Showing posts with label Reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Reviews. Show all posts

Sep 20, 2019

3 Up, 3 Down


3 Up

Jon Pardi - Heartache Medication
It’s hard to believe a song that starts out with a fiddle is actually a hit in this day and age. Pardi’s country, this song is country, what more do you need to know? It’s not exactly groundbreaking in the lyrical department, but it’s well written and at least copies all the good stuff. I’m really looking forward to his new album. Aside from “Heartache on the Dance Floor,” I’ve liked all Jon’s songs so far.
B+

Runaway June - Buy My Own Drinks
What’s this? Women with a top 10 song? I’m sure some IHeartRadio analyst somewhere is counting this as 3 songs by women for their stats, since Runaway June has 3 members. The song: it’s propulsive, confident, and catchy. It’s also timely. I hope radio will give this group a fair shake on future singles as well; their underrated Blue Roses album has quite a few that deserve airplay. 
B+

Lady Antebellum - What If I Never Get Over You
Shut up. I know it’s not very country, and Lady Antebellum is usually reality-show scripted kiss background music at best, but this is pretty good …so leave me alone. It calls back to their early swoony ballads, and for me that’s not a bad thing. Lady A got off the rails a few years ago with unmemorable …uh, songs… I don’t even recall any of them enough to give a fair description, but this seems to be a pointed turn back to what they do best. And it’s a sad song! And there are real instruments! The bar is low these days, what can I say? The harmonies are beautiful though.
B


3 Down

Chris Lane - I Don’t Know About You
It starts out bad and gets indescribably worse almost immediately. Heavy beats, R&B copycat vocal style, modern slang-y lyrics …but this is (air quotes) country y’all. While I listened to this to write a few words about it, I kept checking over my should to make sure nobody thought I was listening for my enjoyment. The chorus has lyrics nearly identical to several other pop-country songs, as I illustrated in a meme last month. Come to think of it, “country” songs are basically just memes now. Take a format and make slight changes to it and pass it around. As Public Enemy once poignantly asked “Who stole the soul?”
F

Jimmie Allen - Make Me Want To
Jimmie has some talent, and at least a smidgen of promise. However, this song fulfills no promise whatsoever. It employs snap-beats and paint-by-numbers lyrics for typical 2019 mainstream country radio fodder. It’s background music. The chorus has lyrics nearly identical to several other pop-country songs (including the one above), as I illustrated in a meme last month. Come to think of it, “country” songs are basically just memes now. Take a format and make slight changes to it and pass it around. As Public Enemy once poignantly asked “Who stole the soul?” This one’s catchier than Chris Lane’s nearly identical song and Jimmie has a better voice, so I’ll give it a
D

Luke Bryan - Knockin’ Boots
The good: Simple instrumentation, no clutter. The bad: Everything else. Who thought it was a good idea to bring back a bit of 90s slang that only stuck around for 3-4 years and a couple of hit songs from Candyman and H-Town, anyway? That’s wack yo. Circling back around to the simplicity of this song - the lyrics are also simple, but the definition of ‘simple’ that means stupid. I can’t stand repetitive nonsense… boots need knockin’, knockin’ boots… I feel stupid typing that, imagine singing it, imagine enjoying someone singing it. 
F

Jun 14, 2019

Hot Takes on the Hot Country Top 25


by Travis Erwin
Those of us who enjoy the humor, scorn, and reviews here at Farce The Music can often be found up on our soapbox railing against the insipidness of mainstream country. But how bad is it?
I decided to take a look with a dive into the current Billboard Hot Country Chart. 
One by one I listened to the tunes and here is my no-holds barred assessment starting at the bottom and working my way up per their rankings. They list 50, but I limited my exposure to only the top 25 because a man can only wade through so much shit before he too starts to stink.
25) The Bones — Maren Morris ---  I will give Morris credit for infusing some emotion that feels genuine … which makes this an above average pop song
24) What Happens In A Small Town — Brantley Gilbert with Lindsay Ell --- I actually enjoyed Lindsay Ell’s voice here, but per usual, Gilbert confuses vocal strain with emotion. If you enjoy predictable lyrics, sang with constipation, then Gilbert is routinely your man. 
23) What If I Never Get Over You – Lady Antebellum ---  If you have a damn good pair of binoculars, you can see the country from here on the island of Adult Contemporary Radio.
22) I Don’t Know About You — Chris Lane --- Basically a Bro Country Tinder conversation. Do yourself a favor and swipe left.

21) Notice — Thomas Rhett ---  Watch out Jonas Brothers and Shawn Mendes you have competition for your sing-song style of pop. 
20) Every Little Honky Tonk Bar — George Strait --- First decent country song and while not many share this opinion, I have long thought Strait to be overrated as an artist. Cool dude for sure, but given he rarely writes his own material and is far from a creative musical genius, I view him more as the world’s best karaoke singer than King of anything. [editor’s note: I’m docking your pay!]
19) The Ones That Didn’t Make It Back Home — Justin Moore ---  I applaud the intent, but this is one of those singles that feels more like pandering to an audience than it does a meaningful tribute.
18) Raised On Country — Chris Young --- First few lines contain the words … Southern Drawl, pick-up, and boots. Yes sir, we have a song written using the Country Music Mad Libs method. I confess I didn’t keep listening because I heard enough three lines in.
17)  Shut Up About Politics — John Rich --- Rich is from my hometown, but we have both left Amarillo. That comment has no meaning to this list and frankly this song has no lasting meaning either. File this one under disposable, just like the proverbial red cup mentioned in this pandering set of lyrics.
16) Rearview Town — Jason Aldean --- I have never been an Aldean fan and this song does not change that but all-in-all this isn’t a horrible single. Written by Nashville stalwarts Kelley Lovelace, Bobby Pinson, and Neil Thrasher this is about as good as big label/corporate-driven songwriting gets.
15) Talk You Out of It — Florida Georgia Line --- I have heard way worse FGL songs so if your girl has poor musical taste go ahead put this one and try to seduce her. But if it works, she ain’t the one. 
14) Some Of It — Eric Church --- I actually like this single. Written by Jeff Hyde, Clint Daniels and Bobby Pinson who makes a second appearance on the list, Church sounds a little bit like Robert Ellis on this one, and that is a good thing. IT is the best I’ve heard from Church.

