Neal Casal

Alumni Update: Hard Working Americans

Sort of an Alumni Association party for Country Fried Rock, combining the various talents of our alumni, Neal Casal (Chris Robinson Brotherhood), Kevn Kinney (Drivin N Cryin), and Kevin Gordon with the band assembled by Todd Snider and Dave Schools (Widespread Panic).

Buy their music here Hard Working Americans on Amazon or Hard Working Americans on iTunes.

Here’s how Hard Working Americans describe themselves:

What do you get when you take a batch of incredible songs, five veteran players who have never played together, with an arsenal of five musical minds working in unison to reinvent them? You get Hard Working Americans. Hard Working Americans is the self-titled debut from this new musicians’ collective, scheduled for a January 21 release on Melvin Records/Thirty Tigers. Genres meld seamlessly with the birth of this group, featuring artists from the Americana, singer/songwriter, experimental, jam and rock communities. Hard Working Americans is: Todd Snider (vox), Dave Schools of Widespread Panic (bass), Neal Casal of The Chris Robinson Brotherhood (guitars/vox), Chad Staehly of Great American Taxi (keys) and Duane Trucks of Col. Bruce Hampton’s school of music and Trucks family lineage (drums).

Hard Working Americans features 11 tracks written by a range of artists that include Randy Newman, Lucinda Williams, Kevin Gordon, Hayes Carll, Kevn Kinney (Drivin’ ‘N Cryin’), Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings, Brian Henneman (The Bottle Rockets), Will Kimbrough, Tommy Womack, Kieran Kane, Chuck Mead (BR5-49), Don Herron and Frankie Miller (Elizabeth Cook). As the five band members came together, they had no idea what to expect. Snider, known more as a songwriter than interpreter of songs, would just start singing and clapping, which then set the creative ideas in motion with his new band mates. This was uncharted territory as the players had not worked together previously, but it became an uninhibited, creative and fruitful environment as their chemistry was almost instant, a very pleasant surprise. In the end, the group created fresh and uniquely original arrangements of great songs, led by Snider’s intrepid vocals and backed by a band of virtuosos. The songs were then sequenced in an order that tells a story of the everyday person, the blue-collar worker, the frustrated, the struggling, the Hard Working American.

Hard Working Americans was produced by Dave Schools and Todd Snider. Special guests include John Popper and John Keane. The album was recorded at Bob Weir’s TRI Studios is San Rafael, CA, mastered by Bob Ludwig and mixed by John Keane. Look for Hard Working Americans on tour in early 2014.

Kenny Roby #1317

Kenny Roby returns to music with a dark record, Memories and Birds. Roby describes it as a “slow burn,” an album that builds as you listen to the entire sequence. You cannot miss the vocal hint of Elvis Costello in Roby’s voice, which surprised me, as I had not noticed that back in the 6 String Drag days. This is not a nostalgic record–it is totally new territory for Roby. Make some coffee and slowly wake up on a weekend morning with this record on repeat. You’ll find yourself reaching for it again, as the lyrics slowly burn in your psyche and emerge at the strangest times. Roby has made a memorable album, but not one that jumps up in your face at first.

Liner Notes

  • Kenny Roby Memories & Birds
    “Memories & Birds,” “Tired of Being in Love,” “The Monster” Roby was also the founder of 6 String Drag, a band signed to Steve Earle’s label, E Squared, in the 1990’s. They recorded 3 or 4 albums, depending on who you ask, 2 of which were released. Roby also collaborated with previously featured songwriter, Neal Casal.
  • The V-Roys Sooner or Later Sooner Or Later “Cry” This is another band with many branches that have touched this program, including Scott Miller (and the Commonwealth, not the guy from Big Star who passed away this April), John Paul Keith (now of the One Four Fives), & Mike/Mic Harrison (and the High Scores).
  • Two Dollar Pistols Here Tomorrow Gone Today
    “Here Tomorrow, Gone Today” We’ve played several songs from the guys who were in this band at various times on this program. They’ve backed Tift Merritt, as well. John Howie still fronts a band, The Rosewood Revue, and the original drummer also played for the Squirrel Nut Zippers. I think those are all the branches of the family tree that touch this band that have been on this program!
  • 6 String Drag “She’s a Hurricane” on 6 String Drag 6 String DragHigh Hat High Hat & 6 String Drag are not currently available on mp3, so these are CD links. There’s a long-standing rumor that some deluxe re-issues of these 2 albums and some other bootleg material might get released. My fingers are crossed! Rob Keller of the band has a great bluegrass band, The Welfare Liners, who we will feature soon on the program.High On A Hilltop
  • Tim Easton Beat the Band “Nobody Plays Piano in Athens, GA” Roby will be on the road with Easton later this year.

