Archive for July, 2008

Support Scott Miller

Posted in Knoxville Music, Scott Miller on July 28, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

I briefly mentioned Scott Miller in the first post on this blog a few weeks ago. Since the blog is named for a lyric from one of his songs (“I Made a Mess of This Town” is available in that first post), I figure it’s time to talk a little more about Scott Miller’s music and a couple of projects that he has in the hopper.

Late in 2007, Miller begain working on songs for his fourth studio album with backing band, The Commonwealth. He then started road testing some of the new songs at his live shows. Earlier this year, he went into the studio with producer Doug Lancio (Patty Griffin) and began recording those songs. The results of his sessions with Lancio are scheduled to be released later this fall.

But recording, mastering, producing, and mass-releasing an album is not a cheap endeavor. Especially if the artist wants to own all the rights to the album once it is completed. Scott Miller wants to own his next album, and he needs our help to make that happen. This summer, Miller has been selling an album of demo recordings on his website,, in order to raise the money he needs to fully own his next studio record. The demo album, Appalachian Refugee, is being sold in very limited quantities and is being released in small batches at his website. The second batch just sold out, but you can still find out more and hear samples of the disc here. Another batch should come along soon.

The album is a mix of new songs (some of which will appear in non-demo form on the new studio release in the fall), covers, and older Scott Miller originals that don’t appear anywhere else. As a special bonus, each copy is individually numbered and features unique hand crafted artwork from Miller himself. My wife and I got our copy a few weeks ago and have been enjoying it quite a bit.

Unfortunately, I promised Scott that I would not share the songs here or play them on the air until the fully produced studio versions are released later this year. In fact, you must read and agree to a “Burn and Die Acknowledgement” before purchasing the demos online. While I can’t share any of the songs here for download, I can link to a Youtube video that Miller released to promote Appalachian Refugee. Here then, is the link to Scott Miller and Mic “Meek” Harrison performing the unofficial single, “People Rule.”

Here’s a special note for those of you in the Knoxville area as well… Scott Miller will play a solo show at the Bijou Theatre August 23rd. Like the demo project, the concert will help raise money for Miller to finish and own his new album. If you’ve never seen his live show, it’s not something you shoulc continue to pass up. Miller is a songwriter’s songwriter who can touch your heart with “For Jack Tymon,” a song he wrote for a friend’s newborn child. He can also make you laugh with “Drunk All Around This Town,” a song about… well… getting drunk all over town… and a sleeveless monkey. Here are live versions of “For Jack Tymon” and “Drunk All Around This Town” from the 2007 release Reconstruction.

Scott Miller and the Commonwealth: For Jack Tymon (Buy Album)
Scott Miller and the Commonwealth: Drunk All Around This Town (Buy Album)

I sent Scott an email shortly after the blog went live to ask him if it was OK for me to use one of his lyrics for the title. I heard back from him last week while I was on vacation. He gave his blessing to the blog and thanked me for taking my inspirations from one of his tunes. He also asked that I spread the word about the demo recordings and the upcoming show in Knoxville. He helped me out… so now I’m trying to help him. Go see Scott Miller live if you have the chance, look for the new studio album in the fall, and check out the demo project at

The Week That Was: Vacation Roundup

Posted in Loretta Lynn, Old 97's, Tift Merritt on July 28, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

Back in Knoxville this week after a much-needed and music-filled vacation. I know some things did not run smoothly here while I was gone, but all the scheduled posts went up on time. The other tech aspects I’ll look into more this week. If problems persist, I’ll move my files to a different host.

As for the vacation… The unofficial start to the trip took place last Friday night in tiny corner of Knoxville called the Pilot Light. The Pilot Light is a small, dark, pit in a part of Knoxville referred to as “The Old City.” These days the club acts mostly as a punk and metal venue. Friday night it hosted blog favorite and Grammy nominee Tift Merritt.

