Archive for April, 2010

ReviewShine Wednesday: Nightjar and Ted Lukas & The Misled

Posted in Nightjar, Ted Lukas and the Misled on April 28, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

Today’s ReviewShine artists both have a common connection. Each of these artists can be linked to Kasey Anderson… an artist I’ve featured here recently.

We start with a band from Indianapolis called Nightjar.

After posting my interview with Chip Robinson and Kasey Anderson, I received an email from Nightjar songwriter/guitarist/vocalist Chris Hess. Hess, like Anderson, was a former resident of Bellingham, WA and described himself as an admirer/rival of Anderson’s from their time in The Evergreen State. Hess moved to Indy in 2007 to take a teaching position at Butler University. There, he hooked up with fellow songwriter/guitarist/vocalist Greg Osborne, and Nightjar was born.

On their debut album, Hometown Stranger, Nightjar (which also features Joe Hodson on lead guitar, Ty Hoskins on bass, Nathan Dynak on drums, and Mandy Gingerich Hege on backing vocals) fashions a strong effort that blends Hess’ love for Johnny Cash and The Band with Osborne’s affinity for R.E.M. and The Smiths. Nightjar takes a page from Jason & The Scorchers with the riff fueled opener “Check Your Mirrors,” and mines more soulful territory with the soulful “Sweet Brandywine.” They continue to vary styles and sounds with Hess alternating his gravely vocals with Osborne’s more traditional style from song to song.

Hess and Anderson will be reunited on May 4th when they share a stage at Radio Radio in Indy.

Nightjar: Check Your Mirrors (Buy Album)

Today’s second artist has more of a professional link to Anderson than a personal one.

Tampa, Florida’s Ted Lukas & The Misled released their newest album Learn How to Fall last week. Lukas produced the album himself, but the project was mixed by none other than Eric “Roscoe” Ambel. As a producer, Ambel has worked with the likes of Blue Mountain, Greg Trooper, Shannon McNally, Mojo Nixon, and has produced most of The Bottle Rockets catalogue. He also produced the recent albums from Chip Robinson and Kasey Anderson that I’ve been enjoying immensely. Ambel’s name on a project is more than enough to make take notice.
Given the types of records that Ambel seems drawn to, it’s not hard to guess how this one sounds. Lukas and his band have crafted a solid disc composed of ten rootsy tracks filled with melodic hooks and rock and roll swagger. Lukas also displays some pop sensibilities on songs like the title track with its chiming opening riff and well placed harmonies (provided by Lukas himself). When it’s all mixed together, this is an album that can grab you by the throat and keep tightening its grip.
Ted Lukas & The Misled: Learn How to Fall (Buy Album)

Random Weekend Post: Joe Pug

Posted in Joe Pug on April 24, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

Yesterday, I posted my review of Josh Ritter’s upcoming new album So Runs the World Away. Josh will be in Knoxville May 14th to play the Bijou Theater… and he’ll be bringing Joe Pug with him.

I’m just a little late to the party on Joe (he’s been mentioned all over the blog world), but his new album Messenger has been heavy on my playlist lately. I can’t wait to hear his opening set for Josh’s show. As a special added bonus, Joe Pug will play the WDVX Blue Plate Special at noon on the 14th as well. Here’s a song from his new album recorded at WNRN in Charlottesville.

Josh Ritter: So Runs the World Away

Posted in Josh Ritter on April 23, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

I mentioned Josh Ritter last week in the context of his 2007 album, The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter. It was my favorite album of 2007, and I have been anxiously awaiting the follow up ever since. That day has finally come into view as Josh’s new record, So Runs the World Away, is set for release in less than two weeks (May 4).

