Americana 2014, The Sounds, Part 3

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. Here are my highlights among the many live performances I saw over the 4 days I was there.  You can also check out Mayer's favorites.
Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives.  I've written about how good Stuart is in a live show before.  But he'd kind of drifted off my radar the past few years.  Then I scored a ticket to a taping with Stuart and his band for Mojo Nixon's SiriusXM radio show.  What an incredible hour of entertainment.  From trading jabs with Nixon, "stand up Mojo...if you still can", to country rapping about the weekend, to playing along note for note with every song on Outlaw Country while waiting for the show to start, Marty entertained us at every point.  Oh, then there was his actual set of music.  Drawn mostly from his new album, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, it covered everything from rock and roll to gospel a cappella.  Along the way we also were reminded just how fine a guitar player Stuart is. Carlene Carter.  I also caught a taping Carlene Carter did for SiriusXM.  With a career that stretches from her early teens in the 60's to present day, she has a rich heritage of just her own musical path.  Then throw in the Carter family experiences and it's a microcosm of country/Americana music.  The highlight was when Jeff Hanna, of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and half a dozen other musicians who had gathered in the XM studios reprised 1972's seminal Will the Circle Be Unbroken.
Trigger Hippy.  Joan Osborne and Jackie Greene.  You don't really have to say anything more to know it's going to be a good show.  And yet that generates expectations with many that would be hard to meet.  Yet they and the other band members put together a potent combination of virtually every style of music you can imagine and blasted right through those expectations.  The worst thing for me is realizing this might be a one-time-only project. Cory Chisel's Soul Obscura.  I was leaving a venue with a vague plan for the evening when I ran into a couple of friends just coming in.  When I told them I was leaving because I hadn't heard about Cory Chisel, they gave me that are-you-really-that-stupid look.  So I turned around and went back in and got the surprise of the week from Cory Chisel's Soul Obscura.  In case you're like me and not familiar with this project, Cory and his band do covers of obscure 60's soul songs.  And dare I say improve on them all. Bradford Lee Folk.  Another fortuitous decision on my part.  Without a particular next destination in mind I stuck around for a set from Folk and his Bluegrass Playboys.  With a brain full of heavy lyrics and indie sounds from earlier in the day, the old school bluegrass from these guys was a breathe of fresh air.  Flawlessly executed and with a focused sound, I have no doubt they replicate that experience regardless of your frame of mind.
Joe Fletcher.  Without his band on his latest album and tour, Fletcher underscores his songwriting ability.  His gravelly voice and almost laconic stage presence somehow work in combination to pump excitement into the room.  His was the last set I saw of the weekend, and put a proper exclamation point on all the great music I heard the previous 4 days.

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.

