Alabama

Banditos #1801

Banditos Visionland, Bloodshot Records

Banditos grew as a band through relentless touring of nearly 250 shows per year.  When not on the road, they lived together in a house in Birmingham, Alabama, and later relocated to Nashville.  Their second album, Visionland, is named for a defunct theme park in rural Alabama.  The namesake fell apart due to political corruption and greed, which Banditos see recurring in our national political landscape.  Producer Israel Nash (and Ted Young) kept a calm, creative vibe during their recording. Keeping cool can be challenging with a band of three songwriters and a fully egalitarian structure.

Relocating

Recently, founding member Steve Pierce returned to Alabama, and the band honed their songwriting methods by trying new ways of communicating.  Pierce emailed song ideas from Sweden at the end of the year, and when they gathered again for two weeks, the band worked together on those songs and ideas.  These foundations of their third album show Banditos’ growth as songwriters and performers.

Recording

Banditos hit the road again this winter, continuing their hectic touring, and looking ahead to where they will record their next album.

In Memory of Chris Porter: Shonna Tucker #1707

Shonna Tucker emerged from self-imposed music exile to play bass for Chris Porter‘s final album, Don’t Go Baby It’s Gonna Get Weird Without You. After she left the Drive-By Truckers, she formed a band and released a great album that we featured on a previous podcast. Later, she questioned whether she was meant to play music, and drove a tractor and fed pigs on a farm. Porter’s call to Tucker to play bass came at the perfect time and was just what she needed to jump back into music with both feet. Despite touring together with their former bands (DBT and Centro-Matic), Tucker and Will Johnson had never played together before as a rhythm section, which was a delightful treat for both. A few months after their whirlwind recording, Porter, John Calvin Abney, and Tucker hit the road for an acoustic solo tour, each playing their own songs. Since then, Tucker has joined Pegi Young’s band, The Survivors (along with legends Spooner Oldham, Phil Jones, and Kelvin Holly), and is also available for live and session work when not on the road with Young.

In Memory of Chris Porter: The Mastersons #1706

Friendships run deep when you are a musician. Friends with whom you can pick up right where you left off, after months on the road, become family. Chris Porter forged deep, fast friendships with people in every town he toured, but especially with his tight-knit chosen family of fellow “lifers.” Eleanor Whitmore and Chris Masterson of The Mastersons were family for Porter. The Masterson’s sound permeates his prior album, This Red Mountain. They dropped into the studio one night, just off the plane from tour, to add their sparkle to Don’t Go Baby, It’s Gonna Get Weird Without You. The Masterson’s latest release, Transient Lullaby, was completed but not yet released when he passed away unexpectedly. They dedicated the album to Porter, and often perform the song they co-wrote, “You Got the Last Laugh,” in his memory.

In Memory of Chris Porter: Will Johnson #1705

Will Johnson (Centro-Matic, South San Gabriel) produced Chris Porter‘s final album, Don’t Go Baby It’s Gonna Get Weird Without You, as well as his previous record, This Red Mountain. Johnson produced both albums. Britton Beisenherz engineered and mixed them at Ramble Creek Studio in Austin, Texas. The bands differed in each project, as did Porter’s vision for each album. On Don’t Go Baby, Porter pictured a rollicking rock record. He achieved that with multi-instrumentalist John Calvin Abney (solo, John Moreland), bassist Shonna Tucker (solo, Pegi Young and the Survivors, Drive-By Truckers), and convincing Will Johnson to play drums, yielding a fun rhythm section with Tucker.

In Memory of Chris Porter: Andrea Juarez #1704

Andrea Juarez never planned to release an album. The hair stylist and makeup artist made it happen to honor her fiance, Chris Porter, who passed away on tour October 2016, when their van was rear-ended on the interstate. Mitchell Vandenburg also was killed, and Adam Nurre miraculously survived the horrific wreck. Porter mostly finished tracking his album, Don’t Go Baby It’s Gonna Get Weird Without You.  He recorded it in marathon sessions with Will Johnson (Centro-Matic) , and Shonna Tucker (Pegi Young, Drive By Truckers), and John Calvin Abney (Solo, John Moreland). Bonnie Whitmore hosted a memorial concert to raise the rest of the funds to finish the record, which will be released on the anniversary.

