DISClaimer: A Slice of Americana

blackbirdsgretchenpetersfeauturedThe women of Americana are in the spotlight more than ever this winter.

Rosanne Cash swept all three Americana categories at the Grammy Awards. Lucinda Williams, Mary Gauthier, Brandi Carlile, Amy Speace and Rhiannon Giddens (of The Carolina Chocolate Drops) are all promoting strong new music.

And both of the top discs in this week’s edition of “DisClaimer” come from female singer-songwriters. Actually, Beth Nielsen Chapman and Gretchen Peters are two of Nashville’s finest writers, regardless of gender. Gretchen Peters gets the edge as the Disc of the Day, but you really need to own both of these women’s recordings. Gretchen guests on Beth’s, by the way.

The DisCovery Award goes to another act that’s on the current Americana radio chart. That would be Canada’s The Bros. Landreth.

GURF MORLIX/Dirt Old Buffalo
Writers: Gurf Morlix; Producer: Gurf Morlix; Publishers: Crankbait/Bug, SESAC; Rootball (track)
-This longtime Americana favorite has made his mark as a producer (Lucinda Williams) and a guitarist (Warren Zevon), as well as the creator of eight solo CDs. His latest, Eatin’ At Me, leads off with this dark word portrait of his hometown and its lost, rust-belt citizens. His hushed rasp matches the lyric perfectly, and it goes without saying that his stark electric-guitar work is gripping, too. The collection isn’t exactly a million laughs, but it is nonetheless heartily recommended.

Writers: none listed; Producer: none listed; Publisher: none listed; Scarlet Letter
-The title tune of this recent Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee’s new CD is a murder ballad with a minimalist production dominated by an electric guitar’s chopped. haunting notes. You’ll hang on every line. But, then, that’s the case for everything this stupendous talent writes. If you care anything at all about songwriting craftsmanship, buy this collection at once.

Writers: Goodwin; Producer: Joey Miskulin; Publishers: none listed; MusicWagon
-The new solo CD by this Grammy-winning member of Riders in the Sky is called The Other Side of the Fence. It is a jazz accordion (I’m serious) instrumental collection containing standards he heard growing up in Chicago. The lively, lilting “Avalon” dates from 1921, and is best known via a vocal version by Al Jolson. Miskulin’s zippy accordion riffs are abetted by the solos of Denis Solee’s clarinet and Andre Reiss’s guitar. This is the soundtrack of my next dinner party, for sure.

Writers: Craig Market/Thomm Jutz; Producers: Thomm Jutz/Craig Market; Publishers: Drop D/ThommSongs/Bluewater, BMI/SESAC; NTH (track)
-This is the title tune of a splendid set by two Nashville troubadours, performing with simple, rippling, twin acoustic guitars and brotherly, folkie harmonizing voices. The warmth in their performances glows through every one of these 12 tracks.

BOB DYLAN/That Lucky Old Sun
Writers: Smith/Gillespie; Producer: Jack Frost; Publishers: none listed; Columbia (track)
-As you have probably heard by now, Dylan’s latest, Shadows in the Night, is a collection of him singing songs associated with Frank Sinatra. The original popularizer of this Nashville pop standard was actually another Frank, Frankie Laine (1949). As flawless as this new instrumental arrangement is, Bob Dylan simply does not have the pipes for the song’s upper register, to be perfectly “frank.”

KEVIN SO/Countryside
Writers: Kevin So; Producer: Kevin So; Publisher: none listed; Wingtone (track)
-Singer-songwriter Benita Hill tipped me off to this guy. I was completely unaware of him, but others evidently aren’t. In addition to Hill, his songwriting collaborators include such notables as Keb’ Mo,’ Jan Buckingham and Lisa Aschmann. This title tune to his disc-and-DVD combo is a lulling rural ode. For a little more twang, check out the witty “June Carter Cash.” For some folk-pop, try “Five Days in Memphis.”


The Bros. Landreth

Writers: Wally Landreth; Producer: Murray Pulver; Publisher: Wallace Landreth, SOCAN/ASCAP; Slate Creek (track)
-Country-rock with stinging, grinding guitar work; a tough, snappy backbeat; a bluesy, drawling lead vocal and tight sibling harmonies. The CD is titled Let It Lie. Extremely promising.

Writers: Beth Nielsen Chapman/Darrell Brown/Jim Brickman; Producers: Beth Nielsen Chapman & Darrell Brown; Publishers: BNC/Brickman/Universal/Grey Ink/Chrysalis, ASCAP/SESAC; BNC (track)
-I love everything this lady records. Her latest, UnCovered, is a collection of hits she’s written for others, but has never recorded, herself. You know these songs as sung by Tanya Tucker (”Strong Enough to Bend”), Alabama (”Here We Are”), Faith Hill (”This Kiss”), Lorrie Morgan (”Five Minutes”), Willie Nelson (”Nothin’ I Can Do About It Now”) and the like. Her take on this Jim Brickman favorite serves as the CD’s title tune. Her heart-in-throat vocal, as always, is a thing of lustrous wonder. The Kim Carnes harmony parts are beautifully layered. Other guests on this terrific collection include Morgan, Pam Tillis, Bekka Bramlett, Suzi Bogguss, Gretchen Peters, Matraca Berg, Vince Gill, Duane Eddy, Jessi Colter, Amy Grant, Muriel Anderson, Darrell Scott and George Marinelli. Miss this one at your peril.

MAC WISEMAN/You’re A Flower Blooming in the Wildwood
Writers: traditional; Producers: Thomm Jutz/Peter Cooper; Publishers: public domain; Wrinkled (track)
-When he was a little boy, Mac watched his mother listening to country radio and patiently transcribing song lyrics in notebooks. The repertoire of his new CD is drawn from those notebooks. The album is thus titled Songs From My Mother’s Hand. This sweet mountain tune is typical of the set, with its gentle, acoustic backing and the still-caressing singing of the man dubbed “The Voice With a Heart.” The 89-year-old, new Country Music Hall of Fame member is joined here by young Sierra Hull on mandolin and backing vocal. Others in this super-sympathetic folknik cast include Jelly Roll Johnson, Jimmy Capps, Alissa Jones Wall and Thomm Jutz.

LES KERR/The Sun Also Rises
Writers: Les Kerr; Producer: none listed; Publisher: O.N.U., ASCAP; O.N.U. (track)
-Nashvillians are accustomed to experiencing Kerr with his Bayou Band. But he also books solo acoustic shows, which his hearty tenor and deft guitar picking are more than capable of carrying. His new As Is CD is a document of one of those solo performances, a recent WDVX “Blue Plate Special” appearance in Knoxville. He kicks off the set with this light-hearted ditty in praise of Bourbon Street. How timely, since Mardi Gras festivities were this week in the Crescent City. The 12 Southern-themed songs are interspersed with the songwriter’s anecdotes and descriptions. He dedicates the album to his beloved late wife, Gail Kerr.


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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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