The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
State and regional officials joined with Kentucky Country stars Tom T. Hall and Montgomery Gentry Wednesday morning to reveal the locations for the first round of the Country Music Highway Road to Fame Competition.
The contest, announced Jan. 31 in Frankfort, aims to identify the next country music star to come out of the area around U.S. 23, which has produced stars such as Loretta Lynn, The Judds and Dwight Yoakam. That legacy earned the road the designation of the Country Music Highway by the Kentucky State Legislature in 1994.
In a video greeting, Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry, whose current hit is Where I Come From, lamented that opportunities for aspiring artists to sharpen their skills in area clubs and other venues weren’t as prevalent as they once were.
“A lot of those clubs moved to line dancing which pushed a lot of those musicians and entertainers and bands out,” Gentry said. “We support the Country Music Highway Road to Fame, and you should too.”
The American Idol-style competition will begin with four preliminary rounds in the middle of March. The locations are:
1 p.m. March 15: Expo Center ballroom, 126 Main St., Pikeville
1 p.m. March. 16: Mountain Arts Center band room, 50 Hal Rogers Drive, Prestonsburg
10 a.m. March 17: Paramount Arts Center, 1300 Winchester Avenue, Ashland
1 p.m March 18: Sipp Theater, 336 Main Street, Paintsville
The competition is open to people ages 13-35 who grew up in the 15 counties surrounding U.S. 23 (Letcher, Pike, Floyd, Johnson, Lawrence, Boyd, Greenup, Harlan, Perry, Knott, Magoffin, Morgan, Elliott, Carter and Lewis counties). Registration for each of the preliminary rounds will begin two hours prior to the start time.
Country music singer and Flatwoods native Billy Ray Cyrus is writing a memoir that will be published by Amazon Publishing in the spring of 2013.
Hillbilly Heart will reportedly detail Cyrus’ early years in Eastern Kentucky, his fame thanks to his first album and hit single Achy Breaky Heart and the challenges of raising his daughter, teen star Miley Cyrus.
“I learned early from the Book of Psalms that: ‘The truth will be your shield and your buckle.’ I’ve always loved that,” Cyrus said in a news release from Amazon. “You only get one chance to tell your life story. This is my chance to set the record straight. I realized that over the years that there have been untruths and misconceptions about me, my music, my life, my family and our dreams. I’m going to lay out the facts starting from August 25, 1961 (his birthday), and work my way to the present, even if it stings a little.”
Gov. Steve Beshear and country music star Tom T. Hall announced a new initiative Tuesday to promote U.S. 23 as the Country Music Highway that will include an American Idol-style competition and an education fund.
“I’m retired, and I’ve been retired for a number of years,” Hall said to the crowd gathered in the Capitol Rotunda Tuesday morning for the announcement. “The only thing that will get me off of the farm and into a clean shirt is an invitation to come home to Kentucky.”
The Olive Hill native is one of numerous Kentucky musicians from the area surrounding the 144-mile north-south highway who have gone on to country music fame including sisters Loretta Lynn and Crystal Gayle, the mother-daughter duo of Naomi and Wynonna Judd, Keith Whitley, Billy Ray Cyrus, Patty Loveless, Ricky Skaggs, Dwight Yoakam and a number of other chart toppers.
In 1994, the Kentucky State Legislature designated U.S. 23 as the Country Music Highway.
“Why all that talent?” Jeffrey W. Crowe, president and CEO of the Southern and Eastern Kentucky Tourism-Development Association asked. “We hear that it’s in the water. I can tell you that I drink a lot of water, and you don’t want me to sing along the country music highway.
“We know there’ s a lot of talent out there, the next Loretta, the next Billy Ray, and the next Tom T. Hall. All we need is to give those people the opportunity to shine, the opportunity to be a star of Kentucky.”
The public centerpiece of the new Highway initiative will be the Road to Fame competition, which will be held March 14 to 17 in Eastern Kentucky and will include a grand prize of a $25,000 scholarship for career development and coaching at PCG Nashville, an artist development firm. Runners up will receive an acoustic guitar. Details of the event are still being worked out and sponsors are being sought for the competition which is open to aspiring artists ages 13 to 35 who live in the counties along U.S. 23. Dates and venues for the competition will be announced Feb. 7.
