Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Can Kickers - Mountain Dudes

New London, CT-based The Can Kickers combine a punk ethos with traditional mountain music instrumentation: banjo, guitar, fiddle, harmonica, and washboard. What they may not possess in instrumental virtuosity, they make up in frantic energy and excitement. This, their third album, features mostly standards. Check out this collage of traditional sources, incorporating a traditional melody I can't quite place, some words from "Blue Moon of Kentucky," and some original lyrics.

The Can Kickers - Shenandoah X

From The Can Kickers

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Antsy McClain and the Trailer Park Troubadours - Merry Christmas from the Trailer Park

If you're looking for a campy, white-trash Christmas, and if you're looking to experience it vicariously, this CD by Antsy McClain and the Trailer Park Troubadours is the one to get. And the music's pretty good, too. Unlike some white trash send up records, which are more concerned with the broad comedy, this CD also features some nice country and rockabilly sounds. Lead singer Antsy McClain also happens to do "serious" work, so don't think that he's a one-note novelty act.

Antsy McClain - Christmas at the Trailer Park
Antsy McClain - She's Underneath the Mistletoe Again

From Antsy McClain

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Sunny Sweeney - Heartbreaker's Hall of Fame

The first thing I noticed about Sunny Sweeny was her East Texas accent. It reminded me a bit of Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks. I’m glad I didn’t let my initial prejudice get in the way of listening to the whole album, though, as Sweeney puts out a compellingly sweet and swinging album of Texas-style honky tonk.

Read the rest of my review on Americana Roots.

Sunny Sweeney - If I Could

From CD Baby

Monday, November 06, 2006

Spicewood Seven - Kakistocracy

I got this CD more than a month ago but haven't had the time to review it until now. I figured that after tomorrow, it would be a moot point to feature a disc intent on effecting the political status quo.

"Kakistocracy" is "government by the least qualified or most unprincipled citizens," according to the American Heritage Dictionary. I don't think it's risky to guess to whom the Spicewood Seven are referring. This CD isn't a liberal diatribe, though. Including a dig at "hippie girl" protesters and lamenting the removal of "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance, this album is more reminiscent of Merle Haggard's populism than Steve Earle's full-fledged liberalism.

The album touches on a variety of issues, but the focus is the war in Iraq. Unlike some east coast liberals, this album doesn't show disdain for military personnel and it touches on religion as a force for progressive social change in a way that the Democratic establishment doesn't seem to get. The rise of populist opposition to the war in Iraq as exemplified by this album and Haggard's recent album makes me think the GOP is going to be in trouble tomorrow. The Democrats' inability to seize this discourse on a national level, however, mystifies me and if they don't pull it off tomorrow it wasn't for lack of opportunity.

The album, masterminded by Tennessee State U. English professor Luke Powers and Austin producer Tommy Spurlock, features guest appearances by Leon Rausch (of Bob Wills' Texas Playboys), Rosie Flores, Elana Fremerman (of Hot Club of Cowtown), and Garth Hudson (of the Band), who provides a church pipe organ version of the Doxology/Old 100th entitled "Garth's Dox."

The portion of the proceeds from this album are being donated to The Center for the Intrepid rehab facility being built at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

Spicewood Seven - 21 Guns (For Cindy Sheehan)

From CD Universe

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Hem - Funnel Cloud

Hem is one of the few bands that is productively mining the intersection of country, folk, adult alternative, and indie-rock. They call their music "countrypolitan," and they do draw heavily on Nashville Sound-era country-pop, but I find that they reference a much wider range of pop musics.

I think that Hem might just be the epitome of the new "Americana" classification. They are a group that is too pop to fit comfortably as alt-country, yet too country to really make it onto pop radio. They also have much more lush and orchestrated arrangements than one normally finds in modern folk, although the singing style would certainly fit there.

I'm linking to some streams from their label Nettwerk. The first, "Not California," shows their diverse influence: it opens with Dylan-esque harmonica and ethereal steel guitar coupled with strong female vocals that build in intensity to something from when alternative was on the verge of becoming adult alternative in the mid-1990s.

Hem - Not California
Hem - He Came to Meet Me

From Amazon

Monday, September 11, 2006

Three previews from Bloodshot

Veering for once from my normal album-centered reviews, today I'm going to post three songs that Bloodshot Records sent out to audioblog types from upcoming albums of theirs.

Wayne Hancock's new album Tulsa drops October 10. I'm a big fan of his. I reviewed a live album of his here. I'm really looking forward to hearing this whole disc.

Wayne Hancock - Shootin' Star From Texas

The Wee Hairy Beasties' album Animal Crackers comes out on October 24. This Bloodshot supergroup of Jon Lanford, Sally Timms, Kelly Hogan, with backing by Devil in a Woodpile sings kids songs.

Wee Hairy Beasties - Toenail Moon

Also out October 24 is the Bloodshot tribute to the Old Town School of Folk Music. For the Kids: The Old Town School of Folk Music Songbook features most notably Jon Langford and Robbie Fulks and many others singing songs that fit under the general category of standards.

Robbie Fulks - Browns Ferry Blues

Hope to have a real post up soon!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Dewayn Brothers - A Family Farewell

The Dewayn Brothers started out as a side project of Emporia, KS-based jam band Loco Macheen. Playing in a more rock/funk oriented jam style, they decided to branch out into an acoustic, bluegrass style. Their bluegrass doesn't come out all that jam-band-y, though.

The band has a pretty typical bluegrass line-up, but with the addition of an accordion, which gives them a little bit of distinction over all the other side-project bluegrass bands floating around Lawrence.

