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Rx for the Soul: A Bristol Rhythm Thanksgiving Playlist

Though BCM is in perpetual motion, we are grateful for a bit of calm in the months after a busy Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion. The 2022 event was a very good festival year by all accounts – we celebrated the 95th anniversary of the 1927 Bristol Sessions, attendance was up, and the lineup was just stellar. We’re so appreciative to everyone who made the trip to State Street to be with us; we hope you had as great a time as we did and that your experience was both meaningful and memorable!

A collage of three photos depicting evening aerial scenes of the State Street Stage at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion 2022, packed with people.
Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion 2022 and crowds on State Street. (L to R) Photo credit Johnson City Aerial Photography, Earl Neikirk, and Johnson City Aerial Photography.

As we have moved through fall – my favorite season of all – with its glorious red, gold, and amber colors of the changing trees, the crisp morning air, and vibrant, floating leaves that blanket everything below, it’s time to prepare for another busy holiday season and all its traditions. It’s also great time to reflect on all the things that went right in our collective lives this year and give thanks.

A collage of photos including a woman making a heart symbol with her hands, a photo of five women from different ethic backgrounds smiling at the camera, and a third photo of three children, two boys and a girl, enjoying the festival.
Images of music fans at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion 2022. (Clockwise L to R) Photos by Earl Neikirk, Cora Wagoner, and Earl Neikirk.

There are a few things I love most about music, including

1) How it brings people from all walks of life together in a way nothing else can

2) How favorite songs can lift our spirits and validate our emotions

3) How – faster than a heartbeat – a familiar song can nostalgically take you back to a time and place in your life of great significance.

The holidays can often be a source of anxiety for many of us for any number of reasons, and though I’m not a doctor, I’d like to prescribe something for you that may help soothe your soul and take the temperature down when things get a little overwhelming: Good music. You can take as much as you want and though symptoms may vary, the right combination of lyrics and melodies can change hearts and heal old wounds.

As a small gesture of gratitude to our festival goers and the amazing musicians we’ve hosted on our stages over the years, and in an effort to transmit cosmic gratitude and positive energy through the transformative power of music this Thanksgiving season, we’ve curated the Spotify playlist below of Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion artists – packed with sentimentality and feel-good tunes that are guaranteed to set the mood for an amazing holiday season.  Thank you, friends, and may your blessings be bountiful.

 

*NOTE: Early bird weekend passes to Bristol Rhythm 2023 go on sale Black Friday for $100. Discount is good through Cyber Monday. Purchase online at BristolRhythm.com

Radio Bristol Spotlight: Florencia & the Feeling

Radio Bristol is proud to offer a platform to local and regional artists who are often underrepresented on a national level yet deserving of that audience. In expanding upon Radio Bristol’s core mission we are pleased to bring you our Radio Bristol Spotlight series, which highlights the top emerging artists in our region. Through interviews and performance, we will learn more about the musicians who help make Central Appalachia one of the richest, and most unique musical landscapes in the world.

Last month in the Radio Bristol studio we hosted a band that is very much on the rise in the Tri-Cities – Florencia & the Feeling, a Johnson City-based jazz-infused pop-funk band with Latin roots. This band has several top-tier gigs under their belt, including shows at The Down Home, The Jones House in Boone, North Carolina, and recently opening for country Tex-Mex great, The Mavericks. The group also had their debut performance at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion this September. With tight rhythmic jams and groovy guitar riffs, Florencia & the Feeling have been majorly wowing regional audiences. We were thrilled to catch them on a day off the road for a quick chat and live performance in our studio. Front woman Florencia Rusiñol talked about her musical background, influences, and new music on the horizon.

¡Qué buena onda!  (What a good vibe!)

The bandon stage with a multitude of colored lights shining down on them, coalescing into a purpse aura.

Florencia & the Feeling performing at local venue Capone’s in Johnson City, Tennessee. Photo courtesy of Jason Vaper

 An abbreviated version of “The Feeling” joined us on air in the Radio Bristol studio with guitarist Noa Wise and keys player Isaac Ratliff. Typically, the band consists of six pieces with a full drum kit (Austin Herron), electric bass (Nick Castro), and violin (Diego Núñez). The trio started things off with a song called “Meant to Be,” a soulful heartbreak song with cohesive syncopated stops and old-school R & B-inspired three-part harmonies. Florencia’s soaring voice was accented by dazzling progressive jazz chord voicings; making it crystal clear that this is a band with serious musical chops. It comes as no surprise that Wise studied musical performance as a jazz guitarist at East Tennessee State University (ETSU), and Florencia studied music therapy and guitar while at Queens College in Charlotte, North Carolina. The depth of their musical understanding comes across instantly to the listener and packs a sonic punch that isn’t easily forgotten. You would think that this band had played together for years to pull off so many rhythmic acrobatics with silky smooth finesse, but in fact, they are relatively new and fully formed after Rusiñol left her full-time music therapy job in Washington, D.C. during the pandemic.

Although the current lineup of the band is new, Florencia told us she has had a few different mash-ups of musicians for her songwriting, and has always thought of her music in terms of being with a full band. She considers this the third iteration, now comprised of close-knit high school friends and exceptional local talent. The band began in early 2021 when Castro and Herron got together to play a virtual show with Florencia for a socially distant stream. Little did they know that this performance would be the kick-off to a whirlwind tour throughout the South East. As booking requests started pouring in, the band formulated around Florencia’s writing, drawing inspiration from progressive jazz, bossa nova, disco rhythms, thoughtfully executed choral arrangements, and Latin American bolero-style music, distinctive for its rumba-esque walking beat and bien parado (“sudden stops”). The group hit the ground running, playing over 50 shows in 2021, and this year “The Feeling” has accelerated into high gear playing dozens of regional music festivals and touring through multiple states.

Currently, the band is working on recording a new album, which should be out in the next year. Slated to be produced by Grammy winner Martin Walters, who is also the director of jazz studies and contemporary music at ETSU. While speaking about the new recordings on air, the band hinted that there may be some singles released by the end of this year, possibly joined by guest artists, and assured us they would most definitely include a horn section.

A close-up of Florencia from the shoulders up -- she has long brown hair and is wearing a red patterned hair band/scarf to hold her hair back from her face. The background is blurred but seems to be trees and buildings.

Florencia Rusiñol. Courtesy of Florencia Rusiñol

Before the pandemic, Florencia was no stranger to traveling and spent time teaching music and art therapy in Atlanta, D.C., and Ecuador. With family roots in Argentina, Rusiñol’s time in South America gave birth to her songwriting career, and in 2018 she recorded a debut EP in Ecuador. Backed by a dazzling full band, complete with a horn section and twinkling jazz piano, the self-titled EP is an eye-opening testimony to the young songwriter’s talent for envisioning musical arrangements and manifesting them into lush full-scale productions. To hear Florencia’s EP, check out this link, and don’t forget to share it with your friends!

Florencia shared that this past year she has dived headfirst into being a full-time musician, saying that in the past she had always told herself it was too hard or not a possibility. However, recently her heart has led her to give it a sincere effort – one that is playing off in regional accolades and top tier gigs. The last song they performed for us – “What Can I Do?” – expounds upon that subject and follows her journey to accepting the need to be a working musician. Sweeping extended chords and catchy pop-funk walk ups accentuate the song’s subject matter, connecting with Florencia’s voice, unregulated with breath-taking accuracy and improvisational melody lines.

Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for new music from Florencia & the Feeling by keeping tabs on their website and following them on social media via Facebook, Instagram and Spotify. And catch “The Feeling” playing at a local venue or festival near you!

Radio Bristol Spotlight: Tyler Hughes

Radio Bristol is proud to offer a platform to local and regional artists who are often underrepresented on a national level yet deserving of that audience. In expanding upon Radio Bristol’s core mission, we are pleased to bring you our Radio Bristol Spotlight series, which highlights the top emerging artists in our region. Through interviews and performance, we learn more about the musicians who help to make Central Appalachia one of the richest and most unique musical landscapes in the world.

