by Julian Spivey
Old Crow Medicine Show brought their terrific brand of roots music to the capital of Arkansas on Thursday, June 7 performing on the lawn of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock.
Celebrating their 20th year as a group the show was filled with terrific performances throughout their career, as well as traditional numbers and many tracks off their newest release Volunteer, which came out in April. It was noticeable that the group was down two members – Critter Fuqua and Kevin Hayes – on Thursday night with no reason given for the absence. Hopefully it’s nothing to worry about.
O.C.M.S. got off to a raucous start on the evening with “Tell It to Me,” one of their oldest numbers and a sure crowd pleaser. They would follow with many strong tracks off Volunteer, which is going to be one of the strongest releases of the year within the Americana genre. The band played a rip-roaring performance of “Shout Mountain Music” from the album, before a trio of fiddles played by Ketch Secor, Chance McCoy and a roadie, who’s name I unfortunately didn’t catch, joining in for the traditional instrumental “Elzick’s Farewell,” which led into “Child of the Mississippi.” This talented roadie also played drums throughout the show when Cory Younts was playing mandolin or keyboards.
My two favorite performances of songs off Volunteer were “Old Hickory” and “Look Away,” which have the stellar songwriting plus musicianship that we’ve come to know from O.C.M.S. over the years.
The band had fans of all ages at the show ranging from teens to people likely in their 80s and it’s easy to see why playing a show that includes traditional and historical fare like “In the Jailhouse Now” and “C.C. Rider” along with more rocking modern day tribulation songs like “Methamphetamine” and partiers like “Alabama High-Test.”
One of my favorite performances of the evening was “Levi,” which was my favorite track off the group’s 2012 release Carry Me Back and the band dedicated to military members everywhere. The track tells the story of a Southern boy gone overseas to the Middle East to fight and ultimately die in a war he didn’t have much business being in.
Another highlight of the show was the group’s “I Hear Them All” with a bit of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” mixed in making for a truly special performance. The group was highly influenced by the music of Guthrie and “I Hear Them All” is likely their most Guthrie-sounding song in their repertoire. It’s also essentially the band’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” the Bob Dylan classic that they also covered on Thursday night.
One of the band’s best tributes of the night was when they invited opener Joshua Hedley back to the stage to perform a cover of Arkansas legend Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman,” which Hedley absolutely aced vocally.
The group would end their performance with a fantastic one-two punch of “Wagon Wheel,” their biggest song, and “8 Dogs, 8 Banjos” off their 2014 release Remedy. “Wagon Wheel,” though not even quite 15 years old yet, is one of the 100 or so essential songs in the history of both country music and roots music and frankly doesn’t get old no matter how many times you hear it, especially seeing it performed live by one of the world’s most talented groups.
As many know the song was taken to the top of the Billboard country music charts in 2014 when covered by Darius Rucker. That leads to this little bit that’s kind of a side-note to the concert review.
To the Jackass That Yelled “Fuck Darius Rucker” at the Old Crow Medicine Show concert:
I don’t believe there are many people with prior knowledge of O.C.M.S.’s version of “Wagon Wheel” who wouldn’t say that it’s better than Rucker’s cover. Both performances are good, but the musicianship of the O.C.M.S. version simply sets it apart. However, O.C.M.S. has to be incredibly thankful to Rucker, whom they’ve performed the song with before on the Grand Ole Opry (which they’re both members of). The Rucker performance earned O.C.M.S. more money and fans than they would currently have without it. There’s no way they don’t love him and his take on their modern classic for that. I hope they didn’t hear your ignorance.
Back to the review …
After a brief period off the stage O.C.M.S. returned for an incredible cover of Norman Greenbaum’s one-hit wonder “Spirit in the Sky” from 1969 which frontman Ketch Secor referred to as a “gospel song” and showed off his talented harmonica skills during.
Opener Joshua Hedley, who’s debut album Mr. Jukebox was released on the same day in April as Volunteer, has been hailed by many for his traditionalist sound that harkens back to the days of ‘60s countrypolitan. The album seemed a little too schticky for me, but I did really enjoy a few tracks and seeing his and his band perform them live gives the songs more life than listening to them via headphones. His opener “These Walls” sounded as good as if you’d seen someone like Jim Reeves or Faron Young in their heydays and the title track and “Weird Thought Thinker,” the two stand out tracks for me from his debut, were great to see live.
by Julian Spivey
Cell phone use at concerts has been a popular topic lately, especially with some artists like Jack White banning them from shows, but I have to say I’m sick of it.
I can see why some people would be annoyed by cell phones at concerts, and I can even agree that they are probably used a bit too much by concertgoers, but ultimately, I’m a fan of using my cell phone at concerts for photography reasons – both professionally and personally. I don’t see the necessity for phones at concerts for other reasons – people shouldn’t be using them to ignore the show by texting, talking, using social media, surfing the net, etc., but you can’t ban phones for those reasons without eliminating people using them as cameras.
As someone who reviews every concert he goes to for his website – this one – I view using my phone important for journalistic reasons. Having photos attached to my reviews will bring more people to my review than if I published a review without a photo. That’s something they teach you very early on in journalism classes. I’ve also found that live streaming the occasional performance from a show is a great way to bring views to your social media pages. Concertgoers certainly shouldn’t videotape an entire show (which I swear I saw somebody doing recently at a Foo Fighters concert), because I full-heartedly believe that doing that would completely take you out of the concert going experience, but the fact is it’s a good tool for someone trying to run a successful entertainment or music website. And, sure you could argue that I could get a press pass and an actual camera to do such things, but the truth of the matter is that most venues/concert promoters simply aren’t going to give out press passes to small, not-for-profit outlets like mine in most cases.
