He's not complaining, but Herb Pedersen is as surprised as anyone that "Running Wild" represents the third Rounder release from Rice, Rice, Hillman & Pedersen - surprised, considering that he initially thought that the first album would never materialize at all, and that it would be yet another one of those great ideas that just never seems to work out.
The friendship and musical association of Pedersen and Chris Hillman dates back some 40 years now, to their teenage years in California. It was at a 1963 show in Pasadena that they met the elder two Rice brothers, guitarist Tony and mandolin player Larry.
It was a case of rising young musical prodigies finding common ground - country music ground - that wasn't always easy to find in the Southern California music scene of that era.
"With Tony and Larry," Pedersen says, "We've known them since they were teenage kids, when they lived in California back in the early '60's. They, along with us, although they were younger than Chris and I, were listening to the same kind of stuff. So, it all...made sense."... »»»
The Country Music Hall Of Fame used the occasion of opening its new building to play catch-up. An overly restrictive induction policy had left too many worthy candidates out in the cold. This year, 12 highly deserving individuals/acts were inducted, including 90-year old Ken Nelson, who ran Capitol's country division for more than 20 years beginning in 1951.
While Nelson is a bit hard of hearing, which sometimes makes it difficult to communicate questions, fortunately he needed little prompting to tell his stories.
"It's been a long time coming," Nelson says of his selection from his California home. "I was one of the original members of the CMA. I was president twice and chairman of the board. One of the problems is I'm not a Nashvillian. If I had been living there, I would have been in a long time ago."
Nelson split his time between Nashville and Capitol's Los Angeles base. "I spent six months a year there, but I never socialized. I met a lot of wonderful people, made a lot of friends there, but I'd do my business and go home."... »»»
"I was hungry."
Such was Hank Locklin's comically timed yet completely accurate response about why he decided on a career in country music. Now, after 60 years in the business, 41 as a Grand Ole Opry member, the Florida-born tenor can boast not only that he clawed his way out of dire poverty, but built a musical legacy that he can share with his family.
Locklin's latest album on his own Coldwater label, "Generations In Song," mixes guest appearances from stars Vince Gill, Dolly Parton, Jeannie Seely, Jett Williams and Jan Howard with solid efforts from his son, Hank Adam Locklin, and three feisty step-grandchildren.
Contacted at his Brewton, Ala. home, the 83-year-old Locklin candidly spoke about the hard scrabble road he traveled to country stardom after World War II.
"I used to fool around on the guitar, and I was pretty good at one time. So, right after I got out of the service I went to work with Jimmy Swan, and we were playing in Hattiesburg, Miss These twin boys I knew... »»»
Tracy Lawrence's life reads like some sad country song. Nasty divorce. Wild days, wilder nights and a few bullets in the gut.
Yet, he persevered. Demons be gone, he may as well have said, because in the years since his stormy divorce, this straight country guy cleaned up whatever mess his life became.
Music fans are the beneficiaries. As shown on his two most recent albums, 1999's revelatory "Lessons Learned" and his brand new self-titled disc, Lawrence's life comes through not as burdensome, but as real life troubles that he's endured.
Today, he says he's a new man. He's changed.
"I have. Anybody that comes into this business and says, 'oh, I'm not gonna change,' they have no idea what they're walkin' into," Lawrence says from his Mt. Juliet, Tenn. home. "I can't see how I'm at all like the kid I was 10 years ago when I first rolled into town."
In those days Lawrence handled fame and fortune as many kids would: badly.... »»»
The past year has easily been one of the most prolific of Merle Haggard's long career. The release of last year's critically acclaimed "If I Could Only Fly" on the L.A.-based Anti/Epitaph label was accompanied by a number of self-released projects, including "Cabin In the Hills" (a gospel album), "Two Old Friends" (an album of duets with Albert Brumley Jr., son of the famous gospel composer) and "California Blend," a more recent collaboration with old friend Chester Smith.
Add to this list a slew of recent reissues from his old label Capitol, including his 1969 live album, "Okie From Muskogee," two late '60's studio albums, and a thematic series of four titles reminiscent of Johnny Cash's "God"/"Love"/"Murder" project a couple of years back.
Today, though, Haggard is onto his latest release, "Roots, Volume 1," released in November (Anti), featuring covers of songs made famous by Lefty Frizzell and Hanks Williams and Thompson plus three new Haggard originals that somehow manage to slip in seamlessly between the older numbers.... »»»
Bill Clinton once said that "Bubba" is Southern for mensch. Some country folks might tell you that "Bubba" is baby talk for "brother." Recently, James Terrance Bechtol IV, aka T. Bubba, has redefined "Bubba" to mean "King of Southern Comedy."
Regardless of iconography, the rotund 52 year old has just cemented his reputation as one of this era's brightest observational comedians with the release of his first major label album "I'm Confused."
A self-made man whose joviality masks the underlying hunger and ambition generated by his humble beginnings, T. Bubba spoke to us from his home in Pensacola, Fla/ and talked about his long, circuitous route to stardom.
"Well, I was born in Mississippi and grew up on the Gulf Coast. A little ol' town called Fountainbleu outside of Ocean Springs. I lived in Mississippi until I was 22. I know that's a long time to live in Mississippi, but I didn't know I was free to leave!"
"I come from a culture where I didn't have a television as a child. I... »»»
Chances are when most people think of David Ball, they remember his big hit, "Thinkin' Problem," and then probably wonder what became of him.
After a few less than stellar discs for Warner - commercially unsucessful, albeit well done honky tonk - Ball roared out of no place with a new lease on musical life thanks to the huge hit off his new "Amigo" album, "Riding With Private Malone."
The 48-year-old South Carolinian himself is surprised with "Private Malone," which gained much steam in the wake of Sept. 11.
"It really surprised me to tell you the truth," he says in an interview from his Nashville home. "I thoght the record was great, but due to the state that everything was in and all the struggles I had at major labels, I wasn't thinking that DualTone was going to be able to create the success to bring it home."
DualTone label is one of the new labels in Nashville - started by two Arista refugees - with the likes of Jim Lauderdale and Radney Foster on board.... »»»
There are cowboys, and there are cowboys and seldom the twain shall meet. Wylie Gustafson, performer of Western music and puncher of cows, will tell you that.
"It's usually a pretty big space between the two," the Dusty, Washington (pop. roughly 11) resident says of the real-deal buckaroo versus the white-hatted, be-spurred Hollywood variety. "The closest they've been to a cow is a carton of milk," he adds, in reference to pretty-boy cowboys.
What about an honest-to-goodness cowboy wearing nerd-chic glasses, who also slaps on a hat and bolo tie to yodel for an audience?
Well, such is the predicament of 40-year-old Gustafson, who has fronted the Western music band Wylie and the Wild West for nigh on a dozen years. "The biggest problem with a cowboy band is getting pigeonholed," he says. "It comes with the territory."
Pigeonholed, that is, as a dress-up novelty act that sings the campfire songs of yore, which is exactly what Wylie and the Wild West isn't. Their latest release,... »»»
It's a good time to be the queen of bluegrass music. Even though Rhonda Vincent was not directly involved with the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack, she still benefits from the interest in the genre that it has created.
With her current Rounder album, "The Storm Still Rages," continuing to top bluegrass charts, Vincent herself being named IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association) female vocalist of the year, and she and her band The Rage also named entertainer of the year, Vincent can certainly lay claim to being bluegrass royalty.
Vincent spoke shortly after taping a segment for a CBS-TV morning show, something which she says could never have happened for her or any bluegrass artist a few years ago.
"Where there used to be a brick wall, now doors are opening for us." Vincent doesn't give all the credit to 'O Brother,' saying, "I think the trend was developing a couple of years before that. I attribute it to the Internet. People now have access to any kind of music."... »»»
After more than 50 years on the front line of bluegrass and old time music, one could expect Ralph Stanley to take life a little bit easier at 74.
No such "luck" for the man considered the successor to Bill Monroe in carrying the mantle of bluegrass, participating in the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack, which doubtlessly has furthered his career, and releasing albums of his own, including "Clinch Mountain Sweethearts" this fall.
Not to mention touring on around the country and participating in more recording sessions.
"I probably have a little bit left in me," says Stanley, joking during a telephone interview from his Coeburn, Va. home the night before he is heading off yet again with a gig in West Virginia.
Of course, the man who was one-half of The Stanley Brothers with the late Carter Stanley, is no Johnny Come Lately to the scene.
But while he has commanded respect for years, that plus his name recognition clearly increased as of December 2000 when the "O... »»»
"I've just felt such freedom with this record," says Danni Leigh with a perceptible sigh of relief. Considering Leigh's checkered history over the past half dozen years, it's no surprise that "Divide and Conquer," the blonde honky-tonker's third album for as many labels in the last three years, represents a freer and more personal creative path than either of her first two.
The path for both of Leigh's previous releases - "29 Nights" for Decca in 1998 and "A Shot of Whiskey and a Prayer" for Monument/Sony in early 2000 - was marred by compromise and second guessing.
Leigh felt in both cases that to get along with the major labels, she was obliged to play along. In doing so, Leigh sacrificed a great deal of the creative decision making process, from song selections to arrangements to actual style.
Although she remains pleased with the final output, Leigh admits the discs could have been far better and more satisfying than they were. Still in all, Leigh is philosophical about her first attempts at recording.... »»»
First time out, Ray Deaton, Russell Moore and Mike Hartgrove forged ground separately. Second time out, they learned the ropes together from the legendary Doyle Lawson as members of his band, Quicksilver.
Third time out, they hit pay dirt together, on their own in their own band.
Since 1991, IIIrd Tyme Out gradually became one of the better bands in bluegrass. Having made a name for themselves on the road, it seems only logical that they've recorded a trio of live albums, including their latest, "Back to the Mac."
A follow-up to 1998's well-received "Live at the Mac," IIIrd Tyme Out revisits Eastern Kentucky's Mountain Arts Center, the scene of the previous "Mac" album. Founding member Ray Deaton, the band's bassist who also shares vocals with the other four members, says the decision to return to the MAC was really no decision at all.
"Well, the Mountain Arts Center, that thing's got a studio built in," Deaton says by phone from Mt. Airy, N.C. "The crew of people there are... »»»
More than 60 years ago, the late Patsy Montana opened the door for women in country & western music with her million-seller (the first by a female country artist) "I Want To Be A Cowboy's Sweetheart," an anthem to ridin' the range and all-around good, clean living that is still one of the most frequently covered songs in all of country music. For Oregon native and resident Joni Harms, it's more than just a symbol of the music she makes a living at, it's the only life she's ever known.
Raised on the family ranch that she still calls home, she was a teenage rodeo queen before embarking on a career as a singer and songwriter that has resulted in a series of albums throughout the '80's and '90's on a variety of labels, including her new release "After All" on the Real West label.
Harms, 42 in November, is keenly aware of the debt she owes to the musical cowgirls who preceded her.
"'Cowboy's Sweetheart' was one of the very first tunes I ever learned," she says. "My mom taught me that... »»»
Jesse Dayton may boast one of the most impressive resumes of any modern country artist not immediately in the public eye.
The Texan has done session work with the likes of Ray Price and Waylon Jennings (with whom he's also performed), as well as the Seattle-based punk band The Supersuckers.
There have also been opening slots with Merle Haggard, George Strait and former Clash frontman Joe Strummer, among others. There's been movie and TV soundtrack work.
And songwriting collaborations with Dale Watson ("Caught" from Watson's first album) and Rosie Flores ("Heartbreak California" from Dayton's latest) round out Dayton's resumZĚ.
Now, Dayton has released his third album, "Hey Nashvegas!," a long time in coming.
Dayton, 35, grew up in Beaumont, Texas, a city known primarily for its oil industry, blood-soaked honky-tonks and the fact that George Jones (with whom Dayton's father went to high school) grew up there.
"I come from a long line of fire fighters, oil men and that kind... »»»
"I'll tell you an interesting comment that I think everybody on Music Row ought to hear," says Bill Anderson. "I've got a friend who had – it's been a couple of years ago – a 13-year-old son and an 8-year-old daughter. They were riding in the car one day, and they got to talking about what kind of music they liked, and they asked the little girl in the back seat and asked her what kind was her favorite. 'Well,' she said, 'I like country music, but why do they always use the same band?' Now, if an eight year old can tell that the records sound alike…"
The veteran entertainer leaves the thought unfinished with a peal of laughter, but it's a good part of the reason that his latest CD, "A Lot Of Things Different," makes use of his road-tested Po' Folks band rather than Nashville's "A team" players.
Originally self-re-leased last year, the album got a new lease on life when Anderson, 64, inked a deal for re-release by California's Varese Sarabande label.
Still, the newly-inducted Country Music Hall Of Fame member shouldn't be mistaken for an old-timer griping about the state of country music from a state of semi-retirement.... »»»
It's Monday afternoon in Seattle, and Dallas Wayne is hanging out with Merle Haggard lead guitarist Redd Volkaert; drinking coffee, chain-smoking and swapping road stories.
Wayne and Volkaert make up one-half of the Twangbangers, a touring supergroup of sorts also including fellow HighTone artists Joe Goldmark on steel guitar and former Commander Cody guitarist Bill Kirchen, along with Kirchen's regular rhythm section. The group is set to make its debut the following night in Seattle, and they're waiting for Goldmark and Kirchen's band to show up for their first rehearsal.
"It was the brainchild of HighTone," says Wayne. "It's a good way to get the acts out; get us lazy bastards back to work."
In truth, the concept is a throwback of sorts to HighTone's mid-'90's Roadhouse Tour, which included Dale Watson, Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys, Dave Alvin and Rev. Billy C. Wirtz.
And with all four Twangbangers having released new albums over the past few months, the time seemed ripe for the Oakland-based label to dust off the concept, with the possibility of a live album emerging next year as a result of the tour.... »»»
Billy Bob Thornton - actor, screenwriter, director, and now recording artist. Thornton has just released his first album ("Private Radio" on Lost Highway). It's a disc of mostly original songs, done in a style that flows naturally from Thornton's screen persona, but it has nonetheless run afoul of the cultural-pollination police, who do not believe actors should be allowed to make albums.
The outspoken Thornton is a little surprised, however, by the identity of some of the biggest naysayers.
"Critics are okay. The people who've really disappointed me (in their reaction) are certain musicians, especially in Nashville. To them, I say 'Stop fucking calling me about getting in my movies then.' There are a lot of musicians and sports figures who get into movies on their name, and they're really shitty actors."
Thornton makes clear he's not talking about all of them. "I put Dwight Yoakam into a movie and got his acting career going, and he's good. I just worked with Sean Combs (rapper Puff Daddy) in a movie. He was fine. I didn't say 'No. Stay away!'"... »»»
Late summer, 1996. Father of bluegrass Bill Monroe lay dying, bedridden from a debilitating stroke. The 84-year-old bluegrass patriarch should have had little to worry over, but worry he did. His music was central to who he was. More giving than a child would have been to him, as nurturing as the mother he lost when young, bluegrass was more than a series of notes to the man from Rosine, Ky.
So, as his light grew ever dim, he fretted mightily that his music was going to the grave with him. Especially over the last decade of his life, Monroe bestowed much upon his protege, Ricky Skaggs. It was to Skaggs that Monroe voiced his concerns over those last days.
Skaggs promised the dying legend that he would play his music until his dying day, too. And he has ever since.
In the intervening five years since Monroe's death, Skaggs left Nashville's country and went back to his roots, bluegrass. He formed two bluegrass record labels, Ceili Music and Skaggs Family Records. Signed stellar talents like the Del McCoury Band and Blue Highway.... »»»
What a difference a song or two can make. For tall Texan Bruce Robison, that meant he wanted to be a free agent as in free from major labels and back to his own baby.
Robison hit paydirt when Tim McGraw decided to include "Angry All the Time," his duet with wife Faith Hill on his latest "Set This Circus Down." McGraw then released the song as a single, hitting the top 10. That means a lot of greenbacks for Robison as the songwriter.
And Robison, who had two solo albums on Sony/Lucky Dog, also struck gold when Lee Ann Womack recorded "Lonely Too" for her megaselling album, "I Hope You Dance."
For a guy who always considered himself more of a songwriter than an artist in his own right, the timing was propitious for Robinson to make the label break.
Robison had recorded "Wrapped" and "Long Way Home From Anywhere" for Lucky Dog, the edgy Sony imprint that also hosts brother Charlie Robison and Jack Ingram.
Both albums received critical praise, but when it came to the cash register, the disc wasn't exactly flying out of the stores.... »»»
Formed over 20 years ago and named after Richard Boone's character in the Western TV series "Have Gun Will Travel," The Paladins have kept their roots-music faith alive the hardest way possible ≠ on the road.
Despite changing line-ups, record deals gone sour, shifting trends and heart-wrenching personal problems, the West Coast-based trio continues to earn a solid living as a top club act.
The band's new album, "Palvoline No. 7," possesses a strong country flavor, marking a satisfying departure from their earlier blues-oriented discs.
"For years, we were too rockabilly for the blues crowd and too bluesy for the rockabilly crowd," says Pala-dins leader Dave Gonzalez, speaking from his Encinitas, Cal. home. "I really like George Jones, Johnny Paycheck, Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Lefty Frizzell ≠ those guys are country, but they have blues in 'em."
