Archive for January, 2009

Tennessee Shines Recap

Posted in Alejandro Escovedo, Jennifer Nicely, Tennessee Shines, The Duhks, The Lovell Sisters on January 30, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

It’s Friday morning now, and I’m still basking in the glow of Wednesday night’s edition of Tennessee Shines. I was finally able to attend a taping of the show, and I was not disappointed. Of course, Alejandro Escovedo rocked the pillars of the Bijou Theatre during his portion of the show… but we’ll get to that in a little bit.

Tennessee Shines is a monthly concert series that takes place in downtown Knoxville, TN that is recorded live for radio syndication and local television. It’s very similar to other syndicated programs such as Mountain Stage and E-Town. Each performance features over two hours of music and is actually recorded as two separate one-hour radio shows. The first hour on Wednesday featured The Lovell Sisters and Alejandro Escovedo while the second hour focused on Jennifer Nicely and The Duhks. Grammy winner Jim Lauderdale is the host who holds the whole thing together by introducing the artists, conducting short interviews, and sometimes sitting in with the featured performers. It all makes for a rather enjoyable experience.

First up on Wednesday night were The Lovell Sisters, a family band made up of Jessica, Megan, and Rebecca Lovell… aged 21, 17, and 16. Their age belies their skills, and they were a great way to start the show. The sisters breezed through a set of traditional tunes and original songs. They even threw in a Hendrix cover for good measure. The girls are already Merlefest regulars and should only get better with age and experience.

We’ll skip ahead in the night a bit now to Jennifer Nicely, who opened the second hour of the show. Jennifer is an East Tennessee native who produces beautifully textured singer/songwriter fare that is based primarily in folk and jazz. Jennifer played a brief set filled with laid back atmospheric grooves. Her set provided a nice calm after the storm that Alejandro Escovedo produced.

The Duhks rounded out the show with their signature mix of… well… how do you describe The Duhks exactly? Their influences cover many styles including traditional string band music, pop, jazz, Celtic, Afro-beat, and Latin rhythms, and their sound is constantly evolving.

This was my first time seeing the band with their new line-up featuring the vocalist/percussionist brother and sister combo of Sarah and Christian Dugas. Sarah Dugas is also a songwriter who contributed several original tunes to the group’s latest album Fast Paced World. She owned the stage as she belted out tune after tune while fiddle player Tania Elizabeth whirled and twirled around and banjo player Leonard Podolak stomped about the stage. Christian Dugas and Jordan McConnell kept perfect time on drums and guitar.

The highlight of their set was the closing song which was a medley called “Ship High in Transit/Magalenha.” The song began as an instrumental piece showcasing McConnell and Elizabeth before erupting into a percussion and vocal piece that relies heavily on Latin rhythms and features lyrics sang in Portuguese. This is a very adventurous band that is not afraid to take you along on the ride with them.

Here’s one of their more straightforward numbers… and a song they played Wednesday night… “You Don’t See It.”

The Duhks: You Don’t See It (Buy Album)

Of course… the highlight of the night for me was Alejandro Escovedo. I’d been geared up for his set for some time, and I was fully prepared to rock out with the Real Animal. It was all I expected it to be, Alejandro provided a blistering set of fiery Rock & Roll that may have been too much for some in attendance. I saw a few people with fingers in their ears, a few people seek shelter in the lobby, and was told of one couple who (not so) kindly asked the sound table to cut back the volume a bit. It was a bit of a departure from the usual Tennessee Shines performance where artists generally are less amped and more acoustic, but I was too busy rocking out to care.
Alejandro blazed through six songs from his 2008 album Real Animal (my fave of ’08) and old favorite “Castanets.” His set was way too short, but still quite enjoyable. It’s been a while since I’ve seen anything live that could match the fire of “Chelsea” or “Castanets.” Simply put, if Alejandro Escovedo comes to your town… Go. You’ll be better for it.

Here’s a live version of “Castanets” from the Por Vida Fan Club CD to get you through the day and the words I wrote about the studio version of the song the last time I mentioned it here.

“My favorite Escovedo song, “Castanets,” comes from my favorite Escovedo album (2001’s A Man Under the Influence), and is one of my favorite songs of all time… period. The guitar lick on this song sets the track on fire and refuses to be extinguished for the next 3:27. This is, in my opinion, one of the great barroom rock songs ever recorded, and I will not be happy until everyone knows this tune.”

Alejandro Escovedo: Castanets (Buy Album)

Essential Albums: Car Wheels on a Gravel Road by Lucinda Williams

Posted in Essential Albums, Lucinda Williams on January 28, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

Lucinda Williams celebrated a birthday earlier this week. I didn’t have time to properly acknowledge it then, but I’m going to do so now by paying tribute to her finest work, 1998’s Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.

I’ve been thinking about this album quite a bit here lately. I knew it was time to put up another Essential Albums post, and I knew Lucinda’s birthday was approaching (She turned 56 on Monday)… but it was a comment from Paul on last week’s Sarah Borges post that cemented things. The consensus on Sarah’s new song is that she may have allowed her record label to smooth the rough edges of her sound in an effort to appeal to a larger audience. Paul noted that this was a fight that Lucinda had also fought (and won) many times in her career.

The evidence of her victories may be most visibly apparent on Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. This is an album that was nearly six years in the making due in large part to label friction and Lucinda’s own dissatisfaction with the album’s sound. The album, as it was released, actually marked the third time many of the songs had been recorded. Sessions with Gurf Morlix were scrapped. Ditto sessions with Steve Earle and Ray Kennedy. Finally, Lucinda was able to get the sound she was looking for with E-Street pianist Roy Bittan helming the recording.

The results speak for themselves. Car Wheels was Lucinda’s first gold album, it was voted album of the year in the Village Voice’s annual Pazz & Jop Critics Poll, and it won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album. The album’s reputation as one of the best ever released in the Americana genre has only grown since then.

The opening track, “Right in Time,” is a song full of private yearnings for an absent lover. The title track follows with a semi-autobiographical account of Lucinda’s childhood spent moving from town to town throughout the south with her family. The shuffling “2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten” was inspired by a book of photographs of old southern juke joints and was born, in part, after Lucinda spent a wild New Year’s Eve in Knoxville. I can always count on her to break this one out when she comes to town.

Of course, “2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten” doesn’t mention Knoxville by name. It does, however, mention a few other southern locales and truly evokes a feeling of a specific region and place. In fact, the South is all over this album. Specific towns are referenced in several songs, and several others are named for southern cities. In “Greenville,” “Jackson,” and “Lake Charles” (Lucinda’s hometown in Louisiana) the titular towns are all destinations of some sort… places from the past that need to be revisited for some reason. Whether the character in the song is leaving a love gone wrong or returning to loves lost, it always seems as though a return to southern roots will solve all problems.

The most powerful song on the album, “Joy,” is also one of those destination songs. In it, Lucinda has been hurt and abandoned. She must return to the South to reclaim what has been taken from her. She does so over top of a screeching slide guitar and a driving drum beat. The fury and growl in her voice suggests she will stop at nothing to achieve her goal and may God have mercy on anyone that stands in her way.

Car Wheels on a Gravel Road still holds me in rapt attention from beginning to end with well constructed songs that tell captivating stories and leave me tapping my foot the whole way through. The hardest part about this is deciding which two songs to share… I think I’ve played them all on the air at some point along the way. They’re all worthy.

Well… when in doubt… pick the two with the loudest guitars.

Lucinda Williams: Joy (Buy Album)
Lucinda Williams: I Lost it (Buy Album)

P.S.: Don’t forget to listen to Tennessee Shines tonight at 7:00 Eastern on WDVX for live music from Alejandro Escovedo, The Duhks, and more.

Alejandro Escovedo on Tennessee Shines

Posted in Alejandro Escovedo, Tennessee Shines on January 26, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

I’ve written several times here about Tennessee Shines, the monthly concert series that started last year at the Bijou Theatre here in Knoxville. The show is still in its infancy, but is already a hit here in town. Almost every show has sold out, and word of mouth has been very positive. In just a few short months, Tennesse Shines has already hosted The Steeldrivers, Darrell Scott, Jerry Douglas, The Red Stick Ramblers, Ben Sollee, Carrie Rodriguez, The Hackensaw Boys, and many, many others.

Despite all of the great music and great reviews, I have yet to attend a Tennessee Shines show. The performances are always held on Wednesday nights… one of the nights I’m on the air at WDVX. I’m the guy who has to stay behind in the studio and make sure the show makes it on the air for everyone who wants to listen online or at home. I do get to listen to the show here in the studio. I just don’t get to go.

Not this month…

Wednesday night, Alejandro Escovedo is coming to Tennessee Shines and I will be there. I started trying to find a way out of working my shift that night over a month ago (thanks Katie). If Alejandro is coming to my town, I ain’t gonna miss it.

I’ve written enough about Escovedo here that you should already know how I feel about his music. My favorite album of 2008. My favorite song of 2008. No Depression critic’s poll best album of 2008. Austin music critic’s poll best album of 2008. No Depression’s Artist of the Decade for the 1990’s. Punk rock pioneer. Roots rock innovator. A musician with an all inclusive style that draws from many influences, yet sounds completely unique. All of these things are true about Escovedo… and I haven’t even mentioned his live show.

