Disagreeing, Without Being Disagreeable


Fast Tube

Can we disagree, without being disagreeable?  US House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) thinks so.  Ryan flies the flag of Jack Kemp’s optimistic conservatism.  I wasn’t such a fan of Kemp back in the day (I don’t usually trust Quarterbacks).

“Ideas, passionately promoted, put to the test. That’s what politics can be. That’s what our country can be.”  With experience, I am much more appreciative of the importance of good governance and the hard work of debating ideas instead of attacking individuals.

This PBS Newshour video is a bit of a long read in our Twitter age.  The Speaker offers about 15 minutes, speaking to young people in the House Ways & Means chambers, with about 15 minutes of Q&A.  It’s worth your time in these troubling times.

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#NeverTrump

GOPlogo

I have been more-or-less politically active since I was young, but have mostly avoided politics in favor of policy (and the pursuit of Americana) on this blog.  I do follow conservative politics, and am professionally committed to good governance, but have not declared for a presidential candidate this election cycle.  However, in advance of Colorado’s caucuses (even in absence of a presidential preference poll), I am compelled to declare that I will never, never, never support the candidacy of one Donald Trump.

I believe that Eric Erickson makes the case in his new blog, The Resurgent:

 I will not vote for Donald Trump for President of the United States even if he is the Republican nominee.

He is an authoritarian blending nationalist and tribal impulses, which historically has never worked out well for the nation that goes in that direction or the people in that nation.

He will not win in November. He will not win because he turns off a large number of Republicans; he turns off women; he turns off hispanic voters; he turns off black voters; and the blue collar voters who support him are not a sufficient base of support to carry him over the finish line….

Trump is a liberal who has supported big government, interventionist policies. He defends Planned Parenthood, says he can cut deals in Washington, and believes in a socialist government run healthcare scheme.

At a time when so much is on the line for people of faith and conservatives, Donald Trump believes judges sign bills….

Trump is also a con-artist and the media, which has built his campaign is going to destroy his campaign. After he secures the Republican nomination, the media will trot out every victim and perceived victim of Trump’s actions. All the people hurt by repeated strategic bankruptcies, all the people swindled by Trump University, and anyone who got food poisoning from Trump steaks will be in a 24/7 cavalcade on national television.

By the time the media and Democrats, but I repeat myself, are done with Trump, he will be radioactive.

Donald Trump will not win in November. Period. End of story….

If there ever was an East Coast liberal RINO—Republican In Name Only—he would be the one.  If I believed in conspiracy theories, I would strongly suspect the Clintonistas had put Mr. Trump up to it, as a Establishment Trojan horse.  Unfortunately, that would be too neat a scenario.  The script was set by the coarseness of our national debate and the devolution of Reality TV infotainment.  Unfortunately, democracy too often serves up the candidates we deserve.

It may be too late to #DumpTrump, but it is never too late to take a stand for common decency.

#NeverTrump

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Biological Foundations of Politics

Fukuyama - Origins of Political Order / Political Order and Political Decay

“Political institutions develop, often slowly and painfully, over time, as human societies strive to organize themselves to master their environments.  But political decay occurs when political systems fail to adjust to changing circumstances.”
—Francis Fukuyama, The Origins of Political Order

In mankind’s mythical State of Nature, are humans solitary libertarian beings—the rugged individualist, who only comes to town when the social contract offers an advantage?  Or are we inherently social creatures, allowed to stray from the fold only when the greater good doesn’t need us?  And how do these contrasting theories help (or hinder) our understanding of how we govern ourselves?

Analyst Francis Fukuyama gained notoriety with his 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man.  Of course “history” hasn’t ended, and the title certainly did gain him attention, but since then Fukuyama has thought a lot about how we got to these particular ends, and where we might be going in the the realm of political economy.  In 2011, he published a thick tome, The Origins of Political Order, and in 2014, a second volume, Political Order and Political Decay.  If Fukuyama considered the end times to begin, he goes back to the very beginning of human society and throws a lot of history at us along the way.