“Shit Got Dark” from Upcoming Posthumous Album, Porter & the Bluebonnet Rattlesnakes

Long-time pal and friend to everyone he ever met, Chris Porter‘s final album, Don’t Go Baby It’s Gonna Get Weird Without You from Porter & the Bluebonnet Rattlesnakes, will be released 10/20 on Cornelius Chapel Records. Porter recorded with fellow Country Fried Rock alumni and friends, Will Johnson (Centro-Matic), John Calvin Abney, Shonna Tucker (former Drive-By Truckers), Chris Masterson & Eleanor Whitmore (The Mastersons), and intended it to be released as a farewell to Austin, TX, to relocated to Nashville. His plans with his fiancee, Andrea Juarez, were cut short by his tragic death while on tour in October 2016, when their van was rear-ended on the interstate.

Keep your ears peeled for upcoming podcasts with several of Porter’s pals on how they worked to make sure his album reached the world, after he left this one. There will be two album release parties, in his hometowns.
Austin, TX 10/21 Stay Gold
Birmingham, AL 11/4 Syndicate Lounge

AmericanaFest 2016

Decided to do a quick podcast update from my 3 favorites at AmericanaFest 2016. Lots more video to come, but here’s a taste of my favorite band that I did not previously know: Ladies Gun Club (Sally Jaye/Sarah Roberts). I also dug a #CFRalumni band that I had never seen play live and the band all my music friends most-suggested to me. Tons of great music all week!

Listen for a feature on Ladies Gun Club soon.

Great Peacock #1516

Great Peacock blew me away during a live taping of their song, “Take Me To The Mountain,” nearly 18 months ago. I’ve been anxiously awaiting their debut full-length album, Making Ghosts, ever since. Recently released on This Is American Music, Great Peacock continues with the roots-based anthems and sing-along choruses, more Southern Indie than Americana.

Buy Great Peacock Making Ghosts here.

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Steelism #1425

The first time I saw Steelism play, I did not realize that they had their own band going; I was at The 5 Spot in East Nashville where they were just returning from a European run with Caitlin Rose. I knew they were sought-after players in mainstream pop country from various television awards shows, but when they stepped up to “play a few of their new tunes” as they said, I had no idea what was to come. Imagine hook-y pop rock with some psychedelic grooves and a danceable beat — on steel guitar. Since their EP, I have been awaiting their new album 615 to FAME.

The album has the magic touch of Country Fried Rock alumnus, Ben Tanner (Single Lock Records, Alabama Shakes) and was recorded partially in Nashville before Tanner came on board, and completed in Muscle Shoals at FAME Studios. Tanner mixed all of the record at his place, yielding a cohesive vibe and putting this record at the top of my instrumental rock list. I love instrumental pop rock. Vocals are polarizing, and for me, this is where instrumentals sometimes reign.

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Buy 615 to Fame and other Steelism music here on Amazon or Steelism on iTunes.

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Hood – Isbell – Cooley reunite at the Shoals Theater

Another fabulous show review from Blake Ells! –SS
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When I saw Jasper native and Drive-By Truckers bassist Matt Patton milling around the lobby at the Shoals Theater at 6:45 p.m. on Sunday, I knew this reunion would not be a full band show. And when, shortly after, I saw David Hood doing the same, I knew that it was just another night in Muscle Shoals. Both were among a collection of recognizable faces and smiles which also included Alabama Shakes lead singer Brittany Howard on hand for the Terry Pace benefit concert in Florence, an event which saw a rare gathering of Patterson Hood, Jason Isbell and Mike Cooley.

The Shoals Theater is on Seminary Street, a block away from Court, and it has stood through the most significant changes that the city has seen over the last half century. While there was Florence Alabama Music Enterprises churning out hit records, the Theater was, as Hood joked, across town showing “Pinocchio and every single Disney movie that was made.” And at some point, it was boarded up, and Hood “dreamed of making it the day he could play at the Shoals Theater.” Over the last 10 years or so, the area has been revitalized, and even though he’s already accomplished the dream, he returned for another intimate set for a worthy cause.

Just after 7 p.m., the trio took the stage while Hood shared that setup. Quickly, the “Hood – Isbell – Cooley” benefit before a room of 700 had become “Storytellers.” Hood opened by sharing stories about his first band with Cooley, Adam’s House Cat, before his first tune, “Tornadoes.” Tuscumbia native Cooley took his turn with “Carl Perkins’ Cadillac” before Greenhill native and later addition to the band Isbell performed “Decoration Day.”

“When I joined this band, I was really young,” he began. “And when you’re that young you’re not that interesting. You don’t have stories to tell. So when your parents would tell you, ‘Now, I’ll tell you this story, but you can’t tell anyone,’ those were the interesting things you wrote about. I guess I could have changed the names,” he laughed.

The rotation continued for the duration. For nearly three hours, the trio swapped stories and shared their songs. Isbell dedicated “Outfit” to his father, in attendance, on Father’s Day, and Hood followed with the admission, “I’m sorry, dad. I love you as much as he loves his dad, but I never could write something to stand up to that.” He then introduced his own “Daddy Needs a Drink,” co-written by Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Spooner Oldham.

The first deviation from Drive-By Truckers tunes came with “Cover Me Up,” the lead track from Isbell’s critically acclaimed 2013 release Southeastern. Hood performed “Grand Canyon,” a tune written in memory of close friend Craig Lieske and recorded on 2014’s English Oceans. And the trio closed its regular set with Isbell’s “Alabama Pines.”

Isbell once quipped of the trio’s sad songwriting, “I don’t want to write happy songs. This is an outlet. The guys writing happy songs have problems – like that nah nah nah nah HEY guy.” It was a pretty perfect summation of the band and the intimate evening, as the audience erupted in laughter.

The trio encored with, respectively, their most personal songs about the Shoals: Cooley with “Zip City,” Isbell with “Never Gonna Change” and Hood with “Let There Be Rock” before closing the evening with a cover of Wet Willie’s “Keep on Smilin.'” While it was all perfect, and while people that I had spoken to had traveled from as far as Colorado and West Virginia, everyone left with a barrier broken down. These three men are three of the South’s most talented song writers, but on this night, it was just another night in the Shoals.

SETLIST: Tornadoes – Carl Perkins’ Cadillac – Decoration Day – Heathens – Eyes Like Glue – TVA – Putting People on the Moon – Goddamn Lonely Love – My Sweet Annette – Women Without Whiskey – Outfit – Daddy Needs a Drink – Self Destructive Zone – Cover Me Up – The Living Bubba – Space City – Danko/Manuel – Grand Canyon – Cartoon Gold – Alabama Pines – ENCORE – Zip City – Never Gonna Change – Let There Be Rock – Keep on Smilin’ (Wet Willie cover)

Fire Mountain #1416

Fire Mountain’s latest album, All Dies Down, is three years in the making, but for a band that has no intention of leaving their day gigs, this works just fine. Don’t let their intentional “weekend warrior” status mislead you, though: this is an excellent album and their live shows equally worthy.  After hearing the debut EP from St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Brown sought out who recorded that collection of songs, and tracked down Les Nuby in Birmingham.  Right in the midst of our web of intertwined bands and friends, Fire Mountain’s album brings them to the forefront of Alabama’s musical rolling tide. In our conversation, we find out mutual bands we love, how shish kebob skewers made this album possible, and the venue that Fire Mountain loves to play.

Buy Fire Mountain’s All Dies Down on Amazon or Fire Mountain on iTunes.

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Hangout Music Festival 2014

Another fantastic festival recap from Blake Ells!
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It’s been said that the Hangout Music Festival in Gulf Shores, Alabama is easier because there isn’t much overlap with bands. While that’s already a misleading characterization, it was especially apparent this weekend as two of the bands that my Country Fried Rock eye was on were playing at the same time on Sunday evening: Birmingham’s St. Paul and the Broken Bones and The Avett Brothers.

