Results for country
Mike Heidorn of Uncle Tupelo
You can trace alternative country's roots to the 1960's when rock musicians such as Gram Parsons, The Byrds and the Flatlanders began dabbling with and reinvigorating country music. It was part of a wider investigation of American roots music in rock, a move toward more“authentic”styles. These rockers looked to country greats like Hank Williams, The Carter Family, Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard for inspiration — Bob Dylan famously collaborated with Cash on "Girl From the North Country." In the '70s and early '80s, a new generation of punk rockers started digging into traditional country for inspiration, including X, The Mekons, Rank & File, Jason and the Scorchers and the Long Ryders. Then third wave of alt country hit in the late '80s and early '90s, led by The Jayhawks out of Minneapolis and Uncle Tupelo, the trio of Jay Farrar, Jeff Tweedy and Mike Heidorn, out of Belleville, Illinois, just outside St. Louis. Uncle Tupelo's debut album,“No Depression,”took its name from a Carter Family song, "No Depression in Heaven," and it's one of many the key albums in defining the alt-country movement of this era. We have this band to thank for groups like Farrar's Son Volt, Tweedy's Wilco, Ryan Adams' Whiskeytown, the Drive-By-Truckers and the Old 97's …and not to mention No Depression Magazine. Legacy Recordings recently reissued No Depression, complete with some never before released demo tracks from 1987 to 1989. And to talk about it, Jim and Greg are joined by Uncle Tupelo's founding drummer Mike Heidorn.Go to episode 442
Another California native with a country spirit is singer/songwriter Jenny Lewis. The Rilo Kiley frontwoman joins Jim and Greg to talk about her latest solo album, Rabbit Fur Coat. Last year Rilo Kiley achieved some success with their second album More Adventurous, and even opened for Coldplay and played at Coachella. Therefore, the timing of this solo project seems to be curious. As Jenny explains, however, doing solo projects and side projects has always been apart of her band's experience. She previously worked with Ben Gibbard on The Postal Service, and Rilo Kiley bandmate Blake Sennett has another band called The Elected.
One of Jenny's motivations for this solo album was her desire to sing with women. She is joined on Rabbit Fur Coat and in our studio by The Watson Twins, Chandra and Leigh Watson. Jenny explains that she grew up singing with her mother and was inspired by albums like Gonna Take a Miracle by Laura Nyro and LaBelle.
It should be noted that Jenny didn‘t just grow up singing. She was also a fairly successful child actress and appeared in ’80s movies like Troop Beverly Hills and The Wizard. She explores some of that history on the album. She also addresses people who are skeptical of her authenticity — being that she was born in Las Vegas and bred in L.A. rather than Kentucky. But, as Jenny points out and as listeners learned in the previous segment, California and towns like Bakersfield have significant country roots. Oddly enough, Jenny is not the only member of Rilo Kiley to have that dreaded“child actor”label. Blake Sennett was a regular on shows like Boy Meets World and Salute Your Shorts.Go to episode 19
Considering that Rosanne Cash was born into music royalty, she's a veteran of the business. But that hasn't stopped her from blazing her own trail. The eldest daughter of Johnny Cash, Rosanne, too, is something of a maverick, never fitting into any proper "Country" or "Rock" cagetories. She eschewed the binding confines of Nashville for New York City, where she lives with husband and musical partner John Leventhal. Rosanne recently released her 13th studio album, The River and the Thread, and she joined us for a special live performance at the WXPN studios in Philadelphia. She talked with Jim and Greg about her father's legacy, working with her husband, breaking away from the Nashville industrial complex, and how she can write a beautiful song based on a tweet.Go to episode 452
Shamir has been on Jim and Greg's radar since they caught him at last year's SXSW Music Conference. Born Shamir Bailey, the 21-year-old Las Vegas native has been stylistically restless his whole life. He formed an indie pop duo in high school, explored a love of country music, and incorporates the sounds of vintage Chicago house and disco on his electronic pop recordings. After being blown away by a demo tape, producer and music writer Nick Sylvester took an interest in Shamir. Sylvester's GODMODE label released the North Town EP in 2014, followed by a debut full-length called Ratchet in 2015. Ratchet earned widespread critical acclaim, including high spots in both Jim and Greg's best of the year lists. Shamir stopped by the Sound Opinions studios a few months back and, after greeting the entire staff with hugs, sat down with Jim and Greg for a stripped-down performance on acoustic guitar and piano and a conversation.Go to episode 530
To put it simply, The Mekons are a bit of an enigma. The 40-year-old band hails from the English punk scene, with contemporaries including The Sex Pistols and The Clash. However since 1977, The Mekons have been writing their own unique narrative. The group worshipped American roots music from artists like Hank Williams, and blended their raucous live performance style with sounds of punk, country, folk and more. The Mekons have always had a revolving line-up, and three members joined Jim and Greg for a chat and live performance: Jon Langford, Tom Greenhalgh and Lu Edmonds. They talk about their long career, a short stint on a major label and the unusual methods used to record their latest album, Existentalism.Go to episode 578
In preparation for this week's guest, Steve Wynn, Jim and Greg do a little primer on the Paisley Underground music scene that developed in California in the 1980s. Jim plays a song by one of the seminal bands of this scene, The 3 O'Clock, whose very psychedelic name was inspired by Tom Wolfe's assertion in "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" that if one drops acid in the early evening, the high of the trip will occur at 3:00 a.m. The 3 O'Clock was helmed by Michael Quercio, a musician who started as a punk rocker. After discovering psychedelic rock, however, his sound, and his look, began to change. It was Cuercio's affinity for the music of the '60s, as well as the brightly colored paisley clothes, that gave this scene its name. While the name did not do the music justice, the influence of the Paisley Underground on contemporary bands like Oasis and The Secret Machines is undeniable.
