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Exclusive Q and A: Josh Thompson Talks Sophomore Album, NRA and Just How He Stays ‘Country’

Josh Thompson is only 34, but he’s looking at life through more mature eyes than he did just a few years ago. As he looks ahead to the release of his sophomore album Change, and reflects on headlining the Jagermeister tour, he talks about how he’s evolved since the release of his 2009 debut album Way Out Here, what music fans can expect next, and just how he stays centered in the ever-changing world of entertainment.

OS: So you’ve been on tour for a while. How is it going?

JT: The tour is going great. We just got back from Michigan and we’ll be back out next week. We are doing about four new songs to give people a sample of what’s coming on the next album, Change. We also do most of the “Way Out Here” record and some covers of Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show.

OS: So when can we expect to hear your new album?

JT: I was hoping that it would be out this year, but now I don’t know. We haven’t really discussed the scheduling.

OS: I read that it’s been a tough album for you to make, just logistically with the recording.

JT: It was. I was just trying to get in the studio whenever I was in town. It went on for about four months so it wasn’t one smooth process. It was a lot of little dates here and there.

OS: That has to be tough. How did you stay positive in the face of all of that turmoil?

JT: A lot of it is sitting down and seeing where the songs go and having faith in the musicians you use. The guys I use, I just love. I think if you keep those two things in mind, you’ll be ok. I use a lot of the older studio musicians. A lot of them toured with Waylon and George Jones and others.  Continue reading ‘Exclusive Q and A: Josh Thompson Talks Sophomore Album, NRA and Just How He Stays ‘Country’’

Your Country’s Right Here: Jason Boland & the Stragglers Band Relish Red Dirt

Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw, Sugarland and other big-name country musicians makes it easy to overlook some of the considerably less flashy but incredibly substantive performers—and that’s really a shame.

Consider Jason Boland & The Stragglers that surely embody the heartfelt country sound—for lack of a better term—and spirit of such artists as Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Ray Wylie Hubbard and Jamey Johnson.

Ever notice that the myriad of country music award shows almost never even give a nod to the aforementioned artists, despite their virtuoso playing and heartfelt, often profound, musical offerings?

Perhaps that’s a conversation for another day, but the point is that only the drive-by fan should turn to such all-star entertainment extravaganzas to completely guide their music choices.

Before readers throw up their hands in disgust, please note the term “completely.” I enjoy mainstream artists as much as the next person, but I’m likening them to exclusively eating one type of food—such as meat. Aren’t you glad you also know about grains?

That’s where Jason Boland and his band, perhaps one of the best-kept secrets out of Texas, come in. Although he and his band are well known on the Texas circuit, they are hoping to expandbeyond with their latest album Rancho Alto.

“We went in there and tried to get live tracks,” said Boland of the eleven-track album. “A lot of current music today is overdone. We try to get live drums, live bass, and [other live instrumentation] in there.”

Continue reading ‘Your Country’s Right Here: Jason Boland & the Stragglers Band Relish Red Dirt’

Your Country’s Right Here: Sunny Sweeney Talks Brad Paisley, Real Tears And Treadmills

Sunny Sweeney is poised to be the next big break out star in country music. Just consider that her debut single “From a Table Away,” zoomed into the Top 10 almost as soon as it was released. That makes Sunny the first new female artist to hit the Top 10 since 2007 when Taylor Swift did so.

Now Sweeney’s single “Staying’s Worse Than Leaving,” is on the charts. Plus, she  has signed on to tour in support of Brad Paisley H2O II: Wetter and Wilder Tour, that begins July 22.  As many recall, it wasn’t long after Carrie Underwood came to national prominence that an opening gig on a Paisley tour helped skyrocket her into the major musical leagues. As if Paisley’s star power isn’t enough, Blake Shelton is also on this latest tour.

Sweeney took a few minutes out of her busy schedule to tell us a bit about upcoming album, her thoughts about performing on the same stage as Brad Paisley and just how she stays healthy as she adjusts to life on the road:

OS: Your debut album will be released in August. Who were your main influences for the songs?

