Archive for October, 2008

Amy Speace on The Blue Plate Special

Posted in Amy Speace, Blue Plate Special, Donna the Buffalo on October 19, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

A heads up for anyone who wants to hear some good live music on the (web) radio tomorrow. Monday at noon (Eastern), Amy Speace & The Tearjerks will perform on The Blue Plate Special on WDVX.

I first became familiar with Amy’s music a couple of years ago at the 2005 Americana Music Conference in Nashville. My friend Rob McNurlin had seen her perform at a showcase away from the conference site and could not stop raving about her set. After hearing his recommendation, I found a stack of Amy’s sampler CDs that had been strategically placed inside the convention center for conference delegates to snatch up. Of course, I snatched one up, gave it a listen, and immediately fell in love with the first track, “Step Out of the Shade.”

At times reminiscent of Dar Williams… and at times Lucinda Williams… the four songs on the sampler made me very anxious to hear the full album, Songs for Bright Street, and anxious to learn more about Amy herself.

I got the chance to do the latter when I met Amy later that weekend at the Americana Conference Trade Show. I told her how much I enjoyed the music I had heard and asked when I could get the full album to play on the air (I was at Morehead State Public Radio at the time).

That’s when something weird happened.

Amy said the album was completed, but due to record company reasons it would probably not see release until early 2006. Then she asked me not to play anything from the sampler on the air until the full album was ready to be released. That was the first time an artist asked me NOT to play his or her music on the air. It seems she didn’t want a few stations playing it early and then taking it out of rotation before the album hit. If everyone started playing it at the same time, it would have a bigger impact on the Americana Album Airplay Chart. I honored her request and decided to wait for the full album before playing her music.

The only problem was that the album release was pushed back and pushed back again. By the time it was finally released in late May of 2006, I had left Morehead State Public Radio and moved to Knoxville. At the time, I didn’t have a regular radio gig. And even now, we don’t have a copy of Songs for Bright Street at WDVX. I never got the chance to spread the word on Amy’s music.

So now I’m taking the opportunity to do so. Here are a couple of tracks from that sampler CD I picked up off of a table full of free discs at the Americana Conference three years ago. They’re also on Amy’s 2006 album Songs for Bright Street. I finally get the chance to share.

Amy Speace: Step Out of the Shade (Buy Album)
Amy Speace: Not the Heartless Kind (Buy Album)

Once again… Amy Speace will perform on The WDVX Blue Plate Special Monday at noon (Eastern) in a twin bill with Andy Friedman & The Other Failures. You can listen online at If you’re in Knoxville, stop on by and catch the free show on Gay Street.

Tuesday’s Blue Plate will feature a visit from jam-folkers Donna the Buffalo. They’re out promoting their new CD Silverlined.

Donna the Buffalo: Locket and Key (Buy Album)
Donna the Buffalo: Garden of Eden (Buy Album)

Friday Top 5: Rilo Kiley

Posted in Rilo Kiley, Top 5 on October 17, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned this band yet. I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned Jenny Lewis at all here actually. I need to catch up.

Rilo Kiley has been one of my favorite bands in recent years after my wife introduced me to their music following the release of 2004’s More Adventurous. I had been aware of them before that, but she became a fan first and then converted me.

Rilo Kiley was formed in L.A. in 1998 by former child actors Jenny Lewis (Troop Beverly Hills) and Blake Sennett (Salute Your Shorts). Over the course of the next decade Lewis and Sennett would prove that the move away from acting was a good one. The two would share “front man” duties for the band for much of their early work before the focus began to shift more toward Lewis.

For me, Jenny Lewis is Rilo Kiley. All five songs I list here today will feature her on lead vocals. I don’t dislike Blake Sennett… quite the opposite in fact. I just get so much more out of Lewis’ torchy lyrics and scorching vocals. Whatever IT is… she has it, and it sounds great. Even her two solo records (which I will have to revisit sometime soon) just have a certain sonic quality that I’m drawn back to again and again.

