Randy Travis was the catalyst of the New Traditionalist movement 15 years ago when he brought traditional country music back to the fore with gazillion-selling "Storms of Life."
The man with the great voice had his ups and downs - both personally as a teen and more recently career-wise - but Travis, in his usual low-key style, is upbeat about his decidedly different album, "Inspirational Journey."
"Inspirational" as in Christian, faith or inspirational music. ButTravis' latest is not solely a case of preaching to the converted. The music is far more country than gospel with more emphasis on matters of faith and making choices than overt Christian themes.
"It 's what I wanted it to be," says Travis in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. "It's not like I'm preaching a sermon to people."
"The message is there - no doubt," he says in his native North Carolina drawl. "That's important. The writing in this album is very important to me. I wanted it to be right on the money as far as what's written in the Bible. I didn't it to be my version or anything like that."... »»»
You can call them alternative country, psychobilly, cowpunk, goth-country, or whatever else you choose. Slim Cessna knows exactly what he considers his band, Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, to play. He calls it country. No hyphens, no adjectives. Just country. Although he does admit that "We’re a country band, but we’re kind of fucked up."
His Denver-based group is now on Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles label, not commonly a home for country artists.
But Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash are on labels with similar orientation, and no one questions their country music credentials. The Auto Club’s third album (first national release) "Always Say Please and Thank You" may sound like what some people consider to be music other than country, but Cessna says, "I think it is country compared to the new Top 40 bands. I call it country because people want to put a label on it. 'Alternative country’ is a term that doesn’t make sense to me. There’s a ton of hats, a ton of different things. I don’t consider Johnny Cash to be alternative country even though a lot of (alt.-country) listeners think he’s the greatest. "... »»»
Mark Olson has never done things the easy way or the established way. His membership in The Jayhawks lasted a decade, until it looked like the band might just fulfill the critics' promises and live up to its potential.
As soon as the brass ring was within reach, Olson, tired of life on the road, climbed off the carousel in 1995 and retreated to his Joshua Tree, Cal. home/studio.
When Olson re-emerged in 1996, the band that came out with him bore little resemblance to the reconfigured sans-Olson Jayhawks. With wife and folk/pop singer Victoria Williams and bassist Mike "Razz" Russell, Olson unveiled the stripped down lo-fi country elegance of the Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers and began a musical regimen of self-releasing an album a year.
Olson had acquired and strangely turned his back on everything that an artist pursues - major label status, a stable band line-up, a growing national audience. The Creekdippers were supposed to be the antithesis of all that he had... »»»
The early '80's were nothing if not an eclectic period in the history of pop music. Big '60's acts such as The Who and the Rolling Stones were still charting regularly. '70's prog-rockers such as Genesis and King Crimson were enjoying renewed commercial success, and even a few punk and new wave acts such as the Clash, Blondie, and the Talking Heads had finally broken through to the mainstream.
In retrospect, though, one of the most influential albums of that period wasn't one of the big sellers. Instead, it was Bruce Springsteen's "Nebraska," probably the least successful album sales wise in the Springsteen catalog up to that point.
In November, the Seattle-based Sub Pop label released "Badlands: A Tribute to Bruce Springsteen's 'Nebraska'," a 13-song album compiled by producer Jim Sampas and featuring a number of acts influenced in one way or another by the original. Participants include Johnny Cash, The Mavericks' Raul Malo, Hank Williams III and Deana Carter.
The most obvious question is this: Why "Nebraska?" There are other strong albums in rock history with equally devoted cult followings.... »»»
She's the younger sister of one of music's greatest performers ever, Jerry Lee Lewis. She's also first cousins with Urban Cowboy-era hitmaker Mickey Gilley, and disgraced televangelist Jimmy Swaggert. After decades of lingering in the familial shadows, Linda Gail Lewis is finally achieving a measure of fame as a solo artist and with her latest singing partner, Van Morrison.
Born in Ferriday, La., the 53-year old Lewis has lived a life every bit as tumultuous as her piano-pumping brother's. She has toured the world repeatedly; married eight times, nearly died from drug overdoses and has fought the perpetual soul-rending battle of Family-versus-Career. Along the way, she's made a lot of music, some good, some jaw-droppingly bad.
Lewis' recording debut came as Jerry Lee's duet partner at Sun Records in 1963 where her defiantly off-key vocals turned their rendition of George Jones' classic "Seasons Of My Heart" into one of the worst records ever made.... »»»
Idaho is not known as a hotbed of bluegrass, but The Grasshoppers is looking change that.
The quartet's self-titled debut on Doobie Shea is the culmination of six years together, according to Glen Garrett, a founder and their guitarist. The Grasshoppers' sound is "more like a Porter Wagoner/Dolly Parton type thing" than the traditional brother singing bluegrass is known for.
The Grasshoppers also include his son, Jeremy Garrett on fiddle/vocals, Randy Glenn on banjo/vocals and Honi Glenn on bass/vocals.
"Randy and I have been playing music for 20 years together," says the elder Garrett. "We met at a festival in 1978. We've been in and out of bands together and jam sessions."
"My son (Jeremy) has been around. He started playing fiddle at age three. Honi and Jeremy met at contest in Caldwell Idaho. Honi came in first, Jeremy came in second. They were in high school. They got to be good friends."
"Soon, we started having Honi come over to our jam sessions. She would sing with... »»»
"Nothing that I've done before musically compares to this album. This is a more grown-up record, with a more mature sound and subject matter…it's the me I started out trying to be when I first began performing."
A lot of that performing by Tyler England came as part of the band of his longtime friend (and fellow Oklahoman) Garth Brooks.
But when his self-titled 1995 debut album on RCA generated a Top Ten single ("Should've Asked Her Faster"), Ty (that's what he went by on his first two albums) England's career took off on its own, leading him into a whirlwind of touring and promoting that, more than once, left him wondering "where am I, and why am I here?"
After a followup RCA album, he continued a busy schedule, yet strove to create more of a balance between his music career and his home life with his wife and four young children. He seems to convey the feeling that being around more to watch his kids grow up has helped him grow up as well, and when he decided to do a new album... »»»
Laura Cantrell might have had one of those moments - the kind that let you know what you have been striving for all this time pushing her musical career is finally about to work out - as she played recently in Nashville.
The scene: Spring Water, a bar that Cantrell herself says "gets pretty rough." It's known in Music City as the place where alt.-country upstarts Lambchop got their start.
But here Cantrell was, in town along with the recent Americana Music Conference, an ad-hoc effort by musicians and record honchos to get more notice for roots music on the radio and elsewhere.
In the crowd were "a lot of family and friends from high school," says the Nashville native during a telephone interview from her Brooklyn home. "I'm looking at this room full of people that I would not normally all see in the same bar."
Many different crowds are hearing Cantrell these days. That's due in part to a cult-favorite radio program she hosts on WFMU, a New York metropolitan area FM station... »»»
Pop goes the country, and that may have opened the door for the growth of Americana music.
That's the kind of music - played by folks like Steve Earle, Charlie Robison and Allison Moorer - mainstream country stations would not touch with a 10-foot pole or longer.
But now thanks to factors including what's played on country radio and the recent formation of an association pushing the format, the time may be ripe for the growth of Americana.
The growth has not exactly been meteoric, but those close to Americana are confident the music will continue to attract an audience. It may not be the "next big thing" like alt.-country was considered about five years ago (and except for the likes of Son Volt and Wilco never really took off), perhaps just as well say some supporters.
Americana is, in some respects, a marked contrast and response to the increasing pop sound heard in recent years on country radio, according to Mattson Reiner, program director at KNBT in New Braunfels, Tex.... »»»
Austin's roots rockers Reckless Kelly have only been in the Lone Star state since 1997, but have quickly established themselves as one of the top young bands in Texas. In both 1998 and 1999, the quintet was voted "Best Roots Rock Band" at the Austin Music Awards, and this year, they finished second in voting as "Best New Band of the Decade."
Despite finding success in Texas, the origins of Reckless Kelly, which just released their latest album, "The Day," are in the Northwest.
"Cody, my brother the fiddle player, and I grew up in Idaho in the mountains," says lead singer and songwriter Willy Braun, 22. "I grew up playing in a band with my dad and my two little brothers."
After a decade of touring with Muzzy Braun and the Boys playing western swing at fairs, festivals and even the Tonight show, brothers Willy and Cody moved to Oregon and formed the Prairie Mutts in the fall of 1995.
"There were six of us originally," says Braun. The Prairie Mutts disbanded after about eight... »»»
"The last time I recorded in Nashville," says Don Walser, "...I'd always wanted to play with those guys, like Buddy Emmons, Buddy Spicher and Charlie McCoy. It was a real good experience, but there's nothing like playing with your own band."
That's why the genial, 66-year-old former Texas National Guardsman used his regular guys on his latest album, ≥I'll Hold You In My Heart," for everything but one cut originally done for the ≥Hi Lo Country" soundtrack of last year.
The album was his first for Valley Entertainment after a string of releases for Watermelon - his first when he was 60, then Watermelon/Sire, and finally Sire Records.
"We did that one in Ft. Worth, with the trumpets and fiddles, and most of the guys on it were old western swing musicians, like Tommy Allsupp and all those guys," Walser notes, adding that Marty Stuart co-produced the track.
