Monday, February 28, 2011

And Another Thing ...

Hello Readers! It's a cold, cold Toronto area night tonight. I'm back in town after the Boston excursion for the Pat Green/Wade Bowen show. That show is still fresh in my mind, and I feel I have to write one last piece before putting this topic to be for a little while.

This show was my second Texas/Red Dirt music-based show. The first one was a great introduction, the final show of Cross Canadian Ragweed (check out the review here). As mentioned in my previous column, the show played by Pat Green and Wade Bowen was another fantastic night of great Texas music. But the one thing I have noticed that's consistent at both shows, is the camaraderie of the performers of the Red Dirt Trail.

I'll give you an example. When Wade Bowen finished his opening set and turned to leave the stage, he was greeted with a hug by none other than the headliner, Pat Green. About 10 minutes in to Pat's set, he did a fantastic job of putting Wade over with the crowd. Pat uttered a statement I've never heard at a concert before, where he said "I love Wade Bowen with all my heart. Wade is better ... Wade's better than me and I'm so thrilled he's here with us tonight." It's a common theme that I've noticed amongst the performers of this music scene. Cody Canada had similar kind words to say not just about Wade Bowen at their final show in Chicago, but also with fellow performers Stony Larue and Lee Ann Womack. It's a unique bond that you can tell exists between these talented musicians. I think they all know how fortunate they are to play their own brand of country/Americana/Texas/whatever style of music they want to play, in front of the most appreciative and supportive crowds I've had the pleasure to be a part of. Truly, this is something special and unique on the music scene today. It's wonderful.

The bond doesn't stop with the performers. The bond exists between the performer and the audience. For the past two columns, I've lamented the fact that Pat Green sadly hadn't connected at radio with more of his albums and single releases. But I will say this. Pat appears to be more at home playing the large clubs where he can interact with the people. His personality shone through at the House of Blues last Thursday. He was having so much fun with the band, with the crowd, with his buddy Wade, with the whole experience. I remember seeing Pat Green a number of years ago as he opened up for Kenny Chesney in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for one of Kenny's stadium shows. Pat was excellent, but the personal nature of his show wasn't there. Granted, it's tougher to be more personable in front of a half-full stadium when the bulk of the crowd is there to see Kenny Chesney. Pat was playing to about 25,000 people at that moment, not the 1,000 that was at the House of Blues. But Pat seemed more comfortable being at the House of Blues. He was allowed to be "Pat Green", or as the crowd chanted on more than one occasion, "Pat F***in' Green."

So perhaps, it's a blessing that Pat didn't strike the big time with his foray on to major record labels. He was able to take his music to a national level and certainly gained notoriety that will take him across North America to throngs of people. This is just my opinion, but I think artists like Pat Green deep down are happy their career takes them to these venues, where they can be one-on-one with the people. It's tough to do it at the big stadiums and arenas. We as fans benefit too, because I will say this, there is nothing like being at a Texas music show. It's something special, a feeling that can't really be described until you go and experience it yourself. And when you go to experience that feeling at the church that is Texas music, be sure to check out the High Priest of Texas Music, Pat Green.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Concert Review: Pat Green and Wade Bowen, House of Blues, Boston

Hello from rainy Boston, Massachusetts! I had the good fortune to attend last nights' big show at the House of Blues, right across the street from historic Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox. Who knew Boston was this close to the Toronto area ... it 's my first time in Boston and certainly won't be my last. Great city and great people.

Anyway, on to the review. Pat Green was a Texas mainstay prior to finding success on a North American level with "Wave on Wave." While he charted several top 40 hits following the initial success of "Wave on Wave", none have managed to reach the success of that top 3 song. His last top 15 single was "Dixie Lullaby", which peaked at number 12. However, someone forgot to tell the 1,000 or so in attendance last night that chart success doesn't matter. Launching in to a string of Texas country-rockin-deep-in-the-south-heartland music, the crowd was rocking with Pat all the way. Such fiery tunes as "Cannonball" and one of his radio tunes "Baby Doll" had the crowd singing along as if they were on stage. With Pat and his very talented band in good spirits, they tore the place up with stunning guitar riffs, strong vocals and great interaction with each other on stage. It is clear that Pat Green and his young charges absolutely love what they do for a living. They're sheer enjoyment of playing "Texas music" and playing before large crowds are what they live for. I would wager to guess that the size of the crowd is irrelevant, I think these guys would rock out in a coffee shop if you gave them the opportunity.

