Concert Review – Reckless Kelly, Hang Jones – Slims- San Francisco CA – 12/8/2010

As a Texan expat living in the Bay Area I jump at any chance to catch a great Lone Star band coming through the area playing music that transports me back and reveling in the joy of raucous music and being in a crowd indulging in the spirit of the event.

Last night I braved the rain and jumped at the chance to see Austin’s red dirt heroes Reckless Kelly as well as the open and best Bay Area Americana band, Hang Jones.

Stephen Grillos has always been one of my favorite performers in this area since I first made his and hos lovely wife’s acquaintance in Nashville a couple of years back. Since adding his excellent full band – Scott Sneddon on Mandolin, Mike Andersonon doghouse Bass and Vocals, Marisa Martinez on Fiddle and Diana Lerwick on Accordion and vocals – a few months back the music has taken on a new dimension and the songs from his exceptional debut “The Ballad of Carlsbad County” as well as new numbers all sound fresh.

The crowd was a mix of Bay Area hipsters and extras from Friday Night Lights but everybody was loving the honky-tonk mood, wooting and boot stomping, created by the band.

Reckless Kelly and Cross Canadian Ragweed were mainstream face of the red dirt music movement. With the recent demise the CCR Reckless Kelly carries on the tradition with passion and love of the craft of a great song.

The show started with The Ballad of Elano de Leone from their newest Somewhere In Time and moved on to Micky & The Motorcars’ Nobody’s Girl. The set was tight, spirited and the croed was moved by the music.

One of my favorite songs, Wicked Twisted Road was on the set and it did not disappoint. Singer/guitarist Willy Braun and the band worked the club crowd like it was an arena show.

and band can also be judged by the covers it chooses and Reckless Kelly chose a couple of greats. “Castanets” by fellow Austin musician Alejandro Escovedo, “52 Vincent Black Lightning” by Richard Thompson and , in the spirit of the season, Chuck Berry’s “Run Rudolph Run,” and #
The Beatles Happiness Is a Warm Gun as an encore.

A great night of music shared with people that love it is a wondrous thing and there is no better way to end 2010 than with this one. See both of these bands whenever you get a chance.

News Round Up: Elizabeth Cook in the Studio

  • Head over to Elizabeth Cook’s Facebook page to see inside pics of EC working on her new album with her ace live band (including her guitarist and husband Tim Carroll),  producer Don Was and engineer Krish Sharma. Also sitting in with Cook was the producer of her lest record, Balls, Rodney Crowell.
  • USA Today talks to John Fogerty about making his new 36-years in the making roots-rock album The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again.
  • If you’re in the Bay Aarea head over to the Elbo Room for Hang Jones, Casey Prestwood & the Burning Angels and Misisipi Rider.

Lyle Lovett’s New Album $3.99 Today Only!

Hang Jones June / July Shows

If you’re in the Bay area and in need of a twang infusion head over to the Makeout Room tonight to catch Hang Jones (MySpace) performing with full band. Hang Jones on at 8pm sharp.

If you can’t catch tonight’s show then be sure to catch one of these California performances.

  • June 13 Nomad Cafe Oakland, CA. 7pm
  • June 14 SF Free Folk Fest San Francisco, CA. 5pm
    Hang Jones will be playing in the Songwriter Showcase room. This is a completely free event that’s jam packed with great music, and even dance classes.
  • June 20 Black Cat Bar Penngrove, CA. 9pm
  • June 25 Genghis Cohen Los Angeles, CA. 10pm
  • June 28 The Echo Los Angeles, CA. 5pm
    Grand Ole Echo’s Sunday BBQ, Hang goes on first at 5pm
  • July 3 Kimo’s San Francisco, CA. 9pm
    with Medieval Knieval
  • July 7 The Voodoo Lounge San Jose, CA. 8pm
    opening for SUPERSUCKERS in their only Bay Area appearance!


Hang Jones on iTunes, Amazon and Tour

Hang Jones’ (Stephen Grillos) furthers his domination of  global media by having his debut release, The Ballad of Carlsbad County, is now available digitally on  iTunes and Amazon. Hang Jones has a few dates lined up in and around his San Francisco base of operations. Other dates will be added so check his MySpace page for the latest.

