Country Music Hearts Obama!

I remember the comedian Chris Rock on a cable filmed stand-up special saying something like what is the world coming to when the top  rapper in the world is white (Eminem) and the top golfer in the world is black (Tiger Woods)?

I felt sort of like that the other night when Sen. Barack Obama’s historic speech at Mile High Stadium was capped off by  ”Only in America” by the NashVegas version of Hall and Oates, Brooks & Dunn. This is the same song George Bush used at the Republican Convention last election. One half of the duo, Ronnie Dunn is a staunch Republican but the song’s co-writer, Don Cook, is a founder of the Music Row Democrats so I guess it’s a Nashville pop-country equivalent of bi-partisanship.

Here’s a note to the DNC and Democratic candidates everywhere, there are great artists that make country music that actually LIKE you and stand for at least some of what you advocate. Ever hear of Steve Earle or the Dixie Chicks?

If that wasn’t enough I read that Mr.”Boot in the ass” Toby Keith has thrown his support behind Obama (though it seems it’s only because Obama is able to act white.) Keith states that he’s a life-long Democrat but he appears to be more like the right-wing Dixie-crats I remember when I was growing up in Dallas. Mr. Keith apparently gets peeved when people accuse him of being a GOP fan. I wonder where they might have gotten that idea?!

Thank goodness there’s some things you can still count on with Nashville pop-country music and uased as a backdrop for patiotic symbolism- John Rich. the shorter half of the insipid duo Big and Rich, and raging homophobic weasel, penned a love song to John McCain cleverly entitled “Raisin’ McCain,” The song will be featured at the GOP convention and it predictably sucks.

Toby Keith’s Pro-Obama Anthem (a parody)


Carrie Rodriguez’s New Release to Drop 8/5

  • Austin-born, Berklee trained violinist-turned-fiddler/singer/song writer, and Chip Taylor protege, Carrie Rodriguez will release her second solo album “She Aint Me.” (8/5) The album is produced Malcolm Burn (Emmylou Harris, Kaki King) and wrote with Gary Louris of the Jayhawks as well as Mary Gauthier, Dan Wilson and Jim Boquist
  • The 10th Annual Pickathon Roots Music Festival (August 1-3, at Pendarvis Farm on Mt Scott near Portland, OR.) will feature35+ artists appearing on five stages, including two late-night venues. Some artists featured are Justin Townes Earle, a reunited Bad Livers, The Gourds, Hackensaw Boys and Wayne “The Train” Hancock.
  • According to ZZ Top has inked a deal with Rick Rubin’s American Recordings imprint through Columbia. The veteran rock trio is planning to hit the studio with Rubin (Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond,  Slayer) producing, for an album more in keeping with “La Grange”-era ZZ Top than its pop-friendly ’80s sound, according to manager Carl Stubner. I can’t begin to express how happy this makes me!
  • Since I’ve been here in the scorched shit-hole that is Irving Texas (but hey, it’s my native shit hole) I’ve tuned into the Clear Channel owned Dallas KZPS – Lone Star 92.5 and found it’s almost completely reverted back to it’s classic rock format it had abandoned to experiment in the format. So much for experimentation and those great Willie Nelson promos they recorded. Nevertheless I found my solice in the excellent KHYI 95.3 The Range. In one sitting I heard Chris Knight, George Jones. Eleven Hundred Springs. Yeah I know I’m a little late to this party but, hell, I’m just tickled to be here.

Nashville Fan Fare

I (justifiably) bitch a lot about Music City and tier ongoing campaign to strangle any beauty and creativity out of
country music, but one tradition I do like is the idea of the annual Fan Fare (my contrarian nature won’t allow me
to use the new corporate friendly title “CMA Music Festival”)

This years event features 30 hours of autograph signings, 100 hours of live music, 400 Country Music artists and

Now 90% of these “Country Music artists and celebrities” I wouldn’t cross the street to meet, but I do applaud the
populist spirit of the event (as well as inviting Dwight Yoakam back after an unconscionable 20 year absence.)This is
something you won’t find in any other genre and it speaks to country music’s respect for it’s fans. Now if Music City
only reflected that same deference to tradition and fans’ intelligence when producing the music.

Tim McGraw and Def Leppard Serves Up The Crap

I’m here watching my defending champ Spurs open the first round of playoffs againt the Pheonix Suns (spurs won in double overtime, YOW!) and the Tim McGraw and Def Leppard video for their co-written song “Nine Lives” comes on before the commercial.

First off, I’m floored that the NBA continues to display their utter disregard to, or ignorance of, their demographic by placing artists to perform songs in the playoffs that are more at home in the NFL demo (Tom Petty) or viewers of the daytime squawk-fest The View (Rob Thomas.)

Sure the song is crap, it’s fluff, it’s clown music and ridiculous to the ears to anyone that knows either country or rock music, but the thing that amazed me was how well it fits into the soft-rock MuzikMafia sound that is being cloned in Nashville these days. It was a like the fundamental elements that are usually fused into mediocre product were separated on stage into their separate elements of soft-pop-rock and soft-pop country.

Now I get why “artists” like Bon Jovi are heading over the the country side of the fence, the building blocks are not all that different. All instruments on 11, calculated hooks, trite imagery of god, country and family or idiotic lyrics that only drunken crackers can love (my personal favorite song when I’m a drunk cracker is Sweet Home Alabama.)

It’s all formula folks, like making Big Macs. Apply to any passable singer with a carefully tailored and sanctioned image, feed it to corporate radio, music television and complicit web sites , cross pollinate to the corporations other media holdings and off you go.

Want fries with that?


Carrie Underwood’s Modern Love

AOL’s Country Corner posts that country pop-tart Carrie Underwood admitted to ‘Extra’ (who else?) that she and Lubbock, TX. native and ‘Gossip Girl’ actor Chace Crawford “ended their highly-publicized relationship through text messaging, saying, “We broke up over text so . . . it’s like ‘peace out.'”

Underwood assured fans that there were no tears and that she’s doing just fine. In fact, she says the breakup was completely mutual. “It just didn’t work. We both knew it didn’t work and [had] no hard feelings at all whatsoever.”

Gee Carrie, I wonder why I was never blown away by those heartfelt songs you belt out. Could it be the mall-variety glibness displayed in this statement above? Tears and longing is where great coutry songs come from, not text messages.

Peace out? Who are you? Snoop Dogg? is dead, long live

Gram ParsonsAquarium Drunkard recently commented – Grieving Angel (or, What Happened to alt.Country) – on the demise of No Depression magazine as a sign on the wall that, and all its various strains is headed for a well deserved dirt nap.

Everybody wants to be Nietzsche and be the one to get the “God Is Dead” headline. So Jeff Tweedy decided to chase the hipsters and ape Radiohead and Al Green instead of pursuing his inner Jimmie Rogers. Good riddance. His work in Uncle Tupelo will always be respected but making Tweedy the canary in the coal mine a like holding up John Lydon as the torchbearer for punk. Public Image Ltd.? Punk is dead! Artist champion then abandon, or simply just cross for a spell, genres every day with questionable intentions and to mixed success. Their movement across genres doesn’t leave the genre left dead.

Yes, No Depression magazine was the go to messenger for the genre and its many branches, but their demise seems to be more a reflection on external forces – the economy, paper prices – and internal business opportunities not pursued – changing editorial direction, overlooking the power of advertising on the web – rather than a symbol of a genre’s demise. If Rolling Stone magazine pulled the plug tomorrow would people assume rock is dead? Hardly. We’d think that somebody at Rolling Stone really screwed up.

Some see the embodiment of the genres extinction in its commodification and acceptance by the mainstream. Abercrombie and the Gap start selling pearl snap western shirts. Urban Outfitters starts to sell John Deere caps for $30. the same ones you could once get for free with two bags of feed at the local supply store. Bullshit. When leather jackets with safety pins turned up in the windows of Macy’s New York store and Hot Topic sprang up in malls across the Nation many beat the drum of punks demise. Punk didn’t give a shit what they said and gave us Green Day, the Offspring and Rancid.

And as far as the acceptance of the mainstream, this is still music with folk and country in its DNA. It is made to be appealing and to be related to by all people living a workaday life. With troubles and families and simple joys. It is made to be accessible so mainstream acceptance is a sign of success. This isn’t alt.rock where where the rules appear to be when there is mainstream acceptance it’s a sign for the hipster herd to move on.

This is America, The sincerest form of flattery in our hyper-capitalist culture is to be co-opted by trend-spotters and sold to middle America by the yard. So what? For every Flying Burrito Brothers there will be an Eagles. There are plenty of thrift shops and seedy bars for those that know the real, better thing from the Plexiglas replica. A genre that is so rarefied and precious as to wilt at the first sign of filthy lucre was never a legitimate genre anyway. It was just a gleam in some PR agents eye that once obtained was cashed in and abandoned. Grunge anyone?

It used to be that sub-genres were prohibited by physical space to thrive. Tower and Peaches only had so many shelves to hold album, cassettes and CDs and a minimum wage staff that know nothing about music didn’t help to perpetuate the hidden gems. But that hurdle didn’t stop indy boutiques from filling the void by bringing expertise and products that could not be found at the big box music stores. Now the rules and economics have all changed and physical space for product is not an issue. Online retail can adapt and support genres and sub-genres as they establish themselves to be financially viable. Amazon offers an and Americana section featuring the likes of Tift Merrit, Neko Case and the Drive By Truckers and iTunes offers an essentials play list featuring Ryan Adams and Johnny Cash. For those that prefer the boutiques expertise and selection can head over to Miles Of Music.

The whole argument might just be moot. Country music as a singular entity is really just a newfangled marketing artifice. What we have come to think of as country music is a mongrel beast of Celtic tunes, sea shanties, blues and gospel music. Hell, what we know as country and rock music today cross pollinated in the 50’s at a little studio at 706 Union Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee and changed the music world forever.

People that argue that and its cousins Americana and roots music is some way diluting “true” country music ignore the genres history as already existing and enduring sub-genres Honky Tonk, Bakersfield Sound, Bluegrass Traditional Country, Yodeling, Country Boogie, Country Rock, Close Harmony, Square Dance, Jug Band, High Lonesome Sound and Western Swing. Like the English only crowd, they ignore the history of cultural evolution in an attempt to erect a legislative dam to keep the genre pure. I say put on the Rolling Stones “Sticky Fingers” and watch their heads explode.

Livestock breeders often practice inbreeding to “fix” desirable characteristics within a population. However, they must then cull unfit offspring, especially when trying to establish the new and desirable trait in their stock., roots, Americana are the unfit offspring of the Nashville and corporate play list cultural breeders. These castoffs, misfits and outlaws make their own way in places across the globe. They make American music healthy and thrive by allowing a level of flexibility and brave experimentation that evolves the art and lays the groundwork to be culturally relevant to a new generation of fans.

Every day I’m contacted by new artists like the Dexateens, Twilight Hotel and the Whipsaws or their representatives that are taking, Americana, roots and Country music in exciting and sometimes unusual directions. Are they representative of country music? No, not in the officially sanctioned Nashville and mainstream radio sense, but there they are, listening to Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson and playing in their bedrooms and down at the the local bar. The are putting up a MySpace and Facebook page to allow people all over the world to discover them, refer the bands to their friends, and the artists can accumulate a list of fans so that they can serve them directly going forward. These artists have much to say and prove. in and of itself is a merely a label that is only useful if representing a thing. Judging by my email, mailbox and experiences with local performances and conversations with artists and fans there is certainly a thing thriving out there that will not be denied, not matter what Nashville or cultural critics (me included) thinks.

I have to concur with the Twin-Cities country music critic Jack Sparks when he said “It’s important that I end this thought by saying everyone leading up to this, and everyone after, who writes an article about how “alt country” is dead, is a fucking moron.” Amen partner, amen.

Uncle Tupelo – Chickamauga


No Depression Magazine to End Publication

Due to financial and music industry self-inflicted mortal wounds No Depression Magazine will cease publication after 13 bi-monthly years of bringing it’s readers to best of “Alternative Country (Whatever that is)” From the March-April issue publishers Grant Alden, Peter Blackstock and Kyla Fairchild as its Page 2 “Hello Stranger” column and from their site

Barring the intercession of unknown angels, you hold in your hands the next-to-the-last edition of No Depression we will publish. It is difficult even to type those words, so please know that we have not come lightly to this decision.

It’s no understatement to say that the humble blog you are currently reading and others like it would not exist if not for No Depression. ND showed that country and roots music and mutated into many interesting and thrilling varieties. You could enjoy your Grandfather’s music in a new and souped up form and there was music out there that still had the heart and soul of Cash and Haggard and might be doing it with a arm full of tattoos and a energy of any punk or metal band. Many of the bands and artists I could not live with today, the Drive By Truckers, Hank III, Meat Purveyors, Scott H. Biram…the list goes on and on.

The gaping cultural void left by ND’s sad demise will be felt directly and indirectly by fans and bands struggling against an American idolized world. ND was the place to look for inspiration and the place to hope to be featured when you had “made it” If you were featured or reviewed in ND you had cred! Fans and bands that otherwise thought they were pissing in the wind and making and enjoying music brazenly against the formulaic bile reflected everyday on the charts found a home in the pages of ND.

The passing of ND is a blow but their very existence in was a blessing. Now the Americana roots music goes back underground where it will mutate, rage and burst out once again like some dreaded cultural beast.

Adios amigos. Thanks for showing me the way.

Grammys Wrap Up

Okay, so the Grammys didn’t completely blow, just about 97% did. There were some greats – Aretha, Tina, John Fogerty, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard, some damn good – Foo Fighters, The Time, some suprises (Amy Winehouse was good and seemed SOBER!) And then there was the crap, well that would make my hand cramp to write it. Some stand outs for me:

Best Contemporary Folk/Americana Album: Steve Earle – Washington Square Serenade [New West Records]

Best Traditional Folk Album: Levon Helm – Dirt Farmer [Dirt Farmer Music/Vanguard Records]

Best Southern, Country, Or Bluegrass Gospel Album: Ricky Skaggs & The Whites – Salt Of The Earth [Skaggs Family Records]

Best Bluegrass Album: Jim Lauderdale – The Bluegrass Diaries [Yep Roc Records]

Best Country Instrumental Performance: Brad Paisley – Throttleneck from: 5th Gear [Arista Nashville]

Best Country Collaboration With Vocals: Willie Nelson & Ray Price – Lost Highway from: Last Of The Breed [Lost Highway Records]

Best Country Album (and best on camera slam of Kanye West!): Vince Gill – These Days [MCA Nashville]

Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals: Robert Plant & Alison Krauss – Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On) [Rounder Records]

Best Historical Album: Woody Guthrie – The Live Wire [Woody Guthrie Publications]

And Uncle Tony, you were robbed! Next year, man….

Grammy Jeers and Predictions – Release The Hounds

The Grammys are like a championship dog show. The awards go the the best behaved, the best bred to exacting standards and not to the the idiosyncratic mutt. Okay, sometimes there is the occasional gnarly crossbreed – The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day – but not until long after they’ve lost their edge or if an artists sales are so large there really is no risk in putting them on the carpet. Personally, I use it as a check list of music to avoid.

Country/Roots/Americana (hereafter referred to as C/R/A) is the unwashed cousin of the show. With a longer pedigree that metal or rap C/R/A always lurks on the perimeters of the ceremony even though much of the music being celebrated would exist without those roots.

Unless there is a anomaly like the million-plus selling “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou” soundtrack you can bet artist like Gillian Welch and Ralph Stanley will be sparse, And artists as brilliant and groundbreaking as the Drive By Truckers and the Avett Brothers, well there;s a saying about snowball in Hell…

With the music and showcases so tightly choreographed the only drama comes from the nominees extracurricular activities (I’m looking at you Winehouse!) The show is it pull in the lowest common denominator market with the least context for musical excellence in order to sell them things from thesponsors – Delta Airlines, Google, iTunes, Starbucks, eBay, XM and Hilton. Delta – not to showcase the best music available.
All said here are my predictions for the Grammys, or my own Grammys if I ran them. I’ve taken liberties to disagree if I thought the nominees are not the best representation of the work that’s out there. that’s what having your own blog allows you, complete disregard for the powers that be.

Best New Artist – Ryan Bingham (Taylor Swift and Winehouse can kiss my ass)

Song of the Year – Jason Isbell – Dress Blues

Best Southern, Country, Or Bluegrass Gospel Album – Went with an actual nominee here. Billy Joe Shaver – Everybody’s Brother

Best Female Country Vocal Performance – Patty Griffin – Burgundy Shoes

Best Male Country Performance: I like George Strait but I’m giving this to Dale Watson for Justice For All

Best performance by a Duo or Group: Hands down, the Avett Brothers – Shame

Best country collaboration: I go with an actual nominee for this onetoo – I Need You by Tim McGraw & Faith Hill. It’s a great song and it was co-written by my uncle, Tony Lane

Best country song: I Need You by Tim McGraw & Faith Hill. See above.

Best country album: This is easy, Dale Watson for From the Cradle to the Grave.

Now bring on the dogs….