Archive for December, 2010

Best of 2010: 6-4

Posted in Mumford and Sons, Old 97's, Robert Plant, Top 21 of 2010 on December 30, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

#6 – Band of Joy by Robert Plant

Do I really need the introductory paragraph to explain who Robert Plant is?  The former Led Zeppelin front man is considered by many to be the greatest vocalist in Rock & Roll history and is widely recognized as a legend.  He threw his hat into the Americana ring in 2007 with Raising Sand, his duet album with Alison Krauss.  The results of that pairing was a handful of Grammy Awards, a few more Americana Music Awards, and almost universal praise for the pairing.

In a way, Band of Joy is an extension of Raising Sand.  Producer T-Bone Burnett is replaced by Buddy Miller, and instead of a duet partner in Krauss, Plant harmonizes primarily with Patty Griffin.  The results, however, are fairly similar as Plant continues to explore the subtleties of his voice instead of the raw power he displayed with Zeppelin.  He also once again displays his gift for interpretation as he takes songs from artists such as Low, Townes Van Zandt, Los Lobos, and Richard Thompson among others and makes them his own.  Even traditional tunes such as “Cindy, I’ll Marry You Someday” and “Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down” are given the same, freshly haunting treatment as the rest of the record.

Robert Plant: Harm’s Swift Way (Buy Album)

#5 –Sigh No More by Mumford & Sons

This is sort of the reverse of the Kasey Chambers cheat.  Sigh No More, the debut from Mumford & Sons was originally released in Europe in October of 2009.  Fortunately, it carries a 2010 release date in the U.S.  I took some heat for being a latecomer to this group, but I think I’ve made amends with a Top 5 placement in this year’s list.  The album may have even placed higher if I’d immersed myself in it sooner.  I blame myself for ignoring the buzz around the London quartet for as long as I did.  I had somehow convinced myself that something with that much hype couldn’t be any good.

I was wrong.  Mumford & Sons were exactly as advertised.

This is a punchy folk/pop album that isn’t afraid to expand the genre by placing horns alongside banjos or crashing cymbals and distortion with acoustic guitars.  Another hallmark of their sound is their use of intricate harmonies that blend an early Avett Brothers energy with a Fleet Foxes style layering of voices.  Songs like “Winter Winds” and “Little Lion Man” grab you from the start while others like “White Blank Page” and “The Cave” slowly build up beautifully cathartic releases.  Grounded in folk, but not tied to any one sound, this is an album that you need to hear.

Believe the hype.  Don’t make my mistake.

Mumford & Sons: Little Lion Man (Buy Album)

#4 – The Grand Theatre by The Old 97’s

When I first started to really devour Americana and alt-country music about a decade ago, I constantly scoured various websites, magazines, and message boards looking for advice on artists who were considered “essential listening.”  When it came to essential groups, all of the usual suspects kept surfacing.  Out of those groups… Uncle Tupelo exploded, Whiskeytown imploded, The Jayhawks split, The Backsliders slid away… even Jason & The Scorchers flamed out (for 14 years… they came back).  Somehow, The Old 97’s outlasted them all and are still going strong after nearly 20 years.

The boys from Dallas released their eighth studio album this year and drew on their years of experience on the road to try to create an album that captured the energy and feel of their live shows.  The result is a mostly amped up guitar fueled album that features all the hallmarks of the classic Old 97’s sound.  You can read my full review of the album over at Country Standard Time or listen to my audio review with clips from several songs.  In the meantime… here’s “Champagne, Illinois” from the album… a song that was born when front man Rhett Miller decided to rewrite the lyrics to Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row.”

Old 97’s: Champagne, Illinois (Buy Album)

Best of 2010: 9-7

Posted in Jason and the Scorchers, Jason Ringenberg, Josh Ritter, Kasey Chambers, Top 21 of 2010 on December 28, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

#9 – Halcyon Times by Jason & The Scorchers

If People. Places. Things. by Drunk on Crutches was my favorite surprise of 2010, then Halcyon Times by Jason & The Scorchers may have been my most anticipated album of the year.  You see, prior to this release, it had been 14 years since an album carried the Scorchers’ name.  Front man Jason Ringenberg had remained active with his solo career and Farmer Jason persona, but most people thought this hugely influential band (The Scorchers were mixing punk and country years before Uncle Tupelo… and they did it in the heart of Nashville) had run its course.  A lifetime achievement award reunited the group in 2008, and this album followed two years later.

