by Aprille Hanson
There are no frills about Kacey Musgraves and she’s happy to share that. That’s what makes her latest single “Dime Store Cowgirl” the quintessential Musgraves release. It’s very much in the same vein as Loretta Lynn’s signature song, “Coal Miner’s Daughter” because it’s basically about Musgraves’ road to fame.
She doesn’t detail her life growing up in the less than 200-person town of Golden, Texas, but rather the perspective she has now because of that upbringing. She opens with:
“Had my picture made with Willie Nelson / Stayed in a hotel with a pool / Driven through New Mexico where the saguaro cactus grow / Felt really small under Mount Rushmore / And I made it all the way past Austin City Limits / And maybe for a minute I got too big for my britches.”
These lines are masterful in comparing how this really, really small-town girl experiences the fame that’s unfolding in front of her. Having her picture made with Willie Nelson -- pretty fantastic, though maybe not as exciting for someone who is a superstar. But the next line of staying in a “hotel with a pool,” that’s critical because it shows how monumental even the little things are and it’s defining her as an artist. This song chronicles the steps in her career, from shooting the music video for “Follow Your Arrow” at the hotel where Gram Parsons died to the first album art being photographed at a Palm Springs Trailer park, according to an interview with thefader.com.
She also told the website the phrase “dime store cowgirl” has been in her head ever since she was in a western-swing group years ago called The Buckaroos, that would mentor young kids to be less shy by having them sing old Roy Rogers tunes. She’d cock her cowboy hat back for a “retro-like Dale Evans, pin-up cowgirl kinda style,” she said to thefader.com. A mom of one of the other girls in the group told her not to wear it that way, saying she looked “like some dime store cowgirl.” Cheap, essentially.
Luckily it stuck because this song is her Coal Miner’s Daughter moment. She’s still that girl from Golden, despite running full-speed into fame. It again makes her relatable and in this case, catchy enough to put on the radio, with lines like: “I’m just a dime store cowgirl / that’s all I’m ever gonna be / you can take me out of the country / but you can’t take the country out of me, no.”
As fans, it’s a good thing this girl grew up “golden” and not with a silver spoon in her mouth.
by Julian Spivey
This is the 10th anniversary of one of the most devastating natural disasters in terms of both lives lost and costly damage in the history of the United States. On August 29, 2005 Hurricane Katrina made landfall in the Gulf Coast and led to the destruction of levees made to protect the high populous city of New Orleans, causing much of the city and surrounding areas to flood severely. More than 1,200 people died as a result of Hurricane Katrina in five different states, but the focus was on New Orleans and the seeming ill-preparedness and horrible response to the entire disaster.
This federal response from President George W. Bush and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on down was disastrous and one of the most embarrassing and incompetent moments ever from our government. There’s no doubt the disaster was magnified by a lack of intelligence and caring from higher ups.
And, one man on a nationally televised telethon in hopes of helping the situation through Red Cross donations had the guts to say what he felt and what in at least some small way was the truth.
Kanye West is a lot of things both good and bad. But, typically most people don’t view him this way. They either view him as all things good or all things bad. West has done and said a lot of stupid things in the decade-plus he’s been in show business that have led to a ton of criticism and even President Barack Obama referring to him as a “jackass.”
But, West’s first foray into public controversy came in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina during the NBC Universal telethon “A Concert for Hurricane Relief” that aired on NBC networks on September 2, just a few days after Katrina made landfall.
This telethon featured celebrities such as West, Mike Myers, Leonardo DiCaprio, Richard Gere, Hilary Swank, Aaron Neville, Harry Connick Jr., Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Claire Danes and more urging Americans to give everything they could to Red Cross to help out with the national disaster.
The telethon would generate $50 million dollars for the Red Cross, but something West would say during his segment on the air would generate countless amounts of controversy, as well.
West was set to appear with comedian and actor Mike Myers on the telecast. The two were to read pre-written statements on a teleprompter. As the two walked out onto the stage, West notified Myers that he was going to ad-lib. Myers read his part off of the teleprompter and when he finished West started into an ad-libbed statement on race and the way this national disaster had been treated because of it.
He said: “I hate the way they portray us in the media. You see a black family, it says, 'They're looting.' You see a white family, it says, 'They're looking for food.' And, you know, it's been five days [waiting for federal help] because most of the people are black. And even for me to complain about it, I would be a hypocrite because I've tried to turn away from the TV because it's too hard to watch. I've even been shopping before even giving a donation, so now I'm calling my business manager right now to see what is the biggest amount I can give, and just to imagine if I was down there, and those are my people down there. So anybody out there that wants to do anything that we can help—with the way America is set up to help the poor, the black people, the less well-off, as slow as possible. I mean, the Red Cross is doing everything they can. We already realize a lot of people that could help are at war right now, fighting another way—and they've given them permission to go down and shoot us!”
