Saturday, September 9, 2023

Summer’s End (TOTR 455)


Summer’s End (TOTR 455) 

-aired on WTTU 88.5 FM The Nest on Saturday, September 9, 2023

-listen to the audio archive here:

Bonnie Prince Billy - Like It or Not

Evan Honer - All I Ask

The Cure - The Last Day of Summer

Zach Bryan - Summertime Blues

Bob Seger - Night Moves

R.E.M. - Nightswimming

Loudon Wainwright III - The Swimming Song

Martin Sexton - So Long Suzanna

Nathaniel Rateliff & Courtney Marie Andrews - Summer's End

Yarn - When the Summer Ends

Cornbread Red - Wake Me up When September Ends

Lost Dog Street Band - September Doves

The Doors - Summer's Almost Gone

Dashboard Confessional - Dusk And Summer

The Lilac Time - On The Last Day Of The Last Days Of Summer

Noah Kahan & Wesley Schultz - If We Were Vampires

Jason Isbell - Speed Trap Town

Zach Bryan - Summertime's Close

Tyler Childers - Rustin' In The Rain

John Anderson - Seminole Wind

Sundy Best - Escapee

Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors - Free (Not Afraid to Die)

Allison Russell - Requiem

(picture - Pogue Canyon Natural Area, TN, from a labor day hike)

Saturday, September 2, 2023

Another Day In The Life (TOTR 454)

 -aired on WTTU 88.5 FM The Nest on Saturday, September 2, 2023

-you can listen to the audio archive here:

John Denver - Paradise

John Prine - Sam Stone

John Prine - Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)

The Avett Brothers - Spanish Pipedream

Tyler Childers - Yes I Guess They Oughta Name A Drink After You

Tyler Childers - If Whiskey Could Talk

Drayton Farley - Higher Than the Vulcan

Drayton Farley - How to Feel Again

Levi Turner - Allergy Season

Levi Turner - Cutting the Grass

J.R. Carroll - Free and Clean

J.R. Carroll - Preacher Man

Zach Bryan & The War and Treaty - Hey Driver

Zach Bryan - Revival

Zach Bryan - Sun to Me

Logan Halstead - Mountain Queen

Old Crow Medicine Show - Daughter of the Highlands

Charles Wesley Godwin - Strawberry Queen

Charles Wesley Godwin - Jesse

Nicholas Jamerson - Watching the Fire Burn

Hiss Golden Messenger - The Wondering

Cole Chaney - Another Day in the Life

Gabe Lee - Angel Band

Dave Matthews Band - Angel From Montgomery (live, 1996)

Will Pellerin - That's the Way the World Goes Round

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

From Zero to Zacholyte: on just liking what you like


Surprising you not a little, a lot of the artists I follow or obsess about, we could say that they are edgy or alternative in some way. Maybe even relatively unknown. There is special pride I have had since high school for liking or following “underground” music. But sometimes these groups crossover to mass popularity. From my high school passions, that happened with U2 and REM. That is certainly true with all iterations of the Dead, who in this last run were selling out large amphitheaters or even stadiums. But it is a bad liability of a music snob when I have to admit I like something that is hugely popular. I know I am already overthinking this. 

I often walk to the classes I teach wearing my headphones, and last Friday morning before our “American Mixtape” session, I sauntered in all-Friday-casual and quickly admitted to the 10am class, that I had already listened to two new albums (Fridays being the big new release day), front-to-back, before that first class. Afterward a student lingered after to talk. That is always amazing and doesn’t happen as much as one might imagine. For the most part, the majority of students are always dashing to the door as soon as class is dismissed. 

But not this student, on this day. She had already introduced herself on the very first day of the semester, to say that she is dating the son of a friend of mine. College town reality, to be sure. Now, she wanted to know what new albums I was streaming; I actually had to pull my brain back from the lecture I had just concluded, to what was most recent in the Spotify queue -- Old Crow Medicine Show and Hiss Golden Messenger. 

“So much good music got released today,” she muttered, and then proceeded to act embarrassed that one record she wanted to hear was an Ariana Grande 10-year-anniversary drop. “It’s pop,” she confessed. “Never apologize for liking what you like,” I prompted, without a moment’s hesitation.

Later, I reflected to myself on how heavily into folk, alt-country, and Americana I had become, that I sort of felt I had become “conservative” in my tastes, in that inner ache for acoustic instruments and a stripped-down sound. Maybe, I am allergic to some pop. But there is more. 

As one might imagine for a person with previously punk rock leanings, even the (alternative) country music scene has brought me face-to-face with populist yearnings so indigenous to my rural region, but perhaps far from the urban sensibilities and rebellious priorities of my youth. One activist likes to talk about an affinity between “the hood and holler,” but most of the time I think that is aspirational. But sometimes music does unravel stereotypes and unite disparate vibes. Maybe Johnny Cash. Maybe John Prine.

