Cream of the Crop – Twang Nation Top Americana and Roots Music Picks of 2016

Cream of the Crop – Twang Nation Top Americana and Roots Music Picks of 2015

The year in music for 2016 is best defined by the classic Dickensian line from “A Tale of Two Cities,” “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

Mortality cut a wide swath across some of the greatest and influential musicians of the twentieth century. Roots and country artists like Merle Haggard, Guy Clark, Ralph Stanley, Leon Russell, Jean Shepard, Glenn Frey, Red Simpson, Joey Feek and Steve Young among other greats like Prince, Sharon Jones, David Bowie and Leonard Cohen seemed harshly unrelenting. This level of loss will be felt in our cultural fabric in ways we’ve yet to understand.

To quote the late, great George Jones “Who’s gonna fill their shoes?”

Let’s hope that those passed legends shine as a beacon to the next generations to create great work that ties us together in song, music and common humanity. From what I know about 2017 I do see greatness coming.

But there was a silver lining. The influence of roots music in mainstream and, in a cultural equivalent of time folding in on itself, mainstream country music. This trend of influence occurs without Americana surrendering its identity of innovation and authenticity. To some artists, the genre was found too constricting and they lit out for another terrain better suited to their art.

And here’s to a more equitable arrangement between tech companies and the musicians that provide the bedrock to build their empires. Much to be done here…

As others sacrifice to create, let’s us, the audience, push ourselves to discover, share, attend live shows and financially reward the creators. Most which are hauling thier own gear and traveling to shows in cars or vans not tour buses.

Without them, this life is much less joyful.

Criteria – Calendar year 2016. No EPs, live, covers or re-release albums no matter how awesome.
Don’t see your favorite represented? Leave it in the comments, and here’s to a new year of Twang.

Matt Woods – ‘How to Survive’ – (iTunes | Amazon) – Tennessee troubadour Matt Wood’s third studio album ‘How to Survive’ offers taut songwriting that cuts to the emotional quick. Not an overtly political album but something more effective in sowing understanding – a topical album.

Paul Cauthen – ‘My Gospel’ – (iTunes | Amazon)
Paul Cauthen’s ‘My Gospel’ takes a page from the book of Paycheck and Waylon, a mix of juke box secular and pulpit gospel songs both personal and ethereal confessionals. These testimonials through Cauthen’s big baritone that suits these sonic vignettes of contemporary southern soul.

Brent Cobb – ‘Shine On Rainy Day’ – (iTunes | Amazon) Like Chris Stapleton and Kacey Musgraves Brent Cobb worked the Music Row ear worm mines for years before moving front and center with his own wares. Those dues paid off. His debut is both breezy and heavy like the great music of the country crossovers from the 70s but fresh with life and rich with authenticity and tradition.

Darling West – ‘Vinyl and Heartache’ – (iTunes | Amazon) The Norwegian trio Darling West takes their smooth pop chamber folk aesthetic to a new high on their sophomore release ‘Vinyl and Heartache.’ Mari Sandvær Kreken’s voice transcends each original cut, and a superb cover of Fleetwod Mac’s ‘The Chain,” to take the extraordinary musicianship even higher.

Karen Jonas – ‘Country Songs’ – (iTunes | Amazon) All you need to know about Fredericksburg, Virginia-based Karen Jonas’ is right there in the title. ‘Country Songs’ picks up where Jonas’ 2014 debut ‘Oklahoma Lottery’ left us – somewhere between heartache and hangover. Her voice lies between sass and sultry as Jonas’ accounts a woman longing for more and being fed up. All the while fitting perfectly with classic barroom weepers without resorting to threadbare nostalgia.

The Buffalo Ruckus – ‘Peace & Cornbread’ – (iTunes | Amazon) The Buffalo Ruckus’ sophomore album ‘Peace & Cornbread’ still embodies the soul of all those barrooms the band has torched with their fiery live shows but brings the more feral elements to heel that pays off with cohesion and great songwriting. Here divinity mixes with road tar to create a great Southern soul album

Dori Freeman – ‘Dori Freeman’ – (iTunes | Amazon) One of the surprises of 2016, Freeman’s debut exudes the confidence of a veteran performer and songwriter influenced equally by her native Appalachia as she is classic pop, bar room country and uptown jazz and moves deftly across it all to deliver an astounding cohesive treasure.

Kelsey Waldon – ‘I’ve Got a Way’ – (iTunes | Amazon) Kelsey Waldon’s sophomore release has vulnerable resolve and classic country running through it like the coal veins in her home state of Kentucky. And just as bracing and satisfying as it’s bourbon. Her plaintive voice and keen eye for human nature makes for these sterling tales of hard roads and tender hearts.

Austin Lucas – ‘Between the Moon & the Midwest’ – (iTunes | Amazon) Austin Lucas’ latest release is a moody, pedal steel laden arc traveling among broken hearts and bitter tears. His signature croon sits between jubilant and forlorn and bears the marks of a man that’s been through trouble but comes out the other side stronger and with better stories.

Whiskey Myers – ‘Mud’ – (iTunes | Amazon)
Few musical genres are as maligned as Southern Rock. But then a band comes all with an album that makes you believe again. Whiskey Myers’ ‘Mud’ is that album. The band worked with Americana Auber-producer Dave Cobb to create an album that pushes lyrical and music boundaries established by their 2014 breakout release ‘Early Morning Shakes.’ The pride of Palestine, Texas mixes country, rock and blue-eyed soul to achieve one of their strongest efforts yet.

Robert Ellis – ‘Robert Ellis’ – (iTunes | Amazon) On Robert Ellis’ fourth solo album, the Texas songwriter further moves from the school of George Jones country crooning even further into the adult pop of James Taylor and Paul Simon, and tackles adult themes of despair, restlessness and loss of love. A disciple of music styleS and texture, as well as songcraft and extraordinary fret work, Ellis delves into Chet Atkin’s jazz-flavored country (Drivin), bossa nova (Amanda Jane) and even a neo-classical dirge (The High Road) and ties. It shouldn’t work but damned if Ellis doesn’t pull it off.

Hayes Carll – ‘Lovers and Leavers’ – (iTunes | Amazon) Carll’s latest suggests his 5-year recording hiatus has been a rough if introspective stretch. ‘Lovers and Leavers’ is Carll’s solemn of his career without tipping into being a dour bumfest. These days there’s more on Carll’s mind than drinking, hootin’ and ahollerin’. This is an authentically more personal, emotional and confessional work that moves Carll into the realm of Guy Clarkian genius.

Margo Price – ‘Midwest Farmer’s Daughter’ – (iTunes | Amazon) An overnight success 13 years in the making, Jack White saw something in Margo Price that Music Row didn’t when he signed her as the first country artist on his Third Man Records label. Life’s harsh beauty pours from each song and common resolve is there with grace. Stuff too real for Music Row confections. Price sits well within a current musical groundswell proving that soulful roots music has an audience hungry for something real and is here to stay.

Lori McKenna – ‘The Bird & The Rifle’ – (iTunes | Amazon)
‘The Bird & The Rifle’ – When she’s not penning mega hits for the likes of Tim McGraw and Little Big Town, Lori McKenna puts her considerable songwriting skills to weightier faire like her latest, ‘The Bird & The Rifle.’ Intimate stories of small town hopes hitting the hard choices and their unforeseen consequences. We see ourselves in gems like “Halfway Home” and “We Were Cool” and brings more dimension to McKenna’s own “Humble and Kind” which was a hit for McGraw. These songs create a web that ties our experiences together in common humanity.

Sarah Jarosz -“Undercurrent” – (iTunes | Amazon) Jarosz’s 4th full-length studio album surprised many fans who’ve been listening since 2009’s debut ‘Song Up in Her Head.’ The then teen wunderkind has built on her time in the bluegrass genre and arrived an accomplished arranger, songwriter, singer and musician. Traditional forms are reworked as contemporary personal reflections of maturity and sophistication. experimental pop fuse with classic songwriters like Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell and Carol King.

B.J. Barham – ‘Rockingham’ – (iTunes | Amazon) Inverting the country contemporary music trope of quaint small town nostalgia American Aquarium vocalist B.J. Barham focuses his deft songwriting eye on the gutting of the small town American dream. The album title, Rockingham, is the North Carolina, a town of a few thousand where Barham was raised, is the starkly real and metaphor for many forgotten towns. Steely-eyed truth sketches each hardscrabble scenario where desperation lingers thick in the air like the funk from the local tobacco company.

Robbie Fulks – ‘Upland Stories’ – iTunes | Amazon) Fulks is the unheralded hardcore alt-country troubadour. Though not as well known as Steve Earle or Chis Knight for decades Fulks is the guy the Earle and Knight would listen to closely for economy of songcraft and rich imagery. his newest offering is grammy nominated and might rightly put him at the top of Americana legends lists. Appalachian break downs and honky-tonk weepers driven by his voice that echos the ages makes this a glorious addition to the roots music canon.

