Tag Archives: Tom Brosseau

My Favorite Un-Americana Music of 2017

Photo by Oliver Zühlke/Creative Commons

This is the season that I try to be the first kid on the block to beat out the barrage of those end-of-the-year lists from critics and pundits. At No Depression, and other like-minded music websites and magazines, the official music polls from readers, contributors, and reviewers will be coming in December. Had I been born a betting man, I’d lay down a few hundred bucks that there’ll be little variation or surprises between any of them. Ever since the term roots music has morphed into a more definable mainstream “Americana” tagline, diversity has seemed to have left the building. While you won’t get much disagreement from me on the quality and depth of music that has been released so far this year, it seems that I continue to find myself taking the road less traveled.

This year it feels as if I’ve been walking down the dark side of the street, whether we’re talking about  art, culture, politics, or simply life in general. There were health issues to deal with and the loss of a parent. I’ve found myself constantly concerned for my children that a madman lives in Washington who is one button away from annihilating the planet when he’s not chipping away at the fabric of our society by normalizing the abnormal. From the racist cries of “blood and soil” to an unjust justice system that tips to white skin and wealth to revelations of what we already know … that bad men do bad things to women and children … and to all the other natural and human disasters we’ve lived through so far, I’m only finding shelter by cocooning with music, books, and video.

So with that bright and shiny preamble, here’s some of my favorite aural oddities and mainstays for the year. As always, I use a different yardstick to measure and compile my list. This is what I have either discovered or gravitated to, undefined by such things as release dates. Whether it was brand new this year or merely recycled from the past, who cares?

The Entire Ry Cooder Catalog

I wish he would have titled one of his albums Pastrami on Ry, and I’m sorry that for most of his career I’ve largely ignored his solo work. Aside from a seemingly infinite number of songs he’s done session work on for others, the only albums I’ve really known inside out have been two from the ’70s: The Gabby Pahinui Band Volume 1 and his solo Bop Til You Drop. So now, thanks to the magic of touch and click streaming, I’m making my way through everything else. While skipping around and sampling from this era and that, I’m spending most of my time with Paradise and Lunch, Into The Purple Valley and Chicken Skin Music.

A Prairie Home Companion

While I know he’s trying his hardest and still growing into his role, Chris Thile’s voice reminds me of Opie Taylor and he’s yet to hone his comedic skills with timing and inflection. But on the other hand, he’s doing an amazing job at making great music with that killer band he’s assembled and presenting exceptional guests week after week. He’s going down the right path but one suggestion would be to please stop referring to Sarah Jarosz as “inimitable.” Why continually state the obvious? Finally, a note about Garrison Keillor. Over the years he’s entertained millions of us and his wit, humor and his support of musicians won’t be forgotten. And while it was sad to witness his termination played out in counterpoint to rapists and serial harassers , he had to go.

David Rawlings

I got a chance to see David and Gillian right before the release of Poor David’s Almanack, and it was the first time I’d ever seen them live in concert. Tickets have always seemed to get swallowed up the minute they go on sale and my budget doesn’t include StubHub. After 21 years of being a devout fan of their partnership, each and every note, song, and harmonic moment gave me a night of multi-orgasmic goosebumps.The album is simply perfect.

Freakwater and The Mekons

In September these two bands reunited as The Freakons and performed two nights in Chicago. Monica Kendrick for The Reader broke the news about a new album they’re now recording. She wrote that it’ll consist of “traditional songs about an industry that links the English Midlands, the Welsh valleys, and the ‘dark and bloody ground’ of Appalachia: coal mining. Haunting tunes in that vein came from both sides of the pond, and the Freakons take them on in the high-lonesome, rabble-rousing tradition of late West Virginian labor singer Hazel Dickens. Proceeds from the album, when it’s finished, will benefit Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, a grassroots organization that promotes voting rights and opposes mountaintop-removal mining.”

Rodrigo Amarante

Gotcha … right? A Brazilian singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Amarante is a member of Los Hermanos, a band that still plays live but hasn’t recorded since 2005. He partnered with The Strokes drummmer Fabrizio Moretti and American musician Binki Shapiro, who in 2008 released an album on Rough Trade as Little Joy. In 2015 he wrote and recorded “Tuyo,” which has been used as the theme song for the Netflix series Narcos. It’s an earworm.

Tom Brosseau

The ten songs on Treasures Untold were recorded live at a private event in Cologne, Germany. The album features six American folksongs and four originals. Brosseau was born and raised in Grand Forks, North Dakota, where in 2007 the mayor awarded him the key to the city. I think about that often. Since 2003 he’s lived in Los Angeles, has recorded a bunch of albums, and toured Iceland. Well … other places too.


Valerie June

I don’t pretend to understand her and I don’t listen to her albums. But I’ve seen her perform twice and she is the modern-day Nina Simone. Undefinable and undeniable.

