Music City Roots: The Wood Brothers, A.J. Croce, Robbie Fulks & Poor Old Shine
Far be it from me to suggest that aloof intellectual analysis should take precedent over immediate, immersive enjoyment of the music being played right in front of your nose, but this particular Music City Roots lineup is a study in creative possibilities for Americana performers. Both A.J. Croce, son of folkie Jim, and Robbie Fulks, long-ago member of Special Consensus, rode out the ’90s alt-country wave and veered from that postured rebellion. What’s left for them to do in an altered musical landscape? Fulks’ answer is to hop in the Wayback machine and return to Bloodshot Records and a pre-bluegrass palette, which serves his well-crafted character studies of defeated souls quite well. Croce, on the other hand, is sampling an array of roots impulses buffet-style, visiting producers from New Orleans’ Allen Toussaint to L.A.’s Mitchell Froom, and releasing the results at the Internet-friendly pace of a song a month. The Wood Brothers are hardly green, what with Chris’s role in Medeski, Martin and Wood, Oliver’s presence in Atlanta’s blues scene and their Blue Note duo albums leading up to signing with Zac Brown’s label. But they’ve really made their jazzy, loose-limbed presence felt in the roots scene with their latest. Poor Old Shine are new kids on the old-time block, tasked with the challenge of finding a fresh folk-punk angle.
Nashville TN | Rock
"A.J. Croce has wisdom beyond his years. With his music, he represents his generation with a profound sense of honesty in his lyrics and quality in his delivery. The future of entertainment is safe in his hands!" - Willie Nelson
From his debut as a jazz influenced blues-based artist to his evolution into a pop music iconoclast, singer- songwriter A.J. Croce has traveled a circuitous musical road. Now, with Twelve Tales, A.J. unveils his most ambitious recording project to date: A dozen new tracks recorded by legendary producers across a variety of American cities to be released one song each month, concluding with the complete full length CD release at the conclusion of 2013.
A.J.'s notable producers on Twelve Tales are Nashville's illustrious "Cowboy" Jack Clement (Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis); New Orleans' ambassador of funk Allen Toussaint (Dr. John, Paul McCartney); five-time Grammy winner Kevin Killen (Elvis Costello, Peter Gabriel); and West Coast wunderkind Joe Henry (Allen Toussaint, Solomon Burke).
The son of legendary singer-songwriter Jim Croce, A.J.'s career began with his first tour at age 18 opening up for B.B. King. In the span of a 20+-year career, A.J. has headlined festivals, concerts and major listening venues worldwide. He has been seen and heard on shows including Jay Leno, David Letterman, Conan O'Brien, Austin City Limits, Good Morning America, E!, and CNN, and he has shared the stage with an innumerable list of eclectic artists from Willie Nelson to Ray Charles, Béla Fleck to James Brown, Lyle Lovett to Morphine, and Rod Stewart to Ben Harper.
A loyal and appreciative audience and glowing press from Rolling Stone to the New York Times confirms the appeal of A.J's genre-spanning music, with seven of his albums positioned in various radio charts including Top 40, AAA, Americana, College, and Jazz. An ivory-searing New Orleans piano style established an essential juju, but his exploratory pop gems revealed a spectrum of influences from art rock to Americana and beyond. Initially signed as a jazz artist, he subsequently charted with an Americana roots release and recorded two well-regarded releases for BMG Records that expanded his audience exponentially. His subsequent albums were released on various independent labels and his own label, Seedling Records, established in 2003 to release his own records and that of other artists.
Having spent the past three years in Nashville where a packed weekly schedule of co-writing sharpened his writing to a keen edge, A.J. says that back home in California his song craft took an instant turn. "I began writing for myself again," he confirms. He has recently begun collaborating with the great Leon Russell ("A Song for You," "This Masquerade"). "It's a thrill and a little surreal to collaborate with Leon Russell. He's been an influence and an inspiration as long as I can remember," says A.J.
A dedicated family man, an adventurous artist and a confident creator; in this phase in his life and career, A.J. is focused less on expectations and more on instincts. "I generally want to do the stuff that makes me feel good," he says. And like the blues greats who influenced him, A.J. Croce continues to create stellar music with longevity, authenticity and truth. Twelve Tales marks the latest milestone on his illustrious journey.
Chicago IL | Country
Forget the labels… “Insurgent,” “Retro,” “Alternative,” … and focus instead on the music. Some might try to copy old music, but ROBBIE FULKS knows it, loves it, and brings its spirit, its humor, and its otherworldliness to his own work. He’s the man who famously gave Nashville the middle-finger salute-in-song and then devoted an entire album to rare and obscure country songs that almost no one in latter-day Nashville had even heard. And while most current country music is calculated to form an inoffensive backdrop to the suburban shopping experience, Robbie Fulks writes songs that make you think and feel and quite often laugh outloud. And now, in response to requests from “the two fans who follow me around” (and a bunch of others who come up after the shows and write into robbiefulks.com) he has finally produced a live double CD, Revenge! And, of course, because it’s by Robbie Fulks, it’s a live CD unlike any other live CD. Retailing at $15.99, Revenge! is two CDs for the price of one. Half of the two CDs are new songs, including one that is guaranteed to become a fan favorite, “We’re on the Road.” The double CD started off as a single disc showcasing Robbie with an acoustic group of friends (recorded in his adopted hometown, Chicago, last November) and his hard-rocking road band (recorded in Champaign, Illinois last September). Several track permutations later, it became clear that the two sets belonged on separate CDs. “After that,” says Robbie, “it was just a mental game of how to get it so it felt right.” The eclecticism that has always been Robbie Fulks’ hallmark is well in evidence. There’s Cher’s 1998 single “Believe,” followed by “In Bristol Town One Bright Day” that sounds as if it was written about three hundred years ago, but was actually written by Robbie not so long ago. And then there’s a deliciously obscure hillbilly song, “I Want to Be Mama’d” by the very late, very weird Jimmy Logsdon. And we’re not yet halfway through the CD! Now add some jazz, bluegrass, brilliantly incisive songwriting, and a guest appearance by Kelly Hogan.
Born in York, Pennsylvania, on March 25, 1963, Fulks’ father was an academic, and the family moved to Mount Joy, and Mountville, Pennsylvania; Waynesboro and Charlottesville, Virginia; Wake Forest, and Creedmoor, North Carolina. “My dad was kind of a pointy-headed ’60â²s bluegrass fan, and he was into folk music, too,” Fulks says. “I think the necessary angle for him to get into bluegrass was for it to have some kind of educational overtone to it.” Robbie picked up Aunt Stella’s banjo when he was seven and Aunt Mildred’s fiddle a few years later, but by age eleven, he’d focused on the guitar. He was awarded a scholarship to New York’s Columbia University, but spent more time hanging out in the Village. In 1983, with failing grades and a child on the way, he moved to Chicago, and did whatever he had to do to pay the rent. Meanwhile, he immersed himself in the Old Town folk scene. In 1987, he joined a bluegrass band, Special Consensus, touring with them until 1990. “I was trying to make a living from music and that left me half a dozen things I could do,” he said. “Being a bluegrass guitarist was one of them. It allowed me to learn some chops and make money for a couple of years, [but] it eventually dawned on me that the only way I was going to be able to really satisfy myself was just to go out under my own name and write songs.”Robbie led his own Trailer Trash Revue at Chicago’s Deja Vu bar. Newly-formed Chicago label, Bloodshot Records, recorded the Sundowners playing one of his songs, “Cigarette State,” on a 1994 compilation. Two years later, the label gave into Robbie’s demand for three thousand dollars, and released his debut LP, Country Love Songs. This was an album that friends handed on to friends, insisting that they must check it out. In the profusion of new artists, new bands, and new labels, and in the confusion of changing technologies, it was clear that a major new talent had arrived.Robbie’s second album, South Mouth, appeared in 1997. One of the songs was a sour valentine to the Nashville way of doing things. Since 1993, he’d been under contract to a major country music publisher, trying hard to write something Nashville might like, and he enshrined the experience in “F**k this Town.” Nashville, he concluded, wanted songs “to bolster people’s upbeat fantasies about themselves and to ply them with pious platitudes about their meager existences.” He tried, but he