Monday, September 23, 2013

East Nashville: Ashleigh Flynn is Smashing

Last week, the Americana Music Festival (web | Twitter) took over many of Nashville's clubs with multiple showcases of tremendously talented performers, songwriters, bands, and - with apologies to Hayes Carll - guitar slingers and hallelujah gospel singers.

Each year I consider buying a wristband, submitting a vacation request and temporarily altering my days from an 8A - 5P desk job to a 7P - 2A club hopping, music agenda. Yet each year (thus far), I eventually conclude ehhh maybe next year.

But this year, I did attend an unofficial AMF event - East X Americana. When I first saw the performer roster on Twitter, I immediately marked my calendar: Eric Brace and Peter Cooper, Kevin Gordon, Tommy Womack, Webb Wilder. Many of my favorites. Each person or group played 3 or 4 songs, and it was a great sampler of some of East Nashville's best music.
One performer with whom I wasn't familiar, however, really caught my ear: Ashleigh Flynn (web | Twitter). She was jokingly introduced by the emcee as "Todd Snider's other friend". One of her songs that really got listeners' attention at East-Centric Pavilion was Dirty Hands and Dirty Feet. When I got home Tuesday night, I went to the web to find a video, her website, Twitter, etc.

Turns out the song is included on Flynn's album released in May 2013 - A Million Stars.The record is Flynn's fourth but her first since 2008. She successfully raised enough money through Kickstarter to pool with her own cash and other funding sources to record and release it.  

A Texan by birth, she moved with family to Kentucky and Virginia. From there, she made the choice to relo to Portland, Oregon where some pretty deep roots were set. But now, she claims East Nashville as her current resting spot. The upside is all of those places surely contributed plenty of solid Americana musical influences.

The album title's and title track are tied to the cover art. The artwork of a cowgirl on a horse on a western desert of sorts before a star-draped sky was a water-color painting by her school-aged niece. In thinking about it a bit more, Flynn realized her niece had never been out west. Yet she explored the scene enough in her mind to do the painting. That artistic reality sent Flynn on a study of historical women of the west and to write songs about them.
In addition to having a tremendous voice and compelling lyrics, Flynn's band adds tremendously to each song. A steady yet not overpowering bass groove, subtle banjo - particularly on the opening track, a jazz / swing like feel with the drummer's use of brushes on many songs, etc.

The Devil Called Your Name - The tone for the album is set early with the lead-off song. The opening of the drummer's brushes on the snare and a bit of kick drum followed by the subtle but meaningful bass and guitar intros immediately gets your toes a'tappin and your chin a'groovin. Flynn lets the vibe develop for about 30 seconds before she begins singing.

Dirty Hands and Dirty Feet - The second track is the one that made me say Whoa! on Tuesday night. Hearing it live for the first time and then a second time on YouTube, I sensed a bit of Loretta Lynn in her voice. It was intentional but wasn't forced as if she was trying to BE Loretta or parody her. Perhaps Flynn reverted so some of her Southern rearing. Little did I know until a few days later her original intent was to write a song about Loretta Lynn. Instead, she went a different direction about another woman from Butcher Holler. So my hunch was on the mark ... kinda I suppose?

Prohibition Rose - Flynn wrote a song based on a true tale (allegedly - you know how songwriters can be) of a woman in Portland, Oregon who might have known a thing or two about dealing in contraband during the 1920s. With Portland known as the City of Roses, I'm also hoping there is some connection between the shrewd woman's name and the city's nickname. (For the record, Portland has a second nickname - though one less visually appealing: Stumptown.)

Stumptown's fairest queen
A denizen of the underground scene
Rosie's got the guile to get you a little high

But not a drop of hooch around
When the cops bust in like a pack of hounds
Just Rosie readin' from her Bible
With all the whiskey stashed underneath her skirt

A Million Stars - The title track is about two women who often dressed as men to ride amongst them throughout the dangerous lands of the unsettled west.
They donned chaps and 45s, on their horses sat up right
Both of them crack shots, both of them wild
Now they supply the whole territory, hauling booze to trade

New Angel In Heaven - With backing by harmony vocals, a mandolin, fiddle and dobro, the contemporary waltz-beat song of loss would fit nicely alongside the traditional songs by groups such as the Carter Family.
In the evening I hear the somber 
Song of a lone whippoorwill
Her woeful tune by the light of the moon
Sends me sorrow as I dream of you

Prove It To Me - This song is the one cover on the album. Its obscure enough, however, that Ashleigh will likely get credit for it - except that she tells the story of its origins by blues singer Ma Rainey. Knowing nothing about Ma Rainey, I learned her friend was Bessie Smith who has often been called the Queen of the Blues.

Bessie was from Chattanooga, TN where I called home for about a decade. One of my favorite annual events when living there was The Bessie Smith Strut where thousands of people of all races and from across every area of the greater Chattanooga area came together and just roamed 2-3 city blocks, ate barbecue, drank beer, laughed, and listened to a variety of music such as blues, zydeco, street performers, etc. But I digress, back to Ma Rainey's story...

