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Articles and Interviews – 2015


Since the inception of the Bottle Rockets in the early '90s. the three basic constants have been the presence of guitarist/vocalist/primary songwriter Brian Henneman and drummer Mark Ortmann, a relatively consistent output schedule and a steady stream of great reviews for those releases.

That may be the reason that the Bottle Rockets' latest, "South Broadway Athletic Club," comes as something of a surprise, as it represents the first studio album of new, original material since 2009's "Lean Forward,"` performed by the first line-up of the rootsy, garage-tinged rock/folk band that's enjoyed any kind of lengthy stability. That uncharacteristic reliability has paid dividends for Henneman as the Bottle Rockets' front man and creative spark plug for nearly a quarter century.

"I never really thought about it, but this is the longest running version of the band," says Henneman from his St. Louis home. "I know what the machine can do. I don't have to worry about telling... »»»

On the eve of the first new release by the Cox Family in nearly two decades, "Gone Like The Cotton," Sidney Cox reflects on the national media frenzy over "Back To The Future" and the date Michael J. Fox would materialize from 1985, and the parallels to his own family's story haven't escaped his notice.

"We've been transported to a time that was on hold for us. There's a lot of music life that's missing in between, and being able to revisit or come back to that time is extraordinary…Yeah, it was a trip ‘Back To The Future'."

Louisiana native Willard Cox, a former oilfield worker and his four children (daughters Evelyn, Lynn and Suzanne and son, Sidney) took the full plunge into the music business in the 1980s, and their close harmonies won a legion of fans, particularly on the bluegrass festival circuit.

Among those early fans was a young Illinois-born teenager named Alison Krauss, then in the process of launching a substantial career of her own. Their meeting profoundly influenced both sides, personally and professionally, to the extent that Krauss has, Sidney agrees, become virtually a "fourth sister."... »»»

The Statler Brothers were an iconic vocal group in country music. They began by backing Johnny Cash (not a bad early gig, for sure), and went on to win the CMA award for Vocal Group of the Year an astounding 8 years in a row between 1972 and 1980. The group is in both the country music and gospel music halls of fame and has won three Grammy Awards.

Tenor Jimmy Fortune replaced Lew Dewitt in 1983, and continued with the group for 21 years. Now, Fortune has just released "Hits & Hymns," and it's an album that is a half Statler Brothers hits, half hymns and spiritual songs.

One wonders, though, why Fortune chose to make an album that's half one thing and half another.

"A lot of the Statler Brothers fans, they love the old hymns," he explains. "Songs today just aren't being written like that. And also we wanted people to be able to put a face with a name. Hearing songs like ‘Elizabeth,' ‘Too Much On My Heart' and ‘More Than A Name On A Wall' were songs I wrote with the... »»»

With the cover of "Panhandle Rambler" showing a vintage Airsteam, standing solitary out on the flatlands of the Texas Panhandle, one might think Joe Ely's latest offering would be a sedentary affair.

One would be wrong.

Instead, the 12 songs are more a Flamenco-accented travelogue of Texas. Streaming from the Panhandle, winding through the Hill Country, deep into Big Bend and across the Rio Grande, "Rambler" mines the stories of the inhabitants, some joyful and some not so much, but all with the skill of a seasoned raconteur with an authenticity almost unheard of on today's country radio.

These are stories that evoke real people and real experiences and have a realistic tone as recalled by Ely. "I've earned the right through the years to be able to write in the first person," says Ely, speaking from the road in the middle of a tour somewhere between Boise, Idaho and Tacoma, Wash. "Even if they may not be 100 percent my own experience, they are my stories once I get them down. These songs have come from the last three or four years of stuff going on out there, outlaws, outsiders and cartels."... »»»

In the spirit of hard-hitting journalism, it seemed logical to ask Deslondes vocalist/guitarist Riley Downing the Mike-Wallace-from-60-Minutes question that has to be on everyone's mind: How the hell do you say the New Orleans-based band's name?

"It's pronounced 'dez lawn,'" says Downing. "I know there's different ways that people have pronounced it over the course of history, but that's how people have pronounced it since we've been down here."

Like most answers, that one inspires more questions, primarily the one about how the country/R&B/soul/folk/rock/musical kitchen sink quintet came up with questionably pronounceable name in the first place.

"Charles Deslondes was an important historical figure down there; he was a slave who revolted and did very well until he was taken down," says Downing. "That didn't have anything to do with us naming the band Deslondes. It's a street name - the street's not actually named for him - and when it was me, Sam (Doores) and Dan (Cutler), we had all lived on that street, and we couldn't be the Tumbleweeds anymore, so we took a vote, and Deslondes became the name."... »»»

From their first, self-titled, major label release, the Allison Krauss-produced, "Nickel Creek," two-thirds of that trio - musical siblings Sara and Sean Watkins - have been in the musical spotlight continually since 1999.

As for working with her brother off and on for most of their lives, Sara says, "We have been lucky, being brother and sister and growing up together, we just kind of figured it out. We began playing together when I was 8 and Sean was 12. We weren't very good, but it was fun. In any successful, close working relationship you learn how to function best and smooth things out. That being said, it is really great to have a partner who lives close by and who understands my life. It's really neat."

After a hiatus, the pair reunited with their Nickel Creek partner Chris Thile last year for a well-received album and tour. This year, the siblings' new project, the Watkins Family Hour, merges some of the best rock and country sidemen and vocalists of the past 40 years or so.... »»»

Joey Ryan, half of acoustic folk duo the Milk Carton Kids, is girding his loins for the long trip from the band's Los Angeles home base to Australia. Although he's made this trip before, he's yet to acclimate completely to it.

"The flight overshadows every single other thing about going to Australia," says Ryan. "The last time we were in Australia, the last show of the tour, I was still having to take a nap between sound check and the show. I've never been there long enough to get over the jet lag. It's just one big haze."

That haze has permeated the Milk Carton Kids' mindset over the past year, bannered by the heady success of the duo's third MCK album to date, the recently released "Monterey."

Ryan and musical partner Kenneth Pattengale (he's the tall one with glasses) were going full tilt when they recorded it, and they've been in the same gear ever since.

"The tour that we recorded ('Monterey') sold out most of the shows three or four months in advance," says... »»»

Sitting in a motel room in Houston after a weekend gig at the Mucky Duck, singer/songwriter John Moreland is in a pretty good mood. His career is on a major upswing, and he is riding some pretty big critical success of his latest release, "High on Tulsa." Moreland has a lot to be happy about with three cuts picked for the soundtrack of the hit TV show "Sons of Anarchy," a national record distribution deal with Thirty Tigers and, apparently a well-placed super fan in MSNBC political pundit Rachel Maddow.

Moreland is a big man and quite a sight to see. His long beard and multiple tattoos might give an initial impression of a menacing character, yet his mesmerizing stage presence, quiet social demeanor and polite personality belie this, almost immediately.

In fact, beyond his stage time or a few minutes signing autographs or working his merchandise table, Moreland is a very introspective and thoughtful man. He would much prefer letting his music speak for him whenever... »»»

Allison Moorer packed a lot of living in the past five years leading up to the recently released "Down To Believing."

The results are evident throughout the effort, like a light at the end of a tunnel. Writing or co-writing 12 of the 13 tracks, Moorer is fearlessly open and autobiographical. "Even when I try to make them about something or someone else, they always end up being about me. I am the subject that I know best."

There is a pervasive calm demeanor, although the first two single releases (along with "Mama Let the Wolf In") belie this a little. The first single and video release, "Like It Used to Be," is a rocker that sent the message that, for whatever the reason, things are going to be different, and different isn't necessarily bad.

The current single, "Tear Me Apart," is a rocker too, with a Kimberly Perry "Better Dig Two" sort of vibe. "It's pretty angry;" says Moorer.

