by Julian Spivey
Up-and-coming Americana singer Parker Millsap put on an incredibly energetic and entertaining show for the packed room at The Outland Ballroom in Springfield, Mo. on Saturday, June 10.
Though he’s only released two albums as a solo artist the Oklahoma native has already made quite the name for himself in the Americana genre, having been nominated for Emerging Artist of the Year at the Americana Honors & Awards in 2014 and for Album of the Year last year for his terrific sophomore release The Very Last Day.
Millsap can seemingly do it all, mixing country, folk, bluegrass, gospel, blues and rock to form a unique sound that makes him perfect for the catchall that is Americana music. The mid-20s performer is also one of the best up-and-coming songwriters in the music industry and plays with an intensity and energy that you don’t see too often on the stage. By the time he’s through with his performance his shirt is nearly drenched with sweat proving that he left everything he had on the stage for his adoring audience that hopefully (and should be) growing with each passing show.
Millsap opened his Outland show on Saturday night with the fantastic “Pining,” off The Very Last Day, and never let up for the rest of the evening. He had the crowd in the palm of his hand all night long with terrific performances of “Truckstop Gospel,” off his self-titled debut solo album in 2014, “Quite Contrary” and “I Hope I Die,” from a 2012 release Palisade with Michael Rose.
A lot of Millsap’s music features gospel or religious themes, even though Millsap admits on his website’s bio to not being very religious these days. The themes were engraved upon him growing up in a Pentecostal church with his family and that experience has given him a unique view on religion in music. One such of these songs is last year’s “Heaven Sent,” which ranked as the No. 1 song of 2016 on this very site. The song tells the story of a young gay man struggling with the fact that his preacher father can’t accept him for who he is, even though his father always told him Jesus would love him through the flame.
“The Very Last Day” is another song with a unique take on religion with Millsap realizing that the end times are much more likely to come via a nuclear holocaust, rather than a Biblical rapture – but nevertheless he’s going to welcome that day. “The Very Last Day,” isn’t exactly a fun topic, but the way Millsap performs it with such vigor makes you welcome that very last day on Earth, as well. It’s definitely a highlight of his show.
Millsap debuted three new songs consecutively toward the end of his set on Saturday, which is a good way for an artist to lose an audience, but he never did – meaning these songs must be keepers and ones we’ll look forward to seeing on an upcoming album. Two of these songs, “Fine Line” and “Some People” feature a harder sound than Millsap fans may be accustomed to hearing, but aren’t much heavier than say the fantastic “Hands Up,” off his last album, which was another stellar performance on Saturday night, by the way.
Millsap’s stellar voice and guitar playing was extra noticeable on more bluesy tunes like “Hesitation Blues,” “Morning Blues” and “Jealous Sun” – all which left the audience in awe.
He would finish his set with the rip-roaring performance of “Hades Pleads,” about the king of the underworld looking for love, before his loyal crowd of fans begged him to return to the stage for a great encore of the blues tune “You Gotta Move.”
by Julian Spivey
I was thrilled when I found out that Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives would be opening for Chris Stapleton during his fall tour that makes a stop in my home state of Arkansas.
Few, if any, acts represent country music and everything the genre means more than Marty Stuart and his incredibly talented band. I had the honor of seeing Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives for the first-time last fall in the small town of Cotter, Ark. But, that was before the group released one of the best country and Americana albums of this year Way Out West. I look forward to hearing parts of the record live.
I believe that Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives are a terrific opening act for Stapleton, who also has released one of the best country/Americana albums of the year in From A Room, Vol. 1, as the mix of someone helping get the country genre back to the sound it should have (Stapleton) and a veteran who’s always done country the way it’s supposed to be (Stuart) makes for a statement, as much as it does for a terrific night of music.
Not everybody felt that Stuart was a good opener. Some people were probably scratching their heads wondering who the hell Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives are. If so, that’s incredibly disheartening, but in no way surprising. I don’t worry so much about these fans, but I do hope they enter the tour with an open-mind and open ears and come away with a new favorite act and further knowledge of the country music genre. I hope they pay attention and don’t use the opening set as an extended beer run.
The fans who I’m a little more perturbed by are the ones who are fans of Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives and don’t believe he should be opening for Stapleton. These fans believe Stuart, a legend in their eyes and rightfully so, shouldn’t be opening for an up-and-comer (also in their eyes) like Stapleton. It’s a matter of disrespect to them, but they fail to see how great of a thing it is for one of their favorite artists.
After seeing Stuart’s official Twitter handle tweet about him supporting Stapleton in October and November a few days ago I saw a response that said: “I can’t hold it in any longer … Marty better not be OPENING for him. Marty Stuart does not open shows for anyone. I hope I misunderstood that.”
I responded to this person and we had a delightful debate, though he never did fully come around to my point of view. I told him that Stuart opening for Stapleton was a good thing because the arena sized crowds would be the biggest venues Stuart has played for in many years, meaning his music and newest release would be heard by many more people than on one of his tours. And, unlike a Marty Stuart tour his music would be new to many among the Stapleton fan-base, especially many younger fans who are excited by Stapleton’s resurrection of what country music should be. If these fans are open-minded and willing to listen to Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives I have no doubt that they’ll became attracted to his brand of music and it would not only be a winning situation for Stuart, but for the genre in general and a growing batch of music lovers.
I’ve seen this work before. A few years ago, one of my all-time favorite artists Dwight Yoakam was opening shows for one of my favorite modern day country stars Eric Church. Yoakam was an act I had always wanted to see in concert, but had never had the chance. Church brought him to Little Rock’s Verizon Arena and gave me that chance. He also introduced many of his young fan-base to Yoakam’s Bakersfield, honky tonk sound and I know some in the audience became Yoakam fans that very night. I expect the same exact thing to happen with Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives opening for Stapleton and I look forward to it.
by Julian Spivey
Up-and-comer Aubrie Sellers put on a fantastic show for the visitors of the annual Toad Suck Daze festival in Conway, Ark. on Friday, May 6.
Sellers has seemingly coined her own subgenre of music called “garage-country,” which fuses country music with a garage rock band sound and is absolutely fantastic, and certainly makes her standout from the crowd.
Talent obviously runs in the family as Sellers is the daughter of award-winning country songstress Lee Ann Womack and singer-songwriter Jason Sellers, who’s most noteworthy contribution is a co-write of the award-winning Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson duet “Don’t You Wanna Stay.” You can tell she’s Womack’s daughter by looking at her, but her sound is completely different with a heavier atmosphere.
Sellers’ debut album New City Blues was released in early 2016 and drew rave reviews from critics and allowed her to make television appearances on “Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and “Late Night with Seth Meyers.”
She opened her Toad Suck Daze set, which would be around an hour-long, with “Light of Day,” the opening track from her debut, which shows off this “garage-country” style perfectly. “Light of Day” is one of the best songs off her debut, but there really aren’t any misses on the 14-track album.
Sellers would perform most of New City Blues on Friday night, including the terrific “Sit Here & Cry,” her latest single “Liar Liar” and my personal favorite from the record “Loveless Rolling Stone.”
“Loveless Rolling Stone,” which NPR called “the existential testament of heartbreak,” was written by the fantastic Brent Cobb and is the sad story of someone who can’t settle down and find love through their own fault.
Sellers’ debut album mostly features songs which you could describe as downers, even though many of them are great rockers, but she does have one nice love song in her early career repertoire in “Something Special,” which she delighted the crowd with.
Sellers peppered her set on the Main Stage at Simon Park, where the Toad Suck Daze festival is held annually, with covers that really won the small, but entertained audience over. Two of my favorite performances of her show were her cover of The Kinks classic “All Day and All of the Night,” which you could tell was a key influence on her “garage-country” style, and the lowkey beautifulness of The Beach Boys’ “In My Room,” which appears as a bonus track on her album.
She also entertained the crowd with fantastic covers of Emmylou Harris’ “Luxury Liner” and Barrett Strong’s “Money (That’s What I Want).”
