Archive for February, 2009

Even More Notes

Posted in Bishop Allen, Neko Case, Toumani Diabate on February 27, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

Yeah… I know I just did a notes column earlier this week, but time crunches sometimes call for easier posts.

***Last month, I posted the first single off of Neko Case’s upcoming album Middle Cyclone. The album still isn’t due until March 3rd, but for a short time you can stream the whole thing from NPR’s website. It’s all part of NPR’s All Songs Considered podcast and a new “Exclusive First Listen” series they’re doing this year. Already, the site has streamed new releases from Andrew Bird, M. Ward, and the Animal Collective among others.

***Also, in case you aren’t already subscribed to the All Songs Considered podcast… this is your invitation. Each week, host Bob Boilen highlights a wide range of new music from all genres and styles. Whether it’s instrumental music from African kora player Toumani Diabate (now touring with Bela Fleck)… or the Brooklyn based pop of Bishop Allen (from this week’s episode)… each show always sends me searching for something new.

Toumani Diabate: Kaounding Cissoko (Buy Album)
Bishop Allen: The Ancient Commonsense of Things (Buy Album)

***The line-up for the March edition of Tennessee Shines has been announced. The bill consists of Theresa Anderson, Scott Miller (the unofficial Godfather of this blog), Donna the Buffalo, and The Gourds. Odds are it will be one heck of a show March 25th at The Bijou Theatre. If you want to make the trip to Knoxville for the show, get your tickets now. These shows almost always sell out, and I have a feeling this one might go a little faster than some others have. If you can’t go to the show, you can always listen live on WDVX.

***On a bit of a sad note… Singer/Songwriter/Guitarist Steven Page has left the Barenaked Ladies. Both Page and the rest of the band say the split is amicable, but the announcement comes less than a year after Page was arrested in New York for cocaine possession. Given the band’s goofy, clean-cut image it’s still hard for me to wrap my head around the charges, and even harder to believe Page has left the band. Even thought I came to it a bit late, their 1992 debut album Gordon was one of my absolute favorites in college.

Here are the Barenaked Ladies, with Steven Page, at their goofy best.

The Barenaked Ladies: Be My Yoko Ono (Buy Album)

Sarah Borges & The Broken Singles: The Stars are Out

Posted in Sarah Borges on February 26, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

I’m a little late to the party with this one considering The Gobbler’s Knob posted an excellent review of the album earlier this week. However, I felt I owed it to Sarah to post my thoughts on this album after the less-than-favorable review I gave to the first track I heard a few weeks ago.

Maybe this is just something that I do, but have you ever gone into listening to an album with a preconceived notion of what it’s going to sound like? Either you expect it to be something so phenomenal that it can’t possibly live up to your expectations, or you expect to be disappointed and create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Either way, there’s no way you can enjoy an album when you approach things this way.

Unfortunately, that’s the way I first approached Sarah’s new album, The Stars Are Out. I had heard the song “No One Will Ever Love You,” and found it to be a little too shiny for my tastes. When I was sent the full album for review, I let my preconceptions from that one song color my view of the whole record.

When I heard the first song, “Do it For Free” (watch the video over at The Gobbler’s Knob), I didn’t hear the obvious Joan Jett influence. I only heard something different. The same thing happened with Smokey Robinson’s “Being with You.” I couldn’t enjoy the R&B flavors that make the song great because I was expecting to hear something else.

I put the album on the shelf for a few weeks with the intention of coming back to it fresh at a later date. I’m glad I did.

With the expectations stripped away, I was able to hear the album the way I should have the first time. Yes… there may be some polish in places, but this is still a very raw album in others. It just seems that some of the country elements have been replaced by all out rock and roll. “I’ll Show You How” has a barroom swagger and fire that will burn your honky-tonk juke joint to the ground. “It Comes to Me Naturally” hearkens back to the earliest days of rock. That’s not hard to believe considering the song was originally recorded by NRBQ.

Bottom line. I enjoy this album quite a bit, and have been unable to stop listening to it for the better part of this week. It is a raw but refined record and is a fine addition to Sarah’s already quality catalogue. She’s always had a bit of a Rock and Roll soul hiding under her honky-tonk heart. Here, she lets it all out.

The Stars are Out by Sarah Borges and The Broken Singles is out March 24th from Sugar Hill Records.

Sarah Borges: Being with You (Buy Album)
Sarah Borges: I’ll Show You How (Buy Album)

Notes and Last Week’s Live Music

Posted in Luminescent Orchestrii, Nels Andrews, Pinetop Perkins, Tennessee Shines on February 23, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

***First off… I want to send out some get well wishes to Americana icon Buddy Miller. Buddy suffered a heart attack on Thursday and is currently recovering from a triple bypass surgery.

Get well Buddy.

***It’s Tennessee Shines time again. This month, Jim Lauderdale is joined by The Gibson Brothers, Megan McCormick, local favorite Erick Baker, and blues legend Pinetop Perkins. Perkins recently celebrated his 95th birthday and is still churning out great blues records. His latest, Pinetop Perkins and Friends, includes guest shots from Eric Clapton, Jimmie Vaughn, and B.B. King.

Tennessee Shines airs live on WDVX Wednesday night at 7:00 (Eastern). Here’s a classic cut from Pinetop.

Pinetop Perkins: Got My Mojo Working (Buy Album)

***Now that you know what’s coming up, I can tell you about a couple of great live acts I saw last week here in town.

On Wednesday, Nels Andrews came to town to play the Blue Plate Special. Nels is a terrific singer-songwriter whose sparse and simple songs transport the listener instantly to the American Southwest where he spent a good portion of his life. For his performance, he was joined by mandolin/banjo player Brandon Seabrook. I actually found myself focusing on Seabrook for most of the performance as he coaxed sounds out a four-string banjo that I have never heard before. At times, he even drew a fiddle bow across the strings of both instruments. It filled out the sound quite nicely.

Friday it was Luminescent Orchestrii for a Blue Plate at The Square Room. The Gypsy folk rockers from New York put on a high energy show that was as diverse as it was entertaining. From Albanian folk songs to Romanian rave-ups, the band brought the traditional sounds of Eastern Europe to East Tennessee. Another concert attendee commented that Luminescent Orchestrii sound like The Duhks might sound if they were based out of Romania instead of Canada. It didn’t matter that I didn’t understand most of the lyrics (the songs were performed in many different languages)… I understood the music, and it was one of the more enjoyable shows I’ve seen in a while.

Here’s a taste of each artist.

Nels Andrews: Dollar and the Dream (Buy Album)
Luminescent Orchestrii: Moldavian (Buy Album)

Van Eaton & Friends: Blood on the Ground

Posted in Knoxville Music, Van Eaton and Friends on February 20, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

I have vowed in 2009 to make Knoxville artists a larger part of the music I cover here at A Fifty Cent Lighter & A Whiskey Buzz. Luckily, Knoxville keeps giving me great new music and great new artists to write about. I have another new one for you today.

About a month ago, I noticed that Dennis Double (co-host of WDVX’s Writer’s Block program) seemed to be pretty worked up about a new CD he had heard that week from a local songwriter named Van Eaton. He was passing out copies to everyone at the station (except me), and excitedly sharing the songs on Writer’s Block. I’d hear Dennis talking to other people at the station about the copies he had given them and hear them give their enthusiastic reviews back.

A few weeks ago, I finally got a copy for myself and figured out what everyone else was so excited about. Blood on the Ground from Van Eaton & Friends is a solid Americana album that branches out from strong bluegrass roots to deliver a group of songs that bring a little polish to the traditional back porch picking session.

Speaking of pickers… I should probably mention that the “And Friends” who play on the album include Ronnie McCoury, Robbie McCoury, Jason Carter, and Alan Bartram of The Del McCoury Band. Eaton first crossed paths with the band when he wrote the title track to their 2003 album It’s Just the Night, and was able to enlist their services for his debut effort. Even with such bluegrass luminaries on board… it’s Eaton’s songs that take center stage throughout.

On his myspace page, Eaton describes his music as, “Americana with a Gospel soul and a Bluegrass heart,” and it’s true that his songs do draw heavily from both southern music traditions. It’s also important to note, however, that Blood on the Ground is not strictly a bluegrass album or strictly a gospel album. There’s more going on here as well.

In “The Fire Room,” the protagonist of the song finds solace in prayer, but he may be doing so for the wrong reasons. He lived his life with a stone cold heart, let the Devil control his idle hands, and fell to temptation at every turn. Now, at the end of his life (and the end of his rope), he turns to the Father he never counted on before for a last minute pardon. It’s up to the listener to decide if the narrator has truly repented.

The album’s title track tackles the subject of war with a brutal honesty not often found in bluegrass circles. This time, the narrator is a soldier who has lost friends and has blood on his own hands. He is charged with being a hero, but knows all too well the dangers his bravery exposes him to.

If you want to hear more from Van Eaton, then next week is the perfect time. Eaton will be the guest of Karen Reynolds and Dennis Double Wednesday night at 10:00 (Eastern) on The Writer’s Block on WDVX. He’ll also be playing the Blue Plate Special on WDVX next Friday at noon. Blood on the Ground will be released by Eyetune Records on March 7th.

Van Eaton & Friends: The Fire Room (Buy Album)
Van Eaton & Friends: Blood on the Ground (Buy Album)

Eric Brace & Peter Cooper: You Don’t Have to Like Them Both

Posted in Eric Brace and Peter Cooper on February 18, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

Those who can’t do… teach.

You’ve heard that old expression before. The idea behind it is that it’s easy to study something and know how to do it, yet still lack the ability to actually do it yourself. That same logic has often also been used to describe music critics as failed musicians who now write about the music they lacked the ability to make themselves.

That logic almost makes sense, until you learn the stories of Eric Brace and Peter Cooper. Brace is a former music writer for The Washington Post and the longtime frontman for the DC based band Last Train Home. Cooper writes about music for Nashville’s major daily newspaper, The Tennessean. The two met in Nashville a few years back and found themselves to be sort of kindred spirits. There aren’t a lot of music critics out there who are also taken seriously as musicians.

Brace moved from DC to Nashville in 2004, and he and Cooper became fast friends. They spent quite a bit of time together playing guitar, drinking whiskey, and listening to old vinyl records of Tom T. Hall, Charley Pride, and the Seldom Scene. When Brace started his own record company he signed Cooper as an artist and released his debut album, Mission Door, in 2008. After that, it became a no-brainer for the two to record an album together.

When it came time to record that album, Brace and Cooper went back to their record collection for inspiration. They found a wonderful collection of songs from writers such as Kris Kristofferson (“Just the Other Side of Nowhere”) and Paul Kennerly (“The First in Line”). They also called upon friends like David Olney (“Omar’s Blues #2”), Todd Snider (“Yesterdays and Used to Be’s”), and Jim Lauderdale (“I Know Better Now”) for material. Brace and Cooper trade lead and harmony vocals in front of a stellar band that captures the rootsy feel of the songs perfectly. Kenny Vaughn, Jen Gunderman, Tim Carroll, Richard Bennett, and Tim O’Brien all lend their accomplished hands to the effort.

Lest you forget… before they were musicians, Eric Brace and Peter Cooper were both writers themselves, and they both take their turns at songwriting on this record. The geography lesson in a song, “Denali, Not McKinley,” is a co-write with Cooper and Todd Snider. Brace, Cooper and Jim Lauderdale worked together on the shuffling, “Lucky Bones.”

The two songs I’m highlighting here today are both originals as well.

Brace’s “I Know a Bird” is possibly the strongest song on the album and will be especially poignant to anyone who is awaiting the return of a loved one from overseas. Tim O’Brien provides the banjo.

Cooper’s contribution is “The Man Who Loves to Hate.” This is one of those songs I was talking about yesterday with a bit of a twist at the end. It’s not a love song by any means, but it’s fun to see the subject of the song put in his place at the end.

You Don’t Have to Like Them Both is available from Red Beet Records. Eric Brace and Peter Cooper will appear on the WDVX Blue Plate Special live from The Square Room on April 10th.

Eric Brace & Peter Cooper: I Know a Bird (Buy Album)
Eric Brace & Peter Cooper: The Man Who Loves to Hate (Buy Album)

Wait… I Thought That Was a Love Song…

Posted in Damien Rice, The Flaming Lips on February 17, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

Sunday night, my wife and I went out for a nice romantic, post-Valentine’s Day dinner at our favorite little Italian restaurant here in town. This, of course, was after our annual Valentine’s Day dinner at The Waffle House (You want a place that isn’t crowded on Feb. 14?… Waffle House).

Anyway, the Italian place where we went Sunday night is possibly my favorite spot in town because of the great food and intimate atmosphere. Part of the atmosphere comes from the great music that is always playing in the background. The first time we went there, we heard a Willie Nelson jazz concert on XM Radio. The last time we were there, our waitress had compiled a nice playlist of She & Him, The Weepies, and other similar artists. The music always adds to the dining experience.

Sunday night was no exception. We enjoyed some Death Cab for Cutie and Air while perusing our menus. We obviously noticed the music, but it wasn’t really a part of the conversation until the playlist brought up “Do You Realize” by The Flaming Lips. My wife commented on how this song tricks you into thinking it’s going to be a sweet little love song with the opening line of, “Do you realize that you have the most beautiful face.” Three lines later, however, Wayne Coyne (pictured above) reminds us all that everyone we love will someday die. Not quite as cheerful.

