The Muscle Shoals Music Guide, Part 3

Twangville has teamed up with Muscle Shoals musician Jimbo Hart, known to many for his work with Jason Isbell and others, to highlight the many great artists that call Muscle Shoals home.


Pine Hill Haints

Twangville Says:

Accordion laden drinking tunes, Johnny Cash covers, rockabilly/hillbilly…the Pine Hill Haints seem to do a little bit of it all in their mash up of the Pogues meet Steve Earle’s bluegrass Dukes. Their latest release on Spotify is 2011’s The Evening Star, and while it is a more subdued affair than the video below, it still showcases a fine, well oiled, band. (Todd Mathis)

Jimbo Says:

Undoubtedly, the first and most important band in North Alabama to pull together all of our area’s historical musical values, with style, no less, is The Pine Hill Haints. They don’t play out extremely often (around here, anyway) but when they do, folks take notice. To merely say that they’ve managed to pull together aspects of Appalachian Bluegrass, Rockabilly, Folk and a bit of Punk Rock would be an understatement. Also, to say that their sense of style has not been a huge influence, on everyone, would be a complete farce. They can only be described as The Pine Hill Haints.


The Bear

Twangville Says:

The first thing that you’ll notice about The Bear is singer Louisa Murray’s voice. It has siren-like qualities, sometimes haunting and other times alluring. Set against the varied instrumentation of her fellow musicians, the result is an enchanting pop soundscape.

Many of the songs on Overseas Then Under, the band’s sophomore release, explore the range of emotions that accompany romantic relationships. The group moves effortlessly from the gentle resentment of “The Track” to the sense of longing that permeats “Thinking of You.”

“Darlin’ Boy” is a particular favorite, that veers from desire to ire. Lush choral arrangements accompany Murray as she proclaims, “darlin’ boy you could be my only.” The truth emerges, however, when she declares, “the only one for me but for you I’m just another.”

The band gets much more musically adventurous towards the end of the release. “Pockets” has a wonderful cinematic quality, punctuated by a typewriter and a regal trumpet. It could very easily be the soundtrack to a silent film.

“Mississippi, Mexico” takes things a step further. The song starts out as a percussive folk song but then transforms itself into something akin to a Eastern European waltz.

The closing track is called “Ben Was Right.” Given that there are two gentlemen named Ben in the band, one isn’t sure to whom the song refers. Or, I suppose, whether the other Ben was wrong. Either way, this is a special release that just sounds, well, right. (Mayer Danzig)

Click here for more Muscle Shoals music coverage.

The Acoustic Burgoo – Word.

If the saying “variety is the spice of life” is true, The Acoustic Burgoo is the equivalent of my grandmother’s cooking drawer.  There was a lot of cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and other baking flavors for a comforting dish.  There were plenty of herbs for savory dishes, and some pepper for bite.  And a couple of things you just never saw coming, like when she put cocoa powder in chili con carne.

The Burgoo’s first album, Soul Bucket, had a heavy influence of jazz, with Melissa Wright’s steamy vocals complementing Rudy Bzdyk’s horn playing over the top of pure bluegrass that delivered a New Orleans meets Deep Gap, NC, style.  Their latest album, Word, brings the Appalachian sound of their origin in Round Hill, VA, more to the fore.  When they veer off course this time it leans more to roots and rockabilly.  Take, for instance, Here Kitty Kitty that’s a natural for busking with a skittle band at the farmers market.  Or ’66 Corvette, where Wright channels Wanda Jackson in her prime.

Primarily, though, this is a bluegrass and old-timey music collection.  The disc starts with Uncle Pen, a Bill Monroe number, then picks its way into a Burgoo arrangement of the traditional Ida Red.  After a quick roots break, they then cover Flatt & Scruggs with Some Old Day.  Further down the set list Wright does her take on the Patsy Cline classic, Walkin’ After Midnight.

Although the band certainly handles their instrumental choices with a tightness that belies the fact they’re going to different colleges and can’t possibly play together day in and day out, I found I missed the richness the horns added on their first album.  Thankfully, Rudy gives us a good blast of trumpet on WD-40 and a subtle bit on Frozen Winter Sound.

It feels a little like the band is still feeling its way through stylistic variations on their way to finding their core musical sound.  It would be a serious mistake, though, to wait for things to settle down.  Take the journey along with them and you’ll be rewarded with many a trip down delightful side roads.

Update: The Acoustic Burgoo are such fans of Twangville readers they’ve offered up a special deal.  Just go to their page on Bandcamp, enter shawnstwangers as the discount code and you can get the full album and artwork for just two bucks.  How sweet a deal is that!

The Little Willies – For the Good Times

If you are looking for hot, fun country music by folks who are playing it because they love it, The Little Willies’ newest release, For the Good Times, should be your destination.   A side project by several artists on separate musical paths, the best known of whom is the enchanting Norah Jones, this second album by The Little Willies is pure country (with a slightly jazzy tilt) and pure pleasure.   It takes off where the intermittent group left off after their self-titled album in 2006.