This is their second CD; I'm not sure if it's available still. Their third and fourth CDs are at CDBaby. Their most recent was produced by Mike West at the old 9th Ward Pickin' Parlor.

The Dewayn Brothers - Pigeon Stew/That Train

Frontyard Junkyard from CD Baby (3rd CD)
Critter Creole from CD Baby (4th CD)

Monday, August 28, 2006

Scott H. Biram - Graveyard Shift

I got this album pretty soon after it first came out last month, but I never had the will to take it out of my stereo, I just wanted to let it keep playing over and over. This is the second Bloodshot album by Austin-based "dirty old one man band" Scott H. Biram and his fifth album overall. Unlike his previous record (which I reviewed here), this record really is just him, singing lead and harmony vocals and playing all the instruments: guitars, harmonica, Hammond B3 organ, and a plethora of percussion and "random noise." He is only joined by another person for one track; Ethan Shaw of Chili Cold Blood and the Moonhangers plays steel guitar on "18 Wheeler Fever."

His previous album The Dirty Old One Man Band has a very live feel (not surprising since a good half of it are concert-recorded tracks) and features backing by the Weary Boys to round out the sound on several tracks. The other tracks only have Scott playing what he could conceivably play simultaneously: guitar, foot-pedal percussion, and harmonica or voice. I don't know if that album was recorded with or without overdubs, but Graveyard Shift doesn't have any pretense of avoiding them. This gives a much richer texture as electric and acoustic guitars intertwine, voice and harmonica overlay, and Hammond B3 provides a foundation for all sorts of stuff that definitely couldn't be played by the same person at the same time.

This record is rather morose, as is indicated by the title and the album art. Scott continues to work through his near-death experience in a head on collision with a semi. His deep ambivalence to death and spirituality is puzzling as it makes him hard to categorize. His frequent use of the gospel call and response form as well as calling out to Jesus both come off as neither sincere nor insincere. His use of religious musical forms certainly cannot be grouped with the so-called irony of current indie rock, but it also doesn't have a place within gospel.

While this album doesn't quite teeter precariously between Saturday night and Sunday morning (it's more Saturday night) the way Bob Wayne's Blood to Dust does, I feel that it further represents a revival of the ambivalent relationship between gospel and the blues that was so important in the formative years of what we have come to call country music and which has been somewhat lacking recently.

Scott H. Biram - Been Down Too Long

From Bloodshot
From Amazon

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Dale Watson - Whiskey or God

Sorry for the delay. Two unexpected things about my new schedule. First, without a twenty minute drive to work, I have no built in time to just listen to CDs, and not listening to CDs means not being able to write about them. The other thing is that not working nights anymore, I can go to weeknight concerts (like I just did) which further eats up my time.

Dale Watson released this album several months ago, but I just picked it up last week. It's a strong outing from one of the reigning kings of the honky tonk. Featuring songs he's been playing live for years but that have never made it onto disc, this album has the polish of the studio with the intimacy and emotion of a live recording.

Dale Watson is often grouped with alt-country, but he isn't alternative in the same genre-bending way as, say, the Bloodshot Records stable of artists. He's not particularly interested in combining seemingly disparate genres and examining off the tensions created. Rather, he's interested in making good old country music. Unfortunately, these days that is an alternative to the mainstream. Not to say that he doesn't have a wide range of influences. This album has songs with influences from Cajun, Tex-Mex, and even disco, along with the more expected honky tonk, Bakersfield, and Nashville Sound.

For some of these songs, I can make an educated guess which album they were originally written for. This is particularly true for "My Heart is Yours" and "I Wish I Was Crazy Again," both of which delve into the same agony of love and loss that is featured on Every Song I Write is For You. (Thankfully, these songs don't feature that albums synth strings.) "I Wish I Was Crazy Again" is to me the strongest song on the album. Listen for the subtle trombone on this track.

Dale Watson - I Wish I Was Crazy Again

From Dale Watson
From Amazon

Friday, August 11, 2006

Service Advisory / A Brief Personal Note

Thanks for reading me for the last few months. Some of you may have noticed my pretty regular Tuesday/Thursday night posting routine. Tonight will likely be the end of that. Tomorrow is my last day at my full-time job and next Thursday I'm starting school again -- the master's program in American Studies at the University of Kansas. I'm planning on focusing my studies on the same sort of music upon which I focus here.

In the coming weeks, I hope to feel out a regular, probably still twice weekly posting schedule. Until then, check back once in a while; I'm not going on hiatus.

Caught in the Webb: A Tribute to the Legendary Webb Pierce

To be honest, before I picked up this tribute album, I didn't really know that much about Webb Pierce. I'm not sure I could have named more than a couple songs of his. "There Stands the Glass" was his one really big hit, and BR549 covered "Honky Tonk Song." But somehow I know most of the songs on this CD. I guess he was a bit more prolific than I knew and is well remembered by classic country radio.

This is a remarkably successful tribute album. Like many country tribute albums, this one has a house band, led here by Kenny Vaughan, that gives a unifying sound. The individual needs of the singers aren't ignored, though; the band is able to adjust according to the style of each guest. The contributions from Emmylou Harris, Dwight Yoakam, Dale Watson, and Willie Nelson, all highly distinctive artists, fit well within their individual bodies of work.

Being such an even album, there isn't one obvious stand out track. I'm going to post the contribution from the disc's producer, Gail Davies.

Also, the proceeds from this album go to the Minnie Pearl Cancer Foundation and the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Gail Davies - Love Love Love

From the Minnie Pearl Cancer Foundation
From Amazon

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Bloodshot Bill

I saw one man band Bloodshot Bill at the Replay Lounge last night. I missed the first part of the show 'cause of work, but the rest was really good. And apparently I look cool enough to work at the Replay 'cause two people mistook me for the doorman since I was sitting kind of near a door that you're not even supposed to come in. Guess they thought I was guarding it.

