- 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"
2014 promises to be another great year for music, and the first part of the year might just be one of the busiest seasons for anticipated releases we have seen in quite a while. From a lost Johnny Cash album, to a new one from his daughter Rosanne, to Jason Eady, a big re-issue from Lucina Williams, and releases from Scott H. Biram and Robert Ellis, there’s enough here to get your music taste buds salivating.
Saving Country Music’s most anticipated album for 2014, Out Among The Stars is a complete album that was recorded between 1981 and 1984 by Cash, with songs that were meant to be together, but never saw the light of day. A true “lost album” if there ever was one. It was produced by Country Music Hall of Famer Billy Sherrill. READ MORE.
Rosanne Cash – The River & The Thread (January 14th)
NPR says: “Each song is rooted in the Southern soil connecting the old Cash homestead in Arkansas to the family’s ancestral Virginia homeland, expanding to survey the family’s artistic roots in Alabama and Tennessee. Some narratives are fictional, while others mine family lore.”
You’re not seeing double, this is Lucinda Williams’ critically-acclaimed 3rd album from 1988 that many give credit for launching her career. The album went out-of-print and is finally being re-issued by Thirty Tigers. It also comes with an album of live tracks. Just like Johnny Cash, this is not just another re-release, and stands as one of the most anticipated releases of 2014.
Doug Paisley – Strong Feelings (January 21st)
As we found out in 2013, Canada can do country, and do country right. And this Canadian has recruited an impressive list of his Canadian musician buddies including Garth Hudson from The Band to make one of the most-anticipated Canadian country releases of 2014. Did I say Canada enough? Canada Canada. That should do it!
Ray Benson – A Little Piece (January 21st)
Our generation’s King of Western Swing takes some time away from his full time duties as the front man for Asleep At The Wheel to release this solo project through his record label, Bismeaux.
If you love real country, you will love Jason Eady and Daylight & Dark. Following up his critically-acclaimed AM Country Heaven, Eady proves you can serve up country straight, and still have it sound fresh. This album was written with a linear story that runs through all the songs.
Hard Working Americans (Todd Snider) – Hard Working Americans (January 21st)
Yes, this is a band emanating from the unsettled mind of songwriter Todd Snider, and coaxing Neal Casal (Chris Robinson Brotherhood), keyboardist Chad Staehly (Great American Taxi) and Duane Trucks (King Lincoln) on drums to join him.This is a cover album of many songs from Snider’s alt-country/Americana friends.
This spellbinding, solo songwriter and performer from Minnesota is one of these criminally-underappreciated guys because he would never be a part of self-promotion or flashy presentation. Being released on Chaperone Records.
Dolly Parton – Blue Smoke (New Zealand, Australia – January. United States & Europe – May)
Yes, strange prioritizing on the release date, but it’s Dolly, so hush up! The release parallels her Blue Smoke World Tour and will be released on “Dolly Records” in conjunction with Sony Masterworks.
Hide the women and children, the “Dirty Ol’ One Man Band” is back out on the loose with a brand new one from Bloodshot Records that promises to be a bloody good time. Country punk stomp blues at its best!
Suzy Bogguss – Lucky (February 4th)
Suzy doing a Merle Haggard tribute record? This could be cool. “Merle is one of the most masculine songwriters I’ve ever heard, and I’ve been watching boys cover his music for years. I just thought, ‘Why couldn’t a girl do this?’”
Whiskey Myers – Early Morning Shakes (February 4th)
Texas Monthly says: “Early Morning Shakes” may not be destined to make a big impression on a country music audience that’s currently obsessed with pickups, blue jeans, and moonlight, but there are some thrills within for fans of dirty rock and roll.”
This could be Robert Ellis’s year. The young songwriter has a much-anticipated album, and also produced another much-anticipated album that may come later in 2014 from The Whiskey Shivers.
Hurray For The Riff Raff – Small Town Heroes (February 11th)
Alynda Lee Segarra was making waves all throughout 2013, and this album from ATO Records featuring her unique, stripped-down Appalachia sound should be a big one.
Lake Street Dive – Bad Self Portraits (February 18th)
2014 could be a big one for Lake Street Dive, and they deserve every bit of it from the talent this throwback band packs. Rachel Price, originally from Hendersonville, TN and a product of the New England Conservatory as a jazz singer is a bona-fide superstar waiting to happen. Feb. 18th can’t get here fast enough.
On the heels of her fun EP Boy Crazy, Loveless releases her much-anticipated sophomore LP from Bloodshot Records. Part country, part punk, and all attitude, this Ohioan evokes the best of the original punk-gone-country movement. This one should be fun.
Beck – Morning Phase (February)
Okay, you see Beck and you don’t immediately think country, but he has dabbled in the format in the past (go feast your ears on “Rowboat” and thank me later), and with this one he’s talking about it having a very heavy Gram Parson’s influence, so it may be worth a sniff from country fans.
The former (and current, really) front man for the Squirrel Nut Zippers never seems to receive proper acclaim even though he continually delivers one excellent album after another. Don’t sleep on this one.
- Mary Chapin Carpenter – Songs from the Movie (Jan 14th)
- Blue Highway – The Game (Jan 21st)
- Reverend Horton Heat – Rev (Jan 21st)
- Ronnie Milsap – Summer Number 17 (Jan 28th)
- Rhonda Vincent – Only Me (Jan 28th)
- Laura Cantrell – No Way There from Here (Jan 28th)
- Eric Church – The Outsiders (Feb. 11th) as if you already didn’t know
- Dierks Bentley – Riser (Feb 25th)
- Eli Young Band – 10,000 Towns (March 4th)
- Kevin Fowler – How Country Are Ya (March 4th)
- Martina McBride – Everlasting (March 4th)
- Drive By Truckers – English Oceans (March 12th)
The Rumor Mill
Bob Wayne – Back To The Camper
Bob Wayne is no longer with label Century Media, but word is he just finished up recording an album with Andy Gibson (Hank3) in Nashville and it will be released sometime in 2014. Included on the album will be a song with Elizabeth Cook called “20 Miles To Juarez” and a song with country legend Red Simpson. Stay tuned.
The Goddamn Gallows – The Maker
No info on a release as of yet. Was initially said to be released in late 2013.
The Whiskey Shivers
Currently being record or just finished up, this Robert Ellis-produced album could be The Whiskey Shivers’ breakout moment. They’ve been making tons of noise around Austin, playing ACL fest last October, and scheduled to play the Stagecoach Festival in California this year. They are definitely a band to watch.
His disposition is to record during the winter, and he dropped a hint of working on a new album on Facebook recently. For all we know from the last few release cycles from Hank3, he might drop 7 albums on our asses all at once, including one built from the sound of Black Cats blowing up found items from around his farm.
Justin Townes Earle
He is amid a contract dispute with a new label, but says, “ I will find a way to get new music out very soon. Will write and record a solo EP. Then Find some grown ups to work with.”
Rumor has it a new album is currently being recorded, and will take this underground country cult favorite to the next level. More deets coming.
Slackeye Slim is also working on a new album.
Matt Woods hopes to have a new album out in March.
Who else? Share your intel below!
The underground country movement initially formed around the mid 90′s not because somebody launched a website or a record label. It wasn’t because of a festival or because someone came up with a special name for a new genre. It wasn’t because some personality who was bestowed a famous name took the reigns and began promoting music. The strength, the support, and the fervor that went into forming underground country and the bonds and infrastructure that is still around today came from the songs artists were writing, recording, and performing; songs that spoke very deep to the hearts of hungry listeners. In the end, all leadership and must come from the music. A good song will solve its own problems. Like water, it will eventually find a path to thirsty ears, and funnel support to the artist and infrastructure that surrounds it.
This isn’t necessarily a list of the greatest underground country songs, or even the most influential. It is simply 12 songs that were so good, they helped create something where there was nothing before.
Wayne “The Train” Hancock – “Juke Joint Jumpin’”
Wayne Hancock is one of the fathers of underground country, and he’s also the King of Juke Joint Swing, so it’s only appropriate to include one of his signature songs here. The very first song on his very first album Thunderstorms & Neon Signs from 1995, it made listeners wonder if they were hearing the ghost of Hank Williams. Later Hancock would perform the song as a duet with Hank Williams III.
Hank Williams III – “Not Everybody Likes Us”
Hank3 has probably written better songs, but not that speak to the spirit of underground country so well. “Not everybody like us, but we drive some folks wild” epitomizes the philosophy behind the country music underground—that it doesn’t matter if the masses like your music, only if you and your friends do. Add on top of that a big dig at country radio, and “Not Everybody Likes Us” has become a rallying cry of underground country music.
.357 String Band/ Jayke Orvis – “Raise The Moon”
This song is so good, it has been released twice, been played regularly by three different bands, and still is not tired. Written by Jayke Orvis, “Raise The Moon” originally appeared on the .357 String Band’s first album Ghost Town in 2006. When Jayke Orvis left .357 for a solo career and a spot in the Goddamn Gallows, the song appeared on the Gallows’ album 7 Devils. 7 years later and the song still remains a staple of Jayke’s live show, and a defining sound of underground country.
The Boomswagglers – “Run You Down”
Authenticity is such an unattainable myth in modern music these days that it is nearly impossible to find a truly original and untainted sentiment. But that is what The Boomswagglers serve up with “Run You Down.” It is one of those songs that immediately sticks in your head and stays with you for a lifetime. Defying style trends, it is simply good, and its story, like much of The Boomswagglers music, is deceptively deep. Songs like this withstand the test of time.
Hank Williams III – “Straight to Hell”
The title track off of Hank3′s magnum opus Straight to Hell from 2006 was the “hit” of underground country if it ever had one. It has risen to become one of Hank3′s signature songs, and he regularly uses it to start off his live shows.
Bob Wayne – “Blood to Dust”
Bob Wayne may be best known for his wild-assed party songs laced with drugs, loose women, and running from the cops, but that doesn’t mean he can’t write a deep song when he wants. As Bob will tell you, every word in this song is true, and the personal and poignant nature of the story makes it very hard to not be affected emotionally when it is listened to with an open heart. “Blood to Dust” speaks to the broken nature of many of underground country’s artists and fans. The song appears on Bob Wayne’s very first album of the same name, and his first big release Outlaw Carnie on Century Media.
JB Beverley & The Wayward Drifters – “Dark Bar & A Juke Box”
Underground country isn’t just a sound, it is a sentiment; a feeling that something is wrong in country music, and something needs to be done about it. This is the foundation for the title track off of JB Beverley & The Wayward Drifter’s 2006 album. At the time JB Beverley may have been better known for fronting punk bands. But unlike many of the underground country bands that would come along later, blurring the lines between punk and country, JB Beverley serves “Dark Bar & A Juke Box” up straight, in a sound that refers Wayne Hancock’s throwback style.
Wayne “The Train” Hancock – “Johnny Law”
If “Juke Joint Jumpin’” is Wayne Hancock’s signature song, then Johnny Law is his defining jam. This song has become a showcase for some of the greatest musicians in the history of underground country during the extended breaks for both the guitar and upright bass player. It might also go down in history as one of the most requested songs in underground country.
Dale Watson – “Nashville Rash”
For a precious time in the late 90′s ans early 2000′s, the triumvirate of Wayne Hancock, Hank Williams III, and Dale Watson looked like they were going to take the country music world by storm. It was because they were willing to speak out, and lead by example, both sonically and lyrically. Dale is still leading today, and his legacy of country protest songs like “Nashville Rash” still gets you pumping your fist.
Rachel Brooke & Lonesome Wyatt – “Someday I’ll Fall”
Rachel Brooke, The Queen of Underground Country, and one of the founding fathers of Gothic country, Lonesome Wyatt from Those Poor Bastards, teamed up in 2009 for the landmark album A Bitter Harvest. The album, and specifically the song “Someday I’ll Fall” symbolize the collaborative spirit inherent in underground country—where two artist come together to become greater than the sum of their parts. “Someday I’ll Fall” is also a great example of taking old school influences and embedding them in a new, fresh approach.
Joe Buck Yourself – “Planet Seeth”
One of the men responsible for helping to revitalize the hallowed ground of lower Broadway in Nashville in the mid 90′s delivers this bloodletting of a song where the audience is actively encouraged to release their hate in Joe Buck’s direction. Though the language and music may be too hard for most, the concept and execution of “Planet Seeth” is nonetheless genius. It embodies the participatory aspect of underground country, where the crowd is as much a part of the show as the artist, giving back in energy what they receive from the performer in a symbiotic relationship.
Wayne “The Train” Hancock – “Thunderstorms & Neon Signs”
Few songs can evokes mood and reminiscent memory like Hancock’s “Thunderstorms & Neon Signs.” It set the standard for the old-school style of country swing that was so seminal to the formation of underground country. The song’s legacy was cemented when Hank Williams III covered it on his first album Risin’ Outlaw, introducing Wayne Hancock to a whole new audience, and vice versa. “Thunderstorms & Neon Signs” helped cement the underground country movement.
Authenticity and dysfunction are regularly celebrated in country music, and what better way to celebrate that than to look back in time a some of the most notable mugshots and arrests of country music’s most notable stars.
Cash was arrested twice. The first was after a trip to Mexico when he tried to hide 1,163 Dexedrine and Equanil tablets in his guitar case while crossing the border near El Paso, TX in 1965. Since the drugs were prescription instead of illegal narcotics, Cash received a suspended sentence. He was arrested again in 1966 in Starkville, Miss. for … get this … picking flowers late at night. The property owner pressed trespassing charges, and Johnny spent time in the Starkville County Jail, resulting in the song of the same name.
Though Cash was famous for his concerts at Folsom Prison and San Quentin, he never served time in anything bigger than a city jail (the bottom mug was just for show).
The trouble started for Willie Nelson way back in 1960 when he was arrested for speeding in Pasadena, TX (near Houston). And then came the pot busts:
- 1974 – For possession in Dallas, TX.
- 1994 – For possession in Hewitt (near Waco) when Willie pulled his Mercedes off the side of the highway for a siesta and an officer found a joint in the ashtray and eventually a bag of marijuana. The judge ruled the evidence inadmissible and the charges were dropped.
- 2006 – For possession in St. Martin Parish, Louisiana for one-and-a-half pounds of marijuana and 3 oz. of hallucinogenic mushrooms. Willie, his sister Bobbi, and Willie’s manager were all arrested, eventually receiving 6 months probation.
- 2010 – For possession of 6 ounces of marijuana at the Sierra Blanca, Texas border checkpoint. Willie eventually only had to pay a fine.
Jerry Lee Lewis
In the dead of night in November of 1976, a drunken and armed Jerry Lee Lewis showed up to the gates of Graceland demanding to see his fellow Sun Studios alum Elvis right then and there. The guard rang Elvis who refused “The Killer’s” request, and then rang Memphis police when Lewis began waving a gun around.
Hank Williams Jr.
You may think because Hank Jr. was the last of his rowdy friends to settle down that at some point he would wind up in the pokey, but it turns out his mugshot was for a bunk charge from a 19-year-old in March of 2006 that said Jr. put her in a choke hold after she refused to kiss him. Jr. turned himself in, and after finding out the girl was looking to cash in big on the accusation and that there was no real evidence of the altercation, the charges were dropped.
In November of 2003, Glen Campbell was arrested at his home near Phoenix, AZ after hitting and running while drunk in his BMW. Then while Campbell was being processed, he kneed an officer in the leg, which added an aggravated assault of a police officer charge. Campbell pleaded down some of the counts, and eventually spent 10 days in jail.
Domestic abuse charges landed Rodney Atkins in front of the police camera in February of 2012, but the news about the charges didn’t come out until his wife filed for divorce a few weeks later. The news also came on the heels of Rodney re-signing with Curb Records. The charges were later dropped as part of the divorce settlement.
An indelible image of country music’s first superstar in this midst of his downfall in 1952, leaving the jailhouse in Alexander City, Alabama.
Billy Joe Shaver
Notable country music songwriter Billy Joe Shaver sits on the witness stand stemming from an altercation behind Papa Joe’s bar near Waco, TX in 2007 when Shaver shot a man non lethally in the face with a .22 pistol. The incident became a piece of country music lore when Dale Watson wrote a song titled “Where Do You Want It?” allegedly for the question Shaver asked his victim before he pulled the trigger. The high-profile trial incuded Willie Nelson showing up as a Shaver character witness, and eventually all charges were dropped against when it was ruled Shaver was acting in self defense.
In 2003, daughter Judd was pulled over for speeding and subsequently blew a .175, lading her in jail before she posted a $500 bail. It all happened right down the street from Music Row, so maybe it’s true what they say about the country music industry driving artists to drink.
Just like the “Wet Cigarette of Country Music” to get arrested at a Waffle House. In October of 2007, Kid Rock and his crew stopped into the DeKalb County, Georgia eatery where they proceeded to brawl with gawking patrons. Other members of Kid Rocks posse were also arrested. Rock was found guilty of simple battery. It was his 4th chance to strike the perp pose over the years for various charges.
David Allan Coe
You better believe DAC would be here, but unfortunately this is the biggest photo we can drum up of David from his time in the Ohio State Penal System.
Coe was also arrested in 2008 after an altercation in a casino when a misunderstanding about a jackpot resulted in security officers and police wrestling Coe to the ground. Coe countersued in 2010 for false arrest and assault. The entire altercation was caught on tape.
Yes, we know that some of the younger generation of country performers don’t want to pander to the “old farts and jackasses,” but maybe Billy Currington took it a little too far when he threatened a 70-year-old boat captain for coming too close to his waterfront property in Tybee Island, Ga. Currington was cited in April of 2013 for making “terroristic threats” and “abuse of an elder.” Case is still pending.
Johnny Paycheck spent 4 years battling an aggravated assault charge after shooting a man in a Hillsboro, OH bar during a brawl. Though multiple appeals kept Paycheck out of prison for a while, he was finally sentenced to the Chillicothe Correctional Institute in 1989 where he served two years before being paroled.
In May of 2008, Louisiana country star Chris Cagle got in a tussle with his girlfriend Jennifer Tant at the Player’s Bar in Nashville before the couple took the bout home. Cagle wielded Jennifer’s purse. Jennifer weilded an umbrella, and they both ended up in the big house. Police said they were both too drunk and disorderly to press any serious charges.
When the underground country band from Austin, TX went to release their first album, they chose their mutual mugshots from the same Williamson County roundup to make up the CD art.
No mugshots of George Jones’s numerous run ins with the law during his drinking days have ever surfaced, but video did a few years ago from a George Jones documentary.
Get well Randy! …. but we couldn’t make this list without you. Travis was forced to pose for police camera twice in 2012; once after a drunken fight at a church, and the other after driving drunk….and naked.
The underground country movement started roughly in the mid 90′s on lower Broadway in Nashville that at the time was a run down part of town. Young musicians from around the country, some from punk backgrounds, came together from their mutual love of authentic country music to create a counterbalance to the pop country that was prevailing on Music Row a few blocks west.
Underground country started with mostly neo-traditionalists like Wayne “The Train” Hancock, Big Sandy, and Dale Watson, but spread to the punk and heavy metal world through acts like Hank Williams III and Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers. This list does not just consider the appeal of these albums, but also the influence they had on other underground artists and albums, and on country music and music in general.
Please understand that this list is just for underground country albums. This means artists better defined by the Deep Blues like Scott H. Biram or Possessed by Paul James, or Texas artists like James Hand or Ray Wylie Hubbard, or country artists who may work on the fringes of underground country but would not necessarily be considered underground like BR549 or Roger Alan Wade, are not included. Americana acts are not included. This is strictly underground country’s opportunity to bask in the spotlight.
Please feel free to leave your own list below.
16. The Boomswagglers- Bootleg Beginnings – 2011
This very well may be the most authentic album of music put out in the modern era for any genre. The Boomswagglers have always been and continue to be more myth than reality, with original Boomswaggler Lawson Bennett long gone and a cavalcade of replacements shuffling in an out with Spencer Cornett. Even if they never put out another album, The Boomswagglers made their mark, and it is a deep one.
