The Freelance Mentalists.
Saturday, March 24, 2018
  Can't Stop Shakin' Pt. 1: Nashville Scene 2017 Ballot & Comments

Don Allred's ballot, comments----


(just in the order they come to mind)

1. Lee Ann Womack: The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone (ATO)

2. Whitney Rose: Rule 62 (Six Shooter/Thirty Tigers)

3. Rodney Crowell: Close Ties (New West)

4. Amanda Anne Platt/Honeycutters: S/T (Organic/Crossroads)

5. Margo Price: All American Made (Third Man)

6. Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer: Not Dark Yet (Thirty Tigers/Silver Cross)

7. Caroline Spence: Spades and Roses (Tone Tree)

8. John Moreland:  Big Bad Luv (4AD)

9. Willie Nelson: God’s Problem Child (Legacy)
10. Jon Langford’s Four Lost Souls: S/T (Bloodshot)

1.  Various Artists:  American Epic: The Best of Country (Lo-Max/Third Man/Columbia/Legacy)
2. Becky Warren: War Surplus (Deluxe Edition)(self-released, I think)
3.Various: Stax Country (Craft/Concord)

1. Willie Nelson
2. Rodney Crowell
3. John Moreland

1. Lee Ann Womack
2. Whitney Rose
3. Margo Price


1. Willie Nelson
2. Margo Price
3. Rodney Crowell
(and their collaborators)


1. Margo Price & the Price Tags
2. Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters
3. Willie Nelson, Lukas Nelson, Micah Nelson


1. Alex Williams
2. Carly Pearce
3. Colter Wall


1. Willie Nelson
2. Jon Langford’s Four Lost Souls
3. Lee Ann Womack
Comments after the following: ******************************************************************
Imaginary categories:
(They Came To And/Or From Nashville  (Pop, Country-Related??):
Nicole Atkins: Goodnight Rhonda Lee, Walker Hayes, Boom, Kelsea Ballerini

Hon. Mention:  Willie Nelson: Willie’s Stash Vol. 2: Willie and the Boys, Alex Williams: Better Than Myself, Carly Pearce: Every Little Thing, Lorrie Morgan & Pam Tillis: Come Lonely and Come Lost, Whitney Rose: South Texas Suite, Lindi Ortega: Til The Goin’ Gets Gone,, RaeLynn: Wildhorse, Natalie Hemby: Puxico, Lillie Mae: Forever And Then Some, Kip Moore: Slowheart, Zane Campbell: Ola Wave, Alex Williams: Better Than Myself, Brett Eldredge: s/t, Rhonda Vincent & Daryle Singletary: American Grandstand, Whiskey Gentry: Dead Ringer

Borderline: Sunny Sweeney: Trophy

About Half Good (60-45%): Nikki Lane: Highway Queen, Chris Stapleton: Songs From A Room, Vols. 1 & 2, Case Garrett: Aurora, Little Bandit: Breakfast Alone. Colter Wall: S/T, Angaleena Presley: Wrangled, Jason Isbell: The Nashville Sound, Justin Townes Earle: Kids In The Street, Steve Earle: So You Wanna Be An Outlaw, Midland: On The Rocks, Scott Miller: Ladies Auxiliary, Charlie Worsham: Beginning of Things, Marty Stuart: Way Out West

Borderline: Toby Keith: Songs From The Bus, Various Artists: Gentle Giants: The Songs of Don Williams

Less Than Half Good: Lady Antebellum: Heart Break, Little Big Town: The Breaker, Tim McGraw & Faith Hill: For The Rest of Our Lives,  Thomas Rhett: Life Changes, Bruce Robison & The Back Porch Band: S/T

  1. Jace Everett: Dust & Dirt
  2. Howe Gelb: Further Standards
  3. Jessi Colter feat. Lenny Kaye: The Psalms
  4. Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real: S/T  
  5. Gregg Allman: Southern Blood
  6. Modern Mal: The Misanthrope Family Album
  7. Rev. Sekou: In Times Like These
  8. David Rawlings: Poor David’s Almanack
  9. Bonsoir, Catin: L’Aurore

  10. The War and Treaty: Down To The River
Related Reissues:
   1. Marisa Anderson: Traditional and Public Domain Songs  
   2. Various Artists: American Epic: The Collection  
   3. Lydia Loveless: Boy Crazy and Single(s)
   4. Various Artists: Rough Guide To Jugband Blues  
   5. Various Artists: American Epic: The Soundtrack
   6. Gillian Welch:  Boots No, 1: The Official Revival Bootleg

Borderline (Docked A Notch For Being A Re-Recording Of A Good Old Album And Even  Of Bonus Tracks From The Same Sessions):
Lucinda Williams: This Sweet Old World

Related Hon. Mention:
Pinegrove: Elsewhere, Shovels & Rope: Busted Jukebox Vol. 2, Howe Gelb: Open Road, Peter Stampfel & The Atomic Mega Pagans: Cambrian Explosion,
Valerie June: The Order of Time

Related Genealogically As Well As Musically Hon. Mention:
North Mississippi Allstars: Prayer For Peace,  James Luther Dickinson: I’m Just Dead, I’m Not Gone: Lazarus Edition (also a Related Reissue)

Related Borderline:
Deer Tick: Vol. 1, Rhiannon Giddens: Freedom Highway, John Mellencamp feat. Carlene Carter: Sad Clowns and Hillbillies, Arthur Alexander: S/T
Related Less Than Half Good:
Banditos: VisionLand
Alex Williams' Better Than Myself is more reinforcement for my impression that several of the best younger artists this year, like Price and Rose, who come across as lead singers of first rate bands---combos who may in some cases be augmented or replaced or even composed of (Atkins' crew) by session players, but the albums all sound pretty organic---which is why I'm thinking "lead singers" instead of "band leaders" first of all, though obviously they're the latter (and not too dependent on or mistrustful of solos and other instrumental effects).
Anyway, Williams says right off that somebody (the drummer of his previous, failing band, according to interviews) told him his songs were better than him, and he takes this as a compliment: they're all "candy from the jukebox, spawnin' down in hell." Got his own sense of pop, like Moreland and Atkins and Rose: retro but adapted for self-expression, which in his caee can involve outlaw self-mockery, that side of his heero Waylon, but in both cases a way of not taking himself too seriously and getting enough distance for glimpses of perspective, though not enough to interfere with the more wtf side of his ramblin' life, his "Mickey Mouse ways," as Waylon put it.
Haven't got all the lyrics yet, though the country-with-bluesy-rock-appeal, and the voice, which I'm so glad does without imitations of Waylon's manly vibrato-warble (worked okay, but one voice like that was enough)---but I get the sense that this Belmont drop-out, refusing the usual slog 'n' fog, with so many of his peers now dealing with college debt and ageing out of their family's insurance coverage, just for two examples, still finds himself (and other members of his "fucked-up generation") still in the working and playing and self-medicating cycle (traditionally working and drinking, the latter enthusiastically mentioned here, though he later assures us that he's now "too stoned to pour a drink").
Some related social commentary, or comments, as he continues to make the barstool rounds, rolling another number for the road---also some gas station coffee seems involved. this stays fairly sparky.
Picks up some good advice from a barfly! "Take the good with the bad"---not too much country or fatalism in the mix, don't forget the pop and other gratifications.
Not specifically displaying himself for sexual purposes, but there is a love song: coming off a lawng, McConauheyesque-sounding winning streak---"Yes, these are diamonds around my neck, whut did yew expect?", he says it's a new day, and though "Ah'm not shore how much of this is true, but Ah do know Ah cain't get enough of yew." A bit mellower than most of these, but not out of character after all.

Marisa Anderson's Traditional and Public Domain Songs(Mississippi Records, 11/17) is such an onslaught, and even the shortest tracks stay under my skin----a bit overwhelming initially, so ear-li in the mor-ning, had to pace myself---so it's finger-and-sometimes-thumbipicking, tending to de- and reconstruct familiar songs, frequently with levels and degrees of distorted light---no pedals, or so it seems; there's at least the illusion of a electronic-organic effect, when you use these settings or just this kind of 0-budget guitar and amp, like from a 1965 yard sale--then again: 0 distortion on some tracks, just this Pop Staples shadow----or putting it all together, for instance on a slithering, psychedelic "Battle Hymn of the Republic"---or Pops in a sinister mood, for "Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye." (But there's a range of emotional nuances, implications, overall.)
A single departure from the main vine: "Bella Ciao", which also has a shadow but I would like to hear her do more with the Italian, Hispanic, Slavic chapters of the American Songbook, so hoping for a Vol. 2.
But this album may itself be a single exception; dunno her previous, but press sheet mentions:
...The Golden Hour followed by Mercury (2013) and Into The Light (2016). She is in demand as a collaborator and composer, contributing to recent recordings by Beth Ditto, Sharon Van Etten and Circuit Des Yeux among others, as well as creating music for short films and soundtracks.
Anderson tours extensively throughout Europe and North America….Pitchfork named Anderson’s 2015 split LP with Tashi Dorji one of the top experimental records of the year. Recent festival appearances include Le Guess Who, Moog Fest, Copenhagen Jazz Festival and the Winnipeg Folk Festival. All Euro dates this fall, so far.
Release: Nov. 17, save the date.
(later)okay okay speaking of upthread, here's the one I was raving about fairly recently, expanded*, reissued and now posted on her already generous bandcamp: Marissa Anderson's cosmic electric soli set, Traditional and Public Domain Songs.
(*The CD does not include Amazing Grace or Bread and Roses, but both these songs are available here for free download.)

“Softball” is a good example of how Caroline Spence’s little x wiry voice can put one over the plate with no excess effort: she says that when she invades the boys' team, it ain't gonna be softball no more, and she's right. Not seeing personnel credits for Spades and Roses, except for a mention of the drummer(-arranger of the occasional, never-overdone strings) also being the producer. He discreetly keeps thing moving right along, even when there are no drums, plus she's got the supple tunes and words ("Southern Accident"!), although "You Don't Look So Good (Cocaine") seems too naggy. wouldn't change my way of life for sure. Overall, reminds me a bit of early 70s Emmylou and Neil (incl. mix of acoustic and electric, although no big solos), but it's all life lived, incl. some straight thought-talk to self and other, also bits of wistful thinking, incl. looking ahead & back ("There might have been some eloquence/In the very last words I said...")  Also gets a bit folkie-solemn with the hopefulness sometimes, but goes with the lost evenings w wine and guys.(for instance)--she's concisely candid enough about impulsive and compulsive elements. Philosophy as drug: speaking of yonder 70s West Coast associations.

Speaking of Tyler Childers, he's a good guest star on Colter Wall's version of "Fraulein"; would like to hear them doing more covers. On this and really all over Colter Wall,  Wall's grave Saskatchewan aural presence is clear and deep and seasoned and always distinctive, as his lyrics tend to be undistinguished, although I haven't yet distinguished all of 'em, but he's usually headed from Marlboro visions of boxcars and bar rooms to back issues of Mojo and Uncut and No Dep via "Woody Guthrie Street," where tunes x voice meld me into the vinyl shadows well enough: can wander 'round them words, no harm, come on back, and if I were still a drinkin' man I'd order another round. Mind you, he does have some tales to tell, especially on the strong-enough finale, "Bald Butte": hot lead, chill reverie, such as Woody Guthrie might in fact approve. So I'll listen closer to the others, keep on "zingin' zongs", CW.

Well dang--- ahole tendencies at least, judging by his autobio and other accounts---incl. of his earlier drunk-driving adventures-----and it was already the end of an era, ABB-wise, but still:
Southern Blood sounds a lot better than I expected, after being disgusted with his moaning and groaning almost (except for the blessed "Instrumental Illness") all over ABB's last studio album, Hittin' The Note(2009). But now I'm thinking I should try again, and haven't heard his 2011 set Low Country Blues atall. So far, some of the tracks on here may lose momentum, but since he only lived to hear four finished, it was producer Don Was's responsibility to tighten up the set. But I've only listened a couple times, and there's some choice cuts on here for sure (must check that Johnny Jenkins album he gets one of these from)
Digging the instrumentation here too, especially *these* horns with *this* steel guitar (and the rhythm section).

Now I'm listening to Margo Price's All American Made---no hyphen in there; it's "We're all American made,” compartments and all, as she looks for something in herself, something she's stashed between the hangover, the thought-loops, yadda-yadda---she's gotten past the Loretta Lynn imitations on the debut, which were seeming too slick even before the actual LL showed up with a good new album---key line (tho' farmed out to duet podner Willie) here might be "How trails have I been down/For no reason", trying to escape from him/herself---now they're "winning by learning to lose", copping to limitations and other self-knowledge, also and trusting the realness of questions over answers (this song’s’ tagline and its context are the more unsettling the more they come turning over to mind, as with several tracks and overall stance of God’s Problem Child: still is still moving to him and also not, mebbe not so far from “no such thing as a lowest point”? Or what??)
So she finds a Lynn-worthy stance after all, shifting gears between the more typical "Pay Gap"-extended- working woman (incl. wife-parent-other) POV and that of a rising female star/upgraded pro, making her(and her acutely attentive band's, and others') money on the road after the fall of the record biz/same as it ever was for most musos, no matter how risen---no Behind The Music melodrama; she may be going "Nowhere Fast", but she'll take it, apprehensions and all. Plenty shadows here (not quite the usually bright bandcamp sound, tho' appropriately so, and never murky), but her matter-of-fact can be droll enough, even and especially with "Bein' born is a curse/Dyin' young is worse." Margo Price & The Price Tags; I'll go see 'em after all.

Nicole Atkins' Goodnight Rhonda Lee: following the opening Laura Nyro-in-Memphis-upside-the-head "A Little Crazy", which is maybe a little too persistent with the swooping, hijacked-countrypolitan strings of the chorus, behold "Darkness Falls So Quiet," which is somewhat misleadingly titled, being very persistently catchy and not that quiet, and she says when things get too spooky, she can rely on her friends and her records, and it seems like her friends might be her records and vice-versa, and if so, that's okay.
For she has not only absorbed 60s Nyro, Dusty In Memphis, Ode To Billie Joe, the production moves of Lee Hazlewood and his young, restless & prodigious acolyte, producer-singer Suzi Jane Hokom (especially on her own records), it seems that Atkins has also, among many other experiences spelled out and readable here, seen how other popologists have fallen short, and how so many are just nimbic names now, afterglow halos matter how good they were at certain things---who actually listens that much nowadays to Dwight Twilley, or even Harry Nilsson? It's sad. But the title track is vibrant and stoic: "When they stop listening, that's just the way it goes, don't let it crush you, say goodnight Rhonda Lee."
This track begins or makes more noticeable a recurring Heartbreaker of the Year vibe, in the sense that Whitney Rose and her producer/sometime duet partner Raul Malo drew from the Spanish tinge of late 50s-to mid-60s pop-rock hits (and their influence on some late 60s pop-country), with a Twin Peaks Senior Prom echo chamber.
So: unabashedly plush but well-tymed girlie swirls x restless drums, bass, rhythm guitar, tolerating bits of steel, keys, orchestra (the electric guitar is the orchestra on the last track--waking "from a nightmare to a dream"--- but not too much of one).
Atkins has also seen how other popologists have fallen short: her influences are right there on the table, right away---but then she takes off with 'em, no tyme for getting hypnotized by her collection--she's been through that; "The grooves of my brain are wearing out"---she's got another song to sing, a track to make, that rhythm section discipline in the midnight mind=headphones album for when you don’t want to go to sleep yet.
Any other lines in this to luc and frank?
A few notes on new Womack, The Lonely, The Lost & The Gone: title track, like at least most of the rest, is about struggling with illusions, diehard habits, imprints, bullshitting yourself, "Old songs make it sound so cool...'til it happens to you", and new rounds of nostalgia---something 'bout the days of "half-price weed" on the jukebox packed with country rock---just feed the illusion of progressive regress, of very special problems, when really it's the same old shit---and only a Hank song, beyond solace,chilly as a moon, a heart and a mirror, will cut it. Then again, the undertow of the guitar intro and outro is not Hankian in a stylistic sense, and it's followed immediately by
"He Called Me Baby", a Harlan Howard song that could be an Allen Toussaint song--he's gone, apparently, but memory's still bangin' her all night long, and vice versa. sounds like.
(She keeps switching musical approaches, and several others I assumed were classic country ballads of the soul-searching but ruefully succinct and non-weepy [for instance late 60s-early 70s Willie] school, turned out to be yet more originals from Womack and her versatile team.)
In "Hollywood", everything is fiiine, except maybe approaching the lush life twilight of the valley of the uncanny---is he gaslighting her, or is she already paranoid? Both?
Think about everything you did and was done to you. Keep it all in perspective, good and bad and other, no compartmentalizing, and sometimes it will merge like it should, "Shine On Rainy Day."
But also---though you can seperate the pictures into Before and After (the big move your family had to make, for instance, you still don't know just how or why or meybe when, really, "Mama Lost Her Smile." )Cos life ain't pictures, for one thing...)
Could do without a couple of others, so far, but the whole thing is 53 minutes and change, and unlikely to end up skimpy, even if I end up skipping a few more. That voice, duh.
The Honeycutters’ 2016 On The Ropes had only one problem that tipped the scales from Hon Mention to About Half Good (still 60-odd % good songwise), and that problem was that the lead singer-songwriter never shut up long enough to let the band take us a little bit further---into the thinking/breathing/sinking-in room at least or most, that’s all I ask; no set-the-night-on-fyre picking is required, though nothing against it. Here she (Anne Amanda Platt!) slaps her name in front of the band’s, and gives them and listeners enough room---Brandy Clark had to learn to do that too---and, while I still can’t find purchase in the philosophical wordmill of severa opener “Diamond In The Rough” grabs me at the drummer’s kick-off, and thence through the goalposts of life/the rest of the album, especially “Eden,” which starts with an appreciation of the heartland as idyll, but quickly and methodically deconstructs the narrator as she connects so many things that cling to the view; just what kind of crap is her L’il Opie’s towhead getting crammed with, over at the little schoolhouse on the prairie? “Learning How To Love Him”----not really “Again,” but she and hub are approaching what they never really had, cruising familiar sights with a gradually changing view, and she’s “sitting by your bed in a little white room.”

Jon Langford’s Four Lost Souls: S/T:
Haven't taken in all the words, though or maybe in part because they fit perfectly, but this is rich, robust, good and bad time music, with Nashville, Muscle Shoals, Chi and El Lay cats, also splendid female vox, sometimes singing lead. "Four lost souls! All ablaze as they vanish down the stairway." Kinda wish he'd saved some of this material for a Mekons record, but can't imagine they could perform it any better.
Jon Langford's Four Lost Souls
(released on September 22)
Four Lost Souls was recorded over four days starting on November 8th – the day after the 2016 election – at the NuttHouse in Sheffield, AL. The album originated in 2015, though, 100 miles north in Nashville where Jon Langford (Mekons, Waco Brothers) produced artwork for Dylan, Cash, and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City, the long-running exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Fate had it that one of those Nashville Cats, bassist and producer Norbert Putnam, was so enamored with Langford’s paintings and piratey singing, he invited the stranger to come record in the Shoals.

A year after the album’s beginnings the Welsh-bred, Chicago-based musician and visual artist Langford is in that studio with many of the musicians who put the region, as well as renowned FAME Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, on the musical map. Among them, members of the Swampers, David Hood and Randy McCormick—world famous players who have performed on all the songs you ever loved. Together they dutifully crafted a project brimming with images of killing and hope, Faulkner, the Natchez Trace, and the sea.

Carly Pence: Every Little Thing:  Pearce is from back in the hills, and there is, perhaps, a dobro here, a banjo and/or mandolin there, way down in the mix sometimes, but no hushed, tremulous, Alison Krauss-wannabee vocal aura, just straight-forward country pop, lean and limber, with sufficient realness for shading ("You be the light, I'll be the color"), and steel strings x "loosely-fitting programmed beats", as Jewly Hight says, but not too loose (actually they could benefit from more flexibility: the settings are often chrome-plated, something like early 2000s looking to 90s-as-80s. the country stringed thangs in such settings discreetly suggesting early Taylor Swift for your listening/streaming consideration), though the song is always the point. It’s also true that, some of the chorus melodies sound too similarly, earnestly radio-bait generic, but then the closer, "Dare Ya", tightens the beat  yet again, adds pressure to her dare, and before all that, she's got chorus lyrics such as "If you wanna burn you and me down. and make sure I don't come around, you're doin' it right, doin' it right (that's "Doin' It Right")< which I think is also the one with the verse that starts, "Yew treat love like a shitty motel." Also, some choruses gain from context, like "If my name was whiskey, maybe then you'd miss me" is preceded by somewhat apprehensive lines about him followin' her around, the minute she gets off work and so on, but now she's spooked by his absence.
Concrete remains the most solid Sunny Sweeney set to date, but they’re all keepers (incl. maiden voyage, Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame, which she’s been known to disdain). Going for quality over quantity,  she keeps going ‘til she finds at least a fistful of good tracks, sometimes with striking themes (Provoked incl. the one about moving through a party where everyone's staring at her, spooky). Trophy starts with "Pass The Pain", and gets some more mileage out of etc. by pulling rank on, then apologetically appealing to/explaining herself to a bartender, in a way a guy would be less likely to; we're not trained like that. But so far seems like this this set makes room for too many crisply boring duds, disappointingly written with the usually cogent Lori McKenna, whose terse, subtle vocal approach doesn't always work for the previously more consistently upfront, sometimes dramatic Sweeney. (The confrontational one about pills just seems brittle.) But co-writing and vocal influence def effective in the eerie low-key layers of the title track, which seems ready for ID---Investigative Discovery, the semi-true crime channel.
And she adjusts the lamplight for the venerable, vulnerable, Jerry Jeff-associated (Chris Wall-written) "I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight": "I play jazz when I am confused, I play country, whenever I lose...When I'm high I play rock and roll, country when I lose control..." The eerie title track is lucid intensity---this trophy is so hot---cup almost runneth over also on harrowing finale, “Unsaid”, but so far the album always seems about half good. (Later: some of these have grown on me, but the album’s still only made it to Borderline: between  Hon. Mention and About Half Good---will keep listening: I want to believe!)
Still buzzed on guest shots of @brandicarlile and @NicoleAtkins, opening @shovelsandrope 's collaborative set. Possibly brainwashed. But sure seems like covers of C. Blonde, L. Cohen, Breeders, GnR, Hollies, Willie etc. mostly do work as post-Space Age folk rock
(often twangy acoustic gtr, drums and/or loops, visitor vox up front, going for "creaky yet lush" and other fx)
Edd Hurt responds on, ILX’s Rolling Country 2017 thread:
Talking about Caroline Spence: she's doing a residency in January here at the Basement. Wrote this about her recently:
Virginia-born singer-songwriter Caroline Spence released a remarkable track about the limits of Nashville songwriting on her 2013 EP You Know the Feeling. “Whiskey Watered Down” takes down a shallow tunesmith who, Spence declares, will never be “Parsons, Earle or Van Zandt.” What makes “Whiskey Watered Down” a definitive song about a particular strain of Music City songwriting is her choice of role models, but the tune also equates bad songwriting with bad relationships. A Nashville resident since 2011, Spence continued to work in classic singer-songwriter mode on her 2015 full-length Somehow, which includes a full-band rendition of “Whiskey Watered Down” that I find less effective than the acoustic reading she performed on the 2013 EP. I admire Spence’s writing on this year’s album Spades & Roses, which contains the excellent track “You Don’t Look So Good (Cocaine)” and the equally fine “Softball,” about sexism and what it takes to become a big-league songwriter. Spence, who recently released a five-song EP called Secret Garden, has potential — she bears watching. EDD HURT
I didn't vote for Nicole Atkins' new one in the Scene poll I just finished. Not even tangentially "country," which makes sense for a Jersey-bred singer who sounds like Cass Elliot. But a really good album. I like her; she's tough and funny. Did this piece on her in July:
eddhurt, Tuesday, 26 December 2017
Kind of off-putting that Spence or whomever harps on this "not as good as such-and-such" bit; once when I was stressing over comparing myself, a photog friend said, "Well I know I'm not the best, but I just want to drink and take pictures." It's worked out pretty well for him.
(And as usual, Earle's latest made my gratuitous made-up About Half Good category; both Earles did, although I may have been too kind to JT, who's convened some motorvating musicians, but is so abashed and maybe wasted [on abashment, at least] that he usually sounds like a bug on the windshield of life).

Oh, and I got tired enough of the "sounds like" aspect, even on so many of my favorite albums---self-expression via retro seemed especially prevalent this year--that I took Langford from Related to the real Top Ten, because he doesn't sound like anybody else, even or especially in Muscle Shoals, where he also sounds at home.
Willie Nelson's "God's Problem Child" was written by Tony Joe White and Jamey Johnson, who also show up on the track, along with Leon Russell (RIP), generating a steady-rolling "Thrill Is Gone"-type vibe & groove, which seems especially appropriate this year, but maybe that's just because this is this year. Title track of a good album, trad on different semi-happy trails, and “Still Is Still Moving To Me” still pertains, levels of meaning shifting with experience, as he gets older all the time, and here the movement of others, flying by, take his eye for a while--another last round for the bye-bye butterfly---but as for Merle, “He won’t ever be gone,” slap that one on the domino board---and it’s all or mostly inl the stoically lit zen wake( "I didn't come here and I ain't leavin") of WN's "Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die" (also w Johnson, Kristofferson, Snoop Dogg singing along)

Which is not a million-blue miles behind "Can't Stop Shakin'," an unshakeably slippery, black & white microfiche update from young Whitney Rose — true, it's a bit 60s Tex Mex, could believe thee young Sir Douglas Quintet doing it; also, it's just as catchy in its way (apprehensively/professionally spirit level twitch, kind of pre-Talking Heads too)
Despite the what-else-can-you-these-days locked groove of "CSS," (oh hey here’s all of Rule 67, with its central Truck Drivin’ Trilogy rolling through smokes that must linger even when invisible in the merciless sun). Rose is swept away or at least around by the also perfect balancing act of "Three Minute Love Affair," the premise/angle of which may kid her own and her fanbase's classic/retro tendencies, but is also a blissful siren song, in the dance hall sea of possibilities:
A couple other tracks from South Texas Suite EP here:

For Further Study:
Like Nashville In Naija: Nigeria's Romance with Country Music, Yesterday and Today
Country music is big in Africa. Yes, we realise how absurd that probably sounds to most ears, but it’s really true: American country & western records have been tremendously popular and deeply beloved across the continent for almost a century. The people of the West African nation of Nigeria have long been not only voracious consumers of country music, but fairly enthusiastic performers of it as well. Cowboy songs have remained a consistent part of most bands’ live repertoire, but relatively few artists have dedicated themselves to actually recording country music. They did exist, though; mostly in the1970s and 80s, but they were rarely heard outside the country, and in the intervening years, most of their output has fallen through the cracks of posterity, forgotten even by ardent music fans at home. Until now. Like Nashville in Naija: Nigeria’s Romance with Country Music, Yesterday and Today collects some of the best country recordings as a loving tribute to Nigeria’s cowboy troubadours of yore. To the best of our knowledge, only in Nigeria.
More Info, Audio:

In some sane lost alt-universe, John Moreland's Big Bad Luv is just about all crossover hits: he's the wounded woodsmokey distiller of romantic atmospheric imagery(verbally and instrumentally generated) in catchy toons, sometimes to kind of a hip-hop beat, but no auto-tune or hick-hop verses--more like a young Billy Joe Shaver (not too many years after Elder Shaver's country disco "Jesus Is Still The King"), also Sturgill still with grievances but not an attitude, if you can imagine such a thing. "God's up there makin' deals, while we;re down here spinnin' our wheels, usin' up the little bit of life we got," yadda yadda but in some "deadend driveway" he meets yew, and decides "There ain't no glory in regret, and I ain't dead yet."
Also there's more variety in the music than I indicated, like a The Bandesque ballad I could live without, just because The B. didn't have that many good albums, but enough for my taste. Still, it's solid, good of its kind, and must admit the drummer delivers his homage to Levon Helm like few can do.
A more appealing sidetrip is just his slightly thick voice, fingerpicking acoustic guitar, country parlor piano and eventually organ: "Ah'm sorry for what I did, you're my favorite latchkey won't you tell me how the story goes," child is father to the man, maybe---he can also be kind of Townes VZ/L.Cohenesque re their poppier sides. "and if that don't work, paint two crosses on mah eyelids and point me outta touch." Roll on Jawn.

Edd's not just woofin' about xpost The War and Treaty and Little Bandit. On first stream, LB alb is okay-to-hey!, ending with a couple of stunners: Womack please cover "Get Me Out of This", Lambert and/or Whitney Rose do "Sinking." (I don't get what's supposed to be so queer about all this, though his writing does sometimes remind me of Stephen Merritt; the voice wears on me better than M.'s)
The War and Treaty blew my mind, may try to say more about both acts later. The War's EP is 7 tracks, but surely more of a full-album experience than many albums. Butt-bruising fun, something like Delaney & Bonnie & Sonny & Linda (if both Sharrocks sang on the same prime-time legit album). Full-throated, jolting realness, all in the game and more. Brace yourself:

Mutter mutter:
Stapleton was a finalist for my Scene Top Ten 'til Himes announced that we had to consider Volume 1 and Volume 2] as one album---which ended up in my hacked-in imaginary category of About Half Good (60-45%). Most of Volume 1, with just few from 2= my keeper folder.

Mutter Mutterrr!
Whiskey Gentry: Dead Ringer---"Americana" the way billing selves now I think, prev bluegrass-honky tonk based now some country rock, effects-laded guitar a bit long-windedly undistinguished but not get in way of banjo, all spirited and candid variety of moods BUT COUNTRY ENOUGH AFTER INITIAL CHANGES I PUT IT HERE , long-winded jokey one about blacking out in foreign lands, followed by  real good non-rocky cover of “Kern River” should maybe do more covers, the self-writ candor can be a bit mundane as put ha good “Martha from Marfa”, orig? Kinda reductive, maybe Martha once caved to boyfriend, gave her Johnny Cash vinyl to narrator, but be sympathetic, and now maybe she’s high visible in Nudie suits and owning record store cause she’s into more than trend or we to decide for selves? (See PopMatters review w comments on this and other orig) “Drinking Again” 12-step meeting sittin in a circle holdin hands pretend to give give a shit while I dreamin of a cold one in a can I wanna be me and that’s okay but first I gotta make it one more day make you one more day? Orig!? Good cover of “Seven-Year Ache” twangier than Rosanne I think Could be an answer to Drinkin Again or prequel “Is It Snowing Where You Are” sound like classic countrypolitan or something like that, not seeing it online, original? “Permanent Vacation With You” mention rescue you if you’re a stranded astronaut etc. but also sound classic-retro seems like might be another where effect of the good’uns enough to take it from tech accurate About HG to Hon Mention

Little Big Town’s latest and McGraw & Hill’s debut duet set both make the same mistake: too much atmosphere, too little substance in there (gotta have gravity and mass if you want the outer strata to make us stick around and breathe and believe something---both crews def want us and themselves to do both (Lady A. too, despite the nod to previous heartbreak so significant that it’s now broken into two words): it’s the spooky awesome power of love and dark sweet mystery of life. LBT goes for what one of ‘em tagged “hillbilly Sade,” falling short on both counts---the McGraw-Hill couple get kind of a more Southern Derek & The Dominos effect on one track, then thin out and stretch the gggeeeetarrrr sound ‘til it’s all agony and ecstasy through the silver thread and golden needle of marital tripwire bedroom eyes, always on duty, even in dreeeems (begin responsibilty)---but the songs are so silly and fluffy and McG can’t get no higher vocally----conceptually it’s dope (freaked-out lyrics too!), but aurally it’s dopey, one or one-thousandth (they can afford it!) take over the line. (Valerie June is also way into atmosphere and uplift, but does it better, with that trademark Appalachian African American wiry vocal flex-twang, and ditto arrangements, adapting and always otm, without being too on the nose).

North Mississippi Allstars wheel Dad through the Afterlife and vice-versa one more time, with bonus pepper candy encores. They also provide strong support for Rev. Sekou and themselves, on two albums where the personal and political and tropes and rhetoric and blues and gospel and  other strands of history and right nows are always ticking and clattering and pumping, and he’s the one with the compelling voice and eye.

mutter mutter cont.:
Rhiannon Giddens: Freedom Highway seems bit more predictable than anything else at times, but the songs with a bit more instrumentation usually not always build or keep momentum---most of it’s good ultimately---? Vocal poise can seem impassive, though more intense sometimes. I was thinking more about impassivity on “Louis Collins” til she got to “when he died all the women dressed in red” good one, could use more deadpan humor or whatever that is).

Pinegrove's Elsewhere is fervently neurotic enough for country and indie put together, def got the rollin' fedora music, jangle-country-folk-rock---however, did I mention "neurotic"? Or "teen angst," as the kids say---and the male lead takes this live set as a lower-case-yelp opp for traumatic flashbacks, to the sonic and verbal extent that I soon found myself listening around him---and the artist otherwise dba as Half Waif doesn't get to sing enough----but yeah they got some music alright alright.
They Came To And/Or From Nashville:
Walker Hayes, Kelsea Ballerini, and mebbe Nicole Atkins (although I do still think of her as Related via the Dusty In Memphis approach, but that would free up a slot in the Related Top Ten, which I might need...)
Kelsea Ballerini is Nashville-based, sounds Southern, pop, blessed by Taylor Swift, and her determinedly self-co-writ/directed (rejecting glitzy readymade injections, she declares) Unapologetically, is pretty good, in its mostly bouncy, antsy groove, except for a few whiny High School 4ver anthems. All here:

Also, Nashville popwise, really like Walker Hayes, and might add him to Country Hon. Mentions anyway, especially like "Dollar Store," cos Strip Mall Country is way overdue, and I was hoping Midland's "Check-Cashing Country" would be the check-cashing place/wire money place. next to or also with the title pawn, next to tobacco shop, gun & pawn, phone repair & vape, Little Caesar's, and Rite-Aid, now with Pharmacy By Walgreen's.
Instead, it's 'bout how they *aren't* check-cashing country, they're into journeyman Dallas-era country, as Edd says, for the love of it, a band full 'o' Ringos---well okay, but so far I suspect the Randy Rogers Band do it better, will keep listening tho.
(RRB accomplished something unusual in 2016, as carried on about in 2017’s Freelance Mentalists round-up, “Pictures From Life’s ‘Other’ Side”:
Randy Rogers Band, Nothing Shines Like Neon: Mostly not terribly hooky, although "Old Moon New" and "Meet Me Tonight" are back-to-back exceptions, being Toby Keith-worthy prom ballads. Rogers doesn't seem to have the vocal range of Keith, but he knows he can finesse it, so doesn't strain. And that's how it all works out: journeyman smarts and skills, with an insistence that doesn't oversell, just finds familiar ways, fresh enough here, to get through more gray days and nights, especially nights, with another dance, or another sway, limber and tight enough. Lots of restlessness, discontent, wry self-awareness, "Things I Need To Quit," and "Take It As It Comes,"the one song about being satisfied and even laidback, for the moment, is also the most cranked-up. Guest Jerry Jeff used to spend all his time "chasin' life, but tonight I'm livin' mine"---before mentioning "ridin' deranged" rather enthusiastically, like he might be working his way back to that (he's sitting down, but not still). On "Actin' Crazy," Jamey Johnson does his best Merle---but that's about it; this ain't no guestfest ---okay, Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski show up on another one, but these unoriginal stalwarts never get upstaged. So,“Pour One For The Poor One”, and know like they know: they got something to be modest about.)
Definitely Country Popwise:
Loved Maren Morris's debut alb, as I said last year, except for the radio-bait track re country music as religion. Also grabbed by her duet w T. Rhett, opening his otherworse redonkulous follow-up to the appealing Tangled Up. (2015 Top Tenned it, he seemed like the only country bro good for a whole alb)

Back To The Serious!
Becky Warren’s War Surplus (Deluxe Edition) is a mystery meat train military boondocks town’s crosshatched  involvement of bar flesh and recurring marital scenes, tending to and from some off-camera impact, but enough is def. shown and felt, in concise slices, with dry, combustible particle wood balladry and a relatively moist rind of Stones-y country groove.  Reminiscent of what I’d hoped Isbell might be up to at this point, given his debut.
More tracks on this version:

Speaking of Isbell: some have objected to their faves being (so far) consigned to About Half Good (60-45%), but this is no diss--a lot of albums in every genre work much better when filed down to EPs--and the top end of that could put somebody into Hon. Mention or even possibly Top Ten, if the songs are truly outstanding. Also, it can be the overall effect, more than any particular picks. Like  Kip Moore's Slowheart, with that sly (incl. sensitive when need-be) voice and beat.
Ditto (more Country Pop!) RaeLynn’s Wildheart: she was shutdown in The Voice prelims, but that was 2012, and she’s the across-the-diner-table, lower case but never drab voice of experience now, nothing ponderous, just the light-enough blues and beauty of the world as reflected in flexing rootstronic-tending aerial shades: it’s morning in America one more time, whether or not you’ve been to bed yet.
Was thinking of freeing up a slot in Related Top Ten* because so far x Jace Everett's Dust & Dirt seems deserving of some Top Ten and I can't revise the Country Top Ten since I already submitted it to the Scene polling (also sent the Related o course but it's Imaginary and doesn't count for Himes's purposes).
*So Good Night Nicole A. and away we go Jace:
The production here, especially the vocal, sometimes seemed drier than I was expecting, given the reverb etc. shadows of tumultuous Red Revelations, which made my 2009 Top Ten and incl. "Bad Things," the theme from True Blood. But this is more subtle, though straightforwardly re the spookiness of realer worlds (would still fit the satirical implications of TB, which is now RIP, I think).
There's one about love setting him free from the black-and-white view, although he's still not sure if your eyes are Green or Blue." It's okay though, so far.
He announces he's back in the b-&-w (more as an overall rigid dichotomy than racial per se, here, maybe) in "Free (Don't Ask Me)."
Followed by the even more ominous "Love's Not What We Do"---though the dryness keeps the atmospherics from getting too heavy.
Ditto on his lean-groove cover of Guy Clark's "The Last Gunfighter Ballad," where the G. ends up waving his weapon at "the ghosts in the street", which Everett's shrewd Clark-style delivery has me thinking might well be the cops, or Stand-Your-Ground civilians.
There are also a few conventional love songs, or they seem so pro forma because of the understated delivery. But the total effect was pretty involving right off. Will check it some more, like these others.
ame here, I wouldn't have known about the latest Jace if Xhuxcx hadn't just dropped in with his Top Tens, thanx xhuddy.
Speaking of discreet delivery of sometimes weird product, consider also Stax Country, and thanks to Edd for listing this. Given the title, I was kind of hoping for, you know, country soul, country funk, just a little bit at least--the only one that's like I was imagining is Danny Bryan's version of "My Girl"--which is not the self-congratulatory, novelty approach sometimes found on Light In The Attic's Country Funk 2 (which is still real good and real stoned). It's just his thankful 'n' thoughtful, unpretentious voice, mostly solo, although there are occasional angels and strings way back there, otherwise, just him and the steel guitar, a little rhythm picking, piano, bass, drums. Of course, that's not the weirdo material---
Paul Craft's "For Linda (Child In The Cradle," is a gentle waltz, which starts with a lyrical bang, "She's 27 going on 42, with a body that's just turned 16," and some think she's a crazy groupie, but "She's true to the friends and lovers she's made." Very nice tone to the verses, which doesn't break for the chorus, "She's a father, she's a bummer, she's a mother (or mutha), she's a hummer," whut which among other thangs sounds like a parody of Kristofferson's "He's a poet, he's a picker," or however it goes.
(This album is apparently on the Craft label---he wrote a bunch of hits and some presumably lucrative album tracks, so maybe his estate is using some of those Eagles bucks for this?)
Kind of an easier-breathing "Okie From Muskogee" feel to Roland Eaton's "Hippie From The Hills," which starts with "No my hair's not long because I'm cool, Pa broke the shears last winter, shearin' the family mule," and tells the bittersweet story of his young life so far. He's not complaining, and it's a nice vibe.
Connie Eaton's "I Wanna Be Wrong Right Now" turns understatement to moist apology, but Paige O'Brian's "Satisfied Woman" is poised and "knows the score."
O.B. McClinton claims that a lady raised among "The Finer Things In Life" has given them all up for his mellow, crinkley-voice hobo ass, but Karen Casey's much more plausible "The River Is Too Wide" follows immediately, an answer song in this context.
Not all tracks are all that good, but for instance Becki Bluefield gets points for repeatedly pronouncing "there" as "thar" unself-consciously, and elsewhere there is or are some calm plagiarism I can't mention.
Lillie Mae's Forever and Then Some: startling degree of fairly intimate, vivid focus and shading right away, especially considering its her debut--but then, as she says in the following interview, "I’ve been working since I was three," starting in the family bluegrass band, Jypsi, and later in a combo with some of her sibs, who (along with still more not in the post-Jypsi teen line-up) play on this set, very cohesively, and non-showboating, sometimes hooky mandolinist sister Scarlett also does some writing and arranging: the style is their own sort of folk-country, though bass & drums have some pop-rock (especially pop) appeal, with occasionally noticeable electric guitar---but def. don't hear what's sometimes been described as "indie rock attack" behind the mando, fiddle and other strings (the closer goes into more of an exploratory electric folk modal thing, briefly, guess that could be considered indie-pop-rock).
Slender but effective voice, rec to fans of Victoria Williams, Whitney Rose, Natalie Maines and Sunny Sweeney (Louisiana-Texas-suggestive flexings and inflections at times, though don't think she's from that neck of the woods geographically), listened to subsets of tracks on Spotify during fairly hectic Monday, but no prob getting back into it; faves so far are "Loaner" and the title song.
Good intro and conversation:
Is and sounds young, but has been around the block as well as the mountain.

Someone else sounding young but experienced and thoughtfully candid: Brett Eldredge, on his s/t fourth album. Younger than Toby Keith was when he starting having hits BE's already had three country number ones), and minus the moods and shrewds just below the robust, sufficiently sensitive surface---also without the vocal range--but Eldredge knows how to use what he's got, and, although as with Kip Moore's 2017 album, it's more about the overall effect here, but each track has its own themette, and "Superhero" rolls into its chorus like TK would approve, the singer kidding himself but into it too, on the look-out for Damsels In Distress, verse by sufficiently sensitive verse.
He's into chasing the "Heartbreaker" too, no complaints, and he's pretty good (lots of practice) at the groveling, unnecessarily self-described drunk dial on another.
His version of a bro song is "Brother", which starts like "We need to talk about why we've been playin' tough all these years"--instead it goes into okay bromantic nostalgic anthemizing "You had my back when Dad got were my first call that night in jail, you raised my bail" later not quite rhyming it with "raised some hell."
"Cycles" also philosophically overviewing, and another with a touch of the late-80s-early-90s headphones atmospherics (speaking or early Toby Keith).
The Happy Hour cowpoke, always hopeful and cleaned up nice, in part because he may have just come from work.
Oops, meant to link! It's all here:

Just listened to Natalie Hemby's Puxico for the first time---will at least another spin or 2 or more to catch all the words in her murmuring confidence in both senses: so far her ruminations seem saved from too much singer-songwriter navelgazing by surefooted professionalism, most of the time. Her songs have been covered by Womack and other worthies, and several of these could be singles.

One of the initial stand-outs is especially lilting, as she walks through a town basking in the sunshine of your love, "you" being a local hero or heroine gone somewhere, but "They still tell your stories, swap your jokes," and as she walks the high school halls, sees "your pictures in the trophy cases." Next song is maybe sung by another character, who has found that the details of a past (?) relationship have become "trapped in the photographs,,,Just when I understand everything about our story, that's when I forget." Now it's all "feelings in the walls," but sounds like that's okay, more than okay,also part of the cycle, but nothing mystical. Her tunes and delivery are straightforward as always.
Which also helps with the likes of "Ferris Wheel," similar conceptually to "Circle Game," but her take is not a sing-along for sad Boomers: it seems like a good old sawdust county fair memory and theme song; she ain't sorry.

Zane Campbell’s s/t debut, which I 2015 Top Tenned, started with vintage-y material---which could suggest a fuller-throated, Appalachian American Richard Thompson (or maybe some of RT's mid-60s influences)---yet eventually topped by for instance a sometimes roaring body bags anthem, "Bringing The Boys Home" ("Nobody wanted to do it").
Ola Wave celebrates his equally outspoken aunt, born Ola Wave Campbell, better known to folk freaks as Ola Belle Reed: starts with a Zane original, about asking her why she turned down a potentially-career-making job offer from Roy Acuff (didn't wanna take orders from no man), followed by the title track, which takes off re the force truly advertised by her birth name--he catches up with said force as well as he can on his second and last original here, ditto on strong covers of her remarkable ballads---in which she seems to paying the cost for being her own boss, but then again, so be it---even with, at times (a blues starts slow, develops a strut), and on we go: as written and especially with Zane's nuanced lungpower, these mountain tunes embody transcendence of mere yearnin.'
Both albums here:
Speaking of male-female vox, spooky x-roots vibes, etc., I'm also digging Modern Mal, whom xgau recently compared to Dolly Parton x Leonard Cohen. To me, Rachel Brooke sounds more like a Patsy Cline fan (not a wannabee): more relaxed, after-midnight simple-subtle, not as high lonesome as Parton (no diss on DP; this is just different). Also kinda like Nancy Sinatra and several other duet partners of Lee Hazlewood---Brooks Robbins' voice is higher and softer and huskier than Hazlewood's, but the boondocks gothic pop approach is indeed like some of what El Cohen might learned from selective studies of LH, for his own more listenable tracks (BR v. discreetly delviers Cohen/Lizard King-worthy lines like "driven insane by your porcelain frame.")
Also, the songs seem more country-Cohenesque than Hazlewoody re more consistently, closely related to personal experience, however similarly filtered through dark flashy imagery. Even/especially "The Mystery of Death" seems like a relatable barroom-living room sing-along, not too much of a novelty, though Brooke & Brooks def. like the olde novelty-pop, maybe enhanced by 0 budget. (
They also prob like The Captain & Tennille's hit version of "Muskrat Rat Love", aka "Muskrat Candlelight," its original title on Willis Alan Ramsey's only(!) album---wtf, WAR?
MM's album comes from the personal experience of taking care of a reclusive old family friend in an old house in "Northern Michigan." (Upper Peninsula?) Nothing about creaking floorboards, bedpans, angels etc., but possibly old scribblings, snapshots, late-night conversations, before, during, and/or after "drinking ethyl." (Think that's lower-case.)
The Misanthrope Family Album is all here:

PS: it's not all "dark flashy imagery" yadda yadda---there are other thangs, for instance "Clean," as sung by Rachel Brooke:
Bathtime is my favorite time.
The water runs and wets this hair of mine.
It’s ok to say I like it.
It’s ok to say I care to be clean.
Wash away the day’s mistakes.
Thinking about Hazlewood etc.--- in the 90s I started getting self-released promos with press sheets sometimes claiming Sonny & Cher as country inspirations--even before encounters with Dolly Parton and Hee-Haw---and especially The Sonny and Cher Show, though the self-promoters also claimed to be in their early-to-mid-20s, for the most part: too young to have seen it, and this was before YouTube---but maybe it was the idea, the vision of the show they had, while listening to "You Better Sit Down, Kids" and "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves." The connection was not always audible, but good to know. One act that stood out was basically a duo, Y'all, with some fairly seriocomic, fleetingly bittersweet original material among the campy laffs (closer to Shel Silverstein than Sonny Bono). Think that's right--can't find the promos now, and the name is hard to google, even putting in "band."
Countrypolitan is real easy to mess with, it got weird pretty readily---there was research on what kind of music led to serious thinking and drinking of the more expensive booze, thus favored by patrons of establishments with classy cover bands and jukeboxes (ditto the solemn, readily weird Romance of Sinatra and Jimmy Webb---the latter evoked by certain Lukas Nelson-written tracks on Willie's Heroes and '17's Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real, also thinking of the even moodier//more perverse/sometimes deadpan jokesters like Lee Hazlewood and Serge G.)
I like Sturgill's use of Waylonesque "Eat-Shit, Eat-Shit" beat for orchestral disco (he seems to like Love Unlimited etc) on A Sailor's Guide To Earth---much of which is tuned by “insubordination of manner,” to cite military sources---also a smooth-spoken, “ Why, bless your heart: Southern inflection, often styled by Mose Allison---though Sturgill’s playing it straight(er) on the ones that seem closer to early 70s Van Morrison's Caledonia Soul Orchestra.
And leave us not rule out the jester-exemplary "Goodbye Squirrel" by Cletus T. Judd (he of "Man of Constant Borrow", "My Cellmate Thinks I'm Sexy" and many more)
And I hope young artists are drinking in the camp fire of Jim Stafford: "Spiders and Snakes", "Swamp Witch", and o course "Wildwood Weed", theme song of some of usens' early 70s---can't find any promising vids of this, screw it.
Howe Gelb's Open Road is "a collection of sketches from several different projects over the last five years," but not too sketchy, no start-stop or mumbling in the background, but the pleasure of finding that good note right now, in several related styles overall, and seemingly fully-produced, if not quite what he's looking for yet, and always a thoughtful, intimate approach, even on an [i]Arizona Highways[/i] roadside lounge Spaghetti Western trip. Makes me think he's got, not only a tape recorder next to the Gideon Bible in the motel nightstand, but an array of instruments and musos standing by at all times.
Oh yeah, and not all the words may be quite worked out--haven't caught 'em all--but some lines to jump/slip out into memory, like the one about those who don't fall in love are "in love with the safety zone"---not entirely fair/true, but some truth im my case.
Gelb’s Further Standards is somewhat Country Related if you justify that tag re the amount of the more downhome jazzy lounge-roadhose sounds of this set by the Howe Gelb Piano Trio (with Lonna Kelly in duet and sometimes upfront vocals; guitar octaves occasionally appear). Kind of a speaking-again-of Mose Allison thing, minus the zings and bop excursions--there is MA-worthy wordplay, re word meanings and sounds and ideas, bits of storyline sliding around, but this is not Allson's attitude, it's pretty much all Gelb, writing on cocktail napkins and wondering when it's cool or acceptable or saleable or desirable, for that matter---and like what's the point or is it about a point---be "Presumptuous" or "Irresponsible" or an "Impossible Thing"----no matter how experienced and observant of self and others you are, it's provisional, swirling around in that glass, my my. In a discreet or furtive way, he's got the Country Related romantic preoccupations alright.
(Willie and Leon doing "One More For The Road", sometimes on YouTube, also several of Willie's standards collections and Dylan's also Mose-related "If Dogs Run Free" and some of his Sinatra-related covers, especially on Shadows In The Night,are also from this neck of the woods.)
"Irresponsible Lovers," that is, the couple from Heaven and/or Hell, ask their bartender.
Case Garrett's Aurora has an econo-produced, even "down-at-the-heels 70s" atmosphere, as Edd says about somebody else upthread, but it's pleasantly musty, like a thrift store LP cover, yum, and it's growing on me though low-key it's growing on me: has the means to get catchy, especially on "She Never Liked Elvis": put off by "that slicked-back hair", she's modern enough to get off on "Lester and Earl," who brought their always intelligent if not subtly progressive style to Bonnie and Clyde and The Beverly Hillbillies and other 60s landmarks (also check the Earl Scruggs Review's early 70s Live At Kansas State for the livelier side of newgrass and more).
So Lester and Earl get the inner girl dancing in her ruby slippers, no matter what; "She never told her husband her secrets." Off-handed delivery of lines with just enough of the right detail to add up, a la most or much Tom T. Hall and prime Prime on the verses---then the chorus adds good Buffet-=-no lie, kept expecting steel drums to appear among the Kentucky stringed things.
He get back to the Buffett table in a more speculative way with "The Thought of You," where he's rehearsing the lines going for a soft-spoken tweaking of JB's "Why Don't We Get Drunk and Screw": he for one is already loaded, which is how he came to think of her, and "It won't take very long" is a key selling point---soon as he can find his phone.
Several celebrations of/while going nowhere at various speeds also have this suitably light, comfortably numb touch, unlike the heavy-handed cartoon contrast Scott Miller occasionally brings to Ladies Auxiliary, which is mostly about being somewhere and nowhere along the foggy smoggy boondocks road ---trying to get to the realness of life-as-transition everywhere, and sometimes it works, like in one about a guy whose mother is fixing to move to Kentucky---no suggestion, written or sung, that he's anything other than a grown man, so time to get it together, and the sense of shifting ground is there in his non-weepy voice, and the bowed bass---also like one about a town with a Spanish name in West Virginia, once ao off-season settlement of migrant workers, perhaps, like my Mom's hometown in the toetip of Appalachia---this has some Garrett-like blend of Hall-Prine-Buffett catchy detail (arc of a local soccer team and their coach in one line), and I won't spoil the suitably wry punchline, adding to the trace of high lonesome, even.
Also heavy-handed with teh absurd are several covers on Bruce Robison and the Back Porch Band, most of which supports the idea that he should never be 'llowed to record anything but self-writ demos---sent only to hardened professionals, sparing the gen. public, for whom those duet albums with wife Kelly Willis are sweet official release (more please now!)
She's on here a little bit, though subdued (and icked out by the "it goes innn and outtt" bit on a shitty version of "Squeezebox")There are a couple of somewhat-promising-at-least-as-written originals, ditto a cover of Christy Hays' "Lake of Fire" (she's got several things on bandcamp, album out in April)---and a chiming, swaying, building performance of "The Years", by one Damon Bramblett, who released one album, in 2000, and that's it---so far he's an xpost Willis Alan Ramsey for the Millenium (as is the olde original WAR is now), but several tracks are on youtube (with a few others), and I just now ordered it. (Willis recorded his starry, sick, infectious "Heaven Bound" in 1999.)
Word to Huckabee: title track of American Grandstand, a honky tonk sidetrip taken by bluegrass stalwart Rhonda Vincent and country-classicist Daryle Singletary, RIP a few weeks ago, but sounding robust and alert on this July 17 release. On "American Grandstand, a set-typical, melodious, harmonious song of discord, they've signed everything, and are now singing the detailed summary and agreement, with, to and at each other, rehearsing "the final show" of family values and marital drama.
All these warm, catchy, sometimes bouncy chestnuts and compatible contemporaries are now playing my headbox on a regular basis, having commenced upon first listening. Adios, D. I"ll know you'll be back with me soon.
Listening again to some demos, alts, prev. unreleased titles on disc 1 of Gillian Welch's Boots No, 1: The Official Revival Bootleg. Substantial-enough storylines, from a shoebox of snapshots and postcards, plus a fluid-enough way with the tiny tuneful turns of detail, keep most of 'em from being too received folkieness, if you're not allergic to Americana, and this assortment is for making your own sequences: Like "I Don't Want To Go Downtown," "Go On Downtown," "Red Clay Halo," "Paper Wings" (this last could be taken as caution to writers, which is ever'body these days of course). A bit too much regret in some subsets, but for instance Bonnie Raitt please cover the Randy Newmanesque "Georgia Road," a report from where "The boys are walkin' funny, and the girls are all undone...workin' those tiny polka dot skirts...I was bawn a nasty man." Ain't sorry, but/and knows he'll die one too. "Prob'ly go to Hell."
Some of these are full band, rockin' in a Model-A way. (Electrified music is one of the traditions saluted and utilized on Welch-partner David Rawling’s  Poor David’s Almanack),
"Well the night came undone, like a party dress" (that's not "Georgia Road," it's a bluesy waltz)
"Acony Bell" still the one to end with: seems like a dry little flower, but something inside and all around keeps it alive.
Edd Hurt aside, I mostly occasionally skim country music writing for info these days---but did fairly recently read Southwest Shuffle: Pioneers of Honky-Tonk, Western Swing, and Country Jazz (handsome trade pb w good pix, Routledge, 2003), by Rick Kienzle, who also contributed to the useful Country Music Magazine (RIP). (0 copy editing in earlier chapters, but later it's smooth or smoother sailing.)
RK doesn't just enthuse, he describes what made and still makes the heyday of Western Swing so musically gratifying, and isn't shy about detailing how and when and sometimes why (increasingly desperate attempts to biz-adapt) the recorded offerings of his protagonists, incl. heroes, turned to cowpie.
It's kind of Four Lives In The Be-Bop Business in reverse, with questing young musos from hither and yon peaking early in California, then scuffling, going back to the boonies and/or hitting a wall re The Nashville Sound and Countrypolitan.
Although there are exceptions! To any predictable arc, anyway--for instance, one of these guys got to play on Frank Sinatra & The Red Norvo Quintet: Live In Australia, 1959, which deftly demonstrates how to perform depresso classics when you're happy and you know it, without lapsing into cheesy Rat Pack mannerisms. On another curveball, Ray Price went to honky tonk with a strong beat, drawing the livelier geezers and some youngsters, without actually playing that rock&roll stuff---then he decided he *did* want to do the genteel Nashville thing, not only on record but replicated live, challenging his carefully established audiences and hardened swing-to-tonk road dawg band---never mind we don't have no orkystraw or choir, just do it. And you out there, you better like it.
And the saga of impressioable former teen swing fan Willie Nelson, whose vocal timing (also some of his lyrics) broke the tried & true Hit Factory assembly line, as far as the suits and producer Chet Atkins were concerned--well, you've heard about that, but maybe not in such telling detail (come to think of it, maybe he was influenced by the tenacity of Price, an early employer).
Very handy discography of reissues too.
Also I've got Dreaming Out Loud: Garth Brooks, Wynonna Judd, Wade Hayes, and the Changing Face of Nashville (William Morrow,1998), by Bruce Feiler. Bought it after reading an excerpt in which the author runs into Garth Brooks soon after a National Holiday (Thanksgiving, I think). Brooks allows that he spent it curled in a fetal position, contemplating the marketing of his next release. Asked why he still tortures himself thusly after selling nine jillion albums, GB says he wants to be an American Archetype, like John Wayne. Well okay---but Wayne wasn't nearly always the biggest box office draw, far from it at times*.
I hever did listen to him much, despite endorsements from xheddy and zgau, for inst. But, while working in a 90s CD store, I got the demographic appeal: he was one of those who grew up with arena rock---popped up on a Kiss trib, and a Voice feature mentioned "Pink Floyd guitars" on an album drama---so it was time for arena country, High Hat. He was certainly in the vanguard of that, and credited the reinforcement of Chris LeDoux's stage shows. LeD. became a real rodeo bravo, so why not ride a mechanical bull while the music played---seem to recall him tagging his approach as "Aerosmith in a cowboy hat." Take that far enough, and you get Aldean for instance, but---
In any case, I never saw that show, only got into him as he was checkin' out fairly early (RIP), clued by the famous Garth line, "A worn-out tape by Chris LeDoux, lonely women and bad booze, seem to be the only friends I've got left at all. " From "Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)." And a lot of Brooks' peers related to that too, no doubt, but LeDoux's own music, though it brought the wide open spaces, incl. the lonesome parts, I mainly recall for its confidential tone, as unpretentious as suave can get without boring. Toby Keith seems to embody both sides of LeDoux more than Brooks does, but Brooks is a brother in the trustworthy, well-meaning sense, unlike the moody, shifty TK, who still thereby seems like the more interesting artist, but I owe Garth some more listens, in part for turning me onto Chris.
*Being an archetype means getting in under people's hats and staying there, deeper than "Hey, he likes what I like" etc.---could see maybe say Madonna or Taylor Swift with that kind of staying, resurfacing power (gotta move from power to authority though, to be an archetype). We'll see.
Oh yeah, speaking of Wayne, I liked Gary Wills' attentive, appreciative, shrewd, informative as hell, Big Picture with a zoom lens (book), John Wayne's America: The Politics of Celebrity, good crisp take here:
That Don Williams trib alb, Gentle Giants, was disappointing, given the contributors, but showed that his low-key, you 'n' me vocal approach ain't that simple at all, ditto the songs too I guess, considering how few of the cover versions worked as well, much less improved on the originals. So, a tribute to his art indeed, just not as intended. (I'm not that big a fan, but noticed.) So Clapton doing okay by his source was more than some more likelies can do (but yknow for a tribute album it's not all that bad, thk xgau let it live for inst)
(Speaking of Clapton: blues as written is also deceptively simple of course. Or seemingly simple, I should say.)

