Archive for August, 2009

Shane Nicholson: Familiar Ghosts

Posted in Shane Nicholson on August 31, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

A few weeks back, I wrote about my experiences at the Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson concert at the Bijou Theatre here in Knoxville. As part of that, I mentioned how pleasantly surprised I was by the music of Shane Nicholson.

I had been a fan of Kasey’s for some time, but was completely unfamiliar with Shane prior to the Rattlin’ Bones album. I feel bad about this now, but before Saturday night, I never really viewed Shane as an equal collaborator in the project. In my mind, the album was KASEY CHAMBERS and shane nicholson… I hardly gave him a fair shake. Unfortunately, I often fall under the trap of, “If I haven’t heard of you, then you must not be any good.” It’s probably not the best trait for a music blogger/radio dj to possess, but it does still happen from time to time.
In the case of Rattlin’ Bones, Kasey was one of my favorite artists of all time, and I had never heard of Shane before. He was also her husband… so he must have just been riding her coattails. It was all so clear in my head. I thought…
Turns out I was wrong… and pretty dang far from being right.
The first evidence of my ignorance came fairly early in the concert at the Bijou when Shane played an original tune called “God & Elvis.” The song presents three separate case studies of lost souls who aren’t sure which way to turn to find salvation. The other original we were treated to that night was a song that Shane described as his first attempt at writing a murder ballad. Eventually though, the song “Summer Dress” became what he calls a “missing persons ballad” because he found the murder in the song to be too depressing.
Turns out Shane also wrote some of my favorite tracks from Rattlin’ Bones. Most of the songs were co-writes with Kasey, but “Monkey on a Wire,” “Once In a While,” and “One More Year” were all solo compositions by Shane. The fact that he performed a solo reading of “Once in a While” on piano further cemented in my mind that Shane Nicholson is, in fact, a very talented artist in his own right.
After the show, my wife and I got to go backstage to chat with Kasey and Shane. I asked him about the album that contained “God & Elvis” and “Summer Dress.” Unfortunately, he said the album (Familiar Ghosts) was currently only available in his native Australia, and he didn’t know when or if it would ever make its way to the States. He also said he would love to give me a copy for review, but he didn’t bring any copies with him. He did promise to make sure to send a few copies to WDVX when the album finally got U.S. distribution.
As we were leaving the theatre, I took one last look back toward the stage to see Shane waving at my wife and I. Thinking he was just saying good night, I waved back and kept walking toward the door. That’s when I heard him yelling for me to stop. He had jumped off the stage and was running toward us up the aisle. It seems Kasey had found an extra copy of Familiar Ghosts on the bus, and Shane chased us down to give it to me.
We listened to the album on the way home, and fell in love with it immediately. Sonically, it is a continuation of the stripped down, rustic and rootsy sounds found on Rattlin’ Bones. The opening track, “Easy Now,” rolls along over slide and resonator guitars (all instruments on the album were played by Shane), and sets the tone for the rest of what’s to come. Shane shows off his mandolin and banjo skills on the up-tempo “Where the Water Goes,” falls prey to his suspicious nature on the accusatory “Who’s at Your Window,” and shows a dark side on “You and Your Enemy.”
There is nothing shiny about this album. Instead, the songs have an instant familiarity… as though they’ve been around for a while and are nice and broken in. There’s a warmth to these eleven tracks that keeps bringing me back again and again. The album takes the title Familiar Ghosts from a song that didn’t make the record but still seems somehow appropriate given its haunting and comfortable nature.
Familiar Ghosts is not yet available in The United States, but you can purchase it on iTunes, and I highly recommend that you do so. If you enjoyed Rattlin’ Bones, I can’t see any reason why you wouldn’t like this one as well.
Shane Nicholson: God & Elvis (Buy Album)
Shane Nicholson: Where the Water Goes (Buy Album)

Random Weekend Post: Last Year’s Song of the Year… "She Left Me for Jesus" by Hayes Carll

Posted in Hayes Carll on August 29, 2009 by AmericanaPulse
Yesterday, I gave you my thoughts on the songs nominated for “Song of the Year” at this year’s Americana Music Awards and Honors. Today, I give you last year’s champion… “She Left Me for Jesus” by Hayes Carll.