couldn’t do it, so he left. The major label flirtation left an equally sour taste. He was courted and signed by Geffen Records, and his 1998 Geffen LP, Let’s Kill Saturday Night, was recorded in Nashville with a sizable budget and big name guests, but, as Robbie said later, “The plane got to the end of the runway, but wouldn’t take off.” The label gave him back his contract, and he returned to Bloodshot Records for the vault-emptying Very Best Of in 1999.There were two albums in 2001: a tribute to country music’s lost, forgotten, and downright bizarre anti-heroes, 13 Hillbilly Giants, and an adventurous song cycle, Couples in Trouble. “I don’t like songwriters who keep making the same record over and over and so I try not to be one of those myself,” he said at the time. In 2004, he produced a tribute to the sadly neglected Johnny Paycheck, Touch My Heart. An astonishing array of performers from Mavis Staples to Paycheck’s former substance-abuse buddy, George Jones, signed on, and the album made several of the year’s best-of’s. Another tribute album, this one to Michael Jackson, still sits on the shelf. In January, 2005, Robbie signed with Yep Roc Records, and his first album for the Chapel Hill, North Carolina-based label, Georgia Hard, came out in May that year. Since then he has been on the road, and, most recently, he and Danny Barnes have scored a 1926 movie, Harry Langdon’s Tramp, Tramp, Tramp.
The Wood Brothers
New York NY | Singer-Songwriter
Two brothers decide to form a band, adapting the blues, folk and other rootsÃ¢ÂÂmusic sounds they loved as kids into their own evocative sound and twining their voices in the sort of highÃ¢ÂÂlonesome harmony blend for which sibling singers are often renowned. While that’s not a terribly unusual story, the Wood Brothers took a twisty path to their ultimate collaboration. Indeed, they pursued separate projects for some 15 years before joining forces.
You wouldn’t necessarily gather this fact from listening to Smoke Ring Halo (Southern Ground), the duo’s third fullÃ¢ÂÂlength album – their musical chemistry has never felt more profound. Oliver Wood (guitar, vocals) and Chris Wood (bass, vocals, harmonica) refine their rich, spacious sound on songs like the rousing opener “Mary Anna,” the backÃ¢ÂÂporchÃ¢ÂÂfunky “Shoofly Pie,” the waltzÃ¢ÂÂtime plaint “Pay Attention,” the elegiac title track, the gospelÃ¢ÂÂinflected “Made It Up the Mountain” and more.
With supple assistance from drummer Tyler Greenwell and a fleet of gifted guest players – not to mention GrammyÃ¢ÂÂnominated producerÃ¢ÂÂengineerÃ¢ÂÂmixer Jim Scott (Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, Lucinda Williams) – the brothers simmer, swing and soar, shifting moods and time signatures with aplomb. As ever, Oliver’s livedÃ¢ÂÂin, expressive voice and urgent fretwork bounce off Chris’ propulsive standÃ¢ÂÂup bass lines, inÃ¢ÂÂtheÃ¢ÂÂpocket harmonies and ghostly harmonica phrases. But this time Chris contributed some lead vocals, displaying a startlingly pure tone on the dreamy “The Shore” and the slideÃ¢ÂÂspiced “Rainbow.”
They both imbibed the heady tones and stories of American roots music – notably folk, blues, bluegrass and country – at the feet of their father, a molecular biologist with a passion for performing. “Even before we discovered his record collection, we listened to him around the campfire or at family gatherings,” Oliver recalls of assorted hootenannies at their Boulder, Colorado, home and other locales.
“He’d entertain anybody.” Adds Chris, “Having that experience of live music at home was pretty important. It definitely affected the way my brother and I view music.” Their mother, a poet, meanwhile, taught them a deep appreciation for storytelling and turn of phrase.
Though initially “too shy to sing,” Oliver became obsessed with the guitar, especially as voiced by bluesmen like Lightnin’ Hopkins and Jimmy Reed. Chris, who cites the “roundness, warmth and mystery” of those same blues recordings as a primary influence, studied clarinet and piano but gravitated toward jazz sounds; by the time he took up the bass he was fully enraptured. The boys discovered classic rock artists like Hendrix and Led Zeppelin on their own along the way; Oliver followed those monster guitar riffs back to the electric blues of “the Kings” (B.B., Albert and Freddie), Albert Collins and other midcentury masters. He too spent some time spellbound by the complex filigrees of bebop – but, as he says, “I came back full circle” to roots music.
