- Ranger Doug reads more than you, is bored to tears by Gertrude Stein.
- Little Big Town unveiled the cover of their next album and announced several dates on their “Pain Killer Tour.”
- Read the introduction to Steve Lowenthal’s Dance of Death, a biography of John Fahey.
- Jason Isbell, Rodney Crowell, Valerie June, St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Patty Griffin, Loretta Lynn, and Taj Mahal are among the artists slated to perform at the Americana Honors and Awards Ceremony on September 17. Emmylou Harris, Marty Stuart, Elizabeth Cook, and Todd Snider are on the list of presenters.
- The Band Perry was on Larry King Now talking about songwriting, working on their third album, and hair products (no, for real). Watch here. (warning: autoplay)
- The Very Best of Slim Dusty has spent a record 800 weeks on the ARIA Top 40 Country Music Chart. The closest runner up: The Dixie Chicks’ Wide Open Spaces, which spent 610 weeks on the charts.
- Chely Wright just launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the release of her next album. She’s asking for $175,000; people have already contributed more than $26,000 towards that goal.
- Peter Cooper profiled Otis Gibbs. (If you haven’t picked up Gibbs’ Souvenirs of a Misspent Youth, now’s a good time.)
- Lyle Lovett and His Large Band played Letterman last night. Check it out.
- Dom Flemons told No Depression about recording “Georgia Drumbeat” for his new album, Prospect Hill.
- Stream The Pine Hill Haints’ “Galaxy Buffalo.”
- Singer-songwriter John Fullbright on being “Grammy-nominated John Fullbright”: “It’s like having a doctorate: It’s a title you put before your name, and nobody can take it away from you…But even doctors can be quacks, so I certainly don’t rest on my laurels in that regard.”
- Jonah Tolchin played a few songs in for American Songwriter; watch here.
- On September 16, you’ll be able to live stream Tim McGraw’s Hammerstein Ballroom concert.
- Kellie Pickler’s working on material for a fifth album.
- Darrell Webb is going to leave side project Sideline (a bluegrass supergroup that includes Steve Dilling, Skip Cherryholmes, Jason Moore, and Greg Luck) in November to focus on his eponymous band and his job at Lumberjack Feud, which, as it turns out, is not part of CMT’s fall programming, but rather a dinner show in Pigeon Forge.
- Speaking of Pigeon Forge, Dollywood was prominently featured in The New York Times‘ travel section over the weekend.
- Here’s a thoughtful piece from Kelly McCartney of No Depression: “How Roots Music Calls and Cultivates Young Artists.”
- Download some free music from indie-folkies Humming House.
- The Howlin’ Brothers visited CMT Edge to play “Night and Day.”
- This week’s album releases:
Shovels & Rope – Swimmin’ Time
John Cowan – Sixty
Brad Paisley – Moonshine in the Trunk
Phoebe Hunt & The Gatherers Featuring Connor Forsyth – Walk with Me
Jerry Castle – South Holston
Abbey Hirvela – The Start
Workers in Songs – That Glorious Masterpiece
Jill Barber – Fool’s Gold
The Buffalo Ruckus – The Buffalo Ruckus
Flatt & Scruggs – Changin’ Times (mp3 reissue)
The New Christy Minstrels – Today (mp3 reissue)
- The door definitely remains open for Taylor Swift to return to country music according to radio consulting firm Albright & O’Malley & Brenner’s “admittedly unscientific” poll of of 60 country music station programming executives. Mike O’Malley writes that, “By more than 4:1 the panel hoped that Taylor Swift would cut another country song in the future with 30% feeling country radio would miss Taylor. 17% said they didn’t think they would play any new Taylor Swift songs now that she’s ‘gone pop.'”
- Peter Cooper called out those that vilify Swift and praises her for her grace under the criticism.
- Live stream Nickel Creek’s Austin City Limits taping tonight beginning at 9 p.m. Eastern.
- Merle Haggard on contemporary country radio: “I’ve gotta be honest, I don’t really listen to the radio at all anymore. Once in a while, I’ll scan it and I don’t understand what they’re doing. I can’t find the entertainment in it. I know these guys, occasionally play shows with them and they’re all good people. But I wonder if that record they’re making is something they can actually do. Too much boogie boogie wham-bam and not enough substance. It’s all the same musicians, too, probably eight to 10 musicians play on every record you hear. For a musician hearing things that way, you can tell when a certain guitarist is playing. I know more about the musicians than the artists, actually.”
- In that same interview with David Menconi, Haggard reveals that he’s got “four different album projects that are all almost finished.”
- Stream the title track of The Stray Birds’ next album, Best Medicine, which comes out on Yep Roc Records October 21.
- Sturgill Simpson will perform on Conan September 10. (via press release)
- Sweetwater Rain added vocalist Kaitlin Walker to their lineup.
- Bruce Springsteen came in at No. 17 on CMT’s All-Time Top 40: Artists’ Choice, a list of the most influential artists in history chosen by country stars.
- Mary Chapin Carpenter will embark on orchestral and acoustic tours this fall.
- The pertinacious C.M. Wilcox has another Quotable Country feature up over at Country California.
- Hunter Hayes performed on Today and then announced a headlining tour that will kick off in late October. (warning: autoplay)
- Aoife O’Donovan and Noam Pikelny will tour together this fall.
- From The Huffington Post: “Country Music and the Rise of the Binge-Drinking Bro.”
- Alabama will release Alabama & Friends at the Ryman on September 30. The two-disc live album includes guests like Trisha Yearwood and Jamey Johnson.
- Emmylou Harris had to cancel her August 28 show in Asheville due to a “personal emergency.”
- PopMatters’ Dave Heaton asks, “Is the sadness gone from country music?”
- Ricky Skaggs has written music for a new film called The Song.
- Texan Casey Berry will be release his new EP, Long Way Down, on September 16. The lead single, “Stupid Angel,” has already been featured on ABC’s Nashville.
- James King has been selected for induction into the Virginia Country Music Hall of Fame.
- The Rankin Family’s Molly Rankin has joined Alec O’Hanley (formerly of the pop group Two Hours Traffic) in a new band called Alvvays.
- The Secret Sisters performed on The Tonight Show. Watch here.
- Laura Bell Bundy will release an album entitled Another Piece of Me in early 2015. (warning: autoplay)
- Meet Megan O’Neill, an aspiring pop-country singer from Ireland.
- Old Dominion will release their self-titled debut on October 7.
- The track listing and album artwork have been released for Hal Ketchum’s I’m the Troubadour, which is also being released on October 7.
- Best wishes to Rory Feek, whose mother recently passed away.
- New music videos from the past week or so:
Belles and Whistles – “Princess”
Hot Rize – “Blue is Fallin’”
The Seldom Scene – “110 in the Shade” (Live at WAMU’s Bluegrass Country)
Roosevelt Dime – “Oh, To Be” (Live at WAMU’s Bluegrass Country)
Sandra Lynn – “You Belong” (Live at Blackbird Studios)
Josh Abbott Band – “Hangin’ Around”
Shooter Jennings – “Don’t Wait Up (I’m Playing Possum)”
Sturgill Simpson – “Life of Sin”
Anthony D’Amato – “Good and Ready”
Sam Moore and Nu-Blu – “Jesus and Jones”
Fire Mountain – “Moving Target”
Joel Crouse – “Even the River Runs”
The Felice Brothers – “Lion”
George Strait – “Give It All We Got Tonight” (Live)
John Berry – “Annie’s Song” (Tour Bus Cover Series)
Lera Lynn – “Out to Sea”
The cliché about musical sons of the Deep South (believed in most fervently of all by some sons of the place themselves) is that the true Southern Man, a child of nature with peat moss and mustard greens between his toes, does not and will not discombobulate himself with such encumbrances as complicated philosophical thought and arduous contradictions. The extraordinary singer and songwriter Jesse Winchester, son of an airman, born on a Bossier City, Louisiana Air Force base, and raised in rural Mississippi and in Memphis, was aware of these directives, digested them even, could not have been more of those places in the ways that matter, but he didn’t heed the instructions. After playing organ at church, he left for Germany to study philosophy. When the Vietnam War era draft board sent a note, the military son did not respond as expected—not, he always said, out of any specific political position on the war, but because they had no business, as he saw it, telling him where to be and who to shoot. He headed for Montreal.
He was no loner rebel; the songwriting, performing draft dodger sought relevant work and found it in Montreal, learned French, started to build a family, then got noticed circa 1970 by those mainly Canadian exponents of Americana, The Band, who, astonished by the strength of the music he was creating in exile, got him a record contract. Robbie Robertson produced his first, self-titled album, with a cover that looked like an outtake from the Matthew Brady-invoking Civil War style photos on the cover of their own then-recent, celebrated second album, the brown one. The songs were in keeping with the post-Basement Tapes material the Band guys and Bob Dylan had been producing, allusive but elusive, evocative, with specific images and experiences carefully placed in disorienting narratives. Some of his songs, such as “Brand New Tennessee Waltz” and “Yankee Lady,” were instant classics in his own hands, were soon covered, and also got attention for their subtle and not so-subtle references to his precarious displaced situation. (“They’ll catch you wherever you’re hid” the former had it.) He performed the latter, a song palpably seeking reconnection with Americans, for the BBC in 1976:
He was among the first allowed to head home under the 1977 draft amnesty promulgated by President Jimmy Carter, our most Southern music-savvy chief executive. Jesse’s particular form of rebellion had already cost him very much more than the alleged sort that involves wearing a black shirt marked “Outlaw,” mentioning Willie Nelson, and waving a longneck in crowds. Unable to make appearances during his peak young years, he’d never quite catch up as a performer and recording artist—except in quality. There was, this writer believes, no singing songwriter with a more consistent, varied, and regularly charming body of work through the seventies and eighties. (I’d stand on Townes Van Zandt’s dust covered-coffee table, if he had one, and say that—any time.) That his songs evolved quickly from that early metaphorical-literary style to one that made room for simpler, more direct applications of wit, rhythm, sex, spiritual impulses not disconnected from the physical, horns, and even occasional calls for social dancing, did not win him any bonus points among those who’d come to see the irretrievably glum and isolated as more profound than emotional and social reconciliation. Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm had appeared on his first LP: now he used direct Helmsian means to get at layered, nuanced Robertsonian ends. He was doomed (or freed) to be a cult performer, but his songs—“Mississippi You’re on My Mind,” “Oh What a Thrill,” “Defying Gravity,” “A Showman’s Life,” “Isn’t That So?” to list just a few—became most familiar in other hands. Soon after returning to American soil, there was this pointed, gospel-inflected performance with a couple of lady friends, which captures one side of the essential Winchester:
I highly recommend his rich, full body of work to anybody who’s not experienced it; his first six albums have become available as twofers on the Edsel/Bearsville CD label. Most of his music is now in print again. Before he died of cancer this past April at age 69, Jesse Winchester managed to hang in there, still doing it and not yet sick of it (as he might have put it), to record one last full album of songs, here in Nashville, A Reasonable Amount of Trouble (out September 16th on Appleseed Recordings). Mississippi’s Mac McAnally produced, with the likes of Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan and Jim Horn backing Jesse up.
It is a moving and most excellent final testament of a son of the Deep South who, good-naturedly but resolutely self-defined till the end, never accepted its Shallower parts. In one original, “Neither Here Nor There,” he “plays for favors, worries the neighbors,” and pours himself “a drop of hell.” In “Just So Much,” his philosophical closer of closers, he cheekily, sweetly salutes his Maker (“When it comes to sunsets, the Lord has a way”) but with a chorus that reminds those looking for simple, blessedly utter assurance of impossibilities (you can tell he’d met a few folks like that well before facing his own end, ready and resigned), “There is only so much that the Lord can do.” There are also several doo wop numbers, such as his take on the Clovers/Bobby Vee oldie “Devil or Angel.” They have good beats and you can dance to them.
He leaves us with this one, too, which was taped in a performance last November:
I won’t forget Jesse Winchester. You shouldn’t either.
Rounder Signs Shelby Lynne; Ronnie Fauss, Over the Rhine Announce New Albums; Jean Redpath Passes Away
- Rounder Records has signed Shelby Lynne. The label will release a 15th anniversary edition of I Am Shelby Lynne (with bonus tracks and a concert DVD) on October 7. Yesterday, USA Today premiered a clip from that concert film. Lynne also recently completed a new album that is tentatively set for a release in early 2015.
- Ronnie Fauss’ Built to Break will be released November 4.
- Lee Ann Womack, Dwight Yoakam, Dierks Bentley, Kacey Musgraves, and Hunter Hayes, among others, will perform at the ACM Honors on September 9 at the Ryman. This year’s honorees include Cowboy Jack Clement, Ronnie Milsap, Bob Beckham, Steve Buchanan, Kris Kristofferson, Buck Owens, Dean Dillon, Toby Keith, Paul Moore, Carrie Underwood, and Rascal Flatts.
- On November 4, Over the Rhine will release a holiday album called Blood Oranges in the Snow; the record will include a cover of “If We Make It Through December” as well as originals that the duo describes as “Reality Christmas.” (via press release)
- This Boston Globe article says that Sturgill Simpson and producer Dave Cobb have already started work on a follow-up album to Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and that they “hope to cut as many as three albums by next year.”
- Scottish folksinger Jean Redpath passed away after a battle with cancer. She was 77. Redpath had been a regular on A Prairie Home Companion and had performed and lived with Bob Dylan and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. If you haven’t, check out her multiple Songs of Robert Burns albums.
- Peter Cooper wrote a fine column on Ben Haggard.
- Kelefa Sanneh of The New Yorker takes a look at “Country Music’s Taylor Swift Problem” now that the singer-songwriter has officially gone pop with her freakishly catchy new single: In a mix-and-match culture, it’s refreshing, and somewhat miraculous, that country music still exists as a genre and a radio format and a culture, able to nurture a promising teen-aged singer-songwriter with a knack for impossibly memorable love songs. A country music that can do that might also be a country music strong enough, and stubborn enough, to hear a surefire hit from one of the biggest pop stars in the world and tell her goodbye, for now.
- Hot Rize released a video for “Blue is Fallin’” from their forthcoming album When I’m Free, due out in late September.
- A Kickstarter campaign has been launched to help fund Far Western, a documentary about Japan’s country/bluegrass music scene.
- Garth Brooks and Joan Baez are among the five musicians who will receive ASCAP Centennial Awards in November.
- Check out a new song by Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real.
- Berklee College of Music will give Del McCoury an American Roots Master Award on September 9.
- Billboard’s Chuck Dauphin takes a look at The Birthplace of Country Music Museum. Anybody made it out there yet?
- Here’s a new Pat Green and Lyle Lovett duet, “Girls from Texas.”
- Farce the Music premiered a new song by Sara Rachele.
- Justin Townes Earle to TheFader.com: If you say “I play country music,” you have to follow it up with real country music and whoo-whoo and all this shit. I made The Good Life. I went out on the road, and I did not like what I was saying. I’m never going to make two records the same. I haven’t yet, and I’m going to continue to change them. My first honky-tonk band was put together about six months before I made The Good Life. That was an “I want to do this” record. After I saw where that was taking me, it was not the direction I wanted to go in. I didn’t want that fan base. I didn’t want to play the Grand Ole Opry. I did once and I don’t want to ever again. Country is a very narrow thought. There’s no room to branch out on it. I’m a serious classic honky-tonk fan, and I believe you shouldn’t do anything to it. I moved into a more experimental mode of combining all the kinds of music I like into something a little more neutral.
- Coming soon: happiness-inducing Engine 145 t-shirts.
American Songwriter Offers Free Lee Ann Womack Download; CMHOF Announces Americana Fest Schedule; Stream Unreleased Woody Guthrie Song
- JP Harris & The Tough Choices will release Home is Where the Hurt Is on September 23. Yesterday afternoon, Esquire premiered the album’s first single, “Give a Little Lovin’.”
- Time.com is streaming “Man’s a Fool,” a previously unreleased Woody Guthrie-Sonny Terry duet.
- Alan Jackson’s Hall of Fame exhibit will open on August 29; his ’55 Thunderbird will be on display until September 1. The museum is staging a couple neat programs for the exhibit’s first weekend, including a Songwriter Session with Jim McBride and a guided tour “When Daddy Let Me Drive: The Museum’s Cool Cars.”
- The Hall of Fame also released its schedule for Americana Fest. BR549, Paul Burch, and others will participate in a program celebrating the 20th anniversary of the “Lower Broadway renaissance,” Billy Joe Shaver will participate in a Songwriter Session, Barry Mazor will interview Ry Cooder, and more.
- Jewly Hight interviewed Larry Sparks about his 50th anniversary album, Lonesome & Then Some.
- Hight also wrote a piece for Rolling Stone on songwriter Natalie Hemby, who had a hand in hits like “Pontoon” and “White Liar.”
- She also wrote this lengthy Nashville Scene feature on Old Crow Medicine Show.
- The American Songwriter Muse September 2014 sampler includes some fab new songs from Lee Ann Womack (her cover of Mando Saenz’s “When I Come Around”), Cory Branan, Lera Lynn, and more. Download it for free dollars here.
- Otis Gibbs told some entertaining stories to a USA Today reporter, like the time he was mistaken for a homeless person by some German filmmakers.
- The Ellen DeGeneres Show premiered the lyric video for Brad Paisley’s “Shattered Glass” from his forthcoming album Moonshine in the Trunk, which comes out next week.
- A man died at Hank Jr.’s Sunday night show in Michigan due to head injuries sustained after being shoved by a 15-year-old family friend.
- Paste gave the documentary The Byrd Who Flew Alone: The Triumphs and Tragedy of Gene Clark a positive review.
- Did openly gay country singer Josey Greenwell step back in the closet and rebrand himself as Nate Green in an attempt to find success?
- Jake Brown’s Nashville Songwriter: The Inside Story Behind Country Music’s Greatest Hits will be released in September. The book takes a look at classics like Tom T. Hall’s “Harper Valley PTA” and George Strait chart-topper “Fool Hearted Memory” (written by Byron Hill and Blake Mevis) as well as contemporary hits by Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan, and more.
Trisha Yearwood Gets Back in the Ring; Gillian Welch & David Rawlings Cover Johnny Cash; Dale Watson Stars in New Commercial
- Trisha Yearwood announced yesterday evening that she is preparing to release a new album called PrizeFighter through Sony Music Nashville/RCA Records. No word on a release date yet, but I hope it’s soon. Tomorrow works for me.
- Garth Brooks added another Chicago show, bringing the total to 11.
- Hardly Strictly Bluegrass has slowly been revealing this year’s lineup by posting medleys of confirmed acts. So far it seems like Lucinda Williams, St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Parker Millsap, Buddy Miller, The McCrary Sisters, and Hot Rize are among the numerous acts slated to appear.
- Out September 30: Ricky Skaggs and Sharon White’s first album together, Hearts Like Ours.
- Take a peek at Johnny Cash’s boyhood home in Dyess, Ark.
- On August 23, Hunter Hayes will perform at the U.S. Open’s annual Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day.
- The New York Times’ Stephen Heyman looks at country music’s global popularity. An excerpt from the article:
“I think there’s real interest and more enthusiasm for our artists traveling overseas than ever before,” said Sarah Trahern, the chief executive of the Nashville-based Country Music Association, which has sponsored a popular concert series that brought artists like Brad Paisley to London and Dublin. “It’s not just an American format anymore.”
While superstars like Ms. Swift, who mixes her country-music sound with pop-rock elements, and icons like Ms. Parton have found success touring overseas, most American country musicians do not perform outside of North America. Ms. Trahern said that was because regional accents and “jingoistic references” in the songs make the music hard to export. “Sometimes, it’s lost in translation,” she said.
Since 2012, only a small fraction — about 8 percent — of the $1.1 billion earned by country music’s top concert tours has come from outside of North America, according to data from Pollstar.
Ms. Trahern said she expected those numbers to rise as more American country musicians realize how much demand there is for their sound abroad.
- Gillian Welch and David Rawlings covered “As Long as the Grass Shall Grow” for Look Again to the Wind: Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears Revisited. Listen here.
- Why are several lullabies also murder ballads? Ethnomusicologist Andrew Pettit says it might reflect the emotions of the child’s caregiver: “People have said that lullabies are the space to sing the unsung…A place to say the unsayable. You’re alone. Nobody is listening, and you can express the feelings that are not okay to express in society.”
- Our life coach Drunken Martina was interviewed for SiriusXM’s blog.
- Country Weekly premiered The Dirty River Boys’ new single, “Thought I’d Let You Know.” The alt-country band will release their second album on October 14.
- Bottle Rockets frontman Brian Henneman reflects on the band’s 20-year history in an interview posted on ReadtheHorn.com and mentions that they’ve got a new album in the works.
- David Bennum of TheQuietus.com looks back at Johnny Cash’s American Recordings.
- Dale Watson is starring in a new commercial for AT&T’s U-verse.
- Here’s a cute little radio piece about a bunch of kiddos in Alaska who busked to raise money for Bluegrass Camp.
- Elvis Costello, Rhiannon Giddens, Jim James, Taylor Goldsmith, and Marcus Mumford set some old Bob Dylan lyrics to music; the resulting album, Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes, will be released on November 11.
- Check out Lucette’s video for the spooky “Bobby Reid” and see if you recognize any of the actors.
- CMT premiered Shooter Jennings’ video for “Don’t Wait Up (I’m Playing Possum).”
- Randy Lewis wrote a piece on Dr. John’s new Louis Armstrong tribute album, Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch.
- Paste named Benjamin Booker one of the best of what’s next.
- Rootsy Aussie singer Lanie Lane will release her second album, Night Shade, in October. Listen to the album’s first single, “Celeste,” here.
- Of course Willie Nelson does card tricks.
In 1994, Dobro virtuosos Jerry Douglas, Mike Auldridge, and Rob Ickes appeared on the Grammy-winning album The Great Dobro Sessions. Nearly 20 years later, the three men reunited to work on more music. Sadly, it would turn out to be Auldridge’s final project, as he passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer in December 2012, shortly after the recording sessions were completed.
The trio’s final sessions together can be found on the stunning instrumental album Three Bells, which will be released on Rounder Records September 16. It features the three greats taking on classics including “Silver Threads Among the Gold” and “Panhandle Rag” in addition to several stunning original compositions like Ickes’ “Dobro Heaven” and Douglas’ “The Perils of Private Mulvaney.” Listening to the record almost feels as though you’re eavesdropping on a series of conversations between friends who don’t need words to communicate with one another.
Today we’re pleased to premiere a track from Three Bells, which you can preorder here. Listen to Auldridge’s gorgeous solo take on pop standards “Till There Was You” and “Moon River.”
- George Strait will release a live album, The Cowboy Rides Away: Live from AT&T Stadium, on September 16. On August 29, CMT will air a two-hour special that was shot at that concert.
- John Fullbright will be on Letterman August 28.
- Angaleena Presley, the new American Songwriter Writer of the Week, talks about her new album, co-writing with Gretchen Peters, and more in this Q&A. Presley also charmed the hell out of me when she opened for Marty Stuart last Saturday, but more on that later.
- The Secret Sisters are going to appear on Friday night’s episode of The Tonight Show. (via press release)
- Nickel Creek’s self-titled album, which was released on Sugar Hill in 2000, has been certified platinum. (via press release)
- American Songwriter Lyric of the Week: Steve Earle’s “Jerusalem.”
- Jerry Lee Lewis will play the Ryman on October 4.
- Check out Sturgill Simpson playing “Life of Sin” in Studio A.
- Mac Wiseman will celebrate Songs from My Mother’s Hand with songs and stories at the Franklin Theatre on October 21. This is a pretty rare event, so if you’re near Franklin, Tenn., you need to go to it.
- Evergreen Media Holdings has secured the rights to make a movie and a musical about the history of Stax Records.
- American Aquarium’s BJ Barham says the band has finished making an album of “the best group of songs” they’ve ever recorded together. The record will be released in early 2015.
- David Morris of Bluegrass Today makes the case for Hazel Dickens’ induction into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame.
- The “absolutely magnetic” Billy Joe Shaver celebrated his 75th birthday on Saturday with a show in L.A.
- David Nail released a video for an acoustic version of “The Secret.”
- Adam Gold (The Nashville Scene) put together a list of 19 must-see clips from The Johnny Cash Show.
- Robbie Fulks was on BBC Radio Scotland the other day; listen to the interview here. (warning: autoplay)
- Nicole Atkins covered “Dancing in the Dark” on Dead Man’s Town, the upcoming Americana salute to Born in the USA.
- Shooter Jennings did an Ask Me Anything for Reddit.
- Sasha Frere-Jones in the August 25 issue of The New Yorker: Until recently, country music was seen as stylistically retrograde—conservative music for the conservative states. But the truth is more complicated. In the nineties, Garth Brooks was blending stadium rock into his country songs. He was also singing about gay rights, something that it took a Top Ten rapper two more decades to do. In 2000, when pop stars were unlikely to write songs about domestic violence, the Dixie Chicks scored a Top Twenty hit with “Goodbye Earl,” a cheerfully ruthless narrative about two friends poisoning an abusive husband. And Taylor Swift is only one of many country artists who incorporate covers of hip-hop and R&B into their live sets, a favor that is not often returned by their peers in other genres. Country refuses to die because it isn’t particularly specialized—it’s an ecumenical church that admits all comers.
- On September 27, Willie Nelson and Neil Young will be in Nebraska performing at a protest concert organized by opponents of a pipeline that will carry oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast.
- This week’s album releases:
Otis Gibbs – Souvenirs of a Misspent Youth
Cory Branan – The No-Hit Wonder
Paul Thorn – Too Blessed to Be Stressed
Ruthie Foster – Promise of a Brand New Day
Rob McCoury – The 5 String Flamethrower
Smoke Dawson – Fiddle
Crowe, Lawson & Williams – Standing Tall and Tough
Michael-Ann – Heavy Load
Town Mountain – Live at the Isis
Cahalen Morrison & Country Hammer – The Flower of Muscle Shoals
Benjamin Booker – Benjamin Booker
Dr. John – Ske-Dat-De-Dat…The Spirit of Satch
Parsonsfield – Afterparty
Ray Stevens – Gospel Collection, Vol. 1
Elvin Bishop – Can’t Even Do Wrong Right
Phil Ochs – Live in Lansing, 1973
Various Artists – Look Again to the Wind: Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears Revisited
Daryle Singletary Returns to the Studio; NPR Premieres Shovels & Rope’s Swimmin’ Time; New Music Videos
- Florida Georgia Line will release Anything Goes on October 14.
- John Mellencamp will “embrace his Americana roots” on his new LP, Plain Spoken, out September 23.
- Cumulus has launched its Nash Icon format on multiple radio stations stations.
- Check out the trailer for The Song, a new movie about a singer-songwriter whose hit record leads to family drama.
- In other film news, the documentary Glen Campbell… I’ll Be Me will be released in New York and Nashville theaters on October 24, with a nationwide release to follow. You can watch the trailer here.
- Stream Shovels & Rope’s Swimmin’ Time on NPR.
- Jim Lauderdale visited the American Songwriter offices to play “I’m a Song.”
- Listen to Kenny Chesney’s “Flora-Bama,” which will be on his next album, The Big Revival.
- Angaleena Presley released a lyric video for “Ain’t No Man,” the first single on her upcoming solo album.
- Former Eden’s Edge lead singer Hannah Blaylock unveiled an acoustic video of her beautiful song, “Don’t Want You to Go.”
- Logan Brill performed a four-song acoustic concert that you can stream over at Daytrotter.
- The devoted C.M. Wilcox posted a new Quotable Country.
- Bob Dylan came in at Number 18 on CMT’s All-Time Top 40: Artists’ Choice.
- Brad Paisley leaked his song “American Flag on the Moon” from a launch pad at Kennedy Space Center.
- Meet Alexis Cunningham, one of SiriusXM’s fresh female voices of country music.
- Tim McGraw scored his 50th Top 10 hit with “Meanwhile, Back at Mama’s.”
- What happens when you’re George Strait’s backup singer and your golden goose retires from the road? Marty Slayton Jordan lets you know in Peter Cooper’s new Tennessean column.
- Crystal Shawanda announced on Facebook that she will release her blues album, The Whole World’s Got the Blues, on September 30.
- Daryle Singletary is back in the studio working on his next project.
- Ray Wylie Hubbard looks like he’s working on a new project too, based on this note he posted on his Facebook page: “went in and listened to what we recorded a few weeks ago..it stands up on its hind legs and makes a fist.. you may not like the singer or the songs but you will like the way it sounds.. i really don’t know where these gnawed off pieces of obscureness come from and sometimes i even wonder why i can’t write somewhat remotely close to mainstream commercial popular type songs that maybe somebody else might record some day but then..i get a headache thinking about that and i quit and get grateful that as an old cat at least my songs aren’t metaphor deficient and i still can lay down a groove that make the hip bones wanna do the shaka shaka boom boom ugha ugha whomp whomp.”
- Bassist Jason Moore has left Mountain Heart.
- New music videos from the past week or so:
Doug Bruce – “Broke Down Heart”
Nu-Blu and Sam Moore – “Jesus and Jones”
Mick Lindsay – “Imaginary Girl”
Michaela Anne –“Ease My Mind” (Live at WAMU’s Bluegrass Country)
Jim Gaudet & The Railroad Boys – “Walk of Life” (Live at WAMU’s Bluegrass Country)
Gwen Sebastian – “Small Town Soul”
Chasin’ Crazy – “That’s How We Do Summertime”
Stephanie Quayle – “Sugar High”
Christie Lamb – “Wish You Were a Cowboy”
John Berry – “Please Come to Boston” (Tour Bus Covers)
Kacey Musgraves and Katy Perry – “Keep It to Yourself” (CMT Crossroads)
Eric Church – “Cold One”
Erica Bryan – “This House is Haunted”
Mac Wiseman’s new album was more than 80 years in the making. And it’s worth the wait.
But it’s not as though the 89-year-old music legend wasn’t doing anything else during those decades: he’s performed everywhere from the Old Dominion Barn Dance to Carnegie Hall, been an executive for Dot Records, helped found the Country Music Association, recorded hundreds of songs, and, most recently, been named one of this year’s inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
“I was quite pleasantly surprised when they told me I’d gotten into the Hall,” says Wiseman, calling from the cell phone he keeps stashed in a Crown Royal bag tied to his wheelchair. “I had kind of given up on it.”
Several weeks before his induction, Wiseman will celebrate the release of Songs from My Mother’s Hand, his first new album since 2007’s John Prine collaboration, Standard Songs for Average People. The album consists of songs that his mother, Neva Ruth Wiseman, transcribed off the family’s radio during the 1930s. “In the wintertime, she’d sit by the radio crocheting or quilting,” Wiseman remembers. “She’d keep a notebook on top of the radio, and when the musicians would sing a song, she’d write down a few lines. A few days later, they’d sing the same song, and she’d get a couple more lines.” She filled 13 composition books this way. The songs, which included “The Eastbound Train” and “Little Rosewood Casket,” formed the bedrock of country music.
The Wisemans were a musical family. Mac’s mom played the piano at church, and his father was the first person in their rural Virginia community to buy a phonograph and radio. “People would gather at our house on the weekends to listen in. We could get clear stations from Jacksonville, Hopkinsville…everybody would listen to the barn dances overnight, Mom would fix ‘em breakfast, and then they’d go home,” Mac laughs.
For Mac, a sickly young boy who survived polio as an infant and battled pneumonia throughout his childhood, the songs in his mother’s notebooks opened up an entire world for him outside Crimora, Virginia. He taught himself guitar by figuring out how to play the songs Ruth wrote down for him, and he’d sit at the kitchen table reading the lyrics over and over again by the light of a kerosene lamp. He didn’t dream about pursuing music professionally until his polio-damaged leg kept him from more physically demanding jobs. A polio foundation paid for Wiseman to attend the Shenandoah Conservatory of Music in the early 1940s, where he studied broadcast radio and soon found a job on Harrisonburg, Virginia station WSVA, which is where he got his start in the music business, where his crystalline tenor eventually earned him the nickname “The Voice with a Heart.” Even as his career took him away from the Shenandoah Valley — to Chicago to record with Molly O’Day, Nashville (to play with Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs) and, later, Los Angeles, home of Dot Records — he hung on to his mother’s yellowing notebooks for more than half a century until it became time to use them again.
“Mac had been telling us for years about these notebooks, but I had never seen them,” says Peter Cooper, who co-produced Songs from My Mother’s Hand with Thomm Jutz. “We had been talking with Mac about making a album because it seemed like the perfect time to do so, with his Hall of Fame induction coming up. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to record for it. He said, ‘Maybe I should do more modern songs, like ‘The Gambler.’’ But the next time we went over there, he had one of the notebooks out and was singing from it.”
“That was like somebody handed us not just the record, but the graphic design, the cover art, and the narrative that a project like this needs,” Jutz adds. “The only unknown was that neither Peter nor I had worked with an 89-year-old singer before, so we didn’t know what the work load was going to be.”
Turns out it was easier than either producer could have imagined: Wiseman completed all of his vocals for the 12-song album in just six hours, a task that’s nearly unheard of in the contemporary country world. Says Cooper, “I wouldn’t have asked a 30-year-old singer to do that!”
Recording the music came just as easy. Wiseman wanted some of the best pickers Nashville had to offer, including guitarist Jimmy Capps, leader of the Grand Ole Opry house band, bluegrass phenom Sierra Hull, bassist Mark Fain, multi-instrumentalist Justin Moses, harmonica player Jelly Roll Johnson, hammered dulcimer player Alisa Jones Wall, and Jutz, who played guitar.
“We didn’t want to make a bluegrass record because these songs are pre-bluegrass,” Jutz explains. “We wanted to play and record these songs in the way that somebody might have played them in 1932.” There are no electric instruments, no drums, and no reverb. It’s folk music at its purest.
Though Wiseman’s famously pure tenor is weathered now, he’s still got a strong command over it, wrenching each drop of feeling out of the lyrics. When he sings “I Heard My Mother Call My Name in Prayer” and honors his grandmother with his version of her favorite song, “Will There Be Any Stars in My Crown,” it’s hard not to choke up at the emotion in his voice, and it’s impossible not to grin as he cuts loose on the playful “Ol’ Rattler,” about an ostensibly blind dog who miraculously regains his sight every evening around suppertime.
Songs from My Mother’s Hand doesn’t hit shelves for another month, but Mac’s never been too good at staying still. These days, he’s busier than ever. He’s recorded an album with Merle Haggard that will hopefully see the light of day before too long, he’s been in talks with Bear Family Records about releasing a third box set of his music, and he’s got a slew of notebook songs (“like 100”) that he still wants to record “for the younger people who aren’t familiar with them.”
Over his decades in music, Wiseman has watched country music unfold. The night Hank Williams made his Opry debut in 1949, Wiseman was there, as a member of Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys. He still pays attention to new music – he admits he “[doesn’t] particularly enjoy” a lot of what he hears, but listens to keep abreast of what’s going on. He’s had hit songs in multiple countries, sung material by everyone from The Carter Family to Fleetwood Mac, and influenced countless country and bluegrass artists.
But with everything he’s accomplished, Wiseman remains modest when discussing his achievements: “When all of this is over, I’d like the short epitaph ‘he did the best he could,’” he says. “I didn’t do it all, by any means, but I’ve done the best I could with what I had.”
He’s had a lot, and it all started with a mother who took the time to write down the music she thought her boy might like. “These notebooks are the beginning of my life,” he says, matter-of-factly. By recording Songs from My Mother’s Hand, he’s shared not just an essential piece of himself, but a priceless American music artifact with the world.
- Applejack: It's not just you, Andrew L. I just listened to the clips on Amazon, and the autotune effect is terrible.
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- Jonathan Pappalardo: Great interview as always, Juli! The new album is fantastic. "Same Kind of Different" is my favorite cut although "Fly" is …
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- Leeann Ward: I'm really liking Pink's folk duo song! I'm looking forward to the album!