The Freelance Mentalists.
Friday, August 22, 2014
  Doe, A Dear
More from old newspapers.

JOHN DOE IS NOW PAINTING THE TOWN A BRIGHTER BLUE
By Don Allred
11-23-11

Although the marriage of John Doe and Exene Cervenka ended in 1984, they kept jump-
starting new tracks with their headstrong, headlong California punk group X until 1993.  Today, fourteen years after the original line-up of X got back together, singer/songwriter Doe's combustible combo comprise one reliable reunion road band. This fall, having recently toured with the Knitters, a hardy Americana outfit which began as an X side project, and Jill Sobule, with whom he recorded the sly underdog anthems of 2011's  A Day At The Pass, Doe joined X in a round of Latin American shows, opening for Pearl Jam. X will  hit the Sunbelt circuit  in December, after Doe's own Midwestern shows.

(The last time he played Columbus Cowtown, Doe and the Sadies brought soulful, frequently feedback-roasted honky tonk neon chestnuts, from their '09 Country Club. The show still turns up on YouTube.)

Doe's solo albums have been reinvigorated by X's second life as a concerts-only experience, and, he said, " the freedom from having to write for them."  Also, lessons learned from the  dissolution of his nearly twenty-five year second marriage helped provide the alchemy of songs such as "Golden State," slamming into its chorus: "We are luck/We are fate/We are the feeling you get in the Golden State." The sound of freedom also sweeps philosophy into a new, challenging reality: "It's the feeling I get/When you walk away."

"Pieces of sadness exist in everything, but it doesn't have to be the only thing,"  Doe said recently. His new Keeper gives us love songs with teeth, such as "Little Tiger,"  which might be about one of his three daughters, prowling through private sorrow. Still, nothing here is too narrowly defined.  "Have you noticed all the time travelers in cities recently?" he asked at least one recent audience, introducing "Giant Step Backwards." It's about a guy who realizes his "factory girl" has  suddenly disappeared from where he depended on her to remain, back in their shared history. He's rallying for a new quest, possibly in time, but also, Doe suggested, it has to do with "men getting too far ahead in relationships, needing to let the other person step forward."
The reflections of Keeper are polished just enough, sometimes to a slightly surreal glow. "Moonbeam" is a recently unearthed, vibrantly atmospheric R&B ballad, which gets crowded when the background singers jump into Danny White's vintage original, but Doe keeps the wonder discreet. We also get a compatibly restive remake of an X classic, in which a battered wife "flips a finger" in farewell to a bartender who can only offer pity. Then she  sways  towards the Greyhound station, declaring, "Roses are red/Violence is too/Everybody knows/I'm painting the town blue." Listen to this song, and you'll know it too.

John Doe and His Rockin' Band, with supporting act  Robert Ellis, will perform at the Rumba Cafe on Monday, November 28. Doors open 7 p.m. Ellis plays  at 9 p.m., Doe at  10 p.m. 18+ show. $12. Under-21 pays $ 2 surcharge at door. For more information, please see columbusrumbacafe.com

 
Sunday, August 10, 2014
  Harvest of the Black Swans
Understanding Land is the recently-released full-length solo debut of Jerry David DeCicca, and it sure sounds like a Black Swans album to me. That’s good news in and of itself, no matter what further particulates may arise in the field of grokking (here’s one: Bird And Flower/Eve Searls chimes in, as well she might). Meanwhile, please partake of a couple vintage glimpses up Black Swans way:




Summer of the Black Swans
By Don Allred June 1, 2011

On their 2004 debut album, Who Will Walk In The Darkness With You?, the Columbus-based Black Swans' usual slow, post-Americana sway leads the way through what could be just another haunted house. But the parlor crooner wishes too hard for life in one still moment of memory, and his antique easy chair begins to rock.  Some subsequent tracks, like "Black Swan Blues," even brush fresh, beautiful bruises across his suddenly sharpened senses. Lesson learned---so, while the  Swans' sweetly spooked and screwed, brave and inspired 2006 Sex Brain is a leap, it takes no stretch (except in a go-o-o-d way).
2007's Change! raises a juicy moonlight harvest of homegrown surrealism for a hungry community, then (and always) still forming. Co-founding Swan Jerry DiCicca  also found his way to some seemingly unlikely production clients, secretly ready to be drawn out. Columbus attorney Eve Searls, of the solo-project-to-band Bird And Flower, was one such born traveler. Ditto elusive Georgia country singer Larry Jon Wilson, who nevertheless warmly murmured about "Runnin' on a long chain."
DeCicca may have held that thought. The Black Swans set aside their richly promising  Don't Blame The Stars in 2008, and started winding up for a left-field 2010 release, Words Are Stupid. It deftly prowls and bounces off the walls of life, like the twisted balloon critters of DeCicca's  party-attending alter ego, Dr. Silverfoot. Despite the unexpected death of Noel Sayre, who began performing with DeCicca in 1995, Sayre's newly discovered violin tracks swirl through songs growing around his sound. The album's recording process, which DeCicca regarded as "therapeutic," also preceded points of ongoing artistic departure. "All songs are game now,"  DeCicca recently reported. "I made a breakthrough with one in Portugal. I thought it was off-limits 'til  it happened!"
Thus, the Black Swans found and took the scenic route back to Don't Blame The Stars. Finally out on May 31, its well-populated, mostly live-in-the--garage-studio contemplation surges with the same intimate dynamic as their shows.  The song "Joe Tex" celebrates the congenially inventive soul singer of its title, while the narrator also plows gray fields, with no contradiction. And, after all, "There's no way of tellin'/If the world's cryin' or it's yellin'/So raise up your arms and dance with me."
This record release party includes most of the Swans appearing on DBTS, plus their regular drummer Keith Hanlon, who recorded the album while Brian Jones sat in. We can also expect songs from "previous and forthcoming releases," DeCicca advised. (They just may have another one out later in 2011.)
The Black Swans will be performing with supporting acts the Alwood Sisters Band and Moviola at the Rumba Cafe, on Friday, June 3. The show starts at 10  p.m. $6 all audiences. For more information, please visit www.theblackswans.com or www.columbusrumba.com.

Bonus 2010 show preview:

The Black Swans
Saturday @ Rumba Café
On Words Are Stupid, Columbus' Black Swans present language with a new set of sounds, poetically persuasive even when abrasive, and no stranger than George Washington's wooden teeth. The late Noel Sayre's violin and kazoo sometimes appear; their relationship always seems key. You could call this "post-Americana", but the foreign intrigue of "Black Swans Tango" fits too. Despite an ear-popping flight, a typically stubborn romantic jumps onstage "with a band I cannot hear", serenading his sweetie with very special delivery. Love conquers all! Also vice versa, but still.


 
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
  Punky Tonk Purl
Just noticed that the place where this was first published has once again re-launched, once again sans most of its archives, at least those from 2011. Lydia Loveless has a new album out; more on that later, but here's some backstory (if Local Pop Radio's podcasts are still up---can also try it via patradio---they're a great trove of OH punk and other indie through the aeons):

LYDIA LOVELESS BRINGS THE PUNKY TONK TRUTH
By Don Allred   for 4-18/19-2011
The living legend of Lydia Loveless began with the 2004 birth of her punk-inflected family new wave band, Carson Drew. Which is also the name of intrepid tween-lit girl detective Nancy Drew's invaluable lawyer-father. So, the band's name could be considered a salute to the then-14-year-old Loveless and her sisters' own drumming dad, Parker Chandler. But, as their blog proclaimed,  they were all "Carson Drew, Attorneys At Large"---ready to rock the halls of justice. Soon after the 2006 release of their album, Under The Table, Carson Drew imploded, and the country-bred Loveless reached for her heretofore-spurned roots. She wrote her first songs, busting the male malefactors of Columbus Babylon.
A still-available "Local Pop Radio Hour" podcast finds Loveless's rhythm guitar and Chandler's drums nailing a whirlwind of unanswered questions  to a no-frills, every-night waltz.  "Miller High Life" cross-examines the narrator, her man, her God, and even the "champagne of beers," with a relentlessly spare clarity. This makes Loveless's more typically cascading up-tempo testimonials seem like blessedly tempestuous vacation fare.  Her characters were born to struggle, and they thrive on the noise-meets-poise  of her 2010  solo debut album, The Only Man. Its independent producers excluded Chandler's drums, among several other Nashville-type biz-decisions, but they were true venture capitalists, committed to finding new focus for Loveless's  jolting jukebox visions.  Columbus-based Peloton Records' Steve McGann released the album, then teamed Loveless and Chandler with equally seasoned lead guitarist Todd May and bassist Ben Lamb. McGann's direction led them to Bloodshot, the pioneering record label of volatile Americana.
Loveless, now 20, is producing her Bloodshot  album, Indestructible Machine----an appropriate title, judging by advance tracks. In writing them, she said, "I generally come up with a line that won't let me be. If a song wants to be written, it will get written." The song's gestation can take months, as Loveless tosses a bundle of inspiration to her band and audience, checking their responses. Then again, Loveless wrote several songs the night before her new album's sessions began. "It was nerve-wracking but fun," she reported. Another creation suddenly materialized at a Rock Potluck jam. " I wanted to be good that day, and  my fear made a song come out of me. I'm pretty proud of it."
This show will feature "mostly new songs," according to her latest update; also a few covers, probably including Goldfinger's "Without Me" and CCR's "Someday Never Comes." Steve McGann also reminded us, "She almost always does 'Miller High Life' live."
Lydia Loveless will be performing with supporting acts JKutchma  and Joe Fletcher & The Wrong Reasons at the Rumba Cafe on Thursday, April 21.The doors open at 9 p.m. $6 all audiences. For more information, please visit www.pelotonrecords.com or www.columbusrumbacafe.com.

