Posts Tagged ‘Country’

Doc Watson: Live at Club 47

Thursday, February 22nd, 2018

Newly discovered Doc Watson live set from 1963

At the time of this February 1963 appearance at Boston’s Club 47, Doc Watson was a regional country and pop performer, but not yet the international exponent of traditional folk music he’d soon become. Folklorist Ralph Rinzler had started Watson on the path to fame with home recordings issued by Folkways in the early ’60s, and as his renowned grew, he began performing for urban audiences in New York, Boston and other outposts of the folk revival. His career took off over the next year with a performance at the Newport Folk Festival and his debut record on Vanguard. The seeds of that success are all here, as Watson strums, picks and sings a widely drafted catalog of folk tunes, embellishing each with both the song’s history and his history with the song. Watson flat- and finger-picks guitar, plays the autoharp and harmonica, and entertains the audience with stories and stage patter throughout the set. This is a terrific document of a deeply talented musician on the cusp of turning his artistic mastery, encyclopedic knowledge and affable stage presence into long-lasting influence and stardom. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Doc Watson Fan Site

Zephaniah OHora: This Highway

Tuesday, February 20th, 2018

Brilliant evocation of Merle Haggard’s pathos

“Zephaniah OHora” isn’t the sort of name you normally expect to see on a country record. But this New England-to-Brooklyn transplant has obviously steeped in the classics, from the album cover’s allusion to Merle Haggard’s debut, to gently sung, pedal steel-lined songs that evoke the wistful, beaten-down-yet-still-faithful mood of the Hag’s classic Capitol albums. Eleven originals and a cover of Frank & Nancy Sinatra’s “Somethin’ Stupid” flow easily as OHora wistfully remembers lost soulmates, longs for lovers who are now out of reach, and is beaten down by the city. When he sings the New York City lyric “I was holding down a job, just south of Houston, for a while, serving time, making someone else a dime,” he mates the grit of big city life to the personal struggles that have always been at the root of country music.

The production puts the twang up-front alongside OHora, with electric guitar riffs that echo Roy Nichols, acoustic leads that have the gut-stringed tone of Grady Martin, and steel and fiddle that add potent emotion. But what really distinguishes the album is OHora’s ability to conjure honest, humble and tearful pathos. He leaves the door open for a love who’s moved on in “Take Your Love Out of Town” and patiently waits for a “High Class City Girl from the Country” with a gentle shuffle that might have graced records by Glen Campbell or Bobby Goldsboro in the 1960s. OHora’s protagonists find themselves looking out the door as someone leaves, hung up between accepting fate and begging a second chance. The emotions eventually turn dire as tears turn to threats with the dark lyrics and Ray Price beat of “I Can’t Let Go (Even Though I Set You Free).”

The album’s title track gives voice to the philosophical thoughts that rattle around a long-haul driver’s head, the highway continuously unspooling ahead as memories recede in the rearview mirror. And the closing “For a Moment of Two” is likewise contemplative, as OHora pairs his misery with a bottle that untangles the lies he’s told himself. Even the album’s cover of “Somethin’ Stupid,” sung as a duet with Dori Freeman, fits the album’s theme with its hesitant seduction. OHara is supported by Jim Campilongo and from Brooklyn’s Skinny Dennis scene, Luca Benedetti, Jon Graboff, Alex Hargreaves and Roy Williams, and their shared affinity for a time when country music surfaced in the mainstream without losing its hillbred soul has paid tremendous dividends here. A real sleeper. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Zephaniah OHora’s Home Page

