Friday, April 24, 2009

Sara Watkins Goes Solo

When you heard about Nickel Creek prior to their break up most of the focus was on mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile. Although Sean Watkins' guitar work also collected a following. In fact, Watkins and Thile have had similar solo success. Since they parted ways, Thile has garnered praise with the Punch Brothers and Sean Watkins has received similar accolades with Fiction Family. Still you can't make a wheel with just spokes. You need a hub to get it rolling. The hub of Nickel Creek was clearly Sean's sibling and fiddle player Sara Watkins. Chris and Sean were flash and athleticism. Sara was the class and elegance of the group and made their sound cohesive. Without question she has always shown a mastery of the fiddle. However, she was always quiet and in the background until she sang in that smooth and calming voice. It is her voice that gets overlooked. I remember a late night session at Merlefest when she broke into a beautiful hymn and I swear my heart stopped beating it was so powerful.

In making her first solo release she asked a few friends to help. Of course her brother and Thile showed up. For producer John Paul Jones, bassist for Led Zeppelin, volunteered. She could have stopped there, but for good measure she invited other Friends to join. The duo of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings pay a visit, as do Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench, Elvis Costello drummer Pete Thomas, Tim O’Brien, Punch Brothers’ Chris Eldridge and Ronnie McCoury. Sara also demonstrates the breadth of her talent by writing 8 of the 14 songs included in the final product. You don't have to be a fan of Bluegrass or New Grass or any other kind of Grass to appreciate this album. The word of the day is elegant. For a definition buy the album.

This review also appears on Twangville

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Spiritual Power of Music

The Sunday Night Shout is a happening in Nashville that Mike Farris started in order to recover lost Gospel Soul and Funk songs. It turned in to a type of church and spiritual healing for the participants. They decided to record it live at the Station Inn. The album Shout Live released this week. Check out the EPK below:

Steve Earle - "Townes"

Steve Earle is set to release Townes, his follow up to Washington Square Serenade, on May 12th. The 15-song set is comprised of songs written by Earle’s friend Townes Van Zandt. It will also be available as a deluxe two-CD set. The fact that the two were so close means this will be more than your typical tribute album. It will be his interpretation of his freind.

Check out this sneak preview:

To Live is to Fly

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Under the Radar - 2009 Surprises

I wanted to highlight a few bands I have run acriss this year that you may not have heard of but are woth checking out:

Angus and Julia Stone A Book Like this - This brother and sister duo make emotional story songs with haunting mid-tempo melodies. They are starting to get some notice with this North American Debut.


No Show Ponies The End of Feel Good Music - Americana influenced Pop with intelligent lyrics. The album by this Austin based band was produced by Kevin Russell of The Gourds. It also features John Dee Graham. The album won't release until Fall but it should hit with a bang.


Poerterdavis - Another Austin group that was just awarded best Roots Rock Band at the Austin Music Awards. They are working on a yet un-named album wiht Gurf Morlix. Enough said. Look for it this Fall.


Bosque Brown Baby - Haunting modern folk sung in way that mixes in influences of traditional church music. Chritian overtones reflect the Baptist upbringing of Mara Lee Miller. The music is mesmerizing. It is both forboding and beautiful.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Willie Nelson - Naked Willie

Many people will tell you it all began back then. What was the “Nashville Sound” in the sixties is now Adult Contemporary with an accent. I don’t know if I totally agree, but there is no doubt that the “Nashville Sound” was the first attempt to put a formula on the music in order to make it marketable to a broader audience. Chet Atkins was largely responsible for this sound. However, it is hard for me to be too hard on a legend like Atkins. Clearly he was not attempting to rip the roots out of Country music. He was trying to widen the audience, but I find it hard to believe that he was attempting to render the Genre indistinguishable from other forms of Pop music as it is today. Whether intentional or not, the “Nashville Sound” grew into a glutinous, money hungry monster.

In the late sixties a successful songwriter recorded some sides for RCA. His name was Willie Nelson and he was responsible for many hits including “Crazy” by Patsy Cline. These recordings were done in Nashville and produced with the typical orchestration and choral milieu of the day. Thanks to longtime Willie band mate Mickey Raphael the vault has been opened on these recordings. They have been remixed with the ear candy removed. On Naked Willie it is apparent that when these songs were recorded, the “Red Headed Stranger” already existed. On this special project Raphael has peeled the onion back and revealed where Willie was headed. He just did it about 35 years after Willie did it himself. It does not matter, because these recordings in there altered state are powerful examples of Willie's passion whenever they were done.