Archive for Steve Earle

SXSW Day Four: Feelin’ About Half Past Dead

Posted in SXSW with tags , , , , , on March 17, 2013 by 30daysout
The Weight 2

Steve Earle performs “The Weight” with Amy Helm (left) and Eleanor Whitmore, and The Midnight Ramble Band.

The final official night of all the South by Southwest (SXSW) lunacy in Austin sparkled with stars that seemingly tumbled in from nowhere. All at once, and roughly about the same time, the city erupted in performances by Justin Timberlake, Prince, the Smashing Pumpkins, A Tribe Called Quest, Vampire Weekend and John Fogerty.

The music part of this festival is so varied and broad, one can pick and choose the acts one wants to see and assemble them like a buffet meal. Throughout this year’s SXSW we have tried to focus on a certain type of musical proficiency and style, a dedication to craft, and we assembled our feast accordingly, downscaling our choices away from the superstars and flash-in-the-pans. (Full disclosure: we couldn’t get in to the biggest shows, and a few of the others were way too late for our old bones.)

So it was no question that we had to close out our South By experience Saturday night by attending a big show at the city’s scenic Auditorium Shores, where The Midnight Ramble Band and a number of guest performers paid tribute to the late, very great Levon Helm.


Leagues, from Nashville.

Much has been made of Levon Helm’s contribution to American music since his passing last year. He was the drummer and frequent lead singer on many of The Band’s classic tunes, written by Robbie Robertson and performed beautifully by the entire ensemble when it existed in the late 1960s-early 1970s.

Helm stood for a rough authenticity in the music. Not only was he a brilliant player, but he liked to surround himself with similarly skilled individuals. So we have The Midnight Ramble Band, named after his monthly musical revival meetings held at his barn/recording studio near Woodstock, N.Y., and which plays the music that Levon helped make famous.

Led by Helm’s daughter Amy, The Midnight Ramble Band stomped the show alive with “The Shape I’m In.” After that opening guest performers would wander on and off the stage, sometimes after a bit of delay while somebody located them backstage. It was a loose affair, patterned after the Midnight Rambles, one supposes, where a tight pre-planned set list is not a priority.

Steve Earle said “I love my job,” and played his song “The Mountain” which Levon covered on his Grammy-winning Dirt Farmer album. Then he strapped on a mandolin to lead the players through a rousing “Rag Mama Rag.”

And so it would go with other guest performers – Ivan Neville, J.J. Grey, members of Spirit Family Reunion, Carolyn Wonderland, The Lost Brothers and Cody and Luther from the North Mississippi All Stars. They all reunited onstage at the end, to perform “The Weight” to send their regards for everyone. At song’s finish, Earle stepped up and pointed to the sky. “See you when we get there, maestro,” he said.

On the way out, volunteers held up signs and big bottles were positioned for donations. Keep It Goin’, as it said on the signs, is an initiative to continue Levon’s legacy and create a musical landmark at his barn in Woodstock.

Throughout the day in Austin, one didn’t need a barn or studio for music. It seemed to be everywhere, coming from any place. Bands played atop buses, both moving and parked. Clubs improvised stages to pack in audiences, and venues with stages indoors erected other stages outdoors to accommodate more performers.

We saw the Seattle folk-pop band Ivan and Alyosha behind the big Sixth Street venue at Stages. A big tent kept many spectators out of the sun, and the beer was flowing freely. Singer Tim Wilson urged spectators to also see the Nashville band Leagues, which was on the indoor stage.

OK, so we did – Leagues is led by Thad Cockrell, whose mesmerizing voice has helped make this band one of the most talked-about at this year’s SXSW. Cockrell danced freely during his performance and invited audience members to do the same. “It’s music to make you feel good,” he said, and spun merrily away.

The Zombies 2

The Zombies: from left, Rod Argent, Jim Rodford and Colin Blunstone.

One interesting place to see a performance was Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop, which hosted a few days of live broadcasts by Seattle radio station KEXP. We caught a short set for the radio by the venerable Zombies, the 1960s British invasion-era unit led by singer Colin Blunstone and keyboardist (and main songwriter) Rod Argent.

