Here is the list of 25 albums Saving Country Music deems essential for 2012 listening, and then I added an extra one I couldn’t leave off. Please note this list only includes albums that have been reviewed so far. There are a few more good and important albums in 2012 that have yet to be reviewed. The first 7 albums on the list (from Little Victories to Lee Bains) were all serious considerations for SCM’s Album of the Year.
Justin Townes Earle
One hard and fast rule around Saving Country Music is that I don’t review EP’s except for in “extreme cases.” There’s just too much music out there these days to consider half efforts, and in many cases, this is what EP’s are. So what is an “extreme case?” Well in 5 or so years, not once have I had an EP cross my desk that I felt qualified. Until now.
By request, here is my list of the greatest underground country albums of all time. The underground country movement started roughly in the mid 90’s on lower Broadway in Nashville that at the time was a run down part of town. Young musicians from around the country, some from punk backgrounds, came together from their mutual love of authentic country music.
.357 String Band, Andy Gibson, Bob Wayne, BR549, Dale Watson, Donnie Herron, Hank Williams, Hank3, Hellbound Glory, Jayke Orvis, JB Beverley, Joe Buck, Justin Townes Earle, Legendary Shack Shakers, Leroy Virgil, Lonesome Wyatt, Lucky Tubb, Rachel Brooke, Slackeye Slim, The Boomswagglers, Those Poor bastards, Wayne Hancock
2012 was a bumper crop year for great albums in the greater country music world, and that necessitates a bolstered lineup of candidates for Saving Country Music’s coveted Album of the Year. 7 total made the list, with others admittedly getting completely screwed by their absence. I already have a bead of sweat forming across my brow brought on by the impossible decision of who I’m supposed to pick off this list.
100 Proof, Bloody Jug Band, Cabin Fever, Calamity Cubes, Cigarettes & Truckstops, Coffin Up Blood, Corb Lund, Eric Strickland, Goodbye Normal Street, Honky Tonk Till I Die, James Hand, Justin Townes Earle, Kellie Pickler, Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires, Lindi Ortega, Mighty Lonesome Man, New Year's Poem, Olds Sleeper, Rachel Brooke, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Turnpike Troubadours
Her immeasurable influence spanning country, rockabilly, and rock and roll is undeniable. As far as I’m concerned, Wanda Jackson has no “unfinished business” to attend to. She’s given her heart and soul to the music, and the music is better off because of it. She’s got nothing to prove, but she proves it anyway in Unfinished Business. And so does producer Justin Townes Earle.
Like them or not, The Civil Wars were able to effect massive exposure onto the alternative to mainstream country. Being nominated for Vocal Duo of the Year by both the CMA and ACM Awards, and being nominated right beside Taylor Swift for their work on the Hunger Games soundtrack, were historic moments when independent music was placed right beside its mainstream counterpart.
Like most fictional characters in popular culture, the characters of ABC’s new drama Nashville are probably based more on stereotypes than real-life folks. But for fun, let’s see if we can’t match up who the real-life inspiration is for the principals of the Nashville cast, and through the experiment see if the show really does represent all aspects of the Nashville music scene.
Caitlin Rose, Characters based on, Connie Britton, Dale Watson, David Rawlings, Hayden Panettiere, Juliette Barnes, Justin Townes Earle, Martina McBride, Mike Curb, Nashville, Nashville TV Show, Rayna Jaymes, Reba McEntire, Ryan Adams, Scott Borchetta, Taylor Swift
A few days ago, CMT launched a new format and website called CMT Edge with the intent of covering artists outside the norm of mainstream country music. Since then I’ve been asked many times what I think of it, and my stock answer has been that I don’t exactly know what I think of it yet. Having said that, I see no reason at this point not to stay positive about it.
In an unexpected nugget of news that has my music pants going crazy, The Rolling Stone has just announced that Wanda Jackson will be releasing a new album entitled Unfinished Business on October 9th, and that the album’s producer will be none other than Saving Country Music’s 2011 Artist of the Year Justin Townes Earle.
Some confusion always seems to dog my lists of top songs, because I’m not just looking for that catchy tune you can’t take off of repeat, I’m looking for the song that changes your world. For a song to qualify, it must be original, and barring exceptional circumstances, it must be composed by the performer. These are songs that take you somewhere.
2012 so far has been a remarkable year for top flight albums throughout the country world. That compelled me to tweak my regular mid-year format to not just include any album that has received a positive review (though these are all listed at the bottom), but instead highlight the ones that I think have a serious chance to be considered for Album of the Year.
100 Proof, Goodbye Normal Street, Justin Townes Earle, Kellie Pickler, Marty Stuart, Nashville Vol. 1 - Tear The Woodpile Down, New Year's Poem, Nothing's Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now, Olds Sleeper, Ray Wylie Hubbard, The Grifter's Hymnal, Turnpike Troubadours
Today the nominees for the 2012 Americana Music Awards were announced. What struck me as I watched the presentation was how overtly cliquish the Americana Music Association has become, or continues to be, as they narrowcast out awards to the same pool of networked-in, dramatically-familiar, and specifically-focused artists that all tend to know each other, and carry the same politics.
On Friday night (5-4-12) we attended a show of reigning Saving Country Music Artist of the Year Justin Townes Earle at Antone’s in Austin, TX’s increasingly-crowded west downtown district. The Bloodshot Records-signed son of Steve Earle was in town in support of his latest record Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now, with a full band behind him for one of the first times on tour.
