Deep in the Musical Heart of Texas

Don’t Mess With Texas and Its Music

“You got Bellaire class and Dallas style, Austin soul and a Luckenbach smile”
-Slaid Cleaves- “Texas Love Song”

“Greetings from Austin” Mural

If you’re a fan of country music, especially old school country, then you know that Texas is a big deal. With artists like George Strait dominating the airwaves from the 1980’s through the 2010’s, songs about Texas were commonly heard on the radio. And thanks to “All My Ex’s Live in Texas,” most country music fans from the past few decades can probably rattle off the names of a handful of Texas cities with ease. I’m pretty sure King George can also be credited with putting “Amarillo” on the map! Texas is also home to numerous country (and non-country) musicians including some of the most influential in the genre like Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. Texas itself is a musical state, it’s capital, Austin, is the “Live Music Capital of the World” and it’s home to bars and honky tonks made famous because of their musical connection, like Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth. It can be credited with birthing the Outlaw Country movement of the 1970’s and today, with the help of Oklahoma, it’s given us “Red Dirt” music. It’s the location of movies like Urban Cowboy and it’s the host of Austin City Limits. It’s because of its rich country music history that I chose Texas as my summer vacation destination. Texas also has a lot to offer outside of music- you can find rodeos, cattle drives, and BBQ there. You can float the river in New Braunfels and you can pick up a kolach from the Czech bakery in West. It’s where you go to get back to the basics of love.

Country music was definitely a central theme of my trip. Prior to heading out to the Lone Star State, I made a Spotify playlist titled, “Texas Love Songs,” the title of which can be credited to Slaid Cleaves‘ song “Texas Love Song.” As the trip planning got underway and even while I was in Texas, I was continually adding songs to this list. Even now after I’m home I’m still adding to this extensive list. On it you’ll find songs about Texas, songs that reference Texas, and songs by Texans. Even stuff that doesn’t fit this criteria has made its way onto this playlist such as songs by the Turnpike Troubadours who I thought were worth including because of their “Red Dirt” classification. While the Texas connection of some songs on this playlist may be obvious, like “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind?” others may be less so like “One Night Taco Stand,” which made me think of Austin and the numerous food trucks and taco joints in the city. And while you’re not likely to ever find me including a Blake Shelton song on a playlist, this may be the one exception, as this playlist wouldn’t be complete without “Austin.” I’ve compiled all of the top Texas songs in a Spotify playlist that you can find here.

This playlist came to life on several occasions throughout this trip. While in Dallas I played two of my favorite songs about The Big D as I walked around- Mark Chesnutt‘s “Goin’ Through the Big D” and George Strait’s “Run.” And while in Luckenbach, Texas, singing this song together with other visitors, I wasn’t feeling no pain.

The Prophets of Country Music

If the biblical holy land produced prophets known for the messages that they delivered to the masses then the same can be said of Texas producing country music prophets. Whether you credit it to divine intervention or something in the water, there’s bound to be a reason why so many musical greats hail from this state (the sheer size of it doesn’t hurt in this regard). I’m talking about people like Willie Nelson, Townes Van Zandt, Waylon Jennings, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Kris Kristofferson, Billy Joe Shaver, Robert Earl Keen, Lee Ann Womack, George Strait, Rodney Crowell, Guy Clark, Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett, Rhett Miller, and Stevie Ray Vaughn. There are modern day prophets coming out of this state as well like Cody Jinks, Kacey Musgraves, Josh Abbott, Amanda Shires, Shane Smith, Miranda Lambert, Hayes Carll, Flatland Calvary, Shakey Graves, Ryan Bingham, and Sunny Sweeney. And it’s not just country artists that are coming out of Texas as it’s also the home of musicians like Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, and Don Henley as well. That’s a whole lot of messengers all coming from one place! As Little Texas sings, “God Blessed Texas.”

Stevie Ray Vaughn State in Austin, Texas

A Country Music Pilgrimage

“Now I love the USA
And the other states
Ahh, they’re OK
Texas is the place I wanna be
And I don’t care if I ever go to Delaware anyway
‘Cause we got Stubbs, and Gruene Hall and Antone’s, and John T’s
Country Store
We’ve got Willie and Jacky Jack, Robert Earl, Pat, Cory, Charlie and me
And so many more”
-Ray Wylie Hubbard- “Screw You, We’re From Texas”

While you may not think “holy land” when you think of Texas, the amount of pilgrimage stops available to a country fan there may make you change your mind. There were several places that I put on my itinerary for this trip because of their significance in country music. Those places were John T. Floore Country Store, Gruene Hall, Antone’s, and Stubb’s. If you’re familiar with Ray Wylie Hubbard‘s song “Screw You, We’re From Texas,” then you know that he references all of these places. John T. Floore Country Store is the musical birthplace of Willie Nelson and John T. Floore (the man) is name dropped in Willie Nelson’s song “Shotgun Willie.”

Sign in front of John T. Floore Country Store in Helotes, Texas

While I didn’t stay for the performance at Stubb’s while I was there (I just ate some tasty food), I did catch a performance at Antone’s. There I had the pleasure of watching a performance by Barbara Lynn, a woman I didn’t know until that night but she’s actually a big deal having written songs recorded by both Freddy Fender and The Rolling Stones. At Gruene Hall, I listened to Bo Porter play a few songs including one about the great state of Texas called “She Likes Livin’ in Texas.”

Clockwise from the top left: Stubb’s BBQ (Austin), Gruene Hall (New Braunfels), John T. Floore Country Store (Helotes), Antone’s Nightclub (Austin)

“Let’s go to Luckenbach, Texas
With Waylon and Willie and the boys
This successful life we’re livin’
Got us feuding like the Hatfields and McCoys”
-Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings- “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)”

While it was nice to check these places off my Texas bucket list, the most meaningful experience I had in Texas was in Luckenbach. As the song says, “out in Luckenbach, Texas ain’t nobody feeling no pain,” and that was definitely the case for me and everyone in the the post office/general store/bar that afternoon. With all of the singing, drinking, and joking that was taking place it was easy to forget about the real world for a couple of hours. The man performing that afternoon was Jimmy Lee Jones, a songwriter in his own right, who played some of his own songs for us and also took requests. One of his songs that he played was called “Quit Your Bitchin’,” which he got everyone to sing along to.  Jimmy Lee Jones has a reputation of his own in the music community, he was honored by the Texas Heritage Music Foundation, he’s opened for Willie’s picnics and shows on numerous occasions, and Willie Nelson has even said that “Jimmy Lee Jones is one of the best kept secrets in Texas.” Well, the secret is out now!

The artists that I requested Jimmy Lee Jones play that afternoon were Townes Van Zandt (he played “Poncho and Lefty“), Billy Joe Shaver (he played “The Devil Made Me Do It the First Time“), Roger Miller (he played “King of the Road“), and Robert Earl Keen (he played “Feeling Good Again” –  a song about the Mr. Blues bar in Bandera, TX which I had walked past earlier that same day not knowing its connection to the song!) He was accompanied on all of these songs by Dino, who played both banjo and dobro and at times the bartender Ricky even jumped in on harmonica. Together, Jimmy  Lee Jones and Dino make up his band, “Jimmy Lee Jones and A Creep at the Steel.” Some other songs that he played that afternoon included “Highwayman,” “Silver Wings,” and of course, “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love).” When I asked him if he ever covered songs by female artists and he then played a song by The Judds titled “Flies On The Butter (You Can’t Go Home Again).” Turns out he does. And would you believe me if I told you that he also played the theme song to Spongebob Squarepants?! Well, he did! This man kept all of us in stitches with his jokes including the one about how he got his football injury (the punch line: he fell off a cheerleader!) An added touch to that lovely afternoon in the back of the Luckenbach Post Office were the roosters walking around the store and bar.

Me in Luckenbach, Texas…feeling no pain. This picture was taken by Dino from “Jimmy Lee Jones and A Creep at the Steel.” (July 2018)

Here’s a video of Jimmy Lee, Dino, and a rooster singing “Whiskey River.”

Of course, my trip to the Texas did not cover all of the holy cities. Texas is a big state and I didn’t have time to cover it all. While I did see Austin, San Antonio, Fort Worth, Dallas, and some smaller towns like Fredericksburg and Bandera (The Cowboy Capital of the World), I was unable to see places like Lubbock (home of the West Texas Walk of Fame), Amarillo, Houston, La Grange (as in the ZZ Top Song), El Paso, Laredo, Galveston, Corpus Christi, and many others.

Holy Communion

“I wish I was in Austin 
In a chilly parlor bar 
Drinkin’ Mad Dog Margaritas 
And not carin’ where you are”
-Guy Clark- “Dublin Blues”

On my first day in Austin, I made my way out to the Texas Chili Parlor bar to have a holy communion of sorts. No, I didn’t have a wafer and wine, I had a Mad Dog Margarita, a place and a drink referenced by Guy Clark in his song “Dublin Blues.” This place is the definition of a “dive bar.” And while the Mad Dog Margarita wasn’t really my style (I’m not really a margarita girl anyway), I still enjoyed the experience of living out the dream Guy Clark once had while in Dublin.

A Mad Dog Margarita at the Texas Chili Parlor

Getting the Jinks Out

“I’ve been standing on the outside for all of my life
But I like the view, I’m not gonna lie”
-Cody Jinks- “Hippies and Cowboys”

One of the things I was most looking forward to on my trip was finally getting the chance to see Cody Jinks in concert. Of all the amazing artists I’ve discovered in the past year or so, this man ranks pretty high up there. I also may have planned my trip around getting to see him in concert (I did). The concert was held at Whitewater Amphitheater in New Braunfels, which is a short drive from Austin. The openers were Ward Davis and Colter Wall. I saw Colter Wall in DC back in April at a sold out show at U Street Music Hall and was surprised that the crowd didn’t really seem to be that into him in Texas. Obviously Cody was the main attraction but I consider Colter Wall to be pretty big in the country music world right now too and thought he would have gotten more love. Maybe it was just the area where I was standing and perhaps there were some die hard Colter fans out there that night in New Braunfels after all.

At this show, I managed to work my way all the way down to the front right behind the fence. While I wasn’t front and center, I was still front, which was pretty dang cool. The best part of the night was Cody playing my favorite song of his, “Somewhere in the Middle.” A song that serves as a reminder that if you happen to find yourself in the middle- be it the middle of life, in the middle of a tough situation, or heck, even in the middle of Texas- that’s just fine! He also played his new songs “Must Be the Whiskey,” which kicked off his set, “Lifers,” and “Somewhere Between I Love You and I’m Leavin’,” which are all featured on his upcoming album Lifers, which comes out July 27th. And of course he played his classics like “I’m Not the Devil,” “David,” and “Hippies and Cowboys,” which he ended the night with.

Cody Jinks at Whitewater Amphitheater, New Braunfels, TX (July 2018)

While Cody put on a great show, some of the audience members were annoying. While I won’t go off on a tangent about that here, I do just want to ask- what is with the whistling?! My ears aren’t pierced but after that concert they might be! Geezus!

Me, at a Cody Jinks concert, wearing a Cody Jinks t-shirt, drinking Lone Star beer with a Cody Jinks koozie (July 2018)

Having A Willie Good Time

I’ll wrap this post up by saying how much I loved all of the Willie Nelson tributes found throughout Austin. From his statue downtown to the “Willie for President” mural off South Congress Avenue, this city willie loves this Red Headed Stranger. It’s almost as though he’s the patron saint of Austin. He is surely the patron saint of Outlaw Country. One mural that was really cool was outside of a dentist’s office in Austin and featured Willie, Janis Joplin, and Stevie Ray Vaughn all taking care of their teeth in the bathroom mirror. Pictures of these murals can be found below.

I also made this trip a little more Willie-centric by visiting places like Luckenbach and John T. Floore Country Store. And while John T. Floore’s may be his “musical birthplace,” I made a short detour to Abbott, Texas on my drive from Austin to Fort Worth to see his actual birthplace. There wasn’t really that much to see there but it was just a quick stop off of I-35 so I figured I might as well check it out. There doesn’t seem like much to do in Abbott but if this place gave us Willie Nelson then it’s good in my book!

A water tower in Abbott, Texas- the birthplace of Willie Nelson

Lydian Dental in Austin, Texas

“If I could I’d vote for Willie to run our government
“Good mornin’ America, how are you?” He’d say with his pigtails and a grin
He would unite the whole nation with his guitar and his song
It’s the only thing that makes perfect sense
Willie Nelson for President”
-Peter Dawson- “Willie Nelson for President”

#Nelson2020

If you read my last blog post then you already know that I’m not opposed to a Willie Nelson presidency.

Willie Nelson Statue in Austin, Texas (July 2018)

Some other cool things that happened on my trip were two-stepping at the Broken Spoke, eating a waffle shaped like Texas, and watching the Cattle Drive in Forth Worth. After all of this, I feel like a real Texan. And as a real Texan I can say, “Screw you, we’re from Texas!” and mean it! So, screw you!

Before the cows came home in Fort Worth, Texas (July 2018)

Currently listening to: Eric Church– “Desperate Man.” While Eric is not a Texan and this song is not about Texas, there is a Texas connection found in this song- it was co-written with Ray Wylie Hubbard! Ray Wylie is also found in the music video for this song, which just came out today on Amazon. Eric also released this song and announced his upcoming album of the same name while I was in Austin so this song will forever remind me of my Texas trip. I also want to take this moment to say that I will be seeing Ray Wylie Hubbard in concert on Saturday at City Winery DC and I’ll be crossing my fingers in hopes that he plays “Screw You, We’re From Texas.”

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Putting the ‘American’ in Americana

Happy Independence Day to my fellow Americans!
And to all non-Americans, happy Wednesday! 

If you were with me last year, you’ll remember that for this holiday I did a post on Celebrating America’s Diversity in Country Music. However, this year, I’m approaching this holiday from a different angle. That angle is a political one and for the occasion I’ve put together a list of songs that tackle some of the important issues facing our country. These songs touch on many things currently taking place in America- police killings of black men, the pay gap, guns, and more. And of course almost all of these songs fall into the Americana category- a genre that isn’t afraid to get political with artists who aren’t afraid to speak out. These men and women put the ‘American’ in Americana!

The Pay Gap

Margo Price– “Pay Gap

How do I love Margo Price? Let me count the ways! One of those ways would be her courage to sing about not-so-sexy topics like the pay gap. Aside from the pay gap, women in Nashville have a hard enough time making it as it is. And with the city’s “shut up and sing” mentality towards female artists, I imagine outspoken women like Margo have an even harder time. With this song she shows that she’ll speak out about what she thinks is important and just because she’s stopped to sing doesn’t mean she’s leaving her opinions behind- she’ll put them into a song. I respect Margo for sticking to her guns (not literal guns though) and singing about what she feels is important.

“We are all the same in the eyes of God
But in the eyes of rich white men
No more than a maid to be owned like a dog
A second-class citizen”

Race Relations and Police Brutality 

Rhiannon Giddens– “Better Get It Right The First Time

Rhiannon Giddens’ voice is so powerful and moving that you almost forget she’s signing about police killing unarmed black men. It’s a topic that needs to be spoken (and sung) about and I admire Rhiannon for having the courage to do it. While this song came out in 2017 it’s still relevant a year later. Unless we see some real changes, I’m afraid this song will still be relevant for many years to come.

“(Young man was a good man)
Did you stand your ground?
(Young man was a good man)
Is that why they took you down?
(Young man was a good man)
Or did you run that day?
(Young man was a good man)
Baby, they shot you anyway”

Priscilla Renea– “Land of the Free

On her recently released album Coloured, whose style she calls “country soul,” Priscilla Renea sings about race relations and police brutality in her song “Land of the Free.” The song concludes with Jimi Hendrix playing the “Star Spangled Banner” and couldn’t be more appropriate for the holiday today. I’m proud to include yet another black female artist on this list (Rhiannon Giddens being the first) and hope that over time we will begin to see more diversity in both Americana and country music. Read more about Priscilla in this NPR interview, “Priscilla Renea Refuses To Be Quiet About Racism In Country Music.” Shout out to my friend who sent this to me!

