Archive for December, 2009

Random Weekend Post: Holiday YouTube

Posted in Bing Crosby, Dar Williams, David Bowie, Hayes Carll, Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash on December 25, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

This post usually comes on a Saturday, but I wanted to go ahead and get this out today. I hope everyone has a happy holiday season.

Top 20 of 2009: 12-10

Posted in Brandi Carlile, Camera Obscura, Dave Rawlings Machine, Top 20 of 2009 on December 24, 2009 by AmericanaPulse
#12 – Give Up the Ghost by Brandi Carlile

My wife and I always look forward to a new Brandi Carlile album, and we were right there at the record store on day one waiting for this one. Brandi is one of those artists that I’ve followed since her debut album. I feel like I’ve been along for the ride with her since the start and have watched (and listened to) her grow as an artist with each new release. She takes another leap forward here with Give Up the Ghost, an album I reviewed (along with her entire catalogue) back in November.

As I wrote back then, Brandi covers considerable ground over the course of this album as she easily shifts gears from pop fueled arena rockers to delicate down tempo numbers. Guests Elton John, Amy Ray, Benmont Tench, and Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chili Peppers all star in various spots on the album. John ‘s appearance especially stands as a highlight on the album as he duets with Brandi on the rollicking piano number “Caroline.” I don’t have permission to share that one, but here’s another of the many standout tracks.

Brandi Carlile: Dying Day (Buy Album)

#11 – Friend of a Friend by The Dave Rawlings Machine

I had a hard time figuring out where exactly to place this one on the list. It probably should be a little higher than it is, but it’s so new (Nov. 17 release date) that I still haven’t fully digested it. My unfamiliarity with the album probably dropped it a few spots. I did, however, see Dave’s Machine in action a couple of weeks ago with Gillian Welch and the OCMS boys. It was one of the finest performances I’ve seen in quite a while and certainly pushed it up the charts a bit. It’s certainly one of the best albums of 2009, but it might become one of my favorite albums of 2010. I stuck it right here in the middle.

Here, Rawlings takes over the spotlight from his long time musical collaborator Welch and seizes the opportunity to shine on his own. It’s about time. Rawlings is one of the most talented musicians working in any genre today, and it’s great to see him step out of the shadows so everyone else can see what a few of us have known for a long time. I think my wife’s jaw is still somewhere on the floor after seeing his rendition of Old Crow’s “I Hear Them All” (a song he co-wrote). She left the show comparing him to Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac. That’s about the highest praise she can give.

Dave Rawlings Machine: I Hear Them All (Buy Album)

#10 – My Maudlin Career by Camera Obscura

The story of how my wife and I came to discover this album is somewhat interesting. I heard the song “French Navy” on NPR’s All Songs Considered Podcast and left my wife a voice mail telling her about this amazing new song I had to heard. I just didn’t tell her the name of the artist or the song. Later that same day, she left me a voice mail to tell me about an amazing new song she and just heard on her XM Radio. When we both got home from work that day, we discovered we had both been talking about the same song.

Of course, we went out and bought the CD almost immediately after that and were immediately enthralled by the “Wall of Sound” meets lo-fi production and the enchanting voice of lead singer Tracyanne Campbell. The album is bursting with infectious hooks and several nods to that classic 60’s girl group sound. Despite the nods to the past, the whole thing is also infused with a modern indie vibe that grounds the album in the present. I know I’ve shared the video with you once before, but I’m going to give you a taste of “French Navy” one more time. It may be my favorite track of the year.

Camera Obscura: French Navy (Buy Album)

Top 20 of 2009: 15-13

Posted in Boca Chica, Jill Andrews, Todd Snider, Top 20 of 2009 on December 21, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

#15 – Jill Andrews EP by Jill Andrews

2009 was really a big year for Knoxville’s Jill Andrews. Her long time band the everybodyfields split up, she became a mother for the first time, and she released her first ever solo project. Jill’s self titled EP was released in October and reads as a deeply personal record that stands up to any of her previous work with the everybodyfields. When I asked her in November how it felt to have a record that bore her name after spending so long as part of a group, she described the feeling as, “pretty much the best thing ever.”

She’s not too far off in her assessment. In my initial review of the album, I mentioned the raw emotions that are on display throughout the album as Jill deals with the dissolution of her previous band. It must have been quite cathartic to get those feelings out of her head and on to a record. She has every right to be proud and excited about this release… it’s certainly “Worth Keeping.”

Jill Andrews: Worth Keeping (Buy Album)

#14 – The Excitement Plan by Todd Snider

I didn’t review Todd Snider’s The Excitement Plan when it came out, but I did give everyone a chance to listen to the album early with a handy widget from Todd’s website (you can still listen to clips of four songs from the album there). I also celebrated Todd Snider day (a holiday of my own invention) back in May when he visited for a couple of shows at WDVX. Todd played brief solo sets on the Blue Plate Special and Tennessee Shines. I left both sets in awe of his easy sense of humor and, of course, his music.

Both of Todd’s assets are in fine form here. He will make you smile with his rant against the music industry in “Money, Compliments, Publicity (Song Number Ten) and with “Don’t Tempt Me,” a classic country cheating song he cowrote with Loretta Lynn. Todd takes an introspective turn on “Greencastle Blues” when he examines his own troubled past with a mix of helplessness and ownership of his mistakes. Todd sings, “Some of this trouble just finds me/Most of this trouble I earn.” It’s an honest assessment of his career, and it serves as a window into Todd’s past and his present.

Todd Snider: Greencastle Blues (Buy Album)

#13 – Lace Up Your Workboots by Boca Chica

Although I bear a slight grudge against the city of Pittsburgh right now after the Steelers late win over the Packers yesterday, I would be remiss if I didn’t give praise here to the Pittsburgh based collective Boca Chica. I was very happy to find this one in my inbox this fall. On Lace Up Your Workboots, songwriter and vocalist Hallie Pritts leads her expansive ensemble cast through ten finely crafted folk flavored tunes that draw influences from all over the musical spectrum.

“Shake Your Party Dress” owes a heavy debt to Fleetwood Mac while other tracks draw from Neil Young, Gillian Welch… even Andrew Bird. It’s folk music with a bit of an experimental edge that also somehow stays true to the core of the original form. Here’s a track called “Valentine” that builds nicely from a quiet acoustic strum into a fully fleshed out symphony of strings, snares, synths, keys, and vocal harmonies. It’s quite captivating.

Boca Chica: Valentine (Buy Album)

Special bonus Boca Chica Holiday track from Indiecater Records Christmas sampler…

Boca Chica: Snow Angels (Buy Album)

Random Weekend Post: Merry Christmas from the Family

Posted in Robert Earl Keen on December 19, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

It isn’t Christmas until you hear this song…

Top 20 of 2009: 18-16

Posted in Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Madison Violet, Sarah Borges, Top 20 of 2009 on December 18, 2009 by AmericanaPulse
#18 – No Fool for Trying by Madison Violet

Madison Violet was one of my favorite new discoveries of 2009. I was completely unaware of the duo from Canada when their No Fool for Trying album showed up on Reviewshine’s website (another one of my favorite things of 2009). It was one of the first albums I received and reviewed through Reviewshine, and I’m glad I took the time to give this one a listen… it’s easily one of my favorite folk records of the year. In fact, they were recently named Vocal Group of the Year at the Canadian Folk Music Awards.

This album is full of lush harmonies and beautifully heartbreaking lyrics that create the perfect album to listen to during a relaxing evening at home. This is the third album for Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIssac as Madison Violet, and the first to draw so heavily from acoustic folk and bluegrass influences. It’s a direction I hope they continue to follow.

Madison Violet: No Fool for Trying (Buy Album)

#17 – Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit by Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit

I noticed this album back when it was first released in February, but I didn’t truly come to appreciate it until I went back to listen to it again before the Americana Honors and Awards. I’ve said here several times that Jason was my favorite member of The Drive-By Truckers during his time with the group. Of course, when he was with the Truckers, only two or three of his songs would make each album. Now that he’s on his own with two solo albums under his belt, Jason has really had the chance to grow and expand his sound.

This album finds Jason building on the southern rock sound that has been at the core of most of his previous work and adding a bit of country soul. The guiding hand of Lynyrd Skynyrd is still present, but there’s something extra here that elevates this album over his previous effort Sirens of the Ditch. Jason’s backing players, The 400 Unit provide a fine framework for his lyrics with keys present nearly throughout the album and drums mixed way up in the front. A promising second effort for this amazingly gifted songwriter.

Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit: The Blue (Buy Album)

#16 – The Stars Are Out by Sarah Borges & The Broken Singles

I was very open on this site about my process of growing to like this album. I started with excitement, moved on to trepidation, experienced some slight disappointment, and finally took a step back and learned to enjoy it. I had read some early reviews and and heard one overly polished track before the album was released. I let that color my expectations and taint my initial perception of the record. I shouldn’t have.

Once I took the time to regroup and listen to the album again with fresh ears, however, I was able to appreciate the album for what it is. Some of the country flavors from her previous work has been replaced in spots by a harder rock edge and a Joan Jett like energy on several tracks. That edge is present on several tracks including the Borges originals “Do it for Free” and “I’ll Show You How.” It also shows up on her cover of Any Trouble’s 1980’s Brit rock tune “Yesterday’s Love.”
Sarah Borges & The Broken Singles: Yesterday’s Love (Buy Album)

Top 20 of 2009: 21-19

Posted in Charlie Robison, Porterdavis, Samantha Crain, Top 20 of 2009 on December 15, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

My decade list has been posted. The Bird List has been compiled. Now it’s time to look back at this year’s new releases and attempt to list my favorite albums of 2009.

It’s important to note that these are my favorite albums and not necessarily a critical review of the best of the year. There’s a lot of stuff out there that I didn’t hear this year, a lot of things I enjoyed but didn’t earn favorite status, and a few critical darlings that just flat didn’t do it for me. This is simply a list of the 20 albums that I enjoyed the most this year and the ones I kept coming back to.

A couple of notes before we get into it…

I’m doing 20 instead of ten this year because that’s the size of the list I came up with for The Bird List (A collective effort by 30 Americana and Roots bloggers to create a master list of the most essential albums of 2009). In fact, this list will have 21 albums because it includes one album that was not on my entry for The Bird List. This album’s inclusion on the list is based on my bending of the definition of “2009” in order to make it fit. I’ll tell you more when we get to that spot.

The write ups for each album will also be a bit shorter than last year. I’ve already written about most of the albums on this list at least once this year. Where I can, I’ll provide links to the original posts as I progress through the list. The mp3 links in the original posts will be inactive, but I will provide active mp3 links for each album in the new posts.

Ok… Let’s get started…

#21. Porterdavis by Porterdavis

I was first introduced to this trio from Austin this summer when they sent me a copy of their self-titled studio debut produced by the wonderful Gurf Morlix. When I noticed they were headed to Knoxville in September to play the Blue Plate Special and a few other shows, I gave the album a few spins and really came to like what I heard.

The band had a unique sound that was built around the vocals and guitars of lead singer Daniel Barrett and filled out nicely by Simon Wallace on harmonica and Mike Meadows on the Black Swan Drum (an instrument of his own invention). Simon’s harmonica heavily ties the band’s sound to the blues while also taking some cues from folk and alternative country. The lead track on the album, “Smack You Back,” showcases all of this while also dropping some lyrical references to classic rock. Here’s the studio version of the track along with another version played live at the WDVX studios when the guys visited with me in September. You can also listen to their entire visit here.

Porterdavis: Smack You Back (Buy Album)
Porterdavis: Smack You Back (Live @ WDVX) (Buy Album)

#20. Beautiful Day by Charlie Robison

My original review of this album was one of the first posts removed by the blog police this summer, but that won’t stop me from including it here as one of my favorites of 2009.

As I said previously, Charlie has always been my favorite of the two Robison brothers. This album goes a long way toward explaining why. Charlie always seemed to have a bit more of an edge than his brother Burce, and that shows through clearly here on songs like “Yellow Blues” and “Nothin’ Better to Do.” Charlie’s music has always seemed a little more carefree and wild than his brother’s.

That’s why it’s so striking that the true successes of this album come when Charlie lets his more vulnerable side shine through. He recorded this album in the aftermath of his divorce from long time wife Emily Erwin of the Dixie Chicks. The heartbreak is palpable in the pleading “Reconsider” and the mournful “Down Again.” But he refuses to give in to the failures of the past, and instead turns his eyes to the future on tracks like “Feeling Good.” Despite the emotional scar at the center of the album, Charlie never seems defeated by the circumstances of his life. He sees the Beautiful Day on the other side of his pain and lets the light shine through.

Charlie Robison: Beautiful Day (Buy Album)

#19. Songs in the Night by Samantha Crain & The Midnight Shivers

Samantha Crain is a young songwriter from Oklahoma who turned a lot of heads this year with her full length debut Songs in the Night. On this release, Samantha displays a mature songwriting style and manages to create her own individual sound while still allowing each song to have a life and feel of its own. She is able to convincingly pull off the subdued “Long Divison” just as easily as the up tempo “Devil’s in Boston.”

Samantha appeared on Tennessee Shines in October and also visited me in the studio before the show. She played a couple of songs for me in the studio and shared a great story about how an email to the Avett Brothers helped to jump start her career. It was great to have such a promising young artist in the studio to share her story and her music. As much as her songs spoke to me on the album, it was amazing to have her share them with me one on one in the WDVX studio. Here voice is truly a unique instrument and one I was glad to have the opportunity to experience up close. You can listen to my entire interview with Samantha Crain here and check out a studio track and a live performance below.

Samantha Crain & The Midnight Shivers: Songs in the Night (Buy Album)
Samantha Crain: Get the Fever Out (Live @ WDVX) (Buy Album)

The Bird List

Posted in Best of 2009 on December 15, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

My personal “Best of 2009” list is coming soon… I promise. For now, here’s a look at a little project several of us roots/americana bloggers have been working on for the last few weeks.

The Bird List. A bird’s eye view of the combined top 20 lists of what we like to call a “loose confederation of like minded bloggers”. This is the inaugural year. It’s been a patchy one! But what we do have is a decent idea, and what we feel is an interesting list. So Here it is. The best albums of the year as voted on by 30 of the web’s leading aficionados of twanglike music.

1. Justin Townes Earle – Midnight at the Movies
2. Lucero – 1372 Overton Park
3. Ryan Bingham and The Dead Horses – Roadhouse Sun
4. Buddy and Julie Miller – Written in Chalk
5. Dave Rawlings Machine – A Friend of a Friend
6. Slaid Cleaves – Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away
7. Todd Snider – The Excitement Plan
8. Avett Brothers – I and Love and You
9. Band of Heathens – One Foot In the Ether
10. Tom Russell – Blood and Candlesmoke
11. Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit – S/T
12. Corb Lund – Losin’ Lately Gambler
13. Charlie Robison – Beautiful Day
14. Drive-By Truckers – The Fine Print
15. Steve Earle – Townes
16. Deer Tick – Born on Flag Day
17. Wrinkle Neck Mules – Let The Lead Fly
18. Magnolia Electric Co. – Josephine
19. Guy Clark – Somedays The Songs Write You
20. Those Darlins – S/T
20. Miranda Lambert – Revolution

Contributing Blogs: A Fifty Cent Lighter, A Truer Sound, Alt-512, Amber Waves of Twang, Americana Rock Mix, Americana Roots, Beat Surrender, Because Whit Happens, Country California, Country Music Pride, Farce The Music, For The Sake of The Song, Front Porch Musings, Heartworn Highways, High Noon Saloon, It’s Great To Be Alive, Kim Ruehl (No Depression), Juli Thanki, (The 9513), Romeo Sid Vicious, More Cowbelle, My Aimz Is True, Ninebullets, Sounds Country, The Gobbler’s Knob, There’s Always Someone Cooler Than You, This Mornin’ I Am Born Again, Twang Nation, Twangville, Freight Train Boogie, When You Awake
Special thanks to: Truersound, Sounds Country, Romeo Sid Vicious, and David Attaway