Sellers has the makings of one of country and Americana’s next big stars, but her sound is likely not something you’re going to hear much, if at all, on country radio (which is a shame). If you ever get a chance to see her around your area you shouldn’t miss out.
by Julian Spivey
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers brought their 40th Anniversary tour to North Little Rock’s Verizon Arena on Sunday, April 23 and showed the state of Arkansas would masters of rock & roll look like.
The show began at 7:30 p.m. with a terrific opening set by another rock & roll legend Joe Walsh who thrilled the crowd with performances throughout his career as a solo act, member of the Eagles and member of the James Gang. The most touching moment of Walsh’s set was when he dedicated the Eagles’ classic “Take It to the Limit” to his “brother and bandmate” Glenn Frey, who died last year. Walsh would also treat the crowd to the epic one-two-three punch of finishing his set with “Funk #49,” “Life’s Been Good” and “Rocky Mountain Way” showing off his epic guitar skills throughout.
Petty & the Heartbreakers made their first appearance at Verizon Arena since 2012 with a well-oiled performance being the group’s third show in four nights and second in back-to-back days.
The group uniquely opened the set with “Rockin’ Around (With You),” which had you purchased their self-titled debut album 40 years ago would’ve been the first ever song you heard from them. From there on out the group mixed greatest hits and album cuts splendidly throughout their two-hour set.
While many fans may not have known the set opener, they sure as hell got up on their feet and grooved to the second performance of the might “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” before Petty & the Heartbreakers launched into a terrific version of “You Don’t Know How It Feels” – hitting the crowd with a great back-to-back highlight of the group’s early ‘90s years.
Petty told the crowd on Sunday night that he hoped to hit on a bit of each era of the group’s work and showed he meant it with a performance of “Forgotten Man,” off the group’s most recent album Hypnotic Eye in 2014.
Petty and the band gave the crowd a good bit of the Wildflowers album, which seems to be one of Petty’s favorites based on interviews I’ve read and heard and he would like to tour the 1994 album from start-to-finish on the band’s next tour. The group performed the title track, “Time to Move On” and an excellently elongated version of “It’s Good to Be King” from that album. “It’s Good to Be King” showed off how truly underrated guitarist Mike Campbell is; anytime you see a list of “greatest rock guitarists” he should be on it.
A few of my favorite performances of the night were not necessarily greatest hits, but underrated Petty songs in “Walls,” “Yer So Bad” and the hard, bluesy-rock sound of “I Should Have Known,” coming off the band’s blues-infused 2010 album Mojo.
Petty covered the late ‘80s Full Moon Fever portion of his career with back-to-back performances of “I Won’t Back Down” and “Free Fallin’,” which were obviously crowd favorites with the arena singing along loudly in unison. They would later sing along again to “Learning to Fly,” “Refugee” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” which the band would end their set with.
The band was serenaded with uproarious applause before returning to the stage a few minutes later with a terrific and hard-charging encore of “You Wreck Me” and “American Girl,” my personal favorite Petty track and the song that truly kicked their career off 40 years ago. It was a magical way to end an amazing night of wonderful rock music.
by Julian Spivey
Hayes Carll and Band of Heathens put on one helluva show at The Rev Room in Little Rock on Thursday, April 20. The mix of Carll and Band of Heathens previously put on a great show at The Rev Room in December of 2014.
Band of Heathens, hot off the release of their sixth studio release Duende, showed The Rev Room crowd what great American roots-rock-country sounds like. Band of Heathens performed five of the new album’s 10 tracks during their 10-song set on Thursday night, including the awesome sounding “All I’m Asking” and “Green Green of California,” with band member Gordy Quist wishing the crowd a happy 4/20 day, saying the only thing he’s seen in this country that brings everybody together like music is marijuana. Ed Jurdi added the nice “Last Minute Man” to the set off Duende.
Band of Heathens also exited the crowd with previous albums cuts like “Jackson Station” and crowd-pleaser “Hurricane,” which I remember perfectly from seeing them in 2014. It was the performance that made Band of Heathens stick in my head all these years. The group would finish their opening set up with the rocking “Trouble Came Early” off their recent album.
