Saturday, November 28, 2015

Rising Outlaw: California's Sam Outlaw Brings Classic Sound To Toronto's Dakota Tavern

There are several acts permeating the musical landscape that have embraced the more traditional sound of country music, some of whom I have written about in this space. A rising star from the California coast made his Dakota Tavern debut in a showcase hosted by his record label, Six Shooter Records.  Sam Outlaw is a pure country artist whose musical sound can range from the easy listening style of a Don Williams, to lyrically clever sounds of Gram Parsons and earlier southern California country-rock.

With a set mainly to showcase the release of his new album "Angeleno", Sam Outlaw played to a packed house on a Toronto Tuesday night a couple of weeks ago.  The intimate setting of the Dakota Tavern was the perfect backdrop for Sam Outaw's fine performance, as it provided Sam the opportunity to deliver some backstory to some of his songwriting. The song "Love Her For A While" was inspired by the aforementioned Don Williams, and listening to it, you could hear Mr. Williams wrap his unique and wonderful baritone voice around the lyrics. "Angeleno", the title track to his Six Shooter release is a song about a couple making their own way with the struggles and tribulations of life.  "Who Do You Think You Are?" is a wonderful tale about love found and lost in Mexico, with a real Mexican-style sound to it.  "Ghost Town" is one of the finest songs you will hear anywhere, it's a beautifully performed tune about cutting one's losses.  

With the increase in profile of pure, traditional country artists and the rise of Americana musicians in the mainstream consciousness, Sam Outlaw is poised to break out to the next level of notoriety.  He has the talent, skill and creativity to maintain the career path he is currently on.  As has long been said in this column, people will always come back to what is real. Evidence of this has been witnessed with the success of artists like Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson over the past couple of years, as well as the incredible rise of Chris Stapleton.  Sam Outlaw is poised to join that illustrious company with a solid record in "Angeleno", creative songwriting and a classic country sound that has been missing from the musical landscape for far too many years. 

I would be remiss if I didn't give a brief mention to Sam's record label, Six Shooter Records. Based in Toronto, Ontario, Six Shooter is home to some of the most talented artists in the world, a truly amazing roster.  They are a major player in the Americana scene on both sides of the border. The release of "Angeleno" represents their first foray in to releasing an artist on a global scale, where previously they have been focusing on the Canadian market. Their belief in Sam Outlaw is not unfounded and they have quite rightly made Sam their first artist to release an album under the Six Shooter Records label internationally. I wish them the best of luck and they too move in to the next chapter of their existence.  When you're finished checking out Sam Outlaw, check out the other amazingly talented artists on the Six Shooter roster.  

Check out "Ghost Town" from the great Sam Outlaw

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Country Music Association Signals New Day For Country Music

It's a brand new day in country music.  The morning after Music Row may have signaled a turning of the page from the current bro-country that has relegated mainstream country to near joke status for the past few years.  That's the only conclusion that can be reached following the outcome 49th annual Country Music Association awards presented last night in Nashville.

Perhaps not so amazingly, it took a couple of years of watching the steady rise of Americana artists and the Americana scene in general to start this shift.  The artists in Americana today are just too good to ignore. The awarding, and indeed the coming out party, of Chris Stapleton as the Top New Artist, Male Vocalist of the Year and Album of the Year for "Traveller" is a clear indication that the landscape has changed. The inclusion of Kacey Musgraves and Brandy Clark at mainstream award shows with Musgraves picking up a trophy for Song of the Year ("Follow Your Arrow") at last year's CMA's showed that the desire for change was beginning to percolate.  With this performance of Chris Stapleton and Justin Timberlake last night at the CMA's and the fan reaction, it's clear that this change is upon us. 

But wait, that was only half of the performance.  Here is the second half:

Perhaps sensing what could be happening, one had to feel a little bad for Florida Georgia Line, the act that had to follow this performance.  What's telling is in the audience reaction, or rather, their almost non-reaction at the conclusion of the Florida Georgia Line performance.  The crowd was simply blown away by the tandem of Stapleton and Timberlake, and whomever else followed was not going to top it.  In a way, it almost wasn't fair ... almost.  What it accomplished was it showed the glaring and real difference between honest and raw music versus the manufactured material that's been pushed by the major labels on Music Row for the past number of years.  As I've said in this space before, people will always come back to what's real. The consumer doesn't lie: it's why artists like Jason Isbell, Alan Jackson, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, and Kacey Musgraves can all have number one selling albums.  It's why artists like Sturgill Simpson and Nathaniel Rateliff are able to sell records by the boatload and fill theaters. All of these artists are doing this without the benefit of mainstream country radio.

Last night the world was introduced to an incredibly gifted talent in Chris Stapleton. As my friend Nelson Gullett of WDVX radio in Knoxville, Tennessee tweeted out last night, he's been listening to Chris Stapleton for about 30 years, both as a solo artist and in the bluegrass band The Steeldrivers.  Today marks a new chapter in the career of Chris Stapleton. I'm happy that he's from the Americana family and wish him well as he enters this next phase of his career.

The beginning of the CMA awards show saw the return of an icon paired up with a superstar that has been an amazing supporter of Americana artists over the last couple of years.  In an entirely appropriate performance of his latest single, I think we can safely answer the question: we are indeed, ready for the country.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Concert Review: Hardin Burns, Sportsmen's Tavern, Buffalo NY - October 11, 2015

A couple of weeks ago, I made the 2 hour trek to one of my favorite music clubs to check out a duo that's been writing and performing together since 2009.  The show at the Sportsmen's Tavern was one of the final shows (as of this writing) on their fall tour supporting their 2014 release "Down The Deep Well."

The early impression one gets from Andrew Hardin and Jeannie Burns watching them perform, is they are pure Americana artists.  The songwriting is tight, relevant and not afraid to tackle the controversial as evidenced by "The Call", a song that was inspired by the circumstances surrounding the sudden death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman.  A story told from the perspective of a still sober addict, "The Call" speaks less about the passing itself, speaking more to the temptation felt daily by recovering addicts.  A great blues number, "Smokestack Lightning" and "Beware of Darkness", a George Harrison cover, highlighted the incredible musicianship of Andrew Hardin.  He is one of the finest acoustic guitar players I have seen live.

Not to be outdone is Jeannie Burns.  Her signing and songwriting can take you back to the times of early Emmylou Harris, as shown on the country rock flavored "Stars Are Shining." The song "Underbelly Blues" is a great protest song which speaks to the perils of hydro-fracking, with corporate greed at the forefront.  Her singing of "Lake Charles", the Lucinda Williams classic would make Lucinda herself smile.  

When watching Hardin Burns, the respect they have for one another is clear.  They have recognized that each artist brings something special to the table and has allowed them to create a partnership that can last for a long time.  Their respective backgrounds have enabled them to tap in to each others creativity which has led to a stellar piece of work with "Down the Deep Well", as well as creating a wonderful stage presence that locks the listeners in.  When this duo gets back on the road, you would do well to check them out.