When Was The Last Time You Played This Album?

Country

Merle Haggard “I Am What I Am”

Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#154 in the Series) is Merle Haggard, I Am What I Am.

I was REAL late coming to the Merle Haggard appreciation society.  I’ve loved traditional country for many years.  But for some reason Merle slid though the cracks for me.

That changed due to his classic song, Sing Me Back Home.  About five years ago I started noticing all these artist I really respected had covered it. The Grateful Dead, Flying Burrito Brothers, Heartfield, Gram Parsons and Keith Richards together, The Everly Brothers, etc etc. I had to look in on it.  Then I started checking out all these old albums and wow.  I sure missed quite a bit.

Instead of featuring one of those classics albums, I’m going to go right to the end of the list. His most current. I Am What I Am was one of my favorite albums of 2009.

There are absolutely some wonderful songs on this album.  I’m going to attach two videos.  I challenge you to listen to them and tell me they are not a couple of great songs.  Merle fans know this already.  The challenge is more aimed at those that are thinking, What the hell is he doing!

This also gives me a chance to bitch at country radio. They didn’t touch this work. But they continue to pollute the airways to lazy pop music that they pawn off as country just because as an afterthought a fiddle or pedal steel was added.

Merle hasn’t won a country award since 1982.  He hasn’t had a #1 hit since 1987.  Thanks country radio.

Give these two a listen. I’ve Seen It Go Away and Pretty When It’s New.


The Notorious Cherry Bombs “The Notorious Cherry Bombs”

Today’s Cool Album of the day (#144 in the Series) is the self titled album by, The Notorious Cherry Bombs.

OK, who knows who these guys are?   I’ll explain.

Rodney Crowell was an original member of EmmyLou Harris’ Hot Band in the 70s.  Gaining notoriety there, he decided to act on a solo career and began forming his own band.  It wasn’t known at the time, but he put together of band of players that would become some of the most well known players (with in the industry, not really house hold names except for one) in country, country rock and even rock in roll.

Vince Gill was brought in play just about every string instrument. Mandolin, guitar, electric guitar, violin, banjo, dobro and on and on.

Hank DeVito would play on everyone’s record and write a ton of hits.

Richard Bennett would play guitar in Mark Kopfler’s band for years. He still does.

Emory Gordy, Jr. and Glen Hardin filled out the lineup.

After 30 years, Rodney decided to ‘Put The Band Back Together!’  This album was the result.

It had a  couple great rock and roll tracks included Let it Roll, Let it Ride and Sweet Little Lisa.

Sweet Little Lisa has been covered by everyone including Albert Lee and Dave Edmunds.

There are a few superb ballads such as Making Memories of Us and Heart of a Jealous Man.

One song however was the one that got the airplay.  How this wasn’t a HUGE country hit I’ll never know.  It’s called It’s Hard to Kiss the Lips at Night that Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long.  What a track.  A must hear.  Last night I watching a Lewis Black stand up DVD and even he was talking about it!

The Notorious Cherry Bombs was released in 2004.

It reached #135 on the Billboard Top 200 Album Charts and #23 on the Country Album Charts.

Here’s Hard to Kiss the Lips followed by Dave Edmunds performing Sweet Little Lisa.


Levon Helm “Dirt Farmer”

Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#138 in the Series) is Levon Helm, Dirt Farmer.

Every year since the early 80’s I’ve come up with my own Album of the Year. This won easily as my Album of Year in 2008.  (It was actually released late in 2007, I know!)

We all know Levon Helm as drummer, picker and lead vocalist of The Band.  If you’re a fan of The Band, or just Americana music in general, you must add Dirt Farmer to your collection.

It was strange.  I actually had this album for quite some time before I really got into it.  I had it, gave it a quick spin when I must have been busy, or in a crappy mood, and then set it aside for at least three months.  Why, I don’t know.  But thankfully, I did give it a second listen. Some albums you have to be in the correct mood for it to work that first time.

So when I gave Dirt Farmer a second chance I was truly moved.  Levon Helm is an absolute amazing human.  He recorded this album when he was 67 years old and was just coming off throat cancer.   His voice was a little weak in places, and quite robust in others.  We have good days and bad days.  He’s since released a follow up called Electric Dirt and has been touring constantly.  Of Course he still has his acting career as well.  And he’s now 70 years of age.

On Dirt Farmer, Levon is joined by his daughter Amy Helm as well as former Bob Dylan band member, Larry Campbell.

The album begins with the traditional False Hearted Woman Blues. Next up is Poor Dirt Farmer.  It is pure ‘Band’ sounding, complete with Levon leading the verse vocals with a full vocal, full band chorus.  I would have loved to hear this with Rich Danko at his side.

Steve Earle contribute a track called The Mountain.  Got Me a Woman is a great blues track with basically Levon and his 8-string.

Single Girl, Married Girl is a fun sing-a-long explaining the differences of the two.

There is one song however that puts Dirt Farmer over the top. It took the album from a very good album to a great album.  That song is the ballad duet that Levon performs with his daughter Amy.  It’s called Anna Lee.  Written by Laurelyn Dossett, it is just Levon, Amy and Larry Campbell’s fiddle.  Father and daughter sound amazing together. If you don’t want to buy this complete album at least download this track.  Levon has a hard time hitting some of the notes.  But it just adds to the mystique and loveliness of the song. It actually feels like Amy is pulling him up at times.  Plus it fun to hear him sing about someone named ‘Anna Lee’ again.

Dirt Farmer was Levon’s first studio album since 1982.

It was released by Vanguard Records.

It won a Grammy Award for best Traditional Folk Album in 2008.

It peaked at #102 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums Chart.

I’m attaching a few videos.  The first is a great interview that Levon did describing his fight with throat cancer.  Please watch it.  It’s an inspiring tale.   Next up will be Poor Old Dirt Farmer and Anna Lee.


Gram Parsons “GP”

Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#134 in the Series) is Gram Parson’s, GP.

I was shocked to see that I hadn’t featured Gram Parson’s as of yet.  He’s one of my all-time favorites.   I did feature him as part of The Byrds, Sweethearts of the Rodeo era.

GP was Gram’s first of two studio albums.  Grievous Angel was the second and could have been as easily featured as GP since they are both outstanding pieces of music.

GP was home for some of Gram’s most wonderful moments.  He was in excellent voice in this era.  Give a listen to some of the slower moments of the disc including ‘A Song For You, Streets of Baltimore, She’ or ‘The New Soft Shoe.’ Gram never sounded better.

There are some nice up tempo songs here as well. Those would include ‘Still Feeling Blue, We’ll Sweep Out the Ashes in the Morning’ and ‘Big Mouth Blues.’

Gram will always hold a very special place for me in the landscape of American music.  He was one of, if not the, first to bring country music to the rock and roll field.  He would play albums of the early country greats to the hippies in LA until they ‘Got it.’  Without his influence we may never had heard the likes of bands like his own ‘Flying Burrito Brothers’ or ‘New Riders of the Purple Sage, Poco, Heartsfield, The Eagles, Pure Prairie League, etc etc.’

GP was produced by Blind Faith bassist Rick Grech. It was released in 1973.

Unfortunately, Gram would leave us by the end of that year.

Listen to the masterpiece of She or Song For You (Including a short interview with Gram) or the up tempo, Still Feeling Blue.


Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris “All The Roadrunning”

Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#124 in the Series) is Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris, All the Roadrunning

What a special collaboration.  They don’t get much better than this.  Especially considering that these two musicians come from two different worlds.  I’ll have more on that though later.

Bringing Mark and Emmylou together was genius.  The only thing that angers me is that I missed the tour and I have a feeling that that was a one-off tour and will not come again.

This is Us is a really heartwarming track that follows a couple as they flip through their old photographs.  I think it’s my favorite of the bunch.

Other goodies, they begin with listening to Emmylou sing a duet on Belle Starr. Her voice remains as strong as when she sung in her Gram Parsons era.  Red Staggerwing rocks and rolls and tells us a good story.  All the Roadrunning has a nice warm feeling to it.

We get 12 tracks here.  I’d call this more of a Mark Knopfler album with Emmylou at his side than I would an actual full fledged duet project..  He writes ten of the songs and it’s his voice and, of course, guitar that stand out the most.  Emmylou does have for print on it as well as it tends to lead more to the country side of Mark’s leanings.  The band is pretty much all from the Knopfler stable as well.

The two of them released a live album and DVD right after the tour.  There you’ll find most of this album plus some Emmylou standards and also some Dire Straits tunes.  It’s a must get for real music lovers.  It’s titled Real Live Roadrunning.

I often think back to something I once heard Emmylou say. It was on the ‘Nitty Gritty Dirt Bands’ Will The Circle Be Unbroken II. I don’t know the exact words, but she said something about how music is meant to be played with family and friends on the front porch.  That ‘That’ is real music!  And sometimes we get to far away from the front porch and have to bring it back.  I surely like many types of music and much of it could never be played on the front porch.  But I completely understand what she means.

This 2006 release reached #16 on the Billboard Top 200 Charts.

Here’s Mark and Emmylou playing This is Us with Paul Shaffer’s band along with a couple more tracks.  One which is isn’t a song from the album but a nice surprise!   And it could be done on the front porch!!!


Rosanne Cash “Rhythm and Romance”

Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#122 in the Series) is Rosanne Cash, “Rhythm and Romance.”

“Rhythm and Romance” is one of my absolute favorite albums of all time.   I of course knew about Rosanne Cash before this album but had never really known much about her music.  This changed all of that.  My respect for her and her music is as high as for any other musician of which I know.

This album did quite well on the country charts. But it was probably the least country sounding album she had done to that point.  She definitely did not have a country band on this one.

Her band included Toto’s David Hungate on bass, Willie Weeks on bass, CBS Orchestra’s Anton Fig on drums, Heartbreaker Benmont Tench on keyboards and everybody’s Waddy Wachtel on guitars.

The 1985 production was mainly written by Rosanne herself.  She did get a little help from Vince Gill on ‘Never Alone.’

She also included two songs written by others.  Ben Tench and Tom Petty wrote ‘Never Be You’ while John Hiatt wrote the rocking ‘Pink Bedroom.’  Then husband Rodney Crowell co-wrote with her one of the best songs here, ‘I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me.’

Rosanne wrote the remaining six tracks.  Best of that bunch included ‘Hold On, Second to No One’ and ‘My Old Man.’ He of course was Johnny Cash.

If you’ve never owned a Rosanne Cash album is indeed a great place to start.  There’s not a bad note of music on the disc.  She has a library of great music.  Here follow up, “Kings Record Shop” was a HUGE seller.  “Interiors” and “The Wheel” were a move more into a singer/songwriter type of sound. “The List” was flat out, one of the best albums of 2009.

“Rhythm and Romance” reached #1 on the Billboard Country Charts and #101 on the Top 200 Charts.

‘I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me’ reached #1 on the Billboard Country charts and #16 on the Adult Contemporary Charts.

‘Never Be You’ hit the top of the country charts while ‘Second To No One’ peaked at #5.

‘I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me’ earned Rosanne a “Best Female Country Vocal Performance” Grammy.

Check out the rockin’ Pink Bedroom video followed by a great live version of ‘I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me’ also featuring Rodney Crowell.


Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel “Willie and the Wheel”

Today’s Cool Album of the Day is Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel’s, “Willie and the Wheel.”

Which 2009 release sat in my CD player the most? It easily was Willie Nelson and Texas swing band Asleep at the Wheel teaming up for Willie and the Wheel. This was such a fun record. Short, only 36 minutes in length and just a bunch of fun.

They covered ‘Hesitation Blues’ (Hot Tuna used to do a great rendition of this) and also ‘I’m Sitting on Top of the World.’ Some of my favorites included ‘Sweet Jennie Lee’ and also Oh! You Pretty Woman.’

One of the most accessible records I’ve heard in a long time. I real easy listen.

“Willie and the Wheel” peaked at #90 on the Billboard Top 200 and #13 on the Billboard Country Charts.


The Byrds “Sweethearts of the Rodeo”

Today’s Cool Album of the Day is the 1968 release by The Byrds, “Sweethearts of the Rodeo.”

Quite simply, a masterpiece. Was it the first country rock album? That’s debatable.

There has been so much written and discussed about this music that I’m not even going to try and invent an original idea.

Just listen to the music. I’d have loved to have heard Roger McGuinn and Gram Parsons stay together longer. But then Gram might not have gone on to to record two other great pieces of music (Gram Parsons and GP). And maybe he wouldn’t have gone on to discover (along with Chris Hillman) EmmyLou Harris.

Some of the classic songs here are Bob Dylan’s ‘You Aint Goin’ Nowhere, You’re Still On My Mind.’ Woodie Guthrie’s ‘Pretty Boy Floyd,’ and of course, GP’s ‘Hickory Wind.’


Rodney Crowell “Diamonds and Dirt”

Today’s Cool Album of the Day is Rodney Crowell, “Diamonds & Dirt.”

Rodney Crowell is one of America’s great singer/songwriters. He’s written hits for Bob Seger (Shame on the Moon), George Strait/Jimmy Buffett (Stars on the Water), Waylon Jennings/EmmyLou Harris (Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This) and on and on.

He also saves some good ones for himself. “Diamonds & Dirt” is a fine example.Highlights include: ‘I Couldn’t Leave You If I Tried, She’s Crazy For Leavin’, After All This Time’ and a Duet with then wife Rosanne Cash ‘It’s Such a Small World’

Rodney was a member of the great 70s EmmyLou Harris ‘Hot Band.’ But he also had a hot band of his own. His guitarist during this time was a great picker named Steuart Smith. Steuart is now the lead tour guitarist in The Eagles. I believe he’s played with them for about five years now replacing Don Felder.

Others filling out the sound here include Eddie Bayers and Russ Kunkel on drums, Mark O’Connor on fiddle/mandolin and Vince Gill on backround vocals.

Rodney and Vince played together in a high school band called ‘The Notorious Cherry Bombs.’ They reformed a few years ago and released one disc. It included a GREAT single called ‘It’s Hard To Kiss the Lips at Night that Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long.’

Country radio didn’t have the stones to play it. Their loss.