C’mon Over to the New Site

Posted in Uncategorized on February 10, 2015 by spe529

This is just a heads up to let anyone know that I am now blogging at my new site The Americana Pulse.

The Americana Pulse is the name of my radio show on Wednesday nights on WDVX. And… If I’m going to start doing this again, I thought some synergy might be nice.

If you do happen to find yourself here… c’mon over and check things out over there.

Sturgill Simpson: Electricity, Integrity, & Ascension (A Live Concert Review & Other Musings)

Posted in Uncategorized on January 30, 2015 by spe529

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Bear with me folks… it’s been a while.

Last night, Sturgill Simpson took the stage at the Bijou Theatre in Knoxville (pictured above courtesy of my phone) for the first show of a major headlining tour that is seeing most stops either sell out, be forced to bigger venues, or add extra shows. If that show was any indication of the rest of the tour, those of you who were lucky enough to get tickets for those upcoming dates are in for a treat.

A sold out crowd of 700 plus quickly turned into one of the most raucous crowds I’ve seen in Knoxville in some time as Simpson powered his way through his set without ever taking his foot off the throttle. By the time Simpson and his band kicked off the intro to “Living the Dream” fairly early in the set, it seemed as though the roof might just come off the joint.

For me, it felt like the culmination of a year that has been, for Sturgill Simpson, fairly astonishing.

The last time I saw Simpson perform a full set was at the 2013 Americana Music Conference in the back yard of a used record shop in East Nashville. A few dozen people hung out eating barbecue while Simpson and his band played on a makeshift stage under a makeshift tent in the corner of the lot.

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Since then? Well… Simpson released Metamodern Sounds in Country Music early in 2014 and began what became a strong, steady ascent into the larger music consciousnesses.

Late night talk show appearances, glowing write-ups in national publications, sold out clubs, opening slots with major touring acts… These were all things on Simpson’s resume for 2014. Heck… he even got a Grammy nomination. The energy, it seems, has been building and building. And it was released in Knoxville by an artist ready to seize control of a theatre of this size for the first time as a headliner, and reabsorbed by an audience ready to receive the charge. It was a magical thing.

The news of Simpson’s signing with Atlantic Records was released a couple of weeks ago. I see it as the continuation of an artist’s ascension in the industry and recognition of his proficiency at his craft that also brings with it the opportunity to deliver his work to new, and even wider audiences.

Others may hear the words “major label” and immediately feel a sense of panic set in. They’re the ones who created this mess we call Country radio today, right?

Here’s why I’m not concerned:

1. The band I saw on that stage last night, and the man that was leading it, had a fire. It was strong… the kind that is not snuffed out or contained easily.

2. It’s been reported that Simpson has already been working on some new material with producer Dave Cobb. Cobb produced both of Simpson’s first two solo albums, and has a more than solid track record producing a long list of artists (Jason Isbell, Lindi Ortega, Nikki Lane, Shooter Jennings) in the independent Country realm. The fact that Cobb, and not some “hit maker” producer, is potentially involved in Simpsons’ future projects (in addition to another major label artist, Chris Stapelton) may signify good things for more than just Simpson.

3. Waylon did some of his best work with majors, right? I mean… he had to fight for it… but, still.

4. The thing I keep coming back to with Sturgill Simpson is a conversation I had with him right around the same time as that backyard BBQ show I mentioned earlier. The words “truth” and “honesty” came up a lot. Simpson struck me as a man grateful for the opportunity he had to make music, as well as a man respectful of the responsibility that opportunity carries with it. To Simpson, his songs represent him. They represent his family… his hometown… his beliefs and aspirations. He has too much respect for all of those things to make music that is anything less than honest on all of those fronts. To put it another way… as Simpson did during that conversation, “People will see right through bullshit.”

5. Reports are that Simpson’s deal with Atlantic carries complete creative control for the artist. I believe that. I don’t think he would have signed on otherwise.

Though he bristles at the suggestion, Sturgill Simpson may well be the savior of Country Music. Or he may not. We likely won’t know for some time. What we do know now is that every day Simpson’s music is being put in front of more and more people, and those people are latching on. An impending return engagement on Letterman, all the publicity connected with his Grammy nomination, and an announced appearance on Austin City Limits this Spring will only continue the work of beaming Simpson’s music directly into the ears of a Country Music audience that is starving to find even a scrap of authenticity outside the world of the underground.