Black Cat Bar, Penngrove

Dolores Park Cafe
501 Dolores St, San Francisco,

Plough & Stars
116 Clement St San Francisco
$6,  9:30

Johnny V’s
31 E. Santa Clara St, San Jose

KOWS 107.3 FM, Occidental
Time: TBD
Interview with DJ Scott P on his show Songs in Round

Ace in the Hole Pub
3100 Gravenstein Hwy N Sebastopol,

Nomad Cafe
6500 Shattuck Ave. (at 65th St.) Oakland

Hang Jones – The Reckoning


The Best of 2008 (For Reals)

Propaganda has been honed to a fine art in the last half century. Americans have been convinced to fight wars, hand over civil and employee rights and consume ever crappier beer, food and, alas, music.

Mainstream Country Music is one of the few genres in the 21st century that tolerates no real deviation from certified Music Row and mainstream radio product. Sure there are exceptions, the Outlaw Movement cooped a largely ignored youth movement, Garth tweaked the business model and stage production and Big and Rich and their “MuzikMafia” was a painfully lame attempt to emulate Hip Hop’s concept of crews. But when it comes to altering the DNA of the music the image driven slickness and paint-by-numers narritives seem as tightly mandated as the McDonald’s Big Mac cooking process. If you don’t fit the hat act mold you are cast into the slums of Americana, folk, roots, or, if the sins were severe enough, rock!

Into this unyielding environment stepped artists that discovered that Cash, Willie and Hank were speaking to them in ways larger then the flavor of the week bands being crammed down their throats. That’s where the wild hillbilly muse dances. That way real beauty and art lay waiting.

Americana/roots/ is attracting new talent that bravely straddles the cultural divide between trad sepia-toned country circa Jimmie Rogers and Carter Family and the current attitudes, sounds and stories of our times. New artists like O’Death, The Felice Bothers, Justin Townes Earle and Star Anna and road-tested warriors like Dale Watson, Eleven Hundred Springs and Tom Russell have Inject new blood, whiskey and adrenaline into a largely lifeless form of music that refuses to be embalmed.

And then there are the genre-crossing big-wigs like  Elvis Costello, Ray Davies, Chrissie Hynde and Robert Plant (who is currently nominated for 6 grammys and forgoing a Led Zeppelin reunion to continue Raising Sand with Bluegrass chanteuse Alison Krauss) that are moving toward a the wildser lands attracted by its proclivity for authenticity and celebration of  experimentation. The only sin is mediocrity, the only transgression is bovine conformity.

There’s no reward for compiling a “best of” list. People will quibble with the selections, the order of said selections will displease many and whether the writer is at all qualified to compile such as list will be questioned. Ridicule and contempt is sure to follow.

I do this to celebrate those that are willing to look past the wanna-be-celebrity choked road paved with pyrite. The Great Ones bent Nashville to their ways or took refuge in other regions far from the industry, Bakersfield California,  Austin Texas, to ply their wares. The Music Row road is not an easy one, it’s just crowded with sheep and the destination is less interesting.

Here’s to the on’ry, ragged, dusty dreamers.


10) Hank Williams III – “Damn Right, Rebel Proud” (Sidewalk Records) -The man with a country music royalty pedigree, and an arguable entitlement to the moniker “Man In Blacker,” burns the middle-of-the-road with another custom hot-rod release. Amazon | MySpace | Official Site

9) Jamey Johnson – “That Lonesome Song” (Mercury Nashville) -  Jamey Johnson does more than redeem himself for helping to pen Trace Adkins maga-seller Honky Tonk Badonkadonk with this brilliant release born of hard living and a love of Waylon Jennings and George Jones.  Amazon | MySpace | Official Site

8)  Sara Cahoone – “Only As The Day Is Long” (Sub-Pop) – Former rock drummer Cahoone has created a melancholy-shoegaze-Americana masterpiece with her rainy-day ready debut release.  Amazon | MySpace | Sub-Pop

7)  Star Anna – “Crooked Path” (Malamute Records) -  On this smoldering debut of Americana-noir Ellensburg, Washington’s Star Anna Krogstie proves she can hold her own with Lucinda Williams and Neko Case. Her voice seems to be the shear definition of longing and heartache.  Amazon |  MySpace | Official Site

6) Hang Jones – “The Ballad of Carlsbad County” (Self Released) – Hang Jones is the alias for Stephen Grillos and his concept album, set in 1887 New Mexico, takes the typical elements – lust, jealousy, whiskey, gunpowder and blood – and works his gritty magic to deliver a great album.  Amazon |  MySpace | Official Site

5) Luke Powers – “Texasee” (Phoebe Claire) – Powers stated in an interview that Texasee is a study of a mythical place that lies between Nashville and Austin and is done in a style reminiscent of Sam Peckinpah. Sign me up! Writers in the Western genre celebrate a few that are seen as more “literary.”  Powers like Tom Russell, James McMurty, John Prine and Joe Ely, occupies the mirror space in music.  CD Baby | MySpace | Pheobe Claire Site

