Showing posts with label Drive-by Truckers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Drive-by Truckers. Show all posts

Dec 8, 2020

What Your Favorite 2020 Album Says About You


 (Idea "borrowed" from Medium)


Dustin Lynch - Tullahoma

You were kicked out of at least 3 stores for not wearing a mask in 2020. You don’t really like music, you just like Dustin’s smile, abs, and … wait, you’ve moved on to Russell Dickerson.


Russell Dickerson - Southern Symphony

You have the attention span of a 2-year-old and this is the most recent pop country album that came out. You don’t have a boyfriend, but if you did, he’d leave you for your godawful taste in music.


Upchurch - Everlasting Country

You’ve only heard it twice during your allotted media time at the prison library but you love it. Your parents are more proud of your brother, a furry who smokes synthetic marijuana.


Elizabeth Cook - Aftermath

You have put a man into a headlock for the last cigarette. You’ve showed up to church looking like a million bucks after a night of drinking that would have ended a normal human.


Drive-by Truckers - The Unravelling

You’ve been a fan since way back. Way back in 2016. Your real life friends hate you despite having the same political beliefs.


Sam Hunt - Southside

You’re either an idiot, or an otherwise intelligent music journalist with one major blind spot. 


Matt Stell - Better Than That

You’re one of the 17 people who know who Matt Stell is, despite him having two #1 hits.


Arlo McKinley - Die Midwestern

Based on your listening habits, people would assume you’re a hard-living rancher or trucker, but they know better because they work in the cubicle next to yours. 


Tyler Childers - Long Violent History

You’re able to look past click-bait headlines to see the true meaning and measure of a man. Also, your standards for old timey fiddle music are pretty low.


Keith Urban - The Speed of Now

You worked from home all year, but made fun of people who were worried about Covid. You love Yellowstone, but hate that old timey music they play. Your kids couldn’t spell their own names until they were 8 - not because they have learning disabilities - because their names are some shit like Matthieuwe or Khelleighe.


Nov 24, 2020

Patterson Hood Mulls Temporary Peach State Return

By Kevin Broughton 

 Portland, Ore. -- After a chaotic and tumultuous four years – and an otherworldly 2020 – it’s only fitting that unbounded bliss can turn to crushing morosity in an instant. Such is the roller coaster existence of Patterson Hood, the Portland-based activist and political commentator who moonlights as the front man for the Drive By Truckers. 

Saturday, Nov. 7 was a joyous day by all accounts in the City of Roses. First CNN, then Fox News, and then all the other networks and wire services followed in turn: Joe Biden, they reported, would be the 46th President of the United States. Mostly peaceful celebrants rushed into the streets.

“It was beautiful, man,” Hood says. “Four years of fascism, finally over.” The Oregonian thought himself alone in his bliss, until that perfect moment when he found a kindred – and musical – spirit. “Kasey Anderson and I ran into each other. It turns out we were both throwing acid at the same Portland so-called ‘firefighters,’” he says. “Those dudes were f*cking with freedom-fighters who had mostly peacefully torched an Apple Store in celebration of Biden’s big win. I got the whole thing on my iPhone 12.” 

Jubilation became concern on multiple levels, to Hood’s chagrin. “Turns out Kasey’s on Federal paper and has an ankle bracelet,” Hood says. “Well, he said he had an ankle bracelet. I think it was a baby monitor, to tell you the truth. Anyway, he hauled ass when they made a curfew announcement on the loudspeakers.” 

Hood was undeterred, if now alone. And yet… 

“I joined up with some other freedom fighters, at the last Taco Bell before it peacefully went up in flames…” Hood trails off here, caught up in the memory of a poignant moment in Portland social justice history. He is a little weepy. 

“I got in line,” Hood says, choking up a bit before recovering his composure. “And person after person, be it he/she/xi/xxyx/cis, every one of us HUMAN PEOPLE said to Juan – so his corporate name tag said – YES, MY ORDER IS FOR A LIVING WAGE FOR ALL LETTUCE PICKERS IN THE CENTRAL VALLEY.” 

Hood isn’t shy admitting he enjoyed the sick burn. “I mean face it, what are corporatists gonna say in the face of that kind of truth?” Sadly, the euphoric social triumph would give way to realpolitik. Such is the duality of the Southern thing – Patterson Hood-style. 

“What totally freaked me out was that there was a whole other set of elections going on at the same time or whatever,” said Hood, who attended some college courses in Northern Alabama in the 1980s. “There are senate elections that happen, too. And there are some elections that happen in Georgia or whatever. And in January!” 

