Country Music Roundup: Everyone has something to say about Sturgill Simpson

This Week’s News

By now, every country artist, DJ and their mother has sounded off with their own hot take on Sturgill Simpson’s recent comments about the Academy of Country Music Awards and its perceived disrespect towards late country music legend Merle Haggard.

2016 iHeartCountry Festival At The Frank Erwin Center - Show
AUSTIN, TX – APRIL 30: Bobby Bones had a thing or two to say about the recent Sturgill Simpson controversy. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images for iHeartMedia)

After Simpson took the Academy to task for creating an award in Haggard’s name, claiming the Academy was merely trying to ride the coattails of a legend whom the institution hadn’t paid any attention to in the years before his death, Americana artist Jason Isbell rallied behind  Simpson:

After the dust settled, rebuttals were issued by country journalists, Triple crown ACM award-winner Jason Aldean and uber-DJ Bobby Bones.

“The Tennessean”‘s Nate Rau took issue with Simpson’s summation of Nashville, writing: “However, if Simpson is truly serious about leaving town, then he is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Whatever his issues with commercial country music, there is a significant sector of the music industry here that has been supportive of Simpson’s career. I wonder if the guy whose pre-fame background includes time working on a railroad would have achieved his great success without Music City?”

Aldean took to “Rolling Stone Country” to express his views on the matter: “I don’t know Sturgill, never met the guy, but I know he’s a great artist. The flip side of [his argument] is I feel like everybody in this town – every artist, every writer, every producer – we all are very much aware of the contribution [Haggard] had to this business.”

Never one to shy away from offering his opinion, country DJ Bobby Bones remarked on his morning radio show Aug. 30:

“I like Sturgill Simpson. I respect him, because he’s been able to do it pretty much independently … I also love it when artists speak their mind. I love the fact that he’s speaking out, even if I disagree with him…There is no such thing as ‘actual country music.’ … That’s your definition of country music. Don’t put it on me. So I have a problem with that. If you hold on to your roots, you don’t grow.”

Man, country music hasn’t had a good feud in a while.

This Week’s Best New Song

Margo Price wasn’t nominated for anything at this year’s Country Music Association awards, which is a shame, because “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter” is one of the year’s best albums. Her latest single from that album, “Four Years of Chances,” is a scornful love ballad full of country, rhythm and blues. It’s one of the catchiest tunes she’s released yet. Hopefully it will catch on and she’ll get recognized at next year’s CMAs. Or at any country awards show, for that matter.

This Week’s Worst New Song

To call Colt Ford’s new sound “evolved” is to place more emphasis on his humble beginnings as a hick-hop rapper who burst onto the scene with the “can’t tell if serious or joking” single “Chicken and Biscuits.” His new song “4 Lane Gone,” comes  with a viral marketing campaign video that has everyone from Brantley Gilbert to Larry Fitzgerald wondering “Who sings that ‘4 Lane’ song?” in order to build up momentum.

It was available on YouTube earlier, but for now the only version I can find is on Spotify. The heartbreak and drinkin’ song is a step up from Ford’s earlier songs. There’s no rapping, at least. But it’s still not a great piece of country music. Plus, the dude in the song comes thiiiis close to driving drunk.

 

This Week’s Best Country Show in Austin

clintblackpressphoto
Clint Black. (Photo: Kevin Mazur)

Clint Black plays One World Theatre Sunday in West Austin. Tickets are starting at $140 a pop, but you’ll get to hear old gems like “Killin’ Time” and “Like the Rain,” as well as new songs from his 2015 album “On Purpose.” I’ll have a review Monday morning.

This is the Country Music Roundup, a weekly blog where we’ll give you the latest news in country music releases and local country shows. For a more in-depth analysis of the genre and where it’s headed, check back with our weekly Gone Country blog every week.

Questions, comments, suggestions? Let me know on Twitter @jakeharris4 or by email: jharris@statesman.com.

Freddy Powers, songwriting partner of Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, dies at 84

Freddy Powers, a longtime songwriting partner of Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson, died Tuesday after a 12-year-long fight with Parkinson’s disease. He was 84 years old.

Musician Freddy Powers, seated, is surrounded by other musicians as he performs some of his original songs for the audience at the Poodie Locke Picnic.
Musician Freddy Powers, seated, is surrounded by other musicians as he performs some of his original songs for the audience at the Poodie Locke Picnic at the Backyard. 2009 photo by Larry Kolvoord/American-Statesman

Powers co-wrote many of Haggard’s No. 1 hits, including “Let’s Chase Each Other Around the Room” and “Natural High.” He also co-produced Willie Nelson’s platinum-selling 1981 album “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

Here he is with both of them at Austin City Limits in 1984:

Powers was Haggard’s rhythm guitarist for more than 20 years. He even lived with Haggard for a time in California, where the two of them took up residence on houseboats on Lake Shasta, partying and writing songs. One of the results of this period was Haggard’s “A Friend in California.”

