- Download a Chatham County Line sampler on NoiseTrade. Here’s “Should Have Known” from the quartet’s upcoming album, Tightrope.
- On April 26, Nancy Jones, George’s widow, will plant two dogwood trees at the Possum’s Woodlawn Cemetery gravesite. The event is open to the public.
- Dom Flemons will release a solo album called Prospect Hill on July 22. (via press release)
- Bloodshot Records celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. ChicagoBusiness.com posted a cool feature on the label and its founders.
- The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s new expansion has a whole bunch of stuff on display, including Ronald Reagan’s pardon of Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton’s handwritten “Jolene” lyrics, squirrels that Hank Williams shot, and Glen Campbell’s bagpipes.
- Last week Rhonda Vincent was interviewed on Bloomberg TV’s Taking Stock. (warning: autoplay) (h/t our Twitter pal Jeff)
- Give a listen to “I’m Not Here” from NRBQ’s new album, Brass Tacks, which comes out June 17.
- Jeff Tweedy was on Parks & Rec last Thursday.
- Taylor Swift showed up at a superfan’s bridal shower with expensive, yet tasteful, gifts.
- American Songwriter published a lengthy story on Robert Ellis.
- CMT Edge posted a clip from The Milk Carton Kids’ new concert DVD.
- Neil Young’s PonoMusic (“an ecosystem to play and store music”) Kickstarter campaign has raised nearly $6 million.
- Stream Bobby Rush’s soulful new album, Decisions.
- Sources say that Nashville will be renewed for another season. (The best part of the show: these recaps.)
- Here are some neat maps that show America’s music preferences by genre.
- Laura Bell Bundy talks about her country/dance sound in this interview on MusicRadar.com. An excerpt: You know, I don’t know what I envisioned my music career being. All I ever really wanted to do is make music and be on stage and sing it. The truth of the matter is that I am so in love with the element of surprise, and I’m so bored with just copying what everybody else is doing. I have no interest in replicating what they’re already doing. I want to do something unique and different if I’m gonna make music.
- Bluegrass Today’s John Goad writes that fans of Sierra Hull and Alison Krauss might dig Ashley Lewis’ new album, Captivated.
- Tickets for the Texas Songwriters Heritage Association’s annual Hall of Fame Awards Show go on sale today. Prices start at $19, which sounds like a good deal for an event that will include performances by Kris Kristofferson, K.T. Oslin, Jessi Colter, Lee Roy Parnell, and more.
- On Saturday, Levon Helm Studios will hold an open house to mark the second anniversary of Helm’s passing. (warning: autoplay)
- Whitney Self of CMT talked with The Oak Ridge Boys about the band’s history and their new record.
- South Winnipeg coffee shop the Fourth Dimension, aka 4D, was an important part of Canada’s folk music scene in the ‘60s, hosting acts like Neil Young and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee.
- Jimmy Martin was mentioned in a clue on last night’s Jeopardy.
- This week’s album releases, barring numerous Record Store Day releases, which you can find here. Thanks for supporting E145 by purchasing your music through our affiliate links.
Ray Price – Beauty Is
Ray Bonneville – Easy Gone
Rodney Crowell – Tarpaper Sky
Moot Davis – Goin’ in Hot
Ryley Walker – All Kinds of You
Two Wings – A Wake
Nick Verzosa & The Noble Union – Love in Principle
Del Barber – Prairieography
Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives – The Gospel Music of Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives
The Secret Sisters – Put Your Needle Down
Bobby Bare, Jr. – Undefeated
Mark Hummel – The Hustle is Really On
Bobby Rush with Blinddog Smokin’ – Decisions
Hillstomp – Portland, Ore.
Red June – Ancient Dreams
Randy Rogers Band – Homemade Tamales: Live at Floore’s
Oak Ridge Boys – Boys Night Out
Asylum Street Spankers – The Last Laugh
Esme Patterson – Woman to Woman
- And some books:
Craig Harris – The Band: Pioneers of Americana Music
Debby Campbell & Mark Bego – Life with My Father Glen Campbell
Cowboy Jack Clement’s Last Album Due in July; NYT on the Trail of Geeshie Wiley & Elvie Thomas; New Music Videos
- As was mentioned in the comments section by Juli, singer-songwriter Jesse Winchester passed away from cancer last Friday morning at the age of 69. Obituaries have been published by The New York Times, Rolling Stone, USA Today, NPR, and CMT, to name just a few.
- Barry Mazor reviewed The Hank Williams Reader for The Wall Street Journal.
