Friday, November 30, 2012

Album Review: The Trishas - "High, Wide & Handsome"

Around the beginning of May earlier this year, I discovered what has become one of my favorite bands, the Turnpike Troubadours. Having just read a review of their new album at the time, Goodbye Normal Street, as is quite natural I went and purchased the album they released two years before that called Diamonds and Gasoline. This purchase was based off of just one listen of the country-rocker "7 & 7." I was hooked immediately, and that doesn't happen very often.

I am rambling, which I tend to do, so allow me an attempt at reaching the point: After completely wearing out Diamonds, I finally purchased the excellent Goodbye Normal Street and was quickly taken by track number five, "Call A Spade A Spade," a stunning, harmony-soaked throwback to the classic country duets of old, featuring vocals for the ever-important female portion of the song by one Jamie Wilson, whose name I had never ran across before. After hearing that voice, so solid, so emotional and on the verge of breaking, and with (to my ears) a little hint of Iris Dement, a quick Google search later yielded the discovery of The Trishas, the all-female quartet of which Jamie Wilson is a part.

After releasing an EP a couple years ago (They Call Us The Trishas) and a single late last year ("Drive"), perhaps to keep current fans satiated and the blogosphere abuzz, the group at last released their first full-length album on August 7th of 2012. It is a strange grace that I only discovered the group a few months ago, so I did not have to wait long for new music to come down the pike -- which, after hearing the EP and the single and watching clips of them on Youtube (filmed by Music Fog) singing their hearts out -- still couldn't come soon enough. Suffice it to say that however long one had anticipated the release of High, Wide & Handsome, the wait has proven well worth it.

The most obvious thing that sticks out about The Trishas are the beautiful harmonies, which in my mind somewhat resemble Little Big Town if that group was all female and not so slickly produced on record. High, Wide & Handsome is crisp but not slick, organic yet full and alive. Each voice is allowed to breathe, both alone and together, and when that first wall of four-part harmony hits on the lead track called "Mother of Invention," you'll remember why you love music. The least obvious thing about The Trishas are the lyrics, and that's only because it takes awhile for you to really hear them, for their heart, soul, wit, and poetry to shine through, simply because the hook with which the harmonies reel you in is so sharp. With that said, here are my thoughts on High, Wide & Handsome track by track. (Sidenote: Song by song reviews do not lend themselves to conciseness and are perhaps even a little self-indulgent. But for me it is an exercise in honing my music writing. It also allows [and demands] me too dig deeper into an album so that I know what I want to say about each song other than "it's good" or "super catchy," and I figure what better album to attempt that than on one of my favorites of 2012. So here goes. One last thing: brevity is not my strong suit anyway, and much less so in a song by song review; for that I apologize. I do hope those of you who make it through to the end enjoy reading and, more importantly, are convinced to take the journey this record takes you on yourself.)

1) Mother of Invention (songwriters: Jamie Wilson, Natalie Hemby) - With a chorus that says, "Turn an old wagon wheel into a chandelier hanging from the ceiling/ Move the mirror from the chifferobe into the hall where it's more appealing/ It's the lack of creature comforts that make you pay a little bit more attention/ Yes indeed, necessity is the mother of invention," track one could be a sort of philosophical statement for the band. Take it as it comes; use what you've got; do what you can; be creative. Immediately the strengths of the the group are displayed: unique individual voices that yet seem like they were made to sing together (Jamie Wilson starts things off but I believe every member sings individually on this one), catchy melodies, literate and clever lyrics, and uncompromisingly country instrumentation (fiddle, mandolin). I believe it's a song that does a great job of letting the listener know whether they want to stick around or not. And with everybody that answer should be a resounding "Yes."

2) Strangers (Jamie Wilson, Kelley Mickwee, John Eddie) - Truly as good as country music gets, and by that I mean that this is a beautifully sad song. Savannah Welch takes the lead here, imbuing lyrics like "I miss the me I used to be" and "I barely recognize myself" with a vulnerability and sense of tragedy that brings the truth of them home, allows them to be feelings rather than just words. It's a song about the dark side of marriage, about being with someone for a time and then realizing it's gotten to a point where you don't know them, they don't know you, and you don't know you. The second verse attempts to put words to this unexplainable disconnect: "Sometimes when the light's just right/ It's you who's kissin' me goodnight/ When the morning comes it's her I find instead/ Who are these strangers in our bed?" On top of that, memories are conjured up by detailed imagery ("Wedding pictures on the TV set") and the line that encapsulates it all ("There's nothing stranger than being strangers"). In short, this is a song that goes on that playlist you have of songs you listen to by yourself with a bottle.

