Mayer’s Playlist for July 2014, Part 2

ALBUMS OF THE MONTH

Common Ground: Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy, by Dave & Phil Alvin

Dave & Phil AlvinThis album is no doubt a labor of love. Sure, the Alvin brothers have a reputation for family squabbles. They are still brothers, however, who share a passion for music. So I suppose that we shouldn’t be surprised that they’ve reunited – for the first time in almost 30 years – to pay tribute to a songwriter who inspired their careers in music.

The man in question? Big Bill Broonzy, a guitarist and songwriter who emerged in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Broonzy was a pioneer of acoustic country blues and is considered by many as one of the forefathers of rock and roll.

The brothers Alvin tackle twelve songs from the Broonzy catalog, ranging from early gems like “Big Bill’s Blues” to later classics like “Key to the Highway.” Not surprisingly for those familiar with the brothers earlier work in the Blasters, they bring these songs to life like few others can. Brother Phil is in fine voice while brother Dave lets loose on both electric and acoustic guitar.

Tracks like the acoustic opener “All By Myself” and “How You Want It Done?” have a healthy swing; others, like “I Feel So Good” and “Truckin’ Little Woman,” have a great juke-joint swagger.

Two masters paying tribute to a legend – what’s not to like?

Audio Download: Dave and Phil Alvin, “Key to the Highway”

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THE PLAYLIST


Get as Gone Can Get, Sarah Borges and Ward Hayden with Girls Guns and Glory (from the Lonesome Day Records single Baby Don’t Go b/w Get as Gone Can Get)

Sarah Borges and Girls Guns and Glory have already independently released two of my favorite albums so far this year. I didn’t think that they’d be able to top that. Man, was I wrong. The two have collaborated on a killer new vinyl/digital single.

One side is their take on the Sonny & Cher classic “Baby Don’t Go.” It’s the flip side, however, that really rocks. The Borges-penned track may clock in at just under two and a half minutes, but it packs one hell of a punch.

Well, I was drinking whiskey and he was drinking wine
I had a bottle in my pocket, it tasted like turpentine
We was gettin’ loose to the hillbilly sway,
I knew I should have turned around and run the other way.

Audio Stream: Sarah Borges and Girls Guns and Glory, “Get as Gone Can Get”

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Our Kind of Love, Christopher Denny (from the Partisan Records release If the Roses Don’t Kill Us)

Denny has a voice the likes of which you’ve likely never heard before. It’s beyond retro, it’s vintage. Think Al Jolson crooning back in the early 20th century. There’s a bit of drawl and plenty of character in his singing as well.

While that alone would make Denny unique, his songwriting voice is equally distinctive. He brings to life the hardships that he has encountered, more often than not with a positive attitude and outlook, and reveals a tender romantic side as well. The results are magical.


Shock to the System, Eli “Paperboy” Reed (from the Warner Brothers Records release Nights Like This

Back in the 1960s there was an dazzling type of R&B-flavored pop song, soulful and made for dancing. The lyrics used simple language without being simplistic. The results were infectious.

Reed has spent years studying the forebearers while honing his own musical style. Whereas his earlier releases had a strong retro feel, his latest crackles with a contemporary vibe. The blend of old and new is potent and makes for the perfect soundtrack to your summer.

Reed traveled to FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama to record this alternate version of a fave track from Nights Like This. The backing band includes legendary Swampers David Hood, Jimmy Johnson and Spooner Oldham.


How Would You Feel, Cowboy Mouth (from the Elm City Records release Go)

It’s great to see that, as Cowboy Mouth celebrate their 25th anniversary, the New Orleans-based quartet haven’t lost their step. Fred LeBlanc still bristles with a manic energy while band co-founder John Thomas Griffith still has a knack for writing catchy pop anthems. As this track clearly illustrates, they have no intention of slowing down. Here’s to another 25 years.

