Monday, October 31, 2005

Wy, Baby, Wy

I had the fun opportunity to do a gig with Wynonna and her band on Saturday night. I have worked for her for the last five years or so, but she took off the past year to finish her book. The book and accompanying DVD/CD set is apparently selling well. We shot the DVD at the Opry House earlier this year.


Wy was in good voice, especially since she has been on a media blitz doing book signings and a lot of TV appearances.

Tony Obrohta

Guitar honcho and Texas Hold 'em ace.

Bruce Wallace

New guy filling in for Randy Flowers.

John Billings

New guy filling in for Steve Mackey, who's out with Trisha Yearwood this year.

Steve Potts

One of the finest drummers on the planet.

Harry Sharpe

Keyboards and Musical Director. Harry configured my audio computer and is a great player, composer and arranger.

Wendy Moten and Robert Bailey

Wendy is new, filling in for Vicki Hampton, who is out with Dolly Parton. Robert is the long time band leader and superlative vocalist. He can sing all of the parts.

Ashley Swann and Ken Craig

Production Manager and Tour Manager. I miss working with these guys...maybe Wy will tour next year.

Friday, October 28, 2005

It's Martina Time

I bought "Timeless", my very first Martina McBride album, two days ago. It's not that I haven't considered her talented, in fact she is usually the one bright spot any time Nashville stars have to actually sing live on TV awards shows. Without the help of multiple takes and AutoTune, most acts these days can't sing any better than I can.

What Martina finally did to get me to buy her record is take that huge risk no longer acceptable here in Music City - she cut an entire album of Country Music.

Not country-rock, country-Buffett, country-Kiss, country-Kid Rock, or any other heinous hybrid that has plagued the charts in recent years. I'm talking about some by-God Country Music. Standards. Classics. The Literature. The Catalog. The Bedrock of Rural American Music.

Why this is considered such a notable event boggles the mind. I constantly hear stories of numerous songs being rejected by The Suits for being "too Country". The idiocy of that mindset, tied to the pervasive and complete ignorance of the traditions of very industry they are employed in, the willful scorn directed at the history of the genre, the prevailing belief that Garth Brooks is "old school"... all of which has made Nashville the creative cesspit it has become today. Having said all that - a very condensed version of my usual rant - I actually have hope that this album might change everything.

It debuted at #1. It sold more copies in it's first week than any other Martina McBride album. Ever. It was cut almost entirely on vintage gear, using vintage microphones and instruments. It is not bathed in reverb. There are no midgets on the album cover. No one has to scream how bad-ass or redneck they are. No song titles consisting of grade-school puns or groan-inducing turns of the phrase. No paens to Bud or Jack. Or to the joys of romping in the mud with models and strippers.

None of that.

Instead, beautiful, meaningful songs played with grace and fire and respect and love by great musicians. Recorded and mixed with purpose by McBride's husband, John. Produced with honesty and passion by Martina herself. Songs from Hank Williams, Sr.'s "You Win Again" to Tammy Wynette's "'Til I Can Make It On My Own". Pedal steel guitar appears all over the place, played by the acknowledged master, Paul Franklin, in the manner and fashion of the original players.

This is not a karaoke cover-band effort - these songs were originally performed by legends, thereby many of the elements in these classic arrangements are by now so familiar that they seem as integral to the sound of the record as the melody and lyric. I think the McBride's found just the right blend of "loving tribute versus fresh interpretation". Johnny Cash's "I Still Need Someone" is cut as an acoustic mid-tempo reflection on a lost love with an Emmy Lou Harris/Allison Krause vibe. Dolly Parton sings harmony. It works.

I think the "traditional" phase of the cycle of Country Music (straying from it's roots and eventually finding them again) may finally be here. I became a true fan of Country when Dwight Yoakam (who appears here on "Heartaches By The Number"), Ricky Skaggs, Steve Earle and Randy Travis cut Country albums in the mid-'80's. It sounded fresh and new because Kenny Rogers was ruling the charts at the time. Steel guitars, Telecasters and twangy vocals made a comeback that lasted until Garth started cutting Billy Joel songs.

For a mainstream artist like McBride to pull this off - actually get it past the label and do such a remarkable job on the songs themselves - may give the lemnmings on Music Row the bright idea that there is a market for real Country Music. They somehow pretended that the "O, Brother Whereout Thou" phenomena never happened. There might be a place for Keith Urban under the Country umbrella, but why can't both styles survive and thrive? I can't imagine Blues Music embracing Kenny Wayne Sheppard and then calling B.B. King "too bluesy". Or Rock radio crowning Green Day the new kings and never playing Led Zeppelin.