But let’s get to the music. Rilo Kiley have released four full length albums and one E.P. I’ll be drawing one song from each release for the Top 5 today.

Let’s start with the E.P. Initially issued in 1999 as a self titled release, the disc was re-worked and reissued in 2000, and again in 2001. For its third pressing, the disc carried the title Initial Friend. As you might expect, this album is not as cohesive as some of their later work. It does, however, give us an early glimpse into their sound and provide us with one of their catchiest songs to date.

(All versions of the Initial Friend E.P. seem to be out of print. The only copy I could find online was on craigslist, and the guy was asking $500 for it. The “buy album” link here goes to an search for Rilo Kiley.)

Rilo Kiley: The Frug (Buy Album)

Rilo Kiley’s debut full length album Takeoffs and Landings was issued in 2001. Here, the band experiments with a vast array of sounds including sparse acoustic numbers and synthesized instrumental reprises. In the end, though, the album holds together quite nicely and that sense of experimentation that does not obscure the hooks that fill each song. “Plane Crash in C” plods along for a bit, propelled by a sparse arrangement and Lewis’ vocals before hitting the bridge. There, Lewis is wrapped in a blanket of horns and the song really catches fire.

Rilo Kiley: Plane Crash in C (Buy Album)

2002 saw the release of The Execution of All Things. As you might expect from the title of the album, some of the songs on this release deal with some dark issues, including the divorce of Lewis’ parents. The lyrics, however, are counterpointed with the bouncy, hook laden sound that was by then becoming Rilo Kiley’s calling card. The title track illustrates this perfectly. As you listen to all of these songs, pay close attention to the guitar work of Blake Sennett. My wife argues that his playing is as important to the band’s sound as Jenny Lewis’ vocals. She’s right.

Rilo Kiley: The Execution of All Things (Buy Album)

More Adventurous came in 2004 and was the band’s big commercial breakthrough, it was also the album that got me hooked, and the reason I decided to force myself to choose one song from each of their releases for this post. Otherwise, there may well be five tracks from this album in my Top 5. It would be easy for me to go with “It’s a Hit” here. That was the lead single and the song that sucked me in. Instead… here’s one called “Portions for Foxes.” It gets the nod for the palpable sexual energy that oozes through the whole track… especially in Jenny Lewis’ shouted command to her paramour roughly 1:50 into the song.

Rilo Kiley: Portions for Foxes (Buy Album)

Rilo Kiley’s latest effort, 2007’s Under the Blacklight, takes the muse for its lyrics from the underbelly of Los Angeles. The songs take us to nite clubs, sex clubs, and behind the curtains of the adult film industry. The song I want to feature here, however, is one of the lighter tunes on the album. “Breakin’ Up” is a fun faux-disco dancer that makes me want to strap on a pair of skates and head down to the local roller-disco (if any still existed). It’s a bit of a departure for the band, and may be a bit too bubbly for some. I just find it extremely fun.

Rilo Kiley: Breakin’ Up (Buy Album)

Anne McCue: East of Electric

Posted in Anne McCue on October 14, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

My first introduction to the music of Anne McCue came in the form of her 2004 album Roll. It was a rocking roots album with tons of inspired blues licks and, at times, some scathing social commentary. The album drew comparisons to Lucinda Williams and Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders. The former was even an staunch supporter of McCue’s music (Lucinda would later appear on McCue’s 2006 release Koala Motel).

I saw McCue perform at the Mercy Lounge in the fall of 2004 and was blown away by the performance. I knew the music going in, but I had no idea how talented a guitar player she was. As it turns out… McCue played every single lick of guitar on Roll (plus banjo, lap steel, and Hammond organ), and she played them well. That night, I watched McCue shred song after song while pounding shot after shot. I walked away quite impressed.

Here’s a brief taste of that 2004 album and a chance to hear McCue’s electric chops.

Anne McCue: Nobody’s Sleeping (Buy Album)

Now, Anne McCue has released a new album called East of Electric, and it is a much different sound for the artist who made her name as an electric guitarist. As the title suggests, this is an all acoustic album that McCue says is inspired by the golden age of folk-pop music from the late sixties.

