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Sterling Waite And The Cotton Avenue Hustlers

Sterling Waite And The Cotton Avenue Hustlers

What’s a nice boy with a British father and an international upbringing doing on a street corner of Macon, Georgia, plucking on a banjo and riffing lyrics about uniquely southern themes, like the glories of putting your car up on blocks?

For neo-bluegrasser Sterling Waite, his move from the Upper West Side to the Deep South was one part economic and one part familial. Macon is where he found his best post-grad school job offer but, by a stroke of good fortune, it’s also in the general vicinity of where his Mom was born and where his parents and grandparents still live.

With his arrival in Georgia, Waite set aside his interest in a progressive rock vibe for the challenge of developing his bluegrass skills.

“Part of why I started getting into playing bluesgrass music came from my interest in my heritage and my mom’s roots in North Georgia and North Carolina,” he says, noting that his Mom was the insoiration for one of his most beautiful songs, “Fire’s Creek.”

“I wrote that song for my Mom as a birthday present back in January 2011,” he recounts. “The inspiration for it was my move from New York to Macon. I was met with this kind of strange “you’re not from here’ kind of thing. I was like: hold on a second. I didn’t grow up here but I have all sorts of relatives from around here.”

“I met with this feeling of wanting to get more acquainted with that side of my family and my background. Aside from being for my Mom, it was about going up to Fire’s Creek, where she was born, and getting more acquainted with my heritage.”

Even though his involvement in traditional Southern music is part of a greater examination of his history, Waite’s certainly not a retro-minded artist. After gathering his band, The Cotton Avenue Hustlers, around a pair of mikes to record his first album, Free In The Mountains, he put together considerably more recording devices for his more recent work, Rose Hill.

“I’m getting real big into the process of recording, mixing, mastering; it’s such an awesome art-slash-science. I recently invested in the gear to record the whole band live,” he adds, mentioning how much he liked Tom Petty’s “Mojo,” a notable live-in-studio piece.

So does Waite have it in mind that Macon is just a layover on the way to bluegrass stardom?

“It would be awesome to tour with a big name band. We’ll sometimes make a weekend out of it, traveling a couple or three hours to Savannah to play, and I’ll get a little glimpse of what ‘life on the road’ is like. And that’s one weekend, where I get home on Sunday and get to rest up. I can’t imagine doing it 250 nights a year.”

“If an opportunity fell in my lap, though, I’d have a hard time walking away from it. But, I’m completely content just playing for fun. If I just did what I’m doing I’d be very happy with it.”

Download free copies of Waite’s album’s “Free In The Mountains” and “Rose Hill” on Noisetrade.

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Album Review: Glen Campbell And Jimmy Webb – In Session

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There are two kinds of people in this world: true believers who know Glen Campbell and Jimmy Webb to be the country/pop equivalent of Lennon & McCartney and non-believers who’ve yet to see the light. For the latter, the brilliance of Campbell’s voice and the dynamism of Webb’s compositions presented in this tastefully produced session should be enough to convert even the most stubborn of the realm. For the former, “Glen Campbell and Jimmy Webb In Session…” serves as documentation that the magic of their collaboration will never be duplicated.

Recorded in Ontario in 1988 by Ian Milne Anderson for the independent TV station CHCH, “In Session…” is a nine-song CD/DVD package covering the classics along with lesser known tunes from the Webb repertoire.

“There’s a lot of empty space, separating me from you,” Campbell sings in his beautiful baritone as the session opens with Light Years. Backed by a band left anonymous, the song is a nicely arranged as anything Campbell recorded during his heyday. After discussing the origin of If These Walls Could Speak, which was written for Waylon Jennings, Campbell shows why the song belongs to him with a gorgeous piano/guitar/string rendition equal to the original.

Campbell and company slow Galveston to the tempo where Webb says “it was meant to be,” an organic arrangement highlighting Campbell’s voice and Webb’s tasteful piano playing. Wichita Lineman is similarly graceful, Campbell’s voice as strong as ever, the band playing tastefully and the strings wrapping themselves around the song like a warm jacket on a cold night.

Webb’s The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress” suffers somewhat here: it comes off somewhat flat and uninspired, made worse by Campbell’s inexplicable decision to sport a satin Angels jacket during the recording. Even in the hands of a master, MacArthur Park is still one of the stupidest songs of all time. The pair did little to change that here, though it’s worth watching to hear Campbell’s Beach Boys-inspired guitar solo at the bridges.

Watch the DVD first, sing along to the CD while in the car and, true believer or not, bask in the genius of Glen Campbell and Jimmy Webb at their intimate finest.

Originally published on Country Standard Time.

Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale - Buddy and Jim

Album Review: Buddy Miller And Jim Lauderdale – Buddy And Jim

Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale - Buddy and Jim

Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale
New West Records

The 11 songs that make up the new album by Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale are nothing different from the straight-forward country songs they’ve been turning out for years. There’s a rocker or two, a ballad or two, a Cajun dance tune and a country shuffle, all solidly written and unpretentiously presented.

Likewise, the production values and the song arrangements that comprise the 35 minutes or so of music on “Buddy and Jim” are nothing much to write home about. The production is functional, neither too glitzy nor too rough, and the playing, while as sharp as one would expect, doesn’t jump out of the speakers as anything particularly out of the ordinary.

So what is it about Buddy and Jim, an unassuming little record that’s sneaking in the back door of 2012, that makes it an 11th hour contender to be one of the best Americana records of the year? It’s the fact that Miller and Lauderdale don’t need earth-moving songs, glitzy production or overbearing arrangements to make a great record. All they need is a good vibe, a smart turn of a phrase and a few friends around a microphone to make something special.

Witness I Lost The Job Of Loving You, the grinding country rocker that opens the album. “We had a thing, we had a vibe, I made it like a 9-to-5,” the pair growl in unison, shifting in and out of rattling drums and slippery rhythm guitars. With an economy of words and concise array of instrumentation, they create a flat out great country song. The Train That Carried My Girl Out Of Town is equally adept, a cut that sounds like a rumbling ride from Hooterville to Pixley, reminscent of Steve Earle’s Silver Eagle or Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s Forth Worth To Dallas (albeit rolling a few miles slower).

If you’re a fan of contemporary country, expect to hear a version of That’s Not Even Why Love You recorded by Hunter Hayes or Luke Bryan within the next 20 minutes of so (if they’re smart). Forever And A Day is wonderful, a medium tempo ballad that would’ve sounded beautiful in the repertoire of Roy Orbison (and might be worthy of a visit from Raul Malo. Gary Allan already recorded it.) and Lonely One In This Town, a raw bit of back porch shuffle is eminently singable.

There are a few songs that fall flat: Down South In New Orleans is a bit mundane as the song that follows That’s Not Even Why I Love and Vampire Girl, a quirky cocktail Richie Valens and Wall of Voodoo, is a bit too silly to really gather any traction. But, the pair wrap rock and roll parenthesis around the proceedings with The Wobble, a perfect blend of Carl Perkins wiggle and Del Shannon pop. It may be a simple record in a variety of ways but, as one would expect, Buddy and Jim manage to make simple simply spectacular. Buy this record.

Originally posted on Country Standard Time.

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Going For The Gold: Johnny Lee

When it comes to the pop charts, it’s hard to decide where to put Johnny Lee. One-Hit Wonder? Best example of how to catch musical lightning in a bottle? How about single-song member of the Going for the Gold Hall of Fame?