Articles and Interviews – 2015
Since the inception of the Bottle Rockets in the early '90s. the three basic constants have been the presence of guitarist/vocalist/primary songwriter Brian Henneman and drummer Mark Ortmann, a relatively consistent output schedule and a steady stream of great reviews for those releases.
That may be the reason that the Bottle Rockets' latest, "South Broadway Athletic Club," comes as something of a surprise, as it represents the first studio album of new, original material since 2009's "Lean Forward,"` performed by the first line-up of the rootsy, garage-tinged rock/folk band that's enjoyed any kind of lengthy stability. That uncharacteristic reliability has paid dividends for Henneman as the Bottle Rockets' front man and creative spark plug for nearly a quarter century.
On the eve of the first new release by the Cox Family in nearly two decades, "Gone Like The Cotton," Sidney Cox reflects on the national media frenzy over "Back To The Future" and the date Michael J. Fox would materialize from 1985, and the parallels to his own family's story haven't escaped his notice.
"We've been transported to a time that was on hold for us. There's a lot of music life that's missing in between, and being able to revisit or come back to that time is extraordinary…Yeah, it was a trip ‘Back To The Future'."
The Statler Brothers were an iconic vocal group in country music. They began by backing Johnny Cash (not a bad early gig, for sure), and went on to win the CMA award for Vocal Group of the Year an astounding 8 years in a row between 1972 and 1980. The group is in both the country music and gospel music halls of fame and has won three Grammy Awards.
Tenor Jimmy Fortune replaced Lew Dewitt in 1983, and continued with the group for 21 years. Now, Fortune has just released "Hits & Hymns," and it's an album that is a half Statler Brothers hits, half hymns and spiritual songs.
With the cover of "Panhandle Rambler" showing a vintage Airsteam, standing solitary out on the flatlands of the Texas Panhandle, one might think Joe Ely's latest offering would be a sedentary affair.
One would be wrong.
Instead, the 12 songs are more a Flamenco-accented travelogue of Texas. Streaming from the Panhandle, winding through the Hill Country, deep into Big Bend and across the Rio Grande, "Rambler" mines the stories of the inhabitants, some joyful and some not so much, but all with the skill of a seasoned raconteur with an authenticity almost unheard of on today's country radio.
In the spirit of hard-hitting journalism, it seemed logical to ask Deslondes vocalist/guitarist Riley Downing the Mike-Wallace-from-60-Minutes question that has to be on everyone's mind: How the hell do you say the New Orleans-based band's name?
"It's pronounced 'dez lawn,'" says Downing. "I know there's different ways that people have pronounced it over the course of history, but that's how people have pronounced it since we've been down here."
From their first, self-titled, major label release, the Allison Krauss-produced, "Nickel Creek," two-thirds of that trio - musical siblings Sara and Sean Watkins - have been in the musical spotlight continually since 1999.
As for working with her brother off and on for most of their lives, Sara says, "We have been lucky, being brother and sister and growing up together, we just kind of figured it out. We began playing together when I was 8 and Sean was 12. We weren't very good, but it was fun. In any successful, close working relationship you learn how to function best and smooth things out. That being said, it is really great to have a partner who lives close by and who understands my life. It's really neat."
Joey Ryan, half of acoustic folk duo the Milk Carton Kids, is girding his loins for the long trip from the band's Los Angeles home base to Australia. Although he's made this trip before, he's yet to acclimate completely to it.
"The flight overshadows every single other thing about going to Australia," says Ryan. "The last time we were in Australia, the last show of the tour, I was still having to take a nap between sound check and the show. I've never been there long enough to get over the jet lag. It's just one big haze."
Sitting in a motel room in Houston after a weekend gig at the Mucky Duck, singer/songwriter John Moreland is in a pretty good mood. His career is on a major upswing, and he is riding some pretty big critical success of his latest release, "High on Tulsa." Moreland has a lot to be happy about with three cuts picked for the soundtrack of the hit TV show "Sons of Anarchy," a national record distribution deal with Thirty Tigers and, apparently a well-placed super fan in MSNBC political pundit Rachel Maddow.
Allison Moorer packed a lot of living in the past five years leading up to the recently released "Down To Believing."
The results are evident throughout the effort, like a light at the end of a tunnel. Writing or co-writing 12 of the 13 tracks, Moorer is fearlessly open and autobiographical. "Even when I try to make them about something or someone else, they always end up being about me. I am the subject that I know best."
After over 40 years of touring and recording as the founder, lead guitar and front-man for Western Swing music's standard-bearers, Asleep At The Wheel, Ray Benson has a lot of irons in the fire these days. In fact, with his TV show Texas Music Scene a hit throughout the southwestern U.S. and touring in support of AATW's new release, "Still the King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys," he is as busy now as ever.
In his life and career, Joe Pug has never done anything halfway. So when Pug experienced a crippling lack of creative inspiration after his punishing road schedule to promote 2012's "The Great Despiser," he didn't consider the possibility of taking a short break. Joe Pug was on the verge of throwing in the towel.
"I was deciding if this was still what I wanted to do," says Pug. "It's ironic. I've spent the last seven or eight years learning how to do this, and my facility is the strongest it's ever been. Anytime you practice something over and over, you can't help but get better at it."
A great deal has transpired in the 10 years between Rhiannon Giddens, Dom Flemons and Justin Robinson connecting at North Carolina's Black Banjo Gathering and the release of Giddens' brilliant debut solo album, "Tomorrow is My Turn."
