Michael Houser: Low Country

January 24, 2006

Guitarist and singer Michael Houser was a founding member of Widespread Panic. He passed away in August of 2002 from cancer. This track is taken from Sandbox which was produced by John Keane. Those with jam band phobias have nothing to fear as Sandbox is a singer/songwriter record with only a bit of noodling. In fact, its jangle and melodicism remind me of the brilliant Horsebreaker Star, the 1995 solo disc from Grant McLennan of the Go-Betweens.

Michael Houser: Low Country

Bill Malone & Rod Moag: Dust On The Bible

January 12, 2006

Rod Moag is known as the ‘the singin’ – pickin’ professor,’ Bill Malone is renowned as an historian of American country music having written what is considered the definitive book on the subject, Country Music, USA. Despite very different backgrounds, the two retirees share many things including a love for country music of the post WWII era. They possess a particular fondness for the Bailes Brothers, a significant presence on the Louisiana Hayride. History has relegated the Brothers a minor status compared to such contemporaries as Hank Williams and Roy Acuff, but the Bailes’ music, a deceptively simple and emotionally direct blend of hillbilly and gospel, maintains its influence and Remember Me finds Malone and Moag paying them tribute in a way that exudes respect and understanding.

Sure their vocal duets are a little rough, but that just adds to the disc’s charm. Meanwhile top players like Lloyd Maines, Cindy Cashdollar, Justin Trevino and Tim O’Brien add just the right amount of feeling to embellish without overwhelming.

Bill Malone & Rod Moag: Dust on the Bible

Jud Newcomb: Plain and Simple

January 4, 2006

I first met “Scrappy” Jud about 15 years ago when he was a member of Loose Diamonds with Troy and Mike Campbell. He impressed me with his hard riffing guitar play and a wonderfully happy-go-lucky attitude. Since then the band has been gone for several years and Jud has turned into a respected producer for Beaver Nelson and guitarist for nearly everyone who’s anyone in Austin from Ian McLagan to Toni Price to Ray Wylie Hubbard to Bob Schnieder. Most notably he currently sits in with the Resentments, a songwriters circle of sorts with Stephen Bruton and Jon Dee Graham, and the Imperial Golden Crown Harmonizers, a gospel rave up with Gurf Morlix and Papa Mali.

But enough name dropping, Scrappy’s new solo effort, Byzantine, is his best work yet. He sings with a passion that he’s never revealed before – I’d be first to say his sandpapered vocals have always been an acquired taste – and the songs are mature in unexpected ways. It’s as if all the talent he’s worked with over the years have seeped into his consciousness and blended into something remarkably fresh.

Jud Newcomb: Plain and Simple

Staying in the Christmas Spirit

December 21, 2005

After Patty Loveless released “Mountain Soul,” her magnificent return to her Kentucky roots, back in 2001, she stayed with the bluegrass influences for a little longer and quietly released a wonderful Christmas record, “Bluegrass and White Snow,” the following year. I’m going to try to post a few tracks from that record this week in honor of the season, but I was having a hard time deciding which one to pick first. Luckily, this past Saturday, I had the pleasure of seeing the wonderful up-and-coming St. Louis band Rough Shop (disclaimer: my good friend John Wendland is one of the band’s founders and frontpeople—but I’d still think they were great even without knowing John) perform “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem” at their CD release/Christmas show. Pretty much everyone in the band is a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, so I’m already having trouble remembering who played what when they performed that particular song (I’m pretty sure keyboard player Nate Dahm handled the mandolin part, though). But I do know for sure that the virtuosic Andy Ploof sang lead, and Anne Tkach added a gorgeous harmony. I had tears in my eyes by the end of the song.

As wonderful as Rough Shop’s version was, though, I have to admit that I like Patty Loveless’s better. Then again, I could happily listen to Patty Loveless sing the phone book…as long as the recording didn’t have the evil copy protection that Sony BMG inflicted on her current CD, “Dreamin’ My Dreams.” But griping about that is getting away from the Christmas spirit, so on to happier matters: “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem” as sung by Patty Loveless.

Dale Watson: Hot Texas Christmas Day

December 20, 2005

If you’re looking for a really good, really twangy Christmas record you can’t go wrong with Dale Watson’s Christmas Time In Texas. Dale’s leaving Austin at the end of the year, if you haven’t heard, and I’m busted up about it. This week is his last Thursday night at Ginny’s.
Anyway, here’s a track from the disc. I won’t be around for about a week, so Happy Holidays y’all.

An Oldie, Just for Variety

December 16, 2005

Bill mentioned Keith Whitley the other day, and it reminded me that I haven’t listened to him nearly enough lately. That’s just not right, because he’s one of my favorite singers—of any gender, in any genre—of all time.

Whole volumes could be (and have been) written about the self-inflicted tragedy of Keith Whitley’s life, but I won’t contribute too many more here. I’ll just say that if you’re not familiar with him, you really should be, whether you delve into his early duet work with Ricky Skaggs, his all-too-brief tenure as vocalist with J.D. Crowe & the New South, or—Nashville haters, try to stop those knees from jerking—his many mainstream country hits. (Regardless of how you feel about Nashville production and mainstream country and all that, I have to come right out and say that if you’re not moved by “I’m No Stranger to the Rain,” you should have either your ears or your heart checked. I’m teasing, of course, but it’s still true.

My first exposure to Keith Whitley was in the latter phase, when he was a mainstream country star-bordering-on-superstar, not too long before his untimely death. (He had a hit single with my name in it; how could I ignore that?!) So several years ago, when I started listening to bluegrass, I was delighted to discover that he’d had a whole career as a bluegrass musician before he ever had Nashville hits. Some of his work with J.D. Crowe & the New South was reissued a few years back under his name, with the title “Sad Songs and Waltzes,” and I can’t recommend that CD highly enough…but tonight’s song actually comes from the almost equally superb J.D. Crowe release “Live in Japan.” Keith hadn’t quite found the depth of beauty and emotion in his voice at this stage that he possessed in such abundance later in his career, but it’s still a great song: “Rose Colored Glasses,” by J.D. Crowe & the New South. Vocal by Keith Whitley, 1955-1989.

Marah: “New York Is A Christmas Kind Of Town”

December 14, 2005

Marah has always been on the edges of the alt.country thing. They started out that way then influences like Oasis and Bruce Springsteen became evident. Still they fall into the infamous ‘big tent’ and this is offered in the spirit of the season.

Their new Christmas album, A Christmas Kind Of Town is kind of an audio play with skits and spoken word bits and appearances by family members. It blends solid originals like this jolly nearly title track that recalls NRBQ and the hopped up polka “Counting The Days (‘Til Christmas)? with an eclectic array of classics that jangle (“Christmas Time’s A Comin’?), wobble (“Baby, It’s Cold Outside?) and doo wop (“Silver Bells?). Overall it’s a surprising effort that’s likely to become a classic.

Marah: “New York Is A Christmas Kind Of Town”

The Dreadful Yawns: “Darkness Is Gone”

December 12, 2005

The Dreadful Yawns, from Cleveland, were the last band to be signed to Bomp Records by the late, much-mourned Greg Shaw. They don’t exactly fit what I think of as the Bomp sound—they’re not garage, and though there’s a certain dreamy/spaceyness to some of their songs, they’re not particularly psychedelic either. But all that proves is that Greg Shaw had good, not narrow taste, and knew a band worth hearing when he heard them.

So, having described what they don’t sound like, I’ll take a stab at capturing what they do sound like. The short version would be that they’ve clearly listened to plenty of Neil Young, Gram Parsons, and the Byrds, and though the term “country rock” may have negative connotations for some, it shouldn’t with respect to this band: they embody it beautifully. Their current self-titled record is not their first; they put out an EP some years back, and then the fine folks at Undertow released a full-length record called “Early” in 2003. I’m slightly embarrassed to say that I haven’t heard that one yet, though it’s on my list o discs to buy.

But the current record is one of my pleasant surprises of the year, a rare example of a record that I bought about two minutes after hearing online samples and still ended up liking. (I’ve had the opposite experience with records I’ve bought on the basis of 30-second online clips and ended up totally underwhelmed by that I’ve now forbidden myself to buy anything without hearing at least three full songs from it.) Here’s one of the more uptempo and twangy tracks from the record, “Darkness Is Gone,” for your listening pleasure.

Son Volt: “Armagideon Time”

December 9, 2005
Son VoltThe reaction to the revitalized Son Volt and their recent release, Okemah and the Melody of Riot can be best described as mixed. It seems Jay Farrar has always been an acquired taste for some and it’s safe to say that he’s never really topped the band’s debut 1995’s Trace – which you need to go listen to RIGHT NOW! But Okemah just gets better with each listen and when I saw SV at Stubb’s this summer, they were so good I described them as “state of the art roots rock”.

“Armagideon Time” was written by legendary reggae producer Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd and originally recorded by the obscure Willie Williams. Most of us know it because the Clash included it on their collection of odds and sods called Black Market Clash. Son Volt performed it on tour this year as an encore, removing the reggae and bashing it out as a garage rock protest song. This version is taken from a radio station only release of Okemah, a double CD set that features the original studio record with three bonus studio tracks and a live disc sequenced the same way as the original with versions taken from performances at radio stations and in concert. This is the last track on that second disc and was recorded at The Orange Peel in Ashville, NC.

Son Volt: “Armagideon Time”

About This Blog

December 8, 2005

This is a multi-author MP3 blog devoted primarily but by no means exclusively to twang. By “twang,” we mean anything from alt-country-whatever-that-is to honky-tonk to three-named Texas singer-songwriters to classic country and even current Nashville-type country. The blog authors have diverse tastes, so expect to find lots of nontwangy stuff here too.

We welcome comments, and needless to say, if you’re an artist and would like us to remove or add an MP3 to the blog, let us know. You can contact us at postmaster at twangblog dot com.

For more info, please see the Welcome post, the very first entry in the blog.