Missy Werner – Turn This Heart Around

You just can’t have a good summer mix tape without some bluegrass.  Whether you’re getting liquored up at a festival down at the fairgrounds or spending some quality time with the family at the annual church picnic, bluegrass just sounds like a carefree, sunny day.  Yes, there are plenty of songs about heartbreak and angst, and I’m not sure any genre has more classic murder ballads.  But you usually have to pay close attention to the lyrics to realize it.  Meanwhile, the sound of claw-hammer banjo or flat-picked guitar is almost guaranteed to get people up and dancing.

Lucky me that the latest release from Missy Werner, Turn This Heart Around, slid across my inbox last week.  It’s bluegrass in all its finest forms.  Missy takes the vocal lead on all the tracks, with occasional harmonies from the likes of Sierra Hull and Sarah Siskind, and plenty of harmony from the band itself.  Her voice has that clear-as-a-bell quality you get from an Alison Krauss or Rhonda Vincent.  So whether it’s the slow ballad of Dead Man Walking or the tumbling rapids of Rocks In the River, nearly every song is anchored with Werner’s voice.  There is a lone instrumental track on the disc, Snake In the Grass, where the band gets to stretch their solo chops.

While I really liked a couple of the uptempo tunes on the album, like Rough Edges and Cloudless Blue, everything came together best on Come Back To Me, with its soaring vocals and rock solid instrumentals.  Having said that, the most interesting song on the album is Travelin’ Light.  Its gospel harmonies and call-and-response chorus have a purity of style that suck you in to hitting repeat more than once.

Turn-This-Heart-Around Turn This Heart Around covers a lot of bluegrass territory, so there’s bound to be something that catches your fancy.  Perfect for a summer mix tape.

Mayer’s Picks – The Best of 2014, So Far (the Albums)

The year is off to a strong start and I expect that it will only get better. Here, in no particular order, are some of my favorite releases from the first half of 2014.


Somewhere Else, Lydia Loveless

SOMEWHERE ELSE by LYDIA LOVELESS

“Simply bad-ass” is the phrase that overwhelms my thinking every time I give this album a listen. Loveless isn’t one to pull any punches and her rocking band gets in more than a few jabs of their own. This is my kinda rock and roll.

Key Tracks: Really Wanna See You, Wine Lips, Head, Verlaine Shot Rimbaud, Somewhere Else

Featured Twangville coverage of Lydia Loveless: Mayer’s Playlist for Feb/Mar 2014, Part 1, Monday Morning Video: Lydia Loveless, and Monday Morning Video: Lydia Loveless


Alexandria, Chris Mills

ALEXANDRIA by CHRIS MILLS

There has long been something magical in Mills’ writing and his latest release is no exception. Mills wears his musical heart on his sleeve, crafting songs that are filled with emotion and intensity which he then brings to life with a voice that is passionate and full of conviction.

Key Tracks: Alexandria, Rubicon, Blooms, The Sweet Hereafter, Quiet Corners

Featured Twangville coverage of Chris Mills: Mayer’s Playlist for January 2014, Part 2, Monday Morning Video: Chris Mills, and Monday Morning Video: Chris Mills


Hard Working Americans

HARD WORKING AMERICANS by HARD WORKING AMERICANS

You never know what you’re going to get when a “super group” of musicians come together. Leave it to the newly formed Hard Working Americans to demonstrate how to do it right. They hit the bulls-eye twice, first with their stand-out performances and musicianship. Second, by covering a collection of songs written by some of theirs – and my – favorite songwriters.

Key Tracks: Another Train, Down to the Well, Stomp and Holler, Welfare Music

Featured Twangville coverage of Hard Working Americans: Mayer’s Playlist for January 2014, Part 1


Drive-By Truckers

ENGLISH OCEANS by DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS

Are you ready to rock? Well the Truckers certainly are. English Oceans finds Patterson Hood in fine story-telling form and Mike Cooley filling his songs with plenty of piss and vinegar. The results are pretty damn potent.

Key Tracks: Shit Shots Count, Primer Coat, Pauline Hawkins, Hearing Jimmy Loud, When Walter Went Crazy, Grand Canyon

Featured Twangville coverage of Drive-By Truckers: Mayer’s Playlist for Feb/Mar 2014, Part 2 and Drive By Truckers – Live at Track 29 in Chattanooga, TN


Chuck Ragan

TILL MIDNIGHT by CHUCK RAGAN

Ragan has found a way to marry his punk pedigree with the edgier side of Americana. Let’s call it rustic punk… and a mighty fine listen.

Key Tracks: Something May Catch Fire, Vagabond, Non Typical, Bedroll Lullaby, Gave My Heart Out

Featured Twangville coverage of Chuck Ragan: Mayer’s Playlist for January 2014, Part 1.


Sarah Borges

RADIO SWEETHEART by SARAH BORGES

Borges returned from her musical hiatus by releasing what is arguably the best album of her career. Radio Sweetheart bristles with swagger and attitude, not to mention plenty of guitar-driven punch.

Key Tracks: Girl With a Bow, Think of What You’ve Done, The Waiting and the Worry, Start Again, Record on Repeat

Featured Twangville coverage of Sarah Borges: Happy Valentine’s Day: Radio Sweetheart from Sarah Borges , Monday Morning Video: Amy Black, Girls Guns & Glory and Sarah Borges , and More Video Fun from Sarah Borges, Amy Black and Girls Guns & Glory


Girls Guns and Glory

GOOD LUCK by GIRLS GUNS AND GLORY

While they remain true to their love of Hank Williams and vintage country, Girls Guns and Glory let their rock and roll colors fly on Good Luck. It makes for one rollicking good time.

Key Tracks: All the Way Up to Heaven, Be Your Man, One of These Days, C’Mon Honey, Rockin’ Chair Money, It’s Your Choice

Featured Twangville coverage of Girls Guns and Glory: Mass Ave – A Special Boston Playlist , Photos that Rock: Girls Guns and Glory , and Girls Guns and Glory at the Circle of Friends Coffeehouse


Parker Millsap

PARKER MILLSAP by PARKER MILLSAP

The Oklahoma native sets a high bar for himself with an outstanding debut release, deftly mixing up a stew of country gospel, folk and bluegrass.

Key Tracks: Old Time Religion, Truck Stop Gospel, The Villain, Quite Contrary, When I Leave

Featured Twangville coverage of Parker Millsap: Mayer’s Playlist for January 2014, Part 2, and Old Settlers Music Fest 2014 Edition .


Madisons – You Can Take Your Sorry Ass Back To West Texas!

If there is such a musical genre as Americana Noir, the Austin-based Madisons may be one of the leading disciples.  Front man, and sole songwriter for the band, Dominic Solis has imbued their second album, You Can Take Your Sorry Ass Back To West Texas! with a darkness that is equal parts fear and curiosity.  Solis’ vocal gruffness reminds me a little of Ryan Bingham, but the other six members of the band pitch in to provide a musical richness that push the overall sound in an indie direction.

Much of the darkness on the album comes from the lyrics.  Solis spins tales of the seamier side of society where the people you run across are not folks you want on your friends list.  And yet they’re all people we’ve known, or known about, and you can’t help but wonder what happened.  In My Pocket Forever tells the story of a 14-year-old pregnant girl burned alive by the 28-year-old who got here that way.  A Long Slow Death In San Marcos Texas talks about a girl who was the reason a neighbor hanged himself.  Losing Pictures opens with, “Mary never knew she was a terrible person, but that’s what she came to learn.”

Fortunately, the sadness on the album is hidden from plain sight by the instrumental sounds, so you can listen on the surface if you aren’t in a mood to dig too deep.  Group co-founder Oscar Gomez adds some sweet horns to several tunes, including You’ll Never Know and The Fiscal Year.  Violinist Jocelyn White takes the vocal lead on Sucker Punch, and delivers something like what you’d hear if Carrie Rodriguez fronted a Portland indie band.  Carolina is an uptempo indie-grass number with everyone taking an instrumental solo and where Solis singing that, “my mental state is in a state of decline” seems light-hearted.

madisonscover Although several songs on this album come across a first listen as modern bluegrass happy tunes, there’s no way to sugar coat the underlying topics.  Similar to many people’s favorite album of last year, though (Jason Isbell’s Southeastern), You Can Take Your Sorry Ass Back To West Texas! rewards multiple listens.  Like good film noir,  you just have to keep going back to see more of the ne’er-do-wells.

Twang in South Carolina

Although we twangers are located all across this great United States of America, and while Boston often gets a little more recognition on this blog thanks to the tireless efforts of Mayer, little ole’ me takes up residence in the capital city of South Carolina. Being a college town, we get our share of young bands putting their mark on the city and beyond. Here are a few that have caught my ear of late and links for you to check out their music. If you are so inclined, purchase an album or two, as I’m sure they’d be much obliged.



Cancellieri – Simple instrumentation and, what feels like honesty, bring Ryan Hutches’ catchy melodies to life.

RIYL: Iron and Wine, M. Ward, IPAs



Elonzo – More in the vein of Wilco than say, Gram, Elonzo, hailing from Rock Hill, South Carolina, punch out tales of everyday life in a small Southern town.

RIYL: Wrinkle Neck Mules, Old 97s, Coors



The Restoration – If Daniel Machado’s biting lyrics on New South Blues don’t win you over, I’m not sure what will.

RYIL: The Low Anthem, Carolina Chocolate Drops, whiskey sour



Stagbriar – The brother/sister duo of Emily and Alex McCollum feature chilling harmonies mixed with colorful storytelling on their first full-length.

RIYL: She and Him, Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion, merlot



The Dunder Chiefs – I could like this band just for the fact that their name is from a misheard AC/DC lyric, (dunder chiefs/done dirt cheap) but, they happen to sound pretty damn good as well.

RIYL: Avett Brothers, The Lumineers, Guinness

Billy Joe Shaver – Long in the Tooth

bjs-longinthetooth-cover
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.