In a nutshell, from 2010 preview & Nashville Scene ballot comments)

Veteran Columbus OH teen Lydia Loveless sometimes includes the
Replacements' intensely frustrated "Answering Machine" and Def
Leppard's dynamically mesmerized "Hysteria" with her punky tonk combo
deliveries, unstoppably tumbling up, down and onto life's thrilling,
killing, chilling and flat moments. Loretta Lynn's points of departure
are extended and twisted through Loveless' compactly epic,
self-written debut, The Only Man, as desperately wired sexual power
struggles zap the void in passing: "Girls suck/They suck and suck and
never get enough," wails one contender, but it's time to ricochet off
another incisive epitaph.


 
Thursday, January 23, 2014
  14th Annual Nashville Scene Poll: Ballot of a Thin Man
(Hon. Mentions etc. after official ballot categories)
TOP TEN COUNTRY ALBUMS OF 2013:
(just in order that they come to mind)
1. Natalie Maines:  Mother (Columbia)
2. Various Artists:  Divided & United: Songs of the Civil War (ATO)
3. Willie Nelson and Family:  Let's Face The Music and Dance (Sony Legacy)
4. Willie Nelson:  To All The Girls… (Sony Legacy)
5. Mavericks:  In Time  (Valory)
6. LeAnn Rimes:  Spitfire (Curb)
7. Pistol Annies:  Hell On Heels (Sony Nashville)
8. Patty Griffin: American Kid (New West)
9. Jason Isbell: Southeastern (Southeastern/Relativity)
10. Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell:  Old Yellow Moon (Nonesuch)
TOP TEN COUNTRY SINGLES OF 2013:
1. Guy Clark:  "My Favorite Picture of You" (Dualtone)
2. Bob Dylan:  "Pretty Saro" (Columbia)
3. Gary Allan:  "It Ain't The Whiskey" (MCA Nashville)
4. Toby Keith:  "Drinks After Work" (Show Dog/Universal)
5. Marshall Chapman:  "I Don't Want Nobody" (Tallgirl)
6. Electro Shine (ft. Big Kenny, Chebacca, Megan Mullins and Dave Stewart):  "Electro Country Shine" (Glotown)
7. Big & Rich (ft. Bon Jovi):  "Born Again" (Electro Shine remix) (Warner Bros)
8. Maggie Rose: "Better" (RPM Entertainment)
9. Luke Bryan: "That's My Kind of Night" (Capitol Nashville)
10. Lee Brice: "Parking Lot Party" (Curb)
TOP FIVE COUNTRY REISSUES OF 2013:
1. Buck Owens: Buck 'Em! The Music of Buck Owens (1955--1967) (Omnivore/Universal)
2. Townes Van Zandt: The Late Great Townes Van Zandt (Omnivore/Universal)
3. Townes Van Zandt: Sunshine Boy: The Unheard Studio Sessions & Demos 1971-1972 (Omnivore/Universal)
4. Shaver: Shaver's Jewels (The Best of Shaver) (New West)
5. Wanda Jackson: The Best of The Capitol Classic Singles (Omnivore/Universal)
COUNTRY MUSIC'S THREE BEST MALE VOCALISTS OF 2013:
1. Willie Nelson
2. Toby Keith
3. Gary Allan


COUNTRY MUSIC'S THREE BEST FEMALE VOCALISTS OF 2013:
1. Natalie Maines
2. LeAnn Rimes
3. Patty Griffin
COUNTRY MUSIC'S THREE BEST DUOS, TRIOS OR GROUPS OF 2013:
1. Mavericks
2. Willie Nelson & Family
3. Pistol Annies
COUNTRY MUSIC'S THREE BEST NEW ACTS OF 2013:
1. Maggie Rose
2. Kacey Musgraves
3. Brandy Clark
COUNTRY MUSIC'S THREE BEST OVERALL ACTS OF 2013:
1. Willie Nelson
2. Natalie Maines
3. Mavericks


Albums---Hon. Mentions:
Guy Clark: My Favorite Picture of You (Dualtone), Toby Keith: Drinks After Work (Deluxe Edition)(Show Dog/Uni), Patty Griffin: Silver Bell (A&M/Universal), Hot Club of Cowtown: Rendezvous In Rhythm (Gold Strike),  Marshall Chapman: Blaze of Glory (Tallgirl), Todd Snider: Time As We Know It: The Songs of Jerry Jeff Walker (Aimless), Holly Williams: The Highway (Georgiana), Susan Werner: Hayseed (Sleeve Dog), Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison: Cheater's Game (Premium), Steve Earle & The Dukes (& Duchesses): The Low Highway (New West), Cyndi Boste: Nowadays (WMP),  Gary Allan: Set You Free (MCA Nashville), Courtyard Hounds: Amelita (Columbia), Maggie Rose: Cut To Impress (RPM Entertainment), Kandia Crazy Horse: Stampede (Bluebilly), Bryan & The Haggards ft. Dr. Eugene Chadbourne: Merles Just Want To Have Fun (Northern Spy). Carrie Rodriguez: Give Me All You Got (Ninth Street Opus), Brandy Clark: 12 Stories (Slate Creek), Kacey Musgraves: Same Trailer Different Park (Mercury Nashville),  Wayne Hancock, Ride (Bloodshot), Ashley Monroe: Like A Rose (Warner Bros),
Albums---other (about half good)
Tim McGraw:  Two Lanes of Freedom (Accelerated Deluxe Edition) (Big Machine), Sheryl Crow: Feels Like Home  (Warner Music Nashville), The Band Perry: Pioneer (Republic Nashville), Alan Jackson: The Bluegrass Album (Universal Nashville), Kellie Pickler: The Woman I Am (Black River Entertainment), Wayne Hancock: Ride (Bloodshot), James King: Three Chords And The Truth (Rounder)
Singles---Hon. Mentions:
Electro Shine ft. Big Kenny, Chebacca, and Chessboxer: "Dance Upon The Solid Ground" (Glotown), Electro Shine ft. Big Kenny, Chebacca, Ky-mani & KJ Marley: "Hope Chant"(Glotown), Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton: "You Can't Make Old Friends" (Warner Bros/Elektra/Atlantic), Avicii ft. Dan Tyminski: "Hey Brother" (Island)
Reissues---other (about half good) The Buckaroos: The Buckaroos Play Buck and Merle (Omnivore/Universal)




 
  14th Annual etc.: In The Shadows of The Warm Red Comments

Last year, all the li'l dogies ("doagies," not no "doggies") were carefully herded into their pens; this time, I mostly let them mosey along to see where they'd go (one leading to  some connection with another, often enough, hopefully), before they come back to you.


