George Strait Nets 86th Top 10 Song; Wide Open Bluegrass Lineup Announced; New Trampled By Turtles Video
- “Give It All We Got Tonight” is George Strait’s 86th Top 10. Eddy Arnold’s the only one who’s got him beat, with 92 Top 10s.
- All Things Considered aired an excellent piece on the inspiration behind Lee Brice’s chart-topping single, “I Drive Your Truck.” Two years ago on Memorial Day, Nashville songwriter Connie Harrington was driving in her car, listening to a story on the public radio program Here & Now. And she heard a father remembering his son — a soldier who was killed in Afghanistan. “He mentioned that he drove his son’s truck,” Harrington says. “And he went on to describe the truck.” Sgt. 1st Class Jared Monti was 30 when he was killed in action in 2006. In the radio broadcast, his father, Paul, said his reasons for driving the truck Jared left behind were simple: “What can I tell you? It’s him. It’s got his DNA all over it. I love driving it because it reminds me of him, though I don’t need the truck to remind me of him. I think about him every hour of every day.” Harrington was moved by what she heard and scribbled down everything she could remember, all while fighting tears. A few days later, Harrington started turning those thoughts into a song, with two co-writers…Here’s the thing: Songwriter Harrington couldn’t remember the name of the father whom she’d heard on the radio — but she wanted desperately to find him, to let him know he was the inspiration. “You feel like this song was such a gift,” Harrington says. “And it’s facilitated healing, I think, in people. And we just wanted him to know that it was his words that touched us.” After lots of fruitless Internet searches, she finally found his name. And this week, Paul Monti flew to Nashville to meet the songwriters and go to a party to mark the song’s success. Read the story or listen to the broadcast here, and read about SFC Monti, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, here.
- Check out the new video for Trampled By Turtles’ “Midnight on the Interstate.”
- There’s all sorts of stuff going on in Meridian, Mississippi this month to mark the 80th anniversary of Jimmie Rodgers’ death. Here’s the schedule of events.
- Jo Dee Messina has rescheduled her Canadian tour dates this month due to her mother’s illness.
- Here’s a video of The Milk Carton Kids playing “Hope of a Lifetime” at the Americana Music Award nominations announcement.
- The Wide Open Bluegrass lineup looks fantastic. The Gibson Brothers, The SteelDrivers, and a “historic all-star band” of Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Bela Fleck, Alison Krauss, Del McCoury, Tony Rice and Mark Schatz are a few of the names that have announced for the September 27-28 event in Raleigh.
- Lady Antebellum’s Golden debut atop the Billboard album charts, selling 167,000 copies. Annie Up came in at No. 5, selling 83,000. Chris Parton interviewed the band for a CMT.com article.
- Do you have a favorite record label?
- Luke Bryan will release a currently untitled album on August 13. Here’s a video of Bryan performing “Crash My Party,” the album’s first single, on Letterman.
- Stream Jude Johnstone’s new album, Shatter, before its May 21 release date. Johnstone’s work has been recorded by artists like Johnny Cash and Trisha Yearwood.
- Paste premiered Ryan Bingham’s “You Are Blind” from the Stephen King/John Mellencamp/T Bone Burnett project Ghost Brothers of Darkland County.
- CMT Edge posted Della Mae’s video for “Empire.”
- “Hashville Skyline: How did weed and country music get so cozy?”
- Tim O’Brien, Melvin & Ray Goins, and Wayne Moss are among this year’s inductees into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame. The ceremony will be held in November.
- The L.A. Times’ Pop & Hiss music blog premiered the video for Glenn Jones’ “Across the Tappan Zee.”
- Robert Kimmel of CMT Edge interviewed Doyle Lawson about his new record, Roads Well Traveled.
- For our friends in the Pacific Northwest: mark Harry Smith’s (The Anthology of American Folk Music) 90th birthday by attending some of the upcoming events in Portland this weekend, including film screenings and a tribute concert.
- Taylor Swift did a Q&A with Ray Rogers of Billboard.
- Shania Twain, Jennifer Nettles, and Florida Georgia Line will be among the presenters at this weekend’s Billboard Music Awards in Vegas.
- Coming out in August: George Mitchell’s Mississippi Hill Country Blues 1967, a “collection of photographs that document Mitchell’s trip to Mississippi, where he searched for then unrecorded blues musicians including R. L. Burnside, Jessie Mae Hemphill, and Othar Turner.”
Americana Music Awards Nominees Announced; Third Man to Reissue Sun Records Singles; BBC Radio 4 Broadcast Gets Yodel-Bombed
- Shovels & Rope earned four Americana Music Awards nominations yesterday afternoon. Buddy Miller and Emmylou Harris got three each. Read the full list here; the winners will be announced September 18 at the Americana Awards and Honors Ceremony, which will be hosted by Jim Lauderdale.
