Keep scrolling down the page for our blog/program guide.
Pics, bios, reviews, album art and more! Learn lots about all the folks on the show!
Out In California- Dave Alvin and the Guilty Men- “Out In California”
Carry Me, Hold Me- Katie Powderly- “Slips Of The Tongue”
Prayin’ For Snow- Crankshaft and the Gear Grinders- “Junkyard Rhythm”
Thursday- Sam Baker- “Mercy”
Hey Little Darlin’- Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers- “Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers”
West Texas Waltz- Joe Ely- “Honky Tonk Masquerade”
Highway 17- Rodney Crowell- “The Houston Kid”
I Lobster But Never Flounder- Pinkard and Bowden- “Gettin’ Stupid”
Clap Your Hands- Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band- “The Wages”
Truckload Of Art- Terry Allen- “Lubbock (On Everything)”
Red Roses- Rachelle Garniez and the Fortunate Few- “Luckyday”
Carl’s Got Louise- Phil Lee- “You Should Have Known Me Then”
Pancho And Lefty- Townes Van Zandt- “Rain On A Conga Drum: Live In Berlin”
Lifetime- Mary Gauthier- “Drag Queens In Limousines”
Thunderbird- Shaver- “Electic Shaver”
Poor Man’s Son- Noah Gunderson- “Ledges”
Two-Fisted Double-Jointed Rough And Ready Man- Alberta Hunter- “Downhearted Blues”
Hot Rod Lincoln- Bill Kirchen- “Hot Rod Lincoln”
Merry Christmas From The Family- Robert Earl Keen- “No. 2 Live Dinner”
** Keep scrolling down the page for our informative blog/program guide. Follow along as you listen! **
Out In California- Dave Alvin and the Guilty Men
Dave Alvin helped to kick-start the American roots rock scene in the early ’80s with the band the Blasters, and has since gone on to a career as a solo performer, songwriter, producer, and sideman that’s been as well respected as it is eclectic. Born in Downey, California in 1955, Alvin was raised by a family of music fans, and as teenagers Dave and his older brother Phil immersed themselves in blues, rockabilly, and vintage country sounds, collecting rare records and attending nightclub performances by the likes of T-Bone Walker, Big Joe Turner, and Lee Allen. Like many fans, the Alvin brothers wanted to play music influenced by the sounds they loved, and in 1979 they formed the Blasters with fellow Downey residents Bill Bateman and John Bazz. Combining the revved-up energy of punk rock with an enthusiastic embrace of classic American sounds, the Blasters became a sensation in Los Angeles and won an enthusiastic cult following across the United States and Europe.
-Mark Deming, AllMusic.com
Carry Me, Hold Me- Katie Powderly
Katie Powderly’s music permeates the boundaries of genre, inhabiting a space somewhere between alt-country and folk. It transcends the confines of linear chronology, as well; it is vintage and current, nostalgic and prophetic. Respectful of tradition while remaining relevant, Powderly presents a promising musical hybrid in her painstakingly hand-hewn tunes.
According to Adam Hajnos at Flying Rooster, “It’s folk noir with a kind of David Lynch-y dreaminess, as though Powderly is struggling to stave off a sort of encroaching darkness. Her pairing of beauty and sadness is one not easily rivaled. But fear not-the album is not a downer. Far from it. It just demonstrates her ability to acknowledge her demons, and maybe even dance with them a little, before casting them off into the night as she makes her first tentative steps toward dawn.”
“Her voice wraps itself around a melody and before you know it you’re hooked; the songs lure you in, seep into your heart, and linger in your ear throughout the quiet of your day” he continues. And he’s right.
The key elements of her music are her harrowingly honest lyrics sung with an almost rebellious resolve to endure in the face of immense loss. She is weary, but never weak; bewildered, but never broken; discouraged, but never defeated. There is defiance in her delivery, suggestive of an unseen strength simmering just below the surface.
-Margaret Conroy, katiepowderly.com
“…Sheer beauty, honesty and impact. An unequivocal triumph, this album will stand as one of the Madison area’s classic recordings.”
-Rick Tvedt, Local Sounds Magazine, Madison, WI
“The chemistry in [her and Josh Oliver’s] harmonies is captivating.”
-Clementine Cox, No Depression, The Roots Music Authority Since 1995
“…Sharp, thorny bundles of burning emotiveness…full of fierce poetry and instantly memorable melodies.”
-Colleen Bos and Peter DeVault, Dane 101, Madison, WI
“…Hauntingly beautiful…Slips of the Tongue establishes Powderly as one of Madison’s most promising musical talents.”
-Rich Albertoni, Isthmus, Madison, WI
Photo by: Mick Mckiernan
Prayin’ For Snow- Crankshaft and the Gear Grinders
Crankshaft has been pounding the pavement since 2008, developing his own “pork neck” style along the way. A sound heavily rooted in rock ‘n’ roll, blues, country, swing, and surf that “could not have been imagined prior to the early punk scene,” as described by Dig In Magazine. Rock solid original lyrics, a dedicated fan base, and his 21st century twist on the American roots is pushing him to the top of the crowded Minneapolis music scene in a hurry. It’s becoming clear to many that Crankshaft is “one of the best and most interesting roots, rock and blues acts playing around town these days.” – Cities 97.
