Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Dressed in Black: A Tribute to Johnny Cash

The last half decade has seen an explosion of Johnny Cash tribute albums. Leading the pack in 2002 was this indie-country oriented set produced by BR549's Chuck Mead. This compilation, probably due to its house band of Chuck Mead on guitar and Dave Roe on bass, flows together remarkably well considering the breadth of music included: the psychobilly of Rev. Horton Heat and the punk-country of Hank III and J.D. Wilkes of the Shack*Shakers as well as the Dale Watson's honky tonking and Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis's Americana.

This album has a general sense of sincerity and comfortableness that isn't exhibited in tributes (such as the Marty Stuart-produced Kindred Spirits) featuring better-known performers some of whom seem as if they are coming to the material for the first time. This album also gives some much needed attention to several people, such as Earl Poole Ball, Redd Volkaert, and Kenny Vaughan, who are better known as sidemen or backing musicians, allowing them to step up into the spotlight.

Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis - Pack Up Your Sorrows
Damon Bramblett - I'm Gonna Sit on the Porch and Pick on My Old Guitar

From Dualtone
From Amazon

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Soul of John Black - The Good Girl Blues

Sometimes I think a lot of alt-country types think they own the "roots music" idea. I know I'm guilty of this a lot, assuming that the natural and appropriate method of engaging with popular and folk music history lies somewhere on the continuum between Uncle Tupelo and BR549. But sometimes I get CDs that show me I'm an idiot.

I got The Good Girl Blues by The Soul of John Black a couple months ago. Most of the CDs I get sent are by people I haven't heard of, and scanning down the list of names on this disc and recognizing none, I assumed it was just another indie outfit looking for a good word. As I listened to the CD and thought about how I would review it, how I could comment on the tight integration of acoustic and electric, city and country blues with elements of soul, funk, and hip hop, I realized that I didn't have the vocabulary to discuss these latter, more recent developments in African American music. Then I read the press packet and found out that front man John Bigham played with Miles Davis (even writing one of the songs on Davis' last album) and was a member of Fishbone for nearly ten years.

I guess my point is that my insular view of "roots" as nearly synonymous with alt-country prevented me from seeing strands of influence that should have been obvious and caused me to overlook playing with Miles Davis and Fishbone as legitimate avenues toward this.

The Soul of John Black - Fire Blues
The Soul of John Black - Deez Blues

From CD Baby

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Creech Holler - With Signs Following

North Carolina singer-songwriter Jeff Zentner recently sent me With Signs Following, the recent album from his trio Creech Holler. While the broad categorization of alt country is probably okay for Creech Holler, a more appropriate label might be "distortion folk." A full half of the songs on this album are traditional (with another credited to Dock Boggs and four by the band), but these songs are hardly played in a manner that could be called traditional in any way. Relying on heavily over-driven electric guitar and brash rudimental drumming, this CD doesn't risk being mistaken for the work of folk purists. The songs are still very recognizable as traditional folk songs, making for a nicely jarring combination.

Creech Holler - Wild Bill Jones

From CD Baby