I also just love having photos for personal reasons. I have an entire photo album – yes, a physical, book-form one – filled with concert photos from over the years and I thoroughly enjoy perusing through these memories – and photos do have more memories attached with them than you can conjure from your brain, that’s why we take them. I enjoy sharing these moments with friends and family and look forward to the day I can flip through this album with a daughter or son and relive with them the moment I saw Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Merle Haggard and other legendary musicians. Banning cell phones from concerts would keep me from these great moments and I know I can’t possibly be alone in this.
There have been artists (I’m looking at you Eagles) and venues that I’ve attended that have not allowed photography during the show and I admit a no photography policy won’t keep me from attending many shows I truly want to see. But, it does make me enjoy them a little bit less. Not just because I like to have these photos for my reviews and memories, but I also don’t like rich people telling me I can’t do something after I’ve spent my hard-earned money to see them in concert.
Ultimately, I feel there are other concert going things I come across frequently that are far more annoying than people using their phones. Number one among them is people getting up from their seats mid-performance and walking in front of you (making you stand if you’re seated) to go either to the restroom or to the concessions constantly. I’ve been to shows where it felt like people were going back-and-forth every couple of songs. Getting up to spend $10 on a glass of beer and then having to get up again to use the restroom because you’ve spent more money on beer than you did your actual tickets is incredibly more annoying than someone snapping photos or videoing performances. The people constantly getting up are affecting the experience of the show for others, whereas those taking photos really aren’t. I know some people say that they get annoyed by seeing all these little screens lit up during a show, but honestly, you’re not really paying enough attention to the show if that’s the case.
Another concertgoing thing I’ve come across that’s way more irritating than cell phone use is people talking throughout a show. I understand you’re out on the night and wanting to have a good time – this is the same reason you keep going back for beer – but, ultimately, you’ve come to hear and see great music. If you wanted to chat and drink beer you can do it on your front porch, in your living room or at a local bar for far less money and you’ll annoy far fewer people. I remember attending Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic in 2015 and seeing Kris Kristofferson perform for my first time, just him, his guitar and a harmonica. Because of this it wasn’t exactly a loud performance and someone within my vicinity was talking about how they were primarily just at the day-long event to see David Allan Coe. This constant talking really hurt my experience of seeing one of the greatest songwriters of all-time perform some of the greatest songs ever written. I wanted to find this person and smack the living hell out of them. I’ve never had someone taking a photo with their phone induce that kind of reaction.
You always see articles about phone use at concerts and how horrible it is, but you never seem to get the same amount of complaints out of stuff that, at least in my opinion, is far worse. It wouldn’t surprise me if there comes a day where more and more artists take the Jack White route and ban cell phone use during their shows, but that would truly be disappointing for me.
by Julian Spivey
The early life and career of Carole King was brought to life on the stage of the Robinson Performance Hall in Little Rock, Ark. from May 29-June 3 in the terrific “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.”
The show featuring the music of King, Gerry Goffin, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil and a book by Douglas McGrath was brought to town by Celebrity Attractions, which brings a series of Broadway musicals to Robinson annually.
‘Beautiful’ debuted on Broadway in 2014 to much success that included winning a Tony Award for Jessie Mueller, the first actress to portray King on stage. The musical was also nominated for a Tony for Best Musical, losing out to “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.’
The touring production of ‘Beautiful’ features the wonderful performance by Sarah Bockel as King, from the age of 16 in 1958 through her Carnegie Hall performance in 1971 following the massive success of Tapestry, where she solidified herself as a talented performer and not just a songwriter relying on her partnership with first husband Goffin (played by Andrew Brewer).
Being a jukebox musical, ‘Beautiful’ is mostly performances of late ‘50s/’60s pop hits, written by King and Goffin as well as rival songwriting duo Mann and Weil, with snippets of dialogue, drama and some comedy mixed in. It’s during these dramatic parts that we learn about King’s early life as a songwriter and first marriage to Goffin and friendship/friendly rivalry with Mann (played by Jacob Heimer) and Weil (played by Sarah Goeke).
Having never previously familiarized myself with ‘Beautiful’ it was surprising to find how much of the musical is dedicated to this fascinating songwriting rivalry between the two songwriting couples at Don Kirshner’s (played by James Clow) 1650 Broadway publishing company. It’s almost a dangerous decision on the part of creator McGrath as there are times when the comic relief of the Mann character almost steals the show. There are even times when the performances of songs written by Mann and Weil almost steal the show. The 2 p.m. matinee showing on Saturday, June 2 that I attended seemed to have the biggest round of applause following The Righteous Brothers’ (played by John Michael Dias and Nathan Scherich) performance of the Mann/Weil composed “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” which is interesting because of all the performances in the show it’s the one that least sounded like the original artists. I will say that Dias’ brief performance as Neil Sedaka was one of the funniest bits of the musical.
Bockel’s performance as King was terrific. The performances were incredibly realistic – my favorite was the show opening “So Far Away” – and she had King’s Brooklyn accent down pat. In another somewhat risky decision it’s Brewer’s performance as Goffin that’s almost the showiest of the performance as he’s the character with the most change during the show, going from stuck up academic with playwright dreams to suffering from mental illness that kills his marriage. He’s almost played off as the bad guy in the musical – and I believe the audience accepts him as that – but, ultimately, he’s just a flawed individual. And, without Goffin’s flaws we’d likely never end up with King striking out on her own and creating Tapestry.