The philosophy is as thick as the texts are heavy.  The kind of writing that is very good at bringing on sleep quickly.  The kind of writing that demands attention, and invites re-reading.  This winter I’ve been re-visiting the 2011 installment, finding context for the 2016 political silly season.  In particular, I’ve been thinking over Fukuyama’s observations on biological foundations of politics.

  • Human beings never existed in a pre-social state.
  • Natural human sociability is built around two principles, kin selection and reciprocal altruism.
  • Human beings have an innate propensity for creating and following norms or rules.
  • Human beings (also) have a natural propensity for violence.
  • Human beings by nature desire not just material resources but also recognition.

None of these ideas are new, but Fukuyama weaves them into an argument for how our inherent biology has influenced political development around the world and across the ages.  Generalizing broadly, contra-Rousseau, the author supports the idea man is a social animal, supported (imprisoned) by family ties (kin groups).  It may take a village to raise a child, but it is also very difficult to escape the tyranny of cousins.  Reciprocal altruism—you rub my back, I’ll rub yours—is an amazingly simple relationship, yet also amazingly difficult to overcome in the name of transparency, accountability, good government and the rule of law.

Fukuyama talks a lot about the rule of law, especially in terms of property rights and contract enforcement, as a key foundation for political order, and how political order is a key foundation for long-term economic growth and development.  People across history seem to want to follow norms, which helps offset the equal urge to just fight it out, often as not over ideas as much as stuff.  As a thought for Presidents Day, that, folks, is politics.

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2015 In Review

San Juan Mountains2015 was 150 years from the end of the Civil War, and 1 more year that I changed jobs and moved, this time back to the Centennial State of Colorado.  I started out continuing the daily journal of my ancestor Pvt. Orrin Brown, then relaxing my publishing schedule and finishing with some pretty good Americana music.  I had my busiest day ever, with 240 blog views on 16 January 2015.  Thanks for sticking around.

#1 Cheyenne-Laramie County, Wyoming, Historical Timeline:  I worked for 2 years on this keyword-rich listing of major events from 1833-1992, published before I left the Cowboy State in 2014, when it was my 2nd most popular post.  Glad to share.

#2 Diary of Orrin Brown—Dec 15, 1864:  The Battle of Nashville.  Orrin Brown was laying siege to Savannah, Georgia, while Sherman’s Union rear guard held off Confederate John Bell Hood.

#3 Where the Well Things Are #11 Bittersweet in the Bakken:  There’s Oil in them there Bakken hills (and in the Denver-Julesburg, and in the San Juan Basin…) and Natural Gas if you want it.  Even if it’s not paying out so well now days as when I wrote these posts in 2013 or even last year when one was my #1 most popular post and the other #7.

#4 Little (Lego) House on the Prairie (Style):  Perennially popular post from 2009, where Lego goes all Frank Lloyd Wright.

#5 All Things Shepard:  History meets genealogy.

#6/#1 new post Diary of Orrin Brown—March 20, 1865: Pvt. Brown joins the Battle of Bentonville, as far as I could figure the only sure time he picked up arms, and just two days before he was put on permanent disability.  The 14th Michigan Infantry held their own.

#7/#2 new post Meet Some New Friends Doing Interesting Things in Community Development: Shout-out to the good works of the Orton Foundation and Sonoran Institute.

#8/#3 new post At the Wilsall Rodeo:  In honor of Cowboy Poetry Week, I brought back my ode to the Northern Rodeo Association circuit in Big Sky Country.

#9 The Diary of Pvt. Orrin Brown: The initial post for the dairy, Marching through Georgia and the Carolinas with General Sherman.

#10 Diary of Orrin Brown—Dec 31, 1864: A keyword-rich review of the timeline of the Civil War, from 15 April 1861 to the end of 1864.

#12 Ten Albums for 2015 – Corb and Rhiannon, Bob Wills and More: My year-end review of my Top 10 Americana Albums made the dozen most-read posts in just the last two-weeks of the year.  Corb Lund, Rhiannon Giddens, Asleep at the Wheel, Ryan Bingham, James McMurtry, Jason Isbell, Gretchen Peters, Tom Russell, The Mavericks, and Nora Jane Struthers.  Great music from some good folks.

And for old time’s sake, here’s my 2014 Top Posts post.

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JC’s Americana Top Tunes Played in 2015

I played more music this year than last, thanks primarily to Spotify streaming…and having spare time between jobs last winter…and spending the holidays by my lonesome.  Mostly, though, because there was simply a LOT of good Americana-ish music released this year.  I track my music plays on the London-based last.fm and their Scrobbler app, 2015 is now over.  Stats served over-easy.

Top 25 Artists scrobbled (mostly via Spotify) in 2015

Johnny Cash has ruled my charts since I’ve had charts, but Corb Lund ruled my charts in 2015.  Overall, though I just had a LOT more plays among all artists, but in particular from the Americana Radio Chart toppers.  I was playing both Jason Isbell and Gretchen Peters‘ previous strong albums when their current releases came out.  I also revisited Audrey Auld/Audrey Auld Mazera‘s catalog upon her death this summer.  RIP Audrey, you brought such happiness and joy to many, many lives.

Top Artists 2015

Top Albums I played in 2015

Yes, did I mention Corb Lund ruled my charts this year?  I overplayed his late-year release, Things That Can’t Be Undone.  Yes, overplayed it like a Top 40 radio station.  My bad, but it is that good.  If he had released it earlier in the year I’m sure it would have reached more Best Of lists.  While I wasn’t as impressed with Jason Isbell‘s Something More Than Free as I was with his previous release, Southeastern, NoDepression website gave him their Top Album of 2015.  There’s also several Grammy nominees lurking in here, which is a big change for me.

For the most part, my album chart forms the backbone of my own Best Of lists for 2015 (Top 10, and 10 More).

Top Albums 2015

Top Tracks I played in 2015

My Top Tracks tracks my Top Albums a bit more closely this year.  I did a Spotify list of albums as they entered the Top 10 of the Americana Radio Chart (with some help from friends), then picked a favorite track after playing thru the album a few tries (which also increased my Scrobble rate considerably).  Lund, Giddens, McMurtry, Bingham, Peters, Isbell, you get the drill.  Interestingly, I ended up giving my favorite tracks about the same number of spins this year as last, though the top 20 or so are more closely clustered.  Too much good music to choose from!

Top Tracks 2015

That, my friends, is the 2015 edition of JC’s last.fm statistics.  Some serious navel gazing here.  Thanks for listening.  The upcoming Grammy awards have some interesting nominees, and  I hear there’s some more top-notch Americana productions scheduled for 2016 release.  Yeah, roots music.

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10 More Albums for 2015—Americana’s JV Team

Dwight's New Album Ad

Americana’s Junior Varsity Team was strong this year.  The starting line-up was stellar, but the underclassmen are nipping at their heels.  And I know some other coaches would (have) moved my players up to prime-time.  (Yeah, I’m watching college bowl games on TV and college basketball on the iGizmo while I’m streaming on the iMac…)

So here’s a few of the rest of the artists who knocked my ear-socks off with new releases this year and earned at least 100 plays on the old Scrobble-meter.

Dwight Yoakam — Second Hand Heart

Dwight returned to his rocking, rockabilly, go-go-go trademark ways with this release.  I liked it, but no one track caught my playlist early on.  Other than his cover of “Man of Constant Sorrow”, the tune featured in the movie Oh Brother Where Art Thou.  That one I unchecked off iTunes pretty darn quick.  I heard he sold out the casino in Ignacio, so bless him his current success.

Aaron Watson — The Underdog

Aaron Watson has been a solid Texas-Country underdog for some time now, working his way up with the honky tonk crowd.  He really impressed me with his tribute to rodeo cowboy Lane Frost, “July in Cheyenne”, and I just missed catching him live during Frontier Days.  My caveat on this release was, well, he went too far over to the Dark Side of Pop Country.  It’s a bit too polished, a bit too smooth…which paid off in a #1 spot on Billboard’s Country Chart on release.  Ride that pony long as you can.

Justin Townes Earle — Absent Fathers

A nice follow-up to last year’s Single Mothers, I think this just came out too early in the year and got lost in my clutter.  They’re really two discs of one work, and play well together.

Steve Earle — Terraplane

Steve Earle & the Dukes paid tribute to the blues on Terraplane.  And it’s not at all political (my usual beef with Steve Earle, James McMurtry and some other old hippies).  It’s just, well, the effort seems dialed-in.  Earle the Senior can do better than this.

Wrinkle Neck Mules — I Never Thought It Would Go This Far

I hate to admit it, but I don’t know much about Wrinkle Neck Mules.  They’ve just kind of floated about the edges of my sonic consciousness, four guitars and a drum kit.  This release took me a bit by surprise, especially the first (very) catchy track, “Whistlers and Sparklers”, which reminds me a lot of Fort Collins favorites Drag the River in a Son Volt sorta way.

Blackberry Smoke — Holding All the Roses

I came across this album late.  Some good friends like them, and I should have paid attention.  I think its a timing thing.  Just haven’t taken my Lynyrd Skynyrd albums off the shelf recently, although I’m glad Blackberry Smoke gave me the thought. (DJ warning on first and last tracks!)

Whitehorse — Leave No Bridge Unburned

No idea where Whitehorse came from (Canada) or who they are (folk-rock duo, more rock than folk).  As an urban planner-type, I basically couldn’t resist a song titled “Downtown”.  They’re catchy and fun.

The Honeycutters — Me Oh My

Kickstarter gave us this gem of an acoustic album from an Asheville, North Carolina, “original country roots band” fronted by songwriter Amanda Anne Platt, a Chris Austin finalist at MerleFest 2011.

Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell — The Traveling Kind

I know some artists don’t much care for online streaming, and Spotify in particular, but the service has been a godsend for musical variety on a tight pocketbook.  I’m also thrilled with Spotify’s partnership with last.fm, ensuring my streaming gets Scrobbled.  On the downside, Spotify doesn’t do duos.  C’mon people, the technology can’t be that hard!  So this album gets credited to Emmylou, not the two.  Then again, last.fm never did Various Artists very well either….  Oh, yeah, the music is sold, too.  Nice follow-up on 2013’s Old Yellow Moon.  Grammy nominations, that sort of thing.

Dale Watson — Call Me Insane

When Dale Watson comes on the my streaming radio jukebox speakers I know I like it, but I often forget if I’m listening to George or Merle or one of the other kingpins of classic country music.  Cause Dale Watson’s that good.  He’s got this weird “Ameripolitan” thing going now for anti-pop.  I hate the name.  Hate it. Hate it. Hate it.  But I love his straight old more-country than Country music.


 

I also have kind words for Mark Knopfler‘s Tracker. Mr. Knopfler doesn’t Spotify, otherwise I would have played this more.  In many ways, it is a continuation of his 2000 release, Sailing to Philadelphia.  This is an album, not a collection of singles, and deserves full attention anyway.  You’re going to hear more about Chris Stapleton‘s Traveller, too, before next year is out.  Grammy nominations, that sort of thing.

2015 has been a good year.  I understand that starving artists deserve to get paid, but for me the streaming isn’t displacing the buying.  It’s free advertising, displacing awful terrestrial radio.  I’m hoping folks keep showing up and playing the game even if the rules need a 21st century re-write.  I’m stretching the analogy, yes, but Americana’s Varsity is bound to get a bigger roster in 2016.

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Ten Albums for 2015 – Corb and Rhiannon, Bob Wills and More

Corn Lund-Things That Can't Be Undone

JC’s Top 10 Americana Albums of 2015

In relative ranked order, subject to change.

In January, I predicted a banner year for roots music in 2015, and back in June I highlighted a few albums showing early promise. I have not been disappointed. In part I tried to pay more attention to new releases again, thanks to Spotify streaming on my iPad (there is just no way I could purchase every new release showing up on the Americana Radio Chart, not to mention the Freeform American Roots charts).  In part, despite another move this year, I just paid more attention.  Like keeping up with email spam in your spam filter it pays off.  And in part, independent artists (and a few studio-backed musicians) delivered the goods.

Corb LundThings That Can’t Be Undone

Once again, the top of my top albums of the year list is topped by Corb Lund.  The release starts out strong with the catchy “Weight of the Gun” then into “Run This Town” (with an artsy video release).  “Sadr City”, a veterans’ tale of remorse, caught me on the first try, and the subtle “Alice Eyes” on the second. Yet it was “S Lazy H” that reeled me in with a classic tale of the Good Son, who stays at home to run the family farm then is cut to the wolves when the family falls apart—this song should be the new anthem of Farm Aid.  Canadian Corb Lund is putting the Western back in Country & Western, and the Country back in Country music.

Rhiannon GiddensTomorrow Is My Turn

T. Bone Burnett delivers again, as Rhiannon Giddens delivers a powerful solo debut proving her magic with Carolina Chocolate Drops was no flash in the pan, and well-deserving of a GRAMMY nomination for Best Folk Album.  “Last Kind Words” by 1930s bluesman Geeshie Wiley opens the album, followed closely by Dolly Parton’s “Don’t Let It Trouble Your Mind” which opened 1969’s In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad).  The collection features her broad repertoire from Hank Cochran’s “She’s Got You” to several traditional folk and blues adaptations.  Her 5-song EP Factory Girl, released late in the year, is pretty awesome, too.

Asleep at the WheelStill the King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys

As Waylon sung, Bob Wills is still the King of Country Music, whether you’re in Texas or not.  And the GRAMMY Awards recognized it with a nomination as Best Recording Package for this collaborative project featuring the likes of Amos Lee, Avett Brothers, Lyle Lovett, Merle Haggard, Ray Benson, Old Crow Medicine Show, Willie Nelson, Del McCoy, The Time Jumpers, George Strait, Elizabeth Cook, Brad Paisley, Carrie Rodriguez, Robert Earl Keen and more.  While not the first tribute Asleep at the Wheel has put together for Bob Wills, this release rises to the top of my post-played list simply because it’s jam-packed with 20 tracks.  It also rises to the top of my best-of list simply because of truth-in-advertising:  Bob Wills is Still the King.

Ryan BinghamFear & Saturday Night

Fear and Saturday Night, Ryan Bingham‘s 5th major release, came in January early in the year and the dozen original songs seem to have gotten lost in the haze of awards season.  The pop-ish single “Radio” was, obviously, made for radio, as a nice foil for the first track “Nobody Knows My Trouble” which features Bingham’s trademark gravel washed in borderlands tequila.  Thank you, Señor Bingham, for a fun romp for a night out at the honky tonk or under the West Texas stars.

James McMurtryComplicated Game

Like Steve Earle, I hate James McMurtry‘s politics, but I absolutely love the man’s songwriting.  And by that, I mean both the songs and the writing—both men know how to tell stories, and how to match music and melody to those stories.  This year, McMurtry clearly beat out Earle’s fine release Terraplane with a memorable collection worthy of a repeat setting on the disc changer.  I’m terribly impressed by the nuance and craftsmanship, every phrase carefully chosen and every note in place from the deer-soaked pickup bed in “Copper Canteen” to the been-there, done-that Veteran’s lament in “South Dakota”.  McMurtry has penned several anti-war and anti-Conservative screeds, but in the profanity-laced “South Dakota” he sets that aside, or moves beyond it, or something such that he puts us in the place we all know without beating us over the head with it.  “It’s not our day, just our time.”

Jason IsbellSomething More Than Free

There is just no way that Jason Isbell could have lived up to his 2013 breakout album Southeastern, but he did a heck of job anyway.  If you are new to Isbell, as a solo artist or in a group setting, Something More Than Free (GRAMMY-nominated for Best Americana album), would be an excellent introduction and only pales in comparison.  The first two tracks, “If It Takes a Lifetime” and “24 Frames” (GRAMMY-nominated for Best American Roots Song) set the tone for a mature album—an album, more than a collection of songs—that offers a promise that Isbell is in the performing songwriter game for the long run.

Gretchen PetersBlackbirds by Gretchen Peters

Boulder girl made good in Nashville, Gretchen Peters delivers a poetic album with Blackbirds.  Like Isbell’s release, it also only pares in comparison to her stunning previous release, Hello Cruel World.  And like Isbell (who contributed backing vocals), Peters brings us a curated collection wherein the sum is greater than the individual songs.  Ben Glover co-wrote the title track and two others, while Matraca Berg and Suzy Bogguss get co-writing credit on “Black Ribbons”.  Murder ballads, addiction, natural disasters, everything evil and beyond understanding gets washed in the light.

