Rolling Country 2017

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Nashville Scene will publish the seventeenth annual Country Music Critics Poll January 26, 2017. While we're waiting (or not), might as well paste comments I sent them that weren't from RC '16---anybody else got some of those? Or comments on newer releases would be good (still haven't gotten to Natalie Hemby's album, but nice clips).

dow, Thursday, 12 January 2017 01:45 (two months ago) Permalink

Buck Owens’ The Complete Capitol Singles 1967-1966 starts with so-what songs and subdued settings, but his voice is already flexible and on point, mining each note and syllable just enough to check for whatever might be worth extracting--carefully but quickly (2 hours, 12 minutes of music here, and virtually every track is under three minutes, some of the best and worst just over two).
In the booklet he’s the first to assert that these early tracks were not so hot, because he didn’t have the cred to things his way under the success of “Under Your Spell Again” proved his point (several follow-ups glance off its template; whatever the commercial results, takes a while before one sounds nearly as good). It’s still a startling quality bump to a leap, the classic Buck suddenly materializing, declaring (no complaints, not like before). “You’ve. Got. Me. Unn-der, your spellll again, “ doing all the things he does with beats and short phrases in the California melding of country with rock ‘n’ roll appeal----in brief of course, though later he’ll sometimes bring in a suggestion of Latin and/or Caribbean curvature in the held vocal notes and supporting sounds, or, more on the per se country side, wail each note of the chorus over a thin ticky-tocky snare and rhythm guitar pick: this is music from another hit factory, for sure. Starting, as he says, with the rule of treble---no more tracks “where it sounds like the bass player is standing in front of the singer”----and little mono speakers in the control room, to check how the mix will sound on transistors and car radios: he wants it clear, and it sounds like he wants it edgey, baby: the bright metallic “Bakersfield Sound” of money-making machinery, in synch and bouncing off the tin roof sun, with jangling breezes and currents, dust and foliage and the available or at least glimpsed waters: all in in California chrome reflections cruising by.
Cruising by what, you may ask. Well--- not that he spends much time, after label-imposed early stints, hunkered down and brooding, but when he does, it’s all somebody else’s fault. Or, if he gets up and stumbles by the house that used to be his home, where his wifenkids still live, where he mumbles that he maybe kinda blew it---but he paid for it, and there they are, all warm and together and shit---but he can make himself grudgingly acknowledge his sins and thus join them in Heaven someday, after everybody’s dead---and this is all, at most, that taking responsibility etc can get you---so the exception proves the rule.
But he has no flair for “J’accuse!”, nor for guilt and expiation and other whiskey-selling Jukebox Gothic rituals, none of that cobwebbed indoor stuff. This is Cali, dude! Responsibility and wide-opening-mindedness gradually appear organically---transition first noticed in “Mental Cruelty”, where he brings Rose Maddox into a Divorce Court reenactment of how she took him to the cleaners; really nobody’s fault, shit happens, but all she had to do was drop those two little words---one starts with an “M.”, the other with a “C.”---and cha-ching. But, as she recites her part, dryly enough to seem wry, and hollow-toned, suggesting a prisoner-of-war’s forced confession, subliminally conveyed---time enough to devise a code, in that cell, she caps it all by barely bearing down on the mention of his “way of life”, which she declined to participate in any longer...and this is allowed! In a perhaps alternate time, he proposes that they stop “Kickin’ Hearts Around”, ‘cause it’s just too time-and-maybe-other consuming; in “Loose Talk”, he and Maddox rally against a common threat, of a mobocracy of gossiping, even gaslighting neighbors and fremenies: he assures her that the terrible things they tell her he does go ditto for tales of that flaming Rose. This same thing happens in another song on down the line----see, you just gotta keep moving. In yet another possibly alternate-universe turn, he gets turned on, not scandalized, by her going out, “Foolin’ Around”---didn’t know she had it in her, maybe, or maybe his competitive side, gets turned on, in a sporting way---he cheerfully proposes that she “come on home, and fool around with me..” Subsequently, when he’s got “A Tiger By The Tail”, he sounds a bit apprehensive, but also “one hand waving free”, as young Mr. D, can only wish for”--here ‘tis, over the Buckaroos’ rodeo jolt and swirl ( despite a few duds and placeholders, sound quality gets better and better, with more room for instrumental interplay, without stretching out).
The swirl gets get a little braincloudy in the resonant street-wide sunlight of “Waiting In Your Welfare Line”, where an inspired gentleman caller is sure you’ll give him another shot---after all, he gave up everything the first time he saw you, and it’ll all make sense when you bring it back---and if you do so in a “Welfare Cadillac”, that’s gravy---that song isn’t here, but it’s nice the way this one leaves its strictures in the dust of absurdist pop social commentary, if you want to take it as such. Mostly, of course, we get good clean fun---the speedy corn-plucking seasons of Hee-Haw aren’t far away--and here we also have some vocal x instrumental turns that still conjure drooling Byrds, Beatles, Parsons, Mavericks, and certainly certainly Yoakam (for instance).