Miranda Lambert – “The Weight of These Wings” – (iTunes | Amazon) Break-up albums are a mixed bag. When done well, as with Beck’s ‘Sea Change’ and Willie Nelson’s ‘Phases and Stages,’ the work can become an iconic confessional moment in a profession that trades on personal reflection. Miranda Lambert’s double album ‘The Weight Of These Wings,’ split into two sides — The Nerve and The Heart, written in the wake of her tabloid fodder divorce from Blake Shelton shows Lambert taking a step back and licking her wounds with songcraft instead of chasing chart toppers. This is a 24-song thesis on survival, healing and returning back to Texas roots.

John Paul White – ‘Beulah’ – Out of the ashes of one of the most celebrated pop-folk duets of modern times rises a forlorn beautifully crafted from folk, classic country and adult pop. An album that is both rich lyrically and melodically. John Paul’s post Civil Wars is a moody beauty with keen songwriting sharper and more cohesive than his CW days. Sparse arrangements- B3 organ, cello, drums, bass and the ever present acoustic guitar – build a fitting texture to frame the songs. Harmony is not forgotten with the Secret Sisters lending a subdued vocal hand on songs like the country weeper “I’ve Been Over This Before.” This gets better with each spin

Cream of the Crop – Twang Nation Top Americana and Roots Music Picks of 2013

Twang Nation Best of  2013

As the last days of 2013 drop away the business-as-usual music industry remains bogged in a largely self-inflicted quagmire, but don’t tell musicians this. Industry gatekeepers and financial barriers are being overrun by people with a passion for the craft, and the talent and drive of a refusal to be denied. And we, dear reader, are richer because of it.

If there’s a theme to this year’s choices it’s that women are blazing a trail between Americana and mainstream country music. Lindi Ortega, Brandy Clark, Julie Roberts, Kelly Willis, Aoife O’Donovan and Valerie June might honing their craft from different angles, but a more than cursory listening shows they are making great contemporary music drawing from a common roots music well.

2013 was also a great year for what might be called “real country music.” However you define this vague term (Jimmie Rodgers? Willie? Garth?) you’ll find much of Country Music’s Golden Eras reflected in Brandy Clark, Dale Watson, Sturgill Simpson, Robbie Fulks as well as the mighty Son Volt, who released one of the best albums of their career with “Honky Tonk.”

Also the craft of songwriting and rich, engaging narrative is alive on Jason isbell’s best solo outing yet, Southeastern. Also on the veteran Guy Clark’s “My Favorite Picture of You” and relative newcomers John Moreland and John Murry.

2013 brought us some of the most creative and daring music in the Country, Americana and Roots fields and all indicators point to 2014 being even better with releases upcoming from Roseanne Cash , The Drive-By Truckers, Jason Eady, The Ben Miller Band and many more.

And in spite of T Bone Burnett’s advice to keep their art pure and unscathed by dirty, dirty self-promotion, these folks are out there hustling to breach popular consciousness.

I hope this list helps in some small way.

it was a challenge to keep the list to just 10, so again this year I surrendered to representing excellence over some arbitrary number.

Don’t see your favorite represented? Leave it in the comments and let’s spread the twang.

20. Austin Lucas – Stay Reckless – Nobody does pedal-to-metal roots-rock like Lucas. “Stay Reckless” elevates his song to a new level.

19. Aoife O’Donovan – Fossils [Yep Roc Records] – Alison Krauss covered O’Donovan’s song “Lay My Burden Down,” O’Donovan’s album is so good you might forget that.

18. John Murry – The Graceless Age [Evangeline Recording] Dark and engaging without veraing into bleak and self-pitying. John Murry makes feeling bad sound good.

17. Dale Watson – El Rancho Azul [Red House] Watson finds his hony-tonk sweet spot and does the Lone Star State proud.

16. Julie Roberts – Good Wine & Bad Decisions [Red River Entertaintment] – Music Row’s golden girl confronts set-backs and tragedy by creating the best album of her career.

15. Caitlin Rose – The Stand-In – [ATO Records] Rose deftly proves that “pop” doesn’t have to be bad.

14.5 – Will Hoge – Never Give In – Roots rock with a hook done right. [Cumberland Recordings]

14. Bruce Robison, Kelly Willis – Cheater’s Game [Preminum Records] – Austin’s Americana power couple delivers an engaging charmer.