One of the highlights of Pat's set was having Wade Bowen join him on stage for a performance of the top 40 hit "Don't Break My Heart Again." I have always been a fan of that song and it still escapes me to this day that it wasn't a bigger hit than it was. However, one thing I learned last night was that the song was a co-write between Pat Green and none other than Wade Bowen. Although, as Pat described that particular writing session last night "Really, I was all f**ked up, Wade just told me what to write and I wrote it down." It's a great song and it was a great performance from the guys, as I mentioned, one of the highlights of the night.

As mentioned, opening the show last night was another Texas singer-songwriter, Wade Bowen. I've written about Wade Bowen in this space before, as he opened up for Cross Canadian Ragweed at their final performance in Chicago last October. Wade has been on the road in Texas and beyond for 13 years now, and seems to finally be getting some traction beyond the borders of the Lone Star State. He's a solid performer and a strong writer. He too, has a solid, very talented band backing him up. Playing his brand of Texas country, the appreciative crowd was soon singing along to Bowen mainstay's "Trouble" and "Matches", the latter of which went to number 1 on the Texas music chart. Two highlights from Wade's set were the melancholy "Mood Ring", which has an entirely different take on the popular novelty, as well as his more than adequate cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run." Soon after this performance, Wade closed his set and made way for the evening's headliner, Pat Green. The only downside to Wade's show may not even be in his control. At this show and the Ragweed show, I found it difficult to hear Wade's vocals. I could hear him, but it was a struggle at times as I found his microphone was overpowered by the guitars. Having said that, it's a minor inconvenience. This guy is a talented singer-songwriter. He is the real deal.

The overall energy in the room last night was bright, frenetic and contagious both on stage and off. Perhaps it's the fact that today is Texas Independence Day, and playing the night before was the beginning of one huge party. Perhaps it's the fact that these guys all love what they're doing and thank the Lord every day that performing for the people is was they get to do for a living. Perhaps it's both. One thing is for sure though, if you're reading this in the metro New York City area today, do your best to get to Terminal 5 in Manhattan tonight, as they hold their 3rd Annual Texas Independence Day Celebration, with Pat Green, Wade Bowen, Jack Ingram and others. If tonights show is anything like last nights, it will be one helluva good time.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen, Pat Green

It's been 8 years since Pat Green scored his biggest mainstream country hit, "Wave on Wave." The song is the title track from his major label debut on Republic Records, and rocketed to number 3 on the Billboard chart. In another one of those circumstances that completely escapes logic, it would be Pat Green's only foray in to the top 5 of the mainstream chart. For an artist to have only one top 5 hit to their credit, it could spell the end of a career ... or at the very least lower the bar somewhat. However, we're talking about Pat Green here ... and I know that some of you reading this now have heard of him.

Pat Green is another one of those rare birds from the great state of Texas, who could pack the Alamodome in San Antonio with 50,000 people on a given night. But once outside of the Red Dirt Trail, you'll find him playing some larger clubs to sold out audiences across the rest of the United States.

Pat Green's musical story begins in 1995, when he began performing shows in the clubs and bars around Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. With his success and following growing over time, Pat recorded and released 3 studio albums on his own label. He caught the attention of Willie Nelson, who soon featured him on his 4th of July Picnic. This would be Pat's first big break toward national stardom, as he soon gained a major sponsorship deal in Texas and was able to sell 250,000 copies of his albums ... all of this prior to signing a contract with a major record label. It wasn't until 2003, with the release of "Wave on Wave" that the rest of North America would come to know what Texas had known for nearly 10 years ... that Pat Green was a uniquely talented artist who's sound was unlike anything heard on the radio at that time (or any time, for that matter). "Wave on Wave" would reach #3, and become Pat Green's first gold album, selling over 500,000 copies.

Subsequent releases as "Lucky Ones", "Cannonball", and "What I'm For" would not spawn a chart hit as big at "Wave on Wave", although the singles "Feels Just Like it Should" and "Let Me" would come close to the top 10, peaking at number 13 and 12, respectively.