- Listen to “Let the Chips Fall” from Cowboy Jack Clement’s final album, For Once and For All (out July 15 on IRS Nashville).
- John Jeremiah Sullivan of The New York Times wrote a fascinating piece on Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas, the blues women who “changed American music and then vanished without a trace.”
- Taylor Swift interrupted Seth Rogen’s opening monologue on Saturday Night Live.
- Our friend Stephen Deusner interviewed Noah Gundersen for CMT Edge.
- Kenny Rogers has come in at #36 on CMT’s “All-Time Top 40: Artist’s Choice” countdown, “a list of the greatest-ever artists chosen by country stars themselves.”
- Actress and aspiring country musician Lucy Hale will be the face of the Macy’s apparel line, American Rag.
- Craig Morgan is headed out on his 11th overseas USO tour.
- Flooding in Birmingham, Alabama forced the cancellation of a Lady Antebellum concert late last week.
- The cerebral C.M. Wilcox has a new Quotable Country up over at Country California.
- John Marks, program director for Sirius XM station The Highway, is “Nashville’s newest hit maker.”
- Florida Georgia Line is back in the studio.
- The Calgary Herald published an interview with Jimmy Rankin about his new solo album, Back Road Paradise.
- The Oak Ridge Boys’ Duane Allen is getting a bridge named after him in Texas.
- Grand Ole Opry historian Byron Fay argues that the name-recognition of Opry performers is declining.
- Martina McBride performed “In the Basement” on Arsenio.
- Miranda Lambert played “Automatic” on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
- Tim McGraw isn’t waiting for his latest single to peak on the radio charts before releasing a new duet (“Meanwhile, Back at Mama’s”) with Faith Hill.
- Jonathan Pappalardo gushes about Nickel Creek’s latest offering, A Dotted Line, for My Kind of Country: “With purely acoustic instruments and lush not aggressive vocals, they make this acoustic progressive bluegrass the way it’s supposed to sound. That they do it with exceptional lyrical compositions is just an added bonus. Their asaterical lyrics have always been their downfall, but they’ve grown by leaps and bounds as writers on A Dotted Line as well as singers and musicians. Let’s hope it’s not another nine years before we’re gifted with their next set of new music.”
- Stream Farewell Transmission: The Music of Jason Molina. The compilation features Jim & Jennie & The Pinetops, Catherine Irwin (Freakwater), and more.
- Has the bra-country revolution begun?
- The Tennessean did a story on the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s new expansion.
- New music videos from the past week or so:
Jess Moskaluke – “Cheap Wine and Cigarettes”
JJ Heller – “I Dream of You”
Ross Cooper – “Give It Time”
Nickel Creek – “Rest of My Life” (live at WNYC)
Foghorn Stringband – “Outshine the Sun” (live performance at the WAMU Bluegrass Country studio)
Moot Davis’ new release, Goin’ in Hot (out tomorrow), is aptly titled: just days after mixing was completed, the studio in which he recorded the album burned down. Luckily, nobody was hurt in the blaze and the songs were able to be salvaged from the fire- and water-damaged studio.
Goin’ in Hot, Davis’ fourth album, draws upon several influences, and the music ranges from rock and roll on the title track and “Midnight Train” to country ballads like “Wanna Go Back” and “The Reason,” a sweet song from a son to his mother.
This morning we’re pleased to premiere Davis’ “Food Stamps”:
Ryan Adams to Play Newport Folk Fest; Trampled By Turtles Announce New Album; Dolly Parton Schedules QVC Appearance
- Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt, Carrie Underwood and Sheryl Crow paid tribute to Linda Ronstadt at last night’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
- Hey, want to cry at your desk this morning? Read Peter Cooper’s lovely piece on Ray Price and his final album, Beauty Is, which he dedicated to his wife, Janie. An excerpt from the article: The great Ray Price was old and dying, with a doctor’s hopeless news echoing in his head. His wife, Janie, cried about all of this: the pancreatic cancer, the depression, the exhausting treatments that delayed disconsolate inevitability. The whole thing was torture for both of them, and the glorious facts of a remarkable life — Price’s Country Music Hall of Fame plaque, his decades of hits, his more than 50 albums, his contributions in shaping the history of a music that has helped form a nation’s culture — were insufficient consolation. And so she asked him what he wanted to do with the rest of his time, figuring he might be most comfortable resting on their Texas farm, gently tending to his horses or his trees. No, he said, weak and certain. “He said, ‘I want to cut another album: I want to lay down one last one before I leave this world,’ ” Janie Price says.
- Cooper also wrote about Rodney Crowell and Tarpaper Sky.
