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Articles and Interviews – 2006


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At 80, most folks Harold Bradley's age take life just a tad easier. But, instead, the Nashville native holds down the presidency of the Nashville Association of Musicians Local 257. And that means jetting around to New York and meetings galore.

There is even recording studio session work to be done as music is not all business for the man who may be the most recorded guitarist in history.

And Bradley, who with brother Owen formed a dynamic duo that devoted their lives to music, ensured that his busy calendar included time to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in November for his long and vast work as a musician.

Bradley was part of the original "A Team" of Nashville superpickers, immortalized by John Sebastian in his song "Nashville Cats."

He played on Elvis Presley's records and movie soundtracks plus a long list including Hank Williams, Patsy Cline Charley Pride, Conway Twitty, Buddy Holly, George Morgan, Burl Ives, Henry Mancini, Connie Francis, Hank Snow, Jim Reeves, Charley Pride, Leon Russell, The Everly Brothers, Gene Watson, Marty Robbins, Freddie Hart, Perry Como, Joan Baez and Roy Clark.... »»»

If Jason Boland is a new name to you, chances are another more prominent name and voice -Waylon Jennings - will come to mind when you first hear him sing. But Boland is a talented singer/songwriter, and The Stragglers' new "The Bourbon Legend" CD hints that he might also be a legend in the making..

"I get that a lot," says Boland of the Jennings comparison. "And rightfully so. I loved what Waylon Jennings did. But I really like a heavy backbeat, and I'm a baritone, and when you get that kind of bounce in the music, the words come out in that flowing, baritone timbre. But it's not even a comparison, it's just a compliment."

Talking about Jennings makes Boland a little sad. They just don't make 'em like Jennings anymore. Such conversation also causes him to wonder aloud if they'll eventually just put the few remaining true country singers - those stragglers, if you will - off in some museum.

"There'll always be a Branson," Boland quips lightheartedly. Has Boland ever played there? "No, not yet. Knock wood. I don't think I'd jinx myself by playing Branson this early in my career."... »»»

Like many in his craft, veteran bluegrass singer and bandleader Mark Newton became a working musician straight out of high school, and as he talks about his career and new album from his Nashville-area home, he quickly counts fingers and toes and expresses bemused surprise that his fast-approaching 50th birthday means that career now spans more than three decades.

"Hillbilly Hemingway" is his third release fronting the Mark Newton Band and continues his long association with Virginia-based Rebel Records through a variety of solo and band projects he's been involved with.

"Follow Me Back To The Fold," a tribute to women of bluegrass that he produced and performed on garnered him an IBMA award in 2001 as Recorded Event of the Year.

Though he figures he's been involved with roughly one project a year over his career, Newton is emphatic as he says, "I think this is the best actual record I've ever done in my life."

Though life began for Newton in Paducah, Ky., the family moved at an early age to Fredericksburg, Va., where his musical education started with family.... »»»

The photograph on the cover of Guy Clark's new album, "Workbench Songs," shows Clark's weathered hand gripping the headstock of his acoustic guitar against the backdrop of his workaday denim shirt with pearl buttons at the cuff and pockets. It's a warm and simple image that perfectly captures the mood of the album's songs and the spirit in which they were created.

"That just hit me one day because I was sitting where I am right now, looking at that workbench," says Clark from his Nashville home. "It just popped into my head. The first thing you do is, 'What song on here would be a good title,' but I thought this up."

It's an easy image to conjure, particularly since Clark is an accomplished luthier and actually crafts guitars in the same way he metaphorically shapes a song. One can imagine Clark strapping on his guitar the way most craftsmen strap on a tool belt and getting to work on a song, starting with the raw materials of melody and verse and whittling away anything that doesn't belong to reveal the simple beauty underneath it all.... »»»

The likelihood of The Wreckers making a name for themselves on the country scene appeared at odds with reality. Michelle Branch and Jessica Harp - the duo who are The Wreckers - were total unknowns in country music, although Branch carved out a successful career on her own on the pop rock side of the musical spectrum.

Not even Branch anticipated a great response when "Stand Still, Look Pretty" finally came out this year after delays caused in part by the birth of Branch's daughter.

But in one of the biggest surprises of the year, The Wreckers have done just that with a number one single in "Leave the Pieces" and a strong selling album.

The Wreckers' sound is characterized by a lot of harmonies with both Harp and Branch taking lead vocals. The emphasis is on the vocals with the music often acoustic based amidst strong melodies.

Branch acknowledges that she, too, shared the surprise of others during a cell phone call from Toledo, Ohio. "Oh my, so surprised," she says when asked about her reaction to the single going number one.... »»»

Although there are groups that discuss the sacrifices they have made to get to that next level, you have a hard time believing or empathizing with a few of them. Sacrifices might be as superficial as not having your own tour bus or only getting a six pack of Red Bull instead of the dozen your concert rider asked for. But when a person starts selling off personal possessions in order to further their art, it's hard to not root for them on some creative or personal level.

Dan Messe, one of the main songwriters of New York orchestral-folk-pop-rootsy band Hem, did exactly that in making the band's 2001 debut "Rabbit Songs."

Money from that album went directly into fuelling the 2004 follow-up "Eveningland."

Now, following a compilation of b-sides and rarities entitled "No Word From Tom," Hem seem to have made the studio sound on their latest "Funnel Cloud" album come to life.

"I think it's the pinnacle of our vision as a band," Messe says from his New York home. "I think it combines the lushness of 'Eveningland' and the intimacy of 'Rabbit Songs.' It definitely feels the most integrated of all records."... »»»

On the surface, a transcendentalist and a Sufi mystic do not seem likely sources to draw from when writing and creating acoustically-inclined music. But upon deeper reflection - which is what roots revelers The Kennedys take pleasure in - Henry David Thoreau's timeless words of wisdom and Rumi's mystic poetry are natural touchstones for the sweet-sounding harmonies and deep-rooted lyrics this duo deliver.

Lucky for Pete and Maura Kennedy, this mutual appreciation of music, philosophers and poets turned into a lasting love affair and a musical marriage, which is still going strong more than 14 years since a fateful meeting in Texas in 1992.

The story goes that Pete was playing a solo show at Austin's Continental Club, during a break from touring as a guitarist for Nanci Griffith, when he met Maura Boudreau, who was taking a hiatus of her own from performing with her country-rock band The Delta Rays. The two met, a conversation carried on into the wee hours of the night, and in less than 24 hours, they had co-written their first song.... »»»

Somewhere along the dusty trails of musical history, the name Nashville took on a greater cause. No longer was it simply the name of a city nestled on the banks of the Cumberland River in central Tennessee. It became the focal point for country music, and the name was soon encompassing both a movement and culture and not just a location. Like countless musicians before him, Trent Summar's obsession with Nashville is the inspiration behind his music. But his is with Nashville the place that is, not Nashville the musical enigma.

"I'm an eighth generation Tennessean," says Summar in a telephone interview. "One of my relatives signed the census way back in 1810. I'm from rural Tennessee. I didn't move to Nashville to do this - I was here anyway."

"I started a band with a bunch of buddies, and it turned into something, so my inspiration for making music comes from this place. It comes from traveling and from just riding down the road and experiencing stuff, And, okay, some of it also comes from staying out in bars late night!"... »»»

Music critics are forever claiming that the Watson Twins are a country group. Yet, fans used to perking up to the sounds of Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings or even Uncle Tupelo might curl an eyebrow at the assertion. After all, only a couple songs into the sisters' debut EP, "Southern Manners," it becomes readily apparent that they are as indebted to influences like Joni Mitchell and Sarah McLachlan as they are Lucinda Williams.

Leigh Watson - her sister, Chandra, is the other twin - thinks it's all just a matter of perspective. "It's interesting," she says. "I think that there are songs that we play that are country influenced, and we do play our version of country. I think a lot of people who have been writing about us are indie rock writers, who are used to reviewing records like the Jenny Lewis record or Death Cab for Cutie, and they don't really know how to classify it."

Watson credits her formative years for any hillbilly bent their music takes. "Some of the new songs we've... »»»

Sunny Sweeney sounds like a throwback to pre-music video country music of the 1970s on her debut CD, "Heartbreaker's Hall of Fame." She has a twangy voice that could never be mistaken for a pop singer. Her voice has an honest and raw quality that shines through the polished studio treatment.

On a cell phone call while in Nashville to write songs for her next CD, even though "Heartbreaker's" just dropped, Sweeney comes across as unpretentious and immediately likeable.

The two words that pop up most in her stories and explanations are "dude" and "fun." Her enthusiasm is evident in every unguarded tale she tells.

Sweeney is a relative newcomer to the music business, and she landed in it by default. Sweeney claims she couldn't hold a steady job for a few years, starting with college.

She says, "I mean I tried to have a regular job, eight to five, but I wasn't very successful at it. I had 14 W-2s one year."

Sweeney, originally from Longview Texas, also tried her hand at comedy... »»»

While it takes some digging, there are published sources attesting that his 1937 birth certificate says James Dee Crowe, but for more than a half-century friends and fans of the iconic bluegrass banjo master have called him simply J. D.

And, in fact, it's an added measure of his status as one of the pioneers of the music that, despite the fact that there are others in the business with that name, if you just say "Crowe," everyone knows who you mean.

Icon though he is, Crowe has always been something of an iconoclast who does things his own way at his own pace, including not buying into the "album a year" way of doing business. So when word gets around that a new Crowe album - his first in seven years - is about to hit the streets, the buzz builds pretty quickly.

"Lefty's Old Guitar" continues his long association with Boston-area based Rounder Records, and as he relaxes at home in his native Lexington, Ky., Crowe is pleased with the reaction thus far.... »»»

The common path in recent years seemingly is for country artists to go pop, diluting the traditional country sound. But now could a reverse migration be going on with other genres going country?

After all, Bon Jovi topped the country song charts a few months ago with the pop-sounding "Who Says You Can't Go Home?"

And now one of the greatest soul singers ever, Solomon Burke, just released "Nashville," (Shout! Factory) an album comprised of country songs by some of the edgier country/roots artists with help from folks with a ton of street cred like Buddy Miller, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, Patty Loveless and Patty Griffin.

So after a career filled with rhythm and blues and membership in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, why did Burke want to record an album in Nashville called "Nash-ville?

"Because it's where my heart has been for years," says a very friendly Burke from his home in the Los Angeles area.

"I'm very serious about this," says Burke, who intends to tour behind the disc. "It's not a fluke. It's a serious country record. It's 45 years of making in my heart."... »»»

Randy Rogers has an expressive voice. He can convey conflicting emotions, like the resigned, but playful tone that kicks off his new CD "Just a Matter of Time" on the line "This might be a good time to say good-bye. I can't think of a single thing we haven't tried" from "Better Off Wrong."

When Rogers calls on his cell phone from his tour bus, his voice conveys mostly weariness. He's on his way to Wichita Falls, Texas from his home in Austin.

"We're headed up to do a gig. Today starts pretty much the rest of my fall. I don't think I get to come home except for maybe a day or two until Dec. 12. I'm out with Dierks Bentley and Miranda Lambert for about 42 shows all across the country, from New York to Seattle to Los Angles to Florida. It's gonna be all over the country."

Rogers and his band are used to big crowds and faithful fans in Texas, but "Just a Matter of Time," the band's fifth CD and first on a major label, Mercury Records, is garnering unexpected acclaim across the country.... »»»

Crooked Still is possibly the most unlikely bluegrass band playing today. The band has no fiddle, no mandolin and no guitar, but the quartet of Aoife O'Donovan (vocals), Dr. Gregory Liszt (banjo), Rushad Eggleston (cello) and Corey DiMario (bass) combines acoustic instrumentation, a deep respect for tradition and rock energy to develop a truly original sound.

Crooked Still released its self-produced debut, "Hop High," in 2004. The band's new record, "Shaken By A Low Sound," is now out on Signature Sounds. O'Donovan recently spoke about the development of the band, the advantages of their unorthodox instrumentation and the effect of the group's tremendous online presence on the growth of the band's audience.

CST: How did the band get together? A lot of you were students at neighboring colleges at around the same time.

AO'D: Corey and I were classmates at New England Conservatory of Music. We had performed together and were friends and hung out together. We met Rushad and Greg at... »»»

You may not recognize Jim Lauderdale's name, but you almost certainly know his songs. The ever-expanding group that has covered his tunes includes Patty Loveless, Vince Gill and George Strait.

But if a guy is this high in demand as a songwriter-for-hire, he must not have nearly enough other original material to record on his own albums, right? Apparently, such is not the case for the unusually prolific Lauderdale because he has just released two - count 'em two - new CDs simultaneously on Yep Roc. One is "Bluegrass," and the other one is "Country Super Hits, Vol. 1." In fact, he even had material leftover after he was all done with these fresh discs.

"Odie Blackman, my co-producer on the 'Country' record, and I have enough for a volume two," Lauderdale explains. "We wrote about 44 songs over the course of the year that I recorded with him. It was just kind of a matter of finding the songs that were the right fit and all that."

Not long ago, Lauderdale recorded two CDs with... »»»

When the lead singer from a popular band decides it's time for the obligatory solo album, the proverbial double edged swords start flying about like props in a Jet Li movie.

On the one hand, the lead singer's voice is often the personality of the band, and that association often means immediate recognition and acceptance of the singer's bandless project. On the other hand, that recognition can just as easily translate to fans that refuse to see the frontman in any other role. One need look no further than the spectacularly unremarkable solo career of Mick Jagger for the proof of this musical theorem.

Bernard Fanning knows this all too well. He is well aware of the enormous advantages and disadvantages that come with the lead singer's position in the solo arena.

"It's hard in a lot of ways for a singer to get away from the sound of their band because of the tone of your voice and all that," says Fanning via phone from the porch of his home outside Brisbane, Australia. "Unless you're going to make a record purely in falsetto or something, which I had no interest in doing."... »»»

As September winds down to its final week, Dale Ann Bradley is not only anticipating the mid-October release of a new album, she's also getting ready for the annual International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) extravaganza in Nashville, as part of which she is enjoying her fourth straight nomination as Female Vocalist of the Year.

Ultimately, the result will be the same this year as well. Rhonda Vincent has a lock on the award and took home her seventh straight title, even though the rest of the field was pretty substantial as well - Alison Krauss, Sonya Isaacs and Claire Lynch.

It's particularly meaningful to her to be considered in the same league as Lynch, one of her biggest inspirations, especially when it's suggested that she and Lynch share the same ability to mix vocal power with smooth, sweet phrasing and delivery.

"Claire Lynch is definitely one of the reasons I got interested in this music, the Front Porch String Band album that I listened to so much, was so encouraging to me, so if anybody hears Claire in my singing, I'm definitely honored by that."... »»»

From meeting Meryl Streep while on tour with Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion to headlining the venerable Winnipeg Folk Festival, it's been quite a summer for The Wailin' Jennys. Rooted firmly in the roots genre with equal sprinkles of folk, bluegrass and old time music, this trio of harmonious ladies are like three little birds singing softly and sweetly in the early morn.

The Wailin' Jennys hail from Winnipeg, Canada and feature alto Annabelle Chvostek, mezzo Nicky Mehta and soprano Ruth Moody. The band's latest record - "Firecracker" - showcases the breadth of these three distinct voices; it also allows each songwriter to strut their stuff, with each contributing four songs.

The eerie opener "Devil's Paintbrush Road," which echoes an old time Appalachian murder ballad, was penned by the latest Jenny - Chvostek - who replaced founding member Cara Luft in 2004. The plucking of Chvostek's melodious mandolin steers this song that originally appeared on her solo disc in a... »»»

Todd Snider has always been one to go by the beat of his own drum. He doesn't pay too much attention to record sales, isn't keen on how much he's taking in from merchandising on the road and doesn't seem like he's going to spend nights tossing and turning thinking about either.

The Oregon-born and now Nashville-based singer-songwriter has created an impressive catalogue over the course of eight albums. And his latest, "The Devil You Know," does nothing but add to his critically acclaimed body of work.

"The words just sort of ended up going in their own direction," Snider says prior to a gig in Oregon. "It seemed that the more I tried to talk about my neighborhood, my neighborhood was talking about the rest of the world."

Snider says he recorded about 20 songs for the record, with 11 making the final cut. However, the recording process for Snider is as unique as the singer himself.

"I live in East Nashville, which is different than most towns because everybody on the street... »»»

Veteran bluegrass singer, mandolin picker and producer Don Rigsby, 38, is Mississippi-bound on a late night errand as he talks via cell phone about his multi-faceted music career. Almost as an omen, it's just past midnight when the conversation wraps up, since he's savoring the mid-July release of his debut recording as leader of his own band, Midnight Call, which was the title of his 2003 solo release on Sugar Hill.

He credits his wife, Tina, for choosing the name (and acknowledges with a wry chuckle that it works better than the title of his earlier solo effort "Empty Old Mailbox"), but laughs as he relates that the name has had unintended side effects.

"It's kind of funny. One of the guys in my band, an earlier version of the band, took one of the paychecks to the bank, and they thought he was working for an escort service - 'What kind of outfit are you working for?'"

Rigsby is a native of Isonville, in the same part of eastern Kentucky that produced Keith Whitley and Ricky... »»»

Raul Malo's "You're Only Lonely" could have been titled "The Disc That Almost Never Was" because for a while there it didn't look like this one was going to see the light of day. Worse still, Malo's record label was teetering on the brink of extinction.

"The record was finished about a year ago," Malo explains. "We finished it last summer. It was supposed to come out in October of last year or somewhere thereabouts. And I think Sanctuary (Records) started to run into some financial problems. For a while there, it looked like they (Sanctuary) were gonna close shop. It looked like Sanctuary was no longer going to be a record label. So, there was all this talk about somebody else picking up the record, finding a home for it."

Delays caused Malo to play the uncomfortable waiting game. "I wasn't really off Sanctuary, so I couldn't go find another record deal," he elaborates. "And then if you were to sign another record deal, there's this record that's pending because...when is that going to come out? And is it going to come out when you do your next record? As you can imagine, it's not a really pleasant time."... »»»

It seems a bit peculiar that a master multi-instrumentalist like Ricky Skaggs has somehow managed to avoid recording an all-instrumental album in the past 30 years.

