Jason Isbell Engaged to Amanda Shires

Anyone subscribed to Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires twitter accounts know they are both very adept at using twitter to draw in their fans.

They would also know that over the last several months there was a courtship going on, many times from separate states. As of yesterday Isbell promised to make her an honest woman by tweeting “Happiest day of my life. @amandashires said yes!” along with this sweet pic. Later on Shires tweeted “Loveliest day ever.” I should have known something was up when Isbell tweeted a few hours before the announcement “Damn right I’m listening to Supertramp.”

Here’s to the happy couple from Casa Twang. Here’s to many years of love, happiness and great, collaborative music!

Here’s the happy couple together onstage last month at Alys Stephens Center in Birmingham, Ala. covering Townes Van Zandt’s “”Pancho & Lefty.”

The New Sound – A Response to the Emily White Commotion

NPR intern Emily White has come under a brush-fire of criticism for being guilty of two things. Music piracy, to which she confesses, and being naively honest.

White belongs to a generation of customers, or in the parlance of my tech day-job; users, who have come to expect simple, frictionless access to media to accommodate their lifestyle.

Is it egotistical and reckless not to consider the larger business consequence of consumption? Yes it is, but I don’t think outright immorality is what we have here. White’s generation have been shown to be more socially conscious , with their fair-trade coffee and local sourced restaurants, then previous generations. Her generation is certainly provided with easy access to more real-time information in order to make informed decisions then any previous generation.

But Technology Giveth, and it taketh Away.

Access to information comes in many forms. Sometime information comes as social and web sites. Sometimes information comes as sharable files. Sometimes these files have audio media. Technology is amoral and it inadvertently leads to immoral, or at least questionable, results. There’s an entire generation who’s source of music wasn’t like mine – Peaches, Sam Goody and Tower Records. It’s the infinite isles of online shared music shared globally and at the speed of light. It’s an inexhaustible inventory with the doors unguarded and wide open 24-7. The old regime, or the big-label bubble as I like to think of it, was gone almost overnight.

But Napster was a wake up call not a time bomb. Like the Linda Chorney and the Americana AOTY GRAMMY nom broo-haha, the Emily White post blow-back is more about attacking the messenger instead of looking for a larger technology, business and behavioral changes in the air. Then the industry having the courage of self-assessment and pivot to meet the new conditions.

The current environment of attack and blame from the top of an LA corner office down to the working stiff PR agent wasted energy and a missed opportunity. If this business side of the industry used the same creativity exhibited by the producers of the music this could be the enlightenment instead of the professed dark ages.

Renee Hopkins, Senior Editor of Texas Enterprise and Media Relations Manager at the University of Texas McCombs School of Business tweeted to me when I asked about her to weigh in on this topic ” *Anyone* involved – record co, artist, tech firm, listener – could create new biz model for digital distribution of music. Record co’s didn’t figure out digital distrib biz model either, so indirectly encouraged culture of free, sold out artists. Artists need new biz model based on wider distribution/lower margins. But they dont get it. #disruption” (I know this is over 140 characters, this is a compilation of three tweets )

She’s right.

Then there’s the moral dissonance. Yes there was convenience in ripping and sharing music but does that make it right? What about the creators of the music? Dwindling school music programs and little support in most towns for local bands made music an abstraction in people’s life. The culture of music of the local barn dance from you great-grandparents life is long over. add to that knee-jerk big label lawsuits against fans, and you have
animosity with little context to the of working musicians and lets face it, the vast majority of musicians fall into that category.

The tech might be new but the business environment appears to me as being very much like the old ways. While reading the excellent book “Satan Is Real: The Ballad of the Louvin Brothers” (Igniter books) I was struck by the hardships and daily hustling that Ira and his brother Charlie endured to escape the back-breaking toil of the Alabama family farm and make a name for themselves. Their routine was early morning radio (the Internet of it’s day) performances -usually for free. Followed by local business performances, – also usually for free/ These provided a few opportunities for merch sales , typically lyric sheets or if lucky, your vinyl form the back of the car. These free performances (free music) allowed exposure and led to a wider tour schedule (without the benefit on an interstate highway system) and established a career and, because of the quality of the music, a legacy.

Then there was the Louvin’s stern, sharecropping father who, though opened the door to music for the boys by making them perform in church, held contempt of the “soft’ life they must have led after perusing it as a vocation. Ira had the idea to invite the old man on the road for a couple of weeks to which their father agreed, thinking it vacation of sorts. After two weeks of bad road food and strange motels the old man was begging to get back home with a renewed respect for the life his boys led.