Born into this world from gas station cassette tape collecting semi-truck drivers, Alex “Crankshaft” Larson was introduced to a wide variety of music as a pup. In 1996 he traded a combination oil/wood stove to his uncle for his first electric guitar and amp.
“One of the best and most interesting roots, rock and blues acts playing around town these days. Whether Alex “Crankshaft” Larson is playing solo, as a duo, or with his full band, he is absolutely worth checking out.”
Greg Burke – Cities 97
“Crankshaft writes great songs, and sings them with passion. The energy at his live shows is undeniable, and he won’t rest until everyone in the room is rockin’ and rollin’ with him.”
Page Burkum – The Catus Blossums
“Many are called but few are chosen. In the case of Alex “Crankshaft” Larson, not only does he have the determination and drive to get noticed, but he has the goods to back it up. He’s a musical craftsman of the tradition of the finest classic rock and blues. Crankshaft’s songs are stories set to grooves that connect with the audience.”
– Nate Dungan – Talent Buyer, Minnesota State Fair
Photo by: Trixie Longstocking
Thursday- Sam Baker
Sam Baker is a man of few words. Always beautifully chosen, and fully wrought. Words placed like plants and objects in a Zen Garden. His website is stark: white, black, sepia, and shades of gray. Baker turned inward, to relearn the use of his body and brain after a Peruvian train bombing almost killed him in 1986. It’s taken years to heal. Time to reconnect. The road back was arduous, but it opened up new vistas in art, poetry, and music.
mercy, released in 2004, was the first in a trilogy of compelling albums with sparse instrumentation and poetic delivery. It was followed by pretty world in 2007 and cotton in 2009. Each piece is imprinted with a theme: everyone is at the mercy of another one’s dreams, how beautiful are these days, and talk about forgiveness.
Baker approaches life with a positive attitude – “Life is a gift. I went through a lot of bitterness- a lot of anger. But those things are toxic. Gratitude for what remains is more helpful than resentment for what was lost. Ultimately, I came to understand that these days are wicked short and terribly beautiful. All I’ve got—no matter what I hold in my hands, drive around in, or put in the bank,- all I’ve got is this one breath, and if I’m lucky, I get another.”
What strikes you first about Sam Baker’s music is his singing. He sings with a craggy, slightly slurry manner than sounds a bit like post-throat cancer John Prine. Baker’s raspy voice, however, didn’t result from cancer. He was a victim of a Peruvian train bombing that affected his hearing and, consequently, his singing. It takes a little getting accustomed to his voice, but once you do and start listening more closely to the songs, you’ll realize that Baker also possesses some of Prine’s keen storytelling skills. From the opening tune, the touching widower’s tale “Waves,” Baker demonstrates a true gift for narrative songwriting, particularly telling stories in which the American Dream has gotten a little tarnished. In “Baseball” he contrasts a Little League game with the image of the boys becoming soldiers, but he never lets the song lapse into melodrama. “Truale” rivals Robert Earl Keen’s and James McMurtry’s ability to tell Texas tales of misadventures. “Thursday” empathizes with a single mother’s daily struggles, while a brush with death leads “Iron”‘s working-man protagonist to a surprising epiphany. These songs’ plainspoken truths resonate with a quiet power.
-Michael Berick, AllMusic.com
Photo by: C. Lawrence
Hey Little Darlin’- Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers
If your own favorite country singers came from the vinyl era, don’t let this one pass you by
A magnificent songwriter
Whatever “it” is, Muth currently possesses skip loads of
“it”. She sings Nashville country straight and honest with no frills . . .the real deal and with genuine widespread appeal.
I just can’t stop playing this.
-Bob Harris BBC Radio 2
This is absolutely spine-tingling stuff. Not only does she sing like a hillbilly angel, but she writes instant classics. ?Remember the first time you heard Infamous Angel? Well, Muth is right up there with Iris DeMent as a singer-songwriter, though harder-edged and harder country. Unreservedly recommended.
– 3rd Coast Music Magazine
Her phrasing stands right beside Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson – two masters of an under-appreciated craft
With a haunting voice that treads soul and country and can only be described as cosmic americana, Zoe Muth delivers songs that sound like vintage country classics.
Muth has gifted the world with a collection of music that is straight no chaser. Just when you start to believe that they just don’t make ‘em the way they used to, Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers come along to restore your faith.
-Country Standard Time
“Turn it all upside down,” Zoe Muth sings on the opening track of her third full-length album, World of Strangers. “See the stars when we’re looking at the ground, shining all around.” Muth brings us ten heartrending tales of the leaving and the left behind in her trademark style of infusing moments of despair with hope and levity. This time around she has made some changes, channeling a wider array of influences ranging from classic country ballads to early folk-rock.