Hood – after reading the same story in The Daily Kos three times – grew tense. When he learned that two Senate runoffs in Georgia could drastically impact President-elect Biden’s agenda, he was at first cynical. “Typical redneck Georgia, man,” Hood said. “It’s just the same Jim Crow stuff: they make a Democrat win twice, just because he’s a black guy. This kind of racist shit is why I left Georgia after living there for like 20 years or something.” 

Yet rather than curse the darkness, Hood turned to a literary light. 

“Somebody turned me on to this guy Tom Friedman? He writes for the New York Times and magazines, too,” he said. “He’s like an expert, but still can deal with the common man. He’s interviewed taxi drivers from Athens to Rome. Which is perfect, since those are my two favorite cities in Georgia!” 

 It was a national television interview of Friedman that grabbed the fifty-something poet’s attention.    

 


“I mean, dude, that takes it up a notch,” Hood said. “This is serious activism! I thought my friend Topher in L.A. was owning the MAGA’s with his radical phone-banking.”

“I mean, I love the way my boy mimics that cis-white woman’s stupid accent, but you gotta give the nod to the writer guy,” he said. “Which is why I’m headed back to Georgia so I can vote for Rafael Warnock…and that one cis-white guy too, since he’s also a Democrat.” Asked if he had voted in Oregon, and if that might pose legal problems in the Peach State, Hood grew indignant. 

 “So f*cking what, man? I mean, you gonna buy into this Jim Crow myth of “voter fraud?” Hood snapped. “You’re telling me it’s against the law to go to Georgia to vote for a black man? It’s the most anti-racist thing to do, ever. Check your patriarchy and your white privilege, bro. Seriously. Besides, Gov. Abrams will pardon us all.” 

 As he gathered his things to prepare for his cross-country political odyssey, he took a moment to address a music-industry rumor about his band’s most recent political album. “It is nobody’s business whether President Xi and the Peoples’ Cultural Collective sent us a small donation to support our art,” Hood said. “Besides, you can’t prove it, and it’s a totally racist and sinophobic thing to say. Only a fear-mongering redneck from Texas would say such a thing. 
-- fake news

Feb 14, 2020

Road Dispatch: Jonathan Tyler at the Tabernacle in Atlanta, Feb. 6

Jonathan Tyler at the Tabernacle
By Kevin Broughton
These can be tough times for the independent, professional musician. Without a label’s support – and the bill that inevitably comes due for up-front money – an artist might find himself playing to a room of six people; then it’s on to the next town with no guarantee there, either. 

Jonathan Tyler – who’s been steadily grinding while putting the finishing touches on his next album – was recently presented an opportunity from an unlikely source, a chance to gain exposure to new audiences without taking a financial hit.

Those familiar with Tyler’s work might raise an eyebrow when they hear he’s opening for Midland, a mainstream country act on the Big Machine label. It actually makes perfect sense.  “It’s a cool opportunity, because I’ve become friends with these guys in Midland, and it might lead to more things down the road,” he says. It’s the second long weekend of three in this mini-tour. “Last week was Boston and New Jersey; this weekend is Atlanta, Huntsville, Ala. and Baton Rouge.” 

We caught up with Tyler over spaghetti and Budweisers after his sound check. In a couple hours, he’ll open the show at the Tabernacle, a historic and iconic Atlanta venue. And he’ll light the place up, rocking out a 30-minute set for the capacity crowd of 2,600 with the help of drummer Josh Greco (formerly of Austin’s Uncle Lucius.) Oh, and Midland drummer Robbie Crowell – who’s dabbling in bass guitar – joined them on that instrument for a couple songs.

After the Baton Rouge show Saturday, it’s back home to Austin where Tyler will put on his producer’s hat and record Jeremy Pinell’s next album in the studio he’s built in his house. He scored a Jack Daniel’s commercial last fall, enabling him to make upgrades. “I keep re-investing everything,” he says. “I did something for Camel cigarettes last year, too, and several other corporate music-production jobs. The Jack Daniel’s spot was such a huge opportunity for me, and I’ve bought more microphones and a bunch more gear.”

Texas Jonny backstage,
sporting a Kinky Friedman look
On the Midland opportunities, present and future:

“It’s been really nice. They’re letting me ride on the bus; they’re giving me enough money to make a little bit. It’s a good thing, to go on tour and not lose money. It’s a little early to be thinking about it, but I feel like we’re getting close to that point – where we might look at producing a cut, or helping them write a song on their next album. I’d love to do that. 

“Right now a three-week thing. It might turn into more. Maybe they’ll ask me to do more dates.”

On expanding his in-home studio: 

“Now I’m able to invite other artists into my house and make music with them. It’s a win-win, all the way around.”

On producing and engineering for Jeremy Pinnell:

“I met Jeremy through a friend and got to check out a few of his shows. He’s just out there grinding, playing three or four shows a week, driving from town to town. Jeremy’s really putting in the hard work, and his band has gotten so tight. He’s another one of these guys who’s just so good, but gets overlooked by the modern country ‘business.’ So I wanted to help him out and make music with him. We’ve already done a lot of pre-production. So he and his band and I are just gonna track a bunch of stuff live; we’ll try to get it all done in five days. It won’t be easy, but those guys are real musicians, man. They can play. And Jeremy’s one of those blue-collar guys. I really respect his work ethic.”

(Note: as of press time, Pinnell & his band were on their way from Austin to Little Rock for a Valentine’s night show. “No title yet,” Tyler says. “But it’s gonna be really good.”)

On the release of his album, the follow-up to 2015’s Holy Smokes:

“I’m trying to figure it out. I made the album on my own – self-financed – and it wasn’t cheap. So I’m sorta out of money right now. I may just self-release it into the vacuum. It’d be nice to have a record label, but these are tricky times; I’ll probably just start releasing individual tracks on my own, directly to Spotify, Apple Music and the other outlets in March because I just can’t wait any longer. I would say that the entire album will be released by the summer time.” 

Final thoughts?

“The new Drive By Truckers album may have been financed by the Chinese government. I really don’t know.”

Sep 27, 2019

Whiskey Myers: A Self-Titled Masterpiece

By Kevin Broughton

When Whiskey Myers front man Cody Cannon got the call last year, the band was in the studio working on what would become their fifth, self-titled album. The pitch: Would the group like to appear in Kevin Costner’s Yellowstone? Not just on the soundtrack, but in an actual scene? 

It was a no-brainer, and a decision that had nearly immediate – and retroactive – benefits for the Palestine, Texas-based Red Dirt rockers, as noted by Saving Country Music:

In the aftermath of the episode, the band’s most recent album, Mud, went to No. 1 on the iTunes country chart, and Top 20 all-genre on the hourly-updating aggregator. Also, their album Firewater came in at No. 3 in country, and the album Early Morning Shakes came in at #9. On the iTunes country songs chart, the song “Stone” was in the Top 10.

In an ever-evolving music business, independent artists often find a shot in the arm of exposure from film and television; Colter Wall, Chris Stapleton and Scott Biram all got boosts from appearing on the soundtrack of the Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water. But Whiskey Myers’ catapult ride from relative obscurity to the forefront of commercial success was almost otherworldly. The Yellowstone appearance landed three previous records – dating back seven years – in the country Top Ten. That momentum set the stage perfectly for the band’s self-titled album released today. 

Their two previous offerings, 2016’s Mud and Early Morning Shakes from 2014, were both helmed by all-world producer and Grammy machine Dave Cobb. For their fifth release, though, the band decided to produce it themselves. Lead guitarist and multi-instrumentalist John Jeffers emphasizes how a sense of collaboration and experimentation really defined their whirlwind eighteen days of recording at the Sonic Ranch studio, outside of El Paso. “There’s never a right or wrong answer when it comes to ideas,” he says. “We would run every single idea from everyone — some work and some don’t, but we give them all a shot. And then there’s that magical moment when the whole band hears it, your eyes get a twinkle — ‘That’s it, that’s us!’”

Their do-it-yourself result is a Southern rock masterpiece.

The album kicks off with “Die Rockin’.” Cannon’s raspy, proud vocals are right in your face – and you definitely feel the influence of co-writer Ray Wylie Hubbard. 


Over the course of fourteen tracks, though, songs expand, moods change and songs like “Bury My Bones” and “California to Carolina” explore different stories and emotions. “You want an album to be like a rollercoaster,” says Jeffers. “Does it really take you for a ride, with ups and downs and some loops and sometimes you’re upside down?”

There are indeed shifts in the album’s momentum and flow. “Bitch” is the best indictment of Bro-country you’ll ever find

Collaborative writing with Adam Hood (“Rolling Stone”) and Brent Cobb (“Running”) provide balance and country texture. Ultimately, however, this is a Southern rock album in the very best tradition of the 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.

Whiskey Myers has positioned itself on the cusp of rarified air; can they enjoy widespread mainstream success without benefit of commercial radio in the way, say, Jason Isbell has in recent years? We’re about to find out. This album is a triumph. 

Whiskey Myers is available everywhere you consume music today.

Jun 6, 2019

The Three Amigos Country Reaction Gifs

If you had to name one Dan + Shay song to save your life, which one would it be?

When a Nashville bartender sees some Kane Brown fans walk in

When you have the perfect Americana singer name; now you just gotta grow a beard

I'd rather do this to my house than have Mitchell Tenpenny music play in it
  
Drive-by Truckers reunion tour 2042

Still more country than Sam Hunt

When somebody says Thomas Rhett is a country singer

When one of your friends says Dustin Lynch is actually pretty good

You don't like Tyler Childers??

Oct 13, 2017

Leroy Virgil of Hellbound Glory: The Farce the Music Interview

Leroy Virgil: The Farce the Music Interview

By Kevin Broughton

Americana. Roots music. Roots rock. Alt-country. Outlaw country. Interchangeable terms, when trying to classify the music we here at FTM try to promote – when we’re not busting on the mainstream “country” acts that pollute terrestrial radio airwaves. Sirius/XM has a channel dedicated to it. Number 60 on their satellite dial is “Outlaw Country,” and even in that niche you’ll find a lot of genre bending. 

Steve Earle, a bona fide second-generation pioneer of the outlaw scene, came right out with it on his most recent album. Always subtle, Earle planted the flag – one hopes to signify an emergence from a decade’s worth of political activism – and named his record So You Wanna Be An Outlaw. Because we needed to be reminded how much of an outlaw he is, one assumes. 

But if you asked Hellbound Glory’s Leroy Virgil, “Are you an outlaw?” he’d likely pause, ponder for a moment and say, “Sure!” with the happy grin of a kid about to play cowboys and Indians. And with the aid of a prodigious producer, he’s made probably the most outlaw album of the year. 

Pinball has Shooter Jennings’ fingerprints all over it. He even shot a clever tease video for pre-sales, featuring a menacing woman of Asian extraction and a masked goon in a Hawaiian shirt wielding a bat. The songs, though – excepting a couple of covers – are vintage Leroy Virgil: benders, binges, breakups and blues, with the occasional jaded comic’s view of society at large. 

“’Merica (The Good Ol’ Days)” kicks off the album in a brash, rollicking way. It’s a cynic’s state of the union – with citizens fueled by “alcohol and Adderall” – without being heavy-handed. There’s a wonderful cover of the elder Jennings’ “Six Strings Away,” but for my money the gem of this record is “Vandalism Spree,” the best white-trash love song since DBT’s “Zip City.” Somehow there’s a sweet and tender quality to the idea of burning down the Dairy Queen and maybe robbing a cash machine.  


To fully appreciate Hellbound Glory, though, you have to talk to Leroy. More accurately, ask a few questions then just take your hands off the wheel. You’re along for the ride. That’s all. More topically, the conversation is pinball-like. 

I think this is real. Let’s see where this goes.

Okay, is it pronounced “LEE-Roy” or  “L’roy?”

I don’t know, man, whichever is fine. Say it however you want to say it.

Well, how do you say it?

I say it differently every time it comes out of my mouth.

Well played. You’ve been on Shooter Jennings label for a while; is this the first record of yours he’s produced? I ask because the first time I listened to Pinball I heard echoes of his The Other Life album.

Well, a couple years ago we went out to Nashville to record some of the songs that are on this album, and it didn’t really come together. We just sat on the phones for a couple years and he finally hit me up a year ago and said, “Hey, let’s try again on this album.” And he picked the songs, put the band together and really called the shots. It’s been a lot of fun.

So the band he put together…well, let me back up. Y’all are fixin’ to kick off a tour together; will y’all be using the same band?

Yeah. They joined my band and I joined theirs.

Okay. So is Hellbound Glory kind of like Son Volt, which is Jay Farrar and whatever musicians happen to be playing with him at the time?

Well, yeah. A couple years ago, I decided to kill the band off. It was a sort of ritual on Halloween. I had a coffin. There was a guy dressed up as a priest. I didn’t want to go that far, but it was a very strange night. You know, out in the middle of nowhere, a strange, tiny bar…some burn victims…

Burn victims? 

Yeah, things got kinda crazy.

Yeah?

