T for Texas

Jimmie Rodgers (1897-1933) was one of the first “stars” of country music.  Often known as the Singing Brakeman, Rodgers set the standard for future generations:

Jimmie Rodgers’s first Blue Yodel, which became known as “Blue Yodel No. 1 (T for Texas) ”, was recorded on 30 November 1927 in the Trinity Baptist Church at Camden, New Jersey. When the song was released in February 1928 it became “a national phenomenon and generated an excitement and record-buying frenzy that no-one could have predicted”.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Yodel_(songs_by_Jimmie_Rodgers)

I first heard Lynyrd Skynyrd do ‘T for Texas’ back in school days.  I didn’t think much about the song or the lyrics, but over the years it’s dawned on me how radical this stuff is.

i’m gonna buy me a pistol
just as long as I am tall
i’m gonna shoot poor Thelma
just to see Her jump And fall.

Kids today, in my day even, think of Country music as old stuffy stuff, with the hoots and the haws and the howdy y’all.  Go back to the roots and you’ll find some pretty basic matters of life, love and all the complications thereof.

(cross-posted at last.fm)

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The Day The Music Died

Today is the 50th anniversary of The Day The Music Died.  On 3 February 1959, in a field outside Clear Lake, Iowa, a small plane carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, crashed and killed everyone on board, including pilot Richard Peterson.  As we all know, Waylon Jennings gave up his seat on the ill-fated plane and lived to sing his own songs another day.

Bye bye Miss American Pie,
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
Them good ole boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
Singing “This’ll be the day that I die,
This’ll be the day that I die.”
Don McLean, PlayAmerican Pie

Minneapolis Star-Tribune Columnist & Twitterer James @Lileks doesn’t think the music died that day.  He thinks the music is doing just fine, blaming McLean’s American Pie for getting it all wrong.  Take a look at an annotated explanation of the cryptic lyrics here.

I’m more inclined to agree with AcktheHack that the music did die a little that day—I wonder how enthralled I would have been with this new-fangled Rock & Roll if I had been a generation earlier.  To wit The American Spectator: “Who, in the early sixties at least, cared to patronize the recordings of sex perverts whose 45s probably received radio spins through bribery?”  I liked La Bamba yet I’m thinking if I was contemporary to the events depicted, probably not so much.  Really more a Hank Williams fan.

The STrib re-visits Clear Lake’s Surf Ballroom and the crash site, video here.  Also on the playbill last night: Bobby Vee, Graham Nash, Los Lobos, Delbert McClinton, Joe Ely and Wanda Jackson.

I could have made the drive, it’s only 182 miles out my front door. Still, I try to stick closer to home come winter time.  Never know when your vehicle might freeze up & get stuck…

-jc

(cross-posted & slightly edited from last.fm )

At the Root of the Music

Uncle Tupelo is the fulcrum of my ROOTS music universe. All things good, bad and ugly; happy, melancholy and sad, flow thru the music and the people and the places of the boys from Southern Illinois.

The melancholy is mine–youth is wasted on the young they say. While I was navel-gazing up at Urbana, potential contemporaries Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy were finding their way with a guitar just a stone’s throw across Midwestern cornfields. If I would have got off my lazy, hair-metal-addled, butt and explored something off mainstream country/rock radio I coulda found these guys when they coulda saved my wasted youth. I took a move to Denver and a long drawn-out journey thru Rocky Mountain Bluegrass for me to find my musical Roots.

It just kinda hit me this week, listening to the Compadre Records podcast. They were bought out by an L.A. R&B outfit. The deal looks good on paper, I thought, more cashflow & distribution for Billy Joe Shaver & company. Then the podcast turns to sh*t this week. It’s all Beyonce, whose daddy pays the bills. It’s their choice to push that, but I don’t want no part of it. Don’t say you’re still ROOTS then pull that stuff.

Then again, who am I to say what “ROOTS” music is…. Where for me, I seem to throw a fairly wide lasso around the term. It’s likely ROOTS to me if it’s somehow connected, back or forth, through UNCLE TUPELO.

Most obvious example: Carter Family‘s No Depression (in Heaven) was the inspiration for a favorite genre tag, magazine, etc. UT brought the Carter Family music to a new generation, both faithful to the original and making it their own. Similar ex. can be found for Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams. UT’s music is modern, grounded in the roots of original folk and country.

Less obvious example: Take the flip side, I’ve been arguing lately with teenage stepdaughter why Shania Twain & such are more a POP star than a TRUE COUNTRY (ie. ROOTS Country) star. I can argue song structure, songwriting, instrumentation, marketing, till I’m blue in the face, ain’t going to change her mind. There’s no context there. It’s not that I don’t like her Shania (much preferable to the above Beyonce ilk). She walked a hard road, but she’s a master of bubble gum and empty anthems, not the meat & potatoes and heartfelt gospel of the boys in Uncle Tupelo. They’re both masters of their craft, they just do different thangs.

**************************

Repost from lost.fm, November 2007.  As far as I know, the last year was just more of the same.  Uncle Tupelo’s No Depression just scrobbled #80k on my last.fm.

All Alone In This Together

We Are All Alone In This Together

Graham Lindsey

Spacebar Recordings (2008 )

 

What is it in a simple progression of notes that can bring a person close to tears?  Even before adding in a well-crafted lyric.  How a few notes strung together in a very specific manner evoke a primal reaction, a blood lust of the ear.

 

Graham Lindsey does this to me with “The Bird That Lived In  A Burning Tree”, on his new Spacebar recording, We Are All Alone In This Together in general circulation this week.  I’m a long-time fan of Graham, once compared him to Bob Dylan channeling Hank Williams.  Twangville compares and contrasts him with Old Crow Medicine Show or The Avett Brothers.  Yes.  And no.  Graham Lindsey simply brings together an honest appreciation of folk traditions with a hard-driving post-punk honky tonk spirit.  Graham is the man.

 

The album opens with a plaintive line on “Tomorrow is Another Night” and moves through a dozen strong tracks of love, life and stuff on the shovel.  “Old Roger” caught my attention right away.  Graham uses a variety of session players to enhance his typical solo show, adding dobro, pedal steel, percussion, fiddle, upright bass, organs, horns, even piano and Henry’s bark.  I’m sure more than a couple of those instruments saw the inside of Music Villa in Bozeman.

 

Yet it is Track 4, “The Bird…” that grew on me with each play.  A simple one-two progression builds, adds lyrics without overpowering the instrumentation, builds acoustic instrumentation without overpowering the guitar, then fades away into the night.  I’m sure that somebody who stayed awake in music appreciation class could swiftly identify the artistic device.  The technical terminology.  The proper analytic context.  How the melody and instrumentation build a memorable wave.

 

I just know there are a very few times in this life when a melody hits me upside the head like a shovel.  The 2nd part of Bach’s Double Violin Concerto in D Minor.  Hank Williams’ I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.  And now Graham Lindsey.

 

Check him out on Myspace at http://www.myspace.com/grahamlindsey

 

Cold wind blows

make you weep and moan

why has this found my home?

because that’s the one we chose

everybody’s got to choose

everybody’s got to choose

 

(Cross-posted from last.fm)

Far & Away 2008

Each year the DJs on Third Coast Music‘s Freeform American Roots (FAR) chart vote. Thanks to editor/publisher/chief bottle washer John Conquest down San Antonio ways for compiling the monthly FAR charts, 113 months and counting.

I’ve posted the entire list over on last.fm.  Here’s some highlights:

ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Miss Leslie: (aka Miss Leslie & Her Juke Jointers) is an FAR fav.  Here’s Conquest giving her intro at NotSXSW ’07:

Miss Leslie wins Female Artist of the Year, Songwriter of the Year, and Album of the year for Miss Leslie: Between The Whiskey and the Wine (Zero Label).  Want a copy?  Visit her website and ask.  Nicely, of course.