Powers was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2004. After his diagnosis, he  started the Freddy Powers Parkinson Organization, which gives financial support to Texans who are also dealing with the disease.

 

 

 

Watch Bruce Robison’s tribute to Merle Haggard

Merle Haggard’s death on his 79th birthday Wednesday elicited many heartfelt reactions from his friends, family and the country music community at large.

Austin singer-songwriter Bruce Robison was no different.

Bruce Robison sings a tribute cover of Merle Haggard's "Today I Started Loving You Again." Vimeo Screenshot.)
Bruce Robison sings a tribute cover of Merle Haggard’s “Today I Started Loving You Again.” (Vimeo Screenshot.)

In a video released Thursday, Robison, accompanied by his wife and frequent collaborator Kelly Willis, sings a heartfelt rendition of Haggard’s 1968 ballad “Today I Started Loving You Again.” The song originally failed to chart, as it was a B-side to Haggard’s No. 1 “The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde.”

It’s since become a country music standard, and Robison is just one of many artists to cover the song, including Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Bobby Bland.

Robison wrote on his Facebook page that he and Willis were already in the studio recording another song when they heard Haggard had died. They decided to pay their respects right then and there.

“We were so moved by the news and in just the right situation to record a tribute to Merle that we had to take pause & do Today I Started Loving You Again,” Robison wrote. “May he rest in peace.”

See the video below, and if you want to see Robison in person, he’s playing at Threadgill’s tonight at 8.

Country music stars react to Merle Haggard’s death

Merle Haggard performs at Willie Nelson's 4th of July Picnic at the Circuit of the Americas on Saturday July 4th, 2015
Merle Haggard at Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic in 2015. Photo by Erika Rich for American-Statesman

Country music artist Merle Haggard died Wednesday on his 79th birthday.

His passing prompted many reactions, including this one from his longtime friend and collaborator, Willie Nelson, and a press release from Toby Keith.

“The greatest singer songwriter of my lifetime is gone. Thanks for the music and friendship. R.I.P. Hag,” Keith wrote.

Many others took to social media to comment on Haggard’s death.

The most poignant message is from his son and lead guitarist, Ben.

Charlie Daniels and TG Sheppard were the two artists to first break the news via Twitter Wednesday.

Austin music institutions like Waterloo Records and Austin City Limits Live sent messages expressing grief on Twitter, and Broken Spoke changed its cover photo on Facebook to honor the outlaw country star.

And, as evidenced by the host of messages from the celebrities, country music artists and journalists below, Haggard’s influence spread far and wide.

https://twitter.com/willienelson/status/717797056425766912?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

https://twitter.com/KaceyMusgraves/status/717786832738451457

https://twitter.com/SturgillSimpson/status/717794448311078912

https://twitter.com/SturgillSimpson/status/709867339790024706

And whoever runs George Jones’ Twitter account posted this Wednesday:

This list will be updated throughout the day.

On The Record: Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard

OUT THIS WEEK

django-jimmie_cover-jpgWillie Nelson & Merle Haggard, “Django and Jimmie” (Legacy). Someone should tell Willie Nelson that at 82 years old, he’s not supposed to still be leaving all other Austin musicians in the dust with his new records. Then again, there’s some comfort in knowing that whatever hip new thing may be coming around the bend, Willie remains the gold standard here.

On the heels of last June’s “Band of Brothers” set of mostly new originals and last winter’s revelatory duo disc with sister Bobbie Nelson “December Day” comes this instant-classic project with Merle Haggard, a perfect pairing of country music’s two greatest living legends. Right out of the gate, Willie and Merle serve up a mission statement with the title track saluting early influences Jimmie Rodgers and Django Reinhardt (“a young singing brakeman and a jazz-playing Gypsy”), then follow it with the wonderfully whimsical double-entendre social-commentary “It’s All Going to Pot” with guest Jamey Johnson (on bugle and flugelhorn, no less.

Better still is track three, “Unfair Weather Friend,” a bittersweet number co-written by producer Buddy Cannon’s daughter Marla Cannon-Goodman that ranks with the best ballads either of these giants have ever recorded. By the time they get through Merle’s new original “Missing Ol’ Johnny Cash,” trading memorable tales about the Man in Black with guest Bobby Bare, it’s clear that something special was happening in these sessions last fall at Austin’s Arlyn Studios. In the “Making Of” video posted above, Cannon remarks that “everybody seemed to be having fun. And when you’re having fun, that somehow manages to end up inside your songs.”

The rest of the record includes a few new originals by both men, plus a couple of fresh nods to their respective histories the with Nelson’s early hit “Family Bible” and Haggard’s staple “Swingin’ Doors.” An easygoing ramble through Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” proves a warm and wise choice, and Merle’s new “The Only Man Wilder Than Me” wraps up the set as a fitting duet, with each surviving troubadour presumably singing it about the other guy.

Catch both Willie and Merle at Austin360 Amphitheater next month for Willie’s annual July Fourth Picnic. Willie’s Vevo channel on YouTube has videos for “It’s All Going to Pot” and “Missing Ol’ Johnny Cash,” but we’re most inclined to share this audio-only version of “Unfair Weather Friend”:

SunrayProjectAlbumCoverSunray Project, self-titled. Local producer, percussionist and DJ Jason McKenzie has an eclectic resume, with credits ranging from world-music outfit Atash to country-folk songwriter Billy Joe Shaver. He merges global rhythms with elements of electronica on this intriguing debut. Release show June 5 at North Door. Here’s the track “Mellow Meadows”:

 

Velo, “Spring” (EP). One of four season-themed collections planned from the concept-driven indie band. Release show June 4 at the Mohawk.

COMING SOON

JUNE 9: Dale Watson, “Call Me Insane” (Red House/Ameripolitan), in-store June 11 at Waterloo Records.

JUNE 9: Uncle Lucius, “The Light” (Boo Clap/Thirty Tigers), in-store June 10 at Waterloo Records, release show June 11 at the Parish.

JUNE 9: Jonny Gray, “Promises Broke,” release show June 6 at Scoot Inn.

JUNE 9: Brandon Callies Band, “(Live) Be Quiet! We’re Recording!”, release show June 9 at Mohawk.

JUNE 16: Heartless Bastards, “Gates of Dawn” (Partisan).

JUNE 16: Cory Morrow, “The Good Fight” (Write On), in-store June 15 at Waterloo Records.

JUNE 18: The Good Earth, “Rock & Tree,” release show June 18 at One-2-One Bar.

JUNE 18: Octopus Rex, “Total Destruction,” release show June 18 at Red 7.

JUNE 23: Patricia Vonne, “Viva Bandolera,” release show June 27 at Continental Club.

JUNE 23: Lee Barber, “The Missing Pages,” release show June 27 at Strange Brew.

JUNE 25: Manco, “The Great Wall,” release show June 25 at Rattle Inn.

JUNE 30: Suzanne Monroe, “Face to the Mirror,” release show June 30 at Ground Floor Theatre.

JULY 10: Crooks, “Wildfire,” release show July 11 at Scoot Inn.

AUG. 1: Carson McHone, “Good Luck Man.”

AUG. 14: Mother Falcon, “Good Luck Have Fun” (BitCandy), playing June 7 at North Door.

AUG. 21: Mike Flanigin, “The Drifter,” with guests including Billy Gibbons, Gary Clark Jr., Alejandro Escovedo and Jimmie Vaughan; performing most Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 10:30 p.m. at the Continental Gallery.

AUG. 28: David Ramirez, “Fables” (Thirty Tigers), early album listening party July 1 at Cactus Cafe.

Are you an Austin-area act with a new record coming out? Let us know at musicsource@statesman.com.

Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard go ‘Inside Arlyn’

Batting songs back and forth like the old friends that they’ve been for decades, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard played an intimate hourlong set for an audience of about 100 at Arlyn Studios Sunday night to create the pilot episode of “Inside Arlyn,” which Nelson and the studio aim to place on television in the coming year.

ArlynRoomEdit
The stage at Arlyn Studios for “Inside Arlyn.” / Photo by Peter Blackstock

Imagine “Austin City Limits” as a house concert and you get an idea of what seems to be the intended “Inside Arlyn” vibe. In a space set up much like a large living room, guests sat at small tables in front of the stage or stood in an adjoining area. Rather than large cameras on wheels and cranes, the show’s crew used several handheld units.

Nelson, who played the “ACL” pilot 40 years ago, is the key figure here, though he and Haggard performed very much as a team with a seven-piece band behind them. The set featured a few of each singer’s signature hits, including Haggard’s “Ramblin’ Fever” and “Fightin’ Side of Me” and Nelson’s “Nightlife” and “On the Road Again.” A well-chosen opener was Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho and Lefty,” which Nelson and Haggard took to No. 1 on the country charts together in 1983.

The two engaged in playful moments at times. “This next number is about marijuana,” Nelson declared as Haggard launched into “Okie From Muskogee.” Nelson offered up his own such number at the end of the set, telling the crowd, “Now then, let’s be serious” as he began his recent hit “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.”

Best of all was “A Horse Called Music,” the Wayne Carson-penned track Nelson first recorded in 1989 and revisited with Haggard for 2012’s “Heroes.” Both men sang with deep emotion on verses that spoke to their lifelong bond with music and the American West.

Among those in attendance was former CBS News anchor Dan Rather, who conducted an interview segment taped separately from the live performance. An upcoming second taping, pairing Nelson with local blues-rock guitar star Gary Clark Jr., will further flesh out the “Inside Arlyn” pilot before plans are set for when and where the show will air. The Studio will give away a limited number of tickets to the Clark taping to those who enter their name and email address on Monday at insidearlyn.com.