2013 The Year in Americana and Roots Music

Jason Isbell

2013 will go in the books as the year that Americana and roots settled comfortably into the mainstream. Kids are wearing dust-bowl duds and there is a brisk trade in acoustic guitars and banjos. Bands are taking a page from the Mumford, Avetts and Lumineers book of hand-crafted songs with rousing melodies just begging to be sung at live shows. It’s no longer a rustic throwback fad.

The genre grows more diverse, from folk-pop, Laurel Canyon rock, psych folk, hard-sore honky-tonk and everything that doesn’t neatly fit in other buckets. As genre defying as the music can be it all comes down to the only tis that matters, Great songwriting, evocative, absorbing narratives and memorable melodies that endures the ages.

But first you must find an audience.

ABC music row drama Nashville has done a fine job in highlighting great roots music, under the guidance T Bone Burnett , and now Buddy Miller, as well as classic country references and Americana and roots performer cameos. The show’s cutest stars (and real-life sisters,) Lennon and Maisy Stella, performed the Lumineers omnipresent top-40 hit hit “Hey Ho.” This gave the song an already bigger audience then it originally had. Is that possible?

This July Americana stalwarts Old Crow Medicine Show backed ex-Hootie & the Blowfish front man, and current country music star, Darius Rucker on Old Crow’s version of Bob Dylan’s “Wagon Wheel” at the Grand Ole Opry. The song was recorded with the band and included on his latest album resulting in one of his most popular singles as a solo artist and reaching number one on Billboard Hot Country Songs in its 12th week.

Old Crow Medicine Show then had the honor to be inducted into the Grand Ole Opry this fall by Opry members Dierks Bentley and Marty Stuart.

That’s not the only example of music row looking to Americana for material and a shot of inspiration. GRAMMY-winning singer Leann Rimes reached into the Americana well, and beyond her music row comfort zone, on her latest “ Spitfire.” She lends her extraordinary pipes to a searing version of Buddy Miler’s “Gasoline and Matches” in a duet with Rob Thomas. Country music chanteuse and Pistol Annie Ashley Monroe tapped legendary Texas singer-songwriter Guy Clark to collaborate on the title song on her latest “Like a Rose.”

If your looking for evidence of Americana’s mainstream presence you need go no further than SPIN’s list of 20 Best Country Albums of 2013 had Blake Shelton and Brad Paisley mixed with The Civil Wars (12), Jason Isbell (11) and Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell (9) Holly Williams (8) Sturgill Simpson (6) Cailtlin Rose (2).

Entertainment Weekly, the beacon of popular taste, counted a majority of Americana artists on their list of top country releases of 2013 with Jason Isbell and Lindi Ortega taking the number 1 and 2 spot respectively.

As in recent years I even had a hard time limiting myself to a top 10,15, 20+ on my Cream of the Crop – Twang Nation Top Americana and Roots Music Picks of 2013.

T Bone Burnett again joins forces with the Coen Brothers to contribute soundtrack stewardship to thier new 60’s neo-folk focused film. The soundtrack features old folk songs performed by Marcus Mumford , The Punch Brothers along with the film’s actors Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan , Adam Driver and Justin Timberlake, who might use his his work here to jump dart his desired foray into country music.

As the music advances it’s important that a music that celebrate the past honors those that came before. George Jones, the greatest voice in country music and the innovator, Ray Price were both lost to use this year.

We also lost “Cowboy” Jack Clement, As a record and movie producer, songwriter, performing and recording performer and studio engineer, Clement was responsible for for shaping American music in the 20th century.

Premier rock and country journalist Flippo, who documented much of the major changes in country music including the Outlaw movement and one of the original Outlaws Tompall Glaser, both left us in 2013.

Though gone they will boot be forgotten for their contribution to the rich and progressive music we love.

Here’s to the music we love and the performers that endure much to offer their craft to make this world just a little bit better, kinder and more interesting. Here’s to a community that still buys albums, t-shirts and packs local shows and helps these talented folks make music a career.

Here’s to the New Year.

Country Music Pioneer Ray Price Dead at 87

RIP Ray Price

After some initial confusion the day before regarding the health of country music legend Ray Price, his death was confirmed today by veteran country disc jockey Bill Mack, a spokesman for Mr. Price’s family. Price passed away Monday at his home in Mount Pleasant, Texas, from complications stemming from the pancreatic cancer he was diagnosed with in 2011. He was 87.

Price honed his craft at the heels of his friend and once roommate Hank Williams, who’s band he inherited, and rechristened the Cherokee Cowboys, in the wake of William’s death.

Price was an early practitioner of the 4/4 beat, later called the “Ray Price beat,” that then went on to become a standard of the genre.

with songs like “Crazy Arms” and Kris Kristofferson’s “For the Good Times” Price was also a pioneer in bringing country music to a wider audience. With 109 songs charting between 1952-89, His history on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart spans more than 37 years with 46 top 10 entries, eight of those reaching No. 1.

Price last charting album was the collaboration with Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson “Last of the Breed.”

“I have fought prejudice since I got in country music and I will continue to fight it,” he told The Associated Press in 1981. “A lot of people want to keep country music in the minority of people. But it belongs to the world. It’s art.”

The Country Music Hall of Fame and Grammy Hall of Fame member was a staunch advocate for the dignity of classic country music. Last year price responded on Facebook to Blake Shelton’s classic-country “Old Farts” & “Jackasses” slam.
The ruckus played out on the Internet and introduced Price to a new generation of country fans.

“You should be so lucky as us old-timers,” Price said in a happily cantankerous post in all capital letters. “Check back in 63 years (the year 2075) and let us know how your name and your music will be remembered.”

Price follows George Jones as country music legends that have passed this year.

Uncle Tupelo’s Pivotal Debut “No Depression” to be Reissued In January

Uncle Tupelo’s No Depression

Great news alt.country fans! On January 28th, Legacy Recordings will reissue Uncle Tupelo‘s widely acclaimed debut LP, 1990′s “No Depression.” The release will be a special two-disc expanded edition featuring rare and previously unreleased material. Of course, the influential alt.country trio would later birth Wilco (Tweedy) and Son Volt (Farrar.)

“No Depression: Legacy Edition” improves on the original album’s “tinny” production. Remastering has been done by engineer Vic Anesini, and the reissue features new liner notes by original band booster Richard Byrne of St. Louis’ alt-weekly The Riverfront Times. The second disc features the band’s original 1989 eight-song demo, Not Forever, Just For Now, which has never been released on CD.

Also included is a recently unearthed 10-song demo tape “Not Forever, Just Now,” recorded by the original UT, Jeff Tweedy, Jay Farrar, and Mike Heidorn in 1989. Below, listen to one of the demo tape’s tracks, an early version of “I Got Drunk” (via Consequence of sound).

The reissue will also include bonus tracks that appear on the album’s 2003 reissue; songs taken from their 1983 self-released Live and Otherwise cassette; and five cuts off the band’s 1987 demo Colorblind and Rhymeless.

Legacy will also issue a limited edition seven-inch vinyl single of Uncle Tupelo’s “I Wanna Be Your Dog” b/w “Commotion” for Record Store Black Friday on November 29th.

Pre-order No Depression: Legacy Edition.

No Depression: Legacy Edition Track List:

Disc One

No Depression (Original Album)

Graveyard Shift
That Year
Before I Break
No Depression
Factory Belt
Whiskey Bottle
Life Worth Livin’
So Called Friend
Screen Door
John Hardy
No Depression Era Odds & Ends

Left In The Dark
Won’t Forget
I Got Drunk
Sin City
Whiskey Bottle (Live Acoustic)
Disc Two

Not Forever, Just For Now (No Depression Demos, Produced By Matt Allison, 1989)

That Year
Whiskey Bottle
I Got Drunk
Before I Break
Life Worth Livin’
Graveyard Shift
Screen Door

From Live & Otherwise (Self-Released Cassette, 1988)

No Depression
Blues Die Hard

From Colorblind and Rhymeless (1987 Cassette Demo)

Before I Break
I Got Drunk
Screen Door
Blues Die Hard
Pickle River

Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge to celebrate 53rd Birthday

tootsies3One of the world’s most legendary honky-tonks is the Nashville’s Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge on lower braodway. Unoffocially knwon as the Ryman Adtroirum green room due to it’s proximity just across the alley from the Mother Chrurch, and the strict no alcohol policy enforced by same, Toosties’s has played host to legends writing, singing and living some of country music’s greatest songs. It’s where Willie Nelson kissed Faron Young on the mouth after the Young presented Willie with his very first writer’s royalty check for $20,000 for “Hello Walls.” The place has history as is illustrated by the walls layered with classic head shots of country music royalty. So may the bar had to install plexiglass to keep people from fooling with them.

Toosties’s will celebrate its 53rd Birthday on November 21st with a Broadway street-party hosted by Great American Country (GAC) personality Storme Warren. The annual event will be the kick-off event celebrating and honoring Country Music Hall of Fame member George Jones’ final Nashville concert, which takes place the following evening Friday, November 22nd at the Bridgestone Arena. As part of the celebration, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge is extending their annual “Birthday Bash” to a two-day event with entertainment on the outdoor Broadway stage taking place on both Thursday and Friday nights.

“The Tootsie’s Birthday Bash has become an annual event that everyone looks forward to,” says Tootsie’s proprietor Steve Smith. “We kicked it off at the Ryman with Kris Kristofferson, Terri Clark, Mel Tillis, and Jamey Johnson a few years back.

Entertainment will be announced in the coming months.

George Strait Announces His Final (Maybe) Tour

George Strait is getting ready to ride into the sunset, at least on his tour bus.

The superstar that keeps the traditional country music flame burning announced Wednesday at a news conference at the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum that he will head out on his The Cowboy Rides Away tour next year. Strait will play 21 dates in 2013, then 20 more in 2014 to put a finish on a stellar 30 plus year live career.

Strait says he wants to go out while still in fighting form but leaves the door open for a comeback.  “I always had it in the back of my mind when I turned 60 that it might be time to start thinking about it. I also never wanted to show up for a tour when nobody came. I believe I made the right decision. Only time will tell. In 2016, I might say ‘What a dummy!” If that’s the case, maybe I’ll reconsider, but at this particular time, I’m pretty sure I won’t.”

Strait will start and end the tour in his home state. The first leg will kick off Jan. 18 in Lubbock, Texas, and end June 1 in San Antonio. Dates for 2014 will be announced later. Four-time CMA Female Vocalist of the Year  Martina McBride will open for the tour in 2013.

I’ve ner see Strait before, but I am a fan. looks like I need to pony up this time around.

The Cowboy Rides Again — 2013 Tour Dates

January 18:  Lubbock, Texas (United Spirit Arena)
January 19:   Oklahoma City, Okla. (Chesapeake Energy Arena)
January 25:   Salt Lake City, Utah (Energy Solutions Arena)
January 26:   Nampa, Idaho (Idaho Center)
January 31:   Sacramento, Calif. (Power Balance Pavilion)
February 1:   Fresno, Calif.  Save Marcht Center)
February 2:   Las Vegas, Nev.  MGM Grand Garden Arena)
February 15:   St. Paul, Minn.  Xcel Energy Center)
February 16:   Grand Forks, N.D.  The Alerus Center)
February 22:   Buffalo, N.Y. First Niagara Center)
February 23:   Hartford, Conn.  XL Center)
March 1:   Knoxville, Tenn.  Thompson-Boling Arena)
March 2:   Lexington, Ky.  Rupp Arena)
March 17:   Houston, Texas  (Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo)*
March 22:   Greenville, S.C. (Bi-Lo Center)
March 23:   Greensboro, N.C. (Greensboro Coliseum Complex)
April 5:   Albuquerque, N.M. (The Pit)
April 6:   Las Cruces, N.M.  (Pan American Center)
April 12:   N. Little Rock, Ark. (Verizon Arena)
April 13:   New Orleans, La. (New Orleans Aren)
June 1:   San Antonio, Texas (Alamodome)