I’ve had the pleasure of listening to an advanced copy of the album for a little over a week now, and I am pleased to announce that this disc has been well worth the wait. So Runs the World Away isn’t quite as bombastic as the previous record, but it is no less compelling. This time it’s the stories Josh tells that draw you in with their complex narratives of love, exploration, and isolation. Josh says he didn’t so much write these songs as paint them in oil on large canvases.
The album begins as the curtain is drawn on the exhibit with the short overture “Curtains.” From there Josh immediately launches into “Change of Time” and his own personal dreamscape with visions of swimming through the stars while ships lay bashed and broken in the sea below. As the song builds, a cyclical piano riff forms the base of the sound as cymbals crash and the chorus swells. The whole thing combines to create a Dali-like abstraction. Similarly, our narrator in “Southern Pacifica” is leaving his love behind to embark on an adventure into what I can only imagine to be a Bierstadt-like wilderness.
The exhibit continues with “The Curse,” a tragic love song told in hieroglyphics. The gentle piano ballad tells of a mummy who awakens from centuries of slumber to find love in the arms of the female archeologist who discovered him. When he awakens, he believes his curse has been lifted. As he watches his new love age and fade away, however, he realizes that his cure has cursed him once more.
And the epic tales of death and despair keep coming. “Another New World” is similarly tender and tragic tale of a shipwrecked expedition. The narrator is an explorer who’s entire world is held within the hull of his ship, The Annabelle Lee. He is devoted to her totally, and it nearly kills him when he has to burn her planks to keep himself alive. The ominously titled “Folk Bloodbath” lives up to its name as well. Here, Josh rounds up several tragic figures from classic murder ballads such as Delia and Stack-O-Lee and has them all meet their fate once more.
Of course, there are less depressing moments too. The two most upbeat tunes on the album immediately follow the murderousness of “Bloodbath.” “Lark” finds Josh with a little hop in his step and diamonds on the soles of his shoes as he channels Paul Simon from the Graceland album. “Lantern” follows with chiming guitars and a plea for someone special to light his life.
Overall, the exhibit that Josh has curated over these thirteen tracks is truly one worth seeing. Josh is a folk singer at heart (his songs are the proof of that), but he works with a more varied palette than most other singer/songwriters. Here, he proves himself the equal of any of the old Masters.
Josh will be performing in Knoxville May 14th at The Bijou Theatre. Here’s a track from the album that I didn’t talk about…
Josh Ritter: Rattling Locks (Buy Album)

ReviewShine Wednesday: Susan Cowsill and The Cassandras (revisited)

Posted in Susan Cowsill, The Cassandras on April 21, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

Those of you who already know of Susan Cowsill probably know her from her younger days when she was a member of the bubble gum pop outfit, The Cowsills, with the rest of her family. Susan is the kid sister in this video from The Johnny Cash Show.

The Cowsills were very popular in the latter half of the 1960’s, producing two singles (“The Rain, The Park, and Other Things” & “Hair”) that climbed to #2 on the Billboard Charts. The Cowsills also served as the inspiration for television’s The Partridge Family in the 1970’s. In recent years, however, Susan Cowsill has reinvented herself as a rootsy singer/songwriter. In May, she will release her second solo album, a strong effort called Lighthouse.

In the five years since the release of her previous album, Susan has experienced a lot. Her adopted home of New Orleans was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, claiming the life of her brother Barry Cowsill in the process. Another brother, Billy Cowsill, passed in 2006 after a prolonged illness. The losses of her city and her family inform many of the songs on this album.

Lighthouse is heavily rooted in a sense of place with many of the narratives taking place in Gulf Coast region and New Orleans in particular. In the original song, “ONOLA,” Susan refers to leaving the city she calls her “mother” but pledges to return someday. The chorus of The New Orleans Saints’ theme song “Who Dat?” that is worked into the album closing “Crescent City Sneaux” may be a bit over the top, but it serves as a triumphant and joyous announcement of the return of her city. Her subdued cover of Jimmy Webb’s classic “Galveston” is a much more sombre tribute to another Gulf Coast town.

The song I’m sharing here is also a cover. It’s a tune written by Susan’s late brother Barry called “River of Love.” She is joined by her remaining brothers Bob, Paul, and John in a loving (and rocking) tribute to their fallen sibling.

Susan Cowsill: River of Love (Buy Album)

Last week in this space, I featured a duo from Chicago called The Cassandras. I didn’t know much (if anything) about them then, but thanks to an email from band member Kara Hetz, I have a bit more info now. I feel I owe it to The Cassandras to share it with you.

Kara makes up one half of The Cassandras with Brandon Harvey accounting for the other. The two met in Chicago in the early part of this past decade when both enrolled in a songwriting class at Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music. They found themselves paired together for a class assignment, liked the way they sounded, and decided to continue playing.
Well, I like the way they sound together too. Their debut album Starter is full of gentle folk harmonies wrapped around acoustic pop hooks to form a truly accessible sound. Kara and Brandon each perform lead and harmony vocal duties with specific duties shifting from track to track. That’s fitting since they each wrote half of the songs on the album. I shared one of Kara’s songs last week… here’s one from Brandon so you can get a feel for both sides of the band’s sound.
The Cassandras: Unquiet (Buy Album)

Interview with Kasey Anderson & Chip Robinson

Posted in Chip Robinson, Kasey Anderson on April 19, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

We had quite a fine day of music at WDVX earlier today when Kasey Anderson (top) and Chip Robinson (bottom) joined us for a Blue Plate Special.

