Wow. Take all your expectations of Gillian Welch’s mournful voice and David Rawlings’s flawless guitar riffs from your favorite albums, whether it be the most recent The Harrow and the Harvest or the now 14 year-old Revival, and sum them all into one balmy evening. If you add a bit more guitar and bit more emotion, as well as interjections from Gillian and David, you just might have what we had the pleasure of experiencing August 3 at the North Carolina Museum of Art.
Fans from all walks of life were pleased– old fans who had been with Gil since the beginning, or new hip 20-somethings who heard them on NPR. There were children with mothers, falling asleep to the lullaby sounds of slower numbers, and curly-topped youngsters bouncing to the banjo lines, and of course, the Rawlings tune “Sweet Tooth“. The brief rain couldn’t put a damper on anyone, not even Gillian and David. They were pleased with the temperature drop and claimed it wasn’t raining, just “really humid”. The rain brought more people to the front, some to dance, others to take cover in the overhang, and more still just to get closer to their folk idols. As a huge Gillian Welch fan, this was probably one of the best shows I’ve been to so far this year. Local artists came out, surely paying homage to one of their influences– I think I saw some members from Kickin’ Grass Band, Mandolin Orange, and Midtown Dickens.
Gillian and David get the award for mixing the new and the old impeccably. The crowd was especially pleased with “Red Clay Halo”, “Caleb Meyer”, and of course, “Orphan Girl” was requested at least a dozen times (though, notably, not performed). As an Ohio native, one of my favorites was “Look at Miss Ohio,” closely followed by one of the encores “Six White Horses”. Their minimalist sound and traditional instrumentation was perfect for this North Carolinian show, providing a sense of belonging when playing “Tear my Stillhouse Down”.
I will admit that I probably cried at least twice during the show, enjoying Welch’s melancholy melodies and bittersweet harmonies of Rawlings. I wanted to quit looking like such a wuss so I started focusing on the precision of David’s guitar. Then I got caught in a predicament– whether to focus on the guitar or the vocals. I was soon comforted by a fellow DJ’s insight; Gillian’s voice and David’s guitar complete each other. Awww.
This was the third of four shows I plan on attending at the North Carolina Museum of Art this summer; the line up has been so amazing. Check out blogs about Bela Fleck, Lucinda Williams, and soon to come, The Carolina Chocolate Drops. As always, if you’re looking for the best in Americana, tune in to Americana, Blues, and Company every Saturday from 10-noon.
Troubel is a budding local folk/bluegrass band comprised of former members of Carolina Roadkill. Two members, Adam and Anna (soon to both be Walton), came in to Americana, Blues, and Company on July 23 for a short interview and to play a few songs for us. Below you can find our discussions about local music, influences, and how we all got into bluegrass as well as performances of ”Darlin”, off their first album The Mountains. The Broken., and an unreleased song, “Lost at Sea”. Troubel is on tour throughout the first few weeks of August — come check them out! They are definitely a band to keep on your radar.
Check out the interview:
With an expansive lawn, selling out the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA) proves to be quite difficult. However, the first show of the summer season on June 4, did just this. Bela Fleck and the Flecktones attracted such a varied audience that every inch of the lawn was taken — whether it be by hip young professionals eating olives, cheese, and wine or older couples eating a hot box of Bojangle’s fried chicken.
The show started around 8:15PM, the perfect time to sit back and enjoy the 90-something day finally cooling off. They played newer music off their most recent album, Rocket Science. And not to go with the intentional pun, but deciding whether to buy that album isn’t rocket science.
This show is different than many in the past few years, as Howard Levy joined the band yet again. Levy, an amazing harmonica player, seems to tie the whole group together. Percussionist Futureman is about as interesting as a percussionist can get. He plays a hand-made drumitar, and has many other unique inventions based in scientific principles and pure awesomeness. If you’reever wondering which one is Futureman, just look for the pirate. Futureman’s brother plays bass in the Flecktones and hot damn! is he good. I don’t usually like bass solos, but Victor Lemonte Wooten definitely had my attention. Of course, I hardly even need to speak of Bela Fleck’s virtuosity at the banjo. Futureman made the joke that Fleck is proof that banjo jokes aren’t true. Casey Driessen, violinist of The Sparrow Quartet joined in for more of the bluegrass/folk numbers.
