Mayer’s Playlist for Oct 2014, Part 1

ALBUMS OF THE MONTH

Boxers, by Matthew Ryan Matthew Ryan Boxers is an album of discontent. Life, love, work -- you name it -- the characters that inhabit this collection of songs are dissatisfied. There is rage, resentment and restlessness. Through it all, however, Ryan manages to find a glimmer of hope -- sometimes it’s a lyrical cue, other times it is a shimmering melody. It isn’t always bright but it’s there if you want to find it. Ryan sets the tone early with the blaring guitars and pounding drums of the title track. “How do you say goodbye to a dream that just won’t die,” he asks. While some might view this as a song of resignation and defeat but I consider it a more an acknowledgement that the road is rarely easy. "You're a boxer against the ropes & there's blood running down your throught," he continues, "but this is the fight you chose... Here we go." “Suffer No More” tells the tale of a couple dealing with job loss and economic hardship. “All we want today is something like a fair shake,” Ryan sings, “and all we want tomorrow is a ladder that won’t fall away.” An acoustic guitar and a sauntering beat convey at least a touch of hope. Ryan recalls painful early lessons in love on on the boisterous “The First Heartbreak.” I’m sure that many a listener can relate to the line, “I was there the night you got that tattoo, some scars got nothing to hide and everything to lose.” It is a line that is vivid, raw and meaningful, a hallmark of Ryan’s writing. Songs like the noisy “This One’s For You, Frankie” and the potent "Heaven's Hill" showcase the exceptional band that Ryan assembled for Boxers. Producer and guitarist Kevin Salem left the rough edges intact as musicians Brian Bequette, Joe Magistro and Brian Fallon (the Gaslight Anthem) unleashed a sonic fury across most of the album. In the midst of all the bruising rock songs are occasional quiet moments such as the stunning acoustic ballad “A Song to Learn & Sing (Until Kingdom Come).” In many ways it plays as the album's musical centerpiece as Ryan quietly reflects on hardship and pain yet still remains optimistic.

So let’s sing “Dirty Old Town” at the top of our lungs Don’t look now here comes the sun Your head is a map and your heart is a drum And the road is the road you’re on ‘til kingdom come.
Boxers also contains “An Anthem for the Broken,” a song that Ryan released earlier this year to raise funds for longtime friend of Twangville John Anderson as he battles ALS. You can read more about it here, but I challenge anyone to not be moved by the song’s furious jolt of electricity and optimism.
An anthem for the brotherhood The light in the dark and the lean for good The knowing not which way to go But here but for the grace of the unknown I know Adollar's not a peace nore end I'd do it all and all again An anthem for the broken hearts That made it worlds from where they'd start.
Even in its darkest moments there is a message that resonates across Boxers – life may be harsh but it needn’t be bleak. We all have the power to find satisfaction and contentment, even if it isn't in a way that we originally intended or expected. We just need to find it. Leave it to Ryan to craft a raggedly beautiful album to remind us of this fact.
Audio Download: Matthew Ryan, "Boxers" [audio: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/7770435/01%20Boxers.mp3]

THE PLAYLIST

Words From a Letter The Far West (from the Medina River Records release Any Day Now) I caught this Los Angeles-based quintet play an afternoon show at the Americana Conference and was damn impressed. They skillfully mine the Southern California brand of Americana, recalling Gram Parsons and the legends of the Bakersfield Sound. Singer Lee Briante has an appealing melancholy to his voice. It lends the right country feel to their more rock-laced songs while giving added depth to the country-oriented ballads.
Audio Download: The Far West, "Words from a Letter" [audio: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/7770435/07%20Words%20From%20A%20Letter.mp3]

Jailhouse, Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives (from the Superlatone Records release Saturday Night/Sunday Morning) Marty Stuart's latest release borrows a title and concept from Dr. Ralph Stanley. The impressive double album celebrates the decadence of Saturday night and the penance of Sunday morning. While some might frown on reproducing the concept, Stuart is one of the few who has the credentials to pull it off. Stuart is a rightful heir of the country music tradition, an honor that he wears with pride with this release. Joined by a crack band dubbed the Fabulous Superlatives, Stuart romps, rumbles and strolls through the 23 glorious tracks on Saturday Night/Sunday Morning. They infuse every song with an enthusiasm and joy that is infectious.
I Wasn't the One, Joshua Black Wilkins (from the self-released Settling the Dust) It shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that the Nashville-based Wilkins is a phenomenally talented photographer. He approaches music in a similar manner, creating songs that have an evocative appeal. The musical arrangements are minimal without being sparse. They are often punctuated by a wistful pedal steel. To these ears it conjures up images of a drifter riding the rails, singing songs that are dusty, weathered and downright intoxicating.
Audio Download: Joshua Black Wilkins, "I Wasn't the One" [audio: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/7770435/03%20I%20Wasn't%20The%20One.mp3]