On Saturday, Tift and her band played the Grand Old Opry in Nashville. Friday night’s surroundings were decidedly less glamorous. Despite the drawbacks of the venue, however, it was one of the more enjoyable Tift Merritt shows I have attended (six in total). My wife and I got there early and were able to grab spots right in front of the stage in the center, and the small room meant a small crowd of mostly attentive, die-hard Tift fans. It made for a very intimate setting that seemed to energize the band and make it easy for them to play off the crowd… and in the crowd. As part of the encore Tift, bassist Jay Brown, and guitarist Scott McCall (drummer Zeke Hutchins rounded out the band) actually left the stage and waded into the crowd for an acapella version of “Supposed to Make You Happy” sans amplification. Throw in a blistering version of “Broken,” a finale of “Still Pretending” with Tift encouraging all the couples in the audience to slow dance, and a solo piano performance of “Good Hearted Man” (a song my wife and I used in our wedding)… and it was a pretty good night.

Here’s a live track from Tift’s 2005 concert recording Home is Loud.

Tift Merritt: Supposed to Make You Happy (Buy Album)

The vacation began in earnest on Sunday with a trip to Kentucky to visit some family and play a little golf. I grew up in Paintsville, KY… just a few miles from the birthplace of Country Music Hall of Famer Loretta Lynn and that now famous “Cabin on a hill in Butcher Holler.” Remarkably, in all my years of living there I had never visited, or even seen, Loretta’s childhood home. That changed Wednesday afternoon. Drive a few miles off the main road, another mile or two down a dirt road, then a little further on a twisting one-lane strip of blacktop, and you’ll see Loretta’s birthplace still looking mostly as it did when she was born in 1935. If you stop at the old general store at the mouth of the hollow, Loretta’s brother will take you to the cabin (pictured above) for a guided tour. We didn’t take the tour, but we did drive past the house to have a look. As we were driving by, XM’s classic country channel was playing a Loretta tune… a happy little coincidence.

Since most of you probably have heard “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” the song that immortalized the cabin on the hill… here is one of my favorite classic Loretta Lynn cuts.

Loretta Lynn: Fist City (Buy Album)

Thursday, it was off to Asheville for the Old 97’s at The Orange Peel. First off, The Orange Peel is a great place to see a show… just a truly great club that should be checked out if you’re in the Asheville area.

It was our first time seeing the Old 97’s, and the show was all we expected it to be. The band brought a high level of energy right from the start with Phillip Peeples providing a solid rhythm on the drums, Ken Bethea’s guitar ringing out like a siren, Murry Hammond keeping the beat on the bass and providing backing vocals (lead on a couple of songs), and front man Rhett Miller playing the part of the rock star. Miller has a certain captivating energy when he’s on stage that commands the audience’s attention throughout the show. That was never more on display than at the end of the night.

During the closing song of the main set, something happened that cut all power to the stage… and is wasn’t coming back. The show should have been over, but Rhett stayed on stage alone with his guitar and banged out acoustic versions of fan favorites “Timebomb” and “Niteclub” from 1997’s alt-country masterpiece Too Far to Care. The room was really too big and noisy for such a thing to have worked, but it did. The crowd gathered tight around the stage and sang along with Rhett as he wailed about getting drunk and burning the nite club to the ground. It was a unique experience and one I’m glad to have attended. A lot of bands would have simply walked away when the power blew, but Rhett stayed around and gave a crowd hungry for an encore exactly what they wanted.

Here are the studio versions of the two encore songs. “Niteclub” seemed an appropriate way to end the evening.

The Old 97’s: Timebomb (Buy Album)
The Old 97’s: Niteclub (Buy Album)

Essential Albums: Hollywood Town Hall by the Jayhawks

Posted in Essential Albums, The Jayhawks on July 26, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

I found this item last week while poking around on Paste Magazine’s website.

Remember a few years back when Gary Louris and Mark Olson of the Jayhawks reunited for a concert tour and supposedly recorded some new material? It seems that new material will finally be released this September (EDIT: The release date now seems to be January ’09) from Hacktone (New West) Records. The CD will be titled Ready for the Flood and was recorded in January of 2007 with producer Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes. The album will also feature appearances from Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley and Susanna Hoffs of the Bangles. It’s the first full album Louris and Olson have released together since Olson left the Jayhawks after the release of 1995’s Tomorrow the Green Grass. The project will not be released under the Jayhawks name, but this is good news nevertheless.

