Listen up: Madeline Hawthorne – “Where Did I Go Wrong” (Single Review)

Photo Credit: Dan Bradner
Photo Credit: Dan Bradner

Hawthorne says she’s happily married and I’ll take her word for it.

But she’s done a dang good job portraying a troubled woman. Sure her newest cut, “Where Did I Go Wrong,” marks off many country music cliches – a broken heart, sitting in the bar pining on what went wrong – with her Miranda Lambert-belt meets Bonnie Raitt-bluesey swagger she sends the tune into another dimension.

She was obsessed with music since her childhood on the East Coast, Madeline planted roots in Bozeman, MT during college and never turned back. She honed her talents through countless backup and band gigs before going solo amid the Global Pandemic- which put her then band, Hawthorne Roots, on the skids. Balancing Americana, roots, folk, and rock, she introduced herself on the 2021 LP, Boots, co-produced by Brad Parsons and Tyler Thompson in Pittsburgh. In between, she shared the stage with everyone from Jason Isbell, Lukas Nelson, Josh Turner, and Kip Moore to Sierra Hull, John Craigie, and Nathaniel Rateliff.”

Hawthorne’s new album ‘Tales From Late Nights & Long Drives’ (which contains this single) is due out everywhere on June 14 and was produced by the famed Ryan Hadlock (Zach Bryan, The Lumineers, Vance Joy) and recorded at Bear Creek Studios near Seattle, WA.

Official Site | Preorder

Review: American Aquarium – ‘Wolves’

American Aquarium

The risk in loving an independent band is facing the fact that one day they may achieve mainstream success.

On the face of it, this is naive and a stupid attitude for fan. What kind of a sadist wants grown people to spend the rest of their professional lives in a cramped van? But the concerns are from a deeper, worried place – Can a love a mainstream band when mainstream bands suck? How many ways can I sneer at new fans? What if they change their sound? Will I still be able to get tickets to their show? And so on…

American Aquarium fans may now be faced with such an existential dilemma. After years of paying blacktop and beer joint dues (and suffering the indignity of having Florida Georgia Line open for them just to watch them explode to mainstream country stardom) BJ Barham , guitarists Ryan Johnson and Colin Dimeo, bassist Bill Corbin, drummer Kevin McClain and Whit Wright on keyboard and pedal-steel guitar might have their breakthrough album on their calloused hands.

Those dues have become fertile source of inspiration resulting in 10 tightly wound roots-rock cuts. ‘Wolves’ shines brightest in it’s darkest corners. With his gravel baritone Barham frets over getting older, missed opportunities, family strife and yes life on that lonesome highway. On cuts like ‘Family Problems’ and ‘Man I’m Supposed to Be,’ the atmosphere builds, the pedal steel wails or the horns swell, the songs elevates into greatness.

BUt sometimes the arrangements on the jauntier cuts, like with ‘Southern Sadness’ and ‘Old North State,’ robs the songs of their emotional punch and the singer/music contrast doesn’t quite mesh. it’s as if Merle Haggard were fronting Pearl Jam, on their own they excel, but together…something gives.

And we can’t forget The Rocking. ‘Wichita Falls and ‘Losing Side of Twenty-Five’ are flat out stompers ripe for the stage and will be fan anthems for years to come.

Barham’s songwriting honors the Southern tradition of embodying and championing the stern struggle of the working poor as they strive to keep things together against the odds. ‘Wolves’ doesn’t offer any glib answers or obfuscate with party anthems. Barham’s world is more complicated, real. It brims of steely contemplation, guts and fighting through.

‘Wolves’ is an album that may not launch Barham and Co. onto Music City arena headliners anytime soon. But it does put them further along their path to being a band that matters.

iTunes | Amazon | Official Site


Music Review – The Ben Miller Band – ‘Any Way, Shape or Form’ (New West)

ben miller band

Performers like Konrad Wert (Possessed By Paul James) , Scott H. Biram and Hillstomp have been spectacularly creating Depression era country, bluegrass, folk, gospel, and blues music for years by jolting the dusty form with a furious intensity and emotional directness that would make Marcus Mumford sob into his vintage hanky.

We can now add to that the Joplin, Mo. trio of Ben Miller, Doug Dicharry and Scott Leeper, collectively known as The Ben Miller Band.

Producer Vance Powell ( Wanda Jackson,Buddy Guy, Jack White) is just the right man to steward ‘Any Way, Shape or Form,’ TBMB’s debut for New West records, though the many influences that make up what the band calls “Ozark Stomp” and bring out the band’s best effort to date.

Opener “The Outsider” evokes Dock Boggs and split Lip Rayfield as Miller’s clawhammer banjo, Dicharry’s percussion and Leeper’s washtub bass kick up a foggy mountian moshpit accenting by a hot guest slide guitar break by Chad “Gravy” Graves. The spirit of John Lee Hooker is raised in the jump boogie of “You Don’t Know” with a nasty little guitar break in the middle, and in the greasy/sleazy ‘Hurry Up And Wait” which features Dicharry’s blazing washboard work. Things gear down on the melancholy “I Feel for You” which is given a a dreamy quality from the inclusion of Graves pedal steel and Dicharry’s mandoline. The inclusion of the vaudeville-jazz ditty “23 Skidoo”, a 1920’s slang phrase for getting while the getting’s good is an odd twist especially when it grows into a dramatic swell. “Burning Building” is an Appalachian-meets-garage rocker that would make Jack White give a pasty smile.

the treatment given to the traditional folk ballad “The Cuckoo.” The internal dialogue of the piece occurs in a fever dream of roots-psychedelic, stabbing guitar, musical spoons and furious percussion. “Twinkle Toes,” is a jaunty lock-down break-down sing-along featuring blistering dobro. “Life on Wheels” kicks off like a “Whiskey River” remake but quickly breaks another direction as harmonica brings to mind a whining train whistle. “No War,” is a lofty Phil Ochs-style topical folk song calling out corruption and ponders the metaphysical.

“Any Way, Shape or Form” is work of considerable scope executed into a whole of rambunctious cohesion. It leaves you wondering what else Ben Miller Band might have up their sleeves.

Official Site | Amazon | iTunes


Music Review: Cory Branan – “The No-Hit Wonder” (Bloodshot Records)

CORY BRANAN- The No-Hit Wonder

Nashville in the 70’s was a place of wandering, dusty minstrels tripping into town from distant small towns with little more than cheap guitars, grand dreams and a reverent yet defiant attitude regarding the power structure of Nashville music industry. The ripples where felt and absorbed back into the system and the result was the “Urban Cowboy” era. This was not an innovative time. Now that Music Row has again fell into lockstep with the sound of the cash register the bustling community of East Nashville is rekindling those early days.

In many respects Cory Branan’s “The No-Hit Wonder,” is the face of this rekindled spirit. Smart, sonic landscapes offering a deep stratum that delivers a bounty of country, pop (“Missing You Fierce”) and Southern soul (“Missing You Fierce”) gems as each song is sifted through. The record also benefits from having some of the finest backing musicians working – John Radford (Justin Townes Earle, Luella and The Sun), Sadler Vaden (The 400 Unit, Drivin and Cryin), Audley Freed (The Black Crowes) and Robbie Turner (Waylon Jennings, Charlie Rich.) as well as being supported by some of Americana and indy rock’s best talent.

No better example of that is the opener “You Make Me” which features none other than Jason Isbell on back-up vocals. A song for his new bride it strikes a fine balance of romance, rock-heat with ear-worm hooks as Isbell provides just the right amount of guitar and vocal support.

The title cut recalls hard times for a troubadore that burns bright instead of belly-aches as Craig Finn & Steve Selvidge of The Hold Steady providing further retained support. “The Only You” Shows the nuance of Branan’s craft – “I hear you got another boy and he looks a lot like me / And this one come with some kind of guarantee / Well I got me another girl and she looks like you at 23 / And while she sleeps I trace the places where your tattoos used to be.” This playful poignancy is straight from the book of Kristofferson.

Branan vocal style like Ryan Bingham with better range. This is most apparent in the Bakersfield-by-way-of-Uncle-Tupelo “Sour Mash.” Another furiously paced number that wears it’s hillbilly pedigree proudly, featuring more subtle accompaniment by Tim Easton. “C’mon Shadow” is a ragtime jubilation masking heartbreak that’ll have you tapping a toe and crying in your beer.

“All The Rivers In Colorado” is pure jukebox gold. A barroom weeper of tears and waterways made even more delightful with Caitlin Rose and Austin Lucas lending background vocals. “Daddy Was A Skywriter” is a Cajun-spiced tune about finding your way in this world with the guidance and love from mama and daddy.

“The No-Hit Wonder” is a work both expansive in influence as it is grounded in history. Smart song-craft, road-tested instinct of instrumentation and an ear for the attentive hook is it’s flesh and bone. This is not a stright-up country record in contemporary or classic terms. Its an Americana record – and all that comes with that gloriously, messy label.

