The Future of Americana Music Times
Americana Music Times is back. It has been more than 7 years since we were actively updating our site. But we are back and will be getting new content up and rolling and give the site a new looks based on the word press blog format.
Our hiatus was for a few reasons. First, the owner of the site, Keith Howerton, was fully involved with other business ventures in music. Keith was very busy in the past year as a partner, entertainment director, and head talent buyer at Sam’s Burger Joint Music Hall in San Antonio Texas. Sam’s is the premier Americana and Blues venue in San Antonio and brings about 300 great shows a year to live music fans in the city. Second, we did not like the format of publishing like a monthly magazine. It was too restrictive in timing and content update scheduling and our webmaster, Steve Circeo of Maxcreative LLC, was frustrated with the inconsistent flow of content and ability to update. A third reason was the past year seemed to just not have a bunch of great records that came out and there was kind of a funk in the whole Americana Music Scene.
We recently came to a crossroads and the idea was to take the site down or figure something else out. Steve found a great blog format we could use and we would no longer work on deadlines. We still get a great number of awesome records from artists and since it was going to be simple to maintain the site with word press we decided we could do it in a quick and easy way. This new format allows us to focus on the music and not the time consuming process of website publishing.
We have also added a great writer and lady on the Americana scene named Haley Forehand. She is a huge fan and great person who has a passion for music and learning about the artists that bring it to us. They like her also and her interviews and features are awesome. She is a wonderful addition to the team.
We will also be using blog talk radio (www.blogtalkradio.com), and have our own youtube channel to bring you some of the coolest content out there about this great music scene.
The site is not for any profit and we will not accept any advertising. It is about the music and how we feel about it and our ability to bring that point of view to the community.
So, we are back at Americana Music Times. We hope you enjoy the site and we will continue to bring you the best point of view we can about this great music and great scene called Americana Music.
Here's a live video of Les Gruff & The Billy Goat, a part of their Loft Sessions are done in downtown St. Louis:
On-Page SEO refers to the optimization of a single webpage. This is different from on-site SEO where an entire website is optimized. These two optimization types are, however, not mutually exclusive. To cite an example, on-site optimization such as SSL certificate installation is also a good action for on-page optimization.
What makes On-Page SEO so important?
Ask anyone with a basic knowledge of SEO, and they will tell you that on-page SEO is simply populating your webpage with keywords. While the importance of keywords for on-page optimization cannot be denied, the process has a lot more to it. Some of the other areas to focus on while doing on-page SEO are:
- Social Media
- User Experience
Only when you can understand and execute all these on-page SEO factors will you get a good page ranking on Google. However, this checklist will do a lot more and help you optimize your webpage to the maximum while helping increase dwell time, create a better rapport for the brand, and drive conversions to your site.
Start by doing your SERP research
You need to be proactive about making your SEO success. Research the SERPs and see what Google has to say about a specific keyword search. Examine some of the results from the top and get a feel of what is trending as web-page design for the keyword.
Do you think there are answers your search result is not providing, possible gaps that you can fill? This could be your opportunity to get a higher ranking by creating some wonderful content.
Doing the right keyword research
Need for keyword research to identify the right keyword is the one constant in an otherwise changing SEO world. Identify your primary keyword but don’t rely too much on the keyword research tools for doing so. What are your target market and audience and what are they searching for the most? Consider all the possible questions that need answering and include direct answers to get a good search rank.
Create short, descriptive URLs
Short, clean, to the point, and easy to read – these should be the boxes you tick against while creating your URL. Include the main keyword in the URL and ensure it gives an accurate portrayal of what the visitor can expect from the page. Google can crawl your page effectively only when it knows what your page is all about.
Keep the title tags clean
On-site optimization looks upon title tags as a very important component that is crawled by the search engines. Include around 2-3 keyword instances in the title with the main keyword appearing towards the front.
You will typically have a 50-60-character limit to work with and fitting too many keywords may seem difficult. Whatever you choose, ensure it brings out the true flavor of your webpage for best Google search rankings.
H2 tags are subheadings that make your text content more user-friendly and easier to digest. As far as SEO is concerned, this is an opportunity for using the target keywords maximum number of times. While H1s have to be limited to one instance per page, H2 tags can be used multiple times. There are certain content rules to follow – ideally, the keyword should be used in every 3-4 subheading.
Focus on your Meta Descriptions
Meta descriptions give a brief highlight of what a webpage is all about. Sometimes, Google will simply pick up a part of the text on a webpage and show it as relevant content. If your content does not describe your webpage well, it will impact your click-through-rate and ultimately lead to lower search ranking.
Keep all long-form content relevant
Give additional impetus to your long-form content because this will eventually decide what your webpage ranking turns out to be. Long, comprehensive posts will drive more traffic to your page and create better engagement with the readers. Ensure that you are delivering relevant, quality information through every post. Some suggestions on the topics you can use are:
- Guides, tutorials, and how-to contents
- Explanation of major features and industry definitions
- Tool lists and resources
- Beginner guides
Use modifiers for your keywords and titles
Modifiers help in creating longtail keywords which add more variety to your overall keyword list, giving you more options to work with. It will allow your page to appear more frequently on relevant search options and explain to Google what your page is all about.
