Tag Archives: Americana

Yep Roc Sale!

Yep Roc is one of my favorite labels – an eclectic bland of Americana, folk and pop artists who get promoted with care. It’s not your typical stable, and those who toil behind the scenes must love working there.

So when Yep Roc throws down a sale like this one, I pay attention. Now through August 1st, you can get over 80 CD’s for just $5 each and more than 20 LP’s for only $10 while supplies last.

Artists include Nick Lowe, Marah, John Doe, The Sadies, Todd Snider, The Baseball Project, Ian Hunter, Loudon Wainwright III, Paul Weller, Robbie Fulks, The Apples In Stereo, The Fleshtones…come on, do I really have to list everyone?

Click here and load up!

Yes, they come with covers...

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New Album! Long Arms

Okay, not brand new, but a late 2010 indie is likely new to you.

Long Arms To Hold You is primarily the work of Richmond singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist James Menefee, who apparently did flesh it out in a band format using the moniker Long Arms. This debut album is an infectious swirl of Americana, folk and power pop; the songs are very well-written and the collaboration with producer Pedro Alda yielded an exquisite blend of instruments to support it.

Listen to these songs. Indie my ass.

Video: “Strung Out On You

Judging by the lyrics, Menefee must have been pretty despondent at the time, because the lyrics are confessional and desperate – the dude is hurting. Yet the music is sweet, buoyant and happy, an odd juxtaposition that not many bands can pull off well.

Song like “Strung Out On You“, “Kiss The Bottle” and “So Long And Thanks For The Toothbrush” (that last title is brilliant!) are a tiptoe through the ashes of a break-up. I hear everything from The Byrds to The Jayhawks to The Old 97s in Menefee’s wanting vocals. “The Ballad Of Joni and James” is what “Livin’ On A Prayer” or “Jack And Diane” could have sounded like if Bon Jovi or John Mellencamp had spent any time writing the words.

Video: “Downtown Dreams

This is a massive breath of fresh air and you need to hear this album.

Listen and buy at Amazon

Long arms on Facebook and MySpace

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This Wheel’s On Fire

Ironic that on a holiday celebrating American independence, I would be mesmerized by a book about a band that was four parts Canadian and one part deep Arkansas. (Sounds like the proportions of the cocktail I had in hand). But despite the lopsided genealogy, The Band might remain the quintessential American music group of the last fifty years. Inspiring the Americana and alternative country movements as deeply as anyone, they were and are a beacon of inspiration to everyone from Wilco to Mumford and Sons.

A few weeks back I bumped into an old friend, and Jamie and I were discussing books we were reading. When he mentioned This Wheel’s On Fire, I was certain that I had read it before, but his enthusiasm (and my love of the subject matter) caused me to dig out a copy. Sure enough, I had started the book at one point, but life or travel or whatever must have gotten in the way. Either that or my memory is much worse than I think it is.

Back in college, Lou, Dige and Cass used to commandeer the corner table in the campus pub and hold court. Clevelanders, they were inseparable but gregarious members of the theatre collective I was also a part of, and it was not unusual for all of us to huddle away in the corner and try to drain the keg while telling jokes and stories and singing songs. Way too much testosterone for Glee, but a similar fearless spirit to break into song, and for the Cleveland crew The Band was king, whether they were singing along with the jukebox or in spite of it. Sure, there were other songs (“You Know My Name” was a particular drunken favorite, Beatle fans) but there was a special passion when “Up on Cripple Creek” was howled, not sung, with coyote-like yodels accentuating the chorus.

The early catalogue got the workout – “King Harvest”, “The Weight”, “Shape I’m In”, and of course “Look Out Cleveland”. Their energy brought the band to life for me at a time when I was more focused on The Stones and The Kinks, and to this day I can’t listen to the band without thinking of the three of them. We lost Dige last year, Cass was lost to us in other ways many years ago, and although Lou and I wound up settling ten miles apart all these years later, it’s maybe one call a year. Life is not a carnival, believe it or not.

This Wheel’s On Fire, Levon Helm’s wonderful book about how The Band got together and was pulled apart, is simply one of the best books one could ever read about the life of a musician. It’s a story of friendship and betrayal, of grinding out a path and doggedly following it to the rewards and the disasters, and how one man’s passion to make music despite any obstacles helped forge one of the greatest bands of the rock era. Helm writes with an honest ease, fair but uncompromising, and I came away from the story with a deep respect for the man (and the urge to pull out every Band record I own, as well as a guitar).

