Divine Diversions: Country, American and Indigenous Music
Whether you’re listening to music through a streaming service, CD, or record player, youI will want to transform them THIS-approved tunes up a notch.
In our January 2022 issue, we rounded up some of our favorite entertainment options in the western world. Here, check out our recommendations for country, Americana, native music, and more.
CJ Garton has been writing and singing for as long as he can remember. Working on the ranch with his dad as a kid in Oklahoma helped cement his lifelong dedication to authentic country sounds. “You were surrounded by the tunes of George Strait, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson, and working cattle, and you were up early.”
Now in his late thirties, Garton has made a career of country music and works in Nashville, but he still returns to his family land in Oklahoma to reconnect with his roots. He has lived without his father since losing him in the early 2000s. A snippet from Garton’s new double album, Tales from the Ole West and other libations to please the palate, addresses the grief and memories that the artist still carries. “If Daddy Could See” hits home with serious lyrical sentiment and a powerful baritone voice (that Whitley and Haggard would be proud of).
The other tunes on Tales from the Ole West tap into the greatest traditions and lyrical styles of late 20th century country. Garton’s dedication to the classics bodes well for his new album, initially available in a premium vinyl edition. Intricately designed by Scott Yousey with a holographic cover depicting both a cowboy and a Native American (the western dichotomy), it demonstrates Garton’s grand vision for the project. Song titles on the back are listed in English and Cherokee text. In the visuals and music (co-produced with frequent collaborator and accomplished Nashville fiddler Joe Spivey), Garton aims to honor both the cowboy and native culture of his Oklahoma home.
“I really connect with what the Cherokee did, and the tranquility of the land and Mother Nature, and just the God-given natural environment that we have.”
The traditional sounds and heartfelt messages of Garton’s new album began to take shape in 2019, when he embarked on a remarkable journey with his son. What started as a crazy idea to spend more time together turned into a father-son horseback ride from Tennessee to Oklahoma. Garton and his son dubbed their month-long trip “Riding for Real Country: The Ride Back Home” and connected with people at every stop about their love for traditional country music.
“When I approached [my son], I said, ‘Hey, I’m going to get on a horse and ride 700 miles to the ranch. And I plan to do it in 30 days. Do you want to come with me?’ He just looked at me and said, ‘Yeah, yeah, I’ll do it with you.'”
The trip was a resounding success not only for Garton’s own inspiration for songwriting, but also for the bond he strengthened with his son. They spent countless hours together on their horses, Pancho and Lefty, and met people from all walks of life.
“I loved the idea of us waking up in hammocks, and there’s a light rain falling and the sun coming up over a cornfield, and we’re getting ready to jump on a horse, me and my son , and just go up , you know?”
Emmylou Harris and the Nash Ramblers
Ramble in Music City: The Lost Concert
(emmylouharris.com; available now)
It was 1990. The Hubble telescope was about to be launched. Germany would be reunited. And Emmylou Harris would form his all-acoustic band, the Nash Ramblers. After 15 years of touring and performing with her Hot Band, she’s brought together stars of finger picking and shown everyone – again – how it’s done. The Nash Ramblers consisted of Sam Bush (fiddle, mandolin, vocals), Roy Huskey Jr. (bass), Larry Atamanuik (drums), Al Perkins (dobro, banjo, vocals) and Jon Randall Stewart (acoustic guitar, mandolin, vocals ). ). The concert at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center was taped, but the tapes would be set aside somewhere and forgotten.
Until now. This newly unearthed live recording fell like manna from country music heaven on the Nonesuch label. With music from AP Carter, Rodney Crowell, Ruth Franks, the Louvin Brothers, Doc Pomus, Paul Simon, Townes Van Zandt and Harris herself, it’s a different (and equally wonderful) set of songs from those of the Grammy. — winner At the Ryman, which was taped the following spring, and would help spur the multimillion-dollar restoration of the nation’s “Mother Church.”
Emmylou, now 74, looked pleasantly stunned when the old recording from that night was found. “When James Austin, in my humble opinion the best and certainly the most dedicated music archaeologist in the world, unearthed the tapes of this ‘lost’ concert, I was amazed at their very existence, like finding a cherished photograph misplaced so long ago moment had been forgotten,” Harris is quoted on the label’s website. “It only took one listen to realize that not one note was out of place or needed to be repaired, a truly extraordinary performance by these gifted musicians. What a joy it was to share the stage with them.
John Mitchum’s shameless love for country, cowboys and God
(johnmitchumworld.com; available now)
The late John Mitchum was known for his acting work, especially his roles in Clint Eastwood films such as High Plains Wanderer and Outlaw Josey Wales, but he also wrote poems and songs that have become cherished in the Western world. He composed “America – Why I Love Her”. Famously recorded by John Wayne, the poem gets an updated reading by Robert Duvall on this Mitchum tribute album. Duvall is far from the only luminary to express poems to moving music. You’ll hear Wilford Brimley, Red Steagall, Barry Corbin and dozens more.
The Navajo Piano (Revisited)
(connorchee.com; available now)
The accomplished Navajo pianist has released an updated version of his award-winning classic record – the results are mesmerizing. You will hear traditional Navajo songs as well as their adaptations on the piano that Chee arranges so skillfully.
Home in this World: Woody Guthrie’s Dust Bowl ballads
(elektra.lnk.to/homeinthisworld; available now)
Some of today’s top American artists have lovingly covered tracks from the 1940 Culture Album. Dust bowl ballads by folk legend Woody Guthrie. It’s amazing how the messages stay relevant. Highlights include Lee Ann Womack’s “Dusty Old Dust” and Colter Wall’s “Do Re Mi”.
City of Music United States
(charleycrokett.com; available now)
The Texas troubadour continues his journey through vintage sounds and styles on his second LP in the space of a year. This collection finds his gifted vocals flirting with honky-tonk steel, soulful horns and driving beats.
(nataliehemby.com; release mid-2022)
Hemby is one of Nashville’s most prolific and talented songwriters. She has also been part of the supergroup The Highwomen in recent years. But the time has finally come for her to shine solo. Hemby’s new album is packed with country-rock earworms that won’t seem out of place on a playlist next to Don Henley, Bonnie Raitt or Sheryl Crow.
(themavericksband.com; available now)
The band’s first all-Spanish album has been my favorite since its release, and it hasn’t lost a bit of its shine through all the rehearsals. The Mavericks have been making fabulous (Grammy-winning) music for decades on the fringes of country, but hearing Raul Malo’s sublime voice sing in Spanish in honor of the band’s Latin music American heritage is on another level. Watch the video of “Recuerdos” and you’ll see what makes Malo pure magic and Eddie Perez one of the coolest guitarists of all time. And check out the album cover on Amazon by THIS favorite Dolan Geiman.
lost in translation
(leahturner.com; available now)
“Vaquera and the Cowboy” was Leah Turner’s second release of 2021 and one of the songs from her new EP, lost in translation. It’s a rhythmic, melodic love story that draws inspiration from her parents: her mother, a first-generation Mexican American and jewelry artist; his father, a real cowboy and rodeo champion. She embraces her heritage in her music, with driving beats, Spanish lyrics, and occasional, highly effective castanets.
remember his name
(mickeyguyton.com; available now)
September saw Mickey Guyton’s long-awaited debut album, Remember his name, after her critically acclaimed EP Bridges, which included Grammy-nominated “Black Like Me.” She made the cover of Billboard and co-hosted the 56th Academy of Country Music Awards. But it’s the music that will remind you of his name. “This album is the closing of a chapter,” Guyton says in press materials. “All those years ago, I set out to create music that would allow people to feel empowered, loved, and comfortable being themselves, and this album is true to all of that.”
treasure of love
(theflatlanders.com; available now)
Texas troubadours Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock have reunited again for their first new record since 2009 Hills and valleys. The boys are in great shape, with licks galore. I can’t remember the last time the harmonica sounded this good. Sitting on top of the world, indeed.
(galan.in; available now)
The Guardian described Nicholas Galanin (Tlingit, Unangax̂) — the immense creative force behind musical project/group Ya Tseen — as “the Alaska-based star mixing psych pop and giant political art”. His recent record, Indian Courtranges from the powerfully political to the tenderly personal – ‘Knives’ (featuring Portugal the man) is according to Galanin, “a love song about softening a calloused heart and experiencing magnetic longing, connection romance, vulnerability and risk that love opens us up to.
Excerpt from our January 2022 issue
Photograph: (Cover image) courtesy of CJ Garton