Friday, December 2, 2011

TybeeDawg’s Pick of the Litter 2011

“Whatever satisfies the soul is truth.”Walt Whitman
“All the shopping malls and restaurants and airports are riddled with low-fidelity loudspeakers, which apparently have developed the ability to reproduce by themselves; these are all connected to a special programming service called Music That Nobody Really Likes, and you cannot get away from it.” That’s from author/humorist Dave Barry, and we’ve all felt that way at one time or another. Fortunately, there’s a special programming service called TybeeDawg’s Pick of the Litter that can take care of that little problem for you.
With that, here are the records that satisfied my soul in 2011:
Record of the year:
I Love: Tom T Hall’s Songs of Fox Hollow – Eric Brace and Peter Cooper & Various Artists. On this remake of Hall’s classic country album, Cooper and Brace have rediscovered the imagination of youth and reintroduced it to a new generation. Pick: Sneaky Snake by Buddy Miller and Duane Eddy.
Debut record of the year:
Alabama Shakes – EP – A refreshingly unassuming mix of retro-soul, blues and R&B. Buy their record. See them live. Now. Pick: any of the four songs on the EP.
Live record of the year:
Songs and Stories – Guy Clark –America’s finest living songwriter plays a set in your living room and brings his friends. Pick: L.A. Freeway.
Cover song of the year:
Go-Go Boots - Drive-by Truckers – The Muscle Shoals sound figures prominently on DBT’s new one as the band continues to make exciting, visceral music. Pick: Eddie Hinton’s Everybody Needs Love.
Car song of the year:
Dirty Jeans and Mudslide HymnsJohn Hiatt – Hiatt continues to produce amazing roots music time after time. Best track: Detroit Made.
Best of the Rest:
Harlem River Blues - Justin Townes Earle - Wherein Justin finds his own voice. And it’s a good one. This record cuts across genres and generations, much like his dad and his namesake. Pick: Christchurch Woman.
The Lost Cause Minstrels - Grayson Capps - On Grayson’s best record yet, he spins tales gleaned from barrooms, bordellos and backwaters of Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. Pick: John the Dagger, Coconut Moonshine.
The Harrow and the Harvest - Gillian Welch – Her first record in eight years is also her finest, full of songs equally new and threadbare, comfortable and timeless, and each and every one a dusky, shadowy jewel. Pick: The Way It Goes.

A Pre-existing Condition – David Dondero – David’s deceptively simple mix of covers and his own quirky songs made this quiet, acoustic record one of my favorites. Pick: Not Everybody Loves Your Doggie Like You Do.
2011’s crop of music was some of the tastiest yet. I’m encouraged with the growth of the Americana genre and its inclusion in both the Grammys and the dictionary. Technology continues to evolve and expand the availability of artists to the public. I’ve had a great time building and sharing playlists with Spotify, for example. There’s still a long way to go, though. What passes for popular music in all the major formats is as exciting and innovative as dirt. Too often form and façade is substituted for heart and soul and we’re way too willing to sit back and take it. If you make resolutions, then resolve to find some new music and share it with friends. Get out and hear live music and support the artists. Forget Occupy Wall Street, let’s Occupy Abbey Road, Beale Street and Music Row!
Curtis Lynch
December 2011

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Nashville, Tennessee
October 12 – 15, 2011

If moments can be used to define events, then the sight of Buddy Miller in the middle of a sun splashed Saturday afternoon crowd in the tiny back parking lot of a used record store, would be it for the 2011 Americana Music Festival. Buddy, who two days before had just garnered Americana awards for Artist of the Year, Instrumentalist of the Year and as a member of Robert Plant’s Band of Joy, Album of the Year, was out enjoying himself. Because what’s happening here in Nashville isn’t American Idol histrionics or pop culture with a use-by date, this is, if I may borrow a line from my friend Ken Stahl, music that matters.

Four days, five clubs, over a hundred artists, and one goal – to promote, encourage and educate the public about that elusive genre, Americana. For me, it’s a chance to hear my favorite artists in a setting where they’re predisposed to excel. You just don’t give a bad performance in Nashville during the AMAs. Wildman Steve, Program Director at Wildman Steve Radio, a busy man during the conference, says “the AMAs are a fantastic experience for us. The access to ar
tists for interviews is unparalleled, the interaction with other radio, promotions, and industry folks of all types is educational, and the opportunity to see so many new and established acts in a four-day period is thrilling and enlightening.

