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Unforced Error: ESPN and the Wimbledon Doubles Coverage

espn-ball tumbsEver since Andy Roddick lost his “mojo,” the American sports media have been bemoaning the absurd notion that there are few reasons for American tennis fans to care about tennis, to buy tickets to matches or to tune in to watch tennis on television in the 21st century. They have practically declared that the current generation of American players don’t even exist… before those up-and-coming players even get to spread their racquet-gripping golden arms and fly.

Then, along came an event like the 2014 Wimbledon Gentlemen’s Doubles Final, where three out of the four players vying for a championship trophy were from the United States (Jack Sock, Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan) and the fourth was from Canada (Vasek Pospisil). When they won, Pospisil and Sock became the first pair to win a Grand Slam title in their first tournament together since Max Mirnyi and Lleyton Hewitt at the 2000 US Open. And, incidentally, Jack Sock (at 21 yrs, 285 days) became the third youngest man in the Open Era to win both a Grand Slam men’s & mixed doubles title. Wouldn’t it have been swell if, instead of whining about how there are no American tennis fans because there are no American top players, ESPN had shone the spotlight on these Americans… even if it was “only” the doubles?

On the second Saturday of Wimbledon, ESPN scheduled a tennis coverage window that extended for a whole six hours, as well as a one-hour “pregame show” at 8 a.m. ET. This seems reasonable, since the day’s order-of-play included several important matches. Yet, following an almost-over-before-it-began women’s final (that only lasted 55 minutes), ESPN could very easily have shown the Gentlemen’s Doubles final in its entirety. As if there was another reason to show it, the doubles final was being contested by one of the most popular doubles team of all time, the Bryan Brothers, Bob and Mike.
As if that weren’t enough to justify airing the tennis being played live on Centre Court, the Bryans were facing two other North Americans — Jack Sock (of the United States) and Vasek Pospisil (of Canada). Hello, ESPN marketing division — Saturday’s faceoff was a dream match made for your American audience.

Instead, ESPN decided to put the match on its live-streaming service, ESPN3. To make matters worse, ESPN’s decision not to show the men’s doubles final was accompanied by a decision to show a replay of the previous day’s men’s semifinal between Novak Djokovic and Grigor Dimitrov. That’s right — they showed a match that had aired live the previous day. It’s not like viewers didn’t have a chance to see the men’s semifinal matches the day before. That was the fourth of July — a day that any self-respecting American tennis fan no doubt had Wimbledon playing while enjoying the day off. Worst of all — ESPN fell for the false assumption that any single’s match is preferable to any double’s match. That’s what I’d call ESPN: an Especially Stupid Programming Notion.

It’s a shame that ESPN did not take advantage of the opportunity it had to build future audiences for what is likely to be a return for America to the top of the international tennis game… namely, in the form of Jack Sock. Let’s hope that in future Grand Slam coverage, the emphasis for ESPN will be on the reason that most viewers tune in — LIVE action on the courts… especially in a championship match… and especially when there are exciting American players involved.

Photo: Jack Sock and Vasek Pospisil

Photo: Jack Sock and Vasek Pospisil

Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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(Photo: Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock, fine examples of communication and clarity at Wimbledon)

JACK SOCK & VASEK POSPISIL into Wimbledon Men’s Doubles Semifinal

(Photo: Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock, fine examples of communication and clarity at Wimbledon)

(Photo: Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock, fine examples of communication and clarity at Wimbledon)

In the upset of the day at Wimbledon, Vasek Pospisil (CAN) & Jack Sock (USA) defeated second-seeded Alexander Peya (AUT) & Bruno Soares (BRA) 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(6), 6-4 in the gentlemen’s doubles quarterfinal. And now it’s on to the semifinal for Sock/Pospisil, where they will face fifth-seeded Leander Paes (IND) and Radek Stepanek (CZE).