Americana Music Awards Nominees ’09: Song of the Year

Posted in Americana Music Awards 09, Buddy and Julie Miller, Kasey Chambers, Patty Griffin, Rodney Crowell, Shane Nicholson, The Flatlanders, The Gourds on August 28, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

Last week, I previewed the nominees for “Best New & Emerging Artist” at this year’s Americana Awards and Honors and asked you to vote for who you thought should win. You chose The Band of Heathens by an almost two-to-one margin over Sarah Borges & The Broken Singles.

This week, we’re going to dip into another category and ask you to vote on the “Americana Song of the Year.”

We’ll start with “Chalk” by Buddy Miller and Patty Griffin from Buddy and Julie Miller’s 2009 release Written in Chalk. Julie wrote the song, but does not appear on the track… opting instead to let Patty Griffin lend her beautiful voice to provide the soaring harmonies to Buddy’s soulful and grounded baritone. It was the right choice. Lyrically, the song is a classic Julie Miller tune full of heartache, heartbreak, burdens carried, and promises written in chalk that are easily erased. The musical accompaniment is mostly subdued… strummed acoustic guitars, resonant drums, and soft piano flourishes… but the vocal performances of Buddy and Patty make the song an absolute powerhouse.

Buddy Miller & Patty Griffin: Chalk (Buy Album)

The perfect counterpoint to the restrained heartbreak of “Chalk” is the unbridled joy and energy of “Country Love” by The Gourds from their 2009 effort Haymaker. Vocalist Kevin Russell sets the tone for the song by shouting the opening line, “Wake up! We’re going to the country.” For the next 2:45 the listener is taken on a hayride through the backwoods… a place where sweet potatoes are divine, you can actually see the stars away from the city lights, and a little “country lovin'” can make everything alright. Accordions, twangy guitars, and shouts of joy fill the track. If you can’t dance to this one… you may just not dance at all.

The Gourds: Country Love (Buy Album)

We’re brought back to reality a bit by the third nominee, “Homeland Refugee” by The Flatlanders from their 2009 effort Hills and Valleys. On this track, Flatlanders Joe Ely, Jimmy Dale Gilmore, and Butch Hancock create a moving narrative by invoking imagery from past eras of American hardships such as The Great Depression and The Dust Bowl to illustrate some of the financial hardships being faced by many Americans today. Ely takes lead vocals on the track and tells of a protagonist forced to leave his home on the coast and return to a simpler life in middle America. He returns along the same path his forefathers used during our country’s time of expansion when people looked to the west to find better fortunes. A lyrical nod to Woody Guthrie only drives home the point that our “Pastures of Plenty” aren’t so plentiful anymore.

The Flatlanders: Homeland Refugee (Buy Album)

That brings us to “Rattlin’ Bones,” the title track of the 2008 release by Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson. The husband and wife team of Kasey and Shane take a few cues from the Carter Family on this track that is a true celebration of the roots of country and folk music. The instrumentation is sparse with just guitar, banjo, and drums. Kasey and Shane share the lead vocal in a back-and-forth style and combine to craft haunting harmonies in the chorus. The concept is simple, but the execution is flawless. I don’t care if it comes from Australia… this IS Americana music.

Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson: Rattlin’ Bones (Buy Album)

Our final nominee this year is the title track from Rodney Crowell’s 2008 effort Sex and Gasoline. As you may recall, I was a little underwhelmed by Rodney’s latest effort when it was released… but this track had nothing to do with that. The song is an indictment of a sexist society and a popular culture that bases a woman’s worth solely on her beauty and youth. Or to put it in Rodney’s words, “You ain’t nothin’ but the shape you’re in.” There is something wrong with a society in which a 30-year-old woman is looked upon as an “old hag.” Of course, Rodney Crowell has never been afraid to call a foul when he sees one.

Rodney Crowell: Sex and Gasoline (Buy Album)

As for who should and will win this one I think I’m going to have to go with Buddy and Patty on both counts. Buddy is the most awarded artist in the history of the Americana Music Awards, and he’s leading the house band for the awards show again this year. Patty is also a past winner at the awards and sports what may be the best voice in the industry. The dark horse here may be The Flatlanders. Voters for this award have gone for topical songs in the past, and this one is timely without being transparent.

My vote (if I had one): Buddy Miller and Patty Griffin
My prediction: Buddy Miller and Patty Griffin

Solomon Burke and Jim Lauderdale

Posted in Jim Lauderdale, Solomon Burke on August 27, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

I found this picture earlier tonight on Buddy Miller’s website. It was taken at Buddy’s house during the recording of Solomon Burke’s Nashville CD. I just thought it was a great picture and wanted to pass it along.

For those who don’t know… Solomon is a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and one of the absolute giants of soul and R&B music. Jim is an Americana Jack of All Trades who is a gifted performer, talented songwriter, and the charismatic host of Tennessee Shines. They both look like they’re having the time of their lives working with each other here.
This is a song from Solomon Burke’s 2006 CD Nashville. It was written by Jim Lauderdale.
Solomon Burke: Seems Like You’re Gonna Take Me Back (Buy Album)

Random Weekend Post: Last Year’s Best New & Emerging Artist… Mike Farris

Posted in Mike Farris, The Steeldrivers on August 22, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

Yesterday, I introduced you to this year’s nominees for “Best New & Emerging Artist” at this year’s Americana Music Awards & Honors. Today, I’ll share with you the artist who won the award last year… Mike Farris.

Americana Music Awards Nominees ’09: New & Emerging Artist

Posted in Americana Music Awards 09, Band of Heathens, Belleville Outfit, Justin Townes Earle, Sarah Borges on August 21, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

Well… It’s that time of year again.

The 2009 Americana Music Association’s Awards and Honors Show will be held September 17 at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. The event is part of the Americana Music Festival and Conference taking place September 16tn – 19th in Nashville.

As I did last year… I’ll be taking a look at most of the awards categories and trying to handicap the field. We start today with the nominees for “Best New & Emerging Artist.”

First up is a songwriting collective from Austin, TX called The Band of Heathens. The Heathens got their start a few years back when songwriters Colin Brooks, Gordy Quist, and Ed Jurdi were all holding down regular weekly slots at Momo’s Club in Austin. Eventually, the three solo acts started playing together along with a rhythm section of John Chipman on drums and Seth Whitney on bass. As the story goes… a local music writer referred to the collective as “That Band of Heathens” and a legend was born.

The band’s self-titled studio album was released last year and instantly started climbing the Americana Album Airplay charts. In fact, it became just the second self released album to hit the top of that chart (Hayes Carll’s Little Rock). Produced by Austin luminary Ray Wylie Hubbard and featuring appearances by Hubbard, Patty Griffin, Gurf Morlix, and the late Stephen Bruton… their debut effort features country rock grooves to boost their solid songwriting. “Jackson Station” is as good as anything else I heard over the past year.

Band of Heathens: Jackson Station (Buy Album)

The second nominee is another young group based out of the Americana Mecca that is Austin, TX. Though they call Austin their home now, the roots of The Belleville Outfit actually lie in South Carolina where band members Marshall Hood, Rob Teter, and Jeff Brown were in a band called The DesChamps band during their high school years. The three reconnected in Austin a few years later and started recruiting players for a gig they booked at Merlefest. Enter Jonathan Konya and Connor Forsyth from New Orleans and Phoebe Hunt from Austin to complete the sextet.

The Belleville Outfit’s debut album Wanderin’ came out in February of 2008 with a follow up called Time to Stand coming out earlier this year in May. Both albums draw from a wide range of influences to create a sound that is based in Western Swing but also swings out to cover styles as diverse as jazz, traditional folk, cajun zydeco, and just about anything else you’ve ever wrapped your ears around. Here’s the title track from their debut album.

The Belleville Outfit: Wandrin’ (Buy Album)

For our third nominee, we leave Texas and head to Boston for Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles. Sarah is probably my favorite artist among the nominees and someone who I’ve followed for a few years now. She first got on stage as an actress and majored in musical theatre at Emerson College, a small private school in Boston. Eventually, Sarah formed a band and was signed to the Blue Corn Music label after a successful showcase at the SXSW festival.

Sarah has released three albums since then… 2005’s Silver City, 2007’s Diamonds in the Dark, and 2009’s The Stars are Out… the latter two for Sugar Hill. At it’s core, her music houses a strong rock and roll spirit with obvious flourishes of country soul mixed in for good measure. Her latest album was a little less country and a little more rock and roll. It’s a bit of a new direction for a talented performer and songwriter who figures to be around for a while. It’s nice to see her finally get some attention from the Americana voters.

