Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!!!

To all the readers of this blog space, I wish you and your families a very Merry Christmas and all the best of the Holiday Season.

Thank you very much for taking the time out of your day to stop by and read the thoughts of this still novice blogger. This blog would not be possible without you. There are some big things in store for this space in the New Year and beyond, so stay tuned!

Take good care everyone,

Americana Review

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas and Holiday Wishes

It's just one week until we're on the doorstep of a brand New Year, and what does that mean? That's right, it's Christmas. I am sensitive to the fact that some of you do not celebrate Christmas, and to all of you I wish you the best of the Holiday season. I celebrate Christmas, so Merry Christmas it is for this guy!

For us Christmas-type people, if you haven't completed your Christmas shopping, chop-chop my friend. It's getting down to the wire here. I had a conversation with a guy in the elevator at my day job today who said he's getting ready to start his Christmas shopping. Apparently he starts it on December 24 and rattles it off in fairly quick fashion. He says he has a lot of people to buy for, but I don't know. It doesn't sound like the most strategic plan out there, but hey, it's up to the individual, right? All I know is, I finished my Christmas shopping tonight, so hopefully I've avoided some s**t-lists.

That conversation gave me a great idea for today's column. Since I've started this blog (back in May -- wow, time flies), I've had the great fortune to discover some great artists and their great albums. So, if you're like my buddy on the elevator and either stuck for a gift or just starting your shopping, here are my top five suggested artists and albums as a suggestion for your gift- shopping pleasure.

Elizabeth Cook, Welder, Thirty-One Tigers Records -- Elizabeth Cook is one of the most unique talents in music today. You'll note from a previous column that I had the good fortune of seeing her show in Buffalo, New York at the Sportsmen's Tavern. If you like pure country and Americana music from a pure artist of the highest order, Elizabeth Cook is your girl. The Welder album is one of the best albums of the year in any genre. From hardcore country, to rockabilly, to love ballads, everything is covered here. Topics that radio won't even look at are covered here -- drug use, one night stands, abusive relationships ... things that make a radio consultant pee all over himself. There may not be too many radio hits on this project, but that doesn't mean anything. This record is at the head of the class, a first rate album that will be a welcome addition to any music lovers library. Seek this one out people, it is wonderful.

Jamey Johnson, The Guitar Song, Mercury Nashville -- If Elizabeth Cook is the top female rebel in country/Americana music, then Jamey Johnson is the top male. Jamey Johnson rose to fame a few years ago with his self-titled debut album on BNA Records, when the single The Dollar cracked the top 10 in 2005. Shortly after this accomplishment, he was dropped from the label but did have hits as a songwriter, most notably George Strait's Give it Away. Jamey signed with Mercury Nashville and released That Lonesome Song, which spawned the award-winning single In Color. With that song and that album, Jamey Johnson had officially "arrived." His follow-up, The Guitar Song, is a landmark double-album that truly is a piece of art. Again, he addresses the topics that radio seldom touches these days -- drug abuse, vengeance, drinking and the hard knocks in life. This isn't to say the album is depressing, it's only pieces to this beautiful puzzle. Jamey shows his great appreciation for the history of country music as well, as he covers the great Vern Gosdin classic Set 'em Joe and the incomparable Ray Price, with the Kris Kristofferson penned For the Good Times. My personal favorite on this album is Lonely at the Top. It has a great message for those celebrities that tend to get ahead of themselves and forget where they once were in life -- you know, they believe their own bulls**t, so to speak. This tune is the reality check that some of the rich and famous need.

Court Yard Hounds, Court Yard Hounds, Columbia Nashville -- I've put this one on the list because again, this is just a solid album. If you're a fan of the Dixie Chicks, you will recognize the two young ladies who make up the Court Yard Hounds. They are super-talented sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire, the musical foundation of the Dixie Chicks. With Natalie Maines still wanting some time off the road, the sisters put together a side project, a project which has produced this album. When it comes to this album, if you're looking for a Dixie Chicks run-off, you've come to the wrong place. Emily Robison takes the vocal lead for the majority of the tracks, and both sisters show off their musical chops as only they can do. They haven't toured much as the Court Yard Hounds, but let's hope that they change that in 2011. I do think it's a shame, what has happened to the Dixie Chicks. Regardless of whether you agree with the comments of Natalie Maines, it shouldn't matter what she said. These girls are talented and set the country music industry on its ear. They continue to produce good music. If you love good music, this self-titled album from the Court Yard Hounds is worth your time, worth your money, and your loved one will enjoy this album thoroughly.

Justin Townes Earle, Harlem River Blues, Bloodshot Records -- I hope the next year is a better one for Justin Townes Earle. His recent problems with substance addiction has been well documented, and he appears to be on the road to recovery. Prior to his problems coming to a head, he recorded this great album, Harlem River Blues. As I stated in a previous review of this album, it starts out with a rollicking gospel-sounding number, which is the title track. As the album progresses, he ventures into rockabilly and stone-cold country. Justin Townes Earle does have a tough act to follow, his dad is the legendary Steve Earle. However, Justin Townes Earle is doing a great job of carving out his own career and musical path, one that is independent of his famous father. This album is proof-positive of that. Again, another valuable addition to any music lovers' library.

Cross Canadian Ragweed, Back To Tulsa: Live at Cain's Ballroom, Universal South Records -- The last album I'm going to suggest is from the group that gave me the inspiration to do this blog. It was with great pleasure that I attended my first and only Cross Canadian Ragweed show in October in Chicago. This was, of course, Ragweed's last show and if you would like to read my review of that show, click here. While a recording of that concert was available to those in attendance, this fantastic live album is a more than adequate substitute. This double-live album was recorded over two nights at the legendary Cain's Ballroom in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Tulsa is where Ragweed got their start, so it was completely fitting that they record their last, and by their own admission, best live album where it all began. The unique aspect of this double record, was the fact that the band had put the track selection out to the fans. The people of Ragweed nation were able to vote for which songs would appear on the album. As Cross Canadian Ragweed wrote in the liner notes, "(they) don't have any hits, (they) just have song after song. This album was selected by the fans, for the fans." Cross Canadian Ragweed is a true legend in Texas and Red Dirt music. Their concerts have drawn fans in the tens of thousands, all without the benefit of a solid radio hit. If you want to see why, pick up this double album, and sit back with a couple of Christmas beers and enjoy.

As we move in to this celebratory time of the year, I do want to thank all of you who have visited this blog and continue to come back. I am amazed to see that almost 1,000 of you have visited since this launched in May, and that's something that I am very grateful for. Since this is our first Christmas together, I also want to acknowledge the wonderful support of my family. If it wasn't for their encouragement, this site would never have come to pass. It is a great pleasure to sit and write for you and it is an even greater pleasure to know that there quite a few of you out there who like what you see and read. The greatest compliment one can receive is when there is appreciation for ones work and I'm glad to have you come to the site and keep coming back. As one of my past managers once said every year at Christmas time, "You can do your job without me, but I cannot do my job without you." In this case, truer words have not been spoken. Thank you for your support. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and if you don't celebrate Christmas, I wish you a wonderful Holiday season and all the best to your families. Take good care of yourselves and safe travels.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Marty Stuart and Studio B

If the different branches country music could spawn a love child, I'm pretty sure that Marty Stuart would be the offspring. It seems like Marty Stuart has been around this genre forever, and in a way, he has. It's tough to find an artist who can tell the stories that Marty Stuart can. He got his start touring and playing bluegrass with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs as a teenager in the 1970's, before moving on to mainstream country music in the 1980's. He was once married to one of Johnny Cash's daughters, and broke through with chart success and significant album sales from the late 1980's to the mid-1990's.