Domino Sugar, Luke Winslow-King (from the Bloodshot Records release Everlasting Arms) I’ll openly admit that I have a bias towards New Orleans musicians. It’s not because they live in one of the world’s greatest cities. Rather it’s because they are often musical scholars versed in genres from jazz to rock to rhythm and blues. The best ones bring that expertise to life in their music. Put Luke Winslow King in that category. His latest release shifts with ease from the New Orleans jazz of “La Bega’s Carousel” to the Southern rock-tinged boogie of “Domino Sugar” to the bluesy folk of “Traveling Myself.” We’ll call it eclectic in all the right ways. We’ll also say that, perhaps reflective of the city that Winslow King calls home, this album makes for one hell of a listening party.
Coffin Black, The Pine Hill Haints (from the K Records release The Magik Sounds of the Pine Hill Haints) Although the Pine Hill Haints have been around since circa 2000, the Twangville introduction to the Pine Hill Haints came via our Muscle Shoals series. Their self-described "Alabama Ghost Music" blends is a potent mix of folk, rockabilly and bluegrass. The group shifts with ease from the down-home roots of “Scarlet Fever” to the fuzzed-out guitar rock of “Coffin Black.” If you’re looking for some music that overflows with a raw and rootsy enthusiasm, you’d do right to check out the Pine Hill Haints.
A Waltz For Old Jeppson (Carl's Theme), Archie Powell and the Exports (from the single A Waltz for Old Jeppson) I've never tried Chicago home-grown liquor Jeppson's Malört, whose motto is apparently "Malört is not for the faint of heart." Nor do I expect the lyrics of this song to change that fact. "Be it your drug of choice or a big last resort," Powell proclaims, "the results are the same if you're drinking Malört." I am certain of one thing, however. I'll be listening to this rockin' song for a long time to come. (Check out the band's entertaining video tribute to Jeppson's Malört here.)
Nothing Left, Elliott Brood (from the Paper Bag Records release Work and Love) This Canadian trio fall on the rock end of the Americana spectrum. Their songs overflow with catchy melodies propelled by jangly guitars and carefree harmonies. There's a breezy Sunday afternoon vibe to their music, albeit a breeze that packs a playful and energetic punch. If you enjoy this track, you’ll undoubtedly find plenty more to your liking on their latest release.

Monday Morning Video: Pete Donnelly “The Trench”

It can often be both refreshing and insightful to hear a stripped down version of a songs originally performed by a full band. Here's a great example -- Pete Donnelly of the Figgs offering up a solo take on one of my favorite songs from that band's extensive catalog. The tempo is a touch slower than the original but the performance still maintains some of the song's glorious edginess.

Americana 2014: Say What?!

Elvis
One of my favorite things about attending music conferences and festivals are the crazy comments that you hear along the way. Here are a few choice selections.
FROM THE AWARDS SHOW


If it wasn't for that guy we'd be doing this at a burnt out Kmart. Jason Isbell acknowledging that the awards show was being held on Hank Williams birthday.

I can't tell you how foolish I feel accepting an award from Vincent Gill [while standing] on a stage with Ry Cooder. Buddy Miller accepting the award for best instrumentalist

He was world music before there was such a thing. Keb Mo presenting Taj Mahal a lifetime achievement award

They are only easy to play badly. Keb Mo on playing the blues

The music of my people became the music of all people. Keb Mo

We're scheduling a post-production hair off. Robert Plant is invited but he's already got a lifetime achievement award. The Milk Carton Kids, filling time while they waited for the teleprompter to be fixed

I'm a little disappointed. We got used to be nominated for things. We never win and you need to manage people's expectations. The Milk Carton Kids, accepting their award for Duo/Group of the Year

He's taken the outlaw country sound and started singing about turtles and stuff. Elizabeth Cook introducing Sturgill Simpson

We were supposed to be short. You weren't so I'm not gonna be either. JD Souther to co-presenter Ken Paulson during their presentation to Jackson Browne

It's part of the American character to say what you believe. Jackson Browne, accepting the Spirit of Americana / Free Speech in Music Award

This ain't nothing you're gonna see on TV. Browne stopping his performance to tune his guitar

As time went on it turned out to be a quite more generous song than she deserved. Jackson Browne introducing a song that he wrote about an ex-girlfriend
FROM THE SHOWCASES


Life is a mess and there's no reason that our music shouldn't be. Joe Henry

May he who lives without sin have better luck this evening. Todd Snider

Where the fornication nation meets the salvation train. Mojo Nixon describing Marty Stuart’s new album Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.

