Cream of the Crop – Twang Nation Top Americana and Roots Music Picks of 2012

TNtoppicks2012It seems like I say it every year – so here goes, another bumper year for Americana releases blah blah. but it’s true!
I’ve been sitting on a list of about 50 releases all of which could easily be included in a top 10 list of the best of 2012
until the last final minute of the deadline i set for myself to keep from crapping up my holidays. i had to make a stand.
Here it is.

I finally threw the arbitrary “Top 10” structure out the window and doubled down and made it a top 20 21. The selections are lasted in arbitrary order and are not most best to least best. They all stand on their own as some of this year’s. or any year’s, finest examples of songwriting and performance excellence.

A quick word on the exclusion of mainstream heavyweights like Mumford and Sons, The Avett Brothers and their upstart competitors the Lumineers didn’t make the cut. Cards on the table, for all my rooting for mainstream acceptance of the genre I’m still a music snob. Like most other genres, I genuinely think that once a person mines the Americana field below the mainstream examples that is where they will discover the real riches lie. This is my opinion. Your mileage may vary.

Here’s a a happy, healthy and twangny 2013! thanks to all of you for reading, following,commenting. And to all the great musicians that reward us every day with riches that I personally am unworthy of.

Chris Knight – Little Victories
Malcolm Holcombe – Down the River
Darrell Scott – Long Ride Home
Corb Lund – Cabin Fever
Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale – Buddy and Jim
Iris Dement – Sing The Delta
Dwight Yoakam – 3 Pears
Turnpike Troubadours – Goodbye Normal Street
John Fullbright – From the Ground Up
Shovels & Rope – O’ Be Joyful
The White Buffalo – Once Upon a Time in the West
Justin Townes Earle – Nothing’s Going to Change The Way You Feel About Me Now
The Trishas – High Wide & Handsome
Gretchen peters – Hello Cruel World
Lindi Ortega – Cigarettes & Truckstops
Patterson Hood – Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance
Chelle Rose – Ghost of Browder Holler
Derek Hoke – Waiting All Night
Shooter Jennings – Family Man
BlackBerry Smoke – The Whippoorwill
Nick Cave / The Bootleggers / Warren Ellis – Lawless (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

5 Duos To Feed Your The Civil Wars Jones

By now you heard the bad news that The Civil Wars have cancelled all their upcoming shows and are giving each other some space. What’s a lover of melodic Americana duos with lovely harmonies that have possible ambiguous romantic ties to do?!  Here are 5 alternatives to quell those nerves until the reunion tour is announced.

 Ry Dalee and Evangeline – I don’t don’t much about this Oklahoma duo but I like what I hear!
http://youtu.be/9VufJmpYRgs

Caitlin Cary & Thad CockrellBegonias – Sure it was a one-off release from 2005 but these two Americana vets released one of the most gorgeous romantic duo albums ever. It even comes through in this crappy video.

Chapel Hill’s Mandolin Orange are the talented Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz whose tunes will soothe your soul.

Charleston, SC’s Michael Trent and Cary Ann are Shovels and Rope and are a bit rougher than The Civil Wars fare, but certainly no less talented.

Gillian Welch & David Rawlings are the obvious choice and are the standardbearers for male/female duos in Americana.

 

 

Taylor Who? – 5 Female Americana Music Artists

Since the release of her new album Red it’s been all Taylor Swift al the time (like that’s different.) I like what I know about Taylor Swift as a person and her diligence to her work and devotion to her fans. It’s her music that leaves me cold. Slap whatever Music City label you want on it she’s in with Selena Gomez and Miley Cyrus for the tween pop market.

I prefer my music for adults, even when being performed by a 20-something. I have no problem with style and spangles  but I want it served with substance.  Here are 5 female artists that fit the bill  that I would counter in any “Taylor is awesome!” discussion.

Your choice not here? Leave yours in the comments.

