Encore: Jason Isbell and Neko Case

This weekend ACL features two powerful singer-songwriters: Jason Isbell and Neko Case, each possessing a distinctive style and voice.

Hailed as “one of America’s thoroughbred songwriters” by The New York Times, Jason Isbell opens the episode, making his ACL debut. The Nashville-via-Mussel Shoals, Alabama singer/songwriter’s 2013 album Southeastern scored a Top 25 on the Billboard 200, and critical raves, including topping many critic’s year-end best lists. The New York Times Magazine declared, “the record is a breakthrough for Isbell—prickly with loss, forgiveness, newfound sobriety and second chances.” Rolling Stone calls it “one of the year’s best in any genre,” and Pitchfork raves “Southeastern is easily Isbell’s best solo album.” A former member of acclaimed Southern rock band Drive-By Truckers, Isbell launched a solo career in 2007. Backed by his band the 400 Unit, including his wife, fiddler Amanda Shires, and with a rawness and honesty that’s rare in contemporary songwriting, Isbell gives a stunning must-see performance on the ACL stage.

You can see Isbell’s performance in its unedited entirety on the DVD Jason Isbell: Live at Austin City Limits. You can purchase a copy here.

“It doesn’t happen very often,” said executive producer Terry Lickona, “but when Jason sang ‘Elephant,’ it literally gave me chills. That’s the kind of writer he is, and that’s the kind of performer he is.”

photo by Scott Newton

Neko Case makes a thunderous return to ACL (she first appeared in 2003) performing songs from her acclaimed 2013 release The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You, her sixth studio album.  Case emerges from a three-year period the artist describes as full of “grief and mourning,” in the wake of the deaths of not just both her parents, but several intimates as well. With her fearless songwriting and musical curiosity, Neko Case captures fans with “one of the most memorable and seductive voices in music” (NPR).  Pitchfork says The Worse Things Get… “is the most potent album of her career,” and Rolling Stone raves that Case is “one of America’s best and most ambitious songwriters.” Case performs a captivating set of songs from the new record, and a few gems from her recent releases.

“There’s something about that voice, but it’s also about the delivery – which makes this performance that much more special,” said Lickona. “Her television performances are few and far between, so this is one that’s not to be missed!”

Check out the episode page for more details. Don’t forget, you can click over to our Facebook, Twitter and newsletter pages for more ACL goodies. Next week: Portugal. The Man and Local Natives.

Heartless Bastards return to ACL stage

Austin’s own Heartless Bastards first appeared on ACL in Season 35, showcasing the band’s critically-acclaimed first trio of LPs. For Erika Wennerstrom and company’s return to our stage, the group elected not to repeat itself, instead giving us a rocking program dedicated to its most recent albums Arrow and this year’s Restless Ones, in a taping that was streamed live around the world.

The band began with “Gates of Dawn,” a midtempo folk rocker with a perfect mix of acoustic and electric guitars.The propulsive “Got to Have Rock and Roll” followed, its title a hint of what was to come. Wennerstrom put her guitar down for “Wind Up Bird,” the ambitious opener of Restless Ones, title inspired by Haruki Murakami’s novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and featuring bird-like arm gestures buttressing the song’s lyrics. Wennerstrom donned her Les Paul for “Black Cloud,” pushing the song hard into the rock zone without coming close to bombast.   

Wennerstrom paused to reminisce about the last time the Bastards taped the show in 2009, before launching into “Journey,” a Restless tune inspired by author Dan Eldon’s The Journey is the Destination. The gentle “Pocket Full of Thirst” smoothed out the mood, as did the cosmic folk-pop of “The Fool” and the 70s-style country rock of “Skin and Bone.” The band stayed in the same vein for the lovely “Hi Line,” a different take on a song they did for a film soundtrack. The volume went back up, though, for the piano ‘n’ power rock stomper “Into the Light.”

After concentrating so much on Restless Ones, the Bastards shifted gears to predecessor Arrow for the last three songs of the main set. “Down in the Canyon” moved from heavy blues rock to something more expansive and back again for one of the show’s most poignant performances. Penultimate tune “The Arrow Killed the Beast” was soaked in the dusty atmosphere of the West Texas desert in which it was written. The groovy twang of “Only For You” brought the set to a crowd-pleasing close.

The band took advantage of the opportunity of the encore to re-do “Wind Up Bird” and “Black Cloud.” Remakes over, the Bastards treated the audience to the straightforward rock of “Parted Ways” before ending the show with the dreamy, enigmatic “Tristessa,” Wennerstrom alone onstage singing against looped feedback. The rest of the band rejoined her for a bow, and this remarkable show was brought to a close. We can’t wait for you to see it when it airs in January as part of our Season 41 on your local PBS station.

Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats’ explosive debut

Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats seemingly exploded onto the scene with the infectious gospel-charged hit “S.O.B.” While the tune’s quick rise in popularity belies the Denver-based Rateliff’s years of hard work, it’s only the tip of the iceberg for this talented band. For its debut ACL taping, Stax/Volt met singer/songwriter craft for a searing set of tunes guaranteed to make your body move.

The seven-piece Night Sweats took the stage first, using horns and Hammond organ to establish an old-fashioned 60s R&B groove. Rateliff followed, donned his Telecaster and launched into “I Need Never Get Old,” a rousing mixture of pleading and obstinance. “Intro” delved deeper into that Southern soul groove, showcasing the band and Rateliff’s dancing skills. “Look It Here” dialed the tempo down to mid-, while still keeping the energy level high. The themes took a turn for the introspective on “I’ve Been Failing,” but the song’s self-criticism was still driven by funky grooves and a defiant “Don’t you weep/Don’t you worry” refrain. “Howling at Nothing” sounded like a couples’ swing on the dancefloor, spiced by Rateliff’s reverb-soaked guitar solo.

The band followed up with “Parlour,” a Muscle Shoals-soaked slice of soul-pop that would do Dan Penn proud. The rhythm ramped up for the rocking “Out On the Weekend,” which added a Van Morrisonesque feel to Rateliff’s gritty singing. “Mellow Out” moved back to the Sam Cooke era of soul music, while “Shake” added a late-night vibe with stinging lead guitar, juicy organ and a smoky groove. After giving a shout-out to his mom, who taught him how to dance and was present, Rateliff essayed the finger-popping “Thank You” and the rocking “Trying So Hard Not to Know.” The descending melody of “Wasting Time” gave the audience a chance to catch its breath, followed by band introductions. Then it was time for the breakout hit. The crowd immediately clapped along with the gospel fervor of “S.O.B.,” the irresistible hooks and singalong chorus raising the roof in fine style.

The band then left the stage, but the music didn’t: the audience continued “S.O.B.”’s “whoa-ohs” until the group returned. The Night Sweats joined the crowd’s groove, segueing into a soulful cover of The Band’s funky “The Shape I’m In” that garnered immediate cheers. Then it was back to “S.O.B.” for a coda highlighting the gospel call-and-response of the chorus. After that frenzy, Rateliff and the Night Sweats elected to send us out into the night via “What I Need,” an old-fashioned R&B ballad of the type that makes you want to hold your baby tight as the lights go down. It was a fitting end to the Night Sweats’ southern soul inspired show, and we’re excited for you to see it when it airs early next year as part of our Season 41 on your local PBS station.

ACL Presents: Americana Music Festival 2015

Austin City Limits heads to Nashville for a special broadcast featuring performance highlights from this year’s Americana Honors & Awards. ACL Presents: Americana Music Festival 2015 delivers sparkling performances that represent the genre’s diversity and excellence. The music-filled special features many of the night’s Lifetime Achievement Honorees, award-winners, next-generation stars and icons who helped define the genre; among them: Don Henley, Los Lobos, Ricky Skaggs, Lee Ann Womack, Shakey Graves, Keb’ Mo’, Jason Isbell, Rhiannon Giddens, Robert Randolph and John Hiatt.  

“The Americana Honors & Awards showcases one of the biggest and brightest lineups of talent seen all year,” raves NPR. Recorded live at Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium in September, The Americana Music Association’s 14th Annual Honors & Awards ceremony is a best in show reflecting the spirit of Americana: American roots music that incorporates elements of country, rock ‘n’ roll, folk, bluegrass, R&B and blues.

Robert Randolph, The Fairfield Four, The McCrary Sisters Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images

Hosted by Americana kingpin Jim Lauderdale, the show opens with steel guitar sensation Robert Randolph joining with two legendary gospel groups, The Fairfield Four and the McCrary Sisters, for a rousing rendition of “Rock My Soul.” Highlights include show-stopping performances by the night’s Artist of the Year nominees: Rhiannon Giddens showcases her powerful vocals in a stunning performance of “Waterboy” from her Album of the Year-nominated Tomorrow Is My Turn. Acclaimed singer-songwriter Jason Isbell, who captured top honors at last year’s awards, offers the anthemic title track of his new album, Something More Than Free. Country queen Lee Ann Womack performs from her critically-acclaimed The Way I’m Livin’, also nominated for Album of the Year.  

Another of the night’s top nominees, Emerging Artist of the Year winner Shakey Graves, is joined by Esmé Patterson for a playful duet of his nominated single “Dearly Departed.” Duo/group nominees The Lone Bellow, an indie-folk trio, make their first appearance, singing their standout “Then Came the Morning.”  

Marc Ribot & Buddy Miller Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images

In true Americana style, the broadcast is loaded with musical moments and collaborations from the music’s forebears, including ovation-worthy turns from musical legend Don Henley, awarded a Lifetime Achievement Honor, performing from his acclaimed new album Cass County and veteran singer-songwriter and Song of the Year nominee John Hiatt. Bluegrass master Ricky Skaggs—the night’s Lifetime Achievement Honoree for Instrumentalist—performs with his wife and collaborator Sharon White alongside fellow legend Ry Cooder; and Americana icon Buddy Miller and celebrated guitarist and songwriter Marc Ribot present a stripped-down acoustic version of the Hank Williams classic “Cold, Cold Heart.”   

Blues titan Keb’ Mo’ pays a heartfelt tribute to the night’s President’s Award Honoree B.B. King, with a soulful interpretation of one of the late legend’s signature songs, “How Blue Can You Get,” (alongside King’s beloved guitar “Lucille”). The night’s Lifetime Achievement Award honorees for Performance, East L.A. stalwarts Los Lobos, validate their honor with a blistering, show-closing rendition of their classic “Will the Wolf Survive.”

Jim Lauderdale Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images

Throughout the broadcast, performers are backed by an all-star house band—led by Buddy Miller—and featuring legendary musicians: Dominic Davis, Chad Cromwell, Fats Kaplin, Ian Fitchuk, the McCrary Sisters and Little Feat founding member Bill Payne.

“This event is a musical celebration that brings together the finest musicians in the world, with legendary acts and the next generation of stars,” says Jed Hilly, Executive Director of the Americana Music Association, adding “it’s about great songs and the appreciation for the authentic sound of American roots music.”

The show was co-produced by High Five Entertainment and its President Martin Fischer and ACL Executive Producer Terry Lickona.

Heartless Bastards taping livestreams on 11/23


Austin City Limits is pleased to announce that we will be streaming our taping with Heartless Bastards live on Monday, Nov. 23, 8pm CT/9pm ET. Powered by Dell, the taping will webcast in its entirety via our YouTube channel.

Heartless Bastards have spent the past decade in motion, boldly pushing their unique brand of rock ‘n’ roll into new shapes over four acclaimed albums and nearly non-stop roadwork. Now, with Restless Ones, the band sets out once again, blazing a path to a place of shifting moods, seasoned songcraft, and unbridled spontaneity. The Austin-based band’s fifth studio recording finds singer/songwriter Erika Wennerstrom exploring as-yet-unvisited avenues of sound and sensation, her bravery and ambition readily apparent in the emotional timbre and the sheer physicality of her songs. “We took a lot of chances,” Wennerstrom says, “taking the sounds in different directions in order to grow. I don’t ever want to make the same album twice.” Tracked in August 2014 during a 10-day session at El Paso’s renowned Sonic Ranch, Restless Onesis a statement of collective confidence and ambitious vision,” says Magnet. “These songs capture an outstanding band hitting its stride,” says AllMusic, “and growing more comfortable with the craft of record-making along with singing and playing great, passionate music.” Rich with purpose, passion, and commanding musicianship, Restless Ones captures an idiosyncratic band exploring their craft and soul in an effort to reach a place that’s both true and transcendent. Heartless Bastards continue to drive their monumental music ever forward, towards hidden vistas and horizons still unseen. Follow their journey with us.

The broadcast version of this show will air as part of our Season 41 on PBS.  Join us for this live webcast of the Austin City Limits return of Heartless Bastards.

Giveaway: Heartless Bastards 11/23

UPDATE: Giveaway is now over.

Austin City Limits will be taping a performance by Heartless Bastards on Monday, Nov. 23rd, 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 Friday, Nov. 20th. Winners will be chosen at random and a photo ID will be required to pickup 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 or recording devices allowed in venue.

Giveaway: Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats 11/22


UPDATE: Giveaway is now over.

Austin City Limits will be taping a performance by Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats on Sunday, Nov. 22nd, 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, Nov. 19th. Winners will be chosen at random and a photo ID will be required to pickup 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 or recording devices allowed in venue.