Archive for December, 2008

Top 10 Albums of 2008: #9 The Steeldrivers by The Steeldrivers

Posted in The Steeldrivers, Top 10 of '08 on December 23, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

Like R.E.M. before them at #10, there is a bit of a sentimental factor behind my inclusion of The Steeldrivers on this list. But, like R.E.M. before them, The Steeldrivers are also on the list based on their own merits after making my favorite bluegrass album of the year. Others seemed to agree with me… as the album was nominated for an Americana Music Award, three International Bluegrass Music Awards, and a Grammy this year.

The story of The Steeldrivers is this. A pair of Nashville songwriters, Chris Stapleton and Mike Henderson found themselves writing a lot of really great bluegrass songs, then turning those songs over to music row and watching them be turned into mainstream country hits for other artists. Eventually the obvious question could no longer be ignored… why not form a killer bluegrass band and record those same songs themselves?

Stapleton grabbed his guitar. Henderson picked up his mandolin. The two then assembled a very talented group of Nashville veterans to help flesh out their sound. Fiddler Tammy Rogers (Buddy Miller, Kieran Kane, Wynona), banjo picker Richard Bailey (Jim Lauderdale, David Olney, Vassar Clements), and bass player Mike Fleming (Kevin Welch, Joy Lynn White) signed up, and the band was born.

The true stars of this band, though, are songwriters Henderson and Stapleton. Henderson has played and recorded with giants from every corner of the music world including Mark Knopfler, Guy Clark, Bo Diddley, Lucinda Williams, and Sting… just to name a few. His songs have been recorded by the likes of Solomon Burke, Randy Travis, Patty Loveless, Marty Stuart, and The Dixie Chicks.

Stapleton is the youngest member of the group… and his time in Nashville the shortest. His list of credits, however, is easily as impressive as any of his bandmates. He’s recorded with Lee Ann Womack and Gary Allan, and has had his songs recorded by Womack, Tim McGraw, and Brooks and Dunn. He even has two number one country singles to his credit in Josh Turner’s “Your Man” and Kenny Chesney’s “Never Wanted Nothing More.” Most importantly, Chris Stapleton is one of my oldest friends and someone I couldn’t be more proud of. He chased a dream he’s held for almost as long as I’ve known him, and he caught it.

In addition to co-writing every song on the album, Stapleton also plays guitar and sings lead vocals. If you’ll pardon the cliche… his voice is by far his strongest instrument. The Steeldrivers’ website describes his voice as being able to turn from “sandpaper to silk” in the course of any given song. When really turned loose, as in songs like “Blue Side of the Mountain” and “If it Hadn’t Been for Love,” there is a power behind his voice that few can rival. There is a natural growl in his performance that fits perfectly with the band’s sound and lends a genuine sense of realism to the down and out characters in the songs. Stapleton sings about murderers, scoundrels, inmates, and fugitives… and breathes life into them all.

You can say I’m biased in this choice by including my friend on my list… but I know plenty of strangers who have become enamored with this album as well. It has more than earned it’s place.

The Steeldrivers: If it Hadn’t Been for Love (Buy Album)
The Steeldrivers: Blue Side of the Mountain (Buy Album)

Top 10 Albums of 2008: #10 – Accelerate by R.E.M.

Posted in R.E.M., Top 10 of '08 on December 22, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

I know it’s a tad late to be just starting my Top 10 list for the year, but I’ve been a little extra busy at work lately (retail + Christmas = awful), shopping, trying to fill in a few extra shifts at the station, and working on a few extra projects. Blogging has been on the back burner for a bit.

Now, however, it is time without further ado to lay out my Top 10 favorite albums of 2008. We start at the end of the list with #10…

Accelerate from R.E.M.

This album is a bit of a nostalgia pick as R.E.M. has always been my favorite band. On their last couple of records, however, I didn’t feel the same sort of connection to the music that I did with their earlier albums. With this one, the connection is back. I’ve already listened to this album more than any R.E.M. effort since 1996’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi.

Sometime early this year, I first heard the debut single from this record, “Supernatural Superserious,” and knew immediately that Accelerate would be different. For the first time since original drummer Bill Berry left the band, the group’s energy was back. The sense of fun was back in the music. Most importantly, the supporting vocals of bass player Mike Mills’ were back. Mills’ harmony vocals were always one of my favorite parts of the R.E.M. sound, and they’ve been severely lacking over the last decade. I am more than happy to have them back.

Mills’ biggest contribution comes on the track “Man Sized Wreath.” That song actually features a bit of the old school R.E.M. staple that I like to call the “call and answer” chorus in which Mills echoes the vocals of lead singer Michael Stipe instead of just providing harmony. On this track, just like the old days, I can often be found singing along with Mills’ vocals instead of Stipe’s. This is also the song that provides the most unlikely of R.E.M. lyrics… “Kick it out on the dance floor like you just don’t care.” Somehow, it seems to work.

