October 24, 2021 Recent Awards

There are so many awards shows that it’s hard to take any of them seriously, but I need something to write about.

The annual Texas Sounds International Country Music Awards was October 16th. They very recently added a YouTube channel. They feature many international artists who are not well known in the US. This year’s winners were from such places as Iceland, Malaysia, and the Republic of Georgia. If you’re looking for something different, check out all of these folks.

Their entertainer of the year Peter Donegan is the son of skiffle legend Lonnie Donegan. You might recall that Lonnie Donegan covered “Puttin’ On The Style,” which was first recorded by Vernon Dalhart in 1925. The earliest known Beatles-related recording is a low-quality recording of a cover of this song from 1957 on the day that John Lennon met Paul McCartney.

The 52nd annual GMA Dove Awards announced this year’s winners a couple days ago. Although I don’t follow the modern religious music scene closely, I recognize that religious music has factored into country music since the very beginning. In many rural areas, the church was not just a weekly place of worship, but the primary community gathering place.

Several of the winners have connections to country music. The artist of the year, Forking and Country, made a song with Dolly Parton a couple years ago and performed on the 2019 CMA awards.

The Inspirational Recorded Song of the Year was “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” by Carrie Underwood and CeCe Winans. Props to my autocorrect for trying to change “thy” to “thigh.” Yea, verily, great is Carrie Underwood’s thigh faithfulness !

The Crabb Family won “Southern Gospel Recorded Song of the Year.” I saw Jason Crabb play the Opry a few years ago. My overly aggressive autocorrect tried to change “Crabb” to “Crabby.”

The Nelons won “Bluegrass/Country/Roots Recorded Song of the Year.” No joke, my autocorrect tried to change “Nelons” to “Melons.” Arrgh !

Needtobreathe won a couple of categories. They’ve collaborated with Carrie Underwood and other country artists.

Grand Ole Opry members The Isaacs won “Bluegrass/Country/Roots Album of the Year.”

The Dove Awards even has a rap category. Yuck ! That does remind me of something, though. “Rappin’ For Jesus” was a very funny satire piece released in 2013, but a whole lot of modern reaction channels found it this year, so it has taken on new life. Seriously, search for “Rappin’ For Jesus” reactions on YouTube, and the number of results is staggering. Here is one just this week by Vibe Reactions.

October 21, 2021 New This Week

Much of the new music this week is Christmas music, even though it’s before Halloween.

There are new albums by The Kentucky Headhunters, Dillon Carmichael, Creed Fisher, Raisin Cyrus, Tenille Arts, Jackson and Sellers, Read Southall Band, and Moot Davis.

There are new Christmas albums by The Pistol Annies, Brett Young, Brett Eldredge, Steve Holy, and Kristin Chenoweth.

Here is my Halloween playlist.

Today is “Whittlin’ Fiddler” Violet Hensley’s 105th birthday. The Ozark legend is a member of the National Fiddlers Hall of Fame. In 2016, she appeared on the Grand Ole Opry. As far as I’m aware, she’s the oldest living country musician. If you know of any older, please let me know.

I always go looking for uncommon and unusual bits, and Tran Quang Hai delivered the goods this week with nasal overtone singing. That’s right, he did overtones through his nose. Why is anyone’s guess, but here’s the link.

October 17, 2021 Bloomin’ Bluegrass Festival, Day Two

Sometimes, things just plain work. This was an outstanding two-day festival. Congratulations to Alan Tompkins and the Bluegrass Heritage Association and everyone else who put this together. This was music by music fans for music fans.

I called myself “getting there early” on Friday, but I was still pretty far back, so I got there very early for Saturday and got a nice spot. I posted clips from many of the acts on my YouTube channel. The ones I didn’t get were also very good acts, but especially after dark, some turned out too blurry.

Texas and Tennessee kicked off the Saturday shows. I posted about them for their Friday show. They did play a different set, and both days, they played good classic bluegrass.

Alecia Nugent was up next. The Louisiana native is based in Tennessee. She said 2004 was the first time she played the Grand Ole Opry. Her career included both country and bluegrass in the 2000s, then she took about a decade hiatus from music to spend time with family. Gena Britt from Sister Sadie played banjo. The mandolin player from The Cleverlys played in Alecia’s band and she had never worked with him before, but he did a great job.