Throw in some multimedia content
Content is important; the type of content you use is even more important. Few will read the simple text but having an infographic will increase engagement with the visitor. Put video into the equation, and the chances of your content being shared on social media go up even more.
Readers love multimedia and are less likely to bounce off your page if you can offer some. When they spend more time on your page, they understand your brand better and could eventually convert into a customer.
Do video optimization
The video is just as important as any other content and should be optimized well. There are certain areas of video optimization that you need to pay special attention to.
- Video title, keep it short and engaging
- The full description of what your video is about
- A thumbnail image that defines your topic
- Video content should be in line with your page content
- Use of subtitles where possible
Image Alt tags & descriptions
Alt tags and descriptions of images are important for multimedia SEO as they describe the purpose of every image on your webpage. They are also meant to provide more information about the image, thus helping to accurate indexing and better overall SEO result. Include your target keyword in the image description to appear higher in the page rankings.
Add internal links
Internal links link to other web pages on your website so that users can easily search what they are looking for. Ensure that the linked pages are relevant to one another. Update the links and check for broken ones to prevent bounce from your site.
Other areas that you need to focus on and are equally important for on-page optimization are mobile-first indexing, user reviews, FAQs and Schema Markups.
Undertaking an SEO is quite a complicated business with various factors to consider. In today’s competitive business market, companies are hiring best of SEO service companies to get on top of their online presence game.
However, it’s important to understand “All that glitter is not gold” especially when you are being offered SEO guarantees because there are no guarantees in SEO. The results can vary week to week and months to months. Before hiring any SEO service company, make sure you understand why SEO guarantees should be avoided, and save a lot of time, money and expectations.
Besides hiring an SEO service, each of these factors mentioned above needs to work in tandem to ensure your business site reaches where it is intended to go. You may not have control over all of them, but the ones in your control can be regulated with the help of this SEO checklist to get your website up to speed this 2019.
With super hectic working days, cooking food on your own seems like a tiresome job. Imagine coming back from work late at night and doing all the chopping and cooking for yourself. Sounds more draining. Isn’t it? There are two things that happen under such circumstances. Healthy food takes a toll, and you end up spending a bomb on fast food which will eventually hamper your health.
The last resort in this situation is hiring a personal chef. A personal chef will prepare mouth-watering dishes for you, keeping in mind your preferences and keeping a check on your health as well. The best part is that they will cook a fresh meal for you, will get all the fresh raw materials, will complete the entire preparation, and then they will make sure that the kitchen is super clean.
The most significant plus point is that they will give you a new dish every day. Plus, if you have someone who is skilled in different cuisines, then it is a win-win situation for you. Secondly, they will try to experiment with the food as well. This way you can have personalized dishes at your disposal.
Due to their amazing meal preparation skills, they will tempt you into eating healthy and will take care of your healthy diet as well. But before you go ahead with this proposition, it is best to take a look at these traits in your personal chef and then hire him. Scroll through the article to take a glimpse of six things that must be there in your personal chef before you hire him.
A personal chef will first understand your preferences and then curate a menu that fits in with your likes and dislikes. The reason behind this is that, if the chef offers a selective menu according to him, people won’t have a liking for each and every dish and they might end up fussing over the food. So you will have a flexible menu for yourself.
A well-managed website
When you are hiring a professional, you should always take a look at their website. Technology is advancing day by day. Once you browse through their website, you will be able to understand their work, and if they are legitimate or not. You will get to know about their other skills, and what kind of a status they hold in the cooking industry. A website will give you an idea of all the intricate details. There are websites offering the professional services of popular NYC-based private chef who are known for their experience and authentic food preparation.
Education and previous qualification
When you hire a personal chef to try to converse with them and get to know their qualifications and all the places they have worked before. This way you will be able to break the ice. Then you need to make them comfortable at your home. What you can do is visit their place as well and try to be as comfortable as you can. Build an excellent rapport with them. If they have wonderful credentials, their work will be good, and the food will be really appealing. Hence, you will be tempted to try out their stuff. Find out more about effective communication skills in the kitchen.
Building a bridge for communication
It is really important to communicate with your chef, and the chef should communicate with you as well. This way they will be able to decipher your likes and dislikes and your preferences. This is a good option as you can observe their cooking process as well. But then again, it changes from person to person. Some clients just want their chef to cook and clean and then leave. But it is an important thing to develop a level of communication with your chef.
Able to accept other preferences
If the chef does not like a particular dish and the client likes it, it does not mean the chef should stop cooking dishes using that ingredient. At the end of the day, it is their profession, and they have to prepare whatever the client wants. Suppose the chef hates broccoli, but the chef might be a pro at broccoli cheddar soup. So, they should not hesitate while preparing a different kind of dish.
