Archive for New West Records

Song of the Week: Patty Griffin (and Her “Driver”)

Posted in Rock Moment with tags , , on March 28, 2013 by 30daysout
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Patty Griffin

When we talked to the nice folks at New West Records a few weeks ago, they were excited about the recent signing of Austin-based singer/songwriter Patty Griffin. Her new American Kid album is coming out May 7.

The first single from it, “Ohio,” is about the Underground Railroad, and how slaves used the network to escape to freedom. Griffin’s husband and “driver,” Robert Plant, sings harmony and came up with the tempo and mood for the song.

Patty Griffin official web site

SXSW Day Two: America(na)’s Favorite Indie Record Label

Posted in SXSW with tags , , , , , , on March 15, 2013 by 30daysout
Richard Thompson 3

Richard Thompson played songs from his new album.

Gotta tell you – the weather’s great here in Austin, Texas. Thursday was a bright, sunny spring day that topped out at about 80 degrees. And it was too nice outside to stay cooped up at all the official events of South by Southwest (SXSW) so we played a little hooky.

We did our official bit by attending Dave Grohl’s keynote address but the sunshine streaming through the glass at the Austin Convention Center was just too alluring. So we split, and stumbled upon something really great.

It was an outdoor party by the New West Records label at Threadgills, a restaurant built on the site of the old Armadillo World Headquarters and run by some of the same people. New West showed off some old and new members of its artists’ roster.

Austin Lucas

Austin Lucas is the one with the guitar.

New West has been in business since 1997, when founder Cameron Strang signed Billy Joe Shaver, Delbert McClinton and the great Austin musician Stephen Bruton. In the years since its inception, New West has found a place in the hearts of lovers of roots music, as it has signed legends like Kris Kristofferson, Steve Earle, John Hiatt, the Old 97s, Ian Hunter, Dwight Yoakam and many more.

Strang has since left, and partner George Fontaine Sr. is now the label’s president. We didn’t catch up with Fontaine Sr., but we managed to corner George Fontaine Jr., who also works at New West and runs Normaltown Records, an affiliated label.

“We want to bring people quality music and quality artists,” said George Jr. “We had been known for signing more heritage artists, but in recent years we have signed some new artists and hopefully build them up to be the next generation of Steve Earles and John Hiatts.”

Some of those new names performed at the party. Austin Lucas showed off his folk/bluegrass lineage with some fine tales of sin and hellfire, and history and death. We got off to the steel guitar-and-twang of Daniel Romano, a Normaltown artist who has a Gram Parsons vibe and the straightest looking band this side of Merle Haggard’s Strangers.

John Hiatt greeted everyone with a short solo set, kicking off with “Thing Called Love,” which Bonnie Raitt turned into a thing called a hit back in 1989. He got around to a new tune from an album he’s working on, which he promised would be out around the beginning of next year.

New West has had great success with the “roots” artists but Fontaine Jr. said the label’s on the lookout for artists that will expand the range past a strictly Americana category. “We have really broad tastes. We have a number of different people that make up the A&R team and everyone likes different stuff,” he said. “What we’re doing now is seeking artists who write their own songs and have that unexplainable, intangible quality to them.”

John Hiatt

John Hiatt, relaxed and acoustic.

One of those artists is Ronnie Fauss, a Dallas-based singer. He was playing an in-store set at Houston’s Cactus Music that Fontaine Sr. attended. “I was doing a cover of a Slobberbone (a North Texas band who was on New West) song and (Fontaine) came up after the show and told me how much he liked it and how he signed them and worked as their A&R guy,” said Fauss. “We got to talking and hit it off immediately. A year later I signed and a year after that my record (I Am The Man You Know I’m Not) came out.”

Max Gomez is another new artist on New West. “Two years ago I went to SXSW on a whim and played a little dive called the Chuggin’ Monkey. I played my whole set to 20 people who were there and during my last song in walked a guy named Gary Briggs. About six months later we’re talking about making records and it’s a dream come true and I couldn’t be happier about how I got to make it,” said Gomez.