A Little Low - Flynn wrote this somber, touching song as a tribute to a close friend who was killed - and whose murder remains unsolved. 
Been feelin' a little low
Ain't seen the sun in over 28 days
I've been holed up like a polecat
As winter marches into May
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The reaper came in through an unlocked door
What I know was a terrible day
And the scene showed signs of a struggle
Stole your last breath away

Walk Awhile - The record's closing track is well worth the wait. With many releases, the final song is rarely amongst the strongest. In the days of cassettes, I often thought of closing tracks as filler material to balance out the B side of the tape. That isn't the case with Walk Awhile. This one is truly a sing-along - whether it be amongst of group of folks or simply in your car with the windows down and volume cranked.

Sure, I realize this review is a bit out of sequence. The album was released last spring - and that's normally when you'd think various reviews would be written. But hey, I'm just now learning about Ashleigh Flynn in general and her (relatively) new album specifically. If you are in the same situation as me, I'd encourage you to also listen to her more.

Besides, you simply gotta love a group of songs that include words such as guile, polecat, hooch, hounds, and dirty feet.

Finally, Ashleigh Flynn gets bonus points for doing her history homework, being mentored in the ways of the road by Todd Snider, having support during the recording of the album by members of The Decemberists, and playing a kazoo on one of her songs.


Saturday, August 31, 2013

East Nashville: Doug and Telisha Gone Wild

About 18 months or so ago , fellow blogger | tweeter Truersound tipped me off to a husband-wife performing duo, Doug & Telisha Williams. He thought - and rightfully so - that I'd dig one of their unrecorded songs titled Massey's Run because of its connection to NASCAR racing in general and driver Richard Petty specifically. He was spot-on, and I blogged about the song on my racing-themed blog in September 2012.

Over the last few months, I learned Doug and Telisha relocated a couple of years ago to East Nashville from Martinsville, Virginia (a legendary NASCAR market BTW). Last fall, they set up a Kickstarter campaign and successfully raised the funds needed for studio time, production work, session musicians and the like to record a new album that would include Massey's Run. The result to be released on September 10 - Things That Used To Shine - is one to be be enjoyed. The duo added drummer Jake Winebrenner to the band and the trio was renamed Wild Ponies.

I'm a Nashville-(almost all my)-lifer. I was reared on a lot of country music before finding my own interests in rock. Somehow, someway, I think I knew the parts of country music of my dad's LP collection that I would eventually keep and like - and what I wouldn't. Over time, the layered, formulaic, corporate, over produced, 16th Avenue country didn't work for me. But the style of country the Wild Ponies rocks is the kind I can and do embrace.

Telisha has a fantastic vocal range. She can vary from full-throttled belt 'em out sounds without cracking pitch to a higher-octave, whimsical sound to a downright sultry, quiet, *gulp* I'll-cut-ya tone.

A few comments (and videos) from a several of the new record's tracks...
  • Truth Is - On the second track of the album, Telisha immediately grabs the groove on her upright bass while also handling the vocals. Listen carefully too because she alludes to a scarring truth from her youth.
  • Trigger - The inspiration for this (hopefully) fictional song may have evolved from that tough home experience by Telisha when she was younger. Look for the song's video on CMT soon after the record is released on September 10th.
He stared right at that picture hanging right there on the wall
It was a picture of the two of us in front of Ruby Falls
He took me there in '93 though he didn't want to go
Was afraid of being underground down in a deep, dark hole

I just left him laying there right on the kitchen floor
 His blood spilled on the tile that he laid nine years before
And the blood that pooled around him may not wash away my sin
But I'll be damned if he's ever gonna touch my girl again
  • Massey's Run - As mentioned before, this song was my intro to the band. And I dig the recorded version with additional musicians as much as the stripped down version I heard originally. I also had the good fortune of hearing the Wild Ponies perform it at Nashville's Family Wash.
  • Trouble Looks Good On You - The video for this song with its western swing vibe was featured on Couch By Couchwest last March. All of CXCW is still uncertain if the Fat Tire beer cans are a paid product placement. WHOOP WHOOP!
  • Broken - Massey's Run was my intro to what is now Wild Ponies, and the vengeful, murderous Trigger was the first song of the new record to really make me sit up and take notice. But with multiple listens, I think the raucous Broken may have emerged as my favorite track.
Heavy on the down-beat another string’s busted
A couple spares left but they all look rusted
Shorted out cord and a 60 cycle hum
A bad ground wire makes my face go numb
Everything I own is just a little bit broken
Hope I can hold it together just a little bit longer
  • Another Chance - The album's closer featuring the story of three central characters may be one of the saddest songs since Townes' Marie. Or is it? You'll have to listen through it all - including the haunting backing vocals by the Inglewood Harmony Choir (my name, not theirs) to draw your own conclusions about sorrow, redemption, joy, moment-by-moment, self-reflection, desperation, a life's mulligan, etc.
Its been two weeks since anybody's heard from him
So finally the po-leece just bust on in / to take a look
Well its no surprise he's still sitting right there
Empty pill bottles all around his chair
Looks like he's finally gone home
Hallelujah, thank the Lord / for another chance.

