Articles and Interviews – 2011
It is an obvious no-brainer that Chris Isaak tracked his most recent full-length, "Beyond the Sun," at the historic Sun Records in Memphis. Although Isaak is famous for his sexy Wicked Game
hit, with its even sexier video, along with the natural humor in his witty Chris Isaak Show, this smooth operator is a roots rock guy deep down at heart.
With this new all covers album, Isaak heated it up with Ring of Fire and Great Balls of Fire and got his Elvis on with songs like Can't Help Falling in Love.
When Isaak finally got to Memphis to record in those hallowed grounds, this wasn't the first time he'd been there. "I had been there before to Sun Studio to just kind of pay tribute in a way, because we stopped the tour bus in the middle of the night as we went past. I said, 'We've got to stop, I want to see where it was that Elvis walked in and turned the key and started their rock and roll machine.' And so we had gone there and stood out front. "
Each step of The Jayhawks' resurrection has been a little more unexpected and incrementally better than the last, culminating in perhaps the most unlikely and joyously welcomed result of all - "Mockingbird Time," the first new Jayhawks album in 16 years to feature the band's co-front men Gary Louris and Mark Olson.
After a five-year period when everyone associated with the group was busy with band projects, solo recordings, tours and production assignments, the past few years have been a relative beehive of Jayhawks activity.
It all began almost informally in 2005, the year after the band went on "hiatus," when Louris and Olson announced that they'd be touring a show called "From the Jayhawks: An Evening with Mark Olson and Gary Louris, Together Again."
At an age when most people are contemplating the direction of their life, Lydia Loveless has already blazed an impressive trail. The 21-year-old Coshocton, Ohio native began playing bass with her two sisters in their band Carson Drew when she was just 13 and was playing solo shows at 15.
"I was in various bands before that, but I never sang," recalls Loveless from her Columbus home. "I was in a punk band where I sang, I guess you could say, but we only played two shows, so that wasn't really much experience."
Listening to Dave Alvin's new "Eleven Eleven" album reveals once again what a great storyteller the man is. His songs are filled with the kinds of details normally only found in your better novels. In some cases, he comes off like nothing less than a historian with a guitar.
For example, Johnny Ace Is Dead revisits the death of that beloved performer of yesteryear, while Gary, Indiana 1959 puts the listener right back in the thick of the emerging workers union movement, midcentury. Obviously, Alvin has a lot of important topics on his mind, which is exemplified again and again in this collection of serious and relevant songwriting.
"Most pop music songwriters - and most Nashville type songwriters and all that - they don't touch that kind of stuff anymore," Alvin says. "In the old days, you might get Johnny Horton doing The Battle of New Orleans or Marty Robbins doing El Paso or that kind of thing. It's not part of the contemporary music vocabulary. Nobody does, outside of oddballs like me."
In a business where "job security" is almost a contradiction in terms and bandleaders have been known to fire sidemen on stage in mid-set, Blue Highway remain the very models of stability and continuity after 10 albums, including the just released "Sounds of Home."
All five original members remain: Tim Stafford (guitar), Wayne Taylor (bass), Shawn Lane (mandolin), Rob Ickes (Dobro) and Jason Burleson (banjo).
After 14 years with a slew of infectious hits – Easy on the Eyes, Boy Meets Girl, Girls Lie Too
and Poor Poor Pitiful Me
– Terri Clark's 2009 "The Long Way Home" took a different tack.
Recorded during her mom's brave, but ultimately unsuccessful, battle with cancer (she passed away on Easter Sunday, 2010) it carried much darker undertones than any of her previous efforts, coming at a time when everything in her life seemed to be falling apart.
"'The Long Way Home' was pretty introspective," reflects Clark. "I was going through a lot emotionally. There was a lot of struggle in my life when I recorded that album, when I wrote the songs for it. There was a lot of self-searching, soul-searching, thought and just stress. My mom was sick for 3 1/2 years, and I had just left my record label. I was in a relationship at the time that was a struggle from Day One, so I had a lot of struggle in every area. That album was made during that time, and I think that maybe people really connected with it on an emotional level because we all go through things like that."
