Watch Out! 10 Murder Ballads for Halloween

Johnny Cash - Delia's Gone

Hello ghouls and goblins! Halloween celebrations in some form has a long and rich tradition in 16th century European and Scandinavia. At roughly the same time the murder ballad evolved right along with it. Both washed up on these US shores with the pilgrims and were shaped, over time, with our own uniques cultural influences and musical styles.

Gallons of blood, and scores of lifeless bodies, have been detailed in many harrowing ditties. The genres of folk, bluegrass and country music count more death and malice
than in metal and gangster rap combined (to be fair, they have had centuries to stack up bodies.)

I bring to you this spooky season some contemporary versions and variations of the murder ballad. From the Wilburn Brothers’ version of “The Knoxville Girl,” an Appalachian murder ballad, derived from the 19th-century Irish ballad The Wexford Girl. There also modern takes like Lindi Ortega’s menacing “Murder Of Crows.”

Enjoy these dark treats and leave your favorites in the comments.

Wilburn Brothers – Knoxville Girl

Rachel Brooke – The Black Bird

Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers – Where’s the Devil?

Lera Lynn – Bobby, Baby

O’Death – Lowtide – Video

Stab – The Pine Box Boys

Lindi Ortega – Murder Of Crows

Porter Wagoner – Cold Hard Facts Of Life

Bobbie Gentry – Ode To Billie Joe

Johnny Cash – Delia’s Gone

Americana Music is the New Country Music

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I’m not sure if I was the first to coin the term but I’m pretty sure i was the first to tweet it – that’s so country it’s Americana.

By that I mean as Music City continues to do what it’s always done, chase trends to broaden consumer acceptance, fill radio slots and asses in arena seats, and make truckloads of money, who looks after the legacy of the music? The legacy of twang, soul and grit that Rodgers, the Carters and Hank Sr. left us? The focus on the song as deep, personal expressions and not just target-marketed laundry lists? Ladies and gents it’s Americana straight up.

sure music Row still determines the brand “Country Music” but they don’t won the legacy or spirit. Tom Petty hit the nail squarely in the noggin when he described contemporary country music as “Bad rock with a fiddle. Zing! While the rhinestone cowboys chase hits and eschew tradition (Blake!) the real soul of country music has found a new home in the Americana camp. Now by Americana I also include the underground, muddy roots acts as well, as I believe a lot of the passion and blue-collar core is often found on that side. Here are a few videos to make my case.

Legacy: in their golden years no one in Music Row bothered to return phone calls to Johnny Cash and Porter Wagoner who were still viable a, had songs, and wanted to work. It took hip-hop/rock producer Rick Rubin and musician/producer Marty Stuart to work with these legendary men, respectively, and understand their storied place in music history. Working with their own label (Rubin) and an L.A. rock label (Epitaph) allowed these legends to produce some of their best work at the end of their lives and leave this world with dignity and fans with a few more treasures. Hell, even country music legend Lee Ann Womack teamed up with Americana stalwart Buddy Miller to stretch her wings.

Johnny Cash – “Hurt” (Nine Inch Nails)

Porter Wagoner – “Committed to Parkview”

Leann Womack & Buddy Miller – “Don’t Tell Me”

Soul – At it’s core country music is soul music. It bleeds life in common stories plaintive and wondrous. Here are some performers that reflect that rough beauty.

Robert Ellis – “Cemetery”

Jason Eady – “AM Country Heaven”

Elizabeth Cook – “Mama’s Prayers”

Twang and Grit – Musicianship has always been the stock and trade of country music , but it used to be more than a backdrop for party anthems. Here are some that are tearing it up without dumbing it down.

Sturgill Simpson – “You Can Have The Crown / Some Days”

Whitey Morgan and the 78’s – Cocaine Train

Turnpike Troubadours – “Before The Devil Knows We’re Dead”

Dale Watson – “I Lie When I Drink”

Legendary Bluegrass pioneer Earl Scruggs dies

A great light in the music universe has dimmed. Earl Scruggs was as important to the shaping of American music what Hank Williams and Louis Armstrong  A pioneer in banjo player who helped create modern country music and Americana music that is heard in the contemporary work of Steve Martin and The Steep Canyon Rangers Bela Fleck.

Scruggs passed away early Wednesday at the age of 88 of natural causes in Nashville. The same town where the sound  he developed with Lester Flatt and the Blue Grass Boys – a fusion of traditional Appalachian with jazz don with extraordinary dexterity often at breakneck speeds, raised eyebrows in that very town. This was decades before Elvis Outlaw movement also sent tongues wagging.

Honky-Tonk great Porter Wagoner perfectly summed up Scruggs’ legacy like this: “I always felt like Earl was to the five-string banjo what Babe Ruth was to baseball. He is the best there ever was, and the best there ever will be.”

Review: Robert Plant and The Band of Joy – Meyerson Symphony Hall, Dallas, TX, 7/23/10

Robert Plant has always been a cultural carpetbagger. He and the rest of Led Zeppelin were part of the second wave of the British invasion, those brazen English lads that stormed America in the 60’s and taught us about our own musical heritage – the blues. But Zeppelin , though, turned it up to 11 and as a result raked in millions, and left a trail of Rock and Roll debauchery that left the original sources – John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf and of sources Robert Johnson – wondering what hit them.

Plant, now 62, took part in a one-off Zeppelin tribute gig, promptly turned his back on a piles of cash, and the pleas of his ex-bandmates, and followed his muse to the same Southern climes where he first made his mark – but this time he rambled over the tracks to pilfer from the hillbillies. In his initial endeavor  down this dirt road Plant was smart in tap the right guides – T. Bone Burnett, Alison Krauss, Buddy Miller,  and covering Mel Tillis,  Townes Van Zandt and the Everly Brothers  – and it paid off in critical acclaim and 5 Grammy Awards and a successful tour.

So instead of  copying a successful formula down to the details Mr. Plant presents us with his Americana expedition 2.0,  or as he’s christened it The Band of Joy – a name he lifted from the band Plant and late Zep drummer John Bonham belonged to pre-Zeppelin.

This 2010 souped-up-hillbilly version features the fantastic Patty Griffin as his female counterpart on vocals and guitar, the extraordinary Darrell Scott on vocals, mandolin, guitar, accordion, pedal, lap steel and banjo (whew!) , Byron House on bass and Marco Giovino on percussion. and the only constant from the Raising Sand recording and touring band, Buddy Miller providing band leadership, guitar and vocals.

After an excellent (and unannounced) opening set by the legendary Great Lady of Soul, Bettye LaVette, Mr. Plant and his Band of Joy hit the stage of the I.M. Pei designed Mayerson Symphony Center in Downtown Dallas to a rousing applause by an audience mixed with old hippies and their hippie pups, preppies in dapper duds, glamed-out aged wanna-be groupies who 20 years earlier would have been a few miles away at the Lady GaGa show or the Mary Kay dinner across the street at El Fenix, and cowboys and cowgirls complete with pearl-snaps and  Stetsons. They all came expecting something grand from the aged rock-god, and many of them were going to go home, ah-hem, dazed and confused.

Plant served the whims of the many by covering no less then seven Zep tunes (well, six-and-a-half since In My Time of Dying was spliced to end of a rousing version of the  traditional Gospel number Twelve Gates to the City) and a couple of his early solo work. But these hard blues tunes were served up pretty much as they were on the Raising Sand tour – with a rustic and easy vibe. Well sorta…

Perhaps it was the absence of Americana stalwart T. Bone Burnett’s lo-fi stewardship but many of the songs veered toward the volume heights of Zep, with Buddy Miller giving Mr. Page a run for his sonic runes. But even with the bigger sound Plant showed the vocal restraint he displayed from the Raising Sand days. But Birds gotta fly and rock gods gotta preen and wail – an occasional mic stand twirl here, an ooo oooo there, but mostly tasteful restraint the material preferred.

