Slim’s Jukebox: Willie Nelson, Mercyland, Todd Snider, Chelle Rose & Darrell Scott

Posted on: Jun 5th, 2012 By:

By James Kelly
Contributing Music Editor

There is so much great music coming out these days, and I will try to keep you posted on what I am listening to the most. This week’s column is a mix of legends, newbies, and a very nice compilation of sorta gospel songs. A lot of these are on small or independent labels, and don’t get the sort of publicity push that the horrible commercial radio crap has, so please spread the word if any of these hit your sweet spot.

Willie Nelson
HEROES
Legacy Recordings

Willie Nelson is my hero. He can pretty much do no wrong, and I do not know a soul who doesn’t appreciate his work. HEROES is a collection of duets and more, featuring his old pals Merle Haggard, on a rerecording of “A Horse Called Music,” and Ray Price on the classic “Cold War With You.” There’s a slew of cuts with Willie’s kid Lucas, and their voices are so similar it’s spooky. There are a few oddities here, but they work in Willie’s own peculiar way. The almost novelty song “Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die” includes a few lines from Kris Kristofferson, hardcore honkytonker Jamey Johnson, and… Snoop Dogg? Yep, that Snoop. There’s a really nice take on Tom Waits’ “Come On Up To The House” with Sheryl Crow and son Lucas, but the show-stopper is Willie’s stunning version of Coldplay’s “The Scientist.” I’m not a Coldplay fan by any definition, but in Willie’s hands, this is a jewel.

[ Editor’s Note: Willie Nelson plays Chastain Park Amphitheatre with Jamey Johnson on Fri. June 15. Tickets here.]

Various Artists
MERCYLAND: HYMNS FOR THE REST OF US
Mercyland Records

Nashville is an interesting place. There are so many small music communities that have little or no relation to the mainstream industry, and what comes out of these enclaves inevitably is so much better than the major label drivel. One borderline fringe group consists of several really talented studio musicians and writers, who fit more into the “Americana” mold than anywhere else. And interestingly, most of them are Christians. Not the type that sit in pews every Sunday and listen to the good word, then treat people like crap the rest of the week, but Christians who are comfortable enough with their faith to be respectful and tolerant of others with different beliefs. They live it instead of simply talk it. Phil Madeira pulled a group of like-minded artists together and has constructed a wonderful collection of tunes that take a much different perspective on faith and spirituality than your usual “Gospel” record. From Buddy Miller’s plaintive “I Believe In You” to the very traditional “Lights In The Sun” by the Carolina Chocolate Drops, each song provides a unique and ultimately entertaining discourse on some aspect of faith. Atlanta’s own Shawn Mullins scores with “Give God The Blues,” and Madeira’s title track is a captivating slow groove. Even this card-carrying atheist felt a little spark of something, mostly respect.

Todd Snider
AGNOSTIC HYMNS & STONER FABLES
Aimless Records

A joker with a dark side, Todd Snider has been making provocative and polarizing music for over two decades, and on AGNOSTIC HYMNS, he takes a bit of a step out of his unusually wide comfort zones. Snider’s been on both major and indie labels, while never compromising the type of music he makes for anyone.  Over the years he has always had a fine backup band on deck, and the records always sounded really clean and neat in spite of his sometimes bizarre lyrics and stories. Well, this time around Snider sounds like he is backed up by a hillbilly punk band, with crashy drums, raw electric guitars and slightly dissonant harmony vocals. It’s all very primitive and deceptively simple sounding, but lyrically this is some of his roughest work. Life has been tough for everyone for the past few years, and obviously for Snider as well.  His provocative observations on life, love and the state of affairs in the world can be a bit depressing, if they weren’t so entertaining. Throw in a few bouncy acoustic tracks, crank it up, and appreciate Todd.

[Editor’s Note: Todd Snider performs at Variety Playhouse on Wed. June 13. ]

Chelle Rose
GHOST OF BROWDER HOLLER
Lil’ Damsel Records

After making a few ripples in the underground Nashville scene a decade ago, the bluesy-voiced Chelle Rose disappeared into motherhood for a few years, only to be recently rediscovered by the legendary Ray WylieHubbard, who produced this fine album. The original tunes on GHOST OF BROWDER HOLLER perfectly channel Rose’s Smoky Mountain heritage, and anybody who covers Julie Miller’s “I Need You” is OK in my book. Rose is bit grittier than Miller’s girlish sound, and gives the song a rock hard edge that works on all levels. Hubbard’s production (and the accompaniment of some of Texas’ finest) provide Rose with the perfect canvas, and even with 10 years of cobwebs and dust to knock off, she still has it.

Darrell Scott
LONG RIDE HOME
Full Light Records

A near-perfect songwriter, Darrell Scott has penned monster hits for people like the Dixie Chicks, Garth Brooks, Travis Tritt, and both Faith Hill and Tim McGraw. Lucky for us, he keeps the really good ones for himself. With the freedom to do whatever he wants, Scott decided to do a straight-up country record, and on this 16-track jewel, he nails it to the wall. Joined by a band of Nashville studio legends – Hargus “Pig” Robbins on piano,  drummer Kenny Malone, along with steel player Lloyd Green and harmonica master Charlie McCoy, Scott delivers an amazing collection of rich classic country tunes, not a clunker in the bunch. His duet with Guy Clark on “Out In The Parking Lot” actually improves on Guy’s original recording, and “You’re Everything I Want Love To Be” is a love song as country as it gets. Scott has a clear and comforting voice, a way with words, and has once again made a truly great album.

