Tag Archives: roots rock

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.

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The Blasters live up to their name in St. Louis

The Blasters perform in St. Louis. From left: Keith Wyatt, Phil Alvin, John Bazz and Bill Bateman / Photos by Barry Gilbert

By Barry Gilbert

The Blasters brought “American Music” back to St. Louis on Sunday night (May 11, 2014), and like the song says, “it was a howl from the desert (and) a scream from the slums,” with “the Mississippi rollin’ to the beat of the drums” just a few blocks away from the Off Broadway music club.

Phil Alvin’s stoked rhythm & rockabilly band from Downey, Calif., doesn’t make it to the Midwest very often, so it’s always a treat to see them. Unfortunately, Sunday was also Mother’s Day, and the crowd numbered only about 50. But they were largely hard-core fans, and they had their dancing shoes on.

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My favorite roots-music CDs of 2013

By Barry Gilbert

It’s that time of year when I look back and think: Man, I dropped a lot of money on music this year. Again. So here’s my Top 10 list of the best roots music of 2013. Feel free to disagree. But keep in mind, these are the one’s that stuck among the albums I heard this year, and I didn’t hear anywhere close to everything. Nobody did.

And with 18 days remaining in the year, something great might slip into the mailbox before it’s over — like today, when Jimmer Podrasky’s “The Would-Be Plans” arrived. Can’t wait to dive into this long-overdue new work by the leader of the long-defunct Rave-Ups. Who knows, I might have to revise this list.

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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.”

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The Del-Lords rock in return to St. Louis

The Del-Lords are (from left) Steve Almaas, Scott Kempner, Eric Ambel and Frank Funaro.

By Barry Gilbert

The Del-Lords brought their A game to St. Louis on Oct. 18. But they ended up playing before a too-small crowd, an unfortunate consequence of the Cardinals finishing off the Dodgers to win the National League pennant just three miles down Broadway at Busch Stadium.

No matter. The lucky three-dozen or so at the Off Broadway music venue who kept their ears focused on the music (and one eye on their cell phones for the score) were amply rewarded. The reunited Del-Lords performed as if the room was full, swaggering through a 14-song set that included a healthy selection from their initial run in the ’80s, a few from this year’s “Elvis Club” CD and a couple of killer covers.

It was the kind of show that reinforced why I love rock ‘n’ roll. As Del-Lords guitarist Scott Kempner says, quoting his friend, the music legend Dion DiMucci: Two guitars, bass and drums; it worked then, it works now.

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Dwight Yoakam’s generous Pageant show spans genres

Dwight Yoakam performs at the 42nd Annual Songwriters Hall of Fame Awards in New York on June 16, 2011. Associated Press file
Dwight Yoakam performs at the 42nd Annual Songwriters Hall of Fame Awards in New York on June 16, 2011. Associated Press file

August 19, 2013 12:53 pm

By Barry Gilbert
Special to Go! Magazine

To call Dwight Yoakam a country singer really doesn’t do him justice. If that were strictly true, Johnny Cash’s classic “Ring of Fire” wouldn’t have the sound and rhythms of T Rex’s classic “Bang a Gong” when played by Yoakam and his hard-rocking band.

As Yoakam told the Post-Dispatch in the days leading up to Sunday night’s concert at the Pageant, genre is something music marketers worry about, “but it’s not a boundary for musicians.”

And that was true throughout the generous 32-song, two-hour-plus show. “Trying” from last year’s “3 Pears” CD, rode on Jonathan Clark’s bass line and rhythm, which would be at home on many a Memphis soul record. Other songs took on a similar vibe with washes of organ by multi-instrumentalist Brian Whelan.

Another new song, “Rock It All Away,” was built on power chords any rock fan would love, and early Elvis Presley hovered over the stage during a cover of “Little Sister” and in the Jordanaires-like background vocals of “Always Late With Your Kisses.” (Missing was his rave-up cover of Elvis’ “Suspicious Minds.”)

Continue reading at stltoday.com

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.”

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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

Ha Ha Tonka teaches new “Lessons” in St. Louis house concert

From left: Brian Roberts, Brett Anderson, Lennon Bone and Lucas Long perform "Hangman" at a Wood House Concerts show. (Photos by Barry Gilbert)
From left: Brian Roberts, Brett Anderson, Lennon Bone and Lucas Long perform "Hangman" at a Wood House Concerts show. (Photos by Barry Gilbert)

By Barry Gilbert

I will stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table — or Steve Earle’s — and tell the world that Ha Ha Tonka is a great band. I can’t think of another band that simultaneously rocks as hard, writes as well and sings four-part harmonies as exquisitely as does this Ozarks-based quartet.

Brian Roberts, Brett Anderson, Lucas Long and Lennon Bone pulled into Clayton, Mo., last night (June 19, 2013) for their second house-concert date ever and wowed the 70 or so folks in Wood House Concerts’ kitchen/family room.

Lead-vocalist Roberts admitted it was terrifying playing within arm’s reach of an audience. Then he doubled down on the terror by devoting the first of two sets to new material: 10 songs from the band’s upcoming fourth album, Lessons, due for release on Bloodshot Records on Sept. 24. Most of the tunes had not been played previously in public, and some not since they were recorded.

But that was the second surprise. The first was the unusual move of beginning the show by playing an interview with the late children’s book author Maurice Sendak. The interview was conducted by NPR’s Terry Gross on “Fresh Air” in December 2011, less than five months before Sendak’s death at age 83. In the interview, Sendak talks about his then-just-published “Bumble-Ardy,” the story of a 9-year-old boy — well, a pig — who has never had a birthday party.

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Crenshaw, Bottle Rockets close a packed Twangfest


By Barry Gilbert

Singer-songwriter Marshall Crenshaw, backed by the muscle of St. Louis’ Bottle Rockets, on Saturday night (June 8, 2013) brought a sweat-drenched end to Twangfest, one of the most successful editions in the festival’s 17-year run.

Among the 13 acts that performed last week, three – Crenshaw, Asleep at the Wheel and Ray Wylie Hubbard – are bonafide music legends, and two more – Joe Pug and Todd Snider – may earn that status someday.

In addition, the four-night celebration of American roots music sold out three of the four shows (one at Plush and two at Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room), and set a record with fans buying 70 four-night passes. The festival ran smoothly, and even the technical gremlins took a year off.

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