News Round Up: Jamey Johnson Pays Respect

  • Country Music Neo-Outlaw Jamey Johnson shows his respect for the classics by covering Vern Gosdin, George Jones, George Strait and, his most obvious influence, Waylon Jennings, at the Chicago Country Music Festival.
  • Break out a jar of granny’s skull rattle folks, Juli Thaki at the has given us her top 26 songs about moonshine.
  • Tom Russell has written what could be considered a companion piece to his new release Blood and Candle Smoke at the Rumpas (Where God and the Devil Wheel Like Vultures: Report from El Paso.) The dispatch reflects Russell’s style he cultivated by hanging with American underground great Charles Bukowski and similar threads from this and previous releases about his home in El Paso, TX,  the culture, people and the drug wars.
  • The Flower Pickin’ festival (October 16-19)will feature Carlene Carter, Justin Townes Earle, Jimmy Tittle, John Francis and more. The festival celebrates the day that Johnny Cash was arrested for public drunkenness in Starkville, MS in the early morning of May 11, 1965 following a performance at Mississippi State University. He spent one night in jail and paid a fine of $36. Cash sang about his run-in with “the law” in Starkville on his album, “At San Quentin (The Complete Live Concert),” recorded in 1969.

News Round Up:The Flatlanders and Dave Alvin Hit The Rails

  • The Los Angeles Times features a cool story on the Roots on Rails travel program organized by the Vermont-based Flying Under Radar travel service. This feature focuses on a train ride through the Southwest presenting Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock (AKA The Flatlanders) and Dave Alvin. Guests pay to travel with the artists and intimate performance occur in the dining car. It’s like a house concert on tracks. Other Roots on Rails trips have featured Tom Russell, Terry Allen, Stan Ridgway, Jill Sobule, the Handsome Family and many others.
  • Tom Russell will be performing on the David Letterman Show this Thursday October 1st. Russell is currently supporting his excellent new release Blood and Candle Smoke.
  • sits down for a Q&A with Merle Haggard.  The Hag discusses his recent lung cancer surgery, how he chooses set lists from his vast catalog, and makes his case for being the “great arbitrator.”
  • If you buy Robert Earl Keen’s new Lost Highway Records debut The Rose Hotel at select stores you will also receive a free Lost Highway’s limited, T for Texas, T from Tennessee music sampler. This freebie will include music from Lyle Lovett, Ryan Bingham, Black Joe Lewis, Hayes Carll & more.
  • We all know Courtney Love is nuts. Now she’s going nuts on Ryan Adams claiming that he stole $858,000 of daughter Frances Bean Cobain’s money to fund his 2003 album Rock n Roll. I would be pissed too if I had bankrolled that piece of crap.

Tom Russell – Santa Ana Wind mp3 Giveaway

tom_russellAnyone who regularly reads this blog knows that I’m a huge fan of Tom Russell. L.A. born with a  degree in criminology from the U of California, Russell also taught school in Nigeria during the Biafran War. He began his musical career in the early 70’s in Vancouver BC playing strip bars. He later drove a cab in New York and met guitarist Andrew Hardin and Robert Hunter of the Grateful Dead and both heard his songs and convinced him to pursue his craft. Rusell currently reside in El Paso, Texas where the border town culture influnces his work as a songwriter and painter.

An anticipated ’09 release here at Ranch Twang is Russell’s upcoming Blood and Candle Smoke (Sept 15.) The album was recorded in Tucson, AZ at Wave Lab Studios with members of Calexico providing a Southwest/world music accompaniment to the songs.

Southwest and Spanish textures are finely represented in the song Santa Ana Wind. The song features Nashville-based singer/songwriter Gretchen Peters, who Russell collaborated with on the excellent One To The Heart, One To The Head, on backing vocals. The backing band is Joey Burns (Spanish guitars, bass), John Convertino (drums), Barry Walsh (Wurlitzer, piano), Craig Schumacher (percussion), Jacob Valenzuela (trumpets), Nick Luka (steel Guitar.)

The song employs Russell’s trademark literary narrative blending spiritual mystery and the corporal grit resulting in a song as expansive as the great Southwest itself.


News Round Up: Patty Griffin & Bruce Robison News

  • The New York Times also features a piece on Willie Nelson’s American Classic.
  • I have come to the acceptance step of the grief cycle, bit Todd VanDerWerff’s excellent and exhaustive re-review of the HBO Western series Deadwood at The Onion’s TV Club brings a smile to my face.
  • Check out Kim Ruehl’s interview with Santa Cruz’s roots band The Devil Makes Three from the Bumbershoot music festival.
  • Tom Russell posts a new addition to his blog giving context and back stories to the songs on his upcoming Calexeco-backed album Blood and Candle Smoke.
  • Bruce Robison posts on his MySpace blog that he will have a song in Texas cartoon mogal Mike Judge(Beavis & Butthead, King of the Hill) film Extract and that he’ll be heading out  on tour with Robert Earl Keen and Todd Snider. (via the
  • Patty Griffin’s upcoming Buddy Miller produced Gospel album Downtown Church will be released in early 2010 and was recorded earlier this year in the sanctuary of the Downtown Presbyterian Church in Nashville, according to her website.