I recall the stories above to illustrate the point that music as a vocation is not new. Miles of roads and night after night of seedy bars is a common way of learning the ropes and paying your dues. Luckily the Internet allows you to take the temperature of a city and get out the word of your impending show from a phone. Life on the road, for good and bad, can be shared with fans through social media and that close connection can lead to a higher moral barrier against theft. You turn yourself from an agent of the big label system to a human being working for a living. One of them creating something of value.

People have less qualms stealing from a big box store then from the mom and pop store on the corner. You’re more akin to the mom and pop shop, let the fans know this by engaging with your fans and humanizing yourself. To this day country performers, like politicians, make jokes and recall local color in the attempt to signal “I’m one of you.” Social media let’s you do this anytime you want with no concern for distance or time. But in the end it’s about the music.

I don’t pretend to have the answers, but i do know there are some out there if we look and stop wringing our hands like the buggy whip manufacture in the face of the Model A. I am a music blogger and , as of this writing, make no money for my efforts. I’m still struggling with how all this good-will and influence can be turned into cold, card cash. I want the financial freedom to do more, to hear and see more music and bring that music to a larger audience. I’m sure where I for in the new industry, but I know I do and I’ll figure it out, with your help.

Here’s to the new world!

Music Review: Mercyland: Hymns For The Rest of Us [Mercyland Records]

An Easter vacation was the perfect opportunity to listen to  “Mercyland: Hymns For The Rest Of Us” a compilation release by singer/songwriter, producer and musician Phil Madeira. As the title suggests the thematic underpinning of the album is spirituality but, luckily, this is not the God-as-backdrop trotted out in too many Music City productions. Nor is it a blandly fuzzy new-age soundtrack to glaze your eyes.

Community runs deep in Mercyland. Started by Madeira as a project on the crowd-funding site Kickstarter, the project achieved it’s funding goal of $5,000 and went on the an an additional $32,205 on top of that.

Like one of the albums contributors and fellow traveler, Buddy Miller, Madeira reminds us that the divine can come from common places. Reaching back to a source of faith that nourished bands like the Louvin and Stanley brothers and later by Johnny Cash and Billy Joe Shaver, these are songs of common experiences of love, hope and grace.

Some of Americana music’s finest have gathered here to bear witness. Miller, Emmylou Harris, The Carolina Chocolate Drops and others work as missionaries that work across faiths and genres to create a unifying spirit of music.

The Civil Wars begins things with joyful noise as with “From This Valley”  John Paul White strums his acoustic guitar and hollers “Woo hoo!” He and Joy Williams voices intertwines and soars like morning doves.

Shawn Mullins’ follows with a simmering swamp-blues “Give God the Blues.” Mullins calls out creeds, saints and sinners alike, tears down the walls of division and assures all that none have a monopoly on the Lord’s love. He assures us all that “God’s above all that.”

Buddy Miller has a long career of testifying without sermonizing and on his calmly spirited “I Believe in You” he deftly commands this force of song-craft.  Like an old-style tent revival run up against a traveling medicine show the varied spice of life is tasted. The Carolina Chocolate Drops’ banjo-driven gospel “Lights In The Valley.” Madeira’s self-titled contribution  “Mercyland” is a New Orleans-style story of hope and redemption. Madeira joins Cindy Morgan in the gloriously yearning “Leaning On You.”

Developing allegory is a tougher job than just using ready make symbols for threadbare religious shorthand. The concept of spirituality is a tougher job for a lazy songwriter than just rhyming “Jesus comes” with “bangin’ drums.”
The greatest and most enduring gospel songs, from The Great Speckled Bird to Amazing Grace, are master works of allegory and allow a richer and deeper musical expression and broadness in narrative to speak to beauty, devotion and sacrifice.

Phil Madeira and his musical congregation do good and great work on this collection of songs that inspire without beating you over the head with the Good Book. They also don’t put you to sleep in the pew to dream of post church fried chicken. That’s a miracle it itself.

Official Site Buy

Levon Helm in ‘Final Stages’ of Battle With Cancer.

I was tipped off to the bad news of Levon Helms’ (71) turn for the worse by a tweet from Jason Isbell that read “I don’t know what to say.” and then had a link to levonhelm.com. I knew that the drummer of The Band and successful solo artist and man behind the “Ramble” had been battling throat cancer a few years back and it took him a lonh while to recover his voice, so I feared the worst. The message on his site confirmed my fears;

“Dear Friends,
Levon is in the final stages of his battle with cancer. Please send your prayers and love to him as he makes his way through this part of his journey.