They performed a handful of their classics, including “Tell Her No,” “Care of Cell 44,” “Time of the Season” and of course “She’s Not There.” Argent even pulled out a moldy oldie from his band Argent, “Hold Your Head Up.” Argent explained, “Many people thought I wrote this song but it was actually Chris White (also in Argent and the original bassist for The Zombies). And the title was originally, ‘Hold Your Head Up Woman.’ Lot of people don’t know that.”

It was nice to see Jim Rodford on bass with The Zombies – he was also in Argent and wound up as the bass player for The Kinks in that band’s later years. His presence lent a nice touch to the craft and veteran musicianship of the group, sounding great and playing their hearts out even for a 30-minute radio broadcast.

So we wrapped up our SXSW with a note of optimism and hope for the future. Thousands of performers practice and sweat to make it here each year to perform for small or non-existent crowds with the thought that their voices and their music may be heard. You gotta be good to even get a shot at SXSW, and bands do break out every year to greater fame and fortune (for example: the Alabama Shakes, class of 2012). Keep trying, next year may be your time.

And so we wrap it for this year, our feet blistered and our necks sunburned, but with music still in our heads. Our tired bones tell us we’re too old for this, but our hearts insist on knowing “are we gonna come back next year?”

Thanks for reading, thanks to Popdose for putting up with us over there, and come on down to Austin next year. We’d love to see you. And we’ll buy you a free beer.

Check out our SXSW photos on Flickr

Repost: A Lone Star Christmas

Posted in Rock Moment with tags , , , , , , , , on December 4, 2012 by 30daysout

Instead of reinventing the wheel this Christmas, let’s recycle a past post or two. Today, the holidays in the Lone Star State!

Christmas in Texas is pretty much like Christmas in any other place – except most of the time it’s hot, everybody’s playin’ football, people are barbecuing and drinking beer, there’s a lot of country music and blues and rock, and the stuffing has jalapenos in it.  Okay, it’s like no place else.

MP3: “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” by the Texas Tornados

MP3: “Merry Christmas From The Family” (live) by Robert Earl Keen

MP3: “Christmas Everyday” by Rosie Flores

MP3: “When It’s Christmas Time In Texas” by George Strait

MP3: “The Christmas Song” by Steve Fromholz

MP3: “Santa Looked A Lot Like Daddy” by Rev. Horton Heat

MP3: Stevie Ray Vaughan Holiday Greeting No. 1

MP3: “Rockin’ Winter Wonderland” by the Fabulous Thunderbirds

MP3: “Santa Claus Is Back In Town” by Rusty Wier

MP3: “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” by Lou Ann Barton

MP3: “Merry Christmas” by Lightnin’ Hopkins

MP3: “Frosty The Snowman” by Flaco Jimenez & Freddy Fender

MP3: “Pretty Paper” by Willie Nelson

MP3: “Nothing But A Child” by Steve Earle & Allison Moorer

MP3: “Snow In Austin” by Ellis Paul

MP3: “Sweet Little Baby Boy” by Angela Strehli

MP3: “Winterlude” by Joe Ely

MP3: “Please Come Home For Christmas” by Marcia Ball

MP3: “She’ll Be My Everything For Christmas” by Los Lonely Boys

MP3: Stevie Ray Vaughan Holiday Greeting No. 2 (1989)

Austin City Limits Music Festival – Day Two

Posted in Review with tags , , , , , on October 14, 2012 by 30daysout

Neil Young (right) and Crazy Horse closed out the night with a psychedelic rock frenzy.

by Denny Angelle

Saturday, the middle day of the big Austin City Limits Music Festival, offered a little bit of everything for festival goers – a variety that ranged from different musical styles to a choice of weather. “If you don’t like the weather in Texas, wait a minute and it will change,” goes the saying, and it did.