While Marty hasn't been a force on the mainstream country music charts in recent years, he remains one of country music's most important figures. He is a member who appears regularly on the Grand Ole Opry. A devout historian of the music, over the years Marty Stuart has amassed quite possibly the most impressive collection of artifacts relating to the history and origins of country music outside of the Country Music Hall of Fame. His collection is so great, he often receives calls from the Hall to donate items for display. When Marty has the great honor of inducting a new member to the Grand Ole Opry, you can feel the deep appreciation, love and affection that he has for the Opry and the genre as a whole.

With his charting singles and recording for major record labels behind him, Marty now freely records the material he wants to record and promotes all the branches of country at his leisure. With his recent Sugar Hill Records release, Ghost Train -- The Studio B Sessions, Marty makes a triumphant return with this excellent project. The album has got Marty back on the radio with Americana stations gladly playing cut after cut from this magnificent album. This project is vintage Marty. He successfully marries the most traditional themes of country music, such as love, death, prison and hope. If you've read my Taboo Topics post, this album covers everything I said was lacking in modern country music. This album is a throwback to the old days and it sounds as fresh and modern as can be.

Marty is one of the rare artists who uses his touring band, The Fabulous Superlatives, in the recording studio. The result is an authentic live-sounding album. Marty and the Superlatives are all class A musicians, true experts in their field. Ever the historian, Marty recorded the album in the historic RCA Studio B which is the home to some of the greatest and most important recorded music in history. Elvis Presley recorded there. So did Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Eddy Arnold, Charley Pride and on down the line. Marty Stuart successfully restores the old studio to its former glory and its original purpose. RCA Studio B is now primarily a tourist attraction, part of a tour package where fans can walk through following their time viewing the Country Music Hall of Fame.

There are many key cuts to this album. The lead track, Branded, brings back memories of some of Merle Haggard's earliest hits such as The Fugitive and Sing Me Back Home. Bridge Washed out is another highlight for me, all musicians are at the top of their game on this track and Marty's voice is as strong as ever. There are also many poignant moments on this record. The great steel guitar player who gave Waylon's records such a unique sound, Ralph Mooney, contributes on three tracks, most notably the song he co-wrote, Crazy Arms. Crazy Arms was a monstrous hit for the legendary Ray Price. Marty performs with his wife, Connie Smith, on I Run to You. Perhaps the most important track on the album is Hangman. Marty Stuart co-wrote this song with Johnny Cash. As fate would have it, Hangman is the last song that Johnny Cash would write, as he passed away shortly after its completion.

Marty Stuart continues to impress. He may not have as many radio hits as most of his contemporaries who came along in the 1980's/1990's. But make no mistake. His contribution to country music, Americana, roots, bluegrass and alt-country and the development of those genres cannot be measured or understated. He is an important figure in this history of this music. The day will come where the Country Music Hall of Fame will not be calling just to borrow some the artifacts in his extensive collection. They will be calling to tell him that he will be taking his place alongside his peers, friends and heroes as a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

To learn more about Marty Stuart, his music, and to sample the Ghost Train -- The Studio B Sessions album, please go to:

To learn more about other Sugar Hill Records artists, such as Sam Bush, Joey and Rory, and the Infamous Stringdusters, please go to:

To learn more about the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, please go to:

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Elizabeth Cook, November 4, 2010 -- Buffalo, New York

Hello everyone,

Well, it's taken me some time to get back to you on the Elizabeth Cook show at the Sportsmen's Tavern in Buffalo, New York about 3 weeks ago. I do apologize. I have to confess, Elizabeth Cook's show is well worth it.

The Sportsmen's Tavern in Buffalo is Western New York's hotbed for Americana, roots and alt-country music. The venue itself is quite small, which makes for wonderful interaction between artist and audience. The packed house for this Sunday afternoon's entertainment had roughly 100 people in it, but given the size of the place, the room was packed. It is a great little place, which brings in national touring acts on a regular basis. If you're in the Buffalo/Western New York/Southern Ontario region, by all means check this place out. It's a great time with great people.

Anyway, back to Elizabeth Cook. Elizabeth Cook has just recently wrapped up her tour of the Northeast United States, with tour stops in Cleveland, the Boston area, New York City, with the final tour stop in Virginia. Performing in Buffalo with her husband Tim Carroll on guitar and accompanied by a gentleman on stand-up bass, Elizabeth essentially split the show with songs from her most recent project Welder, (which by the way, is an excellent piece of work) and her previous album Balls.

Once Elizabeth Cook hits the stage and begins that first note, you can tell you are in the presence of one of the finest country singers of our time. Highly personable, Cook rolled through such Welder gems as All the Time and El Camino, and led the crowd with a rousing rendition of the title cut to Balls. There were two very poignant moments in the afternoon. The first moment was delivered when Cook, with strong guitar playing from husband Tim Carroll, performed a wonderful version of Merle Haggard's classic Today I Started Loving You Again. This song has been recorded hundred's of times by artists the world over. Elizabeth Cook gave this song a brand new life with her refreshing version. It is hoped that she puts this cover version on an upcoming album, as it deserves to be heard by the masses.

The second moment came from a personal story. Cook provided some back story to one of the cuts from her album. The youngest child with nine half-brothers and half-sisters, Elizabeth admittedly had much material to draw from, given the large number of siblings. This story set up the beautifully-performed track from Welder, Heroin Addict Sister. This song was performed with a kind of raw honesty that could only be performed by someone who has lived through such family tragedy and strife.

It never gets old saying that someone deserves your time, as you've seen through these reviews. Elizabeth Cook is at the top of the list. She is a country/Americana singer of the highest order, who brings an honesty to the stage that is not often replicated. This young lady has more talent in her pinky finger than most big-name entertainers out there today. The next time she passes through your area, do take the time to check her out. She travels extensively, with frequent tours to Europe and recently completing a tour of Japan for the first time.

And if you're one of the 20 million or so who have Sirius/XM Satellite Radio, be sure to check out Elizabeth Cook's weekday morning show Apron Strings from 6 to 10am, Eastern time, on Outlaw Country, Sirius 62, XM 12.

For more information on Elizabeth Cook, you can check her out at:

For more information and upcoming shows at the Sportsmen's Tavern in Buffalo, New York, log on to:

Monday, November 15, 2010

With Many Thanks

This is one of those times where this blog, normally reserved for Americana music, takes a moment to remember the soldiers and veterans around the world. Although it's four days after the fact, it is never too late to honor and thank the soldiers who have served their country, regardless of which country you may be reading this in.

In my native Canada, November 11 is called Remembrance Day. It's called Remembrance Day in other countries around the world, mostly in the British Commonwealth countries. In the United States, November 11 is called Veterans Day, but really, it's the same thing. At the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month, we pause for two minutes of silence to remember and pay silent tribute to all of our wonderful soldiers who currently serve our country in various theatres around the world, and to those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice fighting for our nation in World Wars 1 and 2, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, various peacekeeping missions and currently the war in Afghanistan.

