A veteran band’s “back to basics” record is often more a miss than a hit. But the Old 97’s tenth album, Most Messed Up, manages to recapture the electric energy of the Dallas band’s early days. The 97’s built their reputation on their live shows, which shift from twangy punk rock to revved-up country with ease. These sets always seem to have one foot off the rails, earning the 97’s comparisons to the Replacements.
It’s fitting, then, that the Mats’ bassist Tommy Stinson shows up on Most Messed Up, but it’s the rest of the band that truly dials into the songs. Frontman Rhett Miller is ornery and often hilarious (sample track titles include “This Is The Ballad” and “Longer Than You’ve Been Alive”), and the 97’s don’t sound so much refreshed as confident again. The band stopped by our Studio 1A for a fiery live performance and got straight to the point–download “Let’ Get Drunk And Get It On” below!
“Painful” and “brutal” aren’t necessarily your typical adjectives when describing one of the year’s most revered albums. But Sharon Van Etten always seems to find a way to turn the most personal of moments into beautiful, cathartic music. The singer quietly broke onto the scene in 2009 with an album of acoustically-rendered ballads, but since that debut, Van Etten has expanded her palette tremendously. She’s just as adept as a full-on rock singer as she is behind a piano. This year’s Are We There shifts between these two poles with ease, all rendered with Van Etten’s sense for subtlety and shadow.
Are We There partially chronicles Van Etten’s own struggles as a touring musician, balancing relationships with the need to be away from home for most of the year. “Every Time The Sun Comes Up” explores this duality with remarkable honesty. Van Etten stopped by our Studio 1A recently and told KUTX’s Rick McNulty that these songs–emotional as they may be–are therapeutic for her. Night after night, she finds something new to explore in her songs. Her 1A performance was a perfect example of this–an exceptional set from an exceptional talent.
In the early ’90s, alt-country had its moment in the sun with Uncle Tupelo, Whiskeytown, and the Jayhawks leading the vanguard. Only the Jayhawks are still carrying on, a tremendous achievement given the turnover in the band’s lineup. The co-frontmen Gary Louris and Mark Olson first teamed up in Minneapolis in 1985, intent on writing classic country/pop songs in the vein of the Byrds and the Sir Douglas Quintet. The group’s third album, Hollywood Town Hall, was a minor hit in 1995, but the modest chart success has been a blessing in disguise for the Jayhawks. Nearly thirty years later, the Jayhawks are still going strong while many of their contemporaries have faded away. “When we started out, our main goal was just to get a Friday night gig,” Louris told KUTX’s Jody Denberg in 2011.
Reissues of their first few records came a few years ago, and now the Jayhawks are touring behind reissues of Sound of Lies (1997), Smile (2000), and Rainy Day Music (2003). The tour is an opportunity to put a fresh spin on their back catalog and bring their golden, jangly pop sound to a new generation. Minus original member Mark Olson, the Jayhawks stopped by our Studio 1A for an intimate live performance, and they dusted off the Smile cut “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me”–today’s song of the day.
Photo by Denny Renshaw
For Shara Worden, her musical education is never complete. The vocalist behind My Brightest Diamond was classically-trained at the University of North Texas, but she’s equally adept in more pop-oriented ensembles. She’s toured as a part of Sufjan Stevens’ band; featured on the Decemberists’ 2009 record The Hazards Of Love; and collaborated with David Byrne. Her own work as My Brightest Diamond shape-shifts from album to album, incorporating both her opera background and more modern sounds. This year’s This Is My Hand might be her most direct effort yet. While the songs still follow unusual paths, Worden is adept as a full-on rock singer, smuggling dance and industrial elements into the orchestration.
It was interesting to hear My Brightest Diamond strip these elements down backstage at ACL Fest 2014. With just a three-piece setup, Worden filled in the spaces with her percussive guitar-playing and otherworldly voice. Download a live version of “I Am Not The Bad Guy” below!
In 2011, Houston’s Robert Ellis made a sizable splash with his New West Records debut Photographs. The long-haired singer got a write-up in The New York Times and headlined tours across the country, and it’s easy to understand why. Photographs is a remarkably mature record for a man in his early twenties. Split between an acoustic first half and a more raucous second half, the album showcased Ellis’ obvious gifts as a country songwriter.
Flash-forward a few years: Ellis has cut his hair and moved to Nashville, two acts that are tantamount to treason here in the land of Willie Nelson. During a 2013 live session in Studio 1A, Ellis got a chance to explain himself. Speaking about his hair, he claimed he got tired of “looking like a dirtbag,” and the move to Nashville offered an opportunity to get more professional about his music. Being in the thick of the country establishment has been a real boon to Ellis, inspiring him to up his songwriting game. This year’s The Lights From The Chemical Plant incorporates his life-long love of jazz into his honky-tonk ramblings, just like Willie Nelson did before him, and Bob Wills did before Willie. We caught up with Ellis backstage at ACL Fest 2014 for a stripped-down performance. Check out “Good Intentions” below!