Sunday, January 23, 2011

Grammy Nominee Number 1 -- Roseanne Cash, "The List"

With the upcoming Grammy Awards on February 13, now is the time we start to look at the albums nominated in the category of Best Americana Album. The first such album in this series, is the 2009 Manhattan Records' release of "The List" by Roseanne Cash.

The story of how this album came about has been well documented over the past couple of years. Roseanne Cash, the singer-songwriter who happens to be the daughter of the iconic Johnny Cash, was touring with her famous daughter before breaking out on her own successful music career. Roseanne would receive a list of 100 essential songs in country music from her father, that Johnny stated was her "education" if she wished to be successful in her endeavor. The List is the first 12-song volume of what will ultimately be a re-recording of all 100 songs on Johnny's list to Roseanne. (There is no set date for the release of other recordings -- this is based on past interviews where Roseanne states she will eventually record all of the songs on the list.)

The songs contained on this album are timeless classics indeed. All of them are given first rate treatment by Roseanne, with stellar support from producer and musician John Leventhal. Among the standout tracks are the Hal David and Paul Hampton written, and made famous by another hit songwriter Don Gibson, "Sea of Heartbreak." The soft understated production mixed with guest vocals from Bruce Springsteen take this version of the classic song to another level. Elvis Costello contributes his unique and excellent vocals to another classic, written by the great Harlan Howard, "Heartaches by the Number", originally a hit for Ray Price.

I would say that the two standout tracks from this album are the interpretations of the Hank Cochran-written, made famous by Patsy Cline, "She's Got You" and the written and performed by Hank Snow, "I'm Movin' On." Both of these tracks receive excellent re-works in a more jazz forum, and the interpretation pays off. An honorable mention goes to the classic hit made famous by Lefty Frizzell, "Long Black Veil." This song has been recorded enough times over the years by a littany of artists, but Roseanne Cash nails this track. Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin, the writers of "Long Black Veil" would be very proud of this interpretation, as would Lefty.

When listening to "The List" one needs to understand that the intent of this recording is not to receive airplay at country radio and run the songs up and down the charts. Roseanne Cash has long-since abandoned those days of recording album after album that was made for radio. This album is the first in a series of projects to capture and preserve new interpretations of the 100 songs her famous father stated would be her education if she were to make a serious run at being a recording artist. For this first volume, Roseanne is at the top of her game and the top of the class.

"The List" is the first album to be profiled in our series of the Best Americana Album at this year's Grammy's and it is a very strong contender to win this award. Look for it in your favorite record store, or order online at Amazon.

Next up, Willie Nelson's "Country Music"

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Jayhawks in Toronto -- January 18, 2011

This past Tuesday January 11, 2011, I had the good fortune to attend The Jayhawks show at the Phoenix Concert Theatre in Toronto, Ontario. My knowledge of Jayhawks music is quite limited, so going to this show was more of an exploratory mission for me. I am aware of The Jayhawks place in Americana/alt-country, in that they are one of the pioneering groups of the genre. They have been around since the early-to-mid 1980's, so their longevity speaks volumes. A group has to be good if they're going to be around for 25 years, and still going strong.

When I arrived at the Phoenix, the first thing that struck me was the crowd. The makeup of the crowd was what one might expect, a good mix of older and young, former teenagers and young adults of the '80's mixed in with the college and university students of today. The one thing that I didn't expect at all was the size of the crowd. Not because I didn't think the Jayhawks were not a good band, but because the show was on a Tuesday night in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in January, with typical Canadian January weather. The place was filled to the rafters. It was at that point I realized that I'm going to be in for a great show.

And a great show is what I got. Opening up with "Tomorrow the Green Grass", The Jayhawks rolled through one crowd favorite after another. Taking selections off of their albums over the years, the biggest sing-along in Toronto was in full swing. Their music brought back memories of an old friend of mine who was and still is in to the whole Americana/alt-country thing years ago when I met him in the mid-90's. The music I heard this past Tuesday was the same type of music I heard at many of his house parties on Saturday night some 17 years ago. It felt good to reminisce about those days while watching the college and university students live through their musical moments now.

There is no question that The Jayhawks have staying power. 25 years after their debut album, they are now hitting the road for what looks to be an extended tour for the first time since 2005. Lead guitarist and vocalist Gary Louris alerted the Toronto crowd that the Phoenix Concert Theatre show was the first show on their tour. It's a very auspicious place to play. The Phoenix has played host to many famous and not-so-famous artists over the years, most notably The Rolling Stones -- the Stones come to Toronto to rehearse for their world tours. Their "dress rehearsal" is typically at a club like the Phoenix or The Horseshoe Tavern where they play to a small but packed house. The fact that The Jayhawks were able to fill the Phoenix on a snowy, icy Tuesday night in Toronto says a lot about the quality of this band and their fans. The show was fantastic, I can't imagine this group has missed a beat since they're coming off an extended break.

