Last Minute Shopping For Music Lovers

Ho! Ho! Ho! Christmas is closer than right around the corner, so if you’re looking for a last minute stocking stuffer for yourself or your favorite music lover, I’ve got one recommendation for each of the genres I cover in “Finding Classic CowjazzR&B.”

Let’s start with Cowjazz…

Robert Earl Keen – Live Dinner Reunion

Robert Earl released No. 2 Live Dinner in 1996, and it’s one of his best albums for sure. Makes sense, therefore, that he would try to recapture the magic with a twentieth anniversary reunion back at the scene of the original, John T. Flores Country Store in Helotes, Texas. I’m not going to compare the two efforts, and I’m not going to quibble over the fact that every tune on the new one has been released before, some multiple times. What’s new and fresh about it is the enthusiastic performances themselves. Keen and his band are relaxed and rolling. And he’s brought along enough special guests like Lyle Lovett, Bruce Robison, Cody Braun and Cody Canada to juice up both his own band and the crowd. Here he is with Lyle on the song that started both of their careers.

Very generously, he even steps aside completely to let Joe Ely close the show with “The Road Goes On Forever And The Party Never Ends.” After all, Ely’s the singer who put Keen’s song on the map in the first place. The whole thing’s just damn good fun.

 

How about some good old rock n’ roll?

The Rolling Stones – Blue And Lonesome

The story goes that the Stones were messing around in the studio earlier this year warming up to record an album of new material. To get the juices flowing they went all the way back to their roots and started playing a bunch of Chicago blues from the late forties and early fifties. It sounded so good, and they were having so much fun, they postponed the original project, and in short order, with much of it recorded “live,” they produced this fiery, energetic homage to the music that inspired them in the first place. There’s a cut or two that don’t work for me, but by and large, they did Muddy, Little Milton, Willie Dixon – and themselves – proud.

For old folkies at heart like me…

John McKuen – Made In Brooklyn

John McKuen got his musical start during the folk boom of the late fifties and early sixties before becoming the multi-instrumentalist playing leads on banjo, mandolin and fiddle for the seminal folk/country/rock group The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Over the years he’s indulged his folkie heart with side projects, this being his most recent. He lured several terrific acoustic players and singers like David Bromberg, John Cowan, John Carter Cash, even Steve Martin, and others to a small, primarily jazz studio in Brooklyn. They recorded a serious collection of folk and traditional country tunes drawn from across many decades. McKuen and his friends prove that energetic playing need not not be loud or raucous to be a lively counterpoint to more languid numbers. The result here is a varied lineup of traditional tunes and reimagined newer songs that is both soothing and entertaining. Check out this folk version of Warren Zevon’s bizarre tale of the “Excitable Boy” featuring Steve Martin on banjo and multiple singers.

As good as the music is, however, it’s the recording method described on McKuen’s web site that makes this album unique. Without getting too technical, David and Chesky have been perfecting the art of recording musicians “live”  in a resonant church with a single, specially designed multi-directional microphone, primarily on extremely hi fidelity jazz records dating from the mid-eighties. Everyone is grouped in a circle around the mic. There is no over dubbing or re-mixing later. The onus is on the players and singers to get it right. A note or pluck of a string might be slightly off, but with artists this talented, it usually means a richer reality. While the album is enjoyable on any decent stereo, the beauty of the recording technique can really be heard using headphones. I listened using just the ear buds that came with my old iPhone 5S and was astounded by the spatial clarity audible among the instruments and voices. It truly sounds as if you’re sitting in the middle of the circle of musicians. If you like folk music with a slight country tinge and enjoy immersing yourself as you listen, this album is for you.

 

And, of course, we need a little R&B

Robin McKelle – Mess Around

I first encountered Robin McKelle as a Berklee College of Music trained jazz singer fronting a big band with a lustrous voice in a manner akin to Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughn. Turns out, however, that she grew up listening to R&B divas like Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight. By the time of this 2010 release, she had made her way just across the border from jazz to R&B. She kept moving deeper into R&B/Soul on later records, but I really like her in the spot she occupies here.

She writes as well as sings, so the album is a mix of originals like the title song – a nod to Ray Charles’ first hit with a similar name – and R&B standards like Ray’s “Lonely Avenue.” McKelle’s approach is more R&B than jazz, but the musicians are primarily drawn from jazz circles. The result is a refreshing take on time tested material. And yes, you can dance to it, if you like.
I guess no list of mine can be complete without a Texas bred country singer.

Leon Russell – Hank Wilson’s Back

When I read a few weeks ago about the death of multi-talented singer, musician, band leader, producer, arranger Leon Russell, I dusted off an LP I hadn’t listened to in so long I’d all but forgotten about it. In 1973, Russell took a brief detour on his road to rock and pop stardom to assume the persona of country honky tonker Hank Wilson. Only someone like Russell, who combined giant talent with Oklahoma roots, could pull off something like this. In fact I remember thinking it was all a parody when I first saw the album cover. When I put it on the turntable, however, I found “Hank Wilson” to be as genuine as the songs he chose. Russell put as much love as talent into a collection of classics from Hank Williams, George Jones, Leadbelly, Johnny Horton, Bill Monroe and on and on. The best part is, these performances and these songs stand up as tall today as they did 43 years ago. It’s clear everybody involved has chops galore, and they’re having a blast.

 

This close to Christmas, I have to include one song of the season. I heard this young artist Friday night on Sirius/XM’s broadcast of the Grand Ole Opry. I think you’ll agree William Michael Morgan is a new talent to watch when you hear what he does with “White Christmas.” Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy New Year to all.

 

Advertisements

Smokey And The O’Jays Live From Darryl’s House

I’ve been spending the last ten days enjoying Thanksgiving with my daughter and her family in Southern California. Hope you’ve had a good holiday as well. Yesterday we experienced something rather rare in these parts, a drenching rainy afternoon. Stuck unexpectedly indoors, I spent some time on line where I stumbled upon several fabulous videos on YouTube of the O’Jays and Smokey Robinson performing with Darryl Hall’s great band. What a cool way to while a way the hours.

In keeping with the holiday spirit, I’m of course thankful for the O’Jays’ marvelous singing and for the genius of Smokey, perhaps the greatest dual threat singer/songwriter of them all. Beyond that, I must add my thanks for Darryl Hall instigating his great series “Live From Darryl’s House.” It’s a remarkable feat brining Darryl and his great band together with artists and groups spanning every living generation and a fairly wide musical spectrum. Linking them are soulful approaches to music through which Hall manages to find linkages to R&B that give all the sessions a spirited groove. Every musician and singer in the room seems to be having a ball.

The O’Jays set, recorded this year, can be seen in its entirety which runs just under 50 minutes. It’s thrilling all the way through. You can also just check out single songs like this one – my personal favorite form the groups days on Philadelphia International.