On her four original albums, Eilen Jewell has deliberately given each one a slightly unique feel while maintaining the basic elements that have converted so many fans and critics. Her first two albums, 2005's "Boundary County" and 2007's "Letters from Sinners & Strangers," were ecstatically received, hailed as the work of a legend in waiting, while the reaction to 2009's "Sea of Tears" was decidedly mixed as some reviewers thought it was a logical progression while others felt Jewell seemed to be treading water and not moving forward.
Foster & Lloyd are back together again with their first studio album in 21 years, "It's Already Tomorrow." Sure, they've each had a lot of individual success, especially as songwriters. However, something special happens when these two talented artists pool their skills together. So, why now?
"We played a special event here in Nashville a couple (of) years ago," says Bill Lloyd. "We'd been asked to do a fundraiser for an organization called the Americana Music Association. We ended up writing some songs in particular for that event and playing live with a combo, and it went so well that we decided to start writing regularly. And it just sort of grew into, ‘Wow. We should probably make another record.'"
This was not the first time the two had performed together since the last album "Version of the Truth," in 1990. Nevertheless, it was just the first reunion that led directly to a new CD.
Oh, the trouble Justin Townes Earle has seen. The 29-year-old singer/songwriter's well publicized drug-and-alcohol problems over the years have resulted in several stints in rehab, the most recent being last fall after an altercation at an Indianapolis venue which necessitated Earle's return to treatment and the cancellation of his tour. Thankfully, Earle is doing well these days.
"I'm doing good, health-wise," says Earle from his Nashville home. "I've got a lot of things straightened out, and I'm working on others. I never shy away from telling people this is an incredibly hard business to be good in."
That's a vast improvement for Earle, whose substance issues were so bad at one point that his father, Steve Earle, removed his son from his position as guitarist with his backing band. When you go too far for a guy whose own drug-and-alcohol appetite earned him a prison stint in the mid-'90s, you know you've seriously crossed a line. At the same time, father has offered some invaluable advice to son.
Just over two years ago, Joy Williams and John Paul White were maintaining separate and fairly successful solo careers. Williams had been singing since her teenage years, had a number of hits in the inspirational (i.e. Christian) genre and scored a number of Dove Award nominations, but had tired of the category's constraints and was looking to branch out.
White had established himself as a rising singer/songwriter, recording an album for Capitol at the same time as the label's massive layoffs, but remained hopeful.
"She grew up singing in churches, I grew up singing in bars," says White with a wry grin during a conference call.
"Yin and yang," concurs Williams.
One listen to the angelic harmonies and devilishly infectious arrangements of the duo's debut studio full length, "Barton Hollow," and it becomes tempting to fully explore to halo/horns effect of Williams and White's partnership.
Trace Adkins sings Hell, I Can Do That
on his latest disc, "Cowboy's Back in Town." The tall Louisianan with the ultra deep voice sings of driving a racecar, running with a football player and acting as something he can easily do.
"Well I must have dozed off/I woke up with my baby next to me/Remote in her hand, tears in her eyes from a movie/A romantic comedy starring Matthew McConaughey/Oh, hell baby I can do that," sings Adkins.
With their 10th album, "Help My Brother," now out on the street, Eric Gibson notes the irony that while many fans of the bluegrass music he and brother Leigh have made for the last two decades continually ask when they're going to take a stab at fame and fortune in Nashville, many others think they've already made that move and ask when they're coming back. The truth, he tells them, is somewhere in between.
Waylon Jennings' influence on music is impossible to overstate. He helped shape early rock and roll as Buddy Holly's bassist in the late '50s. He had hits within Nashville's country music establishment in the '60s. He was instrumental in launching the Outlaw movement in the '70s, and his songs continue to resonate for new generations of country music fans and artists.