As referenced earlier, Wild Ponies played at The Family Wash back in May of this year. Their set was streamed live from Family Wash that Wednesday night (as all Wednesday FW shows are). If you didn't watch it on-line then - you can still do so now through the tech of Ustream. The band played many of the songs from their new record that night.

So when the album is released on September 10, buy it and listen to it. Repeatedly. (The listening part I mean - you don't have to buy it each time you replay the alb... oh, never mind.)

And keep your eyes and ears open for various festivals and clubs near you. Doug and Telisha (and now Jake) are road dogs who spend a lot of time touring. They are talented musically and vocally - plus, they're just damn nice people. Buy 'em a PBR if you get a chance, and tell them toomuchcountry sends best wishes.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Eric Brace singles with an RBI double by Cooper

Get some popcorn and peanuts folks. This review is a long one that may go into extra innings.

This past spring, Eric Brace and Peter Cooper released their third record as a duo: The Comeback Album on Brace's Redbeet Records label.

Cooper's performing skills first hit my radar when Todd Snider brought him to the stage during a show at the Belcourt Theater eight years ago. Peter sang two numbers before turning the mic back to Todd. First up was "Nirvana is Better Than Pearl Jam" that had the entire audience in stitches. He then followed with "What's The Use?" which then quieted all of us. I recall thinking: Did he just do that? Did he take us from laughing to pondering in 3 minutes?

I met Peter in the lobby that night along with Hayes Carll who I'd also just heard for the first time. I still remember fumbling a confused intro to Peter something along the lines of Wait. There's a guy named Peter Cooper who writes for The Tennessean and No Depression. Are you...? I mean... You sing too? He laughed and politely agreed he was the one-and-the-same.

Over the years, I've enjoyed the music of Tommy Womack (who was also on the bill that night), Will Kimbrough, Snider and then Cooper after hearing those two songs. Branching forward, I naturally was intrigued when I heard of Peter's release with a guy named Eric Brace.

The previous two releases by the two of them are simply wonderful. Each has fantastic guitar skills. Their vocals complement one another to a T. Lyrics written individually or together range from wry humor to great storytelling. And even when they choose to cover a song, they pick one from deep in a another artist's catalog making it new for contemporary listeners.

Eric and Peter also surround themselves with great Nashville musicians when they hit the studio. The production of their two previous albums - and their third, The Comeback Album - includes a nice balance of the traditional "Nashville Sound" with an addition of their own unique musical styles.
  • Ancient History - the video for the lead track debuted on Couch By Couchwest last March. When they chose to submit it to CXCW, the YouTube views went off the chart! Well, I mean on a chart scaled to 1,000 views. But still. One of the individuals mentioned in the song - race car driver Dick Trickle - tragically passed away in May. Yet part of his memory will live on by being included in Ancient History.

  • Johnson City - I blog elsewhere regularly about my interests in NASCAR racing. Several weekends have been enjoyed in and around Bristol Motor Speedway. Kingsport, Bristol, and Johnson City, are referred to as the Tri-Cities area of Tennessee. Brace wrote this song about his fondness [/sarcasm] for the JC Jail. Not only do I genuinely enjoy the song - but I also appreciate the fact others spent a few hours in a cold East Tennessee cell where I likely merited a stay myself during one of those race trips. Eric, thanks for serving time so folks like me didn't have to.

  • Mad - This Tom T. Hall-penned song is one of the fun sing-alongs of the album. I've kinda thought about adopting it as my own theme song. Perhaps if my wife and I ever decide to renew vows, I'll ask to have this song played at the ceremony. Having the legendary Mac Wiseman and Marty Stuart sing stanzas on the album was a nice surprise and added tremendous aged insights. Musically, Dave Jacques' prominent and rock-steady bass rhythms really puts the bow on the package.

  • Kissing Booth - My favorite track from the album. Reflective lyrics; upbeat tempo; piano, harmonica and banjo - none of them overpowering.
Where did the summer go
I’m still waiting on the afterglow
Time is a train on an endless track
With the baggage coach painted black
Memory leans on a window sill
Looking for a little more time to kill
  • Boxcars - When I travel, it seems regardless wherever I am that the city's strongest, clearest radio station has a country music format. Yet even I can find it, I generally don't listen because I know what will be played...and it likely won't be good. But if every country station included Boxcars in its playlist... well, I'd likely stay on the frequency a bit longer.
The job is just a job / This bar just a bar
I caught a pass ten years ago / Here I'm a star
This star’s been dimming now these nine years and more
Since the only thing I wanted walked out the door

If you don't yet have The Comeback Album, jump over to Red Beet Records and sample each song from it.

