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!

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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.

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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!

New Year, New Music, New Me

Happy Almost 2018, y’all! This post is coming to ya from Nashville where I’ll be celebrating New Year’s Eve!

Be sure to grab your popcorn, hot cocoa, or whiskey (no judgement), and get ready for a long post! Enjoy! 

The Good, The Bad, and the 2017

It’s no secret that 2017 sucked in a lot of ways- Donald Trump was inaugurated and allowed to make decisions that affect our lives, we lost Tom Petty, Don Williams, and Troy Gentry, Donald J. Trump became president, hurricanes devastated Puerto Rico and American cities like Houston, and Donald Trump moved into the White House. BUUTTTTT, this year hasn’t been all bad, especially since this is the year that I really found myself, musically speaking.

When I think about my taste in music and (lack of) knowledge of country music at the beginning of 2017 compared to the end of 2017, it’s like comparing night and day. In the latter half of this year, I really found my musical niche and refined my musical interests. I have this blog to thank for that. Had I not started writing this blog back in June, I’m not sure that I would’ve ever found some of my now favorite artists. I also never knew that I was a fan of Americana music and find myself identifying with the music from this genre more than any other these days. When I finally learned about Americana and all of the artists that are a part of the Americana family, everything clicked into place- this was the musical home I had been searching for. This is where I belonged.

2017 Finds 

While some bloggers have been making their top albums/songs lists for 2017, I didn’t want to do that. Since so much of the music I found this year has been around for a while, only focusing on the stuff from 2017 would be silly. Instead, I’m gonna focus on all of the great artists who came into my life this year.

Have you ever met someone and felt like you’ve known them your entire life? You wonder how you two went so long without meeting and now that you’ve met, you know you’ll be friends for life. Well that’s how I feel about some of the musical artists I discovered this year. I think about how much better my life would’ve been with their songs to guide me through years ago. But instead of dwelling on the past and missed years, I’ll vow to keep playing their music for the rest of my life. This includes artists like Margo Price. She has been one of my greatest finds of 2017. I’ll do an essay on her later (inspired by the book Woman Walk the Line: How the Women in Country Music Changed Our Lives), where I’ll dive deeper into how much of an inspiration she has been to me. Just as I had fallen in love with her first album, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, she released her sophomore album, All American Made in October of this year. What I love about Margo, and her most recent album in particular, is that she sings about political issues like the pay gap and the Iran-Contra Scandal (throwback to the Reagan years!). She’s outspoken about her political views and doesn’t care about losing fans because of it. The world could use more Margos and country music needs more Margos!

Even though I already knew Sturgill Simpson before this year, I didn’t really know him. One day I felt compelled to listen to A Sailor’s Guide to Earth. The rest was history. In just six short months, I managed to fall in love with and immerse myself in Sturgill’s music, see him in concert, and purchase all of his albums on vinyl. In fact, he was my top played artist of 2017, according to Spotify. If you’ve talked to me at all these past few months, I’ve probably manged to name drop him at least once. Hopefully you all were listening to me and then decided to check out “The Sturge” for yourself! What I love about him is that he makes a record when he has something to say, not just to stay relevant. He wants to make records that people will still be playing 30 years from now. You don’t make records that stand the test of time by putting out album after album with nothing of substance on them. And if I have to wait ten years for another Sturgill Simpson record, I’m happy to do it. It’ll probably be the best damn album of all time!

“I’m just trying to constantly improve and become a better artist and then hopefully make records that people—I mean it’s great if they buy them today—but I’m more interested in making records that maybe people will still talk about in 30 years. That’s the goal for me. You can go crazy if you let yourself think, “How do I remain relevant?” or you can just go and try to make great music and the fans will react to it and it takes care of itself.”
-“The Final Interview with Sturgill Simspon, According to Sturgill Simpson,” Noisey, November 30, 2017

I don’t remember what the first Jason Isbell song was that I listened to (maybe “Elephant?” or “Speed Trap Town?”) but I’m eternally grateful that the universe pointed me in his direction and had me press play. In a “Walking the Floor with Chris Shiflett” podcast interview with Jason, Chris brought up the fact that Jason is considered by some to be the “go to reference guy for songwriters in Nashville.” Just listen to one of his songs and it’s easy to see why. Though I’m glad it’s a part of my life now, I think about how useful a song like “Traveling Alone” could have been to me years ago. While Jason’s songs may not have had the opportunity to have been part of my past, they’re very much a part of my present, and I’m already making plans for them to be a part of my future. IF (please note this is both in bold and italics) I ever get married, I already know that “If We Were Vampires” will be on the playlist.

