Singer-songwriter Dave Alvin appeared on the tough, violent TV drama “Justified” and lived to talk about it.
“I consider that a great achievement,” Alvin says with a chuckle.
He guest-starred as himself, fronting a band in a bar. And it didn’t hurt that “Justified” creator Graham Yost is a big Alvin fan who wanted to use Alvin’s music in the show to represent the inner voice of the lead character, U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant).
Alvin, who plays Off Broadway on Friday, has had four songs featured in the FX series: “Harlan County Line,” which he sang in the barroom scene in Season 2; “Every Night About This Time,” from deep in Alvin’s catalog; “Beautiful City Across the River,” written for the show; and “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive,” a cover of a Darrell Scott song that closed the recent Season 4 finale.
‘There’s a world of wisdom inside a fiddle tune,” Jay Farrar writes on the smart and evocative new Son Volt album “Honky Tonk,” a work that embraces the band’s early sound as well as that of classic country music.
Farrar hasn’t explored the fiddle and steel guitar vibe so extensively since “Windfall,” the first track on the first Son Volt album, “Trace,” in 1995. It’s a sound that was reinforced for Farrar over the past few years as he sat in with his brother Dade and new Son Volt player Gary Hunt in their St. Louis band Colonel Ford.
Farrar, a Metro East native and co-leader of the groundbreaking alt-country band Uncle Tupelo in the early ’90s, calls the fiddle a “transcendent instrument.”
“I wanted to explore the twin-fiddle sound, which is really something that speaks to me, and which I got to witness first-hand playing around town with Colonel Ford,” Farrar says. “It’s a powerful sound; it draws you in. There’s a natural chorus effect on the fiddle. The pitch is just a little bit off, and it’s an intriguing sound.”
Rockers took over the stage for the third night of Twangfest 16 at Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room on Friday, and they were greeted by a sellout crowd, the largest in recent memory.
As the hour crept past midnight, the audience remained strong, active and loud for Ha Ha Tonka. And the Ozark band once again delivered a smashing set of music that mixes an indie rock vibe, Midwestern sincerity and Southern mysticism that no other band can match.
Ha Ha Tonka had to be on its game, because it followed co-headliner Langhorne Slim (the two acts are touring together), who brings boyish charm and energetic angst to a deepening catalog of rich music.
Opening was Kasey Anderson and the Honkies from Portland, Ore., a straight-ahead, four-man group of three-chord rockers fronted by Anderson, who connected to the crowd right away. His St. Louis references were delivered with self-aware irony: He knew he was pandering, so did the crowd, and both parties enjoyed it.
(Thanks to recording fiend Jeff Regan for an mp3 of “Wet Vac.”)
Friday night’s thunder and light show again flummoxed University City’s storm and sanitary systems. As drains backed up and the tide rose across the floor of Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room, I remembered that Nora O’Connor had the perfect song for the occasion in her catalogue: her cover of Tom Waits’ “Looks Like I’m Up Shit Creek Again.”
It wasn’t needed, because she and the rest of the crowd on the third night of Twangfest 15 listened in delight as headliner Robbie Fulks riffed twice on improvised songs.
As fans in sandals and flip flops sloshed in an inch or so of stinky water, Fulks and O’Connor battled a wet vac droning what Fulks judged to be middle-E and inspired what we’ll call “Wet Vac”:
“While the water came into the club/ the wet vac worked very hard./ Twangfest would not be ruined by the water/ so we diverted it into someone’s back yard./ While the rain in St. Louis couldn’t stop the Twangfest when they brought the wet vac out/And to the sound of the wet vac E/ all the (unintelligible) got to scream and shout/ (shouting) WET VAC … WET VAC … WET VAC … wet vac.”
Later, Fulks improvised the more involved “The Duck Room’s Goin’ Down.”
The wait was more than worth it. Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis dazzled in a rare performance together Thursday night, their songs simultaneously reaching out to the head, the heart and the gut.
Headlining the second night of Twangfest 15 at Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room, Mr. and Mrs. Robison, backed by Will Dupuy on bass and Geoff Queen on pedal steel and guitar, offered 20 tunes over an hour and 20 minutes.
The set list mined the catalogues of each to good effect. But what made the night extra special was a handful of new duets that the couple unveiled, hinting of a career merger after about two decades of individual success.
It’s simply criminal that their mixture of country, pop and folk isn’t played on radio here, with the notable exception of Twangfest sponsor KDHX (88.1 FM). From the opening notes of “Sweet Sundown” to the closing masterpiece “Angry All the Time,” Robison and Willis displayed the honesty and simplicity that makes great songwriting.
“Doesn’t anyone care about truth anymore?” roots rocker Hayes Carll asked Wednesday night at the Pageant, then answered his own question: “Maybe that’s what songs are for.”
That lyric, from the wonderfully titled “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart,” closed out Carll’s encore and the opening night of Twangfest 15 at the Pageant, and a lot of what came before it from Carll and Elizabeth Cook had a lot to do with truth, broken hearts and, yes, bad livers.
Both artists are veterans of St. Louis’ roots music festival. Cook was making her third visit, Carll his second. But Carll’s represented a huge career leap from three years ago, when he opened for the Old 97’s at the same venue.
This time, fronting a full band led by guitarist Scott Davis, Carll was talkative, funny and charming, both in song and between them. He played 10 of the 12 songs from his new CD “KAMG YOYO,” military slang for “kiss my ass guys, you’re on your own.”
Carll and band brought out the CD’s stunning musical variety, from the rock of “Stomp and Holler” to the Irish-folk of “Bottle in My Hand” to the classic country sound of “Chances Are.”
This blog is intended as a place for fans of roots music — country, alt-country, roots rock, blues etc — to get together and discuss and critique our favorite music. I’ve been writing about music for many years for mainstream newspapers, and I’m looking forward to freeing my inner fan.
For the past 10 years, I have worked as a copy editor for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, writing about music for the Everyday, Get Out and A&E sections: CD and concert reviews, concert previews, artist profiles, and Best Bets and Critic’s Picks. A link to those stories can be found on the Story Library page of this blog, or here.
Future posts will consist of original stories and reviews, as well as stories published by the Post-Dispatch, with links to the newspaper’s website, STLtoday.com.
I’ll also pass on links to other websites, blogs and music-releated places that catch my eye.