One Upright Bass, A Couple of Bicycles, and A Fine New Americana Band

2 08 2011

It’s the dog days of summer and Virginia band The Steel Wheels are about to embark on an epic journey traversing 3 states. Touring is not new to this band– a quick perusal of their concert calendar shows that they’re on the road more often than off, but this tour is a little bit different. Instead of a van, the Steel Wheels are using their own muscle and metabolism to get from show to show. They will be completing a several hundred mile tour of the mid west completely by bicycle. Oh, and they’re also bringing along an upright bass. On a bike. Crazy.

This is the Steel Wheels’ third annual SpokeSongs tour– a pedal-powered journey that’s taken them through mountains and plains, cities and small towns, and now, they set out on a 3 state journey through Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois.

Besides being exceptionally brave and exceptionally athletic, The Steel Wheels are also just a straight up exceptional band. Their newest full-length, Red Wing, broke into the top 10 on the Americana charts. Their blend of old timey/new timey goodness combined with a straight up phenomenal live show gains fans across the board. The Steel Wheels hit that sweet spot where musicianship, energy, talent, and good songwriting collide. Give this track a listen and you’ll see what I mean:

Nothing You Can’t Lose

Read about their adventures in their own words here:

Steel Wheels SpokeSongs Tour Dates:

8/4/1011 Ann Arbor, Michigan: The Ark
8/5/2011 Marshall, Michigan: Dark Horse Brewery
8/6/2011 Kalamazoo, Michigan: Bell’s Brewery
8/7/2011 Benton Harbor, Michigan:The Livery
8/8/2011 South Haven, Michigan: The Foundry
8/9/2011 Fennville, Michigan: Tuesdays in The Park Concert Series
8/11/2011 Chicago, Illinois: Browning House Concert
8/12/2011 Chicago, Illinois: Piece Brewery& Pizzeria
8/13/2011 Valparaiso, Indiana: Private Event
8/14/2011 Goshen, Indiana: SpokeSongs Closing Bash!


Brother Harmonies and Fiddle Licks: New Twilite Broadcasters Album Out Today

6 06 2011

With so many young acts pushing the boundaries of what it means to be “Americana”, it’s interesting to find a band that prizes remaining within its boundaries. And North Carolina duo, The Twilite Broadcasters, do just that. Early country, a little bit of bluegrass, a touch of Old Time– this band sticks close to the real roots of Americana. Adam Tanner and Mark Jackson are wildly accomplished musicians, deftly switching up fiddle, mandolin, guitar, and vocal leads, the two musicians give the world assurance that the world of traditional American music is still flourishing. And yet, they don’t come across as overly flashy or show offy– each note is perfectly placed, understated even. Not to say they don’t really cook on their up tracks– their fiddle tunes are superbly foot stomping and their mandolin solos are alight with energy and vim.

For me though, the most remarkable of their talents is their brother harmonies– taking a leaf from The Louvin Brothers and other country classics, The Twilite Broadcasters employ potently sweet close harmonies that add poignancy to each track. And, considering the success of the new Chris Thile/Michael Daves duo album, maybe this is the start of a revival. I wouldn’t mind that at all.

Check out this cookin’ mandolin track (bonus points for switching up the gender roles here. Love it.):

Where is my Sailor Boy

And “Lorene”, an old timey slow jam about a lady who won’t return your letters.


Their new album The Trail of Time is out today. Hit them up here:

A track for the end of winter, the beginning of spring

21 03 2011

The Hourglass Waltz

This is the last track from Boca Chica’s Lace Up Your Workboots. This track reminds me of both winter and spring. I wrote it during an icy Pittsburgh winter, but the bird songs at the end really push it into spring territory.

Photo Credit: Rebecca Chiappelli

Valentine’s Day Release: Emma Hill and Her Gentleman Callers’ Meet me at the Moon

14 02 2011

Happy Valentine’s Day. This post is best viewed by all of you out there who may be feeling a little disgruntled by the international holiday of love. In fact, it’s really for all of you who secretly revel (at least a little) in the misery of it all.

I’ve got the album for you: Emma Hill & Her Gentleman Callers. They are from Portland via rural Alaska and are quite a promising young Americana act. A little bit Whiskeytown, a bit Be Good Tanyas, they excel in the art of writing pretty, heart-achey songs.

This album follows only 6 months after their last release, Clumsy Seduction.

It comes out today! Check out this lovely track:

All That Might Have Been

Emma Hill & Her Gentleman Callers Release Valentine’s Day Record

10 02 2011

And here’s an early V-day present for y’all– an early download of an excellent, gorgeous, twangy track:

All That Might Have Been


Pretty Lady Playlist

27 10 2010

It’s been a long time since I rapped at ya, but either wordpress or my trusty HP laptop has been failing me. Or maybe it’s the beginning of the robot revolution. Whichever, it seems to have relented enough to post a Wednesday playlist. Just don’t blame me if your headphones try to strangle you tonight. At least you’ll have a good soundtrack to go out on.

Astrud Gilberto. How I love her voice. Can you believe that they almost didn’t use her as a singer? Just because of a tiny tendency to go a bit sharp. Whatever dudes. At least you made the right decision in the end.

Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars)

Pittsburgh favorites, The Harlan Twins. Nice job with this one, Carrie Battle (also of Juston Stens & the Get Real Gang fame (of Dr. Dog fame (how many nested sets of parentheses can one sentence legally have?)))

White Light

Angie Mattson. LA former model and she of the smoky dark voice. Love the guitar tone in this one.


Wanda Jackson. Because, Wanda Jackson! She can kick Elvis’s ass any day.

Rock Your Baby

And Samantha Crain. Just cause.

Religious Wind

Edges of Americana

5 10 2010

Oftentimes the term “Americana” is used as a catch all phrase.  It can often refer to to “edge of country” kinds of music like The Drive By Truckers or Jill Andrews– acts that are definitely not mainstream country, but twangy all the same.  It also encompasses old time, bluegrass, zydeco, and “folk” (whatever that means anymore).  And then there’s the more indie side of things— the Wilcos, the Jayhawks,  and Iron & Wines.  But when the Wilcos of the world make an album like Yankee Hotel Foxtrot that gets all experimental fuzz on us, do they have to turn in their Americana card?

I personally tend to like the artists that don’t fit neatly into musical categories.  Here are a few artists that sit on the edge of Americana…

ANGIE MATTSON (pictured above)

L.A.-based singer/songwriter Angie Mattson has a more pop-py background than most Americana artists– she’s toured with indie icon Suzanne Vega  as well as with Melissa Ferrick and Uh Huh Her (L Word actress Leisha Hailey’s band, for the uninitiated).  Her albums are dark. Very dark–  with big dark guitars and dark, sultry lyrics. She has a smoky, room-filling voice and a out front sexuality not too common among Americana acts.  Her music sounds dusty, like it just cantered into town on a stolen horse and it’s going to bust up your saloon before it’s through.

Her new album, which comes out today, is called Skeleton Arm.  Check out these two excellent tracks and make your own decisions on the Americana/Not Americana question.

Friends and Weapons (dig that guitar tone!)


Cool Water (it’s a hit!)

(Buy her album here)


When she first appeared on the indie scene four or five years ago, I remember reading her press bio and seeing that she was being trained up as a classical harpist but was led astray by a love for bluegrass and Appalachian music.  On the surface, that sounds a bit strange because, upon first hearing Joanna Newsom I will bet that very, very few people think “bluegrass!”.   The dreaminess of her music and the peculiarity of her voice are really what hit you in the face first. But if you take a look and a listen to this video, is it so hard to see the hand of Maybelle Carter in Joanna’s harp music?


Though banjos, accordions, and upright bass color the music of Canadian indie act, the Great Lake Swimmers never really get twangy.  The angelic voice of singer and bandleader Tony Dekker keeps things ethereal.  Poetic.  Evocative.  Smart.  Good stuff.

Gorgeous video, too…

I suppose though, in the end, labels are just something fun to argue about over beers and the only distinction that needs to be made is is it worth listening to?

What’s your take?