New Chuck Brown Record

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Chuck Brown has released a new record, entitled A Flower in Winter.  Chuck and I have cowritten numerous songs over the years, and two of them are on the new record.

Makris and Letter from Molly join 10 other songs on a record Chuck describes as “songs of yearning, love, devotion and loss.  Melodic pop music tinged with country, jazz and blues influences.”

You can listen to the songs at NoiseTrade.

Harper Valley PTA-Fest

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Harper Valley P.T.A., written by the great Tom T. Hall, is one of the best and most coverable songs ever.

First, the version by Jeannie C. Riley that made it famous.  Yes, this is frickin’ awesome.

Up to now, my favorite covers have been this one by the wonderful Mary Jane Hooper.

And a mostly forgotten one by Syd Straw.

But there’s a new contender.  Kelly Willis.  Read about it at Twang Nation.

GoodSongs: Leslie Krafka – On·ward

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Here’s a sad little not-so-secret.  There just isn’t much of a music scene in Houston.  We’ve had some great bands over the years (Fever Tree, ZZ Top, the Dishes, etc.) and some fine musicians spent time here (Townes Van Zandt and others), but it’s nothing like the Austin or Nashville scene.

So, when I receive a review copy of a record from a Houston artist, you can rest assured I’ll take a listen.  In this case, I’m glad I did, because Leslie Krafka‘s new record is very good.  The music and arrangements are top-notch, as you’d expect from anything produced by Lloyd Maines.  Much of the writing and singing has a nineties-era Suzy Boggus vibe, and for those who didn’t know me back then, that’s high praise.  Suzy’s recording of the Cheryl Wheeler song Aces is one of my favorite tracks ever.  My favorite track on Leslie’s new record is South Texas Fall.  This song is a 10 on anyone’s scale.

She does a great cover of Drunken Poets Dream that oozes girl-power (though I continue to lament the way many musicians and almost all of Hollywood play to the false myth of cigarettes as cool and rebellious (when they are, in fact, stupid, unhealthy and offensive to anyone nearby).

Wine Women and Song is another favorite of mine.

On·ward is set for release on May 3, 2014 at Anderson Fair (I’ve seen so many amazing shows there; Steve Fromholz being one that immediately comes to mind as a favorite).  If you share my desire to support Houston musicians (and you should), check it out.

GoodSongs: The Highballers (and How to Get Your Record Reviewed)

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I’m going to tell you a little secret about getting your records reviewed by music bloggers. Those of us have been doing this for a long time get a lot of music for review. At the moment, I probably have 50 records in my queue for review. In fact, it’s not uncommon for records that rotate through my online sources, such as ReviewShine, to expire before I get around to listening to them. I’ve talked to numerous other music bloggers and almost everyone has a similar story. There is simply more music to listen to than time to listen.

Step One: Grab Me Quickly

So, getting your records reviewed becomes a two-step process. The first, and most important step, is to make it past the “20-second listen” and into the “whole album listen” stack. I’ll show you how this works, using ReviewShine as an example.

Click for a larger view
Click for a larger view

The incoming music page for each reviewer at ReviewShine looks like that. There are a ton of records, and each band picks one song to lead with. The potential reviewer can click the play button and hear that song right from this page. This is the “20-second listen” stage. If a song is some combination of not my genre, not quickly identifiable as being performed by good musicians or just not good or distinguishable, I move to the next one. As an aside, let me say that I almost never hear music that isn’t good. But I hear a ton of it that sounds just like every other same-genre band out there. So even if you have a great record, it is critical to lead with something that will grab the potential reviewer quickly.

If a song grabs me, with a click I add the record to my inbox. From there, I can listen to the entire record. Songs that I have pre-approval to stream are labelled in green. I estimate that 75% of the songs I put in my inbox get some sort of mention, if not a full review.

Step Two: Do a Lot of My Work for Me

Once a record is in my inbox, it is accompanied (usually) by a photo of the band/artist and a bio.

Click for a larger view
Click for a larger view

I don’t need a clever bio. I need facts and a summary I can cut and paste. I’m not looking for a Pulitzer for my record reviews. I just want to share good music. Quickly.

Tonight I was working through my ReviewShine queue, looking for something to write about. There’s some good stuff in there. Because I like alt. country (rockers playing twang) a lot, and Americana (too many old dudes waxing philosophical) much less, anything that has alt. country as one of the first listed genres gets a listen.

So let’s take a look at The Highballers. I like the name. The lead song, Lula’s Gone, has a twangy-but-rocking vibe. These are good musicians. Hear for yourself.

That is going right into rotation at Rancho Radio. The first song on the record, Fire and Smoke, is a wistful mid-tempo number, with a different good singer. So I’m getting hooked. Love Will Find You is another alt. country number. At first I didn’t like Down that Road Before, thinking it was another (producer-mandated) generic rocker.  Then the vocalists (one male, one female) started trading off bits and I (mostly) came around.

And the bio had this, in exactly these words. Easy peasy.

The Highballers were born on the rock of guitarist/vocalist Kendall Jackson and vocalist Hope Hudson in 2007, forging a hard-edged, rockin’ country sound built on the duo’s male-female vocal harmonies. After several personnel shifts, myriad gigs and more than a few empty whiskey bottles, the band arrived at its current lineup of Jackson, vocalist Victoria Patchen, guitarist Sean Lally, bassist Michael Barrientos and drummer Drake Sorey.

Cant Stop Drinkin’ starts out with this line, which is good enough to guarantee multiple listens: “Honey, I’d drive you home, but I can’t stop drinking.”

I’ll Break Something More, is probably my favorite song on the record. Great story.  “If I had a dime for every time you broke me down I’d buy myself a sheriff to run you out of town.” Holy moly, that’s fabulous.

I Need My Ass Kicked is that rare semi-novelty song that is actually clever. 80% of what is proposed as clever is anything but.

Here’s the bottom line. The Highballers can play well. They can write well. There’s not a bad song on the record, which is a rare and wonderful thing these days. This is a great record. Buy it here (@ Amazon).

My Current Favorite Song: Shaky

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Somehow I missed this record when it came out, but my goodness do I love this song.  The Duke and the King – Shaky.

“Shaky makes me all so shaky mama
C’mon wake me up
We go dancing however you wanna
‘Cause we were just babies
The Jackson 5 grew up so fast
C’mon baby, just come and shake that country a**”

This song will be heard often at Rancho DeNada this week.

Under Cover: Friend of the Devil

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I really like good covers of good songs.  I have a large (and excellent) Spotify playlist centered around cover songs.

So when I saw someone with the Grateful Dead say that this was possibly the best Friend of the Devil cover they’d ever heard, I stopped in my tracks for a listen.

This may be the first time I’ve talked about I See Hawks in L.A.  But it won’t be the last time.  That is one great cover.  Here’s their web site.