Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Stone River Boys - Live At The Mint 9/25/09

When the talented and much loved Chris Gaffney passed away last year, it was a loss for the Americana music world, and particularly for the Hacienda Brothers – the band he started with David Gonzalez. Gonzalez decided not to fill Gaffney’s void and continue the Hacienda. Instead he started the rather like-minded Stone River Boys, and picked Mike Barfield to be his new musical sidekick. On paper, Barfield seemed to be an inspired choice. In the late ‘90s, he led the neo-honky-tonk outfit, the Hollisters, and has also displayed an affinity for the twangy soul sound that the Hacienda Brothers did so well.
I caught up with the Stone River Boys when they road into L.A. on Sept. 24 for a show at the Mint. Their set started out tackling their two main musical pursuits: the Hacienda’s western soul number “Midnight Dream” followed by old Hollisters’ honky tonkin’ favorite “East Texas Pines.” Gonzalez dedicated “Walkin’ On My Dreams” to Gaffney’s widow, who was in the house.
At first Barfield seemed to be hanging back a little, looking a bit uncertain of his role. But he soon loosened up, showing off (for lack of a better word) his swivel-hip, maraca-shaking dance moves on tunes like the “She’s A Yum Yum” and “The Struggle.” He proved that Gonzalez’s selection of him to be a good one. His “life of the party” persona balanced nicely with Gonzalez’s gritty guitar work as well as Hacienda Brother holdover David Berzansky’s terrific steel guitar playing.
While the Stone River Boys are a relatively young band in terms of time together, they are old souls who know how to play their brand of rockin’ soulful country music with skill and vitality. Their set let me looking forward to seeing a CD come out from them.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Americana Music Festival And Me

With the Americana Music Conference still nestled in that precarious spot between the blur of the experiences and the blurriness of the memories, I wanted to share a few impressions that I took away from my trip to Nashville.
There were a number of memorable moments, some from acts catching my attention for the first time and others living up to expectations.
One act that definitely made a big first (and second and third) impression was the trio, The Baskery. These three sisters from Sweden seemed to have everyone talking at the Conference with their punk-fueled rootsy tunes. One of the cool things was watching the eldest sister strum a mean banjo while also playing a kick drum and singing (in English) to boot.
Peter Cooper was a name I was familiar with – but mostly as a journalist. He’s also a talented singer/songwriter with a terrific gift for the story-song. He performed a song about baseball great Henry Aaron that has stayed with me for days.
I was not at all familiar with the name Patrick Sweany, an Ohio transplant to Nashville. He did an animated set of sweaty, bluesy rock that really energized the audience at the Basement
I happened upon Sweany because I had gone to the Basement to see the Nashville band DADDY. I had enjoyed their recent album, For A Second Time, but this funky rootsy rock outfit was just a wonderfully fun band to experience live. This shouldn’t come as a surprise since the group is fronted by Tommy Womack and Will Kimbrough.
Kimbrough also sat in on Saturday night’s set by Angela Easterling, which reminded me about her fine album, Blacktop Road. Kimbrough, who produced the disc, combined with Easterling’s guitarist Brandon Turner to make her tune “American ID” a delicious slice of jangly roots pop.
DADDY’s Friday night set was followed by a late night/early morning performance from the Canadian trio Elliott Brood. Their new disc Mountain Meadows had caught my ear but I wasn’t prepared for the ferocious intensity that Mark Sasso and Casey Laforet serve up on acoustic guitars, banjo and the like. They made me think of an acoustic version of the Feelies for some reason.
The Band of Heathens was another group that I had targeted to see, having enjoyed their last two albums – and this Austin-based band didn’t disappoint. They play a potent blend of Neil Young, Little Feat and Southern Rock, and their song “LA County Blues” was another of those “stick in my mind” numbers.
I also enjoyed the short set from feisty Nashville country singer, Elizabeth Cook. Cook soon will be starting an album to be produced by Don Was, which might be her ticket to more prominence. She did a dandy song “El Camino” that was both funny and heartfelt.
It’s hard to call John Fogerty’s “secret” set a surprise (most folks seemed to have found out about it) but it was unexpected for him to play for 90 minutes at the intimate Mercy Lounge. The Mercy was also where I later caught Radney Foster’s surprisingly rockin’ set and some sweet swing music from the together-again Hot Club of Cowtown.
Downstairs at the Cannery was the site of strong sets from Holly Williams, W.P.A. (featuring that night Watkins Sean and Sara along with Glen Phillips) and a sublime performance from Buddy Miller (the big winner at the AMA Awards) who brought out Patty Griffin to sing with him (including a version of “Dark End Of The Street”). Miller’s was of the one of the top sets that I saw during the conference.
One of the challenging aspects of this conference (like SxSW and any other multi-stage festivals) is getting to all the acts that you want to see. It’s a little bit like the Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken,” although in this case it’s four clubs, not two roads. However, I am quite happy with the road I took in Nashville, and all the music (and people) I encountered along the way.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

AMA Conference countdown

The Americana Music Conference is now less than a week away so the countdown has really begun in earnest (as in Tubb) for me. My panel (A is for Americana) starts off the morning on Thursday and I’ve been looking over the daily schedule. A number of other panels and workshops have caught my eye, and like the musical showcases, it will tricky to get to all of them. For example, following my panel on Thursday morning, Rosanne Cash will be doing her Keynote Interview but overlapping with that is an Artist Development panel focusing on Sarah Borges, a singer I’ve been a big fan of. Another Thursday highlight looks to be the songwriting workshop with Mary Gauthier and Darrell Scott. One of the cool things of the conference for me is to get an up-close listen to musicians talking about their craft. Chip Taylor will be holding one of these sessions on Friday and Will Kimbrough has one of Saturday. Looking over the listings, it just reminds me what a wealth of interesting events the conference has.