“There’s enough to go around for everyone to share
But a check from Uncle Sam? What would that repair?
All the broken families, fathers in a cell
Slavery’s abolished, but it’s still alive and well”

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit– “White Man’s World

I know I talk about this song a lot but some things are worth repeating for redundancy’s sake. While this song deals heavily with race, mentioning both Native Americans and blacks, Jason also brings up sex, looking at the struggles his baby girl and wife face simply because they’re females. In spite of it all, Jason still has faith- “maybe it’s the fire in [his] little girl’s eyes.” While I’ve included this song here in this section, I could have also included it in the section below on the 2016 Election since it was written in response to it.

“I’m a white man looking in a black man’s eyes
Wishing I’d never been one of the guys
Who pretended not to hear another white man’s joke
Oh, the times ain’t forgotten”

Shakey Graves– “My Neighbor

Not sure if Shakey (if I may) wrote this song in an attempt to address race relations or not, but the image of a man in a turban living next to a polyester suit wearing (presumably white) man made me think about how none of us really know our neighbors. Not just our figurative neighbor but our literal neighbor, like the person you park your car beside and whose mail sometimes accidentally finds its way into your box. That guy.

“Oh my neighbor, my neighbor
At best we share a fence
We smile at each other
And we make up all the rest
I see you
Six-foot-two
In the polyester suit
Safe behind a cabin now
Wonderin’ if I’m around
‘Cause who am I?
Just some guy
With a turban and a knife
Only here to take away
Only reason you’re afraid
There’s no face
There’s no man behind the name
I’ve started to believe
My neighbor, we’re the same”

Drive-By Truckers– “Surrender Under Protest”

Featured on their 2016 album American Band, this song is “directly inspired by civil rights activists’ successful campaign to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse after white supremacist Dylann Roof allegedly murdered nine African Americans at a Charleston church meeting, [it] casts an unsparing eye on those unable to abandon tradition even when the sin at its root has been fully exposed.”

“Does the color really matter?
On the face you blame for failure
On the shamin’ for a battle’s losing cause”

Gun Control 

Particle Kid– “Gunshow Loophole Blues

According to The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, “The Gun Control Act of 1968 requires anyone engaged in the business of selling guns to have a Federal Firearms License (FFL) and keep a record of their sales. However, this law does not cover all gun sellers. If a supplier is selling from his or her private collection and the principal objective is not to make a profit, the seller is not “engaged in the business” and is not required to have a license. Because they are unlicensed, these sellers are not required to keep records of sales and are not required to perform background checks on potential buyers, even those prohibited from purchasing guns by the Gun Control Act. The gun show loophole refers to the fact that prohibited purchasers can avoid required background checks by seeking out these unlicensed sellers at gun shows.” Yep, that gives me the blues too!

Brandi Carlile– “Hold Out Your Hand”

While you wouldn’t necessarily think “gun control” while listening to this song you will once you watch the video which features the March for Our Lives protest in Seattle. If there’s one thing Brandi Carlile is an expert at it’s knowing how to get me misty-eyed. This happened at her concert in May and also while watching this music video. #enoughisenough

“Well he came to my door to sell me the fear with some cameras and bullets and tension and here is a license for killing your own native son for a careless mistake and a fake plastic gun?

Deliver your brother from violence and greed for the mountains lay down for your faith like a seed. A morning is coming of silver and light there will be color and language and nobody wanting to fight. What a glorious sight”

Dispatch– “Dear Congress: Your Thoughts and Prayers Are Not Enough”

This song from Dispatch is in support of Common Sense Gun Reform. While I could post a powerful lyric from the song below for you, I’d rather you watch the video and read the Tweets that are posted and take in the images on the screen for yourself. I think that would say more than I ever could.

Will Hoge- Thoughts and Prayers

Following this trend is Will Hoge’s “Thoughts and Prayers,” which is also directed at Congress, or as he sings in this song, the people in “that big white dome” a.k.a. the whores to the NRA (his words, not mine. Though I don’t disagree.) You may remember Will from my liberal country music post from last year where I wrote about his song “Still a Southern Man.” Will has a history of writing songs about the not-so-pretty parts of America, from the confederate flag to gun violence.

“There’s a momma cryin’ ’cause the baby won’t come home
You tell a father that you’re sorry that his son is gone
While you sit and do nothin’ in that big white dome
And just hope we all forget to care”

War (What Is It Good For?) 

Mary Gauthier– “Brothers” (see also: the entire Rifles and Rosary Beads album)

Mary’s album Rifles and Rosary Beads was co-written with American veterans and their families, through the nonprofit SongwritingWith:Soldiers, and details the struggles that military men and women face not only overseas but at home too. This song in particular tells the story of a female soldier struggling to be considered an equal among her “brothers.” It’s fitting that we’re talking about this song on July 4th as one of the lines from the song reads, “I thought RPGs were fireworks, that’s how green I was at first.” You can read more about this project from Mary Gauthier’s NPR interview here. ALSO, I just want to add that I was at the gym this morning and saw Mary on CBS talking about this album! Glad others are getting to hear about her work on this holiday.

If anything, this album should serve as a wake-up call to the horrors of war. And not only the stuff that happens on the battlefield but after the war too. This country doesn’t do enough for its veterans and despite your views on war we should still take care of our military men and women. You can donate to the Wounded Warrior Project here.

“You broke my heart on veterans day
Don’t you understand the words you say
You raised a flag for the men you serve
What about the women, what do we deserve?”

Bob Wayne– “80 Miles from Baghdad

This song is from Bob’s album Bob Hombre (think of that title what you will.) He co-wrote this song with a veteran soldier who was stationed in Iraq, which makes its depiction of war all that more real. You can watch a video on the song-writing process behind this song here.

“80 miles from Baghdad, I killed my first man
3000 miles from nowhere, away from my homeland
I didn’t go there seeking weapons or some foreign policy”

Sturgill Simpson– “Call to Arms

I’ve already written about this song in my post “Sturgill Simpson: A Metamodern Country Philosopher,” if you want to read what I had to say about it there.

“Well they send their sons and daughters off to die
For some oil
To control the heroin
Well son I hope you don’t grow up
Believing that you’ve got to be a puppet to be a man”

John Prine– “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore

An oldie but a goodie! As John said at this concert just last month, he wrote this song in 1968 as a political song and it’s still a political song today. And he’s gonna keep playing it until they get it right!

“But your flag decal won’t get you into Heaven anymore
They’re already overcrowded from your dirty little war
Now Jesus don’t like killin’, no matter what the reason’s for
And your flag decal won’t get you into Heaven anymore”

John Prine- Sam Stone

Here’s another John Prine song for you! Featured on Rolling Stone’s “Reader’s Poll: The 10 Saddest Songs of All Time,” it’s “Sam Stone,” a song about a war veteran returning home and turning to heroin. Sam Stone dies at the end of this song “when he popped his last balloon.” If Sam Stone’s story doesn’t convince you that soldiers need better access to mental health programs when they return from combat, nothing will. If you want to help, you can donate to The Soldiers Project here.

“Sam Stone came home,
To the wife and family
After serving in the conflict overseas.
And the time that he served,
Had shattered all his nerves,
And left a little shrapnel in his knees.”

The 2016 Election 

Brandi Carlile– “The Joke

Feeling defeated after the 2016 election? Yeah, I know it’s been over a year and half but some of us are still dealing with this. Brandi Carlile’s “The Joke” looks at others who are also feeling this way. According to Brandi, “There are so many people feeling misrepresented [today],” she said. “So many people feeling unloved. Boys feeling marginalized and forced into these kind of awkward shapes of masculinity that they do or don’t belong in… so many men and boys are trans or disabled or shy. Little girls who got so excited for the last election, and are dealing with the fallout. The song is just for people that feel under-represented, unloved or illegal.”

Despite the content of this song, Brandi still manages to provide a glimmer of hope. As she sings, she’s been to the movies, she’s seen how this ends, and the joke is on them. Gee, I sure hope she’s right!

“They come to kick dirt in your face
To call you weak and then displace you
After carrying your baby on your back across the desert
I saw your eyes behind your hair
And you’re looking tired, but you don’t look scared”

American Aquarium– “The World Is On Fire

How many of us can relate to waking up on November 9, 2016 and thinking that the world was on fire? (Probably a majority of us but I won’t get into that here. Stupid electoral college.) This song provides a sense of comfort in knowing that you weren’t the only person feeling this way that Wednesday morning. I always get emotional when I hear BJ Barham, American Aquarium frontman, sing the words below. Thanks for raising your daughter right, BJ!

