Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Gimme Some California Love, Dana and Lauren!

Shake It Shake It Baby

It’s the middle of summer, so hot that when you climb in your car you say ouch ouch ouch as you touch the steering wheel with your fingertips. You roll down your windows, hit the gas and off you go. What to play? Perhaps it’s early evening and you secretly want to blare Tupac’s “California Love” out the windows but worry that you’ll look like a gangster wannabe if you do so.

Never fear, y’all because Malibu natives Dana and Lauren Shankman have just put out a bluegrass version that kicks ass.

Now, The Inky Jukebox is aware that this sort of thing is ripe for all kinds of “no you di’int” headshaking, and indeed, a lot of commentary online seems to have veered into “Tupac’s not dead; he’s in the Federal Witness Protection Program” area, but we give credit where credit is due here, and we like it a lot.

The identical Shankman Twins, Dana and Lauren, are smokin’ hot blondes whose vocal harmonies are the stuff that makes recording scouts wet their pants. But don’t let their giggly prettiness put you off; these gals are seasoned pros who have played and toured for years, often with their little brother Michael on bass, and they’ve stood on the Opry stage many a time. They seem to have had an identity problem however. At first, they were the abysmally-named The Shankman Twins, which sounds like a clip on PornHub. (An Inky Jukebox Top Tip: don't be tempted to include the word "twins" in the name of your band, ever, especially if you are, in fact, identical twins. Trust me: we can figure it out already.)

The three siblings tried being an abysmally-named band called Malibu Storm for a while and put out a cover of Def Leppard’s “Photograph” that was mildly successful (later, a young hussy named Taylor Swift came along and sang it with Joe Elliot et al). (Another Inky Jukebox Top Tip: never use the words "Malibu" or "storm" in the name of your band. It will make you sound like one of Barbie's collectible outfits.) This was before The Band Perry cornered the whole three siblings thing. If anyone’s gaydar starts beeping when you see the boys in that band, then young Michael will make it howl like a tornado siren. He has been wisely dropped in favor of his sisters stepping out as a duo, the abysmally-named Dana and Lauren. This just sounds like everyone gave up and ran out of ideas at a meeting. One of the whole points of being in a band in the first place is that you get to pick a great name. The Inky Jukebox suspects that The Shankman Girls was their father's idea, that Dana and Lauren was their Mom's, and Malibu Storm was their brother's. At least two million people named “Dana and Lauren” exist on YouTube, which is going to present a problem, y’all. This is not a problem The JaneDear Girls have (whose actual names are Susie and Danelle). Just sayin’.

What the girls are good at is looking like centerfolds (with cleavage that can only be “born” in Malibu) and singing bluegrass. This can be seen to great effect on this little bit of video when they take on Vince Gill’s “Go Rest High on that Mountain” (pity about the low sound volume, and the stair rails look like they’re sitting in a crib, which is creepy).

They turn out to be awfully good at turning a West Coast rap anthem into a viable bluegrass song, no easy task. The banjo and fiddle treatment is a revelation. Try giving it a listen without the visuals, and without thinking about the original. Good, yes?

Speaking of visuals, the official video is a little OTT: filmed at a mansion in Bel Air complete with a pack of daisy-dukes-sportin’ hoochies and acrobats etc. The hay bales on the mansion lawn are a little forced, and by “a little” I mean completely ridiculous.

Dana and Lauren have a new self-titled album coming out featuring ten original songs plus “California Love.” One wonders, then, why this cover was released as their single. Is it because as a recognizable song it will hook people in? If so, it will act as a bait-and-switch, because if the songs on their EP are anything to go by, this is music for tweens into unicorns and rainbows, not bad boys looking for sex on sticks.

We also worry about the design of their record cover; this looks too much like a second-rate fan pic and the font they are using (Bleeding Cowboys) is being used by everyone, everywhere. These are good looking girls; they need marketing help NOW. Their online presence is also oddly amateur. 

This, snapshot above, for example, is from their Vimeo page, which is less than a month old. It is either an unfortunate still from the video, or a very clever one: you decide.

Somewhere, Tupac is riding a lawnmower in suburbia (or the Great Beyond, which some could say are the same thing), one hand clutching an ice-cold coke, the other an iPod. I hope this song comes on and makes him bop his head a little bit and smile.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Stranger No More: Ed Sheeran

Ed Sheeran Brings His A-Game

Every now and then The Inky Jukebox comes across an artist she’s never heard of before, rather like the Brazilian pilots spotting an uncontacted tribe. You think: wow, we’re exploring space to see if we can find anyone out there, yet there are still people to be discovered right here. OK, it’s nothing like that, but you get the point.

Very little music extends past its known world either. You have to be an awfully big act to have an international tour, and many smaller artists, if they do go overseas, can only play very small venues in large markets. Therefore, a lot of really great music is missed by most people. Sometimes this disconnect is mystifying —when a musician who has hit the superstar level in one part of the world but is still unheard of in another despite every effort to bring that person to the masses.