To put it another way… Y’all keep playing dress-up and trying to sing them old Country songs. People are getting ready to see a lot more of Sturgill Simpson out there doing the real thing.

And they’ll know it’s the real thing. After all… “People will see right through bullshit.”

Weekend YouTube: Inbox Videos Pt. 2

Posted in Hayes Carll, The Bridge, Those Darlins on February 12, 2011 by spe529

The following clips are all videos that have popped up in my email inbox in the last week or so.

We start with what the promo email called a “revealing” video from Those Darlins’ upcoming CD Screws Get Loose.

Hayes Carll’s new album, KMAG YOYO, comes out on Tuesday (It’s pretty darn good, by the way).  He talks about the album in this clip.

Finally, a video from The Bridge off their new record National Bohemian.  The album is produced by Steve Berlin from Los Lobos.

ReviewShine Wednesday: Swing Time with Hot Club of Cowtown and The Great Recession Orchestra

Posted in Hot Club of Cowtown, The Great Recession Orchestra on February 9, 2011 by spe529

Every Wednesday, I feature a brief review of at least one album that has been submitted to me through the ReviewShine website. I have cleverly titled this recurring segment “ReviewShine Wednesday.” Today we’re going to focus on Texas Swing music and two bands from the Lone Star State that are keeping the genre alive by honoring two of its pioneers.

First up is The Hot Club of Cowtown and their new CD, What Makes Bob Holler.  The Hot Club has been one of the most well known and respected swing bands in the game for over a decade now.  On their new album, they pay tribute to the genre’s biggest name, the legendary Bob Wills.

Wills was known as the King of Western Swing, and this record assembles 14 tracks originally made famous by Wills and his Texas Playboys during his long and storied career.  The Hot Club bring the spirit of Wills’ music to life whether tacking relatively obscure songs like “Osage Stomp” or standards such as “Big Balls in Cowtown” and “Stay a Little Longer.”  The Austin based trio traveled to London to record this project, but the sound and the spirit of it is pure Texas.

Hot Club of Cowtown: Big Balls in Cowtown (Buy Album)

While the Hot Club pays tribute to Wills, Fort Worth’s Great Recession Orchestra remembers one of his lesser known contemporaries on their new release Have You Ever Heard of Milton Brown?  Brown played with Wills in 1931 in a band called The Light Crust Doughboys.  In 1932, Brown left the group and founded Milton Brown and The Brownies, the first true Western Swing Band.

Brown passed away in 1936 due to complications from a car accident and pneumonia.  Before he did, however, Brown and his Brownies recorded over 100 sides for Victor and Decca Records before Wills and his Playboys had released one.  Many of those songs are collected here including all-time classics such as “Corinne Corinna” and “Sitting on Top of the World.”

Put these two records together, and you’ll get a fairly complete picture of the origins of Western Swing and the music of two of its most influential figures.

The Great Recession Orchestra: Somebody’s Been Using That Thing (Buy Album)

The Decemberists: The King is Dead

Posted in The Decemberists on February 7, 2011 by spe529

Up until a few weeks ago, I wasn’t really much of a fan of Portland’s The Decemberists.  It wasn’t that I disliked the indie darlings or had any animosity toward them.  I had a handful of their songs on my iPod and I wouldn’t skip them if they came up in shuffle mode.  I did, however, find it difficult to muster up any particular affinity for their music.  I think I just found them to be a tad too fantastical and melodramatic for my tastes.

Then, about a year ago, some things started happening that caused me to start paying closer attention.  First, several core members of the group (Jenny Conlee, Chris Funk, and Nate Query) broke off to form the side project Black Prairie.  Their debut album, Feast of the Hunter’s Moon, was a string band record at its core, but expanded that concept into some fairly interesting new territories.

When I heard that Decemberists’ front man Colin Meloy was interested in incorporating more of that country and Americana feel into their new record, I vowed to check it out when it was released.  Then I was blown away by Gillian Welch singing with the band on Conan O’Brien’s show.  I started to read some more and learned that Peter Buck of R.E.M. (my favorite band of all time) was involved in several tracks.  By the time I listened to a stream of The King is Dead on NPR’s website a few weeks before the release, I was completely hooked.

Meloy had lived up to his promise.  This is an album steeped in Americana.

From the Celtic rhythms of “Rox in the Box,” a song that borrows a melody from the traditional “Raggle Taggle Gypsy” to the fiddle fueled country shuffle of “All Arise!,” there’s plenty here to justify playing this record on Americana radio.  Heck, we’ve even added it to rotation at WDVX.  I can’t say I ever thought I’d see the day when we were spinning The Decemberists in a heavy rotation.

Of course, Welch lends some credibility to the project by also lending her distinctive rootsy vocals to seven of the album’s ten tracks.  Her constant musical companion Dave Rawlings also lends his vocals to a couple of tracks as well, as does singer/songwriter Laura Veirs.

Then there are the contributions of guitarist Peter Buck.  Buck appears on three tracks including guitars on the lead single “Down by the Water” and mandolin on the album opening “Don’t Carry it All.”  The highlight of his work however comes on the record’s second track, “Calamity Song.”  The song seems to have been built around Buck and his 12-string electric as he produces a riff that easily could have easily been pulled from Murmer or Reckoning from R.E.M.’s early catalogue.  The chiming tones that frame the song’s chorus are instantly recognizable as Buck’s handy work.

The whole thing is put together by producer Tucker Martine, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite producers.  Martine shares a co-producer credit with the band here, but his track record of recent releases including The Black Prairie album and CD’s by Tift Merritt, Clare Burson, and Abigail Washburn show both his skill and his versatility in the studio.

If I have one knock on The King is Dead, it is still Meloy’s tendency to lean toward the fantastic in his lyrics.  His lyrics about warring tribes and subterranean cities sometimes feel at odds with the rootsy nature of the music.  This is, admittedly, a minor quibble, and an eccentricity that is balanced nicely by the more grounded tunes such as “January Hymn,” “June Hymn,” and “Rise to Me.”  The latter being a devastating duet with Welch that Meloy wrote about his personal struggles of raising a child with autism.  Meloy’s own son was diagnosed with the condition a few years ago, and he sings of standing firm against the obstacles that presents to his family.

Whether this is a new direction for The Decemberists or merely a momentary detour is yet to be seen.  I can say with certainty, however, that The King is Dead is one of my favorite releases thus far this year and hopefully a sign of things to come.

EDIT: I had to take out the mp3 file, but here’s that clip of Gillian Welch & The Decemberists on Conan.

Weekend YouTube: Kathleen Edwards

Posted in Kathleen Edwards on February 5, 2011 by spe529

I came across these two amazing videos of Kathleen Edwards last week and just had to share them with you.  The lighting on these is pretty cool. I wish the whole concert had been recorded this way.

Friday Quick Hitters: Carolina Chocolate Drops, Luminescent Orchestrii, The Windbreakers

Posted in Carolina Chocolate Drops, Luminescent Orchestrii, The Windbreakers, Tim Lee 3 on February 4, 2011 by spe529

Obviously, I listen to a lot more music than I’m able to share on this site.  A lot more.

The thing is… writing reviews takes time, and I have two jobs, a baby, a wife, and a dog that all require my attention.  It’s sometimes hard to find time to write lengthy reviews of all the stuff I want to feature.  ReviewShine Wednesday was one attempt to feature more music by writing shorter reviews of newer stuff.  Of course, there’s a lot of stuff I dig that isn’t featured on that site.

That’s what this space will hopefully become.  A place for me to briefly (two or three sentences at most) mention music that I’m listening to, but I know I’ll never have time to feature properly.  It will give you more stuff to listen to, and leave me feeling less guilty about all the stuff I’m neglecting/have neglected.

Carolina Chocolate Drops & Luminescent Orchestrii – Self-Titled EP

Nothing much here… Just your typical, “traditional string band paired with an Eastern European folk/klezmer band and a human beat box” record.  I’m sure we all have hundreds of these in our collection.

In all seriousness though… this EP is a lot of fun.

Carolina Chocolate Drops & Luminescent Orchestrii: Knockin’ (Buy Album)

The Windbreakers – Time Machine (1982 – 2002)

This is a “best of” collection from Tim Lee‘s former band and is full of jangly goodness.  Lee and  Bobby Sutliff were the driving forces behind this band and counted themselves as friends and contemporaries of groups like R.E.M. and Let’s Active.  This collection from 2003 is more than strong.

The Windbreakers: Changeless (Buy Album)

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