Coming soon to a college town near you …

by Chris Bertram on May 19, 2006

Because I’ve managed to get myself a slot as a reviewer for a local webzine , I’ve managed to get to see a good number of gigs in the general area of america/ in the past year. So I thought I do a little survey of what I’d been to and make some recommendations. Details below the fold since lots of you probably couldn’t care less!

So here’s the list of acts I’ve seen live (more or less in the order I saw them):

The Bottle Rockets, Allison Moorer, Steve Earle, The Old Crow Medicine Show, The Dukhs, Tom Russell, Slaid Cleaves, Gurf Morlix, Mary Gauthier, Hayes Carll, Buddy Miller, Albert Lee, The Drive-By Truckers, Gina Villalobos, The Deadstring Brothers, Eliza Gilkyson.

Most of these I’ve seen in Bristol and, indeed, within walking distance of my house (the exceptions being Moorer and Earle—at the Wychwood Festival—and Mary Gauthier in Madison). And I’ve enjoyed all of them, with the possible exception of The Drive-By Truckers who struck me as over-loud Skynyrd wannabees. So that suggests a test: which would I think it worth travelling any distance to see, say from Bristol to Cardiff (44 miles)? And the winners are ….

Steve Earle . In fact I’m travelling to London to see him play at the Reprieve benefit in a few weeks ( Allison Moorer is also playing). Great songs, great stage presence, no more justification needed.

The Bottle Rockets . I heard them play to a nearly empty club and they were tremendous. What is more, I think that Brian Henneman is one of the great under-rated songwriters (especially in the songs he writes with Scott Taylor). “Kerosene” and “Welfare Music” are great examples: understated and perceptive observation of ordinary life. There’s sound consumer advice (“1000 Dollar Car”), growing old and worrying about it (“Kit Kat Clock”) , and much much more. Like just about everyone these days, they have a myspace page where you can listen to material from their forthcoming album Zoysia and from their recent Live album. Henneman himself often participates in the band’s on-line forum —under the pseudonym Buck Stopshere. There’s a recent fan interview with him here (scroll down as permalink seems nonfuctional) .

Tom Russell . Russell is kind of weird, intruiging, gritty. He writes great songs but also has a kind of abrasive but engaging on-stage persona. He has a new album out which I haven’t heard yet, but its predecessor, Hotwalker, has to be one of the strangest records made in recent years. There are maybe two proper songs on it, the rest being odd snatches of voice from Charles Bukowski, Lenny Bruce and others. Russell isn’t really much at ease with the modern world and exudes a kind of anti-politics, but he’s always worth listening to.

Buddy Miller … well I posted about him recently. Amazing guitarist, great songwriter. All-round interesting guy. One of two former Emmylou Harris guitarists I’ve seen. The other was Albert Lee who may have the edge as a technician, but Miller’s music has more too it imho.

The Deadstring Brothers . Since Exile on Main Street era Rolling Stones aren’t about to play in a club near you, these guys will have to do. Not just the Stones, though, as their latest album has a fine cover of The Band’s Get Up Jake (scroll for link). Not as original as those listed above, but for an all-round fun evening hard to beat.

Mary Gauthier . I think Mercy Now is a great album. There seems to be a production line of very samey alt-country female singer-songwriters at the moment: Tift Merritt, Gina Villalobos, Kathleen Edwards. Gauthier isn’t of that ilk … she’s lived a lot and you can hear it. When I saw her in Madison, Mary was on a double-bill with Eliza Gilkyson but I arrived too late for Eliza’s set. I remedied that the other night, and she’s worth checking out too.



Erik Loomis 05.19.06 at 7:21 pm

I really disagree with you on the Drive-By Truckers. I think a lot of people who don’t like them have a built-in aversion to southern rock, which I think is unfortunate. I have a theory that a lot of this is cultural, rather than the music itself. They see Skynard and other 70s southern rock acts as representative of a culture they don’t like and so they don’t like the music. Of course I don’t know if this is the case for you, but I know of people who it definitely fits.

On the other hand, I’m always glad to see Tom Russell get some hype. He’s just a great songwriter and anyone who hasn’t heard “The Man From God Knows Where” is missing out on one of the greatest statements about America in recent memory.


Amanda 05.19.06 at 8:15 pm

Essay writing progress permitting, I’ll have a bit about the new Tom Russell up in the next few days. I would love to see Mary Gauthier.


Chris Bertram 05.20.06 at 3:38 am

Hi Erik. Well I went to see the DBT really really expecting to like them but I’m afraid I thought they really went for image over music in a big way: passing the Jack Daniels round the band on stange; Mike Cooley brandishing his Les Paul to the faithful like a holy relic at the end. All that stuff really pissed me off. Maybe I’d like them better on record. Anyway, it certainly isn’t southern rock aversion in my case.


Uncle Kvetch 05.20.06 at 9:28 am

I really disagree with you on the Drive-By Truckers. I think a lot of people who don’t like them have a built-in aversion to southern rock, which I think is unfortunate. I have a theory that a lot of this is cultural, rather than the music itself. They see Skynard and other 70s southern rock acts as representative of a culture they don’t like and so they don’t like the music.

Guilty as charged. Only in my case it wasn’t DBT, but Kings of Leon: they were tagged with the “southern rock” label from the get-go, and I simply filed them away under “No Interest” because I figured southern rock = redneck, and, well, um er…I don’t like rednecks. Mea maxima culpa. (For what it’s worth, they don’t tend to be particularly fond of me, either.)

Then I heard a couple of KoL tunes and discovered that (as more than one critic has pointed out) there’s a lot more Ray Davies than Ronnie Van Zandt to them; sure, the sound is classic bar-room boogie at its core, but they approach it all in a unique way that’s quirky and fun.

So I guess I should check out DBT (whom I’d written off in a similar way, too). And beware those cursed labels.


Nell 05.20.06 at 2:34 pm


{somebody had to say it}


decon 05.20.06 at 2:55 pm

Th DBT schtick is just that. I believe they learned it from Redneck Greece Deluxe. Just close your eyes and listen.


decon 05.20.06 at 2:58 pm

… And you really should treat yourselves to a Tony Joe White performance while he’s on your side of the pond.


Erik Loomis 05.21.06 at 1:40 am

It seems, from both this comment thread and from Lawyers, Guns, and Money, that I need to hear this Kings of Leon band.

As for the Jack, well, I think they just like to drink. I mean, they are from Alabama, and drinking Jack is far from unusual.

I don’t know, maybe you would like them better on record. The lyrics are really incredibly smart, which is what originally attracted them to me in the first place. And it’s hard to really get a sense of that in a loud live show.


Rodger 05.22.06 at 2:58 pm

Wow, you could live in Kentucky, near ground zero for alt-country.

In the past few years, I’ve caught Son Volt, Steve Earle, Robert Earl Keen, the Bottlerockets, James McMurtry, Jim Lauderdale, Kim Richey, Jeff Black, Hot Club of Cowtown, The Drive-By Truckers, Yonder Mountain String Band, and Alejandro Escovedo.

That doesn’t count the classic country acts: Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson (twice), George Jones, and Ralph Stanley.

My advice to you: catch “Roots and Boots” from 6 to 8 pm ET every Sunday night on streaming audio WFPK-Louisville. My neighbor is the DJ and he plays a great mix of new and old material every week. His tagline is something like, “too loud for country radio and too twangy for rock stations.”


Chris Bertram 05.23.06 at 11:52 am

Thanks for the Louisville radio link. Do they archive shows? (I couldn’t find it) because 6-8 pm your time is 11pm to 1am mine.


Rodger 05.23.06 at 3:34 pm

Unfortunately, I don’t think the (public radio) station archives that show. I’ll ask Mike next time I see him.

On the bright side, it is commercial free.

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