"Nowadays, the country people I hear don't have any blues ≠ they don't even have any soul. It just doesn't have the depth that the old country music had. Sun records, same thing. I'll never get tired of listening to Carl Perkins, no way!"... »»»
Buddy Miller doesn't sound especially breathless as he talks on the telephone from the Nashville home he shares with his wife, Julie, but if he did, it wouldn't be surprising. After all, Miller wears enough hats ≠ singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer ≠ that holes in his schedule are guaranteed to be few and far between even under the most relaxed circumstances, and the past couple of years have been anything but that.
That makes the seamlessness of their new, self-titled album all the more remarkable. Though they've collaborated on disc before, "Buddy and Julie Miller" (HighTone) is the first time they've been co-billed.
Ironically, it comes with a CD on which Buddy's contribution was more restricted than it's been in the past; though he sings and plays, most of the songwriting was done by Julie, with whom he shares but one credit.
Miller's busy schedule is the culprit.
"It's a little tiring, but I'm not complaining," he laughs. "I've had a real busy last couple of... »»»
Lanky, bespectacled and now fiftysomething, Bill Kirchen looks a lot more like the shy, slightly absent-minded science teacher we all seem to have encountered somewhere along the way in junior high, and his slow, deep, folksy voice certainly doesn't suggest the presence of a country-rock legend, a certified Guitar God, but for more than 30 years now Kirchen has been as much an icon in his music - he calls it "Dieselbilly" - as Clapton and Santana have been in theirs.
One of the biggest surprises on the charts - both country and pop - of 1972 was a remake of Johnny Bond's 1960 roadhouse classic "Hot Rod Lincoln" by a previously obscure band that, as their name suggested, seemed to have appeared out of nowhere from the depths of space - Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen.
The song's monologue-like vocal recounting of a drag race was by George "Commander Cody" Frayne, but for many, it was Kirchen's turbo-charged, full-tilt Telecaster boogie that stole the show and made the record an instant classic (again).... »»»
It's not too far-fetched to surmise that there are times when art reflects the nature of the artist herself. Over the phone, Irene Kelley's voice is quiet, slightly sweet, yet self-assured; her answers are brief yet never tentative. She puts across the impression, albeit modestly, that she knows what she is about.
And such are the 11 songs Kelley co-wrote on her album "Simple Path": direct but unassuming, resonant without being verbose. The music that accompanies the lyrics - straight country with a tuft or two of bluegrass tossed in - is neither raw and edgy nor overly polished, which fits the unfrilled wisdom of the songs.
Sing Out! magazine described Kelley as "a tiny woman with a big voice who knows how to write a country hit."
Until recently, it had been her "country hits" that made her known, while her "big voice" patiently held its peace.... »»»
While it takes absolutely no time at all to determine that Wayne Hancock wouldn't be a fan of Frank Sinatra, he would certainly have to admire the sentiments in a song like "My Way."
Hancock, a 36-year-old throwback to the traditional country sound and habits of Hank Williams and Jimmie Rodgers, is making music where and how he wants without regard for how many people are attracted to his style and attitude.
He recently released his third full-length CD, "A Town Blues," his first for Bloodshot. Hancock has strong feelings about what the relationship should be between a record company and an artist. "It is their job to sell records, and it is mine to make them," says Hancock. "I have a lot of main control. I do it the way I want. They (Bloodshot) don't have the record company disease where they think they have to have control over my music."
One of his past labels, Ark 21, seemed to be at odds with that view, at least according to Hancock.... »»»
Not everyone who gets tossed into the big "alternative country" tent wants to be there. Some people just want to be alternative, while others just want to be country.
Put Greta Lee into that latter category. As this traditionally oriented country singer self-released her second album, "You Must Be Present To Win," she also made the big move. Lee decided to abandon her status as a big fish in Atlanta's small country pond and move to Nashville to go swimming with the sharks.
"They don't even have a country category in the Atlanta Music Awards," she says just a few days before the scheduled move.
Although Lee's brand of country music seems out of step with Nashville's, Lee says, "I'm going to hope for the best. I personally feel Nashville is changing. I've been there three times a month recently. As a singer and songwriter, I've made some headway. I really think things are turning around. I like Nashville. There are great musicians there. What I'm shooting for is to make a living playing the kind of music I want to."... »»»
Gillian Welch knows the difference between old time music and bluegrass, and the difference between a music executive and a record man. She knows how to start her own record label, how to be an actress and, incidentally, how to write and sing songs that have earned her a Grammy nomination and the respect of music critics.
She is rather at a loss, however, when asked to describe the songs on her most recent album, "Time (The Revelator)."
"Time," recorded on Welch's newly created Acony label and produced by her longtime collaborator David Rawlings, follows 1996's "Revival" and 1998's "Hell Among the Yearlings." It comes in the wake of her appearances in the film "O Brother! Where Art Thou?," on the accompanying soundtrack album, and in the movie-inspired concert "Down from the Mountain."
"I don't have a very well-formed opinion of them as a whole," Welch says of her new songs.
As much of a cliché as it is to say it, from suffering oftentimes comes art.
And Austin country singer Dale Watson might well agree. His new album, "Every Song I Write Is For You," released in late July on the Nashville-based Audium label, is a compelling and deeply personal account of love, loss, grief, and moving on, based on recent events in Watson's own life.
The new album is easily Watson's best since 1997's "I Hate These Songs" and could well be regarded in years to come as his masterpiece. Time will tell. But the album came at a heavy price.
Watson and Terri Lynn Herbert met last year at a mutual friend's birthday party, while he and his wife of nine years were involved in divorce proceedings. Hitting it off, the two soon began dating, fell in love and were planning on marrying.
"Hopefully you'll get a little feeling of how she was by the songs," says Watson, 37, in a... »»»
Chris Casello, leader of The Starlight Drifters, tries to stay upbeat about the many personnel changes his band has gone through since it formed in 1996.
"It seems as though we've become the Spinal Tap of rockabilly rhythm sections. It happens every time a CD comes out." Warming to the theme he jokes, "Except for the exploding drummers -- we've had all the problems you could have."
Despite the loss of various members, Casello, whose band just released "Thirteen to Go," has kept the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based quartet vital players in the area's burgeoning roots-music scene. Moreover, with each succeeding project, their percolating rockabilly, honky-tonk and Western-swing stylings have earned them a nationwide following.
Casello, 39, is a veteran of many bands and styles. Equally adept on a variety of guitars as well as pedal steel, the Port Huron-born songwriter and instrumental... »»»
Few musical innovators match the contributions of Earl Scruggs. Most obvious among his gifts, the three-fingered style of banjo picking that debuted in 1945 with Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys.
Since then, Scruggs proves troubling for many bluegrass fans. On one hand, from 1948 through 1969, the cadre of classics produced with Lester Flatt typically produces gushes from acolytes.
On the other, Scruggs' open acceptance of folk and so-called progressive bluegrass angered the purists. His early 1970's country-rock band, the Earl Scruggs Revue, left many a fan scratching their heads.
But not everyone balked. Those who "got" Scruggs, knew all along that he was and remains nothing if innovative, and innovators rarely stand still. Even today, at 77, Scruggs still pushes forth, currently in the form of "Earl Scruggs and Friends," his first new album in 17 years.
"To me, I just really got an urge to do a project of this nature, expecially after laying off a bit," Scruggs says softly by phone from Nashville. "I was just chomping at the bit to get started. It sure is great to be back."... »»»
Write what you know" is a pretty common bit of advice for songwriters, but it's one that Chris Knight took to heart. He grew up near the small town of Slaughters in west-central Kentucky, about 50 miles as the crow flies from Bill Monroe's birthplace of Rosine – and like the father of bluegrass, Knight writes songs that bear the indelible mark of his Kentucky home.
"Back 50 years ago, there was a real coal boom going on in this area, and there are a lot of old company towns where people are still living, and they ‘re still trying to work in the mines," Knight says. "It' s made a lot of people rich, but it's probably made just as many or more poor."
The singer/songwriter knows what he's talking about; he not only grew up in the area, but before he made the move to a full-time music career in 1994, he worked as a mine inspector there, and he knows those towns – and the people who live in them – like the back of his hand.... »»»
By Texas standards, Robert Earl Keen is a minor legend. Friends like Lyle Lovett, Nanci Griffith and Joe Ely have turned Keen's songs into modern country classics, and his own performing career has been hallmarked by some of his own magnificent country albums, although most of them flew under the radar of most music listeners.
Keen, 45, thinks of it this way: "I make country music for people who hate country music."
Keen was a Texas A&M journalism student and budding songwriter in the early '80's when he struck up a friendship with fellow Aggie Lyle Lovett. Keen and Lovett often serenaded neighbors from their front porch, an act which led Keen to write the song "This Old Porch," which wound up on Lovett's eponymous debut.
Keen knew that he had found his calling and seized the opportunity. In 1984, Keen recorded his first album, "No Kinda Dancer," by borrowing money for studio time. The album was a Texas hit, and Keen was nominated as Austin Chronicle Songwriter of the Year.... »»»
New label. New producer.
But the sound of one of Austin's finest, The Derailers, remains the same. That is not such a bad thing either.
Not when the sound is a mix of honky tonk meets Bakersfield with some Sixties-styled harmonies and nods to The Beatles thrown in. You can still cite folks like Buck Owens to give an idea of what these guys sound like.
According to Tony O. Villanueva, one of the quartet's lead singers, the similarity of "Here Come The Derailers" to past efforts should not have come as any surprise.
"We were looking to continue what we have been doing," says Villanueva in a telephone interview from his Austin-area home. "We were looking to do something that was entirely Derailers and bring it up a few notches, which is close to the same."
One major difference, though, for guitarist and occasional lead singer Brian Hofeldt, drummer Mark Horn, bassist Ed Adkins and... »»»
Misconceptions and misperceptions surround Junior Brown. For one, he's not an Ernest Tubb imitator. Secondly, while he loves traditional country music and certainly bemoans the direction that country has gone, he's not a traditional country artist.
Just call him country with a twist, as heard on his fifth full-length studio album, the aptly titled "Mixed Bag."
Mixed therein Brown re-interprets Jerry Reed's "Guitar Man," Hoagy Carmichael's "Riverboat Shuffle" along with nine originals. And oh yeah, Brown covers Ernest Tubb's "Kansas City Blues."
"I like Ernest Tubb, but if I was just satisfied with being an Ernest Tubb imitator, I wouldn't get anywhere," Brown says by phone from Alexandria, Va. "You can definitely hear the influence, of course, but there's a lot more going on."
Until now, Brown's closest foray into Tubb's catalog was a song that Brown wrote, "My Baby Don't Dance to Nothing But Ernest Tubb." For the sole reason of developing his own identity, Brown purposely resisted recording an E.T. song until now.... »»»
Libbi Bosworth has lived in a lot of places - New York, Los Angeles, Nashville, even Boston, but she's settled on Austin as her home. The reason being that Austin is the best place for playing music. "It's the audiences in Austin that make it special. Singers are drawn here because audiences are so appreciative of all different styles."
Bosworth is a woman with a great sense of humor, both in her music and out, and she has a trailer full of interesting stories to tell, but she's also a trouper. Not many artists would do an interview from their hospital room on the day before being scheduled to give birth.
But her new self-released album of solid country music, "Libbiville," has to get promoted somehow.
Growing up in Galveston, Bosworth spent a lot of time in honky tonks with her dad, dropping quarters into the jukebox to hear favorite country songs. But she still wasn't quite sure what she wanted to be when she grew up - an actress or a singer. "My attention span is like a mosquito. I'm bad at structured environments. I'm good at fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants situations."... »»»
Lee Roy Parnell's new album "Tell The Truth" represents a giant career change. After a run of big country radio hits from 1992-1996, Parnell found that the format no longer welcomed him.
So, he's moved to a small label (Vanguard) and recorded a blues album. People who know Parnell only from his hit singles may consider that a huge musical leap as well. People who've actually heard Parnell's previous albums realize it's more of a small jump.
Now Parnell's got to overcome that pesky perception of him as "Hot New Country star" while also hanging on to some of the fans he developed through his hits.
"That was my greatest fear. How would I get people to know the truth about my music. When I played at the Handy Awards (an annual award show for blues), I realized my fears were unfounded. The reaction was very positive."
Parnell is a slide guitar whiz who has always had a blues side. His first Arista album - which landed no big hits - wasn't all that different in style from his new... »»»
When I had last visited Nashville in 1994, Music Row was thriving. Tourist buses jammed parking lots, and shops owned by the likes of Alabama, Hank Williams Jr. and the estate of Conway Twitty still did a brisk business.
What a difference seven years makes. Though Music Row remains the seat of power for Nashville's country music industry, much of that power has evaporated over the past five years; the result of label mergers and closings and a weak market for country recordings.
Seven years ago, Lower Broadway was only of marginal interest to many tourists. Seedy adult bookstores and pawnshops made certain of that, though attractions such as the Ryman Auditorium brought in a few tourists.
But as with 42nd Street in Manhattan, pawn 'n' porn has been pushed out of Lower Broadway, replaced by a Planet Hollywood, the futuristic Gaylord Entertainment Center, and huge - and very modern - new skyscrapers a few blocks over in the city's financial district.... »»»
When the Del McCoury Band won its fourth straight Entertainer of the Year award at last fall's International Bluegrass Music Alliance awards, few were surprised. As with most years, sure enough there was stiff competition. Yet in bluegrass, no band has been hotter than McCoury's over much of the past decade.
Indeed, album after critically acclaimed album has built as if with bricks one strong career. With their latest, "Del and the Boys," put another brick in the wall.
Not that they've fallen into a same ol' same ol' groove, either. Songs from the non-bluegrass sources of Richard Thompson ("1952 Vincent Black Lightning") and even Frank Sinatra ("Learnin' the Blues") mix well with McCoury originals "Unequal Love" and "A Good Man," assuring the band of an edge that its attained over the past decade or so.
Whoa, back up buddy....Frank Sinatra? The Del McCoury Band covers Ol' Blue Eyes?
"Jason Carter (McCoury's fiddler) played 'Learnin' the Blues' to me," says Del McCoury from San... »»»
Patty Loveless was not thinking much about Elvis or blaming it on the heart or saying goodbye when it came to recording by far the most varied and different album of her career, "Mountain Soul."
Nope. The 44-year-old Kentucky native was thinking about her roots and a concert from 9 years ago that proved to be the catalyst for the album of country, bluegrass and mountain music done all acoustic with the focus squarely on Loveless' voice.
"'Mountain Soul' is so special to me - the music is so special to me," says Loveless in a telephone interview from Nashville. "The art work is even that much more. I got together with the label, and my management wanted to take me back to my home state for a shoot for the album cover. There are coal miners for the album cover. There is this old, old house that was used as a boarding house from when this particular mine was opened."
"For the inside...the idea was to take some family photos. I got my father's family, my mom's family and put it in... »»»
Jim Lauderdale certainly is experienced when it comes to record labels - like Atlantic, Warner, RCA and Rounder for starters.
But the man better known for his songwriting (just ask George Strait who has recorded 12 Lauderdale songs) than for his own career changed that route with "The Other Sessions." His latest, which maintains soulful sounding vocals amidst songs that often harken back to country of yesteryear, was put out by one of the newest Nashville labels, DualTone.
Lauderdale says the decision to go with the label that is also home to folks like Radney Foster and David Ball was a simple one.
"I had a couple of albums ready to go," says Lauderdale on his cellphone while driving back to Nashville from visiting his parents in North Carolina. "I've been so busy working on them, I hadn't had time to look around too much (at labels). Then, (DualTone was) brought to my attention."
The label was started by Scott Robinson and Dan Herrington, who worked together at Arista Austin, an Arista Nashville offspin that worked with edgier acts.... »»»
Ah, the rigors of Fan Fair week in Nashville. Radney Foster joined in the fray this year to promote "Are You Ready for the Big Show?," an album of old and new material recorded live at the Continental Club in Austin.
"It's exhausting," Foster says of Music City's annual event, but after driving home on the highway past "guys layin' asphalt in 90-degree weather," he decides "my job's not that bad."
The rootsy, textured sound on Foster's latest is the most current in a series of musical evolutions. The singer-songwriter-producer, who was half of eighties country-rock duo Foster & Lloyd, recorded a couple of what he calls "attempts at mainstream country records"- "Del Rio, TX 1959" (with hits "Just Call Me Lonesome" and "Nobody Wins") and "Labor of Love" - in the early nineties.
In 1998, Foster released "See What You Want to See," an introspective, mature pop album that was a dramatic shift from its country predecessors "borne out of the craziness of divorce" and "the joy of a new marriage," says Foster.... »»»
The revival of bluegrass music that blossomed in the early 1980's wasn't just about young bands striving to keep the traditional sound and songs of the genre alive. New bands sprouted up across the country stocked with phenomenal musicians who, while well schooled in the Monroe and Stanley styles, were also determined to place their own, contemporary stamp on bluegrass.
Far from the East Coast festival scene, two of the most influential bands among this new breed took root in the Denver area. Hot Rize served as a springboard for Tim O'Brien's now well-established career, but each member of the quartet (Pete "Dr. Banjo" Wernick, bassist Nick Forster and the late guitarist Charles Sawtelle) made integral contributions to the band's distinctive style before breaking up in the early '90's.
Beginning in the mid-'80's, another Denver-based band, Front Range, developed their own national reputation on the strength of the singing and songwriting talents of Bob Amos and others.... »»»
The three years since BR549 released their last studio album, 1998's "Big Backyard Beat Show," have been eventful ones for the group. They've lost a label (Arista), gained a new one (Lucky Dog/Sony), gotten a new tour bus (purchased by the folks at Jack Daniels) and have recorded a fine new album out in late June, "This is BR549," including the album's first single, "Too Lazy to Work, Too Nervous to Steal."
