I’ve Been A Long Time Leavin’

After over 12 years of discovering, enjoying and sharing country, Americana and roots music with people all over the world I’m finally packing it in.

This is a difficult decision. We are living in turbulent times, and much of our media – social and professional – fan that turbulence to gain attention (measured by “clicks” and “likes”) of an increasingly distracted population.

I’ve been made aware of widespread discrimination throughout the genre. I previously argued against systematic exclusion within the community but have recently been persuaded where there’s this much editorial smoke there must be a cultural fire somewhere? I mean when has human judgement ever been wrong?

What’s to be done? Inclusion at all cost! Open the door to allow more blues, jazz, rap, Tejano, Ikinimba, Ikinimba and other diverse styles that, until now, been shut out. I mean this can’t be an accident, right?

Pay no mind to individual, personal preferences or predilections based on taste and alignment with ones cultural identity. Like the cultural blinders hampering the privileged of their privilege, the oppressed are often unaware of their oppression. Never mind they never desired or sought entrance to the community, they’re very absence is proof of their systematic exclusion. Their absence in the community suggests systematic exclusion resulting from a plethora of structural problems you might say, has somehow resulted in the current hemogeneous state the genre finds itself in. Right?

These genres , practitioners and fans need to be co-opted…er…embraced.

By all means we need them as members, no matter their personal choice might be. We honor these people by ignoring their choice of autonomy which likely has been warped by contemporary western standards of “choice,’ “maturity’ and ‘respect. We need to attract diverse groups into the community even if we have to alter the very music for which theirs and our community was created in the first place. Diversity in identity is more important than diversity in styles and aesthetic distinctions.

No matter, boxes need to be checked to ease our crisis of existential justice.

Never mind that over the hundreds of artists that I’ve communicated with there has been zero mention of institutional exclusion based on race, gender or sexual preference. Ever, not one. That, in my experience, the community is kind, open and tends towards a progressive inversion to the Red State brand established by Music Row has no bearing. Denial is a powerful thing! There is, however, widespread institutional exclusion based on artistic merit – instrumentation, song structure and appeal, vocal style – which is in itself proof of barriers. Tear ’em down!

We attempt to take shelter from the storm of an uncertain world by cobbling shelter out of fragmented abstractions of ever more hyphenated identity. Then we assign a ‘worth’ to our fragile structure by comparing it to others we deem lesser or bad. In response we buttress our patchwork selves by tearing the offending others down. Sometimes through outright bigotry and fear. Sometimes through righteousness indignation to reshape the world and redress injustices real and imagined.

Until the Americana community – artists, fans, venue owners, sound mixers, etc – reflect some criteria of diversity I simply cannot in good consciousness continue traveling a road cobbled with exclusion and repression. At the very least the genre needs to be rebranded

What blend of humanity will result in a socially acceptable criteria of diversity? I’m not certain, but I’ll know it when I’m told by experts that a perfect equilibrium has been achieved. I mean I didn’t know there was a problem (the common privileged malady) until I was told there was one.

I’ll be checking in to the struggle from time-to-time to check on progress. Somebody let me know when we get there.

Twang Nation out.

An Americana Response to #SaladGate

Tomato Banjo by Lucy Clayton

Tomato Banjo by Lucy Clayton – www.lucyclaytonart.co.uk/

“Homegrown tomatoes homegrown tomatoes
What’d life be without homegrown tomatoes
Only two things that money can’t buy
That’s true love & homegrown tomatoes.”

Guy Clark – ‘Homegrown Tomatoes’

The lack of female voices represented on the mainstream country radio airwaves has been a topic of controversy in recent times. Bloggers and traditional journalists have been covering it for several years. As have male an female performers that have made it in the business and those trying to.

But seldom do you hear an insider state publicly reveal a formal industry effort to limit women artists on country radio format airwaves.

In a revealing interview Keith Hill, a South Padre Island, Texas-based radio consultant (and “The Worlds (sic) Leading Authority In Music Scheduling” according to his twitter profile stated that it was his opinion that two songs by women shouldn’t be played consecutively on mainstream country radio.