Audio Download: Cowboy Mouth, “How Would You Feel”

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Timmy, John Murry (from the Evangeline Records ep release Califorlornia)

Oakland by way of Mississippi songwriter Murry follows up his excellent 2012 release The Graceless Age with another gem, this time an ep. His songs can be jarring but that’s part of their charm. Whether telling stories (“The Murder of Dylan Hartsfield”) or capturing moments or emotions (“The Glass Slipper”), he applies a vivid and darkly realistic eye.

This song pays a moving tribute to his late friend and producer Tim Mooney, known to many for his work with American Music Club and Sun Kil Moon.


Mayer’s Playlist for July 2014, Part 1

ALBUMS OF THE MONTH

Resolution Road, by Easton Stagger Phillips

Easton Stagger PhillipsI don’t like to draw direct comparisons between artists but it’s hard not to do so with the latest release from Tim Easton, Leeroy Stagger and Evan Phillips. This talented trio of singer-songwriters conjure up the finer moments of Crosby, Stills and Nash. Resolution Road flows with the laid-back feeling and gentile harmonies that were – and are – a CSN hallmark.

Phillips kicks off the album with “Always Came Back To You,” a graceful love song made all the richer by the trio’s warm harmonies on the chorus. His reflective “Lucillia” has similar qualities and a day-dreamy vibe.

Stagger brings a tempered rock attitude to his contributions. A persistent drum beat ushers along “Traveler” as vocal harmonies give way to a George Harrison-flavored slide guitar solo.

Easton’s closing “Baby Come Home” is simultaneously melancholy and sentimental. “Sitting here late at night wondering where you might be,” he laments before the others join him to declare “baby come home right now, I need you for the rest of my life.” Guest Derry deBorja adds some subtle yet expressive organ flourishes.

Each singer-songwriter bring their own personality and songs to the group. Yet they blend together beautifully, as if they were meant to perform together. Like CSN, Easton Stagger Phillips prove that sometimes 1+1+1 equals more than three.


Dereconstructed, by Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires

Lee Bains III and the Glory FiresThere’s an old adage — write what you know. Birmingham, Alabama native Lee Bains takes this to heart with a searing album about life in the modern South. His lyrics reflect on the weight of history, religion and everyday economic struggles of small town Southern life; his songs are fueled by incendiary guitars and furious rock beats.

Bains doesn’t shy away from social commentary on tracks like “The Kudzu and the Concrete”:

You can talk, talk, talk about it: Repentance, and forgiveness, and loving your neighbor as yourself.
But what the hell does that mean when all your neighbors look the same and think the same or else live a couple miles down the rural route?

He wrestles with the love-hate relationship of growing up in Birmingham in “The Weeds Downtown.” “I know that Birmingham gets you down, but look what it raised you up to be,” he sings.

“The Company Man” takes a stand against greed and blind obedience. “All it takes is one wicked heart, a pile of money and a chain of folks just doing their jobs,” he cautions.

Bains lets his guitar do plenty of talking, too. Dereconstructed is a no holds barred rock album. Bains and fellow guitarist Eric Wallace trade licks like Keith Richards and Mick Taylor back in the day. The entire band sounds ferocious, rough and ragged. Bains describes it best on “Dirt Track” when he says, “Squeezing glory out of three rusty chords.” The results are glorious, indeed.

Audio Download: Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires, “The Weeds Downtown”

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THE PLAYLIST


Bernadine, Adam Carroll (from the self-released Let It Choose You)
I’d lost touch with the music of Austin folk-country singer Adam Carroll a few years back. I recall him tending towards humor in his songwriting yet always equally adept at finding the tenderness of a moment. His latest release shows that he hasn’t lost his touch.

While there are still occasional glimpses of humor, his latest batch of songs tend towards the sincere end of the spectrum. His voice and music have a gentle aura about them, his songs filled with thoughtful character-driven stories.

Audio Download: Adam Carroll, “Bernadine”

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Carry On, Denver (from the Mama Bird Recording Company release Rowdy Love)
Three singer-songwriters out of Portland serve up songs that are alternatively ramshackle and relaxed. The eleven tracks on Rowdy Love are rooted in country but sometimes veer towards mountain folk-rock territory that is reflective of the region from which they take their name. Then there is this track, a personal favorite, which has a decidedly Gordon Lightfoot feel.