Something that the three artists mentioned above have in common is their politics. If you follow Margo Price and Jason Isbell on Twitter, you know how they feel about current events. And just last month, Sturgill Simpson decided to busk (verb; meaning to play music or otherwise perform for voluntary donations in the street or in subways) outside of the CMA Awards and talked crap about Donald Trump.

Sturgill Simpson busking outside of the CMA Awards on November 7, 2017. All donations went to the ACLU. (Picture from Rolling Stone)

Another artist that I discovered this year is Cody Jinks. According to Spotify’s calculations, Cody’s song “Loud and Heavy” was my most played song this year (Sturgill’s “Sea Stories” was second). Unlike the artists mentioned above, Cody Jinks is less Americana and more actual country. To me, he’s what real country music should sound like. Instead of calling country that ventures from the mainstream terms like “alt-country,” I think we should be calling the mainstream stuff a different name. After all, they’re the ones who have done more to change the music from its original sound, not guys like Cody Jinks who have a more authentic country sound. Some people might call Cody’s Texas county or “Red Dirt” country. While “Loud and Heavy” may have been my most played song this past year, it was “Somewhere in the Middle” and its simple message that being “somewhere in the middle is just fine” that resonated most with me. And if Cody finds himself somewhere in the middle of Texas “Red Dirt” country and alt-country, well, that’s just fine!

John Prine is pretty good!” At least that’s what one of the stickers I purchased at this concert back in November says. But if you ask me, I think John Prine is really good! If writing songs is a craft like woodworking then John makes songs like the best cedar chest you’ve ever laid your eyes on. When I listen to his songs, I’m always impressed at how clever he is. In fact, one of my favorite lyrics of any song ever comes from a John Prine song. The song is “Spanish Pipedream” and the line is “I knew that topless lady had something up her sleeve.” I’ll say that line is pretty good!

While the five artists featured above really won me over this year, there were plenty more that also found their way into my heart. This year’s honorable mentions (who are not all country, not all Americana, but all pretty dang good) include: Dan Auerbach, Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett (wait! Am I also now a fan of Indie music? Who am I even?), Lori McKenna, Tyler Childers, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Ashley Monroe, Angaleena Presley, Nikki Lane, Aaron Lee TasjanSam Outlaw, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, and Paul Cauthen.

A New Appreciation for the Old Stuff

It wasn’t just finding new artists that made this past year so exciting but it was also rediscovering artists from my past, learning more about country music legends, and gaining a deeper appreciation for the trailblazers who made all of this possible. One of those people is Jerry Reed. The man is a national treasure we should all be thankful that Jerry Reed songs exist. His songs are a surefire way to put a smile on my face. The Oak Ridge Boys are another example of feel good country music that I got into this year. And don’t forget Bobby Bare too! 2017 is also the year that I fell in love with Emmylou Harris. Her Pieces of the Sky album is the first brand new (not used from a record store) record I ever bought, which also took place this year. Fun fact about this lady is that she was discovered in DC by Gram Parsons- at Clyde’s in Georgetown.

This year also saw my love of Waylon Jennings grow deeper as I explored more of his music. Some other classic artists that I spent time getting to know better this year include Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and Dolly Parton. 

I’ve always loved her but this year I seemed to love Kacey Musgraves even more! Maybe it was because I realized how little credit she gets. She sings backup vocals for some of the bigger stars (Zac Brown Band’s “All the Best” and Dierks Bentley’s “Bourbon in Kentucky“) and does duets (Josh Abbot Band’s “Oh Tonight“), which is fine, but I really wish she got more credit for her solo stuff. To celebrate her, I’ve created a “A Very Kacey Playlist” on Spotify for her. She also has an album coming out early next year, Golden Hour, which I am stoked for! My appreciation and respect for Miranda Lambert also grew this year, which can be credited to her album The Weight of These Wings from 2016. There’s also been talk about a new Pistol Annies album, which can’t get here fast enough!

A Year of Concerts

This year my list of concerts attended grew substantially. Some of these concerts were for artists whose names I didn’t even know at the start of this year. People (who I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t know sooner) like Ray Wylie Hubbard, John Prine, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, and Nikki Lane. I even attended my first all-day music festival in Camden, NJ this year when I drove up for the Outlaw Music Festival. It was there that I got to see Willie Nelson for the first time and Eric Church for the seventh time. Other concerts that I attended this year included Sturgill Simpson, two different nights on Eric Church’s “Holdin’ My Own” tour (Pittsburgh and Washington, DC), and Mashrou’ Leila (a Lebanese band that has nothing to do with the rest of this post but they’re amazing and I love them!)

One really cool thing that happened to me this year was that I won free front row seats to a John Prine and Dan Auerbach concert at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, DC. I remember entering the contest for the tickets but I never win anything so I didn’t hold my breath on getting them. Funny thing is that the week leading up to the show I almost bit the bullet and bought a ticket for a nosebleed seat just so I could go. Well, good thing I didn’t, because a couple of days before the show, I got a call letting me know that I had won two tickets for front row seats along with a $50 merchandise voucher. Thanks to that voucher I am now the proud owner of a John Prine poster (painted to look like Ben’s Chili Bowl- a DC landmark) and The Missing Years on vinyl. I didn’t really know Dan Auberbach before that, aside from the fact that he is one half of The Black Keys, but after hearing him perform his solo stuff live, I became a fan. And how was that concert, you ask? “Pretty good, not bad, I can’t complain!” 

John Prine and Dan Auerbach at DAR Constitution Hall on November 10, 2017. (Photo from my crappy iPhone camera)

And since we’re on the topic of cool concert experiences this year, I just want to mention that at Ray Wylie Hubbard‘s concert at Hill Country BBQ in DC this past August, he mentioned the name of this blog while on stage. Now that’s pretty damn cool!

Keeping Up and Catching Up

There are some people out there that listen to every new album that comes out in its entirety and can break down each track while talking about the album as a whole. Many of those people get paid to do just that. I, however, do not. Also, that’s not me. I feel like there’s always new music coming out so I’d just stress myself out trying to do that. It also takes a while for me to really get into songs sometimes. So if it’s two months after an album has come out before I really listen to it, so be it. I’m happy being late to some parties.

With that being said, I do try and listen to some of the new stuff as it comes out when I can. Some great stuff that’s just come out is Neil Young and Promise of the Real‘s The Visitor. This album combines Lukas Nelson’s band Promise of the Real with the iconic Neil Young. The 2016 presidential election is a theme that you can hear on this album in songs like “Already Great.” Why are people trying to make America great again when, as Neil Young says, it’s already great? If I were gonna go back and rewrite my post on liberal country music, this song would definitely be on that list.

Lots of other albums came out this year that I haven’t spent as much time with as I should have- Travis Meadows‘s First Cigarette is one of them. Though I will say that “Long Live Cool” is in fact a cool song. I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for this guy because he’s the incredibly talented songwriter behind one of my all-time favorite songs- Dierks Bentley’s “Riser.” (He’s also mentioned twice in my post about Eric Church’s songwriting, “Eric Church: An Outsider, A Songwriter,” since he was a co-writer on both “Dark Side” and “Knives of New Orleans.”)

I also liked Chris Stapleton’s “From a Room: Volume 1” but admittedly haven’t given “From a Room: Volume 2” as much attention as it probably deserves. Sorry folks! The same goes for Lee Ann Womack‘s new album The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone, whose title track I love but I haven’t really ventured too far past that.

Some artists that I want to spend some more time getting to know better in the coming year are Rhiannon Giddens and Turnpike Troubadours.

Photographs and Memories

If I had to sum up 2017 in one picture, it would be this one:

(Photo from Vinyl Ranch’s Instagram)

I also just wanted an excuse to post this picture!

Looking Ahead to 2018

It’s hard to say what 2018 will hold. Only time will tell what other great artists I’ll find in the coming year. Perhaps I’ll be talking about a completely different genre of music in 365 days. Here’s to hoping that 2018 leads to many new discoveries- both musical and in general!

