Tom Waits (from the album Heartattack and Vine)
The dawn of a new decade signaled a change in the musical weather for Tom Waits. He delivered his final album on his Asylum Records contract with Heartattack and Vine. The title became a mainstay on album charts for three months and his best selling album to that date. Heartattack and Vine was the last release from Tom Waits to fully feature the cast of characters that roamed through his previous six album releases. The songs of Tom Waits experienced an urbanization post-Heartattack and Vine, his heroes still host to left-of-center stars seen through the noir night vision of his album cycles that began with debut release Closing Time. Tom Waits career has spanned multiple decades, his songs cherished for sonic innovation, his releases touchstones for museum quality music.
Transient humans populated the songs of Tom Waits in the 1970’s, beginning with his 1973 debut before moving on to new territory after Heartattack and Vine. The album tenderly cradles Tom Waits’ patented hoarse growl, rocking “On the Nickel” gently in its lullaby string swells and lightly touched piano rambles, using the rhythm of jungle drums to chase the night with “’Til the Money Runs Out”. The title track welcomes as album opener, Tom Waits shaking hands all around and introducing his street corner buds, warning that ‘this stuff’ll probably kill you, let’s do another line’ and testifying that ‘there ain’t no devil that’s just god when he’s drunk’. Heartattack and Vine follows “Mr. Siegal” as he sashays across the Nevada line, rings church bells in a sleepy town with “Saving All My Love for You”, finds salvation in the horns wrapped in “Ruby’s Arms”, and rumbles like a subway car heading into “Downtown”. Bruce Springsteen took a tune from Heartattack and Vine, making it his own as part of his live show with his cover of the Tom Wait’s track “Jersey Girl”.
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The Old 97’s (from the album Too Far to Care)
The lovable loser that is a recurring guest in the songs of The Old 97’s rolls and tumbles over chord crunched beat, walking down “Streets of Where I’m From” content in the with the measure of the journey used as an album title on the band’s third album release, Too Far to Care. The Old 97’s took a big step forward with Too Far to Care, their first release on a major record label (Elektra). Too Far to Care moved their music beyond the Texas scene stronghold the Houston band had carved out with their first two releases, The Old 97’s music branded by their ability to give a diss with a smirk in their stories as they wove Country licks over a rock’n’roll backbeat. Happy birthday wishes travel over 1800 miles, sent from a traveling musician setting up to play in one more “Niteclub”. Los Angeles, CA punk Exene Cervenka (X), grabs a microphone and raises her voice above the heavy-breathing guitar distortion revving its engine in “Four-Leaf Clover” while The Old 97’s find their own way to the Golden State on the wagon-wheel rattle rhythms of “Just Like California”.
A nervous lover timidly poses commitment questions with “Melt Show” as a door opens in a hotel room off of Times Square for “Broadway” and The Old 97’s bow on a reverb string bend for “Curtain Calls”, fall into “Big Brown Eyes” on a Country ramble, and walk out into the moonlight, spitting out a Country rock’n’roll kiss-off for “Salome”. The Old 97’s took their first solid step into the musical career with the release of Too Far to Care, creating a foundation that would support them well into 2018 with little signs of wear. Well-loved cuts from The Old 97’s were the first two shots heard on Too Far to Care as the then-needle hit the groove on opening track “Timebomb” leading into “Barrier Reef”.
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New Riders of the Purple Sage (from the album NRPS)
Jerry Gracia steered the psychedelic ship as Captain Trips, driving the wheel of the Grateful Dead as the band made their way out of the San Francisco music scene and into history. Never complacent with his playing, Jerry Gracia juggled multiple projects, each with its own sound as he offered outtings with a string band (Old and in the Way), Blues (with Merle Saunders), and unique takes on cover tunes (Jerry Garcia Band). His interest in playing pedal-steel guitar led Jerry Garcia to join forces with John ‘Marmaduke’ Dawson and his vision of psychedelic Country. The pair added another longtime Bay Area music scene compatriot with David Nelson on guitar, performing as New Riders of the Purple Sage. Former Jefferson Airplane drummer, Spencer Dryden, was the drummer for the group’s self-titled debut, the only album featuring Jerry Garcia, who was replaced by Buddy Cage in the band.
