Wednesday, December 31, 2008

JAMEY JOHNSON - High Cost Of Livin'

Check out this video and you will see what I am talking about. This guy is the real thing. The band is awesome as well.


Monday, December 29, 2008

That Lonesome Song by Jamey Johnson

Stop the presses. I have found the country album of the year. It is That Lonesome Song by Jamey Johnson. As much as I hate to admit that anything good could come out of Nashville, this album has and it is the real deal.

I first heard the song, Between Jennings and Jones, from this album on Outlaw Country, but it got lost in my mental shuffle. Last week, I saw That Lonesome Song on a best of 2008 list and decided to check it out. After a two days of constant play, I can say with conviction that this is the best country album of 2008.

Johnson is originally from Montgomery, Alabama. Since moving to Nashville in 2000, he has become a successful songwriter. He co-wrote Give It Away which was a number one hit for George Strait in 2006.  He also co-wrote several songs for Trace Adkins, including two that made the charts in 2007.

The album shows off his strong songwriting ability. These songs are dark, but they are good. Original songs like High Cost of Living, Mary Go Round, That Lonesome Song and In Color tell stories about real people, which is a contrast to what passes for songwriting in Nashville today. These songs are heartfelt and express emotions that are missing from most of Nashville's current product. Taylor Swift and Rascal Flatts listen hard. This is real country. 

Johnson obviously has great respect for Waylon Jennings. Both of his Waylon covers, especially a superb version of Dreaming My Dreams, which comes from the Jennings' album of the same name, are on the mark. In fact, he sounds a lot like Waylon on these two and that's a good thing. Mary Go Round has a nice Merle Haggard feel to it. Women reminds me of a song by country swing master, Dale Watson.

I don't know anything about the band on the album, but they sound great. There is a lot of steel guitar on the record. All of the backing fits behind these great songs.

If you like country music, you have to own this album. Available on iTunes and from Amazon.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Robert Earl Keen

I saw Robert Earl Keen and his band last night. They played their annual Christmas show in Corpus Christi to a sold out crowd at Brewster Street Ice House. Robert was in fine voice and the band was cooking. My Christmas wouldn't be complete without hearing Merry Christmas to the Family live.

Last night, I was particularly impressed with the playing of Marty Muse on steel guitar. I don't know if it was the sound from the exclusive VIP seating at the venue, but the steel was up front in the mix and it added a lot on many of the songs. Marty's playing is always tasty, but he seemed particularly inspired last night

Highlights of the show included Robert's version of Flyin' Shoes, which is one of my favorite Townes Van Zandt songs. Robert covered  Snowin' On Raton, another Townes' classic, on his album Gravitational Forces. I think he has a real feel for Van Zandt material and should consider recording Flyin' Shoes as well.

Robert also played his great interpretation of Tangled Up In Blue. I know the band likes Bob and I always like to hear them play this song. The crowd responded enthusiastically to this Dylan classic.

In addition to many of his well known songs, Robert also played a couple of his new songs, which were well received by the crowd. I am looking forward to hearing them on the new album soon.

Robert is playing several dates before the end of the year. If you have the chance, you should catch a show:
  1. House of Blues Houston        Dec 28
  2. House of Blues Dallas        Dec 29
  3. Bass Hall         Ft Worth        Dec 30
  4. Gruene Hall New Braunfels     Dec 31

Friday, December 26, 2008

Good Year For The Roses by Elvis Costello

A great video of my favorite cut on Almost Blue. Not sure aboue those little kids. What's that all about???

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


I have written in the past about the history of American music fans learning about our own music through the recordings of English artists. This certainly was the case for me in the '60's with a lot of blues and roots music. Later, Elvis Costello and Almost Blue was a bridge to a bigger interest in country music.

In the fall of 1982, I had just moved to Hebbronville. At that time, I was listening to two albums that reflected my usual taste in music. They were Trap Door by T-Bone Burnett and Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen.