The music of a jukebox musical is going to be hit-or-miss depending on how you feel about it to begin with, but I greatly enjoyed the performances of King and Goffin smashes like “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” (my favorite song King/Goffin wrote) performed by The Shirelles and “Up on the Roof” as performed by Goffin introducing it to King before nicely going into the recorded version by The Drifters. I also really enjoyed Mann’s introduction of the more serious, keeping up with the times “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” which is one of my favorite tracks by The Animals.
All in all, ‘Beautiful’ was pretty much as its title says. It was nice to see the early days of the most prolific female songwriter in the history of pop music and the growth of her career to solo stardom. If you ever have the opportunity to check it out, I’d highly recommend it.
by Julian Spivey
American Aquarium and Cory Branan put on a fantastic show at The Revolution Room in Little Rock, Ark. on Saturday, May 26 for a packed crowd of adoring fans. Branan and American Aquarium frontman BJ Barham proved to the house they are two of the finest songwriters currently in the world of alt-country or Americana (however you want to label them).
Branan, the Memphis-based performer, does a lot of shows in Little Rock – I saw him just a few months ago at the White Water Tavern – and has become something of a cult favorite among fans in the area. He began his opening set on Saturday night with a couple of newly written songs as a means of testing them out. The songs, which I’m guessing are titled somewhat close to “Happy New Year” and “Look I Lost” sound like they will fit perfectly on a future Branan album. Branan is an interesting performer who seemingly never prepares a setlist before a show and just performs whatever he feels like in the spur of the moment and relies heavily on audience members shouting requests – he said on Saturday night that he was there solely “for you.”
After the new stuff he performed a couple of fantastic songs from his 2017 release Adios, “I Only Know” and “You Got Through,” the latter truly showing off his skills as a songwriter. A fan requested Branan do a song he had written about his dad and Branan asked, “do you want to hear the one I wrote before or after he died?” The fan said “both” and Branan obliged with the rocking “Daddy Was a Skywriter” and the deeply emotional “The Vow.”
Branan has a lot of frankly depressing songs and it’s these songs I seem to enjoy the most from him, especially off Adios, but on a bar venue Saturday night he stuck to mostly rocking crowd-pleasing fare like “Prettiest Waitress in Memphis,” “Tall Green Grass” and “Sour Mash.” It made for a truly fun and raucous opening set.
American Aquarium opened their 26-song epic set with three tracks off their upcoming Things Change, which comes out on Friday, June 1, beginning with “The World is on Fire,” which is my favorite off the album thus far and I believe an early contender for song of the year in the Americana world. “The World is on Fire” led into rip-roaring performances of “Tough Folks” and “Crooked+Straight.” The audience really seemed to love the new stuff and it seems Things Change could become American Aquarium’s best release yet.
I’m amazed at the level of intensity American Aquarium and particularly Barham perform with. It’s a long set of music – rarely do you see an artist perform 26 songs in a show – and they go 90 miles an hour down a dead-end road the entire time. Oh, and they’re performing on nine straight nights to begin the tour (with Little Rock as just the second show of the run). The group, from Raleigh, N.C., has been around since 2006, though Barham is the only original member with drummer Joey Bybee, bassist Ben Hussey, guitarist Shane Boeker and pedal steel guitarist Adam Kurtz all joining the band in April of last year.
Barham said that Little Rock was an important stop for the band and an important place in the group’s history as it was the first place the band really felt welcomed outside of their home state when they first began touring. He especially had love for White Water Tavern, which they included in their rocking song “Rattlesnake.”
The audience really ate up the group’s older stuff throughout the night singing along at the top of their lungs to performances of “Jacksonville,” “Wolves,” “Good Fight,” “Lonely Ain’t Easy,” “Wichita Falls” and “When We Were Younger Men” among others.
One of the best performances of the night was “Losing Side of Twenty Five,” the first AA song I ever heard a few years ago, which made The Word’s best songs of the year list in 2015. The song included a spirited introduction from Barham about how his good Southern Christian mother was confronted by a former teacher of his in a busy Sunday grocery store and asked, “you oughta be real disappointed that BJ decided to be a songwriter for a living?,” to which his mother responded, “Fuck you!”
Just as the show was starting to wind down and you didn’t think the band could amp the intensity up anymore they end the show with bombastic performances of “I Hope He Breaks Your Heart” and “Burn.Flicker.Die.” You could surmise from the audience’s reactions to these performances that they were probably the ultimate crowd favorites of the evening.
The group returned to the stage for a great four-song encore consisting of “Harmless Sparks,” “PBR Promenade,” “Clark Ave.” and a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Darkness on the Edge of Town” to finish up the show. Barham said that if any songwriter wasn’t inspired by Springsteen than they’re doing it all wrong and I couldn’t agree more with that statement. The band invited Branan back to the stage to join in on the performance, which as a major Springsteen fan ended up being one of my personal favorite moments of a special night of music.
by Julian Spivey
I’ve never really been a fan of mid-year or quarter-year favorite songs lists as they often seem to be done for clickbait purposes and more importantly I do a year-end best songs of the year post and I don’t want to spoil anything that might be on that list. But, there are many songs I’ve been a fan of this year and wanted to highlight some of them. Here’s what you should listen to if you …
Want Something to Stick in Your Head: “Good Kisser” by Lake Street Dive
I promise you that Lake Street Dive’s unique take on cheating “Good Kisser” will get stuck in your head with its infectious soul and Rachael Price’s powerhouse vocals. The narrator has become the source of rumors from the man she cheated with, but if he’s going to talk about her being a homewrecker the least he can do it tell them everything, including about how she’s a good kisser. Price’s vocal might be one of the best of 2018.