- This year’s Newport Folk Festival lineup looks killer: Mavis Staples, Nickel Creek, Ryan Adams, and Shovels & Rope are just a few of the acts who are slated to appear at the festival in late July.
- Trampled By Turtles will release their new album, Wild Animals, on July 15. Listen to the record’s first single here.
- The April 21 issue of Country Weekly salutes outlaws.
- Valerie June talks about her musical influences and plays “Workin’ Woman Blues” in this video interview for Acoustic Guitar. June will be featured in the magazine’s June issue.
- The Mountain, a documentary about Mark Collie’s performance at Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, is going to hit the festival circuit later this year.
- Give a listen to Ryley Walker’s “Great River Road” from his debut album, All Kinds of You, which comes out next week.
- On April 27 at 7 p.m. EST, Dolly Parton will deliver a one-hour performance on QVC. She’ll be playing old songs and new and selling her new record, Blue Smoke. (via press release)
- John Moreland was featured in American Songwriter.
- Bluegrass Today’s John Lawless posted an overview of the late George Shuffler’s career.
- Big & Rich are celebrating the 10-year anniversary of “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy.” (If you’d rather celebrate something else, Loretta Lynn’s Van Lear Rose also turns 10 this year.)
- People.com is offering downloads of Brandy Clark’s “Pray to Jesus,” Eli Young Band’s “Drunk Last Night,” and a handful of other songs.
- Luke Bryan will perform at the Billboard Music Awards in Vegas on May 18.
- AmericanBluesScene.com has been posting a neat weekly series called “The Language of the Blues.” The newest installment finds author Debra Devi exploring the history of the lyric “fat mouth,” a phrase which appeared in Tommy Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson songs, and can be traced back to the late 1600s.
- Dan + Shay’s debut record topped the Billboard Country Albums Chart.
- Here are The Drive-By Truckers tearing it up at the 40 Watt in Athens, Georgia.
Soulful Americana singer-songwriter Wendy Colonna’s 2013 album, Nectar, might have slipped under a few radars, but it’s worth seeking out for a few spins. Here’s one of the tracks:
Since we’re pretty nosy when it comes to other people’s record collections, we recently caught up with Colonna and asked her what she’s been listening to.
5. John Fullbright — From the Ground Up
This brilliant, fearless album is perfect storm of tear-you-apart ballads and clever southern rock and groove.
4. Gregory Alan Isakov — This Empty Northern Hemisphere
Gregory Alan’s voice is my Prozac. I am instantly calmed and softened when I hear him sing. . . and his tunes are beautiful nuggets of poetry wrapped in wistful melodies that tug at your heart. I love that he has the courage to deliver such soft tunes that hold their potency and draw a listener in.
3. Delbert & Glen — their old recordings from the early 70s
We found two out-of-print Delbert & Glen CDs in a used record shop in Gent, Belgium in 2008. They’re 40-year-old recordings and they are perfect. Not only are these songs catchy and smart, but these guys carved out a genre that blended blues, gospel, soul, country and tight harmonies without worrying about fitting in. They had something really special.
2. Jackson Browne
Just everything. I love the way he writes: descending melodies and such personal writing, yet his music is still so universally accessible.
1. Joni Mitchell — Court and Spark
It just doesn’t get more vulnerable and crafty than this album. I return to it time after time for inspiration and courage.
Lee Ann Womack Signs with Sugar Hill; ATO Records Offers Free Spring Sampler; Glen Campbell Doc to Make Film Fest Debut
- Lee Ann Womack has signed with Sugar Hill/Welk Music Group. Her album is slated for release in September, and the record’s first single will come this summer.
- The film Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me will make its debut at next week’s Nashville Film Festival.
- The McClintons are having a rough time lately. On Monday, Delbert had bypass surgery; the procedure was successful but he had to cancel several shows scheduled for April and May. Singer-songwriter-son Clay is recovering from head injuries sustained in a car accident two weeks ago.
- Otis Head, who spent 60 years as a bluegrass radio host, passed away on Tuesday at the age of 94. Sounds like he had a mighty interesting life: Head was also a prizefighter, Western and Appalachian music promoter and performer and record producer. He began his performance career competing on a talent show in “Doc” Chamberlain’s Medicine Show hosted by country legend Rambin’ Tommy Scott in the late 1930s. As a producer, Otis Head fostered the careers of multimillion selling banjo stylist Raymond Fairchild; country singer Clyde Beavers and numerous bluegrass and gospel acts….He promoted music shows in the Northwest Georgia area featuring Country Music Hall of Famers Bill Monroe and Charlie Louvin, Boys from Indiana, the Bailes Brothers, the Lewis Family, Randall Franks and Raymond Fairchild.
