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Craig Bickhardt – The More I Wonder: 12 Scenes From Life, Love & Family

Craig BrickhardtThe subtitle of Craig Bickhardt‘s eagerly anticipated, latest release – The More I Wonder (set to hit the streets on May 6)- is 12 Scenes From Life, Love & Family. That alone attracted me to giving this album a listen because those are some of the most challenging subjects of which to write, share, or sing. I admire those singer/songwriters that have the courage to reach deep into the rawest corners of their souls, and pull personal, and sometimes painful, events of their lives into the light of day for the rest of the world to hear, and Craig Bickhardt is one of the finest. (After reading this article – Click the picture to the left to go to Craig’s website and purchase his music. You won’t be disappointed).

To be honest, the very first thing that caught my eye when I opened this CD… there was a 20 page lyric and photo booklet included with it! In this day and age of impersonal instant downloads and listens, it’s such a pleasure to get to read along while listening to lyrics that come from a place so personal. (Thank you, Nathan Bell).

With lines like – It was always the madness of the drink you were driven to / I guess in the end those were the bars you were singing through… from “Crazy Nightingale” – along with – …Where is the warm place that will keep me from the cold? / Where are my children to give me life when I am old? / A builder of bridges to the beyond, to the unseen / A little I’ve found, but where have I been?… from “There Is No Night” – you can’t help but sense the autobiographical theme of this well done, warmly produced album.

Bickhardt describes his latest unassumingly produced set as being vignettes about life, love and family, particularly his own family’s struggles with his son’s disability. “I’ve always been good at reaching in, that’s what writers do best. But since becoming the father of this very brave kid who has overcome a lot of the challenges he’s faced with cerebral palsy, I’ve learned more about reaching out. This record documents my search for deeper empathy.” The opening track “Giant Steps” was inspired by something his (then younger) son said as they walked together in a mall. The song “It Opens” sums up his quest for personal growth by acknowledging that opportunities for it are often disguised and can be found in improbable places.

Craig Bickhardt – “Giant Steps”

 

While Bickhardt is excited about the new music in and of itself, he’s especially pleased for an extra reason: His daughter, Aislinn, joins him to harmonize on every track. As music aficionados well know, the vocal similarities between blood relations often yields an incomparable effect, something that Bickhardt appreciates heartily. “The sound that’s created is something in the blood, in the DNA,” he explains. “It’s sort of like the resonance of two adjacent strings on the same violin rather than two different violins playing harmony lines. The tone blends in a way that’s appealing and natural.”

Although Bickhardt has perhaps flown under the mainstream, he’s certainly managed to cement an audience for his music- an audience he’s looking to expand with the release of his fifth album, The More I Wonder on May 6. “This is probably the most personal record I’ve made so far,” Bickhardt says, explaining that although other artists have covered his work before, everything on this set is brand-new. “I was always pleased when artists of the caliber of Johnny Cash or Ray Charles or Alison Krauss recorded my songs, but I didn’t write for others, I wrote for me. All comparison to cover versions of my songs is off the table because you’re hearing them sung by me first.”

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Todd Snider’s Overdue Return To Las Vegas

Think back to a time before Facebook or Twitter… I know it might be hard to imagine, but that’s how the worldwide web was way back in 2002 – tweet-less and barren of cute kitten pictures. 2002 was also the last time stoner-folk, free-spirited troubadour Todd Snider played in Las Vegas, and now he’s finally returned! What does that tell you? Maybe the acoustic music scene in Vegas needs a swift kick in the ass.

Todd Snider, Acoustic Routes, Las Vegas, 2002

Todd Snider, Acoustic Routes, Las Vegas, 2002

A lot has changed in all those years, including Todd’s hairstyle (see photo at left), his body of work has swelled by eleven albums (twelve if you count Shit Sandwich by Elmo Buzz and the Eastside Bulldogs); his musical style has found its way into a fresh groove with each release; while his ability to thread words and thoughts into witty, engaging, sometimes political, and ofttimes poignant lyrical tapestries, has evolved to a flawless edge.  If you’ve never heard those albums, then get your ass on Spotify and catch up. (That’s something else you couldn’t do eleven years ago).