It would be great if McBride can use her clout to get this style accepted at Radio again. Artists like Mandy Barnett and Elizabeth Cook have been singing and writing this kind of music for years and are continually ignored by the Row, but have devoted fan bases and the respect of their more commercial peers. Critic's Darlings have struggled to get traditional Country on the radio. Maybe, just maybe, one of Radio's Darlings can convince them otherwise.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Guitar Man

Who draws the crowd and plays so loud,
Baby it's the guitar man.
Who's gonna steal the show, you know
Baby it's the guitar man

Tim Pierce is an L.A.-based session guitarist who sports a long list of album credits including the sublime "Toy Matinee" record. More recently, Pierce worked his magic on several Goo Goo Dolls tracks. Most non-musos have heard his work on Rick Springfield's '80's Power Pop hits. Ten years ago, he gathered up some of his songs that never got cut or released, and made an outstanding instrumental record called "Guitarland".

Pierce is a master of tone, touch and taste. As a recording engineer, I use his guitar sounds as a benchmark. As a guitarist, his note choices, fluid technique and passion are inspiring. As a listener, I am never aurally assaulted with "chops for chops sake". In fact, Pierce usually waits until the fadeout to throw any pyrotechnics into the mix. Everything else is pure, tasteful melody.

As far as I can tell, "Guitarland" on CD is out of print. I found a copy on eBay, and you might check out used CD stores. It is available at

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Talk Talk

Ambient Pop. It's a sub-category of music that you rarely hear on radio, or have the opportunity to hear in a live venue, maybe because it's all about mood and to me that means low-lighting and no distractions. There are two '80's bands that I still turn to today for a fix: Talk Talk and The Blue Nile. Both of these groups have achieved a sort of cult status among Pop fans and fellow musicians seem to be their biggest supporters.

Talk Talk came out of the box with a synth-heavy sound on their debut single "Talk Talk" from the record "Talk Talk". All that eponymous chatter was about a moody rumination on relationship blather set to a club beat. Mark Hollis, the group's lead singer and main visionary explained later that their goal was to create "dense" music - thick tapestries of sound that define a mood without having a blatantly obvious (or even clearly audible) lyric. He noted that due to a limited budget, the dense approach was best served by using synthesizers. A fake string section is much cheaper than a real one, and a composer can afford to experiment more if he does not need to pay and feed 30 musicians every time a string section is required.

As their career progressed, Talk Talk got ever closer to maximum density. "It's My Life", recently covered by No Doubt, was a minor MTV hit. Fat analog synth sounds and a killer bassline over what sounds like a Simmons electronic drum kit made a catchy yet moody single. That album had other, quieter gems like "Renee" and "Tomorrow Started" and another excellent bass workout on "Dum Dum Girl". I had that record on vinyl, the modern day afficionado's badge of honor, I suppose.

Talk Talk's subsequent record, "The Colour Of Spring", had singles like "Happiness Is Easy" and "Life's What You Make It". The sounds got warmer as real instruments crept in. Somebody at EMI must have been a fan of the band, because the music got less commercial and more experimental. Still an emphasis on hooks and grooves, but dissonance began to maker longer and bolder appearances.

Then came the payoff. Two records that are still in heavy rotation on my Dell DJ: "Spirit of Eden" and "Laughingstock". Gone are the synths, dance club beats and any semblence of Pop song structure and in come strange noises, odd processing of analog sounds, and Hollis' singular guitar style, perhaps best described as a six-string manifestation of dissonance and beauty. Listen to "Ascension Day" or "Runeii" on "Laughingstock".

I don't even care what the lyrics are, though they are interesting. What gets me is the moods the melody and chords create, then destroy, then re-build. Their startling use of a distorted blues harp (harmonica) and solo trumpet(!) are without precedent in my experience. It's hard to describe the music in these two records, but if you do decide to investigate, please set aside some time and make it an event. Don't judge them by an MP3 download over your laptop.

The Blue Nile are less demanding of their listener, but no less satisfying. Their debut "A Walk Across The Rooftops" has moody songs for lovers galore, and the follow up, "Hats" is more of the same. Paul Buchanan has a deeply emotive voice and the textures they use in fleshing out a song are a treat. I find it challenging to imagine writing a song using the instruments and sounds that eventually end up on the final product - the backgrounds are so much more suggestion instead of definition. Sounds and grooves can suggest a mood and help the process, but I suspect they use traditional guitars and keyboards to get the harmonic structure of a song together. What they do in creative reduction and expansion of that is a wonder.

It's just beautiful, moving, music - much better experienced than talked about - but if I can steer a few more folks to these under-appreciated masters I am doing the work of a true fan.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

When They Was Fab

A recent post by Powerline's Scott Johnson - the resident music buff at that excellent blog - got me thinking about great books on music. If writing about music is truly akin to "dancing about architecture", then Peter Guralnick is the Fred Astaire of the Empire State building. Scott mentions Guralnick's "Sweet Soul Music" as his favorite, I'd say the country-themed "Lost Highway" is nearly as good.

I am also a big fan of Tim Riley's "Tell Me Why", a critical look at The Beatles music. In it, he breaks down the entire Beatles catalog from a musician/songwriting/production point of view. He attempts to explain some of the craft that makes those songs so immortal, while recognizing that the chemistry is what pushed them over the top, never to be equaled. I am currently without a copy, since I always want my fellow Beatles fanatic friends to read it, too, and I gave away both of my copies.

I also recommend Mark Lewisohn's informative "The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions", for studio minutae and his follow-up "The Complete Beatles Chronicle" which is as close to a real-time Beatle Blog as we are likely to see.

Since I'm in a Beatles frame of mind, I am really enjoying the new Paul McCartney album, "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard", produced by Nigel Goodrich (Radiohead) and written and played by Paul with a few guest musicians on a couple of tracks. Former Jellyfish guitarist and Beatle freak Jason Falkner plays guitar on a tune or two. It has the sound and feel of "McCartney" or "Ram"... intimate and homemade with plenty of great McCartney melodies and interesting chord progressions. Check it out.

Fall On Me

The leaves are turning, the weather is perfect, it's Autumn in Tennessee. Unfortunately, it does not last nearly long enough, but it certainly is beautiful.

The huge walnut tree in my backyard is doing his best inpersonation of Treebeard or the Haunted Forest in Oz.

Every few minutes a nut hits my roof with a crack and rolls off, hopefully missing the rain gutter on it's way down.

The back yard is nearly ankle deep in green and black missles. The squirrels are gorging themselves, the birds are doing a number on my persimmons trees; everybody's trying to put on some extra winter weight.

I hope I don't.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

This Side of The Web

A neat little three video package of Elizabeth Cook songs is now up at Click on the "music" tab, then the "new voices, no cover" tab.

We taped these a few months back, before the Fogerty tour. You can hear all three of my main acoustics in these videos. Elizabeth is playing the J-200, and I trade off on the Epi and the J-45. The rest of the band is Paul Griffith on drums, Matt Combs on fiddle, Tim Carroll on guitar and Tim Marks on bass.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Like The Virgins

Just got back from a week-long honeymoon in the U.S. Virgin Islands. We stayed at Caneel Bay Resort on St. John.

From The Patio

The weather was so-so. It rained Sunday night, Monday and Tuesday all day. Wednesday and Thursday were pretty nice and Friday and Saturday were fine. Very windy on Sunday, the day we left.

Sugar Mill Ruins

The Danish once had rum and sugar and cotton plantations on these islands, but all that's left are crumbling remains. These are part of The Equator, a restaurant at the resort.


The balance of desert and jungle is a bit strange.


Insert Jimmy Durante reference here...

Feral Donkeys

Their forebearers were the donkeys used by missionaries to traverse the hills...they have the run of the place.

Lind Point Trail

Two thirds of the island is a National Park. Lind Point Trail leads form Cruz Bay to Caneel Bay, with spurs to Honeymoon Beach and Solomon Beach.

Cruz Bay From Lind Point Trail Overlook

There is an overlook on the trail that gives a good view of Cruz Bay.

Caneel From Highway Overlook

A similar overlook on the highway gives the view of Caneel Bay.

On The Way To St. Thomas

We took the ferry to St. Thomas for a day of shopping. Lots of good deals on jewelry and booze. We bought gifts for the folks back home and a few clothing items...and two bottles of Cruzan Estate Dark rum...

Mango Cay

We snorkled all over Caneel Beach, Scott's Beach, Honeymoon Beach and then on Saturday chartered a trip to the cays across the bay, Mango Cay and Lovango Cay. Great snorkeling at all points...I saw a barracuda at Mango Cay. Cool.