“I got a baby girl comin’ in the spring
I worry ’bout the world she’s comin’ into
But she’ll have my fight, she’ll have her mama’s fire
If anyone builds a wall in her journey
Baby, bust right through it”

American Aquarium- Tough Folks

Another American Aquarium song? You bet! And this time they’re serving up a big heapin’ portion of hope by reminding you that “tough times don’t last, tough folks do.” Stay strong, folks!

“And last November I saw firsthand
What desperation makes good people do”

Willie Nelson– “Delete and Fast Forward” 

Delete and fast forward? If only it were that easy, Willie! I keep hitting the fast forward button but it seems like these four years are passing by at a snail’s pace. I guess if Willie can make it until 2020 then so can the rest of us!

“Delete and fast-forward, my son
The elections are over and nobody won
You think it’s all endin’ but it’s just settin’ in
So delete and fast-forward, my friend”

The Environment 

Andrew Combs– “Dirty Rain

A song about the environment? Andrew Combs is a man after my own heart (I write this as I sit drinking out of my reusable Starbucks cup). While I go back and forth on the whole “wanting to have kids someday thing,” one reason for my not wanting to is the fact that the environment only seems to be getting worse. Why would I want to have kids just so they can play in the “dirty rain,” as Andrew sings?

“Flattened static, paved in progress’s name
But what will all our little children say
When the only place to play
Is in the dirty rain” 

Father John Misty– “Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution

If you don’t care about the “bright blue marble” that we all live on, maybe watching the music video for this song can convince you otherwise. Perhaps iPhones turned into artifacts in a post-apocalyptic world will speak to you. The puppets from this video, which was directed by Chris Hopewell, were auctioned off and the proceeds were given to the Environmental Defense Fund. If you care about the environment, like I assume Father John Misty a.k.a. Josh Tillman does, then consider donating to this fund as well. Or, better yet, start recycling, reducing your waste, and eating less meat. You can also take part in Plastic Free July and join the challenge to refuse single-use plastic this month. And why stop there? Keep it going all twelve months!

Aaaannndddd…if you purchase anything from FJM’s web store between July 2nd – 6th, he’ll be donating all merchandise profits to the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES). You’ve still got two more days!

“It got too hot and so we overthrew the system
‘Cause there’s no place for human existence like right here
On this bright blue marble orbited by trash
Man, there’s no beating that
It was no big thing to give up the way of life we had, oh”

Hurray for the Riff Raff- Rican Beach

I’ll let Alynda Lee Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff tell you about this song in her own words, “‘Rican Beach’ is a fictional place and the song is a cautionary tale.” “It tells the story of a city progressing rapidly into militarized and segregated areas. There’s a lot of symbolism in the song that reflects our times, of course. I felt the water protectors at Standing Rock and the people of Peñuelas were important to reflect on while listening to the lyrics. The point of view is one of resistance, people of color claiming their space and their right to exist. It is about claiming ancestry and recognizing a history of facing systemic oppression while protecting and connecting with the land. Even though it was written about an urban space, I think it speaks to the actions of these activists who are connected with the earth.”

American Politics in General

Particle Kid– “Everything is Bullshit

He’s not wrong. Everything kind of is bullshit. The song’s title was inspired by Particle Kid’s (a.k.a. Micah Nelson who happens to be the son of Willie Nelson) girlfriend who said the phrase one day while watching the news. As Micah says, “To me it’s a healing song about facing the reality of how weird and out of control reality is, and finding some humor in there.”

“Post a picture for your Facebook 
Make a profile on your Snapchat
Murder people from a distance
Laugh at videos of cats”

Margo Price– “All American Made

One of my favorite things about Margo Price is that she sings about the ugly things that America is guilty of like the pay gap and the Iran-Contra Affair. Yep, the Iran-Contra Affair. Bet you never thought that would come up in an Americana song much less one that was released thirty years after the scandal took place. If you don’t remember the Iran-Contra Affair (I wasn’t even born yet), a condensed version of what happened is the following: “It consisted of three interconnected parts: The Reagan administration sold arms to Iran, a country desperate for materiel during its lengthy war with Iraq; in exchange for the arms, Iran was to use its influence to help gain the release of Americans held hostage in Lebanon; and the arms were purchased at high prices, with the excess profits diverted to fund the Reagan-favored “contras” fighting the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.” Hey, what can I say? It was “All American Made.”

“1987 and I didn’t know it then
Reagan was selling weapons to the leaders of Iran
And it won’t be the first time and, baby, it won’t be the end
They were all American made”

Todd Snider– “Conservative Christian, Right-Wing Republican, Straight, White, American Males

Yeah, just hearing that title makes me scoff. Remember when Jason Isbell said it was a “white man’s world”? Well, it’s actually a conservative Christian, right-wing Republican, straight, white, American man’s world. However, this isn’t a new thing, it was this way in 2004 when this song was released, and it was that way long before. If you aren’t familiar with the creature of the “conservative Christian, right-wing Republican, straight, white, American male,” allow Todd Snider to fill you in.

“Conservative Christian, right wing Republican
Straight, white, American males
Gay bashin’, black fearin’
Poor fightin’, tree killin’
Regional leaders of sales
Frat housin’, keg tappin’
Shirt tuckin’, back slappin’
Haters of hippies like me
Tree huggin’, peace lovin’
Pot smokin’, porn watchin’
Lazy-ass hippies like me”


Childish Gambino– “This is America”

This song is not Americana but I would be remiss not to include it here. I’m also not going to include any lyrics here as a way to encourage you to watch the video instead. Take the next four minutes and four seconds to really watch this video. But really, is there anybody out there who HASN’T seen this yet? And do they live under a rock?

Paul Cauthen– “Everybody Walkin’ This Land

While this may be a song encouraging people “to get right with God,” I hear it as a call to people to just get right. Period. Especially the racists, fascists, and bigots Paul Cauthen references in this song. This song is political to me, and earns a spot on this list, because of the very fact that he calls out fascists. Y’all need to get right!

“You racists and fascists and nihilists and bigots, I’m callin’ you out my friend”

Peter Dawson– “Willie Nelson For President” 

He’d make a better president than the one we’ve got that’s for sure, though I feel like he may be a single-issue politician. You already know the issue. Also, if this ever happens, I’ve already got the bumper sticker for it! I wonder who he would choose as his VP?

My turntable

“If I could I’d vote for Willie to run our government
“Good mornin’ America, how are you?” He’d say with his pigtails and a grin
He would unite the whole nation with his guitar and his song
It’s the only thing that makes perfect sense
Willie Nelson for President”

Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real– “High Times

Including this as a political song might be a bit of a stretch but if his dad can run for president (see above), surely Lukas Nelson can as well, as he sings in this song, “I’m gonna run for president, vote for me, I’m heaven sent.” I’m not opposed to a Nelson family dynasty in the least. Perhaps his campaign slogan could be, “It’s High Time You Vote for Lukas Nelson”?

“I’m gonna die for CNN
Believing in the dream I’m in
I’m gonna die for Fox News
For skewed views
And twisted spews”

Bryan Lewis– “I Think My Dog’s a Democrat

I wanna be friends with this dog. Besides the obvious reason that dogs are awesome this particular dog appears to have good taste in politics. Perhaps he might be interested in the same Donald Trump chew toy I bought for my dog? You can find this toy (also available for cats) for sale here and on Amazon.

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Titan and Trump (Christmas 2017)

“I pay for all his healthcare and I buy everything he eats
I provide him with a place to live just to keep him off the streets.
Well, he just acts like he’s entitled,
Even tried to unionize the cat,
Yeah, I think my dog’s a Democrat.”

Neil Young and Promise of the Real– “Already Great

Leave it to a Canadian (Neil Young) to tell us that our country is already great! For all those wanting to make America great again, Neil Young is here to tell you that it’s already great! And he’s brought along his American friends, Promise of the Real, to help him relay his message. The song’s bridge is “no wall, no ban, no fascist USA.” While there are some nasty people calling for walls and bans, there are also Americans marching in the streets calling for “no wall, no ban.” It’s the latter of these two that make America “already great.”

I do have a question for Neil Young though- if he thinks America is already great, what does he think of our lovely neighbor to the north, his home country, dear old Canada?? I’ll go drool over pictures of Justin Trudeau while I wait for his response.