Written in 1993, with an afterword from 2000, it’s really a timeless story. Starting out backing the electric Ronnie Hawkins, encounters with Bob Dylan, how a hanger-on named Robbie Robertson eventually wormed into the group and eventually positioned himself as leader, and later, executioner. While Robertson does come off like a heel at the end – “it’s just business” – Helm does spend most of the book acknowledging his prodigious talent and leadership. Rick Danko was the solid supporter, Richard Manuel the fragile casualty, Garth Hudson the rock upon which this church was built. Together they forged a new element, a whole greater than the sum.

I need not prattle on about the quality of the music; The Band is timeless. So is this great book. If you haven’t read it, do so immediately.

Thanks, Jamie…what next?

Band of Brothers

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Todd Snider Is An Alright Guy

There are few things better than going out to a club to see a live show that winds up dazzling you, but one of them is doing that with a group of long-time friends. So yeah, last night I was blessed.

I’ve been a fan of Todd Snider ever since I first heard the hilarious “Talking Seattle Grunge Rock Blues“, an epic comic ramble that simultaneously took a good-natured swipe at Seattle’s overrated music scene and announced the arrival of this master storyteller and musician. But I’ve never had the opportunity to see him weave his magic in person until last night, when he not only held the crowd at the German House Theatre in the palm of his hand, he occasionally slipped us into his pocket. I swear at one point he juggled us, too. Stuffed with a cross-section of his catalogue, the set list was at once immensely satisfying (every song a gem) and mildly frustrating (couldn’t I hear about two dozen of the others?).

After enduring a stupefying opening act that can only be described as a folkie channeling Tony Clifton, Todd Snider shuffled onto the stage to the theme from Sanford And Son. Barefoot – his moonshine hat tipped in honor of the crowd – Snider took control from the first note and didn’t let go. No light show, no staging – hell, I don’t think he even switched guitars – Snider won the crowd over with a combination of charm, humor and songwriting chops that can stand toe-to-toe with anyone. It would not be sacrilegious to drop the names of some of the masters because even Steve Goodman, John Prine and Loudon Wainwright III would have been on their feet last evening.

This quote from Jerry Jeff Walker probably says it best: “He has found a way to take his feelings and observations and turn them into songs that can get an audience…he won’t quit til he gets the audience and he always gets the audience.”

Damn right. The songs were magnificent, the stories he told to set up the songs were incredible, and even the faux chicken dance he would occasionally pull out to return the crowd’s favor was perfection. I could have listened to his songs all night, even if he never told a story. I could have listened to him tell stories all night even if he never played a note. I don’t know which one he’s more skilled at, but I’m thankful he hasn’t made up his mind yet.

And the funny thing was despite the spontaneous standing ovations, despite the singalongs and the shout-outs and the requests, I think Snider might have had an even better time last night than we did. I guess when you struggle for a while and then find your zone and know it, it’s magical. Imagine the reward of creating art and seeing people walking past flash and fashion and lowest common denominator entertainment to show up at your door. Todd Snider reaps that reward every night.

I didn’t know my town had it in ’em. I guess they’re alright guys, too.

Go get Todd Snider Live: The Storyteller and Near Truths and Hotel Rooms right now, that will give you a sniff of what to expect. And then don’t miss this genius when he comes your way. Hell, get in your car and go find him.

Todd Snider’s website

Eighteen Minutes

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New Album! Hans Rotenberry and Brad Jones

New to you, anyway – it came out last Fall.

But what has hit the street is the new issue of Bucketful of Brains, the great UK pop mag that has defied the odds and the decline of print journalism. Still going strong, still published on schedule, and still a place I’m proud to hang my keyboard each issue. Click here to find out more.

That’s where you’ll find my review of Mountain Jack, the album from Hans Rotenberry and Brad Jones. Any powerpop fan hearing those two names would instantly get excited; Hans has led the great band Shazam for years and Brad Jones is one of the great pop producers of our time as well as a solid artist in his own right. And while the collaboration might sound different than you would expect, it hits many of the right buttons.

Here’s my review…

Video: “A Likely Lad

Having produced four of the Shazam albums, Brad Jones knows every feint and jab that Hans Rotenberry has in his repertoire. So the pairing of bandleader and producer sounds much like you’d expect, a collaboration that draws heavily upon chunky rhythms, clever (but sometimes obtuse) lyrics and tight harmonies – not to mention song structure that draws heavily upon The Move and early Todd Rundgren. It’s a welcome return for Brad Jones, the powerpop producer who dropped the brilliant Gilt Flake on us many years ago and then dropped back out of sight like a February groundhog.