Perhaps the most popular poem that has been written about the plight of the wartime soldier was written by a Canadian physician in the Army in World War 1, Lieutenant Colonel John McRae. Believed to have been written on May 3, 1915, the day after Colonel McRae had witnessed the death of his friend, the poem was originally published in London, England on December 8, 1915. This poem has been a staple of Remembrance Day ceremonies across Canada and around the world since then. Sadly, Colonel McRae would also lose his life in the first Great War, in 1918. But what a legacy he left behind. A tremendous gift that has allowed generations of people around the world to truly recognize the sacrifice that freedom requires.

Thank you to all our veterans of wars and conflicts, both past and present. Because of your dedication, we're allowed to listen to the music we want to listen to, we're allowed to read what we want to and we're allowed to write what we want to. Please pass this important piece of literature along, In Flanders Fields:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

My Intro to Elizabeth Cook

Elizabeth Cook first came to my attention in one of several articles on CMT written by Chet Flippo. For those of you who have read Chet Flippo, you will no doubt have observed that he speaks what`s on his mind. He seems to be a very schooled writer, especially when it comes to the state of country music today. Mr. Flippo also seems to have a great appreciation for all types of music and how they interact with one another. He is also not afraid to state his opinion, no matter what that opinion is, about various topics in the country music industry. He too, appears to be frustrated with the mainstream.

And so it was with special attention that I read one of his past articles on this young lady who just keeps blowing him away with her music. You won`t find Elizabeth Cook on mainstream country radio, at least not at this point. If you`re a customer of Sirius-XM Satellite Radio, you may know Elizabeth Cook from her weekday morning radio show called Apron Strings. She`s a very capable host and can more than hold her own with the male dominated morning shows out there.

In addition to her morning show, Elizabeth Cook is a recording artist, songwriter and musician. Talent is as natural as breathing to this woman.

I picked up her latest album Welder, released on 31 Tigers Records. The title is an homage to her father who owned his own welding shop in Florida. Produced by the great Don Was, the album covers the gamut of traditional country to Americana. From the opening track of All the Time and rolling in to El Camino, this album catches you right away. For me, the highlight of the album is Not California. Ms. Cook really shows her vocal chops on this track. She covers topics that are too touchy for mainstream country radio, with Heroin Addict Sister telling the story of a young lady coping with drug addiction.

Listening to this album, I can see what Chet Flippo is talking about. She is the real deal. I too, hope that she can someday gain the wide audience that she richly deserves. I`ll have more on Elizabeth Cook in the next couple of days. She is playing in Buffalo, New York this afternoon at 4:00 at the Sportsmen`s Tavern. Upcoming tour dates are November 8 in Albany, New York at The Linda; November 10 in Piermont, New York, at The Turning Point; and in Lewiston, Maine at The Olin Arts Center. If you`re in these areas and have the time do check out the show, it will be time well spent, I promise.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Thank You, Sparky

This spot as you know, is typically dedicated to the sounds of Americana and alt-country music. Today though, I'm going to talk a little bit about another great North American tradition, that of baseball.

It was with a bit of sadness and great memories that brought about a smile that I read of the passing of George 'Sparky' Anderson. It's widely known that Sparky Anderson was the manager for baseball's Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers during the 1970's to the mid-1990's. Growing up in Toronto, Ontario, we had the great fortune of living in close proximity to Detroit, Michigan, where the Toronto Blue Jays enjoyed a fierce rivalry with their divisional rival Tigers. This of course, led to many visits to Toronto by the Tigers, then managed by Sparky. By sheer default, I ended up following the Tigers as well as the Blue Jays. It was a great time to be a baseball fan in both cities, as both teams were doing well. The Tigers had won the World Series in 1984, and the Blue Jays were always competing for the playoffs, eventually to win back-to-back World Series championships in 1992 and 1993.

I always looked forward to seeing the Tigers. The big reason was that it was an opportunity to see Sparky Anderson. There are not too many genuine heroes in life, especially these days. For me, Sparky was one of my heroes. I admired the way he would stand up for his players, no matter how bad their slump was. I admired how proud he was of his players accomplishments. I admired how he would always take the time for the fans and how well respected he was among his peers. Meeting him and getting his autograph on a baseball in 1985 at Tiger Stadium, was one of the big moments of my young life at that time. He was a true gentleman who was in love with the game of baseball. It was a brief meeting, but 25 years later, the memory sits like it happened yesterday.

I was in my mid-20's in 1996 and I had the great fortune of working in the security department at the SkyDome (now known as the Rogers Centre) in Toronto. The SkyDome/Rogers Centre is the home of the Toronto Blue Jays and Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League. It was a phone call from my overnight colleagues in the middle of the night that woke up the house saying that I was late for my 2:00am shift. I thought the shift was the next night. They said not to worry, nothing has started yet, so I could still get down to work. I immediately hopped in the shower, and 45 minutes after the phone call, I was walking in the door to start work. My duties for this shift, which was a film shoot for the Toronto Blue Jays broadcasts, was to make sure everything was running smoothly for the crew and that no one would harass the celebrity. That celebrity, as it would turn out, was Sparky Anderson.

As the hours wore on during that early morning shift, it was time for the film crew to call a break. I was standing on the steps by the entrance to the visitors dugout, taking in the film shoot, not really believing that I was watching my hero at work. When the break was called, Sparky walked over to the visitors dugout and sat on the bench. He took out his pipe, filled it with some tobacco, and as he was lighting his pipe, he said "So, how're you doin' today?" I looked around and I'm the only one in the dugout. "Um, I'm not doing to bad this morning sir, how are you?", was my stunned reply. "Oh I'm doing good, it's a little early, but I'm having fun." And so it began, the half hour-plus conversation I had with Sparky Anderson in the visitors dugout at the home of the Toronto Blue Jays. After a few minutes, I found myself sitting on the bench beside Sparky, listening to his stories and participating where I could. We talked about the Tigers, the Blue Jays, his night spent at the White House when the Clintons were the occupants. It felt like I was sitting next to a grandfather, just listening to his experiences in life. That conversation took place 13 years ago and again, the memory remains like it happened yesterday. With Sparky's passing, the importance of that moment in my life becomes that much bigger. I would have worked that day for free. To say I'm fortunate is an understatement. Not everyone gets to share that kind of quality time with one of their heroes. I got that chance.

The baseball world has lost one of its greatest ambassadors, personalities and gentleman. Sparky Anderson is the true embodiment of the sports professional. Sadly, there doesn't seem to be the same type of people that you had at a time when Sparky Anderson was in the game. To be fair, there are a lot of great players and professionals in all sports, but I think you guys know where I'm going here. That certain intangible seems to be missing. A lot of the professional athletes of today would do well to take a look at how Sparky Anderson treated people and recognized his contribution to a team. I will always treasure the two moments in time I had with a true legend and hero.

God bless you, Sparky.

For some great articles and videos on the life and times of Sparky Anderson, please click on the link to ESPN. Be sure to pick up Sparky's book on the 1984 Detroit Tigers season, in which they won the World Series, "Bless You Boys" at your favorite book store.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Ragweed Nation: What's Next?

It has been a little over a week since the final performance of Cross Canadian Ragweed at Joe's Bar in Chicago. For those of us in attendance, the memories linger while the hangover has faded. I'm still thinking about this show. When you get great music from great musicians, in a great venue with great people, it's one of those rare nights where you know that you're going to be a part of something special.

Now that a week has gone by, there is one question I have for Ragweed Nation, if you'll indulge me for a moment. The question I have is, now that Cross Canadian Ragweed are on hiatus, who do you turn to for your fix? I mean, there is no way that anyone replaces Ragweed, let's get that out of the way right off the bat. But, who do you start to follow? Do you start to gravitate toward another band, such as long-time Ragweed running-mates Reckless Kelly? Or, how about some solo acts related to Ragweed, such as Wade Bowen, Stoney Larue or Mike McClure.? The options are endless, if you think of it.

As I write this, I'm listening to the live stream of 95.9 FM The Ranch from Fort Worth, Texas, sampling all things Texas music. As I've mentioned before, Ragweed music and this Ragweed show helped me discover at least a part of what I was looking for when this musical journey started. Although I couldn't put my finger on it at the time, it hit me like a ton of bricks during the show. What I've been looking for in my musical odyssey is the Red Dirt sound, the Texas music sound. There's nothing out there like it. It's hard to even really describe it. But the feeling that you can get from it can be nothing short of exhilarating.

So, to answer the question on this end, I think I'll gravitate to learning more about the Texas music scene. Right now if I'm picking a group that I'm keeping an eye on, it's Reckless Kelly. If I'm tuning in to a solo act right now, it's tough to argue with Wade Bowen. Very unique sounds from both of these acts. Having said all of that, I'm not limiting myself to anything. I've just discovered what the South has known for years, I'm just set to take it all in. For those listening to mainstream country, trust me folks, the Texas music scene goes a lot deeper than Jack Ingram and Pat Green. While they are both excellent artists in their own right, the well is much deeper. Do check it out, you will thank me, I promise.

As always, I'm open to suggestions. So please readers, if you have any favorites out there, please let me know. Leave a comment on this post and let's help each other out, there's lot's of great music out there for all of us to discover.

If you wish to check out some great sounds from the Texas music scene, log on to the following sites:

95.9, The Ranch, Fort Worth, Texas

KNBT-FM, 92.1, New Braunfels, Texas

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Cross Canadian Ragweed -- Last Call: The Concert Review

This past Sunday, the Red Dirt trail was well traveled and long, with dust kicked up from Texas and Oklahoma all the way to Chicago, Illinois. Joe's Bar on Weed Street in the Windy City was the location for an historic moment in Americana and Red Dirt music, as Cross Canadian Ragweed performed their final show together. Thousands were in attendance, including this writer, as I made an abbreviated trip to Chicago (much shorter than I had originally planned -- life happens, folks) to see my first and last performance of this great band from Stillwater, Oklahoma.

The anticipation was palpable as I joined the Ragweed faithful in a rainy lineup. As I spoke with those in line, I was amazed at the geographic makeup of the crowd. First of all, everyone was very friendly and completely stoked for the show. I met a couple from Texas. There were a couple of guys who made the trip up from Georgia. I met some really great people from Colorado. And I'm from Ontario, Canada, so that in itself should tell you the reach and influence that Ragweed has on the populous. Everyone knew this was a rare occasion, and one that was not to be missed.

Opening act Wade Bowen was fantastic. He did more than an adequate job of getting the crowd ready and in the right frame of mind for the reason we were all there. The room, filled to capacity with thousands of members from the Ragweed nation, was at a fever pitch when the introductions were complete and the first notes of "Mexican Sky" were blasting through the sound system. The first thing passing through my mind was "Damn, these guys have pure talent." The second thing was, "This is going to be one awesome show." We were not to be disappointed.

Rocking through opening tunes "Cold Hearted Woman" and "Dimebag Darryl", the first surprise of the evening was upon us. Citing the wonderful support from their peers in the industry, Cody Canada welcomed their duet partner from 2005's "Soul Gravy" album, Lee Ann Womack, to join them on stage and perform their hit "Sick and Tired." The song, which is a wonderful ballad, also afforded the first comedic moment of the night, with Canada admitting later on that he allowed an audience sing along to take place because he forgot one of the middle verses. As always, the Ragweed faithful were there to support, as the audience started singing along with assistance from Womack until Cody was able to re-join. It was a great moment that lent itself to the spontaneity and celebratory nature of the event.

Other ballads that followed were "Lonely Girl", written by Cody Canada for his sister and one of their earlier hits, "Constantly." It didn't take long for the boys to rock it right back up though, as they ripped in to such crowd favorites as "Anywhere But Here" and "Oklahoma", the latter performed with Stoney Larue. Wade Bowen was brought back out to perform with his brother-in-law, Cody Canada, and the boys.

In all, Cross Canadian Ragweed performed 30 songs in total, it was like nothing I have ever seen before and will not likely see again. Closing the show with an encore that consisted of "Carney Man" and a cover of Neil Young's "Keep on Rockin' in the Free World," Ragweed went out in style. After a show that lasted 4 hours, Ragweed nation could go home with their heads held high. Their heroes blew the doors off the place. For this Ragweed rookie, it was one of the best shows I have ever seen. I was impressed and depressed at the same time. I would love to have caught another show by these guys. But, if I could only see one show, I am so glad it was this one. This was the show to be at and I am thrilled to have been a part of that whole experience.

I would like to make some acknowledgements before I close this column. First, it would be remiss to not acknowledge the contribution of Wade Bowen to this night. Wade Bowen and his band performed a show in Texas (I believe it was in Amarillo ... please correct me if I'm wrong) the night before. Giving much credit to his bus driver, Bowen and crew were at Joe's Bar in Chicago to answer the 8:00 show time call. That is no small feat. But as Cody Canada pointed out in the Ragweed set, those Red Dirt musicians take care of each other. Wade Bowen was there for his brother-in-law and brothers of the road. I really liked his show and I'll be doing a piece on Wade Bowen in the future.

I asked a question of some fans outside while we were waiting to get in, and that question was "Why Chicago? Why not somewhere in Texas, like Billy Bob's? Why not Oklahoma, say at Cain's Ballroom?" From what I gather, both places would have been more than justified, hell, Ragweed is from Oklahoma and Ragweed is legendary in those states. The answer I got from a longtime friend and fan of Ragweed was that Joe's Bar has been very good to Ragweed over the year's, giving them an outlet for their music before they became the huge success that they are today. Joe's was selected as a "thank you" to that establishment for all the years of support at all stages in their career. Of course, this is speculation. Whatever the reason, go to Joe's Bar in Chicago if you are ever in the Windy City. It is a great establishment with great and friendly people running the show.

Thanks to KNBT-FM from New Braunfels, Texas, for thinking outside the box. They streamed the show live on their web site for all the folks in Ragweed nation that could not be at the show. It would be nice if more stations would do this sort of thing. They will have an encore presentation of the show starting at 8:00pm EDT, 7:00pm CDT on Thursday October 28. Do check out this radio station, it is a good one. Their link is

And finally, thank you Cross Canadian Ragweed and Ragweed Nation. It is because of Cross Canadian Ragweed that I am now a follower of the Texas Red Dirt music and Americana music scene. Thanks for one of the best shows I have ever seen. Ragweed Nation, thanks for reading my little series on the boys from Oklahoma. This is still a fairly new blog and I appreciate the time you have taken to check it out. I hope you'll come back and check it out, we're only getting started here. And by all means, if there is anyone out there that you recommend I check out, let me know. This was a lot of fun. We will do this again.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

From the Cumberland River, to the World Over -- Happy Birthday, Grand Ole Opry

A week and some days ago, the most important institution in this brand of music that we celebrate in this spot three times a week, held it's 85th birthday in Nashville, Tennessee. Broadcasting from the same radio home on AM 650, WSM Nashville, the Grand Ole Opry had a birthday celebration that was like no other in the history of this great radio show.

The importance of the Opry in the musical landscape as a whole cannot be understated. Airing for the first time on November 28, 1925 as the WSM Barn Dance, the Grand Ole Opry (so renamed in 1927) is the longest running weekly radio program in the world. It's important to think about that for a moment. When you consider that the Opry's first broadcast occurred when terrestrial radio itself was only five years old, the fact that it remains on the air today is one thing. Add in the fact that it's stronger today than it has ever been is breathtaking. When you consider that this program has withstood the Great Depression, World War II, Vietnam, the Cold War and most recently, the Great Nashville Flood of 2010, the strength of the Opry is at an all time high.

The Opry has long served as a showcase for all forms of country music. Billed as "the show that made country music famous", it has served as an outlet for all artists in the many roots and branches of country music to perform for thousands in attendance, and millions listening around the world. Indeed, a review of the Opry membership is a who's who of the famous in country music and not-so-famous. No matter for the Opry faithful, once you are blessed with membership, you are part of the family. In a given week you can hear legends such as George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton and John Conlee perform alongside such mainstream country artists like Alan Jackson, Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley and Trace Adkins. On that same show, great Americana artists are at home as well, as Marty Stuart, Jim Lauderdale, Mary Gautier and the Del McCoury Band make regular appearances. And of course, no Opry show is complete without a performance by the longest serving Opry member of 47 years and still going strong, Little Jimmy Dickens.

The Carter Family once recited the famous words that became the cornerstone for country music in all its forms: "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" If there is an answer to that question, the Opry answered it in the same fashion it has for generations now. The answer came in the flood that struck Nashville earlier this year, destroying many homes and property, and changing the lives of all those it touched. It has been well documented as to the damage the Opry itself sustained as the waters rose above the banks of the Cumberland River. The famous circle of wood, an original piece of wood from the stage of the Opry's former home, the Ryman Auditorium, where such greats as Hank Williams, Sr., Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash have stood, was thought to be lost. Workers managed to save it and restore it to its former beauty. The Opry as a show moved to the Ryman Auditorium, always known as "the Mother Church of Country Music." Other Opry shows were held at the War Memorial Auditorium and large churches in Nashville. Even in the face of disaster, Opry members rallied and the show went on. Will the circle be unbroken? Never. That circle is stronger today than it has ever been.

This weekend, Blake Shelton will be inducted as the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry. He is to be congratulated and will be a proud representative of this great institution. Congratulations to all members of the Opry, both past and present, on 85 years of entertaining and celebrating.

For more information on the Grand Ole Opry, you can check out

Friday, October 15, 2010

Cross Canadian Ragweed -- The Homestretch

For the past few weeks, this space has been reserved, more or less, for discussion about the history of Cross Canadian Ragweed. From their humble beginnings in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to their cult status as pioneers of the alt-country/Americana movement, these gentlemen have more than represented the true Outlaw movement in country music that would make Waylon Jennings proud. The past two columns regarding Ragweed featured their first two major label albums "Soul Gravy" and "Garage." Today though, I'm going to talk about something different.

Next Sunday, October 24, 2010, Ragweed will play their final concert for the foreseeable future, at Joe's Bar in Chicago, Illinois. If you've been following our series on Ragweed, you'll know that I'll be in attendance at this final show and blogging from Chicago when I get there next Friday. As I've noted before, this is my first, and possibly my last, Ragweed show. I'm hoping to see the show of a lifetime. I'll get more in to that next week.

The importance of Cross Canadian Ragweed, in my mind, cannot be understated. While they have not had the top 40 hits at country radio, they have done the seemingly impossible. They have still made an impact on the industry. This can happen when a band comes out with a completely different sound that catches people off guard, and the band tours relentlessly. While I have been known to absolutely rail against mainstream country radio about their playlist, I do have to give them credit for at least something. While Ragweed has only had one top 40 country hit, I believe it can be safely said that they did break down a lot of doors for, say, the Eli Young Band. The Eli Young Band is from the same Red Dirt country trail that Ragweed has rolled down for years yet they have done something that Ragweed hasn't done. That's score a top 10 hit at mainstream country radio. The comparisons between the Ragweed sound and the Eli Young Band sound are quite stark. Both are heavy on the guitar. Both sounds have an edge to it. I would submit that were it not for Cross Canadian Ragweed breaking down the barriers with their brand of Texas Red Dirt music and the foresight of Universal South Records to take a chance and promote Ragweed, that bands like Eli Young Band, the Randy Rogers Band, and yes folks, even the Zac Brown Band do not find their way anywhere near mainstream country radio.

Mainstream country radio likes to play it safe. That's why there are so many great artists out there that you won't hear, because they're doing something completely different. But, thanks to Cross Canadian Ragweed, some of these artists are finding their way on to mainstream country radio. To me, that is Ragweed's greatest accomplishment, their legacy. The Eli Young Band, Randy Rogers Band, the Zac Brown Band and all others of their ilk owe a great debt to Cross Canadian Ragweed. Their success is built off the shoulders of the giant band from Tulsa, Oklahoma.

For more information on Cross Canadian Ragweed, including ways to purchase their albums and to listen to Ragweed music, please refer to the following web sites:

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Ragweed Part 2

With the 2005 release of their Garage album on Universal South Records, Cross Canadian Ragweed muddied the waters even more with their sound. This album had a decidedly more rock edge, as compared to the Soul Gravy album from the previous year. Mainstream radio, especially country, has a need to have everything in a neat little package, perfectly categorized and labelled so they can play what the consultants tell them people want to hear. The release of Garage I'm sure caused a few consultants and programmers to train wreck in their meetings. How can they play this band that's on a country record label on a country station, when they don't really sound "country"? Needless to say, they didn't play them much. I will point out though, that even though this album is decidedly more rock oriented, country radio did find a way to make the lead single "Fightin' For" the first top 40 hit for Cross Canadian Ragweed, peaking at number 39. A video was produced for the song as well, directed by the award winning Trey Fanjoy, the director for the majority of Keith Urban's videos. By cracking the top 40 with this song, Cross Canadian Ragweed finally got their introduction to the masses and they haven't looked back since.

As I mentioned above, it is difficult to categorize the music of Cross Canadian Ragweed. While "Fightin' For" was a top 40 hit for the boys, so far it is their only top 40 hit. The categorizing of Ragweed is something the band themselves have recognized, as indicated in one of their more famous quotes "Too rock for country, and too country for rock." Whatever their appeal, these guys are just a damn good band. The Garage album showcases the rock side of Ragweed, but they still show their softer side as well with such tracks as "Sister" and "This Time Around." One of the highlights of the album though, is a fantastic rocked-out cover of "Who Do You Love" by George Thorogood and The Destroyers.