And a damn fine one at that.

Official Site | Buy


Music Review: Billy Joe Shaver – “Long In The Tooth” [Lightning Rod]

Billy Joe Shaver

Billy Joe Shaver will laws be a welcome sight at Casa Twang. Shaver was the first interview I conducted of this blog and his generosity and great stories fueled me to keep at this because there is still great music comes from the
adventurous kind.

Shaver’s ’s latest work, “Long In The Tooth,” shows he’s still got some adventures to partake in.

Though done in the style that Nashville pop-stars like to slag as “Grandpa music,” ”Long In The Tooth” has Shaver digging deep in the soil of 70’s Outlaw Country. A movement that Shaver helped cultivate, and that those Music City marionette’s claim allegiance to.

billy joe shaver- Long In The Tooth

Shaver penned all 10 songs and they’re is all you’ll need for a state of the state. Politics, war, religion, class divide, love, heartache, and yes, the sad state of the country music.

The first cut Hard To Be An Outlaw” features Shaver’s old pard and character witness, Willie Nelson, this is a
hat-tip to the Country Gold OGs as both a nostalgic lament and a scrappy swipe at Music Row pop-country. “The Git Go” is a loping study in fatalism/destiny lament covering class disparity in politics made even more forlorn by Mickey Rafael’s mournful, nuanced harmonica.

“Music City USA” features a more jaunty, and optimistic view of Nashville as a place where dreams, a great music, can still be had.

Love is alive on this album. “I’ll Love You as Much as I Can” is a sweet waltz sang to a longtime sweetheart. “I’m in Love” is reworked from 1998’s album “Victory,” and, though a tad more world-weary, it’s still pure poetry.

Another contemporary Outlaw of sorts, Todd Snider, goosed Shaver into making this album by making him realize he still has a lot to give. We are lucky he did. Nobody would fault Billy Joe Shaver if he took to pasture and rested on his many laurels. But by the sound of “Long In The Tooth” he’s not ready to pack in that guitar just yet.

Official site | Buy Long in the Tooth


Music Review: Sturgill Simpson – “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music” – High Top Mountain Records


On his 1962 masterpiece “Modern Sounds in Country Music” Ray Charles’ broke cultural and racial boundaries, straddled styles, grew his audience and made the charts.

Sturgill Simpson’s newest release tips a hat to that release but “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music” but it doesn’t break any boundaries that weren’t broke decade ago.

Simpson does fight against the current thinking that what’s old is bad. This is not new. Gram Parson’s did it in the 60’s and 70’s and the entire Americana genre is built on that premise. But just as Charles’ classic engaged country music as a lens to take a broader cultural view Simpson uses 70’s country gold as a review mirror to remind us what cultural beauty we’ve squandered.

Music City has always raced towards the shiniest object to gain market share and fill pockets. It’s charter is not historic preservation but cash accumulation. But that history is rich and fertile ground in the mind of Simpson, a mindful disciple that spans history and style with authenticity and a crooked smile.

That richness can be heard, and felt, in the songwriting.

The record opens as an old-timer, billed as “Dood” Fraley, announces the title album and then echoes off into infinite space.

Sunny psychedelic “Turtles All The Way Down” opens with a “Gentle On My Mind” feel with a twist “I’ve seen Jesus play with flames in a lake a fire that I was sanding in” “There’s a gateway in our mind that leads somewhere out there beyond this plane / Where reptile aliens made of light cut you open and pull out all your pain.”

“Tear in my Beer” this ain’t.

Drug use and mind expansion is not new in country music. Way before Willie and Snoop sang “Roll Me Up and Smoke When I Die.” and Kacey Musgraves , Ashley Monroe and Brandy Clark hitched a ride on the current weed bandwagon Kris Kristofferson was smoking his mind in “Sunday Morning Coming Down” (which Simpson references in “Life of Sin”) and Johnny Cash went on a murderous jag in “Cocaine Blues.”

But Simpson reflects a humanity in the mind alterations that grounds it and makes it relatable to even the straightest arrow.

Humanity is often dark, and “Life of Sin” takes a page from the book of Bakersfield and tells a leavin’ tale taht leads to drinkin’ and debauchery that raves like an prairie dust storm.

“Living the Dream” is a laid-back, Waylon-tinged cold reality lament of the futility of performing as you contemplate futility and “sit around and wait to die.”

