Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Album Review: Reagan Boggs, "Quicksand"

The latest release from Virginia native Reagan Boggs is actually my introduction to this wonderful singer-songwriter.  Already receiving much praise, "Quicksand" is a strong album that is a great step forward in a budding career for Ms. Boggs.

Writing twelve of the thirteen tracks on the project, Ms. Boggs takes us on a journey of personal growth and strength of the human condition.  Kicking off with the straight-ahead country song "On a Bad Note", she tells a tale of love gone bad while remaining thankful for the good memories that relationship produced.  "Saving Grace" speaks to life for many of us when we are stretched to the core and in need of something to get us through.  "When It Mattered" is a solid and sarcastic kiss-off song, reminiscent of more than one Loretta Lynn classic, yet arranged to be completely unique. 

Country-soul takes center stage with "Can't Do Life", while Ms. Boggs shows off her fun side with "Appalachia."  The melancholy "Seldom Do" is a beautiful and reflective piece that speaks to changes in life, yet some people remain the same.  Two of the finest tracks on the album are duets, the first being the latest single off the album "Better Man."  Featuring one of East Nashville's finest, Eric Brace on backing vocals, "Better Man" is the only track on the album not written by Boggs.  A cover of the Pearl Jam classic, written by Eddie Vedder, the song is a brilliant ballad that is told from the female perspective.  It is a highlight of the album and the artists are very deserving of the accolades they are receiving for their performance of this song.

Not to be outdone, the other duet on this album in my mind is equally as good.  "You Deserve Better", performed with Dave Coleman, is a Reagan Boggs original that is absolutely heartbreaking.  A story that many out there have lived, a tale of two people falling out of love and going through the motions.  After denying the inevitable, they now realize where their relationship will ultimately end. 

"Quicksand" represents the continued strong growth of Reagan Boggs as an all-around artist.  Her vocal is strong and striking.  Her writing tells life stories that matter and affect the listener.  Reagan Boggs is as fine a singer as you will hear on the road and radio today.  Keep listening to this rising star, it won't be the last you hear of Reagan Boggs.  "Quicksand" is poised to be a breakout album of the year in Americana.  Visit Reagan's web site to listen to "Quicksand", as well as her previous releases, and to purchase the album.  You can also visit Amazon to purchase "Quicksand" as well.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Concert Review: Emmylou Harris at Massey Hall, Toronto, Ontario - April 15, 2014

Wrecking Ball

It seems to be a growing trend among true artists. Those artists who have been around long enough for us to care about their incredible work long after the radio hits have stopped coming, to go on tour and perform a significant album in their career in its entirety.  And so it is with Emmylou Harris and Wrecking Ball, her Grammy winning (Best Contemporary Folk Album) project from 1995  The album is significant for more than its award winning status ... it is a cornerstone album for the entire Americana movement.  It was Americana before the Americana name really existed, at least in the musical genre sense.  It also set Ms. Harris' career in a new and important direction, as the album was a significant departure from her more familiar radio hits.  It's an album that was created strictly for the music and the strengh and depth of the song. 

So why hit the road and perform the album now?  It's the 19th anniversary not the 20th, which is a significant milestone.  As Ms. Harris put it, "We couldn't wait for the 20th", they had to do it now.  And who could blame them.  Wrecking Ball still resonates with the listener to this day and is so good, why wait.  Take it to the people.  

Performing with a three piece band, which included Wrecking Ball producer Daniel Lanois, Ms. Harris brought the sold out Massey Hall crowd on her journey through all 12 tracks of the album.  The song selection for this album represents one of the strongest collections of songwriters I have seen.  From the opening track "Where Will I Be", written by Daniel Lanois, to "Sweet Old World", written by Lucinda Williams, to the title track written by Neil Young, Ms. Harris and Mr. Lanois created a tapestry that explores spirituality and heartache, love and loss.  Perhaps the finest performance on the album, and indeed the Massey Hall performance, is the version of Bob Dylan's "Every Grain of Sand."  Ms. Harris' has an indellible way to make her listener's feel the joy and pain of every note that she sings. 

An interesting side note to this album and given the show was in Toronto, is the amount of Canadian content that is featured on Wrecking Ball.  As noted by Ms. Harris, the album features the aforementioned producer, Daniel Lanois, the writer of the title track is Neil Young, and the album features "Goin' Back to Harlen" by the late Anna McGarrigle of Montreal.  Anna and Kate McGarrigle have had a long friendship with Emmylou Harris over the years.  A great side note to this particular track, was the exclusion of this song on the Trio album that Ms. Harris did with Linda Rondstadt and Dolly Parton.  Having watched the performance of this song and listening to it on the album, I would agree that it fits better on Wrecking Ball.