We're now two weeks away from the big night in Chicago at Joe's Bar where Cross Canadian Ragweed will play their final show for the foreseeable future. I have made my plans to be in attendance for the big night. I'm looking forward to it greatly. This will be my first and possibly last Ragweed show, all on the same night. I'm expecting that it's going to be one helluva blowout. I always find club shows to be among the best. The venue is smaller, the band is up close, the crowd gets right into the show faster. This will also be the first time I've ever visited Chicago, so if you have any recommendations on where to go and where to eat, I'm all ears. I'll be blogging about the trip too, so you'll see a few more entries that weekend. I've heard great things about Chicago, can't wait to come out your way!

It's Thanksgiving weekend in Canada this weekend. To all of you, regardless of where you're reading this, I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving to you and your families. All the best everyone, thanks for reading.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Happy Silver Anniversary, Farm Aid

As I write this, John Mellancamp is currently on stage at Miller Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, performing to benefit one of his greatest causes, the plight of the family farmer in the United States. Today, October 2, 2010 marks the 25th Anniversary of Farm Aid.

If you're old enough to remember 1985, you'll recall it was the year of causes in the music world. This was the year that everyone around the world had their attention turned to famine in Africa, and artists and musicians from across all brands and genres of music were doing their part to raise money to assist the millions of people affected by the famine. July 13, 1985 saw musicians from around the world gather at Wembley Stadium in London, England and at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for an historical occasion. Live Aid earned its place in music history and lore, and is remembered fondly today as a smashing success which benefited its cause.

However, in 1985, there was another movement taking place in the music world. One that was much more local. One of the great singer/songwriter/artists/philanthropists of our time Willie Nelson, recognized that there was a growing problem in the United States in the mid-80's. It's an issue that still exists to this day, and that is the plight of the family farm. Family farmers in the mid-80's were in real jeopardy, experiencing the worst financial conditions for doing business since the Great Depression of the 1930's. The family farm was becoming extinct, with big business scooping up the land to build either factory farms or to satisfy runaway urban sprawl. With the help of fellow artists John Mellancamp and Neil Young, Willie Nelson put the wheels in motion to organize and hold the very first Farm Aid, which was held on September 22, 1985 in Champaign, Illinois ... right in the middle of the American Heartland.

Joining Willie, Neil and John that day represented an amazing cross-section of American music. From country and pre-Americana artists such as Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Arlo Guthrie, Johnny Cash and country super group Alabama, to rock acts and legends such as B. B. King, Don Henley, Sammy Hagar and Van Halen. This first concert raised $9 million, which was donated to farmers organizations across the United States. Since that time, the Farm Aid organization has raised more than $37 million to help sustain the family farming system of agriculture. The great legends of music that have performed on the Farm Aid stage over the years is impressive. Artists such as Billy Joel, Elton John, Bob Dylan, Alan Jackson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Emmylou Harris, George Jones and so many others have donated their time to perform at Farm Aid to encourage others to provide a monetary donation to help sustain the family farming system.

In 2001, Dave Matthews joined Farm Aid's Board of Directors, sitting with long-time members Willie Nelson, John Mellancamp and Neil Young. I recall the words Willie has said many times over the years when it comes to these concerts and the Farm Aid organization as a whole. Willie has said he doesn't like the fact that they have to do these shows. He's felt in the past that the government has let down the family farmer in favor of big business. Willie has also said that he and his compatriots will continue to hold the Farm Aid shows and carry on the organization as long as their is a need for someone to stand up for the family farm.

It may sound fluffy to say it here, but the world really is a better place for having Willie Nelson in it. A man of the people, he has never let his celebrity go to his head. He is not ashamed to stand up for those that are not always in the best position to have their voices heard. There is no doubt in my mind that the weight to bear by the family farmer in the United States is that much lighter because of the work that Willie Nelson, along with John Mellancamp, Neil Young and Dave Matthews, have done. 25 years is a long time to be dedicated to any one cause. It is a rare and very special accomplishment when you reach that milestone. Congratulations to Farm Aid. It's a shame that it still needs to exist. But when organizations like Farm Aid exist, the silver lining comes from seeing the results from hard work and kindness. It gives a chance for the good side of humanity to take center stage for a change, to effect change.

This years Farm Aid had another great cross-section of music. Mainstays like Willie, John, Neil and Dave performed, along with great Americana artists the Band of Horses, the Bodeans and Amos Lee. Longtime Willie Nelson friends Norah Jones and Kenny Chesney lent their star power to the show as well.

To learn more about Farm Aid, its history, its purpose and to make a donation (if you wish), please check out their fantastic web site,

If you wish to see live performances from Farm Aid this year, as well as years' past, check out their youtube site, which is

And hey, if you get the chance, swing by your local farmers market and pick up some of your weekly produce and/or meats if you can. You'll be glad you did, and you'll be supporting the very people this concert is designed to benefit.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ragweed Thursday -- Take 2!

Welcome to the first chapter in our new weekly series celebrating the great Texas/Oklahoma band Cross Canadian Ragweed. There are many of you out there whom I know have heard of this excellent, rockin' alt-country/Americana band. The goal of this weekly series is to celebrate the accomplishments of this band and, hopefully, introduce those of you who are not familiar with Ragweed's music to a wonderful body of work. This weekly series is leading up to the bands' final show at Joe's Bar in Chicago, Illinois on October 22. We were supposed to start last week but due to technical difficulties, that didn't happen.

Born in 1994 in Yukon, Oklahoma, lead singer Cody Canada and fellow musicians Grady Cross, Randy Ragsdale and Jeremy Plato later moved to the bustling music scene of Stillwater, Oklahoma. Thanks to their relentless touring, scorching live sets and stellar material in the mid to late-1990's, the band developed a solid following amongst the college crowd. They released three albums on their own independent record label, all of which sold quite well. Their success was significant enough to garner attention from a new major record label that was opening up in Nashville, Universal South Records.

The release of their self-titled debut album in 2002 on Universal South sold moderately well, considering that there were no real radio hits to come off the album. It wasn't until their 2004 album entitled "Soul Gravy" that the country began to take notice of this unique band. Truly at the time, there was no other band out there that sounded anything like Ragweed. I can remember sitting at home one weekend afternoon and having Country Music Television (CMT) on and hearing them talk about this new band releasing a new video with Lee Ann Womack. This was my first introduction to Cross Canadian Ragweed. And man, what an introduction. I instantly had a good feeling about these guys, like they could be the next big thing, exactly what country music needed at the time.

The single “Sick and Tired”, featuring the aforementioned Lee Ann Womack on harmony vocals, was the first single to chart reasonably well for Cross Canadian Ragweed. Surprisingly though, it didn’t become a top 40 hit, peaking at #46. The next single, "Alabama", would meet the same fate. To me, this didn't make sense. The songs were strong, perhaps in more ways than one. The writing was fantastic, the guitars stellar, but perhaps the subject matter was a little too much for the consultants at country radio. They appear to shy away from touchy subject material like prostitution and substance abuse, which is the subject matter of "Sick and Tired." Still though, the album was their best selling album to date, debuting at #4 on the Billboard Country Albums Chart.

If I've ever had a beef with country radio, this was a perfect example. A great song performed by excellent artists. An album that's a best seller, which means the people are buying the records, which in turn means they want to hear the music. Country radio doesn't play the said artists music because apparently some consultant said the material is a touch subject and people don't want to hear it. Yet the people are buying the records by the boatload. It made no sense to me then, it makes no sense to me now. Cross Canadian Ragweed isn't the first group to be caught up in this mix and they won't be the last, but that's a column for another day.

The "Soul Gravy" album is a great introduction to this group. When I talk about touchy subject matter, "Sick and Tired" isn't the only track that moves over some shady ground. "Cold Hearted Woman" is a heavy, rockin' song that involves sex, lies and homicide ... all three long-standing topics in the country music/alt-country/Americana genres. True love and dedication appear on this album with the aforementioned "Alabama", and for fans of the Red Dirt/Texas music scene, the guys perform a tune written by the great Ray Wylie Hubbard.

The album is available at your local record store, or pick it up on or from the bands' web site. We'll move on to the next album and a little further up the timeline next week as we move through our Ragweed Thursday series. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Album Review: Justin Townes Earle -- Harlem River Blues

Harlem River Blues, the third album released by Justin Townes Earle on Chicago's Bloodshot Records, has been available at your favorite record store for a couple of weeks. Released on September 14, 2010, mere days before Earle's widely publicized legal and substance troubles, this album serves to further establish Earle as one of the premier, up-and-coming acts in Americana and alt-country today. Not shocking, when you consider he's the son of the "Hardcore Troubadour" himself, Steve Earle, and his stepmother is Allison Moorer. Co-produced by Earle, this album has stellar musicians backing up JTE, with Jason Isbell on guitar and fellow producer Skylar Wilson on the keys.

The title track opens up the album. "Harlem River Blues" is a raucous opening tune, just full of righteous glory. A great song about redemption and finding salvation.

Following Harlem River is "One More Night in Brooklyn" a very simple and understated tune. Some great musicianship here, not too much on the electric side. Adding the upright bass and cello is a beautiful addition to this soft story song.

Listening to the third track,"Move Over Mama", brought back some memories from my childhood, listening to what is now the old, classic country music. This tune could easily find itself on a playlist with rockabilly greats like Carl Perkins or Johnny Cash.

"Working for the MTA" is a great homage to the old train songs of Woody Guthrie and Townes Van Zant. This time however, the subject train is a New York subway train, and the main character is a subway driver. Another great story song that Woody and Justin's namesake would be proud of.

"Wanderin'" is another gem on this great album that could easily find itself on a Great Big Sea album, what with its Celtic/Newfoundland/East Coast vibe. Perhaps the most fun song on the album.

"Slippin' and Slidin'" adds a little blues element to the album, mixed with a little New Orleans flavor. A horn section adds a really nice touch to this tune.

"Christchurch Woman" is a tune about lost and unrequited love, something a lot of us can relate to. The picture that is painted in this song is a melancholy scene that can invoke a lot of sympathy for the main character. A very well written song indeed.

"Learning to Cry" is another song in the old, classic country style. And why not, after all classic country music is the forerunner of modern day Americana/alt-country. A song about love and loss, heartbreak and heartache.

"Ain't Waitin'" starts off quiet enough, but turns into a great rockabilly/blues song. The slide guitar of Jason Isbell lends greatly to this blues element. This could be the coolest song on this album.

However it is the final track on the album, "Rogers Park", that could be the best performance on Harlem River. With Skylar Wilson's excellent piano work showing the way on this tune, again with excellent slide guitar from Jason Isbell, Justin Townes Earle turns in his strongest performance. His voice is in excellent form on this tune he co-wrote with Scotty Melton.

It's no secret that there is much love in the blogosphere for Justin Townes Earle. It's not an easy task for a performer of any stripe to become a critical and/or commercial success. When you're Justin Townes Earle it's that much more difficult, given his pedigree. Just ask Hank Williams Jr. if it was tough following in the footsteps of his father ... all Hank Sr. did was pioneer modern music as we know it today. Having said that, Justin Townes Earle is the real deal. He has the goods. If anyone was wondering if his material can stand up to that of his famous father, listen to this album and judge for yourself. Regardless of whether or not he has the lengthy career or achieves the status of his dad, in my mind, this album stands up with anything his dad has produced. Justin Townes Earle is a talent, my friends. If I'm putting together a top ten list for 2010, this album is firmly entrenched on it.

You can purchase this album and listen to free samples on
For more information on Justin Townes Earle log on to
For more information on other Bloodshot Records artists log on to

Monday, September 27, 2010

With Apologies ...

... for the inconvenience. I had a completed column on Friday night to kick off our series on Cross Canadian Ragweed. As I went to post it, somehow the system kicked me back out to the login screen. I hit the back button to take me to the column and an error message pops up. I curse. I go back to the login page, sign back in. I go to the history section on the site where you can access drafts and past columns. I see the column is listed. I think, "Sweet ..." so I click on it ... only to find the title "Ragweed Thursday on a Friday" has been saved. The rest is a blank space. The entire column was wiped out, lost in cyberspace somewhere. Needless to say, it was not a good time. So, now I'm back and I'm ready to write, so here's what's going on here for the next couple of columns.

Tomorrow night, I'll be doing the long-promised track-by-track review of the latest release on Bloodshot Records from Justin Townes Earle, Harlem River Blues. Trust me folks, this is a great album that deserves your time. As mentioned last week, JTE is taking some time off the road to take care of that monkey that's on his back. He's a phenomenal talent that deserves a second chance, and we continue to wish him well in his recovery. It's only the beginning, so let's keep Mr. Earle in our prayers, it's not an easy road that he's on right now.

Thursday night, we're going to kick off our series on Cross Canadian Ragweed. Granted, it's a week after the original launch date, but we won't get in to that anymore. Computers can be a real pain in the tail, but they do keep us all in touch with one another. Hell, if it weren't for computers, we wouldn't be sitting here writing, thinking and/or talking about great music! It's the continued goal of this site and column to talk about those artists who don't receive the mainstream recognition that they so richly deserve, so thanks as always for checking this blog out. I hope you find it informative and interesting. But most of all, I hope some of you are visiting the artist web sites, purchasing their albums and, if possible, attending their shows. There is a lot of talent in Americana. You certainly don't need to drop a couple hundred dollars on a stadium show to be entertained. For a fraction of the price, the artists in Americana will entertain you in spades. Be sure to check some of these folks out as they pass through your area. To my friends in Europe, these artists are over visiting your countries all the time, so no one is left out!

So please come back for a visit tomorrow for our look at JTE's new album, and we'll set up the too-long delayed kick-off to Ragweed Thursday's! We're less than 4 weeks to the final show, so we gotta get on this thing!

Thank you and good night!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Ragweed Thursday on a Friday!

Ragweed Thursday on a Friday will be up shortly. We experience a technical difficulty which led to the complete column being lost in transmission as it was being posted.

Justin Townes Earle: Update

Hello everyone,

As an update to my last column regarding the alleged incident with Justin Townes Earle in Indianapolis, his management has issued a press release stating that Mr. Earle has cancelled the remaining 21 dates on his current tour and has entered a rehab facility in an effort to control his substance abuse. The next article I write about Justin Townes Earle will be the album review, and that should be up tomorrow. It's time to get back to talking about the music with JTE. We wish Justin Townes Earle all the best in his recovery and applaud and congratulate him on taking this first brave step.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


The intention of today's column was to do an album review of the brand new Justin Townes Earle album, Harlem River Blues. The Bloodshot records was released on September 14, 2010 and on my first few listens, I can safely say this is a great record. JTE sounds to be in great voice, and you can't miss when you have Jason Isbell on guitar and Bryn Davies supporting with the upright bass. This is a great sounding record with songs that are very well written and very well performed.

However, something caught my eye today that caught me by surprise. Various media outlets have reported that Justin Townes Earle was arrested last Thursday following a disturbance after his show in Indianapolis. According to the media, Earle was heckled by a couple of fans. One of the fans requested a song for Earle to sing, unfortunately it wasn't a JTE song ... it was "Freebird", by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Understandably, Earle became quite upset by this request. The floodgates appeared to be opened at this point, at another fan requested Earle take off his shirt, while another threw their shirt at the stage. The shirt landed on Earle's guitar. According to the media, Earle uttered an expletive to the crowd, left the stage and in a drunken rage, proceed to trash his dressing room. The club's owners called police and JTE was subsequently charged with assault and battery.

Now, all of these are allegations that have yet to be proven in court, so I'm not here to judge Justin Townes Earle. However, if this incident at the Radio Radio club in Indianapolis happened as reported, then there are two things at play here. First and most obvious, JTE could have handled this thing differently. No matter how bad the fans get, a performer has to maintain their cool in some fashion. Nothing is stopping them from cutting the show off early, packing up the van or the bus, and heading to the bar across town for a few drinks with the band and crew. Second and equally important, the fans have to take equal heat on this one. If you're going to spend your money on tickets and booze to see a show, then turn around and heckle and agitate the artist you and countless others have paid to see, why the hell show up? As a fan, you're a disgrace and you drag everybody down around you. I'm sure we've all been there, when we're watching a show, everybody's into it, and some wannabe comedian has to start taking shots at the performer. It kills the vibe in the room every time. So to you fans who think you're funny and the life of the party by heckling the stage, the only advice for you is to either (a) shut up, drink your beer and watch the show; or (b) keep your sorry tail at home. You're not funny. You're a pain in the ass. You kill the room. Stay home.

Sometimes these things need to be said.

Justin Townes Earle will be playing the Horseshoe Tavern in my hometown of Toronto, Ontario Canada on October 15, 2010. I will be there, and I will provide a review of the show in this space. I'm quite looking forward to the show, the Horseshoe is one of the great live music venues in Canada. Tomorrow there will be a special entry to this space. A track by track review of JTE's Harlem River Blues will be here, so please check back tomorrow.

Thanks to everyone who has been reading this blog, it's nice to see there are some of you out there. I've noticed readers from all over the world, from Denmark, to the United States, France and my native Canada. Thanks everyone for reading, it's a great thrill to know you have visited the blog and that you like what you see. Feel free to leave a comment, say hello or send a message to, especially if there is artist you like that you would like me to write about or an album you would like me to review. And of course, as great a compliment as it is for you to have visited this blog and returned another time, referring this blog to your friends for their enjoyment is equally heartening. Thanks again friends!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Taboo Topics

Last week, while I was home sick from work, I came across a replay of the MTV Video Music Awards. The opening number for that particular awards show was the recent duet with Eminem and Rhianna. Now for those who are regular readers of this blog, you may be wondering "Why the hell is this guy writing about Eminem and Rhianna? They are as far removed from Americana and country music as you can possibly get." And, you would be right, they are as far removed from Americana and country music as you can get. But, that does not mean that they aren't relevant performers and artists. Quite frankly, Americana and country music artists could take some notes from Eminem. Let me explain.

For the purposes of this writing, I'm going to submit to you that the forerunners of what is now known as the Americana/alt-country genre were artists like Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and the like. At one point in time, these artists recorded for the major labels of the day in Nashville and were more or less forced to toe the line as to what they had to record. In other words, they recorded what they were told to record as opposed to what they wanted to record. They were recording someone else's words, instead of what they wanted to say. Waylon's battles with RCA records in the early 1970's have been well documented and it is well known that Waylon won the war. The music business in Nashville was never the same after that. Waylon had full creative control and could record whatever he wanted, regardless of the subject matter. The "Outlaw Movement" had prevailed.

One of the things that turned me off of listening to mainstream country and turned me on to listening to Americana and alt-country is, you can hear and feel the same independence and creative control that Waylon et al created in the 1970's. There is no set formula, there is no keeping an artist in a safety net. Artists are encouraged to step out of their comfort zone and say what they feel needs to be said with no apologies. I like that.

The duet with Eminem and Rhianna reminds me a lot of the music that came out of Nashville following the Outlaw Movement. Their duet deals with, sadly, an all too common subject matter, that of domestic abuse. The narrator of the story, Eminem's part, is from the male abuser perspective. Watching their performance on the MTV Awards, I listened to the lyrics for the first time. It's a powerful song, very well written and very well performed. Eminem does the impossible performing this song, as he successfully portray's the abuser into a somewhat sympathetic figure. The man wants to stop the abusing and the lying. Sadly, he knows he's lying and once he convinces the lady in this song to come back, he knows right away that he will abuse again. This song has become a runaway hit on more than one Billboard chart.

Such songs use to be the norm in mainstream country. They used to make you think, they used to make you feel something, they used to make you step out of your comfort zone. When you get the chance, listen to Waylon's Jennings perform "Cedartown, Georgia." If you do, you will be listening to one of Waylon's most haunting performances. It is a tremendous story. Story songs such as this are essentially absent from the mainstream country music airwaves.

Thankfully, there are some artists who still push the envelope. I heard a song on the radio today by a gentleman named Chris Knight, from the great state of Texas. His song titled "Rita's Only Fault" again deals with the issue of domestic abuse, only from a friend's helpless point of view. The main character is an admirer of Rita, who has married someone else ... clearly, someone who does not treat her well. The story does take a tragic twist, and that's all I'll say about it. Check it out, it's a great song.

Jamey Johnson picks up the torch as well. The lead song on his first Mercury Records album, That Lonesome Song, was titled "High Cost of Living." The song covered such unsavory topics as cocaine abuse and soliciting prostitutes. This was the follow-up single to "In Color", which won the Song of the Year at the 2008 Country Music Association Awards. "High Cost of Living" barely cracked the top 40 on Billboard's country chart. A clear indication of mainstream country's propensity to avoid taboo topics in their art form.

Thankfully, there are artists in the Americana and alt-country movement that have been granted the creative freedom to write and perform their material regardless of subject matter. When you have an artist like Paul Thorn, who's latest release is titled "Pimps and Preachers", you know you're going to go to some shady places during the course of that album. With artists like Paul, along with Chris Knight, Jamey Johnson, Steve Earle and his son Justin Townes Earle, it's safe to say the Outlaw Movement lives on.

I think Waylon would be proud.