“If you want to make ratings in country radio, take females out,” Keith Hill tells the industry publication. “The reason is mainstream country radio generates more quarter hours from female listeners at the rate of 70 to 75 percent, and women like male artists. I’m basing that not only on music tests from over the years, but more than 300 client radio stations. The expectation is we’re principally a male format with a smaller female component. I’ve got about 40 music databases in front of me and the percentage of females in the one with the most is 19 percent. Trust me, I play great female records and we’ve got some right now; they’re just not the lettuce in our salad. The lettuce is Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton, Keith Urban and artists like that. The tomatoes of our salad are the females.”

Needless to say this revelation ricocheted across social media in the form of #SaladGate (must we affix -gate to every controversy? The 70s are over people!) But Hill is voicing quantitative strategic practices systematic through the mainstream country industry. Hill is a practitioner, but also a messenger that need not be shot. He’s given thinking people a gift. He;s exposed a system that coarsely regulates performers, and fans, to numbers to tweak. This bloodless manipulation has led to rationalized sexism given faux-authenticity by the numbers and measurements.

Which brings me the Americana.

In my years of covering this music, talking with industry people, fans and performers, there is no mention gender litmus or barriers. Sure theres PR efforts and charts for radio play, but nothing like the quant machine that pushes mainstream country into homogenous mediocrity and accidental sexism. The Americana chart numbers, I believe, reflect balance by reflecting accurately a mix of releases by male and female artist.

A glance at the current Americana Music Association chart shows 10 female solo or female-fronted bands in the top 30 spots. This jibs with my personal experience seeking and receiving pitches for new releases.

It’s not surprising, it;s common. The value systems are different.

Generally, there’s very little overlap in the audience for Americana and that of mainstream country music. Much of the Americana fan base is comprised of people that hold some past era of country music as preferred and no longer represented by Music Row or country radio.

Or as Jason Isbell said from the stage at Paramount Center for the Arts in Bristol, Tennessee “It’s not lost on me that this is the birthplace of country music. I live in Nashville, which is the final resting lace for country music.”

Well, that’s not entirely accurate. A wider spectrum of country music is found in Americana. Whether Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Daniel Romano, Kelsey Waldon or Lee Ann Womack – much of older forms blended with contemporary themes and forms find a creative cultural refuge of sorts. With demanding but open-minded fans and performers given the freedom to push and challenge themselves and the audience.

Sure they want to make music their primary vocation, but they’re not pressured to fit a mold to do so. They’re free to test ideas in the wilds of the road to see what sticks. This encouragement and reward of risk-taking results in richer cultural artifacts. The performer and audience for a community or respect and encouragement to see how far things might be pushed.

Like many things in our great nation our standards for goods have increased in number gradually diminished in quality over time. Wee all know it. And it’s not an accident.

Commercial interests took precedence over health and cultural well-being. Misplaced faith in modern science (chemistry and behavioral) fueled by rationalized greed led to mass pooduced mediocrity. Some made us spiritually so.

These practices, mixed with increased mass-media hype, conditioned us over generations that this was the way of things and they couldn’t be any other way.

But things have changed. The Internet allows sharing of ideas and ideals. Industries noticed and have responded. Local, farm-raised food and craft beer came into vogue as well as organic, more human forms of music void of artifice of motive or manufactured hype.

Or as our great-grandparents called it food, beer and music.

The “Telecommunications Act of 1996” has allowed a great deal of large and small market consolidation across America. To a large corporation relative market preferences and cultural taste is hard (and expensive) to serve. Bedt to load all airwaves to the same L.A. or New York feed and economically spill out cultural sewage while watching approval needles move and cash roll in.

If the cultural pendulum swung away from the artificial and hyped to the authentic and satisfying in food and drink why not a swing in cultural nourishment?

Thus the rise of Americana as a viable genre in all its many, messy manifestations.

Though there is the occasional old gatekeeper mentality toward those judged interlopers (cough…Linda Chorney…cough) for the most part it’s a community of that celebrates great music and holds a high, if murkily defined, standard of quality devoid of gender/race/whatever bias.

There are no Keith Hill looking at detailed demographic reports and market-tested product (songs) to determine whether they should “exist” or not. This form of Taylorism might result in dependably manufactured toasters and cars, but it makes for crappy culture.

Admission to Americana is only respect for music and people. Appreciation for great music, skillfully performed by people that see music as an ends of honest vocation rather than a means to celebrity.

Crazy huh?

Of course if more people sought out their own damn music there would be less opportunity for potential industrial bias.