In true communal spirit among the tunes from the upcoming self-titled The Band of Joy album (U.K./international – Sept. 13, on the Universal label, U.S. release Sept. 14, on the Rounder label) members of the band took a turn at the mic.  Buddy Miller played a bustling version of Somewhere Trouble Don’t Go, a song written by his wife Julie, with Patty Griffin sitting in on Julie’s part. Patty Griffin balanced sass and salvation with the Blind Willie Johnson piece If I Had My Way, I Would Tear This Building Down. But the showstopper was Darrell Scott deploying his booming voice on a song that Porter Wagoner took to #1 on the country charts in 1955- A Satisfied Mind. Take that rock god.

“Some things have to change,” Plant said smiling after a relatively modest version of Houses of the Holy. The crowd seemed pleased, if a bit perplexed as to Plant’s new venture and career choices. But as long as Plant continues to pursue his muse the song will always remain the same.

set list here



Dolly Parton To Release 4-CD Box Set

  • “Dolly,” a deluxe, 40CD box set covering Dolly Parton’s 4 decade spanning career to feature 99 hits , deep cuts, unreleased tracks, rarities and B-sides as well as 11 Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton duets.  The set will incude a 60-page full-color booklet including rare photography and memorabilia, plus liner notes by Laura Cantrell and by Holly George-Warren. The music selections will represent Dolly’s work with the Goldband, Mercury, Monument, RCA Victor, and Columbia labels. Available at both physical and digital retail outlets
    starting October 27, 2009, through RCA Nashville/Legacy. Available for pre-order at
  • John Boncore, who plays a character named Predator in the upcoming Ray Wylie Hubbard’s western (co-wrote the script with Tiller Russell and provided the film’s score)  The Last Rites of Ransom Pride, let us know that the film premiered in Los Angeles on july 27th and are waiting to see if it gets picked up as a premier in the Toronto and Venice Film Festivals. No official release date has been set.
  • Watch the Avett Brothers Perform Off-Stage at the Newport Folk Festival. (Paste Magazine)
  • Apparently you have to be really drunk to enjoy a Kenny Chesney concert.
  • If you’re a touring musician or band that’s looking for a place to crash while on the road or someone with a couch or floor to offer check out the Better Than The Van website. It’s a networking site with a specific  purpose of providing  DIY support for working musicians and allowing fans to offer that support. (Austin Business Journal)

Lies About Country Music

MSNBC’s 5 Top has a list of the top 5 lies about American Idol.  And although most are obvious (AI is a popularity contest not a singing competition…uh YEAH!) lie #4, “Country music is about telling stories,” is very interesting to me. The point made in the article is that all songs – except nonsensical or instructive – are stories. But Idol, like Nashville, perpetuates the popular myth that country msuic is simple stories that are about common experiences, family and traditional values.Of course this ignores the songs of boozing, adultary, murder, drug use, fighting, sloth and war that are just as much a part of the country music landscape. I’m sure Johnny Paycheck, Waylon Jennings, Porter Wagoner and David Allen Coe would have something to say about that.

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


Merle Haggard – Legendary Performances Giveaway

’tis the season for giving and Ranch Twang is ready to do just that. I have a copy of Shout Factory’s Merle Haggard – Legendary Performances DVD that I will be giving away to some lucky reader.

Here’s the copy from the package:

“From the vaults of the Country Music Hall Of Fame and Museum, this collection features nearly two decades of Merle Haggard performances in his prime not seen since their original broadcast. Now, for the first time on DVD, experience the hits through a chronology of vintage live performances such as “Branded Man” (Country Music Holiday,1968), “Mama Tried” (Billy Walker’s Country Carnival, 1968) and “Okie From Muskogee” (The Porter Wagoner Show, 1970).”

I watched my own copy of the DVD and it’s good stuff and a must have for any Hag fan.