Ringenberg and guitarist Warner Hodges are the only two original members involved in this record, but there’s no mistaking this is a Jason & The Scorchers disc.  Ringenberg’s distinctive vocal twang and Hodges’ revved up riffs were always the signature of the band, and both are present in spades on tunes like the album opening “Moonshine Guy/Releasing Celtic Prisoners” and the nostalgic “Golden Days.”  What makes this one really stand out, however, is the sense of maturity present in the album’s quieter moments.  The coal mining anthem “Beat on the Mountain” and the working man’s lament “Mother of Greed” lend a little gravitas to the proceedings.

Jason & The Scorchers: Moonshine Guy/Releasing Celtic Prisoners (Buy Album)

#8 – Little Bird by Kasey Chambers

OK.  I’m cheating a little by including this one (It isn’t the first time).  As is her usual practice, Kasey Chambers has released her new CD Little Bird in her native Australia several months before releasing it in the US.  This strategy gives her the chance to properly tour and promote her album at home (where she is a huge star) before leaving to promote it here.  Because of this, Little Bird will likely bear a 2011 release date when it hits the states, even though I got it from iTunes in September.  Given the impact Chambers’ music has had on my life, I thought I could bend the rules for her.

Musically, Little Bird isn’t quite as rootsy as 2008’s Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson album Rattlin’ Bones (although tracks like “Georgia Brown” come close).  It also isn’t as shiny and polished as 2006’s Carnival (although tracks like the title song come close).  What makes this album so solid is that it marries all of Chambers’ rock, pop, and country influences together in a way that she hasn’t done since Barricades & Brickwalls.  In fact, songs like the guitar driven “This Story” and the mournful “Somewhere” (with Patty Griffin) would have fit in well on that album.  That’s a pretty high compliment in my book.

Kasey Chambers: This Story (Buy Album)

#7 – So Runs the World Away by Josh Ritter

I was first introduced to the music of Idaho’s Josh Ritter through his 2003 album Hello Starling (his third), and have been enthralled by his songs ever since.  “Kathleen” from that album may contain my favorite opening line for a song ever (“All the other girls here are stars./You are the Northern Lights.”), he delivered my favorite album of 2007 (The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter), and now he has provided another strong offering with So Runs the World Away.  With it he proves that he’s one of the strongest songwriters working today.

And songwriting is at the core of what makes this album special.  Ritter tackles some high-concept ideas on a few songs here and pulls them off beautifully.  The mummy love story set to a waltz in “The Curse,” the classic murder ballad character reunion in “Folk Bloodbath,” and the epic maritime tragedy of “Another New World” all take narrative chances and all come out beautifully.  Combine that with songs like the trippy dreamscape of “Change of Time,” the lilting Graceland inspired “Lark,” and the travelogue of “Southern Pacifica,” and you have a particularly well-rounded album.

Josh Ritter: Another New World (Buy Album)

Best of 2010: 12-10

Posted in Drunk on Crutches, Patty Griffin, Tift Merritt, Top 21 of 2010 on December 25, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

We’re kicking into overdrive now. The Top 10 begins in this post.

#12 – Downtown Church by Patty Griffin

Patty Griffin is one of my all time favorites.  From her acoustic only debut album Living With Ghosts to her her much heavier produced follow up Flaming Red to the more polished and mature releases of her tenure with ATO Records, Griffin has hit a home run with me on nearly every one of her albums.  Griffin’s music was one of the first topics I ever discussed with my wife, and her music has always been present at each important stage in our time together.  She has the voice of an angel, and certain moments of her live shows fall just short of being religious experiences.  Recording a gospel album was a fully logical step.