Beyond that, though it's basically the trademark classic country stylings of Walser's Pure Texas Band ≠ steel guitarist Scott... »»»
The appearance of a new album from traditional bluegrass stalwart Larry Sparks is always likely to be viewed as a "Special Delivery" by those who have followed his career over more than three decades, so it's more than appropriate that his latest is titled exactly that.
"It's been too long since I had a bluegrass album," says Sparks. His last release was the 1996 "Blue Mountain Memories," also on Rebel.
Sparks still sports chiseled features and wavy, jet-black hair (the sideburns now distinguished with a touch of silver) that, almost as much as his haunting, blues-tinged voice and guitar licks, has made him one of the most striking and compelling figures on the bluegrass stage since debuting in in 1964 at 16 with the Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys through one of their Ohio visits.
Sparks got into music as a boy, listening an all-night country music radio program on on Cincinnati's WCKY and started picking on the local bluegrass scene.... »»»
Hell yes, Ted Roddy has a new album out. The Austin resident, along with his backing band, the Tearjoint Troubadors, released "Tear Time" in October on the small Music Room label.
The 15-song effort is Roddy's first full-length album since 1995's "Full Circle" on HighTone.
But he's has kept busy in recent years, performing in clubs, lending his harmonica skills to numerous projects and appearing on several compilations, including "Songs of Forbidden Love," the 1998 compilation of cheating songs from Austin "super-group" the Wandering Eyes. On the album, Roddy, Kelly Willis, Dale Watson, Chris O'Connell, Rosie Flores and others paid tribute to classic tales of slippin' around like "It's a Cheatin' Situation" and "Even If I Have to Steal."
"That was great," Roddy says. "I always wanted to work with (producer and Asleep at the Wheel drummer) Dave Sanger. It was fun to work with them. They knew I had a big collection of country songs, and they asked me to pick out a few of my favorites."
Perhaps the best and most defiant ditty about stolen love from the album was Roddy's "Hell Yes, I Cheated."... »»»
Tom Mabe hates telemarketers. Well, of course he hates telemarketers. He's a decent God-fearing American, and all decent God-fearing Americans hate telemarketers.
But instead of just meekly mumbling "I'm not interested" and hoping the dialing desperadoes will let us off the hook (so to speak), Mabe does something about it.
On his two CDs, "Revenge on the Telemarketers, Round One" and the recently released "Round Two," both released this year on Virgin, Mabe drives them as crazy as they drive us. He freaks them out by telling them he's under house arrest and begging them to bring him some beer. He grosses them out by telling the carpet-cleaning salespeople that he needs to get blood out of his rug -- a lot of blood. He's even been known to get telemarketers' home phone numbers and fire them himself.
Mabe did not set out to be the standard-bearer in the war against annoying telemarketers. A musician by trade, Mabe was making a comfortable living writing jingles for the likes of Arby's, McDonalds, KFC, Volvo, Mercedes and Kroger grocery stores.... »»»
Sonya Isaacs finally had her first solo album released in October, nearly two years after she thought she had finished recording it. The album is getting rave reviews, and most everyone agrees Isaacs is a major talent.
Dolly Parton, brought in by Vince Gill to sing on Isaacs' album, was so impressed that she reciprocated, inviting Isaacs to sing on her next album.
Isaacs, 25, may yet become the star that many people think she should be. For now, she's a poster child for all the major ailments currently afflicting both the record and radio industries.
In a smaller universe, Isaacs already is a star. Bluegrass/gospel music is al-most unknown in the frozen lands of the north, but in the south, it's a big deal. In those areas, she's well known from her long tenure with her family's group The Isaacs.
Isaacs has a family background that doesn't fit the stereotype. "My dad is the baby of 17 children. He grew up playing bluegrass. He was with Ralph Stanley for a while. My mother had a... »»»
When we first heard from Sara Evans three years ago, she was steeped in the sounds of traditional country on her major label debut, "Three Chords and the Truth."
Great album, but no breakthroughs on the commercial front.
That led to a stylistic change on "No Place That Far" with a more glossy, pop-veering sound and little of the traditional bent.
Apparently, the place in mind was number one on the charts because that was exactly where Evans landed on the smash single title track with backing vocals from Vince Gill.
And now the Missouri native isn't afraid to mix up different musical sounds on her latest, "Born to Fly," which the confident singer hopes will propel her to the next tier.
"I was determined to try not to make it anything (in particular musically). I was determined to ignore any criticisms that I might get about not holding onto that traditional sound. I was just writing songs and choosing songs that I thought were beautiful and left it at that."... »»»
David Allan Coe may be the most controversial musician in country music history. Not even Western Swing pioneer Spade Cooley, who was convicted of murdering his wife as their daughter watched, has received as much notorious press as Coe.
Prison time. Tattoos and scars. Motorcycle gangs. Cheatin' songs, drinkin' songs and a famously nasty attitude long ago marked Coe as country's outlaw.
Oh, and then there's the matter of a pair of X-rated albums that he released in the mid '70's, "Underground" and "Nothing Sacred."
They were sold exclusively via the back pages of Easyriders magazine, a bikers publication. For years, few uttered a peep about such songs as "Masturbation Blues," "I Made Linda Lovelace Gag" and "N****r F****r," which disparaged African-Americans who date white women.
Until now. A recent New York Times article by Neil Strauss blasted Coe, the father of seven, saying the albums were "among the most racist, misogynist, homophobic and obscene songs recorded by a popular songwriter."... »»»
"We can get a little greasy there," longtime Boston rocker Charlie Chesterman says of his band's - The Motorbikes' - raucous, yet catchy version of rock and roll, described by both the New York Times and Washington Post as "loose-limbed."
"It is kind of greasy little affair. Everybody's having a good time," comments the Iowa native who just released the country-oriented "Ham Radio" under the moniker Chaz & the Motorbikes.
When it comes to musical influences, Chesterman admits, "I kind of wear 'em on my sleeve," and 'Ham Radio,' with its references - both in the music and in the liner notes - to The Flying Burrito Brothers, Duane Eddy, Rufus Thomas, Lefty Frizzell and Buddy Holly, is a musical homage to early rock-n-roll and its country counterpart.
The album opens with the uptempo "When I've Got Me," which is followed by "Anymore," a rootsy number with a slow, cryin'-in-your-beer honky-tonk intro. Chesterman then tries on surfish instrumental, dabbles in country-rock, flirts with zydeco and makes a pit stop at the roadhouse.... »»»
Family groups have long been a staple of country music. Throughout its history, the art form has been especially fertile ground for family musical groups. The Carter Family is perhaps the earliest and most prolific of these. Today, groups like The Wilkinsons, The Kinleys and Jerry and Tammy Sullivan carry on the tradition.
Buck White and daughters, Sharon and Cheryl, otherwise known as The Whites, have enjoyed a good measure of success over the past 25 years and are back with a new album.
Originally a bluegrass outfit, The Whites have combined tight harmony singing and an acoustic-based sound resulting in Top 10 country hits like, "Hangin' Around," "Pins And Needles" and "I Wonder Who's Holding My Baby Tonight." All were in the '80's.
"When we first came to town, we were strictly an acoustic band. We had a fiddle or a banjo," says Sharon White, 46, who plays guitar.
Father Buck, 70, plays mandolin and piano while sister Cheryl, 45, plays the bass.... »»»
On the road in Albuquerque, Dallas Wayne is trying to deal with a bus gone bad.
"Like my first two marriages, (buying) it seemed like a good idea at the time," he says. "This bus agony has lasted longer than my first marriage."
But despite broken-down buses and busted-up marriages and whatever else that made him wanted to kick out the footlights, Wayne has hung on for more than 25 years in the country music business. His label debut for HighTone Records, "Big Thinkin'," was released in early September.
The album was recorded in March in his hometown of Springfield, Mo., with The Skeletons serving as his backing band. Steel guitarist Tom Brumley, who has performed in the Bucks Owens band, also appears.
Co-produced and mostly co-written with Robbie Fulks, "Big Thinkin'" is hardcore honky tonk circa 2000 with a clear nod to Wayne's country music heroes of the '60's and '70's.
"We were just trying to make a record we'd like listening to. This is the only album I've made that when someone puts it on, I don't leave the room. I guess that's a good sign. Or maybe I'm just getting older."... »»»
Given country radio's pop penchant and tight playlists, many of country's more country artists were given the squeeze the last couple of years. Folks like Randy Travis and Aaron Tippin found hits are to come by.
Nevertheless, comeback kid Tippin has a hot one on his hands with "Kiss This." An unlikely hit due to its in-your-face lyrics, the former professional aviator's first single from his seventh studio album, "People Like Us," flew quickly up the charts.
The working man's country singer never expected it.
"(I am) shocked. In the back of my mind, I always hope things go great, but as time rolls on, you realize they can't always. So, you finish up what you're supposed to do, and you gotta start lookin' in the next direction," says Tippin by phone from his Smithville, Tenn. home.