 

 

Smokey Robinson and Darryl Hall are connected much more closely than many people realize. One of Hall’s earliest professional gigs before he teamed up with John Oates was a vocal group called the Temptones which was patterned after the Temptations. He met Smokey during joint gigs at Philly’s Uptown theater. Unlike with The O’Jays, I did not find one video covering the entire session, but if you search you’ll find numerous videos from the day. Here’s one that eases from Hall and Oates’ “Sara Smile” to Smokey’s classic “Ooh Baby Bay.” Smokey generously lets Darryl take the lead through most of the second song, yet he still manages to hit the best notes. It’s beautiful work together.

 

 

And for the “what the heck”file, Hall seemed to surprise Smokey by going way back to one of his earliest tunes. Great to enjoy with your leftover turkey and dressing sandwich.

 

 

 

It All Starts With The Song

“Everything worth doing takes time. You have to write a hundred bad songs before you write one good one.” Bob Dylan, interview with The Telegraph’s Edna Gunderson, 10/29/16.

I’ve spent more hours than I care to count over the last few weeks listening to new releases, especially in the Americana vein, that start out with great promise – I like the singer’s voice and the arrangements and the playing of the musicians. But when the album is over there just isn’t any song that I want to hear again. Not just don’t want to hear it right away, but I don’t particularly care if I ever hear any of them again. Since most Americana albums feature singers who write their own material, I want them to consider Dylan’s comment carefully.

There have been many terrific singer-songwriters over the years, who have the good sense to know they need to look farther afield to find really good material. Songwriters as good as Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Jimmy Buffett, Jerry Jeff Walker, Smokey Robinson, Ray Charles and even Guy Clark, to name just a few, have been willing to include songs by other writers whose work fits their voice and persona. Because my children read this blog, I’ll put an old “locker room” saying in a different form – those artists know you have to have real chicken to make good chicken salad. Their repertoires and our pleasure were enhanced as a result.

Last week the CMA Awards show featured a retrospective of award winning records and artists over it’s fifty year history. I was struck by the high quality of the songs, whether they were performed by the original artist or one of country’s contemporary stars. One of the beefs I have with commercial country music today is not that the singers aren’t talented, it’s that the songs are so weak and all sound the same. I’ve heard what some of these singers could do with some of country’s great songs.

Vince Gill, another songwriter who readily augments his material with songs by other writers, in an interview about new artists in the Raleigh News and Observer, 11/4/16, concluded by saying…

“At the end of the day…The song he’s singing is either good, or it isn’t.”

So this post is dedicated to great songs, or more specifically this week, great country songs. I have assembled four terrific albums of cover songs by four great singers, two men and two women. The songs covered run the gamut of country music. Most were hits by other artists from the 1940’s through the 1980’s. A few of these songs became hits again for these four artists.

Instead of discussing each album, I will simply list the songs and their writers because that’s where I want to shine the spotlight. The talent of the original singers helped make these song hits, but as these albums demonstrate, a great song could be a hit for any number of singers. This week is all about cerebrating great songwriting while enjoying some really fine singing. I hope you’ll make a mental note of these songwriters’ names, and look for them on other records. You’ll be rewarded with good music.

Alan Jackson – Under The Influence

A collection of songs – some hits some album tracks – that influenced Alan and were part of his repertoire when he first started learning his craft in small honky tonks and dive bars.

“Pop A Top” by Nat Stuckey, original hit by Jim Ed Brown.

“Farewell Party” by Lawton Williams, original hit by Gene Watson.
“Kiss An Angel Good Morning” by Ben Peters, original hit by Charley Pride.
“Right In The Palm Of Your Hand” by Bob McDill, originally recorded by Mel McDaniel.
“The Blues Man” written and recorded by Hank Williams, Jr.
“Revenooer Man” by Johnny Paycheck, original hit by George Jones.
“My Own Kind Of Hat” by Merle Haggard and Red Lane, original hit by Merle.
“She Just Started Liking Cheating Songs” by Kent Robbins, hit by John Anderson.
“The Way I Am” by Sonny Throckmorton, original hit by Merle.
“It Must Be Love” by Bob McDill, original hit by Don Williams.
“Once You’ve Had The Best” by Johnny Paycheck, original hit by George Jones.
“Margaritaville” (featuring Jimmy Buffett) written and recorded by Jimmy Buffett.

 

 
Martina McBride – Timeless

An avatar for new pop country sounds in the 1990’s, Martina recorded this 2005 album old style, for example using no guitars or amps newer than 1965, in part as an homage to her Dad, who led a country band when she was growing up in Kansas. Ironically it became her fastest selling album and debuted on the Billboard country charts at #1.

“You Win Again” written and recorded by Hank Williams.
“I’ll Be There” by Rusty Gabbard and Ray Price, original hit by Ray Price, then decades later by Johnny Bush and Gail Davies.
“I Can’t Stop Loving You,” written and recorded by Don Gibson, and also a hit for Ray Charles, of course.
“I Never Promised You A Rose Garden” by Joe South, original hit by Lynn Anderson.
“Today I Started Loving You Again” by Merle Haggard and Bonnie Owens, original hit by Merle.
“You Ain’t Woman Enough” written and recorded by Loretta Lynn.
“Once A Day” by Bill Anderson, original hit by Connie Smith.
“Pick Me Up On Your Way Down” by Harlan Howard, original hit by Charlie Walker.
“I Don’t Hurt Anymore” by Jack Rollins and Don Robertson, original hit by Hank Snow.
“True Love Ways” by Buddy Holly and Norman Petty, originally recorded by Holly but not a hit until released by Peter and Gordon.
“’Til I Can Make It On My Own” by George Richey, Billy Sherrill and Tammy Wynette, original hit by Tammy.

“I Still Miss Someone” (featuring Dolly Parton) by Johnny Cash and Roy Cash, Jr., original recording by Johnny.
“Heartaches By The Number” (featuring Dwight Yoakam) by Harlan Howard, original hit by Ray Price.
“Satin Sheets” by John Volinkaty, original hit by Jeanne Pruitt.
“Thanks A Lot” by Eddie Miller and Don Sessions, original hit by Ernest Tubb.
“Love’s Gonna Live Here” written and recorded by Buck Owens.
“Make The World Go Away” by Hank Cochran, original hit by Eddy Arnold.
“Help Me Make It Through The Night” by Kris Kristofferson, original hit by Sammi Smith.

Most far out story behind the song goes to Satin Sheets. Volinkaty was a Minneapolis factory worker who had never written a song before he got the idea while grocery shopping. He mailed a tape to Jeannie Pruitt who actually took the time to listen to an unsolicited tape. She polished it up, without taking any songwriting credits, recorded it, promoted it herself when her record company thought it was “too country”, and took it to number one.

 
Patty Loveless – Sleepless Nights

Patty was motivated to sing the music she grew up singing in her family’s kitchen. She wanted to bring them to the attention of the contemporary audience in 2008 when the album was released. “I want to inspire and remind people of what country is made of,” she said at the time.