The concert went on until about 10PM, the lightning bugs and ambient lighting of the grounds of NCMA provided a perfect setting for the soft strumming and beats of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. If you missed out on this show–do not fret– they will be coming back to North Carolina in August! Associate acts Ben Sollee and Abigail Washburn frequent this area, so be on a look out for them as well.
If you need your weekly Bela Fleck dose, you can always tune in to Americana Blues and Company Saturday mornings from 10-12, as we are known to play an occasional Bela Fleck number.
It was a great year for Americana, as always. I had a lot of favorites for this year, but for simplicity’s sake, here’s a top five (in no particular order) of the music I love:
Crazy Heart soundtrack
Jeff Bridges as a country singer? You’d better believe it. A good blend of contemporary artists, classic country, and some originals written for the movie by T Bone Burnett (and performed by Jeff Bridges and sometimes even Colin Farrell) make a great soundtrack that stands alone to perfectly complement the movie.
Justin Townes Earle – Harlem River Blues
Justin Townes Earle’s latest effort doesn’t have a single song I’d skip. There’s a wide range of musical stylings here, from the dark gospel sound of the title track, to the Elvis rockabilly of “Move Over Mama,” to the singer-songwriter tradition of “Christchurch Woman.” Earle puts on a great live show, as well, and shouldn’t be missed.
Broken Hearts and Dirty Windows
Most, if not all, of the singer-songwriters today owe something to the words of John Prine. For some reason, Prine has always flown under the popular radio radar, but he has a devoted following among listeners and fellow artists alike. This compilation of covers is genius with unexpected artists like Bon Iver right next to Americana favorites like the Avett Brothers. Standout tracks for me were the Josh Ritter cover of “Mexican Home” and the Avett Brothers version of “Spanish Pipedream.”
Carolina Chocolate Drops – Genuine Negro Jig
This is the album that carried the Carolina Chocolate Drops from local favorites to national recognition. Plays on NPR catapulted their status, and with good reason: this album updates bluegrass for a new generation, including a cover of the R&B song “Hit ‘Em Up Style” that adds a whole new groove.
Twistable Turnable Man
Not many people realize that Shel Silverstein penned several of the old country classics of yesteryear. Perhaps the best-known is Johnny Cash’s hit song “A Boy Named Sue.” This tribute album has a strong lineup (Todd Snider, My Morning Jacket, and Sarah Jarosz with Black Prairie, just to name a few), brilliantly covering the songs of a well-known wordsmith.
Robert Earl Keen gave Sweet Annie Rich a call and, in spite of Sweet Annie Rich’s technology issues, gave a spectacular interview. He talked about his time at a big Ag university (Texas A&M) similar to NCSU, his favorite song lyrically, and how touring with Reckless Kelly and the Randy Rogers Band is just a mix of “all the right ingredients.”
by DJ Elly May on May.24, 2010, under Daytime
Friday night I had the privilege of seeing three great acts at the Pour House. The night started off with a solo show by BJ Barham of American Aquarium. He played some of his own material as well as stripped down versions of songs by the band. One gentleman in the balcony took the opportunity between songs to heckle, and BJ quickly turned the tables. Several minutes of hilarious banter ensued and by the end of it, BJ had clearly conquered the room. Besides hilarity, the music was great, even if some of the lyrics were a bit worn.
Luego took the stage after BJ and played tunes from both their Taped-Together Stories album as well as their forthcoming Ocho album. The performance lacked some of the energy I had seen in previous Luego shows, but the sound was amazing and the new songs had just as much confidence and southern swagger as the older songs.
During Luego, I also had the tremendous privilege of meeting Caitlin Cary. Caitlin was formerly a member of Whiskeytown with Ryan Adams and has now teamed up with The Proclivities front-man Matt Douglas to form Small Ponds. She still puts out great Americana, and she’s even sweeter in person than the thoughtfully romantic lyrics she belts out on-stage. Douglas still croons and swoons with the greatness of The Proclivities, but the new depth added by Caitlin and her violin made for an amazing ending to my Friday night.
This morning on Americana Blues & Co BJ Barham from Raleigh band American Aquarium came in for about 20 minutes to chat about the band’s fifth album release in four years. The album is titled Small Town Hymns and is a much slower down and less rock n roll album than their last release from a year ago, Dances for the Lonely. BJ played some live tunes for us as we talked about the recording of the album, the band’s hectic tour schedule, and the album release party which is going on tonight at the Pour House Music Hall. Jamie McClean and Sons of Bill are also sharing the stage. In addition, the first 50 people to get inside will be given a free pint glass courtesy of Big Boss Brewing Company who created a special brew for the band called American Aquarium Ale. Take a listen to the interview below:
…and that party, it still hasn’t ended.
Oh, listeners of Americana Blues & Co — you know how I love me some Robert Earl Keen. The man was back in town, hitting the Lincoln to play for the usual crowd of drunks, fun-lovers, and good-time aficionados. In fact, it appears the NCSU student body president Jim Ceresnak is a fan. I didn’t know he was right behind me until my helpful brother informed me after the show.
But, on to the show!
Sons of Bill opened up and, like last November, showed that they can hold their own.
These are a group of good ol’ boys from Virginia with a sound that pulls together influence from outlaw country with a dose of Gram Parsons.
When REK and his band came on stage, the audience was in for a big surprise. They played a lineup of lesser-known, lesser-played songs. The people expecting him to tear through No. 2 Live Dinner looked a little confused and certainly didn’t know the words, but some (like me) were thrilled to hear some favorites that we thought we’d never hear live. (Mine is “The Raven and the Coyote,” by the by.)
The best part of a Keen show, in my opinion, is just letting go and having fun. This is a band of seasoned pros who know how to put on an excellent show. Next time you’re in town, give ‘em a try. I know I’ll be there.
Robert Earl Keen – The Rose Hotel
4 out of 5 stars
by Sweet Annie Rich
Robert Earl Keen has been a driving presence in Americana for the past 15 years, at the very least, and his latest offering “The Rose Hotel” only further cements his place in the alt-country pantheon. While none of these songs are the next “The Road Goes On Forever,” it’s an album of solid Keen material that’s bound to become part of the drunken singalongs that are his live shows.
It’s certainly not a new outing for Keen, but at this point in his career straying too much from the beaten path would detract from his essence as an artist. The title track is exactly what an opener should be – it’s catchy, mid-tempo, with an infinitely singable chorus. But as always with a good Keen song there’s an undercurrent of sadness that keeps the twang authentic.
It’s this turn of phrase that keeps Keen fans coming back for more and makes even the most die-hard anti-country advocates stop and listen. “Throwing Rocks” starts out like any other lazy good-time song but immediately turns on itself halfway through, going from rollicking love song to rolling story of revenge. As such it’s a standout on a disc full of solid songs.
Keen pays tribute to his forebears appropriately, covering Townes Van Zandt’s “Flying Shoes” with a chunky bass line. “The Man Behind the Drums” is a pure meta-country ode to Levon Helm. It’s a refreshing sense of humility that Keen possesses in regard to these legends, as if he realizes that some put him on their level but knows in his heart of hearts that he can only look up to them.
Some songs don’t quite hit the emotional apex. “Goodbye Cleveland” ought to be every bit the weeper, but something about the way Keen stretches out the words of the chorus just makes it another candidate for rowdy singing along, which is exactly what this song shouldn’t be. Some songs are played for the laughs, which is always fun, but “10,000 Chinese Walk Into A Bar” still doesn’t seem to reach the funny bone quite like previous gut-busters (“The Great Hank” comes to mind).
As a whole, “The Rose Hotel” is fun, relaxed, and at turns surprising. Keen’s attitude is best summed up in the song “Something I Do,” which with a chorus of “I kinda like just doing nothing, it’s something that I do,” encapsulates the easy and familiar feeling that fans have come to know and love.