Along with the competition, organizers announced the Country Music Highway Road to Fame Arts Education Fund, which will be administered by the Bluegrass Community Foundation.
“One of our main goals is to put money back in schools for arts education,” said Cindy Wheat, executive director of the Paintsville Recreation and Tourism Commission. “The budgets are being cut drastically, as much as 80 percent in some schools. So with this program, we will be able to go in and talk to music educators and say, do you need music, do you need instruments, what do you need and how can we help in the long term plans with the music that you want to offer, because the money is just not available to them anymore from the schools.”
Wheat said funds would be drawn from private donors and proceeds from the competition.
“We hope that winners of the competition will go on to develop careers and appear all over the world, not only to make themselves famous, but to make Kentucky famous,” said Beshear, who warbled a line of Harper Valley PTA in honor of Hall’s presence.
Hall said, “Kentucky is really a hard sell, because we have so much going on here. I am particularly partial to music, but as has been mentioned before, we have the greatest bourbon whiskey in the world, we’ve got the fastest horses, the most beautiful women, all of the scenery … So when you start talking about Kentucky and inviting people, you’re offering them a buffet, and today we’re going to put country music and Kentucky’s music legacy on the front burner of the buffet.”
It feels like Kellie Pickler walked into a roadside joint, slapped 100 Proof on the bar and said, “How y’all like me now?” with as much of a drawl as she could muster.
And she could muster more than we thought.
Following Carrie Underwood’s season on American Idol, Pickler looked like a possible successor to one of the show’s most successful winners, but went out in sixth place. Singles from her first two albums only got her into the Top 10 on the country charts once and she was also known for things like a dismal appearance on Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? that had my kids singing, “Are you smarter that Kellie Pickler?”
On her third album since Idol, it feels like Pickler knows what people thought of her and set out to change their minds.
The junior album opens with two tracks – Where’s Tammy Wynette and Unlock That Honky Tonk - that almost try too hard to assert Pickler’s country bona fides. But it works.
“I stayed torn between killing him and loving him,” she sings opening the album with Tammy Wynette, sending the message this will not be the pop-country affair of her first two albums.
It’s an album that lives up to its title as a rousing country party with other gritty tunes like Tough, a swoon in Turn on the Radio and Dance and a couple of beauties with Mother’s Day and an honest-to-God, tear-jerking heartbreaker in The Letter (To Daddy).
To be totally honest, when 100 Proof was announced, particularly up against Tim McGraw’s new one last week, I had zero interest in it. Is Kellie Pickler still trying to record albums? But thanks to a slow stream on new releases and some surprisingly favorable reviews, I gave Pickler’s latest a shot.
You should too.
If you can think back to a time when the big stories about Tim McGraw were that he was baseball great Tug McGraw’s kid and he had a controversial first hit single in Indian Outlaw, then you’re amused noting that it now goes without saying a new McGraw album is highly anticipated.
In two decades in the music business, McGraw has built up a catalog of hits albums that aren’t always inspired creations but are reliably good. The man gets to see the best of Nashville’s prolific songwriters and has a longstanding production crew. He knows how to make a contemporary country album.
McGraw’s latest, Emotional Traffic, is also highly anticipated because it was held up in a legal dispute with his label, Curb records, though Southern Voice was an October 2009 release, so it’s not like fans have been waiting forever.
What we get when the album drops Tuesday (Jan. 24, 2012) is a crowd-pleaser of a record with everything a Tim McGraw fan could want. There are the upbeat love songs you’re sure he’s singing to Faith Hill (Right Back Atcha Babe), the clever, fun tune (Felt Good on My Lips), not-so-clever fun tunes (Touchdown Jesus, which someone will pair with a bunch of Tim Tebow clips, if they haven’t already) emotional ballads (Better Than I Used to Be) and the genre-crossing duet (Only Human with Ne-Yo). It gives you competing earworms.
It’s not exactly Live Like You Were Dying, his 2004 career milestone, but it’s reliable McGraw. The song that sparks a twinge of discontent is The One That Got Away, because he does such a lovely job with the David Pahanish-Joe West tune it feels like a little window is opened to his soul, and you want to see him go there a little bit more.
After all, he’s not a novelty act or a celebrity kid. He’s an established country star, and if you’ve been watching him for a while, you highly anticipate him using that stature to take his game to another level.
Miranda Lambert has postponed her sold-out concert Friday at Rupp Arena in Lexington due to a death in her family. The rescheduled show will be Feb. 26.
Lambert’s father-in-law, Dick Shelton, died Tuesday in Oklahoma, according to a statement from Lambert’s publicist. Shelton was the father of Lambert’s husband, fellow country music star Blake Shelton. His death prompted the cancellation of concerts this weekend in Charlotte and Greensboro, N.C. , as well as Lexington.
“Thank you to the fans for all the support and prayers,” Lambert said in the statement. “This is a really difficult time for our family and the most important thing is being together. Tell your loved ones you love them.”
Tickets purchased for Friday’s sold-out concert will be honored at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 26, according to the release.
Read more: Make sure to check out music writer Walter Tunis’ Top 10 at The Musical Box.
It seems that it was a year for something new. My favorites of 2011 included numerous established artists, including classical superstar Yo-Yo Ma and country diva Miranda Lambert, but they were in new configurations with new collaborators. And there were brand-new voices that made 2011 a year that was rewarding to take a chance on something I hadn’t heard before.
Here are my favorites:
■ Stuart Duncan, Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile, The Goat Rodeo Sessions. What do you get when four world-class musicians throw away any notion of what their respective genres should be and embrace what they can be together? A marvelous concoction that shows that musicianship trumps categorization every time. This trio of classical and bluegrass/country stars delivered an album that showed the best of what they collectively offered.
■ Foster the People, Torches. The overwhelming feeling that comes through on this album is the excitement of a young band getting its first chance to play to the world. The youth belies maturity, though, because debuts usually don’t boast such a sonic mix — from the snarky Don’t Stop (Color on the Walls) to the soundscape Life on the Nickel to the signature pop anthems Helena Beat and Pumped Up Kicks, a guilty pleasure that I have to admit is my song of the year.
■ The Civil Wars, Barton Hollow. We are told that Joy Williams and John Paul White are platonic friends. With Barton Hollow, we know that the union of their voices is a marriage made in Americana heaven. In the duo’s debut, Williams and White build on the longing of their viral sensation Poison and Wine and show us other ways they go great together, including the wailing title track.
■ Bon Iver, Bon Iver. This album changed my notion of summer music. Released on the summer solstice, the second album from Justin Vernon’s enterprise evokes the bleak northern landscapes that we already associated with him. But cue Holocene on a hazy afternoon and it works perfectly. So does punctuating the whole thing with the adult-contemporary schmaltz of Beth/Rest. Keep challenging preconceptions, Justin.
■ The Pistol Annies, Hell on Heels. This sounds like the album to listen to on a hot afternoon, driving out of town on an increasingly narrow road in a rickety old pickup. The trio of Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley come across as women who keep picking the wrong guys but have the sense to wise up and get away from them. That sensibility bled over to Lambert’s latest, but here’s a shot of cheap whiskey to more from the Pistol Annies.
Like Miranda Lambert needs me heaping more praise on her …
Last week her latest album, Four the Record, debuted at No. 1 on Billboard magazine’s country chart, making her the first artist in the history of that chart to have each of her first four albums debut at No. 1. Then, Sunday night, she walked off with her second female vocalist of the year trophy at the CMA Awards, joined by her hubby Blake Shelton winning his second straight male vocalist prize.
Those are just a few of the good things happening for Lambert this month, and they are well earned.
Four the Record appropriately emphasizes that this is Lambert’s fourth album, often a breakthrough for artists with substantial careers – think Led Zeppelin IV, Billy Joel’s The Stranger or U2′s The Joshua Tree. Fours are often the albums in which artists with burgeoning careers find the room to make a substantial artistic statement in the midst of all the other busyness that comes with stardom.
And it sure has been a busy year for Lambert, who will start next year with a Jan. 20 Rupp Arena concert. In addition to tying the knot with Shelton last Spring, she also debuted the Pistol Annies, a side project with Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley that dropped a great piece of summer heat called Hell on Heels.
Four accesses that project’s energy on Mama’s Broken Heart, a defiant defense of Lambert’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend persona (also emphasized by the cover image of her walking away from a flaming car) that we also hear on the first single, Baggage Claim. In fact, for a woman who’s supposed to be a happy newlywed, we get a lot of breakup here in a lot of different moods, including the forlorn Dear Diamond, one of Lambert’s own compositions.
Lambert dialed back her own songwriting on this album but picked up great tunes including David Rawlings and Gillian Welch’s playful Look at Miss Ohio and a lovely rendition of Allison Moorer’s Oklahoma Sky, which closes the album with a serene turn.
Motoring along the past few years, Lambert’s commercial career has been doing just fine. But Four signals her taking listeners on increasingly interesting artistic journeys. That’s worthy of praise.
If you were planning to head out to Red Barn Radio tonight (Oct. 26) to catch Lester Ray Sears & the Tennessee Border Band, there’s been a change of plans.
Red Barn producer Ed Commons says a health issue in the band forced it to cancel and Sears and band will be rescheduled for a later date.
Stepping in will be local favorites Howard’s Creek featuring singer and guitarist Russ Farmer, mandolin player and vocalist Ron Mobley, bassist and vocalist Terri Powell, dobro player Ted Critchfield, fiddler and vocalist Joanna Binford, and banjo player and vocalist John Mattingly.
When the classical music gods were selecting artists who would have enough cachet to do whatever they wanted, thankfully one of the ones they blessed was Yo-Yo Ma.
Yes, Ma certainly has a substantial catalog of benchmark recordings of the standard cello repertoire. But his greatest contribution to modern music has been genre-blending, culture-highlighting music like his Silk Road Project and Appalachian albums with violinist Mark O’Connor and bassist Edgar Meyer. Ma and Meyer are together again, this time with bluegrass fiddler Stuart Duncan and mandolin superstar Chris Thile for The Goat Rodeo Sessions.
The artists have been fond of highlighting the definitions of “goat rodeo” as situations where everything has to go right for things to work – i.e., this project was an artistic highwire act. Well, yes and no. Yes, genre blends can be risky – give violinist Nigel Kennedy’s unfortunate new release The Four Elements a listen, or don’t.
But here, we are talking about Ma, Meyer and Thile, who have virtually unblemished collaborative records, and Duncan, whose career in bluegrass and country has included work with Mark Knopfler, Alison Krauss and Robert Plant and has been named fiddle player of the year by the Academy of Country Music five times.
These guys are good, and they’re really good – lo, great – together.
For many listeners who come to Goat Rodeo through Ma’s classical celebrity, Duncan will be the real discovery.
He gets his own spotlight as the glue of sorts on the lead-off track on the album, Attaboy, an progressively intricate swirl of reels that lets everyone show off their instruments and their virtuosity. It’s instant affirmation that this mix will work, but it hardly sits still. Quarter Chicken Dark is a funkier expression of the quartet, and then it switches up with Duncan taking over the mandolin and Thile on Guitar for Helping Hand. The album also features Meyer on piano (Franz and the Eagle), Meyer and Thile on gamba on Here and Heaven, one of two vocal duets with Thile and Crooked Still frontwoman Aoife O’Donovan that also features Duncan on fretless banjo – yes, banjo on Sony Classical. Ma moves through the original tunes playing whatever is needed from rhythmic anchor to melodic lead.
The stylistic mix of bluegrass and classical yields a more easygoing sound than either genre on its own. The real beauty is no apparent self-consciousness that this group is creating a new mix. The Goat Rodeo Sessions simply demonstrates that great musicianship is great musicianship, regardless of the label.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich