Quicksand Soup – Miss You Darling Doesn’t Miss

Sand Sheff has been one of my favorite Colorado Americana artists since my radio days at KRFC in Fort Collins. Sand is, I suppose more technically, a regional West-of-Nashville/East-of-Bakersfield Rocky Mountain Western & Country artist. These days he’s taken up with a band over at Moab, Utah, way–Qucksand Soup, featuring top notch instrumental talent, five great vocalists, and catchy and unique songs, self described as “alt.bluegrass” whatever that is.

Quicksand Soup has a couple albums out, and now up on Spotify and other fine digital music platforms. The main event is titled Miss You Darling, and the collection of 13 songs doesn’t miss. Opening track “Kimberley” is the strongest song on the album, almost catchy enough for pop country radio without being too saccharine for traditional country enthusiasts. The Sand Sheff original continues strong songwriting credentials from his previous efforts, in particular Sheff’s 2004 release, Free On This Mountain, which remains one of my favorite all time albums.

The ensemble continues with a mix of Sheff-penned songs and covers, including Merle Travis’ “16 Tons” (and what do you get, another day older and deeper in debt…) The tongue-in-cheek “You’re Too Fine To Have Your Face In A Phone” is too saccharine, but also continues in Sand’s tradition of having fun with the music. The title track comes in 5th position with tight harmonies, and a nice little mandolin run among the fiddle and guitar work. Overall, the album brings together a variety of County & Western tunes appealing to a broad audience, town or country.

Quicksand Soup also put out a traditional Western album, Colorado Trail, also in Sand Sheff’s tradition of cowboy music (i.e. Cowboyin’, Dust), and the website has links to Country Sweetgrass and Western Gospel releases. If you happen to be in the Beehive State, the band plays in Moab every Wednesday night thru summer, then at Helper Arts Festival in Helpr, Utah, on 8/16/19, and the Salt Lake City Bluegrass Concert on 8/17.

My only quibble with Quicksand Soup, and a reason I delayed my review since the CD dropped this spring, is that I got hung up on the band’s name. I’m not usually one to judge a book or band by it’s cover, but I did. I could take the “Quick” and the “sand” is obvious. The “Soup” not so much. “Quicksand” is topical for a Country band, though entirely too common band name hence the appellation. I just couldn’t get over the “Soup”. So I played the music at home–the Spotify link dropped more recently so my Quicksand Soup scrobbles are under-represented. And I warmed myself up to my expectations of Sheff’s songwriting and performing skills. The music speaks for itself.


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Extremely Big Waves and Holes

Colorado seems to have emerged from several years of drought. As of June 11th, the US Drought Monitor monitored no areas of the state in even an Abnormally Dry state. A good winter has left great snowpack in the San Juan Mountains. A good spring has filled the San Juan, Animas and other Four Corners rivers. The grass is green. Life is good.

It’s a big change from the Summer of 2015, just four years ago, when our rivers ran low and the Animas turned Tang with the detritus of ancient Silverton mines. These two photos were taken at about the same place, at Durango’s Whitewater Park. Not a direct side-by-side, but you can see the river’s got elevation in Summer of 2019. Yet as they warn, there are Extremely Big Waves and Holes Due to Water Level. Earlier today, a guided raft on the San Juan River above Pagosa Springs flipped, even on 1/2 the top flows of last week. One of the tourists on board drowned. Life is short, be careful out there.


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Stinking Springs Canyon

This view used to be called Stinking Springs Canyon, before the realtors got ahold of it. Looking southwest, southwest of Pagosa Springs, Colorado.

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Out Like a Lion–New Americana Music Marches In for 2019

Winter’s march to March and Spring has had a soundtrack of the Van Zandt family’s teasers for Sky Blue mixed with each of Steve Earle’s tracks dropped to tease his tribute album to Guy Clark. “Dublin Blues” also did double-duty for St. Patrick’s Day tunes. True to form, the collection of classic Townes tracks is a Lamb chop of an album and Earle delivered a Lion of an album in GUY which I’m just getting to know and love.

