Archive for June, 2010

ReviewShine Wednesday: Hayshaker, Shiny & The Spoon

Posted in Hayshaker, Shiny and the Spoon on June 30, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

Every Wednesday, I feature a brief review of at least one album that has been submitted to me through the ReviewShine website. I have cleverly titled this recurring segment “ReviewShine Wednesday.”

Our first featured act today is a band from Waycross, GA called Hayshaker. Waycross was the childhood home of Gram Parsons, and the band finds some of his spirit still haunting their hometown on this sophomore release. Steel guitars and iron clad harmonies from the husband and wife pair of Chris and Laurie Rider (Chris goes by CC. Yup… CC Rider) form the basis for many of the eight tracks on Tin Roof Snare. Standouts include the Guthrie inspired folk of “As I Slept In,” and the full-on twang of “Swamp County.” The title track also serves as a nice example of their sound.

Hayshaker: Tin Roof Snare (Buy Album)

Our second act today features another male/female vocal pairing in the Cincinnati based ukulele duo Shiny & The Spoon. Amber Nash and Jordan Neff have been playing together as Shiny & The Spoon for a couple of years now and have honed an inviting style with their sparse arrangements, warm harmonies, and gently strummed melodies. Their self-titled album has a light and dreamy feel that makes it a perfect late night, chill-out record. Their musical philosophy is seemingly spelled out in the title to the opening track… “Simple Song.” It works.

Shiny & The Spoon: Simple Song (Buy Album)

Alejandro Escovedo: Street Songs of Love Redux

Posted in Alejandro Escovedo on June 30, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

For those of you who might have missed my audio review of Alejandro Escovedo’s latest CD before it was taken down by the man…

You can now read a more traditional, text based, review of the album that I wrote for the Country Standard Time webzine.

Random Weekend Post: Caution… May Contain Wilco like Substances

Posted in JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound, Wilco on June 26, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

Two related… if bizarre videos today.

The first is Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy giving a dramatic reading of “Single Ladies”…

The second is a cover of Wilco’s “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” by a band called JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound.

I wish I could remember which blog I saw this on first. I can’t. I just remember hating it at first, and then being slowly sucked in as it went along. I think it’s the combination of the infectious groove coupled with the absolute nonsensicalness of the lyrics that left me amused and bemused by this video. It’s actually a lot of fun.

ReviewShine Wednesday: John Cowan, Terri Hendrix, Sara Petite

Posted in John Cowan, Sara Petite, Terri Hendrix on June 23, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

Every Wednesday, I feature a brief review of at least one album that has been submitted to me through the ReviewShine website. I have cleverly titled this recurring segment “ReviewShine Wednesday.”

First up is the new release from former Newgrass Revial member and acoustic music superstar John Cowan. Cowan’s new CD, The Massenburg Sessions, was recorded completely live in the studio with no editing or overdubs under the guidance of producer George Massenburg. It’s a completely organic and acoustic affair that showcases Cowan’s vocal and instrumental chops perfectly while also allowing him to receive some help from friends like Darrell Scott, Luke Bulla, and the Del McCoury Band. Cowan’s unmistakable voice is given a full workout in the album opening, “My Time in the Desert.”

John Cowan: My Time in the Desert (Buy Album)

Up next is another familiar voice in fiercely independent Texas artist, and Grammy winner, Terri Hendrix. For her tenth studio album, Hendrix originally intended to make a strictly jazz record. When she began working on the album, however, her intentions changed and morphed into what she calls a “mix CD” of several styles and influences. Hendrix still satisfies her jazz muse on several tracks, but she also throws in some blues and her more familiar mix of acoustic contemporary folk. Hendrix’s long time producer, the legendary Lloyd Maines, is at the helm once again to guide the journey. Here’s one that features a new sound for Hendrix… a rollicking, drum-machine driven, number called “Slow Down.”

Terri Hendrix: Slow Down (Buy Album)

The final album today is one that I’ve been sitting on for a while now, but was recently reintroduced to. Sara Petite’s new album Doghouse Rose actually came out in November (and I’ve had it almost that long), but has just recently started being pushed to Americana radio. I was reminded of Petite when she played the WDVX Blue Plate Special a few weeks ago. Petite has a natural twang to her voice that is a perfect fit for the rocking country numbers she sings. Petite’s voice and songwriting are the standout elements here, but pay attention to her studio band led by Kenny Vaughn as well. This song, “Baby Let Me In,” features Petite and Vaughn both in fine form.