Well, Bloodshot Bill is crazy and Canadian and plays guitar, bass drum, and high hat all at the same time. He has a new record out in September from punk/psychobilly label Flying Saucer Records. In the mean time he's selling home-burned "limited edition" tour only CDs, which feature some tracks off the upcoming Trashy Greasy Rockin' 'Billy album as well as some tracks that aren't otherwise available on CD.

Bloodshot Bill inevitably draws comparisons to other one-man-bands Hasil Atkins, Bob Log, and Scott Biram, but those comparisons only go so far. Bloodshot Bill leans much more punk than any of these others. If Hasil Adkins started out trying to be Hank Williams' whole band, then Bloodshot Bill is a one man London Calling.

Bloodshot Bill - Hide n Seek

From Bloodshot Bill

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Pine Valley Cosmonauts - The Executioner's Last Song

I just heard a piece on NPR today about North Carolina's new Innocence Inquiry Commission which got me thinking about this CD. I actually got this several months ago during Bloodshot's spring cleaning sale, but it got lost in the mess of my car. Well I dug it out and gave it another listen.

Although billed as by the Pine Valley Cosmonauts, this is in reality a compilation album. The Cosmonauts serve as house band for the project, but every song is credited to a guest performer. The song selection is probably about the most morbid of any album I have (even more so than American V), but mostly in a humorous way, if you can be humorous about death, seeking, as the cover says, "consign songs of murder, mob-law & cruel, cruel punishment to the realm of myth, memory & history!!"

The proceeds to this album benefit the Illinois Death Penalty Moratorium Project, which I don't think exists anymore. I think maybe it goes to the Illinois Coalition Against the Death Penalty. It may have dropped out of the news, but the moratorium is still in effect, leaving the death penalty in Illinois in a strange limbo, as it still exists de jure and several people have been sentenced since the moratorium, but it cannot be carried out. The fate of the Moratorium probably rests in the hands of the voters in the upcoming gubernatorial election.

Anyways, this album is quite enjoyable considering the weighty topic. I know we've all laughed at the Louvins' "Knoxville Girl," which is the lead off track, here performed by Brett Sparks. And we laughed through most of this album, as maybe we should, at the sheer absurdity of it. Not that there aren't serious songs here, such as "Oh Death" by Diane Izzo or "Idiot Whistle," with Tony Fitzpatrick giving a very serious recitation about the politics behind the continuation of the death penalty.

The Pine Valley Cosmonauts w/ Frankie & Johnny Navin - 25 Minutes to Go

From Bloodshot
From Amazon

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Texas Unplugged Vol. 2

This is the second volume in the Palo Duro series of acoustic albums from their stable of Texas musicians. Included are the Derailers, Dale Watson, Johnny Bush, and Two Tons of Steel. This albums serves as both an introduction to the label as well as a look into Texas music in a particular style. The low-key, but not quite "stripped down", nature of the acoustic constraint gives a little more prominence to the songwriting in most cases, although Cindy Cashdollar and Carolyn Wonderland supply a wonderful Dobro/Guitar duet instrumental.

Of the twelve contributors to this album, only the Derailers and Watson are already in my CD collection. Their contributions are pretty close to the nature of their regular, electric work. I'm not sure about the rest of the people, though. I was a big fan of the MTV Unplugged years ago, but those performances often had little to do with the studio albums of the groups. Nirvana's MTV Unplugged in New York (their only listenable album, to me) is practically an alt-country album, quite different from their studio work or normal performances.

I am interested in following up on some of the groups on this CD. Two Tons of Steel has been on my wish list for a while, and the Sidehill Gougers sound very promising.

The Sidehill Gougers - One Tiny Sin

From Palo Duro
From Amazon

Friday, July 28, 2006

Roots Music: An American Journey

A couple weeks ago my dad gave me this Rounder compilation out of the blue.

I had him proofread some stuff a few months ago for my grad school application in which I mentioned "roots" music and he asked me to explain what that meant. I actually had a really hard time. It was easy to list constituent genres: folk, country, blues, etc., but I couldn't give a definition that included the right stuff but also excluded the rest. He asked if Johnny Cash was roots music and I said I guess he was. Then he asked about the Statler Brothers, of whom he is a fan, and I didn't know what to say. Definitely not anything recent of theirs, but maybe their early stuff is. In the end I had to paraphrase Justice Potter Stewart: I can't define it, but I know it when I hear it.

Anyways, he saw this four-disc box set at Barnes & Noble and got it for me.

It's a fairly good round-up of the most prominent genres/styles (or whatever you want to call them) that can be clumped under the term "roots" as well as a few tracks from lesser-know genres/styles. The set is a little heavy on stringband/old-time/bluegrass, but cajun & zydeco, a variety of Mexican-Americans styles, and a broad range of the blues also receive good-sized representation. The first two discs are meant to be an overview of "hard-core traditional styles" and the last two "roots-derived music and interpreters of folk traditions." I'd argue with their placement of several tracks, but overall I can see this organizing pattern.

There are also tracks from a bunch of places that don't fit that well into one of these larger groups: one Hawaiian song, one Mardi Gras Indian song, one New Orleans brass band song, one klezmer song. There are also some holes. Shape note singing and sacred steel have both been gaining popularity recently, but aren't included. Overall, though, I think that this is a pretty good overview when you consider that it is all taken from the catalogue of one record label.

In the coming months you might see some records by some of the folks in this set appear here as I explore their other work.

Rebirth Brass Band - Just a Little While to Stay Here

From Rounder
From Amazon

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Bluegrass Doubleshot: Bobby Osborne - Try a Little Kindness & The John Cowan Band - New Tattoo

Today I'm lumping together two solo albums from former members of "progressive" bluegrass bands. Try a Little Kindness by Bobby Osborne of the Osborne Brothers and New Tattoo by John Cowan of New Grass Revival.

I first heard about Bobby Osborne's new album on Living in Stereo, which featured its version of Kris Kristofferson's "Sunday Morning Coming Down" in a comparison of several versions of that song. That song is, I feel, the stand out of the album, but the rest does not disappoint. It features mostly covers and standards from bluegrass and country and beyond, including songs by Bill Monroe and Carter Stanley, Josh Turner and Kristofferson, as well as Paul Simon.

While this isn't a career redefining album, it is a good listen from a musician who could be in Branson.

This album follows pretty closely in the proto-jam band sound of New Grass Revival. While not featuring any extended cuts, the atmosphere is the same and is updated with a touch of that new-agey Celtic sound that was all over in the '90s. Featuring alumni of IIIrd Tyme Out and Leftover Salmon, this album has a bit of a mix of traditional and newgrass sounds. The harmonies, in particular, are of a more traditional nature, in the vein of IIIrd Tyme Out.

Of note on this album is "Drown," a brutal song by John Cowan about his experience of being molested as a child. Certainly a very brave thing to do, to talk in public so frankly about something generally taboo; however, the graphicness of the song sends me too quickly to the skip button. It does raise visibility, though, as does his work as a spokesman for Project Safe Place.

Bobby Osborne & The Rocky Top X-Press - The Hard Times
The John Cowan Band - Carla's Got a New Tattoo

Try a Little Kindness from Amazon
New Tattoo from Amazon

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Solomon Burke - Make Do With What You Got

I have to admit that when I saw a taping of Conan O'Brien featuring Solomon Burke in the spring of 2001, I had no idea who Solomon Burke was. (Of course, this was before his "comeback" album Don't Give Up On Me (Epitaph, 2002). He was in New York to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.) I also have to admit that it's only been recently, since the buzz about his upcoming album produced by Buddy Miller, that I've really paid much attention to him.

This album is his 2005 follow-up to Don't Give Up and follows much the same formula: record songs by well known songwriters. Songs from the pens of Dylan, Robbie Robertson, Van Morrison, Jaggar/Richards, and Dr. John appear as well as the Hank Williams gospel tune that I'm including. I don't know what the Buddy Miller-produced album is going to sound like, but this album, although an album I would consider thoroughly soul, shows that country isn't far from Burke's vernacular. As it shouldn't be, since has first Atlantic recordings were soul covers of country songs, records made in much the same spirit as my (almost) namesake album.

Solomon Burke - Wealth Won't Save Your Soul

From Amazon

Friday, July 21, 2006

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals - Nothing But the Water

When I first got this CD by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals in the mail, I wasn't sure if it was appropriate to the scope of what I review. But after several listens, I've decided that not only is it appropriate, but that it actually highlights the cross-generic interplay which I really like and which I feel is vital to so-called roots music.

After listening to this album three times through, I'm still having trouble deciding what genre I would classify the album as. It ranges in influence from the searing vocals of Janis Joplin, to the roots funk of the Band, to the soft and smooth vocals of Norah Jones, to the (almost annoyingly) catchy pop-funk of Maroon 5. While several songs combine many influences, several are also more easily discernible as a specific genre. The album hangs together remarkably well, though, having such a variety of style incorporated.

I think the song I'm including does a good job of showing the breadth of influence. The main guitar riff is Delta blues by way of Dire Straits era Mark Knopfler; the organ almost takes us to church; and the drummer doesn't refuse to use the fundamental drumming he learned in marching band.

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals - Joey

From Amazon

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Gary Bennett - Human Condition

I'd been holding off on buying this CD for Gary Bennett's show last Saturday at Knuckleheads in Kansas City. I'm not glad I held off, but I am glad I finally got it. Well, maybe I am glad I held off; he signed my copy.

Gary played in front of a modestly-sized but enthusiastic crowd on the newly-moved outdoor stage. His set was on the short side, but he played all of this album (I think) as well as quite a few BR549 numbers and standards/covers. After the show he was very friendly, signing everybody's CD and chatting. He commented to someone in front of me that he had played just about everything that his touring band knew.

This CD is a bit of a departure, focusing much more on songwriting than any of the BR549 discs. That's not to say that the music isn't compelling, though; this is no singer/songwriter album. Gary plays finger-style guitar on one track, but largely leaves the instruments to a good cast of supporting players, including notables such as Marty Stuart, Kenny Vaughan, and Lloyd Green. The result is a musical background that is both compelling and focused on the songwriting.
The sound has a touch of the "retro" feel of BR549, but without the frantic energy. This meshes well with the theme of weariness that pervades the CD.

Gary Bennett - Headin' Home

From Amazon

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Meat Purveyors - Someday Soon Things Will Be Much Worse!

The Meat Purveyors' newest CD, out Tuesday on Bloodshot, is a bit of a different turn for the band. The album is largely electric and features drums prominently. I had heard that they did an electric set at SXSW (and they are allegedly going to be doing the same again at the North vs. South mini-fest here in Lawrence next month), but I was a bit shocked to hear electric guitar, drums, pedal steel, and honky-tonk piano when I put this album in my stereo.