The question of today’s match seemed to be, “Is the court playable, or not?” If you asked the two opposing teams, I suppose you’d get two different answers. Pospisil and Sock had no problem tearing it up on the disappearing blades of British grass, while Peya and Soares felt less confident on the surface. Still, the nearly total scoreboard symmetry reflected what an even match it was. Not overly demanding physically, in the grand scheme of a Grand Slam, but certainly both teams were tested mentally by the conditions (and the approaching end of the draw).

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Two of the most exciting singles players of their generation, Sock and Pospisil fit right in at Wimbledon, not only with their explosive strokes, but also by obviously respecting the doubles game just as much as singles. For a team who have never played together before this tournament, Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock seem an almost perfect pair. Let’s face it — they look like the kind of athletes that tennis whites were invented for. This is what tennis in July in an English garden should look like; two young gents in white, slugging it out with clever angles and a sensitive touch, ready for the necessary improvisation that a successful match on grass requires, all the while maintaining cool and projecting an image that the future of tennis is just fine, thank you very much.

With the powerful hands of Jack Sock and the incredible reach of Vasek Pospisil, the two Northern Americans quickly won the first set, 6-4. In the second set, Soares complained about the increasingly dry and slick condition of the court, citing the lack of grass and expressing concerns about potential injury. With Pospisil/Sock’s zero out of eight break points converted, and Peya/Soares converting one out of one, the second set went easily to Peya/Soares, 6-3.

In the all-important third set, Peya’s serve became more effective and Sock’s returns were lighting quick, with angles that one would expect from a Wimbledon quarterfinalist. In the occasional moment when Sock might have started to come down hard on himself (the result of having executed an unforced error), Pospisil cheered Sock on and kept the team focused on winning the third set, which they did in a tie-break, 7-6 (6). From then on, the Canadian/American team had the momentum. They easily won the fourth set, 6-4. In the end, the match went to the team that persevered… the team that communicated with clarity at each phase of the game… the team that just might win the next round on the sheer adrenaline of having reached a Wimbledon semifinal. As Shakespeare wrote, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on…”

Dream big, and play bigger, gentlemen. You’re almost there.

Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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Jack Sock & Vasek Pospisil In Wimbledon Men’s Doubles Quarterfinals

JS_VP_rnd3After the USA vs. Belgium match, American World Cup fans may have evaporated as suddenly as they appeared, but loyal North American tennis fans still have reason to celebrate — the team of Jack Sock (USA) and Vasek Pospisil (CAN) have reached the quarterfinals of men’s doubles at the Wimbledon tennis championships. Jack Sock is the one of three Americans left in the doubles draw. He is in fine company there, along with the top-seeded duo — Mike and Bob Bryan.

As a team, Sock and Pospisil have matched each other’s on-court energy and enthusiasm perfectly so far this tournament. They’ve also been clear about what their individual responsibilities are, so that they continually improve their game with each other. With each successive match, they also seem to be refining their ability to communicate instinctively. The delays between their second and third round matches must have given them some very effective practice time. (The second-round Saturday match was postponed until Monday because of rain. The first three sets were played on Monday, until rain forced a second postponement.)

On Wednesday, Sock and Pospisil defeated Mate Pavic of Croatia and Andre Sa of Brazil 7-6(3), 7-6(3), 6-4 in a third-round match that lasted just over two hours. Sock and Pospisil won in less than 24 hours after they completed a 6-7, 7-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5 second-round victory over eighth-seeded Rohan Bopanna of India and Aisam Qureshi of Pakistan on Tuesday. In the straight-set, third-round match the team of Pospisil/Sock (with an average age of 22.5 years) had fewer unforced errors and more winners than the pair of Pavic/Ra (whose age averages 28.5). Taking nothing away from their technique, the team of Pospisil/Sock has an easy-going, buoyant style on the grass. Their game is a gentle reminder of the long-standing history of the sporty art of lawn tennis. In other words, they make doubles look like the invigorating and satisfying game that it is (and that is often overlooked in Grand Slam coverage).

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Sock and Pospisil (the only unseeded team left in the men’s doubles draw) face the number two-seeded team of Alexander Peya (Austria) and Bruno Soares (Brazil) in the quarterfinals. The match that will take place today, Thursday. They will play second up on Court number 2.