“The music is wildly entertaining and deceptively deep. If you’re going to be a Boomswagglers song, someone’s got to die, and likely a woman. Some may find this silly, monotonous, or even offensive, but you have to listen beyond the lyrics, and unlock the carnal wisdom that is hidden in these songs.” (read full review)
15. JB Beverley & The Wayward Drifters – Dark Bar & A Juke Box – 2006
Dark Bar & A Juke Box was an instant underground country classic, and so was the anti Music Row song that the album got its name from. JB and his Wayward Drifters grit out a superb selection of songs displaying taste, restraint, and a sincere appreciation for the roots of country music, which may have surprised some who knew JB more for his work with heavy metal bands like The Murder Junkies and the Little White Pills. Dark Bar & A Juke Box also boasts appearances from the famous son and grandson of a country music royal family, who due to contractual issues had to work incognito (wink wink).
14. Lucky Tubb & The Modern Day Troubadours – Del Gaucho – 2011
Some (including Lucky himself) may point to Hillbilly Fever as being the seminal Lucky Tubb album with its big budget and appearances by Wayne “The Train” Hancock. But Del Gaucho is where Lucky Tubb came into his own, found his sound, and the unique musical flavor only he has to offer the world. Dirty, rowdy, rocking, but still steadfastly neo-traditionalist country, Del Gaucho scores off the charts when it comes to style points. When you’re talking about some of the greatest neo-traditional country albums and artists of all time, Lucky Tubb and Del Gaucho deserve to be in that conversation.
13- Bob Wayne & The Outlaw Carnies – Blood to Dust – 2008
They say you have your whole life to write your first album, and what makes Bob Wayne’s Blood to Dust so special is how true and touching he told his life’s story through song. His subsequent albums aren’t too shabby either, but with signature songs like “Blood to Dust”, “Road Bound”, and “27 Years”, this still stands out as his signature album, and a signature album of the underground country movement. It was performed, produced, and recorded by an all-star cast of contributors that included Donnie Herron, Joe Buck and Andy Gibson, and brought Bob Wayne out from behind-the-scenes as Hank3′s guitar tech, and made him one of the movement’s most well-known songwriters and performers.
12. Jayke Orvis – It’s All Been Said – 2010
This is the album that launched Farmageddon Records, and that launched Jayke Orvis as a formidable, premier front man in underground country. One of the founding members of the now legendary .357 String Band, Jayke was asked to leave the band because of irreconcilable differences and almost immediately began touring with The Goddamn Gallows and trying to make this album happen. The result was a slick, tightly-crafted LP showcasing excellent songwriting and instrumentation. From ballads to blazing instrumentals, Jayke Orvis has proved himself to be one of the singular talents of underground country roots.
11. Lonesome Wyatt & Rachel Brooke – A Bitter Harvest – 2009
This album was destined to become an underground country classic. The mad genius music mind of Lonesome Wyatt of the Gothic country duo Those Poor Bastards has the uncanny ability to procure the absolute most appropriate sounds to evoke the desired dark mood in his music. Then you combine that with one of the best voices not just in underground country, but in all of music in Rachel Brooke, and magic was bound to happen. The creativity on A Bitter Harvest is spellbinding. More of an artistic endeavor than a toe tapper, Lonesome Wyatt and Rachel create a soundtrack to human emotion and despair. For people looking for a place for country music to evolve, A Bitter Harvest shows how you can take authentic country themes and an appreciation for the roots of the music, and envelop it in layers of textural color culled from the wide experience of human sounds.
10. Justin Townes Earle – Midnight At The Movies – 2009
Midnight At The Movies was Saving Country Music’s 2009 Album of the Year. Today it would be difficult to characterize Justin Townes Earle as underground country because the quality of this album launched him into the inner sanctum of Americana.
“Justin Townes Earle has done an awesome thing with this album; he has figured out a way to unite all the displaced elements that make up the alternative to mainstream Nashville country, while still staying somewhat accessible to the mainstream folks as well. You might even catch the bluegrass folks nodding their head while listening to it. Folkies like it, and there’s a few tunes blues people can get into. This isn’t just the REAL country album of the year, it is the “Alt-country” album of the year and the “Americana” album of the year.” (read full review)
9. Slackeye Slim - El Santo Grial, La Pistola Piadosa – 2011
“Every once in a while, an album comes along that changes everything. It’s an album that inspires other albums, and dynamic shifts in tastes and approach throughout a sector of music, while at the same time dashing the dreams of other artists, as the purity and originality are way too much to attempt to rival. Slackeye Slim’s El Santo Grial, La Pistola Piadosa is one of those albums.
“El Santo Grial is a masterpiece, exquisitely produced, arranged, and performed. This is a patient, uncompromising album. You can tell time was never introduced into this project as a goal. The goal was to flesh out Slackeye’s vision without ever settling for second best, and that goal was accomplished.” (read full review)
8. Wayne “The Train” Hancock – That’s What Daddy Wants – 1997
Thunderstorms & Neon Signs is the Wayne Hancock album most people gravitate towards as their favorite because it was their first, and the first to showcase Wayne Hancock’s unique blend of country, Western Swing, rockabilly, and blues. But pound for pound, That’s What Daddy Wants is just as good of an offering, boasting some of The Train’s signature songs like “87 Southbound” and “Johnny Law”. Wayne Hancock has never put out a bad album, and distinguishing between them is difficult. But it’s not difficult to say that the underground country movement would have not had as much class if That’s What Daddy Wants hadn’t seen the light of day.
7. .357 String Band – Fire & Hail – 2008
“They were all the absolute best possible musicians you could find at their respective positions, each challenging each other, pushing each other to keep up with the band’s demands for artistic excellence in both instrumental technique and creative composition.
“Listening back now at Fire & Hail, with so much talent in one place, no wonder the project was untenable, and no wonder the respective players have moved on to become their own trees instead of respective branches of the same project. Still, the loss of .357 String Band may go down as underground country’s greatest tragedy.” (read full review)
6. Hank Williams III - Lovesick, Broke, & Driftin’ – 2002
BR549 and Wayne “The Train” Hancock spearheaded the neo-traditionalist movement in the mid 90′s, but Hank Williams III was the one to carry it into the oughts and introduce it to a brand new crop of fans he brought along from his dabblings in the punk/heavy metal world. After having to tow the line somewhat for his first album Risin’ Outlaw, Hank3 was unleashed and able to showcase his own songwriting, heavily influenced by Wayne Hancock and Hank3′s famous grandfather, but still all his own. His voice was wickedly pure with a heart wrenching yodel and commanding range. The songwriting was simple, but powerful. This is a masterpiece, and remains an essential title of the neo-traditionalist era.
5. Hellbound Glory – Old Highs & New Lows – 2010
Hellbound Glory had already been around for years, but they burst into the underground with this magnificent, hard country album highlighted by head man Leroy Virgil’s world class songwriting. Despite the “hell” in their name and the hard language in their songs, Hellbound Glory hadn’t gone through any retooling as post punk refugees. They were pure country through and through and Old Highs & New Lows combined excellent Outlaw-style bar stompers and ballads with some of the most wit-filled songwriting since Keith Whitley. As far as honky tonk albums go, it may be years before this one is trumped. And when it is, it might be Leroy Virgil and Hellbound Glory doing the trumping.
4. Dale Watson – Live in London…England – 2002
Dale comes out on stage and starts slinging guitars, cutting classics, and speaking the truth. Before Dale was the hometown boy and house band for Austin, he was pissed off and willing to sing about it. Dale’s anti-Nashville classics “Real Country Song”, “Nashville Rash”, and “Country My Ass” can all be found here, but Live in London isn’t all pissing and moaning. Songs like “Ain’t That Livin’” showed off Dale’s superlative voice and suave style. Honky tonk albums are sometimes hard to make because it is hard to capture that live, sweaty energy in the recorded context. So what better way to solve that problem than making a live one? Live in London remains the best Dale album to date.
3. Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers – Cockadoodledon’t – 2003
This was one of the first albums to bust out of the burgeoning music scene on lower Broadway in Nashville where one can argue the undergorund country movement started. It showed the world what kind of mayhem could be created by mixing country, blues, and punk music together without compromising taste and soul. It is the album which acts as a guidepost to the eclectic, yet intuitive and inter-related mix of influences that you will find in underground country: honest to goodness appreciation to the roots of American music, with a punk attitude and approach. And if you ever wondered why Joe Buck is considered part of underground country, appreciate that he played most of the music on Cockadoodledon’t.
2. Wayne “The Train” Hancock – Thunderstorms & Neon Signs – 1995
There are two albums that you can look back on an make a serious case that if they did not exist, underground country music may not exist–the album below this one on this list, and Wayne Hancock’s Thunderstorm & Neon Signs. There are two types of music artists: originators and imitators. Sometimes imitators can be very successful, and very creative artists themselves. But it always takes the originators to set the plate for the imitators to do what they do. Thunderstorms & Neon Signs was an original album from one of America’s most original country roots artists of all time. It doesn’t get much better or more influential than this.
1. Hank Williams III – Straight to Hell – 2006
This album isn’t underground country’s Red Headed Stranger. It isn’t underground country’s Honky Tonk Heroes. It is both. It is the album that both was a novel concept, a breakthrough sonically and lyrically, and had a massive impact on the business side of music, for artists winning control of their music and inspiring and showing artists how to do it themselves. The deposed son of country music royalty had taken on a major Nashville label, and won, and all while being one of the first to successfully bridge the energy and approach of punk and heavy metal music with traditional country, all while keeping the music solidly country in nature.
It was the first album to be put out through the CMA with a Parental Advisory sticker. It was the first to ever be recorded outside of a traditional studio setting. Of course only a select few were paying attention, but it broke through many barriers that to this day have changed music in significant ways, sonically and behind the scenes.
The approach also had wide-ranging impacts outside of underground country and country music in general, to rock music and punk and heavy metal, inspiring thousands of rock kids to put down their electric guitars and AC/DC records, and pick up banjos and Johnny Cash records. The impact on mainstream music may have not been seen, but it was felt, and just like all great albums, it’s legacy will grow and be more appreciated and understood as the future unfolds.