Sara Petite: Baby Let Me In (Buy Album)

Random Weekend Post: Tift Merritt

Posted in Uncategorized on June 19, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

I’m still gearing up for Tift Merritt’s visit to Knoxville on Wednesday… so I thought I share a couple of her videos today.

First is a song I shared with you yesterday… but I didn’t get to share Merritt’s homemade video that goes along with it. This is “Mixtape.”

And this is a live performance of another song from the new album… “Engine to Turn.”

Don’t forget to listen to Tift Merritt live in the WDVX studios Wednesday afternoon at 5:00 (Eastern)… and don’t forget to register for the Mary Gauthier CD Giveaway contest. I’ll pick a winner Monday evening.

Friday Notes: Chely Wright, Tift Merritt, & More

Posted in Chely Wright, Jompson Brothers Band, The Steeldrivers, Tift Merritt on June 18, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

It’s been a while since I’ve thrown out a notes column. So… Here we go.

*** First. Don’t forget to register for the Mary Gauthier giveaway contest. I’ve had a nice response so far, but would still like to see more people register. Leave a comment here, send me an email, or comment on the blog’s facebook page to enter.

*** I never really listened much (or at all) to Chely Wright when she was topping the Country Music charts a decade ago with songs like “Single White Female.” I’ll have to admit, though, that all the publicity surrounding Wright’s recent personal announcement and release of her new album Lifted Off the Ground intrigued me. She had a personal story to tell and got Rodney Crowell involved to help her tell it. I’m also always happy to see someone leave behind the pre-fab world of Music Row to make an organic and honest record. And honesty is the key word here. By being honest with herself and her fans about who she really is, Wright is able to be honest with her music as well.

You can go here to read the full review of Chely Wright’s Lifted Off the Ground that I wrote for Country Standard Time.
Chely Wright: Broken (Buy Album)
*** Back in April, I told you officially what I had already known for a while… Chris Stapleton is no longer with The Steeldrivers. While this is devastating news to most, there are a couple of silver linings to the cloud. The first is that The Steeldrivers are continuing as a band with Gary Nichols handling the vocals. Even better news is that, before leaving the band, Stapleton went into the studio with the original group to record their sophomore album.
But, that’s all old news. The new news is that that The Steeldrivers’ sophomore album, Reckless, will be released in September from Rounder Records. I’ll be waiting very impatiently for that album to arrive. While you’re waiting for Reckless to arrive, you can listen to Stapleton wail with his rocking new project, The Jompson Brothers.

*** Finally… You’ll want to be sure to tune in to the Feature at Five this coming Wednesday on WDVX. I’ll be hosting the Feature that day, and I’ll be joined in the studio by none other than Tift Merritt for an interview and performance. Merritt is in Knoxville Wednesday for a concert at The Square Room as part of her tour to support her new album See You on the Moon (listen to my review here).

You can listen to the interview live Wednesday afternoon at 5:00 (Eastern) by following the Listen Live link on the WDVX website. Later that night, Merritt will perform with opening act Thad Cockrell at The Square Room. Cockrell will also perform live on WDVX earlier in the day. He’ll appear on The Blue Plate Special at noon. You can hear that performance live as well.
And just so you know that I listened to those of you who voted in the poll for me to include mp3’s with my audio reviews… this is “Mixtape” from See You on the Moon. Sorry to leave you all hanging last time. Speaking as the kid who used to record songs straight to tape off the radio and still makes an annual “Best of The Year” mix CD each December… I can really relate to this one.
Tift Merritt: Mixtape (Buy Album)

ReviewShine Wednesday: The Avery Set and Last Train

Posted in Last Train, The Avery Set on June 16, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

First… Don’t forget to register for the Mary Gauthier CD giveaway I announced on Monday. The winner will be drawn next Monday.

Now… Every Wednesday, I feature a quick review of at least one album that has been submitted to me through the ReviewShine website. I have cleverly titled this recurring segment “ReviewShine Wednesday.”

Our first band today, The Avery Set, originally hails from Michigan but currently calls Nashville home. The origins of the group can be traced backed six years to when high school friends, singer/songwriter Chris Zehnder and drummer Jake Bartlett, first started playing together. With Brandon Harris on guitar and Shawn Supra on bass, The Avery Set has put together a potent line-up capable of easily shifting gears from rock to country and back.

Their new CD, Returning to Steam, opens with the dreamy travelogue “Wandering Stars,” a song with a simply strummed acoustic melody shining through an arrangement filled with foreboding strings. The strong opener gives way to the rocking “Gotta Move” and the destructive country shuffle of “Salt Mines.” The band continues to slide back and forth between styles, keeping the listener engaged and finding an interesting new sound for each track. Americana-UK called The Avery Set, “Uncle Tupelo for a generation raised on MTV.” That seems appropriate.
The Avery Set: Wandering Shoes (Buy Album)

Up next is another solid country/rock outfit called Last Train. The band hails from Anchorage, Alaska and claims a wide range of influences on its sound… from grunge, to country, to punk. All of those elements shine through in a heavily rock leaning sound that probably does contain a little more grunge than twang. Guitarists/vocalists Mark Ward and Steve Padrick combine with bassist/vocalist Ted Rosenweig and drummer Matt Janssen to craft an energetic set full of roaring guitars and memorable hooks.

What this record also possesses in many spots is a palpable sense of place. The listener becomes fully immersed in the desolate Alaskan landscape in the album opening “Eighteen Wheels” as snowflakes fall on the long lonely highway. It would make the perfect soundtrack for an episode of Ice Road Truckers. Like the wheels on the big rig in the opening track, Last Train continues to run full steam through thirteen tracks on their debut album. TurnAgain is a promising, and rocking, debut effort.

Last Train: Eighteen Wheels (Buy Album)

Mary Gauthier: Interview and CD Giveaway

Posted in Mary Gauthier on June 14, 2010 by AmericanaPulse
Back in April, I reviewed Mary Gauthier’s new CD, The Foundling, in anticipation of her appearance on Tennessee Shines. The songs in this set are deeply personal accounts of Gauthier’s life growing up as an orphan. It’s the type of album that reveals a great deal of a very personal story and leaves the listener full of questions for the singer… questions that are more personal than musical.

You don’t come away from the album wondering how a certain guitar tone was achieved or how a particular song was created (although the album sounds great). You come away wondering how the artist’s experiences shaped the songs and how she found the strength to write them down and commit them to tape.

I recently had a chance to ask some of those questions to Mary Gauther. What follows is an interview with Gauthier conducted over email… my unedited questions and her unedited answers.

Read through to the end to find out how you can win a free copy of The Foundling!!

FiftyCentLighter: As a songwriter, you’ve always been able to write in a very confessional style where it feels as though you put a piece of yourself into each song. With this album, though, you’ve amplified that even more and basically laid out your life story in song. How does writing songs like the ones on this record differ from writing songs where you are more detached from the story? Do you ever find yourself pulling back from something you’ve written because it maybe reveals too much?

Mary Gauthier: Well, I always try to write from a naked place where I strip away the layers that cover the truth, so I can find the essence of what the song is trying to teach me. Often, songs are trying to teach me a truth about myself, but not always, sometimes a song teaches the truth about a situation or someone else. I am a student of truth, and my classroom is songwriting. I don’t see my writing as confessional, I see it as bare boned, undisguised. My songs can startle because in everyday life we try to avoid looking at certain aspects of ourselves. I am not confessing, I am revealing.

FCL: Even with the extremely personal nature of this album, it isn’t hard to imagine someone else who has gone through similar situations in their life being touched by your words and validated to hear that someone has shared their feelings and experiences. As I write this question, The Foundling has not yet been released, but you have been playing the songs live. Have you been approached by any fans who have been helped by listening to your songs?

MG: The Orphan is an archetype in literature and song because it is a reflection of the human condition. It is not unique in any way to tell an orphan story like mine. It’s just unique to tell it in contemporary songs. So people do get drawn into the story and often see themselves there because the orphan is a reflection of the human condition, in so many ways we are all orphaned here not sure where our home really is. The Carter Family sang “This World Is Not My Home” and I think that orphans can relate to that idea.

FCL: The emotional centerpiece of the album is “March 11, 1962.” This is the song that recounts the phone conversation you had with your birth mother upon finding her after years of searching. It’s a very moving piece, and one that still puts a lump in my throat when I hear it. The song does an excellent job of conveying the pain and anger you must have felt during that conversation… but it also attempts to portray the pain and regret her decision caused her over the years. How difficult was it to try to see things from her perspective for this song?