3) Little Sweet Cigars (Jamie Wilson, Evan Felker) - Evan Felker is the lead singer and primary songwriter for the Turnpike Troubadours, and this song has his name all over it. It'd fit perfectly on that band's Goodbye Normal Street, and is similar in tempo and rhythm to "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" on that album. It's a song about a young girl who falls for an older man who smells like "little sweet cigars." She is immediately smitten: "Your hand it held my own right through the corridor of cars/ and led me to the world of wishing wells and shooting stars." Of course, the narrative from this point can only lead to one place: heartbreak. She slowly begins to realize what a slick talker he is and how she is being deceived: "When you're kissed by a fool then you're fooled by a kiss." Yet even at the end of  the song, perhaps garnering a sense of humor about her mistakes or living in defiance of regret, she states, "But looking at it now I might have done it all the same." In other words, she learned a lot. The production is rounded out by a smooth electric guitar, fast drumbeat, and subtle "oohs" and "aahs" for background vocals. It almost sounds like a more melodic, more angelic Johnny Cash song, thanks in no small part to the superb lead vocals of Jamie Wilson.

4) Liars and Fools (Kelley Mickwee, Jason Eady) - This song gets right to the point by starting with its simple, catchy, and brilliant chorus: "If I had to choose between liars and fools/ Then I'd choose the fools every time/ 'Cause liars they live in their own little world/ While the fools lay it all on the line." I mean, just try not singing along to that. The simple lyrics are complimented by simple yet effective bluegrassy instrumentation: fiddle, banjo, acoustic guitar, mandolin, tambourine. Kelley Mickwee proves herself to be excellent on lead vocals, singing with a gorgeous, defiant earthiness that is rich with emotion and even a little celebratory. And together with Jason Eady she comes up with lyrical gems like this: "And if I get burned I wanna get burned by the fire/ Not hiding from the ashes in the trees." Be sure to listen closely to the last verse as well for a clever twist that calls into question the reliability of the narrator. She's nothing if not honest and proud about it.

5) Cheater's Game (Savannah Welch, Liz Foster, Bruce Robison) - Commanding lead vocals on this track is Liz Foster, who to my ears is the most "classically soulful" sounding singer in The Trishas. It adds a needed layer to the four-part harmonies and certainly stands out when going it alone. As the title of the song might suggest, "Cheater's Game" is a play on the classic trope of cheating in country music songwriting. It's another tale of a strong woman going through some tribulation, who in the end is going to be just fine and perhaps come out of it with a better sense of identity. This is exemplified at the end of the song with the zinger of a line, "Anyone here can see all the ways that she ain't me/ And I know you gotta hate that perfume." I'm not 100% sure, but I'd be willing to bet that, woman to woman, that's about as sharp a putdown as one can make.

6) Looking At Me (Jamie Wilson) - Jamie Wilson is in full control of this song, taking on songwriting and lead vocal duties all on her own. It contains one of the best lyrics on the album, one that is alone worth the price: "Well, a fire burns slow if you know how to build it/ The heat travels up from the ground toward the trees/ And when the winds change, I know smoke follows beauty/ I follow it up till it's you that I see." There's just really not much one can say after that. A man can say he's been fortunate in life when he's had such things sung about him. This ballad rests gently on instrumentation that includes acoustic guitar, mandolin, steel guitar, and a heartbreaking vocal performance by Jamie Wilson.

7) Why (Liz Foster, Kelley Mickwee) - This is a song about scumbag guys and the girls who, for one reason or another, find it hard to leave them. It is essentially a song about how every woman desires to be treated. The man the song speaks to obviously does not know how to treat a woman: he talks down to her, robs her of her inner peace, and doesn't call her "baby." The narrator admonishes him, "If you love me, be a man, treat me right." It is something of a scathing indictment, not only of guys who are douchebags to their women, but of guys who simply don't respect women in general and don't seem to understand the little, simple things that play a big part in making a relationship work. In a way, however, some of the blame also lies on the woman for continuing to give him a chance. Her admonishments thus far are only threats not promises: "Leave you, I just might," she says. Instrumentally, the song is quite spare, allowing the soaring four-part harmonies to fly even higher.

8) Over Forgiving You (Savannah Welch, Jason Eady) - Jason Eady, whose album AM Country Heaven, was released earlier this year, lends his immense songwriting talents to this heartbreakingly defiant tune while his co-writer Savannah Welch takes lead vocal duties. And Welch sings the hell out of this song; providing a nice balance to the somewhat laid back production, there is a fragility to her voice that makes it sound as if with every line she sings she is trying to hold back tears. That's because moving on is hard, and this is song about that moment in someone's life when they decide to move past a painful memory, choosing not let the pain dictate the course of their life. A man has ended the relationship with the narrator, and not on good terms. My favorite part of the song is the lyrical daggers that Eady and Welch come up with: "You left me fighting for my life/ That's a hell of a high road to take;" "It's been a long time darling, since you went and ran off like you did/ Must've took a lot of courage/ The way you went and ran off like you did;" and to cap it all off at the end of the song, "The hardest part of getting over, comes down to what you rise above." The most telling and interesting line is the one from which the title derives: "I'm through with missing you, over forgiving you today." She never comes right out and says that she forgives him. If fact, I would argue that this is song about the insanely difficult nature of forgiveness, and how the narrator simply can't find it in herself to do (yet), but she still decides to "get over" anyway for her life's own sake. And perhaps there is a little satisfaction for her in the fact that he left her all alone, and now that's what he is. Electric and steel guitars round out production that sounds full but decidedly uncluttered. For lack of a better term, it's a very pretty piece of heartbreaking music to listen to. This right here, folks, is exquisite songwriting.