Robbie Williams, for example, is such a superstar in Europe but has never really broken the American market for reasons that remain truly incomprehensible. The Inky Jukebox had never heard music by Journey or Boston before coming to the US in the 1980s. It was simply not played on British radio.

This is what an audience of 100,000 people looks like. 
See how they echo every word; they even sing the chorus without waiting for him, and get this: 
they are so loud the stage mics pick it up clearly.

Facebook and YouTube has changed all of this, however, because one can share music easily with friends everywhere. One such gem appeared to The Inky Jukebox recently; a guy who is clearly developing a large following in the UK but is unknown here. We think it’s about time you did hear of him, so like a photographer snapping pics of those Brazilian tribespeople from thousands of feet in the air, we give you: Ed Sheeran.

“Wayfaring Stranger” has always been a gospel standard, and he does it beautifully. The Inky Jukebox loves videos that show the actual recording of a song, and this one is particularly interesting in that it reveals how he uses two mics to record at the same time.

His new single, “The A Team” and its accompanying video takes a rather harsh and honest look at a life lived on the streets but the sweetness of the vocal belies its edge and lends it an honor, of sorts.

If you like this, then you will certainly like that you can get his EP for FREE which includes “Wayfaring Stranger” and a track called “UNI” which features some wicked fast rap that is nothing like American style rap. Check it out and download your free EP at his website.

Here's some more. It is a distinctly British street sound. As opposed to a Detroit street sound. Stick with this one to hear how a white boy can turn into a genuine Jamaican imperceptibly. Go on: we dare you. 

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Rolling Stone Loves Ashton Shepherd

It's A Bird! It's A Plane! No? It's Bacon!

Don’t look now y’all, but there is a giant hickory smoked spiral-sliced ham flapping its greasy wings right up there above the trees. What’s the occasion for such porcine shenanigans? The country-hating Rolling Stone has just published a decent-sized POSITIVE focus feature on Ashton Shepherd. They even provide the upcoming album’s title track “Where Country Grows” to listen to in its entirety for free! Awesome!

Check it out HERE!  

It seems oddly possible that they might actually like her. The Inky Jukebox’s jaw is still plastered to the floor. This from a publication whose list of the 100 Best Songs of the last 11 years includes Brad Paisley's "Alcohol" at #92, The Dixie Chicks' "Not Ready To Make Nice" at #77 (?), and Johnny Cash's "Hurt" at #15. The other 97 records consists entirely of songs by Radiohead. Not that there's anything inherently wrong with that, but if this is truly an all-genres list, why wasn't Tim McGraw's "Live Like You Were Dying" on there? WTF?

There is no justice in the world. We'll have to take all the flying pork we can get. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Lest We Forget…

Glen Campbell is Badass

The Inky Jukebox is sad to learn that the original Rhinestone Cowboy, Glen Campbell, is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

In a 50-year career, he has put out a whopping 70 albums and sold 45 million records. He was a member of the Wrecking Crew (alongside Leon Russell), that band of session musicians responsible for some of the greatest songs ever recorded. He also sported many of the least flattering haircuts in the history of mankind and favored shiny tuxedos and huge bow ties. He has a face whose architecture appears chipped right out of Mount Rushmore.  We love him anyway.

Here are The Inky Jukebox’s Essential Glen Campbell tracks


One of The Inky Jukebox’s favorite songs. Here, he performs it on The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, a treasure chest of vintage variety show TV. Why aren’t shows called that any more? Check out the beautiful tone he gets on that gorgeous Gibson.

Witchita Lineman

A song The Inky Jukebox never travels by car without. This showcases what a gifted singer he is. God, we love that note he hits. You know the one.

Rhinestone Cowboy

What a great song. What a lousy video.

For a start, he’s singing about walking along Broadway when he’s clearly ambling along some country road. Then there’s the whole dream sequence dressed up like Siegfried and Roy pretending he’s playing to a crowd inside a dusty old pen. There’s been a load of compromisin’ / on the road to his horizon alright.

By The Time I Get To Phoenix

A classic performance on what appears to be a set left over from an early Star Trek episode, complete with sunrise light effect and semi-competent lip-synching.

And in case anyone thought ole Glen hung up his spurs a long time ago, check out how ridiculously hip his recent work has been: covers of Green Day and Foo Fighters!

Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)

Times Like These

And finally: What a great picker!

Hope your mind stays gentle, Golden Bear. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Justin Moore Livestream

Sweet Honey

The Inky Jukebox can die happy (in another 50 years or so) having heard her name pass between Justin Moore’s lips in today’s livestream to promote / celebrate the release of Outlaws Like Me. The questions (and his answers, paraphrased) follow:

Q: Where do you get your shirts?

A: I have no idea. I wear whatever my stylist hands me. Or my wife.

Hang on a minute: a stylist? WTF? Other than the hat (same every time), jeans (wranglers), belt (same personalized one every time), boots (same), all this stylist does is pick out a shirt! Shall we go with a plaid one or the denim one? Well, he or she (or Kate) has a good eye for the sort of shirt that makes girls swoon. Hmmm. The Inky Jukebox wants this job. (Justin Moore, call me.)