First making her name in the Pacific Northwest, where she’s been called “Seattle’s Emmylou,” and heralded as one of the best songwriters to come out of Washington State, Muth has spent the last three years touring across the U.S. and Europe. Playing bars and cafes as a young pre-school teacher, she saved up her minimum wage earnings and beer bucket tips to pay for her 2009 debut album, Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers. That album, along with her 2011 follow up, Starlight Hotel, went on to garner praise from the international press, and landed on No Depression’s “Top 50 Albums” list in their respective years.
West Texas Waltz- Joe Ely
Country-rock singer/songwriter/guitarist Joe Ely was born Earle R. Ely on February 9, 1947, in Amarillo, Texas. His family had worked for the Rock Island Line railroad dating back to the start of the century. When he was 12, the family moved to Lubbock, Texas, where his father ran a used clothing store. Inspired by seeing Jerry Lee Lewis perform when he was a child, Ely aspired to a musical career, and he briefly took violin and steel guitar lessons before turning to the guitar. His father died when he was 14, and his mother was institutionalized for a year due to the trauma, so he and his brother were forced to stay with relatives in other cities. When the family came back together in Lubbock, he took a job washing dishes to bring in some money.
He also dropped out of school and began playing music professionally in local clubs, forming a band called the Twilights that became successful enough for him to quit being a dishwasher. Soon after, however, he became sufficiently restless to begin traveling, at first to other cities in Texas, then California, and later New York, with even a trip to Europe working for a theatrical company.
-William Ruhlmann, AllMusic.com
As strong as Joe Ely’s self-titled solo debut was, his second album, 1978’s Honky Tonk Masquerade, actually managed to top it, and the album remains one of the great creative triumphs of the Texas singer/songwriter community, as well as a high-water mark in Ely’s career. Displaying a very Texan sense of eclecticism, Honky Tonk Masquerade’s ten tunes run the gamut from beer-stained weepers (the title cut) and late-night declarations of loneliness (“Tonight I Think I’m Gonna Go Downtown”) to barrelhouse rock & roll (“Fingernails”) and honky tonk dance numbers (“West Texas Waltz” and “Cornbread Moon”), and Ely’s simple but expressive delivery makes the most of every song he sings. Ely’s band deserves a special nod as well, especially steel guitarist Lloyd Maines and Ponty Bone on accordion, who can seemingly conjure up an orchestra or a horn section at will. And as strong as Ely’s songs are, he has the good sense to also accept contributions from fellow ex-Flatlanders Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore, whose more introspective lyrical approach makes for a satisfying contrast to Ely’s more down to earth style. Smart without sounding pretentious, and musically ambitious without losing focus or drive, Honky Tonk Masquerade is a superb album that captures Ely and his band at their best.
-Mark Deming, AllMusic.com
Highway 17- Rodney Crowell
When Rodney Crowell first gained widespread recognition as a leader of the new traditionalist movement of the mid-’80s, he was, in fact, a singer, songwriter, and producer with roots and ambitions extending far beyond the movement’s perimeters. Born to a musical family on August 7, 1950 in Houston, Texas, Crowell formed his first band, the Arbitrators, while in high school, and in 1972 moved to Nashville to become a professional musician. There, he struck up friendships with singer/songwriters Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark.
-Jason Ankeny, AllMusic.com
At least impressionistically, this is a soundtrack to a documentary about the life of Rodney Crowell, who grew up in East Houston (the same neighborhood as the Ghetto Boys, but 25 years earlier), a rough and rumble neighborhood lying in the shadows of downtown Houston. It also happens to be the finest record Crowell has recorded since Diamonds & Dirt, and it’s better than that one by a mile. After being tossed off by the major labels, it took a big-time indie like Sugar Hill — a label founded to showcase bluegrass artists (but also home to many fine singer/songwriters including Crowell’s running mate and inspiration Guy Clark) — to release The Houston Kid.
-Thom Jurek, AllMusic.com
I Lobster But Never Flounder- Pinkard and Bowden
In the tradition of Homer and Jethro came the riotous barnyard humor and song parodies of Sandy Pinkard and Richard Bowden. Unlike their forebears, Pinkard and Bowden’s humor was often coarse, and their language was sometimes rough enough to warrant explicit language warnings on their records; in fact, they were the first country comedy artists to have such an advisory posted on their music.
Both Pinkard and Bowden were successful singers and songwriters before teaming up.
