Articles and Interviews – 2008
The Gourds have smartly covered everything from David Bowie's spacey glam sounds to Snoop Dogg's hip-hop (most notably "Gin and Juice") since they started in Austin in 1994, Not surprisingly, these adventurous behaviors have earned this unique act the label of Dixie flavored novelty act in some quarters. But Weird Al with a Southern accent they certainly are not.
Early on a fall evening - Election Night - Joey Martin and husband Rory Feek are savoring their first night home in some time at their farm south of Nashville following a whirlwind radio tour in support of their debut Sugar Hill release "The Life of a Song" and the single from it, "Cheater Cheater," the song that sealed the deal for them as audience favorites on CMT's American Idol spin-off Can You Duet? this past spring where they finished third.
It is not overstating the case to cite Charlie Louvin as a living legend. As a one-time partner in the Louvin Brothers with his late brother Ira, an inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry, and a performer who has been entertaining country, gospel and rock audiences for well over five decades, Louvin has nothing left to prove to anybody.
And yet, the 81-year-old icon continues to tour about a third of the year, a seemingly grueling road schedule for a man who clocks in about a decade and a half past normal retirement age.
It takes a lot of work to make things look easy. It also takes a lot of sacrifice and Jere Cherryholmes, the patriarch of the band Cherryholmes, who have just released "Cherryholmes III: Don't Believe," has some advice for those would-be bluegrass family bands that see them on stage making things look easy:
To say that "Wheels," the latest release from Dan Tyminski, has been a long time coming, would be a slight understatement. Unless an eight-year gap in between projects is considered quick. That is not to say that the bluegrasser has been sitting idle on the sidelines for so many years either.
Consider his regular gig as acoustic guitarist with Alison Krauss and doing a considerable amount of session work.
Heidi Newfield was in West Virginia about to play a show at the University of West Virginia. That would be a solo show, by the way, and not another date with Trick Pony because Newfield has long since left that group and just released her first post-Trick Pony solo album, titled "What Am I Waiting For." Naturally, one wonders what Newfield may have been waiting for, so to speak, regarding this whole new solo artist experience.
They say one sign of maturity is the ability to adapt. Although still a young band, Massachusetts quintet Crooked Still shows marked signs of maturity on their third album, "Still Crooked," on Signature Sounds.
Since coming to the attention of the bluegrass world at large through his sizzling fiddle work as a sideman for Dale Ann Bradley and Rhonda Vincent, Michael Cleveland has been a regular winner at the annual IBMA awards as in five times Fiddler of the Year.
The way Jamie Johnson of The Grascals views it, the adage "if ain't broke, don't fix it" applies to the bluegrass sextet's new "Keep on Walkin'" CD. Who could blame him either? The group has enjoyed two well-received albums, a hit single with "Me and John and Paul" and won the prestigious entertainer of the year award two years running from the International Bluegrass Music Association. Not bad for a group of mainly veteran musicians who came together only four years ago for the long haul playing bluegrass and country.
There is a circuitous quality to Alejandro Escovedo's latest album, "Real Animal." The album is essentially a work of autobiography that details, in allusory song form, the cultural, musical and personal path that Escovedo has carved over the past 30 years.
It's not that Junior Sisk fell off the bluegrass map; it just seems that way. After helping to lead traditional bluegrass units like Wyatt Rice and Santa Cruz, the original edition of Ramblers Choice, Lost & Found and BlueRidge for the better part of the late 1990s and into the new millennium, Sisk seemingly disappeared after BlueRidge disbanded in late 2006 just as the band was reaching the heights of bluegrass stature.
The Road Hammers' musical journey began rather questionably as a Canadian reality show. So, why is its self-titled, authentic country trucking song-filled "Blood Sweat & Steel" CD so doggone good? Well, to begin with, the making of this band began with genuine certified parts, as each piece of hardware in its toolbox was already job-tested before the hammering road gang ever took shape. Secondly, The Road Hammers built their house with good wood, so to speak, by constructing a song list out of great old songs from the past and equally well-written new ones.
The transition from overnight success to a long-term career in the music industry is definitely not an easy one for a band. Many a talented group has emerged from relative obscurity to obtain immediate commercial success, critical accolades and flashy labels like "the next big thing," only to fade quickly away. One band trying to prove it is here to stay is The Infamous Stringdusters.
The end of junior year in high school for many is a whirlwind of final exams, making summer plans (maybe even including a job) and complaining about a recently-taken senior yearbook picture. For a rising young bluegrass performer like Sierra Hull, it's all that and a lot more.