The Cleverlys were up next. These guys are such a trip ! For all of their craziness and genre-surfing, they’re also very talented bluegrass musicians. Did I mention the craziness ? Yes, the bass player is also a beatboxer and the banjo player has a talk box in the tradition of Pete Drake’s talking steel guitar. The Cleverlys are one of the most unusual and fun acts you’ll find anywhere.

The Gibson Brothers were up next. They explained that their perspective was shaped by growing up on a dairy farm in northern New York state, close to the Canadian border. If you like the high, lonesome harmonies, be sure to check them out.

The Kruger Brothers are originally from Switzerland and are on my Swiss Country Music playlist. They moved to North Carolina 20+ years ago. For this set, the Kruger Brothers Trio collaborated with the Dallas Symphony String Quartet. This combination of bluegrass and orchestral music went over very well and the audience have them a standing ovation.

Del McCoury is one of the great living legends of bluegrass. I’ve seen him at the Grand Ole Opry and at the theater at the Country Music Hall of Fame. I could happily listen to Del McCoury all day long, and the crowd called him back for an encore. Before Del’s set, the festival gave Dan Tyminski an award that Del had won in a previous year, so Del presented Dan with the award.

Dan Tyminski has won a huge pile of awards over the years and his mandolin player Adam Steffey also has a shelf full. Tyminski has experimented with other styles of music in recent years, but this set was straight-up bluegrass.

The Traveling McCourys closed out the festival. The group are fronted by Del’s sons (who also played in Del’s set). Members of the Grammy-winning group have won many IBMA musician awards.

It’s great to go to a festival where everything just plain worked. Every act was in top form. The weather was exactly what you’d hope for. The venue was a good fit.

October 16, 2021 Bloomin’ Bluegrass Festival, Day One

The 12th annual Bloomin’ Bluegrass Festival is this weekend in Farmers Branch, Texas. The weather is great, the venue is pleasant, the ticket is inexpensive, and the lineup is top notch.

The two-day festival has both a main stage and a smaller stage, but my attention was on the main stage. Here’s a look at the acts I saw on the first day:

The Purple Hulls are identical twins from Kilgore, Texas. They were backed by a bass player. The Purple Hulls spent several years in Nashville, before returning to their hometown. While in Nashville, they played the Grand Ole Opry a few times and even worked at the Opry. They also collaborated with their brother Banjo Ben Clark, who was in Taylor Swift’s band early in her career. The Purple Hulls played a combination of originals and old-timey bluegrass. I was pretty far back, so it’s a bit blurry, but I did post a quick phone video of their new instrumental “Daybreak” and the classic “Old Molly Hare.” About halfway through the video, a hand suddenly appears. Here’s the deal with that. An older gentleman was sitting about halfway between me and the stage. His wife was trying to get back to her seat by him and she couldn’t find an easy path, so he was sending her all sorts of hand signals. It looks really goofy on the video, but that’s the back story.

Next up was Texas and Tennessee, a four-man group whose individual members are better known for other projects. The bass player Alan Tompkins is the organizer of the festival. He has a “bluegrass heritage” radio show on KHYI, which is a highly respected country station. Ron Inscore played mandolin. Steve Huber played banjo. Shawn Lane from Blue Highway sang lead for much of the set. Here’s my phone video of Blue Ridge Mountain Girl. I don’t usually take videos at concerts, but I was in a corner where I wouldn’t bother anyone, and it was still light outside. The later acts came on after it was dark and the phone wouldn’t focus.

Next up was current IBMA vocal group of the year (and IBMA Entertainer of the Year the previous year) Sister Sadie. They’ve been nominated for all sorts of awards the last few years, and they delivered high quality music that shows why they have so much critical acclaim. The fiddler Deanie Richardson is the current IBMA fiddle winner. I saw her a few years ago with The Chieftains. They mentioned that the legendary Paddy Maloney recently passed away. The Chieftains had many cool collaborations with country artists over the years. 20-year-old Jaelee Roberts joined Sister Sadie this year and appears to be a great fit. She’s a recent winner of an IBMA momentum award.

