Trick Pony may be a group on a mission in more ways than one. For starters, the uptempo country trio of Heidi Newfield, Ira Dean and Keith Burns obviously would like to top their debut when they scored with the single "Pour Me" and avoid a sophomore slump, which could kill a career.
And they want to gain a foothold in the country marketplace with the driving, but raw sounds of their second album, "On a Mission." They perceive their music a bit different during the holiday season when folks named Tim, Faith and Shania are also releasing new albums.
But with a few hit singles under their belt, Newfield, 32, says in a telephone interview from Nashville that she was not to worried at all about falling down the second time around. "There were so many people that approached us - radio - and worried about the sophomore slump, and we'd always laugh and go 'not until you mentioned it.'"
"Really, with this album, we tried to write great songs. We tried to find great songs. We went in and worked really hard on the album. We had a great effort on all the songs...We went in and had fun."... »»»
Justin Trevino has been living the honky tonk life since he's been able to chew his own food. He couldn't resist the music he heard rolling out of the jukebox by people like Faron Young and Ray Price.
"My parents never believed in hiring a babysitter," says the 29-year-old Texan whose fourth album, "The Scene of the Crying," was recently released on Lone Star Records. "They always took me. My earliest memory of being in the beer joints is probably five years old. I think I was going into them before that. My thing, of course, being the huge brat that I was, was that I always wanted to play the jukebox."
Trevino, blind since birth, says no one really worried about such a young boy being in a bar.
"In my case, it probably had as much to do with not being able to see. When I was in those places, I was with my dad at all times. I wasn't up running around. That might have been a little bit different. I was the kind to stay put, drink my soda water and talk to whoever wanted to talk -... »»»
To say that Billy Joe Shaver could be the poster boy for the school of hard knocks is an understatement.
To say that the Texan also is a man determined to rise up and overcome life's difficulties thrown his way literally since birth also would be entirely true.
The latest ample evidence is his brand new "Freedom's Child" disc - his first outright solo album since "Salt of the Earth" in 1987 - on the new Compadre Records label of Houston.
"We worked hard on it," says Shaver, 62, in a telephone interview from a friend's house in Austin of the album mixing country, a touch of the blues and the usual batch of finely written songs mixing stories and a strong spiritual side. "It was a little kicking around having some fun."
The album was the first since the death of his son and guitarist, Eddy, who died of a heroin overdose Dec. 31, 2000. They recorded under the Shaver moniker. That death was preceded by the death of his wife, Brenda, of cancer, and mother who died within a few months of each other in 1999. Not to mention the heart attack Shaver himself suffered in August 2001.... »»»
The words "open road" have long been a metaphor for the promise of adventure just around the next bend, the thrill of new experiences and meeting new people.
For Open Road, the latest in a string of top-notch bluegrass bands to come out of Colorado, the summer and fall of 2002 have seen not only their first East Coast tour, where they played to enthusiastic crowds at the major Labor Day festivals in New Jersey and Maine, but also the release of their first nationally distributed recording, "Cold Wind," on Boston-based Rounder Records.
For Bradford Lee Folk, the band's guitarist as well as main lead singer and songwriter, the trip East turned out to be a surprisingly rewarding experience. "We didn't know exactly how people were going to take us, but we found a lot of great traditional bluegrass music lovers there and a lot of really knowledgeable fans. I think that's one thing that really impressed me...their general knowledge of the music. We were pulling out songs that we thought... »»»
In the mid-'50s, country music was under siege from a new competitor called rock 'n' roll. Teenagers who could have been counted on to listen to country records just five years earlier were now in the thrall of the new style.
And country music was on the ropes. Sales were down, concert bookings had fallen through the floor, and some of the top names in the business, including Ernest Tubb, were seriously contemplating retirement.
While older performers decided they'd rather fight than switch, younger artists such as George Jones and Wynn Stewart decided to hedge their bets and cut rock 'n' roll sides, sometimes under pseudonyms.
Others, however, cannily played both ends against the middle. Elvis Presley's five remarkable Sun singles, for instance, all followed a similar blueprint: A rocker on the a-side, and something for the country audience on the b-side. And his infamous Opry appearance aside, it was an approach which bore fruit, with some of Presley's greatest support in the late '50s coming from country radio.... »»»
There are some 110 recorded songs in country legend Jimmie Rodgers' historic catalog.
Folk singer-songwriter Steve Forbert, however, didn't spend hours of painstaking, meticulous research to find exactly the right ones for his tribute album to the famed Singing Brakeman.
Though a tribute to Rodgers has been on Forbert's list of things to do for several years, the album does not coincide with any anniversary, nor is it packaged to generate maximum airplay by including a studio full of superstars who probably know more about Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page than the man commonly referred to as the Father of Country Music.
Rather, Forbert, whose remarkable debut record some 25 years ago pinned the weight of being the "next Bob Dylan" on his slender shoulders, captures the Singing Brakeman's wide-smiled, sparkly eyed spirit in an unpretentious, thoughtful tip of the cap from one Mississippian to another.
The 12-song album, "Any Old Time (Songs of Jimmie Rodgers)" (Koch), runs from... »»»
Rising up from what could have been very debilitating losses personally and professionally, Valerie Smith has a new album, a positive feeling and an optimistic outlook for both her brand of music and that of her genre.
"No Summer Storm" is the title of her new disc for Bell Buckle Records, but both the fact that it has been released and has been so widely praised are both remarkable considering the obstacles that were put in its path.
There was a new approach planned for the album.
"We wanted to put a unique twist to it," explains Smith, who combines bluegrass and country. "I wanted to record it live in the studio to give it a rootsy sound. The band and I had been traveling together for over a year. Then we lost (band member) Eddie Miller in an auto accident. His brother, John, who was also in the band, decided he couldn't go on either. It was very hard to continue this album."
"No Summer Storm" includes four songs recorded prior to the fatal accident. The liner notes for the disc have a collection of heartfelt tributes to Eddie Miller.... »»»
To most of the world, Douglas Green is better known as Ranger Doug, Idol of American Youth and the yodeling guitarist of cowboy trio (sometimes a quartet) Riders in the Sky. Longtime readers of country music journalism, however, know him as a first-rate scholar of singing cowboy films and records, even predating the formation of his band in late 1977.
And though the Riders keep Green on the road for much of the year, over the past 5 years, the 56-year-old Green has found the time to write "Singing in the Saddle: The History of the Singing Cowboy," published in October by Vanderbilt University Press and the Country Music Foundation.
It's an impressive volume; close to 400 pages detailing the roots of cowboy songs in the late 19th century and tracing the rise and fall of the genre on stage, screen, radio and records through the 20th century.
It could easily be said that it's the book Green was born to write given his vocation of the past quarter-century.... »»»
The buzz was on the upswing for Pinmonkey around its home base of Nashville over the past few years.
But after two albums released this year, practically unheard of these days in any musical genre, garnering the all important ingredient of radio play, despite the fact that Pinmonkey plays a mixture of bluegrass and Poco styled country rock, touring with Brad Paisley and Lee Ann Womack and a bit of an unusual name, the acclaim is growing.
"We've had a good year," lead singer Michael Reynolds readily acknowledges in a cell phone interview from Salt Lake City about 10 days after the band's major label debut was released on BNA in October.
The self-titled disc from bassist Michael Jeffers, his brother Chad, who plays guitar, banjo, Dobro and lap steel, drummer Rick Schell and Reynolds, includes decidedly unexpected covers of Sugar Ray's big hip hop hit "Fly" and Cyndi Lauper's "I Drove All Night" along with "Barbed Wire And Roses," the first single from the 11-song release.... »»»
It's often said that sequels seldom live up to the originals that spawned them.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Only time - perhaps more importantly, some very picky, eclectic fans - will tell whether David Grisman, Peter Rowan and Vassar Clements made the right move by daring to record Old & in the Gray, a follow-up to the seminal 1975 bluegrass-folk classic "Old & in the Way."
That album featured a banjo-picking, high-lonesome crooning Jerry Garcia, who had forged a fanatical following as the leader of the Grateful Dead.
Old & in the Way, like most anything Garcia touched, turned legions of Deadheads in a new musical direction. Naturally, Garcia, Grisman and Rowan didn't set out to record what in a short period of time became one of bluegrass music's most influential records.
Yet, within several months of its 1975 release, the album, which had been pared down from two nights of live recordings at the Boarding House in San Francisco into a single 10-song disc, hit the pop charts and sent thousands of Deadheads rifling through record bins searching for the music of Bill Monroe and Ralph and Carter Stanley.... »»»
Buddy Miller doesn't really have anything to prove at this point in his career. Not to his fans, who have no doubts about his musical greatness. Not to HighTone Records, the label which stands behind his releases with pride and respect. And not to critics, who have consistently lined up to sing his praises.
No, at this juncture along Buddy Miller's singular career path, after working in bands with Shawn Colvin, Jim Lauderdale and Emmylou Harris, the only person that he's trying to impress is himself.
So, it's no surprise that his latest album, the stellar "Midnight and Lonesome," was borne not of Miller's burning need to create or by way of industry pressure for him to produce something to satisfy a specific timetable, but simply because he saw a window of opportunity.
"I just looked at the calendar and realized I had a few weeks open and that I could get a record out this year - and I really wanted to - and it would have been eight months before I'd have another chance to get a record out," says Miller. "I thought, 'It's a little challenge. Let's do a record.'"... »»»
To hear Stan Martin tell it, country music has grown away from its roots.
"Country has always had its pop elements, and there's nothing wrong with pop, but if that's all you get, then there's something wrong with that,'' says the Boston-area musician recently by way of cell phone.
Now, he believes, Nashville is focused on putting out songs about suburbia. "I don't think most people want to hear about someone losing money on their 401K. I don't think they want to hear about soccer moms," he says. "They want to hear about how do we get through life, keep our marriage together. I don't think country music addresses that anymore."
Martin, who in September released his second disc of twangy country, "Cigarettes and Cheap Whiskey," finds himself in a strange country category. "It's not alternative enough for the alt.-country crowd," he says, "and it's not folky enough for Americana."
What it is, quite frankly, is straight-ahead country with a rock n roll stomp. The album's opening... »»»
In this day and age when country singers sing simple tales of love won and lost - usually won since it's a lot safer - enter Tammy Cochran.
The attractive, blonde Ohioan received some acclaim last year with her self-titled debut and the single, "Angels in Waiting."
But don't expect Cochran to go soft with her sophomore album. Nope, the entire album goes into excruciating, sometimes painful detail through the perils of love for better and for worse.
In fact, Cochran, often compared to country greats Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette, brings something to the table often found lacking in country music nowadays - the story song.
"I was pretty much trying to go the same path that I took with the first album - keeping the music very real and very relatable," says Cochran in a telephone interview from her Nashville home shortly after the disc was released. "The whole album kind of leads you through a whole relationship, and we really did not intend that to happen. I just trying to do... »»»
The musical career of Tom Armstrong personifies the word paradox. By listening to his current works, archivists would swear the 37-year-old performer was born a country singer - the heir apparent of such vintage purveyors of heartache as Ray Price or Wynn Stewart.
Armstrong played art-punk, indie-rock and free form improvisational jazz before he latched onto the sounds of classic '50s and '60s country. However, once he refocused his creative sites, he crafted two emotionally resonant CDs of authentic old-school honky-tonk, including the recently self-released "Songs That Make The Jukebox Play."
Born in Springfield, Ill., Armstrong took up the guitar during middle school and was pretty well grounded in the '60s pop-rock of The Beatles and The Byrds. He made his first public performance playing covers of songs by such punk and New Wave icons as the Buzzcocks, The Clash and Gang Of Four, in a puckishly named high school band Flawless Ketchup.... »»»
Coming on the heels of the most successful album in her career, Lee Ann Womack should be riding high with a new album out and the title track near the top of the singles charts.
In fact, Womack, 36, seems conflicted between the art of making music and the need to enable her record company to wrack up boffo numbers at the cash register.
And instead of the constant touring grind, which so many artists must do to push their latest album, that's not going to be the case with Womack even though she is at a high point in her career.
In making "Something Worth Leaving Behind," the follow-up to the megaplatinum selling "I Hope You Dance," Womack says in a telephone interview from Nashville, "There was no big career strategy by any means."
But the Texan seems a bit on the restless side and comes off as being uncertain whether she wants to go through the same music making machinery in the near future.
"Was it hard finding those songs?" she says of the 13 on the disc, including two... »»»
Landmarks fill Porter Wagoner's career. Three Grammy awards. Member of the Grand Ole Opry for 45 years. Nearly four decades of timeless music. Dolly Parton.
But Wagoner has just received more good fortune.
Wagoner's new album "Unplugged" tackles new terrain for a man who's tackled plenty of terrain. You might think that after nearly 50 years as a force in country music that Wagoner's well has grown a bit dry.
Released on Nashville's Shell Point Records, "Unplugged" follows his release from 2000, "The Best I've Ever Been," with aplomb aplenty.
So, with the widespread success of the "O, Brother Where Art Thou?" soundtrack and general resurgence in acoustic music, Wagoner decided to try his hand at it, too.
"I wanted to do something a little bit different," Wagoner says by phone from his Nashville office. This from the man who once recorded a song about insanity, "The Rubber Room." It's not bluegrass, though. You won't hear a banjo. No mandolin, but you... »»»
Two Dollar Pistols frontman John Howie Jr. knows things haven't been exactly peachy keen when a smashed windshield helps to best sum up his past year.
In July, his father died at age 68 following open-heart surgery. Former Pistols bassist Ellen Gray Rutter, just 41 years old, passed away in early August after a long battle with breast cancer. And earlier this year, Howie went through a painful breakup with a woman he'd been dating since his divorce two years ago.
"It's been a crappy year," he says. "My father dies, who I was closer to than anyone I could possibly imagine. Then Ellen Gray. And a crappy breakup. It was like three strikes in a row."
The smashed windshield adorns the cover of "You Ruined Everything," the Pistols' recently released second studio album and first since 1997's "On Down the Track."
Howie had a real-life wrecked-up windshield experience while performing in Bahama, N.C. He returned to the band's van after the show to find part of a fallen tree that had relocated across the front of the vehicle. "I was like, 'Here we go again,'" he says. "So be it."... »»»
While it's an overstatement to suggest that The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band doesn't get any respect, it's still safe to say this pioneering country group hardly receives the props it so richly deserves.
Case in point: When the quintet (Jeff Hanna, Jim Ibbotson, Bob Carpenter, Jimmie Fadden and John McEuen) recently opened for Charlie Daniels at the Cerritos Center For The Performing Arts - a venue no more than a stone's throw from this band's Long Beach, Cal. origins - these veterans weren't even listed in the concert program. But such are the ups and downs of the road life, especially when you've been booked as a relatively last minute replacement for the ever-popular and sexy Dwight Yoakam. At least many fellow musicians still think the world of this group, which is why so many of them - including rocker Tom Petty and Taj Mahal - gladly joined in to record the just-released "Will The Circle Be Unbroken III."
Once again, now for the third time, The Nitty Gritty Dirt band has brought... »»»
Though speaking over the phone from Nashville, where he and his bandmates are preparing to debut their new Skaggs Family release "No Other Way" on Eddie Stubbs' widely popular classic country and bluegrass radio show on WSM, Mountain Heart's Steve Gulley is speaking, almost subconsciously as the single voice of five individual, distinguished musicians who together just happen to comprise one of the most exciting and innovative bands to appear on the bluegrass scene in the last decade.
"We took a lot more chances with this record musically, I think, than the first two. I'm proud of everything we've recorded, but this is the most complete record we've recorded, for sure, from five personalities," he says. "I think we got them all in there. All of our backgrounds come through, and I think we got a little more than we bargained for in some cases. This record is more fulfilling, for me, than any we've cut."
The core of the band (guitarist Gulley, banjo player Barry Abernathy and... »»»
You can tell in the easy manner of his conversation that Delbert McClinton is in no hurry to get anywhere fast. He speaks with a cadence that suggests a man ambling along a country road on a sunny day, soaking up the scenery and enjoying all that he sees along the way.
And while McClinton does not feel particularly rushed to accomplish the few things that he might perceive to be undone in his long and illustrious career, one is struck by the fact that his new album, "Room to Breathe," is on the verge of reaching store shelves before his last album, the much lauded "Nothing Personal," still lingers on the blues charts well over a year after its release.
A more aggressive artist might proudly point up that fact and use it as proof of his drive and ambition. McClinton shrugs off any attempt at praise for his prolific studio activities with a simple explanation.
"I guess it's mainly that I've been writing a lot, and I was ready to do it, and I couldn't think of any reason not to," says McClinton from his Nashville office. "I thought, ‘Well, hell, we're ready, let's just do it again.' And we had a ball."... »»»
"We eat every meal together, we drive until two in the morning, and we spend a lot of time just staring into convenience food aisles," observes Hot Club Of Cowtown fiddle-player Elana Fremerman. "People never believe it when they see you on the Grand Ole Opry and your skirt is twinkling with gold sequins, but the reality is that you're spending a lot of time at the Exxon TigerMart."
Sound like they're complaining? Not hardly.
The Austin-based Hot Club Of Cowtown, have traveled a lot of hard miles since forming in 1997, and their respective gripes are actually the celebratory venting of a band who has transformed a hard-sell genre into a steady-paying niche market. The trio's hard-won success is reflected by near constant bookings and egged on by the release of their fourth HighTone album "Ghost Train."
"If we could've seen into the future we might've chosen a slightly different route," quips Hot Club guitarist Whit Smith. "It's not a good idea to pick a style of music that you... »»»
The second time around for legendary Irish band The Chieftains to record in Nashville didn't prove to be so easy.
A decade ago, the group hit Music City to record " Another Country" with Chet Atkins, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris and Ricky Skaggs aboard.
The band was all set to return last year in what was slated to be a banner year - their 40th anniversary. The Chieftains were ready to celebrate in grand fashion. In addition to Nashville, they made plans for a huge celebratory concert in Dublin.
Despite the planning by Chieftains front man Paddy Moloney and his mates Sean Keane, Kevin Conneff, Matt Molloy and Derek Bell, the album may have never come about without Moloney's persistence.
That all came to a screeching halt on Sept. 11.
"It was the concert that didn't take place," Moloney says. "Paul Simon, Emmylou Harris, Van (Morrison), Sinead (O'Connor)...no one said they didn't want to do it. Van even called, saying 'Why are you canceling?' He didn't see it."
It was a year's worth of planning and preparation down the drain - postponed, Moloney rephrased it, though like anyone else, 40 never rolls around again.... »»»
During 2002, the profile of The Blasters has been higher than at any time since the mid-'80s, thanks to the recent release of Rhino's "Testament" compiling the group's complete recorded output for the Slash label and the October release of "Trouble Bound" on HighTone, a new live album recorded at the original group's recent West Coast reunion shows.
What's surprising is that the band's profile had slipped as low as it had in the first place. Along with fellow '80s roots-rockers Los Lobos, the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Rockpile, The Blasters had a degree of public recognition that few of their early 21st century successors could hope to achieve.
And The Blasters were arguably the best of the lot, fueled by the world-class songwriting of lead guitarist Dave Alvin and the impassioned vocals of his older brother, Phil.
Formed in Downey, Cal. in the late '70s, the group recorded four studio albums and a live record between 1980 and 1985 before imploding onstage at a November 1985 performance in Montreal.... »»»
Last time out, Kelly Willis may have gotten what she deserved. So much so, so above and beyond expectations that now life is apparently "Easy."
Well, at least that's what she called her brand new CD on Rykodisc.
But if you think the Texas singer would hit the replay button, forget about it.
"I wanted it to be different than the last record," says Willis in a telephone interview from her Austin home. "It's more interesting for me. I wanted to go out and do something for me. You get tired of doing the same thing over and over. I wanted to change it up a little bit. I also wanted to make something that was more of a country record, a more traditional country record than the last one. It's also acoustic driven (though) there is some electric. It's mostly acoustic solos and stuff like that. I just felt like doing that this time around."
Willis also thinks her vocals changed given the musical bent of the 10 songs. "There's a different quality here because the music is more... »»»
When Pam Tillis decided to pay tribute to her father, country music legend Mel Tillis, she also decided that nothing would get in her way. "I just felt like it was time," she says, "so I was going to do it even if I ended up paying for it myself."
That turned out to be unnecessary - "It's All Relative - Tillis Sings Tillis" - is out Sept. 3 with an Epic/Lucky Dog imprint - but the determination she felt is reflected in the album's music.
With 12 cuts that range from hard core honky tonk to new twists on some old favorites, the CD not only pays heartfelt homage to one of country music's greatest songwriters, but displays the artist's own considerable talents as producer, arranger and singer.
Born in 1957, the 1994 CMA Female Vocalist of the Year says it took her time to come to terms with her father's legacy. One of the most popular singers in the history of the music - between 1958 and 1988, he racked up close to 70 charting singles, 36 of which reached the Top 10 - and writer... »»»
For generations of American boys raised in the cities and suburbs, the ultimate dream and fantasy has been to become a professional athlete and play for the hometown team. For James Alan Shelton, the musical version of that dream came true in 1994 when he signed on as the lead guitar player for the most legendary bluegrass band outside of the Blue Grass Boys, Ralph Stanley's Clinch Mountain Boys.
Born in Kingsport, Tenn. and raised across the state line near Gate City, Va. in the heart of Stanley Country, Shelton grew up steeped in the music of the Stanley Brothers.
Now 41 and living in Church Hill, Tenn., just a few miles from his birthplace, Shelton's lifelong love of bluegrass and country music has given him not only the opportunity to perform and record with Stanley, but also to record and release projects outside the band, such as his new solo Rebel release, "Song For Greta."
"I never got to see Carter," says Shelton, speaking of Stanley's brother and partner who died in... »»»
TTime was when country was country, and that was that. No arguments, no debate, no doubt. Steel guitars wept as beer joint junkies cried in their beer. Style was in. Hank Williams and Carl Smith and Webb Pierce and Ray Price sang like no other.
Time marches on. The Drifting Cowboy drifted on, Webb's gone, and Mr. Tunesmith retired years ago. Yet, the Cherokee Cowboy thrives.
Time was when Price, the king of the country shuffle, was as hard core country as anyone. Though he never ditched the sound entirely on the road, on record it's been mostly missing for nearly 40 years.
With "Time" (Audium), Price recaptures the style that spread his sound through many a country home over the past 50 years.
"Nick Hunter (the head of Audium), when we made the deal for the record, I asked him what he wanted, and he said he wanted a pure country album," Price, 76, says by phone from his Mt. Pleasant, Texas home.
"I think everybody thought I didn't know how to do that anymore.... »»»
One of the strongest country releases of 2000, Allison Moorer's sophomore disc, "The Hardest Part," solidified her rep as one of the modern era's most promising young female country singer/songwriters. A rumination on the downside of love, the album was by turns traditional (the title track, which Moorer performs live as part of a medley with the Rolling Stones' "Sweet Virginia"), soulful ("It's Time I Tried") and majestic ("No Next Time," with some terrific backing vocals from Lonesome Bob). The capper was an unlisted track, "Cold, Cold Earth," a simple but chilling murder ballad in which Moorer detailed the 1985 death of her mother at the hands of her father, who then turned the gun on himself; perhaps the ultimate example of love gone horribly wrong.
Two years later Moorer, 30, is back with her latest, "Miss Fortune," released in August by Tony Brown's new label, Universal South.
If there's a major difference between "The Hardest Part" and "Miss Fortune," it's that the country... »»»
The urge to assume singer-songwriter Elizabeth Cook's image was cooked up by some Nashville record executive is strong, for she possesses the traits of the archetypal Country Singer.
Her voice, for starters, carries the unmistakable honey twang of the Deep South. By four, she had performed a song. By eight, she had released the first of three singles, and by nine, she found herself in cowgirl fringe, fronting a honky-tonk band named Southern Breeze.
To date, Cook has performed on the Grand Ole Opry 100 times, and this summer marks the release of her debut "Hey Y'all" on Warner. The 12-song collection - all but one are originals - eschews the crossover poppiness of Shania and Faith for a classic country sound that harks back to the prairie-skirt heyday of Dolly and Emmylou.
Cook's family background similarly indulges the notion of "country" in popular imagination. Her father was raised a Georgia sharecropper, learned to play acoustic guitar and later was arrested for running moonshine in cahoots with organized crime. While serving time, he learned to play bass and performed with the prison band.... »»»
As Billy Bratcher of the Starline Rhythm Boys will attest, great old-school country music doesn't necessarily have to emerge from south of the Mason-Dixon line.
"The thing about New England is, it has a rich history of country music and bluegrass," says the Vermont-based Bratcher. "A lot of diehards think you've gotta be from the South to make believable country music, but our hearts break the same as anyone else's, we drink the same booze on occasion as the Southern guys, and our Telecasters sound the same."
Boasting a heady, gutbucket mix of Bakersfield-styled honky-tonk and '50s rockabilly, the Starline Rhythm Boys may be Vermont's best-kept secret.
However, based on the lavish critical praise heaped on their recently released second album, "Honky Tonk Livin'," that may soon change.
Based in Burlington, Vt., the trio comprised of lead singer Danny Coane, lead guitarist Big Al Lemary and the bass-slappin' Bratcher honed their distinctive roots-music chops in well-respected bands before becoming the Starlight Rhythm Boys in 1998.... »»»
Anthony Smith's voice comes out in a powerfully soulful growl, and he sounds a whole lot closer to John Hiatt than, say, Vince Gill. His Mercury Nashville debut album is called "If That Ain't Country," and while it is certifiably a country music album, calling it a mixed breed would in no way be doing it a disservice.
He's country all right, but he ain't at all ashamed to rock either.
"I always liked a lot of classic rock," Smith explains. "I know it sort of sounds kind of weird coming from a country singer 'cause I'm such a traditionalist and love classic country. But I also like classic rock as well, and I listen to bands like Aerosmith, AC/DC and ZZ Top. So, I've got some of the intensity of that kind of music intertwined with that classic country, and that's sort of how it all came about."
There's just nothing wrong with a strong shot of intensity, followed by a traditional country chaser.
Nashville, unlike the general medical community, has never had anything against cloning. This is why it takes extra effort sometimes to tell one new singer from another.... »»»
There has to be a certain bug-eyed innocence the first time a performer commits his or her voice to tape.
Surrounded by gadgetry it seems only a handful of people can understand and operate, in a room with people studying every motion, analyzing each note, that first recording session is a crash course in quelling the butterflies while trying to stay on key.
Laura Minor admits as much. Now with her debut album on HighTone Records securely under her belt and on the shelves, the 28-year-old Florida native looked back at her initial sessions with a little laugh of sheepishness.
"I was wide-eyed and nervous," says Minor during an interview from her home in Gainesville. The February recording sessions, which lasted about two weeks, were produced by Cracker's David Lowery at his Sound of Music studio in Richmond, Va.
"I'm my own worst critic. I wanted perfection. Luckily, there were 20 other people there who were relaxed."
Perhaps it's shy of perfection to Minor's ear, but early... »»»
Darryl Worley is no greenhorn when it comes to his musical vision. At 37, but with only one album under his belt, Worley seems to know exactly what he wanted to do with his second album - keep it traditional like his first disc, only more so.
"To tell you the truth, I've seen a lot of artists over the last 10 years come out with an album that was pretty cool country sounding album, and then a lot of times with the second one, they seem to go off into some other direction," Worley says in a telephone interview from his manager's Nashville office just a few weeks before the release of "I Miss My Friend" on DreamWorks.
His 2000 debut, "Hard Rain Don't Last," contained the music of someone who was more in tune with the genre's traditions like Haggard and Strait. The disc resulted in a few mid-level hits for the Tennessee native, "A Good Day to Run" and "Second Wind.
Many artists will play it safer with a follow-up album, trying to gear it more towards the ever important radio airplay.
But that doesn't seem to be Worley's idea.... »»»
Joe Nichols calls Nashville home now, but grew up in the little town of Rogers, Ark., home of the very first Wal-Mart. Now, there's nothing wrong with Wal-Mart, per se, since it provides all the essential everyday stuff of life.
But Wal-Mart is not one of your more trendy boutiques. Similarly, although Nichols may not be the trendy type either, he's certainly far greater than just your average, run of the mill country artist. His new album, "Man With A Memory," is aural proof that Nichols can fondly recall all of the most pivotal players in country music's great legacy.
The way his voice twists and turns around these songs, like a sports car on an unpredictable and winding San Francisco city street, brings names like Merle Haggard and Randy Travis immediately to mind.
"Wal-Mart's store number one is in Rogers," Nichols proclaims proudly. "Most everybody I went to high school with or still know works for or has worked for Wal-Mart. Rogers is like any suburban area of a big city, only there's no big city around."Nichols' singing is a real thing of beauty and clearly not store-bought.... »»»
Heather Myles is talking from her favorite place - the road. And she apparently can move pretty fast also, covering three states during a cell phone interview as she is making her way from her Florida home to one in Nashville via a pit stop in Mississippi.
If only the career of the California honky tonker and traditional country singer moved as quickly.
Myles could not exactly be accused of being prolific when it comes to releasing music. Her latest, "Sweet Talk & Good Lies" (Rounder) comes four years after her fine CD, "Heartaches & Honky Tonks." Overall, Myles only has released a grand total of 4 albums in a decade.
Myles, friendly and talkative throughout, is the first one to admit, she wish the timing were different. "This last record took a lot longer than it should have," says Myles, while approaching the Florida/Alabama border after a stay at her condo on the Gulf Coast in Belle Air, Fla. "But this one, there were studio problems. The continuity of a record has to be to... »»»
Jorma Kaukonen is happy about his new album, "Blue Country Heart," and his enthusiasm for the project is clearly apparent even through the phone line. "I'm thrilled with it myself," says a barely contained Kaukonen. "I told one of the guys from Columbia the other night that if we'd done the session, and they'd burned one CD-R (CD-rom) and gave it to me, I'd have been happy. But it's even better that other people can hear it.
Although Kaukonen's primary area of passion and expertise has always been the blues, he's never minded going a little further afield in the interest of experimentation and growth.
It was in that very mindset that Kaukonen made the decision back in 1966 to join Marty Balin and Paul Kantner when they invited him and his longstanding musical partner, bassist Jack Casady, to hook up with their newly formed psychedelic folk rock collective; it was Kaukonen who proffered the band its name, inspired by a friend who had nicknamed the blues guitarist Blind Thomas Jefferson Airplane, in the style of the great players of the '20s and '30s.... »»»
Loneliness is a powerful emotion, and in the case of Jason Ringenberg it may just have been powerful enough to provide the motivation for his newest release, "All Over Creation.
The disc contains a collection of collaborations with a wide variety of artists producing just as wide a variance of material. Some of the artists are widely known like Steve Earle, BR549 and Todd Snider. Others are mostly recognized within their own narrow sub-genres like Paul Burch and Lambchop.
"My previous album, 'Pocketful Of Soul,' was mostly a folk album," says Ringenberg, also of Jason & The Scorchers fame. "It was mostly about my family and a few historical pieces. It was an internal and personal album.
He hit the road to promote his work. Just him and his guitar.
"I think I just got lonely," he says. "I did a lot of support work and got a chance to play on stage with a lot of different people. From that, I decided to try and put together an album with some of the people I shared the stages with.
His enjoyment of performing is one of the things that keeps him ticking and out on the road.... »»»
American rockabilly underwent a period of extraordinary growth in the '90s following the demise of high-profile acts like the Stray Cats and The Blasters about halfway through the previous decade.
Although difficult to find a major American city that didn't have at least one rockabilly-influenced act in the latter half of the '80s that wasn't capable of attracting a decent audience, few attracted a national or international following.
The pendulum began to swing the other way in the early '90s, thanks to Big Sandy's Fly-Rite Trio (later the Fly-Rite Boys), the Dave and Deke Combo, Go Cat Go, and, in particular, an Austin-based band called High Noon.
High Noon, over the course of the past 14 years, has proven to be special. The band is quite probably, in fact, the most respected rockabilly band of their generation.
Though the band's members – vocalist/guitarist Shaun Young, lead guitarist Sean Mencher and upright bassist Kevin Smith – went their separate ways in early 1997,... »»»
First of all, it's pronounced go-shay (her last name, that is). But 41-year-old Louisiana native Mary Gauthier doesn't come across as the thin-skinned type to get miffed at mispronunciation.
As her press kit tells it, the singer-songwriter and former restaurant owner has led a hardscrabble, bootstrap existence: a dizzying mix of stolen cars, jail and detox. At 15, she stole the family car and sped away from her hometown of Thibodaux, La., in search of the place where she would fit in. By 16, she was in detox in Baton Rouge, and the very day she turned 18, she'd been jailed for theft in Kansas City. Her parents fetched her home, but she stole the car again.
"This time," reads her press bio, with a tinge of Unsolved Mysteries, "she never returned.
"Boy, that publicist did a good job," laughs Gauthier from her cell phone on the road somewhere outside of D.C.
While all the stories are true, Gauthier is careful not to drape her life with embellishment. She downplays the wild ride... »»»
The late '90s were nothing if not a renaissance of young hardcore country acts. Texas, as expected, was a hotbed of activity with the likes of The Derailers, Dale Watson and Roger Wallace. But the Midwest produced its share, as well, particularly Chicago's Robbie Fulks and Missouri's Domino Kings, who just released their third album, "The Back of Your Mind."
Like Fulks, the Domino Kings were longtime vets of the road by the time they got around to recording their debut, "Lonesome Stranger," in 1998.
But it was their second album, 2000's "Life and 20," that put the group on the country map. Produced by Lou Whitney, longtime leader of Midwest faves The Skeletons and The Morrels, the album was a classy blend of rockabilly and Bakersfield-influenced honky-tonk with lead vocals by the band's two songwriters, upright bassist Brian Capps and guitarist Stevie Newman.
Newman's parents had been big country fans, and Newman regularly heard the likes of Buck Owens and George Jones while growing up.... »»»
Five albums into his career, Daryle Singletary is living the dream. Finally. He's had a few hits - "I Let Her Lie" reached number two almost seven years ago followed later by "Too Much Fun" and "Amen Kind of Love."
But the Georgian hasn't enjoyed the same success since.
That may not necessarily change with his new CD, "That's Why I Sing This Way," on Audium. The dozen-song project contains all covers save the title track with some familiar songs and some foreign to current day listeners.
The disc also includes some familiar names like Yoakam, Haggard, Paycheck and Jones helping out.
But at least Singletary's doing exactly what he wants.
"I'm real excited about this record," he says in a telephone interview from Nashville. "This is my fifth project, so I've waited five projects to do something like this. I wanted to do it from the day I moved to Nashville, but I have not been able to."
After three albums on Giant, Singletary, 31, indicates he has met his match with Audium, the independent record label also home to folks like Loretta Lynn and Dale Watson.... »»»
A picture of children journeying to their daily lessons on a school bus graces the cover of Josh Ritter's second album, "Golden Age of Radio," and if this snapshot evokes memories of childhood and the familiar, well, it should.
"I basically wrote the songs for the record when I was leaving Idaho to come out to the east coast to try and make a living as a musician," says Ritter, a gentlemanly 24-year-old who is starting to capture some notice with his songs both here and in Ireland as he has toured overseas a few times already. "On the trip out, I just started to think about, you know, about exactly what I was doing, which was leaving a place I really knew so well for a place I had never been."
The result is a roots/country/folk album Ritter calls a chronicle of being "in the middle of everything you know, but not really being anywhere."
Sounds sad, but Ritter has some reason to smile now. Critics are comparing the songs on "Radio" to the work of some of the best names in folk, like Leonard Cohen or Nick Drake.... »»»
Just call him Lonesome - Bob, that is. Look at him quickly, and it's hard to believe that Robert Chaney - aka Lonesome Bob - a big lumberjack of a man at 6-foot-4, is capable of the songs he writes and sings with rocket-fire force, undiluted and straight to the heart.
The man on the cover of Chaney's new album, "Things Change," is bald, bearded and fierce, clad in boots, faded jeans, sunglasses and a black sleeveless shirt. He towers imposingly over a cloudy industrial setting - smoking, pissed off, ready to get the hell off work.
But listen to "Things Change" or his first album, 1997's "Things Fall Apart," and you'll know big Bob of Nashville with the extra large voice is capable of much more empathy than you would have ever thought at first glance.
Perhaps, the character who most seems to exist on a different planet than that rough man on the cover is the Volvo-driving office worker in "Heather's All Bummed Out." Heather's blue, and it's hard to explain why, Bob sings, other... »»»
"Some Things Never Change" is not just the title for one of Chris LeDoux's new songs. It's also an apt description of his dogged perseverance: even in the face of some recent and seriously troubling health issues. When doctors told him his liver was in a bad way, his very survival was put on the line.
LeDoux's latest album is called "After The Storm," and his own well-publicized personal storm arrived in the form of a life-threatening bout with primary scerosing cholangitis, a disease that can lead to liver failure and required him to have a liver transplant last year.
His 'after storm' circumstances included a restlessness with the whole healing process and questions about whether or not this tough rodeo cowboy could still continue his active ranch lifestyle. But LeDoux was nothing, if not blunt and direct when it came to asking the doctors about his physical future.
"Is there a chance I could really tear something loose?" he asked the doctor. "And the doctor said, 'No, we sewed you together real good.' They put everything back, and made sure everything was going to stay."... »»»
Mike Ireland is a happy guy.
And, oddly enough, this will probably comes as something of a surprise to some of his fans, who perhaps have a mental picture of him as mopey, bitter and angry.
Given the evidence, it's easy to understand why. Ireland's 1998 debut, "Learning How to Live," was easily one of the angriest debuts from a country artist in recent memory, even kicking off with a number ("House of Secrets") in which the singer burns down his old house while his ex-wife and her new lover are still inside.
"It's amazing," says Ireland four years after the album's release. "When I look back I think,'Wow, I was really angry.'"
"A lot of people seem surprised that I'm as happy as I am. I guess that's inevitable when your entire record is about heartache, loss, anger and revenge. I think, like most people, sometimes I'm depressed, and sometimes I'm happy. For me, writing songs is therapy."
Interviewed at the Boston home of his manager, Ireland, in fact, strikes one as... »»»
Drop the disc in the tray and press 'play' on Jack Ingram's new album, "Electric," and you'll hear the snarling, nasty choogle of a guitar that sounds like a dead ringer for T. Rex's late guitar icon Marc Bolan. From the chugging rock of "Keep On Keepin' On" to the rock-smoked honky tonk of "We're All In This Together," "Electric" proves that it's worth its wattage, and that it more than deserves the title it's been given.
"That's kind of the point," drawls Jack Ingram of the amped up atmosphere on "Electric." "This is my third major label record and my sixth overall. It's hard to explain...this record just sounds the way I feel. I wanted that to be clear from the start. I wanted that intensity to come through musically."
On those occasions when Ingram backs off from the full frontal sonic assault, the intensity he cherishes and wishes to impart is equally apparent, even in the quieter and more subtle passages. And even though he knew what he wanted going into the sessions for the new album, Ingram had very few preconceived notions about how that might manifest itself.... »»»
Some musicians take their time in between albums to tweak the dials or wait for the right moment to hit the marketplace.
But the long awaited sophomore album of The Flatlanders - Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock and Joe Ely - probably must set some sort of record since it only took a mere 30 years between the initial disc and "Now Again," released in late May on indie label New West Records.
The Flatlanders' debut was released on 8-track in 1972 and eventually made it to the silver platter via Rounder Records in 1990 as "More a Legend Than a Band" with some different songs.
And The Flatlanders cannot exactly be accused of too much fine tuning or blame the economics of the record industry.
It was really more the case of waiting for the right time between varying interests - some musical, someartistic, some personal.
"Hey, I like the idea that maybe we were really going for the record," says Ely during a conference call interview from Nashville with all three members. "I have never thought of that."... »»»
Last year, in separate conversations, both Dave Gonzales of The Paladins and Kevin Patey of The Raging Teens were asked to name an up and coming band they liked. Without hesitation the two well-traveled rockabilly veterans responded, "Well, there's these young guys in Texas called Cave Catt Sammy."
Hailing from San Antonio, Cave Catt Sammy includes lead guitarist Stephen Scott (age 22), acoustic guitarist Dustin Hutchinson (22), drummer Paul Ward (19), and singing stand-up bass player Beau "Sammy" Sample (21).
After a couple of local label CDs and over a thousand club dates, the flashy rockabilly quartet recently signed a three-album contract with a strong independent label, Rubric and issued their best disc so far "Love Me Like Crazy."
Officially formed in 1997, while still attending MacArthur High School in San Antonio, the group actually began a few years earlier as the comedy/rock duo Slapdash.
Speaking from his cell phone in San Antonio, Beau Sample explained the band's metamorphosis.... »»»
Ask Dave Alvin what day it is, and chances are pretty good he'll get it right.
It's keeping straight which band he's playing with and what songs are on the set list that night that might cause some problems. It's already been a busy year for Alvin, a fourth generation Californian who gained his initial fame in the roots rock band The Blasters.
Yet more and more, that roots rock tag has evolved into just plain roots music. There's his recurring role as the guitarist in the funky, folky, stone-cold country band The Knitters, the group he helped form in the mid-1980s while still in The Blasters with John Doe and Exene Cervenka of the L.A. punk band X.
In 1994, Alvin teamed with Tom Russell, Billy Joe Shaver, Iris Dement, Dwight Yoakam and several others for the critically acclaimed "Tulare Dust," a tribute to Merle Haggard. Alvin's interpretation of Haggard's "Kern River" has been a part of his live show for years.
And last year, Alvin took his first-ever Grammy Award not for his... »»»
The 'K' word (for Kid in Kid Rock) was the word on everybody's lips at this year's 37th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards. His wild reputation made network representatives nervous prior to a scheduled appearance with Hank Williams, Jr., then his duet with the icon on "The 'F' Word" gave the telecast a strong jolt of much needed energy. Even his appearance backstage added the unexpected, to an otherwise predictable music awards ceremony.
Just the sight of producer Dick Clark laughing out loud while watching Kid Rock and Hank Williams, Jr. performing together - on a monitor in the backstage tent - was simply priceless. Artists like Brooks & Dunn and Alan Jackson may be solid performers (and award winners), but they're hardly charismatic individuals.
Clark rolled the dice when he invited Kid Rock and Hank Williams, Jr. to participate in this year's ceremony, and his laughter served as the victory guffaws of a winner.
Mr. Williams and Mr. Rock made a brief appearance... »»»
Hasn't "white trash" been bashed enough in popular culture? What kind of cheeky, ironic band would affect a country sound and chirp away on a number titled "We're Still Poor & We're Still Happy," a song about packing up the truck, selling off the unnecessaries, and moving to the city, a kind of Beverly Hillbillies sans cash?
The Nashville-based duo Y'All would, but do they really mean it?
In fact, they do - guitarist Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer and ukulele-ist Jay Byrd (a.k.a. James Dean Jay Byrd) packed up and moved to Music City from the New York City in 1998.
In January 2001, the 34-year-olds again packed up and sold their belongings, this time for life in a trailer and on the road. They are still happy, it seems, and still…not-quite-affluent.
As for the cheekiness factor: well, tall lanky Byrd takes the stage with a ukulele, shaved head and fetching green dress, while Cheslik-DeMeyer sports glasses and a straw hat, shirtless and in overalls.... »»»
Six years can be a long time for just about anything, but in the music business, it can be an eternity. Careers can flash brightly, then quickly recede forever into darkness, all in the space of a year or two. Taking a break of a half-dozen years between albums can be a sure-fire guarantee of "has-been" status for most performers. Yet that's exactly what the Stevens Sisters, natives of the Smoky Mountains of Eastern Tennessee did.
Their new Rounder release, "Little By Little" is the next, long-awaited step in following up their critically acclaimed 1996 debut (also on Rounder) "Sisters."
It's not that Beth and April Stevens haven't been musically active since "Sisters" made them instant stars on Americana stations across the country.
Whether performing as the Stevens Sisters or with their parents Doug and Betty Stevens as the Stevens Family band, their distinctive combination of multi-instrumental talents and breathtaking Tennessee harmonies have made them welcome guests on folk and bluegrass stages around the country, and a heavy touring schedule has kept them out in front of an enthusiastic public.... »»»
The success of the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack cannot be denied. After all, since its release in December 2000, the soundtrack with folks like Alison Krauss and Ralph Stanley supplying the music to the well-received Coen Brothers film has amassed sales of about 5 million copies.
The soundtrack topped the Billboard country album charts for weeks and at one point was the best selling album in the country, any genre.
Not to mention five Grammys including best album for any category and a very well received Down From the Mountain Tour in late January and early February, which was so successful that it's going to be reprised starting in late June in an expanded version.
Despite all outward appearances of success, however, there generally has been one place that you're unlikely to hear the "O Brother" soundtrack to any significant degree - country radio.
In a period where country music - like most genres - has seen a sales slide, will the "O Brother" music serve as a wake-up call and be the harbinger of a shift in country music?... »»»
Jim Lauderdale didn't exactly intend to release two new albums at the same time, but he's not unhappy with the way things worked out. His second collaboration with Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys, "Lost In The Lonesome Pines," comes out hot on the heels of the bluegrass patriarch's surprise capture of the Country Male Vocal Performance Grammy for his "Oh Death" contribution to the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack.
And Lauderdale's decision to delay release of "The Hummingbirds" in favor of recording the hard country "The Other Sessions" (2001) allowed the latter to work its way into the Americana chart's Top Five for most of last summer.
"We started the second album with Ralph on Election Day of 2000," he says with a laugh, "and it kept getting delayed because Ralph and the guys took a long time on the Clinch Mountain Sweethearts record. We finished about 12 songs in a couple of months, and then I thought well, that's just not quite enough. As I was driving away... »»»
Blame George Strait for causing Kevin Denney to seek his future in country music.
The Monticello, Ky. native was only 18 when he took the 140-mile trip from his home in southern Kentucky to see Strait in concert in Lexington thanks to his girlfriend at the time.
Until then, Denney was not so sure about music. After growing up playing bluegrass with his cousins Clyde and Marie Denny (same last name, but interestingly enough, a different spelling) on the festival circuit, Denney needed a break.
"I took probably a six month (break)," says Denney, in a telephone interview from Nashville in mid-April a few days before the release of his strong, honky tonk-oriented debut with odes to Haggard and Jones. "I thought maybe I needed a real job, a different career, maybe something more promising."
But seeing Strait changed all that.
"I just fell in love with country music," says Denney, now 24.
"I think it was just the atmosphere. George himself is inspiring. Just the crowd and the lights. It was just what I wanted to do. I wanted to create that for myself."
"I love the old George Strait records."... »»»
A struggling band's existence is, well, a struggle. There are the day jobs and the night gigs, the yearning for recognition, the wish that some day their album would be released, and then they could quit their jobs and take up music full time. Even when already signed to a major label. Even with one album under their belts.
Or so it was with Austin-based band The Damnations.
Much time lapsed between the release of "Half Mad Moon" on Sire Records in 1999 and "Where It Lands" on their own label, Joy-Ride Records, in March.
