Archive for the Shane Nicholson Category

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

Top 20 of 2009: 6-4

Posted in Levon Helm, Scott Miller, Shane Nicholson, Top 20 of 2009 on January 5, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

#6 – Electric Dirt by Levon Helm

Levon Helm was a legend long before he revived his solo career in 2007 with the critically acclaimed Dirt Farmer. As a member of The Band in the 60’s and 70’s along with Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson, and Robbie Robertson, Levon was responsible for creating some of the most beloved Roots Rock music of all time. His sharp drumming and weathered voice helped to define The Band’s sound and continues to shape his music today. Electric Dirt is Levon’s second album since returning to the music business following a battle with throat cancer.

This album picks up almost exactly where Dirt Farmer left off, and finds Levon covering several classics such as The Grateful Dead’s “Tennessee Jed,” Randy Newman’s “Kingfish,” and Pops Staples’ “Move Along Train.” Levon covers some new ground as well. The most inspired piece here is “When I Go Away,” a gospel flavored tune written by the album’s producer and fiddle player Larry Campbell. The song is also very representative of the album’s overall sound that blends a bit of soul into Levon’s country framework.

Levon Helm: When I Go Away (Buy Album)

#5 – Familiar Ghosts by Shane Nicholson

Here’s where this list deviates a bit from the one I turned in to The Bird List. Although it was a 2008 release in Shane’s native Australia, and it still hasn’t been issued in the U.S., this album was a big part of my year and needs to be included here. I told the story of how I obtained this album back when I wrote my review of it in August. What I didn’t say was that I started playing the record at WDVX (the only person in the States to do so?) and had several listeners email me to find out how to get a copy (iTunes). One listener even found a way to have a copy imported to him from overseas. I’d say this album is worth the extra effort it might take to find it.

The album is a continuation of the sound found on the collaborative album Shane released last year with his wife Kasey Chambers. The songs are all built around acoustic grooves and float from standard singer/songwriter fare to bluegrass flavored rambles and back. The result is a classic sound that also has a strong footing in the present. There was a time before I became familiar with Shane’s work when I thought he was merely a complimentary player piggybacking off of his wife’s name and acclaim. I no longer hold that belief.

Shane Nicholson: Easy Now (Buy Album)

#4 – For Crying Out Loud by Scott Miller & The Commonwealth

Again, I can’t have a list without putting Scott Miller on it. In fact, this album may even deserve to be higher on the list than it is. I certainly think I listened to it more than anything else this year. I know I played it more than anything else on the air at WDVX. The truth is that Scott is one of my favorite artists, he’s based out of Knoxville, and this site is named for one of his songs. I don’t want to appear too biased by placing him too high on the list. I interviewed Scott about the album when it was released in the Spring, and finally got around to posting my review in the Summer.

As I said in my previous review, don’t believe Scott when he starts the album with the lyric, “I’ve got nothing for you.” It’s just not true. What this album does is illustrate exactly why I love Scott Miller as a songwriter. He can write about both the ridiculous and the sublime and make both work extremely well. “Sin in Indiana” is a song based on Scott’s theory that uptight Midwesterners actually send all of their sin down the Mississippi River where it is released in the people of New Orleans. It features characters with teeth made of limestone and church deacons who hide pornography in cornfields. Ridiculous. It also features “I’m Right Here My Love,” a touching song about a married couple saying goodbye. Sublime. The song I’m sharing here is an older tune that has its origins in Scott’s days with the V-Roys.

Scott Miller & The Commonwealth: Heart in Harm’s Way (Buy Album)

Shane Nicholson: Familiar Ghosts

Posted in Shane Nicholson on August 31, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

A few weeks back, I wrote about my experiences at the Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson concert at the Bijou Theatre here in Knoxville. As part of that, I mentioned how pleasantly surprised I was by the music of Shane Nicholson.