My tendencies toward being a forever folk fan were already present when I was a kid, listening to my parents’ folk records: Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel. Blowing in the Wind. Sounds of Silence. But especially John Denver. I can still see the cover to that “Greatest Hits” album that I would listen to over and over again in my suburban bedroom at bedtime. I remember attending a John Denver concert at the Richfield Coliseum and being riveted. Some songs are not real until those songs become a complete, cellular, real, cosmic part of me.

So actually, it’s true, that even though I reject the whole “guilty pleasure” construct with music, I sometimes feel a little guilty for loving something so popular, for liking what other people like, especially if it feels too corny, too cheesy, too ready for an anthemic everyman singalong. Take for example that John Denver obsession, which returned to me as an adult. But why worry? What did you just say: never apologize for liking what you like. Okay. Take Me Home, Country Roads.

Because if it’s good and meaningful and you like it, don’t feel guilty about it, okay? Little did I know that last Friday, that later in the weekend, I would collide with a new musical reality to wreck me, in the best way, and to confront these ideas about some of the more wildly popular music of our time.

When people were ranking their best albums of 2022, the name of some 34-song epic record by a “bro”-sounding upstart kept popping up in some of the music fan groups where I traffic online. American Heartbreak. Late in the year when I was trying to inhale-by-headphone every interesting record I missed earlier in the year, I listened to parts of it on a long walk at the gym. I remember it being better than expected, liking some songs but wondering why it was so long. 

But then last Friday, they were talking about another album by him in the all online Americana groups. Self-titled with a self-portrait of Zach Bryan smoking a cigarette. His entire vibe would only feel more typecast if he had three names like so many of his peers in the sad-dude indie-acoustic world. Okay let me try to listen to this guy again. After a busy Friday afternoon and evening and my Saturday morning radio show, I finally got to my first listen on Saturday afternoon. 

I try to be open to wonder, suspend suspicion, and always seek that feeling when getting into new music. But streaming has spoiled me and oversaturated all of us. I am still chasing the chill-bumps, the stuck-in-throat, fist-in-the-air unkempt emotion of “that feeling,” of falling in love with a record to where it messes up your plans because you cannot *not* listen. But streaming has made it too easy, and it has been this way now for years, of not driving to the record store, of not deciding which disc on which to drop a precious 10 dollars (or 5 or 25, depending), of just having what your ears need, now and not later, only a click away. When the hunt is this easy, sometimes you are convinced that the meat can never taste that sweet.

But I was only three or four songs into this record, and I was stuck in all the feels. I remember the first time I heard *Southeastern* by Jason Isbell or the first Mumfords record with all its swollen emotion or *I and Love and You* by the Avett Brothers, which I recall mainlining on its release day and with intense regularity as the go-to record to help me spiritually navigate the joy of a new relationship. 

Sometimes I can hype a very good record in my mind, and while I still appreciate and even love it, those feelings of falling and sober intoxication are lost, sometimes due over-familiarity with the artist and sometimes due a season of extended expectations that no first listen on Friday-release day can ever live up to. Between my resistance to Bryan’s Swiftian popularity to my familiarity being limited to one rushed listen through American Heartbreak a year ago, all this made the experience of being swept into the undertow that more exhilarating and ecstatic.  

The hair stood on my arms, I felt that easy queasy where an ugly cry could bust out at any moment. Let me make sure this isn’t just my imagination, pinch me am I dreaming. I switched from bluetooth headphones to Alexa, who is hooked up to my amplifier and powerful speakers. My spouse Jeannie would be my judge, as she never holds back if a song is just “meh” or worse. Sometimes I defy her judgment and hide under the headphones, and sometimes I wear her down with repeated listens until she comes on board. Thanks to the inevitable, irresistible, and enduring goodness of “Sugaree,” she no longer says she hates all Grateful Dead songs. “Tennessee Jed” has seeped into the marital canon too, for all the righteous regional reasons. 

We didn’t even finish one song, “Hey Driver” with added vocals from Michael and Tanya Trotter, better known as The War and Treaty, before Jeannie confirmed my hunches. Every lyric was so personal yet universal, so everyday relatable to just about everyone, from the sweet tea to the Klonopin, from the bottles to the Bibles to the cheating spouse and a fight with God. And the sounds were infectious. One minute my wife is “wow this is good” and the next minute, she is already singing along. 

Unless you are totally cynical, the backstory has its inherent beauty. A regular Oklahoma guy is finishing his term in the Navy and keeps dropping dusty demo tapes and backyard cellphone videos on places like Soundcloud, Twitter, and YouTube; then, he is suddenly an underground sensation in the so-called heartland. I didn’t get sunk by the earlier listens because I rushed them at the end of 2022, just wondering what others saw in that triple album. I never went and tried to listen to its rugged predecessors. 

Due to his popularity and voluminous and dedicated fandom that I am certain is too “something” for me, I wanted to resist but just tripped over myself, even as I fell hard. A couple of listens into the self-titled, and I am a goner for good. From zero to Zacholyte is what I need to say. This album moved into my heart without complete consent, pitched its tent, tugged at all my feelings, and now refuses to leave. This album will be on repeat until the tracklist and lyrics are internalized forever like the John Denver repeats in my old bedroom at bedtime. 