Recently the Radio Bristol studio hosted ETSU Bluegrass, Old-Time, and Country Music Studies graduate Tyler Hughes who hails from beautiful Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Tyler wears many metaphorical hats – some might even call him a modern-day mountain renaissance man – including songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, square dance caller, music teacher, regional music historian, avid gardener, and social justice advocate. During the pandemic, Tyler also worked as a ranger for Southwest Virginia Museum Historical State Park where he booked musical lineups for events such as Gathering in the Gap.

This past summer Tyler played dozens of events at regional venues and recently even performed at The Grand Ole Opry! While in our studio Tyler spoke with “The Old Ranger” – aka DJ Bill Smith – whose radio program, The Crooked Road Radio Hour, focuses on regional music from the 19 counties that comprise Southwest Virginia along the Crooked Road, Virginia’s heritage music trail. The two chatted about Tyler’s upcoming projects, his musical past, and his latest release, When the Light Shines Again, a collection of tunes centered around coal mining.

A white man holding a banjo in a sunny field with the hills and trees rising behind him. He holds a flower up to his face to smell it.He wears dark trousers, a white shirt, and suspenders. His hair is brown and cut short.

Tyler Hughes enjoying the natural beauty of a Southwest Virginia field. Photo courtesy of Trevor White

On-air, Tyler’s demeanor felt much like the gracious rolling hills of Southwest Virginia –  welcoming, sunny, and wise. Accompanied by a dimpled grin and an open-backed banjo, Tyler began his set with some traditional songs. One of particular note was his rendition of “Davenport,” a tune that is possibly a variant of another old melody called “Last Chance,” originally adapted by Scott Boatright, who was a historically important old-time musician from Fort Blackmore, Virginia. Boatright played throughout the 1920s and 1930s, accompanying well-known musicians such as Dock Boggs, Tom Ashley, “Fiddlin” John Carson, Clarence Greene, and Dudley Vance, as well as with his band, The Boatright String Band. Boatright played anywhere he could – at barber shops, barn dances, coal fields, and theaters.

While listening to Tyler, you can hear musical influence from both Boatright and Dock Boggs, as he employs a unique mixture of clawhammer frailing and three-finger “up-picking” banjo technique. It creates a style that feels extremely distinctive, polished, and organic, like a well-worn river rock – smooth, weighty, and comforting.

Talking about his musical inspiration, Tyler enthusiastically spoke about his experience attending The Mountain Music School camp as a young teenager. The camp is hosted annually at Mountain Empire Community College (MECC) and focuses on keeping traditional Appalachian folk music alive through engaging educational programs. Tyler now works on their faculty as a lead instructor and co-director of the Mountain Music School Stringband. While attending camp, Hughes met Boatwright’s daughter Sue Ella Boatright-Wells, who tirelessly worked to promote the preservation of Appalachian music traditions in Southwest Virginia during her 39-year-long service as the Dean of Workforce Development at MECC. Sue Ella was one of several community members who encouraged Hughes to pursue traditional music, and Tyler expressed extreme admiration for her work and character. Her legacy is something Hughes hopes to champion as a musician and educator. Indeed, in his online bio Tyler states: “I believe that through regional arts, Southwest Virginia can move beyond its current challenges, build a new economy and stronger communities where everyone can reach their full potential” – an inspiring mission statement that encapsulates his current work.

Tyler Hughes’ performance of “Sittin’ on Top of the World” in the Radio Bristol studio.

Tyler has recently returned to playing music full-time after wading through the hardships faced by many working musicians during the pandemic. His downtime was extremely productive, yielding a new album, and he has more original music in the works. His latest release was recorded at the legendary Maggard Sound Studio in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, the same studio that produced Dr. Ralph Stanley’s GRAMMY-winning albums. Tyler’s album When the Light Shines Again is a luminous collection of songs that share a central theme of coal mining. Hughes grew up in the heart of Southwest Virginia’s “Coal Mining Country,” and his Papaw was a miner. The concept for the album was born from conversations the two had about his grandfather’s experiences. Tyler’s interpretations feel purposeful and innate, seamlessly churned with care and bearing an unassuming accuracy that exists only through dedicated practice and deep empathy for ancestral wisdom. The recording features excellent musical performances by several members of the old-time music community throughout the region, including Todd Meade, Haselden Ciaccio, Rich Kirby, Stephanie Jeter, and Sam Gleaves.

Amidst the album’s 11 songs, Tyler maps out the complexities of Southwest Virginia’s relationship with coal through songs that explore the cultural, economic, and environmental impact of mining. A stand-out track, “Coal Miner’s Blues,” was first recorded by The Carter Family in 1938 and was collected by A.P. Carter around Lee County, Virginia in the mining community of St. Charles. The song explores tribulation and veneration of the human spirit with rollicking banjo rhythms and mournful lyrics. As a whole, the album depicts different aspects of the coal miner’s experience with songs that follow a 100-year span telling stories of tragic accidents, hardships of physical labor, and the trials faced by unionized workers. To listen to or purchase the album, visit the link here.

Tyler’s work as a budding forbearer of Appalachian folkways follows many different paths. You can find Tyler pickin’ and grinnin’ while playing an archtop guitar, autoharp, banjo, or dulcimer, solo or with accompaniment. He regularly plays with the Empty Bottle String Band formed by musicians he met when he attended ETSU’s Bluegrass, Old-Time, and Country Music program.  Tyler also teaches young musicians in Wise County at the after-school music program Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) and is a caller for regional square dances. He learned to call square dances after a group of friends couldn’t find anyone to call a dance for them while in college. Tyler began scouring eBay to find old square dance instructional material and picked local callers’ brains, learning customary dances that were common in the Appalachian Mountains. You can catch all of Tyler’s musical performances and dance callings, or maybe even sign up for banjo lessons, through his website here.

Twp books stacked on top of each other, the bottom one is red with gold lettering and the top one is grey or beige with red lettering.

Tyler Hughes’ collection of vintage square dance instructional books. Photo courtesy of Tyler Hughes

Closing out the hour on air, Tyler shared renditions of two Ralph Stanley tunes – “Battle Ax” and “Shout Little Lulie” – with precise clawhammer banjo licks and jaunty singing. Tyler is a regional musician to watch, whose performances offer outstanding musicality and reach into the core of Appalachian life, telling the stories of its people and sharing its rich musical heritage.

* Top image: Tyler Hughes performing with the Empty Bottle String Band at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion in 2019. © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Tiffany Bower

Ella Patrick is a Production Assistant at Radio Bristol. She also hosts Folk Yeah! on Radio Bristol and is a performing musician as Momma Molasses.

Radio Bristol Spotlight: The Willy Nillys

Radio Bristol is proud to offer a platform to local and regional artists who are often underrepresented on a national level yet deserving of that audience. In expanding upon Radio Bristol’s core mission, we are pleased to bring you our latest Radio Bristol Spotlight post. This blog series highlights top emerging artists in our region – through interviews and performance, we learn more about the musicians who help to make Central Appalachia one the richest, and most unique musical landscapes in the world.

Recently at the Radio Bristol studio, we hosted the newly re-formed duo The Willy Nillys, comprised of the easygoing road warrior couple, Christy Lynn Barrett and Ryan Schilling. Currently based in Asheville, North Carolina, the two have been hitting the highway on multiple DIY cross-country road trips for the better part of a decade, playing dive bars and open mics sprawled across sleepy countryside towns. Their long musical journey has incorporated multiple converted vans or other “assorted vintage vehicles,” nights spent everywhere from sketchy Walmart parking lots to majestic National Forests, self-recorded albums with hand-cut vinyl, and a menagerie of analog audio gear including the 1987 Ford Econoline known as the American Sound Truck, which houses a direct to vinyl recording studio.

