Billy Joe Shaver is back at 74 with his first album in seven years. Shaver reportedly feels that “Long in the Tooth” is his best album. It is a tall claim considering his voluminous discography, but it is definitely in the upper echelon. Since his last album, Shaver has shown he is not ready to remove the outlaw from Outlaw Country. Four years ago he was acquitted for shooting a man in self-defense outside of a Waco bar. When asked by the prosecutor why he didn’t try to get away he said, "If I was a chicken shit I would have left." Then later he added, “"Hopefully things will work out where we become friends enough so that he gives me back my bullet." Shaver references aging from a few different perspectives on the album. On the one hand, he shows an air of defiance. Like the opener “Hard to be an Outlaw (who ain’t wanted anymore)”, which is a superb duet with Willie Nelson. On that song the two of them declare that “Someday we might end up in a junkyard on the side, but until that day you can bet your ass we’re going to whip that ride.” He sings a similar mantra on the tile cut, which has a cool, trippy vibe to it. On the other hand, Shaver uses his life experience to add perspective about life’s issues and realities. On songs like “The Git Go” and “Checkers and Chess”, there is none of the melodrama or class bashing that you will often hear from young idealistic singers. He is not trying to change the world, opting instead to point out that the world hasn’t changed. “Long in the Tooth” empties the Outlaw’s saddlebag. There is the proverbial mixture of Country and Rock. However, he also takes us to the Honky Tonk and tweaks the listener to make us laugh. “Last Call for Alcohol” is a perfect example quintessential Shaver wit. “Music City USA” is a compelling story song and an instant classic. Shaver is joined on this album not only by Willie Nelson, but also by Tony Joe White, Leon Russell and Shawn Camp. “Long in the Tooth” is an album that Shaver is obviously proud of and I am quite sure he gives a wink and a nod to Eddy, his late son and long-time collaborator.
It isn’t every day that a sixteen year old singer songwriter can captivate a producer through a social media post. In fact, the same would go for a 26 year old songwriter. However, that is exactly what happened in this case. When Brooklyn based producer/musician Brian Murphy saw a video of Katie performing posted on a mutual friend’s Facebook page, he reached out to her. Next thing you know, Katie and her father are on their way to Brooklyn for a recording. For the project, Murphy assembled a team of musicians that are essentially the backing band for much hyped group, The Lone Bellow. The result is a five song EP entitled “The Brooklyn Sessions”. One word comes to mind when describing these songs. That word is “refreshing”, and the accompanying music captures the feeling perfectly. The perspective in these songs is what is so refreshing. Katie may have a sixteen year old’s view of the world, but it is her own view and accompanied by a healthy dose of humor. Take the opener ”The DMV Song”. It is all about how a drivers license to most people marks the first step to being “independent and free”. Katie rejects this conventional view and says, “I’ve got this spirit in me, and I will do with it what I please. I don’t need that piece of paper to prove I’m independent and free”. Kudos to her for realizing this now, because it seems that in each stage of life there is a piece of paper that tries to define us. All of the songs in this project deal with identity in one way or another. Katie deals with the subject of identity often with humor. On “I Wish I Was Irish”, you can’t help but laugh as she describes an idyllic vision of the future in a fun way. The song “Black Coffee” has the same feel when describing an aspect of love. It is so enjoyable to listen to a collection of songs that can make keen observations without being too heavy. On “The Brooklyn Sessions” Katie’s comforting voice and perspective is accompanied by a well produced indie-folk framework. On the song “Gotta Grow Up” Katie sings about trying to “make my mom and dad proud”. I think she already has.
Here is my Top Ten for 2013: Feel free to cast stones and insults if you disagree. 1. Patty Griffin American Kid The combination of Griffin's vocal elegance along with Luther and Cody Dickinson's backup, made this album stand above all others. The ethereal duet with Robert Plant was also a high impact song. 2. Jason Isbell - Southeastern Close to being my number 1. There really isn't a lot to say that hasn't already been said about this release. Isbell has now shown the world what his core fans have always known, that he is a great songwriter. 3. Tim Easton - Not Cool Welcome Back! This may be his best solo album. It is certainly his most diverse. 4. Okkervil River - The Silver Gymnasium I was not overwhelmed by the 2013 Indie Rock offerings. "Silver Gymnasium" was a real stand out. The Band had a less dramatic sound on this offering, and the simplicity worked. 5. Sturgill Simpson - High Top Mountain True authentic Country. Close your eyes and you will see Waylon Jennings. Need I say more. The next 5: 6. Son Volt - Honky Tonk 7. North Mississippi All-Stars - World Boogie is Coming 8. Two Cow Garage - The Death of the Self-Preservation Society 9. Donna the Buffalo -Tonight, Tomorrow and Yesterday 10. Tim O'Brien and Darrel Scott - Memories and Moments
With the increasing popularity of the various genres of music loosely grouped under the label “Americana”, there has been a proportionate increase in the number of Honky-Tonk and traditional Country bands. The Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash are best described by the former. Although Honk-Tonk music is on the rise, the true Country bar is a relatively rare sighting. Front man Mark Stuart laments this fact when he sings, “There ain’t no Honky-Tonks in this town, with Smoky bars and neon lights. Ain’t no jukebox in the corner playing Hank songs every night”. Unfortunately, it is hard, but not impossible to find a sawdust covered dance floor that jumps all night. For those unfamiliar with the band, they are not new on the scene. Mark Stuart formed the band in in the late 90’ and their first album “Walk Alone” was released in 1999. As to the name of the band, it is homage to the patriarchs of Country music. In fact Mark Stuart was given direct permission by Cash to use his name. He was even invited and recorded in The Man in Black’s home studio. Enough history, Let us fast forward to 2013 and their album “New Old Story”. They have created one of the best Country albums of 2013, and one that will definitely stir up some sawdust on the dance room floor. The sound is a straight forward tribute to what Country should exemplify. There are songs for the road (“Highway bound”), Story songs (“Poor Man’s Son), and love songs (“Bounds of Your Heart”). There is also an appropriate mix of up-tempo and slow dance tunes. On the title cut Stuart sing “We’ve been out here way to long; searchin’ for a brand new song and trying”. Whatever The Bastard Sons have been trying to do for the last 15 or so years, they deliver it on “New Old Story”.
The Howlin’ Brothers are a three piece acoustic band. I hesitate to call them a “String” band, because they don’t fit the stereotype. While they do play traditional music, their version has many facets. Beyond traditional and Bluegrass, they also employee Blues, Country and you may even hear a little Bourbon Street. Their music can be straightforward at times, employing one style, but that is atypical. The production of Brendan Benson, created a fusion of sounds on the much acclaimed “Howl”. As a result of their recent attention, The Howlin’ Brothers get to show their talents in a new and very cool setting. They were asked to be the guest band on an episode of the “The Sun Studio Sessions”, a show that runs on select PBS stations around the country. It has to be a little intimidating to enter the same recording studio that launched Johnny Cash, Elvis, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis, just to name a few of the heavyweights that got their start at Sun Records. This is the house that Sam Phillips built, and it has changed little over the years. The studio is the same sweaty room with no air conditioning. I bet that sweat conjures up some powerful ghosts. In their session, the Howlin Brothers’ they add a slight rockabilly twist their their normal style. One wonders if they planned it that way, or if the magic of their surroundings took over. It really doesn’t matter, whatever their motivation, the result was a session that showcased a talented band that treated their surroundings with an appropriate reverence. I think Sam Phillips would have given The Howlin’ Brothers a contract and a Cadillac.