While I am excited about the prospect of new music from the duo that powered one of my favorite acts… this post is about one of my favorite albums. Hollywood Town Hall was released by The Jayhawks in 1992 on Def American Records. I mentioned this album briefly in last week’s post on Tift Merritt, but it really needs its own post.

The first thing that stands out to you when listening to this album are the vocals of Gary Louis and Mark Olson. It isn’t so much that either of them truly captivate you on their own, although both have serious vocal chops. It’s the sounds that are formed when their voices join together. Subtle harmonies soar through the chorus of each song, and shared lead vocals pepper several tracks. On “Sister Cry” the voices diverge through the chorus with Olson chiming with a counter melody overtop of Louris, who is singing the main line. When the chorus ends, the voices blend together again to share the next verse. At times they blend so perfectly together, it’s hard to tell that two people are singing. It’s a phenomenon that Jayhawks fans refer to as “The Univoice.”

The album shows the influence of legendary acts such as Gram Parsons and the Byrds, R.E.M., and CSNY. It also shares ground with contemporaries such as Wilco and Son Volt. This is surely what Gram Parsons envisioned when he began practicing what he called “Cosmic American Music” in the 60s. Elements of pop, rock, and country blend seamlessly together under a fuzz of Rickenbackers and inspired harmonies to create a classic sound and a classic album.

It will be nice to see if Louris and Olson can recapture that classic sound on their new project. But while we’re getting Ready for the Flood, it’s nice to know that we can keep “Waiting for the Sun.”

The Jayhawks: Waiting for the Sun (Buy Album)
The Jayhawks: Sister Cry (Buy Album)

Old 97’s @ The Orange Peel in Asheville, NC Tonight

Posted in Old 97's on July 24, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

Going to see The Old 97’s in Asheville tonight. I’ve never been to a 97’s show before, and I’m pretty excited. They are one of the last bands on my list of must see acts and just about my only chance to see one of the early alt-country bands who are still together and touring in their original incarnation.

I really didn’t discover Americana until around 2002. The Alt-country subgenre came around a year later. Because of that, I missed the chance to see most of the bands that I now idolize.

I’ve seen Ryan Adams, and I’ve seen Caitlin Cary… I never got the chance to see Whiskeytown.
I’ve seen Son Volt, and I’ve seen Wilco… I’ll never have the opportunity to see Uncle Tupelo.
I’ve seen Jason Ringenberg… never Jason and the Scorchers.
I went to the Gary Louris and Mark Olson reunion tour… but even that wasn’t quite The Jayhawks.

When Rhett Miller started releasing solo records a few years back, I thought I’d missed the boat on the Old 97’s as well. Thankfully, that is not the case. The 97’s are touring now behind their new album Blame it on Gravity, and tonight I get to cross them off my list.

I’ll probably post some stuff from the new album at some point. Right now, however, its The Old 97’s Alive and Wired.

The Old 97’s: Wish the Worst (Buy Album)
The Old 97’s: Murder (Or a Heart Attack) (Buy Album)

Technical Difficulties

Posted in Uncategorized on July 23, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

I’m not sure what’s going on with my file hosting site at the moment, but it seems the mp3 file links are not working properly. I’m also currently unable to log onto the hosting site I’ve been using to check on anything. The same thing happened Monday. I thought things were back to normal yesterday, but here we are again.

I know I’m not over my bandwidth limit this month. I think the problem is with the hosting service and not my site. If things continue to be weird this week, I’ll look into another hosting site when I get back to my home base next week.

I still have a couple of posts completed and ready to go up later this week. I’ll still put those up on the site and hope everything else gets straightened out too. If anybody has any suggestions about hosting sites or anything else… please leave a comment or send me an e-mail.

I’m using right now, but I have also looked into

Update: Now hotlinkfiles is telling me that my account does not exist and my files may have been deleted. I assure you my account does exist and I did not delete my files. I may just have to deal with all of this and switch hosts next week. Or, things could start working again soon. Keep your fingers crossed.

Happy Birthday: Alison Krauss

Posted in Alison Krauss on July 23, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

Today is the birthday of Alison Krauss. She was born July 23, 1971 in Decatur, IL.