This isn’t just any gospel album, though.  It has that rare combination of musical and spiritual resonance that you won’t find in your average praise band.  Producer and Americana All-Star Buddy Miller teams with Griffin to create beautifully textured songs that grab both the ear and the soul.  Friends like Raul Malo, Jim Lauderdale, Julie Miller, Mike Farris, and Regina & Ann McCrary joined Griffin for the recording sessions at Nashville’s Downtown Presbyterian Church. I like to imagine the recording sessions as little church services led by Griffin as she recorded her vocals from the pulpit.  The word you’re looking for is “Hallelujah.”

Patty Griffin: If I Had My Way (Buy Album)

#11 – See You on the Moon by Tift Merritt

As an artist, Tift Merritt has always been about evolution.  Merritt’s sound has morphed over the years from the classic country of her early duets with The Two Dollar Pistols to the Memphis soul of Tambourine to the layered and varied sounds of See You on the Moon.  She is one of those artists that I’ve followed from the very beginning, and it’s been amazing to watch her grow over the years.  She has evolved into a very formidable artist and someone who never seems to disappoint with her music.

For her new record, Merritt took another step forward and exposed another facet of her sound.  The sweeping strings and subtle hand-clap percussion of “Mixtape” give that track an R&B vibe while the deeply layered and textured “Feel of the World” (with Jim James of My Morning Jacket) is among the most ambitious tracks in Merritt’s catalogue.  You can credit producer Tucker Martine for providing Merritt with some of the direction needed to pull off this next step in her evolution, but you also need to credit Merritt herself for being willing to take that step in the first place.

Tift Merritt: Feel of the World (Buy Album)

#10 – People. Places. Things. by Drunk on Crutches

Los Angeles’ Drunk on Crutches was easily my favorite surprise of 2010.  It all started when I saw People. Places. Things. posted on ReviewShine, and I couldn’t help but wonder what a band named Drunk on Crutches would sound like.  I fell in love with the album on first listen, posted a brief review on the site, and started playing a couple of tracks on WDVX.  Well it turns out that lead singer Jennifer Whittenburg’s mother listens to WDVX and heard me playing her daughter’s music.  She posted a few times on the WDVX facebook page, I contacted her back, and before long the band from L.A. was in Knoxville doing a live spot on the Blue Plate Special.

Drunk on Crutches play a guitar fueled brand of roots rock that is immediately memorable and full of hooks.  Whittenburg’s voice is both breathy and powerful, making her vocals just as effective in the quiet moments (“Oh Well”) as it is in the loud ones (“Tupelo,” “Using Me Up,” “Drink Up Buttercup”).  For those of you like me who came to Americana from the Rock & Roll side of the fence, this is one you need to hear.  Turn it up to eleven, sit back, and enjoy.

Drunk on Crutches: Tupelo (Buy Album)

Happy Holidays everybody!

Best of 2010: 15-13

Posted in Crooked Still, Jenny and Johnny, jenny lewis, Justin Townes Earle, Top 21 of 2010 on December 22, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

#15 – I’m Having Fun Now by Jenny & Johnny

Jenny is former Rilo Kiley front woman and indie rock goddess Jenny Lewis.  Johnny is singer/songwriter/producer Johnathan Rice.  The two started working together when Rice appeared on Lewis’ 2005 album Rabbit Fur Coat. They continued to record and tour together as their musical relationship turned into a personal one.  Rice was so largely involved in Lewis’ 2008 release Acid Tongue that it only seemed natural that the pair would release their newest effort as a duo project with both of their names on the record.

And while Lewis may be the bigger name of the two, it is important to note that this is a fully collaborative effort with each getting a chance to shine.  In fact, Rice’s voice is the first you hear on record on the punchy and poppy album opener, “Scissor Runner.”  Still, I find myself drawn more to the tracks like “My Pet Snakes” and “Just Like Zeuss” where Lewis has the lead.  Those tracks play like lost sessions from Rilo Kiley’s More Adventurous (one of my all-time albums) with Rice playing Blake Sennett’s role as sideman.  No matter who leads on each track, Jenny & Johnny have managed to make a record that is simply a lot of fun.

Jenny & Johnny: My Pet Snakes (Buy Album)

#14 – Harlem River Blues by Justin Townes Earle

There’s no real sense in rehashing Justin Townes Earle’s origins one more time in this space.  I’ve done it a few times already.  Suffice to say that Earle is the son of one legend, bears the name of another, and has already done enough in his short career to create a legacy all his own and independent of his father and his namesake.  His previous effort, 2009’s Midnight at the Movies was handily selected as last year’s best album by a panel of Americana bloggers.

This year, Earle returns with Harlem River Blues.  It’s an ambitious album that straddles the lines of many forms of American roots music.  The breezy folk of “Wanderin'” easily gives way to the bluesy soul of “Slippin’ and Slidin'” and the up-tempo gospel rhythms of the title track.  Incidentally, the title track is also as infectious a tune about planned suicide as I can ever remember hearing.

I was a little distracted with life when this album first came out, so I didn’t really sit with it until I started working on this list.  It was unranked in my first draft, but slowly crept up the board in subsequent drafts until settling here at #14.   A few more weeks with it, and it may have cracked the Top 10.

Justin Townes Earle: Harlem River Blues (Buy Album)

#13 – Some Strange Country by Crooked Still

First off, I just want to say that no one else sounds like Crooked Still.  Their unique instrumentation that includes a cello and a double bass as part of the line-up gives their music a darkness that is largely absent in other contemporary string bands.  I remember hearing their version of “Ain’t No Grave” in 2006 as part of the house music at a venue in Asheville while waiting for an Adrienne Young concert.  I had never heard Crooked Still’s music before, and I was haunted by that song for a long while before I came to realize who was singing it.

Now it’s four years later, and I’m still haunted by vocalist Aoife O’Donovan and crew on the new CD Some Strange Country.  And I think haunted is the right word due to the murder ballads and other tales of woe and sorrow that make up the bulk of the record.  When I reviewed the album earlier this year for Country Standard Time, I used words like ghostly and chilling to describe the band’s sound and subjects.  I think both of those words fit the song I’m sharing here.  This is the traditional tune “The Golden Vanity” featuring Ricky Skaggs on backing vocals.

Crooked Still: The Golden Vanity (Buy Album)

Weekend YouTube: Inbox Videos

Posted in Boca Chica, Mic Harrison, Sons of Bill on December 19, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

Let’s take a short break from the Top 21 list to look over a few videos that have popped up in my inbox over the last couple of weeks…

First up is a vid from local roots rockers Mic Harrison & The High Score.  “Talk to You Tonight” is on Harrison’s new album that I reviewed a few months ago.  Harrison will also play a New Year’s Eve concert with Scott Miller & The Commonwealth just down the road in Maryville at The Shed.

Charlottesville’s Sons of Bill are working on a new album that’s set for a Spring 2011 release. Here’s a new song from it.

Our friend Hallie Pritts sent over two holiday videos from her band Boca Chica.  Watch the videos and then download the songs from Boca Chica’s bandcamp page.

Echo Chamber: Boca Chica / Not on Christmas Eve from Draw Us Lines on Vimeo.

Echo Chamber : Boca Chica / Snow Angels from Draw Us Lines on Vimeo.

Best of 2010: 18-16

Posted in Kasey Anderson, Mary Gauthier, Tim Lee 3, Top 21 of 2010 on December 18, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

#18 – Raucous Americanus by Tim Lee 3

The city of Knoxville produced some pretty astounding music this year.  That’s why I’m a little surprised that this two disc release from Tim Lee 3 is the only local album on this year’s list (apologies are due to Sam Quinn, R.B. Morris, Mic Harrison, Greg Horne, and Karen Reynolds among others).

Tim Lee is not a native Knoxvillian.  His roots reach further south where he first rose to prominence in Mississippi in the 80’s jangle pop band The Windbreakers.  Over his thirty year music career, Lee released a handful of records with The Windbreakers, toured as a member of his friend Mitch Easter’s band Let’s Active, and recorded a few solo albums.  He settled in Knoxville with his wife Susan Bauer Lee at the beginning of this past decade, and the two of them formed TL3 in 2006.  With Tim on guitars and vocals, Susan on bass and vocals, and Matt Honkonen on drums and vocals, the band has found something special on their third studio release.