- Download ATO Records’ Spring Sampler.
- Here’s a couple of solid new singles worth your attention: Sturgill Simpson’s “Turtles All the Way Down” and John Fullbright’s “Happy.”
- Baseball season is well underway, which means it’s time to see what everyone is using for their walk-up music. Well done, Chase Utley. Kyle Kendrick? Not so much.
- Todd Snider’s book, I Never Met a Story I Didn’t Like: Mostly True Tall Tales, comes out this spring.
- Carlene Carter talked with Jewly Hight about Carter Girl and the moment she realized the impact her famous family had on music.
- Hight also interviewed Dierks Bentley for The Bluegrass Situation.
- Chrissie Dickinson (The Chicago Tribune) reviewed Emmylou Harris’ recent Windy City tour stop.
- CMT Edge’s Chris Parton chatted with Canadian country singer Del Barber about his new album, Prairieography.
- Robby Hecht’s entertaining “Soon I Was Sleeping” video stars Frankenstein’s monster.
- American Songwriter published a Q&A with singer-songwriter Emily Kinney, who plays Beth on The Walking Dead.
- Construction of the National Music of African American Music in Nashville is expected to begin next year.
- James Alan Shelton remembers the late George Shuffler in a guest post on Bluegrass Today.
- Rodney Crowell a lifetime of working at his songwriting: To me, the blessing of being an artist is working at it every day, and going to work every day. Maybe taking one day off. When I’m on the road, that’s different – that’s the work I’m doing. But when I’m home I’m working every day. When I think of Picasso, the man got up and went to work every day. Nabokov, the man got up and went to work every day. I’m not comparing myself to them, but I’m comparing the experience. If you are lucky enough to spend a lifetime as a working artist, the work, the day in and day out rhythm of the work, becomes the most important thing about it. And it just leads to clarity and a deeper focus. And I enjoy and love the work. I do know this: the inspiration that comes to a 25-year-old man or woman is different than the inspiration that comes to a 55-year-old man or woman artist. And the 25-year-old inspiration is more forgiving than the 55-year-old inspiration. When that source of inspiration hands it to you, it expects a better job out of you when you’re older.
- Song and video premieres:
Esme Patterson – “Valentine”
The Mastersons – “Good Luck Charm”
Ross Cooper – “Give It Time”
Stream New Rodney Crowell, Bobby Bare Jr. Albums; Eric Church Announces Tour Dates; Walmart to Cut CD Stock
- Stream Rodney Crowell’s fine new album, Tarpaper Sky, before its release next week. Bobby Bare Jr.’s record, Undefeated, is also streaming online.
- Last week we reported news of Arthur Smith’s passing. Today The New York Times published his obituary.
- Music City Roots is moving from the Loveless Café Barn to the Factory at Franklin.
- Trisha Yearwood’s Brentwood home is for sale if you’ve got a couple million bucks to spare.
- Dig roots rock? Download a free Dirty Guv’nahs sampler.
- Darius Rucker’s version of “Wagon Wheel” has gone triple platinum.
- Eric Church will launch The Outsiders World Tour with special guest Dwight Yoakam in September. Brandy Clark, The Brothers Osborne, and Halestorm will open various dates. (via press release)
- Billboard reports that, by May, Walmart (the largest retailer of CDs in the U.S.) will downsize the space it devotes to music by 40 percent and could also reduce the available music selection proportionately.
- Check out Dave and Phil Alvin’s version of “Key to the Highway” from their forthcoming Big Bill Broonzy tribute album.
- Daniel Lanois discusses Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball in this Paste article.
- Willie Watson visited A Prairie Home Companion. Watch his performance of “Mexican Cowboy” here.
- Out May 13 on Omnivore Records: Dave Van Ronk’s Live in Monterey. (via press release)
- American Songwriter premiered Nocona’s new video for “Beverly Hills Blues.”
- Joy Williams of The Civil Wars has started recording a solo album.
- Luke Bryan was nominated in six Billboard Music Award categories. Read the full list of nominees here; the award show will be broadcast on ABC May 18.
- Check out Ben and Ellen Harper’s “Altar of Love” from their new album, Childhood Home (out May 6).
- Sierra Hull, perhaps in a medicated state, posted a photo of her recovery from the recent removal of her wisdom teeth. Clearly Hull’s genius isn’t restricted to the music realm, as she has MacGyvered a bra into an ice-pack holder.