4) Felice Brothers (Team Love) -From from the Catskill Mountains to the subways of New York city these actual brothers (and a bass player named Christmas) channel the Basement Tapes and spin  magnificently dark tales of desperation and violence. Amazon | MySpace | Official Site

3) O’Death -  “Broken Hymns, Limbs and Skin” (Kemado) – New York’s O’Death is a concoction of parts that if mixed any other way would result into a noxious mess.  Appalachian Mountain music,  Gypsy music, Gothic punk, funk and metal, it all just shouldn’t play nice together. On Broken Hymns, Limbs and Skin the sounds meld magnificently in a dark and volatile masterpiece.  Amazon | MySpace | Official Site

2) Justin Townes Earle – “The Good Life”  (Bloodshot) -Before technology allowed us to cheat, musicians were the source of musical synthesis, or what is referred to by the hipsters today as mash-ups. Justin Townes Earle harkens back to these aural alchemists and has created a potent blend of 19th century folk, country swing and hillbilly boogie. Overcoming his Daddy’s long musical shadow (and his inclination towards illicit substances) Justin Townes Earle’s first full length release rejoices in heritage while transcending its creators youth.  Amazon | MySpace | Bloodshot Records

1) Eleven Hundred Springs – “Country Jam” (Palo Duro Records) – If you want a crash course in the best Texas country music over the last half-century the 2008 release from Dallas’ ESL would be a great place to start. From the hillbilly poetry of Mickey Newbury and Joe Ely to the Western Swing of Bob Wills to the pop and rock of  Doug Sahm and Buddy Holly all the influences are there.  And though the sounds are reflective of the Texas greats  ESL makes it distinctly their own on this superior homage to the Lone Star State. Amazon | MySpace | Official Site

Honorable Mention:

Drive-By Truckers – Brighter Than Creations Dark
The Whipsaws – 60 Watt Avenue
Slim Cessna’s Auto Club – Cipher
Caitlin Rose -  Dead Flowers
The Power of County  – See You In Rock and Roll Heaven
Lucinda Williams – Little Honey
Kathy Mattea – Coal
The Wildes – Ballad of a Young Married Man
Hayes Carll – Trouble In Mind
Joey + Rory – The Life Of A Song
Kasey Chambers and Shane – Rattlin’ Bones
Ashton Shepherd – Sounds So Good
The Steeldrivers – Self-Titled
Whitey Morgan and the 78’s – Honky Tonks and Cheap Motels

Merle Haggard Recovering From Operation

  • At the insistence of his family and personal physician, country music legend Merle Haggard had a malignant tumor removed from his lung Monday at Bakersfield Memorial Hospital. Our thoughts are with the Hag and his family and here’s to a speedy recovery.
  • NPR’s All Things Considered has a post on the Waylon and Shooter Jennings collaboration album Waylon Forever which they report “honors the outlaw legacy of Waylon Jennings. Shooter and his band complete the songs with the right combination of Southern rock with a Black Sabbath chaser. Waylon, who loved all kinds of music and even palled around with Metallica, would no doubt approve.”
  • If you’re in the San Francisco area tomorrow night (11/6) head over to Amnesia (853 Valencia St.) for the Hang Jones CD Release Party

Album Review – Hang Jones – The Ballad of Carlsbad County (Self Released)

Concept albums appear to have had their time in the sun. The days when an entire story, not just a series of songs that have a sense of cohesion but a full on story reflected as a somewhat linear narrative from song to song unfolding from two sides of vinyl or a cassette tape seem numbered by a pick and choose distribution of digital downloads and the lust for hits that has plagued the music industry since day one. Still you can find purists that will sit you down in front of a turntable for a full rendition from the book of Pink Floyd’s The Wall or The Who’s Tommy.

But all that happened on the pop and rock side of the tracks, a concept albums in country and roots music has always been an even rarer creature. In 1975 Willie Nelson showed that a country music concept album not only could be created, but could be a hit with Red Headed Stranger, an unorthodox work featuring a fugitive preacher, on the run from the law after killing his wife, that went on the reach multi-platinum levels and made Nelson the icon he is today. But that was one album made over thirty years ago and the music industry and taste landscape has changed considerably.

So who in the hell would dare look at over this hostile aural landscape and plunge head first into the breach? Enter Hang Jones, pseudonym for San Francisco based singer/songwriter Stephen Grillos. His new release The Ballad of Carlsbad County tells a dark tale of a New Mexico town rife with drunken lust, envy, jealousy, deceit and finally the murder of a young woman and the wrongful conviction of a murderer that nonetheless was innocent of this specific wicked deed.

The songs uncoil this venomous tale with sparse arrangements – Grillos on lead vocals, guitar and mandolin, Matt Cunitz on upright bass, pump organ, backing vocals and Mayumi Urgino on fiddle and backing vocals – are ate less step-by-step chapters than character studies that moves the story and sets a mood.

Album opener “Mexico Line” tells the story of a man headed South-bound, on the run and armed. The song gallops and you feel the desperation in the man by Grillos’ passionate delivery and Urgino’s sawing like she’s possessed in a superb fusion of Gypsy/hillbilly fiddle. Imagine deliverance meets the Red Violin and you’re not far off.

“The Reckoning” is a lilting, beautiful song of foreboding and danger (Don’t go chasing shadows, son, you’ll only find death) “Comin’ Round” is as upbeat mandolin, washboard and fiddle tune that sound like a loose and raucous collaberation of Steve Earle and Kurt Cobain on a hot July front porch night.

“She Said” and “Wasted Time” are a soulfully melancholy tunes reflecting a man’s obsession for a woman out of reach. That obsession is given a finer point on the tune “Caroline,” which finds the subject weaving between desperate pleading and vaguely threatening.

“Red” is easily my favorite cut on the album. An emotional pique comes to a slow boil over strummed guitar and a bobbing and weaving fiddle. “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” is a dirge-like murder ballad that follows in it’s aftermath. “Arm Yourselves” is a Tumbleweed Connection-style rag addressing mob vengeance. “Hangman’s Noose” is a dark song of acquiescence and longing, a man’s view that death is a final means to an end in his loved ones arms. The album concludes with “Alive” where a man is faced with muddied morality of murder as a necessary step toward freedom.

As a concept album The Ballad of Carlsbad County is more then the sum of it’s parts. Each song stands on it’s own and the story isn’t a straitjacket on the organic nature of the whole. This dusty, dark beauty is one of my favorite releases of the year.

Hang Jones Caroline(MP3)

Buy |  Official Site |  MySpace | Facebook

Hang Jones – Caroline


Hang Jones and Band of Annuals at Hotel Utah, Earl Pickens and Family to Perform “The Country-Fried Joshua Tree”

It’s Friday night and I’m still sober so I’m gonna get a couple of show announcements out here before things take a bad turn…

My good friend Hang Jones (AKA Stephen Grillos) will be playing Hotel Utah here in beautiful San Francisco Tuesday next 10/21st at 9pm. Hang will be sharing the stage with Utah’s Band of Annuals. This is a show not to be missed so grab the Missus, crank over the Fury and head on into town to catch this.
This next show seems so brazen that I was sure it was going to be a car wreck, but the YouTube video convinced me otherwise. Earl Pickens and Family will perform “The Country-Fried Joshua Tree” Saturday, November 1st at Cherry Alley Cafe (c’mon Cherry Alley! Get a damn web site I can link to!)  in Lewisburg, PA at 7 PM. Jessie Yamas, Bruce W. Derr, Bob Albin, Jake Kline and Earl will perform an acoustic, countrified rendition of the classic U2 album The Joshua Tree, in its entirety. Yeah, I know that’s what I thought…

    Cherry Alley Cafe
    21 N. 3rd Street / Lewisburg, PA
    Tickets $8, $5 for students
    tickets available at Cherry Alley Cafe
    You out-of-towners can buy tickets for the Country Fried Joshua Tree show by mail if you so desire. Send a check, made out to Earl Pickens, to PO Box 82, Lewisburg, PA 17837. Shoot Earl an email at letting him know that you’re ordering by mail.

    Earl Pickens and Family – Where The Streets Have No Name


    Hang Jones Plays SF Hootenanny Obama Fundraiser

    Hey Bay Area fans of roots rock and Democracy (remember that?) local roots musician Hang Jones (alias Stephen Grillos) will bejoining Calaveras, Go Van Gogh and Bhi Bhiman this Saturday at SF Hootenanny’s Fundraiser for Barack Obama. The show will be at Café International(McCain is going to make hay of this as soon as he trains Palin how to pronounce it), the show is free to get in and the hat will be passed, all proceeds to the Obama campaign.  It starts early, and I will be on at 7PM.

    It remains to be seen if Grillos has penned an ode directly for Obama ala John Rich’s “Raisin’ McCain.”
    SF Hootenanny @ the Café International
    October 11, 7PM
    508 Haight St (at Fillmore)
    San Francisco, CA 94117

    Hang Jones – Comin’ Round