“Why Baby Why” by Darrell Edwards and George Jones, original hit by Jones.
“The Pain Of Loving You” written and recorded by Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner.
“He Thinks I Still Care” by Dickey Lee, original hit by George Jones.
“Sleepless Nights” (featuring Vince Gill) by Boudleaux and Felice Bryant, original hit by the Everly Brothers.
“Crazy Arms” by Ralph Mooney and Chuck Seals, original hit by Ray Price.

“There Stands The Glass” by Audrey Greisham, Russ Hull and Mary Jean Shurtz, original hit by Webb Pierce.
“That’s All It Took” (featuring Jed Hughes) by Darrell Edwards, Carlos Grier and George Jones original duet hit by Jones and Gene Pitney.
“Color Of The Blues” by George Jones and Lawton Williams, original hit by Jones.
“I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know” by Cecil Null, original hit by The Davis Sisters.
“Next In Line” by Wayne Kemp and Curtis Wayne, original hit by Conway Twitty.
“Don’t Let Me Cross Over” by Penny Jay, original hit by Carl Butler and Pearl.
“Please Help Me I’m Falling” by Hal Blair and Don Robertson, original hit by Hank Locklin.
“There Goes My Everything” by Dallas Frazier, original hit by Jack Green.
“Cold Cold Heart” written and recorded by Hank Williams.
“We’ll Sweep Out The Ashes In The Morning” by Joyce Ann Allsup, original recording by Carl Butler and Pearl.
“If Teardrops Were Pennies” by Carl Butler, original hit by Carl Smith.

Note: The final two songs are bonus tracks on the iTunes version of the album; they’re not on the original CD.

 

George Jones – Hits I Missed…And One I Didn’t

According to the liner notes for the CD released in 2005, “Most of these songs were sent to George Jones to record over the years. All of them went on the become big hits and, as he’d hear them on the radio, he’s laugh about the “hits he missed.”

“Funny How Time Slips Away” by Willie Nelson, original hit by Billy Walker, cover by many others.
“Detroit City” by Mel Tillis and Danny Dill, original hit by Bobby Bare.
“The Blues Man” (featuring Dolly Parton) written and originally recorded by Hank Williams, Jr.
“Here In The Real World” by Alan Jackson and Mark Irwin, original hit by Jackson.
“If You’re Gonna Do Me Wrong” by Max Barnes and Vern Gosdin, original hit by Gosdin.
“Today I Started Loving You Again” by Merle Haggard and Bonnie Owens, originally recorded by Merle.
“On The Other Hand” by Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz, original hit by Randy Travis.
“Pass Me By” by Hillman Hall, original hit by Johnny Rodriguez.
“Skip A Rope” by Glenn Tubb and Jack Moran, original hit by Henson Cargill.
“Too Cold At Home” by Bobby Harden, original hit by Mark Chesnutt.
“Busted” by Harlan Howard, original twin hits by Johnny Cash and Ray Charles, both in 1963.

And the “one I didn’t” was his own biggest hit, “He Stopped Loving Her Today” by Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman, who just passed away in the last couple of weeks. Jones recorded this version twenty-five years after the original.

George’s most interesting “pass” was on “The Blues Man.” While Hank, Jr. wrote it about himself, George felt it hit too close to home in his own life – with references to his reputation as “No Show Jones” for example – to record at the time. Thank goodness he decided to not let it pass again, and got a little help from a friend.

Great music, great singers

As Vince said, the song is either good or it isn’t. Perhaps that’s why the award for “Song of the Year” goes to the songwriter. Reading through the liner notes to Patty Loveless’s album, I found these comments: “These songs are classics for a reason. Not just for what they say, who recorded them, who wrote them, but because of the emotional charge they carry.” And when songs like these are covered by the likes of singers like these, they become treasure to be enjoyed anew.
l

Who Is Gary Nicholson?

Like so many songwriters, musicians and producers, Gary Nicholson is largely anonymous to the public at large, yet he has played an enormous role in the creation of hundreds of songs and albums. In fact, working as so many Texans do at the intersection of country and blues, he’s collaborated as writer, producer or guitarist for a galaxy of stars ranging from Willie to Garth to Ringo to Buddy Guy to Delbert McClinton and the late, great Guy Clark.

I featured one of his best songs, “Leap of Faith” as recorded by Delbert, in my post titled “Three White Men With (Rhythm and) The Blues” last May. Recently, I came across the same tune as the title track for an album by Seth Walker, a North Carolinian transplanted to Austin. You can probably see where this is going. Please allow me to introduce you to Gary via Seth and Delbert.

Seth Walker – Leap of Faith
and
Seth Walker – Gotta Get Back

Seth Walker is generally labeled as a blues artist, as is Delbert McClinton with whom he apparently connected after moving to Texas. But neither artist is that easy to categorize as their music ranges across R&B, country, folk, pop, New Orleans second-line and wherever their mood and song choices take them. I was previewing Seth’s most recent album, Gotta Get Back, when I learned that his biggest selling album, Leap of Faith, was produced by Gary Nicholson and featured seven songs co-written by the two of them, plus the title song. I fell in love with the range of songs, Seth’s very fine guitar (never overdone) and his expressive yet restrained singing.

He doesn’t go for the big brassy sound that’s associated with Delbert, nor the long guitar solos typical of many bluesmen. Still the album has an impressive array of instruments put to service in stompin’ toe tappers like the opening “Can’t Come With You” and “Somethin Fast,” groovin’ shuffles like “Rewind” and the title tune, soul ballads like “I Got A Song,” the church tinged “Lay Down,” and the semi-country cover of Nick Lowe’s, “Lately I’ve Let Things Slide.” I think this album is going to be in my heavy rotation for quite a while.

There’s a gorgeous fully orchestrated version of Seth and Gary’s “I Got A Song,” which iTunes’s reviewer described as Ray Charles -like.  Here, however,  is Seth with a stripped down version, the unvarnished songwriters’ art.

 

Gotta Get Back has a little less Nicholson influence but as it’s Walker’s newest release, you will want to check it out. It does include five numbers he co-wrote with Gary including the kickoff number, “High Time.”

 

This album is a bit different in that Walker is trying to pay tribute to a number of musical styles which have influenced him over the course of his life. There’s New Orleans with “Fire in the Belly” (funk) and “Way Past Midnight” (second-line), folk with “Home Again,” gospel with “Turn This Thing Around,” pop with “Dreamer” and R&B groove with “Movin’ On.” If I had to pick just on of these albums, I’d go with Leap of Faith. But I’m more than glad to have both.

 

Delbert McClinton – Nothing Personal

Delbert frequently titles his albums with something other than one of the tunes included as he did here. He can also be a bit sly with misdirection. In fact the tone of the album is very personal in several ways: song selection, arrangements, vocal delivery, indeed in overall atmosphere. Gary Nicholson not only co-wrote five of the songs, he also produced this 2001 Grammy winner in the Best Contemporary Blues category. Oh, and he played some fine guitar as here with Delbert on the “Sandy Beaches Cruise” in 2013.

It’s not that the album lacks the barroom blues kickers Delbert’s so well know for – there are several, but by eschewing the big brass section in favor of a smaller combo style, Nicholson gives the entire project more of a small room feel. It doesn’t detract at all from the rockin’ numbers, and it really shows off the more intimate ballads. On Nothing Personal Delbert ironically seems to be singing for you personally rather than shouting to a big honky tonk crowd. Numbers like the south of the border tinged “When Rita Leaves (Rita’s Gone)” – truly one of the greatest can’t-believe-she’s-gone-but-maybe-it’s-for-the-best songs ever written, the classically blue “All There Is Of Me,” and the philosophical “Watchin’ It Rain” take on the intimacy and emotional weight that makes them, in fact, truly personal. There’s not a bad tune in the bunch. Heck there’s even a terrific Texas two stepper. And Delbert and Gary surely hit the jackpot when Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood had a big hit with their rollicking co-write “Squeeze Me In.” Obviously, I love this album! And I love this Delbert and Gary collaboration on a beautiful love song, “Don’t Leave Home Without It.”

Gary Nicholson has written too many of Delbert’s songs to count, and he’s played guitar and slide guitar on many others to boot. He’s produced five of Delbert’s albums, two of which won Grammys. Delbert would be great regardless, and Seth Walker would be too. Still there is something about Nicholson’s songs, playing and production that bring out their best. You’ve heard the evidence: the songs I’ve featured from these three albums were each co-written and played by the singer and Gary. The fact that he can do that with two guys born 34 years apart (not to mention all the others with whom he’s collaborated) sends a loud and clear answer to my question, who is Gary Nicholson?  He’s a huge talent, a helluva partner for an artist to have, and the emodiment of the best in Classic CowjazzR&B.  

Here are Gary and Seth showing us what it’s all about on a recent night in Dallas.

Quick Hits #2 + Cherry Pickin’

This is the second in my series of relatively quick posts featuring only one or two albums.

(Editorial note: I’ve noticed many of the youtube videos I’ve checked out recently come with a political ad. I hope none attach themselves to any of the videos I’m including in these posts. That’s the last thing I want to have sully your valuable music time.)

 
The Time Jumpers – Kid Sister

The Time Jumpers are an aggregation of several of Nashville’s best veteran studio musicians and back up singers who about ten years ago began performing together every Monday night at The Station Inn. They now hold forth at a place called 3rd and Lindsley in Nashville with occasional out of town forays. The group of all stars includes a couple of fiddles and guitars, accordion, pedal steel, drums, horns – basically whatever is around that whoever is there can play. You easily hear that it’s all a labor of love for traditional western swing and country music. The level of musicianship is extraordinary, and the song selections are sublime. A part time group with just two prior albums yet four Grammy nominations – impressive.

Vince Gill joined in a few years ago because of his connection with several members of the group, including Dawn Sears who had been his backup singer for years. Sadly, she passed away from cancer a couple of years ago, but left one track behind which is incorporated as a duet with her husband – and fiddling vocalist –  Kenny Sears on the new album’s kickoff number, “My San Antonio Rose.”

The brand new album is dedicated to her memory. While Gill does take the lead on several numbers, he subjugates his presence to the benefit of the entire ensemble. If you like Asleep At The Wheel, traditional country music and extraordinary playing, you’ll love jumpin’ into the fun with the Time Jumpers. Be sure to check out their other albums as well.

 
Willie Nelson (with the Time Jumpers) – For The Good Times: A Tribute To Ray Price

Speaking of The Time Jumpers, they are a big part of Willie’s tribute to Ray Price, also released in the last couple of weeks. Willie never ceases to amaze with his ability to repeat himself while never seeming to repeat himself, which is one reason I have more albums by him than any other artist. He has released two other duet albums with Ray Price going back several decades, and a third that also included Merle Haggard, all of which covered many of the same songs as are on this one. This time, however, with help from the Time Jumpers on six of the twelve cuts, he does them all in arrangements that are as much a tribute to Price’s 1960’s era countrypolitan sound as they are to Price himself. And he sings them as if he’s singing them for the first time. Maybe it’s having the Time Jumpers along – there’s a lot of love in the music they’re playing.

Here’s Willie and the Time Jumpers with Ray’s big hit, “I’ll Be There.”

 

 
This week’s Cherry Pickin’s

The Lonesome Strangers – “Goodbye Lonesome, Hello Baby Doll.” A roots group in the late 1980’s from the same area (Southern California) and era that spawned Chris Gaffney and later the Hacienda Brothers.

 

Tom Russell – “When Sinatra Played Juarez.” Russell is a great songwriter and pretty darn good singer who deserves more than a cherry pick. I’ll revisit him more fully in the future, but this tune is too cool not to pass along to you now.

.

 

Dee Clark – “Raindrops” I’m writing this during a Hurricane Matthew induced deluge. It’s dedicated to all my friends along the southeastern US coast.

 

May your homes, like your martinis, stay dry, very dry.

Quick Shots #1 + Cherry Pickin’

As you’ve no doubt noticed, I like to find great music, but I also like finding links that tie several albums together. Some of my essays around these links can get a bit lengthy, so for the next few weeks I’m going to do shorter more frequent posts to feature one or two albums that deserve attention even though they may not fit easily into a larger theme.

In addition, sometimes I find an album that has only one or two cuts that really catch my ear. I’ll add those tunes to my collection while ignoring the album as a whole. I call it cherry picking.  I thought I’d share a couple of my cherry picks with each of these short posts.

Here we go with #1.

 

Luke Bell – Luke Bell

I’m racking my brain, but the only country singer named Luke that I can recall is Luke the Drifter, which was, of course, an alter ego for Hank Williams. (Okay, you can include Luke Bryan on the Luke-list if you like.)  This Texas based Luke is the real deal,  however. When his album’s opening track, “Sometimes,” came loping out of my speakers, my head spun around. I was hearing something very new and very old at the same time. He doesn’t sing about being country; he is country. He doesn’t sing about Hank Williams and Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash and Roger Miller, Bell is the threads of all of these and others woven into a new rope to pull those traditions into today.

He was raised in Wyoming as a working cowboy. Along the way he picked up the guitar and singing. That led him to a couple of years playing honky tonks in Austin, Texas –  a perfect training ground in my opinion. From there he went to New Orleans and added a little spice to his musical recipes before heading back to Wyoming. After spending some time working on ranches and writing songs, he made the move to Nashville becoming somewhat of a regular performer at the semi-legendary hard core honky tonk Santa’s Bar.