The DVD  listing:

“Branded Man” – Country Music Holiday (1968)
“The Bottle Let Me Down” – Country Music Holiday (1968)
“Swinging Doors” – Country Music Holiday (1968)
“Mama Tried” – Billy Walker’s Country Carnival (1968)
“I Started Loving You Again” – Billy Walker’s Country Carnival (1968)
“I Take A Lot Of Pride In What I Am” – Billy Walker’s Country Carnival (1968)
“The Fightin’ Side Of Me” – The Porter Wagoner Show (1970)
“Okie From Muskogee” – The Porter Wagoner Show (1970)
“Daddy Frank (The Guitar Man)” – CMA Awards (1972)
“Workin’ Man Blues” – Pop! Goes The Country (1974)
“Movin’ On” – Pop! Goes The Country (1975)
“The Roots Of My Raising” – The Porter Wagoner Show (1977)
“Ramblin’ Fever” – Pop! Goes The Country (1977)
“That’s The Way Love Goes” – CMA Awards (1983)
“San Antonio Rose” – Johnny Cash Christmas Special (1983)

Merle Haggard Interview (1981)
Merle Haggard’s Hall Of Fame Induction (1994)

Leave a post below with your favorite Hag song and I will randomly choose a winner at the end of the week (12/19). Good luck!

Merelfest Lineup Announcement Tuesday, Oct. 28

  • Dial up WNCW next Tuesday, Oct. 28, the station will be airing an hour-long special to announce the 2009 MerleFest lineup. The hour will be filled with the reading of the lineup, music from those artists and talk about the festival. The 22nd annual MerleFest will take place in Wilkesboro, NC, April 23-26, 2009. Tickets go on sale Nov. 11 at
  • (No Depression) After wrapping up his debut for Anti Records (Merle Haggard, Tom Waits, Porter Wagoner) Animals in the Dark (drops Feb. 17, 2009) singer-songwriter and dark-folk, claw-hammer banjo player extrodinairre William Elliott Whitmore will join roots rock band Murder By Death for a month-long sprint across the U.S. The joint tour is a follow up to the limited edition split 7″ Whitmore and Death by Murder released yesterday, which is available at Murder by Death’s website. It’s the first in a series of seven 7″ recordings that MBD will be doing in collaboration with their friends in other bands. A full list of tour dates are available from Anti Records.
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Best Releases of 2007

Music sales are down in most genres but the Americana and roots sales look strong for 2007. The labels still sue fans, bitch and whine about online piracy which is only half of the story. The other half is the cultivation of mediocre talent that produces “music” with the shelf life of nachos. If you look at the mainstream Country music field it’s as if we are in the 70’s and all we have is the Monkees or the Bay City Rollers and there were no Hendrix or Dylan to balance it all out.

Luckily there’s the borderland of Americana and roots music that brings creativity, diversity as well as a respect for history and a calculated abandonment for rules in equal amounts. Americana is the genetic mutation that makes the musical breed heartier, healthier and more of a mutt.

2007 brought in some great new talent and allowed a legend to bid a proper goodbye. All picks are my own and reflect my taste and bias in all it’s wondrous white-bred glory. Now on with the list…

10. Southern Culture On The Skids – “Countrypolitan Favorites” – Featuring 15 tunes typically associated with other artists SCOTS burns a hole through their hillbilly shtick to show the exceptional band they really are. SCOTS deliver the Kinks “Muswell Hillbilly,” T. Rex’s “Life’s a Gas,” and the Byrds‘ “Have You Seen Her Face” with respect and passion and the cover of George Jones’ ode to the joys of wife swapping, “Let’s Invite Them Over” is a classic reinterpretation on an old infamous chestnut. This release is a country-fried delight!

9. Ridley Bent – “Buckles and Boots” – Canadian hick-hop gone country traditionalist Ridley Bent came out of left field for me. I was aware of his fellow countryman and partner in rhyme (rap humor, heh!) Buck 65 but had not heard of the Halifax born, Alberta bred singer/songwriter blends the right amount of Bakersfield and Texas outlaw to tell clever stories for the head and the heart.

8. Jason Isbell – “Sirens of the Ditch” – Riding with the Drive By Truckers during their move from the country-rock fringes into what amounts to as close to mainstream success, Jason Isbell decided to take his own path. Many of the catchiest and heartfelt songs on recent DBT releases have been Isbell penned, Outfit, Dank/Manuel and the classic Decoration Day. It then comes as no surprise that Isbell carried through that keen-eyed and passion onto his solo debut and features DBT bassist Shonna Tucker, drummer Brad Morgan, and DBT founder/front man Patterson Hood, who also co-produced this release on almost every track.

7. Robert Plant / Alison Krause – “Raising Sand” – When I got word that Robert Plant was kicking around Nashville and working with bluegrass chanteuse and John Wait duet partner Alison Krauss I met the news with trepidation and dread. Would Plant approach American roots music with the historical revisionism Led Zeppelin brought to Delta blues or would it be a gilded palace of cheese? Happily Plant channels the spirit of the hills and prairies and let’s the crystal voiced Krauss set the tone for the surprisingly wonderful release.

6. Th Legendary Shack Shakers – “Swampblood” – Still one of the best live bands crisscrossing America today, Th Legendary Shack Shakers last installment of their “Tentshow Trilogy” has the band going all out with Pentecostal ferver and Dixie-core abandon. Most American genres from the past century are poured into a grinder and rendered into a frantically dark-Gothic elixir for the restless soul.

5. John Fogerty – “Revival” – A boy born in the Bay Area (not on the bayou) certainly earned his roots cred wailing his backwoods caterwaul fronting Credence Clearwater Revival. As the title makes apparent, “Revival” harkens back to the CCR days more then any other Fogerty solo work (due mostly to litigious reasons) and the man sounds more newly fired-up and impassioned, comfortable as a well-worn flannel shirt, and shows Fogerty as the roots-rock master he is.

4. Kelly Willis – “Translated From Love” – Somewhere between Americana and British pop Kelly Willis’ “Translated From Love” is a country pop masterpiece. Tight, smart hooks coupled with traditional instruments compliment Willis clear stream vocals to make this the best release for her so far.

3b. Patty Griffin – “Children Running Through” – Patty Griffin has never sounded more confident and transcends songwriting to arrive somewhere near artistic perfection.

3a. Dale Watson – “From the Cradle to the Grave” – I published this list and then it occurred to me that I had overlooked one of the best releases of the year. Maybe it was the early 2007 drop date, maybe it was the beer…whatever…so now I’m going to punt with a 3a, 3b (my blog, my rules!) Dale goes old school, old testament school, on this excellent harkening back to country troubadours of the past.

2. Ryan Bingham – “Mescalito” – Ryan Bingham sounds more ragged and rugged than his 25 years on this earth might lead you to believe. “Mescalito” is sun-soaked and West Texas dust choked and nails the right balance between outlaw country and rock and roll swagger.
This is the sound of the lonesome road, the rowdy roadhouse and the front porch in one package.

1. Porter Wagoner – “Wagonmaster” – Marty Stuart has earned a special bar stool in honky-tonk heaven for all he’s created, championed and, not least of all, helping Porter Wagoner create his finale (there’s a stool right near by for Anti records for releasing it when Nashville turned up their noses). I was lucky enough to see Marty and Porter perform in New York City just before “Wagonmaster” was released. Porter was visibly moved and humbled that the sold out show proved that even after 55 years of recording people still held the “Thin Man from the West Plains” in the highest regard. “Wagonmaster” is a crystallization of a what made Wagoner a country music legend, Puritan aesthetic, engaging storytelling of the lost and the hardscrabble. At the age of 80 Wagoner went out with honor and dignity. Unfortunately he had to look outside Nashville, in all their market-tested, plastic wisdom, to do so.

Honorable mention:

Dwight Yoakam – Dwight Sings Buck
Levon Helm – Dirt farmer
Miranda Lambert – Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Joe Whyte – Devil in the Details
Pam TillisRhinestoned
Shooter Jennings – The Wolf
Avett Brothers – Emotionalism
Ryan Adams – Easy Tiger
Joe Ely Happy – Songs From Rattlesnake Gulch
Steve Earle – Washington Square Serenade
Old Crow Medicine Show – Big Iron World
Iron & Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog
Kendel Carson – Rearview Mirror Tears
Cadillac Sky – Blind Man Walking
Willie Nelson -Songbird
Betty LaVette – Scene of the Crime
Chris Knight – The Trailer Tapes
Hackensaw Boys – Look Out
Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Ray Price – Last Of The Breed
Grayson Capps – Wail & Ride
Jim Lauderdale – Bluegrass
Robbie Fulks – Revenge!
Merle Haggard – The Bluegrass Sessions