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Articles and Interviews – 2005


Marty Stuart can't be accused of sitting on his duff at this stage of his career, letting his creative juices fall by the wayside and living on past laurels. Nor is he the type of musician to put his finger in the air and follow what may seem commercially viable at the moment.

In fact, Stuart is in the midst of releasing three albums in less than six months, all on his own label through Universal South Records. As if to prove he still has something left in the tank, Stuart also explores different types of music and themes on each album.

At the end of August, he released "Soul's Chapel," a gospel-based disc recorded with the likes of Mavis Staples aboard and influenced by The Staples.

In October, he referred back to his great interest in Native American culture with "Badlands," a series of 13 songs devoted to Native Americans.

Looking ahead, Stuart is putting out "Live at the Ryman" in February 2006, a bluegrass album recorded at the Mother Church of country music, a recording not even expected to see the light of day.... »»»

Once he finished with high school, Keith Sewell didn't take long to find a career in music. "I went to college for a semester," the Texas-born singer-songwriter-guitarist recalls, "and in the middle of that semester I met these guys in Dallas called The Shop. They were kind of a Texas country show band. They played summers, mostly, and they opened up for a lot of artists. I thought that would be a cool thing to get into, and so I went on the road with them in February of 1990, playing guitar, banjo and fiddle."

That might have been little more than a youthful adventure for Sewell, who had grown up playing in bluegrass bands around Dallas, but for one thing.

"I remember that when they gave us the itinerary for the band, it would usually say in parentheses who we were opening for - and I saw that on July 21st we were opening for Ricky Skaggs in Enumclaw, Wash. I put a big old circle around that date because Skaggs was one of my big heroes."... »»»

When the offbeat filmmaking Coen Brothers set out a little more than five years ago to recast Homer's "Odyssey" into a tale of the adventures of a trio of escaped convicts in Depression-era Mississippi, the result was the hugely successful "O Brother, Where Art Thou?," a film that not only cemented George Clooney's status as a major star, but featured a landmark soundtrack of old country songs that sparked a wave of new interest in old time and bluegrass music that is still rippling across the country.

Most of the artists on the soundtrack were familiar names to those with even casual knowledge of the newly-christened "Americana" format, but many who saw the film or bought the soundtrack album (and millions did both) were intrigued by the sibling harmonies of a trio of pre-teen newcomers, the Peasall Sisters from the Nashville suburb of White House, Tenn.

The success of the film and soundtrack spawned a tour dubbed "Down From The Mountain" that criss-crossed the country drawing sellout crowds and included a number of artists from the soundtrack, the Peasalls among them.... »»»

The path to Little Big Town's sophomore album, "The Road to Here," was not exactly straightforward.

For starters, they did not have to worry very much about falling victim to the sophomore slump because the group's major label debut did not leave them much to live up to. Not only did the album not do very well, but it apparently was not what they wanted musically either.

That was not all the two male, two female quartet contended with.

Divorce struck the group with Karen Fairchild and Phillip Sweet splitting with their spouses.

And death also afflicted Little Big Town. Jimi Westbrook lost his father. And most tragically Kimberly Roads' husband, Steven, who was instrumental in getting the group going, died in April of a heart attack at 41.

Despite their woes, Little Big Town forged ahead to not only make an album that received positive reviews with a different sound than the debut, but they even have enjoyed a strong ride on the charts with the single, "Boondocks," on a new label, Clint Black's Equity.... »»»

Don't wake up Fred Andrews from his dream, which is writing songs and performing with honey-smooth Honey-browne, a trendy young Texas band that's part rock, part country and only the tiniest part Lone Star rowdy.

The band's new CD, "Something to Believe In," released Nov. 15 on Compadré Records, blends classic and contemporary rock, alt-rock and pop with a little bit of country that's more contemplative than angry, yet still youthful enough to appeal to the 20-something crowds. And rootsy enough to appear on the Americana Music Association's music chart.

So, what makes Honeybrowne a trendy band?

First of all, and, really, least important except perhaps for the independent attitudes it fosters, the band's members - all in their late 20s and early 30s - don't just live in the musical Mecca of Austin,; they live in trendy South Austin where the rent's cheap, where the neighbors are likely to be artists, too, and where the belief is that Austin itself is now too corporate or too crowded or too, well, "something" that just isn't hip enough.... »»»

The cover of "Thinking of You," the seventh release from Chicago alternative country band Freakwater, looks like a greeting card from hell. The cover depicts a bouquet of roses engulfed in flames and the ominous text: "Freakwater is Thinking of You."

"The cover was incredibly controversial, but we were so proud of ourselves when we sent it to the record company," explains Freakwater co-lead Janet Beveridge Bean, 42, on the patio of her Chicago home.

At first, Tina Richards, owner of the Thrill Jockey label, was a bit taken aback.

"Tina said, 'I'm just stunned. I don't know what to say. Are you trying to not sell records? In Germany, they are not gonna get this.' But I liked the idea of the menace it represented," says the other half of Freakwater's public face, Catherine Irwin, 43.

"I think the ugliest album covers stand out a lot more than the tasteful ones," Bean explains. "Someone said it reminds them of what it would look like if David Lynch made a greeting card."... »»»

Forgive Phil Leadbetter for feeling a little disorganized. The man - who is a menace on a Dobro (and even has a signature series Gibson named after him) - has had an eventful year to say the least. First, there was the recording and release of his critically-acclaimed solo record "Slide Effects" in March, and then without a rest he was back in the studio to record the latest Wildfire disc ("Rattle of the Chains") with his four bluegrass brethren, just released on Pinecastle Records in late September."I might have to start leaving myself better notes!" he laughs, as he talks about the juggling act that this year has brought with two discs and lots of touring and promotion.

"My record just totally wore me out," he adds. "The record company came to me ... we were wanting to do a Wildfire record, but they told me 'we want you to do a record,' and they gave me a date...then, as soon as mine was done it was like 'wow I'm glad that was over with. Then two days later, it was man we need... »»»

Any filmmaker who chooses to condense the colorful life and adventurous times of a larger-than-life historical figure into the cramped confines of a two-hour movie is begging for a thorough caning from film critics and historians alike if the project is botched.

Surely that must have occurred to director James Mangold over the past half decade as he desperately attempted to wrestle the irresistible love story of Johnny Cash and June Carter into "Walk the Line."

And it was a daunting task; the very intimate story of the blossoming passion of the first couple of country music was played out against the expansive backdrop of the turbulent '60s, the rapidly changing profile of country music as a cultural phenomenon and Cash's own self-destructive renegade reputation.

Through it all, Mangold's vision for making the movie version of Cash and Carter's incredibly moving romance remained true. He collaborated with Cash and Carter at the very end of their lives to secure the necessary details to make the eventual film of their love affair even more compelling.... »»»

T rick Pony has become known for hosting some of the all-time greats of country music on their albums. For their 2001 debut, Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings were on hand. Willie Nelson dropped by for "On a Mission" the next year.

So how do you possibly top that for your third album?