(This story has been updated)
Every once in a while you have and artist or band come out that is so pure, so raw, and so good, it is destined to self-destruct from its own internal pressure. Such was the case with the original incarnation of The Boomswagglers, a two-piece band consisting of Spencer Cornett and Lawson Bennett. The name “Boomswagglers” came from their real-life experience of living in a shack, eating out of cans and living off the land, spending days hunting arrowheads like modern day Mark Twain characters.
During this period they both became highly-skilled guitar players and wrote some of the most authentic country songs you will find recorded in the modern era. Hillgrass Bluebilly Records in Austin, TX got a hold of The Boomswagglers long enough to try and record an album, but the project almost seemed doomed from the beginning; they were just too raw, too real. It resulted in a rough, disjointed project that Hillgrass didn’t feel confident enough to put their stamp on, yet as bits and pieces leaked out over the years, The Boomswagglers slowly became underground icons from their raw songs and occasional performances around Austin, TX. After years of the public itching for the project’s release, Hillgrass Bluebilly finally released a Boomswagglers album as a bootleg for a short period.
Something about the authenticity of the whole thing made The Boomswagglers’ bootleg arguably one of the best, most engaging projects released in all of 2011. At some point Hillgrass Bluebilly took the bootleg down, and since then Saving Country Music has been flooded with questions and requests of where to obtain this rare piece of audio gold. The original Boomswagglers album has become an underground classic, and Hillgrass Bluebilly has finally decided to give it a proper physical and digital release, with a brand new version completely remastered from the original studio sessions.
The new Bootleg Beginnings from the Shack Out Back physical copy will be a collector’s edition that will include a handmade emergency fishing kit attached to the CD, with a hook, line, and various lures. The physical release date was July 12th, with the CD Release party happening at Antone’s in Austin, TX, with Hellbound Glory and Cade Callahan performing as well. The digital worldwide release is today, August 21st.
Guitar player/songwriter Spencer Cornett still plays under The Boomswagglers name with other players, while Lawson Bennett is now the proprietor of the Mustache Podcast.
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Good songs are fun to listen to. Great songs change lives. If I was selecting my “favorite” songs of the year, it wouldn’t even be a race, Lucky Tubb’s “That’s What I Get” from his album Del Gaucho would win hands down. But for this list, I’m looking for songs that were penned to change to world, to offer a deeper sense of perspective or understanding. And they have to be enjoyable to listen to.
With the lack of a clear frontrunner, or a gaggle of frontrunners, the race for the Song of the Year for 2011 was thrown wide open. A total of 8 songs made my list, and any one of them could win, making feedback from you folks especially important. The two common threads that run through most of the candidates this year, is a progressive approach to the music, and poignancy in the message. These are changing and troubled times, and the songs that speak to us the deepest will act as the soundtrack for our 2011 memories for years to come.
Scott H. Biram – Victory Song – from Bad Ingredients
It’s not common an artist pens his best song some 10 years into his career, but that is exactly what Scott H. Biram did with “Victory Song.” While searching for a little of a new sound, or maybe some spice to shake his Bad Ingredients album up, Biram penned a masterpiece by taking a wide, adventurous, progressive, and bold approach, but still somehow managed to stay grounded deep in the roots of what Scott Biram does.
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Amanda Shires – Ghost Bird – from Carrying Lightning
There’s a tangent to the argument defending the emergence of country rap that insists that country must evolve, that it cannot be hamstrung by tradition and idealistic attitudes about what country music should be. My reply would be that country has been trying to evolve for years, but those evolving elements have been pushed into the indie, Americana, and underground realm as the mainstream devolves and looks outside of country’s big tent for commercial viability.
An excellent example of evolved country flying under the radar is Amanda Shire’s song “Ghost Bird.” Great songs are able to have universal appeal by the message of the song morphing to fit one’s unique life experience. In “Ghost Bird”, this isn’t just an attribute of the song, it is the foundation the song is built from. (read full review)
And not only may this be the song of the year, it might be the video of the year as well.
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Rachel Brooke – City of Shame – from Down in the Barnyard
“Legend of Morrow Road” and “Please Give Me A Reason” from Down in the Barnyard could have been included here as well, but “City of Shame” gets the nod for being the best example of the classically-elegant style embodied on Down in the Barnyard; the album that if I had to add a fourth nominee for Album of the Year, would’ve received the nod.
“City of Shame” illustrates Rachel’s excellent control over her voice that conveys pain with an unfair effortlessness, and is complimented by layers of masterfully-arranged fiddle.
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James Hunnicutt – 99 Lives – from 99 Lives
Despite my fervent efforts, James Hunnicutt continues to be the most underrated man in underground country, and has no peer from a technical standpoint when it comes to singing. His dark, somewhat rockabilly-esque Misfits-meets-Memphis style never fit better than with the title track of his late 2010 release. In the glut of music these days, to make a good song great, it must have originality, and Hunnicutt does something most artists struggle with: composing a song that highlights his vocal and performing strengths.
Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – Codeine – from Here We Rest
The former Drive By Truckers member finally quiets a lot of his second guessers by penning songs whose greatness is undeniable. “Alabama Pines” is another good one from Here We Rest, but the theme and story of Codeine is so pure by capturing brilliantly the awkward and difficult headspace in the days after a tough breakup.
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The Boomswagglers – Run You Down – from Bootleg Beginnings / Outlaw Radio Comp.
This song first appeared on the Outlaw Radio Compilation Vol. 1 a few years ago, and then found it’s way onto an officially-released bootleg from Hillgrass Bluebilly. Now, I’m not sure where to say the song lives, or what year to attribute it to, but pick whatever year or project you want, it is still one of the best. It embodies the Boomswagglers’ deceptively deep style, and their authenticity.
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The Goddamn Gallows – Y’all Motherfuckers Need Jesus – from 7 Devils
I swear years ago I floated the theory that Jesus and God would soon be replacing a lot of the devil references in grungy country songs, and I can think of no better example than this. Don’t let the hard language scare you or fool you, this song by Mikey Classic and The Gallows is a master stroke of the pen, and not just from its wit, but for its fluidity. Depending on the perspective of the listener, it can be ironic, or it can be honest. It can speak to the Christian just as much as to the Agnostic. And it illustrates that the traditional ideas of good an evil are not far apart with a lot of gray area in between. Good and evil are right next to each other, with the gray area surrounding them. Perspective can turn good to evil, or vice vera, in the flicker of an eyelash.
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Willy Tea Taylor – Life Is Beautiful – from 4 Strings
2011 will go down as the year of the “laundry list” or “checklist” song in country music, where imbecile, adolescent compositions stringing together well-recognized elements of country life like “ice cold beer” and “dirt roads” and “biscuits” beat us over the head to the point of submission.
The “laundry list” song formula doesn’t have to be used for the dark purpose of creating a corporate culture based on artifacts and behavior. Naming off artifacts of the country can be a great way to convey the beauty of life through illustrating it’s simplicity. Without question Willy’s “Life Is Beautiful” is a laundry list song; a laundry list song that schools all of it’s counterparts by simply being honest, and thankful. (read full review)
I as easily could have included “Hummingbird” from 4 Strings as well, but the poignancy of “Life Is Beautiful,” from the laundry list perspective, and the perspective of it’s message puts it over the top.
2011 will go down as the year of the “laundry list” or “checklist” song in country music, where imbecile, adolescent compositions stringing together well-recognized elements of country life like “ice cold beer” and “dirt roads” and “biscuits” beat us over the head to the point of submission in a transparent effort to appeal to a demographic who finds identity by living vicariously through anecdotic language.
2011 is also the year Willy Tea Taylor from California’s “Cowboy Capital” of Oakdale released an album called Four Strings, that as the name implies, takes a very minimalist approach to expose Willy’s eloquent songwriting. Four Strings is fabulous, and can be listen to and purchased for whatever price you decide to name on Bandcamp. But one song called “Life Is Beautiful” is so exceptional, it deserves to be given special attention.
The “laundry list” song formula doesn’t have to be used for the dark purpose of creating a corporate culture based on artifacts and behavior. Naming off artifacts of the country can be a great way to convey the beauty of life through illustrating it’s simplicity. Without question Willy’s “Life Is Beautiful” is a laundry list song; a laundry list song that schools all of it’s counterparts by simply being honest, and thankful. ”Life Is Beautiful” is one of the best songs of the year, and not a better, more necessary year could it have been presented to us. It is a masterpiece, and if it doesn’t move you, then well, I just give up. So give up 4 minutes of your time, and change your life.
(Two guns way up by the way!)
And exclusive concert featuring Willy Tea, along with The Boomswagglers and Tom VandenAvond will be broadcast on SCM LIVE on 11/11/11, Veterans Day, from the Moose Lodge in Austin, TX.
Generally speaking, I don’t like change in music. When there’s a band I really like, the last thing I want to hear about is lineup changes. When a song already works one way and creates a nice comfortable groove in my brain like an old trusty baseball cap that fits perfectly, the last thing I’m looking for is some new spin on it. The chemistry for great music is so hard to come by, there’s no sense in tinkering with it once you’ve found it. I don’t want to see Journey being fronted by some Asian karaoke singer. Come to think of it, I don’t want to see Journey at all, but you get my point: I ain’t down with scabs in a band I’ve already fallen in love with.
That is why when I heard that Lawson Bennett of the originally two-piece Boomswagglers was out, and the remaining original member Spencer Cornett had picked up some new guitar player and chick drummer, I had little to no hope that plane would fly. And this isn’t just plugging in some new player, The Boomswagglers were created in this intense friendship between Spencer & Lawson fueled by abject destitution and mutual appreciation for music that gave rise to some of the most honest, authentic, and engaging tunes 2011 has seen released so far. I haven’t seen even one discouraging word said about their bootleg, released for free at Hillgrass Bluebilly Records (read SCM review here).
But I’ll be damned. Listen to me and listen good. This new Boomswagglers lineup, with Steven Bracamontez on guitar, and Natalie McDougall on drums has it. And when I say ‘it’, I’m not just saying it’s good, I mean it has that undefinable thing that when you watch it live, it makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck, the kind of ‘it’ that overrides appeal based simply on taste.