SS: Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Waylon Jennings, all the artists I loved growing up. There are ten songs on the album and I wrote or co-wrote seven. There are three covers I heard that I was just so excited about I had to do.

OS: What were some of the personal inspirations behind the songs?

SS: I have just been through a lot in the last couple years in my personal live. As I was writing, I would add stuff in my personal drama that was going on.

OS: That has to be difficult, to put your personal turmoil out there and share it with audiences over and over again.

SS: You have to put it out there. When you do, people respond to it. Those are the best songs that you can write. When we chose the songs for the album, I was saying “may the best song win.” I’m really excited because [this album has] a really good collection of songs. I am really, really proud of them.

OS: But how do you deal with the myriad of emotions that must swell each time you play such a personal song?

SS: The most emotion I experienced in the “song” process was the actual writing of the songs. Each time I sing them, it reminds me of the lessons I’ve learned in my life. For me, it’s easier to sing songs of a personal nature. In my video for “Staying’s Worse Than Leaving,” my tears were real tears because I was asked to draw upon emotions from my past.

OS: So many of your influences are traditional country yet the trend for many artists seems to be toward country rock or country pop. Where do you fit in?

SS: Just probably right in the middle. I definitely have a lot of old country influences, but some of my songs are more rocking. They are all mixed into my shows. The record is very reminiscent of the shows.

OS: It’s got to be tough to adjust to life on the road. How do you stay in shape?

SS: I do work out every day, usually on a treadmill. I also drink tons of water and sleep as much as I can, which typically isn’t that much.

OS: You say you are very close to your parents and whole family. What do you do when you go home to visit them?

SS: I see them as much as I can and try to get as much family time as possible. We just hang out, and eat, and talk. I have three sisters and a brother. We are probably weird, but we just like to get beer and sit on the back porch and listen to music.

OS: What was your first thought when you had the opportunity to tour with Brad Paisley?

SS: HELL YEAH! Let me check my schedule. OK, I checked. I’m free, just tell me what time I need to be there.

OS: When you perform on the H2O tour, what are the two or three things you want audiences to take away from the show?

SS: I want them to walk away with the sense that they were told a story set to music and I want them to realize that traditional country music is cool and entertaining.

OS: You were around for a while and then we didn’t hear from you for a bit. What were you doing?

SS: It’s only been a year since we finished recording my CD, and for the last twelve months, I have been on a radio tour, which was grueling but very rewarding and it’s starting to pay off. This Brad Paisley tour is an awesome opportunity and it’s only the beginning of bigger things to come hopefully. I couldn’t be luckier … somebody pinch me.

Find out more about Sunny Sweeney, including upcoming concert dates, on her Web site.

Sound And Vision: Cover Me — Ten Remakes Of Great Songs That Are Better Than The Originals

“Have you lost your mind?!”

That’s the thought bubble I could have sworn I saw spring from my friend’s head several weeks ago when I mentioned that my all-time favorite remake is Aretha Franklin‘s 1971 Sunday-morning-at-the-pulpit rendition of “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” “You mean her version isn’t the original?” he asked, totally floored. No, she borrowed it from Simon & Garfunkel, who had hit No. 1 with it the previous year, and never gave it back.

Every time I think of Franklin and the crafty way she used to take ownership of other people’s hits (Dionne Warwick‘s “I Say a Little Prayer,” Ben E. King‘s “Spanish Harlem” and most famously, Otis Redding‘s “Respect”), I remember a story Dusty Springfield once told me. Franklin was originally offered “Son of a Preacher Man,” and when she turned it down, Springfield snatched it up. Shortly after Springfield’s version hit the Top 10, she met Franklin for the first and only time in an elevator. Franklin walked in, put her hand on Springfield’s shoulder and simply said, “Girl.” Not another word. “I just about fell out!” Springfield told me, still in shock and awe decades later.

Franklin eventually recorded “Son of a Preacher Man,” and Springfield so liked what Franklin did to her hit that she began performing it in concert Franklin style. And that, folks, is what you call running off with someone else’s song. (For the record, I prefer Springfield’s original.) Now, here are ten other cases of musical robbery.

Marvin Gaye “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” Just one year before Gaye went to No. 1 for seven weeks with his biggest hit, Gladys Knight and the Pips took their gospel-infused version of one of Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong’s two crowning achievements (the other being the Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”) all the way to No. 2. Both are spectacular, but Gaye’s moody, brooding take, which actually was recorded first, making it a “cover” in timing only, will always be definitive.

Marvin Gaye “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (a capella)

Harry Nilsson “Everybody’s Talkin’” and “Without You” Little-known fact: The late singer-songwriter who wrote Three Dog Night’s “One” had his two biggest hits singing other people’s words. Fred Neil‘s 1966 original version of his own “Everybody’s Talkin’,” though moving, lacks the mournful tremulousness and vocal drama that Nilsson brought to it three years later. Nilsson’s emotional bells and whistles sell the song. “Without You,” his biggest and signature hit, was written and recorded by Badfinger in 1970, two years before Nilsson took it to No. 1, and has since been covered by Mariah Carey and seemingly at least one contestant per season on American Idol. The song, however, belonged to Nilsson in life, and it still does in death.

Harry Nilsson “Everybody’s Talkin’”

Billy Paul “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” Bob Dylan’s song has been done to death—by Peter, Paul and Mary, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, The Four Seasons (under the pseudonym The Wonder Who?) and so many others—but Paul’s jazz-inflected rendition gave it a certain soulful urgency lacking in every other version I’ve heard. This is one of those rare times that someone not only did one of Dylan’s compositions justice but did it better than Dylan, too.

Billy Paul “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”

Anne Murray “You Won’t See Me” I’d read it many times and always assumed it was a suburban myth, so when I met Murray in the ’90s, I asked her, “True or false: Did John Lennon really tell you that your 1974 version of “You Won’t See Me” was his favorite Beatles cover?” True. Better than Marvin Gaye’s “Yesterday,” Elton John’s “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” and Aretha Franklin’s “Eleanor Rigby.” (I wonder what he would have made of Tiffany’s “I Saw Him Standing There” had he lived eight years longer to hear it.) Once again unwrapping her gift of interpretation six years later, Murray took the Monkees’ “Daydream Believer” and made it listenable at last.

Anne Murray “You Won’t See Me”

Linda Ronstadt “You’re No Good” Dee Dee Warwick recorded it first, and Betty Everett took it for its first trip up Billboard’s Hot 100 (to No. 51 in 1963). As great old-school soul singers go, both were up there with the best, but what made Ronstadt’s version pop and rock and sent it to No. 1 for one week in 1975 was the mix of Peter Asher’s haunting production, a tough-as-nails Ronstadt at the peak of her vocal power and the best instrumental outro in the history of ’70s rock. Love and anger rolled into one of music’s great transcendent kiss-offs.

Linda Ronstadt “You’re No Good”

Amii Stewart “Knock on Wood” Eddie Floyd‘s 1966 original is a soul classic and deservedly so, but Stewart’s 1979 cover—which went all the way to No. 1—is a highlight of the era of disco balls, bell bottoms and white polyester.

Amii Stewart “Knock on Wood”

Darlene Love “River Deep – Mountain High” I know, sacrilege! How dare I say that anyone ever topped Ike & Tina Turner’s 1966 classic! But there you go. Recent Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Love, whose voice is one of the greatest instruments ever committed to record, covered the Phil Spector track for the 1985 Broadway musical Leader of the Pack, and nailed it effortlessly on the cast recording. She sang it with a soulful clarity and technical precision that matched and then surpassed the Queen of Rock & Roll because Love, unlike Turner, didn’t have to claw her way out of Spector’s great, big, oppressive “Wall of Sound.”

Darlene Love “River Deep – Mountain High”

Marc Almond Featuring Special Guest Star Gene Pitney “Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart” Topping Gene Pitney is hard work, but when Pitney revisited his own 1967 UK hit as a male-on-male duet with Soft Cell’s Marc Almond, the result not only improved on its source material, but it gave the singer one final trip to No. 1 in 1989.

Marc Almond Featuring Special Guest Star Gene Pitney “Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart”

David Cook “Always Be My Baby” In what remains one of American Idol‘s greatest moments, during season seven, Cook took a sappy Carey song I’d always despised and turned it into a grungey, slow-burning stalker anthem. In the process, he proved himself a true artist and Carey a songwriter capable of greatness.

David Cook “Always Be My Baby”

Rising Outlaw Randy Houser Lets It All Hang Out On “They Call Me Cadillac”

Sometimes it pays to be an outlaw, especially if you’ve got the gutsy, greasy sound and tough, terse songcraft to back up the bad-ass image. On his second album, They Call Me Cadillac, Randy Houser shows he’s bona fide and then some.  By the time the smoke clears and the dust settles, the world at large might finally give the up-and-coming country star his proper due as the Willie Nelson to cohort Jamey Johnson’s Waylon Jennings. Lately, you can’t look anywhere, from CMT to The New York Times, without seeing Jamey Johnson’s hirsute mug, but Houser’s been his partner in crime for a long while. The pair came up together, playing sets full of George Jones and Johnny Paycheck tunes in rowdy bars before breaking through as songwriters—they co-penned Trace Adkins’ monster 2005 hit “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk”—and moving on to solo success.

Houser managed a Top 10 country single of his own straight of the gate with the raw, rockin’ “Boots On,” from his ’08 debut album, Anything Goes. But even though he was already showing off the kind of maverick, roughneck spirit that makes sane men climb on top of raging bulls and marry beauty-contest winners without signing a pre-nup, Houser hadn’t quite  reached his full potential yet.

There are no half-measures on Houser’s latest outing—They Call Me Cadillac. It marks his first recording for fellow country rebel Toby Keith’s label Show Dog, which was created expressly to give someone like Houser the opportunity to be his own butt-kicking self without holding anything back. “It’s the first time that I’ve had the most creative control to make the record I want to make,” Houser confesses. You can hear the rush of artistic freedom fueling his no-frills mix of outlaw country edge and classic honky-tonk heart throughout the album.

Houser tasted success from the fruits of his latest labors before Cadillac was even released when the redneck-pride Southern rock stomp “Whistlin’ Dixie” hit the country Top 40 back in February—the record’s first sneak-peek single. Now that the real, raw, uncensored Houser sound has been fully unleashed on the public, the burly, bearded man from Mississippi has been popping up on TV shows from Good Morning America to Jimmy Kimmel Live. Houser looks at his latest effort as “a more traditional country album…something that country folk like my friends and family in Lake, Mississippi—and lots of other places across the country—can relate to.”

He’ll be bringing his outlaw-as-he-wants-to-be sound all across the nation on tour with Gary Allan through late November. As his country-rocking Cadillac makes its way from state to state, he’ll be on a one-man mission to let fans from San Bernadino to Staten Island connect with their own inner rabble-rouser. Don’t be surprised if a pattern of barroom bust-ups happens to develop this fall along a route that seems oddly identical to Houser’s tour itinerary.

UPCOMING TOUR DATES

10/2 – Farmville, VA, Lankford Mall

10/7 – Toledo, OH, Huntington Center

10/8 – Erie, PA, Tullio Arena

10/9 – Detroit, MI, The Fillmore

10/17 – West Des Moines, IA, Val Air Ballroom

10/21 – Corpus Christi, TX, Concrete Street Amphitheatre

10/23 – Dallas, TX, Superpages.com Center

10/24 – Houston, TX, Sam Houston Raceway

10/26 – Laurel, MS, South Mississippi Fair

10/28 – Lincoln, NE, Pershing Center

10/29 – Popular Bluff, MO, Black River Coliseum

11/13 Bloomington, IN, Bluebird Nightclub

11/14 – Lake Elsinore, CA, Wagon Wheel Festival

11/18 – Atlanta, GA, Fox Theater

11/19 – Charlotte, NC, The Fillmore

11/20 – Myrtle Beach, House Of Blues

By Jim Allen

Jim Allen has contributed to a wide range of print and online outlets including RollingStone.com, MOJO, Village Voice, Uncut, VH1.com, iTunes, All Music Guide, CMT.com, The Advocate, Prefix, Blurt and many more.

 


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