"We've got more country singers on this album than a Nashville rehab center," laughs bassist Ira Dean in a recent phone interview. "We called up everybody, Mel Tillis, Tanya Tucker, Joe Diffie, Tracy Byrd, Tracy Lawrence - and some friends of mine from Cincinnati that I can always count on to be drunk at 6 in the afternoon. They tailgated all the way in from Cincinnati, and we all just sang and had a ball."

That all star chorus is on the Pony's single "Ain't Wastin' Good Whiskey on You."

But that's not all. Darius Rucker of Hootie and the Blowfish (that's right, Hootie and the Blowfish) helps out lead singer Heidi Newfield Johnson, guitarist Keith Burns and Dean on "Sad City.""We met Darius a while... »»»

"Today is the most time I've had off the bus in a couple of weeks," Jon Randall reports with a pleased laugh. "And, of course, we're out in the middle of nowhere. There's nothing to see or do. It's always that way. You get a day off next to a highway."Indeed, the 36-year-old singer-songwriter has been on a lot of highways trying to find his audience and build a career over the last 20 years.

During that time, three critically lauded albeit weak-selling albums, left his career dead in the water until he renewed his focus on songwriting.

Now best known as the Grammy nominated co-writer of Brad Paisley's monster hit "Whiskey Lullaby," Randall is touring with old pal Vince Gill while hawking his new Epic album "Walking Among the Living."

"Man, it's been great," Randall reports via phone from Glendale, Pa. "I didn't know for sure that it would be because I'm doing an acoustic opener. It's more of a songwriter's set, and I didn't know how it would go over with this big of a crowd. But... »»»

No matter how the final week of October played out, it was going to be a watershed in the lives of the Cherryholmes family, whose meteoric rise over the last few years has caught much of the bluegrass world by complete surprise.

On the heels of the September release of their first nationally distributed recording (self-titled on Skaggs Family) to enthusiastic reviews, they were at the annual International Bluegrass Music Association trade fair and awards shindig being held in Nashville for the first time.

And his fan base certainly seems to stick with Nichols as he had the seventh biggest selling album in his first week out of any disc in the U.S.

So, why did he go for a change in his already good looks? "I don't know," he says, laughing during a telephone interview while waiting to hop a plane to Minnesota for a couple of shows. "I think most of all, I think it was personal reasons. I was just wanting to get healthy and get in the best shape I could get in. Cut the hair. Time to grow up a little bit."... »»»

No matter how the final week of October played out, it was going to be a watershed in the lives of the Cherryholmes family, whose meteoric rise over the last few years has caught much of the bluegrass world by complete surprise.

On the heels of the September release of their first nationally distributed recording (self-titled on Skaggs Family) to enthusiastic reviews, they were at the annual International Bluegrass Music Association trade fair and awards shindig being held in Nashville for the first time.

More than that, they were up for two awards themselves, Emerging Artist (their second such nomination) and the big prize, Entertainer of the Year. Recounting the awards show at the venerable Ryman Auditorium, Jere (pronounced like "Jerry"), the patriarch of the clan says that when the Emerging Artist nod went to the Grascals, he turned to his wife Sandy.

"(I) basically said, 'We're done,' and she said, 'You mean, we can't even emerge this year?'"... »»»

He's the same guy, after all, that detailed the harsh economic realities of this country's Northern migration with a hit recording of Mel Tillis and Danny Dill's "Detroit City." Furthermore, his career accomplishments include such treasures as the "Bobby Bare Sings Lullabies, Legends and Lies" album, considered one of the first country music concept albums.

The "Lullabies" CD is a full double album of Shel Silverstein songs, and this project's laser-like focus on one great songwriter's repertoire underscores Bare's unabashed appreciation of the songwriting craft.

Back in the 80s, Bare even hosted a program all about songwriters on the old TNN channel. This was wonderful TV because it took an inside look at the faces behind those names we always read on album credits. It also offered the chance to see and hear songwriters perform works, many of them big hits for bigger stars.

The show also revealed just how much Bare loves and appreciates songwriters. Its focus was never on Bobby... »»»

Taking a breather from the band's seemingly never-ending tour at his North Carolina home, while awaiting guests to arrive, Woody Platt - lead singer and guitarist for the bluegrass band Steep Canyon Rangers - emits a sense of exuberance and for good reason.

His band hit the festival circuit this past summer and continued turning heads with their fresh and innovative high mountain music.

Platt also is grinning because during the band's first gig north of the border recently in British Columbia, the soulful singer was crowned Corn Shucking Champion at the Chilliwack Bluegrass Festival, holding off serious contenders from both Canada and the United States."They have one of the best areas in the world for a good quality corn," he explains. "One of the things that they do at this festival up there is to have a contest with different age groups and the bands also compete. I got lucky enough to win the band competition."

"It was fun," he adds. "It was a joke really, but I got a few tips before the contest, and it worked out pretty good."Music also is working out well for the Steep Canyon Rangers.... »»»

When reached by phone, Billy Joe Shaver was at a church someplace near his Waco, Texas home. And church is not an uncommon place to find Mr. Shaver these days because he's an outspokenly spiritual man. In fact, the singer/songwriter's new "The Real Deal" CD (his first release in three years) contains a few overt nods to his Christian faith, namely the tracks "Jesus Christ Is Still the King" and "Live Forever."

"You know what. That stuff leaks in there in about every song I've got," says Shaver of this unique relationship between his faith and his music. "It's always been in there. I didn't mean for it to be. I ain't no one that's gotta shove stuff down your throat or anything like that. There ain't nothin' wrong with being a Christian. It can't hurt ya. I don't preach; I just write my songs and go on. Take it or leave it, it's part of the deal. It's just an everyday thing with me. Atheists and people like that, they get all uptight about it. But why? I mean, they got a right to be the way they are. And we got a right to be the way we are."... »»»

I Two decades into her singing career, Patty Loveless has earned many number one hits and awards and in recent years, heightened status as one of the great voices of country music, staying true to her roots and eschewing the mainstream.

While others may have ridden the commercial country wave, Loveless returned to the sounds of her eastern Kentucky upbringing with mountain, country and bluegrass on the highly acclaimed "Mountain Soul" in 2001 after her career was going through a less popular period with airplay and sales. She racked up good numbers sales-wise and a wider audience also thanks to participating to the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" spinoff tours.

Loveless continued veering left with a Christmas album and "On Your Way Home" in 2003 - making excellent music without huge sales or airplay.

So when it came time to make her new "Dreamin' My Dreams" disc, Loveless says she looked back on her life in music, which includes husband and producer Emory Gordy Jr., who has produced 12 of the 14 albums of original material put out by Loveless.... »»»

"This thing has happened to us as much as we've happened to it."

So says David Sickmen about the odyssey of his bluegrass and folk contingent, the Hackensaw Boys. Now, after six years and many line-up changes, hard miles on the road and three self-released discs, the surviving sextet has released their first album for the Nettwerk label, "Love What You Do."

Speaking from a Denver diner as the band travels to Boise, Idaho, Sickmen observes, "All the pieces are finally in place, which is ironic because at this stage of the game you know, we're run down." He quickly adds, "That's the nature of a business where you have to strike while the iron is hot."