It’s been quite a few weeks in coming, but Sweet Annie Rich has finally gotten her act together and cut the audio of her interview with Corb Lund on October 3. Corb provided quite the interview with a lot of his back story and put on an entertaining show later that night at the Berkeley Cafe.
Dear, dear Americana Blues & Company listeners. This is Sweet Annie Rich here, back from a summer-long hiatus and announcing here that I have returned to the glorious Triangle area to fill your ears with sweet, sweet tunes once again. I’m sure that DJ Caid has done well in my absence (he even wished me a happy twenty-first birthday, I heard, and I would like you all to know I had not imbibed nearly as much as he implied). “Oh, Sweet Annie,” you might ask, “where have you been all this time?”
Dearest listeners, if I told you I’d have to kill you.
Rather than meet certain death and wondering at my past three months’ whereabouts, I suggest tuning in this Saturday, August 8th. I’m back on the air, folks, and I’m gonna be here for a good long while once again.
In the same vein as La Barba Rossa (because hey, I see the dude every week and it turns out we have similar wacky mindsets), I think it’s high time to get a look at (of all things) religion in Americana music. It’s an undeniable element that in some way has some root in the creation of all these songs. Whether it’s about getting religion, losing religion, changing religion, musing on religion, or losing your girl to religion (you think I’m joking)… one just cannot deny that the presence of a higher power is integral to American music.
One of the first and most obvious places to go looking for religion is in the heart of Americana: the Appalachians. The European immigration to the Appalachia region was in itself from deeply religious stock – think Scottish, Irish, Scots-Irish, English, Welsh. Add to this mix the relative isolation of living in a mountainous region in the 18th century, and you’ve got a class of people who are going to have a strong sense of culture and preservation. History lesson aside, this is still a region where music and religion make their most explosive collide. Take, for instance, the Stanley Brothers. The most familiar example is the song “Angel Band,” though not every song of theirs is so optimistic. There’s an element of darkness and haunting that lurks at the edges of these songs that makes this sort of music so unforgettable.
In the same vein, more modern artists in the mountain music tradition are bound to include at least one song or one reference to religion – usually through a filter of the harsh reality of mortality, or featuring the Americana artist’s other favorite otherworldly being: the Devil. The Devil and Death are the prominent elements of religion that you’re going to find in these updated takes, such as this tune by Gillian Welch.
And then there’s the issue of losing one’s religion, and trust me, the Americana giants were doing it long before Michael Stipe was even born. Sometimes we know why the singers of the songs lost their faith, and sometimes we’re plunked down into the middle of their particular crisis without a frame of reference. In either case, the end result is something vaguely longing and wistful – there is a sense that something is missing even when there’s an outright refusal to go back to the old religion. Johnny Cash, who was known best for shooting a man in Reno just to watch him die, is no different.
Of course, if nothing else, sometimes the entire point of this music is to almost create a new type of religion. In the end many times it’s the songs that’ll change you – why else do you think there are always people who reverently speak of a song that changed their lives or at least gave them some sense of meaning? Americana naturally has this same power. In his biography of Gram Parsons (titled Hickory Wind), Ben Fong-Torres spoke of the times that Gram would sing hallelujah, and if you didn’t have religion before, you were bound to have it after. When a genre has such deeply spiritual origins, it’s not so hard to believe that sentiment.
As the lovely host of Americana Blues & Company here at WKNC, I am frequently asked two questions when I try to explain my show to someone:
1. Wait, your DJ name is Sweet Annie Rich? But that’s not your real name…
2. What is Americana?
To answer the first question, I must say to you: Gram Parsons. If you do not know who he was, look him up. It will make answering the second question much, much, MUCH easier.
Secondly… Americana is a LOT of things. It’s not simply country or bluegrass or rockabilly or what-have-you. It’s an amalgamation of the genres born right here in America (hence “Americana”), and, to quote the late great Gram Parsons himself: it is Cosmic American Music. It is where all of the purely American styles come together to create the true spirit of music. It is pure and transcendent.
For a primer in Americana, here’s a video which contains the old (a Gram Parsons song with Emmylou Harris, who is ubiquitous to the genre) meeting the new (Ryan Adams singing the part Gram used to sing) to keep this transcendent spirit alive and going: