CD Reviews for 01/14/05 (Jesse Dayton, Hoyle Brothers, Johnny Paycheck tribute) by Dan Ferguson

Being one of the slowest of months when it comes to new releases, January always seems like a good time to clear the desk of releases from the past year which for one reason or another, just never made it to these pages. For the first three Compact Capsules for this month, we play a bit of catch-up on a number of new recordings from 2004. This week, a bunch of 2004 releases best categorized as alt country are in the spotlight. Whereas the term itself may be a bit tired, there are still plenty of solid releases which for lack of a better place fall into that category. Here’s three that are definitely worth more than a listen.

Various Artists
Touch My Heart: A Tribute to Johnny Paycheck
Sugar Hill SUG-CD-1081

For those who know the late Johnny Paycheck only by his 1970s smash hit “Take This Job and Shove It”, let’s just say the artistry of the man goes so much more deeper than that. When it came to singing songs tapping the honky tonk ethos of drinking and cheating and death and devotion, few could match the potency with which Paycheck could deliver a tune. Think of classics like the out and out devastation of “Apartment #9”, the cheating masterpiece “Motel Time Again”, the utter devotion of “She’s All I Got”, or the cocky libido fun of “The Lovin’ Machine”. It was at a show in of all places our own South County in June of 2003 that I first caught wind of a project honoring this block of granite of hardcore honky tonk set. The mastermind behind the project? Why none other than alt country hero (and occasional wiseacre) Robbie Fulks who happened to be playing a show in our neck of the woods. Fulks intimated to the audience that day a couple of tribute projects he had in the works, one out of left field saluting Michael Jackson and the other to Mr. Paycheck. Whereas the Jackson one seemed a bit of a stretch, the Paycheck tribute seemed as if it would be in pretty solid hands with a talent and country music fan of Fulks’ caliber at the helm. As is usually the case, Fulks had plenty of performers at the ready to lend their voice to a Paycheck tune. The remaining hurdles were finding financial backing to make it a reality and then a record label to bring the project to fruition. The former came thanks to Paycheck fan and Fulks devotee Fran Liscio who approached him with the idea to pay homage to Paycheck and ended up taking on the role of executive producer for the project and making it a reality. The latter was taken care of by indie label Sugar Hill Records which bellied up to the bar and released the album. Touch My Heart: A Tribute to Johnny Paycheck is the name of the collection and as tributes go, this 16-track salute is a darn good one. Fulks has rounded up a top-shelf batch of talent, mostly from the alt country ranks, to pay homage to the legendary Paycheck. Featured performers include Neko Case who leads the set off in rousing fashion with a feisty cover of “If I’m Gonna Sink (I Might As Well Go to the Bottom)”, Al Anderson (ex-NRBQ) with a straight-up, moving rendition of “Someone to Give My Love To”, Marshall Crenshaw, Gail Davies who duets with Fulks on “Shakin’ the Blues”, Dallas Wayne, honky tonk king George Jones whom Paycheck worked for in his early years, the queen of tribute releases Mavis Staples who goes soul deep on the title track, Hank Williams III, Jim Lauderdale, Dave Alvin, Johnny Bush, Billy Yates, Bobby Bare, Jr. (performing the aforementioned “Motel Time Again” which just happens to be written by his dad), Mike Ireland, Larry Cordle, and a quartet consisting of Bobby Bare, Sr., Radney Foster, Buck Owens, and Jeff Tweedy who team up to take on “Take This Job and Shove It”. Probably one of the nicest touches on this tribute is the “house band” accompanying the performers and includes the likes of Lloyd Green who contributed the highly innovative pedal steel work on Paycheck’s prime, 1960s sides for the Little Darlin’ record label. Listen to Touch My Heart and here’s betting you will quickly come to the realization that despite all of his well-publicized bouts with the bottle and the law, Johnny Paycheck was one monster of a country artist. That, my friends, comes across loud and clear on the extremely well done Touch My Heart. Recommended. (Sugar Hill Records, P.O. Box 55300, Durham, NC 27717-5300, or