Natalie Maines:  Mother
Philosophical/romantic/musical companionship on the fly (as much momentum as a midtempo set is ever gonna get): she pushes herself out of the nest, finds exhilaration and ongoing inner/outer struggle--that increasingly familiar bed "down at the Silver Bell," around a couple of hairpin turns, sounds like, can be like a prison cell, if you draw the shades down just little too far, and yet maybe that's part of the appeal, the kink of it (thought of this again watching that Mad Men ep, re Draper finally getting too greedy up at the Sherry-Netherland). "Vein in Vain" is even worse than its title, but otherwise she unerringly selects, sequences and sonically illuminates songs written by singers who don't get to me very often: Vedder, Waters, Jeff Buckley, Jayhawks, her co-composer/producer/accompanist Ben Harper, for that matter, Not that Harper and his crew don't sail jangle 'n' drone right on through 60s/70s (and Dixie Chicks) nostalgia, almost as unlikely as aforementioned midtempo momentum, in my experience. (Reading this part after listening to the whole album a couple more times, I realize I've totally forgotten about any nostalgic associations; it's just not a sentimental album; however country-obsessively she weighs family and other romance values----she has a baby boy with her man, per plan, and then confides, "I'd run away with you"---but I also think that tracks from Mother, times some tracks past the initial what-can-I-learn-from-this-relationship [too subtle for the male mind] musings on the Courtyard Hounds' Amelita could be the basis for The Great Lost Dixie Chicks Album.)
"Mother" teaches me not to stumble over somewhat Spinal Tappy verses, on the way to what she makes into a glorious chorus--okay, Waters redeems himself here as a writer, but she sings it as a self-aware mother and daughter "Mother's gonna put all of her fears into you", climbing to "safe and warm", which have never been further, in awestruck, scary beauty (thee sublime, ay), from "comfortably numb." So now it also honors what Waters may have been glossing: Larkin's "They fuck you up, mum and dad/They may not mean to but they do/They fill you up with all the faults they had/And add some just for you/As they were fucked up in their turn/By fools in old-style hats and coats"---get back, Daddy Pink! "Trained", with Harper as Jagger to Maines' Michael or Janet, doesn't even need a literal cowbell to be an effective answer song. "Lover, You Should Have Come Over" is the swoonworthy extended killer, and she does respect Buckley's original rendition when she should, without imitating his Son of Tim acrobatics. "Come Crying To Me" (which didn't make it onto the last Dixie Chicks album, amazingly enough, so maybe the extended hiatus is well-deserved, for now) here is like the Pretenders covering Tom Petty, in a really great way, though could well imagine it as some kind of "Rollin' In The Deep" radio OD. "Free Life" is another cumulative dazzler. At the end, she's inviting a new beginning, pushing past her fear as she signals to her worn and driven lover.
PS: yes, she proudly touts this as her rock move, but it's often the same kind of 70s-80s-based rock that shows up in so much contemporary country, be it mainstream or, uh. NPR (like the Courtyard Hounds aforementioned Amelita----sonic associations keep finding their way through social barriers).
Which reminds me:
of Toby Keith's Drinks After Work (Deluxe Edition):
The title song is not a big ol romp or sly flirtation or show-me-what-you-got, though he's got a placeholder, drink coaster type track with that very title I think, who cares, this is what the hell to that big lump of frustration and time looming back there, in the office, maybe even an oh-wow *skyscraper* "built that way to swing and sway and blot out all the sky" as Bob Wills' boy would say. What the hell, "conversate", past the time in "suits and skirts" we might eventually be able to peel for a while, or anyway loosen up for a moment. The weight of the world still acan be pushed against, enough to find a niche, long as you keep an eye on the odds--"Call The Marines" cos they're adaptable as well as brave, dependable, bold when necessary, see you through even if you can't really come up with a decent third verse, they know it's the thought that counts, or the running out of steam in the right direction (towards a salute) they know you know you need 'em, and that you're grateful. The cowboy who's ridden off into the sunset and is still pokin' around, that's yew two, rude ol' boy, your nasty streak mostly relish now, and knowing how it fits where to put it and the "I" who'll prob be out fishin' when his ship comes in (got a promotion the day before  he was told the company was sold and his position disappeared; also blames self for being a sucker, and/or maybe ceasing to give a damn)(just like the world, in Hard way to make an easy living (ref to show biz?) "The world doesn't care what you pay" also references to weather re the farmer's fortunes, climate change, and/or nature of cumulative impressions on yer lot. entropy etc)Good time song getting stoic, "Shut up and hold on" and it's worth it, also the tensile ovetaking nostalgia "they were great before we knew they were good!" still feels the "great"  That's without any overblown celebration of celebration, ditto in "Chuckie's Song" to fallen bandmate, as  stage goes up, goes down, the road and the process continues, the memories too, riding where the man did, the working man who gets a nod of recognition in passing, the rest is too personal to be spread all over the widescreen windshield, though this much may find its own place on stage; it's worthy/ The overall candid view seems to revitalize, or at least ride with the unexpectedly effective music--the raised mean, minus most of the usual bells and whistles, but still with enough flair not much bluster, even there knows limits (and bares down on lyrics of "Margaritaville") also another good short song to fallen comrade, short ong as it needs to be Conservative in a good way, insofar as it's possible to know the price and value of----if not everything,  than at least that everything has both----at 52, he's still  capable of learning, of wanting to learn, and more than wanting to, realizing:"The cotton and the crops know/ Before the city knows!"


Susan Werner: Hayseed
Sharp and reflective as any farming implement need be, Werner's observant wit cuts to the chase of a farmer forced to hurry up and wait on a big sky bringing him too much of nuthin once again, but what's behind it, and how long has he been waiting, as the  sun-fried shadow of a doubt slides through his commitment to this whole big chunk of land and gear, and he starts to spook like somebody's not-whizzing on his grave---? Then there's "My my, hey hey/Pesticides have made me gay." She may not be a hippie though: seems  mostly to delight in getting back to the country cos it's a season and a reason for taking a relationship dump (if strictly  necessary, of course). Try organic fertilizer, y'all. (This is closer to the way I'd spell it out than she would, but she don't need to.)



Willie Nelson and Family:  Let's Face The Music And Dance  
Unlike several  Nelson albums from recent years, it doesn't shuffle different approaches; this is all small combo country & swing, closer to Django than Bob("Nuages" and s couple others have me craving another all-instrumental set). What the hell, if Aldean's heavy emphasis on arena rock is country, so's this. My proposed ad hook: "From Paris, Texas to Paris, France." His voice and guitar are smooth and sandy in all the right places, and Sister Bobbie's 88s co-star, enforcing the speed of thought.
I would like some fiddle, though Mickey's harmonica mans the fiddle function, but when I want the literal, and in the same style, can chase this with Rendezvous With Rhythm, the latest from Hot Club of Cowtown. OK, it's not quite the same, no traces of Bob etc.: nothing specifically or obviously country 'bout it, though they may well be onstage in Texas right now, and damn Elena's voice is so very come hither---gol-lee ma'am, where'd the times go?---and if Aldean etc.
Oh yeah---Nelson's To All The Girls duet set includes selections, especially the beguiling "Far Away Places With Strange-Sounding Names,"  with Sheryl Crow, which would fit Let's Facevery well.  He investigates a hot Latin  peak with Alison Krauss, of all people, then has to set his quest "Back To Earth," in a no-b.s. way, and Melonie Cannon's got his back (and he's got some other robust, unknown- to-me partners here: trying to find more by Lily Meola, Tina Rose). The jazziness of the Krauss duet, "No Mas Amor", and even "Grandma's Hands," with Mavis Staples, could also go on a  (personal-use-only) disc with  Let's…, as little leaps of tone and theme get goosed by his guitar's perfect punctuation. Towards closing time in the lounge, he's nodding along with "Always On My Mind," unperturbed when Carrie Underwood swoops through in white buckskin fringe and purple phrasing. A couple of remakes from Phases and Stages, with Wynonna on bass and Norah Jones (don't call her Snora! She wakes up with Willie) aren't strictly necessary, but do add spine (ditto Springsteen scenes witnessed with Emmylou, under a "piss-yellow sky").


Gary Allan:  Set You Free
is romantic country with a cosmic rock past,  that somehow grew up in the love-drug planetarium of self-torture and (basically?) self-production; least 3/4 is primo. Esp. "It Ain't The Whiskey" (yeah, if only it were, if only one's problems could get with a Program), but then again, the usual shields, however discounted, do take their own toll, and the hole takes a lot of sunshine, tequila, nearby young people, and "Sand In My Soul"; then in "Hungover Heart", the longer he's dry more he remembers being her man, goes w dangers of removing those shields, crutches(including production injecting Vitamin D for Drama into lagging trope hosses); "One More Time Around", if that's the title, in orbit w slight phasing and supple beat, worn and yet fresh; "Drop", even more genre-bending country adventure,  dropping to bounce toward dub and falsetto---watchout Jerrod! "Bones", good tight Southern Rock. "No Worries" shivers and shakes the shadows away, for the moment. Some others lag, or a little vague re sustaining momentum.


On The Highway,
Holly Williams seeks a balance of, and on, and way in the polarities, like Jamey Johnston's best original material, but here the emphasis is more on black and white as color, vitality and focus ahead of weariness and meltdowns, by a nose, most of the time, or at least it's a draw (I like more of this than Allan's album so far, but he's got more musical and maybe emotional variety---but she's younger, and looking back keeps curving into the present and immediate future more frenetically, also like that she writes and sings from POV of different ages, gender and other roles). She's got an unshowy, soulful delivery, and even gets away with an ultimately over-writtne old folks at-the-end-finale! Maybe because the over-writing seems as impulsive as her other adventures.


Marshall Chapman's Blaze of Glory
sports a vivid small group sound, Tony Joe or other late 60s/early 70s grooves: dig the bass guitar merging with and separating from the left side of the electric piano; Stones-era Coodery guitar, but mainly as punctuation; creamy, cool, slightly husky, somewhat androgynous vocals; not too much of the Boomeristic musing one might expect from a poised 65-year old. "Call The Lamas" even seems like it could have been a groovy crossover Top 40 hit, or gotten her on The Smothers Brothers show anyway.


Cyndi Boste: Nowadays
Australian country-rock-folk-blues singer-songwriter, whose deep, rich voice has also become more tensile with age, as an Aussie-associated tightness and nasality, times theatrical vibrato, now emerge, just to hold each other in check, damn near subliminally. It's notes-to-self-&-others (to whom it may concern), notches on the hills and valleys: initially going towards an unexpected, street corner, maybe diagonal to "Slow Train Coming", but she's too restless and sociable to stick with that (though even there, she's got the music to match Dylan's, stern-standards-wise). Overall, it's more like Wynonna and Petty's Heartbreakers meet in Stones country, on the wry side of bruising. Might not be quite up to her previous albums, but they set the bar very high, and this one grew on me pretty quickly (11 songs, just over 43 minutes: she always knows how to say it and move on). Still got the appeal of her debut, which I wrote about long ago in the Voice (new one's better produced, via experience and crowdfunding).


Speaking of considering how much classic etc rock makes it into mainstream country these days, and has for some time, guitar and drums provide most of the interest on Tim McGraw's Two Lanes of Freedom, although I do like all of the Cinemascopic windshield title track, including the bit about God watching (approvingly, sounds like) from "the skyblue ceiling", as the singer and his baby cruise the grand illusion, the nice warm Sunday sundae, anyway. Self-awareness at least keeps "The Book of John" from bathos: he knows how little can be preserved by the family pictures found in an almost-thrown-away "spiral-ring book", but he enjoys 'em anyway. He knows he's coming out of his "Mexicoma", and is very refreshed by it, thank you. Also like the "Sunshine of Your Love"-brushed "Truck Yeah", and the Stax-Volt x modern country "Let Me Love It Out of You", despite the title, which is also in the chorus, and still doesn't kill the vibe.
But jeez, most of it's bland rehash.


On The Band Perry's Pioneer, Kimberly P.  can't tote such generic ballads by herself; helps when guys' voices sprout as she belts the Bay City Rollers-on-Broadway-type stuff: radios appear, hand-claps too, theirs and mine. At leasr four or five of these  are keepers, and urge a tolerant re-consid of  a couple other babies' potential.


I hope reliable sources-endorsed 100 Proof is better than Kelli Pickler's current The Woman I Am, though this one does at least make me want to check the previous.  So far, mainly digging "A Little Bit Gypsy", which seems a little bit Bangles in the writing & vocals, with mainstream country pop's now nearly obligatory 70s arena rock guitar; "Buzzin' "; "Closer To Nowhere" ("Out where the stars get crowded, but we can get just as lost in your car in the driveway", or something to that effect); and "Someone Somewhere Tonight" (first steps, first kiss, everything else to be thankful for--but also, simultaneously, other someones getting last rites, trying to make it though the bottle tonight; living in prison, etc.) A candlelit boudoir arena ballad, risking buzzkill---but not getting out of prison may mean not getting run over by a truck, so count that too, She's so sweet, totally unconvincing as a badass. Well, the one about selling the ring her cheatin' fiance's still paying for could work, but goes nowhere past the first couple verses, like many hits, but in, this case, the chorus isn't strong enough to keep the static sparky. Yeah, "Bonnie and Clyde"--they're prob her matching malties!


Still wanna party with Sheryl Crow? Sure, and Feels Like Home does, but can't help it if her mind's more on serious stuff, like her kids. Which aren't a bring-down in themselves: maybe she should try a whole album of serious, or vitamize the lighter side with tasty covers and heavy Chevy levee friends. I say this as a  "friend," Sheryl, albeit one who's never actually spent money on any of your music---wait, I did buy Sheryl Crow & Friends' Live From Central Park, with for instance the Dixie Chicks and Keith Richards (among those pitching into "Tombstone Blues"). Talk about yr. guest shots, hint hint!   


And so we bid a fond, bittersweet, restless farewell to  all  these islands in the stream, these Albums---Other (About Half Good), with:
Alan Jackson: The Bluegrass Album---Got the pickers, and the vocal poise (more luster than most male singers of bluegrass, though he isn't a full-time bluegrass singer, which has its advantages and drawbacks), also some of the  right material, some of the final delivery; ditto James King, an esteemed bluegrass singer crossing over to non-grass country chestnuts on Three Chords And The Truth, who  maybe has more of a commanding delivery than Jackson's set highlights---but both seem, ultimately only as good as their songs: no transcendent performances or  truly charismatic personae----here, anyway. If Wayne Hancock, who got the spark and persona (says he knows he ultimately doomed, but wants to enjoy the) Ride, had pickers, soloists on level of Jackson's and King's? Still, his approach begs comparison w Hank Sr., songs not close enough to that kind of distinction---think if his band better, could bring out the kind of good times he's hearing, recalling, willing--those warm-sounding embers back in that hearth, way back thar---not so very far….(?)


Back to TOP TEN ALBUMS  for a while:


Jason Isbell's Here We Rest often relied on the words, and some live versions were even shakier, but on Southeastern, he's got his tuneful tightness back (playing a lot of the mostly acoustic instruments himself; the 400 Unit plug in on cue and on point, but don't get co-billing). Time to put the spotlight and the pressure back on himself--the voice was never a problem, which was a problem. No matter how wasted and/or woolgathering he got, could always release a few more of those high lonesome sweet bluesy Lowell George notes, and tell himself everything was still okay and not okay, in that alone-together way.
The words are better too, deep and horizontally active enough, back and forth in time and space--the richest lode is the opener, "Cover Me Up", with some kind of imaginative but not imaginary although certainly motorvatingly metaphorical invalid, with strong lungs, calling for "medical assistance, or a magnolia breeze", while he and significant other are riding a flood in a cold house "I ain't chopping no wood...hang up your wet dress" and get that cover workin'. This is also very tender-sounding, since the lonesome monster is now ready to face whatever reality may and will surely bring--whole album's known knowns wed to known unknowns: very family values, very commuting-community-minded, very country in its way (so this only looks like a Paste list, see?)





Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell: Old Yellow Moon


Theme set rat off, by "Hanging Up My Heart", which here especially stands for (conservation of time, senior citizen-style) hanging up my hang-ups, hanging my tears out to dry, screw my feelings if they get in the way (when I don't want 'em to). Good rhythm, especially but not exclusively serving up honky tonk shuffles like "Invitation To The Blues," chased with with "Black Caffeine" and "Bluebird Wine", for inst. (These offer no apology to "Chase The Feeling", about thrillseeking and headbanging vs. inescapable self-knowledge.(The only utterly resigned-sounding interlude is "Open Season On My Heart", and even that is about getting out of the house: "I hit the street, the fireworks start." "Spanish Dancer" brings a woman an unexpected encounter with shades of youth, incl. fear, self-awareness, self-consciousness and desire: a bouquet. But time really has passed, and she knows "he's just a man." Still--Spoiler Alert--she returns his gesture/overture in kind (what the hell). Also dig the way "When We Beautiful" opens and closes with "Guess you had to be there." And the way she can sooo sing along with or behind or ahead of the more restrained/limited yet expressive Rodney, while they they're never too far apart. They end up staring up and facing down the stars around that ol' yellow moon, as Harris gets as tremulous as she does in "When We Were Beautiful" and "Spanish Dancer"---which is okay; old age takes some effort, maybe especially when you're still young enough to feel the shiver of desire passing through again----but the touch of breathiness is worrisome. She's always had that clarity, that sharp edge around her misty tendencies--will she now condense into the folkie morning mouring dew? No, it's still too soon!


Leann Rimes: Spitfire


Re first, solstice-y singles from this, I said in 2012:
LeAnn Rimes, "Borrowed": Just out in mid-late December, with conflicted, sharply-focused desire ("I don't wanna give you back!") suddenly bumrushing  the now comparatively dutiful rue of her recent "What Have I Done." These things go back and forth.


This album is a roller coaster, linear thataway.  Oblique expressions sometimes (maybe the guy who at least at first was Borrowed is also the "worthless piece of shit", not bleeped, a little under-enunciated, though very last track, the price of love, making it through, they might be limping in each others arms, but keep walkin. Anxiety and rushes of excitement mix in some uptempo, the distended metaphor of "Bottle" (she marvels; does check in with her doctor, who marvels too, cos she's got a heart like a bottle as big as the world); past the Krauss & Tyminski--reinforced snow globe clarity and anguish of "Borrowed" and "What Have I Done", drummer Will Jordan is always on her tail and vice versa, rippling the ripeness to her rudeness when the time is right (it's always tight),  jittering as she talks sweetly (reasonably, then  a deft touch too blithely, toward Mariah. even Minnie Ripteron super-tweets) to The Other Woman (bouncier, modernized version of Terri Clark hangar clangor often enough, incl. sweating though seconds of delirium, disasters evidently glimpsed and averted)