You know, that whole area is in this burial ground place where people came out during the Gold Rush and gave the Indians blankets that had smallpox on them so they could get to the gold faster. So they say that whole area is kind of cursed.

What could go wrong? 

Yeah. So it was kind of a heavy trip. 

I would think. Were you dosed?

(Giggles.) Well, I did some dosing, but I wasn’t dosed myself. 

For the record, what’s your birth name?

My birth name is Leon Virgil Bowers. 

Okay – and I’m jumping ahead in my questions here a little bit…I read your interview in Saving Country Music, where you talked about killing the name off. I’m curious, when you were a solo act under your birth name for a few years, was there confusion with the audiences? I ask because in the 70s when the Allman Brothers took a hiatus, Gregg and Dickey both did solo albums, but the latter billed himself on the record and tour as “Richard Betts.” Ticket and record sales underperformed as a result.

Oh, yeah. Lots of confusion, but I like to promote that kind of stuff. I just figured if I was gonna go out there with a different name, I might as well go with the name my mom gave me.  I never ended up putting out a record. The deal was I needed to do something different, because the people I was working with, they weren’t sure I could use the name “Hellbound Glory” at the time. 

Oh…okay.

So I had to change it. But it’s still up in the air. So, we’re still working on getting it worked out. 

Ah.

Well, not really working on it. I’m just playing in a band and calling it Hellbound Glory. 

You know, just in the first few minutes of this thing, I’m starting to see how you and Shooter might be drawn to each other…

Yeah, we’re like cousins.

...y’all both seem to like a little bit of chaos going on. So did y’all not even know each other at all until a couple years ago, and he reached out to you? 

Well, I was playing a gig in Reno at a place called Davidson’s, and he was playing right down the street at a Casino called Silver Legacy. So I just walked down and caught their sound check.  And we didn’t really make a connection, but then later he heard of me and heard my songs, and now he’s one of my biggest fans. 

Obviously. The characters in your songs are a collection of misfits – and that’s being kind. 

(Laughs) Yeah, degenerates!

Their attitudes range from cynical to fatalistic to carefree – and certainly aren’t shy about discussing their benders and binges.  What are they telling us about your general outlook on life?

Well…they’re just songs. They’re not me. I’d say this new album – I like the way it doesn’t end on a happy note. I guess it’s nihilistic in that way. But I’m not.

Oh, no. You did a symbolic, ritual killing-off of a band on a site where Indians got dosed with smallpox, but “nihilistic?” Nah. Please go on.

(Laughing) Well, I’m an artist. And a little bit skewed, I guess. But it’s the whole “Pinball” thing, you know? Life’s a game of pinball, where if you lose, you lose your soul. That’s kinda what I’m going for: staying in play as long as I can.  But there’s the chaos thing you mentioned. Sometimes it’s hard not to slip. You follow me?

Oh, yeah. I’ve been wearing this record out for the last three weeks. The line, “We could steal some Keystone beer from an A-rab liquor store” has made “Vandalism Spree” one of my favorite songs of the year. You’re not a politically correct fella, are you? 

Well, I didn’t realize it wasn’t politically correct. 

Come on!

I don’t even know what that song’s about. I don’t remember making it up. But there’s a lot of liquor stores run by…well, there’s a lot of liquor stores in Reno, and I’m friends with all of them. I don’t actually steal from them. (Giggles)

Do you think political correctness has taken some of the rough edges off of alt-country or outlaw music, and did you notice music being politicized in the genre last year and since? 

Huh, that’s a really good question, let me think about that one for a minute. You know, I’ve never really thought about that too much. I was told I was gonna get some backlash for that lyric when I first wrote it and started singing it. The people I was working with wanted me to change it, and I tried to change it…

What??

Yeah, I tried to change it but Shooter said he’d give me a Bitcoin if I left it the way it was…

I’m dying here…

…and now that Bitcoin is worth four thousand bucks. 

I’m gonna interview Shooter eventually and I’ll just get him to explain how that stuff works. It’s just so nebulous to me.

Yeah, I don’t know too much about it, either. I just passed it off to my ex-wife. I gave her all of it, just to hold onto for my kid. 

Well, that’s cool. If you can use it for child support it’s gotta be real, right? 

Well, I tried. I tried. But, no luck. She wanted real money.  But on the whole politics thing, I guess I’m just not smart enough to keep up with it. I’m more interested in what other people think. I guess it’s a good thing that people are venting and getting it out; maybe the pressure cooker will cool down a little bit.

Well, it’s either that or huffing spray paint and gasoline, like your guy in “Vandalism Spree.”

(Giggling) Yeah, exactly! There’s always that. But mostly I just follow what’s going on with the bands and music. 

Who are you listening to these days?

Wheeler Walker, Jr.

Of course.

I’ve been listening to him all day.

I haven’t heard his second album; the first was a work of brilliance.

It’s pretty good. It popped up – I had my music on “random,” and it popped up while I was driving my kid around and I tried to change it real fast and he was like, “What was that? Play it, play it!” So I had to.

How old is he?

My kid? He’s six.  I was hoping to get Wheeler to play his birthday party but I couldn’t make it happen. 

Maybe if you paid him in Bitcoin…

Bob Wayne. Are you familiar with Bob Wayne?

I’m not.

He’s pretty good. He’s a country artist who wrote some songs for Hank III.  You know, maybe I’ll get him to play my son’s birthday party. Seems a little more feasible. 

If you were granted one wish to change something about country music today, what would it be?

Well, I’d wish that I were at the top of it. I think I could do a lot of good for country music. 

For instance?

Well, it’s because my stuff is so real. It’s blues and it’s folk and it’s country. It’s all that…and maybe, I don’t know, maybe it’s too country.  I grew up in the country, and I can’t tell if [today’s music] is too country or not country enough. But it’s boring. Boring! Yeah, that’s what it is. 

That leads to my next question. In “That’s Just What I Am” you let folks know you aren’t from down South but still have country bona fides. No one who knows your work would dispute that. I’m curious what life was like growing up in rural Washington state, and whether you went on vandalism sprees from time to time.

(Laughs) You know, I bounced around quite a bit. By the time I was five years old, I had lived in California, Nevada, Utah and Washington. So I had lived pretty much all over the West, and I had also lived in Missouri and Arkansas by that time, too. I was all over the place.

But I grew up in Washington in the same town as Kurt Cobain, a little logging town called Aberdeen. My stepfather was an oyster farmer, so I had to spend every day after school at a farm. Just tromping around out in the woods – if I got in trouble at school I would have to go and work with him. I was always in a lot of trouble. (Laughs)

I was in so much trouble that if I was even halfway good during the week…I had to take a note to the office for them to say if I was bad or good. And if I was good, they’d give me ice cream. They chained me to my desk…

What? 

They made me make paper chains and chain myself to the desk. I’m working on a song called “Paper Chains.” It’s gonna be about divorce. Breaking paper chains. That’s country, huh? I think it’s pretty f*cking country. 

Yeah, man. You’re legit. Did you end up getting much ice cream?

Once or twice, as I remember. But the lady in the office I had to go down to with the note, she said I was her favorite student she ever taught. She told my aunt I was a good kid. So she liked me.  

When did you know that music was what you had to do for a living? 

Driving around with my stepdad and mom, going back to Aberdeen from Olympia, and Nirvana’s Nevermind had come out. My dad was playing it in the car because he knew Krist Novocelik, the bass player. And he said, “I can play this song; this is easy.” And I said, “No you can’t! You can’t play this!”

And we got back to the house and he grabbed a guitar and started playing all these Nirvana songs. And I figured if he could do it and they could do it, I could do it. 

And was that the first time you had picked up a guitar? 

Well, yeah, other than just picking up guitars around the house and d*cking around with them. 

Well, how old were you when Nevermind came out?

Let me think…I was 10.

Wow. So what are you, about 37?

I’m 36. 

Scrolling through the song titles during my first listen to Pinball, one jumped off the page. Guess which. It’s a cover

Hmmm. Let me think about the songs now…a cover. “Six Strings Away?” No, “Delta Dawn!”


Yes! I was in the second grade when Helen Reddy had a No. 1 hit with it, and had no idea until now that Tanya Tucker had done a version the year before. What in the world made you want to cut that one?

Tanya Tucker? I’d f*ck her. (Giggles for a while)

Oh my.

Someone requested it at a gig in Idaho, and we just started messing around with it. It just sounded so good that I just kept at it. But a few years ago I was married to a girl named Dawn. I’m not gonna say it was a tribute to her, but that’s how I just put my personal feelings into it. Know what I mean? I just think about her whenever I sing it. 

Do you remember the first time you heard the song? 

Right now I’m drawing a blank. 

Was it the Tanya Tucker or Helen Reddy version, if you recall?

The one that first jumped out at me was the one Waylon did.

That’s right! 

