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A Blog of Soundtracks and Books

Connections between the Hunger Games and Appalachian Traditions and Music in the Hunger Games

By Erika Barker, Curatorial Manager


Sometimes people discover new passions in unexpected places. The 2023 release of the movie adaptation of The Hunger Games: A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, is helping introduce new audiences to Appalachian culture and country music. Although it might be surprising that a dystopian young adult novel about children being forced to fight to the death could even loosely be based on real cultural and physical landscapes, this is not the first time a Hunger Games book has sparked a conversation about Appalachia. 

The first Hunger Games book was released in 2008 and spent more than 100 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Since then, the series has been translated into 52 languages and sold over 100 million copies worldwide. The first three books have won a combined 77 literary awards with the film series grossing over $3.3 billion worldwide and is the 20th highest-grossing film franchise of all time. The books are about a totalitarian country that forces two teenagers from each of its subjugated districts to fight as tributes in a highly publicized battle to the death called the Hunger Games. The Hunger Games are an annual reminder of the Capitol’s power and the failed rebellion of previous generations from the districts. Although the series is fictional, through the popularity of these books, and their respective movies, a wider audience has been subtly introduced to some of the places, people, and music that makes Appalachia unique.

So, how does the Hunger Games make people think about Appalachia? Well, Suzanne Collins’s fictional country of Panem is set in North America at an unspecified date in the future after an apocalyptic event has left the continent with little resemblance to the Americas we know today. The country is divided into a Capitol and 13 districts. Each district has a distinctive export that symbolizes that region, such as luxury items, textiles, grain, livestock, fishing, or electronics. Katniss Everdeen, the protagonist of the original trilogy and Lucy Gray Baird, a protagonist in the prequel, A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes are both from District 12, a district centered around coal mining. These two characters give us a glimpse at the fictionalized traditions inspired by real Appalachian people. Here are just a few examples of real Appalachian music, landscape, and cultural connections found in the world of The Hunger Games. 

Two images show a group of coal miners walking forward in the open. The image on the left is a scene from the 2012 Hunger Games movie and shows citizens from Panem wearing helments, dark clothing, and carrying lunch boxes. The image on the right features a historical image of coal miners in the same setting from the mid 20th century.
Left: Still of miners from District 12 in The Hunger Games (2012) film. Right: Miners Line Up to Go Into the Elevator Shaft at the Virginia-Pocahontas Coal Company Mine #4 near Richlands, Virginia. This media is available in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration, cataloged under the National Archives Identifier (NAID) 556338.

Mining and southern stereotypes 

District 12 is based in the southern Appalachian region, an area that has historically produced and exported coal as a resource across the country.  Several movie scenes were filmed in North Carolina where interested fans and movie buffs can visit those locations and experience the natural beauty of the region firsthand. Although Katniss and Lucy Gray both think fondly of the woods and natural landscapes of the district, they are not blind to the plight of the people living there. 

District 12 is the poorest district, with industry centered on coal mining. Throughout all three Hunger Games books and the prequel, many citizens of Panem look down on District 12. Outsiders talk about the district in ways that resemble the real-life negative stereotypes often placed on the people of Appalachia

In Appalachia, the coal industry has sustained mountain communities for over a century despite being a notoriously dangerous profession. In addition to being an intensely physically demanding job, occupational hazards such as collapses, explosions, accidents, and ailments like Black Lung disease have ensured coalfield communities are consistently among the least healthy. Oppressive business practices, like those portrayed in the Hunger Games reflected in the Capitol’s treatment of District 12, led to even worse living conditions and quality of life for coal miners and their families. 

Beyond the surface-level similarities between the fictional and real-world regions, there is also a strong underlying similarity in the history of resilience and resistance found in the people of Appalachia. It is fitting that the location of the West Virginia Mine Wars was the inspiration for the birthplace of the girl who was brave enough to defy the Capitol with compassion and spark a revolution.

Protest Music

Appalachia has a strong tradition of turning current events, especially tragic events, into songs. In A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Lucy Gray Baird writes a song after witnessing a hanging. Lucy Gray’s “The Hanging Tree” is reminiscent of Florence Reece’s Which Side Are You On,” which Reece wrote after a raid on her house during the Harlan Country Wars. The song became a popular protest song and has been used for many causes since. In the same way, Katniss Everdeen sings Lucy Gray’s “The Hanging Tree” over 60 years later, turning the tune into the anthem of a revolution. Just like how music reaches people on an emotional level, often inspiring them to action in the books, music has been used as an outlet for frustrations and a rallying cry for solutions throughout much of Appalachian’s history. 

Video: Black Lung was written by Hazel Dickens about her brother’s struggle with the miner’s disease.

Balladry

Murder Ballads are one of the most popular forms of balladry in folk music today. Ballads are a narrative form of songwriting that tells a story, in this case, one of murder. The book, A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, is written in much the same way as a traditional murder ballad and explores many of the same themes commonly found within the genre. Murder ballads often expose the weakness of humanity in much the same way Coriolanus Snow realizes the brutality of hunger games in the books. 

The Carter Family

To the left is a promotional black and white photo of the Carter Family holding guitars and facing the camera. AP Carter is seated in the middle sitting on decorative furniture while Maybelle and Sara are standing on both sides of AP. Sarah and Maybelle are both holding guitars. The image on the right features a scene of a young women holding a vintage Gibson guitar and singing on a dimly lit stage, a scene from the recent film.
A publicity still of The Carter Family – Maybelle holds her Gibson L-5 guitar. From the collection of the Center for Popular Music, Middle Tennessee State University. Still of Rachel Zegler as Lucy Gray Baird in The Hunger Games: A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.

The early country music scene of the 1920s and 1930s is easily spotted in the dance scenes at the Seam – referring to the most distressed area of district 12 – in A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Collins even pays homage to The Carter Family when Maude Ivory sings “Keep on The Sunny Side.” While many of the songs are inspired by the real music of Appalachia but written as originals for the books and movies, “Keep on the Sunny Side” is one of the few cover songs that make an appearance. Lucy Gray’s vintage Gibson L-10 guitar is another notable nod to the Carter Family. While Lucy Gray’s guitar may not be the exact same model, it is clear that an effort was made to match Mother Maybelle’s iconic guitar.

The soundtrack

Much like the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack from 2008, the 2023 soundtrack for A Ballad of Song Birds and Snakes is making waves and bringing new attention to country music styles. Many roots and Americana musicians are represented on the soundtrack including Billy Strings, Sierra Ferrell, Charles Wesley Godwin, Bella White. Molly Tuttle contributed her version of another Carter Family classic, “Bury Me Beneath the Willow,” which they first recorded at the 1927 Bristol Sessions! Tuttle also lends her guitar skills to the character of Lucy Gray. She and Dominick Leslie provided the guitar and mandolin parts for much of the film. 

