Archive for the Justin Townes Earle Category

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)

Americana Award Winners & Other Notes

Posted in Americana Music Awards 09, BettySoo, Buddy and Julie Miller, Buddy Miller, Gurf Morlix, Justin Townes Earle, Patty Griffin, Porterdavis on September 18, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

***Well… The results are in from last night’s Americana Honors and Awards Show, and the winners are Buddy Miller, Buddy Miller, Buddy Miller, Buddy Miller, Gurf Morlix, and Justin Townes Earle.

Obviously, Buddy was the big winner on the night. He walked away with wins for “Artist of the Year,” “Duo/Group of the Year” with his wife Julie Miller, “Album of the Year” for Written in Chalk (also with Julie), and “Song of the Year” for his duet with Patty Griffin called “Chalk.”
With his four wins last night, Buddy now has nine Americana Music Awards to his credit. He has two previous wins in the album category for Buddy & Julie Miller in 2002 and Universal United House of Prayer in 2005. He’s also a two-time winner of the instrumentalist award and was honored in the song category for “Worry too Much” in 2005. It’s quite the impressive resume.
The other two award winners, Morlix and Earle, both were presented with their first Americana trophies. Producer and multi-instrumentalist Morlix took home the “Instrumentalist of the Year” award while Earle was honored with the “Best New/Emerging Aritst” trophy.
***Speaking of Gurf Morlix… Thanks to A Truer Sound for introducing me to Asian-American Americana songwriter BettySoo. BettySoo hails from Texas, and her latest album Heat Sin Water Skin features Morlix as a player and producer. You can read about BettySoo… and watch some videos… over at A Truer Sound, or stream and purchase the album here. You can also stream most of her entire catalogue on her website. She’s worth checking out.
***One more Morlix related note… Be on the lookout for my first ever CD giveaway contest sometime next week. I have an autographed copy of the debut studio album from Porterdavis to send somebody’s way. Morlix produced the album, and it sounds great. Look for info on the giveaway (and interview/performance audio from the band) on Monday.
***Finally, a couple of loyal readers of this site were featured recently on CNN, and I think that’s pretty cool.
I was first introduced to Steve and Jill Kaufmann when I was the host of Americana Crossroads at Morehead State Public Radio. They started listening to the show from their home in Lexington, KY and would send in the occasional e-mail when they heard something they really liked. We lost touch when I moved to Knoxville, but reconnected a while back through the blogosphere when I noticed I was receiving some traffic to this site from a blog called Off the Grid and On the Map.
As it turns out… the Kaufmanns had quit their jobs, sold their house, bought a van, and embarked on a long term driving tour of North America… and they were blogging about it. They would listen to WDVX over the internet on their travels and had tracked me down through that. Pretty soon, I was getting e-mails from them in the studio at work… only now the messages were coming from Mexico and California instead of Lexington. I started following their travels on their website, and I guess I wasn’t the only one as Steve and Jill were recently featured on CNN.com.
In honor of Jill & Steve’s Excellent Adventure, here’s a song dedicated to them from the one and only Johnny Cash.
Johnny Cash: I’ve Been Everywhere (Buy Album)

Americana Music Awards Nominees ’09: Album of the Year

Posted in Alejandro Escovedo, Americana Music Awards 09, Buddy and Julie Miller, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Justin Townes Earle on September 4, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

So far we’ve covered the nominees for “Best New and Emerging Artist” and “Song of the Year” at this year’s Americana Music Awards & Honors. I gave you my picks and asked you to vote for yours. You’ve voted for all Texas artists so far with The Band of Heathens and The Flatlanders each taking their respective categories. We’ll find out who really wins when the awards get passed out September 17th in Nashville.

