Roots Music Roundup: Songs That Stick
Each week when the new releases become available, I grab whatever I think might interest me and throw it into a playlist. I don’t curate it or make it public, it’s just my personal-virtual-digital equivalent of that stack o’ albums I used to have leaning against up the wall after a trip to my local record store. And despite still hearing the words of disdain from Grant Alden forever whispering in my ear, I hardly ever listen to an album from the first track to the last, but rather let the songs magically pop out randomly all by themselves in shuffle mode.
When the playlist grows too big — maybe over five or six hundred songs — I begin to trim the herd. The tunes will either get flipped into the main library or dumped in the trash can on my desktop. Sorry, that sounds harsh and heartless. But I also know what I like and what I don’t. And I guess I should mention that not everything is actually brand spanking new. Sometimes I’ll add an old favorite or two that I haven’t heard in a while. And other times I just can’t let something go because there’s still something more to get from it. Anyhow, music is timeless, right?
You can thank (or blame) Amilia K Spicer for giving me the idea for this week’s column, where I’ll share a few songs I just can’t let go of. Spicer’s Wow and Flutter, which was released last year, is full of earworms. Calling her music “red-dirt noir,” she co-produced it with multi-instrumentalist Steve McCormick and put together with the help of friends like Eric Heywood on pedal steel, Tony Gilkyson and Gurf Morlix on guitars, Dylan/Stones bassist Daryl Johnson, and Wallflower/Foo Fighter Rami Jaffee on keyboards. Last week when I told her I couldn’t stop listening to it, she said “Yay! The Glue Album!” And so here we are: tunes that stick like bubblegum on a hot asphalt highway. We’ll kick it off with a live version of Spicer’s “Windchill” and then a video she directed and produced for “Fill Me Up.”
The Tillers‘ self-titled album came out last March and is their fifth in ten years. Based in Cincinnati, they started out playing the great folk classics of the ’50s and ’60s, busking on the corners and playing bars that pass around a hat for tips. Over time they have developed into a super-tight stringband that doesn’t strictly adhere to one genre or another. They often sound like old-time Appalachian, other times they’re the Ramones on acid. They gotta love Iris DeMent’s quote: “The Tillers … I could sit and listen to them all night long!”
Pat Reedy is another musician who started out busking, making a name for himself on the streets of New Orleans. He put out a couple of albums with the Longtime Goners of great Cajun-style country before moving to Nashville and morphing into a band of honky-tonk outlaws. He’s an unabashed day-job construction worker who happens to write some great songs, and this summer he and the band are on the road promoting That’s All There Is (And There Ain’t Anymore).
I’m going to close this out with two more tunes that each come from older compilations. The first is a Little Jimmy Dickens song that comes from the second volume of the five-disc Columbia Country Classics series. Born in Bolt, West Virginia, and standing at four-foot-eleven, he started out performing as Jimmy The Kid before he was discovered by Roy Acuff and signed to Columbia Records. He was a longtime member of the Grand Ole Opry, joining in 1948 and making his final appearance just weeks before he passed away at age 94. Along with Hank Williams, Minnie Pearl, and her husband Henry Cannon, he co-wrote “Hey Good Lookin’” sitting on an airplane in 1951. Only Williams got the songwriting credit.
Back in 2014 there was a one-night-only concert in New York’s Town Hall that was released as a film documentary along with a soundtrack album titled Another Day, Another Time: Celebrating the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis. It was far better than the original fictionalized feature film depicting a ’60s folksinger, and featured a ton of musicians, including Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, the Punch Brothers, Elvis Costello, Jack White, Joan Baez, and Marcus Mumford, and it was produced by T Bone Burnett. For me, this is the standout track, and in these unsettling times, one that really sticks.
Many of my past columns, articles, and essays can be accessed at my own site, therealeasyed.com. I also aggregate news and videos on both Flipboard and Facebook as The Real Easy Ed: Americana Roots Music Daily. My Twitter handle is @therealeasyed.