Although we listened to some country music at Floyd's Hotel and The Den, I wasn't a big fan yet. Anything I knew about country music came from wearing out a copy of Hank Williams' 40 Greatest Hits. I read that Dylan was a fan of Williams, so it seemed like a good idea to check Hank out. 40 Greatest Hits was worth owning for the picture on the cover of Hank in that Nudie Suit.

Living in deep South Texas, I was starting to play more country music. I first got into Hank Jr. Next, I discovered the great album, Poncho and Lefty, which was the beginning of a long love affair with the music of Van Zandt, Haggard and Nelson. 

 The other album that was featured in my regular rotation at the ranch was Almost Blue. I had been a huge Costello fan since the release of his first album My Aim is True in 1978. To my ear, he was the best thing to come out of the English punk/new wave movement of the 1970's. I am particularly fond of his anthem to everything Motown: Get Happy! It still sounds terrific today.

Costello recorded Almost Blue in Nashville under the direction of legendary producer Billy Sherrill. At the time, there was some criticism of a English punk rocker coming to Nashville to cover these classic country songs. I disagree. Although Costello's versions may not be any better than the originals, his singing is good and the band plays well.

 The best thing about this album for me was that it opened the door to the music of all these great country artists. Hearing these cover songs, I immediately got intrigued with searching out the original versions.

 I started listening to George Jones (A Good Year for the Roses), Merle Haggard (Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down), Patsy Cline (Sweet Dreams) and Gram Parsons (I'm Your Toy). This album was like a big Christmas present waiting to be unwrapped. If you are looking for an introduction to country music, Almost Blue is a good start.

It is available on iTunes and from Amazon.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector

Since most popular Christmas songs were written about a hundred years ago, it stands to reason that there are very few good rock and roll Christmas songs. Nevertheless, there are a few rockers worth including in your holiday playlist. 

In Philadelphia, all the FM radio stations celebrate Christmas by playing Bruce Springsteen's version of Santa Claus is Comin' to Town about a million times. Starting right after Thanksgiving, you will hear those sleigh bells and that rocking version of this tune from the mighty E Street Band. In that part of the world, it isn't Christmas without the Boss and Clarence Clemons (The Big Man)  doing their Yuletide musical thing.

 Robert Earl Keen's Merry Christmas from the Family is the South Texas holiday standardPresenting the ultimate musical description of trailer trash Christmas rituals, it is a song that is remarkable for the inclusion of the word Tampax as well as REK's rhyming boy friend with Mexican. A great holiday tune that showcases Robert's sly wit.

Besides these two, the best collection of rocking Christmas songs can be found on this album from Phil Spector. Using his classic Wall of Sound along with his stable of girl groups and singers like Darleen Love, The Ronettes, The Crystals, and Bob B. Soxx, Spector has recorded the ultimate Christmas album. The album has a huge sound and these tunes really rock.

 Check out these versions of Christmas classics like White Christmas (Darleen Love),  Santa Claus is Comin' to Town (The Crystals), and Frosty the Snowman (The Ronettes). Put these on and you will be rocking around the Christmas tree.

  All are available on iTunes and from Amazon. Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 19, 2008


A good friend from Dallas was at the ranch last week. We were comparing notes on live shows we saw in the good old days. He mentioned seeing Roy Buchanan in Washington DC back in the '70's.

This conversation made me realize that I had completely lost track of the music of one of the best and most underrated guitarist to ever play the blues. Although Roy Buchanan, his 1972 debut album on Polydor, was in the regular rotation on the turntable  at Floyd's Hotel in the early '70's, I never owned it since vinyl. After downloading it from iTunes this week, I have been blown away by how good it sounds today.

In the 70's, Roy had all the good  buzz. A "musician's musician", his playing was admired by John Lennon, Eric Clapton, Merle Haggard and Jeff Beck to name a few. It is part of his legend that he was invited to join the Rolling Stones, but turned them down. His great playing built up a loyal following, but not widespread fame or recognition.

Buchanan was born in California in 1939. He initially played steel guitar, but switched to guitar in the 1950's. In 1960, he joined Ronnie Hawkins as his lead guitar. He was later replaced in the band by that mathematical guitar genius, Robbie Robertson, who may have learned a lot from Roy.

Buchanan is known for the distinctive tone he was able to coax out of his trademark 1953 Telecaster. His talent is on full display on this album. It opens with his gorgeous take on Sweet Dreams. His guitar soars like no other on this beautiful instrumental version of a country classic. It is followed by Haggard's I Am a Lonesome Fugitive, which was my first taste of Merle's music. When Buchanan gets to the break on this song, it is some of the best guitar you will ever hear. The album also includes his masterpiece The Messiah Will Come Again. His guitar soars again on this instrumental work out. Every song on this album is great.

Like many musician of that era, his appetite for alcohol and drugs began taking it's toll. In August of 1988, Buchanan was arrested for public intoxication. Later that night he was found hanging in his cell at the Fairfax County jail. His death was ruled a suicide. A brilliant career cut short.

If you like guitar, this album is a must for your playlist. Available on iTunes and from Amazon.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Suggestions 2008

Blues:   My favorite music released in 2008:
  1. Asking For Flowers by Kathleen Edwards. As mentioned in my post from May 21, Kathleen is a very talented singer songwriter from Canada. Asking for Flowers is her third album and it is a good one. Anyone on your list who likes Lucinda Williams would enjoy this CD.
  2. Just Us Kids by James McMurtry. As covered in my post of May 30, this is a terrific new album from one of the best songwriters working today. On this new disk, McMurtry spins his unusual tales of modern life with a quick wit and a cynical eye. A good choice for any rock and roll fan on your list. Another idea is his 2002 masterpiece Saint Mary of the Woods, which includes the high spot, Choctaw Bingo. It is sweet tune about family and vacations.
  3. The Unreleased Recordings Hank Williams. I just got my hands on this recently and it is incredible. For anyone who has gotten confused by today's Nashville, this is wha real country music sounds like. The words are honest and the backing is great. Somebody please send a copy to Rascal Flatts.
  4. Pretty World by Sam Baker. Although this was actually released in 2007, I only started listening to it this year. A remarkable effort from an under rated Austin musician. See my post from September 9 for more details.

Booze:     I have been drinking a lot of good wine lately. What else are you going to do while watching the sky fall? Much of what I drink comes from Karen Williams and Davis Stevens at Acme Fine Wines in St Hellena California. As I mentioned in my post on April 27, they have a real talent for finding great California wines that are made in small quantities. I have never been disappointed by any of their recomendations. Check them out at

Books:    I have read a lot of fiction this year as usual. Most of it has been good entertainment, but not remarkable. Here are a few exceptions:
  1. A Most Wanted Man by John le Carre. As reported in my post on November 11, this is another great effort from the master of the spy genre, Le Carre. It is excellent.
  2. The Garden of Last Days by Andre Dubus. When I wrote about this book in a post on June 12, I took a lot of heat from some of my readers. I guess a book about strippers and terrorists doesn't have universal appeal. I stand by my recommendation. It is a very intriguing novel.
  3. The Finder by Colin Harrison. Harrison has written several novels in the last 10 years that I have enjoyed very much. He has a good eye for descriptions and his characters are well turned out. I still think that Afterburn, which was released published in 2000, is his best effort, but The Finder is quite good as well. 
  4. Lush Life by Richard Price. Although it is a little hard to follow at first, Lush Life has some great moments. Price is certainly one of our best American authors writing today.

Bobs:     I have been wanting to write a post about Dylan's Tell Tale Signs, but I haven't gotten to it yet. Naturally, any new look into Bob's unreleased catalogue is a joyful occasion for all of the faithful BobCats. This might be a tricky Christmas gift, because any real fan will have a copy already. It would be a good present for some one who should be a bigger fan. It contains some great outtakes from his recent albums.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

How Will the Wolf Survive? by Los Lobos

The 1980's were tough times for roots music. Can you remember the music on the radio in those years? Here are some of the big hits from 1980-1984: Call Me (Debbie Harry), Bette Davis Eyes (Kim Carnes), Jessie's Girl (Rick Springfield), Maniac (Michael Sembello), Karma Chameleon (Boy George). Not exactly a list of enduring hits that you will be playing for your children.

Even Bob Dylan was in a bit of a creative funk at the time. After releasing Infidels in 1983, he went into the worst slump of his career when he released Knocked Out Loaded and Down in the Groove. Those two frisbees  made Self Portrait look good. It would be 1989 before Bob rebounded with the excellent Oh Mercy. 

In 1984, I had been living in Hebbronville for two years. As part of my transition to life in South Texas, I was listening to a lot of country music. After falling in love with his duet with Willie Nelson on Poncho and Lefty, I began digging deeper into Merle Haggard's catalogue. I had also discovered Hank Jr and was listening to a lot of his music.

 There was one new album released in 1984 that really fit my ear. It was How Will the Wolf Survive? by Los Lobos. Combining tradition Mexican music and a modern Tex-Mex sound with good old rock and roll, this album was unlike anything on the radio. Produced by T-Bone Burnett, it was the major label debut of the band from Los Angeles that has gone on to recorded many fine albums.

Listening to this album today, I can't believe how good it sounds. The first cut, Don't Worry Baby, sounds like Howlin Wolf backed by the Doug Sahm's old band. It's blues. It's Tex-Mex. It's good. The album also contains several sweet gentle tracks like A Matter of Time, a brilliant song about immigration and it's effect on families, and the short instrumental, Lil' King of Everything. The band really rocks on The Breakdown and I Got Loaded. My favorite cut is Will the Wolf Survive. It captures the sound and talent of the band perfectly.

In December of 1990, I was lucky to see Los Lobos play in Houston at the Tower Theatre. They were the opening act for Steve Earl. Earle, who was also a favorite of mine at the time, was battling demons that night and he was terrible.  Los Lobos were really on fire and they blew Earle's drug and booze fueled bullshit away. It was a memorable set that really showed the talent of the players in the band.

I can remember leaving the concert being astounded by the playing of David Hidalgo. He played all kinds of guitars and also had great stage presence. I said that night: "That guy is the Mexican Eric Clapton."

How Will the Wolf Survive should be on your playlist. It is available on iTunes and from Amazon.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Atlantic City- Levon Helm- Merlefest 2008

Not as good as the version with The Band, but it still is a nice cut. Glad Levon is still out there playing.

Atlantic City by The Band

Yesterday morning when I jumped in my sled, the first song on the radio was The Band covering Springsteen's Atlantic City. Anyone who is following this blog knows that I am a huge fan of The Band. Nevertheless, this song fell through the cracks for me.

 Once Robbie left The Band and poor Richard died, I lost interest in their music. I think I was so depressed about Richard's tragic end that I didn't want to listen to their new music without him in the band.  In fact, I never bought Jericho when it was released.

Yesterday, I got very excited when I heard Levon singing this song. You might think that Levon's country vocal style wouldn't be up to the task on Bruce's story from New Jersey. Not at all. His vocal absolutely nails it and his mandolin playing is a tasty addition to the sound. All the best parts of The Band come together on this cut.

Although I am not quite as enthusiastic about the rest of the album, this song is worth owning. You can buy the whole album from iTunes or in these uncertain financial times, you can buy this cut for 99 cents. If you don't buy the whole album, you might also want to pick up the cover of Bob's Blind Willie McTell for another 99 cents. It is excellent as well.