Closing out the evening was the living legend Ricky Skaggs. What can I say about Ricky Skaggs that hasn’t been said already ? He has won every sort of award and is in all the halls of fame. His set showcased every member of his band Kentucky Thunder. Every one of those half dozen guys is a very talented musician who has recorded music on their own and with others. Jeff Picker played bass and put out a solo album last year. Billy Contreras played fiddle. He has played fiddle on albums by many well-known artists from country to jazz to classical. Russ Carson played banjo and a couple of his solo albums are on YouTube. Jake Workman played guitar and he released a solo album in 2019. Dennis Parker played guitar, mandolin, and fiddle and released his own album in 2019. Mike Rogers played guitar and cajon and also sings and writes. He made a 2019 EP with Larry Cordle and Val Storey. Mike Rogers and Billy Contreras both joined Kentucky Thunder this summer. Ricky Skaggs played mandolin and guitar. Many of the songs in last night’s set featured 1 fiddle, 1 bass, 1 banjo, 1 mandolin (usually Ricky, but Dennis played some mandolin when Ricky switched to guitar), and 3 acoustic guitars. That’s a lot of strings !

That was one impressive, fully-packed evening of music. Day two is all day long and the lineup is stacked.

October 14, 2021 New This Week

There are many, many albums out tomorrow:

The Royal Hounds, Toby Keith, Bellamy Brothers, Chris Jones and the Night Drivers, Erin Enderlin, Zac Brown, Tom O’Connor, Raleigh Keegan, Allie Dunn, TK and the Holy Know Nothings, Pokey LaFarge, Tommy Womack, Steve Wariner (Christmas), Sarah McQuaid, Abby Bryant and the Echoes, Lilly Hiatt, Avenue Beat, Ryan Turd, Lilly Hiatt, Lane Smith, Waylon Payne, Leah Turner, Cassadee Pope, and We Are Messengers.

The Royal Hounds are lots of fun live. I saw them a couple years ago in Nashville. They’re hard to categorize – some rockabilly, some country, some bluegrass influence, etc. Give them a listen. There’s so much new music every week that some good music is likely to get overlooked. Chris Jones is quality bluegrass and Erin Enderlin is consistently traditional country.

Chris Stapleton has tons of one-off collaborations with non-country artists this week (Carlos Santana, Kelly Clarkson, Tom Morello, and Jimmy Fallon), plus Boys II Men covered his song “Cold” for CMT.

There was a huge, 40-artist tribute to Lee Greenwood in Huntsville, Alabama that included many of the top conservative, patriotic country artists. WAAY TV clip discussing the event. Huntsville recently surpassed Birmingham as Alabama’s largest municipality, but despite its proximity to Nashville (110 miles), Huntsville doesn’t often host major country events. I saw Dwight Yoakam in Huntsville a few years ago with the Steel Woods opening.

Dutch country artist Pieternel posted an acapella song with a quartet: Check out her channel

90-year-old William Shatner has done it all, boldly going where no man has gone before. This week, Captain Kirk himself became the oldest person to go to space. Shatner has also tinkered with country music a bit in recent years. He put out a country album and played the Grand Ole Opry to promote it, and he has collaborated with Brad Paisley several times, including a song last month.

October 12, 2021 Musical Toys

There are lots of music snobs out there who dismiss any inexpensive or “beginner” instruments. If you get nothing else from my blog, I hope it is my message that music is for everyone to enjoy, not just some elite class of “celebrity musicians” who began violin lessons while still in the womb and who own guitars worth more than a house. Music isn’t just for those people. It’s for you and me and everyone else, too, whether you make music or just enjoy listening to it.

Some of the instruments commonly dismissed as “toys” are quite versatile and capable, in addition to being fun and accessible.

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain has been around since 1985 and they cover every style of music. They don’t cover country often, but there is a live performance video of “Orange Blossom Special” on their channel.

The Kazoo Guru is based in India. He makes wooden kazoos and plays the kazoo in many styles. I’m accustomed to thinking of kazoos as little plastic party favors worth less than a dollar, but skilled kazoo players can generate impressive sounds reminiscent of saxophones and other instruments.

