- The Darrell Brothers Offer a Dramatic Reading of Luke Bryan
- Engine 145: Ronnie Milsap Looks Back on New Album
- Music festivals see big opportunity in country music
- 'True Detective' music: 10 other great songs by the Handsome Family
- Tim Wilson, comedian and country artist, dies of heart attack
- Johnny Cash Museum reflects legend's charm
- Pop Matters Features Lydia Loveless
- Oklahoma Gazette Features Hellbound Glory
- New York Times: Trying to Save Merle Haggard's Boxcar Home
- Bill Monroe and Tammy Wynette May Get New Postage Stamps
- How Thirty Tigers Is Beating Competition with Only a 30 Percent Cut
- Roger Alan Wade Bears His Soul
- Album premiere: Chuck Mead's 'Free State Serenade'
- Clinch Mountain Boy Celebrates 20 Years with Ralph Stanley
- "Push and Shove" Video from My Graveyard Jaw
- Get an exclusive first look at Jolie Holland's new record, "Wine Dark Sea"
- Live review: Lucinda Williams remains unmatched at Echoplex
- Country's Super Sized Stars Downsize for European Success
- Bobby Bare Jr.'s Swaggering 'North of Alabama by Mornin''
- Interview with Rachael Price of Lake Street Dive
- Stream New Drive By Truckers Album "English Oceans"
Today it was announced that Austin, TX would be the site for iHeartRadio’s first ever dedicated country music festival, transpiring at Austin’s Frank Erwin Center on March 29th, with a list of top tier headliner talent including Eric Church, Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, Florida Georgia Line, Lady Antebellum, Carrie Underwood, Jake Owen, Hunter Hayes, and others to be announced. iHeart is the online radio streaming arm of American radio monolith Clear Channel, and rising Clear Channel “country” personality Bobby Bones, who got his Clear Channel start on Austin’s pop station, will serve as host.
There is so much that is ill-conceived about this, I’m not sure where to start. iHeart has been throwing “festivals” for a while now, but their traditional home has been Las Vegas. Clearly iHeart wanted to find an alternative to the obvious selection of Nashville, where they would have to compete with much more well-established country events clogging the civic calendar. But throwing a corporate country event in Austin, especially at that time of the year will be about as popular in Austin as running over a bicyclist in your Hummer.
About all this festival will be good for when it comes to the Austin populous will be as a curiosity for hipsters to oogle at through their Sally Jessy Raphael glasses as they ride their fixie bikes past the spectacle, sipping on raw food smoothies on their way to brainstorming sessions devising ways to defund Monsanto by setting up micro loans to African women and targeted eco-terrorism strikes.
The general Austin, TX population has so little interest in this iHeartRadio lineup, it’s laughable that iHeart can’t even be perceptive enough to add even one or two local names to help dull the pain of such an obviously imported corporate country bill. Kudos to whoever in the local Austin government conned iHeart into thinking that Austin’s east downtown corridor is a destination spot for people who are willing to travel hundreds of miles to hear Jason Aldean sing “1994.” Instead of the garish finery of the Las Vegas strip, Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line fans can look forward to legions of homeless peddlers clogging their walking path, an army of construction cranes piercing the skyline in their headlong effort to erect an empire of prefabricated McCondo monstrosities, the 3rd worst traffic snarl in the United States of America, and crumbling fair trade coffee shops oozing with unbathed, deadlocked career students preaching that 9/11 was a conspiracy.
The worst part about iHeartRadio’s country festival might be the timing. Despite whatever best efforts they implement in regards to promotion, locally the event will be dwarfed by South by Southwest the week before, boasting thousands of free concerts, showcasing both local and independent talent, and big national names. South by Southwest is arguably one of the biggest music festivals in the entire world in regards to breadth and the amount of performances that transpire all across Austin over a 5 day period.
And don’t forget that Rodeo Austin also happens the week before, and is featuring its own lineup of big names, including Loretta Lynn, Dustin Lynch, Thompson Square, Chris Young, Josh Turner, Willie Nelson, Eli Young Band, Lee Brice, Scotty McCreery, and Dwight Yoakam. There’s already legions of Austinites that provision up when March comes and never leave the homes because of the nightmare South by Southwest and Rodeo Austin bring to their fair city. The idea that they’ll peek their head out and head downtown just because Hunter Hayes is finally making his way to Austin is quite ripe.
So will the iHeartRadio Country Festival be a colossal failure? Of course not, because they have the backing of the biggest corporate country network in the world to help promote it. Pliable corporate country music fans from all across the country will be more than happy to burn vacation time to see their favorite Budweiser and designer jeans sponsors in one place, edifying them with the finest of Music Row’s formulaic pap filtered through Auto-tuners.
Stock up on cans of Axe Body Spray and rape kits Austin, you’ll need ‘em.
Unless you’re one of those people who finds themselves so overwhelmed every year with the Christmas spirit that it’s a tough choice what Christmas sweater to wear, the annual dirge of Christmas movie releases is enough to turn your stomach like a glass of expired eggnog. But there is one movie out this year that may be worth your time, if for no other reason than the cast is built around country music royalty. Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Lyle Lovett, Harry Connick Jr, and Connie Britton from ABC’s TV drama Nashville make up the primary cast of When Angels Sing, based off a novel of the same name released in 1999 by Turk Pipkin.
The film stars Harry Connick, Jr. as a history professor who as a child loved Christmas, but after a tragic accident, grew to hate the holiday. As a grown up, he still can’t find the joy of Christmas, but as his son faces a tragedy, he rekindles his holiday spirit again. He gets a push in the right direction after the lease comes due on his current home and he meets a man named Nick (Willie Nelson) who sells him a house at half price, but only if he will keep up the traditions of the house and neighborhood, including maintaining the house as the centerpiece of the neighborhood’s Christmas celebration.
Kris Kristofferson plays Harry Connick Jr.’s father, Connie Britton plays Connick’s wife, and Lyle Lovett plays one of the neighbors. The film also includes cameos from female Texas country 4-piece The Trishas, Texas swing legend Ray Benson, Dale Watson, Sarah Hickman, Marcia Ball, Guy Forsyth, Joel Guzman, Kat Edmonson, Miss Lavelle , Eloise DeJoria, and others.
When Angels Sing, which is based in the Austin area, first debuted as part of the South By Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival in Austin on March 10th. “We already had a great start with Harry and Willie and Kris, so I told our casting director ‘let’s put everybody who’s a musician in the movie’,” director Tim McCanlies told Billboard.
Music wasn’t a part of the original script, but McCanlies saw a unique opportunity with so much music talent on the set to make it a seminal part of the movie. Some of the musical performances include Kris Kristofferson singing Willie Nelson’s “Pretty Paper,” and an original duet written by Willie and Harry Connick Jr. that plays over the ending credits. Each song in the movie was filmed with full performances, so a soundtrack for the movie is also a possibility.
Information on the distribution of When Angels Sing remains sketchy, but it received a very limited release to select theaters on Novemeber 1st, and is reportedly available on demand through Direc TV. Check back as more information on distribution becomes available.
You can watch more clips and behind-the-scenes interviews from the film on Fandango.
If you’re not down in Austin yourself participating in the biggest music festival / music conference / music convention in the world known as South by Southwest (SXSW), it can almost seem like social media is working to taunt you for not participating as the event transpires between Tuesday and Saturday. Here at Saving Country Music, we don’t want to revel in what you’re missing, we want to make it an opportunity to discover new music, reaffirm or repudiate opinions about artists already on our radar, and make you feel like you are on this journey with us.
As SXSW transpires, we’ll be regularly updating this post. Updates may only be a few times a day since most of the time is spent out in the field.
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Day 5 Saturday 3-16 – The Revival Tour Showcase
Saturday night at SXSW is usually the time the best memories are made. You’ve spent the whole week fighting through crowds, traffic, fatigue, and general sensory overload, yet when you know it is all about to end and you may not see members of your musical family for a long time, you begin to cherish the whole experience that much more.
The best Saturday night showcases are the ones that facilitate collaboration and memory building, and when looking at the SXSW schedule, I saw that The Revival Tour showcase at the Cedar Street Courtyard may be the best opportunity to experience a tight scene of musicians and friends and that would facilitate some end-of-SXSW magic. Some of the performers I was familiar with, many I wasn’t, which was good because you can’t have the proper SXSW experience without discovery.
The event fulfilled all expectations. Collaboration was everywhere on the night. After the first act The Drowning Men, the remaining performers were mostly asked to get on stage just with their guitar and wow a capacity crowd. For artists used to this context like Possessed by Paul James and Austin Lucas, they were right in their element. But even the artists who found it second nature like Glossary, they rallied to the task.
Along with masterful performances by both Possessed by Paul James and Austin Lucas, headliners Chuck Ragan and Frank Turner put on remarkable sets. Frank Turner’s songs are like a brain teaser. Before you’ve even had a chance to digest the profundity of the last line, he’s thrown two more at you to make your mind reel. Though Chuck Ragan officially is the man in charge, you could never see a more unassuming, selfless musician.
Other solid takeaways from the night were the breathtaking Valerie June with her fiercely-authentic Southern style, the spunky and entertaining Jenny Owen Youngs, and Twin Falls who seem to be destined for big things as they fit right into the Mumford/Lumineers cheerful roots revival that is all the rage right now.
Whether you were playing on stage or hanging out in the crowd, it was hard to not feel the music fellowship in the air.
Possessed By Paul James:
Jenny Owen Youngs:
Austin Lucas w/ Chuck Ragan:
Day 4 Friday 3-15 – Part 2 – XSXSW 6 Hillgrass Bluebilly Showcase
XSXSW6 at the Frontier Bar in gentrifying east Austin sponsored by Hillgrass Bluebilly Records offered one of the most boss lineups for fans of independent roots music at SXSW 2013. Along with label performers The Boomswagglers and Possessed by Paul James, one of the longest-running underground roots bands The Pine Hill Haints lent their talents to the evening.
One of the highlights of the showcase was the explosive Lee Bains & The Glory Fires from Alabama. As the room was still filling up with patrons, Lee Bains played like he was feeding of the energy of a packed house. This man sings with as much soul as anyone in rock & roll right now, and this was never evidenced more clearer then when he sang the title track of their latest album There’s A Bomb in Gilliead. For SXSW’s most acrobatic moment of 2013, at one point lead guitarist got on the shoulders of Lee Bains as they both walked out into the crowd with guitars blazing. This set was sick.
If the rest of the “underground roots” world picks up on what The Whiskey Shivers are doing down here in Austin, half the bands in that scene are doomed. Though they lean mostly on covers, The Whiskey Shivers bring an energy, a tempo, and a camaraderie that is unmatched since the glory days of the .357 String Band. You will be hearing more from these fellas soon. Trust me.
Austin Lucas put on the most inspired, and inspiring sets of SXSW 2013. Such amazing soul and songwriting, conveyed with such great singing and sense of dynamics. The first time I ever heard Austin Lucas was at The Frontier bar two years ago at a ninebullets.net day showcase.
Left Lane Cruiser, who boast a couple of songs that commemorate the hard work and dedication of Keith of Hillgrass Bluebilly lit up The Frontier Bar with their raucous and dirty deep punk blues.
Day 4 Friday 3-15 – Part 1 – Bloodshot Yard Dog Party
One of the long-standing staples for an independent/underground/insurgent country fan who attends SXSW is Bloodshot Records‘ long-running day party behind the Yard Dog art studio on south Congress. The event outgrew the small space years ago, but it would be a shame to move it from the history and memories the event has created over the years. This is one place you almost welcome the crowd. Other obligations kept me from attending the entire showcase, but I arrived just in time to see The Deadstring Brothers finishing their set. Their new album Cannery Row is coming out on Bloodshot April 9th.
Bobby Bare Jr. was next. Seeing Bobby Bare Jr. live is essential to understanding his music. He’s such a character–so animated with his curly, floppy hair and manic movements and his delightful, yet crass humor. He’s like a Muppet you can’t help but love. Understanding his personality is key to understanding the nature of his cosmic approach to music.
Next was Lydia Loveless and her off-the-straight-and-narrow country punk princess approach to alt-country, not caring what her hair looks like of if she’s taking proper care of her skin. Those things aren’t Lydia’s bag if you listen to her music. She’s here to squeeze every last drop of juice out of her life.