A young couple stand in front of a big window with a building seen through it. They are both white and wearing light-colored denim short-sleeved shirts and dark blue denim jeans. The woman stands to the left; she has chin-length slighly wavy red hair and leans her head on the man's shoulder. The man stands to the right and has dark brown shoulder-length hair and a beard/moustache.

The Willy Nillys’ Christy Barrett and Ryan Schilling pose in unquestionably classy denim on denim attire. Photo Credit: Izzy Nelson

The dream-manifesting pair grew up in small dusty desert towns in Southern California, home to mystic cowboys such as Gram Parsons and creative origin for the legendary Laurel Canyon folk music scene of the 1960s and 1970s. Meeting by happenstance at a late night party, Barrett and Schilling quickly began writing music together, delving ever deeper into musical influences that lead them to the rich soils of Appalachia. Nowadays the couple own and run  American Vinyl Co., a one-stop shop for everything from custom lathe-cut vinyl records, record mastering/pressing, direct-to-lacquer recording, live musical performances, a record shop, and a well-curated collection of historical audio equipment – all located in a beautifully renovated 1940s warehouse on the South Slope near downtown Asheville. To fully grasp the breadth of everything that happens at American Vinyl Co., we highly suggest going there for a visit – you can order from their “menu,” which includes recording a single inside the sound truck, or you can check out a show where they host an impressive variety of emerging roots music and Americana acts. You can check out their event schedule here.

A converted warehouse-style studio space is seen in this photograph. Large multi-paned windows line the back wall; it is night-time outside and you can see the glow of greenish lights in the windows to the left. In the studio can be seen various vintage microphones, instruments on stands, and other music paraphernalia. A record-shaped sign for American Vinyl Co. is hanging in the windows to the right.

American Viny Co. Stage located just outside of downtown Asheville in the “Brewery District” of South Slope. 

This industrious duo also still finds time to crank out inspiring original music, amidst refurbishing retro musical equipment and pressing loads of vinyl records for independent artists. Their latest iteration as The Willy Nillys is the third progression of their musical brainchild. Past projects have included the Christy Lynn Band, which is heavily inspired by Barrett’s lifelong love of classic country, and Triumph of the Wild, which won the couple first place for best recording at the San Diego Music Awards and began their relentless pilgrimage to musical sites of inspiration throughout the rural south. In the Radio Bristol studio, we got to witness a few of their brand new songs and talk about new recording projects on the horizon.

Starting out they played a tune called “American Daydream,” a hopeful yet rugged romp accented by cinematic swells of harmonica and hair-raising vocal harmonies. The lyrics seem to recount their idyllic but at times dangerous and unglamorous experience as OG van lifers – living off of sink showers and hints of Ola Belle Reed melodie,; learning how to befriend locals, and staying out of trouble with local police. The chorus proclaims “Livin our life like we wanted to…In an American Daydream with you,” ending with the road-weary affirmation: “A couple beggars, a couple of crooks, A couple of nobodies you overlooked…There ain’t a risk we ain’t never took.” This band is definitely for lovers of Shovels and Rope, The Everly Brothers, and 1950s pop employing powerhouse vocals and swishing echo-like back beats.

They also shared a somber number, “It Ain’t Fair,” a tune with a lilting melody that felt reminiscent of classic country balladry. The song slowly gallops along with regretful lyrics that recount sacrifices made as traveling songwriters – missing their nephews grow up and their parents aging. The stoic beauty and honesty of this song will leave a lump in your throat and tears in your eyes, with the last verse admitting:

“To my two sisters, I’ve been meaning to call
It breaks my heart knowing, I don’t know you at all
So I’ll pack my suitcase and I’ll go back in time
Back before a song was always on my mind.”

This is a band that is definitely worth checking out – so be sure to keep your eyes peeled for a new EP coming from them this summer, one that is sure to be self-produced and released with hand-pressed vinyl from American Vinyl Co.

Check out The Willy Nillys playing “It Ain’t Fair” live in the Radio Bristol studio.

Ella Patrick is a Production Assistant at Radio Bristol. She also hosts Folk Yeah! on Radio Bristol and is a performing musician as Momma Molasses.

Celebrating Jimmie Rodgers: A Short Lesson in His Guitar Style

Today is the anniversary of Jimmie Rodgers’ passing on May 26, 1933, and therefore we wanted to celebrate him with this blog post by volunteer Ed Hagen – including a short lesson in Rodgers’ iconic guitar style! Ed moved to Bristol last summer, and he soon joined us at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum as a Gallery Assistant. He has played guitar for many years, mostly jazz, but he has been working hard on the rudiments of country and bluegrass since moving to Tennessee. As Ed says, “There is no better place to start than with the guitar style of Jimmie Rodgers!”

Jimmie Rodgers

Jimmie Rodgers was born in 1897 in Meridian, Mississippi, and he learned to play guitar while working on the railroad as a water boy and brakeman. He was influenced by the music played and the songs sung by the African American railway workers he met at the railway yard and around town – their call-and-response singing style during work and the blues songs they sang made a distinctive mark on Rodgers’ sound. He also spent time in Meridian’s opera house, vaudeville theaters, and hotels where he heard jazz, parlor music, and popular tunes, all of which also provided inspiration.

In 1927 he moved to Ashville, North Carolina, where he started playing on the local radio station with a small band made up of three musicians from Bristol, Tennessee-Virginia. Later that year they heard about recording sessions that were going to be held in Bristol conducted by the Victor Talking Machine Company, and so they traveled up to audition. These were the famous “1927 Bristol Sessions” that we celebrate at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum today. After arriving in Bristol for their audition, Rodgers and the band ended up recording separately, with speculation attributing this to an internal squabble or a change made by producer Ralph Peer. For Rodgers, this led to a recording contract and huge success as a recording and performing artist – though for only six short years before his death from tuberculosis in 1933 – and he is now celebrated as the “Father of Country Music.”

Black-and-white photograph of Jimmie Rodgers. He is a white man, and he stands in front of a faux photographic background that looks like a garden trellis. He is wearing a dark suit, a bow tie, and a white stetson-style hat, and he is holding his guitar.

Promotional portrait of Jimmie Rodgers. From the John Edwards Memorial Foundation Records, #20001, Southern Folklife Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Jimmie’s Guitar Style

Jimmie Rodgers’ guitar style is iconic and made a huge impact on country music musicians and beyond – numerous artists have copied and embellished it for their own music playing throughout the years. It is based within a traditional style of guitar playing, but he is one of the most successful and well-known performing and recording artists to play in this style, and he certainly knew how to make it his own!

For guitar players, it’s a great style to learn because it is so versatile. As the bartender in the Blues Brothers would put it, the style works for both kinds of music, country and western. You can slow it down for a Hank Williams’ ballad, or swing it hard for a Bob Wills’ two-step. You can use it to play Gene Autry cowboy tunes or just about any Merle Haggard or Buck Owens tune. And once you master it, the style gives you the foundation to play the related but more challenging guitar styles of Maybelle Carter, Merle Travis, and Chet Atkins.

Playing Guitar Jimmie Rodgers-Style

Before we can play this guitar style, we need to begin with short introduction on how to play traditional country bass, because that is the foundation of the style. For the most part, traditional country bass players play the root note of the chord on the first beat of the measure, and the fifth note of the chord’s major scale on the third beat. The fifth can either be played above or below the root. Playing behind a C chord, these notes would be C and G. This is called playing “one five.”

A triplet (that is, three notes played where a quarter note would ordinarily be played) can be played on the fourth beat of a measure, especially before a chord change. This triplet anticipates the chord that is played in the next measure, either ascending or descending to the root of the target chord. The three notes in the triplet are the three tones just above or below the root of the target chord. For example, if ascending from a measure of C to a measure of F, the triplet at the end of the C measure would be the fifth, sixth, and seventh tones of the F major scale.

If descending from a C measure to a G measure, the notes of the triplet would be the fourth, third and second tones of the G major scale.