RIP Stephen Bruton

  • The fine folks at the 9513 brought to my attention the sorry news that Kris Kristofferson’s longtime guitarist Stephen Bruton has succumbed to throat cancer.
  • Country music legends Charley Pride and Marty Stuart and bluesman Pinetop Perkins will headline the third annual Mississippi Grammy gala.
  • Recycle your cell phones to support Nuci’s Space and get free merch coupons from the Drive-By Truckers official Store!
  • The New York Times has a piece on Steve Earle and his course in recording his trubute to his mentor Texas singer/songwriter Townes Van Zandt.

Merle Haggard & Kris Kristofferson – April 1 ’09 – Wells Fargo Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa

While living in New York City I was lucky enough to see George Jones play Carnegie Hall in a venue the Possum last played 44 years prior on a bill that included Johnny Cash and Mother Maybelle Carter. On that crisp Halloween evening Jones headlined and the opener was a solo acoustic performance by the relative youngster Kris Kristofferson. Kristofferson said of the opening spot “I can’t believe I get to open for George Jones.” That same wide-eyed, reverential innocence was also there as member of the country music “supergroup” The Highwaymen (Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kristofferson), he said of  being included in the lineup that he felt like a kid won the lottery.

That same, now 72 year-old, wide-eyed kid was again struck by awe as Wednesday night as he shared that stage with a man only one year his elder – the Bakersfield Sound legend Merle Haggard. This opening performance of a three-night tour was held at ,the Wells Fargo Center in the sleepy bedroom community of Santa Rosa, CA. 50 or so miles due North on US 101. Loaded up into my favoriteZipcar Toyota truck I hit the rolling hills specked with grazing cows on a beautiful sunny day. First stop was Russian River brewery in Santa Rosa to partake of my favorite kick-you-in-the-head IPA -Pliney the Elder. The -night started off well.

The Wells Fargo Center is a nice subdued type of seated theatre where the tony locals come to relive their glory with classic rock bands or catch some culture from the local symphony. I was surprised by the age of the crowd which skewed into the 60’s , but the lack of body searches was a nice change from the big city shows I’ve become accustomed to.

Later as I was standing near the touring bus hoping to catch a glimpse of Merle or Kris and shooting the shot with a mother and daughter that each brought their guitars to be signed I saw what surely signaled this as a great event. I saw Cher. The Gypsy herself  had come to catch the show and was sneaking in the stage door after a brief visit on the bus. My dream to utter the words “So, Cher and I were at this event, and…” can finally be fulfilled.

Clad in black with worn boots,  Kristofferson had just finished Shipwrecked in the Eighties and was introducing Hag when the man his-self walked out on stage. No need for formality here son –  and broke into the small-town living lament Big City, Hag’s voice was strong but still that of a 72 year old man that had recently undergone surgery to have part of his lung removed. There was still too much onryness and pride in the grizzled elder statesmen to allow any trace of frailty, though the adoring audience would have forgiven any if shown.

As a pioneer of the electric Bakersfield sound Hag has worked with a band his whole career and the publicized “acrostic set” between these musicians was not quite what it seemed to be. “I feel like an old stripper without a G-string,” said Merle Haggard before kicking off the intro to “Back to Earth.” Merle was not quite naked as he had brought along a stripped down version of his Strangers touring band which included his 16 year-old son Ben who played as proficiently as someone ten years his elder.

The pattern ran one song Kristofferson, two songs Haggard. Which sat just fine with the sold-out crowd and covered a lot of ground in the nearly two-hour long performance. Big City, Silver Wings, Me & Bobby McGee – each artist graciously relegating the floor to the other for a wealth of music. Collaborations were more democratic when other performers songs were performed – Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues and Jimmie Roger’s T.B. Blues, which givenHaggard’s health was colored with even more poignancy.

Like two old friends that had seen over 100 years of country music history between them they traded witty good-natured jibs, winged a play-list of dozens of classics, screwed up, brushed it off and performed like the seasoned professionals they were. The Okie From Muskogee and the Liberal ex-U.S. Army captain and helicopter pilot . He became a helicopter pilot, like a country music détente for the sake of the song and in honor of the contributions each have made.

Sing Me Back Home, Mama Tried, The Bottle Let Me Down, Today I Started Loving You Again, Jody and the Kid, The Silver-Tongued Devil and I,SundayMornin’ Comin’ Down…it’s daunting as they keep coming at you like a crash course in country music history. Kristofferson has had the acoustic lone man show on the road for a couple of years now and performed like he was at ease and for all Hag’s pretense at being out of his element, he warmed up and eventually was just as home just doing what they both do best. Making great, timeless music. When they leave this Earth, we are likely not to see their kind again.

As is Haggard’s tradition there was no encore to the slight disappointment of the crowd. To gripe after such a banquet was served  would be to risk gluttony. Like the rest of the evening Kristofferson was more than happy to follow his lead backstage.

Shipwrecked in the Eighties
Big City
Silver Wings
Me & Bobby McGee
I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink
Folsom Prison Blues
Best of All Possible Worlds
If I Could Only Fly
Mama Tried
Here Comes That Rainbow Again
I Wish I Could Be 30 Again
Rainbow Stew
Help Me Make It Through The Night
If We Make It Through December
Nobody Wins
T.B. Blues
Okie From Muskogee
Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down
Back to Earth
Jody and the Kid
The Silver-Tongued Devil and I
Sing Me Back Home
The Pilgrim, Chapter 33
Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Star
For the Good Times
Are the Good Times Really Over
Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down
Today I Started Loving You Again
Why Me Lord


Hank Williams 56 Years On

It’s been 56 years that Hiram (Hank) King Williams, the man commonly referred to as the King of Country Music and the hillbilly Shakespeare,  lost his life on an unseasonably cold road somewhere between Knoxville, TN and Oak Hill, West Virginia in the back of a ’52 Cadillac being driven by a hired college freshman to a scheduled show in Canton, Ohio. The official cause of death was attributed to acute right ventricular dilation.

The only items found in the backseat of his car were a few cans of beer and the hand-written lyrics to an unrecorded song.

Williams’ final single was ominously titled “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive”.

Since his death many have imitated, none have surpassed.

Hank Williams and June Carter – Hey Good looking


Harp Magazine Shutting Down – CRAP!

Well folks they’re dropping like flies. After the crappy news that No Depression would bite it after the May/June issue I’ve recently discovered that Harp magazine will pull the plug after the March/April issue, the one with Dave Grohl on the cover. Harp has been rock and alt.country friendly since the start and might have picked up some of the slack from ND going down but, well, there you go. I guess it’s all up to you now Blender! Just kiddin…

Harp started in the fall of 2001 and featured a cover story on Alejandro Escovedo. Among the artists who subsequently graced the cover of Harp during the last 7 years were Grohl, Cat Power, Ryan Adams, Wilco, Bright Eyes, Nick Cave, The Stooges, Drive-By Truckers, My Morning Jacket, Liz Phair, Tom Waits, The Roots, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Neko Case, Modest Mouse, Jay Farrar, Mars Volta, Devendra Banhart, Steve Earle, Pete Yorn, and Howe Gelb.

Yeah, blogs like your truly might address 1/100th of what was covered in these magazines but there was a legitimacy that ND and Harp had established through editorial excellence and championing the great unwashed underdogs and howling back-woods diamonds in the rough. As I’ve said before it was ND that brought country music that was still cool to my radar and caused me to waste time doing this for going on two years. As much as it blows to watch the grandfathers of genre’s media go down, I believe that the seeds are planted all over the world (like those of a wanton 70’s honky-tonker) that will allows the artists and fans to plan a world takeover…or at least an open mic night at Tootsies.