Giddens and Flemons formed the very successful Sankofa Springs. Robinson met and was mentored by black string band legend Joe Thompson, and ultimately, Giddens, Flemons and Robinson formed the bluegrass/folk/blues powerhouse, the Carolina Chocolate Drops.
A couple of years ago, while discussing various musical poet-heroes, singer-songwriter Hayes Carll mused that "in a perfect world, Ray Wylie Hubbard would be winning Grammys." With the release of his latest offering, "The Ruffian's Misfortune," a follow-up to 2012's critically acclaimed, "The Grifter's Hymnal," now might just be the time that Carll was talking about.
In just under 34 minutes, Hubbard takes us on a 10-song musical sightseeing tour of the world as seen from a dimly lit, somewhat left of center viewpoint, seldom seen by mere mortals. Writing or co-writing all 10, complete with talking blackbirds, undertakers dressed like red-eyed crows, stone blind horses, bad-ass blondes, dancing black angels and a myriad of other vivid images throughout, Hubbard takes the listener on a blues romp that that brings to mind a roller coaster that scares you so good you can't wait to ride it again.
Young bluegrass artist Nathan Stanley doesn't fall far from the branches of the family tree; he honors the legacy of his grandfather, Dr. Ralph Stanley, by delivering straight ahead traditional bluegrass music, interpreting old classics that have shaped him and his music. At the same time, young Stanley is an original, refusing to sing the old songs in the ways they've been performed before. "If it's been done," he says, "I don't think I'll do it that way."
Stanley has already released 8 solo albums. Earlier this year, he joined his papaw for two songs - "Rank Stranger" and "Hills of Home" - on the album, "Ralph Stanley and Friends: Man of Constant Sorrow."
Eric Gibson, the elder (by less than a year) of the award winning, New York-born Gibson Brothers says that the new Rounder release by he and brother Leigh, "Brotherhood," was more than a decade in the making.
"It seemed like every time we'd get ready to do a new record, we'd have a batch of new songs that we felt we needed to get out there…but (Leigh) really pushed me on this, he said, ‘If we don't do it now, maybe we'll never do it – now is the time.' I think he was right. Just judging by the early reception of the album, people are ready for it. I think it was a challenge for us too, because we've been doing this for so long, been at it for 20-some years – maybe 25 years – and we thought we knew a thing or two about harmonizing, about brother duets."
When you call yourselves The Mavericks, you have a reputation to live up to.
The long-running country band may have addressed that issue from the get go with "Mono," their second disc since reforming in 2011.
For non-audiophiles, music is almost exclusively recorded in stereo, considered a higher quality sound.
Some in the mainstream country audience may only know Angaleena Presley as one of the two other
singers in Miranda Lambert's side group, Pistol Annies. But to view Presley in only that limited light would be selling her severely short. For starters, Pistol Annies is a trio of extra strong female country music writers and by no means merely Lambert's side group. (Chances are good Lambert would gladly back that statement up, if asked). Ashley Monroe's recent 2013 solo album, "Like a Rose," was fantastic, and Presley's new one, "American Middle Class," is even better and one of the best of 2014.
Jorma Kaukonen has reached that stage in life where any break he takes is well earned and completely deserved. The 74-year-old singer/songwriter is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee for his work with Jefferson Airplane and his solo career has kept him busy - and fans deliriously happy - for an astonishing 41 years when he's not sometimes playing with Hot Tuna. He and his wife, Vanessa, have tasked themselves with the nurturing of the world's guitarist population through various teaching/live/radio pursuits at their Fur Peace Ranch, headquartered near Athens, Ohio.
The last time Kenny Roby assembled 6 String Drag to record a new studio album, Bill Clinton had just handily secured his second term as president. That album was 1997's acclaimed "High Hat," and within months of its release, 6SD had dissolved, sadly capping a brief Americana/roots rock run that had seemed so promising after their brilliant 1994 self-titled debut, their signing to Steve Earle's fledgling E-Squared label and the nearly universal praise that greeted "High Hat."
There is no shortage of country and bluegrass artists who can say that they have been performing at high-profile Nashville venues like the Opry, Ryman and Station Inn for more than half their lives, but in the case of singer and guitar virtuoso Trey Hensley, he's still only 23.
After coming under the wing of Marty Stuart (who himself had been introduced to the business at a young age by Lester Flatt), Hensley found himself on the Opry stage at age 12 when Earl Scruggs invited he and Stuart to come out for a couple of numbers.
Garth Brooks was country radio for years. But a lot has changed since Brooks went silent in 2001. Country has shifted even further away from its roots with rock and hip hop part of the landscape.
As for Brooks, he retired to spend time raising his three daughters, far away from the bright Nashville lights in Oklahoma. Yes, he did a residency in Las Vegas, but he went 12 years in between new material before releasing "Man Against Machine" in November.
Surely there is some irony in the title of Jim Ed Brown's new album – "In Style Again." At least it's a little ironic for his fans, for as far as they're concerned neither Brown nor his music have been out of style. His strong, mellow voice flows like liquid gold over and around any song he chooses to sing.
A member of the Grand Ole Opry since 1963, Brown has the distinction of having hits on the charts as a member of a trio - The Browns, whose biggest hit is the 1959 chestnut "The Three Bell," a member of the award-winning duo with Helen Cornelius- ("I Don't Want to Have to Marry You") and as a solo artist with hits such as "Pop-a-Top."