13) On My Way To You — Cody Johnson --- Johnson is one of many Strait-influenced artists out of Texas and while I am usually left wanting for more grit and emotions out of his chosen material, he does have talent.
12) All To Myself — Dan + Shay --- This duo is to country music what  Bath & Body Works is to the mall. Too clean. Too fragrant. And no place a man goes without being dragged there by his significant other. 
11) Knockin’ Boots — Luke Bryan --- Hard to say what is worse, Bryan’s Gomer Pyle laced voice, or this pandering set of horrendous lyrics. 
10) Girl — Maren Morris --- Again, I respect Morris’s vocal talent, but I struggle to call this country. I don’t hate this song, but it is mislabeled.
9) Love Someone — Brett Eldridge --- I just wish someone on this list had more heartache, more pain, more grit than they do product in their well-coiffed hair. 
8) Speechless — Dan + Shay --- Verne Gosdin has been gone for a decade now but if the man known as “The Voice” was handed this single and told this is a Top Ten Country hit in 2019, he would be the one rendered speechless.  
7) Miss Me More — Kelsea Ballerini --- Sounds a little Faith Hill-esque. I will give this one credit for having some rebel spirit. Let’s call it the Taco Bell of country because it has the ingredients of good Mexican food, but the taste isn’t quite there.

6)  Good As You — Kane Brown --- Yet another single full of smooth rhythms and touchy-feely sentiments of love. I am not against love but come on guys this shit flows like a string of Hallmark cards and that ain’t true to life. 
5) Beer Never Broke My Heart — Luke Combs --- Be careful what you ask for. Finally a broken hearted song and while it is better than most of the songs on this list it isn’t a song a can take all that serious. Combs has a good sound but lyrically this song is a far cry from Whitley or Haggard. 
4) Rumor — Lee Brice --- There is much worse on this list but at this point all I am thinking is when can I go back to me regular playlist of Houston Marchman, Dan Johnson, and Tom Russell? 
3) Look What God Gave Her — Thomas Rhett --- Musicians used to get laid by being aloof, cool bad ass. Now it seems they are trying to get laid by using Dr. Phil’s Textbook of Emotional Pandering. 
2) Whiskey Glasses — Morgan Wallen --- I like Wallen’s vocal tone but the cadence of this song is awful about thirty seconds in. Come on Son, just song the pain don’t try to purty it all up and for all that is hole get rid of all that repetitive line ‘em bullshit on the back end. 
1) God’s Country — Blake Shelton --- Over the years, Shelton has put out a handful of songs I actually enjoyed, but this one is nothing more than okay. And with that designation, he joins about that many on this list that aren’t horrible.

There you have it. 
My opinion on the current Top 25 Country Songs according to Billboard. A few halfway decent country songs, a few more decent pop songs misnamed, and a bunch of pandering pablum.
I am sure we have a few disagreements, but the beauty of music is such that it hits every set of ears differently. Still I stand by assessment that mainstream country is suffering from a lack of grit and realness. 
Tell me what you think, I love a good argument.  
—————
TRAVIS ERWIN is an author and music blogger best known for his love of dark beer, red meat, and of course, his comedic memoir, THE FEEDSTORE CHRONICLES. Other published works include the short story collection HEMINGWAY and a pair of novels TWISTED ROADS and WAITING ON THE RIVER. Travis also blogs about music at THE FEELS and with LA on Lock.  



Oct 26, 2018

3 Up 3 Down: Chris Young, Cody Johnson, Kenny Chesney, etc.



3 Up:

Luke Combs - She Got the Best of Me
Luke Combs is hope for the future on country radio. No, he's no country music savior. Nobody's gonna mistake him for the next Waylon. Still, he's a throwback - even if the era he's a throwback to is the 90s. There's twang, real instruments, and real emotion. "She Got the Best of Me" is a catchy power ballad that'll stick in your head after a few listens. The vocal performance is strong and the lyrics are solid - though one wonders if he's telling the audience they're just getting the leftovers.
B

Kenny Chesney ft. Mindy Smith - Better Boat
Travis Meadows gets another big single and that's enough reason to root for this song. On top of that, Mindy Smith gets her first top 40 song ever with this release. Kenny's performance lacks the passion of Meadow's lived-in delivery, but there's little to complain about here. It's a thoughtful, restrained song that stands out amongst a sea of same-sounding mid tempo thumpers. 
A-

Cody Johnson - On My Way to You
The Texas darling seems well on his way to national stardom and it's good to see that he hasn't compromised a thing to get there. "On My Way to You" is a more country and more detail-oriented take on Rascal Flatts' "God Blessed the Broken Road." What stands out to me about this song is how there's still a tear in Cody's voice despite the positive subject matter. That's important. Hope this one goes to #1.
B+


3 Down:

Chris Young - Hangin' On
It's depressing to see one of the potentially great voices of this generation wasted on such meh radio fodder as this. "Hangin' On" is like off-brand vanilla ice cream that kinda has that funny taste from being in the freezer too long and has those weird ice crystals in every bite. There's nothing too shameful about the lyrics and there's no hip-hop beat; this song just sucks. Hopefully, the success of Luke Combs and Cody Johnson will inspire Chris to go back to the sound that brought him to the dance.
D-

Dustin Lynch - Good Girl
It's depressing to see one of the potentially pretty good voices of this generation wast… oh, who am I kidding? Yeah, Dustin had a couple of good pop-country songs at first, but this is who he is now: a good looking fake cowboy who sings vapid songs for undiscerning mainstream "country" fans and their boyfriends. There's a lot shameful about the lyrics and there's a hip-hop beat and this song just sucks. I hold out no hope Dustin Lynch will ever put out another song I'm not embarrassed to hear.
F

Mitchell Tenpenny - Drunk Me
Please don't let this guy happen. Aside from the "Bitches" controversy, I CANNOT FREAKING STAND MITCHELL TENPENNY'S VOICE. He's just terrible to the point that I feel rage welling up in me when I hear it. There is literally not one even microscopic thread of country in this song. It's fake ass watered down white boy R&B with some rock guitars thrown in to make it acceptable to play on the country station. I suppose the chorus is fairly catchy but it doesn't redeem this absolute feckless turd. Could he just go away?
F



May 1, 2017

Love Country? You Need W.B. Walker's Old Soul Radio Show in Your Life

By Robert Dean

When you’re into podcasts, one thing gets apparent pretty quick: there are a lot of fucking podcasts. No matter what you’re looking for, someone’s got a show about whatever interest you hold. It can get tedious.

A few years ago, podcasts were met with the feeling of “not as good as radio” which, while radio still has its merit, podcasts are the superior medium. They’re uncensored, and not beholden to corporate dollars deciding what’s cool and what’s not. Because of the ability to do whatever they please podcasts can go way off the rails, or stay right and true to their vision.

 Amongst the sea of podcasts, one, in particular, stands tall above the rest: W.B. Walker’s Old Soul Radio Show. Showcasing the best in Country, Americana, Blues, Rockabilly and whatever else has a soul, W.B Walker has a knack for giving the world the goods long before anyone else.

Before most people knew who Sturgill Simpson was, Old Soul Radio was on the case. Same with Colter Wall, who’s become a dear friend of the show, along with Tyler Childers. (If you don’t know Tyler Childers, you will. Trust me.)

The variety with commentary and sheer passion for the music is infectious because W.B. is such a good dude, and frankly that shines through with the content. Think of the vibe of W.B. Walker’s Old Soul Radio Show as a lewd Daytrotter session. There are live performances straight from his barn, which from photos looks like the country dive we’ve all dreamed of putting in a hardnosed drinking shift inside. (If you’ve ever seen in Heartworn Highways, I imagine W.B Walker’s Barn is reminiscent of the final scene when everyone’s drunk singing silent night.)

W.B. spins a lot of flavors of music that offers a piece of the larger narrative of what the real America, not what’s being shoved down our throats via the Nashville machine, actually is. While a lot of podcasts do a noble job of promoting the country music scene or what’s happening in Blues, W.B. has the right mix of stuff you haven’t heard, while tossing in the occasional classic. I thought I was a die-hard Hank Williams fan, but then W.B. trumped me in almost every way. That dude is a walking Hank Williams encyclopedia. When there’s so much bad music out there, it’s incredible to hear the latest episode of the podcast, and appreciate that the playlist doesn’t feel shat out, but yet, curated. You can tell he agonizes at what vibe the episodes have, what feeling he’s trying to convey.

 If you’ve been looking for that podcast that provides an endless amount of new music to check out, then look no further than W.B. Walker’s Old Soul Radio Show. It’s an hour that’s wholeheartedly worth your time.

Tell em’ Robert Dean sencha. 

Nov 10, 2016

3 Up, 3 Down: November '16


Three Up



Miranda Lambert - Vice
While it's good to have Miranda back on the airwaves, it's even better that it's with such a cool and different-sounding song. There's so much atmosphere in Vice… it's comfortable and uneasy at the same time. That contrast fits the theme perfectly. It also explores modern sonic textures without straying from what contemporary mainstream country ought to sound like.
A



Eric Church w/Rhiannon Giddens - Kill a Word
The perfect song for this insane election season. It's a shame few will heed its message. The violent verbiage is a great angle for such timely and timeless ideals. I've seen a lot of chatter that this is one of Church's lesser singles, but some of these folks are the very ones who need to really listen to it. Sure, it could be a little more memorable in the hook department, but an overly catchy melody might make this more of a jingle than the maxim it should be.
A


Chris Janson - Holdin' Her
Chris blocked us on Twitter long ago, presumably for making so much fun of his co-write, "Truck Yeah." That song deserved to be unmercifully ripped. This one deserves to be a big hit. It's probably the most country sounding song on the charts right now. It's a real life love song with personal details and universal appeal. Chris sounds great on the tune as well. More of this please.
A


Three  Down



Dustin Lynch - Seein' Red
Dustin started out as one of the fairly neo-traditional artists we could potentially hang some hope on. No longer. This is a straight up pop song. It starts out with a canned riff, goes into some electronically adjusted vocals, and gets no better from there. It's disco for the twenty-teens. The only reason this couldn't get played on pop radio is Dustin's twang. That doesn't make it country. Is it a good song, genre aside? No. It's bro-country shined up for the modern urban cowboy set.
D-



Michael Ray - Think a Little Less
Exactly what it sounds like. Brainless smooth bro-country. "Get you outta this bar, out of that dress"… and people call Miranda Lambert a whore. Come on. This is by-the-numbers mainstream country for 2016. Easy going verse, semi-catchy but completely copied and pasted chorus, verse, chorus, guitar solo, talk-sing bridge, chorus, vomit. I'm tired of this garbage.
F+


Luke Bryan - Move
Utter shit. We've done enough memes and tomfoolery about this song to cover any words that could be said here. Let's hope this is bro-country's death wheeze.
F

Sep 30, 2016

Robert Dean vs. FGL/BSB "God, Your Mama, and Me"

A rant/review by Robert Dean


*language warning!*
File this under: the obvious like the sun is hot, but I think we have unequivocal proof that Nashville-driven pop country is garbage – a steaming shitheap of garbage. So much waste you need waders to stomp through the bullshit. Like, before it was a lot of the obvious raised eyebrows, the throwing of hands in the air, and to everyone who likes this trash, a complete denial not seen since the last Trump speech.
What I’m talking about is uber-tools who use auto tune and wear man buns, the Florida/Georgia Line doing a song with the Backstreet Boys.  Come on dudes. There’s zero defense that pop country is just pop. We need to finally come to terms as a species and tell everyone that their new song God, Your Momma, and Me has culturally absolute zero with anything Johnny Cash or Waylon ever did.
I only cite them because every dork in a trucker cap and a flannel with beautiful teeth name drops them constantly like it adds some sort of credibility – well, hoss it don’t. Luke Bryan still sucks, and these two clowns parading around with a geriatric boy band only proves the point further. Yeah, Luke, we remember Here’s to the Farmer where you pander to every blue-collar worker out there in some maligned attempt to be “genuine” – too bad it’s genuinely awful.
But, back to the task at hand, God, Your Momma, and Me – this song defies any logic of how horrible it is. It’s like if AIDS fucked Cancer and created a super hybrid that killed you within an instant. That’s what this is. Within the first few verses, we nail the archetypes of all pop country diatribes: God, love, mommas, angels, shotguns. Of course, they turn up the radio on a dirt road. And they call this malignant colon of music “country” – what the fuck is country about six dudes dancing in tandem and wearing $200 jeans?
Next time you’re at the bar some clown in turquoise “dress boots” starts giving you the business when you tell him Jason Aldean is as country as a Cher, you’ve got probable ammunition to go down the rabbit hole. We already knew Florida/Georgia Line sucked to the infinite levels with their hokey, cliché driven audio enemas, but this is some next-level suckery.
God, Your Momma, and Me is so awful because it falls on pretenses like they’re being slick about singing some shitty love song that features one guy and four other guys oohing and ahhing. That’s the point, it’s deft and meant to distract you from a cold truth: pop country is Rihanna in a cowboy and tight jeans. It’s pop, it’s harmless, its bubble gum and it fucking sucks.
Fight me at swings after school.

*entirely devoid of editing by lazy Trailer*

Sep 12, 2016

Forgotten Gems: Misfits - Legacy of Brutality

Forgotten Gems: Misfits - Legacy of Brutality
by Robert Dean
 
With their first show together in over 30 years, The Misfits are finally back together  - for at least two shows. To put it lightly for many of us, this is a monumental, huge fucking deal. From metalheads to punks, to goths, to weirdos and everyone in between, there are generations of outsiders with a soft spot for those original Glenn Danzig-fronted records.

For some, seeing Guns n' Roses was a big deal. For many punk rockers like me, this is the reunion we’ve waited our whole lives for. I won’t pretend to be an impartial journalist in this piece – I can’t. I have the Crimson Ghost tattooed on the back of my leg. My son has little Misfits shirts; I have a custom Chrome bag with the Crimson Ghost on it that is my security blanket, its been all over the world with me. I am most definitely a die-hard. They are without a doubt one of my favorite bands, ever.

So, that leads us to the point of this article: around here in FTMLand; we’ve been kicking around some new article ideas. This is the first in a series I plan on penning that revisits classic records, classic bands, some obscure records that are flawless, but the group disappeared, or just bands that are fantastic that you’re not thinking about.

The Misfits are very much on everyone’s cultural radar. But, to kick off the series, I wanted to do a retrospective review of what I feel is the unquestionable best Misfits record: Legacy of Brutality.
While yes, the catalog is small, and they’ll likely play everything during their sets, it’s Legacy that shows so much of what the band could have been, and what a lot of Samhain and Danzig did go on to become. 

Legacy of Brutality is a steamroller of a record with zero weak spots, hell on Theme of a Jackal: they manage to get your violent sleaze going with a piano driven riff that more swagger in two notes than most virtuosos can muster flying down the ivories. But, that’s the classic concoction of the Misfits, the songs are laughably easy to play, but in their simplicity lies the real genius: they’re catchy and so raw they seemingly get better with age. They never feel dated, the Misfits have the quality of many of the great classic rock bands, that despite audibly signaling a different era, the concoction was perfect.

Given its basement budget, Legacy of Brutality is still clear despite having any technical bells and whistles. The pace and tonality is frantic. It works because it’s a real DIY recording and without pretense.

These guys were hitting record and nailing everything just as they would live. When punk bands layer guitars and try to be like The Who, it just sucks. On Legacy, the guitars and bass are a murky buzz saw that melds together into one moving wave of crust. No one was doing Misfits stuff, before the Misfits – the spooky tinges of rockabilly on American Nightmare so what Danzig’s mind was on, while Angelfuck is a scream your heart out thrill ride. Come Back is almost a violent country tune, while Some of Kind of Hate has a feverish groove that is a slow burn, but a song that’s considered one of the All Time Classics.

Legacy of Brutality has She, Halloween, Who Killed Marilyn and what’s widely considered the greatest Misfits song ever: Hybrid Moments. But, what makes the record work like a ticking time bomb are all of the musical flavors present, the weird samples in TV Casualty, the sheer blackness of just - everything.