The 2013 SXSW “Spirit Award” goes to her bass player (and husband) Ben Lamb and his long curly hair. This photo montage does no justice to the show his hair put on.
Day 3 Thursday 3-14
Thursday was spent doing lots of walking back and forth from two events put on primarily by American Songwriter. The “Nashville Day Party” at the Austin Ale House on West 6th was the place to be seen if you’re part of the rising quasi country scene centered around east Nashville these days. The room was a little too loud and open for the ideal music experience, but was a good, intimate setting nonetheless. During the set of Caitlin Rose, Jonny Fritz and his band, and Nashville indie-rocker Tristen could be seen milling about. With only a 30-minute set, Caitlin featured all the big songs off of her new album The Stand-In. Nikki Lane, Escondido, and Ryland Baxter all played as well. Below is a picture of the up-and-coming Escondido.
After that it was a hike way across town to east Nashville to check out the heart of American Songwriter’s Billy Reid Showcase that for the last few previous years was located at The Swan Dive right downtown that was always too small, too hot, and too hard to get to. The new spot outside in a setting with ample space was ideal. The trend of moving outside of the downtown corridor is only going to continue as the size of SXSW gets out of hand and promoters flee to more comfortable settings. The trend will probably also see the expansion of SXSW itself until it begins to consume every sector of the city proper.
American Songwriter and Billy Reid put together an excellent lineup. I arrived just in time to see Jason Isbell and new wife Amanda Shires prove that two people, stellar songs, and purposeful harmonies can can trump anything a full band can lay down. The two have such good instincts with each other.
Having never heard Lilly Hiatt, who was billed to be performing with her father John Hiatt, it was easy to think that maybe this was the booking of a name instead of someone who could live up to the showcase’s large lineup. Lilly Hyatt ended up being one of the biggest takeaways from SXSW 2013 so far. She put on an excellent set with great songs and a really sensational female guitar player named Beth Finney who could downright shred with the best of them. When John took the stage for a couple of songs, it became downright magical.
The showcased was capped by Ray Wylie Hubbard who delivered like always. It is impossible to grow tired of watching Ray Wylie live because he has such a breadth of material and each time you see him play a song, he brings a new, fresh perspective to it–some funny anecdote or twist. The guy is an amazing poet and performer, one of the best out there living.
Day 2 Wednesday 3-13
As anticipated, Wednesday at SXSW had little chance of living up to Tuesday night and the now legendary showcase at the White Horse Saloon (see below), but it had it’s moments, while also showcasing some of the things that are so very wrong with the event.
It started off great though when I caught a set from Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band performing at Club DeVille on upper Red River. Rev. Peyton continues to refine his show, studying human behavior and finding out what crowds respond to. As cheese ball as “audience participation” sounds in print, by working so hard to engage the crowd, coupled with his spellbinding abilities with slide guitar, it’s hard not to walk away from a Reverend Peyton set without feeling like your hair is on fire. Rev. Peyton has the quote of the week so far when he said, “If I catch any of you hipster sumbitches not yelling ‘Two bottles of wine’ I’m gonna come out there and get ya!”
After that I trekked to 6th Street and voluntarily entered what amounted to a glorified dog cage set up on burning asphalt at Red Bull’s “Sound Select 120 Hours of Music” setup. The whole thing illustrated the trappings of corporate sponsorship. I was there to see bands like Those Darlin’s and Jonny Fritz, but before the show and during the set breaks, they were playing gangster rap riddled with ‘N’ and ‘MF’ bombs, cut with the occasional 90′s Paula Abdul hit. Clearly none of the organizers and workers had any idea what music the day was catering to.
The event was very moderately attended at the beginning when bands played to a mostly empty field of asphalt while the line to get into the event stretched for two city blocks. Apparently they couldn’t pull the 7 security guards off of stage duty to help clear people for entry quicker, because you know how rowdy a crowd of 30 people can get at a concert featuring Deer Tick.
The Black Cadillacs started the set off. They are one of these new rock bands that put out tremendous energy and have good songs, but nothing really defines their sound enough to pick them out of the crowd.
After that was Those Darlin’s. They were announced to be a mix of punk and country with a sound very similar to Wanda Jackson, but these days Those Darlin’s are just as much akin to The Cramps as anyone. The set started off very mild. They messed up the beginning of one song and struggled through others as the sun was screaming in their faces on the poorly-aligned Red Bull stage. As the sun set and the band could actually see, Those Darlin’s rallied, and after playing one of their hits “Be Your Bro,” they really began to feel it and rebounded from any previous miscues.
Jonny Fritz (prev. Corndawg) delivered a solid set that featured a full band and his now long-term touring mate Josh Hedley. He played multiple new songs that will be featured on his new record Dad Country coming out on ATO Records on April 16th. As always Jonny garnered strange reactions from his sarcasm-laden lyrics set to classic country. As I overheard one crowd member say, “This is like really bad country music that you can’t help but love.” That pretty much sums it up.
I spent most of the rest of the night meandering downtown Austin and being denied at the door of various “official” showcases, including the official showcase of Bloodshot Records at the Continental Club on south Congress. But I did check out a set from Glossary on west 6th Street. The Southern rockers always put on an excellent set.
Also here is video from Tuesday night at The White Horse of Lincoln Durham playing the one string diddley bo.
Day 1 Tuesday 3-12
I’m going to have to live with the idea that 2013 SXSW might have started off with it’s best moment, as The White Horse Saloon in gentrifying east Austin hosted an official showcase for the Red 11 booking/management company that featured a jaw-drooping roster of talent. Granted it was Tuesday, but The White Horse created one of the most pleasant SXSW experiences I’ve ever had. The crowds weren’t too bad, parking was fine, the staff was friendly, and most importantly, they kept everything on time and the band changeovers down to 15 minutes tops. It was a good, smooth showcase.
Right before it started, some guys in cowboy duds walked their horses down Comal St. out front and tied their horses up right beside the bike rack. If you’ve never been to Texas, you may think this was a regular occurrence. But in the middle of the city where inner city projects meet hipster town, it was a strange site, but a good omen for the night.
The set started out with Lincoln Durham from Austin, TX. I’m blown away why there’s not more chatter about this guy in the Deep Blues / Muddy Roots world. A one man band with a dirty, soulful approach, switching from old Gibson arch top and resonator guitars, to banjo, to finishing the set with a cigar box one-stringed diddley bow. He started off the set playing his bass drum and beating on an old suitcase and singing a capella. The dude put on a spectacular set to start off the night. If you like the dirty, low down approach to music, it doesn’t get much better than Lincoln Durham.
The Crooks are another band from Austin, TX that are garnering huge buzz around town that is beginning to spill out regionally and nationally. They’re a honky tonk band a heart, but with a decidedly Tejano flavor, featuring a full time percussionist/trumpet player, an accordion player, and at times the lead guitar player will pick up a trumpet too. They’re a good-time who could find wide appeal with their unique sound full of influences from the border region. Great idea for a band. Few have done this before, and being able to appeal to both traditional country crowds and Hispanic crowds is a great asset when you’re based in Texas.
From on the border, the Dirty River Boys from El Paso put on one hell of a high energy show that was filled with both a lot of stripped-down, high energy, roots punk attitude, and some really sincere and accessible moments of great composition and songwriting. Judging from the amount of people singing along in the crowd, this band is garnering a loyal following from their dynamic and engaging live shows. This is definitely a band to watch.
The Turnpike Troubadours were responsible for one of those once in a lifetime musical experiences. The White Horse that had hovered around 3/4 capacity up to that point in the night swelled to where there was no elbow room, and a strong majority of the people there knew every word to the Troubadours songs and proved it by belting them out at every chance. When the band broke into their most popular tunes like “Every Girl,” “7&7″ and “Good Lord, Lorrie,” the crowd would erupt. During the choruses, the singing of the crowd could become deafening, drowning out the band itself. Their high-energy, inspired performance was great in itself, but the camaraderie created by the crowd made it one of those moments hard to forget. The Turnpike Troubadours have no business playing a venue this small these days, and that is the type of unique experience SXSW can create. Their set was one for the record books.
After The Turnpike Troubadours, the crowd thinned out pretty good. It was probably unfair to have American Aquarium follow Turnpike, and may have been the night’s only misstep. As the only band that was more rock than roots, they were sort of the odd men out, while still fitting perfectly for the folks who knew them despite being the only band on the night not from the immediate region. Nonetheless, American Aquarium gave it their all and put on a great show to the appreciative fans who were smart enough to stick around. There’s a lot of sincerity and heart in American Aquarium, and their riffs and grooves are hard to not fall prey to.
When Jason Eady took the stage at 1 AM, The White Horse finally felt like The White Horse you’re used to sans SXSW, with a dance floor full of Texas two-steppers and good, straight-laced country music coming from the stage. “I heard this was the last place you could play country music in Austin,” Jason said as he started his set. It was the perfect, laid-back way to end an excellent night of music.
Part promotional tool for these showcases and artists, part tips to SXSW goers, part personal itinerary, part letting folks know what I’m clued in about so other folks can let me know what’s cool that I am missing, this is Saving Country Music’s SXSW 2013 living itinerary.
SXSW is so expansive and so convoluted, there is no way one person can know everything, or let alone see and hear it. So you start out each day with a loose plan and see where the day takes you. Some showcases you want to get to you never make, others you stumble into and become your favorite of the whole week. A successful SXSW is one where you see a little of what you already know, but discover a lot more that you didn’t. It’s a hell of a ride and you hope you find yourself on Sunday in one piece.
Tuesday March 12th
The White Horse, the hot spot these days in Austin for real country music has a great lineup nearly every day of SXSW, but there lineup for Tuesday night is sick. Best way to get SXSW started in earnest.
- 8 PM – Lincoln Durham
- 9 PM – Crooks
- 10 PM – Dirty River Boys
- 11 PM – Turnpike Troubadours
- 12 PM – American Aquarium
- 1 AM – Jason Eady
Ruby Jane – The Parish 11PM Official SXSW Showcase
Bloodshot Records has moved their “official” showcase this year from the Red Eye Fly to the legendary Continental Club (1315 S Congress Ave), and from Saturday to Wednesday. Bloodshot will also have their annual Yard Dog party on Friday. It starts at 7 PM and features:
- The Waco Brothers
- JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound
- Deadstring Brothers
- Lydia Loveless
- Murder By Death
- Luke Winslow-King
Saving Country Music’s official charity The Waylon Fund is having an event, and it features an unbelievable lineup in a “Tribute to The Armadillo World Headquarters.” It is located on the same ground where The Armadillo once stood. Rumor has it that Jamey Johnson might make an appearance here too.
- Roky Erickson
- Asleep At The Wheel
- Jimmie Dale Gilmore
- Shooter Jennings
- Wild Child
- Jenny O.
- Mother Falcon
Drew Landry – G&S Lounge – 6PM – 2420 South First.
Red Bull 120 Hours of Music 3/13 Showcase at Gatsby’s - 708 E. 6th St. – Doors at 4 PM
- John McCauley & Friends feat. Deer Tick & Diamond Rugs
- Johny Fritz (Corndawg)
- Those Darlins
- The Black Cadillacs
Samantha Crain – Oklahoma Showcase – 12:00 – 12:40 AM – 512 Rooftop 408 E 6th St.
Coley McCabe 01:00 AM @ Peckerheads 402 E 6th St
Thursday March 14th
Billy Reid American Songwriter Austin Shindig – 1808 East Caesar Chavez St. 12AM to 8 PM
For 3 straight years I have gone to this event at Swan Dive on Red River. This year it has moved, but it is the same event and organizers. Completely boss schedule on Thursday, and that is where I will be camped. What’s great about this event is it is the perfect mix of music that you know and that you don’t know. Entertainment and education.