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Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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Wimbledon, Day One Is Here (Who The Americans Face In Round 1)

1Wimbledon 2014 is finally upon us. The world’s greenest tennis championship runs from Monday, June 23rd until Sunday, July 6th.

With England’s recent World Cup performance, the hometown crowd at Wimbledon are likely looking forward to Monday morning, when the matches begin at the All England Club. If there is a momentary lack of national pride in the game of soccer, perhaps the Brits will be redeemed in the individual sport of tennis — in the form of defending men’s singles champion, Andy Murray. Last year, Murray put an end to Britain’s 77-year desire for a men’s champion they could call their own; long live King Andy and long live the reign of tennis in the British headlines. Can he repeat the performance, now that he has a new coach in Amélie Mauresmo?

Wimbledon 2011

Murray is not without serious competition, of course. Spain’s Rafael Nadal is the top-ranked player, and Serbia’s Novak Djokovic is the top-seeded player. Switzerland’s Roger Federer, about to celebrate his 33rd birthday in a month or so, hopes for at least one final championship. So do many of the world’s tennis fans. Last year, Federer lost in the second round (his earliest exit from a grand slam event in 10 years), but last week he won a Wimbledon warm-up at Halle, Germany.

In the women’s draw, chances are good that this will be Maria Sharapova’s year to win again; she has one Wimbledon title (in 2004 over Serena Williams). True, she’s won only two of 18 matches against Williams, and they’re in the same quarter of the draw this Wimbledon, but she has the momentum in 2014.

And then there are the Americans.

The American men include Ryan Harrison, No. 9 seed John Isner, Bradley Klahn, Denis Kudla, Alex Kuznetsov, Sam Querrey, Steve Johnson, Jack Sock, Donald Young and Michael Russell.

The American women include Lauren Davis, Victoria Duval, Madison Keys, Vania King, Varvara Lepchenko, Christina McHale, No. 18 seed Sloane Stephens, Anna Tatishvili, wild card Taylor Townsend, CoCo Vandeweghe, No. 1 seed Serena Williams and No. 30 seed Venus Williams.

For the United States, 2014 Wimbledon could go one of three ways. Either…
1) this year’s tournament will be another necessary wait in the development of America’s younger generation of top players (Ryan Harrison, Madison Keys)…
2) or there will be a surprising run from one of the younger crowd (Jack Sock or Sloane Stephens)…
3) or else one of the veteran Americans (John Isner – the guy who still has it in him to go further, Serena Williams – who still hasn’t won a Slam this calendar year) will go into the tournament with a relaxed approach that spins well on the grass, and they will make a run to the finals. John Isner, at ninth, is the only U.S. male seeded in the tournament, but he carries American hopes in the men’s draw. Williams is the top seed in the women’s competition.

Photo: John Isner in his legendary 2010 Wimbledon match, where he defeated France's Nicholas Mahut after three-days  on the grass.

Photo: John Isner in his legendary 2010 Wimbledon match, where he defeated France’s Nicholas Mahut after three-days on the grass.

Here are Americans in the men’s and women’s first round draws for Wimbledon 2014… (q-qualifier, w-wild card, l-lucky loser)

Men
Bradley Klahn, United States, vs. Sam Querrey, United States
Steve Johnson, United States, vs. Roberto Bautista Agut (27), Spain
q-Alex Kuznetsov, United States, vs. Fabio Fognini (16), Italy
Grigor Dimitrov (11), Bulgaria, vs. q-Ryan Harrison, United States
Donald Young, United States, vs. Benjamin Becker, Germany
Michael Russell, United States, vs. Julian Reister, Germany
w-Daniel Smethurst, Britain, vs. John Isner (9), United States
q-Pierre-Hugues Herbert, France, vs. Jack Sock, United States
q-Marsel Ilhan, Turkey, vs. q-Denis Kudla, United States