Tom RussellRose of Roscrae

The Rose of Roscrae is two-disc Folk Opera, a bookend on an epic trilogy on which he embarked with 1998’s The Man from God Knows Where and 2005’s Hotwalker.  The story is the story of America and the American West, from Ireland to the cowtowns and ranches of the great wide open.  The title track was co-written with Gretchen Peters and her husband Barry Walsh, with numerous guest artists and historical artists like Walt Whitman and Lead Belly edited in.  It takes work to get the most out of this creation, so take a weekend, leave the TV off, and run through this trifecta instead.

The MavericksMono

Several albums over contended for the mid-majors among my favorite albums this year.  I enjoyed The Mavericks before their year 2000 hiatus, and February’s release Mono was in the right place at the right time as a fun, high-energy album.  And I’m including them here despite their Grammy nominations for Best American Roots Song (for the opener, “All Night Long”) and Best Americana Album.  It’s not that any one track clearly contends for ear-worm status.  It’s more that it’s just really pleasant to listen from one to twelve, start to finish.

Nora Jane StruthersWake

The one-time Barefoot Band chanteuse brings us a dozen original songs on her third solo release.  Despite myself, I really like the high-energy track “I Don’t Care.”  It’s all a bit more pop-country maybe than I usually allow on the string-band side of my music library, but what the hay.  Wake up and smell the Nora.

Other Highlights of the Year:  I can’t say I was disappointed by the albums I highlighted in June, like Justin Townes Earle‘s Absent Fathers or Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell‘s The Traveling Kind (also GRAMMY-nominated), but the releases above rose to the top.  I also liked Patty Griffin‘s Servant of Love (GRAMMY-nominated), a nice melodic release, and Charlie Parr‘s Stumpjumper full of high-energy blues.  Chris Stapleton‘s Traveller, GRAMMY-nominated for Album of the Year, dropped off my list after he embraced rap-music on network TV, but it’s pretty good for what it is.  You wouldn’t go wrong checking ’em out.

I also know I would love Brennen Leigh Sings Lefty Frizzell (On the cover of the December 3rd Coast Music w/4 stars & Top of the FAR chart) if I had got off my lazy butt and ordered it.  Brennen Leigh, a Fargo-Moorhead girl made good in Austin, was the first artist to send me music to play on KRFC back in the day.  [Edit: Look what I found on Spotify! I can understand why she hasn’t put it on Spotify, but….] something to put on my XMAS List, hint, hint.

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An Americana Project—The Future of the Music and the Future of Making Music

Americana Project November 2015

“Without this class, school would suck.”  The relevance of public education to learning was lost to many of us, and it certainly seems this spirit is alive and well yet today.

The Americana Project is the class that doesn’t suck.  Six seasons ago, Pagosa Springs, Colorado, performing artist Bob Hemenger took his passion for music to the local school board and with moral and financial support from the community convinced them to invest in the arts, with a difference.  This elective course creates a space for about 15 students a year to explore the American Folk Arts, from diverse musical traditions to songwriting and performing to actually producing two or three events over the course of the school year.

Bob hemenger, Instructor and Sax Player

“This is about catching the kids who would be doing their own thing, but maybe wouldn’t do the usual music, choir or band,” said Hemenger.  The Pagosa Springs class is based on the project Brad Tisdel started in Sisters, Oregon (home of Sisters Folk Fest), and has grown from there.  Rather than a fixed curriculum, Hemenger guides the course based in part on the kids in the class, but also drawing on his experience in the music business, and opportunities to bring in local and touring artists.

Songs of the Fall

This year Pagosa Springs High School hosted touring artists who were also local. Stetson Adkisson grew up in Pagosa Springs and went off to Nashville, where he met the beautiful and talented Cia Cherryholmes, who earned Grammy nominations as part of her family’s Cherryhomes bluegrass band.  Today the couple perform acoustic music as Songs of the Fall, and call the mountains of Southwest Colorado home.

Students of the Americana Project

Stetson may be the local kid made good, and Cia the Nashville Star, but the students of Pagosa Springs High School were the real stars of the Americana Project concert on election day, 3 November 2015.  The kids kicked off the concert. Regan Richardson played Uke, and Andrew Grant played an original piano piece which he said his father composed. Sydney Dreyer (of the quote above) played a folky cover on the guitar.  Allay, Izzy & Tristan performed a three-part harmony, and Swedish exchange student Alma Sigurdsson blew up the concert hall with a  powerful performance of “Almost is Never Enough”.


Fast Tube

Stetson & Cia played to the students’ vibe.  They had spent the day at the school, visiting with the Americana Project class and performing for the student body, and the evening performance for the community felt a lot like a big house concert.  The duo opened with high energy acoustic originals featuring Cia’s boisterous banjo, then turned torch to twang with a cover of the Eurythmics’ 1983 hit “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”.  Stetson also gave shout outs to the local Four Corners Folk and Bluegrass festivals, within sight of the high school up on Reservoir Hill each summer, and to The Turnpike Troubadours and this year’s self-titled release with a cover of “Diamonds and Gasoline”.  For the finale, the entire class came up on stage for a rousing rendition of the Carter Family classic “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”.


Fast Tube

Stetson & Cia released an EP in 2012, and a Songs of the Fall CD in 2013 that still plays fresh.  At our local high school, the couple also shared a new song—Stetson said it was their first public performance, sharing a moving story of inspiration.  I didn’t quite catch the title.  It may be Lucky, or So Lucky, or So Damn Lucky to Be Alive.  Any way you sort of it, music fans are lucky for the artistry of Songs of the Fall, and the teachers and students of the Americana Project—the future of the music and the future of making music.

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Colman Industrial Park

Colman Industrial Park, Pagosa Springs
Pagosa Springs, Colorado, may have the prettiest backdrop for an industrial park you’ll ever find. Industrial Circle pictured here, with Colman Blvd & Archuleta County’s Steven Field airport in the background.
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A Song Ain’t Nothin’ But a Story: Wes Weddell’s Nobody’s Flag

Wes Weddell Cover

I’ve seen a quote attributed to the great Hank Williams: “A song ain’t nothin’ in the world but a story just wrote with music to it.”  In Norse legend, the Three Norns sit at the foot of Yggdrasil, the tree of the world, and spin the threads of fate in the intertwined story of our lives.

In his fifth release, Seattle’s Wes Weddell and his band pick up this thread with Nobody’s Flag, a 10-song contemplation on the stories of our lives.  The first track, “Gray” is inspired by The Wizard of Oz—with a personal reflection that what we’re looking for on the road was waiting for us back at home all along.  Over the last five years, Weddell has written & performed original songs based on literature as part of a Seattle book club, and is now sharing the results.  It could be gimmicky, but it’s not, and how often do we get to bounce from the likes of Slaughterhouse Five (Track 5, “Not Enough”) to Dr. Seuss (Track 9, “Too Many”)?

Stories, lyrics and the artist’s effort to go beyond the pop hook draw me to Roots music, and drew me to a second (and third and fourth) listen to this album.  Because, I confess, on the first listen all I heard was a folk vocal that left me cold—nothing personal, but like Bob Dylan and many other folk artists, the vocal tone doesn’t please my ear, and yet like Dylan, the songs speak for themselves.  Then even my tone-deafness resolves itself on the last track, “One Year Older”, a pean to a poem by Ed Skoog and title source that I would have expected to sound like Gram Parsons (who has a cameo in the original) but emerges more like a Larry McMurtry cowboy lullaby than the Larry McMurtry song (Track 7, “Everything I Ever Wanted to Do”).

I also typically prefer a stripped-down production—just the facts, ma’am–though in this case the production seems not too much, or not enough, but just right.  For instance, the arrangement with fiddle on Track 10 sets a High Plains / Texas Border feel that would feel much different with a Byrds arrangement.  The production delivers an Americana listening experience that complements Weddell’s lyricism and songwriting skill, spinning new threads in the musical story of our lives.
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