With a resolute and intriguingly hopeful voice on the disc, Moorer surveys the surface and character of her life and intensely personal relationships as a fine sculptor might survey a block of marble; looking for the art within.... »»»

After over 40 years of touring and recording as the founder, lead guitar and front-man for Western Swing music's standard-bearers, Asleep At The Wheel, Ray Benson has a lot of irons in the fire these days. In fact, with his TV show Texas Music Scene a hit throughout the southwestern U.S. and touring in support of AATW's new release, "Still the King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys," he is as busy now as ever.

"Still the King," which came out in early March on Benson's Bismeaux label, is AATW's third album featuring songs from the Wills catalogue. One might wonder about the band going back to the well one more time.

"Well it's, a pretty deep well. Going back to our first albums, we have always included Wills music. Besides, it was my son, Sam (Seifert, co-producer on the project) who kept bugging me about it being time to do another Bob Wills project. He said that it had been 15 years since the last one, and there seemed to be no shortage of artists who wanted to participate."... »»»

In his life and career, Joe Pug has never done anything halfway. So when Pug experienced a crippling lack of creative inspiration after his punishing road schedule to promote 2012's "The Great Despiser," he didn't consider the possibility of taking a short break. Joe Pug was on the verge of throwing in the towel.

"I was deciding if this was still what I wanted to do," says Pug. "It's ironic. I've spent the last seven or eight years learning how to do this, and my facility is the strongest it's ever been. Anytime you practice something over and over, you can't help but get better at it."

As good as Pug had become over the course of two EPs (2009's "Nation of Heat" and 2010's "In the Meantime") and a pair of excellent full length albums (2010's "Messenger" and 2012's "The Great Despiser"), the touring grind in the wake of his last album brought him to the brink of surrender. Perhaps the prospect of writing and recording another album that would result in another half dozen laps around the country proved too daunting for the gifted singer/songwriter.... »»»

A great deal has transpired in the 10 years between Rhiannon Giddens, Dom Flemons and Justin Robinson connecting at North Carolina's Black Banjo Gathering and the release of Giddens' brilliant debut solo album, "Tomorrow is My Turn."

Giddens and Flemons formed the very successful Sankofa Springs. Robinson met and was mentored by black string band legend Joe Thompson, and ultimately, Giddens, Flemons and Robinson formed the bluegrass/folk/blues powerhouse, the Carolina Chocolate Drops.

CCD made an indelible impression with their first two albums, 2006's "Dona Got a Ramblin' Mind" and 2008's "Heritage," but their next 2, 2010's Grammy-winning "Genuine Negro Jig" and 2012's "Leaving Eden," both topped Billboard's Bluegrass chart and reached the Top 10 of the Folk chart. Since 2010, the Drops have added several new members; Robinson and Flemons dropped out to pursue outside and solo projects.

As the sole remaining original member, Giddens might well have been content... »»»

A couple of years ago, while discussing various musical poet-heroes, singer-songwriter Hayes Carll mused that "in a perfect world, Ray Wylie Hubbard would be winning Grammys." With the release of his latest offering, "The Ruffian's Misfortune," a follow-up to 2012's critically acclaimed, "The Grifter's Hymnal," now might just be the time that Carll was talking about.

In just under 34 minutes, Hubbard takes us on a 10-song musical sightseeing tour of the world as seen from a dimly lit, somewhat left of center viewpoint, seldom seen by mere mortals. Writing or co-writing all 10, complete with talking blackbirds, undertakers dressed like red-eyed crows, stone blind horses, bad-ass blondes, dancing black angels and a myriad of other vivid images throughout, Hubbard takes the listener on a blues romp that that brings to mind a roller coaster that scares you so good you can't wait to ride it again.

