Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Support Americana's Opry -- Music City Roots

How many of you have had the great pleasure of listening the Grand Ole Opry?  Ever been fortunate enough to attend an Opry broadcast?  Whichever way you've experienced the Opry, you know full well how special that organization is.  It's an institution steeped in history, one that's been going on for almost 90 years and shows no signs of letting up.  For many, the Grand Ole Opry is regarded as the "home" of country music.  It's tough to disagree.

Americana has it's own home.  That home is Music City Roots and, similar to the Opry, it is a weekly radio show broadcasting the finest performers in Americana to the world on Hippie 94.5 FM in Nashville, and around the world on the internet via live stream.  The show is a live performance held from the stage of the Loveless Barn at the "edge of Music City."  Some of the artists to have graced the Roots stage the World Famous Headliners, Kathy Mattea, Eric Brace and Peter Cooper, Todd Snider, Chris Altmann, John Cowan, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Bobby Bare, Jr., Justin Townes Earle, The Vespers, Amanda Shires, Mike Farris and so many more incredible artists that there's not enough space to list them here.  The incomparable Jim Lauderdale is your weekly host, with Nashville radio legend Keith Bilbrey as your emcee.  Craig Havighurst conducts in-depth interviews that connect the performers with the audience.

Music City Roots began its run four years ago, ironically on the same radio station that carries the Opry.  Recently, Music City Roots issued a call to it's many listeners and followers to help offset some of the costs of producing this important weekly radio show.  The cost of a ticket is $10 and Music City Roots is asking for their listeners, either online or radio, to consider making a donation to help keep the Roots strong.   I am proud to say that I have donated, as this show is arguably the best live music show on radio today.  And yes, I'm including the Grand Ole Opry in that conversation. 

Music City Roots is a show that deserves to be on the air for many, many years to come.  It is to Americana music what the Grand Ole Opry is to country music.  It's a home base.  It's an institution.  It's an important part of the musical and cultural fabric of North America.  If you have not had the pleasure or opportunity to watch and/or listen to a Music City Roots broadcast, tomorrow night's show has a lineup that is stacked from top to bottom.  Grammy nominees Sarah Jarosz and John Fullbright take the stage, along with the North Mississippi All Stars and Bobby Rush with Blind Dog Smokin'.  The previously mentioned, and also Grammy-nominated Jim Lauderdale hosts the festivities. 

Click here to make a donation and to learn more about what your donation will be supporting.  If you want to check out the show, click here for tomorrow's live stream and to check out past episodes of Music City Roots, Americana's Opry.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Album Review: Mandy Barnett, I Can't Stop Loving You

Thanksgiving has come and gone for my American friends this weekend, which means that the holiday travel/shopping season is officially underway.  I avoided that whole crazy Black Friday mess by venturing south of the border to Erie, Pennsylvania to kick start my Christmas shopping a couple of weeks ago.  It was at the local Cracker Barrel that I happened upon this wonderful album by one of the most unique voices in country music. 

Mandy Barnett may be the best female vocalist that you've never heard of.  Or at least, not heard about for a little while.  Tasked early on in her career with playing the title role of Patsy Cline in the stage production of "Always ... Patsy Cline", Barnett has done an excellent job of keeping the extensive classic country music sound alive and relevant for many years.  She continues this journey with her latest album released on Rounder/Cracker Barrel Records with a tribute album to her friend Don Gibson.  Mr. Gibson was the voice and pen behind some of the most important songs in the history of country music.  Indeed, if there were a definition of those who founded the term singer-songwriter, you would have to include Hank Williams, Sr, Roger Miller and Don Gibson in the same sentence.  Here, Mandy Barnett gives new life and new vision in to some of Mr. Gibson's finest works. 

This album represents a great cross section of Don Gibson's hits.  The biggest hits, what one would call his signature songs (as a performer), like "Oh Lonesome Me" and "Lonesome Number One" are present and given a fresh, new interpretation by Barnett.  Lesser known tracks from Mr. Gibson's catalogue are front and center on this album, such as "Oh Such a Stranger", one of the rare Gibson single's that is beautifully written but did not chart  on its original release in 1964, but only peaked at number 61 in 1978.  Mandy Barnett turns in a beautiful rendition of the Gibson-penned "Legend In My Time", a number one hit for Ronnie Milsap in 1977, a real highlight of the album.

However, it must be said that the two cornerstones of the album are Mandy's performance of Mr. Gibson's two signature hits as a songwriter, the oft-recorded "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "Sweet Dreams."  The former made famous by such vocalists as varied as Ray Charles, Conway Twitty and Roy Clark, the latter made famous by the incomparable Patsy Cline.  These two songs are classics in the great American songbook lexicon.  There are not too many vocalists who are capable to record either of these songs.  One must possess a special talent to be able to capture the essence and emotion of the two songs.  Comparison's to the original versions are inevitable.  It is here where Mandy Barnett truly shines.  She is one of the very few who can reach the levels required to make these songs her own, and she does it in spades.

When piecing together a tribute album for an artist as legendary as Don Gibson, only the best musicians will do.  Barnett succeeds in this area as well, as she assembles A-list legends in the studio to take this project to the highest level.  Country Music Hall of Fame Members Harold Bradley (guitars) and Charlie McCoy (harmonica), the incomparable Lloyd Green (steel guitar) and Hargus "Pig" Robbins (piano) are among the cast of outstanding studio musicians that contributed to this album. 

The liner notes tell Mandy's story of her brief but fruitful friendship with Mr. Gibson.  The impact on her life is clear, and this album represents her love and tribute to her friend.  What a wonderful tribute it is.  If you are travelling around the United States this season, stop in to one of the many Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores and pick up this album to hear one of the greatest female vocalists of our time perform the best works of one of the greatest singer-songwriters of our time.