Want Something Fun: “Road Crew” by Mike and the Moonpies
One of the best albums thus far in 2018 has been Mike and the Moonpies’ Steak Night at the Prairie Rose (likely the best title of the year), which captures the Texas barroom sound brilliantly. “Road Crew,” the opening track of the album, is a fantastic ode to hard-working roadies, the unsung heroes of touring bands, that hums along at breakneck honky tonk speed and will keep a smile on your face throughout it’s brisk runtime.
Want Something Mainstream, But Good: “Shoot Me Straight” by Brothers Osborne
It’s no secret that a lot of people don’t want anything to do with mainstream country music lately and I’m one of those people. However, every now and then there’s an artist that can manage to be both played mainstream and beloved by outsiders and lately Brothers Osborne has been one of those acts. I enjoyed the infectious fun that was “It Ain’t My Fault” last year and this year they’re back with another catchy tune, the unique breakup tune “Shoot Me Straight,” which compares a breakup with drinking straight whiskey. Now, that’s country.
Want to Hear Something Sexy: “Hands on You” by Ashley Monroe
You don’t get a whole lot of sexy songs in the country/Americana genres, at least not the good type of country, but Ashley Monroe’s “Hands on You” is sultry as hell. It’s not the first time Monroe has gotten sexually provocative in song, something you certainly don’t see much from the ladies of country music. The track about wishing you hadn’t let a one-night stand get away from you has a nice soulful quality to it, culminating in a good little keyboard solo toward the end.
Want to Laugh: “Earthly Justice” by Western Centuries
This song, written by Western Centuries’ Cahalen Morrison, really makes me chuckle every time with its description of a bar fight and the back-and-forth dialogue inserted into it like, “See that barrel over there’ll come flyin’ through the air/I’m gonna put your head right in it” and “Don’t, don’t you do it/See that bar that holds the beer that’s a-sittin’ right here/I’m gonna put your head right through it.” I can just see that taking place in a light-hearted Western movie moment.
Want to Cry: “Cabinet Door” by Anderson East
I don’t think there’s anything more tear-inducing this year than Anderson East’s “Cabinet Door,” a ballad with an older gentleman having a conversation with his deceased wife. It’s as raw as it gets and proof that something so sad can also be incredibly beautiful – in much the same way Randy Newman’s fantastic “Lost Without You” was last year. One lyric that really gets me as a baseball fan of the Atlanta Braves is about how he misses watching Braves games with his wife. That’s as heart wrenching to me as missing holding hands with a loved one at church on Sunday.
Want Something Political: “Oval Room” by Hackensaw Boys
I know a lot of people are turned off by politics in music – though I’ve never really understood why people believe musicians should be unopinionated beings and “stick to music.” In today’s world music is getting political and opinionated again, after many years of not being that way, and I believe it’s good for public discourse. One of my favorite political songs of the year is actually a cover from the Reagan-era of Blaze Foley’s “Oval Room” by the Hackensaw Boys. If you’ve never heard the song though you’d think it’s about our current President, which is why I believe it’s a great time for the Hackensaw Boys to release this gem. If you’re OK with the way things are going in the Trump White House you’re probably going to want to avoid this one though.
Want Something That’s a Throwback: “Mr. Jukebox” by Joshua Hedley
When Joshua Hedley’s album Mr. Jukebox came out a few weeks ago I was a bit critical of it’s throwback sound because it seemed a little unnatural to me for someone to release something so completely of a different era, but despite my opinion of the album, I have always liked the title track. “Mr. Jukebox” is everything that’s good about that countrypolitan sound it’s paying tribute to and has one of the best old-timey sounding lyrics you’ll hear.
Want Something Old New: “Father’s Gun” by Miranda Lambert
Many may not know this, but Elton John has gone country before. In fact, one of his earliest albums 1970’s Tumbleweed Connection was a concept album based on country and western themes. That album didn’t spawn any of his greatest hits, but it was fantastic. As part of this year’s country-flavored Restoration: Reimagining the Songs of Elton John and Bernie Taupin, Miranda Lambert has taken Taupin’s tale of a son taking up his father’s gun and cause in the American Civil War and made it shine as something you could easily hear on one of her own albums. Sometimes the best covers are stuff that you weren’t all that familiar with before and this is certainly one of those cases.
Want a Collaboration: “Better Hope You Die Young” by Hellbound Glory & Tanya Tucker
Hellbound Glory and Tanya Tucker just seem like a natural fit for a collaboration and “Better Hope You Die Young” is a fitting piece for them with its tale of living a ragged life that’ll take its toll on you if you die tap out early. The raspy, rugged vocals of these two fit the rebellious spirit of this song perfectly.
Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives Put on Fantastic Traditional Country Music Show at Conway's Toad Suck Daze
by Julian Spivey
Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives put on a terrific show of traditional country music for fans attending the 36th annual Toad Suck Daze Festival in downtown Conway, Ark. on Saturday, May 5.
Stuart, who’s been on the road performing since he was 12 years old, has pretty much become the poster artist for keeping things traditional with a show featuring everything from traditional country music, bluegrass, gospel, rockabilly and even surf rock making for a fascinating set. He’s pretty much become country music royalty having performed as a teenager in Lester Flatt’s bluegrass band, been a son-in-law of the legendary Johnny Cash and currently married to Country Music Hall of Famer Connie Smith.