Women
Serena Williams (1), United States, vs. Anna Tatishvili, United States
Chanelle Scheepers, South Africa, vs. Christina McHale, United States
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (26), Russia, vs. Alison Riske, United States
q-Victoria Duval, United States, vs. Sorana Cirstea (29), Romania
Klara Koukalova (31), Czech Republic, vs. w-Taylor Townsend, United States
Madison Keys, United States, vs. Monica Puig, Puerto Rico
CoCo Vandeweghe, United States, vs. Garbine Muguruza (27), Spain
Tsvetana Pironkova, Bulgaria, vs. Varvara Lepchenko, United States
Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor, Spain, vs. Venus Williams (30), United States
Sloane Stephens (18), United States, vs. Maria Kirilenko, Russia
Lauren Davis, United States, vs. Alisa Kleybanova, Russia
Vania King, United States, vs. Yvonne Meusburger, Austria

Photo: The patient crowd waiting to enter Wimbledon on Day One

Photo: The patient crowd waiting to enter Wimbledon on Day One

Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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Player Field at Hall of Fame Tennis Championships to feature top 6 Americans, Including Isner, Johnson & Sock

logo_bannerJohn Isner, Steve Johnson, Bradley Klahn, Donald Young, Jack Sock, and Sam Querrey have all committed to the field, along with defending champion Nicolas Mahut of France, Australians Lleyton Hewitt and Nick Kyrgios.

NEWPORT, R.I., June 20, 2014 – Just after Wimbledon, the ATP World Tour returns to the United States for the summer, with the first stop being the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport, Rhode Island, where the top six American players on the tour are all committed to the field. The tournament, which is the only grass court pro tournament in North America, will be played July 5 – 13 at the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

“We have a strong player field set for Newport in July,” said Tournament Director Mark Stenning. “It’s always nice to kick off the U.S. summer swing with the top Americans here in Newport just after the Fourth of July. We look forward to welcoming many exciting international tennis stars as well. After watching the excitement of Wimbledon on television these next couple of weeks, the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships offers a great opportunity to see grass court tennis in person and we look forward to welcoming the fans to enjoy a great week of tennis in Newport.”

Isner

John Isner Headlining the American contingent is No. 1 American John Isner, a fan favorite in Newport who counts two Hall of Fame Tennis Championships victories (2012 and 2011) among his eight career titles. Isner is currently ranked world No. 11 on the ATP World Tour and goes into Wimbledon next week as the No. 9 seed.

Steve Johnson, who was the NCAA Singles Champion in 2011 and 2012 when playing for University of Southern California, and Bradley Klahn, 2010 NCAA Singles Champion from Stanford, will both be making their main draw debuts in Newport. Johnson and Klahn are currently ranked in the world top-75 and have posted big wins over top-30 players in the past two years while climbing the rankings. Donald Young, who recently upset world No. 27 Feliciano Lopez to advance to the third round at the French Open will return to Newport as well. After playing on grass courts for the first time in Newport in 2012, Jack Sock will be back for a third consecutive year. The 21-year-old is currently ranked No. 75 after an impressive run into the third round of the French Open, including a first round upset over world No. 22 Nicolas Almagro. Newport veteran Sam Querrey, will be back for his sixth appearance at the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships, where he was a finalist in 2009. Querrey’s grass court season is off to a strong start. Earlier this month he advanced to the round of 16 at the Aegon Championships at Queen’s Club, and today, he is playing in the semifinals at the Aegon International at Eastbourne.

Ryan Harrison and Tim Smyczek, who have both had success in Newport in past years will also return to Newport in July. Harrison won the Newport doubles title in 2011 with Australian Matt Ebden, who is also committed to play Newport again. Smyczek was a doubles finalist last year, with partner Rhyne Williams.

Joining the Americans in Newport will be defending champion Nicolas Mahut of France, former world top-10 player Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus, big serving Croatian Ivo Karlovic, who is currently ranked world No. 33, and his countryman Ivan Dodig, who is ranked world No. 38, and two popular Australians – former world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt and rising star Nick Kyrgios.

Mahut will return to Newport after a championship sweep last year in which he had a dream run from wild card entry to winning the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships singles and doubles titles. Both Karlovic and Hewitt have seen great success in Newport in recent years, with Karlovic in the quarterfinals last year and Hewitt advancing to the finals in 2013 and 2012. Baghdatis, Kyrgios, and Dodig, all newcomers to Newport, will bring a lot of excitement to the draw. Baghdatis is an ATP World Tour veteran known for high energy matches. Last weekend, Kyrgios jumped 28 spots in the ATP World Tour rankings after winning the Nottingham Challenger, making him the youngest player in the world top-150.

Tournament tickets are available on www.HallofFameTennisChampionships.com or by phone at 401-849-6053. Hall of Fame Members save $5 on tickets, and enjoy many other benefits throughout tournament week, including access to a Member Lounge, first-in-line status for autographs, and much more.

Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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New Blues/Roots: The Nighthawks – ’444′

cdThe Nighthawks - 444
*** (out of 4 stars)
Label: EllerSoul Records

Good news for fans of blues and roots rock who are looking for some new tunes for the coming summer nights. Rockabilly legends, The Nighthawks, will release a new album on Tuesday, June 17. 444 features thirteen songs simmering with the band’s trademark blend of blues, soul, and good old rock ‘n’ roll. The collection includes five originals, as well as classics by Muddy Waters, the Du Droppers and others. The album also includes two songs that first appeared in Elvis Presley movies; “Got A Lot of Livin’” (from the 1957 film ‘Lovin’ You’) and “Crawfish” (the fun opening number from the 1958 film ‘King Creole’).

For over 40 years they’ve been playing their brand of music… long before people started labeling it. If it spoke to the soul and made you want to move, they’ve played it. Over the years, they opened shows for such artists as Muddy Waters, James Cotton, John Lee Hooker and Carl Perkins. The Blues Foundation gave The Nighthawks the “Acoustic Album of the Year” award for their 2011 album Last Train To Bluesville. And now, with 444, they have put out yet another fantastic album that recreates the feeling of live gig. The energy and style these guys have is evident in every track.

The Nighthawks–Documentary Film from Michael Streissguth on Vimeo.

The Nighthawks are Mark Wenner (vocals & harmonica), Johnny Castle (bass), Paul Bell (guitar) and Mark Stutso (drums). They are one of the most consistent and reliable bands around; they are still making music that people relate to when they walk in the door and they are still playing those songs with an astonishing passion and commitment.

Essential Downloads: “Walk That Walk,” “You’re Gone,” “No Secrets.”

Upcoming Nighthawks’ Tour Dates:

6/20 @ The Birchmere, Alexandria VA

6/22 @ Capital Ale House Music Hall, Richmond VA

6/26 @ Thunder in the Valley, Johnstown PA

6/27 @ Blues, Brews & BBQ Festival, Charleston WV

6/28 @ The State Theatre, Culpepper VA

7/04 @ Evenings on Main, Luray VA

7/05 @ High Tides on Potomac, Colonial Beach VA

7/06 @ Bethesda Blues & Jazz, Bethesda MD

7/20 @ Gilligan’s Pier, Newberg MD

7/25 @ Sellersville Theater, Sellersville PA
7/27 @ Hiawatha Paddlewheel Riverboat Cruise, Williamsport, PA
8/3 @ High Tides on the Potomac, Colonial Beach, VA
8/8 @ Apple’s 11th Annual East Coast Motorcycle Rally, Little Orleans, MD
8/9 @ Patriot Harley-Davidson, Fairfax VA
8/15 @ Edmonton Blues Festival, Edmonton Alberta
8/27 @ Lee District Nights, Franconia, VA
8/31 Antique & Custom Bike Show, Vienna VA
9/1 @ Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, Greenbelt, MD
*(with more dates to be announced, so keep checking the Nighthawks’ website)

To preorder this album on Amazon, click here.

Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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Travis Tritt’s New Song: “That’s What Dreamers Do”

Travis_CDAward-winning authentic country artist Travis Tritt has released a new song, titled “That’s What Dreamers Do.”

