Elvis Costello – Secret, Profane & Sugarcane (Hear Music)

Hardly a day goes by that we hear about another performer leaving their chosen career trajectory and taking a swing at country music.Some of these travelers deeply feel the need to honor the history, the tradition, of the genre. They also bring something new and interesting to the sound. Then there are the carpetbaggers. The ones who’s career have a justly stalled and are looking to find a new audience in a genre they mistakenly see as an easy get. They carry with them the foul stench of mediocrity they cultivated from whence they came.

The latter category is too painful to detail here but a prime example of the former is Elvis Costello. A singer/songwriter so accustomed to straddling, hopping and distorting genres that people are surprised when he returns to his earlier literate pop-punk roots. Costello’s love of American Southern music is well documented. The established Angry Young (British) Man takes a sharp turn from edgy punk-pop to head to Nashville and cut 1981’s Almost Blue which featured songs by Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, George Jones and Gram Parsons. The post-divorce roots-folk of 1986’s T. Bone Burnett produced King of America. 2004’s The Delivery Man featuring duets with  Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams – who he also performed with in a CMT Crossroads. There is the Costello T. Bone Burnett penned Scarlet Tide was used in the film Cold Mountain, nominated for a 2004 Academy Award and performed by Costello it at the awards ceremony with Alison Krauss, who also sang the song on the official soundtrack. Point being his newest Americana release Secret, Profane & Sugarcane is not a hard diversion nor a lark for Mr. MacManus.

It doesn’t help that you’re sound is so distinctive that people start to harp on it like it’s a curse. Secret, Profane & Sugarcane like it’s spiritual cousins Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline, Neil Young’s Harvest and the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street seems to lose points some detractors because the work reflects the unique characteristics the artists brings with them when they cross the Americana tracks. If you prefer your music by outsiders to be cleansed of all traces of the performers unique earlier style, well, Secret, Profane & Sugarcane is not for you.

The album took three days to create in a Nashville studio (March 31 to April 2, 2008)  thus beating out the usually fleet Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline, which took 9 days (February 12, 1969 – February 21, 1969) is with producer T Bone Burnett- whos is becoming the go-to-guy when you want to do Americana – and focuses on Costello’s own work rearranged for a crack band featuring Stuart Duncan on banjo and fiddle, Jerry Douglas on Dobro, , Dennis Crouch on bass, Mike Compton on mandolin and Mr. Americana himself Jim Lauderdale lending honey harmony vocals to counter Costello’s (in)famous keen.

Things get off to a nice starts with Down Among The Wines And Spirits, originally written for Ms. Loretta Lynn, is a lolling down-and-out drinking song featuring the kind of wordplay Costello has become famous for (there’s that uniqueness again!) Complicated Shadows, first recorded for 1996’s All This Useless Beauty and originally written for Johnny Cash, gets the amped-up greasy blues treatment that would make Tony Joe White smile.

The beautifully sad I Felt the Chill Before the Winter Came was penned by Costello and aforementioned Loretta Lynn is lovely but brings to mind the coldness suggested in the title. My All Time Doll is a hillbilly cabaret number featuring the excellent accordion work by Jeff Taylor and a demo from All This Useless Beauty Rhino reissue Hidden Shame gets a great rousing makeover.

How Deep Is the Red?, She Was No Good,”She Handed Me a Mirror, and Red Cotton
are  from Costello’s unfinished Hans Christian Andersen chamber opera The Secret Songs (did I mention that man was eclectic?) As prolific as Costello is, he is known to rework his own songs for different occasions, and although these songs do carry trace elements of their classical origins they sound right at home here.

Sulphur to Sugarcane was written by Costello & T Bone Burnett for (but not used)  in the Sean Penn 2006 film All The King’s Men. The song sounds like a bawdy ragtime-jazz response to Johnny Cash’s I’ve Been Everywhere as imagined by Leon Redbone. The Crooked line is rumored to have been an unused song for the Johnny Cash biopic Walk The Line and Costello is reported to have said that it’s “…the only song I’ve ever written about fidelity that is without any irony.” Here the song is a Cajun-flavored duet with Emmylou Harris with Emmylou way too far down in the mix, or just right, depending on your feeling about Ms. Emmylou’s disctinctive style. Changing Partners is a more-or-less faithful rendition of a the ubber-crooner Bing Crosby’ classic  number of lost love.

Is Secret, Profane & Sugarcane a great country or Americana album as you might expect from a seasoned vet? No. Is it a great Elvis Costello record? No, it hits just about in the mid-range of his canon. But with the likes of Jewel, Miley Cyrus and Kid Rock paraded as examples of roots and country music’s future Costello has given us a lovely, lively work to brace us out of that nightmare.

Official Site | Buy


The New York Times Reviews George Strait

  • The New York Times has a nice review of George Strait’s performance at New Jersey’s PNC Bank Arts Center. They discribe the Texas country music legend as “Sinatra with a deep tan.”
  • In honor of the upcoming Fathers Day the fine folks at the 9513.com have posted 30 Songs About Dads.

And because eveyone needs a little something to smile about on Monday, here ya go folks:


Review – Hank III – 2/28 – Grand Ballroom, San Francisco, CA

After waiting in the long stretch of black metal, punk, and outlaw country shirts, gimmie caps, and skin ink and whiskey in equal proportions, I arrive at the front of the gilded Grand Ballroom where I’m frisked before entry. Is this a bad omen or should the tightened security make me feel safer? For all the bad-ass attitude I found most people in the entry line, and beforehand at the Rout 101 Bar across the street, to be good-natured if raucous. Like a home-coming with a large, extended, disfunctional hillbilly family.

The opening act Those Poor Bastards played a feverish Southern-gothic welcoming the onslaught of clashing cultures that was taking place in front of them. “See you all in hell” vocalist Lonesome Wyatt called to the crowd as they left the stage. Was that a curse or an invitation to the party to come? I was unsure.

Shelton Hank Williams III bypasses the genteel pageantry manufactured by family-friendly backdrops like the Grand Ole Opry (with which he has a well reported beef) and taps back to the rough breeding dirt-ground that hewed many of the Opry’s roster in order to create his persona and his songs. So it’s no wonder that a Hank III show should so closely resemble a (good-natured) saloon brawl.

9:30 sharp the stage goes dark and a recorded dirge like you might typically find opening a Slayer performance booms. The capacity crowd begins to flail, stomp and scream like some Pentecost tent revival simmering in the Southern heat.

Hank II and the Damn Band (Andy Gibson – Steel Guitar, Dobro, Daniel Mason – Banjo, Adam McOwen – Fiddle, Shawn McWilliams – Drums, Zach Shedd – Upright Bass and Assjack screamer Gary Lindsey was on hand for background, well, screaming) walks on the stage and lurched into “Straight to Hell” knowing just what the crowd wanted. All hell breaks loose and my prime spot 5 feet in front of III’s mic becomes ground zero for a swirling vortex of moshing frenzy. This is a country music show for gods sake! Someone forgotten to tell these poor savages this is not the way people conduct themselves in an ager where Taylor Swift or Kenny Chesney are the standard bearers for comtemorary country music.

They came like a 8 second bovine-induced blur  – original trad-country rippers like “Thrown out of the Bar,” “Country Heroes,” “Cecil Brown,” “D Ray White,” “Six Pack of Beer.” Hank III name-checked the greats in “Country Heroes” then covered the same with Johnny Cash’s “Cocaine Blues,” daddy Bocephus’ “Family Tradition,” and his grandaddy’s last prophetic single released during his lifetime “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive.” The heat was turned up with the thrash ode to performace provocator GG Allin “Punch, Fight, Fuck” (featuring Gary Lindsey on background screaching like a menacing demon shadow.) If you were on the fence about Hank III coming into the show you now found yourself on your feet or on your ass..either way you were having a damn good time.

The genius of 70’s era Willie Nelson was his ability to ignore the Nashville model and, using only his uniques talents and a keen sense of cutural timing, brought together groups that at the time wouldn’t be caught dead in the same room – rednecks and hippies –  and to forge himself as a cultural icon and an entire country genre. Hank III hasn’t Willie’s genius for songwriting, but given what I witnessed this night his cutural confederacy is well under way.

Hank III -Nighttime Ramblin’ Man/Ballad of D Ray White = 2/28 – Grand Ballroom, San Francisco, CA


Music Review – Red Eye Junction – In The Shadows (Self-Released)

If you like your country music steeped in the sound of Bakersfield and honky-tonk that reeks with the aroma of beer and sawdust rathe than hair mousse and celebrity fragrances then San Luis Obispo California’s Red Eye Junction’s second release In The Shadows might be your cup of shine. The ghosts of Lefty Frizzell, Buck Owens and Hank Williams Sr. haunt every groove of this fine release. Featuring songs that appear deceptively simple that on closer listen manifest a musical craftsmanship reverent for music made for Saturday-night sinning and Sunday-morning salvation.