Tift Merritt appeared on a roll after releasing "Bramble Rose" in 2002 and "Tambourine" in the summer of 2004. The North Carolina singer was among the leading lights of the so-called alt.-country crowd and attracting glowing reviews, even a Grammy nomination for best country album. But she would not have landed a role with "Where's Waldo?" because unlike the cartoon character, Merritt seemed pretty much nowhere to be found for awhile.
That is until she released her new collection of songs, "Another Country," in late February. And instead of being on the Lost Highway label where she got her start, Merritt switched over to Fantasy/Concord, the home of John Fogerty. "It's feels like a long time. It definitely feels like this record was a long time in the making and in the coming," says Merritt in a phone interview from New York City where she recently moved. The 11-song disc combines country, bluesy sounds and the voice of a French chanteuse. "I just don't want you to think I was home being lazy."... »»»
"It's a great little group of people," says Buddy Woodward of the Dixie Bee Liners. "Probably the best band I've ever been in." When one considers how many bands Woodward has been part of that have enjoyed fervent cult followings, that's saying something. However, after toiling away in various roots music aggregations for the better part of two decades, the eclectic singer-songwriter/voice actor is finally part of a band that has a shot at connecting with a larger audience. Stuffed with hybrid influences and cross-cultural sounds, the tuneful bluegrass combo featuring versatile Brandi Hart's soulful lead voice, just released their second album, "Ripe," and first for Pinecastle.
Although the Bee Liners exhibit a high degree of roots music skills, the band draws fire from some hard line traditionalists. "If you talk to people that are full on into straight, traditional, old time bluegrass music, they don't know what the hell we are," Woodward explains from his Virginia home. "It's not necessarily your daddy's bluegrass."... »»»
Hayes Carll is a Texas singer/songwriter, which is a categorical description that holds a lot of artistic weight. After all, this subset also includes Lyle Lovett, Steve Earle and Townes Van Zandt. And heck, let's not forget Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings.
But what exactly makes Texas singer/songwriters so special? Well, it is about more than just being born in that big state. Rather, it likely has something to do with a territorial individualistic streak, where when it comes to Texas songsmiths -- as with fingerprints and snowflakes -- no two are ever alike.
The hard part is trying to choose which particular Texas favorite Carll is most like. On his Lost Highway debut, "Trouble In Mind," Carll's third release, many differing, yet equally valid comparisons, can be drawn. With "She Left Me For Jesus," about a man who must come to grips with his woman's Jesus-loving Christianity, a Lovett-ian sense of humor clearly comes through. This guy is jealous of Jesus, not because he sees... »»»
At the time of their 1997 self-titled debut on Rounder, Longview quickly came to be regarded by many as the first bluegrass "supergroup," a coalition of six of the leading lights of the contemporary bluegrass scene. The project was successful enough to spawn two follow-ups, "High Lonesome" (1999, also on Rounder) and "Lessons In Stone" (2002, on Rebel).
Now back with Rounder after a six-year hiatus, they return with "Deep In The Mountains," yet another throwback to the "stacked" three-part harmony drawn straight from the era before the term "bluegrass" came into widespread use to describe the genre.
Don Rigsby, just past his 40th birthday, has been one of the driving forces behind the Longview phenomenon from the start. A longtime mandolin and vocal standout, he was one of the six who collaborated on the first three albums along with Joe Mullins (banjo), James King (guitar, vocals), Glen Duncan (fiddle), Dudley Connell (guitar, vocals) and Marshall Wilborn (bass).... »»»
Larry Stephenson has a lot to be grateful for. The 51-year old bluegrass veteran celebrates his 19th year as the leader of his own band this year and will also mark his 19th year with Pinecastle Records with the release of "Thankful."
Stephenson started his career as a teenager playing around his native Virginia with his father before joining Bill Harrell and His Virginians in 1979. After four years with Harrell, he made the move to the Bluegrass Cardinals where he spent nearly six years as mandolin player and tenor singer.
In 1989, he made the decision to strike out on his own forming the Larry Stephenson Band and releasing his first solo album on the Webco label, which was later bought by Tom Riggs of Pinecastle.
His newest all-gospel release, his fourth of the kind, was actually to be completed nearly three years ago, but was sidelined by a vicious killer.
"I jokingly tell people that the 'Knoxville Boy' kind of showed up and put an end to the gospel album," Stephenson says from his home just north of Nashville in reference to the Tom T. and Dixie Hall song that became a linchpin for his 2006 release "Life Stories."... »»»
When we last heard from Carlene Carter, President Bill Clinton was in his first term. King LeBron James was barely in double digits, age-wise that is.
And Shania Twain dominated the country album chart that year with "The Woman In Me."
Yup, it's been a long, long time since one of the heirs of the Carter Family heritage has been heard from musically - "Little Acts of Treason" was released in August 1995 to be exact.
