2016 has claimed yet another icon in “Doctor” Ralph Stanley.
As the true giants of popular music continue to age, their passings are only going to accelerate over the coming years, but it still feels like 2016 has been inordinately unfair when it comes to the artists we’ve lost this year. To think that it isn’t going to get any easier in the coming years is almost too much to bear.
I was fortunate to see Stanley perform as part of the Down from the Mountain tour in support of the runaway success of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. I’ll admit that, for me, the highlight of the show was Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, and Patty Loveless performing “Nobody But the Baby” followed by Loveless’ jaw-dropping delivery of “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive,” but that’s a story for a different post. What I remember about Stanley’s performance of his Grammy-winning “O Death” was how tiny he looked on stage… And how a crowd of more than 10,000 fell completely silent with the first syllable he sang in that not-of-this-Earth voice of his. However great he may have sounded on record, in a live setting, Stanley’s voice could insinuate into your marrow.
Elsewhere this week, we’re playing catch-up from taking off for last Sunday’s holiday. There are a ton of new releases worth checking out– up-and-comers Luke Bell and Jon Pardi have drawn notices from the traditionalist-leaning crowds, while Elizabeth Cook, Sarah Jarosz, and case/lang/veirs all take a progressive approach to the genre– and country radio continues to be kind-of depressing, despite some encouraging inroads by Pardi and Eric Church.
There are must-read interviews with Keith Urban, Neko Case, and Vince Gill, and new music from Sara Watkins and LeAnn Rimes, among others.
New Releases & Reissues, 6/17/2016
Luke Bell, Luke Bell. (Thirty Tigers)
Jake Bugg, On My One. (Island)
case/lang/veirs, case/lang/veirs. (ANTI / Epitaph)
Elizabeth Cook, Exodus of Venus. (Agent Love / Thirty Tigers)
Anthony D’Amato, Cold Snap. (New West)
Sarah Jarosz, Undercurrents. (Sugar Hill)
Irene Kelley, These Hills. (Mountain Fever)
Kris Kristofferson, The Cedar Creek Sessions. (Legacy)
LoCash, The Fighters. (Reviver)
Michael McDermott, Willow Springs. (Pauper Sky)
Mumford & Sons, Johannesburg EP. (Glassnote)
Jon Pardi, California Sunrise. (Capitol Nashville)
New Releases & Reissues, 6/24/2016
The Avett Brothers, True Sadness. (American / Republic)
Moe Bandy & Joe Stampley, Just Good Ol’ Boys (1979), Hey Joe! Hey Moe! (1981), The Ultimate Moe & Joe. (Columbia / Legacy)
Brand 307, Brand 307. (self-released)
Sam Bush, Storyman. (Sugar Hill)
Jerry Castle, Not So Soft Landing. (My World)
John Denver, John Denver’s Greatest Hits Volume 2. (Friday Music)
The Felice Brothers, Life in the Dark. (Yep Roc)
Jake Worthington, Jake Worthington EP. (W3)
Billboard Country National Airplay:
#1: Luke Bryan, “Huntin’, Fishin’, & Lovin’ Every Day”
Most Increased Audience: Jason Aldean, “Lights Come On”
Debuts: Thomas Rhett, “Vacation” (#45), Runaway June, “Lipstick” (re-entry, #55)
Most Added: Blake Shelton, “She’s Got a Way with Words” (38); Dierks Bentley f Elle King, “Different for Girls” (27); Thomas Rhett, “Vacation” (22); Brandy Clark, “Girl Next Door” (17); Maddie & Tae, “Sierra” (15)
Notes: Clark’s “Girl Next Door” continues to hover right at the cusp of the top 40, moving back up from #41 to #40 in its 19th chart week; Cam’s “Mayday” looks to be finished off a #36 peak, as the song lost a not insubstantial chunk of its audience for the third straight week; Jon Pardi continues to inch toward the top 10 with “Head Over Boots,” which moves from #12 to #11; Eric Church’s “Record Year,” arguably the best single currently at radio, stays just ahead of Pardi, cracking the top 10 after 20 weeks.
Elsewhere on Billboard‘s radio charts:
Both Tim McGraw and Trisha Yearwood rebound on the Adult Contemporary chart, as McGraw moves from #21 to #19 and Yearwood re-gains her bullet at #24; The Avett Brothers score a #1 hit at AAA radio with “Ain’t No Man,” while the Lumineers’ “Ophelia” and Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats’ “I Need Never Grow Old” hold steady at #4 and #5 on that chart; The Lumineers’ hit spends its 4th straight week at #1 at Modern Rock radio; Hillary Scott & The Scott Family’s “Thy Will” is the most added single at Christian AC.
News & Notes
“Singing was as natural as breathing for Ralph Edmund Stanley, who was born Feb. 25, 1927, on Big Spraddle Creek in Dickenson County, Virginia. His first public performance was in church, and when he was 11 years old, his mother said he could either have a pig or a banjo. Luckily for music fans everywhere, he chose the latter. His style of banjo picking — which, like the man himself, had no frills — would go on to influence countless musicians.”