Steve Earle is the pattern, and his new album The Low Highway (out April 16) has Fontaine Jr. excited, as does the recent signing of Austin singer/songwriter Patty Griffin. Will New West also sign Griffin’s new husband and “driver” (guy named Robert Plant)? “Ah, that would be nice,” Fontaine said.

New West has a Plant associate – Buddy Miller, who co-produced and played on the ex-Zep’s last studio album Band of Joy. Miller, a great singer and songwriter and a shockingly good guitarist, is promoting the new album Buddy and Jim, a collaboration with veteran Nashville singer/songwriter Jim Lauderdale.

The Buddy and Jim band easily stole the show at the New West party, mixing some rousing originals with well-chosen covers including “Down South In New Orleans” (Johnnie and Jack) and the rockabilly stomper “The Wobble” (by Jimmy McCrackin). The originals rocked, too: “I Lost My Job of Loving You” and especially “Vampire Girl” featured some sizzling guitar from Miller.

Lauderdale Miller 1

Jim Lauderdale, left, and Buddy Miller.

More great guitar work came next, from one of the greatest guitarists ever. Richard Thompson, who many people feel could be second greatest British rock guitar player, played tunes from his new Electric. And electric they were – from the Celtic stomp of “Sally B” to the rocking “Good Things Happen To Bad People,” to the just great tunes “Salford Sunday” and “Stoney Ground.”

Austin is just the place for this all to happen for New West. The label has a very successful series, “Live in Austin TX,” which features performances from the venerable TV series “Austin City Limits.” Although the time for introducing new performances has run out, New West is reissuing some of the old performances on vinyl and as CD/DVD combo packs.

Easily the most successful release New West has issued is kind of odd: it’s only the second movie soundtrack offered by the label, and it doesn’t feature too many artists on New West. It’s the Crazy Heart soundtrack, issued in 2010 and sent into the stratosphere by the Oscar-winning song “The Weary Kind” by Ryan Bingham.

“When we agreed to put it out it had been shopped to every major label. No one even knew if the movie would see the light of day,” said George Fontaine Jr. “Then Fox Searchlight bought the movie and the offer came across Cameron Strang’s desk to do the soundtrack and he jumped on it.

“Buddy Miller was involved in some of the producing. The late Stephen Bruton, who was a friend of Cameron’s, was sort of the musical inspiration and wrote some songs himself and coached Jeff Bridges throughout the movie. So it sort of made sense that it came to us. An Oscar also helps.”

Check out our SXSW 2013 photos on our Flickr photo page

SXSW Interview: Jim Lauderdale

Posted in SXSW with tags , , , on March 11, 2013 by 30daysout
Jim Lauderdale and Buddy Miller. Photo by Michael Wilson.

Jim Lauderdale and Buddy Miller. (Photo by Michael Wilson)

Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale have known each other for more than 30 years, and they frequently hang out both on- and offstage. Separately and together, they create country music of the highest pedigree. So whenever they want to tear into a wailer or a weeper – which is fairly often – it’s always good for the listener.

You can find some of these on Buddy and Jim (New West Records), the album collaboration between these two wonderfully talented music pros, and even more when the Miller-Lauderdale show comes to a stage near you.

Miller is a killer guitarist who’s toured with Elvis Costello, Steve Earle and Linda Ronstadt, and a hot producer for artists like Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin and Robert Plant. Lauderdale has written hit songs for George Strait, the Dixie Chicks, Vince Gill, Patty Loveless, George Jones and others.  Both together and separately, they have helped to lay the foundation for the Americana music movement and preserve everything that’s good about traditional country music.

Buddy and Jim are gearing up for a handful of shows at SXSW in Austin, both official showcases and unofficial side performances, the kind that tend to take place in parking lots and back yards.

“Those things (shows in parking lots) may be unassuming but often they’re the most memorable,” says Jim Lauderdale, who has played SXSW shows from the festival’s beginning. “I remember a few years ago I was there and kept hearing this great buzz about a new act – Norah Jones. And she was playing outside of a Starbucks!”

Lauderdale is stoked about his new collaboration with Buddy Miller and loves being out on the road with his 1353512832_21b8wghniih5longtime friend. “We’ve known each other for about 33 years and have been part of each others’ albums on and off for much of that time,” he says.