"And when you look behind, you notice there's a little spark, and next thing there's a little fire, and then there's a big fire. And everything's going on back there, and it's very exciting and very surprising, and you go, 'wow, we did something right.'"... »»»
Allison Moorer is taking the "No" out of "No Depression." Her second MCA album, "The Hardest Part," is a series of songs that explore the dark side of love. It's country music from the old school of Mickey Newbury and pre-superstardom Willie Nelson, about the only other people to put out albums this unrelentingly bleak in tone.
The disc's mood is no accident.
"From the beginning, we knew we wanted to tell a story with this album," says Moorer. "That's how we went about writing it. It's the pitfalls of difficult, complicated love. How can it end on an optimistic note? It never does. It's about the truth, not the fantasy. There are some happy endings, but most of the time it's not."
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect is that the 28-year-old Alabama native wrote most of these songs about love inevitably leading to heartbreak with her husband, songwriter Doyle "Butch" Primm.
"We're pretty honest with each other. And we both have various past experiences to draw on," she says succinctly.
Even though the album is on a major Nashville label, it's pretty much stillborn as far as commercial country radio is concerned.... »»»
"Leaving's getting harder all the time, staying home hangs heavy on my mind," Merle Haggard sings on his new album, "If I Could Only Fly" (Anti Records). Still, the song continues, "If I don't travel, I don't make a dime," and so the legendary singer and songwriter is aboard his bus once again, on his way to Nashville at the start of yet another two-week tour.
"I really have never quit," the 63-year-old Haggard notes. "I do about half the possible time on the road. We'll be out here about two weeks out of a month. Sometimes we'll take a month off, and sometimes we have to make up the time we took off. When you've got people who work for you, you've got to think about their checks. They want to get paid every week, and in order to keep good people, you've got to give them what they want."
That may sound like a mundane reason for touring, but it's one born of experience.
Though he's one of country music's brightest and most enduring stars ≠ he first hit Billboard's Top 40 chart... »»»
Think Terri Clark and uptempo, twangy, rock-leaning country songs, otherwise labelled "turbo country," comes to mind.
Well, the turbo's toned down a lot on her fourth release, "Fearless," with the title emblematic of where the Canadian's head is at these days.
"That's why I called the album 'Fearless' because it really was in every way. I shot at something new - new producer, we flew a guy in from New York, who never played on a country record before, new writers. Everything about is really fresh for me."
"I don't know that there was really a decision to be made," she says about the change. "It was whether I was going to follow my heart of evolving (musically). Everyone evolves. My musical tastes have grown over the past five years. I don't know anyone who listens to the same album for the past five years. Same goes for me in making an album. I don't want to keep repeating an album. What I like to do is to try to incorporate it (my tastes) instead of the same old, same old."... »»»
Kasey Chambers has been suffering from homesickness. "I've been away too much lately," she says with a sigh.
The 23-year-old Australian singer-songwriter is being beckoned to American and British shores, where her debut, "The Captain" has just been released by Asylum and Virgin Records respectively. She recently returned from the Gavin Summit in Boulder, Col. and a handful of showcase gigs in Los Angeles, and is preparing for a final Australia-wide tour for "The Captain," a homeland smash since its Aussie release in May 1999.
"'The Captain' was recorded 2 1/2 years ago, so it's getting a little tired for me," she admits. "But playing the songs for people in the States who haven't heard it before gives me a second wind."
Chambers is no stranger to the road. She's been a professional musician for 15 years, traveling some of Australia's most hostile outback regions with her family, and fronting The Dead Ringer Band (backed by father Bill, mother Diane and brother Nash).... »»»
Sickness seemed to be robbing Johnny Cash of his music making abilities. Bouts in the hospital left him weak, appearing not to be in the best of health.
Concert appearances became a few guest appearances for wife June Carter Cash's shows.
But while the Man in Black has had his share of such problems, he was and is far from down and out.
Far from it as evidenced by "American III: Solitary Man," his third album with producer Rick Rubin, released by American Recordings through Sony in October.
Cash, who was in the hospital several times in 1998 with a then-diagnosed case of Shy Drager Syndrome, a debilitating and eventually fatal disease, bounced back a year ago to hit the recording studio.
Recording some in Nashville starting in the fall of 1999 and later at The Akademie Mathematique of Philosophical Sound Research, aka the Los Angeles-area home of Rubin, the new disc contains 14 songs.
Some are covers - U2's "One," "I Won't Back Down," penned by Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne for a Petty solo album, "The Mercy Seat," by Nick Cave and Mick Harvey - while 6 of the 14 were written at least in part by Cash.... »»»
Texas, perhaps more than any other state, has long championed the honky tonk singer. From Ernest Tubb to Dale Watson, the state has long been fertile territory for songs about cheating, drinking, smoking and other pleasures of the flesh.
Although the genre - in its raw, undiluted form - is heard on today's country charts about as often as a trombone at a square dance, new singers such as Roger Wallace and Justin Trevino keep emerging.
And the old ones - like Johnny Bush - continue with careers that started decades earlier.
Bush (born John Bush Shin III), who just saw two albums released in September, began his career in the early '50's as a drummer in various bands with Willie Nelson, leaving Nelson in the early '60's for a stint with Ray Price's Cherokee Cowboys.
However, Bush, 65, is perhaps best known today for his rock-solid honky-tonk hits for the Stop and RCA labels in the late '60's and early '70's, including "Undo the Right," "You Gave Me a Mountain," "Warmth of the Wine" and "Whiskey River."... »»»
Darryl Worley is first and foremost a skilled songwriter. But just like his hero, Merle Haggard, Worley can also sing a lick, giving him the makings of becoming the complete artistic package as shown on his Dreamworks debut, "Hard Rain Don't Last."
His first big break in the music business came when the "singer's singer," George Jones, recorded Worley's "Saints & Sinners" for Jones' well-received "The Cold Hard Truth."
"It was the biggest thing - to that date - that had happened to me," says Worley, 36. "I hate to say it, but when it happened, it meant as much, if not more, than signing my record contract."
"I had spent the last 10 or 12 years making a living writing songs, and the goal in all that was to have established artists record songs. So, it meant a lot."
Writing songs for the country music marketplace is no doubt a craft. But Worley says his art blossomed and bloomed exponentially once he began writing only for himself.
"In the past five or six years, I've written everything I've written, more or less, as if I would record them myself, and it seems like I've written better songs."... »»»
Dan Tyminski has been an integral part of Alison Krauss & Union Station for most of the '90's. His propulsive guitar (and, more recently, mandolin) and powerful bluegrass vocals give him a high profile in the band with the highest visibility in bluegrass.
Despite this and a few years and CDs with the Lonesome River Band, "Carry Me Across the Mountain" is his first recording as a leader. Given the album's powerful mix of traditional bluegrass and gospel, one would think that Tyminski had been chomping at the bit to make this recording.
On the contrary. Tyminski says, "It's never really been a burning desire for me to do a solo album. It's been in the back of my mind where I've had people throughout the time I've been playing come up and say, 'Gee, I'd sure like to hear you do something on your own.' I heard it enough to where it finally seemed to make sense when we had enough time - we had about a year off there - it just seemed like the timing was right."
Although Union Station has straddled the border between bluegrass and country, Tyminski opted for a more traditional direction for his solo debut.... »»»
For decades, late-night AM radio was a virtual graveyard, populated by a downright weird mixture of call-in shows, hellfire-and-damnation preachers and bizarre rants against commies, east coast liberals, the media and anyone else who didn't vote for George Wallace. Some stations, convinced that the all-night audience wasn't worth the electricity, would even shut down between midnight and 6 a.m.
Though examples of AM's "anything goes" era can certainly still be found to this day, a wave of broadcast industry corporate mergers over the past several years has forced station managers to pay more attention to their nocturnal audiences in order to maximize returns on the staggering investments made by their new employers.
And during the '90's, Art Bell's Coast to Coast show finally proved that Limbaugh/Stern-sized audiences were listening at night. Suddenly, late-night radio was like a roll of hundred dollar bills that you find under the cushions of your couch, and you have no idea where it came from.... »»»
Charley Pride's accomplishments over the past three and a half decades are astonishing by any yardstick you care to use. His humble beginnings as a sharecropper's son, his decision to play baseball and music simultaneously, his meteoric rise up the country charts at a time when Jim Crow laws were still in effect in some parts of the South, his incredible success as a businessman as well as an entertainer and his current sustained sales even as he searches for a new label are all tangible proof of Pride's incredible will to succeed, and ultimately his popularity and staying power.
Consider this: Pride has not recorded any new material since a half an album's worth of songs back in 1994, and yet RCA has packaged no less than five Pride greatest hits collections in the past five years.
Most amazingly, among all of the gold and platinum artists that have been signed to RCA, across all genres, the label's two biggest sellers of all time are Elvis Presley and Charley Pride.
This fact alone is probably reason enough to warrant Pride's October induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame (alongside the late, great Faron Young).... »»»
At the end of "Big Mon," a new collection by Ricky Skaggs and a host of high-powered guests celebrating the music of Bill Monroe, a mass of fiddlers, mandolin players and guitarists take a spirited romp through the title track, one of the Father of Bluegrass's most famous instrumentals.
To anyone familiar with bluegrass festivals, it inevitably brings to mind the finales many of them end with, in which all of the artists who appeared gather on stage for a closing number.
