Greg Brown : Freak Flag (Video)

In preparation for my upcoming trip to Nebraska and Iowa which starts tomorrow morning I am posting this video of (one of my) favorite tracks from Greg Brown’s last studio album to date ‘Freak Flag’. Needless to say perhaps that I like it a lot, and I’ve been meaning to write a review and post it on here, but I didn’t have the time to finish it. This video shows Greg Brown and Bo Ramsey in fine form, and I am happy to be able to say that I plan to go and see their show in Ames on the 27th if everything is going according to plan. Should be excellent.



Slaid Cleaves : Rust Belt Fields

Ever the songwriter for thoughtful songs about people who possibly don’t quite get what they deserve, but try hard one way or the other nevertheless, Slaid Cleaves has written yet another of his beautiful, melancholic songs.

It also shows that , even in 2011 (or 2013 for that matter), you don’t need anything else than an acoustic guitar if your songs are good.

Old Crow Medicine Show : Half Mile Down

In preparation for the review of  Carry Me Back I am currently working on, here’s one of the many excellent songs from that album.  The review will follow in the next few days.

I can also very much recommend the very good Old Crow Medicine Show entry on Wikipedia – filling in a lot of holes in their background for me with many fascinating stories. A lot of my favorite artists are mentioned on there too, such as Bob Dylan, Gillian Welch (&Dave Rawlings) and Woody Guthrie to name only a few. I love the chapter about the early history of the band best, especially the one about the busking and hoboing experiences. So good to know that people are doing things like that nowadays, I have to admit that I would never have the nerve to even try hoboing. Read more here:


Bo Ramsey : Fragile

Bo Ramsey Fragile Cover

Bo Ramsey : Fragile
(2008, Bo Ramsey Records)

I wasn’t familiar with Bo Ramsey’s work until seeing him play alongside a Greg Brown on a couple of spirited living room renditions of tracks like Pretty Boy Floyd (and a few live tracks) in Hacklebarney Tunes The Music of Greg Brown – the documentary film about Greg Brown (part of If I had Known, see my review here: …..). Those performances made me decide that he’s my kind of guy and presumably an outstanding guitar player, which it quickly turned out he is, after listening to Fragile, the first of his CD’s I bought (although it most probably won’t be the last). Starting with the atmospheric, dust-colored artwork with a barbed-wire fence as the front cover image – a perfect pointer to what’s on store on the album. Calling the sound ‘dusty’ would by no means be misleading, although a few tracks, mainly the more uptempo Folk-Rock tunes such as Fragile, Same For You and I Wonder actually do sound quite airy too (all three of them remind me very pleasantly of Canadian band The Skydiggers). These 3 tracks are not the norm though, as most tracks on Fragile are firmly on the moody and slightly dark side musically, with From Buffalo To Jericho the most pessimistic-sounding track of the album (it’s excellent too though).

The album is produced exceptionally well (always a plus in my opinion as you will know if you have read any of my reviews before), with a muscular, yet reduced sound, with Ramsey shining repeatedly on a number of different guitars (he seems to have played all of them). His lead guitar tunes actually sound like much more than merely the musical accompaniment to these songs, they almost seem to act as another voice – listen to album opener Can’t Sleep and you hopefully know what I mean. It’s one of the best songs on here – full of moody guitar on a bed of restrained drums and bass guitar with his trademark half-whispered, smoky voice. Pretty much the same could actually be said about the equally brilliant Dreamland too. Tell Me Now and Burn It Down (whose lyrics are a bitter indictment of today’s music download culture) are quite bluesy in sound and feel with the latter maybe being a tad too much of that for me.

Same For You is another strong contender for being the best composition on here in my opinion. I love the feathery acoustic guitar/bass/drums-backing, the upbeat tune and lyrics telling a tale of comradeship. Fragile features some fine organ and is possibly the most rocking song on the album. I am also very fond of the two short instrumental songs Away and Into The Woods, especially the latter is lovely – sounding like a musical meditation in the woods of the title, one can’t help (well I couldn’t) becoming calm and picturing his favorite forest for all of the short 2 and a half minutes it lasts.

The lyrics to album closer I Don’t Know display self-doubt as well as doubts about the world, but in the end he’s finding the strength for the way forward – ‘I don’t know, but I’ll keep on looking’.

His wife, Greg Brown-daughter Pieta Brown, herself an accomplished songwriter, wrote half of the songs together with him on here, and is playing the piano on a number of songs. The other musicians on here are playing very well too, although Ramsey’s guitar is definitely the all-dominant instrument on the album – the sound is homogenous and makes Fragile a well-rounded, taut and utterly convincing album that found its way into me heart quickly and will undoubtedly stay in there for a long time to come.


Terry Allen : Bottom Of The World

Terry Allen Bottom Of The World Cover

Terry Allen : Bottom of the World
(2012 Terry Allen)

To be honest I hadn’t heard about Terry Allen at all until a few weeks ago, when a review on made me take notice and thinking ‘What the hell? I’m gonna buy that record.’ So it’s fair to say that I listened to Bottom Of The World with an open ear and only had a vague idea what’s in store. What first struck me was the electric piano he is playing, which is fairly uncommon in a musical field where Singer/Songwriters usually play the guitar.

Which is not to say that there are no guitars to be heard on the album. Far from it, as Lloyd Maines who has been playing with Terry Allen for a long time, and whose guitar work I have been admiring before (most notably on Richard Buckner’s outstanding debut album Bloomed which has been a firm favorite of mine since it was released back in 1994), delivers plenty of exceptionally beautiful guitar parts, I especially love the steel guitar, on here too. The songs are mostly slow, and leisurely paced to mid-tempo, with only occasional (synthesized) drums, and Allen’s vocals (and Maines’ steel guitars) mixed far into the foreground. Which is as it should be, as his rich, weather-beaten (he’s 70 after all) and resonant voice is ideally suited to lyrics full of sarcasm, wit and the occasional (well, let’s say frequent) swearword. My favourite lines are found on Queenie’s Song (which is also excellent musically) whose title sounds quite nice – but don’t let that fool you, the lyrics are anything but: ‘Some SOB shot my dog I found her under a tree if I hadn’t loved that dog so much it wouldn’t mean nothing to me But you Son Of A Bitch I tell you what I will not be deterred I’ll find you out and track you down on that you have my word’. Throughout the whole album, the rather nice and beautiful music merely sets the listener on the wrong track when compared with the often biting lyrics.

Most lyrics are also quite obviously informed by the American Southwest too (he’s living in Santa Fe, NM), for example Four Corners, presumably named after Utah/Arizona/Colorado/New Mexico area of the same name, Wake Of The Red Witch with numerous John Wayne references or Emergency Human Blood Donor which mixes morbid imagery of a red, ‘beat-up Detroit Dodge Dart’ speeding towards Mexico to deliver blood badly needed in the drug war raging there, with acute social observation.

Another highlight is the title track, one of the slightly more up-tempo tracks on here, it’s equipped with a crackin’ tune. Angels Of The Wind is extremely beautiful too with some rather Celtic-sounding influences amongst the Country ones.

Other instruments adding nicely to the rather sparsely arranged (but beautifully produced, the sound is great) songs are violin and cello (used to beautiful effect on the lovely solo of Do They Dream Of Hell In Heaven), mandolin, cello and accordion (on a number of TexMex influenced numbers such as Bottom Of The World or Queenie’s Song). Female background lyrics are provided by Sally Allen (don’t know if there’s a relation). Sometimes the music reminds me of (a more relaxed) Giant Sand and even of Leonard Cohen (especially on brilliant slowly winding along and utterly captivating Dark/Gothic-folk song The Gift) as well as John Prine (mainly the voice). Sidekick Anthem has the most reconciliatory lyrics on the album ‘if you need me I’m just a call away, if you’re grieving I’m just a call away…’ (although he can’t resist to stick some swearwords in them too: ‘Turn your back on the bastards, liars and the kiss-asses too, just gimme a call and tell ‘em to screw it all…’).

Fascinating stories abound and wonderful music. He’s also a visual artist and trained Architect. Hats off to Terry Allen.

The official Back Road Bound Anthem Dan Bern – Merle, Hank and Johnny

I herewith declare ‘Merle, Hank and Jonny’ to be the new official anthem of my blog Back Road Bound – it’s a fantastic song and I can relate to the lyrics quite a bit, although the circumstances in my case were a bit different, no Midwest dirt in my youth (but there was dirt, believe me) and I am not living in California either.

Anyway, enjoy.

I actually visited the town Dan Bern was born and raised in (if I am informed correctly) Mount Vernon in Iowa in March of this year. Unfortunately it was a dreadful day with rain and sleet so the photos I took are of rather poor quality, but here are a few to give you an idea if you don’t know the town yourself.

Main Street, Mount Vernon, IA

Main Street, Mount Vernon, IA

Abbe Creek School Museum, Mount Vernon, IA

Mount Vernon Middle School, Mount Vernon, IA