Haven't taken in all the words, though or maybe in part because they fit perfectly, but this is rich, robust, good and bad time music, with Nashville, Muscle Shoals, Chi and El Lay cats, also splendid female vox, sometimes singing lead. "Four lost Souls! All ablaze as they vanish down the stairway." Kinda wish he'd saved some of this material for a Mekons record, but can't imagine they could perform it any better----backstory:
Jon Langford's Four Lost Souls

Four Lost Souls was recorded over four days starting on November 8th – the day after the 2016 election – at the NuttHouse in Sheffield, AL. The album originated in 2015, though, 100 miles north in Nashville where Jon Langford (Mekons, Waco Brothers) produced artwork for Dylan, Cash, and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City, the long-running exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Fate had it that one of those Nashville Cats, bassist and producer Norbert Putnam, was so enamored with Langford’s paintings and piratey singing, he invited the stranger to come record in the Shoals.

A year after the album’s beginnings the Welsh-bred, Chicago-based musician and visual artist Langford is in that studio with many of the musicians who put the region, as well as renowned FAME Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, on the musical map. Among them, members of the Swampers, David Hood and Randy McCormick—world famous players who have performed on all the songs you ever loved. Together they dutifully crafted a project brimming with images of killing and hope, Faulkner, the Natchez Trace, and the sea.
Have not yet made it through  Chris Hillman's The Asylum Years---some hideous harmonies  get wasted on the way---but will give it another shot. Some nice tracks on the new Bidin’ My Time, especially "Walk Right Back," one of the many under-covered Everlys worthies, seeds of West Coast country rock at its best (he credits inclusion of this to producer Tom Petty, who did what he could all over--Hillman's not the strongest solo artist among his peers, but has his moments, when the setting's just right, or just about).  McGuinn and The Croz show up; some Heartbreakers, still radio-ready, also appear.

Scott Boyer of Cowboy (and more recently the Decoys) has died---bio and comments from Isbell, Hood etc here:
Here’s their best-known track, "Please Be With Me,"  a set-down session w Duane Allman (later covered by Eric Clapton on 461 Ocean Boulevard, one of the best of his most Related-relevant albums)
“Song of Love and Peace” closer to a full-band sound, still refined, but comes right across as usual:
“Everyone Has A Chance To Feel” is philosophical country rock w orchestral elements, like something unaccountably left off Buffalo Springfield's Last Time Around, but also holds its own---
---from Cowboy - Boyer & Talton (Capricorn 1974) Scott Boyer & Tommy Talton With Chuck Leavell, Jaimoe, Randall Bramblett, Charley Hayward, Johnny Sandlin

Live, Cowboy eventually could sound kind of in there between Traffic, Little Feat, little bit of early 70s Van Morrison---like Talton, Stewart & Sandlin kinda do here in the studio, on "Happy To Be Alive"---as with the later Cowboy productions, got friends pitching in, and it's still being young but already looking back and all around at crazy days, my my:
one album that I know of:
T.Talton, B.Stewart, J.Sandlin - Happy To Be Alive (CAPRICORN 1976) Johnny Sandlin - Electric Guitar, Bass Guitar Ed Freeman - Strings, Strings Arrangements, Conductor Bill Stewart - Rhythm Guitar, Drums, Percussion Bill Stewart - Drums Tommy Talton - Guitar, Vocals Guest Musicians:Bonnie Bramlett, Chuck Leavell, Dru Lombar, Joe English, Joe Walk, Scott Boyer, Steve Miller
Really trying for that 70s radio play, duh, and deservedly so.

yeah so in my experience, Phil is exactly like the close-up portrait (executed in the spirit of the bold urban realist painter George Bellows) on the cover of the Blasters' s/t debut: kind of a rugged moonscape, except heated up, a little flushed, but not too, just a workin' man, with a ripplin' range of big white teeth in the spotlight, eyes closed, into it---live, he's also bobbing around, eyes still closed or tending to be, always seemed, in sound & visual, like something like an orbiting human jukebox of hot songs from several genres, a songster, as they used to say, making his moeny on the road in the great tradition---"Just think of your records as callin' cards, son," the suits started saying way back---so Al Jolson, one of the first if not the first of the record stars, quit recording for a while---reminds me, Will Friedwald, who specializes in writing about American singers, once mentioned in passing,"It was a given in his heyday that Johnnie Ray was a missing link between Jolson and Elvis"---hadn't thought of those two in the same chain, but listened to some Jolson (he came back to recording, got past "Mammy"), and yeah.
Thinking of Phil in more of a direct line to and from Jimmie Rodgers, who was country as in Asheville-before-Nashville: music halls, incl. minstrel at first---he sang or at least posed in blackface, later recorded with Louis Armstrong, frequently had the jazz-blues-country-Tin-Pan-Alley thing going on, vaudeville-wise, and Phil can seem like rockin' vaudeville, and of course there's Rodgers' "Never No Mo' Blues," on The Blasters, and another version on a comp I can't locate at the moment, but even more made me wonder about what if JR lived on into the 50s, the way he adapted to trends, though the take I'm thinking of wasn't exactly rockabilly in the usual sense (reminding myself now that Elvis did rework "Blue Moon of Kentucky").
Another one of the more obvious examples would be the cover of "Old Man of the Mountain," the Cab Calloway song, with Sun Ra and His Arkestra rolling along in the moonlight, no prob---on Phil's amazing Un "Sung" Stories. But really all the time, yeah go see the Blasters..(Yeah, according to their Facebook it's the same line-up as when I previewed a hot Columbus show 7-8 years ago: originals Phil, Bill, and John, with lead player Keith Wyatt, who's been in there since '96, pretty tight.)

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