JP Harris & the Tough Choices

You thought country music ain't what it used to be. Think again. J.P. Harris and The Tough Choices have been resurrecting the ghosts of a time when real, hardcore Honky Tonk ruled the airwaves; before the words "pop" or "new" ever met the word "country." Leaving home at the young age of 14, J.P. Harris has lived the songs HE writes for well over a decade, getting his start around fires in sheep-herding camps in the southwest and hobo jungles across the country. Compared by many to George Jones, Billie Joe Shaver, and even rising star Jamey Johnson, J.P. writes with the humor, grit, and grace that only a truly road-worn author can summon. In just over two years, The Tough Choices have traveled nearly 100,000 miles and played over 200 dates, from Vermont to Louisiana to California, from festival stages to roadhouses you can't find on a map. If you wanna dance, if you wanna cry in your drink, or if you like scruffy fellas in tight jeans, then look out for J.P. Harris and The Tough Choices...

John Howie Jr. & the Rosewood Bluff

When North Carolina's honky-tonk heroes the Two Dollar Pistols broke up in 2008- leaving behind a legacy that included five full-length CD's, an EP of duets with Grammy nominee Tift Merritt, and several US and European tours- lead singer/songwriter John Howie Jr. already had the seeds planted for a new group, one that would continue the Pistols tradition of making soulful honky-tonk based music for contemporary times. Bringing drummer Matt Brown over from the Pistols, John recruited pedal steel guitar ace Nathan Golub, christened the new band John Howie Jr and the Rosewood Bluff, and set about writing a new batch of songs.

After a solid year of playing live, opening for everyone from Junior Brown to Lucero, plans were made for the band to enter the studio. Brian Paulson (Wilco, The Jayhawks, Uncle Tupelo) was called on to take the producer's chair, having done a stellar job in that capacity on the Two Dollar Pistols 2004 Yep Roc release, Hands Up! Studio time was blocked off at Kudzu Ranch, owned and operated by Rick Miller (Southern Culture on the Skids). Several months later, the band emerged with Leavin' Yesterday, an album that expands upon the Pistols trademark sound, adding prominent pedal steel guitar, piano (by DB's/REM member Peter Holsapple), and strings to the mix for a landmark country music collection that should please Pistols fans, while breaking new ground at the same time.

Album opener "Watch Me Fall," a defiant, ringing kiss-off in the grand tradition of country music, sets the tone for Leavin' Yesterday. Straight-ahead country-rockers, "Trying Not to Think," and, "Last Great Guitar Slinger," sit comfortably next to ballads like, "Downhill," and classic honky-tonk shuffles like, "Handful of Heartaches,"and, "Back to Basics." The Jimmy Webb/Glen Campbell influenced "Dead Man's Suit" comes off "like it could have been Gene Clark...if he'd packed a string section," according to Shuffle Magazine, while "I've Found Someone New," also featuring a string quartet, bears the influence of Billy Sherill's 1970's "Countrypolitan" productions as found on the George Jones and Charlie Rich records of the day. The album-closing title track rings out with 12-string Rickenbacker, pedal steel, and gorgeous harmonies.

With Leavin Yesterday finished, Howie put together a crack band capable of capturing all of the moods in the country music idiom and doing full justice to his songs. Along with Golub on steel and Brown on drums, electric/upright bassist Billie Feather (The Bo-Stevens, Darnell Woodies) signed up, as did telecaster hero Tim Shearer (Hearts and Daggers), with Howie front and center on lead vocals and acoustic guitar.

Response to the album - as evidenced by great reviews, airplay on Little Steven's Outlaw Country, and choice slots at the Ameriserv Flood City Music Fest and an opening spot for country music legend George Jones - has been overwhelmingly positive. The fan base Howie built with Two Dollar Pistols and prime song placement in hit films like Jeepers Creepers and hot TV shows like Weeds and United States of Tara continues to grow.

Two Dollar Pistols fans mourning the loss of North Carolina's finest traditional country/honky-tonk band need not have worried. While the Pistols may be gone, one listen to Leavin' Yesterday by John Howie Jr. and the Rosewood Bluff should prove that, as the Charleston City Paper says, "Howie's best years may still be ahead of him."

Jonathan Parker & The Bel-Airs

Jonathan Parker is a no apologies, traditional, country/Honkytonk artist from deep in the moonshining swamps of Johnston County NC. Jonathan began his trek in the music business 13 yrs ago, believe it or not, in the hard rock/alternative world with the band called The Cardinal Effect. After extensive touring in support of a tribunal records debut release, the band disbanded and went separate ways. A hard hitting rock bottom, following an extensive bout with substance abuse, led Parker back to the music he was rooted on. With hopes of someday being able to write, record, and tour at any level, with his own brand of raw, hard edged, traditional country music, he started piecing together a "strictly-traditional" country band. Later forming what is now know as his live backing band, The Bel-Airs. After constructing a collection of original material, and several honkytonk gigs under their belt, Jonathan and co. finally released the debut LP, "They'll Never Play My Songs In Nashville", in the spring of 2013, and are currently working on a sophomore effort that is slated for release in the fall of 2014. In a world of watered down b.s., force fed by today's country radio, Jonathan Parker & The Bel-Airs are certainly a breath of fresh air to any traditional country/honkytonk fan!

$6 online / $8 at the door


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