The heart-touching ballad resonates with dreamers of all kinds and embraces the struggles and joys of being a dreamer. Tritt wrote the song for the independent biopic film, As Dreamers Do, which he narrates. The film is based on the life of Walt Disney. To view the trailer for the film, click here.

The single, “That’s What Dreamers Do,” is available through iTunes (click here).

“That’s What Dreamers Do” is Tritt’s second single release since forming Post Oak Recordings. Tritt formed the label in 2012 and shortly after released his full length album The Calm After… Included on the album is a duet with Tritt’s daughter, Tyler Reese. The song, “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough,” is a cover of the 1980s pop hit.

Together, they released a video for the track…

Four of the songs on the album, co-produced by Randy Jackson, were either written or co-written by Tritt. The Calm After… is available on iTunes and other major digital retailers.
2014 has proven to be a busy year for the Marietta, Georgia native. Tritt has been touring extensively, including show dates stretching as far north as Canada. To view a list of upcoming tour dates, click here.

Earlier this year, Tritt filmed a live DVD from the Franklin Theatre in Franklin, Tennessee. It will be released later this year. 2014 marks the 25th anniversary of Tritt’s music career. His chart-topping success includes millions in album sales, two Grammy award wins and multiple No. 1 singles on the Country radio charts, including “Help Me Hold On,” “Anymore” and “Best of Intentions.” He was dubbed one of “The Class of ‘89,” which included Country music superstars Garth Brooks, Clint Black and Alan Jackson; all whom dominated the charts in the early ‘90s.
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Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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Brave New Country Music: Joshua Scott Jones – ‘The Healing’

Joshua_Scott_Jones_CDJoshua Scott Jones – The Healing
**** (out of 4 stars)
Label: JSJ Music

Joshua Scott Jones has released his 11-track self-produced debut solo project entitled The Healing.

It’s about the bravest album I’ve heard since Glen Campbell’s Ghost On The Canvas. With this album full of songs of loss and recovery, Joshua Scott Jones reveals as much as might be humanly possible of the human experience on a record. It’s just that good.

I won’t even pretend to know what an artist such as Joshua Scott Jones went through in order to arrive at a place where the turmoil finds such coherence — the close calls and negotiations and the drama of it all — but I’m sure glad he did. More importantly, I’m glad he seems to have made it through with his musicianship intact (and stronger than ever).

During his time as half of the duo Steel Magnolia, Jones seemed perfectly fine sharing the spotlight. He seemed an ideal duo partner in that sense, but the Steel Magnolia material didn’t even begin to hint at the emotional depths that The Healing reveals. With this album, Jones asks the tough questions and establishes himself as a solo artist worth watching. Vocally, he is incredibly versatile; going from a whisper to an internal misgiving to a soaring note within a single phrase, all the while maintaining the edgy sense of humor that he has always delivered.

If the TV show Nashville runs dry of creative ideas for future episodes, they’d be smart to feature any number of songs from this album. These are songs full of narrative, drama, resolution and poetry. The songs are brilliantly arranged and organized in such a way that they add, layer upon layer, to a complete and satisfying whole. This is honest songwriting at its best. Who knew there would be something so promising coming out of Nashville in the summer of 2014?

Essential Downloads: “DUI,” “City of Angels,” “Tennessee House,” “The Healing.”

To preview or purchase this album on iTunes, click here.

IEBA Conference Day 1

Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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Country Star Joe Nichols Has A New Hit Single That’ll Make You Say ‘YEAH!’

Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 5.31.09 AMJoe Nichols, a four-time Grammy nominee known for songs such as “Brokenheartsville,” “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off” and “Gimme That Girl,” is currently making country music fans happy as he hits the road on Lady Antebellum’s “Take Me Downtown Tour.” These days (and nights) he’s also singing his hit “Sunny And 75,” as well as his brand new single, “Yeah.”

Recently, I had the chance to chat with Joe and find out what he’s up to this summer. So what’s the best thing about doing an interview with Joe Nichols? Well, getting to talk with Joe Nichols, of course. He has such an easy-going, sunny vibe about him that there should be some sort of ‘Vitamin Joe’ bottled and sold so that the world would be a more livable and enjoyable place.

The other best thing about doing an interview with Joe Nichols is getting immersed in his music, in preparation. There’s something so right about Joe Nichols’ delivery of a country song; a fusion of emotion and experience and the utter simplicity of the truth being told. His latest album, Crickets, is full of 16 songs that allow him to connect with audiences in the way that only he can. Crickets was produced by Mickey Jack Cones and Derek George except for songs “Yeah” and “Billy Graham’s Bible,” which were produced by Tony Brown and Mickey Jack Cones. (To preview or purchase the album on iTunes, click here.)

Joe Nichols recently debuted the music video for his latest single off the album — the Top 15 hit, “Yeah”…

“Yeah,” the follow-up to Joe Nichols’ recent No. 1 hit off the Crickets album, “Sunny and 75,” is the perfect summertime country video; it’s catchy, fun to sing along to, and sexy. Directed by Wes Edwards (who also directed Dierks Bentley’s “Drunk On A Plane” video), the “Yeah” video keeps things fun and moving along at a summer’s breeze pace by letting the song unfold as a series of comic book panels. Nichols said that the song “is about being young and experiencing life, maybe even for the first time, with each other.” He also said that audiences are loving it.

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(An Interview With Joe Nichols)…

GV (Greg Victor): I bet you’re in a very good place in your life these days. Am I right?

JN (Joe Nichols): I’m in a great place in my life right now. I have a great wife and now I have three beautiful daughters.

GV: Congratulations on the birth of your daughter, Georgia Blue!

JN: Thank you! She’s about a week and a half old now. She’s great.

Joe_Nichols_baby

GV: And now you’re on the road with Lady Antebellum… it must be hard to leave.

JN: I miss my baby terribly. But at the same time, I can get a little sleep when I’m out on the road! But I couldn’t ask for a better tour. This is my first time touring with Lady Antebellum. The vibe, the music and the audience reaction have been great. It’s a great place to have a couple of big songs like “Sunny & 75” and “Yeah.” Getting on a big Lady Antebellum tour and having the summer of our lives — it’s all good, man. The fans are treating me well and I don’t think I could ask for anything more.

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GV: Any idea what the next single might be off the Crickets album?

JN: I think it might be “Hard To Be Cool.” I think it’s made for radio and it feels like it rocks when I do it in the show.

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GV: Crickets is a good mix of potential single hits and traditional country songs. And there are plenty of songs that take you in new directions. How’d you pick the songs for the album?

JN: It was a collective process. There was a group of us that were looking for material for the record. Benny Brown, who owns the label (Broken Bow Records) had a big hand in finding a lot of the material. I actually cut “Yeah” and “Billy Graham’s Bible” before I had a record deal… with my own money. I brought those to the label and then, at that point, we kinda had a direction of where we wanted the album to go. We wanted to make sure we were current, while at the same time, we wanted to make sure people who bought the album knew that I was still my traditional self. I think we pleased a lot of different monsters with this record.

GV: If you can keep the old fans happy, while making new fans, that’s success…

JN: Exactly right.

GV: That’s saying a lot these days. And the idea is that the new fans will explore the rest of your catalogue and find even more music of yours that they like.

JN: I would think that what we’re doing now would invite fans that I’m just reaching for the first time to dig deeper into what I’ve done previously. If they did “Billy Graham’s Bible,” they’re definitely gonna dig albums past.

GV: What was it like working with producer Mickey Jack Cones on Crickets?

JN: Man, I don’t think the guy ever sleeps! He’s so busy, and so focused, and so energetic in the studio. He plays, he sings, and he has so many creative ideas. Man, this is as much his records as it is anybody’s. He was all over this album. His vision really, really livened up the record. He really took control and dug deep into the details and put his fingerprints everywhere. It was my first time working with him and I was just blown away!

GV: Is there a certain song, or a type of song, that you’ve always been looking for… that if you heard it, you’d say “I’m recording that”?