"I think we've made a record this time that can be played on the radio," says singer/lead guitarist Chuck Mead, 40, in a telephone interview during a stop in Little Rock, Ark. "There's been lots of radio people that always liked us, but thought that, for one reason or another, they couldn't play the songs all the time. I think we've got a good chance this time."
Co-produced by Paul Worley (perhaps best known these days for his work with the Dixie Chicks) and Mike Poole, the new album finds the retro-sounding group sounding much the same as always, though with production that's... »»»
It's natural for an artist to reflect on his or her career with the release of an album like "The Very Best Of Asleep At The Wheel," but for the band's leader, Ray Benson, the project offered something more ≠ a chance to not only look back, but to fix some things, too.
"That was my whole point with this album," Benson says of the disc released in June by Relentless. "I knew that we could do these songs the way I had first envisioned doing them. Not all of them would be better than the others, but they'd be as good in a different way, and some would be better, like 'Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens.' I just hated the vocal on the original version, so I feel like I'm setting the record straight on that. And the other thing was, I didn't sing on all those songs before. I've had so many vocalists, and that's been wonderful, but this reflects what we sound like now."
That sound ≠ solidly based on Bob Wills' western swing, with boogie woogie and hillbilly elements adding a distinctive twist ≠ has served AATW well for the past 30 years, most of them based in Austin, Texas.... »»»
The last time around, Lucinda Williams needed three different versions and three different producers before becoming up with a career masterpiece of an album, "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road."
No such "luck" this time in recording "Essence," her 11-song follow-up. For starters, instead of almost six years between albums as with "Car Wheels..." and "Sweet Old World," "Essence" comes only three years after "Car Wheels."
And the recording process was far, far different than the previous album. Instead of of a series of producers like Steve Earle and Roy Bittan, guitarist Charlie Sexton and Williams were the main producers.
But don't expect "Son of Car Wheels" on the Louisiana native's newest music of country, folk, blues and rock. "Essence" adopts a more subdued approach musically, less of a guitar driven sound. Williams' vocals grab more of the focus.
The songs are less story oriented than previous albums and more often on affairs of the heart and relationships.... »»»
"How I wish that there were more
Than the twenty-four hours in the day
'Cause even if there were forty more
I wouldn't sleep a minute away"
- Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, 1964
"Goddamn, I love being drunk!"
- Racketeers bassist Spike Katz, 2001
The 711-room Gold Coast is far from being the biggest casino in Las Vegas these days. In fact, in an era when billion-dollar casinos are modeled on the Manhattan skyline, Imperial Rome, and ancient Egypt, the Gold Coast is downright quaint; one of the few holdovers from Las Vegas' golden age - the Rat Pack, highballs by the light of open-air nuke tests, and wink-wink-nudge-nudge mob control - that hasn't been bought out by a Fortune 500 company and bulldozed to make way for something five times bigger.
Nor does it attract a particularly young crowd these days. In short, the biggest danger at the Gold Coast is the risk of one's foot being run over by a wheelchair or a portable oxygen tank.... »»»
If you call yourself a country band in Boston, you won't get any work. But get an upright bass, call yourself rockabilly, and the kids are alright with it. That's the secret for The Stumbleweeds, whose CD "Pickin' and Sinnin'" was just released on Rawk.
There are some rockabilly numbers in their repertoire - enough for them to get booked at the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender - but the band's overall sound - especially on their CD - is considerably closer to traditional country than that tag would imply.
In fact, what it resembles most is the hillbilly boogie stylings of artists such as The Maddox Brothers and Rose. "(Our music) is in-between," says vocalist Lynnette Lenker. "We can walk the tightrope between two worlds. We can call ourselves country or rockabilly. We're not lying either way."
Like the Maddox group, The Stumbleweeds feature a female vocalist with a backing quartet. They don't actually feature any Maddox material. "I find Rose Maddox really hard to sing,"... »»»
Independence. Musicians crave some measure of it, yet many never quite attain it short of getting the ol' heave-ho. Staunton, Va.'s Statler Brothers have managed to pull it off.
After 34 studio albums for Mercury/Polygram Records since 1970's classic "Bed of Roses," the longtime hitmakers left the label five years ago. Little did they realize that it would be five years before another all-out stab at an album of new material would come along.
But there's a twist for the band's latest, "Showtime." See, it's released on their own label, Music Box Records.
"Well, it gave us the freedom to do exactly what and how we wanted to," says founding member Don Reid. "It's a good deal for us. A good business deal."
As such, Reid, 56, suggests that they may sign other acts to the label.
"That's a possibility," he says. "We're kind of testing the waters ourselves right now, but there's a possibility that that might happen. There's a lot of talent. You run into it all over the place. We're gonna first consider whether we're gonna do it, and then we're gonna consider who we're gonna do it with."... »»»
Mark McGuinn's "Mrs. Steven Rudy" is the surprise hit single of the year. It's surprising in that it came from the independent VFR label and also because it's by a previously unknown artist.
Additionally, McGuinn is an unlikely looking new country star. He doesn't sport a cowboy hat. Instead, he wears horn-rimmed glasses and a backwards golf cap (but not a beret, as some have mistakenly reported) on the cover of his self-titled debut album. The unexpectedness of this success story is also supported by the sound of his music, which includes prominent banjo and even numerous drum loops.
"I liked it and was proud of it," says McGuinn, when asked if "Mrs. Steven Rudy" struck him as a hit when he wrote and recorded it. "You know if it's good or bad, and I knew I'd written it to the best of my ability, but there would be an awful lot of rich people here (in Nashville) if there was a way to predict a hit."
The song, which speaks about a man's romantic desire for his mistreated... »»»
Clodhopper-shod "mountain folk" who call themselves Hayseed Dixie have stomped onto the scene with kountrified kovers of heretofore raucous AC/DC tunes. Mothers, lock up your…liquor.
"You want the official line or you want the truth? Aw, hell, it's all the same," replies frontman Barley Scotch, when asked to describe the birth of the project.
The band's name, which was originally "AC/Dixie" (but that got nixed for legal reasons, according to Scotch), is about the same as the original band's name. Barley Scotch's voice, furthermore, is surprisingly similar to that of Nashville musician and studio owner John Wheeler, and the downhome covers of AC/DC's tunes are surprisingly precise and, well, tasteful (as far as "tasteful" can apply to a band who based an entire song on a pun on "big balls").
"All of the arrangements are exactly the same as AC/DC did them," explains Wheeler.
The notable exception to this rule is, of course, the instrumentation, which includes the standard tools of mountain music: guitar, bass, fiddle, mandolin, banjo, and dobro.... »»»
The first track from Alejandro Escovedo's latest solo album, "A Man Under the Influence," "Wave," tells the story of a young man setting out to find his family and himself in a strange country.
While "A Man Under the Influence" wouldn't sound out of place with the rest of Escovedo's work, he's clearly an artist in transition. So, it should come as no surprise that he would seek out new surroundings for inspiration.
Escovedo recorded the album in North Carolina with Chris Stamey producing.
"I wanted to do a different kind of record, and I wanted to get out of Texas to make it," he says in an interview at a Somerville, Mass. nightclub. "I made all of my records, my solo records there. I just wanted to go somewhere new. Have to keep moving, you know?"
The 50-year-old Texas native has lived and worked in the Lone Star state for the better part of 25 years. Still, it's hard for him to accept the "Texas songwriter" label that has developed over the years.... »»»
Take a close look at the Country Music Critics Poll list of the best singles of 2000, and you'll find something out of the ordinary: among the album tracks from established superstars and critics' favorites there's just one genuine single - Tammy Cochran's "If You Can."
A hard country ballad in which Cochran begs her partner to tell the truth "if you can," it was supposed to have paved the way last spring for a debut album on Epic in the fall - but when the singer's powerful rendition failed to light up the charts, the CD was put on hold while label execs figured out what to do next.
"I totally understood why the album wasn't out, but it was hard," Cochran admits. "I was so proud of this album, and I wanted everybody I knew to hear it and to go get a copy. But when the single sold so many copies - considering that it didn't really have any airplay to speak of, it sold a huge number - that made me feel good, to know that people who had heard it liked it."... »»»
What's in a name? When the name is 'Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash', it's a set of expectations to live up to or overcome that bands with ordinary names might not have to deal with. But it's a name that people are sure to remember. In today's cluttered marketplace, that's a good thing.
It's probably no surprise that the leader of these San Diego country-rockers, Mark Stuart, used to front a punk band. (the X-Offenders). His new group's name is a fond tribute to the one living country artist that punk rockers have always embraced. "His image and attitude is rather punkish," Stuart explains, "more than the music itself. (Punks) are attracted to his bad boy image."