All of that is in his music: wide open spaces, honky tonk shuffles, surprising musical gestures, tough choices and hard living. What separates him from the pack is the quality of his songwriting. He tells colorful stories, confesses sinful shortcomings, and paints blue pictures, while working with a variety of melodies, rhythms and tempos.  He also slyly infuses his lyrics with the dashes of humor that are trademarks of the great honky tonkers going all the way back to Jimmie Rodgers. The result is an album that surprises at every turn, yet remains true to its core.

Luke can go from the barroom lament of “Sometimes” to the train like drive of the harmonica flavored “All Blue” to talking to his own reflection in the mirror (“Where Ya Been”) to a sawdust covered dance floor shuffle, “Hold Me,” and never miss a two step to the end of the album. To say this album gets better every time I hear it is to sell it short. Rather, I’d say its pleasures keep luring me back to it again and again. Isn’t that what you from a new album – and an old one too.

Cherry Pickin’ 

CP #1:  As a tribute to the recently departed, great Tar Heel born songwriter John D. Loudermilk, here’s Texan Becky Hobbs with a spirited version of his tune “Talk Back Trembling Lips.”

 

CP #2: In my last post I wrote about Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett.  Their daughter Bekka Bramlett is a damn fine singer as well with a varied career including backing vocals on many great songs, a stint as Stevie Nicks’ replacement in Fleetwood Mac, and modest success as a solo artist. “What Happened” is her great cut from an album talk radio host Don Imus compiled with a variety of artists called The Imus Ranch Record.  

 

Ah, what the heck, here’s Becca again showing her soul chops with the immortal Sam Moore.

Southern Soul That Slipped Through The Cracks

Of all the genres I cover in this blog, traditional soul seems to offer the most opportunities to discover or in some cases re-discover really solid performances. Here are three that I’ve pulled from the digital version of the old bargain bin at your favorite record store. One is a re-discovery from 1969. One is a R&B diva, who never really broke beyond her strong regional following in Memphis in the nineties and early 2000’s. And one is an old master, albeit largely unknown to the general music consumer, who cranked out a gem of a soul/funk/blues album near the end of his long, productive life.  Interestingly, all three have a musical connection to Memphis. Use the comments link, and let me know what you think about them.

Delaney & Bonnie – Home

Many people my age claim to remember Delaney & Bonnie, especially if they were fans of the Allman Brothers, other southern rock bands, or Eric Clapton. For awhile they billed themselves as Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, the latter of which included the likes of Clapton, Duane Allman, George Harrison, Leon Russell and others. The fact is, however, they only had a couple of hit singles, none of which hit the top ten, and a couple of albums that charted none of which reached the top 20.

Having said that, this album Home, which was their first in 1969, never even made the Top 200. It’s a shame because this is a really good soul album. In fact, most of it it was recorded in Memphis by Stax and features Booker T and the MG’s and the Memphis Horns, with tunes by the likes of Steve Cropper, Isaac Hayes and David Porter. A few tracks were recorded in LA where Leon Russel and Carl Radle led the rhythm section. Somehow it all got lost in the shuffle as Stax released some 27 albums at about the same time. Or maybe soul music fans like me couldn’t picture a couple of hippie looking singers making like Otis and Carla or Marvin and Tammi. Having said all that, I’m inclined to classify this gem as a discovery. I know I never heard it, but if you did let me know.

And what fun it is to hear this music. While their later, better known albums edged a little closer to rock, this one is predominantly a soul revue.

Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett came by their musical bona fides honestly. By the time they signed with Stax, they were prepared to perform to the label’s soul stirring standards, and for the most part they do. As originally released, the album contained ten tracks. The Bonus Track Version on iTunes released in 2006 has sixteen which may be a couple too many. Regardless, the album has more than it’s share of highlights. For me these include two tunes by Cropper and Eddie Floyd, “We Can Love” and “Things Get Better” and another by Cropper and Bettye Crutcher, “Just Plain Beautiful,” all of which have a good Stax groove and tasty horns. Then there’s Booker T Jones’ beautiful, soul ballad “Everybody Loves A Winner” featuring a marvelous tenor sax by, I believe, Andrew Love. The most pleasant surprise perhaps is Bonnie’s take on Erma Franklin’s “Piece Of My Heart.” Although not as intense as Janis Joplin’s nearly out of control version released a few months before, it is still a darn fine rendition.

Stax’s own web site notes that even with all the label firepower employed in the recording, “the record went virtually unnoticed.” Thanks to the internet and digital outlets like iTunes, that need no longer be the case. Take a moment to notice – and enjoy – this really fine record.
Ruby Wilson – Ruby Wilson and A Song For You

I’m often asked where I find the more obscure artists I feature. Sadly, I found Ruby Wilson when her obituary in the New York Times caught my eye a few weeks ago. She was a Texas born blues and R&B singer who spent a big chunk of career from the 1980’s until her recent death delighting both locals and tourists as the Queen of Beale Street in Memphis. Intrigued, I searched for her albums and found two you might like.

The self titled first one was released in 1981. The first three songs are uptempo in the disco style arrangements popular at the time. While I prefer the soul grooves of Muscle Shoals, a couple of these do nicely showcase a strong, assured talent. The tempo shifts with the fourth cut, a classic-style soul ballad, “Bluer Than Blue,” which is as strong a performance as you’ll find short of Aretha Franklin or Gladys Knight. The tunes that follow are similar in style and quality. The woman can flat out sing.

A Song For You, released in 2009 bookends her career. Firmly established by this time as a blues and R&B belter with regular gigs at Memphis clubs like B.B. king’s, Wilson strikes a different note with this covers collection of jazz influenced ballads. Her vocals are soulful but more graceful and nuanced than soaring. It’s cocktail hour with classics like “At Last,” “Fever,” “What A Difference A Day Makes,” and maybe my new favorite version of the title track. Good stuff.

Who knows why some artists make it big and others with equal or better talent don’t? Is it management, poor record company promotion, failure to find that signature hit, some of all three or dozens of other reasons. I don’t know. I do know I’m thankful to find artists like Ruby Wilson. I just wish it had been in a club in Memphis rather an obit in the Times.

 

Calvin Owens – That’s Your Booty

My search through Ruby Wilson’s discography led me to Calvin Owens and this album apparently released after his death in 2008. Wilson is one of a strong contingent of singers, including the likes of Otis Clay and Archie Bell, whose vocals add power to Owens’ big band tour de force through soul, funk, blues and jazz. The presence of a couple of strong ballads notwithstanding, this is a “turn it up and boogie” joy ride.

Born in 1928, Owens grew up literally and musically in Houston in the 1940’s and early 1950’s. Like many Houston musicians of that era, he’s always blurred the distinctions between blues and jazz. He met B.B. King and joined his band as trumpet soloist through the middle of the decade. Years later he rejoined King as his bandleader and trumpeter from 1978 – 1984, playing a key role on King’s Grammy winning album Blues and Jazz in 1983. In between and after his tenures with King, he played behind a long list of luminaries and led his own smokin’ bug band.