Steven is a masterful guitar player, who seems to have some third-eye sense for the mood and style that Spencer meant for this music to be fleshed out with. Apparently he was in another band with Spencer in the past, and they both hold the honorable distinction of being convicted felons. And Natalie doesn’t play drums like a drummer, which is good, because this would destroy the Boomswagglers’ sound. She plays them like a guitar player, and come to find out, she is one, and brings a smart ear to the instrumentation.
And the most compelling part is that they are all so young. The future and potential of this band is what I think intrigues me the most. Hypothetically, they can only get better. And Steven already has that hard-to-teach “taste over technique” Keith Richards-like quality and understanding. I’m simply getting shivers right now typing about what the potential is for this band. And the best quality of The Boomswagglers has always been their authenticity, and even though Lawson was as authentic as it gets, they seem even more authentic now with the new members.
And for those worried about Lawson, the odd man out in the new Boomswagglers, don’t. He’s got a buttload of talent too, and I have no doubt we will be hearing from him soon. It was simply a situation where Lawson had evolved away from what The Boomswagglers try to capture in their music. But having said that, Lawson’s fingerprints are still on this band. He helped write those songs, and forge their direction, and still deserves credit for what The Boomswagglers are doing now.
No video will capture what I felt from The Boomswagglers last Wednesday (10-5-11) at Antone’s in Austin, but it’s better than nothing.
Two guns way up on the new lineup!
The one-of-a-kind two-piece country bluesy duo from Austin, TX known as The Boomswagglers’ freshman release has been like the Chinese Democracy of the country music underground for some time now, with delays and rumors of an impending release leaving fans on the edge of their seat, salivating at getting their hands on their raucous and authentic music. Well now the wait is over, and the sticker price is just right, as Hillgrass Bluebilly Records has just released The Boomswagglers Bootleg Beginnings as a completely free download.
Unlike most of the chaff that floods the consciousness of the music consumer today in the form of free music, this is a completely original project of previously-unreleased tracks (except for one song) that would be well worthy of your cash dollars if they were asking. But since Hillgrass has high standards for what it will ask hard earned money for, and the The Boomswagglers’ future is always in flux, they decided to go the gratis route, and I commend Hillgrass and The Boomswagglers for that.
As for the album? I love it. This is a fun, engaging collection of songs, that highlight what is special about The Boomswagglers: their excellent ear for tone and texture, their ability to write engaging songs, their stellar guitar skills, and their authenticity.
This album has some physical flaws, and I won’t sit here and try to explain them away, and these are partly at the root of making this album free. But the tones and authenticity found on this album is the stuff that college grad musicians painstakingly spend thousands of dollars on gear and computer effects trying to re-create, yet can never touch. This album sounds authentic, because low and behold, The Boomswagglers actually are authentic. They wrote these songs while living in a shack, eating out of cans, digging up arrowheads in the dirt by day, and drinking their weight by night. It was the most basic of sustenance existences that 99% of us couldn’t hang with for a week. They were Boomswagglers, a name they gave themselves during this period of their lives, and that low form of living is ever present in every note on this album.
The music is wildly entertaining and deceptively deep. If you’re going to be a Boomswagglers song, someone’s got to die, and likely a woman. Some may find this silly, monotonous, or even offensive, but you have to listen beyond the lyrics, and unlock the carnal wisdom that is hidden in these songs.
The music is sloppy at times, but this is one of those projects where the sloppiness is endearing, and really creates an authentic setting for the songs. The verses to “Jim & Jack” don’t even rhyme in many places, but if they did, the song would be worse off for it. It is sung and written like someone who would hop a train and then steal a car would write a song. And though there is some looseness in this music, don’t let that blind you to the fact that both Spencer Cornett and Lawson Bennett are excellent singers, and amazingly superb guitar pickers, both of them, with adept finger picking and slide skills to go along with their natural intuition for tone and taste.
“No Good Low Down Son of a Gun” and “Working Man” start the album off with a fun flavor and a good pace that introduces you to what The Boomswagglers do. “Trailer Park Special” emphasizes their understanding of chords to set moods, and shows off their lyrical wit, while “Even Lower Down” and “Mornin’ Pills” prove they can cut all the bullshit out, and simply sing a sad blues song. “Wilco Blues”, one of their older recordings, draws you back to the heart of their Boomswaggler experience, and shows off their mastery of tone.
As for the song “Run You Down”, what can I say more than this is one of the best songs ever put out through underground/independent country circles. It first appeared on the Outlaw Radio Compilation Vol. 1, and was also nominated by Saving Country Music for Song of the Year in 2010. It is a country music masterpiece, and embodies all of the Boomswagglers’ strengths in one spellbinding composition.
My one beef with this album is that the Lawson Bennett-sung songs are not here, though there is a good explanation. One of Lawson’s mainstays of their live set is a cover song, and with this being a free release, it is not worth the hassle to get all the copyright ducks in order. Also the second-best Boomswaggler song ever “Berry Creek Blues” is probably just too good to give away for free, so I can’t fault them for keeping that keg dry. Still, the Lawson tracks could have replaced some of the slower ones and really taken this album to the next level.
I might be a little more harsh on this album if you had to pay to get it, but admitting to some of it’s warts by giving it away just makes the whole Boomswaggler experience that much more endearing and authentic to me.
Two guns up!
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.
As the name implies, Hillgrass Bluebilly Records defines the nexus of where hillbilly, country, bluegrass, and blues meet. This rich and diverse environment that has been created in the independent/underground music world embodies all roots music as unified expressions of purity and soul, regardless of the origins.
With a catalog that includes artists like Possessed by Paul James, The Boomswagglers, Ten Foot Polecats, Tom Vandenavond, Left Lane Cruiser, Larry & His Flask, Soda, and various other collaborators, Keith Mallette and co-founder Ryan Tackett have created a burgeoning homespun record label that is getting international attention. Their award-winning double disc compilation Hiram & Huddie bridged the music of Hank Williams and Leadbelly together with tribute songs from people like Wayne “The Train” Hancock, Scott H. Biram, William Elliot Whitmore, Bob Log III, and many more, and made a small concert promotion company to a force in the record label business.
Hillgrass Bluebilly has also given rise to what is called “The Dirtyfoot Family”; a rabid and loyal group of devoted music fans who embrace the same open mind approach to the broad roots music movement.
I sat down with Keith last weekend right before a Hillgrass concert at Ruta Maya in Austin, TX to talk about the formation of the record label, his philosophies on music, future plans, and how he became the point man in the opposition to Shooter Jennings’ XXX music movement. Full audio can be found below as well as a transcription of the meat of the interview. But let me tell you, this is one you’ll want to listen to.
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Triggerman: Hillgrass Bluebilly. How did you get involved in this music, which as the name implies is like a crux between country and bluegrass and blues and hillbilly music. Did you listen to it growing up?
Hillgrass Keith: Partly. Nothing really outside of your greatest hits albums, well up into my mid to late 20′s. To answer your question I guess, guilty by association, when I finally met a group of friends that knew more, that’s when I really got into it. A few of them boys started up a concert promotions business in Phoenix called “Roots and Boots” and kinda brought me in on it. They were wanting to do shows where I was working, at this little bar. So I included myself and they brought out some shows at the beginning with folks like Jesse Dayton. That was short lived but great, and I took what I knew I could do with it and it was born.
I always knew I was a salesman or a closer and the best at no matter what I did. This was all heart. This was something that grabbed a hold of me musically and I saw how it wasn’t getting done, and these little signs were like “Do this Keith, do this.” So I presented it to my buddy, Ryan Tackett the co-founder. He said, “Yeah Keith, I believe in you, let’s do it.” And here we are.
Triggerman: I think a lot of people would think of Hillgrass Bluebilly as a record label, but it got its start in promotions and still promotions is a large part of what you do.
Hillgrass Keith: I wouldn’t say a large part. Honestly after the first couple of years of Hillgrass, after I left Phoenix and came here (Austin) we didn’t think we were gonna be a record label. I thought I was going to be able to push through the promotions end of it, and make things work. We founded the record label through the promotions. Hiram & Huddie was strictly a promotional tool to introduce people to these bands that we love with something that they could reference, being Hank Williams and Leadbelly. After it was all said and done, I don’t know who told us we were a record label but someone whispered it to us, and that’s our fight now.
Triggerman: Hiram and Huddie has won quite a few awards, it’s been really successful, I’ve seen write-ups for it all over the place. Did you see when you were putting this compilation together, this parallel between old school country and old school blues? Was the idea to try to bridge those two? Brother of different mothers as far as the music, or was more the differences that made it appealing?
Hillgrass Keith: I would say the brothers of different mothers. We take “man” approach to things. And for what we want to do as people, we want to keep it as genuine and real as possible. In the instrumentation of roots music, that’s where we found our love for Uncle Tom (VandenAvond), PPJ (Possessed by Paul James), Scott Biram, these guys that spit a lot of soul out, it’s just really moving. That’s our fight.
Triggerman: So you kind of embrace the idea of being a stepping stone.
Hillgrass Keith: It’s cutthroat. We have yet to see all the things that are going to happen in the music industry as far as our slot when that comes. That’s why these record labels have to stand by their folks and treat them good, and not take advantage of them. It almost seems like the older we get, the more we’re stripping it down.
Triggerman: Right now one of your up-and-coming artists is The Boomswagglers. Let’s say they get a song in a Ralph Lauren underwear commercial and they just explode.
Hillgrass Keith: Then I would expect them to move on to another label. We succeed when they get the fuck away from us, and they don’t need us anymore. And we don’t want to be up there with them. We don’t want to pay more than $500 for a guarantee to someone. That ain’t us. That ain’t our people. And we’re gonna stay like that.
Triggerman: Whenever you’re trying to work through something, regardless of what it is, you need hardliners. People look at me as a country music hardliner. You embodied the hardline stance against XXX, and I appreciate that. But at the same time, I want to ask you some devil’s advocate questions. If you or somebody else is afraid of what XXX might become, if you have issues with something, there’s two ways you can take it. Either you can come out steadfast against it, or you could try to be a part of it and try to resolve whatever issues you have with it. If you’re afraid that XXX is going to become something that is going to be adverse to what you’re doing in music, why would would you not want to be a part of it in a way to be part of the dialogue so you can try to influence what it might become? Or is it even worth it?
