Tag Archives: alt-country

Country icon Crowell brings rock and gospel to Twangfest

Rodney Crowell and Jedd Hughes at Twangfest 18 / Photo by Barry Gilbert
Rodney Crowell and Jedd Hughes at Twangfest 18 / Photo by Barry Gilbert

By Barry Gilbert

Country music legend Rodney Crowell came to St. Louis last night (June 5, 2014) and broke out his rock and gospel show for the second night of Twangfest 18.

Backed by an excellent, sympathetic band featuring Australia’s Jedd Hughes on electric guitar, Crowell played for about 90 minutes, hitting most of his career milestones while obliterating expectations of what the show would be like.

Crowell threw his set list in the trash before the show even started, moving the topical rocker “Sex and Gasoline” to the leadoff position and saving “Stars on the Water” for later.

And for the first hour, the music did the only talking, as Crowell built momentum through a series of songs that mixed older material such as “Telephone Road” with new tunes from his “Tarpaper Sky” CD, including the ballad “Anything But Tame.”

Then came the midset surprise.

Stars on the Water,” from Crowell’s first album in 1977 and which Jimmy Buffett has been performing live for 30 years, flowed into – of all things – the Staple Singers’ “Respect Yourself.”

Fueled by the backup vocals of touring partner Shannon McNally and the powerful Joanne Gardner, “Respect Yourself” had the audience dancing. And Crowell, playing acoustic guitar, prowled the stage making eye contact with Hughes, joyfully grinning drummer Keio Stroud and upright-bass slapper Michael Rennie.

Continue reading Country icon Crowell brings rock and gospel to Twangfest

Rodney Crowell continues quest for ‘timelessness’

 

Rodney Crowell / Photo by David McClister
Rodney Crowell / Photo by David McClister

By Barry Gilbert

Rodney Crowell, bluesman. That might sound like a contradiction coming from a veteran country music singer/songwriter, but he has said that a bluesman is inside him trying to get out – and that the bluesman hasn’t always been there.

However, Crowell, a perfectionist who’s most recent CD, “Tarpaper Sky,” continues to sit atop the American Music Association chart, is hesitant to talk too much about it.

You have to be careful … when you’re trying to tap into and learn to create from an artistic place that comes to you later on,” he said recently from his home in Tennessee. “To talk about it is tricky. To hear you quote me that way, I was thinking, hmm, am I being wise to talk about it?”

Crowell, who tore up the country charts in 1988 with five No. 1 singles from his fifth album, “Diamonds & Dirt,” acknowledges that rock musicians such as Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones drew from Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters, and that Stevie Ray Vaughan drew from Lightin’ Hopkins.

I certainly understood (the blues) from Day 1, from being 4 years old, I understood Hank Williams’ version of the blues, and it is an authentic version of the blues,” Crowell says. “I’ve certainly been trying to get instinctive about it and intuitive enough that I’m not manufacturing rehashed blues, but to intuitively find my own version of it. That’s the way I work. And to speak of it before you’ve actually achieved it is maybe not the smartest thing to do.”

I interviewed Crowell recently in advance of his show in St. Louis on June 5, 2014, when he will headline the second night of the 18th annual, four-night roots music series Twangfest. I found him to be extremely gracious and generous with his time and, as expected, very thoughtful.

Continue reading Rodney Crowell continues quest for ‘timelessness’

The Bottle Rockets lean forward into the past on 20th anniversary tour

The Bottle Rockets perform at Off Broadway in St. Louis on Dec. 7, 2013 -- (from left) John Horton, Mark Ortmann, Brian Henneman and Keith Voegele. // Photo by Angela Kelly
The Bottle Rockets perform at Off Broadway in St. Louis on Dec. 7, 2013 — (from left) John Horton, Mark Ortmann, Brian Henneman and Keith Voegele. // Photo by Angela Kelly

By Barry Gilbert

The Bottle Rockets celebrated the reissue of their first two albums plus their 20th anniversary Saturday night in St. Louis and emphasized from the first note that they would not only look back, they would lean forward. So, in a rather audacious move, the hometown band opened with a new song.

“Monday (Every Time I Turn Around)” was enthusiastically received by a full house at the Off Broadway music venue and was balanced nicely by a couple of songs that have never been recorded by the Bottle Rockets, songs that are among way-back demos included as bonus tracks in the reissue package of the band’s first two albums, “Bottle Rockets” (1993) and “The Brooklyn Side” (1994).

The band, on what frontman Brian Henneman called its “One Foot in the Future, One Foot in the Past” tour, demonstrated again the depth and range of its extraordinary catalogue. The show was one of the best I’ve ever heard the Brox play.

Henneman apparently felt the same way, posting Sunday on Facebook: “Fantastic St. Louis show last night. Maybe my favorite ever.” Later in the day, he wrote: “Saturday, we had a room full of music fans on a cold, snowy night, lovin’ every minute of what we were doin’. We were lovin’ that they were lovin’ it. I guarantee ya we appreciate things like that more than the average music fan’s average rock star does.”