At 68, Hubbard has had a lifetime of experiences that could fill a book,... »»»

Young bluegrass artist Nathan Stanley doesn't fall far from the branches of the family tree; he honors the legacy of his grandfather, Dr. Ralph Stanley, by delivering straight ahead traditional bluegrass music, interpreting old classics that have shaped him and his music. At the same time, young Stanley is an original, refusing to sing the old songs in the ways they've been performed before. "If it's been done," he says, "I don't think I'll do it that way."

Stanley has already released 8 solo albums. Earlier this year, he joined his papaw for two songs - "Rank Stranger" and "Hills of Home" - on the album, "Ralph Stanley and Friends: Man of Constant Sorrow."

Stanley's latest album, released earlier this month, lives up to its title and honors the music that is so deeply embedded in his heart and soul. "The Legacy Continues" features Ralph Stanley on two songs – "Rank Stranger" and the gospel chestnut, "Where Could I Go But to the Lord" - and ranges over songs that take... »»»

Eric Gibson, the elder (by less than a year) of the award winning, New York-born Gibson Brothers says that the new Rounder release by he and brother Leigh, "Brotherhood," was more than a decade in the making.

"It seemed like every time we'd get ready to do a new record, we'd have a batch of new songs that we felt we needed to get out there…but (Leigh) really pushed me on this, he said, ‘If we don't do it now, maybe we'll never do it – now is the time.' I think he was right. Just judging by the early reception of the album, people are ready for it. I think it was a challenge for us too, because we've been doing this for so long, been at it for 20-some years – maybe 25 years – and we thought we knew a thing or two about harmonizing, about brother duets."

He laughs and remarks that they've gotten plenty of encouragement – and coaching – along the way.

"We found that when word got out about this, the ‘brother duet aficionados' kind of came out of the woodwork – ‘Have... »»»

When you call yourselves The Mavericks, you have a reputation to live up to.

The long-running country band may have addressed that issue from the get go with "Mono," their second disc since reforming in 2011.

For non-audiophiles, music is almost exclusively recorded in stereo, considered a higher quality sound.

"Honestly, I've been wanting to do it for awhile," says lead singer Raul Malo, while en route from an opening night show in Boston to New York City. "I read somewhere that this was a novelty, and it's hilarious (that) in this day and age, we're going to make a record in mono. That really wasn't the intent."

Malo said the idea came several years when he went to an audio store. "You go to the store, you look at what they have, and you realize there are no stereos any more. Everything is geared for movies."

What we found in the process that in mixing it this way…you don't have to add a bunch of stuff," he says. "You don't have to overdub a bunch of guitars and fiddle and all of these perceived holes because the one guitar part is placed exactly where it should be and fills a nice piece of real estate."... »»»

Some in the mainstream country audience may only know Angaleena Presley as one of the two other singers in Miranda Lambert's side group, Pistol Annies. But to view Presley in only that limited light would be selling her severely short. For starters, Pistol Annies is a trio of extra strong female country music writers and by no means merely Lambert's side group. (Chances are good Lambert would gladly back that statement up, if asked). Ashley Monroe's recent 2013 solo album, "Like a Rose," was fantastic, and Presley's new one, "American Middle Class," is even better and one of the best of 2014.

Presley is so good because she's nearly a direct artistic descendant from the likes of Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn (the latter even gets thanked in the credits) because of the absolute directness and honesty in her songwriting. She's the aural antidote to bro country. Her song "Drunk," which speaks of a romantic partner more in love with his alcohol than her, is a drinking... »»»

Jorma Kaukonen has reached that stage in life where any break he takes is well earned and completely deserved. The 74-year-old singer/songwriter is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee for his work with Jefferson Airplane and his solo career has kept him busy - and fans deliriously happy - for an astonishing 41 years when he's not sometimes playing with Hot Tuna. He and his wife, Vanessa, have tasked themselves with the nurturing of the world's guitarist population through various teaching/live/radio pursuits at their Fur Peace Ranch, headquartered near Athens, Ohio.

If Kaukonen betrays any evidence of the advancing years, it's in his admission that he utilizes a hearing device for phone calls and conversations.

"I haven't totally mastered the technology yet; that's why I ride a Harley," jokes Kaukonen from San Diego, where he's scheduled to teach guitar classes and play some Hot Tuna dates. "I don't wear them for music because I don't like the way it sounds. The good news is my hearing hasn't hurt my musical ability, and these enable me to hear my wife and daughter, and they like that."... »»»

The last time Kenny Roby assembled 6 String Drag to record a new studio album, Bill Clinton had just handily secured his second term as president. That album was 1997's acclaimed "High Hat," and within months of its release, 6SD had dissolved, sadly capping a brief Americana/roots rock run that had seemed so promising after their brilliant 1994 self-titled debut, their signing to Steve Earle's fledgling E-Squared label and the nearly universal praise that greeted "High Hat."

Three presidents and 17 years later, Roby revived the long-dormant band for their unexpected and totally satisfying third album of new material, "Roots Rock 'N' Roll."

The ground was softened for the release last year when Roby dug out and cleaned up some unreleased 6SD tapes, which he posted as the download album "The JAG Sessions" on the group's Bandcamp page. The response was good, and the nostalgic glance back inspired Roby to contact his old band mates to see if anyone had input on material he had written for his next project.... »»»

There is no shortage of country and bluegrass artists who can say that they have been performing at high-profile Nashville venues like the Opry, Ryman and Station Inn for more than half their lives, but in the case of singer and guitar virtuoso Trey Hensley, he's still only 23.

After coming under the wing of Marty Stuart (who himself had been introduced to the business at a young age by Lester Flatt), Hensley found himself on the Opry stage at age 12 when Earl Scruggs invited he and Stuart to come out for a couple of numbers.

Less than a dozen years later, he's a veteran with seven albums to his name. The latest, "Before The Sun Goes Down" (Compass) is a collaboration with Dobro icon Rob Ickes of Blue Highway fame that winds its way through traditional country, bluegrass and electric roadhouse honky tonk.

A native of Jonesborough, Tenn., Hensley met Ickes, ironically, on that first Opry night.

"(Rob) was playing Dobro with Earl Scruggs…right after that Earl... »»»

Garth Brooks was country radio for years. But a lot has changed since Brooks went silent in 2001. Country has shifted even further away from its roots with rock and hip hop part of the landscape.

As for Brooks, he retired to spend time raising his three daughters, far away from the bright Nashville lights in Oklahoma. Yes, he did a residency in Las Vegas, but he went 12 years in between new material before releasing "Man Against Machine" in November.

Brooks indicates in an interview in Boston prior to the start of a four-night, six-show run that he had no illusions that this would not be so simple.

Yet, ticket sales have been great. He pointed out during a press conference that he had sold about 140,000 tickets for shows in Denver the previous weekend, whereas he sold about 90,000 in the late ‘90s in the Mile High City.

But not everything has gone as smooth. For example, his lead single, "People Loving People," never got higher than 25 on the Billboard charts. A second single, "Mom," rests at 49 on Billboard about 8 weeks after its release.... »»»

Surely there is some irony in the title of Jim Ed Brown's new album – "In Style Again." At least it's a little ironic for his fans, for as far as they're concerned neither Brown nor his music have been out of style. His strong, mellow voice flows like liquid gold over and around any song he chooses to sing.

A member of the Grand Ole Opry since 1963, Brown has the distinction of having hits on the charts as a member of a trio - The Browns, whose biggest hit is the 1959 chestnut "The Three Bell," a member of the award-winning duo with Helen Cornelius- ("I Don't Want to Have to Marry You") and as a solo artist with hits such as "Pop-a-Top."

On "In Style Again," Brown displays the smooth vocals that are his signature while the songs embody country traditionalism at its best. The album contains both old favorites - composed by legendary writers including Cindy Walker ("I Love It"), Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz "You Again") and Bill Anderson "Lucky Enough") - and new... »»»