Down, Kingsley Flood (from the self-released Live at the Armory)
I wouldn’t often call a live album one of an artist’s best releases but it’s appropriate in this instance. To tide us over until their next studio release, the Boston and Washington D.C-based six piece sextet took over an intimate venue to perform a career-spanning set. They impressively find a way to breathe fresh life into older songs and ratchet up the intensity of their already forceful more recent work. It also showcases the talents of songwriter Naseem Khuri, who crafts songs that are exceptionally intelligent and damn catchy, too.

You can download a free six-song sampler from this release here.


Monday, Caleb Caudle (from the This Is American Music release Paint Another Layer on My Heart)
New Orleans by way of Winston-Salem North Carolina singer-songwriter Caudle says that much of this album was inspired by a year of touring and the corresponding yearning for home. “I’m really leaving it’s really Monday, I don’t know how it got here so soon,” he laments on this stand-out, “lately I’m finding so little to trust in, that’s why it’s harder leaving you.”


Too Long I’ve Been Gone, Dom Flemons (from the Music Maker Relief Foundation release Prospect Hill)
The Carolina Chocolate Drops co-founder continues his exploration of the early American music canon on his latest release. Flemons roots himself in folk but masterfully blends countless other genres into the mix. “Georgia Drumbeat” beautifully blends jazz, country and folk while “Have I Stayed Away Too Long?” has a touch of Dixieland and “I Can’t Do It Anymore” brings in some tasty blues playing. I’m partial to this song, a more traditional – and winsome – ballad.

Mayer’s Playlist for June 2014, Part 2

ALBUMS OF THE MONTH

Trouble, by The Howlin’ Brothers

The Howlin' BrothersThe Nashville-based Howlin’ Brothers expand their musical palette with their latest release. Sure, it has plenty of the traditional bluegrass upon which they’ve established their reputation. The unexpected treat, however, are the shades of reggae and pop that make an appearance.

They kick things off in classic form with the hootin’ and hollerin’ “Pour It Down.” The fun continues as the Brothers let their pickin’ fingers and rootsy harmonies lead the way on the rambling “Hard Times.”

“I Was Wrong” mixes up some old school pop with some Dixieland jazz while “Monroe” is steeped in bayou fiddle. It’s a good ol’ dance party, Howlin’ Brothers style.

“World Spinning Round” is firmly rooted in classic country, with a pedal steel guitar joining a fiddle to make a longing sound. “I gave you my heart and my love, you gave me a frown,” they sing on this tale of woe and loss.

The genre-blending appears most notably on “Love” and “Sing a Sad Song.” The former, with its heavy reggae beat, takes the trio on a journey to Jamaica. The latter has a gentle pop melody that is propelled by a graceful electric guitar.

The boys close the album with the foot-stompin’ gospel of “Yes I Am!” It makes for a triumphant finish to a great release.


Clover Lane, by Jonah Tolchin

Jonah TolchinClover Lane plays like an eclectic tour of Southern backroads circa the early 20th century. Not what one would expect from a 20-something New Jersey-born singer-songwriter. Of course that is what makes the album more special.

Tolchin has clearly studied the masters and it shows. “Midnight Rain,” with its fiddle and bluegrass feel, calls to mind Hank Williams while “Atlantic Winds” conjures up images of Woody Guthrie riding the rails.

The bluesy “Hey Baby” and “Hybrid Automobile” are steeped in Mississippi mud, the kind of songs that you’d hear in a rural juke joint.

“21st Century Girl,” while lyrically and musically the most contemporary song in this collection, still has a pleasant retro feel. The strings and harmonies give it a early 1950’s pop flavor.

Was Jonah Tolchin born in the wrong time and place? Perhaps, but I say all the better for today’s Americana fans.


THE PLAYLIST


Rabbit, Amy Lavere (from the Archer Records release Runaway’s Diary)
You don’t see many thematic albums these days, which makes Lavere’s Runaway’s Diary all the more impressive. Over the course of twelve tracks, mostly originals but with a few choice covers, Lavere chronicles the life of a young runaway. She explores it from all sides, from the sense of freedom (Lavere’s “Self Made Orphan” and Townes Van Zandt’s “Where I Lead Me”) and to the feel of isolation (Lavere’s “Rabbit” and John Lennon’s “How”). The combination of romanticism and realism makes for a potent song cycle.


Crash Test, The Mastersons (from the New West Records release Birds Fly South)
Damn if the Mastersons don’t get better and better with every new release. The now Austin-based husband and wife duo fill their songs with wonderful pop melodies and rich harmonies. Chris Masterson has a very lyrical guitar style while Eleanor Whitmore is equally expressive on fiddle. The sounds blend beautifully, as this song demonstrates.


When We’re Older, Mia Dyson (from the Backdoor Records release Idyllwild)
Australian singer-songwriter Dyson delivered one of my favorite albums from 2013, the fiery The Moment. She wastes no time following it up with another gem. Dyson settles things down a bit, but without losing any of her edge. Songs like this one ooze with a confidence and swagger that have become a Dyson trademark.


White Line, James Apollo (from the Marterry release Angelorum)
There are some artists that excel at capturing a mood, painting musical landscapes that transport the listener. Put Seattle-based singer-songwriter James Apollo in that category. His just-released album calls to mind Edward Hopper’s famous “Nighthawks” picture, conveying an undercurrent of activity on a seemingly dark and desolate city street.

Musically Apollo mixes up some soulful R&B with a heavy dose of grit. The result is something akin to Tom Waits at his most accessible moments. I love the evocative feel of Angelorum – grab a glass of whiskey and get lost in the sound.


Alberta Gold, Matt Andersen (from the True North Records release Weightless)
I can’t say that I knew much about Andersen before his latest release showed up in my inbox. Sometimes it’s better that way as I had no expectations when I gave it a listen. The results were a welcome surprise.

Andersen is billed as a blues artist and I can certainly hear some of that style in his music. The songs that caught my ear, however, leaned more towards the acoustic pop category. Whatever the genre, the one constant is Andersen’s rich and soulful voice.


Factory Line, Fire Mountain (from the This Is American Music release All Dies Down)
There must be something in the water down in Alabama ‘cause new artists are flowing freely from the state. The latest to arrive is this quintet from Troy, Alabama who serve up some tasty Southern rock with an evocative edge.


Sooner Than Now, Brett Newski (from the Good Land Records release American Folk Armageddon)
The title of the Milwaukee-based Newski’s latest release is perhaps a bit deceiving. Sure, there are some songs – We Are All Fucked” jumps to mind – that convey the bluster and perspective that it suggests. Songs like this one, however, have a soothing and uplifting outlook. Whichever tone you prefer, there’s plenty to enjoy here.

Audio Download: Brett Newski, “Sooner Than Now”

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The Best That I Can Give, Emerson Hart (from the BMG release Beauty in Disrepair)
I’m a sucker for a good pop song and Hart has consistently delivered the goods. He has a knack for writing soaring and infectious melodies, typically infused with a dose of melancholy. “I gave you sometimes, you needed always,” he sings on this wistful song of heartbreak that somehow has an uplifting air.

Mayer’s Playlist for June 2014, Part 1

ALBUM OF THE MONTHS

Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, by Sturgill SimpsonSturgill Simpson

It’s easy to take pot-shots at what passes for country these days. You know what I’m talking about: the feel-good, truck-drivin’, beer-drinking music makes for great stadium concert sing-alongs. If that’s your scene, then more power to you.

Some of you, like me, want something different. We want music that is more firmly rooted in the country tradition, songs of heartache and life’s tribulations that are performed with grit and authenticity.

Fortunately for us, there is a renaissance afoot. A new breed of artists has emerged who are revitalizing country, reviving the spirit and song craft of the country pioneers. Score one for us that Sturgill Simpson, one of the neo-traditionalist movement’s leading lights, is back with his second album in as many years. Damn if it ain’t a beaut.

Lead track “Turtles All the Way Down” has a warm and rambling melancholy that gives way to the chugging honky-tonk “Life of Sin.” “Long White Line” keeps things moving with a groove that hearkens back to the truck-drivin’ classics of the 1970’s.

A real surprise is Simpson’s magical cover of the late 1980′s new wave hit “The Promise.” Simpson transforms the song by giving it a dramatic George Jones feel. “I’m sorry, but I’m just thinking of the right words to say,” he croons, “I know they don’t sound the way I planned them to be.” It is a performance that is plaintive and powerful.

Lyrically, Simpson preserves the custom of writing about troubled times without being spurious or sensationalistic. His characters take a matter-of-fact approach as they consider their oft-troubled situations. “But it ain’t all flowers, sometimes you gotta feel the thorns,” Simpson declares on “It Ain’t All Flowers.”

With Sturgill helping to lead the charge, country music is beginning to sound as fresh today as it did back in the day. Can I get an amen?


THE PLAYLIST


When You’re Here, John Fullbright (from the Blue Dirt Records release Songs)
After the tremendous (and justifiable) success of 2012’s From the Ground Up, Fullbright strips things down with his latest release. Following in the footsteps of writers like Randy Newman, he understands that subtlety can be incredibly compelling.

The arrangements, mostly centered around Fullbright’s piano and acoustic guitar, are particularly stunning here. Alternately lush and sparse, they convey the drama in Fullbright’s songs.

His lyrics are simple and direct, while conveying tremendous power and emotion. This magical ode to companionship is a great example. “As for lonely I can show you how to live a life alone,” he counsels, “all it takes is getting used to getting lost.”


Frankie Please, Rodney Crowell (from the New West Records release Tarpaper Sky)
There’s a lot to be said for consistency. Rodney Crowell is a fine example, a 40+-year songwriting veteran with a tremendous catalog that grows stronger with every new release. His latest is a roots-rockin’ hootenanny, filled with gentle ballads and crackling rave-ups. From the ambling Cajun feel of “Fever on the Bayou” to the emotional tug of “God I’m Missing You,” Crowell’s songs are filled with vivid language and vibrant storytelling.

Here’s one of my favorites from Tarpaper Sky. How can one note love a song that begins with a line like, “You tore through my life like a tornado looking for a trailer park.”


Intervention, Old 97’s (from the ATO Records release Most Messed Up)
The quartet from Dallas are back with a collection of no bull-shit, let’s have a good time kind of rock and roll. Pick your favorite topic – such as boozin’ or hanging with friends, lovers or wanna-be-lovers – and there’s undoubtedly a song about it here. Musically the band is in rip-roaring form, guitars blazing and beats pumping.

If there was ever any doubt that the Old 97’s are the life of the party, Most Messed Upshould put it to rest.


We Both Lose, Tommy Malone (from the MC Reocrds release Poor Boy)
Whether performing solo or as a founding member of the subdudes, New Orleans singer-songwriter Tommy Malone knows how to serve up a potent stew of R&B, rock and soul. His latest solo release drives the point home.

Malone brought together a crack group of like-minded musicians, the kind who know how to play and sound damn good doing it. They play with precision and grace, all the while finding some spirited grooves.

Of course it helps that they start with a damn fine batch of songs. Here’s one of my favorites from the release, a happy-go-lucky break-up song.


Audio Stream: Tommy Malone, “We Both Lose”

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First Cold Day of Fall, Ian McFeron (from the self-released Acoustic)
Seattle-based McFeron revisits songs from his catalog on this special acoustic release. His songs have always been enchanting, possessing a soothing warmth even when he is singing about heartache and tragedy. The sparse acoustic arrangements presented here make them even them even more so. Multi-instrumentalist Alisa Milner adds her own special musical touch, not to mention some wonderful harmonies.

Audio Download: Ian McFeron, “First Cold Day of Fall”

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Sing Together, Jeff Black (from the Lotos Nile Music release Folklore)
Black writes in the liner notes that the compositions on Folklore are inspired by photographs. Close your eyes and you will undoubtedly begin to visualize these photos as you listen to this collection of songs.

Black is a storyteller of the finest kind. Armed with just his guitar (and the occasional banjo and harmonica), he paints vivid musical portraits. He has a wonderful way of bringing characters to life in his songs, burrowing into their innermost thoughts and deliberations. The results are sublime.


On a Wire, Waylon Speed (from the Crow on Ten Records release Kin)
Who says that you have to be from below the Mason-Dixon line to play some fine Southern rock? No one told these four guys from Vermont, as they serve it up in spades. Their songwriting is top notch, catchy yet with plenty of whiskey-infused edge in the mix. At times they channel the rambling feel of the Allman Brothers, at other times they evoke the electricity of Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Audio Download: Waylon Speed, “On a Wire”

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Age of Miracles, The Trews (from the Nettwerk Records release The Trews)
For over ten years, Nova Scotia’s the Trews have served up brilliant stadium-ready rock. Their latest shows that the group has no intention of slowing down or changing. The songs on this self-titled release overflow with bombastic electric guitar riffs, softened only by the quartet’s pop hooks and polished harmonies. It is a perfect summer soundtrack. Best played loud.

Ward Hayden Reflects on the Legacy of Hank Williams

Hank Williams

When Twangville heard about The Garden Spot Programs, 1950, a just released collection of Hank Williams performances that hadn’t been heard in over 60 years, we asked Ward Hayden — singer-songwriter for Girls Guns and Glory and the biggest Williams enthusiast that we know — to share his thoughts on the release.

We had requested a few paragraphs; what Hayden gave us was so much more. Read on for a musician’s view on the legend and inspiration of Hank Williams.


Over 60 years since his passing, unreleased Hank Williams material is still popping up.

My first encounter with ol’ Hank began when I heard his song “Kaw-Liga” playing on the tape deck of my mom’s car. I was about 5 or 6 years old at the time, but I can remember singing along with Hank at the top of my lungs and thoroughly enjoying howling out the chorus with him. I didn’t understand the underlying sentiment of the song or the witty story of a wooden Indian’s heartbreak, longing, and regretful woes. In Hank’s lifetime, this song was branded as a novelty and the gimmick of the song’s humor and imagination wasn’t lost on me. Wooden Indians aside, this still wasn’t your average song of longing. It told the complete story, from start to finish, in just 3 verses. Many of Hank’s songs capture a moment or an emotion, this one captured an entire experience and with it, a range of emotions.

Although his music was often played in my home as a kid, I didn’t fully connect with Hank’s music until I turned 20 years old. By then I’d felt the painful and lasting sting of heartbreak, loss, and unrequited love. It was like the words and music of Hank Williams had become illuminated, they were all I could see, all I wanted to hear, and the only thing that allowed me to feel better.

Hank WilliamsAfter discovering this deeper meaning that existed inside of Hank’s songs, I was hooked. Yet Hank’s music has not lived on solely based on its artistic merit. Rather, it is due to a combination its timelessness paired with the public’s fascination with his hard living and self-destructive lifestyle, which ultimately led to his early demise. His life has been sensationalized and subsequently Hank has become the poster boy for the doomed country singer–brimming with talent, but plagued by addictions and infidelities. Hank’s story is the tale of a man who makes it to the top of the mountain, only to realize the happiness he was seeking was actually back where he’d started his journey.


I’m honored to review this collection of radio broadcasts from The Garden Spot Programs because Hank’s life and music have had such a lasting impact on my own life and journey. Almost 5 years ago, when I was just beginning my career in music, I had a dream of performing a tribute to Hank Williams on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. These days are immensely important in the timeline of Hank’s life because they mark the dates of the two shows Hank never got to perform. He missed his performance on New Year’s Eve in Charleston, WV due to an ice storm, instead spending the night at the Andrew Johnson Hotel in Knoxville, TN. Then he missed his New Year’s Day performance in Canton, Ohio due to his untimely death at just 29 years old, likely shedding his earthly coil in the backseat of his now infamous pale-blue ’52 Cadillac.

What makes The Garden Spot collection of broadcasts such a valuable addition to the Hank Williams catalog is not only are these recordings incredibly clear and well preserved, likely a credit to the mastering engineer, they are also a must-have for any Hank fan/collector in that they’re audio snapshots of a time gone by. Hank and the Drifting Cowboys are on the job and, boy, do they play some good songs here. This is essentially a live album, even though the audience was tuning in via radio, and the group sounds comfortable and together. Hank and his boys are laying it down.

There is some repetition of the songs and you hear The Garden Spot jingle enough times to start skipping over it whenever it pops up with repeated listens. However, this collection as a whole is outstanding. Hank is relaxed and comes across as humble, human, and lively. He’s not a hog for the spotlight and each segment features a ripping instrumental fiddle tune. While listening to this album in a dimly lit room with the TV off and the music up, I felt whisked away to a simpler time. I kept envisioning Hank and the boys crowded around the microphone, each positioned to capture the right tone and volume of their instrument, all the while featuring Hank’s voice. These guys are real professional and it’s evident in the way they perform. This recording, from 1950, is a time when Hank was in his prime and his confidence is apparent and charming, but not overpowering. He comes across as a likable guy and a captivating performer.

The musical highlights for me are both renditions of “Lovesick Blues,” a tin pan alley song that Hank didn’t write, but learned from the recording of a largely forgotten minstrel performer named Emmett Miller. Hank took Miller’s version of the song and channeled it through himself. In doing so, he breathed new life into an already good song, added some hillbilly inflections to it and yodeled out what’s become one of country music’s most legendary tunes.

Hank WilliamsAnother highlight is a truly stunning version of “I Can’t Get You Off of My Mind”. What makes Hank’s delivery so remarkable is the way he causes you to believe every word he says. He sings in a way that evokes emotion from the listener and his words are written in a manner that offers a glimpse into a person’s heart that is seldom seen and often kept hidden. He sings of things that are raw and sore and that hurt. It’s painful, but it’s real, and he makes it accessible and palatable. That his lyrics are often easily comprehensible and plainly stated is what gives them their magic. Hank gets deep, without getting wordy or overly figurative. He gets deep by tapping into feelings that can hurt to tap into, and explaining those feelings in a way that almost anyone can understand.

This is an album that I’m sure to spend more time with and get to know better. As a performer, there’s a lot to learn from a recording like this one. The exchange between Hank and announcer Grant Turner, and even the pace of Hank’s speech as he introduces each song are a good example of using comedic banter to hype up a popular song or to segue into another topic. It’s a valuable lesson on how to present yourself as a performer and as a person.

Hank is arguably one of the greatest songwriters of all time, no matter the genre. After hearing this recording I find myself feeling like I had a glimpse behind the curtain, seeing beyond the myth and the legend, getting to see him as a man.


Ward HaydenWard Hayden is the singer-songwriter for Boston-based Girls Guns and Glory. The group just released their fifth album, the Eric “Roscoe” Ambel produced Good Luck. The album is a rockin’ good time and also includes a version of the late 1940′s song “Rockin’ Chair Money,” a song often associated with Williams.

Girls Guns and Glory, along with Sarah Borges and Jamie Kent, will be performing on a special Boston Harbor boat cruise on July 20th (info and tickets here). The cruise will celebrate the release of a new 7″ vinyl single that the group recently recorded with Sarah Borges. The single includes a Borges-penned original titled “Get As Gone Can Get” as well as a cover of the Sonny & Cher classic “Baby Don’t Go”.

As Hayden mentions above, the group hosts an annual series of Hank Williams tribute shows to honor the artist’s legacy and untimely passing. Folks in New England – or those interested in making the trip – should stay tuned for details on this year’s performances.

You can catch Girls Guns and Glory on tour in the US and Europe throughout 2014 (Tour dates here). Not surprisingly, there’s a good chance that you’ll hear a Hank song or two mixed into their set.

Photo credits: Hank Williams photos courtesy of Colin Escott; Ward Hayden photo courtesy of Suzanne McMahon.