That song was followed a few minutes later by Damien Rice’s “The Blower’s Daughter.” This is another song that the casual listener will identify as love song due to the repeated chorus of “I can’t take my eyes/mind off of you.” A closer listen will reveal something more sinister underneath with talk of denials, loathing, and an absence of heroes. The song is punctuated by the final, almost inaudible line. “I can’t take my mind off of you… Til I find somebody new.” You have to be paying very close attention to find out that Damien’s seeming obsession is only fleeting at best. It’s a nice little twist.

That got me thinking… What other songs are there out there that deliver that kind of twist at the end? What songs seem to have one intent only to reveal their true meanings upon a closer listen?

R.E.M.’s “The One I Love” comes to mind… once you realize that the object of that love was, “Just a prop to occupy my time.” The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” is more about perverted obsession than loving devotion, and Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” was written to be a kiss-off to an ex-lover… not a fond remembrance of happier times.

Any others?

The Flaming Lips: Do You Realize? (Buy Album)
Damien Rice: The Blower’s Daughter (Buy Album)

Notes for a Friday

Posted in Jompson Brothers Band, Robbie Fulks, Wilco on February 13, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

*** This is The Jompson Brothers Band (and friends)… a new Rock & Roll ensemble out of Nashville.

Yes… that is Chris Stapleton of The Steeldrivers on the left in this picture. He’s the lead vocalist and guitar player for the Jompson Brothers Band and a vocal force as always. The guy in the middle is J.T. Cure, the bass player, and another talented acquaintance of mine from Morehead State University back home in Kentucky.

The Jompson Brothers Band is still working on its first album… so I don’t have any tracks yet. You can hear part of a live demo and watch a few videos on the band’s myspace page. Head on over there and “Go Jomp Yourself.”

***Over at Star Maker Machine this week, we are celebrating the year 1989. Head on over there now for your fix of all things B-52’s, Martika, and The Lemonheads. My only contribution so far highlights Rhett Miller’s ultra-rare 1989 solo album, Mythologies. If you want to know what the Old 97’s frontman sounded like as an 18-year-old high school student… go check it out.

***This is why I love Robbie Fulks. Later this month, Robbie will release 50 brand new songs… all at the same time… at his website, Robbie’s last studio album, Georgia Hard, came out nearly four years ago. I’ll be very interested to hear something new from my favorite Americana smart-ass.

***Tomorrow is Valentines Day, and Wilco has a little advice for all of us guys out there of what not to do tomorrow… “Forget the Flowers.”

Wilco: Forget the Flowers (Buy Album)

Buddy & Julie Miller: Written in Chalk

Posted in Buddy and Julie Miller on February 11, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

I’ve been listening to Buddy and Julie Miller’s new album Written in Chalk for a few weeks now, but I tried to hold off on writing about it until we got a little closer to the March 3rd release date. That is until I saw on the Ramblings… blog that New West Records has made the first track from the album, “Ellis County,” available as a free download from their website.

For the album itself… it is a bit different from the self-titled effort they released in 2001. That album was a full collaboration featuring eleven duets between Buddy and Julie with each contributing vocals to every track. When Buddy and Julie sing together, they create a heavenly sound that is uniquely theirs… a sound that can only be created by a couple that has been married and making music together for over twenty years. That’s why you’ll find Buddy on nearly all of Julie’s solo material and vice versa.

That’s also why it’s a bit odd to only find the two singing together on less than half of Written in Chalk’s twelve tracks. The album reads as one part Buddy and Julie Miller, one part Buddy and friends, and one part Julie and friends. That’s not a complaint mind you. When the “and friends” include Robert Plant, Patty Griffin, Emmylou Harris, and Regina and Ann McCrary… you can excuse Buddy and Julie for wanting to branch out a bit.

In fact, the collaborations with the outsiders comprise some of the absolute high points of the album. Patty Griffin’s vocals are the perfect compliment to Buddy on “Chalk,” a song that still stops me square in my tracks every time I hear it. Griffin also helps out Julie on the piano/guitar ballad “Don’t Say Goodbye” with understated harmonies that add an extra level of depth to the track. Robert Plant provides another highlight by singing a duet with Buddy on Mel Tillis’ “What You Gonna Do, Leroy.”

When Buddy and Julie do get together… watch out. “Gasoline and Matches,” a song about an explosive love affair, is as incendiary as the name might suggest. Buddy provides a slow burning electric groove for “Smooth” that transports you straight to the streets of Memphis. A more tender moment is found on the acoustic “June.”