Tom Russell

He celebrated his 68th birthday last March and has released 29 albums, two of which came just this year. The first was his tribute to his old friends Ian and Sylvia, and now he is out on tour supporting Folk Hotel, a collection of originals. Two shots here: Tom playing with Max De Bernardi “The Last Time I Saw Hank” at Knuckleheads Saloon in Kansas City, Missouri in  September 2017. And while I’ve been enjoying both new albums, I also want to share the song that was my first introduction to Russell and remains my favorite.


And to those who passed…

Down that dark side of the street we’ve lost too many folks this past year. I’m not going to list them all here, but we’ll close it out with this … a tribute to them all.


This article was originally published as an Easy Ed’s Broadside column over at No Depression: The Journal of Roots Music.

The One About Doug Sahm and the Jukebox

That photo is a beauty, isn’t it? Wish that old jukebox was mine, but it’s just a stock photo I found somewhere in space and snatched for this week’s column. The plan was to write an update on the Doug Sahm documentary that debuted in 2015 at SXSW, but I got sidetracked when I found this 1959 single he recorded of “Why, Why, Why” and it reminded me of Gilbert’s El Indio on Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica.

It’s been over 25 years since I’ve been there, and it was a Friday night destination for years. In addition to serving up the finest margaritas and Mexican food west of Boyle Heights, they had an old school “three for a quarter” jukebox, loaded with mostly 45s from the ’50s and ’60s. My go-to song back in the day was Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” and usually by the time we were on our second pitcher of adult beverage I’d stack it up to play a dozen times in a row. But had this one been on there, it might have been a contender.


That’s not Doug’s first record, and I don’t really have too much to tell you about the film other than the title: Sir Doug and The Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove. I did find a pretty good article about it published at Texas Monthly and a review here on No Depression, which has several video clips including the trailer. It’s been showing at film festivals for the past year or so, and despite exceeding a Kickstarter campaign goal to get it into distribution, seems like it’s not quite a done deal yet. I can’t wait to see it because I’ve been a fan since I was a kid, and his story spans several decades, genres, and memories.

Back to the jukebox … I miss it. When I was a kid my family would often have Sunday night dinners at a place in Philly called the Italian Riviera, and their box was filled with songs from Mario Lanza, Rocco Granata, Caterina Valente, Dean Martin, and Connie Francis – our favorite because cousin Arnold was her producer. But this was probably the most played song of that era: Domenico Modungo’s version of “Volare.”


While you can still find them at some bars, there are only two companies left that currently manufacture the coin-operated devices. There’s a bunch of touch screen, digital models being sold, but they just don’t connect with my teenage memories of sitting in a diner and dropping quarters into the slot.

These days I prefer the one that fits in my pocket, can hold 20,000 songs, lets me pay the bills, read the news, get a car, play games, rant on social media, take pictures, and occasionally make a call. I’ll close it out with sharing five songs currently on my “new music” playlist. Three are new or recently found versions of old songs, and two are new songs that just sound old, which sums up how I’m feeling right now.

Chris Hillman
The album Bidin’ My Time was produced by Tom Petty and executive produced by Herb Pedersen and features David Crosby, Roger McGuinn, Mike Campbell, Mark Fain, Steve Ferrone, John Jorgenson, Josh Jové, Jay Dee Maness, Benmont Tench, and Gabe Witcher. The album kicks off with a new recording of Pete Seeger’s and Welsh poet Idris Davies’ “The Bells of Rhymney,” which the Byrds recorded for their debut. I believe that’s Crosby and Pedersen doing harmony with Hillman.


Joan Shelley
In December 2016, she and guitarist Nathan Salsburg joined Jeff Tweedy in Wilco’s Loft studio for five days. Spencer Tweedy joined on drums, while James Elkington shifted between piano and resonator guitar. Jeff added electric accents and some bass, but mostly he helped the band stay out of its own way.


Tom Brosseau
“Treasures Untold is a 10-song collection recorded live at an intimate event in Cologne, Germany. Across six adaptations from the Great American Folksong Book, and four of Brosseau’s own original tunes, he manages to build a dreamy, atmospheric mood with just his voice and an acoustic guitar” – Maeri Ferguson, Glide Magazine


Neil Young
A 41-year-old “lost and found” album sounds like it was recorded last week. He says he did it one night strung out on weed, cocaine, and booze, but on most tracks you can hardly tell. Love the animation on this video, which was created by Black Balloon.


Richard Thompson
Acoustic Rarities is the third album in a series that began in 2014. These tracks are some of his more obscure material along with some never before released and cover versions. “Sloth” first appeared on Fairport Convention’s 1970 Full House album, and Thompson left the band the following year.


This article was originally published as an Easy Ed’s Broadside column over at No Depression: The Journal of Roots Music.