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The Thin Line of Influence: Cornell to Stapleton to Carlile and Beyond

Much has been made the past few years regarding the slide of country from traditional sounds into pop-ish tendencies.  One of the usual excuses given for this transition is the amalgam of influences that have informed the modern artists making the music.  Some artists such as Kacey Musgraves and Maren Morris have used this to move country music in new directions, whereas many of the male artists just sing the same types of songs transposed over the faux hip-hop beat that Grady Smith expertly pointed out.

Everyone is influenced by everything.  It’s how you use it that is key.

This was brought back to the forefront of my mind when I heard the fantastic cover of “Hunger Strike” from the Chris Cornell tribute show featuring Chris Stapleton and Brandi Carlile.  Imagine, 20, 30, or even just 10 years ago, one of the biggest names in country music pairing with a modern folk/pop/Americana darling to cover a 90’s grunge classic.  And not only cover it, but (again) prove their certifiable talents whilst doing so.  Stapleton gets dragged by some traditionalists for being too bluesy, but he’s about as country as country gets.  Carlile is an alternative country powerhouse who transcends genre and time. They each come from a generation (X, that I belong to as well) that jammed that track for countless hours as adolescents.  Young Eddie Vedder and prime Chris Cornell spoke to us through MTV multiple times a day.  That song and moment were inescapable.  The type of song and content that seeps into your bones and becomes part of your soul.  Stapleton and Carlile always expertly emote when performing, but on this night there was a bit of an extra push to honor one of their heroes and one of their favorite formative songs.

Does Soundgarden show up in Stapleton’s original work?  Does Audioslave inform Carlile in the studio?  The answer is yes, but not overtly.  It’s in the nuance.  It’s part of the fiber of their music.  The line from Cornell to country/Americana is thin.  The fact that Stapleton and Carlile could also join in on a tribute to The Fugees or Oasis or any other number of influencers from their youth and pull it off as keenly is a tribute to both their talent and the power of the music that informs you.  25 years from now, perhaps some upstarts will be singing “The Joke” or “Broken Halos” and they won’t be from the field you expect.  But, it will make sense because those songs are transcendent.

Nobody is mad that country’s borderlines have gotten a little flexible, at least not in this court.  I dig everything from country to blues to hip-hop to pop to metal to jazz.  If I dig it, I dig it.  If I don’t, I don’t.  Artists are no different.  But, the ones that elevate themselves either find what they do well and accentuate it or combine the elements in an authentic manner that doesn’t pander.  Singing a song about a girl in a truck may be your truth, but at least try to make it sound like you and not like a karaoke track sung over a looped computer beat.  Chris Stapleton and Brandi Carlile know that.  So, do most of your favorite artists.  Chris Cornell knew it too.  The man could cover Prince, Led Zeppelin and Michael Jackson with the same verve and passion he made his own music.  Music can be as disparate or similar as the artist wants it to be.  I’m thankful for the masters who know how to mix it right.

And with that, I’m going hungry.

PG Still Live After All These Years

There are dozens of records that have been landmarks for this scene over the past decades, but precious few standout as true monuments to a time, place and movement.  One such record is Pat Green’s Live at Billy Bob’s effort.  Originally recorded on December 4, 1998, and celebrated this past Saturday night as the crowning achievement it is, it was a transcendent collection for a burgeoning scene and business.  Billy Bob’s Texas had cache in 1998, but it wasn’t what all it would become until Rick Smith tapped Pat Green and Merle Haggard to record live records in the famed honky-tonk.  The same could be said for the former artist himself.  Pat Green was defying labels, borders, expectations, and traditional models as the PG buzz moved from underground to regional.  The Gruene Hall live effort, Here We Go, stands as a more authentic representation of the time, but it was the Billy Bob’s set that vaulted PG into trucks and barrooms across the Lone Star State.  Rick Smith’s gamble would turn into a goldmine.  It would transform Billy Bob’s from an oversized corny corporate venue into a brother to its sister Gruene Hall.  More Opryland than Grand Ol’ Opry but just as essential.  Getting booked at Billy Bob’s would become a benchmark that all artists worth their salt would set as a goal. Being asked to record a live record at Billy Bob’s became a pinnacle.

Pat’s effort would leave breadcrumbs for artists to try and find over the next 20 years.  Amped up crowd noise added in post production, slicking up the rough edges, letting a killer top flight band fly into mini-jams and nailing their parts, genuinely engaging the crowd and leaving both the audience there on 12-4-98 wanting more, along with all those who have listened to it since.  It was a genius formula.  Oh, and you might want to throw in a new song that will soon become one of your calling cards, “Take Me Out To a Dancehall”.   As the 20th anniversary approached, things had changed a little.

The music industry doesn’t look quite the same as it did all those years ago.  Pat Green is no longer a young upstart with a rabid underground following and Billy Bob’s Texas has now released over 40 Live at Billy Bob’s Texas albums.  The ones from Cross Canadian Ragweed, Jason Boland and the Stragglers, Randy Rogers Band, Stoney LaRue and Wade Bowen each delivering the same kind of next level bump and confirmation that resulted from Green’s.

I wasn’t there that night in December twenty years ago, but I was there plenty of nights around that time and many nights since.  The Pat Green that took the stage Saturday night to commemorate all that he’s accomplished since that fateful night had more in common with the ’98 version than I’ve seen in quite some time.  Pat was jovial, excited, engaged and he even gave a nod to the first recording by starting the night with his fantastic cover of Joe Ely’s “Me and Billy the Kid”.  The band was not the same (it would have been cool to see Danaher, Anthony et al at least for a few songs), the vibe was not the same and the crowd was a bit more tame than those of back in the day.  But, when the big Gibson Hummingbird echoes the chords of “Songs About Texas” throughout the cavernous hall, it is easy to be transformed and transported back to that place.  It was a special night for a special moment.

It’s interesting to see our scene start to look back on itself this far down the road.  We’ve lost some along the way, yet as a whole we are still chugging along.  Ebbs and flows, ups and downs, sell outs and empty nights.  It’s all part of the ride.  A ride that wouldn’t be taking place without the whim of Rick Smith in 1998 and Pat Green’s charismatic ability to be both showman/songwriter and marketer.  They laid a framework that just about everyone has built a house on since.  Those that don’t study history are doomed to repeat it…yet sometimes it’s worth repeating.  Saturday night was an example of that.  Pat Green reminded everyone of how and why he became the King of Texas Country.  A moniker and crown that hasn’t always been easy for him to wear, understandably.  But, it is one that is starting to feel a little more comfortable these days.  That’s good news for everyone.  I’m still here and so is Pat Green.

{Brad's Corner} January 2019: Revised Resolutions

{Brad�s Corner}

January brings renewal, Steamboat and 12 months of high hopes.  The spirit of rebirth and change permeates every aspect of one’s life this time of year.   This is especially true in our little corner of the music industry.  Album releases, festival plans, touring routes and everything feels fresh. Oftentimes, as with most things in life, […]

{20 Questions} Josh Ward

Josh and Heather Ward have been a part of the Galleywinter family for years. Way before my time here, Heather and others from the “Tore Up From Floor Up” crowd would live out Pat Green’s life of a road trip weekend, show jumping across Texas with lukewarm beer and burritos in tow. During those adventures […]

Favorites of 2018

The albums, songs, people and places (in no particular order) that were our favorites in 2018.   ALBUMS Kevin Galloway – The Change Galloway’s powerful vocals drive each song and provide them the proper gravitas to match the lyrics he has strained from his real life’s experiences.  These songs are unmistakably positive and affirming. Galloway […]