Throughout the show, Henneman kept his between-song chatter, which is never unwelcome, to a minimum, choosing to match musical quality with musical quantity. Bassist Keith Voegele and drummer Mark Ortmann were in tight synch; guitarist John Horton, who joined the band with Voegele about 2006, turned in one of his best nights as a Bottle Rocket; and the interplay between Horton’s and Henneman’s guitars was thrilling.

Continue reading The Bottle Rockets lean forward into the past on 20th anniversary tour

St. Louis’ Bottle Rockets is given its due with reissued albums

The Bottle Rockets current lineup (from left) is Keith Voegele, Mark Ortmann, Brian Henneman and John Horton.

By Barry Gilbert
Special to the Post-Dispatch

Bottle Rockets drummer Mark Ortmann proved to be clairvoyant five years ago when, on the St. Louis band’s 15th anniversary, he talked about what it takes to survive in music.

“You start dreaming big, wishing you could be the next Aerosmith, and when that doesn’t happen, many bands just collapse,” he said. “But if you’re in it for the long haul, you become a working musician and start appreciating what successes you do have. And if you’re happy with your art, then maybe, somewhere later on, it’ll find some kind of fertile ground.”

“Later on” has arrived. The band’s Chicago-based label, Bloodshot, has reissued its first two long-out-of-print albums, “Bottle Rockets” (1993) and “The Brooklyn Side” (1994), packaged as a two-disc set with 19 bonus tracks and a 40-page booklet. It may not be Aerosmith-style treatment, but it is pretty special for one of the best and most under-recognized roots-rock bands on the planet.

“People who missed us the first time around are getting a second chance with these reissues,” Ortmann said. “It gets people’s attention that we’re still around, and they’re reassessing the early part of our career.”

Frontman Brian Henneman has been doing more interviews than at any time since Atlantic Records picked up “The Brooklyn Side” from indie East Side Digital in 1994. He’s been talking with outlets ranging from Esquire and Country Music Television to blogs he’s never heard of.

“There’s a long-haul way to do it, and a very, very short-haul way,” he says. “Some of the people who blew up big for the short haul made enough money to live on the rest of their life. It’s good. (But) we got the workin’ man’s attitude toward it.”

Continue reading St. Louis’ Bottle Rockets is given its due with reissued albums

Lean forward into the past with the Bottle Rockets reissue CDs

The original Bottle Rockets (from left) Tom Parr, Tom V. Ray, Brian Henneman and Mark Ortmann // Photo by Brad Miiller
The original Bottle Rockets (from left) Tom Parr, Tom V. Ray, Brian Henneman and Mark Ortmann // Photo by Brad Miiller

By Barry Gilbert

In 1994, St. Louis’ Bottle Rockets sang about that “angry fat man on the radio (who) wants to keep his taxes way down low” in “Welfare Music,” one of the band’s finest songs. Almost 20 years later, that radio guy is, if anything, fatter and angrier, and the Bottle Rockets, thankfully, are still a working, blue-collar, roots-rock band.

Chicago’s Bloodshot Records has reissued the band’s first two out-of-print albums, the self-titled “Bottle Rockets” (1993) and its 1994 follow-up, “The Brooklyn Side.”

Fans who were present at the creation and have stuck with the band through 11 albums and its odyssey to Major Label Land and back will be familiar with this music; indeed, more than half of the original CDs’ 27 songs are in the Bottle Rockets’ concert rotation.

For relative newcomers to the band – those who came aboard with “Zoysia” (2006) and the current lineup, or may have discovered the Brox in recent years on its tours with power pop legend Marshall Crenshaw – these reissues will be an eye-opener.

But both groups will be thrilled by the package, which combines each album on a separate disc along with a total of 19 bonus tracks and a 40-page booklet full of essays and testimonials from critics and peers. Steve Earle, for example, says that when he first heard “Radar Gun” on “The Brooklyn Side,” “at least for that moment, I believed that there was hope for the future of rock and roll.”

Continue reading Lean forward into the past with the Bottle Rockets reissue CDs

Iris DeMent, a perfectionist of spirit, comes to a musical crossroad

Iris DeMent // Photo by Pieta Brown

By Barry Gilbert
Special to Go! Magazine

ST. LOUIS – The saying “good things come to those who wait” epitomizes folk singer Iris DeMent as well as her fans. It took 16 years for DeMent to release her fourth studio CD, last year’s “Sing the Delta.” And that gap says volumes about DeMent and, as she put it, “my music career, if you want to call it that.”

DeMent, who performs with a full band Friday (Nov. 22, 2013) at the Sheldon Concert Hall, is a perfectionist of spirit. If her writing doesn’t move her, she won’t record it.