- Sunday night’s ACM Awards broadcast drew 14.17 million viewers.
- Jeff Tweedy and the television show Portlandia poked fun at contemporary folk singers who haven’t lived the life they’re singing about.
- PBS animated portions of a 1996 Johnny Cash interview.
Merle Haggard marked a birthday Sunday, his 77th. He celebrated the occasion with an appearance on CBS’s Academy of Country Music awards show, where George Strait and Miranda Lambert performed a medley of his hits and where Haggard was presented with something called the Crystal Milestone Award by Garth Brooks, one of its former honorees.
The specific milestone in question for Merle was fifty years on the job. Haggard’s first nationally charting single, a string-bejeweled version of Wynn Stewart’s “Sing a Sad Song,” debuted on the Billboard charts the week of December 23, 1963. Country music typically doesn’t honor its key historical figures these days with anything like the persistence, earnestness and inventiveness it once did, so it’s been a bit heartening to see that, half a century into one of the major careers in all of American popular music, Merle Haggard is getting something approaching the victory lap he’s got coming. And keep in mind that such big-picture recognition is doubly appropriate in Merle’s case. Because his body of work deserves it, of course, but also because one thesis of that work—as evidenced by tribute albums to Jimmie Rodgers, Bob Wills and Elvis Presley, not to mention roughly a gazillion covers of Tommy Collins and Lefty Frizzell songs—has been to argue that inspiration and gratitude experienced personally should be heralded loud and long, which is to say publically and repeatedly. This process is a key to how traditions become traditions in the first place, and to how they endure. Or don’t.
So… time to get to work. Hag’s ACM honor trailed by only a couple of months Merle’s first-ever Grammy show performance. Big deals both, and good to see, as is Capitol Nashville’s new 45th anniversary reissue of 1969’s Okie from Muskogee, teamed with its 1970 sequel The Fightin’ Side of Me, two live albums from Merle’s big crossover moment. They also are, it can’t be over emphasized, two of the finest country concert albums ever released. I sure wish that these were expanded editions, in the manner of RCA Nashville’s 2003 Waylon Live reissue, and that they included deleted numbers and the Strangers’ opening sets. Still, it’s great that these shows are available again for all kinds of reasons. For one thing, these albums are critical documents of the era’s culture wars: If it sounds like the applause as Merle finishes each title track will just never stop, that’s because it hasn’t. The reissue preserves at least one now outdated country performance mode—on the latter album, Merle favors us with his Marty Robbins, Hank Snow, Johnny Cash and Buck Owens impersonations—and it proves, too, just how tight and fierce a live band the Strangers were. The disc’s opening go at “Mama Tried” is, by itself, nearly worth the price of admission.
Reissues aside, what’s really been encouraging of late, country-tradition-wise, is all the acts who’ve been putting their music where their mouths are and singing them some Haggard. Though it hasn’t got much attention, we’ve been in the middle of a Merle Haggard revival for the last half year or so now. Randy Travis’ excellent 2013 album, Influence, Vol. 1, for instance, was comprised of three (or four, or five, depending on how you frame it) Haggard numbers as was Vince Gill’s and Paul Franklin’s recent California road trip, Bakersfield. Ronnie Dunn wrote and recorded “Hey, Haggard” last spring, Willie and Loretta duetted on Merle’s “Somewhere Between” in the fall, and Joe Nichols covered “Footlights” around the same time on his latest album, Crickets. And don’t forget Bryan & the Haggards. NYC’s best-ever Hag-centric bebop-and-acid-jazz band released Merles Just Want to Have Fun last year, their third all-Merle album and this time featuring the reedy, randy vocals of Dr. Eugene Chadbourne. Recommended download: their spazzed-out take on “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink.”
(All of that was just last year—and nearly all of it closely followed the publication of my own Merle Haggard: The Running Kind. That couldn’t possibly be a mere coincidence, right? Well, yeah, alright, it’s totally a coincidence. But a zeitgeisty one!)
The big Hag revival news this year has been Suzy Bogguss’ tribute, Lucky, which is so smart and sexy and which so perfectly updates Nashville Sound sensibilities for our own world—acoustic less-is-more-arrangements shaded by sultry organ—that it’s hard for me to imagine it won’t end up near the very top of my best country albums list come end of the year. As our own Henry Carrigan has already talked to Bogguss about the project here at length, I won’t say too much more about it than that, but I will say this. Lucky should go down as beginning the process of extending Haggard’s classic period beyond his Capitol songbook to include his also amazing post-Capitol work—and on more or less equal terms with one another. Fully half of Lucky’s dozen tracks come either from Merle’s late 1970s tenure with MCA Records (Bogguss covers “The Running Kind” and “I Think I’ll Stay Here and Drink”) or from his subsequent decade with Epic (“I Always Get Lucky with You,” “Let’s Chase Each Other around the Room,” “Going Where the Lonely Go,” and “Someday When Things Are Good,” written by the star of our last installment, Leona Williams).