Country Fried Rock Best of 2012

Click to page 3 to listen to the Best of 2012.

Click the titles to purchase on iTunes.  Click the album covers to purchase on Amazon.

25 The Shovel vs. The Howling Bones – Lincoln Durham

Lincoln Durham started playing violin at age 4 via the Suzuki Method of instruction. By 8, he was hiding on stage facing the wall playing fiddle with the Osceola Opry–a loose association of players who met monthly in an old wooden schoolhouse to cover Hank Williams and Bill Monroe songs for the gathered farmers and country folk. Durham picked up the guitar in his early 20′s, which captivated his interest more than the fiddle ever had. Wandering through a period of singer-songwriter expression, Lincoln still felt pulled by something different in music, but had not been able to define it for himself, let alone have it clearly expressed in music. CONTINUE

24 Michelle Malone: Day 2

This album is currently only available directly from Michelle Malone HERE.
Michelle Malone was part of the Atlanta music scene that evolved from the Indigo Girls’ success, enjoying national attention for the music of Shawn Mullins, Tinsley Ellis, and Drivin N Cryin, with her band at the time, Drag the River. The confluence of blues-tinged Southern music at the time made for an exciting music scene, that was later replaced by the still-dominant hiphop scene. Atlanta is a weird place filled with temporary residents who are not from the area, but it is also a collection of neighborhoods with their own identities and people who are part of the arts culture and give different places their distinct vibes. It is from the latter community that Michelle Malone emerges, not as an ingenue, but as the definition of the Atlanta rock sound–Southern, blues-touched, guitar-driven, but still about the song. CONTINUE

23 Sweat Like the Old Days – Holy Ghost Tent Revival

Holy Ghost Tent Revival took their lowest point in the last five years and used it as a reason to find a new sound and revive their music. It’s not any easier to pigeonhole their work than it was before the departure of their bass player and harmony vocalist, but their music is definitely easier to dance to now than it was before. Despite having almost nothing in common with bluegrass music, they are often lumped in there with old time bands–great for a festival lineup, but inaccurate in categorization. Think of the Avett Brothers with a horn section, and you are much closer to the sound of Holy Ghost Tent Revival. CONTINUE

22 Two Step Silhouette – The Corduroy Road

The Corduroy Road‘s fans sounded alarm bells when the band left their life on the road for a long hiatus, but after nearly an eight-month break, the core of the band emerged with some new players in the lineup, refreshed and ready for the next phase of the band. The Corduroy Road musically balances between Americana and bluegrass in the dance-able area we refer to as “upbeat string band.” Their songs make you move, and you might even miss the weight of some of their lyrics, such as a hunter stumbling upon a meth lab in the woods where the meth-farmer and sheriff are in cahoots. Southern Gothic lyrics to outsiders, perhaps, but just another day in the country to some of us enmeshed in baffling small-town alliances. CONTINUE

21 Death of a Decade – Ha Ha Tonka

Ha Ha Tonka records flow thematically, bound together by a premise or idea, but not so tightly as to be concept albums. Initially, the themes were obvious, like Buckle in the Bible Belt, moving towards historical, as evidenced in the album artwork for Novel Songs of the Nouveau South, but for their recent record, Death of a Decade, the idea that emerged from which these songs began surprised me: Michael Jackson’s death. As Brett Anderson explains, every decade their seems to be some iconic political or entertainment figure who passes away, somehow creating endpoints for their times by their death. Jackson was a controversial figure in life, but even his greatest detractors accede that he was one of the greatest entertainers of our era. With Michael Jackson’s passing, it was the death of a decade. CONTINUE

20 Come Home to Me – The Famous

The Famous bring together a punk influence with traditional country, yielding music that seems to emerge only from California. I always imagine skateboarders who listen to country, not for the irony, but for the cool-factor. In the case of The Famous, though, their music is as much a product of the craft brewing scene as anything else. From brew pubs to brew fests–even a song in homage to their favorite beer–The Famous have found a well-heeled, selective audience for their music in the greater San Francisco Bay region. CONTINUE

