Dead Fingers, photo courtesy Jonathan Purvis
This year saw the further disintegration of album sales and disgruntled musicians receiving a pittance from Spotify or other streaming services. Okay, on the bright side there were still great albums to be heard and musicians kept up the pace like the scene with the shrimp boat in Forrest Gump. “Storm?” “What storm?”
Taylor Swift made a home base move from Nashville to New York City and went from making Country Music that was really crossover to making a complete crossover to Pop Music. Albeit, the songs are catchy and she has become the reigning sales queen by CD through placement that saw 1989 on Diet Coca Cola pop up displays in every major supermarket in the United States plus a lot of hard touring and tabloid press.
Scott Borchetta is still on my amazing label head list. If it takes every supermarket in the United States to make Taylor’s new album a million seller, he’s going to do it. Scott shows sheer tenacity and anybody who has heard him talk about the original Taylor Swift launch will realize that if he has the right thing to work with, he will not be denied.
One bright spot on the sales horizon was hearing that United Record Pressing was moving to bigger digs due to the ever increasing demand for vinyl. The craziest part about vinyl is that we all bought into the X and O bits as music for so long that when you hear real music frequencies on vinyl, it’s hard to believe how real it sounds.
Nashville continues to diversify as Country Music starts to sound more like Twisted Sister and Motley Crue starts to sound more Country. What’s interesting is just as Country was starting to hedge the crossover bet towards EDM, the big money making songs had guitar tones from REM to Malcom Young.
Just when you thought all was lost to what classic country sounded like, Ray Price delivers an instant Countrypolitan classic and Sturgill Simpson shows a path to the future for real Country. There are many performers who would like to see “Real” Country make a comeback by Artists like JP Harris and Joe Fletcher.
Jack White continued his Nashville years as the hardest working rocker in the business. Next up, Bridgestone Arena just blocks from Third Man Records. Neil Young became not only the first person to record straight to vinyl in the refurbished 1947 Voice-O-Graph booth at the initial unveiling on Record Store Day 2013, he also recorded an entire album in the time machine, releasing A Letter Home on Third Man Records.
The Black Keys kept pretty busy not just by touring arenas but producing solid efforts by Lana Del Rey [Ultraviolence] and Nikki Lane [All Or Nothin’].
Debbie Bond & The TruDats and The Cotton Blossom Band at CD Release Party, photo- Brad Hardisty
If Nashville is not collecting the creative spark of the world like an ACME magnet in a Roadrunner cartoon than I don’t know how one can explain the laundry list of musicians of every genre moving here by the droves. There are so many more professional musicians than what you read about in the local rags.
East Nashville is becoming “gentrified” with its traditions like The Tomato Festival and The Hot Chicken Festival and has a laundry list of musicians living in the vicinity. The area is becoming much more expensive so there are other neighborhoods starting to become better known for musicians such as more affordable Riverside and Berry Hill.
The list of venues and bands that travel through town continues to grow. Nashville marches on as a Mecca for all things music as Nashville’s New Years Eve became only second in attendance to New York City in only four years of promoting headlining acts. Last year the show featured Blackberry Smoke, Brent Eldridge and headliner Hank Williams Jr.. This year it will be called Jack Daniels Bash on Broadway and feature a star-packed lineup that includes Lady Antebellum, Gavin DeGraw, The Apache Relay, and Kristen Capolino. The crowds have surpassed projected numbers in years past. Last year down on Broadway had near 90,000 party goers. This year will probably top 100,000 + for the free show.
Here are my Top Ten from Nashville and a couple of Alabamans and a Texan thrown into the mix.
10 [tie] – The Cotton Blossom Band – Soulshining [Self release]
Tony Gerber put together the truest Alternative project heard all year in Nashville. The Cotton Blossom Band features members of Bela Fleck & The Flecktones [Roy Wooten aka Futureman] and BB King’s [Michael Doster] rhythm section and they manage to blend Mississippi Hill Country Blues with Space Music and other assorted world tones. Imagine Junior Kimbrough backed by Tangerine Dream and you might be close but, no banana. I know there are other projects in town that are somewhere in this realm but Tony Gerber’s realization turned every live gig [which were almost invitation only events] into meditation on another plane without the need for Meds.
“See My Jumper Hangin’ Out On The Line”
10 [tie] -Justin Townes Earle – Single Mothers [Vagrant Records]
Justin is back in town! Well, after the New York sojourn, it was great to hear a great Nashville lineup playing some Southern inflected bluesy Muscle Shoals soul. Simple arrangements and to the point, this could have been a writer’s night at The Commodore Grill with a minimalist four piece band. The lyrics are important, timely and reflect more facets of his life, especially “Single Mothers” and his own feeling of being raised by a single mother. Justin changes it up again and always manages to upset somebody. This time, it’s “where is Justin’s finger style in the mix?” If you don’t know by now, Justin has made a stretch assignment on every album since Yuma. The predictable quality with the unpredictable line-up or mix is what keeps one looking forward to seeing what he is up to next.
“Single Mothers” “Picture In A Drawer”
9 -Debbie Bond & The TruDats – That Thing Called Love [Blues Root Productions]
Although completed in 2013, the official release date was in 2014 for the first Live recording to come from Radio Free Nashville’s Mando Blues Show as an official release. Much of the songs played by Alabama’s Queen of The Blues, Debbie Bond, that quintessential night were meant for a future project. After hearing the playback of the recordings done deep in the Tennessee woods in a MASH style tent, Debbie and her band decided it was a great sound and ready for release after some solid mixing. The album features an eclectic mix of tributes to the fans in Tarragona, Spain, New Orleans as well as the influence of Alabama Blues and Soul.
“Tarragona Blues” “Steady Rolling Man”
8 – St. Paul & The Broken Bones – Half The City [Single Lock Records]
You could say this is Eddie Hinton 2.0 or maybe Alabama FAME soul was bubbling under the surface just waiting to get out. What is true is when you take away Country Music, Birmingham and the surrounding areas have an Indie Scene that rivals Nashville. You could file this under The Daptones and the G.E.D. Soul catalog and it fits really well but with something really special with great vocals by Paul Janeway and instrumentation that kept the band busy all year long.
“Call Me”, “Grass Is Greener”
7 – Dead Fingers – Big Black Dog [PIPEANDGUN / Communicating Vessels]
Alabama’s Dead Fingers have developed a copacetic duality in their harmonies and their approach. Taylor Hollingsworth [Conor Oberst, The Spider Eaters] is a monster on the guitar and is able to approach the instrument in whatever way the song needs to be tickled. His wife Kate Taylor steps it up this time and her vocals are stronger than ever. You could call this a Southern She & Him but their pedigree goes even deeper into the history of Birmingham music. The Taylor family is involved in more projects than can be named while Taylor Hollingsworth’s brother has his own stuff going on. This couple represents the bread and butter of the modern day Birmingham scene from The Nick to over the mountain.
“Big Black Dog” “Shoom Doom Babba Labba”
6 – Jack White – Lazaretto [Third Man Records]
The depth to where Jack White takes his muse never ceases to amaze. The second solo release shows him in top form and now he is ready to take on Bridgestone Arena from his own backyard, which is no small feat as any Nashvillian will attest. Jack takes the James Brown motto of “the hardest working man in show business” to a third power.
“Lazaretto”, “Would You Fight For My Love”
5 -Ricky Skaggs & Sharon White –Hearts Like Ours [Skaggs Family Records]
Long time happily married Ricky and Sharon decide to change it up from their day jobs with Kentucky Thunder and The Whites and make a great duet album with a classic Country almost Americana edge. Although this is their first, hopefully it will not be their last. Ricky is always up for a challenge and has worked with everybody from Bruce Hornsby, Jack White and Barry Gibb over the last few years. Sharon White is the real surprise stretching beyond traditional Bluegrass to be a real charmer in almost a Steve Earle Texan Country meets Blues type way as well as some sweet Christian couple stories of faith that would have been commonplace in Country of the 50’s and 60’s. If one had lost faith that marriage could be a faith building partnership this might bring the possibilities that can exist.
“I Run To You”, “Love Can’t Ever Get Better”
4 – Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds In Country Music [High Top Mountain / Thirty Tigers]
Sturgill Simpson reminds one how cool stripped down Country Music like the Bakersfield sound is. It’s like the third coming of Buck Owens. I think he has a little more Texas in his groove. Dwight Yoakum was kind of the same thing back when “Guitars & Cadillacs” hit MTV instead of Great American Country. Dwight made it with the LA Punk Rock crowd and Sturgill is hitting it big with the Alternative Festival scene. The great thing is Nashville likes Sturgill too. So, maybe this kind of Country does have a chance in this Twisted Sister era of Country Radio. A great voice, great songs and a cracker jack band will not be denied.
“Turtles All The Way Down”, “Living The Dream”
3 -Steelism – 615 to Fame [Single Lock Records]
Okay, this may not be number one on the list, maybe because you can’t put an instrumental album there? This has got to be the coolest album on the list. I first heard Spencer Cullum [Jr.] and his brother after I found out that The Deadstring Brothers were playing at The Basement a half dozen years ago. Their album Sao Paulo had just come out and it was the best thing this side of Exile On Main Street. I figured not many people had heard of The Deadstring Brothers but The Basement was packed. I talked to Spencer at that show and found out the band had moved to Nashville. After seeing Spencer craft about any tone on his pedal steel into liquid gold, I thought they better never let this guy leave for Britain. We need him here. What a great band! What a great musician! Watching this band on YouTube play “Linus & Lucy” like a countrified Ventures project is pure Nirvana. I want to hear Steelism plays Zappa. I want to hear Steelism play Ventures. I want to hear them any chance I get.
“The Landlocked Surfer”, “Marfa Lights”
2 -DeRobert & The Half Truths – I’m Tryin, [G.E.D. Soul Records]
This GED Soul gem came out early in the year and may be a little lost in the shuffle as we tend to remember summer through fall as new releases. This album solidifies GED Soul as a major player in the retro Soul stack that includes Broken Bones, Daptones and even Back to Black Winehouse. DeRobert proves to have great vocal chops and solid pitch. There is something soulful but very sunny about DeRobert’s grooves. GED Soul gets together solid engineering and mixing that sounds great on the turntable. I personally like this over the much more publicized and still great St. Paul & The Broken Bones material. Just keep pouring on great arrangements and songs and DeRobert will not be denied. Bonus- The Batman Building featured prominently on the cover.
“Ooo Wee”, “Get On It”, “I’m Tryin’”
1 -Ray Price – Beauty is…The Final Sessions [Amerimonte LLC]
Ray Price worked with studio veteran Producer Fred Foster to put forth true blood, sweat, tears, money, guts, glory…I could go on. This was a love letter mostly to his wife, but, it was the final effort of a man in his 80’s with cancer known as one of the greatest voices ever laboriously getting the best take and building a Countrypolitan opus with strings and everything great about the Country crossover hits that come out in the 60’s. Ray may have been honored by Oxford American in their Texas issue this year, but this album is pure Nashville as Ray made several trips to Tennessee to complete Beauty is… Ray was a man on a mission to make one great final album and he succeeded.
“An Affair To Remember”, “I Wish I was 18 Again”
- Brad Hardisty, Nashville, TN thenashvillebridgeathotmaildotcom