13. Sarah Jarosz – Build Me Up from Bones [Sugar Hill Records] Jarosz songwriting, playing and vocals hit a new level and shw her to be already beyond her young years.

12.5. Daniel Romano – Come Cry With Me – had to slip in this neo-trad gem in response to the comment reminding me of it’s badassery. Yes, I do read the comments when I agree with them.

12. Robbie Fulks – Gone Away Backward [Bloodshot] Fulks creates an excellent, heartfelt bluegrass album sans his signature wink and smirk.

11. Valerie June – Pushin’ Against A Stone [Concord] Newcomer June fuses roots and soul and shows why she’s an Americana rising star.

10. Holly Williams – The Highway [Georgiana Records] – The songwriting on “The Highway” moves Williams out of anyones shadow.

9. Son Volt – Honky Tonk [Rounder Records] – Jay Farrar takes up the pedal steel and re-discovers Son Volt’s soul.

8. Lindi Ortega – Tin Star [Last Gang Records] Ortega’s exceptional “Tin Star” moves her into the realm of Queen of Americana music.

7. Hiss Golden Messenger – Haw [Paradise of Bachelors] M.C. Taylor continues to explore life and faith and stake new roots music territories.

6. Gurf Morlix – Gurf Morlix Finds the Present Tense [Rootball] A legendary songwriter/musician gets existential and rewards us with a fantastic body of work.

5,5. Shonna Tucker and Eye Candy: A Tell All [Sweet Nector] – I foolishly omitted this pop-roots-soul gem on first pass. I now remedy that grievous oversight.

5. Guy Clark – My Favorite Picture of You [Dualtone] A master still makes it look easy. It ain’t.

4.John Moreland – In The Throes [Last Chance Records] Moreland is an accomplished student of song craft and “In The Throes” moves him into the master class.

3. Sturgill Simpson – High Top Mountain [High Top Mountain] Reluctant savior of outlaw soul creates a masterpiece in spite of expectations.

2. Jason Isbell – Southeastern [Southeastern Records] – With an already accomplished body of work Isbell surpasses himself and creates a classic.

1. Brandy Clark – 12 Stories [Slate Creek Records] – It takes guts to refuse to be a cog in the Music Row machine and create an debut this daringly country.

Americana Music Association Announces Showcase Line-up

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Building on the already excellent initial lineup announcement the Nashville-based Americana Music Association has released has released the full roster of artists performing during the event.

Some of the additions that stand out to me are roots-rockers Shooter Jennings and Austin Lucas, alt.country stalwarts Bottle Rockets and Ashley Monroe who apparently has no problem working both the Americana and Music Row sides of the fence (good!) One performer I’m bummed to see missing from the roster is Jason Isbell (Though his talented better half, Amanda Shires, is on the list.) There might be scheduling conflicts with his current tour supporting the excellent “Southeastern.”

The vagueness of Americana’s boundaries allows a richness and diversity within a shared source and vision. it’s what legend, and scheduled performer, Darrell Scott describes positively as a “hard-to-define place.”

the selections show a broad range of diversity and excellence the of the genre. Great to see many Casa Twang favorites represented as well.

The AMA has created a Spotify playlist of the performers on the 2013 bill.

The 14th annual event will take place in Nashville, Sept. 18-22. I’ll be there. hope you are too!