On stage, Escovedo is a force of nature. I got to see him perform a few years back at The Dame in Lexington, KY when he was just beginning to tour again after a long and nearly fatal battle with Hepatitis C. I remember thinking immediately that he was still somewhat weakened by the disease. He was thin… almost frail. I wondered if he might have the stamina to make it through a full show. At best, I thought he might make his way through a quiet singer/songwriter set and call it a night.

I don’t know what I was thinking. From the opening chord to the final note, Escovedo absolutely commanded the stage leading a large ensemble through over two hours of music that had every soul in the club completely entranced. By the end of the night, I was wiped out, but Escovedo was still going strong. It was one of the more amazing concert experiences of my life.

I’m hoping to duplicate that experience Wednesday night. Tennessee Shines begins at 7:00 Eastern time and is broadcast live on WDVX and Alejandro Escovedo is joined on the bill by The Duhks (who I also love), The Lovell Sisters, and Jennifer Nicely. Jim Lauderdale is the host as always. Try to listen if you can… should be a good one.

For today’s mp3 files, I’m going to do something different and give you a few different versions of the same song to illustrate the many different sounds Escovedo can create. Here are three different live versions of “Everybody Loves Me,” a song that first appeared on Escovedo’s 1999 album Bourbonitis Blues.

First is a fairly straightforward reading of the song that was part of a performance for a website called Basement Tapes. Next is a version from Willie Nelson’s Songs for Tsunami Relief project and features Jon Dee Graham on guitar and some interesting loops and sound effects. Finally, a much different take on the song from The Alejandro Escovedo String Quintet.

Alejandro Escovedo: Everybody Loves Me (Visit Website)
Alejandro Escovedo: Everybody Loves Me (Buy Album)
Alejandro Escovedo String Quintet: Everybody Loves Me (Buy Album)

Sarah Borges

Posted in Sarah Borges on January 22, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

Earlier this week, I was inspired by a post over at songs:illinois to go back and spend some time with the music of Boston based songstress Sarah Borges. Sarah’s new CD with her band The Broken Singles is due out March 24th from Sugar Hill Records, and the aforementioned post has a track from the new album called “No One Will Ever Love You.”

Sarah Borges first came to my attention after the release of her 2007 album Diamonds in the Dark. I was drawn immediately to her boozey, bluesy brand of honky-tonk rock and the reckless energy that was conveyed on most of the tracks. The lead single “The Day We Met” (included in the songs:illinois post… go listen) became part of my soundtrack for 2007 and was included on the year end mix CD that my wife and I made that year. It is pure roots-rock bliss.

The album has plenty of rough edges, but it isn’t afraid to hide them. Instead, they are worn proudly like a badge of honor. Guitars crunch and crash on the rocking “Diabolito” and “Lonely Town of Love.” Steel guitars cry out on honky-tonkers “Lord Only Knows” and “False Eyelashes.” Two of the more subdued tracks on the album are covers. One from Tom Waits (“Blind Love”) and the other, oddly enough from L.A. punk pioneers X (“Come Back to Me”). It all blends together into an album that is very varied in its sounds and influences, but is held together nicely by Sarah, her band, and the energy with witch they play.

I found more of the same on her 2005 debut album Silver City. Barroom rock, country laments, rockabilly riots… they’re all here. Most of the songs are Borges originals, but she skillfully covers Tommy Dorsey and The Teenage Fanclub, and makes both feel as though they belong here on a country-rock album. How many other artists do you know that can cover Tommy Dorsey and X in the span of just two albums?

That brings me to her third album The Stars are Out due in March. The title track is all I’ve heard so far (EDIT: Not the title track… one called “No One Will Ever Love You”)… so this may be premature… but I don’t hear any of the fire that was present through so much of the first two albums. I hear pristine and polish. It’s not bad song… it just doesn’t sit right with me just yet.

I’m still very anxious to hear the full release, and I will try to get back with a final verdict once I have. Hopefully the rest of the disc will turn me around. Sarah’s never disappointed me before.

While we’re waiting for the new one… here’s a taste of those first two discs that I was talking about.

First is “Same Old 45” from Silver City. This one is a foot stomping retelling of the 70’s hit “Brandy” (She’s a fine girl) fueled by a looping bass drum and crunching guitars. Next is “Lord Only Knows” from Diamonds in the Dark. This one leans more on a country foundation with steel guitar and high amounts of twang. These two songs showcase the two extremes of Sarah’s sound and prove just how well she can pull off both styles.