Call it the curse of being an incredibly gifted tenor vocalist as well as an award-winning musician, or perhaps it's that everyone around the 52-year-old Skaggs, from family and friends to fellow pickers to his legions of fans, simply expect him to sing on most every song. With numerous vocal honors from country and bluegrass organizations during a career that stretches back some 35 years, such expectations just kind of come with the territory.

Expectations aside, the multitalented Skaggs decided to rest his vocal cords for an album with the simply titled, musically diverse, 11-song "Instrumentals" on his Skaggs Family Records label. Skaggs entirely wrote and produced "Instrumentals," which features his band Kentucky Thunder, the International Bluegrass Music Association's top instrumental group 7 of the past 8 years.... »»»

Pat Green could never be accused of lacking vision and direction about his musical career. Green is a superstar in Texas and a rarity at that because unlike most Texas musicians who barely set past the borders of the Lone Star State, Green clearly considers himself a national artist with higher aspirations.

And thanks to his 10th album, "Cannonball" and a hit single with "Feels Just Like It Should," Green is back on track with a change in musical direction and a new label.

"Man I wanted to put together a group of songs that could be played in big spaces if you know what I mean," says Green via cell phone from the Detroit area just a few days after "Cannonball" debuted at number 2 on the Billboard country album chart with 38,000 units sold.

"There were a lot of times when I was a younger man that I would be thinking I'd be having these small crowds, and I got to tell them a story (about the songs) and talk about it."

He still does some of that on "Cannonball," but apparently touring with country superstars Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban has altered Green's perception of how his music should go down.... »»»

The Derailers are en route between gigs in Louisiana, leaving Lafayette and heading to Baton Rouge. Lead singer and founding member Brian Hofeldt says over his cell phone that he and the band always have a great time in Louisiana because the food is uniformly good, and the people are always smiling. His band gathers fans at their energetic live shows, so Hofeldt is understandably cheerful about touring.

The well-chosen words just roll out from him, "The Derailers are always out on the road, visiting our fine friends and fans in this great land of ours."

It's pretty clear from the start that Hofeldt will be unfailingly polite, enthusiastic and wisely careful in his comments. There won't be any complaints or revelations.

But The Derailers, who released "Soldier of Love" in June on Palo Duro, wouldn't have survived for over a decade without self-control and a plan for success. Most of that plan hinges on delivering a good show, even if that means a little sweat or discomfort.... »»»

After working for decades solo, the tandem of Kieran Kane and Kevin Welch teamed up in 2000 to release "11/12/13: Live In Melbourne." The record showed how both seasoned stellar songwriters complemented each other almost perfectly. In 2004, they released their first studio album together, "You Can't Save Everybody," with fiddle player Fats Kaplin. Now, the trio has returned with "Lost John Dean," but Kane still can't figure out why the trio works so well together.

"We've been playing together for a long, long time, and we're good friends," Kane says. "We share some kind of musical...I was going to use the word vision, but that sounds a bit high handed. We're just looking for the same things in music."

The new album moves from the roots-blues boogie of the closing "Mellow Down Easy" to more poignant, reflective tracks like "Heaven Now." Welch says that early on, he felt Kane brought a bit more material to the table.

"Usually Kieran and I just pile up some songs in an afternoon,... »»»

To call The Handsome Family an unusual familial unit would be an understatement. This tight knit "family" consists of Brett Sparks on lead vocals and most musical instruments, with his wife Rennie Sparks providing lyrics and occasional vocals. Although Brett sings in a wonderfully traditional country voice, Rennie supplies him with lyrics that oftentimes come out like ghost stories put to music.

Speaking of spooks, the opening song on the duo's new "Last Days of Wonder" CD (Carrot Top) is all about one person's metamorphosis from flesh and blood human to ghost. Titled "Your Great Journey," this odd little ditty describes how the "elevator doors close on you" and the way "busses drive right past" once you've achieved weightless invisibility. It later summarizes, "You've begun to dance the Ghost Dance." This story, which reads like a screenplay straight out of "The Twilight Zone," begins - oddly enough - with a few highly scientific lines. "Like four million tons of hydrogen/exploding... »»»

Singer/songwriter Chris Knight had one ambition when he began work on his fourth album, "Enough Rope." He wanted to write and record a song that would get him the kind of attention from country radio that could possibly translate into legitimate chart success.

"I kind of had the idea of doing something that was gonna be a little bit outreaching to the general public," says Knight from his manager's Nashville office. "You know, give me a little boost, a little bump. Something like a hit song, something that might get played on the radio was the original intent."

It took him exactly one attempt. He hated it, scrapped it and essentially went back to the way he's been making music since his self-titled debut in 1998.

"After the first session, I just said, 'That ain't me. I'm gonna do this the way I want to do it,'" says Knight. "That's what I did for the rest of the record. I'm too close to the music, and I can't record a song I don't like or don't believe myself when I'm singing... »»»

The decision by Ralph Stanley to record an album paying tribute to first family of country music, the Carter Family, should come as no surprise.

For starters, Stanley lives in Coeburn, Va., a stones-throw away from Bristol, Va., where the Carters lived and made their Big Bang mark in music in 1927 with the famous Ralph Peer-recorded sessions, which helped make country music commercially viable. And then when Stanley was getting started in music, he opened a show for the Carter Family with brother Carter. The Stanleys later played and recorded Carter Family songs during their career together.

Fast forward many decades later. The result is "A Distant Land to Roam: Songs of the Carter Family" with Dr. Ralph and his backing Clinch Mountain Boys. The disc, out on musician/producer T Bone Burnett's DMZ label, contains 13 songs once upon a time cut by A.P. Carter with his wife Sara and her cousin Maybelle. The songs continue Stanley's bent of recording in a bluegrass, country, roots,... »»»

Talk about a steel-vault memory. Ramblin' Jack Elliott has been there, done that - probably a few dozen times over - and he remembers details from his journeys with shocking clarity. When recently contacted by phone at his northern California home, Elliott immediately proved that his legendary recall is as on the mark as ever.

"You're calling from Denver?" he asks right off the bat, recognizing the 303 area code on his caller ID. "I played a gig not too long ago there at Swallow Hill. Great crowd and a great auditorium. You know, I bought my Martin guitar there at the Denver Folklore Center. I stop by to see the owner, Harry Tuft, whenever I'm in town."