The song I’m featuring here (and the song featured by New West) is the album opening “Ellis County.” This one was written by Julie (she wrote nine of the album’s twelve songs) and features Larry Campbell on the fiddle. The lyrics focus on nostalgia and a yearning to be taken back to a simpler time. The words are accompanied by a loping country groove that seems lifted from that same bygone era.

Written in Chalk is available March 3rd from New West Records.

Buddy & Julie Miller: Chalk (Buy Album)

Brigitte DeMeyer: Red River Flower

Posted in Brigitte DeMeyer on February 10, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

My mailbox has been flooded with new music over the last week or so. And since I took most of last week off (house hunting is not easy)… I figure it’s time to start trying to share some of that music with you. Today, it’s Red River Flower the upcoming release (Feb. 17) from songwriter Brigitte DeMeyer.

On her fourth studio album, DeMeyer delivers a strong collection of songs under the guidance of percussionist/producer Brady Blade (Emmylou Harris, Buddy Miller, Dave Matthews). DeMeyer and Blade convened in Nashville for their sessions that produced the thirteen tracks contained here. Red River Flower is the first album DeMeyer has recorded in Music City, and she credits the city itself with providing her a “spiritual home” and helping her create a fully realized album that showcases her many influences.

The album carries you from the sparse finger-snapper “Looking for Moses” to the roadhouse swagger of “Wicked to Win” to the dobro fueled country of “Shepherd” and back to the rock and gospel flavored “Justice” with ease. All the songs were tracked live in the studio with a band consisting of Blade, Mike Henderson (Steeldrivers), Al Perkins (Gram Parsons), Phil Madeira (Buddy Miller), Chris Donohue (Allison Moorer), and Buddy Miller (umm… Buddy Miller). The live setting is conveyed in the warmth that emanates from each one of these songs. Tracks such as the mandolin and dobro driven “Sweet Lady Rosa” sound more like a back porch picking party than a slick studio production. The fact that Miller also contributes vocals to “Without You” and “Meant for Mine” is just icing on the cake.

Red River Flower is available February 17th from BDM Music.

Brigitte DeMeyer: Shepherd (Buy Album)
Brigitte DeMeyer: Justice (Buy Album)

Mid-Week Notes

Posted in Brendon James Wright, Knoxville Music, Scott Miller, V-Roys on February 4, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

Just a few quick-hitters to get you through to the weekend…

*Knoxville’s local free weekly newspaper, The Metro Pulse, printed something really cool last week. Late last year, they conducted a poll of stalwarts of the local music scene from the last twenty years (club owners, musicians, writers, etc…) in an attempt to determine the “Best Knoxville Band Ever.” It turns out that Knoxville has produced some tremendous music in its time (Artists who fell outside of the Top 10 include The Everly Brothers and Roy Acuff).

Checking in at number one on the list was a little group composed of Jeff Bills, Paxton Sellers, Mic Harrison, and Scott Miller called The V-Roys. The patron saint of this blog, Scott Miller, also made the list at #5 as a solo artist. You can read about the full Top 10 here.

*Speaking of lists… No Depression has announced the results of their 2008 Readers Poll. Once again, Alejandro Escovedo comes out on top with Real Animal being named Album of the Year. I voted… so I’m at least partly responsible. Anyone who hasn’t heard Alejandro’s latest album should take this as one final sign and go get a copy.

*There were two posts over at Pretty Goes with Pretty this past week that really spoke to me. I’ve been struggling lately with a bit of a music overload coupled with a lack of solid listening time. I have new releases I want to review, new stuff in my email every day, discs I’m supposed to be previewing for WDVX, and old favorites that I want to revisit. I just don’t have time for it all. I’ve had the new Olson and Louris album for about two weeks, and I still haven’t been able to listen to the whole thing in one sitting. I recently lost my early morning listening time at my full time job because they banned iPods in the workplace. I’ve yet to rediscover that time.

Anyway… Scott started with a nice post about finding that uninterrupted listening time and followed it with one about acquiring music in moderation. I don’t know if I can ever do the latter, but I desperately want to do the former.

*Finally… I got an e-mail this week informing me that Knoxville’s own Brendon James Wright & the Wrongs will be opening for Robert Earl Keen at The Bijou later this month (Feb. 11). I mentioned Wright a while back in my “Best of Knoxville” post, and I think he should go over well with a Robert Earl Keen audience. I wish I could go to the show. I do have a few friends who are going, and I’m going to encourage them to get there early for Wright’s set.

Here’s a taste of his debut album…

Brendon James Wright & The Wrongs: Best That I Can (Buy Album)