by Julian Spivey
Chris Stapleton brought his All American Road Show tour featuring Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives and Brent Cobb to Verizon Arena in North Little Rock, Ark. on Thursday, Nov. 16 and absolutely blew the roof off the venue.
Brent Cobb, a young up-and-comer singer-songwriter who’s the cousin of famed record producer Dave Cobb (who’s produced Stapleton), opened the show with a fantastic short set that really seemed to get the crowd, most of whom likely didn’t know his name or face beforehand, into his music with great performances of “Diggin’ Holes” and “Country Bound,” from his impressive debut Shine on Rainy Day released last year. It was when Cobb performed his new single “Ain’t a Road Too Long” that the crowd really seemed to get into the music, because the chorus sounded so damn good live. Unfortunately, the almost spoken word verses were hard to hear in an arena. A big highlight of Cobb’s set was when he asked the crowd if they wanted “to hear something ‘hillbilly’ or something ‘swamp’.” The crowd chose hillbilly and got a fantastic cover of Dwight Yoakam’s “Guitars, Cadillacs.” Looking at some of Cobb’s previous sets it seems the crowds who want swamp music get Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Swamp Music.”
I had seen Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives before at the Bridge Bash in tiny Cotter, Ark., which was a fantastic venue for this group. They sounded just the same in the much larger venue of Verizon Arena, but unfortunately the crowd didn’t seem to give the group the respect they truly deserved. I understand many were there to see the headliner Stapleton, but why not learn to like something new and there’s a reason why Stuart is on Stapleton’s tour – like-minded music.
Stuart and the Superlatives, one of the most talented bands in any form of music, performed some old and new songs during their 45 minute to hour long set including “Hillbilly Rock” and ‘This One’s Gonna Hurt You (For a Long, Long Time)” from the early ‘90s. Being in Arkansas Stuart also performed a song made famous by one of his mentors, Arkansas legend Johnny Cash, who’s band he performed in in the ‘80s. The crowd erupted with applause when he launched into “Ring of Fire.”
The Fabulous Superlatives aren’t just great musicians, but also take turns at the mic throughout the evening with guitarist Kenny Vaughn performing “Country Music Got a Hold On Me,” bassist Chris Scruggs sang “Never Gonna Do It Again” and drummer Harry Stinson performed the Woody Guthrie classic “Pretty Boy Floyd,” my personal favorite of the threesome’s performances.
I had hoped going into the show that Stuart would perform a bunch of stuff from his great new album Way Out West, released earlier this year. I didn’t really get my wish, but the group did perform the excellent instrumental “Mojave” from the album and ended his set with “Time Don’t Wait,” one of the highlights of the album.
Fresh off winning his third consecutive CMA Award for Male Vocalist of the Year just over a week before Chris Stapleton showed off his award-winning voice that’s like no other currently in the “country” genre (he’s truly an Americana singer because his music has tinges of blues-rock) over his two-hour set of songs from his first two albums, as well as his third one – From A Room: Vol. 2 – coming out on Dec. 1.
Stapleton opened his show with three great rockers in “Might As Well Get Stoned,” “Nobody to Blame” and “Second One to Know,” which is one of the highlights off his recent CMA Album of the Year winner From A Room: Vol. 1.
The country and blues rockers would continue throughout the night with stellar performances of “Parachute” and “Outlaw State of Mind,” from his debut album Traveller, as well as a terrific cover of Rodney Crowell’s “I Ain’t Living Long Like This,” which he brought Stuart back out to join him on. I wouldn’t mind having a copy of this live version.
It’s the slower ballads that allows Stapleton to really show off his powerful vocals and damn are these songs devastating. Performances of “I Was Wrong” and “Fire Away” were easily among the best of the night. The entire end of his set was flawless going from songs like “Death Row” and “Traveller” to “Tennessee Whiskey” and his set ender “Broken Halos” putting the entire crowd in a blissful mood.
I truly feel sorry for concertgoers who leave venues early just to beat the traffic because they always seem to miss encores that often are the best performances of the entire night. Stapleton’s encore is one that anybody who left on Thursday night should be kicking themselves over today. Stapleton performed “Either Way,” which is probably the best track off From A Room: Vol. 1, and “Sometimes I Cry,” which might be his best vocal on Traveller. It was jaw-dropping seeing Stapleton do these two songs as his encore, but by the time “Sometimes I Cry” was half over the arena was about half empty. I’m glad those people got home 10 minutes sooner …
Every award Stapleton has earned over the last few years has been greatly earned. I’ve had the honor of seeing many great performers and vocalists in concert and he’s among the very best. His vocals are stupidly good and he’s also a very underrated guitar player. If you ever get the chance to see him on the road you’d better take it.
by Julian Spivey
Colter Wall is certainly an interesting individual. The 22-year old country/folk troubadour from Saskatchewan, Canada made his first appearance at Stickyz Chicken Shack in Little Rock, Ark. on Friday, Nov. 10 to a packed room.
