Today we have a video premiere from Kentuckian Andy Brasher for the song “Drugs in the Tip Jar.” It’s a tune from his debut album Myna Bird, out April 3. “Drugs in the Tip Jar” is a driving country rocker that takes a peek into the life of a touring musician, many of whom would kill for a tip jar at this moment. The song is catchy and real, with strong vocals and a healthy dose of humor and easy-going heartland rocking. Highly recommended to fans of John Mellencamp, Chris Knight, Steve Earle, and Cody Jinks.
This is a true story from my time in Nashville. I lived there in the early 2000's. When I first moved there, I was working on songwriting primarily. I focused on getting co-writes and playing open mic nights at the Bluebird and Douglas Corner Cafe, among others. I wanted to get a publishing deal. I roomed with a couple of friends in a small apartment, but, I still had to pay my part of the rent, so I'd gig as often as I could. Broadway wasn't really my thing (although I played plenty of those shows if I had to)...I'd try my best to play little neighborhood bars around Nashville.
One such place wasn't far from my apartment, so I ended up there a lot. I was glad to have a gig so close to home, but let's just say...I lived in kind of a "sketchy" neighborhood.
After my first gig at this place, I checked the tip jar and was pretty surprised. Yeah, I had a few dollar bills, a good tip or two...but I also had a little street drug store hanging out in the very bottom. You name it..."go fast", "go slow", pills, a joint...and this kept happening at that place! It led me to wonder, 'What makes them think I want this? Is it me? Is it them? Do I want this?'. Aside from encouraging me to take a little self-inventory, I thought it also warranted a song.
More about Andy under the video!
Andy Brasher - Myna Bird
Kentucky's Andy Brasher brings fresh energy to the Americana music scene through his vivid storytelling, soulfully captivating vocals and mastery of his instrument -- all of which are on full display with his stunning debut solo release, Myna Bird.
Having already headlined shows across the U.S. and internationally, Brasher’s previous band Brasher/Bogue has also shared the marquee with Tim McGraw, Kid Rock, Kenny Chesney, Hank Williams Jr., Charlie Daniels, Blackberry Smoke and many more over the course of their tenure.
Produced by Harry Lee Smith (Restless Heart, Angeleena Presley, Martina McBride) and multi-Grammy award winner Ross Hogarth (Keb’ Mo’, Shawn Colvin, REM, John Mellencamp) at Nashville’s renowned Blackbird Studios, Myna Bird is equal parts modern Americana and stone-cold country, laden with folk philosophy and clever turns of phrase. Smith & Hogarth’s expert production flourishes are apparent throughout, from the warmth of the acoustic guitars, radio-ready electric guitar tones and licks, the crack of each snare hit, to Brasher’s singular vocals nestled neatly on top of each track.
Opener “21” sets the tone for the record with soaring, reverb-tinged electric guitars layered with urgently-strummed acoustic instrumentation. It’s a vibrant tune harkening back to “the good old days” and the innocence of youth on the cusp of adulthood -- the perfect soundtrack for a windows-down weekend drive through the countryside.
Title track “Myna Bird” showcases Brasher’s introspective side, the country ballad’s title taken from the nickname his mother gave him as a child due to his ability to quickly memorize song lyrics from the radio (Brasher notes with a chuckle that she “probably meant mockingbird”). It’s also a gutting tribute to the late Wayne Mills, a legend of the honky tonk circuit, as well as a friend and a mentor to Brasher before his tragic passing.
“He spent his whole life going out there and playing music. His original music was every bit the truth...it was so great,” Brasher recalls. “But he was running himself ragged getting to and from these bars, forced to play ‘Wagon Wheel’ and ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ over and over.” Therein lies the myna bird comparison -- both artists had their own music and message to take on the road, but they end up playing the same songs everyone’s already heard in order to keep themselves on the road -- a duality of working the honky tonk circuit.
“If She Loves” also runs along the country ballad thread, a slow-burning number featuring sparse acoustic production that builds into a wall of sound led by wailing electric slide guitar. Originally intended as a love letter to Brasher’s longtime girlfriend, as it was written the song evolved into an anthem lifting up and celebrating the strength and perseverance of all women.
“Drugs in the Tip Jar” chronicles the stranger-than-fiction tale of Brasher’s early experiences playing for tips in Nashville’s honky tonks -- unexpectedly finding his tip jar filled with multiple types of contraband in lieu of cash at the end of a set. It’s a rollicking, stone-cold country song that would likely have worn out jukeboxes in years gone by.