Alternatively, a bass player will sometimes play a third on the third beat, especially if that note is a seventh of the target chord (the chord to be played in the next measure).  If moving from a C to an F, for example, the third in C (E) is the seventh in F. Or sometimes, just to keep it simple, the bass player will play the root on the third beat.

Rodgers does all of this on the guitar rather than on a bass. He plays a bass line on his guitar by fingering a first-position chord with his left hand, which will typically have the first and fifth notes of the major scale on the bottom three (EAD) strings. Just like any country bass player, he’ll “one five” it, playing the first and fifth tones on the first and third beats of the measure, mix in triplets, and occasionally drop in a root or third on the third beat. While doing this, he’ll strum the treble strings on the other beats. This allows him to effectively play bass and guitar at the same time.

This is sometimes called a “boom chuck” rhythm, similar to a military band’s “oom pah” or a stride piano player’s left hand. The “boom” is the bass note, and the “chuck” is the strum. Sometimes, to spice it up, a down-up strum is added to the chuck, creating a “boom chucka” (sometimes called a “church lick”). So the last beat of a measure might be a “chuck,” a church lick, or a triplet.

A brief note about the strum: These first position chords typically include open strings, and no particular effort is made to dampen them. It is not essential to play every string on every chord; the treble top notes (the B and E string) are often omitted.

There are no strict rules about any of this, except that it all has to done with confidence and a swing feel. You should be able to sing, play the bass and chords, and drop in a triplet or church lick as the mood strikes you. This all comes with practice.

The exercise below will get you used to playing ascending and descending triplets. Start slow and play it until it becomes second nature.

Providentially, Rodgers made The Singing Brakeman, a short sound film released in 1930 where he plays guitar and sings three songs, so you can see exactly how he plays. The film is available on YouTube. You’ll need to take one precaution if you are playing along with the video. The guitar in the film is tuned a half step high, so to play along you’ll have to tune your guitar up a half step or put a capo on the first fret. When we talk about these tunes below, we’ll do so as if the recording was in standard tuning, that is, when he fingers something that looks like a C chord in the film, we’ll call it that, even though we are hearing a C# chord on the soundtrack.

With all this in mind, let’s take a look at the first song in The Singing Brakeman, “Waiting on a Train.” Rodgers begins by imitating a train whistle, and then sings some nonsense syllables over this short guitar opening:

The partial F chords in the first bar are played as four simple down strokes on the four beats. The second bar is a boom chuck, playing the root instead of the fifth on the third beat. The third bar is two church licks. He ends the fourth bar as a triplet leading into the first bar of the chorus, which is played “one five.”

I’m not going to tab out the rest of the song. It goes against the spirit of how these songs are played. Players are free to sprinkle triplets and church licks wherever they like. Jimmie Rodgers likely never played the same song the same way twice. But to get you started, the chords for the first verse go like this:

Four lines from the song "Waiting on a Train," showing the different keys for playing on guitar.

This is just a start for aspiring Jimmie Rodgers-inspired players, but it should give you a good place to begin as you explore the wonderful musical world of “America’s Blue Yodeler,” “The Singing Brakeman,” and the “Father of Country Music”!

Radio Bristol Spotlight: Chance Lawson

Radio Bristol is proud to offer a platform to local and regional artists, artists who are often underrepresented on a national level yet deserving of that audience. As part of Radio Bristol’s core mission, we are pleased to share our latest Radio Bristol Spotlight post. Radio Bristol Spotlight is a series highlighting top emerging artists in our region. Through interviews and performance we will learn more about the musicians who help to make Central Appalachia one of the richest and most unique musical landscapes in the world.

Singer-Songwriter Chancellor (Chance) Lawson has been turning heads with his acoustic solo originals, recently winning the Tennessee Songwriters Week Competition for the Northeast Tennessee region. Local finalists performed at The Down Home in Johnson City, Tennessee, competing for a chance to play a showcase at Nashville’s acclaimed listening room, the Bluebird Cafe .The competition was hosted at six different historical venues throughout the state, and celebrates the “foundation of the craft for which Tennessee is known – music.”

A photograph of a white man standing in front of a vinyl banner for the Tennessee Songwriters Week Competition; you can see a stage area with instruments behind the banner and the man. The man is young, with wavy brown chin-length hair; he is wearing glasses, a white t-shirt, and jeans. He holds a guitar in one hand.

Chance Lawson at The Down Home in Johnson City, Tennessee, following his performance for Tennessee Songwriters Week Competition finals. Courtesy of Chance Lawson

Growing up in Kingsport, Tennessee, Lawson has been a staple at open mic nights and stages surrounding the Tri-Cities, performing with the collectively run indie-rock band Donnie and the Dry Heavers. This summer the musician also plans to open up a brand new venue in his hometown – the Market Street Social Club will be an inclusive space for pickers of all levels and performers of everything from music to stand-up comedy. The club will host multiple open mics weekly, as well as live performances by regional and touring artists. Recently we got to visit with Lawson in the Radio Bristol studio where he shared plans for the new space, plus some of his original tunes and off-the-cuff asides about his laid back approach to creating music.

Complete with Stetson and cowboy hat, Lawson confidently strolled into the studio and started things off with a bluegrassy original tune called “The Flood.” Fashioned together with idyllic imagery and fluid flatpicking, the song depicts a listless experience of existing – using water as a metaphor for the ebb and flow of emotion, proclaiming Lawson’s ability to remain stable and to keep “holding on” even while expressing an inner need for traveling that keeps his feet from “rooting.” Inspired by heralded Americana songwriters such as Jason Isbell and John Prine, Lawson is an astonishingly polished performer whose dues earned at countless local venues are paying off. His songs, embellished by effortless guitar playing and velvety smooth twang-tinged vocals, offer a bona fide look into the raw talent that comes from our region.

Playing on a brand new Taylor guitar that was part of the prize for winning the Tennessee Songwriters Week Competition, Lawson admitted that he was shocked when his name got called as the overall winner for the Northeast Tennessee region at The Down Home. Lawson’s flare for creating original music has been opening up major doors for the songwriter. He spoke highly about his experience playing at The Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, saying that he felt like folks there were super supportive, and he was impressed by the other songwriters such as Tyson Leamon and Jacob Rice, who made it clear why they had won for their prospective regions.

A black-and-white photograph of a white male musician wearing a white Stetson-style hat and holding a guitar. He is standing in front of a radio booth.

Chance Lawson at the Radio Bristol studio. © Birthplace of Country Music

Raised playing gospel music at Cross Roads United Methodist Church and taught guitar by his mother, Lawson comes from a family with deep musical roots. His grandfather was celebrated country music star Red Kirk, who made appearances on historic radio programs such as WNOX’s MidDay Merry-Go-Round, WLS’s National Barn Dance, the Louisiana Hayride, and the Grand Ole Opry. With country music and traditions running through his veins one might find it surprising that one of Lawson’s earliest and most impactful influences was The Grateful Dead. He described first hearing “Friend of the Devil” during a hazy car ride and becoming completely hooked on the sound, which to him blended the traditional bluegrass scales he grew up on with a more meandering sideways-hippie-infused sound. Becoming a “Dead Head” seems to have sparked a creative ember for Lawson who then shared a song called “Jerry and Jesus.” The song reads as a thoughtful plea for reconciliation across musical and philosophical boundaries. Lyrics such as “Let’s get along, let’s throw a party tonight…now that’s worth praying for. Let’s make mistakes, that’s how we learn anyways…Who said you can’t love Jerry and Jesus?” offer a heartfelt perspective on merging Lawson’s Tennessee roots with a broader worldview. The seemingly paradoxical inclination to meld stylistic influences from traditional music along with subjective songwriting makes Lawson’s songs a provocative and compelling listen.

