Tag Archives: Steve Earle

Top Ten Albums of 2010 – #6

The words “country blues” get thrown around a lot; I do it myself when describing music from Steve Earle to the apex of the Rolling Stones catalogue (Let It Bleed, Exile on Main Street, Beggars Banquet, Sticky  Fingers). But my god, when the form gets attacked by a band featuring a singer with the pipes of Teal Collins and a guitarist with the amazing chops of Josh Zee, the phrase redefines itself. This is flat-out goosebump material. I don’t recall witnessing Janis Joplin jamming with Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton, but I imagine it might have gone down something like this:

Video: “Love Me Like A Man

The Mother Truckers are an incendiary band from Austin who just keep getting better and better. Last year “Dynamite” was my favorite song of the year, and there were three or four on Van Tour that could have made my top ten this year (if I didn’t concede the whole thing to Ce Lo Green). I mean, listen to this guy shred and this girl wail!

Video: “Dynamite

Van Tour, their fourth release, is a concept album of sorts; on the surface there are surreal songs about aliens and invasions, but it’s just a framework for honky tonk cowpunk, roots rock stompers and a master class in getting your jaw to drop. The Mother Truckers ferociously blend Americana, Patsy Cline and classic fingerpicking roadhouse hoedown with the force of AC/DC, Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Rolling Stones. But when Collins wants to get all sweet’n’low, she can simmer a ballad or blues song as well as just about anyone (listen to “Keep It Simple” – it  made my spine sweat!) And if Zee didn’t just launch himself onto your short list of great guitar players, well…

This is first-rate chops-meets-attitude. Van Tour might be their best yet.

Listen to clips on Amazon

Video: “Alien Girl” from Van Tour

The Mother Truckers on MySpace

Zep-KISSing “Hot Legs” and making it sound legit.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Free Digital Samplers

They say you can’t get something for nothing. Wrong

Having grown up on 45 singles and gatefold albums, I’m still a tactile music lover. I’m being dragged kicking and screaming into the digital distribution world, even though I realize that it’s more convenient and less expensive. Can’t help it. Old habits die hard.

So since I’m not constantly surfing iTunes and Rhapsody and other music services, I sometimes miss out on titles that come out exclusively for the digital market, be they music or comedy. Hell, it’s hard enough to keep track of everything and I’m proactively looking…I can imagine how hard it is to find everything passively. And record companies – small and big – realize this also.

There’s nothing new about samplers, but pressing and distributing vinyl and CD platters cost money and couldn’t be offered for free in large quantities. Warner Brothers used to sell them for two dollars through the mail, which probably was a break-even point for them, although it wasn’t that much cheaper than a normal retail priced album at the time. When CDs became deceptively cheap, the market was flooded with indie samplers, although most would up in dollar racks. It would have been nice to try to discover new bands, but with the plethora of CDs in the store, who had the time and the money to experiment?

So here’s one thing digital got right – free albums, a click away from wherever you happen to be. The purpose is the same – hear some new bands, hopefully find someone you like, become a fan and buy their product. It’s the try-before-you-buy policy that is the new paradigm for a fractured industry. I’ve stumbled across several by pure happenstance; I’m sure you’ll find tons of others. Many bands are happy to give their albums away hoping you will come out to the show and support them on tour.

So here are Ten Free Digital Samplers that I found worthwhile; no-risk free records for the taking. Imagine – a money back guarantee!

01) Ike Reilly digital sampler – one of the best songwriters around and a dynamic performer, a cutting edge Dylan-influenced poet. I’ve got his whole catalogue and if you don’t know him, trust me, you will love this guy.

02) Americana Music Awards Sampler – featuring cuts from John Hiatt, Buddy and Julie Miller, Steve Earle and James McMurtry to draw you in, you’ll come away as fans of Jason Isbell and The Avett Brothers.

03) Wicked Cool Coming Attractions – A great sampler from Little Steven’s label (and Underground Garage playlist) including The Chesterfield Kings, The Breakers, The Cocktail Slippers and contenders for 2010’s best album, The Len Price 3.

04) Merge Records 2010 Sampler – Indie wonderland, featuring Destroyer, She and Him, Clean, The Clientele and The Shout Out Louds.

