feature

Alex Culbreth #1323

Alex Culbreth & The Dead Country Stars’ latest album, Heart In A Mason Jar, has sent the Virginian across the country on a long-term DIY tour, playing any venue he can find in hopes of seeing the country and sharing his songs.  With influences from other songwriting troubadors like Woody Guthrie and Townes Van Zandt, and fellow DIY songwriters known only to small circles, Culbreth writes songs that are finding a path for himself and seeking out fans.  He writes a lot of music and records much of it, yielding a wide range of projects for someone whose name is still mostly unknown.  As he tours and plays, he refines his work, in search of the right song to play for you. Culbreth has just been added to the lineup for the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival, one he mentions in our conversation.

Liner Notes

Video

Podcast

Shinyribs (Kevin Russell) #1322

Normally, I write a blurb about how great the latest record from our featured artist is, in hopes that you will listen and like their songs, too. This week, however, I am reprinting Kevin Russell’s post after driving through the aftermath of the Oklahoma tornadoes. — SS

Shinyribs on the Moore, OK Tornadoes
The night of the harrowing Oklahoma tornadoes, Shinyribs came face to face with the destruction:

We were traveling on our way home that day from St. Louis at the end of a tour. Being aware of the severe weather threat in the region we checked radar before leaving and saw nothing. By the time we got on the other side of Tulsa things changed rapidly. Suddenly there was a line of Severe storms pulsing across central Oklahoma right where we were headed. We were able to get local TV coverage on our phone just as the Moore twister was touching down. And in utter disbelief we watched and listened to the surreal play by play of that horrific event. We were able to stop in northern OKC to get our wits about us and figure out what to do. We thought we might could get behind the storms by taking I-44 toward Wichita Falls. But, the bridge over the Canadian River was damaged and traffic was at a stand still. The best strategy for us at that point became to get a hotel and hunker down for the night. Watching the local news coverage of the ongoing rescue was sobering and sad. Driving through the debris field down I-35 was even worse the next day. We were fortunate and grateful to be able to drive the rest of the way back to our homes. But knowing many had lost their homes and loved ones in that storm made us, like many, want to do something to help . Over the next few days I pondered on this experience and kept up with the latest news. Without warning one afternoon a song surprised me as I sat at the piano. Had it been a mediocre song I might have just taken what good I could from it and moved on. I often write this way for myself to process the griefs and stresses of life. But, this song turned out to be a significant tune that I felt had value. And therefore it could be helpful on some level to the effort to help those most in need. I sent it to my friends (Oklahoma natives) Cody and Shannon Canada to get their opinions about guiding this song toward its most beneficial place. And now things are progressing towards this goal of recording it and making it available to the public as a means of raising much needed funds. Just trying to do our part and make it as meaningful as possible. – Kevin Russell

Catch the latest solo record, Gulf Coast Museum, from the front man for The Gourds, Kevin Russell AKA Shinyribs HERE.

Liner Notes
Shinyribs Gulf Coast Museum
The Gourds
Lincoln Durham
Neil Young & Crazy Horse (live)
Paul Simon
No Show Ponies
Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes
Band of Heathens (live)

Video
From my favorite online festival, CXCW AKA Couch By Couch West:

Download or listen to the podcast here.

Randall Bramblett #1321

Randall Bramblett’s latest solo album, The Bright Spots, highlights his songwriting and the long-term musical collaboration with Davis Causey–going back before Bramblett’s time with the Allman Brothers, well before their collaboration with Chuck Leavell in Sea Level. Bramblett is known as much for his collaborations as he is for his own songwriting, working in multiple incarnations with overlapping musicians and bands. He’d be perfect for a musical Venn Diagram. To only know his playing with other bands, though, leaves a false sense of who Bramblett is as a musician. His solo records stretch across genres, ebbing and flowing–but always growing. None of his work is nostalgic. The Bright Spots is a great example of continued growth, always looking to cover new ground, not beat a path to a doorway that has already been entered.