The great thing about Band of Heathens touring with Hayes Carll is that after they’re finished with their opening set they return to the stage as Carll’s backing band, making for one terrific combination of musical talent.
Carll opened his set with “Grand Parade” off his 2011 album KMAG YOYO (& other American Stories), before launching into the softer sound of his newest release Lovers and Leavers from last year with the terrific “The Love That We Need” and “My Friends.” Carll would also perform the new tracks “Sake of the Song” and “Jealous Moon” later in his set, with the faithful crowd singing along. Some thought that fans of Carll wouldn’t adapt to the softer singer-songwriter sound of his most recent album, but the reaction to these performances proved otherwise.
Carll also debuted a couple of new songs on Thursday night, which he said he’s selling as singles on Patreon, releasing one a month. These songs were “Things You Don’t Wanna Know” and “Different Boats,” which he said would be available on Patreon soon. It’s an interesting way of releasing new music, though not one I particularly like.
As many who follow Carll know he has ties to Central Arkansas, as he attended college at Hendrix University in Conway, Ark. about 30 miles north of Little Rock. For this reason, his Rev Room shows always draw a healthy crowd and he seems to enjoy performing in an area he once called home for a few years. He performed “Little Rock” and “Faulkner Street,” about a place he used to live at in Conway, much to the crowd’s delight.
Carll’s raucous, upbeat tunes are always the ones that really get the Rev Room crowd grooving and there certainly wasn’t any shortage of these during the evening, even with some of the softer tunes from Lovers and Leavers in the set. Among the foot stompers were “I Got a Gig,” “KMAG YOYO,” “Hard Out Here” and the set ender “Bad Liver and Broken Heart.”
I think my four favorite performance of this terrific show were all played consecutively. Carll performed “Beaumont” and “Girl Downtown,” both from his excellent 2008 release Trouble In Mind, solo with just his guitar as Band of Heathens took a short break backing him. Carll must have felt particularly good on this night, because I could see his setlist from where I stood and “Girl Downtown” was ad-libbed. Band of Heathens then rejoined the stage for rip-roaring performances of “Drunken Poet’s Dream” and “Bible on the Dash,” a song he co-wrote with Canadian country singer Corb Lund, which appears on Lund’s terrific 2012 album Cabin Fever as a duet.
Carll’s fantastic encored included “Wish I Hadn’t Stayed So Long,” from his 2005 sophomore album Little Rock, and the hard-charging “Stomp and Holler,” from 2011’s KMAG YOYO, which was a perfect way to end his rocking show and includes one of my favorite lyrics: “I’m like James Brown/only white and taller/and all I wanna do is stomp and holler.”
by Julian Spivey
CMT aired “Outlaw: Celebrating the Music of Waylon Jennings” on Friday, April 7. The two-hour concert special was taped live on July 6, 2015 at Austin, Texas’ The Moody Theater and featured some of the country music genre’s finest artists paying tribute to the legendary Jennings, who died in 2002 at age 64.
It’s somewhat surprising it took this great night of Waylon Jennings music almost two years to see its television broadcast and CD/DVD release, which also happened on April 7. I hope the Merle Haggard tribute that took place last week, also taped for possible future television broadcast, doesn’t take that long to be seen.
Waylon Jennings is one of the most important, influential and greatest performers in the history of country music and no doubt had numerous hits to choose from when the artists performed on his tribute. It was surprising that some deeper cuts from his discography were chosen like his son Shooter Jennings performing “Whistlers and Jugglers,” Sturgill Simpson choosing “Memories of You & I” and Willie Nelson’s selection of “’Til I Gain Control Again.” All were good selections and great performances, but it was interesting not to have Waylon classics like “Good Hearted Woman” or “Good Ol’ Boys” performed during the special.
The two-hour televised special began with a terrific performance of “I Ain’t Living Long Like This” by Chris Stapleton and his wife Morgane. The song, written by Rodney Crowell, is one of Jennings’ rowdier hits and one of my favorites, though I do prefer Crowell’s original slightly.