How much did you pay to get in here? You're getting your money's worth. Marty Stuart to the crowd after flubbing a guitar solo at a free show

Why don't you love me any more? Guy in crowd Is that a request or a question? Eileen Rose, responding to his request

Sorry about that. Young people ordering beers. A bartender apologizing for the delay that resulted from having to deal with an indecisive group

He's got great hair. Mojo Nixon describing Marty Stuart

Here's a song I wrote about someday being famous and paying my bills playing country music. J.P. Harris Right. Guy in crowd

"A long, long time ago..." Robbie Fulks, kicking off his final song when the sound guy told him he had time for one more short one. I'm sure you can guess the song.

I’ve knocked over 2 of my 3 drinks. I’ve baptized this stage in wine & vodka. Cory Chisel

Here's a new song. It's about drugs. We did it for the first time this morning at a gospel brunch. Elizabeth Cook

Most people, even musicians, don't know what producers do. Joe Henry

You listen really hard until it gets good. Joe Henry quoting a T Bone Burnett comment about producing

That’s what is great about music, it can be your friend when no one else can understand you. Mike Farris.

Sometimes the end of a lease doesn't line up with the end of a relationship. Anthony D'Amato introducing "If It Don't Work Out," a break-up song

If you aren't having a good time, it's your own fucking fault, because this band is fucking awesome. Cory Chisel, referring to his pick-up band

You're like a yard full of coon dogs that ate some bad possum. J.P. Harris to a quiet but attentive crowd

How's everybody feeling,'cause I feel like shit. It's too much fun down here. Lee Briante of the Far West after a long week of music and festivities

We just moved to the south and felt we needed to write a song to make us fit in. So this is a song a out biscuits. The Grahams

If you don't know this, there's something wrong with ya. Mike Farris introducing "This Little Light of Mine"

If I fuck up the lyrics you won't know any better. Anthony D'Amato introducing a new song

Click here for more Americana Music Conference coverage.

Americana 2014: The Sounds, Part 2

Every fall, The Americana Music Association gathers members, artists and music fans together in Nashville for its annual conference. Starting with the annual Americana Music Awards and continuing through four days of showcases and panel discussions, it is a tremendous celebration of Americana music.
Matthew Ryan
MATTHEW RYAN
This was, hands-down, the highlight of the week for me. Ryan’s live performances in recent years have been solo acoustic, so I was thrilled that he put together a band for his Friday evening showcase. To say that he didn’t disappoint would be an understatement. This was a rock show of the finest order, scruffy and authentic. The set featured a few songs from Boxers, his forthcoming electric guitar-fueled album, plus a number of classics from throughout his career. Rumor has it that he will be doing additional band shows to support the new album. Do yourself a favor, don’t miss him when he comes to your town.
Kevin Gordon
KEVIN GORDON
One of the nice things about visiting Nashville is the chance to see some local artists in their natural habitat. Local-boy Gordon took time out from recording his next album to play an outdoor afternoon show. He has a knack for telling vivid and entertaining tales of Southern life that are set to music that mixes healthy doses of boogie and blues. It's a recipe for music goodness. I, for one, am eagerly and impatiently awaiting his next release!
THE GREYHOUNDS
I missed the Greyhounds at SXSW earlier this year and I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again. The trio played the famed Blue Room at Third Man Records where they served up their distinctive style of classic R&B. I’m still not sure why there was someone in an astronaut outfit dancing on the side of the stage, but I’ll save that question for another day. They closed their set with a killer cover of Nilsson’s “Jump In the Fire.” (See 'em play the song in this video from SXSW.)
Mike Farris
MIKE FARRIS
Farris doesn’t tour much so I made sure to catch him for a Saturday afternoon set. He and his band, including a horn section and an animated keyboard player, got the joint jumpin' with their distinctive blend of gospel and soul.
The Silks
THE SILKS
Sure, I’ve seen these guys any number of times around Boston. It was great to see the local boys making their Americana Conference debut. They clearly brought their “A” game – they always do – as they blasted through a raucous set of bluesy rock. They even threw in a ferocious country jam mid-set for good measure.
DAVID RAMIREZ
Armed with just an acoustic guitar and a beautiful collection of songs, the Austin-based singer-songwriter engrossed a Saturday evening crowd. His music is often filled with melancholy and is always emotionally charged.
Click here for more Americana Music Conference coverage.