James McMurtry and The Bottle Rockets pair up for Rathskeller show on July 11

bottlerocketsA rare appearance in Indianapolis for a pair of Americana bands/singers/songwriters/rockers.  On July  11 at the Rathskeller, The Bottle Rockets – the pride of Festus, Missouri – bring their American rock and roll to the Rathskeller, followed by Texas’ James McMurtry.

The Bottle Rockets have been through town occasionally, my favorite time when they opened for Todd Snider and the Nervous Wrecks back in 1997 at the Vogue.  Lead singer Brian Henneman is one of the great blue collar, deep-if-you-really-think-about-it writers of the genre, and will forever be remembered as guitar/tech/roadie/traveling companion for seminal alt-country band Uncle Tupelo.

mcmurtryMcMurtry’s first album was recorded just outside of Bloomington, with Mellencamp’s band, back when the lineup still featured Larry Crane, Mike Wanchic, Toby Myers and Kenny Aronoff.  Since then, he’s created some stirring, challenging-your-beliefs albums, and has risen to legendary status within the Americana music community.

This is one of those shows featuring a pair of bands well-known to a certain segment of music listener, and completely ignored by radio and mainstream music.  Indy has a habit of supporting these types of bands (use Will Hoge and Old Crow Medicine Show as a couple examples.  Both artists have a strong following in Indy) and outdoor shows at the Rathskeller are always a good time.

*6:30pm start for the Bottle Rockets, 8:15 for McMurty.

Santacular Christmas Song Countdown – #16 – Rusty Bladen

You will notice, if you are a longtime reader, I throw in a fair amount of unsubstantiated opinion on my way to passing along facts. In reality, if you have read the blog posts over the past year, you already know – via these little nuggets of insight that roll out of my brain, into my fingers and onto the computer – what I like. And trust me, this has everything to do with the song at #16.

If you listed the six (I needed six – five wasn’t enough) musical sounds/songs/albums/artists that are the influences behind this here Rockforward site, it would read like this:

1. The trio of Mellencamp albums in the mid 80’s – “Uh-Huh”, “Scarecrow” and “The Lonseome Jubilee”. Anyone who is 35+ that likes the music we do should recognize how much these albums – especially “Scarecrow” – influenced tons of Americana and roots-rock bands and fans.

2. Tom Petty. Anything Tom Petty.

3. Those late 80’s bands that came on the heels of Petty and Mellencamp (including Gear Daddies, Uncle Tupelo, BoDeans, Del Fuegos, Georgia Satellites, Jason & The Scorchers, Lone Justice, and regional/Indiana artists like Larry Crane, Duke Tomatoe, The Hammerheads, and Henry Lee Summer. That is some and there are more ) Alt-country before they called it that. Heartland rock at the time.

4. Springsteen – for the majesty of the rock and roll, the brilliance of the lyrics, and the passion of the live show. And for the lineage to bar band rock and R&B  (like the outstanding J. Geils Band)

5. Power Pop. I think Cheap Trick is woefully underappreciated. Rick Springfield’s “Working Class Dog ” album should be considered great power pop/rock. The Cars debut album is one of the best records in the rock music era. Matthew Sweet’s “Girlfriend ” record was killer. I saw the Romantics live at a bar in 1989 and they were loud, into the performance, and rocked hard, fast and righteously.

6. The current crop of bands that carry on the sounds: Bottle Rockets, Todd Snider, James McMurtry, Cross Canadian Ragweed, and Will Hoge among many more…

So that’s where I come from. And it leads to #16 on our countdown of 20 Christmas roots-rock songs. Indiana’s Rusty Bladen has been working for the past 20 years in the bars, clubs and parties throughout the state. I’ve known him that long, first meeting him when I was a radio jock down at WORX in Madison, Indiana – I was just out of college and had a Sunday night radio show and eventually did mornings for a couple years. He was just starting his solo career after a few years in cover bands. He now plays mainly solo live shows that are always high energy. His sound hits all of the influences I already cited.  His writing is blue collar.

About a year ago, he released “Feels Like Christmas”, a holiday album of 11 classic Christmas songs and one original – the title cut. That’s the one we have here. Mellencamp drummer Dane Clark produced the effort, and made it all sound really good.  A great country rock/heartland/Americana record. The record is simply my favorite Christmas album of all time. Overstatement? Nah.  Listen to the album.

Here’s the song, with it’s  fun, quaint, and homegrown video.

Roots Rock: Mellencamp, Earle Announce Tours; Three Gotta-See Videos; plus Twang News

Rocking at the Crump Theatre, Mellencamp delivered with 90 minutes of sweaty roots rock.
Rocking here at the Crump Theatre in Columbus last fall, Mellencamp is headed out on the road with Dylan and Willie this summer.

John Mellencamp Q&A: on Willie, Bob and a New Album:
Mellencamp hits stages this summer on a bill with Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson, playing outdoor venues and lots of minor league baseball stadiums, including Louisville and South Bend. (What? No Victory Field in Indy?) I think it’ll be one of the surprise hits of the summer, if you can call those three together drawing big crowds any kind of surprise. But the non-traditional rock venues and the trio make it a bit different than a regular “let’s promote the album by ourselves at 3,000 seat theatres” outing.
From the John Mellencamp website (johnmellencamp.com)

Q: What are your feelings about the tour?
JM: I grew up listening to Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson! Their songs and records were in my house from when I was pre-teen. So I’m really proud and happy to be on tour with these two artists. Very few people get to grow up and go out and tour with guys they’ve admired for so long.

Q: What can you say about your part of the show?
JM: We’re going out there with the full band and we’ll be playing material from over the past 30 years–a combination of new and old material including songs from “Life Death Love and Freedom” and songs that haven’t been recorded yet. We’ll be playing for about 75 minutes each night.

Q: Any chance you’ll perform with the other guys?
JM: If it happens, it will happen organically.

Q: You perform regularly with Willie at Farm Aid. When was the last time you performed with Dylan?
JM: Bob was going to play a flood relief benefit in St. Louis with me in the early 1990s but we got flooded out, so this is really the first time since the original Farm Aid that we’ll be on the same bill.

Q: You’re still planning to record a new album during the tour?
JM: Yes. We’ll be recording the new album on days off over the course of the tour. It just seemed like a good idea to do it this way: It gives the making of the album a new perspective and context–and it’s something I’ve never done before. I’ve gone into Belmont Studio for the last 30 years to make records, and this is another way to do it.

Q: What about the box set?
JM: It will be a broad overview of my songwriting, and it will be much more about the writing than about the hit records or the versions of songs you may be familiar with.

Q: And what about your participation in the Pete Seeger birthday celebration concert in New York?
JM: You have to admire Pete for persevering for 90 years! He’s the last of the great original American folk singers and has written or performed so many great songs. For just about all of his life, Pete Seeger has stood up for humanity, freedom and the environment.

Austin City Limits announced its Festival line-up, to be held Oct. 2-4 at Zilker Park in Austin, Texas. The 130-acts that will be spread across eight stages during the three-day festival. Here’s are the highlights of the bookings  – includes Indy’s Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band:
Pearl Jam
Dave Matthews Band
Beastie Boys
Kings of Leon
Sonic Youth
Ben Harper
Reverend Payton’s Big Damn Band
Flogging Molly
The Decemberists
The B-52’s
Levon Helm Band
Raul Malo
Arctic Monkeys
Sara Watkins
Lily Allen
Robyn Hitchcock
Todd Snider
Zac Brown Band
The Avett Brothers
The Felice Brothers
Brett Dennen
Poi Dog Pondering
Asleep at the Wheel
The Virgins
Reckless Kelly

indiana_telecaster_flag150As part of this gig, I come across (and get sent) lots of music from bands and artists who live here in the great Hoosierland.  Lots of it is really good.  I want to share.  So for the next  eight weeks, we will give you a series called Indiana Americana.  A two sentence description and a song that represents what they do best.  Turn it up.. That’s the intention here…  

artist: Gamblin Christmas |  album: Alaska | song: Blue Lights
Gamblin Christmas is Patrick Flaherty and Kurt Franke, harmonizers and folk rockers from Indianapolis… both are Ball State grads…The Alaska album was recorded in Michigan…”Blue Lights” is the one on the album that I cannot get out of my head….best thing on the record, and cut #1. 

Former Wilco member Jay Bennett filed a lawsuit against Wilco-frontman Jeff Tweedy. The suit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, claims Tweedy owes Bennett “damages of at least $50,000” for his time in the band. Bennett was out of the band after the 2002 Wilco documentary, “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart”. Bennett was a key part of the Wilco rise, and it’s all kind of a shame, even after Bennett was looking less than heroic in the film.

Jerry Lee Lewis has been honored with a road. The Tennessee legislature voted to name a stretch of Getwell Road in Shelby County, now called Jerry Lee Lewis Highway. The section runs from the Mississippi state line to Interstate 240. – Good for “the Killer”, although I did like the alternate name suggested on somone’s blog that I read: Their suggestion? “I Humped My Cousin Highway”

Steve Earle, whose new album of Townes Van Zandt songs has arrived in stores, is set to hit the road later this month.
Earle new record “Townes,” comes out May 12. Look for a Bloomington date to be added.
May 28 The Music Hall Portsmouth, NH
May 29 Berklee Performance Center Boston, MAw
May 30 Swyer Theatre/The Egg Albany, NY
June 2 SOPAC South Orange, NJe
June 4 McCarter Theatre Princeton, NJ
June5 Wolf Trap Filene Center Vienna, VA John Prine w/Special Guest: Steve Earle
June 6 Paramount Theater Charlottesville, VA
June 7 Chuck Mathena Center for the Performing Arts Princeton, VA
June 9 The National Richmond, VA
June 10 The ArtsCenter Carrboro, NC
June 12 Atlanta Botanical Garden Atlanta, GA
June 13 Fine Arts Auditorium – Armstrong Atlantic State University Savannah, GA
June 14 Florida Theatre Jacksonville, FL
July 22 Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua Bayfield, WI
July 25 RockyGrass Lyons, CO
August 1 Constellation Performing Arts Center Canandaigua, NY
August 2 Susquehanna Bank Center Camden, NJ
September 6 Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center Westhampton, NY

A new album that contains some sounds we like….
Tim Easton – Porcupine
Review by Hal Horowitz
The “1-2-3-4” that kicks off Tim Easton’s fifth album (and fourth for New West) indicates the folk-rocker is more in the rock rather than folk mode here. He doesn’t consider it a return to his rawer roots but it’s hard not to see it that way. There is a strong Midwestern rock and roll vibe throughout, augmented by some unexpected musical twists (strings, backing female vocals), honed through the vibrant performances created with few overdubs.
Read Review here

→ Excellent James McMurtry video for “Ruby and Carlos” from his new album “just us kids”, performed at 89.7 WNKU, a terrific public radio station at Northern Kentucky University, with a signal that hits the Cincy area. They have the full podcast available by visiting their website at < a href=”http://www.wnku.org”>wnku.org

→ And just for fun, here is Will Kimbrough in their studios. Again, great combo of video and audio.

→ Can I get me some Webb Wilder? Who remembers the “Human Cannonball” song? Clearly quirky yet oddly engaging and obviously loving the performance, here’s a live video reminder of his magic. He’s still out, rocking the road, as evidenced here:

Bassist Donald “Ean” Evans of Lynyrd Skynyrd died after a battle with cancer. Evans died Wednesday at his home in Mississippi. He was 48. He joined Lynyrd Skynyrd in 2001 and had been touring regularly with the band until being diagnosed with cancer in 2008.

Roots-Rock Twang Update

jethro_small_pianoMy piece on Indy musician Jethro Easyfield appears in the March 6-11 edition of NUVO. He’s a good dude.  I enjoyed spending a couple days with him and getting a clearer picture of what he does.  He’s quirky – not in a bad way, but he ain’t no slick Nashville boy. either.  Jethro is rural Indiana with a unique voice and lyrics that take a couple listens to catch.  And it is still all good.  I love the backing band, “the Arrowheads”, that he recorded with, and has played with in the past (tuba, anyone?).  He’s someone who could bring the band to a gig and play just about any venue that would hold 100 folks, and rock the place.  It will be interesting to see if he climbs higher than where he is now.  After peering into what Jethro is about, I think he is criminally underrated and could have a bigger influence on the Indy roots-rock live music landscape.  Whether he can grab that, and whether others identify his uniqueness as a positive, we shall see.  I just hope the guy captures some more ears.
neilyoungheartofgold_filmstillNeil Young’s new/old invention  is a  1959 Lincoln Continental that runs entirely on alternative energy -and it also serves as source material for “Fork in the Road,” Young’s new album,.  It is out April 7 .

The album features longtime NY sideman Ben Keith (pedal steel guitar, keyboards), plus Chad Cromwell (drums), Rick Rosas (bass), Neil’s wife Pegi Young (vocals) and Anthony Crawford (vocals, guitar).

Here is the “Fork in the Road” track list:
“When Worlds Collide”
“Fuel Line”
“Just Singing A Song”
“Johnny Magic”
“Cough Up The Bucks”
“Get Behind The Wheel”
“Off The Road”
“Hit The Road”
“Light A Candle”
“Fork In The Road”

The album is about Young’s involvement with the Lincvolt Project, He spearheaded, with biodiesel expert Johnathan Goodwin, a car that uses no gas – a cool old car is the hook . I read about this project in the past year, and Neil believes in the endeavor.  He may be considered a rebel with his ideas, but rebels can do brilliant things.  I think Neil qualifies on both counts….Rebel and brilliant.

The  vehicle, Young’s own 1959 Lincoln Continental, is making a cross-country gasoline-free road trip to Washington, DC.  It will be filmed.

The Bittersweets – Royal Theatre in Danville 
Roots rock just sounds good at the great little theatre.  It’s not too far to drive, plus they sell micro-brewed beer in a little tap room in the theatre.  It’s a listening crowd, respectful but not quiet.  And The Bittersweets (w/ Cara Jean Wahler opening) create anthemic Americana. This is one of those shows that Indy-ites who are into hitting the best shows before a great band gets even bigger need to catch. ($18 door ($7.50 students) – all-ages show)
BONUS: The band has a free live album you can download on their website.  Another reason you can tell they have a clue about how to work it in 2009….

Faces reunion may still happen in 2009 — but probably not a full-scale tour or album – and maybe not with Rod the Mod.
From Billboard
Keyboardist Ian McLagan says the latest idea, proffered by guitarist Ron Wood at a lunch in London with McLagan and drummer Kenney Jones, is “we do a couple shows and film it. Whether Rod (Stewart) wants to do that…I’m hoping he’ll be into that ’cause it’ll be such a lot of fun. It’s what the three of us would like Rod to agree to.”  The Faces, with Stewart’s touring bassist, got together during November in London to play for three days in various configurations. McLagan  says the sessions were “really, really great.”

McLagan says that Wood is currently in Los Angeles and plans to talk to Stewart about the latest idea. “I’ll get a call eventually, and maybe we’ll do something in June or July,” McLagan says, ” ’cause I don’t want to do anything next year. I’m not gonna wait again. It’s either gonna be this year…It’s now or never! I’ve got my fingers crossed, but I’m not going to waste energy trying to make it happen. I’ve worked for 30 years trying to make it happen. It’s now in the lap of the gods — or the hands of Rod, maybe.”

Live Faces from 1972 – how can you not like this band?

I’M DIGGIN THIS: Grungy bluegrass folkies Avett Brothers do a little Bruce.


With a nod of the head and friendly wave of the hand to ickmusic.com, one of my very favorite music blogs, I’m gonna rip of their idea and  give you a little peek into what’s in my music library; what I listen to when I’m in the car or walking the dog. I’m going to put the ipod on shuffle and the first five songs that come up each week I will share with you.  Feel free to comment on what you get on your First 5 Shuffle, or about the songs you see pop up each week here.  And smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.

1.  “Chips Ahoy” – The Hold Steady (Live at the Non-Comm Radio Convention)
As with a lot of the stuff on my ipod, it’s live.  Bootleg copy recorded from a soundboard, it captures the grit and power of the critical darlings. I’ve never completely drank their kool-aid, but I do like their sound, most of the wordiness and the sheer volume that emits from the speakers.   

2. “We Can’t Make it Here”  – James McMurtry
Literate Crunchy Texas Country Rock.  That’s his category.  From the album “Childish Things”.  I love this song, his honesty, and his Lou Reed-esque vocal delivery.  He’s way too smart for me. Buy the first album, featuring Mellencamp’s band members backing him.  Almost 20 years old, and it still rocks.  And so does his new stuff.

3. “Close Enough For Me”  – Henry Lee Summer
From his one and only live album.  If you remember Henry Lee from the heyday, he was an unstoppable force in concert –  full of hair, bravado, wearing Chuck Taylor high tops, slamming vocal chops and the ability to take a band and a crowd into the “magic” of what happens when the band is in the pocket and the crowd is crazy. This cut is a loose, groovin’ thang, with Carl Storie blowing on the harp.  I miss this Henry Lee….

4.  “Babo O’Reilly”  – Bob Walkenhorst
Who cover via the ex-lead singer of a late 80’s roots-rock band The Rainmakers. I had a serious love affair with the band’s “The Good News and the Bad News” cassette tape around 1990 .  Nasty Telecaster guitars, a rock and roll snare drum really high in the mix and songs that told stories, and even some horns in a couple tunes. Bootleg here recorded live at one of his solo gigs.

5.  “Dancing Queen – The Yahoos
One of Dan Baird’s (Georgia Satellites) side projects.  Greasy cover of the iconic ABBA song.  He turns it into a rock anthem.

Meanwhile, Back at the Rock Sideman Icon Ranch: Steve Van Zandt  – aka Little Steven from the E St. Band – has some interesting things to say about rock and roll and his desire to get his vision on Tv, or someplace else.

From Rollingstone.com

“We’ve been working on a TV series for years and came very close. It’s probably my greatest frustration right now, by far. Three years in a row we came within five minutes of a network deal. They keep backing out at the last minute, they’re afraid of music on TV. They tell me it never works. I tell them, ‘I know why it doesn’t work — because it always sucks. How about we do a show that doesn’t suck? Let’s try that!’

“We could do a fantastic TV show and I think that would change everything. It will completely focus this traditional rock and roll and contemporary garage rock movement. The main thing we would do and what you haven’t seen the last 30 years is that it will have kids dancing to rock & roll. I just feel that one day we were dancing to rock & roll and the next we started listening to it, and it’s been downhill ever since — somewhere around 1967 or so. I’m exaggerating only slightly. It may end up on cable.

We may have to start it on the Internet, or a fucking cell phone. It’s something I’m determined to do.”


With digital cable, and the web, there are more and more sources for live music and videos, and getting to something ultimately valuable and intelligently unique is tough.  Frustrating sometimes.  And while there is more music available  that one or five or nine years ago, there is nothing on TV that has the singular drive to be garage rock-unique. I listen to Van Zandt’s excellent “Underground Garage” program on WTTS, and his Garage Rock channel on Sirius/XM.  Some of it is challenging, most of it is pretty damn good and they are nearly all inspired recordings. He seems to be about the real.  He pushes me to know the past and then blowtorching the preconceived notions of what something should be.  He plays stuff I hear nowhere else, believing in his (this) music and presenting it with passion.  Can’t ask for much more, other than some talent to back it up.  Which he has.  He should get this project done.  Even if it becomes just one more option for people like us.