Thursday, January 4, 2018

10 For 2017 - The Best Honky Tonk Albums + 1 Single

2017 was a great year for Country and Honky Tonk music. But only, as long as you stayed away from commercial radio that - with very few exceptions - is still babbling in lowest-common-denominator attacks towards a clueless generation of Millenials and by doing so, going broke.
With Midland being the exception most of the artists below only received minor and most of them, no airplay on commercial country radio. That doesn't mean that you have to be an indie artist to qualify for my Best of 2017 list, but as long as artists like Kane Brown, Chris Lane, Sam Hunt, Thomas Rhett, Walker Hayes or even pop starlet Bebe Rexha are dominating the country charts with unlistenable crap, I will venture out to find what quality-wise matters and will still be relevant in the years to come. Songs that have structure, depth in storytelling and not just regurgitating nursery rhymes, musical arrangements that rely heavily on instruments akin to country (or roots) music, like dobro, mandolin, fiddle and steel-guitar and singers who can actually sing.

So with no further ado - here's my Top-Ten, alphabetically:

Bobby Bare - THINGS CHANGE

Five years after "DARKER THAN LIGHT" and being elected into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2013, 82-year old Bobby Bare returned back into the limelight with a new album consisting mostly of self-written compositions. The title track, "Things Change," a Bare co-write with Jeff Hyde and Roger Springer, already garnered some attention in 2012, when Bare together with Petter Øien competed to represent Norway in the Eurovision Song Contest with that song, they came in third in the local Norwegian final.
Reflecting on life, often with a smirk and a twinkle in the eye, he let us know that Angels fly away, that the "Trophy Girl" - according to Bare the last co-write Guy Clark did - will be leaving too and that the only sure thing is that there "Ain't No Sure Thing." The strongest and most serious among these songs is probably "Where Did It Go" with the sentiment that time is just slipping through our fingers:
But now time is disappearing like jet streams in the sky
It all went by so fast I didn't see it pass me by




Brandy Clark - LIVE FROM LOS ANGELES

To include this live album is a bit a stretch, I would rather have included a new album from Brandy, as this compilation only offers one new song - "When I Get To Drinkin'," a Clark co-write with Josh Osborne (Midland, Kacey Musgraves, Sam Hunt) and Scott Stepakoff (Kelsea Ballerini, Tim McGraw). Four of the other ten songs are from her independent 2013 debut "12 STORIES," the rest from her 2016 follow-up "BIG DAY IN A SMALL TOWN." Originally released in April as a Record Store Day exclusive, these eleven tracks recorded at Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles shine with their stripped down, acoustic versions and made me include it in this year's list. Only accompanied by Miles Aubrey on acoustic guitar and background vocals her songwriting with its exquisite twists and turns even shines brighter:
Boy, I tend to get sad when Jones gets to singin'
I tend to get lonely, lonely, lonely when the phone isn't ringin'
So I tend to get drunk when I get to drinkin'



Tyler Childers - Purgatory

Kentucky native Tyler Childers is exactly what I would have loved to expect to come out of Nashville in 2017. A snapshot in time with its main character - even though only 26 but already a decade into the music business - trying to find a small ridge between his rowdier past and performing, "Honky Tonk Flame", and the new comforts of home, love, and marriage to "Lady May."
Even though anchored deeply in the traditions of the Appalachian mountains, geographically as well as musically, "PURGATORY" isn't limited to a place, a time or a musical custom. Due to its honesty, it reaches out with a "Universal Sound" and the listener will identify with what's being offered, may it be to find the balance between sin and salvation, or the dark story of a murder ballad, "Banded Clovis."
It also helped that darling-du-jour, Sturgill Simpson (with David Ferguson) helped produce "PURGATORY," he led an awesome cast of musicians. Normally I wouldn't mention the rhythm section, but what Miles Miller (Sturgill's drummer and responsible to introduce Tyler to Sturgill) and Michael Bub (bass) deliver is a solid foundation caring the ten compositions, often hinting at the backbone of Waylon Jennings' sound. The rest of the crew are all multi-instrumentalists, Charlie Cushman (Jim Lauderdale, Hank III) here delivering the banjo staccatos, Stuart Duncan (also on Charley Pride and Rhonda Vincent/Daryle Singletary's Best of 2017 records) on banjo as well as fiddle, acoustic guitar, and mandolin, Michael J. Henderson (Emmylou Harris, Miles Davis) on electric guitar and mandolin and Russ Pahl (Great Plains, Nikki Lane, Angeleena Presley) on acoustic, baritone and electric guitar as well as on harp and pedal steel.
Childers due to the strength of people adding his "radio station" on Pandora and his growing Social Media impact, just started charting on the Pandora Trendsetter Chart.
European readers, take note - Childers will be in Scandinavia, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK starting January 18th - go and see him chase that "Honky Tonk Flame":

Still on the road, cause I ain't good for nothin'
Except writing the songs that I sing
Beating them strings like they're owing me money
And chasing that Honky Tonk flame    



Chris Hillman - BIDIN' MY TIME

It's over a decade that Chris Hillman released a solo outing,  "pressured" by often collaborator and occasional duet partner Herb Pederson who got Tom Petty as a producer on board, Chris decided to show us one more time, why he is one of the most influential folk- or country-rock Illuminati. Originally hailing from the Bluegrass scene, he sang with Vern and Rex Gosdin in the Golden State Boys, was a co-founder of the Byrds, later the Flying Burrito Brothers, a member of Manassas, other incarnation including even other progenitors and the leader of the Desert Rose Band, besides having a solo career as well.
“BIDIN' MY TIME” is a cornucopia of all of Hillman's musical stages in life, there is bluegrass, three revisions on Byrds songs,  country-rock and it closes with Hillman’s version of producer Tom Petty’s song “Wildflowers.” Petty brought keyboardist Benmont Tench, drummer Steve Ferrone and guitarist Mike Campbell (on "Restless") from the Heartbreakers. Roger McGuinn and David Crosby join Hillman for a mini Byrds reunion; Pederson, John Jorgenson, and Jay Dee Maness are old friends from the Desert Rose Band.
The album opens jingly-jangly with a re-edition of the Pete Seeger and Welsh poet Idris Davies classic "Bells Of Rhymney" which appeared on the Byrds' first album "MR. TAMBOURINE MAN" with Crosby joining in on harmony vocals. The second Byrds retake, "She Don't Care About Time" (Gene Clark) hails from the "TURN! TURN! TURN!" sessions, even though never included on the original album, it was the B-side of the of the title track's single version; Jorgenson's 12-string electric guitar adds a lovely touch to it. "Old John Robertson" from "THE NOTORIOUS BYRD BROTHERS" (Hillman/McGuinn) got a lyrical re-write into "New Old John Robertson" and became a bluegrass-country story song with Pederson on banjo and Punch Brothers' Gabe Witcher adding fiddle. "Here She Comes Again," another McGuinn/Hillman composition from their McGuinn-Hillman-Clark days, and up to now only available on the Australian Live album "Backstage Pass," got a reworking and now sounds like it was featured 15 years earlier as an original Byrds song, with McGuinn delivering his signature 12-string electric guitar picking and Hillman playing bass, as he did in the Byrds.
Playing around in the studio on Sonny Curtis' "Walk Right Back" (a Top-Ten-Hit for the Everly Brothers), Petty told them to record it, according to Jeff Slate's excellent "Rockcellar Magazine's article. With a great acoustic guitar lead by Jorgenson, they stuck to the Everly Brothers' one-verse-only version of the song, instead of the two verse version, Sonny, Perry Como, Andy Williams and others recorded.
Besides all these crate-digger songs above, the new material Hillman co-wrote with longtime collaborator Steve Hill and family friend Nathan C. Barrow's composition "When I Get A Little Money" need to be mentioned as well.  Writing and singing from the perspective of a now 73-year-old, he reflects on all of the ills in this world and the finality, the limited time we spend here, but all these songs have that shimmer of hope that keeps us going. "Restless," the title track "Bidin' My Time," and "Such Is The World That We Live In" with its lines
No darkness will hold us down
No empty words will make a sound
We will be together again
Such is the world that we live in
are great examples and make this album a gem of 2017.



Ashley McBryde - A Little Dive Bar In Dahlonega

After two indie releases, 2011's "ELSEBOUND" and 2016's EP "JALOPIES AND EXPENSIVE GUITARS" this Arkansas native got signed by Warner Music Nashville on the strength of her songwriting. Opening for artists like Hank Williams Jr., Chris Stapleton, Willie Nelson and recently Eric Church, with whom she often duets on the autobiographical "Bible and a .44" from her EP which she dedicates to her father, sure helped, as well as an endorsement by Garth Brooks, upcoming tours with Luke Combs and Miranda Lambert.

Her major debut "GIRL GOIN' NOWHERE" is supposed to be released early 2018 - and with two songs from that album, she already generated quite a buzz, not only in the press from Rolling Stone to the New York Times, but also on streaming services, like Spotify and Pandora.
Trying to make it in Nashville for the last ten years, the title track is more than bittersweet. "Girl Goin' Nowhere" (co-written with Jeremy Bussey) tells the story of a singer chasing her dreams and being told that she will crash and burn, simply goin' nowhere. But redemption finally came and in June an emotional Ashley McBryde was able to sing that song during her debut at the Grand Ole Opry and finally cherish the chorus of that song:
But when the lights come up
And I hear the band
And where they said I'd never be, is exactly where I am
I hear the crowd
I look around
And I can't find an empty chair
Not bad for a girl goin' nowhere

But better yet, she doubled down with her first official single, "A Little Dive Bar In Dahlonega" with by now, almost 1.5 million streams on Spotify and was even able to crack the Billboard Country Airplay charts with limited radio airplay in December. And again it's great storytelling (together with Jesse Rice and Nicolette Hayford) that sets her apart - the famous light at the end of the tunnel in the form of a dive bar with a band, playing a song that will improve your day:
Here's to the breakups that didn't break us
The breakdown, wrong turn that takes ya
To a little dive bar in Dahlonega
Hear a song from a band that saves ya, man
It's hittin' rock bottom smoke 'em if you got 'em
Nothing's going right
Makin' the best of the worst day kinda night

If the rest of the album can keep up with the strength of these two teasers, you will probably be reading about Ashley McBryde in next year's Best of 2018 as well. So with "just one official" single out, Ashley made my Top-Ten list just because of what 2018 may bring.



Midland - ON THE ROCKS

Several outlets, including the much respected "Saving Country Music," question the authenticity of the new trio Midland, named after the saying "Fair to Midland" (stemming from fair to middling) Dwight Yoakam made into a song. Selling themselves as having worked the bar scene in Austin endlessly, which they haven't - that criticism has some roots. On the other hand, it's not unusual for a record company to come up with their own creation, what is often manufactured in the pop realm, has quite a tradition in Nashville too.
Not really advancing Midland's cause is resident Dr. Jekyll and Hyde producer in Nashville, Shane McAnally, who besides song-crafting and/or producing some excellent stuff (Kacey Musgraves, Miranda Lambert) also is responsible for some of the worst (Sam Hunt's "Body Like A Backroad" or the atrocious "BOOM." album by Walker Hayes.)
With all that said, Midland is still a very listenable "retro"-act, from their Nudie suits to their mix of laidback 80s sound (George Strait, Dwight Yoakam) with a 70s nod to country-rock harmonies. They smelled like a fresh whiff of Fabreeze on the else pestilential airwaves. Also helping is the fact that the beloved sound of a steel guitar is front and center, thanks to my contemporary heroes Dan Dugmore and Paul Franklin. With a top-five, "Drinkin' Problem" under their belt, and now storming the charts with the follow-up "Make A Little" the trio consisting of Mark Wystrach, Jess Carson, and Cameron Duddy sure will make some more headlines this coming year.
My favorite tracks are "At Least You Cried," "This Old Heart," and "Electric Rodeo" with their tips to the past, as in Yoakam, John Denver or the late Glen Campbell. A song that is, unfortunately, missing "ON THE ROCKS" but is still available on YouTube is the great trucker composition, "Fourteen Gears" a song Wystrach and Carson wrote with Austin legend David Garza.



Willie Nelson - GOD'S PROBLEM CHILD

Another octogenarian that is "Still Not Dead" but heartily is joking about the fact, is Austinite Willie Nelson who with "GOD'S PROBLEM CHILD" released his best album in almost two decades, not counting his collaboration albums with Ray Price, Kimmie Rhodes, and Wynton Marsalis.
It's not just the title track, "God's Problem Child," a song written by Jamey Johnson and Tony Joe White, who both join Willie together with the late Leon Russell, that will lure you in. There's a tribute by Gary Nicholson for the late Merle Haggard "He Won't Ever Be Gone," the metaphor of a "Butterfly" (Sonny Throckmorton and Mark Sherrill), the reflective, outstanding "Old Timer" by "Funky" Donnie Fritts and Lenny LeBlanc as well as seven songs Willie wrote with his producer Buddy Cannon, "Lady Luck" will you take waltzing, but it's two of the slower songs that will catch your attention, the superb, instant classic, hard-to-get-over-a-lost-love "Your Memory Has A Mind Of Its Own," a brilliant reworking of "Love Has A Mind Of Its Own" and the sorrowful adaptation of getting old, "It Gets Easier."
It gets easier to say "some other time"
It gets easier to tell the world to wait
And it gets easier to watch the world fly by
And tell it, "I will catch up, but not today"

Zephaniah OHora - THIS HIGHWAY

Yeppers, one of the best country albums this year comes out of New York City, actually Brooklyn. Based on the traditions of the legendary California sound of the 70s, "THIS HIGHWAY" nevertheless sounds fresh and new. What started out to be a cover band reliving trucker songs (Dave Dudley, Red Simpson) and paying homage to the captains of the road, ventured into a project, where lead singer Zephaniah OHora started writing his own compositions.
And I don't think it takes anything away from Zephaniah, but what Don Rich was to Buck Owens, Roy Nichols to Merle Haggard, Jim Campilongo is to OHora. Formerly a member of Norah Jones' side project Little Willies, he plays his own custom-made Fender Telecaster throughout "The Highway" and delivers the signature sound to this project not just as a guitarist but also as a co-producer with Luca Benedetti.

Songwriting-wise, Zephaniah OHora doesn't break any new ground either - and that's a good thing - relying often on traditional structures and choruses, using themes like love, breakups, the yearning of home and even has a hidden murder ballad. The only cover on "THIS HIGHWAY" is a countrified version of the Frank & Nancy Sinatra classic "Something Stupid" (penned by C. Carson Parks), with Dori Freeman taking the female part. My favorite tracks include "I Can't Let You Go (Even Though I Set You Free)" (which actually could have come right from Ray Price's "NIGHT LIFE"), "I Do Believe I've Had Enough," "High Cass City Girl From The Country," and the ultra-sad waltz "For A Moment Or Two."  

To quote Aristotle: “THIS HIGHWAY is greater than the sum of its parts" and that album is an instant classic! Congrats to the whole team behind it! Thanks Trigger for showing me that gem.



Margo Price - ALL AMERICAN MADE

Watching "Coalminer's Daughter" about Loretta Lynn is the perfect lead-in to writing about Margo Price and her second offering "ALL AMERICAN MADE."  While Price's debut "MIDWEST FARMER'S DAUGHTER" compares to Lynn's autobiographical song and movie title and told us who Price is, the feisty new songs on her sophomore album can be compared to Lynn's "Fist City," "You Ain't Woman Enough To Take My Man," or "The Pill." just in a new social context, 40 to 50 years later. With most gender issues gone, besides the still existing "Pay Gap," she also tackles the hot-iron topics of our modern society and paints a pretty grim picture, that resonates deeply with the current broken state of affairs.
Family farms are gone, owned by banks and big corporations, she laments in "Heart of America." In the Gospel-influenced "Do Right By Me" with help from the McCrary Sisters, she questions the rat-race, she praises people that are opposed to our social norms in "Loner"
And they put you through school
And tell you, you're grown
And put you to work to buy shit you don't need
and in the title track, she not only decries illegal government dealings (Iran-Contra) but also the questionable values we grew up with, asking the late Tom Petty and referencing "American Girl" for advice.
Raised on sports and Jesus and all the usual suspects
So tell me, Mr. Petty, what do you think will happen next
That's all American made
"Little Pain" and "Nowhere Fast" deal with her being a mother, a wife, and a singer all in one person and how to deal with all the obligations that come with it, including being away from her child again mirrors Loretta Lynn's life, who tried to do the same five decades ago. In "Cocaine Cowboys" which I see as a current state of affairs in the Nashville music business, she not only references Willie Nelson's "Shotgun Willie" about meaningless songs, but also the whole current scene that's just there to party and has no background what it means to be "Looking At Country" to make a last reference to Loretta Lynn.



Rhonda Vincent & Daryle Singletary - AMERICAN GRANDSTAND

 “If you love traditional country music, and remember songs originally sung by well-known duet partners like George Jones and Tammy Wynette, Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn, and Merle Haggard and Bonnie Owens, this is a must-have CD that we are extremely excited about,” Rhonda Vincent announced about her duet project with 90s traditional country singer Daryle Singletary. And that pretty much sums it up, not more and not less - simply an album celebrating the tradition of duets.
From Harlan Howard's "Above And Beyond" with it's fine interplay between fiddle, steel guitar and "Honky Tonk" piano to the fine dobro work by "The Rage" member Brent Burke on "Up This Hill And Down," "AMERICAN GRANDSTAND" shines as a beacon for a tradition long lost. That the album was the best-selling "Bluegrass Album" only shows how irrelevant the country charts have become, as the only reference to that style is that Rhonda Vincent is nick-named the "Queen of Bluegrass," the album itself is a strong traditional country, Honky Tonk effort.
For a full review and more details of Rhonda and Daryle's album, please visit my original blog.

The clip below features three songs from the album - "After The Fire Is Gone," their current single "One" and the title track "American Grandstand."