Banditos: Visionland

Wednesday, December 27th, 2017

Southern rockers with twists of garage, psych and more

The second album from these Birmingham-to-Nashville transplants opens with a garage-rock sound that wasn’t as evident on their self-titled 2015 debut. Mary Beth Richardson’s bluesy vocals are given the context of San Francisco-sound powerhouses like the Jefferson Airplane, and though a banjo peeks through the haze, the ‘60s rock vibe is strong. The title track suggests a psych-rock Richard and Mimi Farina, the ballad “Healin’ Slow” has a ‘50s vibe, “Lonely Boy” might have been a country song written in the Brill Building, and the whispery “When It Rains” could be a fondly remembered ‘70s radio hit. The band seems to be democratic in exploring their influences, cross-pollinating without overwhelming the base flavor of each song. They’ve added new spices to the boogie, blues and soul of their debut and shown themselves to have both musical vision and reach. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Banditos Home Page

OST: Smokey and the Bandit I & II

Friday, December 22nd, 2017

Soundtracks to legendary Burt Reynolds films finally on CD

Smokey and the Bandit was originally developed by stuntman-turned-director Hal Needham as a cheap B-movie with singer-actor Jerry Reed as the star. But with the signing of box office dynamo Burt Reynolds, Reed was demoted to second banana, Universal quintupled the budget, and the film went on to gross more than $300 million worldwide. The soundtrack was scored by Nashville legend Bill Justis, and includes three vocal titles by Jerry Reed. The latter’s “East Bound and Down” became a signature song, and is included here in a second variation titled “West Bound and Down.” Reed also detailed the Bandit’s earlier adventures in “The Legend” and sings Dick Feller’s ballad, “The Bandit.” Justis mixes original country instrumentals with covers of chestnuts, including Ervin T. Rouse’s “Orange Blossom Special” and Jerry Wallace’s 1972 hit, “If You Leave Me Tonight I’ll Cry, with uncredited fiddle and steel players who are excellent throughout the album.

The 1980 sequel, Smokey and the Bandit II, didn’t have the box office power of the original, but its soundtrack spun off a number of hits, including Jerry Reed’s “Texas Bound and Flyin’,” the Statler Brothers’ “Charlotte’s Web” and Tanya Tucker’s “Pecos Promenade.” The Snuff Garrett-supervised soundtrack album also includes performances by Don Williams, Mel Tillis, Brenda Lee, Roy Rogers with the Sons of the Pioneers and Burt Reynolds, the latter of whom scraped onto the country chart with “Let’s Do Something Cheap and Superficial.” The album’s two instrumentals, performed by the Bandit Band, included a mashup of “Dueling Banjos” and “Wildwood Flower” titled “Deliverance of the Wildwood Flower,” and an original co-written by Garrett and Nashville legend Jerry Kennedy titled “Pickin’ Lone Star Style.” Both of these soundtracks are good spins, though the sequel’s collection of vocal material will likely be more memorable for country music fans. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Jim Nabors: Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.

Wednesday, December 20th, 2017

Jim Nabors displays his sizeable comedy and vocal talents

The recently departed Jim Nabors is best known for his acting on The Andy Griffith Show and its spin-off Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C., and secondarily for his career as a balladeer. For this 1965 LP, sung entirely in Nabors’ nasal “Gomer Pyle” voice, his singing and comedy came together. With songs written by the legendary Billy Edd Wheeler, John Loudermilk and Roger Miller, the material is several cuts above the typical TV star cash-in, and with Nabors twin talents as a vocalist and comedian, the results are funny, entertaining and endearing. Like any comedy album, it’s not likely to get spun as frequently as a straight music album, but you’ll be surprised at how quickly you’ll be singing along, and if you have kids, they may just love the tongue-twisting “Hoo How, What Now?” and the corny rock ‘n’ roll of “Heart Insurance.” [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Various Artists: At the Louisiana Hayride Tonight

Monday, December 18th, 2017

Massive, deluxe box set chronicles “The Cradle of the Stars”

By the numbers: 20 CDs featuring more than 167 acts performing more than 500 songs, clocking in at more than 24 hours of recordings packaged in a heavy-duty box with a deeply detailed and spectacularly illustrated 224 page book, altogether weighing in at a healthy 9 pounds. But that’s statistics; the heart and soul of this set is the revolutionary Shreveport radio show, nicknamed the “The Cradle of the Stars,” that aired weekly from 1948 to 1960. In contrast to Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, the Hayride hitched its wagon to an ever developing set of acts that they discovered, nurtured into stardom and often lost to the Opry. Among those the Hayride helped boost to fame were Hank Williams, Webb Pierce, Faron Young, Kitty Wells, Jim Reeves, Slim Whitman, Johnny Horton and Elvis Presley.

Williams and Presley provide the bookends to the Hayride’s most influential period, with Williams having been the show’s first superstar, and Presley’s rise paralleling the Hayride’s decline. The box set shows off the transition between the two, detailing the show’s twelve year run with a constantly evolving lineup of local, regional and national acts whose growth and innovation helped shape popular music in the ‘40s and ‘50s. Beyond the music, the show’s continuous, unrehearsed flow of artists, comedians, ads and announcers created a tapestry of entertainment that really filled a Saturday night. The recordings sourced here were cut for radio distribution and proof-of-advertising to sponsors, and without aspiration for commercial release, they capture the spontaneity of a show performed for a live audience rather than a recorder.

A set this massive has to be treated more as a pantry than a meal. It’s something from which listeners can draw upon for years, and though a once-through inks a picture of the Hayride’s arc, individual discs and performances play nicely in isolation. The set opens with pre-Hayride material from the show’s radio outlet, KWKH, providing an historical record of the station’s 1930s battle for its frequency, early broadcast continuity, and studio recordings waxed for commercial release. KWKH’s founder, William Kennon Henderson, Jr., was a colorful, self-aggrandizing iconoclast whose personal broadcasts railed against the then newly-formed Federal Regulatory Commission, chain stores and other stations intruding on his channel.

Henderson had sold KWKH by the time the Hayride began broadcasting in 1948, but the earlier material highlights the wild west roots from which radio was still emerging. With recorded music growing in popularity, radio stations performed double duty as broadcast outlets and recording studios. The Hayride and its peer barn dances became tastemakers as their live shows promoted the artists, their records and their tour dates. The show’s announcers even call upon the listeners to inquire about bringing a Hayride tour stop to their hometown, and it’s easy to imagine many taking the opportunity to drop their “one cent postcard” in the mail for details.

The announcers choreograph each show, introducing and conversing with the musicians as they’re brought on to play one or two songs before giving way to the next act. The set’s producers have deftly selected long, multi-artist segments that retain the continuity of intros, music, comedy and advertisements intact. Listeners will get a feel for the Hayride’s complete evening of entertainment, and how the program evolved over the years. In particular, the collection reveals the Hayride’s uncanny ability to discover and develop new talent (in part, a defense against the continual flow of their stars from Shreveport to Nashville) as the show’s constantly evolving lineup introduced and few performers into stars.

The slow churn of the Hayride’s cast turns out to have been one of its charms, and the intertwining of stars, soon-to-be-stars and talented performers who failed to catch on gives this set a widescreen perspective that’s often elided in reissue material. There are numerous hits from famous performers, but the broader context in which this collection sets them is especially interesting. The earliest live program included here, from August 1948, features a 24-year-old Hank Williams, who’d debuted on the country chart the previous year with “Move It On Over” and wouldn’t hit #1 (with “Lovesick Blues”) until the following year. Williams’ rising profile was his ticket to Nashville, but after being fired by the Opry in 1952, he returned to the Hayride, where he performed “Jambalaya (on the Bayou)” to a surprised and enthusiastic audience.

Williams would die only three months after his return to the Hayride, and it would be more than a year until Elvis debuted in 1954. Presley converses shyly with the announcer in his first appearance, but rockets off the stage to the screams of the audience (and the immortal announcement “Elvis has left the building) in his 1956 finale. Elvis’ growing fame and ensuing tour commitments often kept him from the Hayride’s stage, so the show sought to satisfy its growing contingent of teenage fans by booking Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison in his place. But even the Hayride’s legendary nose for talent couldn’t help the show stay afloat amid the confluence of television, rock ‘n’ roll and the growing importance of record sales (and the radio DJ’s who spun them) to a teenage audience. By 1960, the Hayride could no longer hold stars in its regular cast, draw media attention or fill an auditorium.