Q: We think you should release a live acoustic album.

A: Honey, I’m not that good a guitar player, but thank you.

To be honest, The Inky Jukebox knows Justin Moore isn’t the world’s best geetar player, but the sound on the livestream with Roger playing along was really ace. Seriously, the acoustic versions highlighted your great voice and delivery. Think about it. Hang on — he called me “Honey!” (Pumps fists in victory salute.)

Q: What is the hardest part of recording in a studio?”

A: It’s not all that hard; in fact, it’s easy if you can sing.

This is exactly what The Inky Jukebox wanted to hear: because when Justin Moore sings, it sounds like he is giving it his all, as if in a recording studio. Awesome.

The Inky Jukebox would like to thank Justin Moore and his sidekick Roger for taking the time to interact live with fans (there were a LOT logged on), playing great, and picking The Inky Jukebox’s questions. And for calling me Honey :-) 

Watch live streaming video from justinmoore at

Monday, June 20, 2011

Moore, Please

Justin Moore: God Bless Outlaws Like Him

When Justin Moore poses the request that "God bless outlaws like me" on his second album to be released June 21, 2011, he touches perhaps unwittingly, upon a topic that has laid at the intersection of theology and jurisprudence since men wore togas and the only fraternity they belonged to had nothing whatsoever to do with higher education.

To be an outlaw, in the original sense of the word, was to exist outside the law; to be cast out of society to the extent that anyone could hunt you down and kill you with the state (and Church’s) OK. Anyone harboring an outlaw was guilty of aiding and abetting and could be similarly punished, either in the now or the sweet thereafter.  Outlawism was no joke; now, we associate the word (as, The Inky Jukebox suspects, does Justin Moore) with a kind of Wild West figure who eschewed silly laws to live a life of natural, God-given moral and ethical boundaries — but throughout most of recorded history to be declared an outlaw was to be well and truly fucked.

Hence the tricky theological problem: by imploring God’s blessing directly upon an outlaw (who has, by definition been excommunicated from the Church – and therefore subject to being hunted like an animal), the intercessor risks being outlawed themselves. Of course, Justin Moore gets around this problem like a genius: he asks God’s blessing upon himself, thereby saving his friends.

This is just as well, because he put his band mates through some funny-ass promotional videos in the weeks leading up to the album’s June 21 release.

The Inky Jukebox has been waiting for Justin Moore’s sophomore album for a long time. Well, ever since his self-titled first album came out two years ago. We were ardently hoping that this new record would be half as good, and are delighted to say that it more than lives up to the high expectations we had. In interviews, Moore delivers the same thing you hear again and again from artists doing promotional junkets: this album has something new for the fans / something for everyone; it’s even more country than the last record; I’m really proud of it, etc. This made The Inky Jukebox nervous to be honest. One of the things that has surprised us the most is that the songs themselves, when heard in their entirety, are better than the snippets released so far suggest they will be. Is it a “better” record than his first? No: it is absolutely as good, which is saying something, because The Inky Jukebox plays it more than any other.

Each one of these 13 songs is a winner. They draw upon a similar set of topics that defined the first album, any of which will be familiar to any country fan; only now, Moore can and does write about being Justin Moore, Nashville Star, rather than Justin Moore, Regular Joe. Whereas before he wrote about Hanking It, opening for Hank Williams Jr. in Hershey PA and catching his show from out in the crowd, now he can sing about shooting the bull with Bocephus before he climbs up on his jet. He even has the cajones to reference his own celebrity when he says that “they love it down in small town USA” in “If You Don’t Like My Twang.” Will we forgive him? Hells yes: the guy’s got “Guns.”

Speaking of which, The Inky Jukebox loves that Moore does not shy away from singing about the Second Amendment (or his willingness to kick your ass), a move that has earned him a place in the NRACountry firmament. (Just don’t break into his house, y’all.)

The Inky Jukebox also likes it when Moore sexes it up, something he seems wont to do in the bed of his truck, if you go by the lyrics of the two love ballads “Like There’s No Tomorrow” and “Bed of My Chevy.” Both involve some tailgate loving under the stars, though the earlier song’s raunchier lyric takes us further into that fantasy than the tamer “Bed Of My Chevy.”

Moore saves the best for last, however, and is rightly proud of having written a very fine song in the title track, “Outlaws Like Me.” The album is worth buying for the first verse alone, which makes a simple and plain-spoken lyric out of doing what country writers do best: bending words like notes to fit their needs.

I’ve been a rough houser
A good time sleep arounder
A straight up whiskey pounder
Til I don’t know my name
I’ve been a church goer
A front pew Bible holder
A cry on my  Mama’s shoulder
When she saw me change
But each day’s a choice of which one I’m gonna be
God bless outlaws like me

Which brings us inexorably back to our opening dilemma: what is an outlaw, and is Justin Moore really one? According to him, an outlaw is someone who can’t decide what sort of man he’s going to be from one day to the next, like a man being slapped on both cheeks by the angel and devil riding each shoulder. In this case, his plea to the Almighty is for constancy, consistency, and commitment.

