Country music, and not the stuff you hear on the FM dial, is in the spotlight this week. Marty Stuart is a walking country music encyclopedia, not to mention museum curator of sorts what with the artifacts heâ€™s gathered over the years from Nudie suits galore to Ernest Tubbâ€™s touring bus. J.P. Harris kicked around New England for a decade honing his honky tonk chops with a bunch of Brattleboro, Vermont pickers and plays it 100-proof style. New stuff from each gets the Ear Bliss look this week.
Volume 1: Tear the Woodpile Down
Sugar Hill Records
Let There Be Country was the name of a 1992 release from Marty Stuart. Foreshadowing? A career that dates back to 1972 where as a 14-year-old he hopped a bus to Nashville from his Philadelphia, Mississippi home to join the band of legendary bluegrasser Lester Flatt, it was just the first milestone in a career filled with walks with greatness for Stuart. By the early 1990s, Stuart was a regular on the country charts with his patented â€śhillbilly rockâ€ť which infused a R&R fervor into music rooted in real-deal C&W. While he fell out of favor on the commercial side of country during the last decade, Stuart has never let it affect his artistry. Recent years have seen him re-dedicate his career to the preservation of authentic country music. With the release of Tear the Woodpile Down, he begins a project that will hopefully span multiple volumes with the aim to take back country music. In other words, let there be country. The 10-song collection features his razor-sharp band of musical missionaries, The Fabulous Superlatives, which include guitar slinger Kenny Vaughan, drummer and singer Harry Stinson, and Paul Martin on bass. Comprised mostly of Stuart originals (covers include â€śHolding On To Nothingâ€ť which Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton charted in 1968 and Hank Williamsâ€™ â€śPicture from Lifeâ€™s Other Sideâ€ť), itâ€™s an album of tunes knee deep in the honky tonk matters of loneliness, heartbreak, and bad times all fortified by plenty of twangy Telecaster licks, swirling pedal steel, and harmony singing. Stuart and company deliver it straight-up on Tear the Woodpile Down in the process providing a lesson on how authentic country music is supposed to sound.
JP Harris and the Tough Choices
Iâ€™ll Keep Calling
Cow Island Music
Also based out Nashville, J.P. Harris gave up on country radio years ago. The motto to his approach to music is simple: Keep it country, and keep it simple. Harris plays country music even more hard core than Mr. Stuart. Iâ€™ll Keep Calling is he and his band The Tough Choicesâ€™ debut for Northampton, MA-based roots music label Cow Island Music. A roster that includes rockabilly country acts like The Starline Rhythm Boys and Liâ€™l Mo & the Monicats, Harris is form-fit for the Cow Island corral. An imposing presence on stage standing tall with a long and bushy beard, his music points towards the neon lights and hard-drivinâ€™ side of the country spectrum, with a side of 18-wheeler pathos. Think cats like Red Simpson and Dave Dudley from the past and Dale Watson in the contemporary. Harris has been plying his trade as a no-frills country artist since his mid-teens. Suffice to say that nearing 30, heâ€™s pretty much a vet of the genre. Harris lives it as he sings it and it shows in his songwriting, all originals on Iâ€™ll Keep Calling, and his overall seasoned performance which spans tracks ready made for shuffling on the honky tonk hardwood floor to the hard-bitten, bottom of the bottle variety. If you dig your country hardcore, J.P. Harris is your man. Visit www.cowislandmusic.com.
Itâ€™s a busy weekend at The Ocean Mist (895 Matunuck Beach Road, Matunuck) beginning on Friday night with the nationally touring electro-rock band Jimkata with its blend of heavy beats, synthy hooks, and big guitars to create modern music with timeless appeal. The following evening, itâ€™s a dollop of rock & roll with DJ Tenz, Benny Sizzler, and The Dirty Truckers beginning at 9 p.m.
Need some blues? Check out Professor Harp at The Narragansett CafĂ© (25 Narragansett Ave., Jamestown) on Sunday afternoon at the very appealing time of 4 to 7 p.m.
(Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 to 9 p.m. on WRIU-FM 90.3.)