Both artists have new records out on Kasey’s Red River Records label, and I spoke about each of them briefly last week. Both are deeply personal albums that tell a full story from beginning to end. In Kasey’s case, Nowhere Nights tells of his departures from a physical place and space of mind while burning bridges and mending fences as he left. Chip’s Mylow chronicles his time doing what he calls “trying to stay alive” over the past decade when he was away from the music industry.
I’m sharing two songs from today’s performances here. Both are intimate, acoustic readings of songs from the new records.
After the show, I spent some time with Kasey and Chip talking about the new albums, Chip’s history with The Backsliders, Kasey’s blogging, and various other topics. I’m sharing our conversation with you as well. The interview did not air at WDVX… this is the only place to hear it.
Kasey Anderson: Bellingham Blues (Buy Album)
Chip Robinson: Wings (Buy Album)
My Interview with Kasey Anderson & Chip Robinson

Random Weekend Post: Carrie Rodriguez

Posted in Carrie Rodruguez, Chip Taylor, John Prine on April 17, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

Yesterday I featured music from Kasey Anderson and Chip Robinson because they will be appearing on the WDVX Blue Plate Special on Monday. They will be joined in that appearance by Carrie Rodriguez. Since I don’t want to leave her out, here are a couple of videos featuring her. Don’t forget to listen to the Blue Plate Special Monday at Noon (Eastern) on WDVX.

Here’s a song called “Absence” from her previous album She Ain’t Me

…one called “Sweet Tequila Blues” from her time with Chip Taylor…

…and just for fun… a partial version of Carrie singing “In Spite of Ourselves” with John Prine.

Monday Blue Plate Special: Kasey Anderson, Chip Robinson, & Carrie Rodriguez

Posted in Carrie Rodruguez, Chip Robinson, Kasey Anderson on April 16, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

Monday is going to be a big day on the WDVX Blue Plate Special, and I wanted to give everyone enough of a heads up that you’ll have time to plan accordingly. Monday’s show will be a triple bill featuring songwriter Kasey Anderson, former Backslider’s frontman Chip Robinson, and Texas fiddler/chanteuse Carrie Rodriguez (Kasey and Chip will also play Monday night at The Preservation Pub). The Blue Plate Special will be aired live Monday at Noon (Eastern) on WDVX’s website.

If you want to know more about Carrie Rodriguez and her new collection of covers, Love and Circumstance, you can check out what boyhowdy had to say over at Cover Lay Down. I think it might still be too early to share this one here.
Today, we’re going to focus on Kasey Anderson & Chip Robinson.
First up, we’ll talk about Kasey Anderson. Kasey is a songwriter from the Northwest who I’ve known for years now as a fellow poster on the message boards at the Alt-Country Tab website. I’ve been relatively absent from that site for a while now, but I’ve kept an ear on Kasey for the last year or so. I’ve been consistently impressed with what I’ve heard.
His latest effort, Nowhere Nights, is out now on his own Red River Records. It’s a powerful and fiery record about leaving, moving on, and facing the consequences of the journey. With songs like “Bellingham Blues,” “Torn Apart,” and the title track, Kasey makes you feel the asphalt under your feet and the match in your hand as he runs off and burns bridges on his way out of town.
Here’s an mp3 of the rocking “Torn Apart” and the video for the haunting “I Was a Photograph.” The latter tells the story of U.S. Marine James Blake Miller and his troubles since returning from Iraq.
Kasey Anderson: Torn Apart (Buy Album)

Next up is Chip Robinson. Chip is making a triumphant return to music after a decade long absence with his new solo project, Mylow. Chip got his start as front man for the North Carolina based alt-country outfit, The Backsliders, in the late 1990’s. The Backsliders made two amazing records together before disbanding at the end of the decade. Chip has been largely absent from the music scene since then.

With Mylow’s opening track, “Preface,” we find out where he’s been. The song paints a picture of a man trapped in a “dark and empty place” where he battles countless demons and is beyond the reach of any helping hands. As the album proceeds, Chip faces those demons and pulls himself out of the spiral. The anthemic chorus of the title track reminds us all that… no matter what we’ve been through… everything will work out if we just keep our heads up.
Chip Robinson: Mylow (Buy Album)
Here’s a bonus YouTube vid of Chip doing one of his classic Backsliders tunes.

ReviewShine Wednesday: Mark Lennon – Down the Mountain

Posted in Mark Lennon, The Cassandras on April 14, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

I’ve been sitting on this one for a while now, and it’s time to finally let you know about it. Mark Lennon is a songwriter from North Carolina who now makes his home in southern California and blends elements of each coast in his 2009 release Down the Mountain.

By his own admission, Mark grew up listening to “hippie music and bluegrass” in his Carolina home. It’s no coincidence then that bluegrass harmonies are prevalent on the rootsy “Tennessee.” The “hippie music” influences show up in numerous places as well. “What I Could Be with You” is a steel and piano led jam straight from the Dead playbook. Lennon’s voice drenches the whole thing in a dose of California sunshine and brings a lightness to most of the tracks.
Then there’s this song… a devastating duet with Simone Stevens called “Wildside.”
Mark Lennon: Wildside (Buy Album)

And here’s a brief bonus track for today…

I know next to nothing about The Cassandras other than they are composed of songwriters Brandon Harvey and Kara Hetz, they are based in Chicago, and they just released a new album called Starter. They didn’t include much with their ReviewShine submission, my internet searches have been futile, and email requests for more info have gone unanswered.
I just know I like their easy brand of folk-pop and would like to know more.
The Cassandras: Nothing’s Free (Buy Album)

Chris Stapleton Leaves The Steeldrivers

Posted in The Steeldrivers on April 13, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

This is something I’ve known for a while now, but I’ve been waiting for the band to make an official announcement. Chris Stapleton (middle above) is leaving The Steeldrivers to focus on his songwriting and his family. The official announcement was made last week (I just saw it today).

The good news is that The Steeldrivers have already recorded their follow up to 2008’s Grammy nominated self titled debut album, and Chris does provide vocals for that album.
Chris’ departure does not mean the band is calling it quits. The Steeldrivers will continue to tour and play with new singer/guitarist Gary Nichols.
I am sad that Chris is leaving the band, but excited for his future prospects. I think The Steeldrivers just got much bigger, much faster than anyone anticipated, and all the time on the road burning from town to town just started to take a toll. I know Chris will be happy spending more time at home with his family and his songs. Hopefully, though, the itch to take those songs on the road will strike again in the future. I’ve also heard a few of the songs that are supposed to be on the next record. I doubt it will disappoint.
I could go on here about Chris, and what he meant to the band’s sound and how hard it will be to replace him… but Steeldrivers co-founder Mike Henderson has already done that better than I ever could. Read his comments at the bottom of this article.
I just want to say that I’m proud of my friend for what he accomplished with this band, and I wish him the best.
Here’s a live track from the band’s early days. The Buy Album link points to their studio release.
The Steeldrivers: Heaven Sent (Buy Album)

Josh Ritter: The Temptation of Adam

Posted in Josh Ritter on April 13, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

Josh Ritter is coming to Knoxville May 14 for a show at the Bijou Theatre. Thanks to my wife, who was online early the day the tickets went on sale, I will be seated in the second row at the Bijou that night.

In preparation for the show (and Josh’s upcoming album due May 4), I’ve been spending quite a lot of time with Josh’s previous catalogue of tunes. Specifically, I keep returning to his 2007 effort The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter. I was not yet blogging in 2007, but if I had been, I would have listed this album as my favorite of the year… and my favorite of Josh’s career.
One reason for that is because of songs like the one I’m sharing today, “The Temptation of Adam.” It’s your standard, boy meets girl… boy and girl are forced to live together in nuclear missile silo in prelude to WWIII… boy and girl fall in love… nuclear tensions ease… boy fears losing girl in the outside world… boy considers starting WWIII so he can continue to be sequestered in nuclear missile silo with girl, song.
See… pretty standard stuff.
Ritter’s genius here is taking a far fetched premise and making it work by grounding the farcical in the mundane. His protagonists work crossword puzzles together, share corny jokes, and carve their initials into the missile warhead. They could just as easily be carving them on a tree in the park.
It’s a brilliant song, and one that’s been running through my head since hearing it again earlier this week.
Josh Ritter: The Temptation of Adam (Buy Album)