“Long White Line” is a love song to the open road as a path away from hurt. “The Promise” is the most poignant track on the album. Simpson conjures loneliness and yearning in his softly, almost spoken, delivery as plucked guitar, drums, bass and stings build.

As you can guess this is not the feel good album of the summer. it engage human themes once prevalent in country music, misery. But not in th meost recent emo vairty of the emotion. this is misery as enlightenment. Angst as discovery.

“It Ain’t all Flowers” is a flashback kick in the teeth with “Are You Experienced”-style backtracking before giving way to a slow groover that slithers and seethes Southern sou.

Simpson’s voice is an expressive instrument in itself as if pleads and growls keening into hard-edge shapes and the occasional howl “oooHooooooo!” The band is on par with the level of excellence you’d expect from a Sturgill Simpson release. Kevin Black on bass guitar, Miles Miller on drums/percussion and backing vocal, Mike Webb on keyboards and
Dave Cobb plays. classical guitar/percussion. The stand out is Laur Joamets from Tartu, Estonia ranks up there with the finest interpreters of teh guitar I’ve had th honer of hearing.

Simpson doesn’t care to be country music’s savior but he’s willing to interpret it to make some damn fine new music an d fans are coming in droves. There’s a hunger for it.
Is “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music” groundbreaking? No.and it doesn’t need to be. It just remind us there still some gold in that there High Top Mountain

Official site


Review: Rosanne Cash – The River & the Thread (Blue Note)

Rosanne Cash

Rosanne Cash’s latest completes a body of self-reflective work beginning with 2006’s dark beauty Black Cadillac, the homage to her and father’s musical bond with 2009’ s “The List” and now with “The River & the Thread” Cash get’s back to her genealogical, and spiritual, roots.

Cash’s early success hinged tacking country music and giving it a fresh pop spin that allowed her to break into the charts dominated by Willie Nelson, Conway Twitty and Ronnie Milsap.

The River & the Thread, she does much of the same. Americana’s expansive style fits well with her current range of material. Reflecting a deeper level of artistry and honesty those qualities shine brightly on songs like opening track “A Feather’s Not a Bird,” where a Creedence-style swamp groove runs deep into the Southern art of blurring fact and myth, reminiscent of Bobbie Gentry‘s “ode to Billy Joe.”

The songs continues to travel across space and time. To cotton fields in “The Sunken Lands,” where back-breaking work parallels the humiliation of a woman suffering under a cruel man. Then down a hot, reverb-shimmering asphalt road to Memphis where the achingly beautiful “Etta’s Tune,” where a Southern summer simmers across past regrets.

“World of Strange Desire” is a boot-stomper that echoes the mythology gumbo of the album opener

Part of her journey that led to this sterling release were actual travels. One stop was to the famed Muscle Shoals recording studio and Greenwood Mississippi where Robert Johnson’s grave is located.

I only have these nits to pick. The album, at 38 minutes, is too good to be this brief. Also the arrangements fill the space with excellent instrumentation to a point that there’s little room for Cash to settle in a quiet place and let her expressive voice build any level of intimacy.

Quibbles aside “The River & the Thread” is a bountiful work from a soulful traveler.


Music Review: “Divided & United: The Songs of The Civil War” – Various Artists [ATO Records]

Divided & United: Songs of the Civil War

One of he bloodiest periods in American history, the Civil War (or the War of Northern Aggression as it’s often referred to south of the Mason/Dixon,) left deep and lingering cultural wounds in the nation’s psyche. These scare are often picked at by the ignorant, the malicious and those depraved enough to exploit them for power.

It’s said that music as a healing and uniting force. I believe it can be. Like Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s 1972 watershed release, “Will the Circle be Unbroken, Movie soundtrack producer Randall Poster’s “Divided and United – Songs of the American Civil War” beings together generations of country and roots musicians to interpret’s songs from both sides of the conflict.

Legends abound on “Divided and United.” Loretta Lynn’s take on “Take Your Gun and Go, John” is a stark with Lynn’s accompanied by banjo and fiddle. Her Southern lilt put an odd twist on this popular Union call to arms.

Del McCoury and Ricky Skaggs conjure bluegrass magic on the lost love lament “Lorena” and the bloody tale of brothers-in-arms “Two Soldiers,” respectively.

New blood represents the past equal aplomb. Sam Amidon’s gives a spirited performance on Joseph Philbrick Webster’s 1860 composition “Wildwood Flower” and new Opry inductees Old Crow Medicine Show give passionate performance on the globally popular “Marching Through Georgia,” though their double-time conclusion would have troops marching right past their destination.

Dirk Powell and Steve Earle trade off dutifully on the “Just Before the Battle, Mother Farewell, Mother” and makes me wish that Earle would tackle more music in this vein. Vince Gill’s expressive voice brings out the innate melancholy of a drummer boy fatally wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg on “For The Dear Old Flag, I Die.”

Charleston duo Shovels & Rope give a woozy ramshackle rendition of, naturally, “The Fall of Charleston.” John Doe’s cajun flair to “Tenting on the Old Camp Ground” and it’s ground-level account of loss and battle.

A collection like this wouldn’t be complete without the presence off T Bone Burnett, But instead of his usual shepherding of the effort he lends his halting voice to recounting the single bloodiest event in American history on “The Battle of Antietam.”

In many ways “Divided and United” tills the same ground as Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s 1972 watershed release, “Will the Circle be Unbroken.” Ages-old, deeply rooted, American music draws together generations in common reverence and celebration. This wonderful collection has the added dimension of addressing past scars and bringing just a little humility, understanding and empathy.


Listen UP! “Until I’m One With You” – Ryan Bingham

Until I'm One With You -  Ryan Bingham

The lead up eerie border-town short videos for FX’s “The Bridge’ has hooked me I and I will be tuning in for the pilot episode July 10th at 10pm.

The theme song, “Until I’m One With You,” written and performed by Ryan Bingham is a great aesthetic fit for the program.

The gritty program is loosely adapted from a popular Scandinavian crime drama. The American version follows two detectives as they hunt down a serial killer slaughtering women on both side of the El Paso, Texas and Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico border.

Bingham does the song with a fittingly chilling delivery. Chiming acoustic guitar answered by electric guitar, his gravel-road rasps a sentiment that slithers from desire to claustrophobic obsession.

Until I’m one with you
Until I’m one with you
My heart shall not pass through
It’ll only be forsaken

Until I’m one with you
Our world is torn in two
Until I’m one with you
Our love will be mistaken

Until I’m one with you
My death they will pursue
Until I’m one with you
My life will be degraded

Until I’m one with you

Music Review: Daniel Romano – Come Cry With Me Normaltown Records]

NTR1006-DanielRomano-REDPeople often wondered why Gram Parsons, a member of a 60’s generation that cast off the past so dramatically, would choose to perform music so informed by country music clad in the garish uniform of the institution, a Nudie suit. Granted the suit was adorned in spangled by pot leaves. But still, what gives? Was he a novelty act? But then you heard “Hickory Wind” and you knew this wasn’t hippie irony. This was reverence.

Ontario-based singer/songwriter Daniel Romano stares at you from his latest release ‘Come Cry With Me” donned in a brown, Nudie-style, bespangled suit. Stetson, hipster ‘stache and sideburns. Like a retro Instagram filter set to Country Gold. Romono dares you not to ask “is this dude kidding?”

By music don’t lie. ‘Come Cry With Me” is as real as anything that’s come out as country music scene since it moved from the porch to the studio mic.

Like Chuck Ragan and Austin Lucas, Romano spent his youth in punk and hard rock msuic founding the indie-rock outfit Attack in Black. Like them his journey led him to the music he grew up listening to A music with stylistic and thematic ties to punk and hard rock. Country and folk music.

Hank (Williams and Snow) Gram, Willie, Waylon, Billy Joe, Ernest, George Jones – they would all identify Romono’s fourth solo record as spiritual and melodic kin.

Weepers like “The Middle Child” and “Two Pillow Sleeper” used to spend weeks at the top of the jukebox charts and brings to mind long-forgotten smokey bars, broken hearts and cheap beer.

But it’s not all tales of the misbegotten and downtrodden. “Chicken Bill” takes a page out of the Cash book of Boom Chicka Boom and pulls the chair out with a mysterious ending. The wry humor and double entendre soaked “When I Was Abroad” sound like a result of a Roger Miller and Shel Silverstein amphetamine-fueled songwriting session at the Playboy Mansion.

And the excellent celebration of 3/4 waltzes “Just Before The Moment” would make Lefty Frizzell smile and cause Music Row execs the night sweats.

The rebellion that shapes punk and hard rock music has led Romano to one of the most rebellious acts he could undertake in today’s cultural environment. Creating an honest-to-God country music record.


Official Site | Buy

[soundcloud url=””]