Sarah Borges & The Broken Singles: Me and Your Ghost (Buy Album)

Which brings me to the final nominee this year and the only returning nominee in this category. How someone can be nominated for “Best New Artist” two years in a row… I’ll never know. Here’s part what I wrote about Justin Townes Earle last year.

“Justin Townes Earle is the son of Steve Earle and is named for Townes Van Zandt. That’s not too much to live up to is it? Justin understandably developed a love for music and was playing in a couple of bands in Nashville by the time he was a teenager. He also spent some time playing in his father’s touring band, The Dukes, but was kicked out of the group due a growing dependence on alcohol and drugs… …[Now] clean and sober, Justin self-released the EP Yuma in 2007. His debut album The Good Life followed in 2008.”

Earle returned in March of this year with Midnight at the Movies, another strong effort that, once again, showcases his skills as a songwriter (even if my favorite song on the album is a Replacements cover), and proves that he can stand on his own outside the shadows of his namesake and famous father. His recent inclusion on the Big Surprise Tour with The Old Crow Medicine Show has only broadened his exposure and helped solidify his status as an artist to watch in the future.
Justin Townes Earle: Can’t Hardly Wait (Buy Album)
So those are the nominees for “Best New & Emerging Artist.” I put a poll up yesterday for you to vote on your favorite. We’ll find out the real winner September 17th.
As for how I would handicap this year’s race… I think JTE will be tough to beat. In addition to his nomination here, he’s also up for “Artist of the Year” and “Album of the Year.” My vote (if I had one) would probably go to Sarah Borges because she’s been a favorite of mine for some time, but her latest album is probably the least “Americana” of her catalogue. The Belleville Outfit have the most unique sound and are probably the most innovative of the group. The Band of Heathens had the best “debut” album during the nominating period and would probably be a shoo in if not for the word “Emerging” in the name of the award.
My Vote (If I had one): Sarah Borges
My Prediction: Justin Townes Earle

Blue Plate Special: Mitch Barrett Today at Noon

Posted in Mitch Barrett, Zoe Speaks on August 19, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

Quick update this morning to ask you all to tune in to WDVX’s Blue Plate Special today (Wednesday) at noon (Eastern) to hear a live set from songwriter Mitch Barrett.

Mitch is a singer/songwriter from Berea, Kentucky who I first discovered a few years back when he was performing as one half of the folk duo, Zoe Speaks. Their albums Pearl and Birds Fly South were kept in steady rotation at my former station, Morehead State Public Radio, and the duo would often perform at MSPR functions.
Mitch is performing on his own these days, and has been doing quite well for himself. He is a two-time winner of the Chris Austin songwriting competition at Merlefest, and has also won songwriting competitions at The Rocky Mountain Folk Festival and the prestigious Kerrville New Folk Competition. This past June, Mitch was named the winner of the Telluride Troubadour Competition at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado. Previous winners of that competition include Catie Curtis, Nels Andrews, Kris Delmhorst, and Deb Talon (The Weepies)… pretty solid company.
Here are a couple of songs to give you a taste of Mitch’s music before you tune in to the show today. Both tunes come from his days with Zoe Speaks since I don’t yet have his new solo disc. The first is a reworking of the classic tune “Shady Grove” with new lyrics from Mitch. In his version, “Shady Grove” becomes a chilling tale of an interracial relationship in the deep south. It’s a great re-imagining of a standard tune. After that is a YouTube vid of Micth performing an original tune called “Sacred Yard.” You can also hear more on the Jukebox at Mitch’s website.
You can listen to the Blue Plate Special live on-line by following this link.
Zoe Speaks: Shady Grove (Buy Album)
One more quick note…

As you probably know, the radio station where I work… WDVX… is a non-commercial station that relies on the contributions of listeners to stay alive and on the air. We are currently running a fund raising raffle until August 29th to raise funds for the station. Tickets are available online at our website for $10 per ticket. The grand prize this year is $5,000. If you’re feeling lucky and want to help out a radio station that plays great Americana music, gives voice to local musicians, and provides live music to the community (like today’s Blue Plate Special… a show we put on every weekday for free), stop by and pick up a ticket. Thanks.