Not that they've given up on the pretty distinctive punk-bluegrass sound they've been working on for something like ten years; it appears on the album also. The new sound and the old integrate quite well, so well that I can't recall without relistening which songs are electric. Highlights of the album include covers of the Human League's "Don't You Want Me" and Loretta Lynn's "Fist City" as well as original "Liquor Store." (On the other hand I could have done without the Foreigner cover; they're the reason I stopped listening to classic rock radio.)

The overall sound of this album is much more honky tonk than bluegrass, largely due to the electrification as well as the contributions of guest musicians, particularly Amy Boone on piano and "Sweet" Gary Newcomb on steel. The album also features a bit of a political undercurrent, as the title ought to suggest, including two (count them two) songs that question the genuineness of the president's Texas accent.

The Meat Purveyors - Fist City

From Bloodshot
From Amazon

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Black Ale Sinners - Honky tonkin' with the....

I'd been meaning to see the Black Ale Sinners for probably over a year. Every time they had a show, it seems like something else was going on and I figured that, them being a local group, I'd be able to catch them later. Well, Saturday, I happened to walk by a poster advertising their last show ever was going to be that night. I had been planning something else, but I couldn't put it off again, so I went.

They're a nice hard driving honky tonk and old time sextet. Many of the members switched between instruments, but usually at the same time, leading to two noticeably distinct sounds. The lead guitarist switched between archtop guitar and banjo and the steel player never played steel during a banjo song. Also, the drummer played washboard during the banjo songs, but played single snare during the archtop/steel songs. Another guy switched off between mandolin and fiddle, although his switching wasn't in synch with the others. In addition to the plethora of instruments, they also sang quite a bit of harmony. The harmony was good, but a bit gritty.

They played mostly originals, which this album features exclusively, but they also played a few standards, including a couple Buck Owens songs and a Roger Miller.

This album showcases their more honky tonk side (hence the title) and doesn't feature any banjo or washboard as far as I can tell. Many of these original tunes have a ring of familiarity about them, one of the hallmarks of good songwriting, I think. These guys are also obviously having fun, which brings out the best in their tunes. They fall into a nice place between the sometimes over-seriousness of Dale Watson and the snarky "irony" of so many indie rockers turned country.

Black Ale Sinners - Highway 10

Email them at

Friday, July 07, 2006

Kris Kristofferson - This Old Road

I saw this album in the used bin at my local record store in late January. I knew it must be pretty new 'cause of its '06 date, but I hadn't heard anything about it so I left it. I figured that if Kris Kristofferson put out a new album I would have heard about it if it was any good. Well, a couple weeks later, he's on the cover of No Depression and everyone's calling this CD his best in decades. Turns out someone had sold their promo copy to my local store even before the this had been released.

Well, it is a great album. Very sparse and atmospheric, yet not vapid as Kristofferson's lyrics come to the front. I could see comparisons to Cash's American Recordings, especially the character of the old voice. The production here, by Don Was, is much less obvious than Rick Rubin's on the American series, though. The songs are mostly rather sparse, with Kristofferson on guitar and harmonica with mandolin, drums, bass, and piano also appearing. The harmonica is rather Dylan-esque and complements Kristofferson's rough voice in a similar manner.

The lyrical content of this album is what you might expect of a lefty during a conservative political swing, particularly "In the News," which responds to the US-led occupation of Iraq as well as problems at home, and "Wild American," an ode to Steve Earle and others who have suffered for vocalizing their political beliefs. But Kristofferson's writing skills haven't lessened over the years and he once again proves his place as one of the great songwriters. He deals subtly with topics that might be approached more clumsily by lesser writers.

Kris Kristofferson - Thank You For a Life

From Amazon

Friday, June 30, 2006

The Derailers - Soldiers of Love

This sixth album by the Derailers, the first since the departure of former frontman Tony Villanueva, is a dramatic turn toward '60s pop music. Former sideman, now leader, Brian Hofeldt, whose pop leanings colored previous releases, leads the band a bit away from their previous Buck Owens-like sound, with much of this record sounding closer to the Beatles' version of "Act Naturally" than to Owens'.

The records start and ends with undeniably country tracks, but the middle dips its toe into several '50s and '60s pop/rock sub-genres. Several songs bring to mind the "mod"-ified rockabilly covers of the early Beatles, while others venture into soul and go-go influenced sounds.

The Derailers - Cattin'

From Amazon

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Al Trout's Hokum Washboard Band - Hokum Strut

I picked this CD up in the used bin at Love Garden for like 4 bucks. But when I get up to the counter they give me a shrink-wrapped copy from behind the counter. Turns out Love Garden co-owner Kory Willis is in the band as is fellow Midday Rambler Mike Horan. I don't really know much about the band; they're mentioned in the archives of our local paper a couple times in passing. Al Trout is listed on the web page of Rural Grit Records, best known for the Wilders. I can't find a picture of the cover to download and post. The only mentions of the band that Google turns up are to the lyrics of a song about them. I don't even know how or where you could buy this CD. But I like it.

I'm posting their version of "Chinatown" because that song is one of my favorite songs. It's a song I've collected several versions of over the years. Hokum, western swing, hip-hop brass band, I forget what else. You might be subjected to some more of them sometime.

Al Trout's Hokum Washboard Band - Chinatown


Friday, June 23, 2006

Hank Williams III - Straight to Hell

Tomorrow night I'll be missing Hank III in the KC/Lawrence area for the fourth time in a year and a half. Hopefully he doesn't stop touring before I leave my second shift job, 'cause I'm looking forward to seeing him again.

I was originally hesitant to buy this album due to knowing many of the songs. I really enjoy the discovery of buying new albums and hearing stuff I don't know, and I thought that might be missing from this purchase as even two years ago when I last saw him at the Bottleneck, he was playing half of these songs. (That show on However, the arrangements are quite a bit different than what I remember and the bootleg versions I've come to know.

This album relies heavily on old-time instrumentation, going without drums for half of the tracks, often preferring dobro to the more countrypolitan steel, and featuring some amazing claw-hammer banjo by BR549's Donnie Herron. Hank name-checks the '70s outlaws several times, but the sound of this record largely bypasses a Texas influence, instead giving us a thoroughly Appalachian sound, although updated to include more than a nod at Hank's parallel interest in metal.

Lyrically, this album borders on the disturbing, concentrating on death and personal destruction of the chemical sort. I read an interview in which he said he isn't really that big of a hellraiser, that he saved his partying for on stage, but this album claims otherwise. Also, his insistence on the whole the-South-will-rise-again thing is somewhat annoying, especially when he parallels that with "real country" rising again, as if pop country was just another way northerners where subjugating the south. (I'm sure all the Dixie-loving Toby Keith fans would disagree.) However, when his celebration of rural Appalachian culture turns positive, such as in this song about the several famous residents of Boone Country, WV, this disc really hits the spot.

Hank Williams III - D. Ray White

From Amazon

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

7 Shot Screamers - I Was a Teenage 7 Shot Screamer

The 7 Shot Screamers are a punk rockabilly band out of St. Louis. I'm including them in my Tuesday night series of "local" bands because, well, because I can and I figure it's close enough.

I first saw the 7 Shot Screamers opening for Split Lip Rayfield a couple years ago. Honestly, I don't always expect much from the first of a three-band bill, but on this occasion I was rather surprised. In fact, I have to say these guys blew away the middle band whose mediocre country-rock sent me looking for a copy of Pitch and left me forgetful of their name.

The Screamers, although appearing as clean-cut, greased up rockabillies on their album cover, have a more glam look these days. The lead singer also engages heavily in glam histrionics, but don't let this turn you off; their music is sharp punk rockabilly reminiscent of the more '50s oriented numbers by the Clash. This album features mostly originals, but also several covers, including the one-two punch of Buddy Holly's "Maybe Baby" and the Stones' "Paint It Black" halfway through the album.

Check out some downloadable songs from their second album on their myspace page.

7 Shot Screamers - War Song


Friday, June 16, 2006

Wayne Hancock - Swing Time

I've never seen Wayne "The Train" Hancock in concert, but this live CD makes me wish I had. I imagine the Fourth of July show last year at Knuckleheads was great; I should have gone. There's probably not much I can add to what's been said about him. He's one of the premier Austin-based honky tonkers.

One of the best things on this CD, I think, is the guest trombone work of Bob "Texaco" Staffard. Trombone isn't the first instrument you think of when you think honky tonk or even wester swing, but this trombone works perfect for the record. He plays on two tracks, "We Three" and hidden track "Summertime," and interweaves and trades solos with the steel player Eddie Rivers. It's a real treat to listen to.

Wayne Hancock - We Three

From Bloodshot
From Amazon

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Split Lip Rayfield - Should Have Seen It Coming

Split Lip Rayfield is probably the most prominant band from around my parts (at least that is germain to this blog). Guitarist Kirk Rundstrom was recently diagnosed with esophageal cancer and the band has been on hiatus since.

This is their most recent album and still includes mandolin player Wayne Gottstine who left the band last summer. The other two members are Eric Mardis on banjo and Jeff Eaton on gas tank bass (yes, a bass made out of a gas tank). Gottstine and Rundstrom wrote about half of the tracks each, with one (which happens to be one of my favorites) by Mardis. The bluegrass pickin' on this record isn't your grandad's (or even your dad's), rather it's pure metal mayhem on bluegrass instruments. The punk drive doesn't over-shadow the instrumental skills, though, particularly Mardis' fine banjo work. The raw four-part harmonies are another sweet spot on this album.

Split Lip Rayfield - C'mon Get Your Gun

From Bloodshot
From Amazon

Friday, June 09, 2006

Redd Volkaert - Telewacker

I had been planning on writing about Redd Volkaert today even before I noticed that he's playing Prairie Home Companion this weekend. Redd is probably best known as Merle Haggard's lead guitarist of the '90s or, in Music City crowds, as Brad Paisley's sideman on Paisley's Mud on the Tires.

Recently he's been tearing up the Austin scene; often proclaimed as the best guitarist in town ("even if you've never heard of him"), he plays regularly in several bands as well as solo. Haybale, Lucky Tomlin Band, and the High-Flyers are several of the names you might see him playing under.

The High-Flyers are the group he's appearing on PHC with. They also include PHC regular Cindy Cashdollar on steel and former Hot Club of Cowtown fiddler Elana (née Fremerman) James.

This is his first solo album. Just over half is instrumental; mostly he's interested in showing of his telecaster chops, which he does, ranging from rocking to swinging with a little Chicago blues tossed in as well. This Redd-penned tune is a fine example of his guitar skills, showing not only great technique and good feeling, but also that to be really good you have to play well with the rest of the band, not over-power them.

Redd Volkaert - She Loves Everything That Swings.mp3

From Redd
From Amazon

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Midday Ramblers - Bluegrass Music is Fun!

The Midday Ramblers are a really good local bluegrass band. They are probably the most well known bluegrass outfit in Lawrence, probably because of their willingness to promote themselves in the college/rock music scene. They're a pretty traditional, one-mic bluegrass foursome, but they regularly play at places like the Replay Lounge, a seedy punk bar that's also alt-country friendly. Three of the four members of the group have also been active in more rock-oriented groups, so I guess it makes some sense.