The phenomenally talented foursome opened their show on Saturday night with the terrific “Sundown in Nashville,” which appeared on the group’s 2003 album Country Music. Stuart had a string of hits in the early ‘90s on the country charts before going back to his more traditional roots in the latter part of the decade and into the ‘00s and often staggers them together in concert to get fans who know him from radio into the mood. This includes his multiple Grammy-winning collaborations he recorded with Travis Tritt, “The Whiskey Ain’t Working” and “This One’s Gonna Hurt You (For a Long, Long Time).” His biggest hit as a solo artist in the ‘90s was “Tempted,” which is my personal favorite of his, and I’m thankful he still breaks it out in concert. I wish he would bring out his top 10 hit “Burn Me Down,” from 1992, but I’ve seen him now in three consecutive years and I don’t believe he’s done it once.
Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives are the reigning Group of the Year at the Americana Awards thanks to their excellent 2017 release Way Out West, which they broke out a few tracks of during the show with the surf rock instrumental “Mojave,” with “Cousin Kenny” Vaughan showing off his great guitar skills, and the harmonizing ballad of “Old Mexico.” It would’ve been nice to hear the group perform more stuff from that excellent album, but I believe they wanted to keep the festival crowd entertained by performing more stuff they would know and be able to groove and sing along with.
The truly great thing about the Fabulous Superlatives is they aren’t just an amazing backing band, but all talented vocalists and each member: Vaughan, bassist Chris Scruggs (from a music royalty family himself) and drummer “Handsome Harry” Stinson each getting a chance to shine at the microphone themselves. Vaughan performed the guitar driven “Country Music Got a Hold on Me” and “Hot Like That,” Scruggs performed “Never Gonna Do It Again” and Stinson showed off his fantastic voice on Woody Guthrie’s folk traditional “Pretty Boy Floyd” and a Johnny Horton cover “Let Me Down Easy.”
Having great respect for classic country music Stuart and the band always break out some great covers during their set like Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” Marty Robbins’ “El Paso” and the traditional “Orange Blossom Special,” with Stuart telling a great story of meeting the song’s writer Ervin T. Rouse in the ‘70s as a kid playing in Lester Flatt’s band at a bluegrass festival in Miami. Stuart’s solo performance of the song was one of the real highlights of the night with Stuart showing off his immense mandolin skills, in addition to be a terrific guitar player.
Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives are never going to get out of town without leaving you with some fine gospel music, which they did on Saturday night with great vocal performances of “Just a Little Talk with Jesus” and “Angels Rock Me to Sleep,” which ended the set.
The group would return for a rocking one-song encore of Stuart’s first top 10 hit “Hillbilly Rock,” from 1990, showing off the rockabilly side of the band that proves they were just as much influenced by the ‘50s rock scene of Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley as they were the sounds of Flatt & Scruggs, Johnny Cash, Woody Guthrie and others.
It was truly a fantastic night of music at Toad Duck Daze, which often seems to bring incredibly talented and great acts, especially in the country music genre, to the small-town festival.
by Julian Spivey
The Foo Fighters gave ample proof as to why they are the best rock & roll band of the last two decades on Thursday, May 3 at the FedEx Forum in Memphis with a killer almost three-hour set featuring greatest hits, new stuff and a lot of laughs in between.
The show was originally supposed to take place last year but was postponed due to Foo Fighters’ frontman Dave Grohl’s mom being ill. The band more than made up for the more than half year postponement.
The show kicked off with “Run,” from the group’s 2017 release Concrete and Gold, one of the hardest rocking songs in their repertoire. When I first heard it as the first single off the record last year I was a little bit disappointed. I didn’t care as much for the harder sound. However, I can say seeing it live really does give it a different life. It’s a good way to begin a night of rock & roll.
The Foo Fighters frontloaded the first hour of their show with an incredible order of “All My Life,” “Learn to Fly” (which was my introduction to the group many years ago), “The Pretender,” “The Sky is a Neighborhood” (my favorite track off their newest album) and “Rope.” It’s crazy to think a band could have such a stellar amount of songs that they can stick these powerhouses in the first quarter of their set and keep the crowd’s attention throughout the entire evening.
Following “Rope” was a hyper-extended drum solo by the excellent Taylor Hawkins, which was to lead into his vocal on “Sunday Rain” – a somewhat rare vocal for him – but, unfortunately his mic was turned off and Grohl stepped into the vocalist role for the first verse. Luckily Hawkins’ mic was turned on in time for him to finish the song. “Sunday Rain” has a cool throwback sound to ‘70s classic rock and shows the group has multiple talented vocalists. Guitarist Chris Shiflett is a talented vocalist in his own right with multiple country albums (yes, you read that correctly) to his name. Unfortunately, he didn’t get the opportunity to show off his vocal skills on Thursday night. He did have a really cool moment in which he invited a teenager onstage for a bit of a guitar riff off.
The Foo Fighters have, almost unbelievably, been active for 23 years (meaning they’re only two years away from Rock & Roll Hall of Fame eligibility and I’d have to believe they are a lock) and have amassed multiple generations of fans over the years, which Grohl brought up during the show. He said he would attempt to perform songs from each of their many albums over the years and came close to succeeding. He would play some older gems like “My Hero” and “Breakout” and newer hits like “These Days” and “Walk” from 2011’s Grammy Album of the Year nominated Wasting Light, which may be the band’s best album overall.
Grohl is known as the nicest guy in music and he’s also potentially the funniest, which made the band introductions a laugh riot. Bassist Nate Mendel played “You’re the One That I Want” from “Grease” for his introduction, which included Grohl perfectly singing the first verse (claiming it’s the only one he knows). Guitarist Pat Smear was introduced with a rip-roaring performance of The Ramones’ classic “Blitzkrieg Bop.” Keyboardist Rami Jaffee, the most recent addition to the band, was introduced by playing the opening piano part to John Lennon’s classic “Imagine” with Grohl wryly tricking the audience into believing they were about to join him in a sing-along of the classic before hilariously performing Van Halen’s “Jump” to the tune. It works surprisingly well.
