With forthcoming releases from Becky Buller, Phil Leadbetter, Stoney LaRue, The Stray Birds, and lots more, October’s shaping up to be a fine month for music. Here are five albums that we’re anticipating. What are you looking forward to?
5. The Hello Strangers – The Hello Strangers
The sister duo’s self-titled album (due October 21) is one of the year’s strongest debut albums. Brechyn Chace and Larissa Chace Smith serve up a delightful collection of songs, ranging from the raucous singalong “What It Takes to Break A Heart” to the honky-tonking “Ruined” to a sweet version of “Que Sera, Sera,” which pays tribute to the sisters’ grandfather, who sang with Doris Day in the ‘40s. And there’s an appearance from Jim Lauderdale (on “What You Don’t Know”), which is always a bonus.
4. Reed Foehl – Lost in the West
If you’ve perused the liner notes for Lee Ann Womack’s The Way I’m Livin’, you’ve seen Foehl’s name: he co-wrote the album opener, “Fly.” Currently based in Boulder, Foehl, a founding member of Acoustic Junction, delivers evocative Americana perfect for a fall drive on a winding highway on Lost in the West, which comes out October 21. Check out Lost in the West if you’re a fan of folkies like Gregory Alan Isakov.
3. Jerry Lee Lewis – Rock & Roll Time
Jerry Lee Lewis may be fast approaching his 80th birthday, but the Killer can still lay down some fiery piano. Rock & Roll Time, which comes out October 28, finds the music legend surrounding himself with a number of A-list guests, including Neil Young, Keith Richards, and Doyle Bramhall II on songs like “Little Queenie” and “Folsom Prison Blues,” while Shelby Lynne serves as an able duet partner on a cover of Kristofferson’s “Here Comes That Rainbow Again.” (You’ll hear more about Jerry Lee from Barry Mazor a little later this month – stay tuned.)
2. Doug Seegers – Going Down to the River
Doug Seegers has one of the most fascinating backstories you’ll ever hear. The frequently homeless singer-songwriter spent his days busking on city streets before getting discovered at a Nashville soup kitchen by a Swedish country singer. It wasn’t long before the 62-year-old Seegers, who’s got a bit of Hank Williams in his mournful voice, became a star in the land of Ikea and ABBA. New album Going Down to the River (out October 7 on Rounder Records) is a gem; opening track “Angie’s Song,” written for a girlfriend in jail, is one of the highlights, and his duet with Emmylou Harris, on “She,” is a fine salute to one of Seegers’ favorite artists, Gram Parsons.
1. Angaleena Presley – American Middle Class
Presley charmed the hell out of me when she opened for Marty Stuart last summer. Like a contemporary Loretta Lynn, the sharp singer-songwriter delivers true-to-life tales of working class life and love on her new album, which comes out October 14 on Slate Creek. Her new single, “Knocked Up,” is particularly irresistible. If you’ve enjoyed fellow Pistol Annie Ashley Monroe’s solo work, you’ll want to add this to your music collection.
- There’s an excellent feature on Mac Wiseman (written by Barry Mazor) in The Wall Street Journal.
- Marty Stuart was on NPR’s Fresh Air. Listen to his lengthy interview with Terry Gross here.
- Stuart on his collection of country music memorabilia and artifacts: I know we’re a Monday morning town; we create the chart every Monday and new stars every week, and that’s great. But that being said, there is no reason to discard former greatness because former greatness is usually better as time goes on, with wisdom…My point is: move the whole story forward, not just segments of the story or the latest and greatest flavor of the month that comes and goes. Save the treasures of the whole story, revere the people of the whole story. It’s the family of country music.
- Stream John & Jacob’s new, self-titled album; they’re currently on the road with Kacey Musgraves.
- Ruthie Foster played “Singing the Blues” for Relix.
- On October 28, Tompkins Square Records will release the two-disc set Get in Union: Bessie Jones with the Georgia Sea Island Singers and Others. Here’s a sneak peek.