Carter, the daughter of June Carter Cash and singer Carl Smith and stepdaughter of Johnny Cash, has been through quite a lot since "Little Acts..." hit stores.
Some of it involved acting, but a lot of it was not the kind of stuff you'd want to be known for - drugs (her second stint with substance abuse), the police blotter and a series of unfortunate, sometimes, tragic deaths in the family.
But now Carter, 52, is back in a big way on a small, but respected indie label, Yep Roc, with the release of the appropriately titled and highly personal "Stronger."... »»»
Allison Moorer is less famous than her sister, Shelby Lynne or her husband, Steve Earle. But one might make a case that she can out-sing either of them. Each aforementioned artist is a singing stylist, whereas Moorer has a naturally beautiful and pure vocal instrument.
And that strong voice of hers is especially showcased throughout "Mockingbird," Moorer's just released covers CD.
Moorer put out her first album, "Alabama Song," in 1998, and probably received the most media attention with "A Soft Place to Fall," a song she contributed to "The Horse Whisperer" soundtrack. (She also appeared in the movie). She also got noticed for later recording the CD version of "Picture" with Kid Rock, though the radio version with Sheryl Crow received the airplay.
Moorer's latest album - her seventh of original material to date and first release for New Line - is by no means intended to be a feminist manifesto. It is, however, quite feminine in the respect that every song was written or co-written by a woman.... »»»
With the release of their eighth album, "Through The Window Of A Train," Blue Highway's Tim Stafford reflects back to their 1995 Rebel debut and says it's been a long but rewarding journey for the Tennessee-based bluegrass quintet.
"We feel like (the new disc is) one of our best records...The group's matured, we're 14 years older than we were when we did 'It's A Long, Long Road', and our themes are a little more mature now than they were back then...our songs have grown up a little bit with us, as we have."
Remarkably, the personnel has remained virtually constant throughout nearly a decade and a half: Stafford (guitar), Wayne Taylor (bass), Shawn Lane (mandolin), Rob Ickes (Dobro) and Jason Burleson (banjo).
Though Burleson left for a brief time in the late 1990s, replaced by Tom Adams, he returned in 2000. When pressed for the secret to the longevity and stability that escapes so many other bands, Stafford points to a variety of factors, but hints that more than anything,... »»»
When Kathleen Edwards performed around Ontario, Canada in 2001 and 2002, her club shows were sparsely attended. Then "Failer" came out, and all of that changed, the labels were calling for her, Letterman was praising her work, and the support slots grew to the likes of Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson a few years later.
But after 2005's "Back To Me" and the subsequent touring, the singer-songwriter was worn out. Taking time off from the road, Edwards even had a stint working at a winery. Not that she needed the work to make ends meet, but getting away for a bit recharged her batteries.
"I didn't have songs in the vault, and I was pretty burned out," she says from her Ottawa area home. "I was not uninspired, I just needed time to sort of figure out what kind of songs I wanted to write and what kind of record I wanted to make. It was tough because suddenly I knew I had to make a record, I wanted to make a record."
Now, on the cusp of releasing her third album, "Asking For Flowers," Edwards is ready to take the bull by the horns again with what could be her best album to date. The singer started working on the album last spring.... »»»
It only took 20 years, but Gary Louris finally meandered down that road that most songwriters seek and put out a solo record.
"I've been in a band for quite awhile, and it took up most of my time, and I felt like I had enough of my personal stuff expressed through The Jayhawks that I didn't need to put out a solo record," he says. "Now that that band isn't together anymore, it was just time."
As a founding member of The Jayhawks and their lead singer and guitarist on three of their critically acclaimed recordings "Sound of Lies," "Smile" and "Rainy Day Music," a member of the alt.-country super group Golden Smog, and a producer and mentor for other roots rockers such as Canadian psychedelic-country group The Sadies, Louris needs no introduction to those in the music industry.
"Vagabond," released in mid-February on Rykodisc, is an introspective affair featuring 10 well-crafted and emotive songs. The low-fi acoustic recording allows the listener to focus on the lyrics and Louris' most powerful instrument – his voice.... »»»
To say that the Drive-By Truckers had a tumultuous 2007 would be akin to observing that Donald Trump has a few semolians. Still, last year's departure of Jason Isbell from the Truckers' ranks had the air of inevitability around it; he had been working piecemeal on his own album for more than two years when he announced his exit from the band to concentrate on his solo career.
For the Truckers, who just released "Brighter Than Creation's Dark," Isbell's absence represented the loss of a guitarist, vocalist and valued songwriter.
But for bassist Shonna Tucker, Isbell's departure was both professionally and personally draining; it was the end of the pair's nearly five-year marriage that facilitated Isbell's split with the Truckers. Understandably not wanting to dredge up personal details, Tucker admits that the experience was draining for her on several different levels.
"To say the least, it was exhausting," she says. "That's a good word for it."
At the same time, the intense emotional upheaval of the end of her relationship with Isbell had an unintended impact on Tucker. She began writing songs.... »»»
The title of Rhonda Vincent's new batch of music is "Good Thing Going." The song is an ode to her husband, Herb, and their longstanding marriage, but given the context of Vincent's stellar bluegrass career, one could use the CD title for that as well.
But that doesn't mean that Vincent just paints by the numbers and goes for the tried and true to keep her career moving in the right direction either. Not now at least.
One key difference is that the Missouri native did a lot of writing for the disc - writing or co-writing 5 of the 12 songs, which she produced along with brother Darrin.
"It wasn't expected," says Vincent in a December interview several weeks before the release of the new CD on Rounder. "I pretty much do things by necessity and by nature - how does it feel? Does it feel like I need this? Do I need that? We kind of create the music the same way."
"I think I wrote three songs on 'All American Bluegrass Girl' (Vincent's 2006 disc).... »»»
And the winners are:
- Top Male Performer: Toby Keith
- Top Female Performer: Miranda Lambert
- Top Band: Sugarland
Toby Keith has not enjoyed great success when it comes to winning country music awards, but he was the top dog for 2007 in the Country Standard Time reader's poll for best album with "Big Dog Daddy." Keith also was voted top male performer for 2007.
Texas country firebrand Miranda Lambert took the top female performer, while her album, "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" was second for top CD of 2007, though far behind Keith. Interestingly, Lambert opened many shows for Keith in 2007.
Sugarland, which had a big year in 2007 with lead singer Jennifer Nettles gaining much acclaim, won the top band vote from fans.
In the top male performer category, Brad Paisley was second, while Keith Urban and Kenny Chesney were third and fourth respectively just behind Paisley. George Strait was fifth.... »»»
Taylor Swift superstar? President Toby Keith? A retired Garth Brooks?
That could be the case if votes in the CountryStandardTime.com poll prove accurate.
Swift, with one album under her belt and several hits, is going to be
country's next superstar, according to voters. She was overwhelmingly the
country act of choice, besting Miranda Lambert by almost a two-to-one margin.
Among other results, Keith received a lot of good news as he had the most
votes for best song, best voice, performer most capable of holding political
office and best name for a pet (well, "Toby" actually).
The news was not so good for Carrie Underwood, who won by an overwhelming margin
as most overrated performer and having her CDs as candidates for the trash heap
and Garth Brooks, voted the artist who should have retired in 2007 or earlier.
In the superstar category, one supporter wrote of Swift with a swipe at Carrie
Underwood, "She has more talent all wrapped in one little girl than we have seen in
a long time. She did it the hard way without having any backing from a reality show
to launch her career."... »»»
Though a new band on the scene, one seemingly intent on bringing a new dimension to the "blue" in bluegrass and with a self-titled debut out in January on Rounder, the Nashville-based SteelDrivers feature an impressive collective resume of talents and accomplishments, both on their own and as side players to the musical elites of both coasts and Music City.
The names of all five - Mike Henderson (mandolin), Chris Stapleton (guitar, lead vocals), Tammy Rogers (fiddle, vocals), Richard Bailey (banjo) and Mike Fleming (bass, vocals) - pepper the liner notes of countless studio projects over the years, and as Henderson acknowledges, it's not as though they'd all been sitting around killing time.
The SteelDrivers, he says, grew out of his songwriting partnership with Stapleton and his yearning to get back into bluegrass.
"Chris and I, we'd been writing about five years, and we were building up quite a catalog of things, and we would write them with a couple of acoustic guitars. Every... »»»
Making a best of list, of course, is no exact science. After all, what one person likes, another can't stand. So it's with that in mind that a top 18 list (forget about Top 10) is unveiled.
And the top disc of 2007 was Robert Plant and Alison Krauss's ultra unique collaboration "Raising Sand" by a hair over Miranda Lambert's excellent second disc, "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend."
Here is the best of 2007:
1. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss – Raising Sand (Rounder) - Totally out of left field obviously, but Led Zep's lead singer and Krauss make lovely music together, especially on the uptempo songs. Not always rootsy, but it's always real good and precious.
2. Miranda Lambert – Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (SonyBMG) - Lambert puts it all together, excellent songs, attitude, fine voice and keeps it country. Sophomore slump? No way.
3. Brad Paisley – 5th Gear (Arista) - Paisley offers a likable album with his usual blend of humor (sometimes too much), quality songs and his fine voice and playing. This guy is money in the bank.... »»»