"It kind of reminded me of one of those big super jams at the end of the festival," Skaggs agrees with a chuckle. "I used to see Bill grab 10 fiddlers and all the mandolin players. 'Everybody get up here for the bluegrass finale,' he'd say, and I could just picture that when we were recording it. We thought about doing it with even more people, there were quite a few other fiddle players who we also called, and it was... »»»
Jo Dee Messina stuck to her guns when advised to declare bankruptcy a few years ago. One of the hardest working, most energetic singers on the country scene would hear none of it.
And the result was the massive success of "I'm Alright," her second disc, where three straight songs - "Bye, Bye," "I'm Alright" and "Stand Beside Me" - went to number one, the first time the feat was ever accomplished by a woman on Billboard's charts.
But that disc was released a good 2-1/2 years ago, and Messina sensed it was time to not necessarily stick to what got her where she is.
The result is "Burn," a disc on which the Holliston, Mass.-native seems to have matured. She continues in the pop country segment niche, but the album has a more serious, introspective, subdued tone than her first two albums, all of which were produced by Byron Gallimore and Tim McGraw. And her voice is probably stronger than ever without sounding forced.
"I think when we went into make the record, we consciously... »»»
Photo by Morello/GhergiaPatty Loveless figured it was about time for a break. Finally. After slogging through recording studios, concerts and the requisite duties of being an artist, Loveless had about enough.
The result was no album from the queen of country for a few years, at least until "Strong Hearts" hit the bins in late August.
"I've been touring ever since '85," says Loveless in a telephone interview from on the road. "It hasn't been probably the glamorous type of lifestyle. The fact is that I needed to kind of just rejuvenate myself, get away from it, get away from the road and miss it."
"If it hadn't been for the people and the audience, it would have been really hard to survive all of those years. There was sometimes only 45 minutes when I was opening for Vince (Gill). Some nights was a 60, some nights a 75, and some nights a 90. You just couldn't keep the juices flowing here. Sometimes it wasn't always the best situation. Sometimes the sound was good. Sometimes the sound wasn't."
The road obviously had taken its toll on the 43-year-old soft-spoken, mild-mannered Kentucky native.... »»»
Jason Ringenberg is a busy man these days. Being a record company mogul will do that to a guy.
"I'll sit around and just order people around," Ringenberg says as he imagines the possibilities of the title. "I'll fire me. I'll order my wife and I around."
Frontman for cowpunkers Jason & the Scorchers, Ringenberg recently released an acclaimed solo album, the acoustic "A Pocketful of Soul," on his own Courageous Chicken Records, named in part because of his wife's fondness for the feathered creatures. In fact, Ringenberg and his wife, along with daughters Camille Grace and Addie Rose, live on a former chicken farm west of Nashville.
That simple setting and a desire to write some "personal things" about his life led to "A Pocketful of Soul."
At first, the recording was intended only to be passed among family members and friends.
"I thought it might be too personal," Ringenberg says. "I was really surprised when people started hearing it and getting into it."
He grew up on a family pig farm in Illinois that borders the Rock Island Line Railroad, where his parents still live and his dad at age 76 still farms.... »»»
Porter Wagoner hasn't exactly been hiding under a rock. He's been on the Grand Ole Opry almost every weekend, often on the nationally televised portion. People who don't follow the Opry might have thought Wagoner had fallen off the face of the earth, but he just hadn't made a record since the early 80's.
"I didn't want to record because I didn't have any great material to record," the 72-year-old Wagoner says from his Nashville home, where he spends much of his time fishing and riding horses. His new album, "The Best I've Ever Been" on Shell Point, came about when "I got some great songs that I really liked."
Wagoner was once one of country's most prolific hitmakers. From 1954 through 1980, the tall thin man from West Plains, Missouri had 29 Top 10 singles, as well as many other charted records, including "A Satisfied Mind," "Green Green Grass Of Home" and "The Cold Hard Facts Of Life."
Starting in 1969, many of his biggest hits were duets with Dolly Parton, whom he had chosen as the female act on his tour and TV show in 1967 when she was still pretty much unknown.... »»»
Buddy Miller compares Bill Mallonee's songwriting to Dylan's. But the main man behind the Vigilantes of Love doesn't see himself as anything as complicated as a singer-songwriter.
"I sort of make things up," he explains. "I'm like a kid on a rainy day, playing with glitter."
Nevertheless, one listen to "Audible Sigh," the roots rock band's latest release, and it's obvious this 42-year-old kid with the glitter has an awful lot of talent.
But making it so people could get that first listen has been the biggest challenge.
"Audible Sigh," originally recorded in late 1998 for Pioneer Records, wasn't released before the company called it quits. Then, a limited release was made available to curtail jacked-up sales of the record on EBay.
Finally, the CD had its proper release on Nashville's Compass Records in May. And this time the Internet had a positive affect on sales: "Audible Sigh" debuted at number five on Billboard's Top Internet Album Sales chart, an "indie-underground" effort sandwiched between -N Sync and Santana.... »»»
To say that the ranks of the trucker country genre have thinned somewhat in the past 20 years would be an enormous understatement. The great names of the '60's and '70's are today either dead (Red Sovine, Dick Curless), far less active than they once were (Red Simpson, Dave Dudley) or retired altogether (C.W. McCall).
At the same time, few younger artists have emerged to replace them. The result has been that the past two decades have probably represented the nadir of the trucker country genre; partly due to a post-"Convoy" perception of the music as a fad whose time has come and gone (in spite of roots dating back to the late '20's), but also partly due to younger artists' reluctance in devoting much time to the subject.
"I think there are a couple of reasons for that," says Dave Nemo, host of the nationally syndicated Road Gang radio show; one of several all-night shows aimed at a trucker audience. "Back in the earlier days, I think there was more of a mystique about truckers... »»»
At an age when most would be content to relax and reflect upon past achievements, 74-year-old Hank Thompson looks to expand upon his legacy. The title of his HighTone Records debut "Seven Decades" alludes to the longevity of Thompson's hall of fame career.
Thompson is pleased that HighTone let him do things his way.
"I want to be happy with the way it sounds. I'm not compromising doing this because someone says this is the way to do it in today's market. I said, 'No, I want to do this like I do things, the way I want it done.' That's the first time I'd really done that since I left Capitol. So, I'm very well pleased with what we did and the way we did it, the sound we got. Everybody had a good time doing it. I think it reflects in the music."
HighTone united Thompson with producer Lloyd Maines, who in recent years has established himself amongst the elite producers in alternative country. The band includes guitarist Thom Bresh, carrying on the tradition of his father Merle... »»»
Armed full of razor-edged influences such as Steve Earle and the Kentucky HeadHunters, Nashville's Trent Summar & The New Row Mob aims to shake things up a bit in Guitar Town.
Summar's self-titled debut, released on former Alabama producer Harold Shedd's label, VFR Records, comes at a time when many feel that Nashville needs some new blood.
"It's a hallmark record for me," says Summar, once lead singer of the late Hank Flamingo, which had one album on Giant in 1993. "We're really proud of this record. We're pretty serious about it. I had the opportunity to make it with my friends. It sure cranks my tractor."
And boy does it rock. Imagine Earle's most rocking music, turned slightly up. Asked to describe what he does, Summar has quite a definite description.
"It's hillbilly rock 'n' roll," he says. "It's hick rock, farm rock we've been calling above ground swimming pool country. Barbecue eatin', ass shakin' muscle car country."
And it's not quite like anything else coming out of Nashville these days. Also unlike much of what Nashville produces these days, Summar's album was recorded relatively cheaply.... »»»
"I never did believe in gloom and doom, I never did think you ought to preach to somebody in a song," says Jerry Sullivan, a jovial man in his mid-sixties. "Sing a song about truth and hope, and that will get a message to a person a lot quicker than when you try to tell him 'don't, don't, don't.' I always thought the word was, 'tell them the good news of the gospel,' and that brings a smile to my face when I think of that."
Sullivan's got something to smile about these days. He and daughter Tammy, 35, just released a new gospel album called "Tomorrow" on Ricky Skaggs' Ceili Records label, filled with songs that are as enriching musically as they are spiritually.
Like their last two albums -- 1995's "At The Feet Of God" was a Grammy nominee -- it was produced by Marty Stuart, who first played with Jerry when he was barely into his teens.
"He just knows our music so well, and he's a big part of it," Tammy Sullivan says. "We couldn't find anyone else that would know us like he does. He grew up on that kind of music, and it's part of him, too."... »»»
After years of late nights, slogging through set after set in the bars, members of The Spurs are no youngsters.
The oldest member of the Western swing/honky tonk Boston-area band is hitting 50. The youngest is 33.
But they feel there's something to be said for age. And there is a lot to be said for their first album, "Go Boy Go," a fine mix of the two musical styles on the small Nashville-based Spinout Records label. The disc contains both covers and originals, instrumentals and vocals.
"This is a dream come true," says lead singer Roy Sludge, aka Allan Sheinfeld in a telephone interview from his Cambridge, Mass. home.
Steel guitarist Frankie Blandino, the old-timer of the group, says, "Everybody sees and knows what they're doing. There's no bullshit going on. There are no people crawling on their hands and knees drunk out of the place. It's a good bunch of guys."
