Sign up for newsletter

Articles and Interviews – 2004


If you ask David Ball to give his definition of success, he's not going to blow a lot of smoke up your skirt in the process. A lot of artists might answer that question with a wheelbarrow full of soil enrichment, telling you that success lies in the self-satisfaction of a guitar well played, a song well written, a show well performed.

Make no mistake, David Ball considers all of those things of supreme importance. It's just that he has a very specific and very concrete definition of success for himself.

"I hate to say it, but I view a hit record as success," says Ball from Nashville. "And I can live by that. The thing is, I've cut some hit records that never saw the light of day at radio, but, boy, you get out there and play them in front of know a hit record when you've written one and when you hear one. That's my goal. That's all I'm after."

Ball knows a thing or two about self-satisfaction and chart success. Everything he's gleaned about both circumstances - from... »»»

The ultra long country singer Darryl Worley makes no secret that he had no interest in simply repeating himself the fourth time around.

Yeah, he's had hit singles and one super huge, career song, "Have You Forgotten?," but that's all in the past. And the rural Tennessee native seems more than happy to leave his past behind, even though he remains quite proud of his accomplishments.

"We had a lot of things in mind when we went into the studio to do the album," says Worley in a friendly, 90-minute conversation from his Nashville apartment the day after Thanksgiving. "One of the things was just to raise the bar, raise the standards some."

"We had to let the dust settle from the "Have You Forgotten?' phase," Worley says. "It was a huge blessing for us, but it almost became an obstacle to get around. When you have a hit of that magnitude, it just stays around for awhile, and it's hard to have the next hit."

And in this day and age where you are only as good as your next hit, that next hit is mighty important.... »»»

"This album has been a long time coming," Dan Messe admits, when asked about Hem's second release called "Eveningland."

The group, which incorporates bits of country, folk and other stray Americana elements into its soothing musical mix, released its debut "Rabbit Songs" on DreamWorks, and was about to put this newest album out on that same label before the company suddenly folded into a bigger label as part of the Universal merger.

"We weren't sure how this album would be met because it's definitely a bigger sound than 'Rabbit Songs' and has a little more of a pop sensibility in some ways," he continues. "So we worried that some of the hardcore folky part of our audience would not follow us on this journey. But so far the reaction has been really heartwarming. People have loved the direction that we're taking."

The pre-release buzz on the new direction of "Eveningland" suggested that this project for the New York-based band was heavily influenced by a distinct "countrypolitan"... »»»

Raw. Real. Emotional.

Fans of country and soul music will likely find similar words to describe the songs that they connect with in some manner.

For Jesse Dayton, whose new "Country Soul Brother" passionately combines the two genres, country and soul are a natural fit.

"To me, Ray Price is a soul singer," he says via cellphone from Bastrop, Texas. "Hank Williams was influenced by a black guy. George Jones learned to sing by a black blues guy from Beaumont. Conway Twitty loved Sam and Dave. A lot of that stuff is the same thing...You can go into any honky tonk in Beaumont, Texas, and you'll find Percy Sledge right next to George Jones on the jukebox."

But Dayton thinks that most other musicians of his generation in Texas and elsewhere don't really appreciate that link between the genres anymore.

"With the climate in Texas music now, where's it's all pretty much the same and all 'the boy next door' and that kind of thing, I think not only the state, but the whole world needs a shot in the arm of something that's a little edgier and more soulful and more black influenced," Dayton says.... »»»

Johnny Bush, the "Country Caruso," who turns 70 in February, says that the biggest difference between old time country music and modern country pop is the material. Bush is one of those people who know that good art of any kind comes, at some level, from the heart and soul of the artist, not from the results of marketing surveys.

Bush, who released his latest, "Honkytonic," in September on the independent BGM Texas label, expresses himself in no uncertain terms about that theory, and, in his fifth decade of musical tributes and tribulations, expresses it with the kind of experience that wins respect from independent artists.

Independents are the ones who, from time to time, write and sing songs from the heart and soul, but who never seem to get much, if any, airplay.

"You don't hear new songs on radio like 'Your Cheatin' Heart' or 'Crazy Arms' or 'Ain't It Funny How Time Slips Away' because it's all been homogenized by these young producers," Bush says of the formula chasers... »»»

If Country Music Television ever collaborates with the Lifetime Network to make a movie-of-the-week, the story of Maggie Brown would be fitting subject matter.

The story has everything: a musical child, dysfunctional family, mental illness, broken marriages and, in the end, a triumph of the human spirit culminating in a fine country album.

"It'll make you sad, but I wouldn't be who I am without all that," Brown, now 38, explains during a phone interview. By "all that," she is referring to her unusual upbringing that began in the rural outskirts of Ferriday, La., hometown of Jerry Lee Lewis.

"Jerry Lee Lewis was the first live performer I ever saw," Brown recalls. "I was five years old, and he gave me goose bumps. I had no idea people could do that. He was such a flamboyant performer."

After seeing "The Killer" in concert, Brown taught herself to play piano. A few years later, she easily picked up guitar.Brown's mother recognized her musical gifts at an early age. "I was a shy... »»»

Blanche lead singer Dan John Miller probably never thought life would be this good. The Detroit-based alt.-country band's five members play instruments they did not necessarily even know how to play when they started about four years ago.

The deaths of family members affected band members, husband-and-wife team Miller, and his wife, Tracee, who plays bass and offers backing vocals.

But despite the hurdles, life's been real fine for Blanche, especially this year. Blanche released its debut on a small Detroit label with help from friend Jack White of White Stripes fame. They have toured across the Pond four times this year alone. And they have seen their critically received album, "If We Can't Trust the Doctors...," get picked up by a much larger label as well this past fall.

Miller also expanded beyond his band responsibilities as well by getting on the silver screen.

"We're kind of shocked that (this) started out with five people who had no idea on their instruments and got to... »»»

D Dgital receivers were provided by both Sirius and XM for this article. Sirius provided a SIRPNP receiver manufactured by Clarion (suggested list price $99.99), and XM sent a Roady unit manufactured by Delphi ($119.99). Both devices are surprisingly tiny. The XM receiver is about the same size as a deck of cards, and its Sirius counterpart is about 30 percent larger.

Activation of both units was relatively simple: Plug the units into a power source, attach speakers and the antenna unit (which is also small, with the actual antenna being about the size of a silver dollar), call the company to activate the unit (this only takes a couple of minutes), and one will immediately begin receiving a signal.

The tricky part is the placement of the antenna for optimum signal strength. When setting up the Sirius unit I first tried placing the antenna next to a window (this is recommended) on the southwest side of my second-floor apartment. Although a signal was found, it turned out to be... »»»

Possessed by a sense of irony as well as a sense of humor as dry as the Southwestern brushlands for which his band Backcountry is named, singer and songwriter Chris Stuart, 46, is naturally thrilled with the response to their new, self-released album "Mojave River."

But he laughs as he reflects that not too many years ago, he thought his music career was as frigid and ice-bound as the upstate New York landscape where he, a Southerner by upraising, was spending another bone-chilling winter.

"To be honest with you, I moved out to San Diego partly to get away from music. I was pretty burned 1996 and sick of being turned down by several Nashville publishers."

Though actually born in Indianapolis himself, both of his parents were natives of Port Arthur, Tex. At 35, his father, an oil field worker, became a preacher and moved his wife, two daughters and son to Jacksonville, Fla.

"My sister, Betsy, got me a guitar when I was in eighth grade and for some reason the first song... »»»

Hundreds of miles above the surface of the Earth, five satellites circle the globe. Their purpose isn't particularly different from dozens of other communication satellites which relay commercial, military or private data signals from one point on the Earth to another.

The difference in this case is that these particular satellites are the first to relay commercial digital radio broadcasts from studios to customers who pay a monthly fee to receive those broadcasts, much as satellite TV broadcasts have done for a couple of decades now.

Currently those customers are almost entirely based in North America, but in the coming years the customer base will expand to other countries as the networks begin to pay for themselves.

These satellites are owned by two competing companies, XM (which owns two of the satellites) and Sirius (which operates three). Each company is currently offering approximately 120 channels of CD-quality digital broadcasting for a monthly price of about $10-13 per company (not counting the cost of the receivers, which are unique to each company).... »»»

Dallas Good, the lead singing half of the two brothers in The Sadies, is driving through Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, a place he terms a "thriving metropolis,' during a phone interview.

At the same time he travels, he's doing his best to describe the nearly indescribable music his band makes. And while it's highly debatable that Halifax is anything close to a thriving metropolis, there's absolutely no debating the high quality of The Sadies' music. It's a hybrid mixing country and western with surf rock and a spaghetti western soundtrack vibe, to create something completely wholly new and unique.

Dallas and his guitarist brother Travis dress in the authentic western wear they inherited from their musician father whenever their band plays live. And like their dad, they reveal a deep love for authentic country music in song. They call their new album "Favourite Colours," (Yep Roc) which is appropriate, since the music on it is quite visual.... »»»

The age-old adage that says, "absence makes the heart grow fonder," could easily apply to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's new recording, "Welcome to Woody Creek," by making a few substitutions - the word 'heart' with 'music,' and 'fonder' with 'better.'

The 'absence' in this case was John McEuen, who left the band in 1987 to pursue some solo projects, but rejoined his perennial pickers in 2001.

According to guitarist/vocalist Jeff Hanna, McEuen's return rejuvenated the group. Essentially, it was the first step towards creating "Welcome to Woody Creek."

"John returning coincided with us doing the 30th anniversary reissue of the first 'Will the Circle Be Unbroken' album," he explains. "We had a little bit of a chance to work together outside of the studio, and he joined up in the summer of 2001, and we starting touring again, which was great... Then, Capitol Records Nashville asked us if we wanted to do a Circle III album because we had done the second album back in '89, and we said 'sure that would be fun, especially with John back playing with us."... »»»

Buddy Miller has amassed the kind of resume and reputation around Nashville and throughout the music industry that should allow him to puff out his feathers and crow his own name every now and again. He's played some relatively and consistently stunning guitar for Emmylou Harris for the past eight years while juggling a solo career that has yet to result in a bad review, a fairly busy production schedule, duet recordings with his wife Julie and a hectic, yet selective session schedule.

With all of the acclaim and adulation that Miller enjoys in all of the facets of his career, it would be completely understandable if he booked passage on a star trip every once in awhile. You know, public temper tantrum, slug a paparazzi, shun the press, show up when he bloody well feels like playing and not a moment before. The whole egocentric package.

The only problem is that Miller couldn't play that part if you scripted it and told him to act it out verbatim. He's just not wired that way. When... »»»

Two meandering, picturesque creeks nourish and beautify the Pennsylvania landscape where Julie Lee spent her childhood summers. It's not surprising then that the intertwining wellsprings of family and faith inspire her music and art today.

Lee grew up in Maryland. "My dad is 100-percent Irish; that's where I get my performing side," she says in a recent telephone interview. "My mother's family is of German descent, from Bedford County, Pa. We spent our summers there."

"As a kid, I thought Bedford County was kind of a boring place," but she says her mother instinctively "knew it was important to expose us to places and things that were disappearing."

As she and her sister wandered down Bedford County's back roads, Lee grew to love the simplicity of the rural lifestyle and the mystery of old family stories.

On "Stillhouse Road," her country and bluegrass debut release on Compadré Records, Lee draws from those childhood memories and her Christian convictions to design what she describes as "a patchwork quilt of history and memories and of musical and personal influences."... »»»

Pat Green is another in a long line of Texas musicians putting out their own albums instead of owning big dreams about striking it rich with one of those huge record companies in Nashville. The type of artist who can make a living just getting in the van and touching down at clubs throughout Texas, which unlike most every other state, is large enough to support the cottage industry known as Texas musician.

But something went "awry" with Green's plans. So much so that he has even occasionally left his home state where he is a bona fide superstar playing to thousands on a regular basis to touring around the country on more than one occasion and perhaps more importantly having a hit record last time out with "Wave On Wave."

Now, the talkative Green is trying to see if he can take his roots-based country one step further with the release in October of "Lucky Ones," his third for Republic/Universal.

With eight albums already under his belt, Green may find it hard to do something different, but he made it clear doing so was very important to him.... »»»

For a pretty young girl to emerge from behind a desk at a big Nashville record company isn't exactly unusual stuff or a qualifier for the next book of modern nursery rhymes. But the way that Adrienne Young has made that transformation would be more likely to appear in a Ripley's tome than one from the Brothers Grimm.

Young's musical journey didn't actually even start very close to Music City Row. She was born in Tallahassee, Fla. and grew up in Clearwater as part of a seven-generation chain from that state. Her first musical love was jazz and was part of a pop band until around 2000 when she moved to Nashville to study the music business at Belmont University and work as a temp for record companies.

None of those companies were interested in her music, which had a very traditional sound. It's actually a good thing because in addition to an old-fashioned tint to the music, Young has a very modern idea about the value of her music.

"I need to keep creative control," says Young... »»»

Can it be true that at age 40 Charlie Robison is no longer the life of the party? The Texan is sleeping off a two-week road trip promoting yet another fine album, "Good Times," after hitting radio stations and shows. In other words, the guy needs some rest after being up from early morning for radio station visits until two or three the next morning, a situation that "has taken its toll," says Robison in an interview from his ranch in Medina, Texas.

But Robison must make the push. It's been three long years since Robison released his last album, and a lot has changed for Robison in the interim, both personally and professionally.

When asked if the period between "Good Times" and 2001's "Step Right Up" seemed long to him," Robison says, "It really did. On stage, I was thinking if I don't get some new songs up there, I'm going to shoot myself. I'm playing these same songs every night. Especially for folks (who put) as much time on the road as I do, that's a big motivator to record new songs."... »»»

Although normalcy is hardly the trademark of a folk singer's life, the career of Lori McKenna still manages to stand out from the careers of most of her musical peers.

After all, how many singer-songwriters wait until they're nearly 30 years old and are already busy raising three children before releasing their first album?

And how many singer-songwriters marry a blue-collar childhood friend and stay in the same small working-class town they grew up in?

But that's just the story for the 35-year-old McKenna, and it's that sort of life that brings an extra sense of realism to her recently released fourth album, "Bittertown."

McKenna, who now has two more children, delivers her best album to date with "Bittertown," (Signature Sounds) a collection that chronicles the hopes and regrets of ordinary small town residents in a manner that recalls early Bruce Springsteen with an angelic voice that compares favorably with Australian alt.-country sweetheart Kasey Chambers.... »»»

I Imagine being sung the following verse.