Hillgrass Keith: It’s not. It’s a shiny coin trick. It’s confusing. Hillgrass Bluebilly spells it out. We came up with that genuinely because that’s what it is. It’s all those: hillbilly, blues, bluegrass, country summed up. XXX is nothing. It’s a bunch of bullshit. It’s something to go make some patches and shirts out of. I don’t want anything to do with it, I don’t even want it to be there. So that’s why I opened my mouth. I guess a better man would just watch it die on its own because he realizes that Shooter’s an anchor. I’m just more mouthy than that.
Triggerman: Do you think that the idea behind it, just the idea, take away Shooter Jennings, take away XXX. The idea that everyone is fighting their own individual fights, the artists, the record labels, the promoters. Do you see any benefit in trying to make at least a little bit more collaboration between these elements?
Hillgrass Keith: No. It’s pretty much you’re fighting over there, make sure it’s on the sidewalk. Because when we come rolling through the street, don’t get in our fucking way.
Triggerman: Let’s say Goliath comes and you’re David, and the only way you can take Goliath down is if Hillgrass Bluebilly bands with XXX?
Hillgrass Keith: My rock is an Uncle Tom CD, a PPJ (Possessed by Paul James) CD to that Goliath, you know what I mean? If I could just tell everyone to shut up, take everything out of their hearts and minds, and sit there with their fuckin’ gut and listen, then stone to the fuckin’ eye. Goliath down.
As long as people know that I don’t like it. And we’re not going to try to confuse people with shitty branding.
Triggerman: What projects to you have coming up on Hillgrass Bluebilly that people should know about?
Hillgrass Keith: Boomswagglers. America’s country. Texas. They’re our answer to country music. And I’m country, out of my heart. Ryan’s (the co-founder) blues, and I’m a blues guy too, but not before country. I’m really happy for the Boomswagglers album to be coming, I love them. Would take a bullet for them. There’s actually going to be a couple things. We’re going to have some garage-ee recordings, really nice ones to have available really soon. And then the big Hillgrass release, to be safe before Summer, the release date. It’s probably going to be in April, more than likely. May at the latest.
Triggerman: You refer to your merch as flags. You sell hats, you sell shirts . . .
Hillgrass Keith: No actually, we sell flags! (laughing) Hillgrass Bluebilly is the flag, “Dirtyfoot Family” is the people. When we stick our flag in the ground, you know it’s there. You can over to it, or you can stay away from it. We probably will have some “flags” one day but for now in forms of shirts and hats. You don’t have to like me to like Hillgrass.
Triggerman: Do you think roots music is under siege in Austin?
Hillgrass Keith: I think the baby boomer era ruined that. I think music has been taken out of the home. I don’t think families are laying on their bellies listening to music that they can all enjoy and like. Instead parents have given up the TV to Walt Disney and Nickelodeon instead of productive music time, which the kids don’t have to like. It must have been taken out of the homes. It has to have been because living here in Austin, TX and watching the country music scene is one of the most disheartening things I’ve ever been a part of. If you go to see a Roger Wallace show or a James Hand show. There has been no community for it, until the Muddy Roots and Hillgrass and Farmageddon. Now there’s homes for this. There’s been big progress I think.
Triggerman: How do you feel about people (record labels) like Fat Possum and Bloodshot?
Hillgrass Keith: I love them. I look up to Fat Possum, I look up to Alive, I look up to Bloodshot. And I look up to them in a lot of ways. I pick things apart and I analyze everything that I’m a part of. We’re not a record label, we’re people that are helping our artists get to places like that. We’re the stepping stone to places like Bloodshot and Alive.
Triggerman: What is your favorite non-Hillgrass Bluebilly band or artist?
Hillgrass Keith: Scott H. Biram. I don’t even need to think about it. He’s never done a bad recording. When it comes down to it, pound for pound, he’s Roy Jones Jr. 1998, man you ain’t touching that dude. He’s hard traveling, he’s hard working, and that’s his business. I admire the support of his mother and dad. They’re like at every show of his.
I saw both of these acts recently at the Hillgrass Bluebilly Lunch Party, but because I was too busy managing the live internet audio stream during the Boomswaggler’s set, and the stage was so surrounded by teeming “dirtyfoots” for Possessed’s nightcap performance that I couldn’t steal even a peep, I headed down to Beerland in Austin, TX Friday night to take in the double bill of Hillgrass artists.
The Boomswagglers are a band on the rise people, mark my words. For an act with no formal release, and up to this point no major touring or even residency in a local scene, they have created quite the buzz and following. There were people there that night just to see The Boomswagglers, many of them singing along to songs and screaming out requests.
Unfortunately the sound was pretty muddy, and the beginning of their set was a little rough. But when they were joined on stage by Possessed by Paul James, they rallied:
A similar observation I had seeing them previously is that they are both extremely-talented guitar players, but their use of tones and volume doesn’t always lend to that being translated to the audience. Same could possibly be said for lyrics. But this one song emphasizes both:
Don’t take it so literally ladies.
And be aware, The Boomswagglers do have a big release and tour coming, but they are making sure to get it right, because they are worth it, so no specific details just yet on either.
Next was Possessed by Paul James, and of the three times I have seen him live, this was by far his most inspired performance. Not that the previous two were bad, but this was just a different, more rowdy energy. Konrad is a school teacher, and my guess would be a damn good one, but he mentioned during the show his frustrations for the red tape involved in teaching, and wondered aloud if his future wasn’t better cast in music. Like I iterated in my review of Feed The Family:
Possessed certainly has the chops to be a full-time performer if he wanted to, but he’s chosen his path from a belief of what is best for his family, and because of a dedication to service that was instilled in his Mennonite upbringing. I respect Possesessed’s decision, but I hope he understands that his music is a service as well; a touching, uplifiting, empowering experience that the world is a better place because of.
Regardless of the reasoning, Possessed was on fire on Friday. His gear was dogged by technical difficulties, but instead of adding hiccups to an otherwise good show, it created moments of spontaneous beauty, like when he couldn’t get his banjo and amp to work together, so he headed out into the crowd to make sure energy didn’t die:
When I posted this year’s Muddy Roots lineup, there was a reason I put Possessed by Paul James’ name second to the top. He is a headliner, and an elder of the fusion of country, folk, and blues, and has the songs, stories, road time, wisdom, and bald spot to back it all up. The lighting wasn’t good that night, and as per usual of a PPJ show, the front of the stage was crashed by rabid fans and sight lines were few if any. But the music and energy was great as always, and below are a few more vids worth checking out. I don’t know, but for some reason I am really digging what the bad lighting and sight lines created. I think they capture the magic of the night better than a clean video could.
As with the Albums of the Year, 2010 will go down as a high water mark for the amount of top quality songs released, and just like with the albums, some songs that on other years would be near the top got pushed down a rung, and the requisites on who could qualify for the top mark got more stringent.
A Song of the Year can’t just be good, it has to touch you. You have to be a different person, in whatever small way, after listening to it. Points are rewarded for things like catchiness and accessibility, but you’ll have to get at least a little bit deep to makes this year’s list. Great songs speak to many people, but to each individual in different ways. We also saw a lot of songs this year with an epic approach, whose sheer vision and grand design deserves to be highlighted.
Here are the 2010 candidates: I tried to provide links to the full songs, and where not available I made sample players through Amazon.
The Boomswagglers – Run You Down – from the Outlaw Radio Compilation Vol.1 – This is going to sound like pointy-nosed music critic talk, but the beauty of this song is it’s simplicity. Nothing groundbreaking here, no esoteric lyrics. But it works. Great songs can communicate soul without saying much, and that is what this one does. For the first national exposure for these dudes, it was a home run. Keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming tour and record from Hillgrass Bluebilly Records.
Roger Alan Wade – Ruins of Paradise – from Deguello Motel – Whether it is the song of they year is yet to be determined, but without question it contains the line of the year, “Some hostile Pentecostal prophet, shakes a God-forsaken snake in my face. The pagan says “Man, just get off it.’ Blames it all on a God he don’t believe in anyway.” The best song on a masterpiece album.
Left Arm Tan – Wish – from Jim – I’m sure most have never heard of Left Arm Tan, or their excellent song “Wish,” but this dark horse out of left field not only belongs here, but just might win. Some may think I’m losing my mind to name this song a candidate, but if you’ve not heard it yet and given it a chance, you’re missing out. It prompted my first song review, and is a perfect example that in the current music climate, the cream doesn’t rise to the top, and I’m not just talking about the weird stuff we all listen to around here.
Jayke Orvis – Dreadful Sinner -from It’s All Been Said – Jayke could’ve had another candidate with ‘Streets,” but “Dreadful Sinner” is just a much more epic undertaking in so many ways, and really highlights Jayke’s contributions to music best. This isn’t a song, it is a composition.
Hank III – Karmageddon – from Rebel Within – I caught a little flack for naming this in my mid-year list, even from Hank III supporters. But even in the face of adversity, I proclaim this song a standout track for 2010 for it’s freshness, unique approach, and theme. Yes, I know Hank III did not write it, but he was possibly the only one who could flesh the full potential of this song out by a fearless approach and vision.
Hellbound Glory – Be My Crutch – from Old Highs & New Lows – You might opine that this is me picking a favorite track of an album just because the album was one of the best of the year. On a top tier album, every song has to be good, but “Be My Crutch” cuts through the crowd not only from it’s own strength, but because at its heart, it’s a love song, and a love song that is actually good is one of the hardest things to write and perform.
Joseph Huber – Can’t You See A Flood’s A-Comin’ – from Bury Me Where I Fall – From a lyrical standpoint, there may not be one better this year. Listen, and heed the warning.
Possessed by Paul James – When It Breaks – from Feed the Family – They say when Possessed plays a song, it is like he is giving birth. If that is the case, this is the pick of the litter. Infinite soul combined with great singing and playing make this simple song so much more than the sum of its parts.
Hillstomp – Cardiac Arrest in D – from Darker The Night – For the best balls-out song of the year, this one takes the cake. It is wickedly infectious. What is the song about? What are the lyrics? Eh, who cares, I’m too busy banging my head.
