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.