Rodney Crowell, Guy Clark, Whitehorse and Angel Snow at the AMA Festival
There are some special moments at the AMA Festival & Conference. Like Thursday, listening to Rodney Crowell and Guy Clark talk about Woody Guthrie and songwriting. It’s a bit overwhelming, actually. Here are these two guys who wrote all those songs, played with all those people, helped build the foundations of what we now call Americana. Remember how young they were in that Heartworn Highways footage?
You can get some great takeaways when Crowell and Clark start talking. Here’s what Crowell said during the course of the discussion: “People say to me, ‘My songs are like my children.’ I say bullshit. They don’t belong to you. And if they are like children, they need to get out and get a job.” Well, Crowell’s “children” are working. Kin, his new record of co-writes with Mary Karr, has been top of the Americana charts of late, and deservedly so.
Guy Clark lost Susanna earlier this year, and maybe he isn’t quite as spry as he used to be (he’s got almost a decade on Crowell), but he hasn’t slowed down very much. Early in the discussion (moderated by Bob Santelli of The Grammy Museum), he played a song he wrote recently about the “coyotes” who take advantage of those who want to sneak across the border from Mexico. Later, Clark told us about writing the words “If I could just get off of this LA Freeway without getting killed or caught” with Susanna’s eye pencil on a scrap of paper in the back seat of a car. He thinks he still has that piece of paper somewhere.
Before singing Guthrie’s 1913 Massacre, Clark reluctantly pulled out downloaded lyrics, saying that a good folk singer wasn’t supposed to do that, failing to acknowledge that Crowell had done the same thing minutes before on the Guthrie song he played. Clark stumbled a bit through the song – he just couldn’t read the lyrics and sing it at the same time – but none of us cared a bit. As he told us, it is such a great song, such a fine example of perspective in a story song. And he’s a fine example of what it means to be a storyteller, as is Crowell.
I mentioned the Heartworn Highways documentary, here’s just a bit of it to remind you that you need to go back and watch it:
You’d expect to be wowed by Rodney Crowell and Guy Clark. But as it is every year, it’s the new artists, the ones I haven’t heard before, that make me so glad I came. And on Thursday, after the time with Crowell and Clark, I was waylaid by Whitehorse during lunch at the Second Fiddle.
Whitehorse. They’re a duo from Canada (Melissa McClelland and Luke Doucet). We went to The Second Fiddle to see Belle Starr, who played first and were great. The plan was to head out right after that, but as we’re leaving we decided to listen to the first song by Whitehorse. Here’s this really good looking couple with an elaborate set up of multiple instruments and old school telephones on the side of their mike stands. The first song was good, so we stayed for the second song, during which McClelland (who’s wearing this blue dress with the front cut shorter than the back and did I mention that she’s good looking?) starts singing into the telephone. Maybe I should say she’s singing onto the telephone. She’s leaned over sorta sideways and she’s giving it a lot of attention. You look around the room and every guy in the place has this silly smile on his face. I kept thinking that Jim Lauderdale might jump on stage and say, “Now that’s Americana!” The music was layered with looped sounds of percussion, singing and guitar, constructed right there in front of us. McClelland and Doucet both can play everything on the stage and to prove that, they literally change places a couple of times during their short show. What kind of music is it? I’d call it Roots Canadiana Americana Electricana or thereabouts. And here’s the thing: Even with all that’s going on on stage, they’re not gimmicky. Their songs are really good and they can sing. I’m thinking we will see more of them.
And then last night at The Basement, we saw Angel Snow. Pure and simple as the driven snow, just clear vocals and great lyrics. She had a song on Alison Krauss’s Paper Airplane (three if you get the deluxe edition) and you can see why. She lacks pretension, speaking from the stage about dropping the phone when Krauss called her to say that the song, Lie Awake, made the record. Krauss’s brother Viktor produced Snow’s upcoming album (and co-wrote Lie Awake). The new record comes out next month. “We would have liked for Viktor to be with us tonight but he’s out with Jerry Douglas. We would have like to have had Jerry Douglas, too.” Even without those guys, Snow’s band was good, particularly Jason Goforth, who played atmospherics with a variety of instruments including lap steel and harmonica.
Here’s a video of Snow and Viktor Krauss doing a song called These Days:
Mando Lines is tweeting a bit during the AMA Festival & Conference @mando_lines. You can follow AMA @americanafest.