Archive for November, 2009

Top 10 Americana Albums of the Decade 2000-2009

Posted in Top 10 Americana Albums: 2000-2009 on November 12, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

It’s getting to be that time of year again. As we get closer to December the stream of new releases starts to slow, and we start to look back at the music of the past year to determine which releases were the most vital and essential. I’ve been paring down my list and will share it with you as we get closer to the new year. Keep your eyes peeled for info on a massive collaborative list that a few bloggers (myself included) will be working toward over the next month as well.

The thing that makes this year unique (as my wife reminded me recently) is that the end of this year also marks the end of a decade. That makes this an excellent time to look back at the last ten years and share my favorites with you. Over the next couple of weeks, I’d like to share with you a few albums from the last ten years that really defined the decade for me musically.
This year also marks the 10th Anniversary of The Americana Music Association. I think it only fitting then… since this is the decade that gave rise to the Americana movement… that my list be limited to the Top 10 Americana releases of the decade. The list will combine my favorite albums and the albums that meant the most to me as I discovered and devoured the sounds of Americana over the last ten years. The only rule is that an artist can only make the list once… no multiple entries from the same artist.
Feel free to discuss and disagree with my choices. I hope to have the first installment posted later today.

Brandi Carlile: Give Up the Ghost

Posted in Brandi Carlile on November 11, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

Before I get into my review of Brandi Carlile’s new album Give Up the Ghost, I want to share a bit of my personal history with Brandi’s music.

I first became aware of Brandi back in 2005 when my Music Director at Morehead State Public Radio gave me a copy of her self-titled debut. My boss was already pretty excited about the album herself and wanted to make sure I didn’t overlook it when I was checking out that week’s new releases. She didn’t have to worry. After one spin, I was immediately charmed by Brandi’s voice and confident swagger on songs like “What Can I Say” and ” Throw it Away.”

The songwriting was mature, the songs were fully realized, and the sound was huge. The chorus of “Throw it Away” was especially explosive with multiple vocal tracks, a driving backbeat, and a tidal wave of guitars that blended into something Heavenly.
The song that really pulled me in, however, was “Closer to You.” At the time, I lived in Kentucky, and my wife to be lived in Tennessee. I found this song really helped me make it through all of my late night drives to Knoxville. The shuffling drum beat propelled me down the highway in my own attempt to be closer to the one I loved.
Brandi Carlile: Closer to You (Buy Album)

When Brandi’s sophomore album The Story was released in 2007, my wife and I were on vacation in Myrtle Beach. We knew we wanted the album, but weren’t sure where to find it in a strange city. We drove around Myrtle Beach looking for a record store where we could buy a copy. After an unsuccessful search for a local shop, we ended up grabbing a copy at a place I normally avoid… Best Buy. I’m glad we did, because the album quickly became a large part of the soundtrack for our trip.
Soon after, it became part of the soundtrack for a large portion of the country as well when a couple of the tracks for the album were optioned for use in major national advertising campaigns by General Motors (“The Story”) and J.C. Penny (“Have You Ever”). The Story also got a major push from the TV show Grey’s Anatomy. It wasn’t the first time Brandi’s music showed up on Grey’s (three songs from the debut album were used on the show), but this time the show was used as a vehicle to launch the World Premier of Brandi’s new music video. It was a move that helped Brandi reach a larger audience and helped place her firmly in the public consciousness as an artist to be reckoned with.
The standout track here is the title cut. Brandi’s vocal is especially raw and highlights why Paste Magazine recently called Brandi’s the “Best Voice in Indie Rock.” Producer T-Bone Burnett recorded the vocals live in one take and kept some imperfections in the mix that help bring the track to life. Notice the crack in Brandi’s voice during the song’s cathartic climax (just before the 3:00 mark). It adds a notch of vulnerability and helps to ground the track.
Brandi Carlile: The Story (Buy Album)
All of this leads to Brandi’s new record Give Up the Ghost.
Of course, we got this one the day it came out last month, and I’ve listened to it several times since then in an attempt to get a full sense of the album before reviewing it.
The verdict? I like it… quite a lot really. The highlights are plentiful.
We’ll start with the album’s opening track, “Looking Out.” It starts out with Brandi’s trademark acoustic guitar strums and a search for answers…
“And when I asked the corner preacher,
I couldn’t hear him for my youth.
Some people get religion.
Some people get the truth.
I never get the truth.”
The whole thing seems rather ominous and bleak until the chorus comes along to serve as an affirmation and shine a light on the darkness. Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls adds some brightness to the proceedings as well with her wonderful harmony vocals.
Other highlights include guest appearances by Elton John on the rollicking piano driven “Caroline,” Benmont Tench (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers) on the sombre “Pride and Joy,” and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith popping up in multiple spots… most noticeably alongside John on “Caroline.” Elton John even loaned his musical collaborator Paul Buckmaster to Brandi for the project. Buckmaster arranged the strings on “Pride & Joy.”
As diverse as the guests are… the music covers a wide spectrum as well. In one four song stretch in the middle of the album things flow from the pop flavored, drum driven single “Dreams” to the delicate “That Year,” a song about the suicide of one of Brandi’s high school friends. From fragile to fabulous, the proceedings then immediately move on to the bouncy “Caroline” and the slow-building arena rocker “Before it Breaks.” Brandi shows tremendous range in both her songwriting and her vocal performance. Expect her to stay on the scene for a while.
I’ll leave you with the opening track from Give Up the Ghost, a song I mentioned earlier, “Looking Out.” I think it’s also worth mentioning that Brandi has started her own charitable foundation called The Looking Out Foundation that raises money for a variety of other charitable groups. Brandi donates one dollar from each concert ticket she sells to the foundation. You can find out more at Brandi’s website.
Brandi Carlile: Looking Out (Buy Album)
Edit: I have removed the mp3 links from this post due to a copyright infringement claim against this post. By the way… I still have the email from Brandi’s record label where I’m given permission to post links to the mp3s and another email where they tell me how much they love the post and thanking me for writing it. Not that any of that matters to the people who keep filing these claims…

