Michael Rank’s “Deadstock”


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hook up club toronto It’s no secret that Michael Rank is living a more organic lifestyle these days.  He’s growing his own food, working at The Piedmont Biofarm, getting dirt under his nails and digging it (no pun intended).  His music is reflecting the lifestyle.    Rank’s music has been described as “damaged country” and “shattered mountain music” but there’s nothing damaged about his latest album, “Deadstock.”   A logical progression from “Mermaids,” it’s rich in imagery, it’s stark and it’s organic.  It’s Michael Rank at his most vulnerable.  Back porch heartache.  Woodstove soul.   Underneath the melancholy though, is a man who’s resolved to not sink any lower.  From the opening lines of “Burn the Page” and woven into the entire album I feel a thread of going forward and moving on.  Rank has been composting heartbreak and sadness into rich Americana soil, and we’re reaping the benefits.   “This World on Fire” and “Son” are worth the price of admission, but buy the whole album - it flows and grows.  Then get out and see him live – listen to his lyrics – you’ll be glad you did!  Keep spinning the gold, Michael . . .

http://www.beaujolais-challenge.com/?nikolsa=site-de-rencontre-une-nuit-gratuit&dd5=08 Dave Brainard, Grassicana

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Everything Except Goodbye

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http://nahorach.cz/menstoy/2727 I had hoped to have a review of “Everything Except Goodbye” written by now.  I’ve had John Howie Jr and the Rosewood Bluff’s new CD on my IPod  for a few weeks, and I listen to it every time I’m in the car.  You’d think I’d have it memorized, but a funny thing happens when it’s playing.  I find myself back in the early 70′s.  Back then I had a 2nd shift factory job and there really wasn’t much to do after midnight in the “Greater Triangle Area”  except listen to the radio.  My station of choice was WPTF.  While most of my friends preferred the new album rock format of WQDR FM, I listened to a show called “Interstate 68.”  From midnight to 6:00 am jock Hap Hansen would play Country, Bluegrass and Gospel music.  Ferlin Husky, Faron Young, The Country Gentlemen, Mac Wiseman – coming my way over 50,000 watts of clear channel heaven. Good, honest Country music.   “Everything Except Goodbye” would have fit right in.  In an age where Country Music Radio is playing formulaic pop music with a pedal steel guitar, John Howie Jr. is keeping it real.  The CD’s title track and “Going Under (All Over Again) are classic, timeless songs that would be right at home on a playlist with Freddie Fender and Jeanne Pruett.  “Blue” is reminiscent of a post-Monkees Michael Nesmith.  I’ve discovered “The Man I Used To Be” and “Nobody Moves, Nobody Gets Hurt” wafting into my thoughts while I’m cooking or doing yard work.

If you want to hear what Country Music ought to be, this is the CD to get.  I’m pretty sure it’s destined to be a regular in my rotation.  Thanks John – It’s nice to hear good music without having to travel down memory lane . . ..

Dave Brainard

Get out and see it live!

Rosanne Cash – The River & The Thread

Rosanne Cash

Rosanne Cash’s latest album, “The River & The Thread” has garnered rave reviews, and deservedly so.  Co-written with husband John Leventhal on a songwriter’s sojourn through the South, it may well be her best yet. Her current tour supporting the album stopped in Durham’s Carolina Theater last night, and I can’t think of a better place to see the production than an iconic Southern theater.  Cash began the show by performing “The River & The Thread” in its entirety, with photos and images of the journey projected behind the band.  The photos in and of themselves would be wonderful exhibit.  Projected in two story majesty, they’re a stark depiction of a Southern phoenix shaking off the ashes. They’re a perfect compliment to the powerful imagery of the album.  I’m usually not a fan of  “straight through” album performances but last night was an exception.  “The River & The Thread” is more than a collection of songs with a common theme. It’s a story of discovery and remembrance, of re-connection and spiritual awakening,  of Southern life and music.  The “live” version is a masterful production, an 11 chapter novella creating a soundtrack not so much of the South, but of that which defines the South.  The album truly needs to be presented this way and Cash’s voice along with Leventhal’s swampy guitar bring it all to life.

But wait – there’s more!

Cash opened the 2nd set with “Radio Operator” from the “Black Cadillac” album and finished with “Seven Year Ache.”  In between she played  Grammy winning “I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me” and numerous songs from “The List”  including “Long Black Veil” and the most soulful, bluesy version of Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On” that I’ve ever heard!   She came back for a two song encore of “Motherless Children” and “500 Miles.”

The show opens and closes with the cover photo from “The River & The Thread” projected behind the stage. Rosanne Cash gazing downriver.  It’s an image that conjures feelings of both reflecting back and moving  forward.  A perfect bookend to a great show!

