Simply put, Willie Nelson is a national treasure. This one is from 1984.
Proving once again that the great Willie Nelson is one of the great nuanced song interpreters of our time. Here, he completely owns the Leonard Cohen classic.
The musical world is stabilizing and we are getting a good perspective as to how things are going to look on the musical front. And, the future is so bright not only do we need to wear shades but we will need to grow another set of ears to be able to capture all of the sweet music that will be coming our way.
There is a double dose of First Aid Kit news as not only did they announce a new album to be released in March, they are also accepting pre-orders for the recording of their Who By Fire? set from 2017 where they performed a night of Leonard Cohen covers.
We’ve got our eyes, and most importantly our ears, set on Tara Who? a drummer guitar duo that delivers a Blues-Swagger blend of Punk, Grunge, and Ramones style earth-scorching manic depression.
And, another new find to Rock is the New Roll is the Naked Gypsy Queens. Picture Led Zeppelin meets MC-5 throwing a house party in Lynyrd Skynyrd’s studio shack in the backwoods and you will have a sense of the Rock and Roll that these Tennessee lads are throwing down.
And, on top of all of that here are five new records that our ears are hip to this week.
Alice Cooper – Detroit Stories
From the opening bell, listening to Alice Cooper’s vocal kick in, all is right in the Rock and Roll world. Alice is in fine Schools Out era voice. His band sounds like a real ’70s Rock band despite having to use some studio wizardry since it was not practical for everyone to get in the studio together at the same time. And above all else, Alice and producer Bob Ezrin deliver a fitting tribute to Detroit, a city that embraced Alice Cooper and his band as one of their own way back in the day.
Song by song there is some association with the Detroit scene whether it be having Detroit stalwarts, Mark Farner, from Grand Funk playing on the record, including a song written by MC-5’s Wayne Kramer, or covering a song by Michigan Glamsters Outrageous Cherry. And, it all works quite well.
The Velvet’s “Rock and Roll” is delivered front and center changing the location of the radio station from New York to Detroit with energy that should be coming from a much Younger Alice Cooper, but he’s still got it. “Go Man Go” is a Replacements style romp, and on “Detroit City 2021” Alice name-checks Detroit musical icons Suzi Quatro, Iggy Pop, MC=5, Ted Nugent, and Bob Seger. A fun bast back to the past on a record that is full of them.
Willie Nelson – That’s Life
Full disclosure, here at Rock is the New Roll we are not fans of our musical heroes covering the standards, realizing fully that Rod Stewart pretty much ruined the genre for everyone involved including Van Morrison and Bob Dylan. A big but and however is appropriate here as we are making an exclusive exception for Willie Nelson. Every new record the red-headed stranger puts out should be cherished and savored as it might be his last.
Not much to see here on this set of tunes made famous by Frank Sinatra. That’s not to say that the performances were mailed in, quite the contrary. Willie is in fine albeit a bit overproduced voice here and if you didn’t know when this record was released you could not tell whether it was made in 1983 or 2021. All of the above said this album is a pleasant listen. The duet with Diana Krall on “I Won’t Dance” is elegant and “In The Wee Small Hours” is effective and listenable. Thankfully, “My Way” was not re-hashed on this set.
Charley Crockett – 10 for Slim: Crockett Sings James Hand
Country Crooner Chaley Crocket is nothing short of prolific having released 7 records in 4 years, and every one of them seems to pass up the last in quality, heartfelt empathy, and tear in your beer pathos. This time out he pays tribute to the recently passed away Honky Tonk legend James Hand with a set of ten songs that run the spectrum from straight-up barroom laments on “In The Corner” where he stands at a table in the corner by the jukebox, to the introspective “So Do I,” all the way to the closing “Slim’s Lament” where we get the measure of two men, James Hand and Charley Crockett that will now be linked in perpetuity with the release of this record that should be in heavy rotation at a table in the corner on your own personal jukebox.
Curtis Salgado – Damage Control
A mainstay on the Blues Rock scene, Curtis Salgado’s oeuvre lays down like some sort of devil hybrid of Delbert McClinton and B.B. King, with his latest, Damage Control, delivering a set of life well-lived songs coming from the perspective of a weary road warrior. “What Did Me In Did Me Well” throws down his harmonica chops that would make Stevie Wonder take notice, the opener, “The Longer That I Live” espouses the sensible theory that the longer you live the older you want to get, and the lower and slower title track “Damage Contol” has a bit of Steely Dan savoir-faire about it. There is even a flavor Cajun bayou-noir on “Truth Be Told.” Curtis Dalgado is a nice new find for those of you that like Bonnie Raitt, Tab Benoit, and Delbert McClinton.
Sara Petite – Rare Bird
Six studio albums in, Sara Petite with her latest Rare Bird has hit her stride and released the best record of her career. Combining Americana, Bakersfield-dirt soul, and Honky Tonk Saturday night. A solid melding of Tanya Tucker and Lydia Loveless, this one has all the making of a career-making effort putting Petite in the Kacey Musgrave or Margo price status of Country crossover stars.
The opener, “Feeling Like an Angel” is a strong bit of songwriting that brings to mind Lucinda Williams, “Crash Boom Bang” would have fit in quite nicely on a Wanda Jackson record back in the day, and “Floating with the Angels” is a good old honky-tonk waltz in the making. This one is a diverse listen that will reward frequent dips back into the Rare Bird well.
As we celebrate Paul Weller week if there has anything good that has come out of living through a pandemic it is that we have been able to enjoy some of our favorite artists direct from their living rooms. Jesse Dayton has been posting a quarantune show several times per week, Rock is the new Roll Hall of Fame member Grace Potter streams live from her living room, and Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real provide us a song every week that is almost as polished as we would be getting had they recorded the song from a proper studio.
Artists have even been able to release proper albums during the lockdown. J.S. Ondara recorded the highly excellent Tales of Isolation with the stellar “Lockdown on Date Night” a standout, and Texas icon Joe Ely has come out from behind his mask to give us Love in the Midst of Mayhem.
Along for the ride, here are five great records to reach our ears this week.
Paul Weller – On Sunset
Whether it is with The Jam, The Style Council, or with his ever-growing cache of solo albums, Paul Weller is always a must-hear. Much like Nick Lowe, Sir Paul is establishing himself as a torchbearer for the old guard rock and roll fraternity. Returning to his old friends at Polydor Records, the label for both of his former bands, on this, his first record since 2018’s True Meanings, Weller has on full display his love for Folk and 60’s Pop in equal measure. “Baptiste” could be a Steve Winwood single from back in the day, and “Old Father Tyme” is a Steve Mariott special. As is becoming Paul Weller’s M.O., there is a bit of an electronic flair mixed in with the troubadour folk leanings that keeps things contemporary while never losing that Country Squire edge. On Sunset is a surprise around every turn great listen that should, scratch that will be, on our list of record of the year candidates.
Willie Nelson – First Rose of Spring
Depending on how you count them, Willie Nelson has released over 100 albums, and, amazingly enough, he has not put out a bad record in at least a dozen years. His latest, mostly cover tunes, with a few originals sprinkled in for good measure, just because he can, has him singing wistfully about his certain stage in life. Produced by long time collaborator and friend Buddy Cannon doing the knob twirling, the formula is not messed with. Solid, carefully curated song selections with Willies trademark delivery providing the nuance that makes a song you have heard many times sound even more special and at times brilliant.
Jimmy Dean’s “Just Bummin’ Around” is a gentle and meandering walk in the park, Paycheck’s classic “I’m The Only Hell My Mama Ever Raised” picks up the tempo and doesn’t stray too far from the original showing that Willie still has his vocal fastball working, and even “Yesterday When I Was Young” is saved from Charles Aznavour Shmaltz with the Teatro treatment that Willie Gives it Here. “I’ll Be Breaking Out Tonight” is a stone-cold country classic expertly delivered by a master at his craft.
Mystery Jets – A Billion Heartaches
This eclectic blend of a band combines Kaleidoscopic Folk, Post Punk, and Indie Rock into an infectious ’60s influenced brand of Rock and Roll. From the earworm worthy song “Hospital Radio” to the delicately soaring “History Has Its Eyes On You” there is something for everyone on this fine record.
bdrmm – Bedroom
This U.K. – based quintet serves up a healthy dose of Dream Pop shoegaze worthy anthems. The combination of surf rock, hazy guitar, and Post-Punk sensibilities displays a template of songs that wander the universe between Brit-Rock, Alternative Rock, and Krautrock at the blink of an ear.
Dream Wife – So You Gonna…
If The Go-Go’s were just a bit more daring and out there, they might have been Dream Wife. Heavy Garage-Punk, Party-Pop anthems along with dance-worthy rave-ups are the order of the day. With their sophomore effort, So You Gonna …., the sound is a bit more polished than their debut, but no less fun. Recorded with an all-female recording crew, there is a bounce to these songs that can take on a “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” flair one moment and a Blondie worthy flare-up the next. This one is a layered listen with rewards waiting around every corner.
The Nelson boys knock the heck out of this Lukas Nelson gem.
Another scorcher of a week. From the purple beyond Prince dropped a sweet set of songs he wrote and gave to other artists, who knew he wrote “Manic Monday”, and Nick Lowe released a woefully puny 4 song E.P.. Every one of the songs that feature his newest backing band Los Straitjackets is great, but c’mon man, give us more. Hear are five more records that we really like.
Black Pumas – Black Pumas
Hard to classify this group of Austin musicians. Rock, Soul, R&B with a hint of Tex Mex? Yep, Yes, and sure. The best we can come up with is that if Marvin Gaye fronted The Black Keys, and were based out of Tijuana, they would sound like these guys. Check them out for yourself.
The Hollywood Vampires – Rise
This one won’t be on heavy rotation on anyone’s turntable, not even mine, but what the heck, you’ve got Alice Cooper Joe Perry and Johnny Depp. And that’s pretty darn cool.
Willie Nelson – Ride Me Back Home
So far, Willie Nelson, releasing albums at a startling rate, hasn’t given us a chance to miss him. The title track is great, and “My Favorite Picture of You” is a stunner. His version of “Just the Way You Are”, however, is better left unheard.
Jim Lauderdale – From Another World
If Jim Lauderdale could sing, Kris Kristofferson is Pavarotti by comparison, he would be much more famous. The guy writes a hell of a song in the Guy Clark Tom T. Hall mold.
The Raconteurs – Help Us Stranger
And speaking of Jack White, The Raconteurs are back. This is notable mostly in that we get a Halleys Comet type appearance from the Power Pop genius Brendan Benson who inexplicably only shows up in Jack Whites side-piece band. The Ying to White’s Dirty Blues Yang. If you haven’t heard Benson’s 1996 album One Mississippi search it out.
Inspired by a post from the Texas music on-line magazine TJ Music that listed the top 20 Texas Country songs of all time, we have created our own list. There is a little bit of cross-pollination going in here, after all a Texas music list without “Pancho and Lefty” or “Sunday Morning Coming Down” holds no credibility at all, but for the most part our selections go freestyle deep into the Texas hill country, on to the plains of Lubbock, all the way to San Antonio and beyond. Standard playlist rules apply to this set of songs. No more than one song from a single artist, a rule that makes sense as it spares the listener of being subjected to 20 Doug Sahm tunes, and the song must be written or performed by an artist that is from or is associated with the state of Texas. So, enough foreplay, tonight we ride!
20. Johnny Rodriguez – Ridin’ My Thumb To Mexico
This story song that will remind you a bit of Marty Robbins was one of a couple of Johnny Rodriguez’ hit songs that really should have made him more famous than he was. Riding just below the borderline behind Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Doug Sahm and the rest of the Texas outlaw crew, Johnny’s career almost never got started after four prison stints in six years. And, if it weren’t for a Texas Ranger that heard him singing in prison and set him up with a chorus job at a Western themed amusement park “Ridin’ My Thumb Back To Mexico” might have never seen the light of day.
19. George Straight – Amarillo By Morning
“They took my saddle in Houston, broke my leg in Santa Fe, Lost my wife and a girlfriend somewhere along the way.” “I ain’t got a dime but what I got is mine, I ain’t rich but lord I’m free, Amarillo by morning, Amarillo is where I’ll be.” In a Sophie’s choice sort of dilemma this one makes it by the tip of a Stetson over “All My Exes Live In Texas” and “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind.” And what about “Ocean Front Property” or “Cowboy Rides Away.” Holy hell, now I now why the good folks at TJ Music did not include a George Strait song on their list. It was just too hard to pick only one.
18. Doug Sahm – (Is Anybody Going To) San Antone
Singing a song about his home town, Doug Sahm could perform in all of the Texas styles. Blues, Country, Tex-Mex, Cajun, Western Swing, this hombre could do it all.
17. Bob Wills – New San Antonio Rose
As Waylon Jennings would say, “It don’t matter who’s in Austin” Bob Wills is still the king. No Texas music list would be complete without a Bob Wills song as the centerpiece. “New San Antonio Rose” is pure Bob Wills. Western Swing in all it’s glory with The Playboys playing as tight as the skin on a grape.
16. Jerry Jeff Walker – Mr. Bojangles
Jerry Jeff Walker wrote “Mr. Bojangles” in Town Van Zandt’s old apartment above the Sand Mountain Coffee house in Houston, Texas firmly cementing the Texas roots of this iconic song. Sure, there have been some tremendous versions of this song over the years most notably Nina Simon’s makes her own rendition and the hit for The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, but our ears always come back home to the original. An understated beauty of a song where every word seems perfectly placed.
15. Slaid Cleaves – Horseshoe Lounge
No, Slaid Cleaves is not from Texas, but the Horseshoe Lounge certainly is. The Horseshoe Lounge is a drinkers bar in Austin, Texas where everybody knows your name and the drink of the day is beer with a shot of whiskey. The song takes you inside for a bit of day drinking on a typical Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, or any day for that matter.
14. The Texas Tornadoes – Who Were You Thinkin’ Of
Getting together first on a lark at a concert in San Francisco, The Texas Tornadoes were Country music’s first super group. Combining Tejano, Tex Mex, and Cajun song styles Freddy Fender, Doug Sahm, Augie Myers and Flaco Jiminez created a party ready sound that broke down barriers with fans on both side of the border.
13. Townes Van Zant – Pancho and Lefty
Sure the classic version is delivered by Waylon and Willie, but the original written by troubled troubadour Townes Van Zant is the most passionate. With his voice almost breaking in places Townes tells the story of two outlaws with Lefty on the run after Pancho is killed. Originally recorded on The Late Great Townes Van Zant album, the song is hard to follow and it is difficult to tell if Lefty is indeed Townes as he finishes out his days in a flea bag of a hotel in Cleveland. Did Pancho kill Lefty? Is that why after Pancho bit the dust it ended up in Pancho’s Mouth? We will never know and sadly, Townes Van Zant isn’t around to tell us.
12. Johnny Bush – Whiskey River
Johnny Bush wrote the song but Willie Nelson made it famous. Slowed down just a bit in tempo, the song the song that Willie uses to open his concerts opens itself up to all its nuance and heartbreak when the person who wrote and lived the song delivers the song that will take you back to another place, another time.
11. Hayes Carll – Drunken Poet’s Dream
Hayes Carll is from a small suburb just North of Houston but he seems more comfortable in the small town underbelly of society. A co-write with Ray Wylie Hubbard “A Drunken Poet’s Dream” is a master class in songwriting.
10. Ray Wylie Hubbard – Loco Gringos Lament
And speaking of the above mentioned Ray Wylie Hubbard there are several of his songs that are worthy of making this list, “Screw You, We’re From Texas,” and “Redneck Mother” just to name two. But, at the end of the day, “Loco Gringos Lament” makes the cut slightly edging out “Dust of the Chase.”
09. Robert Earl Keen – The Road Goes On Forever
From his fabulous West Textures record, “The Road Goes On Forever” is a Bonnie and Clyde style story song that details a young couple going on the lam after Sonny lays out a drunken pool player with his pool cue. All of the big guys have covered this song including Joe Ely and The Highwaymen. Hearing Robert Earl Keen and his band perform this song live is a a life changing experience.
08. Gary P. Nunn – London Homesick Blues
Famous for the line “Well, when you’re down on your luck, and you ain’t got a buck, in London you’re a goner. Our hero can’t wait to get back to Texas where there are the friendliest people and the prettiest women you’ve ever seen. The song is also the theme song to the Austin City Limits television show.
07. Michael Martin Murphey – Geronimo’s Cadillac
Riding on the edges of the Outlaw Country movement Michael Martin Murphey was as talented as the rest of them. “Geronimo’s Cadillac” while not his most famous song, “Widfire” would have that honor, it is the song most covered by other artists.
06. Guy Clark – Dublin Blues
Another Texan across the pond longing to get back to Texas Song. Here, Guy Clark puts himself in Dublin as he reminisces about drinking mad dog margaritas in Austin’s Chili Parlor Bar wondering what has happened to his long lost love as he chokes back the shakes with every drink.
05. Joe Ely – Honky Tonk Masquerade
Slightly edging out “Tonight I Think I’m Gonna Go Downtown” Joe Ely’s “Honky Tonk Masquerade” is, for some, the quintessential honky tonk song. The song looks at the tear in your beer side of the honky tonk.
04. Kris Kristofferson – Sunday Morning Coming Down
Nashville might try to claim Kris Kristofferson, but stanod down, he is pure Texan. Sure, there is always a lot of debate over the best version of this song, but at the end of the day the nod goes to the guy that wrote the song. Sorry Willie and Johnny.
03. Billy Joe Shaver
Billy Joe Shaver Is, as they say, a songwriters songwriter. Everybody has covered a Billy Joe Shaver song, most notably Waylon Jennings. The choice here was between the autobiographical “Georgia on a Fast Train,” Old Five and Dimers Like Me,” or “Honky Tonk Heroes.” And, “Honky Tonk Heroes” it is.
02.Waylon Jennings – Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)
“The only two things in life that make it worth living, guitars that tune good and firm feeling women.” This song is so good Waylon can almost be forgiven for not stepping foot in Luckenbach before he took this song to number one on the Country charts.
01. Willie Nelson – Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain
Number one on this list might be one of the best songs ever written, any genre. Willie, simply Willie.
Another week for the Icons. Paul Weller, Tony Bennett, Willie Nelson, and Richard Thompson all have records coming out this week.
Willie Nelson – My Way
Willie can roll out of bed and handle anybody’s songbook. This time it is Frank Sinatra’s.
Richard Thompson – 13 Rivers
This one really highlights a masterful guitar player at the peak of his powers.
Tony Bennett and Diana Krall – Love Is Here To Stay
First k.d. Lang, then Lady Gaga, now Diana Krall. Tony Bennett certainly has a way with the ladies.
Paul Weller – The Meanings
Sir Paul Weller is aging quite well. This one takes on a bit of a Jazzy tone, but is still a must listen for all Weller Fans.
Alejandro Escovedo – The Crossing
On this, his first album since relocating from Austin to Dallas, Escovedo delivers a song cycle that tries to answer the question what would have happened if he had tried to migrate to the U.S. in these times instead of 60 years ago as his father did.