First, though, I have to acknowledge a trio of Western albums that kept the home fires warm from 2018 to 209. Colter Wall’s Songs of the Plains, Dom Flemons’ Black Cowboys, and the Ballad of Buster Scruggs soundtrack got my pony through mid-winter’s snow. Add in James Steinle’s South Texas Homecoming and I’ve Scrobbled more music the first quarter of the year than I have in an entire year previous with Flemons at the top of my albums so far this year. I still think Dom got a raw deal at the Grammys, but at least we got Gillian Welch & David Rawlings’ version of “When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings”.

Now let’s talk about the new other stuff.

Bill Chambers’ 1952 came out early so I’ve played the title track “1952 Cadillac” often. Bill was a musical protege of Audrey Auld (and daddy for Kacey Chambers) and I can seldom play one without the others, but this album is a nice bit of Aussie Bill.

Hayes Carll and Ryan Bingham released on the same day, which really jammed up my Spotify feeds (plus the darn program just gets slower and slower on my old Mac with limited bandwidth anyway). Both albums–Carll’s What It Is and Bingham’s American Love Song–are good efforts that should satisfy their fans. Bingham’s single “Jingle and Go” and Carll’s single “None’ya” are both pretty catchy tho I did spin What It Is the most among the new 2019 releases. Call it a tie with the win going to the audience.

I’ve had a soft spot for Hot Club of Cowtown since they played little Murray County Central High School back in Minnesota about 10 years ago now. They brought out just 7 tracks on their January release Crossing the Great Divide–I’m not sure it’s up to their usual standards for Texas Swing but as always they have fun with a good beat. Dale Watson also always has fun, he of the Ameripolitan genre-bending soirées. Watson doesn’t disappoint with Call Me Lucky and some good old-fashioned Country music, roadhouse edition.

Before we go, I also have continued love and respect for my two favorite Favorites of 2018–Brandon Jenkins’ “Be the Revival” and Nancy K. Dillon with “Dutchman’s Gold”. It’s a year now since we lost the Red Dirt Legend. Ms. Dillon fits well into my Country AND Western soundtrack, too. And dog-gone it, let’s enjoy the making-a-living legends while they walk and play among us.


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Repost: Our Irish Elders (3.17.09)

In 1849, Thomas William Maloy married Anna Kenny, somewhere in County Roscommon, Ireland.  They soon departed Eire’s green shores for a better life in America, settling on a small farm in Upstate New York.

The Maloys—along with untold other Irish ancestors known and unknown—left all they knew and loved for the great unknown.  Thomas & Anna were certainly pushed by the Great Famine, when the population of Ireland declined by 20-25%.  However, all took a great risk to move forward to give their descendents—I and my family—a chance at a better life.

They left behind the clans who’d been together a thousand years
With music and the memories ringing in their ears
They brought with them tradition and the will to work and die
In the land known for freedom, soil and sky
The Elders, 1849

We have been very fortunate that Maloys still in New York recorded the facts and stories of Thomas and his brother and their children.  We know they came from County Roscommon via Canada.  We know that writers say the Molloy name in Connacht is typically derived from “O Maoil Aodha, ‘descendant of the devoteee of (St) Aodh’, from maol, literally ‘bald’, a reference to the distinctive tonsure sported by early Irish monks.”  We know that no Maloys were left by the time our American family went looking in the old country, although that hasn’t stopped us from continuing the quest to better understand where we come from.

So, this St. Patrick’s Day, as we lift a Guinness and sing Danny Boy, save a quiet moment to remember our Elders, the one’s who gave so much when we deserve so little.

(Originally posted 17 March 2009.)

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Kacey and Brandi Storm the Grammys

Kacey Musgraves and Brandi Carlile were big winners at the 2019 Grammy Awards this weekend, among the worthy nominees (and the rest).

