New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: merle haggard

Dark Crooner Mark Sinnis Releases His Catchiest, Hardest Country Record

There’s not a little irony in that baritone crooner Mark Sinnis’ catchiest and hardest country record comes out of the most difficult and arguably most complicated time in his life as a recording artist. His latest album, One Red Rose Among the Dying Leaves – streaming at Spotify – picks up the doomed tangent he began in 2012 with It’s Been a Long Cold Hard Lonely Winter. At that point, his marriage was on life support this one traces the despair that followed in its wake, yet paradoxically it’s Sinnis’ most hopeful album ever. Talk about snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.

As you might expect from Sinnis’ most traditional country album, there’s plenty of reverence for and references to to a century of tradition. The Elvis homage In Tupelo opens it; a homage to New York’s one and only country station, 1050 WHN, which aired at that frequency on the AM dial from 1941 to 1987, closes it on a similarly nostalgic note.

In between, there’s On This Thanksgiving Day, a cruel Johnny Cash-flavored anthem chronicling Sinnis’ departure/eviction from his Westchester home (he’s since resettled in North Carolina). There’s the towering, angst-fueled, Orbison-esque bolero that serves as the album’s title traack, inspired by an actual flower Sinnis discovered the day he moved out of his home in the frigid winter of 2014. It graces the album’s back cover.

Why Should I Cry Over You is a brisk, propulsive minor-key honkytonk blues number. There are a couple of older songs dating from Sinnis’ days fronting gothic-tinged art rock band Ninth House, notably the haunting When the Sun Bows to the Moon – “You create your own atmosphere, breathe your own tainted air” – and the creeping, low-key, doomed Jealousy.

There’s surprisingly upbeat, optimistic material here too. Love, Love Love (You’re Such a Four Letter Word) is a funny and wickedly catchy update on Don Gibson-style 1960s country-pop. Five Days, Seven Nights looks back to the roots of alt-country and bands like the Mekons, but with more finesse. Where It All Ends, a 70s style country ballad, serves as the album’s quietly triumphant coda.

Siting at the Heartbreak Saloon wouldn’t be out of place in the classic-era Merle Haggard songbook. And the album’s best song, Tough Love Is All She’s Got, is one of the all-time greatest kiss-off anthems ever written. See, on the surface, this retro chick – as he tells it, Sinnis’ ex – looks like a classic car from 1956 or so. But wait – pop the hood! Fans of classic country from Lefty Frizzell, to Waylon and Willie, to Jack Grace will love this album A period-perfect and smart, tersely recorded performance from multi-instrumentalists Stephen Gara-  who plays everything from banjo to bagpipes – ass well as W. D. Fortay on lead guitar, Ken Lockwood on fiddle, Brian Aspinwall on pedal steel and trumpet, Lee Compton on lead trumpet, Mike Gross on bass and Michael Lillard on drums.

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.