As the years passed after the release of “The Way I Should” in 1996, “I kept trying to write, but there was just no life to it,” DeMent says by phone from her home in Iowa City, Iowa. “And I didn’t feel like making a record that was just a bunch of songs that didn’t have life and spirit to them. … My secret fear is that I’m a lazy ass, but I don’t think that’s it, because I (put in the work).”

Continue reading Iris DeMent, a perfectionist of spirit, comes to a musical crossroad

Mandolinist Jeff Austin is honest with himself

 

Jeff Austin

By Barry Gilbert

Jeff Austin’s career path was set. He was going to a college conservatory of music, taking acting and dance, and auditioning for shows. Next stop: Broadway. Then, after 100 or so Grateful Dead shows, he decided he’d rather play in a band. Trouble was, he barely played guitar.

That was 21 years ago. Now 39, Austin is an accomplished mandolin player and a founding member of the Yonder Mountain String Band. He is branching out with an upcoming solo project, and he’s bringing a side band, the Here and Now, to the Old Rock House in St. Louis on Sept. 4.

The Here and Now, Austin says, is and will be what its name implies: Jeff Austin and whoever is available and willing to play with him at any particular time. For this tour, his bandmates include banjo magician Danny Barnes, guitarist Larry Keel and bassist Jenny Keel.

Continue reading Mandolinist Jeff Austin is honest with himself

Dwight Yoakam Q&A: Guitars, Nudie Suits Etc. Etc.

Photo by Emily Joyce
Photo by Emily Joyce

By Barry Gilbert

Country music star Dwight Yoakam is spending the summer reconnecting with fans on a tour that takes him to a mix of venues, from theaters and festivals to state fairs and casinos. It’s a variety he appreciates, but he’s especially partial to festivals, having played Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days, Bonnaroo in Tennessee and Stagecoach in California, among others, already this year.

I caught up with him late last month while he was home in Los Angeles for one day, running errands and doing interviews before heading out on the road again. (I wrote an advance for his concert in St. Louis on Aug. 18 based on this conversation for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.)

We talked about a variety of subjects, from geeky guitar stuff to Western music fashion to the future of music distribution. But we started off with “3 Pears,” his latest album that came out last fall and landed him atop the Americana chart for eight straight weeks, a big change from his days as a hitmaker on mainstream Country radio.

Here is a transcript of that 44-minute interview, edited for length and clarity:

BG: Let’s start off with “3 Pears.” It’s been nine months, I guess? It was a smash on Americana …

DY: Yeah, it was an honor to have that kind of response to it, held the No. 1 spot for eight weeks on Americana radio. I was just elated. In some ways it felt like it was a full circle journey to have this album come out and be received on an alternative format, sort of like the first EP was when I began with “Guitars Cadillacs.”

Continue reading Dwight Yoakam Q&A: Guitars, Nudie Suits Etc. Etc.

Yoakam gives a nod to the Beatles on new album ‘3 Pears’

Dwight Yoakam performs at the 42nd Annual Songwriters Hall of Fame Awards in 2011 in New York. Associated Press file
Dwight Yoakam performs at the 42nd Annual Songwriters Hall of Fame Awards in 2011 in New York. Associated Press file

August 15, 2013 1:45 pm •

By Barry Gilbert
Special to Go! Magazine

Dwight Yoakam was part of what Steve Earle has called the Great Credibility Scare of the late ’80s, when so-called New Traditionalists filled the country radio charts post-“Urban Cowboy” and pre-Garth Brooks. But Yoakam’s career has been anything but traditional.
A Kentucky native reared in Ohio, Yoakam was embraced by Los Angeles roots rockers and punk rockers despite channeling the Bakersfield vibe of country icons Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. Even while racking up hits on mainstream country radio, his music drew from other genres and was unlike most of what was being played.

Most recently, after spending some time on independent labels, he returned to his original home at Warner Reprise — but to the label’s Nashville office, where expectations turned upside down again and he became a hit on the Americana radio chart.

Continue reading at stltoday.com

Curtis McMurtry, third-generation storyteller, begins his journey

By Barry Gilbert

curtis mcmurtry Jul 27, 2013 9-39 PM About six years ago, Kelly House Concerts in St. Louis presented Justin Townes Earle, a young man who was all but unknown save for his famous last name. On Saturday night, KHC presented Curtis McMurtry – son of musician James, grandson of novelist Larry – and it will be interesting to see whether this young college grad travels a career arc similar to that of the son of Steve Earle.

It shouldn’t be ruled out. As with the Earle show, a small audience of about 30 gathered in Kelly’s listening space, drawn by the enthusiasm of the hostess and curiosity about McMurtry. Would his voice hint of the droll, deadpan delivery of his dad? Would his songs convey details of time and place like the writing of both dad and granddad?

Continue reading Curtis McMurtry, third-generation storyteller, begins his journey