While playing in the Radio Bristol studio, Lawson also performed “Happy Man,” the tune that won him the Tennessee Songwriters Week Competition. Inspired by his girlfriend, the catchy song mixes pop sensibilities by blending country twang with rhythm-and-blues vibes…think Bill Withers meets Gary Stewart. The song is refined yet maintains its authenticity. To watch a live performance of the song watch the video below, and be sure to follow Lawson’s music online via his Facebook page.

Chance Lawson performing “Happy Man,” winner of the 2022 Tennessee Songwriters Week Competition.

Ella Patrick is a Production Assistant at Radio Bristol. She also hosts Folk Yeah! on Radio Bristol and is a performing musician as Momma Molasses.

The Way We Worked in Music and Song

Music and work have always gone hand-in-hand. Songwriters often use their craft to reflect the realities of day-to-day life – and for most of us, a big piece of our lives is given over to the time we spend doing our jobs. Therefore, it is no surprise to find songs across genres that tell stories of labor.

Our current special exhibit – The Way We Worked, here at the museum from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service for just a few more days! – inspired the curatorial team to explore the connections between work and music, and in the process gave us a really wonderful playlist of labor-related songs. Check out some of these connections with the songs below and dig a bit deeper into this history with us!

A view of the Special Exhibits Gallery with visitors exploring the stand-up panel modules for The Way We Worked. In the foreground, a man with a dark jacket and a hoodie stands in front of the opening panel.

The Way We Worked on display in the museum’s Special Exhibits Gallery. © Birthplace of Country Music Museum

Songs that reflect different forms of labor or jobs are common in early hillbilly music, as well as in contemporary country. The songs are often particular to the time period in which they were written or look back on the past with nostalgia. Several different types of labor are commonly reflected in hillbilly music – especially farming, timber and lumber work, coal mining, and work on the railways – and those themes are also found in later country music.

Farming

At the turn of the 20th century, almost half of all Americans lived on farms. Farm work and a rural lifestyle was a major part of their lives, though farming for subsistence or profit was – and still is – difficult and uncertain. Artists like Ernest Stoneman sang about that uncertainty. For instance, his 1934 recording “All I Got’s Gone” reflected the impact of the Great Depression on rural people who had bought more than they could afford before it hit, only to lose everything once the stock market crashed so that they had to go back to subsistence farming or survive without much else to support them.

Other songs of the era focused on both the importance and the precariousness of the farming life, songs like Fiddlin’ John Carson’s “The Farmer is the Man (That Feeds Them All)” (1924) and “The Honest Farmer” (1925). Carson’s 1924 recording was later taken up and sung by Pete Seeger as a protest song. One of The Carter Family’s songs – “The Homestead on the Farm” (1929) – is told from the perspective on a man who has left his family farm behind to make his way in the world and remembers it fondly with lyrics like “You could hear the cattle lowing in the lane / You could almost see the fields of bluegrass green.”  Many modern country songs hearken back to the farming days with nostalgia and also celebrate the work that farmers do – for example, “International Harvester” by Craig Morgan (2006) and even “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” by Kenny Chesney (1999)!

Timber

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, abundant and rich natural resources, coupled with low land costs, made Appalachia the site of a major boom in the logging industry. This brought huge changes in land ownership and usage – with land being taken over by outside investors and corporations – and often had devastating environmental and social effects on the region. And it wasn’t just the Appalachians that saw the growth of timber work; other areas of the country (and beyond) have a similar history, and as with farming, songs were sung about this common labor. For instance, the lyrics to “Once More a-Lumbering Go” was written down by a New England lumberman named John Springer in the 1850s, and several versions of the song were later recorded in the field by song collectors and ethnomusicologists. Smithsonian Folkways produced an album in 1961 called Lumbering Songs from the Ontario Shanties, and the library at the University of Wisconsin-Madison created a K-12 lesson plan about Wisconsin’s lumberjack songs. Later artists have also recorded songs about the timber industry, including Johnny Cash’s “The Timber Man” from his 1975 children’s album and Bill Stains with “The Logging Song” (1979).

Coal Mining

Coal mining has been a major part of Appalachian communities for over a century and holds a special place in the economic and environmental history of this region. Therefore, it is only natural that working in coalfields and living in coal towns has provided a source of musical inspiration for many, including songs about the hazards and dangers of this labor and the conflicts between workers and the coal companies that employed them. Blind Alfred Reed’s “Explosion in the Fairmount Mines” (1928) and Hazel Dickens’ “Black Lung” both highlight the very real dangers miners faced, both deep in the mines and after they’ve left them behind.

One of our favorite songs about coal mining is “Sixteen Tons,” written by Merle Travis and recorded by Bristol’s very own Tennessee Ernie Ford in 1955, along with a host of other artists over the years. Travis’s lyrics reflected the bravado of the men who toiled underground in dangerous conditions and then later sometimes came to blows in their down time, but most importantly it also focused on the struggles that miners and their families faced living in a company town and owing their bosses their wages to survive. With lines like “You load sixteen tons, what do you get / Another day older and deeper in debt” and “I owe my soul to the company store,” those economic hardships certainly become clear to the listener. Songs like Florence Reece’s “Which Side Are You On?” Joe Hill’s,” Hazel Dickens’ “They’ll Never Keep Us Down,” and numerous songs about union activist Joe Hill underline the struggle workers’ too often faced for safe working conditions and livable wages.

Railroads

Railroads were also a major industry – and hugely important to the transportation of resources like timber and coal – in the United States in the mid- to late-19th century and early 20th century, and large numbers of Americans worked for the railroad. Train songs were particularly popular in the early 20th century and covered a wide variety of subjects, including railroad construction and changing technology (for example, various songs about John Henry, the “steel-driving man”), rail travel, train bandits, the wandering hobo living life on the rails (Jimmy Rodgers’ “Waiting for a Train,” 1929), and even as a spiritual metaphor within sacred and gospel music (The Carter Family’s “The Little Black Train,” 1937). And sometimes songs turn the usual story on its head – for example, Amythyst Kiah recently recorded “Polly Ann’s Hammer,” a song based on the John Henry tale, though this time told from the perspective of Henry’s wife.

However, railway songs very often focused on train wrecks – an all-too-frequent danger of the early railroading years. Some lamented passengers who lost their lives, but most of them memorialized the crewmen killed in the line of duty on the rails, along with celebrating their heroism. Songs like Henry Whitter’s “Wreck of the Old 97” (1923), Blind Alfred Reed’s “The Wreck of the Virginian” and Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Baker’s “The Newmarket Wreck,” both recorded at the 1927 Bristol Sessions, and “Engine 143” by the Carter Family (1929) share the news of these tragedies in chorus and verse form. Later artists hearken back to these days in song too – for example, “The Great Nashville Railroad Disaster (A True Story),” recorded by David Allan Coe in 1980.

A black-and-white image of a steam locomotive on the railway with the cars behind it derailed from a bridge behind it. Several male workers and bystanders pose in front of the locomotive.

A train wreck near Benhams, Virginia, in the 1920s. Photograph reproduced with permission from the Bristol Historical Association

Work and Music

This post just touches on the tip of the iceberg for songs about work – there are so many out there, and so many themes and topics explored in those songs that there’s not room in one post to cover them all! For instance, just a few include Hattie Burleson’s “Sadie’s Servant Room Blues” (1928), which notes the indignities of work when you are required to work long hours for low pay, while being treated with little respect due to race; Dollie Parton’s “9 to 5” (1980), a beloved movie theme song that was inspired by a women’s activist movement that fought for equal pay and treatment in the workplace; Johnny Paycheck’s “Take This Job and Shove It” (1977), chronicling the frustration of a man who worked for years for little reward – and then, being a country song, he also lost his girlfriend or wife; and Sam Cooke’s “Chain Gang” (1960), a song that reflects the harsh realities of Southern justice through unpaid labor in the Jim Crow era.

You can check out the Virtual Speaker Series presentation we did on this topic in December here, along with three related playlists: here, here, and here! I hope this post and the music it celebrates give you a starting point for exploring the history of work through song!

