Twang Nation Makeover

As you might have noticed, Twang Nation is trying out a new look. After 4 years + the other theme was showing some wear and tear and I wanted something snazzier that handled RSS better. Here it is.  I’ll be hacking around on it for the next, well, forever.. so let me know what you think and any features you’d like to see for the site….and thanks for dialing in.

Country Music – Blonds Leading the Bland

The New York Times’ Jon Caramanica has a feature on the growing predominance of younger female artists in Music City (Country’s New Face: It’s Young and Blond)  in the wake of the success of Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood and Kellie Pickler, and how spunky DIYers, like Peoria, Illinois’ Veronica Ballestrini, are busy using the web to build a fan base for their performances and raise their profile.

Though the piece is trying to make a big deal about these women making a dent on the male dominated Music City culture, the phenomenon is not at all surprising. Nashville’s big country labels are in the business of making money. Period. They are not in the business of  pushing a cultural bias outside of the aforementioned quest for profit. A large part of that goal is to develop product with a predictable success i.e. charting hits that move product and can be replicated ad nauseum. Right now that success means young blond women.

Underwood and Pickler are American Idol alum and Swift developed her skills by playing country songs with karaoke backing tracks at her local mall. These young women had visual evidence of their ability to perform on cue and be adaptable to an external idea of a star in order to be successful. And even though Swift showed an early streak of independence at 15 when she turned down a development deal with RCA Records when not allowed to write her own songs, the songs she did write and were featured in her best selling debut were distinct from most Music City product by having the emotional depth of school notebook scribbling and being in tone more Britney than Loretta.

So yeah, the upcoming crop of Music City groomed country music performers are going to be young, female and mostly blond and largely indistinguishable from many of the clones coming out of the Disney and other tween culture behemoths in which Hanna Montana‘s Miley Cyrus and Jennette McCurdy of Nickelodeon’s show iCarly are the most viable examples.

This is the current business model of success with current benchmarks for profit, and in the music business this is the closest thing you can get to a sure thing.

Unlike the major rock labels band-signing shotgun approach in the 90’s during the Seattle Grunge  mania you can be assured that the Nashville’s major labels will keep a tight rein on product, how it looks and how it sounds. The difference is that with Grunge, as well as the country music phenomenons of Outaw Country and the Bakerfield sound, the labels were then left to play catch up to culture and were trying to capitalize on something that occurred organically and crackled with intensity. Playing catch up is messy and costly, controlling production from the get go contains cost and better assures success.

Replicating the current stable of blond fembots may make business sense, but it’s  not likely to result in anything worth listening to.

Twitter trend- #twangthursday

Add to the Twitter hashtag trends of  #followfriday and #musicmonday one that I can really get behind – #twangthursday.

#twangthursday follows these earlier trends of assigning each day of the week a adjective that makes it easy for other twitter users to find and add to a specific discussion. From what I can gather about the newly christened #twangthursday it’s about country, Americana and roots music.

I, like most people, didn’t initially see the value of Twitter. But like a newsreader that initially has nothing in it Twitter only as good as the streams of content you fill it with. If you are a fan of Mexican food cooking and you follow other fans, chefs and magazines that cater to that then what you have is a valuable and constantly updated resource. If all you follow is your friends, well, I hope you have very interesting friends.

So get out there people and let your #twangthursday fly!!

Band Round-Up: Jason and the Punknecks

Though Jason and the Punknecks aare described by some as punk-country. Gratuitous tattoos and a stage show that gets a bit rowdy the band has more in common with Bill Monroe than the Sex Pistols (though, as I’ve argued before I think the Sex Pistols have more in common with Monroe that 95% of what comes out on Music City.)

This band sounds to like they adhere to tradition without being enslaved by it and tap joyously into the rowdy and hell raising spirit that has been part of road houses and honk- tonks for decades.

The  husband and wife duo of  Jason and Polly Punkneck make the kind of music fit for Carter and Cash, and sure they work their corn-pone shtick a little thick, but there’s no denying the music. They adhere to a sound (and work ethic) as old as the hills and plains and a revel in a hillbilly attitude that Nashville has spent years trying to varnish over.


