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Articles and Interviews – 2010


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Befitting his status as one of the most gifted lyricists of the past four decades, Peter Rowan is at no loss for words as he talks about his Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band and its recent debut release, "Legacy" on the Compass label.

"It feels like coming home, and it feels like I've learned something along the way," he remarks from his current home base in the San Francisco area, although he notes with some irony that the band grew out of a situation where "I was basically homeless…living in a Buddhist temple."

Paul Knight, a frequent sideman on bass over the course of Rowan's more than 40 years on the American music scene, helped him find a place to live and invited him to the regular Sunday afternoon bluegrass sessions Knight hosted at the Station House Café in Point Reyes. Also living in the area and attending the sessions were banjo master Keith Little, a veteran of major bands including the Country Gentlemen and Ricky Skaggs' band Kentucky Thunder, and... »»»

"I was able to reach depths inside me that I didn't know I had," says Jason D. Williams of his new album Killer Instincts. Speaking from New York City the night after a media showcase for his new Rockabilly Records release, the 51-year-old boogie-woogie piano-man was effusive in his praise for producer/ alt.-country singer-songwriter Todd Snider, "It's a piece of art that came from within that Todd was able to get out of me."

Although Snider helped Williams expose his zanier – at times more bohemian - lyrical sensibilities, the other creative specter hanging over the project is the Killer himself – Jerry Lee Lewis. Ever since he left Eldrid, Ark. at age 17 to go on the road with Sleepy LaBeef, Williams has stocked his onstage repertoire with big pleasing slabs of Lewis's material.

Moreover, in 1996, KNIX Magazine reported that Williams purchased some of JLL's old clothes to wear onstage while he pounded the living boogie-woogie out of his keyboards. The explanation for this behavior is usually found in the oft-repeated rumor that Williams, who was adopted, is the Ferriday Fireball's illegitimate son.... »»»

After a couple of spins through Marshall Chapman's new self-released album, "Big Lonesome," it seems strange to learn that the longtime Nashville singer/songwriter - whose '70s/'80s rock roots still bubble up through her more recent country concoctions - had largely decided not to do any more albums.

Her decision to forego her recording career and concentrate on her roles as a songwriter and an author (her new book, "They Came From Nashville," was also out at the end of October; both are available on her web site at www.tallgirl.com) would be swayed by just one variable; the possibility of doing a duet album with her longtime writing and performing collaborator Tim Krekel.

"I thought if I do another album, I'll do a duet with Tim because we can combine our resources, and it'll be fun because he's the first person I want to be on stage with anyway," says Chapman, 61, from her Nashville home. "He's somebody I really like to write with, and I just like to hang out with him. He's the first person you want to call to be on your bus."... »»»

By Brian Baker

The self-referential song has been a stock-in-trade for country music since its earliest incarnations. From Johnny Cash to Willie Nelson to Roger Miller and beyond, from 78s to mp3s, country artists have enjoyed writing and singing, directly or tangentially, about themselves.

So, it doesn't seem like much of a surprise that Rory and Joey Feek, the Nashville husband and wife duo doing business as Joey + Rory, opened their sophomore album, the cleverly titled "Album Number 2," with the song that serves as its title track.

The song is a spritely ode that exhorts the music-consuming public to purchase J+R's follow-up to their 2008 hit debut, "The Life of a Song." The surprise is that the song predates Joey + Rory's first album by nearly four years; not only did Rory Feek not write the song for this album, he didn't even write the song for the duo.

"That's what makes it kind of neat. I wrote that song with a couple of buddies five or six years ago," says... »»»

Following the release of their self-titled debut two years ago, the Nashville-based SteelDrivers quickly developed a following for their distinctive blend of bluegrass and blues with a dash of Southern rock, a sound termed by some as "Bill Monroe meets the Allman Brothers."

With their follow-up disc "Reckless" out (both on Rounder) and on the charts the band's fiddler, Tammy Rogers, says their success turned out to be something of an obstacle.

"('Reckless') actually took a long time to make, and I think there were a number of reasons for that. 2009 was a very, very busy year for us, touring-wise. We just did some incredible shows." She pauses a moment and rattles off a list that includes Telluride as well as both coasts - "All over the place. So that made 'sitting and recording time' rather difficult, and I think we were all pretty determined to go beyond the first album. I mean, I know for myself, I wasn't interested, creatively, in rehashing the first album and repeating what we'd done. It was very important for me, creatively, to take it a step further."... »»»

The Avett Brothers, as its name spells out, is a band comprised of brothers Scott and Seth Avett. In concert, this country-tinged group can go from singing a tender folk ballad, like I and Love and You, to a still-relevant Roger Miller or Tom T. Hall country song, then on to something that sounds a little like punk-bluegrass.

The Avetts just released "Live, Volume 3," a 16-track concert recording from August 2009 where music fans can hear the Avetts at their live-and-in-person best.

There are many stories about brothers not getting along in bands. The Louvin Brothers had more than their share of brotherly conflicts, and Oasis just broke up because guitarist Noel Gallagher couldn't coexist with his singing brother, Liam Gallagher. The Everly Brothers might create heavenly harmonies together now, but they've also had their share of fights. And while Ray Davies has probably made his best music with his guitar slinging brother Dave, The Kinks have been an... »»»

A significant number of artists would be happy to notch two great consecutive albums. With the release of her latest, "See You on the Moon," Tift Merritt has managed to release four stone winners in a row.

She accepts with a demure, but clearly grateful "Wow, thank you so much," but perhaps holding back from self-congratulation because she's still striving for greatness from a personal perspective.

Later, Merritt apologizes for eating watermelon in the middle of the phone call. Her apology is both unassuming and sweet and indicative of her completely open personality.

Those are qualities shared by the albums she has released. From her acclaimed debut, 2002's Americana-laced "Bramble Rose" to her soulful and twangy 2004 follow-up "Tambourine" to her magnificent third album, 2008's "Another Country," Merritt has blended her unassuming sweetness with a penchant for very personal storytelling and an old-soul wisdom to create a catalog of startlingly intimate, yet beautifully universal songs.... »»»

Gretchen Wilson doesn't like her show billed as "An Evening with Gretchen Wilson." "I get kind of pissed because this isn't a wardrobe changing, dressy kind of show. This is like seeing Skynyrd," she said. It is probably safe to assume that she was not fazed by performing at Chautauqua N.Y., an epicenter of culture and refinement, on the stage that has hosted some of our most prominent intellectuals, symphonies and ballet companies. Breaking out with "Redneck Woman" in 2006, Wilson started her own label, releasing "I Got Your Country Right Here."

What is it like having your own record label?

It's amazing. It's freedom, I have the ability to do whatever I want, to record what I want when I want. I don't have to ask anyone's opinion any more. I don't need permission to do something on a creative piece of work from some suits that don't have a musical bone in their bodies. It's always been amazing to me how that works when you're with a major label. There are so many departments... »»»

Elizabeth Cook is like a modern day Loretta Lynn. She sings and writes as frankly about sex (with songs like Yes to Booty), as Lynn did with "The Pill. Now, on her fifth album, "Welder," which was produced by a true music business hit man, Don Was, Cook has fun with stereotypes (El Camino), yet gets deadly serious and personal about the subject of addiction on Heroin Addict Sister.

But even though she's as cute as Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood, she doesn't yet sell out huge stadiums. Yet for those that like their musical truth to sting just a little bit, Cook continues to cook up some mighty spicy fare.

"What I write – I think – just tends to be a little too quirky and uncomfortable for the white noise music that a lot of advertisers prefer," Cook explains. "I'm okay with that. I don't think I'd be very good at it. I just do what I do. It's sort of how it is."

"I was sitting in a park in East Nashville and realized there were a lot of people out there sort of cruising around, checking each other out and stuff," she recalls, describing the inspiration for El Camino.... »»»

For their fifth album, "Wildwood," North Carolina quartet Chatham County Line decided to expand their bluegrass sound by utilizing instrumentation rarely a component in a bluegrass band: the drums.

As CCL frontman Dave Wilson explains, Tift Merritt's drummer/husband Zeke Hutchins had contributed to the "Wildwood" songs in their seminal state, so it was only right that he should have a hand in finishing them as well.

"We felt like this was a record that could reach out to a lot more people than just the bluegrass audience, who we really appreciate for all the support they've been giving us for years," says Wilson. "We were playing these songs with Zeke, just loosely jamming, and that was probably two years ago. It seemed organic that the songs had drums to begin with, so when we were in the studio, Zeke was local, and we just called him up and said, ‘Hey, man, bring it on. Let's do this.'"

Before bluegrass purists hyperventilate over this turn of events, it should be... »»»

Sarah Buxton has a lot on her plate right now. She's getting a new duo project with Jedd Hughes off the ground, writing songs for an upcoming reboot of the movie "Footloose" and traveling across the country with the first Country Throwdown. Being a part of a new tour is lot like sailing uncharted waters. However, Buxton knows that when you love what you're doing, it's always worth every mile.

"I just believe in it so much," she says. "When you really believe in the intrinsic values of something, it makes everything worth it. I have to believe in something at a root level to really go for it, and I really believe in this."

Buxton is happy to be on the tour, but it could always be better. "Obviously, I would love to have a full band on the main stage," she admits. "That would be at the top of my list of things that I would ever want to change about this whole thing. But to be out here with such amazing people and to seal these friendships, has probably been my favorite part."... »»»

Award-winning country singer, Wade Bowen, has been a mainstay of the Texas Country music scene for nearly a decade. He recently joined the likes of Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Asleep at the Wheel by releasing an album of live material recorded at the famous, Billy Bob's in Fort Worth, Texas.

The past year has been busy for Wade Bowen. The native of Waco, Texas has picked up a number of awards, including Lonestar Music's Live Act of the Year, undertaken a grueling touring schedule, and appeared at the Grand Ole Opry.

"Two thousand and nine was a huge year for us," said Wade in an interview with the Waco Tribune-Herald. "We performed at the Grand Ole Opry. We had our first West Coast run. We had record crowds and we won some awards that were fan-based and fan-oriented. We recorded the live album (Live at Billy Bob's), and I got to write with Guy Clark."

Trouble from Wade's 2008 album, "If We Ever Make it Home," also cracked the Top 20 on the CMT countdown and debuted at number 1 on CMT's sister channel, CMT Pure.... »»»

Forty years ago, Jack Hicks was a teenage banjo sensation, good enough to land jobs with some of the biggest names in bluegrass. After disappearing from the scene for a few years, he didn't have to look any farther than the next house over for an opportunity to get back into the swing of things.

"I had quit picking and had decided to start again, and John (Rigsby) was playing for Melvin Goins. And Melvin was my next-door neighbor. So, when I started back picking again, I told Melvin if he ever needed anybody, to holler at me, and he did."

Rigsby, an outstanding fiddler and mandolin player, had also served a couple of stints in Ralph Stanley's band, and he and Hicks found they had a lot in common, musically.

"So, John and I were picking together with Melvin, and we decided to form a band after a while."

That band was Summertown Road, and since forming in 2008 they've generated substantial buzz on the circuit despite the absence of any recordings - until now.... »»»

When Drive-By Truckers hit the studio early last year, the Alabama-via-Athens sextet were fresh from experiences that would have a profound effect on their next album. The Truckers had been on a long road trip supporting their last album, 2008's stripped back and country-flavored "Brighter Than Creation's Dark," which had been largely written on the band's acoustic Dirt Underneath Tour. They had also just recently wrapped up the whirlwind sessions that produced Booker T's Grammy-nominated "Potato Hole" album.

Between the relative quiet of "Creation's Dark" and the jumper cable inspiration of working with Booker T, the Truckers were ready to turn their amps up to a Spinal Tappish 11 and loosen some shingles.

Thus was born the Truckers' incendiary new album "The Big To-Do." "The rock part was definitely intended," says DBT front man Patterson Hood. "We pretty much all decided, well before we started making it, that that's what we wanted. We really wanted to make a concerted effort at it being that way."... »»»

Daniel Martin Moore and Ben Sollee have each made a significant impact on the folk/bluegrass scene over the past few years. Sollee is a classically trained cellist and a member of Abigail Washburn's Sparrow Quartet, and his acclaimed 2008 solo debut, "Learning to Bend," was an amazing blend of bluegrass, folk and jazz. Moore returned from a Peace Corps stint three years ago and sent an unsolicited demo of his Nick Drake-like songs to Sub Pop; against all odds, they signed Moore immediately and set him to work on his first album, 2008's "Stray Age."

Two years ago, Moore and Sollee met at a Lexington, Ky. show and began making small talk about music and their commonalities when the subject of Appalachian strip mining was broached. It was a subject that both Kentuckians are passionate about - Moore is a member of anti-strip mining group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and an active fundraiser - and so they were determined to do something concrete and creative to shed light on the subject.... »»»

Blue Highway's banjo player Jason Burleson acknowledges that their 1995 debut album "It's A Long, Long Road" turned out to be prophetic. It has been quite a journey for the Tennessee-based band that has become one of the "gold standards" of bluegrass, with 8 more "signpost" albums along the way, the latest being their newly-released 15th Anniversary collection on Rounder, "Some Day."

"It's really," says Burleson, "just a big ‘thank you' to the fans from us... it's rare that a band can make a living at this at all, much less for 15 years and have the fans stick with them and support them."

Following a stint with Alison Krauss in the early 1990s, guitarist Tim Stafford met and hooked up with bass player Wayne Taylor to start a band that would keep their hands in the music while allowing more time with their growing families. Before long, mandolinist Shawn Lane (an alumnus of Ricky Skaggs' band) came aboard and the band acquired the Dobro talents of Rob Ickes, recently transplanted to Nashville from his native California.... »»»

Elvis Aron Presley, had he not collapsed face first into a shag carpet in his Graceland bathroom on Aug. 16, 1977, would have been 75-years-old Friday. Yet, somehow, his birthday seems all the more important because he is not actually here while others feast at his table.

Graceland - a greater cultural icon and more milkable cash cow than even the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - is being remodeled for future generations to come, gawk and breathe in a few scant molecules of the King's essence. Do the new overseers really care about Elvis? It's hard to say. In 2007, I spoke with one of the disc jockeys who ran the Graceland-based all-Elvis radio station and blithely asked, "So, do you like Elvis's music?" Bored, the jock candidly responded, "Well, let's just say that I'm getting used to it."

Sony/BMG recently released a smartly remastered four-disc set of Presley's best songs and contemporary remixes. Certainly they genuinely care about the King of Rock ‘n' Roll, right?... »»»