The Way We Worked special exhibit is on display at the museum through Sunday, January 23 so come see it while it is still here! And tune into our Radio Bristol Book Club show on Thursday, January 27 at 12:00pm as we continue our exploration of work history through a discussion of Denise Giardina’s Storming Heaven, followed by an interview with the author.

René Rodgers is Head Curator at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. Erika Barker is the museum’s Curatorial Manager.

A Celebration of Black Contributions in Country Music

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and organizations in the Tri-Cities area are marking this date with a variety of programs over the course of the month. For instance, later this week, our Museum Talk hosts will be chatting with Richard Josey, founder of Collective Journeys, about his DEAI (Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, Inclusion) work with the Virginia Association of Museums.

We also contributed a country music playlist for the Appalachian Peace Education Center’s MLK Day programs this past weekend. Country music has been influenced by a wide variety of different musical traditions over the years. Enslaved people from Africa brought the knowledge and memory of the banjo – a common instrument in country and bluegrass – with them when they were forcibly transported to these shores. And since its early days in the 1920s, Black artists have contributed to the history and sound of country and old-time music. Our playlist celebrates several of those artists.

Screenshot of the Spotify playlist listing the various Black country artists included on it.

The museum’s Spotify playlist to mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2022.

El Watson, Tarter & Gay, and the Tennessee Chocolate Drops played on early country music recording sessions in East Tennessee (though their songs were categorized at the time as “race records” rather than “hillbilly records”). El Watson was the only African American musician to record at the 1927 Bristol Sessions, putting down two songs: “Narrow Gauge Blues” and “Pot Licker Blues.” He also played bones on a few songs recorded by the Johnson Brothers, and Charles Johnson played guitar on Watson’s recordings – these are some of the earliest integrated recordings in country music. Ralph Peer of the Victor Talking Machine Company came back to Bristol in 1928 to record more musicians from this area, and this time the sole African American act was a duo called Tarter & Gay. As with El Watson, they recorded two sides – “Brownie Blues” and “Unknown Blues” – that were marketed as race records. The Tennessee Chocolate Drops – made up of brothers Howard and Roland Armstrong and Carl Martin – recorded “Knox County Stomp” for Vocalion at the Knoxville Sessions in 1930.

Lesley Riddle worked with A. P. Carter as they traveled around Southern Appalachia to collect songs for The Carter Family to perform and record. He also taught them several songs, including “The Cannon Ball,” and his guitar playing influenced Maybelle Carter’s guitar style. Riddle later moved to Rochester, New York, where he sometimes played music in small venues around the city in the 1960s and 1970s. He met Mike Seeger in 1965 and recorded music for him and performed as part of the urban folk revival.

Elizabeth Cotten, guitarist and banjo player, was an important influence in American folk music; her connection to the Seeger family, especially Mike Seeger, played an important role in her amazing musical talent being recognized and celebrated. Her style and repertoire – based on earlier African American music and instrumental traditions and delivered in her unique left-handed playing – impacted a variety of musicians who followed her. Honored as a National Heritage Fellow in 1984 and winner of a Grammy at the age of 90, the Smithsonian recognized her as a “living treasure” before her passing in 1987.

Black-and-white photograph of Black musician Elizabeth Cotten. She is wearing a light-colored long-sleeve shirt and plays a guitar.

Elizabeth Cotten playing guitar. Credit: Library of Congress

Brownie McGhee, born in Knoxville but raised in Kingsport, made his mark in music locally, but also put down songs for a recording session in Chicago in the 1940s. Alan Lomax later recorded McGhee, providing an important record of his musical talent – and as with other Black musicians whose music intersected with early traditional and old-time music, he was also active in the folk revival. McGhee recorded “Sittin’ Pretty” with fellow artist Sonny Terry.

DeFord Bailey, a talented harmonica player, was the first African American artist to perform on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville in the 1920s. Bailey was nicknamed “the harmonica wizard” by George Hay, WSM’s station manager – one of his most famous pieces on the show was “Pan American Blues,” which recreated the evocative sounds of a locomotive. Bailey recorded for various labels and performed live throughout the South and Midwest, but sadly his music career was curtailed by a business dispute; he later opened a shoeshine parlour.

These early African American performers gave way to later musicians who have made their own mark on country and old-time music. Charley Pride, once a Negro league professional baseball player, rose to fame in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He became a very popular country music star and is one of only three Black members of the Grand Ole Opry. “All I Have to Offer You (Is Me)” was his first number one hit.

This album cover shows an image of Black musician Charley Pride looking off into the distance over green fenced fields and trees. He is wearing a black jacket with a light-colored collared shirt underneath.

Album cover for Charley Pride’s Country, released in 1979 by Reader’s Digest.

Dom Flemons and Rhiannon Giddens are founding members of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, an important Black string band; they now have thriving solo careers. Both artists use their music to illuminate African American histories. In 2018, Flemons released an album focused on Black cowboys through Smithsonian Folkways. He chose to feature “Lonesome Old River Blues,” a song originally recorded by Roy Acuff and the Crazy Tennesseans in the 1930s, on this album in order to illuminate the influence of African American traditions on early country music. Giddens’ musical output has consistently helped to tell the story of the Black experience, and she recently led an all-female banjo “supergroup” called Our Native Daughters that shares African American histories and stories from the female perspective. Her version of “Freedom Highway,” a 1964 Civil Rights protest song, is taken from her second solo studio album and features fellow artist Bhi Bhiman.

Amythyst Kiah, a local musician and singer from Johnson City, Tennessee, did her degree at ETSU in the Bluegrass, Old-Time, and Country Music program and contributed to the exhibit content at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. She is part of the Our Native Daughters group and has recently released a new Rounder Records solo album, Wary + Strange. Her song “Black Myself” was first released on Songs of Our Native Daughters and then re-released on Wary + Strange – the song’s powerful lyrics, coupled with Kiah’s amazing voice, pack a real punch.

Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton is a young singer and multi-instrumentalist originally from the Watts district of Los Angeles, California. His playing styles are akin to pre-WWII blues and jazz in the vein of artists like Fats Waller, Bessie Smith, and Lonnie Johnson. The Southern roots of his grandparents who moved from Louisiana to California in the mid-1950s provided the influence that became his signature sound. The song we feature is “Railroad Bill,” the B-side of a single released on Evangelist Records of London, England, which also happens to be a product of his first-ever professional recording session. Paxton has appeared in the documentary film The American Epic Sessions, as well as voicing a character in the animated miniseries Over the Wall. We have been very lucky to have Paxton play here at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum and the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion Festival.

Texas-born Charley Crockett is a blues, country, and Americana singer-songwriter with 15 albums under his belt starting with 2015’s A Stolen Jewel through to his 2021 release Music City USA. Crockett has been steadily gaining popularity and is an established part of authentic roots music’s current youth movement. Also having appeared at the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, Crockett has garnered a faithful local fanbase. The track “Jamestown Ferry” is a mid-tempo honkytonk number from 2017.

This image shows an African American man playing guitar and singing into a mic on an outdoor stage. He wears a light-colored cowboy hat, sunglasses, and a patterned shirt in blues and greens.

Charley Crockett performing on stage at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion in 2021. © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Billie Wheeler

These African American artists are just a few of those that have made their mark on roots, country, and old-time music. We hope you enjoy our playlist, and that it leads you deeper into this history and music!

About the Authors

René Rodgers is Head Curator at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. Scotty Almany is the museum’s Digital Media, Programming, & Exhibit Logistics Manager.

Radio Bristol’s Best of 2021

Well, 2021 was quite the year. Despite the hardships we all faced, one thing’s for sure – we learned artists are incredibly inspiring at both adapting and creating under difficult circumstances, helping us to navigate through trying times and challenging situations, and for that we are exceedingly grateful. And so, as we step into the new year, Radio Bristol wanted to be sure to share some of our top albums of 2021 with you.