I had been a fan of Kasey’s for some time, but was completely unfamiliar with Shane prior to the Rattlin’ Bones album. I feel bad about this now, but before Saturday night, I never really viewed Shane as an equal collaborator in the project. In my mind, the album was KASEY CHAMBERS and shane nicholson… I hardly gave him a fair shake. Unfortunately, I often fall under the trap of, “If I haven’t heard of you, then you must not be any good.” It’s probably not the best trait for a music blogger/radio dj to possess, but it does still happen from time to time.
In the case of Rattlin’ Bones, Kasey was one of my favorite artists of all time, and I had never heard of Shane before. He was also her husband… so he must have just been riding her coattails. It was all so clear in my head. I thought…
Turns out I was wrong… and pretty dang far from being right.
The first evidence of my ignorance came fairly early in the concert at the Bijou when Shane played an original tune called “God & Elvis.” The song presents three separate case studies of lost souls who aren’t sure which way to turn to find salvation. The other original we were treated to that night was a song that Shane described as his first attempt at writing a murder ballad. Eventually though, the song “Summer Dress” became what he calls a “missing persons ballad” because he found the murder in the song to be too depressing.
Turns out Shane also wrote some of my favorite tracks from Rattlin’ Bones. Most of the songs were co-writes with Kasey, but “Monkey on a Wire,” “Once In a While,” and “One More Year” were all solo compositions by Shane. The fact that he performed a solo reading of “Once in a While” on piano further cemented in my mind that Shane Nicholson is, in fact, a very talented artist in his own right.
After the show, my wife and I got to go backstage to chat with Kasey and Shane. I asked him about the album that contained “God & Elvis” and “Summer Dress.” Unfortunately, he said the album (Familiar Ghosts) was currently only available in his native Australia, and he didn’t know when or if it would ever make its way to the States. He also said he would love to give me a copy for review, but he didn’t bring any copies with him. He did promise to make sure to send a few copies to WDVX when the album finally got U.S. distribution.
As we were leaving the theatre, I took one last look back toward the stage to see Shane waving at my wife and I. Thinking he was just saying good night, I waved back and kept walking toward the door. That’s when I heard him yelling for me to stop. He had jumped off the stage and was running toward us up the aisle. It seems Kasey had found an extra copy of Familiar Ghosts on the bus, and Shane chased us down to give it to me.
We listened to the album on the way home, and fell in love with it immediately. Sonically, it is a continuation of the stripped down, rustic and rootsy sounds found on Rattlin’ Bones. The opening track, “Easy Now,” rolls along over slide and resonator guitars (all instruments on the album were played by Shane), and sets the tone for the rest of what’s to come. Shane shows off his mandolin and banjo skills on the up-tempo “Where the Water Goes,” falls prey to his suspicious nature on the accusatory “Who’s at Your Window,” and shows a dark side on “You and Your Enemy.”
There is nothing shiny about this album. Instead, the songs have an instant familiarity… as though they’ve been around for a while and are nice and broken in. There’s a warmth to these eleven tracks that keeps bringing me back again and again. The album takes the title Familiar Ghosts from a song that didn’t make the record but still seems somehow appropriate given its haunting and comfortable nature.
Familiar Ghosts is not yet available in The United States, but you can purchase it on iTunes, and I highly recommend that you do so. If you enjoyed Rattlin’ Bones, I can’t see any reason why you wouldn’t like this one as well.
Shane Nicholson: God & Elvis (Buy Album)
Shane Nicholson: Where the Water Goes (Buy Album)

Americana Music Awards Nominees ’09: Song of the Year

Posted in Americana Music Awards 09, Buddy and Julie Miller, Kasey Chambers, Patty Griffin, Rodney Crowell, Shane Nicholson, The Flatlanders, The Gourds on August 28, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

Last week, I previewed the nominees for “Best New & Emerging Artist” at this year’s Americana Awards and Honors and asked you to vote for who you thought should win. You chose The Band of Heathens by an almost two-to-one margin over Sarah Borges & The Broken Singles.

This week, we’re going to dip into another category and ask you to vote on the “Americana Song of the Year.”

We’ll start with “Chalk” by Buddy Miller and Patty Griffin from Buddy and Julie Miller’s 2009 release Written in Chalk. Julie wrote the song, but does not appear on the track… opting instead to let Patty Griffin lend her beautiful voice to provide the soaring harmonies to Buddy’s soulful and grounded baritone. It was the right choice. Lyrically, the song is a classic Julie Miller tune full of heartache, heartbreak, burdens carried, and promises written in chalk that are easily erased. The musical accompaniment is mostly subdued… strummed acoustic guitars, resonant drums, and soft piano flourishes… but the vocal performances of Buddy and Patty make the song an absolute powerhouse.

Buddy Miller & Patty Griffin: Chalk (Buy Album)

The perfect counterpoint to the restrained heartbreak of “Chalk” is the unbridled joy and energy of “Country Love” by The Gourds from their 2009 effort Haymaker. Vocalist Kevin Russell sets the tone for the song by shouting the opening line, “Wake up! We’re going to the country.” For the next 2:45 the listener is taken on a hayride through the backwoods… a place where sweet potatoes are divine, you can actually see the stars away from the city lights, and a little “country lovin'” can make everything alright. Accordions, twangy guitars, and shouts of joy fill the track. If you can’t dance to this one… you may just not dance at all.

The Gourds: Country Love (Buy Album)

We’re brought back to reality a bit by the third nominee, “Homeland Refugee” by The Flatlanders from their 2009 effort Hills and Valleys. On this track, Flatlanders Joe Ely, Jimmy Dale Gilmore, and Butch Hancock create a moving narrative by invoking imagery from past eras of American hardships such as The Great Depression and The Dust Bowl to illustrate some of the financial hardships being faced by many Americans today. Ely takes lead vocals on the track and tells of a protagonist forced to leave his home on the coast and return to a simpler life in middle America. He returns along the same path his forefathers used during our country’s time of expansion when people looked to the west to find better fortunes. A lyrical nod to Woody Guthrie only drives home the point that our “Pastures of Plenty” aren’t so plentiful anymore.