Gretchen Peters Live webcast from The Rutledge

With all the bubble-headed blonds dominating the country music airwaves with their brand of mall-pop “country” it’s nice to hear from a woman that reminds me what the music can sound like in the right hands. Gretchen Peters took to the Inter-tubes for a webcast from The Rutledge in Nashville last Saturday taking requests (including on from Tom Russell who was in Switzerland!) and, along with Barry Walsh,  perform songs from her  Circus Girl: The Best Of Gretchen Peters (Available now.)

You can see a recording of the performance here.

Read my review of Peter’s collaboration with Tom Rusell on this years excellent realease One To The Heart. One To The Head.

Gretchen Peters and Tom Russell – Guadalupe

With “One To The Heart, One To The Head” Gretchen Peters and Tom Russell have made what I consider the album of the year so far. (Twang Nation review)

Here’s the video for Russell’s song Guadalupe which appears on the album as well as Russell’s own solo record dropping later this year. (hat tip to the for bringing this to my attention.)

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Tom Russell Blogs on New Release

El Paso based renaissance man and Americana forefather Tom Russell will be posting a series of writings on his blog, each tied to a song on his forthcoming new release. The first post in this series is for the song East of Woodstock, West of Viet Nam and deals with his time teaching school in Nigeria during the Biafran war.

Russell is recording his new record with members of Calexico and Bob Dylan’s drummer from Unplugged, Winston Watson at Wave Lab studios in Tucson, AZ. Gretchen Peters and Barry Walsh will also appear contributing backing vocal and keyboards respectively.

The album will include 12 new Russell originals; the scheduled release date in the U.S. on Shout Factory! Records is September 22.

Russell did a few new songs from the release when I saw him earlier this year in Berkley, CA. and based on those I think this is going to be a great one.


Album Review – Gretchen Peters With Tom Russell – One to the Heart, One to the Head (Scarlet Letter Records)/Buddy and Julie Miller – Written In Chalk (New West)

These days duets are more like joint corporate sponsorships than a simpatico union of the heart and mind through song. Great male and female collaborations transcend their individual craft and emerge with something altogether new and remarkable. Kitty Wells and Red Foley, Ferlin Husky and Jean Shepard, George Jones and Tammy Wynette, Johnny and June – they made music that was more than the sum of their already amazing parts.

The Americana world seems to be coming into its own in the duet field. What arguably began with Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris got a real boost with 2005’s Begonias featuring Whiskeytown and Tres Chicas’ Caitlin Cary and her friend singer/songwriter Thad Cockrell. 2007 saw Robert Plant, Alison Krauss and T. Bone Burnett’s  Raising Sand set a standard for craft as well as sales. Now 2009 has already endowed us with two dazzling releases that build handily on this legacy.

Gretchen Peters is no stranger to the world of Nashville songwriting. Her songs have been recorded by Trisha Yearwood, Pam Tillis, George Strait, Martina McBride, and Patty Loveless who was nominated for a 1996 song of the year Grammy for Peters’ “You Don’t Even Know Who I Am.” for such a prolific songwriter it’s surprising that her seventh solo album, One To The Heart, One To The Head is a covers album. On it she partners with L.A. native, El Paso resident and Renaissance man Tom Russell who penned one song, Guadalupe, co-produced and painted the album cover image of what looks like a stylized dead horse. Russell knows his way around songwriting, his songs have been covered by Johnny Cash, Nanci Griffith, Dave Alvin and Suzy Bogguss as well as 16 solo releases. These are two heavyweights and they bring their considerable collective talents to bare on a great release.

OTTH,OTTH is referred to as a “western album” which Peters tapped into her earlier life in Boulder, Colorado to draw inspiration. The instrumental opener North Platte does set a western landscape with a Elmer Bernstein or Jerome Moross sense of expanse as well as gravity. The landscape contracts just a bit for the stark and beautiful Prairie In The Sky which beautifully highlights Peter’s shimmering trill as she floats over cello and piano accompaniment. Bob Dylan’s Billy 4, from the soundtrack to Sam Peckinpah’s film Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid, gets a serious borderlands infusion with Joel Guzman’s extraordinary Conjunto-style accordion and Russell bringing his silky-graveled voice counter to Peters’.

Tom Dundee’s tale of cultural isolation shines as the classic country sound of These Cowboys Born Out Of Their Time and with Russell’s end of the road lament Guadalupe woe never sounded so good. The accordion and barrel house piano that kicks off Bonnie Raitt’s tequila fueled barroom sing-along Sweet & Shiny Eyes sets just the right cantina vibe. It takes guts to cover a Townes Van Zandt song and Snowin’ on Raton is done with delicate beauty and  a proper sense of deference. If I Had a Gun furnishes this album with its title. “If I had a gun you’d be dead. One to the heart, one to the head. If I had a gun I’d wipe it clean, my fingerprints off on these sheets. They’d bury you in the cold hard ground, fist full of dirt would hold you down. They’d bury you in the cold hard ground, it’d be the first night I sleep sound.” Peckinpah would be proud.

Gretchen Peters Site | Tom Russell Site | Buy

Buddy Miller was featured on the cover of the No Depression’s final issue last year. The bible of declared Miller the Americana journeyman the Artist of the Decade and it’s hard to argue he’s not. On top of his great solo work Miller played lead guitar and provided backing vocals for Emmylou Harris’s Spyboy band, performed with Steve Earle on his El Corazon tour, performed on Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s 2000 album Endless Night and appeared on several albums by songwriter/singer Lucinda Williams. Most recently Miller has been busy performing lead guitar and backing vocal duties for Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ Raising Sand touring band. Julie, his wife of over 20 years, is no slouch either with six solo albums, and three collaborating with Buddy, under her belt. Her songs have been covered by Dixie Chicks, Linda Ronstadt, Lee Ann Womack, Emmylou Harris, Julie Roberts and others.

But as prolific as they are Written In Chalk is their only their third collaboration in their first over six years, and though both Buddy and Julie share vocal duties the real magic comes when Julie’s lyrics are swathed in her world-weary angel vocals and complemented by Buddy’s chameleon-like guitar picking that’s been hewed by years of studio sessions.

Buddy and Julie collaborated on Wide River which was later recorded by Levon Helm and the superb album opener Ellis County, a song aching for the good old/hard days, is cut from the same Steinbeckian gingham. Robert Plant described Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On) from Raising Sand as “shimmy music” and Gasoline And Matches has the same vibe, swamp mud guitars and bad ass drums. Julie winsomely sings Don’t Say Goodbye which features Patty Griffin who has the good sense to lend only a supporting role to Julie’s already elegant voice.

Robert Plant lends restrained support for Buddy in a backwoods rendition of Mel Tillis’ What You Gonna Do Leroy which is reported to have been recorded in a dressing room at Toronto’s Molson Amphitheatre during the Raising Sand tour. The song sounds like the source material for a thousand rock songs not least of all Eddie Cochran’s Summertime Blues. A Long, Long Time exquisitely shows off Julie’s  smoky jazz side and Patty Griffen makes an appearance on the excellent cut Chalk. As good as she is Griffen is she seems superfluous when you have Julie Miller at your disposal. Hush, Sorrow is a pensive beauty with Buddy accomapnied by Regina McCrary. Agian I say, when you have Julie Miller….

Smooth is another “shimmy” style swampy rocker with Buddy and Julie sharing vocals. Julie show up on another delicate beauty with June which was written and recorded as a tribute the day June Carter Cash died. The song is justly somber and celebratory. The Selfishness Of Man is a slow motion testament on hope featuring Emmylou Harris. I love Emmylou but my earlier comments on Patty Griffin’s appearances still apply. Julie would have been a better choice.

Buddy & Julie Miller Site | Buy

PlayStation 2 Hopes to Cash In on Country

  • Cindy Watts at the Tennessean posts about SingStar, a new Playstation 2 karaoke-type game which will include country music starts Faith Hill,  Willie Nelson and Brad Paisley….also Taylor Swift for some reason. Troy Gentry from Montgomery Gentry tried SingStar and is quoted as saying “singers could use the game to help fine-tune their vocals.” I’m just ready for Grand Theft Auto – Hazzard County, Georgia.
  • posts that there are message board and blog rumors that “Silver Jews” leader David Bermanwill call it quits and that “the band’s January 31 performance at McMinnville, Tennessee’s Cumberland Caverns (to be broadcast on Nashville’s famed WSM radio station), will be their last. “

JD Wilkes Side Project – The Dirt Daubers

Jessica Cassyle Carr at holds a Q&A with Denver based former 16 Horsepower frontman and current Gothic Americana singer/songwriter David Eugene (aka Wovenhand.)

The Arizona Daily Star gives us a peak at the A-list artist packed tribute album for the Hacienda Brothers leader Chris Gaffney. Joe Ely, Los Lobos, Dave Alvin, Tom Russell, James McMurtry, Robbie Fulks, John Doe, Dave Gonzales and members Calexico and more  appear. The Hacienda Brothers‘ final album, “Arizona Motel,” came out last June, two months after Gaffney’s death.

I’m a huge fan of the Psychobilly/Gothic sideshow that is Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers so I was pleased that LeighAbsinthia over at the Hank III cussin’ board brought to my attention JD Wilkes roots music side project, along with his wife Layne Hendrickson. Ladies and gentleman I bring you The Dirt Daubers.

The Dirt Daubers – “Sugar Baby”