Browsing articles tagged with " Sunday Valley"
Jul
14

The Metamodern Rise of Sturgill Simpson (A Timeline)

July 14, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  73 Comments

The Metamodern rise of Sturgill Simpson could be classified as meteoric, and his dramatic ascent in the last few months is virtually unparalleled in the modern country music world for an independent artist. Amidst the swelling crowds, the high praise, and far flung accolades, let’s look back at Sturgill Simpson, and take a moment to reflect on how he got here.


2004: The Formation of Sunday Valley

Sturgill Simpson forms a 4-piece band called Sunday Valley in his home state of Kentucky. They wear suits and ties to gigs, and drape a Kentucky flag over the bass drum as stage decoration. Sturgill sports a Stratocaster with a backwards neck. They open shows for fellow Kentucky-based band Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers.

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Photo from Matt McDonald

Photos of Sunday Valley’s October 2004 Show with Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers


2004 to 2009: Sunday Valley, First Move to Nashville, Move to Utah

In 2005, Sturgill Simpson moves from Kentucky to Nashville for the first time. He stays there for about nine months, but has a hard time fitting in. “I really came, more than anything, to find the old timers that were still around, that I could play bluegrass with and try to learn as properly how that should be done as I could,” Sturgill tells NPR. “I didn’t find a lot of similar-minded folks in town: pop-country was really at saturation at that point, and what is now described as the “hip” Nashville scene wasn’t really there yet. You know, any of those bars in East Nashville that are hotspots, that you can walk into on a Friday or Saturday night — back then there’d be six people in there.”

Feeling out-of-place, Sturgill decides it’s time to get a real job, and moves out to Utah to work for the railroad. He is 28-years-old at the time, and Sunday Valley is mothballed. In Salt Lake City, he works as a train conductor at a switching facility, helping to operate one of the main train arteries between the East and West Coast. “I really did enjoy it. We were outside,” Sturgill says. He does this for a few years, and then his grandfather gets sick, and he’s forced to move back to Kentucky to help take care of his family. Sturgill ends up getting stuck in Kentucky.

Eventually Sturgill meets his future wife and decides to move back out to Utah to work for the railroad again. However he takes a managerial position and it results in misery.  “After about a year and a half of that, I was probably just at the most depressed state I’ve ever been in in my life.”

At this point, Sturgill has not played guitar in over 3 years. But at the urging of his wife, he begins to play again.


2010: Move Back to Nashville & Sunday Valley Revitalized

Afraid that he’s going to turn 40 and will have never seriously tried his hand at doing what he loved, Sturgill Simpson moves back to Nashville with the full support of his wife. They sell everything they can, and pack the rest in a Ford Bronco and head east.

Later in 2010, Sturgill Simpson revitalizes the Sunday Valley name and forms a three piece with Gerald Evans on Bass, and Edgar Purdom III on drums. They play more shows with their old Kentucky friends Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers, and record an album To The Wind And On To Heaven. Sunday Valley is a hard-edged, hard-country, fast and raucous band, like Sturgill’s native bluegrass sound but electrified and on speed.

Sunday Valley & Sturgill Simpson catch the eye of manager Marc Dottore, the manager for Marty Stuart, Connie Smith, and Kathy Mattea.


January 2011: Saving Country Music & Pickathon

Saving Country Music posts a review of Sunday Valley‘s To The Wind And On To Heaven after being tipped off about the band by Blake Judd of Judd Films. SCM givs it “Two Guns Up!” and declares, “Sunday Valley is definitely worth your consideration and raising a blip on your radar, because mark my words, I have a feeling that this will not be the last time you will hear about Sturgill Simpson or this band, from me or others.”

During the same week, Saving Country Music is contacted by promoter Zale Schoenborn of the Pickathon Festival in Portland, OR, looking for recommendations for potential performers for the next season. Sunday Valley does not make the list [Editor's note: because I 'd never seen them perform live at that point], but Zale reads the Sunday Valley review, and is so enraptured, decides to book Sunday Valley anyway. Buoyed around their Pickathon appearance, Sunday Valley books a West Coast tour. The Pickathon booking is later seen as Sturgill Simpson and Sunday Valley’s big break.


August 2011: Sunday Valley Storms Pickathon in Portland, OR

Sunday Valley and Sturgill Simpson play a spectacular show at Pickathon in front of the influential audience and start creating a national buzz. Pokey LaFarge is in the crowd for one of the band’s sets, urging them on.

From Saving Country Music’s Pickathon review:

“I am here to tell you folks, Sunday Valley’s frontman Sturgill Simpson is a singular talent, one of those one-in-a-million folks who is touched by the country music holy spirit, and has the vigor to fully realize his potential, and assert his solely original perspective on American music without fear … Whatever praise, whatever accolades, whatever sway my good name has, I throw it all behind Sunday Valley and Sturgill Simpson 100%. This man deserves to be playing music for a living, and as long as that is not the case, it is a sin of our country.”


April 2012: Sturgill Simpson Walks Away from Sunday Valley Name

Music Fog releases a video of Sunday Valley in January of 2012 for the song “Life Ain’t Fair & The World Is Mean”. The video goes a long way in spreading Sturgill Simpson and Sunday Valley’s name. The video would be the first we’d hear of the new Sturgill Simpson sound, and becomes one of the last official appearances of Sunday Valley. Sturgill Simpson makes an appearance at SXSW in March of 2012 at XSXSW 5, and no longer has drummer Edgar Purdom III in tow. Then on April 27th, he officially announces:

Welp kids,…Lord knows it’s been a long road with a great many tears of joy and sadness and some very hard lessons learned but I know I speak for all four original members of Sunday Valley when I say we gave it everything we had and then some. Out of respect and honor for Billy, Gerald, & Eddie and the sacrifices we all have made for this thing over the years, I could never under any circumstances feel good about continuing my musical journey under the Sunday Valley name.

There are no words I can think of that would possibly express our love and appreciation for you all and your support over the last 8 years…it means more than you could ever know. New band, new sound, new album coming very soon…as they say, the next chapter is always better, that’s why we turn the page.

“To the wind and on to heaven…”

Read More About The Name Change


June 2013: The Release of High Top Mountain

On June 13th, Sturgill Simpson releases his first solo album High Top Mountain independently through Thirty Tigers. The album earns critical praise from country and roots media, and Sturgill Simpson is no longer a secret of the independent roots world. The New York Times says it’s “full of finely drawn songs both sad and tough.” 

Sturgill Simpson told Saving Country Music about the album, “This is a much more honest representation of who I am, at least right now. I have the attention span of a 4-year-old. But I love all music, especially old soul and R&B, and traditional country. And I try to incorporate all those elements. This band is just where I am right now.”

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August 2013: Playing the Grand Ole Opry

Sturgill Simpson is signed by the prestigious Paradigm Talent Agency for booking. Soon Simpson is opening shows for Dwight Yoakam and Charlie Robison.

Strugill makes his debut on the most hallowed stage in country music at the Grand Ole Opry on August, 23rd, 2013, as an invite from Marty Stuart. In a statement about the honor Sturgill said in part,

I credit my 82 yr. old Grandfather Dood Fraley more than anyone on Earth for, among many other things, my musical education. He’s the greatest man I’ve ever known…Period.

He told me, “That’s it bud..that’s the biggest honor in Country music..that’s what you’ve been working so hard for all these years whether you knew it or not. If you never sing or record another note, you ain’t gotta prove nothing else to nobody after that. Don’t worry about what they’re doing now, just go do it your way and I’ll be right there with ya.”

Read Sturgill’s full statement

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May 2014: The Release of Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

on May 6th, Sturgill performs on the BBC’s Later … with Jools Holland.

On May 13th, Sturgill Simpson releases his second album, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, and the rout is on. All the touring, accolades, and critical acclaim see the independent country artist debut at at #11 on the Top Country Albums chart, and #59 on the all-genre Billboard 200.

NPR debuts Metamodern Sounds as part of their “First Listen” series, and The New York Times says, “Sturgill Simpson is a top-notch miserablist, from the lyrics that pick at scabs to his defeated vocal tone, leaky even when he’s singing at full power. His second album, “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music” (High Top Mountain), is a triumph of exhaustion, one of the most jolting country albums in recent memory, and one that achieves majesty with just the barest of parts.”

Many other periodicals and websites give the album top critical praise, and his music begins to get the attention of the mainstream country music industry. Sturgill Simpson has arrived.

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June 2014: Tour Dates with Zac Brown Announced

Sturgill Simpson is booked to open for Zac Brown on select arena and amphitheater tour dates. It is revealed later that Zac Brown personally requested Sturgill to join the tour last minute.

Sturgill’s wife gives birth to their first child.

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Photo from Sturgill Simpson Facebook Page


July 2014: Plays David Letterman

on July 14th, Sturgill Simpson joins the list of independent country and roots artists David Letterman has allowed on his stage to make their network television debut. “Welp, I can retire now,” Sturgill says.

Let’s hope he doesn’t.

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Jun
11

Album Review – Sturgill Simpson’s “High Top Mountain”

June 11, 2013 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  34 Comments

sturgill-simpsonReal country fans are just going to have to get comfortable with the new reality that their favorite music is on a surprising uptick. No more mopey faces, no more plotting midnight graffiti runs to Music Row as retribution for keeping your favorite artists down. Regardless of what kind of filth is still transpiring on country radio, a new spring of vibrant, independent country music is blooming and finding surprising support, and there may not be a better example of this new season than Kentucky native Sturgill Simpson and his breakout album High Top Mountain.

The front man for the wanton and reckless Sunday Valley project is all growns up, and lays down a fiercely traditional, hardcore honky tonk album slathered with steel guitar, country keys from Hall of Famer Hargus “Pig” Robbins, and whatever else is called for and in ample measure to give life and color to Sturgill’s blue ribbon offerings.

There’s very little that is gray about the Sturgill Simpson experience. Mid tempos and mild themes need not apply. Either he’s barreling down on you like a freight train at a breakneck tempo, or he’s grabbing hold of ventricles and tugging hard. This isn’t too far off from the Sunday Valley approach, but like Sturgill says in the High Top Mountain song “Time After All,” “I’m sick of the clanging, can’t take no more banging. I’m tired of yelling over the top of that backline.” With Sunday Valley, you heard. With Sturgill Simpson, you listen. Subtly and the importance of songcraft is more respected on High Top Mountain, without fully tempering the fever that still boils behind Sturgill’s eyes.

The Waylon comparisons already abound with High Top Mountain, in both style and sound, which shows you that the slightly more settled approach to the music did its job of emphasizing the best parts of Sturgill’s music instead of having them blurred out. Still the songs of High Top Mountain come at you hard and fast, touching every point on the emotional array, and shifting gears from slow and sad, to fast and frenzied with surprising alacrity.

sturgill-simpson-high-top-mountainThough established Sturgill fans may prefer a different version of the “Life Ain’t Fair and the World Is Mean” opening track, fresh ears will feast on its cunning lyrics and crafty pedal-steel break. “Railroad of Sin” and “You Can Have The Crown” are downright barn burning good times, with the latter providing what may turn out be one the album’s biggest lyrical takeaways, “So Lord if I could just get me a record deal, I might not have to worry about my next meal, but I’d still be trying to figure out what the hell rhymes with ‘Bronco.’”

The other side of the spectrum is represented in the heartfelt “Water in a Well,” and the deeply-personal tribute “Hero.” There’s a lot of coal dust smeared on these songs, from the opening track that talks about Sturgill’s mother being a coal miner’s daughter, to the heart-wrenching “Old King Coal.” It’s seems only appropriate that the heart of High Top Mountain would be a big black nugget considering Sturgill’s Kentucky roots.

And the scariest thing is that however good this album is, Sturgill probably still left some talent on the shelf. He’ll tell you his guitar playing is novice compared to the caliber of pickers he’s surrounded with in his new home of Nashville, but I have to respectfully disagree. Though technically he may be junior to some players, when it comes to taste and originality, Sturgills bluegrass-inspired style of takeoff Telecaster is something few of the slickest session players could ever touch. You only get a nibble of this when Sturgill is holding an acoustic, but it’s give and take because the acoustic allows you to focus more on the song.

Not every track on High Top Mountain is world beating. “Sitting Here Without You” seems a little cliché. Some ears may get the wrong impression from the use of Mellotron on some tracks—an analog and mechanical tape-based organ-like instrument that re-creates the sound of an orchestra. Some may mistake it for synthesizer, some may think it hits too close to “The Nashville Sound.” But for those who pick up on it and identify the tone, it’s a cool little treat that gives High Top Mountain a vintage country feel without the stuffiness of an actual string section, elevating the cool factor of this album even further.

Emerging from the coal region of Kentucky, to working on trains in Utah, to Nashville, TN to tackle the nasty business of trying to make it in music, Sturgill’s path has been windy, but like the stitches on the cover of High Top Mountain, it has lead to a sunny ending of seeing the realizations of his dreams—dreams that we all benefit from in the form of a great new gift of country music.

Two guns up!

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Purchase High Top Mountain from Sturgill Simpson

Preview & Purchase Tracks on Amazon

Dec
28

Sturgill Simpson Retools for 2013 (& Live Review)

December 28, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  10 Comments

sturgill-simpsonAbout this time last year, I was telling everybody that 2012 was going to be the year of Kentucky-born and Nashville-based singer / songwriter Sturgill Simpson. “Mark my words,” I said. He had a brand new, professionally-made album in the can featuring recently-minted Country Hall of Famer Hargus “Pig” Robbins amongst other notable contributors, and had signed with same manager as Marty Stuart and Kathy Mattea.

Now, sitting a stone’s throw from the end of 2012, it might be appropriate for me to eat those words. Or maybe even more appropriately, dig hard with the pen and overwrite that last “2″ into a “3″.

It’s not that Sturgill didn’t have any highlights of 2012, not the least being opening for Dwight Yoakam in Mission, TX on December 20th for a huge, sold-out crowd. He also shared the stage with Jamey Johnson, and singed up with the huge Paradigm booking agency that books Dwight and fair number of other high-profile acts. It’s just that except for the single “Life Ain’t Fair & The World Is Mean,” that long-rumored album never saw the light of day.

“I’m real picky,” the shy, enigmatic, and reserved Sturgill explained when I went to see him play a last-minute pickup show at Austin’s west-side Rattle Inn on December 22nd. He’d been dodging my requests for an interview for days. “Let the music speak for itself,” he told me. But he did let me know that the plan at the moment was for the album to come out in June-ish. Despite the delays, his droopy eyes, and his hard-to-read countenance, he seemed really excited…inside.

I’ve been open about my reservations about the retooled Sturgill Simpson following the dissolving of his previous band Sunday Valley. Putting an acoustic guitar in his hands seemed like such a travesty after experiencing Sturgill in the raw with the electric guitar and the country music power trio. He played a Telecaster like nobody I had ever seen, like it was a bluegrass instrument, but with the liquid energy of amplified tone.

But however exciting it was, it was a hollow experience for Sturgill in the long run. It wasn’t him. I’ve described Sturgill in the past a a 5-tool musician. He can play, he can sing, he can perform, he can write, and he’s a good dude. But the balls-out presentation was diminishing attention from the songs and Sturgill’s singing. Many songwriters covet the idea of being listened to instead of heard, but Sturgill actually has the talent to have one of his best tools taken out of his hands and still command an audience.

sturgill-simpson-rattle-inn-austinMake no mistake, the energy of Sturgill Simpson is still there, and in full force, including in his acoustic playing which is still highlighted by flourishes of Kentuckian bluegrass brilliance. But you can’t just sit back and wait for your face to be melted any more. Now Sturgill is making you listen, betting himself to see if he can hush a room, and winning that bet. By his end of his set at The Rattle Inn, I almost felt embarrassed for holding an initial grudge against acoustic Sturgill. He showed me, and so did his excellent band consisting of Miles Miller on drums, Adam Davis on telecaster, and late-era Sunday Valley holdover Kevin Black on bass.

They played a 90-minute set that consisted of quite a few covers from Texas artists to pay homage to where they were. Willie Nelson’s “Devil In A Sleeping Bag” was a special treat, and so was Waylon’s “Waymore’s Blues.” He also played some of the new material, and a very special 6-minute+ version of “Oh, Sarah.”

So in conclusion, screw Sunday Valley, Stugill Simpson solo is better…. Actually I’m kidding. What I really found was that inexplicably you can both love what Sunday Valley was, and what Sturgill Simpson has become. And don’t go thinking we’ll never see Sturgill with an electric guitar again. I think he just wanted to put the past behind and leave no doubt that what he is doing now is a new deal. And I for one am excited.

2013 friends, mark my words! 2013 will be the year of Sturgill Simpson.

Two guns up!

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Adam Davis, Kevin Black, Sturgill Simpson, and Miles Miller.

 

Apr
27

Sunday Valley Becomes ‘Sturgill Simpson & High Top Mountain Boys’

April 27, 2012 - By Trigger  //  News  //  16 Comments

Sturgill Simpson

There’s been a lot of flux in the independent country world over the last few days. The first bombshell was that bass player, de-facto manager, and right hand man of Whitey Morgan for years, Jeremy Mackinder was leaving Whitey’s band The 78′s.

Now Sturgill Simpson, the dynamic force behind the band Sunday Valley, who is on the tail end of completing what Sturgill hopes to be his breakthrough album, has decided to go with a name change to “Sturgill Simpson & The High Top Mountain Boys” out of respect to the side players who are no longer with the band. From Sunday Valley’s Facebook Page:

Welp kids,…Lord knows it’s been a long road with a great many tears of joy and sadness and some very hard lessons learned but I know I speak for all four original members of Sunday Valley when I say we gave it everything we had and then some. Out of respect and honor for Billy, Gerald, & Eddie and the sacrifices we all have made for this thing over the years, I could never under any circumstances feel good about continuing my musical journey under the Sunday Valley name.

There are no words I can think of that would possibly express our love and appreciation for you all and your support over the last 8 years…it means more than you could ever know. New band, new sound, new album coming very soon…as they say, the next chapter is always better, that’s why we turn the page.

“To the wind and on to heaven…”

I would not characterize this as a breakup. The side men of Sunday Valley have been in a state of flux over the last few years. It is always difficult to run under a band name instead of the individual’s name when a band is really one person’s musical vision instead of a collaboration between a group of people like in the traditional band setup. This new name allows the spotlight to be on Sturgill Simpson where it belongs, while also preserving the legacy of the side players that have made up “Sunday Valley” over the years.

The only potential drama here is that all the burgeoning momentum that was building behind the name “Sunday Valley” has to now traverse the sometimes shaky ground of a name change. At the same time, it is better to make the change now instead of after the new album comes out and even more momentum builds behind a doomed band name.

“I am attempting to make what I believe to be the purest, most uncompromising Hard Country album anyone has heard in 30 years,” Sturgill tells Saving Country Music, “And it will be an effort to revitalize the neo-traditional movement spearheaded by two of my idols and fellow Kentuckians (Skaggs & Whitley) back in the 80′s. This record is coming straight from my heart and it is both an effort to pay homage to my family and the music they raised me on as well as my own attempt to return in my heart to a home that no longer exists.”

“High Top Mountain is located near the Kentucky River on Stray Branch in Breathitt County, Kentucky and is home to High Top Cemetery, the final resting place of many past generations of my family.”

Sunday Valley may be gone, but the constant is still Sturgill’s singular talent as a songwriter, performer, and guitar player, and as long as that remains in place, the music will sound great under any name.

Apr
23

“Go Ready” Bands in Country Music Right Now

April 23, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  59 Comments

Hellbound Glory

Hollywood seems obsessed with finding talent among the masses with their silly reality show contests like American Idol and The Voice, when in reality there’s a boatload of talent just sitting there waiting to be discovered right under their surgically-crafted, cosmetically-sculptured noses. But of course they don’t want to actually find any talent, because then what would they have to sell commercials for boner pills and high fructose corn syrup in the next season?

So here’s a list of some bands that are go ready, right now, no excuses. These are not fey, artsy acts, goat worshipers, or punk gone country screamo shows. These are performers that even using Music Row’s shallow approach to music, are marketable, young, hip, with hit-caliber songs ready for country radio, excellent live shows, and would immediately improve the quality and appeal of the genre.

This is just my list, admittedly short, so if you have another artist in mind, please use the comments section to share. And no, this is not about selling out stadiums, it is about creating financial sustainability for talented artists that deserve it.

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Sunday Valley

If music was roulette and Sunday Valley were a square, I’d push my pile of chips and bet on them all in. Sturgill Simpson and the boys are in the studio as we speak making the “Album of their dreams” as Sturg puts it, that will include a guest appearance by Hargus “Pig” Robbins among others, just announced as a 2012 inductee to the Country Music Hall of Fame. But what puts this band over the top is their live performance that harkens back to how one must have felt when Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughn took the stage before their break: an unbelievable, dynamic, jaw-dropping experience that leaves you awe-stricken from the combination of originality and sheer talent. Buy your Sunday Valley stock now and watch it rise.

“2012 will be the year of Sunday Valley”. –that’s my quote.

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Hellbound Glory

Hellbound Glory stock has been slowly rising over the last few years, but is still nowhere near where it needs to be. Leroy Virgil is like the Chris LeDoux and Keith Whitley of our time all wrapped up into one. The sideways smile, the legendary-caliber songwriting, there’s no excuses why Hellbound Glory shouldn’t be selling out mid-sized venues and making a fair living playing the type of country music that country music needs. At the least Music Row is a fool for not poaching the Hellbound Glory discography and Leroy Virgil’s brain for his songwriting gold to slot with their already established artists. Every day that goes by that Hellbound Glory remains mired in the underground is another day that country music isn’t putting its best foot forward, and is not making the best case of why it is an important, relevant genre.

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Turnpike Troubadours

One of the best bands to see live, and Red Dirt DJ’s will tell you songs like “Every Girl” are great for radio. They have a new album coming out on May 8th called Goodbye Normal Street, and let’s hope this is the one that puts them over the top, and past the boundaries of the Texoma corridor. Unlike some of the other artists on this list who find themselves in their mid 30′s, where it feels like the window could be closing for them in the coming years, the Troubadour’s window feels like it is just opening. Potential has always been one of their best assets. Now it’s time for that potential to be cashed in for solid growth and success.

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Whitey Morgan & The 78′s

When the question is posed of who is gonna fill the shoes of the true Outlaws and honky-tonkers, from the ones passed on like Waylon and Paycheck, to the ones going gray like Dale Watson and Marty Stuart, trust me, the answer is not going to be Justin Moore. Whitey Morgan & Co. are the true connection, the current torch bearers of the ballsy, twang-heavy true country sound that would expose all the pop country laundry list fluff from the first listen if only given a chance. Similar to how Bloodshot Records label mate Justin Townes Earle has popped in the last few years, now it is Whitey’s turn. Dues have been been paid. Now it’s time to cash in.

Young Up-And-Comers to Keep an Eye On

Paige Anderson

Paige Anderson’s ceiling is limitless. Amazing voice with natural pitch and control, and a highly skilled flat-picking guitar player, there’s nothing naturally holding Paige back. And as one of the young leaders in West Coast bluegrass circuits, and the leader of her family’s band “Anderson Family Bluegrass”, she’s shown the ambition and drive an artist needs in this competitive music environment.  Young, beautiful, talented, there’s no excuses here, Paige Anderson is ripe to capture America’s heart.

Wyatt Maxwell

Another heartthrob and superpicker bound for great heights and who started out in a family band, Mad Max & The Wild Ones. A natural leader, he’s been out before paying dues by playing lead guitar for the legendary Wayne “The Train” Hancock and can slide into just about any band or vintage style of music and make it shine. The look and technique are all there, but what puts Wyatt into elite company is his sense of style and taste. As a guitar player or as a band leader, the sky is the limit for young Maxwell.

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Another name I must mention is Ruby Jane, who will unmistakably be huge in music someday, so unmistakably in fact it doesn’t even seem germane to put her on this list. She has moved more into the jazz and singer/songwriter world in recent months and years after her time touring with Willie Nelson and Asleep At The Wheel, but is still a name all lovers of great music should keep up with.

Also the beautiful and talented Rachel Brooke may be a little fey for the wide masses, but her voice and talent is nonetheless undeniable. Just like how Emmylou Harris was the hottest commodity in female harmony singers to put on your album for so many years, Rachel could fulfill this role with the pain in her voice and such mastery of taste and control, while exposing her great original songs to the greater world.

Jan
3

What 21 Artists Are Planning To Do In 2012

January 3, 2012 - By Trigger  //  News  //  17 Comments

I think at this point it is pretty much a forgone conclusion that in 2012 we’re all going to die of death. You know, that whole Mayan thing. But I thought just to be on the safe side, just in case we all don’t die, we’ll probably want to listen to some music, so wouldn’t it be cool to know what some of your favorite artists have planned for 2012. So I asked them to tell us in their own words.

Leroy Virgil of Hellbound Glory is…

…working on a new project we’re just gonna call ‘merica. Gonna come out in chapters or volumes, haven’t decided. Songs about real ‘merica. Shitload of new songs. Also shit load of touring. Nationwide February and March.

Possessed by Paul James is…

…balancing two aging dogs, two little sons, 500 Elementary aged children, 4 chickens in coop & 1 debilitated claw toe while releasing a 10″ LP and new full length album. We also hope to be coming to your town whether in France, Tennessee or Canada. RAR RAR 2012!

Roger Alan Wade is…

…recording a new album, “The Last Request of Elijah Rose” – it’s a prequel to “Deguello Motel”. -I’ve got the songs written and just been playing them at home and sneaking a few in on shows getting ‘em broke in for the studio. This one feels good. And hittin’ the road a little more this coming year.

McDougall is…

…going to put out a new album, spend thousands of miles on the road, and meet the girl of his dreams (not necessarily in that order).

Ray Wylie Hubbard is…

Even as a child Ray Wylie Hubbard sensed the need for a hymnal for grifters. In 2012, he will release an album entitled “The Grifter’s Hymnal” consisting of 11 new original songs and a ringo starr cover; therefore fulfilling a life long quest and hopefully defying the Mayan calender.

Bob Wayne is…

…rollin till the wheels fall off …..(insert train whistle)!!! Yeeeehaaw!!!

Rachel Brooke is…

…heading back into the studio to release an analog full length record. And touring more. Also heading to the west coast where the 2012 earthquake will probably kill me.

Sturgill Simpson of Sunday Valley is…

…planning to win…period.

Ruby Jane is…

…going to remember the importance of loved ones and of being there for them no matter the circumstances. That is the most important thing I leaned from 2011.

Whitey Morgan & The 78′s are…

…gonna play over 200 shows, just like we always do. See you at the honky tonk.

Adam Lee & the Dead Horse Sound Company are…

…already hard at work on a new release. We’re also hitting the road once the snow thaws. IN,IL,OK,AR,LA, and TX are up first. We’ll see ya this Spring!

Jayke Orvis is…

…hittin’ the studio, hittin’ Europe, and hittin’ Baby Genius in the penis.