Melodica World is based in the UK. The melodica is an inexpensive instrument (mine cost $11), but he demonstrates all sorts of techniques for playing the melodica as a proper musical instrument. His Irish tunes are especially good.

The Otamatone isn’t as old or well known as the others I’ve mentioned, but it definitely looks like a plastic toy. Here are some “country covers” on the Otamatone: You Are My Sunshine (NelsonTYC) , How Do I Live (NelsonTYC) , Mario Party Western Land (mklachu) , and Take Me Home, Country Roads (TheRealSullyG). TheRealSullyG’s Otamatone channel recently topped one million YouTube subscribers. Here is his video with a Talk Box. As you might recall, the tube-style talk box owes to Pete Drake’s talking steel guitar in the sixties.

October 10, 2021 Instrument Corner

Hohner recently introduced the “Pentaharp” harmonica, and several reviews were uploaded to YouTube this week. The Pentaharp is “made for guitarists,” according to the marketing.

The Hyvibe Guitar has been around a while and it is catching on with some quality guitar players. It’s billed as “the world’s first smart guitar.” Justin Johnson’s YouTube review describes it as “the most high-tech acoustic guitar I’ve ever played.” This week, harp-guitarist Jamie Dupuis described it as “the most futuristic guitar in the world.” Yes, there’s a clip of him playing his “smart harp-guitar.”

Speaking of harp-guitarists, Muriel Anderson’s YouTube channel is always a good place to look. She features many guest musicians. The Tuvan throat singer Alash was one of her guests earlier this year: Tuvan throat singing accompanied by harp-guitar. Alash has collaborated with country/bluegrass artists before, such as Béla Fleck and his own project Tuvagrass.

French musician Nicolas Bras makes all sorts of homemade instruments. A good introduction to his work is 72 Homemade Instruments in 7 Minutes.

Bebbcorp Harpery specializes in Jew’s Harps. The Harpery is a retail business, but the YouTube channel is informative, whether you buy anything from them or not. These instruments come in a wider variety than most realize. I played Dan Moi on a few short clips on my channel.

October 7, 2021 New Music This Week

Ray Stevens has a new album out tomorrow. You might recall that he released four albums earlier this year, plus a box set. The country hall of fame member began making records in the 1950s, but 2021 is his busiest year for releasing albums.

Reba McEntire is another hall of famer who stays very busy. Her triple album will be released tomorrow, replete with rebar-reinforced remakes and remixes of Reba’s renowned repertory. From a historical perspective, her duet with Dolly Parton is noteworthy, because Reba and Dolly are tied for most number ones of any women in the history of country music, with 25 Billboard country chart-toppers apiece.

Cody Johnson has a double album out tomorrow. He had a whole lot of momentum in 2019, but radio hasn’t been especially kind to his singles since then. It’ll be interesting to see how the new double album fares on the album charts.

There are also new albums from John King, Side Pony, Noel McKay, Old Dominion, Josh Turner (Christmas), Rayne Johnson, The Wild Feathers, Natalie Hemby, Crystal Leigh, Noah Gundersen, Zoe & Cloyd, Tennessee Jet, Thomas Csorba, Katie Frank, and Justin Clyde Williams, plus an all-star tribute album to John Prine.

Milton Patton appeared on the television show “Alter Ego” this week. He was on America’s Got Talent in 2013, then turned down a record contract because he wanted to sing country and the label people wanted him to sing other styles. Here’s a quote from him in the Joplin Globe in 2014: “”I had a lot of music industry people coming at me after AGT,” Patton said. “But they had their own ideas of what I should sound like, with a bunch of rap and R&B. They thought because I’m a black man I should just jump on the latest country music trend. But what I really like is the classic country sound — just good solid songs and catchy tunes. I wanted to stay true to me. I’ve got to keep it country.”

Nick Shoulders posted a mouth bow cover of Arkansaw Traveler on YouTube. You don’t see mouth bows too often these days. Some might recall Jimmy Driftwood, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and the Ozark Mountain Daredevils playing the mouth bow.

I like to throw in some random bits that you won’t find on most country outlets, so here are some South American country dance channels on YouTube:

Warlei Oliveira Mundo Country is a Brazilian channel featuring country dancing.

Cowboys Up Oficial Argentina features a weekly series called “Country, Dance & Music Night.”

Zona Country TV features country music and dance in Argentina. The channel has been around for some years and adds content often.

October 6, 2021 You Can Be A Star

Various talent shows have opened doors for country stars over the decades. The Nashville Network had a competition show from 1983-89 called “You Can Be a Star” hosted by Jim Ed Brown, followed by “Be a Star” in 1991-1992, hosted by Lisa Foster and Bobby Randall (of Sawyer Brown).

Here are some notable country acts who auditioned on the show, none of whom won:

Randy Travis auditioned in 1983 as Randy Ray. The video used to be on YouTube, but now shows as a broken link.

Alan Jackson made his first national TV appearance on the show in 1986 (taped 1985). Al Jackson wasn’t even a contestant, but an audience member who sang going into a commercial break.

Trisha Yearwood came in second on the show in 1988. “You Can Be a Star” was her first national TV appearance.

Since none of those won, I wonder what became of all the people who did win ?

I’ll also mention the show “Nashville Star,” which aired 2003-2008. Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves, Chris Young, Coffey Anderson, and Buddy Jewell were contestants.

October 5, 2021 Current Chart Notes

I don’t listen to mainstream radio very often, but I looked at this week’s country chart updates to try to find something to write about.

The number one song this week on Billboard’s country airplay chart is “Cold Beer Calling My Name” by Jameson Rodgers featuring Luke Combs. It sounds rather generic. The bit that jumps out is that it’s Luke Combs’ 12th Billboard airplay number one. His first was May 2017. Every song he releases to radio rockets to the top of the radio airplay chart. His own current single is at #10 after just 13 weeks, so it appears likely that he’ll have 13 number one radio hits in a span of 4 1/2 years. He already has more number ones than Hank Williams. Luke sings about cold beer rather often, but he has a lot of career ahead of him.

Walker Hayes’ Applebee’s commercial jingle song “Fancy Like” is now a 12-week number one on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. It’s #1 on country streaming songs and #1 on country digital song sales. The song is also up to number 4 on country airplay, the biggest gainer this week.

I heard Lady A(ntebellum)’s “Like A Lady” (currently #14 airplay) at a restaurant the other day and a bit of the song sounded familiar. Listen to “Turn Up The Radio” by the group Autograph in 1984.

Bri Bagwell’s “Heroes” is up to number 5 on the Texas Regional Radio Report. The New Braunfels station I listen to has been playing this one a lot. She’s better than most of the “women of country” promoted by Nashville.

Morgan Wallen is at number one on this week’s country album chart, followed by Luke Combs. Those two have been at or near the top of the album chart throughout 2021. This week, Wallen has the #1 and #6 albums, while Combs has the #2 and #4. I read some nonsense about the CMA awards banning Wallen from attending, which is absurd. Chris Stapleton’s “Starting Over” and “Traveller” albums are both still in the top ten, too. “Traveller” is from May 2015, and that album is still a fixture in the weekly top ten (and “Tennessee Whiskey” from that album is at #4 on the country streaming songs chart this week).

The Brooks and Dunn Greatest Hits Collection from 1997 checks in at number 12 on this week’s country album chart ! I figure this has to do with the DJ Noiz remix that I wrote about last week.

The only new album to make the top 25 is the new one from Billy Strings, “Renewal.” It’s #9 on the country chart, but #1 on the bluegrass chart and #4 on the Americana/folk chart. Billy Strings recently won IBMA Entertainer, so he has tremendous momentum.

Mickey Guyton’s album came out the same day as Billy Strings’ album, but it appears Mickey’s album did not make the top 25 (I checked Billboard’s top country albums chart history and it appears at #47), despite intense media and industry promotion. CMT, CMA, ACM, and even the CMHOF tried to push it up the hill. CMT should wait until someone actually accomplishes a successful “breakout” before handing out an award for doing so.