And that translates into the playing as well for the band which also includes fiddler Rich Dubois, drummer Stan Kozlowski, bassist Johnny Sciascia and guitarist Jerry Miller.... »»»
She didn't know it at the time, but a turning point in Valerie Smith's later musical career - maybe even the birth of that career - took place on her eighth birthday, while traveling with her family in South Dakota.
"I had a dream," says the Tennessee resident. "It was in the morning, that my grandpa had died, and the dream in the song is an exact description of what had happened. It kind of haunted me for a long time that my grandpa had died that morning, and I had had that dream."
The song she's speaking of, as she talks from the bus taking her to Dollywood, where she and her band Liberty Pike are a mid-July attraction, is "Sweeter Field Of Clover," a tune from her new Rebel release "Turtle Wings" that she wrote with help from her husband Kraig Smith and Nashville Bluegrass Band's Alan O'Bryant. He also produced her debut, "Patchwork Heart."
Smith's version of Gillian Welch's "Red Clay Halo" from that first album became an instant hit on bluegrass radio across the country, and before long she and her newly formed band were making the festival rounds.... »»»
Photo of Lloyd Maines and daughter Natalie of the Dixie Chicks
"I kid around that I've lost my identity," the man says. "I've gone from being Lloyd Maines, steel player and producer, to just 'Natalie's dad.'"
Even if many people don't realize it, Lloyd Maines remains one of the driving forces of Texas music after more than 20 years. And with regard to the Dixie Chicks, his contributions go beyond merely fathering their vocalist.
It began in Lubbock in 1951, when Lloyd was born into a musical family. His father and uncles led the regionally popular Maines Brothers Band.
"There was music around us a lot as kids. Just by osmosis, we took it in. I learned to play acoustic guitar. I taught my brothers. One learned bass. One learned drums. When my dad retired, we kept on as the 'Little Maines Brothers Band'. For a bunch of teens, playing Texas dance halls was eye-opening."
Sage Guyton is aware of what people presume when they see a 21st century band playing in a 1940's style. "There's always the worry there's going to be style over substance," says the singer and songwriter for L.A.-based Western swing ensemble the Lucky Stars.
But wearing a white cowboy hat, western-style jacket and tie is all part of the musical package to Guyton. "When you see a mariachi band playing, they don't show up in jeans and a t-shirt," he astutely observes.
With the release of "Hollywood & Western," the band's debut on Ipecac Recordings, Guyton and the boys prove there's even more swing to 'em than meets the eye.
The band started to take shape in the early '90's. Guyton met piano and accordian player Whitey Anderson while both were in a band that played "Johnny Cash train beat, '60's kind of stuff," and the two split off to explore hillbilly music.
"I started listening to earlier and earlier (country) music, wondering where it came from," Guyton says. Mooney Harding joined them on bass, Charlie Paddock on drums, and then Jeremy Wakefield (J.W.) became the steel guitar player.... »»»
James Intveld is no newcomer to music. After all, the Fifties-styled, twangy country singer can be heard on the "A Town South of Bakersfield, Vol. 2" compilation 12 years ago.
And he also did stints playing with Dwight Yoakam, Harry Dean Stanton, The Blasters and Rosie Flores.
But the Compton, Cal. native has not exactly been what anyone would call prolific when it comes to putting out his own music. He recently released his second, "Somewhere Down the Road" on his own three years after a well-received self-titled debut on Ichiban where he played all the instruments.
Referring to touring with others, Intveld says, "While that was going on, I was travelling all over the country, going to Europe, people were asking, 'so, when are you going to put out a record?"
"I kind of got to pursue this thing," Intveld says.
"My schedule got kind of crazy," he says.
Intveld says he wanted to release the album himself to maintain control. "The problem usually when you're dealing with... »»»
"I've learned to be pregnant," says Judith Edelman, calling between gigs in Colorado, laughing over the phone. The 35-year-old native-Manhattanite-turned-Nashvillian recently gave birth to a drama queen.
Her third cd, the self-produced "Drama Queen," was released in June on Compass, and its spare songs reflect the "pregnancy" she's talking about: the pregnant pause, the tellingness of words unsaid.
"The more space you can give something," she says, "the more it will breathe."
By the time Edelman recorded "Drama Queen," a bluegrass-flavored collection that followed the 1998 release "Only Sun" and her 1996 debut "Perfect World," she "got more comfortable with…doing less."
As an indication of how her sound has evolved, look to Edelman's hairstyles. The woman wheeling her guitar case in a laundry cart on the cover of this year's release sports a spare, close-cropped 'do made more dramatic for the excess it's rid of.
Compare this to the shaggier, face-framing haircut on "Only Sun," an album in which glimmers of minimalism are present in some songs, while others are filled to the edges with sentiment and instruments.... »»»
The Kinman brothers have come a long way from Rank and File to their latest project together, Cowboy Nation.
As the old needlepoint sampler on the wall clearly observes, the only constant in life is change, and no two people exemplify that homily any more plainly than brothers Chip and Tony Kinman.
From their early punk leanings in The Dils in the late '70's to the initial cowpunk brilliance and the later near metal cacophony of Rank and File (which included Alejandro Escovedo) to the electronic industrial complex of Blackbird, the Kinmans have always been incredibly restless creatively, and always willing to explore the boundaries.
During one such period of exploration, the Kinmans began to focus on classic cowboy songs of the American West and ultimately began writing songs in that style.
When the dust had settled, the brothers had perfected their newest and simplest style,and rechristened themselves Cowboy Nation, which just released their second album, "Journey Out of Time."... »»»
For those people who seldom look at songwriting credits, we present the new album from Johnny Russell called "Actin' Naturally." You'll recognize a lot of the song titles. You'll recognize the names of guest performers such as Dolly Parton, Crystal Gayle, Buck Owens and Earl Scruggs.
You may even remember Johnny Russell as the singer of such hits as "Rednecks, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer" or "Catfish John."
But you'll probably be surprised to learn that Johnny Russell wrote every song on his new album.
You wouldn't be alone in underestimating the accomplishments of the 60-year-old Russell. He recently performed at a benefit concert in Nashville for the late Tommy Collins, attended by most of the city's greatest songwriters.
"I sang 'In A Mansion Stands My Love,'" Russell says, "and (songwriter) Max D. Barnes said 'I didn't know you wrote that song." Russell not only wrote it, but when Jim Reeves cut it in 1960 as the B-side to his million seller "He'll Have To Go," it served as Russell's ticket into Nashville's songwriter ranks.... »»»
What started off as an early week multi-act showcase for country acts where patrons "get a $6 show for $5" now will be free.
But that's quite alright with the man behind "The Western Beat With Billy Block" because Country Music Television, broadcast in 40 million households, will start airing a weekly series of concerts pairing name acts with edgy country singers starting Sunday, July 2 at 11 p.m. eastern time for 13 weeks. The show will be rebroadcast at 10 p.m. the next night.
Among the performers are Trisha Yearwood, who starts the series with Charlie Robison and Lonesome Bob, Jim Lauderdale, Lee Roy Parnell and Hal Ketchum.
"Western Beat is a new brand of country that broadens the parameters of what is widely considered country music," Block says. "We include everything from rock to rockabilly and blues to bluegrass creating a diverse format that appears to a broad demographic."
How does Block decide who plays? "I have to like it," he says. "We don't do mainstream... »»»
In 1970, songs about trucks had been more or less absent from the upper reaches of the country charts for about two years when Dick Curless' "Big Wheel Cannonball" reached number 27. Although not a huge hit, nor particularly different from the songs charting two years earlier, it neatly marked the start of a second period of growth for trucker country music.
Some of the faces in the early '70's were familiar ones. Curless and Red Simpson (who reached number 4 in late 1971 with "I'm a Truck") had both charted in the '60's, as had Dave Dudley.
Although known primarily today for his numerous hits in the '60's, especially 1963's "Six Days On the Road," Dudley was also a major force on the charts during the '70's with "Keep On Truckin'" (number 19 in 1973) and "Me and Ole C.B." (number 12 in 1975).
"I guess I just fell into it," says Dudley, 72, in a telephone interview from his home in Wisconsin. "I got into disc jockey work part-time. (I went) from that to working in small clubs."... »»»
Ralph Stanley II ("Two" to his family and bandmates) is far from the first young man in show business to be saddled with the expectation of following in the footsteps of a famous father - and Stanley is about as famous a bluegrass name as there is.
But he remembers that it was his mother who first suspected that he was destined to take a place alongside his legendary father after watching him sit, at the age of two, on a window ledge in the kitchen holding a broom like a guitar, strumming it and humming softly to himself.
Not long after that, he appeared on stage for the first time.
"Mom used to listen to a lot of Stanley Brothers and George Jones music and stuff like that in the car going to the grocery store, and I remember hearing that, and I fell in love with it as soon as I heard it," says Stanley.
It is a few days after this year's edition (the 30th) of the annual... »»»
Though he's happy these days to be making his home in Nashville, it wasn't always that way for Ronnie McCoury, member of his father's Del McCoury Band and longtime holder of the International Bluegrass Music Association's Mandolin Player of the Year award.
