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.

Listen and buy music on Dead Man’s Town from AMAZON


You must have the Adobe Flash Player installed to view this player.

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  

Listen and buy music by The Pogues from AMAZON

You must have the Adobe Flash Player installed to view this player.

Drive-By Truckers  (from the album It’s Great to Be Alive! on ATO Records) - To themselves, and to their audience, Drive-By Truckers are first and foremost a songwriting band. Musically, they have a southern ferocity to their rock, a guitar band that uses six-strings to weave stories of small town choices (“Marry Me”), promises (“Mercy Buckets”), family farms (“Sink Hole”), and hopes (“First Air of Autumn”).  The song-as-stories of Drive-By Truckers are spread out over numerous album releases, eight since their break-through double-disc Southern Rock Opera. The band recently set up for a three-night stand in San Francisco, performing at their favorite venue in the world, The Fillmore Auditorium. Taken from the triple nights, It’s Great to Be Alive! Is the new, live release, from Drive-By Truckers.

The band felt the collection of tracks should be career spanning. It’s Great to Be Alive! kicks off with DBT gazing down from “Lookout Mountain” on the cut from The Dirty South, add horns for “When The Pin Hits The Shell” from Decoration Day, introduce “Uncle Frank” from his spot on Pizza Deliverance, and walk “The Righteous Path” that first took steps on Brighter Than Creation’s Dark. Drive-By Truckers gather tunes from nearly twenty years of recording, presenting road-tested results on It’s Great to Be Alive. Dark tales from southern backwoods (“Where The Devil Don't Stay”), lessons learned (“Women and Whiskey”), and love lost (“Sounds Better In The Song”); multiple tales on themed album releases offer characters acting in one spot as Drive-By Truckers use the stage at The Fillmore Auditorium to bring fully play out the lives in song. 

Listen and buy the music of Drive-By Truckers from AMAZON or iTunes

You must have the Adobe Flash Player installed to view this player.

Danny Barnes  (from the album Get Myself Together (ten years later)) - Time has been tough on the original Get Myself Together release from Danny Barnes. The album came in 2005 and the label that hosted the effort folded, granting the recording high dollar status on EBay. Letters from fans of the album have been a constant for Danny Barnes and the need for the album to be available again was appealing. The staff at Eight 30 Records in Austin, Texas were among those listeners that heard worth in the original album and brought the album back into affordable with the release of Get Myself Together (ten years on). The album is acoustic, showcasing Danny’s talents on banjo as well presenting the playing as standing testament to why Danny Barnes received the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass in September 2015.

Danny Barnes formed The Bad Livers in Austin, Texas, guiding the band through a ten year run from 1990 through 2000. His solo work has continued from his home in Washington state and Danny Barnes ushers in Get Myself Together (ten years on) with the promises of the title track. Salvation optimism finds its way into “Let Your Light Shine on Me” and he aims to turn around the world for “Big Girl Blues”, lets the notes waver and wander under the options of “Get It on Down the Line”, and slaps a beat below the fast traveling banjo playing making its way through “Cumberland Gap”.

Listen and buy the music of Danny Barnes from AMAZON or iTunes

You must have the Adobe Flash Player installed to view this player.

Mountain Sprout (from the album Refried, Best O’ the Beans) - The steady shuffling, shifty stories of Mountain Sprout might lead you to believe that the guys are not highly-responsible multi-taskers. The band shows that they can handle several things at once as they balance personal resumes and a political stance, taking care and consideration for each statement on “Screw the Govt”. The track is alongside an accounting of the finest- to-date Mountain Sprout tunes, all stacked together on Refried, Best O the Beans. Mountain Sprout rush the rhythms of “Shittin’ in the Woods”, double the beat to pound the environmental message “Into the Sun”, mine scientific depths, seeking answers in “Blue Marble”, and proudly sing of the “Little Bird” chirping in their collective souls. As much as the playing constantly offers surprises, the song titles of Refried leave nothing to the imagination. 

A fast track strum and runaway banjo/fiddle combo propel “Marijuana” into life as Mountain Sprout tell the sad tale of “Dry Counties”, swear off the stuff in “Hangover” as “Habits to Feed” laundry lists life’s little helpers.  Refried, Best O the Beans takes a shot at “Turkey Buzzard” with a high-speed beat, stops to “Smell the Daisies” on a sunny afternoon, and tightly pulls the strings on “It Don't Matter” until it explodes in rhythm. Mountain Sprout take a moment to offer some of the salvation they found in their back pockets as the band welcomes you into the “Whiskey Church of Green Bud”.

Listen and buy the music of Mountain Sprout from AMAZON or iTunes

You must have the Adobe Flash Player installed to view this player.