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Down At The Well Of Wishes: Slim Chance Celebrates Jon Byrd’s Return to Atlanta With a New Album and Hopefully a Dream Come True

Posted on: Dec 6th, 2011 By:

By Slim Chance (James Kelly)
Contributing Blogger

Jon Byrd celebrates the release of DOWN AT THE WELL OF WISHES at Kavarna in Oakhurst on Saturday Dec. 10. Slim Chance & the Convicts play at 8PM. $6. Facebook Event Link.

Chasing your dreams can be a long, arduous, and often frustrating journey, which usually ends in regret and disillusionment. But perseverance, and commitment, and dedication can often fuel that desire into fruition. Last month, as I sat in Nashville’s hallowed Station Inn, surrounded by a few old acquaintances and a room full of strangers, I watched my dear friend Jon Byrd take the stage to a rousing reception as he celebrated the release of his second solo album DOWN AT THE WELL OF WISHES. It was a project two years in the making, and the payoff was evident in the maturity of the songs, the catch of the hooks, and the look of sheer pleasure on the faces of all in attendance. But truthfully, this dream was hatched many years ago, and I got to see it take shape.  From his early days playing guitar in local Southern “alternative” bands like the Primitons and the Windbreakers, Jon searched far and wide for his musical footprint, and he ultimately found it in country music.

In the late ‘80s, I lived right behind Jon and his girlfriend (at the time) in Little Five Points, and there is no doubt the sounds of Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earle, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard blasting from my stereo made their way up to their windows. Compound that with the rowdy, scattered and musically schizophrenic practice sessions of my own band, Slim Chance & the Convicts, it was inevitable that curiosity took over, and we became friends and collaborators. Jon eventually joined the Convicts full time, and through our shared fascination and mutual exploration of the roots of country music he developed a unique and crafty lead guitar style, steeped in traditional twang, but with a twist here and there.

Jon Byrd plays at Red Beet Records in East Nashville. Photo Credit: Stacy Huckeba

Jon always listened to the nuances, and picked up a few tricks while creating his own. And the man can sing. His run with the Convicts resulted in three well-received albums, more incredible shows than we can remember, and a stellar reputation. Stints with other Atlanta acts like Greta Lee and The Ratchet Set proved that Jon was a consummate picker, and his newfound love of real country music was his foundation for all these years. But in Atlanta, it’s really easy to be a big fish in the little pond of the Redneck Underground, and Jon had other plans. He relocated to Nashville, where all of a sudden he found himself on the fringes of a very polarized world, quite different from what he was used to in Atlanta.

The musical pilgrimage to Nashville is a well-worn tale; some make it, most don’t. Those shooting for “the big time” often go home empty-handed, but those who hold their ground often find their niche. Jon struggled for several years in the talent overloaded town, playing pick-up gigs when he could get them, sitting in when he had the chance, and ingratiating himself into the very tight and somewhat insular social scene on “other side of Nashville.” Making friends and connections, he worked hard, and in the 10 years he has been in Music City, he gradually nurtured and shaped a deeply respected place within the alt. country music scene, mostly centered in East Nashville.

Jon released his first solo album BYRD’S AUTO PARTS in 2007, and immediately people who were not already familiar with his work took notice. Joined by a crew of musicians pretty much in the same place he was professionally, the record was done on a shoestring budget, and with a lot of help from his friends. It was good enough and respected enough to motivate a second release, which again became a pure labor of love. Juggling a full-time job, frequent gigs and basic survival, Jon somehow pulled his support group together one more time, and with a fancier studio, the production expertise of the popular R.S. Field (Billy Joe Shaver, Webb Wilder, Allison Moorer, etc.), and a lot of favors from his talented friends, DOWN AT THE WELL OF WISHES has finally arrived.

Jon Byrd. Photo Credit: Michael Pittman.

Is this country music? Well, yes and no. It’s not what radio programmers call “country music” today, but it is the kind of country music you hear when you listen to a Dan Penn record, or a Willie Nelson album. It is music from the heart and soul, full of songs about real things that matter to everyone. The dark imagery of the opener, “In A Chest Of Skin And Bone,” co-written with Jon’s Nashville drinking buddy Butch Primm (an amazing songwriter as well), sets the tone for a journey through emotional valleys and caverns. The poignant and beautiful melody and harmonies on “When It Starts To Rain” enhance the rich metaphorical lyrics, and drive the message of solitary pain over missed opportunities straight into the listener’s mind. Each of the nine tracks is a defining moment, whether a reflection on Jon’s roots in “Alabama Asphalt,” or a sweet eulogy for for a favorite watering hole in “A Fond Farewell”.

Recorded at Ocean Way Studio, Jon’s friends are all over the place. Former Los Straitjackets drummer Jimmy Lester handles most of the percussion, the keyboards are courtesy of Georgia native Adam Wright, whose lovely and incredibly talented wife Shannon Wright also adds harmony vocals. The pedal steel is shared by Newnan boy Alex McCollough (who also mastered the record) and the incredible Pat Severs, who works with Bill Anderson and the Everly Brothers. Ed Atkins of the Derailers adds some bass, along with Duane Blevins. And when Jon isn’t playing lead guitar, that is handled well by Milan Miller.

So who will hear this great record? With no big publicity machine behind it, that relies on word of mouth, website reviews and indie radio DJs to create a groundswell. Jon just returned from a successful solo European tour, and is a participant on a Grammy®-nominated album, I LOVE…TOM T. HALL’S SONGS OF FOX HOLLOW . Those are sure to increase his exposure. But regardless of the challenge of commercial success, Jon has accomplished many of the goals he set out to achieve when he left Atlanta, and we are all very proud of his amazing work. Sometimes wishes come true, and Jon Byrd deserves it.

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