May the music be ever in your favor.

Erika Barker is the Curatorial Manager at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. 

The Power of Music: Five Songs for Civil Rights

January 15th is recognized as Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In recognition of Dr. King’s important work and fight for the equal rights of  black Americans during the Civil Rights movement, this blog details the music of the movement.  Originally  posted on December 29, 2018 and written by Rene Rodgers. 


Here at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, we’ve spent the past month and a half exploring the power and impact of visual imagery through the NEH on the Road exhibit For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights (on display until January 7, 2019). But we’re a music museum, and one thing we know for sure: music has power and impact too.

And that is certainly true when you think about the music of the Civil Rights movement. Many of these songs had their origins in traditional hymns and African American spirituals, and while they weren’t all originally about freedom and social justice, their message was clearly relevant. Some were also revised to include new lyrics that spoke directly to the issues people were facing, such as voting rights. Others grew out of the musicians’ personal experiences or observations of the discrimination around them.  These songs – often and rightfully called anthems – inspired determination and bravery, helped to lessen fears and steady nerves, focused activists’ passion and energy on the task at hand, and acted as motivators to protesters and observers alike. They were delivered by professional musicians and groups like the Freedom Singers, but more importantly they became the unified voice of ordinary people displaying extraordinary courage at rallies, marches, and protests and in churches, meetings, and workshops.

The album cover shows the CORE logo, the title, and a series of music notes in the form of diner counter stools.
The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) produced a record of “sit-in songs” in 1962, which included “We Shall Overcome.” The musical notes are in the form of diner counter stools. This record went along with the Freedom Highways project, when activist volunteers worked to integrate chain restaurants along the main federal highways. Image from https://library.duke.edu/exhibits/johnhopefranklin/civilrights.html

There are many accounts of this music history and the songs of the Civil Rights struggle in books, audio collections, and films such as Strange Fruit: The Biography of a Song, We Shall Overcome: A Song That Changed the World, Let Freedom Sing: The Music of the Civil Rights Movement, Sing for Freedom: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement Through Its Songs, Voices of the Civil Rights Movement: Black American Freedom Songs, 1960-1966, Freedom Song: Young Voices and the Struggle for Civil Rights, and Soundtrack for a Revolution (screened at the museum in November). All of these are worth exploring to get a better understanding of the place and significance of music in the fight for civil rights over the years.

A blog post about this music would be incredibly long – it’s a long and interesting history and each song has a story! And so, we’ve chosen just five songs that highlight the power of this music, including a brief history or description of each, to get you started on an incredibly inspiring musical journey.

“Uncle Sam Says,” Josh White (1941)

Josh White’s 1941 record Southern Exposure: An Album of Jim Crow Blues, co-written with poet Waring Cuney, was called “the fighting blues” by author Richard Wright, who wrote its liner notes. One of its songs, “Uncle Sam Says,” highlighted the frustration felt by African Americans when faced with the continuing effects of Jim Crow even as they fought and gave their lives for their country. It was inspired by White’s visit to his brother at Fort Dix in New Jersey where he saw the segregated barracks and unequal treatment of the black servicemen. After the album was released, White was invited by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the White House for a command performance, the first black artist to do so.

“This Little Light of Mine,” Rutha Mae Harris

For many of us, “This Little Light of Mine” is a song of our childhood sung at school or church. But the song has a much more interesting history within the Civil Rights movement and beyond as a “timeless tool of resistance” – check out this NPR piece from August 2018 that celebrated the song as a true “American Anthem.” The song, both a spiritual popular in the black churches and a folk song, became even more impactful when it was employed by Civil Rights protesters and activists who often personalized the lyrics to the situation or as a way to name the oppressors they were facing. Original Freedom Singer Rutha Mae Harris demonstrates the energy and power of the song as she leads a contemporary group in its verses at the Albany Civil Rights Institute:

“I Shall Not Be Moved,” The Harmonizing Four (1959)

This African American spiritual is based on Jeremiah 17:8—9, reflecting the idea that the singers’ faith in God will keep them strong and steadfast. The song became a popular resistance anthem during the Civil Rights movement, especially in relation to sit-ins; it was also used as a labor union protest song. As with “This Little Light of Mine,” the lyrics were sometimes altered to speak to the specific cause. Maya Angelou’s poetry collection I Shall Not Be Moved was named after the song.

“Why Am I Treated So Bad?,” The Staple Singers (1966)

The Staple Singers met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963 after a performance in Montgomery, Alabama. Roebuck “Pops” Staples, the band’s patriarch, said afterwards: “I really like this man’s message. And I think if he can preach it, we can sing it.” The group went on to write and perform many Civil Rights songs, including “March Up Freedom’s Highway” and “Washington We’re Watching You.” “Why Am I Treated So Bad” was written in reference to the treatment of the nine African American children at the forefront of integration in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957. It became a particular favorite of King’s and was often sung before he spoke to a crowd.

“We Shall Overcome,” Mahalia Jackson (1963)

One of the most well-known songs of the Civil Rights movement, “We Shall Overcome” exemplifies the resilience, determination, and hope of the activist leaders and the everyday protesters alike. Its origins stretch back to the early 20th century with Charles Tindley’s “I Will Overcome.” Striking workers took up the song in the 1940s, later sharing it with Zilphia Horton at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, a center for social justice and activism. White and black activists came together at Highlander for workshops and planning during the Civil Rights movement, and some of that work involved learning songs and how to employ them in protests. Musical director Guy Carawan learned a version of the song from Pete Seeger; Carawan later introduced the song at the founding convention of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. (To hear Candie Carawan talk about the work at Highlander and the power of music during the Civil Rights movement, check out December 19’s archived On the Sunny Side show on Radio Bristol; her interview is towards the end of the show.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vTyKJjj2oC0

Finally, did you know that there is a connection between Carter Family favorite “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” and civil rights? The song has been sung by various activist musicians, including Jimmy Collier and the Movement Singers and Freedom Singer Bernice Johnson Reagon, and an audio history of the Civil Rights movement takes the song title on as its name.

Rene Rodgers is the Head Curator of the Birthplace of Country Music Museum.

Round Two: Ashli’s Top 5 Bristol Rhythm Must-Sees

By Ashli Linkous, Marketing Specialist & Photographer


It’s almost time for my second festival as a staff member here at the Birthplace of Country Music, so here’s year two of Ashli’s “Must Sees” at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, coming up this week on September 8-10th, 2023!

Larkin Poe

When I heard that Larkin Poe was on this year’s lineup, I was stoked! I grew up listening to rock music, so I’ve always had a soft spot for anything rock and roll. The sister duo’s unique sound is a melting pot of blues, gritty southern rock, gospel, and even bluegrass and old-time country music. It’s not surprising that the sisters draw from such genres as bluegrass and old-time – you may remember when the sisters were in an acoustic trio called The Lovell Sisters. Personal favorites from Larkin Poe are “Kick the Blues,“Mississippi”, and “Deep Stays Down.” They headline Cumberland Square Park Stage on Saturday, September 9th at 10:00 PM! Don’t miss it! This show will be such a vibe with the atmosphere of the Cumberland Square Park stage lights at night!

Promotional image of the duo Rebecca and Megan Lovell of Larkin Poe. Two women are facing the camera and holding instruments. The women on the left is holding a light pink guitar with glitter and wearing a brown fringe western jacket. The woman on the right is holding an instrument and wearing a black sleeveless shirt with shiny patterned pants. Both women are sitting on a fuzzy yellow blanket in front of a colorful orange and yellow background.
Rebecca and Megan Lovell of Larkin Poe.

Sons of the East

I learned about Australian based indie-folk band Sons of the East when they made their way through Bristol in 2022. They played at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino last October and came to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum for a spur of the moment tour the next day. I’ve been hooked ever since! For fans of Bristol Rhythm alumni such as CAAMP and Rainbow Kitten Surprise, this band is a must see! Trust me, you’ll be bragging about seeing them at Bristol Rhythm in a year or two. We are lucky enough to have them play twice for us: opening the State Street Stage on Friday, September 8th at 5:00 PM and on the Piedmont Stage on Saturday, September 9th at 3:45 PM! Personal favorites are On My Way,” Millionaire,” and “Into the Sun.” 

Three young men are posing and smiling for a promotion image of their band. The man on the far left is smiling and wearing a white button up shirt and jeans. The man in the middle is wearing a brown shirt and jeans and leaning down towards the camera, his hair is in his face. The man on the far right is leaning against a yellow wall behind the other two men, and wearing a blue button up shirt with a white tee shirt with the text “NYC” on the shirt.
Australian indie folk trio formed in 2011 by Nic Johnston, Dan Wallage, and Jack Rollins.

Arcy Drive

If you loved Briston Maroney’s Sunday set (or missed out and heard about it later) at last year’s festival, then you have to add Arcy Drive to your list! This four piece band has dubbed their music “attic rock,” and have racked up accolades such as Luck Reunion’s Southwest Air “Artist on the Rise” winner. They recently embarked on their first sold out headlining tour, so it’s going to be awesome to have this band make a stop in Bristol before they absolutely blow up, because they definitely will! Personal favorites are Roll My Stone,” “Smoke & Fire,” and their newest release “Wicked Styley.” They play Cumberland Square park Stage on Saturday, September 9th at 4:00 PM.

 A black and white image of 4 young men in the back of a vehicle. The men are all smiling and have their arms around one another. The men are wearing t-shirts and hoodies.
Promotional image of the band Arcy Drive.

HAPPY LANDING

If you are in search of a feelgood band that will get you on your feet, then look no further! Perhaps the band I am most excited to see at this year’s festival, HAPPY LANDING is a folk rock band that hails from Oxford, Mississippi. If you like bands such as The 502s, The Head And The Heart, or Oliver Hazard, or The Backseat Lovers, you should make plans to be at Cumberland Square Park on Saturday, September 9th at 2:00 PM. Personal favorites are “Love Your Guts, “October,” and “Carry On, Carry On.”

Five people are wearing blue, or white, or orange jumpsuits and are jumping in mid air on a beach.
Promotional image of HAPPY LANDING.

Holy Roller

Back in July I got a taste of Richmond, Virginia based band Holy Roller at our Road to Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion show and I’ve been listening nonstop ever since. Their energetic live show blew me away. Their fans in the Richmond music scene showed up in droves and sang every word to their songs. The strength of their local fan base felt very similar to the momentum 49 Winchester was gaining right here in Southwest Virginia back in 2021. I feel that Holy Roller will likely find a similar path to success in the coming months/years. With a sound combining southern rock, Americana, folk, and country, personal favorites are “Flat Track Fire,” “Honey Where’d You Sleep,” and “Muscle Up.” They play for us twice: Friday, September 8th at 6:00 PM on the Lauderdale Stage and Saturday, September 9th at 3:00 PM on 6th Street. I would make plans to see both.

A fun group image of the band Holler Roller. The group consists of six men and one woman, they are all sitting on a porch with their arms around each other. The man on the far left is holding a white dog in his lap. Everyone is wearing colorful clothing and smiling and laughing.
Promotional image of Holler Roller.

You can buy tickets to Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion right now at a special rate! Our prices rise at the festival gates, so buy early and save!! We also offer discounted weekend tickets for groups of 10+ at $100 each! Visit BristolRhythm.com for more information.

Ashli Linkous is a Marketing Specialist & Photographer at the Birthplace of Country Music, Inc. and an avid music lover!

Radio Bristol Spotlight: The Dimestore Cowboys

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 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. In expanding upon Radio Bristol’s core mission we are pleased to bring you our latest series – Radio Bristol Spotlight. 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 the richest, and most unique musical landscapes in the world.

A few different names, 15 years of performing, and two lead singers later, The Dimestore Cowboys have re-emerged as a major player in the Tri-cities music scene. Originally known as JB Five and Dime, the band was started as a passion project between bass player and songwriter, Jason Shaffer and his long time singing buddy James Brashears. The two began playing at local watering holes and small venues around 2008, and shared lots of music and good times.  

 A promotional image of the group The Dimestore Cowboys. A group of six musicians are posing all facing the camera and looking into the lens. They are sitting on an old 1970’s style floral couch next to an old large TV with amps and other miscellaneous music equipment surrounding them. The lighting is moody and dark, no one is smiling. Members of the group are dressed in rustic western attire and dark clothing.
The Dimestore Cowboys. Left to right: Jason Vaper, Julia Wilson, Torrey Warren, Jason Shaffer, Adilene Delgado, and Travis Bentley

However, with the onset of the pandemic, the band came to a screeching halt causing the lead singer of the group to step down to refocus on work and family. The Dimestore Cowboys reformulated with a new line up adding frontman Travis Bentley, harmony vocalist and fiddle player Julia Wilson, Adilene Delgado on drums, lead guitarist Torrey Warren, and Jason Vaper on keys. Shaffer, the only original member remaining, has continued to be a driving force within the band and currently shares songwriting duties with Bentley. Shaffer was raised in Hiltons, VA just a few miles from the Carter Family Fold, and cites The Carter Family and old mountain music as a major inspiration for his writing. Travis Bentley grew up singing gospel music in church just outside of Bristol in Hickory Tree, TN and possesses a velvety twang that will make your hair stand on end. When not playing out, you can find Shaffer working at the well known local music store Campbell’s Morrell Music.

With their new line up in place the band has exploded onto the scene scoring high profile gigs opening for acts such as Mark Chestnut, Laid Back Country Picker, Tan and Sober Gentlemen, and is slated to be on the lineup for Bristol Rhythm and Roots this coming September. With two electric guitars, a Fender Rhodes organ, and fiddle in toe the band has some major grit with plenty of old school vibes. Shaffer says the talents of the new group and vocal harmonies between Travis and Julia have been taking the band to the next level. In 2022 Dimestore Cowboys released a new album aptly titled Let’s Try This Again recorded mixed and mastered by Mike Stephenson at Classic Recording Studio in downtown Bristol, VA. 

A stand out track from the new record, Appalachian Troubadour displays major radio playability dealing with themes of classism in Appalachia, spirituality, and the pressure of social norms. Listening to the new record you can’t help but feel like you’re hearing the next big band to emerge from the growing country music scene in the region which has recently birthed major talent such as 49 Winchester and Amythyst Kiah. Listeners can also hear influences from bands such as The Drive By Truckers and American Aquarium. You can listen to their latest release by visiting The Dimestore Cowboy’s bandcamp. 

Currently the group is working on a second release which is due out this coming Fall, and are looking to tour more extensively. This summer has proved to be busy for The Cowboys, with regional festivals, theater shows, and outdoor events. Follow their music and tour schedule by visiting their Facebook.

Quick-Witted Women: Comedy and Country Music

Left to right: Promotional images of Roni Stoneman as “Ida Lee” from Hee Haw from the Birthplace of Country Music Museum archives, Sarah Ophelia Colley Cannon as Minnie Pearl sporting her signature hat and price tag courtesy of the Grand Ole Opry archives and Cynthia Mae Carver as Cousin Emmy courtesy of Georgia State University Digital Collections

Toni Doman-Vandyke is Grants Coordinator and Curatorial Specialist at the Birthplace of Country Music


August 16th is National Tell A Joke Day! Comedy and country music have a long and enduring history. From the extravagant days of vaudeville variety act performances in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to early barn dance radio programs of the 1930s, comedians and musicians were regularly featured.

A graphic image of a logo for the program Hee Haw. The graphic is a mule wearing a yellow straw hat, with droopy eyes and prominent large teeth. The mule is smiling and underneath of the mule to to right are the words “hee haw”
The logo for the television show Hee Haw, a variety show featuring country music and humor in the fictional “Kornfield Kounty”

Comedians brought their wit be it silly, old-fashioned, and sometimes crude – to the stage to entertain audiences, oftentimes with humor focused on a rural country lifestyle. Some of the first comedians to be a part of the WSM’s Grand Ole Opry program in the 1930s included Sarie and Sally, a female comedic duo, and arguably the Opry’s most well-known comedian, Minnie Pearl, who later went on to be a cast member of Hee Haw, which ran for 25 seasons from 1969 until 1993. Humor can break down boundaries, engage and entertain people, and has the ability to connect listeners and audiences deeply through a shared experience of laughter. Comedy is deeply intertwined with the genres of and relating to country music, with many memorable funny and satirical songs by musicians through the years. Today contemporary artists still carry on the tradition of writing ironic, satirical and humorous songs.

I’m a huge fan of side-splitting country songs, with some of my earliest musical memories include “discovering” Ray Stevens and “The Mississippi Squirrel Revival“,and listening to every whimsical goofy tune by Roger Miller (personal favorite: “My Uncle Used to Love Me But She Died). Upon doing research for this blog post, I found that most “funny country songs” are written and performed by male artists. However, female performers – despite historically facing challenges, such as the assumption that women aren’t funny and gender discrimination surrounding what might be appropriate for a female performer to sing or speak about on stage – have made their comic mark in the country genre too. Therefore, to celebrate National Tell a Joke Day, here’s a roundup of music and stories by some of my favorite funny female country music comedians and entertainers. From Cousin Emmy to Dolly Parton, women have been getting the last laugh for years!

Lulu Belle and Scotty – “Store Bought Teeth”
How are false teeth like stars?
They come out at night!

This novelty song about “store bought teeth” by Lulu Belle (born Myrtle Eleanor Cooper) and Scotty Wiseman features comical lyrics of problems that might just occur should you have fake teeth and you dig into the taffy candy (not advised). Lulu Belle and Scotty were known as “The Sweethearts of Country Music” first meeting one another on the WLS National Barn Dance in the mid 1930s. Together they both had successful careers in country music performing across the Midwest and even appeared in seven films.

“Well a feller called and said his name was Slim, and he wanted me to work for him
And I said boy I always aim to please
So I signed upon the dotted line and everything was just going fine
Then he led me to a 90 foot trapeze

Well he handed me some kites like them folks wear
And he pulled me way up in the air
Then hollered “hang on by your teeth and wait!”
And then it happened the things I feared
When the screaming stopped and the dust had cleared
The only thing hanging was my plate

Store bought teeth and taffy candy
Store bought teeth and taffy candy”

Cousin Emmy on Pete Seeger’s Rainbow Quest
What kind of music do balloons hate?
Pop.

Cynthia Mae Carver, known professionally as Cousin Emmy, began playing music as a young girl, mastering the fiddle, banjo, guitar, harmonica, ukulele, and musical saw, and even playing music on a rubber glove. She performed on local radio stations, and in 1935 she won the National Old Time Fiddlers’ Contest, which brought her better gigs and eventually larger radio markets in Knoxville, Tennessee, and St. Louis, Missouri. Very few recorded performances exist of Cousin Emmy, though this excerpt from the 1944 film Swing in the Saddle by Lew Landers features one of her stage performances during her career heyday. The video below features another rare recording from Pete Seeger’s Rainbow Quest, a program focused on folk music. At mark 7:30 of the video, you can catch Cousin Emmy playing “You Are My Sunshine” on the rubber glove!

Roni Stoneman – “Going Up Cripple Creek”
How can you tell the difference between all the banjo songs?
By their names.

Veronica “Roni” Stoneman is an accomplished banjo player and comedian, and she was a long-time cast member of Hee Haw from 1972 to 1990, known for playing the skillet-wielding “Ida Lee Nagger” character, as seen in this YouTube clip. She is the 14th child and youngest daughter of Ernest and Hattie Stoneman, old-time artists who recorded at the 1927 Bristol Sessions. With a career spanning a lifetime in music and stage performances, Roni is a true entertainer. This video of “Going Up Cripple Creek” features a performance by the Stoneman Family from 1967, with Roni playing the banjo with a stoic attitude and expression-less face, totally out of character (but still a hilarious performance) from her normal upbeat and energetic stage personality.