Drummer Taylor Hawkins was given the chance to perform vocals again during his introduction with a little help from Luke Spiller, the lead singer of the tour’s opening band The Struts, on a cover of Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure.” It was fitting that Spiller took the Freddie Mercury vocals because I felt during the entire opening set that he wanted so badly to be Mercury. It didn’t seem to bother much of the crowd, but it was almost as if he was impersonating Mercury while singing his own stuff during the entire opening set. It was distracting to say the least.
The Foo Fighters finished their set with a kickass foursome of “Times Like These,” in which Grohl began solo and was joined midway through by the rest of the band in one of the evening’s best performances, “Monkey Wrench,” one of the most fun Foo songs to belt out along with the band, a great rocking cover of Mose Allison’s “Young Man Blues” and “Best of You,” one of the band’s biggest hits.
The group would return minutes later for an epic three-song encore that consisted of new song “Dirty Water,” “This is a Call,” the group’s first ever single from 1995 when it was basically just Grohl playing everything and ended the terrific night of rock music with “Everlong,” which is in my opinion the group’s greatest song and one of the 100 essential rock songs of all-time.
Seeing the Foo Fighters end an epic show with “Everlong” was truly one of those concert bucket list moments I’d always hoped to see and the cherry on top of a fantastic night.
by Julian Spivey
The biggest question surrounding Kacey Musgraves’ third studio album Golden Hour has been: is it country music? It’s a valid question, but at most it should be secondary. The biggest question with her album is that of which should come first for any album: is it good or bad? Now, of course, “good” or “bad” music is subjective, which I hate that I’m typing because it’s obvious. But, for my personal tastes I find Golden Hour to be extremely disappointing.
When I heard Musgraves was going to be releasing a new album this year it instantly skyrocketed to the top of my “most anticipated albums of the year” list. That anticipation started to wane a bit when she released two songs “Space Cowboy” and “Butterflies” – which sounded vastly different from much of what appeared on Same Trailer, Different Park and Pageant Material. The anticipation essentially completely faded when I heard the disco-infused “High Horse” last week. This wasn’t the Musgraves I knew and loved. That’s my problem, not hers.
Artists must go wherever their hearts, souls and brains tell them to and if they want to mix up their sound or go in a different direction it’s up to them and only them. If we as listeners don’t like it we can complain about it, we can write negative reviews if we truly think the songs or album aren’t that great, but that’s about it. Golden Hour has disappointed me, but I wouldn’t go as far as saying Musgraves has. After all, she has co-written and released some of the best music in the country music genre of the last decade.
Golden Hour as an entirety to me is unfortunately dull, which is something I didn’t think Musgraves, who came off as a spitfire on her first two albums, could be. There isn’t a whole lot upbeat about the record, which typically isn’t something that bothers me. For example, I’m a huge fan of Jason Isbell and his records aren’t exactly upbeat much of the time, but they intrigue me on a story and songwriting level. Golden Hour doesn’t do that for me.
Much has been made about how Golden Hour is Musgraves’ most personal album thus far and that, along with the more pop-influenced sound of the record, might be the biggest issue with me. It’s great that she’s getting more personal for her, but maybe I prefer her witty takes on the world or the way she crafts a fictional story a little bit more.
“Space Cowboy” is potentially the best track on the album. It’s a lovely sounding breakup tune with nice wordplay in the title. It’s something I could have easily seen on either of her first two albums, but it maybe wouldn’t have been among the top half of songs on either of those albums.
“Butterflies” is the dullest track I’ve heard from Musgraves period. I’m sure this is an incredibly personal track for her written about her husband Ruston Kelly, a fine artist in his own right, but it’s just too cutesy for me. Props for likely becoming the only country (or country-ish) song to ever include the word “chrysalis” though.
“Slow Burn,” which kicks off Golden Hour, is one of the better tracks (note I’d normally use the word “highlights,” but I don’t feel it’s applicable here) off the album. The chorus is catchy. I really do like the first verse, which borrows a line from her unreleased tribute “John Prine,” which should’ve been on an album by now, but for some reason it loses me lyrically around the second verse. I’m not even sure I completely know why yet.
“Mother” is a track that truly disappoints me. It disappoints me because it’s actually damn good, but only feels like a sketch. It feels like right when it gets going it’s over. It could’ve been a great mother/daughter relationship song, but it just stops at a minute and 18 seconds when there should’ve been more verses. Musgraves says she was influenced by LSD when she wrote this song. Maybe had she been sober it would’ve turned into the great piece it could’ve been.
“Rainbow” is a lovely piano ballad, but I don’t have too much to say about it after my first few listens. I feel like I’ve heard better piano ballads within the genre this year – check out Caitlyn Smith’s Starfire, which includes “East Side Restaurant” and “Scenes from a Corner Booth at Closing Time on a Tuesday” (the title is almost greater than the song). Actually, one of the biggest problems with Golden Hour is Starfire did it better when it came to pop-influences.
Much of the album just runs together for me. Thus, there’s really no reason to go through it track-by-track. Many of the tracks sound alike and there aren’t that many lines that popped out to me instantly, like there have been on other Musgraves albums.
Musgraves does sound as good as she always has vocally. I think she has one of the most underrated voices around. I’ve seen people claim it’s average, but God does it sound lovely to me. It really does fit the pop genre, as well as it does country.
Many traditionalist fans of country music (and I honestly don’t know if I’m in that category – though I suspect many who claim to be truly shouldn’t) don’t like anything that isn’t strictly fiddle and steel guitar sounding. These fans can get a little xenophobic about what they want from their country music. We don’t want outsiders coming in with their different sounds like hip-hop or pop or even ‘80s style rock and ruining “our” genre. I’m like this when it comes to the type of stuff you hear on modern country radio from the likes of Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line, etc. What Musgraves have done with this album isn’t exactly that. Sure, if by some miracle a disco-flavored song like “High Horse” is played on mainstream radio I would turn the station because it’s just not my thing, but it’s not as bad as most of what FGL or Bryan and others are churning out.
This album is being praised by many who don’t typically praise or even follow “country music” and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. If it somehow can bring people into loving Merle Haggard or Loretta Lynn than great, but I don’t see it. There are many great albums being made annually that would fit that headline much better. Hell, Ashley McBryde released one the same day as Musgraves that fits that headline better. What’s good about country music is something that holds true to the genre. That’s not to say there isn’t room for growth within the genre. It doesn’t have to all be steel and fiddle.
Much of what we see from Musgraves on this album is frankly good pop music, that’s just not what I’m wanting. There’s a reason I don’t listen to artists who influenced this record like the Bee Gees, Sade or Daft Punk. It’s because I don’t care for their type of music. Does that make it good or bad? Not necessarily. It’s just not for me. The disappointment factor comes in because I thought Musgraves was for me. Honestly, she probably still will be. I don’t really think we’re done hearing the Same Trailer, Different Park Musgraves. I don’t believe this is a Taylor Swift situation where she probably should’ve been pop all along, but it took much of a decade to figure it out. I also don’t think she’s trying something new to finally get airplay on country radio or maybe even cross-over to pop radio. I believe she really feels what’s on this album. I believe as a country girl from Golden, Texas we’re going to see Musgraves performing stuff like “Merry Go ‘Round” and “Biscuits” again. I’d almost bank on that.
by Julian Spivey
12. “City of Stars” by Ryan Gosling (La La Land)
Ryan Gosling is a white man who saves the genre of jazz in this Hollywood fairytale. It’s really good, despite this. The song that helps him save the genre is “City of Stars,” composed by Justin Hurwitz with lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the extremely catchy number from 2016’s “La La Land” that won Best Original Song at last year’s Oscars and will no doubt be in your head the remainder of the day.
11. “I’m Easy” by Keith Carradine (Nashville)
Director Robert Altman wanted his actors in 1975’s “Nashville” to write and perform their own songs for his film. Keith Carradine wrote and performed two for the film, including the Oscar-winning “I’m Easy,” which became a top 20 Billboard hit and remains a lovely ballad to this day.
10. “Theme from ‘Shaft’” by Isaac Hayes (Shaft)
Isaac Hayes’ “Theme from ‘Shaft’” is without a doubt one of the coolest Oscar-winning original songs with its soulfully funky sound. Hayes became the first African-American to win Best Original Song in 1971 and perhaps even more surprising is the fact he was the very first artist to win the honor for a song he both wrote and performed for the film – something that’s become much more common in the years since.
9. “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” by B.J. Thomas (Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid)
“Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” was written by Hal David and Burt Bacharach for 1969’s Western “Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid” and performed by B.J. Thomas, the third choice after Ray Stevens and Bob Dylan both turned it down. It’s honestly a weird selection for the movie as it plays over a fun scene where Paul Newman and Katharine Ross pal around on a bicycle, arguably a scene that could’ve been cut and not affected the movie in the least.
8. “Lose Yourself” by Eminem (8 Mile)
Eminem made Academy Awards history when his “Lose Yourself” from “8 Mile,” in which he portrays a rapper based on his actual upbringing, became the first hip-hop song to win Best Original Song. To this day “Lose Yourself” is one of the greatest and most acclaimed hip-hop tracks of all-time.
7. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” by Esther Williams & Ricardo Montalban (Neptune’s Daughter)
“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is one of two Christmas-related (though it wasn’t really intended as a holiday song) songs to win Best Original Song at the Oscars. Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” performed by Bing Crosby, in the film “Holiday Inn” won the Oscar in 1942. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” written by Frank Loesser, appeared in 1949’s “Neptune’s Daughter” performed by Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalban. It’s basically been recorded by everybody else in music since.
6. “The Ballad of High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me)” by Tex Ritter (High Noon)
You don’t see too many movies open with a song that’s essentially a rundown of what you’re about to see, but “The Ballad of High Noon” does this brilliantly. Tex Ritter’s terrific performance of the Oscar-winner composed by Dimitri Tiomkin with lyrics by Ned Washington foreshadows the film’s ending that won Gary Cooper his second Best Actor award.
5. “Moon River” by Audrey Hepburn (Breakfast at Tiffany’s)
“Moon River” is simply one of the most beautiful songs ever written. It was created by multiple time Oscar-winning duo of composer Henry Mancini and lyricist Johnny Mercer for the 1961 film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” The song is originally performed by Audrey Hepburn as main character Holly Golightly in one of the film’s most beautiful scenes. Believe it or not, Paramount Pictures executives wanted this scene cut because they didn’t like Hepburn’s performance. Hepburn essentially said, “Over my dead body” and it remained.
4. “Falling Slowly” by Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova (Once)
The great thing about the Academy Awards Best Original Song category is it allows for original songs from the smallest of movies to win an Oscar. This was the case for “Falling Slowly” from 2007’s Irish romance “Once,” a small budget release from director John Carney that featured real-life musicians Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova who bond over their similar desire of music. It’s one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard, period.
