Archive for the ‘music’ Category

What happened to…what, now?

June 23, 2017

The proper question is, “What happened to honest music journalism?” Or “Who are the people quoted here and why in the hell do their opinions on Texas Music matter?” There’s so much bullshit here that it practically fisks itself, but what the hell.

A New York guy killed Texas Music. Yes, friends, the disintegration of this state’s edgy brand of country rock can be traced back to New York-born Texas-transplant Jerry Jeff Walker.

Uh…come again? There wouldn’t BE a Texas music to speak of if it wasn’t for Jerry Jeff Walker. But even so, whatever the objective state of Texas Music circa 2017, it strikes me as not quite fair, and more than a bit simplistic, to blame just him for it, because practically everyone in Texas Music 2.0, from Roger Creager to William Clark Green, was influenced by him. And all of that is assuming that we take the article’s central premise is true, and it just isn’t. Not by a long shot.

Robert Earl Keen Jr. followed in the 1980s, tapping into Walker’s party anthem vibe but with deeper writing (“Swerving in My Lane,” “The Road Goes on Forever”). The rowdies were inflamed.

Really. I’m going to guess these people have never heard “Mariano,” “Jesse with the Long Hair,” or “Shades of Gray,” or, hell, even the original version of “The Road Goes On Forever.” I remember hearing the latter and thinking it was anything but a party song; the one line in the song with the title is practically the only upbeat thing about it.

Then along from Oklahoma came Red Dirt, a similar type of rowdy country but with an even more Neanderthal approach.

Wait, what? Are we even listening to the same artists? Stoney LaRue, Jason Boland, Ragweed? These people don’t have a freaking clue.

And the bit about Maren Morris’ talent getting her noticed is utterly laughable. That’s not really a commentary on said talent, but rather…well…let’s just put it like this: If Maren Morris sounded like Lee Ann Womack or Courtney Patton, who are both every single bit as talented as she is, we all know that Nashville and country radio never would have given her the time of day.

I think my biggest problem with this article, though, is the fact that none of these people bother to actually call anyone out. Are there acts in Texas music who don’t measure up? Sure there are. And we all know who they are, more or less. But if you’re going to call the scene out for its quality or lack thereof, it’s incumbent upon you to point fingers and name names. Nobody hesitates to do that for Nashville, and we ought not to hesitate to do it for Texas/Red Dirt or any other scene. Not only should that be done to make the scene better, but also to differentiate between the good and the bad. Just like it’s wrong to say ’80s metal sucks because of Poison, it’s just as wrong to modern Texas music sucks because of Sam Riggs.

And, again, who the hell are any of these people quoted in this stupid article? If it was Ray Wylie Hubbard or Billy Joe Shaver or any of those guys saying all this that’d be one thing, but it’s just a bitter gaggle of nobodies with nothing more than axes to grind for reasons that only God Himself knows.

Well, all righty then.

June 21, 2017

So, on one hand we have mainstream Nashville artists doing a tribute to Motley Crue, and on the other hand, we have this:

What started out to be the idea for a heavy metal album of Outlaw country covers by DevilDriver frontman Dez Fafara has apparently turned into a monster project that may include dozens of songs and as many as 25 guest appearances. A project long rumored from the band, Dez Fafara says he started reaching out to folks in the metal world who may want to contribute, and he received such an overwhelming reception, the project has taken on a life of its own.

Randy Blythe from Lamb of God, Lee Ving from the band Fear, and Chuck Billy from Testament are some of the names said to be involved with the project, with many other contributors being kept under wraps at the moment. Though the album was originally due to be released this fall, it won’t likely be released until next year due to the amount of contributions.

It might sound surprising at first glance that we’d see something like this, but it’s really not. You could call it the flip side of Jason Boland being a fan of Iron Maiden. There’s at least a little bit of precedent for metal covers of country songs, with — among others —Iced Earth covering “Highwayman” and Adrenaline Mob covering “The Devil Went Down To Georgia.” And there were quite a few metal artists who paid verbal tribute to Merle Haggard when he passed away last year.