What’s been conspicuously, frustratingly, missing up to now from the Haggard revival has been the participation of very many younger, or at least young enough to still be on the radio, country stars. It’s an odd absence, too, in at least one respect: Merle’s “[I’m proud to be an] Okie from Muskogee” more or less invented, after all, the attitudes of any number of hits from, say, Blake Shelton. Or from Brantley Gilbert, Jason Aldean, Randy Houser, and Justin Moore, et al. The many purveyors of our century’s ubiquitous I’m-proud-to-be-country anthems don’t exactly live and breathe within Haggard’s musical world, but they do eagerly embrace selected subsets of his “Working Man Blues” identity: That is, Hag’s descendants are unlikely to dream (leastways, not out loud) of throwing their bills out the window the way Merle does, and they certainly don’t let on they’re angry and depressed when dreams don’t come true, but just like the Hag, they want you to know that they work (and play) hard, are damn proud of who they are—just the way they are—and are sick to death of big city folk sneering at them as if pride in such lives is only to be pitied.
So while current stars have neither performed nor recorded much of Merle’s music, Merle himself does get deployed as a symbol now and again in the same way Jones and Cash, and Waylon and Willie, are often name dropped (not to say honored, let alone emulated). The sub-title to this column, to cite just one example, is from a 2006 Erich Church track. And just last year hick-hoppers the LACS—stands for Loud Ass Crackers—made sure to grace their country rap hangover remedy, “Tylenol,” with Merle’s iconic presence: “What did I do wrong? / I only tried to sing every Merle Haggard song.”
Twenty of those songs are now included on another new project. Working Man’s Poet: A Tribute to Merle Haggard (Broken Bow Records) is due out next month and loaded high with teen-behaving-thirtysomethings like Aldean, Houser, Luke Bryan, and Jake Owen, along with a few of what can only be termed (at this point, in these times) vintage acts like Toby Keith and Garth Brooks, both now a radio-ancient 52 (like me). When Merle was 52, by the way, in 1989, he scored his final Top Five single, “A Better Love Next Time.”
I was most eager to hear the contributions of those current country stars, as their song selections, and performances, would surely say a great deal, about how Haggard will be used by the genre going forward. The album’s first track, Randy Houser doing “Misery and Gin,” sets the tone: like ten other numbers included, more than half the disc, “Misery and Gin” isn’t one of Merle’s Capitol-era hits, and like half a dozen other tracks, it’s not a song this “Working Man’s Poet” wrote himself: On this tribute, as on Bogguss’, the second half of Merle’s chart career matters at least as much as his long-since canonized early hits. Just as significant, his greatness is understood to be bound up not only in his songwriting skills but in his gifts as a song interpreter, no matter who did the writing. I think all of this is good news.
The performances on Working Man’s Poet, however, are less encouraging. Not because they’re no good, understand. Houser’s limited vocal range is no match for the steeply rising and falling melody to “Misery and Gin,” but the singer acquits himself nicely on the highway-straight “Ramblin’ Fever”—and everything else here is solid to quite strong indeed. Garth’s “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down,” which borrows Merle’s original arrangement to frame the singer’s distinctive voice, is a clear standout. Shawna Thompson’s lead on the Leona Williams-penned “You Take Me for Granted” walks a painful, perfect line between self-pity and self-assurance. Joe Nichols’ reading of “Footlights” (the same one mentioned above) is actually outshone here by his go at “My Favorite Memory.” Meanwhile, Jason Aldean’s “Going Where the Lonely Go” plumbs emotions his singing has previously tended to avoid—plus, its stretched-out concluding guitar solos are really swell.
One more thing: what a treat to hear Ben Haggard, Merle and Theresa’s boy, tackling “Sing Me Back Home” and “Mama Tried” (I’m guessing he got first pick?), showing off the guitar chops he’s honed as a late-edition member of the Strangers and singing the hell out of, but never over singing, the old man’s standards in his high, young tenor.