"It's called a taproom in Pennsylvania, in Manhattan it's a plush lined club. It's just a gin mill in old Chicago, and London it's a bloomin' pub. They serve you cocktails in ritzy Newport and its boilermakers in Squedunk. But when you stagger from the bar, no matter where you are, you're just plain old-fashioned drunk."

Such are the delightful consequences of speaking with legendary producer Cowboy Jack Clement. You see Clement, discoverer of Jerry Lee Lewis and Charley Pride; hit-songwriter for the likes of Johnny Cash, George Jones and Bobby Bare; freelance studio guru for Waylon Jennings and U2; and part-time vocalist, is a 72-year-old genius with the free associative capabilities of a college frat boy.

One minute you'll be treated to a spellbinding reminiscence of great historical importance, the next he'll be singing his favorite verse from "The Taproom Polka." It all fits together somehow.... »»»

Life has changed a lot for Australian singer Kasey Chambers since she was last heard from on "Barricades & Brickwalls" two years ago.

For starters, her then pregnancy turned into motherhood with the birth of her son, Talon. And that meant she never undertook a full-fledged, extensive tour to spread her name and music on this side of the Pacific, though Chambers' popularity in her homeland steadily increased.

Which leads to her latest, "Wayward Angel," an album continuing in a country and rootsy vein that could further boost Chambers' appeal in America. She gained ac-claim from the get go with "The Captain" in 2000 and followed that up with "Barricades & Brickwalls" in 2002. She did not get a lot of airplay on radio, but Chambers certainly generated a lot of positive ink about her recordings and live performances.

In Australia, Chambers already has been accorded the fame of being recognized wherever she goes. Ah, the price of success.... »»»

Melonie Cannon is the daughter of the famous writer/producer Buddy Cannon, but now that she has released her self-titled debut album via Skaggs Family Records, she's beginning to make a name for herself as a solo artist.

Cannon's new music is more acoustic and bluegrass-y than some of the slick sounds her dad (who also helped produce this release, by the way) helps create for artists like Kenny Chesney.

So it's only appropriate that she also spells her first name a little differently than most other 'Melanies' in the world.

"My mom said that my dad had a girlfriend one time named Annie, and that she really loved the name Melanie, but it has the name 'Anie' in it, so she wanted to change it," Cannon explains over the phone with a giggle.

Her name's spelling may be rare, but it's not completely unique. In fact, Cannon recently met another woman on the Internet with the same name spelled exactly the same way. She jokes that there's got to be a song in there somewhere, but unlike her dad and also her sister (Maria Cannon-Goodman), Cannon is strictly a vocalist - not a songwriter (yet).... »»»

There's a show on the Discovery Channel called "Monster Garage" where creative grease monkeys take ordinary cars and transform them into extraordinary machines. If there was ever a Monster Garage for guitars, Junior Brown's famous instrument, the guit-steel, could be featured on the premier episode.

As legend has it, Brown conceived of the double-necked instrument that fuses together a 6-string guitar with a steel guitar during a dream nearly 20 years ago.

"I guess you could call it a dream," Brown explains via phone en route to a gig in San Francisco. "I was half asleep and had the kind of vision you have before you wake up, and you can still remember your dream. In it, I looked down and realized I was playing a double-neck that had the two instruments I enjoy playing - steel and guitar."

After making some inquiries with various custom guitar monster garages, Brown found the right craftsman in his own backyard of Austin, Texas.

"It all fell into place," he says. "I walked... »»»

Scott Avett passes time at the Starheel in Charlottesville, Va., as his heavily touring band the Avett Brothers get ready to open up for Michelle Shocked that evening. The band is busy working on a few new songs, so this helps pass the time that Scott labels, 'hurry up and wait.' During this waiting period, the 27-year-old banjo picker is only too happy to talk about his band's unique brand of mountain music. "I always like talking to someone that is willing to listen."

Upon a first listen, the simple, honest, back porch songs weave their spell on an unsuspecting listener. Soulful singing and two-part sibling harmonizing is combined with some hooting and a hollerin' and some rhythmic pickin'. It occupies a space somewhere between bluegrass, alt.-country, juke-joint era jazz and folk. Groups such as The Band and early Uncle Tupelo share some of the Avett's acoustic leanings.

The Avett Brothers, based out of Concord, N.C., near Charlotte, are currently touring throughout the U.S. promoting their fifth release - "Mignonette," recorded this past spring with 17 songs and more than 70 minutes.... »»»

Politics and country music have been linked for decades. Although most artists through the history of country music have tended to avoid discussing politics in great detail for fear of alienating their fans with other political affiliations, a political thread has always run through country music.

Anti-communist songs were a thriving sub-genre in country music in the '40s and '50s. West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd released an album of fiddle music in 1978. Country and bluegrass bands have long been a staple of political rallies in the south.

And President Nixon appeared (and even performed on piano) at the opening of the then-new Grand Ole Opry House in March 1974.

Most famously, Roy Acuff ran for governor of Tennessee as a Republican in 1948. Acuff lost the race (at that time the Solid South was still solidly Democrat), but nonetheless managed to pull in more votes than any other Republican had in previous elections.

Though less well-known today than Acuff, W. Lee "Pappy"... »»»

Getting your head around Steve Earle can be likened to that old story about the blind men and the elephant: Who he is at any given moment depends entirely upon your particular perspective.

Sure, he's best known for consistently creating groundbreaking country rock music, but Earle also has wrote a book of short stories, crafted a play, is hosting his own radio show and just started work on a novel.

His new album (remember, music is still something he leaves time for) is titled "The Revolution Starts...Now," and it is - just in time for the election - a politically motivated release. Always seemingly where the action is, Earle called from New York City for this interview.

"I'm kind of camped out here for a month," he explains. "The record's out, and I had to do a bunch of press anyway, and I wanted to get into town before the convention started because they're not going to let pinkos in here in a couple of days."

Earle jokingly calls himself a pinko since his political... »»»

Charlie Waller was all set to board his bus for a weekend's worth of concerts with his band.

Yet, it wasn't just another road trip for the legendary Waller and his band of 47 years, the Country Gentlemen. Sure, the weekend would kick off with a show in Cherokee, N.C., then on to do a benefit concert to help raise money for his longtime friend and former member of the Gentlemen, Eddie Adcock, who underwent heart bypass surgery in July. Next would be one final gig in Ohio before Waller and his band mates returned to their homes in and around Washington, D.C., where the Country Gentlemen helped create one of the most vibrant and vital bluegrass and folk scenes of the 1960s and '70s.

The band's storied bluegrass and folk archives was to be punctuated with some fresh new sounds from the several of the Gentlemen. Over the course of the weekend, Waller was gearing up to play songs from his just-released album, "Songs of the American Spirit."... »»»

Repeating the success of a hit-laden album is never easy or a given. Not in this day and age of flavor-of-the-month groups and a fickle public seemingly always onto the next big thing.

For some musicians, the easiest route would be giving the fans exactly the same old.

And what's different about Nichols' great, full sounding voice?"I learned there are some things that I could do, how low I could sing and make it believable," he says. "The strength of the voice is what I mean. Being on the road (giving concerts), I learned what I could and could not do."

In fact, when discussing what he wanted to do with the new album, Nichols says, "Number one was to make something that lived up with 'Man With a Memory' or even exceeded it. I wanted to do something much like 'Man With a Memory,' but make it that much better. I think we did."

Referring to the 11 songs on "Revelation," Nichols says the music is "definitely a snapshot of the mood in my life right now or the last year or two."

"I'm a little more in touch with the emotional side of things the past couple of years," says Nichols.... »»»

W hat's a girl to do when the reviews for her debut album are as glowing as an ocean sunrise and her very first release winds up in nearly everybody's year end top 10 list? Some girls would panic at the prospect of following up an album with that kind of initial response simply because of the almost unbearable anticipation for the next one.

By virtue of her amazingly textured first album, the country/blues/folk tinged "Bramble Rose," and her sophomore release, the soulfully electric "Tambourine," Tift Merritt is clearly not the kind of artist to be easily rattled by a little good press. Or a lot, for that matter.

"I'm sure that it does have an influence on me, but I try to keep whatever's driving the train to be something that comes from far within and not something that has to do with extenuating circumstances," says Merritt of the effect of Bramble Rose's ecstatic reaction on the creation of "Tambourine."

"I think the main influence that 'Bramble Rose' had on this record was... »»»

It's no wonder that family band Malibu Storm's self-titled debut on Rounder Records defies strict categorization.

According to bassist/vocalist Michael Alden, he and his twin sisters, Dana Burke and Lauren Mills, grew up listening to "everything from top 40 radio to old sea chanteys to Broadway show tunes." He believes that "good music is good music," but quickly adds, "make no mistake, though - we're a country band!"

The album's first single, "Photograph," is the siblings' take on a 1983 hit by British heavy metal rockers Def Leppard. The tune showcases the group's talents and reflects their eclectic tastes.

According to Dana, "Lauren and I had been big fans of Def Leppard when we were kids, and 'Photograph' was just one the random songs we used to jam on. It seemed to lend itself really well to the banjo and fiddle."

That the Def Leppard version was produced by Mutt Lang, who later became Shania Twain's producer and husband, may help explain why the tune blends so well to the trio's country stylings.... »»»

"Well, I had to go to the masters to get that," says Alvin Lee of the strong rockabilly groove exhibited on his new album "In Tennessee." "I could have tried forever to do that in England or anywhere else in the world. But, you have to go where it is done best."

Best known as the primal force behind Ten Years After, Lee enlisted the aid of Elvis Presley's original '50s band mates, Scotty Moore and DJ Fontana. Speaking from his home in Spain, the '60 and '70s guitar god envisioned working with the duo from the moment they first met at an all-star gathering.

"Yeah, it was from meeting Scotty, first in 1995," explains Lee. "I met him as a fan. I had a camera, and I got his autograph. I asked him how he played the second guitar solo in 'Hound Dog.' Then, I met him again in 1999 with (documentary film-maker) Dan Griffin and DJ over at George Harrison's house. George had invited them down, and I think they had done a radio interview with my friend (pioneer English rocker) Joe Brown in England. So, we basically all went down to pay homage to Scotty and DJ, and we had dinner and then went up to the studio."... »»»

With the release of their 10th album, "The Best Durn Ride," IIIrd Tyme Out's lead vocalist and guitarist, 40-year old Russell Moore, reflects from his Georgia home that the 13 years since the band's formation in 1991 have been a pretty good ride as well.

Though he and bassist Ray Deaton, 50, are the sole remaining members of the original quintet, the band's remarkable stability through the years has allowed them to achieve and maintain a distinctive vocal and instrumental sound that has garnered numerous individual and group awards.PMoore himself is a multiple-time IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year, and the band is almost perennial Vocal Group of the Year winners. Where some bands are driven by the personal vision of a single, central person, Moore says the success of IIIrd Tyme Out relates directly to a philosophy of letting each band member contribute in their own best way.

We've never asked anybody in the group to play a certain way or to emulate anybody. We want the individual... »»»

Growing up in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canadian country star Terri Clark, was just a little cowgirl with big dreams. In 2004, these dreams continue to come true for the talented troubadour.

She moved to Nashville at 18, paid her dues playing and waitressing at the famous honky-tonk Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, and now, a little more than 10 years later, she is on a hot streak.

Catching up with Clark via telephone during a tour stop in Phoenix where she was trying to stay cool inside the concert venue, she spoke about how hot this summer has been for her. Her new album - "Greatest Hits 1994-2004" - barnstormed onto the charts, debuting at number 4 on Billboard's Top Country Albums chart and sold more than 63,000 copies in its first week, while the new single "Girls Lie Too" hit number 1.

She's currently in the midst of opening the cross-country sold-out tour with Toby Keith called the "Big Throwdown." Just a few weeks into it, she says things are already "running like a well-oiled machine."... »»»

Music is probably the most promiscuous of all the art forms, with all of the various branches of the harmonics family tree occasionally reinvigorating their bloodlines by accepting a graft or two from another branch. It's been going on for as long as there's been music, but that doesn't stop the purists from raising a hue and cry every time it happens anew.

History is now repeating itself again with Big & Rich's first album "Horse of a Different Color" taking over the charts, and its incorporation of blues, gospel and rap ("Country music without prejudice" as Big & Rich call it) sending the self-appointed guardians of musical integrity into a tizzy.

Which surprises Big Kenny, one half of the groundbreaking duo, since he has always considered himself something of a purist.

"When it comes to music, I've always been a purist. I just love to hear real music. You can just feel when someone's speaking to you. I think that's what's always caught me about music, no matter what genre it came from, it's just about was it great or not.... »»»

Geography and bluegrass have always been closely related, from the moment that Bill Monroe decided to call his new band the Blue Grass Boys, in honor of his Kentucky homeland and roots.

And the Stanley Brothers, of course, actually were from Clinch Mountain, but even some high-profile band names have been drawn from places that don't actually exist. The Johnson Mountain Boys didn't rely on any maps in choosing their name, and even Jimmy Martin's legendary Sunny Mountain Boys are named more for a state of mind than an actual place.

As they enjoy the buzz generated by the recent release of their self-titled debut on the Rebel label, Woody Platt, guitarist and lead singer of the North Carolina-based Steep Canyon Rangers almost sheepishly admits that the inspiration for the band's name came from a somewhat different angle.

"To be honest with you, it's been a funny topic, but it actually came off a bottle of Deep Canyon Stout (a product of an independent California brewery)."... »»»

Vocally, Ralph Stanley II may not sound much like his legendary father. Whereas the elder Stanley is revered for his spine-tingling lonesome bluegrass howl, Two - as he's known to his family and friends - has a plaintive husky baritone more akin to country icons such as George Jones and Merle Haggard.

Still, there's something about the younger Stanley that makes it clear that he's very much attuned to his rich family heritage.

Stanley makes specific reference to the pressure of living up to his famous name in the title track to his latest solo album, "Carrying On," which came out in late June on Rebel.

Realizing the impact of the Stanley Brothers, which consisted of his father and his uncle Carter, Stanley matter-of-factly notes, "If I live up to my name, I'll have to fill some mighty big shoes."

But Stanley then makes the "Will the Circle Be Unbroken"-worthy observation that he realizes the importance of his link to their legend in the line "when I walk out in the spotlight, we're all standing side by side."... »»»

Newcomer Julie Roberts is a bit of a tease. When asked what her goals were in making her debut album, which came out in late May, Roberts was asked to go beyond "I tried making the best album I could."

After all, any singer who doesn't try for his or her best is probably in the wrong field.

So what does Roberts, who looks an awful lot like Faith Hill, say? "I was trying to make the best album I could...I'm just teasing."

In reality, Roberts hit the mark quite well with her mix of soulful country and bluesy melodies and a full, confident sounding voice to match.

"Honestly, I picked songs that I love, songs that I could relate to," says Roberts in a telephone interview from Nashville in mid-June. "I wanted the emotion that I feel to come across on the album. That was my goal - to make an album that was believable whether I wrote them or not. I picked them because I could relate to them. I wanted to share that emotion with listeners and hopefully that will reach them."... »»»

If the Country Music Association ever creates an award for the Best Album Written in a Crack House, put your money on Chris Richards' "Tumblers & Grit."

"By the time I got to Nashville, the economy was really suffering," Richards, 31, explains in a phone interview from his (drug free) Nashville home. "I moved into this horrible little house and began writing songs. Before I moved in, it had been vacant for about a year. The neighbors told me that the last tenants sold crack out of it. It was all I could afford, so I bunkered myself in there and knocked out whatever songs I could while I didn't have a job. Most of the record was written there."

The road from his original hometown of Sheboygan, Wisc. ("the bratwurst capital of the United States") to a Nashville crack house was a long and windy one.

"Sheboygan is a little manufacturing town with real blue collar, working class folks," Richards explains. "It's a very good place to raise a family, but not a whole heckuva lot going... »»»

Kind of an odd name to give a band that is just releasing its debut album - the Notorious Cherry Bombs.

But the country rock group, or at least its members, is anything but notorious. Not when folks like Rodney Crowell, Vince Gill, Tony Brown and a bunch of longstanding ace Nashville sidemen stalwarts are aboard.

In fact, the album may mark the debut music from the group, but this is not the first time most of them played together.

The Cherry Bombs - most of them - actually were the well-regarded backing band for Crowell about 25 years ago.

Crowell says during a cell phone interview somewhere on the road in New Mexico that his intent in making the record was "honestly, trying to have some fun. And trying not to take it too seriously. As a matter of fact, I wasn't even concerned with making the best album I can. I didn't care about that. To me, it was just Vince and I hadn't worked together in a long time. That was one of the things that I was interested in. Vince and I hadn't hooked up in years because we've been on two different paths."... »»»

Playing on stage since he was five, Steve Gulley hopes that he never has to get a "real job."

With a new album receiving rave reviews and a growing legion of fans, the 41-year-old lead singer and rhythm guitar player for bluegrass group Mountain Heart could be on track to achieve this goal.

Gulley, banjo player Barry Abernathy and fiddler Jim Van Cleve formed the 6-piece band in 1998. Before Mountain Heart, the three spent time together in Quicksilver - the longtime band led by celebrated bluegrass showman Doyle Lawson.

"Force of Nature" - the bands' fourth album and best yet - hit stores in early May, two years after "No Other Way."

A lot has changed.

The band's sound continues to evolve and the group gained a new member, lead guitarist Clay Jones. "From the last album to this one, we have tried to figure out who we are as a band," Gulley says. "I think that this band is a much better band than we were last time out. Clay has had a big part to do with it, but we have also evolved."

"That's the one thing you will notice on this record first and foremost - the intensity level goes up every time Clay is involved."... »»»

Some discover them amidst tragedy. Others put pen to paper as a baby's birth unfolds before them in the back of some nondescript cross-country bus. Still others are pretty good at relating their emotions after a night drenched in beer and whiskey.

Dave Alvin happened to find the subject of a new song while poking around a dingy Southern California junk store. Though the venerable Los Angeles-based roots rocker and charter member of The Blasters may not be the first to find inspiration among the dusty shelves of some hole-in-the-wall antique shop, his song "Everett Reuss" is certainly among the more charming narratives in recent memory relating the life and times of a minor folk hero.

Reuss, now immortalized in song on Alvin's latest album "Ashgrove," was a young Depression-era poet and artist who wandered much of the Southwest. He had his letters, writings and drawings pulled together for a book, á la Woody Guthrie's "Bound for Glory," after his mysterious disappearance.... »»»

Current photos of Dale Watson show a much older man than the one who stared out of the cover of his 1995 debut, "Cheatin' Heart Attack."

Hair that was once dark brown is now entirely gray. There are a few more creases in his brow these days, and more than a little sadness in the eyes; more than one might expect from a man who's still only 40. He's still a handsome man - striking, even - and has preserved his wiry physique admirably. But it's clear that years of touring have had an effect.

At this point, it's a bit of a truism that Watson would have stood a very good chance of being a major star had he been around in the '60s or even in the '70s. His good looks, songwriting and singing would have fit right in with that era.

Unfortunately for Dale Watson, his first album came out in 1995 - the peak of the Garth Brooks era - rather than in 1965 or 1975.

Asked if he thinks he might have been more successful had he been born 10 or 20 years earlier, Watson - who has just released a... »»»

At 47, Larry Stephenson is probably more surprised than anyone to realize it, but the recent release of his latest Pinecastle project "Clinch Mountain Mystery" marks not only his 15th year with the Florida-based bluegrass specialty label, but also pretty darn close to the completion of three full decades as a professional bluegrass performer.

It all began, he relates from his current home in the Nashville area, with his father, Edwin Stephenson.

"I was born in Harrisonburg, Va., and I grew up over in King George County, Va., just the other side of Fredericksburg...My dad played and sang, he was from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, over in the Harrisonburg area, and his family played and sang at barn dances and different things when he was a kid. When I was five years old, he put a mandolin in my hand, and I've been at it ever since."

His father's musical career was, by comparison, informal and sporadic, at least until Larry began taking music seriously.... »»»

A lot has changed for Colorado-based bluegrass band Open Road since its Rounder Records 2002 debut, "Cold Wind."

For starters, the response was enthusiastic from critics and public alike to the debut, setting the stage for their new disc " the life."

And secondly, the quintet experienced a major shake up - three new members surfaced since the debut.

Group co-founder and mandolinist Caleb Roberts says in a late May interview from his home in Lyons, Col. that the timing was right for a sophomore effort.

"We wanted to have another recording because the time had certainly come since the last one," he says.

The intent of " the life" was to give the public a chance to hear the new line-up along with a sampling of its current material.

"That gets into the material that we chose (and) that we didn't choose," says Roberts of the goals in making the new album. "That was pretty hard because we went through a process of picking a couple of dozen songs that we might record (and then) paring it down into this bunch that worked well together."... »»»

Raising 2 children, Christmas trees and quarter horses, all the while keeping a 132-year-old ranch running would be a full-time job for most mothers, but then again, country-western singer Joni Harms is not like most mothers.

Taking a break from preparing dinner on a late May evening on her family ranch, the homebody Harms talks about the importance of family values, her new record label and balancing life on the ranch and life on the road.

Harms' great great grandfather homesteaded the ranch in Canby, Ore. in 1872. She and her husband are now buying the land from her parents (who are in their 80's and still live on the ranch), ensuring it's kept in the family.

Part of this preservation involved a new home since the foundation of the original farmhouse was not really repairable. "I hated to take it down, but we rebuilt it on the same location, and I hope it's a place that will be here for another 100 years," she says.

Juggling the family responsibilities of taking care of two generations is definitely a challenge, but the rewards far outweigh the frustrations.... »»»

"It was really scary," says Rosie Flores of her new album. "I was sitting here in my little armless rocking chair 15 minutes before I was supposed to set up at the club and record. I had an audience waiting there for me...and I sitting there finishing the writing of the songs saying, 'This line could be better!' I was just so nervous. Then, while I was up there on-stage, I started thinking, 'I can't hide behind anything. They're going to either really love this or really hate it.' It's like standing up there naked. You get so insecure."

Flores needn't have worried. Armed with just her tender, expressive voice and bravura acoustic guitar technique, she has fashioned the finest album of her eclectic career with "Single Rose." Alternately poetic and flat-out fun, the 14-song live show brings a light country and jazz context to the disparate influences of her life: rockabilly, blues, western swing and punk.

"Well, I was part of the rockabilly scene in LA," explains the 54-year-old... »»»

Joe Diffie had good reason to postpone the originally scheduled interview. You see, his wife Theresa gave birth to their new baby daughter, Kylie Tarissa Diffie, on the date of the initial appointment.

Needless to say, Diffie was in a grand mood when we eventually spoke, even though he was in the middle of slugging his way through a day's worth of back-to-back interviews, rather than bonding with his newborn daughter.

But it was the birth of a completely different kind - the arrival of his bouncing new album called "Tougher Than Nails" - that prompted Diffie into playing interview-o-rama.

Even though there's a whopping 22- year span between Diffie's oldest son, Parker, and his brand new daughter, this latest family addition was by no means what you might term an "accident."

"At first, I thought I was finished having children," Diffie admits. "But then my wife's maternal clock got to ticking, and I said, 'Hey, what the heck.'"

Coincidently, the new "Tougher Than Nails" album... »»»

Back in 1999, Ed Burleson released a great Texas honky tonk album "My Perfect World."

Only, life apparently wasn't so perfect for Burleson because he was getting divorced, he didn't see eye to eye with his label and a key musical influence and Texas legend, Doug Sahm, died.

The result was Burleson hadn't had a disc of new music out since save for a self-released live disc.

But that's all changed thanks to a new record label, which put out "The Cold Hard Truth," another mix of honky tonk with healthy doses of bluegrass thrown in, in late April.

Referring to the long wait for new music, Burleson says in a telephone interview from his Denison, Texas home, "It was for me too."

Burleson released a live disc about 2 1/2 years ago, but he's glad the long haul is over. "I didn't have the money to promote it," he says.

As for dealings with his first label, Tornado, which Sahm had started, "It was frustrating just because the old record label, once (Sahm) was gone, wouldn't tell me anything."

Tornado actually still exists, but Burleson indicates he had difficulties in dealing with the label.... »»»

"We've become much more of a serious band," says Two Dollar Pistols front man John Howie. "It's less of a hobby and more like a job - in a good way."

Chapel Hill, N.C.-based Yep Roc Records is releasing the hard-working group's third full-length studio album, "Hands Up!" in mid-May, the follow-up to 2002's successful "You Ruined Everything."

Ace producer Brian Paulson (Son Volt, Jayhawks, Uncle Tupelo) worked his magic on "Hands Up!," incorporating subtle pop touches to the Pistols' trademark country-soul sound.

Howie says his admiration of Wilco's Paulson-produced first album, "A.M.," led him to ask the fellow North Carolina resident to work with the Pistols.

The band told Paulson, who cut a deal to be able to work together, that they hoped to capture the energy of their live show on record, according to Howie. So Paulson came to the band's performance at a benefit show for Alejandro Escovedo in Raleigh, N.C. last November shortly before recording was to begin. Afterward, Howie pointed to the Pistols' well-received set of hard country as the sound the band wanted to put on record.... »»»

Calling from an unspecified location, Unknown Hinson offers some sagely intended, comedically delivered advice to up and coming musicians. "Practice your guitar, piana or whatever, at least a half hour a day. Don't give up because you never know. But most of all - try to avoid a prison sentence if humanly possible. Because your rakkerd sales will drop off if you go into the joint for 30 years like I done."

Sound advice and like many of Hinson's statements, he makes a claim that can't easily be proved or disproved. You see, the singer-songwriter, who looks like the living embodiment of the 1966 B-movie "Dracula Meets Billy The Kid," is more of a stage persona than an actual person. Part late-night horror-movie host, part novelty act with a death row attitude, he is the most unique performer in country music today.

This fact was not lost on Capitol Records, which recently released the bottom-fanged felon's first major label album "The Future Is Unknown."... »»»

Mandolin player Josh Caffery's voice doesn't necessarily conjure up Bob Wills. But his playing - and that of his band mates in The Red Stick Ramblers - certainly does.

This six-man combo raises many ghosts, and the first few notes on the band's second album "Bring It On Down," (Memphis International) make one nostalgic for toe-tapping swing tunes from the nation's past.

The Red Stick Ramblers add a little spice to the gumbo, with Cajun influences and other interesting bits.

"We kind of started out playing mostly swing, hot jazz, genuine early jazz from the 1930s and Western swing," Caffery recalls.

But one of the group's fiddlers hails from Eunice, La., he says, and things began to evolve. "It's in the air around here. We were playing swing, and every once in a while we threw in a Cajun tune more and more - until today, it's more of a balance of swing-inspired stuff and Cajun stuff."

"Bring It On Down" is a rollicking affair, with seductive blues, call-and-response vocals... »»»

David Lee Murphy must have thought he may become dust on the bottle. After all, he had not released an album in more than six years and "Tryin' to Get There" was released on a label that while usually putting out quality music had yet to see of its releases break big.

Until now. The Illinois native is back on the charts with "Loco," a song that has a Jimmy Buffett bent.

"It's definitely got that kind of vibe," says Murphy, in a telephone interview from Nashville where he is based, of the song he wrote with frequent, longtime songwriting partner Kim Tribble.

And Murphy, whose music has a good amount of guitars, sometimes Stones-style, while keeping it country, seems quite happy on Audium Records, also the home of folks like Dwight Yoakam, Robert Earl Keen, The Tractors and Daryle Singletary.

"I had considered other labels a few years prior to that, but I had talked with Nick (Hunter, the head of Audium) and to some other indie labels. But I really like Nick Hunter and the people that they had down there. It seemed right. It seemed like the place to go."... »»»

These days, there is very little that's left over with Leftover Salmon.

Just check their fridge. It's now stocked with several new members who are making their debuts on the influential jam band's latest record. There's also a new vibe, a sort of sobering maturity that's occurred since co-founder and banjoist Mark Vann died of cancer in 2003.

There's even a new producer. And that's where Leftover Salmon emphatically declares that while there indeed is change in the cool mountain air of their home base on Colorado's Front Range, they aren't about to completely forego the freewheeling jams and improvisation that's been a hallmark of the band's lengthy career.

Leftover Salmon's new producer, Bill Payne, also plays keyboards for the seminal West Coast ensemble Little Feat, one of the truly great jam bands of any era. Much like Leftover Salmon lost Vann, Little Feat lost its heart and soul in June 1979 when Lowell George died suddenly of a stroke.... »»»

The words "bluegrass" and "epiphany" rarely seem to keep close company with each other, or at least, not usually in the vocabularies of those who don't follow bluegrass music closely.

But it was just such an epiphany, a revelation, that took hold of college roommates Reid Burgess, a Wisconsin native, and Ted Pitney, a New Yorker by birth, when they decided to take in a local bluegrass festival, neither of them having experienced the music previously.

"The two of us, we met at Kenyon College, out in the middle of nowhere, in Ohio," Burgess says, "We sort of one day found ourselves at that bluegrass festival, and that made a big impression on us. I think in high school, I had heard Béla Fleck and some of the instrumental stuff. I had a high school buddy who was pretty into that. What really grabbed me was the vocals and just being part of the whole bluegrass culture. It would have been my junior year, so I would say right about 2000, maybe 1999. We were pretty obsessed or at least I was those last few years of college with bluegrass, just pretty obsessive about listening to bluegrass. We just really became addicted to it."... »»»

There are almost as many reasons to become a performer as there are performers. For singer/songwriter Eliza Gilkyson, the reason was quite unique as well.

The late Terry Gilkyson was her father. He, too, was a songwriter. He was the author for such well-known songs as "Greenfields" and "The Bare Necessities," the latter from the Disney film "Jungle Book" earned him an Oscar nomination. He also contributed music to Disney's "Swiss Family Robinson," "Thomasina" and the "Aristocats." His songs were recorded by artists like Dean Martin, Louis Armstrong, Johnny Cash, the Kingston Trio, Harry Connick Jr. He died nearly five years ago.

"He was more of a traditional folk singer than I am," says Eliza Gilkyson, who just released the country sounding "Land of Milk and Honey" on Red House Records, in a telephone interview from her home in Austin, Texas. "He was one of the first folk singers to write his own songs."

His total of penned, published material reached nearly 400 titles.... »»»

Cross Canadian Ragweed has wisely titled its latest album "Soul Gravy," since - much like table gravy - this disc is a mixture of sometimes unidentifiable, yet still tasty, ingredients.

The group is led by singer Cody Canada, who has been known to sport Iron Maiden t-shirts on stage and even break into a guitar-squealing version of Ted Nugent's "Strangle-hold" when the mood strikes him just right. In fact, a recorded cover of that Motor City Madman's familiar hard rock classic is even included as a hidden track on the new album.

Yet, even with all of its loud music tendencies, this Texas-based band's album entered at number five on the country album chart the week it was released in March. Additionally, this same group recently organized a hometown tribute to country outlaw Waylon Jennings. It just can't be denied that there's still plenty of country seasoning spicing up this hard-driving outfit's unique stew.

"We wanted to do something a little different, and go for like a... »»»

After growing up in a home where the love of the English language was a way of life, it would have been unnatural for James McMurtry to be unaffected by that environment.

But rather than follow the lead of his famous novel-writing father or his school teacher mother, he found his own way of lyrical expression by writing and singing songs.

His father, Larry McMurtry, is best known for writing the books "Lonesome Dove" and "Terms of Endearment." His dad also pointed him toward country music at an early age by playing that music regularly around the house.

But it was his mother who aided him in learning the guitar. She taught him some chords when he was seven years old.

For a time, he actually believed he didn't like to read books because of the way he approached them. "I don't read like everyone else," says McMurtry in a telephone interview from his home in Austin, Texas. "I put my life on hold until I finish the book. And I'm not a fast reader. I have good comprehension and retention, but it takes me a while. But I read more now than I used to. I think it's something I've grown into."... »»»

James Otto's debut was a long time in coming. It's not that the Washington native has taking his sweet old time.

It's that his album, "Days of Our Lives," has. The disc originally was slated for release in spring 2003.

But due to a single or two not doing so well, the disc was delayed. He also ended up returning to the recording studio and cut four more tracks, including the title cut.

"It was tough," says Otto in a telephone interview from Nashville where he has lived since 1998. "It was definitely hard to sit back and on the sidelines for a while. In the end, it was probably just fine, and things worked out just fine. It was not too bad."

Otto, a strapping 6-5, says when he went into recording the album, "honestly, I wanted to make a record that was a rollercoaster of emotions, and I wanted to make a record that pushed the envelope of country music a little bit with some of the rocking stuff that we did. We did some stuff was inside the box like 'Days of Our Lives' and 'The... »»»

When you listen to Old Crow Medicine Show's new album, "O.C.M.S.," you hear a little string band music here and a touch of bluegrass there, which leaves it a few giant steps away from much of today's country music mainstream.

So just because this Nashville act has just put out an album on the relatively large non-country Nettwerk Records, it nevertheless harbors no illusions about becoming some kind of a voice for anybody's generation. .

"If you're real people, doing real things, you can only connect with a certain number of people," admits Ketch Secor, the fiddler for this five-piece group, which also includes Willie Watson, Critter Fuqua, Kevin Hayes and Morgan Jahnig. "Kids just aren't going to accept it. But if you can get through to the few that are on the fringe, that are ready to be welcomed in, it's a pretty cool feeling when you can turn somebody on."

Even after a show that Secor calls the group's worst ever gig, these Old Crows were still able to reach at least one impressionable young mind.... »»»

"This one will always be special," says Alecia Nugent of her self-titled solo debut on Rounder Records. "I got to do it my own way, with songs that mean something to me and with people I wanted to work with."

For a first-time effort, "Alecia Nugent" is a profoundly personal album. The disc's 11 offerings, each carefully selected by Nugent, capture the range of emotions she experienced while recording it in late 2000.

"I was dealing with some serious personal issues at the time," Nugent reveals during a telephone interview from her home in Hickory Grove, La. "I'm a private person; it's only when I sing that I can really open up."

Nugent's "therapy," out March 9th, is a vibrant collection of classic and new bluegrass-oriented material that she believes reflects the heartbreak, and ultimately, the triumph of those times.

Nugent was born and raised in Hickory Grove, a tiny rural crossroads in the northern half of the state. Her father, Jimmy Nugent, and his cousins formed the popular and enduring regional group Southland Bluegrass Band in 1972, the same year Alecia was born.... »»»

In the eyes of Tracy Lawrence, "Strong," his disc out in late March on DreamWorks, represents not only a debut for a hot label, but also a bid to resurrect his career.

That from a man who started his career blazing with hit single after hit single only to endure domestic and legal problems, a suspension in effect from his long-time label and an album 2 1/2 years ago that despite lots of good music, failed to light a spark either at radio or with consumers.

The Texas native is back with a mix that stays country while going for a bit more of a contemporary sound.

"I think my goal for this record was to try to expand my boundaries and reinvent myself to a degree," says Lawrence via cell phone somewhere en route between Hartford and Boston during a radio promotion tour. "This has been a real important time for me with the format. I'm not a format chaser. I never have been. To be commercially viable again, I had to see what was going with the format. This is a business - to be able... »»»

Mark Erelli realizes that he doesn't exactly fit the ideal of the prototypical "country" singer and songwriter raised on a hardscrabble farm in the rural South, plucking out mournful ballads on a $5 Sears guitar in the short respites between long, hard days in the fields or coal mines.

As he savors the reaction, thus far enthusiastic and approving, to his new hard-core, honky-tonk Signature Sounds release "Hillbilly Pilgrim," the self-described "folk singer" readily acknowledges that his upbringing was that of a typical suburban Boston kid.

"I grew up in Reading, about 12 miles north of parents are both teachers, a high school teacher and a nursery school teacher, so education was always a big priority while growing up. Reading is your fairly average suburb town of Boston, not the poorest, kind of an average suburban town."

Erelli, 29, still lives and is based in the Boston area and says that, like many of his generation, his interest in music was sparked by the '80s heyday of MTV.... »»»

Music fans probably remember Slaid Cleaves for his recent countrified lament, "Broke Down." His career is anything but.

Cleaves, who will turn 40 in June, is gearing up for a tour behind his latest album, "Wishbones" (Rounder), a crisp-sounding collection of songs that the singer-songwriter says came together through storytelling.

Most of the songs "are stories," he says, "things I have read about or heard about secondhand or firsthand. Some are just made up."

The album boasts an impressive collection. The title track offers what sounds like an impressionistic view of barroom life. "Spin the bottle cap/Throw a shot back" urges the chorus.

But perhaps something darker is going on?

"That one's not a story," says Cleaves in a phone interview. "It's more impressionistic, a little less direct than most of my writing. I usually have one song like that on each record. It's a little more pop, and it's a little more mysterious."

Other selections, like "Tiger Tom Dixon's Blues" or "Drinkin' Days" get the toes tapping and the brain gears moving all at the same time.... »»»

Will Oldham once said that face-to-face interviews make him sick. The endless questions regarding religion, family, alternative country music, name changes and the songwriting process - whether asked in person or not - make him just as equally ill.

Yet the quiet and polite gentleman encountered at the infamous Chateau Marmont on Hollywood's Sunset Strip, the place where John Belushi OD'd, didn't appear to be at all uncomfortable during a short talk. You can call him Will Oldham, Palace Music or Bonnie "Prince" Billy - or any of the other pseudonyms he happens to be going under that particular week - but you'd be dead wrong if you referred to him as rude.

This casual looking, scandal-wearing artist also appeared strikingly different from his sometimes sickly and disheveled image on album covers and press photos. Oldham, who loves to swim and surf when he's not creating music, was dressed like any number of other Southern California beach-goers.... »»»

Leave it to the people back home to keep you grounded .

Despite the international acclaim, beside the fact she can draw from the A-list of Nashville's top musicians for recording sessions at the drop of a hat, Cape Breton fiddler Natalie MacMaster isn't about to get above her raising. Family and friends in her native Nova Scotia won't allow it .

While Jennifer Lopez may have laid claim to the just-plain-folks phrase she's still Jenny from the block, the pop diva has nothing on MacMaster, who's truly just Natalie from Cape Breton Island .

MacMaster, 30, is steeped by the generations before her in Cape Breton's rich Scottish culture, carrying forward the region's traditional music and dance that dates back some 200 years .

Any notions of a swelled head after weeks of fans' adulation on the road or performing alongside the likes of Béla Fleck or Edgar Meyer in a studio for her latest album, "Blueprint," on Rounder, are quickly dispelled when MacMaster returns to Cape Breton... »»»

For Kenny and Amanda Smith, 2003 was a year of excitement and anticipation as they recorded and looked forward to releasing their debut on Virginia-based Rebel Records, "House Down The Block" (out Jan. 20).

An added surprise came in the fall when they won the Emerging Artist Award at the annual International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) awards in Louisville.

"We were very excited," Amanda says, enjoying time off the road at home in the Blue Ridge of southern Virginia. "That award could have gone any way, to any of those bands. They were all good. We were really honored and surprised to get the award. We were very much excited when they called our name. We really weren't expecting that at all."

Kenny chimes in, "It's a springboard for us to sort of fuel the fire. It was definitely good for us to do that because a lot of people took note of what we were trying to do. But being a new band, we were floored that we actually got nominated for that award, and then to win it, was... »»»

Greg Brown isn't a name familiar to many country music fans. Though a strong and respected singer and songwriter, he has never hit the charts with his records or songs .

Brown has become a household name only in those houses where folk music still reigns supreme. Even though Willie Nelson has recorded his songs, as has Mary Chapin Carpenter, his writing is more likely to show up on albums by Shawn Colvin and Carlos Santana than Toby Keith or Patty Loveless.

But with his 18th studio album, "Honey in the Lion's Head," released by Trailer Records in January, this Iowa native has captured much of the rootsy feel that has proven popular among country fans in recent years .

The album is a tribute to the folk songs he grew up learning and loving in his very rural upbringing. The rootsy-sounding album had been planned for several years, but finding the right time to put it together was far more complicated than the music it contains .

"I'd tried to go into the studio before to record... »»»

No one knew at the time, but when The Flatlanders formed more than 30 years ago, they became the world's first supergroup in reverse. Oh sure, plenty of artists rise up from the obscure bands that spawned them and any success they have along the way naturally forces a spotlight on those early efforts.

And while those early efforts are often unfairly lionized because of the artist's current success, that assessment most certainly does not apply to The Flatlanders. Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock were great musicians and songwriters when they teamed up together as The Flatlanders in 1971, and that seminal greatness translated easily to each of their solo careers.

But a funny thing happened on the way to now for The Flatlanders. As more and more time wedged itself between The Flatlanders' dusty past and the present accolades for Ely, Gilmore and Hancock individually, the more mythological The Flatlanders became. The handful of Texas gigs the band played took on legendary status and their almost immediately out of print debut album became prized by collectors as a grail-like object of pursuit.... »»»

"I find myself liking the opposite of what most mainstream people like. I've never really been interested in pop music from any era simply because of its palatability."

So says Cari Lee Merritt, cowgirl attired lead singer of the Saddle-ites, about the blend of old time western swing, r&b, and rockabilly included on her second El Toro album "The Road Less Traveled."

A departure from her hillbilly-oriented debut, "Red Barn Baby," the singer-songwriter ran the risk of offending country's staunch traditionalists.

"When we first talked about the different genres we wanted to attempt, I was worried that it wouldn't be received very well. Here we are releasing things (that originated with) Sister Wynona Carr ("Pilgrim Traveler"), Etta James ("Nobody Loves You (Like Me)"), all the way into straight western swing ("My San Antonio Baby") and Bob & Lucille ("Eeny Meeny Miney Mo")."

However, the stylistic risks taken pay off because they highlight the instinctual contrariness that has marked the singer-songwriter's brief career thus far.... »»»

Brooks & Dunn certainly could have taken the easy, same old same old route in recording "Red Dirt Road," their latest album in a 13-year career. After all, superstars Kix Brooks & Ronnie Dunn had a lot of success last time out with "Steers & Stripes" after a bit of a down period .

But the veterans, who have been country's reigning duo from the get go, chose to take a different path musically and by looking back through many story songs. Instead of going for their typical high octane rockin' country and ballads, Brooks & Dunn mixed it up with honky tonk, Stones-styled country, blues, gos-pel and more for probably their most eclectic album ever.

And they also will mix it up touring-wise starting in February with a scaled down tour this year.

"I don't think we necessarily went into this with specific goals," says Kix Brooks, the one with the mustache and cowboy hat in an interview from his Nashville studio. "I think what happened was a natural course of events - 13 years down the... »»»

Chicago is seldom, if ever, regarded as a country town. But over the past decade, the Windy City's reputation for producing exciting alternative country music has flourished. Nearly every night, fans pack Chicago's mid-sized venues to see locally based acts such as The Waco Brothers and Kelly Hogan play country tunes among the concrete jungles of America's Second City.

Front and center among Chicago's hidden musical jewels is Anna Fermin's Trigger Gospel, whose unique brand of eclectic-country-pop has been wowing local audiences for more than seven years.

Fermin, who just released a new album, is a unique character in the world of country music for many reasons. At first glance, Fermin, 33, stands out among her peers because of her ethnicity - she was born in the Philippines and is one of the few Asian-Americans active in country music.

Fermin's family immigrated to the states when she was an infant in search of greater educational and employment opportunities. Rather than... »»»

Recent articles