This is their third album, and features mostly songs written by members of the band, but also a few standards. They show off both technical virtuosity ("John Hardy" and "Banjo Tickle") and quasi-jam band bounce ("Skeeter Bit") as well as vocal harmonies ("The Lost Soul").

The bending sound the banjo makes in this song is actually the banjo player retuning his strings. He's not fretting, he's just turning the tuning pegs to get the right note. It's pretty fun to watch, too.

The Midday Ramblers - John Hardy.mp3

From The Midday Ramblers

Monday, June 05, 2006

Jon Rauhouse's Steel Guitar Air Show

My first experience with Jon Rauhouse was as Neko Case's steel player. Her concert was one of the best I had been to at that time, and Neko's crystal clear, reverbed voice was wonderful, but what stood out the most was Jon Rauhouse's steel playing. I don't think I got the CD that night, but I think I tracked it down soon after.

This CD is a mix of genres, but what stands out most is '50s lounge jazz, Retro Cocktail Hour style. Most of the album is instrumental, but several songs also have vocals, with guest appearances by Neko Case, Kelly Hogan, and Sally Timms. Most of the tracks also feature the Calexico rhythm section of Joey Burns and John Convertino.

Jon Rauhouse - The World is Waiting for a Sunrise.mp3

From Bloodshot
From Amazon

Friday, May 26, 2006

Bob Wayne and the Outlaw Carnies - Blood to Dust

To be honest, I wasn't expecting much from a CD that wasn't even formally pressed, just burned off a computer and hand labeled with a Sharpie. I wasn't originally sure if Bob Wayne's scrawl on the disc of "If you don't like this shit fuck off" was a suggestion or the title of the album. After letting CDDB work it's magic, I found out that the title is apparently Blood to Dust and it's maybe the best CD I've bought this year.

Bob Wayne and the Outlaw Carnies, when I saw them, were a Bob Wayne (who I've found out is Hank III's guitar tech) on acoustic guitar, Joe Buck on bass, and a really good banjo and telecaster player who's name I don't know. The CD includes drums and some other instruments.

The sound of this album is really wonderful. It leans toward '70s hard country-rock, but the presence of banjo as the lead instrument on several of the tracks pulls it back before it goes too far. I can't think of another band off the top of my head that uses banjo so effectively and prominently in a hard-driven country sound.

Bob Wayne (I assume) writes really pensive and spiritual songs. This combination of song and sound is unfortunately a real feat these days. I could easily see these same songs becoming maudlin in the hands of an unskilled singer/songwriter, but Bob Wayne doesn't fall for undue dramatics. This album is also the most honestly spiritual set of songs outside of true gospel, referencing God and the devil on almost every track. But, unlike some "alt-country" indie rockers, he's not being ironic or dismissive. In fact, his understanding of the sin/salvation contrast of gospel and the blues might give discomfort to some hipsters who are only familiar with ironic spirituality or cherry-picked, tourist versions of Buddhism or Kabbala.

"Road Bound" is the lead off track of the album and shows of their sound pretty well. "27 Years" is a bit slower, but emphasizes the complex spirituality that I was commenting on.

Bob Wayne And The Outlaw Carnies - Road Bound.mp3
Bob Wayne And The Outlaw Carnies - 27 Years.mp3

From Bob Wayne

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Scott H. Biram - The Dirty Old One Man Band

If Scott H. Biram didn't have such a rough, son-of-a-bitch stage persona, his story might be considered inspirational. In early 2003, he was hit head-on by a semi, but only one month later, still in a wheelchair with IV bags attached, he returned to the stage.

He's a one man band of the Hasil Adkins sort (frequent references to chicken on this album draw to mind Adkins' Poultry in Motion), playing guitar and stomping his foot on an amplified box and singing through a distorted mic. On a couple of the songs on this record, he has the backing of Austin-based The Weary Boys, as well as his self-labeled Scott H. Biram's First Church of the Ultimate Fanaticism Gospel Choir. Some of the songs feature some pretty spooky CB radio recordings.

This album's currently on sale at Bloodshot Records as part of their effort to raise some money for their artists who are currently working on new stuff. (Also included are Bobby Bare, Jr., Paul Burch, the Meat Purveyors, and Wayne Hancock.) Scott's new album is due in July.

Scott H. Biram - Whiskey
Scott H Biram - I See The Light/What's His Name?.mp3

From Bloodshot

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Doc Marshalls - No Kind of Life

The Doc Marshalls are a NYC-based country/cajun band. This is their first full-length CD. I was thinking about ordering this, but then I ran into (quite literally) Nicolas Beaudoing, the frontman and songwriter, in the very small bathroom at the Rodeo Bar.

He plays a mean squeeze box. And the songwriting's really good, too. Guest steel player Rob Segal also puts down some nice licks, and I wish he played on a track that also has accordion. Having the cajun and the country sounds, which each have their own songs on the album, more integrated would make for a more compelling album, I think.

It took me a couple listens through this CD to catch the stories in the songs. The songwriting is quite good and bodes well for the bands future releases. This song is my favorite, both for its wonderful melody and its melancholic story.

The Doc Marshalls - Half Asleep.mp3

From Miles of Music

Monday, May 15, 2006

Soda and His Million Piece Band - Soda

I first heard about Soda and His Million Piece Band through the now-defunct podcast The Outhouse. They play some pretty gritty punk-influenced Americana/blues, complete with accordion, bari sax, and every kind of string instrument you can think of. The mix of instruments is really great and doesn't have the novelty to it that, say, my previous post the White Ghost Shivers has. The vocals are very course; I'm guessing they were recorded with a harmonica bullet mic.

This band is based in LA and hasn't traveled anywhere near me, which is understandable with a varying lineup of anywhere from 8 to 16 musicians. Their website said they were as SXSW and I wish they'd make their way up I-35 next time they're in Texas.

Soda and His Million Piece Band - July.mp3

From CD Baby

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

White Ghost Shivers - Everyone's Got 'Em

I first saw the White Ghost Shivers last fall when they opened for Split Lip Rayfield here in Lawrence, which I believe was their first trip this far up I-35. I missed a return trip 'cause it was an early show, but I made it to this show and I bought their latest CD, which is something like two weeks old.

I like this album very much. I can't say how it compares to the first studio disc or the live radio album, but it's a transfixing listen. The songs are familiar, more familiar than seeing two shows should make them. Their style is very '20s revivalism, and several of the songs seem like old standards, even though the liner notes seems to indicate they're all originals. (Unlike their name sake song which is an old standard.) The mix of string band and hot jazz instrumentation leads to a compelling mélange of styles: hot jazz, hokum, blues, and hillbilly music, I think the show poster read.

The record plays something like a concert, with the first track introducing the band and the last listed track wrapping it up, followed by the encore of the hidden track. I'm including the first track, a nice introduction to the band. I believe they started their show off with this one.

The White Ghost Shivers - Everyone's Got 'Em.mp3

From Chicken Ranch Records

Friday, April 28, 2006

Grayson Capps - If You Knew My Mind

I have to admit that I don't really know much about Grayson Capps. He played in KC last week, but I couldn't go. I think I first heard about him from Roots Rock Radio or from one of the americanaroots podcasts.

I had noticed this album at Love Garden, and then when I heard about him a couple of times on podcasts, I bought it. It was in the section, but I would say it is more of a blues type album. If you like recent Rodney Crowell or Buddy Miller, then this is probably up your alley. The backing is a bit more blues-rock informed, almost in the vein of the Black Crowes, but the songwriting is much more predominant, since he is, at the core, a singer-songwriter rather than the frontman of a band.

Grayson Capps - Graveyard.mp3

From Hyena Records
From Amazon

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Rex Hobart - Your Favorite Fool

Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys are probably the premier honky-tonk country band in the greater KC area. This is their third record, which was produced by Pete Anderson, longtime Dwight Yoakam sideman. I bought it the first time I ever saw them play; it was the newest album at the time.

I particularly like track six, "I Don't Feel It Anymore," and the duet with Kelly Hogan of the Jones/Wynette classic "Golden Ring."

Rex just recently moved back into town after living away for a few years. (I guess sometimes "real life" gets in the way of a great music scene.) They've been doing regular shows at the Record Bar in Westport. "Rex Hobart's Chuck Wagon Dinner Show" is every Tuesday night at 7.

Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys - I Don't Feel It Anymore.mp3

From Bloodshot
From Amazon

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Marty Stuart - The Pilgrim

Marty Stuart is one of a handful of country musicians who have managed to find success in both the pop country and circles. Coming up in the music business as a bluegrass sideman, then forging out on his own as one of the "new traditionalist" pop country stars of the late '80s/early '90s, then, as pop country passed him by, recording one of the best no-adjective country albums of the '90s instead of becoming a "parody of [him]self in a themepark."

He's commented that "Hobo's Prayer" is his favorite song off The Pilgrim. It's mine also.

Marty Stuart - Hobo's Prayer.mp3

From Amazon

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Truckstop Honeymoon

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, my local music scene found itself blessed with the seemingly permanent addition of former Ninth Ward residents Mike West and Katie Euliss, aka Truckstop Honeymoon, to our local scene. I've only been able to catch them once in the almost six months since, but I'm hoping to catch them soon, maybe outside at the Gaslight, like the show I just missed Monday.

Truckstop Honeymoon is a hard and raucous bluegrass/country/blues-holler married duo. They take their name from their wedding night stay at the Tiger Truck Stop in rural Louisiana. Their music is loud and fast and slow and soft and also includes some very humourous and sometimes macabre lyrics. I've included two tracks to show their range.

PS: They're playing this Friday night, 14 April, at the Uptown Theatre in KCMO with Drakkar Sauna, The Wilders, and others to benefit Kirk Rundstrom, singer/guitarist of Splitlip Rayfield, who is battling cancer. You should go.

Truckstop Honeymoon - Weary Blues From Waitin.mp3
Truckstop Honeymoon - No Beer On Sunday.mp3

From Mike West

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Making Singles Drinking Doubles

My local used records store, Love Garden, is very country, bluegrass, roots, etc. friendly (I suppose a mandolin playing owner doesn't hurt) and just about every time I go in I find some treasure waiting in the bins to be bought by me.

Not too long ago, I was fortunate enough to find Making Singles Drinking Doubles, the 2002 Bloodshot Records compilation commemorating their 100th release. The disc includes the usual suspects at Bloodshot, the Waco Brothers, The Meat Purveyors, Rex Hobart, and Moonshine Willy, but also includes two tracks featuring a pre-national fame Jack White backing soul legend Andre Williams.

Andre Williams & 2 Star Tabernacle - Lily White Mama & Jet Black Daddy.mp3

From Bloodshot
From Amazon

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Up and Running Soon (I Hope)

I've been looking for a nice audioblog about good current country and western music. There are several very good archival audioblogs, and also several good indie rock blogs that cover the side of alt-country that strays that direction, but none that I can find focused explicitly on modern sounds in country and western music.

I hope to get this up and running soon. This is an experiment for me in some ways. I've never tried to do something like this before and I don't know that I'll succeed. I felt that someone should be showcasing this music, and I'm hoping that someone else feels the same need.