Austin Lucas is…

…working on a follow up to “A New Home in the Old World”,  tentatively with Tennessee legends Glossary as my backup band. I’ll also be heading into the studio with my family this summer for our first ever, official “Lucas Family Band” album. Heading out on the road in a few weeks.

James Hunnicutt is…

…going to kill the world with kindness in 2012 in a rootsy, metal sorta’ way ;)

JB Beverley of the Wayward Drifters is…

…2012 is going to be a big one for me. I have the new Wayward Drifters record, my solo project, the Little White Pills, and Ghostdance. No rest for the weary nor the wicked!

Peewee Moore is…

…releasing his 2nd full length all original album in the Spring to be followed by a 100 + American City Support Tour.

The Ten Foot Polecats are…

…releasing their 2nd album in spring/early summer and will be touring the west coast, southwest, and southeast in early August and a possible movie appearance may occur if all goes well.

Slackeye Slim is…

… planning on doing a bunch of writing, and trying to get a band together in time for a summer tour of the US.

Lonesome Wyatt of Those Poor Bastards is…

…praying for the destruction of mankind and releasing many more hit songs.

Lone Wolf is…

…gonna be working on a new album which should be ready by February, touring the whole southeast with four other acts on a tour named “The Dukes of Juke Tour”, and also will be playing austin in march. His schedule is getting busier by the day…thats right folks, keep yer eyes and ears peeled cause the one man banjo speed demon may be coming to a town near you!!!!!!!!!

Derek Dunn is…

…putting out “Poisonous Serpents”, and touring around the U.S. and Europe.

Olds Sleeper is…

…releasing an album on Sunday, January 1, 2012 in preparation for the intended self-pocolypse of said year. “New Years Poem” will be free.

Willy Tea Taylor is…

…going to throw a perfect 9 innings during the wiffle ball game of his life.

Dec
26

Album Review – The Kentucky Struts “Year of the Horse”

December 26, 2011 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  8 Comments

Well here it is, the end of December. The last few moments of 2011 are counting down, and yet completely unbeknown to us, right under our noses, one of the most expansive, imaginative, engaging, and inspiring projects all year is finally coming into full bloom. It is called Year of the Horse by the Cold Spring, KY-based Kentucky Struts and this isn’t just your run-of-the-mill album folks, this is a multi-layered project that incorporates music, visual art, authentic Kentucky culture, all with an altruistic aim.

When The Kentucky Struts had amassed 12 new recordings for an album, instead of releasing them all at once, they decided to release one in each month of 2011, and then have a visual artist interpret each song into a work of art. Some of the artists they collaborated with include Joshua Black Wilkins, a musician himself and a stunning photographer, and Keith Neltner, probably best known for his work on Hank3 album covers. The most inspiring part is a portion of the sale of the songs, posters, and this album go to Speak Up for Horses, a horse rescue foundation in Falmouth, KY.

You can figure out the most creative way to release your music, and have the proceeds go to a charitable cause, but in the end if the music isn’t engaging, it may all be for naught. A high-minded project like this calls for a high degree of execution in the song craft, and that is exactly what The Kentucky Struts deliver in Year of the Horse. The music is par excellence, in the songwriting, originality, and production.

It’s hard to call this music “country” in the traditional sense, it has more of a country-inspired classic rock feel to it, but in the current post-rock age where the term “roots” has come to encompass a more broad spectrum, it fits in there quite nicely. There’s also a slightly progressive edge to it, and a good amount of darkness, though the songs never stray too far from Kentucky in their themes. Call it Kentucky roots with a progressive approach. This is illustrated best on the super hit of the album “Ava Estelle”, a song whose music is dominant enough to debut on mainstream radio, and whose story is about a gun-toting Granny. This song and a few others on Year of the Horse make you shake your head from how great they are, and are damning evidence against the industry, proving the only reason songs like these don’t land all over radio is a lack of industry connections.

Front man Todd Lipscomb has a little bit of Tom Petty in him, but not too much. A sign of good roots music is when you can keep your sound fresh, yet keep a familiarity in it, and that is what The Kentucky Struts strike here. And if you’re from Kentucky, you have to be able to bring it, and bring it hard. You won’t find many average pickers or boring acts from The Bluegrass State. Bred in the region that birthed some of the strongest string-based maestros the world has ever seen, as well as some of the most dynamic performers like Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers and Sunday Valley, The Kentucky Struts hold their own, and carve out their own niche.

The originality of Year of the Horse is rabid. It’s been a long time since an album this fresh sounding found its way in front of me. It has that one important earmark of a landmark album: accessibility without sacrificing soul. I feel I have let down the sainted Saving Country Music reader by not bringing this project to your attention earlier, but I feel like since it took a whole year to release Year of the Horse, we should be given another year to be able to explore it and all it’s creative and altruistic tentacles. In fact this music is so good, I think The Kentucky Struts had no choice but to get high-minded in how they released it. Just a regular old CD release would seem insulting to the content and vision.

You should pick up Year of the Hose, for yourself, for the horses, and for Kentucky.

Two guns way up!

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Preview Tracks & Purchase directly from The Kentucky Struts

If you purchase the album on CD from The Kentucky Struts, you will receive a randomly-selected cover from one of the original artist prints that are part of this project. You can see all the prints, and follow the progression of the Year of the Horse project on The Kentucky Struts blog.

Dec
8

Saving Country Music’s Essential Albums for 2011

December 8, 2011 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  46 Comments

So here it is, the list of albums Saving Country Music deems essential for 2011 listening. Please note this list only includes albums that have been reviewed so far. There are a few more good and important albums in 2011 that have yet to be reviewed, and there is a list of some of them at the bottom. Aside from the first few albums mentioned, which should be considered close runners up to the SCM Album of the Year (which includes albums not on this list), the albums are in no special order.

And as always, your feedback is encouraged. What are your essential albums? What did we miss? What was released in 2011 that deserves a review? Please leave your feedback below.

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Rachel BrookeDown In The Barnyard

Every year, there is going to be one album that gets screwed out of being a nominee for Album of the Year. Even if I double the amount of nominees, still the line is drawn somewhere, and that next album on the list is the odd one out. Last year it was Jayke Orvis’s It’s All Been Said. This year it is this amazing offering from Rachel Brooke. Call it 2011′s “Most Essential” album.

You can tell Rachel has studied many modes of classic country, not just some. I hear Charlie Louvin, not just Hank Williams. I hear The Carter Family, not just Johnny Cash. And the themes are not just from the 1950′s, but the 1850′s as well. There’s no big branches for you to grab on to and say, “Hell yeah, this is the kind of country I like!” but the originality embellishes the album to such a more magnanimous degree. (read full review)

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The Boomswagglers- Bootleg Beginnings

Another album I wouldn’t argue with you over if you wanted to call it the best of the year. One of the most authentic albums of 2011 for sure.

The music is wildly entertaining and deceptively deep. If you’re going to be a Boomswagglers song, someone’s got to die, and likely a woman. Some may find this silly, monotonous, or even offensive, but you have to listen beyond the lyrics, and unlock the carnal wisdom that is hidden in these songs. They were Boomswagglers, and that low form of living is ever present in every note on this album.(Read full review)

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Lone WolfLone Wolf OMB

Probably the album with the most original approach in all of 2011; something nobody else has done before. And at the same time, it is the most viscerally engaging. Excellent album you’d be foolish to overlook.

The first time I turned this album on, I was out of my chair, stomping my foot on the floor, banging my head, making a complete ass out of myself for the entertainment of the four walls of the Saving Country Music headquarters. It made a music virgin out of me again. (read full review)

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Lucky Tubb & The Modern Day TroubadoursDel Gaucho

One of the best of the year, and one of the best from Lucky Tubb. In Del Gaucho, you really feel like he has found his voice and sound.

So many other artists and bands, to take this same selection of covers and originals and record them, it would just come across as cheesball retro country with it’s anachronistic language and outmoded style. But Lucky Tubb has a swagger that makes him immune to such concerns. To him, this isn’t playing country like it used to be done, this is playing country like it is supposed to be done. (Read full review)

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Husky BurnetteFacedown in the Dirt

The best album of 2011 from the Deep Blues side of things in my opinion.

This is music to get you moving. I can’t listen to this album at home. I’ll get flying around and break things. I can only listen while driving, with a foot pumping on the gas pedal to the groove. If somebody was listening to this album and wasn’t at least bobbing their head or tapping their foot, the next thing I’d do is put a mirror in front if their mouth. (read full review)

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Nick 13Nick 13

This solo country project from psychobilly’s Tiger Army is certainly essential, and one of those albums that was not on your radar at the beginning of the year, but you’re still listening to at the end of it, especially the essential songs of “101,” “Gambler’s Life,” and an updated version of “In The Orchard”.

With Nick 13′s first self-titled release, he hasn’t just stuck his foot in the door of country music, he’s kicked the door down. This is a good one folks! The California native’s brand of country is hard, with a lot of Western influences mixed in to the instrumentation and lyrics, contrasted with his soft and delicate, but deliberate voice. (read full review)

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Ugly Valley BoysDouble Down

Another surprise album out of left field that has become one of the year’s best.

So many bands try to imbibe their music with a vintage feel and Western space by using copious amounts of chorus or reverb. Guitar player, singer, and songwriter Ryan Eastlyn takes the road less traveled with the use of moaning, melodic chorus lines that are so excellent, they vault this band from a relative unknown to one responsible for one of the better albums put out so far in 2011. (read full review)

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Cody Canada & The DepartedThis Is Indian Land

I was surprised to find out a few months after reviewing this album that not many Cross Canadian Ragweed fans, or critics for that matter have much use for this album. I have to respectfully disagree. Quit wanting what you’re used to expecting from Cody Canada, and start listening to what he is offering. There is a little fat here, but This Is Indian Land also has some of the best songs put out all year.

This is one of the funnest, freshest, well-written, well-produced albums to come out this year. There’s good songs, good performances, and it’s bold. While still sounding relevant and un-obscure, Cody and The Departed were able to stay out of the well-worn grooves that run like tired veins through so much of mainstream music. (read full review)

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The Dirt DaubersWake Up, Sinners!

Along with Larry & His Flask’s All That We Know, I’m afraid these are the two albums being grossly overlooked this year.

I love this album. You may look at the track listing and ask yourself why we need yet another version of “Wayfaring Stranger”. The answer is because the great Col. JD Wilkes has never done one before. A perfect mix of classics and originals, don’t just pigeon hole this project as just another rag tag bluegrass bit, there a lot of hot jazz, rockabilly and blues mixed in with the old time string band approach. (Read full review)

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Larry & His FlaskAll That We Know

Larry & His Flask from the ultra hippie nouveau town of Bend, OR have been making the rounds on the live circuit for years now, leaving legions of disciples and gallons of sweat behind at every stop. Putting out as much energy as any band has in the history of ever, and a lineup that necessitates shoving multiple tables together at every restaurant the tour van stops at, LAHF’s live show is impressionable to say the least.

Along with all the other elements, LAHF build their music using dark cords and unusual, unintuitive changes and progressions that give them a unique sound beyond any traditional string or punk music. (Read full review)

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Willy Tea Taylor- 4 Strings

If you’re a tragic, tragic audiophile like myself, then you understand just what a blessing it is when out of the blue you discover an artist that really speaks to you, and it opens a brand new vein of music for you to enjoy for years to come. This is the experience most people come away with when hearing Willy Tea Taylor for the first time.

Like so many albums that take the stripped down approach, there is just less to criticize, allowing the pureness of the music to flow. I cannot give you one reason not to like Willy Tea Taylor or 4 Strings, only reasons you’d be a fool for not loving it. (Read full review)

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Slim Cessna’s Auto ClubUnentitled

When this album came out early in the year, it was the frontrunner for Album of the Year. At the end of the year, it still holds up. Slim Cessna is not for everyone, and his take on pop music may make this album even more obscure, but it is nonetheless genius and engaging.

At first I didn’t know what to make of this album. In places, this is the most accessible, most non-dark music they have ever done. There are many bands that if they had put out an album like this, grumbles of “going mainstream” or “selling out” would be heard. But The Auto Club is so weird, so fey to begin with, being more normal actually makes them even more weird than they were before, adding to the mystique and mythos behind the band. (read full review)

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Hank3Guttertown

Still can’t get into Ghost To A Ghost, the first album of this double album set, but the second album is solid from beginning to end.

The first record in the 4 record salvo from Hank3 Ghost to a Ghost felt very much like business as usual in the post-Straight to Hell era. But Guttertown is where Hank3 gets it right by doing the same thing he did in the early and mid oughts, following his heart, defying any expectations for sound and genre, and letting his creative passion flow. Simply put, this is the best album Hank3′s put out since his 2006 opus. (Read full review)

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Jason Boland & The StragglersRancho Alto

One of the standouts in both Red Dirt and real country for 2011.

The heavy thematic focus on Texas and Oklahoma in Red Dirt music is what has made the movement strong throughout that region. It’s also what keeps it from progressing beyond. I’ve always believed that good songwriting allows you to look past proper names, and delve into the meaning of what a songwriter is attempting to convey. Jason Boland does this in Rancho Alto. (Read full review)

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Scott H. BiramBad Ingredients

When it comes to one man bands, Scott H. Biram is the franchise. He is the top of the heap, the one that inspired so many others. He’s tussled with semi trucks and spilled his guts out on the highway just like he’s spilled his guts out on countless stages all across the Western world until he earned that glorious ‘H’ in the middle of his name.

Biram may deliver his best album yet, and possibly one of the best albums in this calendar year, buoyed by one of the year’s best songs in the aforementioned “Victory Song”. With Bad Ingredients, Scott H. Biram simply delivers. (read full review)

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Tom WaitsBad As Me

One of the most pressing questions I’ve seen about his music in the context of his new album Bad As Me is if it should be considered “roots” or “Americana.” 7 years ago, when Waits put out his last real original album, I would have probably said no, but loaded with qualifiers. Today my answer would be “absolutely.”

What can I say, it’s Tom Waits, and he’s better than everyone else. It’s pretty much unfair and bullshit, but that’s just the way it is. All other artists, back to the drawing board with you. There has never been another artist worthy of the title of “transcendent” than Tom Waits. (Read full review)

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Olds Sleeper – I Will Follow You To Jail

Olds has a few other albums out in 2011 including Plainspoken which SCM has yet to review, but I Will Follow You To Jail may be the best primer to get you in touch with this genuine and prolific songwriter.

Unless you frequent a few small music circles in the underground world, you may have never heard of the artist Olds Sleeper, but that doesn’t diminish the argument one can make for him being one of the best songwriters of our generation. Of course, saying anyone is the “best” of anything is always disputable, but numbers are not, and by the numbers, Olds is indisputably one of the most prolific songwriters out there. (Read full review)

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Gillian WelchThe Harrow & The Harvest

I firmly believe that one of the problems with modern music is that there’s too much of it. So to see Gillian Welch wait 7 years to put out an album, is refreshing, and wise. But time and patience don’t guarantee a good album. What does is excellent songwriting, and that is exactly what Gillian delivers in The Harrow & The Harvest.

This album is one of those that needs multiple listens before you can fully appreciate it, but once it sticks to your bones, not listening to it enough will not be an issue, because you might need a pry bar to get it out of your player. (Read full review)

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Little Lisa DixieLittle Lisa Dixie

One of the few that made the Essential List that was not rated “Two guns up,” but belongs here from the strength of the songs.

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. (read full review)

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Bob WayneOutlaw Carnie

The first thing you need to appreciate about Outlaw Carnie is that it is country. Forget that it’s on a metal label, and that Hank III’s name is being put out there for context. There’s no fusing of metal and country here. There’s no sludgy BC Rich or Flying V guitars, no screamo, cookie monster lyrics. There’s banjo, fiddle, dobro, upright bass, brushes on snare, if there’s any drums at all.

I would assert that Outlaw Carnie is better than good. It is great, and worthy of affording Bob Wayne the much wider audience that his music deserves. (Read full review)

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Jimbo MathusConfederate Buddha

There’s no pretentiousness in Confederate Buddha, no premeditated attempt to appeal to demographics. Just like Gram once explained to Emmylou about country music, the beauty of Jimbo’s songwriting is in the simplicity.

Confederate Buddha is yet another exercise in what Jimbo Mathus does best: Delving auspiciously into various styles of classic American music, while blurring the lines between them and injecting his deep-rooted Mississippi blood. It continues and perpetuates the music mythos of Mathus as a genuine student and steward of American roots music, and a Mississippi and National treasure. (Read full review)

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Sunday ValleyTo The Wind And On To Heaven

First and foremost Sunday Valley is a live band, and that is how they approached this recording. The guitar is unapologetically loud and heavy–kind of the Stevie Ray approach of simply not worrying about what people say, just continue to do it until that is what you’re known for. This is about the loudest and heaviest you will hear guitar that still has the identifiable country “twang.”

Sunday Valley is definitely worth your consideration and raising a blip on your radar, because mark my words, I have a feeling that this will not be the last time you will hear about this band, from me or others. (Read full review)

Other albums yet to be reviewed:

The Goddamn Gallows7 Devils

Lonesome Wyatt & The Holy SpooksHeartsick

The Damn QuailsDown The Hatch

Other albums many folks recommend & received positive SCM reviews:

Dale Watson – The Sun Sessions

Lydia LovelessIndestructible Machine

William Elliot WhitmoreField Songs

Eilen JewellQueen of the Minor Key

Dec
5

Saving Country Music’s Best Live Performances of 2011

December 5, 2011 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  41 Comments

When I sat down to name the top 10 live performances of 2011 as seen through my eyes, I didn’t know what a mess I was making for myself, and it wasn’t until then that I realized what a power packed year for live music it has been. My 10 stretched to 15 fast, and I’m still leaving out acts like Hellbound Glory, Lucky Tubb, and Ray Wylie Hubbard.  I will be the first to tell you that is bullsh, but the line had to be drawn somewhere.

Unlike the Album of the Year and Song of the Year, with my inability to see every live performance, this is simply based on my own experience. However live performances always go into consideration for other awards, like the three solid Hellbound Glory shows I saw were considered when nominating them for album of the year.