-Sandra Brennan, AllMusic.com
Photo by: Dean Dixon
Clap Your Hands- Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band
“… the reincarnated Mississippi moan of guys like Son House… a burly soul punishing the senses with a Deltapunk attack and a heavy helping of rural realism. You can’t ignore his Big Damn Band’s gospel.” — Elmore
“The tent revival, almost punk energy of the Big Damn Band is a refreshing splash of coldwater to the face. Between The Ditches doesn’t keep it in the road – it takes up both lanes as it barrels along.” — Living Blues
“The country blues is a gift of 20th century American music, and it’s awesome to see a band tap into its legacy with so much gusto and original vision.” – Music City Roots
“These guys are a hillbilly blues throwback ensemble, though, and no amount of refinement can really push them off their mark. Peyton’s voice still croaks, shouts, and roars, and his unique, kinetic slide guitar playing, whether it’s a ’30s National guitar, a cigar-box guitar, a Gibson flattop 1929 L2, or an Airline Map electric guitar, still drives and churns like a runaway train.” – Allmusic
“With his wife, Breezy, serving as a one-woman amen corner, and distant cousin Aaron Persinger laying down the floppy-boot-stomp drums behind Peyton’s spiky, waspish National steel slide guitar on tracks like “Something for Nothing”, the result is a peculiarly infectious blues crusade, touching on themes of money, morality and social responsibility.” – The Independent (UK)
The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band is a twenty-year-old bourbon in a room of vodka Red Bulls and PBRs; vintage yet timeless, exciting and still welcoming…” – MXDWN.COM
“The focal point and ring leader Reverend J. Peyton is the star of the show here flashing a guitar style that elates the ear, at times flying all over the fret board and equally delicately picking with ease.” – Glide Magazine
Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band is a three-piece outfit that plays a combination of roots music and alternative country that is also heavily influenced by country blues. At its center is Josh Peyton (vocals, guitar), who grew up listening to his father’s blues-rock albums. After receiving an electric guitar and amp when he was 13, Josh formed his first band with his brother Jayme Peyton on drums and a friend playing bass. A friend who recognized the blues influences in Josh’s playing recommended that he study earlier blues artists, which in turn led to Josh’s discovery of country blues. The young guitarist’s career was nearly derailed, however, after a performance at his high-school graduation left his hands in extreme pain. Doctors who examined Josh diagnosed him with tendonitis and gave him a grim prognosis — as a result, he abandoned music for a year before undergoing surgery to correct the problem. While recovering, Josh met Breezy, the woman who would become his wife. After comparing notes on musical influences, Breezy bought a washboard and began writing songs with Josh and Jayme. The trio began touring and eventually decided to make music a full-time endeavor.
-Katherine Fulton, AllMusic.com
Photo by: Bill Steber
Truckload Of Art- Terry Allen
There may be no greater maverick than Terry Allen in all of country music from the mid-’70s onward. Along with Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely, and Butch Hancock — all of whom he’s known and collaborated with — Allen is a standard-bearer of the Lubbock, TX, country scene. Though not widely heralded, this is perhaps the most progressive movement in all of contemporary country, digging into modern-day concerns with a gutsy, liberal perspective, while maintaining a firm musical grounding in regional country and folk traditions. Allen is perhaps the most ambitious of them all, writing complex song cycles that have been performed with the help of fellow eclectics ranging from Lowell George to David Byrne.
Allen’s audience, like those of the other Lubbock pioneers, is not the country mainstream. Indeed, his principal appeal may not lie with the country audience at all (though his music definitely is country), but with open-minded alternative folk and rock listeners. Unlike most current country artists, his words aim to question and confront hard day-to-day realities, rather than offer conservative clichés or maudlin comforts to shield listeners from those very day-to-day realities. He does so with a humor and irreverence that will also find little sympathy in Nashville or Middle America.
Country music is just one of Allen’s artistic pursuits, perhaps accounting to some degree for his wide perspective. The renaissance man is also an internationally recognized artist with three NEA grants and a Guggenheim Fellowship to his credit. He’s also a true multimedia performer, having done work in the mediums of painting, sculpture, film, video, installation, theater, and poetry. Just a few of his more interesting projects, for instance, were writing the music for Amerasia, a film about American servicemen living in Thailand after the Vietnam War; writing a new national anthem (with Ely, Hancock, and Gilmore) in conjunction with a book about Vietnam; and collaborating with his wife, Jo Harvey Allen, as well as Ely and Hancock, on the production of the acclaimed stage play Chippy.
-Richie Unterberger, AllMusic.com
Although it’s all but unknown outside of a devoted cult following, Terry Allen’s second album, 1979’s Lubbock (On Everything), is one of the finest country albums of all time, a progenitor of what would eventually be called alt-country. This is country music with a wink and a dry-as-West-Texas-dust sense of humor, but at heart, Lubbock (On Everything) is a thoughtful meditation on Allen’s hometown. Recorded in Lubbock after Allen hadn’t lived there for close to a decade with a small group headed by local legends Don Caldwell and Lloyd Maines, the songs alternate between biting character studies like “Lubbock Woman” and “The Great Joe Bob (A Regional Tragedy),” about a high school football star who ends up robbing a liquor store, and more loving tributes like “The Thirty Years War” and “The Wolfman of Del Rio.” Salted through are a handful of songs about the pretensions of the art world (something Allen knows well in his day job as a sculptor and painter) that help keep the album’s more cutting lines from sounding mean-spirited. A 20-song masterpiece, Lubbock (On Everything) is essential listening for anyone with an interest in the outer fringes of country music.
-Stewart Mason. AllMusic.com
Photo by: James Bland, jamesbland.com
Red Roses- Rachelle Garniez and the Fortunate Few
Native New Yorker Rachelle Garniez has been described as “a certified free spirit” (The New Yorker) and a “diva with a difference” (Billboard Magazine).
She has produced and released 5 cds on her own label, Real Cool Records, as well as a vinyl single produced by Jack White on his label, Third Man Records. KinderAngst, a collection of punk rock children’s songs, co-written and co-produced by Palmyra Delran, featuring Debby Harry. Most recently, a compilation album of songs chosen from her catalog of recordings has been released by JARO Records.
In the 1980’s she began busking in parks and subways and performing in clubs, galleries and bars; playing solo and in a wide variety of bands ranging from bar-band roots to club-kid art-funk; samba fierce-showgirl revue to klezmer and old-time jazz, each of which have contributed significantly to her writing style.
Rachelle’s songs have been recorded by Catherine Russell, Karen Elson, and The Flying Neutrinos and can be heard on television soundtracks including the Chris Isaac Show, Real Sex, Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, and Sex and the City.
She has performed several times at the TED conference as a featured member of Thomas Dolby’s house band both in Monterey California and in Oxford, UK.
Since spring of 2013, Rachelle has been a member of the acclaimed Roots-World band Hazmat Modine. She continues to collaborate perform and record with diverse artists including violinist Jenny Scheinman, sonic wizard Sxip Shirey, neo-soul-jazz guitarist Marvin Sewell, glam cabaret troupe The Citizens Band, choreographer Keely Garfied. family music superstar Dan Zanes, and legendary garage band The Friggs.
Over the years, Rachelle has been commissioned to compose music for theater.
Rachelle Garniez is a talented accordionist and straight-faced wit whose songs are romantic, rhapso”Radic and casually hilarious.” – Ben Sisario, The New York Times
“Garniez, a local singer-songwriter who also plays the accordion, wanders through the genres of country, jazz and pop, leaving behind nothing but sweet wreckage. She has a richly compelling voice and a wild imagination” – John Donohue
“Slipping between pop, polka, country, ska, jazz and yodeling, while playing accordion, piano, guitar and plastic bells, Garniez is a master of surprise. Her CD is available only online, but fans of Bjork, Sinead and Rickie Lee should seek it out.” – Michael Smalls, Entertainment Weekly
“Wistful, sardonic, sentimental and wry . . . ” – Daniel Mangin, San Francisco Bay Area Examiner
“Radiates a dark, enigmatic beauty, bursting with intelligence and subtle irony.”
- Rob Taube, Our Town
Photo by: Albie Mitchell
Carl’s Got Louise- Phil Lee
Before he settled in to becoming one of the best songwriters in captivity Phil Lee spent a couple of decades playing drums, driving trucks, dumping motorcycles, hauling equipment, stealing hearts, eluding the authorities and raising Cain.
By the time most artists get to their third or fourth album they are down to the material that didn’t make the cut for the first two. It is no mean feat to make four albums that stand on their own each one as good as the last yet also better in some way. It’s a pretty mighty achievement. Somehow, Phil Lee, knife-thrower, raconteur, rapscallion and bon vivant and the pride of Durham, North Carolina, has pulled it off.
The Fall and Further Decline of the Mighty King of Love is all the more impressive when you realize there have also been side projects including touring, recording a DVD Phil Lee Live! At the Purple Onion with L.A. Johnson the head of Neil Young’s Shakey Pictures production company, touring, contributing songs to and making his silver screen debut in The One Who Loves You and an ultra-secret project with a collaborator-to-be-named-later, word has it he’s even working on reinventing the Tijuana Bible.
All this while keeping true to his unique and singular mission; to write songs that try to make sense out of this world, open some eyes, call out some fools and ring out some hard truths. Yet, admirable as such pursuits may be he’s simply being true to who he is. Phil Lee’s music will make you think and laugh and maybe shed a tear or two but it also provides hours of playtime fun because all of those things are part of the package. He couldn’t do it any other way.
Phil is a hipster madman Huck Finn meets Jack Kerouac.
-Rick Allen, Jan. 2013, philleeone.com
Photo by: Paul Needham / Mohawkvisuals
Pancho And Lefty- Townes Van Zandt
Townes Van Zandt’s music doesn’t jump up and down, wear fancy clothes, or beat around the bush. Whether he was singing a quiet, introspective country-folk song or a driving, hungry blues, Van Zandt’s lyrics and melodies were filled with the kind of haunting truth and beauty that you knew instinctively. His music came straight from his soul by way of a kind heart, an honest mind, and a keen ear for the gentle blend of words and melody. He could bring you down to a place so sad that you felt like you were scraping bottom, but just as quickly he could lift your spirits and make you smile at the sparkle of a summer morning or a loved one’s eyes — or raise a chuckle with a quick and funny talking blues. The magic of his songs is that they never leave you alone.