McCue recorded and produced the album at her own studio in Nashville (she is a native Australian), and played most of the instruments herself. Although she does enlist Eamon McLoughlin of The Greencards to play violin and other strings, McCue once again plays all the guitars while adding banjo, piano, harmonica, lap steel, tambourine, ukulele, and mandolin among other instruments. The album is a true showcase for all of her talents.

To illustrate… here are a few tracks from the new album. Today we’re offering the short instrumental “Psychadelica II,” the protest song “Money in the Morning,” and the plaintive “Too Late for Love.” The first song is a chance for McCue to show off her acoustic playing. The second song tackles war, global warming, corporate greed, and the financial worries of the everyday American family. The third song is the sad tale of a girl who has gone too far down a dark path.

Anne McCue: Phychadelica II (Buy Album)
Anne McCue: Money in the Morning (Buy Album)
Anne McCue: Too Late for Love (Buy Album)

WDVX Fall Fund Drive

Posted in Elvis Costello, John Hiatt, The Hackensaw Boys, WDVX on October 13, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

Just a quick post here to start out the week and let you know about something that’s going on right now.

Regular readers should know by now that I work as a part-time DJ at WDVX Radio in Knoxville, Tennessee. In fact, I know some of you only found this site because you’ve heard me mention it on the air.

For those who don’t know… WDVX is a listener supported Americana station here in Knoxville, and we are now in the middle of our Fall Fund Drive. Twice a year, we come to our listeners and ask them to help us out by making a pledge of financial support to the station. Listener donations make up a substantial portion of our budget and helps to pay for various daily operating expenses such as internet streaming costs, rights fees for the music we play, and equipment maintenance. In short… listener support helps keep us on the air.

If you’re already familiar with WDVX, you can make your pledge online here. If you’ve never listened before, you can find our webstream here.

If you’ve never listened before, come check us out sometime. We play a lot of the music that I talk about here on the blog. It’s mostly a mix of Americana, but we also have specialty shows dedicated to bluegrass, classic country, blues, independent artists, and some more bluegrass. We also broadcast a free live concert series everyday at noon (Eastern time) and a monthly concert series hosted by Jim Lauderdale. There’s a reason Oxford American magazine once called WDVX, “probably the best radio station in the world.”

I’m on the air Wednesday nights from 6-10 and Friday nights from 6-9 (all times Eastern), but feel free to stop by and listen anytime. Maybe you’ll like it and be motivated to donate in the future.

Just for fun… here are a couple of radio songs to get you in the mood.

Elvis Costello: Radio, Radio (Buy Album)
John Hiatt: Pirate Radio (Buy Album)
The Hackensaw Boys: Radio (Buy Album)

Friday Top 5: Ben Folds Five

Posted in Ben Folds, Top 5 on October 10, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

Ben Folds recently released a new solo album called Way to Normal. I’ve been listening to it a bit here lately, and may have something to say about it later. If nothing else, it’s a lot of fun to listen to, and it drove me to go back and dig out my old Ben Folds Five albums to rediscover this music that I enjoyed so much in the late 1990’s.

Ben Folds Five was a three piece band (They said “Ben Fold Five” just sounded better than “Ben Folds Three”) consisting of pianist/vocalist/songwriter Ben Folds, drummer Darren Jessee, and bass player Robert Sledge. You’ll notice there’s no guitar player. The one thing missing from the band was one of the things that made them unique. Ben’s piano was the lead element in their sound, but it was the sheer fury and abandon with witch each member attacked his instrument that truly set the band apart from other piano pop acts. Ben was known to kick at the keys and pound away at his instrument with his piano bench. Their energetic punk posturing blended with their melodic song stylings to form a brand of music Ben called “punk rock for sissys.”

With that said, I’m not sure what it says about me that I like that music so much… but here are my favorites.

The first two songs come from BFF’s 1995 self-titled debut. This is probably my favorite of the three BFF releases.