Hoyle Brothers
Back To the Door
Loose Booty LB013

When it comes to country music, the city of Chicago has a rich and storied history going all the way back to the National Barndance broadcast over WLS-AM which rivaled the Grand Ol’ Opry for radio airwaves supremacy for a significant chunk of time during the last century. Whereas since the demise of the show in the early 1970s it has become mostly a below-the-radar scene, there is still plenty of fine country music being made in the Windy City. This leads me back to a gorgeous March day last year in Austin, Texas. The clock had just struck noon when the Hoyle Brothers kicked off their al fresco set in the beer garden of Threadgills Restaurant as part of the South-by-Southwest Music Festival festivities. A virtual unknown to these ears and eyes, all it took was the pedal steel leadoff to the band’s first number “Call Heaven” to signify that maybe we had something here. By mid song, between plenty more tasty steel licks and fills from Brian Wilkie, the manly bravado of lead singer Jacque Judy, and a rock-steady rhythm section, I was experiencing the same sort of country music shivers usually reserved for an artist the likes of a Dale Watson. Straight-up, frills-free country and western music, plain and simple, that hit like a shot of J.D. was the Hoyle Brothers’ M.O. that beautiful and balmy day and boy did they impress. Unfortunately, all the band had to its name was a self-made two-song sampler CD. Thank the honky tonk heavens that by late August, I was able to toss aside that tease of a sampler and replace it with the band’s big gulp of a debut studio recording titled Back to the Door. Put simply, The Hoyle Brothers live up to the promise of that March day on Back to the Door. Hot steppers teamed with tempting ballads (“What If I”, “All the Right Places”), drinkin’ songs (“Got Hammered”) paired with truckin’ tunes (“Trucker’s Life”, “Truck Attack”), the band does the Chi-Town country music tradition proud on Back to the Door executing a fine batch of real country on the 13-song outing, a dozen of which are original compositions. The fact that the lone non-original is a cover of the barroom nugget “Relief Is Just a Swallow Away” from “B” Texas yesteryear honky tonker Eddie Noack tells me these fellows are well-schooled when it comes to country. One listen to Back to the Door and I think you’ll agree. (For information on the Hoyle Brothers, check out the band’s web site at

Jesse Dayton
Country Soul Brother
Stag Records STAG-006

Speaking of Texas honky tonkers, we move to the modern day variety in the guise of Austin-based singer/songwriter/guitarist Jesse Dayton. Dayton has been working the barrooms of Texas and beyond for a decade now delivering his hard charging brand of Third Coast-flavored country and roots music chock full of gut-bucket swagger and soul with plentiful twangy licks, to boot. Released this past November, Country Soul Brother is the Beaumont native’s fourth longplayer. For the most part, Dayton keeps things status quo with past albums injecting his turbo-charged honky tonk tunes with hints of everything from blues to barroom balladry to even some flavorful bits of accordion-tinged country right in line with both his Tex-Czech surroundings, not to mention the Cajun ones growing up in East Texas. Where Country Soul Brother deviates a bit from previous platters is Dayton’s enlisting of a horn section, the Antone’s Horns to be exact, to add some serious Gulf Coast punch to a few tracks. We’re talkin’ the simmering burner “It Won’t Always Be Like This” which is remindful of the brown-eyed San Antonio country soul maneuvers of another Texan (not to mention fellow who took Dayton under his wings), the late great Doug Sahm. Dayton even goes out on a limb for a number taking The Cars’ “Just What I Needed” and giving it a spirited country makeover. Lumped into the alt country category, Dayton never fails to include a couple or three tunes on each record with just enough of an ear-friendly, mainstream sheen that it gets one to wondering why commercial radio airplay continues to elude him. Take something like “Ain’t Grace Amazing” which has both the lyrical and musical hooks going for it or even better, “Daily Ritual” and “One of The Days”, each of which if things were right in the country music world would be jockeying for chart status. And to that the fact that guy can play the dickens out of his Telecaster and certainly could give someone like a Nashville flavor-of-the-moment star like Keith Urban a run for his six-string dollar and you’re talking about a complete package here. While it will probably be a cold day in Hell before country radio wakes up to the talent, Country Soul Brother is still plenty worthy of ears. (Stag Records information is at You can also check out Jesse Dayton’s own site at www.jessedayton.c…