If you are hiring a personal chef at your place, it is really important to know their hygiene levels. Your sole reason for hiring a personal chef is eating healthy food, and if the chef is not hygienic then there is a direct impact on the food, and it is not healthy. So, it is important to know their basic etiquette related to hygiene. Or if you want you can give some standing instructions to them as well, regarding your level of hygiene. It all depends on you.
The chef should be well-behaved and should talk to you in a nice way. There should be a reciprocation of kindness and sweetness. It is true that you cannot go on for long if there is no level of respect in the professional world. But this does not mean that you should not be well-behaved. You have to be the same to them as well. They are giving you healthy and tasty food, so you have to be kind to them.
In a nutshell, if you are hiring a personal chef, then it is really important to take a look at all these qualities so that you are served with hot and delicious food every day. This way you will stay healthy and won’t burn a hole in your pocket by ordering outside food every day.
When you hire a personal chef, you will always have the choice of going ahead with your instructions regarding your personal dishes. You can give them a list of nutrition that you would want to add in your diet or you can give them a framed diet if you are following any routine. It all depends on you how you want to handle everything at your place. So, what are you waiting for go ahead and hire a good personal chef, who can do the job for you in a well-off way?
Planning a holiday getaway for you and your family is a welcome escape from the busy day to day life. It mainly involves looking for places to go, where to stay, what activities you can take part in and also how you will get there.
There are many booking sites where you can search for hotels and their prices and book what suits you. When it comes to your mode of transport, there are a lot of ways you can get to your destination. It will depend on your personal preference.
Different modes of traveling
This is perhaps the safest way to travel to your desired destination. The experience is definitely breath-taking. You are treated to the amazing view outside of the beautiful sun as it sets and changes its colors. You also get to see the different landscapes as you journey along and enjoy the beautiful site of the clouds.
Taking a flight is more efficient and provides a comfortable and exciting experience for you. Despite the exhausting experience of navigating the airport and going through baggage claim, taking a flight is the fastest way to travel.
However, there are certain remote places where there are no airports but you would love the convenience of flying and getting there faster. Well, this is why there are some private jet fleet options you can choose from and enjoy your trip. Nothing beats traveling by air, it is by far the best experience with the shortest amount of time spent.
Be sure to plan accordingly. Arrive at the airport on time, wear something very comfortable and if you have any kids be ready for anything, some tend to throw tantrums while others just enjoy their trip.
Traveling by train is a safe option but it is also very slow. Trains provide a very nice experience since you are able to have an unobstructed view of the beautiful world. You get to see all the sites, animals and any water bodies that may be on your way. This is particularly interesting for children and nature lovers. When in a train you have the freedom to walk around and stretch your legs as you get to interact with other people. This is a good way to keep yourself occupied during the long journey. In some trains, you have the luxury of reclining your seat and taking a nap very comfortably as though you were in your own house.
Traveling by train offers tones of benefits;
- You get to travel with all the comfort because it offers ample leg room, you skip on the traffic and restrictive seat belts
- It is cheaper than taking a flight.
- It offers an opportunity for interaction with people from different walks of life.
Make sure to check your bags and take a carry on with all the necessities you’ll need. Bring with you a book and some music you can listen to keep you entertained.
Traveling for a long distance in a ship may take a few days. It is however very interesting because the ship is designed to keep you entertained during your journey. You get to have a room for you and your family, a place where you can go for food and any refreshments and other extra activities. Some fancy vessels even have a swimming pool where you can spend part of your day enjoying the cool water.
There are different activities you can take part in while you travel. Traveling by ship is definitely not the fastest but it is the most entertaining. The crew takes care of your needs and provides the best experience. Before you decide on going for this option be sure that none of you is prone to get seasick. This will ruin your time there and may lead to more health problems. Pack accordingly and enjoy your trip.
This is the least favorite because it is not safe but the most commonly used because it is very convenient. Going for a long distance in your car requires you to be very sober during the whole journey. It is very true that a road trip is a very exciting experience because you get to stop by different places as you go. However, the road is filled with drivers who do not care much about the safety of others. This makes it an option that may cause some fear while embarking on the journey.
This is a very convenient mode of transport because when you get to your holiday location, you still have something that can get you from one place to the other as you tour the different sites.
You should remember to pack a few snacks, an emergency kit and an extra tire in case of any breakdown. Since you have to be sober and well rested to get your family to their vacation safe and sound you have to take some time to sleep. Either book a hotel room on the way and sleep for a couple of hours or just nap in the car after you switch places with your partner.
There are different options to choose from when you are planning to travel. Just take into account the aspects of safety, speed, and comfort then decide on what mode of transport you’ll go with. Just be safe and ensure you pack accordingly to avoid missing any essential items.
Be sure to have fun and enjoy yourself on the journey and your vacation too. This will leave you refreshed and ready to go back to the fast-paced life of working to earn a living.
Hanna, Alberta in Canada boasts “pride in offering urban amenities with country flair” can now lay claim to being the home to one of Canada’s top rockers.
Grunge rockers, Nickelback, in the face of harsh criticisms from their peers and critics alike have sold 30 million albums worldwide since 2001, with over 13 singles making it into the top 40 of music charts around the world. They have been ranked the 11th best musical act of the century to date and the second best selling foreign act in the US, just behind The Beatles. This is their story.
Small Town Beginnings
The group was formed by singer and songwriter Chad Kroeger and his bassist brother Mike in 1995. The name was inspired by Mike’s days working in Starbucks when he would return customers’ change hence giving their “nickel back”. With their cousin Brandon Kroeger on drums and childhood friend, guitarist Ryan Peake, the quartet began penning their music, a blend of post-grunge rock and heavy metal. Their first release was a seven-track EP called Hesher.
Public attention and admiration followed a series of live performances and numerous air plays on Canadian radio, and so a full-length album went into production. Curb also enjoyed moderate success within their home nation and was followed by the band’s second album, the independently produced The State, released in 1998. Before its release, however, Brandon Kroeger and the band amicably parted company, and new drummer Ryan “Nik” Vikedal joined the fold.
The second album was such a success that it attracted the attention of Canadian EMI and the US-based Roadrunner records who approached the band with an offer. Nickelback signed a record deal, and The State was re-released in the US in 2000. The album was certificated gold in Canada, with two singles from the album, Leader of Men and Breathe achieving noteworthy sales and entering the top ten of mainstream rock music charts on the American continent. This marked the beginnings of that classic meteoric rise to fame and fortune for these four boys from Hanna, Alberta.
Silver Side Up
With their third album, the band worked with producer Rick Parashar, famous for his work with grunge bands Alice in Chains and later with Pearl Jam on their Ten album. The album was released in September 2001 and went straight in at number one in many of the album charts, catapulting the group into the limelight. The single from the album How You Remind Me – a moving ballad about the pitfall of bitter breakups and the hurtful words ex-lovers spit at one another – enjoyed equal success. It reached number one in both rock and mainstream charts in the US and Canada while making it to number four in the UK top 40 and number one in the rock charts.
The album’s predominantly grunge rock/heavy metal sound and hard-hitting storytelling won the hearts and ears of rockers the world over with tracks such as Too Bad chronicling the toils of financial hardship on a small town family which may or may not be autobiographical. The song hit the number one spot yet again in the US and Canada and number one in the UK rock charts, although disappointingly only number nine in the UK Top 40 charts. Not ones to shy away from any subject matter regardless of controversy Never Again is a brutal story of spousal abuse. While it pulled no punches on its subject matter with lyrics such as “I hear her scream, from down the hall. Amazing she can even talk at all” it proved too blunt even for fans barely registering a blip on the music chart radar.
Much of the themes recurrent in the album range from relationship breakdowns or violent acts, and while may not have universal appeal, it does showcase the band’s musical talent as well as a penchant for straightforward storytelling, a combination that helped Silver Side Up become a multi-platinum selling album.
Kroeger Solo Projects
The success of the album not only brought the inevitable fame and fortune that follows such rapid success but also opened up unique opportunities for Chad Kroeger to undergo solo projects. In 2002, Kroger worked with Josey Scott, lead singer of the Memphis rock band Saliva, on a theme song for the first Spiderman movie. Hero became an instant worldwide hit, equaling Nickelback’s releases, and to date is the most successful and recognizable track from the web-slinging movie franchise.
Kroeger also provided lyrics for Santana’s Why Don’t You and I which featured on Santana’s Shaman album in October of the same year. It also marked a departure in theme for Kroeger as it was a surprisingly upbeat track all about the dizzying effect s of falling in love. The two artists would work together again on the single Into The Night in 2007.
Another opportunity for Kroeger arose to serve as mentor and producer for another fledgling Canadian rock band. Kroger put his co-producing weight behind the underrated Vancouver based grunge rockers, Default. Thanks to Kroeger, the band’s debut album The Fallout became a platinum seller with the singles Wasting my Time and Deny reaching the number one spot on the US and Canadian rock charts as well as the top 20 Canadian mainstream charts. Naturally, speculation about Kroeger’s departure from the band was bounded around, however as their second album proved to fans and critics, Nickelback’s journey was far from over with Kroeger at the helm.
Three-time Academy of Country Music nominee Lee Brice is now being featured on televisions in McDonald’s restaurants around the United States.
Specifically, customers visiting the popular fast-food chain will be treated to a series of segments including music videos, acoustic performances, and interviews from some of today’s most famous artists, including Brice, whose Love Like Crazy feature is now playing at participating restaurants.
Brice also has been selected as the featured artist for the in-flight audio entertainment for all Continental Airlines flights. Consequently, passengers aboard any Continental Airlines flight between March 1 and April 30 can tune in to hear several songs from Brice’s debut album, including his record-breaking, ACM nominated hit, Love Like Crazy, and his new single, Beautiful Every Time.
Country-newcomer Brice released his debut album on Curb Records, also titled Love Like Crazy, in June 2010. The title track of the album reached the top five on the charts and was named Billboard’s No. 1 country song of 2010. It currently holds the record for the longest charting song in the history of Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart.
Brice is also known for his songwriting, penning hits for many great artists including Garth Brooks and Tim McGraw. His current Beautiful Every Time single was recently released to country radio and is quickly making its way up the charts.
His gentle voice and easy-listening lyrics became equally popular as background music and as a genuine expression of love. His music spanned three decades, and he won numerous recording awards and Platinum albums for one million sales. In 1993 he was chosen to be the recipient of the prestigious Albert Schweitzer Music Award, and in 1996 he was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.
Born Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr., this son of an American RAF Officer he moved around a lot in his early life. His passion for music was inspired when he was given his grandmother’s Gibson guitar and he started to have guitar lessons and joined a boy’s choir. But it was not until he was 20 years-old he was able to follow his dream and pursue a career in music.
When he was 23, John moved to Los Angeles and friends persuaded him to change his name to one more suitable for a recording artist. They suggested John Somerville but he decided to take his surname from the capital city of his home state of Colorado and the legendary John Denver was born.
He started to break into the music industry when he was selected to be the lead singer in the Mitchell Trio but when he started to make an impact as a singer/songwriter the trio disbanded and he went solo and steadily climbed up the charts with some of his best-known songs
- Take Me Home Country Roads
- Rocky Mountain High
- Sunshine on my Shoulders
- Annie’s Song
- Back Home Again
- Thank God I’m a Country Boy
It is this song that is Denver’s legacy; it was his second song to reach the top of the American Charts and the one which reached Number One in Great Britain. In the UK it was the only one of Denver’s singles to make any real impact.
Annie’s Song was written in 1974 in ten-and-a-half minutes on a ski lift to the top of Bell Mountain. Denver wrote it as a tribute to his then-wife Annie (nee Martell). He had just completed an exhilarating run and the beauty of his surroundings made him think of his first wife and the love he had for her.
Away from his music Denver was a humanitarian and passionately interested in space travel. He witnessed the first manned space flight on Apollo/Soyuz first hand and he took and passed NASA’s physical examination to see if he was mentally and physically fit for space travel.
He was one of the leading candidates to be the first civilian to go on a space flight and he planned to write a song whilst he was traveling in space. But fate intervened and he was unable to go on the ill-fated flight that tragically exploded on take-off in 1986.
The Fatal Flight
Denver was an experienced pilot and at the time of his crash, he was renting a house in Monterey. He only bought the Long-Eze two-seater fiberglass plane the day before the flight. The plane had been built from a kit some years before and he had already flown it from Santa Maria to Monterey. He got permission from Monterey Airport to take the plane on a test flight along the coast and he was practicing touch and go landings, swooping down to the runway and pulling the plane back up.
The 53-year-old singer was flying approximately 150 feet from the land and 500 feet above the sea when the plane dropped like a stone into the water and broke upon impact. Denver’s body was so badly mutilated all the rescuers could identify from the body was that it was male. The cause of the crash was allegedly lack of fuel, for some reason Denver had not filled up the plane before the flight.
The remains of his body were cremated and his ashes were taken to the place he sang about in so many of his songs, Aspen in Colorado, his grandmother’s Gibson guitar was cremated with him. There is now a Memorial Park at the site and a gravestone where fans can visit and pay tribute to the star.
When his death was announced Roy Romer, the Governor of Colorado ordered all state flags should be lowered to half-mast in his honor.
We have probably heard this many times: music is life. And that is indeed true. Music can do so much for you in ways you might have not even thought of. It is more than the rhythm or the harmony or the lyrics put together. There is just something about music that can change the way you feel, think or even respond to various things.
Here are some of the top benefits of listening to music:
1. It can relieve stress
Have you ever noticed that whenever you feel stressed at work, you just need to listen to music and your mood suddenly feels lighter? That’s one of the effects of music. It can lighten the negative feeling and put you in a better mood. Some doctors even prescribe listening to music to their stressed patients because it can help relax their tired spirit and relieve the stress. So the next time you feel like throwing tantrums in the office because your boss is irritating you, just plug in your earphones and listen to music.
2. Music can make you smart
This is mainly one of the reasons why pregnant moms are encouraged to listen to classical music while they are relaxing. They say listening to this type of music can help make the baby in your tummy grow to be a smart and intelligent child. And it actually works as proven by most moms who did the said practice. Furthermore, there was a study conducted at the University of Toronto in Mississauga wherein children age six were encouraged to listen to music or even be musically-inclined. The results showed that these children have an increase in their intelligent quotient. This is also one of the reasons why parents are encouraged to enroll their kids in various music lessons such as piano, guitar, drums or even voice.
Yes, music can even help refresh and revitalize your body system just by listening to it. When you are not feeling well emotionally or physically, try playing a music instrument as it can help the body and mind to heal itself. If you are in search of a relaxing hobby, you can enroll to a guitar training by Music To Your Home so that you can leisurely play your favorite songs on the guitar.
4. Music can give you quality sleep
Whenever you have a hard time to sleep, just play some music, and you will inevitably doze off in no time. But of course, it depends on the type of music you will listen to. Make sure that when you want to fall asleep faster, you will play in some classical or soft, mellow music. It will feel like a lullaby to you, and you can drop asleep faster. Music helps our mind and body to relax so that it can have the rest it needs.
5. It can help change your mood
There are times when no matter how good things around you are, you just don’t feel good. You feel down, and you just don’t want to talk to anyone or anybody. And it happens once in a while to all people, no matter how cheerful or fun-loving you are. In times like these, you can turn to music to uplift your bored or down spirit. Listen to some positive, feel-good music, and your mood will undoubtedly change in no time.
#1 Matthew Squires and the Learning Disorders – Where The Music Goes To Die (self-released)
I happened upon Matthew Squires in mid-2014 at a house concert that I was attending to see another songwriter. Squires did a short set and I fell in love with his quirky, poetic lyrics and his off-the-wall vocal timbre. As quickly as I could, I consumed all the Matthew Squires music that I could, and pre-ordered his new one, Where The Music Goes To Die. I get lost listening to Squires’ lyrics, and often find myself almost hypnotized by his voice and music. (“Much better than Cats. I want to see it again and again.” Please tell me you get that reference.) I mean, I can just pull a random lyric from the record, and be blown away. Like this from the title track:
I tried hard to be some kind of mystic. I ended up a man in love with himself.
The more I look, the more I seem to miss it. My poverty is my only source of wealth.
It don’t run out.
Or this from “A Strange Place”:
And everyone I’ve met has been an arrow, pointing me to where I need to go.
Everyone I’ve met has been an arrow, piercing me right down into my bones.
Like those punk rock, suburban girls with their Betty Boop, cartoon-curls, and their bouquets of neon light.
They sip from the flask of night.
If you have been looking for some challenging concepts in musical creation coupled with philosophical and poetic musings on life, satisfy yourself with a copy of Where The Music Goes To Die.
#2 The Western Shore – Thunderstorm (self-released)
The husband-and-wife folk duo of Charlie and Kalee Smyth really captured my heart with this release. It’s well-produced, but still raw, and possesses an honesty I rarely hear. I found myself going back to this album again and again throughout the year, when I wanted to listen to some real music by real people. Their take on “You Can’t Make Old Friends” resonates with me like the Kenny Rogers/Dolly Parton duet never did.
#3 Swearing At Motorists – While Laughing, The Joker Tells The Truth (‘a’ Records)
I like the fresh, raw sound, that is stripped down to the bare bones on most tracks on While Laughing, The Joker Tells The Truth. Frontman Dave Doughman’s lower-register lead vocals (and his self-accompanied harmonies) provide dark overtones to already dark lyrics that focus on the real side of life. The opening track contains only the harmonized repeated words “I don’t need anyone”, until the end when he adds “but you”. Another is the repeated lyric “You know that you can tell me anything, just please don’t use the word ‘forever’”. Yet another is simply the line “I was thinkin’ ‘bout drinkin’, but I don’t have the energy”, repeated over and over, with stark instrumentation and multiple voice tracks. There are beefier songs on the album — and they are also excellent –, but I really dig the idea of a single repeated lyric to create a beautiful expression of a particular moment in the songwriter’s life. There are 17 tracks here, but with only one longer than 3 minutes, and most closer to 2, including five that are under 2 minutes, this is the perfect record for the short-attention-span person inside us all.
#4 Anchor & The Butterfly – Nothing To Win Nothing To Lose (Ghost Gum Records)
Bridget Robertson and Lance Hillier comprise this band, with Robertson as the singer/songwriter and Hillier on guitar. This album is sonically very appealing, because Robertson’s vocal performances strike all the right chords, especially when backed by the simple production. The title track is a fine example. When Robertson sings “nothing to win nothing to lose”, Hillier’s atmospheric playing is a perfect match for Robertson’s voice, which is powerful in its world-weary and smoky soft-spokenness.
#5 Manna Frost Trio – Overgrowth (Skyco Records)
Slow and dreamy is the the way I like my music, and this Chapel Hill, North Carolina, band delivers. Eclectic instrumentation creates an ethereal production that seems fresh with every listen and is often reminiscent of very early Pink Floyd, sometimes late Stones. I think we might classify this — if we were to do something so foolish — as “americana prog”. Whatever you want to call it, I can leave Overgrowth on repeat all morning and not get bored. “I don’t believe in ghosts, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think they’re real. It’s just that I don’t have confidence in them.” That kind of lyric holds my attention. As a side note, I just stopped playback during the track “Shatter Cones”, so I could say — out loud to myself — “Got-DAM that’s a good song!”
And, in no particular order — I literally put them into a randomizer to remove any listing bias — the rest of the Top 25.
Rod Melancon – Parish Lines (Medina River Records) – (People who know me will probably think I am kidding about the randomizer, because Melancon’s on top, but I promise — I randomized once, and boom.) Part Elvis, part Springsteen, part Swamp Thing, Rod Melancon, er, um, RAWKS! Producer Brian Whelan (Dwight Yoakum’s guitarist) lets the songs shine with spot-on instrumentation at every turn. .
Nathan Bell – Blood Like A River (Stone Barn Records) – I could have put this album on this list simply for the song “Names”, which is the opening track. It’s a poignant song about how the soldiers we send to war are real people, not just names we may read in the obituaries, and it’s one of those songs that made me sit up and take notice when I heard it on the radio (WLVR, I believe it was). The rest of the album, though, is more than worth a listen, as Bell spins a series of well-crafted, powerfully delivered, acoustic tales.
Susan Clynes – Life Is … (MoonJune Records) – Piano-based goodness from Belgian singer/pianist Susan Clynes. This album was recorded live at three different shows. It’s a beautiful album, one that I like to put on headphones and lie back with my eyes closed, so I can immerse myself in the performance. Simon Lenski’s cello sets the tone on five of the tracks, and by “sets the tone” I mean “blows me away”.
Esther Golton – Stay Warm (self-released) – So much of this album reminds of one of my favorite artists-gone-too-soon, Kirsty MacColl. Golton’s voice is similar to MacColl’s and there is a similar overall feel to the music — serious but hopeful with dashes of island magic. “Echo Point” is a killer story tune, and, in fact, the songwriting throughout this record is top-notch.
Dave Desmelik – We Don’t Want A Dying Flame (self-released) – What can I say, I like the dark side. Desmelik has put together a superb mix of painful instrumentals and lyrics-driven songs that makes me appreciate my good fortune whenever I spin it. Desmelik’s vocal performance is so plaintively melancholy that I find myself wondering how he survived the recording sessions. He did, right?
The Jonathan Fox Band – 20 Something Runaway (self-released) – An eclectic mix of sounds, all of them pleasing to the ear. “My Own Drum” jumps out as a special song with its strongly percussive instrumentation, but the pure rock-n-roll feel of “Front Page Cliche” has my head dancing, and “Van Gogh” keeps me coming back for more. A strong record from start to finish.
Britchy – Every Heartache (self-released) – 907Britt (Britt Arnesen) and Richie Reinholdt and are Britchy. This is country music from the northern United States. It features Arnesen and Reinholdt taking turns singing their own compositions. I enjoy the songwriting of both, but I mostly like how they move back and forth between Arnesen’s Kasey Chambers-y voice to Reinholdt’s Tom Petty-y (well, adding that “-y” didn’t work out very well, now, did it?) one. Acoustic guitar, fiddle, banjo, mando — this is country music!
Grant Peeples and the Peeples Republik – Punishing The Myth (Gaterbone Records) – Poet. Activist. Songwriter. Musician. Artist. Punishing The Myth is yet another step forward in Peeples’ take-no-prisoners indictment of life and society. “Who Woulda Thunk It?” is a groovy tune about how our priorities change as we age. “The Hanging” features Eliza Gilkyson, a snapped neck, and a message about capital punishment. Don’t get weirded out — the song’s not preachy, just good. Grab this album for Peeples’ poetic songwriting (“High Octane Generation” is actually a spoken poem) and Gurf Morlix’s thoroughly appropriate production. If you aren’t on the Grant Peeples train yet, there’s still time to hop on board.
Trailhead – Leave Me To Learn (Timezone Records) – Leave Me To Learn is yet another rock solid country album from the German singer/songwriter Tobias Panwitz. The title track beautifully pulls at heartstrings I didn’t know I had. “My Mother’s Father” is a loving tribute to the grandfather Panwitz never met.”Out In The Open” grabs me with its piano open and its classic riffs. Panwitz’s lyrics are interwoven with often haunting melodies, and fleshed out with full instrumentation and lush harmonies that never fail to satisfy.
Marcus Rubio – Land Of Disenfranchisement (self-released) – One of Rubio’s more accessible releases, Land Of Disenfranchisementoffers something for casual listeners, but is really aimed — as all his music seems to be aimed — at the listener who is searching for meaning and cohesiveness in this universe. My general reaction after listening to most of Rubio’s albums is, “I don’t know why I liked that, but I do. I really do.” At times poppishly sensible and at times the embodiment of the art of noise, Land Of Disenfranchisement stands tall in Marcus Rubio’s growing catalog.
Rick Dill – Quiet Town (RBD Music) – Rick Dill strikes me as a quieter, mellower, christianer Jimmy Buffett. Songs like “I Don’t Know What I Did”,”Remember What He Said” , and “Auction Block” give us a peak inside the songwriter’s state of mind as he deals with relationships with his love, his god, and society in general. As I listen to the record, Dill’s sincerity often reaches out and slaps me across the face, waking me up to the realities of the small-town lives he’s singing about. On the plus side, his outlook is not all that grim.
Mordrake – Every Shadow Is A Ghost (self-released) – As I re-listen to the albums in this list, I realize that I am truly a fan of a slow, haunting delivery of a well-crafted song. It’s all about atmosphere. Well, not all about atmosphere, but I do seem to lean into the ghostlier stuff. I think I could listen to Katy Raine sing pretty much always, as this UK band truly delivers an eerie sound with Raine’s voice complemented beautifully by an alluringly doleful backing track. “A Brush Of Color” at track 3 and “The Cowboy Cannibals” at track 7 are sung by male leads — they provide a bit of contrast and a further glimpse into the collective mind of the band.
Dallas Dorsey and The Rails – Come On (self-released) – Cool guitars and soulful vocals from Dallas Dorsey and Gini Young create a honkytonkin’, rockin’ good time. At a runtime of 7:21, the extended jam “You” stands out to me as the track that sums up this band: stunning vocal interplay between Dorsey and Young, swampy guitars, and heavy percussion, with sex and death smoldering just below the bass line. Dig.
Bill Scorzari – Just The Same (self-released) – Gravel-voiced Bill Scorzari delivers a strong set of americana with Just The Same. Of the thirteen tracks, “Because Of You” hits me hardest, with its Hammond throughline and tenor sax solos, and its simple but powerful lyrics, delivered perfectly, with almost every syllable punched up by the beat of a drum. Beautiful.
The Far West – Any Day Now (Medina River Records) – Lee Briante and Robert Black are a couple of the best songwriters in americana right now. From the traditionally country “Hudson Valley” to the Tom Waits-like “Forged In Iron”, The Far West hits all the right notes on Any Day Now. “She’s Gonna Leave Him Too” is the best “screw you and screw her, too” song I’ve ever heard, and “The Bright Side” shouts misery through a spunky beat. If you didn’t get a chance to see The Far West as they toured the country during 2014 — including several shows with Dave & Phil Alvin, one of which I was lucky enough to attend — look for them in 2015 at a venue near you.
DC Bloom – The Rest Is Commentary (Table or Booth Music) – A serious (well, mostly serious) set from a man primarily known for his novelty songs and off-the-wall social media posts. “One White Crow”, a duet with Susan Herndon, stands out for its sparse beauty, and “Some Kind Of Nasty Comin’ Down”, a duet with Stefanie Fix, is a socially relevant song that reverberates with Butch Morgan’s blistering-but-subtle slide guitar. “Epiphany” is a beautiful rolling love song. All in all, a stellar effort by Mr. Bloom.
Marah – Mountain Minstrelsy of Pennsylvania (Valley Farm Songs) – Brilliant interpretations of music found in It an obscure book, Mountain Minstrelsy of Pennsylvania, published in 1931 as a collection of song lyrics gathered in the mountains of Pennsylvania by Henry Shoemaker, a folklorist and “song catcher”. Beautifully bluegrassy americana, mountain-style (the way bluegrass should be).
Billy Sharff – This Side Of Town (self-released) – Sharff’s songs are so damn personal that I often feel like an eavesdropping neighbor getting the through-the-walls scoop on the family in the trailer next door. “The Gambler” knocks me out with its quick pace, talky vocals, and poignant story, but the whole album is rather brilliant in a Hiatt-Prine kinda way.
Holy Moly – Brothers’ Keepers (Whoopass Records) – Technically released toward the end of 2013 (whatever, I didn’t hear it until this year), this is solid country music out of Fort Worth. The self-proclaimed “Reigning Cowpunk Kings” — I must have missed the vote that knocked Hickoids off that pedestal, but nevermind that — deliver a delicious set of alt-country that covers all the required topics: cocaine, death, and John Wayne. The latter is celebrated in a whistling song, and, really now, who doesn’t like a good whistling song every now and then?
Chris Taylor – Daylight (Lo-Fidelity Records) – Chris Taylor is a rock star in waiting, and this mostly acoustic collection punctuates that. His voice is haunting and hopeful at the same time and his look is straight up rock. The songs are cool, too. “Dogtown” knocks me out with its Bono bluster and its Bowie bridge. “Slide” is so classic, I almost want to get up and dance — not quite, but almost. Really, I’m content to listen, and to do that often.
Plus a couple of EPs I really enjoyed:
- Jana Pochop – Throats Are Quarries (EP) (self-released) – Dig the folk fusion sound, doubled vocals, and the line “My deepest fear is that my fears are not that deep; they are just simple things.”
- Nellie Pearl – So It Goes (EP) (self-released) – The opening track, “Canoe”, is such a jaunty fun song, I got drawn right into the whole five-song EP, right through the EP’s coda, the mournful “Call”. I find myself swaying in my chair (I guess that is my way of dancing — shut up!) when this record is on. Dig.