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15. Ruby Jane & Graham Reynolds – The Continental Club Austin, TX

I really enjoyed the Sundays each month that Ruby Jane played historic Gruene Hall down in the heart of Texas, but it was a random night at Austin’s Continental Club that gave rise to her standout performance of the year with composer Graham Reynolds. Ruby’s stellar musicianship and passion on fiddle is hard to match. The flourish at the end of this song was something to make the hair stand up on the back of your neck.

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14. Austin Lucas -ninebullets.net SXSW Showcase

This is what South by Southwest is designed to do: take people who are involved in the music business, and put them in front of the artists in intimate setting to bypass all the press release and preview track bullshit so you can decide if an artist is worthy of your attention or not. The Revolution Bar in gentrifying east Austin was the perfect place to catch an intimate performance by Austin Lucas, joined only by his sister Chloe who supplied sublime harmonies and banjo. His simple, honest, and heartfelt performance proved to me this was an artist I needed to bring into the Saving Country Music fold.

They screw up in the middle of this, and it is still awesome. Listen to how quiet it gets in the room at the end.

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13. Charlie ParrThe Pickathon Festival, Portland, OR

Speaking of hushing rooms and heartfelt songwriting, by evoking character through his music like few others I’ve ever seen, Charlie Parr and his guitar suck you in with songs of heartache sung with immeasurable soul. Charlie doesn’t sing about subjects in third person, he becomes the subject of his songs in an uncanny channeling of character, and makes the story flesh and bone right before your eyes.

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12. Whitey Morgan & The 78′sBloodshot Records SXSW Showcase

Whitey Morgan played the Pickathon Festival as well and had two excellent sets, but the standout show for me happened back in Austin during Bloodshot Records’ annual showcase at the Red Eye Fly, where Whitey Morgan & The 78′s were booked as the headliners. The sound was positively awful that night. The Waco Brothers played their whole set with the only working speakers being their monitors on stage. Meanwhile Whitey and the boys were sitting in their van, passing a bottle and anticipating a train wreck by the time they took the stage.

Whitey climbed on stage and took no prisoners, cussing and swearing the stage hands straight before the even did anything wrong. Bloodshot owner Nan had her face in her hands, worried Whitey was about to make a scene when what he was really doing was making sure the ship was righted before they started, and trust me, after Whitey put the fear of God in everyone, it was. Then they delivered the best set I have seen them play, and playing the headliner spot of the Bloodshot Records showcase, that is when I knew Whitey Morgan & The 78′s had arrived.

Here they are sharing the stage with legendary Eddie Spaghetti of the Supersuckers.

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11. Micah Schnabel of Two Cow Garage – ninebullets.net SXSW Showcase

Maybe not country, but nonetheless mind blowing was Micah Schnabel, who when PA issues kept his band Two Car Garage from plugging in, he grabbed his acoustic and did the solo thing like few others can. This guy is one of the most authentically-passionate performers on stage I’ve ever seen. As I like to say: if Possessed By Paul James gives birth on stage, Micah Schnabel commits suicide on stage.

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10. The Goddamn Gallows/Jayke Orvis/ James Hunicutt – Beerland, Austin, TX

I saw this same lineup, at the same place, two different times this year, and I still did not get my fill. The perfect traveling amalgam of music, it starts off with James Hunnicutt playing solo, then Jayke Orvis taking the stage with Hunnicutt, Fishgutz from The Gallows, and Joe Perreze on banjo making up the “Broken Band,” and then at some point they are all on stage as The Goddamn Gallows.

And then there’s fire.

Joined here on stage by Gary Lindsay.

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9. Slim Cessna’s Auto Club – SXSW Showcase @ Spiderhouse

For years, the two best bands to see live have been Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers and Denver, CO’s Slim Cessna’s Auto Club. In support of their new album Unentitled they made their way down to SXSW and played a set mixing their new pop mocking songs in with their long-time favorites. This band is mind blowing every time. (video is not the best; only one I could find from the show)

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8. Hank3Revival Fest – Austin, TX

In the middle of a nearly year-long hiatus from the road, Hank3 drove out to Austin for a one-off show at The Revival Festival, and it was a good one. Not having to save anything for the next day and having nothing to recover from the night before, and dragging the badass chicken-picking half-blind maestro Johnny Hiland with him out from Nashville, Hank3 threw down the best live show I’ve seen from him in the post-Joe Buck era. It was one for the ages.

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7. Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers / Hillbilly CasinoMuddy Roots Festival

To see either of these bands alone is an opportunity you cannot pass up. But to put them together back to back was a music cream dream come true. These two bands and their dynamic frontmen were instrumental in the revival of lower Broadway in Nashville, and the same dynamic that gave rise to the abominable frontman of lower Broadway was on display Sunday night at Muddy Roots.

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6. Lukas Nelson & The Promise of the RealWillie’s 4th of July Picnic, Ft. Worth, TX

Just about every one of Willie Nelson’s kids plays music in one capacity or another. How many do it well is another story. But Lukas Nelson and his band The Promise of the Real is the real deal my friends. Far beyond riding coattails or his daddy’s name, 2011 in many ways was a coming out party for Lukas Nelson, and his performance at the 2011 Willie’s 4th of July Picnic / Country Throwdown picnic proved why. The man simply stole the show.

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5.Various Artists – Muddy Roots Festival Late Night Jam

This might be the biggest live music memory of 2011, but without any specific artist to attribute it to, or any other real way to quantify it, I’m just not sure where to put it on this list. What I do know is when you get a legend like Wayne “The Train” Hancock leading JB Beverley, Banjer Dan, all of Hellbound Glory, and who knows else, it’s hard to leave it off the list. It may have not been pretty, but it certainly was legendary.

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4. Marty Stuart – Gruene Hall, Gruene, TX

This was the performance that convinced me that Marty Stuart might be the one to save country music (read full review). This wasn’t a punk gone country show, or a neo-traditional swing back bit, it was simply pure, true country, yet dripping with energy, an engaging nature, attitude, and gospel soul. And his band The Fabulous Superlatives might be one of the best collections of country talent ever assembled. Simply put, this was the best set of straightforward country I’ve seen in years.

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3. Possessed by Paul James – Muddy Roots Festival

First off, the fact that this moment sits at #3 for the year tells you just what a power packed year for music experiences in underground roots music 2011 has been, because really, this moment sets itself apart in the musical experiences of a lifetime.

I saw Possessed by Paul James play live 6 times from late 2010 until now, and in that period, I watched a rebirth of one of the most dynamic live performers I’ve ever seen. Voice issues put him on hiatus for a bit, and when he started performing again, there was a slight timidness, a lack of confidence in his new vocal reality he was struggling with. But over that period, the confidence and abandon came back in full force, to where now I cannot think of another solo performer I would place above him in ability and consistency. Possessed by Paul James delivers every time, and I have come to think of him as a true headliner, and a true legend in the live and recorded context. They say that Possessed By Paul James gives birth to his songs on stage. In 2011 we also saw a PPJ resurrection.

By the end of his Muddy Roots set, some folks were in tears, and everyone was talking about the mysterious burst of wind on that blisteringly hot day that hit the tent right as he began to play. Call that mysterious wind burst a sign of the divine, or quantify it by explaining the dramatic atmospheric wind shift that preceded a change from the hot weather to a tropical disturbance ushered in by Tropical Storm Lee that moved over middle Tennessee. Either way, PPJ channeled that energy through his music, and changed people’s lives.

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2. Sunday Valley – The Pickathon Festival, Portland, OR

I really don’t know what to say here, except that Sunday Valley was the best live band I discovered in 2011, and very possibly might be the best live band right now in all of country music. I know that may come across as a platitude, but I believe it, and to try and use words to describe their live experience almost seems insulting; you just have to experience it yourself. Sturgill Simpson is country’s version of Jimmy Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughan. Mark my words, 2012 might be the year of Sunday Valley. (read more in live review from Pickathon)

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1. Justin Townes Earle – The Parish, Austin, TX

I will start this off by saying I know some people will read this having also seen Justin Townes Earle at some point in 2011, and thinking I’m crazy for putting him here at the top spot. That is because JTE can be hit and miss live, because JTE has a drug and alcohol problem.

When I saw him live at SXSW in 2010, that is when I first recognized a sharp dropoff in the quality of his live show, and a few months later, called him out on it in connection with a rumored drug problem. Later that year in September, he got arrested in Indianapolis after tearing up a dressing room, and brawling with cops. Shortly therafter came a rehab stint, and by January of this year, he was back on tour. We know from subsequent stories that between now and January, JTE had another relapse with heroin, and a relapse while on tour in Australia, and I’ve heard mixed review of his live shows.

I am not omnipresent, so I can’t speak on all his performances, but in Austin, TX, Justin Townes Earle put on the performance of his lifetime. Nearly a year later, I still get chills as I sit here and write about it. Stone cold sober, having just been from hell and back, his own mortality and career hanging in the balance, Justin Townes Earle sang from the heart like nobody else I have ever seen, or possibly ever will see. Since the performance, I have had to come to grips with the fact that I may never be moved by another performance for the rest of my life, like the way I was moved that night. (read review)

Aug
10

Review – Pickathon Festival 2011

August 10, 2011 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  24 Comments

Man, I don’t even know where to start. Certainly Pickathon is an expensive festival in a severe corner of the country (just outside of Portland, OR), and these natural barriers will always keep some from being able to attend. But as far as creating the best environment to allow creativity to happen, and a model for other festivals and public events to learn and be inspired from, Pickathon has no peer, at least in the land that flies the stars and stripes. Was it the lineup I would have hand picked? No. But that’s the beauty of it. The lineup has a little something that everyone can get excited about to begin with, but it also forces you to step out of your little music reality tunnel, and discover something new.

The first discovery I made this year was Charlie Parr from Duluth, Minnesota. Though I’d heard the name and a few of the songs before, this is what a festival is for: slowing down and really paying attention to what an artist has to offer, and Charlie offered up some of the best songs of the weekend from a songwriting standpoint. Charlie is a brilliant lyricist that captures the pain and essence of low living. From the tales of dying and dismembered men, to the disenfranchised, homeless, lost souls and forgotten, they are all canonized through Charlie’s honesty and amazing clarity into perspective. Charlie doesn’t sing about subjects in third person, he becomes the subject of his songs in an uncanny channeling of character, and makes the story flesh and bone right before your eyes.

Next up was a band I’m quite familiar with, Whitey Morgan & The 78′s. My main interest was to see how a West Coast crowd handled this brand of honky tonk-inspired hard country served up with no frills. When they began their first show in the Galaxy Barn, it was maybe half full. But the signature bass drum beating like a beacon beckoned the Pickathon patrons from all corners, and by the end of the set, people were begging for a spot inside.

Only carrying a four piece on this trip forced Whitey into action playing his own leads, trading licks with the steel guitar player and showing tremendous taste. Whitey might like the freedom of having another Telecaster player, but when he’s knocking them out like he was this weekend, it’s hard to claim there is a hole.

By the time Whitey & Co. had concluded their second set out at Pickathon’s Wood’s Stage on Sunday, they had become a fan favorite from all the acts of the weekend.

The country theme of the Galaxy Barn Saturday night continued after Whitey Morgan with The Sadies, a legendary band that I’ve always wanted to see live, but have just missed on numerous occasions, including at Pickathon two years ago when they were touring with John Doe. They’ve also been the backing band for Jon Langford, Neko Case, and many others. Brothers Dallas and Travis Good front the band, and compliment each other exquisitely, with Travis being the super fast chicken picker with an extraordinary ear for tone, while Dallas, though no slouch moving the fingers himself, usually focuses more on creating ambient sounds and space in the music through vintage effects, finding a balance between making the music spatial, but still grounded in the roots.

Trail to Pickathon's Famed "Woods Stage"

Though they’re from Canada, they know how to blend all the great modes of classic American music together intuitively, and make the whole thing seamless. At first sniff you may want to pigeon hole them as a surf guitar band, they are so much more, blending country, bluegrass, rockabilly, mod, and even do-wop elements. Their music is inspiring, to say the least. They’re very short, very tight compositions combine the perfection of The Ventures, the technique of Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys, and the style of Chris Isaak. How much did I dig them? Well, watching them made me want to obtain any and all albums of theirs, and I made it a point to watch every moment of all three of their Pickathon performances. So yeah, two guns up for sure.

Two bands top on my priority list to see that didn’t particularly blow me away were Truckstop Darlin’ and Eilen Jewell. Truckstop Darlin’ is a good solid band, but it felt like they were neither wheat nor chaff. They’re trying to be a roots band, but beyond the steel guitar and pearl snap shirts, it’s simply a rock band, a good one, but one I’m worried is not being marketed right. I enjoyed their set. It just didn’t capture me like I was hoping it would.

And same could be said for Eilen Jewell. Her latest album Queen of the Minor Key is a good one, but my concerns for that album were mirrored in her live show. She’s a good singer, but not a great one, a good songwriter, but not a great one. And she doesn’t have that wholly unique flair like the stalwarts of that sub-genre like Wayne Hancock or Big Sandy (who appears on her latest album) do.

What she does have is a stellar guitar player, Jerry Miller. In regards to taste, he was the best player I saw all weekend. He was the best part of the performance, and felt like the most featured, as Eilen stood shaking maracas through extra-long guitar breaks. “Queen of the Minor Key” is one of the best songs so far this year, but after that, the music gets sleepy.

Two other bands on the top of my priority list I unfortunately missed, Ray Wylie Hubbard, who only played on Friday, and Pokey LaFarge, whose performance at Pickathon’s sit down-style “Workshop Barn” got so packed I couldn’t see a thing. I did meet up with Pokey later though, hanging out at what would end up being the marquee performance of my 2011 Pickathon experience, the set of Sunday Valley.

I am here to tell you folks, Sunday Valley’s frontman Sturgill Simpson is a singular talent, one of those one-in-a-million folks who is touched by the country music holy spirit, and has the vigor to fully realize his potential, and assert his solely original perspective on American music without fear. The man is a top shelf guitar player, with an original, Kentucky-bred style all his own, playing guitar like it’s a mandolin to create an energetic and active base for the music. But then at the right moments, he opens wide and bursts out with a rock & roll abandon, yet still somehow keeps it grounded with a Kentucky bluegrass flavor. The tone might intimidate some in the recorded format, but live, it is absolutely spellbinding.

His guitar playing is so great, you can easily overlook his unique and soulful Southern singing. Pokey LaFarge, standing next to me for most of the set, kept remarking on Sturgill’s voice above the undeniable guitar playing (see Pokey pumping his fists for Sunday Valley at the beginning of the set). And like all great songwriters, Sturgill composes songs that play to his strengths while creating universal appeal in an audience.

And when you boil it all down, this is country, pure country. The genius of Sturgill is how he figured how to take his native Kentucky bluegrass, and electrify it into hard country, but stay just a hair shy of what you would call rock. There is tremendous twang and country roots here, despite the heavy-handed guitar approach. Drummer Edgar Purdom is a madman, and matches Sturgill’s reckless energy. At times on stage the two were challenging each other, gritting their teeth to play with more energy and abandon, and bass player Kevin Black held it all together, and supplied excellent harmonies.

The set ended with one of those moments you can only be there to appreciate. During an extended and wild rendition of their song “Never Go To Town Again”, Sturgill stepped out onto a monitor speaker that he was hoping to support his weight, and it didn’t, and he instead took a dive into the crowd. The guitar cord got caught on the microphone stand, and stage chaos ensued as gear went tumbling. But Sturgill didn’t miss a beat, never stopped playing, and possessed by the country music holy ghost, eventually popped up back on stage, eyes rolled up in the back of his head, wires and music stands intertwined with his limbs, and never even acknowleged the chaos until the song was over. As the sound man threw a box of tools on the stage, purposely trying to interrupt Sturgill, he performed a solo, slow encore number that exemplified a tremendous amount of poise and taste. It was absolutely stunning, and made Sunday Vally the kings of Pickathon’s Sunday, at least in the eyes of this bear.

Whatever praise, whatever accolades, whatever sway my good name has, I throw it all behind Sunday Valley and Sturgill Simpson 100%. This man deserves to be playing music for a living, and as long as that is not the case, it is a sin of our country.

Here is one of their songs, that believe it or not was one of the mid-energy songs of the set.

As for the Pickathon Festival itself: Excellent presentation, layout, facilities, staff, and volunteers, and thought they had no control over it, perfect weather. They’re pet project this year of eliminating single use dishes went off without a hitch or complaint, at least from this patron’s perspective, and almost every band I spoke to remarked on how appreciative and grateful the crowds were.

Two guns up!

Apr
19

Interview – Whitey Morgan & Jeremy Mackinder

April 19, 2011 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  27 Comments

The Pickathon Fesival out in Portland, OR has just announced the rest of their 2011 lineup, including the very cool addition of Kentucky’s Sunday Valley. Pickathon likes to say they don’t have headliners in the traditional sense: huge super-names that grab people’s attention. I guess this just proves how much of an independent music nerd I am, because I look at their lineup and see headliners up and down it, people like Ray Wylie Hubbard, Pokey LaFarge, and Michigan’s Whitey Morgan & The 78′s. In fact “headliners” is exactly what I called Whitey & the boys in my South by Southwest recap.

Whitey Morgan and his bass player Jeremy Mackinder have a very similar symbiotic relationship that made the pairings of Waylon Jennings and his drummer Ritchie Albright, Willie Nelson and his drummer Paul English, into such successful, productive duos: a working relationship that just works, where creativity can flourish while nuts and bolts tasks still get done. During SXSW I sat down with the pair for a chat.

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Triggerman: Y’all are from the Detroit/Flint area. Since I’ve been covering this music, it blows my mind how many bands come from the upper Midwest. Why do you think the upper Midwest is such an epicenter for bands willing to do it their way?

Whitey: I think it’s a rebellious type thing, because we come from a place that’s not known for that kind of music. But the place that is known for that type of music isn’t fucking doing it. What can I do to not only feel real about what I’m doing, but also get some attention? And maybe knock down some doors and let people know there something wrong with the mainstream right now. There’s volumes and volumes of great music that nobody seems to give a shit about anymore.

