jesse winchester in the alternate rootLiving with choices. For many of us, making a decision requires us to weigh the options first. At other times, circumstances put their fingers on the scale to tip the direction. In the 1960's, military service was the “trickle down” theory. If you were an inner city kid or from a low income family, with no chance of college money, you were on a fast track to Southeast Asia. For college kids, you stayed in school.

Jesse Winchester graduated college in 1966, which made him eligible to be another body counted. To avoid the draft, Jesse moved to Canada in 1967, becoming a citizen in 1973. His status therefore precluded him from touring the US. The advent of FM in the early 1970's snuck his music across the border, but there were no south-of-the-Canadian-border gigs for Jesse until 1977, when President Jimmy Carter granted draft resisters unconditional amnesty. Jesse Winchester loved his country enough to leave it. His solo career did not take off until after his relocation to Montreal. With the support of Robbie Robertson, Jesse took the tunes he had been writing and performing in coffee houses throughout Eastern Canada, releasing his debut in 1970. The music is as haunting as the album cover, with a stark visage staring back. This is a vinyl release, so the head was close to being life size and if you held it right, you could see eye- to-eye. Very little was known about the musician. The self-titled release contains some Jesse Winchester gems, such as "Yankee Lady", "Biloxi" and "The Brand New Tennessee Waltz". The singer had a pained delivery, even while describing the beauty of his past. The aching was almost physical. The narrators come across like prisoners, locked into a sentence that will never allow them to see home again. "Yankee Lady" sees the birds heading south, bringing thoughts of leaving the decent folks of Vermont "with a hitch to Mexico", while an echo-y church basement piano pounds out a winter’s tale full of memories of warmer days in "Biloxi", watching as the sun sets and the "sky turns red from off towards New Orleans". He re-visits the past in both song name checking and seasonal cotillions in "The Brand New Tennessee Waltz". The south and the loss of homeland pour heavily from Jesse Winchester's pen , though the subject matter is a movable feast of emotions and situations. He gets his gospel on in "Looking For A Miracle" from 1978's 'A Touch on the Rainy Side', offering up a fair trade, his soul for their show. From the same album, on the traveling musician side of the fence, Jesse Winchester crafts a tune direct from road diaries, citing "no one told me about this part. They told me all about the pretty girls and the money and the good times. No mention of the wear and tear on an old honky-tonker’s heart" in "A Showman's Life".

His output continued strong throughout the 1970's, with seven studio and one live album released up until 1981. The themes and longing followed his debut with tracks like "Bowling Green" from 1974's 'Nothing But A Breeze" and "Mississippi, You're on My Mind" from 1971's “Learn to Love It". The 1971 release included "Tell Me Why You Like Roosevelt", a track that takes the listener inside Jesse Winchester's life, citing his reasons for leaving. Though his release schedule has slowed, Jesse Winchester still puts out fine work, paring things down to some live releases and studio albums as they are ready.

Jesse Winchester's words and music are a thing of beauty. Exile made him more of a songwriter than a performer in the US. His songs have been covered by Buddy Miller, Patti Page, Wilson Pickett, Reba McEntire, The Everly Brothers, Elvis Costello, Jerry Jeff Walker, Anne Murray, The Indigo Girls, Jimmy Buffett, Emmylou Harris, Wynona Judd, The Weather Girls, Ronnie Hawkins, Nicolette Larsen and many others. The songs are worth hearing, no matter whose voice propels the words. What is missing is the perspective, the origins of the tales. Montreal winters in a new country written by a southern boy. What Jesse puts into his songs is the ability to see through his eyes. He provides a story so real that you can feel what was then and what is now. It takes a master songwriter to make you think about things that are missing while listening to descriptions of its beauty, its innocence. The early work of Jesse Winchester tells his story, and the tales of hundreds, maybe thousands of others. Their beliefs, their integrity was more important than what was expected. The 1960's were turbulent and triumphant times. Jesse Winchester stood by his beliefs, trading in the spotlight for a border sign that read Do Not Enter, You Are Not Welcome Here.

In 2002, Winchester moved back to the United States, settling in Virginia. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers in 2007. Accolades aside, there should be an award for standing up for what is right and doing it quietly, not using press or protests, soapboxes or stadiums. Luckily, we have the songs. Sound bites about what happens when you bite back.             Danny McCloskey/RA

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After a short introduction, Eric Brace steps up to the microphone with the statement, “Throw my ticket out the window, throw my suitcase out there too. Throw my troubles out the door, I don’t need them anymore, ‘cause tonight I’ll be staying here with you.” The words are borrowed from Bob Dylan but like everything that Last Train Home touched, they make it their own. Recorded on April 13and 14, 2007, Last Train Home captured sets at IOTA in Arlington, Virginia. The shows celebrated both the venue and the band. Both came together in their infancy and spent ten years growing into a premier performance space and a group that had achieved national status, and played nearly 200 shows at IOTA.

Eric Brace was a staff writer for The Washington Post where he was a columnist covering the local music and nightlife scene from 1996 to 2003. Last Train Home came into being through recordings that Eric began in 1996, with the eponomously named Last Train Home E.P. seeing its release in 1997. They solidified the industry buzz with True North, released in 1999 and were named Washington D.C.'s "Artist of the Year" by the Washington Area Music Association in January, 2003. Last Train Home relocated to East Nashville in 2004 and quickly became a part of Nashville's independent music scene. LTH was named one of the finest live acts of 2005 by The Tennessean in a Best Show tie between Neil Young at the Ryman and Last Train Home at the Family Wash.

Live at IOTA captures Last Train Home with a stage full of players including guitars, keyboards, drums, bass, pedal steel and horns rambling through a mix of Roots Rock that features touches of folk, bluegrass, soul, country, swing and blues. The band showcases their playing power with a few well- crafted medleys throughout the show. “Quarter to Three/Come Back, Baby” marries an Eric Brace tune with a public domain song, changing the pace from a hurried rhythm into a slow moving sizzle in the process. “Louisiana/Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down/Ain’t Living Like This” puts the words of Eric Brace, Merle Haggard and Rodney Crowell together for ten minutes of audio ecstasy.

Last Train Home cooked on stage and Live at IOTA fully realizes the group’s potential. “Hendersonville”, a tune written by Eric for June and Johnny Cash, tenderly envisions the next step in life, lying beside the one with whom you have walked. “My Sally” is a dark country tale of lost love and bad decisions; “I Flew Over Our House Last Night” is classic country love letters at 30,000 feet, and “Flood” soundtracks the river rising to edgy Alt Country. “Dogs on the East Side” honors Eric Brace’s Red Beet Records home in East Nashville on a Tin Pan Alley influenced tune, and “Say Won’t You Be Mine” closes the live disc with a roof-raising rhythm that surely packed the dance floor back in 2007 during the recording.

Live at IOTA marks a place in musical history with the recording of a band that got it right. Listening to the album, you can tell that Last Train Home is having as good a time as the audience.                                    DANNYMCCLOSKEY/RA                                                                                                                                                                  

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Yarn (from the album Leftovers, Volume 2)

We’re very lucky. Blake Christiana is a prolific man. Leftovers Volume Two takes care of the album doldrums experienced between releases by offering Yarn music ‘left off’ earlier releases. On the heels of the success of Almost Home, Yarn presented Leftovers V2 as the second in a series of albums that focused on tracks that did not make the final selection for previous Yarn albums. Leftovers Volume One mined gems from the band’s self-titled debut. Leftovers Volume Two takes a listen to songs from the Empty Pockets and Come On In studio sessions. Before we get too far into praise I have to fess up, I am a big fan of Yarn. I was hooked in with the Lower East Side take on the sound of The Flying Burrito Brothers and New Riders of the Purple Sage of album number one. Blake Christiana’s words honored the music, then as now, by letting time worn rhythms and melodies cradle his sharp lyrical bite and punk honest words.

Leftovers Volume Two contains tracks that others may walk across broken glass to get their hands on. They might even break the glass themselves if it meant that the chords and lyrics would be their own quicker.  There are a few tracks that did not sonically fit into the second two albums in the Yarn catalog. “Blue Skies, Brother Times and Roses” and “Luanne” cross the floor to a rhythm and style that is pure classic country. “Oncoming Train” and “One & Only” have a front porch jam feel. The songs are fully formed but offer more enjoyment than the take-away, stuck in your head tunes that hold up Yarn’s final selections on the early releases.

For an album that hosts the songs left behind, there are tracks that will help you realize just how difficult it must have been to wield the ax. “Turn Your Lights On” is a folk breeze that drifts as much as plays out. “You See the Sun” sticks to folk tones and adds some singing cowboy croons with campfire acoustics for a boardwalk song that lets the Coney Island narrator describe how he truly hopes that opposites attract. “Hard Luck Man” follows a traveling troubadour singer/songwriter, watching him take the lead in the song as much as behind the microphone. As the baton is passed from mentor elder to up and coming artist, a dark murder ballad shows some skin though never really lets on its intentions.

The major keeper on Leftovers, Volume Two is the seemingly autobiographical “On the Radio”. Yarn proclaims that when the radio speakers are playing their songs that “You be happy for me, like I’ll be happy for you. You’ll be singing along, singing my tune”.   The story line blurs the line between hoping for fans in the audience and holding out for that one special fan that is there when the lights go low.