Saturday, August 26, 2023

The Long Road (TOTR 453)

-aired on WTTU 88.5 FM The Nest on Saturday, August 26, 2023

-you can listen to the audio archive here:

Glenn Schwartz & Joe Walsh - Daughter Of Zion

Lonnie Holley & Michael Stipe - Oh Me, Oh My

Sam & Dave - Hold On, I'm Comin'

Little Richard - Freedom Blues

Steve Earle - Prison Cell Blues

Wilco - James Alley Blues

Drayton Farley - Norfolk Blues

Melody Walker - Do What You Love Blues

Mark Erelli & Lori McKenna - Lay Your Darkness Down

Turn Turn Turn - Hymn of the Hater

Rhiannon Giddens - Way Over Yonder

Grace Potter - Mother Road

Pearl Jam - The Long Road

Gabe Carter - Buffalo Road

Nat Myers - Ramble No More

Duane Betts - Forrest Lane

Josiah and the Bonnevilles - Back to TN

The Burnt Pines - Welcome Home

Bruce Cockburn - To Keep the World We Know

David Rovics - And the Earth Spins Round

Nathaniel Rateliff - Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain

Son Volt - Sometimes You've Got to Stop Chasing Rainbows

Duane Betts & Derek Trucks - Stare at the Sun

Cordovas - Sunshine

Langhorne Slim - Sundown

Nick Cave - Shine On Me

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Journeyman (TOTR 452)


Journeyman (TOTR 452)
-aired on WTTU 88.5 FM The Nest on Saturday, August 18, 2023
-listen to the audio archive here -
Pony Bradshaw - Go Down, Appalachia
S.G. Goodman - All My Love Is Coming Back To Me
The Band Of Heathens - Don't Let the Darkness
Desert Honey - Darkside
Faraway Dogs - Holy Hannah
Average Joey - Karaoke King
Average Joey - Hallelujah, I'm A Bum (Millennial Redux)
Edie Brickell & New Bohemians - A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall
Brandi Carlile & Catherine Carlile - Closer To Fine
Adeem the Artist - I C U
Tyler Childers - In Your Love
Melody Walker & Mercy Bell - Jesus Was A Drag Queen
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - White Beretta
Margo Price - Lydia
Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway - Goodbye Mary
Natalie Merchant - Sister Tilly
Fleet Foxes - Silver Dagger
Father John Misty - The Next 20th Century
The National - Eucalyptus
My Morning Jacket - Where To Begin
The Baseball Project - Journeyman
Alexi Murdoch - Orange Sky

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Not your classic, classic - an intense one-man-show confronts war


This is not your classic, classic! The new production and acting team of “Alder and Clark present” have taken a contemporary take on a classic, and taken it to, intensely emotional places. 

As much as I love myth and theology, I was never fully captivated when we studied the ancient myths and gods. Contemporary stories always seemed to convey the same themes, only in more easily understood and relatable ways. 

Rest assured, “An Iliad,” the postmodern play by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare is not The Iliad by Homer, although the same myths and gods persist. That is, this show is a visionary revision of a classic, but not your “classics class” classic, and the audience only benefits from its immediacy and impact.

When we are at a “backstage” style show at the Cookeville Performing Arts Center, seats are set up on the physical stage itself, and the audience can feel really immersed in the show. This is taken to an irrevocably intimate place with this wild performance. We just can’t hide from humanity’s self-hatred and the conflicted hope that stories about ourselves might finally save us from ourselves. 

Joe Clark might make eye-contact and give you cold chills, as his entire person interprets the one-man monologue that is the entire text with a particular mania and monstrous passion. The show is approximately 100 minutes without an intermission, but you will lose track of time as you are entertained and disturbed and possessed by the ghastly and grisly humor that the singular actor shares.

The stage is bare but for a boombox and a barrel fire and a bottle in a brown-paper bag. And assorted blankets and empty food cans and a dog bowl of water and dog-eared reading material. It could be one of the houseless camps that we see in every city.  Their minimalist stage set shows the speaker as a soggy traveler, a spent and sorry vagabond, a raging hobo on a hyperbolic binge. The play itself is an intoxicated Spark Notes of the primary source text, an external monologue about horror and heroism of war, mixed and mashed-up with an internal monologue about the bottomless grief and brutal glory of war. 

Even as the boombox gets kicked in desperation at one point, it occasionally spits news clips from several wars, Vietnam and Iraq and Ukraine and more. It speaks a sonic backing track, for the soundtrack that actually comes from the house speakers, and what a soundtrack it is, a haunted game of hippy Heardle, as instrumental snippets are interspersed, such as the Stones’ Gimme Shelter or Dylan’s Masters Of War or Black Sabbath’s War Pigs or Barry McGuire’s Eve of Destruction or All Along The Watchtower, the Hendrix version. 