Jeremy: You wake up in Flint or Detroit or anything up north, you wake up pissed off, and you go from there. There’s a lot of piss and anger and vinegar in that area, and this music kind of lends itself to that. I don’t think there’s any way to take away that fight from anything a band from Detroit is going to do. I used to love going to New York City. Any band you were in, you could plug “from Detroit” and you had a crowd. Detroit just reeks of attitude, and so does this kind of music.

Whitey: It’s tough up there. Every day in the Winter is an uphill battle. It’s colder than shit, you’re waiting 10 minutes for your car to warm up, if it starts. For me, you spend 35 Winters in a shithole town, everything ain’t roses, and that’s kind of what this whole music is about. A lot of my songs are about drinking and forgetting about that shit.

Triggerman: I sometimes feel bad for the honky tonk bands and the fans for this music in the South, because they want to have regional pride, they want to have state pride, and like we were talking about, there’s not a whole lot of this music coming out of the South that fits that concept. And people think of Michigan as “Yankees” since it’s up north. I spent some time living in Flint, and what’s funny about Michigan is that it has a culture that is so unique to itself. Like you call a convenience store a “Party Store”, and you have blinking red lights at left turns. You go to Michigan any say “What is going on here?” There’s a lot of rural culture that is permeated throughout Michigan.

Whitey: 20 minutes outside of any city in Michigan could be northern Alabama. The people are that backwoods and turned around. In the 70′s when my grandpa was playing music in Flint, almost a quarter of the population were transplants from the South that came to work at the factories. When you have a quarter of the population, and they start having babies, what you have is this Southern culture that is ingrained in them, even though some of them have never even been there. Like me when I was growing up, the things we ate, certain words that you said were Southern. To me it was normal. To my friends that were really Yankee’s, it was weird. They didn’t eat fried bologna sandwiches and drink sweet tea and listen to gospel and bluegrass on Sundays at their grandpas house. Any of the Southern food, that’s what my grandma’s house smelled like any time I went in there. My grandpa demanded that stuff, he was a hardcore Southern guy living in fucking Flint, MI.

Jeremy: Speaking of Whitey’s grandpa, he had this look that Whitey showed me a picture of one time, where he’d stare right through you. Go ahead and make a mistake on stage, and see that look come firing down your way! (laughing)

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Triggerman: Y’all just recorded an album for Bloodshot Records, you did it at Levon Helm studios in New York. I hear a lot of people talk about, “Well what’s the point of even being on a label anymore?” It seems like y’all had some big opportunities from that release. Y’all were on NPR’s Mountain Stage, and other opportunities I just don’t see completely independent bands be able to crack.

Whitey: They do a lot of the legwork. We get their Rolodex when we need it, whereas when you don’t have that, you have to go out there and do it all on your own. Which is fine I’m sure for some people, but you can’t be out there playing 230 shows a year and still deal with trying to find new contacts. Not to mention the fact that were on Bloodshot brings people to shows, even if they’ve never heard us, because they have a respect and a reputation from their followers.

Jeremy: We had put out another album with a different label, and not to slug on them but they didn’t have the country cred that Bloodshot does. We end up on Bloodshot, and all of a sudden Sirius/XM plays our music like crazy. And people think that the disadvantage of being on a label is that you’re not going to make any money off your records. But quite honestly, unless you’re selling hundreds of thousands of records, you’re not going to make any money on your records anyway. Independent or label-wise, your records are just kind of paying for themselves.

Whitey: Realistically, and it doesn’t matter what level you’re on, live shows is where you make your money. You can be independent and do everything yourself, but if you can’t get out there and play shows, then what’s the point?

Triggerman: How did the whole Bloodshot thing come about?

Whitey: You’ve got to give credit to the Deadstring Brothers and Wayne Hancock. Our road guy Stubby was actually touring with Deadstring when we were off. He’s a big cheerleader of ours. Every chance he got he’d be talking to Bloodshot about us. And even Travis.

Jeremy: Travis our drummer was in Deadstring and Tamineh our fiddle player was in Deadstring.

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Triggerman: Jeremy, so you used to write for big publications?

Jeremy: I did. I did it under pseudonyms. I only had two printed. As a musician, when you say something negative, you definitely don’t want people to know that was you. Not because I was scared, just because it could reflect negatively on my band. You have to be careful, because you represent five other people too, and you represent your livelihood. Another thing you have to be careful of too is politics. Politics is a polarizing thing. Politics and music are like oil and water.

Whitey: That’s what I want to tell somebody, you’re a fucking entertainer. I don’t give a fuck what you think about the state of the goddamn world. Fucking entertain me, that’s what I paid you to do. I know that’s pretty harsh, but that’s the way I feel sometimes. Where do they get off thinking they know best?

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Triggerman: Y’all are living your dreams, playing your music, the way you want to play it, on your terms. Do you have any other drive? Like saying “this music needs to stay alive.”

Whitey: Oh, definitely.

Jeremy: We were just hollering about that the other day in the kitchen. We have to do this. We feel a responsibility to push this forward and continue to make this happen. For the longest time at shows people would come up and say, “Man I don’t like country music but I sure like you guys!” Well that just means you hadn’t heard country music.

Whitey: Granted we’re not traditional country music like Dale (Watson) or Wayne Hancock. They’re keeping it in the genre, in the era, more correct. We’re a little louder, we strip the songs down more. More of a meat and potatoes kind of thing because God bless us, we can’t play those songs, I can’t play guitar like Dale. But that’s not what we want to play. Some of the greatest songs ever written were written that way because of limitations of the musicians.

Triggerman: Well you hear Waylon’s “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way”. What a simple song.

Whitey: He did what he knew how to do, and he did the fuck out of it. Better than anybody else. People ask “What’s responsible for how your bands sounds?” and I say “musical limitations”. We’re not that good, but we do what we know how to do and we do it every goddamn night with everything we got. I always say, who would you rather hear play a dirty blues song, Keith Richards or Joe Satriani? Who technically is way fucking better, and who do I want to hear?

Jan
23

Sunday Valley Album Review & EPK

January 23, 2011 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  33 Comments

I had never heard of Sunday Valley until a few months ago, but for 6 years this guitar-driven country band has been making noise in and around Kentucky, opening for such acts as Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers. About a year ago, lead guitarist and singer Sturgill Simpson flipped the proverbial middle finger to his regular 9 to 5′er and decided to give the whole music thing a serious go, and the band put all their chips on their recent release To The Wind And On To Heaven.

First and foremost Sunday Valley is a live band, and that is how they approached this recording. The guitar is unapologetically loud and heavy–kind of the Stevie Ray approach of simply not worrying about what people say, just continue to do it until that is what you’re known for. This is about the loudest and heaviest you will hear guitar that still has the identifiable country “twang.” It reminded me a lot of the more guitar-driven tracks on Marty Stuart’s recent Ghost Train, but even more ballsy and bold.

It’s not easy to capture the live energy a live band is known for in a recording, but To The Wind And On To Heaven does. I really wouldn’t characterize this project as “produced” or “slick” or “polished.” It is simply honest and fearless. And it is accessible. Listen, I know The Shack Shakers are not for everyone, but when you hear Sunday Valley, you think, “Now THIS is what they should be playing on 98.1.”

Along with their heavy-handed rockers, Sunday Valley mixes in a few slower, emotion-driven ballads that still take that same “all in, leave it all out on the stage” approach as the faster, heavier ones. Songs like “Oh, Sarah” and “I Wonder” prove that Sunday Valley is much more than a one-trick pony riding Sturgill Simpson’s fire-breathing telecaster to a short-lived fame. But man, the rockers like “Never Go To Town Again” are just too much fun, with guitar that is just a notch from what you might hear at a heavy metal show. Sturgill knows how to walk up to the line, but not cross it, keeping it solidly country.

Such a cool contrast is struck when Sturgill gets up on stage with his classic, dapper look, almost like a Kentucky-fried Joey Allcorn, and then starts wailing balls-out on the guitar. But don’t let the guitar work fool you, this is not southern rock, this is hard country, and Sturgill backs it up with a thick country incantation to his lyrics. As much as I like Sturgill’s drawl, the lyrics are not always clear, and it’s a shame, because once you slow it down a bit you can tell they’re heartfelt and true. Maybe a little more could have been done to distinguish the loud, heavy tracks from each other as well, but if you started to fumble with the vocals or inserted a producer into the project, you might lose that live feel that is the foundation of this album, and its greatest asset.

Gerald Evans on bass and backing vocals, and Edgar Purdom III on drums also deserve props. Sunday Valley may feel like chaos, but they move forward with a cohesiveness and confident ease, and that contrast adds to the band’s mistique.

Sunday Valley is definitely worth your consideration and raising a blip on your radar, because mark my words, I have a feeling that this will not be the last time you will hear about Sturgill Simpson or this band, from me or others.

Two guns up!

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Preview Tracks and Purchase To The Wind And On To Heaven

EPK from Judd Films:

Del Maguey
Old Soul Radio Show
Lucette
Elam McKnight

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