Like I said, I love these guys. Yarn really can’t sing a bad song. The group holds a winning hand with the triple threat of Blake Christiana’s choir boy behind the barn vocals and other longtime Yarn members, Trevor MacArthur, backing with guitar and vocals that add to Blake’s lead with consistent, sound branding harmony, and Andrew Hendryx, the world’s number one mandolin shredder.   The worth of the tracks on Leftovers V2 is not lost on the band, with Blake Christiana telling that “We are very pleased to share these ‘new’ old songs with our fans. We have always intended to make these tracks available and now is the time. We call them “Leftovers” only were recorded during older sessions for earlier albums. We are just as proud of these songs as we are everything else we have released and hope you enjoy them. As always, thanks for listening”.

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The Del-Lords (from the album Frontier Days) - They took their name from Del Lord, director of early Three Stooges short films, and the plan was to create a band with four singers, like an east coast Beach Boys. That model was filtered through lower East Side grit, and backed by a foursome that included The Dictators’ rhythm guitarist Scott Kempner (guitar), Joan Jett and the Blackhearts lead guitar Eric ‘Roscoe’ Ambel (guitar) , Frank Funaro (drums) and Manny Caiati (bass). The Del-Lords may have been aiming for west coast harmony but the sound of Frontier Days, the band’s debut on was pure lower East Side rock’n’toll. There are no garages in Manhattan, at least none to rehearse in. The Del-Lords are the sound of the streets in 1984, the release date for Frontier Days.

The Lou Whitney production for Frontier Days shows the man behind the boards (Lou) heard a reverse Americana echo from the future and gave it to the songs, tenderly creating a hazy sheen as “Feel Like Going Home” trudges back to bed on heavy rock beats, crackles “Shame on You” like it is blaring its jangle through tinny AM radio speakers, and shimmies through a vintage spy-beat riff wriggling through a “Double Life”. Rock walks its Roots proudly on Frontier Days. The Del-Lords walk onto the album talking tough and letting their NYC hearts bleed all over brothers and sisters hunkering down in the Big Apple with “How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live”. Frank Funaro can’t decide on a tom-tom, so he just beats a path into “Livin on Love”,  and Roscoe’s guitar is a siren call as band offers some personal advice on DIY getting-through-a-day with “I Play the Drums”. For more DIY glory, The Del-Lords use Frontier Days for the manifesto that is “Get Tough”. The track is a timeless tome that rings its bells as a warning to ‘get tough’ showing tenderness for city streets with the aside of ‘it don’t mean I don’t hate it’, as it calls around the world above Beirut bombs on back to the lower east side turf wars.

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Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, and the Nashville Cats – A New Music City - Columbia Records celebrates the musical stampede that followed Bob Dylan to Nashville with the album Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, and The Nashville Cats – A New Music City. The album is released in conjunction with Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame exhibit of the same name honoring the artists and times. Complementing what was going on in the studios of Nashville, Johnny Cash was offering guest spots to Folk and Rock’n’Roll musicians on his groundbreaking television program.  Players such as Norman Putnam, Buddy Spicher, and Earl Scruggs were appearing on album credits for The Byrds, Neil Young, Steve Miller, and three of the four solo recordings from The Beatles. The recording of Blonde on Blonde was not the starting point of the scene that followed, it lit fuse that made it impossible to separate the genres, or for either Country or Rock music to claim sole parenthood for the songs.

The Nashville Cats – A New Music City retroactively shows that Rock and Country audiences were listening to the same music without realizing the crossover that the artists heard in the music. San Francisco band Mother Earth boasted the Bluesy Country voice of Tracy Nelson, who is on the album with a cover of Hank Williams “I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry” with Bob Dylan tunes offered as cover by Flatt and Scruggs (“Down in the Flood”), and Johnny Cash (“It Ain’t Me Babe”).  

As the history behind us becomes more inclusive, it is tough to hear the separation between the songs and the artists that caused such an upheaval of the status quo when they were originally released. The tracks, and artists offered on Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, and The Nashville Cats – a New Music City stay very close to the Columbia Records barn they called home. Canadian Gordon Lightfoot offers “The Way I Feel”, John Hartford sings “Gentle on My Mind”, Country Joe McDonald performs Woody Guthrie’s “Blowing Down this Old Dusty Road”, Charlie McCoy is “Harpoon Man”, and Leonard Cohen sees “Bird on a Wire”. The Byrds have two tracks on the album with Dylan’s “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” and Gram Parsons “Hickory Wind”. Included on the album is an original commercial for The Byrds Country Rock calling card, Sweethearts of the Rodeo that showcases snippets of the album songs with listeners repeating ‘that’s not The Byrds’. Kris Kristofferson is captured with a demo for his “If You Don’t Like Hank Williams” where he marries artists from the rock and country sides in his song lyrics.

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