Guy Clark: My Favorite Picture of You
Right off, "Cornmeal Waltz" is right on, even before his hallowed sense of word gets to display itself: the guitar picks the waltz out on a long walk, on as long a pier as possible before being reeled back in for the words, the balance of balance and release and other differences drawn together and wheeled around and through the music: title track of a moment and also something that goes on forever in the frame and the memento and the gaze and what will maybe outlast it, a thing in the real enough world, visible enough to others, whoever can see and hear it----illegals ad heroes and the lovelorn maiden stuck in a process if seem too fatalistic or tenuous, cos "Good Advice" incl "preaching between the lines" so hard to take, and again let the realness be, respect the people in whatever place they're really in, because he's one of 'em resisting the way things are, while finding affirmation and some release in it, yet the tension of that, so the waltzer back again with lights in his fingers, hands in his pockets, waltz for the woman lying beside him and her picture on the wall when she's gone, a waltz for the rodeo riding him, a waltz for the walls and/or the waltz itself, the way it's sung(this is the only cover, by Lyle Lovett, but fits perfectly, with all these collabs; the co-authors often also playing and/or singing). He always craves a higher inspiration (and needs it, esp. several tracks which decay into collections of manners, but he's known to keep tweaking for live renditions); one with wings "no strings, even better", the muse down the hall calling, "Hey, let's get high", cos he can't ever abandon the literalness as a starting point (also maybe the weed), escape maybe even into the accomplished failure which he isn't, as far as we can tell, re "I'll Show Me", then again earth to guy: "some go to Heaven, some go to Hell, Sis Draper went to Arkansas", and that's all he wrote, aide from way she was poisoned by a waitress, jealous of the way Sis's fiddle struck  the waitresses' man, and Sis's guitar player Sue wept for her: so maybe hate and love (Sis and/or Sue in love? Possibility of irony, re the jealous wife), any way the enduring traces,  the realness again. Which is fuel, at whatever cost, for the cool groove and understated fervor of the title track, built around an ancient snapshot: just the love and pride of his life, so pissed at him (and Townes).



Brandy Clark's "Hungover", with her steady rise through the eternal shade of her hubby's sub-Easter Island headload (no matter how many steps she climbs, still got to mind the gravity, feel the pull)(she still cares; can't tell him to buzz off or get out of the way, even). That's the 12 Stories track that keeps finding its way to replay in my own head, but still not sure about the album as a whole. (Several--prob a majority/plurality--of keepers, duh, but so far she and Monroe and Musgraves seem more effective as team players--co-writers and demo/live mini-set singers--than on their own whole solo studio albums. I'll keep listening, though).
After more listening:
She says in comments on tracks that crazy women also make crazy men (as well as vice versa)so why not add  the former to the latter ? Would fit with the Great Chain of Determinism and dichotomies which make 12 Stories not quite the sum of its fairly often individually effective tracks. Overall, gets predictable, convenient to the working method and template, beat chart.  Listen some more. (I did, then wrote this:) Mainly when verses seem superfluous to very obvious choruses. But dichotomy and high-concept Jesus or Lotto thing does get good vividness of melancholy and hope when goes to convenience store, sees all those numbers sold, and "six little numbers" could change ever'thang, but o little naive one, but still (somebody still needs to write one about  curious adventures of a winner, at Lotto or anything, anything) Liked "Get High" right away for the moment to moment, and she goes through the day, not static verses.  Also the range of activities in contrast to his steady-state of being "Hungover" (made more vivid by and in empathy with gen overcast, gravitational world of 12 Stories or Songs) Also like how "the sun's still risin; tho the curtins are closed" (get exact) confirms/follows what's happening in the music, also "Illegitimate Children"  drop in w perfect timing, though already warned by that title (funny, and vs. cheesey-trad trend thus far, takes the guilt pays for desire thing to wicked)"Stripes" good too, a therapeutic daydream and she's not too Serious for fiesty gal country pop. Does keep the reverie swirling around the verge of "Somewhere In The Corner"(?), like doesn't quite own "Heaven", though somebody could---again, she ultimately seems most valuable as a team player, not a potential star performer, or maybe even showrunner? Think the set  mostly works, if I can accept her limitations, including those self-imposed? JJ Cale said he considered his own albums as demos, bait for radio stars---but that frankness may have freed him up, as a laidback groovester---her songs aren't built like that. She's into the day-to-day, life-to-life saga, side by side, but with story arcs too.  Desire always a threatening pull/sign of weakness: why? Again, the template, control freak, the writer(s)' convenience more than searching insight? Still I wonder. Wouldn't necessarily be as noticable, let alone distracting, if she and her team were alternated
with other teams, on a a canny cover/co-write star's garden of terse verse.


Bryan and the Haggards ft Dr. Eugene Chadbourne----Merles Just Want To Have Fun:
Some tracks are too long and/or cluttered w generic duck calls in the rain gutters, but even the skronkiest moments  tend to tap something in Merle's songs that's itching to come out, as Barney Fife splutterlumination or rolling, sometimes comfortably unbuttoned hobo-working man grooves; often both (it's a fam'ly affair). The horns find the tunes soon enough, Dr. Chad's ready, the singer knows all the words , and  a few more, maybe (but not quite sure; did the guy who takes a lot of pride in what he is originally say, "occupy the square"? Today's Merle might say it, and always  would have agreed that everybody should be occupied, with work, for instance.) By the end of this set, I wouldn't have been surprised if he showed up, and maybe he does when they play live (though what he might do then is anybody's guess, characteristically enough).


I miss Buck on The Buckaroos Play Buck and Merle, but most of the Merle is just right, incl. tail-wagging inclinations which brush aside any objections to just how  sassy some previously sad songs can go (see prev. "unbuttoned").


Stayed all morning, stayed a little longer with the fleet box branded  Buck 'Em: The Music of Buck Owens (1955-1961). Can def see what the Beatles seem to have learned from him (and maybe even vice versa--ditto the Everlys?) also rec to fans of buckskin Neil Young, Gram Parsons, Dwight Yoakam of course. What I didn't expect, aside from his own approach to rockabilly, which sounds like no one else I can think of, is his own apparent influence, the Louvin Brothers---even aside from overdubbing, or maybe singing with Don Rich or somebody, he can go it alone, go from Charlie L.'s legato tenor to Ira's "boy alto" (or damn near) and back (and forth), but with his own droll soul, while exploiting sentiment and accent: stretching, bending, adding syllables, leaning out from the beat. There's at least one---blanking on the title, after listening to 50 tracks at one sitting---where he chortles and complains like uptempo Hank Williams on the verses, yelps like the Louvins on the chorus. (Mostly: mono singles, with some alt versions, punctuated by a few live shots, and a couple of great instrumentals: "Buck's Polka", which doesn't bother with accordions or fiddles, and "Buckaroo", kissin' cousin to Lennon-McCartney's "I Feel Fine", which doesn't bother with feedback---more like these, please!) I'd probably just keep 35-40 out of 50, but hey.


Townes Van Zandt's Sunshine Boy collects out-takes, including  cogent covers I haven't known him to do, and previously issued tracks, here unadorned with the kind of production touches which finish off The Late Great Townes Van Zandt just right (or any other, possibly more objectionable flash and filigree elsewhere ).  Romantic, visionary, hallucinating, observational, conjectural, conjugal, unapologetically stark, suave, droll---all professional faces West are equally arresting, when you take some TVZ, and vice-versa. (Guy Clark to T. : "Tell 'em how you real-ly feel.")


Shaver's Jewels are a family affair, and though blood is still thicker than mud, good thing late son Eddy's electric slide 'n' pick times paw Billy Joe's honky-pop sense can shear and veer through the druggy detour that will claim the younger (they sing about it, with BJ busting the woman who took E. one shot over the line), and the equally inertial tendencies of  relatively ex-desperado old dude's  righteously flashlit path. Does not preclude or anomalize a zingy, finger-salute to Amarillo, or the immortal "I been to Georgia on a fast train honey, I wasn't born no yesterday/I got a good Christian raisin' and a Eighth Grade eddjycation and I ain't gon'/Be treated thisaway."


 For a while, Wanda Jackson's  b-sides seemed  like they might drop  The Complete Capitol Singles into the Other (About Half Good) pen, but they gradually go from maudlin country apologies for being an A-side rockabilly-tonk gal, to moody, full-bodied brooding, while the A-sides are  usually A-list treats---more than maybe any female, other than Janis Martin,  truly rockabillied, and few enough males did, for sure.
Bye-bye Reissues! Time to get real gone for a change:


Carrie Rodriguez---Give Me All You Got:  I'm mainly familiar w her live, as duet vocalist/multi-instrumentalist w Chip Taylor, on her own Live in Louisville, and backing Jeff Bridges on Austin City Limits (good set, might still be on the ACL site or YouTube). This works, track by track, but sometimes a bit slow for me--she always seeks some cool distance from/for perspective on emotional chaos, even says "I gotta get a little bit bored/To get to the core", in "Brooklyn", a non-boring song about what she seems to consider a good ol' boring place. Its wry turns of phrases and tempo suggest a friend who dances around the core, and checks in for confidential updates: allusive, but I get the drift pretty quick. This approach also works well on the advance single, "Lake Harriet", a last-second add my 2012 Singles: it's a rueful hop-skip, like Prine in good folk-pop mode (she doesn't sing too much like Prine at all, which is more than okay by me). Likewise the other one she wrote without collabs, "Whiskey Is Thicker Than Blood", but the slower ones are growing on me too, I think (shoulda put the headphones on sooner). The first time I checked, she made me make time for the whole thing, unexpectedly,which says something, even for the slower ones.


Various Artists-----Divided & United: Songs of the Civil War:
Two discs, 32 tracks,  umpteen solo/duo/trio artists/ fuller bands, five years in the making----but there's no time or need for overtures and such: the deeply weird  historical context  continuesly  provides its own orchestrations. Early one morning, a woman tells her husband, "Take your guns and go, dear John, take your gun and go/For Ruth can drive the ox, Dear John, and I can work the hoe." She sounds young (by modern measure), wide-eyed, watchful, down to earth, a little dry: maybe with the effort of  making the moment just right, and of what's  already been required, every day in peacetime.. She lists a few farm concerns, just enough to reassure him she's well aware; she lets her sense of detail delve into more intimate, still practical matters: " The Army's short of blankets, John, then take this heavy pair/I spun and wove them when a girl/And worked them with great care/A rose in every corner, John, and here's my name you see."  She pulls back from this most personal line----the sheet music I've seen even ends it with an exclamation point, but Loretta Lynn steadies herself even more than before, and continues just as lovingly...yet this is a ceremony,  after all.


H. T. Merrill's 1862 original is as well thought-out, as simple and subtle as Lynn's own best writing. True,  one verse she leaves out is a tad more blatantly proprogandistc than the rest: here, the good wife's reassurances include the point that she isn't just "supporting his decision," as we say now, because her grandfather told her about fighting at Bunker Hill, and, still in character, she acknowledges the cost, but wouldn't want to think of "Monmouth blood"  to have been shed in vain, if the War doesn't happen. Lynn could pull it off, even with the song's sole use of the b-word; these people aren't sissies. But no need: her strength is right there already.


The same kind of excision happens in the second track, which seems abruptly to be looking back across some significant time: maybe from the viewpoint of John, or someone very much like him, since  his "Lorena" sounds not  that far from Loretta,  the way Del McCoury sings. McCoury's cadence, suggesting but slower than his bluegrass usual, with any jauntiness a bit stealthy now, like he might be on patrol, or just between engagents, as he notes the weather,  detours with a lost love,  then turns from memory's  twilight  peaks:"I'll not call up their shadowy forms/I'll say to them lost years, 'Sleep on! Nor heed life's pelting storms."  The brave traveller continues on his way.
He doesn't bother with a perfectly decent verse about how "stern duty" got in the way---again, that might seem too much like propraganda, which would really stick out: unlike the first track, this song has no obvious connection to war.  McCoury does drop a clue  to the song's actual backstory (In 1856, lyricist Henry Webster recounted a relationship broken up by his sweetheart's older brother, who wouldn't have her marrying a common preacher), when he mentions that they "loved more than we dared ever tell," and speculates, just before his great resolution, about hopes that "might have prospered well"---and the money-class association---"prospered", get it?--- could have sharpened any more rah-rah "romantic" connections to said duty.


This whole dropped verse could be justified artistically, because it comes after the splendid "Sleep on!" crossroads,  demonstrating how courage and taking the pledge will only get you so far, at a time anyway. But the same voice that has him turning back to her is answered by the chords of memory, "that thrill and tremble in regret." The chimes of whatever freedom he's got now, to look back, forward and sideways, have more of the thrill, the wonder that keeps coming through the regret, the cost of it all (at first, I thought this sounded like a fairly recent  Dylan song, maybe with more adaptation or at least study of Confederate poet Henry Timrod----but it's really the way McCoury suddenly stops at, sometimes seizes on certain syllables)(The sheet music even follows  the inspirational last line's pointing to "there" with "up there".). With this high-enlightened-lonesome sound (nncl. spare, alert back-up), there's no need for more words. Not even from the other dumped verse, not even  "the hopes that could not last, Lorena/They lived, but only lived to cheat"? Na, there's enough bitterness, which he's put behind him of course, but not too far. I do wonder if those cheatin' hopes didn't help to make this song popular in the  Wartime South, as several sources indicate. It got around the North too.


Trusting the listener and the context can lead to some bumps you can't seize on, or just might not bother with,  like when McCoury rides on, and Sam Amidon pops up, warbling "Wildwood Flower."  Well now, why not  get a little more random; how 'bout "Orange Blossom Special"? "Proud Mary?" "Salty Dog?" That 'un might fit, and we do  meet up with  several  rowdy fighting songs , seemingly uncut and no more lurid than the scars of "Two Soldiers" and "Two Brothers." Vince Gill's characterisically tear-stained "Dear Old Flag" encounters "Farewell. Mother" and its Johnny Reb parody, "Just Before The Battle, Mother", as Dirk Hamilton and Steve Earle growl and prowl around each other.


Taj Mahal delivers, uh, "Down By The Riverside", the Carolina Chocolate Drops make sure "Day of Liberty" is at least as much story as celebration, but that's it for the African-American input, as far as I can tell. Were Otis Taylor, Matana Roberts, maybe Cassandra Wilson,  James Blood Ulmer approached----? Oh well, with this kind of project (multi-multi-artist, not to mention the subject matter), who knows who might have declined, or no-showed.


Disc I does end with a revel on the plantation, after the master's fled (having marched around, practicing probably too late to enlist and/or surrender, and having gotten "so tan, they might think he's contraband!"). The cruel overseer's all locked up, with the key down the well. Pokey LeFarge's rendition of "Kingdom Come" is a dream of a (real) minstrel song----


---which Spotify slides right into the stare of Jamey Johnson's "Rebel Soldier." Lee Ann Womack moves the camera back in "Legend of The Rebel Soldier," reporting the prisoner's dying request to return to the Southland. The aftershock of Johnson's track passes through this one.
Welcome to Disc 2, where the War settles in, spreads out, finds no more parties to crash  (unless you count "Down By The Riverside"), though it plugs into several secluded outlets, across various time zones. Joe Henry gently serenades  "Aura Lee," without scaring away  her eerie aura; ditto the friendly near-ghost of Cowboy Jack Clement, who reassures his "Beautful Dreamer" (no surprise, after this, to read that he hosted a guitar-pull very near check-out time). That's it---unless Spotify  seamlessly loops you into bonus plays of "Lorena."


There must be some kind of amnesty, but Ashley Monroe's Divided & United...offering is its own punishment, hopefully for her, on further listening, as it already is for me, in unbidden mental replay: she groans in an unattractive wooden coffin, a million miles below Dylan's own recently unearthed version of "Pretty Saro."  Come to think of it, maybe that's valid,  cos war is hell and art is castor oil. according to some, or must be taken that way if that's the way it comes: art over all, and mixing orange juice with the oil won't help, my father testified. Monroe always did require some adjustment of the headbox: "Sometimes I think I'm a 90-year-old man in the exterior of a 26-year-old female," she recently told Garrison Kellior on "Prairie Home Companion." Kellior: "Uh...well...while we're...considering that, could we have another song--? " He didn't jump into one of his dread duets, so good for her. Also, she's recently married a  young baseball player, who looks just like a baseball player, albeit in a suit (nice one, AM). Back to the beginning, from I Love Music's Rolling Country:


New in town: Ashley Monroe, small, intense, blonde; looks and sounds in there between needy McReady and latterday Womack. T-R-O-U-B-L-E.
don, Wednesday, 29 March 2006 17:12 (6 years ago) Permalink
Yeah, I really like the single, "Satisfied." More demure than Miranda, with a sweet voice that reminds me of Kasey Chambers, but she doesn't play the little girl card too hard. She's, what, 19? I hope the single gets a push, as country radio hasn't been happening for me of late. Every song I like seems to be from last year or the year before.
Roy Kasten (Roy Kasten), Wednesday, 29 March 2006 18:13 (6 years ago) Permalink
don -- cute lil ashley monroe came into the office yesterday. has the sharp nuance of dolly. she's 19 and i really wanted to hate her but could not.
katie, a princess (katie, a princess), Thursday, 6 April 2006 18:58 (6 years ago) Permalink
Ashley Monroe "I Don't Wanna Be," first track on her album Satisfied. Strong vibrant accent, maybe Kentucky or Tennessee (not that I know shit about accents.) The voice is strong, the slide guitar is strong. The lyrics are a bit incongruous in relation to the voice: a woman without a man telling us that for all the time men can be disappointing and fail to mow the lawn or take out the garbage, she'd rather be with a man than be without. My one-song first impression is that this woman could be due Lee Ann Womack–size respect, though I'd like more interesting lyrics.
Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Thursday, 6 April 2006 20:43 (6 years ago) Permalink


chuck what say you of ashley?
the lyrics weren't cringe-worthy but they did make me tilt my head into the upright and locked "huh" position considering she's 19 and she did the majority of the writing for this album when she was 17 (and sometimes younger). i guess that's a popular ageist complaint, but at the same time its hard for me to invest in her sincerity in lovers lost, etc. when she's my lil cousin's age. and i'm a dour old lady at the age of 24!
katie, a princess (katie, a princess), Friday, 7 April 2006 13:19 (6 years ago) Permalink
>chuck what say you of ashley?<
first impression (i.e., two and a half songs in to her album)? she sounds kinda slow and lacks bounce, and i'd take many of the unknown cdbaby acts on this thread over her easy. also, i think it's rather odd that she says desperate housewives both complain about their husbands no longer mowing lawn AND that the grass is always greener on the other side. this implies that lawnmowing increases green-ness, which is certainly not always the case. (my opinion may well change, though.)
xhuxk, Friday, 7 April 2006 18:15 (6 years ago) Permalink
Album seems to finally wake up a little from its torpor toward the three-quarters mark (i.e., track #8, the song where the guy's calling her from san jose or whatever's happening -- though the one after that, where she does the eddie rabbit talking blues things and gets wacky like a shania for ONE WHOLE SECOND, isn't really working for me despite being not slow, maybe not even midtempo), but I gotta say there's something tastefully teacher's pettish about ashley that's bugging me. she's hitting me like a nostalgia act, and not in a very fun way. she needs leann womack's producer or something (unless she already has her; I didn't check). I dunno, probably she'll click eventually, that's how these things work. Right now, though, she's honestly having trouble holding my attention. (But yeah, I can imagine the Good Taste Brigade loving her. Which is maybe why I'm resisting.)
xhuxk, Friday, 7 April 2006 18:44 (6 years ago) Permalink
Okay, Ashley: funny how Black Sage, those lovable no-budget back room locals, pick up the tempo, while Monroe's moneyed mentors  produce Nashville tracks whut don't know how to sustain initial interest---so many ballads, so much time. The neediness sounds convincing enough. Reading the bio after listening, re what "she still sees as an idyllic life," before her father suddenly died when she was 11 ("often the age of puberty for today's youth", says Dr Joyce Brothers), and how her family went "into freefall" after that, and "with few friends among often callous classmates," how she could look so hungrily at taken-for-granted, supposedly sweet deals of ungrateful married women. And covering Kasey Chambers' "Pony," with come-hither-when-I'm-legal drawlpretty much to the tune of Peggy Lee's "Fever"), before stalking the guy (who has a grown woman, way ahead of her)to verses that sound like Neil's "Old Man," before reaching out, falling short, trailing with a few more notes anyway, in "Satisfied."(But in between she's still sounding young and damaged, she's been "Used, passed around")Then she does find a guy! Who's as little ol' as she is, and "That's Why We Call Each Other Baby," goo-goo--but he's--Dwight Yoakam, old, bald, and a dirt sandwich (this last according to Sharon Stone). Oh man. Lucinda's "It's Over" is faster, but needs some false stops or something to go with it's thing about she can't let go. Not enough titles provided so far, but there's one that is faster and works like that should: a Terri Clark-type blowing up her self-image of poor poor pitiful me like Harry Smith's headlines, til it's lying in the street, underneath a white sheet (do a video of that). And she's in the back of "Hank's Cadillac," making him drink his coffee black, cos you just gotta make that next show, be fair to the folks, but it's not working, she's clutching his little skinny carcass to her bosom, and--oh god,maybe this thing will brainwash me, but right now it's dropping most of these High Concepts. At least "Hank's Cadillac" has some narrative. The one that sounds like it's intended to be the followup to "Satisfied" makes the usual sargasso seizure irrelevent, cos (as with "Satisfied") the chorus sounds so nice, I don't need to go anywhere else.
don, Friday, 7 April 2006 21:58 (6 years ago) Permalink
And speaking of so much time, it ain't out til June 27. So maybe it will brainwash me by then.(Thaat's why Country Majors release things so slowwly, now I get it...)
don, Friday, 7 April 2006 22:02 (6 years ago) Permalink


It did not come out then, but remained in biz limbo for quite a while, though she explored other possibilities, with some results posted here, incl. her MySpace: for instance, she worked with Brendan Benson, which may have led to his fellow Raconteur Jack White's production of Monroe and Ricky Skaggs/ Raconteurs' cover, backed by  some Raconteurs/Greenhornes. She also got into the co-writes, which led to the Pistol Annies, more about whom in a minute, but now we have to deal with her second solo album, the first with a sane amount of artistic control and company support:


Ashley Monroe: Like A Rose
Can see how xgau wandered into the weeds with this'un, mumbling about co-writes. There is something maybe a little mediated, a tad distanced, somewhut writerly 'bout it, allowing, sometimes inviting more contemplation or wandering than putting actual sonic experience up front. The opening title track, (crisply co-written with Guy Clark) does this well, writing-wise: she's sitting in a diner, musing over sad beginnings, but instead of just confirming all this with a sad present tense, she comes out of it all "like a rose"--not smelling like, nothing so triumphant, but we're quietly invited to consider: nice smell, purty flower, goes away in the winter (or does it? see Emmylou's Roses In The Snow), got thorns, can be cut, have its petals scattered, or presented in very meaningful ways, like with dung coating, aflame etc. Very cool, although the music melts away. "Two Weeks Late" and "Weed Not Roses" come off more like reviewer-bait, or too conceptual here, although the trad update does work for "You Ain't Dolly/You Ain't Porter." Hell, I'm carping: most of the tracks do grab me right off, they just don't take me that much further--although "Used" does, as she starts rushing the beat and/or cramming more words in: she's used, sure, but take a chance on her baby, some things get better with--don't call it age, just listen to her saga. "The Morning After" is the one to reach a peak early and keep me there, as her voice hovers--yeah, I'm carping; most of it's good, but she needs more than seven tracks (out of a grand total nine, after all these years)  to wow me,  when it's *these* seven tracks, *this*  overall so very tastefully, reasonably, professionally calculated. Not that I should expect a 26-year-old, wised-up veteran to channel the prodigious ghost town waif-with-questor/stalker-tendencies of the ironically titled Satisfied. But for all its suit-imposed stumbling blocks, that still seems like a more compelling set, so far. Although I do like most of this (which will prob grow on me). and looking fwd to whatever she brings to the new Pistol Annies. Also, she's a way more dependable writer than Musgraves (gasp!).
"Like A Rose": we're invited to fill in the blanks, that is. Who does this? Miles Davis etc, but who now. So, a cautious* but whole-hearted "Thanks, Ashley." Maybe we'll get even  more such  from this oracle whose huge warm eyes now sport painted lampshades, keeping stoic watch across the fields.


Incorporation of said paint might also have something to do with "Being Pretty Ain't Pretty", one of those Pistol Annies Annie Up songs with unusual themes. Sure, there have been some some songs, like Ani DiFranco's "Not One of Those Pretty Girls," and more books, like The Beauty Trap, and outbursts on every side of the screen, even in these "post-feminist" times, but I can't think of  many other musical examples, in any genre (oh yeah: Ani, India.Arie, years and years ago). There must be others, but not very often.
"Dear Sobriety" ia a seemingly new kind of cheatin' confessional---but does it have to be addressed to "Sobriety"? Reminds me of Fogerty saying that when he changed "Somewhere dowon the road" to "The old man down the road", the whole song came into much stronger focus for him.
"Don't Talk About Him, Tina" is just about perfect, especially because the singer, Tina's friend gets more anxious than confident with the memes, maybe infectiously so, while trying to bolster Tina's courage and maybe her own) with drink may well have the opposite effect--ditto the title refrain, which could be like "Do not think of a purple cow", but is still good advice, cos I'd be trying to figure out how to take my leave as gently as possible, while keeping an eye out for her irate ex, if I met her and she was talking that heartbreak stuff, however philosophical(ly obsess, as these things tend to sound, too soon after)Ends in suspense!
"Trading One Heartbreak For Another"--dreading her son's pain and blame for the breakup--how many women have gone through this, why have I never heard a song about it---could nevertheless just seem like a premise for a TV screenplay, if not for the delivery--like Frank said about that xp solo Lambert track. This 'un achieves what one Music Row writer described as a country ideal of "dramatic stasis." Which sounds like a contradiction in terms, 'til you find your life floating in a shotglass, stuck inside a mobile or Mobile. (Patterson Hood's tried for this effect, but doesn't always use his def-sub-Annies vocal limitations cannily).
"Loved By A Workin' Man", though atypically conventional as written, is also strikingly completed by its delivery: muscular music, confident vocals---so not really uncharacteristic, 'cos this lawwng drink o' refreshment's what they're always looking for, despite the other stuff.



*My enthusiasm and hopes for Kacey Musgraves are even more guarded (than for Monroe, and maybe even Brandy Clark), maybe because I've heard less of her stuff (though may be some I like,  performed by other artists, which she co-wrote, unknown to me). And because she irritated me last year, in 2012 Singles Comments:
Kacey Musgraves, "Merry-Go-Round" : "If you don't have two kids by 21, you're done." The first line is the best, then conformity and distraction go down the hill, to fetch a point made over and over. The small town in the video looks pretty good when it's gliding by, reminding me of my Granny's town, with an actual walk-in movie theater, where I used to sit through all-day Western fests. Don't remember a frame, but now the place is an arts center: walk by and hear kids strumming, warbling, to karaoke and Garageband beats. Getting ready for talent shows, reality shows maybe, and one of these days, some of them  just might want to be the next Kacey Musgraves. But if so, they're less likely to be fired up by this droning, heard-it-all, mostly we-meaning-yall "confessional", than,  for instance, whatever she may do with "Undermine," which is very fine, when serving as the creative breakthrough for TV's  young and restless Nashville pop-country starlet Juliette Barnes, AKA  Hayden Panettiere.



Kacey Musgraves: Same Trailer, Different Park


It's never gonna thrill me, might get a little further into art appreciation though. Can hear why Ann Powers mentions it in terms of novelists like Ellen Gilchrist, also bout Willie as early hero, so this is also kinda organized like his Phases And Stages. There, Side One was how the woman experiences the break-up, and its aftermath; Side Two was her man's experience. Here, she mopes and sometimes hopes, all around a nowhere/everywhere town (full of drained cliches, although straggly advance single "Merry-Go-Round" does work better in album context), 'til finally takes off for Side Two (with appropriate wisecracks from a blessedly other, though still cliche character's POV, in "Blowin' Smoke"), thence to mope and hope in a bigger town, and eventually, actually get pissed off enough to crank it up in "Step Off", and keep some of that energy to burn in "Keep It To Yourself" (would pick this as a single). Said energy even sparks "Straight As An Arrow", even though it's way into her aphoristic tendency--again re the Nelson thing, ditto, the "conversational" delivery Powers mentions, but usually minus the deftness of Nelson's own simple-subtle turns, as writer and vocalist (yeah, he's been doing this stuff a long time, but she put out her first CD Baby  album when she was 12-----a decade ago, right?) And the song seems even better, or even more okay, when its rallying of the troops, especially incl herself, leads to "It Is What It Is"--"'til it ain't, then it's gone". Which, for the narrator, is the spark of a crucial, hard-won insight: acceptance of small potatoes is actually acceptable, if you also accept that small potatoes will soon be gone-- and that's part of their appeal. ditto for some one-night stands, like this 'un, which inspires her most appealing singing. So, despite how good she is at her best,  I'm cautiously optimistic about her, as she would approve, apparently, hopefully. But don't turn up your nose at vocal support and  and even more co-writes, KM, unless you get offers from Mindy Smith or Kacey Chambers, speaking of reflexive/anemic etc.



Todd Snider: Time Itself: The Songs of Jerry Jeff Walker
 Starts out calmly reciting parents' warnings about going nowhere with that no-count guitar, and then musically refutes them, not with a merry axe, but a genially robust honky tonk/cathouse piano, which he can well afford to hire. In the same sociable way, he gives an anti-pity party for his brand new ex, advising her to get real about always picking men (pickers or not) who are bound to leave soon. It doesn't come off like sexist self-justifcation here, because he seems disarmingly evenhanded about it, and because I had to admit I was picking women who were bound to leave---once I did that, and learned to pick women who knew they were picking men like that: cool---back in the day, anyway, and these are, of course, back-in-the-day songs. Also, other ditties extend candor to his own reckless tendencies,  which incl., sometimes, candor itself,  as well as tomcatting, substance abuse, and even(!) musical slacking, which didn't always need pointing out in Walker's original tracks, but as he reminded us, "Just be glad you don't have to hear/The take after this." Not too much reliance on nudge-nudge-wink-wink in the delivery of Snider's own tightly loose/loosely tight crew, although "Sangria Wine" should not be 4'50", and there are few takes/song selections I could do without. But overall, pretty good.


Singles sandbar


Bryant seems like a romantic bastard, eh---and/or smart enough to know which side his beef gets the mustard on--guess some Southern boys really do learn to say "Thank you Ma'am" to Grace---judging by how truly fervent he sounds marching to "That's My Kind of Night" and getting (somewhut ride my prOny imagery at times but still sincerely) thrilled to see her drinking that "Beer In The Headlights", and gosh she can "Crash My Party" anytime, never mind another night with the boys. These are all a little too long for me, but they're not for me (anyway I'll listen more).


Lee Brice! "Ain't no party like the pre-party, And after the party is the after-party" is a true sing-along chorus, I have to give it up to that! Very cool range-wise to see that "Parking Lot Party" is only another song away from "I Drive Your Truck," a true fallen-bro (or maybe fallen Dad?) anthem, also very good to sing along to, for my own imaginary (much-missed) bro. The one in between is "Don't Believe Everything You Think," which is certainly good advice, even if the song itself is a corny how I met yore etc.


(Florida-Georgia, whom I didn't feel motivated enough to classify at all, do have this"Cruise [Remix"], which is fly enough when Nelly takes over, though I'm not thrilled by F-G's own autotuned Mac and cheese. Sarah Buxton's on another track eh, I'll check 'em all, at some point?)


Electro Shine is masterminded by Big Kenny and Chebacca---my faves are the remix of Big & Rich's "Born Again", ft. Bon Jovi; the long and otherwise uncensored version of Electro Shine's own "Dance Upon The Solid Ground"; and especially their "Electro Country Shine", ft. Big K, Chebacca, Megan Mullins and Dave Stewart---really has a sensuous starshine groove, enough to remind me of "Sweet Dreams Are Made of This"(has any country artist covered that?)


You are now exiting Singles sandbar (y'all come back now)



Running out of time at last, but should mention The Mavericks' rousing In Time, which blasts through categories like "reunion album," "NPR bait," and even "Cuban-American country band from Miami," though it makes fuel of all that, in a calmly committed creative breakthrough, past what seemed to be the very last minute. The country music of it seems Southwestern: border music, with a nod of the stetson to Orbison, Fender and their inspirations; arcs and highest notes each held, eyes and guitars straight ahead, while the Cuban comes from horns, often enough, in rippling sunbursts, brass shadows and copper lights. With or without a consort of horns: the steadiness of black and white Caddys and Mercs, incl air-conditioned carapace workspaces and top-down JFK specials, all clocking the horizon,  be it wide-open or densely occupied, though Raul Malo must at times get out and almost stop the show by sinking patent leather cowboy talons in the pavement (not digging too deep into roots; you learn not to do that in Miami), when his wails require such a route all the way back down through the  Caribbean, the Iberian Peninsula, North Africa and points East---to wherever the Mavericks are being Maverick-y right this minute, be it even cruising Arizona or DC with McCain, Manhattan with Palin,  or back with the Seminoles,  amid the greenery outdoors and in (casino tables), a la those sustaining early gigs: they're testifying. And serenading whomever it may concern. Rec'd  also to fans of The Band, Los Lobos, Marty Robbins, Irakere, and the David Murray Cuban Ensemble (for instance)(which reminds me of the publicist who said he couldn't place coverage of a Mexican/Chicano band with Los Lobos input with one bravely indie publication because the editor said it wasn't "American Music" enough----should really listen to the song of that name).


Also reminds me that I just read of input from members of Shakira's band on Stampede, the debut album by Kandia Crazy Horse, which I first heard of way too late for Top Ten consideration (thank goodness; enough of the lifeboat triage). Don't know where those guys (and gals?) are from but the association with Shakira---the Columbian-Lebanese belly-dance prodigy with the soccer-stadium rocking ballads, in warmly urgent vibrato which an early singing teacher compared to that of a goat, phrasing English with no strain and plenty of hard Appalachian "r"s---is another pleasantly passing glint in a dipper, to trace the constellations made by the year-round summer lightning of KCH. Sure, Shakira's band, why not; slip 'em on into this Sunbelt range---from dusty roads to Dusty In Memphis-peripheral measures of earth, skyline and sky  to  two-lane  blacktop prairies and L.A. paisley soundproofing, where you might feel the smoke on the cymbals---the parade that fades around her clear, unpretentious, never word-shy, tuneful hover. The pen-pusher (previously known only as a robustly formidable music writer/editor, without whom some of my better stuff would have not been written, and good checks would not have gone through) sounds like she's been singing all her life, and maybe she has, just waiting 'til she, like Shakira, knows the right moment to invade our space with her own morning-after blend. The atmospherics might sometimes need just a bit more theatrical projection, but each track has its own shape, its own chapter in the narrative, as declared and implied.


Such evocative subtlety and roadmap savvy also balance and propell Patty Griffin's masterful American Kid, navigating through downhome profusion (backwoods  and backroom ruminations, requisite parties that suddenly must be left), open-air, nocturnal encounters with quiet beauty and loss, snappy snapshots and speculative scenes from her late father's life. Silver Bell, recorded with a 2000 release in mind, incl. originals beautifully covered by the Dixie Chicks, and the  previously mentioned title song rings curvy changes for Maines' own Mother. Otherwise, it's mostly, um, art-rock, for lack of a better term: not the kind of rock constituting so much country these days, mainstream or indie. It's always beautifully tuned and performed, sometimes semi-cryptically/quirkily worded (not like this).  don allred
PS! Say what! So uncomplicated it bout slipped my mind: 
Maggie Rose's Cut To Impress  is  no-b.s,, spirited, been-around-the-block fresh air. Better getcha some air.












 

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