by Jeff Wall
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Johnny Cash - At Folsom Prison
Columbia Legacy

Johnny Cash is a badass. Steve Earle is a pussy compared to Johnny Cash. Hell, Satan is a pussy compared to Cash. He has always brought to mind the Archangel Michael, sent from heaven above to kick some ass and take names. There's something about him that is hard to define. He comes across as the most sincere man on the planet, and at the same time, he's like a ticking bomb ready to explode in your face. When you see him up on stage, the first thing you notice this wildass look in his eyes, like he has the power to heal and the power to kill with just a glance, and nobody, not even Johnny Cash, knows which one he's getting ready to do. I have seen a lot of concerts, but nothing has ever moved me like seeing Johnny Cash take the stage. When he walks up to the microphone and says, "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash," It's like St. Peter looking for your name in the Holy book at the end of time.

Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, recorded in January of 1968, is the only recording to ever capture that wild,insane energy of the Johnny Cash Show in concert. This new release, remastered and expanded, has a cleaner sound than the previous vinyl release (which I have worn out) or the two-for that combined the Folsom Prison-San Quinton live albums.

On this disc, the Tennessee Three (joined by Carl Perkins) never sounded better. The guitars of Carl and Luther Perkins cut like a knife. W.S."Fluke" Holland's drums are crisp, and Marshal Grant's bass is deep and clean. They really get a chance to show off on The Legend of John Henry's Hammer, a previously unreleased track. The real draw however, is Cash himself.

Whether backed up by the Tennessee Three or just accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, Cash had the inmates of Folsom Prison, black & white, young & old alike, eating out of his hand. If Johnny Cash had told them to riot and burn the place to the ground, they would have done it and never thought twice. Cash knew it too. It took him four years to convince Columbia Records to allow him to record a live album at Folsom Prison. When it finally happened, photographer Jim Marshall came along to document it.

This is a true piece of music history, 56 minutes of barely controlled passion and power. If you've never had the opportunity to see Johnny Cash perform live, you need to hear this disc. It's the nearest thing to feeling the power of God himself you will ever experience while a mortal being on this earth. Johnny Cash is a badass.

Jeff Wall

Cisco - Wishing You Well From the Pink Hotel
Propellant Transmissions

I received this disc from a guy at the Rodent Headquarters for Mass Mind Control and World Domination. No, we're not talking ACME Labs, besides Pinky already has a country music record deal and the Brain runs Capital Nashville. I was referring to Disney.

When I opened the envelope and saw the Cd Cover, I wasn't impressed. The name Cisco and the cover made me think of some South Miami Beach Disco Diva. Why in the hell did this asshole send me a Cuban Rap/Disco Cd? I threw it up on the shelf and walked out of the house. It would still be sitting there if a bigass hurricane hadn't dropped by for a visit. With the electricity turning on and off, The damn TV stations off the air, and my computer trying to blow itself up, I grabbed a bunch of Cd's, my portable Cd player, and waited for the Bigass Oak Tree to come in and re-arrange my Living Room. Listening to Cd's in the dark is kind of cool. You have no idea who you're putting in next. I opened another case, stuck the disc in and WHAM!!

What in the Hell is this? This is great! From the first bar of "Mr Wright", I was hooked! This is Bakersfield Country. Every thing I like in country music, a stinging Telecaster, tight harmonies on the chorus, and great songwriting. There's even some little Mexican flourishes that the Tele picker plays during the bridge that add a little coolness factor. Cisco sounds kind of like Steve Earle backed by the Buckaroos.

There's some great music on this thing. "Calling Me Back" sounds like it would be at home on a Pete Anderson/Dwight Yoakum record. "Bad Man" is hard core Country, From the weeping Pedal Steel licks, to the Lefty Frizzell phrasing, to the lyrics about a man who strays from the straight and narrow. "Long Way Home" starts off with a Roy Nichols guitar intro and from there goes into a Luther Perkins rhythm.

Cisco takes some of the musical styles of Haggard, Buck, and Johnny Cash, adds a bit of Yoakum and Steve Earle attitude, to come up with something really distinctive and cool. This is one of the best Cd's I've heard this year. I would really like to see these guys live. This Cd just oozes energy and Honk. If they make it out this way, they have floor space reserved. But I'd suggest they wait until all the damn hurricanes are over.