Alison has won more Grammys than any female artist in history, has sold millions of records, and is credited with helping to bring bluegrass music to new audiences. She had her first band when she was ten, won the Illinois State Fiddle Championship when she was twelve, and was named the “Most Promising Fiddle Player in the Midwest” by the Society for the Preservation for Bluegrass Music when she was fourteen.

Now 37, Krauss is still going strong. She just won her 21st Grammy for her recent collaboration with Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant. The project is also nominated for three awards at this year’s American Music Awards.

In honor of Alison Krauss on her birthday… Here is a track from the Plant/Krauss collaboration, Raising Sand. I’ve also posted Alison’s appearance on Jerry Douglas’ 2005 release Best Kept Secret, and a duet with James Taylor from a Louvin Brothers tribute album that came out back in 2003.

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss: Please Read the Letter (Buy Album)
Jerry Douglas feat. Alison Krauss: Back in Love (Buy Album)
James Taylor and Alison Krauss: How’s the World Treating You (Buy Album)

Chuck Prophet: Soap and Water

Posted in Chuck Prophet on July 21, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

I’m on vacation this week… but I have a couple of small posts scheduled to pop up while I’m gone so as not to let things get too quiet around here. This is the first…

I’ve been aware of Chuck Prophet for a while now… but I’ve never really had the chance to delve too deeply into his music. I’ve only ever really heard the few random tracks that I would pick up from different promo and sampler CD’s from time to time.

A few months ago, however, a loyal WDVX listener from California sent me a copy of Chuck’s 2007 release Soap and Water (Thanks Sally!). I liked it immediately. The opening track, “Freckle Song” is a sexy, innuendo-laden, guitar rocker that kicks off the album in style. “Doubter out of Jesus (All Over You)” adds some synthesized effects to more of Prophet’s impeccable guitar work.

Prophet has become an in-demand session player since his days with his orignal band, Green on Red. He has appeared on projects by everyone from Cake to Kelly Willis to Warren Zevon to Kim Richey. He even co-wrote and played on every track from Alejandro Escovedo’s Real Animal.

Given the chance to shine on his own… Chuck comes through as well

Chuck Prophet: Freckle Song (Buy Album)
Chuck Prophet: Doubter out of Jesus (All Over You) (Buy Album)

Artist Profile: Tift Merritt

Posted in Profile, Tift Merritt on July 18, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

Tift Merritt was born in Texas, but her musical journey began in North Carolina where her family moved when she was a kid. Tift learned to play guitar as a teenager when her father taught her a few chords. Her first break came when she was invited to sing and play rhythm guitar with the Two Dollar Pistols. She appeared with the Pistols on their 1999 EP, The Two Dollar Pistols with Tift Merritt… a collection of mostly covers of classic country tunes such as Cowboy Jack Clement’s “Just Someone I Used to Know.”

The Two Dollar Pistols with Tift Merritt: Just Someone I Used to Know (Buy Album)

Feeling the urge to write and record her own material, Tift set out on her own and formed a band called the Carbines. She was joined by Zeke Hutchins on drums, Jay Brown on bass, and Greg Reading (Chatham County Line) on guitar. The band developed quite a following in North Carolina and seemed poised to sign with Sugar Hill Records. When the deal fell through, fellow North Carolinian Ryan Adams came to Tift’s aid and helped her land a deal with his label, Lost Highway.

Tift’s first release for Lost Highway was 2002’s Bramble Rose, a solid debut that garnered quite a bit of critical praise. The album featured The Carbines in a supporting role and featured several slow-burning, soulful country ballads. The one exception was “Neighborhood,” a Stones-style country-rock strut that admonishes the subject for his carousing ways. The album was successful in introducing Tift to the world, but was just a taste of what was to come.

Tift Merritt: Neighborhood (Buy Album)
Tift Merritt: Trouble Over Me (Buy Album)

If Bramble Rose was Tift’s way of introducing herself to the world… Her sophomore effort, 2004’s Tambourine, was her way of letting the world know she intended to stay a while. With the help of producer George Drakoulias, Tift expanded her repertoire to include more elements of rock and classic soul. Drakoulias had previously produced one of Tift’s favorite albums, Maria McKee’s You Gotta Sin to Get Saved, and one of my favorite albums, The Jayhawks’ Hollywood Town Hall. Drakoulias even used his connections to get McKee and the Jayhawks’ Gary Louris to appear on the album. Heartbreaker Mike Campbell also joined the sessions.