.357 String Band – Oh Adeline, The Days Engrave, Ride Again – from Lightning from the North – Any of these songs and maybe a few more from this album could have made the top list if it wasn’t such a crowded list this year. But if one of these is your fav for 2010, I can’t argue.
Dale Watson – Hey Brown Bottle – from Carryin’ On – This song was ergonomically-designed to fit Dale’s voice perfectly. Never has it shined more.
Trampled by Turtles – Wait So Long, It’s A War, Bloodshot Eyes – from Palomino – They’re know best for their blazing fast bluegrass-esque numbers, but the slow “Bloodshot Eyes” ballad is one not to overlook.
Lucky Tubb & Wayne Hancock – Hillbilly Fever, West – from Hillbilly Fever – can’t talk about songs without mentioning duets with Wayne and Lucky. “Ramblin’” is destined to be a standard of the Lucky rotation moving forward as well.
Also liked Reverend Deadeye’s version of “Chased Ol’ Satan,” and there were a ton of great songs from people like Bob Wayne and Six Gun Britt and Rachel Brooke on the Outlaw Radio Compilation Vol. 1 that you need to check out if you have not.
So there’s my list, leave your complaints below. Comments will be considered in the final winner, but this is not an up and down vote type thing. I’m sure I’m overlooking a few songs , so enlighten us all by leaving any ones left out below.
On Saturday night the Hole in the Wall in Austin, TX was transformed into “Dirtyfoot” headquarters for fans, bands and extended family of Hillgrass Bluebilly Records for their Launch Party. Folks from as far as Canada, Seattle, Minnesota, and Boston flew in exclusively for the event and helped pack the walls of the Hole to near capacity, while over 150 people from around the world tuned in through SCM Live to share the experience.
7 bands and 5 hours of music meant both Hole in the Wall’s stages were pressed into service. Darren Hoff & The Hard Times got things stirring with their hard edged country on the smaller stage, while some started biting nails wondering if the second band The Boomswagglers were going to show for their second slot. As was explained later, “We forgot to put gas in the truck,” which they reportedly tried to remedy by pulling off a radiator hose and trying to siphon gas out of a motorcycle before calling someone to pick them up. Now if that ain’t country. . .
The Boomswagglers get the award for most authentic band of the night, in a night packed with authenticity. As they bled out their country/bluesy mix about bad women and hard times the shot glasses and beer jars stacked up on an amplifier like a mocking model of Austin’s ever-increasing skyline of posh condo buildings. Whatever the high rise condo represents, The Boomswagglers represent the polar opposite. Spencer Cornett is taller than a beanpole and skinnier than Shaggy on crack, while Lawson Benett is as tall is he is round. Together they are like dirty country’s Laurel and Hardy, with a larger-than-life, almost rock-star air around them even though they are the nicest, most down-to-earth “just blew in from the corn field” country boys you’ll ever meet.
The Boomswagglers were the one band that night I was most curious to see because I had no idea what to expect. Their song “Run You Down” that was featured on the Outlaw Radio Compilation has been one of the most popular songs in underground country, but was this just a one hit wonder? What I found was they are above-average pickers with solid and original songwriting ability that deserve whatever praise their small but loyal fans give them. Keep an eye out for their first Hillgrass Bluebilly release coming soon.
Next was Roger Wallace, who on such a stacked bill might have been overlooked by some, but was one of the standouts of the night. Roger is pure country, but with some soul and boogie to him as well. He also boasts one of the best bands to be found, with Jim Stringer on lead guitar, and the amazing Lisa Pankratz on drums. Lisa has also played with Dale Watson, Wayne Hancock, and Billy Joe Shaver to name a few. Like so many of the bands that performed, Roger deserves his own separate review.
Tom VandenAvond and his “Say Hey Kids” band afforded the most memorable moment of the night, when he finished his set on the main stage with the song “Brick by Brick,” and was joined on stage by the headliners Possessed by Paul James on fiddle and Larry & His Flask, as well as Brian and Molly Salvi in one of those family-feeling moments that can’t be rehearsed or staged.
The best flat out musician from the night, on a night filled with so many great ones, might be Jim Chilson who flew down with the rest of the Ten Foot Polecats from Boston exclusively for the event. The seemingly effortless trance-inducing guitar rhythms with ridiculous fingerwork put the blues in this Bluebilly event, and was accompanied by balls out singing from Jay Scheffler and expert drumming. Who needs bass?
Now we have come to the point where I am supposed to somehow explain with human language what it is like to see Larry & His Flask live, but no words, no videos do it justice. Larry & His Flask are sheer madness. They are the essence, the pinnacle of on-stage energy. I talk often about one man bands, and how they must put out the energy of a full band. Then there is Hillstomp, which is a two man band, with both men putting out the energy of an entire band, doubling the equation. Well play the analogy out, and Larry & His Flask are like a six man band. No, this isn’t stating the obvious because there’s six people in the band, what I aim to say is they put out the energy of six bands combined.
You might think that their punk approach to an eclectic combination of roots is not for everyone. Videos just make it seem like theater. You have to appreciate that NOTHING in music trumps Larry & His Flask in the amount of energy.
The night was capped by Possessed by Paul James on the small stage, which immediately after The Flask finished, was crowded around so thick even us 6+ footers had to settle for hearing and not seeing. Nothing can trump the energy of The Flask, but it was perfected in mood by Possessed’s heartfelt soul. At that point all these folks from all around the country, from different walks of life and varying musical slantings, young and old, male and female, were all family. It was no longer about launch parties or Austin, or any of that; it was about the fellowship that a dizzying night of music can create for the soul when it is capped so perfectly by true, heartfelt expression.
A few tears were shed as all joined in Possessed’s “We Welcome You Home” at the very end of the night, and the mood in the room was such that you might anticipate all participants would disintegrate into the cosmos in a moment of infinite bliss and communion with the almighty. However reality met you cold in the face the next day, but nonetheless the participants of the Hillgrass Bluebilly Launch Party, in person and online, will never be the same after their experience, and the joy and understanding will remain inside their souls till death and beyond.
Two guns up.
More videos and pictures can be found on the message board.
Man, do we have a big week in store for SCM Live!
Tonight (11-3) on Outlaw Radio Chicago at 8 PM Central, Jashie P will play an impromptu interview with the one and only Willie Nelson from this weekend, and may answer the question that everyone is asking, “Did you smoke weed with Willie?”
Then on Saturday the mother of all SCM Live events will be going down, as we will be broadcasting Hillgrass Bluebilly’s Launch Party, featuring 7 bands, 2 stages, and 6+ hours of music, all LIVE to anywhere in the world from the Hole in the Wall in Austin, TX!
If at all humanly possible, you should beg, lie, steal, pillage, plunder, filch, whatever it takes to get your ass to Austin to be a part of this event in person. At only $6, this is the music deal of the century. But if you can’t make it and your eyeballs are passing over these words, then you better make sure you get your ass over to SCM Live Saturday night starting at 7 PM (with a preshow maybe staring sometime between 6 and 7) and be a part of this historic event. And don’t be afraid to poke your head into the chat room as well, where you can share your passion for this music with folks from around the world!
It’s almost easier to say who is NOT playing than who is, but here’s the dizzying lineup and times:
8:00: THE BOOMSWAGGLERS
9:00pm ROGER WALLACE
9:45pm TEN FOOT POLECATS
11:30pm LARRY & HIS FLASK
12:30am POSSESSED BY PAUL JAMES
2010 is turning out to be a bumper crop year for REAL country music, and no, I’m not just saying that to be a cheerleader for the “scene.” I’ll be the first to admit that last year was a terrible year for new releases, save for a few great ones from the Bloodshot Record’s gang (Wayne Hancock, Scott Biram, & Justin Townes Earle). And with all this great music, we still have a half year to go with new ones from Justin Townes Earle, possibly two new ones from Hank III, and many more on the way.
So here’s my Top 5 albums and songs so far, and note this is just from albums I’ve already reviewed, and doesn’t include the new one from Jayke Orvis (haven’t got my copy yet), or Those Poor Bastards (review coming). These are just my thoughts. Poke holes in them and leave your own prognostications below.
It’s going to take a monster to knock this one off the perch.
Remember, it was a compilation Wanted:The Outlaws that took the Outlaw movement national, and that one was previously-released material. This is 22-previously unreleased tracks. If you want to hear some of the best songs of 2010, you have to get this album. (purchase here)
I thought the top songs on his last album were better, but this one is the better album. Press play and let the good times roll. And how can you go wrong with duets from Wayne Hancock?
Don’t overlook this album. Just because Jayke Orvis’s dreads aren’t involved doesn’t mean it doesn’t contain some of the best .357 songs so far.
Another one that is easy to look over but hard to top. The best, most relevant, and freshest album to come from an Outlaw legend in years.
#1 – HELLBOUND GLORY – “Be My Crutch”
Yes, I know this gives Hellbound a #1 sweep, but it is much deserved.
#2 – HANK III – “Karmageddon”
Even the naysayers of Rebel Within have to admit Hank III hit a home run with this one.
#3 – THE BOOMSWAGGLERS – “Run You Down” (from the Outlaw Radio Comp.)
Simple and straightforward, yet deep and beautiful all at the same type. I reserve the right to change my mind and name this the Song of the Year in six months.
#4 – REVEREND DEADEYE – “Chased Ol’ Satan” (from Trials & Tribulations)
Again, simple, but with undeniable soul that makes this song stick to your bones.
#5 – HELLBOUND GLORY – “Another Bender Might Break Me”
Masterful songwriting in an accessible format. This is what REAL country music is all about.
I picture a post-Apolcolyptic scene: ghost towns full of crumbling buildings and rubble, smoke filling the sky and blocking out the sun, the result of a society that gave no value to art, heritage, and truth; a vast wasteland of grayness. Then all of a sudden in the midst of all the death and decay, there’s movement: a lone being protected by the elements by a big black, robotic-like suit. Maybe it is one of the few survivors, or an alien sent to investigate the fate of this once beautiful place.
He goes sifting through the rubble of a bombed out structure, looking for evidence of what went wrong. He finds a shelf whose contents of CD’s and DVD’s have been belched out onto the dusty, rubbage filled floor in a pile. A big black glove pushes aside CD’s by Brittaney Spears and Taylor Swift, DVD’s with pretty movie stars adorning their covers. Then he sees something curious: a black disc with crossed guns on the front. What is this? He pops it into a media player attached to the side of his helmet, and all of a sudden a new world is presented to him: The picture of a collection of artists fighting against society’s homogenization and creative vapidness unfolds through music. A resistance. Outlaws, fighting a rebel war against the mainstream, and carrying forth a long line of traditions from the past.
I normally hate compilations. This one is different. No, this does not have all the “hits” from our insurgent country scene that you’ve already heard compiled in some way to try to squeeze more money out of worn out songs. And it’s not the odds and sods and leftovers for other projects either. It is a collection on good, fresh, original, previously-unreleased material that is fun to listen to, and also acts as a primer for artists you may have heard of, but never heard their stuff.
But in another way this is so much more than that. This compilation DEFINES our movement. It gives it clear edges, and at the same time illustrates and celebrates our diversity. Our diversity is what makes us strong: men and women, gothic country w/ Those Poor Bastards, New Outlaw country with Roger Alan Wade, REAL bluegrass with the .357 String Band. Sure there’s maybe a few signed artists missing like Hank III, and the Bloodshot Record’s gang like Wayne “The Train” Hancock and Scott Biram. But you already know those guys. This is a jump start for the fresh blood, the up and comers.
I’ve got comments on specific songs below, but in closing let me just say that if you do not buy this compilation, you deserve to have your genitals dry up a whither.
Outlaw Radio can be heard every Wednesday night at 8PM Central at scrubradio.com. Show are archived, and you can purchase this compilation at savingcountrymusic.com/outlaw-radio
1. The Dad Horse Experience–Gates of Heaven (Vinyl Version): How ironic is it that there’s more appreciation for American roots in EUROPE than in the US? Dad Horse might be one of many European bands we see crop up in the coming years. Love the German accent here, glad he didn’t try to hide it.
2. Old Red Shed–Another Round: Great song from a band whose about to put out their first album Country Fury on Arjuna Records. Get in on the ground floor with these guys and watch them rise, they’re great!!!
3. Black Eyed Vermillion & Andy Gibson–Death Don’t Have No Mercy: Not my favorite BEV track ever, but a great example for those who think Gary Lindsey is all blood and guts, just how soulful he can be. And Andy Gibson, well, he is the master. Our generation’s Tompall Glasser. Hats off!
4. Bob Wayne–Ain’t No Diesel Trucks in Heaven: INSTANT CLASSIC! Bob Wayne proves once again that he is the best lyric writer in underground country, and maybe in current country period with this Cash-eque song tastefully arranged and witty. Great song!
5. Rachel Brooke–Closer Still: BEST TRACK OF THE ALBUM! Amazing. Rachel’s voice is somewhere between sublime and perfection. I said in my review of A Bitter Harvest:“Rachel has a big bag of tricks, and though this album highlights some that have never been seen before, there are more that my ear yearns for that I know are lurking within her. She can tear into bluegrass.” Well this is Rachel tearing into bluegrass. A++
6. Ted Russell Kamp–My Heart Has a Mind Of Its Own: Shooter Jennings’s bass player is more than just Shooter Jennings’s bass player. This song highlights his tight songwriting skills and a strong, soulful, smoky voice.
7. Ronnie Hymes–Sea of Sin: Good song from the best artist on the Pint of Happiness Record Label.
8. Joey Allcorn–Gone, But Not Forgotten Blues: An excellent neo-traditionalist artists that seems so easily “forgotten,” and I am to blame as much as any. A solid track.
9. Those Poor Bastards–The Minister’s Doom: The Kings of Gothic country never cease to amaze me with how deep their bag of tricks is. This track isn’t for everybody, just like Those Poor Bastards isn’t. But it nonetheless exemplified Lonesome Wyatt’s adeptness at arrangement, and his expertise at setting a mood to tell a story in.
10. Dave Smith and the Country Rebels–Price to Pay: This song may come across as “too mainstream” for some, but I personally think we need more accessible artists in this scene, and Dave & The Rebels prove why. Fun, tight song.
11. Last False Hope–$2 Pints: Gothic punkgrass from the mastermind of the Outlaw Compilation himself: Jashie P and a few close friends. When I first heard this track, I was amazed at the complexity and depth of songwriting, and how clean and pro it sounded. I guess I had just always envisioned Jashie as more of a hack ;). Seriously, good song, and keep your eyes out for a full length release from them coming soon.
12. Izzy and the Kesstronics–Gotta Do What I Wanna Do: Nothing replaces seeing Izzy and the boys live. Their energy level and astuteness are mindblowing. But this track comes very close at bottling that live energy. It’s a goofy song, but it’s what they do. You may hate Izzy Zaidman, but the simple fact is he’s a better musician than you are, and probably gets laid more often too.
13. The Fisticuffs–The Ballad of Bill Blizzard: We can’t forget that we owe the roots of our roots to the folks in the British Isles over the pond. This is a band worth checking out if you like an Irish attitude with a punk approach.
14. The Boomswagglers–Run You Down: LOVE THIS SONG! Only reason this isn’t my favorite song on the album is because Rachel Brooke is hotter, but The Boomswagglers are one of the best kept secrets in this scene. Crude, dirty, lo-fi, but their songwriting prowess is undeniable, and this might be the best song they’ve ever cut. Hopefully these boys can keep their asses out of the pokey and we’ll hear much more from them in the future. This is one of those songs that you love the first time you hear, and you play it over and over. A++!!
15. Roger Alan Wade–Breakfast At Audrey’s: Just the name Roger Alan Wade adds legitimacy to this album, and this song adds a solid singer/songwriter track with endless soul. What I really like about this song is it is clearly just Roger and a mic. You can even hear him flip the paper the verses are on while he sings. Some artists spend thousands of dollars trying to bottle that raw sound, and Roger did it just by being himself. Good track!
16. Little Lisa Dixie–Cheating Games: If I was going to cheat on my music love Rachel Brooke, it would be with Little Lisa. This song has a good slow grooving rockabilly feel to it. Little Lisa has enough talent that she should take her music to the next level, and proves that WOMEN are a big and beautiful part of this music revolution.
17. .357 String Band–Restless Man Blues: Known for bluegrass, this is a pretty straight country-feeling tune. Not their greatest track ever, but a solid offering.
18. Six Gun Britt–Hard Habit To Break: Damn. Six Gun could melt a rock. She is just amazing, and this is a beautiful, sad song. Every time I hear Six Gun sing, it makes me angry. That’s right. Because in a perfect world she would be a superstar. Her talent is that worthy. And if her music wallows in obscurity for the rest of time, what an atrocity that would be. If you’re reading this right now, consider yourself deeply blessed, because you’re one of the few who knows who Six Gun Britt is.
19. Hellbound Glory–Livin’ On Pabst Blue Ribbon: Leroy Virgil is the fastest rising star in Insurgent country, and that is the fault of his unbelievably adept songwriting, built on a solid foundation of REAL country appreciation and study. All one hell of a backing band, and Hellbound Glory might be the best apostles for REAL country we have right now. Not Hellbound Glory’s best, but a good, fun song.
20. The Goddamn Gallows–Waitin’ Around to Die (live): Great cover of the Townes Van Zant classic spiced with the Gallow’s gotic circus freak sow punk billy grass that is all their own. SEE THESE GUYS LIVE BEFORE YOU DIE!
21. Joe Buck Yourself–Big River (live): This song comes from a recording Jashie P did of an entire Joe Buck concert in Chicago a while back. He played the whole show at the end of one of his podcasts, and I listened to it probably a dozen times, and it remains my favorite recorded Joe Buck experience, more than his albums. Joe Buck is just such a unique experience live, I think that is what his next release should be, a live CD.
22. Lucky Tubb & The Modern Day Troubadours–Thanks A Lot (live): Lucky has a spellbinding singing cadence that is all his own. It’s there in his recorded material, but even more present live. He’s dripping with talent, and puts the “traditionalism” back in neo-traditional. Good track. Love the steel guitar.
#5 Roger Alan Wade–Breakfast At Audrey’s
#4 Six Gun Britt–Hard Habit To Break
#3 Bob Wayne–Ain’t No Diesel Trucks in Heaven
#2 The Boomswagglers–Run You Down
#1 Rachel Brooke–Closer Still
Man. If you like REAL/Underground country music, than this upcoming compilation from the Outlaw Radio Chicago podcast should get you pitching a tent in your music pants. This compilation is going to include ALL PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED MATERIAL. And the names are a who’s who of the underground movement. Check out this laundry list of contributors:
- Bob Wayne and the Outlaw Carnies
- .357 String Band
- Six Gun Britt
- The Dad Horse Experience
- Izzy and the Kesstronics
- Lucky Tubb and the Modern Day Troubadours
- Ol’ Red Shed
- Ted Russell Kamp
- Dave Smith and the Country Rebels
- Black Eyed Vermillion
- Little Lisa Dixie
- The Boomswagglers
- Joey Allcorn
- Rachel Brooke
- Last False Hope
- Slackeye Slim
- The Fisticuffs
And there might be more to come from that!
At the moment it is slated to come out in April 2010, and the cost will ONLY be around $8.00. The idea is just to recoup the capitol to put out to make the CD’s, and help promote the artists, so this is not some for-profit hosing. Can you imagine pop country doing this? This again proves that Jashie P. of Outlaw Radio is a man of integrity and good ideas, and that as a community, the REAL country movement is stronger than most, if not all. Artists are ponying up the songs, Outlaw Radio is ponying up the dough and time to make it happen, and I’m sure you will pony up for a copy.
I’m usually not much for compilations, but this CD is already near the top of my list for most anticipated 2010 releases in an already VERY strong field.
Outlaw Radio is heard every Tuesday night at 9 PM Central, and all the shows are archived the next day at savingcountrymusic.com/outlaw-radio. This week Pearls Mahone will be co-hosting, and he will be debuting a song from the new Jayke Orvis project.
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