This week, it’s time to look at the “Album of the Year” nominees. I’ve already covered two of the nominees in great detail here at the site. I’ll start with those first.
I probably don’t have to tell you that my vote (if I had one) would go to Alejandro Escovedo for his 2008 release Real Animal. I reviewed the album back when it first came out. In fact, it was one of the very first albums I ever wrote about. I also chose it as my favorite album of 2008, and the accolades didn’t stop there. Music critics in Austin named it the best of the year, No Depression give it their top album nod, Stephen King called it one of the year’s best, and Alejandro essentially swept the Austin Music Awards. This is a great rock and roll record with a great deal of introspective song writing. It sounds great now, and I have a feeling it will hold up for quite a while as well.
Alejandro Escovedo: Sister Lost Soul (Buy Album)

Next, we move on to Chalk by Buddy and Julie Miller… an album that I wrote about back in February. As I said then… this isn’t exactly a full collaboration for Buddy and Julie. They only sing together on a few tracks, opting for solo vocals and guest appearances on the other tracks. Patty Griffin, Robert Plant, Larry Campbell, Regina and Ann McCrary, and Emmylou Harris all make appearances on the album. In most cases, the guests take the album to some very lofty places… but I still just love to hear Buddy & Julie Miller singing together. Here’s one where they do just that.

Buddy & Julie Miller: Gasoline & Matches (Buy Album)

Next up is former Drive By Truckers guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Jason Isbell with his new backing band The 400 Unit. Jason’s latest album is a self-titled project and once again reminds me why my favorite Drive By Truckers records are the ones on which he appeared. Although the 400 Unit helps him lay down some tight, southern rock inspired grooves, Jason’s strength has always been his songwriting. I’m not sure why Jason is the only nominee that I haven’t written about before. He certainly deserves the mention.

The album opening “Seven Mile Island” has a father reflecting on his own death even as his child is being born. “Cigarettes & Wine” sees a man destroyed because he can’t let himself be tied down. “Soldiers Get Strange” details the trials of a returning soldier struggling to readjust to civilian life. It’s not a happy album by any stretch, but (to steal a lyric from “Cigarettes and Wine”) it does a great job of detailing snapshots of a, “Life that ain’t grindstone to nose, but pedal to floor.”
Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit: Seven Mile Island (Buy Album)
Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit: Cigarettes & Wine (Buy Album)
The final nominee is Justin Townes Earle’s latest effort Midnight at the Movies. I know I’ve said this before… but with every new project he releases, Justin takes one more giant step out of the imposing shadows cast upon him by his famous father (Steve Earle) and namesake (Townes Van Zandt). He acknowledges those shadows briefly on the autobiographical “Mama’s Eyes,” but stands proudly in the sun himself with the album opening title track and stays bathed in its rays the whole way through. If he keeps releasing albums like this… he’ll stay there for a while.
Justin Townes Earle: Midnight at the Movies (Buy Album)
I’ve already told you who my vote would go to. I am firmly in the Alejandro Escovedo camp. As for who will win the award, I see this one as being pretty wide open as all four are solid choices. Buddy and Julie are always tough to beat (as Buddy’s crowded awards shelf will attest), and they have won this award before. My wife believes the fix is in for Earle to be the night’s big winner, but I don’t think he takes this one. Isbell’s songs are tremendous, but I don’t know if he has the name recognition to take out two members of Americana royalty and the heir apparent to another regal throne. This one should be interesting.
My vote (If I had one): Real Animal by Alejandro Escovedo
My prediction: Written in Chalk by Buddy & Julie Miller

Americana Music Awards Nominees ’09: New & Emerging Artist

Posted in Americana Music Awards 09, Band of Heathens, Belleville Outfit, Justin Townes Earle, Sarah Borges on August 21, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

Well… It’s that time of year again.

The 2009 Americana Music Association’s Awards and Honors Show will be held September 17 at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. The event is part of the Americana Music Festival and Conference taking place September 16tn – 19th in Nashville.

As I did last year… I’ll be taking a look at most of the awards categories and trying to handicap the field. We start today with the nominees for “Best New & Emerging Artist.”