Here’s to also hoping that Eric Church releases some brand new music next year- that’s not asking for too much, is it?

You can find all of my favorite songs from the artists mentioned in this post on the beltwayboots Spotify account. My “Best of 2017” playlist can be found here.

Currently listening to: All of the great music that I discovered this year!

A Honky Tonk Holiday

Hey y’all! I’m back from my blogging hiatus (at least for now)! With work being busy these past few weeks, along with the madness of the holidays, plus a trip to NYC, there wasn’t a whole lot of time to sit down and write. But with Christmas coming up (in like 7 days!), I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to talk about some of my favorite country Christmas songs. While I’m not a HUGE fan of Christmas music like some people are (especially the more religious stuff), I realize the season wouldn’t be complete without it, especially these next songs I’m about to discuss.

Dolly Parton- “Hard Candy Christmas.” Deck the halls with boughs of Dolly! Like most of the songs on this list, I’ll listen to this one year round. Like if it comes up on my Spotify shuffle in June, chances are I’m not gonna press skip. This song is so relateable because we’ve all had a hard candy Christmas at some point in our lives. Hey, they can’t all be Reese’s-peanut-butter-cups-in-the-gold-and-green-and-red-wrappers-Christmases! This song comes from Dolly’s movie “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” which if you haven’t seen, you should! I know I’m long overdue for a re-watch!

Alan Jackson- the entire Honky Tonk Christmas album. I should probably just do an entire album review for this one. This album has been the soundtrack of many a Christmas for me. It’s not only Christmas-y, it’s quintessential 90s country, so you better believe it’s gonna be great! I can remember my mom owning this one on cassette tape in the early days of my youth. With guest appearances from Alison Krauss and Alvin and the Chipmunks, this album has got it all. There’a also a cover of Merle Haggard’s “If We Make It Through December” (Merle’s version gets its own spot below). One of my favorite Christmas songs also comes from this album- “Please Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas).” As I mentioned before, I found this song hilarious as a child but later came to learn that for many people with alcoholics in their family, it may not be so funny. Another favorite off this album is “I Only Want you for Christmas” (watch the video below). But honestly, I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the songs off this album!

Merle Haggard- “If We Make It Through December.” If there’s one thing country music is good at it’s serving you up a big dose of reality. One thing about reality is that it ain’t always pretty, or rather, at Christmas time, it ain’t all ribbons and bows and a tree overflowing with gifts. For some, getting through the month of December can be a struggle financially, as Merle details in this song from 1974. The heartbreaking story about a dad who’s been laid off from his factory job and can’t afford to buy his little girl some Christmas cheer should serve as a reminder to all of us to be grateful for the things we do have because there are many who do without. Leave it to The Hag to keep it real and remind us of this!

“I got laid off down at the factory
And their timings not the greatest in the world
Heaven knows I been workin’ hard
I wanted Christmas to be right for daddy’s girl
Now I don’t mean to hate December
It’s meant to be the happy time of year
And why my little girl don’t understand
Why daddy can’t afford no Christmas here”

Kacey Musgraves- A Very Kacey Christmas album! Forget red and green, it’s all about pink and green this year! (#pinkisthenewred) Seriously- the album cover is pink and the vinyl itself is GREEN! I just love it! Top tracks from this album include a “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” “Ribbons and Bows,” and a duet with Willie Nelson appropriately titled, “A Willie Nice Christmas.” I don’t know about y’all but I’ll be having me a very Kacey Christmas (and a Willie Nice Christmas) this year and for many years to come!

You can catch Kacey performing tomorrow (12/19) on “A Home for the Holidays” Christmas Adoption Special on CBS.

My own A Very Kacey Christmas record along with my other pink Christmas decorations! And yes, that is a John Prine sticker on my turntable!
Did I mention that the album is GREEN? So festive!