- The IBMA Awards are this evening; you can stream the show on Music City Roots’ site at 7:30 Eastern.
- Sharon White and Ricky Skaggs discuss their new album, Hearts Like Ours, with Chuck Dauphin of The 615.
- Jason Aldean’s Old Boots, New Dirt is streaming on CMT.com.
- Jewly Hight conducted a fine interview with Lucinda Williams.
- Ryan Adams covered Foreigner’s ‘80s power ballad “I Want to Know What Love Is.”
- The Big Revival is Kenny Chesney’s thirteenth album to top the country charts.
- Darius Rucker released a video for “Homegrown Honey.”
- On November 3, Neal McCoy will release a deluxe edition of his Charley Pride tribute album, Pride, through Cracker Barrel.
- Rockabilly artist Joe Clay (you might know his mid-1950s single, “Ducktail.” He also played drums with Elvis and George Jones.) discusses his career in this video interview filmed by NOLA.com.
- Chuck Mead & His Grassy Knoll Boys played Mountain Stage; listen to their set here. (warning: autoplay)
- This month’s free Blue Ridge Outdoors Trail Mix includes songs by Sons of Bill, JP Harris & The Tough Choices, Luke Winslow-King, and lots more.
- Chris Gray of The Houston Press looks at Tracey W. Laird’s new book, Austin City Limits: A History, in his new article: “How Austin City Limits Went from TV Show to Blockbuster Brand.”
- Claire Lynch will release her Christmas album, Holiday, next week. (via press release)
- There’s a new documentary on Arhoolie Records called This Ain’t No Mouse Music! The L.A. Times wasn’t wild about the film, but here’s the trailer.
With his wire rim glasses, owlish eyes, and well-worn plaid shirt, songster Dom Flemons looks more like a grad student than the dynamic performer he becomes onstage; fitting, then, that last night’s show at The Hamilton in Washington, DC, was equal parts concert and history lesson.
Joined by bassist/fiddler Brian Farrow and drummer Dante Pope, Flemons, a founding member of Piedmont string band The Carolina Chocolate Drops, delivered an engaging mixture of blues, old-time, ragtime, early jazz, and country – a mouthful, which is why Flemons calls himself an “American songster,” a term that encompasses the wide variety of music that he plays.
Throughout his show, Flemons would introduce each song with information about the song’s history and who or where he learned it. His set list was brimming with traditional tunes, blues songs picked up from Mississippi Sheiks or Sonny Boy Williamson recordings, and originals from his third solo album, Prospect Hill, released earlier this year.
Frequently switching between banjo, guitar, harmonica, bones, and quills, Flemons was quite literally tripping over his instruments onstage. Luckily, he’s an agile picker even when he’s tangled up in cords, cables, and guitar stands. As anyone who has seen him before (either solo or with the Chocolate Drops) knows, he is one of the most energetic entertainer on the Americana circuit, whether he’s pulling out a four-string banjo and stepping away from the microphone to mimic his days busking on New York City subways, saluting Nashville gustatory delights on “Hot Chicken,” or delivering proto rock n’ roll on the Fats Domino-esque “Can’t Do It Anymore.” Though the venue was only half full, Flemons performed like he was playing the Astrodome, whipping his sets of rhythm bones behind his back and under his legs on “Cindy Gal” and stomping and hollering through infectious tunes like “Your Baby Ain’t Sweet Like Mine,” which the Chocolate Drops recorded for their 2010 release, Genuine Negro Jig.
If Flemons and his band make it to your town, go check out the show – not only will you get a night of good American roots music, you might even learn something new.
Remember when we posted a review of the new audiobook version of Tom T. Hall’s 1979 memoir, The Storyteller’s Nashville, with narration by Tom T. Hall and Peter Cooper and original music performed by Thomm Jutz? Of course you do.
