Brad’s Corner is a monthly commentary written by Brad about whatever he feels like. It’s supposed to be funny, interesting and thought provoking, but most geniuses are misunderstood. Check out the January 2007 edition of Brad’s Corner and see what’s on his mind.
As it goes, the start of a new year inspires new beginnings and fresh adventures. On the flip side of new is old. Sometimes we must push some of the old out the door to fully enjoy the new. The Texas/Red Dirt/What’s the Hot Label this week scene is ripe for all of this exciting action as we flip the calendar to January. 2006 was a banner year for our little scene of do-it-yourself artists. Many of them stepped outside of their comfort zones in an attempt to reach artistic and commercial heights previously thought unrealistic. Randy Rogers co-wrote songs with (gasp!) professional Nashville writers and the results were stunning. The title track (“Just a Matter of Time”) to his latest album found Rogers digging deep with hit-maker Stephony Smith and creating the boldest melody in the Randy Rogers Band’s canon. Jason Boland left the recycled and rehashed productions of Lloyd Maines and Mike McClure by putting Pete Anderson of Dwight Yoakam fame behind the knobs to produce the greatest straight up country album since Waylon’s heyday. In a scene and time where people like to throw Waylon comparisons around as often as drunk buckle bunnies throw up the Ronnie James Dio devil horns with black X’s on their hands; it was completely and totally refreshing to see Boland finally make a record that matches the genius of his songwriting. Jack Ingram continues to be Jack Ingram. Apologizing to nobody, he’s enjoying his second ride around in the big machine of Nashville with a smirk and wink. With the illusion of compromise and the reality of none, Jack became the first artist from our scene to score a #1 hit. More bold chances like the ones taken by Rogers, Boland and Ingram in 2006 would be a welcome sight in this scene in 2007.
Another thing I enjoyed seeing in 2006 was the rise of two of the most talented singer/songwriters to be found anywhere. One was recently described to me as the “Golden Child” and the other has a golden pen and voice. Stoney LaRue and Brandon Rhyder each took a big step forward with their albums and bands in 2006 after a couple of years playing soul-searching acoustic gigs. They had each previously made some noise, but nothing significant. With Stoney, everyone knew he had all the talent in the world; but we weren’t sure if he was going to flame out like a Ryan Leaf or become the Peyton Manning that everyone knew he had the tools to be. Well, like Manning, LaRue won big games on the road this past year and translated his peerless live show into a growing audience. Backed by one of the bawdiest and baddest bands around (The Arsenals), LaRue refined his showboating look at-me skills into a potent and soulful, country folk-rock blend that made longtime believers become lifetime fans and created a new fan base that shows no signs of slowing down. Rhyder, meanwhile, struck 2006 with a quiet confidence and a bag full of tunes and pipes second to none. His album Conviction may very well be one of the greatest released in our scene in several years. The songs Rhyder presented with his booming voice grabbed your gut and didn’t let go until the album or show was over. Each month that flew by in 2006, I noticed Rhyder attaching his name to more fans and more interest. I find it entirely all too fitting that two guys who took a step back in 2004ish when everyone was attempting to become the next Ragweed or Pat Green and just got back to the songs are enjoying this success. They each played countless gigs on any stage that would have them, solo with their guitars and songs as their only company and sometimes their only crowd. This dogged determination and practice is now paying off for both artists and I hope to see more artists get back to the music in 2007 and stay away from the posturing of cool. One guy that has been doing this for quite some time and is starting to get some attention is Adam Hood. That cat could play for 6 hours and never repeat a song. Just he and his guitar. We need more of this and less ego-fueled/Dokken influenced guitar solos.
2006 also brought us the most innovative stage show to hit our scene in quite some time. The Josh Grider Band was anchored by three guys with college music degrees from respected universities, and their higher level arrangements and influences brought a sorely missing element to Texas/Red Dirt music. Top off the thrilling music with Grider’s New Mexican tinged lyrics and something downright revolutionary was going on. The only problem was that myself and about twenty other people were the only ones that seemed to notice. They employed cello in place of fiddle, 3 part harmony substituted for simple crowd sing-along jingles and the best guitar player in the scene, Kris Farrow, shredded every stage he stepped on without using beer bottle props or reheating a Billy Gibbons blues scale for the umpteenth time. Sadly, economics and lack of interest have forced the band to split up for the time being. Even sadder is that only a handful of folks seemed to notice or care about that as well, notice a trend? I predict that left to solo devices on stages throughout the region, Grider is going to pull a LaRue/Rhyder and come back twice as strong. Wade Bowen brought another band and album that was severely underappreciated in our scene this past year. Lost Hotel was the best work of his career and the songwriting was head and shoulders above most of the drivel that passes for “music” in our scene. If I’ve learned anything in 2006 it’s that as a whole, people in this scene just want to drink beer and scream choruses; even if they imply that they identify with the deep lyrics. This is evidenced by the ignorance and prejudice shown to Grider and Bowen’s efforts.
Overall in 2007, my resolutions for our scene are:
I hope fans and artists continue to step out of their comfort zones and combat the lethargic nature the songs and shows in this scene can be at times.
To the fans: Don’t go see the same artist twenty times. Check out that new band you’ve heard good things about a few times. Buy that record you read a good review of. Don’t proclaim that every show you see is the “greatest show ever.” Be more honest, it’s only going to help us grow. Pay more attention to the action on the stage than the action in the crowd.
To the artists: Challenge yourself to perform better shows. Try some originality and don’t attempt to copy Artist X’s sound. Worry less about the beer consumption and more about the quality of the performance. Leave the egos in the van, part of the charm in this scene is that you were as likely to see an artist elbow to elbow with you in the pit as you were onstage. More often than need be, we are seeing artists in cordoned off limited access areas acting as if they are above the fray and playing rockstar. Get over yourselves, we’re all brothers and sisters united by music. Lose the term gurm. Remember what it was like to meet your heroes and repay the favor. Remember why you picked up a guitar in the first place. Get back to basics. Have a good time but be professional.
-Backstage at the Randy Rogers Band’s Billy Bob’s show a high-powered music biz big wig with Nashville/NYC ties told me it was good that I have this outlet once a month because I say things that need to be said about this scene. I thanked him as we discussed the people who call this website and column irrelevant. He pointed out that they’re just thin-skinned people afraid to face the truth. He added the point that there are magazines and websites devoted to things as silly as doghouse architecture, and people who claim we are dedicated to talking about an industry that couldn’t care less are sadly mistaken. I thanked him again and then we laughed about how silly and hard we make this whole thing. As I said above, it’s just music!
-Greenfest 2007 is set for March 31 at Antone’s in Austin. Going to be a helluva weekend. I’m sure we’ll come up with something for Friday March 30 to kick things off and then Sunday April 1 brings us the Celebration of Life Benefit in Luling. This could very well be the weekend of the year. Or at least second to Larry Joe Taylor’s.
Top 5 Artists to Watch in 2007
1. Matt Skinner—After many years as an accomplished sideman for Dub Miller, Doug Moreland and others, the artist I used to enjoy at Riley’s Tavern on $1 Lonestar Wednesdays is stepping out on a solo venture with the lovely Amanda Brown and some other great musicians. Check out his MySpace and go see a show. He’s one of the smoothest voices you’ll ever hear. He’s a unique stylist on the guitar and it all goes down like great blended whiskey on a cold west Texas Sunday afternoon.
2. Drew Kennedy—Along with many other people, I’ve been preaching about the tremendous ability Kennedy possesses. His songwriting has a unique Virginia vibe and his deep voice presents them in a stark theatrical manner that makes his messages hard to ignore. He has a new album arriving in February and he should be the breakout artist in our scene this year.
3. Matt Martindale—Probably mistakenly better known as Cooder Graw, the lead singer of that trailblazing band will hit us with a solo effort. Martindale’s songs have always been rich with imagery and characters that would make Townes and REK blush; I expect nothing less on his new efforts.
4. Bonnie Bishop—Texas Music continues to be a scene dominated by men. Bonnie’s a talented veteran who’s been plugging away for a number of years, yet has finally assembled a top-notch band behind her. Kris Farrow, formerly of the Josh Grider Band, is joining her outfit and should add a spark to her live show. I look for big things from her in 2007.
5. Blake and Fallon—Much like the Josh Grider Band, Blake and Fallon have continually stretched the boundaries of music in our scene. Perhaps that has worked to their disadvantage, however, I’m hoping people take my advice in ’07 and stretch their imagination of what good music can be. They have great pop sensibilities and a gift for songwriting. I look for them to finally capitalize on the waves they started to make a couple years back.
-At least, I hope those guys make it. Usually, when I really like something and think it’s excellent it’s doomed for commercial disaster. The lone exception being the Randy Rogers Band. However, from 2000-to November 2004 my RRB bandwagon was pretty lonely. Now, it’s all full and everything else I’ve enjoyed has stalled at the starting gate. Prove me wrong folks!!
-I keep hearing about Johnny Cooper, and I dig everything I’ve heard online. Just haven’t made it to a show yet. That’s the true lithmus test and it looks like he’s going to pass it with flying colors as soon as I can make it out to a show.
-Walleyginter will probably love that the Grider guys broke up so that I can’t plug them anymore. Whatever band Walley loves was insanely jealous of my Grider love. I’m sorry Walley, it’d never work out between us, I don’t dig cocky pricks.
-Did he just say “cocky pricks?” Yep, sure did. Going to see Rodney Carrington again soon and can’t wait. He cracks me up. I’d love to see some of my favorite funny people open up for him. I’ve been blessed with some insanely comedic friends and acquaintances. The list of guys I’d like to see tackle the mic at a comedy show are:
-Finally saw Brokeback Mountain. Thought the cinematography was amazing, but I still prefer my cowboy movies to feature John Wayne or Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday. As my lawyer friend said, “It would have been a pretty good movie if not for the tent scene…(long pause, then angrily)why couldn’t they have just been friends?” He then muttered something about “How ‘bout those Cowboys?” and we changed the subject.
-This month’s recommended movie is: Midnight Run. A classic. DeNiro at his comedic best before he became lame in those Parents movies. Charles Grodin is an affable straight man and there are at least 5-6 legitimate belly laughs. I stumbled across it on HBO one night recently and remembered how much it rocked.
-This month’s recommended album is: Dead Horses by Ryan Bingham. Bingham’s a friend to strangers and a mystery to friends. This record captures his Jack Kerouac cowboy groove and displays his talent for storytelling. He’s a true troubadour and fans of great songwriting owe it to themselves to pick this up.
-“Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.”—Mark Twain