The Flatlanders: Homeland Refugee (Buy Album)

That brings us to “Rattlin’ Bones,” the title track of the 2008 release by Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson. The husband and wife team of Kasey and Shane take a few cues from the Carter Family on this track that is a true celebration of the roots of country and folk music. The instrumentation is sparse with just guitar, banjo, and drums. Kasey and Shane share the lead vocal in a back-and-forth style and combine to craft haunting harmonies in the chorus. The concept is simple, but the execution is flawless. I don’t care if it comes from Australia… this IS Americana music.

Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson: Rattlin’ Bones (Buy Album)

Our final nominee this year is the title track from Rodney Crowell’s 2008 effort Sex and Gasoline. As you may recall, I was a little underwhelmed by Rodney’s latest effort when it was released… but this track had nothing to do with that. The song is an indictment of a sexist society and a popular culture that bases a woman’s worth solely on her beauty and youth. Or to put it in Rodney’s words, “You ain’t nothin’ but the shape you’re in.” There is something wrong with a society in which a 30-year-old woman is looked upon as an “old hag.” Of course, Rodney Crowell has never been afraid to call a foul when he sees one.

Rodney Crowell: Sex and Gasoline (Buy Album)

As for who should and will win this one I think I’m going to have to go with Buddy and Patty on both counts. Buddy is the most awarded artist in the history of the Americana Music Awards, and he’s leading the house band for the awards show again this year. Patty is also a past winner at the awards and sports what may be the best voice in the industry. The dark horse here may be The Flatlanders. Voters for this award have gone for topical songs in the past, and this one is timely without being transparent.

My vote (if I had one): Buddy Miller and Patty Griffin
My prediction: Buddy Miller and Patty Griffin

Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson: Concert Review

Posted in Kasey Chambers, Shane Nicholson on August 17, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

As I mentioned last week, we had quite the musical smorgasbord in Knoxville over the weekend. Brendan James Wright, Chris Knight, The Felice Brothers, Justin Townes Earle, Dave Rawlings, Gillian Welch, Old Crow Medicine Show, Van Eaton & Friends, and The Steeldrivers all played somewhere in or around town this weekend. The biggest “event,” of course, took place Friday night at World’s Fair Park when the Old Crow Medicine Show and a few thousand of their closest friends gathered for The Big Surprise Tour.