dow, Thursday, 12 January 2017 01:49 (two months ago) Permalink

Listened to Amanda Shires' 2016 album today, but better give it more spins before commenting. Meanwhile another from Nash Scene ballot reissues:

Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, The Complete Trio Collection: the title isn’t quite accurate, as the Wikipedia article on this round-up points out: several more tracks from the original Trio and Trio II’s 80s and 90s sessions turned up on solo albums, as did a few of the 20 that are included on the bonus disc. Some of the alternate takes and previously unreleased titles (which could have added variety of style, detail, and/or dynamics to the troika’s LP-length albums) sung strictly or nearly solo, seem more effective than the previously released versions: when the song is about and from a solitary place, other voices, at least when they enter at predictable points, can slightly dilute the brew, pad the impact, no matter how much they want you to know, “ You ‘n’ me both, Kid” and furthermore ,” I’m with you, Sister.”
But those responses are never far away, even in the darkest, starkest moments. It may seem, especially given Parton’s weepier tendencies as singer and writer, that they’ll all get stuck on a lover’s cross, and they def have their hang-ups, but don’t we all, and ain’t that country, but mainly there is, often enough (usually every few seconds, only a few DOA, although that’s another country tradition too, of course), at the very least, an implicit yet not too polite strength in self-assertion and solidarity. Which certainly goes with the blend of traditional and modern, in the sounds and sentiments. “Lover’s “Return”, written or anyway copyrighted by principals of the Original Carter Family, is mountain-y and civil, while informing the one who once dumped her, and now comes crawling back, “God doesn’t give us back our youth.” Parton writes and sings “Wildflowers” with folk tropes calmly moving to her wish granted, “the garden set me free.(Had to be, for the garden’s sake as well: “The flowers grew/Too close together.”).
Ronstadt’s robust tones are at their most flexible here, sometimes suggesting Karen Carpenter negotiating the maybe chromatic turns of “Goodbye To Love”, but then again she wisely lets the other two take most of the highest notes, but say if Carpenter had lived to cover “Live To Tell” or something with the same burnished intrigue---not the cheesier 80s….mainly I’m thinking of the 1987 Trio’s version of “I’ve Had Enough”, which is immediately recognizable by its combination of romantic to almost but never quite post-romantic eloquence, blunt and frilly, in lyrics and melody. It sounds sophisticated, wised-up yet still maybe naive and nostalgic at some points, or wanting to be, hoarding the crumbs, the scars, the hopes, the history (in the Wikipedia entry, Parton is quoted as saying they didn’t understand what the hell “After The Gold Rush” meant, and supposedly they called Neil and he said he didn’t know either, but conceptually it’s perfectly, ruefully at home in these sessions, while still sounding a little drippy, as always--though more so here, when Parton changes the candidly confessional “I felt like getting high” to feeling like she could cry). The alternate “I’ve Had Enough” is one of the few easy choices for exclusion, since it draws the harmonists into tiny waves of insular, rainy day consolation around the old upright (no longer the cosmopolitan, note-bending electric on Trio II). This is good as far as it goes,(which is backwards, sonically: they’re not walking it like they talk it), but reminds me of the stylish young Canadienne in an 80s (maybe early 90s) documentary about the McGarrigles, who said that their songs reminded her of “what the nuns used to make us sing,” and why she moved to the big city.
(Perhaps to be included among this year’s Related Reissues, Kate and Anna McGarrigle mine their rich mix of signals in several directions on
Pronto Monto, from 1978: the sometimes exhilarating results are still mixed too, appropriately enough)(wonder what 70s Neil Young thought about them?)
Emmylou Harris’s choice of material is not so striking, but in this context, her solo voice can seem to draw in properties of the other two---who, when they come in, can seem like further definitions, a new mix, of her high and low ends---until the unified effect becomes a sonic spectrum (helps with the nuances and other details too).
As far as left-behinds now adding the aforementioned variety of etc., the hymn “Softly and Tenderly” is just like the title says without cloying or clotting. The Roebuck Staples-co-write “You Don’t Knock” truly and briskly believes in abstaining from timidity at Heaven’s door. “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind” is Parton leading a tailfeather tambourine handclapping parade in the face of and past another no-good ex, with another reminder of what’s being missed on the Hallelujah Trail (a good thing or three).