- 12:00 – 12:30 Rayland Baxter
- 12:50 – 1:20 Cory Chisel & The Wondering Songs
- 1:40 – 2:10 The Devil Makes Three
- 2:30 – 3:00 Heartless Bastards
- 3:20 – 3:50 Wild Cub
- 4:10 – 4:30 Leagues
- 4:50 – 5:20 Jason Isbell
- 5:40 – 6:10 Lilly Hiatt w/ John Hiatt
- 6:30 – 7:15 Ray Wylie Hubbard
The Nashville Day Party – 301 W. 6th St. Austin Ale House 12:00 – 5:15 PM
- Noon – Andrew Combs
- 12:45 – Luella & The Sun
- 1:30 – Brooke Waggoner
- 2:15 – Nikki Lane
- 3:00 – Caitlin Rose
- 3:45 – Escondido
- 4:30- Rayland Baxter
- 5:15 – Odessa Rose
G&S Lounge – 2420 South First
- 1pm Slaid Cleaves
- 3pm Jimmy LaFave
- 8pm Ted Russell Kamp
AND TWANGFEST DAY PARTY AT THE BROKEN SPOKE (see poster below)
Friday March 15th
18th Annual Bloodshot Records Yard Dog Art Gallery Noon to 7 PM – FREE and open to the public. 1510 S. Congress
- Rosie Flores
- Deadstring Brothers
- Bobby Bare Jr.
- Lydia Loveless
- Luke Winslow-King
- Murder By Death
- JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound
- The Waco Brothers
XSXSW 6 Presented by Hillgrass Bluebilly Records – Frontier Bar - 2421 Webberville Rd – 6:30 PM -2:00 AM
Open to the Public. $10.00
Hillgrass Bluebilly has thrown some of the best unofficial SXSW showcases in it’s 6 year run, and this year’s lineup does not disappoint. Great thing about this showcase is the location. After thursday, you don;t want to be caught dead downtown. It is close enough from downtown that you can hike there. But it is far enough out that parking and traffic won’t be as big as a problem.
- Pine Hill Haints
- The Boomswagglers
- Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires
- Whiskey Shivers
- Austin Lucas
- Possessed by Paul James
- Left Lane Cruiser
11th Annual Texchromosome at Opal Divines 3601 S Congress Ave Noon to 11PM
- Elizabeth McQueen
- Kem Watts
- Lissa Hattersley
- Poon Twangz
- Lisa Fancher
- Aubrey Lynn
- Sonya Javette
- Debbi Walton
- Greezy Wheels
- Brigitte London
- Penny Jo Pullus
G&S Lounge 2420 South First
- 9:00 PM Zoe Muth
- 10:30 PM Amanda Shires
Saturday March 16th
The Revival Tour SXSW Showcase – Cedar Street Courtyard – 208 W 4th St
This is a ridiculous lineup. My only concern is getting in. Saturday night is usually the night I get snubbed at the door trying to get into the showcase, and this one looks to be supper official SXSX.
- 8:00 – The Drowning Men
- 8:35 – Austin Lucas
- 9:05 – Possessed By Paul James
- 9:30 – Valerie June
- 10:00 – Rocky Votolato
- 10:30 – Jenny Owen Youngs
- 11:00 – Glossary
- 11:20 – Chuck Ragan
- 11:50 – Matt Pryor
- 12:20 – Twin Falls
- 12:50 – Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls
G&S Lounge 2420 South First – MAIN BAR
- 5pm Zoe Muth
- 6pm T Jarrod Bonta & The AM Band
- 7pm Jim Stringer & The AM Band
- 8pm John Lilly
- 9pm Bill Kirchen
- Midnight – James Hand
G&S Lounge 2420 South First – Music Room
- 5.30 Slaid Cleaves
- 7pm Gurf Morlix
AND TWANGFEST DAY PARTY AT THE BROKEN SPOKE (see poster below)
Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band
- 03/12/13 – 10:00 PM 26f & Little Brother Publishing Bungalow – 92 Rainey St
- 03/13/13 – 3:00 PM Club DeVille – 900 Red River
- 03/15/13 – 1:00 AM – Continental Club – 1315 S. Congress
The Carper Family
3/12/13 Parish Underground (Official SXSW) 10pm
3/14/13 Grand Ole Austin at Maria’s Taco Xpress 12:20pm
3/14/13 Twangfest at the Broken Spoke 1:30pm
3/14/13 with Alice Gerrard (Official SXSW) at St. David’s Bethel Hall
3/15/13 Third Coast Music at G&S Lounge 2pm
3/16/13 Folk Alliance International at Threadgill’s South 1pm
3/16/13 Brooklyn Country Cantina at Papi Tino’s 6:30pm
2012 will go down as the first year that the annual XSXSW event put on by Hillgrass Bluebilly Records went from a regular “showcase” in the traditional South by Southwest form, to a two-day full-blown premier whistle stop on the independent roots railroad’s yearly cycle. With help from Saving Country Music, Muddy Roots, and many other gracious entities like Austin’s Moose Lodge, Cracker Swamp Productions, KVRX 91.7, KOOK 93.5, and most importantly, the artists that played and the fans that came from as far away as Ireland and Australia to attend, XSXSW 5 became a healthy, sustainable alternative to the madness that SXSW brings to central Texas every March.
One potential XSXSW miscalculation was starting the days so early in an attempt to cater to as many bands that wanted to play the event as possible. The day crowds were light, but lively and loyal nonetheless, and people who didn’t show up until the sun went down missed some of the best performances on the weekend. After 7PM on both days, the crowds swelled, in-person and online through SCM LIVE, which saw traffic crest four figures for the online event.
XSXSW 5 was kicked off on Friday afternoon by Patrick’s Beard & the Rusty Razors showcasing excellent Americana-roots songs that inspire lots of good foot stomping from band and crowd alike. This local Austin, TX band was followed by the fella that made the longest trek to the event, Farmer Barrett, who shared his short, but impressive catalog of songs from down under without dropping his Aussie accent, giving the music a very unique and fun feel to the ear.
Next up on the main stage was Chili Cold Blood, who began with their country music side project, The Moonhangers. Chili Cold Blood has been on the cutting edge of bringing the edgy, heavy-metal vibe to roots music for years, but what really was impressive was the authenticity and vibe they brought with The Moonhangers that revived the gonzo, 70′s hippie meets redneck Commander Cody-style funky rocky country that put Austin, TX on the music map 40 years ago. And they did it with superb, spot-on musicianship and tight, professional arrangements.
This created a tall order for Pearls Mahone & The One-Eyed Jacks to follow, and they pulled it off flawlessly, in their first of two XSXSW performances on the weekend. But Pearls didn’t bring any One-Eyed Jacks down with her from Chicago, she brought 5 aces, and when she slammed them down on the table, there were no peeps about cheating, you just sat back and admired the talent.
Run-On Sentence from Portland, OR was one of the wild cards for the event, and they paid of in spades with a rousing performance on the main stage, featuring original songwriter Dustin Hamman and his vocal acrobatics that included voice trumpet, yodeling, and straight-up moans and shrills that stirred the soul, as drummer Dan Galucki attacked the skins and sent any and all flesh in ear shot moving. And speaking of moving, Lone Wolf OMB made the trip from the cracker swamp of Florida, and made his first of two performances early evening on Friday ahead of his upcoming release, A Walk in My Pause.
Collaboration was a big theme on the weekend, and some of the most memorable collaborations took place when CR Humphrey of Old Gray Mule took the main stage. Possessed by Paul James, who was the headliner Friday night joined him on fiddle, and about half was through the Old Gray Mule set, it began to dawn on everyone that none other that CW Ayon was the man on drums. A dance party ensued as Old Gary Mule evoked the steamy, smelly rhythms of North Mississippi Hill Country Blues.
Captain Mudhole kept the the blues vibe going on the second stage with some great songs, followed by the wild, rocking sound of the Owsley Brothers, whose guitarist looked so similar to Dale Jr., I asked him to autograph my die-cast. Then Rachel Brooke, who took the stage flanked by Tony Bones and Antoine Dukes of Viva Le Vox, put on the best live performance I have seen or heard from her heretofore. I was a little unsure of the Rachel/Viva mashup before hearing it, with Rachel’s sound being so simple and sweet, and Viva being so artistic and vibrant. But Tony and Antoine’s excellent style and sense of tone allowed Rachel’s compositions to bloom.
And then it was on to Husky Burnette, who doesn’t get enough credit for being one of the most dynamic, high-energy performers out there in the Deep Blues world. Along with his drummer Tony, they positively melted faces. The man’s guitar is made out of a suitcase for crying out loud! Then comes James Leg of the legendary Black Diamond Heavies, with hair whipping and sweat dripping in a show of sheer blues key-driven madness. How that man isn’t right up there with the Black Keys as far as fans and earning power is beyond me. At some point a toddler showed up to XSXSW, and during both the James Leg and Possessed by Paul James shows, created some of XSXSW’s most memorable moments, as she danced and clapped to the music.
To try and explain a live Possessed by Paul James set is always a futile effort, but I will say PPJ delivered Friday night, like he always does, and crowned a beautiful night of roots and blues magic. But it didn’t end there. Soda Gardocki took a solo set on the second stage, and legitimized the whole XSXSW effort with his legendary presence. I don’t think people appreciate just what a unique and influential artist Soda Gardocki is. How many 12-string banjo players do you know? That unique instrument necessitated Soda developing a unique style that gives the music such an unusual, dark hue to compliment amazing songwriting and an engaging stage presence. When you’re watching Soda live, you feel like you’re in a group of friends, hanging out on the porch, shooting the shit, even if you’re amongst complete strangers, and that you probably own him money.
The only band who had the ability to close a day out so power packed with talent was the wild and crazy Restavrant. Originally scheduled to play on the main stage, they took the second stage instead to make the feel more intimate. They don’t play music for you, they crack you over the head with it like a folding chair. It is impossible not to submit to Restavarant’s music, no matter your musical stripes.
Saturday started off quiet and intimate, as Water Tower from Portland, OR unplugged, and played in the middle of the cavernous Moose Lodge hall, with the crowd huddled around them, admiring their adept musicianship and singing on some excellent takes of traditional bluegrass tunes, with their original compositions mixed in as well.
This was followed by encore performances Pearls Mahone and Rachel Brooke, and capping off the girl-power portion of XSXSW was the legend-in-making, Ruby Jane. The crowd was just beginning to fill out when she took the stage, yet when she began to play, the loudest hush of the whole weekend gripped Austin’s Moose Lodge. This wasn’t out of respect, it was out of necessity, as the mastery on display throttled you for attention. Complimented only by her guitarist Trevor LaBonte, the space allowed Ruby’s songwriting, timeless voice and soul, and world-caliber musicianship to shine. At some point, people will stop talking about how Ruby has played with Willie, Asleep At The Wheel, and countless other music legends, and artists will be bragging about how they once played with Ruby Jane.
This was followed by Lone Wolf‘s second performance, and another great collaborative moment on the weekend, as Husky Burnette joined him on stage for a couple of songs.
Hashknife Outfit, who made the trek out from Arizona played next, then morphed into the XSXSW house band of sorts for the rest of the night, with members backing Soda, who played on on the main stage next, and Tom VandenAvond who would play later. The most packed the Cracker Swamp second stage became, located in the Moose Lodge’s “Member’s Lounge” was when it was The Calamity Cubes’ turn, and calamity ensued right after Jason H. Buchanan threw down a short comedy set. In one of the few sets dogged by technical problems, they played plugged in, plugged out, whatever, it didn’t seem to matter or break their stride, and if anything made the performance more memorable.
Hellbound Glory, my goodness. The only way they can disappoint is if you expect them to let you down. They lose one of the best drummers in the business, and they just kept on going. You’ve seen their show a few times and expect it to start getting tired, and it never is. What made this set special was the amount of brand new, never-heard songs they threw out in dizzying succession. One after another were these brand new tunes, and each one was the best Hellbound Glory song you’d ever heard. And unlike where it might normally take a new song a few spins to grab you, these song stuck to your bones right away. It was mesmerizing. Leroy Virgil’s fountain is far from drying up, it is overflowing, and flooding the streets. They were joined on stage by Billy Cook, formerly of the .357 String Band.
Hellbound Glory’s set could only have been followed up by a living legend, and that is what XSXSW had at the headlining spot on Saturday Night in the form of James “Slim” Hand. Dressed to the 9′s, toting an all-star band, James and company brought class and authentic country soul. The sincerity of the man and his songs slayed the crowd and inspired a floor full of dancers. James legitimized all of the weekend’s proceedings and was in rare form. His voice was so strong and confident, displaying, even taunting you with his deliberateness and control, as his humor and sincerity endeared him to the the crowd.