In that time, Sire merged with London Records and fired many of the contacts The Damnations had with the label, according to vocalist/guitarist Deborah Kelly. The tracks for "Where It Lands" were in the can by October 2000, but, says Kelly, "t took a really long time for Sire to give us a budget in the first place."
After recording, it took a year before the label "would do anything with it," she adds, which turned out to be very little.... »»»
Steve Azar is a proud native of blues-saturated Mississippi, and while there aren't many overt blues elements coloring his relatively straight forward country music sound, it's still hard not to miss traces of what you might call a blues attitude influencing the attitudes and actions of his song characters.
Tracks on his new Mercury album, "Waitin' On Joe" (his first release since a 1996 album on River North), are loosely linked by an underlying thin current of hope, but none of these songs will ever be mistaken for anything like Walt Disney's patented 'happily ever after' stories. If the blues has taught us anything at all, it's that happiness is a welcome exception, but painful sadness is the expected rule.
The album's title track is a perfect example. It begins innocently as the story about a guy who couldn't be on time for an appointment if his very life depended upon it, but ends with this same guy, Joe, getting crushed to death while trying to beat a train across the tracks.... »»»
It's a sunny day in the country while a young woman, clad in a jacket and slacks, is staring at an old barn. Painted on two sides of the barn is this advertisement for a now-forgotten patent medicine:
Dr. PIERCE'S FAVORITE PRESCRIPTION FOR WEAK WOMEN
The young woman takes one last look at the barn, then picks up her guitar and walks down the road.
This dramatization - found at the beginning of director Beth Harrington's new documentary "Welcome to the Club: The Women of Rockabilly" - is intended as a tribute to the late Charline Arthur, a Dallas-based country singer of the 1950s whose two-fisted stage persona was decades ahead of its time and is today regarded - along with Rose Maddox - as an important precursor to later rockabilly singers such as Janis Martin and Wanda Jackson.
As it turned out, Arthur presaged many of the female rockabillies who followed her in another respect, as well: She never became a national star. In spite of the fact that she was a... »»»
Whether you were a badge-wielding South by Southwest registrant, a wrist-band wearer visiting for a few days, a local whose town had been invaded, or flat broke, last weekend offered a cornucopia of country and alt.-country performances all around Austin.
Most were part of the city's annual blowout South by Southwest Music Festival, while others were free, usually afternoon performances scattered in bars, restaurants and stores throughout the city.
The festival, as usual, attracted all manner of music buff, struggling performer, slick industry executive, scribbling journalist and paunchy record nerd, who hopped from club to club on a given night, or stayed put to hear an entire showcase. In addition to gigs featuring introspective British pop, hip hop, garage bands and Japanese rock oddities, there were plenty of venues for local and visiting purveyors of country, bluegrass, folk, rockabilly, roots or any combination thereof.
The Broken Spoke, a no-frills Texas honky-tonk whose... »»»
AUSTIN, TX - To say that the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack has been a huge success would be a great understatement.
Not only did the compilation take home a Grammy, an International Bluegrass Musican Association award and a CMA award (all for Album of the Year), but it has sold over 4 million copies and sparked the creation of the Down from the Mountain concert tour, documentary and soundtrack as well as the comparable "O Sister" and "Blue Trail of Sorrow" compilations on Rounder.
A panel of roots-music mavens - Ken Irwin of Rounder Records, Grant Alden of No Depression magazine and Luke Lewis of Lost Highway/Mercury Records - discussed the unprecedented success of "O Brother" at the South by Southwest music conference in Austin March 16.
The panel, moderated by Country.com's Jay Orr, commented, "It's affecting us all, no matter what our interest in music."
Panelists discussed the soundtrack's conception, its release and initial sales, its lack of airtime on mainstream country radio stations and what its legacy of success will mean for future airplay and sales of bluegrass and other roots albums.... »»»
AUSTIN, TX. - It all began with a birthday celebration for Elvis Presley attended by writer Peter Guralnick in January 1988, he told a packed room at the South by Southwest conference March 16.
Having already decided to write a book on Elvis, Guralnick attended Elvis' birthday celebration at Graceland with Sun Records founder Sam Phillips, where they heard Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis' famous (or infamous) manager speak. Phillips approached Parker afterward to say hello, so Guralnick "tagged along," he said, and was introduced to Parker.
Guralnick subsequently wrote Parker a letter in which he mentioned his research on Elvis. In response, he received an invitation to the Colonel's 80th birthday party in Las Vegas. (It wasn't the first time Guralnick had expressed an interest in chronicling Elvis' life: he had previously sent a letter to Graceland offering his services as biographer, for which correspondence he received a Christmas card. Later, when working on the biography in earnest, "I found my letter in the archives," Guralnick said.)... »»»
After 12-year-old Brenda Lee recorded the rockabilly hit "Dynamite" in 1957, a British writer dubbed the precocious performer "Little Miss Dynamite." The name stuck, as well it should have. Lee proved to be as explosive performing in a swank supper club or on a country music bill as she was on a rockabilly stage. In fact, Lee was so precocious that before her first trip to their country, the French press reported that the 14-year-old girl was actually a 32-year-old midget.
In both recording and in touring, Lee became one of the most successful female singers of all time. Though the hit records dried up a while ago, she has remained in demand as a performer. Lee is still dynamite after all these years, and in March, she blasts her way back into the public consciousness with two sticks blazing.
March 6 is the publication date for her autobiography "Little Miss Dynamite: The Life And Times Of Brenda Lee."
March 18 is the date for Lee's long overdue induction into the Rock 'N' Roll... »»»
"That song hits home," says bluegrass stalwart James King, 43, as he talks about "Thirty Years Of Farming," the title track from the newest release - his fourth - on Rounder Records.
While "Thirty Years Of Farming" is a trademark King treatment of a song that tells a sad story, the Virginia native and resident is anything but downbeat about his career and about the business of bluegrass.
King is also celebrating the recent release on Rebel of the third Longview release, "Lessons In Stone," a project that once again teams him up with Dudley Connell, Joe Mullins, Don Rigsby, Glen Duncan and Marshall Wilborn, after two discs having come out on Rounder.
Still, "Thirty Years..." strikes some sad chords, chronicling the heartache and despair of losing the land and livelihood that has sustained families through generations. It's a subject that resonates strongly with him.
"I know a bunch of farmers raised around me. Bunch of apple farmers, bunch of peach farmers, tomato farmers, tobacco farmers, and I've watched them lose those farms...here lately they've been losing them left and right."... »»»
Pee Wee may be gone - as Honky Tonk Confidential mockingly laments, in bluegrass style, on their new album "Your Trailer or Mine?" - but country music's sense of humor isn't. While a host of Top 40 country recording artists are relying on one catchy hook or a few clever rhymes to prove their wit and insight, this Washington D.C.-based country band spins yarns whose humor and satire are pervasive.
"In D.C., there's a rich tradition of political satire, from Mark Russell to the Capitol Steps to the Pheromones, and people appreciate it if it's well done," says HTC writer, bassist and vocalist Geff King.
HTC is hoping to spread the satire beyond the city's beltway with their new album. Though some numbers are regionally inspired - "That Depends (On What You Mean by Lonesome)," for example, has links to the Starr Report (namely Clinton's contingent definitions of "is") - songwriter Diana Quinn, who also sings and plays guitar, emphasizes their intended universal appeal. "I think it's a broad audience" that the band envisions, says Quinn.... »»»
Rejection came hard for Rodney Hayden. The Texan, then in his late teens, took the trip from his home south of San Antonio to Nashville for what he thought would be his meal ticket to Music City USA.
But Hayden soon learned that his brand of country music was considered too country. The possible major label deal was dead in the water.
He made it back to Texas with his head hanging low for awhile. And when Hayden tried getting other labels interested in his recordings, there were no takers.
So, what is a 22-year-old to do? Put out a record on the fledgling label of his mentor, Robert Earl Keen, and Keen's wife, Kathleen, and let the strong, favorable reaction roll in.
Of course, when you entitle your album, "The Real Thing," you had better deliver on the promise.
But Hayden had little concern that his brand of country was the real deal in an age when his blend of honky tonk and traditional country sounds isn't burning up the radio airwaves. A more pop oriented brand is what's au courant.
"The Real Thing" actually is an old song penned by Chip Taylor of "Wild Thing" fame.... »»»
The title track's chorus on Deryl Dodd's third release tells about a woman who loves him for his pearl snaps. Such an attraction may not be as audacious as falling for Kenny Chesney's sexy tractor, but there clearly is an element of working class amorousness at work here.
"They're on the work shirts people wear to weld in," Dodd says, describing these snaps. "They're on Wrangler denims. When I began to play music, these sort of represented the way of life of these people and where I'm from. My father's an electrician, a blue collar type worker. A hard working person."
Similarly, music fans are drawn in by Dodd's workman-like musical values the way his song character is attracted to his duds. He refers to these fans of his as the "Copenhagen Crowd." They are music fans who share his love for artists like George Strait, George Jones and Merle Haggard.
His talents - whether for playing football in high school or an early ability to master anything with strings - have always come naturally to him. With all these gifts, you might assume life has been one easy street for Deryl Dodd.... »»»
Hank Williams Jr.'s "Almeria Club" recording may be brand new, although the circumstances behind the title and recording not only pre-date Hank Jr., but are the lore and legend of the Williams family.
The Almeria Club in rural Alabama is where Hank Jr. recorded a good chunk of his 13-song album with a hard blues edge, country and gospel sounds instead of the good time music with which Jr. has been associated with for years.
But what shocked Hank Jr. was that he wasn't even familiar with the out of the way place.
But his daddy apparently sure was.
Williams says in a 90-minute telephone interview from his Nashville office that part of his goal in recording the album was in "trying to draw on the historical significance of this 100-year-old schoolhouse, later honky tonk, that your parents played in when they were actually just kind of struggling along. That was the whole - from the beginning - the whole idea."
"This place is very close to where my little retreat is down there, like a couple of miles," says Williams.... »»»
The month of February was a coming-out party of sorts for Ralph Stanley II.
Besides the release of his third album, "Stanley Blues" on Rebel, Stanley, who's been picking and singing for nearly a decade as a member of his father's legendary bluegrass band the Clinch Mountain Boys, is finally getting a taste of what it's like to be the front man.
Apparently, he's savoring every moment.
His father, bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley Sr., is on hiatus most of the month to perform in the already critically acclaimed "Down from the Mountain" tour, which mainly features the music and artists from the hit movie soundtrack, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"
Early reviews are just as positive for the younger Stanley. Apparently bluegrass fans in the Southeast like what they hear from the 23-year-old Stanley, who goes by the nickname "Two." Perhaps more importantly, the Clinch Mountain Boys like their new, albeit temporary boss.
Stanley debuted as a front man in late January in a historic... »»»
There must be something inexplicably potent about the Williams music gene that compels its owners to excel in a variety of areas in an astonishingly brief period of time. Although Hank Sr. concentrated primarily on country music, he had a range that was impressive within the genre, and he revolutionized the way people considered country from that point on. There can be very little debate over the speed with which he accomplished that goal.
Hank Jr. followed his daddy's legacy relatively quickly, and he diversified decisively into country rock, a direction that a good many artists would subsequently choose once Bocephus helped blaze the trail.
Hank Williams III has taken up the family business with a twanging, hard rocking vengeance and thrown in more than a couple of contemporary twists of his own. On his sophomore album, "Lovesick, Broke & Driftin'," Hank III continues to successfully explore the edges of honky tonk Americana with little or no regard for its acceptance by country... »»»
Oh no, not another tribute album!
If that's your reaction (and it probably should be by now) to hearing about a tribute to honky-tonk legend Webb Pierce, you can let out a sigh of relief. "Caught In The Webb" is a real and worthy tribute. It's definitely not one of those projects where a bunch of artists - usually chosen for their star power rather than their connection to the tributee - mail in a track recorded on their own and then someone slaps them all together into an incoherent hodgepodge of an album.
This is a record with one producer (Gail Davies) that was recorded almost entirely at a single marathon two-day Nashville session last June. That was due to a small budget (no budget actually) and also a desire to make the music sound authentic.
"I wanted to have control over the sound," Davies says from her Nashville home, "and as much as I could to make it in the same vein. I wanted to have continuity."
But she emphasizes, "I didn't want anyone to imitate Webb Pierce. People who want that can buy a Webb Pierce album. We wanted to show the influence he had on the artists."... »»»
The description on amazon.com calls Hadacol a "kind of CNN of the heartland." That's sounds about right. Perhaps an actual broadcast from the Missouri band would go something like this: This is Hadacol reporting live from somewhere in the Midwest. Grandma's asleep on the divan, resting up to sing a few hymns out of tune. A drunk in the corner says he feels like Gerald Ford.
The St. Louis Cardinals are on the tube. RC Cola's are available for 10 cents. There's a front porch swing built for two out front.
Okay, so maybe that makes more sense in the context of the 13 songs on "All In Your Head," the band's sophomore effort. But the point is you can't deny the Midwestern bent and rural qualities of the music of Hadacol. That's unavoidable, according to lead singer and guitarist Fred Wickham.
"It's like they say: You are what you eat," Wickham explains. "We live in the middle of the... »»»
Hoboken plus music typically equals Frank Sinatra. Old Blue Eyes got his start there before moving his act across the river to The Big Apple. And the Demolition String Band followed in his footsteps. Well, not exactly. Neither member of the band's core duo - Elena Skye and Boo Reiners - spent a childhood on the tough streets of New Jersey. She's from Chicago, and he's a North Carolinan.
Nor do they require strings and horns to back them up; theirs is a honky-tonk-leaning form of roots music that grew out of a mutual love of bluegrass.
But they did meet in Hoboken and formed the Demolition String Band there in 1996 while picking in Skye's bookstore. The name, in fact, is a reflection of the group's city of origin.
While other bluegrass bands pay tribute to their geographic homes by referencing valleys, hollows and foggy mountains in their names, Skye explains that she and Reiners found themselves engaged in the rural stylings of bluegrass against a backdrop of urban razing and rebuilding. Hence the "Demolition." Also, says Skye, "I thought it was tough."... »»»
Tradition's in. With last year's phenomenal success of the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack leading the way, both bluegrass and country music have begun looking to the past for today's sounds.
First, Patty Loveless vacationed from her country sound for a hard-core mountain music album, last summer's "Mountain Soul." Subsequent tradition-based releases included ones by the Mark Newton Band and Rhonda Vincent & The Rage.
Add David Parmley & Continental Divide's new Pinecastle Records release, "Pathway of Time," to the mix. Material plucked from the pens of such legendary musicians as the late Randall Hylton, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and even country icon Merle Haggard help steer this one straight outta the newgrass and into tradition's grand ol' bluegrass.
Greener pastures? No doubt.
"I would describe the album as modern traditional," Parmley says by phone from his parents home in Ferrum, Va., where he was on vacation through Christmas. "There's a whole lot of new songs, but they're all in a traditional frame. More in the flavor and taste of what the Bluegrass Cardinals was."... »»»
Don't blame Kasey Chambers if she suffers from a cultural identity crisis.
The Australian released a few solo albums there after being in her family band, The Dead Ringer Band. And in the U.S., she is just releasing her second disc, "Barricades & Brickwalls," after a highly praised debut and great success opening for Lucinda Williams on her tour last summer.
"I think people in America thought we were bigger than we were." says Chambers in a phone interview while vacationing in western Australia. "I think everyone in Australia thinks I have this huge, big career in America. I think people in America think I'm a lot bigger in Australia than I am too. I'll let them keep thinking that."
Well, if things continue onward and upward for Chambers, she may just have the best of both worlds.
Chambers had many surprises in store for her when she toured the States last summer with Williams. For starters, the Aussie was not used to such enthusiastic crowds in the land down under.
"I've had one maybe twice or something," she says about standing ovations received in her homeland.... »»»