Raucous Americanus is a rock record… two of them in fact.  It’s the only two-disc album to make the list.  The reason the record is so successful is that, even at 21 tracks and nearly an hour-and-a-half, it never feels like too much or becomes to familiar.  The songs were culled from three different recording sessions with three different producers in three different states.  Add to that the fact that Tim and Susan swap lead vocals from song to song, and there is enough variety to keep things fresh the whole way through.  From jangly pop to trippy Americana to full on rock, Tim Lee 3 released one of the most varied and satisfying albums of the year.

Tim Lee 3: Salty Tears (Buy Album)

#17 – Nowhere Nights by Kasey Anderson

I’ve told the story a couple of times now of how I first came across Kasey Anderson.  However, it’s time for me to stop talking about Anderson as the guy who I used to know as a fellow poster on the message boards at altcountrytab, and start talking about him only as a legitimate musician.  He’s earned that much for sure as the head of his own Red River Records label and a fine songwriter with five strong albums to his credit (and a new one coming in February).

At its core Nowhere Nights is a personal tale about a restless soul who has spent too much time in one place and needs to move on.  For Anderson, that place was Bellingham, WA, a place he lived for eight years and felt he had to leave.  At times, Anderson wistfully contemplates a tidy cutting of ties.  Other times, he seems ready to take a scorched earth approach and burn down everything around him.  Either way… he gets his point across.  Anderson lives in Portland now.

Update: Get a free sampler with three songs from Nowhere Nights and four songs from the new album at Anderson’s website.

Kasey Anderson: Bellingham Blues (Buy Album)

#16 – The Foundling by Mary Gauthier

Mary Gauthier is a veteran artist.  She’s released six studio albums, been the recipient of an Americana Music Award, and had her songs covered by artists ranging from Jimmy Buffett to Blake Shelton to Fred Eaglesmith.  She’s an accomplished chef who once ran her own restaurant in Boston, and she’s an accomplished musician who has played shows all over the country and all over the world.

Mary Gauthier is also an orphan.

That piece of information is central to her 2010 album The Foundling.  A deeply confessional album that is essentially Gauthier’s story told through song.  It deals with her journey as an orphan, her search for answers in her life, and her coming to grips with the answers she found and those she was denied.  It’s as personal an album as I’ve ever heard, and one that can be difficult to listen to at times due to the raw emotions involved.  It’s those emotions, however, that make the album great and worth spending time with.

Mary Gauthier: Goodbye (Buy Album)

Best of 2010: 21-19

Posted in Carolina Chocolate Drops, Hayshaker, She and Him, Top 21 of 2010 on December 16, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

As I mentioned over the weekend, it is time to kick off the list of my favorite albums of 2010.  It’s kind of weird because it doesn’t really feel like it’s been a year since the last list. That’s probably because this year has been nothing more than one big blur.

2010 will forever be known to me as the year music took a back seat to some other things in my life. It’s the year my daughter was born and the year my priorities shifted accordingly. I wasn’t able to focus on music and writing as much as I wanted to at times, and I feel as though a few albums probably got lost in the shuffle. I know there are certainly a few albums I would have liked to spend more time with.

The posts that will follow in the next couple of weeks represent the music that didn’t get lost… my 21 favorite albums of 2010. Not the best necessarily, or the most innovative, or the critical darlings… just my personal favorites. From old favorites to new discoveries, from legends to unknowns, from string bands to Band(s) of Joy… they are the albums I keep coming back to and listening to over and over again.

So… Here we go.

#21 – Genuine Negro Jig by Carolina Chocolate Drops

The origins of the Carolina Chocolate Drops date back to 2005 when three members of a Yahoo chat group called “Black Banjo: Then and Now” met at the Black Banjo Gathering in Boone, NC.  Dom Flemons, Rhiannon Giddens, and Justin Robinson found themselves to be three kindred musical spirits and they began playing together under the tutelage of old time fiddler Joe Thompson.  The three would meet at Thompson’s house every Thursday night to learn his craft and his songs.  They formed the Carolina Chocolate Drops to reintroduce the 90-year-old Thompson and his music to the world.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops released Genuine Negro Jig, their second proper studio album, in February and with it continued to package their traditional sound for modern audiences.  Robinson says the band sees tradition as a guide rather than a jailer, and on the record the band follows their guide to some fairly amazing places.  Highlights include the controversial Americana radio hit “Hit ‘Em Up Style,” the infectious instrumental “Snowden’s Jig (Genuine Negro Jig),” (read about that one here) and the traditional favorites “Cornbread and Butterbeans” and “Trouble in Your Mind.”  I’m also extremely drawn to the original tune “Your Baby Ain’t Sweet Like Mine.”

Carolina Chocolate Drops: Your Baby Ain’t Sweet Like Mine (Buy Album)

#20 – Volume Two by She & Him

She is actress Zooey Deschanel.  Him is musician M. Ward.  She & Him is a sum greater than the whole of its parts… a serendipitous collaboration that started on the movie set of The Go Getter where Deschanel was the star and Ward was the music director.  They recorded a song for the movie’s soundtrack and continued working together to produce 2008’s Volume One, one of my favorite albums of that year.

Maybe it’s because I’m now familiar with their sound, so there’s no way Volume Two could have ever sounded as fresh as Volume One, but this album never seems to reach the heights of that initial release.  That’s OK though, because this album is much more consistent than it’s predecessor and is absent some of that effort’s missteps.  Deschanel’s sugary sweet lyrics (she wrote eleven of the album’s 13 songs) are tempered perfectly by Ward’s grounded arrangements and production.  His presence keeps things from ever becoming too saccharine, as evidenced by his subtle guitar fills and powerful outro in the album’s lead single “In the Sun.”

She & Him: In the Sun (Buy Album)

#19 – Tin Roof Snare by Hayshaker

Hayshaker is a band from Waycross, GA (the childhood home of one Gram Parsons) that came out of left field to produce one my most unexpected favorites of 2010.  The band is led by the husband and wife duo of CC and Laurie Rider  along with T.W. Lott on lead guitar, Matt Starling on bass, and Josh Sharpe on pedal steel.  They’ve been making music together since 2001 and this stellar EP is their second proper release.  This is one of those albums that I discovered through the ReviewShine website, proving why that is such a great service

The first thing that jumps out when listening to this album is just how perfect CC and Laurie Rider sound singing together.  Whether building an intricate harmony, sharing a lead vocal, or delivering a playful back and forth, the two just seem to know each other’s voice.  You know it’s carefully plotted, but it just sounds so intuitive.  When their voices combine with the southern twang meets power pop hooks of their music, you come away with something truly special.

Hayshaker: The Dilemma (Buy Album)

Weekend YouTube: Best of 2009

Posted in Andrew Bird, Band of Heathens, Bombadil, Scott Miller, Shane Nicholson on December 11, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

It’s that time of year again… time to make my year end “Best of” list.  I should start rolling out my Top 20 list sometime over the coming week.

Until then, you can go back and read up on my favorite releases of 2009, and relive some of that music with the following YouTube clips…

#1 – Noble Beasts by Andrew Bird

#2 – One Foot in the Ether by Band of Heathens

#3 – Tarpits & Canyonlands by Bombadil

#4 – For Crying Out Loud by Scott Miller

#5 – Familiar Ghosts by Shane Nicholson

A Little Knox Music: Read the Book by Karen E. Reynolds

Posted in Karen Reynolds, Knoxville Music on December 6, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

As the host of The Writer’s Block on WDVX, Karen Reynolds follows me on the air every Wednesday night.  The Writer’s Block plays nothing but original songs by independent artists, and Reynolds has been the show’s host for nearly 13 years.  She’s been a very good friend to below-the-radar artists for a very long time.

Part of the reason she cares so deeply about those independent artists is that she is one herself.  Reynolds is a veteran of the singer/songwriter circuit and wears many hats in addition to hosting and performing.  When she isn’t behind the radio mic or playing gigs, Reynolds teaches collaborative children’s songwriting classes at The Country Music Hall of Fame, hosts and judges various singer/songwriter competitions, and serves as Vice President of the IndieGrrl organization that works to support women in the arts.  Karen even operates her own artists services agency (Sound Advice) to help other artists navigate the waters of independent music.

With all that on her plate, it’s no wonder that her new record Read the Book is her first new studio record in several years.  It’s an album that’s been a long time coming, and you should take the time to open the cover, flip through a few pages, and hear what Reynolds has to say.