Just as the boombox feels like an embodied conversation partner, so does the bottle, which probably contains water, but based on Clark’s imbibed and embodied iteration, you believe it is the vodka, gin, or tequila of which he speaks. And no wonder so many of our war veterans turn to the booze, as this story simply oozes the conflicted human compulsions and aches around violence.

We hate war. We love war. We loathe killing. We are killing machines. 

The fiery lust of this relentless monologue is bound not just by the bottle, but by the mania of obedience because war somehow pleases leaders and gods. We want to blame endless war on endless psychologies and theologies, blame the kings, blame the gods. Yet we participate. 

We enlist. We pay taxes. We fly flags on patriotic holidays. 

We profit in ways large and small, with no true conscientious objector exempt from the blood stains on their very hands, no matter our sign-holding protests and hand-wringing pleadings to our elected officials. We are all complicit to some extent, with every gas pump flowing from unsustainable sources and the universal adapter plugged into the endless war economy. 

Those who don’t die as mere children might spend long lives, riddled by nightmares and addictions and gathered around hobo bonfires, telling stories to whomever might listen.

Our small arts and theater community is invited to gather around this fire of fierce local art for only two more nights, Wednesday the 28th and Thursday the 29th, at CPAC, corner of Walnut and Broad, by the Post Office and Dogwood Park. Tickets available online in advance or at the door. Curtain at 7:30pm both nights. 

Alder and Clark present on Facebook

Advance tickets

Friday, June 16, 2023

Not a Jason Jukebox: The 400 Unit Melts Faces with All of Weathervanes on the Opening Night of Tour


As much a fan journal as a review...

Years ago, it wouldn’t be no-big-thing to swing by a venue for soundcheck rehearsal, to fanboy out and maybe lurk near the tour bus, but that's just not something I regularly do anymore. But I’ve driven more than 500 miles this week to get here, so why not.

I arrived at 4:10pm. Tour buses were parked & partitioned off by a shaded fence. The newish venue looks a lot nicer than I imagined it might. Very new, very suburban vibe out here in the Ozarks, and as I drove to the place from the west, it was all fields and trains and stuff.

Fayetteville, Arkansas. Population 95,000. 

How do they choose these locations for these tour-launch-shows, anyway. Out here in the heartland, I suppose we are pretty darn close to the setting for "King of Oklahoma." 

This is the first show after the album release at Eastside Bowl, last Friday (which I missed, because I was out of town seeing another artist). Knowing that this was the only show with Adeem the Artist opening, I felt prompted, no compelled, to jettison Bonnaroo tickets, drive more than 500 miles, and add tickets to the Open Highway Festival in St. Louis on Saturday, to make this a Jason weekend. 

Grabbing just a little bit of shade on the venue perimeter, I can hear soundcheck through the venue walls. Something so exciting about the early arrival, even though I hope to sneak off for a snack and shower here soon, would simply be hearing the noodling and chit chat and long silence between takes, a window to my forever dream to be a professional journalist, with early access on the air-conditioned other side of this brick wall. The weather apps say it is 88 degrees.

These are the songs I heard at soundcheck:
If You Insist
Honeysuckle Rose

Then, I actually did slip away, but not to escape the sunshine at first.  Instead, I opted for a short hike on the Razorback greenway, followed by a delicious burrito from Taco Bell (hey I was hungry after the walk), and then back to the AirBnb for a shower. I don’t like standing around too long before a show, so I made it just in time for Adeem’s opening song. As the supporting set started to evolve, I realized that instead of the usual 45 minutes I have come to expect for the opener, Adeem was getting an hour, which meant 13 songs. And 13 songs with a bassist and a drummer that truly made it not just rocking but more magical. Honestly, Adeem would have told more stories without the band, and we would have had fewer songs.

And what 13 great songs we got, including several from the “just-out-on-vinyl” Cast Iron Pansexual (I Never Came Out, Going To Heaven) and the “hits” from White Trash Revelry (Middle of a Heart, Going to Hell). The early-in-the-set standard Fervent For The Hunger, included a snippet from Isbell’s iconic 24 Frames, much to the joyful appreciation of the crowd. From a new unreleased song to a song from the vast Bandcamp back catalog to covers by John Prine and Tom Petty, Adeem really crafted a setlist arc to treat their fans as well as reach out to the folks that had never heard them before.

Set breaks on a big night like this, the gap time can put me on pins and needles. But not this time. You could say that I am kind of shooting as superfan for Adeem, with this being my 9th time seeing them. So I just hang out with them at merch, quiz them about the new song in the setlist, meet some of their other fans waiting in line to buy vinyl and get stuff signed. Which meant Jason’s first song at 9:05pm came so quickly. The cresting wave of freakout anticipation collided with the songs. 

We setlist geeks on the fan pages had been geeking out about how many Weathervanes songs we might get in a “regular” show, that wasn’t the record release party. I don’t think anyone really imagined the entire album getting played. But that’s exactly what happened, not in the LP’s order mind you, and with sparse classics sprinkled through. 