And for an artist like Lisa Oliver-Gray, (shown above with Tommy Womack) whose record Dedicated To Love will be released in November, she says “the AMA conference promotes community among the musicians, singers, stylists, and writers and excites the hostess, Music City! A general feeling of love is my perception. The audiences are truly engaged by their favorite artists but are full of complimentary energy about their "new favorites!" Being a part of it feels like a visit to your favorite childhood camp seeing your visiting friends except with dynamic performances, insightful Q & A's and a beautiful appreciation of the multitude and variety of talent!” Lisa has contributed backup vocals to many of my favorite Nashville artists and I’m looking forward to hearing her new release.

Grant Peeples, a very buzz-worthy artist, when not harassing country music legends in parking lots, spent his time at the conference networking with members of the radio industry and taking in a few of the showcases. And speaking of showcases, my short list of favorites starts with the very first night’s set from Marshall Chapman (shown below) and Will Kimbrough at the Station Inn. Marshall sang, joked and read from her new book “They Came To Nashville.”

It was an intimate, warm performance that made you feel welcome. Next up was Jimmie Dale Gilmore and the Wronglers, featuring Warren Hellman of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival fame on banjo. Hayes Carll put on a scorching set at the Mercy Lounge; Athens was well represented with Packway Handle Band playing their unique brand of bluegrass for an appreciative crowd at the Station Inn and Ken Will Morton playing solo at the Listening Room. Kenny Vaughn and rockabilly trio Phil Hummer and the White Falcons played an eye-opening 9:30am set in the hotel lobby. Lisa Oliver-Gray sang with Tommy Womack and the Rush to Judgment at the Basement and with Will Kimbrough at the Rutledge, Eric Brace & Peter Cooper played a set together as well as a free afternoon show at Centennial Park highlighting their recent release, I Love: Tom T. Hall’s Songs of Fox Hollow, a re-recording of the classic record.

David Olney performed at the Southern Festival of Books, being held concurrently with the AMAs, giving a dramatic reading of Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess ” and also played Americanarama IV, outside Grimey’s New and Preloved Records, this time with guitarist Sergio Webb, who uses his ten fingers and six strings to spin his own tales. Ken Will Morton (shown below) brought his Athens, Georgia brand of infectious Americana to a set at The Listening Room. The free Americanarama festival also featured Glossary and Hymn For Her. Roots rockers The Bottle Rockets sat themselves down and played an acoustic show, and the Muscle Shoals tribute at the Cannery featured Wet Willie’s Jack Hall, Webb Wilder, David Hood, Spooner Oldham and Billy Burnette.

I can’t say enough about the people who keep this thing running, especially Joyce, whose generosity and compassion truly make her a star in this town. For fans, for artists, for industry professionals, this convergence of talent and opportunity during the festival and conference presents a unique setting where a Buddy Miller sighting isn’t something unusual, it’s just Americana.

Curtis Lynch
November 2011

Monday, August 29, 2011

Katrina - Six Years Gone

A bit of the Georgia Satellites from 2005 and a blog I wrote back in 2006:

It's been forever and a day since I felt like this

want a fifth of wild turkey and one little kiss

and I don't miss that girl

if I did I wouldn't let it show

I might go to the moon

might wind up dead

wake up in morning in a strangers bed

well I'm not concerned with any of that no more


After landfall, I watched the levees break, and I kept watching as the news channels broadcast hours and hours and scene after scene of destruction and rescue and despair, and finally, as I watched the dissolution of an entire city, I watched myself sink into a kind of walking daze of depression where I shielded myself from the truth that this could happen in a city in the United States of America.

Things are not back to normal by any definition of the word, no matter how liberally that word is used in New Orleans. It will never be the same.

But one thing about New Orleans is that it will carry on, the spirit will prevail.


Six Years Gone

water through my hands

Monday, July 11, 2011

Willie Nelson’s Country Throwdown Tour

Coolray Field

Lawrenceville, Georgia

June 12, 2011

For all of Willie Nelson’s well documented, well deserved status as a country music outlaw, he is in fact a traditionalist in one very important way. Willie understands the role of the musician as a craftsman, as the practitioner of a trade: one that shows up on time, does what the people paid to see and then gets back on the bus with an assload of cash, on the road again to that next gig. But that’s what any big touring whale does; it shows up, dazzles the crowd and sets up down the line to do it again. Willie’s wake encompasses a large area and swamps fans of both modern and classic country along with those who like him because of his choice of smoking materials, and that should set the bar a bit higher. And yeah, this thing was one well-lubricated machine.

Lukas Nelson & The Promise of the Real

You can’t knock the setup or the people at the wheel of the Throwdown – it ran as smooth as Hank Aaron’s swing.

The warm up bands played behind the outfield wall, while the main stage was located behind second base. (Once we were allowed on the field, we secured prime general admission spots on the third base side of the pitcher’s mound.) There was also a singer-songwriter tent with a Bluebird Café brand slapped on it.

the singer-songwriters get their moment on the main stage.

The absolute highlight of the day was Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real, playing behind the right field wall. Willie’s son threw out plenty of high energy, crowd-pleasing guitar solos while fronting a blues rock outfit that had less in common with Waylon than it did with Santana.

you just can't tell 'em apart, can ya? that's Lee Brice and Randy Houser.

But still, it’s days like this that make me realize that today’s country music is the aural equivalent of olestra – slicker than goose snot, the manufacturer uses common materials to create something artificial and it lacks any real substance or importance and passes through you quickly . What fills this nutritional wasteland are backward hat wearing, posturing musicians who boast of their dirt road cred while cranking out tunes that have more in common with Don’t Stop Believin’ than Your Cheatin’ Heart. Indeed, Lee Brice came onstage to ACDC’s For Those About to Rock and that’s really what everyone did. If you believe that when confronted with unfamiliar bands and unfamiliar songs, you can tell a lot from their choices of covers, then Bob Seger’s Turn the Page, Muddy Waters’ Champagne and Reefer (served up in a blues rock style exactly how Texas guitar hero Ian Moore does it on the Hempilation compilation disc) and Skynyrd’s Simple Man (which, if you listen to the lyrics, is the defining, lasting Skynyrd legacy, not Free Bird) should tell you something about the day’s events.

Jamey Johnson.

For the record, Jamey Johnson had a solid set and Willie came out and did what Willie does, which is run through the songs you want to hear and he does it in style, with his impeccable guitar picking and vocals out in front of a veteran, family outfit that delivered at every turn.

Willie and son Lukas.

And yet, irony, thy name is Adam Hood.

During his turn at the songwriter in the round format on the main stage, he abruptly launched into his wry, eye rolling Play Something We Know (“Play somethin' we could sing to/Play somethin' we know/Man, play some Whiskey River man. Play somethin' we know.”) and I was the only one around me who knew the words.

Curtis Lynch

Playgrounds Magazine

July 2011

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers Rare Bird Alert

Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers

Rare Bird Alert

Rounder Records

Steve Martin’s first foray into bluegrass, The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo, netted the comedian, writer and banjo picker a Grammy so it’s hard to imagine him topping that with his sophomore release, but this is absolutely a much better record in every way.

Teaming up with North Carolina’s Steep Canyon Rangers was an inspired move and this collaboration with of one of the finest bands in the genre today makes Rare Bird Alert a winner. The songwriting is lighthearted fare that continually brings a smile, from the fly-fishing song Yellow to a fast tune called Women Like to Slow Dance to Jubilation Day, which does the best job of blending Martin’s humor with a traditional bluegrass structure. There are guests: Paul McCartney takes a turn at the mike on Best Love and the Dixie Chicks warble sweetly on You, but the Rangers tie it all together over these thirteen tracks, the last two of which are live, and illustrate Martin’s ability to make people smile: the a cappella Atheists Don’t Have No Songs is my personal favorite but the hilarious, dead-on bluegrass take of Martin’s King Tut is a fitting end to this fine record, tying up loose ends nicely.

The Crow, with its many guest stars, was a fine, entertaining collection of bluegrass songs and Martin certainly knows his instrument, but with the solid underpinnings of the Steep Canyon Rangers, what we have here is a bluegrass record. And that makes all the difference in the world.

Curtis Lynch

Playgrounds Magazine

May 2011

I Love: Tom T. Hall’s Songs of Fox Hollow

I Love

Tom T. Hall’s Songs of Fox Hollow

Various Artists

Red Beet Records

Imagine a couple of kids roaming through Tennessee farmland one summer, learning about life and nature and asking those inevitable, innumerable questions to their uncle. Now imagine that their uncle is the legendary storyteller Tom T. Hall who took their questions and his answers, put them into song and in 1974, released Songs of Fox Hollow, a masterwork of simplicity in songwriting. Now further imagine that two current-day Nashville singers and writers set down to recreate this classic album with a little help from their friends and even from ol’ Tom T. himself. Co-producers Peter Cooper, Nashville’s own musical scribe and historian, and Eric Brace (Last Train Home) have been actively dipping into the traditional country well for a while now. Cooper’s recorded songs by many of the masters, from Kris Kristofferson and Tom T. Hall to more recent artists like Rodney Crowell, Emmylou Harris and Todd Snider. Most recently Cooper and Brace released Master Sessions with Lloyd Green and Mike Auldridge, two of country music’s most decorated talents. (Cooper also released a companion CD titled The Lloyd Green Album, well worth a listen.)

