Archives for category: Lost Highway Records

A year in Exile

If there was any kind of recurrent theme this year, The Rolling Stones kept popping up on the radar. It started when I bought the Deadstring Brothers album Sao Paulo an obvious well done Stones influenced work of art. It would be in my Top Ten if it had come out in 2010 but it actually was released in 2009. It is a great album and when I saw them live at The Basement it came across really well.

It didn’t stop there; Exile on Main Street had been remastered with bonus tracks where The Stones actually brought in Mick Taylor to play his parts on some unfinished tracks. The Rolling Stones released a new single “Plundered My Soul” from the found tracks and released several versions of the album.

Grimey’s did a midnight screening of the Documentary Stones in Exile that took photographs, film, new interviews with the band as well as Bobby Keyes and others about recording Exile on Main Street in the south of France way back when at The Belcourt Theatre. “Exile” is now considered a pivotal record but at the time “Tumbling Dice” was considered a difficult single on a rather un-commercial record.

During the Americana Conference the Long Players augmented with Stones Sax Player Bobby Keyes, Dan Baird and several singers like Mike Farris, Grace Potter and others did the entire album live at The Cannery Ballroom. 

The Theatre release Ladies and Gentlemen The Rolling Stones which was filmed during the Exile promotional tour in the States was remastered and released on DVD in the fall. The set featured many of the songs from Exile that are not played much by latter day Stones such as “Sweet Virginia”. The sound and film looked phenomenal and it was good to see Mick Taylor at his best, an integral part of The Stones during that period and in truth is really missed nowadays.

Finally, to finish off the year of The Stones, Keith Richard’s Autobiography Life was released in November along with a compilation of his X-Pensive Winos recordings from the late Eighties.  The Rolling Stones managed to keep in the music news almost as much as Taylor Swift.

Original cover for Straight Up

It also seemed to be the year for catalog re-releases as Apple Records remastered most of the Apple back catalog of non-Beatles recordings by Badfinger, Mary Hopkins, James Taylor and released all of them at the same time.

FnA Records continued to not only re-release 80’s metal catalog but also unearthed several recordings that were set to release but never were by labels such as A&M and Geffen when the Seattle scene took over.  There were several recordings by different artists from The Thirteenth Floor Elevators 45’s to Carnival Season vinyl that saw their material released on CD for the first time.

Janie Hendrix continues exquisite releases of all things Jimi Hendrix with the release of West Coast Seattle Boy that not only has yet another Bob Dylan song done by Hendrix but goes back to the background of what he was doing before going to England with expanded packages that include a disc full of Isley Brothers and other nuggets, pre-Experience as well as a DVD Voodoo Child that even talks about his Nashville days.

Country continues to sell big, but real, traditional or Texas Country has been swallowed up by the Americana scene. At least it has found a home. As far as innovation in current pop country the last leap forward was Miranda Lambert’s Revolution and that was released last year.

Here are few honorable no less worthy than the list:

Ratt – Infestation

Merle Haggard – I Am What I Am

Kort – Invariable Heartache

Charlie Louvin – The Battles Rage On

Marty Stuart – Ghost Train

Jim Lauderdale – Patchwork River

Crazy Heart – (Soundtrack) Various Artists

Okay, now for my Top Ten. In making my choices, I not only looked at material, but innovation and game changers, records that made things interesting.

10- Carnival Season / Misguided Promises / ARRCO

This represents not only a re-issue on CD for the first time of regional Birmingham band Carnival Season that features local legend Tim Boykin, but, painstakingly includes every recording the band made during their short time together as well as extensive liner notes that tell the whole story of the late 80’s rockers. It sits well on the shelf with bands like Redd Kross as well as The Replacements. The band has been doing occasional reunion gigs playing not only this set but some new stuff as well over the last couple of years. This was one of the first alternative rock bands out of Birmingham, Alabama.

Featured tracks: “Misguided Promises”, “Please Don’t Send me to Heaven”

9- Robert Plant / Band of Joy / Rounder –Esparanza

Robert was in the middle of recording the follow up to Raising Sand with Allison Krauss when he pulled the plug when he felt the magic wasn’t there. He retreated to Nashville and entrusted Buddy Miller to put together a band that features Darrell Scott, Byron House, Marco Giovino and Patty Griffin and secluded into Woodland Studio to see what they would come up with. The result is obscure covers as well as a Plant-Page piece from Walking into Clarksdale that shows some Zeppelin flavor with uncharted Americana territory which sonically could have only happened with Nashville session players in such a short time. The band gelled in the studio and continues to roll across Europe and Stateside. This is probably Buddy Miller’s best Production effort yet.

Featured tracks:  “Angel Dance”, “You Can’t Buy My Love”, “House of Cards”

8 – Ryan Bingham and The Dead Horses / Junky Star / Lost Highway

Ryan tends to write like a modern day Dylan but his voice is more like John Kay from Steppenwolf. Ryan who comes from the red dirt scene of West Texas and now lives in so-L.A. got national notice with the Grammy winning “The Weary Kind” from the Crazy Heart soundtrack defiantly writes about a drifter leaving behind a dead end life to go to California only to end up sleeping on the Santa Monica pier.

Featured tracks: “The Wandering”, “Junky Star”

7- Sweet Apple / Love & Desperation / Tee Pee

Put together by members of Dinosaur Jr. and Witch, this little known defiantly Hard Rock and other worldly idea collection of songs with its Roxy Music rip off style album cover is actually closer to something between an early Alice Cooper (when they were a band) and Ziggy Stardust era Bowie. The album kicks off like a Raspberries send off with Guidedbyvoices production and then the desperation begins with some morbid love lost desperation with a chugging Alice Cooper band style with lyrics like ”Looking out the window, watching people fall, how I wish I could fall to death”. It’s a rock and roll gem this year.

Featured tracks: “Do You Remember”, “I’ve Got a Feeling (That Won’t Change)”

6 – Preservation Hall Jazz Band / Preservation / Preservation Hall Recordings

What a fantastic album. A collection of well-known New Orleans Ragtime with this important Horn based band where the tuba still carries much of the bass part, mashes PHJB with an all-star cast of vocalists such as Andrew Bird, Pete Seeger, Ani DiFranco, Ritchie Havens, Steve Earle as well as the sultry vocals of Memphis’ Amy LaVere.  The band ended up on tour with Maroon 5 this year.

Featured tracks: “Blue Skies”, “Baby Won’t You Please Come Home”

5- John Mellencamp / No Better Than This / Rounder

Recorded for the most part at Sun Studios with one RCA 44 ribbon mic into vintage Ampex Analog gear, John not only sounds like the old Sun recordings, this sounds like old tape that had to be baked in a microwave to finally put it on digital media. It was not only a great idea with equal parts Cash country, Rockabilly and blues but probably his best album since Scarecrow. The T Bone Burnett produced masterpiece even got airtime on WSM.

Featured tracks: “No Better Than This”, “Coming Down the Road”

4- Justin Townes Earle / Harlem River Blues / Bloodshot

If you missed it, Justin just rolled a third strike in three years. Every album has been decidedly Justin with marked differences and excellent songwriting. This would be his “Ode to New York City” where he now calls his second home.  Jason Isbell (Drive by Truckers, The 400 Unit) puts in guitar duties and gives this more of an edgy guitar feel as well as some straight up Rockabilly. It really would be cool to see a pure Rockabilly album in the future.

Featured tracks: “Move Over Mama”, “Workin’ for the MTA”, “Christchurch Woman”

3- Black Mountain / Wilderness Heart / Jagjaguwar

This album sometimes feels like Led Zep III and Deep Purple Fireball at the same time. The duality vocals of Stephen and Amber still remind me of a haunting Jefferson Airplane with the production sounding very early 70’s analog, sometimes acoustic but when they rock it’s got Jon Lord style Hammond B3 all over the place. Although the first album by this Vancouver band may have been a defining moment this is the one that makes me wants to crank the stereo full blast on road trips.

Featured tracks:  “The Hair Song”, “Old Fangs”, “Let Spirits Ride”

2- Mike Farris and The Cumberland Saints / The Night The Cumberland Came Alive / Entertainment One

Recorded in just six hours just two weeks after the Nashville Flood in a downtown Nashville church just blocks from the flooding, Mike shows that his bluesy/gospel voice can sound fantastic over anywhere he wants to go. Mike has been everywhere from Indie Rock, Blues, Gospel, working with Double Trouble to now this pre-war Gospel Blues style gem working with The McCrary Sisters, Sam Bush, Byron House and members of The Old Crow Medicine Show, his originals mesh well with the rare covers. He showcased the album at Cannery Ballroom during the Americana Music Festival and it was electrifying.

Featured tracks: “Wrapped Up, Tangled Up”, “Down on Me”

1-She & Him /Volume Two / Merge

Zooey Deschannel & M. Ward are some kind of modern Indie Captain and Tennille and somehow it works. Zooey has a sunny California breeze running through her muse that translates into a digital era take on The Beach Boys versus Phil Spector. Even though the material is fresh it makes me daydream of being back on the beach in Santa Cruz when I was six with my Mom and little sister.

Featured tracks: “In The Sun”, “Don’t Look Back”,”Lingering Still”

– Brad Hardisty, Nashville, TN

Welcome to the Depression, an honest portrait of the “Junky Star” by Ryan Bingham and The Dead Horses, a down and outer that could be any of us or somebody we know.  In fact, if I start counting all of the friends I have who are lost to drug addiction, prescription or otherwise or lost a job because their skill set is no longer needed, I could have wrote this story. 

While “The Weary Kind” won Ryan Bingham an Academy Award, recognition and new friends, he was preparing to release a bleak and beautiful effort of a wanderer leaving behind the hopeless junkies and lost jobs for the possibilities of California.

During the Great Depression and Dust Bowl days many who lost their land or livelihood left for California’s oil fields and Agriculture. It was a different place then. Merle Haggard’s parents were some of those souls who found happiness and work in the Central Valley in Oildale. If it was not the best paying work, it was steady and provided a way for the next generation to improve upon their simple means.

Oildale CA during theBoom

This time California itself is feeling the pressure of a busted housing boom, tech boom and any other kind of boom they had in the past.  As we set out “The Poet” writes “Sweethearts kiss in the dark, Homeless sleep in the park, I myself just move on through town…oh how I love the highway sun, the poet in the dark writes down his song in blood”.

As he travels the lonely road, the character in Ryan’s songs scribbles lyrics on found paper with a guitar on his back. In “The Wandering” he sings in a broken voice that is as distinctive as Bob Dylan “Disregard the time, find your peace of mind, among the wandering”.

The Doors

We are into track number three and he hasn’t yet sung about his goal to make it to California, “Strange Feelin’ in the Air” just shows an uncomfortable drifter “I’m feelin’ strange, in this town, I feel deranged, as I look around” with an echo to Jim Morrison and The Doors’ “People are strange when you’re a stranger, Faces look ugly when you’re alone”.

I’m beginning to realize I haven’t heard any band this empty since The Cowboy Junkies “Femme Fatale”; in fact this is almost like a Country Album made in Berlin (think “Walk on the Wildside, Lou Reed) by the love child of Bob Dylan and Kurt Cobain. The hooks are only implied but understood.

Finally in “Junky Star” lies the thesis of somebody taking away his farm so “I shot him dead and hung my head, and drove off in his car, so on the run with a smoking gun, I’m headin’ for the coast” only to find himself “sleepin on the Santa Monica Pier, with the junkies and the stars” and finds himself telling God “that the whole damn world was waiting around to die, but not me this time, I left trouble far behind”.

But the truth is you can’t leave trouble behind and this is the total opposite of Bob Dylan’s “Modern Times” where Bob was asked “why something so hopeful in such troubled times?”, he just shared that when you went back to films and music during the Depression and World War II things were always so bright and sunny as an opposite to what was going on and now Ryan no longer calls it just a Recession.

“Depression” makes it very clear “Would I wake up for a lifetime, lose my job in this Depression, well I don’t care, cause I got your love, in this Depression”. As long as he has the love of his life he can make it and let his strung out friends know “…we’ve gone out to California”.

“Junky Star” lets you know there is a Depression going on. The Depression has been getting deeper every year for musicians where the only hope is to make enough to stay out on the road and have enough to keep your apartment when you get back home. The music business started shrinking long before 2008. Whereas a classic album or a piece of Cotton Candy like NSync could sell six million or more, now we talk about a few mega stars going Platinum in a year.

Jobs have been taken from us by a “monkey puzzle” called a Computer and by companies finding cheaper labor overseas. We don’t even know how we can replace what has been taken away. We are only told to spend our way out of these bad times. There are records of people who spent themselves into comfort only to realize they played the fool and became slaves to their ease.

“Junky Star” gives way to another character mindlessly shot by a stranger, “I said you must be down on your luck, I’m out of money and I’m all out of time, he pulled the trigger and I fell to my knees, my spirit left and then my body went cold” the biggest thing the talking dead man worries about is his honey and let’s her know “I’m everything in between the harmonies singin loud, Hallelujah”.

These are the tough luck stories that happen maybe not to you or me but they happen to somebody. Ryan has decided to be the voice of the most difficult California stories one could imagine.

He shares his own thoughts about what we are becoming and in his own “John Lennon-Imagine” style, “there’s just no time for traditions, tying people down to class when everyone’s a shade of green that suffers in the grass of greed”. Maybe the problem is too many can be bought.

Dust Bowl Days

Dead Horses in the middle of the road

California seems to be the last hope even if only a change of location. In “Lay my Head on the Rail”, he sings”The head lights are blinding and the diesels are on fire, hauling ass down a mountain pass to the California state line”.

If you wonder what it feels like after a lifetime of wandering only to find yourself looking back, it is there in “Self-Righteous Wall” in the lyrics “I guess you just couldn’t keep up with the wild horse that you stole, you set yourself on the back steps and you feel yourself growin old, you feel your gray hairs runnin back to a place you left so cold”.

I guess the path is over when you find yourself only looking back.

“Junky Star” is a thematic piece told in first person that never strays from the concept from start to finish. The Who almost did that with “Tommy” except they threw a curve ball in with “Pinball Wizard” for Rock Music Journalist Nik Cohn  in hopes of a great review. The 1960’s were a different time, back then that little difference might be enough to get a radio hit.

Nowadays, recordings might as well be something that means a lot to the writer, in hopes that the listener can find something he can relate to.  If there was a “Tommy” written about the down and out “in this Depression”, Ryan has done it.

Village Recorder mural

It’s quite the paradox that this was recorded at The Village Recorder just one block off Santa Monica Boulevard with its mural of California falling into the ocean.  There are so many huge albums that were done there such as Steely Dan “Aja” and Joe’s Garage by Frank Zappa. This album will at the very least be the Big Star #1 Record of modern Americana.  While this may be a gut wrenching piece of work, I don’t remember anything but great times at The Village Recorder back in late 1989-1990 listening to a mix with Producer Howard Benson or talking about the problems of getting tape for those crazy Akai recorders with Jeff “Skunk” Baxter. In fact I can see myself walking a couple of blocks over to pick up some new guitar strings at West LA Music.  While I am at it, let’s go up another block and get one of those real Carne Asada Burritos.

The Liner notes and the accompanying booklet discards anything unimportant such as who wrote the song, who the publisher is or what performing rights organization is involved. The focus is on the music; even T Bone Burnett lists more credits than the band.  Instead of letting you know what brand of strings Corby Schaub uses or thanking some local music store or fan club the special thanks goes out to “Our Family of Friends who have helped make this all possible”. I was not even familiar with Mastering Engineer Gavin Lurssen, but I am now. There is no annoying distortion by trying to make the CD “louder”. I perceive undebatable warm clean Mastering.

Last stop California!

T Bone Burnett has yet again produced a project that will no doubt be in my top ten for the year. This isn’t an album you would want to listen to when you are in the middle of the tech boom but the American Dream is on the verge of disappearing in these stories of the down trodden that hope to turn a  corner by going to California. If you get to California and find out that the struggle is even harder than the one you left behind, then all there is left to do is go back and face problems head on.

– Brad Hardisty, Nashville, TN