Aug 8, 2019
Jun 6, 2019
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??
Nov 14, 2017
Oct 13, 2017
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…
Yeah, things got kinda crazy.
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.
So I had to change it. But it’s still up in the air. So, we’re still working on getting it worked out.
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.
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…
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.
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?
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.
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…
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?
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)
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.
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.
Bird Dawg – d-a-w-g. Songs about birds and dogs and p**sy and fishing.
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.
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?
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…
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.
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.
Google Play: bit.ly/2x5Pgc6
Jun 12, 2017
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…”
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.
Jun 1, 2017
May 16, 2017
Feb 2, 2017
Jan 27, 2017
Jan 13, 2017
People are always wondering which side of the political aisle we claim here at Farce the Music.
Well, I hope this clears things up.
Dec 29, 2016
Matthew Martin's Top Albums of 2016
11- Young Thug- Jeffery: I know what you're thinking; this is not an album that would typically get love from this website. But, honestly, this album is wonderful. Sure, Young Thug employs some of the same mumbling rap techniques that can get tiresome, but YT's mastery of that along with the superb production on this album make it one of my favorites of this year, and one of my favorite Hip Hop albums in the last few years not named Run The Jewels. Also, YT is one of Hip Hop's most intriguing artists right now, pushing the envelope on so many things including gender identity- the dude wears a dress on the cover of the album. "Wyclef Jean" is a perfect example of musical perfection with YT's emotional sing-songy delivery.
10- Two Cow Garage- Brand New Flag: Man, TCG had no idea (I think) that this album would hold the weight that it does when they recorded it. I am sure they assumed it would be a footnote in the year of 2016 when things were getting weird. But, things got even weirder and this album got so much more important. TCG are no strangers to heavy, important tunes and on this album prove that they've honed those skills terrifically. "Let The Boys Be Girls" is absolutely one of the best songs of the year.
9- Cody Jinks- I'm Not The Devil: As far as Cody Jinks goes, I'd never really listened to him much, but had heard lots of good things about this album and everyone was absolutely right. This album is an emotional heavyweight with every song containing some heartbreaking moment dealing with either personal or relationship failures. I don't think, in my mind, there's been such a gut-punching true Country album since Dwight Yoakam's Buenas Noches From a Lonely Room. Honestly, if you're looking for a Country album full of hard-driving, honky-tonk, good-timin' tunes, maybe this isn't for you. But, if you're looking for a hell of a Country album that is perfect in just about every way that gets better with every listen and maybe that much better when you're a little down and out, get this right now. "I'm Not The Devil" is the song that got me hooked on this album. Killer song, killer chorus.
8- Paul Cauthen- My Gospel: WHEW! Now, this guy caught me by surprise this year and damn he killed it. This album, unbelievably, is the 2nd best debut album of the year. Every song on this album is perfectly catchy. If there was a just world, THIS would be Pop Country. This is what Roy Orbison would have sounded like if he made an album in 2016. I hope Paul Cauthen continues making music for years to come. He's created a perfect throwback album that is already completely timeless. I dare you to try and listen to "I'll Be The One" without dancing.
7- Natural Child- Okey Dokey: On this throwback album, I think Natural Child has finally figured out how to turn their Punk, Blues, and Country hippie sound into a force to be reckoned with. While they released a similar style album in 2014, they hadn't quite gotten the formula down. Okey Dokey sees all the pieces fall into place and Natural Child create their best album. "Now And Then" is probably the theme song of Natural Child and easily one of their best songs.
6- BJ Barham- Rockingham: For a dude that has been fronting the fairly prolific, constantly touring American Aquarium, I was surprised that BJ Barham had enough extra songs to create a solo album. But, after being overseas when the Paris attacks occurred, Barham felt the need to write a set of songs to deal with the emotions of this ever-changing world and those needless attacks. The result of those songwriting sessions are some of Barham's most affecting songs and an album that is as good as it is heart-wrenching. Try to listen to "The Unfortunate Kind" without tearing up, I dare you.
5- Diarrhea Planet- Turn to Gold: Alright, I won't lie, I'm a DP fanboy. They can do no wrong. BUT, that doesn't mean that I'm wrong! Starting out as a full-on sub-2 minute Punk band, DP began writing more serious, personal songs on their previous album, I'm Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams. On Turn To Gold, DP have mastered the sonic nature of their tunes and created a master album. How any band can have 4 guitars and know how to play quietly at times is beyond me. How DP can do that and then turn the guitars up to 11 and not sound overbearing is a Herculean feat. But, they do it and do it well. This is the mature album that the band with fecal matter in their name probably never thought they'd make. "Bob Dylan's Grandma" is a perfect example of the soft/loud dynamics that DP have mastered.
4- Luke Bell- S/T: This was the best debut of year and one of my most listened-to albums of the year. Every song on this album is perfect cowboy Country. Dwight Yoakam is one of my favorite artists of all time and the influence of Buck Owens on him is not lost on many, if any, people. Luke Bell is the natural progression through the years from Buck to Dwight, and now to Luke. If Paul Cauthen and Luke Bell are the future of Country, then we are going to be A-OK, y'all! "Bullfighter" is a perfect example of Luke Bell's mastery of capturing every day moments in his songs.
3- Sturgill Simpson- A Sailor's Guide to Earth: I was prepared to go into this album with an open mind after hearing that we shouldn't expect a full-on country album. And, thank god. Because, it's not a typical Country album, no, but it's still a wonderful album. It's an album that is so good from start to beginning that I can't imagine any other way of listening to it. If you were turned off by this album's not completely inherent country-ness, I highly suggest you revisit this one with an open mind. This may not be Sturgill's best album, but it's damn close. Every song from start to finish is a homerun, making the album as a whole quite the emotional powerhouse. And, of course knowing the context of the album- written as a love note to his son- only helps the listening experience. "Call To Arms" is probably now my favorite Sturgill song and by the time I got to this song on the album, I couldn't sit down. Such a barn-burner, such a wonderful way to end a wonderful album.
2- Arliss Nancy- Greater Divides: I wrote about this album on this site earlier this year, and my feelings on this album have done nothing but gotten stronger. This is without a doubt Arliss Nancy's best album. There is not one weak song, not one weak moment. The songs on this album are the kinds you need to hear- songs to make you feel happy for being alive and resilient through those times that are less than perfect. Again, in a world that makes sense, this band and this album would be popular. The band and songs have never sounded better or tighter. The growth over their last 3 albums is incredible. I can't wait to hear where they go next. "Finches" is a great example of Arliss Nancy's ability to take a normal moment and feel all the weight in that moment through past failures/triumphs.
1- Drive-By Truckers- American Band: There is not a more important album in Drive-By Truckers' repertoire. I say that fully aware of the importance of Southern Rock Opera and even The Dirty South. However, this is important in a very different manner. This is an album written by deep-red-state Southern men about issues that many in this region turn away from. This is DBT taking their implicitly political music and making it as explicit as possible. And, in the process, they made a few fans turn away from them. But, the band didn't back down and, to my way of thinking, we're much better for it. This is the album we needed in 2016, and will continue to need as we move forward. It's ok for us to have differing opinions and as Cooley says, "if the victims and oppressors, just remain each other's others," then where will we be over the next few years. So, this album is an impressive call to arms for everyone to look ourselves and those who differ from us in the eye and figure out how to find some common ground, while also calling bullshit on those who wish to divide us. "What It Means" is already in my top 5 favorite DBT songs and to me, this is the best song of the year. The best song of the year on the best album of the year by one of the most important Southern bands of our time.
Dec 19, 2016
Nov 29, 2016
DBT’s Hood announces follow-up record plans, possible relocation to Caribbean
By Kevin Broughton
Portland, Ore. – Patterson Hood is jittery, and not just from the third vegan latte at Habas Frescas, a hip coffee shop nestled on a busy intersection here in the City of Roses. He’s flustered, too. “I mean, you pour your soul into making music that really means something, just to see it all flushed away on a Tuesday in November,” laments Hood, longtime front man of the Drive By Truckers. “And just a couple weeks later, we lose a universally beloved and adored human rights icon? Makes you wonder what it all means, or if any of this means anything at all.”
The fifty-something musician can be forgiven for waxing philosophical. DBT’s eleventh studio album, American Band, was hastily written and released just two months before the most contentious U.S. election in memory – and all, it would seem, for naught. Hood and 30-year collaborator Mike Cooley set out to make an exclusively, overtly political record, and proceeded brashly to air their election-year grievances. He is genuinely stunned at the notion his band’s ideology failed to carry the day.
“We hit all the bases, and hit them hard, man,” Hood says, spittle collecting on his lower lip as he grows progressively agitated. “Gun ownership, sovereign borders, Mexicans, blacks, gays and women. Police brutality, for [expletive]’s sake! How could people listen to this album and still vote [expletive] Trump into the White House?”
A record label official familiar with internal market-charting metrics described sales as “less than brisk, to put it kindly.”
But the Truckers have never been driven or defined by record sales, and pride themselves on expanding their fervent grassroots audience one show at a time. “And we’re gonna keep branching out, too. You have to keep plowing new ground to stay organic, musically,” Hood says. “Geographically, politically, whatever. And especially right now…” Here the singer trails off momentarily, a slight quiver in his jaw muscles. “What’s happened in the universe when America elects a tyrant capitalist and a true progressive leader dies, in a matter of weeks?
“Everybody in Cuba can read, man. Think about that,” Hood continues. “And who’s the only democratically elected leader in the Western Hemisphere who guaranteed free health care? Fidel [expletive] Castro, that’s who!” The native (yet reluctant) Alabamian gathers himself and continues. “They’ve achieved close to 100% gun control down there, with zero white cops riding around in Cuba shooting young black kids for sport.”
Which is why the singer – who relocated here from Athens, Ga. just one year ago – is moving his musical base of operations yet again. “The Wednesday after the election, I was already writing songs for a follow-up record, lots of Woody Guthrie-type, anti-capitalist stuff. Hang on,” Hood says, scanning a text message on his iPhone 7. “When Commandante passed, I knew we had to get in the studio like, now, and do it in [expletive] Havana.”
Not only did he book a week in the prestigious and state-run Muerte a America recording studios; Hood, his wife and two young children will also take up residence in the romantic Caribbean capital. “She found us a 1 ½ bedroom flat a quarter mile walk from the bread store,” he says. “Eight bucks a week! And I’ve shipped a couple pallets of bottled water, and we’re all taking Cipro, so we’re set. Hang on. Gotta take this.”
He takes a moment to clarify a quote with a music critic from The Daily Kos. “Yeah, I said ‘Latin feel.’ That’s all I can say. No more hints. Can’t get into content right now, bro.” He winks and ends the call.
Hood is at first mum about how much of his plan he’s told his band mates. When pressed, he ‘fesses up. “Look, I haven’t told Cooley yet, okay? Marlboro Reds are $80 a pack there,” Hood says. “That’s almost double what they are here in Portland. It’s the cost of living in a free country, I guess.”
Oct 14, 2016
Going for Positive Broke
In a World of Love and Hope
By Kevin Broughton
“Okay, I’m almost ready,” says Kelly Hogan. “I was driving, waiting for your call, now I just have to pull over and find a parking space.” She eases into a comfortable play-by-play: “I may just turn off on this side street…almost there…well, why don’t you just go ahead and start to talk?”
Hogan has, according to her hometown Chicago Tribune, “the range of a gospel belter, the phrasing of a jazz diva, a bit of a country twang, and a taste for humor that make her something of a difficult fit in these category-obsessed times.” If she’s tough to pigeonhole into a genre – and she very much is – then it’s doubly tough to pin down a category for The Flat Five, the Windy City super group she formed with Scott Ligon, Nora O’Connor, Alex Hall and Casey McDonough. Their debut album, It’s a World of Love and Hope, drops today on Bloodshot Records; fitting, as that label has always been home to the genre-bending misfits of independent music. Ligon and McDonough are themselves members of NRBQ, a fluid band – founded 50 years hence – that has always defied classification.
But, to take a stab at Flat Five comparisons: Late 60s/early 70s harmony-laden pop with a slight bubblegum flavor, reminiscent of The Carpenters, Beach Boys and Beatles. Some Manhattan Transfer. Or maybe that’s a little off? “Yeah, it reminds me of childhood, hearing the AM radio in the Rambler station wagon,” Hogan says. “All of those sounds like Sly and The Family Stone, The 5th Dimension, Spanky and Our Gang…and The Archies! Definitely The Archies.”
Yeah, that’s better. And, oh, the harmonies; five parts’ worth sometimes. Groovy electric piano. It’s pure, unadulterated, unmitigated, undeniable joy. This can’t be overstated; it’s an album of existential happiness, as the campy title suggests. Each of the album’s dozen songs were penned by Ligon’s older brother Chris, and if you drill down a little into that dude’s catalog, you’ll want to throw in They Might Be Giants and Dr. Demento when making comparisons. As joyfully bouncy and bubbly as this record is, there’s also a lot of downright quirky, head-scratching humor.
But the joy overrides all. You want to feel better right now, when the whole country and world are spiraling downward into hades? Turn off Twitter and Facebook. Turn off the news. Listen to this album a couple times through, and you’ll be physically happy. Heck, it’s impossible not to be happy after 20 minutes on the phone with “Leather Lungs” Hogan, after she finds a parking spot. Her mood is as infectious as The Flat Five’s music.
You’ve worn a lot of hats in a bunch of different bands/side projects, etc. This Flat Five record certainly has a distinctive flavor to it. How has working on this project differed from, say, The Pine Valley Cosmonauts or any of your other endeavors?
Well, a lot of the things I did with Pine Valley Cosmonauts, I was like a ninja. I’d come in real quick and record one song and be done. The Flat Five, we’re a band. It’s gross. We love each other so much, it’s gross. We’ve been doing this since 2005 or something. I started out playing with Scott Ligon, then we got Nora O’Connor into it; I knew her from when we both sang in Andrew Bird’s band. It just sort of picked up, like a rolling stone…wait, a rolling stone doesn’t gather moss. (Laughs) We snowballed, that’s what I mean to say.
We just really love to sing together. And even with our five separate, crazy schedules and the stuff we do with other bands, we’ve always made time for this. We just love it.
When did y’all decide “Okay, we’re gonna do an album,” and how and when did that process finally come together?
I guess a couple years in, we made a commitment to play quarterly. That’s a time commitment and everybody has to block out time on their schedules. We started talking about playing more often and how we would do it. And we were warming up to the idea of doing an album of Chris Ligon’s music, because we had already been doing several of his songs [live].
So that idea developed, and we all got really excited about it, because one, we love his music and two, we want more people to hear it. So in lieu of going door-to-door (laughs), we knew we needed to record. That required us all to pledge allegiance to each other and commit. And so it’s taken us right at two years; we first went into the studio in September 2014. We financed the whole thing ourselves, so occasionally it was, “Well, we’re out of money, so we gotta play a show.” And luckily we were able to record it at our drummer’s studio, and he engineered it. There was just a lot of goodwill and teamwork involved.
This album bubbles up joy. Can you describe how much fun it was to record?
We made a conscious decision as a band, led by Scott, that we were gonna do a positive album. And I mean, I love sad songs. I’ve heard great songs with awesome harmony, but it’s like “My baby died in December.” (Laughs) So we tried to make it a cohesive thread, and all positive. Because everything’s so heavy, you know? You said “bubbles,” and not every song sounds effervescent, but the material and the message are designed to lift people, you know? Mavis Staples just did that on her last album.
And we were trying to decide what to call this record, and I said, “Dude, let’s just go for positive broke and call it ‘It’s a World of Love and Hope.’” In the face of all this evidence to the contrary; there’s so much going on to be sad and mad about. And all of us in the band, we’re all mad and sad and scared. This is just a little respite. I mean, I’m on the street in Chicago. The trees have colored leaves and people are walking their dogs…it’s Halloween. That’s just as real as all the bad stuff.
I just…well, I’ve never heard anything like it.
Well, we are weird, you know…
(Laughs) Well, I don’t mean just because it’s a little off and has some tongue-in-cheek…
…People try to describe us. Right now Nora and I are trying to book a tour and folks ask us, “Well, what kind of band are you?” And we’re like, uhhhhhhhh, well…
I think we’re like a pack of Life Savers. You’ll get an orange and a lime, and all the different flavors. We just love it all; we love all kinds of music.
Do you have a favorite cut on the album?
(Pauses) Uh…gosh I don’t know. It’s so hard for me to pick from all the different flavors. I don’t think I do. I can’t pick a favorite puppy! I love them all, and they are all different. Some of them were more difficult to get right in the studio than others. I do love the magic of “Bug Light.” I like “Bluebirds in Michigan;” I love that really weird string/bass/flute arrangement.
I’m curious, and this is a Kelly Hogan-centric question. I discovered you as the voice of Cassie Gaines on DBT’s Southern Rock Opera. Do you hear that every now and again, maybe from folks down South?
Oh! Awesome. I love that’s the case; I really love that album and I love those guys so hard. But yeah, a few, a few, definitely. That always makes me feel so proud. We did that at (Mike) Cooley’s house and I was in the dining room with a microphone, drinking a PBR and they were all in the kitchen. I finished a take and I heard some screaming and I found out they were screaming because they liked it. That was really cute.
That album…well, “Angels and Fuselage” makes me weep to this day.
Think about how hard it is to sing it! Because I sit in with them sometimes, and I try to do it – like every song I do – like I’m living it. And those lyrics…it’s just such an honor to be on that record. And you know, hearing your Southern accent, I’m just leaning into it because I love those accents so much. Any excuse to call Patterson (Hood), I’ll do it, just to hear that voice.
What else would you like folks to know about It’s a World of Love and Hope?
Um, it’s definitely an album made by friends who really love singing together. We love it so much we’ve all made time to do it over the last dozen years. We’re the kind of band that will practice together for seven hours and it seems like seven minutes. I mean, if we were at a club to play a show and nobody showed up, we would still play the show! We do this because it’s so much fun. And that’s the spirit It’s a World of Love and Hope was made in.
Because it is a world of love and hope. Sometimes I might be feeling really shitty (giggles) but I’ll just say, “It’s a world of love and hope!” It’s become my mantra. It was made by five friends who can’t not do this. And I hope people can hear that in the record.
Final note: I’ve not played an album over and over like this one in recent memory and subsequently tried to figure out why. I’m still not sure, but what’s exceptional is this wonderful Venn diagram of the underappreciated Chicago music scene. In fact, when you put elite-level talents like these together – all of whom share such a passion for the craft and an unselfish love for one another – greatness shouldn’t be surprising. –JKB
It's a World of Love and Hope is available today on iTunes, Amazon, Bandcamp, etc.
Oct 4, 2016
Sep 30, 2016
As I was listening to this album it hit me hard that this is the album I've been missing. The logical next step in recent Southern albums that are more or less overtly political- from Southern Rock Opera to Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires' Dereconstructed to now, American Band. It never resonated with me to listen to some person from the North (or Midwest or West) to talk about these issues, because they weren't/aren't from here- they don't grasp the subtleties. To hear it from Southern voices, that talk the way I grew up talking, that use the same cadence and same odd slang I use, that's something entirely different. And, to be clear, I don't think you HAVE to be a Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal, to fully appreciate the political air of this album and what it means for Southerners (and the country) right now.
Drive-By Truckers have always been somewhat political. Whether or not they were overt was dependent upon the song, but you can't get more political than past songs "The Righteous Path," "Uncle Frank," "Puttin People On The Moon," or "Wallace." They may not be set in the current time period, but they are political powerhouses nonetheless. Interestingly, it's always seemed that Patterson Hood was the one who was willing to delve a bit more into the political side of songwriting, until American Band. (Which, can I just say as a side note is a perfect name for this album. A political album by a band from the South called American Band. No other regional distinction necessary.) Now we have Mike Cooley really diving deep into the same waters and we are much, much better for it.
I've always been more of a Patterson Hood fan when it comes to songwriting- I like his storytelling and fierceness. Don't get me wrong, I've always loved Cooley as well, but Hood has always hit a little closer to home for me. However, on American Band, Cooley has the knock-out punches to me with "Ramon Casiano," "Once They Banned Imagine," "Surrender Under Protest," and "Filthy and Fried." I mean, when Cooley sings "to half-cocked excuses for bullet abuses regarding anything browner than tan," on "Once They Banned Imagine," it's heavy. That line got me like a punch in the gut. The other Cooley songs on the album are wonderful takedowns of the good ol' boy South. Whatever, or whoever, got us thinking we are too macho, or stubborn, to accept any sort of change has been detrimental to ourselves- and more importantly, those who chose to leave- in so many ways. The South has been dealing with "brain-drain" for years and I can tell you firsthand, some of us want to go back to a better South, not the same old South.
Back to the album though! For Hood, his two songs "Guns of Umpqua" and "What It Means" stand to be two of my favorite Hood songs of all time. "Guns of Umpqua" paints an incredibly eerie and horrible picture of someone on the verge of getting gunned down in the community college shooting. "What It Means" questions the recent violence on young black men in America and what that means for us as a nation. These are supremely touching songs and I can't imagine the DBT catalog without them already.
At the albums core, American Band is all about dealing with the current state of the American way of life. Where do we go from here? How do we process the last couple of years of utter outrage and fear? At what point do we start the healing process? I think it can begin at any moment we want it to, but we have to start asking ourselves the tough questions, and that can begin with those of us in, or from, the South. Southerners are strong people, mentally and physically. I miss the South I grew up in where hatred sure didn't seem so prevalent (although I'm sure it was there). American Band is a good starting point, so go listen and listen with friends and family. Ask yourselves what it means. Now, let's see where we can go from here and let's be better.
American Band is available today on all modes of ingesting music.