— Juli Thanki of The Tennessean wrote with her usual insight and eloquence about the passing of “Doctor” Ralph Stanley. (LMW)
“This is Ms. Musgraves’s rebellion: polite, knowing, exuding a we’ve-all-been-there embrace. As country’s mainstream has become more distanced from its heritage, Ms. Musgraves has somehow become both the keeper of the genre’s old rules and also its leading internal dissenter.”
— The New York Times‘ Jon Caramanica considered the differing positions occupied by Kacey Musgraves and The Dixie Chicks at their current points in their respective careers in “Two Sides of Country Rebels.” (TS)
Maddie & Tae gave a heartfelt performance of their song “After the Storm Blows Through,” one of the highlights of their debut album, Start Here, at the Country Strong benefit for the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. Other artists who performed at the benefit included Billy Currington, Easton Corbin, and Jerrod Niemann. (JK)
Hayes Carll has been overlooked far too often in the midst of breakthroughs by Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell, and Sturgill Simpson; the music video for his single “The Magic Kid,” which he co-wrote with Darrell Scott, is a reminder that he remains a vital artist. His latest album, Lovers and Leavers, is one of the year’s best and most slept-on releases. (JK)
“I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of being creative, of coming up with new songs… I’m a better singer, songwriter, and musician that I was 10, 20, 30 years ago. And, I’m still having fun playing music. The only reason I wanted to play music in the first place was that it made me emotional.”
— Vince Gill, in an interview with Henry Carrigan for No Depression, insisted that his skill set is as sharp as ever. (JK)
The late singer-songwriter Guy Clark will be honored with a tribute concert at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium on August 16th. Performers will include Emmylou Harris, Vince Gill, Rodney Crowell, and Steve Earle, among others. (LMW)
Rory Feek has announced that he is making a full-length documentary, titled To Joey With Love, that will feature footage from the past two years of his and Joey’s life together. The film will run in theaters nationwide for one night. You can view the film’s trailer and read Rory’s wonderful accompanying blog post at This Life I Live. (LMW)
He’s released a whole lot of material that is beneath his talent since Neon, but Chris Young can still bring the goods when he’s sufficiently moved to do so. At a fan club party at the Country Music Hall of Fame, Young delivered a stunning cover of Keith Whitley’s “When You Say Nothing At All.” (TS / JK)
“This is something that is not talked about very often… I also feel like there’s this pressure that you’re just supposed to be able to snap your fingers and continue to walk through life like it never happened.”
— Hillary Scott revealed in an interview with Rolling Stone that “Thy Will,” the lead single from her forthcoming gospel album with her family, was written after she had a miscarriage last fall. (LMW)
LeAnn Rimes covering Brandi Carlile? Yes and please. (JK)
“I had to clean out the pigsties and shovel shit out of the chicken coops… But even after our house burned down and we had to live in our tin tractor shed for 18 months, my older brother, Shane, and I sleeping in a single bed on one side of a big workbench, my parents on the other, and it looked like a squatter’s residence – all that, for me, is a great memory.”
— Keith Urban recalled his hardscrabble upbringing in an interview with Erik Hedegaard of Rolling Stone. Full disclosure: We don’t always think of Rolling Stone as a source for in-depth insights in the contemporary music writing world, but Hedegaard’s profile of Urban here is a must-read. It’s candid and revealing and exceptionally well-written. (JK)
The always-cool Shovels & Rope announced that they will be releasing a new album, Little Seeds, on October 7th. You can listen to the first single, “I Know” (sadly, not a Kim Richey cover, because that would have been amazing) at The Wall Street Journal. (LMW)
“We really wanted to push ourselves and go through the challenge of actually contributing ideas and actually being a democratic community. ‘Yes, no, maybe, that works.’ So you have to kind of check your ego at the door… It’s funny because there are things you really feel attached to at the time and then when it doesn’t happen your way after a little bit, you’re like, ‘You know, that actually sounds fine that way.’ You don’t really obsess with what isn’t there.”
— The incomparable Neko Case talked with Emilee Lindner about the role of ego in the creation of case/lang/veirs, her collaboration with k.d. lang and Laura Veirs. The trio’s self-titled debut is a real stunner, full of exceptional singing and off-kilter poetry. (JK)
The music video for “Atomic Number,” the first single from the case/lang/veirs collaboration, boasts some nifty animation to go along with its lush vocal harmonies. (JK)
Exciting news: Pam Tillis is working on a seventies-influenced album that she hopes will be released later this year. (LMW)
“It was like every six months there was somebody dying… I was pretty present for most of them. (I) basically was hospice. It was hard to know what to do with all of that emotionally.”
— Country Universe favorite Elizabeth Cook reflected on the origins of her stunning new album, Exodus of Venus, in an interview with yes-we’re-linking-to-her-again-because-she’s-the-best Juli Thanki. Thanki wrote about the triumph and tragedy that fueled Cook’s latest. (LMW)
“By now, Watkins has been in the spotlight for half her life. Never before has she made her voice heard quite this clearly.”
— The always on-point Jewly Hight gave a rave review to Sara Watkins’ upcoming album, Young in All the Wrong Ways. The album is available to stream in advance of its July 1st release date at NPR’s First Listen. (LMW)
Watkins also debuted the music video for the album’s title track and first single, and we agree with Hight’s assessment that she’s in career-best voice here. (JK)
That will do it for this week! As always, let us know in the comments what we may have overlooked. We’re working on new content for this week, too!