All posts by tspeed

Tom Speed is a freelance writer and co-founder of Honest Tune magazine. He is an amateur ukulelist and peanut butter enthusiast. He lives in Oxford, Miss. with two dogs, two cats, two children and one wife.

Tedeschi Trucks Band to perform at historic Dockery Farms

Tedeschi_Trucks_Band_Photo_Credit_Tedeschi_Trucks_Band_Duo_Exclusive_3The Dockery Farms Foundation has announced that the Tedeschi Trucks Band will perform this year’s outdoor show at the historic location on April 24. It follows their first annual show last year featuring Roseanne Cash.

Dockery Farms is considered one of the holy sites of the Delta Blues and draws visitors from all over the world. Located just east of Cleveland, Miss., it was the home of blues pioneer Charley Patton, who taught locals including Howlin’ Wolf and Pops Staples.

The non-profit Dockery Farms Foundation is focused on preserving the historic property and facilitating public interest in its musical and agricultural heritage.

TTB is touring on the heels of their new album Let Me Get By, which was released in January. The Dockery show provides a rare example to catch the band in an intimate and historical setting.

“This couldn’t come at a better time, soon after the release of the band’s latest album and at a time when they are playing to sold-out venues in Nashville, Chicago, New York City and Washington, D.C.” said Carolyn Powers, co-chair of the Dockery Farms Foundation.

Bill Lester, executive director of the Dockery Farms Foundation, added, “The Tedeschi Trucks Band is just on fire right now, and we expect a high level of excitement that they will be coming here to play.”

One of the restored buildings on the grounds, the former cotton storage shed, will be the main stage for the concert, which is a fundraiser for the Foundation. The show will start at 7:00 p.m., with gates opening at 5:00 p.m. with a yet-to-be-named opening act.

More information and tickets are available on the Dockery Farms website.

Following a tour of Australia and Japan, Tedeschi Trucks Bands stateside  Spring Tour dates are as follows:

 

April 17      Charleston, SC             Southern Ground Music and Food Festival

April 20      Kansas City, MO        Arvest Bank Theatre at The Midland

April 21      Ames, IA                      Stephens Auditorium

April 23      Birmingham, AL           Legacy Arena at The BJCC

with Widespread Panic

April 24      Cleveland, MS              Dockery Farms

April 28      New Orleans, LA         New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

May 7         Buffalo, NY             University At Buffalo Center For The Arts

May 8         Buffalo, NY                  University At Buffalo Center For The Arts     with Amy Helm & The Handsome Strangers

May 10       Syracuse, NY        Crouse Hinds Theater @ The Oncenter

with Amy Helm & The Handsome Strangers

May 12       Hershey, PA                Hershey Theatre

with Amy Helm & The Handsome Strangers

May 13       Newark, NJ                  New Jersey Performing Arts Center

May 14       Atlantic City, NJ         Boardwalk Hall Arena

May 26-29      Cumberland, MD        DelFest

Jason Isbell: Something More Than Free

The time for talking about how much Jason Isbell has changed since his Drive-By Truckers days is long past. Yes, gone are the whiskey-soaked, carousals from his time in the seminal Southern band.  Also in the past is the triumphant story of his hard-won sobriety and newfound life as a successful solo artist.

In their place, a shelf-full of all the hardware the 2014 Americana Music Awards had to offer, in addition to numerous critical accolades and a new life as happy family man. Also: a new album called Something More Than Free.

His 2013 breakout album Southeastern set the bar extremely high, and the follow-up, Something More Than Free, manages to reach, and perhaps hurdle, it.

Thematically, the album is a bit lighter than its predecessor, but it shares a tonal similarity. Isbell has hit a comfortable creative stride that gives the impression he and his listeners are in the midst of a fertile stage of artistic output akin to Neil Young’s early 1970s oeuvre.

Throughout Something More Than Free, Isbell constructs a now-trademark rustic realm, a world inhabited by people yearning, searching and hoping for something better, and a few who think they have it figured out. These are hardscrabble folks living with regrets and seeking redemption.

He creates such vividly imagined characters that at the conclusion of nearly every track, you feel like you’ve just finished a novel or movie, or stepped out of someone else’s dream. These characters—the guy who feels fortunate to have lost three fingers in an accident so he could get a court settlement (“The Life You Chose”), the teenage parents who can’t tell the difference between the “sacred and profane” (“Children of Children”), the guy who just wants to leave town because there’s “nothing here that can’t be left behind” (“Speed Trap Town”) and others—are instant intimates. Isbell’s craft allows these characters to come to life and for you to step into it.