The cut “On My Feet Again” with Wilson in full blues belting mode could easily have been a vehicle for B.B. On the other hand, Owens stretches his boundaries with the funk of “The Dog ” and the jazzy “Trumpet Blues”

 

Owens obviously had a taste of the big time touring and recording with King. Similarly, Ruby Wilson played with several big names and also had roles in several movies. Although Delaney and Bonnie never had a top ten hit single or album, they certainly enjoyed high profile exposure touring with Eric Clapton, not to mention raves from Hall of Fame level stars testifying to their talent and influence. Still, none of these albums made a ripple much less a splash on the charts. Give them a listen. I bet you’ll agree  this is music that deserves to be recovered from the cracks in the market, and most importantly, heard and enjoyed.

 

What the heck…

Here’s one more that may have slipped through the cracks for you: the talented Tasha Taylor singing her dad’s, the great Johnny Taylor, greatest hit, “Who’s Making Love?”

 

 

Bruce Robison’s “Next Waltz”

Bruce Robison is one of the brightest stars in a heaven populated by great Texas songwriters. He’s had songs covered for hits by some of the biggest stars in country music including George Strait, whose unerring ear for songwriting talent has produced top selling records for nearly forty years. Bruce himself is a fine singer and engaging performer – one of the most popular to grace the stage for the Lea Brothers Western Classic and Barbecue – whether solo or teamed with his brother Charlie or his wife Kelly Willis. He’s a man who is concerned about the state of real honest to goodness music that is both entertaining and meaningful. And he’s doing something about it.

Playing off of The Band’s famous farewell concert known as “The Last Waltz,” Bruce has launched a new venture he’s dubbed “The Next Waltz.” I implore you to go to http://www.thenextwaltz.com to read in detail what Bruce is doing. In short, every couple of weeks ago, he releases a new tune by real singers working with other real musicians, recorded on classic analog equipment. The song itself may be new or old, but the method of producing the recording is organic and timeless. Simultaneously, he releases a video more or less about the making of the recording – mainly it’s Bruce talking with the singers about the art and craft of writing and performing wonderful songs. Best of all, on the site there’s a link to subscribe, so every time a new recording is released, you’ll receive an email announcement. His first three featured Jerry Jeff Walker, Kelly Willis and The Turnpike Troubadours. The tunes are great. The recordings are impeccable. And my guess is you’ll be reminded of what drew you to love music of this caliber in the first place.

To whet your appetite, here is the new recording of “Come As You Are” by The Turnpike Troubadours.

 

At the risk of repeating myself, you owe it to yourself to check out http://www.thenextwaltz.com. In addition to the superb music Bruce is producing, he also posts an ever growing playlist of great tunes on Spotify. Go to the web site, and you’ll find all you need to know to get started.

Of course I realize you may not be all that familiar with Bruce. Let’s spend some time this week getting to know this talented man.  I could make a pretty darn good start by introducing a playlist just from Bruce Robison’s songs. How is this for a start?

Bruce Robison Playlist

“My Brother and Me” – Bruce Robison

“Desperately” – George Strait (top ten on country charts)

“Wrapped” – George Strait (reached #1 on country charts)

“What Would Willie Do?” – Gary Allan

“Angry All The Time” – Tim McGraw and Faith Hill (reached #1 on country charts)

“Travelin’ Soldier” – The Dixie Chicks (reached #1 on country charts)

“Tonight” – Charlie Robison (Bruce’s brother on a tune I really like. My mama always told me  nothing good happens after midnight. I always replied that nothing good ever happens before midnight. This song kind of proves my point, I think.)

“Rayne, Louisianna” – Bruce and Charlie Robison

 
In recent years, Bruce has focused on working with his wife Kelly Willis, and the result is two really fine albums:

Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison – Cheater’s Game in 2013 and
Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis – Our Year in 2014.

I have them both, and I don’t know how to pick one over the other. Both combine great songs – some original, some by other fine songwriters – with traditional instrumentation and clean production. Heck, take ‘em in chronological order. Cheater’s Game is built around songs exploring the perils, pitfalls, occasional guilty pleasures and heartaches of love gone wrong. While the overall theme has to be seen as sad if not tragic, the tone of the album is far from that. It let’s you enjoy the music while pondering the twists and turns of the games lovers play, not always on the straight and narrow. It’s like what the old masters say about the blues – by singing the blues, you let go of the blues.

The clever “9,999,999 Tears” got a fair amount of airplay, at least on Sirius/XM, but it’s just one of the baker’s dozen terrific tunes. Another of my favorites, “Border Radio,” is on one level an homage to the radio stations broadcasting from Mexico into Texas from the 1940’s into the 1960’s, and on another level it’s a desparate grasp for faded love. The stations would play requests, in this case from a woman whose lover is long gone. She wonders if maybe he’ll by chance be listening tonight. The deejay in the song intones, “this song comes from 1962, it’s dedicated to the man that’s gone, 50,000 watts out of Mexico, ah this is the border radio.”

 

On some of the tunes, Bruce takes the lead, on others it’s Kelly. Some are truly joint duets.  All are presented with a level of talent and integrity rarely heard these days. And if you like this one, you’re sure to like Our Year.

 

While researching Kelly Willis’s catalog, I stumbled upon an album to which she contributed, that can only be described as a country music guilty pleasure.

The Wandering Eyes – Songs Of Forbidden Love

My first thought was who in the world are The Wandering Eyes? Turns out they’re several of Austin’s hard core traditional troubadors assembled to record anew a collection of some of country’s classic cheatin’ songs. Dale Watson, Rosie Flores, Kelly Willis and a handful of their compadres serve up faithful renditions from honky tonk country’s dark corner like, “It’s A Cheating Situation,” “Hell Yes, I Cheated,” “Lovin’ On Back Streets,” and “When She Does Me Right, She Does You Wrong.”

Dale, Rosie and the rest are strong throughout, but the eye opener that led me to include it here is Kelly Willis’ gender reversal of the great Billy Paul soul classic “Me and Mrs. Jones – a guilty pleasure indeed.

 

 

Readers’ Recommendations

Many readers have submitted gracious and insightful comments about articles over the past year. I’ve appreciated all of them and published most of them. Many of you have suggested artists or albums for me to explore. For example, my niece Susan recommended Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats and Lake Street Dive, two groups I really liked and wrote about.

This blog is intended to be a conversation, so I’ve resolved to give more space to your recommendations. I figure there’s no time like Post #1 of Year #2 to start. All of this post’s albums are readers’ recommendations. This is just a sampling of “the good stuff,” and I’ll cover more in future posts. Very importantly, all of these met my most important criterion – that I like them enough to add them to my own personal collection. I hope all of you like hearing about them and that this may trigger more suggestions from even more of you. Listen up, and have fun!
Walter Hyatt – Music Town

A good friend of one of my brothers, Skip Smart, put me on to Walter Hyatt. I was familiar with his name but not really his music. As Skip told me, Walter, Champ Hood and David Ball were all from Spartanburg, SC, and singing together around the time their neighbors The Marshall Tucker Band were taking off. Walter, Champ and David all went on to Nashville and then Austin, TX.