Just about every performance throughout the entire special was a highlight, so ranking performances would be a hard task and waste of time. Some of my favorites performances though included Texas country legend Robert Earl Keen’s take on my personal favorite Waylon song “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way,” the beautiful, angelic takes on “Dreaming My Dreams with You” and “The Wurlitzer Prize” by Alison Krauss and Kacey Musgraves respectively and Eric Church’s perfect choice of “Lonesome, On’ry and Mean.”
One of my favorite things about the televised tribute to Waylon Jennings is it allowed actual country music to appear on television, especially on a network that was once dedicated solely to country music. Seeing artists like Keen, Simpson, Ryan Bingham and Lee Ann Womack on TV really put a smile on my face. I can’t recall the last time I saw that much real country music on television – it sure hasn’t been any of the recent country music award shows (even though there’s at least four annually).
Other great selections from the tribute included Womack’s “Ride Me Down Easy,” Kris Kristofferson’s “I Do Believe,” Bingham’s “Rainy Day Woman” and the emotional “Mona,” performed by Waylon’s widow Jessi Colter, who wrote the song specifically for him.
One of the more interesting performances of the special was Toby Keith doing “Honky Tonk Heroes.” Keith is an artist that has sort of lost his way in the last decade or so, but the performance showed what kind of talent he is when performing good, well-written music.
Keith would also duet with Willie Nelson on the classic “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.” Stapleton would join Nelson for a nice cover of “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys.” Another interesting performance was the sort of Highwaymen reunion with Nelson and Kristofferson joined by Jamey Johnson and Shooter Jennings (naturally doing his daddy’s verse) on “The Highwayman.” The special made me really want to see a modern-day Highwaymen-esque supergroup featuring Simpson, Stapleton, Johnson and Jason Isbell (who wasn’t a part of the Waylon tribute).
“Outlaw: Celebrating the Music of Waylon Jennings” ended with an all-star singalong, as these specials and tributes so often do with everybody taking turns singing “Luckenbach, Texas.”
The CD/DVD of this great event can be purchased on Amazon.
by Julian Spivey
I had never heard the name Jonny Whiteside before today. And, then upon reading two pieces of his music criticism he instantaneously became the first music critic I’ve ever wanted to punch in the face.
Whiteside is apparently a veteran music journalist out of Burbank, Calif. who has authored books on Rose Maddox and Johnnie Ray and writes articles for L.A. Weekly. I can’t speak for his books, but based on the two listicles I read on L.A. Weekly today, one published this morning and the other in mid-2014, prove to me he has no business in the music criticism world. The fact that he’s a “veteran music journalist” just makes it all the more worse.
Today’s “The 10 Lamest Americana Acts” made quite the hubbub in the world of Americana music websites and fans, many of which I follow on Twitter. When I saw one of these sites retweet the listicle I considered skipping it altogether, but it included with it a photo of Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, my absolute favorite Americana act, so already pissed off I decided to see how bad it would get. This was a major mistake.
The list included many of the Americana genre’s most regarded and critically-acclaimed artists like Lucinda Williams (who topped the list), Gillian Welch, Shovels & Rope and some more of my favorites: Jason Boland & the Stragglers and Robert Ellis.
The list was so bad that it had some thinking it was just an April Fool’s Day joke one day early, which I might have believed had I not done some research on Whiteside and saw another bullshit L.A. Weekly article from mid-July 2014 entitled “The 10 Biggest Classic Rock Douchebags.”
That list included legends like Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, John Fogerty and Jerry Garcia. In the listicle, Whiteside said all of these artists “seriously screwed up rock music.” Seriously? Without these artists, there might not be such a thing as rock music. Bob Dylan’s music has won a freaking Nobel Peace Prize. What has your writing accomplished, Jonny Whiteside? Who hates John Fogerty? That stick must be so far up Whiteside’s ass that his throat tickles.