It was on a box set that, funnily enough, she (Dawn) bought me for Christmas, all those years ago. One of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten. 

Waylon covered a bunch of really good songs. 

What a great voice. 

What else you got going on? 

Right now I’m almost to Pittsburgh, on my way to a Shooter show in West Virginia. I’m not on the bill, but I am gonna get up and do a couple songs and promote my new thing. After this Pinball thing comes out I’m wanting to do a new project called Bird dog. 

Called what?

Bird Dawg – d-a-w-g. Songs about birds and dogs and p**sy and fishing.

Well, then.

I’ve got a bunch of pictures of dogs that I’m gonna autograph and sell, and all the money will go toward the album. I’ve got this song about mountain lions in Southern California. It’s…well, it’s not really a political song, but there’s a little bit of a message in it. It may be one of my most political songs ever. It’s about this mountain lion who can’t get back to his mate. 

Uh…

(Giggling)

Okay, I’ll bite. How is there a political message in that? 

Well, I’m not really…I’m just saying how it is, know what I mean?

Nope.

It’s from the perspective of the mountain lion. And he’s just talking about how all these humans have come along, and now he can’t cross the freeway. 

Can’t believe I didn’t pick up on something so obvious.

It’s my favorite song to sing right now.

Do you have a rough cut of it you could send me? For my ears only?

Sure! Be happy to. I need to demo it anyway. 

Cool. Well, before we get to the project about birds and dogs and other favorite things, what do you have lined up tour-wise?

I cannot wait. I’m so excited to get out on the road and start playing songs and seeing all my fans and hanging out. I’m really looking forward to getting back out there. 

I just landed a song in a movie, so I’m gonna take that money and get a cop car and just tour in that…

Wait. What? 

Yeah, me and Rico.

(Getting the feeling this has all been an Andy Kaufman-level put-on) Who’s…who’s Rico?

Rico…he’s not with me right now. He just moved out of my house, he was living in my spare bedroom. By the way, I’ve got an awesome house. 

Yeah?

It overlooks all of Reno. I can see the whole entire town. It sits on top of a hill. And it’s filled with pinball machines. For Rico. He’s my steel guitar player.

But he’s a real person, right? Not an imaginary friend or an alternate personality? (Serious question at this point)

No, he’s…if I’m the Lone Ranger, he’s Tonto. But he’s not here right now. He…he doesn’t have an I.D., so he can’t get on an airplane…

Is he undocumented?

(Cackling) Yeah, you know, sometimes I wish they would ship him back. But he’s worked for me for a long time, and we’ve got chemistry. He and I have some really good chemistry you just don’t find every day. I’m really not that big a fan of his playing, but you don’t mess with what works. 

:-/

But you know we’ve toured together as just a duo, playing to really big crowds. Like the White Stripes or the Black Keys.

My beef with the White Stripes was always – was it Jack White’s sister? – well, the (in air quotes) DRUMMER couldn’t really play the drums.

Yeah, I was never a big fan, either. 

Well, when you said you weren’t a huge fan of his playing, I thought, “Well, maybe the White Stripes comparison was appropriate.”

It sounds really rudimentary. But for me it’s his voice that gets really annoying. 

(Fairly certain he’s talking about Jack White, not “Rico,” but who knows at this point?)

I like something a little more pleasing to the ear.

So, you’ll be supporting Shooter, using his band for the next couple weeks, then when you do the actual Hellbound Glory tour it’ll just be you and Rico?

To be honest with you, I have no idea. I’ve got a couple gigs lined up in Reno. I play every Thursday at this place called Davidson’s Distillery. The best way I can describe it is it’s like something out of a Fellini movie. It would blow your mind. 

I’m not sure anything you tell me could now, Leroy…

It’s like Reno 911. So if you’re ever in Reno, I’m there every Thursday. I’ll be playing there for many years. If you’re ever in Reno on a Thursday you should definitely come hang out.

* * *

The whole exchange had a Reno 911 feel to it, and it’s easy to assume you’ve been clowned after such a ride – or rhetorical pinball game. Finishing up the transcript the notion nagged, so I reached out with a text.


As fate would have it, as I was texting him he was at that moment reciprocating. Turns out it was just lots of coffee. The Mountain Lion song is real, and it’s awesome. Leroy Virgil is real and adorably kooky. The goofy outlaw just made a great record. 

Even without Rico. 

----------

Pinball is available today.
Physical: bit.ly/2wqq0us
Google Play: bit.ly/2x5Pgc6

Jun 12, 2017

Album Review: Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit - The Nashville Sound


Album Review: Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit - The Nashville Sound

By Kevin Broughton

Last year was a sonofabitch for nearly everyone we know.

-- Jason Isbell, “Hope the High Road”

A thought occurred to me while reviewing Jason Isbell’s Something More Than Free a couple years ago: “At some point, you run out of superlatives.” So let’s get this out of the way. Right now, Isbell is without peer as a songwriter. He couldn’t have a better band – and God bless him for giving The 400 Unit billing on The Nashville Sound. Throw in a producer – Dave Cobb – who should just buy a gadget that makes Grammy figurines, and you have a legitimate American musical juggernaut.

And a quick word about the band. It’s proper that current 400 Unit – Sadler Vaden and Amanda Shires are newcomers since Here We Rest – gets a spot on the marquis. When the book is written on this band, this lineup will be viewed as the Mick Taylor-era Stones were.

There are several great songs on this record, bookended by a pair of wholesome ballads. “The Last of My Kind” is just another great story of an Isbell blue-collar guy, who wryly notes that some Scripture might only apply when back home. “Something to Love,” on the back end, is a sweet, hopeful homage to Isbell’s rural roots, a companion piece to his “God is a Working Man” on Brother Cobb’s Southern Family compilation.

More than one song recalls Isbell in his peak Drive By Truckers days. (And no, they’ll never be that good again, and were never better.) The driving intensity of “Cumberland Gap” captures the defiant malaise of Never Gonna Change, only in middle age. Here’s a guy who probably wishes he’d been thrown off the Wilson Dam.


If you’re looking for other perfect B-sides, how about “If We Were Vampires,” a sweet, morose counterweight to “Flagship,” till now Isbell’s most tender love song?  

Sadly, the album is not as good as the sum of its parts. It’s a good but not great record, lacking the continuity and flow that made Isbell’s previous three studio offerings so compelling. Consequently the default focal point becomes the overtly political.

Have you ever thought about what a vile, racist country this is? This republic that twice elected a black man president, with solid popular and electoral majorities? No? You’re in luck, because Jason Isbell is here to beat you over the head with it. “White Man’s World” would be better titled “White-Guilt World.”

Granted, Isbell didn’t completely lose his mind the way his 50-something former band mates did last fall, stopping just short of pissing on Old Glory and renouncing their citizenship in a bid to curry favor with millennial piss-ants and Bernie Sanders-loving losers.  One wonders, though, how many minds did they change? How many people came around to their cop-hating, white-guilt, socialist point of view because of DBT’s temper tantrum of an album? Likely none, though countless bedwetting, gender fluid NPR fans got enough affirmation to stave off being triggered for at least a day.

While Isbell employs a modicum of subtlety compared to Cooley and Hood, “White Man’s World” is still heavy handed. And lest you think blacks are the only oppressed people in this fascist nation: “I’m a white man living on a white man’s street, got the bones of the red man under my feet. Highway runs through their burial ground…”

Really?

Yeah. Step right up for self-flagellation, Cracker Boy. You will be made to care.  And never mind that “red man” is way more than a microaggression.

You want privilege-checking? Got some of that, too. “I’ve heard enough of the white man’s blues, I’ve sang (sic) enough about myself” is our entry into “Hope the High Road,” an otherwise hopeful postmortem of the 2016 election. Oh, and “Anxiety” will be perfect fare for the “safe zones” (you know, where they exclude white people) on the campuses of Mizzou, Harvard, Brown, etc. It’s just flat-out whiny. The crybabies and victim-pimps will love it.  

It’s a sad thing when music – something that should draw everyone together to admire it as art for art’s sake – is politicized. More than a couple of the artists I’ve interviewed for FTM have told me off-the-record why they avoid it. “You're 100 percent right about the music and politics thing,” one told me recently. “I've worked really hard not to do that. The only thing that can come from that is that you piss off half of your fan base. And you won’t change anyone’s mind.” Indeed. But those on the Left seemed determined to politicize every aspect of American life and culture, as we’ve seen happen in the world of sports over the past few years.

Will Isbell lose some fans? A few. Not this one, who hopes it’s a one-off. Still, look for plaudits from all corners: “Jason Isbell courageously speaks his mind.” Yep. Takes a ton of courage to toe the Leftist line in song.

Ultimately, though, if you can do this, you can do anything you want. Nice record, Jason. Wish it were better.


The Nashville Sound will be available everywhere this Friday.

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