A warm, humid day finally gave way to strong, intermittent rain showers but the downpours were mostly welcomed by crowds gathered around stages featuring hip hop, bluegrass, country, and good old rock and roll. The grass of Austin’s Zilker Park quickly turned into a muddy quagmire in the more heavily traveled areas of the festival grounds, particularly around the food and refreshment stands and the porta-potties.

Father John Misty

When the deep bass thump of a hip hop act on a nearby stage act bled into the quirky, gentle music of Father John Misty, singer Josh Tillman playfully stopped his own set to listen, and dance, along. And when the rain got a little too close to the electricity of British rockers Band of Skulls, they too halted their set briefly so that helpers and attendants could mop up the stage and cover equipment with plastic sheeting.

Tillman, formerly the touring drummer of indie rock sweethearts Fleet Foxes, offers up a sunny bit of singer/songwriter-ness flavored with a little bit of soul and a baggie full of drug-fueled attitude. “Fun Times in Babylon” and “Only Son of the Ladies’ Man” are calling cards for Father John Misty’s Laurel Canyon scenarios, and his mellow band laid back, ready to explode at the drop of a non-sequitur.

The Whigs, from Athens, Ga., rocked harder. The trio’s garage rock exploded over the crowd at Zilker, singer/guitarist Parker Gispert hopping around on one foot like Jethro Tull’s redneck brother. “Waiting,” with its crunchy guitar chording, is the Whigs’ signature, and “Summer Heat” was appropriate for the weather – for the moment, at least.

Steve Earle

As the storm clouds gathered we made our way over to the next stage for alt-rockers Band of Skulls, from Southampton, England. Possessing a darker, more driving sound, these Brits gamely tried to keep the rain away but when the fat drops made their presence felt the audience roared in approval. Just a few minutes later, though, the downpour sent the Skulls running away from the humming amps and cracking electric instruments. Once the towels and white plastic sheeting protected everything, the Skulls came out and finished their thumping, driving set. Sorry I didn’t get too many song titles – the ink on my notes simply washed away.

Wet but undaunted, we dropped in on the Punch Brothers, a progressive bluegrass group that could be the American version of Mumford and Sons. That is, if Mumford were as happy and engaging as Punch frontman Chris Thile. Thile’s music is ambitious to say the least – he wrote a 40-minute suite dealing with his divorce – and occasionally the Punch set veered toward some precious experimentalism, such as a cover of Radiohead’s “Morning Bell.”

The Punch Brothers offered up some rousing bluegrass.

But they brought it all home and put smiles on our faces at set’s end with crowd pleasers like “Who’s Feeling Young Now?” and the rousing “Rye Whiskey,” with its shout-along “Oh, boy” refrain.

Which was a perfect setup for the next act, the great Steve Earle. The Texas bard offered up “Waitin’ On The Sky” before he jumped right in and introduced “Little Emperor” with: “This song is for George W. and his fuckin’ horse!” I love Steve Earle – but I must admit I cut out on him a bit early when I heard the thump of The Roots finally cease, way down at the end of the park.

The rain just got us wet – it didn’t stop anybody’s fun at ACL.

That’s because I needed to see Neil Young & Crazy Horse, the night’s nominal headliner. Young at one end of the park vs. Jack White playing on the other end gave festival goers a very tough decision on Saturday, and I opted to head for Neil.

One side note: on the way from Steve Earle to Neil Young a few hundred yards apart, I encountered a very large crowd to see popster Gotye. Slicing through his adoring crowd, I heard a few of his songs. Ugh. Steve Earle to Gotye to Neil Young, that’s not for the faint of heart. I hope I don’t come down with Gotye poisoning later this week.

Possibly the only Woodstock veteran (update: John Fogerty and Levon Helm have also played ACL) to also play the Austin City Limits festival, Young ripped through a fuzz and feedback- filled frenzy that included  “Love and Only Love,” and new ones like the goofy ” Born In Ontario” and stomping rocker “Walk Like A Giant.” The latter was a guitar showcase, with Young spraying jagged guitar leads like a machine gun around his veteran backup band Crazy Horse. Just when you thought the song was over (it had already gone on for about 10 minutes) it climaxed with the thunder of giant footfalls and a rainshower of psychedelic feedback (going on for five more minutes).

