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: