James McMurtry

James McMurtry © KLRU photo by Scott Newton

With his “verbose, character-rich yarns” (Entertainment Weekly), James McMurtry has spent almost two decades fusing together roots music and lyrical witticisms that is as expansive as his father Larry McMurtry’s novels. As Rolling Stone wrote, “James McMurtry can compel you to boogie while you consider the plight of his characters.”

His first album, released in 1989, was produced by John Mellencamp and marked the beginning of a series of critically acclaimed projects. His most recent release, 2005’s Childish Things, earned McMurtry the 2006 Album of the Year and Americana Song of the Year for “We Can’t Make It Here” from the Americana Music Association. The song received high praise as a “brutally eloquent protest song” (USA Today.) The Washington Post wrote “As he rhymes with the adeptness of a rapper and the passion of a doomsday evangelist, McMurtry’s insistent diatribe leaves you no alternative but to pay attention.”

McMurtry is currently working on a new CD here in Austin, which will feature another political anthem, “God Bless America.” McMurtry released this song, which takes the current administration to task for the war, on the internet a month before the elections. “I’ve always been a little put off by activists. So you know it’s a dire situation when I have to become one myself,” McMurtry said.

The Gourds

The Gourds © KLRU photo by Scott Newton

Few bands could take the gansta rap stylings of Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice” and turn it into an Americana anthem. But Austin’s The Gourds have done that and more during their career of making quirky, witty, fun music.

Since the release of their debut CD, Dem’s Good Beeble in 1997, the band has been one of the stars of the Austin music scene. At the heart of The Gourds is the songwriting dichotomy of Kevin Russell and Jimmy Smith. Texas Monthly wrote “Kevin Russell is the meat-and-potatoes foot-stomping foundation of the group, whose best efforts resonate like charismatic old friends. The flipside is Jimmy Smith, whose work stubbornly refuses to yield to expectations. Like someone who asks, ‘You know what I think,’ and then doesn’t tell you, his songs can frustrate until they creep into your consciousness and stay there.” Add to that the musicianship of Claude Bernard, Keith Langford and Max Johnston and music fans get the “literate redneck party music for the well-read and unwashed” (Houston Press).

Earlier this year, The Gourds released Heavy Ornamentals to critical praise. Bumpershot wrote “The Gourds have been making music that celebrates American folk traditions ranging from good ol’ country to blues to cajun to whatever-you-care-to-name. On Heavy Ornamentals, the tradition continues.

“{It} is a demonstration of everything that The Gourds do best. And that’s plenty.” And Glide Magazine wrote on Heavy Ornamentals “The Gourds have allowed each song to become an excuse to meld their mishmash hybrid bluegrass style with relatable lyrics that makes everyone laugh and feel at home.”

Sarah Jarosz and The Milk Carton Kids folk out in ACL’s new season

Join us this weekend as we present Americana music originals Sarah Jarosz and The Milk Carton Kids in a brand new episode. Both artists showcase their bona fides in an all acoustic hour with roots/folk singer-songwriter Jarosz making a return appearance on the ACL stage and newcomers The Milk Carton Kids in their ACL debut. The episode showcases the young folk acts who were both nominated for Best Folk Album at this year’s Grammy Awards.

Pushing the limits of Americana with her own distinctive style, multi-instrumentalist Sarah Jarosz takes the ACL stage for her second appearance performing highlights from her recent album Build Me Up From Bones. The incredibly talented Jarosz has already released three albums at the age of 22. With her two-piece band featuring a fiddle player and cello, Jarosz begins a stellar set with the Grammy-nominated title track in an acoustic performance that showcases her musicianship and songwriting. Switching between mandolin and banjo, Jarosz also dips into the songbooks of others, treating the audience to an accessible take on Joanna Newsom’s “The Book of Right On” and a solo rendition of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Kathy’s Song”. She invites The Milk Carton Kids out to join her and the band for “Annabelle Lee” (based on an Edgar Allen Poe poem), displaying their complementary visions of contemporary folk music.

“We are so proud of Sarah, we feel like she’s part of the family,” says ACL executive producer Terry Lickona. “The last time she graced our stage she was on her way to college, now she’s graduated with honors and her remarkable talent has grown exponentially. We couldn’t resist having her back!”

photo by Scott Newton

The Milk Carton Kids, the L.A. acoustic folk duo consisting of Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan, make their ACL debut playing songs from their critically-acclaimed new album The Ash & Clay. The besuited pair “play a sweetly dazzling variation on close-harmony vocals, part Simon and Garfunkel and part Everly Brothers” (LA Times) for a sound NPR calls “gorgeous contemporary folk.” With flat-picking harmonies and a touch of twisted humor, the duo play purely acoustically on the ACL stage—no guitar amplification and one vocal mic—to beautiful effect. In a skillful performance infused with their signature wit, the Kids charm the Austin crowd with their playful, deadpan banter, exquisite guitar work, rich harmonies and timeless folk.

