Steve Earle (from the album Guitar Town 30th Anniversary Edition on MCA Nashville)

Many folks feel age when they see their friend’s children grown at rapid rates. Music marks chalk lines on the doorframe with album release dates. Steve Earle’s Guitar Town turns 30, the celebration marked by with a re-issue that includes previously unreleased concert catches of the tunes from the album and beyond. Country music had a longtime crush on rock’n’roll, keeping mixed relations between the genres closeted. Steve Earle kicked down the doors, presenting an equal love for rock’n’roll and Country without bringing any seams. Guitar Town spread Jersey shore sand in the South, from the mountains to the prairies. Steve Earle took the victim from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Southern Man and gave him a sly Country wisdom that showed a depth in his decisions and a strong back for his rebellion. The original album has become a greatest hits package in the rearview mirror, the tracks leading from their release into the fabric of a culture that learns way more from the music than from those old folks at home.

Steve Earle introduces “My Old Friend the Blues” as the show-and-tell of a particularly morose period. The live addition to the re-issue of a nineteen-song show recorded in Chicago, Illinois at the Park West in 1986, the same release year as Guitar Town. The recording hosts the tracks from Guitar Town, debuting the future with tunes “The Devil’s Right Hand” and vacation diaries with “The Week of Living Dangerously” as well as Bruce Springsteen’s “State Trooper”. When Steve Earle strums the opening to “Someday” the electric crackle is from the sparks of a musician on a meteoric ride that would begin a career. The remastered original uses the title track to once again introduce a character with a big heart that shines with the light of opportunity. “Someday” and “Hillbilly Highway” shine a light down the road, “Good Ol’ Boy Gettin’ Tough” fleshes a man of the south entering as an equal, and “Little Rock’n’Roller” waves to a child at home from the back of a tour bus

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Little Feat (from the album Sailin’ Shoes)

It was three little words that Lowell George claimed was the reason for Frank Zappa asking Lowell to leave The Mothers of Invention. While the lyrical hook, ‘weed, whites, and wine’ has become part of history as expressed in the truck driver anthem “Willin’”, it has also been floated that Frank believed Lowell George was too talented to be a backing guitarist. The reasons are in the past, and what is left is a song forever attached to Little Feat, the group that Lowell George formed with Bill Payne in 1969 Los Angeles, California. Like peers The Band and the Grateful Dead, Little Feat were a melting pot of American musical sounds as evidenced on their second album release, Sailin’ Shoes (1972). The group’s self-titled debut hinted at what Sailin’ Shoes, and subsequent Little Feat releases, embraced. In the days of pre-Americana, hybrids were encouraged as was experimentation. Born in Hollywood, California, Lowell George played Blues, Soul, Folk, and Rock’n’Roll like a son of the south.

Keyboardist Bill Payne returned boogie to rock’n’roll in Little Feat, trading riffs with Lowell George’s slide guitar on the Sailin’ Shoes track “Tripe Face Boogie” while his accordion pumps up “Trouble” and his electric piano puts a funk into “Got No Shadow”. Bill Payne leads the charge into the Blues of “Cat Fever”, which features Bill on vocals. Sailin’ Shoes kicks off with slashed chords and advice as Lowell George warns that it is “Easy to Slip”. “Willin” enters quietly on acoustic chords as Richie Hayward’s bass drum hits a heartbeat, the track building with Bill Payne’s piano sparkling and Flying Burrito Brother, Sneaky Pete Kleinow’s pedal steel giving the song wings. Sailin’ Shoes introduces a ‘lady in a turban and a cocaine tree’ in its title track, finger pointing at love leaving when the TV breaks down in “Cold Cold Cold”, and chops up a groove with drum and guitar to profess “A Apolitical Blues”. Little Feat give big love for rock’n’roll by laundry listing the reasons that the music that took over the world is nothing by bad for ya’ as they barrel roll through “Teenage Nervous Breakdown”.

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Don Rich and the Buckaroos (from the album Guitar Pickin’ Man on Omnivore Recordings)

Don Rich (Don Ulrich) was born in Olympia, Washington in 1941. He began playing the fiddle around age three and was in local bands while still in high school. Don’s group opened for Elvis Presley at the Tacoma Bowl in 1957 and he met Buck Owens while performing at a local venue in Tacoma, Washington where Buck was working in radio. The two became fast friends with Don Rich backing Buck on fiddle. Buck Owens returned to Bakersfield, California to continue recording for Capitol Records, finally succeeding in encouraging Don Rich to quit college and join him in 1960 as part of his band for a salary of $75 a week. The pair continued recording, developing their ‘freight train sound’ into a brand that became the Bakersfield sound to the world, and adopting the name The Buckaroos for their band at the suggestion of Merle Haggard. Don Rich became bandleader for The Buckaroos, continuing recording and performing with Buck Owens on tour and as part of Hee-Haw until his death in 1974.

