Jayhawks Take Flight Again on Raft of Reissues

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Marina Chavez/UME
The Jayhawks "Sounds of Lies" lineup 1997: Karen Grotberg (keyboards), Tim O'Reagan (drums/vocals), Gary Louris (guitar/vocals), Marc Perlman (bass), and Kraig Johnson (guitar).
At the end of 1995, Gary Louris had a problem. A big one.

His band, the critically acclaimed, Minneapolis-based Jayhawks, was just starting to gain some commercial traction after a decade of existence at the front of the No Depression/Americana/alt-country pack. Their release earlier that year, Tomorrow the Green Grass, was (and is) considered a masterpiece, and single "Blue" seemed to have them poised to break even more.

Then, Louris' fellow singer/guitarist/songwriter Mark Olson quit, relieving the band of its co-leader and, more importantly, one half of the harmony vocals that were the band's trademark.

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Nashville Stars Step Onstage But Not Out of Character

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Photos courtesy of Dancy Ware PR
Claire Bowen
It's been several decades, since The Monkees and The Partridge Family, that a television show about fictional musicians has turned its actors into real-life singing stars. Maybe it was MTV's fault, or the flood of reality programming, but the '80s through '00s were painfully short on shows capitalizing on the dramatic opportunities begged by even the most quotidian musician's life. Not until Nashville, ABC's hourlong soap set in the country-music capital, did viewers weaned on American Idol-ish competition shows realize that other forms of music could be ready for prime time too.

True, even without all the music, Nashville would be one of the better dramas on network television. It's a well-written, well-acted, totally immersive window into a glamorous but treacherous segment of American society. Imagine Scandal with fewer skeletons in its characters' closets (but not many), or The Good Wife set backstage at the Grand Ole Opry instead of courtrooms. But Nashville, created by Thelma and Louise screenwriter Callie Khouri, came up with an ingenious twist: on this show, the songs and the characters are for all intents and purposes inseparable.

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The Rocks Off 200: Breelan Angel, Dirty Little Secret Keeper

Welcome to The Rocks Off 200, our portrait gallery of the most compelling profiles and personalities in the far-flung Houston music community -- a lot more than just musicians, but of course they're in there too. See previous entries in the Rocks Off 100 at this link.

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Photo by Todd Purifoy/courtesy of Spindrift Media & Entertainment
Who? If there's one thing the Texas Country scene needs, it's more women. For example, on this week's Texas Music Chart, the Top 30 is all dudes, all the way down to No. 34. (Take a bow, Tori Martin's Done Deal). Even pro-sports locker rooms let in lady reporters.

Born and raised in Baytown, Breelan Angel is doing her best to change that. She decided to pursue a career in country music during her sophomore year at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, crediting vocal coach Tom McKinney and manager Jake McKim with helping her seal the deal. After a handful of singles ("Halfway to Wasted," "It's My Turn," "Double Standards") dating back to last summer, last week Angel released her debut album, Dirty Little Secrets. She reckons it to be a "good reflection of both Texas and mainstream country"; Angel is right, except her presence in the ranks improves both brands by no small number of degrees.

Angel can send a guy's cheatin' ass packing in a big-time weeper ("She Made Your Bed"), or sit at the bar and shoot trash-talk at the hussy across the room with lines like "honey, trash is as trash does" on "Walk of Shame." Double the twang on an average song from Kacey Musgraves' beloved Same Trailer, Different Park, and you've got Secrets' title track. Pay attention to this one.


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The Mystery of Mary Sarah: Country Music's Next Star?

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Photo by Jim McGuire/All photos courtesy of Shore Fire Media
Many critics believe that for the past few years, country music has been experiencing the kind of artistic bankruptcy that comes along once in a generation. But now something odd is happening, and the unlikely catalyst is a teenager from Fort Bend County who once confessed her "MAJOR" crush on Justin Bieber to this very blog.

Next week, Cleopatra Records will release Bridges, an album featuring 18-year-old Richmond native Mary Sarah dueting with a clutch of Country Music Hall of Famers including Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Vince Gill, Dolly Parton and the late Ray Price. Also on hand are near-Hall of Famers like the Oak Ridge Boys (her early champions), Ronnie Milsap, Lynn Anderson, Tanya Tucker, Big & Rich (ahem) and a few others.

Frankly, Mary Sarah looks and sounds an awful lot like Carrie Underwood: All-American cheerleader good looks and a voice blessed with not only perfect pitch but dynamic range (which, unlike Underwood, she doesn't overuse). On Bridges, she goes well beyond holding her own against some of the greatest talents in country-music history -- most of whom are admittedly getting on in years -- and pretty much steals the show.


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Rolling Stone's Ridiculous Top 100 Country Songs: The Second Half

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Leon Payne, Hank Williams, Jerry Irby at the Studewood Club, Houston, circa 1950. Payne wrote Williams' hit, "Lost Highway"; Irby wrote "Driving Nails In My Coffin."
Given the spread and the appeal-to-all-age-groups nature of Rolling Stone's "100 Greatest Country Songs of All Time," the possibility that the list was computer-generated seems more and more likely.