- Willie Nelson has donated more than $120,000 to relief efforts following the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion.
- A BBC Radio 4 news broadcast got “yodel-bombed” when, due to an alleged “glitch,” it was accidentally interrupted by a snippet of “Jesus Put a Yodel in My Soul.” Listen here.
- NoiseTrade is offering a Dawes/Shovels & Rope sampler.
- The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum has some fun events planned for this year’s CMA Music Fest.
- John Fogerty goes through his new album, Wrote a Song for Everyone (out May 28), track-by-track. Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley, and Miranda Lambert are a few of the guests who appear on the record.
- Keith Urban will perform his new single, “Little Bit of Everything,” on the American Idol season finale tomorrow night.
- Galleywinter’s GreenFest (July 27-28 in New Braunfels) sounds like it’ll be a good time. Uncle Lucius, Drew Kennedy, and Chris King are among the acts slated to appear.
- Sons of Fathers has a new video for “Roots & Vine.”
- Fast Company named Scott Borchetta one of this year’s “100 Most Creative People in Business.”
- Emmylou Harris’ second annual Woofstock, an event that promotes animal rescue and adoption, will be held June 8 in Nashville at the Fontanel Mansion.
- Chris Willman interviewed “alt-country dream team” Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale.
- Cindy Cashdollar is the artist in residence for this year’s Ellnora Guitar Festival, which will be held in early September at the Krannert Center on the University of Illinois campus in Champaign-Urbana.
- Nancy Dunham of Relix wrote a feature on Richard Thompson. Here’s an excerpt in which Thompson talks about his newest album, Electric: “The songs were written very closely together and, when you do that, there is a cohesiveness to them,” he says. “But there isn’t a theme. It is the time and place that hold them together. It’s another chapter in my life.” Thompson insists the chapter reflects the reality of his life as a grounded, mature musician. “I don’t want to be like The Rolling Stones, pretending to be a young star,” he says. “I wrote one song [“Stony Ground”] about an old man who still lusts after young women and seems quite foolish doing so. That’s something that doesn’t get written about very much. If I see a trend in this record, it is more about age and getting older. I am trying to write real songs about that.”
- Jake Owen’s spent the last eight months working with Tony Brown on a new record, reports Chris Parker of the Charleston City Paper.
- Google has made licensing deals with Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment “to introduce an on-demand music streaming service that would compete with Spotify, Rhapsody and others, according to executives knowledgeable with the contracts.”
- Steve Earle on “Calico County,” a song from his fine new album, The Low Highway: I think there are a lot of songs in country music nowadays that glorify redneck-ism to the point that it’s a little disturbing to me. I think some point to songs like “Copperhead Road” as the reason they’re doing that. “Copperhead Road” is actually part of a really political record about my growing up during the Vietnam War era. I wrote that album at the same time that Platoon was being made. It was a long time before anybody started talking about Vietnam, but people my age all grew up with it. Whether you went or didn’t go, it was part of your life. “Calico County” is tongue in cheek, but it’s pretty dark. I think it’s a more honest look at stuff that pops up every once in a while, this glorification. I mean, I’m not someone who uses “party” as a verb. I’m not. I’m in recovery for one thing and have been for a long time. (laughs) Even when I did take drugs and drink, I didn’t use “party” as a verb. “Calico County” is my little backlash against that mentality.
- Give a listen to The Cherry Pickers and their self-titled EP over at Bluegrass Today.
- Jack White’s Third Man Records and Sun Records have formed an “ongoing partnership,” allowing Third Man to reissue classic Sun Records singles. Due out May 21: Johnny Cash’s “Get Rhythm,” The Prisonaires’ “Just Walking in the Rain,” and Rufus Thomas’ “Bear Cat.”
Ray Price Hospitalized for Severe Dehydration; New Dierks Bentley Record Due in Fall; Album Releases
- Ray Price was hospitalized for severe dehydration. But, as he posted on his Facebook page, he’s receiving fluids and feeling better.
- Dierks Bentley’s next album, Riser, will be released this fall.
- Stream You Don’t Know Me: Rediscovering Eddy Arnold, a new tribute record featuring Pokey LaFarge, Mandy Barnett, Chuck Mead, and more.
- Lee Ann Womack, Matraca Berg, and Rodney Crowell are among the artists appearing on Let Us In Americana (out June 25), an album that showcases songs by Paul McCartney and John Lennon. Proceeds will go to the Women and Cancer Fund.
- Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale played an NPR Tiny Desk Concert.
- Brian Mansfield gives George Strait’s new record four out of four stars, while Chuck Dauphin goes through the album track-by-track for The 615.
- Della Mae talks about their recent “American Music Abroad” tour and plays a few selections for the American Security Project.
- Taylor Swift will guest on the New Girl season finale on Fox tonight.
