5 Essential Ray Price Songs

On Dec. 16, 2014, country legend Ray Price passed away after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 87 years old, and he left behind a huge catalog of recordings and a musical legacy that is among the most impressive in country music history.

Price was a contemporary (and friend) of Hank Williams, and his early recordings reflect that sharp-edged honky-tonk sound. As the 1950s progressed, though, Price found himself more and more attracted to smoother countrypolitan stylings. You can hear it working its way into songs like “City Lights” and especially on his album Night Life. And it finally comes to full fruition on Price’s 1960s songs such as “Danny Boy” and “For the Good Times” — the latter a Kris Kristofferson composition that Price turned into a signature song.

Price and his band the Cherokee Cowboys developed a dance-friendly rhythm that became known as the ‘Ray Price shuffle.’ The band was an early starting ground, too, for such later legends as Roger Miller, Willie Nelson and Johnny Paycheck.

Price also co-owned Pamper Music, a publishing company that helped boost the careers of Harlan Howard and Hank Cochran, among others.

Price was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996. And he continued performing up until very recently, when his health wouldn’t allow it.

Because it spans so many years and includes so many great songs, Price’s catalog is well worth exploring in depth. Below are five key tracks to help you dive in.

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With ‘Antiphon,’ Midlake Grows Up and Moves On

Like a lot of Midlake fans, when news broke that lead singer and longtime bandmember Tim Smith had left the band, I was worried that the group’s sound and songs wouldn’t hold up.

After listening to the new album Antiphon, though, any worries are laid to rest. It’s a fantastic album with strong songs and a sound that shifts the band back toward a psychedelic sound — yet still retains the wonderful melodic structures and vocal harmonies that have long been identified with the band.

Seeing Midlake live, too, only brings this experience home — this is still very much the same band.

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Pink Floyd ‘Live at Pompeii’ – Is the Director’s Cut Worth It?

Like a lot of fans, I first saw Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii in high school. I loved Pink Floyd at the time, and had really looked forward to seeing them play among ancient Roman ruins. But it was a midnight movie, and I dozed off here and there. And while the music and the setting were cool, I can’t say I fully appreciated the moods, ideas and concepts that the band or the film’s producers were going for.

Today, I came across a “director’s cut” of the film on YouTube. It’s a reworking of the film that was released in 2003, with additional interviews and some additional imagery of planets, sun flares and other space-themed visuals (which sounds cheesy, but in the context of the film it works).

I can’t remember exactly how this new version compares to the ‘original’ cut, but watching it now — more than 40 years after it was first released — the film turns out to be absolutely fascinating. Watch an embed below.

Continue reading Pink Floyd ‘Live at Pompeii’ – Is the Director’s Cut Worth It?

Tompall Glaser and Jack Clement: Country Outlaw Heroes

Two major players in country music passed away recently. Two key outlaw artists, and two of my favorite country artists, both of whom were involved in creating some of the finest music to come out of Nashville–or anywhere–in the last several decades.

Last week, we lost “Cowboy” Jack Clement. Recently elected into the Country Music Hall of Fame, Cowboy was someone who wrote songs for Johnny Cash; worked at Sun Studios and helped jumpstart the career of Jerry Lee Lewis; produced records for such artists as Townes Van Zandt, Charley Pride, and Don Williams; and was a key ‘outlaw’ innovator, producing what is arguably Waylon Jennings’ finest album, Dreaming My Dreams.

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‘Oxyana’ soundtrack features Jonny Fritz, John McCauley

Alt-country artist Jonny Fritz (aka Jonny Corndawg) joined up with Deer Tick’s John McCauley to create a moody soundtrack for the documentary Oxyana, which is about the oxycontin epidemic in Appalachia.

The film looks interesting (trailer above, or watch the whole thing).

And the soundtrack is haunting. Hear it via a Soundcloud link below.

Continue reading ‘Oxyana’ soundtrack features Jonny Fritz, John McCauley

Line of Fire

Another song that’s been haunting me this year is “Line of Fire” by the Swedish group Junip. The band features singer/guitarist José González. Mesmerizing — I can’t stop playing this song.

The video for the song, too, is haunting. It’s directed by Mikel Cee Karlsson, watch it below:

(Featured image at top is a video still that initially appeared on Trendland)

John Grant to release followup to ‘Queen of Denmark’

Three years ago I had never heard the name John Grant. But that year, Mojo named his debut solo album Queen of Denmark their favorite of the year. And like a lot of people who read that review, I was at first puzzled. Then I listened, and based on the deeply personal songs, his haunting vocals, and the warm arrangements (he was backed on the album by the band Midlake), I understood. It’s been a favorite album in regular rotation for me ever since.

It’s great news, then, that Grant finally has a followup album. Called Pale Green Ghosts, it’s already out in the U.K. and is due in stores in the U.S. on May 14.

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Classic Songs: Bill Withers, ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’

Bill Withers wrote “Ain’t No Sunshine” and released it back in 1971 on his album Just As I Am. The song was a hit at the time (reaching No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100), but since then, it’s taken on new life and found vast new audiences, thanks to many cover versions.

Here’s a version of Bill and his band performing the song in 1972 that shows just a powerful (and subtle) a performer he was — and how much he owned this song.

This was Withers’ first hit song — it even earned him a GRAMMY in 1971. After this, he went on to reach No. 1 in 1972 with “Lean on Me” and then No. 2 with “Use Me” later that same year.

The Songwriters: Gene Crysler

The other day I posted the album cover for Freddie Hart’s The Neon and the Rain. The title track is credited to Gene Crysler, whom I knew little about.

Doing some digging, though, turns out he wrote some cool and unusual songs. Like this one, “I Didn’t Jump the Fence,” which has been cut by the likes of Red Sovine and Cal Smith:

On the surface it’s an oddball song about a guy who admits to eating the “fruit” from his neighbor’s “tree,” but says he wasn’t “stealing” because it just “fell” into his yard. It’s not hard, of course, to read between the lines of what he’s really talking about.

Another Crysler song was “Don’t Make Me Go To School,” cut by Tammy Wynette.

And I always loved this Crysler song cut by Billie Jo Spears, about a small-town Kansas woman who gets a big-city job as a secretary in New York, but who quickly gets fed up with the old boys’ club.

Spears’ version of the song–the title track from her second album–peaked at No. 4 on the country charts in 1969.

Spears just comes off so damn down-to-earth appealing in this video, the kind of honest country artist we could use more of these days. Sadly, she passed away in 2011.

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