When listening to Pat Green, you're going to hear an artist who may be difficult to categorize, which is why I think he may not have had the success at radio that he should have had. If you visit Pat's web site, check out the Music section and you will be able to hear samples of all the tracks on all of his albums. This music is pure Texas country. It simply stirs up the soul, and makes you feel good listening to it.

I still believe Pat Green has a lot of success in mainstream country music ahead of him, but I believe that perhaps his greatest legacy will be the introduction to the Texas music scene to the rest of North America and the world. Were it not for Pat Green being signed by Republic Records, and later BNA Records, Cross Canadian Ragweed may not have been signed by Universal South ... Jack Ingram may not have been signed to Big Machine Records. When Pat Green was introduced to the mainstream, the whole musical world outside of the Red Dirt Trail that exists in Texas and Oklahoma was able to sit up and take notice of the great, unique music that is being produced in that region.

Pat is still promoting his fellow Texas singers on his current tour. Opening for Pat during this weeks swing through the Northeastern United States is Wade Bowen, an artist whom I've mentioned in this space previously as the opening act for Cross Canadian Ragweed's final show in Chicago in October (to read a review of that show, click here). Pat and Wade will be playing the following dates this coming week and weekend:

Washington, DC
Wednesday February 23, 2011
8:00pm Showtime

Boston, Mass.
Thursday February 24, 2011
9:00pm Showtime

New York, New York
Friday February 25, 2011
8:00 Showtime

Baltimore, Md.
Saturday February 26, 2011
8:00 Showtime

I'll be at the show in Boston this Thursday, so be on the lookout for a concert review on Friday morning from Boston, Massachusetts. Speaking of Wade Bowen, I'll be talking about him in my next piece on Wednesday as we build up to the big show on Thursday night. Take care everyone!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Eatin' Some Grammy Crow

Well, if you've been wondering what I've been doing the last couple of days since the Grammy Awards were presented on February 13 and why I haven't posted anything since then, the answer is pretty simple -- it's pretty hard to type when you're using both hands to feed yourself some crow to eat.

Of course, this is with respect to my bold prediction (which I still stand by) that Willie Nelson would win the Best Americana Album award for his "Country Music" release. The winner was Mavis Staples for her ANTI- Records release "You Are Not Alone." Having heard the title track, I can see why Ms. Staples would receive this honor, and I wholeheartedly congratulate her. My only regret is that I did not have the opportunity to preview the album in this space prior to the awards presentation. If I were a voting member, Willie would have gotten my vote, but I will say this, Mavis Staples' album will be in my collection shortly. You can count on the review coming up in a future column. Congratulations Mavis, this is a well deserved Grammy.

I was quite thrilled when I noticed some of my other favorites and notables walked home with some hardware. Patty Loveless has long been one of my favorite female country artists, and she walked home with the Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album for her Sagauro Road Records release "Mountain Soul II." The Carolina Chocolate Drops won the Best Traditional Folk Album award for their release on Nonesuch Records, "Genuine Negro Jig." And, Marty Stuart walked home with the Grammy for Best Country Instrumental Performance for "Hummingbyrd", which you will find on his Sugar Hill Records release, "Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions" (read review here).

One this is for certain, if an album is nominated at the Grammy Awards, it is deserving of your time. The unique thing about the Grammy Awards versus other awards shows and organizations, is that it doesn't focus on the chart position of a song or album. It focuses on the art that is presented before them. Of course there's some politics involved, it's a tough thing to escape when it comes to awards. But I find, more often than not, the voting committee for the Grammy's get it right. While I may not agree with their choice of victors on a couple of their winners ("Need You Now" by Lady Antebellum over "Free" by the Zac Brown Band? ... not so sure about that one ... a debate for another day), I do respect their choices because all of the nominees are of such high calibre and high quality.

Now we have a whole year to look forward to new releases from exciting and creative artists who will give us something to talk about at length next year. Before the next Grammy's though, we have the Americana Music Association Awards at the Americana Music Festival in Nashville, Tennessee in October, so that will give us a nice debate in the fall. In the meantime, we have a lot of things to look forward too, including a spring, summer and fall filled with Americana music festivals all across North America and Europe. For more information on festivals, artists and all things Americana (and to purchase discounted tickets to the Americana Music Festival from October 12 to 15, 2011 in Nashville), check out the official web site of the Americana Music Association.

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Prediction Time!

Well, now it's time to put my money where my mouth is. For the past few weeks, I've posted reviews and comments on three of the five albums nominated in the Best Americana Album category at tonights Grammy Awards. Sadly, I did not get the opportunity to cover the Los Lobos album "Tin Can Trust" (Shout! Factory) and the Mavis Staples offering "You Are Not Alone" (ANTI-). So, I express my regrets to you who are reading this post and those that have been following along as I have posted comments along the way. I will say though, that the album I believe will win this years' Grammy will have been tough to beat, even if I had of reviewed the final two albums.

One thing is for certain, all of the nominees are most deserving. In the past 10 months that I have been following the Americana genre, I have been exposed to some of the most unique, creative and moving material that is being recorded today. There are many other albums out there that could have been nominated for the award and no one would have questioned the Academy's decision. So truly, these five albums are the best of an already stellar group of material.

However, as the old cliche goes, there can only be one winner. And while I can attest to the strength of the Roseanne Cash album "The List" (Manhattan) and Robert Plant offering of "Band of Joy" (Rounder), and have no doubt of the strength on the aforementioned recordings of Mavis Staples and Los Lobos, I believe the winner will be Willie Nelson's "Country Music" (Rounder) that will take home the prize.

I say this for a variety of reasons, some that can be explained and some that can't. None of these reasons take anything away from the performances of the other artists on their respective albums, this is one man's opinion. As a long time fan of Willie, I can't recall a time where I sensed such strength and passion in his voice. Willie isn't just honoring the history of country music on this record, he's doing his part to preserve the history of country music. While it can be rightly argued that Roseanne Cash is doing the same thing on "The List", Willie's offering captures a very different part of the history of country music and no less important. Willie's album captures country music, and indeed modern North American music in general, at it's earliest form -- from the days of its formation as a mountain music played amongst the locals in the coal-mining country of the eastern United States. Roseanne's album captures material that is slightly more modern than Willie's as she tends to go back to material from the 1950's and 1960's, a time where country music had progressed to a point where it was beginning to spawn such offspring as rockabilly and, of course, rock n' roll. Stellar production from T Bone Burnett makes the "Country Music" album a record for the ages.

As I mentioned, this is one man's opinion. All of the albums deserve to be in this category and are very deserving of the honors and accolades they have received and will continue to receive. At the end of the day though, there can only be one winner, which is a sad reality on some days. And that winner will be Willie Nelson and "Country Music."

Before I go, I'd like to draw attention to a couple of other artists whom I believe have a good chance at picking up a Grammy tonight. Longtime Grand Ole Opry member Patty Loveless is up for Best Bluegrass Album for "Mountain Soul II" (Sagauro Road) and the Carolina Chocolate Drops are up for Best Traditional Folk Album for their "Genuine Negro Jig" offering on Nonesuch Records.

You can watch the Grammy Awards on CBS at 8:00pm Eastern time, 5:00 Pacific time.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Grammy Nominee Number 3 -- Robert Plant, Band of Joy

Robert Plant has been known as a rock and roll legend for many years. More than forty years ago, he was one of the main pieces to Led Zeppelin, singing lead vocal and co-writing album after album with Jimmy Page. In recent years, Plant has taken his career on a different turn. This turn has subsequently rejuvenated his career, as the rock legend becomes an Americana artist. And the key word here is "artist."

The release of the 2007 Rounder Records album Raising Sand with Alison Krauss marked a new chapter in the life and times of Robert Plant. The album, produced by T Bone Burnett, was wildly successful, selling millions of records and earning both Plant and Krauss five Grammy Awards. The album itself is a masterpiece, a work of art that every music lover should have. The natural talk, of course, was a follow-up album to complement the success. But something must have happened along the way, as Krauss is releasing an album in April 2011 with her band, Union Station, and Plant released the album we're talking about today called Band of Joy co-produced Plant and Buddy Miller.

The album Band of Joy, Plant's second release on Rounder, sees a greater exploration of the genre that is Americana. Indeed, it is tough to put a solid label on any of the tracks on this album. Robert Plant and the back-up band for which the album is named after move effortlessly from track to track exploring different styles of music that ranges from a psychedelic rock sound, to bluegrass, to barroom country. The album's lead track is "Angel Dance", and as this song kept playing, the goose bumps kept coming. This song is one of my favorites on here, and depending on where you were, this cut actually saw some airplay on classic rock stations (thank you 97 Rock, WGRF -FM, Buffalo, NY).

Another solid track is "You Can't Buy My Love", a great rockabilly tune that Plant and backup singer Patty Griffin do a fantastic performance on. "The Only Sound That Matters" sees Plant take his turn at a straight-up, hardcore country song. That man can pull it off in spades.

As I listen to this album, and I'm sure I'll notice it more as I give it more spins, I can't help but think what it must be like for an artist like Robert Plant to have now found a home in this genre, and be so well received. He certainly doesn't need the money, his career longevity speaks for itself. And while you can tell that his days with Led Zeppelin have had an influence on these past two albums, that influence doesn't overpower the place where he seems to be musically today. Where he had to share the stage with Alison Krauss on Raising Sand, the Band of Joy album is all Robert Plant. With this release, Robert Plant shows once again that he's still at the forefront of making great, influential music that will stand the test of time ... much like his work in Zeppelin. A welcome addition to the Americana genre and a well deserved Grammy nomination. Pick this one up folks at your local record store, Amazon, or click on the link above to Rounder Records and buy direct from the record label.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Grammy Nominee Number 2 -- Willie Nelson, Country Music

Although this next post has been much delayed, it's better to be late than never (at least that's my policy). This time around, we look at another strong contender for the Best Americana Album at the upcoming Grammy Awards on February 13, 2011.

Is there another producer out there who is hotter right now than T Bone Burnett? I ask that rhetorically, because I think you would be hard pressed to find one. For years now, Burnett has had this uncanny ability to bring a new and honest sound to many artists who seek to get "in tune" with the music and craft. When you take a look at Burnett's most recent projects, it's a truly remarkable list: from soundtracks for Crazy Heart and Walk the Line, to John Mellancamp and the classic Raising Sand with Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, the man is on an unbelievable streak. His most recent project with Gregg Allman is another piece of art from one of southern rocks true legends. This album will most definitely be reviewed in the near future. But for now, the album we're going to talk about is an album produced by T Bone Burnett and recorded by an American original, a true influential legend, Willie Nelson.

Released in 2010 on Rounder Records, "Country Music" may throw off some of today's more mainstream country music fans. This album features tracks from the very artists that blazed the country music trail, indeed, created the very industry that the biggest stars of today enjoy. You won't find any screaming electric guitar rifts on this record. Just honest to goodness music the way it was intended to be created -- soft, acoustic and understated. Willie's voice is in fine form on this record. His vocals complement the instrumentation very effectively on this record. He turns "House of Gold", a Hank Williams Sr. composition, in to his own. Merle Travis' "Dark as a Dungeon" receives proper treatment from Willie as he pays homage to the generations of hard working coal miners. Willie covers a song written by two of his longtime friends, Ray Price and George Jones, "You Done Me Wrong." If Willie was trying to honor Ray and George with his performance of this song, mission accomplished. Willie includes one of his own tunes on here as well with "Man With the Blues", and covers a song by another long time friend Bill Mack with "Drinking Champagne." These are all standout tracks on a truly excellent album.

For an artist who is well into his seventies, Willie's vocals are as strong as they've ever been. This album is a fantastic piece of country music/Americana history, from one of the legends and trailblazers who helped create the Americana genre. With stellar production from T Bone Burnett, fantastic musicianship from Buddy Miller and Mickey Raphael among others, and stellar backing vocals from Jim Lauderdale, Willie Nelson has assured the preservation of these country classics for generations to come. This is a well deserved Grammy nomination. If you get the chance, pick up this album at your local record store or right here at Amazon.

Next up for review on Wednesday, Robert Plant and the Band of Joy.

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