The set’s massive book (so large and heavy, that it’s actually difficult to handle) includes a history of the Hayride by Colin Escott, a detailed timeline of show casts, an essay by Margaret and Arthur Warwick, detailed show and artist notes by Martin Hawkins, photos, and record label and promotional ephemera reproductions. Escott’s liner notes are knowledgeable and entertaining, though a bit prickly in unraveling the grandiosity of Horace Logan’s recollections. He’s no doubt correct in calling out many of Logan’s stories as self-aggrandizing fabrications, but the repetition of his derision gets tiresome. Hawkins’ notes offer museum-quality details about the individual show segments that help the listener place the artists, songs and performances in both historical and Hayride context.

The sound quality varies throughout, as one would expect from sixty-year-old recordings not waxed for posterity, but all of the tracks are listenable, and many are of surprisingly good fidelity – better than most listeners probably heard over the AM radio at the time. The mix of longer and shorter segments gives the listener a feel for the show without distracting from its core musical focus. The massive volume of material testifies to the Hayride’s monumental achievement of mounting a weekly live show for a dozen years with fresh, new artists amid changing musical tastes. Bear Family’s well-deserved reputation for lavish reissues is on full display here, and just like those who paid sixty-cents to attend the Hayride in person, you’ll get more than your money’s worth from this set. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Various Artists: The Roots of Popular Music – The Ralph S. Peer Story

Monday, October 30th, 2017

The recordings and song publishing of a legend

It’s hard to imagine someone more important to American popular music than Ralph S. Peer. His pioneering achievements in blues, country, jazz and Latin music vaulted him into the highest echelon of A&R, and his career as a publisher built a foundational catalog that remains sturdy to this day. Peer’s recordings of Mamie Smith, Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family, and a publishing catalog that stretched from Bill Monroe to Perez Prado to Hoagy Carmichael to Buddy Holly speaks to his ears for originality and his unprejudiced love of music. His talent for placing songs with singers exemplifies the sort of contribution a non-musician can make to music, and his extrapolation of regional and societal niches into popular phenomena speaks to a vision unclouded by the status quo.

Ralph Peer was not the only producer to explore the musical landscape of the United States, but unlike his peer John Lomax, Peer was less a folklorist, and more a producer whose studio was in the trunk of his car. In 1927 he discovered Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family in a single session in Bristol, Tennessee, and found additional success prospecting in Latin America. His interests in musical areas outside the popular mainstream led him to back the newly formed BMI, which in turn would spur the growth of radio as a medium for records, rather than live performances. The fruits of those labors are heard here in the songs he placed with Jimmy Dorsey, Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley and others.

The chronological running order of the first two discs gives listeners a sense of how Peer had his fingers in multiple genres at once. The enduring legacy of his work as a publisher is heard on disc 3, in recordings of songs whose appeal continued to grow after Peer’s 1960 death. The focus on Peer’s publishing catalog leaves out many of his landmark recordings, such as Fiddlin’ John Carson’s “Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane.” The hardcover book includes notes from Peer biographer Barry Mazor, photographs and artifacts, but its lack of discourse on the set’s musical selections renders it more of an exhibit catalog than the liner notes for a fifty-song anthology. Pick up Mazor’s book, and the combination will tell you the story in words and music. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

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Whitney Rose: Rule 62

Monday, October 30th, 2017

Country, soul and girl group blossom under Rose’s command

With her friend and mentor Raul Malo co-producing, and a studio band drawn from the Mavericks, Jayhawks and Asleep at the Wheel, Canadian-born, Austin-based Whitney Rose doubles up on the retro country pop highlighted on 2015’s Heartbreaker of the Year. Across nine originals, and covers of “Tied to the Wheel” and “You’re a Mess,” Rose plugs into ‘70s country vibes, girl group sounds and, on “Can’t Stop Shakin’,” a deep soul groove. There’s an echo of Danny O’Keefe’s “Goodtime Charlie’s Got the Blues” in the downbeat mood of “You Never Cross My Mind,” and the rolling rhythm of the bittersweet “Trucker’s Funeral” suggests John Hartford’s “Gentle on My Mind.”

Rose is decisive as she leaves behind the wreckage of failed romances, and definitively cuts the ties that bind. She leaves without anger, and though hardened by experience, the emotional toll still leaves her numb, and on the Brill Building-worthy “Better to My Baby,” remorseful. Malo pops up throughout the album, singing harmony on “You Don’t Scare Me” and adding terrific guitar leads along with ace Kenny Vaughn. Malo and co-producer Niko Bolas showcase Rose’s vocal charms while also giving the musicians and songs room to shine. Chris Scruggs’ steel, Aaron Till’s fiddle and Jen Gunderman’s piano and organ are perfectly staged, and Rose is commanding as she eases herself into songs whose classic tones belie their originality. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Whitney Rose’s Home Page

Mike Younger: Little Folks Like You and Me

Thursday, September 14th, 2017

Canadian transplant makes socially aware country-rock in Nashville

The hoarse edge on Mike Younger’s voice might remind you of a young Don Henley, and there’s an earthiness to his delivery that’s more middle-America than Los Angeles. Originally from Nova Scotia, he wandered the world before setting down in Nashville where his rootsy honky-tonk and folk fit easily into the scene that lays beneath the city’s commercial sheen. His years as a busker taught him that gimmicks might stop a passerby, but it’s having something personal to say that will make them stay. That same lesson works well on record as he sings of both his own plights, and those of the audience to whom he’s played face to face.

He identifies with a working class that seeks a moment to dream of something better for themselves, as well as those they will leave behind to inherit the planet. His protagonists nobly hold to their convictions, even as their principles become their last possession, and they remain optimistic that the good in people will win over society’s most selfish instincts. He rejects the short-sighted profits of “Poisoned Rivers” and reflects on the gained experience of shared hardship as he laments a mortal ending on “How To Tell a Friend Goodbye.” The latter song’s lack of emotional resolution will be familiar to anyone who’s felt they came up short in a final farewell.

This is a serious album, but not one without lighter charms. “Never Was a Dancer” recalls Younger’s clever effort at turning his lack of experience into an invitation for instruction, with neatly crafted lyrics that leave the actual definition of “dancing” to the listener’s imagination. He falls for a honky-tonkin’ gal on “Rodeo Queen” and celebrates the week’s end with “The Living Daylights.” His songs of social conscience suggest Woody Guthrie, John Mellencamp, Steve Earle, and his first producer (for 1999’s Somethin’ in the Air), Rodney Crowell. Younger’s voice is authentic and he has something to say. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Mike Younger’s Home Page

Andrea Stray: Into Blue

Tuesday, September 12th, 2017

Moody rock EP with country and blues echoes

There’s something haunting about Andrea Stray’s new EP. The languorous tempos convey an emotional mood that’s as much weary as it is wary. She sings of love’s dichotomies, suggesting that strength and fragility are two sides of the same coin, and that discord can harden from explosive force to impediment to acrimony. Her vocals are often lost in thought, but the thoughts that break to the surface with “Forgive and Forget” are the last rays of optimism before the unhappy ending is faced on the closing “You’re the Kind.” Recorded in Nashville with professional studio hands, this sounds nothing like the product one associates with the city’s commercial side. J.T. Corenflos’ moody, blues-tinged electric guitar is revelatory, and Scotty Sanders creates atmosphere rather than country twang with his pedal steel guitar. Stray’s singing might remind you of Robin Lane, Hope Sandoval or Neko Case, but her songs, and the moods she creates with them, are all her own. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Andrea Stray’s Home Page