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Photos by Dave Brainard – All Rights Reserved

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A Three Band Night!

Gravy Boys

Most of my favorite Non-Profit organizations seem to center around music.  PineCone presents and preserves the Piedmont’s rich traditional musical heritage through concerts, workshops and participatory  jams and music camps.  The Questell Foundation assists aging musicians who may have health or financial issues.  Last night I was introduced to enter The Community Music School, which provides one on one music education to children from low-income families.  Children who might not otherwise be able to pursue their musical desires.  I have to admit that I didn’t know about The Community Music School before last night.  I went to The Lincoln Theatre see Tommy Edwards (and Friends), The Gravy Boys and Old Habits  – all on the same bill and all for only $10.   As my man Alfred E. would say, “Cheap!”   The music, however, turned out to be a secondary attraction.  As the night progressed I found myself listening less to the music and talking more to the School’s volunteers and staff members.  I met volunteer Cindy McEnery, who was manning the merch table and selling raffle tickets for seven.guitars hand pained by local artists.  Cindy is also a mighty fine photographer (see above photo).  I talked with Board member Robert Courts about how much the school appreciates the support it receives from local businesses like Marsh Woodwinds and John Montgomery Violins that help provide and maintain student instruments.  We talked about the need to create new ways to fund the school and reach more people.  I ran into Nancy Knight, a friend from a past life who is on the staff at the school.  Nancy was telling me how they make sure the lessons are affordable for the students and about the various programs they offer.  Everyone I talked to was passionate about the school and delighted to be involved – and everyone talked about the challenges of maintaining funding . . ..

The music last night was exceptional.  Tommy Edwards brought Stan and Julie Brown and Matt Hooper to the party and they, along with The Gravy Boys and Old Habits laid down great sets.  Any time you have musicians of this caliber donating their time for a cause, you have to know it’s worthy. Next time you see any of them, be sure to thank them for supporting The Community Music School. The true stars of the night, however, were the people form the school.  Their passion is contagious!  I think with your help and my help they can continue to provide a much needed community service.  Check out their website  – don’t be afraid to support them or get involved.  Your donation just may be the catalyst that sparks the next Thelonious Monk or Doc Watson.  You never know . . ..

Dave Brainard

Gallery: Community Music School Benefit

Never Hesitate to Encourage a Kid!

The One That Got Away

Photographers are, in many ways, like fishermen. We get up early so we can be in the right spot when the sun starts to rise.  We’ll stay a little longer, just in case – get in that one last cast – and we spend way too much money on equipment.  Like an angler feeling every inch of the lake bottom waiting for that bass to bump,  a photographer will stand poised, camera in hand, waiting for just the right instant to “set the hook.”  Unlike fishermen, however, you rarely hear a photographer talking about “The One That Got Away!”  We’ve all heard the fish stories.  They start with “Man, you should have seen . . “  and continue on through an epic battle between man and fish until the inevitable end of  “It HAD to have been a world record!”  A mythic fish and a great tale!  Unfortunately for the photographer, there’s no myth to the ones that get away.  There they are, staring at us when we process the  photographs.  Out of focus, bad exposure, poor framing.  Shooting live music in dimly lit clubs, I get my share.  We all do.  Sometimes though, the disappointment of a bad shot is hard to swallow.  I try to anticipate and try be ready for that right moment.  Like last month, there I was (you should have seen me), right up front, stage left for the Fab Four at 50 show at The Cat’s Cradle.  50 years to the DAY that the Beatles did the Sullivan Show!  The place was packed!  I was pumped!  The whole CROWD was pumped!  You could have lit Chicago with the electricity in that room!  Holden Richards was killing “You Can’t Do That!”  Had everyone on their feet!  The way he was going, I knew he was gonna finish strong – you can tell, man, you just know . . ..  I edged to my right just a bit to get a better angle.  I was ready, camera up, shot framed, just a bit of stage lighting peeking into the background – and there it was – Holden lifted his guitar to hit that last chord, and I set the hook!  Wham!  As soon as I pushed the shutter button I knew – too slow!  That was almost a month ago, and I’m still disappointed. I was there, I got the shot I wanted but that fish done broke my line!  Just like fishing, there’s no do-over – when it’s gone it’s gone baby.  Sorry Holden, you deserve better.  It happens.  Missed fish get bigger and become the stuff of legend.  Missed photos are simply missed photos, a reminder to do better.

Well, it’s getting late and I’m going to hit the hay. It’s been sleeting here in Central North Carolina and I want to get up early to see if I can catch the first rays of sunrise refracting through the ice somewhere.  You know how it is . . ..