Despite his warm, dusty-sweet voice, as a singer Van Zandt never had anything resembling a hit in his nearly 30-year recording career — he had a hard enough time simply keeping his records in print. Nonetheless, he was widely respected and admired as one of the greatest country and folk artists of his generation. The long list of singers who’ve covered his songs includes Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson (who had a number one country hit with “Pancho and Lefty” in 1983), Emmylou Harris, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Nanci Griffith, Hoyt Axton, Bobby Bare, the Tindersticks, and the Cowboy Junkies.
Van Zandt was a Texan by birth and a traveler by nature. His father was in the oil business, and the family moved around a lot — Montana, Colorado, Minnesota, Illinois, among other places — which accounted for his sometimes vague answers to questions of where he “came from.” Van Zandt spent a couple years in a military academy and a bit more time in college in Colorado before dropping out to become a folksinger. (Van Zandt often returned to Colorado in subsequent years, spending entire summers, he said, alone in the mountains on horseback.)
- Kurt Wolff, AllMusic.com
Lifetime- Mary Gauthier
“To be affected by these songs, you don’t have to know anything of Gauthier’s backstory (Louisiana orphan addict chef turned sober troubadour), the respect she commands across gender lines in the Americana scene, or the heavyweight catalog she’s built out of unflinching introspection and Southern Gothic-shaded storytelling.” NPR Music
“…Louisiana-raised Mary Gauthier has become one of Americana music’s most admired artists—across the U.S. and in her regular tours around the world.” Wall Street Journal
“Every tune is a rough gem of melody, misery and economy, as Gauthier excavates romantic wreckage like an archaeologist telling the story of a fossilized love.” Rolling Stone
“…her razor-sharp eye for detail and her commitment to unsentimental self-reflection puts her in a class with greats such as Kris Kristofferson, John Prine and yes, Bob Dylan.” Los Angeles Times
In a Nashville bookstore, to the tune of steam hissing from a latte machine and laptop taps of nearby browsers, she speaks in a low voice, yet communicates urgently. Her voice never rises. Her music never rattles rafters or crashes like cymbals toward the high notes in a power chorus. Her tempos shuffle and trudge more than they dash.
And her songs? They’re about as idiosyncratic as anything in the wide world of “popular music.” They’re painfully personal, especially on Trouble and Love. Yet they somehow infiltrate the souls of her listeners, no matter how different the paths they’ve followed through their lives.
Those songs weren’t so much written as harvested by Gauthier. Though she lives not far from the hit-making mills of Music Row, she admits to knowing nothing about how to write on command. She says, “I have to be called to write. The call comes from somewhere I don’t understand, but I know it when I hear it.”
That call first came to her a long time ago. Her life to that point had led her to extremes, plenty of negatives and a few brilliant bright spots. An adopted child, who became a teenage runaway, she found her first shelter among addicts and Drag Queens. Eventually she achieved renown as a chef even while balancing the running of her restaurant with the demands of addiction to heroin.
Two more successful restaurants, an escalating addiction, and a subsequent arrest, led her into sobriety. All that was rehearsal for what to follow, when she wrote her first song in her mid-thirties.
From that point, Gauthier channeled a long line of works, almost all of them eloquent in their insight, burnished by her writing technique. A core of devotees came to await each next release.
Alt-country singer/songwriter Mary Gauthier exploded onto the scene in 1999 following her self-released sophomore effort, Drag Queens in Limousines. The album, which garnered her a Crossroads Silver Star and a four-star rating in Rolling Stone, had critics comparing her self-described “country noir” to the likes of Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, John Prine, and, not surprisingly, Lucinda Williams. The success of Drag Queens led to main-stage shows at festivals around the country and multiple tours in Europe.
Embraced by critics, folkies, and No Depression fans alike, Gauthier’s warmly candid treatment of her fringe-dwelling subjects rings true, as it never verges on sentimental; her characters’ downtrodden lives are never coldly exploited. Instead, these are people she knows, whom she met after dropping out of her Louisiana high school and stealing the family car at the age of 15, only to find herself in detox at 16 and jailed in Kansas City at 18. Her own wayward path led her to culinary school and, eventually, she opened a successful restaurant in Boston’s Back Bay — Dixie Kitchen — which she sold after her music career started to take off.
-Kim Reick Kunoff, AllMusic.com
Thunderbird- Billy Joe Shaver
Billy Joe Shaver has never been a household name, but his songs became country standards during the ’70s and his reputation among musicians and critics hasn’t diminished during the ensuing decades.
One of the best synopses of Shaver’s upbringing is his own song, “I Been to Georgia on a Fast Train.” When he sings, “my grandma’s old-age pension is the reason that I’m standing here today,” he ain’t kidding. The “good Christian raising” and “eighth grade education” — not to mention being abandoned by his parents shortly after being born, working on his uncles’ farms instead of going to high school, and losing part of his fingers during a job at a sawmill — are all part of his life story. “I got all my country learning,” he sings, “picking cotton, raising hell, and bailing hay.”