The Inky Jukebox thinks that if this album is any indication, his prayer has been answered by a deity who knows a good thing when he hears it and administers blessings accordingly.

Buy this album NOW.
Here is his livestream from New York's Central Park from June 20th 2011.
There will be live music June 21st at 4 pm.

Watch live streaming video from justinmoore at

A Song For Who?

Leon Russell, June 19th, Pittsburgh’s Trib Amphitheater

In a classic scene from the 1985 movie Sweet Dreams, Patsy Cline (played memorably by Jessica Lange) expresses frustration during a recording session that she cannot sing the song “Crazy” the way its writer (“that man”) wrote it. It was originally an up-tempo honky-tonk number. Encouraged to make it her own, we see its transformation into the slow, smoky, transcendent version Cline made into her signature tune. Her version utterly eclipsed Willie’s such that few know it ever sounded any different.

Take a look:

The Inky Jukebox offers this example of how a single song can be so right delivered one way, and so wrong another — even if the culprit is the author him or herself — in order to tell you about a crime that has been perpetrated upon the fans of Leon Russell for many years.

Now, let it be said that The Inky Jukebox has a very tender place in its heart for the white-haired madman piano-god genius, national treasure, and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer (class of 2011) that Claude Russell Bridges is. But we call it as we see (and hear) it, so here goes.

Back in the day (1970) when men were men and pianos were grand, Leon Russell wrote and recorded one of the finest songs there ever was, “Song For You.” What sets it apart from everything else, including all of the many cover versions recorded and made famous by others (Donny Hathaway, et al), is its unique sound: the echoing clanginess of the grand piano’s strings being hit can almost be felt physically as the sound waves bounce around inside the instrument; the horn lends a subtle yet haunting accompaniment; and Russell’s incomparable toffee-rich voice melts with the harmony seamlessly. The song is measured, slow, and ends with five chords of crazy-ass beauty that step down to a minor key.

Do yourself a favor and listen to it as it was meant to be:

Silly-good, right? OK, let’s fast-forward a few decades. Russell is out on the road playing to small clubs, having turned into the Oklahoman Santa with a cane that Elton John would later “rescue.” The Inky Jukebox saw him play at a bar to maybe 20 people back in the mid-nineties, and let me tell you, there wasn’t room for a grand piano in that place. It has been replaced by a shelf-like concoction holding a digital keyboard and electronic boxes all spewing a Medusa’s nightmare of cables from the back. From it, Russell can switch between Steinway Grand to Hammond B-3 as it suits him. OK; we understand the logistics.

But something else has been sacrificed in lieu of expediency (or what?) in his live show, and it’s something that shanks his fans right in the kidneys: they have all come and paid their cash money to hear him sing “Song For You” because only he can deliver it. The anticipation among the crowd is palpable: at this weekend’s gig, The Inky Jukebox could hear whispers about when it was going to appear — “is it next? Will it be the encore?” Yet when it comes, it sounds like … you guessed it, as if Willie Nelson was giving it a spin. No-one wants to hear this song as an up-tempo honky-tonk with jangling carnival organ.

Like this: (Listen at your peril)

This isn't from the Trib concert, but it sounded just exactly like that. As it did nearly 20 years ago when we first heard him in that tiny bar.

No, Leon Russell. No no no no no.

Apart from that, the concert was lovely and Russell was charming. The Inky Jukebox danced her ass off and thought that Chris Simmons, Russell's guitarist, was excellent.

Here is another interesting version that appears to be the beginning of that drift into the major-key barroom version he has adopted ever since.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Swiftly Speaking...

Taylor Swift: Speak Now Tour, Heinz Field, 
Pittsburgh PA June 18th 2011

There is much to say about Taylor Swift’s triumphant show at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field. One could mention that this U-shaped venue (home of the beloved Steelers) looks out past the scoreboard over The Point, the place where two mighty rivers meet to form the Ohio, and that on a rosy-golden summer evening, this afford those in the upper decks an exquisite view of the sparkling lights of downtown reflected in the waters as the sun goes down.

One could mention that for concert set-ups such as this (the stage situated at the scoreboard end), the venue holds 52,000 people. One could note that all 52,000 of those people (except for the stricken-looking silent dude sitting next to me who appeared frozen in horror at being surrounded by that many screaming tween girls — had he been dragged there against his will by an unforgiving wife? Was this a court-ordered punishment? Who knows?) turned the stadium into a gem shop of flashing and glistening lights from the glow sticks and cameras they were wielding, so much so that it almost competed with the spectacular light show of the concert itself (including perfectly timed fireworks and glitter cannons).

One could debate the ratio of female-to-male attendees (The Inky Jukebox guesses about 300-1) or their average age (13?) or the various merits of eye-catching fan adoration (groups of girls wearing day-glo t-shirts emblazoned with painted-on lyrics V. day-glo poster board signs), or the approximate decibel level these girls are capable of producing (a jet plane flew overhead at one point, silently).