Other standout tracks include the politically charged “Hollow Man” and the album closer “I’m Gonna DJ.” Both tracks provide a workout for lead guitarist Peter Buck (as do most songs on the raucous album), and the latter recalls the band’s 1987 hit “It’s the End of the World as We Know it (And I Feel Fine)” with visions of a party at the apocalypse.

It seems the primary focus of this record was to strip away some of the sheen and polish and experimentation of their other post-millennial work, and just create a gritty rock and roll record echoing back to the early days when R.E.M. was little more than a punk influenced rock band playing clubs and frat parties back in Athens. In that effort, they largely succeed by keeping the songs short (five of the albums eleven tracks clock in at less than three minutes in length) and raw (Buck’s guitars have a fire that hasn’t been heard since 1994’s Monster).

In short, this is easily my favorite R.E.M. album in over a decade. That alone is enough to merit inclusion on this list. When I saw the group perform in Atlanta this summer (my wife bought me tickets for my birthday), my opinion of the album was only strengthened. The band (all in or near their 50’s) filled the stage with as much energy and passion for the music as I had seen in quite some time. That let me know that the initial feeling I got from the album wasn’t just an act… R.E.M. was having fun again, and it showed.

R.E.M.: Supernatural Superserious (Buy Album)
R.E.M.: Man Sized Wreath (Buy Album)

More notes and links and stuff

Posted in Knoxville Music, R.B. Morris, R.E.M., Scott Miller, Todd Steed on December 17, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

Some more links and notes for another rainy day in Knoxville…

* Above is a picture of Knoxville’s Market Square. In days past, it was one of the central gathering places in the city and a major center of trade and commerce. Lately, it’s heading in that direction again. The Square is one of my favorite places in the city due to its interesting shops and tremendous food options. I think my perfect day in Knoxville might just include breakfast at The Market Square Kitchen, brunch at La Costa, grabbing a small lunch from a street vendor or some healthy snacks from the Market Square Farmers’ Market, a drink before dinner at the Preservation Pub, followed by dinner at The Tomato Head, and a tasty frozen treat from Rita’s Ice for dessert.

Well… now there’s a new spot in Market Square that has me excited to see some great live music here in town. The Square Room, Knoxville’s newest listening room, opened this month and has already created quite a buzz. I haven’t had a chance to check it out yet, but I hope to do so soon, as all reviews I’ve seen have been stellar. There’s also a new restaurant called Cafe 4 attached to the venue that has my taste buds quite curious as well.

Tonight at The Square Room, Knoxville luminaries R.B. Morris, Todd Steed, and Scott Miller take the stage together for what promises to be a tremendous acoustic show. I won’t be able to attend because, I’m on the air tonight at WDVX from 6-10, but there are tenuous plans to broadcast at least part of the show live on the air. I’m hoping that happens because this is one show I don’t want to miss.

* On a related note, I got my pre-order copy of Scott Miller’s new CD For Crying Out Loud in the mail this week. Today is the last day to order it from his website and guarantee Christmas delivery. If you don’t get one from this first batch that’s being offered now… you’ll have to wait for the official release in March. I’ll talk more about the album later as it gets closer to the official date, but take my word that Scott Miller fans should order and enjoy this album.

* It’s getting close to the end of the year, and I know it’s time to put out my year end lists. I actually started doing that a few weeks ago with the Top 5 Guilty Pleasures, but I kind of lost my motivation when that post got deleted. Don’t worry though, I am working on my Top 10 albums of the year and hope to start posting those soon. My wife and I have also just finished our “Best of 2008 Mix” (with fairly extensive liner notes) that we will be handing out to some friends and family for the holidays. I’ve been pretty busy.

In the meantime, Payton at This Mornin’ I am Born Again has posted his Top 10 songs of ’08, and it is a pretty solid list. It’s what I’m listening to as I write this. I think I’m finally starting to come around on Bon Iver.


* Finally, today is the 50th birthday of my favorite member of R.E.M., bassist Mike Mills. Mills’ harmony vocals are the ones I sing along with when I listen to my classic R.E.M. albums. He is also responsible for writing one of my favorite R.E.M. tunes… “(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville.”

Here we have that song from 1984’s Reckoning and two more that feature heavy vocal contributions from Mills. “Fall on Me” is from 1986’s Life’s Rich Pageant and features Mills heavily in the chorus, in the bridge, and on an almost hidden shared lead vocal in the second verse. “Texarkana” from 1991’s Out of Time is one of two tracks from that album to feature Mills on lead vocal.

Happy Birthday Mike Mills.

R.E.M. – (Don’t Go Back to) Rockville (Buy Album)
R.E.M. – Fall on Me (Buy Album)
R.E.M. – Texarkana (Buy Album)

Rain

Posted in Autumn Boukadakis, Neko Case, Patty Griffin on December 10, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

This week’s theme over at Star Maker Machine is “Winter Wonderland,” and we’re all supposed to post songs about snow… which I did. However… It’s a bit tough for me to get into the winter spirit when it rained all night last night here in East Tennessee. Right now the temperatures are near sixty degrees and we have rain predicted for most of the rest of the week. Hardly a “Winter Wonderland.”