The crowd, not quite believing what it just experienced, was polite so Young strapped on an acoustic and harmonica to offer up “The Needle And The Damage Done,” as if to thank the audience for its patience. The whole set kind of went that way: a new song or two, followed by one of Young’s favorites to keep everybody interested. “Powerfinger” made an appearance, and after a shoutout to “my sweetheart” Young offered up a rousing “Cinnamon Girl.”

Neil Young cranks it, with Crazy Horse guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro.

But perhaps the peak of an already incredible set came late, when Young surprised everyone by dusting off the chestnut “Down By The River.” It was awesome – Neil didn’t try (or didn’t want) to match the recording’s guitar work note for note, making this live rendition slightly ragged but really right. “Fuckin’ Up” concluded with Young himself admitting “I fucked up the ending of this song,” and we closed out the night with “Hey Hey My My” and its battle cry “rock and roll will never die.”

What a way to wind it all up. Thanks, Neil.

Our Austin correspondent caught Jack White as we rocked out to Neil Young but don’t worry – we have a few videos from his ACL set and as a bonus (for us) we’re attending his taping of the “Austin City Limits” TV show tonight. Check ya later!

Jack White – “Blue Blood Blues”

Austin City Limits festival webcast page – tonight’s highlights include Iggy & the Stooges and the Red Hot Chili Peppers

Video Du Jour: Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Posted in Rock Moment with tags , , , , , on September 26, 2012 by 30daysout

Another venerable music act is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and although they may not get the attention of the Rolling Stones or the Beach Boys, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band is a great and vital piece of American music history.

The band, based out of historic Preservation Hall in New Orleans, is releasing a new album,  St. Peter and 57th. The album consists of live recordings from a show in Carnegie Hall and features special guests including tUnE-yArDs, Trombone Shorty, Yasiin Bey, Jim James, Allen Toussaint, Steve Earle and many more.

This is pretty sublime stuff, and if you can’t enough the band is also releasing a 4-CD, 58-track collection celebrating 50 years of Preservation Hall. You can check out both items on the official web site, and go here to download a free song – the band performing the Crescent City classic “St. James Infirmary” with Jim James of My Morning Jacket and Trombone Shorty.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band official web site

YouTube: Preservation Hall Jazz Band with the Del McCoury Band on “Late Night With David Letterman” in 2011

Music on TV: “Treme”

Posted in Rock Rant with tags , , , , , on September 25, 2012 by 30daysout

Wendell Pierce in “Treme” as trombonist Antoine Batiste (Photos courtesy of HBO)

If you care anything about the history and deep roots of American music, you owe it to yourself to seek out the HBO series “Treme,” which just had its season 3 premiere this past weekend.

“Treme” is an ensemble drama created by David Simon (“The Wire”) and Eric Overmyer (“Homicide” and “Law & Order”). The series is set in post-Katrina New Orleans, and it tells the story of a diverse group of residents as they rebuild their lives and their city. “Treme,” pronounced Truh-may, takes its title from the name of one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, an historically important source of African-American music and culture.

Season 1 begins in the fall of 2005, three months after Hurricane Katrina. Season 2 picks up 14 months after the federal levees failed. While many of the old challenges persist, much has changed. The profiteers have arrived, though the insurance checks haven’t. Crime is on the rise, but the ability of the police department to keep pace with the criminals is questionable. Life in New Orleans is getting better, but it’s not happening fast enough to keep residents from wondering whether things would be easier, better, elsewhere.

Lucia Micarelli, who plays Annie in “Treme,” has played with the Trans Siberian Orchestra and Jethro Tull.

