Thursday, October 2, 2014

Americana Music Festival 2014

Mike Farris at Grimey's Americanarama.

September 17th – 20th
Nashville, TN

The dates are misleading. The math may say four days, but this Nashville extravaganza has spilled out on both sides, bleeding into pre-festival shows, post-festival concerts and mid-festival lunches and brunches and who knows what else. Nearly two hundred artists and nine venues just don’t seem to be enough. This is not, on the whole, a bad thing.

Adam Klein at the Family Wash.
The awards show, held at the Ryman Auditorium, has stepped it up each year but this time, instead of the red carpet, black tie and bluegrass, I opted something a little more down home on the other side of the Cumberland River at The Family Wash. While Jason Isbell was using a broom on the hallowed planks of the Mother Church to sweep up the three major awards, I was comfortably ensconced in East Nashville where Tommy Womack, Lisa Oliver-Gray, Adam Klein and several other acts played short sets to an appreciative, friendly crowd. This is a reminder that there is wonderful original music everywhere in this town and you don’t have to work hard or go far to find it.

The nightly showcases are the real attraction during the Americana Music Festival, of course. Forty-five minutes to do what you do, then clear the stage. For me, the highlights were the very strong sets in the Mercy Lounge from Billy Joe Shaver (born 1939) and Parker Millsap (born 1993, fifty-four years later), Amy Ray, who played tunes from her excellent new release Goodnight Tender, and the always amazing Willie Sugarcapps at the Basement, where Grayson Capps surprised the rest of the band by playing a song they’d never heard before. And speaking of surprises, on Saturday, Cory Chisel’s Soul Obscura project did it for me. At the City Winery, armed with a set of semi-obscure soul covers, Chisel’s stage presence and command of the songs made this my favorite set of the day.

Cory Chisel's Soul Obscura.

As a visitor to Nashville, I really enjoy the daytime shows, because I can pretend I live here and get to do this stuff all the time. On Saturday afternoon at Grimey’s Americanarama, Kevin Gordon showed no signs of slowing down after his previous night’s gig with the Hard Working Americans and along with the gospel-blues of Mike Farris, they kept the day’s energy crackling. Over in East Nashville, at the Groove, Cory Branan and Matt the Electrician played acoustic sets while the Mas Tacos food truck kept folks fed and, check this, the first tasting of Yazoo Americana Fest Ale, a beer brewed especially for the fest.

The success of Americana, both as a festival and conference and as a genre, has been a fascinating, upward-spiraling, wonderful thing to watch and this year’s edition didn’t disappoint. As the festival continues to expand each year, one has to wonder what’s next. There are high expectations for 2015.

Curtis Lynch
October 2014

Americana Music Honors & Awards 2014 Winners:

Album of the Year: Southeastern, Jason Isbell, Producer Dave Cobb
Artist of the Year:  Jason Isbell
Duo Group of the Year:  The Milk Carton Kids
Song of the Year:  “Cover Me Up,” Jason Isbell
Emerging Artist of the Year:  Sturgill Simpson
Instrumentalist of the year:  Buddy Miller
Spirit of Americana / Free Speech in Music Award co-presented by the Americana Music Association and the First Amendment Center:  Jackson Browne
Lifetime Achievement for Instrumentalist: Flaco Jimenez
Lifetime Achievement for Performance:  Taj Mahal
Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriter: Loretta Lynn
President’s Award:  Jimmie Rodgers / Award Presented to Jimmie Rodgers Museum in Meridian, MS.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Hundred Word Highlights August 2014

Hundred Word Highlights
…Each CD review is guaranteed to be a full one hundred words, because sometimes
ninety-nine and a half just won’t do.

Nathan Bell
Blood Like a River

Turns out, I’ve been missing Nathan Bell for 15 years and didn’t even know it. In the 90s, Bell stepped away from music and into a house, a family, a regular job. Perhaps he needed that time to mature as a person before he could write the songs on Blood Like a River. Bell’s twelve tracks are just his vocals and acoustic guitar, telling stories where he tackles some weighty emotional issues, including gay marriage and adoption. Blood Like A River runs somewhere between Springsteen’s stark Nebraska soundscape and the haunted strains of Townes Van Zandt. Picks: Names, Really Truly.