It was my first time seeing a Jason and the 400 Unit show without an oldie from the Drive By Truckers catalog. It was my first time at a show without Hope The High Road since before the Nashville Sound came out in 2017. Stockholm was the only song besides Cover Me Up from Southeastern, even though a 10th anniversary of that album set could be in order at some point. I am awed by the audacious confidence and chops it took to refuse the Jason-as-jukebox-of-his-former-self style of legacy show!! 

It will be wild to see if this kind of setlist is sustained for the entire summer.
Do the unapologetic rockers rock even more rock in a live setting with a great sound system. Yes and then some. Was it fire? Of course it was, with nothing but smoldering ashes and melted faces where the venue once stood.

Earlier on Thursday, Jason tweeted about opening night of the Weathervanes tour, thankfully contradicting the strange claim by a Pitchfork writer that the tour began 3 months ago. What? No, this was the big night, and I wasn’t the only person who traveled great distance to greet this epic occasion, having met others with similar mileage at the show or online. 

I don’t know if this is really a proper review but plainly just more of my fan journal that I started scribbling yesterday. I do know that I am typing this on not enough sleep and not enough coffee from my modest AirBnb, so I must get on the road, as my sweet spouse meets me at the St. Louis airport to join me for tomorrow’s show. 

Save The World
24 Frames 
Vestavia Hills
King of Oklahoma
Last of My Kind
Strawberry Woman
If You Insist
Middle of the Morning
When We Were Close
White Beretta
Death Wish
Cast Iron Skillet
Honeysuckle Blue
Cover Me Up
If We Were Vampires
This Ain't It

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Beyond the Bro - A Brilliant Tyler Childers Set in Detroit

Masonic Temple, Detroit, 6.6.2023

Only four years ago, I saw Tyler Childers at a festival and felt the day was too hot, there was too much cigarette smoke (because it was outdoors), and I was not nearly “bruh” enough to hang with the aesthetic in the fanbase. I don’t consider Tyler “bro-country” per se but the bro vibes were as thick as the nicotine haze that day. 
I’m not saying there weren’t some bro-vibes tonight (I overheard someone in the men’s room talking about an upcoming Morgan Wallen stadium show), and the marijuana vape pens made things plenty smoky for an indoor show where that shit is surely prohibited, even though recreational weed is legal in my former hometown.
Confession is I love too many genres to allow my own sense of my own identity, to deter me from loving great lyrical folk art, genre fanbase stereotypes fulfilled, yet notwithstanding.

So this show was so different, because I have had more time to learn Tyler’s music and continue to feel compelled to see him live, like it was a hunger and a course to correct that disappointing summer day back in 2019.

Granted I am sure Tyler was fire that day too, but I wasn’t ready. At a dedicated sold out show on a sold out tour, I was in for something else entirely. Tyler: A still rising star and a master of his craft in every way, with his voice an instrument, a conjuring spell, a distinctly unforgettable Kentucky-inflected wailing, howling, transcendent moaning, inimitable outlaw twang.

I met a fan from Iowa who said she was staying at the same hotel as him. Then she showed me a video of Tyler with his dog. Tyler is into his dog. The album is about dogs, really, dogs and heaven and so much more. But there’s a universalism to his Universal Sound that attaches itself to you like dirt attached to the side of your truck, stuck to you like the threads of your lineage to place and people.

Now I know that the Ryman is the mother church, but the Masonic Temple is another mother church. His stage set is so perfectly to convey that homey comfort and rustic rural wow, with an old-school TV, with black white cowboy shit on.
And the crowd, and this was perfectly evident in the first four acoustic songs. They know every song and every word to every song and they sing loud and in unison and they actually sound good. I admire Tyler, but I am not a superfan at their level and it puts chill bumps all over my arms.

During Creeker, I’m like how sad is this song and is this song about suicidal ideation and wow how can a sad AF song with suicidal ideation be so freaking holy. But it’s the late set rendering of the aforementioned Universal Sound and the sacred-dance-hall keyboard-and-drums smoking “Way of the Triune God” that has me “screaming and shouting” and slapping hands with a few thousand strangers.

In this catalog spanning set, he still packs in covers by SG Goodman and Kenny Rogers. He only samples from the recent gospel album but those songs are some of the funkiest (think the Country Funk compilation) and not the least sectarian and abiding a universal impulse toward inclusion. It really is church but the whole concert is church not just the newer songs, especially those churches of the honky tonks and highways and camping trailers and hunting lands.

At the end, which is just the last song, he does the most talking of the night.
It begins with an ask:
-be good to each other
-eat lots of vegetables
-drink lots of water

Then he starts talking about lyrics that were thinking about psychedelics, that were about letting go, and then he is telling us about a dying friend and moonshiner and hippy dear brother and Tyler is bringing music to hospice. Then Tyler is crying and introducing an acapella rendition of Sour Mash by Cory Brannan.

Then he is holding up one of those disposable shot glasses they have at shows. And it looks like it has whisky in it. And my brain is like wait and what and I thought you were sober. He holds up the shot while rendering the song more emotional and eerie than the original version. I really am terrified he is going to drink it, but at the end of the song, he turns the glass upside down and sprays the caramel-colored shine into the crowd.

Tyler songs are humming in my head on the way to the car, and I put on the "Purgatory" album as soon as I start up the silver Toyota with Tennessee plates.

Setlist (my notes mostly check with the version on, although a couple on there may be out of order)

Acoustic-just Tyler
Nose to the Grindstone
Lady May
Shake This Frost
Follow You To Virgie

with Full Band - Food Stamps
Whitehouse Road
Country Squire
Bus Route
Tom Turkey - Charley Crockett cover
Rustin in the Rain
All Your'n
Cluck Ol’ Hen
Two Coats
I Swear To God
Old Country Church
Take My Hounds To Heaven
Space & Time - SG Goodman cover
Percheron Mules
Tulsa Turnaround -- Kenny Rogers cover
Way of the Triune God
House Fire
Universal Sound
Honky Tonk Flame
Heart You Been Tendin
Sour Mash - acapella Cory Branan cover

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Queer Art In Tennessee

[Pictured - Bertha (Grateful Drag); Cookeville Pride & Madness of Lady Bright; Lela & Maxzine from the Vaudeville Circus & Jug Band review in Cannon County)

Pride month begins today. Queer art is in the community. 

There’s something especially sacred & galvanizing but also terrifying about Pride this year. Our local Pride, which I have missed many times due to my annual June travels, comes on the late pioneering poet Allen Ginsberg’s birthday. It is almost 3 years to the day after Cookeville’s historic BLM rally, which turned out to turn my entire life upside-down & inside-out. 

The day before our Pride, Melody Walker & Mercy Bell will drop the official release of their "Jesus Was A Drag Queen" song, which has already been making the likes & listens on TikTok, YouTube, Instagram, etc. "Jesus Was A Drag Queen" mirrors for me a poem I wrote about the queer Jesus, more than 30 years ago. More than 30 years ago, we marched on Washington for the LGBTQ rights movement, when it seemed like a time of rising hope, not hateful reactions. 

I was thrilled to learn that Melody Walker is also part of Bertha, an amazing “Grateful Drag” band that brings the queer & Deadhead communities together. Their April 29th debut at Dee’s in Nashville was the same day two punk bands & the Eggplant Faerie Players were playing a fierce, fiery activist-benefit show here in Cookietown. Sometimes you want to be in two places at once! But it was great to have Maxzine & Tom Foolery back in Cookeville. And I was happy to find that Bertha’s entire show is available on YouTube.

When I first moved to Tennessee, it was to join a rural artistic counterculture community, “in the hills & hollers,” as we would say. In a sense it was theater, too, that drew me here, as I was really following my dear friend Maxzine, who had moved down from Ann Arbor a couple of years(or was it months?) before I made the trek from Detroit. So it seems fitting to me that Maxzine & I have recently reconnected bunches, mostly in the streets of Nashville to protest the fascist GOP & support our queer & POC friends. But this past weekend I saw Maxzine in their other home, besides the streets & the rural gardens, the performance venue, juggling in many fabulous costume changes, with their collaborator Tom Foolery & the Murfreesboro band Jake Leg Stompers. Before the show Maxzine wrote me: “I am performing tonight and tomorrow, including using drag in a provocative way, given Tennessee making drag illegal in public in many cases (a law that is on hold as a judge mulls it over).”

Back in Cookeville, there is a new queer theater collective called “Friends of Oscar Wilde” that aims to produce openly LGBTQ plays, year-round. The local Pride committee has been incredibly active, well-supported, outspoken, courageous, & vibrant in face of considerable local backlash from several explicitly nazi hate groups & *some* churches (#notallchurches lol). So their new theater endeavors are such a clarion call for radical art in our community. Of course our beloved Backdoor Playhouse has been at the heart of the struggle, as one of the only venues platforming drag shows on a regular basis, after one venue was evicted and another had to close its doors for various reasons.  

The “Friends of Oscar Wilde” debut is “The Madness of Lady Bright,” directed by Mark Harry Creter & starring Matthew Melton. The play is an edgy avant-garde mental health meltdown in the style of something you would expect from Tennessee Williams. Lanford Wilson’s revolutionary pre-Stonewall text teaches us what the accumulated harm of a hostile society could do to an aging lonely neurodivergent queen. It’s beyond touching cute moralism to touch raw nerves with traumatizing truth-bomb heartbreaking beauty. It’s an emotionally psychedelic journey as the walls all collapse inside the heart-brain of our protagonist, that we as audience get to inhabit with them.   

We could say that Matthew Melton is the lead, but there are three of them. That is, in a way, it’s a one person show, but with other actors to perform the voices in their head. Matthew has thrown themselves into this role in such an immersive & all-encompassing fashion, such that the audience is invited or imposed upon to forget their butts-in-seats & just bear witness to the inner world as reality slips away.

This critic partially wanted a play of pure rainbow empowerment in these times that feel strangely pre-Stonewall, at least here in Tennessee. The riveting performance left me with more questions than answers, with a fire of love for all my queer siblings & a rage at the world that doesn’t want to know them, much less love & accept & celebrate them. After the exceptional less-than-an-hour whirlwind one-act opening-night debut, I stayed for the Q&A with cast & director, where we could really explore these issues more deeply. Matthew’s honesty, transparency, & yes joy, were all hanging out, with the jester makeup still flowing & glowing with their smiles & commentary.

I encourage everyone to see this show & to, like I needed to, set aside their PC purity code about wanting perfectly well-adjusted, happily partner, & mentally healthy queer characters to stick in the face of our local normies & haters. But like we discussed last night, this play is not for the normies, it’s for our arts & activist community & for our LGTBQ community, allies & accomplices included.

So please get to the Backdoor Playhouse tonight; Show is at 8pm Central and tickets are available at the door. Look into the EGGPLANT Faerie Players & the Jake Leg Stompers. Listen to Melody Walker, Mercy Bell, & Grateful Drag!!! Then get to Pride this Saturday at 11am in Dogwood Park or to your local Pride, wherever & when it is. 

Check out:

Jesus Was A Drag Queen: 

Check out Grateful Drag:

Tickets are available for the next Grateful Drag show in Nashville in October at the Analog:

Thursday, May 25, 2023

"The Cat's Meow: Cathouse is simply profound" - from the Detroit archives

"The Cat's Meow: Cathouse is simply profound"

You can listen to the Cathouse cassette only album Virtue Undone here -- for entertainment and educational purposes only, a lofi rip from my personal collection:
The Other End - arts and entertainment supplement to the South End
the Wayne State University student newspaper
Detroit, Michigan

by Andrew/Sunfrog, writing as “Ellen Carryout”

Finney’s Pub, Detroit, July 1992
Eric Walworth is creating a feedback warzone with his guitar. As I bask in this aural onslaught, I ponder the possibilities down tall glasses of beer. I watch the glassy audience's eyes animate with the knowledge of dreams.

And Elizabeth sings: “If you look inside your dreams you will find me.”

She breathes big ideas in this tiny room. The band builds bridges of sound, past pitchers of beer and into pictures of reverie and hope. 

This Corridor band is, of course, Cathouse. They’ve been receiving an abundance of praise in the press in recent days, and this cozy pub is overflowing with old friends and curious seekers. What they’ve created is actually quite simple, yet profound. Cathouse is a passionate rock-n-roll band for the people of this neighborhood.

Just when I thought the tired flesh of rock music had been trivialized and parodied beyond repair, a band like this comes along to inject a new boogie into my aching bones. I never thought something as old-fashioned as four-piece could translate rock-n-roll into a transcendent noise to transform my soul.
“Don’t believe all that shit about rock-n-roll being dead,” says Elizabeth. “That’s propaganda designed to separate you from things that help you feel alive.” 

She has become a sort of spokeswoman for forgotten ideals and the darker side of her own heart, which she wears out in her vocal verisimilitude with embarrassing honesty. With an innocent flare, she lets her music flow as any artsy-extrovert should, declaring, “I’m serving the community. I’m serving the people who see the band. I’m serving the music that comes through me.”

In Every Direction, Without A Drummer, Detroit 1989
In October 1989, Cathouse played their first gig as an uncertain 3-piece at the Paradigm Center for the Arts, a dance studio/loft in Harmonie Park. The show was a Community Concert Series benefit for the Womyn’s Own Collective and a bashfully brave beginning without a backbeat. Elizabeth had that loud, clear voice. Eric and bassist Jim Johnson made a lot of noise. 

It would be many moons and a thousand mood swings before Cathouse would get into the tight-knit, groove-giving, post-garage geniuses that they are today. Finding drummer Tim Suliman was the turning point to take them beyond the modest aspirations of only playing clubs on the Corridor circuit. 
A growing hunger and insatiable ambition have taken them on many midwest mini-tours, and it now seems only a matter of time until some van gets packed full of gear to take them places they’ve never seen before. 

A House on Commonwealth Street
Cathouse began in a townhouse with nine cats and high ceilings. Elizabeth and Eric lived there alone with the feline scent and the Fender Strat. Elizabeth used to listen to Eric practice. She’d be upstairs. He’d be downstairs. The music would bring them together. 

“He was young in it, and I’d encourage him,” Elizabeth recalled. “I’d see him doing this wild-man, sensual, crazy thing, pulling the shit out of his strings and throwing his guitar around. I’d say, “Oh my god! That’s hot. You gotta do that onstage in our band.’ He’d get all shy and everything. I can’t think of Cathouse without Eric. i just can’t. We’re very different, and the friction between us makes it mean something, that we stay together as an example of cooperation.”  