- Peter Cooper wrote a fine article on Kris Kristofferson, who plays the Ryman tomorrow night.
- Here’s a neat All Things Considered piece featuring Frankie Pine, the music supervisor for Nashville.
- Listen to Keith Urban’s new single, “Little Bit of Everything.”
- Ronnie Bowman will be playing with The Likely Culprits. He’s filling in for Ashby Frank, who signed a six month deal to perform on Carnival cruise ships.
- R&B singer R. Kelly (“Trapped in the Closet,” “I Believe I Can Fly”) tells Vibe that he has been “writing a lot of country songs.”
- Brad Paisley’s Chicago concert “felt more like a rock show than anything else, with some pedal steel, fiddle and country iconography added to it,” writes the Chicago Tribune’s Claudia Perry.
- Mary Gauthier’s “I Drink” is the American Songwriter Lyric of the Week.
- Stream Dillon Hodges’ debut album, Rumspringa.
- Jonny Fritz is a Rolling Stone Artist to Watch. (warning: autoplay)
- Marissa R. Moss wrote a lengthy feature on Kacey Musgraves for the May/June issue of American Songwriter.
- Bobby Bare’s recording of the Shel Silverstein-penned “Drunk and Crazy” is the newest installment of The A.V. Club’s “Hear This” series.
- Tomorrow at 10 p.m. Eastern, Yahoo Music is streaming a one hour Pistol Annies performance. (warning: autoplay)
- This week’s album releases:
The Del-Lords – Elvis Club
George Strait – Love is Everything
Trace Adkins – Love Will…
Ashleigh Flynn – A Million Stars
Randall Bramblett – The Bright Spots
The Expedition Show – Stormy Horizons
Glenn Jones – My Garden State
Jason Boland and the Stragglers – Dark & Dirty Mile
Dillon Hodges – Rumspringa
Chip Taylor – Block Out the Sirens of This Lonely World
Flatt and Scruggs with Doc Watson – Strictly Instrumental (MP3)
Waylon Jennings – Good Hearted Woman (MP3)
Tammy Wynette – The Ways to Love a Man (MP3)
Various Artists – Everybody Has a Story
Various Artists – You Don’t Know Me: Remembering Eddy Arnold
It’s not hard to find an Americana singer-songwriter who’s influenced by the Hillbilly Shakespeare, Hank Williams, but you might have to dig a little bit deeper to find one who gets his or her inspiration from the Bard himself. Amy Speace’s new record, How to Sleep in a Stormy Boat, is a fine collection of music in which each song was inspired by a different Shakespeare quotation.
This morning, we’re glad to bring you a new video of Speace performing “Bring Me Back My Heart.” Here’s what Speace says about the song:
I wanted to write a song that sat in the same world as a song that Shakespeare references in his play, “Othello.” Desdemona, in the scene right before Othello kills her in a misinformed jealous rage, has this lovely exchange with her mistress Emilia as she’s dressing for bed. She talks of her mother’s maid named Barbary and that Barbary had a song called “Willow;” she says to Emilia “that song will not go from my mind tonight” and then she sings it: “The poor soul sat sighing by a sycamore tree / Sing all a green willow. / Her hand on her bosom, her head on her knee / Sing willow, willow, willow.” And as I read, I had this this image of an old woman who’s spent her life waiting in vain for a Great Love who obviously is never coming back to her, yet she hangs on with blind faith to the madness of this love. And how sad and beautiful it all seems. How much I related to that woman and feared her at the same time. How love can make madness mask as loyalty.
Sunny Sweeney Signs with Thirty Tigers; ABC Cancels Malibu Country, Renews Nashville; New Music Videos
- Sunny Sweeney has gotten a new record deal with Thirty Tigers after parting ways with Big Machine/Republic Nashville Records last year. (via press release)
- Hunter Hayes, Pistol Annies, Little Big Town, Luke Bryan, and Taylor Swift will perform at the CMT Awards on June 5.
- Reba McEntire’s Malibu County television series was canceled by ABC. Nashville was picked up for a second season.
- Chris Stapleton has released a video teasing his first single for Universal Music, “What Are You Listening To?”
- Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row bar and restaurant will open in Scottsdale on July 4.
- Call him Dr. Rucker: Darius Rucker received an honorary doctorate of music from the University of South Carolina.
- Willie Nelson received an honorary doctorate from Berklee College of Music.
- Ronnie Dunn shared a clip of a new song he’s been working on called, “Peace, Love and Country Music.”
- Lauren Alaina has recorded two new songs for a Sea World attraction called “Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin.”
- The Pistol Annies’ debut album Hell on Heels was certified gold.
- Toby Keith will be presented with The National Music Publishers’ Association 2013 Songwriter Icon Award in June.
- Chuck Dauphin makes his case for Larry Gatlin’s induction into the Nashville Songwriter’s Association International Hall of Fame.
- Occasional Hope at My Kind of Country heaps praise on the new Dailey and Vincent album, Brothers of the Highway.
- Natalie Maines keeps burning country music bridges.
- Jana Kramer’s new film, Heart of the Country, premiered at the Cape Fear Independent Film Festival.
- Country Aircheck posted some interesting information from a new radio study. Clear Channel’s “State of Listening in America,” a comprehensive study of the listening habits of 1,000 respondents conducted by Latitude Research and OpenMind Strategy, finds:
•92% of Americans regularly tune to AM/FM radio.
•85% of listeners feel radio is more accessible than ever.
•66% agree that their favorite radio stations reflect who they are as a person.
•72% believe that radio feels more “human” than the internet.
•78% agree that radio has the power to make a difference in the community.
- Congratulations to the winner of our Golf & Guitars VI giveaway: Heather M. Check your email, Heather.
- New music videos from the last week or so:
Tim McGraw – “Highway Don’t Care”
Blake Shelton – “Boys ‘Round Here”
Pistol Annies – “Hush Hush”
Randy Houser – “Runnin’ Outta Moonlight”
Justin Moore – “Point at You”
The Black Lillies – “The Fall”
Rosco Bandana – “Woe is Me”
The Lone Bellow – “Bleeding Out”
Kacey Musgraves – “Blowin’ Smoke”
Great Peacock – “Family Home”
Robyn and Ryleigh – “Just Another Sundown”
Jason McGilligan – “Broken Engagement”
Angela Hesse – “Which One of You Boys?”
The last time we caught up with Chip Taylor, the writer behind songs like “Angel of the Morning” and “Wild Thing,” he had just released F**k All the Perfect People. Now, barely a year later, he’s got a new album: Block Out the Sirens of This Lonely World, a two-disc set which hits stores tomorrow. We got the chance to chat with Taylor, who’d just returned from a ten-day tour of Norway, about the new record, songwriting, and horse racing.
What led you to make your last two records in Norway?
When I came back to music around 1997, a roots music guy in Sweden asked me to come over and play. I had a little following and he got me a bigger following. Norway followed suit. I’d heard there was a great studio in Halden. I ended up recording Sirens and my previous album there. I loved the people and it was a good, comfortable place for me to record. A lot of my musicians these days are from that part of the world.
This is the first album you didn’t self-produce. Why’d you decide to hand the reins over to Goran Grini?
Two years ago, there was that tragic shooting in Norway while I was there. I wrote a song for the victims, “Darkest Day,” and the guy who sang it with me, Paul Flaata, got to do a retrospective album of Chip Taylor songs. The guy who produced that, Goran Grini, became my keyboard player. Goran Grini did so much with Paul’s album and I loved what he brought to the table, so I asked him to guide me through this next album. I admired his work already, so it was a little easier for me to let go and follow his suggestions. He heard the whole group of songs I had and the ones that were important to him were the ones that we started concentrating on. I might not have done one or two of those songs if it hadn’t been for him.
It wasn’t really that uncomfortable, letting someone else produce. It was a new experience, but a nice one.
On Sirens, we get to hear you cut up with the band and explain songs. It really draws the listener into the studio.
For me, there’s a spirit in writing and recording, and you don’t get that spirit just from yourself. You get it from interacting with the song and with the feelings that are floating all around you. I don’t write songs from my brain. I don’t say “I’m going to write this,” and I don’t try to write clever lines or anything like that. I let the rush of a song enter into my being and it comes out somehow. Going into the studio is the same thing: I don’t have any plans. I pick up the guitar and let things go; the band members and I start feeding off each other. I think the best records are made that way. I think the really predictable records–the ones that are overthought out–that have been fairly successful over the years are not the ones I like to hear. I like the ones that sound a little magical, and we try to let that loose spirit guide us a little bit.
The record was recorded live in the studio. I think I overdubbed one line that I sang wrong, but otherwise, it was all live performances, and they were all done in the first, second, or third take.
The whole experience was a joy. The only struggle was mixing. I had left Norway before the album was mixed, so I was in New York and the other guys were in Norway, so we’d be going back and forth with mixes via email and it was a bit difficult. Next time I’ll make sure I’m on the same shore as everybody else.
Many of the songs on Sirens are about the disenfranchised and downtrodden. Were these inspired by your overseas prison concerts?
A lot of it was. I love talking to the prisoners—as part of my show, I ask that I’m allowed the same amount of time to talk with them as I do performing for them. It’s a rewarding experience for me, and that spirit is always with me. I never do a show where I’m not thinking about the prisoners. A lot of the times, I’m thinking about my fans, too, and who they are. I know a lot of them personally. Every so often, a prisoner I’ve played for will show up at one of my shows, and that’s a wonderful thing. As a matter of fact, the opening song, “Block Out the Sirens of This Lonely World,” was influenced by a prisoner named Tilian. I’m looking forward to seeing him on the other side.