Those expecting the amp-cranking sound that the Shazam is famous for might be taken aback by the predominantly acoustic format, let alone songs like “Froggie Mountain Shakedown”. But the Americana-cum-powerpop formula suits the pair well; it’s loose and fun, and there’s enough cowbell to balance out the mouth harp. With “Count On Me”, “Likely Lad” and “It Would Not Be Uncool” they have three hit singles at my house, and hell, “Greef” is an Exile on Main Street doppelgänger as much as “Back To Bristol” recalls Alex Chilton. Take the plunge.

Mountain Jack at 50ft Records

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Bad Things In Threes, Again

Certainly not comparing it to earthquake, tsunami, nuclear meltdownbut yeah, famous deaths have a tendency to triangulate. and with Elizabeth Taylor passing today, that’s three in four days, albeit three who outlived their atomic half-life and made tremendous contributions to their art.

Ralph Mooney left us on March 20th. A celebrated musician’s musician, he basically pioneered the steel guitar sound in popular country music and worked with a Who’s Who of famous names. A critical element of the Bakersfield Sound, you can hear that Buck Owens and Merle Haggard influence across the board in Americana and country-rock music. And you rockers, check those Burrito Brothers and Neil Young albums where his sound appears even when his name doesn’t.

Pinetop Perkins walked offstage on Monday the 21st at ninety-seven (!) years old. Last month, he won a Grammy for Joined at the Hip (with Willie “Big Eyes” Smith) so he wasn’t exactly slouching. A bluesman from Mississippi like Muddy Waters, he played in the latter’s band for years and was most famous as a sideman…until he was in his eighties. He won a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement and was featured in the Martin Scorsese / Clint Eastwood film Piano Blues. Check his website for much more information on the American treasure.

And Elizabeth Taylor shipped off today, March 23rd

I prefer to remember the younger vibrant actress rather than the perfume-pimping Jacko compadre of later years, although during that period she did yeoman’s work on behalf of AIDS. I’ll forever remember her in Giant with James Dean and Rock Hudson, although she interacted with a tremendous cast including Sal Mineo, Dennis Hopper, Earl Holliman and Rod Taylor. It was near the beginning of a great run of movies flanked on both sides by forgettable flicks.

I’ll remember the debacle about Cleopatra and the odd relationship she had with Richard Burton and how my Mom was a dead ringer for her when she was young. I’ll try to forget that she was better known for tabloid fodder than natural talent, but I’ll never forget those violet eyes.

They don’t make movie stars like that anymore.

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Scott Kempner Rides Again

Scott Kempner is the genuine article.

I’ve already pimped how excited I am that The Del Lords have new music on the way, and I’ve reviewed Scott Kempner’s solo albums when they came out, doing what I could to pass the word. I know some of you got on board a bit too late for Tenement Angels. But now that’s rectified with a reissue, complete with bonus track, released this week.

Scott – or “Top Ten” as many Dictator fans know him – is a man who bleeds rock’n’roll. With influences from early doo-wop (Bronx Soul, he calls it) through the early rock masters, Kempner has been a prime force in Americana and roots rock for a long time. His songs are honest; they penetrate on first listen and then continue to resonate over time.

But rather than rant like a maniac (I’m looking at you, Kathie – you’re even a bigger Scott fan than me), why don’t I let Scott tell you in his own words what his mindset was at the time?

I’ve said this before: I’ve been very fortunate in my career to make music with friends. In the case of both the Dictators and the Del-Lords, there was a family feeling, a brotherhood, and it was a source of not just comfort and companionship, but inspiration, as well. It just makes me wanna do better than my best. The period in which this album was made was a scary time. After eight years together the Del-Lords had called it a day. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was gonna do except that I knew I would keep writing, playing and singing. But, I was still pretty lost.

So, I took an offer from a label to make a record and called Lou Whitney, which set the ball rolling, and within a few months I was down in Springfield, MO with Manny Caiati, and we were making this here record. Not a lot of pre-conception, other than that getting-Donnie-to-play-through-a-Marshall thing, picked a couple of covers, dove into my notebook, and well, here it is. Check it out, as it is a quite rockin’ little affair, and the chances of you diggin’ it, I think, are pretty damn good…

Read the rest of the essay at Scott’s website and check out his other blog posts.

Tenement Angels is available at CD Baby and Amazon and scores of other fine places. And pick up a copy of Saving Grace while you’re at it.

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