20 Other great albums that I tremendously enjoyed this year:
Mary Battiata - THE HEART, REGARDLESS
Rhiannon Giddens - FREEDOM HIGHWAY
Lilly Hiatt - TRINITY LANE
A.J. Hobbs - TOO MUCH IS NEVER ENOUGH
Ray Wylie Hubbard - TELL THE DEVIL I'M GETTING THERE AS FAST AS I CAN
Jason Isbell - NASHVILLE SOUND
Sharon Jones - SOUL OF A WOMAN
Alison Krauss - WINDY CITY
Nikki Lane - HIGHWAY QUEEN
Lillie Mae - FOREVER AND THEN SOME
John Moreland - BIG BAD LUV
Sam Outlaw - TENDERHEART
Angeleena Presley - WRANGLED
Charley Pride - MUSIC IN MY HEART
Sunny Sweeney - TROPHY
Chris Stapleton - FROM A ROOM, VOL 1 & VOL. 2
Marty Stuart - WAY OUT WEST
Colter Wall - COLTER WALL
Alex Williams - BETTER THAN MYSELF
Lee Ann Womack - THE LONESOME, THE LONELY, AND THE GONE












Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Rhonda Vincent & Daryle Singletary's "AMERICAN GRANDSTAND" Debuts at #1 In Bluegrass Charts - Album Review

Country music duets have a deep and long tradition going back to the origins of the genre, celebrating its heydays in the late 60s and 70s when Johnny recorded with June, Merle with Bonnie, Buck with Rose, Tammy with George, George also with Melba and Loretta first with Ernest and then Conway. True to all these recordings, now it's Rhonda and Daryle's time and with "AMERICAN GRANDSTAND," a mixture of re-recordings of old classics and some new material, they deliver in high fashion; no wonder then, that the album debuted in the #1 spot on the Bluegrass Charts. 

Daryle Singletary is one of the most underrated traditional country music singers. Coming from the same well of singers as Lefty Frizzell, George Jones, John Anderson, Keith Whitley and Randy Travis, he simply arrived in Nashville too late. The sounds had changed, the craftsmanship got lost and party-songs started to take over. It was actually Travis, who was able to get the young Georgian twenty-something a record deal with Giant Records, after hearing him sing a demo of a song Travis later recorded. Travis even helped produce the singer's self-named debut album "DARYLE SINGLETARY" in 1995. After two more albums for Giant, he was out. But he keeps recording for independent labels, staying true to the tradition.
Throughout the years, he always used the help of Bluegrass singer Rhonda Vincent, either as a background singer on his debut album, while she was his labelmate or as a duet-partner on one of his independent releases.

Rhonda Vincent, according to the "Wall Street Journal," the "New Queen of Bluegrass" always ventured into country music. When signed by Giant Records in the mid-90s, after already establishing herself in an over two-decade-long career in Bluegrass, her second album for Giant "TROUBLE FREE" was a pure delight. Similarly to other artists coming from Bluegrass into the country world, like Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley or Marty Stuart she was able to combine the rawer, more aggressive singing, with the lusher countrified arrangements.

"AMERICAN GRANDSTAND" opens with a salvo, the 57-year-old classic, Harlan Howard penned "Above And Beyond" ages well like a fine wine. For more about that song, see my preview of the album in my blog "Rhonda & Daryle go "Above And Beyond." The interplay between fiddle, steel guitar and "honky tonk" piano is pretty magical.

Rhonda and Daryle's current single "One" is one of two George Jones / Tammy Wynette duets remade, the other one being the classic Bobby Braddock, Rafe VanHoy composition "Golden Ring" a number-one-hit from 1976. "One," written by Ed Bruce, Judith Bruce, and Ron Peterson, not only was a single but also an album title for the 1995 reunion album, George and Tammy recorded. I'm glad I saw that show in Gstaad, Switzerland that year, btw Rhonda will be traveling there later this summer. Unfortunately, as I mentioned above that single also came too late for the changing radio waves and was ignored by radio. I remember Ed Bruce being disappointed, I think it was in an episode of the George Jones show, where he said: "I waited 40 years for a George Jones cut, and now they won't play it."

I'm not sure, why they re-recorded "After The Fire Is Gone" as it already appeared on Daryle's 2002 album THAT'S WHY I SING THIS WAY" in a duet version with Rhonda. Don't get me wrong that 1971 L.E. White written cheating classic with its four famous lines

Love is where you find it
When you find no love at home
And there's nothin' cold as ashes
After the fire is gone



is still a monster song and they do again a great job on it. The other Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty hit, "Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man" which also went to number one two years later was written by Kapp recording artist Becki Bluefield and Jim Owen, who wrote several hits for Jim Ed Brown. Michael Rajos' accordion giving the song a nice "Cajun" feel.

Daryle's voice and its phrasing are better suited to sing Jones than Twitty, so it's not that much of a surprise, that there are two more George Jones hits on this album. The first one actually goes back to 1963 and George's partner in the recording, Melba Montgomery wrote the song "We Must Have Been Out Of Our Minds." It was the first big hit for the then-25-year-old.
George Richey (later to become Tammy Wynette's husband) and Norro Wilson, who just passed away a month ago, penned "A Picture Of Me Without You." It was a Top-Five-hit in 1972 for George, Lorrie Morgan also took her version into the charts.
In the clip below Daryle explains how they decided to come up with a duet version and how hard it was to actually get new material to record for "AMERICAN GRANDSTAND." The Vern Gosdin recording he mentions in the clip was done in 2007 with Kimber Sparks, not Christy Lane.



1966, a year after Merle Haggard and Bonnie Owens got hitched, Capitol Records released an album consisting of duet-singles, the couple had recorded previously for their own Tally label, co-owned by Haggard and songwriter Fuzzy Owen,. Fuzzy was also the writer on "Slowly But Surely," definitely a favorite of mine on the new Vincent/Singletary album.
Coming out of the Bluegrass corner is "Can't Live Life" written by Edgar Loudermilk, a former member of Rhonda's band, The Rage and of IIIrd Tyme Out and now fronting his own outfit, Edgar Loudermilk Band. He and Rhonda recorded "Can't Live Life" for his album "ROADS TRAVELLED." On "Up This Hill And Down" the steel guitar makes way for a resophonic guitar, marvelously played by "The Rage" member Brent Burke. Originally an Osborne Brothers hit in 1965, the Richard Staedtler composition, recently saw some new light, as Claire Lynch in 2007 and the Grascals in 2011 recorded it.

Billy Yates, the composer of the slow ballad "As We Kiss Our World Goodbye" is having a banner year, besides being featured here, he also produced and contributed two songs to Charley Pride's new record "MUSIC IN MY HEART." As strong as his song, is the title track "American Grandstand," Rhonda brought to the table, lamenting a relationship break-up and how far it has become a simple show, for others to enjoy and/or judge. These two songs alone are worth buying this silver disc, simply country music at its finest. In my honest opinion it's great that the album debuts at number 1 in the Bluegrass charts, even though it is a traditional country music album. It really shows how stupid and meaningless country charts are these days.

Besides Rhonda & Daryle hitting all the vocal highs and lows in superior form, they were helped by a who's who in the studio. There is current Hot Rize member Bryan Sutton on acoustic guitar, Stuart Duncan on fiddle comes courtesy of the Nashville Bluegrass Band. The electric guitar is shared by former Merle Haggard guitarist and now Austinite Redd Volkaert and Nashville session pro, James Mitchell. I haven't seen Hargus "Pig" Robbins' name in awhile, glad to hear him on some of the tracks, Michael Rojas tackles the keys on the others, he is also adding accordion and organ on one track each. And then there is steel guitar wiz Mike Johnson, who as you see in the clip below can play everything. Mike started out with the late Mel Street, occasionally tours with Reba these days and does a lot of TV work, like "Larry's Country Diner", a TV show on RFD-TV catering to their guests with home-cooked meals and to the viewers with traditional country music.

The clip features three songs from the album - "After The Fire Is Gone," their current single "One" and the title track "American Grandstand."

★★★★(★)/★★★★★ (4½ out of 5)


The album is available through regular retailers, as a digital download from all the major sites, as well as directly from Rhonda Vincent and her label, Upper Managment Music.

Sources: Webster PR, YouTube, rhondavincent.com, darylesingletary.net

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Rarities From The Past - Clay Blaker Releases Live Album - Through The Years 1979 - 2002

THTB circa 1980 - Donnis Hammond, Jimmy Day, Clay & Allene Blaker, Jack Shelby  

The music business simply wasn't the same anymore. While in his heydays Clay Blaker and The Texas Honky-Tonk Band would be playing over 250 gigs a year, many of the old clubs and dancehalls disappeared, people got older and the young folks wanted to see their stars in gigantic arenas swinging over their heads and using pyrotechnics.

Looking back on a 30-year-old career Clay and his wife Allene decided to call it quits. On one of their earlier vacations, they bought a little piece of heaven on an island off Panama's mainland and that was to be their retirement. Clay or "Slick" to his buddies, used to compete in surfing, actually, Blaker surfboards built by his dad until 1970 are still in high demand, so the surf off the island is an extra bonus.

As a songwriter Blaker is known to have written songs for anybody from George Strait, Tim McGraw, Clay Walker, LeAnn Rimes, Bill Kirchen and Kevin Fowler to Barbra Streisand and Johnny Mathis. For many upcoming musicians, he was also known as a mentor and sometimes a partner in songwriting. His private picking parties, sometimes till the cows came home, were legendary. For many young artists, it was the place to premiere their new songs among a small circle of fellow musicians, friends, and occasional music-industry people. What especially younger people may not know, is that Blaker and his Texas Honky-Tonk Band, first and foremost built a reputation as a touring outfit, not only crisscrossing the Lonestar state but also exporting Texas country music into Europe, where a sizeable country music fandom started in the late 70s and peaked in the mid-90s.

That's where "CLAY BLAKER AND THE TEXAS HONKY-TONK BAND - LIVE - THROUGH THE YEARS (1979 - 2002)" comes in. It's a collection of songs that every band in Texas during that era "had" to play to get the dancers onto the floor to scoot through the legendary dust. And to no surprise, as the band is revving up their engines for the night to come, the album starts with an old R&B instrumental "Hold It", written by saxophonist Clifford "Honky Tonk" Scott, first released in 1958 by Bill Doggett. But instead of a reed instrument, it's legendary steel guitarist Jimmy Day, that takes it away into the country sphere. That opener speaks volumes about the wide open range what Texas music is. Frontman Clay joins the band on the tender and rather rare subject of a single father raising his kids. "Holding Things Together," written by Merle Haggard and Bob Totten and originally recorded by The Hag on his 30th album in 1974. Tip to the hat for playing that live, as it is probably 180 degrees away from the machismo scene that normally dominated the dancehalls.


It continues sentimental and again lets Day shine on his instrumental interpretation of the traditional Irish song "Danny Boy." Jimmy played with everybody, being a Cherokee Cowboy for Ray Price, to Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, Faron Young as well as a non-pedal steel player for Elvis and Hank Williams. And that leads us to

Honky Tonkin'

What started with Bob Wills and other Western Swing Bands in the 30s and 40s, was the desire of the people to dance to the music and in Texas with its dancehalls and Honky Tonks, people started two-steppin' and waltzin' way before the end of World War II, when women started to join the work force and became more liberated. No wonder then, it was Bob Wills who was the first to bring a drum kit to the Grand Ole Opry and caused quite a stir. That tradition also asked for a special breed of music; an amalgam of Swing and Country with side influences from German and Bohemian immigrants who brought Polkas and Schottisches and then Ray Price who came up with the 4/4 shuffle. And all these influences could be summed up in two words: Honky Tonk. And that's how Clay named his band, The Texas Honky-Tonk Band, And the next seven songs all belong into that category, from Hank Williams' "Take These Chains From My Heart" to another Fred Rose composition, "Roly Poly" made famous by Wills and his Texas Playboys.

In between are gems like two songs about Hank Williams, the first one written by his other former steel guitar player, Don Helms, the second song also mentioning another Texas Honky Tonk great, Corsicana born Lefty Frizzell. One of the early Honky Tonk hits bringing the subject of being left by a lover to the forefront was the Hawkshaw Hawkins hit "Lonesome 7-7203" written by Justin Tubb. With the change of society, cheatin' songs became part of the Honky Tonk staple as well, great examples featured here are Mel Street's "Borrowed Angel" and Ray Price's hit "Another Bridge To Burn" penned by master songwriter Harlan Howard.


