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Johnny Cash: Cash, American VI; Ain't No Grave (American)

Johnny Cash: Cash, American VI; Ain't No Grave (American)

In recent years I have been lecturing in contemporary music (rock'n'roll to hip-hop) and it has been an insight for me. After showing clips of a young and wild Elvis for example some students will come to me afterwards and express surprise: they only knew him from parodies as that boring fat guy. History is reductive: it's necessary to remind...

Kris Kristofferson: Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends (Light in the Attic/Rhythmethod)

Kris Kristofferson: Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends (Light in the Attic/Rhythmethod)

Elsewhere agrees with itself that Willie Nelson makes too many albums these days (although the last one Country Music was excellent). But the collection to return to repeatedly is Classic and Unreleased, a '95 Rhino box set of Willie's early years. In it you can hear the gifted songwriter that everyone recognised, and the utterly personal...

CRAZY HEART, a film by SCOTT COOPER (Roadshow DVD)

CRAZY HEART, a film by SCOTT COOPER (Roadshow DVD)

As in rock‘n‘roll, country music has its casualties, like Hank Williams who died at age 29 in the back of his chauffeur-driven Cadillac on the way to a gig. Others make a longer crawl to the bottom through years of drink, dope, one-night stands in cheap bars where they stagger through versions of their hits with a local...

George Strait and Alan Jackson: Murder on Music Row (2000)

George Strait and Alan Jackson: Murder on Music Row (2000)

There has been quite a tradition in country music of complaining about how it has lost its roots, lost its way, been taken over by big business and stars selling out for the almighty dollar. Way back Waylon asked Are You Sure Hank Done it This Way? and ol' Hank Williams (something of a rebel himself, remember) seems to be the touchstone for...

Willie Nelson: Rarities Vol 1 (Great American Music/Southbound)

Willie Nelson: Rarities Vol 1 (Great American Music/Southbound)

Another week, another Willie album? (Previously here the joke was another month, another Willie but . . .) So it has seemed lately -- but this isn't new material: here are songs by Willie from betweeen 1959 and '65,  11 of them just solo with guitar, the rest with a small band. The solo pieces -- only one breaking the two minute mark...

Tift Merritt: See You on The Moon (Concord)

Tift Merritt: See You on The Moon (Concord)

To be honest, despite very much liking most of Merritt's '02 album Bramble Rose -- and concluding the review, "a name to remember, Tift" -- I lost touch with her augmented alt.country which came with a little sensuality and suggestions of Petty-like country-rock. That said, of course I remembered the name so this came qucikly to...

George Jones: The Great Lost Hits (Time Life/Southbound)

George Jones: The Great Lost Hits (Time Life/Southbound)

Lawd almighty, but ain't there been some archival albums appearing lately? In the past few weeks Elsewhere has noted albums of Bob Dylan barely out of his teens (here); Kris Kristofferson before the fame (here), Willie Nelson's earliest material (here) . . . and now the great George Jones. The honky-tonk balladeer, country weeper (Things...

BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2010 Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses: Junky Star (Lost Highway)

BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2010 Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses: Junky Star (Lost Highway)

The name "Ryan Bingham" has been getting a lot of eartime recently -- it was the name of George Clooney's character in the movie Up in the Air. But more importantly in the real world it belongs to one of the most interesting Americana singer-songwriters of the past deacde -- the man who picked up an Oscar for his song The Weary...

Willie Nelson: Healing Hands of Time (1961)

Willie Nelson: Healing Hands of Time (1961)

By the time Willie Nelson laid down this demo of what is arguably one of the greatest songs of his pre-fame period, he had already written Family Bible (a top 10 country hit for Claude Gray although Nelson had sold the song outright so got no writing credit or cash) and Hello Walls (number one for nine weeks in '61 for Faron Young). Crazy,...

Dierks Bentley: What Was I Thinkin' (2003)

Dierks Bentley: What Was I Thinkin' (2003)

One of the features of country music which make it a great soundtrack when driving is that the songs often tell stories. Sometimes those narratives are maudlin and sentimental, sometimes they really hit a spot in the heart -- and sometimes they are just kinda dumb fun. Like this one. In '04 while driving across the Southern states, this...

Barry Saunders: Far As The Eye Can See (Ode)

Barry Saunders: Far As The Eye Can See (Ode)

More than just a compilation of tracks from his various albums and radio sessions (including some from his excellent Zodiac album), this collection of songs by country-inflected singer-songwriter Saunders was a prompt for various painters and visual artists. Wellington curator Ron Epskamp of Exhibitions Gallery (here) invited 14 artists to...

BILLY JOE SHAVER PROFILED (2011): The rough diamond from Texas coal

BILLY JOE SHAVER PROFILED (2011): The rough diamond from Texas coal

The truth about Billy Joe Shaver is much more interesting than anything anyone might make up about the guy. Shaver has lived on the hard edge of life. Born in Corsicana in Texas in late 1941 or '39 depending on where you read it (“just a cotton-gin town, the same one Lefty Frizzell came from") and raised in Waco, he lost two...

LUCINDA WILLIAMS INTERVIEWED (2011): Darkness from light

LUCINDA WILLIAMS INTERVIEWED (2011): Darkness from light

These are more good days for Lucinda Williams: happily married and comfortable, a Grammy nomination for Kiss Like Your Kiss (best song in a film or television series, it appeared in True Blood) and acclaim from her peers, critics and an increasing fan base. And she has a new album out, Blessed which was produced by Don Was, her husband...

Johnny Cash: From Memphis to Hollywood Bootleg Vol II (CBS)

Johnny Cash: From Memphis to Hollywood Bootleg Vol II (CBS)

Following Cash's Personal File: Bootleg Vol I -- and of course the Dylan bootleg series, Kris Kristofferson's Austin Sessions and demoes, George Jones' Great Lost Hits and various Willie Nelson issues of early demos and sessions -- there is no shortage of material for scholars researching these artists. This Johnny Cash double disc from his...

SLIM WHITMAN PROFILED (1923-2013): A song to save the world

SLIM WHITMAN PROFILED (1923-2013): A song to save the world

In the early Eighties, the late Slim Whitman – who had recorded more than 65 albums -- still held down the record for the longest number one on the British charts, 11 consecutive weeks, a feat unmatched by Elvis or the Beatles. But back home in the States he was a singer without a song. He was a household name but few Americans...

JOHNNY CASH; THE MAN IN BLACK (Xelon/Southbound DVD)

JOHNNY CASH; THE MAN IN BLACK (Xelon/Southbound DVD)

Despite it's promising subtitle "A Documentary", this 90 minute overview of Johnny Cash's career is little more than a Reader's Digest synopsis where much is glossed over (just why was the death of his older brother so traumatic?) and important events are left hanging or unexplored. It is also scrupulously free of a single note of...

Steve Earle: I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive (New West)

Steve Earle: I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive (New West)

Perhaps because there is already so much Steve Earle in the world -- this is his 14th studio album by my account -- there is very little frisson of delight or surprise coming from this album. Little Emperor would seem to be addressed to George W Bush ("no pomp and circumstance, no more shock and awe, you're just a little emperor that's...

Willie Nelson: Cowboys are Frequently Secretly Fond of Each Other (2006)

Willie Nelson: Cowboys are Frequently Secretly Fond of Each Other (2006)

When this Willie Nelson song started to get a bit of attention around the time of the movie Brokeback Mountain, many people -- myself included -- assumed it had been prompted by that film. But the story of it goes back quite a way and the song's writer Ned Sublette tells it in his excellent book The Year Before the Flood about his time in...

Seasick Steve: You Can't Teach an Old Dog New Tricks (Liberator)

Seasick Steve: You Can't Teach an Old Dog New Tricks (Liberator)

Steve – who makes or adapts his own guitars, counted Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain as friends and had Grinderman, Ruby Turner and KT Tunstall on his raw 08 album Started Out With Nothing And I Still Got Most of It Left – has been a hobo, busker and record producer in his time, and his blues-infused albums reflect stories of a...

Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers: Starlight Hotel (Signature/Border)

Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers: Starlight Hotel (Signature/Border)

Les alt. than country, Zoe Muth from Seattle invites favourable comparisons with Eilen Jewell and early Emmylou Harris, and a whole host of Nashville writers who are smart enough to still have their hearts in the honky-tonks. These are pedal steel and mandolin stories which cut out the fat and get right down to the sad and lonely bones of...

Jeff Bridges: Jeff Bridges (Blue Note)

Jeff Bridges: Jeff Bridges (Blue Note)

After his multiple awards-winning turn as broken down country singer Bad Blake in Crazy Heart, and the spin-off T Bone Burnett-produced soundtrack, there should be interest in this (also produced by Burnett) where Bridges again sings persuasively on originals and material by John Goodwin, Stephen Bruton (who wrote most of the Crazy Heart...

Jerry Jeff Walker: Jerry Jeff Walker, Expanded Edition (Raven)

Jerry Jeff Walker: Jerry Jeff Walker, Expanded Edition (Raven)

First released in 1972 and only now available on CD (here expanded with  five extra songs including a 2002 version of his classic Mr Bojangles), this album was one which introduced Texan Walker as part of the left-field non-Nashville country acts of the day alongside Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Guy Clark and Waylon Jennings. In...

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