Amidst the isolation of the pandemic, many artists took time off from touring, and quite a few returned with a multitude of creative work. This list highlights some standout records that were in heavy rotation at Radio Bristol in 2021, but is certainly by no means a comprehensive list of all the music that we loved this year. We hope there are some artists listed here that you may not be familiar with. If so, we encourage you to go check them out (just click on the links provided). We bet you’ll love them too! And don’t forget the importance of supporting the arts by purchasing music and merchandise directly from the artist.

Daddy’s Country Gold – Melissa Carper

Melissa Carper’s Daddy’s Country Gold is a rare, sparkling nugget of country music realness. After wandering all over the United States as a working musician, playing breweries, festivals, and street corners, Carper wheeled into Nashville to make 12 of the most thoughtfully executed tunes of 2021. Recorded to tape at Nashville’s vintage gear clad studio, The Bomb Shelter, and produced by Andrija Tokic (Alabama Shakes, Hurray for the Riff Raff), this album offers a warm reel to reel sound, and Carper’s exceptional vocals and timeless songwriting create a country-western meets earthy jazz lounge feeling.

Melissa Carper from a recent performance on Radio Bristol’s Farm and Fun Time singing “Would You Like to Get Some Goats.”

Music City USA – Charley Crockett

Charley Crockett, the “do-it-yourself” cowboy, has officially arrived on the national country music stage with six critically acclaimed self-released albums, millions of YouTube views, and a Grand Ole Opry debut under his belt. Amidst the pandemic, Crockett released Welcome to Hard Times to a growing audience, and with its timely lyrics and hard-core “classic country” production, Crockett’s fanbase expanded exponentially. In 2021 Crockett released two further albums: one a tribute to Texas songwriting legend James Hand, and the other Music City USA. Charlie Crockett amazes us with his ability to turn out high-quality albums at a record pace, and this one is no exception. From the R&B drenched “I Need Your Love” to the witty title track chock-full of commentary on the music industry to the reflective tear-in-my-beer ballad “The World Just Broke My Heart,” Music City USA makes it clear that Crockett is on one heck of a roll!

Over That Road I’m Bound – Joachim Cooder

Layered loops of twinkling Kalimbas over clawhammer banjo and swelling fiddle reels, all nestled among lush vocal harmonies, make this collection of Uncle David Macon tunes recorded by Joachim Cooder on Over That Road I’m Bound absolutely unique and spellbinding. Released on Nonesuch Records, Cooder reveals an atypical approach to old-time music while paying homage to the Opry star and song collector who also bent melodies to his own purposes. And don’t just listen to the record – check out live performances of the songs, which showcase the influence of world and folk music alongside Cooder’s innovative performance style.

Left: Charley Crockett's album cover has a photograph of a young mand with dark and short beard wearing a cowboy hat, suede jacket, and jeans. Right: Joachim Cooder's cover shows a head portrait of a young white man looking back over his shoulder at the camera in a central white circle. He has dark hair and a beard, and he wears a cowboy hat. An overlay of mauve coloration is seen on his portrait.

Album artwork for Charley Crockett’s Music City USA and Joachim Cooder’s Over That Road I’m Bound. 

Long Time Coming – Sierra Ferrell

Currently selling out venues across the country, West Virginia native Sierra Ferrell and her 2021 release Long Time Coming are well worth the hype! Released this past August on Rounder Records, Long Time Coming chronicles unrequited love, thoughts on the struggle of existence, and an un-ending search for genuineness. Co-produced by 10-time Grammy winner Gary Paczosa, and featuring cameo performances by popular bluegrass artists such as Billy Strings and Sarah Jarosz, Ferrell’s album mixes together musical ideas from bluegrass, jazz, and early country to create a sound that seems like it’s being played from the horn of an old Victrola. Now a rising star of the Americana music scene, Ferrell has been igniting music enthusiasts nationwide. We’ve been lucky to work with her numerous times at Radio Bristol!

Blue Blue Blue – Noel McKay

Raised in Lubbock, Texas, Noel McKay’s rust-dusted vocals and reflective and undeniably engaging songwriting makes him a natural successor to legendary Texas songwriters such as Guy Clark who discovered McKay singing at a small venue back in 1993. In Blue Blue Blue, his most recent release, McKay unveils a solid collection of some of the best country-folk around. Accompanied by old-timey fiddles, well-curated acoustic guitar solos, and tasty percussion shuffles, this album is sure to satisfy listeners looking for a real-deal country-and-western sound. McKay’s knack for writing catchy and humorous tunes make listening to Blue Blue Blue an absolute treat.

Left: Album artwork shows a young white woman surrounded by flowers. She has light brown hair and is looking into the distance; she wears a pink-looking top and a big hat. Right: A middle-age white man with dark hair holds a guitar and looks up into the distance.

Album artwork for Sierra Ferrell’s Long Time Coming and Noel McKay’s Blue Blue Blue.

Wary + Strange – Amythyst Kiah

Regional favorite Amythyst Kiah released debut album Wary + Strange on Rounder Records this year, and the album has since exploded onto the Americana music scene. After recording with the all-women-of-color supergroup, Our Native Daughters, and writing the single “Black Myself,” which gained Kiah a Grammy nomination, Wary + Strange was one of our most anticipated albums of 2021. Blaring with alt-rock-tinged summits, alongside virtuosic valleys of old-time inspired fingerpicking and harmonic pedal steel, Kiah’s remarkable powerhouse vocals shine through in expressive vistas of political discourse and raw vulnerability. This album is a must-listen and delivers on every level of musicality.

An intimate performance from Amythyst Kiah at the Radio Bristol studio where she did a debut performance of the song “Firewater” from her 2021 release Wary + Strange on Rounder Records.

Ten Thousand Roses – Dori Freeman

Galax, Virginia-based artist Dori Freeman’s newest release Ten Thousand Roses effortlessly explores a wealth of musical genres including indie, rock, and pop while holding true to her Appalachian roots and distinctive vocal vibrato. Observations about socioeconomics, classism, and the female experience dance across well-crafted melody lines as Freeman once again proclaims her extraordinary talent for songwriting. We’ve been on team Dori for a long time, and it’s been amazing watching her journey.

 Scatter & Gather – Shay Martin Lovette

Recorded at the acclaimed Rubber Room Recording Studio in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with producer Joseph Terrell (Mipso), Shay Martin Lovette’s sophomore album, Scatter & Gather, has been a breakthrough favorite on Radio Bristol this year. The Western North Carolina-native takes you on a sonic journey where bluegrass and progressive indie-folk brush shoulders. The album is embellished with polished folk-rock arrangements and mindful poetics, offering self-actualized philosophies on ecology, relationships, present-ness, and compassion.

Left: Photograph of a young white woman with blond hair, casually pulled back a bit from her forehead. She is staring straight at the camera, and she wears a floral-looking top. She has a tattoo on her right shoulder. Right: Album cover for Shay Martin Lovette's Scatter and Gather shows an artistically created meadow with mountains in the background and a river flowing from the mountains. Rays of color beam out from the top of the mountains.

Portrait of Dori Freeman, and album artwork for Shay Martin Lovette’s Scatter & Gather.

Haywire Duff Thompson

Duff Thompson is co-founder of New Orleans-based label Mashed Potato Records – which records to old Ampex tape and specializes in capturing the glimmering and organic. He recently released his debut album Haywire, a record filled with mindful orchestral arrangements, slapback echo, and swishing stripped-down percussion. This album feels like a Phil Spector pop-infused daydream. Atmospheric standout tracks like “You’re Pretty Good’” and “Sleight of Hand” make it a perfect soundtrack for a lazy day, or one for envisioning positive vibes for the new year.

New Orleans musician Duff Thompson performing “Rock and Roll Will Break Your Heart” in a live session shot this past year in the Radio Bristol studio.