The time I was writing for this album was a very difficult period of time for me. I don’t know how much of it was the remnants of the Norway killings, or other personal things I was dealing with, but it’s a more somber record than I’ve put out in a while. The second disc, which has the fun stuff on the album, happened at the last minute once I got with the band and started having a good time. Most of the stuff I was writing was lonely, searching, and somewhat sad.
You’ve been writing songs for 50 years; do you have an archive of songs you haven’t recorded yet, or do you write new material for each album?
Usually, every album is a new block of songs. This is all new stuff. As I was recording my last album, F**k All the Perfect People, I started to write one or two of the songs that are on Block Out the Sirens.
Do you write differently now as opposed to the days when you were a staff writer?
Back in those days, I didn’t particularly write songs for people to have hits with. I was writing songs that felt good to me. But I think the framework of those songs was fairly more commercial sounding than the framework I find my songs in these days.
Once in a while, I’d write songs for somebody. I wrote “I Can Make It with You” for Jackie DeShannon because she asked me too, but most of the time, the publisher knew not to tell me who was coming up, because I didn’t want to try to write something that sounded like that artist. I wanted to write what I was feeling.
The process isn’t that different, but the framework, what I was leaning toward in those days, is different than what I’m doing now.
In a previous life, you were an expert horse handicapper. Got any tips for The Preakness?
I wish I could tell you something. I don’t follow it as much anymore. To become fully immersed in music, I had to give up the gambling to reach my goals. The Derby was awfully wet so you can’t really read too much into those results, because some of the horses who tired early there will be contenders in the next race. It won’t be a walkover for Orb.
What was the “a-ha” moment when you realized you wanted to pursue music instead of your other jobs?
I loved gambling. I partnered up with Meyer Lansky and we had wonderful days, but all of a sudden, my mom got ill and I started to play music for her. Right away, the spirits hit me and I started to write a song for her.
Back in the early days, when I was writing my hits, I was betting horses every day and doing well at it. But I knew that if I wanted to go out and play for people, that would different than sitting someplace and writing songs. I knew I had to leave the gambling world and put all of my energy into music. Now, gambling is only a hobby for when I have a lot of down time, and I don’t have a lot of down time now, because I always want music around me, whether it’s writing a new song or playing or getting ready for a show. Music is all important and nurturing for me; I don’t need the other stuff to fill space anymore.
Bluegrass Nights at the Ryman Return 6/20; RIAA to Count Digital Streams Toward Gold & Platinum Certification; Hellbound Glory Announces Tour Dates
- The Bluegrass Nights at the Ryman concert series kicks off June 20. Vince Gill, Ralph Stanley, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, and The Gibson Brothers are among this year’s performers.
- “Always: Singing the Legacy of Patsy Cline,” a tribute concert at the Country Music Hall of Fame, will be streamed online Saturday afternoon. Brenda Lee, Jan Howard, Kristen Kelly, Lorrie Morgan, and Pam Tillis will perform.
- Yesterday, the RIAA announced that they’ll now be counting digital streams as part of their gold and platinum certifications. From MusicRow.com: Fifty-six titles are included in the inaugural certifications for the newly expanded Digital Single Award. Specifically, the RIAA is awarding 11 Gold, 18 Platinum and 27 multi-Platinum new “combined” Digital Single Awards counting both downloads and streams. This includes streams from on-demand services like MOG, Muve Music, Rdio, Rhapsody, Slacker, Spotify, Xbox Music and others, plus video streaming services like MTV.com, VEVO, Yahoo! Music, YouTube and more. The new certification approach, including the formula of 100 streams being equivalent to one download, is an approximate barometer of comparative consumer activity; the financial value of streams and downloads were not factored into the equation.
- Alice Gerrard is working on new music and planning to tour England later in the year.
- Della Mae is offering a free download of “Empire” from their new album, This World Oft Can Be (out May 28).
- Hellbound Glory will kick off their Hustle to Get By Tour in June.
- Jewly Hight interviewed Joey Ryan of acoustic duo Milk Carton Kids.
- Black Prairie, Carolina Chocolate Drops, and The Mavericks are among the acts slated to play the 52nd Philadelphia Folk Fest this August.
- Lady Antebellum performed on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
- Sara Watkins, Martha Redbone Roots Project, and Steve Earle are playing the Vancouver Folk Music Festival in July; check out the lineup here.
- Heather Thompson of American Songwriter interviewed Craig Campbell.
- Pistol Annies played “Hush Hush” on Letterman.
- American Songwriter premiered a song from Joy Kills Sorrow’s upcoming EP, Wide Awake (out June 4).
