Tag Archives: Johnny Cash


Sturgill Simpson Transforms Music Hall into a Honky-Tonk

February 13th, 2015

Sturgill Simpson – Music Hall of Williamsburg – February 12, 2015

Without notice, a new honky-tonk opened on a stretch of N. 6th in Williamsburg near
the East River. Or maybe it just felt that way last night as the Music Hall hostedt to a rollicking set of country music courtesy of Sturgill Simpson and his excellent band. The room was as packed as it’s ever been, the crowd was hitched up and ready to go, and Simpson seemed larger than life onstage, delivering a dominating performance from start to finish. His sound owes much to the outlaw country greats of yore—Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash quickly come to mind—but Simpson proved throughout the show that his is an evolved country for the modern day.

To listen to Simpson sing songs from his best-in-genre 2014 release, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, is to listen to someone born to play this kind of music. His voice was like a fine Kentucky bourbon with a blend of flavors deserving of its own language to describe: oaky with hints of smoke and cinnamon, maybe. The set built like a good whiskey buzz, the aroma, the bite of the first sip on songs like “Long White Line” and “Voices,” the taste turning into a warm sensation in the belly. With each succeeding song, the sensation moved to the head and then a whole-body experience, alternating between soulful introspection and shoe-stomping fun. Much of that giddy feeling was due to Simpson’s stellar backing band, led by Laur Joamets on guitar, who seemed to contain all of country guitar playing in his single Telecaster. He impressively alternated between lightning-fast picking, beautiful slow-and-steady slide guitar, which often took on shades of a steel guitar, and then swirling galactic twang.

As the show built a head of steam, the crowd followed along in their gleeful whiskey drunk, chattering and jostling back and forth to the bar became dancing, whooping and hollering. The second half of the show was an avalanche of superlative country music. “It Ain’t All Flowers” had the packed house shouting along before opening up into one of several belt-hitching rock-out jams that seamlessly transitioned into the quieter “The Promise.” Next, “Railroad of Sin” reached the night’s most frenetic moment, with Joamets, Simpson, Kevin Black on bass and Miles Miller on drums as a locomotive in danger of hopping off the tracks, the dance floor exploding with a manic energy. After a triumphant, cathartic take on his self-professed favorite song on the new album, “Just Let Go,” Simpson’s voice as strong as it had been all night, the show closed with a crowd-pleasing sing-along on “Turtles All The Way Down,” leaving everyone feeling boozy and elated and wondering if there was still time for one more shot before hitting the road. The band obliged the thunderous ovation with two fingers of Simpson spirits, a soulful crooning of “I’d Have to Be Crazy” (“for the ladies”), his voice nearly channeling Otis Redding,  and finally a cover of the Osborne Brothers’ “Listening to the Rain,” which opened into a full-fledged T. Rex cover before looping back around to finish out in didn’t-think-it-could-be-topped fashion. Simpson and Co. exited the stage to more raucous applause and then, the strangest thing, that new honky-tonk disappeared. —A. Stein | @Neddyo


Rosanne Cash Plays Hometown Show at Town Hall Tonight

March 18th, 2014

She may be Johnny Cash’s daughter but the reason anyone knows Rosanne Cash’s name is because she’s prodigiously talented at singing and songwriting. She’s been a critical and commercial success for several decades, and while Cash is most known for country, her music also touches on blues, folk and rock. She’s recently released her first album of original songs in eight years—2009’s The List (stream it below), covered 12 country classics (pared down from a list of 100 essential songs her father had given her when she was 18). Her husband, singer-guitarist-producer John Leventhal, cowrote and produced the the new LP, The River & the Thread (stream it below), which arrived earlier this year to some considerable acclaim. Paste says, “It is a lovely quilt of musicality, braiding blues, folk, Appalachia, rock and old-timey country; this is balm for lost souls, alienated creatures seeking their core truths and intellectuals who love the cool mist of vespers in the hearts of people they may never encounter.” While the L.A. Times suggests “it’s an album we’ll be looking at in December when it’s time to single out the most powerful works of 2014.” Her tour in support of it brings Rosanne Cash (above, playing “The Sunken Lands” with Leventhal for KCRW FM) home to perform the album tonight at Town Hall.


Shovels & Rope & You Tomorrow Night

September 11th, 2013

As Shovels & Rope, married singer-songwriters (and multi-instrumentalists) Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent make country and bluegrass music from a folk-rock perspective. Thanks to their harmonies, they’ve earned comparisons to Johnny and June Carter Cash. And thanks to early tours with the likes of the Felice Brothers and Justin Townes Earle,
the Charleston, S.C., duo became road warriors before entering the studio to record their acclaimed first LP, O’ Be Joyful (stream it below), out last year. According to the Observer: “Their debut album is a delight, from the uncomplicated bluesy strut of ‘Tickin’ Bomb’ to the brass inflections on the knowingly tongue-in-cheek ‘Hail Hail.’” But it all comes together best live. So go see Shovels & Rope (above, performing “Lay Low” at Electric Lady Studios for WFUV FM) onstage tomorrow night at Webster Hall.


Josh Ritter Returns to Terminal 5 Tomorrow Night

May 17th, 2013

Growing up in Idaho, Josh Ritter heard the Bob Dylan/Johnny Cash version of “Girl from the North Country” on his parents’ copy of Nashville Skyline and knew he wanted to become a songwriter. Some dreams do come true, because years later, Ritter was named one of the 100 Greatest Living Songwriters by Paste magazine. The folk-leaning singer-songwriter has earned favorable comparisons to Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Leonard Cohen (or as Mary-Louise Parker says, he “is usually compared to the legends, the ones you have been listening to since you were 15, the ones you love most”), and he’s put out a considerable amount of material on EPs and full-length albums. The most recent of which, The Beast in Its Tracks, written in the wake of the dissolution of his marriage, came out earlier this year. In praising it, American Songwriter calls it “a gracious, relentlessly honest, post-breakup record.” And Josh Ritter (above, playing “Joy to You Baby” on Late Show with David Letterman) has been out on the road, touring with the Royal City Band, ever since. See them tomorrow night at Terminal 5. And as an added bonus, the Felice Brothers, on their last night on the tour, will open the show.


Carolina Chocolate Drops Provide a Musical History

April 5th, 2013

Carolina Chocolate Drops – The Bowery Ballroom – April 4, 2013

Sure, it’s been a while, but I don’t remember history class being this much fun. And I know there wasn’t as much dancing, clapping and singing along as there was last night at the Carolina Chocolate Drops show at The Bowery Ballroom. Even so, their set was a history lesson as the quartet played music from the past two centuries. The syllabus reached into all corners of the old canon—blues, gospel, country, jazz and jug band—with Dom Flemons explaining at the start that the best way to help those who made the songs to “live forever” was to keep playing the music. From the first notes of the opener, “Black Annie,” the classroom became a full-fledged hootenanny with the four-piece working a variety of guitars, fiddles, cellos, “the bones,” pan flutes and banjos—oh, the banjos! Songs like “Run Mountain,” “Don’t Get Trouble in Your Mind” and the original “Country Girl” featured banjos of every stripe and vintage, each Drop taking at least one song on a banjo, including a “minstrel banjo,” which looked to be halfway to a guitar.

Yes, there were some lessons to be learned, some history along the way—the history of the music, the people who made it and the circumstances in which they made it. The show was a conversation: the musicians bantering together onstage, their instruments and voices speaking to each other through the music, the two-way interactions with the audience and the songs ultimately serving as a conversation with the past. The highlight for me was when Chocolate Drop wonder woman Rhiannon Giddens played a song solo on that minstrel banjo, an original piece that took a slice of Civil War oral history—a slave narrative between “Julie” and her mistress—and put it to song. With the banjo providing a mournful resonance, Giddens provoked goose bumps at several moments throughout her tale. Another great moment was in “Bug Creek Girl” when the band’s two newest members, Leyla McCalla on cello and Hubby Jenkins on (what else?) banjo, played their instruments into a wonderful back-and-forth.

The Chocolate Drops cast a wide net, from the fun “Bye-Bye Policeman,” which featured Flemons’ voice and playing, to the sing-, clap- and dance-along “Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad,” to the Scottish “mouth tune” sung to awe-inspiring perfection by Giddens, and to the Johnny Cash cover, “Jackson,” it seemed there was no folk stone left unturned. It seemed they could go on forever. My experience with history class was that when the bell rang, the students were already one foot out the door, but when that time came last night, the audience seemed ready to literally bar the doors to force the band to play all night. But with effusive thanks, another quick lesson, an explanation that there were kids in the green room who needed to be put to bed, plus a “Read ’Em, John” encore, any more dancing and singing would have to be left for homework. —A. Stein



A Young Talent on the Rise

January 15th, 2013

Jake Bugg – The Bowery Ballroom – January 14, 2013

With the start of the New Year, I like to scour for new artists and inevitably ask my pals on the other side of the pond for recommendations. And my music-loving Brit threw out Jake Bugg, who she’d recently seen live. She described Bugg as a young chap, at the tender age of 18, who sounds like Bob Dylan. Curiously though, in a recent interview in The Telegraph, he stated, “Bob Dylan’s cool, you know, he’s great, but he’s not a major influence.” Bugg cites Donovan, the Beatles, Johnny Cash and Jimi Hendrix instead. Needless to say, I was interested.

It was a first for me to see absolutely no merchandise out before heading up the stairs of The Bowery Ballroom to witness the Nottingham wunderkind. Bugg’s self-titled debut album has not yet been released in the United States, but you couldn’t tell from Monday’s sold-out crowd. He descended onto the stage wearing a Fred Perry track jacket zipped up all the way and started with the rollicking “Kentucky,” which had onlookers stomping along from the start. He didn’t say much between songs except to express gratitude and to make brief introductions. Instead, Bugg let his music speak for him. Offering a small description for “Trouble Town” as a song about where he was from, he strummed his acoustic guitar while fans cheered and chanted the song’s title.

Upon its conclusion, a female attendee screamed, “My boyfriend,” which elicited an echo effect amongst female and male fans. After shredding on an electric guitar like his idol Hendrix on “Ballad of Mr. Jones,” Bugg took the stage solo for “Someone Told Me,” the oldie “Country Song” and “Simple as This,” which all brilliantly showcased his reedy voice against delicate guitar plucks. Fans perked up for the clap-happy “Two Fingers,” Johnny Cash–influenced “Taste It” and “Lightning Bolt,” which sounded like a more-rocking Moldy Peaches track. Saving the best for the last, Bugg encored with his first live performance of “Broken” and a cover of Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.” But no one left with any blues—only admiration and awe for this young talent only beginning to spark. —Sharlene Chiu