Cahalen Morrison & Country Hammer – The Flower Of Muscle Shoals

They haven’t allowed smoking in years, but the rafters still have that slight air of stale cigarettes.  The Fire Department long ago made them sweep up the sawdust, but of course you can never really get rid of all it.  The Polaroids above the bar are too faded to know who’s in them, unless of course you know who’s in them.  The same brand of beer has flowed from the taps for 50 years, and it’s brewed in supertanker-sized vats in St. Louis or Milwaukee.  Aside from the beer, the most important thing to know about this place is that every Saturday night there’ll be a band that’s equally perfect for a two-step with your girl or getting lost in a longneck.  They’re a dying breed nowadays with the popularity of outlaw music and Jaeger shots, but thankfully the old-fashioned honky tonk still exists in wide swathes of America where soul is still more important than style.

While the jukeboxes in these wonderful havens of Americana tend to be loaded with George Jones and Merle Haggard, there’s a new album from Cahalen Morrison & Country Hammer that fits in like a favorite pair of boots.  The Flower Of Muscle Shoals is everything you want in good old classic country music, but with all original songs from Morrison it’s like finding a time capsule full of new stuff that’s decades old.

Over And Over And Over Again is one of my favorites on the disc.  Morrison channels some of the sorrowfulness of Raul Malo into a lament about tying one on to forget, “if I tie it tightly, it won’t come undone.”  There’s a nice little Jones or Haggard fatalism in I’ve Won Every Battle, But Lost Every War.  It’s not all melancholy.  Nighttime Is Here On the Valley celebrates the annual event, be that a rodeo or harvest festival, or sometimes just another Saturday night, “they whistle and they cheer, and they guzzle their beer”.  San Luis and Hobbled And Grazing add some sweet Norteno swing from Morrison’s youth growing up in New Mexico.

Morrison cover In case you’re wondering, The Flower Of Muscle Shoals refers to Cahalen’s wife.  The song is a good microcosm of the whole album.  It’s romantic and redneck and twangy and I’ll be damned if it isn’t one of the best records I’ve heard all year.

Duke Robillard – Calling All Blues

Duke Robillard is a blues guitar icon.  A multiple Blues Music Award winner and Grammy nominee, if Robillard had stopped at creating the jump blues revival outfit Roomful of Blues in the late 1960s, his contribution to blues music would have been sizable. Jump blues, an up-tempo form of blues often featuring horns that was popularized during the 1940s war years, has an old-timey feel that is a refreshing change from more traditional blues forms.

RobillardBut Robillard didn’t stop at helping to revive jump blues. Over a career spanning decades, Robillard has explored many avenues of blues, rock and even swing both in his solo work and as a member (replacing Jimmie Vaughan) of the Fabulous Thunderbirds in the early 1990s. Over the course of his career he has also worked with such artists as Bob Dylan, Tom Waits and Dr. John. To get a flavor of Robillard’s range, check out the snappy After Hours Swing Session from 1990, featuring Robillard channelling Charlie Christian’s swing-era jazz, and the tour-de-force Living With the Blues from 2002. There is also his 2005 collaboration with Ronnie Earl, The Duke Meets the Earl, which was the first collaboration between these two great Roomful alumni.  Last year’s Independently Blue was yet another in a long line of outstanding releases.  Robillard also puts on a great show in which his slick swing and jump blues playing distinguishes him from the many other excellent guitarists occupying the field.  After a recent concert at the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club, which featured a huge variety of styles, Robillard commented that he would be happy to play swing all night long if his audiences would go for it.

Calling All Blues is an electic mixture, but there are several outstanding tunes on the album.  Among the highlights are “Blues Beyond the Call of Duty,” featuring vocals by Sunny Crownover and Robillard’s awesome guitar skills; “Confusion Blues,” with vocals by jazzy vocals by Bruce Bears, provides a hint of Robillard’s jump blues and swing affinity; and “Motor Trouble,” with its slow vibe, could be interpreted as a metaphor for aging.  Robillard was joined on the album by the regular members of The Duke Robillard Band, which features Bears on piano and keyboards, Brad Hallen on bass, Mark Texeira on drums.  Crownover and a horn section comprised of Rich Lataille, Mark Earley and Doug Woolverton put in guest appearances.

 

Audio Stream: Duke Robillard, “Motor Trouble”

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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, 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: 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.