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Friday Five – Superstars

November 30, 2007

I’ll play, Art.  Five artists who are not superstars but should be.

Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams

I don’t get it.  Ryan Adams consistently puts out more and better music than Jeff Tweedy (Wilco) and Jay Farrar (Son Volt) combined, but Wilco get all the press.   His latest album, Easy Tiger, outstrips Sky Blue Sky (in my opinion) and certainly gets a lot more airplay in my car.  The guy just keeps making music like he can’t not do it.

The South Austin Jug Band

SAJB Overdrivin' the Mic!

Okay, it’s hard to be a bluegrass superstar but Alison Krauss pulled it off, and Ricky Skaggs’ bluegrass albums sell better than his country albums (well, they are better!).  These guys got together for a single gig and ended up as a band – and listening to them I can see why!  James Hyland is a really good songwriter in the Steve Earle vein, and the guys are monster instrumentalists.  They infuse their music with good humor (“The Ballad of Eddie Mullet”) and killer chops.  They even successfully pull off bluegrass versions of Henrix’s Little Wing and Gershwin’s Lady Be Good.  If you like Old Crow Medicine Show, you’ll love these guys.

Lucinda Williams


Okay, Art listed her too, but I have to second that.  To call her a female Springsteen or Steve Earle would be to do a disservice to her.   Put simply, Lucinda can do no wrong.  She’s one of the all-time greats and deserves recognition as such.

Allison Moorer

Red with a Gretsch!

Allison had one hit, A Soft Place to Fall, from her debut album (though most often recognized from the Horse Whisperer soundtrack) and it is a gorgeous song.  But she has put out consistently great music ever since.  She is too often unfairly compared to the closest people in her life (sister Shelby Lynne and husband Steve Earle) but she is terrific in her own right.  Allison has an album due early next year on which she covers some of history’s great female songwriters and I can’t wait.  It’s produced by Buddy Miller (who probably belongs on this list too).  I’ve heard the first single, her bluesy take on Nina Simone’s “I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl,” and it’s wonderful.

Ben Harper

These criminals are innocent, I tell ya!

I don’t know what to say about Ben.  Some folks get him, and some don’t I guess.  Faith, politics, race, liberation, and the power of love both romantic and divine run throughout Harper’s music while his slide guitar shines like a lighthouse through the fog.   Okay, the pot-smokin’ songs for the jam band crowd are a bit sophomoric, but otherwise Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals may be America’s best band.  Somebody had to pick up the torch once carried by Sly and the Family Stone, balancing truly poignant songwriting with music that could set your feet moving and liberate your soul for a time.  Harper’s collaboration with the Blind Boys of Alabama, There Will Be a Light, is a revelation, and his newest album Lifeline may be his most consistent yet.

Now playing: Ryan Adams – Everybody Knows
via FoxyTunes

6 Comments leave one →
  1. November 30, 2007 10:44 am

    I agree on Adams but I like Son Volt. They could’ve been on my list. Wilco and Tweedy have been very disappointing to me. I keep wishing they were Uncle Tupelo again but those days have passed (sigh).

    As for the Austin Jug band and Allison Moorer, I’ll have to check them out. I like what I’ve heard of Harper but it seems my list of music that I need to check out is growing fast than my ability to listen…

  2. November 30, 2007 4:08 pm

    Now Ben Harper…That’s old school. I feel like I am having flashbacks to highschool and college.


  3. The ArachNerd permalink
    December 3, 2007 12:59 pm

    You know how much I love Ben & Ryan… but what is the cost of superstardom? And what effect would it have on their art? Aren’t they better (at least to some extent) with a faithful following rather than the fickle Britney obsessed radio listeners’ adoration?

    Let’s face it, since BNL achieved that level of recognition, they haven’t been as good, now have they?

  4. December 3, 2007 1:21 pm

    Well Scotty, I guess you have a point there. BNL have struggled mightily since the success of “One Week.” They held on better, in my opinion, than REM who have struggled to be even a good band much less a great one since Bill Berry left, and really since the chart success of “Out of Time” and “Automatic for the People.”

    I’m really glad Ryan Adams sobered up; I’m glad he failed to live fast and die young. He’s a massive talent. Harper is just plain awesome.

  5. December 4, 2007 6:55 pm

    Another great, little known is David Garza (pronouced Dah-veed) from the Austin area. Originally part of twang twang shocka boom, then Dahveed and the Love Beads, he broke out with the out of print, extremely rare, My mom can’t even get a copy,” Con Migo cd and signed with a big record label about 10 years ago. I still love him, but he has been stiffled by the mass markets as well. I used to see him play twice a month in San Antonio on St. Mary’s Street, and when I graduated college in 95, saw him as often as I could on his travels through Houston. Brings back memories. Need to check him out at the Continental Club next year. You can also check out some of his music out on YouTube.


  6. January 28, 2008 12:02 pm

    Definitely agree with you about Allison Moorer. I first noticed her performing in the movie, The Horse Whisperer. I’ve bought every one of her CD’s since then. I got to see her perform in Lexington, KY after her album The Hardest Part was released– VERY GOOD live! Can’t wait for her new album.

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