Friday Five: Best of May
May was a good month for fans of country and roots music, with new albums from folks like Sara Watkins, The Brothers Comatose, Loafers’ Glory, and others. Here are my five favorite records of the past month. What are yours?
Influenced by prewar jazz and jump blues, the Gentlemen (tenor guitarist Andy Bean and bassist Fuller Condon) are what fellow throwback Pokey LaFarge would sound like if he spent more time at pool parties and tiki bars. The lyrics are irreverent and ridiculous (“My girl tastes like pork chops/When I kiss her, I wonder what she had for dinner/Pork chops, I bet it was pork chops” is par for the course) and the record sounds so fun that you can’t help but be dragged into the Gentlemen’s world of strong drink, Indian takeout, and two star motels.
Recorded over a decade ago, Collie’s prison project finally saw the light of day this month. It’s well worth the wait. Alive at Brushy Mountain is a fine collection of country music, with tales of outlaws, sin, and redemption all backed by the cheers and hollers of the inmates from the now-closed prison. Collie acknowledges the artist behind two iconic prison albums — and one of his biggest musical influences — with a superb, hard-driving cover of “Folsom Prison Blues” Guest appearances from Kelly Willis, Shawn Camp, and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown round out one of the year’s best live records.
Paul Thorn, one of roots music’s best songwriters, interprets others’ work on this covers album. Some songs are by Americana big guns like Buddy Miller (“Shelter Me, Lord”) and Ray Wylie Hubbard (“Snake Farm”), while a few tracks are unexpected choices, but pleasant surprises, like Eli “Paperboy” Reed’s “Take My Love with You” and Lindsey Buckingham’s “Don’t Let Me Down Again.” The album’s best song is “She’s Got a Crush on Me.” It’s an anything-but-ordinary love song for ordinary, overweight, chainsmoking folks that’s delivered beautifully by Thorn.
Of all the songs on the album, the rollicking “Roll Me Up” has gotten the most attention, but Heroes is more than a pot punch line, thanks in large part two Willie’s sons, who seem to have brought out the best in him. Lukas Nelson, who appears on ten of the album’s fourteen tracks, has his daddy’s creak in his voice, and the two sound fantastic together on the Western Swing toetapper “My Window Faces the South” and Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe.”
With her gritty “Appalachian rock ‘n’ roll” and sharp songwriting, the rough-voiced Rose is the heiress to Lucinda Williams’ throne. Sophomore album Ghost of Browder Holler (produced by Browder Holler) isn’t one to be missed. The record is bookended by its two strongest songs: the bluesy title track about a visit from the spirit of a dead boyfriend and the poignant “Wild Violets Pretty,” featuring Elizabeth Cook, but all of the songs have been on heavy rotation in my car, and I don’t think that’ll change any time soon.
- lindsay thomas: Wife and I saw these guys last Thursday night, (7-24-14) at the Ryman in Nashville. What a show. …
- Donald: I'm guessing that is meant to read 're-release' Detroit to Wheeling, as the double album originally appeared on Pinecastle in …
- Michael A.: Has anyone else had a difficult time trying to get the free download from the Reba site?
- Dave D.: I can't believe that I never saw the Willie Nelson Monk episode - and it was a Sharona episode, as …
- nm: Taylor Swift was on CSI once. Not only was Steve Earle on The Wire, in one episode Omar quoted him about …
- Barry Mazor: It's only a slight stretch to recall when Jimmy Dean met James Bond: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XbwDGtj84YY
- Arlene: I suspect you'll also be including an episode of L.A. Law....
- luckyoldsun: The Johnny Cash episode was the one Columbo case where you really felt "the b--- had it coming."
- A.B.: Janice - I saw that too and sent him a Tweet about it.
- Janice Brooks: Peter Cooper needs an edit. Stringbean did not die in 1964.