“I first saw Kenneth and Joey perform on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium last September, and it was obvious that they are world-class entertainers beyond their years,” says Lickona. “They are traditionalists with a modern spin and a mischievous sense of humor.”

photo by Scott Newton

Check out the episode page for more details. Be sure and visit our Facebook and Twitter pages or sign up for our newsletter for more ACL goodness. Next week: Grammy winner Kacey Musgraves and Dale Watson.

Sarah Jarosz

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Sarah Jarosz writes songs that “have a mystical streak, projecting love and loneliness across the landscape and the sky” (New York Times). Widely hailed as one of Americana music’s brightest young talents, Jarosz returned to the Austin City Limits stage performing songs from her newest release, Build Me Up From Bones.

Jarosz first appeared on ACL in 2010, supporting her debut album Song Up in Her Head. Though only 18 at the time, the Wimberly resident already had nearly a decade of performing experience under her belt, starting as a bluegrass prodigy but quickly expanding her horizons to include folk, jazz and pop. “I never became a bluegrass snob,” she told Texas Music. “I was always open to everything.”

Following her rising star turn on ACL, she left Austin to attend the New England Conservatory, releasing her second LP Follow Me Down along the way. Now graduated with honors from the Conservatory, Jarosz moved to New York City and dedicated herself to pushing the limits of her art, as Build Me Up From Bones asserts. “Jarosz makes music that’s all over the spectrum,” noted Pop Matters, “but puts her own imprint on it through her distinctive style.” All Music Guide declares that the album “reflects not only her growth as a songwriter but her willingness to push the boundaries of country, folk, and Americana to discover connections not necessarily considered before.”

Dawes

Photo ©KLRU by Scott Newton

Dawes’ authentically vintage sound, combined with wry lyrics, has made them one of America’s most beloved young bands. Dawes makes its Austin City Limits debut performing songs from their newest release, Stories Don’t End.

With 2009′s North Hills and 2011′s Nothing is Wrong, Dawes gained a reputation for impressive folk rock songs that evoke the past while still being modern. To make Stories Don’t End, the band traveled from their L.A. home to North Carolina and worked with producer Jacquire King (Tom Waits, Kings of Leon, Norah Jones), resulting in their most diverse and accomplished record yet. “We wanted to stay true to this thing that we had while starting to widen the spectrum a little bit,” said chief songwriter and lead vocalist Taylor Goldsmith. In doing so they have created what London’s Independent writes is “as close to a perfect Americana album as there’s been this year.”

Rolling Stone called the album “quietly gripping” and “deceptively gleaming.”  Paste noted that it’s full of “their most intricate music to date, full of colorful detours and surprising instrumental flavors” and the NY Daily News declared that it “both recalls a classic era and speaks to any.”

“The album is very honest,” concludes keyboardist Tay Strathairn. “It’s us.”

Encore: Bob Mould and Delta Spirit

It’s amazing to think that the loosely defined umbrella “alternative rock” now stretches past the quarter century mark. In celebration of its endurance, this week Austin City Limits presents a veteran of the style and a fast-rising newcomer. Bob Mould pioneered the loud/fast guitar pop style with both his 80s punk band Hüsker Dü and his 90s power pop trio Sugar, while Delta Spirit carves its own path by blending Americana and indie rock. This episode will get your heart pumping and your air guitar flailing.

Joined by longtime bass foil Jason Narducy and Superchunk/Mountain Goats drummer Jon Wurster, Bob Mould wastes no time getting to the point, opening with the bludgeoning power chords of Sugar’s “The Act We Act.” It’s the start of a blazing career retrospective that ranges from the romping Sugary power pop of “Changes” and “If I Can’t Change Your Mind” to the raging power rock of “Star Machine,” the lead-off track from Mould’s highly acclaimed LP Silver Age. Hüsker Dü classics bring down the house, including the nuclear powered folk rock of “Celebrated Summer” and the irresistible hooks of “Makes No Sense at All.” While it’s hard to pick a highlight in a show packed with so many goodies, the epic, elegiac version of the rarely-performed Hüsker gem “Hardly Getting Over It” elevates the episode from simply excellent to truly magnificent.

From the intensity of the veteran we go to the enthusiasm of the newcomers, as Delta Spirit takes the stage. The Brooklyn-based quintet revs the energy up immediately with the rumbling “White Table,” before irrepressible singer Matt Vasquez sparks the crowd into overdrive with the anthemic “Money Saves.” The band brings things back down with “Vivian,” a lovely song about former Austinite Vasquez’s grandmother, performed with his own mama in the audience for a touching moment. Then it’s more palate-cleansing with the lilting, melodic “California,” before bringing the house down with the band’s explosive standard “Trashcan,” probably the only song in the ACL catalog that features a metal trashcan lid as a main instrument.

photo by Scott Newton

More details can be had on the episode page here. Don’t forget to check in with our Facebook and Twitter pages or sign up for our newsletter for more ACL news. Next week: Widespread Panic.