Brace and Cooper gathered a top-flight bunch at Hall’s studio at Fox Hollow and in a few days created a record that is full of such unabashed joy and love of life that you can’t help but smile as you listen. Patti Griffin’s lovely vocals and Cooper’s acoustic guitar on I Love start the record out nobly, followed by Buddy Miller’s take on Sneaky Snake with Duane Eddy adding his patented guitar twang. Each of the twelve songs feature a different lead vocalist including Elizabeth Cook, Jim Lauderdale, Gary Bennett (BR549), Jon Byrd, Bobby Bare (who admirably takes on Hall’s #1 hit I Care) and Fayssoux Starling McLean dueting with Tom T. on the record’s only new track. The excellent core band is well-known to those who follow Brace and Cooper’s work: Green on pedal steel, Jen Gunderman on keys, Mike Bub on bass and Mark Horn on drums. Lauderdale’s vocals on I Like to Feel Pretty Inside are sterling as always, while Mark and Mike’s hilarious rendition on The Song of the One-Legged Chicken remind me of Shel Silverstein. You’ll keep coming back to the endearing How To Talk to a Little Baby Goat with Jon Byrd on vocals and the The Mysterious Fox of Fox Hollow from Eric Brace and Last Train Home. With I Love: Tom T. Hall’s Songs of Fox Hollow, Cooper and Brace have rediscovered the imagination of youth and reintroduced it to a new generation.

Imagine a time when your life was one big adventure, with wonder waiting over every hill and mystery behind every tree. Now imagine yourself getting a copy of I Love: Tom T. Hall’s Songs of Fox Hollow. You can thank me later.

Curtis Lynch

Playgrounds Magazine

May 2011

TybeeDawg’s Pick of the Litter – May Music Festivals

TybeeDawg’s Pick of the Litter – May Music Festivals

Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival

Thomson, Georgia

May 21, 2011

For my money, it’s hard to beat the Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival in Thomson, Georgia on the 21st of this month. With unfailingly well-booked lineups, this one-day event sits in a cow pasture just outside the town and is as friendly of a gathering as you could imagine. Although in the past, the festival has usually featured a classic blues act (Magic Slim, Hubert Sumlin, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Pinetop Perkins), this year’s lineup boasts a distinct post-Jazzfest, New Orleans feel with Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue, Marcia Ball and one of the most talented electric guitarists going, Sonny Landreth.

Twenty-five bucks ticket price, good food (especially the desserts!), great music, cold beer and an atmosphere that is intimate enough to let you walk right up front any time.

This festival holds a special place in my heart because it’s the last time I saw Sean Costello play and the last festival I had the privilege to attend with my friend, Patrick McGough.

Curtis Lynch

Playgrounds Magazine

May 2011

Monday, February 28, 2011

Grant Peeples

Okra and Ecclesiastes

Gatorbone Records

Every day, with the sun, millions of Americans rise up and leave their homes, some to jobs and some to sit and watch and wait for one. And each evening, many of those same millions grab a quart of beer and a lottery ticket or two. The former a purchase for short-term gain, the latter the kind of retirement plan that too many of us rely on, the only chance at an American dream that is doled out at too-steep odds.

That’s what Grant Peeples, equal parts troubadour and troublemaker, knows and writes about. And with Okra and Ecclesiastes, produced by Gurf Morlix and recorded in Austin, he has, right here, a pretty damn good record. Grant’s songwriting ability has solidified and as much as I liked his previous one, Pawnshop, the twelve tracks here tell his stories with more economy and confidence. The title comes from the opening track, My People Come From The Dirt, and from a place where clinging to guns and religion isn’t a derogatory remark. (“White bread and kerosene/Catfish and flatbeds, sweat stains and retreads, okra and Ecclesiastes”)

The strength of this record, however, is when Grant’s scathing social commentary blends with a genuine eye for the human condition, like the two married lovers who have no place to go except out underneath the Powerlines, a song that recalls Guy Clark. (“Signs are everywhere: “Danger Keep Away” Well….this looks like the perfect place”)

Grant Peeples sings about these people, because these people are our people. And our people? They come from the dirt.

Curtis Lynch

Playgrounds Magazine

March 2011

PS: If you want this record, Grant trusts you. Write him and he’ll send you a copy, then he will trust you to pay him.

Government Cheese - Hey Hey My My

Government Cheese

The Rutledge

Nashville, Tennessee

February 26, 2011

From the window of a downtown Nashville club, I watched a parade of four or five eighteen-wheelers tap their brakes and roll slowly forward, waiting to load out after the Brad Paisley mega-tour made its brief stop at the cavernous Bridgestone Arena. I turned around and waded back into a densely packed crowd that was stomping and swaying to the sound of resurrection.

Just why was the stone rolled away? In fact, it was because Government Cheese, a reborn band of post-punk ne’er-do-wells, were touring again. Sort of…this Nashville gig was not only the second gig of the tour, but it was also the last. It was also very fitting that their two-stop journey launched in their hometown of Bowling Green, Kentucky and then splashed down in the current home of one of the group’s members and keeper of the sonic flame, Tommy Womack. It was Tommy’s drive and desire, his love of what he and his band mates did (and maybe a bit of wanting to finally hear some ackn

owledgement of their place in music history) that inspired him to write the incredibly funny and delightfully insightful Cheese Chronicles: The True Story of a Rock N Roll Band You've Never Heard Of and to pursue purchasing the original masters from ex-manager Scott Tutt (other authors have told tales of being screwed by managers or record companies, but Womack’s are a must-read), then re-mastering and re-releasing them as a two-disc compilation titled Government Cheese: 1985-1995.

I never saw the Cheese back in the day, when they were selling out clubs all over the South. I was content with the music that was blossoming in Athens and with the ones that came to play: REM was (in Womack’s words) “still kickin’ then” and when Jason and the Nashville Scorchers showed up to play The 40 Watt, I saw Peter Buck and Michael Stipe jump onstage and roar through Bully Holly’s Rave On. I kind of imagine that was what Government Cheese sounded like back then.

Not that they didn’t sound good now. They came onstage to an embrace from a crowd that was more family reunion than audience. Womack appeared with a hospital bracelet on his wrist: nothing serious, but serious enough to recruit Warner E Hodges, the Scorchers’ lead guitarist, to go from knowing one song in the set to possibly having to play all of them in case Tommy couldn’t take the stage. As it was, he stayed there through a bunch of songs, even though Tommy played and sang with fire and fever the whole night. After an introduction from Athens’ very own William Orton Carlton (better known as Ort and more than a story on his own), they plowed through about thirty songs, including fan favorites Camping On Acid, Mammaw Drives the Bus, Fish Stick Day, and Tim Krekel’s (and Scorcher cover) Help There’s a Fire. Skot Willis still had the pipes and the moves of a lead singer that had his share of lingerie launched in his direction, Chris “Viva Las Vegas” Becker sneered and stalked the stage (often making sure Hodges was on the same page during songs), Billy Mack Hill played bass and sang with fervor and drummer Joe “Elvis” King pounded the skins as hard as one would expect from someone wearing a Led Zep t-shirt.

As dozens of roadies labored to load tons of equipment into trailers a few blocks away, the Cheese just played on. Maybe, just maybe, the choice isn’t between whether to fade out or to rust.

Maybe you can just rave on.

Curtis Lynch

Playgrounds Magazine

March 2011

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Amos Lee "Mission Bell"

Amos Lee

Mission Bell

Blue Note Records

My first brush with Amos Lee was with El Camino, the opening track here on Mission Bell. Although its not the paean to the late 60s-early 70s muscle-car/truck hybrid I was expecting, it’s still a road song, one that’s full of longing and wishing that’s set along El Camino Real, a historic California highway connecting several Spanish missions, and one that sets the stage for the rest of the record. The thirteen tracks that comprise the Philadelphia native’s fourth release are produced by Calexico’s Joey Burns and feature Lucinda Williams and Willie Nelson on vocals, along with members of Calexico and Sam Beam (Iron and Wine).

Although at times the tunes here sound a little too slick, as some of David Gray’s work does, mostly Lee maintains a soulful folkie tone that propels the songs along, from Jesus (written after the death of his grandfather), which carries an ethereal, Jim White vibe to Hello Again, a Stevie Wonder-infused, horn-tinged ballad. One cannot underestimate Lee’s soulful vocals, which are the strength and backbone of this record. That tragically overused word soulful is most often applied to Lee, but in this case it’s wholly appropriate: by raising his voice, he can raise our spirits, as he does on Flower and Windows Are Rolled Down, as well as on the two tracks where he shares lead vocals with his guests. Lucinda sings achingly on Clear Blue Eyes, while Willie lends his omnipresent voice to a reprise of El Camino. Lyrically, Lee may not turn a phrase as well as he bends a note, but the production and performances disguise that. Mission Bell is a very good record, one that shows Amos Lee has the potential to make a great one.

Curtis Lynch

Playgrounds Magazine

February 2010