Liner Notes

  • Randall Bramblett The Bright Spots
  • Bonnie Raitt Used To Rule The World Bramblett composed this tune and also toured with Raitt.
  • Gregg Allman with Cowboy (Tour & Recording). This tour brought together some Capricorn Records greats from Macon, Georgia, including songwriter Tommy Talton and Scott Boyer’s band, Cowboy, to work with Gregg Allman. This tune, in the middle of Allman’s set, includes Bramblett on organ and sax, Allman on organ, & Chuck Leavell on electric piano, among others. The CD was re-released by Polydor.  Time Will Take Us – Cowboy This set is surprisingly un-Allman Brothers Band sounding. If you’ve never heard it, you should get the album here The Gregg Allman Tour.
  • Sea Level Long Walk On A Short Pier

    from Allmusic.com: “…a bad*** Bramblett blues-rocker with hot guitar from Jimmy Nalls”

    Sea Level took its name from Chuck Leavell, and although it shared many members with different iterations of the Allman Brothers Band over time, the players had known each other in different pairings before their associations with ABB. Think of it more like lots of big fish swimming in a small pond.

  • Driftwood Wanderlust Davis Causey produced this little-known, fantastic record, and played quite a bit on it. If you did not follow this program in its early days, you may have missed our feature of Driftwood and Causey’s instrumental role in bringing that concept record to life. It’s a fabulous album that you really ought to buy.
  • Michael Rhodes played with The Notorious Cherry Bombs The Notorious Cherry Bombs, as well as zillions of other projects. You might remember them as one of Rodney Crowell’s bands, and their infamous tune, “It’s Hard To Kiss The Lips At Night That Chew Your A$$ Out All Day Long.” Yes, that’s a real song.

Video

SteelDrivers #1320

How does a band survive when its founder leaves — and their lead vocalist moves on? The SteelDrivers demonstrate their resilience as a band with Hammer Down, their latest album with their current lineup. Bass player, Mike Fleming, shares his own musical path to bluegrass, shaped by The Beatles and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and the influences of the other band members that keep The SteelDrivers on the edges of their genre and bring in audiences who otherwise do not care for bluegrass — even attracting such notable fans as Adele.

LINER NOTES

VIDEO

PODCAST
Download here or on iTunes.

Browan Lollar #1319

Browan Lollar released For The Givers And The Takers, an EP of his songs backed by someone from each of the hottest bands in Alabama right now in the studio, then promptly joined St. Paul & The Broken Bones on-the-spot one week later.  In the craziness that ensued with joining that fantastic band, Lollar’s EP may not have gotten the attention it should.  As an artist, Lollar is more than a go-to guitar slinger, he also is a visual artist with many notable album covers in his portfolio.  He prefers a complicated scratch-etch with colored India ink method that yields intense designs  that lend themselves to graphic replication, and creatively, this allows him to distill the music he hears on an album into a visual thought that adds to the story.  Although you may know him more for playing with some other bands, Browan Lollar’s EP demonstrates that he has a lot to offer of his own music as well.

Buy For the Givers and the Takers here or Browan Lollar on iTunes.

Liner Notes
The Pollies Where the Lies Begin
St. Paul & The Broken Bones Free EP
Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit (Deluxe)
Big Star #1 Record/Radio City
The Bear Overseas Then Under
Doc Dailey & Magnolia Devil Victims, Enemies & Old Friends The song in this radio show is from their previous album, but they have a new one, too: Catch the Presidents
Pine Hill Haints Ghost Dance
Etta James Tell Mama The Complete Muscle Shoals Sessions

Browan Lollar For The Givers & The Takers I don’t do track by tracks reviews, but I’ll give my impressions of some of these songs because I really like them.
“Freight Train Heart” reminds me of the Replacements a little bit. You know I love them times eleventy zillion.
“Cars” I don’t think they know each other, but this song reminds me of The District Attorneys.
“Hotel Bars and Ringing Ears” Mellow interlude.
“One In Every Color” Intro builds like something familiar? What is it? This song has the lyrics for the title, “For the givers and the takers,” a phrase used regularly by my best friend. This is a dark tune…
“30 Nails” A delicate duet about divorce, that has a shift midway and the instrumentation really spreads the mood. I’m struck by the comments made by BJ Barham of American Aquarium on one of their songs about Bill Corbin’s divorce, “This is a song about divorce and how much it sucks.”


Here’s a gallery of some of Browan’s album cover art:

Contact Browan Lollar for cover art work through Twitter @BrowanLollar

Featured Archive: #1115 Marshall Chapman

UPDATE:  Marshall Chapman has a new record out next week, Blaze of Glory!  Check out the world premiere of one of the tracks here.  This interview from a few years ago was about her last record, Big Lonesome.

Author’s Notes: I’m really trying not to be a giggling schoolgirl when I interview some of my own heroes (see the Kevn Kinney interview), but my conversation with the gracious Marshall Chapman highlights my own excitement when chatting with people I have loved for years. Like a chameleon’s colors, my accent emerges when surrounded by other Southerners, without my control.  I did not notice how significantly I do this until I produced this interview.  Bless my heart

Everybody in South Carolina knows Marshall Chapman, even if they don’t. While she left for Vanderbilt in the 1960’s and basically never returned to reside in the Palmetto State, her hometown of Spartanburg continues to celebrate the free spirit who “made it” in Nashville, although they would likely talk behind her back, given her history.  Some boxes are just too confining.

Leave it to Chapman to release a book, an album, and a movie in the same year.  As she says, most musicians of her experience began “phoning it in” years before.  Her album emerged out of the grief over the death (she hates the word “passing” because it reminds her of gas–it’s okay to laugh) of her dear friend and frequent co-writer, Tim Krekel.  Big Lonesome became Chapman’s love letter to a departed friend.  When asked if she wishes she had interviewed him for the book, she starts to answer affirmatively, then stops, and says, “No, Tim was really Louisville (LOO-uh-vle), not Nashville.  He lived here for a while, but he wasn’t Nashville.”

The musicians featured in They Came to Nashville range from newcomers with a traditional sound (like Miranda Lambert), to Americana icons (like Mary Gauthier (go-SHAY)), to real life friends like Beth Nielsen Chapman (who has possibly the funniest story I’ve ever heard about creative energy needing to find an outlet), to the long list of “old Texas guys” that Marshall Chapman cites as her influences (like Willie Nelson, Rodney Crowell, Kris Kristofferson).  If you have never read Chapman’s essays in Garden and Gun magazine or her first book, you are missing a gem of Southern humor and precision.  She asked each songwriter the same six questions, and includes the “incidentals” like Emmy Lou Harris’ dogs jumping on the tape recorder and her mama shuffling through the room with her walker, bringing the reader into the conversation like a peer.  Contrasting sweet insight with raucous happenstance and her own real-life travails, Chapman writes the perfect “beach book” that even those who do not care for country music will adore.

Marshall Chapman wrapped up 2010 with a stellar character role in Country Strong–a film that critics panned, but movie-goers loved–and featured excellent cameos from many Americana stars likeTodd Snider and the ambient music of Hayes Carll.  While comfortable on stage with a guitar, bringing performance energy to a scene on film proved to be a different creative demand.  Chapman marvels at how the actors (she does not consider herself an actor) exude the light that makes them stars (summary of her words), while they showed that the “real” performance in front of a live audience was terrifying.  Marshall Chapman is many things, and she is absolutely real.

www.TallGirl.com Marshall Chapman’s website

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Songs in Episode 1115 include:


FEATURED ARCHIVE #1151 Joe Pug

Joe Pug spent three years and countless dollars studying to be a playwright, only to discover that he really likes to read.  While college may not have been the correct format for his writing, he brings a lot of theatre theory to his songwriting.  Pug humbly describes his room for growth with arrangements in his songwriting. He uses some of the same concepts from writing farces when developing his lyrics; the stock characters from commedia dell’arte allow a playwright to use familiar characters and create stories around them, likewise, Joe Pug uses familiar melodies and subjects to craft his own songs.  He considers himself more of a lyricist than a songwriter at this point, letting the songs speak for themselves in creating meaning for a listener.