It took many a long mile in crowded vans, taking turns sleeping on motel room floors and working for short dough to create a situation where that iron would get hot.

First formed as a quartet in Charlottesville, Va. during the fall of 1999, the Hackensaw Boys - whose name is a comic allusion to musically hacking at a mandolin and sawing away at a fiddle - made their professional debut as street performers.... »»»

Rodney Crowell chuckles a bit when he fields a question about the evolution of his latest album, "The Outsider."

"The evolution of it, eh?" he says wryly from his northern California tour stop. "After 'Fate's Right Hand' was done, the evolution was just going into the studio with some new songs and recording them, songs that I wrote mostly on tour."

Crowell may be hesitant to think about his more recent works in terms of something as structured as an actual evolution since that could infer a certain conscious effort on his part to effect a change in his music.

Since the creation of "The Houston Kid" in 2001, Crowell has made a concerted effort to get out of his own way and work from the heart when it comes time to write songs and translate them in the studio.

"I'm always looking to make sure I can stand behind the writing," says Crowell. "Lately, it's a result of a commitment to singular sensibilities. I really take the liberty of believing that my sensibilities are entertaining, whereas I think before I might have written broad strokes for the market. Not a lot...just enough to make me uncomfortable."... »»»

Cross Canadian Ragweed wants you to know that they are an American band.

Although the name often evokes images of hockey, maple leaves and universal health care, the group actually originates from Oklahoma, and the foursome now calls Texas home. The band's name is actually a combination of the members' own names: Grady Cross (guitar), Cody Canada (vocals, guitar), Randy Ragsdale (drums). Jeremy Plato (bass) also is in the band, but his name isn't part of the CCR.

Of course, this explanation is lost on many.

"We played the National Anthem at a Texas Ranger's game once," explains Canada, age 29, via cell phone while on tour in Texas. "Somebody came up to our manager and said it was bullshit that these damn Canucks were singing our national anthem at a baseball game."

He continues, "The further north we get, the more we're asked what part of Canada we're from, and we then have to explain the whole thing all over again."

The band had been pleasing audiences with its unique brand... »»»

"We see ourselves as five very, very lucky young women, to be able to do this for a living. If people knew how much fun we have, everyone would do it," says KC Groves, founder of the all-female - or, as they prefer to say, "all-g'Earl" - old time ensemble Uncle Earl.

"Just the fact that we can make a living at this is a beautiful thing, and we feel very fortunate to be able to do that. I mean, we have moments all the time where we look at each other like, 'Oh my God, we get to do this?'"

Groves and her bandmates are at a bluegrass festival deep in the woods of Maine in late July, and as if the travel and adventure of touring weren't enough for this tight-knit quintet - mandolin player Groves, guitarist Kristin Andreassen, banjo player Abigail Washburn, fiddler extraordinaire Rayna Gellert and newest member bassist Sharon Gilchrist - they also have the excitement of the release of not only their first nationally distributed album as a band, "She Waits For Night" (Rounder), but also that of Washburn's solo debut, "Song Of The Traveling Daughter" (Nettwerk America) in July and August respectively.... »»»

When Stephen Bruton was about 13, his older brother, Sumter, would drive him and his buddy, T-Bone, to guitar lessons in Fort Worth, Texas. It's not an unusual family arrangement except that, in this case, Stephen and his young friend taught, rather than took, lessons at T.H. Conn Music Co.

Sumter, the elder Bruton brother, is a fine guitar player himself who stayed in Fort Worth to help mom run the small, eclectic Record Town music store across the street from Texas Christian University.

T-Bone is, for those who may not know, T-Bone Burnett, an in-demand producer and musician who was the driving force for the music in the movie "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and other projects.

"The influences coming out of the record store were enormous," says Stephen in a phone interview. "I got to listen to everything from Howlin' Wolf to Liberace to Yascha Heifitz and George Jones. But what did it for me was 'Granddaddy's Rockin,' a rockabilly song by Mac Curtis, from Fort Worth."

He got his first guitar for Christmas when he was in fifth grade and quickly learned to play the mandolin, too.... »»»

New York City is not a country town, but don't try telling that to Laura Cantrell.

The Nashville native turned New Yorker is an ardent defender of country music in a city with a reputation for being decidedly hostile to the genre. "I feel some of the 'sniffiness' about country music can be a little classist," Cantrell, 38, explains via cell phone from a park bench in New York's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood. "It's always been working peoples' music, and some people get uptight about that."

Cantrell's war to keep country alive in the Big Apple is being waged on two fronts. Her weekly radio show where she spins classic and alternative country has been going strong since 1993, and her own third album, "Humming by the Flowering Vine," was recently released on the Matador Records label, better known for edgy rock music than country.

As a youth in Nashville, Cantrell became interested in country through osmosis - simply living in Music City made country extremely accessible. "Despite a... »»»

To say that it's been a long time coming for the sophomore album from The Knitters may be somewhat of an understatement. The Knitters debuted with "Poor Little Critters on the Road," and that came out on 1985 on the respected LA label, Slash.

Now, two decades later, the quintet of John Doe, Exene Cervenka, Dave Alvin, D.J. Bonebrake and Johnny Ray Bartel are back, perhaps a little grayer, but on top of their game with "The Modern Sounds of the Knitters" on Rounder.

Doe, Cervenka and Bonebrake all staked out a much higher profile career as members of Los Angeles punk band X. Alvin also became a member as well as forming The Blasters and now enjoys a long established solo career.

The Knitters was most definitely considered a side project from their regular night jobs both 20 years ago and now.

What caused The Knitters to be so nice to their fans so many years later?"Well we never thought we were going to make another record," says Doe in a phone interview from Minneapolis.

Doe tries a different approach in explaining the obvious.... »»»

Despite an International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Emerging Artist Award under their belts and two accomplished albums behind them, Kenny & Amanda Smith - co-founders of the Kenny & Amanda Smith Band - have not forgotten their roots.

The high and lonesome married singers still love a good old-fashioned 'pick' to the point where this summer, they scheduled a break in their tour to jam and hang out with some old time fiddlers.

Calling from Galax, Va., the Smiths are camping out with a flock of fiddlers, enjoying some all-night picking sessions at the 70th Annual Old Fiddler's Convention.

According to the festival's website, a newspaper item from 1935 states that the convention was dedicated to "keeping alive the memories and sentiments of days gone by and make it possible for people of today to hear and enjoy the tunes of yesterday."

Seven decades later, it's not surprising to learn that this same spirit of togetherness and preservation of old time traditions are still what fuel the fiddle festival and bring bluegrass lovers back year after year.... »»»

Jimmie Dale Gilmore is an esteemed singer/songwriter, and one-third of The Flatlanders, a trio that also includes Butch Hancock and Joe Ely. But prior to his professional music career, there was one special musician in his life that profoundly influenced the making of the artist's latest CD, "Come On Back."

That special musician also happened to be his father.

"My dad died of ALS, which is also called Lou Gehrig's disease, about five years ago," Gilmore explains via telephone from his Austin, Texas area home. "My dad and I had a real close relationship. Earlier in my life, there were times when it wasn't close."

"But in the early part of my life - my dad was a guitar player - we just deeply shared a love for this certain era of old time country music. The bond between us was really exemplified by this music. So this record was done as a tribute to my father and his musical influence on me."

When Gilmore refers to a "certain era of old time country music," he's actually... »»»

There have been bad decisions, both personally and financially, during the course of Delbert McClinton's nearly five decades in the music business.

Yet, since McClinton, who will turn 65 in early November, took control of his musical destiny several years back and didn't leave it in the hands of what he amusingly calls the thieves at the big record companies, his career has never been so prosperous.

And, says the legendary blues-country-rock singer-songwriter, he's having so much fun these days that unlike a self-imposed five-year hiatus from recording, turning his back on music is not an option. In short, most everything McClinton touches these days turns to gold or at least to silver.

His latest CD on New West Records, "Cost of Living," is already a favorite of the critics. McClinton also recently returned from a tour of Scandinavia, where the Lubbock, Texas, native says for whatever reason, the people understand him and his music.... »»»

"All I can say is, to keep creating something with this type of music, you have to take it out of the box," advises Brian Setzer. "It's fine and dandy to play it and learn it just the way (the original artists) did it, but don't be afraid to take liberties with this music. Try and put some of yourself into it. That's the way you'll be able to create something new with it."

The comment neatly sums up the philosophy behind Setzer's latest Surfdog album "Rockabilly Riot! Volume One - A Tribute to Sun Records." Latching on to the venerated Sun catalog of the '50's, the 46-year-old singer/guitarist has transformed 23 songs - classic hits mixed with cult favorite obscurities - into high-octane modern rockabilly with a retro feel. "My intention," he explains from his California home, "besides to have fun, was to try and get it out so young people could hear it. I was playing (Billy Lee Riley's) 'Red Hot,' and my son and his five buddies, who are like 18, 19, ran into the room and said,... »»»

When a singer's career is doing well and on the rise, life is good. But life also brings its pressures - can the upward trajectory continue when a new album is out? Will the fans accept it? Such has been the case for country traditionalist Brad Paisley, who just released his fourth disc, "Time Well Wasted.

And he is off to not too shabby a start either. The record far exceeded sales of any his previous albums thanks to 192,000 sold the first week out and being the second biggest selling album in the country the week it was released in mid-August.

Having a big hit single with the rowdy, yet serious, "Alcohol" hasn't hurt either.

"I definitely care how it'll do as far as that goes," says Paisley in a cellphone interview on a stormy afternoon while getting ready for sound check in Des Moines, Ia. "I'd really love for people to enjoy this record more than anything else.

"I also said when I was making this record, I was making it for the people who actually buy it rather than the... »»»

What's in a name? Apparently quite a bit to the existing members of Buddy Holly's band, The Crickets.

So when a five-piece San Antonio band with thematic ties to the sound that Holly pioneered called themselves the Dead Crickets and built up a strong regional following, it created a problem. Crickets (live, not dead) drummer Jerry Allison requested the band change its moniker.

Kevin Geil, the lead singer for this San Antonio band, found inspiration for a new name in his driveway, a 1956 Cadillac. So after a six-year run as the Dead Crickets, the band became Two Tons of Steel in 1997.

The inspiration for the band's sound dates back much further. "I was about 13 or 14, and I had a guitar," says Geil in a phone interview from his San Antonio home, shortly before the release of the band's new disc, "Vegas" on the indie Palo Duro label.

"I saw the film 'This Is Elvis' with Kurt Russell. I had heard of Elvis, but I didn't know about his Sun Records stuff. I learned to play 'Blue... »»»

Chip Taylor has had his fair share of fascinating jobs over the years from golfing with the pros on the greens to earning a ton of green stuff (the treasury-issued paper kind that is) as professional gambler.

He's also enjoyed great success as a songwriter, with credits ranging from penning that classic garage rocker, "Wild Thing," to writing the gentler pop hit "Angel of the Morning," not to mention the many country hits he created for Nashville back in the Sixties.

But these days, Taylor is one half of a musical duo with fiddler/singer Carrie Rodriguez. This act has just released its third CD together, "Red Dog Tracks," and Taylor credits the chill factor, if you will, for its artistic success.

"When I was a young kid, I was very...even though I was from Yonkers, N.Y....I was a country music fanatic," Taylor explains. "I had a country band when I was a kid. I had a lot of favorite artists, but I would say that the majority of stuff that I liked was harmony singing. Like The... »»»

The recent cold snap in hell is nothing like the full freeze that took place there when The Eagles decided to bury the hatchet and regrouped to play together again. And yet it still seemed like an unseasonably cool forecast for the underworld when it was announced that Jay Farrar would be reuniting with his band mates in Son Volt, the much revered Americana/roots band he had dismantled for a solo career seven years ago.

To be fair, the initial word of Son Volt's return might not have set off hell's Doppler because it didn't seem to qualify as a full scale reunion.

The original plan was for the long-distant members of Son Volt to reconvene last spring in order to record a cover of Alejandro Escovedo's "Sometimes" for the "Por Vida" tribute album, organized as a benefit to help defray Escovedo's mounting medical bills in the wake of his Hepatitis C diagnosis two years ago.

"We got along well, and the song turned out fine," says Farrar from his St. Louis studio. "It was great to do it for a friend."... »»»

For an up-and-coming young band in any genre of music, the imminent release of a new album is always an exciting time, and when it coincides with the opportunity to appear at a legendary venue, then life is very good indeed. It's a Thursday evening in late June, and Caleb Roberts, co-founder and mandolin player for the high-energy, traditionalist Colorado bluegrass outfit Open Road is speaking from backstage at the Ryman Auditorium, - the "Mother Church" of country music - only moments after their Opry debut and only a few days before the release of their third Rounder effort, "Lucky Drive."

A normally talkative and effusive sort of guy to begin with, the experience has clearly shifted the 35-year-old South Carolina native's gearbox into overdrive, especially when he describes the aura of history emanating from the seats in front of them.

"I did the first break in the show, and the audience erupted up into applause - you know, the way the room sounds. It's familiar sounding... »»»

Take Two Aussie musicians, add a Brit for good measure, and what do you get? When it comes to the current Americana and roots scene, this talented trio of expatriates equals The Greencards - a hot, young bluegrass band, now based in Austin.

The Greencards' music - they just released ""Weather and Water" June 28 on Dualtone - echoes the best work of Alison Krauss + Union Station and Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, but adds its own stamp to this old time music. The band has a firm grasp on instrumentation, and the harmonies have as much soul as a street-corner blues singer. "Weather and Water" features just the right mix of ballads, instrumentals and front-porch pickin' tunes.

Hanging out just outside New York City in the midst of an early summer tour of minor league baseball stadiums opening for Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson, Kym Warner - the band's mandolin and bouzouki player - explains how three musicians from parts of the world not traditionally known for its high and lonesome... »»»

The title song of Robert Gordon's new album is a heartfelt, gospel-fed reading of Porter Wagoner's 1955 number 1 hit "Satisfied Mind." It plays out like a personal anthem and begs the questions, "Do you Robert Gordon now possess a satisfied mind?""No," he laughs. "No, I just happen to love that song."

Gordon's new album for Koch is filled to the brim with songs he loves. The best ones - Johnny Burnette's "Little Boy Sad," George Jones' "Your Angel Steps Out of Heaven" and Don Gibson's "Sea of Heartbreak" - embrace the country crossover sounds of the 1950s and 1960s with sincerity and conviction.

Yes, this is the same Robert Gordon who once performed with those purveyors of pop and punk, the Tuff Darts. True, he achieved his initial fame by melding garage rock, punk and rockabilly for a series of groundbreaking albums during the late '70's and early '80s. In addition, Bruce Springsteen wrote the song "Fire" for him before the Pointer Sisters appropriated it for their pop smash.

However, Gordon has never been comfortable being strictly typecast as a rockabilly performer.... »»»

One of the sweetest and most genuine-sounding country CDs of the year is "Begonias" by a couple of unlikely, in their own eyes, folks who both thought they'd be doing something else.

Caitlin Cary went to North Carolina State to get a graduate degree in literature and ended up singing and playing fiddle in the influential alt.-country band Whiskeytown.

Thad Cockrell went to Wake Forest to study religion at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and ended up sitting on Cary's front porch writing songs on Sunday afternoons until they both found time to go into the studio for a few days and record an album together.

"I had no earthly idea that I was going to be a musician," Cary says. "But there's a great scene in Raleigh, and I arrived at exactly the right time to change the course of my life."

She got a phone call from somebody she'd never met, but who'd heard she played fiddle and wanting to know if she wanted to come practice with a new band.... »»»

Lydia Salnikova sings "It's been a long time comin'" on the brand new second disc from Bering Strait.

Truer words may never have been sung given the Russian band's history in stepping up to the plate in the first place. While the band went through six record labels, one apartment fire, a highly supportive manager who almost lost everything for supporting his beloved band and a lot of sitting around and waiting before even releasing their debut, for their second album, "Pages," Bering Strait "only" had to wait 2 1/2 years for its release.

And during that time, group members say the band, which underwent a personnel change, also found their sound.

The self-titled debut did pretty well - selling 150,000 copies - considering the band received practically zero radio airplay. They even captured a Grammy nomination, had a commercially released documentary about them as well as a segment on 60 Minutes.

While publicized initially as a bluegrass band, the sound was far more country pop.... »»»

After nearly a decade without a new album, Webb Wilder has returned with "About Time," a collection of 15 songs that span the spectrum of raucous country, blues and rock and roll.

As the voice behind the hit recordings "Human Cannonball" and "Tough It Out," Wilder is also one of American music's most interesting characters. He's one of the few artists with a credo to call his own ("Work hard, rock hard, sleep hard, eat hard, grow big, wear glasses if you need 'em."), and his encyclopedic knowledge of American music can be heard daily on XM satellite Radio's "X (Cross) Country" station where he hosts a regular show.

Given his raw talent, charismatic personality and rabid cult following, why the long wait for a new release?

"Part of the problem was no record deal," Wilder, 51, explains via telephone from his Nashville hometown. "I'm not really the guy who goes into his basement and makes his own record. As great as that is, I think sometimes you get cheesy albums."... »»»

Michelle Shocked is a busy lady. She doesn't have one or even two new CDs to promote these days. Nope. She has - count 'em - three fresh discs to get behind in June!

One is called "Don't Ask Don't Tell," which mostly adheres to her folk roots. "Got No Strings" is a Western swing tribute to a few of her favorite Disney songs. The last in the trio is "Mexican Standoff," and this one is part Spanish language, part blues. So why put out so much new music on her own label at once?

"In this case, I did it because I could," Shocked explains. "I could have taken three or even five years to release all this material. But instead I got it all out of my system at one time."

One imagines it must have taken a lot of studio hours to get all of these songs - 31 in total - laid down. But that'd be a wrong assumption. "Two months," Shocked states, amazingly. "We started at the beginning of December, and we were done by the end of January."If you're thinking that Shocked amassed all of these... »»»

It doesn't seem possible that nearly a decade has passed since singer/songwriter John Prine last released a full album of his own original work, which fans will tell you consistently runs the gamut from piercingly poignant to goofier than Mickey Mouse's best friend.

After all, this is the notoriously prolific John Prine, who once put together a string of seven albums in nine years, six of them in consecutive years.

And yet here we are, almost 10 years after Prine's brilliant "Lost Dogs & Mixed Blessings" in 1995, and 5 years after he wrote a lone original track to serve as the title for "In Spite of Ourselves," his covers-and-duets collection from 1999.

After struggling for close to five years with the songwriting muse that once seemed almost effortless, Prine finally assembled what may stand as some of the finest work of his career for the creakily wonderful "Fair & Square."

The thing that truly distinguishes "Fair & Square" from the rest of Prine's exemplary catalog is how close it came to never happening, not because of writer's block or a stagnant music business or any petty external causes.... »»»

Bobby Pinson wasn't three times lucky. Try four times.

As a result of the RCA label group finally giving the green light to sign the singer with a slew of songwriting credits under his name, Pinson finally had his name on the front of the CD instead of buried somewhere in the songwriting credits.

"I was right in the middle of me having no luck," says Pinson during a telephone from Las Vegas one day before the album's mid-May launch. "RCA walked up to (the plate). They said they're looking for something real and raw. They'd known me as a songwriter. It's a real hard transition to make. Most of the times, you get written off that way, having that background."

The Texan recalls the gritty Steve Earle in the rougher hewn songs with his somewhat raspy voice and Jim Lauderdale on the more laid back songs. Touches of Springsteen also creep into the mix.

Pinson's songs are slice of life pieces, some with a spiritual or even religious bent. Football, cars, girls, and guys like "Billy Joe Taylor" are part of the mix. These are not frothy songs of love, but songs of life, love and innocence lost and found.... »»»

Eizabeth Cook might be the textbook example of that young girl who dreams of a big-time career as a country music singer and songwriter. Except Cook's story is less fairy tale ending and more hardscrabble reality.

Nashville's no doubt seen plenty of such women, waiting tables by day to make rent and singing in the clubs and bars at night, hoping for that big break. Few, however, have likely turned their back on what was a promising career climbing the corporate ladder with a major accounting firm to follow that dream.

But Cook, born in Wildwood, Fla., the youngest of 11 children, found the allure of guitars and cheatin' songs much more to her liking than SEC filings and adhering to the corporate accounting guidelines set down by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

And, unlike many of her peers, within a relatively short period of time, Cook found a measure of commercial success in Nashville.

Her dream eventually turned into a nightmare, as Cook's relationship with her label, Warner, disintegrated into an acrimonious split.... »»»

Calling from just north of Little Rock, Ark., Jeremy Chapman - mandolin player and lead/harmony vocalist for The Chapmans - is driving home with his bluegrass brethren to Springfield, Mo. to teach a few musical lessons.

You would think after two successful albums and an Emerging Artist of the Year award from the International Bluegrass Music Association (2002), The Chapmans wouldn't have to hold down day jobs anymore.

"We enjoy it, and it's a little extra money for car payments and stuff like that," says Jeremy, who currently teaches approximately 11 students.

He started playing mandolin when he was around nine years old. Like most kids, he admits "the hardest part was getting me to practice. That was the thing that mom and dad had to convince me about the most."

Now, the 25-year-old picker is teaching a future generation the discipline required to hone their craft.

The Chapmans officially began in April 1989 with a gig at the Bear Valley Inn in Colorado.... »»»

For Rob Ickes (rhymes with "mikes"), just past his 38th birthday, the band's decade together has been personally and musically rewarding beyond what he ever expected.

"What I think is really special about the band - well, a couple of things, but the songwriting, to me, is just a really strong point because I like being in a bluegrass band that's really creative."

"I wouldn't want to be in a band that plays covers all the time. I love when these guys play a new song - and I mean, these guys are writing some great songs - and we've got a whole album full. We've always had a lot of originals on our records. So, to play bluegrass, but not have to play a bunch of covers is really cool for me...I think we're really pushing the envelope as far as chord progressions and lyric-wise. I can't think of any other band that does that."

By "these guys," of course, Ickes means Stafford, Taylor and Lane (though he and Burleson contribute instrumentals), and there are few other bands that can... »»»

If decisions were made solely on musical connections, then it would be easy to understand why The Wrights were able to release their debut, "Down the Road."

After all, Adam Wright, who along with wife Shannon, comprise the Wrights, is not only from Newman, Ga., Alan Jackson's hometown, but also happens to be his nephew. The Wrights also put out "Down the Road" on ACR, Jackson's label, being distributed through BMG.

So if the idea of nepotism creeps into one's thinking before listening to the album, it would be expected.

But, in fact, the Wrights offer a type of country no longer much played nowadays - twangy, spare country music filled with a bunch of duets. Both Wrights sing lead with Shannon doing the majority. And they even wrote all 12 songs.

Adam confesses in an interview from their Nashville home about the Jackson connection, "We think about it more than other people do."

"We don't want people to think that, but it's obviously a response," Shannon says, about relying on Jackson.... »»»

"I'm Your Biggest Fan," the title track to Dallas Wayne's latest CD release, addresses the growing problem of fans who become uncomfortably obsessed with celebrities.

Unfortunately (or perhaps, fortunately), Wayne's slender fame quotient doesn't require him to deal with such awkward encounters personally.

Nevertheless, unlike the Ashlee Simpsons and Paris Hiltons of this planet, Wayne is a natural born musical talent, which in a just world would make him enormously famous. Equipped with songwriting skills inspired by masters like Harlan Howard and a big and bold country voice, Wayne's world is the real deal, country music-wise.

And since he isn't exactly the pop culture flavor of the week, with the benefit of multiple producers and handlers at his disposal, he must consistently put a blue-collar work effort into each and every musical project.

It might then be assumed that Wayne is one of those self-reliant kinds of guys.

"Nah, not really," he admits. "It was just a matter... »»»

Subtract his birth year of 1947 from 2005, and the math says 58, but it's still winter as Larry Sparks talks from his long-time home in Indiana, and with his September birthday still months away, he laughs and says, "Fifty-seven...don't push it."

To those who remember him as a teenaged guitar picker for the Stanley Brothers in the mid-1960s, it will probably come as a shock - and make a few more joints ache just a little more - to realize that Larry Sparks is now a certified 40-year veteran of the bluegrass business.

To mark the occasion, his longtime label, Virginia-based Rebel Records brought him into the studio for a collection of 16 songs, some new and some revisits of 4 decades worth of Sparks classics.

Titled, appropriately enough, "40," he's joined by a stellar cast of folks, many of whom he's performed and recorded with over the years, and some who are simply among his biggest fans - Alison Krauss, Vince Gill, Rhonda Vincent, Tom T. Hall and Rebecca Lynn Howard, to drop a few names.... »»»

Just a few weeks short of his 61st birthday, bluegrass icon Doyle Lawson eagerly anticipates the release of yet another in a long series of sterling releases since forming his own band, Quicksilver, more than a quarter-century ago.

The title, "You Gotta Dig A Little Deeper," reflects his continuing drive to meet or exceed not only the musical excellence that bluegrass audiences have come to expect, but also the exacting standards he has imposed on himself over more than four decades in the business.

On top of that, the album represents his debut on the Rounder label.

"I'd been with Sugar Hill a larger part of the recording since I put my group together, but I just reached the point where things didn't seem to be happening like I expected, and I wanted to just take a little more control of my destiny, so I decided to leave and maybe resurrect my SSK label, but...when you do things like that as an artist, you've become a record company, whether you want to be or not, and that... »»»

To Sarah Lee Guthrie, the idea of carrying on a legacy is not simply an abstract concept. As the granddaughter of Woody Guthrie and daughter of Arlo Guthrie, the 26-year-old Guthrie recognizes the historical baggage she carries with her every night as she shares the stage with her husband and musical partner, Johnny Irion.

"When I started making my own music, I always got a lot of people wanting me to play Woody Guthrie songs and Arlo songs, but I think people understand that I need to be who I am," Guthrie explains in a phone interview while en route to the South by Southwest music festival in Austin.

She clarifies, "I do love that stuff, and I want to honor that tradition. So, I'm not too separate from it."

The couple are touring in support of "Exploration," a joint album of material they hope will establish them as a musical act distinctive from their previous individual work or the music of Guthrie's famous predecessors.

The New West Records release is a genre-hopping fusion of country, folk and rock that is as hard to pigeonhole as it is easy to enjoy.... »»»

From the beginning of his career, Robbie Fulks has typified the go-your-own-way ethic of the insurgent country genre, defining it through his recordings and performances even as he sought to distance himself from anything remotely resembling an organized movement.

His short-lived and generally unsatisfying major label experience with Geffen was book ended by two tenures with Bloodshot, all of which showcased Fulks' take-no-prisoners brand of traditional country, roots rock and his own unique spin on all of it.

The latest chapter in Fulks' contentious career is perhaps the most ironic. The man who famously wrote "F*** This Town" about his Nashville experiences has just released "Georgia Hard," his debut for Yep Roc and one of the most authentic and traditional country album he's done to date.

After listening to tons of country music from the '70s over the past couple of years, Fulks decided it was high time to translate the love and respect he felt for some of the era's great musical craftsmen into his own work.... »»»

Things may be moving at breakneck speed for Shelly Fairchild, but her life experiences show that she's certainly not a Shelly-come-lately to the business of entertainment.

Fairchild's first album, "Ride," was just released with some blues and rock amidst the country influences. And Fairchild also is involved in country-wide tours, media meetings, music videos and even an appearance on Dave Letterman's late-night show.

"I believe I'm going to wake up any minute," says Fairchild in a telephone interview from the road as she gets fans acquainted with her life and music. "You don't know this process until you are in the middle of it. I'm surprised I got a record deal. Things like this are so fragile. You just have to work to keep everything in your life in order or it will overwhelm you."

Fairchild was born and raised in the small burg of Clinton, Miss. She was part of a musical family where everyone sang and/or played an instrument. By six, she was given her first guitar, and it didn't take long for her to figure out that music was going to be a big part of her future.... »»»

The last three years have been a blur for Kathleen Edwards. Music critics hailed the singer-songwriter's major-label debut, "Failer," (2002) for its honesty and succinct songwriting.

Rolling Stone named the 26-year-old as one of the 10 artists to watch in 2003, and the New York Times praised Edwards as a writer whose songs can "pare situations down to a few dozen words while they push country-rock towards its primal impulses of thump and twang."With "Back to Me," released in March on Rounder, the talented troubadour attempts to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.

Despite her past success, she was nervous heading into Toronto's Reaction studio to record "Back to Me" due to the inherent pressure and expectations from fans, record company executives and most importantly herself.

"I think going into it, I was like I'm definitely not going to allow myself to succumb to the external forces that tend to impose that (pressure)," Edwards explains. "Then, I actually started doing it, and I... »»»

The pressure is on Dierks Bentley. Can the handsome singer replicate the success of his debut where he enjoyed two hit singles? Not an easy task given the fickle nature of the music business today where the flavor of the month and here today, gone tomorrow mentality exists and a singer is seemingly only as good as your next hit.

The early verdict on Bentley is a big thumbs up. The lead-off song and first single from "Modern Day Drifter," the Waylon-sounding "Lot of Leavin' Left to Do," is moving up the charts.

And Bentley's sophomore album, once again produced by Brett Beavers, has a lot of solid songs among the 11 ranging from bluegrass to honky tonkers to ballads in a contemporary sounding album that is squarely country.

"I didn't feel too much pressure," says Bentley on his cellphone from Bloomington, Ind., a day after being on the Today show in Nashville with anchor Katie Couric.

"We had a good thing going the first time around. I trusted myself the first time. This is what we do. We took a chance the first time around with me writing most of the songs and producing with Brett. We didn't want to change things."... »»»

Chely Wright traveled a bumpy road, going from the Academy of Country Music's Top New Female Artist in 1994 to not being sure if she'd make or even want to make another record. But during a hiatus away from performing when she didn't even have a label, Wright found the inspiration to try it again, and she found it in an odd place.

It came one night in The Metropolitan Hotel in London, more than just a stone's throw away from her residence in Nashville and even further from her childhood home in Wellsville, Kansas.

Wright was performing in Europe and had a couple of friends along for the ride. After the shows were over, the trio traveled to London to sightsee and checked into The Metropolitan Hotel.

"I had never vacationed in my adult life," admits Wright in a telephone interview from the offices of her new label, Dualtone, in Nashville. "We were traveling in the car. My friends were singing along to a song that I'd never heard. I asked them what the song was. They couldn't... »»»

Think you're busy? Try planning all the activities encompassed by a daughter who's a senior in high school - college campus visits, class rings, pictures, awards banquets, prom and, of course, graduation, complete with the nonstop flow of family coming in to offer their advice and congratulations. All this, folded haphazardly in and around a seemingly endless schedule of picking, singing and touring in support of a new record.

Welcome to Rhonda Vincent's world. Either event - a daughter's graduation or a new record - is enough to send one to the brink of exhaustion.

Yet Vincent's life has always been all about family and bluegrass. It's not likely to change much either, even with oldest daughter Sally heading off to college this fall.

Both have intertwined ever since Vincent was a child herself, when at the age of five she began playing drums with the family band the Sally Mountain Show (not ironically, her daughter's name) in her home state of Missouri. By the time she was 8, she played mandolin and eventually graduated to fiddle at the age of 10.... »»»

Failure to win Nashville Star when you've come oh so close ought to be a huge disappointment and ego blow, right?

Not if your name is Miranda Lambert, who views her third place finish in the inaugural American Idol event for the country crowd in 2003 as a blessing in disguise.

And she is not the only one who feels that way.

In fact, the emergence of Buddy Jewell as the winner may have done more to boost Lambert's career than if she had won.

The proof may come when her major label debut, "Kerosene," is released by Sony Nashville March 15.

"Not at all," says Lambert in a telephone interview from her home in tiny Lindale, Texas when asked about any disappointment with her third place finish. "I really didn't want to win honestly. I guess because Buddy Jewell had to make a record in a month. Here I was 19 years old, and I had no clue what to do in the studio really. I didn't have all my songs finished. I knew the producer I wanted to use even though Clint Black is a well-known... »»»

When a song moves bluegrass singer James King to tears he knows that it's time to head back into the studio. And, that's exactly what he did recently to record his latest disc, "The Bluegrass Storyteller."

After a dozen years singing sorrowful songs, the high and lonesome baritone clearly knows when the time is right to make some more music.

Driving through Chicago, on the way to Hayward, Wisc. for a string of 3 dates at a casino, the 46-year-old emotive storyteller talks about his influences, what makes a good story and his new album - recently released on Rounder Records.

King is very excited about "The Bluegrass Storyteller," his fifth solo record for Rounder and his first since "Thirty Years of Farming" (2002).

The new disc finds King collaborating once again with producer Ken Irwin.

"Ken has been my mentor," says the 2003 nominee for IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year. "He has steered me in the right direction, and he has had great ideas for me that really has panned out to... »»»

Shooter Jennings is one rugged individual, much like his dad was. (That "dad," by the way, was none other than the iconic Waylon Jennings). Shooter's debut CD, "Put The 'O' Back In Country," has just been released on Universal South. And while Jennings doesn't have that distinctively low singing voice his dad had (at least not yet), his scratchy vocalizing certainly carries with it a familiar familial outlaw spirit.

Jennings is the only child Jessi Colter and Waylon had together. And since he's the offspring of two certified musical rebels, one just expects his music to be equally confrontational.

The title track of his new release includes a snippet of George Jones' "He Stopped Loving Her Today," which adds an exclamation point to exactly what Jennings believes to be real country. The disc also features a song about a drug bust, called "Busted In Baylor County." Yep, he's a chip off the old block, all right.

"He always told me, 'Don't try to be like anybody else because you... »»»

When the topic of American roots music is discussed, classic soul is rarely given proper credit as an essential element of our nation's cultural fabric. This didn't dissuade Dave Gonzalez of The Paladins and Chris Gaffney of Dave Alvin's Guilty Men from joining forces to explore the links between country and soul under the moniker of The Hacienda Brothers.

The band's self-titled debut dropped in February on the Koch Nashville label. "When I was a kid, I remember learning to play guitar to Otis Redding and Sam and Dave records," Gonzalez, 42, recalls during a phone interview from his California office. "My dad had country records, and I'd play guitar to those, too. I discovered that the scales of the songs were the same, but country was just twangier."

For his part, Gaffney, 55, is no stranger to the marriage of soul and country. On his 1995 album "Losers Paradise," he and Lucinda Williams recorded a duet of "Cowboys to Girls," a 1968 R&B hit originally recorded by The Intruders.... »»»

The circuitous and tortuous path to this point in Mary Gauthier's life is so fantastically improbable that it almost borders on Dickensian fiction. As a preamble to her restless early life, she ran away from her Baton Rouge, La. home as a teenager and experienced homelessness, drugs and alcohol, jail and detox, all before she turned 18.

Overcoming that, Gauthier (as in Go-shay) began her college career at Louisiana State as a philosophy major, but her drugging had long since resumed, and the pressures of both forced her from school in her senior year. She relocated to Boston where she moved through a mind-numbing succession of jobs that nobody else would take before winding up as a counter waitress at a small cafe.

Although still hopelessly drug-addicted and drinking, she became the cafe's manager and somehow found monetary assistance to attend classes at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. Upon her graduation, Gauthier conceived the idea for a Cajun restaurant in Boston's Back Bay area.... »»»

Dave Wilson recalls the precise moment things began coming together for his band Chatham County Line. "We had hit the road, and we had been camping and roughing it, and the pivotal point of us being a band and a team was getting up on that stage and winning (the "best new bluegrass band" award) at the Rockygrass competition in Lyons, Col."

Since that 2004 award, Chatham Country Line has moved forward. Yep Roc recently released the group's second CD "Route 23." Of course, like many neo-roots music practitioners, CCL's leader traveled a different sonic interstate before finding his true rural route.

The multifaceted Wilson's early life boasted almost no roots music influences. "I just played in garage bands during junior high and in high school," he recalls from his North Carolina home. "I played the usual gamut of tunes from the Grateful Dead to Steppenwolf. Generally speaking, I didn't come from a very musical family in that we didn't listen to much country, bluegrass or things like that. There was more exposure to the radio, so that's what I grew up idolizing because I didn't know any better."... »»»

Lee Ann Womack doesn't leave any room for doubt on her seventh release, "There's More Where That Came From."

Instead of the sometimes more contemporary sounds of her last studio CD, "Something Worth Leaving Behind" from 2000, the fiddle playing of Aubrey Haynie comes through loud and clear from the get go on the title track, meaning that Womack is returning to a far more classic country sound and attitude.

And while Womack did not have a hand in producing this album - Byron Gallimore did 12 of the 13 songs - the sounds and direction of the new disc are no mistake. The album even contains honest to goodness cheating songs.

"I had told Byron I'm from Texas, and I wanted to sound like it," says Womack during a telephone interview from her office in Nashville in late December.

And why exactly is Womack interested in once again showing off her Texas roots?

"Probably no other reason than that was the mood that I was in," she says matter of factly.

As if to underscore, the more traditional sound, the disc is actually coming out in vinyl as well with the cover design adding to that feel.... »»»

Life's great for Blake Shelton. After all, he just found out two days earlier that his latest single, the catchy "Some Beach" hit the top of the charts, the third time the long, lean Okie has done so.

"If you wrote me a check for $10 million, I couldn't be any happier," says Shelton in a telephone interview from the Nashville office of his record label, Warner.

"I was on stage," says Shelton, describing how he found out about his latest great news. "The way the charts are built these days, a promotion staff can follow a song minute by minute. I was on stage Sunday night in Miami. And we were towards the end of the show. It was almost midnight, and I'd just finished 'Some Beach' on the stage. I got a note passed, and it was from my promotion staff. We did it again."

A juiced up Shelton immediately lit into an encore version of his newly crowned number one song. "The crowd got two versions that night," says Shelton. "We were in the studio about half way through the album," says of "Blake Shelton's Bar & Grill," which came out at the end of October, describing how he found the song.... »»»

An East Texas country music DJ - a good one, a young one - admitted, off the air, recently that he'd never heard "(Up Against the Wall) Redneck Mother" and that he didn't know who Ray Wylie Hubbard is.

That's the kind of moment that makes Hubbard laugh. It also helps him keep a healthy perspective about this fame thing as time passes.

First recorded in 1973 by Jerry Jeff Walker, the then-young Hubbard's song became an anthem - deadly funny and socially conscious - for the original alt.-country crowd and an albatross, of sorts, for Hubbard. (He often says the best advice he can offer a songwriter is, once the song is written, ask yourself if you can stand to sing that song in every show you do for more than 30 years.)

Even an albatross has wings, though, and the song helped pay bills as Hubbard groped his way through the fog of youthful excesses before becoming one of the best songwriters in a state, Texas, full of good songwriters.... »»»

Two nights before Christmas, a freak December storm across the Midwest has kept Grascals singer and guitarist Jamie Johnson bound to his Nashville-area home, disrupting not only his holiday travel plans back to his native Indiana, but also canceling an opportunity to sing with one of his idols, bluegrass legend Bobby Osborne.

Still, he muses, there have been few other black clouds in 2004 for Johnson, 32, and his band mates - fiddler Jimmy Mattingly, lead singer Terry Eldredge, banjo player David Talbot, mandolinist Danny Roberts and bassist Terry Smith.

Two months prior to the official February release date of their self-titled Rounder debut, their rollicking cover version from that album of Elvis Presley's "Viva Las Vegas," featuring a guest vocal by Dolly Parton, clocked into Billboard's country singles sales chart at an impressive number three.

Heady territory, and pretty much uncharted waters for bluegrassers, and Johnson admits the reaction has been surprising.... »»»

Radney Foster is not and may never be a household name. But if you spend any time at all poking around the country music business, it's fairly hard to miss his significant contributions to the genre.

Foster began his recording career in the late '80s by making 3 albums with the influential Foster & Lloyd duo before becoming a solo artist. He had a hit right off the bat with "Just Call Me Lonesome," taken from his debut solo release, "Del Rio, Texas, 1959."

He also placed the wonderfully personal lullaby, "Godspeed," on the Dixie Chicks' "Home" release, and has had numerous other artists record his songs.

And if all that work isn't enough to make any self-respecting job experience profile bulge at the seams, he even hosted CMT's "Crossroads" TV program for one year.

"It was real fun," Foster recalls of his brief TV experience. "If somebody told me I'd have to do that to make a living, I would definitely be an unhappy guy because I like playing and singing a whole lot better."

So how in fact did the CMT folks come up with Foster's name in the first place?... »»»

To say that Neko Case maintains a busy schedule is an understatement on a par with calling Jimi Hendrix a serviceable guitarist. Case's burgeoning and much lauded alt.-country solo career keeps her in the studio and on the road. Her membership in the Corn Sisters is an interesting old time music diversion, and her involvement in the pop majesty of Carl Newman's New Pornographers is yet another stellar entry on an already impressive resume.

Case's unnervingly packed schedule may well have been the determining factor that inspired her decision to create her newest album, "The Tigers Have Spoken," from the stage rather than the studio.

It was an idea born of logic, but not necessarily supported by the reality of the situation.

"I thought it was going to be the easy and fast way to make a way," says Case from Tucson, Az., where she's working on her next studio album. "Making a live record is incredibly difficult and very expensive. It's way harder to make a live album... »»»

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