The album was a critical smash. Tift received a Grammy nomination for Best Country Album as well as nominations for Aritst, Album, and Song (“Good Hearted Man”) of the Year at the Americana Music Awards. It was my favorite album of 2004, and is one I still revisit often.

Tift Merritt: Good Hearted Man (Buy Album)
Tift Merritt: I am Your Tambourine (Buy Album)

Tift toured relentlessly after the release of Tambourine, and found that spending so much time on the road rushing from place to place was getting old. She needed a break… some time to relax. Paris called. After a few weeks in Paris, however, relaxation turned to inspiration. Tift rented a flat with a piano and called her friends and family to tell them she would not be home for a while. Three months later, she had formed the collection of songs that would become her third solo album, Another Country.

Released in February on Fantasy Records, Another Country finds a sort of middle ground between the easy country ballads of Bramble Rose and the fiery Memphis soul of Tambourine. Drakoulias returned behind the mixing board. This time, he brought with him guitarists Charlie Sexton (Bob Dylan) and Doug Pettibone (Lucinda Williams). It’s nice to have such ringers in the studio, but these songs stand on their own as well. Tift debuted several of the tunes from Another Country in a solo show at the Mercy Lounge in Nashville during last year’s Americana Music Conference. The show was just Tift and her guitar (sometimes piano). Playing without a band and without a net, she held an audience made up primarily of radio promoters, programmers, and djs captive with her songs. Even Buddy Miller, who joined her on stage to sing harmony on the album’s title track, left impressed. The new album was a hit, and it was still five months from release.

Tift Merritt: Morning is My Destination (Buy Album)
Tift Merritt: My Heart is Free (Buy Album)

Tift Merritt is playing in Knoxville tonight at a place called The Pilot Light in the Old City. I’ve had the chance to see Tift perform a handfull of times in the past, and have always left the shows with a smile. On stage, she is a blur of energy… switching from guitar to keys to tambourine to harmonica and back. She has a command of the stage and the audience. If you’re in Knoxville Friday night, check it out.

The Steeldrivers on Conan O’Brien Tomorrow: 7/18/08

Posted in The Steeldrivers on July 17, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

I’ll post more on this band later when I have a little more time, but I want everyone to know that The Steeldrivers will be on the Conan O’Brien Show this Friday night.

The Steeldrivers are a fairly new band on the Bluegrass/Americana circuit who have created quite a buzz with their signature blend of Bluegrass and Blues. They are nominated for “Best New/Emerging Artist” at this year’s Americana Music Awards, and have been turning heads at festivals around the country.

The lead singer and co-songwriter also just happens to be a good friend of mine by the name of Chris Stapleton. Chris and I graduated from high school together in Kentucky, and I absolutely could not be happier for him in his success.

The Steeldrivers’ debut album is a self-titled release from Rounder Records. Give it a shot and check out The Steeldrivers on Conan Friday night.

The Steeldrivers: If it Hadn’t Been for Love (Buy Album)

The Dixie Chicks and Americana: It’s Time

Posted in Dixie Chicks on July 16, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

OK. Here we go. Time to stir up the pot a little bit. I know most of us can agree on John Hiatt and Alejandro Escovedo, but I’m going to try to spark some debate with this one. Ready?

I like the Dixie Chicks. I said it.

I think they’re talented, and they’ve proven they can be successful with a wide variety of sounds and source materials. I also think it’s time the Chicks were embraced by the Americana Community and accepted full scale on Americana Radio.

Before you run away without reading this, hear me out. Yes, the Chicks were once one of the most popular acts on commercial country radio. Yes, commercial country radio is typically a vast wasteland with no tangible redeeming qualities. Yes, the song that is arguably their biggest hit, “Goodbye Earl,” is one of those mainstream Nashville songs that contributed to my current low opinion of said commercial country radio. I know all the arguments against them. I used those same arguments for a long time myself.

Then something changed. In 2002, the Dixie Chicks released the album Home. My music director gave me the album to listen to, and I kind of rolled my eyes. The Dixie Chicks were mainstream… we were Americana. What was going on here? Then I read the liner notes and found that the Chicks wrote some of their own material, but also recorded songs written or co-written by Darrell Scott, Tim O’Brien, Marty Stuart, Bruce Robison, and Patty Griffin. I later found out that this wasn’t the first time the Chicks had used Americana songwriters on one of their albums. Scott, Griffin, Bonnie Raitt, Maria McKee, Buddy Miller, and Jim Lauderdale had all contributed to previous albums. Maybe there really was something here.

I put the disc in and was greeted with Scott’s “Long Time Gone,” a song about having fond memories of growing up in a small town, but having to leave when life calls you elsewhere. The lyrics were paired with a warm and inviting sound created by acoustic instruments… banjos, fiddles, and guitars. The lyrics even included a jab at the mianstream radio machine that had helped the Chicks to create their rabid fanbase and become the hottest act in country music.

“Listen to the radio to hear what’s cookin’,
But the music ain’t got no soul.
Now they sound tired, but they don’t sound Haggard.
They got money, but they don’t have Cash.
They got Junior, but they don’t have Hank.”

This was something that I could get behind. I didn’t care that the song rose to #2 on the Hot Country Singles Billboard Chart or that the video was in constant rotation on CMT. I played “Long Time Gone” on my Americana show. I played it a lot.

I played other songs too. Patty Griffin’s “Truth No. 2” was originally recorded for her album Silver Bell, but Patty’s label folded, and the album never got released. The Chicks, who had already had a hit with Griffin’s “Let Him Fly,” dove back into Griffin’s catalogue and recorded their version of “Truth” as an acoustic, almost bluegrass, number with soaring harmonies and prominent fiddle and banjo riffs.

The album was doing well in country circles. The second single, a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” went to number one. The third single, Robison’s “Traveling Soldier” was the stirring tale of a soldier who died on foreign soil told from the perspective of someone he left behind. The song struck a chord with fans during the early days of the United States’ war in Iraq. It rose to number one on the country charts where it sat as of March 10th, 2003 when Dixie Chicks’ lead vocalist Natalie Maines made her now infamous remarks about President George W. Bush. The very next week “Traveling Soldier” was off the charts completely. It was the fastest falling single in Billboard history.

Maines’ comments were seen as a lack of support for the U.S. military and its Commander in Chief, and a public betrayal of the right wing values of most of the people who make up country music’s core audience. The backlash that followed is well chronicled in the documentary Shut Up and Sing. The Chicks were banned from many radio stations, public CD burnings and bulldozings were held, concerts were cancelled due to slow ticket sales, and Maines began receiving death threats.

By the time the Chicks released the follow up to Home, 2006’s Taking the Long Way, they had fallen out of favor with many country music fans, industry supporters, and radio programmers. The first single, “Not Ready to Make Nice,” garnered some cursory play on country radio but quickly went away. Part of the lack of airplay had to do with a conscious decision byt the Chicks to ignore the demands of country radio and make an album that was based more in rock and adult alternative sounds. The ladies teamed with veteran producer Rick Rubin, former Jayhawk Gary Louris, and former Semisonic frontman Dan Wilson to forge a sound that made itself easily accessible to fans of other genres while still keeping a small hold on their country roots.

The album was mostly a critical success, but found a hard time gaining more than a minor hold on Country, AAA, and Americana charts. The Chicks’ music had no home.

This is where I think Americana Radio can come into play. Americana Radio is still a relatively new format that is still struggling to spread awareness of its existence and gain wider appeal. The format has been looking for a face… an artist it can get behind to boost listenership and get the word out that an alternative to corporate radio does exist. The format openly embraces the freedom of expression that the Dixie Chicks embody to the point that the Americana Music Association hands out a “Spirit of Americana Free Speech Award” every year at their awards show. The shoe seems to fit.

So I’m putting it out there to Americana Radio and Americana fans. Give the Chicks a Chance. You might be surprised. Here are the two tracks I highlighted from Home as well as two tracks from Taking the Long Way. You decide.

Dixie Chicks: Long Time Gone (Buy Album)
Dixie Chicks: Truth No. 2 (Buy Album)
Dixie Chicks: The Long Way Around (Buy Album)
Dixie Chicks: Lubbock or Leave it (Buy Album)