Which brings me to today’s post… a brief mini-mix of songs for a rainy day.

We’ll start with “Rain” from Patty Griffin’s 2002 album 1,000 Kisses. Patty is one of my favorite artists and is one of the best songwriters in the biz today. “Rain” is also my wife’s favorite song.

After that, “Rain Down” from Autumn Boukadakis’ (she goes by simply “Autumn”) 2008 album Velvet Sky. I was not aware of Autumn’s music until I was sent a copy of her sophomore album recently. She is a songwriter from Austin, TX who has covered Patty Griffin on each of her first two albums and works with Fats Kaplan and Danny Flowers on her new album. If you can judge an artist by the company they keep… I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on Autumn in the future.

We finish with Neko Case’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “Buckets of Rain.” Neko’s version of this song first appeared on a Starbuck’s Coffee CD called Sweetheart 2005: Love Songs in 2005. A live version can be found on her Live from Austin, TX CD from last year.

So here you go… songs for a gloomy rainy day.

Patty Griffin: Rain (Buy Album)
Autumn: Rain Down (Buy Album)
Neko Case: Buckets of Rain (Buy Album)

Hello world!

Posted in Uncategorized on December 9, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

Welcome to WordPress.com. This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!

Links and such…

Posted in Alison Krauss, Buddy and Julie Miller, Neko Case, Robert Plant, Scott Miller, Tennessee Shines, The Steeldrivers, youtube on December 9, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

Just a few links to get you through the week…

* Scott Miller has made his new CD For Crying Out Loud available for pre-order at his website. Only 1,000 copies will be offered between now and December 17th online and at Miller’s shows… and once they’re gone, they’re gone. Orders placed before the 17th should arrive by Christmas. If you don’t get in on the pre-order, then you have to wait until March for the official release. All pre-order copies also include an enhanced CD feature with a twenty minute video on the making of the album that will not be on the official release. Oh yeah… Patty Griffin appears on the album as well. Get yours now.

* A couple of local acts have been added to this month’s edition of Tennessee Shines. Knoxville’s own Alex Leach and the Watauga Mountain Boys, Todd Steed and the Sons of Phere, and Christabel and The Jons will join Elizabeth Cook and The Hackensaw Boys for the show on New Year’s Eve. As always, the show will be hosted by Jim Lauderdale and broadcast live on WDVX.

* In my Top 5 post on Neko Case, I mentioned that she has just finished recording her new album. Well… the album now has a name (Middle Cyclone), a release date (March 3), and a killer album cover…

* March 3rd is also the release date for Buddy and Julie Miller’s newest effort, Written in Chalk. It comes eight years after their last collaboration, the self titled, Buddy and Julie Miller. Julie has been in ill health for the last few years, and it will be great to hear her voice once again. Julie wrote the majority of the songs on the album, and friends Patty Griffin, Emmylou Harris, and Robert Plant come along for the ride on the album. Here’s a taste of that 2001 release…

Buddy and Julie Miller: Forever has Come to an End (Buy Album)

* Speaking of Robert Plant… The nominees for the 51st Annual Grammy Awards were announced last week, and the world of Americana was well represented. The Robert Plant and Alison Krauss collaboration that took home two wins at the Americana Music Awards in September, is now nominated for five Grammys… including Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Pop Collaboration with Vocals, Country Collaboration with Vocals, and Contemporary Folk/Americana Album. Competition in the Americana category includes Joan Baez, Ry Cooder, Rodney Crowell, and Emmylou Harris.

* The biggest news for me on the Grammy front, however, is the news that The Steeldrivers have been nominated for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals for the song, “Blue Side of the Mountain.” As long-time readers know, Steeldrivers’ lead singer Chris Stapleton is an old high school buddy of mine, and I could not be more thrilled for the success he is having in Nashville.

Happy Birthday Peter Buck

Posted in Peter Buck, R.E.M. on December 6, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

Really quick post today to wish a happy 52nd birthday to R.E.M. guitarist and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Peter Buck. Buck was born on this day in 1956 in Berkeley, CA, and his chiming guitar went on to define the sound of one of the most important American bands of the last quarter century.

I wrote extensively on Buck and some of his side projects back in August, so I’m not going to write a whole lot here today. I just want to share a few tracks that highlight Buck playing with R.E.M. at various stages of their career.

First is a song called “Wolves, Lower” from R.E.M.’s 1982 debut EP Chronic Town that fully displays Buck at his early, jangly best. Next, we’ll skip ahead to 1992’s classic release Automatic for the People for “Monty Got a Raw Deal,” a song Buck composed on a bouzouki. We’ll follow that with the fuzzed out arena rock of “Star 69” from 1994’s Monster, and close with “Living Well is the Best Revenge” from 2008’s Accelerate… just to prove Buck still has it.

R.E.M.: Wolves, Lower (Buy Album)
R.E.M.: Monty Got a Raw Deal (Buy Album)
R.E.M.: Star 69 (Buy Album)
R.E.M.: Living Well is the Best Revenge (Buy Album)