 Originally formed in 2003 as a means for five friends – Jones, guitarist Jim Campilongo, singer/guitarist Richard Julian, bass player Lee Alexander and drummer Dan Reiser – to pursue their mutual interest in traditional country music, The Little Willies borrowed their name and spirit from Willie Nelson and hit a home run with their 2006 release, which included country standards along with a handful of original songs. 

 Although Norah Jones is the headliner, singer-songwriter Richard Julian and guitar virtuoso Jim Campilongo have had significant independent careers, and the musicianship by all the members is outstanding, with a bit of attitude.  Julian has a handful of well-received albums to his credit, and he splits the singing duties on The Little Willies’ releases fairly evenly with Jones.  Jim Campilongo has carved out an unsual career path, initially with his band the 10  Gallon Cats and later as a solo performer, doing instrumental country and rockabilly music that incorporates elements of jazz.  Originally influenced by blues guitar legend Roy Buchanan, Campilongo has Buchanan’s inventiveness along with the lightning-fast technique of a Bill Kirchen.  As a testament to his prowess among guitar enthusiasts, in 2010 Fender issued a signature Telecaster in honor of Campilongo – a reproduction of Campilongo’s 1959 Telecaster.  On For the Good Times, Campilongo’s Telecaster twang takes center stage on “Diesel Smoke, Dangerous Curves” and “Tommy Rockwood.”

But of course, Norah Jones’ presence will sell most of the albums, and that is fine.  Her vocals are sassy and superb.  Among my favorites are “Remember Me,” the Scotty Wiseman song recorded by Willie Nelson on his 1975 masterpiece Red Headed Stranger, and the title tune, which was written by Kris Kristofferson.  All-in-all, For the Good Times is an excellent album, lively and rewarding.  The collective talent of the members of The Little Willies is evident on virtually every track.  


Mayer’s Playlist for December 2011


Too Drunk to Truck, by Roy SludgeToo Drunk to Truck
This album was tailor-made for Twangville. Old school in all the best ways, it might as well be a collection of lost classics from the Sun Studios archive.

The title track kicks off the album with a strong indication of what will follow. Yup, songs about trucks, drinking and ornery women, although not necessarily in that order.

Well I drive all over this country, roaming from town to town
When day is done I’m gonna have my fun I’ll pick ‘em up and put ‘em down.
I’ll flirt with some old waitress, try to push my luck.
But when push comes to shove I’m too tired for love ‘cause I’m too drunk to truck.

The song also unleashes Sludge’s secret weapons: Boston-based guitarists Duke Levine and Kevin Barry. Both have a sound pristine and precise, yet filled with character, Barry on the lap steel and Levine on the electric guitar. And I shouldn’t neglect bassist Jim Haggerty, who brings his own rockabilly cred from his role as bassist for Wanda Jackson.

Sludge sings of drinkers remorse on the amusing “I Got Hammered (Then I Got Nailed).” Haggerty’s walking bass line mimics the pounding that comes from a bad hangover as Sludge laments, “spent the next five days in jail, but the rest I can’t recall ‘cause of too much alcohol.”

I’m sure that there are two sides to every story, and “Hell Hath No Fury” provides Sludge’s perspective on a love gone wrong. “She lives to hurt me, she lives to make me mad,” he sings, “she loves to burn me, when I’m sad it makes her glad.” Ouch.

Sludge and crew bring out the country shuffle as on the swinging “Eight Would Be Great.” A few tracks later, the band cranks it up in fine Sun Records fashion on “If You Can’t Rock Me.” Levine, in particular, lets it fly with some magnificent guitar licks and solos.

The record closes with a mighty fine cover of Johnny Cash’s “Drive.” It is the perfect capstone to a release that showcases a classic sound with skill and flair. But don’t take my word for it. Bruce Springsteen recently stopped by to check out Sludge during a recent run of residency shows.

Audio Download: Roy Sludge, “If You Can’t Rock Me”

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This Round Is On Me, by Maxim Ludwig and the Santa Fe SevenThis Round Is On Me
My favorite musical discovery this year was LA-based Maxim Ludwig and the Santa Fe Seven. The band has the perfect combination of great songwriting and playing that is playful and loose. As we move towards the close of the year, Maxim and the Seven have just released a new ep that features his strongest songs yet.

“Stacy C’Mon,” the opening track is one that should be familiar to Twangville readers. Maxim was kind enough to share it with us earlier this year. I, for one, can’t get enough of it – from the catchy riff to the sing-along chorus, it has simply lodged itself in my head.

“Nothing At All” adds a bit of R&B shuffle to the mix, in large part courtesy of a soulful sax that joins the fray. Maracas give the song an extra flair, complimenting the wailing slide guitar. Ludwig leaves no doubt where he stands on the future of a relationship: “Between you and nothing, I choose nothing at all.”