Either that, or Rolling Stone is farming out its country blog to Best in Texas magazine? There are those ever-present, pesky concerns about advertising revenues generated via record labels that need constant cultivation, you know?

How else can the inclusion of Eric Church, Taylor Swift and Kacey Musgraves be rationally explained? In particular, Musgraves' track is so new, how can anyone have had the time and reflective distance to pronounce it a classic on par with tunes like "Night Life" or "Mama Tried" yet?

Actually, it looks like a hook in the water -- or an olive branch? -- for the Americana Music Association crowd. But be it human- or cyber-generated, the list has other glaring problems, not the least of which is that a reader has to click on 100 different pages to view it all.


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Rolling Stone's Ridiculous Top 100 Country Songs: The First Half

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Tim Patterson via Flickr
What would Johnny Cash think?
In further efforts to reassure us that it is still relevant, Rolling Stone magazine recently started a country clickbait section called most cleverly (drum roll, maestro) RS Country. I know, the heart pitter-patters in anticipation.

A brief perusal of the site finds basically the same crap, errr... nuts and bolts of most music blogs: lists out the ass. The most recent list that generated beaucoup clicks, errr...intelligent, thoughtful discussion was their recent mega-list, the "100 Greatest Country Songs of All Time."

They actually didn't do too bad a job, as these things go, pieced together as they are like Dolly Parton's "Coat of Many Colors." But the list didn't even make it through the first ten songs without tripping up on their own set-up blurb, which states a great country song has "twang you can feel down to the soles of your feet."

Pure poetry, huh? Those country folks over at Rolling Stone are pretty quick with their descriptions.


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The 10 Best Country Songs of the '90s

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Remember when there was no such thing as "bro-country" or "hick-hop?" We do, and it was a little time called the '90s. That was basically the best decade ever for country music. Garth Brooks was at his best, and artists like George Strait and Clint Black were killing it with every single move.

Oh, and let's not forget the ladies. Shania Twain, anybody? How about Martina McBride or the Dixie Chicks? And good ol' Faith Hill was just getting geared up. Basically, we'd pay some serious dolla-dolla bills, y'all, if it meant we could get the big names of the '90s country scene to start being awesome again. But since we're not magicians, or billionaires even, we'll have to settle for a Top 10 list of their best songs instead.


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Dolly Parton's 10 Best Songs of All Time

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We really couldn't adore Dolly more. As a songwriter, performer and even an actor, she's proven herself worthy time and again. She holds a number of career milestones -- 25 gold, platinum, and multiplatinum awards, 41 career Top 10 country albums, and eight Grammys, just to name a few -- but more than that, she holds the hearts of country-music lovers everywhere.

So with so many accolades, it would be unjust to make Dolly share a Throwback Thursday list with other artists. She just kills the competition, so we compiled a list of her hits all her own to salute to the country-music legend.

After all, in Dolly's own words, "Its hard to be a diamond in a rhinestone world." And we'd just hate to hurt anyone's feelings.


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Hank Williams Jr., Steelers Fan, Keeps Up the Family Tradition

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Photos courtesy of Webster PR
It's not hard to believe the Coastal Conservation Association enlisted Hank Williams Jr. for its third annual Concert for Conservation, given all the hunting and fishing talk in "A Country Boy Can Survive" alone. What is hard to believe is that it's been some 13 years since Bocephus has performed in the Houston area. (What happened to all those "Texas Women," Hank?) Regardless, all will be forgiven if he plays his version of Warren Zevon's "Lawyers, Guns & Money," because CCA has already invited his rowdy friends .38 Special and Wade Bowen to join him Saturday.

At the career stage where occasional awards-show appearances are the extent of his dealings with Nashville, the ever-outspoken Hank Jr. is still making decent records of unfiltered Southern rock and honky-tonk -- 2012's Old School, New Rules is a prime example -- and not embarrassing himself over the so-called liberal agenda nearly as much as Ted Nugent lately. Rocks Off was lucky enough have a chance to email Bocephus some questions earlier this week, and he was gracious enough to answer.


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RIP Local Country Star Mundo Earwood

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Courtesy of Mundo Earwood
Mundo Earwood and his wife Jeannie in his heyday
Country singer Raymond "Mundo" Earwood has passed after a long illness. The Del Rio native, who has long resided in the Humble area, was 61. The news came from a message on his Facebook page, which read in part, "We are of course deeply saddened by the loss of a great man, but we rejoice that today, Mundo is no longer suffering, and is at peace with his Father in Heaven."

Earwood had been battling pancreatic cancer since February 2013. Last month a benefit was held for him at Pasadena's Lonestar Club, with Randy Cornor, Pete Burke, Miss Leslie, Roy Head and others supporting the ailing singer.

After growing up in Corpus Christi, where he graduated from high school, Earwood enrolled in San Jacinto Junior College. But shortly after arriving in the Houston area, he formed a band and was working any joint that would have him for the princely sum of $8 a night. By 1971, he'd quit college and was working full-time as a musician.


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