Philosophy: I don’t really have a lot to say about this song other than I remember being instantly captivated by the sunny melodies mixed with the crashing bass and drums. Ben steals a bit from “Rhapsody in Blue” at the end of this song. Check out this video for an idea of the energy that the Five brought to the stage.

Uncle Walter: I think everyone has a relative like Uncle Walter. He knows exactly what everyone’s problem is… and what they need to do to fix it. And… Oh the stories he can tell. He’s been everywhere, seen everything, and knows everyone. Of course, all he ever seems to do is sit around the house all day watching television.

Ben Folds Five: Philosophy (Buy Album)
Ben Folds Five: Uncle Walter (Buy Album)

Next are two songs from 1997’s Whatever and Ever Amen. This was the first Ben Folds Five album I ever bought and the first album I had ever purchased without having heard one single song on the disc. I followed a recommendation from MTV’s Matt Pinfield… glad I did.

Song for the Dumped: Imagine you’re dating this girl. You’ve been together for a while, and you think things are going pretty well. You take her out for a nice dinner… for which you pay. After a wonderful evening, you take her home and walk her to the door. You move in for a goodnight kiss… But she breaks up with you instead. Just like that.

Oh yeah… and she still has your favorite black t-shirt that she “borrowed” and has yet to return. You’d probably be a tad upset too.

Selfless, Cold, & Composed: Now imagine you see that same girl a few weeks later. You’re a wreck. You can’t eat. You can’t sleep. She broke your heart. But there she is, smiling and laughing with her friends. She doesn’t miss you at all. Ouch!

Ben Folds Five: Song for the Dumped (Buy Album)
Ben Folds Five: Selfless, Cold, & Composed (Buy Album)

1999’s The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner was Ben Folds Five’s final album, and a nice way to go out.

Army: This one is a bit of an autobiographical song for Ben. Go to school… drop out… join a band… He did it all. What makes this song one of my favorites is what happens to it when Ben plays it live at one of his solo shows. One man playing a piano can’t possibly reproduce the horn section that plays so prominently on the studio version. Ben’s solution is to conduct the audience to sing the horn part while he conducts the crowd with one hand and plays the keys with the other. I’m including the studio track and a bonus live version.

Ben Folds Five: Army (Buy Album)
Ben Folds Live: Army (Buy Album)

10/7 Almanac Post

Posted in Alison Krauss, John Mellencamp, Kieran Kane, Radiohead on October 7, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

I seem to be suffering from a bit of a lack of inspiration this week. That makes this a good time to reach back into music history and pull out a post of various musical birthdays and other events that took place this day in history.

Today is the birthday of country/folk singer/songwriter Kieran Kane. Born in Queens, NY in 1949, Kane had music in his blood from an early age. By the time he was nine, Kane was playing drums in his older brother’s rock band. As a teenager, his attentions turned to bluegrass and folk music, and he began performing at festivals throughout the Northeast. By the late 1970’s, Kane had moved to Nashville where he found some chart success both as a solo artist and as one half of The O’Kanes with Jamie O’Hara.

Following the break up of The O’Kanes and a split from his record label, Kieran Kane formed his own label, Dead Reckoning. This is where my familiarity with Kane’s music begins. The first track here is from his debut album on his own label, 1995’s Dead Rekoning. “Dirty Little Town” is a straight country number that features some impressive guests. Lucinda Williams and Emmylou Harris provide backing vocals while Tammy Rogers of The Steeldrivers saws the fiddle.

The second track here is from one of Kane’s recent collaborations with Kevin Welch and Fats Kaplan. The trio has released three stripped down acoustic folk albums on Compass Records. I’m offering up a tune called “Postcard from Mexico” from the 2006 album Lost John Dean.

Kieran Kane: Dirty Little Town (Buy Album)
Kane, Welch, Kaplan: Postcard from Mexico (Buy Album)

Today is also the birthday of singer/songwriter/truck salesman John Mellencamp. Mellencamp was born in 1951 in Seymour, IN. Of course, you probably know the story of this Heartland rocker, but did you know that he recently released another studio album called Life, Death, Love and Freedom?