New Riders of the Purple Sage were in the right musical spot for the late 1960’s move towards Country Rock that came in with The Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers, The Dillards, and other SoCal Country Rock’n’Roll bands. The NRPS debut featured all tracks written by lead vocalist, John Dawson. Psychedelics stretched the possibilities of the Country Rock’n’Roll that New Riders of the Purple Sage wore like a second skin. Jerry Garcia’s pedal steel is prominent, skipping with a playful romp in “Whatcha Gonna Do”, catching air like the spreading wings of “Last Lonely Eagle” as his playing freckles the air around honky tonk piano rambles, and sighs like the breaks coming to a tour-stop for “Portland Woman”. The wry sense of humor in the words of John Dawson are the language of hippie-era average man, as NRPS introduces an old-school drug-runner as it watches “Henry” hurdle through the mountains of Mexico, picks up the pace on a rapidfire string band push for “Glendale Train”, and dreams a cowboy tale on the waves of sound rising like heat off a desert floor in “Dirty Business”.
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Cowboy Junkies – (from the album The Caution Horses)
The warning label on The Caution Horses by Cowboy Junkies may be attached directly to the songs on the Canadian band’s third album release. The track list runs through a neighborhood of boarded up love nests, the stories reflecting a local-bar glow of neon hitting shadows where the promise of a new day has long ago faded. If the scepter is a wine glass and the bar stool a throne, the reigning queen holding court uses “Cheap it How I Feel” as her theme song. The Caution Horses peaks into the window of an empty life with “Sun Comes Up, It’s Tuesday Morning” as Cowboy Junkies leave only a kiss after a kiss-off closes the door on love for “Escape is So Simple”.
Following the success of their break-through second release, The Trinity Sessions, Cowboy Junkies followed with an album primarily stocked with band originals, reserving room for like-minded sad Country songs with Neil Young’s “Powderfinger” and Mary Margaret O’Hara’s “You Will Be Lived Again”. A mournful harmonica echoes off the four walls collecting checkmarks for “Thirty Summers” as The Caution Horses tethers “Rock and Bird” with a potent rhythm to carry the tale aloft and trots out a steady rhythm for “Where Are You Tonight” as Cowboy Junkies launch “Mariner’s Song” on mandolin strums, quietly relating the tale of “Witches” on lightly touched strings and hushed whispers.
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Linda Ronstadt (from the album Linda Ronstadt)
Looking back at success is positive reinforcement to let go and simply follow your feet. Linda Ronstadt was still finding her own solo footing on her third album. The 1972 self-titled release was the first studio work where the singer seemed to have a clear intention with recording process and her own sound. On her first two solo records, Linda Ronstadt took steps away from the Folk Rock of her band The Stone Poneys. Her debut, Hand Sown…Home Grown (1969), put Linda Ronstadt in songs that leaned more towards a Country and Rock hybrid. A commercial failure, the album had sold less than 10,000 copies before her next release, 1970’s Silk Purse. Linda Ronstadt traveled to Nashville, Tennessee to record her second release, the only album she recorded in Music City. A battle began on album number two with Capital Records, her label balking at the track “Long, Long Time”, a tune that would prove to be the first charted cut from Linda’s solo work. Of her time in Nashville, Linda Ronstadt pointed out that ‘Nashville Country is very different from California Country’. Her release of Linda Ronstadt would be the last album for Capital Records. While relations with the label were shaky, the singer found the sound/style skin that would transport her to super-stardom throughout the next few decades.
The music scene revolving around Hollywood’s music venue The Troubadour had become a fertile breeding ground for a hybrid sound that was both Rock and Country friendly. Three tracks on Linda Ronstadt were recorded live at The Troubadour, a cover of Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces”, Neil Young’s “Birds”, and countrified funk take on the R&B hit from Fontella Bass “Rescue Me”. Two of the live tracks included male vocals from Randy Meisner, who was a member of her touring band. On Linda Ronstadt, the singer brought in members of her touring band, the players assembled by Glenn Frey, whom Linda had hired for the group. Besides, Randy Meisner, Glenn added fellow local scene musicians Don Henley and Bernie Leadon to the backing band. The recording of the album would be the genesis of the Eagles, the four original members receiving Linda Ronstadt’s approval and help with the fledgling band. The recording equally deserves credit for aligning the California Country that Linda Ronstadt heard in her music and taking solid steps on a path that led to Country Rock.
Classic Country tunes sit side by side with tracks from up-and-coming musicians such as Jackson Browne, whose “Rock Me on the Water” opens the album, and more Folk-leaning artists such as Livingston Taylor (“In My Reply”). The power and purity in Linda Ronstadt’s vocal is on full display on the album, the resonance in her voice drifting over the soft Country playing backing Johnny Cash’s “I Still Miss Someone”, comfortable in the Classic Country structure of the Ray Price hit “Crazy Arms”, and strength in the part-time honesty confessions of Eric Anderson’s “I Ain’t Always Been Faithful”.
Fame caught up quickly to Linda Ronstadt, her next release, Don’t Cry Now, her first release on upstart LA-label Asylum Records, founded in 1971 by David Geffen and Eliot Roberts, signing musicians from the California Country scene and jettisoning its artists into commercial success.