Count the number of details in that paragraph that would've slipped through most 75-year-old memories. Not to mention that this is a man who's spent the better part of the past half century traveling the globe constantly, exposing himself to an endless number of new faces and places.... »»»

"I'm not always able to listen to our records when we're done recording them," confesses Big Sandy. "This one I'm digging. Some of the things on there are a little bit different than what we've done before."

True enough, the 41-year-old rockabilly's new album "Turntable Matinee" boasts some compelling twists in the Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys formula. Mixed in with trademarked Bakersfield twang, cheek-to-cheek romantic shuffles and spirited allusions to obscure rockabillies is a slice of Latin-tinged romance and a surprising helping of Stax-Volt soul. "I was afraid to do it," admits Sandy. "I'm always afraid to do the things I end up doing."

Indeed, that fear initially applied to his own career. Big Sandy wasn't sure he would ever have any musical future at all. "I always daydreamed about it, but it wasn't until 1984, when I first got the courage together to try it out myself," he recalls. "Up until that point, I would just sit around my room listening to my old records and daydream about being on-stage."... »»»

Being named the best band in any given state is surely an honor. But when that state is Texas - where in the capitol of Austin alone there are more aspiring country groups than in the entirety of, say, Nebraska - it is a truly coveted distinction. San Antonio-based 10 City Run knows what it feels like to win more hearts than any other up-and-coming band in the Lone Star state.

"(Last year) we entered a context called Texas Country Star to discover the best band in Texas," says Hans Frank, 10 City Run's lead singer and chief songwriter. "Ultimately, the winner of the contest got a one-year deal with Universal South. We went to the semi-finals in Corpus Christi and won, then went to the finals in Waxahachie and won there. So, we landed the deal."

The group - Frank on vocals and bass guitar, Luckey McClain on drums and now-former lead guitarist Johnny Isaacs - wasted no time getting to work. At the end of this past April, Universal South released 10 City Run's debut full-length "Somethin' Else." Frank allows that the spirit of the late, great Doug Sahm drives the beat throughout the album.... »»»

There ain't nothing like the sound of a hound dog getting ready for a hunt. It's a sound Nashville songwriter Shawn Camp knows well. The yelping and yapping of a dozen beagle hounds, owned by the late, great Jimmy Martin, even make their way onto his new disc "Fireball" (in a song aptly-titled "Beagle Hound"). Before the memorable Martin left this world, Camp had the fortune to join the King of Bluegrass and his dear-old dogs for some good-ole rabbit hunting a couple of times.

"One of the mornings, he was taking me out to the dog pen, and I turned my little mini-disc recorder on, and it only worked for a minute, and all I had was these dogs barking," he recalls. "I didn't think about it too much, then I ran across it when I was making this record, and I just couldn't help but put it on the front because the song was called 'Beagle Hound.' That's how it was...he had about a dozen beagles out there, and they all had famous country singers' names like Hank Williams. He also had a goat... »»»

Rhonda Vincent doesn't hold back when it comes to giving her latest disc a brash title - "All American Bluegrass Girl." Some might question why one of bluegrass music's leading lights opted for a title putting the pressure on her to match expectations, but Vincent isn't afraid because it describes her musical life, singing "I'm as bluegrass as can be."

"The song is an autobiography of my life and growing up within a musical family in Missouri," says Vincent via cell phone during a tour stop in Millidgeville, Ga. "It's basically a truism. Boys would come up usually teenage pickers, and they'd go 'You're pretty good for a girl'. Well thanks."

"Everything in the song is true," she says. "I had the title first before I wrote the song," says Vincent, adding, "I usually end up writing on deadline and by necessity...I made sure I had all the things that really felt expressed who I am. I guess I really feel I am the all-American bluegrass girl."... »»»

For a man with a new CD out and upcoming small tours planned, Radney Foster is surprisingly eager to talk about other musicians. His third CD for Dualtone, "This World We Live In," is on the Texas and country music charts. Foster is happy about that. He says he's always glad to know someone other than his parents is listening to his music.

But on a phone interview from Nashville, Foster is just as excited to talk about producing new music as his new batch of songs. On his website, there's even a section for Foster's recommendations for new CDs by up-and-coming musicians. One of those recommendations is the Randy Rogers Band CD, which Foster just produced after co-writing a batch of songs with Rogers.

Another talent is Georgia Middleman, who once upon a time had a CD out on the late Giant Records. She and Foster have also written songs together, and she'll be singing back-up vocals when Foster tours.

So how does a busy producer and songwriter like Foster keep up with new music?... »»»

No doubt it's hard for many to believe, but 53-year old Indiana native John Cowan has been part of the musical landscape for more than 25 years since coming into prominence as the fiery lead singer and bass player for New Grass Revival, a band of young turks that included Sam Bush, Béla Fleck and Pat Flynn. As bluegrass currently enjoys a new surge of "hipness," it's worth recalling that Cowan and his NGR mates spent the entire '80s turning young rockers into 'grassers.

Following the breakup of NGR in the early 90's, Cowan knocked around a while before forming his own band, which in recent years has found a warm and welcoming niche in the burgeoning "Americana" format. Their new album, "New Tattoo" debuts in mid-June on Pinecastle Records.

The cornerstone of the disc is the closing track, "Drown," a searing, powerful song that confronts the issue of sexual abuse of children. The music is by Darrell Scott, the words by Cowan, and Cowan says he drew for the lyrics on an incident in... »»»

"Eleven Stories," the title of Bruce Robison's latest release, seemingly states the obvious: He's a country songwriter, so aren't all his albums filled with stories? "I guess it was an odd choice," Robison agrees. "It's kinda saying that's what I'm tryin' to do. I suppose you're right; I guess that's what all of my records are like."

Robison penned The Dixie Chick's tear-jerking "Travelin' Soldier," which details a moving wartime romance. He also has a lighter side that comes through on "What Would Willie Do" from his previous "Country Sunshine" CD. That song's all about Willie Nelson's "medicinal" use of pot. It's one of his best "stories" and perhaps his funniest. "My records had been a little bit serious to that point, I was afraid, so it was good for me," Robison says of the song. "My sense of humor is a big part of who I am."

One has to wonder what Willie did and thought when he first heard it. "He seems to like it," Robison reports. "I got to talk to him about it a couple... »»»

Alecia Nugent has been around bluegrass all her life, but it is only within the last few years that she has achieved notoriety outside her home state of Louisiana. Her father, Jimmy Nugent, led the Southland Bluegrass Band, and it was through this group's local and regional performances that Alecia first came to the public eye. Festival producer Johnny Stringer offered to underwrite a recording project, and Grammy-nominated producer Carl Jackson, an old friend, agreed to become involved.

Nugent's self-titled debut was released in 2001, and the following year, Rounder Records co-founder Ken Irwin was sufficiently impressed with what he heard to sign her to Rounder. Nugent's debut was re-released on Rounder in the spring of 2004 to popular and critical acclaim. Nugent just released her second Rounder album, "A Little Girl . . . A Big Four Lane."

CST:As good as the first record was, the new one seems to represent a major step forward. Obviously that's what you and (producer) Carl... »»»

Dale Watson sums it up best with an old saying, "If you want to make God laugh, make plans." After recovering from a personal tragedy that resulted in a stint at a state mental facility, the Austin-based country traditionalist had planned on drastically scaling back his career, maybe even quitting music altogether.

Why?

His children - ages 13 and 7 - had moved with his ex-wife from Texas to Maryland, which proved problematic for the singer-songwriter.

"I wanted to be around my kids more, and the music was getting in the way of that," he explains from his Maryland residence. "I was in a catch-22 situation where I had to work a lot to be able to afford to fly and be around 'em. But then, whenever I took off to be around 'em, I couldn't afford to come back and do it again."

Watson prayed about the problem. Then, just as he resigned himself to taking on a regular day job in the Baltimore area, things began to pop.

"Palo Duro came in and signed for a new record ('Whiskey or... »»»

We begin our discourse on Tres Chicas with a brief, but important detour to first year Spanish class. As an astute club owner noticed several years ago, Caitlin Cary, Lynn Blakey and Tonya Lamm are indeed three chicks, and when the trio were booked into his club before they had christened their vocal project, he took it upon himself to anoint them, quite simply, Tres Chicas.

But as we know, pronunciation is everything when operating in a foreign language. It can mean the difference between asking where the bathroom is and declaring that locusts have invaded your underpants. To the point: The number three in Spanish is pronounced "trace," while leaving the final consonant sound silent produces a different result altogether.

"We get a few 'Tre Chicas' but we're not Super Chicas, we're just three," explains Caitlin Cary from her North Carolina home. "We're not Very Chicas."

Now, while we are sticklers for accuracy, Tre Chicas just might be more appropriate in the final analysis.... »»»

Lee Roy Parnell's voice is a little tired. He's just in from a two-week sweep on the road, re-adjusting to the timing of home life in Nashville, and he's caught in the catch-up mode of two very different internal clocks not quite syncing.

Still, Parnell - a true Texas roadhouse texture as versed in the stinging blues of Stevie Ray Vaughan as the swirling swing of dear family friend Bob Wills - has a voice that blankets songs and emotions with an ease that comes from living, not forcing the moments he's inhabited.

With his new "Back To The Well" CD, the sandy-haired guitarist takes the sum of that life he's lived so fully and brings it to the songs he's collected for the project.

"You know, I'd gone down every path I needed to go down," confesses the singer/songwriter. "Every song we wrote for this one was deeper...it came from the deepest places."

"I wasn't trying to make a record, either, so I tricked myself...I wasn't trying to hit a home run, where you roll up your sleeves, and it's all about the hits. 'Breaking The Chain,' 'Back To The Well' - those are from very very real places."... »»»

A funny thing happened on the way to Shooter Jennings releasing his sophomore disc, "Electric Rodeo." In an unusual move, he actually started recording it before his well-received debut, "Put the O Back in Country," was even released in March 2005.

So when it comes to pressure, Jennings did not have to worry about whether he would make a better album than his debut. But he knew it would not be a clone.

"I don't really feel any pressure because we're kind of crazy anyway the way we make our records," says Jennings via telephone during a late April pit stop in Orlando for a concert that night. "To me, it was very purely created and made. I don't feel like there's any pressure. I'm really proud of it. So is the band. Our fans love it, and if it does better or worse than the first record, I don't really care. I'm just glad it's out."

"We recorded the debut like a year and a half before it came out...It took us 10 months really to finish 'Electric Rodeo.' We had definitely gotten... »»»

There are several country artists today who often cite legends like Lefty Frizzell and Hank Williams as influences. To be influenced by those giants is one thing, but to be able to deliver songs in 2006 that have all the trademarks of classics from those eras without any over production or gloss is another. Texan James "Slim" Hand has been singing his brand of country and honky tonk for four decades now, but only recently has the national spotlight begun shining in his direction.

Now signed to Rounder Records, Hand's "The Truth Will Set You Free" has garnered critical praise. Hand, who once sat on Lefty Frizzell's knee as a six-month old, says he's happy with all the attention.

"A fellow thinks he might have something to offer, but you never know until the public decides," the modest and down-to-earth singer says in a telephone interview from Texas. "It's a lot different than sitting on your front porch swing and four or five of your friends hanging around saying, 'Well that would be pretty good you know?' Although I don't think I'm pretty good, I'm very blessed."... »»»

It's a fact of life that unexpected turns will lead us into foreign territory from time to time. Some curse and quiver at these surprise forks in the road. Not Bob Delevante. The Nashville-based songwriter has learned to embrace them. In fact, Delevante based much of his new self-released album "Columbus and the Colossal Mistake" on the idea that some of the best things can come out of the blue.

"Columbus went looking for the Far East/When America got in his way," Delevante sings on the thrusting title track. "Now I guess I know just how good he must have felt/When I bumped into you that day/My best-laid plans seem to be/My colossal mistakes."

"It's about not always ending up where you think you're going to end up," Delevante says in a telephone interview. "If you're following good things, you end up in the right place. You might be aiming for one spot, but end up in another - and that's okay. That's where you're meant to be."

Formerly half of the Delevante Brothers, who were... »»»

Jeff Bates knows a thing or two about the recurrent themes - love and redemption - on his new batch of music, "Leave the Light On."

The Mississippi native with the voice that easily recalls the late country singer Conway Twitty has tackled both a number of times throughout his 42 years.

And the plain speaking, easy going Bates will not shy away from the topics either.

"That was totally what we were going for," says Bates in a telephone interview, referring to the love and redemption themes. "We did kind of separate the album out into themes, one being love, romance, openness and the other one being redemption, which is kind of what the past five years of my life has been about."

Bates knows of what he sings. He has been married four times. His first marriage, when he was 17 to a woman 9 years older, lasted a grand total of two weeks; marriage number two was his longest, nine years; marriage three was seven years, and his last marriage was two years.

As for the redemption part, Bates has been to hell in the form of a drug addiction and jail time and back.

That's why he's keen on the next single, "One Second Chance."... »»»

Hank Williams III not only shares his father's and grandfather's name, but he also seems to be a chip off the old block when it comes to blazing his own trail.

Shelton, as the youngest of the Hanks is also known, certainly has his methodology. His songs can be steeped in traditional country as that of his grandfather (for the first time he even covers one of his songs on his new two-CD release, "Straight to Hell"), but he also has been known to go the speed metal root as a bassist with the late Superjoint Ritual and on his own, playing with Assjack and even mixing the two genres within the same performance.

Drinking, smoking weed and the devil are part of the landscape of many Hank III songs, and, matter of fact, his life as well.

And when it comes to lyrics, well there's a reason why "Straight to Hell" is being released in two versions, one clean and one that prudent folks wouldn't care for.

But after 10 years with Curb, the heavily tattooed Hank III only has 3 solo albums to... »»»

Pinmonkey's third release, and first for its new label Back Porch Records, is titled "Big Shiny Cars." If you polled diehard Pinmonkey fans, who are sometimes referred to as Pinmonkey Junkies, it's about darn time this traditional Americana group released a sparkling new musical vehicle, so to speak.

Its previous album, which came out on BNA and was self-titled, has logged quite a few highway miles since it initially hit the road in 2002.

This 'major to indie' label transition is a little bit like going from a big luxury car to a tiny economy car.

"There are a lot of artists that go through that whole major label deal thing, and when they lose the deal they come out the other side rather bitter," notes Pinmonkey vocalist Michael Reynolds.

"We look at it like it was a great thing for us. I was telling someone the other day that the major label deal came along at the right time, (and) it went away at the right time. It really gave us a good introduction into the country music world."... »»»

Like his longtime friend and fellow bluegrass pioneer Jesse McReynolds, Kentucky-born Bobby Osborne recently faced, at 74, the breakup of a long-running, highly successful brother act, though fortunately in this case it was due not to death, but rather to the retirement of his brother Sonny.

Following shoulder surgery, which hampered his banjo playing, Sonny limited himself to singing with Bobby at select venues like their longtime Opry home, but eventually decided to pack it in for good.

From his Nashville-area farm, Bobby Osborne says in a telephone interview, "I think he just kind of got burned out, you know, and he wanted to retire from everything altogether. So, he and I just had a discussion, and I told him I'd like to go on, and he said, 'Well, be my guest and go on because I think I'll just give it up.' So, at that point there, which I think is just about four months ago, he quit the Opry and quit the road, just completely retired, and I've been on my own ever since."

Sometimes, he acknowledges, it's just good to be in the right place at the right time.... »»»

Stepping from bluegrass into country music should take about as much effort as crossing the Tennessee state line into Kentucky.

But like the neighboring states, bluegrass and country remain stubbornly independent of each other, maintaining distinctive personalities despite morphing in plenty of other directions.

Country music has ventured into straight-ahead pop. The country rock movement of the late 1960s and early '70s still lingers. Southern rock has returned to its country roots. There's alt.-country and progressive country and the big sound of arena country.

Similarly, name the shade, and bluegrass has likely colored it, from psychograss to jazzgrass to spacegrass.

Yet countrygrass, or if you prefer, bluecountry, for whatever reason, has never seemed to take root. There are exceptions, of course such as Alison Krauss, Patty Loveless and Vince Gill, who have managed to bridge the two with a measure of commercial success.

But the chilly waters still separating two genres may be warming just a bit with the latest release by Mountain Heart, "Open Space."... »»»

"I just want you all to know that without the encouragement of Elvis Presley, I may never have even recorded rock 'n' roll or rockabilly."

So proclaims Wanda Jackson in the spoken introduction to her new album for Golden Lane titled, "I Remember Elvis." Indeed, few performers can claim the personal connection that the Oklahoma-born songstress enjoyed with the King of Rock 'n' Roll. While touring together during the mid-'50s, the teen-aged singers became sweethearts.

Presley not only gave Jackson a ring - to wear on a chain around her neck - he also introduced the budding country starlet to the rough and rowdy sounds of rhythm and blues.

Their puppy love evaporated when Presley's career exploded, but his impact on Jackson's musical life continued.

During the late '50s, she recorded several torrid rockabilly growlers á la "Fujiyama Mama," "Hot Dog! That Made Him Mad" and "Mean Mean Man," that probably frightened away as many country programmers as they enticed. (Today, the rock 'n' roll recordings she made for Capitol are the foundation of her worldwide appeal.)... »»»

Chances are, you've heard Tony Gilkyson's guitar work, whether or not you know it. Gilkyson most notably spent 10 years as lead guitarist in the legendary Los Angeles punk band X until 1996, but he's also recorded with such weighty artists as Bob Dylan, Dave Alvin, Lone Justice, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Peter Rowan.

Not to mention his work on the recent "Walk the Line" movie soundtrack: Gilkyson provided the majority of the nifty Sun-era boom-chucka guitar work heard in the film.

He got involved in that project through his longtime friendship with producer T-Bone Burnett. "Working with T-Bone has always been a lot of fun because it's never a super high-pressured gig where you feel like you're walking on glass," Gilkyson says. "He has a great sense of humor. He also lets you explore and likes when you make mistakes. T-Bone's not your typical producer."

During a career spanning more than 30 years, Gilkyson has worked with his share of producers and musicians. He's lived the tough road of being a sideman for most of that time and certainly could be forgiven the desire to rest on his laurels and hang it up.

Not so fast.... »»»

Everything Jessi Colter has ever done has been in the name of love. Love of family, love of God, love of life and, perhaps most acutely, love of music. It was love of music that led her to pursue a career as a singer and songwriter, and it was love of family that ultimately led her to put her solo career aside for over 20 years and concentrate on the work of late husband, Waylon Jennings.

"I had been working 180 to 300 days a year performing with Waylon; all the people know me," says Colter from her Phoenix home. "Actually six months before his death was the only time we didn't work."

After Jennings' passing in 2002 from complications arising from his earlier diabetes diagnosis, Colter took solace in the music that had united she and Waylon since their 1969 marriage.

And for the first time in many years, Colter was moved to put pen to paper. The result of Colter's sudden surge in inspiration is her first solo album in nearly 22 years, the gritty and captivating "Out of the Ashes," released by Shout! Factory.... »»»

Josh Turner's second album has been a long time coming, a good 2 1/2 years since "Long Black Train" came out.

Now that could be considered rather surprising because Turner had a hit off his debut with the title track, which became controversial for its video treatment.

But Turner says in a telephone interview from his Nashville home that the wait for "Your Man," out in late January, resulted from a bunch of alterations, mainly on the business side.

"A lot of things happened between the first and second record, mainly just making some changes within my organization," he says. "I changed management, I changed booking agent, I changed fan club president. I changed my band and my merchandise guy, just one position after the other."

"I was really trying to surround myself with people who had a passion for Josh Turner music," he says.

Without explaining the exact problem he had with those replaced, Turner says, "A lot of the people that I had surrounding me just did not have a... »»»

Singer/mandolinist John Skehan sounds vaguely amused while explaining the significance behind the title of Railroad Earth's new double live disc for Sci Fidelity. "A couple of people have asked, 'What the hell is an Elko?" What the hell does that mean?' They're not familiar with the song or the town or anything."

"The title track 'Elko' sprang out of a little border town in Nevada that was usually our stopping point on the way back from or on the way to California," Skehan continues. "It usually fell on a night off - a drive day, where you end up in little casino towns where the rooms are very cheap and the bars are open all night long. So, you have a bunch of road weary musicians pulling in and parking for the night and given full shore leave and liberty in a casino."

Cris-crossing the country almost ceaselessly since forming in 2001, the sextet has parlayed their unique blend of bluegrass, Celtic folk, jazz and world music with undertones of rock, into a hard-won reputation as one of the most innovative and freewheeling jam bands working today. As such, they attract an especially distinctive and devoted audience.... »»»

Upon first glance, the alien-like term "podcasting" reads a little bit like what Hollywood directors do when lining up roles for upcoming sci-fi flicks. Actually, it's a word that describes the technology for automatically distributing audio and video programs via the internet.

Podcasting's true DIY beauty, however, is the way it enables independent producers to create self-published, syndicated programming, which in turn opens up a whole new content distribution channel.

It should be clarified right off the bat that although "podcasting" merges the iPod product name with the word "broadcasting," an iPod player is not required to receive these programs.

In fact, one doesn't even need a portable player of any kind. Instead, because these programs are sent over the internet, technically there is no actual broadcasting involved at all. Rather, podcasts are merely recorded audio/video programs that can be downloaded from websites onto personal computers or digital listening devices such as iPods or MP3 players.

You may want to think of podcasting as a synonym for streaming audio/video via the internet.... »»»

To say that Jack Ingram loves doing live albums is an understatement. His brand new, "Live Wherever You Are" continues the longstanding tradition of the Texas country rocker to go live, this time with a brand new Toby-Keith associated label.

In fact, half of Ingram's 12 releases have been live.

Let's see. There was "Live At Adair's" on the long since defunct Rising Tide label (1996), "Unleashed Live" with buddies Charlie and Bruce Robison (2000), "Live at Billy Bob's" (2003), "Acoustic Motel Live (2004) and "Happy Happy...Live at Gruene Hall" (2004).

Safe to say, Ingram, 35, enjoys performing concerts with his Beat Up Ford Band. "I think it has to do with the energy that is captured between the artist, myself and the audience," says Ingram in a telephone interview from Austin where he lives.

"I think it has to do with the energy that is captured between an artist and the audience. When I reach that place with a crowd, it's irreplaceable, and you can't bottle it up. So I just... »»»

The Gourds know how to throw a party. The Austin-based quintet is best known for rowdy live shows that showcase their ability to blend Tex-Mex and zydeco styles into their own unique brand of energetic hill country twang.

But sometimes the substance of their working-class ballads gets lost in the midst of the midnight fiesta. It shouldn't. Sure, for the past nine years chief songwriters Kevin Russell and Jimmy Smith have excelled at penning witty tongue-in-cheek stories that often border on silly. This is fun music, after all.

But on their new album "Heavy Ornamentals," The Gourds prove once and for all that they're plenty cerebral, too.

Case in point: "Our Patriarch," the centerpiece of "Heavy Ornamentals," out on Eleven Thirty Records in January. The track is a slow-turning, thoughtful meditation on modern-day ideological changes that highlights the musical finesse of the band - Russell, Smith, mandolin player Max Johnston (formerly of Uncle Tupelo and Wilco), Keith Langford on drums and Claude Bernard on accordion and keyboards.... »»»

To classify the past three years of BR549's existence as tumultuous would be textbook understatement. Amazingly, not a trace of the band's recent upheaval is evident on their latest album, "Dog Days," their seventh overall and second for Dualtone.

After losing long-standing bassist Jay McDowell and co-founder Gary Bennett in 2002 and enduring a long period of reassessment, the Nashville band's remaining members (guitarist/lead vocalist Chuck Mead, multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Don Herron, drummer/-vocalist Shaw Wilson) decided to forge ahead with new members Geoff Firebaugh on bass and Chris Scruggs on guitar.

This new aggregation would prove to be painfully short-lived. The quintet concocted a typically impressive live set and toured the U.S. and Europe extensively, then came back and put together the band's first concept album and debut for new label Dualtone, 2004's "Tangled in the Pines," to equal amounts of acclaim.

But soon after the album's release, Firebaugh and Scruggs also exited the band, and BR549 was left a trio once again.... »»»

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