Archive for the ‘other side of country’ Category

Love and Theft – World Wide Open

October 26, 2009
 Love and Theft - World Wide Open

Written By: Jeff Markunas
(Americana/Country Editor)


Label: Carolwood – Rating:

They say that family bands make the best singers because siblings have genetic traits that make harmonizing natural; Love and Theft sounds like triplets separated at birth. Their harmonies soar and blend effortlessly like true musical brothers.

Stephen Barker Liles, Eric Gunderson and Brian Bandas swing easily from singing lead to three-part harmonies, and their songwriting skills are on a par with anyone currently working in Nashville.

If you like great country singing – think Brooks and Dunn with an extra brother – this band will completely impress and entertain you.

My bitch (you knew I had one) is that Love and Theft has three great singers, superbly presenting great vocal material, but are backed by a truly mediocre band.

Now let me define my term here – mediocre means completely average, neither good nor bad. The fact I can’t say anything negative or positive about the backing band speaks volumes about their performance.

My suspicion here is that the producer(s) took the “Glen Campbell” route. Glen is an excellent and creative guitarist, who played studio guitar for some of the greats, from the Beach Boys to Frank Sinatra. His solo career, however, is almost completely devoid of his playing – His producers wanted to sell him as a ‘personable pop singer’ (which he is) – not as a guitar hero.

The other end of the musical scale is Brooks and Dunn, whose band knows how to Rock Hard and Blow Sweet as necessary, while allowing the vocals complete freedom.

Now, since I don’t have any money riding on this band, I don’t have to care, but I think Love and theft are to coin a phrase – Too Good To Fail.

Free advice is, as Yogi might say, worth exactly what you pay for it, but…

Right now the World is ‘Wide Open.’ Stephen, Eric and Brian have already impressed jaded label execs and Kanye West’s favorite country singer, who hired them as her opening act.. I think that Love and Theft will impress listeners too. Great start guys!

Now the free advice – Don’t let the ‘professionals’ mold your musical sound any more than you would let them dictate your vocal harmonies… Hire a great band, work the kinks out on the road and storm into the studio like a conquering army to make your next album.

Rock Bottom Line:
Great singers in search of a great band. I would have enjoyed this album twice as much if the band had the verve and presence of the singers.

CWG Rating – 3 Guns

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Robert Earl Keen – The Rose Hotel

October 6, 2009
robert earl keen rose hotel

Written By: Jeff Markunas
(Americana/Country Editor)
Label: Lost Highway – Rating:

This album fits your ears the way an old leather jacket fits your back – comfortable in all the right places. Robert Earl doesn’t so much roll up to the Rose Hotel as glide. Texas boys with no muss, no fuss? Don’t sound right do it? Well REK knows how to make this work.

If you’re gonna spend a large part of your life standing in front of a mic wearing an old hat and boots, with a guitar slung over your shoulder, you better be real good or go home. Robert Earl Keen has no problem holding his own under these circumstances. You may not have been following his career – there’s a lot of pickers who tend to suck the oxygen right out of the air in Texas. You gotta be good to stay and you have to be great to make it.

The Rose Hotel is a gem of an album, although it may not have the brightest sparkle of REK’s career, as I think some of his earlier work rocks harder and glows brighter. The Rose Hotel does however have an incredible jewel, “Wireless In Heaven,” which skewers modern life very musically and very thoroughly. I recommend that everyone buy a copy of this album, drive over to the local Starbucks, and play this song at full volume on your netbook while standing in line during the morning rush.

Robert Earl is in a very mellow mood here – if he got much more laid back, the Doctors would applying the paddles and yell, “CLEAR!” My recommendation – Get your ‘chill’ on with “Flying Shoes” or “Goodbye Cleveland,” then wake it up with”10,000 Chinese Walk Into A Bar,” and put the cherry on top with “Wireless In Heaven” (What’s the musical equivalent of a Burp? Ahhh…)

Rock Bottom Line:
Mellow little gem of a Texas/country album. Relax and Enjoy.

CWG Rating – 3.5 Guns

John Fogerty On Tour

September 28, 2009

On November 12th John Fogerty, the chart-topping Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, will launch a national tour in support of his new album ‘The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again.’ Fortunate Son/Verve Forecast released the album on August 31st as a follow up to Fogerty’s 1973 solo debut.