Willie Nelson- “Pretty Paper.” Since Kacey and Willie inspired me to have a “Willie Nice Christmas,” I’m doing just that! And it wouldn’t be a “Willie Nice Christmas” without some pretty paper and some pretty ribbons of blue. Every occasion could use a little Willie and Christmas is no exception. This song comes from his first Christmas album released in 1979. Other songs on that album include “Frosty the Snowman,” “Jingle Bells,” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

John Prine- “Christmas in Prison.” While I’m sure that being in prison is awful every day of the year, I imagine Christmas is the worst of those days. If you find yourself behind bars on Christmas Day (I hope you don’t!), perhaps hearing this song can provide you with some sort of comfort. I was lucky enough to see John in concert last month at DAR Constitution Hall in DC where he played this song. The best part about that show? The FREE front row seats! Just kidding- it was the crush I developed on Dan Auerbach (of The Black Keys) who opened for John.

I hope these songs help to add a little holiday cheer to your Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Shab-e Yalda, New Years, or maybe just to your December. Have a honky tonk holiday, ya’ll!

And now, just to piss off the Christian Conservatives, Happy Holidays everyone!

As always, you can find a Spotify playlist on the beltwayboots account for all of my posts, including this one! Find my “A Honky Tonk Holiday” playlist here.

Currently listening to: A country song about Hanukkah. Just kidding, there isn’t one! But someone should get on that. Kinky Friedman- I’m looking at you!

The Spooky, Scary Tracks I’m Playing

Happy All Hallows Eve and first day of Day of the Dead a.k.a. Dia de los Muertos to all y’all! On the occasion of these two celebrations, I wanted to shine a spotlight on a couple of songs that I think are appropriate for these two holidays.

Zac Brown Band and Dave Grohl- “Day For the Dead” (from The Grohl Sessions, Vol. 1)

So Zac Brown Band made an album with David Grohl. That’s right- Dave mother f**king Grohl! “Day For the Dead” is one of four songs from that joining of forces, released in 2013. I have a ton of respect for Dave Grohl, as a musician and as a fellow Virginian (though he was technically born in Ohio his formative years were spent in V to the izz-A). Everything this guy touches turns to gold- from Nirvana to Foo Fighters, so naturally when he teamed up with ZBB, they made some pretty darn good songs, including this one about the “day for the dead to dance among the living.” You can watch their performance of this song from the 2013 CMA Awards here.

I would like to know when The Grohl Sessions, Vol. 2 is planning to come out. Seriously, I’m waiting!

“I see them rise
From beneath the ground
Life was lost but now it’s found
The ghosts want somethin’
To take their turn
To dance around the stone
Work the fingers to the bone
Hold on to nothin'”

 

Ruston Kelly- “Black Magic” (from Halloween)

I wrote about this song back in June on my first “The Tracks I’m Playing” post but it’s perfect for Halloween so I’m posting it again. Do I need any more proof that this is an ideal Halloween song besides the fact that it’s from an album titled Halloween?? No, I don’t. But I’ll give you another reason anyway- the first line in this song goes like this, “Halloween is here with me you left it in this home, stitches on my body, closets full of bones.” Pretty spooky, huh? While the song isn’t actually about Halloween, it’s about black magic (kinda) and love, which seems fitting enough for me for today.

I also want to take this opportunity to say congratulations to Ruston Kelly and Kacey Musgraves on their wedding, which took place earlier this month! The pictures are gorg! See for yourself here. Congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. Kacey Musgraves!

“Halloween is here with me you left in this home
Stitches on my body, closets full of bones
Blood that won’t stop running ‘cause this wound won’t ever clot
Like the ringing in my ears that don’t ever seem to stop”

 

Other great Halloween and Day of the Dead songs include:

Eagles- “Witchy Woman
Jason Isbell- “If We Were Vampires
Willie Nelson- “Gravedigger
Michael Jackson- “Thriller
Creedence Clearwater Revival- “I Put a Spell on You
Ruston Kelly- “Halloween (Downstairs)”

You can find all of these on my “All Hallows Eve” Spotify playlist here. While these songs may not hold a candle to Monster Mash in the category of Halloween anthems, I think they’ll make a perfect addition to your Halloween playlist. Also, does anybody really know how to do the Monster Mash??

I hope everyone has a great Halloween and Dia de los Muertos! And if you don’t celebrate either, Happy October 31st!

Currently listening to: Werewolf Bar Mitzvah. Because I can’t think of something being spooky, scary without this song coming to mind! If you watch 30 Rock, you get the reference!