What The Inky Jukebox most wants to say, however, is that what impressed us was that even though a great deal of care and attention had gone into making her look gorgeous (and her willow frame can carry off all of those costumes with aplomb) and sound great (top-notch backing band and sound engineering), she was willing to become bedraggled by the intensity of her performance and could give a damn about the odd flat note. This is a girl so supremely confident that she rises above all that glamour to deliver a heartfelt two-hour set absolutely packed full of passion. You sit there thinking “ah – this is what all the fuss is about.”

Say what you will about Taylor Swift the media darling or faux-coquette; not many among us (or among her peers) would be willing to sit under a plastic tree amid the audience in the center of the stadium completely by herself, and play her guitar (or ukulele) and sing, unaccompanied while the band takes a breather. It’s a supremely vulnerable position to place oneself in, not simply because one’s singing chops have nowhere to hide, but that the emotion of the event could threaten to make you slip up in any number of ways: forget the lyrics; ramble on ad-libbing; lose your train of thought; or just burst into tears. Swift did none of those things, despite maintaining that down-to-earth exposure. It did look as though she would shed a tear or two at several times during the evening, but mostly because she was so engaged in the songs.

Clearly she is the consummate performer with a great deal of experience already behind her at 21. Whether it is truly genuine or merely a well-practiced gesture, when Swift tells the crowd she loves them, they believe her, and it feels, at least, like she’s delivering a personal address. She has the gift of appearing overawed at her fame, something that we hope does not get lost along the way.

Newspaper reviews will tell you that the crowd was appreciative and loud, and which songs she sang. The Inky Jukebox can tell you that the set list consisted of (nearly) all the songs off her Speak Now album, plus some of her huge hits. It is a measure of her success that a two-hour show could not contain them all. We were pleased to see “Fifteen” and “Love Story” saved for the encore, and that she delivered “Back To December” while playing a grand piano that like much of the theatrics, arose suddenly in a plume of light and smoke from a trapdoor in the stage.

At many concerts, the singer will have the audience cheer or sing some of the words, and often enough, they get a rather feeble or garbled response. At this concert, however, when asked, the crowd was only too happy to deliver the rest of the song both clearly and at thunderous volume.

Like many folks, The Inky Jukebox got tickets as a birthday gift for a little girl. It was her very first concert experience, and she was blown away. When asked what her favorite part was, she thought for a minute and settled on “all of it.” Then she returned the question. To which the reply, after careful consideration, was the same. 

Folks leaving Heinz Field, post-show. Those stadium lights are bright as daylight. 

All photos by The Inky Jukebox

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Cover Me

"Why then, / What needest thou have more covering than a man?"

So asks John Donne in his quest to get into a lady's panties in Elegy XIX. It's a double entendre: by "covering" he not only means covered as in he will act as her blanket once she is naked (by adopting the missionary position), but he also alludes to a far more scandalous and bestial meaning for the word "cover."  In animal husbandry, to cover one animal with another is to mate them; hence, a ram covers a ewe. In modern farming, each ram in a field has a different color crayon strapped to his belly, so that the farmer may know which ewe has been covered by which ram by what shows up on her back. Some ewes are real sluts and look like a child's coloring book in no time flat.

None of this has anything to do with the following, except for the tenuous link with the word "cover" -- in this case, when one singer covers another's song. Check out this lovely version of Adele's massive hit "Rolling In The Deep" by Little Big Town, who demonstrate what a talented bunch of harmonizers they are.

What has she been up to? 
— She's been rolling in the deep. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Shooting in The Dark?

Shooter Jennings: Black Ribbons

 Photo: based on an original by Gabrielle Geiselman

If the phrase “a dystopian concept rock opera featuring Stephen King as Will O' The Wisp” fills you with horror (as well it should), then it is likely you would have avoided Shooter Jennings’s 2010 foray away from the traditional rocking country music he started out with. This is how Wikipedia describes his album Black Ribbons, a record so fragmented it does not even register under Jennings’s name on iTunes, but as Hierophant, the backing band he invented for the album.

The album’s premise appears to be that it is a pirated recording of the last radio show hosted by a disillusioned and dour DJ (Stephen King) who is broadcasting during an apocalypse. The end of the world has come to all righteous dudes in favor of The Man, who is heavily armed and clearly cannot tolerate troublemakers such as this DJ whose message is always best expressed through the songs of the band Hierophant. The last song on the album begins with his being gunned down mid-sentence, something many listeners might wish happened to open the album instead. The Inky Jukebox certainly did.

Black Ribbons is one of those albums that must seem like a good, even radical idea to its writer, but which feels like the same old shit to everyone else. People have been covering the war between the Hipsters and the Squares in various media for ever, and having Stephen King lend his creepy ennui to the soundtrack only seems to cement the comparison with them in a way that will sink it rapidly to the bottom of the river. This is exemplified in the official video for the track "Summer Of Rage" which The Inky Jukebox calls out for being indulgent and cliched. We far prefer the amateur video for "The Illuminated" below. 