Here's Names:

And here's something a little more rowdy:

Blackberry Smoke
Leave a Scar: Live in North Carolina

This is one of those live records that make you want to jump up and immediately go see the band play.  Blackberry Smoke unabashedly pump out what can only be called southern rock, a swaggering mix of country, blues and good ol’ rock-n-roll. The band is smart enough to weave Zep and Allman Brothers teases into their songs, and talented enough to make music that takes the best of 70s southern rock and filters it through the Bottle Rockets and Little Feat. Like Ronnie said in Sweet Home Alabama, “Turn it up.” Picks: One Horse Town, Six Ways to Sunday.

Curtis Lynch
August 2014

Sunday, August 3, 2014

TybeeDawg’s Pick of the Litter - Fall Festival Edition

TybeeDawg’s Pick of the Litter
Fall Festival Edition

Albert Camus said that “autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” It’s also the second festival season of the year. By now, you've been to the spring festivals, recovered, and you've mostly taken it easy through the summer, but now you’re feeling like it’s time to get out and see how much music you can cram into a short period of time. Here’s a list of just a few of the festivals happening over the next couple of months.

Waverly Fall Boogie
Waverly, AL
September 13, 2014

One of my favorite places to hear live music, this backyard venue has boasted performances from the likes of Drive-By Truckers current and former members Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley and Jason Isbell (on separate nights), Junior Brown, the Alabama Shakes, Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires, Larry Keel, Hurray for the Riff Raff and Lydia Loveless. This year’s artists include Nikki Lane, Water Liars and Great Peacock. Emitting a down-home, easy going vibe, the Waverly Boogie is the place to kick back and enjoy yourself. Kick your shoes off, sit a spell.

The Waverly Boogie.

Americana Music Festival and Conference
Nashville, TN
September 17-21, 2014

The Americana Music Festival and Conference’s popularity is exploding exponentially. A ticket to the AMA awards show is becoming a tough commodity and the nightly showcases are routinely SRO with lines out the door, especially at more intimate venues like the Station Inn. There are also events at both Grimey’s and East Nashville’s Groove, Music City Roots, Musician’s Corner in Centennial Park and this year there’s a Riverside Park concert with the Avett Brothers.  There’s a reason for all the talk: With 165 artists and nine venues, this is simply the largest, best amalgamation of American music anywhere east of San Francisco.

Dr. John - Americana Music Awards 2013

Gateway to the Delta Festival
Charleston, MS
September 20, 2014

Why not venture over to Tallahatchie County to the 4th edition of this festival, featuring Paul Thorn, Jimbo Mathus and the Tri-State Coalition, and Garry Burnside for some “food, music and healthy living,” as their tagline suggests?

Paul Thorn - You Might Be Wrong

Columbus, GA
September 27, 2014

This remarkable festival has literally grown from the ground up. The Deadfields, The  Bibb City Ramblers, Wayne Minor Band, Sean Rox Trio, and Rick Edwards head up this kid-friendly, home-grown rootsy festival, which is completely unique among Columbus events. This year’s proceeds benefit Columbus Hospice. Come on out and celebrate Organic Southern Life with folk art, music, local crafts, drum circle, food and more.


Cask and Drum Festival

Birmingham, AL
October 11, 2014

The 2nd edition of this festival looks intriguing, with headliners Drive-By Truckers sharing top billing with Girl Talk, an electronic music DJ who will be spinning amidst a mostly roots-oriented roster that includes Lucero, Houndmouth, and Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires.  With a wine and beer tasting and a chicken wing cook-off, this is like a festival I could easily find myself attending.