Critics immediately declared Fogerty’s phenomenal renditions of timeless American songs by Rick Nelson, Buck Owens and The Everly Brothers instant classics. USA Today called it “superb” while The New York Times raved that Fogerty’s live performance “[evoked] the sound of a mythic backwoods Southland, where barefoot girls dance in the moonlight” and Rolling Stone applauded the album’s “strong back-porch
country vibe.”

This week, Fogerty received the Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting from the Americana Music Association. He’ll kickoff the first season of Live By Request on PBS, and will appear on The Tonight
Show with Conan O’Brien in November as well.

Fogerty along with Kenny Aronoff (drums) Billy Burnette (guitar) Jason Mowery (fiddle/mandolin) Matt Nolen (keyboards/guitar) Hunter Perrin (guitar) David Santos (bass) and James Pennebaker (pedal steel) will kick off the tour at Los Angeles’ Kodak Theater on November 12th.

John Fogerty Fall 2009 US Tour Dates:
November 12 Los Angeles Kodak Theater
November 14 Primm, NV Primm Valley Resort
November 16 Denver, CO Temple Hoyne Buell Theater
November 18 Minneapolis, MN Orpheum Theater
November 19 Milwaukee, WI Riverside Theater
November 21 Chicago, IL Auditorium Theater
November 22 Nashville, TN Ryman Auditorium
November 24 New York, NY The Beacon Theater
November 25 Newark, NJ NJPAC
November 27 Mashantucket, CT MGM Grand at Foxwoods
November 28 Philadelphia, PA Tower Theater
November 29 Boston, MA Orpheum Theater

For more than four decades, John Fogerty has been an American treasure: one of the most revered and influential artists to emerge in the ’60s, and still a vital part of the musical landscape. As lead singer, guitarist and songwriter of Creedence Clearwater Revival and as a
GRAMMY-winning, chart-topping solo artist, Fogerty’s sound has encompassed everything from blues to country and southern swamp rock and roll. Known as one of the greatest songwriters, singers, and guitarists of all time, Fogerty was inducted in to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.

Yonder Mountain String Band – The Show

September 24, 2009
yonder mountain string band

Written By: Jeff Markunas
(Americana/Country Editor)


Label: Frog Pad – Rating:

If you’re a Bluegrass purist, your ears are probably already burning, so stop reading now and the pain will subside. If you’re one of those Morons who finds the phrase “I don’t like Country music” slipping from your lips – take a lesson.

Any kind of music you do “like,” from Heavy Metal to Hip-Hop, IS Country music.

There are only two roots of American music – Country and Blues – every other genre grew from there. Woody and Bob were doing country blues “Raps” decades before Puffy and Jay-Z could talk, let alone rhyme, and Kanye is just an “Urban Cowboy” who’s too dumb to know it.

Metal more your taste? A lot of mainstream metal is just Country licks played full throttle through a Marshall turned up to 12. So here’s my musical advice – GET A CLUE!

Now that I’ve chastised the Mountain Williams’ and the Urban Snobs, maybe I can get back to work. The Yonder Mountain String Band – What a joy to have this group cross my computer desk after all the lackluster and dreary dreck that I’ve sorted through lately.

Young and feisty with lots of “Fire in the Belly,” these guys really know their way around
their instruments, and how to produce a great song. (“Out Of The Blue”) Instrumentally they’re not afraid to take chances, and vocally, they have a solid rock style that’s harmony friendly (the screams you hear in the background are the purists that were too stupid to read the opening).

YMSB does a great job of taking the Roots musical style and propelling it into the 21st century. In my mind, that’s the purpose of all great music – build on the foundation and create a monument for YOUR time, even if it’s only a single brick. YSMB is Good Rockin’ in Bluegrass Country, and did I mention that there are DRUMS on this album (yeah I know it’s mean but it did kill that last Blue Grass Purist).

Check out “Steep Grade, Sharp Curves” – Like all good Bluegrass this album will lift your spirits and Force you to enjoy yourself.

Rock Bottom Line

Not a perfect band or performance, but it’s close! If time and the Music Business are kind, this band will leave quite a mark on contemporary music.

CWG Rating – 4 Guns

Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers – Levitate

September 22, 2009
Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers Levitate

Written By: Jeff Markunas
(Americana/Country Editor)

Label: Verve – Rating:

A professional, highly-skilled musician has the same level of responsibility as any Professional. Doctors must swear to “do no harm.” Lawyers and Appraisers must maintain ethical standards. Even minor comic book heroes have responsibilities to humanity.

