If you were one of the 15.4 million viewers of last Sunday’s 48th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards show you might have been, like me, wondering “When’s the country going to start?” I’ve never been branded a purists , but I prefer my country on the Lefty Frizzell / Buck Owens / Willie Nelson side of the fence rather than the Fleetwood Mac / Jack Johnson/ Def Def Leppard style that’s in vogue right now
Music City continues to chase the money by burying it’s legacy as it has since nearly it’s start. Fortunately for us that honor songs over celebrity we have a safe haven, Americana music. Below are a few performers that are keeping heartfelt and real. Post your suggestions in the comments.
Shooter Jennings is the kind of guy that doesn’t take the easy road. He doesn’t just release a new album, he releases a concept album with a film tie-in. The few details around the concept taken from a the newly launched site from Neltner Creative states “The film explores the themes of self-discovery, temptation, isolation and rebirth and serves as a visual counterpart to the album.” Not the recipe for pop-country confectionery singles ready for rotation between Jason Aldean and Taylor Swift.
The first cut of the album is a rocking country blues number entitled “White Trash Song” featuring Texas’ own Scott H. Biram. The song begins with a serene setting of birds chirping, a rooster crowing and a modern day hillbilly taking stock of his physical and mental landscape. Things rev up considerably and break into some sweet pedal steel, fiddle and piano turns. Biram shines in his introduced part with his signature gritty whoop and holler.
Head over to the site to watch the ominous trailer for the film written and directed by Blake Judd and featuring Slim Cessna’s Auto Club’s Jay Munly, Demonbabies Jesus Rivera, and wife of Hellbound Glory front man Leroy Virgil, Jenn Virgil at www.thislifeisadream.com and follow the project on twitter @The_Other_Life
It seems like I say it every year – so here goes, another bumper year for Americana releases blah blah. but it’s true!
I’ve been sitting on a list of about 50 releases all of which could easily be included in a top 10 list of the best of 2012
until the last final minute of the deadline i set for myself to keep from crapping up my holidays. i had to make a stand.
Here it is.
I finally threw the arbitrary “Top 10″ structure out the window and doubled down and made it a top 20 21. The selections are lasted in arbitrary order and are not most best to least best. They all stand on their own as some of this year’s. or any year’s, finest examples of songwriting and performance excellence.
A quick word on the exclusion of mainstream heavyweights like Mumford and Sons, The Avett Brothers and their upstart competitors the Lumineers didn’t make the cut. Cards on the table, for all my rooting for mainstream acceptance of the genre I’m still a music snob. Like most other genres, I genuinely think that once a person mines the Americana field below the mainstream examples that is where they will discover the real riches lie. This is my opinion. Your mileage may vary.
Here’s a a happy, healthy and twangny 2013! thanks to all of you for reading, following,commenting. And to all the great musicians that reward us every day with riches that I personally am unworthy of.
Modern-day troubadour Shooter Jennings newest release, Family Man, is being lauded as his return to country. Well, sorta….His 2010 psychedelic dystopian album, Black Ribbons, done with his band Hierophant, seemed like a side road homage from a fan that grew up Pink Floyd and Nine Inch Nails. Family Man is more in like with his solo debut Put the “O” Back in Country and sophomore release Electric Rodeo. One album does not a change in direction make.
Jennings older now. Relocated to New York City with his new wife, the actress Drea de Matteo (the Sopranos, Sons of Anarchy) and new family, daughter – Alabama and son, Waylon “Blackjack” Jennings – the man seems more comfortable working the territory pioneered by his dad and others. This does not mean he’s mimicking styles or settling down. Far from it.
The direction is clear from the opener The Real Me is a twist on the family values country music fair. A day with his kids turns to inebriation, violence, whoring and a dangerous foray near country rap with a single-breath “I’m a double-talkin’, chicken-lickin’, meaner-than-the-dickens, sick and wicked, hole-diggin’ son of a gun!” His new band, The Triple Crown, formed with childhood friend and master pianist Erik Deutsch, balances a live sound with a studio tightness that supports the songs lijke they’re been together for years.
The Long Road Ahead is a mandolin rambler featuring lovely background vocals by Eleanor Whitmore. The song transforms subtly as Tom Morello, who worked with Jennings on his alter ego The Nightwatchman’s second album The Fabled City, provides a discordant guitar break as only he can, but then settles right back in for the ride.