Kacey Musgraves hit the County category hard, with wins for “Butterflies” (Best Country Solo) and “Space Cowboy” (Best Country Song) and Best County Album for Golden Hour, before the big BIG win of the night for Record of the Year. Still think she can do better. Still think Kacey’s better than anything else on Country radio so yeah, she deserves the Grammy (in plural). She and the girls did a nice tribute to Dolly Parton, too, so points for homage.

Brandi Carlile swept American Roots with “The Joke” (Best Performance, Best Song) and overall By the Way I Forgive You took Best Americana Album. Losing out to the Childish Gambino phenom “This is America” for Record of the Year and Song of the Year, no shame in that. Good for her.

The Punch Brothers took Best Folk Album for All Ashore, which is a real diss to Dom Flemons’ Black Cowboys and Mary Gauthier’s Rifles & Rosary Beads, both better efforts in my book–tho Punch is seldom poor, the others are simply superior. I can’t argue with Buddy Guy’s The Blues is Alive and Well, as Best Traditional Blues Album.

No need to dwell on the past. I’m looking forward to new releases from Patty Griffin, Ryan Bingham and Steve Earle (already playing his cover of Guy Clark’s “Dublin Blues” on a daily rotation). Bill Chambers’ 1952 is a nice addition to 2019 from down under, too. No worries, mate, gonna be a good year for music this year.

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The Martyr Richard Woodman

Martyr: 1a person who voluntarily suffers death as the penalty of witnessing to and refusing to renounce a religion. 2: a person who sacrifices something of great value and especially life itself for the sake of principle.

It is difficult in this day and age and place to wrap our heads around the idea that people once were (and around the world still today are) willing to give up their lives for religion, for ideas, for faith. It seems, in the modern Western World, our only Faith is in ourselves.

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. became a martyr 50 years ago, assassinated on 4 April 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee–he suffered death for the sake of principle, for his faith in the ultimate humanity of mankind and the American Republic. Today, 21 January 2019, we have a Federal Holiday to reflect on the man and his mission. Yet, who among us would make the same sacrifice half a century later?

Five centuries ago, martyrdom was much more common in the Western World than today. The original Martin Luther had ignited the Protestant Reformation in 1517, posting his 95 theses on the front door of the Wittenburg Castle church (since Facebook wasn’t invented yet). In Merry Olde England, Henry VIII may have just wanted a divorce from the Pope in 1527, the English Reformation soon turned political, and bloody. Parliament separated the Church of England from the Catholic Church in Rome (1532-34), while forces loyal to Reformation and loyal to Rome jockeyed for position during the regency of Edward VI (1847-1853). Catholic Queen Mary I earned her moniker “Bloody Mary” reversing these reforms in the Marian Persecutions (1853-1858). Over her five-year reign, Mary Tudor burned over 280 religious dissenters at the stake.

Richard Woodman of Sussex became one of the martyrs of the Marian Persecutions in 1557. Woodman was an “iron-master”, and employed about 100 people in his enterprise at Warbleton, East Sussex, so he would have been a leader in his community. The story goes, that in 1553:

During a sermon at St Mary the Virgin Church, Warbleton, Woodman was arrested for having words with the rector which are said to have identified Woodman as a Protestant. Woodman said that the rector was preaching the exact opposite of what he previously said (before Mary was Queen).

Long story short, despite being given chances over several years of imprisonment to renounce his heresy, and ultimately gaining release from prison, Woodman would not recant his evangelical faith. On 22 June 1557, he and nine other men and women were assembled at Lewes, county town of East Sussex, and burned at the stake in the largest mass execution by fire of Bloody Mary’s reign of terror (the Sussex Martyrs). To be fair, many loyal Catholics were also martyrd during the reigns of Henry VIII and later in Elizabeth’s term before we ever get to the English Civil War or the settlement of America.

Queen Mary died the following year at age 42, succeeded by Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) who restored the English Protestant church (the Elizabethan Religious Settlement of 1558-59) and faced the continued fallout of the Reformation throughout Europe. Mary’s son and Elizabeth’s successor, James VI & I (1603-1625), continued to face an unsettled political and religious environment, as demonstrated by the Puritans on one side and Catholic machinations leading to the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 on the other. Historian M. A. Lower wrote about the Sussex Martyrs in the mid-nineteenth century, and in Sussex in particular they are part and parcel of Guy Fawkes night celebrations: “Remember, remember the Fifth of November, The Gunpowder Treason and Plot…”

Some sources try to connect Richard Woodman, the martyr, with Edward Woodman and his brother Archelaus Woodman who emigrated from Corsham in Wiltshire (Wessex) to Newbury, Massachusetts, in 1635, during the ill-fated reign of Charles I (1625-1649). Edward’s grandfather was Thomas Woodman, but the way the church records get back that far it’s impossible to determine who Thomas’ father was. Some genealogists have exacting standards for documentation, while others (before the internet or after) are much more willing to fewer assurances in accuracy. In 1943, G. Andrews Moriarty discredited certain fictions that our Woodmans of Wilshire were connected with the Woodman of Sussex in the pages of the New England Historical and Genealogical Register  while explaining the apparent basis of the supposition. (Thomas’ father could have been a man named Nicholas Woodman, or a man named Richard Woodman, but both would have been from Wiltshire families not Sussex.) As others might make leaps of faith to claim kinship with Kings and Queens, our family made leaps of faith to claim kinship with a martyr.

I admire men and women who hold their faith so dear that they would lay down their lives, to value an idea more than their own flesh. Martin Luther valued his soul more than his own life. Richard Woodman valued the ideas of the Reformation more than his own life. Rev. Martin Luther King valued freedom and equality more than his own life. Remember, remember, indeed.

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2018 Blog Posts in Review

As I noted last year, blog traffic tracks with blog posts and I’ve been poky about posting, partly due to some back-of-the-house issues with my ISP (thank you, Sacha, for what you’ve been able to do) and partly due to the fact I’d rather go outside and play than post this past year. In 2018, we had 1,400 visitors give us 6,200 views. That’s record views for jcshepard.com but we had a couple outlier days that indicate spambots but whatever. Thanks all for dropping by.

#1 post of 2018:  Repeat winner by far,  Cheyenne-Laramie County, Wyoming, Historical Timeline: a 2014 keyword-rich retrospective of the capital of the Cowboy State, which celebrated their 150th Anniversary last year.

#2 Behind the Bakken Boom: As I noted last year, I really need to update my series on Oil & Gas drilling out here in the West.  We have a few natural gas wells here in Southwest Colorado, and had some minor excitement when my current County Board denied an oil & gas well permit this year. On the To-Do List.

#3 up from #4 last year: The Election of 1916: “America First” to First World War / #8 On the Brink of War — America’s Christmas 1916:  Post 2016 election look at the events of 100 years before.

#4 & #1 NEW POST OF 2018 Kukla, Fran & Ollie: A Nation of Immigrants: A remembrance of my cousin Burr Tillstrom (1917-1985), his puppets, and our immigrant ancestors.

#5 Diary of Orrin Brown—Feb 15, 1864 / #7 The Diary of Pvt. Orrin Brown In 2014, I started following my ancestor Pvt. Brown on Sherman’s March thru Georgia.  The introductory post of the series stayed in the Top 10 another year.

#6 All Things Shepard:  History meets genealogy. Down a spot again.  Dramatically due for an update.  Rootsweb got hacked late 2016, though, and Ancestry had it down for a good while. Another for the To-Do List.

#9 Pancho Villa Crossed the Border: January 2017 post on the raid on Columbus, New Mexico in March 1916, and Blackjack Pershing’s US Army raid into Old Mexico that ended in January 1917. #3 NEW POST last year.

#10 Little (Lego) House on the Prairie (Style):  Perennially popular post from 2009. A little Lego love for Frank Lloyd Wright.

My 2nd & 3rd most viewed NEW POST of 2018 were February and March posts, Winter 1918 on the Eastern Front and Spring 1918 on the Western Front, as I tracked the 100th year remembrances of the Great War, World War I. May we never forget.

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JC’s Top Tunes of 2018

We all get to an age when we start to lose our peers. It is hard enough to lose our grandparents, then our parents’ generation, but mortality hits like a load a bricks when the Man Comes Around for men and women who share our timeline. Brandon Jenkins (6/7/69 – 3/2/18) is one. I got to know him a bit when a friend and I helped update his Wikipedia entry a couple years ago–wiki editors are vicious and petty and a force to be reckoned with, but with some help from another Twitter friend we made sure the Red Dirt Legend was recognized… and then a visit to the doctor, heart surgery, and the Legend passed on. “Be the Revival” from Brandon Jenkin’s February release Tail Lights in a Boomtown became his benediction and my most played track of 2018.

Spotify Top Tracks of 2018 playlist.

Nancy K. Dillon is a singer-songwriter who I played on the radio when I did the DJ thing at KRFC-FM back in the day. She has a knack for capturing story and place as an essential character in her stories. The legend of the Dutchman’s Gold is, well, legendary, and she tells the tale well on that song and others on her album A Game of Swans. I should have written it up earlier this year, because it was my most scrobbled album of 2018.

Brandon Jenkins was a close 2nd with Tail Lights in a Boomtown. Steep Canyon Rangers Out in the Open, Calexico’s The Thread That Keeps Us and The Wood Brothers’ One Drop of Truth clustered together on my mental radar and Spotify playlists. Something about the vibe. Caitlin Canty returned to my Top 10 lists with Motel Bouquet, while Sunny Sweeney’s Trophy and Lee Ann Womack’s The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone grew stronger their Sophomore year. Colter Wall’s Songs of the Plains and perennial favorite Halden Wofford & the Hi-Beams’ Hard Core Broken Heart were late year releases that rocketed to the top of my personal play charts–go find them, get them, listen to them.

We tend to reminisce about an artist’s catalog when they pass away. Jed Marum is another folk artist I played a lot on KRFC, and the last couple years friended on Facebook. We weren’t buddies by any means but, somewhat like Brandon Jenkins, I felt a social connection through social media. Jed passed away unexpectedly 2 May 2018 at age 65. With these passings, I got to thinking about Willie Nelson, with his release Last Man Standing. Which he is, more or less. Johnny is gone. Merle is gone. Willie survives, so I streamed a bunch of his back catalog just because. And Brandon Jenkins. And Johnny Cash. And Jed Marum. Rest in peace.

As I’ve noted previously, I had high expectations for Americana music last year, as I do this year. While I’m hard on the genre, it’s only because I know we can do better. We did see (hear) a LOT of good music released in 2018, maybe as good as 2017. And darn near anything on the AMA Radio chart was better than anything you’re gonna hear on commercial “country” radio. So go find some good music. Stream it. Live Show it. Buy it. Live it while you can.

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Survey Says: Your Fav Roots Music of 2018

No Depression Reader Poll Variety Pack

End of the calendar year lists propagate like flies at the winter solstice. Many are interesting, but I pay particular attention to the Americana Music Association and the reborn No Depression magazine.

AMA Radio Chart

The AMA’s Americana Radio Chart went full auto this year, I guess, and now features twice the fun with a Singles chart supplementing the traditional Albums chart. The AMA Top 100 Albums & Singles of 2018 is a whopper. Colorado’s own Nathaniel Ratliff & the Night Sweats pulls in the top spots on both charts for their bluesy album Tearing at the Seams, with “You Worry Me” at number 1 and “A Little Honey” at number 2 on the Airplay Singles list. Brandi Carlile’s Grammy nomination success with By the Way, I Forgive You is reflected in the number 2 spot on the Airplay Albums chart, followed by John Prine who‘s The Tree of Forgiveness will also be in my Top 10 for 2018 along with The Wood Brothers’ One Drop of Truth. John Prince’s “Knocking’ On Your Screen Door” ranked #5 Airplay Single and Brandi Carlile’s “The Joke” ranked #6 Single.

The Record Company breaks the Top 5 albums for All of This Life and number 3 single “Life to Fix”. I don’t think I’ve never, ever, heard of The Record Company until I sampled the single on Spotify. Pop-folk blech. I’ve like Lake Street Dive’s past releases well enough despite their popish ways–their single “Free Yourself Up” only played #9 while the album Good Kisser took the #4 spot and I can’t say either made much impression on me this year. Kacey Musgrave’s Golden Hour and Margo Price’s All American Made took #6 & #7 on the Airplay Albums spins but didn’t register Top 10 singles.

The Top 10 Americana Radio Albums were rounded out by self-titled Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, the aforementioned Lake Street Dive and Chris Stapleton’s From A Room: Volume 2. Stapleton’s “Midnight Train to Memphis” spun 7th among singles, followed by Elvis Costello & the Imposters’ “Unwanted Number” off a late-year album release. Jade Bird (who the heck is that?) took #9 single with Lukas tapping the #10 spot with “Fool Me Once”.

In the second tier of 11th most played and less for albums, we find Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit’s Live from the Ryman (recorded in October 2017) and JD McPherson’s Undivided Heart and Soul before we get to Willie Nelson’s Grammy-nominated Last Man Standing, Old Crow Medicine Show’s Volunteer, and I’m With Her’s See You Around. The second tier of most played radio singles slot “Happiness Jones” by The Wood Brothers at #11, “The Middle” by Trampled By Turtles at #12, and releases by Kacey Musgrave’s, Margo Price and Glen Hansard (who?) next in line.

I did the work so you don’t have to, compiling the AMA Radio Chart Top 100 Singles for 2018 into a handy Spotify playlist. You’re welcome.

No Depression

I loved the original No Depression magazine. And I obsessed over the original No Depression online community, logging on regularly and cross-posting blog posts and last.fm posts and making it a part of my musical routine–I got a significant number of click thru from cross-posted commentary, too. Then they petered out and sold, and I haven’t re-subscribed, not even for a single revived print issue. But I still pay attention to what the No Depression community has to say about music and culture and stuff.

The annual No Depression Readers Poll for 2018 represents, they say, 10,000 readers’ opinions of the best roots albums of the year. Most I actually agree with better than with the AMA Radio jocks. As author Stacy Chandler wrote: “…2018 has seemed like a nonstop firehose blast of new roots music.” John Prine’s The Tree of Forgiveness takes the #1 spot on the No Depression Readers Poll, followed by Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit for Live from the Ryman. If Jason Isbell is No Depression’s Superman, then John Prine is No Depression’s Father Time. Brandi Carlile also took #3 for By the Way, I Forgive You–I guess it is just me that ignores Ms. Carlile. Amanda Shires takes #4 on her own merits for To the Sunset, and album I thought was OK but (continuing my prior theme) beneath her potential. Alejandro Escovedo’s The Crossing rounds out the Top 5 albums, also not a bad album but not his best.

The send half of the No Depression Top 10 albums puts one of the innumerable Bob Dylan bootleg series More Blood, More Tracks at #6. Lucky number 7 is Kacey Musgrave’s Golden Hour, followed by Willie Nelson’s Last Man Standing. Jeff Tweedy is my less favorite half of the original Uncle Tupelo duo, and his album WARM (#9) wasn’t anywhere on my radar. Rosanne Cash rounds out the Top 10 for her late-year release She Remembers Everything which I’ve just started streaming.

Nathaniel Ratliff and the Night Sweats’ Tearing at the Seams polls #11, which I can see–it’s a good album that my good friend Sacha K. also scrobbled most this year, so I’ll go back and give it some more attention in my spare time. Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore polls #12 for Downey to Lubbock, which I also liked but didn’t stream so much. I just don’t get Aaron Lee Tasjan, but people I respect like the guy–Karma for Cheap polled #13, followed by John Hiatt’s late-year release The Eclipse Sessions and Mary Gauthier’s very early-in-the-year release Rifles & Rosary Beads which captured almost my undivided attention back in January 2018.


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