The opening of “On Bunker Hill” teases with a mournful woman’s voice set against a somber synthesizer. When a piano joins the mix, the song builds into a majestic rocker reminiscent of the Band. The maracas return on “Red Eyes,” which has a restrained boogie beat that hearkens back to Little Feat.

Take a shot, this round is on me,” Ludwig sings on the rousing closer “From the Alley View.” I’ll join in with a toast to this ep and more great music to come!

Audio Download: Maxim Ludwig and the Santa Fe Seven, “Nothing At All”

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Mannequin Man, Kingsley Flood (from the self-released ep Colder Still)
I’d forgotten how potent the Kingsley Flood live show was until I saw them light up the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge this past weekend. Although acoustic guitar and fiddle are part of their instrumentation, they are way more than a roots band. They pack their songs with an aggressive yet infectious edge. I’m lovin’ this track that reminds me a bit of the Violent Femmes.

Audio Stream: Kingsley Flood, “Mannequin Man”

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Parade, Oldjack (from the self-released Maxi-Single)
The headline on Oldjack’s web site says “Old Soul Rock and Roll” and damn if that ain’t what they deliver. This is classic rock – think Joe Cocker, Leon Russell, the Rolling Stones and maybe even some Lynyrd Skynyrd – played to perfection. Lead singer Dan Nicklin howls while a bevy of female singers wail. Throw in multiple guitars, an organ and a rock solid rhythm section and you’re primed for a rock and roll revival.

Audio Download: Oldjack, “Parade”

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One Guitar, Willie Nile (from the River House Records release The Innocent Ones)
“I’m a soldier marching in an army, got no gun to shoot but what I’ve got is one guitar, I got this one guitar,” sings Nile on this stand-out track from his latest release. It is a fitting lyric for an artist whose songs are filled with an unbridled passion for rock and roll. Rock on, Willie, rock on!

Audio Download: Willie Nile, “One Guitar”

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Turn It Up Or Turn It Off, Harrison Hudson (from the Favorite Gentlemen Recordings release American Thunder)
There is some music, loaded with hooks and overflowing with energy, that is just tailor-made to be the soundtrack of any party. Put this one down on that list. The songs on Harrison Hudson’s latest have the feel of classic 1960’s rock and roll while maintaining a modern-day sound. And did I mention the hooks?

Audio Download: Harrison Hudson, “Turn It Up Or Turn It Off”

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Westside Street, The Deep Dark Woods (from the Sugar Hill Records release The Place I Left Behind)
This quintet from Saskatchewan, Canada was a pleasant surprise at the recent Americana Music Conference. Their songs are like aural pictures, soundscapes regal yet forlorn. In the Robbie Robertson tradition, these boys prove that some of the best Americana comes from North of the border.

Audio Download: The Deep Dark Woods, “Westside Street”

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Bite Your Tongue, High on Stress (from the self-released Living Is a Dying Art)
Let it not be said that they don’t know how to rock in Minneapolis. And High on Stress will be happy to prove it to ‘ya. The band’s latest serves up a healthy dose of Midwestern rock and roll, the kind that sounds better the louder that you play it. And I mean that as a compliment.

Audio Download: High On Stress, “Bite Your Tongue”

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Says Lately, Scotty Alan (from the Spinout Records release Wreck and the Mess)
The Michigan native went to Los Angeles to record his latest release. Arriving in LA, Alan gathered an impressive group of players, including long-time Jackson Browne and Ry Cooder collaborator David Lindley and legendary Ian McLagan among others. The results speak for themselves, songs vibrant and pulsing with energy.

Audio Download: Scotty Alan, “Says Lately”

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Win Big: Johnny Cash

Few legends shine brighter than Johnny Cash. Over the course of a nearly 50 year career, he defined and re-defined American music in his own iconic style. And as anyone who has seen footage of his appearances at San Quentin or Folsom Prisons can attest, his live performances are the stuff of legend.

Johnny Cash Bootleg, Volume 3Over the past several years, Columbia Records has dug into their vaults to unearth some vintage Cash recordings. Their latest release documents some classic Cash live shows dating back to an early 1956 show in Dallas through his 1964 Newport Folk Festival appearance and a 1970 visit to the Nixon White House. All told, the two-disc set includes over 50 tracks from 10 shows spanning more than 20 years.

Here’s your chance to win this impressive collection. To win, post a comment with your favorite live performance of this year. A winner will be selected at random when the contest ends on Monday, 19 December 2011 at midnight ET.**

“Here is a young fellow that’s really been sellin’ the records throughout the country and a guy that’s got a million fans all over these United States.” said the announcer introducing Cash at the 1956 Dallas show captured here. If he only knew then…

**By participating in Twangville contests you agree to allow Twangville to post the winner’s name and city on our web site. We pass along the winning addresses to the record company or pr agency for fulfillment. Twangville will not use your address for any other reason. Contest open to US residents.