Can Streaming Service ‘Tidal’ Withstand The Music Industry Undertow?

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Does the world need another music delivery channel?

Jay Z stood shoulder-to-shoulder with other famous, wealthy, established artists – Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, Madonna, Kanye West, Chris Martin, Jack White, Jason Aldean, Madonna (my prayers for them to break into “We Are The World – 2015” sadly went unanswered) to launch the new streaming service Tidal.

What’s new about it? Besides the celebrity backers that filed one-by-one to sign their signatures on a Declaration of Artist Independence, the details at the L.A. streamed event were murky.

How does it stack up to standard-bearing music delivery systems like Spotify and Pandora? How will it compete against the upcoming service by Apple, a company that has already displayed a streak of ingenuity in the music industry.

First off, there are no free rides. Not that Spotify “free” is actually free, as anyone that has put up with those ear-splitting ads can attest.

But Tidal doesn’t even give this level of pretence on a sales tactic that’s worked for Sunday morning grocery stores and drug dealers the world over, the first taste is free. Users can choose between paying $10 a month for compressed digital audio quality (like what Spotify offers) or $20 a month for CD quality sound. Once you sign up it’s all you can eat os a currently limited music buffet.

There is the future promise of “special content or exclusive availability for new music” as well as access to concert tickets and merchandise. But right now that’s all they are, promises.

Can a small-time working artist join Tidal and expect decent audience exposure and fairer compensation the they would get from another service? Will users better morale instincts lead them to pony up to use a service that fairly compensates artists for their wares? Will those good patrons do so in numbers that allow it to stay in business?

Time will tell. But it doesn’t set well with me that there was no artist’s on stage that weren’t household (Or at least home room) names. If there was some visual cue that the wealthy celebrities were standing in solidarity with the van-driving road troubadour I’d at least breath easier about the spectacle.

Instead we get an awkward red carpet revolution of what appears to be a digital gated community and a feeble grasp of what once was, but now long gone. Artist control of the industry over technology pioneers.

Technology , at this point, is not the answer to the music industry woes. Compensation laws and accounting that takes into consideration this new tech-driven worlds needs to be vetted and enforced is a long term solution that sits apart from whatever new technology comes along.

Will Jay Z’ star power be enough to ensure Tidal’s long-term success. No way. No more than Garth will make Ghost Tunes into a major industry player. These are indulgences and vanity projects with no new direction. Just technical and media manifestations of old wishes.

Jay Z and his celebrity buddies should have lobbied in Washington and shone the light on the unfairness of the economic that hasn’t been updated in decades. Tidal doesn’t do that hard, long-lasting work.

But long economic and legal processes make for bad spectile. And right now that’s all Tidal is.

Sony Music Nashville CEO Gary Overton is Right (And So What?)


When Sony Music Nashville CEO Gary Overton told the Tennessean, “If you’re not on country radio, you don’t exist.” it caused a minor kerfuffle between country music bloggers and country artists, like Aaron Watson and Charlie Robison, that felt they , and country msuic’s integrity, were in his contemptuous crosshairs.

I even took it apon myself to decry Overton’s statement on Twitter and retweet links to essays taking him to task.

But after some reflection, I am willing to concede that Overton is correct in his statement.

First context.

Overton made his incendiary remarks while attending the annual Country Radio Seminar in Nashville, where 2,424 attendees, exhibitors, panelists and sponsors came to discuss the future of the industry. That’s the Country Radio industry. Not the roots americana industry. Not the historical preservation of country music.

As with any trade convention quality was not the focus, unless there is a direct line between it and profits.

It’s about return on investment. Period.

No more clear symbol of this was the surprise appearance of Garth Brooks to announced the year’s Country Radio Hall of Fame inductees in both the Radio and On-Air categories.

Whether you like Brooks’ music, or believe he’s the beginning of genre cross-over hell and the end of everything that was good about country music (he wasn’t), with 8 Academy of Country Music awards and a RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) listing of as the best-selling solo album artist of all-time (surpassing Elvis Presley) with 135 million units sold, he is the the gold standard by which radio play, record sales and concert attendance is measured.

Jimmy Rodgers mights be the father of country music, but Garth is it’s first superstar.

This is the ontological existence of which Overton refers. The world made possible by Garth.

