Marshall Chapman (from the album Blaze of Glory) - Marshall Chapman can form words into life and on Blaze of Glory, she puts a lot of flesh to the skeletons that she has been unable to hide. “Waiting for the Music” is the best Behind-the-Music to date.The song peels back the curtain and gives the real back story on the other side of the music that singer/songwriters deliver. Marshall lets us in. She is the tour guide and the hands holding the pen and guitar sitting in the operating theatre. Blaze of Glory opens with a riff that Marshall snagged from back when she was studying Willie and his Hand Jive dance moves. The track, “Love in the Wind”, puts Todd Snider and Marshall Chapman microphone to microphone. The words of both narrators make the song less a duet and more debate about the whys and wherefores of who is doing what to whom. The bass guitar leads the way into “Let’s Make Waves”. The track is Pure Pop in the vein of Nick Lowe but you get the feeling that Marshall is not interested in getting wet from either ocean….really, how much surfing goes on in the Cumberland River? Jazz and rock’n’roll meet on the persistent riff that walks through “Blues Stay Away From Me” and notes drop like rain on the roof in “Call the ‘Lamas” as Marshall informs anyone within hearing range that she DOES NOT read those trashy rags at the checkout stand.

Marshall Chapman has put together an album of sounds and sights in Blaze of Glory. It is a full album of listening pleasure, and should be heard that way. Listening to Blaze of Glory as singles does a great disservice to Marshall Chapman. Life lessons via personal experiences are parceled out in Blaze of Glory; “Nearness of You” (“It’s not the pale moon that excites, that thrills and delights me”) makes you want to be the special someone on the receiving end of her words as does “I Don’t Want Nobody”, (“anybody standing in my kitchen is standing in my way”). Yep, Marshall is a love machine. Where Blaze of Glory takes a stand is for the legion of her peeps 40/50 and older that Marshall tags in her music.

Marshall Chapman outs herself and takes a stand. Sure, sixty is the new forty, but sixty still feels like sixty while you are brushing your teeth and at least halfway through your first coffee. Marshall Chapman closes out Blaze of Glory with two tracks that will inspire the more mature listener. “Not Afraid to Die” is less a look-at-what-I-have-accomplished and more a how-did-I live through-that moment. Marshall believes whole-heartedly in life, but if breathing takes an exit, she is ready. The title track captures words that we have heard in our head, no matter what your age. “Blaze of Glory” (the song) points out that with simple honesty that she “never intended to make it this far, never had a fall back plan”,

Marshall Chapman has delivered a career defining album that speaks to the spot she stands on her musical path, and her life. Marshall saw Elvis Presley perform in 1956. In 2013 she can still sell exactly how that felt.

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The Wheeler Brothers (from the album Gold Boots Glitter) - One of the perks about being a fan of Roots music is that no banner needs to be flown or borders guarded against alien musical forms invading. We are more inclusive than exclusive, and the smart money rides on bands that use everything at their disposal. On that note, enter the Wheeler Brothers.On Gold Boots Glitter, the Wheeler Brothers take full advantage of being a Roots band and sample liberally from Rock, Folk, Americana, Blues and other organic influences. The Wheeler Brothers have no need to edit themselves or their music into something that fits a format. They are right there. Roots bands have the ability to get their rock on without any hesitation or controls put in place to make sure the music does not exceed what is expected. What we expect of our Roots artists is that they will do the best they can in making full albums. The Wheeler Brothers have met the challenge with Gold Boots Glitter.

“Cigarette Smoke” coughs up a chugging blues/rock riff with a heavy edge to it; “Under a Bridge” fights for a safe place to stand “shaking in the wind” with a rock force watching its back, and the title track takes a Supertramp style arrangement run at classic rock.  The songs compiled on Gold Boots Glitter serve no one god; cuts like “Struggle With It All You Like” travel through an Alt Country middle ground that relies on its Roots and its Rock to fulfill all the tracks needs as angular riffs play nice with tasty country chord echoes.

Gold Boots Glitter opens on an acoustic guard mandolin rhythm with “My Time”; “Heather” sports a powerful arrangement that is equal parts of both twang and jangle from the guitar work as the story travels through Central Texas, and “Sleep When I’m Dead” bounces on a busking beat for a road song that burns down the highway while the narrator of the tune listens to a Stones tune.

The Wheeler Brothers have delivered a powerful calling card as a follow-up to the well-received debut, Portraits. Their second album, Gold Boots Glitter, comes out on a label owned by Ray Benson (Asleep at the Wheel) called Bismeaux Records. Life provided a unique experience for the creation of Gold Boots Glitter. Brother Nolan Wheeler relates the experience of returning home to the brothers’ digs in hill country about an hour outside of San Antonio. The vocalist/guitarist recalls “There’s something about removing yourself from the city and getting out into the country. Nobody’s cell phone worked! It was our first time collaborating with a producer (Austin-based singer/songwriter Drew Smith). His background resembles ours. He understands mixing genres and implementing different elements into one thing. We have similar personalities, and we were all working towards the same thing”.

It is that way of doing business with music, the mixing and matching of genres, styles and forms to create something new that is Roots music, and the Wheeler Brothers have a knack for making the results into something bigger than the sum of its parts.

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shemekia copeland in the alternate rootShemekia Copeland (from the album 33 1/3) - Shemekia Copeland’s album 33 1/3 sums up her life in several ways. She chose the title as a tribute to the vinyl records she listened to growing up. It also represents her age when the album was released. But more than that, the record tells her thoughts about life, thus far, at age 33.“I think on this album, I am speaking out about what I feel about politics, what I feel about religion, what I feel about life,” she said from a Harlem hotel room during a recent tour. “This album feels good to me. On my last album, I really started to talk, saying the things that I think, saying the things I think people need to hear. I am almost 34 at this point, and when I am talking to 18 year olds, I want to say ‘You think you are grown up. You’re not. You have a lot to learn.” “I have lived and done so many things in my life, but there’s still so much ahead.”

Those that scoff need to realize that Copeland was born into music. She was only 8 when she took the stage at the famed Cotton Club in Harlem at the invitation of her father, blues guitar legend Johnny Clyde Copeland. She began singing herself not long afterward and toured as her father’s opening act when she was just a teen, landing a recording contract the year after her high school graduation and the death of her father.

Although some would crumple under the strain of a high-powered music career and the death of a parent, Copeland channeled her emotions into music. Her sophomore album Wicked was released in 2000, earning her prestigious Blues Music Awards.         

She’s been on something of a journey ever since, winning critical acclaim with the 2002 release of the Dr. John-produced Talking to Strangers, as well as other releases including the 2005 album The Soul Truth and the 2009 re-release of her 1998 debut Never Going Back. Singing at the White House, touring with major headliners such as Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, and Buddy Guy have also earned her much acclaim and continue to build her ever-growing fan base.

But it was 33 1/3, recently nominated for a Grammy Award for ‘Best Blues Album’that really brought Copeland into her own, musically. She credits long-time friend and manager John Hahn and the album’s producer, Oliver Wood, of the Wood Brothers, with helping her get to the place where she could express her social, religious, political and world views through music.

Consider the standout track “Lemon Pie”, in which Copeland sings sorrowfully of the plight of the indigent and poor. “John wrote ‘Lemon Pie’ based on conversations we had,” said Copeland who was literally crowned Queen of t    he Blues before 100,000-plus screaming fans at the 2011 Chicago Blues Festival. “I’ve known him since I was 8 years old and we talk all the time and we talk about all kinds of things. It’s really sad that our ancestors built this country on their backs so they could get married, buy homes, have children and live the American Dream. Everything has changed so much; we’re on a downward spiral.”

Copeland credits her parents with always being honest with her and working hard to ensure she understood values, ethics and morals and proper behavior.

“That’s why it’s very important to me what music I put out in the universe. It’s very, very important to me. I am a lifelong artist. I am here to stay while the others come and go. I’ll still be here, without costumes, without flash, without all the B.S.,” she said. “I’ll be here. I know that life is short. You have to think about where you’re going to be as you get older. A lot of artists don’t think even 10 years or 15 years ahead. A lot of their careers don’t even last that long. For me, I think about the blues. I could be singing them when I’m 70. I hope I am.”   (written by NANCY DUNHAM)

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Lightning Rod Records celebrates thirty years of life after Born in the U.S.A with the recent release, Dead Man’s Town: A Tribute to Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. The Bruce Springsteen album was a turning point for musician on its came into the world on June 4, 1984 release date, leaning Springsteen and the E Street Band towards a Pop sound, foregoing the grim outlooks on his previous release, Nebraska. Born in the U.S.A was far from seeing contentment in its stories yet there was a promise of hope amid the destruction. The album became the biggest seller for 1985 and produced seven Top 10 singles, tying for the record with Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814. Born in the U.S.A. became Springsteen’s most successful album release, selling 15 million copies in the U.S on its release and 30 million records worldwide. The album was viewed as a back-pat by politicians that looked to use its success for their own, they only saw the flag on the cover, not the guy possible taking a leak with his back turned, nor did they hear the pissed-off guy in the lyrics taking aim for taking back our country.

Dead Man’s Town: A Tribute to Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. re-visits the album with contemporary artists, many of whom grew up and were educated by the original release. Jason Isbell slows “Born in the U.S.A.” to make the song a challenge to its main character. Amanda Shires is a key to the track. Her fiddle swoops and soars, and is particularly effectiveness when she plucks the notes in the verses to underscore husband Jason Isbell’s reading of the state of the nation through the eyes of one of its citizens. Jason crawls into the song, his vocals bearing the weight of a situation still, thirty years on, still an active cultural issue. The couple were intrigued by the mood as much as the song, Jason stating that ‘”Born in the U.S.A." is one of my favorites because so many people have seemingly misunderstood the lyrical content and the song's overall tone. When you listen to the demo, the dark, minor key arrangement makes it clear that this is not strictly a song of celebration. We wanted to stay true to that version." Amanda added that "I love that the song paints a picture of struggle in the face of the American dream, and the irony in the chorus is delivered with such force that it nearly transcends irony altogether.’

The darkness of the mood that surrounds the stories on Born in the U.S.A. becomes a lot clearer on the 30-year on tribute. Sonically, Dead Man’s Town bears a closer allegiance to Nebraska, defining the album tone with a wider range of soundscapes to create the same subtle echoes and textures. Justin Townes Earle bares the soul of “Glory Days” by creating the track with man and guitar, the only souvenirs left of the times in which the song lives.  Ryan Culwell turns dusty pages of timeworn audio photos for “Bobby Jean”, Joe Pug follows the click beat of a snare drum to drive the rhythm on “Downbound Train” and Holly Williams gives “No Surrender” a free wind of freedom blowing through the tune’s exit plan.

A folk ramble to sound tracks “Goin’ Down” (Trampled by Turtles) and “Working on the Highway” (Blitzen Trapper) while electric chords snarls frame “I’m on Fire” (Low) and flow like mist through “Cover Me” (The Apache Relay).  Dead Man’s Town: A Tribute to Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. owes a debt to the production masterfully maintaining a mood that threads the songs together.  Co-executive produced by Logan Rogers and Evan Schlansky, with production contributions from Dave Cobb (whose production credits include for Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell), it is the way the songs interact with Roots music sound bed that links the release to the original Born in the U.S.A. tracks presented with a more Pop sound for the seaside bar band rock of the E Street Band. 

“Darlington County” sticks to a rock’n’roll swagger from Quaker City Nighthawks and North Mississippi All Stars provide a delta backbeat, southern harmonies and honey-sweet horns to welcome back “My Hometown”. On an album of top shelf performances, Nicole Atkins rendition of “Dancing in the Dark” deserves special attention. She delivers her vocals in a dark room, making sure that every light in the house is off before her vocals begin. Nicole makes it a personal message, the thoughts in her head lining up on the tracks snaking, jittery rhythms. Dead Man’s Town: A Tribute to Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A reminds us of the worth of Bruce Springsteen’s original release and points to future glory for the Roots music as it remakes the album with a sepia-tones majesty that adds another facet to its diamond status.

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the pogues in the alternate rootThe Pogues ( from the album The Very Best of The Pogues) - Kiss my ass, or in U.K. terms, kiss my arse. The phrase was the calling card that introduced the world of radio to The Pogues. The band formed in 1982 under the band banner of Pogue Mahone, the phrase was an Anglicized version of the Gaelic Póg mo thóin.Censorship from the BBC after listener complaints forced shortening to The Pogues. The new name and music from the group’s career are represented with the honor they deserve on the ShoutFactory release, The Very Best of The Pogues.

The first single to hit the airwaves was the band’s self-released “Dark Streets of London”. Punk, the attitude and lifestyle, not the three chord electric attack of punk rock, has always been at the heart of The Pogues sound and delivery. History began to take shape in 1977 when group members Shane McGowan (vocals) and Spider Stacy (tin whistle) met in the men’s room of The Roundhouse in London during a Ramones gig. The pair played in an occasional band, The Millwall Chainsaws, in the late 70’s with Pogue member Jem Finer (banjo).  James Fearnley (accordion) was added for live shows and Pogue Mahone took to the stage for the first time on October 4, 1982 at The Pindar of Wakefield in Kings Cross, London. “Streams of Whiskey”, included on The Very Best of The Pogues was the first song the group played live. The group’s line-up expanded for the first single with Cait O’Riordan (bass) and Andrew Rankin (drums) coming on board. The group moved from pubs and clubs in Central London to an opening slot on The Clash 1984 tour. Stiff Records was impressed and Red Roses for Me was released as the band’s first album effort.

Phillip Chevron (guitar) came into The Pogues for their second album; the Elvis Costello produced Rum, Sodomy & The Lash. The title was a nod to the supposed Winston Churchill comment used to describe the true traditions of the British Royal Navy.The album was a commercial success, taking the band across the ocean to America where they were equally embraced by fans of traditional Irish music and U.S. punks, making for very interesting mosh pits. Rum, Sodomy & the Lash brought more original material into The Pogues repertoire, thanks in great part to the word skills of lead vocalist Shane McGowan.  The disc offered music that started the deep, deep love that Pogue fans would carry to their collective graves. Songs like “The Sick Bed of Cúchulainn”, The Old Main Drag”, “A Pair of Brown Eyes”, “Dirty Old Town” and “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda” were favorites on first listen.

Relations with Stiff Records stalled when The Pogues refused to record a follow-up, offering the E.P. Poguetry in Motion.  Artist’s career decisions can swing momentum in either direction, good or bad. Add an Irishman’s alcohol intake to the mix and the decisions become more momentary reactions rather than a calculated plan. The Pogues frontman, and main songwriter, Shane MacGowan was a man whose demons did as much to tip him over the edge as they guided his pen.

In early Gaelic and British culture, a bard was the term used to describe a professional poet. William Shakespeare became known as The Immortal Bard. The Irish writing traditions were original lyric poetry and versions of ancient prose tales. William Butler Yeats and George Bernard Shaw are hallmarks of the Irish literary output but Shane MacGowan’s natural writing talent seemed to use authors such as James Joyce, who developed the stream of consciousness writing that makes its way into the songs of The Pogues, and Brendan Behan, whose poetry and short stories brought IRA politics into his verse and tales.

The characters and story lines that Shane MacGowan created are full of life. The lives laid bare in his songs have demons and dreams rolled together. “Streams of Whiskey” was a dream where Shane met his literary hero Brendan Behan.  “The Boys From County Hell” and “The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn” are tales rife with a characterization of Irish pub life as seen through the Irish of a punk. The words are fast paced and direct. Alcohol flows through the songs of The Pogues, and its characters partake in amber poison as if every day brought a ghost to toast at a Wake. Though still possessed of a mighty dose of liquid refreshments, tenderness finds its way into The Pogues songs through Shane’s pen and growl on songs such as “A Pair of Brown Eyes” and “Rainy Night in Soho”. Pain is a part of the Irish spirit and the nations spirits fuel the sadness as much as inspire and Shane tunes like “The Sunny Side of the Street”  and the Christmas duet with Kirsty MacColl, “Fairytale of New York” manage to balance the hard times and inherent survival gene shared by Irish expatriates worldwide. “If I Should Fall From Grace With God” brings the other Irish brand that serves to take down the nation not unlike alcohol, Catholicism.

Shane MacGowan owns the bulk of the words in the songs of The Pogues but he shares writing credits with other band members on a number of the groups more famous tunes. A mournful guitar and harmonica open “Dirty Old Town”, a 1949 track written by Ewan MacColl, father of “Fairytale of New York” duet partner Kirsty MacColl. Group members Spider Stacy (“Tuesday Morning”), Jem Finer (“Misty Morning, Albert Bridge”) and Philip Chevron (“Thousands Are Sailing”) all have tracks included on The Very Best of The Pogues.

“Thousands Are Sailing” is a history lesson that boards ships in Dublin, Galway, Cork, Limerick, Belfast, Londonderry, Waterford, and Liverpool.  Estimates tell that close one and one-half million Irish left their native soil between 1845 and 1851. “Coffin ships” were the cheapest way to cross the Atlantic; mortality rates of 30% aboard the vessels were common. The Pogues honor both those that lost their lives and the ones that made it through in “Thousands Are Sailing”. The combination of trial and triumph again weaves in and around the lyric content.

“Thousands Are Sailing” is one of the tentacles that The Pogues continue to wrap around the world. DC Comics recently launched a graphic novel, Gone to Amerikay.  Written by Derek McCulloch and illustrated by Colleen Doran, Gone to Amerikay was inspired by Thousands Are Sailing, Philip Chevron's ballad about generations of Irish emigrants travelling "across the western ocean to a land of opportunity. "What I think Gone To Amerikay does well is set an interconnecting tale, a sort of ghost story, in three separate eras," said Chevron. "It's a fairly audacious undertaking and I'm delighted to have helped inspire or influence it."

Musically, The Pogues have never really stopped the sound that first has continues to be important from those notes that hit back in 1982. The band recently celebrated a 30th year anniversary at the Olympia Theatre in Paris with a live DVD of the show. James Fearnley has written the memoir Here Comes Everybody – The Story of The Pogues, and continues to release solo music.  Spider Stacy can be seen in the role of Slim Jim on HBO’s Treme, Shane MacGowan pops up at numerous guest appearances and Philip Chevron’s musical project, Radiators from Outer Space, has recently released an album honoring the rock, blues and beat tunes from Irish artists in the 1960’s. Jem Finer follows a path to art’s cutting edge with a recent art installation with a giant screen projection of 18,000 images taken in a forest using a solar-powered camera and recorded through a specially designed computer program.  Musically, he has conceived and composed Mobile Sinfonia, an indeterminate musical composition scored for mobile phones. It is propagated through the free distribution of especially composed ringtones. Each ringtone is a ‘voice’ in the composition, and together they make a global orchestra of electronic instruments.

The Very Best of The Pogueswill be released on SoundFactory on January 22, 2013. The album fully captures the excitement that The Pogues weave into every song. That feeling is not diminished by the passing of years, the songs whine like freshly minted.                   Danny McCloskey/RA  

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