In fact, he confesses, the title track of his solo debut on Rounder, "Heartbreak Town," was written about Music City shortly after his move there in 1992.
"I really didn't start writing songs until I came to Nashville, and 'Heartbreak Town' was one of the first, if not the first song I had ever written," he laughs. "It was kind of a missing home thing - a country boy in the city. It was a big change for me. I was raised within miles of where I was born, I had lived there all my life - and my parents, of course, spent close to 50 years in the same spot, so it was a big change for me."
"But I was ready to go," McCoury continues. "I always thought that we would leave. Anyhow, when we moved here, I saw that everybody seemed to be a songwriter, and I thought well, I'm going to try do something - kind of try to leave a mark."... »»»
Being away from the music scene without new albums for fans for four years can be an eternity. Tastes change. New acts come on the scene. What was time off could turn into a permanent vacation.
Of course, Kathy Mattea hopes her new CD, "The Innocent Years," will put her back in the limelight again and push aside those concerns.
"It crosses your mind, but I think the easiest way to stifle your creativity is to put fear into the mix," she says about the break in a telephone interview from her Nashville home. "I can't make records out of fear. I can't be looking over my shoulder. My job is the same - making the best record I can at that time in my life. If it can't find an audience, then I should be doing something else."
The record veers more towards the folky side of Mattea than country, although that clearly is present. And she does not give into the impulse to go for the current vogue of recording a pop album masquerading as country.
Kathy Mattea performs at taping of "The Western Beat with Billy Block" in March, photo courtesy of Country Music Television.... »»»
Lovingly referred to as the "Mother Church of Country Music," the Grand Ole Opry is the world's longest-running, live radio show. For millions of fans, the Opry is synonymous with country music. It is the symbol of the music they grew up on and love.
"Folks come to the Opry because it's an American institution," says Opry General Manager Pete Fisher.
"It's a great institution and one of the things that distinguishes country music," says Paul Kingsbury, deputy director for educational research and special projects at the Country Music Foundation. "Does rock Ćn roll have anything like the Grand Old Opry? I don't think so."
For generations of country artists, the Opry has been one of the single most important elements of their careers since its start in 1925.
Performing on Friday and Saturday nights on the Opry was once considered the best way to get their music to the fans, thanks to radio station WSM-AM and its 50,000-watt clear-channel signal, which beamed the Opry well beyond its Nashville base.
Membership in the Opry was a symbol that an artist had Ćmade it' to the big time.... »»»
It's been five years since Joe Ely hopped a fence on his property and wound up with a broken hip and shoulder and a whole lot of time to lay around and think. Among the many topics that roamed around Ely's head during his lengthy recuperation was the thought that he should get back to the real Mexican roots of his south Texas childhood and write songs that reflected and honored that important time in his life.
A fortuitous meeting with Dutch flamenco guitarist Teye cemented the new direction, and Ely came out with two distinctly flavored and gorgeous albums of new material, 1996's "Letter to Laredo" and 1998's "Twisting in the Wind," both sounding like the honky tonks and cantinas of Ely's youth.
And like so many other moments in Ely's long career, the reverie has passed, and he has sensed that it's time to move on creatively once again.
The past two years have been almost non-stop for Ely, who contributed time and talent to the recent "I-10 Chronicles" project, hooked up with... »»»
Black oxfords and white bobby socks cover Stacey Earle's dainty feet, which tap and slide and stomp the air in time to her guitar's rhythm. She wears a simple brown dress with a white t-shirt underneath, and a string of widely spaced pearls. A tiny hairclip keeps light brown bangs from swinging into her eyes as she bobs, happy to be singing on this stage in Lexington, Mass., on a June evening. It is the beginning of a tour that will take her around the U.S. and Canada.
Her face shoots goofy muppet looks at the audience, expressing a songwriter's joy at having arrived. Finally.
Stacey Earle has the energy, glee - and the high-pitched voice - of a teenager when she performs, constantly communicating with her fans through songs, stories, and facial expressions. She communicates with her band through the quick, meaningful glances of a wife and mother: her son Kyle Mims (the real teenager of the group, but about a foot taller than his mother) plays drums, and her husband of eight and a half years, Mark Stuart, plays lead guitar and sings harmony vocals.... »»»
Alison Brown has been a pioneer throughout most of her still young career. She's been the pre-eminent female banjoist in acoustic music even before her first solo album, "Simple Pleasures," was released on Vanguard a full decade ago.
Prior to that, her duo album with fiddler Stuart Duncan ("Pre-Sequel") and stints with Northern Lights and Alison Krauss & Union Station plus a later tour of duty as Michelle Shocked's musical director during the latter's "Arkansas Traveler" period, brought her both valuable experience and a glowing reputation.
Brown's bebop-influenced album, "Quartet," and her leadership in the eclectic Nashville label, Compass, further established her as a woman whose career choices are driven by daring and experimentation.
So why is her sixth album as a leader, "Fair Weather," a return to her acoustic music and bluegrass roots after fronting a banjo/piano/bass/drums ensemble for the past few years?
"I thought it would be great fun and a good challenge to make a... »»»
It might be an exaggeration to call Blind Nello the biggest little record label in Texas, but not much.
After all, Mark David Manders is 6-2 and 180 pounds, and he's the smallest of the three guys on Blind Nello. The label began as a made-up name so that Manders could more easily convince Americana radio stations that a "real" record label believed in his music.
Kevin Deal (6-4, 220) and Max Stalling (6-6, 205) are his label mates.
But, since size doesn't count, it's also important to point out that Manders' new album, "Chili Pepper Sunset," made it up to number 5 on Gavin's Americana chart; Deal's "Honky-Tonks -n- Churches" reached number 10 in the spring, and the buzz is that Stalling's brand-new "Wide Afternoon" could climb at least as high. (Stalling's previous album, "Comfort in the Curves," reached number 16 last summer.)
Texas legend Lloyd Maines - sometimes acknowledged as the world's best steel guitar player - produced Manders' and Deal's albums; former Robert Earl Keen bassist Dave Heath produced Stalling's.... »»»
First single from a new artist climbs up the charts. You'd think the singer would be ecstatic watching her career on the rise especially with a traditional sound during a non-traditional sounding era.
But the experience of seeing "Never Again, Again" rise and then stagnate before becoming a break out hit left Lee Ann Womack feeling glum. She probably got glummer when her second album was derailed due to her record label folding. Womack, not seemingly one attuned to how many albums she's scanned, took time off to have her second child, a risky break in the ever fickle flavor-of-the-month record business.
But the Texas native is anything but feeling down in the dumps about her new third album, "I Hope You Dance" co-produced by Mark Wright and husband Frank Liddell.
"The main goal of myself and the label was to take me to a different level as an artist through the music, the packaging, everything, the video. Everything that we're coming with is new here," Womack says from... »»»
Transportation has always fascinated Americans - a nation of people constantly on the move - who've sung instinctively about the links that bind the country together, be they ships, riverboats, railroads, airplanes, or autos.
Under the circumstances, it's not particularly surprising that there are songs about trucks, or singers who have made their careers by singing about them.
Country songs about trucks date back to the earliest days of the modern country music era, commonly regarded as Ralph Peer's 1927 Bristol session that resulted in the discovery of both the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers.
Though the earliest song about trucks has long been thought to be Cliff Bruner's "Truck Driver's Blues" (1939), Brooklyn-based trucker country expert Jeremy Tepper says that research has led him to an earlier number, "Wreck On the Mountain Road," released in 1928 by Guy Brooks and the Red Fox Chasers. Says Tepper, "That track is more of a 'Wreck of the Old 97' kind of thing."... »»»
Justin Trevino is skeptical of the claim that he was singing Johnny Cash songs when he was a baby in his crib. Perhaps that's only because his memory doesn't go quite that far back.
"From the time as far back as I can remember - two and three and four - my dad was an avid record collector, and he used to sit me down and play Ernest Tubb and Johnny Cash records for me. That's what we did for entertainment," Trevino says. "There's never been a time when music hasn't been part of my life. I've always been trying to sing."
Today, at 26, Trevino is living his childhood dream. He just released his second solo album, "Loud Music and Strong Wine," has his own recording studio in the Texas Hill Country and has steady touring dates as bass player for both Johnny Bush and Cornell Hurd.
His love for traditional country is deep and passionate.
He got his first guitar at age 7, and at 12, he played his first professional gigs - for tips - at the Red Onion in Manchaca and Longhorn Barbecue in Austin.... »»»
At this point, two months after the release of his debut, "Wires And Wood," it's tempting to make the media attention Johnny Staats has gotten, rather than he and his music, the center of a story.
After all, it's unusual (to say the least) for a young bluegrass picker to not only release his first album on a major Nashville label, Giant, but to be the subject of national press and television coverage before the album's even been released.
Evidently, CBS and the New York Times have only recently become aware that many of even bluegrass' most talented and best-known musicians have day jobs.
Staats, though, knows it all too well. Born, raised and still living in West Virginia, he's spent plenty of time around the bluegrass scene in his native area.
"I started listening to Bill Monroe and playing the mandolin when I was real young, probably around eight or nine," he recalls. "I think I bought everything Bill Monroe put out. I listened to him, and then as I was getting older, I... »»»
Few people question Ray Price's right to be in the Country Music Hall of Fame. Many, however, question whether all 46 of his Top Ten hits should be considered country music.