Bruce is an extremely skilled, classically-trained musician, who has been a studio ace and a touring member of the Grateful Dead… That’s the tip of the iceberg; his lengthy Wikipedia entry can barely contain his accomplishments, and the musical 
Who’s Who he’s played and recorded with. I’ve been putting off mentioning the songs/music on this album because it’s painful to trash the work of an Artist that at the very least should have known better.

Overall this album is a mishmosh (a polite, old school term for Crap). It fails all the standards that that I use to judge an album. All of the songs on this album are not equal – some are worse than others.

My main impression of Levitate is – What the Hell were they thinking?!? – Bruce tries to “Rock Out” and fails on several cuts such as “Space Is The Place.” He doesn’t seem to quite get what it takes to Rock – almost but not quite. Other cuts like “Continents Drift” do exactly that – drift along until they the fall off the edge of a flat earth. Don’t waste your time or money on this one – I’m sorry I did but sometimes you have to take one for the team.

Rock Bottom Line – Disorganized and haphazard performances that don’t do justice to the artist’s talents. As Shakespeare reportedly said –“Much Noisemaking about Nothing.”

CWG Rating – 1 Gun

John Fogerty – The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again

September 17, 2009

Written By: Jeff Markunas
(Americana/Country Editor)


Label: Verve – Rating:

They say that Real Estate holds its value because, “They’re not making any more of it.”
Musical genres usually follow this rule too.
We’re not getting Jimi , Jerry or Janis (or their talent) back, Bob Dylan is sadly sinking into dementia, and the Stone’s don’t roll, as much as creak.

The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides (to the rescue) Again!

The first incarnation of the BRR was a 1973 solo album by John Fogerty where he was the whole band. This time Fogerty has assembled a heavy duty group of musicians and some very heavy-weight backup singers – Bruce Springsteen, Don Henley and Timothy B. Schmidt all contribute vocals on “The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again.”

The Rangers provide a loose, jubilant celebration of American Folk, Country and Rock music where Everyone’s giving their 100%, and having a Hell of a time doing it! There’s plenty of room to just stretch out and just PLAY.

The vocals on “Garden Party” blend so seamlessly that it sounds like one great singer suffering from a miraculous case of multiple personality disorder, and “The Boss” has to really kick it up a couple notches to avoid being smoked by Fogerty, when they duet on “When Will I Be Loved” – Listen to this cut and Marvel.

Fogerty himself, is a wonderful musical chameleon, who shape-shifts his vocal style to give a great performance on every cut. He’s always been versatile, but after 30 years, he has somehow managed to not only survive but to thrive and improve.

Rock Bottom Line
Great Songs – Great Band – Incredible vocals. If that’s not enough from an album for you, you better stop listening to music right now because – YOU’VE GONE DEAF!

CWG Rating – 4 Guns

Billy Currington – A Little Bit Of Everything

September 9, 2009

Label: Mercury Records Nashville

Buy On:
Billy Currington

Written By: Jeff Markunas
(Americana/Country Editor)

The Chrysler building is an Icon of American architecture; anyone can see the power and beauty of its structure. When an Architect looks at the Chrysler building, the second thing he/she notices is the ‘nuts and bolts’ of its construction – I view a song the same way; by how it’s put together.

I listen to a song the way Record exec’s always have. A song has 10 seconds to convince my ears that it’s worth listening to. Does that sound unfair to you? Well, How long does it take you recognize your favorite songs?

A good song rocks, it makes you tap your foot and sing along. A Great song does all that and rocks your soul to its depths – Anything less just annoys, wastes your time and clouds your soul. I’ve been getting some flak from the Boss about not reviewing the individual songs in depth and not mentioning the artist’s name enough, so Billy Currington, prepare to meet your Fate.

“People Are Crazy” – Couldn’t agree more. This song hits all my marks for judging
a song. It has a pleasant hook that’s easily identifiable in 10 seconds. Billy’s singing is good and the lyrics nail it. This is a hit. So, what’s the “BUT?”

Like a High School term paper, if you copy the smart girl’s format without plagiarizing, you too, will get an A. Formulaic (1 word review) Formulaic, Formulaic, Formulaic (3 word review). Brad or Keith could have made this song “Kick Ass.”

“Swimming in Sunshine” – Catchy, somewhat unusual, but overall Country Bubblegum.
Its got a good beat and you can dance to it – I give it a 75.

