This week is all about that country grammar. And the Grammys.
Chris Stapleton, Little Big Town, and Jason Isbell each won two Grammy awards on Monday evening, while The SteelDrivers and Mavis Staples also walked away with some new hardware for their respective mantles. Taylor Swift had a big night, as well, besting Stapleton for Album Of The Year. Carrie Underwood and Sam Hunt performed a mash-up of their hits “Hearbeat” and “Take Your Time,” while Little Big Town were backed by an orchestra for “Girl Crush.” Hunt’s shaky sense of pitch and Luke Bryan’s competent-but-unremarkable contribution to the Lionel Richie tribute notwithstanding, the country genre represented itself fairly well on the night.
Elsewhere, this week boasts a ton of great live performances worth checking out, along with essential interviews from the likes of Vince Gill and Lucinda Williams and a confounding interview with Joe Nichols. Reba gives us a glimpse behind-the-curtain from her latest music video, and a couple of A-listers make it clear that they need some remedial instruction in Language Arts.
New Releases & Reissues, 2/19/2016
Lake Street Drive, Side Pony. (Nonesuch)
Buck Owens, Buck ‘Em! The Music of Buck Owens, Volumes 1 and 2. (Omnivore)
Johnny Rawls, Tiger in a Cage. (Catfood)
Carrie Rodriguez, Lola. (Luz / Thirty Tigers)
Sister Hazel, Lighter in the Dark. (Croakin’ Poet)
Mavis Staples, Livin’ on a High Note. (ANTI / Epitaph)
Vandaveer, The Wild Mercury. (Whitespace / MRI)
Marlon Williams, Marlon Williams. (Dead Oceans)
Tammy Wynette, Bedtime Story (1972) and My Man (1972). (Morello / Cherry Red)
News and Notes
The Mavericks didn’t win any awards at the Grammys, but they did give a killer performance of their single “All Night Long” during the pre-show telecast, when the majority of the actual awards were handed out. (JK)
In an article for Rolling Stone, we learn that Chris Stapleton had a choice of singing one of his own songs or participate in the B.B. King tribute. He chose the B.B. King tribute and, with Gary Clark, Jr., already on board, was the one who suggested that Bonnie Raitt join them on stage. Stapleton also reveals that he is making plans to go back into the studio with producer Dave Cobb for his next album. (LMW)
“The B.B. King tribute was good, but not so good you couldn’t go to the bathroom. Sure, Chris Stapleton needed to be on the show, but couldn’t he have done one of his own songs? And what did Gary Clark, Jr. do for us this year? As for Bonnie Raitt…I love her, she played some mean slide, but how about delaying her appearance until next year, when her new album is in contention? This was one of those boomer moments, throwing a bone to the aged, but the befuddled alta kachers had already tuned out and gone to bed, like they were gonna sit through the music of these youngsters, it contradicted almost everything they believed in!”
— Bob Lefsetz, music industry insider and possibly the subject of Taylor Swift’s “Mean,” took a contrarian view of the B.B. King tribute, considered by most critics to be one of the better performances of the telecast, in his lengthy post-Grammys recap. He also refers to the controversy about Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” as a CAPSLOCK “publicity stunt.” (JK)
After his big night at the Grammys, Chris Stapleton took to Jimmy Kimmel Live! to sing snippets of songs inspired by some of the worst words in the English language. Expect “Chringeworthy” to be Stapleton’s next smash hit! (LMW)
“I couldn’t have scripted it any better. Any Lionel song is just in my cerebral. It’s not even that I have to think about it. I can sing them. It’s nice to get up there to relax and sing one of your favorite songs.”
— Luke Bryan, trying and failing spectacularly to use a big word, talks about his part in the tribute to Lionel Richie at the Grammy Awards. (JK)
“There are no nouns. Only verbs.”
— Jennifer Nettles, who may or may not have been Luke Bryan’s English teacher, via Twitter. (JK)
Kacey Musgraves covered Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” on the Americana music Cayamo Cruise. Don’t worry: She countries it up, including getting help from Sara Watkins on fiddle! (LMW)
“I always get a little choked up when I talk about it, because I was so young and more naïve then, and Mary was already a star, really. It was my first Grammy, and it just really started everything for me. [Laughs.] When I get to the line “It’s my right,” all the women in the audience yell out and go nuts. I love it.”
— Lucinda Williams talks about “Passionate Kisses” and how it remains a part of her current set-list on tour in a fascinating, career-spanning interview with Jonathan K. Dick of The AV Club. (JK)
The Academy of Country Music belatedly announced its nominees for Song of the Year– which is not a terrible line-up– and Songwriter of the Year– which is, like Album of the Year, a total sausage-fest. (JK)
“The record to me is not a country record, in truth… With this record, I felt free to play whatever I felt like playing. If it was a little soulful, a little R&B-ish, if it rocked a little bit… There’s one blues tune on there that sounds like I’m trying to channel Howlin Wolf, if I could’ve. Whatever it is that I’m doing, I want it to sound authentic. If I’m singing the blues, I don’t want to sound like a country singer singing the blues; I want to be a blues singer.”
— Vince Gill insists that the new Time Jumpers album will include plenty to satisfy traditional country fans, but he tells the always insightful Chris Willman that his current album, Down to My Last Bad Habit, was his opportunity to explore a variety of different styles. (JK)
At 82, Willie Nelson is still sounding good. Thanks to NPR’s “First Listen,” you can hear his latest album, Summertime: The Songs of George and Ira Gershwin, before you can buy it. And you can read Chris Willman’s review of the album, as well. (LMW)
With background support from Chris, the other half of the Stapletons, Morgane Stapleton, can finally be heard taking lead on an intense version of “You Are My Sunshine.” The song will be featured on the Dave Cobb-produced compilation, Southern Family, which is scheduled for release on March 18th. Be sure to read Ann Powers’ in-depth analysis of the collaboration while you’re listening. (LMW)
Country Universe favorite Darrell Scott has announced a new album, Couchville Sessions, which is set for a May 13 release. (LMW)
“I always feel like I’m gonna have to go back [to Sarnia] and live there. That’s a real worry. I saw an interview with [NFL running back Maurice Jones-Drew], where he was like, ‘every time I’m running with the ball, I just imagine those people who are trying to tackle me are trying to take me back to where I grew up.”
— Singer-songwriter Donovan Woods, whose credits include Tim McGraw’s “Portland, Maine” and Charles Kelley’s “Leaving Nashville,” talks about his lingering fears that his full-time songwriting gig is on the verge of sending him packing back to his hometown in Canada. It’s a fascinating, must-read interview with Matt Williams of Noisey, and Woods’ tale of being held at gunpoint by a legendary songwriter after a night of hard drinking is just amazing. (JK)
“It’s more country than anything I’ve done in the past five or six years which is kind of ironic, but it’s fun. It’s one of the most fun times I’ve ever had in the studio… We cut “Baby Got Back” as a country shuffle and the whole band was giggling through the whole thing. It started as a not-very-meaningful, smart-aleck kind of view on my life and it kinda turned into ‘We gotta cut it, it’s actually meaningful now. We had to cut it.”
— Joe Nichols, who started off his career as a neo-traditionalist, says that his meaningful cover of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s immortal “Baby Got Back” is more country than anything he’s done in recent memory. Nichols’ vision of his upcoming album seems more than a bit scattered over the course of his interview with Nicole Piering of Nashville Gab. (JK)
The Grand Ole Opry’s YouTube channel just posted performances from Aubrie Sellers’ January 16th Opry debut, which included this good cover of Buck Owens’ “My Heart Skips a Beat.” (LMW)
“I think, for so long, I was writing from a different point-of-view. That may or may not be why it’s working now and it wasn’t then. I think, like Vince said earlier, the best thing about songs is honesty. An honest song is a good song. I feel really confident when I sing it, because I’ve lived it. It’s a form of therapy, I think, to just get it out and wear my heart on my sleeve a little bit. Plus, everybody loves an underdog.”
— Margo Price reflects on her artistic persona in the latest “Deep Shit” column from Jewly Hight for The Bluegrass Station. For this installment, Hight conducted a joint interview with Price and Vince Gill, resulting in a fascinating back-and-forth between a genre veteran and an artist who is just beginning to break through after building her reputation on the club circuit for years. (JK)
T Bone Burnett, Gillian Welch, and David Rawlings will all receive “American Master Awards” from Berklee College of Music during a special broadcast of Music City Roots on March 15th. (JK)
“G, D, and C.
The cowboy chords. They are the songwriter’s lifeblood, all ringing 5ths and muscle memory. Glenn Frey and his SoCal writing partners loved them some cowboy chords. His flock was masterful at woodshedding those basic shapes into deceptively simple country-rock classics.”
— Ari Rosenschein, in a lovely tribute to the late Glenn Frey, “Glenn Frey And The Power Of Cowboy Chords.” (JK)
Reba posted a behind-the-scenes look at the emotional music video for her gorgeous new single, “Just Like Them Horses.” (JK)
That will do it for this week! As always, let us know in the comments if there’s something noteworthy that we missed!
I personally thought that the Grammys didn’t represent themselves too well at the Grammys. “Girl Crush” was neat but Luke Bryan was just no, and I didn’t care for the Carrie Underwood and Sam Hunt mashup and this is coming from a huge Carrie Underwood fan.
I wonder are you guys going to do what you guys did last year around this time and have a bunch of single reviews come out day after day as I was a big fan of that and sure enough their is a lot of new music the mainstream country music scene is offering up. Some good, some bad and some that’ll leave you wondering who the heck approved this song.
With respect to Chris Stapleton being part of the B.B. King tribute–I really don’t understand Bob Lefsetz’s criticism here. Stapleton clearly showed his affinity for the late blues giant there, putting his money where his mouth is, and giving B.B.’s biggest hit the great treatment it deserved alongside Bonnie Raitt and Gary Clark Jr.
It was indeed one of the high points of Grammy night; and I doubt anyone from the bro-meister sect could have bettered it.
Glad to see you popping up regularly in the comments sections again. None of the crew here do music writing as their full-time gig, so it’s really just a matter of when individuals have the time and the passion to write about something. That’s one of the reasons that things can get a little bit “feast or famine” when it comes to new posts! It’s been a very interesting year thus far, as you say, so be sure to keep checking back for more coverage!
I really don’t understand Bob Lefsetz’s criticism the majority of the time. He’s kind of pop music’s equivalent of Armond White.
I know I know. I just want to see at least a few single reviews in the coming weeks if possible, if none of you guys can’t I understand. Country music is in an intresting position especially with the rise of artists like Chris Stapleton and Maren Morris. I do hope that there can eventually be a single review for the songs I requested a couple weeks ago (“Next Boyfriend” and “By The Way”) but if you guys can’t I understand.
I am going to say this you guys have a very interesting writing style and you’re guys reviews are among my favorite to read.
I used to regularly read the Lefsetz Letter but Bob has been so off in his commentaries on country music that I just had to unsubscribe.
No but seriously where is the storyteller review?
I haven’t been able to stomach Lefsetz in years.
…the subtitle says “crazy”, yet the picture points more at “all about that bass”.
I would also say that Lefsetz’s critiques, such as they are, are not necessarily the kind that are unique to him, but are in truth common to a lot of rock music critics whose positions and attitudes are not really as kaleidoscopic as they should be, especially when it comes to the gritty style of country music that Stapleton seems to embrace on his own.
Given that he had already won his two Grammys by the time in the show that he did the tribute, Stapleton felt doing something different that night that appealed to what seemed to me to be his very honest and eclectic musical pallet, not exactly an uncommon thing among great musicians. To my mind, Stapleton should be applauded for what he did that night, which was Art, and not just “product.”
Sonny James – RIP