At the end of the day it’s really about liking honest, real music more than anything else, and I’ve always thought that real country music and most heavy metal had that in common if nothing else. I remember when Don Henley released Cass County a couple of years ago, I thought it was pretty sad that an aging rocker made a better country album than most if not all of the popular “country” artists of the day, and I could make a similar observation here — that is, that it’s pretty sad that it’s left to artists from another genre to pay tribute to country greats while “country” artists are paying tribute to middle-of-the-pack ’80s glam metal bands. I know that a mainstream country tribute to country legends these days would be every bit as insincere and inauthentic as the ever-popular country/hip-hop mixtape, but that inauthenticity is just yet another symptom of the problem with mainstream country music.

At any rate, I must admit I’m pretty interested to hear this tribute. I wouldn’t be too keen on hearing the Cookie Monster vocals on any of those songs, as I’ve never been a fan of that style to begin with — I much prefer metal with clean vocals — but I can definitely respect the metal guys doing something like this, at least. Considering that the album is going to have at least a few country artists collaborating, I bet it’ll have at least a few good if not great moments. We’ll see.

Well, damn. Another one gone.

May 27, 2017

Really, 2017?

Music legend Gregg Allman, whose bluesy vocals and soulful touch on the Hammond B-3 organ helped propel The Allman Brothers Band to superstardom and spawn Southern rock, died Saturday, his manager said. He was 69.

I have said before that the Eagles were the first classic rock band that I got into; it could probably be safely said that the Allman Brothers were the second. My favorite ABB song, “Ramblin’ Man,” had Dickey Betts on lead, but those guys just didn’t do a bad song; my favorite with Gregg on lead vocals was always “Statesboro Blues,” with “Whipping Post” a close second.

Of course, with my love for classic country, it wouldn’t have been a far trip to ABB fandom, as Southern rock and outlaw country are close cousins, if not brothers, as a more than cursory listen to either of them would reveal. In fact, both Waylon and Willie covered “Midnight Rider”…

 

…and “Ramblin’ Man,” according to ABB drummer Butch Trucks, was meant for none other than Merle Haggard himself:

“After Duane died, for one thing there was only one guitar player, but then Dickey kind of took over and we quit playing so much in that jazz genre that we were playing in and started heading more toward country stuff,” Butch Trucks explained. “And then out came ‘Ramblin’ Man,’ and if I never hear that song again it’ll be too soon … [laughs]. We actually went to the studio to make a demo of that to send to Merle Haggard. Even Dickey figured it was much too country for the Allman Brothers.”

We’re all mortal, but just, damn. Won’t ever be another like him.

A few words on Chris Cornell…

May 18, 2017

Chris Cornell died, huh?

Well that sucks. I can’t lie and say I was always a fan, as I was more into country music than anything else in the ’90s, but once I started exploring other genres more I really took a liking to both Soundgarden and Audioslave. In fact, Soundgarden got to be one of the few ’90s rock bands I really liked. I once said that pretty much the only bands from the ’90s that I thought were worth a damn were the Offspring and Stone Temple Pilots, but you could definitely add Soundgarden to that short list.

And then there was this, from Cody Canada:

I feel like my childhood is dying.
Over the last couple of years the ones who taught me are leaving this place. I know this happens with every generation but I’m not ready.
I’m just not sure who our kids and our kids kids will listen to.
I was jolted back in time this morning looking at my crying boys.
Keith Whitley died when I was Willy’s age. I couldn’t stop crying because he moved me so much. My sweet parents let me stay home and play guitar that day.
Everyday the boys play Cornells voice in one form or another.
Doesn’t matter the bands name. It’s him man. It’s his demon. It’s his love. It’s his voice that we all gravitated towards.
The older I get the more I realize what’s important. Not the band name or the jaded ex member or the record label or what you wear. It’s the point of that one song in that right moment that made you cry or say I’m going to play music and change people’s day.
I’m going to carry on what this person spoke to me.
People have been trying to tell me how to do it and who they think I am for years now.
I know who I am and I know the people that made me believe in who I am and where I’m going. I catch myself telling my boys “no not like that” I’m wrong. Do it boys.
Don’t waste time listening to people tell you you’re not doing it right. How do they know?
I’ve been doing it since I was a child. Am I doing it right? Damn right I am. My way. Because that’s how they did it.
How you gonna stand out if you fit in.
Godspeed Mr. Cornell.
You paved a way for three generations of Canada’s. I hope you know what you did to music.

