Tag Archives: Country Rock

Album of the Day: Scott Hirsch, “Lost Time Behind the Moon”

Much of Scott Hirsch’s musical attention over the past decade has been dedicated to the folk-rock ensemble Hiss Golden Messenger. He’s performed on, engineered, and produced several of the band’s records. As a solo artist, Hirsch brings some of the headier sensibilities of the earliest half of the Hiss Golden Messenger catalog into full bloom. His second standalone effort, Lost Time Behind the Moon, offers a fresh batch of songs that kick back to classic country, tempered with a satisfying dose of psychedelia. Continue reading

As Cut Worms, Max Clarke Makes ’50s Doo-Wop & Country Sound Radical

Cutworms

Photos by Joyce Lee

Max Clarke knew he needed to stand out.

Living in Chicago during his college and immediate post-grad years, Clarke gigged regularly around the city, playing both in brash local punk outfit The Sueves as well as his own project, Cut Worms. He would also attend countless noise shows, a steady offering in a city known for its experimentalism. At one of those shows, Clarke saw an artist take avant-garde to new heights: an artist got on stage, and proceeded to shoot a BB gun at a piece of sheet metal laced with contact mics.

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Acetone: The Alt-Rock Underdog Get Their Day

Acetone

“I’m always surprised that people keep discovering Acetone, and that they’re into the music,” says Mark Lightcap. “We sold so few records back in the day, so it’s really amazing to me how enduring the appeal has been. We’ve done a really good job of never being popular. I think we’ll be perpetually undiscovered.”

In the 1990s, Acetone were better known for flooding CD bargain bins than they were for a note of their music. It wasn’t for lack of trying, though. The now-defunct Los Angeles band did just about everything they could; they were simply a hard nut to crack. Their languid, psychedelic country rock wasn’t exactly devoid of melody, but it flowed out at a snail’s pace. And even though they released five records that demonstrated an unparalleled, enchanted kind of chemistry, Acetone would spend their nine years relegated to cult band status.

And so the band—Lightcap (guitar), Richie Lee (bass, vocals), and Steve Hadley (drums)—were written off as another one of that decade’s countless major label flops. Signed in the post-Nirvana alternative rock sweepstakes by Virgin subsidiary Vernon Yard (Low, the Verve, the Auteurs), Acetone couldn’t seem to generate any music press, airplay, or record sales. “We didn’t fit in with any sounds that were on the radio,” Lightcap explains. “The production just didn’t sound like pop records. [Vernon Yard boss] Keith Wood would always complain that our records didn’t gel.”

Of course, seeing their tourmates like the Verve, Oasis, Mazzy Star, Spiritualized, and Garbage all experience substantial commercial and critical success didn’t help either. “We kinda relished our role as the underdog on the one hand, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say there was some envy there,” adds Lightcap.

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A Guide to the Wild Expanse of Cosmic American Music

Cosmic-1244-3

Illustration by Gabriel Alcala

Gram Parsons is generally credited with the invention of “Cosmic American Music”—blues, country, and rock all rolled into one sparkling package. Then again, Gram Parsons also referred to what he’d wrought as a “‘country-rock’ plastic dry-fuck.” Still, it’s fair to situate Parsons somewhere near the head of the reinvigoration of American roots music that began in the mid ’60s, spearheaded by The Band and reaching its commercial peak with a series of country rock acts in the mid-to-late ‘70s. During this time, a good many performers found success combining the clarity of country with funk, blues, and R&B grooves, with the Muscle Shoals house band backing Aretha Franklin, the Allman Brothers selling out the Fillmore East, and J.J. Cale setting blues to drum machines.

These were artists that drew on a wide variety of American musical traditions and fused them into something vibrant, new, and exciting. At the same time, fingerpickers like Robbie Basho and John Fahey were reinventing vernacular guitar styles into what would later be called American Primitivism, and a good many semi-anonymous acts, immortalized on Light in the Attic’s Country Funk series, took the outlaw credo to its hip-shaking limits. This was American music in the broadest sense of the word, even if not quite all of its performers were American (see: Neil Young, Robbie Robertson, Buffy Sainte-Marie).

We’ve seen many Americana revivals in the time since, whether the roots-rock scene of the ‘80s or the O Brother, Where Art Thou?-inspired traditionalism at the turn of the century. These musicians are less easy to define as part of a movement, but share a common ground nonetheless. They’re mostly individuals, scattered throughout the country, with minimal commercial success. Their music has been collected on a handful of great labels (Scissor Tail in Tulsa, Paradise of Bachelors in Chapel Hill, Drag City in Chicago), each with a slightly different focus. But that glorious, syncretic impulse remains among them all, fusing folklore to funk, raga to R&B, in service all of some grand American musical vision.

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