Wrecking Ball was more than an important album for the Americana movement.  It marked a new phase in the career of a woman who began as a central figure in the country-rock era in the early 1970's in southern California performing with Gram Parsons.  Wrecking Ball and the albums that have since followed show a veteran artist and performer that is still hungry to explore new territory, one who is not afraid to stretch the boundaries of their creativity.  A show such as this is a wonderful way to revisit a classic album and hear some of the stories associated with its creation from those who were there.  Emmylou Harris and her bandmates commence a tour of Europe where they will perform Wrecking Ball in May.  Check out her web site for tour dates and details.

In the meantime, the album was re-issued on April 8 as a 3 disc package to celebrate the 19th anniversary of its release.  The package will contain the original release of Wrecking Ball on one disc, while a separate disc will contain songs recorded for but not included on the 1995 version.  The third disc is a DVD documentary about the making of Wrecking Ball.  It is a perfect tribute and perfect time to revisit one of the greatest albums from one of the most influential artists of our time, and a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Book Review: Buck 'Em: The Autobiography of Buck Owens

When one thinks of country music's Outlaw movement, automatically visions of the great Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson come to mind.  And rightfully so.  Waylon and Willie epitomized the Outlaw movement in country music, the movement which sought to end the stranglehold that the Nashville recording industry establishment had on the success and failure of its artists.  What makes this movement so well known, is that this particular Outlaw movement became commercialized and therefore commercially successful as evidenced by the sales experienced by the "Wanted: The Outlaws" album featuring Waylon and Willie, as well as Jessi Colter and Tompall Glaser.  But it should be noted that before the Outlaw movement took place in the mid 1970's, an Outlaw movement took place some 15 or so years earlier which shook the Nashville establishment to its core.  

The life and career of Buck Owens has finally been chronicled, and it's been well worth the wait. The writing of the book itself could not have been an easy task.  Taken from hundreds of hours of audio recordings that Mr. Owens made over the years leading up to his death, author Randy Poe has constructed a story as told by Mr. Owens, that tells the life tale of one of the greatest country music singers, songwriters and pioneers of all time.  Written as if Mr. Owens dictated his life story to Randy, the story speaks to Mr. Owens' childhood spent in poverty from his birth in Texas, chronicles his family's move during the dust bowl years to Mesa, Arizona, and finally ending up in Bakersfield, California where he would reside until his death in 2006.  

The story of Buck Owens is very revealing as it shows how life events can truly effect the life path we choose.  For example, his impoverished upbringing instilled a drive to be successful in Buck that is nearly unmatched in music.  His success didn't just extend to hits on the country music charts ... it extended to the business side of the music industry where one could argue he was even more successful.  

His start as a recording artist is also chronicled, and this is where Buck Owens was Outlaw before Outlaw was cool.  In 1959, after his first recording sessions for Capitol Records failed to produce any hits, Mr. Owens sent a letter to his producer, Ken Nelson, where Mr. Owens stated he felt the records being produced were not his sound, not his type of country music.  He further stated that he wanted to record his music his way, and if there was no agreement to be had, perhaps they should end their contract.  Needless to say that didn't happen.  Twenty number one hits and millions of records sold later, it's clear who was right in that argument.  It should also be noted that all of this took place outside of Nashville, nearly his entire recording career was based in California.  

The story of his friendship with Don Rich is also told in intimate detail.  When I mention that this story talks of how life events shaped Buck Owens, this story is the most heart wrenching.  The premature passing of Don Rich hurt Mr. Owens so badly, that one can tell his drive to even make music had died as well.  The music they made together was timeless, and the devastation this event had on Mr. Owens' life is sad.  

The legacy of Buck Owens, like it or not, is pretty much laid bare in two parts.  One is the pioneer, a man who is one of the most influential singer-songwriter's of all time.  Mr. Owens has influenced many country stars of today, such as Dwight Yoakam and Brad Paisley, both of whom contribute to the writing of this book.  As label mates on Capitol, The Beatles requested to receive copies of every Buck Owens record as it was produced.  The other is the man most of us saw on the television show Hee Haw every Saturday night for 17 years.  It's clear Mr. Owens felt two ways about appearing on that show, and felt that Nashville slighted him because he was a member of Hee Haw.  But if you visit Nashville today, or if you've been there in the last couple of years, you will see one of the finest exhibits ever produced by the Country Music Hall of Fame, as they present "The Bakersfield Sound: The Music of Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and California Country."  It is the finest tribute to one of the greatest periods in the history of country music, of which Buck Owens was at the forefront.  The book "Buck 'Em: The Autobiography of Buck Owens" is a great story, a great read and a must for any music fan.