Mother Maybelle and The Carter Sisters – “Well I Guess I Told You Off”
Did you hear about the cow that tried to jump the fence and missed?
Utter disaster.

Some of my absolute favorite funny recordings feature Mother Maybelle Carter and The Carter Sisters with  tunes like Root Hog Or Die, Too Old To Cut the Mustardand “Well I Guess I Told You Off” when sisters Helen, June, and Anita each take turns singing lines of the chorus. Their amusing performances always make me laugh! 

The three daughters of Maybelle Carter began performing with her publicly as The Carter Sisters after the original Carter Family (A. P., Sara, and Maybelle) disbanded in 1943. The Carter Sisters appeared on numerous radio and television shows, performed live, and became regulars on the Grand Ole Opry. June, in particular, honed her comedic skills with the group, bringing a folksy charm and humor to many of their stage performances.

“If brains were thousand dollar bills
I’d tell you what we’d bet
You wouldn’t have enough
To buy a cup of coffee yet

Well, that ain’t the way I heared it
But here’s a thought for you
Your’s might as well be coffee grounds
For all the thinking they’ll do

Well I guess I told you off
That ought to hold you for a spell
Furthermore if you don’t like it
You can pack tonight, get out of sight
And go jump in the well!”

Dolly Parton – Songwriter and Storyteller
“I’m not offended by all the dumb blonde jokes because I know I’m not dumb…and I also know that I’m not blonde.” – Dolly Parton

Finally, this clip features legendary living musician and singer-songwriter Dolly Parton, highlighting her character and charisma through humor and storytelling – a regular hallmark of her shows and appearances. With a successful career spanning over 50 years, she released her first album Hello I’m Dolly, in February of 1967, which included her first hit, Dumb Blonde,” a song that called out female stereotypes. Soon after she was invited to be the regular “girl singer” on The Porter Wagoner Show. At the six-minute mark in the video below, Dolly dives into a witty and humorous tale as a guest on The Tonight Show, cracking the entire audience up by the end of her tale. 

If you liked the female artists and their featured funny songs, check out these additional hilarious comedic country songs by female artists: 

Will the Circle Be Unbroken? History of a Song

By Ed Hagen, Gallery Assistant and guest blogger

There is a dance floor inside of the Birthplace of Country Music Museum that features the song “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” playing over and over and sung by a mix of modern and old-time country artists. Toward the end of the looping video, John Carter Cash explains that the “circle” is music itself. In that sense “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” is a homage to the pioneers of country music and a salute to current artists who honor these diverse roots. The circle is unbroken because the music is handed down from generation to generation. 

Album artwork for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s 1972 album “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”. The album has a white background with an unnamed military officer in the center, with both American and Confederate flags surrounding the officer. Names of musicians featured on the album are written in cursive handwriting on each side of the profile of the unnamed man. The words "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" are clearly visible in large lettering at the top of the image, and the words "music forms a new circle" is written at the bottom of the image.
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s 1972 album “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” cover

The song has had that association for many years now, perhaps starting with the release in 1972 of the Will the Circle Be Unbroken album by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, a 1960s California jug band that had gone electric and was at that time best known for covering Jerry Jeff Walker’s Mr. Bojangles. Will the Circle Be Unbroken was their seventh album and came about when band member John McEuen asked bluegrass musician Earl Scruggs and legendary guitarist Doc Watson if they would record with the band. One thing led to another, and many of country music’s biggest stars – including Roy Acuff, Jimmy Martin, Maybelle Carter, Merle Travis, Vassar Clements, Randy Scruggs, Pete “Oswald” Kirby, and Norman Blake signed up for the project. It was a collaboration of two culturally different generations of musicians, traditional Grand Ole Opry stars and a group of hippies that Acuff described as “a bunch of long-haired West Coast boys” (Maybelle called them – affectionately – the “dirty boys”). By all accounts, the generation gap was bridged and new friendships were made, not to mention the incredible music. The album was a crossover success, introducing many folks to traditional country music, and in 1997 the original album was certified platinum. 

Since its release, the song has become an inspiration for intergenerational celebrity get-togethers. When the song is called at any local museum jam sessions, everyone sings the chorus, and the emotion in the room is palpable. 

A black and white image of lyrics to the song "Will the Circle Be Unbroken".
A hymnal page of the song “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” dated 1907 courtesy of hymnary.org

The original version of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” was a hymn written in 1907 by Ada R. Habershon, with music by Charles H. Gabriel. It is long out of copyright, and so we freely reproduce the sheet music here. According to hymnary.org, the song peaked in popularity just before World War II, when it appeared in about 20% of hymnals in use. It is down to about 7% today. Based on conversations I have had, the number is higher here in East Tennessee.

Note that the words and melody of the verses in the original hymn depart substantially from the way it is usually sung today (although the refrain is very close). That’s because A. P. Carter rewrote the song when The Carter Family recorded it in 1935. 

Victor producer Ralph Peer used to tell A. P. and his other folk and country artists to avoid recording songs heard on the radio, but to collect traditional music that could be modified and copyrighted. A. P. may have thought it was a traditional song. Perhaps to differentiate it a bit more, the Carter version was retitled as “Can the Circle Be Unbroken” (though nobody uses that title anymore).

The sentiment conveyed in both versions is that we have all lost loved ones, but that they have gone to a better place where we will see them again. It is interesting to compare the two versions of the song. Habershon’s version admonishes the listener to take the Christian view of family loss:

A black and white image of The Carter Family. Three people are facing the camera, A.P. Carter is wearing a blazer and vest, looking toward the camera. Sarah Carter is to his left and is standing facing the camera. She is holding an autoharp and wearing a dress. Maybelle Carter is sitting holding an archtop guitar and looking into the lens. All three individuals have a slight smile to their faces.
A promotional photo of The Carter Family taken by the Victor Talking Machine Company circa 1928. Left to right: A.P. Carter, Maybelle Carter, and Sarah Carter.

You remember song of heaven
Which you sang with childish voice,
Do you love the hymns they taught you,
Or are songs of earth your choice?

The Carter version, recorded and released in 1935, focuses on the painfulness of the loss:

Oh, I followed close behind her
Tried to hold up and be brave
But I could not hide my sorrow
When they laid her in the grave

Can the Circle Be Unbroken” also focuses on the death of a beloved mother rather than family members in general (as in the original hymn). In any event, it is not surprising that the more emotional Carter version won people’s hearts. Roy Acuff used the Carter lyrics when he recorded it in 1940, and that eventually became the standard version. You can listen to different versions of the song via the YouTube links below. 

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – Will The Circle Be Unbroken

The Carter Family – Will The Circle Be Unbroken

Will The Circle Be Unbroken Vol.2/Nitty Gritty Dirt Band/Johnny Cash/Ricky Skaggs

Ed Hagen is a volunteer gallery assistant and guest blogger at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. His earlier post, Celebrating Jimmie Rodgers: A Short Lesson in His Guitar Style, appeared here last year.

Send In The Hounds: Tyler Childers Returns to the Tri-Cities

By Ashli Linkous, Marketing Specialist & Photographer

It wasn’t all that long ago when Tyler Childers recorded a Radio Bristol Session (2018) and played on the 6th Street and the indoors Shanghai Stages at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion (2017). Since then, that Radio Bristol Session video has racked in over 15 million views on YouTube and Childers has continued to rise higher and higher up in the ranks. 

Musician Tyler Childers singing into a microphone with a full band, a bass player to his right, a pedal steel guitar and electric guitar players to his right. Bright stage lights are shining down upon the band as they play and sign passionately.
Tyler Childers performing a powerful song in front of the crowd at Freedom Hall Civic Center in Johnson City, Tennessee on May 10th, 2023.

With a stage decked out in taxidermy, prairie grass, and a black-and-white checkered floor, plus a surprise appearance from the Bluff City man who taught him how to play guitar, Tyler Childers made a BIG return to the Tri Cities last month. It was amazing to walk into Freedom Hall Civic Center and see the merch line wrapped around in a seemingly never-ending queue of fans eager to get their hands on some Childers swag. By the time I made it down to the arena floor the crowd was bustling with energy, ready to see the musician who hadn’t played in the area for quite some time. Tickets were hard to come by, with resell tickets going for several hundred bucks a pop. 

97 year old Clyde Lloyd looks onward toward Tyler Childers as they play onstage. Both are playing guitars in front of a stage backlit by a blue backdrop with a large silhouette of a tree behind them.
97 year old veteran Clyde Lloyd taking the stage along side Tyler Childers

 

First coming out solo, Childers opened with “Nose on the Grindstone,” which was followed by heavily spun tracks “Lady May” and “Follow You to Virgie,” with a roar from the crowd following suit. It was then that he brought out 97 year-old Clyde Lloyd, a long-time military service friend of his grandfather whom he would visit in Bluff City, Tennessee during the summers of his youth. It was in the nearby Bluff City where Childers learned his first three chords on acoustic guitar and how to play “Old Country Church.” After a long period of time where the two had lost touch, he was able to reconnect with Lloyd while traveling through the area on tour. Together, they played a duet of the song that brought much of the crowd to tears. To say this was a highlight of the night is an understatement.

But Childers continued to stun when he brought out his backing band, the Food Stamps. Going immediately into his own version of “Old Country Church,” they followed up with the title track of his new record, “Can I Take My Hounds To Heaven.” He then went into “Country Squire” and personal favorite “I Swear (To God)” from his record Purgatory. The crowd screamed along to familiar favorites like “All Your’n,” “Whitehouse Road,” and “Way of the Triune God.” By the end of the night Childers had played 23 songs and left the crowd with a show they’ll never forget. Many even stayed after the show, hoping and waiting to be given a setlist or other small memento from the stage.

It was safe to say that Childers’ recent show was a much different setting from the side stage he played for at the 17th annual Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion as an up-and-comer in 2017, going from playing to several hundred to nearly 8,500 this go round. It’s crazy to think about how much he’s grown since that day and the crowd who unknowingly witnessed a legend in the making.

Tyler Childers is on stage and faces a crowd of fans watching him as he performs. He is wearing a black and blue plaid shirt playing a guitar looking down and singing. It is a bright and sunny day.
Childers performs at the 2017 Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion Festival on state street Bristol.

I feel like it’s a testament to the work we do here at the Birthplace of Country Music, bringing in names who may not yet be on your radar. The same story has played out for so many huge acts that were up-and-coming when they played these streets, including Sturgill Simpson, CAAMP, and Billy Strings, to name just a few. This organization and this festival is proud to uplift and support live music and up-and-coming artists, and we hope that we can continue bringing in names that will soon rule the charts for decades to come. To learn more about the festival, visit BristolRhythm.com

Ashli Linkous is a Marketing Specialist & Photographer at the Birthplace of Country Music, Inc. and an avid music lover! 

Instrumental History: Inspired by Jimmie Rodgers Martin 000-45 Guitar

Did you know that last year the Birthplace of Country Music Museum took in on loan one of the most important guitars in American music history – Jimmie Rodgers’ 1928 000-45 Martin? Yep, it’s true, and it’s currently on display here at the museum! 

Jimmie Rodgers: A white man in a dark suit with a bow tie. He wears a light-colored cowboy-style hat and holds a guitar in his hands. The background is dark though you can see a windowed-doorway to the left-hand side of the image.

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

Over the years this guitar has become one of the most iconic symbols for country music, boasting a mother of pearl neck inlay touting Jimmie Rodgers’ name, an iconic hand-painted “THANKS” on the back of the guitar, the words “Blue Yodel” in inlay on the headstock, and a label on the interior with a message signed by C. F. Martin himself. Of course, the guitar was made famous by not only Rodgers – recognized as “the Father of Country Music” and also known as “the Singing Brakeman” and “America’s Blue Yodeler” – but also by honky tonk great Ernest Tubb, who was loaned the famous guitar by Jimmie’s widow Carrie Rodgers. Ernest went on to play the guitar for nearly 40 years, helping to solidify its importance in the history of country music.

Left image: Guitar seen from the front in a museum exhibit case. You can see the inlay "Jimmie Rodgers" and "Blue Yodel" on the neck and headstock. Right image: Guitar seen from the back in museum exhibit case. "Thanks" is painted on the back of the guitar's body.

Jimmie Rodgers’ 1928 Martin 000-45 on display at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Ashli Linkous

To celebrate this iconic guitar in its temporary home here at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, Clint Holley – Radio Bristol DJ and host of “Pressing Matters” – has been working with museum and radio staff to create and share a three-episode program featuring perspectives from scholars and musicians from across the country. Titled “Instrumental History: Thoughts & Anecdotes on Jimmie Rodgers Martin 000-45 ‘Blue Yodel’ Guitar,” the program will air on Fridays at 6:00 pm ET on Radio Bristol for the next six weeks launching Friday, February 3 – each episode will be aired two week in a row. And so, in other words, tune in tonight for the first one! 

To get us warmed up and ready for the series, we asked some of our knowledgeable Radio Bristol DJs to tell us about their favorite Jimmie Rodger’s songs, whether sung by him or a cover by another artist. Our DJs came through with some great, if not surprising, choices. 