Random Weekend Post: WDVX Blue Plate Special

Posted in Blue Plate Special, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Jay Clark, Mike Farris on November 7, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

Here are a few videos of performances at the WDVX Blue Plate Special. This is a live concert series that takes place every day at noon in down town Knoxville. Every day, people gather downtown to socialize, have lunch, and watch some live music. Did I mention that the shows are free to attend?

We’re in the middle of our Fall Fund Drive at WDVX. We are a listener supported radio station, and we rely heavily on listener donations to stay on the air. By making your tax deductible donation to WDVX you support programs like the Blue Plate Special and 24-7-365 programming of bluegrass, classic country, blues, folk, alt-country, and Americana music. You also help make sure that I have a job.

Sorry for the sales pitch… please enjoy some music from Mike Farris, The Carolina Chocolate Drops, and local favorite Jay Clark.

Jay’s performance took place on Halloween last year if you’re wondering. He doesn’t always dress like Elvis. He’s also joined onstage by a couple of other Knoxville favorites… Cruz Contreras of the Black Lillies on the Mandolin and Wade Hill on the banjo.

Gram Parsons & Ryan Adams: Birthday Post

Posted in Flying Burrito Brothers, Gram Parsons, Ryan Adams, Whiskeytown on November 5, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

Today is the birthday of two of my favorite musicians… Gram Parsons & Ryan Adams.

For more of an in-depth look at the two birthday boys, you can check out last year’s post. For now though, I’d just like to wish a happy 35th birthday to Ryan Adams and a happy would-have-been 63rd birthday to the late Gram Parsons.
Here’s one track featuring Gram with the Flying Burrito Brothers and one featuring Ryan with Whiskeytown.
The Flying Burrito Brothers: Christine’s Tune (Devil in Disguise) (Buy Album)
Whiskeytown: Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight (Buy Album)

Quick Schedule Update

Posted in Band of Heathens, Brendon James Wright, Jill Andrews on November 4, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

Just a few quick schedule updates for some on-air happenings at WDVX this week…

***I had mentioned over the weekend that Jill Andrews of the everybodyfields would be joining me on the air tonight as part of the WDVX Fall Fund Drive. That appearance has been postponed as Jill has been given the opportunity to open for Willie Nelson tonight at the Tennessee Theatre. I spoke with her yesterday, and she is very excited for the chance to play on the same stage as one of the legends of Country and Americana music.
Don’t worry though… Jill will be stopping back by the studio in a few weeks to share some songs and insights from her new EP. She’ll be in the studio on November 20th at 6:00 to promote her show later that night at The Square Room with Matt Butcher.
***The Band of Heathens will be appearing on The Blue Plate Special today at Noon (Eastern). The guys from Austin had the number 1 album on the Americana Airplay Chart last week with their new CD One Foot in the Ether. I can’t wait to see their performance today… especially since I’ll be hosting the show.
***Finally… I didn’t mention this the other day, but Knoxville’s own Brendon James Wright (pictured above) will be in the studio with me Friday night from 8:00 – 9:00 to play a few songs and spin a few CDs. I’ve mentioned Brendon a few times in this space as a tremendous local songwriter and an artist you should get to know. If you are a fan of artists such as Steve Earle, Robert Earl Keen, and Scott Miller… you should tune in Friday night and get to know Brendon James Wright.
Brendon James Wright & The Wrongs: Mason Brown (Buy Album)
All of the stuff I just mentioned (minus the Willie Nelson concert) can be heard online at the WDVX website. Today marks the first day of our Fall Fund Drive. If you listen to the station… and you feel moved to do so… you can make your donation to WDVX here. Thank you.

I Bet You They Won’t Play This Song on the Radio

Posted in Kathleen Edwards, Lucinda Williams, Monty Python, Ryan Adams on November 3, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

Monty Python’s Flying Circus: I Bet You They Won’t Play This Song on the Radio (Buy Album)

I often find myself listening to new music with my “DJ ears.” That is, any time I hear something new, I ask myself if it passes the radio test. Is this really something that I envision myself playing on the air?
Most of the time the answer is obvious. The song is immediately catchy and passes the test, or it inspires the opposite reaction and gets tossed on the scrap pile.
What makes things tough is when a song that passes the test has to be thrown in the scrap heap due to an unfortunate word or phrase that makes the song run afoul of the FCC guidelines for decency. One four letter word can ruin a four minute song for radio play.
I’ve struggled with this for a while now as many of my favorite artists have one (or more) of those songs that would likely get me fined or fired if they ever showed up on my playlist. Luckily, I have a blog now.
Here are three songs that rank among my all-time favorites but have never gotten one single spin on the air. I already wrote about Lucinda Williams’ “Essence” over at Star Maker Machine. “Come Pick Me Up” is my favorite Ryan Adams song, and Kathleen Edwards’ “What Are You Waiting For” contains my single favorite delivery of a naughty word in song.
I’m not particularly proud of what this post says about me as a person… but I hope you enjoy it nonetheless.
Lucinda Williams: Essence (Buy Album)
Ryan Adams: Come Pick Me Up (Buy Album)
Kathleen Edwards: What Are You Waiting For (Buy Album)

Van Meter: Should Have Been a Weather Girl

Posted in Caleb Stine, Van Meter on November 1, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

Her name is tattooed on your right arm.

And it wasn’t ’til you took off your pearl button shirt,
That I knew I’s doing something wrong.
And now I’m doing something wrong.
From the opening verse of “Something Wrong,” the opening song of Van Meter‘s Should Have Been a Weather Girl, the tone is set for an album that deals with broken hearts and broken promises. In her lyrics, Jennifer Van Meter, the songwriter/vocalist/guitarist behind Van Meter, tackles all sides of the broken relationship.
I that opening track, the narrator asks the object of her affections to remove the tattoo that bears his lover’s name… and to remover her as well. Elsewhere the protagonist revels in the piles of broken men left in her wake in the slow burning “The Habit,” and completely removes her heart from the equation for much of “Keep On.” In the former she warns a potential beau against giving her his heart. In the latter, she dreams of disappearing in the night and leaving her liaison to wonder where she came from… and where she has gone.
At the core of most of these songs however hides the singer’s own broken heart. The narrator in these songs plays with the hearts of others to avoid the pain in her own. Other times, as in “Hard to Say” the pain catches up to her. She is left alone to ponder what might have been and must force herself to face the pain and move forward.
Of course, none of this is new ground. Songs about broken hearts are as old as music itself. Somehow though, Van Meter manages to keep it all fresh. The emotions in the songs never feel contrived, and the rock tinged country sound of Van Meter’s music holds just a bit of a southern twang that keeps pulling me in.
Even though Jennifer Van Meter hails from and currently resides in Maryland, that southern swagger is in no way contrived or forced. Van Meter spent her college years as a student in the Bluegrass and Country Music program at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, TN. It was at ETSU where she studied guitar under former Johnny Cash bandleader Jerry Hensley and songwriting under Ed Snodderly. Hensley is also a direct descendant of The Carter Family, and a lyric from Snodderly’s “Diamond Stream” is engraved into the wall at the entrance to the Hall of Honor at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville. That speaks volumes to the type of musical education Van Meter received.
Van Meter also claims Kasey Chambers’ Barricades & Brickwalls as a primary influence on her sound and an album that helped to define her own musical tastes. Any regular reader of this site knows that I can readily attest to the life altering quality of that record. From what she tells me, I imagine Van Meter’s experience with Barricades & Brickwalls to be very similar to mine.
Should Have Been a Weather Girl puts all of Van Meter’s education to use. The musicianship and songwriting she learned in the classroom at ETSU mixed with the informal lessons she learned from Kasey Chambers have helped Jennifer Van Meter and her band craft a very solid debut record that is worth checking out. Here are a couple of tracks from the album.
Van Meter: Something Wrong (Buy Album)
Van Meter: Habit (Buy Album)
I’d also like to briefly mention one of Van Meter’s collaborators on this album, Caleb Stine.
Caleb came to Knoxville a few months back to perform on The Blue Plate Special. I enjoyed his set on the Blue Plate, but haven’t really had an excuse to share his music here… until now.
This is one from Caleb’s I’ll Head West Again album called “Country Music Won’t Kill You.” Among other things, it addresses the idea that someday in the far distant future aliens will visit the Earth long after humans have become extinct. The aliens will then find an old recording of Gram Parsons and Clarence White and view our species as “better than we really are.” I just really like that sentiment.
Caleb Stine: Country Music Won’t Kill You (Buy Album)