Monday, July 26, 2010

Jamboree In The Hills -- Musical Variety At Its Finest

Recently, I had the great pleasure of attending the Super Bowl of Country Music, Jamboree in the Hills. This four day festival in the Ohio Valley countryside has been taking place for 34 years and often draws crowds of over 100,000 screaming country music fans. This excursion has been a ritual of mine for 14 years and counting.

This show has been a summer tradition for myself and many friends that I meet up with from the great city of Erie, Pennsylvania. We meet up with many more friends at our hotel in St. Clairsville, Ohio and have a family reunion of sorts for 4 or 5 days. Pool parties, laughter, enough beer consumption to give a person tennis elbow and great country music are the order of the day(s). If you haven't been, I encourage you to go, you will thank me time and again, I promise. You will see things at this festival that you cannot describe. As one of my friends has said time and again while we're there, "You can't make this s**t up." He's right.

The music is first rate. There is something there for every taste, ranging from mainstream country, to bluegrass, to folk, to classic country and southern rock. In recent years, many independent artists are featured on the big stage, which is a welcome addition. This year, Colt Ford and the Band Perry stood out among the independent crowd. For me though, this year's highlight was an artist who is signed to a major label in Nashville, but I believe is in tough to get much country radio airplay. Thankfully, that doesn't bother this particular artist.

Jamey Johnson is something of an enigma. He has written hits for such mainstream acts as George Strait and Trace Adkins, yet his own sound is not something that you would find geared to country radio. It sounds to me, like he's recording for the music, for the art. How's that for a novel concept?

Making music for the art of it all and not for commercial gain or radio airplay, to me is truly honorable. The artist must have a deep and true appreciation for their craft. Johnson's performance at Jamboree in the Hills was my first experience in listening to his craft. He is unlike any other performer or songwriter out there in music today. I have rarely seen nor heard an artist who simply walks out on stage, waves his hand to the crowd, and sings whatever he damn well pleases. Johnson's set opened up with his top 40 country hit, "High Cost of Living", which can be found on his classic masterpiece album, "That Lonesome Song." From there, Johnson took the crowd on a proverbial lesson in the history of country music. Ranging from covers of Merle Haggard and George Jones, he closed with his award winning story song "In Color". If you are a country music nerd like me, this was absolute heaven. This man even covered two songs by The Voice, Vern Gosdin. I love Vern Gosdin, I never thought I would hear an artist cover his tunes in a show. The crowd was treated to Gosdin classics "Is It Raining At Your House" and "Set 'Em Up Joe", a top ten and a number one song respectively for Vern Gosdin in 1988 and 1989.

My goal now is to find Jamey Johnson's album, pick it up and review it in this spot. Mostly, I want the album because I'm now a huge mark for Jamey Johnson. I admire what he's doing for country music. He is keeping the history of this great art form alive and paying homage to those who have paved the way for so many great artists who have followed. In my mind, Jamey Johnson is an artist everyone should be paying attention to, both mainstream country and independent Americana artists. He plays what he wants, when he wants, and offers very little compromise in his artistry.

He is the real deal. So is Jamboree in the Hills.

Check out both at and

You will not be disappointed by either.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Album Review: Chely Wright -- Lifted Off The Ground, Indeed

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column for this blog regarding the Chely Wright's public revelation of her homosexuality. I said then and I'll say it again now, I have a lot of respect and admiration for Chely's bravery and desire to stand up for herself and what she believes in. Everyone deserves the opportunity to be happy in life. It's what we as individuals do with that opportunity that determines our direction in life. Chely has charted a new path for herself spiritually, personally, and now with the release of her new album Lifted Off The Ground, musically.

Released on June 10, 2010 on Vanguard Records, this album takes Chely on a deep, personal and often painful journey. Only someone who has lived through the subject matter contained in this 11 song collection, could write something that evokes such an emotional roller coaster. For us as listeners, we should all thank Chely Wright for getting her thoughts on paper and piecing together this wonderful album. Such honesty is so refreshing. Quite frankly, Lifted Off The Ground is one of the best albums I've heard in years.

The lead track on the album is "Broken." It sets the stage for one of the over-arching themes of the next half hour or so as you listen to Chely lay out her recent life story. This record is about hurt, struggle, pain and ultimate strength and redemption. "Broken" is about two people who have been in relationships previously, only to be left hurting in the end. The story in "Broken" talks about how these two people can take a relationship to the next step, trying to get past the previous pain. The song resonates because most everyone has been in this position at some point in their lives.

"Hang Out In Your Heart" is a beautiful ode to two people who have discovered their feelings for each other and are trying to find a way to work out their feelings as individuals and together.

"Heavenly Days" is a song co-written with the great Rodney Crowell, who is also the producer on this album. Although it's not my favorite song from the album, it is a very well written and performed song that speaks to the constant birth of a new day. A new day that should be embraced always.

"Notes to the Coroner" is a song like I've never heard before. Only someone who has been in this position in life could write something with such honesty. Just a startling piece of work.

"Snow Globe" can only be compared to the type of scattered thinking that comes with a traumatic experience. It's a uniquely written song and performed admirably.

"Like Me" is an open book and a clearly personal song that Chely simply had to write and record. It seems to this listener that writing this song was a necessary part of the healing process for Chely Wright with respect to her previous relationship. With only two acoustic guitars and a background vocalist accompanying Chely, that makes this song the most poignant on the record.

"That Train" is a simple story of leaving it all behind. Great song.

Up next is the song with the most attitude, and I love it . "Damn Liar" is what everyone would love to say to a lover who won't leave well enough alone when the relationship is all over with. This is a tune that resonates with sheer anger. The ultimate F-U tune, just awesome. I can't help but think how liberating it must have been to write this tune. All I can say is, "well done!"

"Wish Me Away" shows a vulnerability that we've all experienced at a time in our lives, when one or more parties of a relationship that's ended has second thoughts about how it all came undone ... and was it the right thing to do.

As I listen to the next track, "Object of Your Rejection," I can't help but wonder who the hell Chely Wright was with that spawned this tune and really, this whole album. Not only who the hell she was with, but why she was with her ... the subject of this song sounds like a ridiculous human being. Sadly, we've all known people like this.

The album closes with the beautiful and simple "Shadows of Doubt." A nice, simply arranged song about wishing a former lover all the best that the world has to offer.

This album is an important album on the musical landscape. If you're out shopping around for some outstanding music that is socially relevant in today's world, Chely Wright's "Lifted Off the Ground" is well worth your time. You can pick it up at your favorite record store, or purchase it online at

For more information on Chely Wright, including where to see Chely perform and her charitable endeavors, please check out