Omnivore Records has collected tracks featuring Don Rich on vocals and guitar, backed by The Buckaroos on the recently released, Guitar Pickin’ Man. The tunes are picked from recordings found on albums of Buck Owens as well as unreleased material. Guitar Pickin’ Man showcases the talents of Don Rich, featuring the Bakersfield sound as Don requests “Take Care of You for Me in Kansas City”, introduces “Sally was a Good Old Girl”, admits to being “Number One Heel”, bids goodbye in “Wham Bam” and greets home in “Hello California”. Don Rich and the Buckaroos spend time letting the music talk for them in album instrumentals such as the melodic “Ensenada” as Don’s guitar weaves its way among “Chaparral”, does some “Chicken Pickin’ and string gymnastics with “Aw Heck”.

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Buck Owens and the Buckaroos (from the album The Complete Capitol Singles: 1957 - 1966 on Omnivore Recordings)

The early days of California Country are compiled by Omnivore Recordings on a double-disc release of Buck Owens, The Complete Capitol Singles: 1957 – 1966. When Buck was signed to Capitol Records in 1957 he and The Buckaroos had logged over a decade playing bars and honky tonks in Bakersfield, California and beyond. Like musicians down through recorded music history, Buck Owens first reaction was ‘man, this is it! After all these years workin’ my ass off in all those dark, smoky clubs and taverns, I’ve finally got it made’. The reality was a lot different. The first few singles did not even make the charts, Buck Owens aware that the production of his music did not matching the live sound of The Buckaroos. He recalled in his autobiography that ‘on those early records, the producer had insisted on including all these damn background vocals…lots of guys and gals singing oohs and aahs under my stone Country vocals. It sounded ridiculous. As a matter of fact, it came out sounding a whole lot like the kind of stuff they were recording in Nashville back in those days, and the last thing I wanted was for my records to sound like those Pop-Country things they were doing down there’. Buck Owens and the Buckaroos saw a glimmer when they released the single “Second Fiddle”. Though not a huge hit, the tune rose enough to get some love for the California band and their next single release, “Under Your Spell Again” caught air, landing at number five on the music charts and jumpstarting the career of Buck Owens and the Buckaroos.

The music of Buck Owens conquered the world, his music influencing artists from The Beatles, who recorded the group’s 1963 hit “Act Naturally”, included on the Omnivore release, to Dwight Yoakam, who claims that ‘there have been four, maybe five, other artists in the history of the entire Country music genre who have left as indelible a sonic imprint’. One of the reasons that the songs collected on The Complete Capital Singles: 1957-1966 still sound as crisp as their original recordings was the care and consideration that Buck Owens put into the production. His goal was defined, Buck knowing what would work as he went into the studio, claiming that ‘the reason my Capitol records sounded the way they did—real heavy on the treble—was because I knew most people were going to be listening to ’em on their AM car radios. At the time, nobody else was doing anything like that, but it just seemed like common sense to me. And it was one more reason that you knew it was a Buck Owens record as soon as it came on the radio—because it just didn’t sound like those other records.’ The Complete Capitol Singles: 1957-1966 dials in twang with “Before You Go”, “(I Want) No One but You”, “Gonna Have Love” and revisits attacks on the heart with ballads that slowly turn around the honky tonk dance floors on “Only You (Can Break My Heart” and “In the Palm of Your Hand”. Buck Owens and the Buckaroos partner with Rose Maddox on vocals (“We’re the Talk of the Town”, “Sweethearts in Heaven”) as the Complete Capitol Singles 1957-1966 includes chartoppers such as “I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail” and a cover of the Ray Charles classic “Cryin’ Time”.

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Various Artists (from the album God Don’t Never Change , the Songs of 'Blind' Willie Johnson on Alligator Records) - The songs of ‘Blind’ Willie Johnson have crossed over the threshold from church hymns out into the secular world, though the initial fervor that Willie put into his Gospel Blues is present once again on God Don’t Never Change, The Songs of ‘Blind’ Willie Johnson. The music of Willie Johnson has proved that it cannot be stopped by the calendar pages as the fall. Led Zeppelin snagged the chorus of “Nobody’s Fault But Mine”, performed on God Don’t Never Change by Lucinda Williams. Many artists have covered the songs of ‘Blind’ Willie Johnson with Hot Tuna offering a version of “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning” on their debut, and performed on this compilation by Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi while The Blind Boys of Alabama slow “Mother's Children have a Hard Time” from the amped of version by Eric Clapton on his 1974 release as “Motherless Children” on 461 Ocean Boulevard.

The artists tributing ‘Blind’ Willie Johnson on God Don’t Never Change are as familiar as his songs.  Rickie Lee Jones takes on “Dark was the Night, Cold was the Ground”, a song that made the 1977 flight of Voyager 1 as a piece of the music from earth that was sent out into space. Lucinda Williams contributes the title track, Cowboy Junkies announce “Jesus is Coming”, and Sinead O'Connor sees glory as “Trouble Will Soon be Over “. The rhythms shift under Luther Dickinson as he is joined by Rising Star Fife and Drum Band as they sing “Bye and Bye I'm Going to See the King”, and Maria McKee performs “Let Your Love Light Shine on Me”. Tom Waits inhabits the spirit of ‘Blind’ Willie Johnson as he opens God Don’t Never Change, the Songs of Blind Willie Johnson with “The Soul of a Man” while he stomps the ground with beats to raise up the dead with rattle rhythms on “John the Revelator”.

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