9) One Down (Kelley Mickwee, Brandy Zdan) - Joining Mickwee on songwriting duties is Brandy Zdan, who opened for and (I believe) played additional instruments for The Trishas on their tour supporting the release of High, Wide & Handsome. I must admit that I haven't quite figured out the meaning of this song yet, which I am fine with. Some songs take longer than others to reveal themselves, some perhaps never do, and time may reveal that some meanings you thought you had discovered have slowly changed and become something else entirely. That's simply what art does. "One Down" seems vaguely to be about a relationship, perhaps a passionate one that ends abruptly, but the nuances of its genesis and demise are left open to interpretation based on the stark images presented. And it's in the imagery that the song finds its strongest aspect: heat and burning and flames ("If there's nothing left to burn/ Set yourself on fire") and colors (I'm a solid white line, you're black and blue/ The rust stains swell, red comin' through"). Mickwee lays down an impressive vocal that is restrained when necessary.

10) Cold Blooded Love (Liz Foster, Dustin Welch) - It's fitting that this song follows "One Down," because melodically and musically these two songs stand out from the rest of the album. "Cold Blooded Love" sounds like a cabaret style lounge song that would fit snugly somewhere in Over the Rhine's catalogue. The first time I heard it I immediately thought it would be the perfect song for a David Lynch film like Blue Velvet or Mulholland Drive. It's got a spooky melody, and if I remember those movies correctly, Lynch loves a good scene full of symbolism that takes place in a cabaret lounge. The theme of the song is encapsulated from the outset by the first line: "With every gleam of light there comes a burning flame." In other words, what can seem good for you at first can ultimately end up destroying you. In this case there's a man who the narrator feels wrong but "so right" about at the same time. He was at first an answer to hopes and prayers, but now he's only a sickness. What the cure? Allow Liz Foster to belt out the answer: "Now that man is a deadly disease and the only remedy/ Oh man, I can't take it, but I can't shake myself clean." Now who hasn't felt that way; you dig yourself into a deeper and deeper hole, and by some backwards form of logic, you feel the only way to dig yourself out is to dig even deeper. (Oh, to be human!) Foster absolutely belts this one, and the background vocals from the other Trishas on the chorus only add to the spooky dark humor of the whole affair. There are also a couple of sweet fiddle solos throughout the song that are not showy but accentuate the mood. A nice change of pace.

11) Rainin' Inside (Kelley Mickwee, Kevin Welch) - "Billie Holliday is killing me." Do first lines get better than that? I'm not even familiar with that much of Holliday's music and the line does for me what it's supposed to: it let's me know this is going to be a sad fucking song (I suppose the title tilts me toward that direction as well). It's a beautiful, simple, emotionally true song about heartbreak and the power of music to give you something and someone to relate to in its midst; it's about "dropping the needle" on an old vinyl record, sitting alone in your favorite chair, and just listening (ahem...alcohol may be involved). The beautiful image of a woman sitting by herself in a room in her house while rain comes down all around her is created; tonight, there is no shelter that can protect her from her pain. It's raining inside, literally, but also raining inside of herself; her heart, her soul.

12) The Fool (Courtney Patton) - The only song on High, Wide & Handsome that one of the Trishas didn't co-write is one where they all chime in on the singing. You know the song must be special if they didn't have a hand in writing it; it is. "The Fool" is a standout track on an album full of them. Instrumentation that includes mandolin and steel guitar is augmented by melancholy lyrics about a girl who is chasing everything that's bad for her. The tragedy lies in the fact that she doesn't know it, and if she does, that makes it even more tragic. "Let's talk about this fool that I'm sure we both know," the song starts. This line tells the listener that the subject of the song is someone who's made some bad decisions, someone perhaps the narrator can relate to more than they'd like to admit, someone perhaps who is the narrator. When the banjo kicks in on the third verse and that first line is repeated as the last, it becomes clear that the this is, by extension, a song about the listener as well. We've all before been that "fool" in love.

13) John Wayne Cowboy (Jamie Wilson, Owen Temple) - This is probably the swampiest, most upbeat, and most fun track on the record. The arrangement, the melody, and that steel guitar just sound downright dirty. Jamie Wilson is singing here about a certain type of man, one who doesn't come off as a faux-machismo douchebag, but as authentic. He's a rough-and-tumble, look-you-in-the-eye, firm-handshake, no bullshit kind of man. Some would call this type of man John Wayne-esque, hence the title of the song. It probably references a few of his movies, but I'm only familiar with The Searchers so I may have missed a few of them. But it doesn't matter when a song's this good. The worst part about it is the steel guitar solo that kicks in around the 2:50 mark doesn't last nearly long enough. Still, it is five seconds of beautiful twangy brilliance.

14) Gold & Silver (Liz Foster, Stephen Simmons) - What better way to end an album than a song about a man who imagines the type of girl he could get if only he had money, and a narrator (the girl) who assures him: "You think that you look better in gold and silver/ But gold and silver won't make you mine." It's a bit of a statement song that flies in the face of society's rules when it comes to romantic love. It flies in the face of what seems to have almost become a social norm. (As an aside, the song does not state that unemployment without the desire for employment is an attractive quality.) Hollywood year after year churns out stories about this kind of love from the fake factory in an attempt to capture what this three minute song does, but they aren't nearly as earnest or honest, as sweet or practical as "Gold & Silver."