On February 1, 2013, Todd Snider and the Burnouts heated up the ice-covered Orleans Arena with a rocking set that was book-ended with covers of tunes from two of Snider’s idols – Billy Joe Shaver’s “Good News Blues” and Chuck Berry’s classic “School Days.” Breaking from his acoustic roots, Snider armed himself with his most recent axe-of-choice – an electric guitar – for the whole night, giving way to a smoking, rocket-fueled sound, solidly driven by Paul Griffith’s incomparable drum chops and Dan Baird’s stalwart bass, and skillfully punctuated by Kevin Gordon on guitar.  The eleven song set included “Too Soon To Tell” and “Big Finish” from Snider’s latest release Agnostic Hymns and Stoner Fables.  There were two songs in the set – “Easy Money” and “D. B. Cooper” – Snider had performed back in 2002 when he stood solo on the stage of the long-gone-and-often-missed Las Vegas music venue Acoustic Routes. This time around, Todd and the Burnouts deftly treated those fan-favorites with new texture and dynamic colors, giving them a whole new shine. Hail, hail rock and roll!

After the show, I got the chance to sit down with Todd (above the noise of workers clearing the stage his bare feet had danced on less than half an hour earlier). We discussed his influences, the Burnouts, his latest song character, guitar lessons, and also some of the side gigs he’s got lined up… Would you believe he’s going to be in a movie and become a minister? Oh yeah… just call him “Pastor Todd.” You can view a video of the interview below.
(Todd… about that invite to East Nashville… Do you have a couch I can stay on?)

Post Concert Interview with Todd Snider in Las Vegas

I sincerely want to thank – Dave “Elvis” Hixx and Kymm Britton for making this interview happen; Matthew Bown and Rebecca Holmstrom of the Orleans Arena for their hospitality; Kevin Phillips for the steady camera work and good eye; and mostly, thanks to Todd Snider for the pleasure of getting to sit down and talk with him.

 

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Keith Sykes Interview – A Songwriting Icon

Keith Sykes

Keith Sykes is a songwriter’s songwriter. I know that sounds cliche, but it’s true. From the early stages of his career up to the present, well more than 100 of his songs have been recorded by well-known artists such as The Gentrys, Rodney Crowell, Roseanne Cash, George Thorogood, and Jimmy Buffett – just to name a few. Although reluctant to admit it, he is admired and his work is highly praised by peers such as Jerry Jeff Walker, Guy Clark, and countless others.

Keith first broke into the singer/songwriter scene back in 1969 with the self-titled album Keith Sykes, and quickly followed that up the next year with 1-2-3. He toured quite a bit, working the Coffee House Circuit, forging friendships with other prolific songwriters, many of them remaining good friends to this day.

Almost seven years passed before his next release, The Way That I Feel,  hit the shelves. There were two songs on that album that threw Keith into a whole new direction. If you’re a liner-note-reading, old-timer Parrot Head like me, you know what I’m talking about. Keith’s songs “The Coast Of Marseilles” and “The Last Line” were recorded by Jimmy Buffett, and moored on his highly successful 1978 album Son of a Son of a Sailor.

Keith Sykes in Montserrat - 1979 - Photo by Tom Corcoran

From there, Keith went on to tour with Jimmy as one of the Coral Reefers. In 1979 he went to the island of Montserrat with Buffett, James Taylor, Russ Kunkel, and all the Coral Reefers to record Buffett’s tenth studio album. While on Montserrat – inspired by the then-dormant Soufrière Hills volcano on the island – Buffett, Sykes, and Harry Dailey co-wrote what was to become the title cut of the new album (and one of Buffett’s biggest hits) – “Volcano.”

That’s enough typing for now. Kick back, grab a beer (unless it’s morning… in that case, grab a scotch), relax, click the video below to watch and listen to the legendary Keith Sykes tell us all about his fascinating career. (He’ll also sing a couple of songs for us).

Interview with Keith Sykes

Keith Sykes performing B.I.G.T.I.M.E. on Saturday Night Live

On December 6th,1980, Keith Sykes appeared on Saturday Night Live (his first time on national television) and performed “B.I.G.T.I.M.E.” to promote his latest album I’m Not Strange, I’m Just Like You. B.I.G.T.I.M.E.” would later be recorded by George Thorogood and the Destroyers.

Keith Sykes – “Gray Beard and Whiskers”

This song is absolutely beautiful, and I dare you not to cry when you listen to it. “Gray Beard and Whiskers” can only be found on Keith Sykes – 20 Most Requested CD. Click here to purchase it in Keith’s online store.

Click here to see all of Keith Sykes releases available on Amazon.

Keith Sykes – Hot Springs Weekend – June 1st & 2nd, 2012

Like he mentioned in the interview – (You did watch the interview, didn’t you? If not, get your mouse back up there and click on it!) – Each year in Hot Springs, Arkansas, Keith hosts a weekend of music in the lovely Arlington Hotel. Shows are on Friday and Saturday nights and feature some of the best songwriters performing today. On Saturday afternoon Keith interviews one of the songwriters and afterwards the guests are encouraged to ask questions on the craft of songwriting and the creative process. After the evening shows there are impromptu jams where the guests can mingle with the pros and even have a chance to play a tune or two. Click here or on the poster to the left to go to Keith’s website and purchase your wristband to an unforgettable weekend!