That was a difficult decision, but I began the hour at the BMI Stage for St. Paul and the Broken Bones, CFR alums and fast-rising stars, as I was eager to see the band which I have seen numerous times own a festival setting. The band took the stage at 6:15 p.m. on Sunday, sans Paul Janeway, to an instrumental opener, recalling classic soul acts of the past. The frontman followed after, fully suited, while the rest of the band opted to leave the jackets at home for the beach gig. Photo By Blake Ells “In case you don’t know who we are, we’re St. Paul and the Broken Bones from Birmingham, Alabama,” said Janeway as the band’s set continued. To see a massive crowd applaud as the sun set on the festival’s last day was chill inducing for someone that has watched their ascent as closely as I have. Photo By Blake Ells The band plowed through many of the tracks from February’s debut record, “Half the City,” including the eponymous track, “Broken Bones and Pocket Change” and the lead track “I’m Torn Up.” It worked, and the band is grasping for the next stage in their career gracefully as they grow. It’s been a long time since they played in their home state, and they’ll continue a long tour before they announce another homecoming date.

I attempted to see some of The Avett Brothers, but it was difficult. The band has expanded much beyond their original trio-feel, and it no longer feels the same. It’s tricky, because they are in an area of success where they’re popular enough to continue selling more tickets, but they haven’t yet grown into those venues, much like Friday night’s headliner, The Black Keys.

The Black Keys did a secret show at Rogue Tavern in Birmingham in April of 2010. It was just before the release of Brothers, and just before a rarely rivaled ascent to stardom.

The Black Keys were fine, but like The Avett Brothers, I’m not sure they have grown into an arena act or a festival headliner. They would have been better served in the slot before the headliner on the Chevrolet Stage. Their 90 minute set didn’t feature much interaction from Dan Auerbach, other than his insistence that fans should “buy the new record so we can beat Michael Jackson on Billboard.”

The set relied heavily on new material from Turn Blue, released on Tuesday. While the band, now a quartet, opened with “Howlin’ For You” and “Next Girl,” it quickly departed from extreme familiarity, only grazing its early catalog, and relying heavily on El Camino. 

SETLIST: Howlin’ For You – Next Girl – Run Right Back – Same Ol’ Thing – Dead and Gone – Gold on the Ceiling – It’s Up to Your Now – Bullet in the Brain – Strange Times – Money Maker – Ten Cent Pistol – Gotta Get Away – She’s Long Gone – Tighten Up – Fever – Lonely Boy – ENCORE – Turn Blue – Nova Baby – Little Black Submarines – I Got Mine

The 90 minute set didn’t take many creative liberties. It was a collection of three and a half minute songs played as they were recorded. It was fine, I’m just not convinced The Black Keys are ready to headline a major festival.

But Hangout did something creative this year – during The Black Keys, it had Sound Tribe Sector 9 playing, and during The Killers, it had Pretty Lights playing. It was a move that thinned out the crowds for the two rock headliners making mobility much easier. I didn’t noticed how effective it was until Outkast took the Hangout Stage on Sunday, unopposed, and that crowd had returned to the main stage. It made enjoying the first two bands easier.

Amos Lee had a really special performance on the Hangout Stage at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday. He littered his set with covers, including one incredible transition from Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” into Beyonce’s “Single Ladies,” both backed by a Mobile gospel choir. He also included his own “Keep it Loose, Keep it Tight” and “Windows are Rolled Down.”

Modest Mouse and CFR alums Dawes also offered incredible sets. I didn’t get to see the entirety of what Modest Mouse had to offer at Shaky Knees, and I was really pleased with their set at Hangout. It was hit laden, including some of the more notable tracks from Good News for People Who Love Bad News, like “Ocean Breathes Salty” and “Float On,” both terrific soundtracks to the beach setting.

Dawes kicked off their 3:45 p.m. Friday set on the Hangout Stage with “Most People,” and showed an incredible amount of growth from the same young band that played the same festival in its own youth.

There’s a “Little Bit of Everything” at Hangout. There’s an entire stage essentially devoted to the EDM crowd, a stage which I only saw when one act canceled and Flaming Lips side project Space Face came on as a replacement early in the afternoon on Saturday. There’s the smaller stages like BMI and the Red Bull Sound Select Stage which offer an outlet to emerging talents like Wild Cub and Wild Belle. And there are the two main stages which offered everything from Outkast to NEEDTOBREATHE over the festival’s three days. It’s the music festival inside of a beach vacation, and for that, it will remain one of the most unique in America.

I was fortunate enough to run into several new and old Country Fried Rock fans! I’ll be back out and about for Bonnaroo – if I missed you this time, please say hello!