DEBUT ALBUM
#1 Justin Townes Earle: The Good Life (Bloodshot)
Last.fm Free Download Who Am I to Say

I was slow to sign on to J.T. Earle. With the Townes in the middle and the Earle at the end he’s got alot to live up to.  Bloodshot Records has links to some free live tracks.  After listening to these I’m convinced he’s got potential.  Guess I just needed to hear the package—we forget in this day of digital downloads a good album is more than the sum of it’s individual parts.  New album Midnight at the Movies due out 9 March 09.  Earle and Neko at the same time?  Start saving coin now.

VARIOUS ARTISTS/TRIBUTE ALBUMS
#1 Ribbon Of Highway Endless Skyway (Music Road)
Woody Guthrie tribute.  Don’t know much about this one.

Featuring Bob Childers, Jimmy LaFave, Joel Rafael, Slaid Cleaves, Eliza Gilkyson, Sara Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion, Ellis Paul,Kevin Welch, Michael Fracasso with special appearances by Pete Seeger and Fred Hellerman.

Available at Lone Star Music.

REISSUE/HISTORIC ALBUM
#1 Hank Williams: Unreleased Recordings (TimeLife)
Hank’s still better than 98% of everything else that comes out each year.

MALE ARTIST
#1 Alejandro Escovedo Many folks may have heard of Escovedo for the first time with the compilation Por Vida album, put together by friends to help raise money for his medical bills battling hepetitis.  He received a AMA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006.  Check out his website here.

GROUP
#1 Starline Rhythm Boys These guys may be the best real country band today you will never hear outside Vermont. Their website says:

“The Starline Rhythm Boys evoke the spirited country and juke joint sounds that echoed out of the Tennessee Hills and Texas Honkytonks of the 1940s and 50s.”

I have no reason not to believe.

INSTRUMENTALIST
#1 Gurf Morlix Gurf is just Gurf. You see him on an album, don’t ask questions. Just listen, learn and enjoy a master at work.

Can’t go wrong here, Americana, roots & Texas country fans.

-jc

The Marfa Spark

Over on Last.fm, Marybeth d’Amico put up a very short journal last week.

It doesn’t get much better than this. Tift Merritt recently interviewed Patty Griffin on her radio show, Spark. Listen here:
http://www.marfaspark.com/audio/pattygriffininterview.mp3

Don’t know how soon Marfa (TX) Public Radio will cycle to a new interview, but go listen to this now. Grab it, give it a quick go, savor it, come back to it later and immerse yourself in this glimpse into an artist’s soul.

I immediately fell in love with Patty Griffin from her first acoustic album. On the other hand I’ve been slow to warm up to the merits of Tift–unlike many one-hit wonders, I’m actually appreciating her talents more as she matures as an artist. Ms. Griffin has branched out into more pop-oriented ventures and well, maybe the older and younger edges of what I consider my generation are converging here.

Thank’s for the lead, Marybeth! Good luck at your show tonight.

-jc
(Cross posted at last.fm)

JC’s Top Americana Music 2008

(the not-all-new-music edition)
Most Top Albums lists concentrate on New Music released that year. I would, too, but I’m not. For one, I discovered a good bit of old music via lost.fm this year’s that’s still new to me. I also finished up my exercise to listen thru all the CDs in my music library. Again, a good deal of my old music is new to my digital ears. There’s also the fact that last.fm got the scrobble-thing to work to track iPod tracks on synch, so that more accurately reflects my listening habits for the year.

Mostly, tho, is the fact I was broke and was more judicious in my new music purchases this year—part of that 20% decline in CD sales this year. Doing my part for fiscal discipline. Plus now four years gone from my DJ gig, the world goes on and they’re not sending me many comp CDs to review. Just saying.