When your music is no longer a nuanced craft and becomes a replicable commodity, you exist. If your personality and looks are a marketers dream, you exist. If your income far exceeds the label’s output, you exist. If you’re willing to run that gilded hamster wheel ad infinitum until the end of your short days, you exist.

If you’re willing to use your talents to grease the music row production machine, to achieve potential fame and admiration of millions, you exist.

Short of that piss off.

It’s not all gloom. When an industry behemoth refuses to adapt to customer tastes and industry trends alternatives spring up.

The Nashville Sound led to Buck, Merle , Willie and Waylon. The Urban Cowboy fab resulted in Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett and kd Lang.

Though these rebels were never fully integrated into the machine itself they did send waves into record sales and radio execs had take notice.

Now the so-called Bro-Country fad has Kacey Musgraves, Brandy Clark, Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell rocking the mainstream country boat.

But like McDonalds facing a healthier eating public, or Budweiser facing a less people willing to swill their sun-par product, Music Row can only partially assimilate. The assimilation will also lead to the application of the Garth standard of success, of existence, so songs will be optioned and the same flavorless production sauce will be slathered over extraordinary songs rendering them worthy of mainstream radio play and consumptions of an always shifting, faceless and fickle demographic.

So Overton is correct. By the Garth standard of rendering cultural artifacts into mass consumption radio fodder, most musicians don’t matter. Thier work or image doesn’t fit into the already prefabbed sonic and stylized containers.

But luckily the Garth standard is not the only one that counts.

There the already mentioned Bakersfield /Outlaw standard of creatively seeing untapped opportunities and bucking (hehe) conventional (and played out) trends.

There’s the model of artists like Buddy Miller, Jim Lauderdale, Gretchen Peters, Vince Gill, Chris Knight, Guy Clark and others that straddle the commercial and artistry territories without compromise.

There’s the vibrant and thriving Americana model that cultivates and champions the best of country music, and country music sourced genres , new and older talents. And has created a thriving , and lucrative, community.

And then there’s the Hank III model of giving the finger to Music Row and bringing in a whole new demographic from the ground up, to build a loyal, enthusiastic and sustainable fan base.

Some say the Garth standard of mega sales, and celebrity status, is dead, or dying, in a music industry in transition.

I certainly have no crystal ball telling me where all this is headed. But I take comfort is knowing that Overton and his ilk are on their heels as their concept of existence crumbles beneath them.

Or as singer/songwriter, and one-time potential Voice contestant, Jason Isbell so eloquently tweeted:

“Of course major-label execs are saying crazy things these days. Have you ever heard the kinds of things people say when they’re dying? ”

Watch Out! Sturgill Simpson: “Turtles All the Way Down” on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon


Last night Sturgill Simpson performed his trad-country, psychedelic-tinged song about chemical enlightenment. As always, the man and his fantastic band, nailed it.

With appearances on David Letterman and Conan it’s becomes a of late night talk-show gauntlet by the reluctant savior of country music. It won’t be long before Sturgill Simpson is a household name.

With the money and the fame that’s sure to follow I’m sure Music Row will be (has been) whispering in his ear to join the big circus. And sponsors. There’s a beer and Wranglers rep out there just licking their lips to hitch their wagon to a shooting star.

I trust Simpson’s instincts and his focus on the music that’s brought his this far. He’s not a hit machine serving to print money for some label. He’s making music that matters, hits deep, and endures.

That makes Simpson an oddity. Turtles?! No hits?! No stylist?! The man is barely competent on social media! How is he showing up on the mainstream radar?

One thing that ties Letterman, Conan and Fallon together is their appreciation and championing of great music with little consideration to the flavor of the week.

Simpson has his eye on the long game.

The sound might ring of tradition, but the spirit of following your path is something that is timeless and takes guts and talent.

So Simpson shows up and plays ‘Turtles All the Way Down,’ ‘Living the Dream’ or ‘Life of Sin.” People hear something they probably haven’t heard on the radio or knew still existed.

Some wonder “Huh, There still is country music being made. Why haven’t I heard this guy?” or “Where’s the beats and the rock? This twangy shit sucks.”

Either way, like Neo in the Matrix, the curtain is lifted and reality is exposed. People are made aware. There is a choice to be made.

Red or blue pill?

if a listener or artist is unsure and unaware they are pliable. They listen to others and live in fear of what others think. It takes them away from the reason you started listening and playing music to begin with.