- The Del-Lords have a new music video.
- Stream April Verch’s Bright Like Gold at Bluegrass Today.
- Michael Bialas wrote a lengthy feature on Ruth Moody and her new record, These Wilder Things.
- Craig Shelburne of CMT Edge interviewed ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro. Life on Four Strings, a documentary on Shimabukuro, premieres on PBS tonight.
- Brett Eldredge will release his debut album August 6.
- The Secret Sisters’ new album, which they worked on with T Bone Burnett, will be “a little more rock and roll” than their first record.
- Ricardo Baca of The Denver Post interviewed Tim O’Brien about his work on The Lomax Project, a celebration of Alan Lomax’s archives. I especially like the sentiment behind this O’Brien quote: Folk music is like our national parks: They belong to everybody.
- Kacey Musgraves’ “Blowin’ Smoke” video will debut on her website later today.
- Randy Houser’s got a new video too.
- Peter Cooper’s new Tennessean column covers Jeff Finlin and his new project, My Moby Dick.
A look at some new books, albums and a broadcast that look at where we’ve been to show us where we are:
Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches and Encounters, edited by Jeff Burger. Those of us who interview and profile performers for articles concerning what they do sometimes get, and occasionally deserve, credit for pulling off the rather difficult, homework-dependent task of asking the right questions and evoking fresh, revealing answers—and blame for the clunker duds, too. There’s another half to that equation. As one who’s done hundreds of interviews, I couldn’t be more aware that being able to articulate interestingly what they do and how they do it is neither an obligation or a necessity for their being able to do it well; it’s a swell bonus talent for a performer to have, but not an essential one. Or, as Bruce Springsteen puts it at one point in this 400-page anthology of things he’s told people over the course of forty years, “We are in the show business, not the tell business.”
There are anthologies of journalists interviews that emphasize the interviewer’s own approach and successes, anthologies that evoke a publication’s overall interview-profile editorial style, and only rarely this sort of book, which take a performer’s answers and speeches over the years as their crux. When those appear, it’s usually simply and blatantly a plot to exploit the performer’s celebrity; fans can be expected to hang on every word simply because of who the subject is. This book’s different, because Springsteen’s ways of dealing with and using interviews over the years have evolved so—from the mumbled semi-sentences of a hungry, 20-something regional roots rock newcomer wary that talking about what he does might wreck it, to the less guarded admissions and occasional posturings of the extroverted king of relentless four hour shows, to the considered, experienced, revealing ruminations on his life and art and the world around him of a 60-something veteran artist who’s been through more life (and therapy) come to be able to let his more introverted side loose, and doesn’t, thankfully, require four hours to do it. The showman evolves into a “tell man,” too, and the book, with its well-chosen interview entries from frequently obscure but potent sources, adds up to as good and revealing a biography of this unique figure, a step-by-step autobiography, in effect, as there’s been. Apparently it also matters if the interviewee has something to say.
Pretty Good for a Girl: Women in Bluegrass by Murphy Hicks Henry. This is a book that’s been so needed, on a topic so neglected for so long—the performer by performer, era by era history of women working and contributing to bluegrass— that it’s existence alone is a fair reason for celebration; Ms. Henry also makes, pardon the expression, a pretty good job of it. This volume will be dipped into as a reference for years to come, no doubt, and you will, in its course, come to better know the careers and experiences of the women of bluegrass, from often under-recognized early contributions of a Bessie Lee Mauldin, Ola Belle Reed, or Sally Ann Forrester, to the eventual, hard-won and still not that easy stardom of Alison Krauss, Rhonda Vincent and Kristin Scott Benson. A working banjo player herself, Ms. Henry has a knowing and empathetic way of speaking with the performers available for interviewing about their struggles and sometime triumphs in dealing with the field’s tendency to marginalize them, and seems particularly at home with the latter day performers with relatively sophisticated backgrounds. (Backgrounds in bluegrass, all mythology aside, have come to vary a lot.) The author can also be good at culling the material available on the older musicians no longer with us—though that material is sometimes limited (Or limited to old issues of “Bluegrass Unlimited!”).
My one caveat here, mostly a warning for potential readers less steeped in the bluegrass world, is that the descriptions of the music and assessments of the music making are very much from the insider perspective; any number of instrumentalists are referred to as “solid,” for instance, which may be a sufficiently loaded word filled with shared assumptions when used in a specialty publication, but will be less than illuminating to those just becoming interested in the field, as will, say, occasional references to what key a song’s attacked in—the significance of which is obvious to some, but not to many more. Ms. Henry’s definition of “bluegrass” as music which features Scruggs-style 3-finger banjo, will no doubt be contended with by some, as all definitions of the field are—but it has had the practical effect here of making the parameters in a big, big subject workable. And after all, she is a banjoist—a banjoist whose book is a valuable contribution.