By all accounts, OCMS and friends put on a great show, but I doubt it held any more surprises than the show I saw on Saturday night at the Bijou Theatre. Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson played for nearly two hours with a mix of songs from their 2008 collaboration Rattlin’ Bones, tunes from each of their solo careers, and a few carefully chosen covers as well.
As for the surprises on Saturday night… I’ll try to go through them one by one.
The biggest surprise for me was how much I enjoyed the songs from Shane’s solo catalogue. Rattlin’ Bones served as my introduction to Shane’s music, but I had never heard his voice independent of Kasey’s. Shane played two songs from his latest solo effort Familiar Ghosts, and I was blown away by both. I don’t want to say too much about it here, because I would like to give the album a proper review of its own later on. For now, just know that the album is not yet commercially available in the United States, but you can find it on iTunes.
There were also a few surprise guests on hand for the show. The concert was billed as just Kasey and Shane, and they played a good deal of the show together with no one else on stage. Even so, I probably should not have been surprised when Kasey’s dad, Bill Chambers, sat in on several songs. He’s appeared on most of her albums, including Rattlin’ Bones, and has always been involved in her career. It was nice to see him on stage.
The bigger surprise was the presence of Kym Warner of The Greencards. It turns out that Kym and Kasey are both from the same small town in Australia and have known each other since childhood. Kym now lives in Nashville, and made the drive to Knoxville to see his friends. Of course… he “just happened” to bring his mandolin along with him and found himself on stage for four or five songs at the end of the night. At one point, Kym played a riff that seemed to amaze even the people on stage with him. I saw Kasey turn to Shane and mouth the words, “That was awesome.”
A few songs also got a bit of a face lift for the show. It seems Shane found an old upright piano somewhere in the bowels of the Bijou and brought it out on stage. We were consequently treated to a version of Kasey’s standard “The Captain” with piano accompaniment instead of guitar. Shane also gave us a solo version of “Once in a While” from Rattlin’ Bones on the keys. It made for a nice addition to the show, and really showcased another element of Shane’s talents.
The surprises didn’t stop there either. It seems Kasey has written a children’s book called Little Kasey and the Lost Music. To coincide with the book, Kasey and her dad will release a children’s album called Kasey, Poppa Bill, and the Little Hillbillies. She says the idea behind the album is to have plenty of songs for the little ones to enjoy while also tossing in a few tracks for their parents as well. We were treated to two songs from the album. The first was a duet between “Little Kasey” and “Poppa Bill” that was based on all the questions she would ask him as a child. The second was full-tilt romp about what might happen if all the animals in the Australian Outback started a band. Have you ever seen a dingo, playing a bongo, riding on a kangaroo? Me neither, but it sounds like fun.
All of that is just to say how enjoyable the concert was overall. It was never predictable and kept me entertained throughout. Kasey and Shane engaged in easy banter throughout the show and kept the audience laughing with them all night. I always enjoy a show more when I know that the artists are really having fun on stage. It always comes through in their performance, and it’s easy to see that Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson enjoy making music together.
As great as the show was, however, the biggest thrill for me came afterwards. Because WDVX was the presenting station, I was asked to do the stage announcements before the show. Because of that… I had a couple of backstage passes and my wife and I were able to go backstage for a private meet and greet after the show.
I expected to just have the standard exchange where we would gush over how much we enjoyed the show, and then we’d have a minute or two of uncomfortable small talk before leaving and letting them get on with their lives.
In one final surprise, however, we found ourselves chatting with Kasey and Shane for nearly 15 minutes about the show, jet lag, Old Crow (they went to the Big Surprise Tour), WDVX, their kids, and the music industry in general. They were as nice and genuine as any artists I have ever met, and that makes me enjoy their music just that much more. All things considered, it was one of the best concert experiences I’ve ever had. Go see them if you get the chance.
I’ll leave you with a video I found of “The Captain” set to piano. It isn’t from this weekend, but it should give you an idea of what we saw. I’m also putting up a from Rattlin’ Bones for you to sample. I know it’s one I’ve shared before, but I’ve talked about this album a few times here, and I’ll be talking about it again when I get into my Americana Music Awards Nominees posts… so I don’t want to give away the whole thing. Just make sure you click the “Buy Album” link after you listen to the song. You won’t be disappointed.
Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson: The Devil’s Inside My Head (Buy Album)

Random Weekend Post: Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson

Posted in Kasey Chambers, Shane Nicholson on August 15, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

Tonight’s the night… I’ll be seeing Kasey and Shane at the Bijou. If anybody has seen them lately, let me know what I’m in for.

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)

Top 10 Albums of 2008: #6 Rattlin’ Bones by Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson

Posted in Kasey Chambers, Shane Nicholson, Top 10 of '08 on December 27, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

We took a day or two off for the Holiday (hope everyone had a good one by the way), and we may take another one here soon, but the Top 10 list will continue. I hope to have all ten posted by Jan. 1. Wish me luck.

We’ll start back in at #6 with Rattlin Bones’ by Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson.

Like R.E.M.’s entry at #10 (and the entry coming after this one), Kasey Chambers’ latest album came as a welcome surprise and a bit of a comeback. I’ve written here before about how Kasey served as my “gateway drug” into the world of Americana music by introducing me to several artists who now rank among my favorites. It’s no surprise then, that Kasey quickly became one of my favorite artists within the genre as well.

With that said, however, her last two offerings (Wayward Angel and Carnival) have left me feeling a little flat. Both albums certainly had their high points and songs that I would place among her best. But, in places, both albums also felt as though Kasey was actively trying to create that one crossover song that would help her reach the same level of success on mainstream American radio that she already enjoys in her native Australia. There was a sheen and polish that I wasn’t used to hearing. It didn’t have the same grit as the music I fell in love with on Barricades and Brickwalls.

For this album, Kasey returned to her roots by returning to the very roots of country music. She sat down with her husband, songwriter Shane Nicholson, and the two of them wrote 14 heartbreaking country ballads. Then, armed with mostly acoustic instruments, the duo recorded a set of duets so achingly beautiful they would make George Jones and Tammy Wynette cry.

Kasey and Shane’s voices sound great together. Like a couple who have been singing together on and off stage for years… they know the ins and outs of each other’s voices… and it shows. And, as is Chambers family tradition, the album is a true family affair. Kasey’s brother Nash serves as producer while her father Bill plays throughout. Kasey’s mother is credited with the album’s photography, and one of the Chambers’ children makes a brief cameo appearance at the end. It recalls the days before Kasey went solo and the Chambers family recorded together as The Dead Ringer Band.

This record is a perfect blending of bluegrass picking with classic country twang performed under the guiding hand of The Carter Family to create a timeless album that sounds right at home here in the Appalachian Mountains of East Tennessee. You’d never suspect that it came from the Nullarbor Plains of the Australian Outback.

Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson: Rattlin’ Bones (Buy Album)
Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson: The Devil’s Inside My Head (Buy Album)