Americana Music Festival & Conference Showcase Performing Artistt
Alanna Royale
Amanda Shires
American Aquarium
Amy Speace
Andrew Combs
Andrew Leahey & the Homestead
Aoife O’Donovan
Ashley Monroe
Austin Lucas
Band of Heathens
Bear’s Den
Ben Miller Band
Bhi Bhiman
Billy Bragg
Black Prairie
Bobby Rush
Bottle Rockets
Brian Wright
Chelsea Crowell
Claire Lynch
Daniel Romano
Darrell Scott & Tim O’Brien
Dash Rip Rock
David Bromberg
Delbert McClinton
Della Mae
Donna the Buffalo
Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors
DUGAS
Elephant Revival
Farewell Drifters
Field Report
Frank Fairfield
Hillbilly Killers
Holly Williams
Houndmouth
Howe Gelb
Howlin’ Brothers
Hurray for the Riff Raff
Infamous Stringdusters
JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound
JD McPherson
Joe Fletcher & the Wrong Reasons
Joe Nolan
John Fullbright
Jonny Fritz
Josh Rouse
Joy Kills Sorrow
Judah & the Lion
Justin Townes Earle
Kim Richey
Kruger Brothers
Laura Cantrell
Lera Lynn
Levi Lowrey
Lindi Ortega
Lisa Marie Presley
Luella & the Sun
Mandolin Orange
Matt Mays
Max Gomez
McCrary Sisters
Melody Pool
Mustered Courage
My Darling Clementine
Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers
Nikki Lane
Noah Gunderson
Nora Jane Struthers
North Mississippi Allstars
NQ Arbuckle
Old Man Luedecke
Over The Rhine
Parker Millsap
Patrick Sweany
Paul Kelly
Peter Bruntnell
Phil Madeira
Pokey LaFarge
Randall Bramlett
Rayland Baxter
Richard Thompson
Rosanne Cash
Rose Cousins
Sam Doores, Riley Downing & the Tumbleweeds
Samantha Crain
Shakey Graves
Shannon McNally
Shel
Shooter Jennings
Sons of Fathers
Spirit Family Reunion
St. Paul and the Broken Bones
Steelism
Steep Canyon Rangers
Stewart Mann & the Statesboro Revue
Sturgill Simpson
Susan Cowsill
The Bushwackers
The Del-Lords
The Devil Makes Three
The Greencards
The Lone Bellow
The Lost Brothers
The Stray Birds
The Westbound Rangers
The White Buffalo
Tim Easton
Tommy Malone
Treetop Flyers
Two Man Gentleman Band
Uncle Lucius
Water Liars
Wheeler Brothers
Willie Sugarcaps
Willy Mason
Wood Brothers

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.

four-rate

Official Site | Buy

[soundcloud url=”https://soundcloud.com/crashave/sets/daniel-romano”]

5 Artists I’d Like to Hear On ABC’s Nashville

As I’ve said,  I believe Nashville ,  ABC’S new evening soap opera , has the potential to be a great vehicle to introduce great Americana and roots artists to a much wider audience of music lovers. After watching the first two episodes I think T Bone Burnett has done a great job of dropping excellent artists like Shovels & Rope and Lindi Ortega into key scenes in the show. If the show can  catch the attention of a large enough audience I predict great things.

I’d love to be a music consultant, so until some Hollywood big-wig rings me up here’s my shot at it. Here’s  5 under the radar artists whose music I’d personally like to see on Nashville. Some have a great country music spirit to echo the golden age, some are spiked with a current sound to drive their sound into the present day. Some have both.

Like any list this one is incolete. Please leave your choices and thought in the comments section. Appreciate you!

I defy you to find a current musician with more soul that Austin Lucas.

Whitey Morgan is pure outlaw, y’all.

Lera Lynne has a little Loretta and a little Bobbie Genrty

John Fullbright is one of the best and purist songwriters I’ve seen in some time.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xo93cE0U_T0

Jason Eady is the current embodiment classic country and great songwriting.

Twang Nation Podcast Episode 6 – Willie Nelson , Austin Lucas with Glossary, Delta Rae

Six podcasts in featuring some of the best in country and Americana music and I do believe I’m hitting a stride. Or something. Whatever, it getting even more fun!

This episode may be  the best yet! On the cut, “Hero,” Willie Nelson shares the spotlight with Jamey Johnson and Billy Joe Shaver off his new release “Heroes.” Austin Lucas with Glossary sends me a rough mix of “Alone in Memphis” being backed by his current tour mates Glossary. Delta Rae proves the power of the voice in the fiery ” Bottom of the River” from their debut album “Carry The Fire.”things end out with a tribute to the great Levon Helm from his Grammy award winning “Dirt Farmer.”

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.

Now, kick back with your adult beverage of choice and let Twang Nation remind you what great music sounds like.

1. Jason Eady – song:  “AM Country Heaven”  album: “AM Country Heaven” (Underground Sound)
2. Marty Stuart -  song:  “Tear The Woodpile Down” -  album: “Nashville, Volume 1: Tear The Woodpile Down”  (Sugar Hill Records)
3. Delta Rae -  song: “Bottom of the River” – album:  “Carry The Fire” (Sire Records)
4. Shawn Mullins – song: “Give God The Blues” – album:  “Mercyland – Hymns For The Rest Of Us” (Mercyland Records)
5.  Giant Giant Sand  -  song: “Detained”  – album: “Tucson” (Fire Records)
6. Paul Thorn  -  song: “What the Hell Is Goin’ On”- album: “What the Hell Is Goin’ On” (Perpetual Obscurity)
7.  Willie Nelson – song: “Hero” – album: “Heroes” (Sony Music Entertainment)
8. Austin Lucas with Glossary – song: “Alone in Memphis” album: Demo
9. The Mavericks – song: “Born To Be Blue” – album: “Suited Up and Ready EP” (The Valory Music Co.)
10. Levon Helm – song: False hearted lover blues album: Dirt Farmer (Dirt Farmer Music)

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.

 

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

Twang Nation Podcast Episode 1

Yes friends, after all these years of talking (and posting the occasional clip) about great music I decided to just into the fray and get out a Twang Nation podcast. Why now? Two reasons. I came back from the Americana Music Association Conference with some great experiences and the technological opportunity fell into my lap. there you have it.

How does it stack up with excellent productions like Freight Train Boogie, 9 Bullets or Country Fried Rock ? I’ll leave that up to you dear listener.There’s a lot of great Americana and roots music out there and I hope I am able to cover just a bit more of it to bring you great music. The production is excellent thanks to my friend (and bartender) Franklyn, the “uh” and “um”marred patter between songs is less smooth (Sorry Brett Deter, at least I got you name in there after the song!)but I take the same license I do as a blogger, you get what you pay for. And it’s untimely not about my sterling delivery, it’s about the music. By chance this maiden episode happen to coincide with the 70th birthday of Guy Clark so I’ve included his classic Dublin Blues to end the program.

Best of all, this was fun and I look forward to doing it again soon. I hope you like it and find some great music , and if you like it please leave your comments below and forward it to friends. Most importantly go buy music and get out and see live shows. if you don’t our greatest fears might be realized,  great music will go away.

  1. Dale Watson – A Real Country Song
  2. Hymn For Her – Slips
  3. Hellbound Glory – Better Hope You Die Young
  4. Amanda Shires – Shake The Walls
  5. Austin Lucas – Sleep Well
  6. Wagons – I Blew It
  7. Sunday Valley  – Sometimes Wine
  8. Nikki Lane – Gone, Gone, Gone
  9. Brett Deter – The Devil’s Gotta’ Earn
  10. Lindi Ortega – Angels
  11. Scott H_ Biram –  Dontcha Lie To Me Baby
  12. Truckstop Dalrlin’ – Down
  13. Guy Clark – Dublin Blues

Twang Nation Podcast Episode 1

On iTunes

Music Review: Austin Lucas – New Home In The Old World [Last Chance Records]

I first heard Austin Lucas on a song on a promo compilation compiled by Suburban Home Records (specifically Suburban Home Records Mix Tape Volume 5.) The compilation was a great mix of current and classic performers but the song that kept me coming back was a demo version of Sleep Well, a languorous slice of sparse, somber beauty that haunted me and drew me in again and again.

Lucas is journeyman of sorts. In his career this Indiana native has navigated metal, punk, folk and country. His dexterity and fidelity to the craft led him to collaborations with fellow punk vets Chuck Ragan (Hometown Caravan) and Frank Turner (Under The Influence: Volume 7) and led to Lucas landing a spot on Regan’s post-punk foray into roots-folk collective known as The Revival Tour.

On first impression Lucas proves the idiom “You Can’t judge a book ..’ Much like Aaron Neville,
with whom Lucas not only shares a startling looks-to-voice disparity but also an expressive  vibrato.

Lucas’ voice also carries the high lonesome of Bill Monroe in the opener Run Around, a jaunty front-porch break-down and Sit Down, a lost love number accented with Todd Beene’s weeping pedal steel and barroom piano. These are songs I’d recommend to anyone bemoaning about country music’s glory days gone by.

Thunder Rail and The Grain with their ringing guitar hooks, earnestly cryptic lyrics are post-punk gems that show Lucas has been an astute student of 80’s era R.E.M. His voice even takes on Stipe-like qualities on the latter.

There is a more filled-out version of the aforementioned Sleep Well featuring Lucas’ sister Chloe on backing vocals. This version holds just as much poignancy as that demo introduction, though I do miss that harmonica.

Keys is a lyrical and poetic testament against the insidious seduction of war “ I was told once only battle can save me from my own worthlessness.” If truth is the first casualty of war it falls on the Lucas to offer truth sanctuary within his allegory.

Throughout this fine release is a crackerjack band comprised of Lucas’ father Robert – who handed down his music legacy to his boy, Lucas’ sister Chloe and wife Cate on vocals ,cChris Westhoff,  Jason Groth & Mike Kapinus from Magnolia Electric Company, Todd Beene from Lucero, Christian Rutledge from Bowery Boy Blue .

 

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[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wW3AfUbYLx4[/youtube]