2014 Americana Music Awards

On September 17th, the glitterati of the Americana Music Scene gathered at the historic Ryman Theater for their annual Awards show and presentation.  Mayer and I were lucky enough to procure a seat to the festivities.  You can get a full list of the award nominees and winners here, but these are the highlights from our perspective.
Jason Isbell walked away with a sweep of the big 3 for Southeastern; Artist of the Year, Album of the Year, and Song of the Year.  His performance of Cover Me Up with wife Amanda Shires was excellent, and afterwards he noted that he'd written the song for her.  He recounted how scary it was to sing it to her the first time, and in accepting the Song of the Year award he encouraged the audience to "do what scares you".
The House Band for the show was led, as always, by Buddy Miller.  This year it also included Don Was on bass, Ry Cooder on guitar, and Ry's son Rocky Cooder on drums. They were joined by renowned session musicians Tim Lauer (keyboards), Brady Blade (percussion) and the McCrary Sisters (vocals).  A lot of people would argue Miller is the premier guitarist in Americana music today, but after the awards show I think you'd have to say it's a two-man race with Ry.  Cooder really turned it loose from the opening number, a sizzling version of Willie Dixon's You Can't Judge A Book By It's Cover.  His duet with Flaco Jimenez on a Norteno number was also a highlight, as was his and Miller's playing on Valerie June's "You Can't Be Told." [caption id="attachment_20242" align="alignleft" width="317"](Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Americana Music) (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Americana Music)[/caption] The Ryman has been called by many the Mother Church of country music.  The church theme covered several excellent performances, not the least was Loretta Lynn singing Coal Miner's Daughter on the very same stage she debuted at the Opry 54 years ago to the day from the awards night.  Also taking advantage of the spiritualness of the place was Parker Millsap doing Truck Stop Gospel and St. Paul & the Broken Bones creating their near-religious-experience aura with The Grass Is Greener.       [caption id="attachment_20241" align="alignleft" width="299"](Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Americana Music) (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Americana Music)[/caption] Finally, you have to make some kind of effort to pick a favorite in a night with over two dozen performers.  No disrespect to the youngsters, but the edge goes to a couple of veterans.  Marty Stuart And His Fabulous Superlatives nailed a cover of No Hard Time Blues, a Jimmie Rodgers number performed in honor of the Rodgers Museum.  Stuart also brought a train lantern originally owned by Rodgers which gave his introduction and performance an extra air of authenticity. After a heartfelt intro from Keb Mo, who noted the man was doing world music before there was such a category, Taj Mahal did a version of Statesboro Blues that trumped any other version I've ever heard, and there are a lot of them.
The evening finished with an ensemble performance of Johnny Cash's Get Rhythm, that featured Cash family members Carlene Carter and Roseanne Cash.  With that, the audience went into the night and the beginning of 4 nights of showcases that Mayer and I will cover in future posts.  
Click here for more Americana Music Conference coverage.

E.G. Kight – A New Day

E.G. Kight's is a unique voice in contemporary music.  Her heartfelt, gospel and country-tinged blues blend American traditions into a toe-tapping good time.  Her latest album, A New Day, demonstrates what her dedicated following has known since the late 90s - that she is a special talent. Though Georgia native Kight grew up listening to old time country music like Hank Williams and Patsy Cline and singing gospel in church, it is said she discovered her true calling upon listening to "queen of the blues" Koko Taylor as a teen.  Since the 1990s, the guitarist and vocalist has been writing and playing the blues, and she survived a serious illness to continue on making music. A New Day is the eighth album to be released by Kight.  Kight wrote or co-wrote all the songs, with co-writing credits for five tunes going to Tom Horner and one each to the late Ann Rabson (Uppity Blues Women) and Lisa Biales.  Album highlights include "Holdin' On," "Graveyard Dead Blues," "Don't Give Up," "Bad Times" (a duet with Greg Nagy), and "Low Mileage Woman."  For the album Kight was joined by Gary Porter on drums, Johnny Fountain on bass, Ken Wynn on guitar and Mike Harrell on keyboards along with guest appearances by album producer Paul Hornsby on keyboards, Tommy Talton on guitar and Nagy. 
Audio Stream: E.G. Kight, "Don't Give Up" [audio: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/7770435/04%20Don't%20Give%20Up.mp3]
 

Mayer’s Playlist for Sept 2014, Part 2

ALBUMS OF THE MONTH

Swimmin' Time, by Shovels and Rope Shovels and Rope Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent -- aka Shovels and Rope -- just keep getting better and better. Swimmin' Time takes their customary percussive guitar and drums and expands their musical palette with piano, horns and a host of other instruments. The result is something special. The duo push at genre classifications across this thirteen-song collection. “Bridge on Fire,” while still grounded in Americana, is a perfect pop confection. A prominent piano joins their brilliant harmonies to give the song an extra sugary crunch. That combination continues on “Coping Mechanism,” which has a fun 1950’s feel. Surly guitars give “Evil” a dark edge while “Ohio” has a heavy New Orleans vibe, right down the mid-song Bourbon Street brass horn interlude. "After the Storm" has an epic quality to it. The song opens gently but soon explodes with Hearst and Trent’s emotionally charged vocals. The lyrics describe a quest for redemption from past wrongs despite the recognition that these same failures still stand in the way.

Like the widest river // Like the brightest morn // There is hope where you can’t see it // There is a light after the storm But won’t you help me to get through it // I’ve been flailing like a child // My mistakes they are so many // For my weary heart is wild
The duo round out the album with “Mary Ann and One-Eyed Dan” and “Save the World,” a pair of stripped-down songs that hearken back to the group’s rootsy early days. All the better to enjoy the charm of their singing and songwriting.
THE PLAYLIST

I’m In Love with Everything, The Fauntleroys (from the Plowboy Records release Below the Pink Pony) In this case, the album title is as real as it is descriptive. Four musicians – friends and admirers of one another’s work – gathered in a room below a former NYC restaurant called the Pink Pony to bash out their debut release. The results are at once cohesive yet reflective of each artist's individual personality. Alejandro Escovedo brings an appreciation for 1970’s British blues-based rock, Ivan Julian lends his punk pedigree, Nicholas Tremulis contributes his eccentric pop-rock feel (“Suck My Heart Out with a Straw” is one of his contributions) and Linda Pitmon adds her powerhouse drumming.
Audio Download: The Fauntleroys, "I’m In Love with Everything" [audio: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/7770435/01%20I'm%20In%20Love%20With%20Everything.mp3]

All That We Have Is Now, Jesse Winchester (from the Appleseed Recordings release A Reasonable Amount of Trouble) Although we lost Jesse Winchester earlier this year, he left us with a new album that was completed just prior to his passing. Winchester possessed a genuine and gentle spirit as well as an insightful lyrical eye, both of which are sharply evident here. The twelve tracks on A Reasonable Amount of Trouble, nine originals and three covers, are a reminder of his musical allure.
The Archivist, American Gun (from the Jangly Records release Promised Youth) In the interest of full disclosure, American Gun’s Todd Mathis is a long-time contributor to Twangville. Don’t hold that against him, though. Mathis also happens to be a talented songwriter. After releasing the rootsy Please… Don’t Tread On Me (recorded with Whiskey Tango Revue) last year, Mathis rejoins his American Gun compatriots for the bruising Promised Youth. As is the group's style, they let their electric guitars lead the charge. This go-around, however, finds them adding some synthesizers and strings to give the music added density. The result is a rock record with a dark and brooding vibe. Here, for your listening enjoyment, is the tale of a woman who has given up on love.
Audio Stream: American Gun, "The Archivist" [audio: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/7770435/04%20The%20Archivist.mp3]

Love Song #9, Scruffy the Cat (from the Omnivore Records release The Good Goodbye: Unreleased Recordings 1984-1990) I shared a vintage video of the late, great Scruffy the Cat a few weeks ago (here). It was either a great introduction or a welcome reminder of the band's infectious energy. This new collection of previously unreleased tracks offers a fun glimpse into the band's creative arc. Starting with their rough early recordings through to their late era sessions at legendary Ardent Studios in Memphis, it showcases the charm in their songwriting and the unbridled enthusiasm in their performances. Give a listen to early tracks like the boisterous “Big Fat Monkey’s Hat” and the more slickly produced but no less spirited later output like "Love Song #9" and you'll hear what I mean.
Sure Thing, Sam Morrow (from the Forty Below Records release Ephemeral) My introduction to this LA by way of Texas singer was his somber cover of Bruce Springsteen’s "Dancing in the Dark" that was released earlier this year. His debut album proves that Morrow stands tall in his own rite, thank you. There is both warmth and world-weariness in his music, all the more impressive given that Morrow is still in his early 20s. Restrained arrangements, often infused with subtle strings, give the songs additional depth.
Got Caught Up, Pete Donnelly (from the self-released Face the Bird) I’m a sucker for a good pop song. Fortunately for me (and maybe you, too), Pete Donnelly’s got a catalog that is filled with ‘em. Donnelly has an impressive resume -- he is founding member of the Figgs and has also logged more than a few miles with the Candy Butchers and NRBQ. As if that weren’t enough, he has also released a couple of mighty fine solo albums. Check out this gem, co-written with Shelby Lynne, from his most recent release. Man, those horns!