Hard Times

These are tough times for America. Wall Street and board room crooks, unnecessary wars, mounting national and personal debt, massive unemployment, terrorists threats.. These are not the toughest times we’ve faced in our history,I think the fisr depression and the civil war were much tougher, but they are hard relative to the lives most people have lived today.

The silver lining is that from hard times comes great music, and country music taps into the populist zeitgeist better than any other genre beside blues. Much has been made about John Rich’s Shuttin’ Detroit Down and Hank William Jr’s Red White and Pink Slip Blues but it’s hard for me to buy populist empathy from a guy that parades around  in mink coats and a guy that puts hotel employees in a choke hold and demands a kiss.

Here is a list of songs that I believe exhibit the best of what it sounds like to live through the worst.

Ryan Bingham – Hard TimesA new artist with an old voice . The name says it all.


The Drive By Truckers – Puttin’  People on the Moon A stiff shot of old-school Southern rock chased withed populist rage.


Jimmie Rodgers  – Muleskinner Blues – A classic of down-on-your-luck and lookin’ for work poetry.


Johnny Cash – BustedHarlan Howard’s 1962 penned song of working man’s woe was aa hit for Johnny Cash in 1962 on his classic At Folsom Prison live album and was an even bigger hit for Ray Charles the following year.


Merle Haggard – Workin’ Man Blues – Classic Bakersfield rocks this ode to the laborer.


Frankie Miller – Blackland Farmer – A paen to the 1958 farmers that were just starting to get a glipmpse of the industrial farms that were to change thier professions and lives forever.


Levon Helm – Poor Old Dirt Farmer –  Helm, the only American in the Americana/rock group The Band, tells the story of his Dad’s farm inTurkey Scratch, a hamlet west of Helena, Arkansas.


Johnny Paycheck – Take This Job and Shove It – it’s not all hand-wringing and woe is me in country music. Paycheck’s cover of  David Allan Coe’s song was a huge 70’s hit and a raised finger to The Man.


Lies About Country Music

MSNBC’s 5 Top has a list of the top 5 lies about American Idol.  And although most are obvious (AI is a popularity contest not a singing competition…uh YEAH!) lie #4, “Country music is about telling stories,” is very interesting to me. The point made in the article is that all songs – except nonsensical or instructive – are stories. But Idol, like Nashville, perpetuates the popular myth that country msuic is simple stories that are about common experiences, family and traditional values.Of course this ignores the songs of boozing, adultary, murder, drug use, fighting, sloth and war that are just as much a part of the country music landscape. I’m sure Johnny Paycheck, Waylon Jennings, Porter Wagoner and David Allen Coe would have something to say about that.

It’s Record Store Day!

Today is Annual Record Store Day Record Store.  More than 700 independent record stores across the world with joining with fans, sponsors and musicians for concerts and special promotional giveaways.

Three of my favorite indys are Waterloo Records in Austin, Grimey’s Records in Nashville and Amoeba Records right here in San Francisco. I briefly worked at a friend of mine’s indy record shop in Dallas (the now defunct VVV on Cedar Springs) so these places will always have a special place in my wallet.

You gotta hand it to the grassroots efforts of these shops and their sponsors. In the midst of a tough economy, ever more formulaic acts and big labels doing everything they can to destroy a viable business model for the future they are right there defying the odds. This reminds me of something…oh yeah…

Let’s just hope it’s not the record shops LAST act of defiance. Go buy some music you can hold in your damn hands!

Billy Bob Thorton’s a Baby

I saw Billy Bob Thorton and his group the Boxmasters perform in Nashville last year as part of the Americana Music Association conference last year. The band played the big room downstairs at the cannery. My expectations were low. I figured a Hollywood star’s vanity project would just end up as Dogstar 2.0. But hell it’s Billy Bob Thorton and except for her uncle, Chip Taylor – who also performed at the AMA, her ex-husband was as close as I would get to Angelina Jolie.

I hadn’t heard the Boxmasters before they played and I was surprised how good they were. The band was tight and Billy Bob knew how to work the crowd (though his vocals were serviceable at best.) The identical outfits, Buddy Holly horn rims (except for Billy Bob) and black suits (were are the aliens or the dry toast?) were a bit silly but hell, if the early incarnation of the Beatles and many Grand ‘Ol Opry performers dressed in what comes doen to uniforms it’s okay with me.

The near the end of the Cannery show Billy Bob shocked me. He invited the legendsry country tenor Charlie Louvin onstage with him and, lyrics in hand and nerve in  his voice sang the great Appalachian murder ballad Knoxville Girl made famous by Charlie and his brother Ira in 1956.  That took guts.

Then the recent dust up in Canada. The Boxmasters (now featuring the awesome Unknown Hinson performing in the band under the name Danny Baker) were in the Great White North opening for Willie Nelson for a string of dates and were schedules

Apparently there was a some agreement with the Canadian radio station program the Q not to bring up Thorton’s acting career in an introduction before a band interview. Besides the diva-like behavior this represents the station did agree. Then the interviewer Jian Ghomeshi proceeded to bring up Thorton’s acting career. Thorton then proceeded to act like a pissy, spoiled 5 year old and give glib and non-sequiter answers, to the confusion of Ghomeshi (who probably thought that revealing Thorton’s apparently secret  acting career couldn’t be the cause of such ridiculous behavior) and the embarrassment of his band who had to intervene and pick up his slack.

The next night Mr. Thornton drew a round of boos at a concert in Toronto’s Massey Hall after Thorton called Ghomeshi an “asshole” on stage and compared Canadian fans to mashed potatoes with no gravy. The band went on to cancel the last two shows on the Canadian leg of their tour with Willie Nelson which the Boxmaster’s web site is contributed to a band member and several crew members having the flu.

You can watch the whole tragic incident below.


Now the nad’s publicist

Eat the Rich

I read the ridiculous article in the New York Times about John Rich and believe Rich, and the Republicans he stumped for in the last election, are about as concerned about the plight of the common man as a vegetarian is about the finer points of aged beef.

I believe Rich’s populism is nothing more then window dressing and crass opportunism. My Grandparent’s generation used to call the Republicans the cocktail party because they were the party of the wealthy, for the wealthy. They still are, they just have better PR. Which brings me to Shuttin’ Detroit Down, the new song by the shorter, darker half of the country music comedy duo Big and Rich.

It’s hard for me to buy a song about the common man coming from a guy that wears $1000. fur coats on his realty television show. Shuttin’ Detroit Down oversimplifies the bad guys that led to the economic crisis as cardboard villain Wall Street Fat Cats with nary a lyric spent on the politicians (from both sides) that wrote the legislation that allowed them to do get away with it. For all his righteous bluster Rich forgets thise key words from wayetgatre. Follow the money. Who did Madoff make contributions to? What about the main guys as AIG? I’m thinking thier right in line with Rich’s own financial support.

I think if  I want quality songs about crony capitalism I’ll go to musicians that have been doing it longer, better and with more credibility – Steve Earle,  Kris Kristofferson (who is broadening his market by appearing in the video for Shuttin’ Detroit Down), hell even the Okie from Muskogee has eased up and taken a wider view of the world. Or maybe I’d go with one of the new artists like William Elliot Whitmore or the Drive By Truckers.

Rich is like Ann Coultier in drag, a different mouthpiece to appeal to a different demographic spouting the same old fake populist bullshit while stumping for the very same fat cats he names in his song.

Hank Williams III and Taylor Swift Duet

Country music pioneer Hank Williams III and flavor-of-the-moment ‘tween pop cash machine Taylor Swift will collaborate on a song they wrote together entitled “I’d buy you a drink if  only you were 21.” The song was constructed over the last week by text messages and goat hide parchment and blood ink. All proceeds will be donated to the hellraising kitten recovery project

Swift: “I’m super excited to be working with someone with the legacy that Hank has. I mean, he’s the son of Bocephus!”

Hank III: “Taylor what? I thought I was writting with that stacked, snaggle-toothed chick”