But when the time felt right for the two to do an official album collaboration, they charged full speed ahead. They wrote some songs and picked out some choice covers, then convened at Miller’s home studio to cut the entire endeavor in three days.

“Yeah, it’s kind of unheard-of to do it that way, but once we decided to do it and wrote some of the songs, everything else just kind of came together fairly seamlessly,” Lauderdale explains.

The album is rich in its variety: Johnnie and Jack’s “Down South In New Orleans” has a Cajun spice, the Mississippi Sheiks’ “Lonely One In This Town” is gutbucket country and Jimmy McCrackin’s “The Wobble” retains its rockabilly fireball scorch marks.

Even a reach like Joe Tex’s “I Want To Do Everything For You” works, with banjos replacing the soulful horns. Lauderdale reveals he and Miller didn’t have to bend that one too much, because it’s sort of in their DNA.

“Buddy and I have a certain thread in our tastes that includes soul, R&B, rock and other stuff – we love to sing and listen to all of that. Buddy has a rich background … as a young teenager he went to Woodstock and knew someone who worked at the Fillmore so he was able to record gigs by Led Zeppelin, the Grateful Dead … he’s totally unique with his background and abilities, which is probably why he turned out to be such a great producer.”

Lauderdale himself is no slouch in the crossover department – he has toured and recorded with Elvis Costello and Hot Tuna, as well as written songs with Robert Hunter, the Grateful Dead’s longtime lyricist. “I’ve been very fortunate to be able to work with Elvis, it was like a dream,” he says. “And Robert … when I was in high school I used to listen to (the Dead) so it’s hard to believe we got together. We have one album we’ve done (Carolina Moonrise, from 2012) and another one in the can, written with Robert and recorded with the North Mississippi All Stars, David Hood and Spooner Oldham.”

A few years ago Lauderdale met a young film student named Jeremy Dylan, who followed the singer around and filmed some shows and interviews. The result is a documentary, The King of Broken Hearts, which should be widely available soon.

“It’s been shown a few times, and I think he did a really good job,” Lauderdale says. “It’s hard for me to be objective because I’m watching myself but I think it came out really well.”

SXSW Interview: The Mastersons

Posted in Rock Moment, SXSW with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 13, 2012 by 30daysout

Chris and Eleanor Masterson.

by George Kovacik

I first saw Chris Masterson in the late 1980s at a place called Blythe Spirits in Houston. His dad would bring him and his guitar to the open mic night on Sundays because he was too young to get in. He had loads of talent and you tell by watching him that college and a 9-to-5 job was not in his future. His wife Eleanor Whitmore, also started playing at a very young age. She picked up the fiddle at age 4 and hasn’t put it down since. I had a chance to chat with the pair about how they got started, working with Steve Earle, playing 11 gigs at SXSW, and their new CD Birds Fly South, set for release on April 1o on New West Records.

30 Days Out: What made you guys want to become musicians?

Eleanor Whitmore: My mom is an opera singer and my dad is a folk singer, so I didn’t have much of a choice about being a musician. I started at age 4 1/2 on violin, you know, I grew up playing with my dad and I am also classically trained. I have a music degree and played in bands in high school and college and it’s kind of what I’ve always done.

Chris Masterson: I basically grew up with a guitar in my hands. I think I was 8 years old when I could finally get my hands around a guitar neck. You know I grew up in Houston and I saw Johnny Winter at that time at Rockefeller’s and I’ve had the instrument in my hands ever since. I’m a product of going to folk shows and blues jams.

30 Days Out: How did you guys get together?

Chris Masterson: We met at a festival about six years ago in Colorado. I was playing with Jack Ingram and Eleanor was playing with Susan Gibson. We sort of wound up at this after-party cowering in the corner. It was a big, fat drunken after-party and we both met each other cowering in the corner.

Eleanor Whitmore: We were both kind of hanging out being quiet and the guitar passed around and we got to play together a little bit and hit it off.

Chris Masterson: We started talking, but then she picked up the fiddle and I was enamored by her playing. For a minute the musician in me took over and I thought to myself I need to play music with this person. It was that as much as any physical attraction that drew me to her.

