Real by Lydia Loveless

Image result for lydia lovelessI’m new to the Lydia Loveless bandwagon. Frankly, I hadn’t heard of her until I started hearing tracks from her new album, Real, from a variety of sources along with the buzz that accompanies a new artist about to break through. I picked up her new album a bit over a week ago and have enjoyed it’s unique sound and vision.

Lydia has been around in one form or another for several years. Her earlier work was heavily influenced by two disparate musical styles, punk and traditional country. With the band establishing punk-leaning grooves, Lydia effortlessly added a barroom-tinged, snarling country vocal. To further illustrate the point, she’s been compared to artists as wide ranging as Loretta Lynn, Stevie Nicks, and the Replacements. She often performs covers from artists like Prince and Elvis Costello in her live shows adding to the unusual ancestry from which her music springs.

On Real, she’s found a compelling blend of punk, traditional country, and pop that feels unique to her. Earlier fans may be disappointed that some of the rough edges have been removed but in many ways this allows the songcraft to show through more clearly. Always acknowledged as a strong lyricist, Lydia plumbs new depths on Real.In fact, lyrically she chooses to embrace a subtly in wordplay exceeding her prior work. These songs need a moment to breathe to fully be appreciated.

Her record company, Bloodshot Records, describes Lydia’s new album in this way, “Real is one of those exciting records where you sense an artist truly hitting their stride, that their vision is both focused and expansive, and that their talent brims with a confident sense of  place, execution and exploration.” Lydia is currently on an extensive tour supporting Real.

For me, stand out tracks include Longer, which appears to be the single from the album, Real, and European. Here’s the official video for Longer:

And here’s a heavier live version of Real from this year’s SXSW festival:

Lastly, here’s a live version of Clumps, the most stripped down song from the album.

Tiny Desk: Milk Carton Kids

I’ll be going to see these guys live as part of the Lampedusa: Concerts for Refugees in just over two weeks at the Sheldon. The bill includes also includes singer-songwriters Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Patty Griffin, Buddy Miller, and the Milk Carton Kids.

Since it will be my first time seeing the Milk Carton Kids live, I decided to check out their Tiny Desk Concert from a few years ago. And now, I’ll share it with you too.

For those of you interested in what this series of concerts is all about, you can visit the Jesuit Refugee Service here.

2016 Americana Music Award Winners

Last night’s Americana Music awards program didn’t disappoint with a slate of deserving awards for the people who make this genre of music so exciting.

To the right, is a picture of  John Prine congratulating Jason Isbell on winning Album of the Year. Jason’s twitter feed includes this picture with this caption: This picture makes up for all the shitty hotel rooms I ever slept in.

The winners are:

Album of the Year: Something More Than Free, Jason Isbell, Produced by Dave Cobb

Artist of the Year: Chris Stapleton

Group/Duo of the Year: Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell

Song of the Year: “24 Frames,” Jason Isbell

Emerging Artist of the Year: Margo Price

Instrumentalist of the Year: Sara Watkins

Spirit of Americana/Free Speech in Music Award co-presented by the Americana Music Association and the First Amendment Center: Billy Bragg

Lifetime Achievement Award, Trailblazer: Shawn Colvin

Lifetime Achievement Award, Songwriting: William Bell

Lifetime Achievement Award, Performance: Bob Weir

Lifetime Achievement Award, WagonMaster: Jim Lauderdale

President’s Award: Woody Guthrie

While not every one of my choices from last spring got the award, I certainly can’t quibble with a single one of these. Now go find that music, folks!

And because we need music in every post, here’s the title cut from Sara Watkins’s new album, Young in All the Wrong Ways.

Farm Aid 2016

Image result for farm aid 2016Today’s concert audio is being broadcast live on Sirius XM on Willie’s Roadhouse. The concert can also be viewed in its entirety today via the Farm Aid website. So far, I’ve been able to catch Jamey Johnson with Alison Krauss, Nathaniel Rateliff, and Sturgill Simpson with plenty more to follow including Alabama Shakes, John Mellencamp, Neil Young, and Willie Nelson.

Enjoy!

Dwight Yoakam’s Version of Purple Rain

I mentioned this upcoming release a few blogs ago. Since then I’ve been trying to find an advance audio track of Dwight‘s take on this iconic song. Found it!

I realize this won’t be to many people’s taste either due to style or because you’re just not supposed to mess with classic songs, but this made me smile for a whole lot of reasons. And there are a few people who might disagree with that don’t-mess-with-classic-songs axiom as well. Just sayin’

Interestingly enough, the first recording session for this song was before Prince died. For some reason, that makes me feel even better about this cover.

Anyway, this link will take you to short article about Dwight’s cover of Purple Rain and a bit about the new album. The audio-only link is at the top of the article. Enjoy!

John Paul White Takes Us to Beulah Land

Image result for john paul whiteA few years ago, I was talking with a friend about harmonies. Knowing the deep affection I have for close, inventive harmonies, he suggested I check out a new album he’d just heard, Barton Hollow, by the Civil Wars. I bought it the next day and instantly became a fan of the duo.

Barton Hollow was, in fact, an amazing musical journey. For me, it rates as one of the great Americana albums of all time in its vision and presentation. The follow up to Barton Hollow, simply titled The Civil Wars, was much anticipated but like any number of Rocky movies failed to fully deliver. While there were many very good songs, the fractures within the duo were on full display. John Paul White and Joy Williams carved out a unique place in the music world and scaled many heights together, including winning multiple Grammies, but their individual wants and needs could no longer be served. Due to artistic and life goal differences, the Civil Wars ceased to be in 2014.

Joy Williams released her solo project, Venus, the following year, but it took John Paul White until now to release his project, Beulah. The wait was absolutely worth it.

In many ways, Beulah is a bookend to Barton Hollow. Steeped in the same Southern gothic lyricism, Beulah also is recorded in much the same way. JP’s delicate acoustic guitar work remains at the center of every song, sometimes standing solo. While there are electric guitars, keyboards, and drums present, they are added as tonal color supporting the song. To replace the harmonies once provided by Joy, the Secrets Sisters offer consistent support throughout the album.

The danger for a songwriter like JP is to deliver an album that refuses to vary itself beyond the quiet and introspective. But Beulah provides a sonic palette that is varied and satisfying without abandoning the subtle, understated tone and lyric composition JP is known for.

Leading off the album is Black Leaf featuring JP’s finger picked guitar. Early on you hear that one unexpected note (you’ll know it when you listen) that draws you in and says “this requires my attention.” As the song reaches the bridge, the key seems to shift and again you are drawn deeper. This is the kind of songwriter JP is.

The Martyr is a featured song on NPR (hear it here) and appears to be the single from the album. With an intro guitar part reminiscent of Rickie Lee Jones’ Stewart’s Coat, this song is a great example of how the band supports the song rather than burying JP’s guitar. Sophisticated chord changes add to the building drama in this song.

I’ve Been Over This Before features the Secret Sisters in their most prominent appearance. A traditional country song minus the pedal steel, this song offers beautiful harmony singing. It’s the kind of song that would have been readily covered by the Everly Brothers a generation ago. It probably comes as no surprise that this is a favorite of mine.

For those looking for a change of pace, What’s So and Fight for You fit the bill. Each allows the band to stretch a bit more and show their teeth. The blues and rock elements to each are evident in the guitar and B3 work. Hope I Die is a song that could easily have slipped into techno synth pop with a lesser producer, but JP and Ben Tanner remain true to their vision and instead rely on a more traditional R&B groove.

This ten song set is solid from start to finish. Even better, this is the kind of album you’ll want to listen to in a darkened room with your headphones from start to finish. I challenge you to simply be present and listen to this one with no distractions. There’s a lot happening here on a number of levels. I’m happy to say this is easily one of my favorite albums of the year.

I enjoyed this interview/article with JP regarding Beulah.

Here’s Black Leaf:

And What’s So:

This one is from Southern Family, a compilation album that Dave Cobb put together earlier this year:

 

Sturgill Simpson Slams CMAs

Image result for sturgill simpsonAs a brief followup to Sunday’s blog, I thought I’d post a link to Sturgill Simpson‘s rant about the current state of country music and the CMAs appropriation of Merle Haggard’s name for a new award. It seems a few other artists are right there with him if Jason Isbell’s twitter feed is any indication (Jason tweets a lot so you may have to scroll a bit). All of this went down yesterday, 8/29/16.

And just because every post needs music, here’s an older Tiny Desk concert from Sturgill.