The album’s title is an obvious reference to the old adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” and stems from a specific event in Reynold’s music career.  A few years ago, she was playing an opening set at a prominent listening room in the South.  As she took the stage, Reynolds overheard a patron in the front row say to his friend, “I’m not going to like this chick.”  She didn’t acknowledge it during her set, but the comment got her pretty riled up.  In addition to calling her a “chick” (which she hates), this man had taken one look at an artist, decided she didn’t look like the people he saw on CMT or MTV, and made a snap judgement on her abilities and her music without hearing her play the first note.

The event also inspired the album’s title track where Reynolds invites the listener to see with their heart instead of their eyes before passing judgement.  It’s a sentiment that’s been echoed many times over the years by several artists in several forms, but Reynolds manages to put a personal spin on it to keep it fresh.

Other highlights include the album opening “What Kind of Everything,” a song about a love that may not be all the subject of the song believes.  “You Don’t Love Me” is another broken heart ballad that is immediately preceded on the album by “Drunken Love,” a spoken word piece by Knoxville artist/poet Bill Alexander.  The two compliment each other nicely as though the protagonist in Reynolds’ song is the voice of Alexander’s abandoned lover at the bar.

Two songs were borne out of Reynolds’ partnership with the Words and Music in Schools Program in which artists collaborate with elementary school music classes to write songs.  They range in tone from the whimsical “Dolly” about an imagined meeting with a certain Backwoods Barbie to the more poignant “The Forsaken.”  The latter reads as a tribute to military men and women stationed overseas as the narrator offers prayers for their safe return. The song stemmed in part from a student who had written a letter to her father, a serviceman in the Middle East.

There’s plenty to like here for those who want to take the time to open up the book and read it cover to cover.  Speaking of cover to cover, I guess I should finish the story of the guy at the show who just “knew” he wouldn’t enjoy the show.  After Reynolds played her set, he came to the merch table and bought a CD.  He also voluntarily apologized for the comment he didn’t know Reynolds had heard.

Karen Reynolds: Read the Book (Buy Album)

Friday Notes: Grammy Nominees, Lucinda, and a Little Blog Love

Posted in Jill Andrews, Lucinda Williams, Rosanne Cash, The Steeldrivers on December 3, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

*First off… I want to say how excited I am to have my blog featured in The Metro Pulse this week.  The Metro Pulse is Knoxville’s weekly free news magazine focusing on local news and issues with a strong focus on arts and entertainment in our city.  This week’s cover story is about local blogs and bloggers.  I was fortunate enough that A Fifty Cent Lighter & A Whiskey Buzz was one of the blogs mentioned.

Those of you in Knoxville know where to pick up a copy, but since the biggest portion of you aren’t from here… you can read my interview here and check out the other featured blogs.

*Grammy nominees were announced yesterday, and (as usual) the nominees are mostly mainstream acts that I don’t particularly care about.  However, there are several Americana and Roots categories work checking out as well as a handful of Americana acts nominated in other categories.  Patty Griffin is nominated for “Best Traditional Gospel Album” for Downtown Church, and The Steeldrivers are up for “Best Bluegrass Album” and “Best Country Performance by a Duo of Group with Vocals.”  Marty Stuart, Ryan Bingham, Steve Earle, and Lucinda Williams & Elvis Costello are also nominated in various categories.

This is year two of the “Best Americana Album” category, and the nominees are fairly solid.  Rosanne Cash won Album of the Year at the Americana Music Awards for her album The List.  She’s nominated here along side Robert Plant’s Band of Joy, Willie Nelson’s Country Music, Los Lobos’ Tin Can Trust, and Mavis Staples’ You Are Not Alone.  My money is on Cash or Plant.

Rosanne Cash: Motherless Children (Buy Album)
The Steeldrivers: Where Rainbows Never Die (Buy Album)

*Lucinda Williams is working on a new album.  Blessed is produced by Don Was and should be out in March.

*Knoxville’s Jill Andrews is working on a new one as well.  The former member of the everybodyfields is asking for help from her fans to fund the release of her first full length solo album The Mirror.  You can find out how to help here.