Made Up English Oceans

Magnolia Fest
Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park
Live Oak, FL
October 16-19, 2014

This year is possibly this festival’s strongest lineup yet and that’s saying something, given their penchant for bigger and bigger names over the past few years. Lyle Lovett and his Acoustic Group, Dr. John, The Indigo Girls, Bela Fleck and Jason Isbell headline a deep roster of artists. Heck, I’d show up just for the folks in smaller type, like Willie Sugarcapps, The Wailers, American Aquarium, Tim Reynolds and Honey Island Swamp Band.  This will be the tenth anniversary of the first trip I made to this festival and my campmates haven’t ran me off yet. This could be the year, though.

Magnolia Fest 2012 recap

 Suwannee Hulaween
Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park
Live Oak, FL
October 31 – November 2, 2014

Also on the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park property, the sophomore offering of Hulaween features three nights of The String Cheese Incident, and lots of late-night mind-expanding music and art. A recent blogger listed the Spirit of the Suwannee as one of the six best outdoor places to see music.  I will have to say I haven’t found many that can compare to the location, vibe or atmosphere at this park and I expect that this weekend will be an amazing experience.

Hulaween 2013 recap

Well, that should satisfy your musical cravings for a couple of months, and if you happen to see Camus up on the rail during a late-night set, don’t treat him like a stranger.

Curtis Lynch
August 2014

Sunday, June 15, 2014

AthFest 2014 Compilation

AthFest 2014 Compilation
Various Artists
Ghostmeat Records

This year’s AthFest compilation slims things down a bit, with ten tracks clocking in at just under 40 minutes and in a new twist, it’s available exclusively on vinyl.  This is a very fine collection of songs that doesn’t so much show the breadth of Athens music as its depth, with tracks by Elf Power, Drive-By Truckers and New Madrid.  The sale of this compilation supports AthFest Educates, a non-profit dedicated to local music & arts education.

Favorites include Faster Circuits with their Beatlesque pop on Relative Obscurity, and Family and Friends, whose Rust and Bone starts out like a delicate Donovan track and ends up as a rollicking rock-n-roll song. The Drive-By Truckers continue their support of local music and education with Rock Solid, a track that was previously only available on their digital-only Dragon Pants EP. New Madrid contributes Forest Gum, a track from their new Normaltown Records release Sunswimmer.  In 2014, just as it has been for years and years, the fields of Athens, Georgia are ripe with musical fruit. This compilation is just a taste.

Curtis Lynch
June 2014

I Never Met A Story I Didn’t Like (Mostly True Tall Tales) - Book Review

Da Capo Press

“I hate Todd Snider and I’m going to tell you why.”  No, not me, I kinda like the guy. I enjoy his songs, his goofy stories, and his general outlook on life.  That line came from a review Todd read about himself   and it made its way into his first book, a collection of remembrances, lyrics and an unflinching look into the life of a singer-songwriter. That he includes this piece of information in a chapter in this book is very telling, because he doesn’t go on to talk about why the reviewer didn’t like him or his music, because that part’s actually irrelevant. Todd uses this as a teaching moment (yeah, I know…life lessons from this guy, whose motto is “safety third?”) about fame and why artists sing their songs for others.  Todd says that if you’re doing it so that people will like you, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.

Having seen Todd Snider perform several times and listened to all his records and literally dozens and dozens of live recordings, I thought I had heard all his stories and this book would be a rehash of things I already knew. Part of that’s true, of course, there are times when he retells his stories verbatim, or at least as verbatim as is allowed in his patented stoner-speak, stumbling cadence, but in every case, he largely takes advantage of the medium of print to dig deeper into his adventures, like meeting his buddy Moondawg of Moondawg’s Tavern fame. (They threw him out of so many bars/he finally built one in his own backyard.) Songs and stories that you just know are made up out of his own head turn out to be actual, factual things that have happened to Snider. Todd credits Jerry Jeff Walker as his main inspiration but it seems the chorus of Kristofferson’s The Pilgrim – Chapter 33 when he’s stoned could easily be Todd’s bio. (He's a poet, he's a picker/He's a prophet, he's a pusher/He's a pilgrim and a preacher, and a problem when he's stoned/He's a walkin' contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction,takin' ev'ry wrong direction on his lonely way back home.)

I Never Met A Story I Didn’t Like is just shy of three hundred pages, but if you’re like me and go back to re-read a paragraph or  two, just to savor the words and roll them around in your head, it will take you much longer to read.  For someone who appears to be busy most of the time just passing a bong around, he is surprisingly introspective about his life, what he does and why.  He’s like the Buddha of East Nashville. He invariably has something nice to say about everybody – the guy who yells Beer Run all through the show, the guy who stole his song (but it’s okay, Todd stole one of his back), groupies, drug dealers, police, you name it. Fans of Todd’s music won’t need to read this review to know that they’ll want to pick up this book. Music fans in general will appreciate this look into the life of an artist, but I think this book will appeal to anyone who enjoys a good story, even if they are mostly true.

Curtis Lynch
June 2014

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Punishing the Myth
Gatorbone Records

Like many of us from the South, Grant Peeples is a walking, talking contradiction.  The man loves lunatic poets and fast cars, and he’s an unabashed liberal, but he’s not coming to take your guns away. He’s got plenty of his own. The one thing that Grant does that sets him apart from his contemporaries is his honesty.  Brutal, direct, rhyming honesty, or as he puts it on this new release, “mixing trouble with metaphor.”

And he does this right off the bat on the first track, You’re a Slave To Your Imagination, a blues featuring the sassy vocals of Sarah Mac that takes the classic country duet style from “he said/ she said” to “left brain/right brain.”  “You call it art but you’re just jerking off,” says one side of his head, to which the other side replies, “I got my songs and a sense of intervention…I know the score.”

The eleven songs are a poetic mix of styles: rock, folk, spoken word, acoustic ballads and bluesy guitar tunes, produced once again by Austin’s Gurf Morlix.  Gurf has the knack for putting just the right touches on the music he produces, although I have to say that the echoes he placed on the brilliant spoken word piece High Octane Generation are, to me, superfluous and distract from the performance. This is a small complaint, though, given his body of work with Grant, Lucinda Williams and so many others. After hearing the wealth of clever, intricate wordplay on these songs, it comes as no surprise that Peeples is a Roger Miller fan. You can tell that he rubs the lyrics of the songs on his sleeve until they gleam in just the right way.  After working his way through social issues like capital punishment, homosexuality, war, equality and revolution, he finishes up the record with It’s Too Late to Live in Austin, a “shoulda been here when” tale about the live music capital of the world. Peeples, a recent transplant from Florida to Austin, reminds us that songs are still being written and sung in Austin….and even more than that, that songs happen everywhere. 

Grant has been refining his sound over his past five records and his work here is among his sharpest. At his best, Peeples recalls Fred Eaglesmith, Butch Hancock and occasionally, every once in a while, Kris Kristofferson. Because fast cars, big guns and fried chicken and okra are not the sole province of conservative rednecks and because compassion and empathy aren’t just for tie-died wearing hippies, we need someone like Grant Peeples.

Curtis Lynch
March 2014

Sunday, January 26, 2014

TybeeDawg’s Pick of the Litter 2013

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When we finally rip that last month off from the auto parts calendar on the wall, its just human nature to look back at the previous year and reflect on what we saw, heard or felt. That remembrance is always a mixture of reality and perception, of what we wanted to have happen and what really did.

But that’s life.

John Lennon said “life is what happens while you are busy making other plans” and Warren Zevon famously quipped in his song that “life’ll kill ya.” Both are true and unfortunately, on January 18th of 2013, Craig Lieske was snatched, untimely, from this world.  Craig was more than the “merch guy” for the Drive-By Truckers; he was, to many, the face and soul of the band, the person fans talked to at every show, who always had a smile and a kind word. Craig passed away in the night during the band’s three-night homecoming stand at the 40 Watt and if anyone ever doubted the transformative, healing power of music, well, just talk to anyone who attended those shows.

The 2013 Pick of the Litter is dedicated to Craig Lieske: music lover, musician, music fan.  As Patterson Hood sings in Grand Canyon, a goodbye of sorts to Lieske from their upcoming release English Oceans, “I’ll lift my glass and smile.”

Album of the Year – Jason Isbell - Southeastern – Isbell’s new record is a finely polished dark gem, gleaming with addiction, redemption, and gumption.  Jason Isbell, through force of will and lack of alcohol, has forged his most complete set of songs yet and easily the finest record of the year.

Debut record of the YearWillie Sugarcapps - Nurtured in the fertile soil of the Frog Pond at Blue Moon Farm in Silverhill, Alabama, Willie Sugarcapps is roots music at its most organic. Five musicians who discovered that they love making music together and that people love what they do. Will Kimbrough joins with Grayson Capps, Corky Hughes (Capps’ guitar player), Anthony Crawford and Savana Lee (Sugarcane Jane) to create a mixture of bayou blues and country-rock with outstanding harmonies and incredible musicianship.

Song of the Year – Jason Isbell – Elephant - As a songwriter, Isbell is operating at a stratospheric, Guy Clark level, constructing lines like “sharecropper eyes and hair almost all gone.” Inside of Elephant, Southeastern’s emotional centerpiece, a tale of watching a friend suffer from cancer, he creates a place all too real.

Billy Bragg at Americanarama.
Live Performance of the Year – This is probably the hardest one to fill in given the elusive nature of the category. There are so many variables that don’t exist in the studio…sound, weather, the attitude of the artist or the audience…and my own subjective experience. But, I’ll have to give the nod to two of Billy Bragg’s Americana Festival appearances in Nashville. A radio interview as part of the conference and a solo performance at Americanarama, a sidebar daytime festival held in the backyard of Grimey’s New & Preloved Music, were both illuminating. Billy Bragg proved that punk can grow up, that attitude doesn’t have to disappear at 30, or 40, or even 50, that we can still rail against injustice with grey in our hair or with no hair at all, and we can do it with style, humor, panache and intelligence.

Tim O'Brien and Darrell Scott.
Music Festival of the Year – The Americana Music Festival and Conference – Nashville has hosted this amazing collection of showcases, conference panels and an incredibly well-done awards show each year for the last fourteen years, and each year, it’s grown in popularity. The awards show at the Ryman sells out and many of the nightly showcases are standing-room only, but the showcase wristbands are still a good deal and the quality of music is unparalleled. Highlights of the 2013 festival were St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Darrell Scott and Tim O’Brien, Scott Miller, and Houndmouth, but no matter where you end up, you’re bound to find some of the best and brightest Americana artists playing for a crowd of music lovers.

What else was good last year? Plenty:

My Favorite Picture of You – Guy Clark
The Marshall Mathers LP2 – Eminem
Tooth & Nail – Billy Bragg
Live in San Francisco – Ry Cooder            
This River – JJ Grey and Mofro
Opening Day - Peter Cooper
From the Hills below the City – Houndmouth
Down Fell the Doves – Amanda Shires  
Memories and Moments - Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott                              
My Dearest Darkest Neighbor – Hurray for the Riff Raff

Looking back, 2013 was truly a fine year of music from both new and established artists. 2014 is already off to a good start as I type this, with very strong releases from Rosanne Cash, Tinsley Ellis, Bruce Springsteen and the Hard Working Americans, a “super-group” with Todd Snider and Dave Schools (Widespread Panic), which is leading the early pack for album of the year.

My friend Anthony knew Craig Lieske.  My friend Anthony just celebrated his 40th birthday and his birthday wish for us was for “everyone to read good literature, listen to good music, and love one another a little more on our next trip around the sun.”  I concur.  I’m pretty damn sure Craig would too.

Curtis Lynch
Playgrounds Magazine January 2014

Photo of Craig Lieske courtesy of Beth Branson-Lakes.