Born and raised in Owensboro, Kentucky, music was a family affair for Brasher from an early age. After learning to play the acoustic guitar -- taught by his father and grandfather -- crafting songs became second nature for him. Brasher studied under the lyrically driven music of Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, Bob Dylan, and Guy Clark, while also taking sonic cues from rock luminaries of the era such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Led Zeppelin, and Queen. At the age of fourteen, Andy started his first band and began performing at parties, festivals, and bars in his hometown. Through his soulful interpretation of covers as well as his original works, he built a large and loyal local following that gave him the courage to relocate to Nashville and explore the music scene. Brasher refined his skills in the Music City’s renowned honky tonks and songwriting circles, gaining wisdom through valuable life lessons along the way.
In 2009, Brasher and fellow musician Dustin Bogue recorded an album of ten songs and formed the band Brasher/Bogue. While formed as a duet, Brasher/Bogue grew into a five-piece band that began their touring career on Kenny Chesney’s 2011 “Goin’ Coastal” tour. By 2012, Brasher/Bogue had produced three albums and were a staple of the festival circuit, as well as regularly supporting top national acts.
I think 2019 was a really good year for songwriting and
debut albums. I’d also note some consensus I had with other FTM contributors; seven of my Top 10
made the critics’ Top 10 as well. And my
list falls on a definitive Lone Star-to-Appalachia axis, with four Texans,
three Kentuckians and one West Virginian winning accolades.
1. Dalton Domino –
Songs From The Exile
A change of pace, style and life converge in this brilliant
follow up to 2017’s Corners. On this
album it’s all about the lyrics, and the artist is brutally honest in his
self-reflection. The lyrical imagery is reminiscent of Isbell’s Southeastern, and one hopes that
sobriety will have a similarly positive impact on Domino’s career going
forward. Even if Songs From The Exile
is his upper limit, it’s a worthy career-defining effort.
I didn’t cross paths with this album till late in the year,
several months after its release. It’s still in heavy rotation.
2. Vandoliers –
Josh Fleming and his rowdy
band of Texas rockers had their wish come true when they inked a deal with
Bloodshot records, then rewarded the label’s faith in them with this tour de
force. It’s an album that combines Fleming’s focused, fiery
storytelling with the raw, rough-edged roots you might hear from Lucero or the
Old 97s. And oh, the fiddles and horns!
3. Whiskey Myers – self-titled
It’s counterintuitive that this band self-produced a
masterpiece after having two great
records helmed by all-everything Dave Cobb, but that’s exactly what happened
here. There’s depth and balance to this album, but ultimately it’s a Southern rock record in
the very best tradition of a nearly forgotten genre. “Houston County Sky”
channels The Marshall Tucker Band, and “Little More Money” and “Bad Weather”
are right out of Dirty South-era Drive By Truckers. “Hammer” is a
sultry, swampy reminiscence of early Black Crowes. This album is a triumph, and
4. Jason Hawk Harris
– Love And The Dark
Bloodshot continues its hot streak of great debut records.
Harris endured an
unimaginable series of tragedies in the few years leading up to this album,
yet managed to emerge with clarity and hopefulness. He’s a brilliant songwriter
who also deserves legitimate Isbell comparisons.
5. Ian Noe – Between
This guy. He writes this generation’s “Sam Stone,” about
every other cut. Born for this time, in this day’s Kentucky. The sad, hard
truth, from the guy who’s been milling it for a good, long while.
6. Charles Wesley
Godwin – Seneca
Godwin paints a rich and honest portrayal of
his homeland and its people with his debut album. Seneca is a
moving snapshot of life and well-soiled roots in the Appalachian hills, a
backdrop that has given birth to some of the most intelligent and hard-working
people in the country.
7. Kelsey Waldon –
White Noise/White Lines
A tough, touring gal posts up with an album and band that
shows John Prine was right to sign her to O Boy Records. It’s
dreamy and trippy and wonderful, and she’s so full of confidence. Kelsey
Waldon will amaze.
8. Drivin N Cryin –
Live The Love Beautiful
The band’s first full-length album in a decade, it’s a top-4
or-5 in the all-time catalog. Kevn and the band are comfortable in their skin,
three decades in. And Trailer was right to put “Ian MacLagan” in his
top songs of the year.
9. Chris Knight –
A couple of things about the fact that all the great Chris
Knight songs sound alike: They all rock, they’re all true. And he only puts
albums out about every five years. Wait. That’s three things. I don’t care. He’s
William Freaking Callahan.
10. Flatland Cavalry
– Homeland Insecurity
Building on 2016’s Humble
Folks – a fantastic album –this
one is well-enough produced to ask if Flatland might crack the mainstream.