But… the very minor problem I have with the music here—and the somewhat bigger one I have as a fan and critic who wants Haggard’s work not only to be honored but to continue to matter—is that the arrangements throughout are so cautious and respectful and, well…so old sounding. Though the bulk of the act’s on this label showcase are right-now stars of one wattage or another, none of these tracks are going to be radio hits. And they don’t try to be: Luke Bryan and Dierks Bentley’s “Pancho and Lefty,” with big its whippy guitars and thundering drums, comes closest but lacks the hip-hop influenced rhythms, just for example, that’ve helped make Bryan a star. This seems like a missed opportunity. It’s as if the acts involved were happily flipping through a treasured old photo album—from the sound of things, these shots were snapped circa 1994—instead of helping to make breaking news.
Back in the real 1994, Merle was in vogue again, too, for just a moment. Within only a few weeks, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame during a CMA telecast and saw the release of two Merle tribute discs. One of those, Mama’s Hungry Eyes, featured current stars like Brooks & Dunn, Alan Jackson and Pam Tillis, who made sure their versions of Merle’s hits of the 1960s and ‘70s sounded the way country music sounded in 1994. Merle had regularly done something quite similar himself. On those reissued Okie and Fightin’ Side live albums, for instance, he doesn’t merely take a moment to remember Jimmie Rodgers; he makes Rodgers’ at-that-point forty-year-old songs sound fresh and of the moment, still vital, even necessary.
I’m certain that Merle Haggard’s body of work could yet be a vital and necessary part of the country story as it unfolds. For that to happen, though, someone is going to have to make Merle’s old songs sound brand new for a new generation of fans. For this little Merle Haggard revival to really make a difference, someone is going to have to honor Merle in the modernizing way Merle paid tribute to Lefty and Rodgers and so many more. That process of staying up to date while also staying connected to what’s come before is how traditions become traditions, after all, and it’s how they endure.
- Crosspicking legend and Bluegrass Hall of Famer George Shuffler passed away yesterday at the age of 88.
- Dave Lamb, of folk band Brown Bird, has died of leukemia. He was 35.
- Country music made the The New York Times following the ACM Awards. Read the story – “Young, Rich and Ruling Radio, Country Walks a Broader Line” — here.
- Rascal Flatts admitted to lip-syncing their ACM Awards performance.
- Get the story behind “I May Hate Myself in the Morning.”
- The Infamous Stringdusters played “I’ll Get Away” for Folk Alley.
- The tracklisting of Miranda Lambert’s new record, Platinum, includes the Dixie and Tom T. Hall song “All That’s Left.” Guests on the album include The Time Jumpers and Carrie Underwood.
- Don Rigsby and David Thorn are working on a new duets project.
- The Chicago Tribune posted a Q&A with Lindi Ortega.
- Jim Lauderdale discusses his favorite album, Gram Parsons’ Grievous Angel, in a new episode of Jeremy Dylan’s podcast.
- Delightful fashion blog Go Fug Yourself detailed the sartorial missteps of Sunday night’s ACM Awards.
- Stream the deluxe edition of Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball. Harris discusses the album in this Chicago Sun-Times article.
- Give a listen to Laurie Lewis’ fab story song “Barstow.”
- The Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame and Museum, located at Dollywood, celebrates its 15th birthday this year.
- Elizabeth Cook appears on Bob Wayne’s “20 Miles to Juarez.”
- This week’s album releases:
Emmylou Harris – Wrecking Ball (deluxe edition)
Martina McBride – Everlasting
Carlene Carter – Carter Girl
Greg Smith & The Broken English – Ramblin’ Road
Ronnie Dunn – Peace, Love and Country Music
Joan Osborne – Love and Hate
Linda Ronstadt – Duets
- ACM Award results:
Entertainer of the Year: George Strait
Male Vocalist of the Year: Jason Aldean
Female Vocalist of the Year: Miranda Lambert
Vocal Group of the Year: The Band Perry
Album of the Year: Kacey Musgraves – Same Trailer Different Park
Video of the Year: “Highway Don’t Care,” Tim McGraw with Taylor Swift and Keith Urban
Vocal Event of the Year: “We Were Us,” Keith Urban and Miranda Lambert
Vocal Duo of the Year: Florida Georgia Line
Song of the Year: “I Drive Your Truck,” Lee Brice
Single Record of the Year: “Mama’s Broken Heart,” Miranda Lambert
Crystal Milestone Award: Merle Haggard
- Jesse Winchester is in hospice care, according to an update his son posted to Facebook a few minutes ago.
- Merle Haggard had to cancel a show late last week with a mild case of pneumonia.
- Emily West unveiled a new song called “Made for the Radio.”
- Billboard.com previewed a cut from Ronnie Dunn’s new album.
- Charley Pride was voted as the 37th most influential artist in CMT’s All-Time Top 40: Artist’s Choice countdown.
- Josh Thompson donated his long hair to Locks of Love.
- Keep a Hypnotic Eye out for a new Tom Petty album by the same name this summer.
- Brett Eldredge has vowed to get eaten by a shark go shark diving if his new single goes to number one.
- Meet The Shook Twins.
- Martina McBride is being highlighted in an upcoming Nancy comic strip.
- My Kind of Country is shining their spotlight on Chris Hillman and The Desert Rose Band this month.
- The enigmatic C.M. Wilcox has a new Quotable Country column up over at CountryCalifornia.com.
- Charlie Daniels performed “Tangled up in Blue” on Fox News.
- The Swon Brothers will make their Grand Ole Opry debut on April 12. (via press release)
- Wade Hayes talked with Country Weekly about his second bout with cancer.
- Our friend Stephen Deusner interviewed Sara Watkins of Nickel Creek for CMT Edge. An excerpt: “We didn’t have anything in mind when we recorded. We just wanted it to be a good version of who we are as a band. We set up in the studio just like we did on previous records — the three of us in a room separated by about 15 or 20 feet, surrounded by a bunch of great mics. There’s fewer overdubs than there were on the past record. It seemed like the songs were there, and we wanted to speak on our own without adding too much extra stuff. Also, we didn’t have very much time. Just 11 days. We’ve never spent that amount of time on a record. We’ve always had the luxury of working on it for a couple of months. We had to show up knowing the songs and hit the ground running, which was fun.”
- Taylor Swift’s Shanghai concert sold out in less than a minute.
- James House has a brand new project coming out soon called Broken Glass, Twisted Steel.
- Linda Ronstadt is too ill from her battle with Parkinson’s to travel to her Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
- The Small Town Pistols cover the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song for Country Weekly.
- New Nashville indie label Rocket Tone Records has signed the son of Dionne Warwick, Buck 22, as their first “country format” artist. He’s the guy that did the remixed version of “Achy Breaky 2” with Billy Ray Cyrus.
- Corb Lund, Charley Pride, Brandi Carlile and Jason Isbell headline what could be the most unfortunately-named music festival ever, The Red Ants Pants Fest in Montana.
- Michelle Branch has teamed up with Silverchair’s Ben Gillies for an upcoming collaboration.
- Kansas Country Music Hall of Fame member Dustin L. Hunt passed away at the age of 43.
- Lady Antebellum and Stevie Nicks have released a studio version of “Golden” to iTunes.
- New music videos from the past week or so:
TJ Broscoff – “Falling Down”
St. Paul & The Broken Bones – “Half the City”
Luke Bryan – “Play It Again”
Cyndi Harvell – “Flood”
Emily Wolfe – “Violent Veins”
Riley Etheridge – “Another Time, Another Place” (featuring Sara Watkins)
Kyle Park – “Long Distance Relationship”
Brandon Rhyder – “Leave”
Lost & Nameless – “Empty Spaces”
Lexi James – “Stop”
The Avett Brothers – “Morning Song”
The Randy Rogers Band – “Too Late for Goodbye”
Jesse and Noah – “You Could Have Had It All”
Sheryl Crow – “Callin’ Me When I’m Lonely”
- bob: Enjoyed the Himes article on classic baseball songs. Thanks. Himes also mentioned some books. To those he noted I would …
- luckyoldsun: Well it probably wasn't Larry Gatlin.
- A.B.: Anyone else think Marty Stuart might be part of Lakehouse Holdings that bought the Johnny Cash/Barry Gibb property?
- David Cantwell: Thanks, Andrew. It almost seems inevitable that the greatest singers--Sinatra and George Jones, say--just don't sing so well at the …
- Andrew: Very well put. I don't remember the last time an album gave me chills right from the opening note quite …
- TX Music Jim: All valid choices. I will forever hold out the hope that Gram Parsons, Jerry Jeff Walker and Gary Stewart will …
- Leeann Ward: Oops...the link: http://www.engine145.com/summer-lovin-ronnie-milsap-looks-back-new-album/
- Leeann Ward: Yes, great choices for inductees! In Milsap's case, I guess if you say it to Juli Thanki, it will happen!:): Do …
- Paul W Dennis: Delighted to see "The Voice With A Heart" being inducted - he is my all-time favorite bluegrass vocalist. Hank Cochran …
- luckyoldsun: I don't know what exactly makes one a national treasure, but I'd give that appellation to Mac Wiseman before the …