What keeps the city afloat through all of this is its culture. “Treme” is rich with music and food, the two things for which New Orleans is best known. Actors like Wendell Pierce (Bunk Moreland in “The Wire”), Rob Brown (who plays trumpeter Delmond Lambreaux) and Michiel Huisman (who plays street busker Sonny) mix fluidly with musician/actors Lucia Micarelli (as Annie Tee), a violinist, and the great singer/songwriter Steve Earle, who plays street busker Harley. And each episode is rich with cameos from even more musicians playing themselves: Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, Coco Robicheaux, Kermit Ruffins, George Porter Jr.,  Spider Stacy (of the Pogues!) and many, many more.

The food comes in by way of Janette Desautel (played by Kim Dickens), a New Orleans chef who owns a restaurant and fights to keep it going as the series opens. Her struggles and her odyssey take her at one point far away from the place she loves, all while we sample (as best we can, on TV) some of the coolest looking food ever. As they say (and you are gonna have to watch the show for context): “Drizzle something on it, baby!”

The show immerses itself deep in the culture of a great American city, veering from the rich musical heritage (including the Mardi Gras Indians) to include some very modern touches, like the bloggers whose rage after Katrina kept the city’s hope alive and the inevitable carpetbaggers who swept in to make a buck as the city began to rebuild itself.

The show also features actors Steve Zahn (Happy, Texas), Clarke Peters (“The Wire”), John Goodman (The Big Lebowski) and Melissa Leo, an Oscar winner for The Fighter. As with any show with a rich cast of characters, some may come and go – and some go away for good. Tune in to find out who.

Like many of these HBO series, “Treme” is acclaimed but viewed by very few people. In fact, it’s already been announced that next season, Season 4, will be its last. But you even if you don’t subscribe to HBO, there is no excuse not to catch this incredible – and incredibly musical – show. The first two seasons are readily available on DVD (try Amazon), and surely the last two will be available in the next year or so.

MP3: “The Treme Song” by John Boutte

YouTube: Trailer for Season 1 of “Treme”

“Treme” home page (via HBO)

(More Than) 40 Years Out: Tranquility Base Here

Posted in Rock Moment with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 20, 2012 by 30daysout

Buzz Aldrin on the moon, 1969.

On this day in 1969, man set foot on the moon for the very first time. Looking at the photographs the astronauts shot that day, the moon seems like a fairly peaceful place. In fact, they called the landing site “Tranquility Base.”

Back on Earth, things weren’t so tranquil. Americans marched on Washington, D.C., to protest our involvement in the Vietnam War. The story of the My Lai massacre, where women and children were lined up in a ditch and shot, broke in the news. British troops were deployed to try and calm tensions in Northern Ireland. And so on.

It seemed like, on that one Sunday afternoon and evening, everything and everyone in the world just kind of stopped – if only for a few minutes, while two humans kicked up dust on the lunar surface. Many of us watched the shadowy figures on TV, live and in glorious grainy black and white.

Probably nobody really stopped what they were doing, but a teenager in Texas back then thought it would have been really cool if they did. And if we would have paid attention for a while, maybe we would have stopped fighting and yelling long enough share a little bit of wonder and pride in human accomplishment.

For just a minute or two … then we could get right back to killing each other. Which is what happened anyway.

Maybe one day we’ll go back to the moon, but many people will tell you there are infinitely more important ways to spend our time and money. And I suppose they are right. Still, somebody is going to get back there eventually. Tranquility Base will always be there, ready and waiting for us to start dreaming again.

MP3: “Moonlight” by Bob Dylan

MP3: “Bad Moon Rising” by Creedence Clearwater Revival

MP3: “Yellow Moon” (live) by the Neville Brothers

MP3: “Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins” by The Byrds

MP3: “Silver Moon” by Michael Nesmith & the First National Band

MP3: “Halo ‘Round The Moon” by Steve Earle

MP3: “Moon Dawg” by The Beach Boys

MP3: “Man On The Moon” by R.E.M.

MP3: “Moonlight Drive” (live) by The Doors

MP3: “Armstrong” by John Stewart

MP3: “Blue Moon” by Elvis Presley

MP3: “Kiko and the Lavender Moon” by Los Lobos

MP3: “Bark At The Moon” by Ozzy Osbourne

MP3: “Mountains Of The Moon” (live) by The Grateful Dead

MP3: “Brain Damage/Eclipse” by Pink Floyd

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

Prison Closing Blues

Posted in Rock Moment with tags , , , , , , , , on September 5, 2011 by 30daysout

The Central Unit in Sugar Land is now closed. (Photo by Justin Dehn/Texas Tribune)

Here’s a new one: in Texas, we’re shutting down a prison. Not because there aren’t enough inmates – no, they have shut down one of the state’s oldest prisons because they want to turn the property into a shopping center.

Texas is looking for ways to save money and shutting the Central Unit in Sugar Land will save about $12 million a year. Texas bought the prison property in 1908 from Imperial Sugar, the company for which Sugar Land was named. The current prison, built in 1932, housed more than 1,000 inmates at times.

It was originally called the Imperial State Prison Farm, and one of its most famous occupants was Huddie Ledbetter, who was imprisoned there in 1918 or so. That’s where the singer known as Leadbelly most likely learned the traditional song “Midnight Special.” Leadbelly added some lyrics and it’s a classic today.

So today let’s spin some jail songs.

MP3: “Midnight Special” by Leadbelly

MP3: “Life In Prison” by the Byrds

MP3: “I Fought The Law” by the Bobby Fuller Four

MP3: “San Quentin” (live) by Johnny Cash

MP3: “Mama Tried” by Merle Haggard

MP3: “Prison Song” by Graham Nash

MP3: “Christmas In Prison” by John Prine

MP3: “County Jail” by Muddy Waters

MP3: “Ellis Unit One” by Steve Earle

MP3: “Penetentiary Blues” by Lightnin’ Hopkins w/Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee

MP3: “Jailhouse Rock” by ZZ Top

MP3: “Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash

Live: Steve Earle w/the Dukes & Duchesses, Houston

Posted in Review with tags , , , on July 7, 2011 by 30daysout

Steve Earle and band onstage at Houston's House of Blues.

With a career spanning close to four decades, Texas singer/songwriter Steve Earle has grown into quite the renaissance man. Not only is he a musician and performer of the highest caliber, he can also claim to also be an accomplished author, playwright, actor and political commentator.

Even though Earle’s appearance at Houston’s House of Blues Wednesday night (7/6) was as a musician and bandleader, evidence of his other interests couldn’t help but creep in.

He was backed by a fine band called the Dukes and Duchesses which includes Earle’s wife Allison Moorer, guitarist Chris Masterson, violinist Eleanor Whitmore (Masterson’s wife), bassist Kelly Looney and drummer Will Rigby.

They opened with a series of songs from Earle’s new album I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive, including the mandolin-driven “Molly-O” and hatin’-on-Bush screed “Little Emperor.” Earle’s “The Gulf Of Mexico,” about last summer’s Gulf oil spill, concluded with Earle declaring “Fuck BP!”

The first half of the show focused mainly on acoustic-based songs and it concluded with a three-song set from Moorer, who did her Academy Award-nominated “A Soft Place To Fall” (from the movie Horse Whisperer) and a soulful version of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.”

Roaring into the second half with “Copperhead Road” and the Irish jig “Galway Girl,” Earle displayed his deep catalog. He also talked a bit about his new novel, which has the same name as his new CD, and performed the Hank Williams song that gave both their titles. He also did a great version of “This City,” which closed out the first season of HBO’s series Treme, in which Earle did some acting.

It was at this point, nearly two hours into the show, when crowd chatter got so loud that it drowned out the between-song talking from the stage and a bit of the music. I’ve seen this before in Houston and I continue to be mystified by the number of assholes who pay a cover charge ($20 and up) just so they can go into a venue and talk while musicians perform live music.

Steve Earle (Photo by Ted Barron/New West Records)

Is this just a Houston phenomenon? Probably not – I’ve experienced it recently in Austin, where you wouldn’t expect this to happen. It just seems that otherwise reasonable adults go to these venues only to be “seen” and not to listen to music.

Anyhow, Steve Earle gave plenty of nods to the time he spent in Houston paying his dues – he did a fine cover of his mentor Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho and Lefty” as well as a rousing version of “Telephone Road” after telling how he came to see ZZ Top headline a show (with the likes of Willie Nelson, Fleetwood Mac and the Doobie Brothers as openers) in H-town’s Jeppesen Stadium.

Then, for the second encore, Earle plugged in and the band roared through a version of ZZ Top’s “Francene” and followed that with Earle’s own “Home To Houston,” a Creedence soundalike.

In all, Earle and the Dukes and Duchesses played a little longer than two and a half hours and left the audience (at least those who came for the music) still wanting more. After this show, I’m convinced that Steve Earle is the best roots rocker on the road right now – go see him play this summer, if you can.

Steve Earle official website (with tour dates)

“Austin Music Minute” on KUT-FM, Austin

Article: “Is Steve Earle America’s greatest living songwriter?”

Steve Earle instores at Cactus Music & Record Ranch reviewed here and here

YouTube: “Every Part Of Me” from House of Blues show (thanks to

“Telephone Road”

“Francene”/”Home To Houston”/”The Unrepentant”

Live: Steve Earle, Houston

Posted in Review with tags on May 4, 2011 by 30daysout

Steve Earle performed at Cactus Music in Houston on Tuesday.

Steve Earle is one of America’s most important songwriters, and his new album I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive is a low-key but polished set that exhibits the singer’s storytelling strengths. Earle kicked off a short promotional tour for the CD on Tuesday (May 3) in Houston, with a rousing in-store performance at Cactus Music.

He picked up one of his stringed instruments and explained, “This is a bouzouki … but you don’t call it that when you’re going through airport security.” He then plucked the intro to “Waitin’ On The Sky,” which kicks off the new album. Earle followed that one with the excellent “The Gulf of Mexico,” his take on last year’s oil spill done up like an old-time sea chanty. Next up was an oldie, “The Mountain,” the coal-mining cousin to “Gulf of Mexico.”

Before playing his new showcase love song, “Every Part Of Me,” Earle explained it’s a “chick song, to keep my audience from continuously getting uglier and hairier, like me.” Still holding his brown Martin guitar, Earle absent-mindedly muttered, almost to himself, “Forgot where I am right now.” He meant Houston, the former and now spiritual home of his mentor Townes Van Zandt – then Earle launched into a brilliant “Pancho and Lefty,” one of Van Zandt’s most famous songs.

Photo by Ted Barron/New West Records

After that great moment came another: mentioning that his new novel is also titled I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive, Earle explained that both of his new projects share a title because they’re about the same things. And they are both inspired by Hank Williams’ song with that title – which isn’t on the new album. “We put it out instead as a single for Record Store Day,” Earle said. “That’s the kind of stuff you have to do today … we used to make records for girls, now we make records for nerds.” His version of Hank’s “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive” makes me think that an album of all-Hank covers from Steve Earle would be quite welcome.

Switching to mandolin, Earle plucked the Bush kiss-off “Little Emperor” from the new CD, then some fancy picking segued into a welcome “Galway Girl.” Casting a sly grin to his guitar tech, Earle then strummed out the familiar chords to “Copperhead Road” and rolled into that classic, complete with shouts and boot stomps to accent the beat. He caught his breath with a long preamble about working as an actor on HBO’s series “Treme” then capped off the 10-song set with a rousing version of his post-Katrina New Orleans ode “This City.”

I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive is not the best Steve Earle album you can buy, but it’s a welcome return to form for this great singer/songwriter. He promised he’ll be out on tour this summer with a band including Houston guitarist Chris Masterson (Son Volt) and Earle’s wife Allison Moorer, which is all the more reason to catch him if you have a chance.

Steve Earle official website

More photos from the in-store on Cactus Music’s Facebook page

NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert, with “Waitin’ On The Sky,” “Every Part Of Me” and “This City”