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Not one to rest on his laurels, Cooper is following up his record with Brace with another solo record in the same year. Opening Day is scheduled for release on September 10th. Umm, yeah, three weeks before the 2013 MLB playoffs begin. On the other hand, Peter may be getting an 8-month jump on spring training and 2014 Opening Day.
Overall, Comeback is a fun album - great harmonies between Brace and Cooper, witty lyrics, unexpected guest appearances, ballads that still giddy-up and go, etc. Opening Day is quite the opposite. The picture of Peter absorbing his first baseball game in 1978 is a good visual metaphor for how I've listened to this album. Contemplative - observing - absorbing - very little sing-along (well, except for Tattoo as you'll read in a moment).

Cooper fits a lot of words into each song. Each could almost be considered a short story...with several words that rhyme...and set to music. The pedal steel sounds of Lloyd Green add immensely to just about every track.

If I had to submit a line-up card, I believe these tracks would be my starters.
  • Opening Day - I've never been a big baseball fan (though I do love being at ballparks). But I do know the feeling of unfulfilled potential or things just generally going off the rails unexpectedly. Cubs fans hang their heads each year resigned that a World Series title still isn't imminent. As a fan of Richard Petty's NASCAR teams, I gin up my hopes each February as the new season begins. Within a few weeks, however, I retreat to what I've known for the past 20-25 years. The potential unravels year after year, and all one can do is hope the following February arrives quickly. Cooper's song isn't exactly one of optimism. Instead, it seems to center on themes of fate, bad breaks, luck, unforeseen circumstances, acceptance and yet one also of resilience.
the fall breaks kind for the lucky ones
winter comes even to the champions

  • Jenny Died At 25 - Earlier this year, Uncle Leon & The Alibis released Wild Ways. One of my favorite tracks from it was All My Crazy Friends Got Old And Lame. It was a direct, in-your-face commentary for your friends who didn't follow the challenge of Pete Townsend.  (Though you could infer from the lyrics that the song may apply to YOU ... or me). Jenny follows the same line of thinking - a song of resignation and sorrow for those folks who back down from a fun life long before their prime is done. The big difference: Peter's song is a bit more cerebral, and he wrote it after sitting next to John Prine on a flight. I'm guessing Leon may have written All My Crazy Friends when a friend bailed on him after sharing only one shot at Hank's in Brooklyn. Could be, dunno.
  • Grandma's Batman Tattoo - Tattoo is the antithetical complement to Jenny. Peter and Tommy Womack contrived this completely believable (but assumed untrue) song following their 2006 appearance as part of Todd Snider's band on The Tonight Show ...

  • The song simply has to be heard live to fully appreciate its nuances and the audience's reactions.

  • Part Time - My understanding is this song was influenced by a John Hartford number. I wonder, however, if its a bit more autobiographical. I've always enjoyed his coverage of the Nashville music scene in The Tennessean. In recent years, the newspaper like many others has pared back its staff and coverage. Rather than write for the paper full-time as he once did, he now submits periodic columns. In turn, he seems to have had more time to spend on songwriting, recording and performing. That balance has become a home run for me as a reader and a listener. His columns are deeper than before, and I've heard and seen growth in his lyrics, vocals and guitar playing. I've already listened to this song multiple times - alternating between listening to what PC is singing and on Lloyd Green's pedal steel work.
So long, on the bar room grindstone now
And more fun than the law allows
You won't hear me disavow
The charms of the neon night

I must admit that I hate to quit
I'd been crazy for the benefits
Its a good gig on the face of it
But I been getting just a little uptight 

40 hours a week
Howling past my peak
That's hard work even for a man in his prime
So I'm thinking about going part time, part time
Probably gonna go part time
  • Birches - The album's closing song about communication and romance between an aged married couple is one of only two covers on the album. Though I'm not in a position to share Peter's version here, I've included a video of the original version by the late Bill Morrissey. Let's just say Lloyd Green's steel guitar talents and Cooper's vocals cover this song tremendously. This song takes repeated, close listens to absorb the relationship described in the words - both in the moment and over the span of years.

As I stated, I'm not much of a baseball fan. If I was, I'd likely have reviewed nine songs from Opening Day vs. five. But... I did turn the double-play with a review of two records. Plus, I included a few obligatory, predictable baseball terms. So that counts for some sort of pepper, right?

Want to sample the reviewed songs and the remaining ones from Opening Day? If so, find a quiet place to listen (such as at a Miami Marlins game heyyy ohhh) ... return to Red Beet Records ... and laugh and ponder.

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If you are already a fan of Eric and Peter, I'm likely preaching to the choir. You may already have Comeback. But if you don't have either or both, open your ears and your PayPal and add both of these to your collection. From there, work your way through the rest of the batting order of Eric's and Peter's music - individually and collectively.

Deputy Mayor, Couch By Couchwest

Saturday, August 10, 2013

East Nashville keeps 'em coming: The Coal Men

I grew up in Donelson, Tennessee - a suburb of Nashville. Its east OF Nashville, but its hardly what folks know as East Nashville. Yet with the seemingly endless supply of great musical talent that flows from that side of the river, I sometimes wonder if I should play the poser and brag "Yeah, I'm from East (of) Nashville."

Nah, I won't go that far. But I really enjoy hearing one quality release after another from artists that reside in the area of town that somewhat romantically brags "we'll steal your heart ... and your lawnmower."

Another fine upcoming release (August 27) is Escalator by The Coal Men. The release will be the band's fourth album but their first on Todd Snider's label, Aimless Records. Unless I'm mistaken, I think The Coal Men's new one will be the label's first release by an artist other than Todd. He released Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables and Time As We Know It: The Songs of Jerry Jeff Walker in 2012. And Live: The Storyteller recorded at Nashville's TPAC was released in 2011.

The core of the band is guitarist / vocalist Dave Coleman and drummer Dave Ray. Coleman's vocals even have a Todd sound from time to time during the album though clearly the record is not a Todd Snider sounding one. Coleman has built a solid music network within Music City. Among others who contributed, Will Kimbrough added his guitar gifts to the recording.

You'll get your dollar's worth with this one. The album has 13 full-length and quality songs. One thing that really caught my ear in the first couple of listens was the diversity of song styles, instruments used and vocal inflections.
  • Last Goodbye - the lead-off track is a strong one. I'm admittedly not the best on picking up on specific instrument types, chord progressions, lyric composition, etc. But I do know what I like. Goodbye has a bit of what I'd call a Marshall Crenshaw vibe - and you can enable "repeat track" without worry.
  • Stuck - The band made a great choice by slotting Stuck behind the upbeat opener. A strong song that's certainly "thicker" than Goodbye. And the chucka-chucka-chucka guitar riff? Ohh yeaahh, berry, berry nice.

  • Role Model - This song was initially my favorite track or certainly the one I've found myself cranking the loudest because of Coleman's thrashing guitar work and Ray's solid drumming with a healthy dose of cymbals. Bonus points for the horn accompaniment!
  • Tennessee - Sure, I freely admit I'm a homer and that I'm partial to the song title. So sue me. But this song is truly an enjoyable one - though one of the more contemplative songs on the album. Just as Stuck was appropriately slotted behind Last Goodbye, I think another solid decision was made with the Role Model - Tennessee sequencing.
Put my wings to the wind / Leave the rest to the sky
Keep on painting on my pictures / Until the day I die
in Tennessee.

  • Sanity - This is one of the tunes where I sense some of Todd's influence in the lyrics and even in the vocals. I have no idea if he contributed to the composition or production - but I could see it.
I drive a car that a bank really owns
 To a job where I work for hours on the phone
No sir, I'm not a very good salesman ya see
I try to smile for a little bit of sanity
  • One Thing At A Time - Though Role Model was initially my favorite track, One Thing has quickly closed the gap and ranks among my top 2 or 3 favorites. I really enjoyed the subtle opening sounds of the upright bass, the rim shot echoes of Ray's snare and his tanging the hump before the rocking, distorted guitar arrives.
I wanna take her home / Give her a little piece of my mind
I don't wanna know everything / One thing at a time 
  • Old Friends - Over the years, I've met up with different folks over a cold one to chat about music, life, NASCAR racing, politics, families, whatever. Sometimes for happy hour after work - sometimes at a show on a late Thursday night - sometimes after yard work on a Saturday afternoon. More often than, my wife asks "And you know him from where?" I always have to explain my axiom: If I can share a beer with you, I can develop a bit of a friendship with you. Are those numerous friendships shallow and sometimes fleeting? Sure, but they're valid. Yet in the end, the greatest friendships are the core group of folks I've known for years - probably no more than 2 to 3 guys tops.
Old friends, old friends
They'll put up with you / They'll shut up for you
Old friends
They're in the pictures that you own
And all your memories when you're alone
Part of them / piece by piece
They're part of you
  • Lonoke, Arkansas - I've heard more than my share of albums where the band seemingly ran out of good material. The producer likely knew it though I've never been sure if the band ever did or not. The weakest tune is shoved to the end of the album. That situation is not the case with Escalator. The closing instrumental Lonoke, Arkansas needs to be heard. Guitar slides and vibratos. Supporting yet subdued percussion - with what sounds a bit like a mallet in one hand and a brush in the other. Understated upright bass. Then fade out.

    Lonoke reminds me of those long stretches of highway I've driven with many complex thoughts in my head. They're tumbling up there like a simmering jambalaya - yet with nothing to verbalize. The window is down - elbow rested on the door - eyes visually on the road - but my mind wanders as it works through whatever issues are rattling about up there.
Though The Coal Men are new to me, they are not a new band having formed about 15 years ago. In digging back through some earlier material, I found they were booked about 4 years ago on the fantastic live / webcast Music City Roots (web | Twitter) performed each Wednesday night at The Loveless Cafe west of Nashville.

Also, if you are a fan - as I am - of the show Deadliest Catch, you may have heard a song from The Coal Men without realizing it. Their song, Farther Find Me Now, was played over the the closing scene of the episode titled Bitter Tears. Deckhand Jake Anderson was at sea aboard the Northwestern when he learned of the death of his young sister. A genuinely sad moment - and handled dramatically but respectfully with the use of The Coal Men's song.


Monday, May 13, 2013

Semi-Twang: The Why And The What For

About two years ago, I blogged a review of Semi-Twang's second release, Wages of Sin. I recall being a bit stunned - but very happy - that the band's release of their second album when their debut one was released about two decades earlier.

Fortunately, another 20 years wasn't needed to get a third release from the band from Milwaukee, WI. A couple of months ago, Semi-Twang released The Why And What For.

Before I provide a semi-unbiased opinion on many of the songs, I'll give you my bottom-line analysis right here, right now --

You should not semi-consider the purchase of this album. You should commit 100% do so. Purchase your MP3s at regular haunts such as iTunes or Amazon - or you can buy the CD directly from the band via their website and your PayPal account.

The Wrong Side of the Tracks - The lead-off number is a solid one. Forget hearing a mamby-pamby, minor-chord, melancholy ballad. Wrong Side includes many of the musical complexities found throughout the rest of the album: a great tempo, John Sieger's vocals that have changed little in twenty-five years, a solid rhythm section, horns and sax, and a lyrical cliche or two that actually work.

52 Jokers - I'm still somewhat perplexed by the overall message of this song, but it does include what may be my favorite stanza on the album.

Best man’s weaving — he’s half in the sack
The band just tried to murder Paint It Black
Oh 52 Jokers — Cut you down to size

The More She Gets the More She Wants - OK, I'm not a fan of this one. There, I said it. Though I enjoy this album taken as a whole, this one compels me to reach for the next track button. But hey, doesn't every album include at least one or two of those kinds of songs? But I will give ST bonus points to raise the grade for this one to a C+ simply because of the song title.

You Love Everybody - Although I'm not crazy about The More She Gets..., advancing to the next song lands me on one I truly do enjoy. The band makes frequent and an interesting use use of vibrato with guitar, vocals ... and stereo channels. Plus, the addition of of a prominent horn section gives the song a bit of a Ray Charles feel musically.

Contents Under Pressure - Now we're talking! This track is among my favorites of the album. First, the jangly guitar riff of the first few seconds took me all the way back to 1990 or so. I needed about a half-dozen listens to the opening riff before I could recall a similar opening to a song. Finally, it clicked with me the opening reminded me of the lead track, Let It Go, by a one-album band called The Peregrins. (Obscure reference, sure - but hey its my review, right?) Within a couple of of seconds, however, my flashback was gone as the maturity of John Sieger's vocals began. A couple of stanzas resonate with me as (1) an observation of our world today and (2) a thorn in my flesh that flares off and on throughout my life.

Sign on your head — contents under pressure
Someday you’re gonna blow sky high
People gonna point and say my my
The one that blew he was the quiet kind

Saying you won’t budge — contents under pressure
How can you hold a grudge for so long
It tears you up — it brings you down
The gauge on your head it’s spinning round

Making Everybody Cry - Sieger submitted a solo performance of this one to Couch By Couchwest and garnered several "likes" and the mopping of tears with tissues by many.

Miss Watson - As the band begins the final third of the album, they kick it up a notch with a great, rollicking, boogie-woogie number. Though I've never had the good fortune to see Semi-Twang live, I suppose this is the song in their setlist that jolts people out of their seats to bust a move on the dance floor.

Elementary Miss Watson
Let’s discuss this in my Datsun
You want love I believe I got some
Elementary Miss Watson

A Handsome Man - In what I hope was a genius, bullseye-planning song arrangement strategy for the album and for live performance set lists, the rocking Miss Watson is followed by this down-tempo number. I have to belief the no-inhibitions dancing with Miss Watson then moves to a slow dance with this one with thoughts of where to go after the show ends. With that said, the lyrics to this one don't exactly convey happy ending. Hopefully, the dancing couple won't fully realize this until the next morning over coffee.

The reason why I’m walking ‘round
Without a bloody trail
A handsome man
A handsome man
A handsome man can’t go to jail

Take a look at your average con
He’s ugly without fail
A handsome man
A handsome man
A handsome man can’t go to jail

Foghorn - The closing track has an appropriate title and somber tone. The overall feel of it reminds me somewhat of Blue Rodeo's Jokers Wild way back on their the way back on their Outskirts debut - albeit with a slower tempo.

As this entry posts, the band doesn't have many of the new songs on YouTube as official videos or fan-submitted ones. Until more emerge, you can sample the songs at Amazon. But don't overthink it. Hopefully these comments have given you enough of the why and what for to make the decision to get this album.


Saturday, May 11, 2013

2013 National Train Day

During my commute Thursday, I heard the host on Nashville's Lightning 100 radio say it was National Train Day. I've never heard of it, but with a day set aside for something as cool as trains I had to look into it once I got to the office.

TMC Great Grandfather standing between engine and tender
As it turns out, Thursday was not NTD. Today is - Saturday, May 11, 2013. My jaded mind believes most faux holidays were created by Hallmark or American Greeting simply as a cash grab and get guys in trouble with their significant others. But in this case, Amtrak of all folks started National Train Day in 2008.

Based on the day's Wikipedia page, Amtrak established National Train Day to commemorate the anniversary of the driving of the golden spike that completed the transcontinental railroad. The pattern for NTD was established to fall on the Saturday closest to May 10. This year, therefore, NTD falls on May 11, 2013. By the way, if you aren't familiar with the story of the building of the transcontinental railroad AND you enjoy reading - immerse yourself into Stephen Ambrose's book Nothing Like It In The World. A fantastic read.
So what would National Train Day be without some quality train music, right? I'm not about to drag this post out to the n'th degree with a boocoodle of train songs. But I thought I'd include a six-pack to fire your boilers and drive your diesels today.

Fresh off their award-winning performance at Couch By Couchwest in March this year, Uncle Leon and The Alibis are my lead-off track with the infectious Beer Train. (Or maybe I was supposed to remind folks you can catch an infection from them. Hmm.) Oh never mind. Just grab your favorite brand of suds, rally some friends, crank this number, (attempt to) designate lead and backup vocals, and Vine the results on Twitter.

TMC against the wall waiting for my train to come in
With Amtrak having established the train's most deserving day, its only appropriate to include a song named for Amtrak. Scott Miller simply cannot do anything but a rock-solid performance of the Amtrak Crescent - whether he is singing solo or with his band, The Commonwealth. (For the record, Scott also performed at Couch By Couchwest although not on a train like Uncle Leon.)

Sounds of Roger Miller in the house is one of my favorite childhood memories. Daddy had a Zenith fold-down turntable with fold-out speakers covered in avocado-green woven fabric. He played Miller's Golden Hits LP on most Saturdays.
My sister, brother and I enjoyed some of Roger's funny, bouncy songs at first: You Can't Roller Skate In A Buffalo Herd, Dang Me. But one of Daddy's favorites -  Engine Engine #9 - soon became one of mine along with many of his other underrated songs. My dad  was (and still is) a pretty stoic man. But when the stylus began the opening to this one, he'd sing along and keep a beat by tapping his pocket. You'd hear his change and keys jingle kind of like a tambourine.

Will Kimbrough - Another Train - Slide on a dobro guitar, harmonica, and a bluesy vibe from one of the most talented and versatile musicians and lyricists around. I believe Another Train from Will's album Americanitis seemed to fit this theme to a T.

The first train I recall riding - Fair Park, Nashville TN
Todd Snider's eulogy to his friend Skip Litz in Train Song from his album, East Nashville Skyline is truly an honest but haunting song. I'm pretty sure it was the first song I played a second time - and then a third and so on - after buying the CD.

After getting really introspective with Roger Miller and Todd Snider, how about I stoke the firebox and end this post with some just flat-out, greasy, Southern swamp rock courtesy of Blackfoot.


Monday, April 15, 2013

Feel Bad For You Taxpayers

April 15 - Bite the bullet, and pay The Man. This post serves as a friendly reminder to get your 1040 postmarked by midnight tonight, or you'll be facing a visit by...

Now just because its Tax Day and perhaps a separation of your wallet from your person doesn't mean all is lost. A well-meaning group of miscreants, scofflaws, and vagabonds from the blogsphere, Facebook, Twitter, Couch By Couchwest, etc. once again feel bad for you. And to demonstrate their empathy, April's Feel Bad For You compilation is now available for your listening enjoyment.
You can stream the mishmash of great tunes below or download the full comp here. Either way, just realize you have no one to blame but yourself for again waiting until the 11th hour to sweat your way through Turbo Tax or H&R Block's software. Sorry, but its true. But I still feel bad for you.

Compilation listing:
(Visit Feel Bad For You's blog for specific comments related to each track.)

1. Title: A New Love (Can Be Found)
Artist: Daniel Romano
Album (year): Come Cry With Me (2013)
Submitted By: Bryan Childs (

2. Title: Song For Zula
Artist: Phosphorescent
Album (year): Muchacho (2013)
Submitted By: Mad Mackerel

3. Title: Up To Me
Artist: Cosmonaut On Vacation
Album: Let The Moment Land (2013)
Submitted by: Corey Flegel (This Is American Music)

4. Title: Leave the City
Artist: Magnolia Electric Co.
Album (Year): Radio K (Minneapolis 8th Aug 09)
Submitted by: Simon

5. Title: Ashes to Athens (live)
Artist: Joe Bonamassa
Album (year): An Acoustic Evening at the Vienna Opera House (2013)
Submitted By: @tincanman2010

6. Title: Cloudy Morning Blues
Artist: Black Cold Bottles
Album (year): Neander (2012)
Submitted By: hoosier buddy

7. Title: New Lover
Artist: Josh Ritter
Album (year): The Beast In Its Tracks (2013)
Submitted By: @philnorman

8. Title: Lost Highway
Artist: The Replacements
Album (year): Songs for Slim (2013)
Submitted By: @mikeorren

9. Title: It Hurts Too Much To Cry
Artist: Leroy Powell & The Messengers
Album (year): Life and Death (2013)
Submitted By: Trailer (

10. Title: It Must Have Been Love
Artist: Kathleen Edwards
Album (year): single (2013)
Submitted By: Rockstar Aimz

11. Title: War Again
Artist: Balkan Beat Box
Album (year): Blue Eyed Black Boy (2010):
Submitted By: @popa2unes

12. Title: Peter Piper
Artist: Run-DMC
Album (year): Raising Hell (1986)
Submitted By: Gorrck

13. Title: Peace And Quiet
Artist: Waxahatchee
Album (Year): Cerulean Salt (2013)
Submitted By: erschen

14. Title: Free To Fly
Artist: Markus Rill
Album (year): My Rocket Ship (2013)
Submitted By: Mando Lines

15. Title: Inside
Artist: Sand Rubies
Album: Cuacha (2001)
Submitted By: toomuchcountry

16. Title: High on the Skyline
Artist: The New Mendicants
Album (year): Australia EP (2013)
Submitted By: Ryan

17. Title: Hoover Farm Exorcism
Artist: Imperial Rooster
Album (year): The Savior EP / Cluckaphony (2013)
Submitted By: annieTUFF

18. Title: Lean on Me
Artist: Telekinesis
Album (year): Dormarion
Submitted By: scratchedsoul

19. Title: Asa
Artist: Denison Witmer
Album (year): Denison Witmer (2013)
Submitted By: Slowcoustic

20. Title: Help Is On The Way
Artist: Gerald Collier
Album (year): Help Is On The Way – Digital Single (2013)
Submitted By: BoogieStudio22


Sunday, March 3, 2013

CXCW 2013

First, has it really been a year? I knew I'd taken a bit of a sabbatical from this forum, but I didn't realize it had been a full year. I've been active with my NASCAR/Schaefer beer-oriented blog, and most of my random thoughts are now posted in 140 characters or  less on Twitter. But if you'd told me a year ago that this blog would fall off the grid, I'm not sure I would have agreed with you. Alas, you would have been right.

Second, enough about the previous paragraph. Move on vs. look backwards, right? A week from today begins perhaps the most anticipated music festival in the nation. No, not SXSW. To be honest, I'm not even sure it qualifies as a music festival anymore with all its movies, situational readings, seminars, commercial product releases, etc.

I'm talking about Couch X Couchwest that will officially run March 10-16, 2013. Some pre-show activities have already begun on Twitter and Facebook. And the chatter about participants generally continues long after the festival officially closes.

Credit: @magearwig submission to Couch By Couchwest

The diversity but simplicity of CXCW are its strengths.
  • Rather than travel to Austin (or any other festival locale), you get to enjoy the music from wherever you want - your couch, hotel room, local coffee shop, favorite drinking establishment, airport terminal, morning commute drive (not encouraged), etc.
  • You aren't a slave to a schedule. No worries about trying to be at two or more venues or stages at the same time. Just lauch and watch videos of performers whenever you want - and as often as you want.
  • Oh yeah! The performers. A few songwriters and bands I'd heard of such as Ray Wylie Hubbard, Gretchen Peters, Will Kimbrough and Jonny Corndawg submitted videos last year. But what I truly enjoy about CXCW is hearing artists and bands new to me with cool tunes and vids. 
  • Looking for new accounts to friend on Facebook and follow on Twitter? CXCW is a great way to ID many of those.
Load up on your brew of choice whether it be cheap, mainstream, or local microbrew; prep or purchase your snacks; fire up your laptop, PC, or iPad; dress down; and slack away for a few days ... or evenings ... or just whenver.

Speaking of slacking, my cat Pumpkin certainly has that part mastered as he readies for CXCW2013.

So if you want to take in some great music, join me where the beer is cheaper and the only hipster is you. This year's on-line festival will run from March 10 - 16.