Tom VandenAvond shouldered the difficult task of following James, and rose to the occasion, starting off with a short solo set, and then inviting members of Hashknife Outfit, The Calamity Cubes, and Ariana Celestine on stage. Your country roots event cannot become officially sanctioned until Tom VandenAvond sings his anthemic song “Brick by Brick”, with as many people as can fit on stage stretching for microphones, and the crowd clapping and singing along. So humble and true and such a friend to all, whenever Tom VandenAvond plays, he feels like the hub in the middle of the wheel that everything else revolves around.
The reason Sunday Valley was the last band to play XSXSW 5 was because nobody can follow Sunday Valley. Listen to me folks, and listen good. Sunday Valley is the best band right now in country music. It may take a while for the world to wake up to that fact, but it is a fact nonetheless. And just like with all the great bands, and the great artists like Sturgill Simpson that truly deserve the success, they’re too humble, too good of guys to do the devil’s work you must do to be “successful” in music. So it is up to us. The folks that stuck around for Sunday Valley’s performance, they will be like the old codgers who talk about when they saw Stevie Ray, or Jimi, or Janis before they were big. Sunday Valley is amazing on expressionless terms, and Sturgill Simpson is on of the best all-around guitar players and singers I have ever seen.
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Words cannot express the gratitude Saving Country Music, Hillgrass Bluebilly, Muddy Roots, and all the other entities involved in one way or another have for all the artists that played, and all the patrons who came to Saving Muddy Hillgrass XSXSW5. Next year, let’s make it even better!
(photos by Rev. Nix of Cracker Swamp Productions)
Hillgrass Bluebilly Records, Muddy Roots Music, and savingcountrymusic.com, along with KVRX 91.7, The Real Deal KOOK 93.5, and Cracker Swamp Productions are excited to announce the complete lineup for XSXSW 5, or “Saving Muddy Hillgrass”, a two day event happening parallel with South by Southwest, the annual mid-March music festival in Austin, TX.
The “X” in XSXSW stands for the independent spirit of the event, attempting to re-create the original magic and focus of SXSW by bringing together artists, fans, media, and music management in a healthy environment free of the rigors that plague the modern-day SXSW landscape, and where music and people are the first focus.
XSXSW 5 will be showcasing talent from as far north as Michigan, as far west as California, as far east as Florida, and as far away as Australia, while also highlighting some of the best Texas talent, from the 17-year-old fiddle phenom Ruby Jane, to the legendary elder-statesman of authentic country music, James Hand. This is the 5th year of XSXSW, started by Hillgrass Bluebilly in 2008, and joined by Muddy Roots and Saving Country Music this year to create an event with even more local scope, and international impact.
Within the principle of putting people first, then music, and using music as a bridge to build community, XSXSW 5 is being held at Austin’s legendary Moose Lodge, an institution harkening back to a time where values and community were more closely cherished. The sprawling facilities will house 3 stages, a full bar, food, camping, plenty of easy and free parking, and lots of great music and good times.
The Moose Lodge is perfectly located for SXSW goers. It is outside of the madness that SXSW brings to Austin’s downtown corridor and the surrounding neighborhoods, making it the ideal destination for locals who want to enjoy great local and national music, but do not want to deal with the drama and headaches SXSW usually affords. Yet at the same time, it is mere minutes from downtown, making the short trek for hardcore SXSW attendees quick and simple.
And if you can’t make it there in person, the event will be broadcast LIVE at http://www.savingcountrymusic.com/live.
The artists and organizers of XSXSW 5 ask you to head over to the Austin Moose Lodge on March 16th & 17th to take in real, authentic roots music sung from the heart and from some of the best talent from around the country. XSXSW 5 is thrown with the idea that a song can change a life, and music can change the world. Come on by and see where a song takes you!
Admittance: Donations start at $10/day. Doors open at noon. Tickets at the door.
Main Stage – Friday 3/16 Presented by KVRX 91.7
- 2:45-3:15 – Moonhangers
- 3:15 – 4:15 – Chili Cold Blood
- 5:15-6:15 – Run On Sentence
- 7:00-7:45 – Old Gray Mule
- 8:30-9:15 – Rachel Brooke
- 10:00-10:45 – Owsley Brothers
- 11:30-12:30 – Possessed by Paul James
- 1:00 am – Restavrant
Cracker Swamp Stage - Friday 3/16 by KRVX 91.7
- 1:00 PM – 1:45 – Patrick’s Beard
- 2:00-2:45 – Farmer Barrett
- 4:15 – 5:15 – Pearls Mahone
- 6:15 – 7:00 – Lone Wolf OMB
- 7:45 – 8:30 – Captain Mudhole
- 9:15 – 10:00 – Husky Burnette
- 10:45 – 11:30 – James Leg
- 12:15 – 1:00 am – Soda
- 2:30-3:30 – Pearls Mahone
- 4:30-5:30 – Ruby Jane
- 6:30-7:30 – Hashknife Outfit
- 8:30-9:30 – Soda
- 10:30 – 12:00 James “Slim” Hand
- 1:00 AM – Sunday Valley
Saturday – Cracker Swamp Stage 3/17 by KOOK 93.5
- 1:30 – 2:30 – Water Tower (Bucket Boys)
- 3:30-4:30 – Rachel Brooke
- 5:30-6:30 – Lone Wolf OMB
- 7:30-8:30 – Calamity Cubes
- 9:30 – 10:30 – Hellbound Glory
- 12:00 – 1 AM – Tom VandenAvond
Stage 3 will be an outdoor stage where performers will be warming up, and jamming and collaborating with other artists. Stage 3 will be active only when there’s no performance on the main stage.
The Austin Moose Lodge is located in east Austin, minutes from downtown at 2103 E M Franklin Ave Austin, TX 78723, easily accessible from the airport by 183, and from downtown by either MLK Blvd or Manor Rd.
A few years ago, the only thing really lacking from the independent/underground country and roots world was true festival infrastructure. Now with The Muddy Roots Festival heading into it’s 3rd year, Farmageddon Fest getting up and running this summer, things are looking up. And 2012 will be the first year that underground roots will be fully represented at one the largest and most-important gatherings of the music tribes in all of the world: Austin, TX’s Annual South by Southwest (SXSW) event in mid March.
Saving Country Music, along with Muddy Roots and Cracker Swamp have teamed up with Hillgrass Bluebilly‘s 5th Annual XSXSW showcase to create a two day, three stage event for the edification of the underground roots fan, and to help represent the independent roots community to the rest of the independent music world.
And unlike most of the rest of SXSW, there will be no need for armbands or badges that cost in the hundreds of dollars to gain access to the music, and the event is being held outside of the madness Austin’s downtown corridor becomes during the event, at The Austin Moose lodge just east of downtown. XSXSW 5 will give fans a chance to be a part of SXSW, without all the trappings that usually keep many locals and out-of-towners away. And this year’s event will also be extra special, as it will serve as a pre-release party for Texas legend James Hand‘s upcoming album.
Artists and fans from all over the country are coming to this event. Admission to see all of these great bands will be a measly $10, so get out to Texas and pony up! But in the event you cannot make it, portions of it will be broadcast right here on Saving Country Music, through SCM LIVE.
Many more details will be coming soon, so stay tuned to Saving Country Music.
Day 1 Lineup – Friday March 16th
- Possessed by Paul James’
- Soda Gardocki
- James Leg
- Farmer Barrett
- Husky Burnette
- Patrick’s Beard
- Run-On Sentence
Day 2 Saturday March 17th
- Sunday Valley
- James Hand
- Hellbound Glory
- Tom VandenAvond
- Hashknife Outfit
- Calamity Cubes
- Rachel Brooke
- Pearls Mahone
- Ruby Jane
There are a few basic principles that govern Saving Country Music, and one of them is that the focus is always people first, then music. Music is just the excuse to learn about people, and to create community. More than any of the other awards, this principle governs who gets chosen for Artist of the Year. But overall, the one requisite that must be met is that the artist must inspire me more than any other.
In 2009, when Saving Country Music was still somewhat in it’s infancy, I named Justin Townes Earle‘s Midnight At The Movies Album of the Year. After watching moving performances from Justin in 2009, talking to him personally and in an interview format, I was convinced this was a man who had a singular talent way beyond what his famous name afforded him. I was moved, and inspired. There is nothing I take more seriously than putting my name behind somebody, as an artist, and as a human, and I was willing to put whatever force my feeble, fledgling SCM name had behind Justin Townes Earle.
Then came 2010, at South by Southwest in March, where Justin Townes Earle performed. My stupid little blog now burgeoning, and my eyes all aglow to see my favorite artist perform, when Earle took the stage in his light blue pants two sizes too small and a bowtie, I could tell immediately he was wasted, and wasted while the sun was hung at mid afternoon. He put on a pathetic performance that didn’t just disappoint me, it broke my heart. I was devastated. I believed in this man, and as a student of his career I knew the key to Justin’s success was his sobriety. I had no doubt in my mind he was off the wagon. Rumors swirling about SXSW seemed to confirm this diagnosis.
But anybody can have a bad performance, or a relapse, and so I kept my observations to myself, waiting for a possible redemption. Unfortunately I did not find it in the album he released later in the year, Harlem River Blues. It’s not that it was bad, it’s just I knew Justin was capable of so much better, and in my review I called into question Justin’s sobriety as the culprit.
My accusation effected a small, but heated backlash from some JTE fans who said it was unfair and unfounded for me to question his sobriety. Then in September of 2010, a few weeks after posting my review it was revealed that Justin Townes Earle had been arrested in Indianapolis after a drink and drug-fueled altercation. Saving Country Music broke the story. Justin Townes Earle and I had come full circle.
My next Justin Townes Earle interaction was in December of 2010, when he performed at The Parish in Austin, TX, stone sober. Since that performance, I have had to come to grips with the idea that I may never see a stronger live performance by an artist for the rest of my life. It was that good. Legendary. And many folks who witnessed Justin on the same tour and subsequent ones have said similar things.
As a music critic, I always make sure to measure music not only against it’s peers and other common standards, I measure it against the strengths and shortcomings of the artists themselves. And doesn’t it seem like the most brilliant of the artists amongst us are many times the ones to be balanced adversely by demons? If Justin’s artistic brilliance is measured 10 out of 10, then so is his propensity to get up every morning and shoot heroin. Only the people that live in that same extremity of the addiction battle can imagine that struggles that Justin Townes Earle must fight every day. And then to ride the emotional roller coaster of live performance, travel, uneven schedules, and the ridiculous amounts of temptations that adorn the musician’s path at every turn? Simply watching Justin Townes Earle stay sober is inspiring in itself. Pile on the fact that, oh yeah, he’s also one of the most engaging live performers of our generation, and has accumulated widespread adoration and respect from an impressive swath of the music world. That is the definition of a Saving Country Music Artist of the Year.
And Justin Townes Earle has admitted that in 2011 he had some very small, but very real relapses. And Justin will have more relapses. He admits that, and that is the theme of the song “It Won’t Be The Last Time” from his upcoming album. And I’m OK with that.
And I don’t care if you don’t like Justin Townes Earle’s music. What is music anyway except the mastering of motor skills to move your fingers and sing in such a way as to entertain? Compared to fighting off the demons of a man whose been a drug addict since before he was a teenager, music is relegated to a parlor trick. And I don’t care if Justin Townes Earle, his management or label, or anybody else gives a damn about my dumb little award. He probably thinks I’m an asshole, and you know what, I’m OK with that too. All I know is that in 2011, no other artist, none, inspired me more than Justin Townes Earle.
When I sat down to name the top 10 live performances of 2011 as seen through my eyes, I didn’t know what a mess I was making for myself, and it wasn’t until then that I realized what a power packed year for live music it has been. My 10 stretched to 15 fast, and I’m still leaving out acts like Hellbound Glory, Lucky Tubb, and Ray Wylie Hubbard. I will be the first to tell you that is bullsh, but the line had to be drawn somewhere.
Unlike the Album of the Year and Song of the Year, with my inability to see every live performance, this is simply based on my own experience. However live performances always go into consideration for other awards, like the three solid Hellbound Glory shows I saw were considered when nominating them for album of the year.
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I really enjoyed the Sundays each month that Ruby Jane played historic Gruene Hall down in the heart of Texas, but it was a random night at Austin’s Continental Club that gave rise to her standout performance of the year with composer Graham Reynolds. Ruby’s stellar musicianship and passion on fiddle is hard to match. The flourish at the end of this song was something to make the hair stand up on the back of your neck.
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This is what South by Southwest is designed to do: take people who are involved in the music business, and put them in front of the artists in intimate setting to bypass all the press release and preview track bullshit so you can decide if an artist is worthy of your attention or not. The Revolution Bar in gentrifying east Austin was the perfect place to catch an intimate performance by Austin Lucas, joined only by his sister Chloe who supplied sublime harmonies and banjo. His simple, honest, and heartfelt performance proved to me this was an artist I needed to bring into the Saving Country Music fold.
They screw up in the middle of this, and it is still awesome. Listen to how quiet it gets in the room at the end.
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Speaking of hushing rooms and heartfelt songwriting, by evoking character through his music like few others I’ve ever seen, Charlie Parr and his guitar suck you in with songs of heartache sung with immeasurable soul. Charlie doesn’t sing about subjects in third person, he becomes the subject of his songs in an uncanny channeling of character, and makes the story flesh and bone right before your eyes.
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Whitey Morgan played the Pickathon Festival as well and had two excellent sets, but the standout show for me happened back in Austin during Bloodshot Records’ annual showcase at the Red Eye Fly, where Whitey Morgan & The 78′s were booked as the headliners. The sound was positively awful that night. The Waco Brothers played their whole set with the only working speakers being their monitors on stage. Meanwhile Whitey and the boys were sitting in their van, passing a bottle and anticipating a train wreck by the time they took the stage.
Whitey climbed on stage and took no prisoners, cussing and swearing the stage hands straight before the even did anything wrong. Bloodshot owner Nan had her face in her hands, worried Whitey was about to make a scene when what he was really doing was making sure the ship was righted before they started, and trust me, after Whitey put the fear of God in everyone, it was. Then they delivered the best set I have seen them play, and playing the headliner spot of the Bloodshot Records showcase, that is when I knew Whitey Morgan & The 78′s had arrived.
Here they are sharing the stage with legendary Eddie Spaghetti of the Supersuckers.
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11. Micah Schnabel of Two Cow Garage – ninebullets.net SXSW Showcase
Maybe not country, but nonetheless mind blowing was Micah Schnabel, who when PA issues kept his band Two Car Garage from plugging in, he grabbed his acoustic and did the solo thing like few others can. This guy is one of the most authentically-passionate performers on stage I’ve ever seen. As I like to say: if Possessed By Paul James gives birth on stage, Micah Schnabel commits suicide on stage.
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I saw this same lineup, at the same place, two different times this year, and I still did not get my fill. The perfect traveling amalgam of music, it starts off with James Hunnicutt playing solo, then Jayke Orvis taking the stage with Hunnicutt, Fishgutz from The Gallows, and Joe Perreze on banjo making up the “Broken Band,” and then at some point they are all on stage as The Goddamn Gallows.
And then there’s fire.
Joined here on stage by Gary Lindsay.
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9. Slim Cessna’s Auto Club – SXSW Showcase @ Spiderhouse
For years, the two best bands to see live have been Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers and Denver, CO’s Slim Cessna’s Auto Club. In support of their new album Unentitled they made their way down to SXSW and played a set mixing their new pop mocking songs in with their long-time favorites. This band is mind blowing every time. (video is not the best; only one I could find from the show)
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In the middle of a nearly year-long hiatus from the road, Hank3 drove out to Austin for a one-off show at The Revival Festival, and it was a good one. Not having to save anything for the next day and having nothing to recover from the night before, and dragging the badass chicken-picking half-blind maestro Johnny Hiland with him out from Nashville, Hank3 threw down the best live show I’ve seen from him in the post-Joe Buck era. It was one for the ages.
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To see either of these bands alone is an opportunity you cannot pass up. But to put them together back to back was a music cream dream come true. These two bands and their dynamic frontmen were instrumental in the revival of lower Broadway in Nashville, and the same dynamic that gave rise to the abominable frontman of lower Broadway was on display Sunday night at Muddy Roots.
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Just about every one of Willie Nelson’s kids plays music in one capacity or another. How many do it well is another story. But Lukas Nelson and his band The Promise of the Real is the real deal my friends. Far beyond riding coattails or his daddy’s name, 2011 in many ways was a coming out party for Lukas Nelson, and his performance at the 2011 Willie’s 4th of July Picnic / Country Throwdown picnic proved why. The man simply stole the show.
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5.Various Artists – Muddy Roots Festival Late Night Jam
This might be the biggest live music memory of 2011, but without any specific artist to attribute it to, or any other real way to quantify it, I’m just not sure where to put it on this list. What I do know is when you get a legend like Wayne “The Train” Hancock leading JB Beverley, Banjer Dan, all of Hellbound Glory, and who knows else, it’s hard to leave it off the list. It may have not been pretty, but it certainly was legendary.
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4. Marty Stuart – Gruene Hall, Gruene, TX
This was the performance that convinced me that Marty Stuart might be the one to save country music (read full review). This wasn’t a punk gone country show, or a neo-traditional swing back bit, it was simply pure, true country, yet dripping with energy, an engaging nature, attitude, and gospel soul. And his band The Fabulous Superlatives might be one of the best collections of country talent ever assembled. Simply put, this was the best set of straightforward country I’ve seen in years.
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3. Possessed by Paul James – Muddy Roots Festival
First off, the fact that this moment sits at #3 for the year tells you just what a power packed year for music experiences in underground roots music 2011 has been, because really, this moment sets itself apart in the musical experiences of a lifetime.
I saw Possessed by Paul James play live 6 times from late 2010 until now, and in that period, I watched a rebirth of one of the most dynamic live performers I’ve ever seen. Voice issues put him on hiatus for a bit, and when he started performing again, there was a slight timidness, a lack of confidence in his new vocal reality he was struggling with. But over that period, the confidence and abandon came back in full force, to where now I cannot think of another solo performer I would place above him in ability and consistency. Possessed by Paul James delivers every time, and I have come to think of him as a true headliner, and a true legend in the live and recorded context. They say that Possessed By Paul James gives birth to his songs on stage. In 2011 we also saw a PPJ resurrection.
By the end of his Muddy Roots set, some folks were in tears, and everyone was talking about the mysterious burst of wind on that blisteringly hot day that hit the tent right as he began to play. Call that mysterious wind burst a sign of the divine, or quantify it by explaining the dramatic atmospheric wind shift that preceded a change from the hot weather to a tropical disturbance ushered in by Tropical Storm Lee that moved over middle Tennessee. Either way, PPJ channeled that energy through his music, and changed people’s lives.
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2. Sunday Valley – The Pickathon Festival, Portland, OR
I really don’t know what to say here, except that Sunday Valley was the best live band I discovered in 2011, and very possibly might be the best live band right now in all of country music. I know that may come across as a platitude, but I believe it, and to try and use words to describe their live experience almost seems insulting; you just have to experience it yourself. Sturgill Simpson is country’s version of Jimmy Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughan. Mark my words, 2012 might be the year of Sunday Valley. (read more in live review from Pickathon)
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1. Justin Townes Earle – The Parish, Austin, TX
I will start this off by saying I know some people will read this having also seen Justin Townes Earle at some point in 2011, and thinking I’m crazy for putting him here at the top spot. That is because JTE can be hit and miss live, because JTE has a drug and alcohol problem.
When I saw him live at SXSW in 2010, that is when I first recognized a sharp dropoff in the quality of his live show, and a few months later, called him out on it in connection with a rumored drug problem. Later that year in September, he got arrested in Indianapolis after tearing up a dressing room, and brawling with cops. Shortly therafter came a rehab stint, and by January of this year, he was back on tour. We know from subsequent stories that between now and January, JTE had another relapse with heroin, and a relapse while on tour in Australia, and I’ve heard mixed review of his live shows.
I am not omnipresent, so I can’t speak on all his performances, but in Austin, TX, Justin Townes Earle put on the performance of his lifetime. Nearly a year later, I still get chills as I sit here and write about it. Stone cold sober, having just been from hell and back, his own mortality and career hanging in the balance, Justin Townes Earle sang from the heart like nobody else I have ever seen, or possibly ever will see. Since the performance, I have had to come to grips with the fact that I may never be moved by another performance for the rest of my life, like the way I was moved that night. (read review)
I am very excited to announce a unique partnership between Saving Country Music, Hillgrass Bluebilly Records & Entertainment, and Muddy Roots Music (The Muddy Roots Festivals) to bring together the 5th Annual XSXSW showcase, aka XSXSW 5, as part of the annual mid-March gathering of the tribes in Austin, TX known as South By Southwest.
The idea is to create a larger and more robust footprint for underground country and roots music at what is the yearly premier music event for the independent music industry, held in the “Live Music Capital of the World.” Unfortunately over the years, SXSW has become more “industry” and less “independent” as the festival has grown, and it has become a logistical nightmare for bands and fans alike to attend. SXSW is in essence a “pay to play” event, asking for non-refundable money for artists to be considered for officially-sanctioned showcases, and the event overtakes the entire downtown corridor of Austin for official SXSW use.
The spirit behind XSXSW is to offer fans and artists an alternative to the SXSW madness, while still giving them the opportunity to take advantage of the massive collection of talent, resources, and networking capabilities SXSW affords, and unlike many SXSW events, it is completely open to the public. This is the 5th year Hillgrass Bluebilly has thrown the XSXSW event, and Saving Country Music and Muddy Roots are coming on board to give the showcase that much more support and impact. Previous XSXSW acts include Los Duggans, Left Lane Cruiser, Hillstomp, O’Death, Austin Lucas, & The Harmed Brothers.
And this is not just important to artists and people in and around Austin. XSXSW 5 will be a national event, with a national focus, yet still in the original spirit of SXSW of showcasing local talent next to national acts. For folks from Texas, the Southwest, or anywhere else that can’t make it to other big independent roots events like The Muddy Roots Festival, Farmageddon Fest, The Deep Blues Festival, etc., this might be your chance to take part in a large scale event. And for those that can’t make it at all, the event will be broadcast right here on SCM LIVE, giving rise to national, and international participation via the web.
And since the event is being held at The Austin Moose Lodge on the east side of town, just outside of the SXSW madness, it offers an alternative to Austin locals who regularly avoid the annual festivities because of the headache they create. Ample parking, huge indoor/outdoor facilities, 3 stages, yet not too far out of the city makes the Austin Moose Lodge the ideal location. And as Hillgrass Bluebilly founder Keith Mallette states, The Moose Lodge embodies:
…a revival of “lost America”, for our friends and family to have a place of our own. A place that IMPROVES & BUILDS FOR US as we bring them beautiful, exceptional music that you just flat out cant get anywhere else… and prove once again that you never know where a song might take you!
This initial lineup of bands is just the tip of the iceberg of what the two day event will include, but we wanted to make folks aware of what will transpire. Florida’s Cracker Swamp Productions is also involved, and other entities and sponsors will be coming on board soon. Stay tuned to Saving Country Music for more announcements and information on XSXSW 5 as March gets closer.
- Hellbound Glory
- James Hand
- Possessed by Paul James
- Rachel Brooke
- Husky Burnette
- Lone Wolf
- Ruby Jane
At South by Southwest this March, I had the opportunity to sit down with Anthony and Jason Galaz, the brothers behind Muddy Roots Music and the Muddy Roots Festival happening in Cookeville, TN this September 3rd & 4th.
My plan was to get some information about how the Muddy Roots Festival had come about, and maybe try to dig deeper into the reasons of why the participants of the inaugural festival last year had such high praise for it. I secured that information just fine, but the Galaz brothers had a lot of wisdom to offer as well; for example the idea of looking at music in eras as opposed to genres, and taking an “it’s just money” approach to following your dreams and doing something you believe in.
You can listen/download the 20+ minute interview below, and for those that prefer to read, the bigger points are transcribed below as well.
Triggerman: I started this thing over three years ago, and in the first year I wrote an article about how much we needed one festival that could unite all this music. From the country side, from the roots side, from the blues side. There’s was always rumors that one of these would happen, and then all of a sudden there’s Muddy Roots. Where did you come from, and where did you get the inspiration to put on the Muddy Roots Festival?
Jason: Originally we are from California, but I live in Tennessee now, I’ve lived there 5 or 6 years now. Anthony still lives in California. We started off just booking bands locally, bands we love. (The artist) Soda was a big inspiration for all of this. I decided to start booking shows in Nashville, which led me to Keith from Hillgrass (Hillgrass Bluebilly Records). Definitely a snowball is what happened from there.
Triggerman: So you started out as a local Nashville booking agent or promoter?
Jason: I would say “promoter” is an official term, but more just a fan that wanted to see these bands. It was selfish reasons. I wanted to see them in my town, so I brought them to me.
Triggerman: Where did the term “Muddy Roots” come in? And what does “Muddy Roots” mean to you?
Jason: We had booked shows in the past. We’d been messing with entertainment since High School days. Anthony actually coined the term when we were trying to come up with some kind of name. And it just made sense because we like a lot of music, we’re very eclectic, but it just seemed like all the music we liked fell between genres or classifications. And we were discovering roots music and liked bands that paid homage to it. So it just made sense that roots bands that were hard to define, would be “Muddy Roots”.
Triggerman: So Anthony, you’re trying to change a light bulb, and you slip on the wet porcelain of a toilet seat and the term “Muddy Roots” comes to your brain like the flux capacitor?
Anthony: There was just something so deep about this music, like it says so much, but it’s not polished like mainstream country and all of that. No cookie cutter, it was just muddy, but not in a dirty way. I guess it’s hard to explain, it kind of just came out of nowhere and it was like “This is Muddy Roots music”. It defined it for me in my head. It’s down in the trenches and swamps. This is the original stuff.
Triggerman: So how do you go from booking shows locally to putting your ass on the line booking a whole festival?
Anthony: It’s hard to tame Jason honestly. We do this as fans first. He just wanted to see the bands that he was a fan of. And then he was like “You know what, I want to throw a festival. I want to bring everyone together. Everybody can camp.” There was really no limit, he was like “Let’s just do it.” And it just seemed to form and grow itself. It was awesome. Booking these bands before, we knew there was a demand, seeing the fan’s reaction and the community. We said “let’s do this on a bigger scale”. What’s the worst that happens, you go into debt? Well, that’s just what happens. It’s just money.
Jason: Ironically being a fan of all these bands first, we really don’t get to enjoy them at the festival because we’re working too much. It became kind of a cause for us, because we believe that most of these bands we book are better than anything you’ll hear on the radio. They’re just not picked up and marketed, that’s all. So we had this master plan of booking bands that we think deserve larger audiences, and then book bands that are a little more known, and put them together. We’re going to expose the bands we love to the audience of bigger bands. Granted, we’re just working-class folk, we’re not a corporate festival, so we can’t book too big of bands. But I’d say it’s working.
Triggerman: Everyone that went to the Muddy Roots Festival last year came out of Cookeville, TN singing the praises, and saying it was a life altering experience. That’s what you heard: a sense of community, a sense of brotherhood.
Anthony: I don’t think we realized it at the time, but for a lot of the bands, it seemed like a family reunion. They were camping together and the fans and bands were together. There was no barricade, no barrier, no VIP sections backstage. And that’s what gave the people who made the pilgrimage to Cookeville from whatever state or country such an experience, because all the bands they listen to, they could just go up and talk to them and hang out with them. There’s was nobody that was “too cool”. There were no pedestals.
Jason: I like that, there were no pedestals. It wasn’t “Hey, there’s rock stars, let’s look at them, but we can’t talk or touch them”. Another thing that lends to it is that a lot of the roots music we’re paying homage to comes from an era that wasn’t so corporate in their events. When they made those songs, it was probably out in the countryside somewhere, living a different life, and you were able to live by those same rules at Muddy Roots.
Triggerman: You’re able to put country bands and blues bands right next to each other, and it seems to work.
Jason: I think that because a lot of us have respect more for eras more than genres.
I can’t remember how it came up, but an OB/GYN doctor told me once that when you cut a pregnant woman open for a C-section, the sound it makes is the same made when a needle scratches vinyl. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but while listening to Micah Schnabel from the band Two Cow Garage , it occurred to me that his songs might be the sound you hear if you could cut open a human soul filled with a life’s worth of pressure and pain.
I had seen the name “Two Cow Garage” around, but can’t say I heard any of their music until this year at South by Southwest, when the band was booked in a slowly gentrifying east Austin bar at a showcase thrown by ninebullets.net. Because of concerns about the PA system, the whole band didn’t play. Instead Micah played solo, which gave me a good primer for this stripped down acoustic album. I promised myself before SXSW, I would write about the best non-country band that I saw, and even without this promise I would be writing Micah Schnabel, because out of the 25+ acts I experienced, nobody performed with such blinding, reckless soul.
This my friends is what music is all about. I certainly wouldn’t classify this album country, more alt-country or folk, or maybe just acoustic music. It doesn’t really matter what you call it when you can pen such masterful lyrics as these, and then deliver them with such abandon, with little regard for vanity or reception. If watching Possessed by Paul James live is like watching someone give birth on stage, then watching Micah is like watching a suicide. He screams and bleeds the pain out until all the demons are spent, then in the very next song discovers a fresh new batch of demons to expel with equal vehemence.
“Cut Me, Mick” is an absolute masterpiece of a song, as Micah rips his shirt open in mad, profuse self-righteous anger mixed with bitter, self-loathing awareness. Schnabel has the bravery to delve to places in the human soul most folks are way too afraid to go; the shit that we all push down and compartmentalize in ourselves, the ugly parts and the fears that we are unwilling to acknowledge. That stuff is Micah’s commodity. He expels it into a big bucket, and then with wide, careless swaths, paints huge, chaotic landscapes with it, working with it so deep and intimately as a medium that even when he is not performing, the genesis of human frailties and fears lingers under his fingernails like the grease and grit of a mechanic.
Micah Schnabel is not a good singer in the traditional sense. What he is, is unafraid, and his boldness and uninhibited honesty delivered with unchecked passion makes for very engaging singing.
There may be good and better songs on this album, but I don’t hear any bad ones. I give some credit it to this from the stripped down production that doesn’t get in the way of the superb lyrics and the honesty at the heart of the songs. As epic as “Cut Me, Mick” is, the song “American Static” might display the best songwriting of the album.
Well these late nights, quoting Kerouac & Wilde
We just use them to revile those who remind us of ourselves.
The other song that really struck me was a cover of The Replacement’s “Can’t Hardly Wait” which was also covered on SCM’s 2009 Album of the Year Midnight at the Movies by Justin Townes Earle’s. I am admittedly very hard on covers songs, but this is where I swallowed the hook the hardest on Micah Schnabel. He made me appreciate the song even more, both versions of it, as he slowed it down and stripped it, and forced you to really listen to the lyrics, not just the catchy beat and cadence, and really delve into what the lyrics and the theme behind the song are trying to convey.
This record is endearingly lo-fi. Not sloppy, or poorly produced, just simple and not overly obsessive about the small things. Count offs at the beginning of songs are included, and even the compu-generated click track on “Cut Me, Mick” is still there. What does it matter? These little things may scare off the passive music listener, but the radio isn’t going to play these songs anyway. The most important elements are all accounted for and captured exquisitely.
I sense a lot of similarities between When The Stage Lights Go Dim, and Roger Alan Wade’s Deguello Motel. Both men strip it down to expose the heart of the song, though Micah goes a little farther, adding some fiddle if it’s called for, but only if it will fit, and both men sing their guts out with no fear. Some will listen and feel this is too “indie” for their taste, and I can’t argue with that. But this is one you have to listen to with your guts, not your ear, and if you do, you will find enjoyment.
Two guns up!
Purchase and Listen To Tracks From Suburban Home Records
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Video from above mentioned SXSW showcase:
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?
I always must start off when talking about gothic country by saying that it is not for everyone. Slim Cessna’s Auto Club is weird, weird music. It is also very very good music.
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. The fact that you really have no idea what the hell is going on keeps the music interesting beyond the engaging nature of the songs themselves.
This is a country/roots based band, with standup bass, steel guitar, some banjo and even autoharp at times, but it goes much beyond that. This is the band that the one friend you have from high school that was really into The Cure will listen to and say, “You know, I was never really into country until I heard Slim Cessna.” The band itself tamps down any “what genre?” banter by simply calling themselves “American”.
The first two songs “Three Bloodhounds, Two Shepherds, One Fila Brasileiro” and “The Unballed Ballad of the New Folksinger” are pretty indicative of their back catalogue–dark tracks, like their previously-released signature songs “This Is How We Do Things in the Country” and “Americado” that have made Slim Cessna a stalwart of gothic Americana. I was fortunate to have just seen them at South by Southwest right before reviewing this album, because it reinforced how integral the live show is to The Auto Club’s music.
Fair or not, I will always lump them with Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers, in that they are wildly dynamic live, animated and engaging with the crowd. Slim Cessna employs the very rare double frontman lineup, with Slim Cessna himself and his “aw shucks” country attitude counterbalancing Jay Munly’s morose, bordering on morbid deportment. You appreciate after watching them live that chants and motions meant for the live setting are built into the song structures. These elements may not always translate recorded, but if you’ve seen them live before, they do. Just like JD Wilkes of the Shack Shakers, the faith healer/snake oil salesman mannerisms of Slim and Munly hit on something very visceral, and make the music much more than the sum of its parts, as you succumb to its trance and message.
But then out of left field on Unentitled comes the song “No Doubt About It”, that has almost a cheeky, mid-80′s pop call and answer routine going on in it. “A Smashing Indictment of Character” might sound like a dark song from the title, but the structure is of a lilting, almost Do-Wop 50′s-feeling arrangement. “Do You Know Thee Enemy” and “My Last Black Scarf” might be a little more of what normally is expected from The Auto Club, but they are also wickedly catchy songs; accessible, and infectious. This band really has an ear for what speaks to people in music from a very basic level, and then knows how to build that into songs without compromising integrity or artistic notion, even using the irony of catchiness as an artistic expression in itself. This is what makes Slim Cessna’s Auto Club one of the most engaging bands I have ever experienced, and one of the most underrated bands in American music.
And they never compromise what makes Slim Cessna so unique: the weirdness. “No Doubt About It” is catchy enough to find its way on to Top 40 radio, but the lyrics still reside in that gothic, poetry-inspired obscurity. And when I say “gothic” and “dark”, I don’t mean the “drinkin’, druggin’, Satan” stuff. Think more Edgar Alan Poe: how religious dogma and traditionalist culture intertwine with the modern-day decay of values.
But in the end the question is, is the music any good? Well yeah, it’s great. This album has been heavy in my rotation for over a week, and is showing no signs of letting up. I will say I think the first couple of tracks are a little weak, and I would have left off “Hallelujah Anyway” that appears near the end, which compromised their subtly in lyric and dragged out too long. But the heart of this album is very solid, and after a decade of making music, Slim Cessna has figured out a way to continue to keep their music fresh, relevant, and engaging: by being slightly normal for a change.
Again, this is not for everybody. For sure, there is not a lot of twang here. What is here is good music for haunted souls, and this just might be the music, or specifically the album (since it is so accessible) to turn you on to a vein of musical taste you never knew you had.
Two Guns Up!
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Just announced, this Sunday night (3-27), Hellbound Glory will be broadcasting their performance at Will’s Pub in Orlando, FL on SCM LIVE! Tune in at 9 PM Eastern, 8 Central for opening act Lone Wolf OMB, who just released his debut album a few weeks ago.
I just had the fortune of seeing Hellbound Glory less than a week ago at South by Southwest. It’s a rarity to get such a great mix of top notch songwriting, with an energetic and fun live show. Leroy Virgil’s soul is like a fount of country music. He’s one of those rare birds where songs just burst out of him so quickly and so fluidly, a concerned observer might worry some or many of them would be lost down the drain. Hank Williams was like that. Many other professional songwriters like Roger Alan Wade are like that.
And usually those types live with their demons right up at the surface, and having spent a good amount of time around Leroy during SXSW, I can say he has that disposition as well. That’s how you know his songs are genuine. There is a fire in his eye, and a perennial sideways grin that hints of the no-good running through his brain. However with a kid to his name now, Leroy seemed to know his limitations and boundaries. He may be up until 5 AM, but it will be drinking beer and swapping licks on the guitar, not snorting coke and taking a ride in a police car.
Leroy told me right now he has two full albums of material to record with Hellbound Glory, and two more albums with a new project he’s put together called “The eXcavators”. He debuted a few new songs during the Rusty Knuckles Showcase at SXSW, and I had my camera ready to capture a couple of them, and one of their older, signature songs. Check out the wordsmithing at the beginning of the first video, and please join us Sunday night for this rare live broadcast.
For those that have never been to SXSW, the whole thing is broken down into showcases. A showcase can be put on by a record label, a booking agency, a publicity agency, a radio station, a blog, it doesn’t matter. And where doesn’t matter either. Wherever there is space in or near downtown Austin, there’s a band playing. Bars and venues of course, but restaurants, street corners, even gas stations are all fair game. Find yourself a space and make it happen!
There are two major types of showcases, “official” SXSW showcases, and unofficial showcases. The official showcases can be hard to get into. You might need tickets, or wristbands or badges, or some combination thereof, and those things can cost exorbitant amounts of money. But many of the unofficial showcases are cheap or free, and some even offer free beer and free food. Last year I only paid to get into one of the dozen or so showcases I attended, and that was the very last one. This year will likely be the same.
A lot of the unofficial showcases might dub themselves as “anti-SXSW” “not-SXSW” or “XSXSW”. These are usually grassroots-based showcases that are against the industry takeover that has happened with SXSW over the years, and think the festival should focus more on the music.
Here’s the list of my Top 5 showcases I will be attending.
#1 Hillgrass Bluebilly’s 4th Annual XSXSW Showcase
This is the top showcase for me this year folks, from Hillgrass Bluebilly Records. It is a packed lineup at what is becoming the biggest anti-SXSW event in Austin. Check out this lineup, delivered on three stages over 5 hours:
8:35 – The Harmed Brothers // 9:20 – Shake It Like A Caveman // 9:40 – The Boomswagglers // 9:55 – Willy Tea Taylor // 10:05 – Rose’s Pawn Shop // 10:20 – Soda // 10:45 – Austin Lucas // 11:00 - Tom Vandenavond // 11:40 – Drag The River // 12:20 – Chili Cold Blood // 1:05 – Possessed by Paul James
#2 Bloodshot Records Showcases
Last year I planned my whole SXSW around the Bloodshot Records events, and that’s not a bad way to go about it. Boasting a lineup of Scott H Biram, Whitey Morgan & The 78′s, Eddie Spaghetti (of the Supersuckers), Jon Langford, Ha Ha Tonka, it’s hard to miss. It is also one of the few chances to see The Waco Brothers, who are never given enough credit for being there at the beginning of the “Death of Country” scene that creates the foundation of Bloodshot.
Last year the Bloodshot Showcases created two of my favorite moments of SXSW, 1) Whitey Morgan telling the story of how Dale Watson gave him the song “Where Do You Want It?” about Billy Joe Shaver’s shooting (watch video), and Chris Scruggs (BR549, Hank III, Bob Wayne, too many others to list) playing with Rosie Flores (watch video).
#3 ninebullets.net Showcases
When ninebullets.net published the lineup for not one, but two showcases, I was blown away. It made me think, why the hell doesn’t Saving Country Music have a showcase? Maybe next year folks, but for now I’m going to be enjoying the fruits of everyone else’s labors. More info on the ninebullets showcases.
#4 TeXchromosome – Women with Texas Spirit
Brigitte London & Ruby Jane at the same show!? This showcase is power packed with beautiful and talented women folks, and once I get there, I ain’t leaving! It goes down Friday the 18th.
12-12:30-Kim Monroe // 12:40-1:10- Janine Wilson // 1:20-1:50- Robin Wiley // 2-2:30-Bonny Holmes // 2:45-3:15 – Linda McRae// 3:30-4::00 Mandy Marie Luke // 4:00-4:30 – Brigitte London // 4:45 -5:45-Temple Ray & The Mastersons // 6-6:40 – Ruby Jane // 6:55 -7:35 – Jess Klein // 7:45-8:25 – Penny Jo Pullus // 8:30-9:10 -Lisa Morales // 9:20-10:30 -Lissa Hattersley & The Greezy Wheels Family Band
#5 Rusty Knuckles Showcase
This will be my first chance to see Hellbound Glory, and I wouldn’t miss it for anything. Click here for more info.
Next week down here in Austin, TX will be the great gathering of the tribes known as South by Southwest (commonly referred in type as SXSW). SXSW is like a huge music festival, on top of a huge music convention, on top of a film festival and industry seminar all wrapped into one. There’s no way to make you appreciate the scope of SXSW in the written word. It consumes an entire US city, from top to bottom, east to west, and is the greatest opportunity all year to see top notch bands in one place.
Not every one can be here, but I will be, and leading up to SXSW, I’ll do my best to get everyone ready for the big shindig, including everyone that cannot attend. As I prepare for it, cover it, and then wrap it up, I’ll try to encapsulate the experience for everyone, and through articles, pictures, videos, audio, and interviews, help you live the experience vicariously through me, and through osmosis hopefully turn you on to some great music. I am going to start by naming off my top 5 MUST SEE artists for anyone attending SXSW who is into roots music.
#1 Ruby Jane
This is it folks. In 2011, Ruby Jane is the best, most dynamic live performer on the earth planet, and if you’re down here and miss her, that’s grounds for having your music nerd membership revoked. And don’t take my word for it, wherever and whenever Ruby performs, people walk away in shock. That is why she was named the MVP of ACL Fest by The Austin Chronicle, and a Top 5 performer at Folk Alliance by No Depression. I’d recommend seeing her with the full band, but either way, you can’t pass up this opportunity. Since she doesn’t have a major album release yet, this is your only chance to experience the force of nature that is Ruby Jane. Simply put, she is the future of music.
Performances: Wed 16th: Noon-12:30 @ Lambert’s, 7-8 PM @ Romeos /// Friday 18th: 11:30-11:45 AM @ Four Seasons, 6-6:45 @ Opal Divines /// Saturday 2PM @ Hyde Park, 6-7 PM @ Whole Foods Roof, 1-1:50 AM Official SXSW showcase @ Driskill Hotel
This is another that is a must see in person, because no recorded format will ever do justice to the ridiculous spectacle that is a Possessed by Paul James show. The best way I’ve heard it described is that he doesn’t play songs, he gives birth to songs on stage. I have never seen a man so consumed by the spirit of music when he performs, and that same spellbinding effect is shared with the crowd. “It’s 50/50″ as Possessed says. You will leave this show on a high that will last weeks. His last album Feed The Family was also nominated for the Saving Country Music Album of the Year in 2010.
Performances: Hillgrass Bluebilly XSXSW Showcase Friday 18th @ Hole in the Wall 1 AM
Possessed by Paul James was nominated for Saving Country Music’s Album of the Year in 2010, but Hellbound Glory won it. Spectacular songwriting and a high energy show, this is the underground band that was so potent last year, they even got some attention from the mainstream. Leroy Virgil is an outright rising star. They are #1 on my personal “to see” list because I’ve never seen them live before. This is going to be fun!
Performances: Sat. 19th Rusty Knuckles Showcase @ Dirty Dog Bar 4:40 PM (And more. More info coming!)
Where do I even start with these guys, how do I describe them? I guess I could start off by pointing you to my review from last year’s SXSW, and after that just say that Slim Cessna’s Auto Club is a music experience all to itself. Country-ish, gothic-ish, it cannot be missed.
Performances: Tue 15th Panache Party @ Scoot Inn /// Wed 16th Anso Party @ Spider House /// Thur 17th Panache Showcase @ Red 7.
Here we go ladies and gentlemen! Bust out the bluegrass instruments and crank the volume and tempo to 10! Their latest release Palomino set my hair on fire the first time I heard it and I can’t wait to see them live for the first time. They are #2 on my personal list to see.
Performances: Tue 15th @ Bat Bar, Campfire Trails Official SXSW showcase, 11 PM /// Wed 16th @ The Stage on Sixth, Paste Magazine Party 3 PM /// Thur 17th @ Homeslice Pizza, 6 PM /// Thur 17th @ Swan Dive 11 PM
Other artists on my “Must See” list:
I just saw her recently opening for Justin Townes Earle, and wasn’t even wholeheartedly impressed. But something about Caitlin wildly intrigues me, her voice is sublime, her soul troubled, and I couldn’t live with passing up an opportunity to see her again. Hope to get an interview this time as well. She’ll be playing at the ninebullets.net showcase among other places.
Have been enjoying the catchy tunes from this Northwest band for years, and finally get a chance to see them live. Performances: 3/16 8pm VeVeeta Room (official sxsw). 3/17 Trophys Austin sxsw party (free) 5:30pm. 3/18 Austin Threadgills Burnside District Party 1:30pm. 3/19 KAOS RADIO 1pm.
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There’s many more where that came from, but these are my tops. And the best part about SXSW is discovering that band you’ve never heard of at at random showcase in a random bar.
Next up, my Top 5 showcases.
Last night was an occasion I’d been looking forward to for a while: Justin Townes Earle‘s sober (hopefully) return to Austin, TX, but in the traveling party as the support act was Caitlin Rose, a Nashville-based singer/songwriter that I’ve been asked to give an opinion on many times, but for whom online music and videos had rendered my opinion inconclusive heretofore.
The first challenge was getting in the door, since I have “fallen out of the graces” of the Justin Townes Earle camp. But The Triggerman’s tentacles run deep my friends, and I was able to slip in like the sands of Sonora under the door sill. Actually, I walked up to the front door and said “Do you know who I am !?!? I’m the goddamn Triggerman! Taylor Swift wrote a song about me! TAYLOR SWIFT !!” And after that they laid the red carpet, set me up with a $50 bar credit, and I drank top shelf all night.
Being a “tabloid” journalist has its perks.
A review of Justin Townes Earle is coming, but Caitlin was good enough that I wanted to give her some individual attention.
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The first thing you take away from seeing Caitlin Rose live is her strong voice and confident delivery. Effortless command of the high vocal range punches home the themes of her morose songs and sucks you right in. They are backed by occasional, tasteful harmonies, and likewise tasteful and traditional instrumentation from a lead Telecaster and a Sho-Bud pedal steel guitar. Caitlin keeps the rhythm in her hips, swaying back in forth during songs; an asset for any female performer, and a necessity when you’re rolling sans bass and drums.
Signature songs like “Shanghai Cigarettes” and “Sinful Wishing Well” were much better than their recorded or video counterparts. But where I find issues with Caitlin is where to file her music, and not just in the always-tiring genre name game bit, but just in what mood I should approach it with.
It would probably annoy her to hear this, but there are some hipster elements, however subtle, in what she does: the timid approach most notably. She called out hipsters from the stage of The Parish in Austin, warning that in a few months, the town would be filling with them and their Ray-Ban sunglasses for South by Southwest. Hey, hipsters deserve good music too, but more on point, the disparate elements that make up her music make it a little difficult to compute for me. She has some great lyrics that put her in sort of the tragic, self-destructive, almost underground hard country realm, but then there’s a lot of “alt-country / NPR audience” in the way the music is conveyed.
Between songs she appeared to be somewhere between nervous and maybe even annoyed. Though during each performance, she was “all in,” 100%, even though she would stare forward, reluctant to make eye contact or engage the crowd. It was like she was singing to us, not for us. I felt like she needed to go backstage, cry her eyes out, then get angry and punch a wall, and then come back on stage fearlessly and kick all our asses. I’m sure some will rebut that Catlin is shy by nature. I measure artists not only against other artists, but themselves, and what seemed frustrating was not that Caitlin was unable to cut loose, but that she was, but wouldn’t.
Still I’m going to give her a positive review. I think you should poke around the internet for her stuff, and if it speaks to you, go and see her live or buy a CD. She is an up and comer with a young band, and a voice and writing skills that will surely afford her an audience for years to come.
1 1/2 Guns Up! (out of two for you noobs.)
(This is a long one folks. Faint of heart turn back now.)
Now that we’re all able to take a deep breath after the Justin Townes Earle breakdown in Indianapolis and his subsequent tour cancellation and rehab stint, there’s a few things that need to be said, first and foremost being that with all the allegations and points of justification out there, and with legal matters pending, it is the responsibility of ALL of us to assume that Justin Townes Earle is innocent until he is proven guilty. That is his right, and our responsibility as citizens of a free society. We’ve all been touched by substance abuse at some point, and most have been touched by the ineptness and/or unfair slantings of the broken justice system. We all must hope that the proceedings are fair, and justice is served.
However some have used innocent until proven guilty to say that any information that has come out in public is either “rumor” or “bias.” The opening shot in the court of public opinion was lobbed by Earle, when he said that Radio Radio could “Kiss his fucking ass!” on his Twitter feed. At that point, Radio Radio and the people involved have a right to defend themselves, and the public has a right to have all the information as its known presented to them in a fair manner.
Nothing is fact until proven in a court of law, but this is understood when you are reading things ahead of a trial. This situation is not a he said/she said either, because there were multiple witnesses to the events leading up to and during the JTE arrest, events that happened out in a public street, in a neighborhood where there were third party bystanders. “Rumor” is different than eyewitness accounts from verified sources unattached to the parties. It is a fact that JTE has been charged with assault, resisting arrest, and public intoxication. It is also a fact that these are just charges. But charges are not “rumor” and reporting them along with all other eyewitness accounts is not “bias,” and it is in no way either unethical, or unusual.
I also want to respond to some allegations that I, your lovable-huggable Triggerman, and my reporting on this website was slanted, or that I had a hidden agenda against Justin. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. If there is a slant, its because I am/was a Justin Townes Earle fan, and I have presented a time line below to illustrate how JTE went from being my most lauded artist of 2009, to an assault & battery suspect. One of the reasons my reporting might have appeared bias, is because I reported this story 36 hours before any other outlet, and because I had been critical of JTE in reviews and articles leading up to the incident. This all had to do with timing, and not a hidden agenda. Initially all the accounts were negative towards JTE, and it was only 12 hours after I initially reported the story that people came forward blaming a bad crowd for Justin’s behavior. Information was added to the story as it was made available and the sources verified.
Where I did wrong the great Saving Country Music reader is by not reporting JTE’s relapse and behavior towards others before this incident, even though I had been sitting on that information from multiple sources for months. Some might think this was an isolated event. An incident to this extent is isolated, but I was not shocked, I anticipated it. As a friend of mine reminded me when reading the story, I had predicted to him in June, “Mark my words, JTE is gonna be on the cover of People Magazine with a heroine needle sticking out of his arm,” a conversational way of showing my concern for both his meteoric rise in fame, and escalation of self-destructive behavior. I have a draft of an article entitled, “Justin Townes Earle Rising Too Fast?” that I started in June, and never published.
The reason I didn’t report it was because the sources of the information were sensitive, and I didn’t want to add fuel to the fire that was attempting to be doused by the right people. What gave me an opening is when he put out, in my opinion, a sub-par album.
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When I got back from Portland’s Pickathon, I had a friend ask me point blank, “Who was the one artist that really made an impact on you?” I has seen over a dozen bands over the course of the weekend, but without hesitation, my answer to the question was ‘Justin Townes Earle.’
After his second performance I did a quick interview with him, and he was charming and polite. My next JTE coverage came when I named his 2009 release Midnight at the Movies my 2009 Album of the Year, saying:
There is nothing I take more serious then putting my name behind an album as being the best of any calendar year. I understand that Albums of the Year set a precedent, and will act like guideposts for future generations to come back and discover the music that came before. That is why after careful consideration, I believe that Justin Townes Earle’s 2009 album Midnight at the Movies is the best album in regards to creativity, quality, and significance.
Three months later at South by Southwest, I was shocked when I saw him perform. He looked completely wired, and the music was poor. I didn’t write a review for the show because I was so dumbfounded at what I had seen; a complete sea change in 6 months, and it appeared that drugs were involved from someone who was supposed to be sober. Later, in three separate incidents during SXSW, I heard “rumors” about JTE sobriety and behavior. I call them “rumors” because it was all second hand news, but in my review of Harlem River Blues posted two days before the incident, I alluded to my SXSW experience:
Earle was the talk … of SXSW. But there was also talk of JTE’s “problems” that would come up unprovoked when speaking with other artists and fans and such. What problems? I don’t know. They didn’t tell, and I didn’t ask. When I had talked to JTE in August, he’d mentioned his previous drug problems and had alluded that he was sober. Following his Twitter Tweets, that is clearly not the case now. Don’t know if JTE’s sobriety was the source of these “problems,” but the months after SXSW the whispers had yet to die down.
Many criticized me for questioning JTE sobriety, especially without any more solid evidence than a few posts on Twitter. This criticism came up again in the early stages after the Radio Radio incident. This actually wasn’t the first time I had mentioned that there was some concern about JTE. Back on June 29th, in an article called Who Will Be Country’s Next Savior? (where I named JTE a candidate out of a select group of 4) I said:
There’s also whispers that he’s rising too fast, and its going to his head.
I’m not at liberty to speak about private conversations I had, but I do have a few examples of these “whispers” and “problems.” Three weeks before the Indy incident, JTE’s manager Traci Thomas let him go. Traci is a well-known, amazing music manager and publicist that also works with people like The Drive By Truckers, Ray Wylie Hubbard, and Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers. In mid June, I had interviewed the Shaker’s frontman JD Wilkes. It ended up being fine, but leading up to his appearance in Dallas, I had a hard time nailing down a confirmation that I could talk to him. This audio was cut off of the eventual interview, but this was the very first of our conversation, right after I turned on the recorder and JD had apologized for the scheduling problems:
JTE himself jokes in an interview with Barking Irons that, “I just finished it (a song) a couple of days ago and my management will probably get pretty mad at me for playing it here today but they do that on a regular basis, and I just smile.”
It might be an easy thing to surmise that JTE’s management has been conciliatory or even enabling of his behavior and relapse, but many of these “rumors” and “problems” were delivered in the context of JTE battling with his representation who were trying to keep his career on path and his well-being in tact.
JTE has been his own worst enemy. If anyone was conciliatory, it was the media. As JTE was descending from poor decisions, media outlets like NPR and others were canonizing him to no end, throwing ridiculous accolades his way while GQ ran multi-page spreads revering his style, possibly indirectly justifying his poor judgments. If someone was criticizing JTE’s decisions, all he had to do was point to a mountain of positive press that rarely, if ever, had a critical thing to say.
Every artist, if not every human, should appreciate and solicit criticism. And it is my job as a music critic to find the faults in music so to be fair in the critique. Even when naming Justin’s Midnight at the Movies Album of the Year I said:
This album isn’t without faults. I would second guess including a track that talks about “John Henry,” the most worn out name in country music, though I understand where he was trying to go. I’d also say that this album lacks and true, raw moxy that I would like to see from a country album. Justin does unleash a few times, but seems timid to go all the way.
In a 5 minute “review” from NPR, they could not find one critical thing to say. Not one. And in fact they suspended reality to create a storyline. I’m sure I’ve written some criticism-less reviews, but never have I left the criticism in my heart when I heard it in a project.
Many have been critical of me, for my reporting on this JTE stuff, my take of his album, my incessant ragging on NPR, my entering the fray in the comments section, and I want to take the time to say THANK YOU to all those critics. The criticism has kept me on my toes, and redoubled my efforts to be fair in my reporting, and honest in my criticism. I never claim to be perfect. I just claim to always say what is truthfully in my heart and to report the truth as best I can, regardless of what criticism it might create for me. And I always keep my opinions and truth clearly separated.
I say here often that really what I deal in around here is not music, but life; critical evaluation about the direction of our society and culture. Music is just the medium. I think this story is an excellent illustration of that. Many things can be learned from here: the effects of addiction, the need for criticism, the difficulties of celebrity in the age of information.
My honest hope is that this incident will be the best thing that has ever happened to Justin Townes Earle, and that he will emerge from this stronger, smarter, more thankful, and a better musician.
I first knew something was up with Justin Townes Earle when I saw him at South by Southwest in March. At the Bloodshot Records showcase, he showed up on stage wearing a bowtie, and baby blue-colored pants three sizes too small with white shoes. I also spied that the spectacles of his fiddle player had no glass in them, they were for show. Hey, I’m all for dressing the part, but JTE was out Pokey LaFarg-ing Pokey LaFarge. And when he started singing, I don’t know, he was just acting very weird and it came across in the music. He had a weird look on his face, similar to the one stilled in the video below, which was taken shortly after his set while he was still in the same duds:
I had a good context to make these judgments because I’d seen and interviewed him just six months prior at Portland’s Pickathon, where I said he was the “one stand out performer out of the dozen plus acts I saw.” Earle was the talk of Pickathon, and the talk of SXSW. He’d landed a bunch of accolades from the Americana crowd the year before, and there was a sense that he had “made it” in music. But there was also talk of JTE’s “problems” that would come up unprovoked when speaking with other artists and fans and such.
What problems? I don’t know. They didn’t tell, and I didn’t ask. When I had talked to JTE in August, he’d mentioned his previous drug problems and had alluded that he was sober. Following his Twitter Tweets, that is clearly not the case now. Don’t know if JTE’s sobriety was the source of these “problems,” but the months after SXSW the whispers had yet to die down. The old music maxim is that “he/she was good ’till they got sober.” Maybe JTE would embody the antitheses. The JTE whispers were also alarming because he was like the football first round draft pick that fell to the fourth round because of “off the field issues” when he entered the music business. Was JTE getting too big for his shrunken baby blue britches?
When I got an advanced copy of Harlem River Blues, it immediately struck me as music specifically created for optimized NPR play, and I used as an example of NPR’s Adverse Effect on Roots Music. My suspicions were validated when NPR offered a full preview of the album through their site. In a lot of ways this was unfair to the album and to JTE, because I was using it as the pet example for what is really happening to a wide swath of the music landscape. But nonetheless, it was true.
I’ve given this album more than it’s fair amount of listens for a project that did not strike me the first few times through, because of who its from, and how that person fits into my ethos. (His previous album Midnight at the Movies was my Album of the Year for 2009.) I must say that this album is not bad. There’s nothing wrong with any of these songs. It doesn’t really mark a clear change in style. As far as the production, of which JTE is primarily responsible for, I would grade it a 9 out of 10, with the only criticism being that at times it was a little heavy handed. But the arrangements display a very wise ear and imagination, and the performances live up to Justin’s vision. The breadth and layers of some of these songs is quite spectacular.
But production can only go so far. There’s no meat here, no body. No soul, no blood, no deep roots–just aping and parody that is orchestrated, arranged, and packaged very well. I keep listening, waiting for those one or two songs that will cling to me so I can use them to buoy together an affinity for this project, but they haven’t come. Even the songs solicited as the standouts don’t do it for me. “Wanderin’” (see video above) is probably the best track, but in this instance the heart of the song seems buried under all the production. “Christchurch Woman” sounds like a rehashed “Midnight at the Movies,” and “Ain’t Waitin,” though I want to like it, seems hokey and the line about “satellite radio” is out of place with the neo-traditional mood.
The beauty of what JTE did with his first three releases was take vintage textures and inject them with relevant, modern themes that were universally relateable. Then with songs like “Mama’s Eyes” and “Someday I’ll Be Forgiven For This” he said screw the neo-traditional bit and laid down heart-wrenching truth. The buzz word with this album has been “mature.” I don’t understand this. My adjective would be “safe.”
This is how hipsters and hippies must have felt when Hank III released Straight to Hell; not disappointed as much as disenfranchised. This is not what I dip my bucket in the JTE well for. It makes you want to listen to his older records immediately to get the bad taste out of your mouth. Or it least it did me. But the pro-Harlem River Blues crowd doesn’t need to worry about my mixed review, I have no doubt this album will be his most well-received yet. After all, look at these great blurbs:
“If you’re not listening to him or checking out what he’s wearing, you should be.”
“As versed in Mance Lipscomb as he is in M. Ward ad sporting Marc Jacobs suspenders,
-The Salt Lake Tribune
See, JTE’s fashion maven girlfriend and Manhattan digs has made the opinions of an angst little blogger virtually irrelevant, so no worries.
One gun up for the superb production, musicianship, and for the satisfactory songwriting. One gun down for the complete lack of soul.
There’s nothing really “country” here either, though this is more of an observation that a specific criticism of this music.
You can preview all tracks or purchase the MP3 for a limited time for $2.99 by CLICKING HERE.
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