Red Eye Junction features a crackerjack band on this release as led by the Benevolent Dr. Cain (as he is billed) who possesses a high-lonesome keen only at home in country music, and most associated with Bill Monroe, Hank Williams Sr. and Jimmy Dale Gilmour, and Jackpot Jonny Clarke who can pick slicker than a greased pig on a July night.

Tonight is a boot-skootin‘ tunes about good times and good lovin‘. These Five Strings and Gone Again are boudoir bawlers that feature pedal Steel by master Tommy Butler and Talk of the Town and Home Ain’t So Sweet are cheating (and potentially murder) songs featuring Jonny Clarke on slightly gruffed vocals and Greg Clarke’s fine fiddle work. A stand out for me is the title cut, an simmering atmospheric minor-chord lament with Buck Dylan’s midnight train harmonica. Anytown is a rollicking road song praising small town life and Two Part Blue features both Dr. Cain and Jonny Clarke sharing vocals on this light-hearted barroom confessional.

Pick up In The Shadow, crack open a brew and celebrate the enduring spirit of country music.

MySpace | CD Baby

“It’s All Over” – Red Eye Junction (from thier first release “Outlaws And Heroes”)


John Doe and The Sadies Collaborate for Country Club

From JamBase – John Doe (X, The Knitters) and The Sadies join forces for Country Club, an album of classic country covers and originals due out April 14, 2009 on Yep Roc Records.

“Country Club is the result of a drunken promise or threat I made to Travis and Dallas [Good, of The Sadies] the first night we played together in Toronto. These happen all the time but it’s rare that anyone remembers them the morning after, let alone follows through and makes it a reality. I’m really glad we did,” says Doe.

By including varying yet equally beloved movements within the country music pantheon, Doe and The Sadies were able to cover their heroes while filtering the pop sensibilities of ’60s Nashville through the electric honky tonk of Bakersfield, CA.

“We’re not sure why it sounds like it’s from the sixties. Maybe that’s our favorite era of country music or maybe that’s what we listened to when we first learned how to play it,” remarks Doe. “But what was called ‘Countrypolitan’ always seemed one of the coolest hybrids of country music. But we agreed quickly and completely that there were going to be no string sections, horns or choirs. Bakersfield vs. Nashville was never a dispute . . . Bakersfield!” Dallas Good of The Sadies continues, “The songs chosen were very ambitious, and while we haven’t re-invented the wheel we have created a cohesiveness between several hit country & western singles and our own styles.”

Country Club also features guest turns from D.J. Bonebrake, Kathleen Edwards, Eric Heywood and more.

Tracklist & Credits:

1. Stop the World and Let Me Off
Songwriter: Carl Belew
Made famous by: Waylon Jennings

2. Husbands and Wives
Songwriter: Roger Miller

3. ‘Til I Get It Right
Songwriters: Red Lane, Larry Henley
Made famous by: Tammy Wynette

4. It Just Dawned on Me
Songwriters: Exene Cervenka, John Doe

5. (Now and Then) There’s a Fool Such as I
Songwriter: William Marvin Trader
Made famous by: Hank Snow

6. The Night Life
Songwriters: Paul F. Buskirk, Walter M. Breeland, Willie Nelson
Made famous by: Ray Price

7. The Sudbury Nickel
Songwriters: The Sadies

8. Before I Wake
Songwriters: The Sadies

9. I Still Miss Someone
Songwriters: Johnny Cash, Roy Cash Jr.

10. The Cold Hard Facts of Life
Songwriter: Bill Anderson
Made famous by: Porter Wagoner

11. Take These Chains from My Heart
Songwriter: Fred Rose, Hy Heath
Made famous by: Hank Williams

12. Help Me Make It Through the Night
Songwriter: Kris Kristofferson

13. Are the Good Times Really Over for Good
Songwriter: Merle Haggard

14. Detroit City
Songwriters: Danny Dill, Mel Tillis
Made famous by: Bobby Bare

15. Pink Mountain Rag
Songwriters: The Sadies

The Sadies – Flash


Country Acts and the Superbowl Halftime Show

  • Bill Chapin at MLive Music is posting his “entry in my Albums of the Aughts series, highlighting 50 great or near-great albums released since Jan. 1, 2000.” Albums of the Aughts No. 5 is the old time music juggernaut from  Dec. 5, 2000 the T-Bone Burnett produced  “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack featuring Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch, bluegrass legends Norman Blake and Ralph Stanley and Grand Ole Opry members Emmylou Harris and The Whites.
  • PopMatters‘ Bob Proehl posts a story on the history of the spiritual/secular divide in country music  (Hank’s Other Side: Religion, Radio, and the Roots of Country Music) and how marketing and technology (radio) helped shape tactics like Hank Williams’ Luke the Drifter character to meet the artists desire to record spititual and gospel songs.
  • The Bluegrass Blog covers Steve Martin’s hosting of Saturday Night Live (his 15th time , outlapping Alec Baldwin’s 13 times hosting SNL.) Martin plays “Late for School” from his upcoming bluegrass tinged banjo showcase album The Crow.
  • The Boss and the East Street Band did a great job for the 43rd superbowl halftime show, and it got me to thinking “When was the last time a country act had that gig?” Checking the all-knowing Wikipedia, that would be 1994’s Superbowl 28 (or XXVIII for you purists) Rockin’ Country Sunday featuring Clint Black, Tanya Tucker, Travis Tritt and The Judds. And yes I did exclude Shania Twain’s Superbowl 32 and Kid Rock’s  Superbowl 33 .

Red Eye Junction CD Release Party

San Luis Obispo. CA.’s home-grown honky-tonkers Red Eye Junction gets some local ink (pixels?) on a release party (Saturday, Jan. 03, 2009 – Downtown Brewing Co.) for their current work “In the Shadows” and their upcoming  8-day tour of Belgium and Holland .

Road and Track’s Peter Egan and Richard Mayer set out to cover Hank Williams last ride in a ’53 Powder Blue Cadillac on what they christin a “Near Miss Tour of Historical Authenticity.” (Hank’s Caddy was a ’52) (via 9513.com)

Apparently Jack Black has discovered Bluegrass and sings the traditional ditty “Old Joe Clark” on his father-in-law Charlie Haden’s Grammy-nominated CD “Rambling Boy.”

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


Roots of Country Music and Hip-Hop

I’ve often contended that the thematic similarities between country music and hip hop (as well as punk) – poverty, faith, community, rebellion, redemption, love, an insanely loyal fan-base – have always been there bubbling just under the superficial stylistic surface. Juli Thanki over at PopMatters.com does  a great job of fleshing out this concept in her story Who Says Country Can’t Hip-Hop?

Though I’m less impressed with the use of Kid Rock, Cowboy Troy and the Big and Rich creation, the “Muzik Mafia” as well as her “Screwed-Up Genius Who Died Before His Time” theory to tie the two genres -represented here by Tupac Shakur and Hank Williams – to be dubious, and the oversight of excellent artists that represent an appealing mix of the two cultures in their work like Ridley Bent and Buck 65 – I do applaud the article’s direction overall and the focus on House of Pain’s Everlast, the Gourds cover of Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice” and Snoop’s own work with Willie Nelson and his expressed respect for the Man in Black,  Johnny Cash.

With full knowledge of the level of loyalty of both genre’s fans, Thanki anticipates much hate mail from her article. If the email assailing does come to be it will just prove that no one hates quite as hotly as close brothers.

Buck 65 – Wicked and Weird


Ridley Bent – The Devil And Coltrane Henry


Paul Westerberg Offers to Pen Songs For Glen Campbell

  • According to the Guardian and Paste Magazine it appears that Paul Westerberg, former lead singer, rhythm guitarist, and songwriter of alt-rock band The Replacements, wants to be Glen Campbell’s “next Jimmy Webb.” Webb penned 70’s pop hits like “Up, Up, and Away” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” for Campbell. Those are reported to be the words Westerberg used when requesting his manager to make arrangements to write songs for Campbell’s upcoming album after discovering that Campbell covered the Minnesota band’s “Sadly Beautiful”on Campbell’s latest release Meet Glen Campbell.
  • With a long career as a cracker-jack guitarist and co-hosting the hit country variety show Hee Haw with his friend Buck Owens Roy Clark is not resting on his laurals and will be hitting the road with another old friend, Mel Tillis, for a string of upcoming tour dates.