James McMurtry performs at The Birchmere on April 16, 2022. (Photo by Rashad Polk)
Popularity and respect are two entirely different things. Some artists — and I won’t name names here — are well known but may not be highly esteemed. Other artists command less name recognition, but, amongst those who are aware of them they are held in the highest regard.
James McMurtry is an artist who falls in the latter category: He’s far from a household name, but people who know James McMurtry think the world of him. Those people include his peers in the singer-songwriter community, like Jason Isbell, as well as literary figures like the bestselling author Stephen King and rock critics like Robert Christgau.
James has been making records since the ’80s, and his recent set at The Birchmere covered four decades of material.
Spoon performs at 9:30 Club on April 11, 2022. (Photo by Kyle Gustafson)
Spoon are a big enough band to play Merriweather Post Pavilion, but they choose to play smaller venues like the 9:30 Club — as they did last week! This is because, quite simply, Britt Daniel and the rest of the guys in this band are cool. They write great songs, and they perform them well. There’s no bullshit with Spoon, just rock ‘n’ roll; they don’t waste a lot of time on chatter — it’s all about the songs. They give you enough to feel satisfied, but they also know when it’s time to leave before you’re worn out, exhausted, and you’ve had too much. Because, Spoon, as I’ve, is a cool band.
Laura Colwell of Sun June leads a performance at Songbyrd Music House on Feb. 19, 2022. (Photo by Casey Vock)
Even music aimed to comfort the listener can be adventurous and dynamic within that delicate zone, but getting there unquestionably requires a careful and credible impetus.
Sun June, an encouraging indie outfit out of Austin and yet another outstanding member of the Keeled Scales roster, doesn’t loiter purposelessly, but strolls toward bliss in discovering and reconciling the fleeting beauty of one’s own emotions.
Sun June (Photo by Santiago Dietche)
Sun June returned with Somewhere, a new album, in February 2021. Now, a year later, the band gets to tour the new songs — including a tour stop at Songbyrd Music House on Saturday, Feb. 19.
Bill Kirchen (Photo courtesy the artist)
Known as “The King of Dieselbilly” and “The Titan of the Telecaster,” Bill Kirchen has a distinctive, powerful style as a guitarist. There’s twang, but it rocks hard, and it grooves. When he plays “Hot Rod Lincoln,” the top-10 hit he had as a member of Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen in the ’70s, Bill shows off the range of his influences as a player. He spent several minutes playing a few bars in the style of many different artists during a set at The Birchmere recently.
Erika Wennerstrom fronts Heartless Bastards at Union Stage on Oct. 2, 2021. (Photo by Casey Vock)
Erika Wennerstrom, lead singer and songwriter for the Austin-based band Heartless Bastards, may just have the perfect rock ‘n’ roll voice. It’s deep, powerful, and rich, with some similarity to another great singer originally from the Buckeye State, Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders. As one fan called out between songs, “I would listen to you read the phone book.” (I suppose this would require finding a phone book, which presents a challenge, as they’ve gone the way of the dodo.)
When Erika and the Bastards headlined at DC’s Union Stage recently, that incredible voice was on display for a meaty, two-hour set.
Asleep at the Wheel performs at The Birchmere on July 8, 2021. (Photo by Casey Vock)
For five decades, Austin’s Asleep at the Wheel has carried the torch for Western swing. Winners of 10 Grammys, they’ve collaborated with everyone from Willie Nelson to Jamey Johnson to Huey Lewis. to Old Crow Medicine Show.
Despite playing what is “hard-core country music,” the Wheel has long attracted fans who don’t normally feel drawn to country. Part of this is the great divide between country through the ’50s and the Nashville sound that succeeded it. As Tyler Mahan Coe has said on his podcast Cocaine & Rhinestones, there’s no real distinction between honky-tonk and early rock ‘n’ roll. Asleep at the Wheel may have fiddles, but they also have drums and sax, and they rock hard.
And You Will Know Us by the Trail of the Dead (Photo courtesy the band)
Following a successful global livestream kickoff event on July 31 and another on Aug. 7, …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead now prepare for their next highly anticipated livestream event. The final show in this series of livestreams happens on Friday, Aug. 14.
Slaid Cleaves (Photo by Karen Cleaves)
Austin singer-songwriter Slaid Cleaves played a delightful show to a packed house at Hill Country Live recently. He opened with “Horseshoe Lounge,” with his accompanist, Chojo Jacques, adding fiddle to the mix. Slaid told the crowd that he was born in DC, and that this was his fourth October show at Hill Country in DC.
Jesse Dayton (Photo by Ray Redding)
After releasing 11 studio albums and an EP as a solo artist, Jesse Dayton’s new album, Mixtape Volume 1, is a series of 10 cover songs that he reinterprets and revisits in a brand-new way. Jesse, of course, is a blues, country, *and* punk artist known for his work with Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, X, and others as well as his soundtracks for Rob Zombie.
Parklife DC’s Mickey McCarter emailed Jesse Dayton to ask him about the new album and his career prior to his show at City Winery DC on Thursday, Sept. 26.