Lindi Ortega – That voice, those songs, that style. Triple threat!

Amanda Shires – All the above with the added awesomeness of being a Texan.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rv6Oj3zDo6Q&feature=relmfu

Lera Lynn – Caught her show in Nashville last September. Amazing!

Lydia Loveless – If you like your music served neat I would recommend Ms. Loveless

Nikki Lane – Also saw Ms. Lane in Nashville. Great show. I hope to hear something new from her soon.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zXplet4afOU&feature=relmfu

 

 

 

 

 

Nikki Lane

5 Artists I’d Like to Hear On ABC’s Nashville

As I’ve said,  I believe Nashville ,  ABC’S new evening soap opera , has the potential to be a great vehicle to introduce great Americana and roots artists to a much wider audience of music lovers. After watching the first two episodes I think T Bone Burnett has done a great job of dropping excellent artists like Shovels & Rope and Lindi Ortega into key scenes in the show. If the show can  catch the attention of a large enough audience I predict great things.

I’d love to be a music consultant, so until some Hollywood big-wig rings me up here’s my shot at it. Here’s  5 under the radar artists whose music I’d personally like to see on Nashville. Some have a great country music spirit to echo the golden age, some are spiked with a current sound to drive their sound into the present day. Some have both.

Like any list this one is incolete. Please leave your choices and thought in the comments section. Appreciate you!

I defy you to find a current musician with more soul that Austin Lucas.

Whitey Morgan is pure outlaw, y’all.

Lera Lynne has a little Loretta and a little Bobbie Genrty

John Fullbright is one of the best and purist songwriters I’ve seen in some time.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xo93cE0U_T0

Jason Eady is the current embodiment classic country and great songwriting.

ABC’s “Nashville” – The Newest Source for Americana Music?

I’m intrigued by the ABC’s new dramatic  series “Nashville,” not because a soap opera set in Music City is in any way compelling to be (it ain’t) but because said dramatic series has tapped one of the Godfathers of Americana, Grammy winner and Oscar nominee T-Bone Burnett , to be executive music producer for the show.

Isn’t this like the chicken being put in charge of the fox’s den?

Burnett’s stewardship is made even more perplexing when you consider the show also has ties to the Nashville big label system. Big Machine records (Taylor Swift, The Band Perry) will be releasing music featured on the program. First up is the single “If I Didn’t Know Better” co-written by the Civil Wars’ John Paul White (video below)

I imagined Burnett to be the ultimate Nashville outsider. Musician,  producer and guiding hand of the neo-rusticity movement stemming from movies (O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Cold Mountain, Walk the Line, Crazy Heart)  rock crossovers (Elvis Costello, Robert Plant, Jakob Dylan ) to full on champion of Americana ( Alison Krauss,  Gillian Welch, etc., etc. etc.)

Apparently Burnett has ties to the show that begins at home. He’s married to “Nashville” executive producer Callie Khouri ( who won an Oscar  for  penning the “Thelma & Louise” script. There is also the link from Taylor Swift to the Civil Wars (who she championed early on) to Burnett, who produced the recent Hunger Games soundtrack, which featured both Swift and the Wars. What the hell is gong on here?

Burnett says of music being chosen for the show:  “I hope that we become the platform for the people who are writing from their whole hearts.”

Isn’t this exactly what’s wrong with current commercial pop radio? it’s not written from the heart, it’s written from the wallet.

So we have a story about Music City that is given musical dimension by the the more dynamic and emotional genre of Americana. Part of me thinks that the show should be stuffed to the gills with whatever stupid truck song is currently cluttering the airwaves and dare the audience the endure it. Aren’t there any compelling stories of talented musicians struggling to make great music without cutting  each others throats to fill arenas that can better fit the greatness of this music?

In the end it’s about artists getting expose and building a fan base to make enough money to focus in their craft. No one has done more for exposing Americana to the broader public AND commercial interests that Burnett, (except perhaps NPR) so there’s no doubt he’s the man for the job. Hell he’s even got Lucinda Williams to contribute songs to the show

And , truth  be told, I deeply enjoy the irony of a Music City soap opera being a powerful format for discovering great Americana and roots music. I look forward to hearing Jason Isbell during a love scene and Hellbound Glory during a road race or bar fight.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAI_1FsJ8rE

 

Americana Music Festival and Awards Recap – The Year Americana Goes Legit

Finally winding down from my annual trip and I’m here to say that 2011 is the year the Americana went mainstream.

The Americana Music Association, the Nashville professional trade organization that puts on the whole shindig, just experienced its biggest year yet: Their membership is up by 45 percent compared to 2006. The festival showcased twice the number of bands it did five years ago; and this year’s overall attendance was around 15,000, as opposed to the roughly 10,000 reported in 2011. Jed Hilly and the good people of the AMA were able to do all this while maintaining the performance intimacy and musical quality I’ve experienced over my 5 years of attending the event. They have also been able to avoid the band-of-the-minute trading bazaar plaguing events like South-By-Southwest .

CMT.com know a good thing when they see it. With the commercial breakout of artists like Mumford & Sons, The Civil Wars and the Avett Brothers the cable music channel, that in many ways embodies everything Americana stands in contrast of,  is setting up a small section of it’s site branded “CMT Edge” focused on showcasing artists outside their usual fare of quasi-“outlaws” and warbling blondes. The venture is focusing on the heart of Americana’s best. The tapping that i attended while attending the AMA conference featured Jason Isbell and justin Townes Earle in performing a solo acoustic set of a few songs in a setting that was more Bluebird Cafe than the hell-raising arenas most SMT artists can be found.

Craig Shelburne, a CMT.com writer and producer is the driving force behind CMT Edge introduced the artists before their performances. I briefly spoke to Shelburne and he seemed to me to be a man doing good that wants to do well. CMT sees that the Americana brand is blowing up  (thanks in large part to the promotional efforts of the AMA and the sheer talent under the genre’s tent.) Sure CMT is a corporation concerned with eyeballs to sell soap, but they offer a much larger stage where deserving artists can make more money and upgrade their instruments and crappy touring vans. or as Jason Isbell told me when i ran into him at the Buddy Miller Lee Ann Womack show “We all need to make money.” Indeed.

The Americana Honors & Awards program was a tightly executed package to showcase exceptional talent for wider public consumption. The new two-year deal with Mark Cuban’s AXS TV to broadcast the event live was added to the already existing live broadcast on radio, satellite and the web via outlets including Nashville’s WSM, SiriusXM’s “Outlaw Country” and NPR.org, respectively. The show’s current TV partner, Austin City Limits, also broadcasts an edited special ACL Presents on November 10.  Voice of America and Bob Harris’ BBC Radio 2 will broadcast overseas in following weeks.

All this spiked with an official hashtag #Americanafest and the youTube videos from the festivals shows cropping up afterward and you have a full-scale media juggernaut.

The inclusion of Bonnie Raitt , Booker T Jones and Richard Thompson for lifetime achievement awards for performance, instrumentalist and songwriting respectively. There’s no denying the legendary status of these great artists and their appeal to an Americana demo that trends towards the Boomer generation, but – to polish an old chestnut – are they “Americana?”

Each of these artists have established themselves as legends in the well defined genres of blues, R&B & soul and folk & rock. Honoring these legends in an Americana awards ceremony undoubtedly allows the AMA to hitch the brand to established and well-repected talent, but at what cost? By seemingly playing a game of “me too” the AMA could be using their crown jewel awards program to further obscure the Americana brand at best. At worst there the risk that the AMA will lead Americana into being a cast as an always derivative genre, riding on the coattails of established genres in order to gain credibility and an audience.

I’m not sure which of these scenarios will play out but I see them both as unnecessary as the above numbers and CMT attention show that Americana is doing just firm staking out it’s own turf heading toward greater brand visibility. How can a genre that has legitimate ties to Steve Earle , Ryan Bingham and The Civil Wars  need to pilfer genre to create awareness?

But maybe I’m wrong. maybe Americana at it’s core crosses so many lines that those lines are the real outlines of what this movement we all  love is really about. Maybe it’s a result of that truly American phenomenon of a society emerging from a diversity of the melting-pot.

Maybe it’s like Jim Lauderdale said from the stage of the Ryman Auditorium the other night. “Boundaries are for cowards.

Maybe.

Americana Music Conference & Festival Picks

Below you’ll find my picks for the 2012 Americana Music Conference showcases. This was one of the the toughest  years to winnow down the performances I’m going to attend. And I still did a poor job! There is too many great acts playing at the same time. Such an embarrassment of riches!

But there is hope! Unlike the misery of traversing the stages at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass where you’re lucky to catch parts of shows at more than one stage, and or even to make it alive in some cases, the Americana Festival has buses to get us to the venues.

Of course I can’t make all the shows unless am able top perfect that time bending and beer making contraption I’ve been working on (SOON!) but you van catch any of these performances and not go wrong.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, September 11

The 5 Spot
$2 TUESDAYS /Twang Nation Social Club –  Hosted by Derek Hoke : feat.Melody WalkerAlanna ,
Royale Joshua Black Wilkins, Marsha & The Martians (Angel Snow & Robby Hecht) Late Night with Los Colones9pm
$2 cover/$2 Yazoo pints #UnofficialAMA

Mercy Lounge
Somebody’s Darling w/ Buffalo Clover – The High Watt #UnofficialAMA
The Billy Block Show featuring Yo Ma Ma, Erica Nicole, Chelle Rose, Allie Farris, Caroline Rose and The Cumberland Collective  #UnofficialAMA

Two Old Hippies 401 12th Ave. South
The Alternate Root Presents a Pre-AMA Triple-Play of Music with Amelia White, Julie Christensen and Tommy  Womack & The Rush To Judgment #UnofficialAMA
Showtime: 6:00-8:00 pm
No Cover ~ Special Treats
615-254-7999

Wednesday, September 12

Puckett’sGrocery, 5th & Church

5pm & 7pm Allen Thompson Band CD Release Party,
Dinner & show before the AMA Awards at 5 . Later show 7 #UnofficialAMA

The Basement
11:00 Blue Mountain
12:00 Shovels and Rope

The Station Inn
11:30 Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson

The Rutledge
10:00 Gretchen Peters
12:00 Delta Rae

Mercy Lounge
10:00 Corb Lund
11:00 This Wheel’s On Fire: A Tribute to Levon Helm

The High Watt
10:30 Whitehorse

Cannery Ballroom
10:00 Star Anna
Thursday, September 13

The Basement
8:00 Lydia Loveless
9:00 Angel Snow
10:00 Sons of Fathers
11:00 The Deep Dark Woods
12:00 Black Lillies

The Station Inn
10:00 Mary Gauthier
11:00 Richard Thompson

Mercy Lounge
8:00 Turnpike Troubadours
9:00 Billy Joe Shaver
10:00 Steve Forbert
11:00 John Fullbright
12:00 Jason Boland & The Stragglers

The High Watt
10:30 Eilen Jewell
11:30 Julie Lee
Cannery Ballroom
8:00 Blue Highway
9:00 Sara Watkins
10:00 Paul Thorn
11:00 Punch Brothers (with a Sara Watkins cameo?)

Friday, September 14

Sheraton Hotel lobby – 623 Union St.
Wanda Jackson
12:30-1:10pm

Amy Black,  Susan Cattaneo, Rose Cousins and Rod Picott
2:00 pm – 3:30 pm

The Basement
9:00 American Aquarium
11:00 Chuck Mead and His Grassy Knoll Boys

The Station Inn
8:00 Red June
9:00 Della Mae
10:00 McCrary Sisters
11:00 Steep Canyon Rangers
12:00 Humming House

The Rutledge
8:00 Mandolin Orange
9:00 Mindy Smith
11:00 Belle Starr

Mercy Lounge
8:00 Jimbo Mathus & The Tri-State Coalition
9:00 Holy Ghost Tent Revival
10:00 Dylan LeBlanc
11:00 Darrell Scott
12:00 Reckless Kelly

The High Watt
9:30 Two Gallants

Cannery Ballroom
9:00  Amanda Shires
10:00 Robert Ellis
11:00 John Hiatt

Saturday, September 15

The Basement
9:00 Chastity Brown
11:00 The Pines
12:00 Chris Scruggs

The Station Inn
8:00 Brennen Leigh
9:00 Phoebe Hunt
10:00 Marvin Etzioni
11:00 Rodney Crowell

The Rutledge
8:00 Felicity Urquhart
9:00 The Wood Brothers
10:00 Kevin Gordon
12:00 The Trishas

Mercy Lounge
8:00 Lera Lynn
9:00 honeyhoney
10:00 Tift Merritt
11:00 Buddy Miller & Lee Ann Womack

The High Watt
8:00 Jill Andrews
9:00 Derek Hoke

Twang Nation 5k Twitter Followers Celebration Featuring Lindi Ortega

When twitter first caught my attention I felt I had no use for it. It seemed like an endless torrent of inanity and, I was not narcissistic enough to imagine anyone gave a flip what or where I was eating at that exact moment.

But I created an account and after seeing how some musicians, like Jason Isbell – @JasonIsbell – and labels, like Bloodshot Records – @BSHQ – that I respect were using it as a format for topical, and often hilarious, discussions about music I dove in and began to carve out my own backwoods niche.

Now after 22k + tweets and 5k + followers I think I’ve got the hang of it. I’ve followed, been followed by, re-tweeted and been re-tweeted by, some of the best musicians, labels , venues I could dare to imagine. THAT’S the magic of twitter, it democratizes discussions. As long as you have something to add to the dialogue someone will listen. As the grand matrone of Americana on twitter, Rossanne Cash – @rosannecash says on her profile page, “I like Twitter as cafe society.”

I’ve discovered many great musicians from twitter, one being the lovely and talented Lindi Ortega – @lindiortega – (thanks to a tweet by the excellent musician Brett Detar – @brettdetar .) Ortega and her team were kind and gracious enough to work with me to bring you a little something to celebrate my little milestone.

Just share your email address below to download a sweet ( and FREE!) mp3 of Lindi’s unique interpretation of the Johnny Cash classic Folsom Prison Blues.

And be sure to look for Lindi’s new release “Cigarettes and Truckstops” coming out October 2nd!

Thanks to all my excellent followers and, if your not yet doing so, be sure to follow Twang Nation, as well as everyone in this post I’ve mentioned and and all your favorite musicians on twitter. Let’s keep the conversation (and music!) going.

Americana Music Association and AXS TV – A Devil’s Deal?

What does the Americana Music Association and billionaire dot.com poster boy Mark Cuban have in common? According to Cuban apparently quite a bit…

“The Americana Music Association is home to a great community of independently spirited artists, and as an entrepreneur with the largest independently owned and operated television network, I relate to these musicians and their spirit.”

Yeah, okay.

Cuban’s corporate bromides aside, he is right, the Americana genre is born of marginalization and independence of spirit. And like entrepreneurial spirit, the music is wrought from a fertile cultural soil of necessity. opportunity and at it’s best, passion.

In today’s PR email blast refered to above, Jed Hilly – the Americana Music Association Director – has ” a new partnership with (ed: Cuban founded) AXS TV which will result in a two-year commitment of the network’s live broadcast of the annual Americana Honors & Awards. Starting with this year’s September 12 event at Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium, AXS TV will deliver viewers an exclusive experience including live behind-the-scenes coverage of sound checks, red carpet arrivals and interviews with the evening’s special guest artists.”

Though references to “red carpet arrivals” coverage sets my proletariat nerve on end, my capitalist side sees the sense in it. As a trade group promoting and growing the brand to gain a larger customer base the AMA is doing what they’re paid to do. They are not in business to be an musical aesthetic standard bearer, they are here to shine an ever brighter light and to gain customers.

The growing of an Americana brand brings in fans who didn’t know they were fans. Mumford and Sons and Civil Wars leads people to The Felice Brothers and Shovel and Rope. This leads them to a like-minded community of musicians, web sites, festivals and labels that inform, entertains and unites.

Fans of The Band followed Levin Helm’s late career trajectory into Americana were able to discover bands that were disciples of the elder statesman.
Hell, they might have even performed at his legendary upstate New York-based Ramble.

The roots run deep and they spread wide. But they need water.

Members of this community are some of the most generous I’ve known. Artists, promoters and , yes, bloggers, within the Americana family are willing to open their studios, stakes and web sites to people willing to do the hard work of making extraordinarily music. Music that stands heads and shoulders over the flavor of the week.

Some in the community don’t like what the AMA is doing. They imagine a future where the Nashville-based trade group co-opts an imagined organic genre as their dominion. Securing the brand and stamping their seal of approval on the blandest of performers to be paraded in front of the masses to gain the most market share for few interests. I understand that fear, but don’t share it.

I don’t see the risk as AMA monopolizing an Americana brand the way Music City has monopolized Country Music. I believe wholeheartedly that at it’s core Americana is a dispersed genre that comes from our mongrel beginnings and touches people globally. Diversity within common markers, styles and distinctions is at it’s core. There are signposts bit not fences. Our birthright as sonic mutants and misfits has forged a new world that allows us to connect and thrive.

The AMA has a job to do and Jed and his team are succeeding spectacularly. Musicians, media and fans of the genre needs to be prepared so other boats will be lifted as the marketing tide comes in. No one channel – not radio, not a music channel, web site, not any industry awards show, represents that entirety of richness and beauty and , yes danger, that constitutes this music.

Besides I’ve met Jed Hilly on several occasions and, though we don’t see eye-to eye on everything, I do believe his heart is in the right place. He’s in it for the music, not the money.

The red carpet can coexist with the sawdust floor, we just need to remember what matters, the music. I don’t see Americana heading down the same glitter-glutted road that country music traveled, but we need to understand that no one organization owns what the genre represents. It’s too big, too much. There is no Nashville big label machine that churning out a music like some meat-like paste at a fast-food burger joint. Americana is wild and, yes, sometimes too tough or gamey for mainstream tastes.

In Praise of Trains (songs)

The other day I was listening to one of the dozens of submissions I get a week and a song cued up assaulting me with a ham-fisted ode to the locomotive. I was in front of my computer and finding myself without an internal editor I threw this into the Twitter wind “I love train songs, but there should never be another one written ever again….EVER AGAIN…” I had no idea this rail (see what I did there?) against a once beautiful metaphor that has been debased into a threadbare cliche’ would stir up such a…er…discussion. It appears people still ride, wait at crossings and live within spitting distance of the proverbial iron horse.

After much constructive tweet and forth I was convinced that, when done with respect and creativity, there is still room for a good old train song. Here are some of the top picks suggested to me by some of my good-natured and learned twitter followers that taught me the error of my ways. If you have others please leave them in the comments, and enjoy the ride!

Fred Eaglesmith – “I Like Trains”

Todd Snider – “Play a Train Song”

Amanda Shires – “When You Need a Train it Never Comes”

Justin Townes Earle – “Workin’ for the MTA”

Steve Earle and the Del McCoury Band – Texas Eagle