Articles by Sam Gazdziak
“Love is Your Name” Steven Tyler” Written by Lindsey Lee and Eric Paslay When word came out that Tyler was releasing a country album, the first thing that came to mind — at least in my mind — was “cash grab.” After all, rock & roll is more endangered than the rhinoceros, and pop has become the playground for young hip-hop and EDM influenced singers. Where else is the 67-year-old frontman of Aerosmith going to get played on the radio?
A fundraising campaign to raise money for a documentary on the legendary songwriter is a smashing success. If anyone’s life is interesting enough to be turned into a full-length film, Guy Clark would be at or near the top of the list. The only problem would be, where to start? There’s his 40-year career as an award-winning singer and songwriter and a craftsman-like approach to writing that stands almost in direct contract to the Nashville commercial music machine. There’s his circle of friends, which reads like a Who’s Who of Twentieth-Century Songwriters. There’s the complicated relationship dynamics between Clark, his longtime friend Townes Van Zandt and his wife Susanna, herself an artist and songwriter who never really got over Van Zandt’s death in 1997. That’s certainly enough for a film. Or ten. Fortunately, the person who’s taken on the task of telling Clark’s life in a documentary is the person Read More
Ralph Stanley & Friends Man of Constant Sorrow Perhaps the uninitiated may have “discovered” Ralph Stanley through his participation in the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack, For those who have spent their lives appreciating the man and his music, Ralph Stanley is a certified living legend — not to mention one of the last remaining links to that first generation of bluegrass musicians who blazed the trail for newgrassers and traditionalists alike. Even though he threatened retirement not long ago, the 87-year-old singer is back with a new duets album, available through Cracker Barrel stores.
The songs on Suzanne Jarvie’s debut album sound like they come from an experienced songwriter. They don’t settle for trite sentiment or easy topics; a couple drift into the realm of the metaphysical. As it happens, they all were written by a relative newcomer to songwriting. Even with a lifelong love of music and performing, it took not one, but two life-threatening situations involving her children before Jarvie discovered a songwriting gift that she never knew she had. Jarvie’s album, Spiral Road, was released late last year to rave reviews. Her engaging vocals (somewhat reminiscent of Lucinda Williams) and thought-provoking songs found a receptive audience not only in North America but overseas as well. So where had she been? Was she banging away on the folk circuit before getting her big break? Actually, prior to this record, she could most often be found in a Toronto courtroom.
If you were listening to New West Records’ An Americana Christmas sampler over the holidays, you would have heard tracks from the likes of Dylan, Cash, Emmylou and other Americana legends. Tucked in alongside those songs was a catchy little number called “Everyone Deserves a Merry Christmas.” With wry lyrics about a jailhouse celebration and a chorus that begs for a sing-along (“Everybody deserves a Merry Christmas/It don’t matter what stupid things you’ve done…”), it’s an excellent introduction to Ronnie Fauss, if you’ve not had the pleasure of listening to this Texas singer already. For those in the know, Fauss has been worth following for several years now. After several EPs, he released his full-length debut, I Am the Man You Know I’m Not, in 2012 on Normaltown Records, a New West imprint. Mouthful of a title and all, it was one of the year’s best debuts and showed off Read More
England swings, or at least it did back in Roger Miller’s day. Nowadays, England is more likely to line dance, which helped an album from one of Nashville’s top singer-songwriters become a hit – almost 20 years after it was released.
To back up a bit: in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, country music was in a creative boom era, and James House was one of the reasons. His two albums on MCA Records (James House, Hard Times for An Honest Man) and one for Epic (Days Gone By) are all top-quality affairs that featured his distinctive voice and excellent songwriting chops. While he only had one Top 10 hit — “This Is Me Missing You” — he garnered airplay with several singles. House’s real success, though, came as a songwriter, as he penned hits for the likes of Dwight Yoakam, Martina McBride and other artists.
Those three albums really deserved a wider audience, and even today, they are well worth acquiring should you ever stumble across a copy. Days Gone By, though, ended up enjoying a renaissance in England last year, where it spawned three hit singles and coaxed House back into the recording studio for a new album and an overseas tour. Not bad for an album that was released in 1995.
“The Outsiders,” the title track and lead single from Eric Church’s new album, may have strayed too much into the realm of metal for its own good, but it served as a strong mission statement. Like him or not, Church is one of the few male country singers today who are willing to stray from the country-party-dude template, and even his songs that don’t quite hit the mark are more interesting than most singles currently on the radio.
Alabama & Friends
To recognize the impact that Alabama has had on modern country music, you could consider their millions of albums sold, their hundreds of awards, their many #1 songs or their induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2005. You could also look at how the boys from Fort Payne, Ala. have the distinction of bringing something entirely new into country music.