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Todd Snider’s Songline Leads Him Back Where It All Began

The title of Todd Snider’s latest release, Time As We Know It – The Songs Of Jerry Jeff Walker, comes from “David and Me,” a 1999 Jerry Jeff Walker song about two gypsy song-men sharing some wine, reminiscing back on the long road they’ve been down, and just letting the time go by. With a grin they wonder why – They say we all changed / But I feel the same and I know that you are. / They always said we played ’em much too long. / But tell me, what’s a song / Don’t it carry on and make the time go by? / Time as we know it.

Most Todd Snider fans have heard the story about how in 1985 his old buddy, Trogg, took him to the famous Gruene Hall in New Braunfels, Texas where he saw Jerry Jeff Walker for the first time. It was an awakening experience for the nineteen year old Snider – that night he envisioned what he was destined to do. As Snider sometimes tells it at his shows, “We went down to see Jerry Jeff, and he came out, kinda like I am tonight, with just a guitar, and sang some songs, and I thought… Shit, I could do that.” Damn if he didn’t too. Snider started writing songs the very next day and never let up… except to occasionally stalk Jerry Jeff.

In his 1987 book The Songlines, British novelist and travel writer, Bruce Chatwin describes songlines as: …the labyrinth of invisible pathways which meander all over Australia and are known as “Dreaming-tracks” or “Songlines”. Snider’s songline may have begun that night in Gruene Hall.

A few short years later Todd got signed by Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Records. You probably already know this, but just in case you didn’t – In 1971 (about a month after Todd Snider’s fifth birthday) Jerry Jeff Walker led Jimmy Buffett to the promise-land known as Key West, Florida. If he hadn’t done that, there wouldn’t have been a “Margaritaville” let alone a Margaritaville Records. Talk about synchronicity! Seriously though, isn’t it intriguing how their paths have intertwined?

On April 24, Snider will share his love of the original Gonzo Gypsy with the release of Time as We Know It: The Songs of Jerry Jeff Walker. Produced by Don Was (yeah, that Don Was of Bob Dylan, and Rolling Stones fame), the 14-song set was recorded last year in Nashville with the Colorado-based Americana band Great American Taxi and features guest appearances from Kix Brooks of Brooks & Dunn, Elizabeth Cook and Amy LaVere. They recorded 30 additional tracks, so don’t be surprised if another collection is released someday.

The songs on Time as We Know It – which span most of Walker’s career – were done in that Snider stoner-gypsy fashion that has become a proudly-worn hat that his fans love so well. So well! So well! So well! (Sorry, I had to throw that in).

Anytime Todd Snider does a cover song, it’s rebuilt and painted a whole new color, and with this collection the undying impression that Walker made on Snider adds a lustrous final clear coat, giving them a gleam to rival Snider’s own infectious smile. It seems that these songs have personal meaning for Snider – evident by the subtle lyric tweaks here and there. One of the most touching is when he shows gratitude of his wife, Melita, in “Layin’ My Life on the Line.”  Even with that Snider touch, “Mr. Bojangles” still brought tears to my eyes… maybe more so.

Todd Snider’s songline has now brought him to a place of reflection and appreciation. On Time As We Know It he’s not just paying tribute to a man that inspired a 19 year old kid all those years ago; He’s honoring a man who has, over the years, become a dear close friend. A friend who holds mutual respect and admiration for him. A friend that he can share some wine with, reminisce about the old days, and just let the time go by. It doesn’t get much better than that. Maybe someday Todd will write a song called “Jerry Jeff and Me.”

 

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Josh Harty Interview

Josh Harty’s latest release Nowhere is an intense collection of engaging, and sometimes painful songs that will capture your attention right down to the last track. In this interview he tells us the stories behind some of these songs as well as some interesting tales from the road.

Harty’s subtlety multi-layered approach to his lyrics and music is polished to a warm glow on this seven-track EP. Each song revealing another seam of a once buried dream, regret, or desire. The only thing I find fault with the album is that it’s too short; it leaves you wanting more, but yet still satisfied.

And if it wasn’t for this interview, I never would have learned of the Shitty Barn in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Thanks, Josh.

Interview with Josh Harty

Since the audio quality from the Wisconsin end of the conversion was a bit sub-par (I apologize for that, but I did all I could do to enhance it) below is the super clean studio version of “On My Mind” for you to listen to and enjoy!

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Better yet – purchase and download Josh Harty’s album Nowhere. You won’t be disappointed!

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