Anyway, our friends at Blackstone Audio have sent us another copy of the five-disc audiobook to give away to an Engine 145 reader. Perhaps you would like to be that reader. If so, leave a comment on this post mentioning your favorite Tom T. Hall song(s) before 12 p.m. ET on Friday, October 3. A winner will be chosen by random number generator and notified via email, so be sure to use a valid address.
Jim Ed Brown Diagnosed with Lung Cancer; Glen Campbell Sued Over Documentary; Holly Williams Welcomes Daughter
- Jim Ed Brown revealed in a video he posted on his Facebook page that he has been diagnosed with lung cancer. Doctors have asked him to take a four-month break from the road in order to focus on chemo and radiation treatments. (warning: autoplay)
- Glen Campbell’s getting sued over I’ll Be Me, the documentary about his struggle with Alzheimer’s. From The Hollywood Reporter: “The Record Company is a production house claiming the film violates an agreement it made in June 2011 to develop a project about the country music icon with him and [director-producer James] Keach, whose credits include producing the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line. In a complaint filed against Campbell on Monday, the studio alleges it was ‘excluded from participating in the documentary in every way’ despite its ‘exclusive’ agreement with Campbell.”
- Our pals at WAMU’s Bluegrass Country are broadcasting a killer show from Raleigh tonight: tune in or log in at 8 p.m. Eastern to hear The Gibson Brothers, Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen, Chatham County Line, and Claire Lynch.
- Holly Williams gave birth to a baby girl yesterday; Stella June is Williams and husband Chris Coleman’s first child.
- Thomas Goldsmith of The Raleigh News & Observer looks at the African-American influence on bluegrass, old-time, and string band music.
- Lori McKenna on the theme tying together the songs on new album Numbered Doors: “I’ve usually been pretty lucky about hotels, but I’ve stayed in some where you’re up all night hoping you make it through the morning. (laughs) I drive by and think, ‘Who stays in there?’ As a people watcher and a songwriter, I think we all make up stories about people and imagine what their stories are. I love regular life stories. When we had Numbered Doors down, we thought, “These have to be characters that would stay in one of these places, or they are in one of these places, or they’re in a marriage, which leads to a honeymoon, which leads to a hotel. That was the rough common thread.”
- Here’s a free download of Frazey Ford’s (The Be Good Tanyas) “September Fields” from her new solo album, Indian Ocean.
- James McMurtry’s next album, Complicated Game, is scheduled to be released on February 10, 2015. The record’s first single, “How’m I Gonna Find You Now,” comes out later this month. (via email)
- Nashville is back, which means that the Fug Girls’ Nashville recaps, which tend to be a lot more fun than the show itself, are back.
- Dale Ann Bradley’s returned to Pinecastle Records; she’s working on a solo project that’ll be released in mid-2015. (via press release)
- The new season of Troubadour, TX began last Saturday. Rodney Crowell, Walt Wilkins, and Green River Ordinance are among the acts who’ll appear on upcoming episodes.
- David Morris of Bluegrass Today recaps Bela Fleck’s keynote address at IBMA’s World of Bluegrass: “He spent a good deal of his convention kickoff speech focusing on his decision in the late 1980s to leave the New Grass Revival and pursue jazz-based music with the Béla Fleck and the Flecktones. At the time, he said in a speech that was part confessional, part I-saw-the-light conversion, he saw distancing himself from bluegrass as the only way forward because the music business seemed to be shunning the banjo and any connection to bluegrass or country music. But over the years, he realized that whenever he needed to pull out the stops, he found that he didn’t turn to Miles Davis or Bach. He turned to Earl Scruggs, whom he described as ‘an inspiring force in my musical life.’”
- Trampled By Turtles announced December tour dates.
- Kenny Rogers will kick off his annual Christmas tour on November 12 in Niagara Falls, Ontario.
- In other holiday news, Jennifer Nettles will return as the host of CMA Country Christmas. Carrie Underwood, Little Big Town, Sara Evans, and Hunter Hayes are among the performers slated to appear on the television special, which tapes on November 7 at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena.
- Check out a video for “Thought It Would Be Easier” from the 15th anniversary edition of Shelby Lynne’s I Am Shelby Lynne. The CD/DVD package comes out next week.
- Josh Ritter covered “Rosalie” on the new Chris Smither tribute album, Link of Chain. Listen here.
- Go read John Morthland’s piece on Cowboy Jack Clement’s legacy.
George Jones Museum Planned for Nashville’s Second Ave.; Additional CMA Awards Performers Announced; Album Releases
- Best wishes to Elizabeth Cook, who’s “reluctantly agreeing to hit the pause button and recalibrate” after a stretch that included the loss of both parents, a divorce, and a busy touring and radio show schedule.
- The Save Studio A group released an independent report on the state of the building, which current owners Bravo Development say is too costly to preserve/upgrade (but not too costly to demolish it and build a bunch of condos). According to The Nashville Scene, although access to the building was limited – Bravo had served the group with a cease-and-desist letter preventing them from physically investigating the building — the report states that “completing the identified repair and maintenance issues addressed for Studio A, under its current use, [would] be less than $375,000.”
- Robert K. Oermann penned an obituary for the late Priscilla Mitchell, who passed away on September 24.
- Nancy Jones announced plans to open a George Jones Museum on Second Avenue in Nashville. The four-story, 44,000 square foot facility will include a restaurant and music venue in addition to the museum.
- Listen to Hal Ketchum’s “Sweet Loreen.” It’ll be on his new album, I’m the Troubadour (out October 7).
- The Band Perry, Little Big Town, Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood, and Lady Antebellum have been added to the CMA Awards’ lineup of performers.
- Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy Bear Family’s forthcoming box set, The Singing Fisherman: The Complete Johnny Horton Recordings, which is pretty much the same thing.
- Kenny Chesney played “American Kids” on Conan last night. (warning: autoplay)
- The American Songwriter Lyric of the Week and Writer of the Week: Robert Johnson’s “Love in Vain” and Jonah Tolchin.
- Stream Jackson Browne’s Standing in the Breach before its October 7 release. (warning: autoplay)
- Elizabeth McGovern, aka Lady Grantham on Downton Abbey, will play a handful of U.S. shows with her folk-rock band, Sadie and the Hotheads, in December.
- Here’s a free download of Cory Branan’s “The No-Hit Wonder.”
- For the past 17 years, a group of five Swedish scientists have been holding a contest to see who can fit the most Bob Dylan lyrics into their editorials and research articles.
- A New York Times theater critic praised the “winsome country and bluegrass score” of Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s new musical, Bright Star.
- There’s an excellent interview with Jim Lauderdale on RollingStone.com.
- This week’s album releases (thanks for supporting E145 by purchasing your music through our affiliate links. It doesn’t cost you extra, but it helps us keep the lights on):
Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives – Saturday Night/Sunday Morning
Alice Gerrard – Follow the Music
Ricky Skaggs & Sharon White – Hearts Like Ours
Sons of Bill – Love & Logic
The Last Bison – VA
Lucinda Williams – Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone
Jimmy Gaudreau and Moondi Klein – If I Had a Boat
Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers – Another Day from Life
Luke Winslow-King – Everlasting Arms
Hot Rize – When I’m Free
Lady Antebellum – 747
Blake Shelton – Bringing Back the Sunshine
Pine Hill Haints – The Magik Sounds of the Pine Hill Haints
Larry Rice – If You Only Knew
Ray Johnston Band – No Bad Days
Trigger Hippy – Trigger Hippy
Marshall Tucker Band – Live: Englishtown, NJ, September 3, 1977
Garth Brooks – Double Live (Anniversary Edition)
Ramblin’ Jack Elliott – The HighTone Years
Various Artists – The Soul of Designer Records
Various Artists – Link of Chain: A Songwriters Tribute to Chris Smither
Various Artists – Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me (soundtrack EP)
- And a couple books:
Tracey E.W. Laird – Austin City Limits: A History
Fiona Ritchie and Doug Orr – Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia
World of Bluegrass Returns to Raleigh; NPR Premieres Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn’s Album; New Music Videos
- Stream Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn’s new album at NPR.
- Courtney Patton launched a Kickstarter campaign to help raise funds for her next album (“It’s country. And it’s full of waltzes.”), which will be produced by Drew Kennedy.
- The Tennessean’s Cindy Watts interviewed Blake Shelton about new album Bringing Back the Sunshine. An excerpt: “When I was making this record, I told (producer) Scott (Hendricks) I wanted to find a way to bring it back country … as much as we can and still make what we’re doing interesting,” Shelton said. “I’m as guilty as anybody of pushing the boundaries in country music and sometimes I turn on the radio and it’s like, ‘OK, I like everything I hear, but I’m also missing some things, too.”
- Mac Wiseman was featured on NPR’s Weekend Edition.
- Check out “Portraits of 11 of the Americana Music Festival’s Most Intriguing Acts.”
- IBMA’s World of Bluegrass returns to Raleigh this week.
- Kip Moore released a surprise EP called Soundcheck last week.
- Allison Moorer discusses her next album, Down to Believing (out on March 17), her separation from Steve Earle and her son’s autism in this powerful interview by Stephen L. Betts of Rolling Stone Country.
- From The New York Times: “As Music Row Shifts to Condo Row, Nashville Cries in Its Beer.”
- Country music photographer Raeanne Rubenstein discusses some of her work in this NPR piece.
- Collin Raye has been in the studio recording an entire album of love songs that he’s planning on releasing in early 2015. (via press release)
- Billboard’s Chuck Dauphin chatted with Marty Stuart about his Saturday Night and Sunday Morning double album as well as an instrumental album Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives are working on.
- A few day after her 73rd birthday (September 18), Priscilla Mitchell – whose duet with Roy Drusky, “Yes, Mr. Peters,” topped the charts in 1965 — passed away. (Info from E145 friend Karen Raizor.)
- Garth Brooks will make Minneapolis the next stop on his
quest for world dominationtour.
- Gentleman C.M. Wilcox posted a new edition of Quotable Country.
- Listen to Whitney Duncan’s new single, “Roll All Night,” here.
- The Daily Times’ Steve Wildsmith on the artlessness of today’s country music hits: “Luke Bryan’s music is the equivalent of a blanket I might buy at Walmart: It has a nice rhythm, a catchy chorus, a hummable cadence … but the second the song is over, I couldn’t tell you anything about it, and only the constant repetition on mainstream country radio would remind me that I had indeed heard that song before. It’s a well-put together song, just as the blanket is that warms me on a cold night … but just as that blanket is probably made on an assembly line by a dozen hands and a machine-like process, so is that song.”
- Michele Parente of The San Diego Union-Tribune didn’t have much nice to say about last week’s local Jason Aldean/Florida Georgia Line/Tyler Farr concert.
- Logan Brill released a new song called “Wailing Wall.” All proceeds from its downloads will go to the Montachusett Veterans Outreach program.
- Taylor Swift earned a slew of gold and platinum certifications.
- Rolling Stone Country counted down the “40 Saddest Country Songs of All Time.” While I don’t necessarily agree with the top selection (“Concrete Angel”), there are some really great songs on that list.