Crystal Gayle, “Miss the Mississippi and You”

“A thoroughly modern take on this classic song. Although NOT written by Jimmie, he made it his own and was the first to release it in 1932. The song has been recorded over 40 times, and Crystal’s version is the first I could find with a female singer as the main character. Produced with contemporary sounds in the late 1970s, this version shows how flexible and enduring the song truly is.”

~ Clint Holley, Pressing Matters

Jorma Kaukonen, “Prohibition Blues”

“I want to nominate Jorma Kaukonen’s version of Jimmie’s never-recovered master of “Prohibition Blues” from his album Blue Country Heart as my favorite…both for its rarity and its timely nature. The fact that he had the writer, Clayton McMichen, play on his recording of it is even more interesting and shows how much respect Rodgers had for his fellow musicians. As a collector’s aside, can you imagine finding that master sitting in a dusty storeroom somewhere today? Talk about your Holy Grail! It would probably be worth more than the 000-45 that we are so lucky to get to display!

Jorma’s version is, of course, outstanding as well with a superb lineup, and he does it justice with humor and flawless musicianship. I will admit to prejudice here, because Jorma is a good friend whose music is a large part of my repertoire…but his choice of that song is a rare treat for us all.”

~ Marshall Ballew, Off the Beaten Track

Jimmie Rodgers, “Waiting for a Train”

“Two of Jimmie Rodgers’ tunes that I have always connected with are “Waiting for a Train” and “Miss the Mississippi and You.” Jimmie wrote his version of  “Waiting for a Train” based on an English tune from the 19th century. He recorded it in 1929 for Ralph Peer’s Victor label on the back side of “Blue Yodel #4.” I have always liked the horns at the beginning; they resonate with my traditional jazz roots. “Miss the Mississippi and You was recorded later and has that feeling, to me, that Jimmie knew his time was increasingly short. I think Jimmie was able to translate a number of types of music into his own unique style, which is why he was so popular. I hear the music of Western styles in his yodel and jazz in his singing, coupled with the Delta blues and Appalachian sounds. It is a compelling combination. He also recorded long enough that his later songs were technologically better recorded than his early stuff. He was a true artist who died way too young.”

~ Bill Smith – Crooked Road Radio Hour

Jimmie Rodgers, “Last Blue Yodel”  

“A part of Jimmie Rodgers’ final group of recordings, performed during the sessions that took place in New York City just 48 hours before his untimely death, “Last Blue Yodel” is a poignant soliloquy relinquishing personal thoughts on heartbreak. Following a 12-bar-blues format paired with Jimmie’s trademark yodeling, which Rodgers employed on all of his series of 13 Blue Yodels, this last one has become my favorite for its directness and intensity. The tag of each verse admits “The women make a fool out of me.” Rodgers known for his intimate solo guitar style is also one of the first singers to display confessional songwriting, which has deeply shaped country music as a genre, and my own personal approach to creating songs.”

~ Ella Patrick, Folk Yeah!

Leon Redbone, “T.B. Blues”

“My personal favorite cover version of a Jimmie Rodgers song is Leon Redbone’s rendition of “T.B. Blues.” The song itself always stood out to me because of the unique perspective of writing so specifically about one’s own mortality. It was covered by several bluesmen that I took to when I first started researching the blues, but Redbone’s version has the perfect amount of his own style while still paying homage to the original.”

~ Scotty Almany, Scotty’s Tune Up

 

Kris Truelsen is the Radio Bristol Program Director.

Radio Bristol’s Top Albums of 2022

As 2022 comes to a close, it becomes a time for reflection – and so Radio Bristol would like to take the opportunity to look back at some of the releases that made this past year memorable on the music front. This year saw releases from many great artists, including some heavy hitters like Billy Strings and Tyler Childers, and many breakout artists like Adeem the Artist, Miko Marks, and more. With so many great releases this year, it’s tough to narrow it down, but here are just a few of our recommendations for some of this year’s standout releases.  As always, if you tune into Radio Bristol you’re sure to hear all these artists regularly spinning on our airwaves!

49 Winchester // Fortune Favors the Bold

The boot-scuffing barstool ballads of 49 Winchester’s fourth studio album, Fortune Favors the Bold, has landed the band national acclaim and the mega fandom of country music superstars such as Luke Combs. A festival favorite at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, the Russell County, Virginia natives have gone from playing small venues on Bristol’s State Street to selling out theaters across the country.

Composed of high school buddies who grew up together in nearby Castlewood, Virginia, 49 Winchester’s newest release relates genuine downhome grit with dang-good storytelling, showcasing the group’s infectious Southern rock-infused brand of Appalachian folk meets country soul.

Leyla McCalla // Breaking the Thermometer (To Hide the Fever)

New Orleans-based multi-instrumentalist Leyla McCalla’s newest album, Breaking the Thermometer, explores her Haitian-American heritage through the troublesome history of Creole-language based Radio Haiti, an independent station that for decades confronted corruption with traditional Creole music. This interdisciplinary project, commissioned by Duke University, also combines storytelling, dance, video projection, and audio recordings from the Radio Haiti Archive which can be viewed during live performances.

Breaking the Thermometer feels like an exuberant analysis of culture, physiological space, and political discourse, with vibrant cello arrangements and emotive organic soundscapes that feel epic in scale and intensity.

Image: Album cover has a stark black background with a Black woman sitting in the center of it. She has her hair pulled back and faces to the left; she is wearing a white cross-over short-sleeved top and dark pants/skirt.

The A’s // Fruit

Sylvan Esso’s Amelia Meath and longtime musical collaborator Alexandra Sauser-Monnig teamed up for a new project as The A’s, recently releasing Fruit, an idiosyncratic collection of folk songs that glean inspiration from early country music’s yodeling farm girls, The DeZurik Sisters. Recorded over a two-week stint during balmy summer nights at Sylvan Esso’s Chapel Hill studio “The Betty,” the pair playfully procured songs such as Harry Nilsson “He Needs Me” and traditional ballads like “Swing and Turn Jubilee” and “Copper Kettle” with endearing whimsy and hair-raising vocal harmonies.

The clarity of their voices peppered amidst a capella and thoughtfully accompanied atmospheric tracks create a glowing sense of intimacy, harkening back to early American field recordings, while sounding ultra contemporary. A perfect choice for a rainy day or a sun dappled picnic!

Image: Two white women lie in the center of the image looking at the camera. The woman in the foreground is wearing all black and sunglasses; she has medium-length brown hair. The woman behind her is wearing all white and has platinum blond hair. Vibrantly colored fruits and flowers are painted on the background behind them.

Brennen Leigh// Obsessed with the West

Brennen Leigh’s collaborative Western swing-inspired record Obsessed with the West hit the vintage vibes music lover’s scene with a punch. Produced by Ray Benson, whose legendary band Asleep at the Wheel also backed Leigh on the recording, this album is a grand excursion into a well-loved subgenre of country music. Punctuated by 1940s jump blues, folk cowboy balladry, and jazz-infused country, the tracks read like a love note addressed to the austere beauty of the Western plains. Nashville by-way-of Austin, Texas-based singer Leigh’s voice sways across the rollicking big band like a silk cloud of sawdust with a mellow swagger that feels effortlessly cool.

Image: Album cover has a reddish brown border around the central photograph. In the photo, a young white woman with long brown hair is walking towards the camera; she wears a reddish-brown and white prairie-style top and skirt with western belt. A landscape of scrubby brush and mountains can be seen behind her.

Charlie Crockett // Man from Waco

Charlie Crockett, the record-slinging Texan with an ever-expanding discography of retro-tinged Americana gold, has now become one of the most popular artists in independent country. Crockett is currently landing in a new stratosphere for roots musicians dominating the independent Americana radio with the #1 album and #1 song on the release of Man from Waco.

Man From Waco is a loosely conceptualized project with a theme song that both introduces and closes the album, drawing its inspiration from legendary country music singer James Hand. Mostly recorded live by Crockett and his band The Blue Drifters,’ this new album solidifies Crockett’s monstrous talent and incredible ability to turn out top grade recordings.

Swimming through multiple genres – including funk, R&B, soul, Tex-Mex, Western swing, folk, and traditional country – Crockett treads water through uncharted territories with an easy grin, maintaining his authentic aww-shucks attitude and relaxed cowboy charm though vulnerable lyrics.

Image: This album cover shows a scrubby mountainous landscape with a Black man in western clothes walking down a slope in the foreground. He wears a cowboy hat, blue shirt, and jeans, and he carries a black guitar case.

Willie Carlisle // Peculiar, Missouri

Peculiar, Missouri, Willi Carlisle’s newest release on Free Dirt Records, further authenticates the rising songwriter’s rare talent for storytelling. Packed full of poetic grit and intimate ruminations on the human condition, Carlisle’s musical performance feels like Allen Ginsburg and Utah Phillps bore a folkster lovechild with a voracious proclivity for personal truth.

This album acts as a stylistic barometer of American folk music, with flashes of honky tonk on the socially-aware single “Vanlife,” Tejano-on-Cowboy border ballad “Este Mundo,” and talking blues on the title track – an anxious Guthrie-esque account of an existential “come apart” in the Walmart cosmetic aisle. Every so often Carlisle releases a tremulous yawp amidst impossibly witty lyrics like a reflexive revolt against the absurdity of existence; his voice feels like something familiar and something wholly new that we’ve never heard before.

Image: Album cover and CD, both pink. In the center of the album cover is a sepia photograph of a white man from the shoulder up. He has dark hair and a short beard, and is wearing a cowboy hat and collared button-down shirt. In each corner of the album are graphic symbols like a hand with a pen and a crying eye.

Tyler Childers // Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven?

Liberator of free thought in country songwriting the Kentucky poet Tyler Childers’ triple-LP Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven? is a complex celebration of traditional Appalachian religious music, offering social commentary with an ecumenical scope. The album’s eight tracks are imagined in three different arrangements – the “Hallelujah” version, which has an unadorned “live” feel; the “Jubilee” version, which has more of the production you’d expect from a country music recording, and a “Joyful Noise” version, which seems to delve into the energetic essence of each song though electronic remixes and auditory environments with sound bites from artists such as Jean Ritchie and country comedian Jerry Clower.

Deeply divisional for fans of Childers’ more acoustic releases, Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven? is striking for its imaginative qualities and Childers’ uninhibited sonic journey through nostalgia, spirituality, and contemporary awareness.

Image: Album cover is red with a linen-like book cover feel. In the center in gold writing is the name of the album, Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven? and a small dog.

 S. G. Goodman // Teeth Marks

Western Kentucky-based songsmith, S. G. Goodman made an indelible mark on southern music with their debut album Old-Time Feeling in 2020; its pensive production and self-aware lyricism caught the attention of major music industry players, such as Tyler Childers who recently covered the single “Space and Time.”

Now the queer-identified farmer’s daughter who grew up near the banks of the Mississippi River is carving a place as a rising voice in new-south roots rock on Teeth Marks. Enveloped by surging post-punk meets 1960s southern rock reverb clad guitar, Goodman’s achy voice quavers like an exposed nerve with acute realizations that stem from a progressive rural consciousness, making this album easily one of most intriguing releases of the year.

Image: Album cover is white with a line drawing in the style of connect-the-dots. Numbered dots outline the main part of the drawing -- that of a woman who sits backwards in a wooden chair; she looks to the right and holds a red ball in one hand.

Melissa Carper // Ramblin’ Soul

For the second year in a row, we have to include Austin-based stand-up bassist Melissa Carper’s and her latest recording Ramblin’ Soul. With a similar recipe that created her beloved Daddy’s Country Gold in 2021, Carper’s newest collection of songs was also recorded at the Bomb Shelter in Nashville, Tennessee. Produced by Andrija Tokic and Dennis Crouch of The Time Jumpers, Ramblin’ Soul definitely has a healthy helping of that extra special sauce that has made Carper become a stand out artist on the Americana charts.

With an alluring varnish of vintage tone, Carper masterfully encapsulates a multitude of classic American sounds with glimmers of Western swing, rhythm and blues, country, soul, jazz, and folk, that both sound impressively authentic to the era, and gratifyingly pleasant to hear. This is definitely an album you can put on without skipping a track, perfect for cooking up a mess of biscuits with Caper’s blissful Billie Holiday by way of Loretta Lynn-sque vocals simmering on the backburner.

Vaden Landers // Lock the Door

We would be remiss to not include a local release on this list. East Tennessee native and Bristol resident Vaden Landers envisions traditional country music through a lens made razor sharp by countless performances at dive bars and regional venues, with an undeniable finesse that can only be gained through road-worn experience.

You may have caught Landers performing at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion this year or at State Street’s Cascade Draft House where he and his band – The Hot n’ Ready String Band – played a weekly residency this summer. As a rising purveyor of irrefutable country music, Landers’ newest release on Hill House Records has masterful production, calling to mind the golden era of country music production in the mid-1950s known as The Nashville Sound. Produced at The Bomb Shelter by Andrija Tokic and John James Tourville, the 12 tracks on Lock the Door relay songs of love, heartbreak, and hard living, while Landers’ satisfyingly raspy twang summersaults and yodels across old-school sounding lyrics. No doubt borrowing vocal techniques from country greats such as George Jones and Johnny Paycheck, the album feels like a country fan’s daydream. At Radio Bristol we’ve been spinning this album in heavy rotation and think it’s well worth the listen!

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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