And you know, even if I didn’t like Soundgarden, I would at least respect them, for stuff like this. If there hadn’t been a Soundgarden, for all we know there wouldn’t have been a Cross Canadian Ragweed, and Red Dirt music would have been poorer for that.

And yes, that goes for all those other ’90s bands that I will freely admit to *not* liking.

I would say something about all those yahoos coming out of the woodwork crowing about the demise of “hair metal” at the hands of Cornell and his contemporaries…but, well, fuck them. They’re full of crap, they’ve always been full of crap, and they’ll always be full of crap.

Sunday music musings, 14.5.17

May 14, 2017

New Chris Stapleton, huh? OK.

I mean, good for him for bringing people’s attention to another country classic with his cover of Willie Nelson’s “Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning,” and I realize what he’s doing in the context of mainstream country music is borderline revolutionary, and that he’s arguably reminded a lot of people that it used to be more than songs about tailgate parties and whatnot, but, well…as far as I can tell, From A Room, Vol. 1 is just more of what didn’t click with me with Traveller. Will it sell? I am sure it will, but as we all know seemingly no one gives a damn about album sales anymore, as evidenced by — among other things — an increasing number of albums topping the charts with virtually no airplay on country radio, most recently Willie Nelson’s latest just this week. And I am sure it will be just about as successful on radio as Traveller was. Yes, I know. Radio’s not what it once was, and big changes may be on the horizon. But while radio is an increasingly smaller medium of delivery for new music, it is still the dominant thing, and that’s presented as country music is country music to a lot of people. So between all of that, and the return of Sam Hunt with his horrible smash hit “Body Like A Back Road,” it looks like we’re not going to be making any progress when it comes to having mainstream country music sound, well, country.

Now, I could be wrong. This album may very well do for him, and for country radio, what Traveller couldn’t. But I don’t think that’s going to happen. It strikes me that Traveller, in the context of late-2010s mainstream country, was an extreme outlier; in fact, the only thing that keeps it from being the definition of a black swan event is the fact that it didn’t have much impact in that arena as far as changing the direction of mainstream country.

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Speaking of radio, I thought this was highly amusing:

“It’s Monday, so the clock resets,” WGH-FM Virginia Beach, Va., PD Mark McKay recently wrote in a sarcastic post on Facebook. “I can’t remember, whose turn is it this week [to have a No. 1 single]?

Sarcasm aside, McKay touched on a very real — and growing — frustration among country radio programmers who say labels often push records up and off the charts much faster than their listeners can get familiar with them. …

“It’s this constant push to have a new No. 1 song every week that is stalling this format out,” says KPLX Dallas assistant PD Smokey Rivers, who advises his fellow programmers to “tap the brakes and hold on to bulletproof hits longer.”

Bulletproof hits, huh? Is there such a thing in country music anymore, as far as country radio is concerned? Beyond that, how much have things really changed music-wise in the mainstream since three years ago, when we had program directors saying things like “If we do not have a solid library of gold from this era, we will pay the price in a few years”? There’s a ton of good music that’s just going ignored as people buy it, as evidenced by, yet again, the growing list of albums that hit No. 1 without any representation on country radio — among them, again, Chris Stapleton’s Traveller. The music’s there, guys; you just have to take a chance. The fuck have you got to lose at this point, especially considering the dire straits you’re in anymore?

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On first listen, the new albums from Jason Eady and Rodney Crowell are really damn good. Which is such a relief, after the disappointment that was Aaron Watson’s latest. I was starting to think that this year was really going to suck on the new music front.

I almost included Deryl Dodd’s new album in the disappointment category…

…but while the jury’s still out on that one, so far it’s looking good. I wasn’t wowed on the first listen like I thought I’d be, but it is getting better with each listen. “Love Letters and Cigarettes” with Cody Jinks is absolutely spectacular, and I am also liking “Let Me Be” with William Clark Green, “A Bitter End” with Randy Rogers, “Drinkin’ ‘bout You” with Matt Hillyer, and “That’s How I Got to Memphis” with the great Radney Foster.

Now, let’s just hope we get a new Jason Boland and the Stragglers album this year…

Tuesday music musings, 2.5.17

May 2, 2017

Good for Sam Riggs for apologizing for that bullshit stunt at the Larry Joe Taylor Music Festival

…but even if there’s no danger to the audience, I have always thought that sort of thing was completely unnecessary, to the point that I will say this:

If you feel like destroying musical instruments should be part of your live show for any reason, really, perhaps you shouldn’t be playing music for a living. The true test of a musical entertainer is (or at least ought to be) whether they can entertain a crowd when said crowd is blindfolded. No matter if you’re Jimi Hendrix, Garth Brooks, or Sam Riggs. And you can call me an old fart, a jackass, or whatever…but if I am that now, then I was one at the ripe old age of 15 watching Garth Brooks smash those guitars on the stage at Texas Stadium on national TV. I have said it before, but I always thought it rather telling that George Strait got the same reaction to his live shows that Garth Brooks did, when all George does — all he has ever done — is “just stand there and sing,” as some people so derisively put it. And I hear people say, “if I just wanted music I’d sit at home and listen to the cd,” but there’s a reason all those live albums I mentioned in that William Clark Green review are so highly regarded by fans of OKOM. There are more where those came from. Maybe more entertainers in Texas and everywhere else should strive for that level of artistry.

(Why do I ramble on about all this? Because I don’t have Trailer’s mad meme skills.)

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I finally got William Michael Morgan’s album Vinyl. I’ll have more to say on it at some point…

…but I will say off the bat that it’s the first album from a new mainstream country star that I’ve enjoyed in many years. Not that I’ve bought that many, but then again, one of the side effects of hearing crappy music on mainstream radio is not going out and buying new mainstream music. But if we had more stuff like what’s on this album, country music would be in a lot better shape than it is.

This right here is the best of the bunch, though.

Radio musings, 29.4.17

April 29, 2017

Well then.

The shares of radio and billboard giant iHeartMedia Inc. have tumbled 27.3 percent since the company warned investors last Thursday that it may not survive over the next 10 months.

So this is what it’s come to in April 2017, for one of the biggest media companies in the United States. Why?

Well, honestly, I don’t know. All I know is my own story. I haven’t bothered with terrestrial radio in a few years now. And that’s a huge change from the way I used to be as recently as a decade ago. And even more so before that…before I got satellite radio, I used to be with certain radio stations like a lot of people are with their sports teams. But they fired the deejays, changed the format, and all that good stuff. Sure, the music sucks, but really that’s just part of it. As I’ve put it before, those deejays become a part of your life, in a way the voices of your day, like co-workers, or — dare I say it — friends. You get rid of them and you get rid of a big part of your audience’s connection to your radio station, and when you’re already behind the eight-ball of having to play the same crappy music over and over, well it makes things that much worse. Is syndicated talent good? Sure it is, but there gets to be a point that there’s too much of it. What possible way (beyond financial) does it benefit Texas listeners to have a morning show on their local radio station that’s based in North Carolina? Between that and, for example, your modern rock stations not playing any actual modern rock, and all the No. 1 albums that don’t actually get any airplay on country radio, it’s small if any wonder that we are where we are now.

More great thoughts from Trigger at Saving Country Music here.

Monday music musings, 24.4.17

April 24, 2017

There’s nothing that ruins a piece of music quite like overproduction. And there are more ways to do that than just the ever-reviled brickwalling. See also: excessive layering, overdubbing, or whatever the proper term is. I mean, layering melody and harmony guitar solos is one thing, but to layer what sounds like the same vocal track over itself on song after song gets to be a bit much, especially on an album that otherwise would have been so much better without it. And then there’s layering so many instrumental tracks down that some songs trip over themselves because they’re so busy.