Someone put the whole album to scenes like this. Excellent. 

If one skips the entire radio DJ tracks that intersperse the album, what is left are actually a collection of truly decent songs. This is perhaps the tragedy of this album – that Shooter Jennings shot himself in the foot by alienating a hard-won audience for his gritty, bluesy, balls-out rock. Without the “concept” angle, Black Ribbons consists of 12 tracks worth listening to. It’s easy to draw direct lines of influence (intended or not) between it and Nine Inch Nails, Pink Floyd, Soundgarden, The Clash, and even late-career Beatles, giving it a distinctly heavy tone. Stand-out tracks include the epic “The Illuminated” (which could have been an outtake from The Wall, easy), “The Breaking Point,” and “All This Could’ve Been Yours.” On all of them, Jennings’s voice reminds you of his pedigree.

The record calls to mind the fin-de-si├Ęcle imagery of past concept albums like Pink Floyd’s The Wall and of Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs,” and even of George Lucas’s masterpiece of bildungsroman Americana, American Graffiti, a film that follows a group of high-schoolers on their last night (prom!) in a small town before they all disperse to adult lives. It features the legendary DJ Wolfman Jack broadcasting retro hits from a radio tower outside town to which the protagonist (a very young Richard Dreyfuss) makes a pilgrimage to find that his hero is a regular guy behind the dials (Oz, anyone?).

If you like your country mixed with a bit of metal every now and then (and we do), then The Inky Jukebox recommends you give Black Ribbons a spin. Don’t let the radio sections put you off; just click them off. Shooter Jennings is scheduled to release his fourth as-yet-unnamed album this fall, which will be a return to his country roots. We are hoping it will give us more of what we found and liked so much on his first record, Electric Rodeo, the opening bars of which grab your ears and make your heart say Hell Yes.

(Coincidentally, the next song in The Inky Jukebox’s iTunes library (arranged alphabetically) is Iron Maiden’s “Run To The Hills,” a perfect coda.)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

One Note Neil

Forever Young: When Ten Classic Songs Aren't Enough

Rolling Stone recently published its list of the Top Ten Neil Young songs, as selected by readers. They were invited to pick from anything he has played on from any time in his long career. While half of this list is undeniable, The Inky Jukebox would like to submit for consideration a slightly different Top Ten. For one thing, it’s a Top Fourteen. (We like to kick it old-school here at The Inky Jukebox.) Our list includes some classics that Rolling Stone's readers might have overlooked because others have the lead vocal; specifically "For What It's Worth" written by Stephen Stills, and "Almost Cut My Hair," David Crosby's hippie anthem whose fire is fueled by Young's incendiary electric guitar. 

In compiling this list, we noticed that you could slice it in half according to whether it was a Crazyhorse-type rock-your-face-off band number, or something Neil delivered best by himself.

The Fourteen Best Neil Young Songs 

Epic shredding battles:

Down By The River
Cortez The Killer
Southern Man
Cinnamon Girl
Almost Cut My Hair 

Transcendently melodic singing:

After The Gold Rush
The Needle and the Damage Done
Old Man
Heart of Gold
For What It’s Worth 

An old friend of The Inky Jukebox always called him “One Note Neil” due to his particular way of hitting the same note over and over in his solos. The Edge does the same thing. Listen to the opening notes of U2’s “I Will Follow” to compare.

The Inky Jukebox has enjoyed its share of loud concerts over the years, but by far the loudest was Neil Young touring with Crazyhorse. Man, they turned those amps up to 11 and melted the place down. It gives you new respect for an old dude who can rock out with that much passion. Did they do any softer numbers? Fuck no. Yours truly was deaf for days.

Like math geniuses, most of Young’s best were written before he was 30; nothing on this list was released later than 1975. Prodigious though he is, these are the songs folks want to hear him sing. Now of course, he has a touch of grizzly in his voice, but listen to those 1971 performances to hear how pure it once was.

One Note Neil isn’t everyone’s cup of tea; you either love him or hate him. But you can’t claim to be a real fan unless you have Zuma in your collection. Stories about how fucked up Young was when he wrote many of his early songs, but for sheer by-the-seat-of-your-pants recording, this album tops them all. People know it for “Cortez The Killer,” but “Stupid Girl” is notable too, for its punk-like avoidance of structure or logic of any kind. The cover must also count as the most half-assed in all of music history.

Speaking of reaching back to one's golden years (as opposed to entering them), Neil Young is currently touring with a reunited Buffalo Springfield, a band he last played with in 1968. You can read about it here

Decade is a good triple-CD set for anyone wanting to check out most of these songs in one place. The Inky Jukebox recommends it as an essential addition to your collection. One note is enough, if this note's for you.  