Danzig has had a long, colorful career and has some amazing things in his life, but this is a homecoming, a moment his fans have been clamoring for. Why sure, you can love his vocal range on the later stuff like, How The Gods Kill, but it’ll never have the bite of him screaming, “I ain’t no goddamned son of a bitch, you’d better think about it, baby.”

So many riffs, fashion trends, iconography has been drawn from this little punk band in black from Lodi, New Jersey that was around for six years. But, three decades after they broke up, all of the old guys, the new kids and everyone who got turned on to the Misfits with those ambitious “collection” records is finally witnessing the reunion we swore Jerry and Glenn would never allow. Halloween is upon us.

---------

Legacy of Brutality is available on iTunes, Amazon, etc.


*review mostly unedited*

Aug 10, 2016

Chelle Rose: An East TENnessean indeed, in whom there is no guile

Chelle Rose: An East TENnessean indeed, in whom there is no guile
By Kevin Broughton

One gets the impression Chelle Rose has never met a stranger. Which is odd when you look at her involuntary frown-bordering-on-scowl in publicity photos – a trend that’s been constant since childhood. Whenever a camera’s trained on her, her countenance turns super-serious, surly even. “Momma always said my mouth was gonna get stuck like that,” she says. Lyrics on her brand new album Blue Ridge Blood commemorate the admonition, so much has it always been a part of her (visual, at least) persona.

And that’s the odd thing: Nothing in her photographs or the lyrics on this deep, dark, brooding record matches her actual personality.

She’s happy. Joyful, even. She’s blessed with an infectious, often high-pitched laugh that stands in stark contrast to her smoky contralto voice. And she’s not hesitant to laugh at herself when reminded, for instance, that she’s veered a good bit off course in a conversation. Self-deprecating and totally comfortable in her own skin, Rose is nothing if not the genuine article. There’s nothing contrived about this woman who doesn’t possess, if an hour-long interview is a fair sample, a single ounce of guile in her entire being.

There are a lot of givens when it comes to lifelong Southerners. Here are a couple: 1. We’re used to having our accents be a source of mockery. 2. We can spot fake Southern accents in a movie or TV show in a matter of nanoseconds, and it’s probably going to insult us and piss us off.  Hence the “genuine article” assessment.

Her home state of “Tennessee” is pronounced with a pound of emphasis on the first syllable, not the conventional last one. In the studio, she knows what she “lahks.” Nonsense or unfounded criticism is “just devil doin’s.” While these might foolishly be sources of mockery outside Dixie, there’s an adorable sexiness to them that will buckle the knees of any real Southern man.

She knows and accepts her own limitations. “I’m not a singer singer, I’m an emotional singer,” might sound counterintuitive, until you’ve spent about 30 seconds in conversation.  There’s a difference – and it doesn’t bother her (much) – between “singing pretty” and doing what Rose does.

And singing pretty would have sucked the all the life and authenticity out of Blue Ridge Blood. The Appalachian sense of place – and people – permeate the album. It’s what she is, and what the record is.

“Painstville Table” opens the album with the harsh reality of a hardscrabble coal miner’s life. It sets the tone, with what are maybe the best few lines of authenticity on the record:  “But his lady’s got a baby in her belly, so he’ll trade his dream to a black lung thief. To put food on the Paintsville table.” You can’t manufacture that. It’s too organic, too real. Chapter after chapter in this sonic book they come. “Blue Ridge Blood” isn’t simply the title of an album and a song; it’s a way of life. And Rose’s very state of being.

Life, love, lies, cheating, despair and death. They all get her uniquely Appalachian imprint. “Mean Grandpappy” is particularly poignant, though the listener is left to his or her own interpretation of this painful tune. (And it uses one of the greatest Southern common nouns of all time, “sumbitch.”) It’s the title cut, though, that is thematic for the whole record. And uber-guitarist Buddy Miller leaves his mark on it, though of all things, as a backing vocalist. But again, with the overall dark tone of the album, one is struck by the way Rose can compartmentalize things, and it’s hard at times to reconcile her attitude to this record. 


We caught up while she and her daughter were in the middle of a move from Nashville to her native East TENnessee. She is bubbly and game, not indicating for a moment all the awful stuff she’s been through in the last several years: a long-undiagnosed chronic illness that prevented a tour to support a fantastic album in 2012; divorce from a vindictive spouse; loss of her momma and meeting her biological daddy within a year; and an (accepted) marriage proposal.

And mere hours before our chat, she found out her beloved and brilliant producer, George Reiff, was just diagnosed with stage four cancer. (Hit this link and throw in a few bucks for his medical expenses.) I was surprised she could function, much less do an interview. But she’s a champ. One who’s made a great record.


An awful lot has happened in your life since the release of 2012’s Ghost of Browder Holler, and we’ll get into that in a minute. Ray Wylie Hubbard produced that record, and it has his sonic fingerprints all over it. Blue Ridge Blood is a lot more brooding and deliberate, but a lot of the themes and characters are similar. Was it the songs themselves that pushed this album in a stylistically different direction, or did you start out with the idea of doing a markedly different record?

You know, it’s funny. You can sit and think about what kind of record you wanna make. I know what I don’t wanna make.  Every time I’ve tried to record anything and stick my pinky toe in the water with people around [Nashville] – I won’t mention names – I’m happy in the studio because it’s a creative environment. And then I come home and I’m like, “Oh my God, I hate it!”

I was originally supposed to record “Ghost” at Levon [Helm’s] studio in Woodstock.  This was in 2010, just before he got sick again. He passed in 2012, so that plan was scrapped.  So, I just started going through my record collection saying, “whose songs do I love?” Well, George Reiff produced a lot of them. You said it has Ray Wylie’s fingerprints on it, and it does. But George was a big reason it sounds the way it does. And Ray knew that. George is totally badass, and the coolest dang cat on the planet. He was the engineer and bass player on Ghost. This time he was the producer and bass player, and we just hired a couple of engineers.

But Ray was dipping his toe into producing, and a couple of friends of mine mentioned me to him, and he went online and saw a couple of my (probably horrid) YouTubes. Then I heard him mention my name – as somebody he’d like to produce – on a radio show! Till then I wasn’t really sure if he was real, or like Santa Claus (laughs). Three weeks later I was on a plane to Austin.

This album is more organic, in that the arrangements are real close to how I wrote them. On Ghost, they got changed up a good bit, sometimes in a big way. Like Ray would take chords out of songs, which kinda tripped my head up. But in the end when I looked back at it, he was so brilliant.

Both albums are firmly grounded in Appalachia – both the geographical region and the people in it. Why was that sense of place so important to the point that you titled the new one the way you did?

Well, I was sittin’ in the bathtub thinking of names for a band, and I thought, “Maybe I’ll name my band Blue Ridge Blood.” And I texted a friend and said, “Is this a band, or is this a song, or what?” And he said I needed to write it. So it had been cookin’ for a while.  But to answer your question about how it always trickles in, it’s like the song says, “I don’t think I can even help it; couldn’t get away from it even if I tried.” It just hangs over me. Even if I’m writing about something else, it just comes through. I don’t set out to write about it, but it’s what I have and it’s all I have.

I’ve learned, it’s taken me years to kinda like my voice…

To do what?

Sometimes I like my voice. (Laughs) It’s taken me years to figure out this is what I have. I can try to sing pretty, but it’s still gonna be rough; I only can do what I do. I get bored with myself sometimes and I wish I could do something different, but it’s what I’ve got to work with. But the stories and the characters and places I grew up around…I could write a book. It’ll never go away, and it’s a deep, deep well.  The folks I grew up were storytellers, and I like to tell stories and embellish, too. It’s fun.

Well, tell me the story about how you got Buddy Miller to sing backup on the title track. He’s the best guitar player in…like, the world, and I think his voice is way underrated…

I know…

So, was he just walking down the streets of Austin and y’all shanghaied him into the studio and said “C’mere, we need you to sing harmony on this song?”

(Laughing) No, I have to confess he’s a dear friend. When I came to Nashville 20 years ago, he was one of the first people I went to see. I was a fan back then, and now he’s just the king.

Metaphorically, you can listen to emotional baggage being systematically unpacked over the course of Blue Ridge Blood. In the last four years, you got an overdue diagnosis of thyroid disease, made first contact with your biological father, and met the man you’re about to marry. Is it fair to say the overall dark mood of the record reflects what was happening in your life?

Yeah, and if I were to tell you what happened in the past three weeks, and what’s going on right now…but I will save you that. It’s insane. A lot of life-changing events. [Here a tangent on the recent engagement ensues, to the point of hoping to plan the wedding in a way that won’t burden “the elderly folks” too much.]

Doll Face, that’s awesome, but I wasn’t really asking about your wedding plans.

(Laughing vigorously) Oh, yeah, sorry. What do you want to know, again?

The dark tone of the album, and how it might be a reflection of all the shit that’s gone on in your life the last few years?

I don’t really know. I don’t really think about it when I’m writing. I just write and then I’m done. I don’t really stay in that place, but man, it’s just a really hot topic in every interview now. I don’t think I realized how dark I am, even in my music, till people bring it up. And I’m not dark in my personality, in my everyday life. And that seems to catch people off guard, because I’m a pretty happy person. I can be moody…

But when I sit down to write it just sorta comes out that way. A lot of those events happened after I had written most of this album. Maybe with the exception of “Southern 4501.” I’m looking at the list here, let’s see…I didn’t meet my biological father until late last year, so that’s still kinda new – and lovely – in my life right now.

All of them were when I was sick, though, because I’ve had thyroid disease for a while now.

Well let’s talk about that, because “thyroid disease” sounds scary and mysterious. For those who don’t know – like me – how does the condition manifest itself, and how are you treating/dealing with it now?

That’s really a complicated question, because until I got diagnosed, I didn’t even know where my thyroid was in my body. I had never been sick, never missed a day of work or school. I was that girl. So I didn’t handle being sick with much grace, because I had always been healthy.

It really knocked me on my butt, and I was finally forced to go get blood work. I thought I had cancer. When you’re a momma, you don’t want to know that, and I kept thinking I was just tired. I had just put the record out [Ghost, in 2012] and had been through a rough divorce, and I knew stress could do that kind of stuff to you. I was thinking, “If I could just rest.” There was at least a whole year when I would take my daughter to school and just come home and get in the bed. Then I’d pick her up and make myself fix dinner and help get her ready for her next day, and couldn’t wait to get back in the bed.

Somehow I didn’t go too blue with depression, because that happens with hypothyroidism. So they tried to get me on antidepressants and I said no.  Then, I discovered a book called Medical Medium, by Anthony William, and it’s just saving lives every day. It’s amazing. He’s like the Edgar Cayce of our times. Some people don’t like Edgar Cayce, but that’s just devil doin’s.

Did you just say “devil doin’s?”

(Laughs) Yeah, devil doin’s. But I had to scratch out everything I had learned about my body, and get myself on a brand new protocol. And as soon as I started treating my body like the book said to, I started to get a little bit better every day.

You’ve mentioned that your touring in support of Ghost of Browder Holler nearly put you down, and that you were turning down gigs – and at least one record deal -- before you found out how sick you were. What sort of plan do you have for promoting this album on the road? I mean, you’re a single mom…

Yeah, I have a son who’ll be a freshman at UT this fall, and an 11-year-old daughter. Music and family have always been intertwined with me, but bein’ a momma is always gonna come first, because if I mess that up, nothin’ else matters.  So if it’s summer and I’m gonna do a three- or four-night run, and she doesn’t wanna come with me, for the first time I’ll have family close by that she can stay with. So this will be a new thing for me in that I can go and do more dates, because I have family support now.

Along those lines, I’m curious about audience reaction to this material in a live setting. These aren’t exactly “get up and shake your ass” tunes; do you think you’ll need a certain type of audience and setting for their to be a deep connection?

Absolutely. That’s one of the things I learned during a month-long residency I did at at Family Wash, which used to be a pub in East Nashville. Now they’ve moved into a fancy place, if you will, and it’s a little more sophisticated; it’s a dinner crowd. There’ve been nights when I’ve had a roomful of fans, and other nights where I’m pretty sure no one knew who I was. And that’s great, because that’s how I can gauge…if people put their forks down and get quiet, I know they either love it, or they’re saying “what the heck?” (Laughs)

And I’ll look out and people are either lovin’ it, or “what is that?” Because I think people either love what I do or they don’t like it at all. Like some of the comments on YouTube are, “Well, that’s just nails on a chalk board.”

(Laughing) Well, why would you even read ‘em? Why in the world put yourself through that?

Well, sometimes just by accident. (Laughs) But I really do get why some people don’t like what I do. It is not for everybody. I wish that I could sing differently sometimes, but I open my mouth and that’s just what comes out.

Eh. There’s plenty of girls who can “Sing Pretty.”

Yeah, I guess.  But just the making of this album made me so happy and was so awesome, the rest is just icing on the cake.

-------

Blue Ridge Blood is available on Amazon, iTunes, Chelle's website, and streaming services.

All photos courtesy of Conqueroo

Mar 4, 2016

Robert Dean Introduces Bellringer

In local Austin news, that’s not about breakfast tacos or ironically voting for Trump if Bernie loses, there’s a pretty sick band that’s been creeping into my newsfeed constantly. They’re called Bellringer, and you know what? I understand why everyone’s talking about them.

Typically, as we all know, most local bands suck balls. It’s just how it goes. That’s why radio station “local talent showcases” blow and that dude from your hometown who played guitar and sang Dave Matthews tunes to fuck chicks, still lives in your hometown. But, in Austin – it’s a whole different game. Pretty much everyone here can play Purple Haze, it’s something in the water, I dunno. You could say there’s a lot of talent here if you count you know: Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray, The Sword, Ume, Gary Clark Jr, etc., etc.

Anyhow, back to the hotness of Bellringer. Comprised of some local Austin heavyweights, Bellringer is like if you took the Melvins, Robin Trower, Supersuckers, Queens of The Stone Age, and even some Donovan. Take all of this awesome shit and toss them all into a blender. But, when you poured the frothy riffage drink for consumption, you may or may not have dropped a little something to get weird into the liquid madness to turn it up to 11.

That’s the kind of vibe Bellringer gives off. It’s fast, punky and chaotic one minute, and the next, it’s fuzzed out stoner jams ala Sabbath.


For dudes who like to party, this is the perfect mix because there’s smoke and chill and drink and fight songs – all in one band. And you know what? I support this message.  

The weird array of songs don’t disappoint and there are so many stylistic hints, it’s neat to spiral and weave along a musical journey that’s flooded with influences. The bass can give off a real Helmet sounding vibe, but then once the drums lay in, it goes straight up rock and roll city.


If you’re online searching for some new tunes, give Bellringer a listen. They’re currently hard at work on their debut record, but if you cruise the depths of Youtube, you’ll find some of their songs. Give them a whirl if you’re about to break out the glass and are looking for a good time – these dudes bring it like only Austin could. They’re onto something. 

--------

Robert Dean

Feb 17, 2016

3 Up 3 Down: February 2016


3 Up

Chris Stapleton - Nobody to Blame
It's a surprise to see this still climbing the charts, but an absolute blast and a shock to hear it come on country radio. It's like a guy showed up in boots to a black tie affair, but Garth it ain't. While it's far from the best song on Chris' highly awarded Traveller, it's a hell of a song, and a glimmer… no, it's a high beam on a moonless night.
A

Maren Morris - My Church
Some will focus on the name-dropping and hand clapping and not give this a fair shake, but it's a cool tune. Bluesy, stomping, and honest. Can't help but love the gospel flair in the chorus, tying the whole theme in perfectly. More like this, country radio! Less like "Dibs."
B+

Tim McGraw - Humble and Kind
Simple and affecting. Some may hear this as sappy and calculated, but I hear sincerity. And Tim doesn't have to put out stuff like this. He could still be chasing trends a'la' his misguided "Truck Yeah" era, but the fact that he's chosen to follow his own path and bring mature music to a sophomoric format is a credit to his standing as one of the few remaining artists with ties to the soul of real country music.
A

Bonus: Big & Rich ft. Tim McGraw - Lovin' Lately
A surprisingly catchy effort from a pair who's flown under the radar in recent years with middling songs nobody remembers 5 minutes after they end. "Lovin' Lately" is anthemic and ear-worm worthy, in a good way. The melody is the thing.
B

3 Down

Old Dominion - Snapback
Old Dominion is single-handedly keeping bro-country from truly breathing its last breath. This song has been the source of umpteen memes on Farce the Music and probably will spawn more. It's a straight up piece of crap. Slangy, cocky, sexually harassing. If Robin Thicke and Pitbull showed up on the remix, I would not be shocked in the least.
F

Cole Swindell - You Should Be Here
I applaud Cole for attempting to bring a bit more depth to country radio, but he should have tried harder. Or less hard, as the case may be. Based on real life or not, "You Should Be Here" sounds contrived and focus-group tested. "Bros Cry Too" would be a more apt title, as it drops all the tropes like drinking and hanging out …into a song about death. Maybe my cold black soul has just become too jaded, but an ASPCA commercial has an infinitely higher chance of dragging a tear out of my eye than this.
D+

Michael Ray - Real Men Love Jesus
Michael has a pretty nice voice, but I'm tired of listing songs and I'm tired of people telling what real men should do. I love Jesus, but a lot of people whose manhood you wouldn't dare question just think Jesus was a pretty cool guy There are ways to say this same thing without painting so broadly. Also, the song has little or nothing to do with the title itself. Jesus is just kinda shoe-horned in there with beer and dirt and barbed wire tattoos or whatever.  I'm all for Jesus songs being on country radio, but proclaim Him… live His Word loudly… just don't use Him as a selling point for a middling pop-country song.

C-

Sep 25, 2015

Not Here: The Pollies, Jay Burgess Defy Convention, Raise Bar

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The Pollies. Jay Burgess, second from left, in ugly hat.
By Kevin Broughton

During its print heyday, No Depression magazine made playful fun of the genre of music it had helped define. Each issue would contain a mini-mission statement, the first half of which varied. It might be “shining the light on alt-country,” or “examining alt-country,” but it always concluded the same way: “whatever that is.”

Alt-country, roots rock, Americana…all have been used to attempt to classify or categorize a sub-genre of music that continually evades the pigeon-holing.  Hard to define, but not unlike a Supreme Court Justice’s self-definition of “pornography,” most of us know it when we hear it. But what happens when the edgy becomes mainstream?

“It seems like here lately, Americana is being taken over by folks popping up trying to sound too Americana,” says Pollies front man Jay Burgess. “Maybe it’s subconscious.  And don’t get me wrong, we don’t have a problem being classified as ‘Americana.’ It’s just…” he trails off.

Fitting, as the Pollies’ second album, Not Here eludes any neat classification. Steady, poignant songwriting, tight arrangements and artful production are the constants that make it a compelling record, regardless of classification.

The album, a joint distribution between Single Lock Records and Thirty Tigers (Jason Isbell, Avett Brothers, Jonathan Tyler) opens in a big way. “’Jackson’ is a song we’d been working on and playing for about a year,” Burgess says. “When we got to the studio, we wanted to go back and make it bigger and symphonic. I knew we wanted some strings and a Mellotron in it.” And symphonic it is, along with much of the album, owing to the production’s vision.

Pollies keyboardist Ben Tanner – who splits time with Alabama Shakes – is, like Burgess, a recording engineer. “Ben and I have been friends a long time. I couldn’t make a record without him,” Burgess says.  It’s hard to imagine Not Here without him, especially hearing “Paperback Books,” a longing, ethereal tune that manages to evoke a big, sweeping Pink Floyd sound with just enough pedal-steel lonesome twang.

It’s obvious Burgess and Tanner had definite ideas of the sound they wanted to capture when they went in the studio. There’s a purposeful, deliberate feel to the whole record, reminiscent of what Chris Bell and Alex Chilton accomplished on the tragically under-heard Number One Record from Big Star.

The varied arrangements give Burgess ample opportunity to showcase a wide vocal range. Other critics’ comparisons to Gram Parsons aren’t overstated, particularly on the coincidentally named “She.” His voice can be edgy or melodic, but it’s always poignant.

Burgess, like mentor and friend Isbell, hails from tiny Greenhill, Alabama and is part of the latest generation of Muscle Shoals-area musicians eager to make their marks. (Note: Birmingham music journalist Blake Ells has written a fine book, The Muscle Shoals Legacy of Fame, that chronicles the continual, multi-generational torch-passing of musical legacies; find it.) The common link between Burgess and Isbell was Mr. McCombs, the school music teacher. He left the two with a musical bond that lasted.

“Jason’s always inspired me,” Burgess told Ells. “To me, he’s always been that popular. When he blew up, it was almost like it wasn’t anything new to me. He was a big deal already.” On Isbell’s first couple of solo tours, he made room for the Pollies (or Burgess’s former outfit, the Sons of Roswell) to open shows when possible. It was instructive. “I saw that someone like Jason could have a bad night. I was lucky to see first-hand that not everybody sells out every show.”

The Pollies will have their chance to sell out their own shows on the forthcoming tour. The album’s been finished almost a year, recorded, ironically, outside the friendly confines of Muscle Shoals. “Dial Back Sound in Water Valley, Mississippi offered us a little bit of a deal,” Burgess says. “We wanted to make sure everybody playing on the record was in the same room. We slept at the studio.” It made for an old-school recording experience.

“It’s crazy, but we didn’t have a computer in the studio,” he says. “It makes you use your ears. You can look at the knob all you want to, but you’ve got to turn it yourself.”

The finished product is worthy of the studio that’s cranked out some great work by Junior Kimbrough, R.L. Burnside, Blue Mountain and Jimbo Mathus, and has taken on the moniker “Muscle Shoals West.”

But regardless of the place, another page has been turned in the rich history of the Muscle Shoals Sound. The Pollies have skin in the game, and a record that leaves no doubt they’ve arrived. 


Not Here is available on Amazon, iTunes, and from the Single Lock site.

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