dow, Friday, 13 January 2017 01:50 (two months ago) Permalink

But Randy Rogers is playing at a long-running event that’s been held since 1953 by the Texas State Society called Black Tie and Boots in Oxon Hill, Maryland that has become one of the most prestigious events leading up to the inauguration for the last 60 years, but has no direct affiliation with Mr. Trump’s official inauguration itself.

curmudgeon, Friday, 13 January 2017 14:53 (two months ago) Permalink

I'm not that big a KK fan, though some of his songs are good vehicles for other singers, and some of his own tracks are okay--- though he's better with other voices, the Highwaymen etc., so some of these guests might help (maybe even Steve Earle, which tells you something about how I hear Kristofferson):


1997 Recording Featuring Stripped-Down Versions Kristofferson's Best Songs
Has Been Remastered And Expanded With Two Unreleased Outtakes

Available From Rhino On February 10

LOS ANGELES - In the summer of 1997, Kris Kristofferson spent a few days in Texas recording stripped-down versions of his best-known songs. Released by Atlantic Records in 1999, The Austin Sessions pairs the acclaimed outlaw country songwriter with a band of studio aces and guest harmony vocalists for intimate versions of classics like "Me and Bobby McGee," "Why Me?" and "Sunday Morning Coming Down."

Rhino Records celebrates these powerful recordings with an expanded version of the album that features remastered sound and includes two unreleased session outtakes. Fred Mollin, who produced the original album, tells the story behind the sessions in the collection's liner notes, which also feature several unpublished photos from the time. THE AUSTIN SESSIONS: EXPANDED EDITION will be available February 10 on CD ($13.98) and digitally ($9.99). A remastered vinyl version of The Austin Sessions will also be available on the same day ($21.98).

Kristofferson recorded The Austin Sessions at Arlyn Studios in Texas with a group of session veterans from Los Angeles and Nashville who were hand-picked by Mollin, who also plays acoustic guitar on the album. Kristofferson's longtime touring guitarist Stephen Bruton appears on several songs as well.

Mollin recalls: "I knew in my heart that I could pull off a great under-produced production and give Kris the album he always wanted to make: one that felt like it had the uniqueness and rootsy feeling that Dylan accomplished on his early electric albums."

Several guests join Kristofferson on the album, including Jackson Browne ("Me And Bobby McGee"), Steve Earle ("Sunday Morning Coming Down"), Vince Gill ("Help Me Make It Through The Night"), Catie Curtis ("Nobody Wins"), and Mark Knopfler ("Please Don't Tell Me How The Story Ends").

Left off the original album, "Best Of All Possible Worlds" and "Jody And The Kid" make their debut on the expanded version. Mollin says the songs show different sides of Kristofferson' songwriting. "One is lighthearted, dry, sarcastic and one of the greatest examples of Kris' humor and storytelling, while the other is just deeply emotional and shows the true aching heart that can be felt like an arrow, from Kris to the listener."

Continuing down the path of his fabled career, the five-time Grammy® winner gained another nomination for Best Americana Album for his LP The Cedar Creek Sessions in December 2016. At 80 years old, the country music legend will kick off a 2017 tour this January. More information on the tour can be found via

Track Listing:

1. "Me And Bobby McGee"
2. "Sunday Morning Coming Down"
3. "For The Good Times"
4. "The Silver Tongued Devil And I"
5. "Help Me Make It Through The Night"
6. "Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I'll Ever Do Again)"
7. "To Beat The Devil"
8. "Who's To Bless And Who's To Blame"
9. "Why Me?"
10. "Nobody Wins"
11. "The Pilgrim: Chapter 33"
12. "Please Don't Tell Me How The Story Ends"
13. "Best Of All Possible Worlds" *
14. "Jody And The Kid" *

* previously unreleased

dow, Sunday, 15 January 2017 01:03 (two months ago) Permalink

Been listening to Amanda Shires' 2016 This Is My Land some more, and guess she's trying for a transparent effect, letting and trusting us to make what we will of her crisp, flexible, sometimes prowly, always at least somewhat evocative tunes and words--but she sure keeps a lid on things. 10 songs, 33 minutes could have a classic effect, but some of the narrative and clues stop too soon for caring, the slow tempos get to be too similar in overall effect, despite some hooks and astute turns of phrase, also the accompaniment is constrained; husband Isbell's guitar gets to release exactly two, perfectly placed, unmistakably Isbellian notes, one acoustic, one slide electric; too bad Dave Cobb, though here as always the sympatico producer, couldn't have seen his way to negotiate just a bit more instances of cuttin' loose, here and there, if not, perish the thought, for a whole track.
And her thin, clear, quiet voice (Isbell in there occasionally, but muffled) really is the lid, however transparent; it doesn't shine that much, and may be all she's got to give as a performer, aside from her under-utilized fiddle, which does add a few highlights or glints.
But she can write, and here's hoping somebody (Bonnie Raitt, Miranda Lambert, Jason Isbell) covers her.

dow, Wednesday, 18 January 2017 20:18 (two months ago) Permalink

So on among my Scene ballot's added, made-up categories, I gave this first place in About Half Good (40-60%), because some of it really does work, as individual tracks, def. good for mixes and radio shows.

dow, Wednesday, 18 January 2017 20:26 (two months ago) Permalink

So the band Alabama are still together, I see. The Prez-elect tweeted about them and Lee Greenwood

curmudgeon, Thursday, 19 January 2017 17:57 (two months ago) Permalink

finding the Natalie Hemby album a bit more understated than I'd imagined, haven't found a way in yet really

lex pretend, Thursday, 26 January 2017 16:33 (two months ago) Permalink

x-post from the poll's singles chart

8. Jon Pardi, “Head Over Boots” (Valory/Capitol)

I came to really like this track near the end of the year and it made my Pazz & Jop poll singles list. I was the only voter for it there though.

curmudgeon, Thursday, 26 January 2017 17:42 (two months ago) Permalink

I meant to check that out, will do so sometime. Now approaching xpost Hemby with some trepidation. Here's my Scene ballot (also posted, with comments: though most comments are from RC 2016 and this thread)

(just in the order they come to mind)
1.Loretta Lynn: Full Circle
2.Lori McKenna: The Bird and the Rifle
3.Chely Wright: I Am the Rain
4.Robbie Fulks: Upland Stories
5.Tomi Lunsford: Come On Blue
6.Austin Lucas: Between the Moon & the Midwest
7.Western Centuries: Weight of the World
8.Willie Nelson: For the Good Times: A Tribute to Ray Price
9.Miranda Lambert: The Weight of These Wings
10.Maren Morris: Hero


1.Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt: The Complete Trio Collection Deluxe Edition
2.Buck Owens: The Complete Capitol Singles: 1957-1966
3.Merle Haggard: Live In San Francisco 1965
4.Hart Valley Drifters: Folk Time

1.Maren Morris
2.Aubrie Sellers

Made-Up Categories:
Willie Nelson: Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin, Kelsey Waldon: I've Got A Way, Brandy Clark: Big Day In A Small Town, Charlie Daniels: Night Hawk, Aaron Lewis: Sinner, Dwight Yoakam: Swimmin' Pools, Movie Stars…, Randy Rogers Band: Nothing Shines Like Neon, Carrie Rodriguez: Lola, Various Artists: Southern Family

Amanda Shires: My Piece of Land, Wynonna Judd & the Big Noise: Wynonna & the Big Noise, The Honeycutters: On The Ropes, Colvin & Earle: s/t. Aubrie Sellers: New City Blues, Dolly Parton: Pure and Simple, Hank Williams Jr.: It's About Time, Margo Price: Midwest Farmer's Daughter, John Prine: For Better Or Worse, Corb Lund: Things That Can't Be Undone

1.Lucinda Williams: Ghosts of Highway 20
2.Elizabeth Cook: Exodus of Venus
3.Freakwater: Scheherazade
4.Sturgill Simpson: A Sailor's Guide To Earth
5.Lydia Loveless: Real
6.Shovels & Rope: Little Seeds
7.Peter Stampfel and the Brooklyn & Lower Manhattan Fiddle/Mandolin Swarm: Holiday for Strings
8.Minute2Minute: Postcards From El Bossa

Aaron Lee Tasjan, Silver Tears

NRBQ: High Noon--A 50 Year Retrospective

dow, Thursday, 26 January 2017 18:08 (two months ago) Permalink

From Himes data mining in the Nashville Scene poll: not a surprise, but interesting nonetheless

Some artists sold a lot of albums without impressing the critics. The discrepancy was especially noticeable for Joey + Rory’s Hymns (No. 2 Billboard Year-End Country Albums/No. 61 Best Albums Poll), Blake Shelton’s If I’m Honest (No. 3/No. 65 Scene) and Jason Aldean’s They Don’t Know (No. 12/No. 110). Remarkably, Florida Georgia Line’s Dig Your Roots, the No. 11 album for Billboard, failed to win a single vote from any of the 89 critics participating in the poll.

• On the other hand, some artists impressed the critics without selling many records. Seven of the Top 10 finishers in the poll’s Best Album category failed to show up in Billboard’s Top 50: Miranda Lambert’s The Weight of These Wings (No. 1), Margo Price’s Midwest Farmer’s Daughter (No. 2), Brandy Clark’s Big Day in a Small Town (No. 3), Lori McKenna’s The Bird and the Rifle (No. 6), Robbie Fulks’ Upland Stories (No. 7), Drive-By Truckers’ American Band (No. 8) and Lucinda Williams’ The Ghosts of Highway 20 (No. 115). To be fair, the Lambert album probably would have made the Billboard list if it hadn’t been released so late in the year.

curmudgeon, Thursday, 26 January 2017 19:55 (two months ago) Permalink

finding the Natalie Hemby album a bit more understated than I'd imagined

great sell - listening now, sounds good! Production reminds me a bit of Musgraves' debut

niels, Friday, 27 January 2017 11:44 (two months ago) Permalink

one month passes...

Kinda liked the 2014 Sunny Sweeney album (old-school themes with a bit of pop punch) and see her new one "Trophy" is coming out March 10th. She's on a US tour now too. I was at a different gig, and missed her DC show in a small barbeque place's basement.

curmudgeon, Monday, 6 March 2017 17:40 (three weeks ago) Permalink

NPR and others like the new Sweeney album, I haven't heard it yet.

curmudgeon, Wednesday, 8 March 2017 19:18 (three weeks ago) Permalink

I've been surprised by how well the new Little Big town album has been received. I generally like them and have gone to bat for them over the years, but the album is just ungodly dull and plodding. Nearly every criticism of monotonous Americana albums applies to it tenfold.

jon_oh, Wednesday, 8 March 2017 22:20 (three weeks ago) Permalink

Sunny Sweeney's only made three albums, def. timeworthy quality over quantity, despite the unevenness of albs 1 and 3. Number 2, Concrete is the one to start with so far. Nash Scene ballot/blogged comments for 3, AKA aforementioned 2014 release Provoked (I was a little too hard on it overall, but basic complaints still apply):
Sunny Sweeney, Provoked:
Seems like 7, maybe 8 keepers, out of 13 (in 47 minutes, a reasonable running time for that many tracks): not too shabby a ratio, but dammit, Concrete set the bar high/spoiled me, and---in terms of country-pop elegance and emotional impact, nothing here grabs my attention and sails around the room with it like, say, "From A Table Away" did. Although "Uninvited" comes close: it's an almost understated little chiller, as the well-mannered witness arrives at a social occasion, " moved through the room and the crowd divided/Somebody should have told me I was/Uninvited"--but that's not the worst of it.
All the songs I like so far, incl "Bad Girl Phase" ( currently enjoying the Southern Rock tinge, and the jaded vocal: she's been here before, knows we have too), "Second Guessing," "Can't Let Go," (though it clones the original, which might make more sense if she were trying to turn Country Radio listeners onto Lucinda, but c'mon it's a Kickstarter; the NPR audience isn't exactly unfamiliar with LW),"My Bed" (one that drops the blurry double tracking which eventually undermines several other ballads, for a good duet ritual with Will Hoge), maybe "Sunday Dress" (which could be the morning after "Uninvited"'s nightmare: she's still awake--but oops the double-tracking slips in, adding a little too much entrophy), definitely "Used Cars" (yay, uptempo again, where even double-tracking--chorus only, I think---adds a nice abrasion): "Just when I thought/All of the good ones were gone/Found another woman's wreck and made him someone I could/Depend on"(not the best rhyme, but it sounds like a good make-do fixer-upper: patchy in a good way), and "Backhanded Compliment" (like "You must have such confidence, to wear that dress!"---but she also makes a Note To Self: do not say "It's my personality that makes me hot!"), all those seem like they could be fragments of scenes from the same marriage (also the good kinda patchy) Maybe the tedious ones are too, but they seem just plain tedious.
Oh yeah, and "the world goes to hell in a feel-good song" is not really much of a problem, as I feel sure the world would agree.

dow, Thursday, 9 March 2017 00:21 (three weeks ago) Permalink

Can't find a Nashville thread but I'm here for a day and looking for something country-centric to do if anyone has any recommendations.

Heez, Saturday, 11 March 2017 14:23 (two weeks ago) Permalink

You can drive up and see Johnny & June's grave site. It's in a fairly anonymous looking cemetary up in Madison, TN.

Ⓓⓡ. (Johnny Fever), Saturday, 11 March 2017 14:33 (two weeks ago) Permalink

Cool. Thinking about checking the "bob Dylan, johnny cash and the Nashville cats" exhibition at the cmhf. Looks like it's got stuff on Cinderella studios and that era

Heez, Saturday, 11 March 2017 15:09 (two weeks ago) Permalink

Yeah, several travelers have told me that was worth checking.

dow, Sunday, 12 March 2017 21:16 (two weeks ago) Permalink

Yeah it was. Cool little listening stations and bios for each of the side players

Heez, Sunday, 12 March 2017 21:29 (two weeks ago) Permalink

that Sunny Sweeney album's good, the title track (Lori McKenna cowrite) especially.

the Rain Man of nationalism. (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 14 March 2017 18:17 (two weeks ago) Permalink

holy shit, the Sunny Sweeney album

lex pretend, Thursday, 16 March 2017 14:42 (two weeks ago) Permalink

"Bottle By My Bed" floored me

lex pretend, Thursday, 16 March 2017 14:42 (two weeks ago) Permalink

aw hell yeah i'm excited for a good new sunny sweeney record

the raindrops and drop tops of lived, earned experience (BradNelson), Thursday, 16 March 2017 15:01 (two weeks ago) Permalink

Only made it half way through the new Sweeney til I had the thought that the whole taking pills/crazy ex-girlfriend cliches of recent female country are starting to wear thin.

Heez, Thursday, 16 March 2017 15:30 (two weeks ago) Permalink

but "pills" isn't a twist I've heard before (I haven't parsed all the lyrics but it sounds like it might actually be about Ecstasy rather than pain pills?) and there isn't a crazy ex-girlfriend song on the album

lex pretend, Thursday, 16 March 2017 15:47 (two weeks ago) Permalink

the sunny sweeney record is GREAT

the raindrops and drop tops of lived, earned experience (BradNelson), Friday, 24 March 2017 20:32 (six days ago) Permalink

Sounded pretty good on 1 and a half listens, wasn't wowed by all, but by a lot of it.

curmudgeon, Monday, 27 March 2017 13:57 (three days ago) Permalink

Sweeney's intonations on "Pills" are killer -- she doesn't sing like her contemporaries.

the Rain Man of nationalism. (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 27 March 2017 15:00 (three days ago) Permalink

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