First up is a songwriting collective from Austin, TX called The Band of Heathens. The Heathens got their start a few years back when songwriters Colin Brooks, Gordy Quist, and Ed Jurdi were all holding down regular weekly slots at Momo’s Club in Austin. Eventually, the three solo acts started playing together along with a rhythm section of John Chipman on drums and Seth Whitney on bass. As the story goes… a local music writer referred to the collective as “That Band of Heathens” and a legend was born.

The band’s self-titled studio album was released last year and instantly started climbing the Americana Album Airplay charts. In fact, it became just the second self released album to hit the top of that chart (Hayes Carll’s Little Rock). Produced by Austin luminary Ray Wylie Hubbard and featuring appearances by Hubbard, Patty Griffin, Gurf Morlix, and the late Stephen Bruton… their debut effort features country rock grooves to boost their solid songwriting. “Jackson Station” is as good as anything else I heard over the past year.

Band of Heathens: Jackson Station (Buy Album)

The second nominee is another young group based out of the Americana Mecca that is Austin, TX. Though they call Austin their home now, the roots of The Belleville Outfit actually lie in South Carolina where band members Marshall Hood, Rob Teter, and Jeff Brown were in a band called The DesChamps band during their high school years. The three reconnected in Austin a few years later and started recruiting players for a gig they booked at Merlefest. Enter Jonathan Konya and Connor Forsyth from New Orleans and Phoebe Hunt from Austin to complete the sextet.

The Belleville Outfit’s debut album Wanderin’ came out in February of 2008 with a follow up called Time to Stand coming out earlier this year in May. Both albums draw from a wide range of influences to create a sound that is based in Western Swing but also swings out to cover styles as diverse as jazz, traditional folk, cajun zydeco, and just about anything else you’ve ever wrapped your ears around. Here’s the title track from their debut album.

The Belleville Outfit: Wandrin’ (Buy Album)

For our third nominee, we leave Texas and head to Boston for Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles. Sarah is probably my favorite artist among the nominees and someone who I’ve followed for a few years now. She first got on stage as an actress and majored in musical theatre at Emerson College, a small private school in Boston. Eventually, Sarah formed a band and was signed to the Blue Corn Music label after a successful showcase at the SXSW festival.

Sarah has released three albums since then… 2005’s Silver City, 2007’s Diamonds in the Dark, and 2009’s The Stars are Out… the latter two for Sugar Hill. At it’s core, her music houses a strong rock and roll spirit with obvious flourishes of country soul mixed in for good measure. Her latest album was a little less country and a little more rock and roll. It’s a bit of a new direction for a talented performer and songwriter who figures to be around for a while. It’s nice to see her finally get some attention from the Americana voters.

Sarah Borges & The Broken Singles: Me and Your Ghost (Buy Album)

Which brings me to the final nominee this year and the only returning nominee in this category. How someone can be nominated for “Best New Artist” two years in a row… I’ll never know. Here’s part what I wrote about Justin Townes Earle last year.

“Justin Townes Earle is the son of Steve Earle and is named for Townes Van Zandt. That’s not too much to live up to is it? Justin understandably developed a love for music and was playing in a couple of bands in Nashville by the time he was a teenager. He also spent some time playing in his father’s touring band, The Dukes, but was kicked out of the group due a growing dependence on alcohol and drugs… …[Now] clean and sober, Justin self-released the EP Yuma in 2007. His debut album The Good Life followed in 2008.”

Earle returned in March of this year with Midnight at the Movies, another strong effort that, once again, showcases his skills as a songwriter (even if my favorite song on the album is a Replacements cover), and proves that he can stand on his own outside the shadows of his namesake and famous father. His recent inclusion on the Big Surprise Tour with The Old Crow Medicine Show has only broadened his exposure and helped solidify his status as an artist to watch in the future.
Justin Townes Earle: Can’t Hardly Wait (Buy Album)
So those are the nominees for “Best New & Emerging Artist.” I put a poll up yesterday for you to vote on your favorite. We’ll find out the real winner September 17th.
As for how I would handicap this year’s race… I think JTE will be tough to beat. In addition to his nomination here, he’s also up for “Artist of the Year” and “Album of the Year.” My vote (if I had one) would probably go to Sarah Borges because she’s been a favorite of mine for some time, but her latest album is probably the least “Americana” of her catalogue. The Belleville Outfit have the most unique sound and are probably the most innovative of the group. The Band of Heathens had the best “debut” album during the nominating period and would probably be a shoo in if not for the word “Emerging” in the name of the award.
My Vote (If I had one): Sarah Borges
My Prediction: Justin Townes Earle

Notes: One Wild Weekend Ahead

Posted in Allison Moorer, Brendon James Wright, Chris Knight, Gillian Welch, Justin Townes Earle, Kasey Chambers, Shane Nicholson, Steve Earle, The Felice Brothers, The Steeldrivers, Van Eaton and Friends on August 13, 2009 by AmericanaPulse
This is a HUGE musical weekend in Knoxville, and I’ll tell you all about it… but first…

***I want to start off this post by wishing a Happy Anniversary to Steve Earle and Allison Moorer. The Americana power couple celebrated their fourth wedding anniversary on Tuesday.

I still remember when I first heard the rumours that the two were becoming involved with each other. In fact, I think I probably had the info a little sooner than most outside observers. I got the scoop from my music director at the time, who had heard it directly from an “industry insider,” who probably got it from Allison’s hairdresser’s cousin’s friend. That’s the way these things typically get started… right?

Anyway, I quickly dismissed the rumours as false. He was too old for her, and she was too pretty for him. It couldn’t be true.

Only, it was. And it is. And they still seem to be going strong. So here’s to four years together for Steve and Allison. May there be many more happy years and great music in their future. Here’s a tune Steve Earle wrote about his bride. It comes from 2008’s Washington Square Serenade.

Steve Earle: Sparkle & Shine (Buy Album)

***Now… on to this weekend’s festivities. It’s one of those weekends where you get really excited once you hear of all the shows, and all of the artists, that are coming to town, and then immediately get upset once you realize that there is no way to see them all. It almost breaks my heart to list all the acts I won’t be seeing this weekend.

It starts Thursday night when Brendan James Wright and the Wrongs play a free show as part of the new “Old City Live” concert series. I’m working late at my day job Thursday night… so no show for me.

Friday night is even worse. Chris Knight just added a date at The Shed in Maryville, and there’s also this thing at the World’s Fair Park called The Big Surprise Tour… maybe you’ve heard of it. The Old Crow Medicine Show, Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, Justin Townes Earle, and The Felice Brothers. Apparently, it’s one of those shows where everybody plays with everybody else and no two shows are the same. It’s a once in a lifetime show with a once in a lifetime collection of talent… and I’ll on the air at WDVX and completely unable to attend.
Never fear though… Payton from This Mornin’ I am Born Again is making the trip from Texas to Tennessee for the Big Surprise show. I’m sure he’ll share his impressions of the show with us once he makes it back to Texas. In the meantime, you can go to his site to hear some live tracks from the Big Surprise participants.

***Saturday night, I finally get to see a show for myself when Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson come to the Bijou Theatre. I’m choosing not to think about the fact that I have to miss out on seeing my friends Van Eaton of Van Eaton and Friends and Chris Stapleton of The Steeldrivers play as part of Stringtime in the Smokies to do it.

Instead, I’m looking forward to finally meeting the artist who probably did more than any other in terms of pulling me into the world of Americana Music. She introduced me to so many great artists, and literally changed my musical world. I’m fairly certain that I would not be writing this blog or working at WDVX if not for my first chance encounter with her music. I’ll be able to thank her for that on Saturday. What’s more… I’ll get to introduce her to the crowd at the Bijou as well. I’ll be emceeing the show.
It almost makes up for missing everything else this weekend.
Here’s one from Kasey and Shane’s 2008 release Rattlin’ Bones (one of my favorites of ’08), and a live track of Kasey covering Lucinda Williams’ “Changed the Locks.”
Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson: Once in a While (Buy Album)
Kasey Chambers: Changed the Locks (Buy Music)

Americana Music Awards: Best New/Emerging Artist

Posted in Americana Music Awards, Justin Townes Earle, Mike Farris, Ryan Bingham, The Steeldrivers on August 15, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

Above, you’ll find a picture of The Avett Brothers. The Avett’s were the winners of the Best New/Emerging Artist Award at the 2007 Americana Honors and Awards Show. They joined past winners Mindy Smith (2004), Mary Gauthier (2005), and The Greencards (2006) as winners of the award. 2004 was the first year for the award, as it was created after Kathleen Edwards’ stellar 2003 debut Failer was swept in all categories it was nominated for by Johnny Cash and “Hurt.”

This is one of my favorite awards because it highlights the future of the Americana genre. These are artists who are brand new to the scene or, in some cases, artists who have been struggling for years and are finally garnering some support on a large scale. This year features another solid group of performers.

And the nominees are…

Justin Townes Earle
Mike Farris
Ryan Bingham
The Steeldrivers

Justin Townes Earle is the son of Steve Earle, and is named for Townes Van Zandt. That’s not too much to live up to is it? Justin understandably developed a love for music and was playing in a couple of bands in Nashville by the time he was a teenager. He also spent some time playing in his father’s touring band, The Dukes, but was kicked out of the group due to his growing dependence on alcohol and drugs. Justin’s fifth overdose landed him in the hospital for several days and came at the tender age of 21. He decided it was time to clean up his act. Clean and sober, Justin self-released the EP Yuma in 2007. His debut album The Good Life followed in 2008.

Justin Townes Earle: Hard Livin’ (Buy Album)

The story of Mike Farris is similar to that of Justin Townes Earle. Like JT Earle, Farris had a promising career sidetracked by his addictions and has now put his life back together and found salvation in his music. Farris fronted the blues-based jam band Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies in the 1990’s and also spent time as the singer for Double Trouble, Stevie Ray Vaughn’s old rhythm section. Farris’ demons kept holding him back, however, until he attended a friend’s funeral in 2004. There Farris decided it was time to turn a new page before he ended up in a coffin himself. His 2007 album, Salvation in Lights, is proof of his salvation, and a fine offering of rocking gospel blues.

Mike Farris: Can’t No Grave Hold My Body Down (Buy Album)

Ryan Bingham follows in the footsteps of all the other great Texas songwriters who have come before him. Bingham was born and raised in rural Texas where he worked for years as a ranch hand and rode on the competitive rodeo circuit. At age 17, he learned to play guitar from a neighbor who worked as a mariachi musician. He eventually started writing his own songs and began entertaining friends after rodeo shows. The songs on Binghams’s debut are often described as “road-weary,” and the 25-year-old songwriter comes by that label honestly. He’s certainly lived his share of “Hard Times.”

Ryan Bingham: Southside of Heaven (Buy Album)

Of course, The Steeldrivers, are my favorite in this category. I’ve mentioned them previously here and here, but I’m always happy to mention them again. Even if I hadn’t graduated from high school with lead vocalist/guitarist/songwriter, Chris Stapleton, I’m sure The Steeldrivers’ rough-edged bluegrass songs about hardened characters behind jailhouse walls would have still caught my ears. On the whole, The Steeldrivers are a tight band featuring songwriter Mike Henderson on mandolin, Tammy Rogers on fiddle and vocals, Richard Baily on banjo, and Mike Fleming on bass. All members of the group are Nashville session and songwriting veterans who are getting the chance to shine on their own here.

The Steeldrivers: Blue Side of the Mountain (Buy Album)

I’ve already said who I’m pulling for in this category, but listen to the tunes and decide for yourself. Leave comments below or vote in the poll to the right.

Update: It looks like Tift Merritt’s “Broken” was the winner in your voting for song of the year. Voting was pretty close with Hayes Carll’s “She Left Me for Jesus” leading most of the way. At the eleventh hour, however, Tift Merritt’s fan website found the poll and put her over the top.