It may surprise to listeners who are only familiar with "Walk Like an Egyptian," but The Bangles were also pioneers of the Paisley Underground. Their original sound, with its three- and four-part harmonies and sing-songy melodies, paralleled that of The Mamas and the Papas and The Byrds. Lead singer Susanna Hoffs continues to work in this genre; she and '90s indie pop star Matthew Sweet just released a 1960s covers album featuring songs by The Left Banke, The Beach Boys and The Who.
Greg points out that the Paisley Underground sound was not a homogenous one — in fact, what bonded these bands was a punk sensibility that welcomed other musical styles. Unlike many other punk bands at the time, these acts didn't see why they had to conform to a strict policy of three-minute, Ramones-style songs. And what's more punk rock than non-conformity? One band that went above and beyond its punk and psychedelic influences was The Long Ryders. They took more of a country approach and can be seen as pioneers of the alternative country scene that now houses bands like Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt, and The Bottle Rockets.
The Rain Parade is the next Paisley Underground band up for discussion. While the members of The Rain Parade never saw the major label success like their peers in The Bangles or The 3 O'Clock (who were signed to Prince's Paisley Park label), many went on to work on successful projects. David Robeck formed the band Mazzy Star, which had an alternative hit single with "Fade Into You" in 1993 and Matt Piucci went on to work with Crazy Horse. The remaining bandmates reincarnated themselves as Viva Saturn.
Greg plays a song featuring this week's guest, Steve Wynn. His band The Dream Syndicate was a group that both Jim and Greg became fans of in the early '80s. They emerged in LA as one of the pioneers of the Paisley Underground sound. Steve then released a number of solo records and has spent the last few years with his most recent band, The Miracle 3. Steve and his band members, Linda Pitmon, Dave DeCastro and Kirk Swan, joined Jim and Greg for an interview and performance at the Chicago Recording Company.
The Dream Syndicate never made it into the 1990s, but its innovative sound continued to influence artists. While other LA bands at the time, like Black Flag, Social Distortion and Bad Religion, were making post-punk and punk music with a really hard edge, The Dream Syndicate stuck to a swirlier, psychedelic pop sound. For this reason, Jim and Greg explain, no matter how many solo projects he embarks on, our guest will most likely always be remembered as the lead singer of The Dream Syndicate.
After playing a track from Days of Wine and Roses, which Greg calls one of the masterpieces of the Paisley Underground era, our host asks Steve about the chemistry between two guitarists. In this case, Steve's partner in guitar is Kirk Swan, who was in another innovative '80s indie pop band, Dumptruck, Steve responds that the basic formula of guitar, drums, and bass is simple, but never gets old. He points to bands like Neil Young and Crazy Horse and Television as examples.
Jim asks Steve about why he continues on in this business after so many years. As Steve jokes on his website, this new album is one of several“comebacks,”but music is not such an easy life to come back to. After being pegged the“new Springsteen,”Steve and the band had somewhat of a difficult time. He explains how that hurt the band (and indirectly how he hurt Jim one drunken night). Thankfully they both came out on the other side.Go to episode 21
She & Him
This week's guests are She & Him, the“she”being Zooey Deschanel and the“him”being Matt Ward, known to fans as M. Ward. The two met during the making of the movie“The Go-Getter”and quickly learned they were successful collaborators. She & Him's first album Volume One, is a collection of songs written by Zooey, as well as a couple of covers. Zooey explains that she's most influenced by classic pop songwriting, much of which pre-dates rock and roll. You can hear the country, doo-wop and Brill-building influence on the duo's music as they perform their songs "Take It Back" and "You've Really Got a Hold on Me" as well as two bonus tracks.
Zooey and Matt's visit to the show prompted Jim and Greg to think about other Hollywood crossover attempts — both hits and misses. Here are some other musical actors:
- Eddie Murphy
- Ricky Nelson
- Brandon Cruz
- Will Oldham
- Scarlett Johansen
- William Shatner
And many more…Go to episode 142
Veteran roots rocker Alejandro Escovedo has dabbled in everything from punk to folk to country, and it shows on his new album Real Animal. He stops by the Sound Opinions studio to talk with Jim and Greg about his long solo career and how after 30 years he's finally getting more mainstream recognition. But, while he hasn't always been a household name, Escovedo has always had famous fans, including The Boss himself. You can hear "Always a Friend" the song he recently performed with Bruce Springsteen, as well as all his live tracks here.Go to episode 156
Country and punk might seem like strange musical bedfellows, but don't tell that to Lydia Loveless. On her new record Indestructible Machine, the rising alt-country star sings country songs about small town life, drinking too much, and cheating partners with a punk rock snarl. She performs a few of those tracks live in the studio this week. Lydia's embrace of country and punk has a lot to do with her upbringing. She grew up in Coshocton, a small town in rural Ohio where her dad booked country bands. By the time she was thirteen she was playing new wave music in Columbus bars with her sisters. Lydia chafed at her parochial surroundings as a teen, and that angst continues to inform her songwriting. If nothing else, Coshocton provided Lydia with ample material. Just take a listen to her performance of "Steve Earle," a tune about her hometown stalker.Go to episode 348
Joe Nick Patoski
This week Jim and Greg are joined by Texas music authority Joe Nick Patoski for a discussion about the life and career of Willie Nelson. In his many decades making music, Willie has never fit into any boxes—rock/country, religious/profane. But, as Patoski reveals in his book Willie Nelson: An Epic Life, that is what makes him such an amazing musician and such a thriving American icon. Jim and Greg discuss with Joe Nick the difficulties Willie had in making the transition from a songwriter to a successful solo artist. They also talk about his family history, his outlaw status, both literal and figurative, and his role as the“zen bubba”of pot.Go to episode 180
