New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: duane eddy

A Star-Studded Tribute to the Hendrix of the Pedal Steel, Buddy Emmons

If there’s one instrument most closely associated with classic country music, it’s the pedal steel. Buddy Emmons is recognized as the Jimi Hendrix of the pedal steel – in addition to his revolutionary, jazz-inspired style and technical innovations, he also patented and first produced the version of the instrument that’s been the global standard since 1962. Emmons got his start as an eighteeen-year-old phenom in Little Jimmy Dickens’ band in 1955 and never looked back, recording and touring with Ray Price, Roger Miller and a stampede of country stars as well as recording many of his own albums which explore jazz as well as C&W. There’s also a compilation album, The Big E – A Salute to Steel Guitarist Buddy Emmons, out recently, with many of the world’s top pedal steel players and country stars paying tribute to the iconic musician/inventor. The whole thing is streaming at Spotify.

The playing throughout the tracks here is fantastic: although there’s a rotating cast of musicians, they pretty much sound like a single great Nashville band circa 1965 or so, a mix of current-day stars and veterans trading licks throughout a smart, inspired mix of some of the songs most closely associated with Emmons throughout his country career.

Vince Gill leads a band with steel players Paul Franklin and Tommy White trading richly jazzy western swing solos before Gill himself shows off some jazz guitar chops on Country Boy, an early Little Jimmy Dickens hit that Emmons played hundreds of times onstage. Steve Fishell takes over the pedals with his own resonant, terse licks on Emmylou Harris’ and Rodney Crowell‘s duet of That’s All It Took, a Gram Parsons homage. Duane Eddy exchanges low, twilit guitar shades with steel player Dan Dugmore‘s judicious riffs and Spooner Oldham‘s similarly tasteful piano on Blue Jade, a big Emmons instrumental hit. Then Willie Nelson contributes a spare acoustic take of Are You Sure, which he co-wrote in 1961 with Emmons.

Longtime Buck Owens steel player JayDee Maness and guitarist Albert Lee exchange purist, sometimes whispery, bluesy verses on instrumental version of the 1963 Ray Price hit This Cold War With You. John Anderson sings the 1958 Ernest Tubb honkytonk single Half a Mind, Buck Reid employing the famous tuning that Emmons invented while showing off some juicy western swing riffs. Greg Leisz follows with a mostly instrumental version of Wild Mountain Thyme, slowly making his way through the melody and then adding some richly tuneful embellishments.

John Sebastian’s Rainbows All Over Your Blues gives Maness and Lee a chance to choogle and spiral, followed by the album’s most energizing number, Doug Jernigan‘s lickety-split version of Buddy’s Boogie, an iconically difficult piece in the pedal steel canon. Then Brad Paisley’s longtime steel player Randle Currie takes it down, spacious and suspenseful, on a take of Willie Nelson’s Night Life sung by Raul Malo.

The Lee Boys’ Roosevelt Collier plays steel with a snarling but cool Albert Collins-style tone on a version of Feel So Bad, Fishell following with more sunbaked, sustained lines behind Chris Stapleton’s animated soul vocals. Joanie Keller Johnson‘s lovely Dolly Parton-tinged vocals grace a version of Someday Soon in tribute to Emmons’ playing on the 1969 Judy Collins hit.
.
Norm Hamlet of Merle Haggard’s band takes the steel chair on Roger Miller’shonkytonk hit Invitation to the Blues, but he lets Lee’s spiraling Strat take the song all the way up. Dickens himself sings a fetchingly soulful take of his classic When Your House Is Not a Home, featuring similarly low-key but intense solos from Dugmore and Eddy. Steel player Gary Carter , from Marty Stuart’s band, contributes a spacious, minimalist take of Shenandoah, which turns out to be the most avant garde thing here. The album winds up with Eddy and Dugmore exchanging resonant, elegantly moonlit lines on an instrumental of the Hank Williams classic Mansion on a Hill.

Eilen Jewell: Lynch Girl With Guitar and Brilliant Band

Watching Eilen Jewell in her black dress in daylight, leading her brilliant band earlier this evening outside City Winery, was surreal. The self-described Queen of the Minor Key is best appreciated after dark under low lights. But the unlikely early hour didn’t stop her from turning the parking lot out back of the club into a noir movie set, sonically speaking at least. Jewell’s jeweled voice works the corners of dark Americana with a casual menace that’s just short of lurid: she’s always a step ahead of you, never giving in to the temptation to go over the top.

Her band was phenomenal. Guitarist Jerry Miller (not to be confused with the guy from alt-country pioneers Moby Grape) was, as he’s put it before, “Duane Eddy, Link Wray and James Burton rolled into one.” At this show he was also Otis Rush, and Steve Cropper, and Buck Owens, sometimes all of them within the span of a few bars. Miller’s twangy,  tremoloing blue-flame nonchalance made the perfect counterpart to Jewell’s aching, angst-tinged restraint. Drummer Jason Beek did the Tim O’Reagan thing on harmony vocals – the guy’s an excellent singer – while bassist Johnny Sciascia hit hard and tersely and kept the shuffles on the straight and narrow. Dark as Jewell’s music is, between songs, she was deviously charming, at one point giving a shout out to the club’s sangria. You know, the one thing that a wine bar wants to be known for.

In over an hour onstage, they gave a clinic in just about every style of elegantly dark Americana, ending pretty much everything they played with a big crescendo from the guitars and a ka-THUMP from the drums. Let’s hope somebody had the presence of mind to record this show and put it up at archive.org, where there’s more tantalizing live stuff from her. They played up the honkytonk energy in Loretta Lynn’s Give Me a Lift and the countrypolitan sophistication of Stonewall Jackson’s That’s Why I’m Walking, gave Eric Andersen’s Dusty Boxcar Wall a dusky southwestern gothic edge and ended the night with a long, haphazardly dangerous version of Shaking All Over with Miller flatpicking his way up to a wry Gloria quote.

But the originals were the best. The band got the after-hours neon ambience going with the bluesy, noir Where They Never Saw Your Name, Miller channeling Otis Rush’s All Your Love, and segued into the equally shadowy, even catchier Sea of Tears. Jewell brought it down and let her voice tremolo out a little at the end to match Miller’s guitar on a slowy, achingly Lynchian version of her torch ballad Only One, followed by the swampy shuffle Bang Bang Bang – which casts Cupid as a psychopath – and then the apprehensively swinging High Shelf Blues, more of a lament than a drinking song.

This blog once likened the swaying oldschool country ballad Breathless to Laura Cantrell covering X, and Jewell validated that description. A haunting new song possibly titled One More Time featured Miller playing at the murky bottom of his strings, as if on a baritone guitar. Going Back to Dallas, from Jewell’s first album (which her old label refused to supply her with for this show, she told the crowd) was just as purposeful and brought back the foreboding edge – could it be a Lee Harvey Oswald reference, maybe? They followed with the slow, regretful summery sway of Boundary County, a homage to Jewell’s native Idaho, then the uneasy janglerock of Home to Me, then began the encores with the defiant If You Catch Me Stealing and then the haunting, Julia Haltigan-esque I’m Gonna Dress in Black with its St. James Infirmary vibe. Fans in Westchester county can catch Jewell tomorrow night, July 10 at the Turning Point in Piermont at around 7:30.

Gorgeous Jangle and Clang from Chris Erikson

Chris Erikson is oldschool. He’s a newspaperman, covering many beats at the New York Post. He’s also a brilliant guitarist (which is kind of oldschool these days as well) who’s been in demand in the New York scene for a long time, backing such A-list talents as Matt Keating and Florence Dore. Yet he’s not your typically guitarslinger: there are maybe six parts on his new album Lost Track of the Time that you could conceivably call solos. Two of them open and close the album on a boisterous Bakersfield country note, the first a jaunty Buck Owens-like run using the low registers almost like a baritone guitar, the second a high-strung boogie passage in a very cleverly composed mystery story titled The Worst Thing That Ever Happened. Otherwise, Erikson plays chords, elegant riffs and pieces of both, sometimes picking them with his fingers like Keith Richards, sometimes evoking twangmeisters from Duane Eddy to Steve Earle (who’s obviously a big influence here), or even 80s paisley underground legends True West. He’s that interesting, and that tasteful: he always leaves you wanting more.

But there are plenty of good players out there. What elevates this album above your typical Twangville tuneage is the songwriting. Erikson writes allusively, his sharp, frequently bitter, pensive lyrics leaving just enough detail for the listener to fill in the blanks. His changes are catchy and anthemic, driven by a purist melodic sensibility and a love of subtle shifts in tone, touch and attack. Along with the dynamics – something you don’t often see in music like this – there’s also a lot of implied melody. Erikson also happens to be an excellent singer. On the angriest or craziest stuff here, his voice takes on a Paul Westerberg-style rasp; otherwise, his drawl shifts between pensive and sardonic, depending on the lyrics. Again, Steve Earle comes to mind. As you would expect, Erikson’s band the Wayward Puritans is first-rate, with Jason Mercer on bass, Will Rigby on drums plus frequent contributions from Keating on keyboards along with Jay Sherman-Godfrey on guitars, with Bob Hoffnar and Jonathan Gregg on pedal steel, Kill Henry Sugar’s Erik Della Pena on lapsteel, Hem’s Mark Brotter and Gary Maurer (who produced) on drums and acoustic guitar, respectively.

The best song on the album, and the one instant classic here is Ear to the Ground. It starts with a richly clanging, intricate series of chords that are going to have everyone reaching for their six-string: it’s that gorgeous.Those changes come around again a couple of times but Erikson makes you wait for them. It’s a bitter kiss-off song, but a very subtle one: until the end, the story is what doesn’t happen. Erikson does the same on another first-rate backbeat rock track a little later on, The Subject Came Up, an elephant-in-the-room scenario where “by the next morning a chalk outline was all that remained” of what ultimately turned out to be a dealbreaker. The most sarcastic song here, a big 6/8 country anthem titled Guilty, has its obviously wrongfully accused narrator asking for the court to “just read me my rights and I’ll sign on the line” over a rich backdrop of mandolin and dobro.

The funniest songs on the album are both country tunes: the first a honkytonk number about a freeloading girlfriend, lit up by some juicy piano from Keating. The other is When I Write My Memoir, another kiss-off song, but with an unexpected punchline, not the first thing you’d think of from a writer dreaming of seeing his autobio top the charts at amazon. Was That Me sets a tongue-in-cheek, disingenuous lyric to blistering highway rock. There’s also the long, aphoristically unwinding rock anthem On My Way and a couple of pensive, brooding acoustic numbers, In the Station and When It Comes Down, the latter with soaring steel from Hoffnar and a welcome return to the recording studio by Dore, who supplies equally soaring harmony vocals. Count this among the best albums to make it over the transom here this year.

Chris Erikson and the Wayward Puritans, like a lot of New York’s best bands, made Lakeside Lounge their home. Now that Lakeside’s days are numbered (April 30 is the last big blowout there), let’s hope they find another sometime soon.