19 Waiting All Night – Derek Hoke

Derek Hoke left rock and roll in the dust years ago, finding a new sound, which he dubbed “Quietbilly,” a gentle, sweet rockabilly, now twinged with some Southern blues. His previous album, Goodbye Rock and Roll, clearly cemented Hoke’s distinguishable sound, but his recent release, Waiting All Night, explores a wider variety of rhythm, while still being a Derek Hoke record. Producer and childhood friend, Dexter Green (of Sea Lab Sound), partnered with Hoke on the project, taking their time to call upon friends to play on songs between their own touring schedules. The list of guests reads like a Who’s Who of East Nashville and legendary sidemen, and reflects on Derek’s ability to make his peers feel at ease. CONTINUE

18 Bird In The Tangle – Brett Detar

When Brett Detar ended his band, The Juliana Theory, he was not sure he would ever play music again. Seeking a change, he became the customer service department and chief stain remover for his wife’s vintage clothing shop. Detar fully escaped music, trying to evade his self-doubt about his ability to write songs or be an artist at all. During these years, every scrap of paper of a lyric or theme crammed into a box, waiting for Detar to make them into music. CONTINUE

17 Slowburner – The District Attorneys

The District Attorneys live across north Georgia, ranging from Atlanta to Athens, managing to bridge the musical divide of these very different cities–one that is much wider than the lanes of I-85.  With two homemade EP’s (which you can download for free from the band) and their first full-length record on This Is American Music, The District Attorneys have already refined their sound, bringing bare bones indie-pop together with twangy Georgia roots, as if they are the new representatives of Southern jangle pop.  Slowburner solidly places this band in with the list of best debut albums in roots music this year.  (So, I am biased. I love this record.) CONTINUE

16 Gloryland – Kevin Gordon

Kevin Gordon’s album, Gloryland, explores the blues side of roots music, with lyrics that would make the Drive-By Truckers jealous.  Gordon grew up in Monroe, Louisiana, and although he has been away for decades, the reality of life there and the people he knew bring grit to rural life without glorification.  Glorylandis not about redemption or salvation, and definitely not about glossing over the seamy and sadistic side of life in the deep South. CONTINUE


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#1222 Neal Casal

Neal Casal’s tenth solo album, Sweeten the Distance, needs to be in your car for every road trip, both the adventures across wide distances and the ones in traffic that you must abide. At first, the music is pleasing, but does not necessarily grab me, until I realized I had listened to the entire album more than once without ever clicking forward or changing it. As I turned it down to listen to my GPS, I realized that I was singing several of the songs in my head–although they had not appeared to be “catchy” on the surface. It took about a day to realize that Sweeten the Distance was one of my favorite first-to-last albums in a long time.

For those of you familiar with Neal Casal’s work as a side man and band member of Ryan Adams and the Cardinals or Chris Robinson Brotherhood, the mellow, 1970’s California vibe of his solo work may surprise you at first. His lyrics will end up in your head and the meaning will develop as you realize what you are singing inside. Immediately after I posted that we would be talking for Country Fried Rock radio, friends commented that Casal is the best sideman in the business, their favorit guitar player ever, or the person with the most interesting “music family tree.” As a person with a strong visual sense, though, I knew that I had seen his name in another context, but it did not readily dawn on me.

Suddenly, past featured artist, Courtney Jaye, popped into my head: Neal Casal had taken the photos for her last record! That’s where his name was also familiar–album covers, photos of musicians and friends, and his “coffee table” book. Photography evolved for Casal from both opportunity and intense creative drive. Because he travels constantly as a touring musician, Neal realized that he was forgetting places and wanted to document the cities and towns and people he saw on the road. Creatively, this interest in documenting his life extended to photographing his musician-friends and then intentionally being the photographer of others’ music and several album covers. That constant pull to make something new is already forming new work for Casal, as he describes in our conversation.

Songs in Episode 1222 include:

  • Neal Casal, Sweeten the Distance, “Need Shelter,” “Let It All Begin,” “Time and Trouble”
  • Jackson Browne, live acoustic, “Take It Easy”
  • Beachwood Sparks, “Forget the Song”
  • White Denim, “Home Together”
  • Six String Drag, “She’s a Hurricane”
  • Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, “Destroyers”