05) Alive Records 2009 Sampler – Not dated in any way, this runs the gamut from re-released gems from The Nerves to great cuts from The Buffalo Killers, Left Lane Cruiser and Outrageous Cherry.

06) ROIR: So Indie It Hurts Jackpot! New York Dolls, Johnny Thunders, Suicide, The Mekons, The Fleshtones, James Chance and the Contortions…NYC punk bonanza!

07) Ryko: Flash of Light – Worth it for the acoustic Gary Louris tune alone, but this is filled with great singer-songwriters like Will Hoge and Justin Currie (from Del Amitri).

08) Barsuk Records 2009 Sampler – OK, so I wish that Nada Surf was on here, but otherwise this is a killer collection featuring Death Cab For Cutie, Menomena and Ra Ra Riot.

09) CMJ 2009 Sampler – I imagine there will be a 2010 version floating around soon, but this is stuffed with lesser known bands so what difference does a year make? I already liked  The Black Hollies and The High Strung and came away discovering The Generationals and The Bloodsugars.

10) Best of Yep Roc Singles – This is an absolute steal. When you’re one of the best labels of the past twenty years, of course your roster boasts Nick Lowe, Todd Snider, Dave Alvin, The Apples In Stereo and Reverend Horton Heat.

And what the hell – it’s free one from Sub Pop containing Blitzen Trapper, Wolf Parade, Beach House…even a clip from comedian David Cross!

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Tunes of Freedom

On this particular day I guess I could use the theme of racing or fast food or even the Beach Boys for TGIF since Richard Petty, Dave (Wendy’s) Thomas and Murry Wilson were all born on July 2nd.

But on July 2nd, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law. That pretty much trumps everything else in my book. It’s astounding to realize that event was only forty-six years ago and not forty-six hundred; it’s also frightening to realize that despite those proclamations, we still live in a world of inequality and civil unrest in 2010.

Read about the legislation here…interesting to note that even in 1964 the Senators and Representatives from the Southern states were almost unanimously opposed to it. Think what you want to about LBJ, but he took it upon himself to honor the promise that had been initiated by John F Kennedy and get it done, even though that meant standing up against the coalition of his fellow Southerners.

For example, Senator (and former Ku Klux Klan member!) Robert Byrd, who ironically passed away this week, filibustered against the bill with a speech that lasted over 14 hours. You would think that would have killed him, but he was still representing West Virginia until his death last week. (Maybe he still is; they’re not the most progressive state in the Union).

But within the scope of today’s theme, I will wish Brock Peters a Happy Birthday. Among other roles, Peters is probably most famous for playing Tom Robinson in To Kill A Mockingbird, a film I first watched in high school (after we read the Harper Lee novel, of course). It’s one of the most beloved American films in history and features Gregory Peck’s iconic performance as lawyer and über father-figure Atticus Finch. I saw the film for probably the twentieth time a couple of weeks ago; I’m certain more viewings lie ahead.

And in the spirit of this I give you ten tunes about  freedom and independence and equality…enjoy your July 4th weekend!

Peace...

(01) “This Land Is Your Land” (Pete Seeger with Bruce Springsteen)

(02) “People Got To Be Free” (The Rascals)

(03) “The Revolution Starts Now” (Steve Earle)

(04) “What’s Going On?” (Marvin Gaye)

(05) “Rednecks” (Randy Newman)

(06) “Imagine” (John Lennon)

(07) “People Get Ready” (Curtis Mayfield)

(08) “Get Together” (The Youngbloods)

(09) “Eve of Destruction” (Barry McGuire)

(10) “Abraham, Martin and John” (Dion)

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Under The Radar: The Juleps

I thought Chicago was Second City - who knew?

I thought it was Second City - who knew?

I guess I could also call this a blast from the past, as it was ten years ago that I came across The Juleps and wrote about them for a similar column focusing on artists you might be missing out on. But since I don’t think they ever got the credit they deserved, let’s go with this category, shall we?

I don’t even remember how I first came across them, but no doubt I was up late following tangents on sites like CD Baby and Amazon, a practice that has yielded many rewards over the years. But this was, and is, a real keeper. From that article back in 2000, and my first take on this great band:

It’s pretty hard to find a band who can play a Billy Joe Shaver song better than ‘ol Billy Joe himself, but their live version of “Hottest Thing In Town” might be the track that changes that theory forever. It’s from a CD called Live At Thurston’s that’s only available via the MP3 site. If you’re wondering where you’ve heard that voice before, vocalist Gary Yerkins (as well as a couple of Juleps) is also a member of The Insiders, who released a couple of albums for Columbia and had an FM hit with “Ghost On The Beach”.

While The Insiders focus more on solid pop and rock and roll, The Juleps are more strum and twang territory. When Yerkins and vocalist Cathy Richardson harmonize, it’s like Steve Earle and Emmylou ripping it up – “Wild Beautiful Thing” and “Can’t Back It Up” are nothing short of fabulous! Many of the live tracks are available on the studio CD Kickbutt City, USA, which is also available from the band. Yerkins says that the band was formed as an “anti-agenda, anti-biz, anti-career band” where he could write music along the lines of his favorite artists and feature duets with a female voice. It turned out to be much cooler than anyone anticipated.

I don’t believe The Juleps still exist as an ongoing effort anymore, but their recordings still stand. Gary Yerkins has continued to record; his wonderful solo CD Compass is available here. And John Siegle – who was in Screams with Brad Elvis (“Imagine Me Without You”) – also released a great solo album; check it out here. Ah, fertile Illinois…more on The Elvis Brothers and John Siegle another day…

Link to The Juleps webpage

“If Wishes Were Horses”, live in 2006

“Ghost On The Beach”, still killer.

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Under The Radar: Cover You

Pretty hip, even for Hip-O.

Pretty hip, even for Hip-O.

Under the radar and a blast from the past…and playing at my house today. Not much to add to my original take (below) and although I can’t rate it alongside deliberate tribute albums, it’s well worth a listen.

Hip-O’s tribute collections gather previously recorded versions of an artist’s work rather than commission current bands to take a whack at the catalogue. So where the latter project might have the benefit of one-upmanship as bands try to come out on top of the pile, the older versions were done individually as true tips of the cap, especially when you consider the caliber of the artists involved. Like Meet The Covers and Chuck B. Covered, this gathering is as eclectic as Hip-O’s Beatles and Chuck Berry discs.

While many have heard Linda Ronstadt‘s tepid version of “Tumbling Dice”, few will have heard Sugar Blue‘s jazzy harp-laden “Miss You” (he played harmonica on the original cut). Ditto a nice collaboration between two of the better guitarists on Earth, Charlie Sexton and Ron Wood. And while I miss Devo‘s unique attack of “Satisfaction”, soul legend Otis Redding sounds a lot more like a man in need than Jagger did. White soul shouter Mitch Ryder issued one of the most intense rock albums of the era with Detroit; the inclusion of his growling “Gimme Shelter” is the best thing on the record. Dueling soul Queens Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner are here also, with Ike and Tina ironically offering “Under My Thumb”!

Country blues is the bastard father of rock and roll, and while Jason & The Scorchers rip it up with “19th Nervous Breakdown”, Johnny Cash‘s 1978 version of “No Expectations” sounds like “Folsom Prison Blues” with different words. Steve Earle and Johnny Winter (with Rick Derringer blazing alongside him every step of the way) close out the disc with live versions of “Dead Flowers” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, respectively.

There are fourteen songs, and besides the Ronstadt cut, the only mistake that Hip-O made was in the liner notes which begin: “Mick Jagger and Keith Richards may not be thought of as one of the great songwriting teams of the modern era…” Maybe not on your planet! As a die hard, long time, watched-them-on-Sullivan-as-a-kid fan, I’ve known better all my life. Even during that period of the 1960’s when the unwritten rule said you had to choose between The Beatles and The Rolling Stones (couldn’t – gasp – like both!), I knew which side my rock was buttered on. So does Hip-O.

Album now out of print but cheap used copies available.

Also check out the Chuck Berry and Beatles tributes referenced above.

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Who’s Your DADDY?

Not-so-sloppy seconds.

Not-so-sloppy seconds.

Why, DADDY is your daddy, of course. DADDY is fronted by Will Kimbrough and Tommy Womack, and if neither of those names ring a bell for you, then it’s good that the new album won’t be out until Father’s Day 2009…because you have a lot to catch up on.

No really – go ahead, I’ll wait.

Yeah, they've been on a few records.

Yeah, they've been on a few records.

How about those audio resumes? Start saving those deposit bottles, because there’s a lot of great stuff there. You also might want to track down side projects like The Bis-Quits, whose one awesome album was released on John Prine’s Oh Boy label years ago. How can you not like a band that writes a track about a guy who plays a cello “like ringin’ a bell” and titles it “Yo Yo Ma”? (Trust me, it’s a great record but that one song is worth the price of the album).

You can’t mention either name without realizing the lineage with Steve Earle, Todd Snider, Jason and the Scorchers, Rodney Crowell, Dan Baird and dozens of other credible names that should have your radar sparking like a dropped muffler just by being in the same paragraph. Will and the Bushmen. Government Cheese. Really, do I have to keep pimping here? These are two bonafide A-list singer/songwriter/guitarists who adorn any worthy record collection, and they also happen to bring the best out in each other. So whether it’s redneck country, y’alternative rock, torch’n’twang, rockabilly, blues, gospel, roots rock or just taking the piss out of something with wit and passion…you’ve got the right guys on the job.

But as entertaining as those two could be as a duo, DADDY is a band. Backing up the troublemakers are Paul Griffith (one of Nashville’s most sought-after session drummers), Dave Jacques on bass (John Prine, Emmylou Harris) and John Deaderick (Dixie Chicks, Michael McDonald, Patty Griffin) on keys.  Those of you within distance of SXSW can get a nice preview next week, but Daddy will hit the road to promote the new album For A Second Time, set to drop on June 16th.  Why a second time? Because like many people, you probably missed the one-off At The Women’s Club, recorded live in 2005 at only their second gig. And unlike Crosby Stills and Nash, they were not scared shitless…they’re back four years later to save your ass again.

June isn’t that far away, but until then…enjoy some live DADDY here.

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Marah: Eventually Rock?

"One day I'll turn and face the flame and you will show me to the door..."

"One day I'll turn and face the flame and you will show me to the door..."

Anyone who has followed my writing over the years knows that Marah is a band that has absolutely floored me on many occasions; their albums usually wind up high on my best-of lists. When I first got Let’s Cut The Crap and Hook Up Later On Tonight (one of the best album titles ever) and eyeballed the cover I was certain that the two guys leading the band were middle-aged rednecks. Oops. Oddly titled songs like  “Formula, Cola, Dollar Draft” were enough to get my curiosity piqued, but I quickly fell under the spell of the marriage of dramatic lyrics and back porch instrumentation, a refreshing breath of fresh air in the late 1990s.

When Kids In Philly landed, I was gobsmacked, especially trying to wrap my head around how a couple of Philly guys in their twenties could write about Vietnam with such naked authority. (I had not yet learned about Serge Bielanko’s voracious reading habits and astute eye for dynamic authors). And when I trekked to snowy Buffalo to see them rip a club from the face of the Earth, pound it into submission and then spike it back into the ground, I left The Mohawk determined to spread the gospel of one of the best rock’n’roll experiences of my life.

The past ten years have seen some amazing highs and lows for the band. Musical validation from Bruce Springsteen and Steve Earle giving them a career boost, writers Stephen King and Nick Hornby praising their work as unabashed fans and supporters…but every time momentum seemed to be their friend, something would knock the wheels off the bus. Rhythm section jettisoned. Goodbye, Philly. Float Away With The Friday Night Gods. Goodbye, England. Another rhythm section jettisoned, this time on the eve of a tour to support a critically acclaimed new album. And now, in 2009, no label, no album and as for the band itself…who knows? There are those who think that Marah is afraid of success, turning away from the current when it seems to be at its strongest; others think the band must be cursed.

Earlier this month I got to see Marah for the tenth or eleventh time, and while I’m not certain where they’re headed, I’ve got too much invested not to go along for the ride. I’m hoping for a Phoenix-like resurrection. Read all about it here.

***

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