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Monday, April 30, 2012

Live Review, 4/27/12: Miranda Lambert Is a No-B.S. American Great

Posted By on Mon, Apr 30, 2012 at 8:30 AM

The Pistol Annies: Ashley Monroe, Angaleena Presley, and Miranda Lambert - ALAN SCHERSTUHL
  • Alan Scherstuhl
  • The Pistol Annies: Ashley Monroe, Angaleena Presley, and Miranda Lambert

Miranda Lambert

Chris Young
Jerrod Nieman
Friday, April 27, 2012
Shoreline Ampitheatre

Better than:
Every other currently touring Nashville hitmaker, for reasons gone into below.

The short version: Blake Shelton showed up. The Pistol Annies did five songs. Lambert's band actually rocked when it tried to rock, and then got first-rate old-timey when required, and then slopped through a cockeyed "King of the Road" for an encore. For once, some of the songs at a country-music concert sounded like what my grandpa would call "hillbilly music." Introducing "All Kinds of Kinds," Lambert said, "They expect me to act a certain way and look a certain way and weigh 100 pounds -- and I don't. But I'm looking out at 15,000 people who just like me enjoy a cold beer on a Friday night." 

Then all 15,000 cheered the beautiful famous singing woman for being just like us, knowing she would do exactly the same if things were reversed and she were alone in the crowd and all of us were onstage presenting a well-rehearsed summation of our insecurities for her to identify with.

Her voice is stronger live than the pinched-up, too often too pitch-corrected voice on the radio suggests it will be. Miranda Lambert has a heap of great songs, more than any just-four-CDs-in Nashville star should, and she chooses them well, and she's a talent that would be absolutely adored by smart people who are country-curious but indisposed to current mainstream country if those people would be just a touch less smart and get over that silvery pitch-correction sound that lightnings through every phrase Lambert sings on Revolution, her best record. She's more impressive live than on record, and on record she's goddamn great.

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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lyle Lovett, How Come You Don't Write Songs Anymore?

Posted By on Wed, Feb 29, 2012 at 9:13 AM


If there's a fault to be found with Release Me, Lyle Lovett's latest album, it's that most of the songs weren't written by Lyle Lovett.

Of the album's fourteen tracks only two were penned by the idiosyncratic Texas singer-songwriter who startled listeners with original, genre-bending records when he first hit Music Row in the mid-80s. In the decade and a half following his debut, Lovett would release a series of records that fused various musical styles as well as seemingly incompatible generational differences. Plus, nobody wrote songs like he did.

Consider 1988's Pontiac. With "If I Had a Boat," Lovett re-worked Old West iconography into an enchanting defense of modern escapism. A year later, Lovett would record the jazz-inflected duet "What Do You Do/The Glory of Love" with Francine Reed on Lyle Lovett and His Large Band. The song re-casts a pair of outdated his-and-hers stereotypes as a modern couple amusingly nostalgic for the squabbling spouses of a Conway and Loretta track. Another stand-out is 1996's Road to Ensenada, an elegant, heartbroke record that gave us gems like "Her First Mistake." Here Lovett sings from the perspective of a journeying n'er-do-well who tries to win a fickle woman's heart by accurately guessing her back story. The sly narrator is a familiar type, but his wooing methods, like the song's billowing sound, are refreshingly novel.

Then in the 2000s something changed, as Lovett's records came farther and fewer between. A full seven years would pass between Ensenada and Lovett's next album of original material, My Baby Don't Tolerate. (In the gap: live record, anthologies, two discs of covers.) It would then be another four years until the mostly-original It's Not Big It's Large. In 2009 Lovett gave us Natural Forces, half of which was covers.

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Rick Santorum, 1975 Loretta Lynn Has Something to Say to You

Posted By on Thu, Feb 16, 2012 at 11:50 AM


This morning, a Wyoming gasbag who backs Rick Santorum puked up some ridiculous words on TV news for all us Internet people to laugh at. (This is what TV news is for.)

Big-money Santorum super PAC donor Foster Friess told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell:

Back in my days, [women] used Bayer aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn't that costly.

Women don't do that anymore, probably because guys like Friess got worried that women might be enjoying this technique after aspirin got all smooth and gel-capped and kind of sexy. Also, this most likely means that at some point, a horny young Foster Friess must have wound up disappointed in the backseat of a jalopy, with powdery white old-school aspirin all over his junk. Which is hilarious.

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Friday, February 3, 2012

Eight Taylor Swift Lyrics as Good as Any in Country Music

Posted By on Fri, Feb 3, 2012 at 3:30 AM

Professionally styled but still totally like you.
  • Professionally styled but still totally like you.

Smart people I know have argued that Taylor Swift is not a country singer.

That argument demonstrates little understanding of country music or of Taylor Swift. It's rooted, I suspect, in a belief commonly held by smart people who don't care for country music: That country music should sound more like that one Johnny Cash song they like and less like Def Leppard.

But part of the point of country is that people who aren't country get no say in country, so people who want their country music to sound like their grandparents' country music should go dig out some Ray Price and enjoy it. That's the great thing about being alive now: All earlier culture is ours to savor, no matter what's going on now.

Most Americans, meanwhile, find the culture in front of them plenty edifying, and millions relish and relate to Taylor Swift, who is a great and fundamentally serious pop-music artist. Swift's music may sound nothing like Hee Haw, but the songs she sings (and often writes) are, in their strong narrative detail and lovestruck world view, still straight-up, grade-A country.

Now, as her single "Ours" creeps toward Billboard's country top ten, here's eight examples. I could offer 20 -- and she's just three albums in.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Eric Church's Front Porch Breakbeats: Nashville at Last Fully Integrates Hip Hop

Posted By on Wed, Oct 19, 2011 at 12:30 PM

"Dig my beats, but pull your pants up."
  • "Dig my beats, but pull your pants up."

Eric Church is the first country star to fully incorporate hip hop into country hits. He's not the first to incorporate it, of course. "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk," "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy," and "Stuck Like Glue" -- that glitterbomb Sugarland single with the Carribean patois breakdown -- all dip into hip hop beats.

But they're self-conscious, like kids trying on outlandish Halloween costumers: the audacity is part of the joke. Church, though, doesn't just download a beat and hope for pop crossover. His songs seem to rise up from their breakbeats, as surely as they might rise from their riffs.

This is a sea-change for Nashville: Looped, loud, and complex drum patterns are no longer a novelty. They are instead a widely accepted element of that great sonic storehouse that this conservative genre depends upon: Sounds That Most American White People Are Cool With.

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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Hank Williams, Jr., Dares to State Outright What Fox News Only Implies

Posted By on Tue, Oct 4, 2011 at 1:10 PM

Smarter and more honest than Fox & Friends
  • Smarter and more honest than Fox & Friends

So, it seems some suits someplace are all worked up at the political opinions of Mr. Hank Williams, Jr.

Good for him. Moments like this are why we need a Hank Williams, Jr.

Just to be clear, he's the middle (and middle-aged) Hank Williams, the one with the Muppet beard, the one who has never crossed over into Barnes & Noble/Utne Reader respectability. The one best known for posing important musical questions: inquiring each week whether or not America might be prepared to enjoy a spot of football, but also on the topic of why he chooses to drink and why he chooses to roll smoke.

(ANSWER KEY: Yes; to get drunk; to get stoned.)

Anyway, this unhousebroken old coot was invited onto Fox & Friends this morning, where he shocked the hosts and America by doing pretty much the one thing you aren't supposed to do on Fox & Friends. He compared Obama to Hitler without putting a question mark at then end of his sentence.

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Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Flatlanders: A Beginner's Guide to Joe Ely

Posted By on Thu, Sep 29, 2011 at 9:17 AM


This is the first of a two-part series of explorations of the long, bewildering discographies of Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and Butch Hancock, who will be preforming together as The Flatlanders this Saturday at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival.

The Flatlanders are the only must-see band whose records are not as good as those of its individual members. Less a working band than old friends who knock some songs out together once in a while, the iconoclastic west Texas singer-songwriters have only recorded together officially, as a working unit, at the very beginning of their respective careers and again, now, in their elegiac kinda/sorta legend period.

That first record, now known as More a Legend Than a Band, is a ghostly collection hallmarked by Jimmie Dale Gilmore's high-lonesome, singing saw of a voice, which isn't to be confused with the actual singing saw layered into many of the tracks. Recorded in 1972, the tracks haven't dated because they seem to come from no particular time: They're hazy, natural, and strange, sounding something like if one of those shimmery panhandle highway mirages somehow booked itself some studio time.

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Friday, September 16, 2011

Rascal Flatts Is the Worst Hugely Popular Music Act in America

Posted By on Fri, Sep 16, 2011 at 8:33 AM

Rascal Flatts or a heartland radio station's morning zoo? - EXECUTIVE VISIONS, INC.

Rascal Flatts will be performing tonight at the Shoreline Ampitheatre in San Jose. We won't be there.

Rascal Flatts is produced by the guy who played guitar on "Straight Up" by Paula Abdul.

That's not reason enough for them to be the worst hugely popular musical act in America, of course. After all, country fans don't much mind that today's typical Nashville hit sounds like all of previous pop balled up into 3:30 with a hint of twang, so why should it bug us?

No, the reason Rascal Flatts is the worst popular music act in America is how atrocious all those pop influences sound when wadded together and caterwauled over by Gary LeVox.

But let's start with that producer.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Toby Keith and Kenny Chesney: Bullshit & Transcendence in This Week's Top Country Singles

Posted By on Wed, Sep 14, 2011 at 8:50 AM

Thing Toby Keith Has Never Said: "Nah, man, that might be a little much."
  • Thing Toby Keith Has Never Said: "Nah, man, that might be a little much."

On occasion, All Shook Down gives a listen to the music that is to real America what brine is to a cucumber. This is one of those occasions.

Toby Keith, "Made in America"

Chart Position: No. 5

Verdict: Fantastic, but in the sense of fantasy rather than awesomeness.

Last year, Wal-Mart accounted for 48 percent of all country music CD sales, which means that Toby Keith's new top-five hit "Made in America" will most often be purchased in a store where the only thing tougher to find than a domestic product is an adult size small.

Before Keith got to it, Made in America was the title of Sam Walton's autobiography, then a Wal-Mart ad slogan back before mid-'90s globalization, and finally a dim memory and occasional punchline.

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Friday, September 9, 2011

Billy Ray Cyrus' 9/11 Album: The Tragedy America Forgot

Posted By on Fri, Sep 9, 2011 at 8:32 AM


Unlike his rash colleagues Alan Jackson and Toby Keith, Billy Ray Cyrus passed a full decade in contemplation before sharing with the world art wrung from his feelings about life in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001.

Unleashed this June, the resulting disc, I'm American, should clear up once and for all any confusion you might have had concerning Cyrus' feelings about the American flag (for it!), American soldiers (for 'em!), and choruses pitched higher than his speaking voice (ain't going to happen!).

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