Former Dwight Yoakam Sideman Brian Whelan Goes Solo

Matt Hopper
Brian Whelan kicks dirt in the Arizona desert.
Brian Whelan isn't a snob when it comes to a good song.

"I have never gave a shit if it's a pop thing or a lo-fi indie thing, I don't care," Whelan says over the phone from the South By Southwest festival in Austin, speaking over the blunt din of the festivities. "Any genre -- if it's a good song, I like it."

Up until recently, the Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter could be seen on stages across the nation with Dwight Yoakam, playing in the "cowpunk" pioneer's Bakersfield-evoking band, but as of 2015 Whelan is a free agent, shifting his focus to a burgeoning career which finds him fusing power pop melodies and classic country songcraft.

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Phoenix-Born Country Singer Chelsea Bain May Live in Nashville, But She's Back for Super Bowl

B. Craig Campbell/Campbell Entertainment Group
Saguaros, roadrunners and palo verde trees rarely call country music to mind for most aficionados of the genre. For Chelsea Bain, the Arizona-raised 25-year-old country artist who's made waves with her single "James Dean," it's the desert that's most conducive to her upbringing and music, that inspires her most. She's back in town this week for a series of performances centering around the Super Bowl, including the Celebrity Flag Football Challenge and the NFL Game Day Fan Plaza, and it seems that there's nowhere else she'd rather be.

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Valley Fever Country Night at Yucca Winds Down After 10 Years

Courtesy of Dana Armstrong
Tony Martinez, who now lives in Nashville, will play the Quarantine show tomorrow.

DJ Dana Armstrong started her weekly country night, Valley Fever, a decade ago. Now, this weekend, it's coming to an end -- at least in its current form.

Running a weekly gig for 10 years is no small feat. Armstrong started the country with as a reaction to vapid pop-country, and used her time spinning records on Sunday nights at Yucca to create her own musical nirvana.

"I was attempting to turn Yucca Tap Room into Mr. Lucky's [the legendary Phoenix honky-tonk] from the '70s ... trying to recapture the feeling, I guess," Armstrong says with a laugh.

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Mesa-Raised Country Trio Lucy Angel Gets Reality Show

Lucy Angel, a mother-and-two-daughters group hailing from Mesa

Following the path of other Arizona artists (you know who you are) who fled Arizona in search of greener country pastures in Nashville, mother-and-daughters trio Lucy Angel, originally from Mesa, has launched a budding career in Tennessee capital. With it has come the requisite highbrow opening slots -- Jake Owen, Neal McCoy, Montgomery Gentry and Charlie Daniels, to name a few -- a Walmart distribution deal of their upcoming LP, Crazy Too, and Sirius XM debuts to boot.

What separates Lucy Angel, composed of mother Kate Anderton and daughters Emily and Lindsay, from other familial country acts is their upcoming reality show, Discovering Lucy Angel, premiering on AXS TV in January. Yes, we know of other family acts -- The Band Perry and Parmalee in the popular spotlight -- but the mother-daughter connection in modern country hearkens back to the days of The Judds. It's prime fodder for a reality show, and an aspect of their record rollout that few, if any, country artists get to exploit.

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Tommy Ash's Yodeling Country Rock Is Pure Phoenix

Eric Fairchild
Authenticity is a loaded word when it comes to country music.

Nearly every modern country act likes to shout out "real country fans" in arenas, even the ones pumping out bombastic party anthems about red Solo cups, shaking asses, and jacked-up pickup trucks. Then there's the historical struggle of standard honky tonk heroes Willie Nelson, Hank Williams Jr., and Dwight Yoakam, guys who notoriously sparred with the country establishment, on the outs for coming across too hippie, too hardcore, or even too twangy.

But even if "real country music" is hard to define, it's hard to argue against the western credentials of Phoenix singer Tommy Ash. She started yodeling as a child, was playing weekends at the old Cheyenne Saloon by age 14, and even played Mr. Lucky's, Phoenix's most legendary honky tonk, which hosted Waylon Jennings, Charley Pride, Marty Robbins, Glen Campbell, and Wanda Jackson (see her fantastic live album In Person) before the nightclub shuttered its doors.

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Buddy Holly's Motorcycle, Willie Nelson's Braids Part of Giant Waylon Jennings Auction

Waylon Jennings with Jessi Colter

Waylon Jennings sure collected a lot of strange items during his life. Now, several hundred of them are going on auction at the Musical Instrument Museum, including a motorcycle once owned by Buddy Holly, a pair of Hank Williams' boots, Willie Nelson's braids, and a whole lot of clothing, jewelery, and other memorabilia.

The late Jennings was one of the Valley's all-time most famous residents, but let's back up a minute. Jennings is one of the most important and influential country singers of all time, a decorated and venerated member of the outlaw country movement, and the singer on five platinum records and 15 songs that topped the U.S. country charts. And he did almost all of it all after moving to Arizona.

Check out the highlights from the auction below.

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Blake Shelton, The Band Perry and Neal McCoy - Ak-Chin Pavilion - 9/5/14

All photos by Maria Vassett. Full slideshow here.
Blake Shelton

Blake Shelton, The Band Perry and Neal McCoy
Ak-Chin Pavilion

It's the beginning of September, and it's still more than 100 degrees after dark. Everyone within a seven-row radius is fanning themselves or buying water bottles to roll on themselves. All musicians, by the end of their sets, looked as if they had just gone pool-hopping. No one seemed to give a damn, because this is a country show, and when you go to see Blake Shelton, The Band Perry and Neal McCoy, you hitch up your bootstraps, stop complaining and strap in.

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Drag the River Shows There's More Similarities Between Country and Punk Than You'd Think

Imelda Michalczyk
Drag the River

Though not obvious, the connection is strong between punk and country music. Both genres can be rough around the edges, feature bad-boy frontmen, and contain songs about societal woes. Hank Williams III has turned his country music into a thrashing, moshing affair.

Less outwardly abrasive, but no less fun, is Drag the River, a revolving group of players that grew out of the ashes of two punk bands, All and Armchair Martian. To be fair, both punk bands -- the former featuring Chad Price, the latter Jon Snodgrass -- were in full swing as Drag the River slowly came into existence. Busy with their own bands but looking for outlets, the pair took advantage of an opportunity to record free demos in the then-newly christened Blasting Room recording studio.

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Billy Joe Shaver, the Misunderstood Outlaw Who Shoots Bullies in the Face

Courtesy of Jim McGuire/Conqueroo
Billy Joe Shaver slides out of his battered white Ford Econoline van with surprisingly agility for a man celebrating his 75th birthday tonight. There's already a small crowd gathered around the outside of The Satellite in Los Angeles, an unlikely venue for such an act and such an evening, but everyone here knows who Shaver is.

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Bart Crow's Country Music Comes Straight from the Heart

Courtesy of Bart Crow
Bart Crow

The old joke is to say one likes both types of music: country and Western. That's not easy anymore. There still are two types, only now it's run-of-the-mill, generic pop country, or cliché-free, from-the-heart-because-the-song-matters country. Texas singer-songwriter Bart Crow falls into the latter category.

"I feel like I've got my own style and don't feel like I fall into a certain stereotype," Crow says from his Austin home. "I just write songs. I've tried my hardest to write Texas country songs or just country songs, and it just doesn't work for me. . . I don't set out to ignore clichés, but I set out to challenge myself to write something fresh and new, so I just think it works out that way."

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