Hidden in the Mix: The African American Presence in Country Music, edited by Diane Pecknold. As aspects of the recent, inevitable brouhaha about the recent Brad Paisley “Accidental Racist” cut reminded us (briefly), the discussion of country music and race has often been fraught, marked by defensiveness, tendentiousness, over-romanticizing and, way too often, under-examined and overstated pronouncements about the history of the subject and the issues involved. This new anthology, out in a few weeks, adds some significant new light on the subject, in the hands of some of the most thoughtful and knowledgeable country music historians and commentators around today. Significant essays include Patrick Huber’s detailed exploration of participation of black musicians in early country recordings, editor Pecknold’s look at how mainstream country music did, didn’t and chose to appear to make use of Ray Charles’ Modern Sounds, Tony Thomas’s long-awaited, important look at “Why African Americans Turned the Banjo Down” (the reasons prove musical), Erica Brady’s deeply-researched look at how much (or little) direct influence Arnold Schultz (famed as a mentor to Bill Monroe) actually had on jazzy Kentucky string band music, and Charles Hughes’ excellent portrait of the Southern soul music-country music interaction well past the much-discussed 1960s era in the “Nashville-Muscle Shoals-Memphis” triangle.
There are also, I have to say, just a few essays included that seem to be picking battles with ghosts, seemingly dependent for energy on enemies to rail against or one up, and finding a target in alleged hidebound, racist defenses of the music’s “whiteness” by somebody or other— anonymous “traditionalists” or even “some internet commenters.” Frankly, I haven’t read a serious discussion of country music history in decades that doesn’t take a multiple race and ethnic background as a given. Broad and facile condemnations of regions, musical genres or audiences as “racist” generally suffer from one of the key deficiencies of racism itself—coarse, undiscriminating laziness bound to miss individual details and positive qualities,. And binary “white/or not really white” thinking also demonstrated in those cases doesn’t so much clarify as provoke. A less either/or understanding is not complicated: Country music has been developed and contributed to by many ethnic groups, regions, nationalities, and all races, but at its core it was an expression of working class rural and small town Southern whites, and it was developed first for that audience, as blues was contributed to by similarly diverse people from many places but was at its core an expression of Southern African-Americans, and was developed first for that audience. Both grew and attracted massive followings from those starts. The bulk of the terrific essays in this collection add light from a place something like that; the few that tend the other way, sometimes with a tiresomely tendentious Modern Academic Snark tone–not so much.
And by the way: The parlor /Tin Pan Alley Victorian songs and sounds on a new CD produced by Gabe Rhodes, The Beautiful Old: Turn-of-the-Century Songs may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but on the other hand, with such phenomenal artists as Richard Thompson, Graham Parker, Dave Davies, Garth Hudson, Kim Richey and Kimmie Rhodes among the performers on it, you just might! And two CD salutes to roots heroes are definitely worth spending time with—Don Rigsby’s Doctor’s Orders: A Tribute to Ralph Stanley, and Shannon McNally’s Small Town Talk tribute to the late Bobby Charles——two extraordinary singers bringing in talented friends to salute gents worth saluting.
Vince Gill Performs with Boston Pops; Shovels & Rope to Release O’ Be Joyful Deluxe Edition; New Valerie Smith, Black Lillies Videos
- Producer and Canadian Country Music Hall of Famer Bill Langstroth passed away yesterday at the age of 81.
- Connie Smith, Bobby Bare, and Sleepy Man Banjo Boys are among the artists who’ll be playing Marty Stuart’s Late Night Jam on June 5 at the Ryman.
- See any familiar faces in Pistol Annies’ “Hush Hush” video? (You do: Jim Lauderdale and Brenda Lee.)
- Chet Flippo praises the Annies in his new Nashville Skyline column: “I’m glad we have a present-day trio of women with a large amount of attitude to sort of fill that job slot of chicks who are pissed off about things and who aim to do something about it…The fact that three such free spirits can create something that is both artistically and commercially successful is about as heartening a development as country music has seen in many years.”
- Ronnie Stoneman, The Seldom Scene, and Sierra Hull are among the artists who’ll play on the eighth season of Song of the Mountains, which will premiere June 15 (check local listings).
- Kris Kristofferson holds puppies, talks about his work in The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico, and helps raise funds for anti-gang organization Homeboy Industries.
- John Fullbright played “When You’re Here” for Jam in the Van.
- Give a listen to “Bad Luck,” a track from the deluxe edition of Shovels & Rope’s O’ Be Joyful, which comes out May 21.
- Kenny Chesney did a Q&A with Ray Waddell of Billboard. Chesney’s Life on a Rock is his seventh album to top the Billboard 200.
- Stream singer-songwriter David Ramirez’s new EP, The Rooster.