3. “Over the Rainbow” by Judy Garland (The Wizard of Oz)
If you polled a large group of people on what the greatest movie song of all-time is the winner would likely be “Over the Rainbow” as performed by Judy Garland’s Dorothy in the 1939 classic “The Wizard of Oz.” The song, composed by Harold Arlen with lyrics by E.Y. Harburg, has become a music standard since its appearance in this film that is very likely the most watched film of all-time. The song appears just five minutes into the movie and honestly becomes its show-stopping scene.
2. “Streets of Philadelphia” by Bruce Springsteen (Philadelphia)
Bruce Springsteen is likely the biggest rock star to ever win an Oscar for Best Original Song doing so for his excellent “Streets of Philadelphia” for director Jonathan Demme’s 1993 film “Philadelphia,” featuring Tom Hanks’ first Best Actor-winning performance as a man dying of AIDS. The song would not only win an Oscar, but also Song of the Year at the Grammy Awards, a rare feat for a song written for a movie.
1. “The Weary Kind” by Ryan Bingham (Crazy Heart)
The Academy Awards have a great history of honoring country music portrayals. Sissy Spacek, Robert Duvall, Reese Witherspoon and Jeff Bridges have all won Oscar acting awards for great portrayals of both real and fictional country music singers. Ryan Bingham’s “The Weary Kind,” which he co-wrote with the film’s soundtrack producer T-Bone Burnett, essentially serves as the theme song for Bad Blake, Bridges’ character. “The Weary Kind” is a damn near perfect country song.
by Julian Spivey
Chris Stapleton and Turnpike Troubadours, two of the best acts currently in country music, graced the “Austin City Limits” stage for the longtime PBS musical series’ season finale on Saturday, Feb. 17.
It was a fantastic combination for the finale showcasing two acts that might be the very best of the genre now – Stapleton, who’s dominated the country music album charts over the last three years, and the Turnpike Troubadours, the finest band in red dirt country music being broadcast on network television for the first time to a wider audience.
Ultimately, Stapleton was his tried and true self performing a fantastic selection from his first three albums and unfortunately the Turnpike Troubadours kind of punted on their biggest chance to gain an audience yet.
Stapleton’s six-song televised set kicked off with the charging “Hard Livin’,” from his From A Room: Vol. 2 album that was released in December. Surprisingly it was the only performance from that album. Even more surprising is the fact that he only performed one song off From A Room: Vol. 1, released early in 2017, as well with the rocking “Second One to Know.” The other four performances from his set came off 2015’s excellent Traveller album, including the title track. I had assumed Stapleton had performed on an episode of ‘ACL’ a couple of years ago when he burst out with Traveller, but apparently, he hadn’t. Had I known this prior to viewing the episode it wouldn’t have surprised me that his televised (the artists play longer sets and the show edits them down to fit an hour-long format typically featuring multiple acts) set was heavy on stuff from his debut.
The highlight of Stapleton’s set for me was “Fire Away,” which I believe to be his greatest song thus far. It’s a helluva heartbreaker, but so beautiful at the same time. It’s everything a classic country song should be.
Among the other highlights of his set were “Whiskey & You,” which he performed solo without his band, and “Tennessee Whiskey,” which ended his set.
We’ve seen Stapleton on TV quite a bit, especially lately. There was a week at the beginning of this month in which he performed on “Saturday Night Live,” the Grammys, “Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and “The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon” in an eight-day span. He’s used to the spotlight.
Evan Felker, the front man of the excellent Turnpike Troubadours, isn’t exactly as experienced. And, I couldn’t help but believe that it showed and was an unfortunate detriment to the Troubadours – making what I’m certain was their network television debit.
Before I go any further I feel it necessary to add this disclaimer: the Turnpike Troubadours are the best band in modern country music. They may also be the best live act in modern country music (though Stapleton and Eric Church give them a run for their money on a bigger stage).
I didn’t feel that their six-song ‘ACL’ set showcased the brilliance, especially live brilliance, of the Turnpike Troubadours. I placed this fault squarely on Felker – who may well be the best songwriter in modern country music, as well.
Felker just seemed downright nervous the entire set. The televised set began with “The Housefire,” from the group’s excellent A Long Way from Your Heart album released last fall. It’s a terrific story song and Felker’s reading of it on the show just seemed lackluster. I was hoping this fact wouldn’t continue throughout the band’s set, but unfortunately it mostly did.
The rest of the Troubadours performed as great as ever on the showcase, but Felker just didn’t seem like he was all the way there. The group’s set featured three songs off their latest album including “A Tornado Warning” (my favorite track off the album) and “Something to Hold on To,” which ended the most recent season of “Austin City Limits.”
The other three songs in their set were fan-favorites “Every Girl,” “Diamonds & Gasoline” and “Before the Devil Knows Your Dead.”
It was nice to see Grammy-nominated Oklahoman singer-songwriter John Fullbright sit in with the band for their ‘ACL’ set. Fullbright was an original member of the Troubadours and co-wrote some of their best early songs with Felker like “Every Girl.” I look forward to Fullbright releasing a new album on his own sometime soon.
It is my hope that anybody tuning in to this episode focuses more so on the fantastic lyricism of Felker and the fantastic musicianship of the band and not so much on the lacking performance of its front man.
I’ve seen the Troubadours live four times and they really are the best and way better than they appeared on the broadcast. Please don’t let that affect how you feel about them if this was your introduction.