Sarah Borges: Same Old 45 (Buy Album)
Sarah Borges: Lord Only Knows (Buy Album)

A Last Look Back Before We Move Forward

Posted in Todd Snider on January 20, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

Today is an exciting day in America. It is the day we inaugurate Barack Obama as the 44th President of The United States. I, for one, am very excited for the next four years and am filled with a sense of optimism that I have not felt in some time. It will take time to fix many of the problems facing our country, but… for the first time in a long time… I truly believe all of those problems can be fixed.

I had thought of using this space today to post songs that address that feeling of hope and optimism that I am feeling. However, that is currently being done over at Star Maker Machine with “Hope and Change” week.

Instead, my post today will take a brief look back at the last eight years, and say goodbye to President George W. Bush, with Americana’s favorite smart-alec, Todd Snider.

Todd Snider: Conservative Christian, Right-Wing Republican, Straight, White, American Males (Buy Album)
Todd Snider: You Got Away with it (A Tale of Two Fraternity Brothers) (Buy Album)

Links: Because it’s been a few days

Posted in Buddy and Julie Miller, Patty Griffin, Ryan Adams, Steve Earle on January 19, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

I haven’t had a whole lot of time to write this weekend… so here is some other stuff from around the blogs that you might be interested in.

*Ramblings on Music, Texas, Etc… has some more info on the new Buddy & Julie Miller disc that is coming out March 3rd. If you visit, you can see the Electronic Press Kit for the new album and the album cover (which I have posted above).

Ramblings also has some info about the next Patty Griffin album.

*I am Fuel, You are Friends has the scoop on the next Steve Earle project. Earle’s next album will be a collection of Townes Van Zandt covers. Earle already honored his late friend by naming his son (Justin Townes Earle) after him. Now he honors him again by keeping his music alive.

*You can still vote for your favorite albums of 2008 over at No Depression’s new website. I’ve already sent my vote in.

*What’s going on with Ryan Adams anyway? Is he quitting the music biz or just taking a break? This Mornin’ I am Born Again attempts to answer those questions.

Hopefully, he’s just taking some time off to recapture his muse. Here’s one of my favorite Ryan Adams songs from his solo debut Heartbreaker. This is how Ryan sounds when he’s at his best… someplace I don’t think he’s been for a while. Maybe he just needs a break.

Ryan Adams: Come Pick Me Up (Buy Album)

New Neko Case Single: People Got a Lotta Nerve

Posted in Neko Case, youtube on January 15, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

As you probably know by now… I am a rather huge fan of Neko Case. Well… Neko’s new album Middle Cyclone will be released March 3rd from Anti Records, and she’s already released the first single from the album, “People Got a Lotta Nerve.”

That’s cool enough on its own, but Neko has put an extra spin on it by making the track freely available on the Anti Records blog. As an extra added bonus Neko is making a cash donation to the Best Friends Animal Society, a no kill animal shelter and the nation’s largest sanctuary for abused, abandoned, and special needs animals, for every blog that posts this track. She’s also making a donation for every iLike user that adds this song to his or her profile between now and February 3rd.

So, here is a brand new song from Neko Case, and a great way to help abandoned animals all in one shot. As a Neko Case fan, and the owner of a rescue dog (Deacon), I find this to be a win-win situation.

Below, you’ll find a video from Neko explaining the whole thing along with another video about the upcoming album. The download link and the link to pre-order the album are down there below the videos.

Neko Case: People Got a Lotta Nerve (Buy Album)

Jodie Meeks: Sure Shot

Posted in Beastie Boys, youtube on January 14, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

My apologies for letting sports invade my little music blog tonight… but I have to get this out somewhere.

Although I now live in Tennessee… I am a Kentuckian by birth. As such, I am a fanatical follower of all things involving the University of Kentucky basketball program.

Tonight in Knoxville, Kentucky’s Jodie Meeks scored 54 points in leading the Wildcats to a 90-72 win over the rival Tennessee Vols. It’s the most points ever scored by anyone wearing a Kentucky uniform. It’s the most points scored in an SEC game since 1989 (LSU’s Chris Jackson).

Kentucky is one of the most storied programs in college basketball history. It is the winningest program in college basketball history and holds seven National Championship trophies. It is the program of Dan Issel, Goose Givens, Pat Riley, Jamal Mashburn, Tony Delk, Rex Chapman, Kyle Macy, Cliff Hagan, Kenny Walker, Sam Bowie, Louie Dampier, Tayshaun Prince, and many, many others.

Today, they’re all looking up to Jodie Meeks.