Jeff Wall

Larry Cordell & Lonesome Standard Time - Murder on Music Row
Shelln Point Records

You may have never heard of Larry Cordell, but you've heard his songs. He's one of Nashville's top songwriters. Ricky Skaggs' "Highway 40 Blues" and Diamond Rio's   "Mama Don't Forget To Pray For Me" are both his. What you may not know is that he's a mighty fine guitar picker and bluegrass singer, mighty fine indeed. It's really a shame that Larry Cordell has been wasting his time in Nashville writing hit songs for other people and making all that long green money. He should have been out there recording and singing his own songs, touring, and starving to death like bluegrass musicians are supposed to do.

He's a damn fine picker and a wonderful singer. Previously on Sugar Hill Records, Murder on Music Row is the first release on the fledgling Shell Point Records.

The title track, "Murder on Music Row" is already receiving a lot of attention. Recorded without a banjo, it has been getting airplay on Nashville's KDF-FM. Rumor has it that George Strait and/or Alan Jackson are now recording it.

"Nobody saw him running from 16th Avenue, They never found a fingerprint or the weapon that was used." "But someone killed Country Music, cut out it's heart and soul." "They got away with murder, down on Music Row."

The rest of the disc sounds just as good. Great hooks and great singing. This is someone's future Greatest Hits disc. None of the songs are hits yet, but they will be, for somebody. Jesus and Bartenders could be a Mark Chestnut number one record. It's all solid traditional Bluegrass, but it should appeal to Country fans as well. This is one of my favorite releases of the year. If you like tight harmonies, great picking, and well-crafted songs, this disc is for you. Hopefully, Cordell won't make us wait so long for another record.

Jeff Wall

John Cowan - John Cowan
Sugar Hill

Finally John Cowan made a solo record that DOESN'T suck. It's not his first solo record. Cowan released a solo EP album years ago called Johnny C' - Soul'd Out. I didn't care for it much. In fact, we used to tease him about it. "How many of them records you sold, John? They got about thirty of  them down at Phonolux for a quarter a piece". It's not that the record sucked. Well, it didn't suck all THAT bad, but we knew he could do better. We had heard him do better. (NOTE: the Sugar Hill CD reissue of Soul'd Out has additional new tracks added. Recorded by John's band Grooveyard . It's pretty Solid R&B, and ain't a bad record )
I have been a Cowan fan since the early New Grass Revival days, back before he got all studly and all. When New Grass broke up, I tried to keep up with all the members as best I could. I saw John go through a progression of bands, some were great and some really sucked. I had high hopes for his hard rock band Dr Nick. I saw hime do a version of Zepplin's "Dazed and Confused" with this little midget guitar player and it was incredible. I was hoping the Sky Kings would take off. Didn't happen. I caught him playing with Sam Bush and their showband Man-Boy (Larry Atamanuik and Randy Stewart), his R&B band Duckbutter (with Sam Bush and Al Kooper), and Grooveyard (with Reese Wynan). But none of it was meant to be.

In addition to playing with Sam, and doing solo gigs. Cowan had become one of the most indemand backup singers in Nashville. You can hear him singing with Garth on "Long Neck Bottle" and "Callin' Baton Rouge", Foster and Lloyd on "Texas in 1880", and Travis Tritt on "It's a Great Day to be Alive".I personally have never understood why he ain't more popular than peanut butter.

All of that's about to change. It's John's time now. He has a hell of a band with Scott Vestal on banjo, Randy Kohrs on dobro, lap steel, and acoustic guitar, Jeff Autry on acoustic guitar, and Posi Leppikangas on drums. I've seen them three or four times in the past year and they just keep getting better with each show. They've been drawing great crowds and filling up clubs. They ain't playing Bluegrass. At least not in the traditional sense. Occasionally, a bluegrass song or two sneaks into the set, but so does the occasional Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, or even Yes song.

This record ain't Bluegrass either. There are some Bluegrass elements in it. When the first track starts,"Roll Away the Stone", you know that you are in for something a little different. A drum track starts it off, then Scott Vestal comes in with Banjo, followed by Kenny Greenburg's electric guitar, Darrel Scott's mandolin, and Reese Wynans' Hammond B-3. There's this major funk groove up the middle with Vestal and Scott adding this Bluegrassy, Acoustic frosting on the outside edges. It's different. I like it.

There's rockers on this record and delicate ballads as well, Element's of Soul, Funk, Blues, Bluegrass, and Celtic. The outsatnding tracks, are "Gotta Get Go", an humable number with a reggae groove chorus, "Nothing But the Blues" featuring Jim Hurst's guitar work and the bluesy fiddle of Barbara Lamb. "Wichita Way" should be played on Country Radio. It rocks, it twangs, it's awesome.