Their paths diverged after those teenage explorations. Oliver briefly attended UC Santa Cruz before dropping out to follow some fellow musicians to Atlanta, where he tackled Motown and other R&B covers on guitar in local clubs. “I was learning how to be a working musician,” he remembers. “I didn’t yet have aspirations to be an artist.” Though that band didn’t last long, a regular TuesdayÃ¢ÂÂnight gig at Fat Matt’s Rib Shack enabled him to hone his chops and learn from older players. He eventually secured a spot in the band of veteran bluesman Tinsley Ellis, touring widely and experiencing the elder musician’s “workhorse” schedule. It was his mentor Ellis who ultimately encouraged him to approach the microphone. “He gave me a Freddie King song, ’See See Baby,’ to sing in the set,” Oliver relates. “He encouraged me to write and sing. That’s where I got the fire to do my own thing.”
He formed King Johnson with his buddy Chris Long, layering R&B, funk, soul and country elements over their beloved blues influences. He toured constantly with that “labor of love” band during the 12 years of its existence; KJ released six albums and eventually became a sixÃ¢ÂÂpiece outfit (including a horn section).
Chris, meanwhile, went off to the New England Conservatory of Music (NEC), developing his virtuosic skills on bass, studying with jazz luminaries like Geri Allen and Dave Holland and gigging regularly as a sideman. It was during a fateful session in Western Massachusetts that he met keyboard wizard John Medeski; with drummer Billy Martin, they would go on to form the hugely influential, genreÃ¢ÂÂbusting instrumental trio Medeski Martin & Wood in the early ’90s. MMW released a string of discs combining jazz, funk, blues, experimental noise and myriad other subgenres and styles into their own distinctive amalgam, and mesmerized audiences worldwide with their seemingly telekinetic improvisation. Wood’s colossal grooves on both electric and acoustic axes – not to mention his imaginative use of paper behind the strings and other soundÃ¢ÂÂaltering techniques – made him the bass player’s bass player.
Eventually, King Johnson opened for MMW in WinstonÃ¢ÂÂSalem, N.C., and Oliver sat in with his brother’s band. “It was a slightly creepy experience, like watching myself” Chris notes. “He had a lot of the same impulses I did. Part of it was influences and part of it was blood.” Agrees Oliver, “It opened our eyes that we could communicate on a musical level.”
In 2004, the brothers seized the opportunity presented by a family reunion and recorded some material together on Chris’ mobile gear. The sound of their blended styles was instantly compelling. “It was pretty amazing to get together with Chris,” Oliver muses. “We played together as teenagers, then we went in separate directions for 15 years. We’d developed our own thing and seemingly different styles and roads, but we were both blown away by how much we had in common. The roots are still there.”
Oliver took the music they’d recorded, added lyrics and finished it as a song. Encouraged by their initial foray, the Woods decided to take the next step, with Chris learning a batch of Oliver’s songs and the pair tracking a demo. Though they’d done it for their own amusement, MMW’s manager was sufficiently impressed to pass the music on to Blue Note Records. No sooner had they begun to think of themselves as a band than the Wood Brothers had a record deal. (Prior to releasing their album debut for the label, the pair dropped an EP, Live at Tonic; it was culled from their very first gig together, at the storied New York club.)
Oliver had spent years polishing his singing and songwriting but felt his guitar chops needed work. Chris, meanwhile, was a monster player who’d spent 15 years making instrumental music and had to reacclimate himself to vocals and pop song structure. These different emphases ended up serving them well. “I had these songs and could sing and play ’em well,” reflects Oliver, “and Chris’ strength – at the time – was to take my songs and make ’em sound completely cool and unique. Instead of a typical band situation, you had this incredible upright bass.”
2006 saw the release of their first album, Ways Not to Lose, which was named top pick in folk by Amazon.com’s editors that year. “Modern folk and blues rarely sounds as inventive and colorful,” declared Amazon reviewer Ted Drozdowski, who deemed the disc “delightful” and declared the brothers “in absolute synch creatively.”
Ways was produced by MMW’s John Medeski, who had been stunned by Oliver’s compositions. “He’s an unbelievable songwriter – his material is deep,” the keyboardist marvels. “I can’t tell you how many of Oliver’s songs I thought were old traditional standards. They just sound classic.” Medeski went on to produce the Brothers’ 2008 followÃ¢ÂÂup, Loaded (heralded as one NPR’s “Overlooked 11”); he also contributes some tasty organ playing to Smoke Ring Halo. “I just love his musical sensibility,” Oliver says of his brother’s longtime bandmate.
Working with Jim Scott on Halo, the Woods were able to explore new sounds. “Because he’s also an engineer, he’s very technically knowledgeable; he’s a fantastic sonic guy,” Oliver volunteers. “That’s why this record sounds so different from our others.” Also, Chris points out, “We recorded on twoÃ¢ÂÂinch analog tape this time, so it has that fat, natural sound we love.”
In 2010, the Woods and drummer Greenwell hit the road with rootsÃ¢ÂÂrock phenom Zac Brown. “It was about the best openingÃ¢ÂÂband situation I can imagine,” Chris says of the tour, which sometimes put the Wood Brothers before crowds of 20,000 – many times larger than the usual audience for their headlining gigs. “Zac was really great; he’d come out and play with us during our set, and invite us out to join in during his.” Oliver notes that he and his brother “learned a lot by watching Zac and his band.”
Brown also wooed the Woods over to his own label, Southern Ground; he served as executive producer on Smoke Ring Halo.
And so the two brothers continued pursuing the musical adventure they’d begun in childhood. For although their paths diverged for many years, and they forged very different careers in disparate places, the Wood Brothers are never far from the musical currents that formed their musical impulses in the first place. It may be, in Chris’ formation, part influences and part blood. But it’s all magic.
Poor Old Shine
Storrs CT | Singer-Songwriter
From their handpainted cereal box cd cases to their thoughtful arrangements, Poor Old Shine, a Roots/Americana band from Storrs, CT is about honesty and hand crafted creativity. It's foot stomping, mind racing, dirty, down home Americana. They travel with an assortment of instruments including guitars, banjos, pump organ, mandolin, string bass, musical saw, washboard, and a yard-sale-scrap-metal drum set. It’s old songs with a new feel, banjos with paint peeled, shoes with holes and treadless soles, and music that is real.
The music is rooted in the folk and Appalachian mountain music tradition and fits in well at bluegrass festivals and sticky rock clubs alike. They have been compared favorably to The Band, John Prine, and Johnny Cash. Each set mixes the band's original songwriting with traditional folk ballads, prison work songs, and front porch style jamming.
Poor Old Shine features Chris Freeman (banjo), Max Shakun (guitar, pump organ), Antonio Alcorn (Mandolin), and Harrison Goodale (Bass).Since forming at University Of Connecticut in 2011, Poor Old Shine has played to sellout crowds at some of the best venues across the country including Infinity Music Hall (Norfolk, CT), The Kennedy Center (D.C.), The Evening Muse (Charlotte, NC), Club Passim (Cabridge, MA) and many more! They won the Emerging Artist Showcase at the 2012 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, and were voted fan favorite at the Podunk Bluegrass Festival (Norwich, CT).
Nashville TN | Country
Jim Lauderdale is a Grammy® Award winning musician and one of the most respected artists working the Bluegrass, Country and Americana music communities today. He is considered one of Nashville's "A" list of songwriters with songs recorded by artists such as Patty Loveless, Shelby Lynne, Solomon Burke, The Dixie Chicks and George Strait, who has had numerous hits with Jim’s songs. Jim’s music has been featured recently on the ABC hit show “Nashville” and he had several tracks on the soundtrack of the successful film “Pure Country.” Jim is also in high demand as a player, touring with the likes of Lucinda Williams, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Rhonda Vincent and Elvis Costello.
Jim, who frequently collaborates with legends like Ralph Stanley and Elvis Costello, is also a critically acclaimed solo artist with dozens of studio releases, including his latest Carolina Moonrise, written with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter and Buddy and Jim the critically acclaimed new duets album recorded with long time friend Buddy Miller of which Mojo states: “Miller and Lauderdale's duets has both the easy familiarity of old friends and the musicianship of old pros.”
In addition to making music together, Buddy and Jim also co-host “The Buddy & Jim Show,” recently described as “…highly entertaining…” by NPR’s Fresh Air. Each week Buddy and Jim invite artists to Buddy’s home studio in Nashville, where they tape performances and in depth interviews with a wide variety of artists and friends. Jim also hosts the popular Music City Roots each week from the Loveless Barn in Nashville and since winning "Artist of the Year" and "Song of the Year" at the first "Honors and Awards Show" held by the Americana Music Association in 2002, he has subsequently hosted the show each year.
Jim is the subject of a new documentary, directed by Australian filmmaker Jeremy Dylan called “The King Of Broken Hearts.” The feature length documentary tells Jim’s unconventional and prolific story from his North Carolina roots, being immersed in the country music scenes in both New York City and Los Angeles, to breaking through in Nashville as a songwriter.
Jim's musical influences, including the legendary Dr. Ralph Stanley and George Jones, can be heard in his songs with his unique sense of melody and lyrical expertise. He won his first Grammy Award in 2002 with Dr. Ralph Stanley for Lost in the Lonesome Pines (Dualtone) and then for The Bluegrass Diaries (Yep Roc) in 2007. In addition to previously mentioned releases, as a performer Jim is credited with production, writing and collaborating on over two dozen albums including Wait ’Til Spring (SkyCrunch/Dualtone 2003) with Donna the Buffalo and Headed for the Hills (Dualtone 2004) his first total project with Robert Hunter, Planet of Love (Reprise 1991,) Pretty Close to the Truth (Atlantic 1994,) Every Second Counts (Atlantic 1995,) Persimmons (Upstart 1998,) Whisper (BNA 1998,) Onward Through It All (RCA 1999,) The Other Sessions (Dualtone 2001,) The Hummingbirds (Dualtone 2002,) Bluegrass (Yep Roc 2006,) Country Super Hits, Volume 1 (Yep Roc 2006,) Honey Songs (Yep Roc 2008), Could We Get Any Closer? (SkyCrunch 2009,) Patchwork River (Thirty Tigers 2010) and Reason and Rhyme (Sugar Hill Records 2011.)
Jim's musical influences include the legendary Dr. Ralph Stanley and George Jones. These influences and his unique sense of melody and lyric help forge a sound that is truly his own. As a performer his credits include production, writing and collaborating on albums such as, "Wait 'Til Spring" with Donna the Buffalo, "Headed for the Hills” with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, "I Feel Like Singing Today" and the Grammy winning “Lost in the Lonesome Pines” with Ralph Stanley and The Clinch Mountain Boys.
His second solo bluegrass album, “Bluegrass Diaries” (Yep Roc 2007) won a Grammy in the “Bluegrass Album of the Year” category. His next album, “Honey Songs” was released in February 2008, and features an incredible lineup of musicians including James Burton, Garry Tallent, Al Perkins, Glen D. Hardin, Ron Tutt, Emmy Lou Harris, Patty Loveless, and many more.
Jim’s solo albums include “The Hummingbirds” (Dualtone 2002), “The Other Sessions” (Dualtone 2001), “Onward Through it All” (RCA 1999), “Whisper” (BNA 1998), “Persimmons” (Upstart 1996), “Every Second Counts” (Atlantic 1995), “Pretty Close to the Truth” (Atlantic 1994), and “Planet of Love” (Reprise 1991), as well as two releases in 2006, “Country Super Hits, Volume 1” and “Bluegrass” (Yep Roc), Grammy winner "The Bluegrass Diaries" (Yep Roc 2007), "Honey Songs" (Yep Roc 2008) "Could We Get Any Closer?" (Sky Crunch 2009) and "Patchwork River" (Thirty Tigers 2010).
"It's been a particularly great period for me," says Lauderdale. "Thanks to the records - I'm performing more and more, which I love. And I love that I can play the Opry one weekend, a jam-band festival the next and then a bluegrass festival the following week. That's really inspiring to me and I think there's a real thread there. The roots are the same for all of them and that's the music I'm interested in."