After several trips between Texas andTennessee, he appeared one day in 1968 inBobby Bare‘s Nashville office, where he convinced Bare to listen to him play. Bareended up giving him a writing job and soon his songs began to see the light thanks toKris Kristofferson (“Good Christian Soldier”),Tom T. Hall (“Willie the Wandering Gypsy and Me”), Bare (“Ride Me Down Easy”), and later,the Allman Brothers (“Sweet Mama”) and Elvis Presley (“You Asked Me To”). Shaver’s real breakthrough, though, came in 1973 whenWaylon Jennings recorded an album composed almost entirely of Shaver’s songs, Honky Tonk Heroes — largely considered the first true “outlaw” album.
Shaver’s own debut album, Old Five and Dimers Like Me, was produced by Kristofferson in 1973. Along with the title track, it contained now-classic Shaver songs “Willie the Wandering Gypsy and Me” and the aforementioned “Georgia on a Fast Train.” In 1978 Johnny Cash recorded “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal (But I’m Gonna Be a Diamond Some Day),” a song Shaver wrote just after he chose to give up drugs and booze and turned to God for help.
All Music Guide lists 23 albums, from 1973’s Old Five & Dimers Like Me through 2007’s Everybody’s Brother. Among his many classic songs are “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal (But I’m Gonna Be a Diamond Some Day),” “Honky Tonk Heroes,” “Georgia on a Fast Train,” “Live Forever,” “Tramp on Your Street,” and “Try and Try Again.”
In 1999, Shaver was invited to perform at theGrand Ole Opry. In 2005, Billy Joe Shaver performed on CMT Outlaws. In 2006, he was inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame. He recently served as spiritual advisor to Texas independent gubernatorial candidateKinky Friedman and his 2007 album “Everybody’s Brother” was nominated for a GRAMMY. For his efforts, the Americana Music Association awarded him their Lifetime Achievement Award in Songwriting.
Shaver is truly one of the most respected living figures in American music. Bob Dylan, who rarely covers other writers, has often played Billy Joe‘s “Old Five And Dimers Like Me” in concert. Johnny Cash called him “my favorite songwriter.” TheWashington Post noted, “when the country outlaws were collecting their holy writings, Billy Joe Shaver was carving out Exodus.”
Poor Man’s Son- Noah Gunderson
Pop-folk singer and songwriter Noah Gundersen was born May 31, 1989 in Olympia, Washington into an extremely religious but also very musical family that frowned on secular music, a view that he eventually abandoned. Gundersen began taking piano lessons before he was a teen, and after inheriting an electric Epiphone guitar from his father in 2002, he began tracking songs on his father’s recording equipment. By the time he was 16, Gundersen was gigging in the local cafes, and in 2006 his sister, Abby, an excellent violinist, cellist, pianist, and harmony singer, began to accompany him. The duo added a rhythm section and began performing as a full band under the name the Courage.
-Steve Leggett, AllMusic.com
In a 2010 article titled “An Incomplete History of How Noah Gundersen Became The Courage”, Seattle Weekly painted a picture of a young man steeped in religion, family, and the albums of Dylan’s Christian phase breaking out of a rigid home life to infect the world with folksy music.
Under the influence of Counting Crows and Ryan Adams, Gundersen got a backing band called The Courage and went on tour. If you’re familiar with The Courage, then you already know much of what Ledges, Gundersen’s debut solo LP, sounds like. Ledges is more folk-based, but Gundersen’s wizened voice is the same, and the lyrics, mixing family with biblical imagery and the booze-soaked regret of youth, are similar. If you aren’t familiar with The Courage, just look to Gundersen’s influences: if The Courage were Ryan Adams and The Cardinals, Ledges would be Demolition-era Adams with a well-thumbed bible in his pocket.
Given Gundersen’s years of experience and how steeped he is in the folk tradition (see his incredible cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You”), it’s no surprise that Ledges is a gem of an Americana record, maybe the strongest debut in the genre that this new year has seen.
-Adam Finley, March 24, 2014, popmatters.com
Two-Fisted Double-Jointed Rough And Ready Man- Alberta Hunter
Alberta Hunter was a pioneering African-American popular singer whose path crosses the streams of jazz, blues and pop music. While she made important contributions to all of these stylistic genres, she is claimed exclusively by no single mode of endeavor. Hunter recorded in six decades of the twentieth century, and enjoyed a career in music that outlasted most human lives.
Hunter was born in Memphis, and depending on which account you read, she either ran away from home or her family relocated to Chicago when she was 12-years-old. Her career began in the bawdy houses on the south side of Chicago, probably in 1911 or 1912, although she claimed 1909. Early on she married, but ultimately discovered she preferred women to men. In Chicago Hunter worked with legendary pianist Tony Jackson, was good friends with King Oliver’s pianist Lil Hardin Armstrong, and even sang in white clubs. But working in these violent, rough-and-tumble nighteries was dangerous business, and not long after an incident where Hunter’s piano accompanist was killed by a stray bullet, she decided to try her talent in New York.
Not long after she arrived, Hunter made contact with the Harry Pace and his Black Swan Records concern. Hunter’s initial records for Black Swan, made in May 1921, were the first blues vocals recorded by the company.
-Uncle Dave Lewis, AllMusic.com
Hot Rod Lincoln- Bill Kirchen
Grammy nominated guitarist, singer and songwriter Bill Kirchen is one of the fortunate few who can step onto any stage, play those trademark licks that drove his seminal Commander Cody classic Hot Rod Lincoln into the Top Ten, and elicit instant recognition for a career that has spanned over 40 years and includes guitar work with Nick Lowe, Emmylou Harris, Doug Sahm, Elvis Costello and many more. Named “A Titan of the Telecaster” by Guitar Player Magazine, he celebrates an American musical tradition where rock ‘n’ roll and country music draws upon its origins in blues and bluegrass, Western swing from Texas and California honky-tonk.
Johnny Cash – “I think he’s great.”
Nick Lowe – “A devastating culmination of the elegant and the funky, a really sensational musician with enormous depth.”
Pop Matters – “He is one of the singular instrumental stylists of American roots music, and to hear his sound once is to have it indelibly etched on one’s musical memory.”
No Depression – “You might call [Hot Rod Lincoln] the Triumph of the Telecaster. Then again, you might say that about Kirchen’s whole career.”
3rd Coast Music – “Most discographies have their ups and downs, but Bill Kirchen’s albums just get better and better.”
San Francisco Chronicle – “Kirchen can count on the respect of anybody who knows his work.”
Puremusic.com – “one of the classic American artists.”
Austin-American Statesman – “Bill Kirchen rules, it’s just that simple…scorching guitar runs in all directions…”
Indy Week – “one of the best guitarists in the land”
Vintage Guitar Magazine – “an American treasure”
Washington City Paper – “Like an impassioned preacher in a souped-up convertible, Kirchen described passing Muddy Waters, Link Wray, Merle Haggard, B. B. King, Carl Perkins, Jimi Hendrix and more, nodding in tribute to each one with a perfect guitar quotation as he drove by. … Bill Kirchen took every one for the ride of their lives in his Hot Rod Lincoln.”
Rolling Stone – “Opening night was particularly special due to the presence of Les Paul and Albert Lee, … Bill Kirchen cranked up his Tele for a set that gave the crowd a hotfoot, sparked by his epic cover of [‘Hot Rod Lincoln’]. (review of Danny Gatton Tribute, New York, Tramps)”
Merry Christmas From The Family- Robert Earl Keen
Among the large contingent of talented songwriters who emerged in Texas in the 1980s and ’90s, Robert Earl Keen struck an unusual balance between sensitive story-portraits (“Corpus Christi Bay”) and raucous barroom fun (“That Buckin’ Song”). These two song types in Keen’s output were unified by a mordant sense of humor that strongly influenced the early practitioners of what would become known as alternative country music. Keen, the son of an oil executive father and an attorney mother, was a native of Houston. His parents enjoyed both folk and country music, and his own style would land, like that of his close contemporary Nanci Griffith, between those genres. Keen wrote poetry while he was in high school, but it wasn’t until he went to journalism school at musically fertile Texas A&M that he learned to play the guitar. He and Lyle Lovett became friends and co-wrote a song, “This Old Porch,” which both later recorded.
Keen made a splash in Austin with his debut album, No Kinda Dancer, self-financed in 1984 to the tune of $4,500 dollars. He moved to Nashville during the heady experimentalism of the ’80s that saw Lovett and k.d. lang hit the country Top Ten, but he soon returned to Austin. Texas landscapes and residents provided Keen with creative inspiration, as his second album, West Textures, made clear; that album yielded one of Keen’s signature numbers, an ambitious crime-spree song called “The Road Goes on Forever.”
-James Manheim, AllMusic.com
Robert Earl Keen, Jr. is a Texan who did not take the express lane to the radio airwaves. Instead, he spent more than a decade seasoning his talent while entertaining folks in the — yep, you guessed it — friendly honky tonks of Texas, where music fans tend to like individualists with plenty of personality. No. 2 Live Dinner finished off a consistently powerful string of albums recorded for Sugar Hill Records. Taped in front of rowdy, beer-swilling crowds in two Texas towns, Keen bears his good-natured raspiness into songs of desperation, danger, and raucous humor. A contemporary of Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett, and Nanci Griffith, Keen’s work has been as consistent and occasionally as strong as that of his friends. It’s taken him longer to gain a national profile, but it’s coming at a deserving time. For those unfamiliar with him, this live album will convey how well he’s loved in his home state. Listen closely, and the songs will explain why, too.
-Michael McCall, AllMusic.com