- New music videos and a couple live performances from the last week:
Holly Williams – “Waiting on June”
Lee Ann Womack and John Legend – “You and I (Nobody in the World)” (from CMT Crossroads)
Radney Foster – “California”
Frankie Ballard – “Sunshine & Whiskey” (live for CMT’s Listen Up)
Kip Moore – “Heart’s Desire”
Keith Urban – “Somewhere in my Car”
Jimmy Rankin – “Whiskey When the Sun Goes Down”
The Stray Birds – “Best Medicine”
Dean Alexander – “Live a Little”
Lori McKenna – “Numbered Doors”
The Shires – “Black and White” (Coffee House Sessions)
Dom Flemons – “But They Got It Fixed Right On” (Live at WAMU’s Bluegrass Country)
Dean Brody – “Mountain Man”
The Rigneys – “Bluegrass Band”
The Bankesters – “Found”
I’ve always been of the opinion that listening to an audiobook is like eating a steak dinner that’s been put through a blender: it’ll keep you from starving, but the experience is nothing like the pleasure derived from sinking your teeth into a medium rare ribeye straight off the grill, or curling up with a favorite paperback on a rainy afternoon. The new audio version of Tom T. Hall’s 1979 memoir, The Storyteller’s Nashville, proves that theory wrong in all the best ways.
Narrated by “self-described professional Tom T. Hall fan” and country music journalist Peter Cooper, with original acoustic music between chapters provided by Thomm Jutz, The Storyteller’s Nashville begins with Hall’s arrival in Nashville on New Year’s Day, 1964, driving a car packed with everything he owned and greeting the city line with a shouted, “Are you ready for me, you big son of a bitch?”
From there, it’s six and a half hours of pure entertainment, as Hall delivers scenes from the road, the story behind his first massive hit, Jeannie C. Riley’s wildly successful recording of “Harper Valley P.T.A,” numerous tales that begin with a guitar and bottle of whiskey, and the cringe-inducing moment when he first met Miss Dixie, who’d later become his wife, at a BMI dinner and awards show…upon being introduced, he immediately called her fat. (Note: this is not a good strategy for anyone who is not Tom T. Hall, and he’s pretty lucky it ended up working for him.)
The audio version of The Storyteller’s Nashville has been updated with new chapters detailing events that have occurred since the book’s original publication in 1979, including Hall’s retirement from the road (“If you want to retire, go ahead,” he writes. “Life will still present innumerable occasions for you to go out and make an ass of yourself.”), his album with Earl Scruggs, his sobriety, his last massive mainstream hit, Alan Jackson’s “Little Bitty,” and his current gig: writing bluegrass songs with Dixie at their beloved farm, Fox Hollow.
Frequently hilarious, occasionally poignant, and always engaging, The Storyteller’s Nashville is packed with the sharp observations and smart writing that makes Hall one of the best songwriters music has ever known; Cooper’s animated narration helps bring Hall’s words to life, and Hall himself occasionally drops in to deliver wry anecdotes on topics like “Tour Bus Anger Management” and “Limo Logic.”
The Nashville that Tom T. Hall wrote about 35 years ago about may no longer exist, and the book itself is out of print, but with these five CDs, that old town and the characters who populated it come alive again.
Neil Young, Carrie Underwood Announce New Albums; Tootsie’s Plans Birthday Bash; Bankesters Release Video
- Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge will celebrate its 54th birthday with a block party on November 12; performers at the event will include Terri Clark and Chuck Wicks.
- Neil Young will release a new album, Storeytone, in November. Listen to new song “Who’s Gonna Stand Up,” which Young recorded with a 92-piece orchestra.
- Jason Aldean got engaged to his side-piece nearly two years to the day after paparazzi caught the two of them kissing in an L.A. bar.
- Lee Ann Womack on her song choices for The Way I’m Livin’: “I don’t look for dark songs…But I’m drawn to them. I think it’s the way I was raised. There was a lot of church—services every Sunday, youth group on Wednesdays. And football games on Friday nights. We ate at the same table every night. But later, I also spent a lot of time in bars, a lot of drinking for entertainment. And I saw a lot of folks using happiness as a mask. When somebody comes through the door acting like they have the world on a string, the first thing I think is, ‘I bet she’s miserable.’ ”
- Peter Cooper’s new column focuses on Hippie Jack Stoddart, Americana archivist and the man behind Jammin’ at Hippie Jack’s Americana Roots Music, Camping and Arts Festival in Crawford, Tenn.
- Carrie Underwood’s Greatest Hits: Decade #1 is coming out December 9. A track listing hasn’t been announced yet, but there’ll be some new material along with Underwood’s hits. (via press release)
- CMT.com is streaming Blake Shelton’s new album, Bringing Back the Sunshine.
- Mindy Smith wrote and recorded a new theme song for Shelter Me, a PBS program about animal shelters and pet adoption. Smith also produced a compilation of the same name; due out on October 7, the benefit album will include songs from Korby Lenker, SHEL, and more.
- The RIAA calculated music revenues from the first half of 2014; this year’s figure, $3.2 billion, is nearly a five percent drop from last year’s $3.9 billion. From Billboard: “[Digital] music revenue declined slightly, by half a percentage point, to $2.2 billion, down to $2.203 from $2.214 billion in the first half of 2013. Subscription revenue jumped 23.2%, to $371.4 million from $301.4 million; ad-supported streaming jumped 56.5% to $164.7 million from $105.2 million. The RIAA estimated that paid subscription services averaged 7.8 million subscribers in the first six months of the year, up from an average of 5.5 million subscribers in the first half of 2013. Download sales of albums and tracks fell 11.8% to nearly $1.3 million from $1.47 billion.”
- Megan Linsey throws shade at bro-country on her new single, “Try Harder Than That,” which also has a guest verse from rapper Bubba Sparxxx. (The rap-free version of the song – available on iTunes – is decent.)
- The Austin Chronicle published a lengthy feature on Shakey Graves.
- Justin Townes Earle played a few songs for Relix. Watch here.
- Peter Blackstock reviewed Eric Church’s recent live-streamed Austin City Limits taping.
- If it weren’t for a puppy, the Watermelon Park Fest wouldn’t exist. The lineup for the eleventh annual festival, which will be held this weekend in Berryville, Virginia, includes Sam Bush, Bruce Molsky, and Town Mountain.
- Keith Urban released a video for “Somewhere in My Car.” It might not be safe for work, depending on how your office feels about sideboob.
- Photographer Danny Clinch released the collection Still Moving earlier this week. Check out a couple photos that made the book, including shots of Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Buddy Guy.
- Congrats to the winner of our Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers CD giveaway: Jeanie Kinman. Check your email, Jeanie.
- The Bankesters released a video for their song “Found,” which was written in support of This Able Veteran, an organization that trains service dogs for veterans.
Americana music organized itself as this millennium approached. Over fourteen years later, the general sense of where its musical core lies (even with living, evolving outer borders), is better understood than ever before by anyone who cares to understand. Partly a format (see: Chart), nearly a genre, certainly a lively arena, maybe it’s not yet at the point where someone can say to friends, as they might of a rock or folk or jazz club or country bar, “let’s go downtown and catch what’s at that Americana joint” and expect the uninitiated friends to picture what they’d find. But still, younger standard-bearers such as Jason Isbell, who just swept this year’s major AMA awards to multiple standing ovations, are marking the territory.
Like any other lasting musical field, Americana will keep on being defined, first and foremost, by the audience it attracts, and what they respond to over time. The 2014 awards show’s rousing finale version of Johnny Cash’s “Get Rhythm” (the show will be seen on PBS in November) may still have looked like “a bunch of white guys and Rosanne,” but in fact performing Americana men and women and the roots music influences they lean on have been diversifying—in ethnic background, in regional background — slowly but surely, as surely as horns have joined the guitar strumming, and spirited performers who seem to love the work have generally replaced alt-rockers who just stood there staring at their own shoes. I don’t mean to exaggerate how far any of this has gone, or to say you’ll see a successor to Cassandra Wilson or Flaco Jimenez in most any Americana lineup (both of them were on the awards show this year) but things are moving along in inclusive directions. If it’s probably accurate sociology to think of Americana as roots music with a college education, there’s now a more diverse range of performers going off to school.