The band's album "Walk Alone" was just issued by Ultimatum. It includes nine songs the band had previously released independently as "Lasso Motel," plus three new recordings including the title song. The other additions were covers of Merle Haggard and Dale Watson, whom Stuart regards as "two great songwriters I wanted to include something by." Haggard is also a fan of the band, having personally picked them to be his opening act for a show last year.... »»»
Don Williams, one of country's most consistent hitmakers of the '70's and '80's, quit recording during the early '90's. A few albums on various labels did little to re-establish his career. Now recording for RGM, a brand new Nashville label, Williams hopes "Live Greatest Hits, Vol. 2" will rekindle the old-time magic in the modern age.
Is a live hits album the best way to do that? Williams quietly but authoritatively addresses that via phone from his new label's office in Nashville. "I've just had so many fans throughout the years that have said that they really did like a lot of the songs the way I did them live, even better than the studio versions," responds the singer. "So, when I felt like I had my band and my technicians together to where I could do it, I did it."
Recorded at three different venues in Great Britain, the album provides ample proof that Williams' quiet, expressive voice has lost none of its poignant honesty. The artist/producer credits master engineer David Zinko of Garth Fundis' Sound Factory for the disc's spotless, state of the art sound.... »»»
Although he lives in Austin now, Roger Wallace is not a native Texan. So, it's no surprise that his music would be imbued with outside influences. And while his albums "Hillbilly Heights" and the new "That Kind Of Lonely" are hard-core honky-tonk, country isn't even his first musical love.
In his native Knoxville, Tenn., Wallace was a blues musician and DJ. Not surprisingly, the man who finally turned Wallace on to the wonders of hillbilly music had also learned some of his sound from blues performers.
"Hank Williams had so much soul and blues in his voice," Wallace says. "He was the first country singer who ever hit me that way. Then, I started listening to his songs and what he did with his music."
Wallace's original love for the blues was almost an act of rebellion. "Country music was in my background from the womb. I grew up on '70's country. There were always songs I liked, but I hated the fact it was my parents' music."
The Knoxville area has a rich musical heritage. "Roy Acuff went to my high school. My parents are from Maynardsville, where (he) and Carl Smith are actually from."... »»»
Nashville isn't the only place where there's a clash between old sounds and new. It's happening in Texas too. While Texas has a thriving music scene - led by the likes of Charlie Robison, Robert Earl Keen and Pat Green - threatening to spread to a wider audience, that scene has no room for Justin Trevino, a man whom many people consider the state's finest young singer.
Trevino's music, based on the shuffle sounds so popular in the '50's and '60's, it is out of fashion with the young even in Texas.
"We play all over Texas," the 25-year-old Trevino says from his Austin home. "Texas is the only place I know where this kind of stuff still exists. But even here, it's not as predominant. It's fading from popularity."
What really upsets Trevino is that "they started a Texas chart, but they excluded traditional country. How can you tell me that Johnny Bush and Bob Wills are not Texas music? It's a very narrow thing. It comes out the way they want it to come out."
Steve Ripley, the man behind The Tractors, fondly recalls how the 1958 B-movie "Country Music Holiday" helped his group get their big break.
Taping an audio exchange between Ferlin Husky and Zsa Zsa Gabor, studio whiz Ripley re-edited it until it sounded like they were talking about him. "Zsa Zsa en-ters the room and she says to me, 'I hear you sing peasant music.' And I say, 'Country music, ma'am.' Then, you hear the applause of the club they're in, and Zsa Zsa asks some people at her table, 'Can he really sing?' And they say, 'Can he sing? Listen to this!'"
The scene segued to The Tractors' demo with Ripley singing, "All across the South, they've got the boogie bands that sound so fine..."
According to Ripley, Tim DuBois, label head at Arista at the time, played the tape for everybody in Nashville before signing the band and releasing their self-titled 1994 smash debut, featuring the hit "Baby Likes to Rock It.".
These days, Arista is part of BMG, and a few of the band's... »»»
Eddy Shaver died on New Year's Eve, as had Hank Williams and Townes Van Zandt before him.
On the surface, his death - the result of a heroin overdose - was surprising from a 38-year-old man who had been married less than three months earlier and who was scheduled to begin recording a new solo album in a couple of days; not to mention the fact that he had recently finished recording a new album with his father and longtime musical partner, singer/songwriter Billy Joe Shaver.
And yet, having developed a reputation as one of the better Texas blues-rock guitarists of his generation, Eddy Shaver had associated with great songwriters his whole life, appearing on records by his father, Guy Clark, Waylon Jennings, Dwight Yoakam and others.
It's perhaps inevitable that Shaver's new record, "The Earth Rolls On," will be greeted by the general public in the same way a mortician welcomes visitors to a wake: Lovely to see you, really, though I wish the circumstances were better.... »»»
It is a grand understatement to say that the face of the recording industry has changed considerably over the past 20 years. The shift away from vinyl albums and singles to the digital domain of compact discs and downloadable sound files, the changes in radio playlists and sales charting mechanisms and the wide-ranging effects of the internet as a delivery vehicle for the music of professional and amateur alike have all had a tremendous impact on artists, labels and consumers.
One of the most significant changes in the industry is simultaneously one of its oldest traditions and one of its newer developments.
The industry's recent spate of corporate mergers and acquisitions has created a handful of megalabels, giving rise to a mushrooming number of small, independent labels that are benefiting from the major labels' need to pare down their rosters along with their newly immense overheads.
In recent months, for example, Asylum, Giant and Atlantic were gobbled up by parent Warner Nashville.... »»»
If anyone should be considered the poster boy for traditional country music today, it's Brad Paisley.
The West Virginian has made no secret whatsoever about his love of old school country, the Grand Ole Opry and the folks who he thinks made the music great.
He may wear a hat, but Paisley has never been considered part of the erstwhile hat pack brigade.
When Paisley was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in February, The Possum, George Jones, wrote a letter, stating, "When Randy Travis came along he brought back enthusiasm for traditional country music, then more recently, Alan Jackson has reminded fans of how great traditional country music is, and now I am counting on you to carry on the tradition and make folks sit up and listen to what good country music should sound like."
"It's a catch 22," says Paisley on a cellphone during an interview from Nashville prior to the release of his second album "Part II." "Part of me is so proud of the fact that I'm seen as a traditional... »»»
It's been nearly 20 years since their first and only album and about 15 years since they used the name. But members of The Morells have been anything but inactive.
Bassist Lou Whitney, guitarist D. Clinton Thompson and keyboardist Joe Terry played together in The Skeletons. Drummer Ron Gremp holds down the same position in the Ozark Mountain Daredevils.
More recently, Terry has been a part of Dave Alvin's Guilty Men, and Whitney and Thompson have played together around their home base of Springfield, Mo., as combo.com, with drummer and singer Kristi McInnis.
Combo.com had begun work on an album, but the group fizzled out when McInnis decided to pursue other options in Los Angeles. Whitney and Thompson phoned Terry and Gremp to join them in the studio, and The Morells name was brought out of retirement.
"Why change the name again and be confusing?" Whitney says.
Maralie, Whitney's ex-wife and The Morells' original keyboardist came up with the band's name. The Morells, by the way, were named after the mushrooms, not Dr. Morell, Hitler's alleged favorite cocaine supplier, Whitney explains.... »»»
Jim and Jesse McReynolds have been mainstays of the country music business since 1947, and the lineage goes back even farther than that. Their grandfather, Charles McReynolds, was among the musicians recorded by Victor Records executive Ralph Peer during the summer of 1927 in the sleepy Virginia-Tennessee border town of Bristol during a series of sessions that rocketed "Pop" Stoneman, the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers to fame on the Victrolas of post-Lindbergh, pre-Depression America.
Jim McReynolds was born that same year, with Jesse following two years later. As the country music business began to coalesce around Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry in the years following World War II, Jim and Jesse formed their own band, the Virginia Boys, and set out upon a career that would make them bluegrass legends.
Jim and Jesse are still going strong more than a half-century later with a country album, "Our Kind of Country" and Jesse and Bobby Osborne combining forces on "Masters of the Mandolin," both released in April on Pinecastle.... »»»
No doubt about it, Redd Volkaert stands out in a crowd.
A burly man with a red beard and arms that look to be approximately the size of fire hydrants, Volkaert could almost be taken for a classic New England fisherman.
Stick his '53 Fender Telecaster in his hands, though, and it's clear that the man is one of the finest country guitarists of his generation; as comfortable with jazz and rockabilly as he is with the classic Bakersfield sound of his boss, Merle Haggard.
In addition to his regular studio and road work with Haggard's band the Strangers, Volkaert has found time to pursue a solo career on the side. Following the release of his first solo album, 1998's "Telewacker," Volkaert has just released his second album, "No Stranger to a Tele," once again on the Oakland-based HighTone label.
"It's along the same lines as the last one in that it's six (vocal numbers) and eight instrumentals," says Volkaert in a telephone interview from his home in Manchaca, Texas. "All the vocal ones are me covering some old tunes."... »»»
In order for Trick Pony not to become a One Trick Pony by riding a single big hit and never rising to that level again, this trio understood early that writing material was going to be a key part of the game plan.
That's why Heidi Newfield, Ira Dean and Keith Burns are confident that "Pour Me," the hit single from their self-titled debut, won't be their only charting song. In one combination or another 1 or more members of the group penned 8 of the 12 songs.
"All three of us are writers and wanted to have our own sounds and our own material," says Newfield, who provides much of the vocals and the group's eye-candy as a gorgeous California-girl blonde. "Our favorite artists were those who wrote their own material, and we fully intended to do that."
The fact that "Pour Me" has hit so big is an indication that perhaps the band's biggest strength might be writing the same way they play, as a trio. "More Like Me" is the only other song penned by all three, and it is also one of the more memorable offerings in a collection with few lows.... »»»
"When I was still just a baby, I'd tell my mom, 'I'm going to be a country-western star, I'm going to have a bus, and I'm going to be just like Dolly and Porter,'" laughs Leslie Satcher. "So, from the time I was a little tiny kid, I knew what I was going to do. I've gotten sidetracked a bunch in life, but I always knew in my heart that was what I was -- not what I was going to do, but what I was."
It's a measure of Satcher's talent that what she calls a "sidetrack" would make a fulfilling career for a lot of people -- she's written songs for some of country music's biggest stars, like Reba McEntire, Vince Gill, Randy Travis and George Jones -- but today she is, indeed, a singer, with a stunning new album ("Love Letters," Warner) that offers convincing proof that she's her own best interpreter.
Though the mainstream country radio jury still seems to be out, the disc's combination of acoustic-flavored ar-rangements, outstanding material and soulful vocals have already found favor with roots-leaning audiences, lifting it into the Americana Top 10 within a month of its release.... »»»
Last time out, Charlie Robison's major label debut was entitled "Life of the Party."
Only there was no song by that name among the 12.
Fast forward a few years to "Step Right Up," the Texan's follow-up album. Closing track - you got it - "Life of the Party," about a husband and wife who seem to know their way around the good times quite well.
And showing that he isn't afraid to push the envelope, Robison manages lyrical twists and turns. Just when the listener thinks a scatological reference will rhyme with words like "Duck" as in drinking Cold Duck, Robison keeps it clean and humorous ("she took me round back and we sucked the rest of that bottle").
Don't ex-pect this song to be riding the top of the charts even if the label is making a push behind the album.
"It was one of those things where people al-ways called me that," says Robison in a telephone interview from his ranch in Comfort, Texas about "life of the party."
"I called (the album) that after the nicknames I... »»»
Fans who believe rockabilly music is strictly a Southern phenomenon haven't heard The Raging Teens. Formed in 1997, the New England-based band forge a raw, high-spirited sound incorporating classic New England rock'n'roll with the shuddering, seductive feel of the Sun Records era.
The constantly touring, hard-charging quartet - vocalist/rhythm guitarist Kevin Patey, bass slappin' Matt Murphy, drummer Keith Schubert and lead guitarist Amy Griffin - released their second album on New York's Rubric Records in February.
A more polished effort than their debut, "Rock'n'Roll Party" boasts the production expertise of roots music maestro Deke Dickerson.
According to the British-born Patey, The Teens were born out of last minute desperation.
A former member of Miss Xanna Don't & The Wanted, Patey played "for fun" in a honky-tonk band with the Amazing Crowns' Jack Hanlon, The Loudermilk Brothers. When Hanlon couldn't make a gig at the last minute, Patey called up some guys he had been jamming, quickly figured out a playlist and played a rough set of rockabilly classics.... »»»
There are many great unsolved mysteries.
A good contemporary puzzler is the recently released soundtrack for the new Coen brothers film, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" The film, loosely based on The Odyssey and starring George Clooney and John Turturro, is currently in broad but somewhat limited release, and the soundtrack is an eclectic mixture of traditional bluegrass, gospel and post-modern revisionism, featuring Ralph Stanley, Norman Blake, John Hartford, Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch and Emmylou Harris.
On paper, this album is as doomed as Elizabeth Taylor's first marriage.
Although "O Brother" has broken the $25-million mark at the box office, making it the Coens' most successful theatrical release yet, it's not the blockbuster that drives enormous soundtrack sales.
Mainstream country radio has endeavored to nail the coffin shut by largely staying away from it, and yet "O Brother" is posting incredible sales figures, topping not only the Americana chart (as expected), but... »»»
The faces that gazed intently into the camera on the cover photo on Nickel Creek's self-titled Sugar Hill debut when first released early in 2000 show a trio of young musicians, two of them teenagers, filled with hope, anticipation and more than a little bit of the attitude "we know we're good, and we know you're going to like us."
Standing in the background, leaning casually but confidently against an upright acoustic bass, is a bearded older man who conveys a sense of belonging, yet acknowledging that it's the kids who are the music.
As it turned out, a lot of people liked the 12-year-old band. The ensuing year garnered them recognition from the International Bluegrass Music Associ-ation - (IBMA) as Emerging Artist Of The Year and a pair of Grammy nominations - "Best Bluegrass Album" and album's opening track, "Ode To A Butterfly" as "Best Country Instrumental" - and many weeks on the Billboard country charts.
As the 2001 Grammy evening approached, Sugar Hill re-issued the disc with a new cover photo.... »»»
Today's country music business is such a pressure cooker. Usually in interviews, a young artist with a new album expresses fears that if the album isn't a hit, they'll be dropped by their label.
Danni Leigh has been freed from those worries. When "A Shot Of Whiskey And a Prayer," hit the streets in February, Leigh already knew it wasn't going to be a hit.
And she'd been already been dropped from her label months before.
"It's the strangest thing I've experienced yet, the whole Sony thing," Leigh says.
The young Virginian is no stranger to music industry strangeness. Her first label, Decca, folded shortly after the release of her debut, "29 Nights." That's when she signed with Sony's Monument label, which was flying high with The Dixie Chicks.
Monument released the first single, "Honey I Do," with a big splash. There was a video and label showcases all over the country.
The single couldn't crack the Top 50. With top hits getting played for 30 weeks or more, getting a new artist to chart at all really isn't so bad, but try getting a major label to accept that. Her album, scheduled for last summer, was postponed.... »»»
You find a back road. You tell yourself she's nothing blacktop and beer can't cure. If you're a smoker, you smoke 'em. You unroll the windows and turn up the radio. And Greg Hawks and the Tremblers is the type of band you want to be playing.
The Chapel Hill-based group has released its debut effort, "Fool's Paradise," (Yep Roc) featuring a soulfully rocking batch of songs filled with teardrops and twang.
With songs about "pretty voices that turn cold as they can be" and trying "a few roads I don't think I've ever tried," in an effort to let go, you've got the perfect soundtrack to your back road pity party.
And for Hawks, who says he was exposed only to country music as a youngster, that party will always have a heavy twang to it.
"Every time I ever wrote songs or picked up the acoustic guitar, I gravitated towards roots music," he explains. "I was able to speak in that sort of style in another way. I told someone the other day I could go back home again when I play country songs. When I sing, it just comes out in a country vein. It's the most comfortable way for me to express myself."... »»»
When Nancy Apple isn't busy being a countrified Memphis musician, the erstwhile navy brat who spent her high school years in Japan is a Memphis DJ spinning Americana at WEVL.
Or she's trying out as a movie extra or practicing accordion or tending to her pets, which include a cat, a pig and a bird named Conway Tweety.
"If it's something good," Apple says of opportunity's knock, "I can make the time for it."
Last year, she made the time to enlist neighbor Keith Sykes as a producer and to release "Outside the Lines," an album of 14 songs, 11 of which Apple had a hand in penning. Its title describes the singer's varied, unconventional life. The songs run the county gamut from clever to lonely to bluesy to honky-tonk.
The title track is sparse and introspective, with Apple on vocals and accordion and George Bradfute on guitar. Apple also plays accordion on "Small Town Blues," an equally wistful, quietly angry tune.
KIt's funny how an artist sometimes plans Hon making one album and ends up making a different one instead. Case in point...Providence-based rockabilly artist Jack Smith.
IFollowing the release of his 1999 straight-up country album "Can't Help Myself," he initially planned on following it up with another country album.
Two years later, that follow-up emerged and, as it turns out, it's not the Scountry album expected. In fact, "Cruel Red," released on the New Jersey-based Run Wild label that had also released "Can't Help Myself," is a rockabilly album.
"Cruel Red" marks a return to rockabilly for Smith, a genre in which he had not recorded since a self-titled 1989 album on the Flying Fish label, though Smith and his band, the Rockabilly Planet, have always based their live shows around a primarily rockabilly repertoire.
Interestingly, the 1989 release and the new album - though both clearly rockabilly - are rather different in approach. Whereas the Flying Fish album owed a... »»»
As the proverbial crow flies, the town of Groesbeck, in Limestone County, lies in the central Texas plains just about 40 miles due east of Waco. It's the kind of country that hard-nosed dirt farmers have scratched out an honest living on for more than 150 years, but it doesn't necessarily evoke the sort of images that many people associate with bluegrass music.
Groesbeck is, after all, just about as deep into the heart of Texas as it gets, and a long, long way from the hills of Kentucky.
To Karl Shiflett, though, Groesbeck has been home for most of his 44 years, and if the folks who have flocked to hear him and his Big Country Show on the festival circuit over the last 3 years have trouble thinking of their music as bluegrass, he won't argue with them.
"We've always referred to our music as country music and not necessarily bluegrass. It's kinda like Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. That's the way they referred to their music."
Shiflett is recalling the period of the late 1940's... »»»
Dave "Smelley" Kelley, gravelly-voiced singer for the San Francisco-based honky tonkers Red Meat, remembers the day he and the band met legendary songwriter Harlan Howard.
"Our radio promotions guy in Nashville said, 'I'll take you to lunch at this place. Harlan Howard's got a special seat at the bar. He usually comes in and smokes two cigarettes and has a draft beer for lunch. We'll just go and lurk.' So Jill ended up getting our picture taken with him. She asked, 'What advice would you give me?' He said, 'Try to write it better!'"
Writing it better is something the sextet comprised of Max Butler on pedal steel, mandolin and guitar, Les Jones on drums, Michael Montalto on guitar and keyboards, bassist and vocalist Jill Olson, singer/guitarist, chief songwriter Scott Young and Kelley have been doing since 1993.
The band just released their second disc, "Alameda County Line."
Together, they summon the disparate sounds of yesteryear, when country music was about dispelling heartache and workaday woes with a well-turned musical phrase and rich, danceable musicianship.... »»»
It's 6 a.m. in California where Dolly Parton's calling from, but the Country Music Hall Of Famer sounds as bubbly as ever as she inquires about where her interviewer is. "I'm on Pacific Standard time, but I guess you're on Country Standard Time," she giggles, before settling into a conversation about "Little Sparrow," her second CD for Americana/bluegrass indie label Sugar Hill and the eagerly-awaited follow-up to last year's IBMA Bluegrass Album Of The Year, "The Grass Is Blue."
"I'm real proud of the album," she enthuses. "We started work on it almost right after 'The Grass Is Blue' came out because I felt like we needed to keep the momentum going. I didn't want to do a total bluegrass album, which would have been the most predictable thing to do, but I didn't want to get pigeonholed – or Pigeon Forged in my case," she laughs, referring to her Tennessee home and the location of her amusement park, Dollywood.
"I didn't want people to think I was only going to do bluegrass because it was more about the acoustic stuff, more about me kind of going back to my roots.... »»»
What was once Deep River is Kane's River. No matter what moniker is put on the band from Montana, the music is bluegrass.
Kane's River - John Lowell on guitar, David Thompson on bass, Julie Elkins on banjo and Jerry Nettuno on mandolin - decided, at the urging of Dobbie Records label head Tim Austin, to come up with another name in time to release their self-titled debut last fall.
As Thompson explains, "There was a duo in Nashville named Deep River. They had the name longer than we had. Tim Austin suggested that we come up with a name that would be completely original and that wouldn't be close to anything else."
"The name problem could hold up the album."
"We were faced with staying with Deep River and getting caught up in time consuming disputes or thinking up a new name that would assure the album's release for IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association event held each October), which was clearly important."
So they came up with the name, Kane's River, which Thompson says is "a combination of a guy Julie knows named Kane Fisher and Deep River."... »»»
Country music's past moves downtown come spring when the new Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum opens. The $37-million attraction will welcome more exhibit space, offer more parking and officials hope to attract a greater influx of tourists.In addition, Hall officials announced just before Christmas that 10 new members will be announced just prior to its grand opening.Breaking with its tradition of inducting no more than four in a year, amid growing industry sentiment to honor more of its pioneers.Legendary figures Carl Smith, Waylon Jennings, Webb Pierce, the Delmore Brothers, the Louvin Brothers and Porter Wagoner are reputed to be among those who have made it to the Hall's final voting stage, reportedly offering them the best chance for induction among the 10 to be selected.Hall spokesperson Liz Theils indicates the new museum will bring a greater cohesivness to the presentation."If you think about the current museum, there are several unrelated galleries. Hank Williams. Famous... »»»
Rain falls. All about Music Row, a dreary cloud hangs as if in mourning. Besides country's often not-so-country sounds of today, perhaps Mother Nature mourns the closing of the current home of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
With good reason.
Since its doors opened in April 1967, the diminutive barn-like building has housed country's rich history and welcomed fans worldwide. From Elvis' solid gold plated Cadillac to Willie Nelson's unassuming sneakers, the curious and most arduous of fans have visited. Eyes wide in taking a peak into the lives of stars like Hank Williams and Patsy Cline, fans felt at home in country's longtime home of the past.
I'm no different. Since my first visit in 1980 to my last on this cold and rainy November day, not once did my eyes betray me.
No matter that I'd seen Tex Ritter's Western-tooled saddle dozens of times. No matter that I'd smiled time and again while gazing spellbound at Hank Snow's sparkling Nudie suits. The effect was always the same - a tingle here, a chill there.... »»»
To many musicians, Texas is both vast and insular. On one hand, as singer and songwriter Pat Green points out, "Texas is a pretty big place." A performer can drive seven hours to a gig and still be well within Lone Star State lines. On the other hand, the music community there seems tightly knit, and those who choose to can spend lucrative years gigging, as Green and fellow country singer-songwriter Cory Morrow have, without having to leave the state.
There is a "microcosm in Texas," as Morrow puts it, where musical cross-pollination makes for fruitful tunes, and allows Green to speak from Willie Nelson's ranch and to have invited Willie to play guitar on Green's 2000 release "Carry On."
While both Green and Morrow, whose most recent project is a joint, just- released collection of covers, "Songs We Wish We'd Written," are "very much in favor of taking our stuff out of state," in Morrow's words, they remain rooted in the Texas music scene. The album showcases the work of their (predominantly Texan) songwriting heroes and was produced by Lloyd Maines.... »»»
Most alternative country bands become less country and more rock as their careers progress. The Domino Kings are going the opposite way.
Based in Springfield, Mo. - which once served as the home of the nationally broadcast Ozark Jamboree - they've evolved from a rockabilly band into a hard-core honky-tonk outfit, culminating in their new album "Life & 20" on the new Missouri-based Slewfoot Records.
The band, led by Steve Newman and Brian Capps, began working together six years ago. "I needed to play a party in Lebanon, Mo," says Capps, "and I needed a guitar player. A girl at a music store suggested Steve. She said I'd get along with him because everyone else hated him."
The two leaders split the songwriting and the vocals with New-man's guitar playing being another strong feature of the group. Drummer Les Gallier joined them about 2 1/2 years ago to create the current Domino Kings lineup.
Capps and Newman do a Lennon-McCartney thing, sharing the writer credits on each song... »»»
Can "The Houston Kid" make Rodney Crowell the "comeback kid?" After all, it's been five years since Crowell released his last solo album.
Whether it does or not, at this stage in his long career, Crowell, 50, most certainly is content with the results.
Crowell says in an interview from his Nashville-area home that he was searching for "self respect" in making the album.
"Seriously. I needed to make a record that I liked you know. I was the audience for this one. Just truthfully, evaluating my career as I'm wont to do - I''m probably my harshest critic. My legacy as a songwriter was pretty solid. I was proud of it. I had done good work."
"I had felt that my recording artistry was just pretty spotty. I thought at times there were spikes (resulting) in things that were pretty good."
With "The Houston Kid," "I didn't feel that anything had the net potential of anything when I started. I took a hard bite on that and didn't let go until I had my own self-respect with it. That was my own clear cut idea I had when I was making this record."... »»»
Texas may be the "Lone Star State" in other respects, but in country music, it has produced a galaxy of stars both past and present. The state is so big that it no longer feels a need to share its stars with the rest of the nation.
There are a number of artists who are huge in Texas without being heard of elsewhere. The Dixie Chicks were Dallas' favorite country act for five years before becoming world-renowned, and Pat Green currently sells more records than many major label Nashville acts. It's enough to make you wonder why Texas doesn't just secede.
They probably figure that as long as the rest of us are willing to let Texans lead the nation on a regular basis, it's worth their while to stay with the union despite its taste in music.
In the midst of this self-contained Texas music uprising sits Clay Blaker. He is a singer, bandleader, songwriter and producer who's had a successful career while remaining unknown to the average non-Texan.... »»»