MG: I wrote March 11, 1962 many years after talking to my birth mother. The time and distance helped me to work thru all the emotions that I had to work thru to be able to understand her side of the story. I am glad I waited a while to write it, it would have been wrong to write it too soon.

FCL: One theme that keeps coming up on this record is a sense of disconnection with your past. A couple of tracks make reference to not knowing who you are or where you come from. Did writing this album help you find the answers to those questions… or did finding those answers help you to write this album?

MG: I do not know where I came from, adoptee’s rarely do. All I know is that my mothers side of the family came from somewhere in eastern Canada. I do not know who my father is, my mother will not tell me, and adoptee’s birth records are sealed in all but 6 states in the US. So that’s not something I will experience in this life, I will not know where I came from. It’s good to know some of the story though, and perhaps I will dig deeper one day.

FCL: What was it like working with Michael Timmins on this record? He seemed to bring some of that beautifully mellow Cowboy Junkies vibe with him to the project that worked very well. It just feels like a perfect marriage of producer and source material.

MG: Mike is wonderful to work with, a really intuitive guy. I love what he brought to the project.

FCL: Finally, to end the interview on a lighter note… Before you got into the music business, you ran your own restaurant in Boston. Do you have a favorite recipe you can share with my readers?

MG: I don’t have any recipes in my head anymore. I’ve been on the road now for over a decade, and the planes trains and automobiles have wiped out my chef’s memory, sorry!

Thanks to Mary Gauthier and the good people at Sneak Attack Media, I have a copy of The Foundling to giveaway to one lucky reader. All you have to do to register for the contest is leave a comment on this post, leave a comment on the Fifty Cent Lighter & A Whiskey Buzz facebook page, or send an email with the subject “Gauthier Contest” to On Saturday, I’ll pick one winner at random from all the entrants.

Good luck… US residents only, please.

Random Weekend Post: Mary Gauthier

Posted in Mary Gauthier on June 12, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

Coming up on Monday, I’ll be featuring an e-mail interview with Mary Gauthier about her new CD, The Foundling. I’ll also give you a chance to win a copy of the album.

To get you warmed up, here are a couple of classic Gauthier tunes from YouTube.

Sarah Harmer: Oh Little Fire

Posted in Sarah Harmer on June 11, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

Regular readers here are no doubt familiar with my affinity toward Canadian Americana artists. Recall, if you will, Canadiana Week and my numerous musings on Kathleen Edwards if you need refreshing. One artist I wanted to mention during Canadiana Week, but wasn’t able to get to, is Sarah Harmer.

I first became familiar with Harmer’s music in 2004 with the release of her third album All of Our Names. I fell in love with the bouncy folk/pop of the album’s lead single “Almost,” and then devoured the album as a whole. Harmer’s follow-up, I’m a Mountain was released in 2006 and took some of the pop out of the equation. The arrangements there were mostly acoustic… even bordering on bluegrass in places. This was the album that really introduced Harmer to Americana audiences.
Now Harmer stands ready to release another new record. Oh Little Fire will hit the streets June 22nd from the Rounder imprint Zoe Records. After spending the last few years as an environmental activist, Fire is Harmer’s first new release in four years and marks a return of sorts her older sound of mixing her stellar songs with elements of pop production. The result is a particularly vibrant record that is instantly infectious.
The album grabs you instantly with the opening track, “The Thief.” The bouncy verses and chorus give way to a darkly rocking bridge, providing a nice contrast of sounds and mood in one three minute chunk. That’s followed by the single, “Captive,” an extremely accessible tune perfect for any summer playlist.
Fans who came to Harmer through I’m a Mountain may be put off by the obvious pop sensibilities displayed on those two tracks and others like them. They would likely be more at home with the sparse moodiness of “New Lonliness” or the finger picked melody and steel guitar flourishes of “Silverado.” The latter is a dreamy and atmospheric duet with Neko Case. It’s a fabulous blending of voices and a very strong track.
Overall though, this album is all about punch and pop. Harmer says she made a conscious decision to abandon the “pastoral, contemplative end of the spectrum” to focus on a more “aggressive style of production.” That style has placed the melodies and hooks right out in front of the songs. You often don’t need a second listen to get them stuck in the front of your brain. Each and every song here… from the sing-song “One Match” to the darker “Washington” give you something to latch onto.
Sarah Harmer: Captive (Buy Album)