She & Him
This week's guests are She & Him. The“she”is actress Zooey Deschanel and the“him”is musician Matt Ward, known to fans as M. Ward. The two met during the making of the movie“The Go-Getter,”and quickly learned they were successful collaborators. They visited the show in 2008 after the release of their first album Volume One. The record is a collection of songs written by Zooey, as well as a couple of covers. Zooey explains that she's most influenced by classic pop songwriting, much of which pre-dates rock ‘n’ roll. You can hear the country, doo-wop and Brill Building influence on the duo's music as they perform their songs "Take It Back" and "You've Really Got a Hold on Me" as well as two bonus tracks.Go to episode 196
Frequently on the show Jim and Greg like to take on a single music genre-often one that needs a little more TLC. And perhaps no genre is more maligned, especially in the rock world, than Country Music. We‘ve all joked about the lyrical clich’es-women, booze, death and dogs. And we all know that there's a lot of bad, over-produced arena country dominating today's scene. But, this week's guest thinks country has gotten a bad rap. Chrissie Dickinson began her career as a punk rocker, but in the 1990's she had a country epiphany. Eventually she went on to edit The Journal of Country Music. She admits that“hat acts”like Garth Brooks have not been great for the Nashville sound, but doesn‘t think that artists should get dismissed merely because they’ve gone pop. Even Patsy Cline was pop-country, or“countrypolitan.”Chrissie hopes that rock fans will be willing to add mainstream Nashville artists like Alan Jackson and Vince Gill to their“country cred”collection of Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn.Go to episode 241
As 2006 comes to end, Jim and Greg take a look back at the year in music — the good, the bad, and the ugly — and give out their annual“Soopie Awards.” Here are this year's winners:
The 14:59 Award: Kevin Federline. The dancer turned husband turned wannabe rapper started off this year with a new single, "Popozao," and a new hope for a better, bill-free, life. Now K-Fed is a soon-to-be twice-divorced father of four who was dumped via text message and booed by fans on the same night. The clock is ticking…
The Most Clichéd Criminal Act Award: Snoop Dogg. Rapper Snoop Dogg was arrested a number of times this year, but the final criminal act really took the cake. He was stopped after an appearance on The Tonight Show with what must be the gangsta rap starter kit — pot, cocaine and a weapon — soon to be available at a Wal-Mart near you.
The Award for Rock Aging Gracefully: The Sex Pistols. Upon receiving an invitation to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Sex Pistols responded thusly. Sound Opinions H.Q. is glad the punk spirit is still alive somewhere.
The Award for Rock Aging Poorly: CBGB's. One place the punk spirit isn't alive is Las Vegas. Yet that's exactly where the original Lower East Side punk headquarters is relocating. We just hope Patti Smith doesn't join Celine for an extended residency.
The Best New Sheriff in Town Award: Eliot Spitzer. 2006 was a big year for the Attorney General. Mr. Spitzer not only won the office of Governor of the State of New York, but he also brought down some of the giants in the music industry who continued the practice of payola. He received his largest settlement from Universal Music (which checked off all major record labels) and is now moving on to radio.
The“Hootie”the F** Are You? Award*: three-way tie between Rascal Flatts, The Fray & KT Tunstall. No one seems to know who you are, but your names continue to appear on the charts. Jim and Greg can only blame this on the Hootie effect.
The Politics Paying Too Big a Price Award: Dixie Chicks. After telling a British audience that she's ashamed the President is a fellow Texas native, Natalie Maines and her fellow Dixie Chicks have been boycotted by country radio stations and have been forced to cancel many tour dates. Jim and Greg wonder whatever happened to free speech?
The Politics Not Paying Enough of a Price Award: Barbra Streisand. Maybe we'll rethink that free speech thing… On her recent tour, the always liberal Barbra Streisand decided to incorporate political satire and sketches into her performance. After paying hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars for tickets, many audience members wished Babs would just stick to singing. Jim and Greg agree.
Award for Best Rock Couple. Nominees: Paul McCartney and Heather Mills; Kim and Marshall Mathers; Kid Rock and Pamela Anderson. The Winner: Jay-Z and Nas. They've been“beefing”for years, and made their careers dissing one another. But now pure friendship (aka Def Jam and profit-sharing) have brought them together. Thank God those two kids worked it out!
From all of us at Sound Opinions, Happy New Year!Go to episode 57
There's a whole word of holiday music out in the universe besides the tired recordings you hear endlessly year after year. Nobody knows that better than holiday music collector and expert Andy Cirzan. Each year, Andy joins Jim and Greg for our Holiday Spectacular, sharing an hour of incredible unknown Christmas records he's picked up over years of scouring bargain bins throughout the country. This year, Andy leads us into the deep woods of the South to present rare country, bluegrass, and hillbilly Christmas songs from a bygone era.
As a special bonus, listeners are invited to download Andy Cirzan's accompanying holiday compilation for FREE at christmas.soundopinions.org. The mix will only be up until the end of 2015, so get it while the yule log is hot! And happy holidays from Sound Opinions!Go to episode 525
Eagles Long Road Out of Eden
So consumers are excited about Long Road Out of Eden, but how do Jim and Greg feel? Greg explains that with the exception of mentions of“cell phones”and“SUV's,”this album could just as easily have been made in 1980 as 2007. Don Henley and Glenn Frey are still up to their old tricks, mixing country and rock with a hint of sentimentality. In fact, while their country-rock fusion sound was radical in the 1970s, it's the norm in Nashville today. Greg hears nothing on this record that needs hearing, and recommends fans of the band check out their 1990 greatest hits album. Jim completely agrees; he doesn't want to hear Don Henley preaching about the sorry state of the world, particularly when the band agreed to sell its soul to Wal-Mart. But, more egregious than the terrible lyrics is the sleepy sound. The Eagles managed to be both irritating and boring, so they get a double Trash It.
Lydia Loveless Indestructible Machine
At just 23, Lydia Loveless already has three albums worth of romantic troubles, documented with amazing emotion. The latest, Somewhere Else, might be the best yet, according to Jim and Greg. Greg enjoys the way she arranges the songs in a slightly melancholic country style. He was blown away by her last release, Indestructible Machine in 2012 (especially the songs she performed in our studio). But this album is a step above. Greg says Buy It. Jim hears Loveless going all over the pop spectrum, name dropping Tommy Tutone and pulling out a great cover of a song by the underrated '90s artist, Kirsty MacColl. And throughout it all she maintains her own identity. He seconds the Buy It.
Lydia Loveless Real
This week Jim and Greg review the new record by country singer-songwriter Lydia Loveless, Real. Loveless is back at her signature songwriting with themes about small town lives and everyday events. Greg loves that she has stepped up her songwriting and singing to be more refined and honest, and gives this a Buy It. Jim agrees, pointing out that there is a whole range of songs on this record unlike what previous ones had, from pop to sparse acoustic to new wave, but all with her country flair in them. Real gets an enthusiastic Buy It from both Jim and Greg.
First Aid Kit Stay Gold
The Swedish duo First Aid Kit has released its 3rd album and its major label debut, Stay Gold. The band mixes 1970's folk rock with pop and country. Greg says this record is the darkest in their catalogue, but it's not despairing. They make the pain sound bare able. He says they are not doing anything new sonically, but its a tight, efficient, beautiful album. That said, their best record is yet to come. Therefore he gives Stay Gold a Try It rating. Jim thinks Greg is not giving this release enough credit. He loves hearing this foreign take on American roots music and says Buy It rating.
Bob Dylan Shadows in the Night
One of Bob Dylan's strengths is his ability to reinvent himself, especially in the '90s when he became his own producer under the pseudonym Jack Frost. Now in his seventies, he consistently takes his touring band into the studio every few years, giving his career a new surge of energy. So it's with that goal that he gives us Shadows in the Night, which is built around songs recorded by Frank Sinatra. Jim recognizes that while Dylan and Sinatra are two of the most important voices in the last half-century, they don't go well together. Dylan is great when he sings songs that suit him (folk, country) but it just doesn't work here; he gives it a Trash It. Greg believes that the production of this album and the choices Dylan made saved the record. He said if you care for Bob Dylan at all you should take a listen, giving it a Try It.
Lucinda Williams Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone
Lucinda Williams has never been known as a prolific alternative country singer-songwriter. At 61-years old, she's always taken her time crafting her albums, and her latest in three years, Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone, is no exception. However, Williams surprises Jim and Greg with her newest, having not just one, but two discs full of over 100 minutes of new material. Greg thinks she should have pared the track listing down a bit, but overall, he enjoys the album's loose vibe and shaggy instrumentation. The sprawling album is worth getting lost in in order to unearth the best of William's sincere, passionate - and sometimes seething - songwriting. Greg says Buy It. Jim seconds Greg's rating, saying if you can warm up to William's slurred vocals and the album's decidedly un-cheery tone, you‘ll be rewarded with an intimate look through the life and times of one of music’s great pioneers.
Johnny Cash American V: A Hundred Highways
This Independence Day also marked the release of a new posthumous album from country legend Johnny Cash. American V: A Hundred Highways is the latest in a series of collaborations between Cash and producer Rick Rubin. As Jim and Greg explain, this was an unlikely partnership resulting in extraordinary music. Rubin, who has mostly worked in the rock and rap arenas with such acts as Run DMC and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, brought a new perspective to Cash's music. He highlighted the strength of Cash's vocals and introduced him to songs by Roberta Flack and Nine Inch Nails. But, both Jim and Greg agree that the collaboration was less than amazing this time around. Cash began recording these songs in 2003, after the death of his wife June Carter and shortly before his own, and you can hear his failing health in his voice. Greg likens the experience to that of listening to Billie Holiday's final recording, Lady in Satin. Both albums leave the listener feeling like a voyeur intruding on the singer's pain and sadness. Jim misses the sense of joy and triumph that Rubin helped bring to Cash's work in the last few years. He wishes that the music had a little more“middle finger”in it, referring to the team's famous Billboard ad in which Cash gives the country music establishment the bird. Therefore, both critics can only give American V a Burn It rating, and instead direct fans to two other releases: Personal File and the American Records box set, Unearthed.
She and Him Volume Two
This episode's review is She and Him's Volume Two. The duo of Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward are back for a second collaboration. Jim and Greg both enjoyed their previous album, as well as their performance on Sound Opinions. Jim, however, is very disappointed in the 2nd volume. He calls it predictable and pedestrian, and thinks it sounds more like Deschanel's cotton commercial than their older Brill-Building, cabaret songs. He gives the record a Trash It rating. Greg thinks the album is more diverse and surprising than Jim gives it credit for. He is impressed with Deschanel's range and heard everything from country to flamenco to piano pop. Greg thinks Volume Two is better than One and gives the album a Buy It.
Lucinda Williams West
It may not be fair, but Lucinda Williams gets to follow the Ramones. Her new album, West, was released last week. This is Williams‘ eighth album in a 28-year career that has established her as one of music’s premiere singer/songwriters. Williams grew up steeped in literature and poetry as well as rock, country and folk music, and that background has really affected her sound. This album is in the same vein, but takes a somewhat different turn with producer Hal Wilner. Jim loves what Wilner contributes to the album. It feels like you are right there with Lucinda, who is“venting her spleen.”But, Jim has to wonder if everything is OK in the Williams household. The album is just too dark, and too oppressive. He gives it a Burn It. Greg agrees that people should hide their razor blades while listening to this album, but notes that Wilner is really effective at setting a mood and putting William's voice in the forefront. He just wishes that she varied the musical palette more on West. He'd like to hear more songs like the fiery "Come On." It's another Burn It for Greg.
Steve Earle Washington Square Serenade
The album up for review this week is Washington Square Serenade by veteran roots-rocker Steve Earle. This is Earle's 12th studio album, and was partly inspired by his 7th wife. The singer/songwriter has always combined rock, folk and country with strong political messages, but, now he's adding“happiness”to the mix. As you can hear in many of the album's songs, Earle is very much in love with new wife Allison Moorer, who also appears on the record. Another new person in Earle's life is Dust Brothers producer John King, who has previously crafted albums for Beck and the Beastie Boys. King brought in elements of hip hop and Latin music, and Jim loves the results. It took him longer to get into Washington Square Serenade, than any other Earle album, but with the exception of two bum tracks, he gives it a Try It. Greg is less pleased with the happy Steve Earle. He explains that with the new wife, producer and location, this effort has all the trappings of a“mid-life crisis”recording. Only some of it works for Greg, and he misses the political broadsides of previous albums. Greg also gives Washington Square Serenade a Try It.
Alejandro Escovedo The Boxing Mirror
Eno's occasional partner in crime, John Cale, also makes an appearance in this week's show, having produced the latest release from Alejandro Escovedo. The Boxing Mirror is the ninth album from the musician, who can only be described as part-punk, part-country and part-rock. Escovedo grew up admiring the Velvet Underground, and Jim and Greg agree that the match between him and Cale is one made in heaven. Jim has never been a major fan of Escovedo's singer/songwriter style, but he thinks this is his best solo effort, perhaps due to Escovedo's newly found lust for life. He survived a life-threatening outbreak of Hepatitis C a couple years ago, and the music demonstrates that he is indeed very happy to be alive. Greg agrees and compares Escovedo's renewal to that experienced by Neil Young. Both albums give The Boxing Mirror a Buy It and urge fans try to see Escovedo, along with musicians like Susan Voelz, perform live.
The Raconteurs Broken Boy Soldiers
The next album up for review is Broken Boy Soldiers by The Raconteurs. The Raconteurs is a side-project for Jack White of The White Stripes. He is joined by power popster (and fellow Michigan native) Brendan Benson as well as members of garage band The Greenhornes. This marks a bit of a departure for White, who favors a much more minimalist approach with the White Stripes, and Greg is not entirely impressed. He feels that too much of the record is merely a classic rock imitation. Greg suspects that White ceded too much power to Brendan Benson, and wishes that he made more innovative musical choices, as he did on the album he produced for country star Loretta Lynn. Broken Boy Soldiers gets a Burn It from this critic. Jim, however, cannot stop listening to The Raconteurs, and for him that's all that matters. Rock and roll has never been about originality, and according to Jim, every song is catchy and energetic. Jim would Buy It.
Allen Toussaint & Elvis Costello River in Reverse
Elvis Costello, the singer/songwriter who has taken on New Wave, punk, ska, country and pop, is tackling R&B on his latest release, The River in Reverse. The album is a collaboration between Costello and Allen Toussaint, the multi-talented New Orleans musician. Toussaint is responsible for hits like "Working in a Coal Mine," "I Like It Like That," and "Lady Marmalade," and has worked with The Band, Paul Simon and The Meters. The two collaborated after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, but neither Jim nor Greg think Costello's voice is up to the task of handling Toussaint's songs. Costello is a name that can garner attention for Toussaint, and Greg knows that his heart is in the right place, but it is only a Burn It record for both critics.
Dixie Chicks Taking the Long Way
Three years after telling a London audience, ""We're ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas," Natalie Maines and her fellow Dixie Chicks are making headlines again with a new album. And, with singles like "Not Ready to Make Nice," the statement they want to make is clear. Some of their critics might have desired an apology, but on Taking the Long Way, they receive no such thing. Because of this, the band is again being rejected by certain country radio programmers. The real issue, however, is whether or not audiences will embrace the album, which is not a straight-up country record. Produced by Rick Rubin, and written with help from Sheryl Crow and members of Semisonic and The Jayhawks, it has more of a California-rock feel. Jim appreciates that they moved away from the Top 40 Country, but wishes they had taken it even farther, towards a more authentic, alt-country roots sound like Jenny Lewis or Neko Case. He gives it a Burn It. Greg is most taken with Natalie Maines‘ vocals, but also can’t recommend that people buy the album. However, he does think that anyone interested in music should hear it and gives Taking the Long Way another Burn It.
Jimmie Vaughn Plays More Blues, Ballads & Favorites
Guitarist Jimmie Vaughn's new album is Plays More Blues, Ballads & Favorites, and as the title suggests, the concept is pretty simple. This record has the former Thunderbird playing the songs he grew up with - deep cuts of blues, R&B and country - with accompaniment by guest vocalists like Lou Ann Barton. In fact, Jim wishes Barton was more than just a guest. He finds the strongest tracks are the ones where she is singing, not Vaughn. So he gives the record a Burn It rating. Greg really appreciates his guitar style-it's more terse and incisive than that of brother Stevie Ray. Kind of a“say it and get out”approach. Also, he appreciates the deep cuts on Plays More. Greg says Buy It.
Wanda Jackson Unfinished Business
Wanda Jackson, Queen of Rockabilly since 1954, is out with a new album. Unfinished Business - like last year's The Party Ain't Over - is produced by a young fan. This time, Jim explains, it's Justin Townes Earle, not Jack White, at the helm. Neither Jim nor Greg was a fan of the Caribbean-flavored, White-produced The Party Ain't Over. Does Earle fare better? Greg says yes. You have to remember, he says, that in addition to being rockabilly royalty, Jackson has a background in country and gospel. She sounds perfectly at home covering artists like Freddy King and Etta James. Greg gives Unfinished Business a Buy It. Jim agrees that Earle played it smart by keeping Wanda in her comfort zone and allowing her feistiness to shine through. But he says there are three or four other Jackson albums he'd recommend over this one. He gives Unfinished Business a Burn It.
Robert Plant lullaby and…The Ceaseless Roar
For over half a century, Robert Plant has been making music and pushing the boundaries of rock ‘n’ roll. But despite being known as the Golden God of Led Zeppelin, most of those years were actually spent doing solo work and special projects, many of which incorporate wide range of American and international folk sounds, from Appalachia to the Middle East. Now he's back with his backing band the Sensational Space Shifters with the release lullaby and…The Ceaseless Roar. Again you can hear West African poly—rhythms, Southern blues tones, and country music influences, proving that, as Jim put it,“Plant does whatever he wants.”Despite his respect for Plant's never-ending pursuit of the new, Jim wonders how much of this adoration should be credited to the 17-year-old Zep fan version of himself. So he says Try It. Greg, on the other hand, truly enjoyed the contemplative and quiet side of the“more tender Plant”displayed on this record and gladly prescribes a Buy It.
In his Desert Island Jukebox pick for this week, Greg pays tribute to the late country legend Guy Clark, who died on May 17 at age 74. Although he was never as well known as some of his contemporaries, Greg wants to emphasize Clark's influence as a songwriter and his reputation among Texas musicians for his generosity and musicianship. He wrote about drifters and rebels and mentored many prominent country musicians. Greg selects the song Desperados Waiting For A Train from the 1975 album Old Number One as an example of the kind of sparse, raw songs that Guy Clark was best at writing.Go to episode 556
Buddy Harman, one of music's great drummers, died this week at the age of 79. Greg explains that Harman was to Nashville what Benny Benjamin was to Detroit or what Hal Blaine was to Los Angeles. He helped define that sound and played on over 18,000 albums. Drumming wasn't even a major part of country music prior to Harman's residency. Just consider what "Pretty Woman" would be without that drum beat. In honor of Harman's passing, Greg chooses to add Elvis Presley's "Little Sister" to the Desert Island Jukebox this week. In addition to proving that Presley still had the chops after his stint in the military, the song showcases Harman's terrific drumming.Go to episode 144
Jim's list of favorite country tunes runs short, but he's got a soft spot for Bobby Gentry's country-pop crossover hit "Ode to Billie Joe". A story-song about what happened one fateful evening on the Choctaw Ridge and the Tallahassee Bridge, "Ode to Billie Joe" revolves around one central question: what did Billie Joe toss into the river before he killed himself? Stranded on the Desert Island, Jim has plenty of time to ponder that mystery.Go to episode 405
On his latest trip to the desert island, Greg pays tribute to an unsung musical hero who passed away more than 20 years ago. Mississippi-born guitarist and singer Ted Hawkins was often found on Venice Beach strumming along to folk, blues, and country standards, but occasionally - often at the behest of an awestruck passerby - he made his way into a recording studio. One such occasion came after Hawkins spent a lengthy stint in jail working through a heroin addiction. The album Hawkins cut after his release, Happy Hour, features the poignant track "Bad Dog" which Greg sees as the perfect metaphor for the late soulman's erratic life and career, and the perfect song to get a sense of what the man was all about.Go to episode 448
Lost in the global media spotlight on Prince's death was the passing of another important musical innovator – guitarist Lonnie Mack, who died at 74 on April 21. Born an Indiana farmboy, Mack inspired generations of artists by blending country, blues, and soul on his famous Flying V guitar. He was one of the first to turn the whammy bar into a true textural instrument. But Greg feels Mack's vocal style is sadly underrated. He was a true soul singer, and Greg calls his recording of "Why" from the 1963 debut album The Wham of That Memphis Man! one of the great vocal performances of the era. Because of that, it's Greg's Desert Island Jukebox selection of the week.Go to episode 545
Greg's been in a Joni Mitchell phase, and is particularly smitten with the singer/songwriter's 1976 release For the Roses. Between her folk phase and her avant-jazz phase, she released this record with the track "You Turn Me On, I'm a Radio". Is it directed towards a romantic figure? Or a record company one? Add that question to the layers of sounds and influences from country to Latin to jazz, and you've got one wonderfully complicated song.Go to episode 375
Health care reform is a huge issue for every American - even rock fans. This week Jimand Greg again become Rock Doctors to help a listener with a musical-medical problem. Their patient: the newly 40-year-old Dan from Oakland, CA. Dan contacted Sound Opinions complaining of a musical midlife crisis. He spends most of his time listening to FM radio, which these days is dominated by commercial countryand hip-hop. What he likes about country music and hip-hop is the storytelling, so that is where Jim and Greg start with their prescriptions.
Dr. DeRogatis recommends former Grandaddy frontman Jason Lytle's debut solo record Yours Truly, the Commuter. Lytle isn‘t a country singer, but he weaves complicated tales in his music. And as Dan explains, just add a pickup truck and a bottle of beer to some of his stories, and you’re all set.
Dr. Kot prescribes Real Animal by Alejandro Escovedo. The rock veteran takes a musical tour of his life, referencing a number of artists that influenced him along the way. Dan was completely sucked in by this rock life story and will definitely take this medicine again.
To apply for an appointment with the Rock Doctors or nominate someone in need of urgent assistance, send a message to email@example.com.Go to episode 193
Jim and Greg take time to pay tribute to Buck Owens. The country pioneer died recently at the age of 76 and was buried this week in his hometown of Bakersfield, CA. While most of the headlines simply refer to Owens as the“star of Hee Haw,”he made significant contributions to rock and country music. According to Greg, he was one of the first musicians to use the Telecaster. You can hear some of that great, gritty fuzz tone in "Who's Gonna Mow Your Grass." He also played with the original alt-country rebel, Merle Haggard. Owens was not the cornpone country singer that Hee Haw made him out to be, and for this reason he was respected by people like The Beatles, Dwight Yoakam and Steve Earle.Go to episode 19
With the release of Nielsen's SoundScan year-end sales figures for 2013, Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines has officially been crowned the top-selling single of the year with 6.5 million units. Hot on Thicke's heels were Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' Thrift Shop and Imagine Dragons' Radioactive with 6.15 million and 5.5 million respectively. Turning to albums, Justin Timberlake claimed the top spot with 2.43 million copies of The 20/20 Experience sold. Though, Jim and Greg note that the album's numbers happen to be the lowest sales for a #1 record in Nielsen history.
The report also revealed other interesting trends in the music industry. Vinyl record enthusiasts continued to show the love for LPs in 2013 with sales up 33% over the year before. People loved streaming their music, as well, but digital sales were down 6%. This has Jim and Greg wondering: is the stream going to kill the download?
Speaking of death and downloads… Last week, Jim and Greg reported the loss of pioneering country rocker Phil Everly. Apparently they weren‘t the only ones mourning. In the week after Phil’s passing, fans downloaded 18,000 Everly Brothers songs, a whopping 696% increase from the previous week. Dying, it turns out, can be a great career move.
Coachella Music Festival has released its full 2014 lineup. In addition to top headliners Arcade Fire, Muse, and OutKast (who are reuniting for the first time since 2007), the desert super-show will feature Girl Talk, Lana Del Rey, Motörhead, Lorde, plus two bonus reunions: The Replacements and Neutral Milk Hotel.
In other live music news, the NFL has beefed up its plans for the Super Bowl XLVIII halftime show. Just in case main act Bruno Mars wasn‘t enough to satisfy America’s burning need for overhyped pop spectacle, the Red Hot Chili Peppers will be joining him onstage. What a combination, Greg laments.
If the Nielsen numbers were any sign, streaming music is here to stay. And now another big player is hoping to break into that (already crowded) market: Beats Music. Spearheaded by Dr. Dre, Trent Reznor, and record exec Jimmy Iovine, the new streaming service aims to offer a more curated listening experience than its competitors. Rather than using algorithms to help users find music, Beats will rely on experts from Pitchfork, Rolling Stone—and your esteemed Sound Opinions hosts! But Jim and Greg wanted to know how the service compensates artists and labels, something for which Spotify and Pandora have taken flak. CEO Ian Rogers explains that because Beats Music won‘t be available for free, the company will pay extra for each song streamed. With the majority of every subscription fee going toward giving rights holders their fair share, Rogers says that what’s good for Beats Music is good for the industry.Go to episode 425
Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton recently released an official Spotify playlist for her 2016 campaign, featuring the likes of Katy Perry and Ariana Grande. Jim doubts that Clinton made the playlist herself, suggesting that the featured artists are more in tune with the tastes of a young campaign staffer. But President Obama's playlist is more authentic, featuring tracks by The Tempations, The Isley Brothers, and even one of Jim's favorite bands, Low Cut Connie. But this isn‘t to say that Obama’s playlist is flawless – Jim is sorely disappointed by the Coldplay pick.
Speaking of presidential candidates, New Jersey governor Chris Christie recently issued a statement proclaiming his adoration for Bruce Springsteen. The politician writes that the Boss“gave voice to the suburban kids like me who were filled with dreams and doubts. He was one of us.”Christie goes so far as to say "Born to Run is my Desert Island disc." Greg is surprised by the pick, given Christie's preference for Bon Jovi, another New Jersey native. Jim thinks that his home state has quite a lot to be embarrassed about these days.
From time to time Jim and Greg like to sit down and take a look at the Billboard Chart to discuss the country's most popular albums. Country rocker Luke Bryan is at #1 with his new album Kill the Lights, but Jim doesn‘t see what’s so great about this seemingly generic country music. Familiar artists Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift continue to dominate, with the #2 and #7 records, respectively. Greg is happy to see former The Voice contestant Melanie Martinez on the charts, a former member of Jim's favorite artist Adam Levine's team. And let's not forget about the #8 artist, Bullet for my Valentine, a Welsh heavy metal band that Jim and Greg just can't get enough of. But perhaps the most interesting chart topper this week is Elvis Presley, whose retrospective album Elvis Forever is selling big in your local Post Office.Go to episode 509
Phil Everly died on January 3 at age 74 and as Jim explains, modern music wouldn't be what it is without The Everly Brothers making the connection between country, hillbilly folk and rock ‘n’ roll. It was Phil who hit the high harmony, inspiring countless vocal groups like The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel and The Beach Boys. And you can hear this timeless, forlorn cry in songs like "When Will I Be Loved" from 1960. Don't bother with Norah Jones and Billie Joe Armstrong's tribute to the brother duo, which recently received a Trash It rating from Jim and Greg. But, do check out efforts by The Chapin Sisters and Dawn McCarthy and Bonny“Prince”Billy.Go to episode 424
George Jones was one of the greatest voices in 20th century music. Period. So even non-country fans will miss Texas singer, who died recently at age 81.“No Show Jones”had a long, very public battle with alcoholism. And he was no stranger to divorce. But when he sang about these issues, it was never corn pone clich'es. As Greg explains, George was nothing if not authentic. And that's what made his relationship to fans so strong. To say goodbye to George Jones, Jim and Greg play what many believe is the best country song ever written: "He Stopped Loving Her Today."Go to episode 388
This week saw a major turn of events for the music industry. For almost as long as rock has existed, Elvis Presley has been“The King.”He earned this moniker not just for being worshipped by fans, but also for being the reigning leader in record sales. Well, it looks like the king is about to be overthrown…by Garth Brooks. According to the RIAA, the country star is only 2.5 million copies shy of reaching Elvis‘ record of 118.5 million albums sold. Jim notes that some“fuzzy math”is responsible for this achievement (as is often the case when electing new leaders). Brooks’ recent five-CD boxed set, The Limited Series, has been repackaged and remarketed, and while profits have not been huge, each boxed set actually counts for five separate sales. So at that rate, Brooks (and Gaines?) is sure to catch up to our original down-home legend. Greg is concerned that come Armageddon, when we are judged not by our sins, but by our music purchases, we will all face a very dark fate.
Residents of the Sydney suburb Rockdale face no less dark a fate. It was recently announced that for the next six months, the music of Barry Manilow will be blasted throughout the streets in order to curb the bad behavior of the local riff-raff. The city council hopes that this "daggy" music will send the young "hoons," who enjoy cruising the streets and blasting their own "doof" music, back home where they belong. The idea has been tried before down under with the the un-cool croonings of Bing Crosby. But Jim and Greg have their own ideas of musical torture. Jim thinks that the relentless cacophony of Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music, would send citizens running. And for Greg, it's simple—he only needs to hear the opening violin riff in "Ants Marching" by the Dave Matthews Band, and he's gone.
Soul singer and keyboardist Billy Preston passed away this week at the age of 59. Preston is best known as "The Fifth Beatle," because of the recording credit he received for performing "Get Back" with the band. But, as Jim and Greg explain, this title overshadowed his other contributions to music. Preston had his own hits with "Will It Go Round in Circles" and "Nothing From Nothing", and he co-wrote Joe Cocker's chart-topper, "You Are So Beautiful." He also recorded with The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and Sly & the Family Stone, and earned the distinction of being the first musical guest invited to appear on Saturday Night Live. Greg will particularly remember Preston's pioneering use of the synthesizer in songs like "Outa Space."Go to episode 28
After welcoming new listeners on Connecticut Public Radio, Jim and Greg talk about the Nielsen SoundScan report for 2010. Eminem's Recovery was the biggest selling album of 2010, but the year's biggest selling artist for the second time in three years was Taylor Swift. Album sales continued to trend downward, but music purchases were actually up overall. So more and more people are listening to music than ever – especially rap and country music. And vinyl had its best year since SoundScan began tracking numbers in 1991.Go to episode 268
The 2006 Nielsen Soundscan midyear report came out this week, and some of its findings are surprising. While the buzz seems to be that the music industry is being killed by digital music sales, which increased by 77% from 2005, albums are only down by 4.2%. So Jim and Greg aren‘t consoling record executives just yet. The more significant revelation? The disconnect between what critics enjoy and what people buy may be even greater than previously thought. The number-one selling album of the year so far is not by a venerated rock artist or a hip-hop star — rather, it’s the soundtrack to High School Musical, a Disney made-for-TV movie. The tween phenomenon shows how young girls still have much of the buying power in the industry. Coming in second is country/pop act Rascal Flatts. And a further scan of the list reveals that Jim and Greg were only compelled to review two of the records on it: Mary J. Blige's The Breakthrough and Taking the Long Way by the Dixie Chicks. Hopefully that trends turn around in the months to come. Otherwise Jim and Greg will have to score that interview with Zac after all…
Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett died this week at his home in Cambridge, England. Barrett started the band, which he named after two American bluesmen, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council, in 1965. After releasing The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (which was recorded at Abbey Road the same year as the other British psychedelic hallmark, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band), Barrett became a superstar. However, as Jim and Greg explain, this natural frontman shunned the spotlight. Barrett became a heavy LSD user and was likely suffering from schizophrenia. By 1968 he was forced to leave the band. He subsequently made two solo albums, but eventually went into virtual exile. Yet his influence on the band, and on future musicians, remained strong, as bandmate Nick Mason tells Jim. Mason, like all Pink Floyd fans, understood what a talent Barrett was and wished he had intervened to prevent such a tragic end. Still, Barrett's legacy lives on through his music. Listen to "Baby Lemonade," one of Barrett's last performances with members of Pink Floyd, as well as David Bowie's cover of "See Emily Play."Go to episode 33
The excitement of the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro will soon fade into memory, but the music coming out of Brazil has endured for centuries. Jim and Greg bring the Sound Opinions World Tour to Brazil and explore the country's rich musical heritage. Of course, Brazil is enormous and has produced more genres of music than we could even name. So Jim and Greg focus first on the pivotal period of 1958-1968, beginning with the rise of bossa nova. Our guide is Sérgio Mielniczenko, host of The Brazilian Hour radio show since 1978. He explains how the deceptively minimalistic yet harmonically complex music of João Gilberto, Antônio Carlos Jobim, Sérgio Mendes, and other bossa nova artists revolutionized music in Brazil and around the world.
But in 1964, just as "The Girl From Ipanema" was becoming a global hit, Brazil's government was overthrown in a military coup. Artists like Edu Lobo, Chico Buarque, and Geraldo Vandré turned to socially conscious protest songs in response. This post-bossa nova generation became known as música popular brasileira (Brazilian popular music) or MPB. Meanwhile, the Jovem Guarda (Young Guard) led by Roberto Carlos created an apolitical form of Brazilian rock ‘n’ roll. And in the late '60s, the Tropicália movement blended high art, lowbrow kitsch, traditional Brazilian rhythms, psychedelic rock, and electric instruments into an irreverent mix. Tropicalistas like Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Os Mutantes, Tom Zé, and Gal Costa were curtailed by the government crackdown of 1968, but their music has proved influential for decades.
Jim and Greg also want to acknowledge all of the great new music coming out of Brazil. Chris McGowan, author of The Brazilian Sound and The Brazilian Music Book, calls in from Rio and explains that Brazil is a large country and there are a huge variety of popular musical styles. He runs through some of the most popular genres of the moment, starting with sertanejo, Brazilian country music. They also talk about new avant-garde music, Brazilian hip hop, and electronic dance genres Axé and tecno brega.Go to episode 560