For the record, it was the new Aaron Watson album. I’m not gonna lie — I knew it’d be hard for Vaquero to measure up to The Underdog, and in some places it does, but in too many others it’s guilty of the sins I mentioned above. Just as an example, “These Old Boots Have Roots” and “Outta Style” between them take the excesses of “Rodeo Queen” (the absolute worst song from the last album) and magnify them to intolerable levels, to say nothing of the former’s clunky title and lyrics. And “Run Wild Horses” isn’t much better. I heard all these songs, and my reaction was, “this is the guy who’d rather be a fence post in Texas than the king of Tennessee, with everything that implies in relation to his music?” Maybe that’s not fair, but when you write a song about telling a Nashville record man to take his contract and blow it out his ass, that sort of thing tends to set certain expectations.

The album isn’t without its high points, and maybe it’ll grow on me much like Jason Boland’s latest, which has gotten to be a pretty regular listen. (I guess it just took me a while to come around to the genius inherent to that one.) But much like its predecessor — more so, even —Vaquero would benefited tremendously with some editing, and with 16 songs it would have been quite easy to do that. I do still think AW’s one of the good guys, though. Guess I’ll just be listening to The Underdog until the next album comes out.

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Aaaand yet again, this time via Saving Country Music, WTF Dean Dillon?

You gotta understand, I live, eat, sleep and breathe songs,” Dillon says. “Where are all the great songs that I know get written in Nashville? Every song is about the same damn thing. Daisy Dukes, trucks, beer, lake banks, time, after time, after time, after time. The bro country thing started 12 years ago, and 12 years later, they’re still singing the same things. Do they not evolve? Get older? Get married? Have kids? Get jobs and shift in society? There’s no movement in it.

OK. So before I go any further, let’s just get this out of the way. Dean Dillon’s catalog of songs speaks for itself, very loudly and very clearly. He absolutely has the skins on the wall to say whatever the hell he wants about country music and be listened to.

Now, with that said, there was this from 2013:

“I hear a lot of disgruntlement going on with what’s going on in country music in today’s world,” he said. “There’s a box. And there’s some cowboys out there kicking the sides down on it right now. And stretching the boundaries. And pushing the limits. And putting new twists and turns on it. And they go out there and they play every night to these thousands and thousands of people. And they sing their songs to their generation. And that’s what it’s all about.”

Why is it that in 2013 it was “pushing the limits” and all that nonsense, but a mere four years later, it’s “12 years later, they’re still singing the same things”? He might as well have called it evolution back then too, just like all the chucklefucks singing and writing that shit were and are doing. (Such makes Dillon’s question “do they not evolve” all the more bitterly ironic, really.) I know that there are some things whose merit is only borne out with time, but there are also some things that we ought to be able to call out as bullshit right away. I mean, good grief, could we not have said right off the bat that Florida-Georgia Line and “Cruise” (or Luke Bryan and “That’s My Kind of Night”) were going to be a disaster for the genre?

Again, good for Dean for calling these sad sacks out, but where was he back in 2013?

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And in other WTFery, there’s this, re: Robert Earl Keen’s “Shades of Gray”:

Screen Shot 2017-04-24 at 8.19.36 PM

How? How could you not know if you actually listened to that song that he alludes to the Oklahoma City bombing? I mean, the man’s a master of not beating you over the head, but come oooon! Do people just not listen to songs anymore?

(As a postscript to that, on a related note, an image of the April 20, 1995 front page of the Dallas Morning News popped up in my news feed. On said front page was a certain picture that I really was not expecting my reaction to. I am sure you know the one, as it is the most famous photograph taken of the horrors of that day. The brain plays a nasty, mean trick on you when you’re a parent — you see your own kids in pictures of certain horrors, and it’s…it’s not pretty. Perhaps I should have expected it, as little Duncan is about that age, but there is just no hell that is hot enough for the likes of Timothy McVeigh…)

Monday music musings, 17.4.17

April 17, 2017

It’s a fine and noble thing to wish for, but we’re not going to get a Randy Travis or Dwight Yoakam-inspired album or even single out of the likes of Thomas Rhett. He has made no secret of the fact that he’s a bigger fan of rock and pop than country; in fact, he’s so lacking in self-awareness that he wears it like a badge of honor. The closest Rhett would ever get to that would probably be something inspired by Bryan White, or maybe Mark Wills, i.e., nothing even in that time zone. I have said it before and will say it again: Thomas Rhett is the very personification of what Alan Jackson sings about in “Gone Country.” I saw Don Henley cited in the comments as someone who made pop and country records that were equally good, but to the extent that Cass County works as a country album (and it does so very well, IMO), that’s because of Don Henley’s love of country music. One of the songs on Cass County was a cover of the Louvin Brothers’ “When I Stop Dreaming,” and another, “The Cost of Living,” was a duet with Merle Haggard.

But Thomas Rhett doesn’t have that. If you asked Rhett who the Louvin Brothers were, he’d probably say they were the guys who did “Summer in the City.”

And as far as Maren Morris goes, can the mainstream media please stop pushing her as country music’s next great female hope now? “My Church” was more or less the inverse of “I Hope You Dance” — i.e., the best, most country song on Morris’ album, with the rest of it being a bunch of pop music masquerading as country, and now there’s this mess with Thomas Rhett. If there was any justice in it, her career as a country music singer would be finished.

Speaking of IHYD, we heard that song the other night when we were out for dinner. And it reminded me of certain observations I’ve made elsewhere, specifically:

The worst thing about the song “I Hope You Dance” was not that it was too pop-sounding, nor that it was dreadfully overrated, though the latter is definitely true. No, the worst thing about that song was that it wasn’t even close to an accurate reflection of who Lee Ann Womack was and is as an artist. It wasn’t even typical of the songs on the album that shared its title. I remember people falling all over themselves praising that song, people who didn’t normally pay that much if any attention to country music in general, and I thought, “You people have no idea…”

I have said before that beyond the title track, I Hope You Dance was a pretty typical Lee Ann Womack album, and that I regretted holding off on buying it for so long, and the inverse of that is likely true to some extent. What do I mean, you ask?

Well, let’s put it like this: I would be interested to know how many pop music fans bought that album and were turned off by “The Healing Kind,” “Lonely Too,” and “Does My Ring Burn Your Finger,” i.e., what is this twangy bullshit?

Album review: William Clark Green, Live At Gruene Hall

April 12, 2017

We first discovered William Clark Green with his breakthrough album, 2013’s Rose Queen, and 2015’s Ringling Road was even better. When I heard at the beginning of 2016 that he was going to record a live album at Gruene Hall, I had high hopes and expectations.

And they were wildly exceeded. Band, singer, and audience are all in top form. As good as the studio versions of the songs are, the live versions take them to another level, particularly with the cuts from Green’s pre-Rose Queen albums. The balls-to-the-wall 11-minute “Wishing Well” jam is worth the price of admission all by itself (Green belting out the first line of the chorus on that song will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck), and “Caroline,” Gypsy,” and Tonight” also receive excellent treatment here.

Now, that’s not to say that the songs from Rose Queen and Ringling Road, which make up the bulk of the set, are in any way subpar in comparison. “Sympathy” rocks just as hard as the RR original, and “Still Think About You” is the album’s most moving moment, with Green paying poignant tribute to his mentor and co-writer Kent Finlay. And the “She Likes the Beatles” singalong is a lot of fun, even if I did get a bit worn out on it from hearing it on the radio all the time back when it was a big hit here in Texas.

But Green does say that that song changed his life. It may well have gotten him the status he needed to have to be able to record this album. If so, it was more than worth it, because Live At Gruene Hall is more than deserving of a place in the pantheon of great Texas live albums, right alongside the likes of No. 2 Live Dinner, Unleashed Live, and Viva Terlingua!. Very, VERY highly recommended.