I wish I had a better song to commemorate this moment. But, here… in honor of Jodie Meeks… The Beastie Boys with “Sure Shot.” Because he can’t. He won’t. And he don’t stop.

Beastie Boys: Sure Shot (Buy Album)

Christabel & the Jons: Custom Made for You

Posted in Christabel and the Jons, Knoxville Music on January 13, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

One of my goals for this blog in 2009 is to do a better job of shining a light on some of the many, many wonderful artists who call Knoxville their home. Knoxville is located in East Tennessee, in the heart of Appalachia, and has a strong tradition of producing top flight musical talent. With plenty of live venues and a rare assortment of independent radio stations (WDVX, WFIV, WUTK), local artists of all genres have plenty of room to flourish in this town. It’s time I started to showcase some of this local talent and try to help expose them to larger audiences.

Today, we focus on local swing/jazz/folk group Christabel and the Jons.

Christabel is actually Christa DeCicco, a University of Tennessee grad who had been performing in and around Knoxville for years before forming Christabel and the Jons a few years back. Weary of simply doing “the singer-songwriter thing,” she began collaborating with percussionist Jon Whitlock in 2005 in an attempt to help flesh out her sound. The band now also employs Molly Sue Cavender on upright bass and multi-instrumentalist Seth Hopper on everything from violin to accordion to trumpet. DeCicco herself plays guitar, accordion, and banjo in addition to providing lead vocals.

When all the elements come together, they create a bluesy, jazzy blending of old-timey mountain music, Western swing, and classic Americana. Christabel and the Jons’ latest effort Custom Made for You was released at the end of December and has created a nice buzz around town. The band was featured on the December editon of Tennessee Shines alongside The Hackensaw Boys, and the album has received quite a bit of air play on WDVX.

Here are two tracks from the album that show a bit of the range of the band. The first is the title track, a full-on swing number that will have you out of your seat and dancing. The second, “Closer to You,” is more a sultry torch song that shows a different side of Christabel’s sound altogether.

The only link I could find to purchase the new album is the one on the band’s myspace page (that’s where the “buy album” link will take you). You can get one there, or go catch a show when they come to your town.

Christabel & the Jons: Custom Made (Buy Album)

Christabel & the Jons: Closer to You (Buy Album)

Random Notes for the Weekend

Posted in Jon Dee Graham, Knoxville Music, R.B. Morris on January 11, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

* This illustration of Over the Rhine comes from a new book called An Indie Rock Alphabet Book. Think of it as a five-year-old’s introduction to Neutral Milk Hotel and Iron and Wine. The book features stylized illustrations of indie artists with two lines of rhyming verse that describe each act. Take Gillian Welch for example…

Though Gillian Welch was raised in L.A.,
Her Songs are rooted in the Appalachian Clay.

An Indie Rock Alphabet Book is the first book published by the good people at Paste Magazine. You can get one for the young Yo La Tengo fan in your family at the Paste Store.

* Remember a few months ago when I told you about Austin, TX artist Jon Dee Graham and how he was severely injured in a car accident?

The good news is that he got better. The bad news is that he was hospitalized again in December with more broken bones and internal injuries after he fell off of a ladder installing Christmas lights at his home. More good news… He got better again, and is about to embark on a European tour with James McMurtry.

Somehow, through all of this, Graham still found time to record a new album with Austin club legends, The Resentments. The album comes out January 20th, but songs: illinois has been given a bit of a sneek preview.

* I finally got my first taste of The Square Room on Friday when R.B. Morris performed there on The Blue Plate Special. The Square Room is Knoxville’s newest listening room that opened a few weeks ago. Now, all Friday Blue Plates (WDVX’s live, free, lunchtime concert series) will be held at The Square Room with Monday – Thursday shows remaining at the Knoxville Visitor’s Center. You can listen to the Blue Plate live every weekday at WDVX’s website.

Anyway… The Square Room is a very nice space and a great spot for a mid-day gathering in downtown Knoxville. The room itself is big and open with good sound and plenty of clear sightlines to the stage. R.B. Morris was a great artist for my first visit to the venue as well. He played. He sang. He told stories. He read poetry… the whole Renaissance bit really.

I’ve mentioned R.B. here before, and I urge you again to go check him out. The song I’m sharing today is called “Empire,” and is the title track from R.B.’s most recent EP. John Prine recently released a cover of this song on an iTunes only EP of outtakes from the Fair and Square sessions. John Prine is one of the greatest songwriters to ever walk the planet… and he’s covering R.B. Morris? That should tell you something.

R.B. Morris: Empire (Buy Album)