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Takin’ it to the streets! (January 2017)

If you like this song, you’ll also like “When Bad Got Good,” also from The Visitor album. Throughout the song the words “lock him up” are chanted and the phrase “liar in chief” comes up.

“No wall
No ban…

Not my words
That’s just you the other day out on that street
(My American friend)
You’re looking at one of the lucky ones
Came here from there to be free”

Aaron Lee Tasjan– “If Not Now When

Invoking Hillel the Elder, though maybe not purposefully, this song is a “call to action” of sorts. If the things above bother you- gun violence, global warming, the pay gap- do something about it. Vote for politicians who care about the environment, who want common sense gun laws, who value women. Call your representatives, donate money, even if you only have a little, to organizations like the ACLU, Texas Civil Rights Project, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), and if you can’t donate your money, donate your time. Educate yourself and those around you. Speak out when you see injustice. Do what you can NOW. Because, as Aaron Lee Tasjan sings, “if not now, when?”

“Over and over again
You try and try to pretend
That it’s never gonna be the end
If not now, when?
If not now, when?”

America the Beautiful, despite her flaws

While I could have gone in another direction for this 4th of July post and posted about the most patriotic country songs out there, I wanted to instead highlight the artists out there singing about real problems facing this country. Rather than just singing about how much they love America and ignoring her flaws, they’re bringing attention to her flaws. You can still love your country and be critical of it. Wanting your country to be better because you care about her and her people is the best kind of patriotism.

You’ll also notice that with a few exceptions most of these songs fall under the “Americana” category. I’m not sure if mainstream country artists are singing about these issues because honestly I haven’t listened to country radio in quite some time. My guess is that they’re not. In fact, I just scrolled through the list of top country songs and if the song titles are any indication, they definitely aren’t (though maybe Luke Bryan’s “Most People Are Good” could be an exception to the rule.) Singing about politics and real issues would put them at risk of not being played on the radio and it’s all about that airplay, right? (Sarcasm!) It’s the courage displayed by the artists above to sing about these topics and about what they believe in that has steered me away from mainstream country and into the world of Americana.

If you like the songs above and the subjects they address, you should also check out my “That Good Ole Liberal Country Music (Yep, you read that right!)” post, which deals with topics like the confederate flag and the LGBT community and features Steve Earle and Kacey Musgraves.

So while some of you may be cranking up the Toby Keith and Lee Greenwood today, I’ll be listening to these guys and gals! All of the songs mentioned above can be found on a Spotify playlist I’ve created for this post. I’ve also included the liberal country music songs found in my other post on this playlist. Of course, this list isn’t comprehensive so if you’ve got any other political songs (from any genre) that I may have missed from the past few years, let me know!

Happy 4th, everyone! 

Currently listening to: Turnpike Troubadours- “The Bird Hunters.” While this song doesn’t fit in with the other songs listed above, it does mention the 4th of July. I had the privilege of seeing them perform this song on Saturday night at the 9:30 club.

Turnpike Troubadours at the 9:30 Club (June 30, 2018)

“And a flutter of feathers
Then a shotgun to shoulder
I thought of the Fourth of July
She’ll be home on the Fourth of July
I bet we’ll dance on the Fourth of July”

April Concert Roundup

A Month of Firsts

April has been a crazy month- from my 28th birthday, to work events, to spending time with friends, it’s been a busy month. And in the midst of all the craziness of a wedding (not mine), a baby shower (also not mine), and birthday celebrations (those were mine), I also attended five concerts in April. This month was a month of many firsts- all five of the concerts were for artists that I’d never seen before and four of the venues were places I’d never been before. April also saw my first mechanical bull ride, first Jewish wedding, and first time taking part in Record Store Day (shout out to me for scoring the Eric Church RSD release!) With the constant busyness of life, I need to remind myself that being busy is a blessing- it means I’ve got a job, I’ve got friends, and I’ve got interests that I’m able to pursue. Interests like the many live music events that I get to attend, like the ones below!

Dom Flemons Duo- Pearl Street Warehouse (April 4th) 

April 4th, 2018 marked several firsts for me: my first time at the Wharf, my first time at Pearl Street Warehouse, my first time seeing Dom Flemons, and my first time seeing someone play the bones. Yes, the bones. It’s an actual musical instrument and Dom played them for us that night. There were also some for sale at the merchandise table. You might know Dom from his former band, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, which he was in with Rhiannon Giddens. For his CD release that night, Dom performed some tunes from his new album Black Cowboys. He also did an interview on stage for the Smithsonian (Smithsonian Folkways, maybe? I don’t remember) where he discussed some of the songs and the history behind them. This man knows his stuff and is an exceptionally talented musician and singer too!

Featured song: Caroline Chocolate Drops- “Hit ‘Em Up Style” (no, Dom didn’t play this for us that night but who doesn’t love a Blu Cantrell cover??)

Colter Wall- U Street Music Hall (April 7th) 

The devil might wear a suit and tie but Colter Wall wears deeply unbuttoned shirts. Well, at least he was at his show at U Street Music Hall on April 7th. Since I reference this song, I’ll get my complaining out of the way- Colter Wall didn’t play “The Devil Wears a Suit and Tie.” When my friend asked him why after the show he said they were rushing him off. That’s understandable, especially since there was a 10:30 p.m. show after his. But still. How do you not perform one of your top songs? I won’t dwell on this too much especially since he did play some of his other hits including “Sleeping on the Blacktop” and “Motorcycle.” He was also hanging around after the show by his van and agreed to take pictures with his fans (see mine below), which was cool!

Just a few quick words on Colter Wall that have nothing to do with his performance. For me, Colter’s music brings to mind the artists and songs of country past- his song “Thirteen Silver Dollars” could be inspired by Emmylou Harris, the “Queen of the Silver Dollar,” as he makes a reference to having a “belly full of baby’s bluebird wine” (if you don’t get the reference, she has a song called “Bluebird Wine.”) He also makes a “Blue Yodel No. 9” reference in this song. Then there’s “Sleeping on the Blacktop,” which, in my opinion, sounds similar to Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down.” His song “Fraulein” is also a cover song, which was written in 1957 by Lawton Williams and first sung by Bobby Helms. Townes Van Zandt also did a cover of this song. It gives me hope that there are country artists out there who are able to pull from the sounds of the past and bring them into the present. Colter Wall is definitely one of those artists.

After the show, it was brought up by one of the people that I attended the show with that his murder ballad “Kate McCannon,” one of his most famous songs, promotes violence against women. That really got me thinking. Where do we draw the line between what we support in real life and what we’re willing to accept in our music? Late last month I participated in the March for Our Lives and yet a few weeks later I’m listening to Colter Wall singing about putting three rounds into a cheating Kate McCannon. Listening to, and even liking, songs that go against my own personal beliefs is an issue I struggle with. This is especially the case with country music- a genre that often glorifies things that I do not support in my personal life. The killing of one’s spouse is not a theme reserved solely for the men though as women also kill their husbands in country songs. This led to a discussion about the songs in country music where women are the the ones killing their spouses. Songs like Garth Brooks’ “The Thunder Rolls” and the Dixie Chicks’ “Goodbye Earl” being two of the first examples that came to mind. Is a woman killing her abusive husband more acceptable than a man killing his cheating wife? I won’t get into that here since this is just a concert write-up but I think a post dedicated to this topic is worth writing at some point. I’ll hopefully get around to writing that at some point.

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Colter Wall and I (April 7, 2018)

Featured song: Colter Wall- “The Devil Wears a Suit and Tie” (because he didn’t play it that night!)

Ruby Boots- Songbyrd Music House and Record Cafe (April 10th) 

The show at Songbyrd on April 10th was super intimate. For the most part it was just Ruby Boots and her friend on stage playing guitar and electric guitar then later in the night it was just a solo Ruby Boots. No drummer, no fiddler, just Ruby and her mate (she’s Australian so I said mate). While I wish more people had come out to support her, having a small group there was nice. Ruby Boots was cracking jokes and telling stories, including one about Bill Murray. She also mentioned that she’s friends with Nikki Lane, who I love. I bet hanging out with these two would be so much fun! It was a real treat getting to hear about Ruby Boots’ personal life and the stories behind some of the songs. I’m not sure if she would have been as engaged with the crowd had there been a large group there. I also love her Australian accent! Aussies rule, mate!

One joke she made was about her new album. She told us that the album is titled Don’t Talk About It, “so don’t tell anybody!” Well, I am telling people- sorry! In addition to singing songs from Don’t Talk About It as well as some of her older songs, she also sang a Tom Petty song and even came off the stage out into the audience with her friend, leaving the guitars behind, to sing an acoustic version of Lucinda Williams’ “Jackson.”

I hope Ruby Boots had fun at Madam’s Organ after the show!

Featured song: Ruby Boots- “It’s So Cruel”

Lindi Ortega and Hugh Masterson- Union Stage (April 24th) 

There’s a great press quote that describes how Lindi Ortega should be onstage- “fun and frightening.” Though I wasn’t really scared at her show, I can understand how she earned this description as some of her songs carry dark themes. Lindi told a story about wanting to sing her song about dying and her guitar player responded with, “Which one? You’ve got six.” I think this anecdote sheds light on the “frightening” side of Lindi. However, it’s the “fun” part (and her shiny red boots) that the fans show up for. Her latest album Liberty is a spaghetti western-esque concept album which follows a character from a dark place in their life to a more happy place at the album’s end. Lindi made sure to play some of the songs from the end of the album (the happy part) to balance out her “frightening” persona. This included songs like “Lovers in Love,” “In the Clear,” and the Spanish song from the album, “Gracias a La Vida.” She also played my favorite song of hers, “Ashes.”

Lindi Ortega and I (April 24, 2018)

Her opening act was someone I had maybe heard of before but had never really listened to. Well, shame on me! Hugh Masterson was really good- not only did I enjoy hearing him sing his songs but his stories in between the songs were funny and helped to counteract the seriousness of his songs’ content. It’s all about that balance!

Featured song: Lindi Ortega- “Afraid of the Dark.” I’ll include this song here because I do like the dark stuff. As Lindi sings, “Don’t get any closer to my heart if you’re afraid of the dark.” Yeah, same.

Sarah Shook & the Disarmers and Zephaniah O’Hora- Pearl Street Warehouse (April 26th) 

Sarah Shook has me all shook up, y’all! I’ll admit that before the show I was so intimidated by this chick. But seeing her on stage and hearing her talk with the audience in between every song, I’m no longer intimidated, as she seems to be really chill and friendly. Actually, the whole band seems to be. Except Kevin- he’s a prima donna (that’s an inside joke only people at the show will get. Sorry, Kevin!) Sarah and her band, the Disarmers, rocked Pearl Street Warehouse on April 26th, which happened to be the first night of their tour. Their songs have an upbeat sound that make lyrics like “I can’t cry myself to sleep so I drink myself to death/I got cocaine in my bloodstream and whiskey on my breath/Ain’t a thing that I can change to get my luck up/I guess I’m just too much of a fuck up” make you wanna get up out your seat and sing along! Her lyrics are raw with lines like “the bottle never lets me down the way you do” and “there’s a hole in my heart ain’t nothin’ here can fill/ But I just keep thinkin’ surely the whiskey will.” Though these lyrics might pack a punch, they’re also served up with a heavy dose of reality thanks to their honesty and Sarah’s delivery. She almost makes you think that you can make it up to mama by getting that “mother-heart tattoo.”

Her opener, Zephaniah O’Hora (yes, his actual name) wasn’t half bad either! I especially liked his song “High Class City Girl from the Country.” He’s from Brooklyn, which I find to be really interesting. This guy goes to show that country really is country wide!

Sarah Shook and the Disarmers (April 26, 2018)

Featured song: Sarah Shook and the Disarmers- “Dwight Yoakam” (is Dwight Yoakam really that anxious??)

Upcoming Concerts (* means tickets are already purchased) 

5/18- The Weight Band feat. members of The Band, Levon Helm Band, & Rick Danko Group at The Hamilton
*5/20- Brandi Carlile at The Anthem
*5/29- Justin Townes Earle- Solo Tour at The Birchmere
*6/1
– Margo Price and John Prine at Wolf Trap
*6/8- The Steel Woods at Jammin’ Java
*6/29- Turnpike Troubadours and Charley Crockett at Friday Cheers (Richmond, VA)
*7/21
– Ray Wylie Hubbard at City Winery
7/24- Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit at Wolf Trap
8/2– Amanda Shires and Sean Rowe at The Birchmere
10/13- Chris Stapleton’s All-American Road Show at Jiffy Lube Live

Currently listening to: Jade Bird- “Lottery.” I felt so bad for missing her set when she opened for Colter Wall so I felt it would only be right to mention her here!

Album Review: Kacey Musgraves- “Golden Hour”

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(Photo courtesy of Stereogum)

It’s finally starting to feel like spring in Washington, DC and Kacey Musgraves’ new album is out today- it really is Good Friday! I’ve been anxiously awaiting Kacey Musgraves’ new album Golden Hour from the moment she announced that it was on its way. With all of the built up anticipation and excitement for this album, I thought this would make the perfect album for my first ever album review. I’ve been trying not to read too much about the new album as I didn’t want other people’s ideas to influence my own. I’ll read some of the other album reviews once this one is posted (like Grady Smith‘s, for example) as I’m curious to know what others thought of the record. 

I’ve been a fan of Kacey Musgraves for several years. The major force that propelled me into full-fledged Kacey fandom was seeing her perform live at “C2C: Country To Country” in London two years ago. The day after that concert, I bought both of her albums on iTunes and they served as the soundtrack to my spring break in England. While I already had a few songs from Same Trailer Different Park in my iTunes catalog, I finished buying up the rest of the album that day along with Pageant Material. 

In the weeks leading up to Golden Hour‘s release, Kacey put out three songs- “Space Cowboy,” “Butterflies,” and “High Horse.” Of these three, “High Horse” was definitely my favorite with its cheeky lyrics and funky disco beat à la the 1970’s. These songs were tasters as they prepared our appetites for the rest of what Kacey would be serving up on this album. 

Oh, What An Album! 

Earlier this week, NPR Music put up the full album for people to stream as a “First Listen“. It was nice not having to wait until today to finally hear this baby in its entirety. My initial reaction to the album was a positive one. And the more I continue to listen to it, the more I fall in love with it. I had heard her sing a little bit of “Oh, What A World” on her Instagram story and was desperately hoping this song would be on the album so that I could hear the full version of it. It was delighted that it was included and I was not disappointed with it. In fact, it’s probably my favorite song on the album (audio video below). The upbeat message of embracing the beautiful things in life (because there is so much ugly out there too) along with the song’s trippy sound really hooked me. Coming in a tie for second place would have to be “Slow Burn” and “Happy & Sad.” “Slow Burn” is the first song on the album and the most autobiographical (watch her performance of this song from last night’s The Late Show with Stephen Colbert). And the more I listen to “Happy & Sad” the more I find myself enjoying it and relating to it. These two are just gonna have to share second place! As much as I enjoy the emotional, introspective, and “all up in your feelings” kinda songs, this album wouldn’t be complete without a dance floor anthem and Kacey’s got that base covered with “High Horse.” Other songs on the album include “Wonder Woman” (no, it’s not about Gal Gadot) and “Rainbow.” Fans who have had the good fortune of hearing her sing “Rainbow” in her live performances will be happy to find this song included. A full track listing is below. 

In typical Kacey fashion, the songwriting on this album is superb- it’s simple yet eloquent. She has a certain way of describing the emotions we all feel in our own unique way in a style that’s universal. “Happy & Sad” is a great example of this as it’s so relatable. Kacey asks, “is there a word for the way that I’m feeling tonight? Happy and Sad at the same time.” Maybe the answer to that question is “human” as I think we all feel this way sometimes. Another great example of her songwriting is seen in “Butterflies.”  While the common expression of “you give me butterflies” is included in the lyrics, the meaning behind the butterfly is much more complex. Someone has finally untangled the strings around her wings so that she can fly, much like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. Although I find it hard to believe that Kacey was ever a caterpillar, I’m glad she’s now a butterfly! In “Space Cowboy” we see Kacey engaging in wordplay. This song isn’t about an astronaut John Wayne but rather it’s about giving a cowboy his space. Clever, Kacey! 

A central theme weaving its way throughout this album is love, not just romantic love, but also love of the world (“Oh, What A World“) and love for one’s mother (“Mother“). Kacey finding love and her recent marriage to fellow musician Ruston Kelly may have something to do with the abundance of love flowing through this record. We can hear this in songs like “Love is a Wild Thing,” “Butterflies,” and in the album’s title track, “Golden Hour.” I reckon Ruston Kelly is also her “Velvet Elvis” (she must be his “Velvet Priscilla”).  

This past week, Kacey has been posting sound clips of her songs on Instagram along with short descriptions to go along with the songs. For the song’s first track, “Slow Burn,” she provides some background on the song for her listeners, saying “I was born 6 weeks early. Under 5 lbs. I came on the day of my baby shower. [I always have loved a party] It was the last time I was ever early for anything. SLOW BURN is one of my most auto-biographical songs. And one of my favorites. It was the last one @tronian [Ian Fitchuk] + @thesilverseas [Daniel Tashian] and I wrote and it’s the first song on the new record. Arriving 3/30” And for my favorite, “Oh, What A World,” she says, “I refuse to let the ugliness of the modern world make me forget about the mystery and beauty that surrounds us on a daily basis. OH, WHAT A WORLD was the first song we wrote for the album and it set the sonic pathway I decided to chase. Futurism: meet traditionalism. Vocoder: meet pedal steel and banjo. Full album: meet everyone on 3/30.

On a sonic level, this album is easy on the ears. “Lonely Weekend” sounds like the song you’d want to listen to on a lonely weekend. And “Happy & Sad” has a sound that’s almost familiar, like you’ve maybe heard it before but can’t remember where. I already commented on the “trippy” sound of “Oh, What A World” above and as Kacey says, this song set the “sonic pathway” for the album. Golden Hour’s sound is different from what we heard on her first two albums and that’s not a bad thing AT ALL. Kudos to Kacey for taking a creative leap with these sounds as it paid off in a major way- this is an excellent album- it’s lyrically, sonically, and creatively beautiful! 

If you’re thinking that this album isn’t “country,” you’re right. It’s not a country album, it’s a Kacey album. Even before songs were released from this album, we were told that it would be influenced by the Bee Gees, Sade, and Neil Young.  If the trippy, disco-infused sounds and the clever songwriting found on this album don’t appeal to you then you can hop on your “High Horse” and “giddy up, giddy up and ride straight out of this town!” 

Track Listing:

1. Slow Burn
2. Lonely Weekend
3. Butterflies
4. Oh, What A World
5. Mother
6. Love Is A Wild Thing
7. Space Cowboy
8. Happy & Sad

9. Velvet Elvis
10. Wonder Woman
11. High Horse

12. Golden Hour
13. Rainbow 

Happy Album Release Day, Kacey! Thank you for this beautiful album! I hope your album is getting all of the love it deserves. Don’t forget to check out the new album, along with all of Kacey’s great songs, on my “A Very Kacey Playlist.” 

Currently listening to: This album obviously. Though I should be brushing up on some Dashboard Confessional since I’m seeing them in concert tomorrow night at the Fillmore in Silver Spring. It’s pretty coincidental because Chris Carrabba, the band’s lead singer, was credited as being one of Kacey’s songwriting heroes at an exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum not too long ago. Other songwriters on that list included John Prine (duh!), Loretta Lynn, Roger Miller, Neil Young, Buddy and Julie Miller, and Jim Croce.

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Kacey in front of her songwriting heroes (Photo courtesy of Dashboard Confessional’s Facebook page)

Falling Down a YouTube Hole

Brittany’s Adventures in Musicland

HELP! I’ve fallen into a YouTube hole and I can’t get out! Like Alice, I’ve encountered several interesting characters on my trip, though no hookah smoking caterpillars I’m afraid. My characters have come in the form of musicians and music videos that are expanding my tastes in music. Instead of Wonderland, my adventures are taking place in Musicland. You can find all of the characters I met after my tumble below.

The Dead South- “In Hell I’ll Be In Good Company.” I was just working out in my basement watching Turnpike Troubadours’ music videos (which I’ll get to later) and this video came on and stopped me dead in my tracks. I’m not sure if any burpees or lunges got done while this video was on as I was so captivated by what was on my screen. The video, the sound, the dance, everything about this mesmerized me. I’ve been listening to it consistently over the past few days because it’s been stuck in my head. You try listening to it and not have it do the same! Try not doing the toe-tapping, finger-snapping dance too- I double dog dare ya!

Other songs (and videos) worth checking out from these guys include “Banjo Odyssey” (Find me a better song about cousin loving. You can’t!) and “That Bastard Son.”

What lead me to the opening of this hole was the Turnpike Troubadours. I’ve been getting more into them lately and like many artists, watching them perform can be a way of getting to know their work better. There are some especially good performances on YouTube that serve as examples of this- Colter Wall’s “Kate McCannon” from the Great Western Brewing Brewery Sessions is a fine example of this (though the actual video is good too). You can also learn about songs that aren’t featured on albums this way too like Sturgill Simpson’s “Could You Love Me One More Time” and Tyler Childers and the Food Stamps’ “Messed Up Kid.”

Willie Watson- “Gallows Pole.” Since I mentioned Colter Wall above, I’ll take this opportunity to talk about a video that YouTube played after the “Kate McCannon” official music video just the other day. That video was Willie Watson’s “Gallows Pole.” The sound of this song is so mellow, and the harmonica rifts are so on point, that I couldn’t help but like this song. While folk is a genre that I’m still exploring, I think Willie Watson is an excellent person to follow as I go further down that path. Folk Yeah!

If Turnpike Troubadours’ “Gin, Smoke, Lies” wasn’t one of my favorite songs of theirs, after watching the video for this song, it just might be one of ’em. These guys could arguably be the best band in country music right now. While they don’t have too many music videos (they actually only have two official ones- this one and “Down Here“) they’ve got some other performances on YouTube worth checking out including “Before the Devil Knows We’re Dead” (video below). What’s my favorite thing about this video? Well that would be the fiddle player who moves seamlessly from fiddling to harmonzing with the band. See if you can spot him!

Charley Crockett- “Jamestown Ferry.” It’s appropriate that this video also come on down my spiral into this musical tunnel because Charley Crockett is opening for the Turnpike Troubadours at their show in Richmond, Virginia that I will be attending in June. This is another one of those song worms that crawls into your ear and into your brain, making itself a nice, cozy home, refusing to leave. I guess on this journey I’ve traded caterpillars for ear worms!

Shakey Graves feat. Esmé  Patterson- “Dearly Departed.” Yesterday, while still reeling from my fall, I found this number from Shakey Graves (featuring Esmé Patterson). While I wasn’t familiar with absolutely anything from this guy, this song has got me curious. From what I see, he’s an incredible musician, which is evidenced perfectly in this video for “Roll the Bones” where he sings, plays the guitar, AND plays the kick drum all at the same time. Shakey Graves is also a cool name and sounds like someone you might find if you ever fell down into a dark hole.

Currently listening to: whatever else I find while falling down the hole that is YouTube music videos. Admittedly, I never read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland so I’m not sure how she ever got out of her hole. Not that it matters- I don’t plan on crawling out of this hole for quite some time! I should also mention Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” because it fits all too well with the theme of this post that it would almost be a crime not to mention it.

Celebrating Sobriety and Song: A Concert Review of Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Better Late Than Never

How long do you have after a concert to write a decent concert review? Hopefully it’s about one month because that’s how long it’s been since I saw Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. The concert took place on February 6th at the Modell Performing Arts Center at The Lyric in Baltimore. Despite the amount of time that’s passed since then, I think I can still write a post that will do the performance justice.

jason
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit (Photo courtesy of nodepression.com)

In my holy trinity of songwriters, Jason Isbell sits beside Leonard Cohen and John Prine. As a songwriter, few people are able to tap into such a wide range of emotions like Jason Isbell. With songs like “Last of My Kind” and “Cover Me Up,” Jason knows how to articulate the feelings of loneliness, love, and vulnerability perfectly.  I’m not the only person who feels this way- his latest album, The Nashville Sound, was featured on numerous “best albums of 2017” lists (both official and unofficial lists).  Oh! And this album won the Grammy for Best Americana Album just a couple of weeks before the concert. He performed just about every song from this album that night-  “Cumberland Gap,” “Hope the High Road,” “Last of My Kind” (I’m not crying, there’s something in my eye), “Chaos and Clothes,” “White Man’s World,” (the politically charged song we need now more than ever) “Molotov,” “Tupelo,” and a song that I relate to all too well, “Anxiety.” During the encore, he sang a Drive-By Truckers song and “If We Were Vampires,” for which he had also just won the Grammy for Best American Roots Song. The only song from The Nashville Sound that he didn’t sing that night was “Something to Love.” As someone who absolutely loved The Nashville Sound, it was great getting to watch the band perform these songs live.

