Listen Up! Robert Earl Keen with Natalie Maines – ‘Wayfaring Stranger’

Happy Prisoner - by Robert Earl Keen

On one song from his upcoming bluegrass-inspired album ‘Happy Prisoner,’ Robert Earl Keen travels a more solemn road than the one he usually cruises down towards forever.

Keen covers the classic 19th century folk/gospel number ‘Wayfaring Stranger’, which with beautiful deft documents a plaintive soul’s journey across life’s path rife with temptation and tribulation. All the while comforted by resolved faith.

‘Wayfaring Stranger’ is one of those songs that has been covered and changed over the centuries. Recent notable versions are by Emmylou Harris on her 1980 album ‘Roses in the Snow’, Johnny Cash on his ‘American III : Solitary Man’ album in 2000 and Neil Young on his 2012 album ‘Americana.’

Keen reflects the songs austere origin and context by using his West Texas drawl to deliver the song adorned only by Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines on lovely restrained harmony. Their voices meld to a high lonesome chorus that captures the origin of country music that the song exemplifies.

Hear the song below.

Maines appeared by request of the album’s producer, the legendary pedal steel player Lloyd Maines, who happens to be her dad. Her sorely missed vocals on this cut will lead fans (like me) to crank up the Chicks’ “Home” and hope for a new more Americana-focused release from the band.

But the talent doesn’t stop with the vocals.

Guest instrumentalists Danny Barnes on banjo and Nickel Creek’s Sara Watkins on fiddle lends a fittingly sparse accompaniment.

Keen says of the track “I’ve always had an affinity for music that I felt you could listen to in your living room,” he said. “My mom liked the old hillbilly stuff, and my whole education in music started with bluegrass. I’ve been listening to it forever, I love it, and so I feel like I’m something of a happy prisoner of it.”

‘Happy Prisoner’, is out February 10th. It will include guest vocals from not only Maines but Peter Rowan and Keen’s buddy from Texas A&M Lyle Lovett. as mentioned, Lloyd Maines, produced the album in Dripping Springs, Texas.

Pre-order ‘Happy Prisoner.’

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 13 Line-Up Announced

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 13

The good people at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass have released the roster for this years event and it’s another winner.

For those uninitiated, HSB is one of the premier Americana and roots music festivals in the world.
The annual event is held on the first Friday, Saturday and Sunday in October on 5 stages stretching across a location in Golden Gate Park formerly named Speedway Meadows but renamed Hellman Hollow in 2012, to pay homage to the late HSB benefactor, private equity investor and banjo enthusiast, Warren Hellman.

The 13th version of the festival does not disappoint as there is few Americana and roots festivals with this number of quality acts. it also has the benefit of being free. Well, it’s benefit in one sense, but the swelling os not always pleasant crowds in recent years does take a toll.

The 41 confirmed acts offers exciting newcomers like Sturgill Simpson, Trampled By Turtles, Della Mae, First Aid Kit, Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside and local favorites Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers and The Devil Makes. Americana and roots stalwarts like Buddy Miller, Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore & Butch Hancock (aka The Flatlanders), Jon Langford, Patty Griffin, Tim O’Brien & Darrell Scott.

The folk-rock pioneers The Waterboys will be appearing as well as the legendary Ralph Stanley & The Clinch Mountain Boys. The whole thing wraps up in traditional fashion with the woman that has closed the event since it’s beginning and embodies the spirit of the event, the extraordinary Emmylou Harris.

Find below the full line-up. The per-day stage schedules will be announced soon and I will update his post with the information.

When: Fri Oct 4th, Sat Oct 5th (11am – 7pm), and Sun Oct 6th, 2013 (11am – 7pm).
Where: Hellman Hollow (formerly Speedway Meadows), Lindley & Marx meadows in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA.

Mark Lanegan, Bonnie Raitt, Patty Griffin, Conor Brings Friends For Friday Featuring: Whispertown, The Cave Singers, The Felice Brothers, The Evens, First Aid Kit, Conor Oberst, Pieta Brown, Joy Kills Sorrow, LP, The Handsome Family, Jesse Dee, Alison Brown, Gogol Bordello, Boz Scaggs, Paul Kelly, The Deep Dark Woods, Justin Townes Earle, Emmylou Harris, The Devil Makes Three, Calexico, Ralph Stanley & The Clinch Mountain Boys, Martha Wainwright, The Brothers Comatose, Elvin Bishop, Jon Langford & Skull Orchard acoustic / FREAKONS, Low, Tumbleweed Wanderers, Richard Thompson, Tim O’Brien with Bryan Sutton & Mike Bub, Moonalice, Chris Isaak, Buddy Miller, The Time Jumpers featuring Brad Albin, Larry Franklin, Paul Franklin, Vince Gill, “Ranger Doug” Green, Andy Reiss, Dawn Sears, Kenny Sears, Joe Spivey, Jeff Taylor & Billy Thomas, Kieran Kane, Kevin Welch & Fats Kaplin, The Flatlanders featuring Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore & Butch Hancock, The String Cheese Incident, Nick Lowe, Mike Scott & Steve Wickham of The Waterboys, Steve Martin and Steep Canyon Rangers featuring Edie Brickell, Freakwater, The Go To Hell Man Clan, Tim O’Brien & Darrell Scott, Billy Bragg, Loudon Wainwright III, Dry Branch Fire Squad, Mike Farris & The Roseland Rhythm Revue, Steve Earle & The Dukes, Kate McGarrigle Tribute with Martha & Sloan Wainwright & Special Guests, Holler Down the Hollow: A Hardly Strictly Salute to the Masters, Sturgill Simpson, Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band featuring Yungchen Lhamo, Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside, Shovels & Rope, Seldom Scene, Natalie Maines, Dave Alvin with Greg Leisz, Evolfo Doofeht, Allah-Las, Buddy Miller & Jim Lauderdale, G. Love & Special Sauce, Robert Ellis, Spirit Family Reunion, Bettye LaVette, Supermule, MC Hammer (Friday morning middle school program), Trampled By Turtles, The Warren Hood Band, Della Mae, Los Lobos Disconnected, Father John Misty, Jesse DeNatale, The Wood Brothers, Ryan Bingham, Jerry Douglas, Sonny & The Sunsets, Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers, Tift Merritt, Kat Edmonson, Laurie Lewis & The Right Hands, The Forest Rangers with Katey Sagal,
Manchester Orchestra, Poor Man’s Whiskey (Friday morning middle school program), Robert Earl Keen

