Tag Archives: Americana

Scene Report: Folk and Americana in Baton Rouge

Clay-Parker-&-Jodi-James-600

Clay Parker and Jodi James

Any reliable definition of Baton Rouge’s local independent music scene first begins with a discussion of what it is not. Thanks to surrounding cities like New Orleans and Lafayette, whose musical identities have not only been established but fully branded, Baton Rouge musicians often find themselves comparing their scene to the more famous ones that surround it. As Louisiana’s state capital (and home to flagship Louisiana State University), Baton Rouge, with just over 200,000 residents, is primarily a college town given over to football, tailgating, and the kind of rowdy sportsmanship that goes with both. But that hasn’t stopped a growing number of invested community members who love roots music from creating their own world.

Thanks to its wealth of emerging talent, Baton Rouge’s independent music scene has started to truly define itself over the course of the last 10 years. It’s transformed from one rife with cover bands to a place where exciting original music is being made in folk pop, indie rock, Americana, and funk. As Ben Herrington, multi-instrumentalist for chamber folk band Minos the Saint, says, “There’s actually a benefit to having less of a strong identity [than neighboring cities], because it makes it easier for people to start from scratch creatively and sort of do whatever they desire to do.”

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Interstate Love Songs with Emma Ruth Rundle & Jaye Jayle

Emma Ruth Rundle and Jaye Jayle

When Emma Ruth Rundle unveiled her gorgeous, critically-acclaimed album Marked For Death last year, the Portland, Oregon-based singer-songwriter ended up with some extra songs that wouldn’t physically fit on the vinyl. As luck would have it, the same thing happened to Evan Patterson while he was finishing up his solo project Jaye Jayle’s full-length debut, House Cricks and Other Excuses To Get Out, in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. Rundle and Patterson had first met on tour in late 2009 when Rundle’s then-band, Red Sparowes, spent a week touring with Russian Circles and Patterson’s other band, Young Widows. Nearly eight years later, the two highly prolific musicians decided to combine Rundle’s atmospheric heartbreak with Jaye Jayle’s dark Americana for the split release The Time Between Us. By merging material that they couldn’t squeeze onto their respective full-lengths, Rundle and Patterson created a fictional interstate love story that stands as its own conceptual work. We recently spoke with both artists about the origin of the record and their upcoming European tour.

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A John Prine Listening Primer

John Prine by Josh Britt

John Prine by Josh Britt

When John Prine began his career in 1969, he was a 23 year-old mailman just home from a stint in the army as a mechanic in West Germany. After he moved back to his suburban Chicago hometown of Maywood, Illinois, he began writing simple three-chord folk songs about lonesome elderly couples (“Hello in There”), morphine-addicted veterans (“Sam Stone”), and the strip mining that destroyed his father’s Kentucky hometown (“Paradise”). Prine began playing open mics in Chicago folk clubs like the Fifth Peg and the Earl of Old Town, eventually earning a weekly residency, before being discovered one night by Kris Kristofferson. Within two years of stepping on a stage, Prine released a debut album for Atlantic Records, and the plainspoken Midwesterner was being hailed as the latest in a long line of “new Dylan”s.

Prine’s stint with Atlantic, however, lasted only four years and as many studio albums. Two years after releasing his final Atlantic album, 1975’s Common Sense, Prine signed a three-album deal with the more singer-songwriter-oriented Asylum Records, which would release his late ’70s masterpiece Bruised Orange in 1978. But Prine soon realized that he was not interested in being in a relationship with any sort of traditional label.

By 1981, immediately following his three Asylum albums, he’d founded his own label, Oh Boy Records, and by 1984 he was self-releasing full-length records by mail order. That way, as Prine explained at the time to Bobby Bare on The Nashville Network, “There ain’t no middleman… no swarthy little character in Cleveland that gets the money from the people that want the music, and then… takes most of it, twirls his mustache, and sends me 12 cents.”

Since founding Oh Boy, Prine has released a total of 14 albums, including some of the most renowned of his career: From his 1991 comeback album The Missing Years, to his 1999 country duets collection In Spite of Ourselves, to his most recent masterpiece, 2005’s Fair & Square. Almost all of Prine’s Oh Boy discography can be found on Bandcamp.

John Prine

Photo by Kyle Dean Reinford

By the time he went out on his own in the ’80s, Prine had developed enough of a dedicated following to directly support his music—primarily, by buying tickets to his regularly sold-out theater shows around the country—without the financial backing of a label. As Prine put it in 1995, “I just didn’t want to continue recording unless it was in a manner that seemed to make more sense to what I actually did, which was pack my suitcase and go on the road for a living.”

Although Prine is still best known for the modern-day country-folk standards on his debut 1971 self-titled album, the latter half of his career is populated with exemplary moments of song craftsmanship every bit as moving and profound as “Angel From Montgomery” or “Sam Stone.”

Here are eight highlights from Prine’s Oh Boy collection.

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Album of the Day: Various Artists, “In Case You Missed It: 15 Years Of Dualtone”

Even if the name Dualtone Records doesn’t ring a bell, chances are you’ve at least heard one of the label’s signees. Artists like The Lumineers, Shakey Graves, Langhorne Slim, and Delta Spirit have all made mainstream inroads, but they represent only a small portion of the impressive roster the label has been quietly but steadily amassing over the course of the last 15 years.

To commemorate all that hard work, Dualtone has released a celebratory compilation to showcase the music that’s made it such a bright beacon in the world of indie labels. Rather than merely cobble together their hits, the label took a different tack, pairing classic tracks like Guy Clark’s “My Favorite Picture of You” with rare and unreleased cuts.

Shakey Graves’ “Tomorrow” is a bootleg from one of the label’s newer signees, an artist who rose to prominence on Bandcamp before joining Dualtone to release his 2014 debut album And the War Came. The song quietly exemplifies what Shakey (aka Alejandro Rose-Garcia) does best. Playing an electric guitar and accompanying himself on a suitcase-turned-kick drum, his lyrics explore the condition of millennial love. In the song, the object of Shakey’s affection feels the questioning pang of FOMO, promising him something substantial, but keeping their options open. “You used to tell me we’d turn into something,” he sings. “Oh, you said life was much better than this/ Yeah, but the closest I come to perfection/ Is when you turn around to steal a kiss.” For anyone who has experienced the pain of a wavering lover, the verse has sharp teeth. The label went back to 2008 for The Deep Vibration’s “Tennessee Rose,” a thorny love song on which lead singer Matt Campbell’s bruised chorus gets an assist from Gillian Welch’s wistful harmony.

Rosco Gordon’s “Cheese & Crackers” is an upbeat blues/jazz number with barrelhouse piano, woozy brass, and Gordon’s soulful voice—a fun number to punctuate the more contemplative songs that comprise the majority of the album. The compilation ends with a version of “Keep on the Sunny Side” by June Carter Cash, with Johnny Cash contributing backing vocals on the chorus. It’s a nod not only to the label’s storied history, but to the ethos that continues informing their roster and mission.

In many ways, In Case You Missed feels like a mural composed of many individual pictures. When the viewer steps back far enough, a single, unified image becomes clear; up close each picture tells its own story.  

Amanda Wicks