The album’s first single, The Deed & The Dollar, starts with a pedal steel cry then settles into a 4/4 time shuffle his daddy would have loved. Like the title, the song is peppered with Southern vernacular. “She’s finer than a frogs hair split four ways.” “She’s wild as a june bug on a string.” Rhyming Holler with foller and dollar. If this was done from an outsider is might be seen as irony or snark. Shooter wields country grammar with respect. This song is a fine example of country music’s comfort with sentimentalism despite it’s history of masculine bravado.
Manifesto No. 4 and Southern Family Anthem are swaggering Southern Rock tunes straight from the Put The O Back in Country days. Summer Dreams (Al’s Song) is a shimmering cut of country pop that recalls the best of Micky Newberry. “Daddy’s Hands” is another trad country celebration of family unity and glorious dysfunction elevated by the familiar harmonica work of Mickey Raphael.
The Black Dog is a spoken-word blues backed by acoustic guitar, mandolin and fiddle. A ghost story, a common theme of Civil war era folk music that the song mirrors, but specter in this case is a faithful companion showing loyalty from beyond the grave by drawing rescuers to the scene of a collapsed mine that has trapped his master.
Jenning’s proves once again despite his significant heritage, he’s his own man. At the helm of the songs as well as production he skillfully skirts the borderland of country music and guides it towards interesting, if familiar, terrain. Jennings’ recent advocacy of the XXX movement of genre exclusion led me to expect, well, I didn’t know what to expect. But if this is XXX, sign me up. The artwork by Netler Creative, the minds behind Hank Williams III’s iconic hellbilly imagery, is stunning in its attention to detail. Great to see that’s not a lost artform.
Curiously, his most direct shot at Nashville cardboard populism and bravado “Outlaw You” is missing on Family Man. In spite of the omission of that excellent shot off piss and vinegar this is a damn fine record that reminds us all that country music can evolve in ways that don’t just follow music city’s decree for the dollar.
Here it is folks, the first Twang Nation Podcast for 2012. This episode features cuts from upcoming albums by Justin Townes Earle, Shooter Jennings, The White Buffalo, James Low Western Front, Darrell Scott as well as excellent cuts from current releases by Charlie Parr, Mississippi Live & The Dirty Dirty and Liz Frame And The Kickers. On the occasion of his birthday I have included a song by the man that amounts to the patron saint of the Americana genre T. Bone Burnett conclude the episode.
I hope you all enjoy the music featured in this and all the podcasts I bring you 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.
1. Justin Townes Earle – Song: Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now – Album: Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now (Bloodshot Records)
2. Charlie Parr – Song: God Moves on the Water – Album: Keep Your Hands On The plow (Independent)
3. The White Buffalo – Song: How the West Was Won Album: Victims, Enemies, & Old Friends (Unison Music Group)
4. Lincoln Durham – Song: Love Letters – Album: The Shovel vs. The Howling Bones (Independent)
5 Shooter Jennings – Song: The Deed and the Dollar Album: Family Man (Entertainment One)
6. James Low Western Front – Song: Thinkin’ California – Album: Whiskey Farmer ( Union made Records)
7. Mississippi Live & The Dirty Dirty – Song: The Devil Lives In The T.V. – Album: Way Down Here (Independent )
8. Liz Frame And The Kickers – Song: God Doesn’t Like His Women Left Alone – Album: first full-length “Sooner” (Air Age Sound Records)
9. Darrell Scott - Song: Hopskinville – Album: Long Ride Home (Full Light)
10. T. Bone Burnett - Song: Primitives - Album: Criminal Under My Own Hat (Sony)
For Father’s Day I rustled up some greats singing on their dads. I know it’s not an even 10 but I think you’ll like what I have. Share your favorites of they aren’t up here or just leave some memory or sentiment for your own dad. Thanks for all the great suggestion from my friends and followers in twitter. This is dedicated to my own father Jerry Max Lane, and my daughter Isobel and my step-father Joe Herbert whose been more than a father to me in my life.
The jaunty tone of Louvin’s famous “See the Big Man Cry” belies the heartache of a man that sees his boy while walking on the sidewalk on day but can’t approach him and his ex-wide due to court orders.
Brad Paisley is a cut above the typical Music City hat acts and his performance of this song on impending fatherhood shows as much.
Jamey Johnson – The Dollar
Even early in his career and with all the production sheen Johnson is a great songwriter. This is a tale of a boy that saves his change to buy time with his overworked father. An anthem to family challenges in these tough economic times.
Happy birthday to Willie Nelson’s longtime drummer and the “Paul” of the Willie’s song “Me and Paul,” Paul English. Happy birthday also to legendary Texas singer/songwriter Guy Clark.
The latest installment of Popmatter.com’s excellent Torch & Twang series Juli Thanki delivers a post exploring ithe intersecting careers of bluegrass legend Bill Monroe and musician and folklorist Ralph Rinzler.
I’m a long time fan of Libertyville, Illinois rocker Ike Reilly. So when I read over at the fine 9513.com that Reilly was teaming up with on-and-off country outlaw 2.0 Shooter Jennings for the song The War On The Terror and Drugs (from Reilly’s upcoming release Hard Luck Stories) I was intrigues. Turns out it’s damn fine! (Song Illinois)
Front Porch Musings is offering a sweet playlist from performers playing the Americana-by-way-of-punk showcase showcase The Revival Tour.Featured are Chuck Ragan (Hot Water Music), Jim Ward (At the Drive-In, Sparta), Frank Turner (Million Dead), and much more.
Country, roots, Americana- as the rest of us are grappling with nomenclature (fancy word for names) for music, George Jones uses his old-guard status to reclaim flag and call Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift “not country music.”
I am briefly interrupting my New Mexico rehabilitation…er..vacation to ponder the rumor around the iterwebs that Shooter Jennings has given up country music to focus on his new band called Hierophant. An ancient Greek term the role of the hierophant in religion is to bring the congregants into the presence of that which is deemed holy. Hierophant has been described as John Lennon meets Radiohead.
It is rumored that Jennings was “..tired of being something he’s not.” So based on this new band description what is he? A British experimental pop musician?
I don’t know if the abandoning country music rumor is true, but after listening to his latest studio release “The Wolf” and with the release this month of a Shooter Jennings Greatest Hits (after only three albums!) I have to acknowledge that his heart sure doesn’t see to be in it anymore.
Let’s just hope that Hierophant is better than Stargunn was.
The first track from Bob Dylan’s forthcoming release, Together Through Life, has been posted as a free download on BobDylan.com. Seriously, you don’t have to enter an email address or anything. Titled Beyond Here Lies Nothin, the song features Mike Campbell from Tom Petty’ Heartbreakers on guitar. The release will be available for free from midnight, March 30th through midnight, March 31st. Together Through Life will be released on Columbia Records on April 28th.
Dyman’s Rolling Thunder camapdre Ramblin’ Jack Elliott will revisit neighborhoods he used to frequent with the likes of Jack Kerouac and Dylan in the 1950s and ‘60s when he plays a special show at the Highline Ballroom in New York City on May 13th. The 77 year old Elliott is making a number of select appearances in support of his upcoming release A Stranger Here, available April 7th on ANTI- Records. Produced by Joe Henry (Bettye LaVette, Solomon Burke, Elvis Costello/Allen Toussaint), A Stranger Here is a collection of carefully chosen pre-WWII blues songs, re-crafted with backing by legendary Los Angeles session musicians such as Van Dyke Parks and David Hidalgo.
I saw the Shooter Jennings and Jamey Johnson Crossroads on CMT the other night and was duly impressed. They were like a couple of old friends sharing a HUGE bottle of Jack and talking country music history in reverence and passionate tones it deserves. As I currently enjoy Johnson’s exellent That Lonesome Song, I wonder when Shooter will release anything that reaches the excellence of Put The O Back In Country. In the meantime we get an inexplicable “Greatest Hits” (Bad Magick: The Best of Shooter Jennings – March 24) after three studio release and a live album (which is the same as a greatest hit IMO.)
In more Shooter news, Ted Russell Kamp has taken time from his main gig as the .357′s bass player to release his newest solo album Poor Man’s Paradise which was recorded in Ted’s living room, Shooter’s tour bus & countless hotel rooms across America. Kamp a great instrumentalist, a sharp dresser and a great guy. Go give him a listen.