Maybe this could be a “crossover” act that could win converts?
Somebody killed somebody songs. That’s the foundation of Chris Knight’s reputation as a songwriter and we’ve all seen the memes. They are funny and bring a smile, but those of us who call ourselves fans of Knight’s work can appreciate the truth of that reputation, as well our realization he routinely brings so much more than death and despair to his music. Under the layers of grit and Kentucky sweat, there is an authenticity that makes Knight’s words relatable. In that vein, his songs often offer the idea of hope, springing from places of desperation.
That said, Chris truly is “The Dark Knight of Country Music” and no contemporary delivers such heavy brooding emotion with such captivating integrity. His new album, Almost Daylight delivers a whole bunch of what we expect out of Knight, and a few surprises as well.
Vocally there is that signature gruffness that has only grown more pronounced in the seven years since his last release, but given that Knight was never exactly a crooner in the first place, the influences of time upon his voice only intensifies the hardscrabble emotion of his work. Do I think this is his best work? No, for me the album was good, but never quite delivered the emotional hook of Knight’s best works. That is not to say, Almost Daylight is not a quality album, though for me, the songs often fell just short of their potential.
The album opens with “I’m William Callahan” and this is the type of song that Knight has made a career of -- A hard luck character digging for purchase in life. This track does not stray far from that though it does feel a bit more dependent on guitar melodies and arrangement to deliver the mood rather than the emotional imagery Knight has done so well cultivating in the past.
Like weeds sprouting from a windblown crack of earth, “Crooked Mile” is song is about a couple of so-called bad seeds who will grow just fine, if only the world will leave them alone. The imagery is great and the song memorable, though in the end, I found myself wishing for more to their story.
The third track is called “I Won’t Look Back,” and leaving the pain of the past is the theme. Just as the title states, the character plans to leave without looking back. The writing is sharp and feels like vintage Knight, which stands in contrast to the following track. “Go On” is as close to a motivational tale as you’re likely to find from Knight, and though it toes the line the track stays just shy of sappiness in the chorus.
These are indeed divided times we live but even with that fact at hand, the fifth track on the album seemed oddly out of character. Knight has used his talent as a songwriter to often uncover commonalities among us. Dark and light, these collective truths of humanity are delivered from his brand of storytelling as delivered by the downtrodden and fallen. There is no denying the world we live is full of lies these days, and yes, that is the “The Damn Truth,” just as Knight sings. However, it is impossible see truth when viewing the world with only our right, or left eye. This track didn’t offer any real truths, only more divisive political pandering in a society already ripe with too much of that.
The album gets back on track with “Send It On Down” featuring Lee Ann Womack. This is the tale of a man lost in his hometown. A place he doesn’t quite fit in anymore. If in fact, he ever did.
Anyone that has ever had a long hard night of too much thinking and wondering has sought the solace of daybreak, hoping for the sun to chase away the demons of the night. The title track plays with that idea as well as life on the road and the importance of having someone waiting back home. While it did take me a few listens to get the full effect of these lyrics, ”Almost Daylight” is easily the best song among the eleven. Nuanced and complex, this is a set of lyrics that will mean many things to many different people. It is this kind of writing and nod to universal emotion that has made Knight one of the best songwriters going for over two decades.
“Trouble Up Ahead” is classic Chris Knight tale of doom, despair, and desperation. You can feel the Kentucky sweat on the back of your neck, and the grit on your teeth after listening to this track. The harmonica on “Everybody’s Lonely Now” adds to the melody which for Knight is almost upbeat.
Chris Knight is not a man who does many covers, but his take of Johnny Cash’s “Flesh and Blood,” feels fresh and authentic. Knight does a great job of making the track feel as if it is one of his own creations. For me, this is the second best cut on the album.
Closing with another cover, Knight joins yet again with John Prine on a version of the latter’s 1973 classic, “Mexican Home.” Together, Knight and Prine, make the strong imagery come alive as they transport the listener to a different time and place.
My takeaway is this … Almost Daylight is a solid album that will speak to longstanding Chris Knight fans, and deliver what they have come to expect while also presenting a few new variables to his writing. I am not sure the album will do much more than that, as it falls short of the high standards Knight has set in the past. Outside of the title track, I am not sure any of these cuts will be regarded among his best.
Travis Erwin is a fiction writer, lyricist, and music critic. A native Texan, Travis now calls the West Coast home. His fiction can be found anywhere books are sold, and you can reach him on twitter @traviserwin or via comment on this post.