Early on, Joe Pug recognized that social media, especially YouTube can be incredibly effective for independent musicians.  He encouraged taping at his shows and let fans post the audio and video.  Pug matched this grassroots method with his own free promotions:  sending a home-burned CD with 2 or 3 of his songs on it to any fan who sent their address and asked for one–for free.  By controlling the free distribution of his music (to the extent that anyone can control that), Joe developed a loyal fan base who became his “street team” in ways that other entities now copy.  By the time Lightning Rod records came on board for his last album, Pug was able to allow this controlled, free distribution of a limited number of songs to continue.

For a guy who references Steinbeck (hence Springsteen’s “Ghost of Tom Joad” tune), Nabokov, and Chekhov in conversation, Joe Pug’s favorite type of venue may surprise you:  dive bars.  Pug affectionately refers to those dingy, local rock clubs because of their crowds that probably don’t expect to hear a heady songwriter, yet give him their attention and find his music appealing by the end of the evening anyway.  A lot has changed for Joe over the last year; after hundreds of gigs, he is finally getting the recognition for his music that leads to performing arts centers and halls with padded seats and clean floors.  What remains for Pug, though, is the intensity of his performance and gratitude for the road he ultimately chose.

www.JoePugMusic.com

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Songs in Episode 1151 include:

FEATURED ARCHIVE Nora Jane Struthers

UPDATE June 2013:
Nora Jane Struthers’ latest album, Carnival, is a great extension of her writing and playing.  She’s no longer pulling double-duty with Bearfoot, and has put together a fun new band, The Party Line.

Buy this record HERE ON AMAZON or HERE ON ITUNES.

Nora Jane Struthers is one of the most intelligent singer-songwriters with whom we have spoken.  Her lyrics reference weighty authors, like Frank McCourt, Wallace StegnerLarry McMurtry, and Jane Austen, but her music is not laden with false intellectualism.  Think Kate Bush and “Wuthering Heights,” but old time folk. Struthers uses her NYU degree in English Education to craft songs that build a story and use the structure to form the music.  Right now she considers herself a performer who is developing her writing, but her academic background puts her at the front of the class.  We aren’t the only ones who’ve noticed; Struthers is straight off of a win at Telluride with her band.

Her moves from Minneapolis to New Jersey, then New York City to Nashville have all benefited her creative development.  She selects tidbits of her experience and frames them with literary structure to yield a story that is more than both elements.  In her words, “Good art leads to more art.”  Struthers well-known affinity for vintage dresses goes beyond the typical; she is even trying to eat the foods of the turn of the last century, including hard tack and bacon, to accompany her love for fajitas with guacamole and tabouli!  Her seemingly diverse interests contribute to her unique musical expression.

As a rookie in the “Old Time” music scene, she has chosen legends and heavyweights as her mentors, in order to learn from the best.  Brent Truitt and Claire Lynch are her bluegrass professors.  Noted players Tim O’Brien, Stuart Duncan, Dennis Crouch, and Darrell Scott join her on this record, placing her between the star-struck fan and professional colleague.  Struthers notes that the studio musicians with whom she has played help make great songs even better for a recording.  Much of this debut release was tracked live, in a magical, whirlwind session, from which Struthers has yet to land.

www.NoraJaneStruthers.com

UPDATE February 2011:  Since we first spoke, Nora Jane Struthers has joined forces with Bearfoot.  Country Fried Rock looks forward to investigating this new lineup of musicians.

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Songs in Episode 1005 include:

  • 3 from Nora Jane Struthers’ self-titled debut
  • a Gene Autry tribute from the Time Jumpers
  • Peter Rowan with Tim O’Brien, “Jailer, Jailer”
  • Claire Lynch, “Widows Weeds”
  • Darrell Scott, “A Crooked Road”
  • Gold Heart, “My Sisters and Me”
  • Caitline Rose, “Answer in One of these Bottles”
  • John Prine and Mac Wiseman, “Pistol Packin’ Mama”
  • Pearl Jam, “Elderly Woman Behind a Counter in a Small Town”
  • The Grascals with Brad Paisley, “Tiger By the Tail”