Amazing Rhythm Aces’ Russell Smith R.I.P.

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Austin City Limits was saddened to learn of the July 12 passing of Amazing Rhythm Aces singer Russell Smith of cancer. He was 70. The group appeared on Austin City Limits in our second season in 1977. 

Born in Nashville, the Tennessean started his music career in the state’s other Music City, Memphis and co-founded the eclectic roots rockers Amazing Rhythm Aces in 1972. The band scored two hits from their 1975 debut Stacked Deck: the top 20 pop hit “Third Rate Romance” and the top 10 country hit “Amazing Grace (Used to Be Her Favorite Song).” The Aces won a Grammy in 1976 for ‘The End is Not in Sight,” which took home the award for Best Country Vocal Performance By a Group. The band dissolved in 1980. 

Smith then moved into country music, writing songs for a wide variety of artists. He penned number 1 country hits for Randy Travis (“Look Heart, No Hands”), T. Graham Brown (“Don’t Go to Strangers”), Ricky Van Shelton (“Keep It Between the Lines”) and Don Williams (“Heartbeat in the Darkness”), as well as placing cuts with Tanya Tucker, Rosanne Cash, Kenny Rogers, the Oak Ridge Boys and many others. Smith even scored a hit of his own with 1989’s “I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight.” 

Following two albums in the 1990s with the bluegrass novelty band Run C&W (which also included the Eagles’ Bernie Leadon), Smith rejoined the reformed Aces in 1994. The band continued to record and perform up to the present day. He will be missed by the Aces’ loyal fan base. 

Here he is from the Aces’ ACL episode, performing “Third Rate Romance”:

Taping recap: H.E.R.

photo by Scott Newton

H.E.R. has had an eventful couple of years. Scoring a gold record with her full-length self-titled debut, a NPR Tiny Desk concert and two 2019 Grammy Awards for Best R&B Album and Best R&B Performance, the erstwhile Gabriella Wilson has moved from strength to strength since beginning her performance career ten years ago. The fast-rising singer and songwriter brought her award-winning artistry to the ACL stage for the first time with a set of songs guaranteed to slow jam the night away. 

After a brief intro from her six-piece band, multi-instrumentalist H.E.R. took the stage with an acoustic guitar for the funky “Carried Away,” also contributing bass and electric piano solos before the song’s end. She picked up a pair of drumsticks to pound out the intro of the Latin-influenced “2.” Hands-free, she said she was proud to be on “this legendary stage,” before giving her husky alto a workout on the roiling “Feel Away” and the lush “Avenue.”  Donning her acoustic guitar, she sang a couple of verses of Deniece Williams’ “Free,” leading directly into her hit ballad “Best Part,” with backup singer Malik Spence delivering original duet partner Daniel Caesar’s lines. Built on a fingerpicked acoustic guitar figure, “Fate” danced gracefully on the line between folk and soul. 

While engaging the crowd in call-and-response “whoa’s,” H.E.R. switched to a plexiglass Stratocaster for the soulful, gospel-informed anthem “Hard Place,” a clear audience fave. After that bag of originals, she pulled a surprising cover: Northern Irish songwriter Foy Vance’s lighter-waving ballad “Make It Rain.” Though it was originally popularized by Ed Sheeran on the soundtrack for the TV show Sons of Anarchy, H.E.R. made it her own with blues rock guitar soloing and powerhouse singing. The crowd agreed, going nuts as she paused at the end for dramatic effect. She moved back to the electric piano for the slow jamming hit “Focus,” a song that allowed her to really show off her liquid vocal flexibility. That tune also served as a jumping-off point for a grooving cover of Ms. Lauryn Hill’s “X Factor,” clearly a key influence. The band kept that rhythm going for “As I Am,” namechecking Hill by comparing her lover to “my favorite Lauryn song.” Then it was time for “Lights On,” one of her earliest hits and a song that actually required phone participation, as everybody held their lights into the sky. H.E.R. responded by re-donning her electric guitar and seguing into the guitar solo coda for Prince’s “Purple Rain.” With the backing vocalists and crowd singing the “ooo-ooo’s,” H.E.R. took us all home on her Strat and quit the stage to thunderous applause. And that was the end of a remarkable show from an explosive young talent. We can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this fall on your local PBS station. 

Taping recap: Patty Griffin and Steve Earle & The Dukes

photo by Scott Newton

Singer/songwriters Patty Griffin and Steve Earle have been frequent visitors to the ACL stage in the past couple of decades. Griffin first appeared in 2000 as part of a songwriters’ special, getting her own show the next year, while Earle debuted way back in 1987. It’s always a pleasure to welcome back old friends, and doubly so under such special circumstances: Griffin to showcase songs from her highly-acclaimed, self-released and self-titled new album, and Earle, joined by some special guests, spotlighting Guy, his tribute to his songwriting mentor Guy Clark. Both turned in shows for the ages, which we live streamed around the world.  

Patty Griffin comes off of a four-year hiatus while the singer dealt with breast cancer, and her performance pulled generously from it. After a boisterous welcome from the crowd, she opened with the album’s “Mama’s Worried,” essentially a duet between David Pulkingham’s flamenco guitar and her own resonant singing. Next up was “The Wheel,” a bluesy declaration built on its writer’s jagged rhythm guitar and multi-instrumentalist Conrad Choucroun’s bass guitar/kick-drum rhythm. She followed with “Boys From Tralee,” a Celtic folk-tinged tune about Irish immigrants (of which Griffin’s grandparents were two), tying it into the current situation at the U.S. border. From the Emerald Isle to the American swamp: Griffin moved back to her 2004 LP Impossible Dream for the shuffling, tremolo-heavy “Standing,” allowing her to draw from her love of gospel. But she quickly shifted from the sacred to the secular, with the sly “Hourglass,” inspired by the great Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and featuring a Pulkingham solo that earned cheers. 

Guitars went to their stands as Pulkingham moved to the piano and his boss to the mic for the gorgeous “Luminous Places,” a well-titled standout from Patty Griffin. Then it was on to the “Truth #2,” a fan favorite, as evidenced by the cheers at the opening chords, and “Where I Come From,” a narrative Patty Griffin highlight. “River,” the self-titled album’s single, once again showcased her rich vocals, accompanied by Pulkingham’s acoustic guitar and the ridiculously multi-tasking Choucroun on piano, and greatly appreciated by the audience. Wielding a mandolin, Griffin finished her set with the rocking, inspirational “Shine a Different Way,” to the crowd’s delight. 

photo by Scott Newton

Joined by his long-running five-piece band The Dukes, Earle hit the stage kicking off his Guy Clark tribute with the classic “Dublin Blues,” receiving exuberant cheers at the opening line “Wish I was in Austin.” Earle immediately went into “Texas 1947,” featuring the expert pedal steel work of Ricky Ray Jackson. After sharing a short story about how he met Guy Clark while hitchhiking around Texas, the band performed the ode to the Hill Country honky-tonkin’ queen “Rita Ballou,” featuring Eleanor Whitmore on violin. Following a tale about Clark’s loyalty to Texas BBQ over Tennessee style BBQ, Joe Ely joined Earle on stage to perform “Desperadoes Waiting For a Train” – two Texas music legends trading verses on one of the state’s most influential songs. The Dukes quit the stage temporarily, so Earle could essay “The Last Gunfighter Ballad,” a Clark song made famous by Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. The band returned for “The Randall Knife,” one of Clark’s most autobiographical and arresting tunes, followed by the beloved “L.A. Freeway,” one of his most famous. With Earle donning his mandolin, he and The Dukes got acoustic for “New Cut Road,” an explicitly bluegrass-flavored tune that threw another spotlight on Whitmore, as well as her flatpicking husband Chris Masterson. After introducing the band, Earle went into “Heartbroke,” going through the first verse before being joined onstage by another Clark mentee – songwriting great Rodney Crowell, who originally recorded the song in 1980, before it became a hit for Ricky Skaggs in 1982. 

“I guess I should play a couple of songs of mine so y’all won’t think Guy didn’t teach me anything,” Earle quipped before launching into “Guitar Town,” the song that put him on the map as a writer and performer. After that hit, there was only one other song The Dukes could hit, and sure enough: the opening synth riff of “Copperhead Road” – the powerhouse rocker that served notice that Earle was simply country – got the crowd going wild. “That’s what Guy taught me,” he asserted. After that explosion, Earle brought Crowell and Ely back, joined by Lubbock legends Terry and Jo Harvey Allen, for “Old Friends,” Clark’s beautiful evocation of friendship, with each singer taking one of the spoken verses. Earle led the audience in a round of the chorus, before an instrumental coda and the singers laying down one last “old friends” to close. A better elegy for Clark would be hard to imagine. It was a beautiful moment, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this fall on your local PBS station. 

 

Giveaway: H.E.R.

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UPDATE giveaway is now over.

Austin City Limits will be taping a performance by H.E.R. on Monday, July 8 at 8 pm at ACL Live at The Moody Theater (310 W. 2nd Street, Willie Nelson Blvd). We will be giving away a limited number of space available passes to this taping. Enter your name and email address on the below form by noon on Wednesday, July 3rd.

Winners will be chosen at random and a photo ID will be required to pick up tickets. Winners will be notified by email. Passes are not transferable and cannot be sold. Standing may be required. No photography, recording or cell phone use in the studio. No cameras computers or recording devices allowed in venue.

ACL to live stream Patty Griffin and Steve Earle & the Dukes on July 2

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Austin City Limits is thrilled to announce that we will be live streaming a highlight of our milestone Season 45, a rare double-bill taping with Texas-rooted artists Patty Griffin and Steve Earle & The Dukes on July 2, starting at 8 pm CT on our YouTube channel.  

On her sixth appearance on our stage, Patty Griffin is among the most consequential singer-songwriters of her generation, a quintessentially American artist whose wide-ranging canon incisively explores the intimate moments and universal emotions that bind us together. The Grammy®-winning Austinite’s recent, self-titled LP (her tenth studio album), represents an extraordinary new chapter for this incomparable artist and stands among the most deeply personal recordings of her storied two-decade career. The album – which follows 2015’s Grammy® Award-nominated Servant of Love – collects songs written during and in the aftermath of several years in which she battled – and ultimately defeated – cancer. Yet as always, like very few others, Griffin’s power lies in how, as music critic Holly Gleason observed, “her songs seem to freeze life and truth in amber.” It’s in how Griffin can express the strikingly intimate while never making it about herself, all wrapped in sparse arrangements that breathe an incomparable force and import into her songcraft. NPR raves, “One quality that’s distinguished Griffin’s body of work throughout her nearly quarter-century career is her gift for imagining the untamed forces of people’s inner lives.”  

For his fifth appearance on ACL, the legendary Steve Earle presents Guy, his acclaimed tribute to his songwriting mentor and ACL Hall of Fame legend Guy Clark. Earle first met Clark after hitchhiking from San Antonio to Nashville when he was 19, becoming the older songwriter’s bass player and maintaining a lifelong friendship after striking out on his own.  “No way I could get out of doing this record,” says Earle. “When I get to the other side, I didn’t want to run into Guy having made the TOWNES record and not one about him.”  “Guy wasn’t really a hard record to make,” Earle says. “When you’ve got a catalog like Guy’s and you’re only doing sixteen tracks, you know each one is going to be strong.” Earle and his five-piece band The Dukes take on Clark classics including “Desperados Waiting For a Train,” “LA Freeway,” “New Cut Road” and “Heartbroke” with a spirit of reverent glee and invention.  Earle’s raw, heartbreaking vocal on the sweet, sad “That Old Time Feeling” sounds close enough to the grave as to be a duet with his departed friend. Guy is a saga of friendship, its ups and downs, what endures. Like old friends, Guy is a diamond.

Join us on July 2 here for both full live sets of these iconic singer/songwriters. The broadcast episodes will air on PBS later this year as part of our upcoming Season 45.

 

Giveaway: Patty Griffin & Steve Earle

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UPDATE giveaway is now over.

Austin City Limits will be taping a performance by both Patty Griffin & Steve Earle on Tuesday, July 2 at 8 pm at ACL Live at The Moody Theater (310 W. 2nd Street, Willie Nelson Blvd). We will be giving away a limited number of space available passes to this taping. Enter your name and email address on the below form by noon on Thursday, June 27.

Winners will be chosen at random and a photo ID will be required to pick up tickets. Winners will be notified by email. Passes are not transferable and cannot be sold. Standing may be required. No photography, recording or cell phone use in the studio. No cameras computers or recording devices allowed in venue.

Taping recap: Maggie Rogers

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After ten years of writing and producing music, Maggie Rogers’ career has culminated in her bestselling major label debut Heard It In a Past Life, boasting the hits “Light On” and “Burning.” ACL is always thrilled to welcome fast-rising young artists, so we were happy to host the young Easton, Maryland singer/songwriter for her debut taping.

The crowd greeted executive producer Terry Lickona’s announcement with big cheers as the band took the stage, before the star herself bounded onstage to kick off “Give a Little,” her high energy stage presence matching the song’s caffeinated bounce. Her voltage doubled for “Burning,” as she ranged all over the stage like she wanted to cover every centimeter before the song was done. “This is a song about a crush,” Rogers said by way of introduction to “Say It,” a tune that entered ballad territory to allow everyone to catch a collective breath. Though it stayed with a slower tempo, “On + Off” adopted a slinky R&B groove that built to near-anthemic spirit. After expressing how thrilled she and the band were to be there for ACL’s 45th anniversary, they launched into the shimmering “Dog Years,” which she described as “a song about friendship.” She showed off her funky side again with “The Knife,” an undulating tune that really got her moving. On “Retrograde,” Roger and band grabbed a winsome pop melody and didn’t let go until extracting every ounce of emotional strength.

By way of once again giving band and crowd a break, Rogers expressed her gratitude at being allowed “to do this thing that I love more than anything,” seguing from stating her thanks to singing it with the pop anthem “Light On.” Her audience responded with a loud outpouring of love. She kept the powerful feel going with “Past Life,” which would’ve no doubt gotten lighterwaving if we allowed them into the theater. The band dug back into groove for “Overnight,” another tune that got Rogers’ feet moving, with the energy continuing for the airy “Alaska.” Then the ensemble jumped back into anthem territory for the emotional “Back in My Body,” before ending the main set with the lovely, almost gospel-tinged “Falling Water,” giving the crowd a chance to clap along before cheering their lungs out.

Rogers returned to the stage alone, eschewing backing for the ghostly, a cappella “Color Song,” a highlight from her 2017 EP Now the Light is Fading. At one point she even abandoned the mic, her voice still carrying across the crowded theater. It was a wonderful way to end this high-energy show, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs on your local PBS station during ACL’s 45th season.

Giveaway: Maggie Rogers 6/21

photo by Olivia Bee

UPDATE giveaway is now over.

Austin City Limits will be taping a performance by Maggie Rogers on Friday, June 21 at 8 pm at ACL Live at The Moody Theater (310 W. 2nd Street, Willie Nelson Blvd). We will be giving away a limited number of space available passes to this taping. Enter your name and email address on the below form by noon on Wednesday, June 19th.

Winners will be chosen at random and a photo ID will be required to pick up tickets. Winners will be notified by email. Passes are not transferable and cannot be sold. Standing may be required. No photography, recording or cell phone use in the studio. No cameras computers or recording devices allowed in venue.