There are a couple of things that make Wall truly unique. One is the fact that he’s a 22-year old – honestly with a baby face under his thick red beard – and he’s out here playing the kind of music you’d expect to hear from old cowboy singers or folkies who were potentially too Western for Greenwich Village. The other thing that makes him unique is his upbringing. His father Brad Wall has been the premier of Saskatchewan for the last decade. Colter looks more like he should’ve been jumping trains with Jimmie Rodgers’ hobos than the offspring of the leader of a political party.
Maybe that’s just the prairies of Canada for ya?
However Colter Wall came to be the musician and songwriter he is, especially at such a young age, we should be grateful for. His debut self-titled album was released in May and instantly had the independent country music and Americana crowd buzzing about his songwriting and stories, often told with sparse musical accompaniment. Wall’s brand of folk music is the kind you just listen and let overtake you. It’s not the kind of music you’re really going to dance or move around while listening. That’s just not the style of folk or cowboy music. Some would call his songs drab, but those are likely people who prefer upbeat music.
Wall performed many tracks from his debut full-length LP on Friday night including “Codeine Dream” and the run-in-with-the-law story that is “Thirteen Silver Dollars.” He also mixed in some new songs like “Plain to See Plainsman” and “Thinkin’ on a Woman,” which makes me hopeful for a second release. It doesn’t seem like Wall is going to be a one-album wonder.
With a deep, booming voice that's had many compare him to Johnny Cash he performed his first five or so songs by himself on stage, which is how I thought he was going to perform his entire set. He was joined for the rest of his show by a drummer who occasionally played guitar, a bassist and an incredibly talented fiddle player named Anna Blanton, who shined particularly on fiddle-driven covers like Townes Van Zandt’s “White Freight Liner Blues.”
The biggest crowd response during the show came when Wall performed “Kate McCannon” about mid-way through the night. “Kate McCannon” is an old-school murder ballad about falling in love with a woman, catching her cheating on you and then ending her life. It’s probably the best song on his debut and one of 2017’s highlights in general. However, I must say the crowd response at the song’s end was at least a little off-putting considering the song’s narrator murders a woman. It’s one of those moments where whooping and hollering from a crowd can make you think and wonder things about their character.
I didn’t think too highly about the character of many in attendance at Stickyz anyway on Friday night. Wall’s music being kind of soft and slow – as you’d expect from a folk singer – means it can be easier to focus on things going on around you. It seemed many in attendance were more concerned with drinking their beers and conversing with each other about their inane daily lives than listening to the stunning performances of this talented up-and-comer. It’s particularly irritating because there is a sign above the stage at Stickyz that reads: “Love Live Music.” It’s a message that these patrons need to have hammered into their heads.
One of my favorite original performances of the night was “Motorcycle,” which was inspired by and references Arlo Guthrie’s “The Motorcycle Song” from his 1967 classic album Alice’s Restaurant. “Motorcycle” is the most upbeat and lively song of the album and includes one of my favorite verses on any song this year when it takes this shot at modern-day country music: “Well, I figure I’ll walk to the liquor store/Thunderbird, two bottles/Maybe three, maybe four/Follow my feet down to Music Row/Pour it on the pavement like you would a tombstone.”
Wall pours a few out for his homies during his shows with such great covers as the previously mentioned Townes Van Zandt classic, Roy Acuff’s “Wabash Cannonball,” Jimmie Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel No. 6 (Midnight Turning Day Blues)” and Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother.”
Wall finished his great seat with “Sleeping on the Pavement,” which appeared on his 2015 EP Imaginary Appalachia, and got him noticed by many when his music appeared in the 2016 critically-acclaimed film “Hell or High Water.” Wall would return to the stage for an encore of “The Devil Wears a Suit and Tie” after the crowd, suddenly seeming to give a damn, asked for a return.
Fellow Canadian Blake Berglund opened for Wall on Friday night and showed off his great personality that truly made him one of the best unknown (to me) concert openers I've seen. I’ll have to check out more of his music and he certainly had me laughing more than once during his set, especially with a tune called “Get off the Table, Mabel.”
by Julian Spivey
One of my favorite Sturgill Simpson’s lyrics is: “The most outlaw thing that I’ve ever done is give a good woman a ring” from “Life Ain’t Fair and the World is Mean” off his debut album High Top Mountain. But, there are multiple ways to be an outlaw and I believe Simpson knows this well.
Trolling the country music establishment is one way, especially in this day and age. Sure, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings grew their hair out and moved from Nashville to Texas, but had they been equipped with a cell phone that shoots video and a social media page they may have done something like what Simpson did on Wednesday night (Nov. 8) during the CMA Awards in Nashville.
The CMAs bills itself as “Country Music’s Biggest Night,” but the man who won the coveted Grammy Award for Best Country Album earlier this year for his third release A Sailor’s Guide to Earth has never been nominated for a CMA, nor invited to appear on its stage. Not all that surprising because Nashville tends to act as if artists like Simpson don’t exist despite top selling albums, waves of sold out venues, performances on “Saturday Night Live” (have you ever seen Luke Bryan on that show?) and a Grammy.
This is why Simpson’s brilliant and frankly hilarious decision to busk outside of Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, the venue of the CMAs, during the CMA telecast while taking questions from fans was such a badass outlaw move.
Simpson performed on Facebook Live for 48 minutes until his phone battery died. He was accompanied by an open guitar case, his Grammy award (which is my favorite part of the whole thing) and a couple of signs that read: “I don’t take requests, but I take questions about anything you want to talk about … because fascism sucks.” and “Struggling country singer … Anything helps (all donations go to the ACLU). God Bless America.”
The questions were being asked by fans via comments on his Facebook Live video and were read to him by someone off camera. He wasn’t joking when he said he would answer anything his fans wanted to talk about. When someone asked him about President Donald Trump, Simpson responded by saying: “He’s a fascist fucking pig and I’m not afraid to say that.” Simpson also answered questions about what he’s been listening too lately – answers included Electric Light Orchestra and Run the Jewels.
One of my favorite responses was when someone asked him if being discovered ruined him to which he responded, “I probably will never let that happen … I’m a weird musician, my music’s weird.” He also said he’d likely never make an album that goes mainstream, which is impressive considering he was just nominated for Album of the Year at the Grammys alongside mainstream darlings like Adele, Beyoncé, Rihanna and Drake. Speaking of Drake, Simpson said he preferred Kanye West when offered the decision “Drake or Kanye.”
Most of the Facebook Live video turned out to be Simpson answering these random questions, but he did please fans tuning in to hear him sing (and by the time his phone died more than 79,000 had seen at least a bit of his act) with performances of “Turtles All the Way Down” and “Water in a Well.” Also, right before his phone died he announced that he’d made $13 for the ACLU from tips thrown into his open guitar case. “So, it was all worth it,” he said.
It’s nice to know that Sturgill Simpson is always going to remain weird. On a night were country music showcased it’s supposed best of the genre it turns out the real stuff was fucking around in the common area outside the venue.
by Julian Spivey
The 51st annual Country Music Association (CMA) Awards air tonight at 7 p.m. on ABC hosted by Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood for remarkably the 10th consecutive year. I usually do a piece where I predict who will win the awards and then say who I believe should win the awards, but this year I’m just going to basically give you my ballot if I had a CMA vote.
Entertainer of the Year: Garth Brooks, Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Chris Stapleton & Keith Urban
Last year was the milestone 50th anniversary for the CMA Awards and there was a lot of nostalgia involved on the night, culminating with Garth Brooks winning his first Entertainer of the Year award in almost two decades. Luke Bryan had taken home the award the two years prior (unfortunately). It’s hard for me to believe that anybody can see an Eric Church concert and not vote for him for Entertainer of the Year. His shows are always incredible and he’s hardcore about his passion. I’ve seen Church live five times (the most of any artist I’ve seen) and I hope that he can finally take this honor home tonight. Though, I won’t be holding my breath.
Male Vocalist of the Year: Dierks Bentley, Eric Church, Thomas Rhett, Chris Stapleton & Keith Urban
Eric Church has been nominated for Male Vocalist of the Year quite a few times, but has never taken home the honor – which is quite unfortunate. He’s incredibly deserving, and I’d love to see him win it one of these years. But, I find it hard to vote for him when Chris Stapleton is also nominated. Simply put, nobody in the genre of country music has a voice as good as Stapleton’s, who’s won this award the last two years. Is a trifecta in the cards? It should be.
Female Vocalist of the Year: Kelsea Ballerini, Miranda Lambert, Reba McEntire, Maren Morris & Carrie Underwood
This one is a no-brainer for me: Miranda Lambert. I realize she has won this honor six of the last seven years (Carrie Underwood won last year), but she’s the most deserving so it’s hard to argue against it. This is one of the awards that kind of irritates me because I’d love for the CMAs to have shown some guts and kicked Kelsea Ballerini out and replaced her with Brandy Clark. I understand the “lifetime achievement” honor basically of nominating Reba McEntire, who released a gospel album this year, but I would’ve preferred Lori McKenna to have taken that slot, as well.
Vocal Group of the Year: Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town, Old Dominion, Rascal Flatts & Zac Brown Band
Little Big Town has won this award the last five years in a row and they’re going to win it again tonight. I have little doubt about that. The CMA voters love themselves some Little Big Town, even though I find them to be overrated. The only deserving winner in this category, in my opinion, would be Zac Brown Band (who somewhat shockingly has never won the award). I’ve been critical of ZBB off and on for most of their career, but Welcome Home released this year has some of mainstream country music’s best songs of the year. By the way, is Rascal Flatts still a thing?
Vocal Duo of the Year: Brothers Osborne, Dan + Shay, Florida Georgia Line, LOCASH & Maddie & Tae
Jesus Christ this is a rough category. What the hell is a LOCASH anyway? Brothers Osborne won this award last year in a major surprise (likely the biggest of the night) breaking a three-year winning streak of Florida Georgia Line (the STD capital of the world). I’ve never really gotten into Brothers Osborne yet, but I do really dig their song “It Ain’t My Fault.” On that song alone, I’d vote for them and I honestly believe they will go back-to-back this year.
Album of the Year: The Breaker by Little Big Town, From A Room: Vol. 1 by Chris Stapleton, Heart Break by Lady Antebellum, The Nashville Sound by Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit & The Weight of These Wings by Miranda Lambert
This is the category I love the most every year and I think the real artists out there would much rather take home the CMA for Album of the Year than Entertainer of the Year. It’s also the honor that the CMAs seem to get right the most often. I don’t think they’re going to get it 100 percent right this year because I just don’t see Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit’s The Nashville Sound winning, but you can’t really go wrong with Miranda Lambert’s The Weight of These Wings or Chris Stapleton’s From A Room: Vol. 1 either. I believe The Weight of These Wings will ultimately win and Isbell being nominated is truly a win in itself (if you believe in such things). How did Lady A get nominated for this, by the way?
Song of the Year: “Better Man” by Little Big Town, “Blue Ain’t Your Color” by Keith Urban, “Body Like a Back Road” by Sam Hunt, “Dirt on My Boots” by Jon Pardi & “Tin Man” by Miranda Lambert
You’re usually going to see most of the same nominees for Song of the Year and Single of the Year, but I can’t ever remember a year where all the nominees for each of those awards were the same. I don’t like it either. Based on its success alone Sam Hunt’s “Body Like a Back Road” makes a ton of sense being nominated for Single of the Year, but a nomination for Song of the Year is vomit inducing. I like two of these songs, which for mainstream country music is about to be expected for me. “Tin Man,” written by Miranda Lambert, Jack Ingram and Jon Randall, should be the winner and I believe it will be. The other song among the nominees that I like is, believe it or not, Keith Urban’s “Blue Ain’t Your Color,” written by Clint Lagerberg, Hillary Lindsey and Steven Lee Olsen, despite the fact many country music bloggers like me didn’t care for it. I honestly haven’t gotten on the Jon Pardi bandwagon much, which makes me a bit of an outlier among those country bloggers I mentioned.
Single of the Year: “Better Man” by Little Big Town, “Blue Ain’t Your Color” by Keith Urban, “Body Like a Back Road” by Sam Hunt, “Dirt on My Boots” by Jon Pardi & “Tin Man” by Miranda Lambert
If Sam Hunt was ever going to be deserving of winning an award (I can’t believe I just typed that) it would be for Single of the Year for “Body Like a Back Road.” That’s simply based on the fact it was a record setting single. It’s complete shit, but it was a record setting single. It’ll probably win the award tonight. But, this is my ballot dammit and I refuse to vote for it. I’m going with “Tin Man” here again. “Tin Man” has no business being nominated for this honor, because it bombed majorly as a single. It topped out at No. 24 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart, which makes it one of Lambert’s worst performing singles. But, because it’s nominated I may as well say I’d vote for it.
New Artist of the Year: Brett Young, Jon Pardi, Old Dominion, Lauren Alaina & Luke Combs
This is, without a doubt, the weakest bunch of nominees for any award on the night. I don’t even know who Brett Young is, but based on his photo he seems like possibly a Sam Hunt protégé. Hasn’t Lauren Alaina been around quite a while? I just looked it up – her debut album was released six freakin’ years ago. She shouldn’t be eligible. I’m voting for Jon Pardi. As I previously mentioned I haven’t really jumped on his bandwagon, but his lead single “Head Over Boots” wasn’t all that bad, so if somebody must win this award and somebody does I’ll take him.