A good title instead of "Through The Years" could also have been the Bootleg tapes, as these songs were recorded in Texas as well as in Germany and some of the "masters" weren't recorded off the soundboard. So yes you may hear the public, here and there - but all these recordings transcend a piece of oral Texas Honky Tonk music history. Also with time passing, some of these recordings are almost 40 years old, it's quite hard to remember venues and exact lineups of the Texas Honky-Tonk Band.

I reached out to Clay and Allene Blaker and received the following info:

"Unfortunately, most of the tapes that these cuts were taken from are unmarked so I'm mostly relying on my memory in regards to dates, venues, and musicians. The first cut is definitely Gruene Hall, the second is definitely Dorpen, Germany, and the third is another venue in Germany. The musicians on these three songs are the same as in the promo photo we sent. However, Dan McCoy replaced Donnis Hammond on lead guitar during this period and that sounds like Dan on Track 1. The time period for these songs is 1979-1981, Tracks 3 thru 8 are from 1983 at a venue in Longview, Texas. I don't recall the name of it. Musicians on these tracks are Dan McCoy, Mark Kuykendall on drums, David Farenthold on steel, Allene on bass and Bryan Duckworth on fiddle. Tracks 9 and 10 are from the Cabaret in Bandera in 1985. Dan McCoy, Ken Kelly on drums, Bob Kelly on steel, Ricky Turpin on fiddle and Allene on bass. Bob Kelly had played steel at one point for Bob WIlls' Texas Playboys and Ricky won the Texas State Fiddling Championship several times."


The album, as well as single songs, are available for download through every digital retailer as Amazon, iTunes (currently presale, downloads from 7/28), Google Play. A second volume is scheduled to be released in October of this year.

Clay Blaker & The Texas Honky-Tonk Band - Live - Through The Years (1979 - 2002) Vol 1 Song list:

1. Hold It (Billy Butler, Clifford Scott)
2. Holding Things Together (Merle Haggard, Bob Totten)
3. Danny Boy (Traditional)
4. Take These Chains From My Heart (Hy Heath, Fred Rose)
5. Hank (Don Helms)
6. Hank & Lefty Raised My Country Soul (Dallas Frazier, A.L. Owens)
7. Lonesome 7-7203 (Justin Tubb)
8. Borrowed Angel (Mel Street)
9. Another Bridge To Burn (Harlan Howard)
10. Roly Poly (Fred Rose)

Edited version: on 7/20 Clay released the video to "Holding Things Togehter" which is now embedded as well, it may not be of the best quality, but it's definitely a part of history.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Down At The Corner Bar - Goodbye KEQX

Two years ago we found a property outside of a ghost town, Carlton (you want to check out my Lifestyle blog - Where In The Hell Is Carlton) and tried to find a radio station we would like. And sure enough, 89.7 Pure Country or by call letters KEQX based in Dublin become our favorite. Traditional country music at its best, if you like Ray Price and a lot of Texas shuffles, this was the station to tune in.

One of the artists I discovered was Tony Booth (pictured above), an artist that played for years in the famous Palomino Club in Los Angeles and whose band was voted Academy of Country Music "Best Non-Touring Band" three years in a row in the 70's and he himself "Best Promising Male Vocalist" in 1971.  I haven't had a chance yet, to go see the Tony in concert, even though he plays regularly in the Fort Worth Stockyards at Lil' Red's Longhorn Saloon. (Next show on July 1st).

One of the songs I always liked hearing on the radio, is actually one of his own compositions, known to me previously as a song Don Rich and the Buckaroos recorded, a great little shuffle tune. Tony wrote "Down At The Corner Bar" together with Barney Carl, who himself had some releases in the early 60s on Nugget and LHI.

Unfortunately "Pure Country" KEQX out of Dublin, Texas got sold, as Sam Upshaw is retiring. I hope that we still be able to listen to the station as it is moved to Weatherford and getting a new frequency 89.5 MHz. There was also word that some minor musical changes may be up in the air. I just hope, they will still play Tony Booth, "Down At The Corner Bar."



Sources: tonybooth.homestead.com; Academy of Country Music; BMI; http://www.montereybaymusic.com/BarneyCarl, KEQX, YouTube (misterhonkytonk)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Dys-fun-ctional Christmas

Not always is Christmas happy and merry.

Conflicts with the law, broken relationships, loneliness or simply dysfunctional families can put a burden on these holy Holidays.
Good part about it is, that they also inspire songwriters to tell about it. It's basically a reality show wrapped in the soothing sounds of Christmas music. So in this third part of a "Honky Tonk Christmas" let's put the fun back into dysfunctional (my Saloon ornament is hanging) and listen to some tunes, that aren't your standards accompanying "Silent Night," "Oh Tannenbaum" or more secular ditties like "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer," "Frosty The Snowman," "White Christmas," "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow." "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" or even "Feliz Navidad."

First in my list of a half dozen not so PC-friendly, dysfunctional songs is an over 25-year old classic done by Irish punkers The Pogues together with Kirsty MacColl (who passed away in 2000) called "Fairytale Of New York." Even though the song only reached #2 in the British Charts during it's initial release in 1987, it's this season (2013) most downloaded Christmas song in the UK.  Though the protagonist of the song is in the drunk tank on Christmas Eve to sober up, he sees quite a rosy future with his loved one.



And what you may have realized is that my definition of Honky Tonk music is quite wide and yes it includes Tom Waits. According to Wikipedia - even though the quote can't be traced anymore - he was quoted about "Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minnepolis" as follows:

 "I was in Minneapolis - it was 200 degrees below zero - I know - you think I'm bullshitting, no, I swear to God, I was wearing just a bra and a slip and a kind of dead squirrel around my neck - he was colder than I was. The police cars would go by and they'd wave... Merry Xmas, Merry Xmas, Merry Xmas - anyway - I got caught in the middle of a pimp war between 2 kids in Chinchilla coats, they couldn't have been more than 13 years old - they're throwing knives and forks and spoons out into the street - it was deep - so I grabbed a ladle - and Dinah Washington was singing "Our Day Will Come" and I knew that was it."

