So, what do you do if you create music that is completely in step with what should be popular but is apparently out of step with what is actually popular? Playing great music that reaches a specific audience is definitely admirable but it can be frustrating – for the band and their fans – if a talented act continually releases outstanding albums that don’t immediately race to the top of the charts. Sadly, this type of situation is quite common. For example, for nearly 30 years, St. Louis’ The Bottle Rockets have released a series of albums that embrace the heart of American music while reinterpreting it in fresh, new ways. BIT LOGIC is their 13th album and might be the album that finally connects them with a larger audience.
If you go to Wikipedia and look up ‘Honky Tonk’, you’ll find the following description: “A Honky Tonk is both a bar that provides country music for the entertainment of its patrons and the style of music played in such establishments. In the 1950s, Honky Tonk entered its golden age, with the popularity of Webb Pierce, Hank Locklin, Lefty Frizzell, Ray Price, Faron Young, George Jones, and Hank Williams.” So, given that description, it’s no wonder that singer/songwriter J.P. Harris is often referred to as one of the finest purveyors of Honky Tonk music in America today. As ‘modern’ Country takes up space on the charts, it is refreshing – and dare I say it, exhilarating – to experience an artist so in tune with the roots of the genre’s pioneering artists. Harris ain’t no Americana bandwagoneer – he is as Country as Country Music gets.
The YouTube stars of today don’t understand the meaning of ‘paying your dues.’ Before American Idol and YouTube became the springboards for success, the artists of yesteryear rehearsed, played nightly in smelly clubs, and drove from city to city in a rickety van to build their audience. They wrote songs from the heart. They lived those songs before they even laid them down on tape. And the chance of them getting a record deal and achieving any level of success was slim to none. For many of them, sharing their music and baring their soul was the reason they created music. Fame was just a reward for their hard work. However, hard work doesn’t guarantee success without a little bit of luck thrown into the mix. Then again, there’s a long list of talented artists that never caught a break and have sadly faded into obscurity. Country/Americana singer/songwriter Blaze Foley spent many decades in in that sea of obscurity but now, nearly three decades after his death, this underground legend is finally getting the attention he has deserved since his humble beginnings in the mid- ‘70s.
Forty years since the release of his debut album, ALIVE ON ARRIVAL, Steve Forbert remains one of the most honest and warm singer/songwriters in Folk, Rock and Americana. Unfairly declared ‘the new Dylan’ for a brief moment in the ‘70s thanks to that debut, Forbert proved himself to be more than just a guy strumming an acoustic guitar at the front of the stage. His hit single “Romeo’s Tune” (1979) became a Top 40 hit thanks to Forbert’s earnest performance, great songwriting and that incessant piano riff. But Forbert was not one to crank out formulaic Pop or Folk – he was always moving forward while still paying tribute to his past. With more than two dozen studio, live, and fan-club albums in his back pocket, Steve Forbert still remains a songwriter that finds inspiration in the every day. His Mississippi soul may have moved to New Jersey but this is one cat that understands and connects with every inch of America.
There’s just something about Soul music. It has a different effect on every listener. Where one person can hear joy and jubilation, another may sense a feeling of loss and sadness while listening to the very same recording. The listener’s differing opinions revolve around just how deeply they immerse themselves in the music. On the surface, Soul and R&B is engaging and powerful but once you allow yourself to be surrounded by the music, you feel the emotional depth and intensity that went into creating the music. Mike Farris’ SILVER & STONE album is one of those releases that shows both sides at the same time, offering up layers of powerful music that is both engaging and engrossing.
STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: THE MAGIC TREE is about to be released. How are you feeling about the way it turned out and the reaction you’ve had to it so far?
STEVE FORBERT: I feel pretty good about it. We got the cat ears and legs and tail and whiskers – I think we got the cat in the bag. It’s hard to do.
Courtney Hartman and Taylor Ashton were already successful in their respective outfits before coming together as a duo. Hartman, the singer, songwriter and guitarist for Nashville-based Americana outfit Della Mae, met Canadian singer, songwriter and clawhammer banjo player Taylor Ashton when her band crossed paths with his band, Fish & Bird, while out on the road. The two began writing songs together and within four years, they decided that they had enough material for an album. Named after one of the first songs they wrote together, the duo is now releasing BEEN ON YOUR SIDE, their debut album as a duo. On paper, their collaboration may sound like a perfect match but, in reality, it is so much better than that.
SPAZ: When writing an album like SUN ON THE SQUARE, do you tend to let the compositions flow naturally and reveal the album’s direction over time? Or do you have a preconceived idea on where you want the album to head, musically?
KAREN PERIS: We don’t usually have a plan, especially in regards to writing songs. So many songs, for me, begin and then fall away. So, an album builds slowly out of the songs we remain close to after a period of time.
It has been four years since Americana outfit Sons Of Bill released LOVE & LOGIC but the band have not been idle. This quintet – led by brothers Sam, Abe, and James Wilson – remained on the road, promoting their own brand of heartfelt heartland rock. However, touring wasn’t the only thing that slowed them down. The boys in the band took off a little time for themselves, too. Oh, and then there’s that little accident that James Wilson had – a fall on a champagne glass severed five tendons and the median nerve in his right hand. While this is definitely not a good thing for a guitarist to experience, it also hindered his ability to drive, dress himself, and other simple tasks we all take for granted. Thankfully, you can’t keep a good man down…
Country Music has gone through a major metamorphosis over the years. Modern Country radio resembles Pop radio of the ‘90s and you’d be hard pressed to find a pedal steel guitar on any track gracing the Top 40. For those looking for a more traditional slice of Country Music, you’ll need to look outside of the charts and turn your attention to hard-working rootsy Americana outfits like Sarah Shook & The Disarmers in order to get your traditional Country fix.