Thank you fans and music lovers who have made his life so filled with joy and celebration… he has loved nothing more than to play, to fill the room up with music, lay down the back beat, and make the people dance! He did it every time he took the stage…

We appreciate all the love and support and concern.
From his daughter Amy, and wife Sandy”

Hope and prayers are given from this fan to this rock/Americana music legend and fine man. I hope he finds comfort in this difficult time.


Twang Nation Podcast Episode 5 – Ray Wylie Hubbard, The Damn Quails, Chelle Rose

It’s been a while but here’s Twang Nation Podcast #5 and it’s a beaut.

This episode features cuts from upcoming albums by  Ray Wylie Hubbard, Chelle Rose and Joe Pug and great cuts from The Damn Quails, The Steel Wheels , Hiss Golden Messenger and Jim White.Mr J.R. Cash concludes the episode to commemorate the year of his 80th birthday and the upcoming gospel-themed Bootleg Vol. IV: The Soul of Truth.
I hope you all enjoy the great Americana and roots music featured in this and all the podcasts  and hope you seek out the musicians and buy their music, merch and , most importantly, take all your friends and see them live. Remember you can leave requests or feedback below or email me at baron(at)twangnation(dot)com.

1. Ray Wylie Hubbard – song:  Coricidin Bottle  album: The Grifter’s Hymnal  (Bordello Records)
2. The Damn Quails – song:  Fool’s Gold –  album: Down The Hatch ( 598 Recordings)
3.  Chelle  Rose – song:  Browder Holler Boy (Feat. Ray Wylie Hubbard)  album: Ghost of Bowder Holler (Lil’ Damsel Records)
4. The Steel Wheels – song:  Spider Wings  album: Lay Down , Lay Low (independent release)
5. The Memphis Strange – song:  5 Miles or Less  album: Birth of the Strange (independent release)
6. Hiss Golden Messenger – song:  Jesus Shot Me In The head  album: Poor Moon (Tompkins Square records)
7. Screen Door Porch – song:  Devil’s Honey  album: The Fate & The Fruit (Independent release)
8. Jim White – song:  The Way of Alone  album: Where It Hits You   (Yep Roc Records)
9. Joe Pug – song:  Hymn #76  album: The Great Despiser ( Lightning Rod Records)
10. Brown Bird – song:  Bilgewater  album: Salt For Salt (Supply and Demand Music)
11. Johnny Cash – song: Walk the Line Album: Bootleg 3: Live Around The World (Sony Legacy)


What the $#%& is Couch By Couchwest?!

Truth be told I really had no idea what the hell Couch By Couchwest was going in . I got that the name was a play off the Austin Music/Tech/Film festival South By Southwest but what else?

Being a newbie I reached out to the Couch By Couchwest via their twitter account for a scheduled of performances. Being a blogger I’m naturally lazy and like to get my information neatly packaged. No dice. I got this response “..this is a festival based on laziness! Do you really think we’d put together a schedule!?”and “Official CXCW Schedule: March 11-18th, videos sun-up to sun-up. Couch, kitchen, bed, bathroom, alternate as needed.” My laziness had been trumped.

So I did what any self-respecting blogger would do. I Googled Couch By Couchwest. I was presented with the main sources for performances, YouTube and Vimeo video uploads that are then gathered by the main site CouchByCouchwest.com,  a step up from their original tumblr page, as a single place for enjoying the music. Past performances by Neko Case (below) and other excellent, and some okay, performances. But there was no denying how compelling the idea of open source cultural event like this was.

The submission criteria makes to mentions of genre, style or guidelines of any type aside from uploading and tagging on the submitted video. This is as democratic as the local open mic except that it’s happening world-wide. Judging my the videos the only crieria is that there is often, but not always a couch in teh videos submitted.

Audience participation comes in the form of posting pics of your pets (sharing the couch with you no doubt) and tacos (apparently the official Couch By Couchwest fare) as well as the often hilarious Twitter feed which is topically aligned by the hashtag #CXCW or #CXCW2012.

Operations take place in secret from some undisclosed location Baton Rouge, Louisiana from the pseudonym, Baron Childs. Childs is reported as saying “There are some really talented people who just don’t’ get the chance to get heard because either they can’t afford to go to South by South West or they families that prevent them from going. This is a way to give those people a voice, too.” and that the purpose of Couch by Couch West is not about exposure or making money, but rather the focus should be on the music. “We’re not making any money off this, it actually costs us money.”

The defies all the conventional ideas about marketing and music publicity and results in an open-source cultural event. So far this week has Couch By Couchwest has given us excellent performance by Austin Lucas, Doc Dailey & Magnolia Devil , Imperial Rooster an many others.

In the end Couch By Couchwest is about the joy of music and the serendipitous nature of the web. The use of technology to support the traditional folk and roots legacy of intimate , personal space performances is a great hybrid cultural experience that I can really get behind.


The 54th Grammys Americana Music Trek So Far

A quick update for those not following me over in twitter (@twangnation ). I have had the privilege of seeing scores of legends. From Neil Young and Paul McCartney to Allison Krauss and Joe Walsh at the GRAMMYS Person of the Year/Music Cares benefit. I also met two living legends yesterday at the Special Merit Awards, Glenn Campbell and George Jones! . On top of this already daunting bounty of riches I met up with Shooter Jennings and found him to be a hell of a nice guy with a broad knowledge of musical history and the business.

This is a music fan’s dream realized! I will do a more thorough post when I get back from the event tommorow.

Music Review: Gretchen Peters – Hello Cruel World [Scarlet Letter Records]

I became aware of Gretchen Peters when I heard One to the Heart, One to the Head , a covers album she released with one of my favorite singer/songwriters Tom Russell. I was impressed by their take on many great country-folk songs, from Bob Dylan to Townes Van Zandt, and Peters’ smoky vocals contrasting with Russell’s dusty growl.

While reviewing the album I became aware of Peters’ past life as a New York-born, Nashville-based songwriter for Music City country, pop and soul. Martina McBride, Trisha Yearwood, Patty Loveless, George Strait, Neil Diamond and the late Etta James She also won the 1995 Country Music Association Song Of The Year award and turned some heads with her unflinching view of a woman’s domestic abuse with McBride’s Independence Day.

These song-craft skills, and the courage that maturity affords you to speak fearlessly, have resulted in Gretchen Peters’New release of darkly engaging Americana-pop Hello Cruel World. Recent trials and revelations in her life provide fertile soil for an collection of songs that look into the abyss and dares to laugh. Dares to love.  What could have been a very bleak album transforms brutality, indifference and the absurdity of life into jagged gems that makes you want to sing along and occasionally tap a toe. Peters co-produces along with husband Barry Walsh and Doug Lancio. they use sparse arrangements and atmosphere that made One to the Heart, One to the Head such a pleasure.

The self-titled opener is a moody study of contrast and personal perseverance. “I’m not dead but I’m damaged goods, and it’s getting late.” Followed by a chorus of “I’m a very lucky girl” sung with beautifully weary resignation backed by minor-chord strings. St. Francis was  inspired by the Gulf oil spill and co-written by Tom Russell, who often employs Catholic symbols and analogies to make corporeal points. The song engages St. Francis of Assisi to show how the divine is often overlooked or, when recognized, taken for granted.

Torn allegiances dominate The Matador as the thrill and drama of a bull ring serves as a metaphor for passion and conflict. Ordained minister Rodney Corwell performed the matrimonial ceremony for Peters’ and Walsh in 2010, on Dark Angel, Corwell plays the foil of love in  a tale of dangerous attraction and certain demise. Camille shares co-writing credits with Peters’ “Wine, Women, and Song” members Matraca Berg and Suzy Bogguss, is smoky loneliness and sweet despair shepherded by trumpet and barroom piano. Paradise Found has a hot summer day simmer that references Steinbeck and a play on Milton where the song derives it’s title.

From the Stevie Nicks-like album cover Peters stares at you from the dusky cool-colored cover with an orb that looks like a globe or a crystal ball. It serves as both metaphors here. These are adult songs about adult situations that in lesser hands would result in a very dull listening. In Peter’s hands poetry and the profane is balanced in a way that reminds us we are not alone and that beauty and hope, as well as songwriting that engages instead of panders,  still exists.

Official Site | Buy

Jason Isbell Accuses Dierks Bentley of Plagiarism

Yesterday evening I was hanging around on the twitter machine (I’m a wild man on a Friday night!) I was watching the usual silliness pass along on the distinguished group of folks that I follow there and then I saw a post from singer/songwriter Jason Isbell that caught my attention:

“Dierks” has officially ripped off my song “In A Razor Town.” Dierks is a douchebag.”

In A Razor Town” is a cut off Jason Isbell’s first solo release ‘Sirens in the Ditch.”

There aren’t many Dierks that I’m aware of in music so my assumption was that he was accusing Nashville Capitol Records recording artist Dierks Bentley. That assumption was confirmed with subsequent tweets as Isbell called Bentley out by his full name and named the title of the allegedly “ripped off” song.

The accused song is “Home,” the title song off Bentley’s 10/10/11 release. Wikipedia states that  “The song was inspired by the Tucson, Arizona shooting that killed six people and critically injured U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords in January 2011.”

Isbell also accuses Bentley of possibly bringing an idea of his song to co-writer of Home Dan Wilson.

“I bet Dierks brought that idea to the table and Dan ran with it.”

Bentley took to his twitter account to address the accusation:

“@Jasonisbel “I bet Dierks brought that idea to the table and @Danwilsonmusic ran with it.” -HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! that is some funny shit!”

These things are tricky, and I was terrible at spotting copyright infringements in my copyright law class at NYU, but after listening to both songs (below) it’s a pretty amazing coincidence. If Bentley had heard Isbell’s song, and mistakenly brought it to the writers table as his own idea, he needs to listen objectively, fess up and cut Isbell in on the songwriting credits.  That’s what Miranda Lambert did when it was brought to her attention that the title song to her album “Kerosene” was strikingly similar to Steve Earle’s  “I Feel Alright.” Miranda will always be aces in my book for that.

ON EDIT: Ernie over at El Trash has a post striking similarities between Dierks Bentley song “Up on the Ridge” and Matt King’s songs “Hard Luck Road” and “Shanty Town.” there appears to be a pattern forming here.

Jason Isbell – In A Razor Town

Dierks Bentley – Home



Dierks Bentley

Twang Nation Top Picks of 2011

Tis’ the season for “Best of…” “Top picks…”Depending on your point of view it’s either as welcome as a gift under the tree on Christmas morning or fruit cake. This subjective separation of musical wheat from chafe, truth be told, it’s my least favorite part of doing this blog. I prefer visit each work on an individual basis. And though I do bring a wider view of music, only in rare instances would weigh a work in contrast to something I heard just the week before. This 12-month capsule is constraining, bit with constraints come opportunity to focus the mind.

First- ground rules. No albums of cover songs. So, no Gurf Morlix or Carrie Rodriguez. But ya’ll should still buy the excellent Blaze Foley’s 113th Wet Dream and We Still Love Our Country respectively. No albums where an artist revisits earlier work, or live albums of already recorded work. Sorry Levon Helm, Ramble At The Ryman might get you that Grammy for Americana Album of the Year but you won’t make the TN 2011 list.

My pick for number one spot came to me in April and I pegged it early as the one to beat. Nobody even came close. Austin Lucas’ New Home In The Old World is a fine mix of country, folk and rock delivered in such a seamless and extraordinary way that ibelieveit advances th genre in it’s existence. Same with To the Wind and On To Heaven by Sunday Valley. The Kentucky band captured my attention early in the year with their brand of high-octane honky-tonk/gospel boogie and seeing them live sealed their spot at #2.

Jason Isbell may not care for end-of-year lists but he made mine by creating his most inspired and solid solo record with Here We Rest. A chance encounter at the Grimey’s Americanarama showcase at the Americana Music Association led me to the #9 quirky duo of Hymn for Her.

Canadian Laura Repo’s debut Get Yourself Home landed in my in-box the week I was putting this list together. Repo’s plaintive voice of simple, timeless themes and and the sparse arrangements reach back to country music’s roots and secured her a slot at number 10.

Last year was a great year for Americana/roots music and I reflected this bumper crop by overindulging and creating a top 25 list. On retrospect, this was excessive. this year I’ve focused on the abloute top 10 that I love to listen to from start to finish.  Here’s no an even better 2012!
  1. Austin Lucas – New Home In The Old World
  2. Sunday Valley – To the Wind and On To Heaven
  3. Jason Isbell – Here We Rest
  4. Zoe Muth & The Lost High Rollers – Starlight Hotel
  5. Gillian Welch – The Harrow & The Harvest
  6. Hayes Carll – KMAG YO YO
  7. Lindi Ortega – Little Red Boots
  8. Hellbound Glory – Damaged Goods
  9. Hymn for Her – Lucy & Wayne and The Amairican Stream
  10. Laura Repo – Get Yourself Home