Isbell is a singular voice, but it’s hard not to hear his forbearers living through him. Hints of Warren Zevon’s “Mutineer” (a song he’s performed live) live inside of “Flagship” in more ways that one.  John Prine’s wit suffuses “If It Takes A Lifetime.” And so on. Neil Young’s work informs here, his contemporary Ryan Adams there.

Sonically, Isbell and his band, including wife Amanda Shires on fiddle, are in a comfortable zone, shifting easily from melancholic ruminations to rowdy rockers and country swing.

“Children of Children,” with a string section that floats eerily over Isbell’s slide guitar and soaring solo, is one of many standout tracks on Something More Than Free.  Elsewhere, he adopts old-time, bluegrass-tinged country stomp with “If It Takes a Lifetime” and raunchy rock with “Palmetto Rose.” Throughout, his melodies seem like they’ve been there forever, pulled from the heavens by his pen.

Something More Than Free is continuation of the songwriting maturity found on Southeastern, so much so that Isbell might be wise to make some room on that shelf.

 

Something More Than Free will be released July 17 on Southeastern Records. 

A Bigger Tent: Jams & Mississippians Make A Mark at Americana Fest

Americana Music Festival & Conference Award Show - Show, Audience & Backstage
Valerie June appeared at the Americana Music Association Awards show. Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty images

For the most well attended event in it’s 13-year history last week in Nashville, the Americana Music Association’s Conference and Festival succeeded in large part due to the broadening of its tent, and a sense of inclusivity that has eluded the organization and its events in the past.

When it began, the Americana Music Association sought to codify a style of roots and country music that was thriving outside of the Nashville mainstream of manufactured pop acts. It was an attempt by the music industry to redefine alt-country (whatever that is) and roots music under one umbrella. Under their auspices, they created a new radio chart, and a new but necessarily vague genre that would help artists reach their audiences via radio play, publicity and record sales. An industry event from the get-go.

But over the past 13 years, the effort has at times seemed insular—the same artists, most of them coming from the same sincere songwriting school of the folk music world, or from what was then called alt-country, populating the showcases and awards ceremony year after year. A little bit country, a little bit rock ‘n roll, with a dash of bluegrass and a healthy dose of folk. That approach eschewed otherwise valid musical forms that fit their mission statement. Blues, for example, was relegated to one or two artists, save for the blues elements that seeped into everyone’s music. Gospel was unheard of. And in the land of the tightly constructed and serious as hell three-minute songs, the word “jam” was virtually verboten.

But this year, the event kicked off with Leftover Salmon performing at the Ryman Auditorium with a slew of guests on hand to celebrate the anniversary of their Nashville Sessions recording, which came out in 1999. That record featured a who’s who of Nashville talent who joined in to celebrate that band’s country and bluegrass roots— the same roots that they synthesized into their self-styled “Poly-Ethnic Cajun Slamgrass” style. Poly-ethnic Cajun Slamgrass? As perpetual awards show host Jim Lauderdale would say, “Now that’s Americana!”

So it was fitting that this band, a mainstay of the jamband circuit since it was a thing, would help to establish the inclusivity of the weekend. On stage with them, there was Taj Mahal bringing the house down.  There was mandolin wizard Sam Bush, blazing and leading a trio of mandolin players. There was former Little Feat keyboardist and new band member Bill Payne. There was Widespread Panic’s lead singer John Bell belting out “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” Other guests ranged from bluegrass legends like Del McCoury to jamband godfather Col. Bruce Hampton.

This collaborative affair set the tone for the awards show the following night, and for the next five nights of artist showcases in different music clubs around town. The tent was all of a sudden bigger.

Despite the sometimes narrow atmosphere, the Americana tent has been an ever expanding one that ebbs and flows to bring in, and sometimes shun, certain artists. It’s a fluid term, not a strict genre.

The Leftover Salmon example exuded into the rest of the weekend, with the event showcasing artists who represent the jammier side of the equation and also expanded the “membership” by parading more musicians coming from outside of the realms of folk and country music to include more blues, gospel, and latino music.

It helped that Ry Cooder, who has long been a champion of varied forms of Americana music and what could come to be known as world music, was a part of the stellar house band that also included Buddy Miller and Don Was.

Americana Music Festival & Conference Award Show - Show, Audience & Backstage
Taj Mahal. Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images

What also helped was the inclusion of two lifetime achievement award winners. With renowned accordionist Flaco Jimenez the association rightly brought Latin styles like tejano and conjunto into the fold. Taj Mahal provided the most rousing song of the night, showing that his lifetime of blending blues with forms from around the world belongs in the Americana tent. Given this broader palette, tunes like “Coal Miner’s Daughter” performed by the Loretta Lynn were afforded even more gravity, a stronger pillar due to the additional support whereas it might have been just “old Nashville” in another setting.

Other guests that night included Jackson Browne, Robert Plant singing along with Patty Griffin, soul sounds from St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Sturgill Simpson bringing his psychedelic infused update of outlaw country music to the fore, Valerie June and her bluesy twang, and of course Jason Isbell, who swept the awards by winning best song, best album and best artist of the year.

Part of the insular nature of the event in the past has been its tendency to focus on the Nashville and Austin contingent. That’s natural, because those two locales, each of which loves to claim the “music city” title, are home to the most of the industry players who make up the organization—the record companies, publicists, managers, and yes, a lot of the artists.

This year, though, it didn’t seem so polarizing. Musicians from Mississippi, in particular, made a major impact.

Meridian, Miss. native Jimmie Rodgers was honored at the awards ceremony with the President’s award, presented by Philadelphia, Miss. native Marty Stuart. Stuart proudly showed off a lantern that had once belonged to Rodgers.  Tupelo, Miss. native Paul Thorn gave an impassioned speech lauding Mississippi artists that same night.

The next night featured a showcase entirely dedicated to Mississippi artists. Sharde Thomas and the Rising Star Fife & Drum Band showed that ancient grooves were still alive and well, and safe in her stead. Then 83-year old Leo “Bud” Welch brought downhome gospel blues that seared with authenticity. Luther Dickinson performed solo, but brought out Thomas to play drums for much of the set. Later T-Model Ford’s grandson Stud did the same. Dickinson has made his mark as lead guitarist for the North Mississippi Allstars and one-time member of the Black Crowes. But lately he’s been delving deeply into producing other artists and has released a pair of solo records, one of them consisting entirely of instrumental tunes. The most recent, Rock n Roll Blues, provided the material for much of the set.

In between songs, Dickinson regaled the audience with stories of growing up with his father, the legendary Jim Dickinson. His set was like a master class in Mississippi music history, as he explained how he learned about music hands-on growing up in a musical family.

Marty Stuart and Webb Wilder (a Hattiesburg, Miss. native, who also served as emcee) turned in their sets before the show closed out with Paul Thorn, who jumped into the crowd to close the showcase with a rousing hug fest among the fans that reached the fevered pitch of a tent revival. It was a showcase that showed almost all of the branches of Americana, that just so happened to come from one state. Blues, rock, country, gospel and folk all bubbled up in the musical stew that night.

 Just as Leftover Salmon infused the week with some improvisational workouts early on, other bands took the stages and sounded like they owed as much to the Grateful Dead as Flatt & Scruggs as well. And that’s only natural; the Dead were “big-tent” Americana long before industry executives cooked up the term.

Hard Working Americans & Friends  9-17-14-38
Hard Working Americans’ Dave Schools and Todd Snider. Photo by James Martin

Todd Snider’s new band The Hard Working Americans were nominated for Duo or Group of the Year and performed at the awards show. But the real show came later that night at the sprawling Cannery Ballroom. Billed as “Todd Snider and Friends” the group was essentially the Hard Working Americans, sans guitarist Neal Casal. Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools was the guardian of the groove all night, and undoubtedly the instigator for the chooglin jams the collective swept through over the course of an extraordinary long-for-a-showcase set of about an hour. The band’s best tunes were old classics that even in their selection exuded the definition of Americana—Merle Haggard’s “Working Man Blues,” JJ Cale’s “Crazy Mama” and, fitting for the circumstances, Waylon Jennings’ “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?”

Given Snider’s songwriting pedigree, it’s odd that their debut album consists almost entirely of cover tunes. But at times Snider, masked behind large sunglasses and a floppy hat, would gleefully float to the side of the stage and sway and watch his compatriots as they spaced out, seemed as if he’s trying on a new suit himself.

They were joined by special guests too. Vince Herman of, yep, Leftover Salmon joined in for “Georgia On A Fast Train” and former Yonder Mountain String Band mandolinist Jeff Austin furiously added to “Is This Thing Working?” Elizabeth Cook, and her hairdo, sat in all night on background vocals and various percussion instruments.

It was an Americana showcase, but there was…well, dancing! For an audience that is usually satisfied with some vigorous but thoughtful head nodding, to loosen them up  spoke to the fact that Snider and company were doing something right, and that the Americana family is maybe more diverse than once believed.

Trigger Hippy 9-18-14-3
Trigger Hippy’s Joan Osborne and Jackie Brown. Photo by James Martin

In the same space a few nights later, the unfortunately named but fantastic anyway Trigger Hippy brought similar rootsy blues jams to the stage. Fronted by Joan Osborne and guitarist/keyboardist Jackie Greene, Trigger Hippy hit some of the same notes—loose limbed roots rock with notes of blues and country. In other words, Americana. That Osborne has toured with The Dead and Greene has played with Phil Lesh and The Black Crowes was evident as the band was as comfortable creating space as recreating songs, and they even belted out a Grateful Dead cover with a rousing “Sugaree.”

There were of course lots of singer-songwriters on hand, a few really good bluegrass bands, some earnest roots rockers. Those folks were already in the family. But to allow some of the freakier cousins a seat at the table was a welcome accomplishment for this year’s fest.

 

 

 

Jimbo Mathus & The Tri-State Coalition: Dark Night of the Soul

jimbocdFor the past decade or so, Mississippian Jimbo Mathus has all-too-quietly been cranking out some of the finest roots rock around, each successive album delving deeper into southern roots music and melding it together in complementary concoctions that gratify the heart, hips and head.

His latest, Dark Night of the Soul, is his second for the Oxford-based Fat Possum records and follows nicely with last year’s White Buffalo.  Assistance from then-producer, now-guitarist Eric “Roscoe” Ambel (Del Lords, Bottlerockets) is one common thread. But another is Mathus’ constant maturation as a songwriter and sonic alchemist. After all those years of chewing up the roots of southern music, the resultant product of that mastication is a fiery, spitting stream of pure rock ‘n roll.

Mathus shows here again that he is perhaps our greatest modern practitioner of such fusion. He shifts effortlessly from the deeply grooving, Metersesque funk of “Fire In the Canebrake” to the honky-tonk Americana of “Writing Spider.” There are touches of soul, blues and country everywhere— the raw ingredients for pure, primal rock ‘n roll.

As someone starting with ingredients fresh from the source, it’s not surprising that Mathus reaches a conclusion that other legendary followers have, though often with even more profound results. The relentless boogie of “Rock & Roll Trash” out-Stones the Rolling Stones, the crushing feedback of “Burn The Ships” is crazier than Crazy Horse, and the sweeping, majestic title track is an epic that finds Mathus holding forth like a southern Springsteen. Seriously.

Elsewhere, the mash-ups transcend their constituent ingredients. For instance, the soul shouting of “White Angel” drifts into atmospheric hypnogogic asides while being straddled by muscular guitar heroics. He achieves elusive melancholy ache with “Medicine” and ghostly pleading on “Butcher Bird.”

Behind this alchemy is a penchant for storytelling  The namesake of “Hawkeye Jordan” is a richly drawn character that goes beyond the moonshiner clichés a lazier observer might rely on. “Casey Caught The Cannonball” is a worthy update to the folk legend. The tender “Shine Like A Diamond” began as the wedding vows he wrote to his wife. Throughout, there’s wrenching over absolution, redemption and past troubles.

Recorded at Dial Back Studios in Water Valley, Miss., Mathus is again backed by the excellent Tri-State Coalition (Eric Carlton, keyboards; Matt Pierce, guitar and drummer Ryan Rogers). He also welcomes guest players Ambel (guitar), bassist Matt Patton (Dexateens, Drive-By Truckers) and pedal steel player Kell Kellum.

Together, they whoop up a ruckus and conjure real rock ‘n roll straight from the source, the kind of gut-punching, hip-shaking record that is a real gem because it carries with it a kind of depth and soul all too rare in a landscape that seems to value such authenticity less and less.

 

 

Dark Night Of The Soul is out now on Fat Possum Records.

Dead Gaze: Brain Holiday

BrainHolidayThis past October, the Oxford, Miss. band Dead Gaze released its first studio album, Brain Holiday.  Jackson, Miss. native Cole Furlow is the mastermind behind Dead Gaze, a band that has been churning out homemade acid garage pop in Oxford since 2009.   Furlow struck gold when a friend of his who worked at Oxford’s Sweet Tea Studio was offered eleven days of free studio time, and the friend immediately thought of Furlow.  Sweet Tea Studio is owned and operated by famed producer Dennis Herring, and has attracted the likes of such well-known artists as Animal Collective, Modest Mouse, The Walkmen, and Elvis Costello.  Furlow jumped at the chance to work at such a great studio, and the result was Brain Holiday.

The music of Dead Gaze is sometimes classified as “Lo-Fi Psych Pop,” and while this term adequately describes Furlow’s previously released work, the term does not fully apply to Brain Holiday.  There is a definite “Hi-Fi” quality to this album that is all at once intergalactic, tropical, aquatic and air-like.  Furlow uses “Lo-Fi” tricks, such as a low-end synthesizer and circuit bending, to produce “Hi-Fi” results.  Circuit bending is the customization of circuits in electronic devices to produce unexpected, creative, and chance-based sounds.  Furlow utilizes tools such as reconfigured children’s toys, synthesizers, guitars, wires and amps to produce “Hi Fi”–sounding effects out of this “Lo-Fi” technique.  The result is a much more polished, crystal-clear, definite sound.  Furlow proves himself to have mastered the art of “Lo-Fi” in a “Hi-Fi” world.

Brain Holiday comes out only seven months after the self-titled Dead Gaze, which was released in the U.S. on May 21, 2013.   Dead Gaze was met with critical acclaim, however there were problems with the album that seem to be directly addressed on Brain Holiday, such as the lessening of the compression on the vocals that frankly made Cole’s lyrics on some of the tracks from Dead Gaze indecipherable. Here Furlow delivers vocals that are clear and crisp, becoming more sophisticated not only in style, but also in meaning.  Furlow is obviously going deeper with this album.

The first track, “Yuppies are Flowers”, is a catchy pop song on the surface.  But the lyrics tell a story of youth today trying to deal with the Yuppie generation being the ruling class, and how they have screwed things up for the generations to come.  “Rowdy Jungle” is another pop chart dream, sounding pleasantly like Weezer, but with some Mississippi mud thrown in to grunge things up a bit.

Overall, Brain Holiday is a pop album, but there are some indie-inspired surprises like “Runnin On The Moon” and “Breathing Creatures” which are so unique, they each seem to be creating a genre of their own. The self-titled track, “Brain Holiday” ends the album with poetic perfection because of its carefree sound and message, adequately fulfilling Cole Furlow’s wish for this album:  “I just want people to listen to the jams when they need something to get their brain off whatever it is that’s making them go to the music in the first place.”

Dead Gaze is huge in Great Britain and has just finished a European tour that started November 26, 2013, in Belgium, Brussels—seeing France, Italy, Switzerland, and then back to France for two shows (one in Paris), with the last four shows of the tour ending in the UK—the finale being in London (their biggest draw) at the Windmill.

 

Brain Holiday is available now on vinyl, cd and MP3 from FatCat Records. 

 

 

tell_the_onesRecorded and produced by Larry Campbell at Levon Helm’s studio in Woodstock, New York, Tell The Ones I Love offers up traditional bluegrass with just the right amount of genre blending. Bluegrass fans
know that the Steep Canyon Rangers are one of the most acclaimed and accomplished modern ensembles. But not since the Country Gentlemen revived traditional bluegrass in the 1970s has there been a band with the same level of instrumental proficiency and mainstream recognition. On the heels of their grammy-winning album, Nobody Knows You (Rounder Records, 2012), the band doesn’t  break form on this album.

The Steep Canyon Rangers have always pushed – but never broken – the envelope of traditional bluegrass. Perhaps that’s what makes them so appealing. Whether it’s their collaborations with Steve Martin, or on this album the inclusion of percussionist Jeff Sipe (Leftover Salmon, Susan Tedeschi, Aquarium Rescue Unit), these guys take just enough risks to keep things interesting, but not enough to scare away the purists. “Mendocino County Blues” has an upbeat tempo and melodic riffs that’ll leave your foot tapping and hands clapping. Songs like “Camellia” sound like they may have been dug up from some reels of old recordings of The Band  laying around Levon’s studio!

The Rangers first impressed Helm with their playing at one of his famed Midnight Rambles and he invited them to record at his studio. Considering the Ranger
s are so well known for their live performances, producer Larry Campbell (Bob Dylan and Levon Helm) encouraged the band to recreate that energy on the recording. They succeeded. If you’re looking for progressive “newgrass” this might not be the album for you. But if you want high caliber musicians playing traditional bluegrass with just a tinge of pop-country vocals, some western swing, and even a few drum tracks, you won’t be disappointed.

 

Tell The Ones I Love is out now on Rounder Records

 

Getting It With Tinsley Ellis: The Honest Tune Interview

Tinsley EllisWith a new all-instrumental album, the guitar slinging bluesman Tinsley Ellis delves into his influences while putting the spotlight on his expressive guitar playing. Though he’s been playing for decades and recorded more than a dozen records, Get It! Marks the first time he’s collected an album consisting solely of instrumental tunes. The choices he makes in the cover tunes (Booker T & The MGs, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry) speak to his influences, while his original tunes show a player adept at creating a variety of sonic spaces that are entwined together with his emotive skill. In this interview, Ellis discusses those influences, his writing process and of course, Col. Bruce Hampton.

 

What made you decide to do an all-instrumental album at this time?

It’s been my experience that it’s good to give everybody something to talk about with an album. Every album needs to have a story so there’s something you can say about it other than its just another studio album. I sort of had that philosophy in 2005 when we did the live album and that was a good angle to be able to say something about the record. With the instrumental approach, it’s something that fans have been asking for for literally decades. I do a lot of instrumentals in my show. I always have and I’ve always recorded them on albums as well.

 

 

 

Are these songs collected over the years or did you set out to write an instrumental album?

 Other than the two cover songs—the Bo Diddley song “Detour,” and the Freddie King song (“Freddy’s Nightmare Dream”)—the songs are songs that I recorded without releasing them and performed them, all the way back almost into the ‘70s and early ‘80s when I was in the Heartfixers. The original songs were written over the past 10 or 20 years. Some are really old and some are really new. I just sort of stockpiled them. One day I was going through my music files on my computer and dragged all my instrumentals into a folder. Then I looked at the folder and, lo and behold, I had about 20 or 30 songs that were instrumental. I started messing around to see which ones were the best ones and those are the ones on the album.

 

Did you re-record all those songs or use the versions you had?

 I re-recorded them because they were just demos. I have a home studio and when I write a song I play all the instruments. Then when I go in the studio, I have the people who excel at those instruments play those parts. So I had them all demoed out and there were a lot of songs. I started thinking about all the requests from people over the years and decided to do an instrumental album and just let the guitar do the singing. Rather than just go in and rip it up and have everything be a solo, I had to be melodic. That was my goal to have it tasteful and melodic. Sure there are some times when the guitar ripped it up almost to the point of over the top and stopping just before we get to that point hopefully.

 

How did you put together the players for this?

 Ted Pecchio is in my band now and I’m really excited to have him in the group. This was our first thing we did together. I brought a handful of songs over to his studio and he put the bass on, took off my bass. I really wish I had him play all the bass on the album. At the time I had no idea it would sound so good. When he put that upright bass on the Chuck Berry tribute, “Berry Tossin’,” that was the sound I’ve been looking for for decades.


Tinsley_Ellis_Get_It

Glad to hear y’all are hooked up. I first got to know Ted through Bruce Hampton. I know you’ve played with Bruce in the past. How did working with him influence you?

 Bruce Hampton is …I’m not sure if he’s blues or folk music. But he’s someone who is a pivotal character on the scene here in the southeast. I’ve known him since the ‘70s. Our paths cross a lot of times over the years. We had a group called The Stained Souls. It started off as a blues band and then, that was what I do best. Then he takes it out. It turned into something completely different. I’m not sure there is a way to characterize what that band is.

 

Only Bruce Hampton could describe I guess.

 We started doing it 30 years ago this year. We haven’t done it in a while. The last time we did it was at the Warren Haynes Christmas Jam as few years ago. It’s always me and Bruce and a revolving cast of characters in and out of the groups. It’s just a matter of when we do it. We seem to do a lot of benefit type stuff, which is cool because that’s when the music is best.

 

Are Kevin (McKendree, keyboards) and Lynn (Williams, drums) also in your band?

 They are Nashville guys and play up there with people like Delbert McClinton. I know them from Delbert’s band, although Kevin McKendree has played on every album I’ve done since 1997 when we hired him to do an album that Tom Dowd produced. So Kevin has been a fixture in my recording world. We actually had him mix the album and I think he did a super job mixing it.

 

Were there other instrumental guitar albums that influenced the sound of this one?

 Freddie King had an album called Hideaway in the early ‘60s with a lot of his instrumental hits on it. That’s one of my favorite albums. You know, a really big one for me was the Jeff Beck Blow by Blow that came out in the ‘70s. I actually saw that tour in the mid ‘70s. But it seems lately that the whole genre of guitar instrumentals has sadly gone away. In the ‘60s when I was first getting into music there were a lot of instrumental bands like the Ventures, and my favorite band of all time was an instrumental band called Booker T and the MGs.

 

Yeah, I kinda hear some Booker T and the MGs on this album, “Front Street Freeze” for one.

 Absolutely. That’s my favorite group, so hopefully that shines through.

 

Another that I hear flavors of is the Meters.

 Yeah, the Meters are another great group. You know, being from the Georgia area I think we lean closer to the Memphis sound than the New Orleans sound.  In fact, the rhythm and blues people from Georgia, when they would go to record, they didn’t take them to Chicago, they didn’t take them to New Orleans. They took them to Memphis. So you had Sam & Dave recording in Memphis. You had Otis Redding go there to record. And maybe there’s a Georgia –Memphis collection. Of course New Orleans is its own world and nothing sounds like New Orleans. I wouldn’t dare try to say that I could even have that sound. But I can get into some Memphis stuff for sure.

 

How do you go about coming up with titles for instrumentals?

 That is a tricky one. An even harder thing to do is to get people to remember which song is which because there are no words to help you remember. There’s a real dreamy one on the album called “The Milky Way,” and that is kind of the mood of the songs. You’re kind of looking up at the stars. But the song didn’t have a title. I had demoed it and just was calling it by the date I wrote it on. I was struggling with the name and I went into my kitchen and we keep a little candy jar for the kids and I reached in and pulled out a candy bar and it said “Milky Way” on it. I thought, that songs kind of sounds like you’re looking up at the stars. So I guess I named it after a candy bar. Then “Fuzzbuster” is an up-tempo rockin’ song that sort of sounded like driving music. So I thought about the fuzzbuster up on the dashboard of your car to tell you where the po-po are. “Front Street Freeze” is one where a little more thought went into that. Front Street is of course the Memphis thing and the backing of that song is probably the most Booker T influenced song. But the freeze part comes from Albert Collins. He was the iceman so he named his songs the freeze or thaw out, or frosty or ice cone. So it’s a combination of Albert Collins and Booker T and the MGs.

 

This record is out on your own label, Heartfixer. What made you decide to go into the record business?

I’ve been with a lot of different labels over the years. Landslide Records in Atlanta. Alligator two go-rounds. I did one album for Capricorn records back in the 1990s. Some of my musician friends helped me get a deal with them and that was a great opportunity. Of course the record company went out of business. And Tel-Arc as well. I can’t forget them. Gosh, I’ve had a lot of labels. I’ve learned a lot from each of them. I’ve been with, probably Michael Rothschild at Landslide and Bruce Iglauer at Alligator probably are my two mentors in the record business. I wanted to give it a shot, give it a try. This is a quirky, kooky little album anyway. If it doesn’t work out I can always blame it on that. I’m learning a lot and starting to see things from the record company’s point of few, which I never did before. Every trip to the post office I make, every time I put my credit card in that postage machine I start to see things from the record company’s point of view.

Tinsley Ellis

Is there anything you want to tell us about the particular guitars you used, just for the gear –nuts out there?

 Oh yeah! Well, there’s three guitars used mainly on it. I used a 1959 rosewood Fender Strat. And you can definitely hear that on the first three songs of the album. Then on some of the songs I used a Les Paul on some of the more rock songs. Then I used a 1967 Gibson ES345 on some of the, I guess to describe them I’d say the bluesier songs on the album—the two cover songs and the Chuck Berry tribute because that’s the kind of guitar he used. There’s not a lot of pedals involved, though I did play through a Leslie cabinet. You can hear that on the opening track to hear that spinning sound. I recorded the whole album through one little Fender amp, a little small Fender deluxe reverb amp. Usually I use something larger like a Fender super or a Marshall. But this was recorded through a little amp. I found that I could really crank it up and it would give me the overdrive and the distortion that I usually use a pedal for. I’d like to think there are more pure guitar tones on this album than I’ve ever done. I think tone is one thing you really need when you’re doing an instrumental, to be conscious of the melody and the tone.

 

 

You don’t use a lot of pedals normally, do you?

No. There is wah-wah on one song, “Fuzzbuster.” I try to make it something unique that doesn’t sound like somebody else that maybe got famous doing it, using a certain kind of pedal. I try to use oddball vintage effects like the tape echo unit or the Leslie cabinet. I try to use them sparingly because you can get carried away with it, that’s for sure. The amp did me right. Oddly enough it just doesn’t have enough power to use in a live concert. I use a 1967 fender super reverb amp [in concert].

 

Who else is in your touring band right now?

I’ve got JJ Boogie. He had been playing with Arrested Development. Now he’s my drummer. He was their guitar player, so we’re talking about a real musical guy. He’s a hip-hop engineer as well, and has mixed several big hip-hop records, including Arrested Development albums. So I’ve got a couple of really musical cats with me and it’s really inspiring, doing the trio thing.

 

Editor’s Note: Portions of this interview originally appeared in Living Blues magazine.

 

For more information on Tinsley Ellis: http://www.tinsleyellis.com/

Warren Hood Band: Warren Hood Band

WarrenHoodBandIt’s amazing what can come out of a musical trio. Look at bands like Rush, Cream, The Police and Nirvana. Just three individuals in each group but an amazing amount of great music from each. Whereas the Warren Hood Band has not reached the pinnacle of those bands, they are still a trio that shows their capability for both quality and versatility on their new self-titled record.

Listening to Warren Hood Band one realizes by the fourth song that this not a one trick pony band. Between vocalist/fiddler Warren Hood and vocalist/keyboardist Emily Gimble, the listener is treated to numerous combinations of voices and approaches to their sound. At times reminding one of an Americana Lady Antebellum and in the next song a country rock Maroon 5, one is never bored when spinning this record. And, major kudos to guitarist Willie Pipkin, whose guitar work slips in and out of each song supporting and shining through in all the right places.

From the first two tracks, “Alright” and “You’ve Got It Easy” to the final “What Everybody Wants,” the Warren Hood Band is a great start for a young band with a bright future.

 

Trampled Under Foot: Badlands

TUF_Badlands-CoverIf you know the names Susan Tedeschi or Brittany Howard, do yourselves a favor and make sure to know the name Danielle Schnebelen of the amazing Kansas City blues band, Trampled Under Foot. Danielle, along with Tedeschi and Howard, is one of the three High Priestesses of the Blues performing and recording today. In other words, Trampled Under Foot is a motherfrakker of a band and their new record, Badlands will show you why.

Danielle (bass/vocals) and her two brothers, Nick (guitars/vocals) and Kris (drums), make up this terrific trio. Not only has Nick won the Albert Lee Blues Guitar award but the whole band won the 2008 International Blues Challenge. So, it is no wonder that Badlands is one of the best blues albums of 2013. There isn’t a bad track on this record. From the first cut, “Bad, Bad Feeling” to the final cut, an incredible version of James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s, Man’s Man’s World”, TUF show that they are definitely an up and coming band on the scene who need and deserve to be seen and taken seriously.

Both siblings who sing have voices that pour through the songs like smokey honey. Nick’s guitar work is so stellar that it’s amazing that more people don’t know his name. If you can listen to songs like “Don’t Want No Woman” or “Down To The River” without tapping your foot along, you suck at music.

Honey Island Swamp Band: Cane Sugar

CaneSugarHow can you not love a city like New Orleans, Louisiana when it turns out groups like the Honey Island Swamp Band? For fans of old school Nola bands like The Radiators and The Iguanas and younger jam band fans who have taken to worshipping at the Temple of the Crescent City Music Scene, pick up Cane Sugar for 48 minutes and 4 seconds of bouncing bayou with just that touch of cajun/zydeco to get you dancing.

With four out of five members sharing vocal duties and as proficient on their instruments as these guys are, the HISB constantly fires on all cylinders with this record. Whether the song contains mandolin, pedal steel, harmonica or twangy guitar, each track is a solid piece of songwriting. Aaron Wilkinson gets major kudos for handling vocals, guitar, harmonica and the aforementioned mandolin.

At times sounding like a younger, hungrier Radiators on the swamp soul songs and a few minutes later channeling the spirit of country rock bands like The Outlaws and Poco, HISB  has released a record in Cane Sugar that is reminiscent of some of the great albums by The Mavericks.

Check out the title track, “Never Saw It Comin” and “Prodigal Son” and you will want to check out the Honey Island Swamp Band the next time they play near you.