Long Lost – Lord Huron

Materializing seductive country nods way out on the West coast, LA-based band Lord Huron’s newest album Long Lost is a transformational soundtrack. Theatrical strings swirl around a silhouette of hazy Western meets surf rock-inspired guitar lines. Swimming with dreamy vocal harmonies that drift along to a jangling laid-back tambourine, fuzzy radio excerpts introduce the tracks, and accompanying music videos feature mysterious blurred-out faces in classic country attire. Long Lost has created an expansive buzz around the band, which was originally formed in 2010.

 Headwaters – Alexa Rose

Asheville-based artist Alexa Rose’s release Headwaters is a beautiful snapshot inside the mind of a blossoming songwriter. Recorded at Delta-Sonic Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, and produced by Bruce Watson of Big Legal Mess Records, the album displays lucid lyrical realizations amidst a mesmerizing auditory backdrop. Headwaters fuses the droning of heavy progressive rock guitars with Appalachian folk-influenced narrative ballads, creating a fresh approach to the form. This new album has been winning Rose a dedicated following and landing the emerging artist opening slots for major national acts such as Watch House, Hiss Golden Messenger, and Parker Milsap.

Left: Lord Huran album cover shows a painting of a white man wearing a red jacket and brown pants, holding a guitar. His face is blurred out into streaks of color on a blue background. Right: Alexa Rose's album cover is a photograph of a white woman lying down (just her face). She has dark hair and eyes and is staring straight into the camera. The whole image is bathed in blue.

Album artwork for Lord Huron’s Long Lost and Alexa Rose’s Headwaters.

Reckless – Morgan Wade

Growing up in Floyd, Virginia, a town known for its ties to early country music, Morgan Wade absorbed music from an early age while attending bluegrass jams with her grandfather. Now in her mid-20s, this past year Wade signed a major recording contract with Sony and released her debut album Reckless to a growing fanbase. Produced by Sadler Vaden, well known as the lead guitarist for Jason Isbell & the 400 unit, the album merges influences from pop, rock, folk, and country. The album’s pop-country adjacent sound claims new ground by employing hues of late 1980s grunge and authentic songwriting that exposes Wade’s struggle with addiction and mental health.

 Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan! – Aaron Lee Tasjan

Blasting synths and catchy 1980s inspired glam-rocks choruses make the 2021 release Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan! a gleaming cluster of outstanding tunes. Taking sonic cues from the likes of David Bowie and Tom Petty, and combining them with folk storytelling sensibilities, Tasjan has excelled with an innovative take on the craft of songwriting. Introspective lyrics about inner-truth, gender identity, and disillusionment with technology make this album an extremely compelling listen.

Left: Morgan Wade album cover showing a young white woman with blondish-brown hair parted in the middle. She is holding both hands up to her face, covering most of it so you can just really see her eyes. Both hands are heavily tattooed. Right: Aaron Lee Tasjan's album cover shows a young white man with dark hair from mid-thigh up, with the image cut off midway across his head/face. He is wearing a sweater vest with the words "Tasjan Tasjan Tasjan" on it, and there is blue sky and a pink cloud behind him.

Cover artwork for Morgan Wade’s Reckless and Aaron Lee Tasjan’s Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan!.

The Ballad of Dood & Junita – Sturgill Simpson

Following Sturgill Simpson’s wildly successful releases of Grass Cutting Vol I & II, his most recent concept album, The Ballad of Dood & Juanita, is an immersive 27-minute long experience, dedicated to telling the tale of a historical Appalachian couple in a poetic western-inspired fashion. Employing the same group of all-star players from his last two albums – the “Hillbilly Avengers,” comprised of bluegrass heavy hitters such as Sierra Hull, Tim O’Brien, and Stewart Duncan – The Ballad of Dood & Juanita is an alluring stylistic departure from Simpson’s previous recordings.

The Ballad of Dood & Juanita album cover is cream-colored with brown text and line drawing. The drawing is of a man in western gear (cowboy hat, bandana around his neck, shirt and pants, boots) with a horse behind him and a dog by his side. He holds the horse's reins and a shotgun in one hand.

Cover artwork for Sturgill Simpson’s The Ballad of Dood & Juanita.

And so there you have it – just a few of the records that captivated us in 2021. We’d love to hear what caught your ear! We can’t thank you enough for your overwhelming support and for being a part of our community. We look forward to 2022 and talented musicians bringing us another great year of music. We’ll do our best to keep you up-to-date on the most exciting and upcoming talent.

Happy New Year from Radio Bristol!!

Kris Truelsen is the Program Director at Radio Bristol, and Ella Patrick is the Production Assistant at Radio Bristol. Both are also working musicians.

Pick 5: Songs About Writing and Performing Music

For our “Pick 5” blog series, we pick five songs within a given theme – from heartsongs to murder ballads and everything in between! Once the author picks their “5,” they get the chance to tell us more about why they chose those songs – a great way to get some interesting song choices, which might introduce you to some new music, all easily accessible by tuning into Radio Bristol! Today our guest blogger is C. P. McGuire.

As a music major at Western Carolina University, the theme I’ve chosen is near and dear to my heart. When I have time, I love playing my guitar and singing, as well as creating new music to share with everyone. So here are five songs that celebrate writing and performing music!

“Piano Man” (1973) – Billy Joel

Let’s start out with one that everybody should be familiar with: “Piano Man.” Billy Joel wrote this song while working as a piano player in a piano bar, and all the people that he mentions in the song were apparently real people. It truly sounds like nine o’clock on a Saturday, and what really underlines this song’s celebration of performing music is heard primarily in the chorus with the line, “Sing us the song, you’re the Piano Man.” He’s being called to not only sing, but to sings something that will make everyone want to sing along with him.

“Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” (1975) – B. J. Thomas

Had a bad day? Work not treating you right? Your significant other left you? Well, this song, in my opinion, is the perfect remedy. With this song, B. J. Thomas is asking a performer to play another “somebody done somebody wrong song,” which I take as being a long way of saying “play me a sad song”! Even though it is a song about performing music on first listen, I feel like we might all need songs like this sometimes, just like Thomas needed to hear a sad, sad song.

“Wrote A Song for Everyone” (1969) – Creedence Clearwater Revival

Written in the midst of the Vietnam War in the late 1960s, this song is a call for truth, probably asking President Nixon why we were still fighting this war that was going nowhere. Lead singer John Fogerty is calling for everyone to get together in peace, and this song seems to be dedicated to everybody that agrees and wants to find their voice. I think that is an admirable thing to write a song about, and I am very happy this song exists.

“Making Memories” (1975) – Rush AND “From Rochdale to Ocho Rios” (1978) – 10cc

I couldn’t decide between these two songs about performing music – actually about touring – so they come together in one choice together! The first song, “Making Memories,” is about having fun on tour and enjoying the entire experience without dwelling on the negatives. With lyrics like “Our memories remind us, maybe road life’s not so bad,” it’s hard to believe that Rush would ever truly dislike touring. 10cc’s song “From Rochdale to Ocho Rios,” on the other hand, makes the band seem to like performing on tour, but makes traveling sound very tiresome and homesick-inducing with lines like, “you spend half your life in transit, but that’s just the way God planned it.” No matter how performers think of touring, whether they’re positive like Rush or more pessimistic or jaded like 10cc, they are still performing, and that’s a living for them.

 

“I Wanna Learn a Love Song” (1974) – Harry Chapin

And finally, a song about learning how to play music. This song is about Harry Chapin teaching his future wife how to play the guitar. Although married already, she hired him to teach her guitar to play for her kids. However, she insisted that he teach her a love song and was more interested in hearing him play. This song, again, just mentions performing, but I think that it is fascinating to hear how these two grew a relationship and got close because of the power of music.

C. P. McGuire is a music major at Western Carolina University. He worked with the Birthplace of Country Music Museum as an honors student, writing this blog post, creating social media posts, and researching museum programming ideas.