Simpson’s sets his camp right in his own territory and he scraps and fights with every song’s worth and beauty.

And we’re all fortunate that we’re there to share it with him.

So the money and salesmen are inevitable. But my faith is firm that Simpson will stay true to that spirit and personal vision. And he’ll show young musicians that you can trust your instincts, blaze a path, make a living and leave a mark.

I might not be “outlaw,” but’s it’s sure badass.

2014 Americana Album of the Year Grammys Predictions


Grammy nominations are a few months away but the topic of performers that might be up for an Americana Album of the year nomination – meaning releases between Oct. 1, 2013 and September 30, 2014 to be awarded on Feb. 8, 201 – has been a topic on my twitter feed lately. So I’ve decided to bring the speculation here.

First thing is not to get too nuts. Yes Sturgill Simpson and The Drive-By Truckers came out with excellent releases within the qualifying dates, but they are not known names in the mainstream, therefore not on a typical GRAMMY voters radar.Sure there have been some new artists that have broken through the national media consciousness, most notably The Civil Wars and Mumford and Sons, but these are the exceptions.

Granted there have been Americana AOTY nominees that have been welcome surprises. But nods towards promising new blood like John Fullbright (2013) or out-of-nowhere nominee like Linda Chorney are rare and , so far, have yet to snag the big prize.

No, the Recording Academy Voting Members like their Americana artists like their nominees they like they like their pre-awards restaurant, known and well-respected . Risk is a four-letter word in business and the GRAMMYS are about the business of music. Sure the organization does great work in the periphery to ensure music grows and is protected as a national treasure and heritage. The GRAMMYs telecast is a cultural trade show. Only the best are on display. And in the subjective world of music “best” means “sales.”

Of course sales in the Americana world is a rain drop compared to something like a Taylor Swift deluge, but there are charts for sales and airplay available if you dig a little. And for those not willing to dig the “best” defaults to “well known.” this is not a dig, it’s the artist’s responsibility to break through the din of music sameness to gain the attention of the voter if a GRAMMY is something they desire. And really, in the world of unit sales doesn’t “known” almost always results in ‘best?”

But sometimes the “best” in our little world doesn’t make it up to the big boys. Consider the lack of a nomination for Jason Isbell’s “Southeastern.” An album that made all the Americana, and many mainstream country, year-end lists last year. I was still hearing about that major oversight at Americanafest last month.

Luckily the known entities of Americana are still a cut above most genres and therefore often have some of the best music of the year.

Below are my picks for the 5 potential nominees with my pick for winner. There are a few dark horses I believe deserve to be in the running. Again, I do not vote for the GRAMMYS, just cover the event. I have no insider knowledge and will know the nominees and winners as you do.

Rodney Crowell – ‘Tarpaper Sky’ – This is the easiest pick of the bunch, As a 2013 Americana AOTY co-winner, along with Emmylou, Harris, Crowell already has the hearts and, more importantly, the attention of the Recording Academy Voting Members.

Carlene Carter – ‘Carter Girl’ – Nominated once in 1991 for the Best Female Country Vocal Performance GRAMMY for her throwback rendition of “I Fell in Love.” Carter has recently been working hard in support of her latest including a well-received stop at a GRAMMY Museum showcase.

Willie Nelson – ‘Band Of Brothers’ – It’s hard to ignore one of Willie’s best, and best selling, releases in years. With 11 GRAMMYs under his belt and a 2010 nomination for this category, alongside Asleep at the Wheel for ‘Willie and the Wheel,’ Willie has the gravitas and the goods to snag a nomination.

Jim Lauderdale – ‘I’m A Song’ – Lauderdale personifies Americana it it’s popular form as a representative of the Americana Music Association and as the acclaimed MC of their awards ceremony. He along with his musical and SiriusXM Outlaw Country co-host Buddy Miller, were nominated for this category last year for their collective release ‘ Buddy and Jim.’ He’s won 2 GRAMMYs first in 2002 with Dr. Ralph Stanley for “Lost in the Lonesome Pines” and his second for his “The Bluegrass Diaries” –

Rosanne Cash – ‘The River & The Thread’ – Cash released, what I consider, is the finest record of her career and was instantly heralded as a genre favorite. Critics from USA Today to this blog loved it. Radio loved it and, more importantly, fans loved it. Twelve GRAMMY nomination and one win for Best Female Country Vocal Performance for “I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me” (1985) She’s well-known and respected in the hearts of the voters. Look for this one to win.



Sturgill Simpson – ‘Metamodern Sounds in Country Music’ – If there were a Nobel Prize for talent and genuineness in music Sturgill Simpson would get it for his latest. It’s a favorite across the Americana community and has perked up the ears of mainstream country music fans and blogs as well. Ideally ‘Metamodern Sounds in Country Music’ should win the GRAMMY for Country Album OTY. Hell, if Kacey Musgraves can do it why not?

Parker Millsap – ‘Parker Millsap’ – There’s no denying the buzz around this young Oklahoman. His performance at Americanafest resulted in a waiting line to squeeze in to a packed room and screaming on a Beatlemania level. And the hype lives up to the talent. Let;s hear it for the young bloods with old souls!

Nickel Creek – ‘A Dotted Line’ – Okay, Nickel Creek isn’t much of a dark horse. But after a seven-year hiatus (as a band, not as individual performers) will voters still recall their obvious greatness as they did when tehy received 4 GRAMMY nominations and won for Best Contemporary Folk Album for 2003’s ‘This Side?’

Twang Nation 8th Anniversary Contest – Johnny Cash, Lone Justice , Gram Parsons

Twang Nation 8th Birthday

I know, I know. I don’t look a day over six. But it’s true! Your generally humble roots music blog, Twang Nation, turns 8 this month.

Where does the time go?

I started this on a lark. Cultural, geographical and psychological displacement of this Texan in New York City led me here. I gravitated toward the most stable ground that had always been there for me, music.

The great roots music I began to discover I wanted to share with a wider audience. And I wanted them share their findings with me. 8 years and three timezones later I’d say it’s going pretty well. I’m still chugging along, looking under rocks and atop branches to find and share great music.

And that’s saying something. In the midst of one of the worst times to become a musician there’s so music of it around, and more every coming across my desk(top) every day. I’m sure things were worse during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, and yet much of the music that I treasure was produced in those troubled times.

Maybe that’s the things about music. Even at it’s thematic darkest musics very presence is a sign of human optimism. Why else bother?

And these days optimism, and music, abounds. There’s more music than ever being produced in human history. Technology has allowed access to performance and strategy tools as a musician, and access and discovery for fans, than ever before. I hope I have contributed in some small way to your musical discovery. And with roots music awareness, Grammy categories and regularly appearances in TV shows and movies, the movement is showing to signs of slowing down.

And Twang Nation will be right in the middle of it. Bringing you the best in new and classic performers and live performances that remind us all that live music, made by fallible humans, can be intoxicating.

And believe me, the best is yet to come.

Keep up with us here on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and tumblr and come along for the journey. As we all know the road goes on forever….

As a thank you, Twang Nation is giving away a prize pack of three great slabs of vinyl for your listening pleasure.

Johnny Cash album 'Out Among the Stars'

First up is the recent release of Johnny Cash lost and previously unreleased material, “Out Among The Stars,” on Vinyl. This is a far cry from the Columbia Records produced Cash and producer Billy Sherrill. The results are classic cash with a contemporary roost twist with help from John Carter Cash, Marty Stuart and Buddy Miller.

Lone Justice

Nest up is the Lone Justice reissue from Omnivore Recordings, “This Is Lone Justice: The Vaught Tapes, 1983.” This album captures the raw talent of this alt.country pioneering band at their peak, touring L.A. punk clubs and taking no prisoners. Did I mention that this great album is on translucent red vinyl?!

Gram Parsons - Alternate Takes from GP and Grievous Angel

And the best for last the Record Store Day Rhino records exclusive release of Gram Parsons’ Alternate Takes from GP and Grievous Angel. tHIS 2LP vinyl release IS audio sourced from “The Complete Reprise Sessions” released in 2005. Contains a postcard insert at the request of Gram’s daughter, Polly Parsons, for the Hickory Wind Ranch Recovery Community. Foil numbering.

Just leave a comment below to be entered for all three albums. Birthday salutations or a band you might have found out about from me would be cool.

Now the boring stuff: The winner needs to be located in the United States and will be picked at random, Sunday, July 27th, 12PM CST.

Taylor Swift – Love Hurts

Taylor Swift's RED Tour - Auckland, New Zealand

I never thought I would write these words, but below you will find my response to Taylor Swift’s Wall Street Journal essay.


Swift took the the pages of the Wall Street Journal For Taylor Swift, the Future of Music Is a Love Story to give her views, feelings really, of the ever tumultuous music industry. Boundless optimism might be a refreshing reprieve in these cynical, irony-drenched times of ours and might make for great pop dittys. But Swift’s reflections on the music industry map as well to economic realities as her love songs map to real adult relationships.

Not so much.

First she tackles value. She argues that a musician’s output, an album, should be measured by ” the amount of heart and soul an artist has bled into a body of work.” If only! Leaving aside the multitude of terrible, heartfelt albums that have been made, music is at the mercy of every other bought and sold goods, art or not. Supply and demand.

Though I personally loathe to use the word “art” when referring to music (I believe the label implies a stuffy distance) I will use it here as Swift has taken us down that path. As a crass binary analogy, there’s the Van Gogh level of art, rare and singular in it’s execution. Then there is the Thomas Kincaid level of art. More plentiful and generally pedestrian in it’s technic and subject matter. The former will put you back tens of millions of dollars if you are lucky to find one coming to auction, The latter can be bought for a few thousand dollars from an online gallery.

Obviously not all art is created equal.

Van Gogh’s scarcity of work, in actual numbers and availability in the market place sets it at a premium. The Internet has made scarcity obsolete. The Wu Tang Clan addressed this recently by creating master recording of their latest work “The Wu – Once Upon A Time In Shaolin” and putting it up for auction where it sold to a private buyer for millions. It was little more than a stunt, but it grabbed headlines because in the age of piracy inaccessible music from a major artist is a novelty.

Though Swift’s music isn’t scarce her live shows are. That’s one of the last go-to revenue streams for performers.

So where were the tips on putting on a great show (aside from inviting your famous friends onstage?) Where were the tips on using social media to build a loyal fan base? Where was the helpful advice on writing a song that “hit them like an arrow through the heart?”

These are Swift’s strengths. She’s a master and her stardom reflects her skills. Though she skirts across some of these topics in her piece she never digs into them to provide working musicians some takeaways. Something actionable.

Swift’s stardom paralleled the throwback to 50’s/60’s model of music consumption, the single. But new ways of experiencing music has not been met by new, and fair. compensation and control of that music. Streaming services are the contemporary jukeboxes but licensing and pay-outs that defined that era has’t progressed. No money means less chance a musician will soldier on. Swift could have joined Rosanne Cash and many others have testified before congress for fair musician’s compensation and control of their work.

A spotlight that Swift could bring to that discussion would be welcome and might get things moving faster in the right direction.

Perhaps Swift could start a label or management service to take young talent in and guide them along a path that can be treacherous.

I think Swift’s hand-shaped heart is in the right place. But talk, and WSJ puff-pieces, are cheap. If she really wants to make a positive impact on the music industry I’d like to see some action.

Recording Academy Adds New Roots Music Category


Rejoice you motley ranks of roots music aficionados, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences at its annual spring meeting added a new category to the growing roots music field, Best American Roots Music Performance.

So with a tile like that I have to ask, what is it?

The GRAMMY site states matter-of-factly that the category was added but gives no insight to how it’s distinct this new category from Best American Roots Music Song or Best Americana Album.

So let’s take a look at the the already existing Best Metal Performance or Best Rock Performance categories

Best Rock Performance doesn’t provide music. It was basically an exercise in consolidation of 3 categories – Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance, Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and Best Rock Instrumental Performance because “any distinction between these performances is difficult to make.” Fair enough, but no insight to our task.

Best Metal Performance is a little clearer. It is awarded “..for works (songs or albums) containing quality performances in the heavy metal music genre.” It, along with
Best Hard Rock Performance, was created as a separate distinct categories from the original Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance. this original category resulted in the famous Jethro Tull/Metallica fiasco of 1989.

So there you have it. Best American Roots Music Performance celebrates just that, quality performances. Of course that is ambiguous enough to lead to years of grumbling about which Best American Roots Music Performance was better then another Best American Roots Music Performance.

I say let’s just give it to Chris Thile for the first few year until things settle out.

The Bigotry Toward Americana


Last year Giovanni Russonello took to the Atlantic magazine to draw a narrow line from Bob Dylan’s “Americanarama Festival of Music” showcase and the lack of diversity in the genre overall (Why Is a Music Genre Called ‘Americana’ So Overwhelmingly White and Male?)

I called bullshit in that story and I call it on the recent Wall Street Journal’s “Americana Music Awards Nominees Are Mostly Folky, And White.

In the piece Eric R. Danton takes stock of the current crop of Americana Music Award nominees and concludes that they “…skew largely folky, and largely white, with few artists of color among the awards contenders..”

The WSJ is hardly a bastion of political correctness, but there it is. The conclusion drawn from both of these articles is plain to see. Americana is a hotbed of bigotry and should be ashamed.

There appears to be a trend to cast Americana as a bastion of white (presumably straight) males. Much of the stereotypes typically reserved for Music Row guards like Toby Keith appears to be blowing back on it’s rootier cousin.

I’ve been covering this music for almost 8 years and been to over 100 Americana and roots music concerts and festivals. i’ve also been to 6 Americana Conference and Festivals, where the Americana Awards are presented. I see the artists appearing at concerts, festivals and accepting those awards I am also see the many emerging artists that contact me hoping to join those ranks of working musicians.

Males outnumber female performers and yes, there are more white folks than people of color. So what? Is the conclusion that there’s some Americana gatekeeper keeping woman and people of color out of the field? The lazy answer is that they are being kept out, right? Where’s the outrage? Where’s the Americana occupation?

Or perhaps the answer of more pedestrian, there are fewer women and people of color in Americana because they don’t want to be there. Just as hip-hop has few white men and women and pop music has fewer men some music styles appeal to segments of society. This isn’t societal bigotry, it’s diversity in taste.

And with diversity there is the freedom for some to choose another direction.

I have been a past of the community and a tireless advocate for a long time. I’ve met hundreds of fans, musicians and industry folks that love and advocate for this great music. And save for the occasional GRAMMY-nominee (right Linda Chorney?) there is less racial, gender or sexual bias than any other genre (except for perhaps EDM.)

There is, however, a bias in musicianship. The music draws from folk and county, as well as blues, tejano and zydeco, from the expanse of this country. Other genres have emerged to allow a rich market of styles that appeal to people that self-identify.

But if more blacks self-identify with hip-hop or women self-identify with pop, no one sounds the alarm of racism or gender bias on those genres. It’s just seen as the way of progress and choice.

So a casual survey of Americana might lead you to believe it’s chock full of white boys So what? Is their choice less worthy? More suspect? If there’s something about the music that allows males of the caucasian variety to self-identify with it who’s hurt?

Of course America is not lily white. It’s an open community that draws from our rich cultural past, all of it, while forging a future of brave creativity.

Drawing bias from preferences debases the instances of actual bias that corrodes our world. Painting those of a any group – black, brown, gay or, yes, even white, as racist or sexist because of a gravitation toward cultural definition is bigotry cloaked in righteousness.

Of course in America everyone is entitled to their opinion, no matter how misguided. But I am a member of a great and compassionate community and i take this as a personal affront. I know these fans, I know these musicians.

In practicality, “There is no such thing as bad publicity” the phrase most often attributed to that master of self-promotion, Phineas T. Barnum, applies here. If Americana and roots music wasn’t thriving and growing in influence it wouldn’t be a target for this nonsense. So there’s that.

But personally I believe that those that dare condemn the genre, and by extension the people, can stick their kinder and gentler bigotry where the sun don’t shine.

EDIT: A few days have passed and after some back and forth on the topic I’ve come to realize that the bias against Americana is an extension of a bias of the souther. Sure the contemporary variety of the music comes from all over the world but the form it takes distinctively southern and American (sorry Billy Bragg.)

The style is not only suspect regionally. it’s also so historically. much of Americana draws from the styles from the Antebellum to the early 20th century. We can agree that these were a cultural dark ages past the Mason-Dixon. But it also provided a fertile for folk, country, the blues, jazz, bluegrass, rock and, yes, Americana.

But some folks can’t appreciate a regional style without saddling it with cultural bigotry.

This is the stuff of the culture war that’s been waged since since the signing of the The Civil Rights in 1964. It’s a shame that politicians fan those flames for their own professional gain. But when it’s done against innocent people trying to enjoy some beauty in this rough world, well, there’s just no reason than hate and ignorance.