- Two Tons of Steel launched a fundraising campaign to help them complete their eleventh album, Unraveled.
- Go behind the scenes of Brad Paisley’s Wheelhouse with this new video series.
- Chuck Dauphin shines The 615 spotlight on Mickie James.
- Lady Antebellum has released “Goodbye Town” as their next single.
- Pete Seeger recently celebrated his 94th birthday. Here’s an excerpt from an article on Seeger written by Don Wilcock of The Troy Record: Seeger today spins off anecdotes like football fans eat wings. He told me one story about African American singer Paul Robeson’s 1949 concert that ended with the KKK throwing rocks through the windows of concert-goers’ cars. Reflecting back on that incident, he said, “I’ve made a lot of stupid mistakes in my life, but at least I’m still alive, even though there was a thriving branch of the Ku Klux Klan only about three miles away from me. And I’ve often wondered why they didn’t come up and shoot me down or burn down my house or something, but I found out some members of the Ku Klux Klan had some family members who said, ‘You do what you want with Seeger and you’ll regret it. Everybody will be singing his Goddamn songs.’” Seeger took several of those stones that landed inside his Jeep and put them into the fireplace he was building for his log cabin. “This (incident) was like an inoculation for America,” he says today. “You know when you get a needle in your arm, your arm gets a case of smallpox. The rest of your body gets alerted and does not get smallpox.”
- Valerie Smith released a music video for “The Moon Ain’t Square.”
- CMT Edge premiered The Black Lillies’ “The Fall” video.
- Brian T. Atkinson did a fine interview with guitarist Jerry Miller, who’s got a new solo record and is part of Eilen Jewell’s band.
- Keith Urban released a teaser for his new single, which hits radio on May 13.
- Vince Gill helped The Boston Pops kick off their new season. In this Boston Globe interview, he talks about the Merle Haggard/Buck Owens tribute he made with Paul Franklin as well as his plans to make a bluegrass record with the help of Stuart Duncan.
- Check out the newest trailer for the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, a film about a folksinger based on Dave Van Ronk.
- Johnny Cash’s boyhood home in Dyess, Arkansas is slated to open to the public in Spring 2014. The house is “being renovated to look as it did when the Cash family moved there in 1935. The project by Arkansas State University also includes restoration of a nearby theater and the Dyess Colony administration building.”
- On May 29, Jerrod Niemann will headline the third annual YEP Classic Country Revival at 3rd and Lindsley.
Engine 145 is proud to partner once more with Golf & Guitars, an annual golf tournament/concert event at Haggin Oaks Golf Complex in Sacramento, California that raises money for worthy charitable organizations. This year’s proceeds will go to Jenna & Patrick’s Foundation of Hope, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting Cystinosis, a rare metabolic disease that mostly affects children, and the Morton Golf Foundation, which brings the game of golf to disabled, youth, and under-served communities in Northern California.
Golf & Guitars VI is shaping up to be the biggest G&G yet; it’s expanded to a two-day event, and artists like Joe Nichols, Joey + Rory, Jack Ingram, Jerrod Niemann, and Maggie Rose are scheduled to perform. Nearly all of the tickets to this year’s shindig are sold out, but we’ve saved a pair of two-day general admission wrist bands to award one lucky E145 reader. Travel isn’t included, so please only enter this giveaway if you can make the trip out to Haggin Oaks for the May 20-21 event.
To enter, leave a comment on this post mentioning your favorite song recorded by one of this year’s Golf & Guitars artists (check out the full lineup and schedule here). The deadline is 12 p.m. Eastern on Monday, May 13, 2013. A winner will be notified by email, so make sure you use a valid address.
- Matt: Wow! Great topic! Just by typing Dylan in my itunes then sorting by most plays.... 1. "Maggie's Farm" - Stephen Malkmus ...
- bll: I'm happy to hear that Ronnie Dunn and Garth are going to do something together; they go way back, and ...
- Luckyoldsun: Jon, I think you should try re-watching the Conan video--you "missed" it the first time. If I may give my interpretation, ...
- BRUCE: Toby's generosity and philanthropic work is very expansive. His USO tours plus other works deserves praise, though I an sure ...
- Luckyoldsun: Arlene, That's another big one.
- Fervor Coulee: Sometimes I really think I live in a Stephen King bubble-town: 12 weeks at number one, and I've never heard ...
- bll: Nice roundup today, Trisha singing and Jen Chapin too!
- Paul W Dennis: I guess my favorite would be George Hamilton IV's version of "Forever Young" and The Byrd's cover of Mr. Tambourine ...
- Jack Williams: Speaking of Chris Smither, he did a nice version of Visions of Johanna. Other favorites: Neville Brothers - The Ballad of Hollis ...
- Leeann Ward: I think benefit concerts and telethons are great and needed, but I'm also impressed by Underwood's generous donation.