Friday, June 10, 2011

Tour Bus Chew-Out

It's Where The Magic Happens, Y'all

In the lead-up to the release of Justin Moore's new album, Outlaws Like Me, The Valory Music Company are giving us an insight into what really goes down in one of those behemoth tour busses. In today's installment, we see the BossMan give his band a good talking-to about certain standards that have slipped of late....

To introduce folks to their new star-in-the-making when his first record came out, his label released a similar set of spoof videos that gave us a backwoods (a deep, deep backwoods) version of Cribs, in which Moore shows us around his new home (hunting shack).

You really need to watch all of these to fully appreciate the toilet and shower scenes.

The Inky Jukebox thinks Brad Paisley, Country's current comedy king, has a rival, don't you?

Sarah Buxton – American Daughter

Why Isn’t This Girl More Famous?

The Inky Jukebox has a theory. It goes like this: if you have a horrible, awful photo of yourself on your album cover, people will not buy your record.

Take the case of Sarah Buxton. She is an unusually beautiful young singer with a smoky, husky distinctive voice from Kansas who has had a few singles which have not charted particularly well, but has written some songs which have been huge hits for others (particularly Keith Urban).

This is the cover of her CD.

Someone at her record label thought this was a good idea. That person needs to be fired. First off, the whole cutesy leaning-the-head-to-one-side pose makes her look like she’s 12 years old, or trying to appeal to 12 year-olds. It also makes one feel like they have a crick in their neck from trying to see her face the way God intended: straight up. When selling a beautiful woman, you want to go with smoking hot sexy, not aw-shucks. Then there is the hair: dark and scraggly. As we shall see, this is not always the case. The oversize slouchy sweater with (gasp) horizontal stripes (don’t these stylists know anything?) downplays her femininity and has been cut off at the wrist, leaving one to wonder what she’s doing with her hands. (She’s sort of perching them on her hips in the full photo.) She may not have boobs to speak of, and this sweater assures us of that, rather than casting doubt upon it. On top of all this is her name in hot pink (!) marker font, adding to the bubblegum image.

Listen up, Lyric Street Records: this is a girl you want to sell to dudes, not tweens. Any by dudes, The Inky Jukebox means women who want to live vicariously through her looks and voice to catch the attention of dudes. She is no longer paired up with Jedd Hughes, so she can be promoted as an individual.

Hire a photographer and stylist who can make her live up to her potential like this:

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, here are two huge reasons why The Inky Jukebox likes Sarah Buxton:

1) She co-wrote one of the best songs in recent years, “Stupid Boy,” recorded and made a chart-topping hit by Keith Urban. (Why is the official video not available on his YouTube channel? - Listen to this studio version instead.)

2) She wrote “American Daughters,” and sings it like this:

The studio version has the added benefit of fiddles and a recording treatment that punches up the vocal and instrumentation so that it appears the engineers have held back from the tremendous power emerging through their speakers. You can hear her totally break loose on the chorus such that her voice breaks. If you’re going to go for broke with a song, do it in a recording studio!

Country music loves nothing more than a song about how awesome it is to be an American, especially if it features a list of national landmarks. “American Daughters” was offered as a free taster from last year’s Country Throwdown tour. Lyric Street ought to release it as a single, re-design the package, and watch her take off.

You can check out more from Sarah Buxton on her YouTube channel 
or her MySpace page 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Can You Hear What I Hear?

“You showed restraint and control tonight.” 
— Christina Aguilera, praising a contestant on The Voice.

There comes a time in every woman’s life when she stands in front of her wardrobe before a night out on the town and weighs her options. One of the things she takes into consideration is her weight. She looks down and sees a chest full of silicone and wobbly thighs. She takes into account that she used to be, like her height, petite. Not no more. She has overcompensated for all of this with a weave that reaches clear down to her waist. OK then, she’ll go with the ridiculous 5-inch heels; that should help.

Then she blows it all by picking a pair of black leather hot pants (of course!) and a leopardprint bustier (the obvious choice!).

After she’s somehow defied the laws of nature by packing all that flesh into those miniscule garments and ignored the fact that shorts as short as panties make her thighs appear twice as wide, she applies her make-up. Showgirl caliber lashes and brilliant red lipstick! Yes!

She raises her arm above her head and points to the ceiling as if giving props to God for inventing foundation. Her armpit is several shades lighter than the rest of her, because the spray tan didn’t get all up in there. Instead of seeing a hot mess even a Vegas hooker would balk at, she purrs at herself in the mirror and heads on out the door.

 And here’s another thing: it’s one thing to pull off the Cirque de Soleil bedazzled swimsuit when making an OTT video for “Lady Marmalade” years ago when one was thin. Now, one just looks like a desperate person with no-one to gently sit one down and say “No.”

The best thing about The Voice is not the contestants, all of whom sang with mediocre skill last night. It is the guys who bring the talent from the coach's seats. They are the champions, my friend. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Drinking Songs About Drinking

Make It A Stiff One

Ever since cavemen invented guitars and someone took a chance on that nasty fermented stuff swishing around at the bottom of a flask and discovered the twin  joys and perils of alcohol, music has served as a vehicle for sharing some of the lows experienced as a result of hitting the bottle. The woes of booze is a subject whose genesis has found a particularly rich history in country music, which has never shied away from songs that celebrate the many ways one can fuck up in life.

