Back in the days when we were a fledgling music blog…
UPDATE: The Farewell Drifters spoke with CFR regarding their June 2010 release, Yellow Tag Mondays. They have another record coming June 2011 called Echo Boom.
Country Fried Rock loves unexpected music. Generally, we do not read other critiques prior to our interviews, so as not to color our perception and expectations of our featured artists. When we chatted with the Farewell Drifters, though, we had been tipped off by another blog, and were planning on hearing bluegrass. Thankfully, we listened to the Farewell Drifters music first, instead of relying on someone else’s word. (Yes, there are music blogs that post without actually listening to the music. We are NOT one of those blogs!)
We think that the Farewell Drifters have been victims of “posts without preparation.” It’s just not old school bluegrass, plain and simple. We hear the Beatles, Ben Folds, and the Beach Boys, and even a bit of beach music like the (original) Drifters, or surf music like She & Him, and a touch of Simon & Garfunkel. Just because there is a mandolin, does not make it bluegrass. It worked for R.E.M. and it works for the Farewell Drifters.
Their new record will release in June 2010, but we’ve had the pleasure of some early snippets, and it is amazing. Their harmonies are tight and gentle, and their instrumentation is precise and clean. Josh & Zack know what they want to create, and they have found a wonderful blend of musicians to complement their sonic vision. They reference recognized talents, as well as some of Country Fried Rock’s friends, like Cadillac Sky and Danny Barnes, as influences. The Farewell Drifters test their new songs on the road, so you may be one of the first hearing what will be on their next album. Through social networking and traditional word of mouth, musicians bring meaningful lyrics to bouncy melodies, paired with intricate guitar work. Check them out, while you still can get tickets to an intimate venue to hear The Farewell Drifters.
The Farewell Drifters performed at the Basement–with a friend on fiddle, causing them to rework all of their harmonies the night before–during Americana 2010. Their voices sounded perfect, and they clearly enjoyed themselves as much as the crowd enjoyed them!
Wow! In 2011, Country Fried Rock featured 50 roots musicians via in-depth conversations, highlighting their songwriting and musical influences. From those, we selected the 40 most-listened to programs, and let our listeners select their Top 10. Hundreds of listeners voted for the Country Fried Rock “Best of 2011” list, yielding a surprisingly clear Top 10.
If you liked any of the music we have featured this year, please consider buying the albums and supporting the musicians who make great songs. All of the songs posted for download are with express written permission of the artists. Please “thank” them by visiting their pages or buying their music. If you buy music through our links, a very small portion also goes to bring you Country Fried Rock in the future. Thanks for supporting roots music & Happy (almost) New Year!
10. Renee Wahl, Cumberland Moonshine
Free download “One More to Go”
1. Stephanie Fagan, Heart Thief
Free download of “You Are the Devil,” first available for our listeners
So, who would you like to hear in 2012 on Country Fried Rock? Leave a comment and let us know.
Rounding out the fan-voted Top 25 of 2011:
25. Dehlia Low
23. The Only Sons
21. Dodd Ferrelle
20. The Avery Set
19. Doc Dailey (My personal favorite of 2011, even though it was released in late 2010.)
18. The Wild Rumpus
17. Matt Woods
16. Mark Cunningham
15. Joe Pug
14. Allen Thompson
13. Packway Handle Band
12. Boo Ray
11. Farewell Drifters
Country Fried Rock freely admits that this was not our best interview, but not because of the gracious and humble Kevn Kinney. We were star struck like a teenager. Verklempt. Tongue-tied. Bordering on giddy. It happens to everyone, we guess.
Drivin N Cryin was the first band that we “discovered” in Atlanta right after their first release. They were fixtures at the Cotton Club, Center Stage, & the Dugout, and local music heroes, with a harder sound than the Athens, Georgia music scene of the time, as if The Replacements were Southern. We used to harrass their manager to let us be “roadies for the night” so that we could get into twenty-one and up shows, but the band was kind enough to do “all ages” shows every so often. A bunch of our friends skipped school to be in one of their videos. If R.E.M. were our music gods at the time, Drivin N Cryin were our accessible local prophets. It’s always unnerving and delightful when your heroes are totally normal people.
Watching some of those old videos, it’s surreal to realize those little kids are now adults, marriages have come and gone, and mature relationships make peace. Kevn’s kids probably wear that old red jacket he always wore on stage. Somehow, musicians do not seem to age like the rest of us, because the music still brings us back to exact moments, places, and friends, often long gone and not really missed, until a sound or smell brings us there. We’re not here to travel Nostalgia Road, but it’s hard not to roll in that direction. Drivin N Cryin are not here to do a reunion tour or revel in the past . Their music has continued to evolve. They have had fame and success, and now are free to create because they want to, without the pressure of having to make it big. Kinney’s distinctive voice lends instant recognition to any tune, and we were surprised to learn that he is not a fan of his own singing.
These days, Kinney is making up for the years he spent touring by educating himself with a self-designed college literature major–sort of like homeschooling yourself with the classics at the “University of Now I’m Ready to Do This.” He is launching a new Truckstop series in Atlanta and enjoying the freedom to create for its own purpose. Not too bad for a guy who was just inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame!
UPDATE: Since we chatted, House on Fire has been picked up by Sugar Hill Records for re-release on March 29, 2011, with an incredible CD release party in Los Angeles at Hotel Cafe.
Country Fried Rock loves technology, so we chatted with Brian Wright via Skype while he toured the United Kingdom, supporting his latest album, House on Fire. (We are not loving the audio quality currently provided with this technology, but we are confident it will catch up!) From the Beatles-inspired “Good Doctor” (think of the stripped down parts of the White Album), to the sparse “Friend,” to the loss of love song “Striking Matches,” Wright played the majority of the instruments during this recording–a departure from his previously live-recorded albums. By contrast, Blue Bird was cranked out in three days live in a studio without overdubs.
Wright maintains his Lorena, Texas roots while absorbing the creative abundance in the Los Angeles music scene. Although his favorite Tex Mex burritos are not adequately recreated in England, he does not feel homesick on his tour. Wright experiences emotional catharsis from playing live, and has toured extensively throughout his career, which allows for a sense of familiarity with life on the road, even abroad. His lyrics abound from his experience and his music evokes The Band, Hank Sr., Left Frizzell, Waylon & Willie, John Prine and Kris Kristofferson. Playing with John Prine highlights his musical career thus far.
Wright’s brain swirls with musical ideas and themes that he wants to create. He describes his creative energy as “a slow burn.” Currently, old blues from Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters, and even Dr. John’s Gris Gris album replay in his head. Perhaps Jeff Tweedy (Wilco) or Conor Oberst(Bright Eyes) or even OutKast might want to collaborate with him on a New Orleans-based dirty swamp blues album. Wright’s albums are never the same thing twice, so we think hooking up musically with New Orleans-based Kristin Hersh would be interesting.
After years on the road in support of artists like Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Cole Degges and the Lonesome (sometimes credited as “Deggs”), and Gavin DeGraw, Wallace headed home to East Nashville ready to write his own music again. Sitting in his music room, he stared at a plastic figurine of Schroeder and decided to write a song from the character’s perspective. A year and a half later, Wallace had written an entire concept album of songs from the points-of-view of the children themselves–conflicted and misunderstood by their peers.
With music influences from his classical piano training as a child (“playing the pop music of 300 years ago”), to his first discovery of the Allman Brothers Band,Chuck Leavell, and Billy Preston, to immersing himself in the Delta Blues of the 1940’s through his early 20’s, Wallace researches his interests, following the trails and connections from one musician to the next as his ear adopts and adapts to each style. For someone who plays at such a high level with such an incredible array of musicians, he keeps a low profile. Wallace left Shreveport, Louisiana, to attend college in middle Tennessee, but brought with him the Cajun food influences of his extended family from south Louisiana, and the “Texas” sensibilities of the Shreveport region.
The self-professed “foodie” appreciates delicious meals, although his own skills in the kitchen are developing. He likes to use raw, local honey in his creamy coffee to help with allergies and also to remind him of the “liquid dessert” that his grandmother hooked him on when he was ten. East Nashville gets a bad rap for its crime rate, which exists, but not at the perceived level of folks across the river. The bohemian neighborhood boasts artists and musicians, and great restaurants, recording studios, coffee shops, and festivals. Wallace encapsulates his part of town with a story of jamming one evening at the Family Wash with a tattooed Tiffany playing a rockin’ version of “I Think We’re Alone Now.” Only in East Nashville…
I am not aware of a website specifically for Jimmy Wallace other than the above linked Facebook page.
…perhaps the oddest description we have ever read for an album. Jaye’s latest release highlights her lovely voice on songs that meld her beloved Kauai and her Nashville locale. Ethereal connotes breathy, but her voice is crisply clean, angelic but powerful. Jaye sings without overwhelming her songs, unlike many women with such vocal prowess and versatility. The Exotic Sounds of Courtney Jaye are exactly that: reminiscent of traditional country, native Hawaiian music, and even a touch of bossa nova.
Few women move to Hawaii with the cash in their pocket and a backpack, but Jaye decided that was the perfect life change she needed at one time. By 2007, she intentionally wandered to Nashville to explore her desire to submit herself fully to songwriting. Much like Jaye herself, songs bubble up in the most unexpected places and times. Her songwriting begins with melodies and the lyrics find themselves in the notes and harmonies. While she is not rigid about writing, she allows songwriting sessions and acquaintances to blossom where those seeds may land.
After leaving a major label following her debut 2005 release, she intended to craft songs for others, and not put out another album herself. While writing and collaborating in Nashville, especially with Thad Cockrell, she realized that the sessions were leading to another album of her own. Jaye launched her label, Tropicali Records, to offer herself the ultimate freedom to create the avant garde but approachable music that played in her head. Through luck and happenstance, she stumbled upon the perfect producer to bring her seemingly unusual combination of sounds to the recording studio. Seth Kauffman understood her concept and coaxed the melodies into this cohesive, innovative album.
Teal Collins and Josh Zee of Austin’s The Mother Truckers both grew up in music-filled homes. Teal’s dad was a jazz DJ and friends with Les Paul, while Josh’s dad was a folk singer who taught him to play guitar. They each learned to play while young, with some differing forays into performance. Collins started out as a child playing ukelele, busking with her girlfriends for candy money, and later got her first guitar from the Les Paul as a gift–which she still plays on stage each night! Zee, on the other hand, wanted to be the guitar soloist that reigned in the 80’s and thrash on stage. Zee’s example of the ubiquity of guitar solos in that era is pretty funny.
The Mother Truckers relocated from the Bay Area of California to Austin, Texas, five years ago, to capitalize on the incredible live music scene. The band enjoyed several residencies in local clubs and support from fans who just wanted to see them succeed. Other musicians not only took note, they shared their love for The Mother Truckers with their own fans. Don Gallardo first told Country Fried Rock about them, and then Phil Hurley of Stonehoney recently brought them up, too–the ultimate compliment from one musician to another. To cap off an amazing year, Little Steven chose their song “Summer of Love” as one of the Coolest Songs Ever.
Now cruising the country in support of their most recent release, Van Tour, The Mother Truckers bring their raucous, high-energy show to venues from Texas to Germany & Denmark through early fall 2010. Volkswagen seriously missed the boat, so to speak, on sponsoring this one! Could you imagine the cool Westfalia caravan? We think they ought to get some support from Trick My Truck for their next extended US adventures. Wouldn’t that be cool? (…and can we come, too?)
Stephanie Fagan married, started her second record, moved to Germany, waved her husband goodbye while he went to Iraq, returned to South Carolina, finished the record, played to a standing room only CD release party, and went home to Germany–all in less than a year. The twenty-something songwriter from the country takes it all in stride, and has already written her third album while her husband serves our nation. Fagan describes her first effort as “trying to sound like a singer-songwriter,” but Heart Thief comes from a more personal and genuine moment in her life, post-college, pre-marriage, in a comfortable limbo of adulthood.
Fagan wrote the first single, “Beautiful Man,” as a “platonic love song” to her former roommate. Thematically, her songs cover everything from being hungover in a greasy spoon diner to being irritated with oneself for obsessing over a former love to a sweet-sounding “I hate you” song. Her tunes are catchy, but not bubble gum. With a cast of players including nearly every professional musician in her hometown, the tunes are layered with instrumentation and ambient sounds, reflecting the public folk music that greatly impacted her appreciation for German street performers. Stephanie tells an amusing tale contrasting the complex pedal steel that only took an hour to record with trying to get the sound of gentle wind chimes, which took five hours!
Fagan is a self-described “lyrics snob,” with melody and instrumentation coming in far behind. She also is a product of her generation–she grew up listening to singles, and only recently has discovered the pleasure of an entire album. Interestingly, this has led her to re-examine some of her former favorite songs and find the artists’ deeper catalogs and histories–a completely novel concept to Fagan! Prior to the last two years, she could not even identify artists, simply individual songs, but at the encouragement of the producer, Missy Jones of Yonder Music, Fagan began to immerse herself in albums from start to finish and found that the cohesive concepts greatly improved her own writing for this record. Stephanie’s voice needs no “fairy dust” to bring forth meaning beyond her lyrics. Her live performance, whether backed by a full band, in an acoustic duo, or just with her guitar, remains true to the recording yet stands on its own. If you enjoy her live, you will appreciate the album, and vice versa. Heart Thief accurately reflects songwriting to which many people can relate and enjoy.
Looking like the lost love children of Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers Band–in a good way–Blackberry Smoke rocks a country tune. Charlie Starr brings his father’s appreciation for old time bluegrass gospel together with his mother’s love for Elton John, the Beatles, and Bob Dylan, and his own early rock influences of the Rolling Stones and Guns N Roses to create one kick-donkey record. The brothers Turner, Starr, Paul Jackson, and Brandon Still comprise Blackberry Smoke. They’ve finally gotten recognition for their straight up Southern Rock from a label that can offer support like Bocephus’ mid 1980s tour bus. Good karma there… (see note at end)
Listening to their current release, Little Piece of Dixie, one can picture bike week bankers, Nascar infielders, and long-neck loving lawyers all giving a resounding “He!! yeah!” when “Good One Comin’ On” cranks up. Don’t let the long hair and extraordinary mutton chops fool you; Charlie Starr is intelligent, insightful, and intriguing. He knows exactly what influences him musically and lyrically, and writes songs with the band that speak to a broad range of fans.
Starr reflected on Bill Monroe, who he calls the “Bluegrass Sheriff,” and true bluegrass music, “Lean your head back and bellow it out with a high lonesome singing voice, on top of a powerhouse of music, way ahead of the beat, just chuggin’. That was the only way they knew how to sing. Journey ruined bluegrass; most of it today is just a weird folky song with a banjo on it.” As we’ve heard from several musicians, “What is bluegrass?” can be fighting words for some people. Bringing the bluegrass and rock influences full circle, we chatted about the outtakes from Exile on Main Street, where Starr quotes Keith Richards, “Don’t $%^ with the bible,” and a Southern favorite, “Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.” (Fellow Stones fans may commence fisticuffs now…)
Members of Blackberry Smoke worked together as the backup guys for another artist, and as that fell apart, the core trio brought their own songs to the emerging group and realized that they needed two more players to create the sound they wanted. As they demoed with various studios in Atlanta, the invitation to work with songwriters in Nashville brought a new structure to their creative process, which seemed daunting at first, but developed into several comfortable creative relationships with writers that the band continues to forge. Despite their rock-style performance persona, the guys enjoy an occasional acoustic performance for the right crowd, since it is much more like the process where songs are written, like friends picking on a back porch. Even Ray Wylie Hubbard, the writer of Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Up Against the Wall“–(referenced in their song “Good One Comin’ On,” and celebrated musician especially of late) caught their acoustic act in Austin.
UPDATE: Since Charlie and I first chatted in 2010, Blackberry Smoke has signed with Zac Brown’s new Southern Ground Records.
The second of our musicians with names derived from card playing, Dehlia Low brings their twist on old time music to new audiences. Greg Stiglets, “Stig,” began playing an air organ as a child, rocking popular movie themes, and picked up the guitar at 14 when he realized that instrument held more appeal for teenage girls than the funky organ. The skateboarding devotee hid his appreciation for Bob Dylan and Neil Young from his Ice T- and Ice Cube-listening friends. The young shredders of Jackson, Missippi, spent time watching Yo! MTV Raps! and expressing their angst in a combination of thrash metal and hiphop mixed with a little punk music.
Stig’s lowkey, self-effacing humor runs throughout our conversation, with such gems as, “I left the skateboarding scene when I was no longer at the top of my game. I couldn’t do the tricks anymore. My body wouldn’t keep up. Sixteen is tough on a guy,” “I couldn’t bust a rhyme even in my own bathroom. Thus ended my hiphop career,” and “It was decided that I was not practicing enough, and after three lessons, I no longer needed guitar instruction.”
He wore out his End of the Innocencealbum, but mainly enjoyed the music because Don Henley had long hair & Stig’s parents wouldn’t let him have long hair; it was the appeal of “the sensitive ponytail thing.” After a few years dedicated to following the band Phish, Stig moved to Asheville, North Carolina–not realizing there was a vibrant music scene. He quickly joined the bluegrass jam at Jack of the Wood and realized that he needed to learn the bluegrass standards if he was going to get any recognition as a player. When Dehlia Low added him to the band, he joined a group of accomplished musicians and singers with very democratic governance and high standards.
Driving back from the beach in a torrential storm, I finally pulled off in an abandoned hotel parking lot near UCLA (Upper Conway, Lower Aynor, South Carolina) when the wind was blowing the rain sideways and my econobox was hydroplaning. About 15 other trucks and cars waited for the rain to let up. I opened the Cedar Creek Sessions and laughed out loud when “White Knuckle Wind” played, pulled out my phone, and tracked them down on the spot to set up an interview. The next week, I chatted with Phil Hurley of Stonehoney for Country Fried Rock.
I am completely biased; I love this album–every song on it. Although the style differs, it puts me in the same frame of mind as the indie release of Space Wranglerfrom Widespread Panic did. I was singing along on the first listen. The Cedar Creek Sessions is a fantastic driving record, for either long road trips or just the morning commute. Go ahead and roll the windows down and sing out loud. The people stopped near you just might join in on the chorus. No matter what, you’ll enjoy the ride. I cannot wait to catch them play at the Americana Music Association Festival 2010 in Nashville.
I’m not sure how Phil Hurley manages to not be jaded, but rather he is freed by his early success in the music business; the guy played on Letterman when he was twelve! Hurley has flirted with the highs and lows of record deals, hitmaking, and anonymity, and now with the musicians of Stonehoney, they are attacking success via music methodically, professionally, and deliberately. They know exactly what they want, and how they want to get it: by playing their music the way they want to, for audiences who love it.
UPDATE: Caught Stonehoney at the Americana Music Association festival 2010 at the Mercy Lounge. Their live show is even better than Phil described. They perform for the crowd–who was really into their music–and are tight musicians and live harmony. They really do sound just like this record. The Cedar Creek Sessions is a great representation of their live show. Definitely check them out if you get a chance.
UPDATE #2: Stonehoney is on indefinite hiatus, but you should still check out this record.
…not your typical “Dueling Banjos” style at all. Country Fried Rock chatted with Danny Barnes about his recent album Pizza Box and his mathematical, but not mechanical, songwriting style.
Pizza Box streams live on his site, and can be purchased digitally or via CD. Barnes explains his motives for creating and following his own lead in the music business. Our conversation is for the non-musician, new to his music, and looking for songs of substance.
When Country Fried Rock began, we had not yet developed the radio programs or posts. Enjoy this early start to the show, including our Twitter stream from Danny Barnes’ showcase at the Station Inn during Americana Festival 2010.
u know ur in love when ur life is better than ur dreams @wildknees #americana
10:39 PM Sep 10th via txt
hypnotized by her bloodshot eyes @wildknees #americana
pizza box @wildknees! hope he plays miss misty swan #americana
crowd definitely “gets him” now @wildknees #americana
i think ppl just “got” @wildknees sense of humor #americana