As Cathouse became a band, each member became more of a musician, and they grew together. The critical response back in those early days was rather dismal. What is now a devoted following was then just a scattering of sympathetic friends.

Elizabeth expands: “I was singing simple straight songs in a simple straight voice. As time progressed, I became more mature and free with my gift. I’ve been able to understand singing as a place where I can be tortured, be angry, be growling, be violent, be lust and be afraid. It’s been an evolution for me to understand all the places I can go with my voice and all the sensations that can emanate from my body onto an audience through my voice. My vocabulary has grown.”

Fierce, Bold and Resourceful
Much noise has been made about the gritty, grunge guitar roots of Detroit rock-n-roll as made manifest by the MC5 and the Stooges. I’ve heard critics wave that obvious flag a thousand times it seems. Elizabeth has pulled down some reason for this mythos and put it in its proper contemporary context:

“This band wouldn’t be what it is without this neighborhood. I don’t know if I can even comprehend us existing without Detroit, because we’re so much in this place. We’ve had the good fortune to learn how to perform in front of audiences that have been accepting, loving, and curious. This neighborhood, from Woodward to Trumbull, from Mack to Antoinette, is where Cathouse comes from. We are poor, fierce, and resourceful. And incestuous sometimes. The desire to commune gives us strength. Our ancestors had it. Now that communing is less possible, for people to join and unite seems like a miracle to me. But it’s an old impulse, an organic impulse.”

So Detroit gives bands a “heat-hunger-bare bones-no bullshit-intensity” that Elizabeth has noticed in other groups such as Mick Vranich and Wordban’d. This energy is most palatable when bands leave Detroit to gig in other places. You can feel the difference.

From singing to painting and back again
As an actress, songstress, painter, and poet, Elizabeth is clearly a multi-dimensional artist. The canvas and the song seem to inspire her the most as they come from one body.

“I have a personal vision almost all the time. Singing is the place I give voice to those pictures in words. Painting is where I give voice to those pictures in paint. Painting helps me be quiet, it helps me be still. Being in the band is a more social experiential thing. I’m in a sea of people and a sea of noise.”
As Elizabeth sings about big ideas in her shameless uninhibited manner, she runs the risk of having her sincerity overshadowed by its own grandiosity, no matter how genuine it may be. How does she feel about that challenge?

“I feel uncomfortable speaking in a language that doesn’t feel appropriate to me. That makes me feel icky. I don’t want to project an image of myself onto the world, I just want to be myself in the world.”
In contrast to our collective urban backdrop of “abandonment, desolation, waste, and fear,” we have voice, which Rico Africa called the “siren of industrial noir,” crying out, shouting out, singing out loud:
“I’ve got this eerie feeling coming over me . . ."

Cathouse, “Don’t give it up.”  

Cathouse's album - from the Detroit archives


“Cathouse’s album”

The South End

the Wayne State University student newspaper

Detroit, Michigan

1992 (?)

by Andrew/Sunfrog, writing as “Ellen Carryout”

Virtue Undone is the first full-length musical offering from the Corridor rock band Cathouse. These are ten searing songs of characteristically crunchy bass and guitars from Jim Johnson and Eric Walworth, pulsating beats from Tim Suliman, and gutsy lyricism and latent emotion from Elizabeth Underwood’s versatile vocal range.   

Recorded in a homemade Detroit neighborhood studio, mixed downtown, and pressed down south, this cassette chronicles the aural evolution of an energetic idea, born, appropriately enough, from house full of cats in 1989.

At first exposure to this female-fronted four-piece, audiences are tempted to conjure up vocalist images and irresistible icons from the historical fabric of women in rock. Listeners will serve their reception of Cathouse well if they leave all those Janis Joplin and Pretenders comparisons behind.

Elizabeth’s soulful vocal spattering hits like paint splashed on canvas. She’s here “to teach you how to love,” as she carves out a mythic place between transience and grounded mystery which eludes description the moment one thinks it can be pinned down. 

On this visceral yet visionary level, Virtue Undone shall always seem virtually done. Ten songs slither to your heart like a great unfinished novel or a spiritual ascendance which never attains nirvana. Something sought after is always missing as each song lingers, poised on the ephemeral void of vocalized consciousness.

We can sense this unnamed place as Elizabeth sings, frequently sliding out of articulated words into passionately uttered tones which defy placement on intellectual and musical scales alike. Perhaps this is what Elizabeth means when she says she has no place in the world. Or when she sings, “I’m a woman trapped inside, the things they said, I should be.” These songs can heal, or momentarily transform, that universal sense of displacement.

Cathouse touches a groove laid down by Eric’s gritty guitar and rides straight into your heart. Maybe they don’t have a place in the world -- at least the world which inhibits the soul liberation and intimate passion their music portrays. They have a place in the crucial cacophony which reinvents rock n roll every time they take the stage.
Listen to the album -- a lofi rip from my personal collection, shared for educational and entertainment purposes only -- here: