trigger: So back in Toronto, you’re playing music and you had the nickname “Indie Lindi.”
Lindi Ortega: I still do!
Trigger: So you’re playing this music, and you weren’t in a scene in Toronto of rootsy musicians?
Lindi Ortega: Yeah I was a little bit autonomous. I was kind of anti-social to a fault I guess. I just stayed in my room and wrote songs. I wasn’t really part of any scene. There was a scene. When I was doing music there was much more of an indie rock scene. Now it’s a bit different, there’s a little more variety there. But there’s wasn’t a whole lot of alt-country back then. Now it’s everywhere.
Trigger: Is that what you consider yourself? Because you said “country-inspired” before and you’re saying “alt-country” now.
Lindi Ortega: Well there’s so many labels for it and I don’t know I guess. Some people don’t think I’m country at all. And I guess if you’re listening to the radio, I don’t sound country. I like to say I’m very much inspired by old-school country. And what kind of country that is in this day and age in the modern era, I don’t know. Hey, you can call it whatever you want. As long as people are listening to it is all that’s important to me.
Trigger: Did Cigarettes and Truckstops feel like your breakout album?
Lindi Ortega: In a way, yeah. I feel like there were a lot of things that led to having successful shows. One would be the Social Distortion tour that I did; the crazy pairing with me and Social D and I did two tours with them and it exposed me to a wide audience. Amazingly they were very accepting of me and the music I’ve done. And of course the Nashville TV show, and having a few song placements on there helped.
Trigger: Have you physically seen a bump from the Nashville TV exposure?
Lindi Ortega: Yeah. People tell me at shows, “I heard your song on Nashville and I checked you out.” I think it’s amazing that it was able to resonate that way. It actually led to people coming out to shows which is great.
Trigger: Attractive women are not supposed to be as talented as you are. Usually if someone is strong in one suit, they’re not strong in another. You just don’t see a lot of beautiful women that are creative dynamos. (READ if this part of the question offends you.) Where does your motivation to make music that may not appeal to everyone come from?
Lindi Ortega: You’re too kind to me. I spent my whole day going, “I’m getting old!” But my motivation comes from my influences, and people that have stuck to their guns. I read a lot of biographies. If there is one thing I can respect more than anything, it’s individuality in music. And I think back in the early era of country music that was so apparent. Like you could really tell your Johnny Cash from your Waylons from your Merles. They all had a distinct thing happening. And they were all really great at what they did. It was really important for me to etch out my own thing as a student of that.
I don’t care about money. I honestly don’t. I don’t give a shit. I could stay at a shitty motel, I think it’s more fun. And I like riding in little vans and I love doing it that way. I think there’s a story in that, and I write songs that are stories and that tell stories. My influences inspire me to have integrity and to do what I love and be passionate about it. I don’t care about making millions or any of that. Of course if it happens, like everyone says it’s icing on the cake. But I’m happy doing what I do. I love what I do, and this is a beautiful existence for me. I get to tour. I get to go to different cities and see the world. I can’t imagine a better existence than this.
Trigger: Are you a road dog?
Lindi Ortega: I love it. I get antsy when I’m not on the road. I start to miss it and I can’t wait to get back out. It gets to a point where hotel rooms feel more like home.
Trigger: How do birds inspire your music and image?
Lindi Ortega: Yeah, I’m a bird lover. And recently I guess ravens have been my thing. But I love all birds. I have a tattoo that says, “Bird On A Wire.” It’s a Leonard Cohen song. The image of a bird on a wire and that whole song just speaks to me. Something about flying in the sky and that type of free existence resonates with me. I always think my style’s a little bit of Frida Kahlo meets Wonder Woman meets Johnny Cash. The Johnny Cash thing is of course the black thing. I always think of that movie and the line and the manager saying to him, “Johnny, why are you wearing black? You look like you’re going to a funeral.” And he’d say, “Well maybe I am.” And I was like, “Oh, that’s brilliant! I want to go to that funeral too!” I’m half Mexican, so that whole Dia de los Muertos thing, and dying and death and the whole fleeting of our existence is always running through my mind. And I don’t always think of it in a morbid way. I guess I think of it in the more Mexican way, the colorful aspect.
Trigger: You mentioned Frida Kahlo and I saw a picture of your guitar case and Frida Kahlo is all over it. How did she influence your music?
Lindi Ortega: Well I saw the movie a long time ago. That was the first thing that inspired me because she was such a character. And then I learned more about her life and read biographies about her. And I thought in the midst of all her emotional pain she was so full of life, and it was so interesting to me. And her art was so incredible. Her self-portraits I found most fascinating because the expression on her face I felt was very familiar to one I’ve seen in the mirror a couple of times; moments of loneliness and it spoke to me. I love her. I think she’s an incredible artist and a strong woman, an inspiration and I’m slightly obsessed, and I have a song about her on my next record.
Trigger: Speaking of that, is there any hints of new stuff that you can tell us? Do you have a new album coming out?
Lindi Ortega: I do. I have a new one coming out hopefully in the fall. I’m really excited about it. Dave Cobb was the producer. He did Secret Sisters and Jason Isbell. We had a blast, it was a lot of fun. Everyone that played on it was awesome.
The general consensus amongst country music pundits in 2013 is that we are in the midst of the ‘Year Of The Woman.’ It has been so declared by NPR, legendary country journalist Chet Flippo, and right here on Saving Country Music. As the men of mainstream country chase each other in dirt road circles in their pickup trucks sipping ice cold beer, trying to figure out how to integrate rap into their next single without cheesing off the radio programmers, women are offering inspiring lyrics and sonic leadership in an otherwise bleak musical landscape.
But this isn’t the first year in country when the women deserved the lion’s share of attention.
The year was 1952, and country music was still a predominately male-dominated format. A few women had made some marks in country in the past, but never in the same measure as their male counterparts. Moonshine Kate made some noise in the 1920′s, and Patsy Montana in the 1930′s. Molly O’ Day was one of the first women to be singed to the Acuff-Rose publishing company, which gave her the connections to be able to record Hank Williams songs in the late 40′s. And of course the women of The Carter Family had a major influence on the sound of country music. But prior to 1952, women were still considered supporting, 2nd-tier artists, and country had yet to see a true female star.
Then came along Rose Maddox of The Maddox Brothers & Rose, Goldie Hill, and the woman who would later rise to be known as the Queen of Country Music, Kitty Wells. Together, they became pioneers for women in country, and proved that female performers could do just as well as their male counterparts, as performers and profit makers.
It wasn’t until 1956 when the Maddox Brother & Rose officially broke up that Rose Maddox would fully remove herself from the shadow of her male siblings. But in January of 1952, the California-based Maddox Brothers & Rose recorded their first record with Columbia after years with the lesser-known 4 Star Recordings. Written by Rose, “I’ll Make Sweet Love To You” had remarkably-suggestive lyrics for that time in country music, but Rose could get away with it being on the West Coast, and being considered just a singer in her family band instead of a solo artist.
Showcasing Rose’s signature laugh, and the Maddox Brothers’ hybrid sound that was just as much country as rock and roll, “I’ll Make Sweet Love To You” opened up the door for women in country to sing about the same themes that men had for years.
Right on Rose’s heels, a 32-year-old married mother of three named Kitty Wells became country music’s first female superstar when her song “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” made it to #1 on Billboard’s Country Singles Chart. The song was an answer song to Hank Thompson’s hit “Wild Side of Life.” Written by JD “Jay” Miller, Kitty initially didn’t want to cut the song, but then decided to for a $125 session payment.
The song did so well, it eventually beat out Thompson’s “Wild Side of Life” in sales. Like Rose Maddox before her, “It Wasn’t God…” helped open up new risque themes for female singers. Women weren’t supposed to “answer back” to men in those days. But coming from a mother and devoted wife, the conservative Nashville establishment didn’t put up a fuss. And most importantly, Kitty Wells proved that women performers could make big money for labels and publishers. Wells went on to have 35 more Top 10 singles, and 81 total songs on the charts, but none were as big as “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.”
Just as Kitty Wells was having big success with her answer song and 1952 was drawing to a close, another answer song called “I Let The Stars Get In My Eyes” was offered to Kitty. But she turned it down, and instead it was cut by rising female country star Goldie Hill. Released in December of 1952, it was the counter to Slim Willett’s hit “Don’t Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes” and once again dealt with issues that before had been considered taboo for females in country. Women weren’t just singing country music, they were symbolizing a strong, female character, willing to stand up up against male infidelity, while at the same time willing to show their own vulnerability when it comes to matters of the heart.
By early 1953, ”I Let The Stars Get In My Eyes” became another #1 hit by a female performer, entrenching Goldie beside Kitty Wells as bona-fide female country stars. It has one of the most unusual structures and pentameters for a country song you will ever hear, intriguing the ear as the verses zig and zag. Though it is definitely a traditional country song, “I Let The Stars…” could be called a more progressively-molded song; a precursor to today’s advanced, evolving country sound championed by female performers.
Certainly women in country music were not going to be held down forever. But in 1952, Rose Maddox, Kitty Wells, and Goldie Hill laid the groundwork for women in country that would later see the rise of strong, powerful performers like Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton, and the female performers of today that are doing their level best to keep country music moving forward while still respecting its roots.
Her act consisted of dressing up in billowing fru-fru square dance novelty dresses, backed by a Western-dudded cowboy band called the Hellbound Honeys (they were all male, that was the punch line), and along with Nellie’s doe-like eyes, angelic voice, and cherubic features, made you believe you were in store for a kid friendly Howdy Doody-style neo-traditional country show. And you were, it was just injected with the most raunchy, gratuitous, sexually-charged lyrics you can imagine coming from the country music format; songs whose mere titles are too lascivious to be appropriate to print.
It was a great bit, but it was a bit nonetheless. It’s not that the impressive voice, the use of wit, and solid country instincts were still not evident in Nellie Wilson 1.0, but in no way were you expecting the level of depth, composition, artistry, and just downright immediate and long-lasting appeal for the songs she slays the audience with in Not This Time. Nellie Wilson shocks the world, and puts out one of the best, and most intelligent country music works in 2013 so far.
Not This Time features a stripped down sound, but not from necessity or sloth. You can tell by the breadth of composition and the use of textures in this album, this is the way Nellie wanted it. She wanted this to be about her songs and stories, and the instrumentation rises to compliment this approach. Nellie is known for playing bass guitar live, but she was wise to leave all the studio performances to personnel that could bring her vision to these songs. Though not one song feels like it has a full band compliment, each song feels fleshed out perfectly as fiddle, lap steel, banjo, and piano all make appearances when the songs call for them.
Where Nellie rises and really makes Not This Time a remarkable work is in her vocal performances and writing. The best song on the album might be the opening, minute-long “The Town Fool.” Such intelligence from Nellie to know to end this song leaving the ear craving more and the moral fresh on the brain. “A Noose And A Knife” is a master stroke of songwriting brilliance; a dark song with the most perfect production for the mood. “Hung Up” is the album’s hit. With its infectious chorus you’ll catch yourself singing along. Even songs like “Cruel Jim” that feel like maybe they were holdovers from Nellie’s previous incarnation slide right into this album because the piano is so tasteful, the slap on the upright bass is so perfect, and the fiddle is so sublime.
Nellie Wilson’s voice is so light and fluffy and warm, it becomes the centerpiece of Not This Time. Some may be a little turned off on how she hangs in the high register in songs like “Suicide Kiss,” but her tone has such a supple quality, it’s hard to not find it growing on you.
Nellie Wilson started in music in her family’s band at age 12. During her Hellbound Honey days, when underground country bands would roll through her home town of Madison, WI, Nellie and the Honeys would regularly open and play songs like Loretta Lynn’s “Fist City.” So maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised she had this in her. And let’s not gloss over that this album, though with its dark and folky moments, is a very country-flavored work.
If Not This Time had originated from some big label or some established name, I probably would have awarded it just a shade under a perfect grade. But knowing the Nellie Wilson story, and listening to this album, you can tell that Nellie fought for this music and really pushed herself to put all of her resolve in making an album that was a true refection of her talent, her instincts, and her abilities. Not This Time feels like a victory, with the spoils being bestowed to the listener’s ears. She pushed herself, didn’t settle, and at a time when underground country needed a landmark album and someone to step up with artistic focus and a fresh direction, Nellie Wilson delivered. Big time.
Two guns up.
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Not This Time will be released March 5th. You Can Pre-Order Here.
When you reflect back on many of the country music greats, they were people who seemed to be birthed right out of the country itself. Their very molecules come from the same earth that the coal dust and the pine needles and the hardwood smoke that imbibe and permeate their songs did. Iris Dement is one of those artists, a genuine product of America’s rural textures, and a country music great despite the 16-year hiatus between albums of original material maybe causing a momentarily lapse in memory of her brilliance.
Iris Dement is an incarnation of the nexus between the traditional rural American upbringing, and modern American skepticism. Born in Paragould, Arkansas as the 14th child of her father and 8th of her mother, she was brought up in a Pentecostal household full of gospel music. Just as important, the family moved to Los Angeles when Iris was 3, setting the table for a life full of contrasting ideologies and varying influences. This strange crux where a young, impressionable girl brought up to see the line between right and wrong, but raised in a world built to blur those lines, is like the little warm Fox den in a rain storm where Iris’s music goes to nestle.
Sing The Delta speaks to that internal war still smoldering inside Iris, where the principles and ideals embodied in religious doctrine are still very much alive in her being, yet the idea of devoting to an entity that science has no answer for, and whose name is used to enact untold destruction, are very much at war. She might be the most religious/non-religious woman in country music. As she says in the song, “The Kingdom Has Already Come:”
Stopped into the church to pray. It was the middle of the day. And I don’t even know if I believe in God.
I laid my soul on the table. And I left that place believing I was able. To open the curtains my fears had drawn.
The next song on Sing The Delta is titled, “The Night I Learned How Not To Pray.”
Iris Dement’s singular contribution to country music is her genuinely-Southern, ethereal voice that she commands with an easy, effortless confidence. Put her right up there with the Loretta’s, and Emmylou’s, and Parton’s when it comes to the potency of her singing, and the demands for it to be put on albums as far ranging as Ralph Stanley’s Ridin’ That Midnight Train to Josh Turner’s Punching Bag. Her singing may have never been sweeter than what is displayed on Sing The Delta, with an approach to the music that allows it to shine, especially on the second track “Before The Colors Fade” where the lack of a true bridge or chorus allows Dement’s words and vocal accentuations to breathe and bloom.
The hardest thing for a singer / songwriter to do is to write to their vocal strengths. Iris Dement and Sing The Delta is a case study on how to execute this feat near flawlessly. She is a piano player first, and this brings a whole other layer of uniqueness to her approach to country music. She’s no Jerry Lee, “Pig” Robbins, or Earl Poole Ball, but to accompany her rising, angelic, Gospel-inspired voice with piano gives it that classic, neo-traditional church house feel without having to infuse it with excessive chorus or reverb.
Iris Dement’s voice, her songs, her style, it is all there ripe for being regaled long-term in the halls of country music greatness. It’s her moderate output, and possibly her politics that were evident especially on her 3rd album, 1996′s The Way I Should, that keep her name far from the tip of our tongues when talking about our generation’s greatest country singers. In Sing The Delta, Iris strikes a great balance of expressing her ideologies and doubt, while not allowing them to get in the way of some sincere storytelling and simple, honest song craft.
To a contingent of the orthodox country crowd, Iris Dement will probably continue to be considered a more folky, leftist, prototypical Steve Erle-esque “alt-country” protest singer. But that prejudice will keep them from one of our generations greatest female voices, and some of its best songs; all of which are in full evidence on Sing The Delta.
Two guns up!
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Look, I’m a good old-fashioned red-blooded American male. I like myself a delicate, supple breast, or a perfectly-formed apple butt. And the beautiful shape of a woman intermixed with good music is something that makes me thankful for being alive. But somewhere in the last year or so, country music crossed that line from being the last bastion for respect of beautiful women in American popular culture, to hanging out in the gutter with the rest of the vermin, making videos of venereal-infused floozies dry humping flashy vehicles in the classic vein of tasteless, materialistic, shallow-minded rap imagery.
The tradition of proud, empowered, beautiful women in country music runs deep. Their strength is what made them sexy. And unlike rock and roll and hip hop, the popularity of women in country has run parallel with the men throughout time. The Carter Family, Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, all the way to today with Miranda Lambert and Taylor Swift. But the problem is not the women of country not respecting themselves, the problem is the men not respecting the women, and an apparent endless supply of hussies willing to strut it for shitty pop music.
Take the video for Dustin Lynch’s stupid new song “She Cranks My Tractor” (yeah, right, we’ve heard this one before, haven’t we?) Since this song has so much nothing, they drag some slut out of a strip club to have sex with farm equipment to keep you engaged. This isn’t music, this is material for 14-year-old boys to masturbate to.
My favorite are these flocks of bikini-flaunting chicks with their arms flailing above their heads, like in the Bucky Covington / Shooter Jennings douche fest “Drinking Side of Country”. If this is the country, then where are all the ugly people? I can see some producer telling a poor girl, “Hey sorry, I can see a very slight roll of chub spilling out over your cut-offs. Go purge for two weeks and come back.”
I think Luke Bryan is where this all started, or possibly Kid Rock when he infected country like a herpes outbreak with his cross-genre shallowness. But Luke Bryan was the one that had dancers doing straight up strip tease renditions on the 2011 CMA Awards. And isn’t it ironic how Luke Bryan surrounds himself with so many hot women when he’s so obviously, indisputably, helplessly, pink flamingo, Siegfried & Roy, Fire Island…happy? I mean watch him do his happy dance.
I don’t want to come across as some uptight fuddy duddy. The fact is you can go anywhere on the world wide internet and affix your eyeballs on frolicking trollops. What made country music special and distinct is it avoided this saccharine, sexpot low-brow shit. These people are missing the point that the best way to deploy sex is to leave more to the imagination. That is why America fell in love with Marlyn Monroe, and why America is currently in love with Taylor Swift. Nothing about the women in these videos is intriguing. There’s no reason to come back for more. Like the songs, the videos, and the careers of these artists, they are forgettable. And the devaluation of women in country music that this causes is what is most troubling.
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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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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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.
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.
In this dirty business of monitoring the doings of Music Row, every once in a while you get these glimmers of hope that an album will slip through the mandibles of the money changers that actually has some class, and appeal beyond the easily-pliable masses. The Miranda Lambert’s of the world are not bad, but many times you still have to gerrymander your taste buds to consider where the music came from and what battles it probably took to get an album out that still sounds half way decent. In the end, the hype is usually just that.
Recently it appears Nashville has taken a cue from actors and pop stars and decided to “go country” itself. But just because an album is overtly “country” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good. We’re all country fans, but we’re fans of good music first, and braying about how country you are and using steel and fiddle just to add a “country” taste to a song instead of employing them in tasteful instrumentation isn’t going to get you anywhere with the country fans who’ve long since strayed from the mainstream herd.
Enter Kellie Picker and her new album 100 Proof that for the last few months has been touted as her getting back to her roots and developing a hard country sound. Right out of the chute, with the first two songs “Where’s Tammy Wynette” and “Unlock That Honky Tonk” there’s no doubt this album is country, but one had to wonder if these were works of sincerity, or the female version of the overexposed “laundry list” song formula.
This whole “I’m a woman, hear me roar” bit is big right now in mainstream country, which is not necessarily a bad thing, unless it becomes overexposed. It makes a heavy appearance in the first two songs, and in the first single from the album, “Tough”. But after the album announces itself as unmistakably country, it begins to reveal itself as unmistakably good, and not just when considering it as Music Row fare from the modern era. No, this is good country music, period.
The song “Stop Cheatin’ On Me”, which initially seems burdened by the weak return of “..or I’ll start cheating on you” becomes a brilliant composition simply from it’s sonic construction; the way it builds out from the bass guitar, and modulates after the first verse. Listening to this song you can see yourself hearing it blaring from an old juke box in the corner of a bar. Same can be said for the very fun “Little House on the Highway.”
Songs like “Turn The Radio On and Dance” and “Rockaway” have this very sweet innocence to them. I’m not kidding. They harken back to the pre-Garth 80′s, when country had this simplicity to it that was sweet, when the one hit wonder model of music may have not lead to any major substance, but the songs nonetheless were just simply appealing, and seemed so easy to attach to memories.
Many of the songs on this album are not spectacular on the surface, it’s what’s going on behind-the-scenes that makes them special. Many pop country folks and “new Outlaws” are attempting to evoke Waylon Jennings these days by screaming his name alongside inane countryisms. Kellie instead understands that Waylon worked from the backbone of the music, a trick Waylon picked up on when crossing the tracks in Littlefield and Lubbock to hang out in the blues and jazz bars. The bass on this album, just like Jennings, creates a visceral bed for the music that allows it to shoot straight into your heart. This album should be listened to loud, on a good-booming system. The bigger the better.
And though I did not care for a few of the songs here, including the title track “100 Proof”, there’s some songs with undeniable soul. That’s right, “soul” from Music Row. The song “Mother’s Day” drops the Southern accent and is just Kellie singing straight from the heart, with her smooth and fiercely-feminine voice. The album concludes with “The Letter (To Daddy)” that could evoke tears from a rock.
What’s that you say? Kellie Pickler is an American Idol alum? You know what, I don’t even know that I care. And I’m not sure if Kellie Pickler herself is to blame for the beauty of this album, or if it’s the fault of producers and professional songwriters. All I know is that it’s damn good, and I don’t just mean good for the mainstream. It’s just good, period. Sure, there’s a few songs that are misses, every album has them, and the misses here you can easily label as pop country dribble. But I’d say 100 Proof will even smoke most of what’s coming out of the independent world these days.
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.
Two guns up!
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From Columbus, OH, the lovely and talented 21-year-old Lydia Loveless offers up her first album with international aspirations in Indestructable Machine, through the Bloodshot Records imprint. In a classic Bloodshot blend of punk and country, Lydia comes out with a bold sound and bawdy content to the delight of many critics and writers. Just in the last week, I have seen her compared to Loretta Lynn, Kitty Wells, and Patsy Cline. I’ve heard her called the next Neko Case, and a cowpunk princess. Rest assured, I like this album more than I don’t. But as legendary football coach Bill Parcells once said after one decent game by a young, promising quarterback, “Put the anointing oil away.”
The other popular point to make about Lydia and this album is how mature the content is for her age. In my little music world, 21 is not young, especially for a female performer. There is a crop of young female musicians out there right now, all below voting age, that are excellent musicians and songwriters, and show maturity in their music with depth, not drinking and drug references. In my opinion, singing about getting sloshed on wine and snorting coke is a green way of trying to garner real-life substance, and furthermore, a little outmoded. It’s fake hussle. Maybe it seemed all fresh in the mid-90′s when Oasis did it. Hank III brought it to the country world in 2005, but now it seems to have run its course, and been replaced by songs that may start with drugs, but end with redemption.
And it makes a difference that Lydia seems to be singing biographically, instead of working through the medium of character. I have no doubt the lyrics are authentic, but that just makes me worried for her well-being instead of personifying some infectious party attitude or empathetic camaraderie. I also can’t help but thinking, did we wait to put out this album until Lydia was 21 because of the bawdy content, or does she include the bawdy content to make up for the perceived weakness of only being 21?
This album is funny, but not always witty. It’s dark, but not always deep. It is sad, but not always soulful. But sometimes it is. I know Lydia put out other independent albums before this, but Indestructable Machine has a lot of the earmarks of a freshman release. The strength is the lyrics, but her over-singing sometimes buries the content. The music is engaging, but an ever-present electric guitar droning with overdrive saps a lot of the space out of the project. It also has that “tracked-out” feel, meaning the parts to the songs were recorded individually, and then reassembled later; a common practice in music, but one that can result in the loss of the groove if not done properly. A lot of the songs on this album are just busy, and you add this to Lydia’s unusual (thought not necessarily bad) cadence, and it just comes across as a little incongruent and confusing to the music mind.
Some of this confusion is on purpose in the first song “Bad Way To Go”, which revives itself with some solid catchiness. “Can’t Change Me” is another catchy track, which leads into “More Like Them”, channeling the style of Cindi Lauper, conjuring visions of Molly Ringwald dancing the bop. In a few places, this album is more powerpop than cowpunk or country.
Then the gears shift completely in the hard country composition “How Many Women”, where Lydia’s vocal prowess is displayed, but unfortunately not in conjunction with her usually-stronger songwriting, which comes into play with the next two very entertaining tracks “Jesus Was a Wino” and the fictitious stalking song “Steve Earle”. Some soul sinks in on “Learn To Say No”, a pretty strong track despite the rather innocuous sonic style. “Do Right” reverts back to the self-righteous party-girl motiff, but is balanced by the self-loathing acoustic-driven end track “Crazy.”
For all the holes I’m poking in this Indestructible Machine, overall, this is a really fun album. It is fun to listen to, and at times you will find yourself laughing out loud to the lyrics. And without question, I see tremendous potential here from Lydia, lyrically, sonically, and as a singer. And I do think this album will appeal to a younger audience, and that may be it’s greatest asset, and an important one in a genre bloated with 30-something fans watching those little bits of gray creeping in more each month.
Young artists need encouragement, which Lydia has received from The Washington Post to Spinner. But they need honesty as well. And my honest opinion is Lydia is good, but may still need to do some growing, get some skins on the wall and get out there and tour, and see that people are dying out here and they don’t just need to be touched in the funny bone and stomp their boots, but they need to be touched in the heart as well. That’s what Loretta, Patsy, and Neko did.
1 1/4 of 2 guns up.
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With her first self-titled album, ===> Little Lisa Dixie <=== is helping make the case that in independent/underground country, 2011 might be the year of the woman. With surprisingly good, classic songwriting, excellent use of texture, and solid instrumentation, she has made the album that her fans have waited years for be one that is well worth the wait.
This album is part country, part hot-rod rockabilly, with a vintage feel covering everything in the tones and textures. I can’t emphasize enough the wit and appreciation for the classic model of how to turn a phrase in a country song that is illustrated in some of these tracks. The song “Stop Acting Like a Lady” works to juxtapose the scorned woman with man just like Loretta Lynn did back in the day. This is done to even more perfection in “Getting Over You”.
The only way I’m getting over you is by getting under him.
But where I was really impressed with this song is when she entered the chorus, she did not go back to the catchy hook, she replaces it with the much more docile “The only way to get over you is by loving him tonight“, just like the greats used to do. This shows that Little Lisa hasn’t just heard Loretta and Tammy, she’s listened to them, intently, and understood and embraced the thematic virtues behind their songs.
But if classic country is not your speed and you want a little rockabilly, this album has you covered as well. “Devil’s Gate” is a monster of a song, marinated in reverb, powder blue, and neon light. This song and the other rockabilly-feeling “Dance With The Devil” have sublime, masterful combinations of bright and dark-sounding chords that pull your ear right into the music as the words sell your soul on the story.
I’m not going to try to sell you on the idea that Little Lisa Dixie has one of the best female voices going, but it is solid, and she knows how to use what she has, by knowing just how long to hold a note, or when to shut it off in phrasing. And for a femme voice, it is naturally deep, which gives it that retro sexiness, almost a musk that fits the music exquisitely. Little Lisa picked the type of music that fits her voice, which is not a common as you would think in music, especially for women.
To be fair, the album may have a couple of punch out tracks for some. “Stoned Again” doesn’t really move the needle for me. The lyrics for “Woke Up Broke” seem a little cliche, but the super-twang on the Telecaster-style guitar and Lisa’s vocal phrasing are almost good enough in the song to overlook it’s lyrical lightweightedness. The vision and arrangement on this album is great. The reverb and echo is drenching, but not overindulged, and little details were not overlooked, like the horn and bells in “Dance With The Devil”. To some the album may sound a little dirty. I heard a few forgivable flubs that speak to tracked-out recording, but I think a lot of attention was paid by Little Lisa and friends to set a vintage mood, and the right specific vintage mood for each song, and once you embrace this, it enhances the songs instead of holding them back.
If you like ladies that aren’t afraid to let loose, Little Lisa Dixie is your girl.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up!
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A while back it was brought to my attention that industrial rocker Shooter Jennings, along with No Depression blogger Adam Sheets had crafted the idea of starting a new genre of music, or more specifically, a radio format, called “XXX” after the nomenclature found on the front of moonshine bottles. The idea is to give a home to music that “is too rock for country, and too country for rock.”
I’ll start off by saying that I respect Adam Sheets as a writer, though I don’t always agree with him, and that I like what is at the heart of this idea. Finally, FINALLY, an artist is trying to show some kind of goddamn leadership, in some capacity, whatsoever. Back in the mid-2000′s artists like Shooter and Hank III and Dale Watson created this huge army of loyal fans of which this website grew out of, but then sometime in ’07-’08, the leadership when completely silent, and this massive army of supporters has been bivouacked, willing and ready to march but with absolutely no guidance whatsoever. I also appreciate that this idea is meant to bring disparate elements together under a big tent, to organize, which is another needful element I’ve been preaching about for years.
The problem is, is that there are many problems with XXX. The main one, and the one that is the deal killer for me, is that this focuses on radio. Why do we give a shit if radio is playing this music or not? I mean yes, it would be great if the “too country” and “too rock” crowd got more radio play, but radio is a dying industry that is fighting massive contraction while hemorrhaging money. Why are we coveting what they have? Why would we moor ourselves to that sinking ship?
Radio is the past, and they are fighting shrinking revenues by making the same mistakes that got them in this pickle–homogenizing formats and bleeding regionalism out of music. Shooter should know this, he’s a satellite guy, though satellite is having their own problems. And it also plays right into the hands of Shooter’s critics who say that he’s a whiny, spoiled rich kid who when he doesn’t get his way, throws a temper tantrum; that’s why he left his country label and put out an album which at times was filled with pretentious envy bordering on self-righteous rage. This idea seems to be born out of anger and envy instead of innovation.
Podcasts, virtual concerts, things like SCM LIVE, and the few independently-run radio stations like KOOK with robust online listenerships are the wave of the radio future. People will be listening on their computers and smart phones. Screw radio, we’re too good for them. And why set the ceiling so low as to say all we want is a place at the radio table? The problems with the infrastructure for good music of any genre is much more widespread. Swing for the fences.
And then there’s these lists of bands that have been populated for XXX. So you’re telling me Arson Anthem and the Avett Brothers are in the same genre? I love Black Joe Lewis, but he’s retro soul/funk. Hell, I can’t even get past the ‘B’s’ and I can tell this won’t work. And I also don’t like all this language about “southern bands.” The south is so choked by pop country these days, a lot of the great bands are coming from California, the Pacific Northwest, and the Upper Midwest. Whitey Morgan & The 78′s from Michigan are on the list, and so are The Devil Makes Three from California. I’m not really understanding this.
The band list looks like it was populated by a few select people asserting their own music tastes, instead of taking a step back and a broad look at the full musical spectrum that would create this genre or “format” by its own designated parameters. Where is the .357 String Band? They are the definition of “too rock for country.” Where is The Reverend Horton Heat? One could make the argument that he was vital to the formation of music that is too rock and too country. To know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been, and I see little homage paid to the mid-90′s scene on lower Broadway in Nashville where the vast majority of these band’s sound sprouted from. BR549 isn’t on here, but James McMurtry is, but Ray Wylie Hubbard isn’t? I’m totally confused.
And then on the list of bands that “Came Before Us” you have Pantera, but their side project with David Allan Coe “Rebel Meets Rebel” is on the current bands list. And Loretta Lynn and Merle Haggard are artists that bridged rock and country? These lists are all over the road like a drunk bloke who could blow a 2.0. And let’s not give up the fight for the term “country” so easily. What’s wrong with saying Whitey Morgan is country, and the crap they play on the radio is not?
With all respect to Shooter and Adam Sheets, this thing looks like it went off SO half cocked. Why not solicit for ideas from a spectrum of core thinkers before submitting it for public consumption? Not to sound like an arrogant bastard, but why not consult me? I talk about most of the bands on their lists all the time. When Shooter made the switch from country/southern rock to more industrial-style rock, what was the one outlet who covered that story, even in the face of whining fans who swore I was a liar? It wasn’t No Depression. Who was the first to review his new album Black Ribbons? I was the media outlet for Shooter, because I saw the importance in covering his transition, and because nobody else was. And what happened to Shooter now calling himself Black Country Rock?
And this isn’t my first time at the rodeo talking about creating new music formats. 10 months ago I proposed a very similar thing called Anti-country, but I did so not by asserting my reality-tunneled ideas without any outside help, I submitted it to my readership as a question, asking for their feedback. I have not written off the Anti-Country idea, I’m just waiting for the right time or the right angle. The principle difference between the two ideas is that XXX is mostly concerned about radio, while Anti-Country would focus on all aspects of supporting music.
But they both have a problem with the names themselves meaning different things to people. Yes, XXX is also the notation for pornography, just like Anti-Country could be misconstrued as being against country music, or even against the United States.
I don’t want to completely dismiss this idea. If you go to givememyxxx.com, and what you read speaks to you, then by all means sign the petition. (And that’s another thing, who are we petitioning exactly?) Give this idea at least a chance, because at its heart I do believe there is some good stuff. But I will not be signing it, at least for the moment. I see a LOT of work to be done here, tweaking the message, fixing confusing lists of artists, which at this point I don’t even know if such lists are important. So much more should have been done before putting this out for the public.
But people who are anti-Shooter (and there are a lot of them) should not just wholesale write off this idea just because Shooter is at the helm. I do think long-term Shooter’s involvement could hold the idea back, but XXX should be judged on its own merit. If it’s a good idea, it should be allowed to fly, and at least Shooter is trying to do something and show some bit of leadership.
My thoughts. What are yours?
As much as we’ve been ballyhooing what a big year 2010 was for great music from independent and up-and-coming artists we love to champion around here, January 2011 might be a bigger month than any one 2010 can boast about. And it is especially big for the female artists, and artists taking a step up from burning CD’s out of the back of their car to more legitimate and professional releases.
Oh yeah baby! Can’t wait for this one. When Jack White teemed up with Loretta Lynn for Van Lear Rose, the result was one of Saving Country Music’s Albums of the Decade. Now Jack takes on the Queen of Rockabilly and I am frothing with anticipation of what that concoction will brew. They have already released a couple of tracks, “You Know I’m No Good” (see video below) and “Shakin’ All Over” and from what I’m hearing Wanda has still got it, and so does Jack! This is gonna be a big one folks!
This is Bob’s first serious release through the traditionally-metal label Century Media. For fans of his from the past, it includes much more slick versions of his past great songs, with a few new ones as well. Works as a great primer of his music if you are just learning about him, or a great addition to your collection if you have all three of his independent releases. Fun, rowdy music to listen to, with glimpses at masterful songwriting thrown in there too.
Right no this is available for pre-order through Century FOR ONLY $7.00 !!!
You can also listen to 4 songs from the album on his Facebook Band Page, of course, if you have Facebook, or are friends with him, or who knows what other provisos Facebook has put into place to preclude artists from promoting themselves.
Rachel Brooke – Down in the Barnyard – late Jan.
From one of my favorite female independent artists, this is her much-anticipated release that she has been working on for a long time to make sure it is “right.” Rachel’s work on albums like A Bitter Harvest have made many huger for that one seminal release from her, and by all accounts, this will be the one. She has been working very hard on it and has been uncompromising, while taking some risks as well. “I have been recording it at home, and have been playing just about all the instruments on it.”
No exact date on this yet, but as soon as one’s available, you’ll hear about it here. Also keep your eyes peeled for some Midwest tour dates with Rachel and Those Poor Bastards in March.
Folks who already ordered this album online, word is you should be expecting it very shortly. This is Joe’s first professionally-done CD, working with the legendary Jack Endino. It’s very similar to the Bob Wayne release, where it has a lot of Joe Buck’s classics redone better, with a few new ones mixed in. Piss & Vinegar was going to be released through Century Media as well before things fell through.
As explained when Saving Country Music released the EPK for this album, it will be available only in limited quantities online. The main distribution outlet is the Joe Buck show, which is not as daunting as it sounds due to Joe’s incessant touring schedule.
Little Lisa Dixie – late Jan.
Another one that is almost done with no definite date at the moment, but keep your eyes peeled. “I can’t wait for y’all to hear it! I’m so lucky for the friends and talented musicians who have lent their time and talent to help me out. I am forever grateful for y’all”
You can listen to four of the tracks on littlelisadixie.com, “Devil’s Gate” “Dance With The Devil” “Woke Up Broke” and “Stoned Again.” Such a sweet, innocent girl that Little Lisa is!
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Wanda Jackson & Jack White:
About this time last year, every website and periodical that regularly does these type of things put out their “Best of the Decade” lists. Problem is, they were all wrong. All of them. And not just for country music. For ALL of music, and for movies, TV shows, whatever. Why? No, not because I’m a raging culture snob, because officially the decade does not end until tonight.
It’s true. Google it. A decade is 10 years. There was no 0 AD, there was 1 BC and then 1AD, and if you count up from there, it means THIS is the end of the decade. So when Nostradamus said that in the year of the millennium the man in the blue turban from the house of Sauud would send missiles into The New City and start a great war, he was right! 2001. Except the blue turban part, but that was just some crazy crap to throw us off the scent, because he knew people would focus on the easy to understand qualifiers, because after all, humans are intellectually lazy. Hence all the decade ending lists released prematurely.
But the lovable, huggable Triggerman will not wrong you like that my friends, so I have compiled my own decade list.
Please take into consideration a couple of factors before reading and commenting: 1) This does not include any of the albums for Album of the Year for 2010. You can go ahead and assume that whoever wins that, would be included in this list. And this has been such a great year, that if the decade list was expanded to 14, they would all be there, but since they are so young and their significance uncertain, I think it would be unfair to include them. 2) When I say “Albums of the Decade” I don’t just mean the ones I enjoyed the most. MANY factors play into this, including impact, significance, popularity, accessibility, originality, and influence.
Click on the album titles for previews.
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10 – Midnight At The Movies (2009) – Justin Townes Earle
From my 2009 Album of the year Review– “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.”
9 – Fire & Hail (2008) – .357 String Band
From my 2008 Album of the Year – “In a time when hippie newgrass pseudo folk bands control the genre, this album is straight forward REAL bluegrass. The .357 String Band has done to bluegrass what Hank III did for country. These are top notch musicians and excellent songwriters in the essence of their craft. This album is also the emergence of Joe Huber as one of the best bluegrass songwriters I’ve heard. I put these boys up with the greats of bluegrass music.”
8 – That Lonesome Song (2008) – Jamey Johnson
Sonically, lyrically, and stylistically, this was not a breakthrough album. What is remarkable about it is that an ugly man that writes his own songs and has a fairly traditional sound was able to break through all the protocols of the pop country world and gain airplay, attention, and awards from the country music oligarchy. Maybe Jamey’s success is Music Row’s way of pacifying the traditionalists. Maybe the jokes on them, as Jamey was able to parley the influence of writing a joke song about women’s backsides into a formidable solo career. Either way, and however you feel about his music, it would be unjust, and render this list a sham, if it was not included here. And this is the right pick above the double disk The Guitar Song, whose good tracks are buried under so much chaff that it renders the whole project mild.
7 – Home – The Dixie Chicks
That’s right. Don’t rub your eyes. The Dixie Chick have made this list, and this is right where they belong. I’ll spare you my rant about how The Dixie Chicks are honorary Outlaws by fighting for creative control from their label Sony and built up tons of street cred for 8 years as a bluegrass band. And I would never recommend anyone get to excited about their first two big releases beyond the song “Wide Open Spaces” or their “comeback” album Taking The Long Way, which in my opinion was a travesty and Rick Rubin’s worst work to date. But Home is a home run, and a remarkably written and produced album with serious taste and attention to traditionalist values and tones. Tight three part harmonies, and excellent songwriting complimented by beautiful instrumentation makes this one of the best albums of the decade hands down, regardless of what their politics are. In fact maybe this album is too good for the mainstream. Maybe that’s the reason people turned on them, not some innocuous comments about Bush. If you won’t listen to this music or any other because of politics that are not even conveyed in these songs, you’re a fool. Because Home is as good as it gets for females writing, playing, and controlling their own music. Never understood their fashion sense though.
6 – Live in London (2002) – Dale Watson
This is it folks, 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. “Real Country Song” “Nashville Rash” and “Country My Ass” can all be found here, but this isn’t all pissing and moaning. Songs like “Ain’t That Livin’” showed off Dale’s superlative voice and suave style. This remains the best album in Dale’s collection, and one of the best of the decade.
5- Lovesick, Broke, & Driftin’ (2002) – Hank Williams III
Without question, BR549 and Wayne “The Train” Hancock created the neo-traditionalist movement in the mid 90′s and will always be the kings of it, but Hank III was the one to carry it into the oughts and introduce it to a brand new crop of fans. After his first album, III was unleashed and able to showcase his own songwriting, heavily influenced by “The Train” and his 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 essential title of the neo-traditionalist era.
4- Van Lear Rose (2004) – Loretta Lynn
The style and grace of a queen of country music was never so well refined as it was in this album. Why is country always so quick to throw out the old and roll in the new? Loretta Lynn along with producer Jack White proved the folly of Music Row’s ways with a powerful performance that will stand the test of time and side by side comparisons with any of Loretta’s other works, or Jack’s for that matter. This also put Jack White on the radar as a force in the greater music landscape, much beyond just The White Stripes world.
3 – Cockadoodledon’t (2003) – Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers
This is the album that busted out of the burgeoning music scene on lower Broadway in Nashville and showed the world what kind of mayhem could be created by mixing country, blues, and punk music together without compromising taste and soul. This is the one. It is the album which acts as a guidepost to the eclectic, yet intuitive and inter-related mix that you will find being covered on Saving Country Music: honest to goodness appreciation to the roots of American music, with a punk attitude and approach. And Joe Buck played every note on this one my friends.
2 – The Man Comes Around (2002) – Johnny Cash
Good albums are fun to listen to. Great albums change lives. This album, and the others in the American Recordings series, have literally saved people lives, and in many different ways, including Johnny Cash’s. I feel like an idiot sitting here right now trying to convey to you in words the impact of this album, and in all likelihood it is a redundant pursuit, because unless you have been stuck in a mine shaft for the last 8 years, you know first hand how important this album is, even if you don’t consider yourself a connoisseur of country music. This album is Johnny Cash immortalized. Nuff said. I’m sure some will have a different favorite from the American collection, but let this 2nd spot of the decade be filled with whichever Johnny Cash American album you wish. But with the cover of Trent Reznor’s “Hurt” and songs like “Personal Jesus” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” this one is hard to top.
We miss you Johnny.
1 – Straight to Hell (2005) – Hank Williams III
This album isn’t our generations Red Headed Stranger. It isn’t out generation’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. Look at this picture. They knew what they were doing. They were putting the power of music back into the hands of the artists.
David had slayed Goliath. 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. In future albums III might have gone a little too far, but in this one, the mix was right. And then with the non-linear 2nd disc, he re-wrote the book on album making again. 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, and will remain the standard bearer for the hard-edged, drug and obscenity-infused music that would create and underground movement for country music and dominate it sonically for the second half of the decade.
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.
- Will on Wayne Mills & “The Last Honky Tonk” (Review & Eulogy)
- Linda Merchant on Circumstances of Wayne Mills’ Death Leave Many Questions
- Angela on Wayne Mills of the Wayne Mills Band Shot Fatally in Nashville
- Angela on Wayne Mills of the Wayne Mills Band Shot Fatally in Nashville
- Angela on Wayne Mills of the Wayne Mills Band Shot Fatally in Nashville