There's a bunch of great stuff her, but the track that is most worthy of mention is a cover of Merle Travis's "Dark as a Dungeon". Now Cowan has an incredible voice with incredible range He's never been accused of singing too soft or too gentle. I have seen him perform this song several times a cappela where he just roared. I was expecting glass to shatter. It was almost painful, but damn if the audience doesn't love the hell out of it. Yet on this version on the disc here, he reigns it in somewhat. He has the band behind him, and the combination really captures the emotion behind the song.

Now this record was released last year and I'm just now getting around to reviewing it. Meanwhile Cowan has already recorded another one. I have heard a few of the songs from the new record in a live setting and I'm excited. Hopefully, he will record a live record soon. His band is so good, it needs to be recorded. Go see Cowan on stage, and you'll see what I mean.

Jeff Wall

Rodney Crowell - The Houston Kid
Sugar Hill

Rodney Crowell deserves an award for this album and I don't care if I have to whip every ass in the Music Business to see that he gets it. This record has affected me to the very core of my being. It's almost as if Rodney Crowell has somehow got into the dark hidden places of my soul and found the material for this release. The major difference is that he's from Houston and I grew up in Wilson County, Tennessee, but other than that, there are weird parallels with my own life contained within the verses of this album.

The "Rock of my Soul" is a song about growing up the son of an alcoholic, abusive father, and that regardless of his actions, and detesting his behavior, that bond is still there. And how often we grow up to become that same son-of-a-bitch we said we'd never be like when we were children. That song hit me hard. However, my father and I were able to turn our lives around and these days
he is still the Rock of my Soul.

Two other songs on this record affected me to the point of tears. "I Wish it Would Rain" and "Wandering Boy". They are the only country songs I know of written about a gay male prostitute with AIDS. "I Wish It Would Rain" is written from the perspective of the gay male while "Wandering Boy" is written from the perspective of his heterosexual twin brother. I too have a gay brother with AIDS. He's my younger brother and he a twin who is estranged from the rest of the family. I have a hard time listening to these two songs because of how closely they mirror similarities in my own life.

The rest of the album is not this dark. "Telephone Road" is a joyous homage to growing up a dirt poor kid, but having so much fun being a kid that being poor didn't matter. "I Walk the Line (Revisited)" is based on a true event and how hearing Johnny Cash sing "I Walk the Line" was a life changing event. (Wasn't hearing Cash the first time a life changing event for everyone? I know it was for me

This is the best record that Rodney Crowell has ever made, and if I ever meet the man, I want to hug his neck and thank him personally for making it. And I want to thank him for reawakening those difficult memories of growing up with my father and my brother, and strengthening the feelings of love I feel for them both.

Music is the cement that holds our emotions and memories together. Well at least it is for some of us. Good Music is supposed to take you somewhere in your heart, mind, and memory, or serve as a bookmark for a special time and place in your life. This record has done that like no other record I can think of. Rodney Crowell is going to get some kind of award for this disc. Mark my words.

Jeff Wall

Eric Taylor - Scuffletown

I don't know as much about Eric Taylor as I should. I know he wrote Wild Thing or maybe it was God Bless America or something like that. I know he was a contemporary and a friend of Townes Van Zandt and some of those other half crazy Texas singer songwriter types. Listening to Scuffletown, I'm trying to come up with a way to describe it and I can't do it. Some of the lyrics have meanings that are too obscure for me. Or maybe there aren't meanings there and they were written more for feel and for meter. I'm not sure. I had that same problem with Townes. Was this a song or a suicide note? Or both? Some of it is obvious. Then just like Townes music, Some of it just generates a feeling without generating a thought behind it. Meaning the song invokes a certain feeling within me and I can't identify why. Maybe I'm too stupid, or not in touch with my feelings enough. Or maybe I'm getting exactly what I'm supposed to be getting. I don't know. Song's like "Your God" strike a chord deep within me, with it's message of pain and suffering and asking Where was God? when these atrocities were  happening or when they were being perpetrated by people who considered  themselves religious people. Then other's like "White Bone" make me feel the aloneness and strangeness of the main character because he looks different.

But isn't that what music is supposed to do? To make you feel? That's what this record does to me. It makes me want to listen to it again and again to learn more. There seems to be a lot of different levels here. I want to explore these  textures and feelings. I might be putting too much into it. This may be just a piece of plastic with 11 melodies set to it, or it may be a philosophical text set to music. I'm not sure yet. All I know is that I like it. I can't tell you why I like it, or why you would like it. But I like it.

Jeff Wall

The Ghost Rockets- Bootlegs

The Ghost Rockets are a band from the birthplace of  Twang, Hoboken, New Jersey. They call their music  Maximum Rhythm and Bluegrass. It actually  comes across as a mix of Buck Owens, Beatles, and Flatt and Scruggs. They can twang as hard as anyone on the block. Then they'll turn around and go Power Pop on you. Just when you think you have them figured  out, Buddy Woodard will strap on the Gibson Mastertone and they're off in a new direction.

I've seen them live three times. Any band that opens up their show with Clarence White's "Nashville West" is  automatically cool in my book. They can be  guaranteed to fill a dance  floor. And that's the Ghost Rockets creed. If they ain't dancing, they ain't happy. The band smokes. Drummer Pete Green is awesome. Buddy Woodward, Gary "Pig" Gold, and Mick Hargreaves harmonize well. Each is equally adept at handling the lead. They put on a hell of a live show. Count yourself unlucky if you have to follow them onstage.

Bootlegs was mostly recorded in Buddy Woodward's livingroom. The strongest cuts are the honky-tonking "Under The Table", the Beatlesque "This Girl of Mine", the Burrito-ish "Family Tree", and the hard core bluegrass "New White House Blues". "Hard to Get" is a rocking little number. "Queen of Hearts" is a cool number about a dirty deck of cards. "Juliet", a spacey pedal steel waltz falls kind of flat and what the hell is up with that hidden track? Some kind of lounge/jazz/space/acid trip thing.

The Cd is not as strong as the live show. But their live show is awful powerful. On their next recording, they could benefit from the assistance of a strong producer. But for a self released disc to sell at shows, there are far more winners than there are losers. Keep an eye on the Ghost Rockets. You will be hearing more about them in the future. They are already being looked at hard by both major and minor labels. Go see them live. You'll have a ball. And be sure to bring your rent money and your dancing shoes.

- Jeff Wall

The Gram Parsons Notebook - The Last Whippoorwill

Gram Parsons was viewed by many as a visionary, others considered him nothing more than a rich asshole kid with a trust fund. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. He recorded a record with the Byrds, Sweetheart of the Rodeo that is now considered a classic. His work with the Flying Burrito Brothers, and as a solo artist didn't do real well from a commercial standpoint, but are now considered classics as well. In fact, it wasn't until he was dead, and Phil Kaufman had deep fried his ass up at Joshua Tree with a can of high test, that folks started to realize that maybe Gram didn't have his head all the way up his butt.

I don't worship at the Church of Gram. I do own the Sweethearts album, and all the Burrito stuff. I enjoyed his voice and thougth he conveyed emotion really well, but I would be the first to admit that I don't know a lot about Gram Parsons other than the fact that he gave some chick hillbilly singer named Emmylou Harris her start, and of his relationship with Clarence White. So take anything I say about the man with a grain of salt.

One of the problem with being a visionary is that you usually have to die before you get the credit you deserve. Death has always been a great career move for an artist of any type. Once Gram was dead and gone, Gram worshippers started coming out of the woodwork looking to gather up anything and everything that he played on. Gram Parsons didn't play on a single track of this record. Instead the record takes it's name from it's source. Most all of the songs contained on this record were all jotted down in a notebook that Gram constantly carried around. A family member gave the notebook to John Nuese upon Gram's death. He stuck it in a drawer and left it there. He didn't see it again for 21 years. Then he had one of those weird dreams, one where he was hanging out in a pawnshop with Gram, and Mike Ward checking out guitars. The lyrics to "The Last Whippoorwill" came to him in that dream.

Nuese then passed The Notebook to Mike Ward who then shared it with Carl Jackson, and the next thing you know we got this album right here. The first collection of Gram Parsons co-writes in 26 years.

The disc starts out with a subtle refrain of "Hickory Wind" before jumping into the barnburner "LA Custom Blues", with Carl Jackson singing lead. The song is a good one that also had the good cosmic karma of having Marty Stuart playing lead electric on Clarence White's Telecaster with the original B-Bender and of having former Gram compadre Barry Tashian singing harmony. According to Barry, the song is based on a true story, as he was present at the time it happened.

Mike Ward contributes lead vocals to "Blurry Starry Night", a song that would have been an instant classic if Gram had had the chance to record it. Jackson does a version of the Louvin Brothers "Cash on the Barrelhead," a song Gram often performed in concert. Eddie Cunningham delivers a soulful rendition of "Jesus is more than a Name". Eddie Dunbar contributes "The Buttton," a cheating song that would be worthy of George Jones. Ward does a country rock version of "Dead Flowers", a song that Keith and Mick wrote for Parsons. Ward also took a one liner from the notebook, "No One Knows I'm Lonesome," and wrote a song around it. Larry Cordle really delivers the goods when he sings it.

I'd be tickled about this record just because it's an opportunity to listen to the never recorded enough Carl Jackson play and sing, however the other artists involved; Jim Lauderdale, The Woodys, Mike Ward, Larry Cordle, Eddie Dunbar, Leslie Satcher, and Lona Heins, all do a superlative job. Gram would be proud. It's an enjoyable record. Too bad Gram had to die to become a legend. Too bad Chris Hillman didn't become a legend as big as Parsons, he's equally as deserving, but I'd rather have him alive. They can canonize him once he's gone.

Jeff Wall

Jason Ringenberg- A Pocketful of Soul
Courageous Chicken

What is Jason without the Scorchers? The question is not will it suck? Instead it's  How Bad will it suck?

One of the things I always liked most about Jason and the Scorchers was the Country Music they played. Sure, nine out of ten songs, they were breaking a broomstick off in your ass with their musical mayhem, but that tenth song was just pure country soul. Now Jason made a solo record before this that blew Technicolor chunks. The only song worth a damn on it was a cover of Mike Henderson's "One Foot in the Honkytonk (One Foot in the Grave)". Will this one suck that bad, or worse?

Imagine my surprise when I put it in and didn't need the barf bag I had been holding. Now Jason Ringenberg will never be confused for great vocalist like George Jones or William Shatner, but with Pocketful of Soul he's finally found songs that fit his  Chicken Getting it's Neck Wrung Prairie Tenor. George Bradflute (of Webb Wilder's band) may have had something to do with that. He, along with Jason, produced this record. In fact, along with Fats Kaplin, they are the only musicians on this thing.

In fact, this record doesn't suck at all. It took a couple of listens for me not to judge it as a wussed out Scorchers record and just listen to it as a Jason solo project. Where's the electricity? Where's Warner Hodges making my ears bleed? Once I got past that stumbling block, I enjoyed the hell out of it. Jason's cover of the old classic "Whispering Pines" is dead on. Jason sings with his heart and not his ear. A Pro-Tools machine has yet to be made that could   clean up his pitch. But if you cleaned that up, you would also remove all the joy and soul of this record. This is just straight up acoustic Country Music infused with something that Country Music is sadly lacking today. Joy and Soul.

Jason, you done good. Them chickens would be proud.

Jeff Wall

Jerry Reed - RCA Country Legends

Jerry Reed belongs in the Country Music Hall of  Fame. No, not because of all those movies he did with Burt Reynolds (Gator was the best one though). Not because of his solo career, athough it's pretty damned impressive. No Jerry Reed should be in the Country Music Hall of Fame because by most accounts, he's the BEST guitar player that ever road a Greyhound Bus to Nashville. His trademark lick is known as the Claw. Most pickers play with just a thumbpick, a flat pick, or a couple of fingers. Jerry Reed plays guitar with every finger on his hand. He has been dismissed by many as just  a movie star or as a singer of humorous novelty songs, like "She Got the Gold Mine, (I Got the  Shaft)" or "When You're Hot, You're Hot", but before he became a star, he was just a session  picker in Nashville. Well, not JUST a session picker, but one of the best session pickers to ever hit town.

Last year I got to sit down and talk with Norbert Putnam, a legendary producer and Nashville session  bassist. Put was THE bass player in Nashville in the 60's. If it had a bass on it and it came out of Nashville it had Putnam, Bob Moore, or Jr Husky on it. If it was an electric bass, it was Putnam. We  got to talking about the old days. Putnam played with Jimmy Colvard, Wayne Moss, Harold Bradley, Jerry Kennedy, and all the greats. He told me that Reed was the best hands down. "There wasn't anything that Reed couldn't play". Bluegrass Guitar God Tony Rice considers Reed an influence. Chester Atkiins liked Reed's picking so much that they made several records together. In spite of his successful movie career, his outrageous sense of humor, and all of his hits as a solo recording star, the thing to remember is that Jerry Reed is a picker.

This release has most of Reed's hits on it: "Amos Moses", "When You're Hot Your Hot", "US Male", "Tupelo Mississippi Flash", "Guitar Man", and "East Bound and Down". The production is outstanding, and I've always loved Reed's voice. But the greatest thing on this record are Reed's hands. Put the headphones on and ignore the lyrics and just listen to what those hands are doing. Whether he's ripping out notes from his gutstring on "The Claw", playing that funky chicken picking of "Amos Moses", or just the wild chord structures he uses whether playing acoustic or electric, the tones he gets out of any instrument he picks up. Jerry Reed is a picker, and that's what makes him a legend.

Okay. Class is over now. Hopefully you've learned something. Now go pick this record up and make sure you study hard.

Jeff Wall

Kasey Chambers- The Captain

Get ready to have your dick knocked in the dirt. Finally Australia has something to be proud of besides Paul Hogan, The Crocodile Hunter, and stealing Lucky Oceans away from us (I'm still pissed about that). Kasey Chambers has come to America!

Kasey Chambers hails from the West Virginia portion of Australia. I don't care what her bio says, she sounds like she's from West Virginia, dammit. The Captain is her first US major label release. It's already platinum in Australia. It ought to be Platinum here as well, but that probably won't happen because it's too damned good. Her record label is marketing it to Alternative radio because it's too Country for Country radio.

Songs like "The Hard Way" could be straight from the Loretta Lynn songbook All the songs are country but most have just enough edge that I guess they could be considered Alternative or AAA. There are great stories in these songs. "The Captain", with harmony vocals by Julie Miller, is a great song of angst and being a social outcast. The whole record's full of emotion. There are great arrangements to great songs, but most impressive is Kasey Chambers voice.

I'm at a loss for words listening to this disc. I don't know how to describe to you what a good record it is. I don't know how to put into words how wonderful it or Kasey Chambers is. I haven't talked to anyone who didn't just absolutely love it. That alone should convince you to take a chance on it. Do it. You won't be sorry. We've developed a relationship of sorts by now. You know you can trust me on this. I'm still listening to it six months after having first heard it. That alone should tell you something. 

Just go buy the fucking record, okay?

And tell those damned Australians to send Lucky Oceans back.

Jeff Wall

Ramsay Midwood -Shoot Out at the OK Chinese

Waynesboro is the erstwhile band that started making some noise on L.A.'s roots-music scene last year; it's also the title of one of the best cuts on Ramsay Midwood's new album, Shoot Out at the OK Chinese Restaurant. As the title suggests, he has some beautifully bent sensibilities - at his solo acoustic shows, one of the more popular requests is "Jesus is #1," about a CIA vet who lifts weights and praises Jesus. Waynesboro was a curious gumbo of Midwood's trance-like, minor-key odes to the offbeat and bandmate Randy Weeks' twanging guitar and rootsy R&B grooves. Resonating with plangent banjo licks, "Waynesboro" the song is a great meeting of creative minds.

Shoot Out at the OK Chinese Restaurant (Glitterhouse) is unquestionably,  poetically pure Ramsay, but it strongly benefits from the presence of co-producers Weeks (guitar) and Kip Boardman (bass), as well as Skip Edwards (accordion, keyboards), Don Heffington (drums), and Brantley Kearns (fiddle). Bluesy, groove-driven songs like "Chicago" and "Alligator's Lament" bookend quirkier numbers like "Spinnin' on This Rock," "Feed My Monkey" and the a cappella "Dreary Life." Midwood's original characters and tales are made oddly more vivid by the somewhat drunk sound of his vocals. It sounds weird, and it is - weirdly compelling.


Ray Wylie Hubbard - Crusades of the Restless Knights

How do you describe love to someone, especially that first love? Or the way a full moon and the stars look a hundred miles from the nearest town when you're out alone in the desert with the coyotes serenading? How about the way it feels when the doctor places your newborn child in your arms for the very first time? How in the hell do you find words to describe the sheer beauty of moments like these? How can mere words ever express the joy, beauty, and sadness of life? That's the way I feel trying to describe Ray Wylie Hubbard and his music. There have only been three other musicians that have ever affected me the way his music does, down deep on that cellular level. There is something there that goes straight to my soul and gets in there and starts mucking around with my emotions. I wish I had that power to reach out and connect with people. Bill Monroe had it. Hank Williams had it. Johnny Cash has it. Ray Wylie Hubbard has it too. Ray Wylie's latest release latest release Crusades of the Restless Knights is another masterpiece. His songs work on several levels. On "Crows", is he talking about the mentally ill, shiftless scavengers of humanity, people in general, or all of the above? Hubbard sings songs of suffering, not the poor, poor, pitiful me suffering, but that self-induced kind. That suffering that will either cause you to grow or to die.

Ray has a humorous side too. "Conversation with the Devil", a talking blues about being cast into Hell and trying to plea bargain and bullshit your way out. In it, we find out that the Devil ain't such a bad guy after all. He loves Jesus and hates Country Music Radio Program Directors, Nashville Record Executives, and anyone who hurts a child. Ray writes of mystical and spiritual things, without getting preachy. It's almost like he's a Zen Baptist. He just lays things out there and allows you to try and figure them out.

Hubbard has surrounded himself with Texas's best musicians, much like Jesus surrounded himself with His Disciples. Steven Bruton plays rock and roll mandolin, electric and acoustic guitars. Lloyd Maines, in addition to co-producing with Ray, plays all kinds of guitars, slide guitars, pedal steel guitars, and most everything else with strings and frets. Glen Fukunaga adds a bottom that's low and clean. The combination of these musicians funky grooves along with Ray Wylie Hubbard's gruff, world weary vocals, as well as his songs, make this a disc that will stay close at hand for a long time. This disc definitely belongs in your "doesn't suck" pile.

Visit the Wylie World Headquarters for
World Domination at

Jeff Wall

Sam Bush - Ice Caps: Peaks of Telluride
Sugar Hill

Back when Telluride, Colorado  was just a Hippie Commune that would invite skiers to come up and break legs and smoke dope in the winter time, a bunch of music freaks decided to start a music festival. The first year was semi successful. After that first year, they decided to continue it, but they needed a draw. A conduit of cosmic energy. Someone, or a group of someones who could entice people to drive out into the middle of nowhere in the Colorado Rockies in June where everywhere else in the northern hemisphere the weather is warm but in Telluride you'll freeze your ass off at night, and to come and spend their money at a music festival.

There was only one man or group of men that was up to the task. That group of men was The New Grass Revival. Sam Bush, John Cowan, Courtney Johnson, Curtis Burch, and later Pat Flynn and Bela Fleck were there every year, sunshine or snow. When the New Grass Revival broke up, Sam continued to play Telluride as a solo act or with friends. Ice Caps captures the last ten years of Sammy's Telluride performances.

There's Sammy and Jerry Douglas playing Dylan's "Girl of the North Country". There's Sam playing fiddle on Monroes "Big Mon" with his showgroup ManBoy (John Cowan, Randy Stewart (aka Jon Randall), Larry "Larue" Atamanuik) with some help from Bela Fleck. There's Sam dragging up John Magnie of the Subdudes to cover their "Angel to Be".

Sam likes to play music. There is no telling who he will sit in with, from Willie Nelson to Hootie and the Blowfish. He occasionally plays clubs with his legendary R&B band Duckbutter. Duckbutter has never been recorded and probably never will. However Sam displays a little of the Duckbutter groove when he straps on his electric mandolin and puts on his Jeffro Beck persona for some funky blues on Sonny Landreth's "Speak of the Devil," and his electric guitar for the boogie woogie of Leon Russell's" I put a Spell on You."

The disc closes with two tunes that define Sam Bush. A funky Bluegrass romp through Kool and the Gang's "Celebrate" and his instrumental "Stingray" One showcases Sam's humor, while the other shows his ability to take music to the outer limits of your mind. There is nothing that can compare to watcjhing Sam Bush live on the stage. Ice Caps comes closest to capturing that all out, balls to the wall sense of fun and musical mastery that is Sam Bush.

Shaver- The Earth Rolls On
New West
Blue Rose

Billy Joe Shaver has got to be the closest thing to a real live actual Saint walking on the face of the earth today. A backsliding, rough and rowdy Saint, but a Saint nonetheless. I've never ever heard anyone have a bad word to say about him. I've heard some hilarious stories about some of his more colorful antics, but I've never heard anyone speak ill of him. He's one of the few people on the face of the earth who are exactly what they appear to be. A Cowboy mystic sage. He seems to exist on a different level that much of the rest of us do. He takes things as they come. He stands up for the things he thinks are right and damn the consequences. He's loyal to a fault. He blames no one for his troubles except himself. He has an incredible quiet faith in his Savior. In spite of his troubles with dope, liquor, women, and life in general, Billy Joe Shaver is the closest thing to a walking, talking Saint that I have ever experienced. I would sooner turn to him in my hour of need than the flashiest preacher with the most gilded tongue. Billy Joe walks with God.

This record is tearing me up. It's almost too damned good to listen to. The part that is breaking my heart is the knowing that there will never be another Shaver record. That's because one half of father/son team Shaver, Billy Joe's son Eddy, the guitar slinging genius, died of a heroin overdose on December 31st, 2000. In addition to losing his son, Billy Joe has also lost his wife and mother within the space of a year, and through it all, Billy Joe keeps walking the earth dealing with his pain in a quiet way looking forward to meeting his family on the other side.

The Earth Rolls On is the best record they ever made together. Billy Joe ain't that happy with it because there were Nashville session musicians used, most notably the great Kenny Vaughn and Twangtrust producer, Ray Kennedy. Billy Joe ain't that happy because of the outside influence and help. Yet even Billy Joe will admit it's probably the best they've ever done.

Eddy's playing is less in your face that his work on past records. Instead of being so pyrotechnic and distracting in its brilliance, his work is much more supportive of the songs themselves. I want to say that this is Billy Joe's most autobiographical piece of work to date, but that's the only kind of song Billy Joe has ever written; The ones that mirror his own life.

"Love is so Sweet" is a lesson in the power of love from a highway tramp to someone who has it all, except what's most important. It's a positive, uptempo Country Love song that doesn't suck for a change. "Hard Headed Heart" sounds as if might have been written about Eddy, but it could just as easily been written about any number of people, including Billy Joe himself. It's a song about having the self-imposed, self-destructive blues, when all along knowing that there is a better way of life just waiting back at home. "New York City Girl" only needs a banjo to be a Bill Monroe standard, except that Mr. Bill never wrote love songs like this or used a line like "she played a guitar like it was a man between her knees and every other song she played she'd dedicate to me."

The most emotional song on this record is "Blood is Thicker than Water". Eddy had a drug problem, and had had it for many years. The record company did everything they could to try and get Eddy into treatment, and to separate Eddy and Billy Joe so that Eddy could hit bottom. But Billy Joe was unwilling to let his son go down alone, stating that Eddy was blood kin and that you had to always stand by blood kin no matter what.

The song starts off with the father criticizing the woman his drunk son has brought home, calling her a two-bit whore and a witch. The second verse talks about the childbirth that is the bond between the mothers and the fathers. All along there is a simple chorus between verses that states Blood is Thicker than water. Then the heartbreaking part comes in when Eddy sings the son's part of: "Can't you see I'm down to the ground, I can't get no lower./ I've seen you puking out your guts and running with sluts when you was married to my mother./ Now the powers that be are leading you and me like two lambs to a slaughter./ I need a friend I'm your son and your always gonna be my father./ Don't you know that Blood, Blood is thicker than Water". The last verse is Billy Joe singing of redemption. The song rips my heart apart. Doubly so now that Eddy is gone. I never knew he had such a sweet voice.

Two other songs deserve mention (not that every song here isn't a great one). "Leaving Amarillio" is the most joyous song I've ever heard that tells both a woman and a town to kiss your ass. The disc closes with a power ballad that may as well be Eddy's Swan Song. Between Billy Joe singing that the Earth Rolls On and life keeps on happening whether we want it to, and Eddy's emotionally drenched blues guitar wailing, you can't help but feel Billy Joe's pain.

If you got to go out, I guess the best way to do it is to leave a legacy. Eddy Shaver did just that with this record. His Texas roadhouse guitar playing was the perfect contrast with his fathers Rode Hard and Put up Wet vocals. Eddy's playing was based more in the blues, while Billy Joe Shaver would be a country singer even if he was the lead singer for heavy metal band Metallica. It's in his very marrow of his soul. The man is a Saint.

(Editors note: Grant Alden wrote a feature on Billy Joe Shaver that has to be the finest piece of music journalism that has ever appeared in No Depression magazine. It's on the stands now (04/22/01) pick one up or visit to get yourself a copy)

Jeff Wall

Greg Trooper - Straight - Down Rain

Greg Trooper has delivered us another tasty little album. I enjoyed his last release Popular Demons, this one is just as good, if not just a little bit better. The songs are well written and the production is appealing. Trooper gets compared to Springsteen at times which isn't fair. Compared to Trooper, Broooce sucks. Trooper writes songs that stick in your guts. Straight Down Rain is a little more adventurous than his last record, Popular Demons. This is more of a finely crafted pop record, even alternative sounding at times. There's also a little country here and there. One tune, a hard core country tune that Julie Miller sings harmony on, called "Real Like That" is the best damned thing on the record. In fact, it's the best damned song I've heard this year. This song moves me so much that I think that it should be released as a single, copies pressed and sent to every radio station in the world, then a pistol should be held to the program directors head until they listen to it. And that's just one song. There's eleven more on the record. While the songs shift stylistically from track to track, the album flows along very well. This is not just a tasty little album. It's a hell of a record. Troopers gonna be bigger than sliced bread if he keeps this up.

Jeff Wall