The 74-year old Texan, who returns this month with "Prisoner Of Love" on Justice/Buddha, underwent one of the most dramatic mid-career stylistic shifts of any successful singer in history. Not everyone was happy about that change, but it never hurt Price's overall popularity, and he continues to record the softer pop styles of his second career phase.
Now Price isn't really worried about popularity. "For my age, it's really a wonder to be able to have a new record and a company 100 percent behind me."
In the '50's, Price racked up a steady string of hits that were as far from pop music as any Hank Williams record. In fact, Williams and Price were fast friends, and Hank gave Price his song "Weary Blues (From Waiting)" before recording it himself.
When Williams died, Price took over Williams' Drifting... »»»
One of the best known sidemen in certain country circles, Gurf Morlix, appeared intent on staying that way.
The long-time guitarist for Lucinda Williams may have penned songs for decades. The only problem was he didn't think they were very good, especially compared to the stellar writing of Williams.
But with encouragement from friends, the acclaim accorded one of them and perhaps more time to do his own thing after splitting with Williams, Morlix is out with "Toad of Titicaca," his debut on the small Chicago label, Catamount.
"I was busy for awhile there," jokes Morlix on the telephone from his Austin area home on his first day off in a month, explaining why the first album took so long. "I had stuff to do."
"I was actually writing songs for a long time, but I wasn't sure they were any good. I was so comparing them to Lucinda's songs or people I was working with. That's pretty tough."
"Sometimes they felt good. Sometimes they didn't depending on what day it was," Morlix says. "I kind of started getting prodded into it. People started saying 'you ought to put that out.' I started believing them."... »»»
Living for the past four years in the city that Michael Jordan has called home is appropriate for Kelly Hogan. She may have just as many moves in her career as His Airness did in his.
Although Hogan's move to Chicago was originally intended as a detour from her short circuited singing career, it turned out to be the place that would propel her to the next logical step along the path. It was a long, arduous journey to get to that step for Hogan.
Kelly Hogan is a singer, pure and simple. In the past couple of years, she has made tentative steps to return to her career with a couple of split 7"s, back-up singing gigs (the Waco Brothers, John Wesley Harding, Alejandro Escovedo), and a solo album four years ago entitled "The Whistle Only Dogs Can Hear." Although she tried to deny it for awhile, Hogan's voice would not be silenced.
"I'm driven to sing along," she admits. "Yea, verily, I cannot shut up."
Hogan began her career in Atlanta as the singer/frontwoman with the... »»»
Clad in two-tone shoes, drape pants and a bowling shirt and driving a blue and silver 1957 Chevrolet Bel-Air, Eric Heatherly is on a mission from the guitar gods.
The 29-year-old graduate of the University of Perkins ≠ Carl and Luther ≠ thinks the guitar is not getting enough respect in popular music or his brand of rockabilly-tinged country these days.
He hopes his debut Mercury Nashville release, "Swimming in Champagne," which heavily features his greener-than-green Fender Stratocaster, will do its part to promote more guitar use.
The native of Chattanooga, Tenn. played guitar for the first time at age of five. His father rescued a guitar from a garbage dump and promptly taught his son his first song, Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues."
"It wore my fingers out," Heatherly says. "It was rough."
However, he kept at it and made his public debut at a sixth grade talent show, performing John Anderson's "Swingin'."
Along with just a drummer, he continued to play through high school for "anyone who would let us set up and jam."
Their specialty was Ventures covers.... »»»
Thirty years ago, a revolution in radio found listeners moving in droves to the FM band, a migration that sparked one of the most fertile periods in modern radio programming. Rock and roll came of age in this critical period, and FM rock became a discernible sound that helped to shape and define the '70's.
Country music had the opportunity to follow rock to the FM band at that time, and while a number of visionaries made the move, most chose to remain on the AM side of the dial, missing a prime opportunity to legitimize the genre on a broad scale. It would be years before country music would move into the mainstream with the same respect and authority that rock had commanded.
Now that country music has managed to build itself into a respected form anda lucrative business as well, the genre once again stands at a technological threshold that may at the very least help to define itself and could very well recast the role of country music in the next century.
The threshold is the internet, and the new idea is webcasting.... »»»
It's a great thing for a recording artist's career to be named as a favorite artist by the newly elected President of The United States. Or is it? It didn't do much for James Talley, nor for his prominent fan.
Five years after Jimmy Carter invited Talley to play at his inauguration, Carter had lots of time for building houses, and James Talley had to sell houses to make a living.
Talley recently released his first U.S. album in many years. "Woody Guthrie and Songs Of My Oklahoma Home" shows that the populist streak Carter found so appealing in Talley hasn't wavered. The album was released on Cimarron, Talley's own label, proving that populism is not big business in America.
"I'm from Oklahoma. My father was a diehard Oklahoma Roosevelt Democrat. He had the fire and rage and hunger that Woody Guthrie had. He always used to sing 'Oklahoma Hills' when I was a child. All the stories I had from my parents growing up were about The Dust Bowl and The Depression. In high school, I had... »»»
Phil Lee just had one of those quintessential Nashville moments. He heard one of his songs on the radio.
"It's the same station that's playing John Prine, Tom Waits and a lot of Indigo Girls," he crows over the phone. "I'm going, `Whoa!' It's got a lot of good stuff. I was surprised when they picked it up. It's a thrill. It's a big thrill. Someone was talking to me on the phone, and I said, 'You gotta shut up. I'm about to have a stroke here.'"
You've just met the irrepressible Phil Lee, the former truck driver (well, okay, he still hauls a rig on occasion), who is hoping to take a musical stand.
Hell, even Lucinda Williams is singing his praises.
Why not stay for a while? With a new album on the indie label Shanachie, "The Mighty King Of Love," out in record store racks, it may be time to pull up a chair.
A basic, rootsy affair, "King" was produced by Richard Bennett, the man who had a hand in the early Steve Earle success, "Guitar Town." Lee doesn't sound like he carries Earle's demons around, however.... »»»
A case of the bane of songwriters - writer's block - may have done a lot of good for Mike Barfield, vocalist, guitarist and songwriter of The Hollisters.
Working on songs for what would become their HighTone Records debut and second album, "Sweet Inspiration," the Houston resident was afflicted.
"I was sitting around trying to write a song, and the lack of inspiration became the inspiration," says Barfield. "I started with the line 'something needs to charge me up' and went on from that. It's kind of funny how that one came from an urgent need to get something. Most of the time, the ones I think about the hardest I end up throwing away completely."
The song has a harder edge than most cuts on the record, with guitarist Eric Danheim contributing solos reminiscent of Neil Young.
Barfield co-wrote 9 of the 13 songs with Danheim. Though Danheim has since left the group to settle in Seattle, Barfield says the guitarist may occasionally tour with the band.... »»»
Standing on a stage in his white hat and western-cut suit, James Hand reminds people of the sad-eyed ghost of Hank Williams Sr.
In his six-year recording career, Williams became perhaps the most celebrated country singer-songwriter of all time before quietly dying in the back seat of his car on the way to a gig. A lethal combination of alcohol and morphine did him in late on the night of Dec. 31, 1952 or early on the morning of Jan. 1, 1953 at 29.
Only the most cosmic of believers could even imagine that Williams' soul actually found a new home in Hand because Hand was born six months earlier on July 7, 1952. That would mean that Williams' soul abandoned him halfway through his last, tormented year.
Nevertheless, some kind of connection exists between the two. The connection with Williams is strong enough that Hand, at 47, now avoids watching film of Williams' performances because he does not want to unconsciously pick up Williams' mannerisms.... »»»
Jimmie Dale Gilmore may have been missing in action, but he was not forgotten.
At least not by those waiting for a new album since his decidedly different 1996 outing, "Braver Newer World," more of a high tech Gilmore effort, or hoping for more action from a quarter-century old band, The Flatlanders, that was as the title of their one and only album goes "more legend than a band."
One record deal label, numerous negotiations and a hand at co-producing later, Gilmore released his sixth album, "One Endless Night" thorough his own label and Rounder.
"Someone said the other day...between my first two albums was what? Like 15 years," he says laughing. "Or more."
Heck. That's slower than his friend Lucinda Williams.
"It's usually only a couple of years, not three or four years."
Unlike his last set of songs, the new disc hones in on his country roots.
And that was no accident for the Austin-area artist with an unforgettable, somewhat fragile sounding voice.
Gilmore, 54, says part of the reason for the change in sound on "One Endless Night" was his buds at the time.... »»»
There's a famous quote by John Lennon that goes "Before Elvis, there was nothing." But Lennon was wrong, and he probably knew it.
Before Elvis, there was Bill Haley.
Bill Haley and the Comets were quite probably the first rock 'n' roll band, great or otherwise. It's easy to forget nowadays that the Comets' signature song, "Rock Around the Clock," was recorded for Decca Records in April 1954, a full three months before Elvis Presley walked into Sun Studio to record "That's Alright, Mama."
Now, the five surviving original members of the Comets are back with their first American album, "Still Rockin' Around the Clock," released last November on the Las Vegas-based Rollin' Rock label.
Under Haley's leadership the group was responsible for some of the biggest hits of the early rock 'n' roll era, including "Rock Around the Clock," "Shake, Rattle, and Roll," "See You Later, Alligator" and others.
Ironically, the original Comets have been playing together far longer without Haley... »»»
Neko Case has one of those voices. A soaring, knockout voice.
But Case, who just released her second album, "Furnace Room Lullaby," (Bloodshot), didn't start off as a singer or in country music, for that matter. After a friend gave her a drum set when she was around 17 or 18, Case says she joined a band right away.
"I was in a punk rock band, the Del Logs," the 29-year-old says. "I don't know why we named ourselves after fire place logs. We thought Del Logs was kind of funny. And there were all these Del bands at the time ≠ the Del Lords, the Del Fuegos."
She drummed in numerous other punk bands, including Vancouver trio Maow, where she finally got to sing.
The band released their only album, "The Unforgiving Sounds of Maow," in 1996 for Canada's Mint Records.
Around that same time, she was writing songs that "weren't really punk." At a young age, her grandmother had instilled in her an appreciation for country music, which showed up in her songwriting, she says.... »»»
When you first hear Tim Wilson's voice ≠ on either of his two Capitol Nashville CDs or as a frequent guest on national morning radio shows "John Boy and Billy" or "The Bob and Tom Show" ≠ it's likely you'll conjure up a mental image of a 60-year-old redneck with a Jethro Bodine-like sixth-grade education. It's only natural. His voice is as deep as the north Georgia woods and sounds just about as uncultivated.
But you'd be wrong. Wilson is only 30-something, and he is a college graduate ≠ English major in fact, and qualified as an English teacher, as he's quick to remind people who try to correct his hillbilly grammar during a live show. He's also one of the funniest and fastest-rising comedians on the circuit, where he talks about everything from the Pyramids to nail guns and sings songs like "Chuck E. Cheese Hell" and "If You Try To Save This Marriage Again (I'll Kill You)."
I called Tim Wilson at his hotel room where he was on tour in Jacksonville, Fla., but he wasn't there.... »»»
Bluegrass music is enjoying a renaissance of sorts these days. This is due in part to the attention paid it by such well-known country artists like Ricky Skaggs, Jim Lauderdale and Dolly Parton, all of whom recently released bluegrass albums.
But for Missouri-born singer/mandolinist Rhonda Vincent, the decision to come back to bluegrass was a no-brainer.
"It was the natural thing to do," says Vincent, who grew up playing bluegrass and acoustic music as part of her family's band, the Sally Mountain Show.
"Music has been traced back five generations in the Vincent Family. I joined the Sally Mountain Show when I was three. Every day when I got home from school we'd play 'til dinner. Then after dinner, we'd play.
"It was our livelihood...our way of life...(it's) something I'm very grateful for."
Still it is her livelihood, too, as Vincent just released "Back Home Again" on Rounder after two major label country albums.
Throughout her teens and early 20's, Vincent and the Sally Mt. Show continued touring, doing TV and radio and recording bluegrass albums.... »»»
Rick Shea has not exactly stood out of the musical crowd for most of his two-decade long career. In fact, he has been more of a sideman than a front man, often playing behind the likes of Dave Alvin. Now he's looking for daylight.
But that doesn't mean the Californian has not been putting out solid, West Coast country music. After 1995's all but unknown gem, "The Buffalo Show," Shea just put together a compilation of recordings previously available only on cassette and new songs on "Shaky Ground" on a tiny southern California label, WagonWheel.
He may get more known as a result. The LA Weekly named it one of its top 10 of 1999.
The Merle Haggard devotee put out 8 of the 13 songs on cassette in 1991. "We sold a thousand or more of those," he says from his home. "It wasn't any more after that." After that, the recording went out of circulation.
(West Coast musician) "Cody Bryant had always liked it a lot," says Shea. "When he got a label going, he wanted to reissue it. He had it remastered. We did five new songs to go along with it."... »»»
The tongue remains firmly implanted in cheek for The Mavericks. Not ones to always take themselves so darn seriously, the quartet entitled their new disc, "Super Colossal Smash Hits of the 90's The Best of The Mavericks."
Well, yes they enjoyed some hits, but at least at this point one wouldn't quite put them - lead singer Raul Malo, bassist Robert Reynolds, guitarist Nick Kane and drummer Paul Deakin - in the "super colossal" category.
Who knows? Maybe one of the four new songs on their fifth major label domestic release will live up to the billing.
Deakin laughed about the title. "First of all, it's obviously tongue firmly planted firmly in cheek when you go about naming a record, especially a greatest hits or a best of especially with a band like The Mavericks, who try to remain somewhat humble about the successes we've had and also trying to be different."
The band did their research, according to Deakin.
"Okay, how many best of albums (were there), how many now and... »»»
Don't accuse Monica Passin of exactly being your typical singer. The country/rockabilly diva was born in Long Island, but did a reverse migration by moving to the Bronx at age seven.
With a long love of music, Passin, aka Li'l Mo of Li'l Mo and the Monicats fame, isn't going about a country music career in the typical way either of heading to Nashville. Nope, the diminutive singer, with two real fine indie albums under her belt, is staying put in the Big Apple.
Passin, who teaches music privately, hasn't gone very far when it comes to touring either, sticking to New York and Norway.
"The only place I've been outside of New York is Norway. I only play New York and Norway," jokes Passin, who acknowledges only to being in her late 30's.
"Here in America, I'm a country singer from New York," says Passin. "In Norway, I was a country singer from America. I don't think that anyone's concerned that I'm not the (usual) pedigree. I don't think I suffer from not being believable. I don't deny I'm from New York."... »»»
Robbie Fulks has become something of an expert in the workings of the record industry. Within less than two years, he's seen his albums released on a major label, via his web site and on an established independent label.
Fulks' first two albums "Country Love Songs" (1996) and "South Mouth" (1997) were released on Bloodshot. After the demise of his more rock-oriented 1998 major label album "Let's Kill Saturday Night" (and the Geffen label itself), Fulks is back on Bloodshot.
But first, while awaiting official release from his Geffen contract, Fulks could only sell his new album "The Very Best Of Robbie Fulks," over the Internet since last summer. In typical Fulks fashion, the album title is a joke, since this is just an odds-and-sods scrapbook of his career.
The 36-year-old singer/songwriter/guitarist spoke from his Chicago area home just a few days after ushering in the new year with a show that was outlandish even for him, capped by his dressing in drag as Shania Twain to sing "Man! I Feel Like A Woman!" - an occurrence he vows will not be repeated.... »»»
With a long list of country songs already bearing his name on writer credits, you'd think Larry Cordle wouldn't be especially surprised to have a hit record himself.
Nevertheless, the bluegrass-singing songwriter didn't expect to see his "Murder On Music Row" (Shellpoint) firmly lodged in the Top 10 of Gavin's Americana chart - in fact, he wasn't sure what to expect at all.
"We're trying to figure out what this all means. I guess it can't be anything really bad," he laughs, "so I'm tickled about it."
Indeed, though his fourth album - made with a new edition of his band, Lonesome Standard Time, featuring veteran pickers David Harvey, Booie Beach, Terry Eldredge, Fred Carpenter and David Talbot - is a powerful collection of both old and new songs, there's little doubt that its success is being driven by the title track.
Cordle's past songs have been recorded by George Strait, Garth Brooks, Loretta Lynn, Trisha Yearwood, Alison Krauss, The Osborne Brothers, Ricky Skaggs, George Jones, John Michael Montgomery, John Anderson, and Gene Watson.... »»»
Rootsy singer Slaid Cleaves did time in high school in garage bands and got a bit more serious about music in college.
By the time Cleaves hit his 20's, he knew where his future lay. Ten years later, he has just released his second album on Philo Records, "Broke Down."
Though he has been in Austin for most of the past decade, Cleaves grew up in Portland, Maine listening to his father's recordings of the likes of Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and the Everly Brothers.
"I did a bit of garage band stuff in high school," Cleaves recalls. "I didn't write anything until I got into college and started learning how to play guitar and learning how to write songs."
Cleaves began to seriously pursue his musical career in his 20's and says that he "totally gave up any day job aspirations when I was about 25, so I've been doing it since then."
"Early on my songwriting was more based on what happened to me or characters that I met," says Cleaves, 35. "My life is becoming more settled as I... »»»
The past decade has been a good one for the Austin music scene, producing an apparently endless string of acts, each seemingly as talented as their predecessor. One of the most talented - though lesser-known - performers is 38-year-old Mart' Brom, an Austin-based vocalist who has just released "Snake Ranch," the first release for the U.S. subsidiary of the Finland-based Goofin' label.
Recorded in Helsinki and backed by Finnish rockabilly act the Barnshakers and Texas pianist T Jarrod Bonta, the album is a terrific outlet for Brom's ample talents. Her powerful voice anchors a fine mix of material from rockabilly to traditional country to Patsy Cline-esque torch songs, all delivered with authority and confidence.
Brom's musical career was set in motion in 1989 when her husband Bobby, then a captain stationed at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, brought home a flyer announcing auditions for an Officer Wives Club production of a musical called "The 1940s Radio Show."... »»»