Myers looked flabbergasted by West’s hijacking of the segment and continued on with his script. West let him finish, before uttering the now infamous “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” line before having his microphone muted by the producers of the show. Myers was visibly shocked by the comment and portrayed as a victim by media in the days following.
West was verbally crucified by many media outlets for his impromptu speech and critique of the President, who by this time was already seeing his popularity fade rapidly.
But, what West ultimately said seemed to ring true for so many in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It appeared that President Bush and the government’s lack of action following the disaster had to do at least somewhat with race. Many thought, and likely rightfully so, that the government wouldn’t have reacted so slowly and so poorly had the majority of the victims been affluent white people or even white people in general.
Looking back on West’s comments a decade later they don’t seem like they should be as controversial given the utter disgrace that was the government’s reaction to the horrific situation. West was essentially speaking for a large group of Americans who didn’t feel like their lives mattered as much to the government as those of others. According this Huffington Post piece, one of New Orleans’ most famous sons, Harry Connick Jr., agreed with the statement West had made on the air about the President not seemingly caring about those struggling in the gulf.
West is a man who speaks his mind – for better or worse – and despite the fact that he was so openly ridiculed by many for his statement on the President in the days following Hurricane Katrina what he was saying held at least some very important truths.
by Julian Spivey
Today (August 25) is the 40th anniversary of the release of what I consider to be the greatest album ever recorded – Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band.
Born to Run isn’t just a perfect rock ‘n’ roll music album about disillusionment and trying to break free from an unhappy life – something that makes it as relevant today as when it was released four decades ago, but is also one of the most important albums in music history.
Today most of us know Bruce Springsteen as a legendary singer-songwriter whose legions of loyal fans consider to be almost a musical God, but without Born to Run it’s highly unlikely any of that would’ve ever happened.
Springsteen released two albums prior to Born to Run in the span of a year in 1973 entitled Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ and The Wild, The Innocent, & The E Street Shuffle that were commercial flops, despite being fairly acclaimed by critics – some referring to Springsteen as the next Bob Dylan for his superior songwriting chops.
Everybody knows you have to sell records to remain in the music game and if you’re lucky you might only get a few opportunities to do so and if Springsteen struck out on his third album that would likely be it for his young career.
So, Springsteen, his management and record company threw absolutely everything behind his third release Born to Run – and what came out was a musical masterpiece that truly captured Middle America and continues to do the same to this very day.
Born to Run was such a pop culture sensation from the get go that Springsteen became the first musician to ever grace the covers of TIME and Newsweek in the same week. Behind a killer single like “Born to Run” and beautifully written and fantastically performed tracks like “Thunder Road,” “Backstreets” and “Jungleland” that remain among the favorites of his millions of fans to this day he became a star that four decades later is still burning bright and releasing critically-acclaimed albums, when most from his era are long gone or at the very least recording material nowhere near their heydays.
The thing that Springsteen hit upon in Born to Run that makes it so appealing to his fans is that disillusionment of being in a dead end situation and trying everything you possibly can to break free from that life. Like the narrators in his perfectly written “Born to Run” and “Thunder Road” you just want to jump in your hot rod and leave that town full of losers fading fast in your rearview mirror.
The unfortunate thing about being a Bruce Springsteen fan is I’m not sure you can be completely content with your life and be a big fan of his, because it’s physically and emotionally identifying with these characters that he so deftly writes about (because he lived them and with them) that brings you so close to his music. You love the narrators of “Born to Run” and “Thunder Road” so damn much because they represent who you are and the dreams you have of running away from everything that brings you down.
That’s why Springsteen concerts are almost religious experiences, because when he sings a line like “It’s a town full of losers/And I’m pulling out of here to win” or “Tramps like us/Baby we were born to run” and you’re screaming these lyrics with a few thousand of your closest friends for an evening you honestly believe you’re these characters making a break for the promised land or a better life.
Springsteen makes you believe you can escape. He makes you feel better about your life. Even if it’s just for four-to-five minutes while hearing his song you’re hopeful there’s something better down the road for you. True art makes you feel like you can conquer the world and Springsteen makes me feel like I’m going to make it someday more than almost all the other great artists combined.
That’s why Born to Run is the greatest album of all-time, in my opinion. God bless Born to Run. God bless Bruce Springsteen. Happy birthday/anniversary to my great friend that makes me realize there’s something better down that road and that all I need to get there is a car, a girl, a dream and a little Bruce Springsteen.
by Aprille Hanson
Alan Jackson is helping to save country music by not caring. His latest album Angels and Alcohol may have debuted at No. 2 on the US Top Country Albums Billboard chart, but it’s unlikely any song from it will get much airtime on country radio.
However, the good news is that it’s good quality music like we’ve come to expect from Jackson since his first album in 1989. He isn’t trying to cater to the new generation of listeners which is refreshing.
The 10-track album, with seven songs written exclusively by Jackson, features a little bit of every common, country theme. “You Can Always Come Home” will relate to a lot of the parents buying this album, as they send their kids off into the real world, but knowing full well that they might just come back.
Then you have the boot-stompin’ hits like “You Never Know” — which talks about potential love interests from a “chicken leg gal” to a brunette waitress with “a curvy little bottom like a roller coaster ride” — to one of the better songs on the album, “Mexico, Tequila and Me.” ‘Mexico’ has a great set of lines which include: “Check my life there at the border / everything over my shoulder / just Mexico, tequila and me.” It’s one of those quintessential Jackson tunes that make him relatable, like “Good Time” and “Chattahoochee.”
His first single “Jim and Jack and Hank” is easily the weakest on the album and borderline plagiarism. While it’s definitely catchy and a fun sing-along about a woman who packs her bags, grabs her little dog and hits the road, lines like these are too simple and just seem to exist to have the rhyme: “Well, now you left screaming your tires screeching / that little dog right in your lap / I became a little sad and called up my ol’ dad / He said son, you just woke me from my nap.”
The other problem is the melody. Anyone who listened to country music in the 1990s remembers Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart” which had massive crossover success upon its release in 1992. Jackson certainly has to remember, even if it’s subconscious, because if you listen to the verses of ‘Jim’ you can almost sing the words to ‘Heart.’ I hope this song does have some radio success to entice younger people to check out his music, but it’s just too easy for Jackson. “Flaws” is another safe one for him, but it’s a fun little ditty and I’ll dare you not to smile when Jackson admits “I snore when I’m asleep / got long and lanky feet,” telling us his flaws.
Luckily, there are incomparable heartbreak and love songs he penned like “The One You’re Waiting On” and “I Leave a Light On” which any true country music lover will respect. “Angels and Alcohol,” might be short, but its Jackson at his finest, with simple, yet truthful lyrics like “You can’t mix angels and alcohol / an angel once loved me and I traded it all / I let the bottle drive my life into a wall / You can’t mix angels and alcohol.”
For as much talent in songwriting as Jackson displays here, the two best songs on the album are written by others -- “Gone Before You Met Me,” by Michael White and Michael Heeney and “When God Paints,” by Troy Jones and Greg Becker.
‘Gone’ is about a man who has a dream, traveling with ramblers Tom Sawyer and later author Jack Kerouac, and how he comes to realize how lucky he is that his “restless heart found a heart I can call mine,” the love of his life. The song is upbeat and the lyrics unfold like a dream with unmatched creativity: “Well, I hitched a ride with this beatnik guy / He said, looks like you read me / My name is Jack Kerouac / And I was gone before you met me.”
It’s one of those songs that includes both this need in most of us to ramble, but then to realize how good it is to meet that special someone. It’s pure country life written in a unique way.
For as inspiring as ‘Gone’ is, “When God Paints,” will melt any Christian’s heart. This imagery of the savior sitting at his canvas and painting even the simplest things, like every color on a sparrow’s wing, is powerful. The best lyrics are easily: “When God paints / A heart beats / A life begins, a season ends and lovers meet / And I’ve learned that sometimes / It’s not always black and white or well-defined when God paints.”
With Jackson’s drawl and this bigger-than-life concept of our creator taking careful strokes like a painter makes this song not only beautiful and romantic but a spiritual experience.
On this latest album’s leaflet, it includes a long quote that Jackson said when his first album Here in the Real World was released, talking about how he came to Nashville to carry on the tradition of “hard-core Country music.”
“And what I intend to do is give ‘em what they want — something real,” Jackson said in 1989.
Angels and Alcohol isn’t Jackson’s best, but in a sea of fake out there, it’s real.
by Julian Spivey
Once in a blue moon you’ll be watching a late night talk show and come across a band or musician that you’ve never heard of before that absolutely leaves your jaw-dropping toward the floor.
One of these bands was showcased on “The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon” on Wednesday, August 5 and based on their national television debut alone should become household names. The band is called Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats and their debut single from their new self-titled album called “S.O.B.” was absolutely amazing.
The hype factor for Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats was already through the roof well before they took the ‘Tonight Show’ stage toward the end of Wednesday night’s episode as Jimmy Fallon had been hyping them up at the very beginning of his show.
Like most of us, Fallon had never heard of this fantastic group out of Denver until recently himself when he received an email from a close friend telling him he just had to check them out. Fallon was instantly blown away, as the rest of the country would be by the end of his episode on Wednesday night.
Early in his episode Fallon summarized Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats as Van Morrison mixed with a ‘50s doo-wop group and that was a pretty accurate comparison for the folk-rock group that should fit nicely in the Americana genre that encompasses all sorts of roots oriented musical genres.
Rateliff’s booming vocals and the nice doo-wop melodies of “S.O.B.” were really only half of the fascination of the performance. Rateliff is a pretty big dude, but he moves around on the ‘Tonight Show’ stage as if he were James Brown or Bruno Mars. What the combination of music and dance moves amounted to was one of the most thrilling and unbelievable performances you’re ever going to see on television – not bad from a band very few people knew about prior to Wednesday night.
by Julian Spivey
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit put on an absolutely enthralling performance on the first night of the inaugural Peacemaker Music and Artsfest in Fort Smith, Ark. on Friday, July 31.
Isbell was the headliner after an evening of great performances by bands like The Cate Brothers and Lucero.
Isbell, the incredibly acclaimed singer-songwriter out of Alabama, is fresh off of the release of his newest album Something More Than Free, which is currently the No. 1 album in the country on the Billboard country, rock, folk and indie albums charts (which is almost impossible to do and shows Isbell’s great reach in audience).
Isbell performed more than half of the tracks on his new album on Friday night and you could tell it has been an incredibly well-received album by fans because many in attendance already knew every single word to these new songs that have only been available for two weeks.
Isbell opened his show with the most rocking song from his newest album, “Palmetto Rose” – which brilliantly showcased the fact that Isbell would be bringing not only brilliant lyrics all night, but incredible guitar playing.
Grammy winner John Mayer recently tweeted: “Jason Isbell is the best lyric writer of my generation. He lives at a level where even great writers can only visit.”
Mayer’s praise is very accurate and Isbell’s songwriting skills are once again at the top of their game on Something More Than Free and that was shown in full force during his 90-minute set on Friday night with the terrifically written “24 Frames,” “If It Takes a Lifetime,” “The Life You Chose” and the title track from the album. Isbell also thrilled the excited audience with his fantastic guitar solo on “Children of Children” from the new album.
As great as Something More Than Free is it’ll actually be hard – believe it or not – to top Isbell’s previous album Southeastern, released in 2013, which was named Album of the Year by multiple outlets, including American Songwriter. Isbell didn’t ignore the success from Southeastern and performed five fan favorites from that album, including: “Stockholm,” “Different Days,” the rocking “Flying Over Water” and the utterly jaw-droppingly beautiful vocals on “Cover Me Up,” which truly entranced the crowd.
Among Isbell’s best performances on Friday night at the Peacemaker Festival were “Codeine” and “Alabama Pines” – which are two songs from his great 2011 album Here We Rest. “Alabama Pines” has always been my personal favorite song of Isbell’s and it’s always a great treat getting to hear him perform this former Americana Honors & Awards Song of the Year in person.
As likely all fans of Isbell’s know he used to be a singer/guitarist for the popular and acclaimed Southern Rock group Drive-By Truckers prior to going solo about a decade ago and among the most popular and fan-favorite performances at all of his shows were songs he wrote and recorded while he was with that band.
Isbell obliged the festival audience on Friday night with three songs he released with the Drive-By Truckers: the epic “Decoration Day,” one he doesn’t frequently perform in concert “Never Gonna Change” and “Outfit,” which all of his fans recognize as the one song he truly must perform at every single one of his shows.
A true highlight from Isbell’s performance was “Dress Blues,” which appeared on his 2007 debut solo album Sirens of the Ditch, about a soldier dying in war and the reaction of his loved ones back home. Isbell wrote the song in tribute to Corporal Matthew Conley, a soldier from his hometown that died in the Iraq War. Isbell has begun playing this song more often as it’s seen a second life thanks to its cover and addition on Zac Brown Band’s latest album Jekyll + Hyde.
Isbell has been getting tons of recognition for his amazing songwriting and beautiful albums these last few years, but what isn’t mentioned nearly enough is the stunning 400 unit – guitarist Sadler Vaden, bassist Jimbo Hart, drummer Chad Gamble and keyboardist Derry DeBorja. These four musicians build the terrific sound of Isbell’s live shows and their talent is really showcased on Something More Than Free after the whole band didn’t record on the quieter and stripped down Southeastern.
Isbell finished his both beautiful and raucous set with the rocking performance of “Never Gonna Change,” before returning to the Peacemaker Festival stage for an amazing three song encore that began with crowd favorite “Outfit” before thoroughly blasting everybody’s heads off with terrific jams on “Super 8” and a frequent Rolling Stones cover he likes to do of “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” to close out a wonderful night of music.