“Play It Loud, Ray!” — Jacob Jones teams up with Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard on the perfect throwback single for any Music City Sweetheart
Jacob Jones’ Good Timin’ In Waynestown doesn’t come out until next week, but that’s no reason not to play his single loudly a few times in celebration of Jones’ throwback rock-a-boogie vibes, which blends the sounds of New Orleans jazz with fifties-era rockabilly and hints of Motown soul. Adding the vocals of Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard to “Play It Loud, Ray” was an inspired touch, adding to the singalong chorus’s unstoppable hook. The rest of the album more than sustains the hype, with “Now That I Found You,” “Lost on the Ohio” and “Don’t Turn Me Loose” proving in particular that Jones has an ear for making these throwbacks fit in a modern pop context. If you too are ready to, as his website proclaims, “Honky Tonk yourself to death,” play this album loud and proud. Nothing else comes close to putting Chuck Berry into the same company as Ryan Adams or Alabama Shakes, which for this critic is more than enough reason to listen.
Year of the Album — #065
Ronnie Milsap – “Country Again” (2011, Bigger Picture)
The music which built his career now sustains it, and Milsap makes no apology for continuing to go his own way. That alone makes Milsap’s comeback one of the more inviting albums of the year for fans of traditional country.
I recently was brought on as a contributing writer for PopMatters, and my first review for the site is of Ronnie Milsap’s Country Again, a comeback which more than lives up to expectations. This is one of the more rewarding classic country releases of 2011. Read the full review at PopMatters.
Year of the Album — #049
Girls Guns and Glory – “Sweet Nothings” (2011, Lonesome Day Records)
Ever since I first heard the band’s 2008 album Inverted Valentine, I’ve contended that Girls Guns and Glory’s Ward Hayden is one of the strongest songwriters working outside the traditional Nashville scene. The Boston band knows how to rock their blend of roots country and alternative Americana, and Sweet Nothings is already a contender for country album of the year in my book after just a few listens. From the jangle-rock stomp of the title track, which may be one of the catchiest songs the band’s yet released, their distinctive blend of Dwight Yoakam-esque vocals and uncompromising musicianship is hard to put aside.
The songs on Sweet Nothings learn from the (few) mistakes of Inverted Valentine, rarely outstaying their welcome. These are crisp, clean melodies that stick in your head, and the recordings manage to be multi-layered without seeming to be overstuffed with conflicting ideas. “Nighttime” in particular has the kind of straight-ahead propulsion which Johnny Cash popularized, but there’s a great deal going on in the background, from steel guitar layered beneath handclaps and mandolin pickings, all providing perfect balance to Hayden’s trademark wail. And “Last Night I Dreamed” proves the band can be as successful in the opposite direction, crafting a ballad of beauty and depth which really gives Hayden’s vocals room to shine.
The name Girls Guns and Glory may make the band sound like a bunch of Southern Rock rednecks, but to brush them off so abruptly would be a waste and an insult. This is traditional country honky-tonk and Americana performed by a band comfortable enough in their own shoes to modernize the sound without limiting it to current pop conventions. Ward Hayden and company are blazing their own trail in the alt-country landscape, and this, their thirdfull-length album, shows they’re ready to play with anyone, anytime, anyplace. Give Sweet Nothings a few listens and you’ll soon be a stalwart Girls Guns and Glory supporter.
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My wife and I were catching up on Fox’s surprisingly amusing comedy offering, “Raising Hope,” when I had an urgent, sudden need to Google an artist. It was Roger Miller’s “Do-Whacka-Do” which caught my ear and demanded my attention, and the YouTube rabbit-hole I soon wandered down took some surprising turns. Seems there was a reason the song jumped out at me … though Miller made a long career out of traditional honky-tonk music, his career-makers were of the novelty variety, including one of my father’s favorite guitar stompers when I was growing up: “Dang Me” — which never ceased to anger my mother, who claimed to have too much good taste to listen to such caterwauling — but I digress.
Whatever you may think of Miller, his songwriting talents beyond the world of novelty hits had a profound effect on the honky tonk country genre, leading to interpretations by Alan Jackson of “Tall Tall Trees” and by Brooks and Dunn of “Husbands and Wives,” both of which were #1s after his death in the mid-90s. And “King of the Road” is one of those songs which remains so ubiquitous, it’s impossible to completely miss.
But I was most surprised to learn that his voice was the one which lent one of Disney’s most underrated 70′s animation offerings a touch of honky-tonk gold. That’s right … Miller was the voice of the grizzled rooster character in “Robin Hood,” which led to classics like these ones:
Often imitated, Roger Miller remains a hallmark example of that quality which made honky tonk country so successful during the fifties and sixties. Here’s hoping today’s young crop of traditional-country inspired artists choose to take a non pop-country risk and dig into his catalog in the coming years.