I can't say it much better, besides mentioning, that we are all looking for Valentine's day coming up.





I knew that John Prine had a song called "Christmas In Prison" of his 1994 Holiday album "A JOHN PRINE CHRISTMAS" but after re-listening to the whole album, I decided to use the only (at least that I know of) song that cynically compares a broken up relationship with a decaying Christmas tree and how bittersweet it is to wish the former lover "All The Best." Definitely a Christmas song, no department store would use as elevator music.

Alcohol also can be (is) a specific Christmas problem and leads to a crossroad of possibilities:
- a) drinking out of joy and celebrating (for some reason the most kids in the US are born roughly nine months after the Holidays - http://www.labnol.org/internet/most-popular-birthday-months/21283/ - longer, darker nights may be playing a role too)
- b) others may indulge due to dysfunctional relationships, insane family ties and trying to cope with that in a buzzed or even drunk state of mind
- c) and finally all the people who are alone and don't have anybody to celebrate the festivities with

In 1973, John Denver released "Please Daddy Don't Get Drunk This Christmas," a song written by husband and then-wife team, Bill Danoff and Mary "Taffy" Nivert. The couple was quite successful and had other hits with "Take Me Home, Country Roads - by Denver," "Boulder To Birmingham - by Emmylou Harris" and their self-recorded, as the Starland Vocal Band, #1 hit "Afternoon Delight."
Twenty years later, Alan Jackson spiffed that little ditty a bit up, made it with a shuffle beat a lot more giddy and the steel guitar replacing the dobro made it more jukebox friendly.

Alan Jackson - Please Daddy Don't Get Drunk On Christmas

Big & Rich - Drunk On Christmas

Boxcar Willie - Hee Haw Honey

How can I pass up lyrics like "I need some Christmas spirit, and by spirit I mean booze; I'm getting drunk, drunk, drunk on Christmas." This song was written by Late Night TV host Jimmy Fallon and a writer of the show, Gerard Bradford and premiered three years ago, with special guest John Rich (Big & Rich) sitting in with Fallon and back-up band, The Roots. As the original clip isn't around anymore, I had to replace it with the Big & Rich version.

Hee Haw Honeys with Roy Clark
Lecil Travis Martin aka Boxcar Willie, even though only remotely popular in the United States was a superstar overseas and is believed to have sold more than 100 million albums. His carnal wish was infused by the beautiful Southern ladies in the TV show "Hee Haw" and Hugh Hefner's playboy bunnies - and yes that simply is all he wanted under his Christmas tree.

One of my all-time favorite
dysfunctional Christmas songs is "Merry Christmas From The  Family" penned by Texan Robert Earl Keen. With a sharp wit, he describes the Christmas needs and family relationships as it would be part of a reality show. The parents are getting drunk, the sister shows up with a new Mexican boyfriend, who woos everybody with "Feliz Navidad," brother Ken who arrives with wife #3 brings his five kids out of two earlier relationships. And it's Turkey, football and more booze - trips to the convenient store to restock with cigarettes, diapers, tampons and whatever you need in the 24/7 world that America is.

And with this - I can only wish everybody of you - Merry Christmas Y'All

.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Jaida Dreyer caught her mommy in flagranti

Earlier this year I stumbled upon the music of Jaida Dreyer. A single - (unfortunately) with no chart success - had me listening closer. "Half Broke Horses" had me in awe and her debut album produced by Byron Gallimore, released on Streamsound Records "I'm Jaida Dreyer," even though partly overproduced, had me spin the disc several times. That girl can pen a song and can closely be associated with the new breed of women's songwriter with intelligent material like Kacey Musgrave or Brandy Clark.

Researching the young lady from Canada (who partly grew up in the United States) I stumbled upon a quite cool version of the old Christmas standard "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus." Why can they produce twangy, cool sounding Christmas singles like this, but then they (Nashville) release generic, boring stuff during the year? Judge for yourself - this little ditty has me dancing in no-snow. But what do you expect, in mostly balmy Texas through all of December?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Ray Price - Honky Tonk Hero

 We all knew it would happen. The pancreatic cancer was back and Ray refused to go through another strain of chemo and decided to die peacefully in hospice care in his Texas house in Mount Pleasant. A rushed statement by his son made him die premature, but this afternoon at 4:43pm Ray did pass away. I'm sure there will be many (better and extensive) obituaries covering his six decades in the music scene.

I thought I will just remember him with some anecdotes, trivia and personal experiences.
Ray Price single handedly changed country music a decade before Willie and Waylon started their outlaw waves in the music business. After being a disciple (actually roommate) of Hank Williams, his early albums were pure Hank-influenced, songs right on the edge between sin and salvation. With the emergence of Rock'n'Roll, Ray changed the old solemn sounds with his signature hard driving, jazz-influenced 4/4 shuffle into a highly dance-able Honky Tonk sound which up to this day still exists in every "true" Texas jukebox and dusty dancefloor.
Just listen to "Home In San Antone" from his album "SAN ANTONIO ROSE" - you may have to do that several times to get actually get the different layers - first just listen to the tight rhythm work of drums and bass, add the "classic" fiddlin' by Tommy Jackson, then indulge in the mastery of Jimmy Day on the steel guitar and then give a listen to Ray's vocal acrobatics. Piece the pieces together and the sum is way bigger than it's parts. And please be warned this stuff is addictive.



Yes I'm bluntly honest - some of his next invention, the cosmopolitan Nashville sound turned me off, all the strings were layered so thick and smooth, that at the time it was barely listenable to. I did change my mind in retrospect. And the BS (yes that stands also for a musician) crap that Nashville is now releasing, elevates these tunes like gems in a field of burnt coal pieces.

When he was introduced into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996 I was there at the Grand Ole Opry working the event for several European radio stations and will never forget his quip "Well It's About Time." And right he was, having changed the sound of country music twice. In substance he was the Tony Bennett of Country Music, where George Jones was Frank Sinatra. In 2000 Ray made a trip to SXSW (music fair) to perform a free concert at Waterloo Park. Despite a cold front who dropped the balmy afternoon temperatures 30 degrees into the 40s, there were more than a thousand attending and enjoying that show (which also featured the Derailers and Hank Williams III). Still remember dancing on the lawn of the park - mostly to stay warm - when someone poked me in the back - they were some old friends of mine, members of BR5-49 who also attended the music fair and came out that night to check out and pay tribute to the Cherokee Cowboy.

The medley below of two of his hit singles, even though recorded during a different concert, pretty much explain the experience that beautiful, even so very frosty night.



By 2007 I was struggling, living out of my car - but Ray announced two concerts in Austin, together with Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Asleep At The Wheel as part of the "Last Of The Breed"-Tour. Sure glad I was able to work "parking" these two magical nights and seeing that show twice. After the show we all rushed to Poodie's (Willie's former road manager's place - RIP) to see who would show up for the after party, some of the Cherokee Cowboys did, but it never became that much wished for Jam-Session for all the musicians involved. Nevertheless Ray stole the show these two nights. A year later he returned with "TIME" actually touching some of the old shuffle themes who made him so famous. "You Just Don't Love Me Anymore" became an instant favorite.

 

A must have for every true Honky Tonk fan is Ray Price's 10 CD box by Bear Family which chronicles the years from 1950 - 1966.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Honky Tonk Christmas

Michael ONeill posted a great little ditty on my facebook page called "Beer Can Christmas Tree (visit this site for a free download)." What a great idea and concept, and as you can see above it takes quite some work to achieve the task of building (emptying) an aluminum pyramid aka "Beer Can Christmas Tree."
Well Michael allowed me in writing to share his song (with collaboration by Jimmy Baldwin) with y'all.

Well Honky Tonks are normally closed on Christmas Day as the majority of patrons stuff themselves with a 3500 calorie meal containing an amino acid called L-tryptophan and enough booze, wine and beer which puts them to immediate sleep and out of reach of any beer serving joint. The ones which are open may also attract the loners who want to share just one too many tears in their beers. Hank Williams recorded a song with that name in the early 50s but decided to not release it. Son Hank Jr. used  electronic merging technology and it seems as he would be playing with dad. That video was released in 1989 and was awarded the Video of the Year by the Country Music Association (CMA), it's Californian counterpart the Academy of Country Music (ACM) and they were able to "share" a Grammy as "Best Country Vocal Collaboration."


Well there is not much of a loner crowd in one of Austin's fav Honky Tonks on Christmas night. For years one of Austin's favorite Honky Tonkers, Dale Watson invites the "aamasses on Christmas into the Continental Club to celebrate, you guessed it a "Honky Tonk Christmas." Well my international readers in Europe should visit his tour page, in early 2012, he has shows coming up in Slovenia, Croatia, Italy, The Netherlands and France.


And now please eschcuse me, I gottttaaa wourk on miy Beer Can Chrischmasch tree. Happy Holidays y'all.
Well I had to add one more, I used to play the heck out of that Mickey Gilley song, when I was a DJ at the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation. Cheers everybody!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Early Bilie Jo Spears - pure Honky Tonk

You may have looked for an update to my blog "Honky Tonk Daily," well the daily part gotta a bit stretched as I was writing two obits for Billie Jo Spears.

The obits are done: in English and in German, so lets feature that Texas girl in this Honky Tonk blog as well. Her early stuff on Capitol Records, was a pure delight for the traditional country fan, a lot of steel guitar and/or dobro, simple arrangements, just pure boot-scootin' on sawdust - what a bliss.

Some of the stuff, which didn't make my obit is featured here.

"You Couldn't Even Light His Candle" (Dallas Frazier)

"A Thing Of Pleasure" (Eddie Rabbitt; Larry Lee Favorite)


"Midnight Train" (Bob Milsap; Jack Rhodes)


There are also some gems on United Artist like the sassy little ditty "Never Did Like Whiskey" penned by Kenny O'Dell, with Billy Sherill as recording engineer and Larry Butler as producer. Even though it sounds like eons apart from her earlier recordings Spears' voice dominates over the Countrypolitan arrangement, label boss Larry Butler put behind her recordings. If you want to read the full obit I wrote, visit the links above.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Honky Tonk Moon

Yesterday's lunar eclipse triggered the title "Honky Tonk Moon" back into my memories.

And was I glad to find a live recording of this song, as far as I know, there was never a video released with it.
It was Randy Travis' seventh number #1 Hit in the "Billboard Hot Country Songs" chart and was on top of the charts on October 8, 1988. The song itself, written by Dennis O'Rourke (more about the writer after the video), was the opener from Randy's 3rd WB album "Old 8x10."

 

I actually saw and interviewed Travis two years earlier in Nuernberg, Germany, in December of 1986 while he was on a USO tour of American bases in Europe. There was finally a voice that brought the traditional country sound back.

As to the writer, Dennis O'Rourke; after sailing on freighters and tankers in the Far East as a Merchant Marine, living and performing in Ireland and getting a dual-citizenship, he moved back to the USA and started to perform full-time and recorded a first album. A DJ advised him to move to Nashville and after several years of pitching songs, Randy Travis decided to record "Honky Tonk Moon." Music copyright company BMI awarded him with two awards. Here is O'Rourke doing his own take on "Honky Tonk Moon" - recorded in October of 1993.



A second album followed in the mid-nineties, with fellow Irish entertainers, he wrote and edited "Clean Cabbage In The Bucket - And Other Tales From The Irish Music Trenches."

He still writes music and short-fiction, and had a song placed in the Award-nominated documentary "Megamall" for which he wrote the opening song "Anywhere USA." According to his website, a new album is in the works.

I also found a Czech version of  "Honky Tonk Moon" by country-singer Radek Tomáše with his own lyrical adaption as "Kymácivý Měsíc" (which google translates into Creeping Moon).

Friday, December 9, 2011

Honky Tonkin'

This is a start of a regular, unregular or in better words, unregular, regular blog about all the aspects of Honky Tonks, it's music and it's patrons. In one of the future editions, I will try to explain what a Honky Tonk is or what it has become over the years.

Just to start the blog, let's use Hank Williams' "Honky Tonkin'"


"Honky Tonkin'" was Williams second big hit, reaching #14 in 1948.