In addition to his songs with the 400 Unit, Jason also played some songs from his solo albums Southeastern and Something More Than Free. Songs like “24 Frames,” “Stockholm,” and “Something More Than Free.”

A Song of Love and Sobriety 

While his wife, Amanda Shires, who is the fiddler for the 400 Unit, isn’t always at the shows with the rest of the band (she has her own solo career- check her out!), I had the good fortune of seeing her perform that night. One of the highlights of that show was watching Jason sing the love song that he wrote for her, “Cover Me Up,” to her. The rest of the band left the stage for the occasion leaving Jason and Amanda on stage for an intimate performance. I realize how lucky all of us at the show in Baltimore were that night to have Amanda there and to be able to witness this expression of love.

Before the show, my friend that went with me brought up the fact that Tuesday was Jason’s six year anniversary of being sober. Amanda also pointed this out before he sang “Cover Me Up.” I needn’t tell you how moving it was to hear Jason sing the line “but I sobered up and I swore off that stuff, forever this time during “Cover Me Up” that night. After that line, the whole place applauded in support of Jason’s accomplishment. Thank you Jason for letting all of us at the Modell Lyric join you in celebrating six years of sobriety!

“A heart on the run keeps a hand on the gun
You can’t trust anyone
I was so sure what I needed was more
Tried to shoot out the sun
Days when we raged, we flew off the page
Such damage was done
But I made it through, ’cause somebody knew
I was meant for someone”

Not to criticize Jason, because I would never, but I was upset that he didn’t sing “Elephant“- I was prepared for a good, cathartic cry. I had checked out the set lists of his shows beforehand and saw that he had been including “Elephant” some nights so I thought maybe I’d get to see him perform it. Oh well! From my research, I knew that he wasn’t performing my favorite song of his, “Traveling Alone,” on this tour. That was probably for the best as I most likely would have been inconsolable if he had and nobody, I mean NOBODY, wants to see that!

Concerts on Concerts on Concerts

Since we’re on the topic, I’ll take the time now to talk about some upcoming shows that I’m going to (*) or are interested in seeing:

*3/15– Shane Smith and the Saints (song to check out: “All I See Is You“)
3/16– Nefesh Mountain- a Jewish bluegrass group (yep, you read that right)
*3/23– Lee Ann Womack (song to check out: “All The Trouble“)
*4/7– Colter Wall (that voice though)
*5/23– Margo Price at the Ryman Auditorium-I impulsively bought tickets to see Margo at the Mother Church of Country Music (with Colter Wall opening) and am still debating actually going (it would also be two days before the opening of the new Outlaws & Armadillos exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum so I’m thinking about making a couple days out of it and sticking around to see the exhibit. And I can always use an excuse to go to Nashville!)
6/1– Margo Price and John Prine
10/13– Chris Stapleton, Marty Stuart, and Brent Cobb

If you’re gonna be at any of these shows or are interested in attending any of these, holler!

The Life I’m Choosing 

Are you living the life you chose? Are you living the life that chose you?” asked Jason Isbell as his concert that night. If my life consists of seeing incredible musicians in concert like Jason Isbell and the others mentioned above, then yes, I am living the life I chose, and it’s a great one!

Currently listening to: Bobby Bare- “Streets of Baltimore.” Because it’s the greatest song about Baltimore I know!

Burnin’ My Barn in Tyler Childers’ Honky Tonk Flame

Hello everyone- long time, no see! While I should take this time to apologize for my two month hiatus, I won’t simply because of the fact that I was spending that time well and doing things that make me happy. Since my last post, I’ve been lucky enough to see two of my favorite new artists in concert- Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit and Tyler Childers. After this past Thursday night’s Tyler Childers concert, I thought the blog could use another concert review. I actually started writing this yesterday with a pen and a notebook (old school, right?) since my power was out because of the crazy wind we’ve been having. I’ll try my best to make out my chicken scratch writing for the post below.

Tyler Childers at the Rock and Roll Hotel (March 1, 2018)

Before Thursday (3/1) night’s concert , I said that “Tyler Childers could sing the phone book and I’d pay to listen.” I realize how outdated a saying like that is nowadays because who still uses a phone book? Seriously, we had one delivered to our house not too long ago and I stared at it like “what the hell am I supposed to do with this?” I reckon it might have made a good doorstop. Perhaps I should update the saying to be more 2018 appropriate- “Tyler Childers could sing the names of my Instagram followers and I’d pay to listen.” Does that work? If you have any better suggestions, send ’em my way.

No matter what I would listen to Tyler Childers sing, this post is about what he did in fact sing. The concert Thursday night was at the Rock and Roll Hotel in DC and it was my first time there. The show was sold out and needless to say the place was packed! I also waited too long to get my ticket and wound up paying about five times the original ticket price. But was it worth it? Yep!

Tyler sang some of my favorite songs from his latest album Purgatory, which Sturgill Simpson helped produce along with David Ferguson. Songs like “Feathered Indians,” “Honky Tonk Flame,” “Universal Sound,” “White House Road,” “I Swear (to God),” and the song he introduced by calling it a redneck interpretation of reincarnation (or something like that), “Born Again.” He also sang the love song for his wife off of that album, “Lady May.” After the song finished I heard the guy next to me tell the lady that he was with that she was his “Lady May.” I don’t think there’s anything sweeter a man could ever say to a woman. Who says rednecks aren’t romantic?

Tyler also sang a couple of songs that I was newly familiar with like “Charleston Girl.” I had only discovered the song the morning before the concert and instantly took a liking to it. There were a bunch of songs I had never heard before and I reckon many of these came from his time with his old band, The Food Stamps. This was the case at least for two of the songs I remember liking and later looked up-  “Messed Up Kid” and “I Got Stoned and I Missed It.” While the guy in front of me was giving everyone in the room a contact high, I’m glad I wasn’t stoned and missed this concert.

Kelsey Waldon, another Kentuckian, opened for him and it was my first time seeing her in concert as well. I had listened to her just a little bit before Thursday night but hearing her perform live was a much better way to get introduced to her and her music. Not only does she have a beautiful voice but she’s super sweet in person. I made a new friend at the concert on Thursday (one I had known from Twitter and finally met IRL) and we hung around after the show and talked with Kelsey. He’s known Kelsey for a while- they’re from the same part of Kentucky and he’s somewhat related to her. The three of us had a nice chat that included talking about Margo Price and Buffalo Clover.

All around, Thursday night was a great time and I’m so glad that I made the last minute decision to go. You can bet that next time either of these two comes through the DMV that I’ll be there. I’ll also make sure to buy my ticket early next time so that I don’t wind up paying an arm and a leg to see them!

I’ll conclude this post with one final thought- KENTUCKY! This state just keeps on cranking them out- Chris Stapleton, Angaleena Presley, Sturgill Simpson, Tyler Childers, Kelsey Waldon plus the classics like Keith Whitley, the Judds (so many redheads!), and Loretta Lynn. The latest Oxford American magazine was even dedicated to Kentucky and featured some fantastic articles, especially the one on Sturgill Simpson by Leesa Cross-Smith titled, “Ain’t Half Bad,” which is a reference to Sturgill’s song “You Can Have the Crown.” I found myself agreeing so strongly with a lot of her article and it felt good to know that someone shared my opinions on Sturgill.

To celebrate, I created a Spotify playlist, “Kentucky Got Lucky.” This playlist features all of the great Kentuckians listed above along with songs that just remind me of Kentucky. Also, it has NAPPY ROOTS! (Throwback to my youth!) I only wish Sunday Valley (Sturgill’s old band) and the Food Stamps (Tyler’s old band) were available to stream so that I could add them to this playlist. You can find that playlist here.

Currently listening to: All of the wonderful sounds of Kentucky!