Cash Cabin Sessions, Vol. 3
One morning near the end of August, Todd Snider was relaxing with a visitor on the back porch of his house just outside Nashville, drinking coffee and shooting the breeze while his dog, Cowboy Jim, took a nap nearby. After awhile, Snider said to his guest, "I've got an album's worth of songs, and I think the songs are telling me to make a folk record."
This was a surprising bit of news considering he had spent the last six years making rock albums of one kind or another. But Snider was feeling as if he had "maybe drifted too far from the shore." He was feeling the pull to start over, to go back to what he was doing when he first began, to return to his roots as a folksinger.
If Snider needed any further evidence that was the direction he should pursue, he got it a half hour later. Back inside his home office, he checked his email and had one from his manager informing him he had just received an offer to play the 2019 Newport Folk Festival, an event he had never done.
Snider mentioned he had been listening to Woody Guthrie's Library of Congress Recordings, then crossed the room to the turntable and put the needle down on side one of the record. "Woody Guthrie sometimes gets me reset on why you do a song, instead of how," Snider explains of the man who has long been a touchstone for him. "When I was young, there was something about him that made me want to do it. So once or twice a year, I'll go back to him, I'll go back to the source."
Guthrie famously had the words "This machine kills fascists" printed on his guitar, and on several of the songs on Snider's new album, Cash Cabin Sessions, Vol. 3, he squarely aims his guitar at the creeping fascism he sees in America. He had been wanting to make a political record since 2016, and although only half the songs lean in that direction, there is one constant throughout the album: a man, his guitar, and the truth.
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Snider has long been recognized as one of his generation's most gifted and engaging songwriters, so it's no surprise he has returned with a brilliant set of songs -- and make no mistake, Cash Cabin Sessions, Vol. 3 contains some of his best work as a writer. But what really jumps out on the album is Snider's growth as a musician and vocalist. He plays all the instruments on the record, and his guitar work and harmonica playing are nothing short of exceptional; not only full of feeling, but highly skilled. In regards to his guitar playing on the record, Snider says he wanted to take everything he's learned over the past 30 years and play the way he used to play really well.
As far as his vocals on the album are concerned, Snider is singing with more confidence than ever, a confidence born in part from his time with Hard Working Americans doing nothing but sing. His stirring vocal performances range from slurring blues mumble to Dylanesque talking blues to gravely, honest ache.
Of the five songs on which Snider serves up his humorous brand of socio-political commentary, three are performed in the talking blues style: "Talking Reality Television Blues," a hilariously accurate short history of television; "The Blues on Banjo," a bad case of the blues caused by the sorry state of everything from the crooked international monetary-military-industrial complex to the spineless politicians who serve it and which references "Blue Suede Shoes," Richard Lewis, and Townes Van Zandt; and "A Timeless Response to Current Events," a brilliant bit of wordplay on which he calls bullshit on faux patriotism, crooked capitalism, and lying politicians. Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires contributed backing vocals on the latter two songs.
There are two other songs on the album featuring Snider's socio-political points of view: "Just Like Overnight," about the surprising inevitability of change, and "Framed," written from the point of view of the framed "first dollar bill" in a bar, a point of view that shows doing the right thing doesn't pay.
There also are three songs with a music theme. If not for the events that led to the writing of one of those songs,"The Ghost of Johnny Cash," there almost certainly would be no Cash Cabin Sessions, Vol. 3. After a visit to Cash Cabin Studio for a Loretta Lynn session in 2015 where she recorded a song they cowrote, Snider began having a recurring dream about the studio that featured the Man in Black himself. The dream led him to book time at the studio and ultimately inspired him to write "The Ghost of Johnny Cash," which tells the story of Loretta Lynn dancing with Cash's ghost outside the studio in the middle of the night. As he did on much of the record, Snider played the century-old Martin that had long been Johnny Cash's favorite instrument on that song.
Snider paid tribute to Cash's longtime friend and confidante in another of the music-themed songs, "Cowboy Jack Clement's Waltz." Inspired by the iconic record man's oft-quoted maxims regarding the art of recording, the song achingly laments Clement's passing, while touchingly celebrating his legacy.
The album opens with the other song with a music theme, "Working on a Song." It's an existential exercise, a song Snider wrote about writing a song called "Where Do I Go Now That I'm Gone," an idea he actually has been working on for thirty years, but which remains unfinished.
There are also two songs that are personal in nature: "Watering Flowers in the Rain," which was inspired by a former associate of Snider's whose nickname was "Elvis," and "Like a Force of Nature," a philosophical reflection on the orbital nature of friendships. Isbell also added harmony vocals to "Like a Force of Nature."
If Snider is anything, he is a true artist, and he reminds us of that on Cash Cabin Sessions, Vol. 3. At a point in time when the world has never been more complicated and confusing, with people getting louder and louder, Snider did a 180, went back to his roots as a folksinger, to a simpler, quieter form of expression; and it might be what the world is waiting to hear: just a man, his guitar, and the truth.
Jamie Lin Wilson
“It’s a weird road we’re on right now––I guess it always has been,” Jamie Lin Wilson says. She’s sitting on her porch in D’Hanis, a tiny town on the Seco Creek in South Texas, not far from San Antonio. She laughs a little, then adds, “But nobody’s life is the same. There is no blueprint.”
Thank goodness for all the lonely paths Jamie’s had to find that no one else has taken. With a voice that slides in and out of notes with easy grace, a sly sense of humor, and lyrics that highlight the details most of us miss, Jamie creates stark vignettes: intimate conversations between friends who might be lovers and lovers who can’t be friends; kids hopping from stone to stone in a graveyard; the way rolling clouds can signal a new season. She lives and works in that sweet spot where folk and country meet––Guy Clark territory.
“It’s unfair that the poets and songwriters are the ones who have the songs about their lives, when maybe that’s not what’s poetic,” Jamie says. “Maybe the moments are the ones happening in everyday farmers’ lives, or to a widow, or a son.” It’s her comfort in and commitment to two distinct worlds––that of the dream-chasing artists and the dirt-under-their-nails realists––that makes Jamie and her songs not just inviting, but cathartically important.
Jamie’s anticipated new record Jumping Over Rocks marks her second full-length solo album, but she’s not the new kid. She cut her teeth fronting and co-fronting beloved bands including the Gougers and the Trishas, winning over listeners and peers across the country. Now, her place as an acclaimed singer-songwriter on her own seems fated, imbued with a singular blend of freshness and road-earned wisdom. “I consider ‘Jumping Over Rocks’ to be a definitive record on myself and my style,” Jamie says. “I hope it’s something people connect with, that it’s familiar to them but also new. I hope that people find it interesting.”
No one covers the spectrum of age and experience quite like Jamie: moving portraits of men, women, and children coping, striving, wondering, and celebrating. Interesting? Undoubtedly. Universal but specific and personal, too. “I studied people around me more for this record than I have in the past,” she says. “I wrote songs from my perspective, from the outside looking in.”
Jamie didn’t pick up a guitar until she was 19. Casual remarks she dropped to her mom and cousin led to a gifting of an acoustic that Christmas. She started attending open mics in College Station, and was immediately welcomed into what was primarily a boys’ club of aspiring pickers and writers that included future fellow Gouger Shayne Walker. “By the end of the summer, I was playing gigs in a band, the Gougers,” she says. “I learned how to play guitar on stage.”
Jamie never looked back. She fell in love and married her college sweetheart, Roy. Together, the two raise their children and make their “weird road” work beautifully. “I’ve been taking kids on the road for eight years, touring constantly, just taking breaks to have babies,” Jamie says.
Jamie recorded Jumping Over Rocks during four days at Arlyn Studios in Austin. A fierce cast of musicians joined her, including Charlie Sexton on guitar, and together, Jamie and the players cut every track live. “You’re hearing my voice with the band––their playing, reacting to my emotions, and my voice reacting to the things they’re playing, all in real time,” Jamie says. “I think that adds to the feeling of these songs.”
The result is a rich collection of story songs delivered over rootsy strings, moody keys, crying steel, and sparse percussion, carried by Jamie’s songbird soprano that can convey tears or laughter with equal panache, sometimes in the same bar. The record kicks off with “Faithful and True,” a vocal showcase that mixes the sorrow of admitting shortcomings with a plea for forgiveness. Written with Jack Ingram, the song sounds like a classic from golden-era Nashville. “In our minds, it was about a relationship and obvious temptation,” Jamie says. “I started playing it at shows, and someone came up after one and said, ‘That song sounds like a prayer.’ I said, ‘Man, I think that’s what it is!’ That’s how I’ve thought of it ever since.”
Gently rolling “The Being Gone” questions the cost and payoff of decisions made, while “Oklahoma Stars,” which Jamie wrote with Turnpike Troubadours’ Evan Felker, pays tribute to those long nights that run together, unremarkably, but in hindsight come together to build a relationship, land, or life. Dreamy “Everybody’s Moving Slow” conjures up images of hazy summers as Jamie delivers a crooning performance worthy of the Rat Pack.
Opening with plaintive strings, “If I Told You” mulls over a painful thought: what if the other person doesn’t really want to know how you feel about them? Smiling through defeat, “Eyes for You” explores the vulnerability love brings. “In a Wink” kicks off with a poignant question: “Did you enjoy the clouds as much as Maggie did this morning? / I don’t know that anybody could,” before cataloguing the gorgeous moments we rush through instead of savor.
"Instant Coffee Blues," originally written by Guy Clark and featuring Ingram as a duet partner, is the sole cover on the record. It's followed by Jamie's own song, "Run," which explores an area Clark mastered, with a stirring debate over how long is too long for a woman to stay.
The album gets its title from standout track “Death and Life,” an epic it took Jamie four years to write. A widow mourning her husband and not quite ready to let go; a son who copes with his father’s death by getting to work with his hands, hammers, nails, and 2x4s: the two true tales became intertwined thematically as Jamie mulled them over. “I realized the song is how people who are still here deal with death,” she says. “It’s life after death, but not heavenly life. It’s how the living deal with death.”
When asked how she hopes listeners react to Jumping Over Rocks, Jamie brings up a hero: John Prine. “On his new album, there is a song that always gets me––‘Summer’s End,’” she says. “Every time I listen to it, I start crying, and I think, ‘I don’t know why I’m crying!’” She laughs her big laugh, which comes often and easily. “I hope something I create can get to somebody in that way. That’s what gets us through––finding common ground with someone else, whether it’s in songs or friendship. It makes you feel better about your own life.”