The one thing all the writers ever run down by Jonny Whiteside have in common is they are all infinitely better writers than Jonny Whiteside. I wonder how much jealousy plays into who he includes on his lists?
Many more on social media were calling his listicle, which I refuse to tag here, “trolling” or “clickbait.” I can agree with these terms, but typically clickbait and trolling aren’t as thought out as Whiteside’s piece. More likely Whiteside is just a cranky old music curmudgeon who believes he and only he has his finger on the pulse of what is truly good in the world of music. Forget all the other music critics who love artists ranging from Bob Dylan to Jason Isbell. Forget all the fans that have made these artists the leaders of their respective genres. Forget the numerous awards they have won for their legendary output. Only Jonny Whiteside gets to dictate what’s cool and what’s lame or douchey. That’s the absolute worst kind of music critic. The one who feels he can only get his viewpoints out in the world if they’re so vastly different from everyone else’s as to piss the masses off to be noticed. It really makes you wonder if he even believes half of the tripe he’s writing. He can either only be making it up for the web clicks or he’s simply the utter worst in his field at recognizing terrific music.
In the last few minutes Whiteside changed his Twitter avatar to an image of the late, great Merle Haggard wearing a sweatshirt that says “I Heart Haters.” This would seem to be a good sign that he merely writes crap to intentionally piss people off, rather than to actually inform. Anyway, I’m sure L.A. Weekly lost themselves many more potential readers today than they have gained.
by Julian Spivey
Red Dirt country act Jason Boland and the Stragglers made their way to Little Rock’s Revolution Room on Saturday, March 25, a venue that’s basically become an annual stop on their touring schedule.
One of the most entertaining and best groups in the country music Red Dirt subgenre that features many acts from Texas and Oklahoma, where Boland and the Stragglers hail from, put on a terrific almost two hour set for the excited and energetic Rev Room crowd. The set featured fan-favorites, tracks from the group’s most recent album, 2015’s excellent Squelch and even a new song Boland said would be featured on their next album, which the band was going to enter the studio to begin recording the next day.
Boland and the Stragglers kicked off the fantastic night of true country music with “Break 19,” off Squelch, before embarking on numerous crowd favorites from the group’s nearly 20 years on the road like “Bourbon Legend,” “Comal County Blue” and “The Dark and Dirty Mile.”
Boland has a very energetic performance style bouncing around on stage, especially during solos from the incredibly talented Stragglers, especially fiddle player Nick Worley and lead guitarist/slide guitarist Cody Angel. Boland also doesn’t mess around too much between performances, going from song to song in rapid succession, never letting the crowd have time to escape from the moment of raucous honky-tonk music.
Boland is one of the best songwriters in the Red Dirt country subgenre, but always finds time to pepper his performances with songwriting idols of his like when he covers Danny Flowers’ “Tulsa Time,” popularized by Don Williams, and Tom Russell’s “Gallo del Cielo.”
Other originals the band performed on Saturday night at the Rev Room that pumped up the crowd were “Electric Bill,” “Pushin’ Luck” and “I Guess It’s Alright to Be an Asshole,” which really show that Red Dirt country can be at its best when influenced by a little rock ‘n’ roll. ‘Asshole,’ one of my favorites off Squelch, is really a punk-country song and you could tell Boland was greatly influenced by punk music, as well as his country idols, when he performed a new song “Dee Dee OD’d,” about The Ramones.
Despite the country-rockers there was plenty of room for hardcore, honky-tonk songs in Boland’s set like “False Accuser’s Lament,” a highlight off his 2011 release Rancho Alto, and slower country ballads like the beautiful “Somewhere Down in Texas,” from the group’s 1999 debut Pearl Snaps, and “Lucky I Guess,” written for and dedicated to his wife Mandy.
One of my favorite performances of the night, and one I hadn’t heard the two previous times I’ve seen Boland and the Stragglers, was “Fences,” from Rancho Alto. The song is about how immigrants came to the United States and essentially stole it from Native Americans, which is why it was unusual to see some couples slow dancing along to it.
I was happy to see numerous selections from Squelch performed throughout the night like “Heartland Bypass” and the bawdy “Fuck, Fight and Rodeo,” but would’ve loved to have heard “The First to Know” and “Lose Early” from the album, as well.
Anytime you see a Stragglers show you know you’re going to get Boland classics like “Pearl Snaps,” “When I’m Stoned,” “Drinkin’ Song” and “Blowing Through the Hills,” which fans seem to really enjoy every single time.
Boland and the Stragglers ended their set with the fitting “The Party’s Not Over,” and that proved to be true as the group stayed for a three-song encore that included “Hank,” about how today’s music just isn’t what country music is supposed to be, “Tennessee Whiskey” and “Outlaw Band.”
“Outlaw Band,” written by another of Boland’s idols and fellow Oklahoman Bob Childers, has become the group’s signature song, in my opinion, and is their frequent closer. If you haven’t heard Boland and the Stragglers perform this rip-roaring number than you simply haven’t heard one of the greatest country performances there’s ever been. The fiddle and mandolin, both played by Worley, alone on this song is enough to knock you right off your feet. This show closer is well worth the attendance of the entire night on its own.
There’s little doubt in my mind that Boland and the Stragglers is one of the most energetic and exciting acts in any subgenre of country music. They prove it every single time they take the stage.
by Julian Spivey
“If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry’” – John Lennon
Elvis Presley is hailed as the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” but had he not have had Hollywood movie star good looks and had race relations not been what they were in the late ‘50s that title may likely have gone to Chuck Berry.
Presley took African-American rhythm and blues and made it suitable for white audiences or at least the young members of the white audience. Berry didn’t have to appropriate anything; he just was. And, while to some Elvis’ hip-shaking and lip curl may have signified what rock ‘n’ roll was all about to many others it’s the hard-charging electric guitar of Berry that is truly the birth of rock ‘n’ roll. Berry’s lyrics focusing on the rough and rowdy life of the ‘50s teenager and essentially his creation of the guitar solo truly helped the rock genre form its rebellious ways.
Berry’s career took off in 1955 less than a year after Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” essentially coined the term “rock ‘n’ roll” and shortly after Elvis debuted with “That’s All Right.” “Maybellene,” a cool-sounding talk-sing song about a street race and a broken relationship, reached the top five on the Billboard pop chart and Berry’s career took off like a Cadillac Coup DeVille off the blocks. Rolling Stone said of the song, “rock & roll guitar starts here.”
Berry would continue to fill the pop and R&B charts with hit after hit over the next decade including “Roll Over Beethoven,” “School Day (Ring! Ring! Goes the Bell),” “Johnny B. Goode,” “Rock and Roll Music,” “Memphis, Tennessee” and “No Particular Place to Go.”
By the mid-‘60s his brand of rock ‘n’ roll was sadly out of vogue, much like other artists who came up in his era, including Elvis. But, his mark on rock ‘n’ roll led to inspiring the next generation of artists like The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, etc.
Some artists of the next generation were even inspired a little too much, to the point of plagiarism. The Beach Boys’ 1963 hit “Surfin’ USA,” which became emblematic of the “California Sound,” was written to the music of Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen,” earning Berry a songwriting credit after some controversy. Berry would actually self-plagiarize later on with “No Particular Place to Go” being set to the exact music of “School Days (Ring! Ring! Goes the Bell).”
Sometimes I feel Berry’s contributions to the genre he essentially created are too often ignored, but Seger summed his legacy up quite brilliantly in his 1981 song “Rock and Roll Never Forgets” with the line: “All Chuck’s children are there playing his licks/get into your kicks/come back baby/rock and roll never forgets.”
Berry would continue to play his hits for the next 50-plus years making him the longest tenured rock star in the genre’s history – a mark that likely will never be topped. Berry played a weekly show at a venue in his hometown of St. Louis all the way up until 2014, when he was nearing 90-years old. Playing and making music would continue to the very end for Berry, who died on Saturday, March 18 at 90. The rock ‘n’ roll pioneer and hall of famer announced on his 90th birthday last October that he would be releasing his first album of new music since 1979 sometime in 2017. Berry is survived by his wife Themetta, whom had he survived would’ve celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary together next year.
by Julian Spivey
Country songstress Sunny Sweeney put on one helluva true country music show at Stickyz Rock ‘N’ Roll Chicken Shack in downtown Little Rock on Saturday, March 11.
The show was fantastic from start-to-finish, as the Texan singer-songwriter was fresh off of her fourth studio album release, Trophy, the day before.
The crowd got their money’s worth no doubt from Sweeney who peppered her almost 20 song set list with tracks from all four of her albums, including eight of her new album’s 10 tracks. In fact, the new album was the focal point of the first part of the show with five of the set’s first six tracks coming from Trophy. Sweeney began her show with the rip-roaring “Better Bad Idea” from the album, which is sure to be loved by fans of “Bad Girl Phase,” from her previous album Provoked. She would also perform “Pills,” written by friend Brennen Leigh, “Nothing Wrong with Texas,” an ode to her home state, and the title track from Trophy, inspired by her husband’s ex-wife.
The best performance early on from Trophy was “Pass the Pain,” which she had written with Jay Clementi and Monty Holmes years before but had never recorded on an album, partially because she was told it was “too country.”
I don’t believe there’s such a thing as “too country,” but it could explain why Sweeney – who had a top 10 hit with “From a Table Away” in 2010 (a song she didn’t perform on Saturday, but I wish she had) – has sort of been relegated to the independent, red dirt Texas country genre. Her lovely Texan twang mixed with both beautifully written and tough songs just make her too country for the pop, rock, hip-hop infused “country” being played on popular country radio. She should be as big as Miranda Lambert, but it seems country radio only makes room for few of those types of artists.
The one song she played early on during the show that wasn’t off her latest release was a cover of Tom Petty’s “The Apartment Song” from his 1989 album Full Moon Fever. Sweeney said she performed the song with Reckless Kelly for a Petty tribute album and had cribbed it for her own set. Her cover was perfection.
It seemed one of Sweeney’s favorite performances of the night – and one of the crowd’s too – was the risqué “Whiskey Richard,” which she said was too bawdy to ever record, about a man who can’t make love when he’s under the influence.
One of Sweeney’s finest performances of the night was “Mama’s Opry,” off her debut album Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame from 2006. The cover of Iris DeMent’s song is another that likely would be considered “too country” by many. Sweeney told the crowd that she recently played the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville for the 48th time, an honor she couldn’t believe. She would also play “East Texas Pines” from her debut.
I particularly enjoyed Sweeney’s performances from her second album Concrete in “Staying’s Worse Than Leaving,” which she wrote with Radney Foster, and “Drink Myself Single,” both songs charted for her in 2011.
Sweeney would include more songs from Trophy in her set including the tragic “Bottle by My Bed,” written with recent Grammy-winning songwriter Lori McKenna, about wanting a child, but not yet having one. “Bottle by My Bed” is one of four co-writes with McKenna on Trophy.
My favorite performance off Trophy is Sweeney’s cover of Chris Wall’s “I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight,” which I previously had heard in concert by Jerry Jeff Walker, a Texas country legend. The song is quintessentially country about nothing in this world is a better listen when you’re down than old school Hank. It’s truly an early front-runner for my favorite country song of the year.
Another highlight from the show was Sweeney’s performance of the comical “Backhanded Compliment,” from 2014’s Provoked, which was co-written with Natalie Hemby and Sweeney said that each line in the song was something previously uttered either to her or Hemby.
Sweeney would finish her near 90-minute set with “Bad Girl Phase,” one that seems to have kind of become her theme song. It was the perfect concert finisher.
I can’t stress enough how great Sweeney is – and you should definitely pick up a copy of Trophy – everything about her performance, even down to her style of chewing gum throughout her show and holding on to a beer bottle mid-song was perfectly country. As it turns out, she is as nice as she is talented hanging around the stage after the show to chat, take photos with and sign autographs for her fans.