Corb Lund – Counterfeit Blues

Corb Lund built a time machine.  He took his long-time band, The Hurtin’ Albertans, down to Memphis and recorded a number of his live show staples and made them sound more original and rootsy than when they first laid down the tracks 8 – 10 years ago.  Retransmitting the ambience of the famed Sun Studios, Counterfeit Blues has all the lo-fi goodness and live energy that makes the best roots music so compelling.

The album starts with Counterfeiter’s Blues, alternating disgust at being fed fake goods at every turn and depressed acceptance that it’s the nature of the world we live in.  I think I can safely say Corb and his boys don’t use Auto-Tune.  Another set of wry observations on the world gone awry is Truth Comes Out, a lament on the damage of encroaching civilization that comes off like a good Fred Eaglesmith song.  Speaking of wry observations, (Gonna) Shine Up My Boots is the story of looking forward to girls and fun on a Saturday night, but realizing that maybe all you’re going to do is get drunk.  Any young man living on a farm or ranch in flyover country who can’t relate to this tune is kidding himself.

Some of Lund’s best material is full on, sing along, snap your fingers, rockabilly material.  Truck Got Stuck will stick in your brain, and this version takes a nice jab at Agriculture Canada.  Big Butch Bass Bull Fiddle is a tongue twister that’s as much jazz as it it country.  My favorite is the under-appreciated Hair In My Eyes Like A Highland Steer that needs a Wood Brothers cover to prove me right.

CorbLund-CounterfeitBlues Finally, I have to mention Hurtin’ Albertan, a classic Lund number, and a heart-on-my-sleeve anthem to his home province.  In many ways this tune summarizes Corb Lund and his band.  It’s rock ‘n’ roll, it’s (North) Americana, it’s fun and upbeat and immediately likable.  There’s nothing counterfeit about it.

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.

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.

Amy McCarley – Jet Engines

There must be something in the air or water again in northern Alabama.  Home to the legendary Fame studio in Muscle Shoals, site of innumerable hits in the 60′s and 70′s, this part of the country is breeding future stars again.  This time, though, it’s not the studio musicians adding brilliance to an outsider’s record, but homegrown artists inspired by the local musical history.  The Alabama Shakes scored a Grammy nomination a couple of years ago.  My favorite live act from the past couple of years has undoubtedly been St. Paul and the Broken Bones.   The latest artist to cross my playlist is Amy McCarley.  Instead of the horns and soul influences you might expect, though, McCarley dives into some classic country and alt country music with a hint of the delta blues from nearby Mississippi.

On Here I Am, McCarley’s band lays down a Bakersfield style beat on a song that could just have easily come from Merle Haggard.  She sort of repeats that success with Won’t Last Forever, although I’d have picked George Jones as the originator instead of Amy herself.  Woods On Fire is a old-school kind of alt country song and Head Out Of Town more of a country ballad.

As I mentioned earlier, McCarley has injected just a hint of blues into some of her numbers as well.  Everybody Wants To, the album opener, is one of those, as is Fools Lament.  The title track goes that same direction, but emphasizes the electric sound a little more, while Smart Man pulls in more of the aforementioned alt country vibe.

McCarley cover The outlier on the album is a unique take on the Albert Brumley tune made famous(?) by John Hartford, Radio On.  It’s uptempo beat serves to just call more attention to the strength in all of McCarley’s slower original material.  Regardless of where Amy McCarley’s performance career heads, I can’t help but believe you’re going to hear her songs covered by other artists.  And bringing even more cred to a part of the country already renowned for its musical heritage.

Photos that ROCK! Girls Guns & Glory

Over the past few months, I’ve gone on a bit of a Girls Guns & Glory binge. I saw them first at the Sinclair in Cambridge, MA, then at a Church coffeehouse in Franklin, then at an arts center in Natick, all in a fairly short amount of time. These boys are always on the move and I’m happy to catch them whenever they are in range. It’s always awesome when you go to a show and are completely blown away by a band you’ve never seen, which doesn’t happen to me often. I felt like I was hit head-on by GGG and I was addicted. The catchy retro-country-rock songs, Ward Hayden’s dreamy and crooning vocals, and the snappy outfits on each band member- damn, good stuff. If you haven’t seen or heard them yet, please check them out and you’ll be “shakin’ like jello” in no time! They are very fun to photograph and I’m looking forward to more opportunities!