Michelle Shocked , Natalie Maines and the Risk of Expression

shockedLast week folk-singer Michelle Shocked made good on her surname by treating a o a San Francisco crowd to a rambling anti-gay screed. “You are going to leave here and tell people ‘Michelle Shocked said God hates faggots,'” Shocked declared causing the fans to boo and stream out. The venue’s employees saw what was transpiring and decided to stop the gig by cutting the sound and lights.

This event happened almost 10 years to the day that Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines took to a London stage to protest the invasion of Iraq by stating ” Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.” before performing the Bruce Robison-penned, beautifully subtle anti-war song, “Travelin’ Soldier,”

To my ears these are two sides of the same career-limiting coin. Looking your career demographic straight in the eye and spitting in it.

Both Shocked and Maines later tried to distance herself from their remarks. Maines releases the statement “As a concerned American citizen, I apologize to President Bush because my remark was disrespectful. I feel that whoever holds that office should be treated with the utmost respect.”

And Shocked backpedaled thusly “To those fans who are disappointed by what they’ve heard or think I said, I’m very sorry,” Shocked wrote. “I don’t always express myself as clearly as I should … I’d like to say this was a publicity stunt, but I’m really not that clever, and I’m definitely not that cynical.”

But the damage was done.

Maines, and sisters Emily Robison Martie Maguire, faced fans publicly destroying their CDs, country radio boycotts and even death threats. In response the band released 2007’s Taking the Long Way, their weakest album in my opinion, and were rewarded by winning Grammy awards in all of the five categories they were nominated in including Album of the Year and Best Country Album, though it was their lest country influenced album. Taking the Long Way became that year’s favorite album of people that likely had never previously counted themselves as Dixie Chicks fans.

Shocked is currently seeing her tour upended with 11 of her remaining scheduled dates have reportedly called off by promoters, including an appearance at the Telluride Bluegrass festival. Her website still shows a calendar of European appearances, but most of these are described as “tentative” and at least one, Germany’s Burg Herzberg festival, has dropped her from the bill. There has also been calls of boycott and speculation about her mental health from people that once called themselves her fans. Whether people from the other side of the political spectrum champion her case remains to be seen, but Shocked has a much lower celebrity profile then the Dixie Chicks, and less of a chance to make cultural hay, so the odds are not promising.

Performer’s bread and butter is expression. Some may be more contrived than others but the while point of a musician. singer is to give voice to feelings. Why are we surprised when those feelings don’t mirror our expectations of them?

i am no angel in this. When Ryan Adams or Neko Case move from country and roots based music to pursue a different genre muse i bid them good luck but don’t cover them here. The name Twang Nation says it all. This is not exclusively an Adams or Case fan sight. i am not obligated to fall in love with their very utterances. When Steve Earle decided to trade his dusty boots in for A Greenwich Village soap box it wasn’t his advocacy I was opposed to. It was that it his new-found enlightenment was rendering his once eloquent allegories stiff and tedious. My bigotry is one I believe all cultural bloggers should posses, one of style not ideology.

So what goes through the mind of a performer when they purposely alienate their base? Do they feel their fans are so loyal that they can says and do anything? Are the feelings too much for them to hold on to and later distill into a narrative with a 3 chord progression? I have no idea, I’ve never been that performer’s shoes.

But as a fan of music i look around at all the contrived, manufactured for consumption crap we are barraged with every day and applause the occasional heartfelt opinion, whether it mirrors my own ideology or not. Maines, Shocked, Earle , Tom Morello, Ted Nugent, or Bale Shelton rephrasing a Shania Twain song. into some kind of homophobic slur. ..none of them I feel is my ideological kin. Maybe that’s why all the hoopla confuses me. I have no litmus of ideological purity i am holding them acceptable to. Just don’t make shitty music.

Musicians are entitled to have contradictory, and half- baked opinions, as do the rest of us in the old USA. And I believe that’s where the outrage lies. We don’t see them as us. We make them into more and set them on a pedestal and allow their gift to transcend them something more then flesh and bone.

Then when they pull an Icarus and plummet to earth we’re pissed. Not only at them, but at our naivety.

After all, we’re only human.

It’s events like these that make me appreciate this line from Evelyn Beatrice when she tried to encapsulate the ideal of the French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher Voltaire
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

I would add “… no matter how stupid it is.” I would then add a chorus and play it in the key of G.