Putting together a list of Alcohol Blues is a difficult task because there are so many songs to choose from; one could compile a Top Ten from David Allen Coe and/or Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard and George Jones and Johnny Cash alone. OK, individually. Whiskey features prominently, as you’d expect, but so does Tequila, and let’s not forget George Jones’s “White Lightning.”

Therefore, The Inky Jukebox presents this list of ten Drinking Songs that you might have overlooked. The list has been narrowed down by these criteria: the song must be about something that has gone or will go badly wrong as a result of drinking, and it isn’t simply about beer. You could have a list about beer all by itself. Usually, though, songs about beer are happy and involve partying and having a good time at the bar with babes. Likewise, this list avoids, where possible, songs written about bars or being at a bar — there are plenty of those too. 

This is not a happy list. This is a cautionary tale.

  • “Alcohol” – Brad Paisley
That being said, we’ll start with a humorous take from a song whose title needs no explanation. It’s an instant classic, and this video is a compilation from Paisley’s 2010 H2O tour, where the song proved to be a rowdy, raucous finale for an audience of very drunken people who have paid more than the price of admission for cheap beer and/or those hideous “frozen concoctions” that help one hang on. (To what? Not your dignity, that’s for sure. Ladies.)

  • “Sometimes A Man Takes A Drink” – Trace Adkins
Trace Adkins sings this beautifully, but The Inky Jukebox can’t find him doing it on YouTube, so here is the song’s co-writer Larry Cordle doing it at a WSN event. All good country songwriting features juxtapositions; this song makes the most of a clever twist: “Sometimes a man takes a drink / but sometimes a drink takes a man.” So true, brother, so true.

  • “Ten With A Two” – Kenny Chesney
Originally written by Willie Nelson (who let’s face it in the looks department, rates nearer two than ten), this version by Kenny Chesney punches it up with steel drums and swinging horn section that would probably make your head explode if you had the kind of hangover he indicates here. An homage to the danger of donning beer goggles, y’all.

  • “Whiskey and You” – Tim McGraw (Chris Stapleton)
In country music, the reason men drink themselves silly is because of some woman. Either she left him or she won’t. Thus the poor chap ends up finding solace at the bottom of a bottle, which strangely enough, gives him the magical ability to compose those wonderful paradoxes. Here’s one of them: “I’ve got a problem but it ain’t like what you think / I drink ‘cause I’m lonesome, and lonesome ‘cause I drink.”

The best-known version of this song is by Tim McGraw, but that's just because he's such a superstar. It was written by Chris Stapleton, late of the bluegrass band The Steeldrivers. Here he is singing it the way only one who write it can. Absolutely beautiful.

  • “High Cost of Living” – Jamey Johnson

Jamey Johnson knows from drinking yourself into a hole to chase a broken heart. He’s also a master of the twisted lyric: “The high cost of living / Ain’t nothing like the cost of living high.” The Inky Jukebox prefers this bit of live performance to the “official” video, which features some skanky-looking dude and a car and a girl etc.

  • “This Bottle (In My Hand)” – David Allen Coe and George Jones

It’s David Allen Coe and George Jones, y'all. What more do you want? Drunken Squirrels?

  • “Whiskey Won The Battle” – Ashton Shepherd

This song builds steam as it gathers energy like an incoming storm that tears to shreds everything around it. This is a fall-down-can’t-get-up drunk you know will hurt in the morning. Or for years.

  • “Guilty” – Bonnie Raitt
Ain’t nothing like the sound of drunk-ass era Bonnie Raitt singing while drunk off her ass. The Inky Jukebox loves this live recording from some rowdy bar somewhere whose patrons that night got treated to an awesome rendition of a classic drowning-your-sorrows song. “It takes a whole lot of medicine darlin’ / For me to pretend that I’m somebody else.” Yep, Randy Newman wrote that, go figure. Sing it, sister.

  • “You And Tequila” – Kenny Chesney and Grace Potter
Another by Chesney simply because this song’s video was just released today, and the video for it is oddly hot. Though the protagonist and his lady friend are hopeless drunks, they still manage not to spill those carafes of liquor as they stumble down hallways barely clothed.

  • “Hair of the Dog” – Shooter Jennings
When you’ve “drank all night till the crack of dawn” like Shooter, you, too can wake up wishing you were “dead and gone.” On the other hand, you could wake up with the ability to sing like him, which wouldn’t hurt. The Inky Jukebox wonders if, with a name like “Shooter,” one is destined to live up to it?

* * * * * * *
Let's not forget these honorable mentions:

“Whiskey Lullaby” – Brad Paisley and Allison Krauss

“Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound” – Hank Williams Jr.

“Sunday Morning Coming Down” – Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson

“Wasted” – Carrie Underwood

“Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off” – Joe Nichols