Dave Brainard

The One That Got Away

Get Out and See It Live!


Steep Canyon Rangers


I first saw The Steep Canyon Rangers 10 or 11 years ago at a Raleigh festival hosted by Lorraine Jordan and Carolina Road.  Though not the headliners they are today,  they impressed the crowd with an up tempo and lively set.  On a bill that included Rhonda Vincent, IIIrd Tyme Out and The Grass Cats, they left town with a lot of new fans.  Those fans showed up in droves Saturday night at The Lincoln Theatre and were treated to an explosive performance!  In the 10 years since I first saw them, the Steep Canyon Rangers have matured as a band.  They’re more polished, more confident, their vocals are tighter and their playing is top of the field. Nicky Sanders’ fiddling on “One Dime at a Time” was just exquisite.  The vocals on “Take the Wheel” and “Stand and Deliver” were extraordinary!  These guys are crowd pleasin’ Bluegrass Heavyweight Contenders!   In all the shows I’ve seen at the Lincoln, I’ve never seen it so packed. The place was literally busting at the seams.   Fans ranging from tweeners to octogenarians packed the floor, stood two and three deep along every inch of railing upstairs and lined the staircase. If you missed them this time around, be prepared -  places like the Lincoln will no longer hold The Steep Canyon Rangers!

Gallery: Steep Canyon Rangers

Dave Brainard


Photos by Dave Brainard – All Rights Reserved

Get out and see it live!

It Was Fifty Years Ago Today . . .

Fab Four at Fifty

Sunday, February 9th, marked the 50th anniversary of The Beatles first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.  I’m sure you knew – it’s been at the forefront of celebrity media.   In Carrboro, a group of local musicians led by Danny Gotham and Willie Painter put together A “Fab Four at Fifty” show to benefit Kidznotes, a Durham non profit dedicated to teaching music to kids (www.kidznotes.org).  Armed with some of the best musicians in the area, Gotham and Painter rolled a packed Cat’s Cradle down that long and winding road of enchanted memories.  The show kicked off with Gotham and Rebecca Newton singing  “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and concluding with the entire cast singing “Let It Be” and “I Saw Her Standing There.”    For a couple of hours on Sunday night we were teenagers again.  We danced and laughed and sang along.  Our hearts went boom and we gently wept and we sang along some more.  A magical evening!

You’d be right to ask what a Beatles show fifty years ago has to do with a Bluegrass and Americana photo blog.  Nothing maybe, but as T. Michael Coleman pointed out Friday night, it was that show that inspired him to take up music.  So inspired, T. Michael went on to play with The Seldom Scene, David Holt, and a  cat named Doc Watson.  I can’t help wondering,  of the countless kids who ordered Silvertone guitars the week after seeing The Beatles,  how many went on to discover folk music or bluegrass along their musical journeys.  Maybe we owe more to those four mop-tops than we think.  Thanks to Danny and Willie and the entire cast (you can find the list of luminaries here: http://www.catscradle.com/event/459047-fab-four-fifty-carrboro/) for a wonderful evening!

Dave Brainard

Gallery: Fab Four at 50

Photos by Dave Brainard – All Rights Reserved

Support Your Local Non Profits!

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Sutton, Holt and Coleman – Remembering a Legend


Sutton, Holt and Coleman came to town Friday for a Doc Watson retrospective and I can’t think of any folks more qualified to do so.  These three not only recorded and toured with Doc, they were truly a part of his family – laughing, crying and making music with him for years.    When Bryan Sutton (who won a Grammy with Doc for “Whiskey Before Breakfast”) played Black Mountain Rag, you would swear Doc was in the room.  T. Micheal Coleman talked about being on the road with Doc and Merle and about how nervous he was recording a guitar lead on one of Doc’s albums.  David Holt told of staying in hotel rooms next to Doc’s and hearing  him playing in the mornings, which inspired his song “Hotel Wall.”   Each in turn reminisced and together through their stories and music, they invited us into their friendship with a legend.   For all the great music and touching memories,  I think perhaps the ultimate tribute to Doc is the fact that these three continue to grow and explore their music in new and wonderful ways.   Doc would be proud . . ..

Thanks once again to PineCone for presenting another in a series of wonderful shows!

Gallery: Sutton, Holt and Coleman

Photos by Dave Brainard – All Rights Reserved

Get out and see it live!


I’d Like Gravy With That Harmony, Please

The Gravy Boys

Another cold, rainy February night in Raleigh. Not one to let a little weather spoil my plans, I grabbed a hat and headed out to The Pour House to see The Gravy Boys and Flatland Harmony Experiment.

