Rock News: Music's high and low notes

By JOHN SWENSON, United Press International  |  March 13, 2003 at 3:00 AM
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New West Records has announced the signing of singer/songwriter John Hiatt and a May 6 release date for his label debut, "Beneath This Gruff Exterior." Recorded live in the studio, "Beneath This Gruff Exterior" is the first of his 18 albums to be credited to the alliance known as "John Hiatt and the Goners," which refers to his long-time band consisting of guitarist Sonny Landreth, bassist Dave Ranson and drummer Kenneth Blevins.

Hiatt and the Goners reunited for the first time in almost 10 years for the recording of his last album, "The Tiki Bar is Open," released in 2001. The new disc was co-produced by Don Smith, who worked with Hiatt on his 1995 album, "Walk On," and has engineered albums for such artists as the Rolling Stones and Tom Petty.

"Beneath This Gruff Exterior" is Hiatt's most rocking album to date, and features some amazing musical interplay among the band members, a by-product of the energy level achieved by the live-in-the-studio set up.

"We really just wanted to go in and get to the nuts and bolts of what this quartet does -- if you come hear us live, this is pretty much what you get," said Hiatt about the sessions.

The album also spotlights another dozen Hiatt song gems, including "The Most Unoriginal Sin," a song he wrote several years ago but never recorded until now. Willie Nelson did record the tune for his "Across the Border" album in 1993.


Rounder Records released a new album by the Lynn Morris Band this week, "Shape of a Tear." A three-time International Bluegrass Music Association award winner for Female Vocalist of the Year, Morris is one of the treasures of traditional bluegrass, with 15 years as the leader of one of the tightest and most soulful bands in the business.

With IBMA award-winning fiddler/banjoist Ron Stewart, bassist Marshall Wilborn and mandolinist Jesse Brock stoking the fire behind Lynn's guitar and clawhammer banjo, genuine bluegrass doesn't come any finer. Following up "You'll Never Be the Sun" -- the band's last studio album released in 1999 -- "Shape of a Tear" features guest appearances by some of the hottest bluegrass and country musicians today, including Junior Brown, who performs pedal steel and harmony vocals on Buck Owens' "Gonna Have Love." Also featured are Rob Ickes, a frequent winner of the IBMA's Dobro Player of the Year award and current member of Rounder recording group Blue Highway (on "Gonna Have Love" and "Shape of a Tear") as well as award-winning singer Dudley Connell, who sings harmony vocals on "Shoulder to Shoulder" and "I Know What You're Talking About."


Miami-based rock quartet Endo is set to release "Songs for the Restless" May 13 on DV8/Columbia, preceded by the first single, "Simple Lies," which will be released to radio April 15. A video will follow shortly after. "Simple Lies" also appears on the "Daredevil" soundtrack, which recently cracked the Top 10 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart.

"Songs for the Restless," recorded in Los Angeles with producer David Schiffman (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tom Petty), exhibits a more focused sound than the band's last album, "Evolve."

"I recently embraced different styles of music, from Diamanda Galas to Leonard Cohen, and they inspired me to sing more," said vocalist Gil Bitton, who was born in Israel and moved to Florida as a child. "The last album relied on more screaming, but the new album is darker and more melodic yet retains the same intensity. I feel that we really reinvented ourselves, but most importantly, the album doesn't sound contrived. It came from us, and you can hear it."


Poison's Bret Michaels is having a ball. In an unusually titled article in the April issue of Jane Magazine called "Is That An Ego In Your Pants," Bret's lower half is prominently featured. Access Hollywood ran a one-hour special with Bret talking about his hits, "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" and "Nothin' But A Good Time" and ending with host Pat O'Brien plugging Michaels' upcoming record. In early April, Michaels releases his first solo single and video for the song, "Raine," written about and inspired by the birth of his daughter, who was born May 20, 2000. The single is from his upcoming solo album "Songs Of Life," scheduled for release on his daughter's third birthday. Fans can pre-purchase the album prior to its release on either or


Revered songwriter Billy Joe Shaver continues on a whirlwind schedule that includes a showcase performance at the Americana Music Association's show at the fabled SXSW 2003 Music Festival in Austin, Texas Thursday. Shaver, the inaugural recipient of the AMA's Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting in Nashville last September, seizes the midnight spot at Antone's in an all-star lineup that also features Rosie Flores, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Kathleen Edwards and Sonny Landreth.

Released in November of 2002, the 15-cut "Freedom's Child" on Compadre Records is celebrating eight weeks at the top of the Americana Music chart. The album garnered across-the-board rave reviews and, despite its late arrival, still gained substantial recognition in year's "best of" polls, as it has continued on a steady, upward arc.

On the cinematic front, Billy Joe's life is the subject of a documentary near completion by filmmaker Luciana Pedraza, the longtime girlfriend of actor Robert Duvall. Due for release later this year, the film recounts the heart-rending story of this honky tonk hero's life, including an interview with 103-year-old Mabel Legg, who as Shaver's boyhood English teacher encouraged him to explore creative writing.

In addition to the documentary, Shaver, who made his dramatic film debut in Duvall's 1997 Southern gospel masterpiece, "The Apostle," will return to the silver screen this fall with a role in "Secondhand Lions," starring Duvall and Michael Caine.

In other SXSW news, due to a family tragedy, The B-52's canceled their performance at Stubb's on Wednesday.

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