“Life and Love and the Meaning Of” – Take an arena rock anthem, muddy it up and countrify it – then you’ve got something.

Billy Currington – No reason – just making sure you’re still awake.


“Every Reason Not To” – Dull and Fails the 10-second test.

“Don’t” – Average – Synonym for Formulaic.

“Everything” – OK, We got a winner! But… even though these songs are by different songwriters, it sounds like they all went out to lunch and decided, a couple of Beers
later, to write one long song that could be cut into album size pieces.

Billy Currington – see above

“Walk On” – Love the Steel player, but now I’m wondering, “Can a CD case be used like a throwing-star or edge weapon?”

“No One Has Eyes Like You” – Talk about 10 seconds of my life I’ll never get back.

“That’s How Country Boys Roll” – Well, Billy Currington, now that this one’s in the can, you’ve got a second hit. Roll on down to the fishin’ hole, just don’t park the pick-em-up next to Brad or Keith’s, or you will get your ass kicked.

“I Shall Return” – First of all, don’t threaten me! Secondly, go to Ernest Tubb’s and buy Marty Robbins’ and Don Rich’s albums and see how it’s really done.

“Heal Me” – Yes, Billy Currington, a song IS supposed to have a beginning, middle and end. Yes, it should build to a resounding climax – So when you recorded “Heal Me,” What was it you didn’t understand about the concept?

You know Billy, with ProTools, Skype and the internet, you can phone your vocals into the studio and never have to get out of bed. Don’t stress yourself cowboy!

Judge for yourself, stream Billy’s album above in the Lala.com widget

Hoots & Hellmouth – The Holy Open Secret

September 3, 2009

Buy On:
Hoots & Hellmouth

Written By: Jeff Markunas
(Americana/Country Editor)

I’m turning this column upside down (no don’t stand on your head and read this). The rock bottom line on this album – 4 guns – Buy it – Listen, enjoy the sound and the fun. H&H is truly an inventive, creative and talented band. I couldn’t love these guys anymore if I got a cut of the gross.

Now back to the top…
These guys come as close to being arrested for having too much talent as you can legally get and remain free. Read my interview with Hoots and get a sense of where this band is coming from. Just some boots on the ground, musical craftsmen who really get the job done.

As Americana editor, I’m taking this opportunity to illustrate some of the differences between Acoustic and Electric (Guitar) Music. I have the greatest respect for acoustic players such as Tony Rice, Earl Scruggs or Segovia, but this is AMERICA!

In America, everything is bigger, better, faster and louder. We didn’t invent the Guitar, we just turned it up to 20. Americans created the Electric Guitar and Amplifier, as well as effects, and the technology to record them in 24 track stereo.

Now I’m not talking Metallica or Pantera here; distortion can be used to great musical effect but it’s rarely used subtly. Les Paul is a much better example. Les imitated the acoustic sound of the Mandolin and Banjo very successfully using a solid-body, all-electric guitar. Using the right equipment, a guitar can be made to sing like a violin, grunt like a Bass or rip your head off like a Texas chainsaw. We play guitars because, electric or acoustic, they can be bent and shaped into anything we need them to be. That’s only fingerpickin’ on the surface when you consider the capabilities of the 
Midi-Guitar, Organ, or a Synthesizer

Which brings me back to Hoots & Hellmouth, who are skilled acoustic players. They create a wide variety of textures, feelings and percussive rhythms in their playing; this takes talent and intelligence. The ultimate musical instrument is after all the MIND.

Only a great mind (such as Sean Hoots) can create great music, the tools you use just give the mind its voice.

Willie Nelson – Lost Highway

August 25, 2009

Buy “Lost Highway” On:
Willie Nelson

Written By: Jeff Markunas
(Americana/Country Editor)

We’re on the road again for the last trip down the lost highway. Willie Nelson and his label are parting ways- any News here?

Perhaps not, as it’s happened thousands of times before with the “Red-Headed Stranger.”
Still… Buzz,Buzz there’s this annoying Buzz. Proving to be “bi-polar” on “Ain’t Goin’ Down On Brokeback Mountain” and “Cowboys Are Secretly Fond Of Each Other,” Willie is either an unabashed advocate for tolerance and Gay rights, or a red-neck Homophobe. Split personality or just covering all the bases?

Powering this dichotomy is “Cowboys Are Frequently Secretly Fond Of Each Other,“ a pro-gay song written by a straight songwriter and recorded by Willie back in the 80’s (never widely available until now). “Lost Highway” will mark the song’s debut for general release.

The flip (in all senses of the word) side is “Ain’t Going Down On Brokeback Mountain,“ which has been recorded by other bands tongue-in-cheek. Willie plays it straight (yes… I know). This might be due to the reported production of the tune by Kenny Chesney, who is apparently unaware of the subtexts found in either song. I’ve never been to Kenny’s house, but it seems that his closets might be big enough to live in.

As a songwriter, I reserve the right to tell you to go screw yourself, but politics and music are at best strange bedfellows (Sorry, I can’t help it!) Music review is my game, ask me twice, and I’ll tell you the same.

Anyone would be CRAZY not to appreciate Willie’s contributions to music; he’s the Sinatra of Country. No! He’s better. The Chairman never wrote his own material, or played funky guitar.

Listening to the tracks, it’s obvious that the red-head has gotten very gray. Willie doesn’t do much to “sell” these songs. Most of the new cuts (especially the Ballads) feature a competent, but un-inventive band, and display Willie at less than his prime.

And now the rest of the story…

Of course a living legend has lots friends, or at least sycophants. This album displays
some atypical hero worship, along with the usual fawning, and a meeting of equals.

Here’s a quick rundown in ascending order …

Lee Ann Womack has no trouble holding down the bottom (will the puns never cease?)
Quick! Name 3 other female singers that can sing with Willie, and not make it sound like they’re birthing a calf – (How about Shania Twain, Lucinda Williams and Diana Krall).

I’m going slightly out of order here, but… Shania – don’t do your Willie impression right in front of him. After he’s left would be more tasteful.

Lucinda – you’ve got the chops, but pump it up, darlin’, you’re there to sell Willie.

Diana – you’re silk, wrapped in a cloud, and totally beautiful. Willie can’t compete on that level any more, but then neither can Tony Bennett. Man up, Dudette!

To get back on track (second from the bottom) – Toby Keith – a sincere thank you for doing it RIGHT. Great vocal support and excellent production values. You really hit all the marks on this one. No wonder this was a hit – Willie owes you Dude.

Yes, Living Legends are friends with other Living Legends. Ray Price knows everything about delivering a superb vocal performance, even with the weight of several decades pressing down on his vocal cords.

Toby – take note – You will never even come close to being Ray Price.

That leaves Rob Thomas – What giant can’t he sing with? What genre can’t he absorb, master and excel in? He may be a modern giant in the making, but for right now let’s just say he’s Amazing.

Rock Bottom Line: Willie, I love you (please no songs) This is not your best album, but it does have its moments. Drive the bus by with Ray and Rob – I got the Lone Star’s, but please no ballads!!

2.5 Guns

Les Paul R.I.P.

August 16, 2009

Written By: Jeff Markunas
(Americana/Country Editor)

The Wizard of Waukesha is dead (for you non-Cheese-heads that’s “wah-key-shaw.” Get it right!) Everything that you know about how music sounds, the way music is recorded and the sound of live performances can be directly traced to this musical Titan. Anyone who plays guitar professionally, live or in the studio, uses the technology he invented.

Les Paul’s career was textbook-size, so I’ll attempt to cut it down to fit our space.

* He Played/recorded with just about every famous singer and guitarist of the last 7 decades from Bing Crosby and Chet Atkins to Steve Miller.

* After inventing the solid-body guitar, he developed recording techniques, such as Sound on Sound, and Sound with Sound, that form the basis for all modern recordings.

* Les dominated the record charts and starred in his own TV show with wife Mary (a great singer and guitarist in her own right). They lived in a house designed by Les, and paid for by the Network, so that Les could film their live performances using the Les Paulverizer. The show also featured his inventions; the first guitar effects.

* Les was also a record producer, recording studio designer and superb guitarist/musical trickster (take Tiger Rag with banjo and mandolin impressions as well as multi-track vocals as a start).

* Les was a Rock and Roll Hall-of-Famer, and small-club-gigging musician almost till the day he died.

Les starred in a Beer commercial a couple of years ago where he borrowed a struggling guitarist’s guitar and plays a bunch of classic riffs. After returning the guitar, the guitar player asks Les, “What’s your name?”

Les’ answer defines the classic Honor that is only afforded to the greatest guitarists.
“It’s on your guitar”

Well Les, it’s not on my guitar, but it’s on my heart – Miss ya.

Check out Les Paul’s “How High The Moon” in our Videos Section.