15) A Far Cry From You (bonus track from digital album version) (Kelly Mickwee, Savannah Welch, Jim Lauderdale) - Co-written with the great Jim Lauderdale and featuring Raul Malo's tasteful, unmistakeable guitar and gorgeous harmonies, this is one hell of a bonus track. I can only imagine the reason it wasn't technically part of the final album (it would fit great somewhere in the middle) is because fourteen is already an immense number of songs. As many can probably deduce from the title, it's about trying to overcome the hold a past love has on you, but to your detriment you keep comparing your current potential mates to this person of the past. Nothing fancy, nothing complicated, and it sounds impeccable.

With all that said -- if you can't tell, I think you should own this album. I believe there is a certain sort of timeless quality to roots music in general, and The Trishas have created something with High, Wide & Handsome that tends toward that direction, which -- this being their first full-length album -- is mighty impressive. These ladies are without question the americana/roots band to watch over the next few years, and if there was in any justice in the world they would be on the brink of blowing up the country charts. But, in truth, the songs here are so authentic that it would be jarring to hear one of them crammed between Rascal Flatts and Luke Bryan.

I'm looking forward with much anticipation to watching The Trishas grow as songwriters. They have set the bar pretty damn high for themselves with High, Wide & Handsome and even with They Call Us The Trishas, but that's just what great artists do. A wellspring of good songs comes from a foundation of genuine talent, which is absolutely what this quartet has running through its veins. And the best part is this is only the beginning.

*Visit The Trishas' website for song samples, lyrics, & to purchase an album, and also for a great write-up that tells about some of the history of the band and about the new album.

*Also, visit Music Fog to watch some excellent videos recorded of The Trishas, with a short write-up accompanying each one.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Concert Review: Radney Foster at Natasha's Bistro & Bar - Lexington, KY

Radney Foster's solo acoustic tour in support of his new album Unplugged & Lonesome: Del Rio, Texas Revisited made a stop in Lexington, Kentucky two Thursdays ago on November 1st, playing to a small but lively audience at Natasha's Bistro and Bar. Foster tasted mainstream country success with country-rock duo Foster and Lloyd in the late eighties and early nineties, and after the duo's final album (well, for twenty years anyway), released his solo country debut, Del Rio, Texas 1959 in September of 1992, the album's title originating from Foster's own date and place of birth. Spawning three top-twenty singles (including the song he's probably most known for, "Nobody Wins," which peaked at number two), the album has endured through the years as a bonafide honkytonk classic. To meet the demands of fans asking to purchase the now out-of-print album after shows, Foster decided to not only re-release the album, but completely re-work and rearrange it as a more somber, bluegrassy affair, he and the musicians recording live and in-the-round in the studio. Thus, Unplugged & Lonesome was born.

Based on videos on Youtube and various articles I'd read about Foster's solo shows, I was looking forward to hearing one of my favorite songwriters discuss the backstory and process behind the writing of some of his most beloved pieces of work. He certainly did not disappoint in that regard; Foster is a storyteller at heart. At some point between delicious pints of Lexington's own West Sixth IPA, I decided to start jotting down a few notes, including several terrific quotes taken (mostly) verbatim from Foster's pre-song blurbs. Natasha's is a wonderful venue to experience a show performed by just a man and his guitar, even moreso when it's a master of the craft such as Mr. Foster. Between the music and the stories and the beer and the atmosphere, it was certainly a night to remember.

Louisiana Blue (new music video)

Don't Say Goodbye

Both of these tracks are on the original Del Rio and on Revisited. At this point I hadn't started jotting anything down yet. What I did learn was that most people in the small crowd were indeed Radney Foster fans, singing along and applauding and shouting after each tune.

Just Call Me Lonesome

Foster, speaking at the end of the song: "I stole that lick from Johnny Cash."

Raining On Sunday

A track co-written by Foster that Keith Urban famously recorded and took to #3 on the charts. Foster said Urban's decision to record it was good timing as his wife had recently told him, "We need a new kitchen." As he introduced the song, the Texas troubadour delivered one of his greatest lines of the night: "With all due respect to Mr. Urban, this is the West Texas version right here."

Me and John R.

Regarding how the idea for this song came about, Foster stated that someone said the words to the first line  ("Me and John R. got nothing to lose") and it took off from there. It is the only new song that was recorded for Unplugged and Lonesome.

It was at this point in the show that I also jotted down how precise and pristine Foster's guitar playing was. It was quite obvious he's been at this singing-songwriting-guitar playing thing for a good while.

Half of My Mistakes (live acoustic video by MusicFog)

Introducing the song, joking with the crowd: "I can tell y'all have made a lot fewer mistakes than I have, dressed as you are and sitting in this fine establishment eating a good meal." That may have been true for some people in the audience, but everyone can relate with this line toward the end of the song: "Yea, half the good things in my life came from half of my mistakes."

I'm In

Another one of Foster's co-writes that was recorded and taken to #2 on the charts by Keith Urban. In another line-of-the-night contender, Foster stated that one time he was speaking with Mr. Urban's wife and -- pausing to let the moment sink in for the audience -- he said, "Nicole Kidman told me my song was sexy." Someone from the audience shouted, "She's right!" It turns out that Urban and Kidman were driving around in Australia listening to Urban's iPod on shuffle when "I'm In" came on and Kidman advised the guitar maestro something to the effect of, "That song is sexy. You should probably record that one." It being one of Urban's "favorite Radney Foster songs," he heeded those wise words much to everyone's benefit.

Went For A Ride

This being my favorite Foster song, I recorded the performance with my iPhone. Here are some of things he said about it:
-It's written about a real guy in history who was born a slave in Tennessee and went on to become a Buffalo Soldier for the 10th cavalry at Fort Clark, Texas near Foster's hometown of Del Rio.
-He got so good at riding and shooting that he started playing at little rodeo exhibitions all over the West.
-He hooked up with Buffalo Bill Cody, Annie Oakley, and others, and was part of Cody's famous western circus show.
-Supposedly he's the guy that taught Annie Oakley how to shoot at a target while riding a horse.
-As Buffalo Bill's Western Show toured over in Europe, this gentleman was one of the first people to go up the Eiffel Tower. He also got a medal from Queen Victoria.
-Foster: "But if you know anything about rodeoing, you know one thing, and that is it's a young man's game. It's hard on your body. So after all the rodeoing was done, he still needed a job. So he moved to Nashville, Tennessee and got a job as a Pullman porter. And I thought, Man, what a life! I figured it deserved a song."
-Foster's website tells that the song is about a cowboy named Nat Love and is told from the perspective of one of his running buddies. For more information on Nat Love, check out his Wikipedia entry.

After playing "Went For A Ride" Foster said, "You're not supposed to play two ballads in a row because everyone falls asleep." Of course, he did anyway, and of course, no one fell asleep.

Easier Said Than Done

Foster stated that he had someone tell him once, "Man, until you played this acoustic I didn't realize how much of a downer it was." Being about the hard road of forgiveness and trying to right the ship after infidelity in a relationship, it most certainly is. And it sounded fantastic.

Angel Flight (music video)

Foster: "This song has literally changed my life. It's just hard to describe. We really did our best to tell the story without being political in any way." I would certainly say they succeeded; the song is powerful no matter your political affiliation. It is about the flight that brings soldiers who have fallen on the field of battle back home to their resting place.

Texas in 1880 (the classic music video)

Before launching into this song Foster shared a story about telling his parents he wanted to play music for a living. My memory is hazy here, but I believe he said he woke them up in the middle of the night to tell them but the words would not come out. Foster says of his mother: "She thought I'd either gotten a girl pregnant or was trying to come out of the closet." The most enlightening thing he says about the song, though, is that it's not really about the rodeo, it's about dreamers. And that makes perfect sense. Based on the lyric "Sometimes you make eight, sometimes you hit dirt/ Go on a pin another number to the back of my shirt," I've always thought the song was great metaphor for never giving up despite the trials life may hurl your way. Turns out, I guess that was kind of right. This is my favorite Foster and Lloyd song.

At this point Foster walked off the stage to cheers, only to return mere seconds later for his encore. "I'm a cheap date," he said. "Real easy."

A Little Reival

After playing this song from his latest solo album, Foster acknowledged two people close to the stage who'd apparently been requesting a couple songs all night. "I'll play both of them," he said.

Closing Time

Only a simple introduction was needed: "This is a drinking song."

Godspeed (live video featuring Jerry Douglas on dobro)

"For those of you young enough, you don't know what a cassette is..." Foster began. He wrote this song for his son when he and his wife were going through a messy divorce, so it's obviously very personal. He put it on cassette and gave it to his son, very young at the time, as a gift. "I think sometimes God gives you a song, certain ones anyway, to humble you," he said. The Dixie Chicks later recorded the song for one of their albums. You can find more on the background behind it, including a story about when the Dixie Chicks cut the track, here.

As expected, it was a great show. Though he may have peaked commercially years ago, in today's mainstream music landscape, that unfortunately says more about an artist's age than it does about his art. If you ask me, we need the presence of a few more gray-haired sages on the country radio waves. It's clear that between touring, recording, producing, and reviving Foster and Lloyd, Foster's still staying busy and still at the height of his creative powers. At a little bar two Thursdays ago in Lexington, he certainly proved that to be true.

Only time will reveal the stories Radney Foster still has left to tell. And we would all be blessed to hear them.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Playlist For Election Day 2012

In celebration of Election Day, here are some songs I've enjoyed over the years that touch on various aspects, both specific and general, of the American political system:

Reckless Kelly - "Pennsylvania Avenue"
 What about a man's worth, what it used to mean
Before the radio waves and big screen
You talk about hard work and a steady hand
We put our trust in you, you better stick to the plan

Derek Webb - "A Savior On Capitol Hill"
You can always trust the devil or a politician
o be the devil or a politician
ut beyond that, friends, you’d best beware
’Cause at the Pentagon bar they’re an inseparable pair
nd as long as the lobbyists are paying their bills
e’ll never have a savior on Capitol Hill

The Everybodyfields - "TVA"
I don’t need no dam or no damn FDR
Making power for some other factory
They can have their reasons, whatever they are
And take them back to their authorities
God the Father said Jesus Christ,
I don’t know about this electricity
I use the day to steal the nights
And make my waters rise
They’re trying to take my job away from me

Ben Sollee & Daniel Martin Moore - "Only A Song"
I've been thinking about Providence
And craving a root beer float
I didn't make these rules
But it's time for us to row this boat
And on the horizon 
I see windmills sprouting up in rows
There's young folks farming
And a few that are gonna vote
But this is only a song, it can't change the world

Chatham County Line - "Birmingham Jail"
It was early December in the year of '63
George Wallace defied what the federal courts they did decree
They said make your school doors open for the child of black white
Wallace clenched up both his fists and he called out for a fight

Drive-By Truckers - "Puttin' People On the Moon"
Another Joker in the White House, said a change was comin' round
But I'm still working at the Wal-Mart, Mary Alice in the ground
And all them politicians, they're all lying sacks of shit
They say better days upon us but I'm sucking left hind tit
And the preacher on the TV says it ain't too late for me
But I bet he drives a Cadillac and I'm broke with hungry mouths to feed

Grayson Capps - "New Orlean Waltz"
Let's not complain about Mayor Ray Nagin
I think that he's done the best that he could
I just wish people would stop pointing fingers
And rebuild the levee 'cause the levee's no good

Chris Knight - "In The Mean Time"
Well I'm pretty sure that the government ain't gonna save you
The good Lord helps the ones that help themselves
You wanna stand on your own two feet
And use some backbone
Don't go crawling on your knees and begging for help
It'll do ya good in the meantime 

 John Prine - "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore" 
Your flag decal won't get you into Heaven anymore
They're already overcrowded from your dirty little war
Now Jesus don't like killing
No matter what the reason's for
And your flag decal won't get you into Heaven anymore

 Over the Rhine - "If A Song Could Be President"
They would show us where our country went wrong
Strum their guitars on the White House lawn
John Prine would run the FBI
All the criminals would laugh and cry
If a song could be president

 Ryan Bingham - "Too Deep To Fill" 
And I'm going to New York City
I'm going to see if I can find out why
Them boys on Wall Street
Stole the shoes right off of our feet
And left us without food for suppertime
I'm going out to join the protest
I'm going to stand up a sing
It's time once again to stand up and demand
That this land was made for you and me

 The Steeldrivers - "Sticks That Made Thunder"
(from the perspective of a tree during the Civil War)
Some were the color of the sky in the winter
And some were as blue as the night
They came like a storm with the light of the morn
And fell through the whole day and night
The colors flew high and they danced in the sky
As I watched them come over the hill
And then to my wonder were sticks that made thunder
Such a great number lay still

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Thoughts on the 2012 CMA Awards

I did not get to watch the CMA Awards live last night due to having the opportunity to witness Radney Foster, a gentleman who has written hit songs for some of the artists who were in that auditorium and who had a few radio hits of his own back in the late-eighties/early-nineties, perform solo at Natasha's Bistro and Bar in Lexington, Kentucky. It was an excellent show and I will blog about it soon. But I was able to catch the spectacle that is the CMAs online earlier today, and recorded some random thoughts as the show went along. From beginning to end, my thoughts on the night are as follows, some snarky, some sincere, all scatterbrained and, of course, lacking brevity. Enjoy!

-Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, and Eric Church team up for the first performance of the night. Church seems overly unenthused, as hard as he's trying to pretend otherwise with his erratic hand motions.

-I think Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood do a pretty good job hosting year after year.

-"Moves Like Haggard" was pretty funny.

-Only thing missing from that "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" joke was the camera cutting to Taylor Swift. Other than that, I'm glad they went there.

-Carrie Underwood looks a lot better doing the "Gangham Style" dance than Brad Paisley. I mean, like, A LOT.

-Brad Paisley telling Carrie Underwood what "motorboating" is with the appropriate sounds effects is pretty good entertainment. "It's too bad Dolly isn't here tonight." Score one for tig ol' bitties.

-Single of the Year goes to Little Big Town for "Pontoon." They look genuinely thrilled to have won. Probably should have gone to "Springsteen" but still well-deserved in my opinion, if only for all the years they've put in and the underappreciation they've endured. I'm surprised "Drunk On You" by Luke Bryan wasn't a nominee. That song was ubiquitous. And a loss for "Dirt Road Anthem" is a win for everybody.

-I'm kinda surprised "motorboatin'" is getting as much play as it is. It's kinda risque, no?

-Shocked Tim McGraw isn't performing "Truck Yeah." Maybe he regrets recording it? (Doubt it.) This song ("One of Those Nights") is infinitely better than that one and actually kind of enjoyable.  This and "Better Than I Used To Be" are his best singles in years. His voice sounds really good too. I'd forgotten the guy can actually sing.

-Thompson Square wins for Vocal Duo of the Year. Out of the nominees, and in this context, they were the best choice. I love The Civil Wars as much as the next person, but it would have been weird if they had won, seeing as they have absolutely zero support from country radio as far as I'm aware. (EDIT: After watching The Civil Wars perform on Austin City Limits, whether them being nominated makes sense or not, I say screw it, they should have won, and give them all other awards for Best Duo at all the other awards shows too. Shit needs to be shaken up. EDIT #2: Well, The Civil Wars have broken up, or so it seems with the somehow too detailed yet too vague statement they recently released. Wishing them the best, and hoping it's not over for good.)

-Next up is Miranda Lambert with "Fastest Girl In Town." Not a fan of the song, not a fan of this performance.

-Zac Brown Band playing "Goodbye In Her Eyes" and sounding good, per usual.  Hope to see these guys live one day. Their new album is decent, but this song is definitely a standout. Love the driving beat.

-Dierks Bentley performing "Tip It On Back," which I think is one of the best songs on his new album Home. He's gotten a lot of flak for it not being of the same caliber as Up On The Ridge, but that was gonna be a hard feat to accomplish no matter how you look at it. This song has a little more depth and a little more darkness than your average contemporary country radio drinking song. Really good performance.

-"Better Dig Two" by The Band Perry. Dark tune with an updated murder-ballad feel to it. Love the banjo intro and the fact they don't push it completely to the back throughout the rest of the song. Not a huge fan of the hard rock guitars that come in and drown everything out, but I AM a huge fan of the pants lead singer Kimberly Perry is wearing. And her singing's sounding damn good as well.

-I've written about my love for "Springsteen" quite a bit on this blog, but I'd have really loved to hear Eric Church perform "Creepin'." That back to back with "Better Dig Two" would have sounded pretty cool. Not even interjecting "Springsteen" with a verse from "Born To Run" can save this performance from the "we've already seen this before" feeling.

-Eli Young Band sounding pretty good with a performance of "Even If It Breaks Your Heart." A little shaky on vocals during the verses but I know Mike Eli can sing. Could be technical issues. Last I checked their new single "Say Goodbye" was struggling a bit on the charts, and I've yet to hear it on the radio. I think "The Fight" would have been a better single choice.

-Kelly Pickler presenting for Song of the Year with Darius Rucker. It has got to be an awkward feeling when you release one of the purest traditional-sounding mainstream records of the year that's all but shunned by fans and the industry, and then have to present an award in front of them. I hope she hasn't lost faith in her own abilities and artistic integrity because 100 Proof was an apparent "flop."

-Miranda and Blake win Song of the Year with "Over You." I'm not particularly a huge fan of it personally but I don't mind it and find it hard to say anything bad about a song that was obviously very personal to write and means a lot to them. (And damn, I almost teared up as Blake was talking and Miranda about busted out in tears as they accepted the award.) I would have given it to "Springsteen," as I think that's an exquisitely written song, though the most interesting winner would have been Dierks' "Home," what with the controversy over the past year about whether or not he and his co-writers stole the melody from Jason Isbell (I'm perfectly fine believing it was just a coincidence, by the way, and of the opinion that the issue was probably handled badly by both parties on Twitter.) But you knew the CMA wasn't going to go walking down that wave-crashed coast.

-Brad Paisley picking out the tune to The Andy Griffith Show on acoustic guitar is a cool moment. God don't make 'em like that anymore.

-These elaborate set pieces are kind of stupid. Just sing the damn song. "Begin Again" isn't terrible and Swift has improved as a live vocalist (she's not Carrie Underwood, mind you), but she always seems to be faking/acting the emotion of the song while she's singing instead of actually feeling it. Maybe it's just my age (not a teenager) and gender (not female) and attitude (cynical), but it comes off as contrived.

-I don't hate "Pontoon" but I don't need to see another awards show performance of it. I'd much rather hear Little Big Town's new single, "Tornado," or my personal favorite from the album, "Sober."

-All these commercials for Nashville. I hope they are being ultra-soapy with it at the get-go to draw in viewers, and that eventually the focus will level out toward the music and songwriting and the inner workings of the country music industry as a whole. We'll see, but Grey's Anatomy in Music City is not what I had in mind.

-Luke Bryan is kind of annoying at times (sparkly jeans, uber-bleached teeth, uncalled for pelvic thrusting) but I actually don't mind "Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye." It is nowhere closer to being country music than Taylor Swift is, but it's catchy, and "Love me like you loved me when you loved me and you didn't have to try" is a killer line.

-Sugarland's still around? Damn. And meh.

-Eric Church's Chief gets the well-deserved win for Album of the Year. It truly was. Classy acceptance speech. Unfortunately no cutaways to Miranda Lambert, Blake Shelton, or Keith Urban. I think Entertainer of the Year is somewhere in Church's future.

-Hunter Hayes now performing "Wanted." I have nothing much to say. Talented kid. Not country by any stretch of the imagination. Vocals sounding really off tonight. Has way more talent than Brantley Gilbert.

-Faith Hill performing her new song "American Heart." Nothing of hers is catching on at radio, and it's been that way for awhile now. As pandering as this song is, it might actually have a chance. But radio does seem to have moved on from her. At least it's not a One Republic cover.

-I hate "Country Must Be Country Wide" and will never understand the appeal of Brantley Gilbert. This would be the direction I'd absolutely hate to see mainstream country go. Faux-machismo-country-boy-cock-rock is soulless and not even close to the spirit of country music. At least "Kick It In the Sticks" was kicked to the curb.

-Who decided to put Batman on the screen behind Keith Urban and Zac Brown during this performance? Anyway, song's kind of bland.

-This crop of Best New Artist nominees is kind of depressing. Hunter Hayes wins. Well, he seems like a good kid, and at least it wasn't Brantley Gilbert.

-Brad Paisley performing "Southern Comfort Zone," beginning with a shout-out to New York and New Jersey in the form of Alicia Keys' chorus on "Empire State of Mind." "Southern Comfort Zone" is a good song that seems to be misunderstood by some as just another "laundry list" song about Southern culture and stereotypes. But if you listen to the lyrics, I think he's actually calling those kinds of songs out. "Be proud, not obnoxious," he seems to be saying. Anyway, it's a good song, I just don't like the production. And the choir at the end of this performance is a bit overkill.

-Carrie Underwood can definitely belt out "Blown Away," but it is a little weird that they decided to go with this song considering the circumstances with Hurricane Sandy. There's some pretty stark imagery in there. Also, she still has the best legs in the biz.

-Scotty McCreary and Shawn Johnson look scared to stand close to one another. I bet they made out backstage.

-After all these years Little Big Town finally wins Vocal Group of the Year and their acceptance speech gets cut short.

-Jason Aldean performs "Take A Little Ride," a generic earworm of a rock song that sounds practically the same as almost every other song that he's released the past few years.

-Interjection: Damn, this is a long show. I'm getting to the point now where I was actually able to watch live last night, and getting a little bored, so the blurbs will be getting shorter.

-Kelly Clarkson and Vince Gill give a classy and uncluttered performance, the best of the night hands down. I don't even know what song this is. And who doesn't love Vince Gill? Country radio should be ashamed for kicking him off their playlists. I was glad to see lots of love for him and just outrage over his now lack of mainstream acceptance on Twitter last night.

-No problem with Shelton winning Male Vocalist, just wish he'd start releasing better songs as singles.

-"Come Over" is such a boring song. Chesney should have performed "El Cerrito Place."

-I think all these women from Nashville are drunk. So seems Miranda Lambert as she accepts Female Vocalist award, though she does say something very nice about all the other nominees.

-Pretty good Willie Nelson tribute despite Lady Antebellum's involvement. And based upon the look on his face, he was thinking the same thing as everyone else when Hilary Scott started singing "Crazy" -- she's no Patsy Cline. But to be fair, nobody is. Also, Willie sounded as good as ever singing "On The Road Again."

-Blake Shelton wins Entertainer of the Year. Huge upset I feel like. I was thinking either Aldean or Swift would win. He seems genuinely surprised. He says, "I love country music more than anybody in this room." I just hope he starts releasing some again.

Additional Observations:

-Taylor Swift wasn't on camera nearly as much as she has been in years past, which is surprising, and good.

-Blake Shelton seems a lot more at home and happier singing "Whiskey River" than "Footloose." Hope he takes note. (And of course, "Footloose" is the song they play as he wins EOTY.)

-The Willie Nelson tribute unfortunately serves to remind us that the days of country music sounding like that are over. As Merle Haggard says, a lot of the songs don't seem to have much soul anymore.

-Jason Aldean not winning any awards tonight is a good thing. But he sure makes a wallet chain look cool. It's coming back, folks!

-No representatives of neo-traditionalism with any face time whatsoever, much less a nomination. I'm speaking of guys like Easton Corbin and especially Chris Young. How does Young not get nominated in the Male Vocalist category? Did releasing the ever-too-country "Neon" as a single hurt him that badly?

-In that same vein, it's thoroughly disheartening knowing that these awards shows don't give two shits about George Strait or Alan Jackson anymore (naturally, I suppose, following radio's suit). As much as I would have liked to see the younger neo-traditionalists represented, they do not hold a candle to these two legends. 

-Little Big Town has always been better than Lady Antebellum (and I like some LA songs). It's about time they were recognized for it. Huge night for them.

-Ultimately, with Shelton's EOTY win I'm left feeling a little more optimistic than I would have if Aldean or Swift or anybody else that was nominated had won, if for nothing other than the fact that Shelton has waded around in neo-traditionalist waters some in the past. He has now attained close to the largest platform a country artist could ask for in terms of exposure. I just hope he seizes the opportunity to, with his next album, come back around to his roots a little and truly represent what real Country Music -- that he so often claims to love -- is, this music he says he has a passion to spread the gospel of. If Aldean or Swift had won, it would only have been a victory for pop or modern rock, not country music. And in a way, though to a lesser extent -- and as evidenced by his recent output -- Shelton winning is just a victory for volvo-driving soccer moms everywhere. But it could have been much worse. That said, his victory could eventually mean so much more. We shall see.

-Oh, to dream that one day artists like Turnpike Troubadours, The Trishas, and Randy Rogers Band will be represented at events such as this. I do not count on it, but it is fun to dream.

-The other really big winner tonight: BOOBS (mmmm-motorboatin').