They cross-pollinated with lots of better-known folks in both places. Lyle Lovett used to open for them in Austin and in fact refers to the boys from Carolina in one of his songs, “That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas.)”  Billed as Uncle Walt’s Band, a play on the Grateful Dead’s “Uncle John’s Band,” they became one of the most popular and revered bands in Austin in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The great Texas singer/songwriter Jimmie Dale Gilmore in an article in the Austin Chronicle in 2006 said, “I loved that band; I loved everything about them.”

Walter died tragically in the Valujet Everglades crash in the nineties. Champ passed away a few years afterwards of cancer. David Ball scored several big country hits including “Thinking Problem” and “Riding With Private Malone.” Walter never had a hit like David’s, but his 1993 album Music Town is terrific. He wrote eight of the twelve tracks and co-wrote the others. Listening to the album, you would assume he has to be from Texas. Much of his music has a western swing feel with a tinge of 1930’s era jazz, and there’s a bit of two steppin’ and Texas boogie as well. Hyatt’s singing, with his old pals Ball and Hood helping out on harmony vocals, is a free and easy fit for the melodies and my ear, and his lyrics are sometimes poignant, sometimes clever without being cute.

As we’ve come to know, Austin in the 1970’s was where outlaw country was born. It was where the crazy mix of country, folk, rock ’n’ roll, and classic jazz all came together as cowjazz. Walter Hyatt carried it all forward after Uncle Walt’s Band broke up. The music on Music Town reflects the talent and joy he poured into what he wrote and performed. I think you’re gonna love it.

Here from an episode of “The Texas Connection” on TNN some time around 1990 is Walter’s “Teach Me About Love” from Music Town. I believe his compadre Champ Hood is on lead guitar, and you can see Lyle Lovett at the far right.

 

 

Neil Young – Bluenote Cafe

I’ve never been a fan of Neil Young. I like a few of his songs, but his voice often grates on my ear like finger nails pulled across a chalk board. But reader Jim Kyle described Bluenote Cafe so enthusiastically that I had to give it a listen. Wow. This album is unlike anything else I’ve ever heard from Young. It’s big band rock ’n’ roll blues. Think Albert Collins with a high tenor voice.

Here’s what a little research told me: In the late 1980’s Young veered off his usual musical path, as he’s done from time to time, joined his long time bandmates Crazy Horse with a six piece horn section, and recorded totally new material which combined protestations against corporate takeover of popular music with straightforward blues/R&B, and took it all on tour. Apparently the reaction of critics and fans at the time was mixed at best. Many critics didn’t like the records. Many fans didn’t like the shows because he refused to play any of his earlier “hits.” After touring for about two years, he abandoned the whole idea and went back to his usual stuff.

Fortunately, as it turns out, all of his gigs on the tour were recorded. Bluenote Cafe is compiled from several shows. Will Hermes writing in the December 15, 2015 Rolling Stone said “The three-CD set, recorded over an eight-month stretch on that 1987-1988 tour, is an illuminating revisionist-history lesson.” He added, “…the way the album tried to conjure a scrappy South Side of Chicago bar band often works better on stage, with looser horn parts and, of course, stinging guitar.” Best of all, for me at least, Young’s voice sounds just fine here. I don’t know whether it’s the material, the engineering, or just a phase, but his voice works in this setting.

I found that its three CD’s worth of music is maybe one CD too long, much like almost every double album I ever heard – even the Beatles “white album” – contains only about an album and a half of good songs. So you may want to pick and choose your way through it as I did. No matter, if you like full bore horn driven R&B with hints of jazz in the improvisations, you should check this one out. Jim Kyle got it right.

 

Eric Clapton – Just One Night

While we’re on the subject of live blues oriented albums, this one released in 1980 easily merits your attention. Many of you are probably familiar with it, but for the younger set, or for those like me who weren’t following Clapton in the late 1970’s (I didn’t become a big fan until the late 1980’s.) let’s just say thank you to Tommy Baysden. Tommy recommended this for my “Top 100” album list, which is still a work in progress, and I’ve really been enjoying it. It’s packed with many of the hits from his solo career to that point like “Tulsa Time.” “Lay Down Sally,” “Wonderful Tonight,” “Cocaine,” and of course “After Midnight.” But these are not just replications of the studio versions. There’s more energy, more musician’s interplay, and more emotion.

Clapton demonstrates why he became a guitar god, but he avoids the overlong ego driven solos that plague so many of his contemporaries’ live performances. One of the highlights for me is his homage to the blues roots he so reveres: Major “Big Maceo” Merriweather’s “Worried Life Blues” originally recorded in 1941. It may have been just one night, but on this one night Eric Clapton is rockin’ and rollin’ and he’s in a groove that not only makes your body move, it also reminds you just how much fun music this good can be.

Clapton has performed “Worried Life Blues” many times. Rather than include a static photo with audio from Just One Night, I thought you’d enjoy this performance at Royal Albert Hall.

 

 

 

The Radiators – Zig Zagging Through Ghostland

Rarely have I run into anyone as enthusiastic about a particular band as reader Herb Evans is about The Radiators. This is yet another great New Orleans band whose career has covered about the same timeframe as The Subdudes, whom I wrote about a few months ago. In fact, Dave Malone, guitarist and vocalist for the Radiators, is the brother of The Subdudes Tommy Malone. The Radiators established a reputation as perhaps the rock ’n’ roll party band in perhaps the world’s greatest party town.

I regret I’ve never seen them in person because from what I understand their live repertory is an almost endless mix of their own tunes (their lead songwriter is keyboard man and vocalist Ed Volker) and covers of great tunes from all their heroes, which includes the Crescent City’s all time greats plus many other rock, rock ’n’ roll and blues artists of the sixties and seventies. Alas they’ve broken up. They do, however, reportedly reunite every year at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and a three night run in January at Tipitina’s. In 2011, they were inducted into the Louisianna Music Hall of Fame. I can’t imagine a more compelling validation than that.

They put out about fifteen albums since 1980. Plus with the band’s blessings, I understand hundreds of concert recordings can be found on the internet. I picked Zig Zagging Through Ghostland to feature because it was their best selling album – and I liked it. On the one hand you could describe it as roots rock, but that would not give just due to the entertaining variety of rhythms and the live band joy of simpatico musicians playing together that comes through so clearly even on a studio album. Volker wrote or co-wrote all the songs except for J.J. Jackson’s soul classic “But It’s Alright.” The Radiators do a darn fine job on that one. Some of my other favorites include the opener “Confidential,” “Squeeze Me,” “Dedicated To You,” and “Meet Me Down In Birdland.” I mention those in part because they exemplify that, although this is essentially a small combo with pretty basic instrumentation playing straightforward rock ’n’ roll, they manage to give you a variety in performance that keeps you looking forward to what may come next. And it’s all done with a good time vibe.

 

Balsam Range – Papertown

I can’t tell you how many people have recommended Balsam Range to me. For reasons I can’t quite put my finger on, I was mildly disappointed by the first few albums of theirs that I sampled. I love bluegrass, but it’s norms are so set in stone that I often have difficulty distinguishing one group or solo artist from another once you get beyond the icons like Flatt & Scruggs and Bill Monroe. Allison Krauss stands out because of her unique singing style and gorgeous fiddle work, and I love Rhonda Vincent’s sass and talent. Still, too many, talented though they may be, are interchangeable. Balsam Range fell into that crack for me until I heard Papertown, even though as a group and as individuals they had a string of Grammys, IBMA Awards, Gospel Awards, Vocalist of the Year Awards, etc, etc, etc, and had played with a roster of all stars

I’m puzzled why they failed to stand out for me on other albums, but they hit it out of the park with this one. I just know my ear perceives a little extra verve to their playing and singing here. I also know this – Papertown will be among my “go to” bluegrass albums.

 

So there you have it – a sampling of recommendations from my readers. Keep ’em coming. I’m always working several posts ahead as you might imagine, but I’ll get to yours sooner or later. If I don’t, well, there’s always the possibility I just didn’t like it all that much, or that I’m just procrastinating or looking for the right context.  There’s great new music crossing my desk all the time, and I’ve got some interesting new initiatives by one of my favorite singer-songwriters to tell you about. Plus I’ve dug up some fun stuff from my archives. I hope  you’ll stay tuned and tell your friends about Finding Classic CowjazzR&B.

First Annual Review: What Did We Find?

Just about this time one year ago, I launched “Finding Classic Cowjazz R&B” to in a sense formalize and communicate something I’ve been doing for years – looking for great performances by well known and unknown musicians of today and yesterday who perform classic forms of country, R&B/Soul, folk, and the not easily classified brand of music purveyed by Texas born or bred singers and songwriters called Cowjazz, a term handed down from an unknown original source by Jerry Jeff Walker. I’ve had a great time, but the question of the day is, what did we find?

“The proof of the pudding is in the tasting” as the old saying goes. Thus I’ve taken a break from searching to spend some time listening – to hear again what we’ve found. I’ve posted on ninety-one albums plus two or three playlists and “appreciations” for five stellar artists who’ve left the stage through death or disability. That’s roughly 1500 tunes, a heck of a catalog, if I do say so.  And after “tasting” it again, I have to say that most of it is damn good.

I’ve said on several occasions that this blog’s purpose is not to review new albums in the normal sense of that task. Still in our search for Classic CowjazzR&B, we certainly hear and write about many new albums and artists as well as mine the vaults for gems from the past. I was, therefore, proud to see a number of artists and recordings we discussed among those nominated for Americana Awards. These are the nominated musicians, albums and songs we’ve covered to date by category:

Album of the Year
Chris Stapleton – Traveller
Parker Millsap – The Very Last Day

Artist of the Year
Chris Stapleton
Bonnie Raitt

Duo/Group of the Year
Rodney Crowell and Emmylou Harris
Lake Street Dive
Tedeschi Trucks Band

Emerging Artist of the Year
Margo Price
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats

Song of the Year
“S.O.B.” – Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
“Hands of Time” – Margo Price

Instrumentalist of the Year
Cindy Cashdollar – featured in video of Dave Alvin & The Guilty Women performing “Boss of the Blues”

Of course the biggest winner already in the country category has been Chris Stapleton. I wrote about his album Traveller in my inaugural post last June. I really expected big things for the album and its leadoff single “Tennessee Whiskey.” For awhile, however, they languished in the nether regions of the charts, primarily because they received very little radio play other than on Sirius/XM’s Outlaw Country. Regardless, Chris, the album and the song swept the CMA Awards in November. Boosted by the wins and Justin Timberlake’s help on Chris’s performance of “Tennessee Whiskey” during the CMA’s national telecast, the album and song rocketed up the charts and stayed there. Plus Stapleton’s big wins continued at the Grammy and ACM Awards in early 2016.

My point in bringing up the Americana Awards nominations and especially Chris Stapleton’s recognition and remarkable albeit somewhat belated sales success is that it validates my belief that there is in fact a market for great performances in the music this blog seeks. Today’s digital-driven music industry just makes it hard for many artists working with classic forms to find their audiences and for audiences to find music they can love.

To close the circle of this commentary, that’s why “Finding Classic Cowjazz R&B” exists. Alas, far too little of the quality music we’ve discussed via this blog found anything near the commercial success Stapleton ultimately enjoyed. This blog can help audiences and artists find each other at least in a small way but only if we can grow the readership and in turn ramp up the dialog. Looking back over the music we’ve “found” this first year and motivated by the example Traveller set, I’ve added a second goal for our mission: grow the readership. I not only want to find the music we love, I want to grow the audience for the musicians that make that music.

For now, join me in looking back over year one. Let’s enjoy a semi-randomly selected sampling of great performances – not necessarily from the albums we reviewed – by artists we’ve featured in year number one.

I wrote about Donnie Fritts’s album Everybody’s Got A Song in my inaugural post. This is my favorite tune from that album, “If You Say So.”

Whenever I listen to Chris Wall, well, “I feel like singing along.”

Eli “Paperboy” Reed performed for two of the Lea Brothers Band Western Classics, although you can’t get mush further away from western than to be born in Boston. He usually does original material, but this cover from the “At Daryl’s House” series is just too much fun to miss.

 

The title of her recent album notwithstanding, Darlene Love needs no introduction. Here she shows the “Boss” how much run rock ‘n’ roll can be.

 

As a nod of thanks to David Lee for taking the time to write to me, and because I love what the song has to say and how it says it…

In closing this annual review, I want to thank those of you who’ve responded with comments about the music and artists or suggestions for other artists and albums to consider. Most of those comments and suggestions have been posted for all to enjoy.

I referenced just above a very thoughtful and complimentary comment I received from one of the artists I featured, David Lee.  He wrote (in part,) “I want to thank you for the incredibly insightful review of my record “The Wichita Kid.”  Thanks for taking your precious time to delve into my world and truly understand the music. Thanks for what you do pal, for getting the music heard and being a true fan of the music creators that truly need folks like you to care.”

That says it all about why this blog exists, doesn’t it. On behalf of David Lee and the other “music creators” we cover, thank you for reading, listening, and exploring.

Finally, I bid year one adieu with my favorite singer in tribute to my favorite songwriter. (Unfortunately, after you click the play arrow for the video you may have to click a second link you’ll see to go to YouTube to actually see the video because of restrictions by its owner. I’m sorry for the inconvenience, but I hope you agree it’s worth the trouble.)