The new album is produced by T-Bone Burnett, and it’s fairly safe to say none of these songs will appear in a truck commercial any time soon. These are bare boned ruminations on… what else… life, death, love, and freedom just as the title states. Death, particularly, takes center stage on this record. Mellencamp survived a heart attack recently and seems to have the topic of his own mortality weighing heavily on his mind. Overall a solid effort.

John Mellencamp: If I Die Sudden (Buy Album)
John Mellencamp: Don’t Need This Body (Buy Album)

Finally, we wish a Happy Birthday to Radiohead’s Thom Yorke. Yorke was born in Wellingborough, England in 1968.

Radiohead was one of my favorite bands of the 1990’s, and a group that I still follow closely. You have to follow them closely because you never know where they are going to go next. To attempt to define their sound would be folly because it grows and evolves so much from record to record that by the time you’ve finished writing one definition, they’re already off on something else.

To illustrate… I’ll start with one track from their 1993 debut album Pablo Honey. “Anyone Can Play Guitar” is fairly straightforward 90’s alt-rock. The band’s triple-guitar attack soars while Yorke wails away about the burning of London and his aspirations of becoming Jim Morrison. Their sound would grow a bit on the two following albums The Bends and O.K. Computer, but the three guitars would remain a staple of those albums.

In 2000, however, Radiohead released Kid A, a highly experimental album that mixed electronica and rock into an atmospheric haze that was a complete departure from their previous work. That experimentation has continued to be present in their sound and has helped propel them into becoming one of (if not the) biggest bands in the world. Here’s one called “The National Anthem” from Kid A, and another called “Backdrifts” from 2003’s Hail to the Thief.

Radiohead: Anyone Can Play Guitar (Buy Album)
Radiohead: The National Anthem (Buy Album)
Radiohead: Backdrifts (Buy Album)

On a personal note…

Today is also my second wedding anniversary. This is the first song my wife and I danced to two years ago.

Alison Krauss & Union Station: Looking in the Eyes of Love (Buy Album)

Star Maker Machine

Posted in Adrienne Young on October 5, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

I know Payton already did this exact same post over at This Mornin’ I am Born Again, but I had to say something about this too.

Most of you may already know this… but I am also a contributing blogger to another site called Star Maker Machine. It’s a community blog with fifteen or so regular contributors and a few at large posts each week as well. Each week, a new theme is chosen. All songs posted during that week will have some connection to the theme.

The goal is to give a disparate group of music lovers and mp3 bloggers one big place to share music they love while having a common thread that runs through all of the songs. The result is a heavily trafficked (the site gets roughly 10 times the daily hits I get here) and oft-updated site (it’s not uncommon to see 20-30 new posts in a given week) that has succeeded in introducing me to a ton of new music and… more importantly… an online community of like-minded individuals with a passion for the music they write about and share.

That’s what made this past week’s theme so cool. The theme was “blog names,” and we were instructed to post songs which have inspired the name of a blog. Again… some great songs were shared, and some wonderful blogs were highlighted. If you’re looking for some additional places to discover and listen to great music, check out all of last week’s entries at Star Maker Machine. There are plenty of good ones there.

Boyhowdy from the blog Cover Lay Down even wrote a post about this site. I’m still absolutely floored by the kind words that were directed this way. I’m sure I don’t deserve most of them.

Anyway… the song I’m posting today should be considered a late addition to last week’s Star Maker theme. Boyhowdy started the theme out by posting Joni Mitchell’s “Free Man in Paris,” the song from which the title of the blog was taken. Today, I’m offering a cover of that song by folkie, Adrienne Young (that’s her above) from her album Room to Grow.

The irony in this is that at his own blog, boyhowdy only posts folk-related cover songs. Now I’m here posting a cover version of an original tune that he posted at Star Maker Machine.

Adrienne Young: Free Man in Paris (Buy Album)

By the way… If you like cover songs, this week’s theme at Star Maker Machine is Bob Dylan covers. If you REALLY like cover songs (or just good music), check out Cover Lay Down.