JN: If I ever found another “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” I would cut it. I know it probably wouldn’t go over on radio today, but I think that a song that’s that impactful and soulful and that just kinda grips you, I think I am always looking for that. And it there’s that one ideal song for me, I think it’s the emotionally inspirational kind of song. “The Impossible” was like that for me. At the same time, I would also want another “Friends In Low Places,” one of the all-time party songs.

GV: We know how you have a history of singing songs about girls taking their clothes off… “Take It Off” and “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off,” for example… You want it all, don’t you, Joe Nichols?

JN: (laughing) I want it all!

GV: Well, why not? You seem to be everywhere these days. I’m talking, of course, about the two tracks you have on Working Man’s Poet: A Tribute To Merle Haggard. What a fantastic album that is.

JN: I woulda cut the whole record if they’d let me.

GV: When it comes to Joe Nichols recording Merle Haggard songs, how do you possibly choose which ones to do?

JN: You know, I’ve had a personal favorite of his for a long time, which is “Footlights.” I’ve always wanted to cut that song and put it on one of my records. So that was a natural choice for me, and then for the second song, we just called Merle from Benny’s office and I asked, “Hey, what do you want me to do? I was thinking maybe ‘Caroline,’” and Merle said “Well, I didn’t write that one. Tommy Collins did.” And I said, “Well, I’ll sing something you wrote. You just tell me what you want me to sing.” And he said “How about doin’ ‘My Favorite Memory’?”

GV: We all know you grew up obsessed with singing and playing Merle Haggard songs. You probably had no idea at the time that you were someday going to be carrying on that legacy of country music…

JN: I never thought I’d have the first hit, let alone sit here twelve years after my first song was released, still relevant on radio and still making music. I never thought I’d ever get to do this. I’m thrilled to death.

GV: The longer you’re out there making music, does each hit mean more and more?

JN: For me, it’s probably different than a lot of people. I think some of your headliners out there that are having hit after hit, and have been for a few years — it probably gets a little repetitive for them. But for me, it’s not been so much “hit after hit.” It’s been kinda “hit and miss,” really.

GV: Well, the Crickets album has definitely brought you back-to-back hits. With “Sunny And 75,” followed by “Yeah,” and plenty more to come, I’m sure.

JN: It’s exciting. Thankful for it!

GV: And I wanna thank you for taking time to share your thoughts with me. I look forward to seeing you on the road. (For upcoming tour dates, click here).

JN: All right, man. Take care, brother.

Joe_Nichols

Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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The Summer of 2014′s First ‘Must-Have’ Album: Morgan James’ “Hunter’

cdMorgan James – Hunter
***½ (out of 4 stars)
Label: Epic Records

Every once in awhile an artist releases an album that is worthy of more attention than it will likely receive, and Morgan James’ new release, Hunter, is such an album. I write such a statement because no matter how much attention it gets, it cannot be enough. Produced by jazz and bluegrass guitarist Doug Wamble, the album is one solid and finely crafted track after another.

And it arrives just in time for you to make it your “summer of 2014” discovery album — the one that you play over and over and never tire of, and that, in years to come, will bring you right back to the summer of 2014 as soon as you hear it. Hunter, by Morgan James is that album.

The album is a smart collection of original songs that evoke the slightly confrontational cool of ’60s R&B and the emotional fever of ’70s soul. But it’s really all about the voice. Or, in this case, The Voice (Morgan James’ voice deserves capitals.) And what a voice it is — heartbreaking, soulful and original. She has an inner knowledge of classic soul that is so deep, that even if she sang the entire history of soul music, you’d still believe that she is keeping a few secrets. Her vocal instrument has a flexibility and a range that meets the challenge of even the most ambitious of songwriters. Let’s just hope that those songwriters exist… and that Ms. James gets to share her talent on album after album of inspired material that does her blazing voice justice.

Essential Downloads: “Heart Shake,” “I Want You,” “Say The Words.”

To preview or purchase this album on iTunes, click here.

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Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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