Mr. Louris let the crowd know that The Jayhawks will be back in Toronto this summer, as they tour to promote a new album that is coming out later this year (summer or fall). I guarantee I will be more educated on The Jayhawks music by that time and I will be in attendance at that show. Check out the Jayhawks five-city tour page to find out when they play in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and their hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Good night from snowy Ontario, Canada!

C'mon People ...

I’ve written about Chely Wright twice before in this space, once for her album review and on her courage for “coming out” and telling the world that she is the first openly gay country music singer. In that article, I wrote about how strong I felt this woman was, about the rebirth that she must be feeling and about how I hoped that her career would take on the focus that it once had when she was a frequent hit maker on the country charts. For Chely Wright, it was a new beginning in so many ways:Musically, professionally and spiritually. Sadly, with some new beginnings that seems so positive, the negative is never far behind.

I read an article published by QMI Agency where Chely Wright has said that since she has come out with her sexuality, her album sales have dropped and, more seriously, death threats have been received. Some long time fans have turned their back on her. All I can think of in this scenario is “what the hell is wrong with some people?”

Is this not 2011? Do people really have that much time on their hands as to be that concerned about the sexuality of an individual as to threaten them with their very life, simply because that persons’ sexual preference doesn’t match their own? For gods sake people … settle down and get a grip. If you’re upset because she broke Brad Paisley’s heart, you can relax from that one too.While I empathize with what happened to the Country Music Association’s reigning Entertainer of the Year , he’s a big boy and has moved on just fine. So too, and rightly so, has Chely Wright.Everybody has moved on from the past, so let’s carry on folks.

If you read the previous article, you would also note that I had hoped that the biggest story coming out of Chely Wright’s honesty would be the music. The album, Lifted Off the Ground, is fantastic.The music has an honesty to it that you will not hear anywhere else. She has essentially written her story in a neat package of song, brought to life by the ever capable and legendary Rodney Crowell.It’s a first rate album that deserves to be heard. It’s too bad that some people can see past their own negative feelings and just let the music tell the story. If you’ve had your heart broken, if you’ve grieved a lost relationship, if you’ve ever found yourself and are proud of the person you have turned out to be, you will appreciate this album. All of the emotions are there in raw form.

To her credit, Chely Wright is once again rising above this challenge. She has become another strong voice to bring change in how a certain element in the world views the gay and lesbian community. I have never met Chely Wright. I have always been a fan of Chely Wright’s music. She arrived on the scene when I was in college. Her music now shows a maturity that comes with living.It’s something that I, for one, can easily understand. We’re fairly close in age, pocketing lots of life experience along the way. Although our lifestyles are different, I found myself relating to Lifted Off the Ground in a way that only life experience can allow. Sexual orientation doesn’t matter when you’re dealing with the emotions dealt with this album. Love and pain, joy and hurt are universal emotions, everybody feels them at some point. For the younger set, it’s a text book on some of life’s lessons. I encourage you to go out and purchase this album. I believe it’s an important album that deserves to be heard. If it can help one person deal with any confusion, any pain or any joy, then this album will have done its job.

As long as this space is up and running, Chely Wright will have a supporter in her corner. What she did mere months ago took an incredible amount of guts and bravery. I said it back then too, as we move forward let’s make this about the music, not an artists sexuality. At the end of the day, it’s really not our business, so turn the music up and let’s get on with life.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Grammy Awards Approach

The nominees for the 2010 Grammy Awards were announced in stellar fashion last month, with the big celebratory concert that was broadcast on CBS Television. The Grammy's are unique in the music industry, in that they honor music they feel stands out artistically, as opposed to album sales or how well the single charted. It goes without saying that every awards show has some degree of politics when it comes to voting and selection, and I'm sure the Grammy awards are no different in that regard. But I've always respected the Recording Academy (the body which governs the Grammy Awards) for the fact that the "music is art" philosophy is top of mind. A perfect example rests in the country music category, with Jamey Johnson's "Macon" and Gretchen Wilson's "I'd Love to Be Your Last" nominated in the Best Male and Best Female Country Vocal Performance categories respectively. Neither of these singles charted particularly well, yet they are two of the finest singles that were released to radio this year. Jamey Johnson's "The Guitar Song" album is one of the best albums of any year, never mind 2010, but that's another column for another day.

Last year for the first time in Grammy Awards history, an award for the Best Americana Album was introduced, further evidence that the Americana genre continues to grow and gain recognition. There have been awards that have encompassed pieces of the Americana pie, such as the Best Bluegrass Album and the Best Traditional Folk Album categories, but last year was the first to recognize Americana as a standalone category. Last year's nominees were Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel, Wilco, Lucinda Willams, and winner Levon Helm, for his album Electric Dirt.

This year's nominations list is no less impressive. Over the next few weeks that will lead up to the Grammy's, we'll be spotlighting the albums that are nominated in the Best Americana Album category for 2010. Some albums I have had the great pleasure of listening to at least some of their tracks, if not the entire album. A couple of them I have not listened to at all, so I'm looking forward to becoming acquainted with this now-honored music. In addition, there are albums by artists in other Americana-based categories that will be highlighted in this space, if for no other reason that I like them and would like to share them with you.

So, without further adieu, here are the nominees for the Best Americana Album at the 53rd AnnualGrammy Awards, which will be broadcast on the CBS television network in North America on February 13, 2011 8pm Eastern time. Check your television listings, or watch live online if you are reside in a country other than the United States or Canada.

The nominees are:

Roseanne Cash, The List

Los Lobos, Tin Can Trust

Willie Nelson, Country Music

Robert Plant and the Band of Joy, Band of Joy

Mavis Staples, You Are Not Alone

We're off and running in 2011! First up on Tuesday is The List, from the great Roseanne Cash.
Until then, enjoy the rest of your weekend everyone!

A proud member of:

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


Hi Readers,

This is just a quick line to thank all of you for this blog reaching 1,000 visits!! Thank you so much for stopping by and checking this out. I mostly want to thank all of you for coming back and passing this site along to your friends, I'm thrilled and thankful for your interest.

This was great news to receive tonight as my boys from Canada lost the gold medal game at the World Junior Hockey Championship 5 -3 to Russia. While it may be a sad night in this household, I send my heartfelt congratulations to the Russian junior mens hockey team, the readers in Russia (yes, we have some!) and of course, my fellow Canadians on the Canadian junior mens hockey team. There is a lot to be said for a silver medal and most of it, are good things. You represented our country well boys, keep your chin up and take care.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Hello, 2011!!

Hello Readers, how are you doing? It's the first post for 2011, and I'm excited about the New Year. 2010 was a bit of a bear in some circles of life, but this space is about the music and I think 2010 offered up some exciting moments and music.

2010 saw the debut of this blog, which was something I started back in May. How this all came about was quite innocent. I readily admit I am a subscriber to XM Radio which, fortunately, opened up a lot of doors to a wide variety of music. And so it happened, on this day in April 2010, my girlfriend and I were driving around some part of Ontario, Canada, and we were listening to The Highway, which is channel 16 on XM. Having listened to country music my whole life, I have maintained my love affair for the genre. However, this love affair has been strained in recent years, at least on my end (I'm sure the industry could really care less that it's strained ... I'm just a country music geek who will still probably buy some records, and they're right. It's just no longer the kind of country music records they were counting on). The breaking point for me was a tune that raced to number 1 on the country charts last year called "I'm a Little More Country Than That." With respect to the writers and the performer of this song, this song did nothing for me, and I'm being really nice here. It is the one song that pushed me to tune in to the Outlaw Country channel, XM 12, on a more permanent basis. The first song I heard was from this group that I had known about for a while, but didn't know much about, and that group was Cross Canadian Ragweed. It struck me as something completely crazy, that Ragweed was never able to garner a major hit, yet there is so much music on the mainstream channel making serious money, getting serious promotion, really serious face-time, that is so completely not "there" in my eyes. To sum it up, this blog was born because I got pissed off.

I started listening, really listening to the artists on the Outlaw channel. These are artists that you won't hear on mainstream radio, for whatever reason, but who cares. This is music that deserves to be heard, and that's the purpose of this blog. I know I have said this before in previous posts, but I think at the dawn of a new year, it's important to reiterate this point as we look forward to 2011 and beyond. What are some of the things we can look forward to? What are the goals?

I know we can look forward to a lot of great music, a lot of wonderful tours and festivals, and the continued growth of the Americana genre. It is the hottest, fastest growing musical genre in the world today. For this site, we can look forward to upcoming reviews and follow-up posts on Justin Townes Earle and Wade Bowen, as they perform shows on back-to-back nights in Chicago. This site will continue to promote the artists in the genre's of Americana and Texas music as best as possible. The goals are ever expanding and always with the music in mind. I want this blog to reach out to as many readers as possible, to share and acquire knowledge of the artists and music that deserve to be heard. Plans are in the works to expand what is offered here. The goal for this year is to introduce this site to the Americana music community and offer its resources to promote and get the music out to the people.

Another goal that is no less important, is to get you, the reader, involved. If there is an artist out there who is playing away in a bar night after night, plying their trade and rocking the house, send me links, literature and music from them. I would be thrilled to talk about them in this space, engage in conversation with you. This space has always been about interaction with the reader, and it is my great hope to expand that aspect of what we have here. As always, feel free to drop a line to Let's talk music people, it's a beautiful thing and much more interesting than politics and religion.

I hope everyone is looking forward to a wonderful and prosperous 2011. I thank you for your time and continued support of this blog, we're closing in on 1,000 visits! I wish all the best to you and your families in the New Year, take care everyone!