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6 String Drag (from the album High Hat on Schoolkids Records)
When 6 String Drag recorded the Twangtrust-produced (Steve Earle and Ray Kennedy) High Hat in 1997, the band was getting a lot of attention in their homebase North Carolina music scene and beyond. While contemporaries in the scene such as Whiskeytown (Ryan Adams) continued to cling on rising stars, 6 String Drag disbanded in the late 1990’s. The re-issue of High Hat (the album’s first time wearing vinyl) shares the secret of times when Roots and Americana were poor relations in both the Rock and Country markets, prior to the Roots music community needing neither format to exist and flourish. The High Hat release forms a bridge for the Raleigh, North Carolina band as they partner the album with the release of Top of the World, a collection of 2018 studio recordings from 6 String Drag.
Hitting the Alt Country target on the High Hat opening cut, 6 String Drag rattle and roll out “Bottle of Blues”, the mood of the tune plugging into the 1990’s abandon and near feral approach to Alt Country delivered by peer bands such as The Bottle Rockets, The Old 97’s, Wilco, and Son Volt. A rock’n’roll strut carries an option to heat things up with “Gasoline Maybelline” while a swamp-thick groove percolates underneath Country vocals for “Red”, a mean stomp addresses “From Me to Clayton”, and sharp-angled guitar chords give structured to the pleas of “Guilty”. The mission statement for 6 String Drag rings loud and clear on High Hat, the band following the beat of a Rock’n’Roll heart into various Roots music styles. 6 String Drag lay out a sonic rumble for “Cold Steel Brace” and nod to Brit Pop from The Kinks to Elvis Costello in “Driven Man”. High Hat glues the beat to the gas pedal in “85 on 85” and pushes “Top of the Mountain” with a Rockabilly shove as 6 String Drag use harmonies and rhythm to tag the Louvin-Brothers era sound onto “I Can’t Remember”, adding a bonus track to High Hat borrowed from The Louvin’s catalog of song with “Lorene”.
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Chris Hillman (from the album The Asylum Years available on Omnivore Recordings)
The 1976 recording for Chris Hillman’s solo debut, Slippin’ Away, packed the recording studio with heavy hitters that included members of Booker T & The M.G.;s, Poco, Buffalo Springfield, and The Turtles along with A-List LA studio musicians. Chris Hillman carried credentials into his solo outing as a founding member and crucial ingredient in the careers of groups such as The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and Souther-Hillman-Furay Band. Omnivore Records puts Slippin’ Away (1976) with the 1977 release Clear Sailin’ into one package with the album The Asylum Years. Sonically, Chris Hillman plays along with 1970’s California Country, a style he equally influenced and sources on Slippin’ Away. Of his previous musical encounters, Slippin’ Away resembles Chris’ time in Souther-Hillman-Furay Band as the album mixes era-defining Country Rock and call/response harmonies. Country-slide guitars (“Take It on the Run”), delicate Folk-Rock ballads (“Love is the Sweetest Amnesty”), Caribbean Island rhythms (“Down in the Churchyard”), and a shaky west coast rumble steers for “Midnight Again” as Chris Hillman strums his way into Slippin’ Away with “Step on Out” and lets the plea match the pace asking “(Take Me in Your) Lifeboat”.
A little more Country tempers the tones of Clear Sailin’, the songs tender front porch Folk as Chris Hillman rips a relationship down the middle in “Quits” while he puts a soulful backbeat underneath “Paying the Fool”, adds in horns for the honky tonk Saturday night of “Lucky in Love”, and shares a piano bench with lonely in “Heartbreaker”. The music of Clear Sailin’ sets a course towards a full-on Country future with west coast players in Desert Rose Band, co-founded by Chris Hillman in 1985. The rhythms of “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” lap like waves against the track as Clear Sailin’ shimmies on a Bluesy country sway in “Nothing Gets Through” and drifts on a smooth sea for the title track as Chris Hillman shrugs off blame in “Fallen Favorite” and asks a memory of old lovers to hop on board the western Country breeze of “Hot Dusty Roads”.
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Doug Sahm (from the album Doug Sahm and His Band on Atlantic Records)
A group of musicians gathered in October 1972 in New York City to back Doug Sahm for his first solo record. Atlantic Records had bought Doug’s contract after his band Sir Douglas Quintet folded in 1972, with the Oct 72recordings released early the next year in January 1973 as Doug Sahm and His Band. The limited knowledge of critics for anything outside of the Rock world at the time had trouble translating Roots music into a language they could understand. For the marketplace, Doug Sahm and His Band seemingly collected multiple styles on the recording as its tracks were backed with Country, Blues, Rock’n’Roll, and R&B. Looking back, the album served a larger purpose, taking a Lone Star state secret and spreading the word with Doug Sahm putting a Texas stamp on the sound. Texas Blues gives the album a smooth groove in “Your Friends” while “Don’t Turn Around” dials in a late-night radio station from New Orleans and an audio weather warning brings Doug Sahm together with future Texas Tornadoes bandmates Flaco Jimenez and Augie Meyers with the Tex-Mex style in “Poison Love”.
The recording of Doug Sahm and His Band took two weeks, seasoned players filling in group ranks that included David Bromberg, David ‘Fathead’ Newman, and Dr. John. Two fiddles open the album as Doug Sahm is joined by Kenny Kosek on first cut “(Is Anybody Going to) to San Antone?” as the pair tribute the twin fiddles backing Bob Wills on his tune “Faded Love”. His Band mate Bob Dylan lends his tune “Wallflower”, harmonizing on the cut as well as lending vocals to “Dealer’s Blues” along with a lead guitar solo. Doug Sahm and His Band tributes The Delmore Brothers with slinking Country Blues on “Blues Stay Away from Me”, puts some funky guitar chops underneath the horn blasts of “I Get Off”, and head uptown for a rhythm Saturday night on T-Bone Walker’s “Papa Ain’t Salty” while Doug borrows a tune from fellow Texan with Willie Nelson’s with “Me and Paul”.
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Being in the right place at the right time is a building block for career success. The unspoken parts of the advice are that when you are standing in the correct spot at the perfect time, you had better have everything you need to within arms reach so you don’t have to move. After hitting the Top Ten in early 1968 with “Dance to the Music”, Sly and the Family Stone consumer interest sink with their first three albums. For Sly Stone, everything lined up perfectly with the release of Stand!, and its semi-greatest hits package with the tracks on its April 1969 release. Two successful two-sided hit singles came from Stand! with the title track release offering B-side of “I Want to Take You Higher” following a 1968 release of “Everyday People” backed with “Sing a Simple Song”. Stand! hit the ground running, its songs and mood mirroring the cultural moments in which it was released. The career of Sly and the Family Stone entered the mainstream at an accelerated pace with the release of Stand!, the band and tracks achieving worldwide success with tour stop for the album including a performance at Woodstock within six months of its release and an infamous appearance on the Dick Cavett Show around the same time with the band becoming a live marching band in parade formation for “I Want to Take You Higher”.
Sly and the Family Stone counseled both the left and right on Stand!. After the #1 success of “Everyday People”, Sly Stone became a counterculture figure who looked at himself as an equal part of a global population. Once the band had everyone’s attention, they let go with the admonition “Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey” which took aim at both sides of the race divide. Stand! encouraged active participation in changing the world on its title track, and once it had people on their feet, nurtured them with the mantra “You Can Make It If You Try”.
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Los Lobos have never been a one-trick musical pony anymore than they are Just Another Band from East L.A., the compilation title that collects tracks the band’s releases as a package. The early output of Los Lobos added touches to traditional Mexican music with Rock’n’Roll, R&B, Rockabilly, and Blues as well as Tejano/Mariachi Folk music. Kiko arrived in 1992, almost a decade since their E.P. release, …And A Time to Dance since gave Los Lobos the ability to tour, and their mid-1980 releases, How Will the Wolf Survive? (1984) and By the Light of the Moon (1987) sealed the band’s fame on a worldwide level. While all of the 1980’s releases showcased diversity, it was Kiko that gave a glimpse into the depth of musical possibilities from Los Lobos. When main songwriters David Hidalgo (guitar) and Louie Perez (drummer) met in high school, the bonded of the more obscure talents of Ry Cooder, Randy Newman, and Fairport Convention. Kiko shows love for many styles as it exhibits the ability of Los Lobos to cross multiple musical soundscapes and never miss a step in their groove.
The Blues carves a path through the Cesar Rosas (guitar) co-write “That Train Don’t Stop Here Anymore” and colors the snaking swamp edge of “Wicked Rain” with Blue Experimental Rock. Second line drumming opens the album as “Dream in Blue” shuffles in while a ghostly big band plays tag back alley Jazz backs “Kiko and the Lavender Moon”, covers “Arizona Sky” a percussive Tex-Mex desert wind, and taps a toe for mountain music for “Two Janes”. Los Lobos stretch the boundaries of their own music as they push against the existing confines of rock and roots. Kiko delicately picks flurried notes for “Saint Behind the Glass”, kicks out street beats on “Angels with Dirty Faces”, and heads down “Whiskey Trail” on a Southern Rock road as Los Lobos shake out “Wake Up Dolores” on a snaggle of strings and rhythms and strum out a welcome “When the Circus Some to Town”.
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