Top Artists Scrobbled thru Last.fm in 2008
1. Alison Krauss / Alison Krauss & Union Station – Alison continues to rock my world, even tho I don’t really “get” her collaboration with Robert Plant (and I’m a Zep head, too).

2. Emmylou Harris – Again, not that I was impressed with her new release (I can’t even think of the name of the album w/o looking it up). I’ve just plain got a lot of Emmylou in my iPod, and the fact last.fm figured out how to scrobble iPod spins ups this number.

3. Dwight Yoakam – Dwight got loaded into digital at the end of the year.

4. Lyle Lovett – I did give Lyle’s 2007 release a lot of love this year, but again I’ve just plain got a lot of Lyle in my iPod. Also brings up the Alison Krauss/Union Sta issue above: I list “It’s Not Big It’s Large” as the packaging indicates: “Lyle Lovett & His Large Band” Sometimes music brainz changes one artist for the band, sometimes not. So is Lyle also Lyle Lovett & His Large Band? Maybe, maybe not.

5. Johnny Cash – The Man Comes Around.

6. Graham Lindsey – Graham is the man. The man in Montana these days. Great new release “We Are All Alone In This Together” late late in the year, coming out for general distribution in January 2009. Hope he doesn’t get penalized by radio for the early direct mail effort.

7. Tom Russell – Still giving a lot of love to Tom after his small venue concert in St. Cloud, Minnesota. The man knows how to write a song I can relate to.

8. Cadillac Sky – A new fav late in the year thanks to Sacha72 recc. Saw them at MBOTMA summer bluegrass festival. Would drive far to see them jam again. Their first release heads up my Album list below, because I had it before the new album Gravity’s Our Enemy.

9. Townes Van Zandt – A new old favorite. I still have a lot to learn from Townes.

10. Cowboy Junkies – Old favs, reveled in Trinity Revisited over the summer.

11. Sand Sheff
12. Patty Griffin
13. Vince Gill
14. Drag The River
15. Gillian Welch
16. Hank III
17. Hank Williams
18. Nels Andrews
19. Brennen Leigh
20. Halden Wofford & The Hi-Beams

Top Albums Scrobbled in 2008.
1. Cadillac SkyBlind Man Walking


2. Various ArtistsFor a Decade of Sin: 11 Years of Bloodshot Records
3. Hank Williams20 of Hank Williams’ Greatest Hits
4. Buck Owens21 #1 Hits: The Ultimate Collection
5. Michael Martin MurpheyCowboy Songs
6. Tom RussellIndians Cowboys Horses Dogs
7. Buick AudraSinger*
8. Pop WagnerForty A Month And Found
9. Patty LovelessMountain Soul
10. Graham LindseyFamous Anonymous Wilderness

This list relies on lost.fm recognizing albums—they got A LOT better at that this year, but still have sometimes significant time lag for lesser-known new releases. Also, technically, A Very Special Acoustic Christmas is Album #3, but I’m inclined to follow radio SOP and discount holiday tracks. Not typical play.

*OK, I relent, top albums released in 2008 by spins (with above disclaimer):
Buick AudraSinger

Cadillac SkyGravity’s Our Enemy
Drag The RiverYou Can’t Live This Way
Nels AndrewsOff track betting
Owen TempleTwo Thousand Miles

Special mention for best album title of 2008: Charlie Louvin Sings Murder Ballads and Disaster Songs

Top Tracks Scrobbled in 2008.
1. PlayChoctaw Hayride – Had a bit of nostalgia for the theme song for my old radio show.

2. PlayCold, Cold Heart
3. If I Was a Horse
4. Plaid-lined Jacket
5. Tonight We Ride
6. Snowing on Raton
7. PlayBorn Lonesome
7. The Ballad of Edward Abbey
7. PlayNo Way Out but Down
7. Firewater
7. PlayPancho And Lefty

Looking Forward to 2009
I have no idea. Surprise me 2009. Surprise me.

-jc

(Cross-posted from last.fm )

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