For me, some of the most clarifying, thought-provoking events during Americana fest and conference week here in Nashville were not necessarily among the most publicized or buzz generating. For example, there was a screening of the quite excellent documentary film For the Love of the Music: The Club 47 Folk Revival, which pulls off the challenging trick of capturing a lively predecessor scene to this one, including its complex relationships. Club 47 was, from 1958-’68, the Cambridge, Mass. coffeehouse where much of the heart of the folk revival developed, including the Newport Folk Fests, and where such luminaries as Joan Baez, Geoff and Maria Muldaur, Tom Rush and frequent visitor Bob Dylan took hold. It’s provocative to compare that “roots music gone to college” scene to Americana’s today. The very much minority African-American performers on hand, Jackie Washington and Taj Mahal, were professionally accepted but, we’re shown, mainly kept at arm’s length. (Taj was on hand at the Americana screening, clearly enjoying hearing the on-screen reminiscences of friends he’s had for over fifty years since, and nodding to some of the commentary about race in the scene.) The talented and creative end of the folk revival depicted is all the more interesting because right there, for a while, performers from country and bluegrass, rural and urban blues and gospel and newfangled singer-songwriters, some political activists, others not, were all part of one cross-pollinating scene, momentarily referred to as “folk,” even when the practitioners came direct from professional Chicago blues clubs or the Ryman stage of the Grand Ole Opry. The flavor and quality musical products of the scene mattered more than arguments about the label for it—which is true of Americana too.
I also attended an engaging, live on-air edition of the Oxford, Mississippi area’s Thacker Mountain Radio Hour, as I did this year’s focus panel on Mississippi music, partly because I’m a sort of adopted Mississippian, “ex officio” by way of my role as writer/researcher for the state’s Country Music Trail and Jimmie Rodgers-related activities. Cary Hudson was on hand, Jim Rooney—and the Como Mamas. Now, if you want to hear some excellent regular results from combining collegiate, even literary collegiate perspectives and polished, talented—and Deep South moist, down home music, this is it. The “roots music with a degree” thing can work, folks. I only had to hear a few numbers by the show’s regulars, host Jim Dees and the Yalobushwackers, at once smart and funky, to wish they’d relocate to my own neighborhood. And one of my favorite new acts spotted this week appeared on the show, Dent May—whose act can be thought of as what would have happened if Elvis Costello or the Talking Heads had emerged from the Delta. I recommend both acts.
Americana likes a little skew in the stew. There is no rule at all that says relations between the performers’ or producers’ point of origin, class, race, and identity, have to line up with their chosen material in neat, expected one-to-one ways. Sure; regional roots do regularly add to musical results, absolutely, as they can in visual arts, cooking, and much else, but ultimately (as I see it, anyway), the only so-called “authenticity” that matters is emotional. I bring this up inspired by another sidelight presentation this past week, the announcement of a promising album, slated for late next year, Cold and Bitter Tears: The Songs of Ted Hawkins.
Multiple artists will salute the extraordinary but not especially famous Mississippi-born vocalist, who died in 1995, after a peculiar career in which he was best known as a street singer in Venice Beach, California, but was “discovered” now and again and got some wondrous records made. The salute album is being produced by a noteworthy Austin-based triumvirate — Kev Russell of The Gourds, Townes Van Zant biographer Brian T. Atkinson, and Jenni Finlay, whose promoted and now manages the careers of Jon Dee Graham and James McMurtry. Russell and Tim Easton, current resident of Nashville, out of Ohio by way of Prague, previewed their Hawkins song takes in a bar near Music Row. This all seems completely appropriate, in Americana’s ever-revising geography of the imagination. I know that I, for one, was first grabbed by Ted Hawkins’ vocal power when I heard “this old black man from the beach near L.A” surpass Webb Pierce’s Music City-produced version of “There Stands the Glass,” which seemed impossible. Talent will surprise you, and it might be located—and relocated—anywhere.
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