This Saturday, April 21st with be the 2012 installment of Record Store Day, the annual event started in 2007 to help the struggling independent record store. 2012 will go down as the year when country came busting through the Record Store Day scene with full representation, with so many projects being released taking stock of it all can be dizzying. So here is your 2012 Country Music Record Store Day Field Guide.
Blitzen Trapper, Bonnie Prince Billy, Buck Owens, Caitlin Rose, country, Everley Brothers, Justin Townes Earle, Lydia Loveless, Ralph Stanley, Record Store Day, Ricky Skaggs, Ryan Adams, Sara Watkins, The Civil Wars, The Pistol Annies, Tony Rice, Townes Van Zandt, Uncle Tupelo, Will Oldham
From the outside looking in, one may look at the lineup of The Muddy Roots Festival for example, and wonder how all these bands could all be booked right beside each other and it work seamlessly. This illustrates the dramatic sonic and geographical diversity that goes into creating what we know now as the underground country roots, or “Muddy Roots” world.
.357 String Band, Ben Prestage, Black Diamond Heavies, Bob Wayne, Bobby Bare, BR549, Calamity Cubes, Dale Watson, Deep Blues Festival, Emmylou Harris, Fat Possum Records, Greg Garing, Hank3, JB Beverley, Junior Kimbrough, Justin Townes Earle, Kris Kristofferson, Legendary Shack Shakers, Lone Wolf OMB, Loretta Lynn, Los Duggans, Mike Ness, Muddy Roots Festival, Pickathon, Rachel Brooke, Ramseur Records, Restavrant, Reverend Horton Heat, RL Burnside, Rusty Knuckles, Scott H. Biram, Slackeye Slim, Some Velvet Evening, Split Lip Rayfield, Steve Erale, Supersuckers, t Model Ford, Ten Foot Polecats, The Avett Bros, The Black Keys, The Devil Makes Three, The Everymen, The Goddamn Gallows, The Pine Box Boys, The Ryman, Those Poor bastards, Tompall Glaser, Trampled by Turtles, Waylon Jennings, Wayne Hancock, Whitey Morgan & The 78's, Willie Nelson, Yep Rock
For all intents and purposes, Justin Townes Earle has “made it” in as much as any musician can in the modern era of music, and this usually endows the artist with the latitude to do just about whatever they want sonically, and JTE decided to give a “Memphis feel” (his words) to his newest endeavor. I hear Memphis here, but I also hear just as much early Motown…
When I first saw Jonny Corndawg’s Down on the Bikini Line album come across the wires this summer, with this dude’s ironic name, the ironic album cover and title, and a track list of ironic songs, I didn’t even give it a sniff. But when The Nashville Scene anointed this guy an “Outlaw”, compared him to David Allan Coe, I knew I couldn’t avoid taking a deeper look and listen.
And I don’t care if you don’t like Justin Townes Earle’s music. And I don’t care if Justin Townes Earle, his management or label, or anybody else gives a damn about my dumb little award. He probably thinks I’m an asshole, and you know what, I’m OK with that too. All I know is that in 2011, no other artist, none, inspired me more than Justin Townes Earle.
Bloodshot Records has just announced that Justin Townes Earle will be releasing his 4th LP Album on March, 27th, 2012, and it is a mouthful, called Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now. Earle told Billboard he wanted his next album to have a Memphis vibe. This album will hypothetically be one Justin Townes Earle recorded while sober.
When I sat down to name the top 10 live performances of 2011 as seen through my eyes, I didn’t know what a mess I was making for myself, and it wasn’t until then that I realized what a power packed year for live music it has been. My 10 stretched to 15 fast, and I’m still leaving many live acts out.
Austin Lucas, Bloodshot Records, Charlie Parr, Hank3, Hellbound Glory, James Hunnicutt, Jayke Orvis, Justin Townes Earle, Lukas Nelson, Marty Stuart, Micah Schnabel, Pickathon, Possessed by Paul James, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Ruby Jane, Slim Cessna's Auto Club, Sunday Valley, SXSW, The Goddamn Gallows, The Muddy Roots Festival, Two Cow Garage, Wayne Hancock, Whitey Morgan & The 78's, Willie Nelson
There is nothing I take more seriously than naming what I think is the best album of any calendar year. The Album of the Year offers a guidepost for future generations to find the best music that was forgotten by the mainstream, while at the same time being a current ambassador to the mainstream to illustrate what great music they are overlooking.
Caleb’s name deserves equal billing beside the other top shelf independent roots artists from across the country. And though you may have not heard of Caleb until recently, or just right now, the 40-year-old with flecks of gray hair sticking out from under his trucker hat has been touring and making music for 20 years now. It just has not always been music that bears his name.
I’m not sure many other artists, even the ones that are big Johnny Cash fans, would be up for pulling this project off with this adeptness. It would almost take a small team of musical historians, creative writers, and musicians to evoke what Dale Watson does in a seemingly effortless manner simply from his fandom, understanding, and deep appreciation for The Man in Black.
Now that mainstream country music has been seen as just another version of pop music by so many people for so long, my concern is that talented musicians are being turned off by the mere mention of the term ‘country’, seeing it as a genre without gravitas, obsessed with money and image, making it even more likely for the one-in-a-million music talent to stay away.