30 Days Out: What’s it like being husband and wife and having a band together?

Chris Masterson: F**king insane. With that level of intimacy, the professionalism goes out the window. I think sometimes we’re hard on each other when we are working stuff out. There is a certain level of diplomacy you have like if you were talking with other band members and we try to keep it together so we don’t stress out our other band members.

30 Days Out: Tell me about your new CD, Birds Fly South.

Chris Masterson: We’ve been living in Brooklyn for the past four years and our families are still in Texas. We just started to realize driving south and leaving the snow behind, we started thinking about migrating birds and how they had the right idea. A year-and-a-half ago we were sitting in my parent’s house in the Hill Country watching a blizzard hit New York and had our housemates send us pictures of the snow drifts on the street as I was sitting in shorts and a t-shirt in Texas. We went out on the porch and wrote the song “Birds Fly South” in about 20 minutes.

Eleanor Whitmore: We were lucky because it was a couple of days before we started recording and we came up with the title track quickly.

30 Days Out: Why was it important for you to come back to Texas to record the CD?

Chris Masterson: We had a great network of friends and musicians down in Texas and people that we wanted to work with. Making a record in Texas you can stretch out a small budget even further. We had a great time. We would play a song or two and all eat and it was really a family vibe, which is I think what we needed.

Eleanor Whitmore: We have a great network up in New York too, but we have made a few recordings with Steve Christensen (who won a Grammy for engineering Steve Earle’s Townes), George Reiff on bass and Falcon Valdez on drums and you know its kind of always been an all-star team for us. George has really expanded his studio at his house in Austin and we kind of always come back to Texas during the holidays anyway, so it just seemed to make sense economically.

30 Days Out: What is the style of music you play?

Chris Masterson: We get compared to the Jayhawks quite a bit because of our harmonies, but we are still working on the right way to describe our music at this point.

30 Days Out: You guys are set to play 11 shows in four days at SXSW. How important is a conference like SXSW to a new band trying to find an audience?

Chris Masterson: I think releasing a new album on the heels of it is important. It’s good for us to be around and omnipresent. You’ll see promoters and press people. I’ve been going to SXSW for years being a Texan. I’ve seen it grow from a small conference to what it is now and I think it definitely helps. I try to go into things with little expectations. You go out and sing your songs and hope people come out and enjoy it. Both of us have played with other artists and independent artists and now we’re coming in with a great record label, New West, and we’ve had some great experiences over the years.

30 Days Out: How is it being on label like an independent label like New West Records?

On tour with Steve Earle, left.

Chris Masterson: There is a lot of freedom. They are basically releasing a record we made untouched. It’s quite a compliment for us and we have worked with them every step of the way and have been very supportive.

30 Days Out: You both played with Steve Earle on his last tour and you will be his opening act when he hits the road in a few weeks. How did you guys get involved with him?

Chris Masterson: I met Steve about 11 years ago at a festival in Australia. He had Eric Ambel playing guitar for him at the time and then he went off to do a couple of solo records, but I knew if he would ever fire up the band again that I would have the gig. We have been friends ever since.

Eleanor Whitmore: I played with Allison Moorer (Earle’s wife) for a few years since we’ve been in New York and I think she was instrumental in getting me in the band.

Chris Masterson: It was a great honor to get the gig, but where he really blew us away was asking Eleanor to come out too and then featuring us in the show. He’s been one of our biggest supporters. A huge champion.

30 Days Out: There have been a few successful husband/wife teams in musical history; George Jones and Tammy Wynette and Johnny Cash and June Carter to name a couple. Do you think you guys will reach that type of success?

Chris Masterson: I don’t know. It remains to be seen. We haven’t really given it that much thought. Everything has just felt so natural and organic. We’ve just made this record and plan to go play our songs and see what happens. You know our side gigs, me with Steve Earle, Son Volt and Jack Ingram and Eleanor with Regina Spektor and Bruce (Robison) and Kelly (Willis) have given us the chance to do some pretty cool gigs and travel pretty comfortably and then we go out and make this record and it’s kind of like starting from the ground up. We are going to get in our van with our dog and go sing for whoever will listen.

The Mastersons official website

The Mastersons on Facebook