Flatland Harmony Experiment came right out of the gate flexing their vocal muscles.  They opened their set with a cover of Crosby Stills Nash and Young’s “Helplessly Hoping” (an ambitious tune for any vocal group) and they nailed it!  They were even better on their originals – tight, tight harmonies.  Tres Chicas Tight.   Think “Seven Bridges Road” and you’ll get an idea.  They played mostly originals in a style that’s sort of  String Band with dashes of Ragtime and a twist of Bluegrass.  FHE is Scott Nelson on upright bass and lead vocals, Kris Potts on Mandolin, and Johnny Plott on Banjo.  At times, their playing was reminiscent of Garcia/Grissman/Khan, and while they kept to a 3 minute format, you could tell they’re more than capable of floating into a 20 minute jam.  I especially liked  “Ain’t No Smoke in the Chimney”  and “Eleanor.”  Great stuff all around!  There’s talk that they may come back to play this year’s Bluegrass Ramble.  Hope they do – I’d love to see them again!

The Gravy Boys took the stage knowing they had a tough act to follow.  No problem.  Looking like they stepped off the sound stage of “The Sting” they were more than up to the task. Lead singer Steve Celestini and mandolin player Bill Spagnardi are a pair for the ages.  Add in Steve Storms and Tom Spagnardi on guitar and bass and you’ve got a truly timeless sound.  I can imagine these guys standing in a soup line singing “Can’t Quit You” or “Too many, Too Early, Tonight.”  Don’t let their ’30s attire fool you.  They’d be right at home in a Southern shot house singing “Take Me By the Hand” or in a ’50s honky-tonk playing “Please Don’t Take Me Back.”  “Sunny Side” (you’ve REALLY got to see them do this one live) conjures images of  young couples dancing at  The Myrtle Beach  Pavilion in 1967.   Timeless.  The Gravy Boys are the epitome of Americana music – a melting pot of  Soul, Bluegrass, Blues and Country. seasoned with a bit of Rock and Roll, and man can they sing.  They ended the night with a one-two knockout punch of “The Weight” and “Time of the Season.”  Did I mention these guys can sing?  Wow! A perfect bookend to a night of great music and  harmonies!   They’ve got a show coming up at The Lincoln Theatre next month. Hope to see y’all there!

Dave Brainard

Gallery: The Gravy Boys        Gallery: Flatland Harmony Experiment

Photos by Dave Brainard – All Rights Reserved

Get Out And See It Live!

McMurtry or Bust!

McMurtry or Bust It was a dark and stormy night . . ..  Ok, it was neither, but man was it cold.  Bitter cold.  It was 22 degrees when I pulled up to Southland Ballroom on the way to an overnight low of  7.  That’s cold for Raleigh.  The prior night’s “blizzard”  had closed schools and left 3 to 5 inches of snow on the ground.  After a daytime high of 27 degrees, none of it had really melted. The newscaster’s dire warnings of treacherous roads and dangerous temperatures wouldn’t keep me from venturing out.  I’ve been wanting to see James McMurtry for a while and I wasn’t going to let a bit of weather stop me!  I made my sign and headed out . . ..  Actually, the City of Raleigh had done a good job of clearing the roads and the staff of Southland Ballroom had shoveled their sidewalks and entrances so travel wasn’t an issue and it was warm inside!

James’ son Curtis opened the show with a 45 minute solo set, giving the audience a choice between mean or sad songs – he wound up doing both.  He’s a talented songwriter  and a quick wit. It’s easy to make father-son comparisons, but it’s not applicable in this case.  While both spin a great tale, their styles of storytelling and delivery differ.  Curtis is more of a crooner and I’d love to see him front a big band or a jump blues ensemble.  At any rate, see him when you can!

After a short break, James opened his set with “Down Across the Delaware” and continued on with many of his hits, including “Choctaw Bingo” and “Hurricane Party.”  McMurtry is a fine singer and guitar player, but most of all he’s a storyteller. None better!  His dry, world worn voice and his ringing 12 string guitar were the perfect accompaniment to his tales of Everyman’s life and emotions.  The essence of a singer/songwriter.  At one point in the performance McMurtry was joined onstage by Hoop Dancer extraordinaire, Beth Lavinder.  I’m sorry, I don’t remember the song he was playing when she burst onstage, but it was obvious that he was enjoying it as much as the audience was!

I seemed like he had just gotten started when he left the stage, but he’d played almost 2 hours.  I guess time does fly . . ..  Thanks to Southland Ballroom and Marianne Taylor for bringing James and Curtis to town and thanks also to the snow  removal crews of the City of Raleigh!  Support your local Ballrooms, storytellers and hoop dancers!

Gallery: James McMurtry

Dave Brainard


Photos by Dave Brainard – All Rights Reserved

Get out and see it live!